Act 0: Scene 1
3 Days Remaining
Chimes raise curtains on normal days,
Precious they are as Golden Dust.
It's a bright, sunny morning. The air is filled with the joyful laughter of students.
There's more activity than normal in front of the school gate.
A crowd is forming as students are being called over.
I wonder what's going on.
When I peer into the centre of the crowd, I see my friend, Issei Ryuudou, resplendent in the unique Black uniform of the Student Council, with the badge signifying him as its President shining almost blindingly against his black shirt.
"Good morning!" He greeted me as I walked up to the school gates. "Lovely weather we're having, don't you think?" He paused for a moment as he studied my face.
"Hmm? Why do you look so surprised?" He noted, raising an eyebrow. "We announced at last weeks' assembly that this month the Student Council would strictly enforce school rules. For now, I've been tasked with performing inspections to ensure students are in full compliance with school rulings."
"Now it goes without saying that everyone, is subject to inspections, even old friends like you I'm afraid."
With that, he stepped in closer as his hands reached out and began patting down my plain, standard brown uniform, muttering as his eyes and hands worked with experience.
"Collar, check! Pant hems, check! And your socks… check!" He stood up straight before putting out a hand towards me.
"Now then, next up is to check the contents of your bag…"
Without a moment of hesitation I complied, taking it off my shoulder and passing it over to his outstretched hand. Within moments he had already dissected its innards while muttering at the same time, as before.
"Notebooks, textbooks, pencil box! Yes, yes, not even a whiff of contraband!" He replaced everything quickly into the bag and handed it back to me, before standing back and placing a hand to his chin, evaluating me one more time.
"Your nails are evenly cut, and your haircut is sensible as well." He smiled as he finished his evaluation, looking me in the eye as he began again.
"Indeed, quite remarkable. You're truly a model Tsukumihara Academy student. Not many I've caught this morning can earn that accolade! I'd recommend that you consider a future as a member of the student council. You'd be perfect for it! Though, I'd never try to coerce you into joining up; we aren't like that."
Letting his hands fall down to his sides, he stepped up beside me, his eyes evidently already locating the next set of unsuspecting students.
"Now then, off to your classroom! I'll see you later on today, alright?" He patted my back once, before he left for the next student, long before I could reply.
As I made my way through the crowded school courtyard, my eyes slowly wandered over the heads of my fellow students on their way to class, at the school campus that I should know like the back of my hand.
The main building that housed all of the classes was situated on the far left across a sanded courtyard. A three-story building shaped vaguely like a blocky U, there wasn't anything special or unique about it… But then again, it would always hold a special place in the hearts of its graduates, above all other schools.
On the far right corner of the campus, directly next to the main building was the Archery Range. It was unusually large for most schools, owing to the high performance history of its members: The club was apparently established on the day of this school's founding, and every year its members never failed to achieve excellent results in external competitions.
Slightly below that was a second entrance to the school campus across a river. It's not used much by the students coming to and leaving from school. Instead, it's mostly used by the students on gym practice, as it leads out to a large sports field that can be adapted to suit the needs of the class, as well as a large pool situated off-campus. Apparently the pool was built sometime after the main building, in another area owing to the lack of space on the main campus.
And below that, directly to the right of the main gate, was the Sports Hall itself. Although, perhaps to be more correct it can serve a multitude of roles other than an indoor sports area, as most gym classes took place outdoors. Assemblies and announcements are usually held there, as well as some exams on occasion. And let's not forget the plays that some of the students host.
All in all, a pretty ordinary school, attended to by your run-of-the-mill students like me.
'A gently bustling morning like always.' I thought to myself as I entered the school building and made my way up to my classroom by instinct, drilled into me by the unknown number of times I've made the trip.
'Another peaceful beginning for another peaceful day.'
As I entered my classroom, 2-A, on the second floor of the building, I saw Shinji Matou sat at his desk, surrounded by a bunch of girls as he normally was. Whenever I see scenes like this, I can't help but ask myself, what was the secret of his popularity…
He wore the same uniform as all the other students in Tsukumihara academy, although it was certainly far less formal than what many others were sporting. Practically half open, it showed a body that was thin, yet not excessively so. Some muscle, though again not enough to disfigure him. Couple the perfect condition his body was in, alongside the dyed blue hair he sported and a face worthy of his playboy status, certainly his physical appearance lent credibility to his popularity with the girls.
"Hmm?" He said, cutting off the girl's chatter around him as he heard the door of the classroom slide open.
"Ah, you." He said as he noticed me, waving a hand beckoning me to come closer, as my feet obeyed. "You're so quiet and dull that I wouldn't have noticed you without the door." As I arrived next to his desk, he continued again, ignoring the fact that the girls from before had made a clear distinction between my space and theirs right next to him.
"Despite the fact that we've been friends since…" He raised an eyebrow as he attempted to remember, before a smile cracked across his face. "Yeah, we've been friends since our freshman year, right? Well anyway, don't sweat the fact that you're as boring as dirt. Not like someone as simple as you could help it." He chuckled at his attempt at reassurance.
"Well, I mean anyone would seem boring and stupid when they're always compared to me, right girls?"
He turned his head to the throng of girls behind him, flashing a smile at them as they almost immediately went head-over-heels for him.
Yes, though it's a bit early for so much abuse, this is Shinji Matou we're talking about, so it can't really be helped: The arrogance and hubris he exudes was almost palatable. Though he does have a good physical form I must admit, I truly don't understand how he can remain so popular with the girls after he opens his mouth.
Truly, his popularity is a complete mystery to me. Or perhaps I should say it is more, unnatural, than it is a mystery…
Still, I shrugged my shoulders and endured it. From any person's standpoint, he speaks the truth about me when compared to him. Maybe he's just someone who's overly honest.
"Yeah, there's not much I can say to that." I replied, giving a sheepish smile as I scratched my head, looking down at his desk as I noticed the papers uncharacteristically strewn over it. "What're you doing now anyway? Class is about to start."
"Oh, this?" He picked up one of the gridded papers nonchalantly. "I was just doing a little math tutoring. This stuff is beyond easy… Well, for me anyway." He smiled as he passed the paper back to one of the girls behind him, likely the one that asked for his help.
Eagerly she received it, before starting to pour over the numbers as though it was signed by a personal idol. However, you could almost visibly see the mood on her face crumble as she read the answer he had written.
"Wait a sec… Hey, Matou, isn't the answer to this question like, completely wrong in every way?" She turned the paper around and pointed to the offending question, the girls next to her looking at it, and evidently agreeing with her somewhat.
Shinji, initially caught off balance, had to re-right himself from his unstable chair, before standing upright and pointing at the girl directly.
"Wh-What the hell are you spouting?!" He began. "I'm the one who solved that! There's no way it could be wrong!" His victim cowered in fear from his outburst, before she glanced again at the writing on the paper and pointed to a part of the question in response to his outburst.
"But… But, look at this: Since when did two plus two equal five?"
It looked as though Shinji was lost for words for a few brief moments.
"…I'd never make such a stupid mistake! It's all your fault! You're the idiots here, not me!"
Which didn't last very long.
As Shinji began shouting at the poor girl, the remainder of his crowd panicked and ran back to their desks, leaving only me and Shinji alone.
"Tch." He clicked his tongue and sighed, before sitting back down at his desk properly. "I hate dealing with the peasantry. Especially when they get full of themselves and think they're my equal. Truth be told, they're all worms. Pathetic worms that can't even stand the light of a brilliant sun like me, Y'know?" He paused for a moment, before he raised an eyebrow at me and continued.
"That's why I like you so much compared to them." He stretched his back after he uttered his praise, looking at me. "Even though you're boring, you know your place at least: The ultimate sidekick I could ever ask for." Shinji flashes me a smile as he finishes his compliment with that slightly sour dash of insult.
Even though I comment on how strange it is for his solid popularity with the girls, I must admit it's equally, if not even more, strange that I never take offence at the way he talks to me.
And indeed, like how he said before, Shinji Matou and I are friends, along with one other classmate. How this unholy trio happened… Well, I can't quite remember how. And I'm not sure if I want to remember, lest my opinion of him takes a 180 degree turn. I'm too boring to find another clique anyway.
Coincidentally, the bell signalling the beginning of classes rings, accompanied by stomping feet and the sound of the sliding door that signals the class' final arrival: Our homeroom teacher, Ms Taiga Fujimura, secretly known throughout the school as 'The Tiger'.
"I made it!' She gasped as she closed the door behind her, the ringing bells stopping short as soon as she did. She took a few brief gasps of breath, before stepping forward towards the desk at the class' front, shouting out a greeting, "Good morning, everyo – "
Before brilliantly tripping over the small platform at the front of the classroom, painfully falling onto the floor as her head strikes the corner of the lectern at the front of the class with an almost sickening thud.
The classroom fell dead silent, with every student's attention focused on the twitching body of our homeroom teacher at the class' front.
A few brief moments of silence, before a few students dared to say anything about Ms Fujimura. Eventually, a handful of other students brave enough stood out of their desks and approached her fallen body, making a number of comments and calling out to her.
"She isn't moving…"
"She hit her head on the desk; is she alright?"
"Should someone go and call the nurse?"
Finally, one student got close enough and shouted into her ear.
"Ms Fujimura! Wake up!"
"Ughhh… Huh?" The response came back positive, as Ms Fujimura shot back upright as if nothing had happened.
"Huh? What's wrong everyone?" She asked us, completely ignorant of what had just happened. "Class is about to start, so hurry up and return to your seats!"
The students dutifully followed her advice, ignoring what would normally be considered a serious injury.
'Well, this has happened almost everyday after all…' I thought to myself, slouched over my desk. 'And she always gets back up properly, so there isn't anything to worry about…'
As I and my fellow classmates left it at that, Ms Fujimura then began taking attendance and starting the class, the day proceeded almost without a care.
"Now then, today we'll be talking about the biography of a talented physician known as Dr. Pieceman…"
The bell signalling the end of school rings as the orange light of the afternoon sun filtered into the classroom.
I stretched my back as I thought about the lesson today. While not too boring, it was still a relief that it was over. Though I guess any student would think that.
I looked around at my fellow classmates as they began to break off into small groupings. Standing up to leave, I saw Shinji coming over to my desk.
"Thank god that's over." He began, his face clearly mirroring his words. "I was honestly getting sick of listening to the teachers." He rubbed his temples for a little bit, before continuing.
"Being a student sucks. The worst part of the whole deal has to be attending these stupid classes as well. Though come to think of it…" He looked at me in the face seriously, leaning back as he placed a hand on his hips. "You're still here though? No plans prepared? Like a date or something?"
I stood in almost dumbfounded silence at his comment, before he smiled and laughed.
"Hah, I'm just messing with you! You're too boring to get a date anyway!" He flicked his hair off of his face, as if emphasising the difference between us. "You're as plain as dirt anyway, so that much is obvious. And you don't mind staying that way either. As I said before, that's what I like about you."
He picked up his bag from his impeccably neat desk, before turning back towards me. "Well, you're going off to your Journalism Club now right?" I nodded in response.
"You see, that's the good thing about you." He repeated himself, giving me his usual smile. "You know your place on the ladder, and you stay there, not bothering anybody else." With that said, he turned towards the door, bidding me farewell.
"Well then, see you tomorrow!" Without turning back to look at me, he briskly walked out the door of the classroom.
I sighed in slight resignation. Certainly, Shinji is on a completely different level to me; just comparing how many people recognise our faces is enough to illustrate his point.
My thoughts were drowned out amongst the chatter of my classmates as I packed up my things however, and before long I felt a tap on my shoulder as a classmate began talking to me.
"Yo, the Chief's asking for you, seems like something big." He smiled at me amusedly, his brown hair covering his eyes slightly. He was a neighbour, and a friend of mine; the other person with the fortune, good or bad, of also being a friend of Shinji Matou. He probably overheard our conversation as Shinji left.
"Anything else she may have said about it?" I asked him as I returned his crooked smile.
"No, she just seemed really excited as usual; you better go and take care of it." He replied. "Honestly, she's like a raging wildfire in a dry savannah."
"Yeah, but there's not much I can do about it I guess." I shouldered my bag as I nodded to him in affirmation. "Right, thanks for that." I gave him a quick pat on the back, before leaving the class to search for the Chief.
"Ah, there you are!" I heard a voice shout out almost as soon as I left the classroom; it seems as though she was already searching for me.
"Yo, Club Ace; why's it you're always late like this?" She asked immediately as I turned to look at her. "You know the deadline for the next issue's coming up so you really ought to get a move on!"
The Editor-In-Chief, nicknamed Chief by the members of the Journalism Club, possessed long brown hair that almost reached past her skirt, alongside enough energy to run around the entire campus with it trailing behind her. Unlike many of the students, she was a dual member of the Journalism Club, as well as the Student Council, and hence sported the black uniform unique for its members: The amount of energy needed to keep going for such roles, on top of being a second-year like me, must be staggering indeed.
'Well, considering how she's a member of both clubs, she'd need the energy to keep going alright.' I thought wryly as I looked her over. 'I suppose it is inevitable that such a link between student governance and student journalism must exist somewhere, and the Chief is it.'
"Deadline?" I asked her, slightly confused as I moved to the side of the corridor so as not to obstruct the path, the sunlight from the windows warming up my back.
"Whaaat?" She pulled a face as she placed a hand on her hips. "Did you forget? You're supposed to write an article about the 'Unsolved Mysteries of Tsukumihara'. The deadline's already coming up with the exams and all. Well, whatever; your work's always good so I'll leave you to take care of it."
I nodded in response, the pace of her thoughts and words I could just barely grasp.
"In any case, I've done some of the initial investigating, the rest is up to you." She began again. "The first preview edition we'll be releasing's entitled 'Gateway to the Paranormal'. So, listen…" She looked around at the passing students, as though not wanting anyone else to overhear. But as this was the time where all the classes were emptying for clubs, it wasn't exactly very empty.
"You seem a bit on edge, Chief." I asked out of concern. "You alright?"
"O-Of course I am!" She cried in indignation. "Well, anyway… There's supposed to be an entrance to the Spirit World at the rear of the Archery Range. One time, a male student who got bullied a lot was told to pick up trash there… And then vanished completely! Everyone's completely convinced that something paranormal is going on back there!" As she ranted on about the story, her eyes slowly took on a glazed, fearful look.
"Seriously, isn't that scar-I mean, ridiculous? And as the club's Ace, I'm sending you to investigate! Leave no stone unturned! Sniff out the truth, understood?" She ended her statement as she prodded my chest several times, waiting for an answer.
"I think the only thing paranormal here is you though, Chief." I replied with a smirk.
"Grr…" She pulled a face at my joke, clearly miffed. "You're supposed to answer 'Yes Ma'am'! Now, hop to it! I gotta go and find some of the other slacker reporters probably ditching club! Geez, without me I don't know what you guys will spend your days doing!" With that said, she's already moving on through the crowd of the school, likely looking for the next club member to bug.
"Geez, the Chief's as energetic as usual, huh." Another girl sighed behind me. "Somehow you're the only one who can keep up with her."
"Well, not much I can do about that, huh?" I replied, turning to look at her.
"Well, I better go and chase after her." She said, sighing again. "I wish I could keep up with her as well as you can. Being the Vice-Chief is really tiring."
"Don't worry about it; you're doing just fine as it is." I said reassuringly. She gave me a quick smile before rushing after the quickly disappearing Chief.
"Well then, I better get started." I took a quick look at my watch, planning my route of investigation. "Start from the top, work your way to bottom as they say. I'll start from the third floor of the School building, the Student Council office should be there. Can't start from the roof since it's off-limits."
'But, I wonder why though…'I thought idle thought passed by as I made my way towards the stairs.
On the way up the stairs, I happened to notice a bulletin board with a large piece of paper stuck to it, words scrawled across it in energetic handwriting that could only belong to the Chief. It reads:
"Tsukumihara Times Preview Edition 1."
"A special feature will begin the day after tomorrow…"
"Cracking the Unsolved Mysteries of Tsukumihara Academy."
"Don't miss it!"
I sighed inwardly at this; clearly she's making a mountain out of a molehill with these rumours, asking a single reporter to go and shoulder such a prominent set of articles.
"Hey, d'you notice how that girl in the Nurse's office is always wearing long-sleeves even though it's the middle of summer?" I heard a third-year's voice speak as I approached the third floor.
All of the Third Year classes are situated on this floor on the left wing, alongside the Multimedia room, the Student Council Office, and a number of other rooms reserved for clubs on the right wing. Most of the building's layout is similar; classrooms on the left wing, and special reserved rooms on the right wing.
'If Issei's in the Student Council Office, I may be able to ask him for a few details concerning the bullying part of the story.' I thought as I recounted the information.
"Yeah, Sakura Matou, isn't it?" Another voice responded to the first voice that spoke when I arrived, piquing my interest.
'Hm? Shinji's got a younger sister?' I thought, raising an eyebrow as I overheard the conversation, before standing still to listen in, telling myself 'Though eavesdropping is bad; as a journalist I can't let even a little bit of info escape my notice.'
"Oh, Sakuraaa!" A different voice wailed. "Why must you be Shinji's little sister? If you weren't under his thumb so, I would gladly ask you to marry me! Every day I'd wake up and see your beautiful face! Every day I'd be able to eat your wonderful cooking! Ooh, why cruel fate, WHY!?"
"Stop acting so dramatic." The first voice replied, exasperated. "You ain't the only one with those sentiments."
"Though honestly, if you aren't willing to put up with Shinji as your brother-in-law you don't deserve somebody as cute as her." The second voice cut in.
"Aren't you interested in getting her as your girlfriend?" The first asked.
"Unlike YOU lot I do have a plan to win her heart!" The second spoke confidently. "I don't spend my time wailing about how much of a complete prick Shinji is! I spend my time devising a plan to take her away from his evil clutches!"
"Yeah, now YOU'RE the one being dramatic…" The third voice sulked. "Though I bet Shinji abuses her at home, so she has to wear that coat all day to cover up the scars on her arms!"
"That's why I, as her shining knight, vow here and now to take her away from the evil clutches of that accursed villain!" The second proclaimed without a shred of doubt as he was probably striking some cliché victory pose.
'Huh, now that I think about it…' I thought silently as they continued, 'this story's nothing new really. Oh well, I better get back to work…' Turning, I took a left down the corridor towards the Student Council office, leaving the three to keep talking about their crush, Sakura Matou.
'Although, I didn't know Shinji's sister was the origin of that story. And for that matter, I didn't know he even HAD a sister… But he can't be THAT bad that he bullies her even at home, right? His personality may be down the drain, but I've never known Shinji to harm anyone directly like that…' I dispelled my idle thoughts on that conversation as I reached the Student Council Office.
"Excuse me." I called out as I slid open the door.
"Oh…" A girl in the characteristic black of the Student Council asked as she saw me. "Are you here to see Issei?" She must recognise me as part of the Journalism Club wanting to interview the president.
"Yeah, is he here right now to talk for a little bit?" I replied in confirmation.
"I'm afraid that he's already left." She said with a crooked smile. "Rain or shine, you can expect the president to be out in the field taking care of any problems coming up."
"Yeah; someone should pull the stick out of his butt so he can walk off and do something else!" Another member of the Student Council piqued up idly as she was tidying up some papers. "Still though, for a stickler to protocol and detail, he's surprisingly popular. What'd you want to talk to him about anyway?"
"Oh, I'm investigating that rumour about a Gateway to the Spirit World behind the Archery Range." I replied, pulling out a pen so I could write some notes on my hand for later reference.
"A gateway behind the Archery Range?" The first Student Council member asked sceptically. "That old story about a bullied boy disappearing into thin air?"
"Yeah, that one…" I confirmed. "You have any idea about where I could find some leads?"
"Ms Fujimura's the advisor for the Archery Club." The second member answered nonchalantly, still busy with her papers. "She'd probably have some details about anything related to the range."
"I see then, thanks for letting me know, and sorry for disturbing you." I replied as I wrote down Ms Fujimura's name, then Advisor, before closing the door and turning around.
"Ms Fujimura's the advisor for the Archery Club?" I whispered as I played the words over in my head. "If that's the case, she's probably there right now cleaning up; the Archery Club's put on temporary hold right now for the exams, so nobody should be there except the advisor…Okay, at least I got another lead."
Gearing myself up, I headed back for the stairs down to the first floor.
"Hey, Sakura!" I heard an unmistakeable voice shout as I arrived.
Turning in the direction it came from, Shinji Matou stood out like a sore thumb in front of the Nurse's office down the corridor from my position. Before him, there was a girl I couldn't remember seeing beforehand.
She wore a long labcoat that covered up the brown girl's uniform of Tsukumihara Academy beneath it. The coat's hems reached up to her thighs alongside her skirt, with its sleeves covering the entirety of her arms. Stunningly long purple hair reached all the way down to her ankles, making her form even more recognisable than Shinji's.
'Sakura? Then, Sakura Matou? Shinji's younger sister that those third years were talking about?' I couldn't help but think to myself, just as I remembered Shinji's words. 'Yet, why is it I can't remember seeing her until today?'
The girl known as Sakura turned around to face Shinji, though her face looked as though she wanted to turn right back around again.
"Oh… It's you, brother." A small voice leaked out from her lips, barely audible at the distance I was away from them. But they were at least audible enough for me to confirm my suspicions.
"I heard that you've been skipping out on the Archery Club's morning practices lately!" Shinji's tirade began, clearly infuriated at something. "Why haven't you been showing up? And where do you get off taking a break without my say so?!" His tirade stopped there; surprisingly short considering its Shinji. But very quickly his voice rose again in anger
"Ah, I get it now… You've been going to 'their' house again, haven't you?" His voice contained venom that I could not remember ever coming from Shinji, his hands clenching into fists.
'Their house?' I couldn't help but think as I continued to eavesdrop, still remembering the words I had spoken to myself previously in reassurance that eavesdropping was alright… even if it was my friend.
"… Yes… Yes, I have been going there, but I just wanted to help and…" She began, trying to defend her position.
"Let me guess…" Shinji cut her off, shaking his head as he rubbed his temples. "You felt obliged to help, right? Goddamnit, why must you always be so naive? Tch, anyway, if someone gets hurt, just leave them to suffer: Just do what I tell you to, and things will be A-okay." He waved his hand with confidence, as though he could see and control the future directly.
"I mean, it seems like people get some kind of perverse thrill from getting in my way like this. To force one of my… err… my dear little sister to miss valuable practice time…"
"No! No, that's not how it was at all!" She cried out, trying to overturn her brother's conclusion as she brought a hand to her chest, clearly disturbed. "I wasn't forced to help or do anything out of obligation… I just wanted to help! But… Brother, why… are you so against… Why is it so wrong to help those who need it?"
"Ha!" He laughed in scorn. "Isn't it only fools and weaklings that manage to hurt themselves somehow? That kind of trash doesn't deserve any help in the first place!" He flicked a lock of hair to the side, as though to emphasise his superiority.
"And why help anybody out in the first place?" His tirade continued shortly afterwards unabated. "Will that same person ever pay you back or help you in return? Of course they won't; they'll just take your help and leave you on the roadside when it's your turn to come begging for it! And if you think otherwise, you're an idiot! I won't be used by anyone. It's better to treat others as cattle and just use them as necessary. And isn't it time for you to come around to seeing things my way?!"
"But…" Sakura began stuttering during a pause in Shinji's tirade, her figure seemingly growing smaller by the minute under the overwhelming presence of her brother. "But, for me… that option… that is…"
"Shut it, Sakura." Shinji began again, his mood clearly close to breaking point as he swung his hand in the air, before jabbing a finger at her with finality. "I don't care what you have to say, and I am only going to say this once: Stop going to that house Sakura, got it!?"
"Is my pathetic Grandson stirring up trouble again?" An elderly voice shocked me out of my stupor just as Shinji's final words echoed in the air. Almost as though by command, my body snapped around at attention to look at the owner of the voice.
Its origin was an ancient man, his wrinkled skin and hunched back evidence of the many years he had weighing upon him, so much so that he barely stood up to my chest. Wielding a weak-looking, yet surprisingly sturdy cane, and wearing a dark green kimono underneath a long, loose black coat. Honestly, I was surprised that he was capable of coming to this School from wherever he lived: He looked so frail that a single gust of wind would be able to knock him off his feet.
Yet even after saying that, his voice earlier held a commanding tone that instinctively caused me to come to attention, and a sickly aura around him that sent shivers up my spine like I could never remember. His physical age clearly had no impact on his actual bearing…Rather, instead of bogging him down, it instead served to strengthen him instead, like the rings of an ancient tree.
"Ah…" Apparently the same aura this man exuded did not go unnoticed, as Sakura's dejection was immediately replaced with something else, her body almost visibly stiffening. "G… Grandfather… Welcome… " She took a standing bow to the diminutive man beside me.
"Wha-!" Shinji's shock was almost entertaining to watch, had it not been for the complete fear that blanketed his face at the sight of the old man. "G-Grandfather! You didn't need to come all the way out here if you needed us... !" Shinji's discomfort was obvious from the moment his mouth opened as his previously arrogant attitude took a complete U-turn.
"Hmph; I need not concern myself with the two of you." He answered Shinji's worry with disinterest. "I… just felt that I needed to take a walk, and ended up here. I expect the two of you to return home immediately after you have finished what you needed to do at school." Although he had the full attention of the two siblings, he was clearly more interested in the school building itself, for whatever reason. His eyes were carefully scanning every nook and cranny of the concrete, as though searching for something...
"Y… Yes, Grandfather." Sakura said simply, still keeping her head bowed and her face hidden, though from my position, it looked as though her body was… trembling slightly.
"O… Of course, Grandfather!" Shinji's voice perked up again, seeing as he was in no danger, it seemed as his body became slightly livelier. "I was just telling Sakura the same thing!"
"I'll be on my way then." The old man they had referred to as 'Grandfather' walked past the two of them as though they were nothing but statues, his attention clearly fixed on something else entirely.
"Hah… Haha…" For some reason, Shinji Matou began laughing as the aura of the old man slowly disappeared from the area. "W… Well, remember what I said, Sakura; and go home immediately afterwards." With that said, Shinji immediately bolted for the exit, not caring anymore about his little sister who was still standing, frozen bent in a bow as though the old man was still before her.
"Seems like Shinji ran off then, eh?" A voice came up from behind me, shocking me again out of my mystified state.
"D… Did you see that?" I asked him as I turned around, recognising my mutual friend of Shinji walking down the staircase with his bag slung over his shoulder.
"Yeah; I'm honestly as dumbfounded as you are." He answered, his partially hidden eyes underneath his hair illustrating his confusion clearly. "Maybe we'll have to ask the Chief whether she'd be willing to investigate the Matou household for stories; they'd probably have more mysteries than a library has books." He tried to crack a joke to loosen up the awkward atmosphere left behind by the old man's appearance.
"Eh, I don't know if that'd work…" I replied, scratching my head as I responded to his joke, albeit half-heartedly.
"In any case…" He shook his head as he came down to stand beside me. "Don't you have that story you're supposed to take care of for the Chief?"
"Oh… Oh yeah!" I couldn't help but smack my fist into my palm as I realised I had completely forgotten about it.
"You got anything new then?" He asked as he tapped my back.
"Yeah, I went and talked with some of the Student Council members." I began recounting what I heard on the third floor when I went to look for Issei.
"I see; you better get going then." He said, nodding in thought. "Ms Fujimura's probably at the range by herself, cleaning up after the club members since it's so close to the exam period."
"Yeah, my thoughts exactly…" I replied as my gaze slowly shifted to Sakura, who was still standing rigid and bowed over for some reason.
"I'll take care of it." He sighed as he followed my gaze. "She probably just needs a little chop to the head after having Shinji go at her like that. Go and take care of the Chief's story, she'll probably be livid if you don't finish it in time."
"Got it, thanks." It was all I could say after a pause as I flashed him a smile, before heading off out the school doors.
It was clear that he could recognise my worried state; after hearing about how high Sakura Matou was on the list as everyone's desired girlfriend, leaving her in such a stupefied state would be dangerous.
But I knew I could trust my friend in getting her back in shape, without anything undue happening.
On the way to the Archery Range, I had to pass by the Sports Hall, next to the second entrance. For some reason, my feet slowed as I passed by the entrance, my eyes turning over to its large, wooden doors.
Almost as if triggering a negative reaction to my stare, the doors of the hall burst open, as a man slowly stepped out of the shadows.
His clothes were completely black; from his fur-lined coat to his gloves all the way down to his pants and boots, in eerie sync with his jet-black, short hair and equally black eyes.
"What do you think you're doing?" His voice; deep, dark, and menacing, only served to cement his threatening stance.
His aura was intimidating, to say the least… Well, until he turned his gaze to look at me. And in that instant, his intimidating aura was replaced by one of overwhelming danger that sent waves upon waves of terror all over my body. That cold, blank stare of his conveyed no discernable emotion, yet in its place was an unbridled killing intent, as though he was deciding which was more expedient: Breaking my neck, or skinning me alive!
"Odd. Your name doesn't appear to be on the list, but I had better make sure…" His cold voice came again to envelope me, after his stare had nailed my feet firmly to the ground.
He began to mutter under his breath as he reached out with his right hand towards me. Although he didn't move from his position at the doors of the Sports Hall, his very aura made it feel as though his hand was slowly, slowly, coming ever so closer towards me. As waves of nausea and vertigo threatened to overwhelm me, I felt like a rabbit watching the wolf drawing nearer and nearer for the kill…
"You're not even trying to fight." He spoke again, the note of disgust within it obvious as he lowered his hand. "My instinct's aren't as sharp as they used to be… I need to rest."
The paralysis that held me rooted suddenly fades away as I tried to hold back a sigh of relief, although the man still continued to look at me with those dead eyes of his.
"My name is Mr Kuzuki." He said simply, as though unaware of the very terror his presence causes to others as he introduced himself, turning his body towards the entrance to the main school building.
"I will be teaching at Tsukumihara Academy starting from tomorrow onwards." He continued speaking, his ominous gaze still locked on me. "The campus is about to close soon: If you have nothing else to do here, I advise that you go home immediately. There have been rumours of a slasher stalking the school grounds at night, so you should return for your own safety."
With his final words spoken, he detached his murderous glare from me and left the area, sparing me no second thought.
'Great…' I thought to myself as I sighed inwardly in relief, my knees almost giving way as my hands were still slick with sweat from that man's overwhelming presence. 'Now we have a teacher with obvious murderous intent teaching at our school…'
'Darn it, look at the time…' I glanced at my watch as I remembered my original purpose here. 'I really got to find a way to stop myself from being side tracked like this…The Chief's not gonna be happy tomorrow if I can't find enough to appease her.'
With that… eventful, meeting done and over with, I quickly hurried over to the Archery Range, hoping that whatever is behind there won't take up too much more of my time.
The light of the setting sun basked the Archery Range in a golden glow.
It's interior was made of two covered sections, separated by a long, grassy field in-between. From the entrance I came in from, I could just barely see the target mounds underneath the opposite covered section. On the section where I stood, rows upon rows of unstrung bows lined the walls, with small boxes packed full of arrows dotting the wooden floor.
The floor gave a pleasant, welcoming creak as I took a few steps into the building, my eyes scanning the area for where to begin my investigation. And just as I did so, a familiar figure appeared, stepping into the shaded area holding a large number of arrows in her hands.
"Ah." Ms Fujimura said as she noticed me standing there. "You caught me in the middle of cleaning: Those kids nowadays don't even unstring their bows! The worst is when they leave their arrows stuck in the target mound. I usually make the kids do it, but there's no club activities leading up to exams, so I end up having to do it." She quickly moved to dump the arrows back into the boxes before turning back to face me again, as though emphasising her point.
"There's not particularly much you can do about it, I guess, Ms Fujimura." I said matter-of-factly, not really sure how to console a teacher for having to do her job.
"In any case, what are you doing over here then?" She asked smiling at me. "Exams are coming up in just four days you know, so you really shouldn't be stalling over here!"
"Well, I'm here on club activities actually…" I replied, scratching my head sheepishly. "The Editor in Chief's asked me to investigate a story about the Archery Range."
"And here I just said you shouldn't be stalling here." She said sceptically. "In any case, since I'm here, what's the story about then?"
"Err…" I pulled out a pen again in preparation to write down some notes of anything she could tell me. "There's been a rumour about an Entrance to the Spirit World behind the Archery Range going about; have you seen anything yourself, Ms Fujimura?"
"Huh? An entrance to the spirit world?" She looked at me incredulously. "That's just a rumour, it's not real! Come on now, stop focusing on fantasy stuff like that and focus on your exams! Four days remember, Four! So go home and study already, shoo, shoo!"
Following her direction I quickly left the way I came in, with Ms Fujimura chasing me out.
'Well, it seems I had my answer to the disappearing boy: He probably got shooed away by the Tiger-I mean, Ms Fujimura.' I thought to myself as I looked up at the sky afterwards, recounting what I've heard this afternoon. 'Though she doesn't like the nickname us students have given her, she's certainly earned it on more than one occasion…'
'And it's not entirely surprising that she's behind one of Tsukumihara Academy's rumours…' I laughed inwardly to myself. 'Maybe I should write an article after the exams are over about why does she keep falling over at the start of class…In any case, I'd better talk to the Chief tomorrow about what I heard; I'd better get back home now.'
With that final thought, I left through the main gate, ending just another day at school.
Act 0: Scene 2
2 Days Remaining
Humans know such humble days are precious
Yet, where are the buyers for such excess?
"Morning." I called out to my friend as I reached the school gate.
My seat neighbour, and mutual friend of Shinji turned around, smiling as he saw me.
"Morning, you get anything from the Archery Range yesterday?" He asked as I reached his side.
"Yeah, the Ti-ugh, Ms Fujimura was there yesterday as I went to investigate."
"Really now?" He raised an eyebrow as he heard me, probably coming to the same conclusions I had yesterday. "Well, the Chief'll probably be relieved to hear that."
"Yeah." I smiled in response. "I'm surprised that the Chief's actually so scared of such ghost stories, even though she's so gung-ho about getting this series of articles out."
"You seem pretty gung-ho about it yourself actually." He shrugged his shoulders as he began moving towards the main building. "We'd better hurry; classes are about to start. Don't want to end up like Ms Fujimura, right?" I quickly followed him as he threw that last comment out.
As we entered the building, a very recognisable sight caught my eye.
Even though yesterday was the first time I've seen her, it was already impossible for me to mistake Sakura Matou's figure for anyone else.
She was standing by the shoe-lockers, apparently trying to sift through a number of envelopes while trying to find her indoor shoes.
"Looks like she's got another bunch of love letters." My friend commented, smiling wryly as he opened his own locker; completely empty in comparison.
I kept quiet as I looked into my own empty box, switching out my shoes before turning to him again. "Erm…"
"Yesterday, right?" He asked as he closed his locker, already reading my mind.
"Yeah…" I answered his suspicions sheepishly.
"She's fine." He turned and smiled at me reassuringly. "As I said, she just needed a little chop to the head to bring her back."
"Have you… talked to her before?" I asked him as I too closed my own locker.
"Me? Ha." He laughed at the thought. "I'm just as much in the dark about her as you are. We're just boring idiots under Shinji's shadow anyway. Yesterday's the first time I talked to her, as well as seen her."
He took a quick glance at the girl in question, before turning back to me and whispering something, apparently sensing the hidden meaning of my words. "It's best if we don't delve into family matters too deeply; you may get caught in something you won't be able to get out of."
"But still though…" I couldn't help but turn back to her figure still standing by her locker, focusing on the long sleeved coat she wore as the words of those third-years from yesterday came back to me.
"Haah." My friend sighed as he saw my worry, before patting me on the shoulder as I turned back to look at him. "Think about it rationally; you only saw her yesterday right?" I only nodded in silence as he began speaking, trying to reason out with me. "You haven't even talked to her once before, right?" Again, I nodded in reply.
"You only know that Shinji likes to keep her under his thumb constantly. Perhaps he's being a bit pushy about it, but some brothers are like that. We also know that their grandfather seems like a very strict man: Again, no concrete facts about how their home life is like, and nothing to say for certain, right?" I couldn't deny his logic as I nodded again in reply.
"Then right now there's not much you can do about it."
"But still-!" I turned around to face him again as Shinji's words from yesterday popped up in my mind. I didn't expect my friend to share his opinion about not helping those in need.
That is, until he gave a light chop to my head, silencing any words I had in my mouth.
"Shut it: I'm not done yet." He spoke grumpily as I stared at him. "Right now, there's not much you can do about it. But later on is probably a different matter entirely, isn't it?" He gave me a knowing grin as I understood the meaning of his final words. "Get to know her a little better for starters; I'll be cheering you on, alright?"
"Heh, sure thing." I rubbed my forehead where he hit me as I returned his grin, before a surprised yelp echoed through the corridor.
"Hm?" My friend was already scanning the area for the source of the voice. Sakura had apparently left already as I was being lectured, but that voice was unmistakeably hers.
Immediately both of us were already moving through the corridors looking for her; apparently all of the other students had already disappeared for class, the corridor deserted aside from the two of us. And although we too should be following suit, it seemed my friend shared the same worries as me about Sakura, and the events from yesterday.
But we didn't have to wait for too long.
From the entrance and turning to the right, towards the Faculty and Nurse's Office, we quickly saw Sakura's collapsed body on the floor.
"Sakura!" I instinctively shouted out as I ran over to her fallen figure, crouching beside her. "What's wrong?"
"Ah…?" She blinked several times before looking at me, clearly in a daze. "Is…Is something the matter?"
"You… You just collapsed in the middle of the street." I replied, incredulous that she didn't even realise it herself as my friend reached us.
"Is there anything we can do for you?" He asked calmly as he stooped down. "Classes are about to start soon; do you need to take a rest?"
"Oh… yeah…" She replied softly as she tried to get up to her feet, before I gave her a hand to help her up. "Thanks… Yes, sorry about that, I… haven't been sleeping… very well the past few days."
"Should I take you down to the Nurse's office?" I asked her worriedly as I held onto her small hand.
"Yes… please." She replied slowly, her eyes still unfocused.
"I'll go and tell the teacher's you'll be late." My friend said, nodding his head. "What class are you in, Sakura? I'll go and tell them you'll probably be taking the first few lessons off."
"Oh, no, don't worry…" She began as she turned her head to us, smiling. "I'm stationed at the Nurse's office, not at a classroom."
"Oh… alright…" My friend had a slightly puzzled look on his face, before it was replaced by a twinge of pain and then reverting back to normal. "Well, I'll tell Ms Fujimura that you'll be a bit late then; don't take too long." He gave us a quick wave before heading back to the stairs for our homeroom.
'What was that?' I thought as I replayed Sakura's words over in my head, and the subsequent variation in my friend's expression. 'Ugh, I think I feel a headache coming on… already so early in the morning?' I shook my head to try and get rid of the thoughts and the headache, before turning back to look at Sakura, still standing there.
"Sh… Should we get going then?" I asked, a little bit nervous now with the two of us alone in the corridor.
"Yes… Sorry about this…" She murmured as she looked straight ahead, apparently still in a daze. "I don't want to take up too much of your time…"
"Oh please, it's no problem." I replied quickly. "My homeroom teacher's pretty late herself, so I should be able to get back before she does for roll call." Keeping a hold onto her hand so as to prevent her collapsing again, I began walking towards the Nurse's office.
Even with Sakura's slow pace, very quickly the two of us reached the door to the Nurse's office.
"Is… Is there anything else I could do for you, Sakura?" I asked her as I opened the door, letting her go through.
"Th… Thank you for your concern." She turned a tired, but still gentle smile at me at the doorway after she had made her way in. "But I should be fine after a bit of rest."
"Al… Alright then…" I stuttered, my wits already leaving me even after my friend's encouragement. "I'll… I'll see you later then Sakura…"
"Yes... See you later." She replied, before turning towards the beds in the office, presumably to take a little lie-down.
Slowly I closed the doors, before going back down the corridor and up the stairs towards my classroom.
"Damnit! I didn't even tell her my name!" I almost shouted in fury on the way, after the fact dawned on me.
It seemed that, even with the distraction down on the first floor this morning, Ms Fujimura still wasn't here, the bell having yet to ring… I had to count my lucky stars for that. But instead, something else was out of place.
The girls that normally flocked around Shinji Matou's desk aren't there this morning. The person in question himself seemed to be in a pretty bad mood too. I gave a questioning glance at my neighbouring friend, who shrugged in response. Apparently he wasn't willing to go into the lion's den, so I'll ask him…
Though I had better keep it a secret that I was trying, and failing, to hit on his younger sister.
"Yo, Shinji, did something happen?"
"What?" He snapped at me as I came close to his desk. "Like I'd tell you if anything happened to me! Which, it didn't. Nothing happened at all."
I gave a wry smile at his failed attempt at denial, apparently triggering the next set of floodgates to open.
"Hey, you know that Ice Queen Rin Tousaka?" He started. "She thinks she's so much better than everyone else. At first, I thought that she would be the only one who understood how lonely it is at the top. I tried talking to her yesterday, but I got nowhere. Maybe I just intimidate her or something. I might've lost a few points for getting violent, but girls who talk back to me get slapped!"
I sighed inwardly as I heard him recount his side of the story. Though I don't know of the girl in question, this Rin Tousaka had probably shot Shinji straight out of the sky as soon as he tried hitting on her.
"I'd never hook up with such a violent, stuck-up bitch like that, no matter how hot she is! She'd be perfect if she'd just keep her mouth shut. And why'd she take a shot at me anyway? I thought she was gonna spinning-star kick me next!"
As he continued to whine, I could only imagine just how sleazy Shinji was with her. Though normally his super-aggressive approach works, but as they say, you can't fool all the people, all the time.
Still, with that said, life's just that little bit more interesting when it's got these little shake-ups now and then, like this morning with Sakura, and now this with Shinji.
At that moment, the bell began to ring. And right on cue, Ms Fujimura dashed through the doors at the last second as I took my seat between my two friends.
"Phew, I made it!" She declared triumphantly. "Good morning everyone!" She waved energetically to the class as she took a quick glance around.
"Alright, no one's absent, and since there are no announcements to make, let's just start homeroom."
Taking a few steps forward while reaching towards the blackboard, she tripped again, falling over as she always does.
This time however, as she fell, her fingernails scratched along the blackboard in an attempt to grab onto something, emitting a horrifying screech that sent me cringing even more than how she normally hits her head.
And thus, another normal morning for another normal day began anew.
"…and though the Great War had finally come to an end, regional conflicts still persisted."
Standing behind the lectern today, is the school's newest teacher, Mr Kuzuki.
Who I had the, rather terrifying experience, of meeting yesterday.
"Despite the suffering of the previous generation, battles once again commenced thirty years afterwards."
Although he's supposed to be teaching math, his lessons have apparently gone off on a tangent, instead talking about European History from the early 20th century onwards.
"Now instead of armies, attacks in ever greater numbers are being carried out by terrorists. And in an attempt to supress these terrorists groups…"
Just before he began detailing the strategies used, the chiming bell signals the end of classes. And with it, the tension in the room nosedives immediately, as though its strings had been cut.
"All right, let us end here today." He looked at the class as a whole as we rapidly began to pack up, before he began speaking again.
"…Oh yes, before I forget. There is an announcement from the Student Counsellor. Recently, a rise in the number of slashing incidents has made the surrounding area dangerous. With that in mind, keep any detours to a minimum and head home as quickly as possible."
Repeating the same words from yesterday, he then left us students to our own devices. But although he speaks good advice, I still have to finish those assignments for the Journalism Club…
Though why I have such enthusiasm for it, on par with the Chief's, is a mystery just as my friend had mentioned this morning…
Shinji bolted at the first chance possible, and my friend's probably already off doing some inane task the Chief's asked of him. In that case, I better go report to the Chief about what I saw yesterday as well.
As I exited the classroom, I began hearing the rumourmongers of the school selling their wares to the people with the most open ears: The new teacher, Mr Kuzuki; the differences between comic books and manga; the upcoming exams in 3 days; rumours of the slasher who's apparently been targeting students at the Academy; a girl named Rin Tousaka; Ms Fujimura living with a student …
'Wait, what? My body stopped as my mind kicked into gear. 'Rin Tousaka as in, the girl who shot Shinji down in mere seconds?'
I turned my eyes discreetly over to the source of the last rumour; a group of three girls were huddled over near the staircase as my ears began filtering out the remaining chit-chat, focusing on their own discussion.
"She's in Class B, remember?" One of them was commenting. "I'm surprised you've never heard of her: Pretty; athletic; smart; classy… Or a stuck-up Ms Perfect who all the guys adore and all the girls despise. Ring a bell anywhere?"
"It wouldn't be unrealistic to call Rin Tousaka the most popular girl in the whole school." A second voice chimed in.
"…Are you trying to pull my leg?" A third questioned the both of them, clearly sceptical.
"Honestly, you're as dense as a brick; you wouldn't feel it if I did try to pull your leg." The second teased.
"Whaa?" The third responded in mock horror. "I… I'm not dense… not that bad anyway… But still… She wasn't wearing our school uniform. She was wearing red. How'd you explain that?"
"Really?" The first asked, doubtful. "I didn't notice."
"Eh?" The third squeaked. "Maybe I'm remembering wrong…"
"Knowing you, you would." The second replied, teasing her again. "C'mon, let's head over for club."
"Ah… Yeah…" The third replied in confirmation, still clearly perturbed at the discussion as the three left the scene.
"Again, like Sakura; another mystery girl shows up out of the blue eh…" I muttered under my breath as I raised an eyebrow incredulously.
"Hey!" A familiar, overcharged voice barged into my thoughts as I turned around, seeing none other than the Chief staring at me intently, her long brown hair splayed behind her as usual.
"Yo, Club Ace; did you find anything yesterday?" Without even pausing long enough for me to respond to her greeting, she's already jumped to the topic about the article. But since I had nothing else I could respond with at this point, I just went with it and told her what I found yesterday at the Archery Range.
"Interesting…" She nodded in thought. "So it was Tiger!" Of course there's no entrance to the Spirit World!" She laughed it off, even though she seemed very skittish yesterday after talking to me about it.
"Right then, thanks to you, the article will be great! Are you ready for your next assignment?"
She's already off on the next topic?!
"The next unsolved mystery is a pretty recent one: Yesterday, there was a girl dressed in red on the rooftop."
'Huh, that sounds a little bit familiar to what those three girls were talking about…' I thought. 'Could she be the one behind it?'
"Rumours about 'Little Red Rooftop' are spreading quickly." The Chief continued. "Go find out what this is all about: A journalist lets the news guide their feet, so hurry on up to the rooftop! I've gotta find your friend; he's late with taking care of that other article for me!" With that said, she's already racing off through the crowd, leaving me behind sighing as the Vice-Chief came up right behind her.
"Still as energetic as always." I shook my head as I commented to her in passing. She flashed me a wry smile before she too disappeared after the Chief.
'Come to think of it though,' I thought to myself as I took a look at the staircase, 'since I have a little bit of time before I need to go and investigate, maybe I should give Sakura a quick check-up…'
With that in mind, I quickly head down the stairs to the first floor, instead of going up as per my original target.
While on the way down the stairs, I couldn't help but notice the bulletin board from yesterday. Apparently the Chief's already changed what was pinned up there. Today, it reads:
"Tsukumihara Times Preview Edition 2."
"A special feature will begin tomorrow…"
"Cracking the Unsolved Mysteries of Tsukumihara Academy."
"Check it out!"
"…She really does love putting on the pressure doesn't she?" I sighed as I finished reading it out to myself. "Although, the Chief looks like she's starting to push herself a bit; the handwriting seems even sloppier than yesterday…"
"Yeah, the Chief really does seem to be pushing herself a bit…" A familiar voice came from behind me. I turned around to see my friend, staring intently at the bulletin board.
"Seems like you're under a lot of pressure to perform eh?" He joked as he saw my face, repeating my words previously.
"Eh?" I looked at him quizzically. "Wasn't the Chief looking for you?"
"Yeah, she caught me." He sighed. "Handed her the article I was supposed to write, before being slapped with another assignment right off the bat." I thought I saw him physically age for a moment as he recalled the task set for him, before he turned to look at me. "You assigned that 'Little Red Rooftop' story now, right?"
"Yeah, I am…" I replied.
"But isn't the rooftop, that way?" He asked, deadpan as he pointed upwards. "Instead of that way?" He continued, pointing downwards to the first floor, which I was clearly headed for.
"Uhhh…" I fidgeted under such a blatant questioning of my motives.
"Heh, I'm messing with you." He grinned as he patted my shoulder. "There's only one reason why'd you be going downstairs instead of up, and that's to check on Sakura, isn't it?"
"You can read me like an open book, can't you?" I sighed in defeat. Well, it's not like I was trying to hide the fact that I was going to check up on Sakura Matou.
"Well, more like it's just an obvious fact, considering you." He shrugged nonchalantly. "I'll come with you to check on her as well; I got a bit of time before I head off for the next assignment."
I pushed aside the door to the Nurse's office, the glow of the afternoon sun filtering through even to here.
"Excuse me." I called out automatically as I made my way in, my friend following me close behind.
"Oh, welcome." A now familiarly small, gentle voice called out in response.
Sakura Matou was seated at a table in the centre of the room, an open book in front of her. On the far side of where we entered were a number of beds, presumably for any students who were feeling ill.
"What can I do for you?" She asked as she stood up, her purple hair framing her figure alongside the labcoat she wore, and the uniform underneath it.
"H… How are you feeling, Sakura?" I asked, tentatively; it seemed as though she didn't remember what had occurred this morning.
"Oh, it's you two." She commented after a short pause. "Sorry I didn't recognise you for a moment; I was suffering from a lack of sleep this morning so I couldn't really focus on my surroundings." She bowed, both in thanks and apology. "Thank you for taking care of me, and sorry for causing so many problems so early in the day."
"Oh, please, it wasn't a bother!" I instinctively responded, shaking my head. "But more importantly, how are you now?"
"I'm fine, thank you." She gave me a warm, gentle smile. "I just needed a little bit of rest, so now I'm feeling much better."
"I see, that's good to hear…" I responded, nodding as I returned her smile, before a slightly uncomfortable silence descended between us.
"Well then, sorry for bothering you." My friend decided to break the ice after a little while. "Good to see you're feeling better, Sakura. We'll see you tomorrow." With that said, he quickly ushered me from the room, him following suit as the door slid closed behind us.
"You feeling more relieved now?" He asked me after a brief pause.
"Yeah, I guess…" I scratched the back of my head as I looked at our surroundings, before spotting Shinji at the end of the corridor.
He was looking intently at the door at the corridor's end that apparently refused to budge, although I myself have never seen anyone using said door before.
"Hm, what's Shinji doing?" My friend voiced my thoughts for me. "You gonna go and ask him what's up?"
"Yeah, since we're here." I replied as I straightened up. "You gonna come?"
"No, don't think I can." My friend motioned to the opposite direction down the corridor, and as I followed his gaze, I spotted Ms Fujimura. "My next assignment involves Ms Fujimura, so I'm afraid I'll have to split here."
"Alright, thanks for accompanying me then." I waved him goodbye as he left, before I turned over to Shinji.
"Hmm…" I could hear him muttering as I drew closer. "That's weird… Why won't it open?"
"Hey, Shinji." I called out to him as I stepped closer, the blue-haired young man turning over to look at me.
"Huh?" He greeted my appearance with a dour face. "What, you haven't left yet? Hold on, don't tell me…" He squinted, looking carefully at me up and down. "No, never mind. Losers like you shouldn't be on campus right now. Who knows; you might get whacked by that killer on the loose." He flicked his hair as he finished. "Hey, don't say I didn't warn you!"
As I was already quite used to his abuse, I didn't bat an eye. Instead though, I couldn't help but ask him directly:
"What're you up to, Shinji?"
And almost as though he saw a pit viper, Shinji reared up and almost started shouting.
"Sh-Shut it, you! It won't mean anything to a nerd like you, but I? Wait wait… why am I explaining anything to you? Just get the hell out of here already."
"Aw, come on; can't you just share a bit?" I asked him, trying to see whether I could help him or not.
"No, don't bother trying to help." He stated clearly, holding out one hand to stop me while rubbing his forehead with the other. "I'm the genius here; I can figure this out myself. Just go play reporter or whatever the heck it is you do in your club." With that finally said he turned around and went back to intently studying the door.
I gave a little shrug of defeat as I turned around again and started walking back down the corridor to take care of my original assignment.
And was quickly met with an incredulous cry by Ms Fujimura echoing down the corridor, my friend stood in front of her cringing at her outburst.
"Me, living with a student?!" She cried again. Apparently he had the horrifying task of interviewing Ms Fujimura about that rumour I heard on second floor, about her living with another student.
'I pity you…' I couldn't help but shake my head with a wry smile as I stood by, listening in. 'Although, Ms Fujimura, you'd do well to keep your voice down if you don't want this rumour getting out of control…'
"Aaagh, no! I'm his guardian! Just his guardian!" She was clutching her head, in embarrassment or shame I did not know, as I saw other students in the area turn to watch her…"The child of one of my parents' friends had been living alone, so I've been helping out: I go over to his house on occasion to check up on him, but that doesn't mean I live there with him! I don't! Not at all!" From here, even I could see the sceptical face my friend was pulling.
'Why're you defending it so vigorously?' Was my only thought at this point. It was a sentiment likely shared by my friend, still standing his ground before the Tiger.
"…Hey! What's with that face?!" Ms Fujimura's likely picked up on that as well. "You don't believe your own teacher?! You're a good kid. You don't even know what those bad kids mean by 'living together,' right? RIGHT? And now, your teacher needs to give those kids who are spreading these rumours a little educational guidance…"
"Oh boy…" I couldn't help but mutter to myself as I shook my head, a kendo sword appearing as though out of thin air in Ms Fujimura's hands, as she stormed off up the stairs to find the girls who were spreading that rumour. "God bless your two souls…"
"It's times like this that she earns her nickname without fail, eh?" My friend evidently saw me and came over, clearly frazzled by his wild encounter. "Ugh, I better report to the Chief about this." He shook his head before giving me a quick glance. "You better go and take care of your own story too; it's getting pretty late."
"Yeah, you're right…" I confirmed as I glanced at my watch. "See you later then." I waved him goodbye again as I quickly stormed up the stairs to the third floor, hoping that whatever awaited me up there didn't take up too much of my time.
'…Déjà vu much?' I couldn't help but think to myself as I climbed up the stairs, remembering how side tracked I got yesterday too.
As a rule, students aren't allowed to go up onto the rooftop; only the Student Council Office and the Faculty Office have keys for the door.
And luckily, today Issei was there on the third floor as I arrived up the stairs.
"Issei!" I called out to him as he just finished speaking to a group of Student Council members dressed in black like he was.
"Hm?" He turned over to look at me, before smiling and coming over. "Good afternoon; sorry that I couldn't talk to you yesterday about the Archery Range; the members at the Office yesterday informed me of your arrival."
"Oh, don't worry about it, your stand-ins were very helpful." I replied, setting his worries to rest.
"I hope that you didn't find anything… suspicious over there, did you?" He raised an eyebrow as he inquired about my investigation.
"Well, unless you count Ms Fujimura suspicious, no." I laughed as I told him that. "Although she herself could be the subject of a million articles alone!"
"I see." He smiled in response. "Well, what brings you up here today then? More work for the Chief and Journalism Club?"
"Yeah; the Chief's really busy these days it seems, trying to get as many articles as she can ready for the next issue." I replied. "Today's about a rumour of a girl on the rooftop…"
"A girl on the rooftop?" He repeated what I told him, before his eyes lit up. "Oh yes, her. She just happens to be up there right now: I saw her going up there holding the keys to the Rooftop a moment ago. She probably got them from the faculty office beforehand. You can go and have a look now if you'd like."
"Alright, that saves me a lot of trouble then." I nodded in response. "Thanks for filling me in about that, Issei."
"No problem." He waved me farewell as I went up the last flight of stairs to the rooftop, pushing the metal door open soundlessly.
Flooding the rooftop was the golden light of the setting sun. Situated atop of a hill, Tsukumihara Academy's rooftop had a breathtakingly spectacular view of the town below; being perhaps one of the tallest buildings in the area accentuated this fact. But I wasn't captivated by the view of the glowing city below me.
No, what had captured my attention stood far, far closer to me.
"What a beautiful sunset…" She said to nobody in particular.
A young woman dressed in a bright red, high-collared shirt, its tight sleeves extending all the way to cover up even her palms. Dead centred on its chest area, was emblazoned a bright, white cross. The black miniskirt she wore just barely covered the tops of her thigh-high boots, its colour matching her equally jet-black hair that could reach all the way to her waist, had it not been tied into the two tails that hung from the sides of her head.
She stood at the edge of the building, leaning on a set of railings that was the only thing preventing her and a drop from three stories high. Under this golden sun, it was as though I beheld a painting before me; her almost perfect figure shining with almost the exact same glow as the surroundings.
"I can only imagine how captivating this sight must be for the people who live here." Apparently still unaware of my presence, she continued speaking softly to herself. "It is indeed a very beautiful scene… But it's a shame that it doesn't really exist. On the surface it seems like such a benign, peaceful world." She paused for a moment, taking in the sight one more time before she restarted her almost sobering monologue.
"But at the same time, this place is merely an idealized imitation of the real world… An imitation world that would end soon… And one done in poor taste I must say. I have to wonder, whether there really is any value to a memory that can only be observed and then left behind… Then again though, that's the entire point of a memory, isn't it?"
She turned her head towards me as she finished, as though she was directing the question to me. But she didn't give me a moment to ponder over the possible meanings of her words as a small smile formed on her lips.
Her unwavering gaze was different from Mr Kuzuki's yesterday. Not menacing, so much as scorching; burning with a purpose, an intensity that rivalled even the glowing afternoon sun that shone down upon us. An unwavering gaze that, I felt, could burn away all the chaff around her, and see things invisible to common people like me.
And I'm saying this, even though they were coloured a bright blue aqua, instead of something more fitting for this rising star.
"What's this?" She asked as she cocked her head to one side, looking at me. "A notice from the system? Thanks for bringing it to me." Confused, I stood silent and still, watching her as her face took on a slight hint of confusion.
"Hm, that's not it?" She queried at my lack of response. "That means you're probably one of the generic Masters… Well, if one of the irrelevant Masters can get here, I guess I'll have to find another hangout for the remainder of this dull preliminary period."
She continued to mumble under her breath as she quickly approached my still-frozen body.
"Well, I guess this is a good time as any for me to look one of you over." She spoke clearly again as she reached my position. "Stand still and don't move from there, could you."
Without a moment's hesitation, her hand reached up to just barely touch my cheek. At that moment, a sudden surge of power, like electricity, erupted from the point of contact, forcing us apart.
"Wha-!" She stepped back in slight shock at the reaction, even though I stood stock still, completely unable to comprehend what was going on.
"Is this a warning from the system?" She began mumbling to herself again as she placed a hand to her chin, clearly in thought. "Direct interference does break the rules, after all…"
And in the next instant, her figure disappeared from sight.
It was as though nobody was there to begin with; her figure disappeared from one moment to the next, without a single trace.
"…A ghost?!" I stepped back in surprise, almost falling down the stairs behind me as my body suddenly became active.
But still, whether she really existed or not, the image of her standing and watching the town below under the golden light of the setting sun, was indelibly burned into my mind.
"Oh, you're still here?" A voice spoke behind me from the staircase as I turned around to look.
Issei Ryuudou was standing there, alongside my friend who must've gotten curious about my assignment.
"It's almost time for school to close, so you should prepare to go home." Issei's voice snapped me back to reality as I nodded absent-mindedly before going down the stairs, walking past him and my friend.
As I heard Issei close and lock up the door to the rooftop, my friend had already reached my side.
"What's wrong?" He asked, clearly concerned at my silence. "You seem a little pale…"
"Eh?" I shook my head in an attempt to reorient myself. "Ugh, I must be tired or something…" I turned to look at my friend as we descended down the stairs to the first floor of the school, telling him about the sudden disappearance I just saw on the rooftop.
"Damn; the Chief's gonna be in for a shocker about this when you talk to her tomorrow!" He exclaimed in surprise as I finished.
"Yeah…" I couldn't muster a more convicted reply, as the headache I felt growing this morning when I helped Sakura to the Nurse's office suddenly took a painful grip on my brain as we made our way out of the school.
I do not own Fate/Stay night or any other affiliated universes created by Nasu/Type-Moon, including Fate/Extra.
Of course, please expect spoilers, most concentrated at the beginning and less so near the end.
I needed something else to do other than stone myself playing computer/console games, and the Fate/Extra storyline left a lot to be desired from me, so this chapter ended up being made.
I decided to try and expand the prologue a bit more, hopefully you'll forgive me if you feel the pace of this seems to go a bit too slowly.