Chapter 1: 8th of April, 2013
The first thing Jayden Ariyoshi remembered of the day was the sound of the alarm clock waking him up. Initially, he didn't have the slightest clue as to why he would set up an alarm, and why he had to wake up so early in the morning. He had gotten used to sleeping in the last few days.
It wasn't long before it hit him – it was his first day in Ryōō High School and he had little time to get prepared.
Jayden quickly found himself up on his feet, the startling realization of what was ahead of him waking him up faster than the alarm clock itself. He switched on the lights to his small room and was glad to find his satchel of school books already neatly prepared by the door. He thanked himself for remembering to organize everything inside last night so he wouldn't have to do it now.
Doing his best at making the bed as fast as he could, Jayden couldn't help but be excited for his first day in Ryōō as a second-year student there. Weeks ago, the mere thought of leaving Portland weighed down on him, but he was quickly getting over the change, anxious to see how life – and especially school – was like in the Saitama Prefecture. The American only had a couple of days to acclimatize so far, and that wasn't enough to get a proper impression of the Japanese atmosphere.
Going through the door of his bedroom, Jayden was careful to be as quiet as possible, not wanting to wake up his younger sister Kaiya in the next room, who wouldn't need to get up for at least half an hour more for junior high school. His father Shiro, on the other hand, had probably already left to work some time ago. The fact that Jayden wasn't the only one finding it difficult to get used to their new surroundings was a relief. Even Shiro, who was born and had lived in this city a long time ago, had said that the change of scenery required lengthy adjustment. Jayden's mother Alycia, on the other hand, had the luxury of sleeping until late morning as she worked at home as a psychologist.
As soon as he entered the little bathroom, Jayden wasted no time gazing at his own reflection in the small mirror over the sink, noticing how dishevelled he looked. His sharp, light green eyes that looked back at him still hadn't opened completely. He picked up his comb and ran it over his hair. Shortly thereafter he achieved the look he wanted.
His black medium length hair was now somewhat in order. After he did his best to fix it, some of the longer bangs on the right side of his face were hanging over his eye. The green shade of his fringe were even more visible than usual because of the light in the bathroom, which also made his tanned white skin look unusually pale.
After he finished brushing his teeth, Jayden returned to his bedroom and pulled off his lime green pyjamas. He opened one of the drawers of his small wooden wardrobe next to his bed to find his black long-sleeved school uniform neatly prepared and ironed from yesterday. He quickly put it on. Wearing it was an odd concept to him, since he had gotten used to having the freedom to wear almost everything he wanted back home. It was one of the new things that Jayden found most difficult getting used to.
Putting the school satchel over his shoulder, Jayden was finally ready to head to Ryōō. He turned the lights off in his bedroom, which was still relatively dark because of the early morning hour. Jayden quietly walked through the narrow corridor to the entrance of the house. He eventually opened the door of the Ariyoshi residence and found himself outside, already feeling the cold April breeze on him.
Knowing that he no longer had the luxury of waiting for a school bus to pick him up, Jayden started walking in the direction of the nearest subway that would take him to the center of Kasukabe, and then he'd be able to walk to Ryōō. He had already tested the route from his house to the school a couple of days before, and calculated that it took roughly an hour and a half to get there.
There were not many cars on the roads this early. However, the left-hand traffic was one of the differences between Japan and America that Jayden was trying his best to get accustomed to for his own good. It was not easy, as that also meant changing his instincts.
The clear sky above was already brightening. Even in this remote area, there were many people who were already walking or cycling towards either work or school. Most of them wore work suits and uniforms. A comfortable silence was being kept, which put Jayden at ease and relaxed him for what was going to be his first day as a student in Japan.
The closest subway station in Kuki-shi, which was the city where he now lived, was only about five minutes away. There were a lot of people which were also headed in the direction of the underpass and Jayden found himself in the middle of a small crowd that had formed on the way.
The station was on a main road perpendicular to the small street he came from, one that was clustered with houses similar to the one his family now resided in. A bridge over a nearby river could be seen in the distance in one of the directions of the road, but what interested Jayden at that moment was the subway stop right in front of him. He descended down the stairs of the underpass next to the sidewalk.
Even with all the activity underground, having a subway pass for the month meant that Jayden only had to bring out the card from the pocket of his uniform and put it on one of the machine detectors that allowed him passage to the actual stop. There was a newspaper stand on the way there and he helped himself to the newest issue of a local Tokyo newspaper and put it in his satchel.
There was a screen above which showed how much time was left for the subway to come, but luckily it was only four minutes away. It wasn't long before the ground began to slightly vibrate before the imminent arrival of the train. The noise was growing louder and soon enough Jayden was able to see the rather rusty looking subway come into view and eventually come to a halt. A lot of people entered the car alongside him. He barely managed to find himself a free seat, but it was going to be a long ride to the center of Kasukabe and he wanted to be comfortable for the duration of the trip. To prevent boredom and to also keep himself informed, he took out the newspaper he had gotten minutes before and started reading it.
Luckily, Jayden's family had also taught him how to read Japanese when he was still young. It was not as easy for him as reading English, which he was much more used to, but understanding the headlines and most of what the articles said was not particularly difficult.
The subway stopped frequently on the way and waves of people got in and out of the car Jayden was in every time. Even though he was immersed in the newspaper, he noticed those crowds of people through his peripheral vision. At one of the initial stops a girl boarded with a winter seifuku on – a white and pink long-sleeved sailor outfit worn by schoolgirls, or so Jayden was told. She had a yellow bow in her short purple hair and she held her satchel tightly to her chest as she sat down not far from him, looking slightly apprehensive. Eventually she was joined by another girl who got on at one of the later stops. She was shorter and had long straight blue hair and was particularly animated in the following conversation between them – they were apparently friends. She had her eyes closed while she wildly gesticulated to the other girl. The amusing sight distracted Jayden for a moment before he continued reading one of the top articles.
While there were some disturbing stories about recent kidnapping cases, reading the newspaper worked like a charm. Before Jayden knew it, the announcer's voice in the subway car said that they had reached the center of Kasukabe. It almost felt a little too short of a ride for the distance that the subway travelled.
He got out of the station along with a crowd of other people that hastily rushed out of the underpass, among which were the two schoolgirls that had been in the same car as him.
Jayden, on the other hand, stopped for a moment to analyze his surroundings, having gotten back to the surface. He was standing in the middle of a very active and loud square. The buildings around were tall and had plenty of Japanese writing on them of many different commercials, some even animated and obnoxiously flashy. There were a lot of shops around, most of which looked very intriguing – Jayden didn't fail to notice the manga and video game stores among them. He hoped he would have time to check them out soon, but right now he couldn't afford being late for class.
The path from the center to the school itself was relatively straight-forward. One of the smaller streets that was filled with cafés and restaurants led the way out of the square towards a less condensed area with a few modern office buildings around. Jayden noticed that there were other students walking on the same road as him. They were mostly in groups and he could hear them talking to one another. He couldn't help but hope that he'll be able to find new people to hang out with like that in this new school soon. While he was still able to talk to his friends from America on the phone or on the computer, he already felt lonely being so far away from them.
Soon enough the distant façade of the school began revealing itself – the building was relatively isolated from any other structures close by. Jayden pulled up the long sleeve of his uniform to check whether he was late, but was pleasantly surprised that he was on time and even had a few minutes to spare.
Even if he hadn't checked to see where he was supposed to go before, he would have been able to figure it out by the crowd of students heading towards the entrance. His gaze was first fixed on a white, round three-floored structure in the middle of Ryōō High School with large windows on every story. The view inside showed that there were corridors connecting the two separate buildings that the school consisted of, judging by the silhouettes of various students going from one to the other. All boys wore black uniforms like his, while the girls had donned their respective winter sailor outfits. It was quite the contrast to his high school back in Portland, the students of which wore a myriad of different clothes and colors.
The entrance to the school itself comprised of two large doors next to each other, both under a metal canopy to the rear of the building. Jayden followed a couple of groups of students inside and noticed that there were a lot of people gathered around a nearby wall. Intrigued, he went to join them, setting his eyes on the list of all students and which class they were put in for the school year that was ahead of them.
It was not easy searching for his own name among the roster with all the people around, but he eventually found the words "Jayden Ariyoshi" spelled in Japanese on the list of students that would comprise Class 3-B. He apparently had to go to the eastern wing of the school to find the class room. That meant that he had to find the stairs to the third floor and also go through the corridors joining the two buildings of the school.
After his curiosity of the gathering of students was sated, Jayden took his time to look around so he would get an idea of where he was supposed to go. His eyes moved from the beige walls and white doors that led to different classrooms around him to a staircase at the end of a corridor to the left of him, which was where he decided to head towards.
The windows on the one side of the hallways he and a few other students went through offered a view towards the spacious yard, which was empty at that moment. The remainder of the school building could be seen as well, which formed a semicircle around it.
When Jayden eventually reached the third floor, he started looking at the classroom numbers as he walked past them until he finally reached the one he was searching for: 3-B.
While not everyone was seated yet, the classroom was full with at least two dozen people. Despite being punctual, Jayden must have been one of the last ones to get there. The teacher's desk was still empty though, which was a relief – he didn't want to give a bad first impression by being late. There was a lot of commotion in the room as he searched for an empty seat. He eventually found one next to the windows – the penultimate desk in the row. He sat down on the chair and put down the satchel next to him. The western wing of the school could be seen from his spot along with most of the yard.
Jayden was not oblivious to some students throwing an inquisitive glance in his direction, but he figured that it was understandable, given that he was a new student that they hadn't seen before. He proceeded to perform his own inspection of the class and was startled to see that the two girls he had noticed on the subway were there, as well, in his own class. The blue color of the short girl's hair was unmistakable as he saw her once again briskly talking about something to her friend.
It was at that moment, however, when Jayden heard the sound of the class door being closed and saw that a woman had entered, prompting everyone who wasn't next to their seat to scurry around in a hurry. He didn't fail to notice the woman's amused smirk as she watched that play out.
"Good morning, class 3-B!" the tall blond-haired teacher exclaimed while on her way to her desk, putting down the book she was carrying with her.
"Good morning, Ms. Kuroi!" replied most of the students, having already stood up, a gesture Jayden was quick to follow.
"Sit down, sit down," Ms. Kuroi said nonchalantly, waving her hand dismissively. The students obeyed as instructed. She put her hands on her waist and grinned, a single sharp tooth protruding from one corner of her mouth. Her sharp pale green eyes flickered with amusement. "I hope you've had a nice vacation, second-years. And I'm sure you've all spent it productively, familiarizing yourselves with the Muromachi period of Japan and Ashikaga Yoshimitsu's reign like I asked you to."
An uncomfortable silence followed.
"Either way, the test tomorrow will speak for itself. Don't worry, your impeccable knowledge on the subject will not remain unrecognized."
Students exchanged nervous glances between themselves. Jayden was worried as well – surely he would have been warned about this beforehand.
"I can't believe how many years have passed and this still works on every class," Ms. Kuroi laughed, "Lighten up, students, you won't be having the test about the Muromachi era until we actually cover it in school, which we'll be doing for at least a week."
The room was soon filled with sighs of relief and laughs. Jayden grinned, he liked this teacher already. The thought of him not having prepared for an important test at all this early in the school year had been alarming.
"I'm also seeing some new faces around here – we have three new students in the class who have transferred to our school, as far as I am aware," Ms. Kuroi announced, her gaze landing on Jayden for a brief moment. "Before we begin the lesson, I'll call each of your names in order and then you'll come to the board, face the class and introduce yourselves to the rest. Don't be shy!"
Jayden was not particularly nervous, but knowing that he wasn't the only new guy around provided a sense of relief and eased any tension he might have been feeling beforehand.
The other two newcomers were Japanese and they were first on the list to introduce themselves, both of them boys. Their anxiety was obvious as each took a turn to say a couple of sentences about themselves before returning to their respective desks. Afterwards, it was Jayden's name that was finally called by Ms. Kuroi, albeit in a slight accent. He stood up from his chair and went to the board to face the class, feeling a lot of eyes on him even before he did so.
"Well, hello everybody," he said in his best Japanese, smiling earnestly at his classmates, "My name is Jayden Ariyoshi and I am from America. I have lived in Portland, Oregon all my life, so being here is a completely new experience for me, and I would be lying if I said that I don't feel a bit overwhelmed at times. But I look forward to being a part of this class and meeting you all."
"We're glad to have you here," the teacher smiled at him from her desk, as did a lot of the students in the room.
"Thank you, Ms. Kuroi," Jayden replied, now on his way back to his seat.
There was a friendly atmosphere in the whole class that reminded Jayden of his old school. If his first impressions were correct, he expected to have a good time here. On the whole, things maybe wouldn't be that much different from home.
"We have a lot of material to go over though, so we might as well get started," Ms. Kuroi eventually continued, now with a more serious expression on her face. She stood up and picked up a piece of chalk from her desk and started writing on the black board. The sound of notebooks being opened and pages being turned over filled the room.
"The Muromachi era is a turning point in the history of Japan. It follows the Kenmu Restoration and many claim that, contrary to popular belief, the year of its actual beginning is…"
With a contented sigh, Jayden relaxed the muscles in his fingers, his hand slightly aching from having to write notes in Japanese from Ms. Kuroi's history lesson and from trying to keep the pace of her lecture. He had spent at least a couple of weeks practicing writing in the language before arriving in Japan, and while it certainly helped, getting perfectly accustomed would take a bit more effort.
It was now breaktime, and Jayden found himself wondering what to do. Most people stayed in the classroom and began talking amongst each other, so he figured that he might give starting a conversation with someone a try.
He noticed that one of the other new boys was still sitting on his own by his desk, the first in the window row, and reading what appeared to be a manga book. Thinking that he probably felt lonely, being new like himself, Jayden stood up and approached him. The short brown-haired Japanese didn't lift his head until Jayden spoke.
"Hey. Keiji, right?" he asked him, remembering the name from his introduction. The other newcomer still seemed to be slightly apprehensive, giving Jayden a suspicious look through the glasses he wore.
"Yes. And you are… the American," Keiji answered in a low tone, almost inaudible from all the chatter in the room.
"That's right. I'm Jayden." He then proceeded to stretch his hand for a handshake. A moment passed before Keiji tentatively accepted it. "So, what manga are you reading?" Jayden inquired, nodding towards the book.
"Your Last Breath," Keiji replied, showing him the cover – a horrendously disfigured woman chasing three small children in a graveyard setting.
"Horror? Not my cup of tea," Jayden said after inspecting the cover, "I'm more into adventure fantasy manga. I've been hooked on Master of the Dungeon for years now, from what I hear it's very popular here as well."
"You read manga?" Keiji asked incredulously, still bent on giving him suspicious stares, as if he carried some kind of a disease.
"Yeah, I do, it's one of my hobbies. You haven't read Master of the Dungeon?"
"No. To be honest, I'm not really a manga fan. I just bought this to have something to read in school."
"Ah, I see. Then you haven't played the game that is based on the manga either, I suspect? Surface Breach?"
"No, I don't play video games," Keiji retorted. Jayden was rapidly losing interest in the conversation, but he wanted to make the effort to find some common ground with the student. Just as he was about to reply, however, a girl's voice right beside him startled both of them.
"Did I hear Surface Breach? Have I finally found somebody in the class who plays that game?"
To Jayden's surprise, it was the blue-haired girl he had seen before on the subway who had walked in on the conversation. She had apparently just stood up from having food with her friends, a half-eaten chocolate cornet in her hand. Her wide open green eyes shimmered hopefully as she quickly looked from one boy to the other.
"Yeah, I play it," Jayden replied, still taken aback. "Or used to, at least. My guild disbanded a few months ago and it wasn't interesting after that anymore."
"You have to continue playing it," she immediately replied with vigor, almost pleading with him, "They recently added a whole new dungeon and also installed a patch that fixed the drop distribution bug."
"Oh, goodness, wasn't that irritating!" Jayden said in a chuckle.
"When you weren't the one lucky enough to get all of the drops in the dungeon, yes, it was," she answered animatedly. "But now it's back to normal again and I just started a new mage character – I'm already up to level twenty. Even the teacher plays sometimes."
"What? You mean Ms. Kuroi?" Jayden asked with incredulity.
"Yes," the girl replied as she closed her eyes and raised her index finger in the air knowingly. "She likes to have people believe that she went on a trip during the vacation, but I know where she was – and it wasn't Mount Fuji, but the Ophidian Catacombs of Torment."
"You're kidding me!"
"No, I am not. In fact, we were both in the same raid only yesterday," the girl continued, opening her eyes. "I'm Konata, by the way. You were one of the new guys, right? The American?"
"Yes. Jayden," he answered, wondering whether anyone actually bothered to memorize his name when he introduced himself. He glanced backwards to Keiji, but the boy was once again buried in his horror manga book and didn't seem to be even listening anymore.
"See?" Konata turned her head backwards to the other two girls who were sitting on the desk in front of the middle row just beside them. "I am not the only one student here who plays the game! Oh, where is Kagami when I need her?"
The two girls smiled faintly, both of whom also held a chocolate cornet of their own. Jayden recognized one of them as the other girl who he had seen with Konata on the subway before. She was joined by another one with long pink hair and large round glasses.
"Oh, I'm sorry if I intrude on your friends," Jayden quickly collected himself, now aware that he had probably kept them waiting for Konata to return.
"Not at all – this is Tsukasa," she nodded towards the one with the purple hair and yellow bow, who smiled nervously at him. "And this is Miyuki," she pointed to the slightly taller girl with glasses who mimicked Tsukasa's gesture. "Come on, you should join us!"
"It's nice to meet you all, but I don't want to impose," Jayden said, unsure as to whether the other girls would appreciate him being there with them.
"It is no problem, Jayden-san," Miyuki replied in assurance, smiling meekly as she pronounced his name with an acute accent in her soft voice. Tsukasa nodded along.
Even though Jayden was eager to have people to talk to in school, he didn't want to force his presence on them if they had a problem with it. From what he could see, the girls seemed sincere in saying that they wouldn't mind him joining them rather than do so just out of politeness. He rushed to his satchel to find his lunchbox and take out the sandwich that was inside.
"We were only discussing how to eat a chocolate cornet anyway," Konata added wearily as he approached them again.
"Really?" Jayden inquired, pulling a nearby chair to join them, sitting between Konata and Tsukasa on the table with Miyuki facing him. "I've never had one of these, I have no idea. I would have thought that you were supposed to eat it from the head, however."
"But… aren't we eating it from the head?" Tsukasa asked faintly, confusion evident on her round bluish eyes.
"Isn't the fat end the head?" Jayden pointed towards Konata's chocolate cornet's bottom. He took a bite from his turkey sandwich, taking a moment to enjoy the pleasant taste before continuing. "Won't the chocolate leak out otherwise?"
"Eating that way would be uncomfortable for me," Miyuki replied shyly, "I cut the thin end off and eat the two pieces separately."
"These things should have come with a manual," Konata said in an exasperated sigh, her eyes closed as she bit off a huge chunk of the remainder of her chocolate cornet.
"I thought you would be more knowledgeable about this than me," Jayden said in a chuckle, watching Konata's annoyed expression with amusement.
He took another bite of his sandwich, quickly devouring it while the girls struggled with their chocolate cornets, each of them using a different method to deal with the peculiar food.
"Kona-chan, do you and Jayden-san play the same game?" Tsukasa soon inquired after being done with her dessert.
"We haven't yet, but we will," Konata replied with confidence, "Jayden will pick up the game again and join the server I'm on."
"Is that what I'm going to do?" Jayden asked with amusement, not being able to recall saying that he would.
"Yes, and he will do so at his earliest convenience."
"That essay Ms. Kuroi gave us to write about the Kannō Incident and the resurgence of the Southern Court may put a hold on that."
"That's right, I forgot that you're still new and don't know just how easy writing homework can be here," Konata said, waving her hand dismissively as she closed her eyes with complacency, chewing the last piece of her chocolate cornet. "You don't need to worry about that essay."
"Why shouldn't I worry?" Jayden asked with confusion.
"Because what you do is wait for my friend Kagami to write it and then you copy it, changing a few words to avoid suspicion."
"I think I will stick to writing it myself," Jayden replied, shaking his head sideways while the blue-haired girl still had a nonchalant expression on her face. He added, "I am not a fan of school assignments, but I always at least try to do homework on my own. What if you weren't so lucky to have someone to copy it from?"
"She doesn't always let me copy her notes anyway, so I manage somehow," Konata answered in a shrug. She didn't look particularly concerned with the concept of homework.
"I always have trouble concentrating when doing homework," Tsukasa admitted, her cheeks slightly blushing. "It's very difficult for me to focus."
"It's not the easiest thing for me to do as well," Jayden said in a nod, "I try to set myself a schedule when I have something to work on to make sure I always have time to do it."
"I have tried that and it never works," Konata spoke with a sigh as she closed her eyes, "I can't go through an hour without a short rest. And playing a MMO is very relaxing, ideal for a break."
"Until you get carried away in a raid with your guild or stumble upon a unique drop, right?" Jayden asked with a grin. The look on Konata's face and the smirk that had formed on her lips was confirmation enough that he was not far from the truth. "That's what I thought."
Before they could continue on with their conversation, everyone in the room suddenly started going back to their seats in a hurried fashion. Jayden had an idea of what had just happened, but he still glanced towards the door of the classroom, seeing that the math teacher had just arrived. The stern look in the short bald man's eyes prompted Jayden to rush back to his desk even faster than he otherwise would have.
"…and if you join I will also give you some of my spare weapons and armor!"
Konata was excited at the prospect of having somebody from her school to play Surface Breach with. She couldn't talk about it with Ms. Kuroi as much as she wanted to, and with the American from her class also being a part of it she would finally have that opportunity. Maybe with him around, Kagami would stop berating her so much about being the hardcore gamer she was, too.
As they walked towards the subway station in the center of Kasukabe with Tsukasa and Miyuki, now their classes for the day over with, Konata felt like she was finally getting through to Jayden about playing the game with her. She was looking at him hopefully, lifting up her head due to the fact that he was taller than her. His height was similar to Tsukasa's or Miyuki's, his build average, not particularly muscular nor skinny. Jayden let out a sigh before returning her gaze and replying to her.
"I'm not saying I don't want to, Konata," he told her as the two of them walked side by side through the narrow street leading to the center, "I'm saying that I don't want to get on Ms. Kuroi's bad side by not doing the homework first. If I find the time, then I will play the game with you. What did you say your username was?"
"iluvgirlswithglasses," Konata answered proudly.
"You'd think I'd remember that…"
While on their way through the street, Konata didn't fail to notice the ominous gathering of clouds over them – a sign of an unexpected storm. Her eyes quickly scanned the stores around them until they landed on a favorite manga shop of hers, deftly inspecting the newest covers on the window display. It was a good thing that she had an enormous stash of manga books waiting to be read at home, which helped in quenching her desire to spend the rest of her pocket money on even more enticing titles.
"It's getting cold," Tsukasa meekly said, slightly shivering from the cold air that slowly surrounded them.
"A storm is nearing," Miyuki added, her purple eyes fixed on the cloud cover above. Tsukasa, who was right beside her, followed her gaze upwards.
"I don't like my hair getting wet in the rain," Jayden commented, brushing a few of his longer bangs aside, the dark green shade on his fringe visible even in darker lighting.
"You don't have waist-long hair that takes forever to put right," Konata voiced her complaints with the upkeep necessary to maintain her hair. She wasn't looking forward to it being drenched with water – they had to get moving before it was too late. She dramatically pointed towards the sky and yelled to the rest, "A flag has been triggered – incoming environmental hazard! Let's pick up the pace, people!"
Leading the way through the street to the central square, Konata began to feel the first drops of rain on her clothes. In her hurry not to have her hair ruined in the first day of school, she tripped on the pavement curb and almost dropped her satchel. But that was not going to stop her – she could hear footsteps striding behind her, meaning that the others were following her as well. Being athletic and good at running in school helped her immeasurably, and it wasn't long before she had the central Kasukabe square in sight.
Konata didn't even slow down, but she managed to catch a glimpse of the newest video games on display in the store before she eventually reached the underpass. Along with a crowd of other people, she quickly went down the stairs under cover. She was there just in the nick of time – the rain outside was already intensifying. The mission was a success. Tsukasa and Miyuki quickly arrived next, both of them had held their satchels over their heads to protect themselves from the storm.
"Where is Jayden?" Konata asked the girls in confusion after a moment spent in collecting herself. Tsukasa needed a minute to catch her breath before replying.
"I don't know, Kona-chan, I thought he was right behind us."
He couldn't have left without saying goodbye, and he had told them that he was going to the same stop as them.
Konata was just about to conclude that he had gone inside somewhere to protect himself from the rain when she saw him standing above the stairs to the station and eventually descending them – with a black umbrella in his hand.
"Am I the only one who watched the weather forecast last night?" Jayden said with amusement as he approached the girls, a teasing smile on his face.
"You had an umbrella all along?" Konata asked incredulously.
"I was just going to say that I did when you all bolted towards the station," Jayden explained, closing his umbrella in the meantime. "So I already had something prepared to counteract the triggered 'flag' – a protective buff, you could say."
"Good work, Jayden," Konata replied, closing her eyes and pointing her index finger at him. "You will prove to be a useful support healer to my tank in Surface Breach."
"Miyuki-san, do you understand what Kona-chan and Jayden-san are talking about?" Tsukasa asked her friend.
"I am puzzled myself," Miyuki said as she gave her a nervous smile.
Because of the rain outside, the subway cars were even more crowded than usual. Konata hadn't found a free seat, and neither had Tsukasa and Jayden, who were now standing next to her, their hands on different railings of the car. Talking to one another was difficult, for they were almost being squished by the people around them. Miyuki had already gone to the other direction towards the Tokyo Metropolitan Area and was probably in a similar predicament.
"So this is the route to your house, as well?" Jayden asked Konata. She almost couldn't see him, being surrounded by people much taller than her. Her hand also barely made contact with one of the railings close by and threatened to slip. She was definitely not feeling comfortable.
"No, I had to leave on the previous stop but I'm coming with Tsukasa today. I'm going to see how Kagami is doing."
"You mentioned her a few times before," Jayden merely stated.
"She is Tsukasa's sister and a friend," Konata answered, "She's in the other class, but she was sick and couldn't come this morning."
"I see. Hopefully she's feeling better," Jayden said, to which Konata and Tsukasa nodded in agreement.
"I think she is." Tsukasa replied with a smile, "Sis is down with a cold, but she says she is quickly recovering. She just feels very tired now."
"Wait, I thought you said she had the flu?" Konata asked her with confusion.
"Isn't that the same thing?" Tsukasa asked back, equally confounded.
"Huh." Jayden had his brows furrowed in thought.
"Where's Miyuki when we need her?" Konata said with a grin after a brief moment of silence had passed between the three of them.
Before they could figure out the perplexing mystery, the announcer's voice in the subway informed the passengers that they had already reached the Takanomiya Shrine stop – which was where Konata and Tsukasa needed to go to.
"We are leaving here, Jayden," Konata informed, her voice barely audible from all the chatter around them.
"Oh, I'm only two stops away from here," Jayden replied with surprise. He suddenly began struggling, trying to move with all the people crammed into the subway. He eventually succeeded in stretching his hand towards her and offering her his umbrella. "There's probably still a storm outside – take this. My house is pretty close to the station I get off at."
"Are you sure?" Konata asked him, slightly taken aback.
"Yeah, take it. You can return it to me when we see each other next time at school tomorrow."
"Not unless you show up in the server today," Konata replied, feeling a grin pull at her lips as she took the umbrella. "I've got leverage now."
Jayden rolled his eyes in response but smiled despite himself.
"Thank you, Jayden-san," Tsukasa said for a goodbye, the American nodding their way as they went out of the subway.
It was still difficult to navigate through the crowds of people even after leaving the car. Konata wouldn't have been able to hear Tsukasa if she had said anything in the meantime, but they were eventually isolated enough from the underground noise that they were able to talk to each other. The sound of thunder could be heard above even though the girls weren't outside yet.
"Jayden-san is very nice," Tsukasa said meekly.
"Hopefully he's also good at the game," Konata added, opening the umbrella when they eventually reached the passage out of the underpass. It was big enough for the two of them and Konata held it over both of their heads as they started climbing up the steps, surrounded by the falling raindrops.
"I would have waited for the rain to stop before leaving the subway if he hadn't given us the umbrella," Tsukasa told her. "Do you think he will be alright?"
"He said his house is very close by, so he's probably fine," Konata replied. "I will ask him when he shows up on the server."
Konata wondered about the characters Jayden had in the game and thought of ways to get him to play a role in the party that would best suit her own.
As they continued walking towards the Hiiragi household, she also eagerly awaited to see Kagami – as much fun she was having discussing the game, she missed having her around and getting the chance to tease her.
The rain was still pouring down as Jayden looked on through the large window in the dining room of his family's house. It was very dark outside even though it was only the middle hours of the afternoon. While it was weaker now, it hadn't given any signs of stopping before so he had made a run for it and quickly got back home soaked. His mother had berated him for having forgotten his umbrella, but after he explained what happened she was quick to let the matter go and let him finally change his clothes and put on his favorite black collared button-up shirt.
Hearing footsteps behind him, Jayden turned around to see his younger sister Kaiya enter the room, wearing her orange T-shirt that he knew she liked. She was quick to help herself to some candy of the box of sweets that he had opened and left on the dining room table. The hunger was evident in her round brown eyes, which she closed as soon as she began chewing the chocolate. She then proceeded to sit down on the couch next to the table, which was right in front of the TV. She curled her knees up to her small slender body, palpably losing herself in the sweetly taste. Jayden laughed mirthfully, sitting down beside her and grabbing another piece of candy from the box himself.
"They're very good, aren't they, Kai?" he asked her before eating the piece.
"Fantastic," the shorter sibling replied cheerfully, beaming at him as she chewed. "Where did you say you found them?"
"It wasn't easy," Jayden answered in a sigh. He took a moment to enjoy the taste of vanilla before continuing. "Most sweet shops around here are packed to the gills with all sorts of pockies, and while they aren't bad, they just aren't as filling as I'd like."
"Tell me about it," Kaiya nodded. "I saw a lot of my new classmates eating those things."
"Have you seen anyone eat a chocolate cornet?" Jayden asked her, to which Kaiya shook her head in reply. "It's the biggest mystery in the world of candy, as I discovered today – even among the Japanese." He took another piece of candy. "I think I'll stick to these."
"So where did you find them?"
"There's a supermarket close to our subway station on the other side of the main road. That's where I found them yesterday."
"Cool! I'll remember that the next time I'm there," Kaiya said, obvious excitement on her face. "I'm totally buying a few boxes."
"Don't spend all the money mom gives you," Jayden chuckled, putting his hand on her shoulder, "I know how difficult it is to resist taking a whole bunch of different sweets, believe me, but you have to find a way to restrain yourself somehow."
"I think it'll be easier for me than you," Kaiya replied confidently with an amused grin, "You're the one who can't hold back whenever there is something remotely sweet at home. I definitely won't be buying too much since I know anything I get will be gone by the day after."
"Okay, let's not exaggerate things," Jayden said, feeling a blush creep on his face, ruffling his sister's short shoulder length hair. He had always found it interesting how much the black nuances in the otherwise light green color of her hair resembled his own.
After a fair bit of chuckling, Kaiya's face suddenly fell as she sighed. Jayden followed her gaze towards the TV screen, a Japanese soap opera running on the channel. That seemed like an odd thing to upset her.
"What is it, Kai?" Jayden asked with concern.
"Talking with you just reminded me how much I miss hanging out with my old friends back home." Kaiya answered sadly. "There wasn't anyone I could really talk to at school today. I get the feeling they don't like me there."
"Hey, it's only been a day. I know that it's difficult adjusting to this place but you should give it more time," Jayden assured her, looking into her eyes earnestly. "You will eventually find somewhere you'll be able to fit in."
"I hope. It was difficult enough getting used to wearing that funny uniform," his sister replied, the disapproval in her voice evident. "Have you had any luck yourself?"
"Yeah, I think so. It's still early to say," Jayden replied after a moment of thought. "It's certainly not hopeless, Kai. And your Japanese is as good as mine, so that shouldn't be a problem for you."
Kaiya looked a bit more hopeful after Jayden's reassuring words. He picked up the box of sweets which had only one left and offered it to her. She eventually picked it up and smiled at him.
"Thank you, Jayde."
"It's no problem." Her brother squeezed her shoulder gently and then slowly stood up. He said, "Alright, I think I'm going to start working on an essay I have to make for history class."
"Oh, gosh," Kaiya replied in an exasperated sigh, "You wouldn't believe how much homework they gave us for the first day. The first day! Isn't that a little cruel?"
"I know, it's probably going to be tough here. You're going to do some of it today though, right?" Jayden asked, furrowing his eyebrows as he looked at her earnestly.
"Well, it's the first day! That doesn't count, right?"
"If you say so. Then that makes first days, last days, Mondays, Fridays, last week of every month, weekends, mornings and evenings when doing homework is not an option?"
"Fine, I'll see what I can do today," Kaiya sighed in defeat.
"Trust me, it'll be much easier if you are consistent," Jayden told her before heading out to the hallway.
Musing about how lazy his sister could be sometimes, Jayden couldn't help but chuckle at himself as he entered his room. He had to put the light on because of how dark it was, a result of the still ongoing storm outside. Getting his books out of his satchel, he started organizing them neatly on his desk and prepared the ones he would have to bring to school the next morning.
It was not easy fighting the temptation to rush to his computer, which was also on his desk, and run the game so that he could contact and play with Konata. He knew that it would be even more difficult to divert his attention away from it as soon as he was into it, however. He wouldn't be able to focus on the homework he had to do and the essay he needed to write afterwards.
Jayden suspected that Konata wouldn't be too happy, given how lax she seemed to be about homework. He would get the chance to play the game with her when there wasn't that much to do.
With a sigh, he opened the history book that was his reference material for the Muromachi era and started working.