Hatagaya Private Academy.
Commanding an area neighbouring Shinjuku New City Centre, the Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park, it was an academy with an integrated education system from pre-school to university.
Their high academics level aside, the school’s renown had spread far and wide due to the students’ unusually high morals and the values they were instilled with.
‘Student of Hatagaya Academy’ was a synonym for excellence in the area and the locals looked upon them kindly.
Of course, there were students from neighbouring prefectures but there were also students who had travelled long distances to study there, for them, the academy was equipped with dormitories.
In class 1-F’s room, the mood had made a complete about turn from the slump just after Golden Week and the room was bustling thanks to the appearance of an unseasonal transfer student.
If a transfer student were to come, the speculation was on them being a beautiful girl, however, those expectations could be betrayed, it could even be a boring boy.
In the first place, it was because the academy had a gender ratio between 6:4 and 7:3, skewed towards the girls.
In any case, the male transfer student was stood alongside the teacher, and whilst he wrote his name on the blackboard, the impressions of the other students leaked from their smiling faces.
“Anyway, it’s rare for a student to transfer right in the middle of term.”
“He’s not even the Tokyo Emperor.”
Don’t say that.
Enough of that, the student sitting right in front of the class F’s desk… Nanami Knight Bladefield had her small mouth hanging open, staring up at the transfer student who was uneasy from all the attention.
The object of her gaze was somehow negative… the transfer student who couldn’t hide the shadow in his expression or atmosphere… he was definitely…
“It’s nice to meet you… I’m Hatate Souta.”
“You’re the one that ruined that business discussion this morning!!”
Nanami bolted upright and pointed at Souta, with a cry that rattled the windows, Souta’s eyebrows twitching.
With that, the cordial, welcoming applause was overwritten instantly with Nanami’s exclamation.
“A business discussion…?”
“What business discussion…?”
“Ruined…? A business discussion…?”
“But a business discussion on the way into school…?”
“At times like this, it’s normally a peeping tom in the morning! Is it that kind of development…?”
As the applause grew scattered, the boys and girls of class 1-F’s heads were filled with thoughts about that business discussion.
This class would probably take 1st among the entire country’s high school first year classes for thinking about business discussions. They’d lose to business school students though. Then, they’re not 1st are they.
“Hey, isn’t Hatate Souta…”
“Yeah, the sole survivor of that luxury passenger ship’s sinking…”
The luxury cruise liner, the Premium Ambrielle’s sinking.
It was a mysterious incident that had shaken the world several weeks ago.
The ship had vanished in the coastal waters of the Pacific Ocean, near Japan without sending an SOS signal and a lifeboat was discovered, floating on the water like the leaves of a tree.
On board was a single, unconscious passenger, Souta.
However, he had no memory of boarding the boat.
The mystery only deepened, and without a single answer, eventually people suddenly lost interest.
The boy who was in that maelstrom was, now, right before their eyes.
The whispers in the classroom reached Souta’s ears and his expression grew even darker.
Seeing his bearing, the students’ inquisitive gazes took on a tinge of compassion.
The strange, hard to describe atmosphere, somewhere between silence and uproar was once again disturbed by a voice even more hysterical than Nanami’s from towards the back of the room.
This time, the one who over-reacted to the point of standing up and pointing at him was a girl who seemed a little older than the other students.
As a matter of fact, she’d been staring at him for the entire time since he came into the room.
Her hair was tied in an off-centre ponytail and, even though they weren’t doing home economics, she had an apron on over her uniform. Rather than being called a beautiful girl, she gave off a strong impression of being a beautiful woman. The slender-bodied girl stood stock still, still pointing at Souta, with her mouth opening and closing so much she would have to be careful not to be mistaken for a gold fish, but she didn’t have any such worries.
Souta stared at the girl who had called him ‘Sou-kun’ equally dumbfounded and with his mouth agape, but she matched a certain person in his memories and he reflexively spoke a familiar name.
The girl who was jumping up and down in joy at her unexpected reunion with Souta was Shoukanji Kikuno.
After the rapid-fire appearance of people who knew Souta, the class showed their discomfiture in a different way than before.
“’Sou-kun’, ‘Okiku-nee’…? They’re awfully close.”
“He has a lot of acquaintances for a transfer student.”
“Maybe it’s because he’s famous…”
“Transfer students are normally nameless…”
Whether she heard their classmates murmurings or noticed their suspicious gazes, leaking excitement, she frantically waved her arms up, down, left and right as she explained as if she could clear the current incident in their minds, whilst having the feeling she couldn’t.
“Ah, we’re childhood friends! In middle school, Sou-kun transferred! And then! Um! It’s been two years! And you’ve gotten this big!! And so handsome!! Amazing!!”
Warm and ironic smiles were mixed with the voices from around the classroom to appease Kikuno and her high energy.
—— That’s right.
Kikuno and Souta were neighbours that had been brought up together as real siblings until Souta was in his second year of middle school. If nothing else, Kikuno, lacking siblings, loved Souta as a real little brother, so much so that people who didn’t know their situation would always think they were.
The two of them were separated when Souta’s family moved away, in any case, with this unexpected reunion, Kikuno’s excitement gauge wouldn’t stop rising.
“Sou-kun… You’re the real Sou-kun, right!? Uwah! It moved!!”
Kikuno’s endlessly increasing joy was a stark contrast to his own oddly cold impression as he frowned that “it moved” was awful.
“You know! I was worried! I was worried for so long, Sou-kun! I didn’t hear anything from you… or aunt and uncle either… that accident…”
Kikuno’s words piled on to him as her tone rapidly dropped.
“And Nee-san… too.”
“Onee-san? Sou-kun, you’re an only child right?”
Being once again reminded of his now no-longer existent sister Souta’s eyes dropped as if he’d given up on everything.
“I didn’t hear from you…”
Seeing Souta sinking, Kikuno went absolutely frantic and waved her arms around.
“Ah, ah, it’s not like I’m blaming you or anything. Don’t make that face Sou-kun. Ah, how about I give you a lap pillow and clean your ears!? You like that right? Maybe you’ll be better then?”
“She’s spoiling him too much.”
“That’s just spoiling.”
With this, their classmates felt something past just shock.
Souta felt their painful gazes and said something to scatter them and change the topic.
“Ah, well… Okiku-nee, I was sure you were a year older than me…?”
“Yeah!! You know last year, I studied abroad! So I delayed a year and I’m a first year! But, to think that you transferred with such good timing and became my classmate, I’m super moved!! It’s amazing! It must be fate!!”
Without feeling even an ounce of a male-female relationship, Kikuno said that only with the bonds of true siblings, but her passionate way of speaking, her heavy breath and the chaffing coming from around the room brought forth a warm feeling voice.
But that aside, there was a girl who’s inner thoughts were bubbling up along a completely different vector.
“My devastating reunion is completely ruined now!!”
He didn’t know why, but Nanami had been glaring daggers at him since she’d forcefully overwritten the subject, a cold sweat rose on his cool face and he avoided looking that way as much as he could.
She couldn’t have known his hopes for escape, but the form teacher with an apron with a cat applique tied over her chest and stomach smiled and clapped her hands. It was a classroom with a high proportion of aprons.
“Come on everyone, we need to make our new friend feel welcome～”
When the class suddenly returned to themselves and began clapping again, the teacher nodded in satisfaction and put her hand on her forehead like a cap, looking around the classroom exaggeratedly like a presenter on a children’s TV show would.
“Now, where shall we have Souta-chan sit～?”
Even Souta, clad in a taciturn atmosphere was reflexively taken aback and spoke, but the teacher continued looking around the room, not perturbed in the slightest.
“Ah, Miyuki-sensei, I think it would be tough socially at the back, so if my row all move a seat back from me, he’ll be next to Kikuno who seems like an acquaintance.”
The boy in the seat behind Nanami, who looked slightly gaudy with brown hair and piercings offered, relentlessly kindly, noisily picking up all of his things and standing, leaving the seat free for Souta.
“Then, Souta-chan has the seat behind Nanami-chan～”
Not wanting to argue with the teacher who was waving her hand, Souta went around to the seat behind Nanami.
Then, in what had become his seat, he lowered his head to the gaudy, pierced brown haired boy from earlier.
“It’s fine… Ah, also, our form teacher worked in the pre-schooler part until last year, so she can’t get out of that feeling.”
To say nothing of being able to get out of that feeling, not a single factor could.
The brown haired, pierced boy greeted him lightly, but far more than his gaudy appearance, he seemed to be a good person.
Watching Souta give a vague nod in return, Kikuno shook in all directions and giggled.
“Sou-kun, you really have gotten big. Back in middle school I was bigger.”
“And you’ve gotten beautiful, Okiku-nee.”
“No way, Sou-kun, you flatterer! Even if you flatter me, nothing will happen!”
She poked Souta in the forehead slightly and cheekily smiled.
To the ever cheerful Kikuno, Souta seemed lonely. She was different from back then, she felt sad, guilty and apologetic about it, it was a complicated feeling.
“Hmm? Sou-kun, are you not well? Or maybe… you seem a little different maybe?”
Those words made his expression grow even lonelier, Kikuno’s sharp eyes caught it, but she purposely pretended not to notice and smiled, saying.
“Ah, you might be a little manlier…”
“And that’s definitely flattering.”
He knew she was fussing over him, but that itself had him look like he hadn’t realised and he returned a similar kind smile to Kikuno.
However, this lonely smile just made Kikuno all the more curious.
“He always used to smile back then, he was such a bright child but… it’s almost like he’s someone else. Nerves from transferring… that’s not it. That accident really has left a mark…”
Kikuno’s chest tightened at this apparent transfiguration that had damaged his lustre.
In any case, the two didn’t speak deeply after that, their mutual kindness was precious to them, but to the others, their delicate, suggestive behaviour seemed saccharine, and moreover, Nanami was stealing glances over her shoulder from the seat in front.
The glances felt like knives, and Souta acted unnaturally to avoid looking that way, a cold sweat naturally running down.
“Why…? Why is she looking at me like that…? Hmm? Ah, that’s right! She saw me at that accident this morning…!”
“I’m certain… it’s him!! That senselessly suspicious guy!!”
Because he hadn’t thought he’d continue being suspected this much he may have been lax in hiding his secret, cursed by his own carelessness, Nanami glared at him with an ominous air.
The girl called Nanami Knight Bladefield, with her crisp, strong looks was extremely self-willed and boasted a very aggressive attitude. Speaking of that strength and might of attitude, it was such that her classmates believed and didn’t doubt she was a senior repeating a year. Kikuno in particular didn’t think so.
At the same time, Nanami was indifferent to things she didn’t care about but if something interested her, she wouldn’t let go of it, like a wild dog with a bone. Wild dogs drooled lots, maybe Nanami too would one day also drool lots. Pickled plums are good for people that drool, it seems that a physiologist from the Ex-Soviet Union also used dogs and experimented. Soviets are strange people.
And then, the equally strange person, Miyuki-sensei moved her hands in a sort of ‘binding opening’ motion and smiled kindly at the students.
“Right right, everyone, get on well with our new friend～. Let’s do our best with playing games and going for a walk～”
Whilst thinking things like.
“We can go for a walk…?”
They stood and bowed at the class representative’s command with a cold sweat at the words you would use with pre-schoolers.
At that, with Nanami keeping a watchful eye on him like a wild dog, it became break time, the fearless classmates calmly came forward.
“Where did you move from, Hatate-kun?”
“…A place called Obata… In Nagoya.”
“Ah, the future capital, Nagoya.”
To Souta’s words, his classmates unanimously exchanged.
“He’s from the future.”
“From the future so his uniform’s new.”
“It’s new because he’s a transfer student, it doesn’t have anything to do with the future!”
Nanami couldn’t help but retort and Souta went stiff.
The classmates giving Nanami a thumbs up for a nice retort were thinking that the transfer student was delicate, and from among them, a seemingly good-natured but unpopular male student sniggered with a smile you couldn’t hate as they leant forwards.
“Hatate, you’ve transferred so there must be lots of stuff you don’t know? If there is anything, ask me, especially anything about the girls.”
It seemed like he had the common position of the friend in a gal-game, and by their classmates’ reactions of “There he goes again.” his behaviour was already well known.
Be that as it may, Souta’s expression grew kinder at his open-heartedness.
The moment he glanced up above the student’s head, Souta’s expression clouded, he fell silent as if searching for words, then, with pained, sad and lonely eyes, opened his mouth.
“…I’m popular, so there’s no need.”
It was a frankly lying line, Nanami and the others looked doubtfully at him, but the schoolboy bared his teeth in anger like a monkey.
“Tch! And I thought we were mates!”
He suddenly slipped into a Kansai dialect and clicked his tongue, leaving.
Everyone around thought his reaction was half a joke and laughed.
However, Nanami could see that his behaviour was from the bottom of his heart.
That was another…
Nanami was motionlessly observing him, the only one to suspect something of his strange actions.
The pressure of her further sharpening expression made him not look in that direction even harder than before when a female student with an important, queen-like bearing, though not as much as Nanami’s, stood in front of him.
“Hey, you! I’ll make you my manservant! First join my club. Because whatever club you enter…”
The girl started a conversation looking down on him as if it were only natural.
Souta once again cast his eyes above her head, his expression clouded and he fell silent as if searching for words, then, with pained, sad and lonely eyes, and spoke, slightly withdrawn.
“…Sorry, I’m a sadist.”
Frankly, he was far from a sadist, his mentality and depressed seeming constitution tore it, Nanami retorted mentally with.
But, the girl stepped back in shock, showing a reaction to his words.
“With that depression!? Fellow sadists have far too bad compatibility!”
So this girl really is a sadist thought their classmates in scorn, nodding as they understood the girl that walked away from Souta.
Speaking of Kikuno, to her eyes as an elder sister watching over their younger brother, he was making warm friendships with his classmates (it seemed she couldn’t see him objectively) and she kindly watched him even as he was uneasy.
After that, classmates that had an interest in him came up and spoke to him, and the same sequence played out and they left.
After watching the conversations, Nanami was convinced.
After the classmate introduced themselves, he’d look above their head and his expression would cloud.
Taking their reaction of giving up unnaturally easily after Souta’s words of refusal, she was sure he saw something there. They wouldn’t come after that.
“It’s suspicious… it’s way too suspicious!”
At break, while people came up to him and were rebuffed, the number decreased, and by lunchtime, no one did.
She didn’t estimate it, but Nanami was at the ready and stood, looking down at Souta in the chair behind her.
“I’m borrowing you for a moment.”
“Refusal isn’t allowed.”
Even standing she wasn’t particularly tall, but her bearing itself made it seem like she was staring down from the top of Mount Fuji, Souta’s gaze glanced upwards.
He nodded after looking at her head and she scowled at him.
Nanami had seen many people examine expressions, but this was the first time she’d seen someone examine someone’s head. There were occasionally cats that did. In that way, Souta was closer to cats than humanity. That’s right, nyan, lick lick.
Of course, he didn’t lick, and Nanami stood in his way, not accepting no for an answer.
“It doesn’t affect me, but I think it’s for your sake.”
His way of speaking was cold, but that was Souta’s clumsy consideration. However, Nanami paid it no mind and twirled a finger around above her head, smiling unkindly.
“Well, perhaps me borrowing you is for your sake.”
Frowning that he was beaten, he reluctantly stood, he didn’t know how much she knew, but at least felt it was something he didn’t want to talk about here.
“What’s wrong, Sou-kun? Shall I come with you?”
Kikuno couldn’t contain herself watching worriedly from the side and offered this to Souta.
But more than Souta, it brought a cold sweat to those who were listening to the conversation around.
“That’s overprotective in this situation…”
“She’s a way too spoiling older sister.”
He couldn’t have heard the cries from their hearts, but he shook his head with a bitter smile.
“It’s okay, Okiku-nee.”
Even with that reply, Kikuno watched them leave, oddly not convinced.
Until they reached the roof, Nanami took him along, trudging up the stairs, where she stood imposingly in front of him while he shrugged for what to say.
“I’ll say this first. I can’t leave strange happenings or people alone. Or maybe it’s that I have an unusually curious personality for odd phenomena. I’m not a person that can let things go unsolved. Based on that, well.” Nanami cleared her throat with a cough and readily approached Souta, “Now, I’ll take your confession!”
“Eh… C-confession about what…?”
Souta wasn’t playing dumb. Nanami had the high handedness to think people understanding her aims was only natural, but it was because she’d not communicated properly.
She wanted to rage with ‘What don’t you understand!?’ but she gave in for once and explained precisely.
“…You always… look above people’s heads… and then make a decision, don’t you?”
Like in the classroom when Nanami had twirled her finger above her head, Souta made an easy to understand displeased expression.
That itself was half a confession. Like catching someone eating in secret with pizza, fried chicken, Caesar salad, fries, spaghetti and a tuna sandwich protruding from their mouth. Even though they’re eating in secret they’re eating loads!
“A-ah… I wonder…”
Right after his dismay, Souta played dumb, that itself could be used to say he had guts.
“You’re playing dumb! You really are, aren’t you!! The proof shines!!”
He didn’t really understand her words, but she came forcefully towards him.
Souta let out a helpless sigh at being brought along by a bothersome girl, and while searching for what to do looked above her head.
“See!! You did it again!! What’s there!?”
“…If I explain, will you promise not to stay around me anymore?”
“That obviously depends on what you say!”
Souta scratched his head, wondering what was with this utterly straightforward girl.
“It’s just preparations to make me feel better. If you do that, I’ll just be able to be optimistic.”
“Liar!! Your words after looking at people’s heads are always pessimistic, aren’t they!? Anyway, asking things like to not stay around if you talk? There’s hundreds of those kind of vague lies!”
And there was that too… Souta looked to the heavens.
“See!! I have videos as proof! You’re clearly looking at something, aren’t you!? In this video too! And this one! This one! And this one!”
Nanami showed him several videos of him pulverising their classmates on her phone.
“…Um, that’s you spinning around in a pinafore dress though…?”
Because she was showing them one after another, she went too far and showed him a video that had nothing to do with it.
“Gyaaaaaa!! D-don’t loooooook!!”
Incidentally, it was a video she had taken during the spring break of the last time she wore her middle-school uniform, it truly is a shame you couldn’t see it.
In spite of showing it herself, she had an extreme way of speaking, but Nanami was a dreadful girl that could easily use this kind of logic. Specifically, the dreadfulness of poking Souta in the eyes.
“Gyaaaaaa!! My eyes! My eyes!”
Speaking of that dreadfulness, it no longer had anything to do with logic.
“Don’t dodge the question, confess!!”
“My eyyyyes! My eyyyyes!!”
Souta was rolling on the floor, holding at his eyes, it looked kind of fun.
After rolling for a while, Souta keenly felt the mental and physical pain and was beaten down, feeling he should frankly tell the truth, he sat up properly.
“…If you could… I’d like you to keep what I’m about to say a secret.”
“If you erase that video from your hippocampus.”
Souta had a troubled smile for a few seconds as he wondered how to answer, but he already felt that it wouldn’t end simply if he didn’t speak, so he sighed again and his depressing way of speaking grew more serious.
“Do you know… ‘flags’?”
In Nanami’s head as she asked this was something semi-transparent floating adrift in a sea. Only the ‘la’ lined up.
“Survival flag, death flag, romance flag, victory flag, loss flag… People’s state and behaviour, all phenomena, what happens after those incidents diverge are generally called flags. Flags are often set, or said to topple, but if someone has a death flag, they will die, if they have a romance flag set on them, they’ll be fond of the one that set it… it’s that kind of thing.”
Now that he said that, Nanami remembered the salaryman at the intersection saying something that would set a death flag.
“I… can visually see those flags.”
“… You can see them… flags?”
“I can see them… and somehow understand what I need to say to topple them…”
“To topple… the flag.”
Nanami placed her hand on her chin and thought.
“So… that salaryman at the accident this morning.”
“Had a death flag…”
“And the boy that said to ask him about girls…”
“Had a friendship flag.”
“The girl that invited you to her club…”
“Had a romance flag…”
Nanami listed them and Souta answered with the flag he remembered.
“After all’s said and done… he’s a flag crusher then.”
Listening to him, at the beginning she didn’t believe it at all, nor did she by the end.
She didn’t, but the trailer this morning clearly had something supernatural happening on it.
“…So, the death flag is fine, but why did you topple the friendship and romance flags? Don’t you want a friend or a lover?”
It looked like she struck a nerve, Souta’s expression clouded and he sat on the steps in the corner and hung his head.
“It’s fine. I’m already…”
“Even if you say you’re fine…”
Seeing Souta, who seemed always depressed lower his shoulders even more, Nanami felt it was like he hadn’t said it.
“If people stay with me, misfortune befalls them. I don’t want to see anyone get hurt again.”
Souta proclaimed that to Nanami but she felt he was the one hurt the most.
How badly had this strange power hurt him to make him like this?
Was he guilty because he was the only survivor of the sinking of that cruise ship?
Or was it possibly both?
Nanami didn’t know that.
Even so, Nanami looked painfully down at him, who was awkward with people and kept using his power to save people like he had earlier, and to keep people at a distance.
Nanami wasn’t strong with interpersonal skills. In fact she was weak with them. Along a different vector than Souta, but still extremely weak.
So… she was annoyed at the sympathy she had for the slightly lonely smile on his face.
For an instant, just an instant, she had a similar expression to Souta, biting back those feelings and grinding her teeth, she opened her mouth.
“In the first place, I don’t feel even a smidgen of love or friendship for you, so I can’t have a flag! In fact, a flag wouldn’t raise for that pathetic attitude!”
She stood imposingly, declaring imperiously.
“You don’t have to worry about breaking something that’s not there, or something that’s already broken, do you!? So! I’ll complain at you when I want to, I’ll get angry at you when I want to!!”
Her attitude and tone were angry. And her words themselves were far from favourable, so he blankly stared up at her when he could talk.
However, Nanami’s aim slowly became clear to him, and his expression showed a meagre happiness.
It might have been because he could feel that deep inside Nanami’s heart, she was bad with people like him.
“…You’re kind. Thank… you.”
Souta said so shyly, but it was nothing compared to Nanami’s shyness at having said it.
Her skin was a pale white so it was easy to see the reddish tinge spread down to the bottom of her throat, with a cry like howl she pushed at Souta’s nose.
“I-it’s Nanami. Nanami Knight Bladefield! …Nanami is fine, I don’t like being called by my family name. I don’t want ‘san’ and if you use ‘chan it’s the death penalty!”
She finally introduced herself as she calmed down and her blush settled, Souta nodded.
“Right… Nanami-sa— Nanami… You can call me Souta too.”
As he was about to say ‘san’, Nanami glared at him and he smiled wryly.
The fact that Nanami already seemed to dislike him so it wouldn’t be too much worse if she completely disliked him was probably the source of his defiance. In any case, for the first time in a long time, a truly long time, Souta met someone he could become friends with.
He couldn’t see even a hint of a flag on her head, it put him unusually at ease.