Winter

New Year’s Eve had arrived, bringing a stillness to the area around Corona House. The people walking the streets had thinned out and the number of cars on the road had dropped steeply. The same was most likely true of other areas, there were few people who spent New Year’s Eve as any other day. Most people spent it with their families, staying in the house.

The resident of room 106 would also normally spend it with his family. But this year his family, that being his bachelor father, were far away so he couldn’t. They had plans to meet after the New Year, but to say he wasn’t lonely would be a lie. Koutarou’s mother had died early in his life, so family held great importance to him.

But fortunately, Koutarou wasn’t alone. Instead of his family, in the room there were invaders. Thanks to them, his loneliness was packed away and his attention was drawn from it. It wasn’t erased, but the invaders covered it, happily for Koutarou and he didn’t intend to deny these feelings now.

“That’s right, I haven’t seen Yurika or Kiriha since this morning, did something happen?”

“Yurika’s at an event with the Cosplay society.”

“An event?”

“Yeah, it’s the biggest anime and manga event in the country. I went there too, the day before yesterday but there were too many people, so I came back before I got there.”

“Oh…”

From the 29th, Yurika had been with the Cosplay Society for the past three days. It was an event that encouraged cosplay and they had traditionally gone and cosplayed there. Sanae had heard about it from Yurika and thought it sounded interesting and gone on the first day, but the maelstrom of spiritual impressions from around a hundred thousand people had made her leave early. The amount of people was comparable to a battlefield.

“Kiriha-sama said she had a religious event she had to participate in on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. However, it shouldn’t take too long and she’ll be back this evening.”

“Kiriha-san is the leader’s daughter or something, so you’d know a lot about that, wouldn’t you, Theia?”

“Yes, Forthorthe’s New Year is a little later, but it’s troublesome every year…”

Kiriha participated in the People of the Earth’s religious ceremonies over the New Year period as the daughter of their leader. They were established ceremonies, close to that of Japanese shrines, sharing similar roots. Forthorthe too had similar ceremonies. Being brought up as a princess, Theia participated in many of them, so she knew how much work Kiriha was taking up.

“By the way, the landlady is at an end of year party with the Landlord’s Association. She can’t drink so she’s coming back this evening.”

“So it’s only us for a while.”

“It looks that way.”

There were four who still remained in room 106, Koutarou, Sanae, Theia and Ruth. The others were out and would all return that evening.

“I thought we could do something if everyone was here, but this is good. Koutarou, we’re doing special training for the play.”

The play that Theia had written the script for, ‘The Silver Princess and the Blue Knight’ was a month away, and she wanted to use as much time as she could for practice. So today, with no one here was perfect for that.

“Eeeh!? It’s New Year’s Eve thooouuugh!?”

“I don’t care, at all. Forthorthe’s New Year is still to come.”

“Haven’t you heard ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’!?”

“I know at least that much. So, if you really don’t want to, we won’t. I think you need some special training, what do you think?”

Theia gazed earnestly into Koutarou’s eyes. There was a strong will in her eyes, but it didn’t give an oppressive impression like the day they met. If Koutarou actually said no, she honestly intended to back down. She now knew that a true ruler wouldn’t needlessly force matters.

“… L-let’s do it…”

It was the opposite response from before, but Theia hadn’t forced him, just seriously stated she thought he needed special training. Koutarou knew that he was inexperienced at acting so his refusal vanished and he agreed with Theia.

“I see, I’m glad you said that, Koutarou, thank you.”

Theia knew she was taking his holiday, so earnestly thanked him with a smile. The play held a great importance to her, so she was more grateful to him than those words and a smile.

“Koutarou, you’re just a sucker in the end. You could at least take New Year’s Eve off.”

Even whilst laughing at Koutarou, Sanae took out the script from his bag and held it to her chest. Contrary to her words, Sanae was fired up.

“There’s no other choice. If I’m useless, it’ll be trouble for everyone else, it’s not like it’s just for Theia.”

Theia and Sanae’s smiles made Koutarou shy, and he looked the other way, but he definitely meant the words he said. Koutarou was inexperienced and playing a lead role so could sour the whole play. In particular, it would cause issues for Harumi, who was his partner in this. To Koutarou, who’d sworn to his friends to make the play a success with them, this was something he wanted to avoid above all else.

“I don’t mind that, this play isn’t just for me, after all.” Said Theia, nodding deeply.

She seemed really happy. That was a knight’s chivalry. Rather, Koutarou’s motivation not being just going along with Theia’s selfishness made her happy.

Today’s special training was focussed on combat. There were many combat scenes in the second half, and Koutarou polishing his swordplay would vastly improve the performance. That, and it being New Year’s Eve, Theia thought it better to do something physical rather than mental.

Their special training often took place in the space ship, ‘The Blue Knight’. That was the case today too, and they were inside a large room on the ship. The cameras in place made it easy to capture every angle and correct his form.

The part of his training partner was being played by Ruth, she was equipped with a sword and armour as she faced him. Theia needed to watch over and direct, so she was a little distance away, with Sanae floating at her side holding the script, watching them. Checking the overall flow was Sanae’s job.

“The sword’s long, so it’s hard to draw cleanly.”

“I can only say to get used to it, the traditional Forthorthean knight sword is that size.”

Theia’s direction had started from drawing the sword and Ruth watched over them in silence.

“By the way, your arms are too short, so you can’t, right?”

“Shut up, be quiet and do it!”

“Don’t get angry, it’s just a bit of playfulness.”

“That’s too mean, don’t do that about what people find the most important!”

“Huh? The most important isn’t your chest?”

“Why youuuuu!”

Theia was exceedingly picky, whilst they clashed occasionally, little by little, his acting solidified.

“I really do need to get Satomi-sama to become Her Highness’ knight…”

Ruth watched their interactions and her desire to see Koutarou become Theia’s knight strengthened all the more. To Ruth, his personality, and his relationship with Theia fulfilled all of the conditions for the perfect lord and retainer relationship. So she continued thinking of how to persuade him whilst waiting for her turn.

“Here, like this.”

“Wait a minute… here, sort of like this?”

“That’s right, don’t rush too much at the end.”

“About this fast?”

“Yes, that’s fine. It’s about time we moved on to actual combat. Ruth.”

“Yes Your Highness. Good luck, Satomi-sama.”

“Good look to you too, Ruth-san.”

Her turn came up and Ruth stopped her thinking and lifted her weapon and faced Koutarou. She was still developing her sword skills, but the movements were exceptionally clean, one could say it was characteristic of the Pardomshiha family that had served the imperial family for generations.

“…Ruth could have been the Blue Knight.”

“Ruth can’t wear that armour.”

“Theatre is complicated.”

“That’s part of the interest. It’s different from film that you can touch up with all kinds of techniques.”

“Thanks to that, I have work too.”

“That’s true, I’m counting on you, Sanae.”

“Aye aye sir!”

Saluting to Theia, Sanae held the script and flew over to Koutarou, and whilst looking over the script, she began pointing out the starting locations and such for their first scene. She had the part of assistant director and audio direction type things.

“Ruth, you’re part of the coup d’état army, so look meaner.”

“Mean… I understand, I’ll try.”

“Koutarou, you attack her quickly, but everyone’s in the middle of battle, so make sure to pay attention to your surroundings.”

“Roger that.”

“We’re ready, Theia.”

“Alright, let’s try once first! Begin!”

After Sanae finished her directing, Koutarou and Ruth’s battle began. They started practising with a scene from the start of the play, it was a simple scene where Ruth, from the coup d’état army attacked with her sword, and Koutarou turned the blow aside and took her down. A perfect scene to start practice with. Theia silently watched their fight. They continued according to the script to the end of the fight and she nodded deeply, saying.

“Okay, that’s enough.”

“It looked good, didn’t it?”

“Yes, there aren’t any problems in general. It looks like the movements from the first time are still there.”

The play next month was the second half, the first half at the cultural festival had fight scenes too so Koutarou remembered those, making his movements cleaner than Theia had expected.

“So, shall we do the next scene?”

“No, we’re here already, so we’ll try and make this one even better.”

Seeing Koutarou’s movements had fulfilled Theia’s desire. Last time, the time limit had meant many cut corners, like how to deal with the hem of the cloak and how to hold the sword to show off the crest.

“If we keep focussing on this and that, we won’t make it in time.”

“Today was originally a holiday, so it’s fine to use some of it like this.”

“That’s fine then.”

“Fufu, you’re finally being honest.”

Theia laughed. She thought Koutarou would be opposed to it because it was troublesome.

“I said earlier, it’d cause everyone issues if I was useless.”

“That’s proof of your knighthood, just hearing you say those words shows there’s worth in continuing.”

“…”

Theia’s words, and her smile as she said them were as beautiful as a princess should be and Koutarou found himself looking at her, lost for words. Noticing his gaze and finding it strange, she blinked several times.

“What’s wrong?”

“A-ah, it’s nothing. So, where do we start?”

“Well, first…”

Fortunately, Theia’s attention was taken up with acting, so they finished without her noticing Koutarou’s fascination with her.

They finished their training as the stars were beginning to shine over Corona House. It being the middle of winter, this was around five in the evening. To Theia, the supreme ruler of training, it was a little early, but she decided that it being New Year’s, she’d let Koutarou take it easy.

“We’re back.”

Koutarou entered the room through the transport gate on the wall farthest inside, only to be greeted by the spread eagled form of Yurika on the floor.

“…Welcome back~~”

Yurika was utterly exhausted from the three day event, and even whilst answering Koutarou, she faced up at the ceiling. Thanks to her exhaustion, her bags with cosplay materials were discarded close to her.

“Koutarou, don’t stop! You’re blocking the way!”

“Uwah!?”

In the next instant, Theia had followed him out of the gate and pushed his back. Off balance, he reflexively took a step forward. Were Yurika’s face was.

“Kyaaaaa!?”

Suddenly seeing the sole of Koutarou’s foot appear in front of her eyes, she quickly rolled to the side.

Yurika avoided her fate and Koutarou’s foot came down heavily next to her face. Yurika had avoided the danger, but the heavy thump of Koutarou’s foot landing on the tatami mats sent a shiver racing down her spine.

“Satomi-san, what are you trying to do!? Even bullying has a limit doesn’t it!?”

Yurika whipped her tired body up and complained loudly to Koutarou. She’d thought her face was going to be stepped on and wanted to cry.

“What would you have done if you stepped on my face!? Would you have taken responsibility and made me your wife!?”

“C-calm down, Yurika! I’m sorry, but I didn’t do it on purpose, it was an accident!”

In response to Yurika’s angry look, he frantically apologised.

“…Really?”

However, even in the face of an apology, she turned a doubtful gaze on him. She’d had many bad experiences so she couldn’t simply believe it.

“What’s wrong?”

“Because you pushed me, I nearly stepped on Yurika’s face!”

“I see, I’m sorry.”

Theia came out from behind Koutarou and honestly apologised, she hadn’t thought that Yurika would be back.

“…Satomi-san really wasn’t bullying me?”

“That’s right, trust me.”

“It’s my fault, I’m sorry.”

“…Then, then, would you still make me your wife?”

“No. In that case I’d pick someone I’d actually trodden on.”

“Whhhyyy!?”

Thanks to Theia’s apology, her doubt towards Koutarou was taken care of, but her anger would remain for a while.

When Kiriha returned, Yurika was sitting away from the others who were drinking tea and staring at the wall.

“…S-someday, I’ll look back on today… I’ll be super beautiful and be able to cook.. then, even if Satomi-san asks me to be his wife, I’ll tell him he’s too late…”

Half crying, and occasionally hitting the wall with her fist, Yurika was muttering. Kiriha thought it was strange for a moment but remembered similar happening many times before, so left her to the Haniwa and headed for the dining table.

“I’m back.”

“Welcome back, Kiriha.”

“Sanae, what’s wrong with Yurika?”

“Uhh, putting it simply, Koutarou didn’t treat her like a girl and she’s depressed.”

“She said he’s the enemy of women, ho-!”

“She’s demanding an apology and better treatment, ho-!”

“I see, I understand now.”

“Go ahead and drink, Kiriha.”

Theia placed a tea cup in front of her once she understood what had happened and Kiriha’s interest shifted from Yurika to the tea.

“Did you brew this, Theia-dono?”

“Yes, Ruth’s cooking.”

Said Theia, whilst looking towards the entrance, there, past the curtain was Ruth, preparing dinner. So Theia had brewed the tea.

“It tastes pretty good.”

“I’m not as good as Ruth, but I at least know how.”

“It’s always the same.”

“Hahaha, you’re not wrong.”

Kiriha brewed the best tea in room 106. That wasn’t just because she was born in underground Japan, it was due to being raised as a high class girl. It was the same for Theia, she knew very well how to brew Forthorthean black tea, so there weren’t any major problems for her to brew Japanese tea either.

For a while, she enjoyed her tea with Theia, but when she was about halfway through her cup, she noticed someone missing.

“Incidentally, where’s Koutarou? I can’t see him… is he working?”

“No, he’s in the kitchen.”

“Why’s he there?”

“Since you weren’t here, he’s helping Ruth. Ruth still has some things she doesn’t know about Japanese seasonings and such.”

Koutarou had grown up with only his father, so could mostly cook. Ruth’s speciality was cooking, but she was still leaning about Japanese cooking, so Koutarou’s advice was very helpful.

“Oh… isn’t that interesting. I think I’ll go and have a look.”

When Kiriha heard that Koutarou was helping with cooking, interest filled her, and with a smile on her face, stood and headed for the kitchen.

“I’m going too!”

Sanae was waiting impatiently for the cooking to be finished and went to where Koutarou was. She intended to share his senses when he tested the food and test it together with him.

“Ruth, Koutarou, how’s it…”

Passing through the curtain, Kiriha cheerfully called out to the pair of them, but her words were cut off part way through, the scene that greeted her taking her eyes.

“What is this feeling…”

What took Kiriha’s eyes was the sight of Koutarou holding a kitchen knife. It wasn’t anything particularly special, just cutting vegetables for a hot pot with a kitchen knife. He was fairly awkward, but still skilled for a male high school student.

“Why is this making me feel so nostalgic…?”

Kiriha felt a strong sense of deja vu, like she’d seen Koutarou cooking before. A long time ago.

“What’s wrong, why’d you suddenly stop?”

“Ah, it’s nothing.”

But seeing this scene long ago was impossible, so Kiriha put it aside as her own mistake, and then called out to them.

“Koutarou, Ruth.”

“Ah, you’re back, Kiriha-san.”

“Welcome back, Kiriha-sama.”

“I heard you were both cooking and came to see.”

“I wouldn’t quite call what I’m doing cooking, I’m just preparing things and taste testing.”

“You’re being modest, you’re a great help.”

“I’m looking forward to it, it’s hot pot?”

“Yeah, I figured it’d be hard to fail with hot pot, we could prepare the vegetables and stock and start once you got back.”

“A logical plan.”

Kiriha smiled and approached the saucepan, sniffing at the steam rising off of it. It smelled of tuna, konbu, sake, mirin and soy sauce. A success for hot pot stock by her reckoning.

“What’s it like?”

“No need to worry, it looks like dinner will be tasty.”

“Koutarou, Koutarou, let me try too!”

“The only things to try is vegetables, are you alright with raw chrysanthemums?”

“Feh, I don’t want that.”

“What a selfish girl.”

“Give a little service to the lovable Sanae-chan, don’t you have any compassion, Satomi Koutarou-kun?”

“That’s why I asked if you wanted vegetables.”

“That can’t be called service!”

Sanae unhappily puffed out her cheeks and pouted. Just as that happened, without a knock or ring of the bell, the door opened and Shizuka walked in completely naturally, having come back from the end of year party.

“I’m back! Everyone, I brought food, let’s all eat dinner together!”

“Good job, Shizuka!”

Shizuka had brought things that Sanae could try. The meetings were one thing, but an end of year party was beyond Shizuka with her being a minor because it was a drinking party with older men, so she’d taken part of the food and left early. The food was things like fries and kebabs, with many things served with drinks, all foods that Sanae liked.

“Please, Shizuka!”

“Sure, here.”

Shizuka handed over the plastic box of food with a smile and Sanae used her spiritual abilities to fly it through the air to Koutarou.

“Koutarou, Koutarou, let me try, let me try!”

“Sure, sure, I get it.”

Sanae had completely forgotten her dissatisfaction with Koutarou and clung to his back. The lid opened by itself in front of Koutarou. No matter how someone looked at it, it was spiritual influence, but it just brought a smile to the inhabitants of room 106.

“What do you want?”

“A fry that isn’t soggy.”

“You really like fried foods.”

“Nufufufu, I’m a kid after all!”

While putting fries in his mouth, he carried the box into the main room with Sanae, eyes sparkling, holding onto his back. The flavour was exactly as she hoped.

“…You know, sometimes, don’t you think their relationship is too good.”

Shizuka watched them as they left and she went to the kitchen where she was greeted by Ruth’s smile.

“I think so too sometimes. I’m an only child so I’d like that kind of sibling relationship.”

“I know, right!?”

“Yes, it makes me envious.”

Shizuka and Ruth both had lifestyles where it was hard to feel the bonds of family. Just that gave them a strong yearning for a relationship like Koutarou and Sanae’s. That was a common feeling to the girls in room 106.

“There’s no need to be jealous from afar. You can actively join in.”

Kiriha put out the hob and picked up the hot pot and entered the main room. Kiriha, Shizuka and Ruth had similar feelings. However, Kiriha had already arrived at an answer, so she wasn’t jealous.

“Fufu… that’s true.”

“That’s right, let’s do that.”

Shizuka and Ruth thought that Kiriha’s thinking was appropriate and followed with cutlery.

Placing the hot pot on a portable stove on the table and lighting it, Kiriha was in charge of it. She was the one who was originally in charge of cooking and her skill was undoubted. Following the heat and flavour, ingredients were added to the pot in order.

“Kiriha-san, Kiriha-san, the meat, is the meat done yet!?”

“Wait Yurika, it needs to boil first.”

“Then, then, when will the fish be done!?”

“I know you want to eat, but that’s later too. The meat and fish both need it to be boiling.”

“Eeeehhhhhhhh.”

“Satomi-kun, give Yurika-chan something.”

It felt like Yurika was drooling over the meat, having a bad feeling, Shizuka asked Koutarou for help.

“Alright… Yurika, sit there.”

“R-right.”

Yurika instinctively followed Koutarou’s abrupt order, and quickly re-seated herself on a cushion.

“Your hand.”

“Right.”

Yurika put her hand in Koutarou’s extended hand. Yurika had followed the mostly meaningless orders but finally became curious about why and turned a questioning look at Koutarou.

“What’s this for?”

“As a reward for your performance, eat this.”

Koutarou took a plate out from the box that Shizuka had brought home and placed it in front of Yurika.

“I caaan!? Thank yoooo~~uuuu!”

Without waiting for an actual response, she began eating. She was like lightning at times like this, stuffing meatballs and fried egg whites into her mouth. Oily, salty foods like these were her absolute favourite.

“Impressive, Satomi-kun.”

Shizuka nodded in satisfaction, watching Yurika greedily eat the party food.

“Don’t you think that’s spoiling her a little much?”

On the contrary, Theia was making a bitter expression, she wasn’t particularly fussy about manners, but thought Yurika’s behaviour was a problem as a girl.

“I nearly stepped on her early, so I’ll let it go a bit, besides, it’s New Year’s Eve.”

Koutarou thought it was too spoiling too, but didn’t think it was worth punishing her for because it was New Year’s Eve. He knew the kind of personality she had inside, so found it hard to be too strict on her.

“Satomi-sama is kind.”

“He’s always losing out because of it.”

Ruth and Kiriha knew how he really felt, so saw his paying lip service as slightly strange and couldn’t help but smile and look at each other.

“Koutarou, Koutarou, make sure to spoil me plenty too.”

Sanae was envious of Yurika eating the party food and grabbed on to Koutarou’s back. But Koutarou shook his head.

“You tried some earlier, wait until the hot pot is done.”

“Hmph.”

Sanae puffed her cheeks up and began to complain at him.

“You cheapskate, serious, Japanese man!”

“Sanae, decide if you’re insulting or praising.”

“You Japanese man!”

“Praising then.”

“I decided there were more times we got along.”

“Sure, sure, you really can’t be helped.”

“Ehehehehe~~~”

In the end, Koutarou was beaten down and reached out for food as she wanted. She put her arms around his neck and held on tighter, eagerly waiting for Koutarou to eat.

“Ah, but you don’t need to eat too much, if you ate lots, you wouldn’t have room for the hot pot, would you?”

“You’re so demanding.”

“It’s fine, isn’t it? You’ll let it go because it’s New Year’s Eve, right? …Ah, I want a cheese spring roll next!”

“Sure, sure.”

Koutarou ate what Sanae pointed out and Ruth, Shizuka and Kiriha watched the cheerful scene with smiles.

“I really am jealous of them.”

“Me too… It’s not something me can really do…”

“That’s not true, I think I’ll actively participate too.”

Saying that, Kiriha closed her eyes slightly and called out to Koutarou.

“Satomi Koutarou, feed me too. My hands are full and I can’t eat.”

“I refuse.”

“That’s right, Koutarou! Just provide me with food!”

“How cold, Koutarou. Don’t you like me?”

“You just think it’d be amusing!”

“No, I’m loving you.”

“Liar!”

“…You’re becoming gradually harsher, Koutarou.”

“It’s because you won’t leave it!”

“Well said Koutarou! That’s why you’re a Japanese man.”

Kiriha always simply inserted herself into their conversations. Watching them, Shizuka and Ruth looked at each other.

“…It’d be good to be like that too.”

“That’s Kiriha-sama, she really understands us all.”

“Shall we try too?”

“Yes. It seems fairly inappropriate, but it’s New Year’s Eve today and it’ll be the New Year soon.”

The two of them nodded to each other and jumped into their conversation.

About an hour after they started to eat, the first to put their chopsticks down was Theia.

“That was delicious.”

Due to how active she was, Theia ate a lot of food to replace her energy. But she was small, so that amount had a limit. Thanks to that there was a large difference between her and Yurika, who ate the most. Yurika still hadn’t eaten nearly enough.

“You’re already finished?”

“I’ll ruin my fitness if I eat more than this.”

“Tomorrows a holiday, so isn’t that fine?”

“I’ve got practice for the play.”

“I see, I can eat a little more.”

After exchanging a word or two with Theia, Yurika turned back to her food. She’d take as much nutrition as she could to prepare for danger. That was Yurika’s life wisdom from living self-indulgently in the merciless jungle known as modern society.

In her place, Ruth struck up a conversation with Theia.

“How was it, Your Highness.”

Ruth gave a smile as she offered a cup of tea to Theia, who took it and nodded deeply with her own smile.

“It was well done, Ruth, perfect for cold days like today. I should praise Koutarou too.”

“You should just praise Ruth-san and Kiriha-san, I didn’t do much.”

“If you insist on others being credited for your highs and lows, as someone who stands above, I’ll have to scold you.”

“Uh.”

“You should be proud, right?”

On Christmas night, Koutarou had told her to be prouder. She was kind and considerate, but there were times she could be proud as a member of the imperial family. Theia had taken it a step further and realised that it was the same as doing something for many people. Koutarou had helped for other people, so he should be proud. Being overconfident would be a problem, but never being proud was strange, it’d be the same as denying what other people worked hard at.

“…I’m honoured to receive your praise, Princess.”

“That’s good.”

Theia nodded in satisfaction.

“I really don’t think working for Theia now would be so bad now…”

Looking at her smile, Koutarou re-confirmed his feelings. It was too soon after the underground problem, but Koutarou didn’t really feel any resistance to becoming Theia’s vassal.

“Hey, are you already finished, Koutarou?”

But Sanae looking into his face stopped those thoughts as he returned a smile and shook his head.

“No, it’s not over until we’ve eaten the udon at the end.”

“They’re tasty, they should just be plain udon, but they feel slightly different.”

“Koutarou, instead of just udon, I made soba.”

“I see, New Year Soba then.”

“Shizuka, what’s New Year Soba?”

“Their traditionally eaten on New Year’s night in Japan, does your country have something similar?”

“We do, we eat unleavened bread.”

“It’s said that because bakers had the day off too, they made unleavened bread which would last a long time.”

“Oh… That’s interesting.”

“So what do we do, have udon or soba?”

Kiriha looked at the bags of prepared udon and soba. Udon was definitely more suited to hot pot, but a soba based soup was definitely no mistake for a New Year’s Eve soup.

“I’m fine with soba, your traditions are interesting.”

Theia had said she was finished but thought of this as participating in an event. She’d also made sure not to stuff herself, so she still had some room.

“I prefer udon, but if Theia wants soba then that’s fine, we can have hot pot again and have udon then.”

“I don’t mind which as long as I can eat it.”

“What about you, Shizuka-sama?”

“I… well, we may as well have soba. These lively New Year’s aren’t- whoops. Anyway, one vote for soba!”

It had been a while since Shizuka had had a lively New Year’s Eve like this. She’d lost both of her parents so not just New Year’s Eve, but seasonal events were for others, it had been quite a long time since she’d participated like this. But saying that would obviously dampen the mood, so she quickly stopped herself.

“Koutarou, what about you.”

“I’m fine with soba. I’m not Sanae, but lets have hot pot again soon.”

“Okay, soba it is then.”

However, everyone in the room was similar to Shizuka. Koutarou lived with only his father and he was a bachelor. Kiriha had a similar background to Koutarou, but she was away from home. Sanae was waiting here for her parents. Theia didn’t have a father and Ruth and Yurika had been away from their families for a while. All of them wanted a family’s warmth and somewhere to belong so all of them could imagine what Shizuka didn’t say and purposefully left it alone.

After they finished eating the soba, they were all spending their time as they pleased, watching TV, reading manga, doing their homework, drinking tea and reading the script, they were doing a wide variety of things.

“Hey, Koutarou, why do they get spanked if they laugh?”

“It’s a game where they have to avoid laughing.”

“Hmm, that’s a strange game.”

“Yurika-chan, do you have any manga you’d recommend, I’ve got time in the holiday so I thought I should read something.”

“Then, I’d recommend this space epic.”

“Hmm… that seems strange…”

“Kiriha-sama, what does this idiom with ‘horse’ mean?”

“That means mutual understanding, it comes from the understanding needed between a horse and rider.”

“I see… Thank you, Kiriha-sama.”

“By the way, Ruth, would you like some tea?”

“I would.”

“Could I have some too?”

“I’ll make some.”

“Thank you. Hmm… should I cure this scene I wonder… It’s fairly verbose, but… no no, if I cut it, it won’t fit together afterwards… hmmmm…”

Today was New Year’s Eve so there wasn’t a game for control of the room. Tomorrow they’d be playing karuta and sugoroku anyway, so they’d decided that was fine. So everyone should be able to go to their own rooms and be able to do what they wanted with the extra space or go to sleep. But strangely, no one had left, all of them thought that going alone to their own rooms would be boring and everyone had stayed in this room.

“Yurika, are you doing your homework?”

“I-I am!”

“That’s fine then. You don’t have much time, so be careful, right?”

“I will! I’ll do my best!”

“Sanae-chan, how much has she actually done?”

“None.”

“…If Satomi-kun weren’t here, you really would be helpless, Yurika-chan.”

“Yurika relies too much on others.”

“So does everyone compared to you, Your Highness.”

“That’s not true, I do rely on people.”

“I know, especially recently.”

“Ane-san, we brought rice crackers, ho-!”

“We want to eat too, ho-!”

“That’s fine.”

“Yay, ho-!”

“Anego is so generous, ho-!”

“I’ll eat too.”

The events that had happened with everyone gathered in the room could be said to have lead to strange feelings. They were all enemies, or when they weren’t it was only in the face of trouble. They all had reasons to drive each other out, and had no reason to be together. Despite that, in this instant, none of them wanted to drive the others off, rather they wanted to avoid this. They found being together fun.

Everyone knew how it felt to be lonely, and it was ironic that the people who compensated for that loneliness were enemies. But they’d already overcome that reality of being enemies. They originally gathered in room 106 to fight, but now they fought to gather in room 106. Everyone wanted these days to continue for a long time.

“By the way, Koutarou, what are you doing?”

“Landlady… I’m picking out games for next year.”

Koutarou had several board and card games he’d borrowed from friends in front of him and was wracking his brains. They’d be playing the characteristic New Year’s games, but the first game was Koutarou’s choice. He’d figured that he may as well pick a fun one, though this way of thinking was already strange, and was testing the games.

“We could actually try one, not for points, but just because everyone’s free?”

“I agree, just binge-reading manga is a waste.”

“Let’s do it, Ruth, Shizuka, Karama-chan and Korama-chan can join in too!”

Yurika and Sanae both immediately agreed to Shizuka’s proposal. Yurika because she hadn’t touched her homework and wanted to avoid being asked about it, and Sanae because she was simply tired of just watching TV. The two of them came to the table and started choosing a game with Koutarou.

“A change of pace would be good, I’ll join in too.”

“The same for me, I was getting bored.”

No one disagreed, Theia closed the script and Kiriha prepared tea for everyone and they all got ready to choose.

“Ruth, you’re here.”

“Is that alright?”

“It’s fine, it’s fine, Karama-chan and Korama-chan are with me.”

“Ho-! We’ll do our best, ho-!”

“We’ll show everyone what we’re made of, ho-!”

Ruth had some hesitation, but joined the ring with the Haniwa. In the end there were nine people around the table. Sanae was a ghost so had no substance and the Haniwa were extremely small so it didn’t feel cramped.

“So, Koutarou, what shall we start with?”

“Let’s do them all in order. First is… this one.”

They started the game. The night was long and they had a wide variety of games and time passed slowly. It was a cold winter’s day, but everyone’s hearts felt like they bathed in the sun.

“Hey, Karama, Korama, will you buy ore mining rights with me?”

“I’m in, a mountain of gold is a man’s romance!”

“Alright, we’ll split the profits equally.”

“Koutarou, you’re making an evil face, ho-!”

“Kiriha-saan, what do we do now they’re doing that?”

“Right, we’ll buy oil drilling rights.”

“Ah, when did you draw that card, Kiriha!?”

“I’ll invest in oil, I can’t let Satomi-kun win like that!”

“Your Highness, what will we do?”

“Fufun, we’ll invest in both and use our rights as shareholders!”

This was a truly strange situation. There was a game being played, but points for territory weren’t moving. In other words, this was meaningless, and everyone was performing these meaningless acts. So they all pretended, and couldn’t say it honestly, but everyone understood, so no one pointed out that the game was meaningless.

As the New Year was rang in, they’d just finished their third game. It was a good stopping point so they stopped playing and went out to the shrine. Ordinarily they would have gone to sleep by now, but today was special.

“A festival, a festival♪”

Sanae was flying ahead of the group. She couldn’t help but be happy and sometimes glanced back, the profile of her smile visible. On the other hand, Koutarou was slightly worried.

“Hey, Sanae.”

“Yeah?”

“Are you okay going into shrines and stuff?”

“Why?”

“Why you ask, you’re a ghost right?”

He was worried about her passing on. Sanae was essentially a ghost, in movies and manga, frequently evil spirits couldn’t enter holy places without moving on.

“Oh yeah. But it’ll be fine, I’ll run away if it looks bad.”

“Be careful.”

“I will, thank you for worrying♪”

“Yeah…”

Sanae smiled and flew around him several times before flying back to the slightly slower girls, leaving Koutarou and Kiriha next to him behind.

“Koutarou, you don’t need to worry. Her spiritual energy is stabilising. Even if it was a shrine with a deity, they probably wouldn’t erase her, they don’t erase guardian spirits. And even if they tried, Karama and Korama would protect her with a spiritual field, there’s no problem.”

Kiriha thought Koutarou was still worried about Sanae so told him her own counter-measures. Kiriha was worried too and had put the haniwa near her to protect her.

“That’s true but… I just think it’s a little strange.”

“Strange?”

“Yeah, we’re both worried about Sanae, and I’m sure the others are too, I think it’s strange.”

Koutarou gave a wry smile and feelings asking him what he was doing swirled in his chest.

“That’s true. Considering our reason for gathering in room 106, it is strange.”

Kiriha agreed and closed her eyes slightly with a pleasant smile.

“Your original objective was never to invade, so maybe it’s natural.”

“Saying that, you and everyone else are the same. We certainly were enemies, but to invade wasn’t our objective.”

“…That’s right.”

Koutarou wanted to ease his burden on his father, Kiriha wanted to meet her first love again and to raise the underground people to the surface peacefully. Theia wanted to support her mother, Sanae wanted to meet her parents again, Yurika said it was for her benefactor. None of them strictly speaking wanted room 106 itself, and they didn’t hate each other. Continuing to progress their understanding of each other, it might have been fate they ended up like this.

“Even so, it’s strange.”

“Yes, I think so too.”

Koutarou and Kiriha exchanged smiles. Those smiles had a hint of bitterness because they both thought that their relationship with everyone was strange.

“Satomi-kun, isn’t that McKenzie-kun and Sakuraba-senpai?”

Shizuka stepped forward from the others and pointed out Kenji and Harumi. The two looked like they’d met by chance and were bowing to each other.

“…McKenzie-kun is with another girl again.”

“Landlady, that’s his younger sister Kin-chan. Matsudaira Kotori, shortened to McKinley.”

“It looks like Harumi came with her family.”

“Sakuraba-senpaaai!”

“Yurika, don’t shout like that in the night!”

“Auuu, s-sorryyyy.”

As they got closer, Kenji and Harumi noticed them and walked towards them and, ever polite, Harumi bowed deeply and Kenji bowed too.

“Everyone, happy New Year.”

“Y-you too.”

The two bowed and the girls started exchanging greetings. Up first was Kiriha, the one with the most formal manners.

“Happy New Year.”

Kiriha had just as polite a greeting as Harumi and the rest continued on in turn.

“Happy New Year’s!”

“Let’s have a good year this year, you two.”

“Have a good New Year.”

“Happy New Year, Harumi-sama, McKenzie-sama.”

They weren’t as polite as Kiriha but were properly welcoming to Harumi and Kenji.

“Happy New Year!”

“Congratulations, ho-!”

“Congrats, ho-!”

The three who they couldn’t see also did the same and smiled at them.

“Congratulations is it…?”

Koutarou watched over them, his conversation with Kiriha still on his mind. So he found these greetings strange, they themselves were to Harumi and Kenji, but it was clear that the emotions weren’t just to them.

After joining up together, the girls surrounded Kotori and began barraging her with questions. Everyone was interested in what kind of person she was.

“…Looks like Kin-chan is in trouble, you should help her a little more, McKenzie.”

“Kou, do it yourself if you think she needs it.”

“If I did it, they’d definitely complain.”

“…So you’re telling me to do it?”

“Yeah, your sister’s in trouble, McKenzie-oniisan.”

The combined group headed to the shrine as originally planned. Koutarou and Kenji brought up the rear, watching over the girls ahead of them. They knew to leave girls alone at times like this, and at the same time, they could talk as if it were just them, a unique chance.

“Geez… But you know, Kou.”

Here, the aggressiveness left his words and he had a small smile. Different form his usual smile, it seemed kinder.

“Yeah?”

“Looking at those girls, I can see why you’re cheerful, even when it’s just you.”

“McKenzie…”

“It’s a good trend, right. You always seem to push people away at the last moment.”

Kenji had two worries. His introverted and ignorant to the ways of the world sister, and Koutarou, who didn’t really socialise. Both of them needed a strong push to get going, so the girls could be called suitable for that.

“They’re a big help.”

“That’s a good thing.”

“…”

There weren’t any people who knew how Koutarou had grown up and his family background as well as Kenji. So when Kenji was seriously worried, there were many occasions that Koutarou wouldn’t reply, this was certainly one of those occasions.

“Kou, look after them. There aren’t many people who know how good you are.”

“…Yeah, I know.”

“That’s good then.”

The two of them were silent for a while. It was a particular mood, because they were childhood friends. The one exception to Koutarou, was definitely Kenji.

“By the way, which one do you like?”

“Why are you always like that!? If you’d just left it at that, it would have been a good conversation!”

“Come on, tell me, you don’t need to hide it.”

“I’ll tell Kin-chan, that you’re a heart breaker.”

“D-don’t do it, Kou! I’ll never hear the end of it!”

“By the way, I think it might be a little late.”

“Why?”

“They’re probably talking about all of them.”

“Whaaaat!? Kotori, Kotori, come back here now!”

“I misjudged you, Nii-san!”

“Uwaa, wait, Kotori, it’s a misunderstanding!”

The silence soon ended and they were soon part of the noisy circle of girls. Koutarou truly understood the days he’s been blessed with. So he could honestly admit that he was happy now.


←:Autumn|Contents|Epilogue:→

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