Two days later, Shino and Hotaru were walking down the road, having just finished their lectures and training. Hotaru was lingering slightly behind.
“Hey, where to today, Shino? More observing?”
“Hmm…” said Shino, glancing at her. “It’s certainly important to keep up the observations, but that alone isn’t enough. We have to get information from multiple angles. It’s tough though… and today is Tuesday too…”
“Tuesday? What does that have to do with anything?”
“Plenty. I can only do this Tuesday and Friday, you know, which makes it more important than tailing her.”
“Huh? What do you mean..?”
“You’ll see,” said Shino. He stopped and said, “Hey look, we’re here.”
Hotaru stopped as well and looked around the area. “T-This is…”
“Yup, it’s a landfill,” triumphantly said Shino.
“Uhhh… S-Shino… Please don’t tell me this is what I think it is…” She was frozen in fear as her face went blue and even started to twitch a bit.
“This is where we search for Maihime Tenkawa’s trash.”
Hotaru grabbed her own face in disgust. “No. Nooooo… Noooooooooooooooooo!!” she shouted. She didn’t want to believe what she was seeing. “No way, Shino, Noooo way! I overlooked the other things you did, but this crosses the line!! You can’t be serious!”
Shino gazed off into the distance and murmured, “We crossed the line the moment we accepted this mission…”
Hotaru had no response to that. Looking troubled, she stood in silence for a few moments.
“B-But…” she finally said. “It’s just so creepy looking through people’s trash…”
“It’s not creepy; it’s part of my investigation. Plus, the trash is one of the best places to find intel in general. We can find traces of what she ate, understand her hobbies, and maybe even find some unwanted documents.”
“Y-Yeah, but…” Hotaru shook her head— she still couldn’t accept it.
“So we’ll be stuck not being able to get any new information?” snapped Shino.
Hotaru looked at him in despair for a few seconds before giving in and sighing.
“… Okay, I got it,” she reluctantly said, “but how are you going to search through this?” She drooped her shoulders solemnly and looked around the landfill.
The landfill stored all the trash from the city, so there was a considerable amount of trash within it. Since it was stacked high with clear garbage bags filled with trash, finding Maihime’s was near impossible.
Shino nodded slowly as he took out two pairs of rubber gloves from his pocket and handed a pair to Hotaru. “Let’s do this.”
By now, Hotaru looked even more distressed. She yelled, “You’ve got to be kidding, right…? RIGHT????” She was in tears.
Shino would not budge, however, and his facial expressions didn’t even change. Seeing this, Hotaru unwillingly took the pair.
“…. Fine, I’ll do it,” she said. “You have any leads? Without any, it’s impossible to look through all this, right?”
“Yeah. From what I saw yesterday, she threw out last month’s budget papers, a box from some cake shop called Vielje, and some of her worn out socks. If you spot any of those, we’ll bring it back with us.”
“…S-Sure.” Hotaru winced back in disgust.
Shino couldn’t understand why Hotaru was feeling this way. After all, she was the one who asked, wasn’t she?
“Well, let’s hurry,” he said, unconcerned. “If we take too long, the trash will get burned up.”
Shino put on his gloves like how a surgeon would. Hotaru, on the other hand, slowly put hers on, clearly not happy with what she was about to do. After doing so, the two entered the landfill and started looking through the trash bags one by one.
“This is… actually, nope. This isn’t it either,” said Shino.
In contrast, Hotaru started to cry a little bit as she cried out, “… It stinks so bad… so, so bad….”
As she said that, the two suddenly heard a voice behind them. “What are you two doing there?” the voice said.
Shino and Hotaru both looked behind them at the same time and saw a tall girl with her arms crossed, standing a ways back from them. She had short hair and beast-like eyes with slightly vertical pupils. From a glance, the scarf around her neck also seemed particularly interesting.
“Who are you?” asked Shino.
With a coarse voice, she answered, “I’m Ginko Sajihara, a third year. Who are you two?”
Hearing that, the two turned around completely. They introduced themselves with their names, along with the fact that they were both second years.
“I see…” said Ginko. “So what are you two up to here? Plus, what’s with those gloves?”
“Uhh, this is because…”
“Well, you see, Shino here accidentally threw away something super important,” interrupted Hotaru, waving her arms around frantically. “So we’re just looking around for it…”
“I see. That’s terrible to hear… There’s so much trash around here too.”
“If you like, I can help out.”
“Huh?” Hotaru couldn’t think of anything else to say.
Ginko nimbly dashed over a pile of trash to where Shino was. Her beautiful nose and thin lips were now more visible as she slightly lowered her scarf.
“Excuse me for a bit,” she said.
“…? For what?” said Shino suspiciously.
With her nose twitching, Ginko went in and sniffed the back of Shino’s neck.
“I see,” she said after a few seconds. She then pulled back and looked around the area. Finding what she was looking for, she lightly dashed to another pile of trash and picked out a single trash bag from it.
“Is this it?” she said after returning back with the bag.
“…! This is…” Shino turned speechless.
He noticed that there were things inside the trash bag that he threw out this morning: An empty box of nutritional-rich food and a rubber gloves package, for example.
“No doubt about it,” said Shino. “These are the things I threw out this morning.”
“Holy, are you serious?” said Hotaru.
It was a ridiculous turn of events. In this huge area, Ginko went directly to Shino’s trash bag without an ounce of hesitation. Shino didn’t know what kind of <World> Ginko saw, but he guessed that it was something related to the sense of smell.
With a calm nod, Ginko nonchalantly handed the trash bag to Shino. “I’m glad I could find it,” she said. “Now then, time to find what I came here to find…”
“And what is that?” said Shino.
Ginko closed her eyes and did a big sniff. Just like before, a few seconds went by until she suddenly opened her eyes, and once again, she went straight to another pile of trash and pulled out a single trash bag.
“Nice… my nose is spot on today,” she said. With a satisfied nod, she waved back at Shino and Hotaru. “This is it for me here! Next time please don’t throw away anything important by accident, okay?”
Ginko started to leave, but Shino called out, “Wait… please wait a second.”
She turned around, puzzled. “Is there anything else you needed? Perhaps there were more bags that you needed to find?”
“Not exactly.” He pointed at the trash bag in Ginko’s hands. “Ginko Sajihara, you’re actually holding something that I need.”
“…? What are you saying? This bag shouldn’t be yours, right?”
“It’s not. But it’s not yours, either.”
Ginko raised her eyebrows. She stood there thinking for a few seconds until she frowned unpleasantly and said, “I see… so if you know what this is, then you too, huh?”
“I apologize for lying to you earlier… But, I’m not leaving here empty handed.”
Hotaru just stood there, watching. “What are you two talking…” she paused for a few moments. “Oh!” she finally shouted as she figured out what was going on. She could see an empty cake box and some worn out black socks inside Ginko’s trash bag.
Indeed, the two were looking for the exact same thing: Maihime’s trash bag.
“W-Why do you have that…?” said Hotaru. “Oh! Perhaps Tenkawa asked you to do it?”
“Nope, this is just my hobby,” Ginko said with a straight face.
Hotaru was dumbfounded. “How can you say that seriously?!?!?!”
“Maybe I just feel indebted to her,” she calmly replied. “But it really feels like my purpose in life is to collect the things that Hime-sama had used. Anything she touches becomes a sacred treasure to me, so I don’t consider this a ‘trash bag’. Instead, it’s more like a bag of dreams.”
Hotaru actually shuddered upon hearing that. No sane person would say such a thing, because it seemed to be more like something a drunk would say.
“…Hey, Shino… this person has issues…” she said. “Let’s not mess with her. Please, let’s go home!”
“No way. The bag of dreams is right in front of me, so you think I’ll just let it get away just like that?”
“Don’t call it that…” she cried out once again.
Shino continued to stare Ginko down, and Ginko continued to stare right back. They stayed like that for a few more seconds until Ginko sighed, relaxed her lips, and loosened up her shoulders.
“Okay, fine,” she said. “It’s not often I come across someone with your kind of spirit, and plus, you two were here first. We can split this.”
“Thanks.” Shino bowed slightly.
Ginko pulled out a neatly folded tablecloth from her chest pocket and spread it out across the ground. She then took out everything in Maihime’s garbage bag and neatly lined it on the cloth.
Upon seeing her behavior, Hotaru went, “wow…” and furrowed her eyebrows a bit.
“Well then, let’s see… to split this up, we can take turns taking something from the pile,” proposed Ginko. She raised a finger. “Of course, I’ll go first.”
“Okay, I can do that.”
“Then here I go!” she said with a smile as she instantly went to grab the socks. “I choose these black socks, then…” she suddenly squealed in delight and trembled in ecstasy.
“Umm… Sajihara?” said Hotaru. Both she and Shino were in shock.
Ginko raised her scarf back up to cover her nose and said, “Ah, sorry, I forgot my scarf was down… But like always, Maihime’s socks have the most beautiful scent!”
Chuckling a bit, she then turned to Shino. “Now,” she continued, “it’s your turn, so pick whatever you want!”
“Wait a second. You should only be able to get the left or right sock, not both at once,” said Shino.
“What’re you talking about?” she raised her eyebrows. “Socks need to be paired, right? I can’t break up this set, you know.”
“Oh really?” said Shino. “Then you’re saying that just one of her socks is not worth it?”
“Huh…” she said bitterly. “Fine, you bring up a good point… I’ll just take one.”
“I don’t actually mind. My next turn, I’m going to get this way overused toothbrush, though…”
“… Are you serious?”
“Hehehe, careless are we?” Ginko said triumphantly while crossing her arms. “I was prepared to take either the socks or the brush, but thanks to you digging your own grave, I can get both!”
Shino clenched his teeth together and glared at her. “Damn you!” he shouted. “Then I’ll take this used plastic spoon, hah!”
“Y-You noticed that, huh? Not bad, really not bad at all… Looks like I can’t let down my guard, after all…”
“I appreciate the compliment.”
“But… Seems like you didn’t notice… THIS! The stick from a popsicle!”
“Seriously? Fine, my turn now… I take… These used TISSUES!”
Behind them, Hotaru stood there looking irritated. “Hey, can I just go back now…?” she said impatiently.
The next day, Shino and Hotaru both pretended to be sick so they could get out of class. They were in some sort of an inner hallway that seemed to be from a hotel. The walls and ceiling were white, and the thick carpet stretched completely across the floor. With Hotaru standing guard in one corner of the hallway, Shino kneeled down in front of the door and started to pick its lock.
“This does feel kind of weird, Shino…”
“Shhh!!! I’m about to open it,” he said, just as the door clicked open. “Nice, let’s go!”
“I-I don’t even care anymore…” murmured Hotaru.
The two entered into a room that was surprisingly large. Off to the side of the tiled entrance was another hallway, and in it, there were about four rooms.
“Woah… Are these really dorms?” said Hotaru. “These are like high class condos… or actually this feels more like an actual mansion, right?”
Shino turned around and locked the door. “This is where the city head lives… so this kind of place is to be expected.”
The two were in the top floor of the A block large-scale dorms. This was where Maihime’s room was located.
“Out of all the things we’ve done, we’ve finally ended up as burglars, huh…”
“We aren’t burglars. We’re more like secret home inspectors.”
“Sure…” replied Hotaru. She didn’t seem prepared to do this sort of thing.
However, Shino didn’t take notice as he took off his shoes and stored his bag in the entrance cabinet. After doing so, he walked into the nearest room.
“This is… a bedroom, huh…” he whispered, looking around the room. The bedroom was pretty big, but it seemed to be exclusively for sleep and nothing else. The grand bed in the middle of the room, with the drapes and all that around it, was big enough for five people, and a delicately crafted antique shelf was placed along the wall.
“Alright, this is the place. Be thorough, but don’t leave any traces.”
Hotaru was still having second doubts about the whole thing, but she said okay and started to look for any information about Maihime’s weaknesses. Shino walked to a nearby drawer and opened it.
“This is…” he said as he gazed inside. Inside the drawer were all sorts of tightly folded underwear: there was a bra decorated with cute frills and shorts that had an odd-looking rabbit character on them. “I see…”
Shino tried to put them in his pocket, but Hotaru quickly grabbed his arm to stop him.
“What are you doing, Shino?”
“I’m gathering intel.”
“You know what those are, right?!?”
“Having clothes that directly touch her skin will give me a good idea on her physique.”
“That doesn’t even make sense!” shouted Hotaru. “Plus, you already fought her once, so what will knowing her physique do? If you take it, she’ll definitely notice, too…”
“Ah, you’re right. Then I’ll just take a picture,” said Shino. “One of the underwear… and… one of the room. There.”
Hotaru looked defeated.
“So the room was like this… Hmm, I see,” he continued. “I’ll just put this one last thing here and we’re done.” He finished taking some more photos and pulled out a little device from his hip pouch.
Hotaru curiously took a peek at the device and asked, “What is that?”
“It’s a hidden camera.”
“Are you serious? You’re resorting to that?”
Shino shook his head and said, “It’s not what you think. I’m just doing some vigilante measures of my own.”
“Somehow your excuses are getting more and more pathetic…”
“That’s not true. Anyways, I’m setting this up now, so help me find a place where I can see everything in this room,” said Shino. “The top of this shelf seems okay…”
He reached for the top, but suddenly felt something hard. “What is this?”
“Huh? What? There’s nothing there…” she said suspiciously.
She couldn’t see anything there, but Shino definitely felt something on top of the shelf… something like a small box. He carefully grabbed it with his fingers and lowered it down.
Hotaru’s eyes widened. “Woah… something’s actually there?” she said.
“It seems like it,” said Shino, nodding. “Maybe this is part of somebody’s <World>? Or…” he went deep into thought and walked across the room to another shelf next to the bed. He reached on top of that, and once again, he felt something invisible. “I see…” he murmured.
“There’s one over there too?”
“Yeah… But who would put something like that there? And why?” Shino continued to think. He walked alongside the wall, thinking that perhaps there were more of these things around the room, until he suddenly bumped into something and stopped.
“Huh?” he said as he looked ahead suspiciously. As expected, he couldn’t see anything, but he was able to feel something soft when reached his left hand forward.
All of a sudden, he heard a voice go “Ugh…”
“Something wrong?” said Hotaru. Hearing Shino’s surprised reaction made her glance at him, but as she did, the empty space in front of Shino started to change. There was an off-colored ripple in the space, and it started to expand a bit until a single girl appeared from underneath.
Shino jumped back and took up a defensive stance.
Despite that, the girl took a look at him and just smiled. “Hehe, don’t be so defensive…” she said. “Aren’t we fellow intruders?”
She had wavy hair that went down her back. She also had a mole beneath her lip, and wore laces underneath her uniform skirt.
“Who are you?”
“Kurisu Nabariya, though just Kurisu is fine,” she replied. She had a friendly sounding voice, and her smile was just as friendly. “Nice to meet you… Ummm… Can I call you Shino? And you Hotaru then?”
Hotaru shuttered upon hearing her name, but Shino stayed calm. He glanced back at Kurisu and said, “So you’ve been watching us the entire time, huh? Was that also some of your stuff?” He pointed at the invisible object that Hotaru was currently holding.
Kurisu smirked and snapped her fingers. In an instant, the object started to ripple through space, appearing just like how she did earlier. Color started to ooze out of it until it became some sort of black device.
“W-Woah!!!” Hotaru was so surprised that she instinctively fumbled the devices around.
Shino’s eyes narrowed. “Those are hidden cameras, right?”
“Yeah. But hey, I really didn’t think there were other people who would sneak in here… and aim for the same things!”
“Same things?” said Hotaru nervously.
Kurisu placed both hands on her cheeks. “You know, looking at Hime-sama from the outside isn’t enough… we need more stimulus, right?” she said cheerfully. Her face flared up in excitement.
Hotaru’s eyes widened.
“Ah you know, I get it, I get it. Maybe in the beginning just watching from afar was enough. But soon enough, you kind of want all of her… Not just the her in public. You want her secrets for yourself so much it becomes unbearable. Right?”
“Umm…” said Hotaru.
“No? Not the same for you?”
Shino stayed as calm as always. “No, you’re right. I love Hime-sama!” he said, making a heart with his hands.
“S-Shino?” Hotaru blurted out. She was stunned at Shino’s unexpected gesture.
But, Shino walked up to her and whispered into her ear, “Calm down… There’s no way we can tell her our real goals, right? Just play along.”
Hotaru was speechless for a few moments before sighing heavily. “I love Hime-sama too…” she muttered. She unwillingly made a heart with her hands as well.
Kurisu nodded happily. “Exactly! Exactly! I love Hime-sama so much!!” she said. “This is actually my turf, but since you two came all the way here, I’ll let you place one hidden camera anywhere. Actually, just not in the showers or the toilet, okay?”
Her permission really didn’t mean anything because it obviously wasn’t her room, but Shino didn’t want to make things worse. So he just replied with, “I’m in your debt.”
“Nice, nice. Though, earlier you wanted to steal Hime-sama’s underwear, weren’t you? You didn’t take it, so it’s fine for now, but that’s a big no-no. Got it? Touching her will literally go against everyone who loves her… like us! I sneak in here with my ability sometimes, but never once have I touched her or anything she owns. So say it with me: No touching our beloved Hime-sama!”
The two begrudgingly repeated it after her.
“… Is everyone in Kanagawa like this?” whispered Hotaru a few moments later, quiet enough so Kurisu couldn’t hear.