“Wow, can you two quieten up a bit?” Kurisu sighed.
Next to her, Ginko and Zakuro were crying out in terror as they peered on.
“Even if you say that I can’t help it! It’s so painful watching Hime-sama date some random nobody!” shouted Ginko. She pulled out a handkerchief and wiped her nose.
Zakuro nodded. “Exactly but I really don’t know what I should be feeling right now my hatred for Shino grows every second but Hime-sama is just so cute here I can’t help it…” Her camera went wild with the amount of pictures she was taking.
As one could probably guess, the three were secretly following Maihime on her date.
“If you two were going to be like that you should have just stayed home,” said Kurisu, sighing once again. “Especially you, Zaku… You lost to Shino, right? You shouldn’t even have the right to do this anymore.”
Zakuro’s eyebrows shot up. She turned to her panda and said, “I was unwilling to actually keep my word on that but I can’t break a promise I made right in front of Hime-sama so right now Hime-sama just happened to be near where I was and in fact it’s such a coincidence that she just happened to be right in front of my camera so it’s all good.”
“You shouldn’t loophole things like that…” said Kurisu. She slumped her shoulders down in vain.
“Well, today’s a special day so there’s no helping it, right?” assured Ginko. “It’s Hime-sama’s d-date, right? This has never happened before so if anything goes wrong we have to be there for her. Also…” Ginko’s voice trailed off after looking back up.
Maihime was now walking down the street… while holding hands with Shino.
The three saw that, and were immediately hit with a wave of emotions: Sadness. Despair. Jealousy. Hatred. Resentment. Jealousy. Grief. Jealousy. They felt every single negative feeling imaginable just from that sight alone. However, once they got a closer look at Maihime’s new outfit, all this negative energy seemed to just melt away.
“Ah, you were the one who told her to get new clothes, huh, Zakuro?” said Ginko. “Excellent, really not bad. Thanks to you, my tears, nosebleed, and god-knows-what all stopped. Nice save!”
If the three were unable to stop Maihime from going on the date, then they had no choice but to make use of the situation. In other words, in order for them to stalk… observe Maihime at her finest, they all gave advice on what they wanted her to do.
“Well done, Zaku,” said Kurisu, seemingly overjoyed as well. “I can’t believe how cute she is in that… Hey, after can you print some of your photos out for me?”
“Sure no problem but look she’s heading towards the café next this was your request right Ginko?”
She took yet another picture.
“Alright we’re here!”
“A café, huh?” Shino whispered to himself. The café’s walls were all made out of wood, giving it a unique appearance. There was an open terrace right in front of the shop, and judging by the good weather they had all day, it was probably the perfect place to be in.
The two went and sat down on the terrace before Shino called the waiter over. They definitely had more chances to talk here than they did at the clothing store.
“Hi, welcome! Have you decided on your order?” said the waiter. He was startled once he found out that Maihime was sitting there with Shino, but quickly composed himself. Maybe the previous employee could learn a thing or two about professionalism from him, seeing that he was so much better at dealing with the situation.
“I’ll take the ice tea, and a club house sandwich,” ordered Shino. It was just around noon, so it was the perfect time for lunch.
However, right after he ordered, Maihime went, “Wait, NO!”
“Huh? The sandwich is no good?”
“Umm… no, that’s not it. C-Can you let me order for the both of us?” she replied softly.
Shino was puzzled. Surely, she was up to something, but he didn’t know what. “Sorry, but never mind on what I just said,” he said, deciding to go along with her for now. “Tenkawa will do the ordering.”
“Sure.” The waiter turned to Maihime.
Once he did, she stood the menu up between her and Shino and whispered something discretely to the waiter.
“Alright, thanks so much!” she blurted out loud once she was done whispering.
“I see. Please wait a moment.” The waiter did a little bow before walking away.
Once he was out of sight, Shino said, “Tenkawa.”
“Huh? What is it?”
“Now that we’re here, I have a few things I want to ask—”
But, before he could say anymore, he was interrupted by the whispers of the surrounding people.
“Hey, isn’t that Hime-sama?”
“Oh wow, you’re right. But, whose that across from her?”
“That’s the, you know, new transfer student. They say he asked her out on a date in the mock battle.”
“Woah, that was true?”
A combination of the city head and the person who defeated two Divine Pillars would attract attention whether they liked it or not, not to mention the fact that Maihime was wearing a completely new outfit and had just been holding onto Shino’s hand earlier. With all that, they couldn’t help but catch the eye of the other guests and the people walking by.
Despite that, Maihime seemed to be used to all the attention she was getting, and Shino had expected this to happen so he was prepared for it. They would attract more attention the longer the day went on anyway. Not only that, once he accomplished what he really set out to do today, everyone would start suspecting him as the culprit, though he was prepared for that as well. If he didn’t have any resolve for this, he wouldn’t have asked her out in the first place.
He stared silently at Maihime sitting across from him. She was an extraordinary fighter who went beyond any imaginable limit, while carrying the fate of the city on her two small shoulders. He did not intend to go against his orders, but when he thought about killing her, he felt some inkling of resistance against the unknown superiors who gave that order.
Of course, he understood his foolishness in thinking this. However…
“…? Is something wrong, Shino?” Maihime looked up at him.
He must have had on a troubled expression for her to say that. “Nah, it’s nothing,” he said. “We’ll save it for later.”
Just as he said that, the waiter brought in the order on a tray. “Sorry for the wait,” he said, putting an enormous glass cup on the table. It was filled with some sort of tropical flavored juice, and its rim was decorated with bright and colorful flowers. “Go ahead, enjoy!” He smiled, putting two straws into the cup before walking back inside.
Shino didn’t expect Maihime to order such a thing, as it was probably made exclusively for couples. “What is this?” he asked after a short pause.
“Umm… just try it!” she said, trying to hide her smile while taking a sip. “It’s so good!”
Her smile was so pure that Shino knew it was genuine. She didn’t have any ulterior motives behind it or anything like that… Right now, she was just a girl who wanted to try out that drink.
No, she wasn’t. Shino stopped himself from thinking that. After all, only two lovers would drink from the same cup.
He thought of another possibility: Maihime drank from the same glass as him because she wanted to give the impression that there was nothing funny mixed in the drink. She did choose the shop, so perhaps she thought that Shino would think that there was poison… or even something like a truth serum in the drink. By purposely ordering a single drink, she could implicitly show that the drink was drug free.
As he thought, for her to do that meant that she wanted Shino to lower his guard. In other words, she might as well be saying,
Well, I drank from this very same cup, see? There’s nothing to fear!
She was pretty much treating Shino like a child. He clenched his teeth; there was no way he could let her look down on him like this. However, once he grabbed his straw, an alarm flew off in his head.
Tsk. They may have been sharing the same cup, but the straws they used to drink from it were different. Perhaps she used the single, same cup as a distraction so Shino wouldn’t notice that his straw was drugged.
It was a cruel trick. Maihime’s pure and innocent smile now looked more and more ominous. Of course, he couldn’t be completely sure of this, but he had to be ready for the possibility.
Without saying a word, Shino grabbed onto the glass and turned it 180 degrees. His straw was now facing Maihime, and Maihime’s was now facing him. He then took Maihime’s straw, which was guaranteed to be completely safe, and drank from it.
Maihime was in shock. “Huh?”
“Ah, indeed. This is an exceptional drink, very delicious,” calmly said Shino.
“Umm… Hey, Shino, that’s my…” Her face completely went red as she stared at the straw that Shino just used.
Shino, however, was completely unfazed. “Huh? Is there a problem?” he asked.
Maihime tried to mutter something out, but in the end just shrugged her shoulders in embarrassment.
Off in the distance, the Divine Pillars were stalking watching over Maihime when all of a sudden, Ginko held her chest and cried out in distress. No one could blame her for doing such a thing, however, seeing that she had just witnessed Shino indirectly kiss Maihime through her straw.
“I-I understand how y-you feel Ginko but please calm down at this distance and with your scream we’d be caught,” stuttered Zakuro in a panic. Her eyes darted all over the place.
“Hime-sama’s getting more impure by the second…” said Kurisu with a bit of excitement in her voice. “My heart’s aching so hard…”
In the midst of all her confusion, Ginko broke out of formation. She had blood flowing down her eyes as she grinded her teeth repeatedly. Despite that, Zakuro and Kurisu seemed to calm down after looking at her rage.
“… Ginko are you okay I understand how you feel but please calm down,” assured Zakuro.
“Actually,” said Kurisu. “You were the one who told her to go here right, Ginko? Why here?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” snapped Ginko. She pointed at Maihime. “Normally in the student council room, Hime-sama would drink the black tea that Aoi makes… But since today is hot, she would most likely order something cold! And with cold drinks comes a straw! And once she was done with the straw, I would be able to snatch it away later! It was a perfect plan that should have been flawless….!” Her voice cracked before she could finish the sentence.
Zakuro and Kurisu nodded their heads in approval.
“I see I was wondering what you might have been aiming for…”
“Ginko is a collector first, then an observer, after all,” interrupted Kurisu. “Though I didn’t anticipate him to just drink from the straw like that…”
Kurisu took another look at Maihime. With her face still red, she frantically took what was supposed to be Shino’s straw and finished the juice in one quick sip. Interestingly enough, when she did that, Kurisu noticed that Shino trembled a bit with fear. It was as if he was saying,
Damn… so that straw was just a normal straw, huh? But for her to purposely drink from the straw like that… is she trying to rile me up?
Even though he did look like he was thinking that, Kurisu thought it was just her imagination. Next to her, Ginko’s eyes instantly lit up. Despite all her doom and gloom earlier, the moment she saw Maihime drink from the other straw, her attitude completely changed. “Holy! A new straw from Hime-sama!!” she shouted. “I wasn’t abandoned by God after all…”
“Ah look the two have finished paying and they are heading somewhere let’s go after them,” noted Zakuro.
“Oh wow, you’re right. C’mon Ginko, let’s go.”
Ginko wouldn’t budge. “You two go on ahead,” she said, taking a zippable plastic bag out of her pocket. “I’m going to go treasure… and pleasure hunting.”
After going to the café, Maihime led Shino around downtown some more, but after a few hours they ended up at their final destination. Slightly beyond the walls of the city, they went near a cliff in the ruins of what was once a park. Behind them was a vast area of emptiness filled with severely damaged roads and broken streetlights. Before the war, the place was probably once a bustling park, since little remnants of peace were scattered around the area. In front of them, the ocean seemed to stretch on forever.
The sea breeze lightly brushed against both their faces.
Shino narrowed his eyes as he silently looked around the area. Normally, students wouldn’t venture past the city walls unless they absolutely needed to. As a result, the usual hustle and bustle of the city disappeared, only to be replaced by the sound of the ocean waves and the occasional cries of the seagulls. They were also the only ones in the area, so at long last they no longer caught the eyes of curious bystanders. It was the ideal place for information gathering and assassination, both of which Shino intended to do.
However, he wondered if he could pull it off. He had no clue why Maihime dragged him all the way out here, since she didn’t bother to explain anything at all.
In the midst of all his thoughts, Maihime called out, “Shino!”
He turned to see that Maihime had laid out a tarp on the ground. She then took out a large bento from her bag.
“What are you doing?” asked Shino.
“Umm… I made a bento… You’re hungry right? Though it isn’t too tasty…” she said, laughing nervously. She opened the bento on her lap to reveal that it was packed full of rice balls, and took one out for him. This must have been the reason why she didn’t want Shino to order any food back at the café.
Shino hesitated, but soon sat down next to her, wiped his hands with a towel, and took the awkwardly shaped rice ball from her hand. He did not eat it right away, though. He took a few seconds just to stare at it, even though it didn’t seem disgusting or anything like that. Rather, he was wondering if it was okay to eat something that his enemy made specifically for him. No, it was definitely not okay.
However, if Shino refused to eat it without a good excuse, she would immediately know why. So, if he ate it, he would be drugged. On the other hand, if he didn’t eat it, his cover would be blown. It was a very effective tactic that put him in a lose-lose situation.
She was like the judge of a medieval witch trial. Under her restless gaze, she would sadistically sentence him to—
“No, she wouldn’t,” he whispered to himself as he sighed. From the time he came to Kanagawa, he had observed her, crossed swords with her, and today, even went out with her. At last, he reached a conclusion from all that.
Indeed, Maihime Tenkawa was neither testing nor trying to kill him— she never had been. No matter how many times he analyzed the situation and did his mental gymnastics, he finally realized this fact.
Without a moment’s notice, he took a bite into rice ball. Inside it had some smoked tuna, and as he expected, there was nothing suspicious in it.
“H-How is it? Is it good?”
“It’s average. Actually, a bit below average, I’d say,” said Shino.
“You put too much water when you cooked the rice, and you pressed too hard when you molded it,” he explained. “Because of that, the rice got too soft, so the texture becomes kind of gel like. Next time, you need to be more aware.”
“I see…” she whispered softly. Dejected, she tried one out for herself. “Ah, you’re right,” she said, smiling bitterly.
Shino looked at her eat it and said, “But…”
“It’s not like I hated it,” he blurted out.
He popped the rest of the rice ball into his mouth. Weirdly enough, he didn’t know why he would say such a thing, but somehow he just felt like saying it.
Maihime blushed happily and offered him another one. He took a quick look at it before taking an even bigger bite out of it. It was another sloppily made rice ball, but it wasn’t like he expected anything different. Despite that, he couldn’t bring himself to hate it.
It could have been that he was just relieved now that he knew Maihime was not up to anything. There was no way he could have tasted anything back when he was nervously trying to eat.
“………” He sighed. No, that wasn’t it. He knew it wasn’t anything complicated like that. He was probably just happy that Maihime made a bento just for him, not to mention today’s “date” was actually quite enjoyable.
He knew that he was breaking the cardinal rule of assassination by making judgments based on feeling and emotion. He was well aware of it, but for some reason, he felt a strange feeling towards her… so strange, that he couldn’t describe it with words.
In the midst of Shino’s thoughts, Maihime softly moaned as she gave herself a good stretch. “This place never changes…” she said after.
“You’ve been here before?”
“Yeah, a long time ago, before the war ended,” she said, gazing far off in the distance.
Shino narrowed his eyes. Maihime always had an innocent and pure expression, but she seemed different now that she was lost in her own thoughts.
“Something wrong?” She noticed that Shino was looking at her quite intently.
“No, nothing,” said Shino. He quickly averted his gaze. “But still, to say this place hasn’t changed is a bit strange, don’t you think? This place hasn’t been maintained in so long…”
“No, that’s not what I meant,” she said, turning to stare out into the ocean. The calm waters glistened under the sun’s warm caress, making the whole view seem like something straight out of a dream. “Even though it’s been over twenty years, the scenery here hasn’t changed one bit…”
Maihime slowly walked to the edge of the well-eroded cliff. Once she was there, she stretched herself out once again. Shino did nothing but watch on in silence.
Right now, she was full of openings… Right now, he could actually kill her… He took a quick look at his katana. Using his <World>, or rather, his Art of the Longsword 3, he could easily slice her in two before she could do anything about it. It was a move he could only use once. His specialized weapon, much less his own body, couldn’t handle the stress of using it repeatedly.
Despite that limitation, if he used it here… then there would be no need for a follow up strike. After all, Maihime was the only one here, so once he killed her, he wouldn’t have to worry about anyone noticing.
Shino paused… he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He would never admit that he was moved by his feelings or that he grew attached to her. It was just that killing her without understanding why would leave a bitter taste in his mouth.
“Tenkawa, let me ask you something.”
“What is it?” she turned around. The sun was right behind her, making her face too bright to look at.
“You… Well, I’ve heard that you’ve been fighting as the head of Kanagawa for almost ten years now…”
“Ah… yeah. Wow, it’s been ten years already, huh?” she said. She nervously scratched her cheeks and smiled.
“All the city heads get priority to everything, including going inland. That’s why most people finish their term and graduate early so they can do just that.” Shino paused. “But, why… why are you still here? Why do you keep fighting?” he asked softly.
Ever since he had been collecting information on her, this one thing had always bothered him. There was no way the Administration Bureau would kill her just for this, but it could have had something to do with it.
Maihime forced herself to smile. “I really am fighting for the sake of humanity,” she said, after thinking about it for a few seconds. “It’s not that I don’t want to go inland, but I have yet to see fighters stronger than me…”
She wasn’t being arrogant in saying that. No, she would never brag about her own power. She said it because it was the absolute truth. She couldn’t entrust the fate of Kanagawa to anyone else just yet.
“The number one reason though… is something else.”
“Your number one reason?”
“Yeah… I made a promise with a friend,” she said. She seemed to stare even further out into the ocean.
Shino gulped nervously. “What was the promise?” he asked.
“I can’t say… it’s a secret,” she said playfully, raising a finger to her lips.
“I want to tell you, but I can’t,” she continued. “Sorry… If I do, I have a feeling that it’ll never be fulfilled… That’s why, the secret’s between me… and Hotaru.”
“What?” Shino’s eyebrows shot up. “Hotaru, you say?”
“Yeah, it’s a cute name, isn’t it? Her full name is Hotaru Rindou… my best friend.”
“That’s…” Shino’s voice trailed off— he was at a complete loss for words. At first, he thought it was just a coincidence, but there’s no mistaking it now. That name was…
Before he could say any more, he seemed to notice that the horizon far off in the distance was trembling a bit. Before he knew it, the city alarms behind him had sounded off.
<Unknowns> were coming.