Chapter 1: The Biggest Dilemma
What made a soldier great?
Even with the generations of war that humanity had to endure throughout the years, it was a difficult question to answer. The answer would always be different no matter who was asked.
Perhaps some might answer with proficient skills and techniques. Some might say high endurance, or even the unwavering mental fortitude of charging straight into battle. And they all might as well be right.
However, to Shinomiya Akira —Shino— it was just the ability to be on guard. Humans by nature always had periods where they would let their guard down— whether it was from something as simple as sleeping or the momentary moment in battle when they would inevitably blank out.
Humans were nothing more than bags of meat put together. No matter how strong they got, there would always be moments when they were at their most vulnerable. Regardless of how much training they endured, they would be an easy target at that very moment.
That’s why Shino devoted himself to reducing this vulnerability to as little time as possible. He trained himself so that he would wake up from the quietest of sounds. No matter how rattled he got, he would be able to compose himself in a fraction of a second. The most important aspect of being a soldier wasn’t to defeat the enemy. No, it was to stay alive.
A person needed support from friends, organizations, and many others to become a fully fledged soldier. Over a long period of time, there would be plenty of time and money invested into that soldier. So, if that soldier died, all that investment would be for naught. Someone else would even be burdened with his or her duties, leading to mental and physical fatigue as the workload increased.
While little things like that didn’t affect the battle in any noticeable way, these things added up and always had an impact on the outcome.
If Shino couldn’t bring out his [World] anymore, there would be tremendous consequences. He knew how much responsibility he had on his shoulders and was fully aware of the impact he had in battle, so it was clear why he always tried to keep his guard up.
However, things were a little different this time…
“You?” Shino was clearly distraught at the request of his sudden visitor.
“Yeah… So please let me stay over!” Maihime shouted.
Even though Shino didn’t even mean to ask that question out loud, he just sort of let it out instinctively. He was so shook over her request that Maihime could have killed him three times over if she really wanted to at that moment. It was a while before he was able to compose himself.
The two were still talking in Shino’s dorm in Kanagawa, and it was already quite dark outside. Yet Maihime still came up specifically to his room to stay over.
Shino silently cursed himself for getting all rattled up and just stared her down. She was wearing the standard white Kanagawa school uniform and her usual white overcoat. She was small for her age, and it seemed like her fragile arms and legs could be easily broken. In fact, she looked like a trapped princess with her pure skin and white hair.
Despite that, Shino knew that her looks were deceiving. She was, without question, the strongest fighter in the city. That’s why if she really wanted to, Maihime could have easily stormed into the room without anyone able to stop her.
The thought of that got Shino slightly riled up again, but he was able to suppress those feelings this time around.
“Well my room got blown to pieces, so I don’t have a place to stay…”
“Then why don’t you go ask help from the Divine Pillars…”
“I am! Doing that right now!”
“Uhh…” Shino couldn’t think of a response to that. Yes, it was true that due to his stellar accomplishments, Shino was forced into the student council and into the ranks of a Divine Pillar.
He must have been making a troubled face because Maihime suddenly said, “So that’s a no…?” with a soft voice.
“Of course its a no,” Shino thought in his head, but he didn’t say it out loud. Instead, he silently took a look around his room. His room, he soon realized, was packed to the rim with things Maihime probably shouldn’t see. There were her photos on his walls, her trash (from the bag of dreams) scattered around the room, and her videos displayed on the monitors. Even his telescope was still pointed at her now demolished dorm. If Maihime saw all of this, there’s no telling what she might do. He had to avoid that at all costs.
Speaking of which, Shino neither stalking her nor infatuated with her. The information he gathered on her was all for one purpose only: to kill her.
But, that’s what made his current situation so difficult. The first thing that came to his mind was wondering why she came straight to him. Why didn’t she ask the other Divine Pillars?
“It can’t be…” he whispered under his breath. Did she already realize what was going on? Was she on to him already?
Even though Shino gave the upmost care for secrecy when investigating her, he was found out by the other Pillars along the way. There was always the possibility that they ratted her out, or perhaps Maihime just sensed that something was wrong.
That being said, she seemed totally clueless, but Shino knew better than to let his guard down. Straight up rejecting her request wouldn’t be the right move because that would make her even more suspicious. His refusal could even be her breaking point to bust into his room, and there was no overpowering her if it came down to that. She was the strongest, after all.
“Uhh…” Shino hesitated for a moment. “Alright, but only for one night.”
“Yeah. You’ll have to give me a minute to clean up my room, though. I wasn’t expecting any visitors.”
“Okay!” Maihime replied happily. “I’ll wait right here!”
Shino took a look at her innocent smile before closing the door. He turned around to his room. There was no way he could quickly hide the sheer amount of Maihime-related things scattered around.
“Hmm…” he thought to himself.
He had to think of something. First, he had to take all the photos off the wall as they were a dead giveaway to what was going on. But there was a huge problem with that— it wasn’t feasible to take down all of them quickly. So, after thinking about it, he grabbed some thumb tacks and pinned a big bed sheet over the entire wall.
“It’s pretty ugly, but there’s just not a whole lot I can do about it.”
Of course, that was just the beginning. He then turned off all the monitors and nudged the telescope in a different direction. Last but not least, he took all of Maihime’s carefully labelled items and shoved it all into his closet. They were stored in a bunch of ziploc bags, so they shouldn’t be too damaged.
Maihime knocked on the door just as he finished up.
“Shino,” she called out to him from the other side. “Can I come in now?”
Shino took another good look around his room before saying, “Yes, you can.”
“Okay!” she said, carefully taking off her shoes. “So this is your room, huh?”
She walked in mesmerized, eagerly looking around the room. This obviously made Shino a bit nervous, so he kept a close eye on her.
“You can sit somewhere over there where the coat hanger is,” he said. “I’ll make you some tea.”
Maihime nodded obediently before hanging up her coat and taking a seat on Shino’s bed. As she did, Shino made his way to the kitchen. He didn’t waste a single second brewing the tea and bringing it out. However, once he walked out of the kitchen, he saw Maihime curiously reaching for the bed sheets that covered his walls.
“Don’t touch that!” he shouted out.
Maihime shuddered— she didn’t expect Shino to react like that. “S-Sorry!” she said, her shoulders trembling in shock. “I-I was just curious… Why do you have sheets over your walls? I’m so sorry…”
Shino didn’t answer immediately. Instead, he put the tray on the table and started pouring out some tea.
“Well, you see,” he said after a long pause. “That wall has a lot of cracks. I put that there as a temporary measure so bits of the wall don’t fall in the room.”
“Oh, so that was it!” said Maihime. She looked at the wall a second time. “If there’s cracks in this wall, we gotta get it fixed soon. I’ll put in a request, so can I take a first look at it?”
Maihime reached out for the sheets once again, but Shino grabbed her arm before she could take it down.
“Wait. Wait a second. That was a lie.”
“What? A lie?”
“The thing is, there’s an imprint of a really creepy human face on the wall. I didn’t mind it at first, but sometimes at night I would hear some random screams and my body would go limp. I dealt with it by placing a seal on it and covering that with the sheet. Out of sight, out of mind, they say.”
“Really. You can feel the seals through the sheet.”
Maihime slowly went up to touch it. “Wow!” she shouted out. “There really is a seal…”
“Right? So don’t mess with it, or you could be cursed too.”
“Okay, I understand,” Maihime nodded meekly, nervously scooting away from the wall. She then diverted her attention to the tea that Shino had poured and asked, “Can I drink that?”
Maihime took the cup and drank the whole thing in one gulp. That seemed to calm her down, since she curiously said, “Hey, what’s that telescope doing there?”
“Stargazing. One of my favorite hobbies.”
“Wow, that’s pretty cool. Then, what’s that monitor for?”
“Thats, uhh… for playing games…”
Maihime’s eyes widened. “Games?!?!”
“Not the games you’re thinking of. Educational games.”
“Oh, I see…”
Maihime sighed in disappointment, while Shino sighed in relief. If Shino had answered something that would have piqued her interest, Maihime might have been compelled to turn it on.
However, that wasn’t the last of Maihime’s curious adventures. This time, she eagerly pointed at the cameras next to the monitors.
“Hey, hey,” she said. “Can I look at that? I wanna see what kind of pictures you like to take!”
“Uhh…” Shino paused. He cursed himself for leaving them out there. Even if he had no time, he should have hid them somewhere safe. Of course, her just looking at the camera wouldn’t do any harm, but if she caught a glimpse of the pictures that he had taken… now that would be bad.
Obviously, he couldn’t show her the pictures stored inside, but a refusal here would only lead to more of her suspicions.
“S-Sure… go for it. Though there’s nothing interesting in them…”
“I just want to see what kind of pictures you would take!”
Shino silently took the camera and began to hand it to her, until—
“Oops.” He threw the camera at the ground with such intensity that it shattered into a million pieces.
“What? What’s going on, Shino?” Maihime yelled out. There was no way to check the data now.
“Oh, sorry. My hand slipped.”
“Then why did you say oops beforehand?”
“I didn’t say oops.”
“For sure I didn’t say it,” Shino calmly interrupted. “If you did hear something, it could be from the thing on my wall.”
Maihime backed off in a panic and frantically shook the hand that she used to touch the sheet earlier. Shino knew it was a terrible excuse, but it seemed to do the trick. He cleaned up the bits of camera on the floor and laid it all out on the table.
“Uhh, Shino?” Maihime said nervously. “Can I use your bathroom?”
“Sure, it’s over there.”
“Thanks,” said Maihime, and she was off.
Shino silently fist pumped. This was the perfect chance to clean up anything that he may have missed beforehand. He couldn’t afford to risk another camera-like incident with her.
He quickly tried to remember all the hiding spots around his room to see if he forgot to hide anything else. There was just one thing he would soon realize, but it was in the bathroom…
“Oh my god,” he whispered to himself. He lunged at Maihime right as she was about to open the door and pulled her back. “Wait, don’t open that.”
“Huh?” Maihime turned back in surprise. “W-Why?”
“Well…” Shino stepped in between her and the door to prevent her from proceeding on. Obviously, he couldn’t tell her that he just remembered he left some of her photos in there that he had used to plan her assassination.
“You see, I haven’t cleaned it in a while, so…”
“Oh, that’s what it was? It’s all good! I don’t mind…”
“It’s not all good. In any case, that’s a no go.”
Maihime pouted. “Aww man, really??
“Tsk. Alright, fine. You can enter, BUT, you have to cover your eyes.”
“Cover my eyes? What? How am I gonna… go?”
“I’ll help you then. Then it’s all good, right?”
“H-Help me?” Maihime’s face turned beet red. “Are you hearing what you’re saying?!?”
“I believe I made it quite clear I will help you. See, I’ll provide support as you do your business,” said Shino as he pretended to hold her up. “Don’t worry, I’ll even help you put your clothes back on. Alright, let’s do this.”
Maihime couldn’t contain her embarrassment any longer. “I-I’ll just use a bathroom outside…” she said. She carefully slipped past Shino and ran out of his room.
She peaced out so fast Shino didn’t have time to react, but once he got back to his senses, he immediately made his way to the bathroom. This wasn’t how he planned to get himself out of that sticky situation, though it did work out in the end.
“Alright, this should be everything,” he said, taking the pictures off of a shelf inside and shoving them into his pocket. He made sure to carefully check his room once again before Maihime came back again.
It wasn’t long before he heard Maihime knock on the door.
“Come in,” he said.
She hesitated before going, “O-Okay…” and entering. After carefully taking off her shoes and placing them on the rack, she sat back on the table and took a sip of tea.
“Sorry about that,” Shino continued. “I finished cleaning it when you were outside. Feel free to use it now.”
“You won’t h-help me?”
“I can, just say the word.”
Maihime spat out her tea onto her clothes upon hearing that.
“What are you doing?” said Shino. He grabbed her a towel and pointed back at the bathroom. “You can change in there. You’ve brought a spare set, right? Go shower too. You don’t wanna catch a cold.”
“Ah, right. Thanks…” Maihime mumbled quietly. She took her spare set of clothes and made her way back into the shower room.
Shino sighed. “What was she doing?” he whispered to himself. His first thought was that she came back to confirm the suspicious she had of him from the beginning, but he noticed how nonchalant she was about the whole thing. Right now she was undressing a door away, and she did come to him to stay the night, so it wouldn’t make sense if she was suspicious of him at all. Besides, he couldn’t feel any sort of tension from her actions.
On the other hand, this was the perfect chance for him to take her out. The opportunity would arise when she went to sleep… Or so he thought. Despite all that, he still felt a bit troubled. Maihime was the strongest fighter in the city. There was no guarantee she wouldn’t just wake up and stop his blade.
Shino stopped himself in his tracks. That wasn’t even a possibility— he was just thinking of excuses. It wasn’t a question of whether he could pull off the assassination or not, but rather whether her death would be for the better. Shino had infiltrated the city for this mission, but in doing so, he came in contact with Maihime numerous times through conversations and even battles. From all that, he questioned whether she really needed to be killed.
Shino knew he belonged to the Administration Bureau. He knew he wasn’t in a position to question their commands… but he just couldn’t imagine slicing her throat. It made him sick to his stomach. Maihime was the pillar of this community and their symbol of hope. If she was taken out, then Kanagawa’s defense capabilities would certainly be dealt a significant blow.
But that wasn’t the only thing keeping him from wanting to kill her. It was something simpler, something like the fact that he—
A horrid realization stopped him in his tracks. Just like how his walls had laminated pictures of Maihime plastered all over, his shower had the same as well. Everything he had worked so hard for would come to naught if Maihime saw it.
He cursed his foolishness as a pit of despair brewed from the bottom of his stomach. There was still a way out of this, though. His shower had a changing room as well, so there was a chance she didn’t enter the actual shower yet since she had to change first.
“Tenkawa!” he shouted out. He busted through the door without hesitating.
Luckily, Maihime didn’t enter the shower yet, but her hand was right on its door. It seemed like he made it in time after all, so he breathed a sigh of relief to that.
Of course, that meant that Maihime was completely naked in his sight. He couldn’t help but notice her pure white skin and her smooth hair that fell gently on her shoulders. Interestingly enough, despite her petite figure, he breasts were actually quite large.
That was all that he could see before Maihime shrieked out and covered herself up with her hands. She was surprised, but Shino definitely wasn’t. In fact, he expected to see her naked. After all, no one showers with their clothes on.
While it was the perfect chance to take a good look at her muscles, Shino had more important things to do.
“I’m sorry Maihime, I haven’t cleaned the shower too,” he said calmly.
“W-What the… Huh?” Maihime stared out blankly with her lifeless eyes. She didn’t seem to have processed the situation just yet.
“Of course, you can still enter,” continued Shino, unfazed by Maihime’s reactions. “However, you have to keep your eyes closed. It’s okay though, I can help wash your body.”
Maihime screamed. Seeing Shino close in on her brought her back to reality. In a flash, she swiped up her clothes and used them to cover her body.
“W-W-W-WHY DID YOU OPEN THE DOOR?!??!” she shrieked. “I can’t b-b-believe this is happening!”
“I apologize. But please, close your eyes.”
“Huh?!?!?” Maihime couldn’t believe Shino was actually trying to get a towel over her eyes. She was going crazy.
“Calm down please.”
But that didn’t stop her. Shino knew that a swing of her arm could break concrete, so he had to be careful and keep his distance. He had no choice but to throw the towel onto her head, but he had a trick up his sleeve. Once the towel was in the air, he brought out his [World] and focused on looking at the towel.
With his [World], Shino closed his right fist. As a result, the towel immediately stopped in mid air, almost as if there was an imaginary hand holding it up.
Indeed, everyone had a [World] that had been used to help them survive the front lines. Thirty years ago, the [Unknowns] waged war with humanity, forcing them to protect their children by sending them off into a cold sleep until everything blew over.
However, the moment those children woke up, they brought the [Worlds] they saw from their dreams into reality. They were able to use this power to fend off the remnants of the [Unknowns] that still lingered around.
Shino’s [World] allowed him to manipulate distant objects as if they were within arms reach given that he could see them. In essence, he could touch anything in his sight. He manipulated the towel so that it wrapped around her head, and tied it up with a flick of his wrist.
“What’s going on!?!?” Maihime grew increasingly more panicked once she couldn’t see anymore. She blindly ran forward in an attempt to shake the towel off of her.
Maihime’s reaction was so unexpected Shino couldn’t dodge in time. They both bumped into each other and knocked each other down, rolling around in a tangled mess.
“Huh? What was that? An earthquake?!?” Maihime shouted out while desperately trying to kick her legs free. “Or something worse!?!”
“Tenkawa, calm down.”
Shino tried to massage her shoulders in an effort to calm her down, but as he did—
“Maihime! You were here!?” someone shouted out as the door was slammed open.
“Are you okay you aren’t hurt right what is going on.”
Two girls suddenly made their way into Shino’s room. One of them was taller than average with rough, short hair, while the other wore a panda hoodie that went over her eyes.
The two were part of the Four Divine Pillars, specifically Ginko Sajihara, [Aegis], and Zakuro Otonashi, [Silent]. They both served Maihime as if she was their one true god. So it was no surprise that they were rendered completely speechless once they saw her completely naked on the floor with her eyes bounded by the towel. Shino lying on top of her didn’t help clear things up as well.
“W-W-WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING SHINO!?!?
“I mean you even had to put a blindfold on her Shino how far does you obsession lie…”
The two lashed out in anger, but Shino remained unfazed.
“Sajihara and Otonashi. Why are you two here?” he asked calmly.
Ginko slammed the wall. “We were obviously aware that Maihime’s room was destroyed!”
“Yet she didn’t come to us and didn’t come to Aoi which means there was only one place she could have gone,” Zakuro said with a follow up.
They had only begun their rant, but seeing Maihime naked immediately put the two into a trance.
“T̩̪̙̲̪h̡a̼̼̼̞n͔̘̩ͅͅk̫̤̻ ̶̬̮̭͖̰̞̜g̥̝͍̥͟od̡̹͙͖̤ ͙w̥̹e̖̻͚͇̱̼͢ ̸̖̖͈m̸̫̜̝̮a҉̙͓̙̻ͅͅd͇e̡̮̻̲̲̯̞̖ ̟̻̖͡i̧͎̳̲̞ṭ̖͚̯͔͘ ̺͉͈̦̀i̠n͠ ͉̗͘t̪i̼̹̼͖̠̺̪m͟e͖͔̗̫̞̕.̩̞͘ ͉͙N͜o͉̦̤̞͢w̡̥̫̣̘ͅ ͈̯̦̝̠̳͙͜g̝͡e͈̳̦͔͓͍t̸̪͕̪ ̺̩̝̤̦ṯ̪̙̰̹h̛͖͕̤̘̬̗e͕͢ ̺̼̣̪͔̤h͍é̫͔l̤͕̲ḽ͠ ̵͎̝͉̹͚̦a̫̝̱wa̞͙̩͍ỵ̸ ̡̱f̘͈̠r͕o̼̦̼̯m̳̙̮͝ ̛̝ẖ̰̹̥̰ẹ̶r̲̺̖͍͈̻!” continued Ginko.
“Exactly…… We won’t let you…. lay another… finger on her….”
Shino paused before saying, “Could I have a word with you two?”
“T̨̘͔̬̰̣̭̼͢h̭̫̬͜͠e̠̭͓̩̪̺͝r̥͈͍̀e̛̙̭͖̠̗͓͘͞ͅ’̢̺͙͞ş̱̫͓̳͞ ͕̼̗͓̤̠̜͢ͅn̝͘ǫ̷̯̱͙͚͕̩͚͉t̠̘̦̰̯̮̱̝͟h̢̙̤͈͘i̡͇̳͓̭͠ͅn̸̢̰̦̙͝g͓̩̲̼͉͈͎ͅ ̰m͘͝҉̲͈̩͕̳o̴̳͚͓͢͝ͅr̨͍̦͎̖͔͓͡ȩ̨͚͚̞̻̥̪ ̵͎͔̬̫͓͚̥́t̠̻o̧̝̻ ̘̞̠̱̥͕͔͢͝d̨̮̰̩͜i͈̲̤̥͕͚̱͜s̶̷̗̤̰̰͚̯͜c̵̯̟̬̫̦̜u̝̼̯͖͍̙̱s̢̙̰͕͇͙ͅs̡̞̜̝̝̀!͏̷̙̦̗̙͜ͅ ̨͖͍̟̰͙͟Y̵̵̴̤͚͎̜o̷̳̼̤̖ụ͕͚̠͔ ҉҉̷̖̣a͎͘͟t̸̢͓̠͡t̹̟͟a̬̙̯̭̲͙c̴̵̮̼̦̣̣̰͖̕ķ̱̝͖̝̙̮͕̣e͢͏͖̗̥ͅd̜̻͎̬͉͞ ͏̪ͅh҉̻e̞͍͢ŕ̦̤͢!̷̯͕̹͜” Ginko shouted back.
“I seriously don’t know what you’re saying,” replied Shino. “Can you at least talk without shoving your face in Maihime’s clothes…?”
Ginko stopped. Just as Shino had said, she was voraciously sniffing Maihime’s clothes on the ground, but she pulled away once Shino pointed that out. Somehow this person was the same person who was criticizing him just now for going to far.
“So……. Do you have…… anything to say…… you scum…..!”
Zakuro, on the other hand, was blazing around the room snapping pictures of the naked Maihime.
“Otonashi,” Shino said sternly. “Stop moving around.”
Just his sharp words alone took them out of that trance.
“What were we doing??” they said out loud. Perhaps they were just conditioned to do it automatically.
Maihime also seemed to have calmed down by now, so she finally took the towel off of her eyes.
“Ginko, Zakuro?” she said.
Her words immediately straightened them up. Ginko tried to pretend like she was handing Maihime her own clothes, while Zakuro quietly hid the camera away from her.
“Here, Maihime, take them,” Ginko said as she held her clothes out.
“S-Sure.” Maihime took the clothes, although she was wondering why Ginko had them in the first place. However, her eyes quickly went back to Shino and she remembered what travesty had just occurred. Her face went red even after she frantically got dressed in an evening gown.
Ginko was understandably disappointed that she didn’t have the pleasure of looking at her naked body anymore, but the thought of Maihime not wearing anything under her gown cheered her back up.
“Now, Shino,” she said. “You got some explaining to do… Why were you down on the ground with her while she was naked? I’m so jeal— nevermind.”
“Wait, I was just—”
Zakuro again glared at her panda. “We don’t need to hear his explanation why don’t we just hand him to the Administration Bureau and have them lock him up!”
“No that’s not it!” interrupted Maihime. “Sure I was surprised when he opened the door, but I came here to stay the night at his place… So it’s not his fault…”
The two were left speechless by the gentle words Maihime had for Shino. That didn’t change the fact that they were still highly suspicious of him, though.
Shino determined that it wouldn’t be good to leave it like this. He had to somehow get on good terms with the other two or else it would cause problems down the road.
“Hey, how about this,” he said, motioning them to come closer.
Zakuro’s eyes narrowed. “What is it now it’s too late to bribe now,” she said.
Since the two didn’t come closer, Shino went up to them. “Let’s just get this cleared up,” he whispered.
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not trying to do anything bad to her,” Shino explained. “I just didn’t want her entering my shower.”
“What’s so bad about your shower…”
Shino silently walked up to the shower room door and slightly cracked it open. The two couldn’t help but peak inside.
“Ah, I see now,” nodded Ginko once she got a good look inside.
“Okay yeah we certainly can’t be showing that to Maihime,” said Zakuro.
In a moment’s notice, the two understood the situation completely.
“So yeah, that’s that,” nodded Shino. He knew he had nothing to lose by showing them the pictures of Maihime on the wall as they probably had done the same. Shino was sure that their rooms were just as bad, if not worse, than his was right now.
Of course, Shino wasn’t obsessed with Maihime like the other two were, but he sure looked like he was in their eyes. In fact, from his previous encounters with the two, the three shared a common bond. Shino took advantage of this bond to hide his true intentions, and it was working perfectly so far.
“Huh, what’s in there? I wanna see!” Maihime said as she stood up and made her way to the shower door. Seeing Ginko and Zakuro’s reactions only made her more curious.
“Wait a second, Maihime,” interrupted Ginko. “It’ll be bad if you went any further.”
“Exactly everyone has their secrets so just let’s just forget about it for now.”
“O-Oh, alright then,” nodded Maihime. The sudden assertiveness of the two caught her by surprise, but their smiles put her back at ease.
“In any case,” continued Ginko. “Maihime will either stay with me or Zakuro tonight.”
“Ah yes, go ahead,” said Shino. If anything, this was what he wanted them to do.
On the other hand, Maihime heard that and drooped her head down. “I-I’m sorry, Shino. I guess I wanted to talk to you more, but I was a bother, so sorry…”
Shino sighed. “No, it’s not like that. You came all of a sudden so I didn’t have time to prepare, that’s all. Nothing else.”
“Really?” Maihime’s eyes lit up. “So I can come next time?”
“As long as you let me know beforehand, then of course.”
“Okay!” Maihime cheered up. She grabbed Zakuro and Ginko’s hand and led them out the door. “Alright, see you tomorrow!”
“Sure…” said Shino as he waved goodbye.
Maihime slammed the door behind her with a smile. The force of that rattled the closet door enough to bust it open, and Maihime related goods came spilling out.
Thank goodness it held on, if barely, when they were still here. What happened today was far too stressful for Shino’s liking. If he were to continue from here, he had to be more careful. Another event like Maihime’s dorm suddenly getting blown up shouldn’t catch him off guard anymore.
The only ones who should shoot are those who were prepared to get shot at. Likewise, those who stalk others must be prepared to be stalked themselves. Shino understood that clearly, but he just didn’t expect Maihime to come directly to his dorm.
He silently vowed to never let this happen again. In order to do that, he had to do a complete makeover of his room. At this rate, if Maihime ever came again, he would only be repeating the same mistakes. Perhaps he could move everything to the room next door…
At that moment, Shino’s eyes lit up. Someone was coming into his room.
“Wait, Maihime, don’t misunderstand,” he said inadvertently, assuming Maihime was coming back to get something. “I’m only gathering all this because I’m really curious about you….”
“Ah, so that’s the excuse you’re going with,” said the girl coming in.
It wasn’t Maihime, but rather another girl her size. She was wearing the same school uniform and had her ponytail tied up with a green ribbon. She, of course, was Hotaru Rindou, another assassin sent from the Administration Bureau.
“Oh, Hotaru, huh? Don’t scare me like that.”
Hotaru closed the door behind her. “I wasn’t trying to,” she said with a sigh. “What a disaster. That’s why I said you shouldn’t get too close with her…”
“You were watching?”
“Just a bit. I made Maihime my friend, and she told me everything.”
Shino stayed silent. A friend to Hotaru was nothing more than a slave to her [World]. In fact, she could make friends with just a touch of her hand.
“Ah, you’re probably wondering why I didn’t help you out?” said Hotaru. “Well, from the beginning I told you I wouldn’t show myself to her at all, didn’t I?”
“No, that’s not it. It’s just that you should be more careful using that.”
“It’s all good. I don’t keep them in my [World] for long before I release them,” she said, touching the air in front of her. With just another touch and a “release” chant, Hotaru could reverse the effect she had on other people. When that happened, they would lose all memory of ever meeting her in the first place.
Hotaru slowly made her way up to the items scattered on the floor. For some reason, she seemed to act a bit different than her usual self.
“Hey, Shino,” she said.
“Just to make sure, you didn’t forget the mission, right?”she asked coldly.
Yes, the all too important mission. He understood the mission fine. He just didn’t know why Maihime had to be killed off.
Shino looked away and sighed. “No I didn’t. You don’t have to remind me.”
Hotaru immediately grabbed Shino’s necktie and pulled him close to her. “Then why?” she shouted. “Why didn’t you just poison the tea? This was the perfect chance to carry it out, and I know you wouldn’t miss such an opportunity!”
Shino didn’t say a word as he swatted her away.
“Let’s assume we killed her here,” he said after a pause. “What are you gonna do with the body? Sajihara and Zakuro were literally right around the corner too, so if I had done anything back then, we would be running for our lives right now.”
“That might be kind of romantic…” Hotaru said with a chuckle. “The two of us, eloping together…”
Hotaru pouted. “Alright, but don’t forget— We must kill her.”
“Yeah,” said Shino. “Tomorrow I start as an official member of the student council. It’ll start to get real easy to get close to her.”
“Okay, I look forward to it.”
Shino stayed quiet as Hotaru left the room.
The next day, Maihime and the Four Pillars were gathered in the student council room. Maihime carefully brought out a certificate and a medal to hand to Shino.
“Now then, Shino,” she said. “No wait— Shinomiya. We acknowledge your efforts to make this city a safer place, so we welcome you to the student council! Let us protect the city together from this day forward!”
The three other Pillars —Ginko, Zakuro, and the glasses wearing Yaegaki— clapped after Maihime finished her little speech. Nabariya Kurisu was the former fourth Pillar, but since she was outed as a spy from Tokyo and thus currently sitting in a detention center until her sentencing, Shino was able to take her place. After all, it was his hard efforts that helped them catch her in the first place.
“I graciously accept,” Shino said with a bow.
With that, Shino was an official member of the student council. Now he could freely enter and leave the council room. Even better, it would be trivial to sneak some poison into Maihime’s tea and snacks as Hotaru had mentioned earlier. Of course, Shino would have reservations about the possibility of poisoning other people, and assassinating her like that would have people pointing their finger at him pretty quickly.
Shino stopped his train of thought. It was like he was desperately trying to find reasons not to kill her.
“Umm, Shinomiya?” Aoi called out to him.
“What is it?”
“I thought I’d explain what we do for a little bit…”
“Oh, okay, then please go ahead.”
“Well, our main responsibility is to command the troops in case of an [Unknown] attack. We also not only have to manage the city in a day to day basis, but also look at the big picture as well. Shinomiya, I think— Woah!”
Ginko and Zakuro suddenly mobbed her in the middle of her explanation.
“Before that, we gotta do something else!” shouted Ginko.
“Exactly I would like a mock battle with this man for educational purposes of course,” nodded Zakuro.
The two ignored Aoi and closed in on Shino. Aoi was helpless as she was caught in the crossfire, so she could do nothing but watch on.
“I know we’ve lost to you once, but don’t get all high and mighty because of it!”
“Exactly what Ginko said it is time to take back what we lost.”
“Umm… but our duties…” interrupted Aoi. She had to adjust her glasses after being thrashed around by the two.
“Forget about that!”
“W-We can’t…” she said, collapsing to the ground in despair. “We finally got someone capable…”
Ginko and Zakuro continued to ignore her and focused their attention solely on Shino. They were no doubt still jealous of their loss.
Shino held them back with his hands. “I’d like to accept,” he said, “but you two have to wait.”
“Why?” said Zakuro, while Ginko continued with, “You scared or what?”
Shino calmly shook his head no.
“Sorry, but I don’t have a weapon to fight with right now,” he said. “So I actually need help applying for a new one. It doesn’t have to be anything special, I’d just like a katana.”
“Ohhhhh,” the two said in unison.
Unfortunately, Shino had used a forbidden art in the previous battle and broke his katana as a result.
“I see…” Maihime piped in, sulking. “It’s my fault, huh. I’m sorry…”
It was true that Shino had to use his third Art to save Maihime from a Triton-class [Unknown], so it was natural that she would feel responsible.
“There’s no need to apologize,” replied Shino. “I used my Art through my own accord. The only one who needs to apologize is my own self. It was my inexperience that made the blade break.”
Maihime wasn’t convinced. She looked like a puppy that had been scolded, unable to look Shino in the eye.
“Oh!” here eyes suddenly lighted up.
She frantically backtracked and shook her head no. “U-Uhh, it’s nothing! I just have something to do right now, so I’ll be back!”
And just like that she was gone, leaving the four Pillars behind in confusion.
There was a few minutes of silence after Maihime took off until Shino finally said something.
“So… is that it? Can we go home?” he asked with a sigh.
Aoi nodded. “Yes, the only thing on our agenda was your induction, so…”
“Wait a minute!” interrupted Ginko.
“Yeah we can’t have you leaving just yet,” Zakuro added.
“Why? Do you two still need anything from me?”
“Yes, we do,” said Ginko. “It’s true that you’ve become an official member of the Student Council. For that, I congratulate you.”
“But that’s only in name only.”
“In name only?” said Shino.
“Exactly. We don’t acknowledge you yet as a protector and servant of Maihime isn’t that right Ginko and Aoi.”
“Exactly!” said Ginko.
Aoi was confused. “I mean, I already do…” she said, but the other two stared her down before she could say any more.
“Anyways,” said Ginko, “let’s get back on track. Of course, I’m sure we will never betray Maihime, but we want to make sure. Shino, we want to confirm you really belong with us.”
“Sure… but how?”
Zakuro chuckled and said, “As is tradition.”
“A special exam for the Four Pillars,” continued Ginko, “Maihime’s fan quiz!”
Once they finished, they struck a rather odd and exaggerated pose. Aoi did the same as well after some hesitation, but she clearly wasn’t feeling it. Shino wondered if he would also be forced to do this as well.
“The Divine Pillars must know everything all there is about Maihime!” said Ginko. “If you can answer the questions we give you, we’ll acknowledge you as one of us.”
“Okay, go for it,” Shino said begrudgingly. He didn’t want to do it, but if he refused to do so it might cause problems down the road.
Hearing that, Zakuro slapped Aoi on the back. “Alright Aoi please give the first question,” she said.
Aoi didn’t seem to want to participate either, but Zakuro’s panda was staring her down so she had to go for it.
“O-Okay…” she said, struggling to think of something. “What about Maihime’s blood—”
“O-Type,” Shino answered immediately.
“Wow, that’s right. You sure know your stuff, huh,” she replied after giving him a little clap.
Everything begins with observation. If Shino didn’t know something as trivial as that, he didn’t deserve to be an assassin. After all, he had spent countless hours memorizing facts about his target that may prove to be useful in the future.
Zakuro and Ginko must have also thought the question was too easy, even though they were unaware of why Shino knew that information in the first place. The two of them sighed at the same time.
“You sure are soft aren’t you Aoi,” said Zakuro.
“Well, it’s okay,” said Ginko. “I knew Shino wasn’t the type of man to be tripped up by a question of that level, but that wasn’t bad for a first question.”
Zakuro took a step forward towards Shino. “I guess so Ginko next question will be mine okay and just to warn you I’m not as kind as Aoi here.”
She flashily took out two pictures from her bag and laid them out on the table.
“Do you know whats the difference between these two folders?” she asked.
Shino was stumped. He crossed his arms in an attempt to think about it with Ginko and Aoi doing the same. The two pictures were both of Maihime in her usual uniformed outfit walking down a scenic route. She wasn’t looking at the camera, so it was safe to assume Zakuro took them in secret.
“Hmmm.” Of course the scenery and composition were similar, but things like Maihime’s expression or the way her uniform swayed in the wind were ever so slightly different. Knowing Zakuro, she probably wasn’t asking about these minor details. There must have been something bigger that she was looking for. It was supposed to be much harder than Aoi’s question.
Shino focused on the two pictures simultaneously. Yes, he could say her expression or her posture was a bit different. Maybe he could point out her clothes were slightly off from one another. However, if he took all that into account…
Zakuro giggled as she watched Shino struggle. “As I thought this was a bit too difficult to you only I can know the real difference so if you need a hint I would be happy to—”
“I got it,” interrupted Shino.
“No way!” Zakuro snapped back.
“A-A-Are you serious?” asked Aoi.
“Yeah. I bet the Maihime on the left… isn’t wearing any underwear,” said Shino. He pointed to the picture on the left and continued. “Her expression here is a bit stiffer than the one on the right. You can also see that she’s sweating harder, but not only that, her feet are about seven centimeters narrower than her usual walking stance. I thought at first maybe she needed to go to the bathroom, but the creases on her uniform gives it all away. Her breasts are slightly more defined in this one too.”
He wanted to point out that Maihime’s expression and posture in the left picture were very similar to how she was when she was caught naked in his bathroom, but he determined that it was better left unspoken.
Zakuro let out a nervous sigh after hearing his explanation. “Yeah you are indeed correct the left one was when I apologized to Maihime and washed all her underwear but she had to go out suddenly and whats left is this cute expression on her.”
She paused to squeal in delight before getting back on track. “It is impressive though that you managed to get that without any hints.”
“Yeah,” said Aoi. “I couldn’t answer it at all… Could you, Sajihara?”
“O-Of course I could! What kind of Divine Pillar can’t answer theses q-questions!??”
“But you looked pretty stumped…” said Aoi.
“No I didn’t! You were just imagining it! A-Anyways, the third question is mine! So get ready!”
Ginko took out five ziplock bags and laid them all out on the table. Shino’s eyes widened upon looking at it.
“These are five socks collected from Maihime!” shouted Ginko. “All you have to do is order them from oldest to newest!”
“There’s no way that’s possible!” Aoi shouted back.
“It is possible!” vehemently denied Ginko. “If you have what it takes, this will be super easy!”
“Yeah but what do you mean by what it takes…” said Aoi.
Unlike Aoi, Shino was calm. In fact, he didn’t seem troubled at all as he took out each of the socks. After carefully inspecting each one even from its smell, he rearranged them back up on the table.
“How about this? The left one is the oldest and so on.”
“Huh?” said Ginko. “I see, I see. But I see that you forgot to line up a sock… Where would you put that?”
Of the five socks that he had to line up, Shino only lined up four of them. Ginko took that last one and waved it around.
Seeing this, Shino shook his head. “I won’t be lining up that one.”
“Because it’s not her sock.”
Ginko slammed the sock onto the table. “T-That’s… right…” she said with a sigh. “How did you know?”
“Well the first thing that bothered me was that it was made with a slightly thinner cloth. Plus, the other socks are dirty and worn out, but unlike them this one has holes in it. Also I couldn’t help but notice that this one had a slightly stronger smell.”
“Exactly,” murmured Ginko, slumping her shoulders in despair. “You’re right. It belonged to Aoi and not Maihime. It was supposed to be a trick question…”
Aoi’s eyes widened. “M-Mine?? When did you get that??!?! And what did you mean the smell is strong?!?”
“Don’t worry, I could have been wrong.”
“I feel like you’re just saying that t-to make me feel better,” she shouted back emotionally. Tears were welling up in her eyes as the toll of being bullied around finally got to her. However, Ginko remained unfazed. She cold-heartedly threw Aoi’s sock in the garbage right in front of her. Obviously, Aoi didn’t take too kindly to that.
“Y-You did better than I expected,” said Ginko. “But this isn’t over, since—”
Her phone suddenly rang in her pocket, interrupting her speech. Zakuro and Aoi also seemed to notice something was up.
Ginko took one look at her phone and jumped back in surprised. “Sorry, I gotta go, Shino!” she shouted out. “We’ll continue this some other time!”
“Wait,” Shino said, eyeing her suspiciously. “So do I pass?”
“It’s unfortunate… but I guess you pass for now. Don’t let your guard down, though! This happens every meeting! I’ll get you next time!”
She was out the door before Shino could say anything more. Similarly, Aoi and Zakuro, who also took a peek at Ginko’s cell phone, seemed to be itching to leave.
“I have to go too see ya,” said Zakuro.
“Then me too…” said Aoi.
Shino could do nothing but stare at them walking out. Since there was nothing else to do, he shut all the windows and made his exit as well, locking the door behind him.