Chapter 2: When you peer into the abyss, the abyss peers back.
Ginko pulled out a compact mirror and took a quick look at her front bangs. It had just turned nighttime and she was outside in the middle of the city.
It wasn’t like she was obsessed with her hair or anything like that, but she just didn’t know how to style her bangs. In any case, she just shrugged it off— it wasn’t anything she should be worried about. Getting into the right state of mind was far more important.
She threw the compact mirror back into her pocket and tried to quell her excitement. Her skipping and humming without a care in the world didn’t seem to help that at all. She was just too happy.
Of course, there was a good reason for it. She took out her phone once again where it showed a message from Maihime a few hours ago.
She chuckled to herself. “Maihime wants to talk to me, huh? I wonder what for.”
Indeed, Maihime had asked her to meet up at her new dorm. Of course, her old one blew up, so she was staying in a new place until that was fixed.
Luckily she was successful in snatching her away from Shino’s grasp, so the day before yesterday she had stayed over at her place. Zakuro stayed too because of a won rock-paper-scissors match, but that’s beside the point. Ginko vowed to preserve the sheets and blankets Maihime had used that night forever and ever. In fact, she vowed to pass it down from generation to generation, savoring the leftover scent for special occasions.
Anyways, Ginko was heading to Maihime’s temporary dorm. Her excitement was at an all time high, so high that she was in ecstasy even though nothing had happened yet.
“Huh?” Upon approaching the dorm, Ginko suddenly stopped in her tracks. She spotted a just as excited Zakuro skipping from the left and Aoi coming from the right.
“Huh? What are you two doing here at this time?” she asked them.
“That’s my line what are you two doing here?” Zakuro snapped back.
“Hmm…” Aoi’s eyes lit up. “Ah, maybe Tenkawa called all of us here?”
Hearing that, Ginko and Zakuro went completely silent for a few moments before sighing out loud.
“D-Did I say something wrong…?” Aoi said in a panic.
“No you didn’t…” said Zakuro.
“Yeah… It’s just that I can feel my dreams vanishing in front of my very eyes.”
They were disappointed that they weren’t the only ones invited, even though Maihime always invited them as a group. At the very least, it wasn’t like they weren’t needed anymore. So, Ginko fixed up her posture and knocked on the door.
“Maihime, I’m here!” she said.
“Welcome! Just a sec!” Maihime said, opening the door.
They couldn’t help but stare at Maihime the moment she let them in. She was so cute that Ginko and Zakuro were rendered speechless— she had just taken a shower and had changed into her pajamas. Surely they were going to have a nosebleed any moment now.
“Huh? What’s wrong you two?” asked Maihime.
“Nothing is wrong don’t worry about it,” Zakuro replied.
“Alright then… come on in!” Maihime ushered them in, but Zakuro and Ginko had to walk with their heads pointed upwards to prevent any nosebleeds.
Her room was full of stuffed animal and other small accessories like her previous one. Even though her original room had been completely destroyed, it seemed that at least some of her belongings survived. However, she didn’t have everything set up neatly since it was just a temporary space.
“S-So anyways, what did you want to discuss?” asked Ginko.
“Ah yes,” replied Maihime, spreading out some documents on the table. “Please take a look here…”
The three looked at the same time. The documents seemed to be an order for some materials used to build specialized weapons.
The three cities that protected Japan —Tokyo, Chiba, and Kanagawa— all had their own specializations. For example, Tokyo had all the governmental buildings and Chiba had all the manufacturing plants. Likewise, Kanagawa had the facilities required to build specialized weapons. Maihime was not only regarded as the strongest swordsman alive, but also the overseer of all specialized weapons.
“It’s rare for you to order the materials yourself. Are you trying to…” Aoi paused, taking another look at the documents. “Hmm… This sword is a little small for you… In fact, it’s more like a katana…”
Ginko raised her eyebrows. “A katana?”
Ginko and Zakuro both realized that there was only one person they knew who used a katana.
“Maihime you don’t mean…” said Zakuro.
“Yeah… It’s for Shino. Do you think he’ll be surprised?” she replied with a timid smile.
Obviously, the two didn’t take kindly to this, but Maihime’s smile was so cute they didn’t know how to react, so they did something in between the two emotions.
“A-Are you two okay?”
“We’re fine, Maihime,” reassured Ginko.
“Yeah, no problem at all no problem at all I guess the world really isn’t fair…” said Zakuro.
“O-Okay…” Maihime paused to process what she just heard. “Well, anyways, it’s my fault Shino broke his weapon, so I thought I’d get him a present. Shino had a really nice katana, but if I make his with only the best materials we have to offer, I’m sure it will be able to withstand much more than his previous one.”
“Only the best? You mean.. using only pure magisteel?” Aoi said in shock.
Magisteel was a type of metal that greatly enhanced the output of the specialized weapons by allowing users to bring out the full potential of their [World]. The higher the purity, the more power they could use.
However, a certain degree of control was needed fully utilize it. If the user was unworthy of such a weapon, their power would decrease dramatically, essentially making the weapon no better than a simple block of metal.
The optimal percentage of magisteel in a weapon for a regular student was about twenty to thirty percent. Elites, like the Divine Pillars, could go up to fifty to sixty percent. Only Maihime was able to wield a weapon consisted solely of magisteel.
Not only that, it was insanely expensive. It was even cheaper to make a weapon out of pure gold, not to mention the high skill and dexterity required to craft such a weapon. It certainly wasn’t doable on a whim, and took hours and hours of planning to even begin the arduous process.
“Yeah. I have full confidence that Shino could master it. Aren’t you all curious to see how powerful he can become?”
“I guess…” Ginko’s voice trailed off. She sympathized with Maihime even through all the jealously. After all, Shino was the second person to defeat her after Maihime, so she couldn’t help but wonder how strong he could get with the greatest weapon they could create. She wasn’t dying to know the answer to that, but she did feel a little hyped up.
Ginko wasn’t the only person feeling like that. Zakuro looked disappointed as well, even though her lips trembled with excitement.
“The problem is…” Maihime suddenly shifted her tone to a darker note.
“What is it?” asked Ginko.
“I can get the materials fine I think, but I need his measurements to make it perfect. Getting those measurements from him would ruin the surprise though…”
Above even the materials used, the size of the weapon was the most important. In the most extreme cases, a single millimeter could make or break a weapon for the user, especially if it was made for close combat. She had to get his arm length and his height at the very least to make anything good for him.
“I see,” nodded Ginko. “So that’s why you called us over.”
“Yeah… sorry everyone. I know you’re all busy, but I just needed some input from you all.”
The three immediately shook their head no at the same time.
“Don’t be silly, Maihime. You don’t need to apologize. After all, I’m glad to be of service,” reassured Ginko.
Zakuro chimed in as well. “Exactly don’t worry about it in fact I’d appreciate if you called us out more any day any night we’ll be there for you twenty four seven.”
“Ginko… Zakuro… you girls…” Maihime said, tearing up a little.
“So essentially, you want to stay with her all day and night?” Aoi asked jokingly, but it was too late. Ginko and Zakuro were already deep in thought.
“Hmm…” murmured Ginko. “There has to be a way…”
“It’s a tall order but I agree there’s something we can do here,” said Zakuro. She paused, then smirked. “Ah yes we can do that.”
“Yeah, Maihime, leave that to us.”
“What do you mean by that..?”
Aoi could do nothing but smile bitterly at the situation off to the side. She knew what they were up to.
Kanagawa was a city that did well to survive to the current year of 2049. To put it more precisely, it was rebuilt as a fortress where the old Yokohama City used to be after almost getting completely destroyed by the [Unknowns].
There were multiple watchtowers along the coast that not only served as a lookout for incoming [Unknown] attacks, but also as the very first line of defense. Even though the attacks may not come very often, they always had to be on the lookout.
As Shino walked down the street, he looked at the various shops lined up in front of him. From a glance, it would be impossible to tell that the city was at war because of how lively it was right now.
“What a busy town,” he said to himself.
Most of the people who lived in this city were students that belonged to the academy, so it would make sense that the streets would be bustling right now after school. It was so busy that the area was turned white from the sheer amount of students wearing the standard white uniform.
Just because the whole country was at war didn’t mean that everyone had to be on their toes 24/7. If that were the case, they would have been burned out years ago. In a situation where they didn’t know when the enemy would attack next, it was far superior to rest up and relax whenever possible. Good soldiers were able to utilize this to the best of their abilities.
Of course, after watching the students nonchalantly go in and out of the stores, it was hard to tell if they were even aware of this themselves. Why would they though? The alarms weren’t ringing, so there wasn’t any reason to treat today any differently than any other peaceful day.
“Huh?” Shino suddenly felt the glare of someone or something. He took a katana from warehouse yesterday so at least he had something to fight with, but it only consisted of about thirty percent magisteel and the blade felt a tad too long. Despite that, he had a weapon and wasn’t afraid to use it.
Kanagawa was known as the maker of specialized weapons, so he could have easily ordered a new katana from one of the many places here that makes them. However, he decided that he would leave as little trace of himself as possible here since he was still on his secret mission.
At that moment, he spotted some girls whispering and taking quick peeks at him in front of a cafe. Once he caught the eyes of them, they timidly turned back to each other and tried to hide.
Shino sighed. It seemed like those were the glares that he sensed. Ever since he joined the Divine Pillars, that sort of thing became much more common. It was the last thing he wanted to happen to him.
At the same time, he didn’t want any weird rumors spreading about him. He walked up to them and gave them a quick slap on the back before carrying on his business.
Zakuro stopped to calm herself down besides the wall of one of the stores downtown,. She wasn’t all riled up because of something like Maihime kissing her on the cheek or sneaking a glimpse at her panties. She wasn’t excited— No, she was nervous.
“Are you okay, Zakuro?”
“Yeah… I think so,” she said, though seeing Maihime worried for her seemed to make her even more nervous. With sweat dripping down her forehead, she had to take a few deep breaths against the wall to calm herself down.
“Wow I didn’t expect him to somehow notice me from that angle,” she said, taking another look at Shino walking down the street. She was trying to take pictures of Shino just now, but his sharp senses shut her down immediately. Zakuro wasn’t even being overtly obvious— Using her [World], she could teleport behind him and back in the blink of an eye. Getting noticed was the last thing she had expected.
If he noticed her behind him, then other angles probably wouldn’t work as well.
“What a guy Shino,” said Ginko. “This is gonna be hard. If even Zakuro can’t take a photo, then no one else in this country could.”
“I guess so,” agreed Aoi.
“I’m such a failure…” said Zakuro, covering her eyes in shame.
As one might have imagined, Zakuro and crew were trying to take pictures of Shino so they could get his measurements. It was possible to get accurate numbers by comparing the relative sizes of different objects within the picture. That’s why the other Pillars relied on Zakuro to take this crucial photo, though it seemed even Zakuro was unable to do such a feat.
She had fought Shino once before, so it was possible that he got used to her [World] from that battle. It was also possible that Zakuro just didn’t have the same motivation taking pictures of Shino as she did with Maihime.
Speaking of which, Maihime had a troubled look hearing all this go down.
“What’s the matter, Maihime?” Ginko asked.
“Well… I mean, sure I want find out how tall he is, but isn’t this illegal? Aren’t we stalking him?”
The three fell silent as they sweated nervously. It took a few seconds before Zakuro was able to whip up an explanation.
“No that’s not it this is the only way we can do it…”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Sorry for being a downer, especially since you’re all doing it for me…”
“No worries,” reassured Zakuro.
“But I can’t shake the feeling that we’re essentially taking pictures of him without his consent. He’ll be so grossed out if he found out what we’re doing…”
Zakuro was hurt by that comment. Being the city’s most famous “photographer,” that’s pretty much all she did. All her pictures were of Maihime, and even though she knew she wasn’t doing the most honorable of things, her heart sunk after she heard Maihime say that. Hearing it straight from her was equivalent to having a lightning bolt striking her down.
She collapsed, prompting Aoi and Ginko to help her up.
“Hey, Otonashi!” said Aoi, while Ginko shouted, “Get yourself together Zakuro!”
The two rushed to her aid, but Maihime just stood there confused. Luckily, Zakuro was able to recover quite miraculously despite having her heart torn to pieces.
“Yes let’s find another way shall we,” she said.
“Really? Is that fine with everyone…?”
Aoi smiled bitterly. “If even the great Otonashi can’t get a good shot without Shinomiya noticing, then what other methods do we have?”
“Yeah…” The three others said in unison.
They thought about their alternatives for a while until Ginko suddenly raised her hand.
“What about this?” she said. “We go to the landfill and find all of Shino’s trash. If we try hard enough, eventually we’d grab something that’ll give us a good idea of his measurements. And you know what, it’s not even illegal! It’s the best plan, right? Right?!?!?”
“Ewww…” Maihime couldn’t even speak properly. “No way! That’s gross!”
Ginko slumped her shoulders down in shame just like Zakuro, and there was no need to explain why.
Maihime felt guilty seeing Ginko collapse so suddenly, even if she was only partly aware of the situation. “Sorry…” she said softly. “I’m being so selfish…”
Seeing her so down was cute enough to raise Ginko and Zakuro’s spirits, but right now it had the opposite effect. It only made them more depressed that they couldn’t think of something.”
“Yeah, you’re right…”. Ginko forced a smile. “There’s no guarantee… Let’s think of another way…”
Once again they stood silently trying to think of something. Was there even a way to get his measurements without him noticing? He wasn’t just some regular student as well— his senses were inhumanly sharp, and he exhibited no openings no matter what he was doing. At least, that was true when he was conscious…
“Ah!” Zakuro’s eyes lit up.
“Hm? Did you think of something?” asked Maihime. Her, Ginko, and Aoi all turned to her.
Zakuro averted her eyes away— She always had trouble maintaining eye contact. Instead, she used her panda as a proxy for herself.
“I just thought of something let’s try it out,” she finally said.
The three continued to stare at her in anticipation.
About ten hours later, the four gathered in front of Shino’s room. It was far past anyone’s bedtime at around two in the morning, so the surrounding area was completely silent. Most of the lights around them had long been turned off.
“A-Are we doing the right thing?” Maihime whispered to the crew.
As one might have expected, they were sneaking into Shino’s room as part of Zakuro’s plan. By catching Shino when he was sleeping, they could get accurate measurements of his body. The only catch was that they had to break some rules to pull this off, which made it seem a bit sketchy.
“Well, it’s hard to say if we’re right or wrong in doing this,” Aoi whispered back with a faint smile.
Her words were quickly interrupted by the soft lock picking noises coming from the front door. Both Zakuro and Ginko were trying their hand at it.
“There’s no other choice if we need the measurements its best to do it when he’s sleeping,” said Zakuro.
“Yeah, and this makes you two even,” added Ginko.
“Makes us even…? What do you mean?”
“Ah, nothing. Just a slip of my tongue. Sorry.”
“Don’t mind it too much Maihime she was just making a complicated joke in any case the door’s open,” said Zakuro, quickly trying to change the subject.
Maihime was too focused on sneaking in to question it any further. “Sorry, Shino,” she whispered once she was inside. “This is all for your sake…”
She snuck in as quietly as she could with Ginko and Zakuro doing the same behind her.
“Hmm, I wonder where Shino is…” she asked herself.
Ginko pointed at the bed and whispered, “I think he’s over there.”
Even though they couldn’t see Shino, they could see his silhouette under his blanket. It would be troublesome if he was still awake, but luckily he seemed to be asleep. Maihime silently took out a measuring tape and approached the bed.
After giving a slight nod to Ginko and Zakuro, the two of them slowly took off the blanket, but once they did—
“Huh?” Maihime’s eyes widened one she saw what was under the blanket. It wasn’t Shino, but rather pillows stacked in the shape of a person.
However, she didn’t have time to completely process what she just saw. In the next instance, Shino came flying down from above and pinned her down on the floor. Before she knew what was going on, he had already readied a blade next to her throat.
“Don’t move. Who are you?” he asked.
The events happened so fast Maihime couldn’t help but scream out just as the room lights flashed on. Finally, she was able to see who had ambushed her.
“Huh? Tenkawa?” Shino eyed her suspiciously. He let her go, not because he was relieved to see that it was her, but because he understood that she could easily overpower him if she wanted to. “Otonashi, Sajihara, and Yaegaki too… What are you all doing here?”
“Umm… Umm…” Maihime couldn’t speak properly since she was too busy trying to avoid looking Shino in the eyes. But then she remembered that she was holding her measuring tape, so she quickly hid it behind her back.
That did not go unnoticed by Shino. “Hmm? What are you hiding?” he asked.
“N-Nothing a-at all!”
Zakuro tried to help out by changing the topic as well. “In any case what is this Shino?” she said, pointing at the pillows on his bed.
“What is that? I always have them laid out like that in case of an attack, so…”Shino said. He was surprised why they made such a big deal out of it.
“An attack?” Aoi asked. “Do you actually get attacked?”
“I just did, didn’t I?”
The three couldn’t respond to that, but Ginko realized that staying silent would be the same as admitting their guilt. So, with sweat dripping down her cheek, she tried to throw out an excuse.
“W-Well, actually we were, you know… the old Kanagawa tradition called a Divine Awakening! We do it for all recently joined members of the student council!”
“Indeed. As Divine Pillars we must always be on guard. We must ensure that you are always on your guard, so we do these mock attacks to keep you on your toes! We’re all prepared! Take Zakuro, for example, who has her panda bomby things next to her bed at all times.”
“No I don’t what are you talking about why would you set up to bomb your own bed…”
“You do, right?!?!!?”
“Oh yeah sorry I forgot I do have those around.”
Shino still eyed them suspiciously as they all tried to force a smile. However, that all changed a few seconds later when he confidently nodded.
“I see, so that’s why…”
“Wow you believe that?” Maihime blurted out in surprise. She quickly covered her mouth to prevent any more of these outbursts.
Shino eyed her once again, but chose to ignore it in the end. “Whatever,” he said, “So, how’d I do?”
“Surely you must have some sort of grading scale for doing these things… Did I meet your expectations?”
“A-Ah, yes! You passed! With full points!”
“Good to know.” Shino may have said that calmly and without any facial expressions, but there was a hint of pride in his voice. “Then everything’s done here, right?” he continued, waving them all away. “You all should get some sleep. You know what they all say— if you can sleep, sleep. It’s our duty as soldiers.”
“Y-Yeah sure, good night, Shino,” said Maihime. She walked out in an awkward fashion, making sure that the measuring tape was hidden from Shino’s view.
They all breathed a sigh of relief once they were all out. It was hard to tell if they even breathed on the way out.
“Wow, what a guy…” said Aoi.
“Yeah…” nodded Ginko. “I thought that he might notice us halfway through, but there’s no way I could have imagined that…”
“It’ll be hard to get any measurements with him like that perhaps we should just give up…”
They all slumped down in despair. Maihime wasn’t feeling too optimistic, either.
“Maybe we should just give up on the surprise, and just tell him what we were gonna do?”
Ginko put her hand out. “Wait a second,” she said. “There’s still one more thing to try.”
The next morning, Shino was heading to town with his specialized weapon in hand. He tried all day yesterday to try to get used to it to no avail, so he decided to go town to see if he could make some of his own adjustments to it.
A typical special sword contained special metals that could flow with people’s [World] and cartridges that could store that power. In fact, Shino’s temporary sword currently had two of those cone-shaped cartridges as a hilt.
Physically speaking it was possible to omit the cartridges, but it would shorten the amount of time people could bring out their [World]. After all, they were like battery packs that kept the power flowing.
It was near impossible to change the overall composition of the sword, but little things like the handle thickness or the hilt size were modifiable. Since this was a mass-produced weapon, fine tuning it made it more efficient and precise.
There was a junk store near one of the factories that sold unused parts off the assembly line, and Shino made sure to memorize the way to it before he left. Like always, he was on guard against his surroundings. As long as he was in the city, he would always be considered deep within enemy territory.
As he walked, Shino thought about last night’s surprise attack— “Divine Awakening,” they called it. He had actually been through something similar before in the Administration Bureau, so the intended lessons of that awakening had already been carved in him.
Luckily, he had already taken care of all the things he didn’t want Maihime to see. There was no way he was making that mistake again. However, right now he was thinking about a much more serious problem.
Shino was a guy who was always thinking of ways to protect himself when he slept. He always put a dummy on his bed to tank the sneak attacks, but what if he had forgotten to? How would yesterday have played out then? Perhaps they would have tied him up and given him a stern warning or some sort of penalty.
But was that all there was to it? He definitely saw Maihime hide something behind her back. He couldn’t get a good look at it, but it was something like a string.
“A string… hmm… during a sneak attack at night,” he said to himself. Yes, he was certain there was only one thing that would be used for. “Choking me to death, huh…”
Choking someone to death was the most effective method of killing an unsuspecting target. It left no trace, so it could even be made to feign suicide. With Maihime’s superhuman strength, he would be a dead man the moment Maihime could wrap the string around his neck. With all that in mind, last night they were clearly prepared to do some damage.
If it was all just a mock attack, why would they go that far? Shino just couldn’t stop wondering why. If they were that serious about being on guard, why was Maihime’s security so lax? There were some who snuck pictures of her all the time, some who went through her trash, and some who even placed hidden cameras and microphones in her room.
Of course, there was always the possibility that Maihime was aware of all this and was just enjoying the attention, but Shino found that thought far too wild.
No. Shino shook his head. If Shino really had been sleeping in his bed last night, he very well could have been strangled to death. His body could have been hung from the ceiling to make others think he killed himself.
Perhaps he was overthinking things, but if the others found out Shino’s true purpose…
“SHINO! TAKE THIS!!”
He suddenly heard a voice behind him and instantly jumped back and turned around, taking a low stance with his hand tightly gripped on his sword.
It was Ginko. She had thrown a ball in Shino’s direction, but he sidestepped it— he wasn’t the type of person to get hit by such a weak attack. However, as he did, Shino saw the shadows of more and more balls that were about to drop on him. Whoever was dropping them from above must have predicted his movements.
“Damn it.” It was easy to dodge Ginko’s one and only ball, but there were too many this time. Clearly it was going to be difficult to dodge all of them.
Despite that, Shino wasn’t worried. With a quick look upwards he swung out his katana, neatly slicing all the balls down the middle.
The balls he cut in two were actually filled with water so it all came pouring down on him. They turned out to be water balloons in the end— now there really was no avoiding that. With a big splash, all the water soaked Shino from head to toe.
The splash was so loud that the surrounding people just stared on in horror.
“What’s going on?” he asked himself. He wiped the water away from his eyes so he could get a closer look around. As he did, Ginko came running at him.
“A-Ah, Shino!” she shouted. She tried to sound sincere but her acting skills were at an all time low. “Sorry! I didn’t expect that to happen!”
Maihime, Zakuro, and Aoi also popped out from the building.
“I’m sorry Shino it seemed you were just caught up in our water balloon fight,” Zakuro said.
“Water balloon fight?”
“Exactly how it sounds. Two teams fight each other with water balloons,” Ginko continued. “But we didn’t expect you to be here, Shino.”
Shino glared at her. “I clearly saw you throwing one at me, though…”
“That wasn’t on purpose! It was just an unfortunate accident…”
“I also saw you throw one at me while saying, ‘TAKE THIS!'”
“Y-You just misheard me!”
“Yeah!” Maihime interrupted before Shino could question Ginko any further. “But more importantly, you’ll catch a cold like that!”
“Exactly. You better change,” Aoi added on.
Shino didn’t know what they were up to, but they were right. Even though his body wasn’t this fragile and weak, it was better not to take any changes. A sudden sickness could cause him to miss an important battle.
“I guess so. I’ll be heading back to my room, then,” he said.
He turned to walk back only to be stopped by Maihime quickly pulling him on the sleeve.
“T-That’s no good!” she said. “Your dorm is so far away! You’ll definitely catch it by then!”
“Err… I can manage fine.”
The other Pillars wouldn’t hear any more of it. They closed in on him like tigers closing in on their prey.
“As Maihime said! Why don’t you take better care of your body!” shouted Ginko.
Aoi nodded. “Yeah I agree. I do know a good place for you to change…”
“Wow Aoi what a coincidence where might this place be?” asked Zakuro.
“Wouldn’t Maihime’s dorm be a good place? It’s still being fixed up right now so no one’s using it, but apparently there’s a nice bathhouse you could use today!”
“Wow~ As an apology we’ll give you some spare clothes, so just go in and enjoy yourself, Shino!”
They spoke in such rapid succession that Shino could barely get a response out.
“Tenkawa’s dorm isn’t that far from mine, though… And why is a dorm that’s currently doing renovations suddenly have an open bathhouse?”
“Yeah, but that small distance is the difference between life and death!”
“Exactly! It’s also not that odd!” nodded Aoi. “Normally we’d have to reserve that bath, but since everyone had to move out it’s the perfect time to go!”
“That’s not what I meant…”
“It’s all good!” Maihime shouted. “Let’s go, Shino! If we continue bickering like this you’ll also catch a cold!”
She forcibly grabbed Shino’s hand and led him along. The other Pillars moved close to him as well to prevent him from wandering away.
“Uhhh… what are you all doing?”
They surrounded him so closely he felt like a VIP, even though their formation was lacking in structure. Despite that, Shino knew that he was being surrounded by the strongest fighters in the city, so escaping this would be tough.
He felt sick to his stomach. He didn’t know what they were up to, but if they wanted to kill him back then, all they had to do was to just fill up those balloons with acid or poison and he would be finished. However, since they didn’t do that, he thought that maybe they wanted to kill him in a more secluded place.
“No way…” he whispered to himself. Obviously they didn’t want to just snatch him away in the open, so the alternative was to—
Another shiver went down his back as he remembered what Aoi said just now. An empty bath house… A place where everyone had to move out… That would be the perfect place to finish him off. If he got trapped in there, he could scream all he wanted and no one would hear him. They could even cut him up and just wash his blood away with all the water.
Yes, indeed. They could cut him up until they extracted all the information they needed out of him. Torture was, after all, the best way of getting this information.
Despite that, even if he knew what was going on, Maihime still had him by the arm. By the time he gathered up all his thoughts, he had already arrived at his final destination.
Maihime’s old dormitory used to be grand and majestic, but now it was surrounded by rubble and caution tapes. There was also a huge unpatched hole right where her room used to be.
“Here, come here!” said Maihime, leading Shino right into the bathhouse.
Shino knew that escaping would get a hundred times more difficult the moment he stepped in the building, but Maihime’s grip strength was so powerful he couldn’t break away even if he tried.
It wasn’t long before he was forcibly dragged right up to the changing room.
“Damn…” Shino clenched his teeth— he had no choice but to endure. If push came to shove, he was ready to give up an arm if it meant escaping from this place. No matter what they were going to do, he vowed not to tell them anything, but the existence of truth serum-like drugs and the possibility of one of them having a truth seeking [World] scared him a bit. In that case, there would be no outs.
“Alright, Shino. We prepared a spare set of clothes for you, so go enjoy yourself!” said Maihime. She finally let go of his hand and opened the door to the changing room for him.
Shino was taken aback. He was so sure that the room would be lined up with torture devices and questionable drugs, but the room seemed perfectly normal. The bath beyond was even an open bath, so he could easily escape anytime he wanted to.
“You guys aren’t gonna enter?”
Maihime shook her head violently. “Huh? Of course not!”
Shino didn’t know what to think. They were all giving him some awkward smiles, and didn’t seem to want to torture him… Perhaps they really were having a random water balloon fight in the middle of the city, and perhaps they really were sincere about their apology.
“Alright then, here I go…” said Shino. He realized he might as well do as they said and entered the changing room.
Maihime waited a few seconds after Shino left before giving a nod to Ginko. “We good?” she asked.
“Yeah, I heard the door open inside. He probably already entered the bathhouse.”
“Alright, lets grab his clothes then,” signaled Maihime.
Of course, they weren’t just having fun with a water balloon fight. By purposefully getting Shino wet, they could get him to change and thus have access to his clothes, which was a good indication of his height and arm size After all, they had concluded that Shino was far too wary to be snuck up on, so this was their last chance to get any semblance of data on him.
“Remember let’s be careful,” Zakuro added on.
“Yeah…” said Aoi. “After what happened yesterday I wouldn’t be surprised if he was just pretending to go into the bathhouse while actually hiding somewhere in here.”
Maihime gulped in fear because she knew Aoi was right. Shino was certainly the type of person to do that, but that’s exactly the reason why they chose this place. As Shino had mentioned earlier, this bathhouse wasn’t too far from his dorm. However, going to his dorm was a bit risky in the one in a million chance that they were caught rummaging through his stuff, since there would be no believable excuse to come back from that. On the other hand, since this was a public bathhouse, they had the excuse of just wanting to go in as well. Yes, they did mentioned they weren’t going to enter earlier, but that’s beside the point. They even cleverly made the bathhouse a mixed gender one for this very purpose.
“Let’s do this!” said Maihime.
They silently entered the changing room. This was Kanagawa’s biggest dorm, so as expected, the bathhouse and its respective changing rooms were big as well. They were numerous baskets lined up against the wall. On the left side were roughly around the same amount of sinks.
Each of the dorm rooms had their own bathrooms, but Maihime always used the ones here. It was always nice to bond with other students here, and a wider bath just felt better. She couldn’t wait to move back into this dorm to come here once again on a regular basis.
Now wasn’t the time to think that, though. Maihime quietly took a look around the room when she heard Shino place something down in the bathhouse. It seemed he really did enter.
“Perfect,” said Maihime. She started searching for Shino’s basket along with the others…
But they couldn’t find it. Shino definitely came in here, but his clothes were nowhere to be found.
“W-What’s the meaning of this?” asked Ginko.
“Shino couldn’t have entered the bathhouse with his clothes on right?”
“No, look at that!” Aoi said, pointing to the shelf nearest to the bath.
“Oh I see… did he take the basket with him inside?”
“Yeah,” nodded Ginko. “He probably used the basket we provided him with to hold all his clothes and brought it in!”
“Wow…”said Maihime. She didn’t want to believe that Shino was that cautious, but there were no other possibilities. “Then this way is no good, huh… And here I thought we could at least do this…”
Maihime sighed, causing Ginko and Zakuro to give her a encouraging slap on the back.
“Don’t give up yet,” said Ginko, while Zakuro immediately followed up with, “There’s still a way left.”
“There is?” Maihime stared blankly at them. “But how do we get the basket now that it’s inside?”
Ginko gave a smirk, while Zakuro just looked away in shame.
“Sure it’s inside, but I’m sure even Shino wouldn’t bring it near the baths. He wouldn’t want to get it wet, right?”
“So while Shino is enjoying the baths his basket wouldn’t be anywhere near him.”
“Oh, I see!” said Aoi. “It won’t take that long to get his measurements from his clothes, so while he’s in the actual baths we have an opportunity to do it.”
“Yup,” nodded Ginko. “It should be possible. Should we, Maihime?”
“If there’s a chance, let’s go for it. But how do we enter the bath without Shino noticing?”
“Leave that to us both Ginko and I know everything there is to know about these baths.”
“Yeah, what Zakuro said. We know exactly the route to take so that the person in the bath wouldn’t notice.”
“Really? How though?”
Ginko and Zakuro both froze for a second. Their eyes shifted around nervously.
“N-Now’s not the time to discuss that!”
“Yeah yeah it really isn’t let’s follow Ginko quickly before Shino’s done.”
Maihime thought they were acting strange, but they were right. Now wasn’t the time for such trivial matters.
“Alright, please show us the way,” she said with a new resolve.
The two breathed a sigh of relief and nodded.
“Let’s go,” said Ginko.
“Yeah quickly there is no time.”
“W-Wait for me!” said Aoi, quickly chasing after them.
They made their way down the hall before climbing out of a window. They walked around the perimeter alongside a wall until reaching an unmarked spot.
“This is it,” said Ginko. She pulled the wall towards her, revealing a small crawlspace just big enough for a person to fit through.
“Wow…” Maihime said unknowingly. She never expected to get in this way. Clearly this was possible because of all the reconstruction, but she wondered once again why they knew this hole was here. She thought about it for a few seconds, but ultimately decided to focus on the main objective.
“The bath is beyond this point, so proceed with caution.”
“Okay…” nodded Maihime, and they entered.
There were a lot of bushes on the other side of the wall, so all they had to do was keep a low profile to enter without being seen. Of course, Maihime still felt weirded out by the whole thing, even more so when she could see the steam coming from the baths. She could even see Shino in one of the stone bathtubs when she took a closer look.
Luckily, his basket and sword were lined up off to the side just as they had anticipated.
“There it is!” whispered Maihime. She was relieved that Shino didn’t actually bring the basket into the bathtub. It was even close to where they were hiding.
With a nod to each other, they crawled up to the basket. Maihime took one last look to make sure Shino wasn’t looking in her direction before slowly reaching out through the bush and grabbing his clothes.
At that moment, Shino’s eyes lit up. He definitely felt something and started looking around.
That caused Maihime to freeze in fear with Shino’s uniform still in hand. “Oh no!” she thought to herself. If she was caught here, there would be no excuses to get out of it. She would be branded as a stalker for the rest of her life and would have to live with the humiliation.
The thought of that scared her so much she prayed for him not to notice. She even tried her hardest to slow her heartbeat down in fear that Shino might somehow hear it. He probably couldn’t, but she never knew when it came to Shino.
After a while he just relaxed back into the bath without doing anything.
“N-Nice…” said Maihime.
“Maihime, let’s proceed.”
It was too early to be relieved. There was still work to do. The four crawled to a rocky wall and took out Shino’s clothes under its shadow, when Aoi the lookout noticed something.
“Hey, Shinomiya’s coming out!” she said, just as Maihime was about to measure his clothes.
Just on cue they heard splashing sounds coming from within. There was no doubt about it— he was done with his bath.
“Ugh!” Maihime held her breath. It would be game over if Shino noticed his clothes were missing, especially since she wasn’t done yet. Putting it back, though, was obviously not an option.
At that moment, there was strange scratching sounds coming from Shino’s side of the rocks.
“Hmm?” murmured Shino.
Maihime could hear Shino moving further and further away from her, so she used that time to figure out what was going on. Since Zakuro and Ginko were gone, she knew that they were buying time for her from the other side. Once they saw that Shino was about to leave, they made a last ditch effort to keep him away until Maihime was done with her stuff.
“Thank, Ginko, Zakuro!” said Maihime as she teared up a little bit.
But it seemed all for naught as Shino ignored the noise and turned straight back in Maihime’s direction. Seeing this, she quickly rushed above the rock she was hiding under and prepared to throw Shino’s clothes back into the basket—
“W-Wha…?” Maihime suddenly slipped on the rock and fell straight into the water below. After being submerged in the water for a few seconds, she got up and coughed all the water out of her lungs. She had difficulty getting up with her clothes completely soaked, but that was the least of her troubles.
“What? Why are you here, Tenkawa?” asked Shino from above her.
Maihime shuddered. “U-Umm… This is…. Uhh…” she said, trying really hard to think of an excuse to say, but nothing prepared her for what was right in front of her. Yes, it was Shino standing before her, but she would have never imagined Shino to be like this. His slightly long hair stuck to his slender shoulders, and his body looked surprisingly soft, especially around the breast area.
Seeing this, Maihime thought of only one thing:
Shino’s a girl.