There was a saying that all men are created equal. At the same time, it was also said that nobody is born perfect. If both of these phrases were valid, then the order of heaven would be unenforceable. As a person's value would change depending on the region they're from, one cannot just dismiss their values entirely. Let alone being born perfect, just being born with one talent is difficult enough. While the common folk may be envious or jealous of geniuses around them, for me their talents are just a part of our daily lives, so I don't see what the fuss is all about.
It was the end of the summer vacation. I was having such a conversation with my old mate Fukube Satoshi, who nodded in agreement with my thoughts.
"Exactly. For the past 15 years of my life, I haven't seemed to be the sort to possess any talents at all. There's a saying that great talents mature late, but that sounds more like working hard through nurture rather than talent. So I guess wishing for some talents is a distant dream for us."
"Well, geniuses are geniuses for a reason. If we common folk could obtain their talents, then we wouldn't need to be envious of them."
"My, longing for the life of common folk now, aren't you, Houtarou? ... If it's you, then..."
Satoshi then casually quipped, "I think you're actually quite talented."
I had no idea what he was talking about. As I gave a puzzled look, Satoshi chuckled and said, "I know very well that I'm not the talented sort, but the same cannot be said about you, Houtarou."
As his manner of speaking was usually filled with jokes, I thought a little about accepting the good parts of what he just said at face value. I had two rebuttals to make, firstly, "If I had to say it, I think it's premature of you to call yourself a normal person. Aren't you pretty good at collecting vast amounts of knowledge?"
Satoshi shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, I guess, even if it sounds like bragging. Though I wouldn't go so far and say that I'm good enough at winning quiz shows. The knowledge I learned isn't that vast."
Anyway, second rebuttal, "If I wasn't not a normal person, then there's no way I could observe people."
"Then I won't say anything more. Though I still have reservations about you not having any talents."
"Where have you ever seen me using my talents anyway?"
"Hmm, where, huh?"
After pretending to think, he pointed his finger towards Kamiyama High School.
"No, the Geology Room, AKA the Classics Club room... You were simply amazing in solving the 'Hyouka' incident. Truth be told, I never expected you to be that good. That's why I said I'm having reservations about you not being talented based on that," He said while smiling. In contrast, I looked bitter.
The "Hyouka" incident. It was not a criminal incident, neither was it civil. "Hyouka" was the name of a series of essay anthologies published by the Classics Club, a mysterious organization which Satoshi and I belonged to. The reason why the anthologies were named as such cannot be explained in a few sentences, and for very good reason as well. Thanks to such a reason, I was involved in all sorts of bothersome events. And Satoshi was commenting on my role in such events.
He continued, "The one who solved all that was you."
"Now you're exaggerating. I was just lucky."
"Lucky, huh? I wasn't talking about how you think of yourself, but how I see you."
He can say such haughty stuff with such a calm tone. As I was used to his manner of speaking, I was hardly annoyed.
Besides being an old mate, Fukube Satoshi is also a good rival. As a guy he was short in stature, and his weak-looking appearance could easily be mistaken for that of a girl if seen from afar. However, he is actually quite spirited, especially when pursuing things that interest him. So much so that he would prioritize that over other things that are considered "necessary" by everyone else. He is always seen carrying a smile and a drawstring bag. As he swung the drawstring bag around, he asked, "By the way, what time is it now?"
"Check your own watch."
"It's inside my bag, it's too bothersome to take it out," he tapped at his bag and said. Satoshi considered carrying a wristwatch around too troublesome, and would prefer to check the time via his cellphone.
"I'm the one that's feeling bothersome here."
"'If I don't have to do it, I won't. If I have to do it, hurry up and finish it.' Right?"
Satoshi smiled while poking fun at my motto. I checked the time on my wristwatch and corrected him, "It's 'If I have to do it, make it quick.' ... Anyway, it's just past ten."
"Do you really have to memorize every word of that? It's not like it's some grandiose motto or anything. Wow, is it ten already? We'd better hurry. Chitanda-san may be able to forgive us for being late, but it's Mayaka I'm scared of."
I agree with that. Ibara Mayaka can be very scary when she's angry. I don't know if Satoshi knows this or not, but I have a feeling that Chitanda Eru's the same as well. As Satoshi picked up his speed, I followed suit.
Crossing the crosswalk, we came upon the school gates. It was a typical day in Kamiyama High, where there are students everywhere despite it being a school holiday.
The courtyard was filled with students either in uniform or casual wear. The music from the musical clubs could be heard playing. Besides the courtyard some sort of large monument was being erected, probably some attraction devised by some club. Even though it was summer vacation, Kamiyama High School was still filled with students full of energy, as everyone was preparing for the Cultural Festival.
The total number of students attending Kamiyama High School numbered about a thousand. The school provided curriculum for university entrance exams as well as having a lively club activity scene. If you excluded the exalting Cultural Festival, Kamiyama High was just a normal school like any other. The campus contained three buildings; the General Block which houses the regular classrooms, the Special Block with their special purposes classrooms, and the Gymnasium. The Classics Club room was located in the Geology Room on the fourth floor of the Special Block.
Amidst the singing of the Chorus Club and A Capella Club from the courtyard, we hastened our pace. As Satoshi said, my motto was "If I don't have to do it, I won't. If I have to do it, make it quick." To put it simply, I was an "energy saver". Such a lifestyle was totally different to those that go all out in these student activities like the Cultural Festival. Though I wasn't in the mood to think about such things now.
From the entrance, we headed towards the corridor leading to the Special Block. A long painting from some club could be seen placed on the side of the staircase to dry as we climbed them, taking four steps at a time, which was quite exhausting. As it was late summer, I took out my handkerchief to wipe my sweat as we entered the Geology Room.
We were at once greeted by someone yelling, "You're late!"
Standing firmly in the centre of the room like a guardian god was none other than Ibara, the actual person in charge of overseeing the publication of the Classics Club anthology "Hyouka", with whom I have a long acquaintance.
Ibara Mayaka. While we were not exactly intimate with each other, for some reason we just couldn't avoid seeing each other all the time. While she had grown since primary school, she still had a childish-looking face despite being a high school student. Despite her appearance, she was actually quite strict. Besides being unforgiving to mistakes made by others, she was even more demanding towards herself. The reason for her wrath was simple, as it was agreed that we were supposed to meet up here at ten in the morning.
Maintaining her guardian god stance, Ibara spoke, "Fuku-chan, explain yourself."
Satoshi's smile became stiff as he said, "Well, we couldn't use our bikes today..."
"You should have known that already!"
By the way, while people were free to come to Kamiyama High School via bicycle during summer vacation, as the bicycle park was currently under maintenance, it was unusable.
"Get a grip already, Fuku-chan! You still haven't handed in your manuscripts!"
Satoshi spread out his hands as he struggled to protest, "W, wait a minute Mayaka! Isn't Houtarou late as well?"
Ibara turned to look at me, and upon meeting my gaze, turned back towards Satoshi.
"Who cares about Oreki?"
... Double standards, huh?
The reason Ibara paid so much attention to Satoshi was because she had a crush on him. And she herself made no attempts to hide this. On the other hand, Satoshi had been evading her advances to this day. As to when they started all this, I had no idea.
Anyway, the Classics Club was made up of four members: myself, Satoshi, and Ibara, as well as the President, Chitanda Eru. Though right now Chitanda was nowhere to be seen.
"That's double standards!"
"What're you talking about? There's no double standards."
I interrupted their meaningless exchange and said, "Hey, Ibara, Chitanda's absent as well."
"How can I have double standards... Huh? Chi-chan? That's right, she still hasn't arrived. That worries me."
"I see, indeed it's not double standards," Satoshi muttered.
"Yeah, it's triple standards."
Unusually, Ibara replied while smiling.
As if on cue, a silhouette was seen silently opening the door and entering the room. It was Chitanda.
Chitanda Eru. With her long, dark hair and frail-looking figure, she gave the look of an elegant lady. And that was a fact, as she was the daughter of the Chitanda Clan, which owned vast tracts of farmland within a corner of Kamiyama City. However, in contrast to her graceful nature were her large eyes. To me, those were what represented her the most. If Ibara was a child in appearance, then Chitanda was a child due to her incredible curiosity to every mystery she ever encountered. Yet she was intelligent despite such a childlike nature, which made it all the more difficult to cope with her.
The clock pointed to half past ten. Chitanda bowed deeply and said, "I'm very sorry for being late."
Chitanda hardly ever looked this unkempt. While not strictly punctual, it was rare to see her late. Ibara must have been thinking the same thing as she asked Chitanda without blaming her, "Did something happen?"
"Yes. A little bit. I was having a long conversation just now."
What conversation? We won't know if you don't elaborate. That said, Chitanda continued before I could ask.
"I'll explain later about what conversation I was having."
What's she up to? I have a bad feeling about this.
"Hmm... Oh well, let's get started then."
The reason the Classics Club was gathered here today was to hold a meeting concerning the publication of the club anthology "Hyouka", which included what design and fonts to use, how to arrange the articles and what paper to print on. While it would have been better if I had just suggested to let Ibara handle everything, she probably wouldn't allow it, as she reasoned that since we have all contributed our money and manuscripts, it's only fair that we take part in compiling the anthology as well. I didn't exactly want to do this, but then I don't have anything better to do during summer vacation anyway.
Ibara took out a few paper samples from her bag and began speaking.
"This is the highest quality paper that our budget could allow, while this is the cheapest. They're very different, and not just in appearance, but how the ink appears on them..."
As she began explaining, both Satoshi and Chitanda listened with enthusiasm. While I felt like a piece of rotting wood on the mountain1, I still made an effort to listen, so that Ibara wouldn't get mad.
The editorial meeting was over sooner than expected, just under an hour after it began. Ibara had written down the items which had been approved in her note, which she would then relay to the publishers. Being an editing supervisor sure sounds tough, so I placed my palms together in gratitude of her hard work.
It was now afternoon. While we were free to go home, we decided to stay and have lunch, having just bought some boxed lunches from the convenience store. As I took my boxed lunch worth less than 400yen out of my shoulder bag, the other three followed suit.
As he peeled the film wrapping around his rice ball, Satoshi spoke without addressing anyone specifically.
"So, when's the anthology gonna be published?"
The one who should have an idea as to how to answer that question was of course Ibara, who grumbled as though saying "As if I could remember exactly when" and said, "We should have the sample copy by early October, but we won't be getting the actual copies until just before the Cultural Festival."
It was now late August, a week to go before summer vacation ends. It would become bothersome to continue writing when classes resumed in September. As an energy saver, I do not like to leave work undone as it's inefficient. It is of course better to get it finished as soon as possible. Anyway, we've still got plenty of time.
The sound of Chitanda opening the lid of her boxed lunch could be heard. For girls her age, boxed lunches would usually be small and contain food as simple as small snacks. Though her box was just as small, the food it contained looked quite filling: Stewed butterbur, sweet omelettes and minced meat. Before taking out her chopsticks, she asked nonchalantly, "By the way, are any of you tied up this afternoon?"
As I was never the sort with anything better to do anyway, I do have time to kill. Naturally, I shook my head. So too did Ibara.
"I've got to take these notes to the publisher, but it won't be until this evening."
Satoshi thought for a while,
"I was thinking of heading to the Handicraft Club to see if I could help out. I haven't gotten my hands on sewing equipment for some time now. Besides, it's been a while since I hung out with the Student Council committee. But why not?"
As all three of us were in agreement, Chitanda looked as though she was the happiest person alive. Seeing her smile, I suddenly had a bad feeling. Though I wouldn't go so far say this was based on experience, I was just apprehensive of trouble, that's all.
As she placed her chopsticks down, she said with vigour, "Then, let's watch a preview!"
I had no idea what she was talking about. Did something happen which I have no knowledge of? Without thinking, I turned to look at Satoshi, who simply shook his head to indicate he too knew nothing. Ditto for Ibara, who looked puzzled.
"Chi-chan, what preview are you talking about? A movie?"
"Yes... Umm, it's not really a movie, but more like a videotaped movie."
Videotaped movie? Surely she means home-made movie.
"Is it with the Movie Studies Club?"
Chitanda shook her head.
"Then, the Home Movie Studies Club?"
Stop being stupid, Satoshi. Both Ibara and I stared coldly at his smiling face, though he continued smiling as usual and said, "I'm sure it exists! If there exists a Classics Club, surely a Home Movie Studies Club would exist as well."
Satoshi dispelled his joke right away, true to his motto of "Jokes are to be made on the spot, so too are misunderstandings to be dispelled right away." If he says it exists, then it probably does exist. This was not something to be surprised about, as Kamiyama High School does have a huge variety of arts-based clubs out there.
But still Chitanda shook her head.
"It's not that either. It's an exhibition movie made by Class 2-F."
"Wow, a class exhibition."
Ibara nodded in admiration.
"Don't think my class would have the energy to organize their own exhibition, as everyone is busy with their own clubs."
Indeed. Even for my class 1-B, no one made any proposals to organize something for the Cultural Festival in the class's name, as everyone was tired out by their own club activities. Besides, holding an exhibition would be quite a huge task. Come to think of it, this would make Satoshi pretty amazing, as he's busy with the Classics Club, Handicraft Club, and Student Council.
"Some Class 2-F students belonging to various sports teams decided they too want to take part in the Cultural Festival. As I know someone from Class 2-F, I was invited to their movie preview in order to ask for my opinion of it. How about it? Are you interested?"
"Yeah, I'll come!"
Satoshi agreed without even batting an eyelid. Then again, anything that interests him would elicit such a reaction.
Ibara raised her brows slightly and asked, "What kind of movie is it?"
"Umm, I hear it's a mystery movie."
That answer was enough to satisfy Ibara.
"Sounds entertaining. Sure, I'll come as well."
"I thought you hated artistic movies, Mayaka,"
"I don't dislike them... This one's made by people with an interest in movies, after all."
Indeed, no one would think along the lines of wanting to watch a movie made by people who just "want to take part in the Cultural Festival".
Now, what about me?
To be honest, I'm not exactly that interested in movies. I've never felt like watching any movie, whether it was arthouse movies or blockbuster movies. As to why that is, I'm not too sure myself. Probably something to do with watching movies being too time-consuming, I was told that I'm missing half the fun of my life as a result. I don't exactly hate watching them, and there were some movies which I was fond of...
Anyway, guess I'll go home.
Before I could speak, Chitanda cheerfully opened her mouth.
"Then it's decided! We're all going then!"
"Actually, besides myself, I was told to bring three more people along with me. I was thinking that there are three of you here in the Classics Club; the number is just right."
She's not even listening.
Smiling mischievously, Satoshi pointed his thumb at me and said, "Chitanda-san, Houtarou seems to have something to say."
"Oreki-san, you're coming, right?"
"... Aren't you?"
Why was it that I could never figure out how to handle Chitanda every time? No matter what kind of responses I thought up beforehand, she was bound to make me go. Of course I could have chosen to just turn her down without feeling guilty, but the problem was I could find no reason to refuse her.
I shrugged my shoulders in resignation. Whatever, there was nothing for me to do even if I went home now anyway.
The Audio/Visual Room had its curtains drawn, blocking out the light of the setting sun from outside, turning the room dark.
From within that darkness a female student emerged suddenly. The reason for such an illusion probably had something to do with the navy blue dress she was wearing, which blended well with the darkness.
Chitanda called out to her.
"I've come as you requested me to."
She walked towards us, and it was only then I could make out her features.
Her height was similar to Chitanda's, perhaps a bit taller, while her figure was slim. Her eyes were slightly raised and small, and her face looked refined. It wouldn't be too far off to describe her as pretty, though to me she felt more stern than pretty. While it was hard to determine whether she was a year older than us, there was a sense of majestic solemnity exuding from her. Rather than a high school student, she felt more like a stereotypical police officer or teacher... no, more like a female Self Defense Force officer, with a rank no lower than Major. Speaking in a calmingly soft voice, she said, "Ah, so you've come."
She looked at each one of us and continued, "Welcome. You have my thanks for taking the time to come."
Chitanda slowly introduced us one by one.
"This is Ibara Mayaka-san, Fukube Satoshi-san and Oreki Houtarou-san. Like me, they're all members of the Classics Club."
The girl seemed to give a rather ambiguous expression as we were being introduced. I couldn't tell if she was smiling or looking depressed. But she soon reverted to her previous expression and bowed to us.
"Pleased to meet you... My name is Irisu Fuyumi."
As she introduced herself, Satoshi reacted at once and raised his voice in exaltation.
"Ah, just as I thought, you're Irisu-sempai! I knew I'd seen you somewhere before."
"Your name is Fukube Satoshi-kun, right? I'm sorry, but have we met before?"
"You attended the meeting for the Cultural Festival Organizing Committee during the end of June, right?"
"I can't quite remember, did something happen?"
Regardless of whether she really forgot or was playing dumb, Irisu answered as such. Satoshi continued cheerfully, "I saw the way you resolved the conflict between the musical clubs and the drama clubs. Truth be told, I was amazed! Since then I've always wanted to meet with you at least once!"
"Ah, now I remember," she replied bluntly, "I didn't do anything particularly special then."
"No, really, you were great. I still remember it now; three times you urged the chairperson to duly restore order at once so members could voice their opinions without interruptions. The conflict was sorted out in less than five minutes as a result. I virtually gave a standing ovation in the bottom of my heart, as Irisu-sempai felt more like the chairperson back then."
If Ibara was not the sort to give compliments, then it was also rare for Satoshi to give praise to someone in such an over the top way. Now here's the interesting part, how would Irisu Fuyumi react to such a compliment? I listened intently as I wondered.
Yet despite Satoshi's gaze of admiration, she hardly reacted much and said, "Is that so?"
"Irisu-san, you did say you weren't that interested in what happens around school, right?" Chitanda asked, to which Irisu nodded.
"Fukube-kun was part of the Committee on my behalf as club president, so that meeting probably did happen. So please don't be too startled by his words."
"I see. I wasn't really startled though."
Satoshi looked dejected as she said that. Ibara then asked Chitanda, "Chi-chan, how are you acquainted with her?"
"Irisu-san? ...Our families are quite close to each other. Irisu-san would often look after me when I was younger."
So the Chitanda Clan does have people to hang out with as childhood friends, that sure is some luxury the Oreki Clan couldn't afford. They sure are a prominent clan. Come to think of it, was Irisu's clan also just as famous? I'm not quite sure myself. Anyway, it probably doesn't concern Irisu Fuyumi herself.
Irisu returned to the subject at hand, and showed us the object she was holding in her hand. The rectangular object seemed to be a video cassette.
"You have been invited today to watch this tape. As I'm sure you've heard from Chitanda already, this video is a movie made by my class. My wish is for you to watch the movie and give us your honest feedback."
"We look forward to doing so."
So said Chitanda.
Seemed like a real movie preview, alright. But what for? As the question popped in my head, I asked, "Is that all we have to do?"
Irisu looked straight at me with her grim gaze. Feeling the pressure from her gaze, I continued, "Just watch, and then provide feedback?"
"Is that so strange?"
"Even if we really do give our critique, you're not going to amend the movie, are you? Surely a preview is mainly for the purpose of advertisement, where you ask people to spread the word about your movie, isn't it?"
For some reason, Irisu nodded as though satisfied.
"A good question. Indeed, there's no point in just watching this movie. I will answer your question, but it would be better if you could first watch the movie. Shall we?"
Hmm, something didn't feel right. But due to her efficient answer, I said no more.
Upon seeing my agreement, Irisu continued, "We have yet to give this movie a name. For now it simply goes by the working title 'Mystery'. When the video ends, there's something we would like to ask of you, for that purpose, we wish for you to watch it first."
This time it was Ibara's turn to speak.
"If it's called 'Mystery', then is it a detective movie?"
"It wouldn't be wrong to call it that."
"Then may we take memos during the movie?"
"Of course. Do write as many details as you see."
That said, we left all our stuff in the Geology Room. As Ibara was about to ask if we could go back to get our bags, Satoshi spoke.
"I'll do the memo taking then."
And duly took out a notebook from the drawstring bag that he always carries along... I didn't know he'd brought that inside as well.
Irisu looked at her simply designed silver wrist watch and said, "Now, let us start. Please take a seat."
As suggested, we took the seats nearest to us. Satoshi opened his notebook while Irisu headed towards the control room. Before entering the iron door, she turned to us and said, "Enjoy the movie."
As she closed the door, a mechanical sound could be heard. A white screen slowly descended before us. We duly sat upright and leaned as far back as possible.
By the way, Irisu sure didn't prepare enough for this preview. She should at least have provided us with some popcorn.
A movie whose title had not yet even been decided should normally not exist. Yet an image appeared before us. It was none other than Kamiyama High School, which we were all used to seeing. It showed a classroom with tables and chairs lined up tidily. A look outside the window showed that the time was during sunset.
A narrator began to speak in a husky male voice.
"It all began when a group of determined students from Class 2-F decided to participate in the Kanya Festival in order to leave behind memories of their high school life. So they held a meeting one day after school to decide what to do."
By the way, "Kanya Festival" is the nickname for the Kamiyama High School Cultural Festival, though we in the Classics Club do not call it as such. As for the reason, that's another long story.
A group of students then appeared on the screen. Six of them in total, seated around tables arranged facing each other. This must be the meeting scene that the narrator just mentioned. The camera then showed each person while the narrator introduced them with their names.
First off was "Kaitou Takeo", a muscular male student who looked as though he belonged to some martial arts team. Sporting a crew cut, he was the tallest of the six students.
Second was "Sugimura Jirou", a slim looking student and the only bespectacled male student. Perhaps due to having the camera pointed at him, he couldn't remain steady.
Third was "Yamanishi Midori", a girl with tanned skin and dyed brown hair going down to her shoulder. Though a few seconds elapsed between various shots of her, her hair seemed to have grown a bit already.
Next was "Senoue Mamiko", a short girl with a slightly wide girth. Rather than plump, it might have something more to do with her round face instead.
Following her was "Katsuda Takeo", a guy with rather good looks. Though his hair was dyed reddish, he felt like more of the serious sort of student.
Finally, "Kounosu Yuri", a plain-dressed girl who looked quite relaxed despite having the camera facing her. She was the shortest of all the girls.
As their names were being introduced, Satoshi quickly scribbled them down in his notebook. Most of the name spellings were guessed as they weren't written on the screen.
After the introductions, the next scene showed the bespectacled Sugimura speak.
"How about we visit the Narakubo area?"
Ugh Ibara could be heard groaning. I knew how she felt, since the guy was reading his lines in a deadpan manner.
"The Narakubo area?" asked Yamanishi, whose hair length varied depending on the scene. The red-headed Katsuda replied, "I think I've heard of that area, it's in Furuoka Town, if I remember correctly."
"Exactly, it's an abandoned mining village. It was born during the mining boom, though there's hardly anyone there now."
It was deadpan dialogue all the way, but that was to be expected. Chitanda did say these were people from sports teams who wanted to take part in the Cultural Festival, after all. Can't really expect them to perform like the Drama Club.
The well-built Kaitou raised his arm to speak.
"Research in an abandoned village, huh? Sounds good to me."
"It would be good to go there once, as it does have an appeal that makes it worth visiting. A village with a history worth one's lifetime, that sounds interesting."
Yamanishi's line here was slightly better as she imbued it with some emotion. It's probably her genuine feeling about the place. Meanwhile, the round faced Senouchi responded with an equally good performance, "The material may sound interesting, but it's an abandoned ruin, isn't it? Not exactly my type of place."
Kounosu, who wore a downcast look all this time, interjected, "I know how to get to Narakubo... It's deep within the mountains. If we walk from the nearest bus stop, we'll get there in about an hour."
Yamanishi didn't sound too pleased. She's probably the character that complains a lot. On the other hand, Kaitou looked rather relaxed.
"We should be able to handle it if it's just an hour. We could ride bikes there, and even have a picnic while we're there."
"Then it's decided. Our exhibition for the Cultural Festival will be a research into the history of the Narakubo area."
Sugimura then gave a dissenting opinion, citing that just covering an abandoned village isn't interesting enough. He was backed by Yamanishi, who preferred to go somewhere else. Senoue suggested it could be fixed by presenting the story from an interesting perspective. When asked how it could be done, Sugimura suggested covering it like an adventure story, but was rejected for being too traditional. Kounosu then suggested covering the occultish aspect of the area, which was approved for being interesting. Though Sugimura countered that more research would be needed as there were hardly any ghost stories from that area. What followed was an awkward series of give and take between the classmates as they debated heatedly amongst themselves on which ideas to adopt and which to reject. That was the main flow of this initial scene. As the scene blacked out, the narrator spoke again.
"A week later, the group headed towards the Narakubo area in Furuoka Town."
As the screen faded back in, the school scenery was replaced by that of a mountainous forest amidst the midsummer heat. This was no doubt the Narakubo area.
I knew where Furuoka Town was. It's about 20 kilometers north of Kamiyama City. It was once a prosperous town due to a rich deposit of lead or some other metal in the mines nearby, but like any other town that solely relies on one industry to prosper, it has since fallen into hard times once the mine was exhausted. But what of the Narakubo area?
That was the topic Ibara and Satoshi were discussing.
"Fuku-chan, you heard of Narakubo?"
Unsurprisingly, Satoshi of course knew.
"Yup, it used to be the main mining area for the Furuoka Mines. While getting there is inconvenient, at its height it was pretty prosperous."
He then went on to list a few famous enka2 singers.
"... These were the sort of celebrities that they managed to invite to perform in the area."
Ibara looked a little surprised. So did I, for the names Satoshi listed were quite prominent.
As Satoshi was about to continue, Chitanda cut him short.
"It's about to start."
As the picture moved along the dense forest, it showed a group of students. Naturally they were in their appropriate casual wear for such hot weather. Each carried their own rucksack, though we had no idea what was inside of them.
Yamanishi stood upright and said, "Sure is hot. We've been walking for some time, are we there yet?"
Sugimura replied, "Almost. About five minutes, I guess."
"That's what you said a while ago. Darn, it's so hot, I'm tired already."
"Well, you're not the only one who's hot, so hurry up and keep walking."
So said Kaitou. And they all began to walk again, with the camera following them.
The Narakubo area indeed looked like it was situated deep within the mountains. While there were signs of human activity along the road, they were largely covered up by the forest. Amidst the bushes one could occasionally catch a glimpse of the streets of Furuoka Town below the mountains. While the road was paved, one could see signs of damage. The asphalt on the pedestrian sidewalk looked as if it was about to come off in pieces the size of fists. Whether it was due to such poor walking conditions, the camera constantly shook as it moved along. If the actors were amateurs, then so was the cameraman. Even a layperson like me could tell the camera work looked unusual, resulting in a hard to see visual.
The shot then cut to another angle from behind the group. Before long, Sugimura, who led the group, straightened his glasses and pointed ahead.
"We're here. That's Narakubo!"
Everyone followed Sugimura's gaze, including the camera, and a basin within the mountain was shown. On top of the basin was a ruin.
For someone living in a modern city, to think that such a ruin could exist 20 kilometers from where I lived felt surreal. There were many single houses scattered with broken windows and roofs in disrepair. Some were virtually collapsed. If this place was the ore mine, then these houses would be the miners' houses. Disregarding any signs of human presence, these houses were now surrounded by a thick layer of ivy. An enamel signboard could be seen under what used to be a shophouse, further emphasizing the loneliness of the deserted townscape. I see, Sugimura's words weren't made up, this place was indeed worth visiting.
The camera panned quickly across such scenes. Maybe it had something to do with the cameraman's inexperience, or perhaps it was done to conceal the actors' crappy performances. At any rate, the next visual shown was quite intense.
Even the actors looked stunned by the scenery. As the camera faced towards what they were seeing, someone could be heard whispering "Wow". I had a feeling that line wasn't scripted.
But then, the scripted dialogue resumed once again.
"I see. This is a good place to collect material," Said Katsuda, who took out an instant camera from his pocket and began snapping away. Senoue took a notebook out and began writing. After a brief pause, Kaitou began instructing in a loud voice, "Anyway, we need to find a place to stay for the night. We'll start with the research after that."
"How about there then?"
Kounosu pointed to one of the ruins in Narakubo. As the camera moved to where she was pointing, a large building could be seen, seemingly a theatre.
"We should be safe from the rain if it's there."
"I see. Then let's go."
The six of them then began to walk down the slope, and the scene faded out.
Upon fading in, the screen now showed the entrance of the theatre. The group stood before its two glass doors and looked up at the building. The camera panned up towards its dirty walls. Looking diagonally upwards, the theatre felt surreal.
The camera then returned to the group, where Kaitou opened the glass door, and each of them followed him into the theatre. The last one to enter was Kounosu, with her eyes looking down. She muttered, "For some reason, I have a bad feeling about this."
She then entered the theatre, and as the six of them entered the darkness within, the scene ended.
Both Satoshi and Ibara raised their voices unexpectedly. Satoshi looked delighted, while Ibara looked displeased.
"Aha, a mansion mystery, huh?"
"Hmph, just a mansion mystery?"
The next scene resumed within the mansion... sorry, I mean theatre. As there would be no electricity in an abandoned village, it was dark inside the building. Compared to the silhouettes of the buildings outside, which could be clearly seen under the summer sunlight, the visual inside was difficult to see, though not bad enough to not be able to make out the actors' faces. The flooring was made of stone, as their footsteps could be heard knocking on it as they walked.
"It's full of dust...," Yamanishi muttered as she swept the dust off her clothes and fiddled her hair. The blurry visuals probably had something to do with it actually being dusty. Walking beside her, Katsuda looked up and said, "Seems like the building's still sturdy enough."
Senouchi, still holding the notebook in her hand, turned and asked Sugimura, "They've got quite the theatre built in these mountains, haven't they?"
"The ore mine was profitable, after all. In the past anyway. And it's exactly because the mine is so deep in the mountains that they decided to build something like this to entertain themselves."
"Ah...," whispered Satoshi, who had an interest in such trivia, and said to me, "Now they're saying something interesting."
It's not as if we were expecting some interesting dialogue to begin with anyway.
Kaitou then stamped his foot, creating a loud noise that echoed across the hall. As I wondered what was going on, the camera zoomed in on something besides their feet, which seemed to reflect what little light there was. It looked like some shattered glass.
"While we're going to stay here for the night..."
Kaitou raised his brow and continued, "It's probably not safe right here, with all the glass shards around."
The camera then moved around. While it was hard to see, if this was the theatre, then they would be in the entrance lobby. From there, one could see the second floor, as well as two flights of stairs and one room. Once again, the camera moved up to show the second floor. It seemed the lobby was surrounded by an atrium. Sugimura and Katsuda then spoke respectively.
"Guess we'll have to find somewhere suitable for sleeping then."
"You're right, before it gets dark."
Nodding in agreement, Kaitou looked around and said, "Let's split up to search then. Is there a map we could use?"
"How about this one?"
Kounosu beckoned them to come to the side of the entrance, and the movie cut to the next shot.
The following shot showed a map of the theatre which Kounosu was looking at. As it was dark and hard to see, someone should have shone some light on it with a torchlight.
"Aha, a map!"
Satoshi exclaimed gratefully and began to copy that map into his notebook. Though the details were hard to read, as the screen was big, the words were still legible. As the map was shown for about 30 seconds, Satoshi was able to finish copying in time.
As shown on the map, the theatre was composed of two storeys. In front of the entrance was the entrance lobby, where the group was right now. Next to the lobby was the office. Going further in was a wall with a set of doors, which led to a hall, and naturally a stage at its end. On both sides of the hall were two corridors, with two control rooms on each side. At the end of those two corridors were the backstage areas. On the right side of the audience hall was the "Right Stage" and on the left, the "Left Stage".
Two flights of stairs on either side of the lobby led to the second floor. The stairs on the right led to the lighting room, with lighting equipment from its side to shine down onto the stage. Above the office was the equipment room, and opposite the lighting room was the audio room. As both sets of stairs led to the same place, it was possible to get to the equipment room via both sides.
The map was also what the group should have seen.
The screen then panned towards Kaitou as he spoke.
"Then let's split up and have a look inside."
"Won't that be dangerous?" asked Katsuda.
"There's nothing but ruins here, what's so dangerous about it?" asked Kaitou.
Senoue then asked, "But, if we're going to enter the rooms, won't we need a key?"
Kounosu answered in place of Kaitou, "That won't be a problem. There's bound to be one..."
She then entered the office next to the lobby. Incredibly, the office door itself wasn't locked. The camera followed Kounosu into the office, where she looked around two to three times, before noticing a keybox hanging by the wall.
"Here we go."
She then exited the office with one set of keys, leaving the other set inside the box, which the camera remained fixed on. Though the lighting was dark, on the key holder was clearly written "Master Key".
"With this, we should be able to look around the building."
Kounosu returned to the hall and showed the set of keys to Kaitou, who nodded and took out one key from the set.
"Then, let's each take one and see if we can find any rooms that we could stay in. It doesn't matter if we end up in separate rooms. Also have a look for rooms where it's safe to start a fire or clear from any other danger."
Everyone then took one key from the set held by Kounusu, and before long, all the keys were taken.
"You know," Satoshi said while smiling, "Realistically, who would ever think of everyone splitting up and moving on their own in such a situation?"
"Isn't entering an abandoned house in a ruin unrealistic enough? So what's wrong with this scene?"
Satoshi smiled even more, "Nope, nothing's particularly wrong. Since if they didn't split up, we would have no mystery. We're guaranteed one, after all."
"In other words,"
"Something is about to happen soon. I'll bet one cheese hotdog with you that by the time they're all gathered, they'll be one person short."
Sitting next to Satoshi, Ibara looked at me with a grim stare. She was probably saying, Stop talking about irrelevant stuff and watch the movie already! ... Even though I wasn't the one that started the conversation.
The screen then showed each member checking the map to find the room their key leads to, and disappearing into the darkness of the building one by one. First it was Kaitou, followed by Sugimura, Yamanishi, Senoue, Katsuda and Kounosu. No one was left inside the lobby. The screen continued showing the empty lobby for a little while before cutting off.
Within the darkness, the narrator spoke again,
"It was here that the incident happened."
"Figures," said Satoshi.
Shut up! Ibara glared at us again.
The next scene opened at the entrance lobby.
Again there was nobody.
Kounosu was the first to return from the stairs on the right.
She was followed by Yamanishi, who came out of the left corridor.
Katsuda too emerged from the left corridor, who then asked the two that arrived before him, "So? How did it go?"
Yamanishi replied with a sulky expression, "It was full of shattered mirror pieces. It's unusable without anything to sweep them away."
Kounosu too shook her head.
"I see. It's the same here."
Senoue then descended from the stairs on the left. As she approached them, she made an 'X' with her hands to motion that her search was also unsuccessful.
Katsuda looked upwards, and the camera duly followed his gaze. Thereupon, the equipment could be seen via the atrium. After showing the window of that room for an unusually long time, Katsuda could be heard shouting upwards, "Sugimura, how goes your end?"
Sugimura stuck his head out from the window and shouted, "Though it's surprisingly pleasant inside, there's not much we could use to make fire with."
"I see. Anyway, come down first."
Sugimura promptly came downstairs. There were now five people in the lobby. It seemed all but one of them had returned. I see, so the "victim" has been decided. Yamanishi spoke.
Katsuda shook his head.
"Since we're all here, let's go look for him. I think he headed that way, right?"
He pointed toward the right corridor. The rest all nodded in turn. With Katsuda leading, the group entered the right corridor, with the camera following them. As they went deeper, the light went dimmer, and before long, nothing could be seen.
Someone turned on a hand torch and illuminated a door in front of the corridor, which Katsuda opened. It was a control room, with a line of mirrors and a bunch of abandoned costumes scattered around. There was no one inside.
"Could he be in the backstage area?"
Heeding that suggestion, they all went deeper into the corridor, which was even darker.
The hand torch was turned on again, where a door leading to the Right Stage was shown with a sign saying "Staff Entry Only". Katsuda tried turning the doorknob, but it wouldn't open.
"It won't open. Maybe it's locked."
"What do we do?"
"... There's another set of master keys in the office, can someone go get them?"
Without knowing who was being addressed, someone went running off. The sound of footsteps overlapping could be heard; it sounded like two people had run off to get the key. The next cut showed the door lock being turned opened by the key, and the group entering upon opening the door.
Inside the Left Stage was a window. As the curtain was drawn open, the sunlight outside shone in. And in the centre of the sunlit room, someone was lying down on the floor. Naturally, it was Kaitou.
Sugimura rushed towards him, followed by Katsuda. Sugimura knelt down before Kaitou and tried to lift Kaitou up, when he felt something in his palms. The camera moved to show what was within his palms. While it was hard to see with so little light, it seemed that Sugimura's palms were quite stained. He muttered, "Blood..."
Someone screamed. The camera turned to face the three girls standing by the door. Yamanishi was lost for words as she covered her mouth, Senoue held her hands together, while Kounosu gripped her fists. Blood stains were flowing out from the abdomen of the collapsed Kaitou, whose eyes were closed. It was just as well, as his crappy performance would have been exposed if he chose to have his eyes opened. The camera then panned towards Kaitou's side, which showed his arm being severed. Probably some prop. The dark lighting helped raise the tension as the camera slowly revealed within the severed arm was the key that Kaitou had taken with him.
Someone gasped while watching the scene. It was Chitanda.
Back to the movie, Katsuda yelled, "Kaitou! Dammit! Somebody help!"
He quickly stood up and headed toward the window to try and open it, which was designed to be opened while pulling upwards. But as the window had not been used for so many years, it didn't seem to be able to open. Katsuda pressed his hands against the window frame and used his full strength to pull the window upward, which created a loud squeaking noise. Upon finally opening the window, he stuck his body out and looked outside. The camera showed what was outside the window - nothing but a thick layer of wild grass.
Katsuda returned inside and headed toward the stage. The screen suddenly went dark while going from the illuminated room into the dark stage; it was clear it was following Katsuda, who ran straight toward the Left Stage, where he came to a stop. The door connecting the Left Stage and the left corridor was blocked by some boards of squared timber.
The screen faded to black.
The movie seemed to have ended right there.
We waited for a little longer, but the screen didn't come back on.
"Huh, it's over?" Ibara whispered in an annoyed tone.
"...... Seems so."
As if on cue, upon Satoshi's response, a mechanical sound was heard, followed by the screen being drawn upwards. As though trying to stop the screen from withdrawing, Chitanda stretched her arms forward pitifully.
"Eh? Eh? But it's not over!"
"Maybe they're having some technical difficulties?" I said to her, though a voice from behind instantly replied, "No, that is incorrect."
As we turned around, Irisu had already exited the control room and stood behind us, holding the videotape in her hand.
"The tape indeed ends here."
She said in a calm tone. Of course she would know exactly when the tape ends. Satoshi asked, "So, is that the end of the story, if that's where you intended it to end?"
"Of course not."
Then it means that this tape was incomplete. I've never heard of a movie preview where people are invited to watch a movie that has yet to be completed.
Muttering under my breath, I asked, "Would you please care to explain what's going on? This 'preview' isn't gonna end here, is it?"
Irisu was constantly looking at me as she nodded.
"Of course not. But before that, I would like to hear something from all of you... What did you think of the movie you just saw? In terms of its cinematography?"
We exchanged glances with each other. I didn't know about Chitanda, but I was sure the rest of us were in agreement. Ibara replied on our behalf, "To be very honest, we thought it was crudely done."
That answer was to be expected.
"That was what I thought as well... You may probably have known this already, but the Kanya Festival is a festival mainly for the arts-related clubs. There was no place for activities by individual classes. However, our class was not content with that. We could not enlist the help of people with the required skills, as they're already busy with their own club activities, but despite that, we still decided to make something of our own. We merely wanted to show people the result of our passion and hard work."
She described such a bitter reality in a plain manner devoid of any emotion.
However, were they satisfied with just that? As I was thinking, Irisu spoke again.
"I thought this was good enough, as everyone is enjoying what they're doing and making something of their own. Even though the end product will end up being laughed at, they wouldn't be too concerned at all, as they're easily satisfied. I know it's quite silly, so I would please ask that you turn a blind eye to how crudely they made the movie."
"So it doesn't matter whether it's crudely done or not?"
Irisu nodded in answer to Ibara's question.
"It's not really too much to ask, is it? If it's well made, they would also be satisfied on a different level. Yet the essence of their objective remains the same... Now, what do you think would happen if something calamitous occurred during the making of the movie?"
After thinking for a while, Satoshi replied, "The movie wouldn't be completed."
"Exactly. And we are not satisfied with that. However, we cannot complete the movie. As you have seen, the location for the movie is quite unique, and we could only go there to shoot during summer vacation."
"Are you having some problems with the cinematography?" Chitanda asked anxiously.
"While that's a problem as well, I'm sure they can sort that out eventually. Taking into consideration our traveling budget and script progress, our schedule was to film on location twice. According to our plans, we should be going once again this Sunday to complete the movie."
"But something else happened?"
Faced with my cold remark, Irisu responded truthfully, "Yes, we never expected assigning work to an unskilled amateur would create such strain. When we all decided on making a movie, it was agreed that it would be a mystery movie. However, we had no one capable of writing such a script. Only one person amongst us had any experience writing stories; her name is Hongou Mayu. She had some experience writing manga, so we entrusted her to come up with a script for a one-hour movie."
For someone who's never written any stories before, I had no idea how tough such an assignment was, though I noticed Ibara raising her brow. She too had experience writing manga, so she's probably sympathizing with Hongou.
"Hongou was amazing. She had managed to come up with a script despite not having any contact with mystery novels before. However, she was at her limit, and by the time she wrote up to the part where you saw in the movie, she collapsed."
Collapsed, meaning she's not alright. Chitanda gasped and asked, "What happened to her?"
"Gastritis from stress, a form of depression. Though it's nothing serious, it's not possible for her to continue her task, so we're seeking out a replacement writer."
Sounds like replacement on the battlefield.
"You're not seriously asking us to do that, are you?"
Taking over the role of screenwriter for them?
Irisu laughed softly and said, "Oh, no. We wouldn't impose on you so far. I merely invited you to a preview, and would like to ask one question of you... Who did you think was the killer?"
Come to think of it, the movie didn't seem to have anyone resembling a detective character despite this being a mystery movie. That was probably one of the reasons why the movie couldn't make any progress. The second reason was probably due to every actor being assigned similar screen time, resulting in the audience being unable to determine who will play the detective. However... While I was still far from convinced, Ibara was the first to reply.
"But Sempai, surely the movie must include scenes for us to deduce who the killer is before we could guess?"
Irisu shook her head and said, "You need not worry about that. Hongou said she had already written the outline of the resolution before she collapsed, and we should be able to get that part filmed in time."
Satoshi inquired further, "But if it's a script written by a beginner in detective fiction, surely she would have left clues before coming to the resolution, or it would seem quite awkward."
"That has also been taken care of. She managed to put in everything her wits had to offer. She did say she did some research into detective fiction after all. I believe she stayed true to both Knox and Chandler's Ten Commandments and Van Dine's Twenty Rules."3
Chitanda looked puzzled at the mention of the Ten Commandments; I probably did as well.
"Ten Commandments? As in 'Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain'?"
Why did she have to quote such a minor Commandment of all Commandments? Satoshi answered confidently at Chitanda's question, "No, that's Moses' Ten Commandments. We're talking about Ronald Knox's Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction here, rules like 'No Chinaman must figure in the story'. Hongou-san must have studied those rules to ensure fair play - giving the audience a fair chance at solving the mystery."
Why can't a Chinaman appear in a story anyway? Does their appearance, no matter how entertaining it is, have something to do with politics or some other issue? Then again, these rules are often seen in science fiction as well... Though I don't think it has anything to do with fair play. I wonder if I could find the answer if I researched Knox?
As I was pondering these questions, Irisu concluded, "In other words, all the clues have been shown... so who do you think the killer is?"
Asking us to figure out who the killer was in an abandoned village deep within the mountains, huh? This sounds ridiculous.
Satoshi, Ibara and Chitanda all exchanged glances with each other.
"Who, you're asking me? That's kind of hard. Conclusions cannot be made from the database."
"You're right, I'm not confident I'll be able to solve this myself... Though I do suspect a few things."
"Um, is Kaitou-san confirmed dead already in the movie?"
Upon asking all the questions they wanted to ask, they all turned to look at me at the same time. I could feel my back drooping slightly as their gazes were fixed upon me. I tried to turn my eyes beyond their glare and said, "... What?"
"Nothing, I was just thinking this was perhaps a job for Houtarou."
Satoshi smiled impudently as usual.
"What job are you talking about?"
"The detective, of course."
I could totally imagine what sort of expression I was making then, which Satoshi was quick to describe.
"You look as though you don't like that."
I nodded silently. As a normal high school student and fervent energy saver, there's no way I would ever get myself involved in anything out of the ordinary. I feel troubled by being so overestimated. In response to my expression,
"It probably means you weren't paying enough attention to the movie," Chitanda interrupted with her voice raised, "So why don't we watch it one more time?"
Is she serious?
As though sensing my thoughts, Irisu intervened and said, "I'm just asking you for an opinion. You don't have to be too serious about it."
"Is that so? Then I think Yamanishi's the killer."
Chitanda turned her head to me and asked, "How come?"
"Because she had a terrible attitude?"
Ibara scolded me with a sharp voice, though I was hardly intimidated. Ibara's only scary when you've truly made a serious mistake, but I was not exactly wrong with my guess here.
"Then Katsuda, he looked quite muscular."
Satoshi sighed and crossed his arms.
"Hmm, you don't seem to be too eager about this? Even I feel like saying 'Stop saying strange stuff already'."
It's not exactly strange, but that itself won't do, as they don't seem to be convinced. I decided to confirm something with Irisu.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Why are you asking an outsider like us? If this question was conceived by Class 2-F, surely it ought to be figured out by someone from Class 2-F as well?"
As with before, Irisu nodded and replied, "We did discuss this question amongst ourselves, though we wish to receive more suggestions from outside. No matter what theories we proposed, we were still clueless in answering it. Like I said before, only those with the necessary skills can do the job required."
"Not even you could do it?"
"Unfortunately, no. More than anyone, I too would like to figure out who the killer is. Moreover, I have to take care of the filming operation, so I'm quite short on time here."
"In that case, why didn't you start anew with something other than mystery then?"
It was starting to become like a cross-examination. For the first time, Irisu lowered her eyes, though she still maintained her stern voice.
"I was not present in the original planning stages, as I happened to be in Hokkaido for the past three weeks. I only heard about the problem from the director upon returning to Kamiyama, and it was only the day before yesterday that I agreed to try and solve this problem. If I had been involved from the beginning, I would not have agreed to make a mystery movie."
Then it has nothing to do with you, does it? You're just doing it out of pity for your classmates. ... Though that's what I thought, naturally, I couldn't say that out loud.
So I modified my question a bit.
"Secondly, why us? I know you're acquainted with Chitanda, but it seemed like you had intended for us to come all along. There are about a thousand students in Kami High, why did you specifically choose the Classics Club?"
"Well, it's given that I knew Chitanda personally,"
We probably came because of that, as she knew Chitanda would probably be interested in it. Irisu then met my gaze and continued, "Furthermore, you are present."
That was a surprising answer. I could sense Chitanda, Satoshi and Ibara looking at me. Though it was mainly down to luck, those involved in investigating the "Hyouka" incident all seemed surprised at how it was solved. But how did an outsider like Irisu find out about that?
Irisu slowly explained the reason, "I have heard much about you from three people: The first is Chitanda here, the second is someone from outside the school, while the third is Toogaito Shouji. I'm sure you've met him before."
"Oreki! How can you forget!? He's the Wall Newspaper Club President!"
Oh! Him. Now I remember. Upon mentioning his name, I suddenly felt daunted.
Toogaito was a third year whom I crossed paths with before. To put a long story short, I managed to obtain knowledge of a dirty secret of his and used it to my advantage to blackmail him. It's not something I'd like to recall too much. Irisu seemed to be able to read my thoughts as she said, "Don't worry. Toogaito does not think badly of you at all."
Well then, do tell him I bless his good soul.
"When I realized there was no one else who had the skills to finish the story, I immediately thought of you. If it was you, you might be able to play the role of the 'detective'."
"That's amazing, Houtarou! Your talents are being recognized!"
I glared at Satoshi for his teasing before returning my gaze to Irisu and sighed. Me? A detective? I gave my honest reply.
"I feel quite uneasy to have such expectations placed on me."
Surprisingly, Irisu was quick to withdraw her stance.
She sighed and continued, "I was merely making a gamble while deciding to invite you to watch the preview, in the hope that the problem could be solved as soon as possible. But I was indeed naive... I apologize for causing you such distress."
She bowed upon saying that.
"Is there anything else you'd like to ask?"
In awe of her vigour, even if I had any further questions, I was left speechless.
Upon confirming there were no more questions, Irisu quickly wrapped things up.
"Then this ends the preview. Thank you for coming."
However, the story did not end here. I had totally forgotten the presence of a certain person. Indeed, it was none other than Chitanda Eru, the very incarnation of Curiosity itself, who would go to all lengths to solve every mystery the universe had to offer.
As Irisu was about to turn away, Chitanda called out to her, "Please wait!"
"... Is something the matter?"
"Um, then how would the story end? What's going to happen next?"
Irisu said as she turned back around, "We don't know, we're still working on it. But you must be prepared to accept that it may never be finished."
"That would be terrible."
Terrible? ... Well, Irisu's feeling terrible as well. Chitanda then stepped up her reasoning.
"Irisu-san, if what you said was true, then it would be a pity if the movie could not be completed. I don't want that to happen."
Well, neither does Irisu, but even if you say that...
I started to raise my brows worryingly. This was bad, something was about to happen. Irisu probably made the right choice in picking Chitanda to solve her problem.
"Why did the screenwriter Hongou Mayu-san, upon being entrusted with the role, decide that the role was so important that she worked till she collapsed? ... I'm really curious about it."
Standing beside me, Satoshi spoke.
"Houtarou, whether it's as a 'detective' or whatever, don't you think we have insufficient data needed to solve this?"
"That means we'll just have to gather the clues ourselves, right?"
It's not as easy as it sounds.
Yet upon hearing that, and this was probably Satoshi's plan all along, Chitanda quickly turned towards us with great vigour and said, "Oreki-san, let's do this! We must find out what Hongou-san's legacy was!"
"Hongou's still alive."
Irisu calmly corrected her, though I had no idea whether our lady heard that.
Satoshi spoke once again.
"Mayaka, how goes the progress for the anthology? You think we could take time off for a week to solve this?"
Ibara replied with a sour look, "The only one not making any progress is you, Fuku-chan. I've pretty much finished my alloted segment already."
"N-now, don't sweat the small stuff."
Ibara then added as though muttering, "I too would like to see this movie completed. Despite its poor cinematography, I never thought images of abandoned villages would look so stunning."
As for me...
I really was no good at dealing with Chitanda. Since it had come to this, even if I had refused, I would not have be able to escape from her. If I had tried to escape, I would merely end up expending lots of energy, which would be a waste. And I hate wasting energy.
But, this time...
I just didn't feel like accepting Irisu's offer to play the role of "detective". Despite my energy saving motto, this time my reason was altogether different. I didn't know whether the other three realized it or not, but even if they did, I decided to ignore them as I said coldly, "Let's say we accept this challenge. What if we fail? Do we have to bow apologetically on all fours to the dissatisfied members of Class 2-F?"
For starters, we were not members of the Detective Fiction Study Club. We're members of the Classics Club, a club whose activities were yet to be known. For me, I firmly believed that solving the "Hyouka" incident was mainly due to luck. As Irisu's offer promised little in return, why should we bear the burden of taking care of Class 2-F's project?
Chitanda felt as though she had had a bucket of water poured on her upon hearing these harsh words. Ibara felt like rebutting, and was about to open her mouth.
It was at this perfect timing that Irisu decided to offer a compromise.
"Then, we will not ask you to play the role of 'detective'. As there are also people in my class that would like to take on that role. Instead, what do you think if we ask you to act as 'observer' and decide whether their deductions make sense?"
An observer, huh? If it's to determine whether someone is the killer or not, then that role would be akin to judge and jury. If that's the case, our burden would be considerably lighter.
As an energy saver, my urge to turn down this offer had increased, though it was probably not enough to convince Chitanda, whose eyes were beginning to tear up.
So I said reluctantly, "We can do that, I guess."
Upon hearing that, Chitanda smiled again, while Ibara crossed her arms, Satoshi gave me a thumbs-up, and Irisu bowed her head in admiration. Darn, I got dragged into something bothersome again. Oh well, I sighed in my heart and thought, if all we had to do was sit and listen, then I could do that.
... By the way, for an instant, upon raising her head, Irisu looked as though she had just successfully accomplished something. Was that my imagination?