While Kamiyama High School does provide curriculum for university entrance exams, it does not particularly do much to improve its university entrance rankings. It only holds mock exams for prospective university students once or twice annually, and they do not hold extra lessons during holidays. All in all, it was a pretty laid back school.
Even so, Kamiyama High still has regular exams. If a high-school student's life is rose-coloured, then the exam halls would be his natural enemy. And so the Classics Club activities had come to a halt as club activities are prohibited during the End of Semester Exams for the First Semester. Though it's not like we have much to do anyway, we still had to hand the club room key over to the school.
Today is the final day of the exams. I laid down on my bed in my own room and stared at the ceiling. And as usual, there was nothing particularly different about this white ceiling.
In terms of exam results, the members of the Classics Club yielded some interesting revelations.
First, Fukube Satoshi. Though he's well-versed in all sorts of useless trivial knowledge, he doesn't have much interest in regular studies. As the exams have just ended today, I can't exactly tell how he performed, but I do know that he was terrible in the Mid-Term Tests. At any rate, back then Satoshi explained to me, "That's because I was busy studying why Japanese people nowadays no longer write their kanji in the cursive style1." If Satoshi thinks something is important, then it must be important enough for him. No disrespect to him, but in the long-term, I think it probably sounds foolish. Though I don't think Satoshi would care one bit. If I call him a free soul because of it, he'd probably take it as a compliment. To put it simply, he's just a generic fool.
Though she's normally with the Manga Studies Club, in order to continue pursuing Satoshi, Ibara Mayaka too has joined the Classics Club. She's probably the hard-working type. As she would usually make sure to check up on any mistakes made, her grades are in the upper half of the class. However, devoting so much time to studying does not seem to improve her grades at all. To put it simply, Ibara's a bit neurotic — you could say she's a perfectionist. Though her tongue may be sharp, her downside is probably that she is too obsessed with perfection, and would end up struggling to find the perfect answers to her exam questions. I think she applies the same standards to herself as well.
Then there's Chitanda Eru, who stands out among the rest with her high scores. A look at the score ranking board reveals she's ranked 6th in the entire grade. Though she doesn't seem satisfied with that, or even the high school curriculum for that matter. She once told me she wasn't content with just learning the parts, she wanted to learn the entire system. I had absolutely no idea what she meant by that. Though her words were vague, I could tell why this lady was so intent on getting her curiosity resolved. For example, the case involving her uncle — she probably wanted to find out the entire "system" regarding the information concerning what her uncle said to her back then. She's the sort that wants to find out the cause by all means.
As for me, my grades were normal.
Out of 350 people, I ranked 175th. As though it was some sort of prank, I was ranked right in the middle. I was not concerned about Chitanda's curiosity getting her good grades or Satoshi's eccentricity getting him bad grades, nor did I think much about Ibara being unhappy with the mistakes she's made. While I wasn't that laid back as to not study for the exams, my studying was lukewarm at best. Occasionally, I would get people telling me how much I've changed, but to me, it simply means they aren't really that observant. I am positioned below the cream of the crop and above the bottom of the heap. I have no desire to go either up or down. I see, so that's why Satoshi said that he can't think of anything apart from grey for the colour of my high-school life.
Of course, colour isn't confined to academic grades. There's also club activities, sports, hobbies, romance... The things that constitute our humanity. There is the saying that one can't see the forest for the trees, after all, and one result cannot be used to generalize for the whole picture. Though the Japanese dictionary defined life in high-school as rose-coloured, these roses would still need to be planted in the right places in order to blossom.
Let's just say I'm not the suitable type of soil for roses to grow in.
As I lay on my bed thinking all these things, I heard a sound coming from downstairs. It sounded like a letter had arrived.
After making sure it was indeed a letter, I was dumbfounded. The envelope was covered in red, blue and white stripes, that could only be international mail. After checking the recipient name was correct, I concluded that the only person who could send international mail to the Oreki residence was Oreki Tomoe. Now where was this sent from... Istanbul?
I opened the letter right there and found many letters inside, one of which was for me.
I am currently in Istanbul. Due to some mishaps I'm hiding out at the Japanese consulate, so I haven't been seeing much of the city yet.
I'm sure it's an amazing city. If I could take a time machine and visit this place in the past, I think I'd want to try to lock the city gates myself, perhaps I'd change history as a result. I'm no historian, so I'm no good at speculating at these "what ifs".
It's an interesting trip, I'm sure I'll look back ten years from now and view every day I'm out here without regret.
So how's the Classics Club? Have the members increased?
Do not be discouraged even if it's just you alone! Solitude helps make a man grow stronger.
If there are other people, then excellent. It helps to improve one's interaction with others.
Anyway, I'm writing because there's something that I'm concerned about.
Have you (guys) started work on publishing an essay anthology yet? The Classics Club always publishes one every year, so I'm wondering if you're continuing with that.
If you are, I figured you're probably at a loss for what to write. After all, the anthologies aren't stored in the library.
You should be able to find the back issues inside an old chemical safe in the club room. The key's broken already, so you can just open the box right away.
I'll call you when I arrive at Pristina.
With love, Tomoe.
Hiding in the Japanese consulate? Just what have you done this time, Sis? Anyway, it's not that I'm worried. The details are probably written in the letter for my old man. Now where have I heard of Pristina? I can't quite remember. Since it's my sister going, it's no doubt some ancient battlefield or something.
Anyway, I couldn't help but sigh. Does my sister have some sort of intelligence network that collects information about my activities? And I didn't know the Classics Club kept their back issues so secretly for generations either. Indeed, we were looking for the back issues but couldn't find where they were.
It was only a few days since Chitanda tasked me with a personal errand of hers, though she also has another errand for us as President of the Classics Club - the publishing of the essay anthology. Chitanda looked troubled when she found out the library archives did not store the back issues, but if my sister is right, then it could be of great help.
If the purpose is the result itself, then achieving the said result will fulfill that purpose. Though I sense another layer being added to such a bothersome definition, it just felt cruel if I withheld such information. As usual, Oreki Tomoe is messing with my life.
At any rate, I stuffed the letter in the pocket of my uniform trousers that I hung in the closet.
The following day after classes, I went straight towards the club room. The weather was rather pleasant for a relaxing day after the end of the exams, that one would be in a mood to join any club. The training sounds of the sports teams could be heard from the sports ground, while music was being played by the Brass Band, Light Music Club, Japanese Traditional Music Club, etc. While the sports teams are the most visible of the lot, the Kanya Festival is better known for its flurry of activities organized by the arts-related clubs. During this time of day, the Special Block which holds these arts clubs would be full of people.
And within the uppermost corner of this Special Block lies the Geology Room, where Chitanda and Ibara were. Though they've only just met during the case of the peculiar library book, it seems like they're getting along well with each other already. Today they were sitting facing each other, as though they were engaged in some conversation. As summer had arrived, the summer uniforms that they wore felt breezy. Ibara's tanned arms from her short sleeve shirt were in contrast to Chitanda's pale white arms. It was already the season when the sun is shining more often, yet our lady here doesn't seem to have much melanin in her. I tilted my head over to hear what the girls were talking about.
"In other words, the articles need to be on topic."
"Do you mean we can count on others for our anthology?"
"Don't you worry, I think I can get some connections within the Manga Studies Club."
"Can you do that?"
Ah, talking about the anthology, huh? Well, good luck.
Suddenly, Chitanda's body went stiff as she covered her face with her hands.
She sneezed. And she's doing it in an old-fashioned quiet way.
"What's wrong? You have cold? Or is it hay fever?"
"... Ah, I'm feeling better now. This is quite embarrassing, but it seems to me that I have caught a summer cold..."
Hmm, a summer cold is tough. Come to think of it, her voice sounded different from usual.
Anyway, I decided to call them out.
"Hey, Chitanda, Ibara,"
"Ibara, is the Manga Studies Club okay with you being here?"
"Yup, it's all settled. What, you have a problem with me?"
Why should I?
I decided to cut the niceties and went straight to the point as I took out my sister's letter from my trouser pocket,
"My sis used to be with the Classics Club, so she wrote me a letter showing us where we could find the anthology back issues."
Chitanda merely looked puzzled. It seems she still didn't understand.
"I know where we can find the Classics Club anthology back issues."
She bit her lips many times while struggling to find the right words.
She was so lost for words that her eyes went wide.
"Is that true!?"
"Of course it's true. What do I gain by lying to you anyway?"
As though affirming what I said, Chitanda's thin lips broke into a smile. While the elegantly fine lady of the Chitanda clan wasn't exactly grinning from ear to ear, she was clearly quite happy. Even if I were to obtain something that I desired a lot, I would not be able to make such a face. Compared to this, the Chitanda I saw in the Cafe Pineapple Sandwich with her deep expressions felt like a different person altogether.
"I see, the anthologies, huh..."
I could hear her whispering softly,
"... Tee hee, back issues..."
This Chitanda Eru can be quite a dangerous person.
However, Ibara raised her eyebrow and questioned, "Are you sure about that? Why would someone write a letter just to say that?"
A good question. No one in their right mind would think of seeking information about where to find stuff concerning the Cultural Festival in a letter from Istanbul. But this was indeed a letter from my sis, and no one could ever guess just what it is that Oreki Tomoe would consider important.
"Well, fact is I've got the letter here, so you'll be able to tell whether it's true or not. Wanna read?"
I unfolded the letter and laid it on the table for Ibara and Chitanda to see. As they followed every word in the letter, they gradually went quiet. The first to break the silence was Chitanda.
"... Does your sister like to visit Turkey?"
"She likes to visit the world."
"Such an amazing sister you have."
While her interest was drawn by the curious part of the letter, that's not where I wanted her to look.
"'I'll look back ten years from now and view every day I'm out here with much nostalgia.' Ahh, such a melancholic sentence."
Well, I agree, but that's not it either.
As they read on, they both opened their mouths at the same time.
"... The chemical safe?"
"The chemical safe, huh?"
Ibara looked around the Geology Room, and then put her arms on her waist and puffed her chest.
"Hmm, I don't see anything like that here."
That's not hard to figure out. Though Chitanda seemed to have gone pale all of a sudden.
"Eh!? T, then w, where are... the anthologies..."
"Chi-chan! Calm down, calm down!"
As to who Ibara was calling Chi-chan, I could think of no one else but Chitanda. "Chi-chan", that Ibara sure has given her quite a cute nickname. So her sharp tongue is not used against Chitanda, huh? Though it is indeed difficult to be hostile to a person like Chitanda anyway.
I waved my sis's letter to a now calmed-down Chitanda and said,
"Chitanda, this letter said 'old chemical safe in the club room'. It's been two years since my sis graduated from here. The club room has probably changed during that time."
"Ah... Is that so?"
"So, Oreki, do you know where the club room was two years ago?"
To avoid any oversight, I made sure to visit the staff room beforehand.
"I've asked the supervising teacher, and he said it was in the Biology Lecture Room."
"You sure are quite prepared for this."
"Well, it's efficient."
"How enthusiastic of you."
That's not exactly true, I'm normally not that enthusiastic.
"The Biology Lecture Room... that's just one floor below us. Now that we know, shall we head over there?"
Having said that, Chitanda left the room at once.
If there's anyone that's enthusiastic, it's her.
The Biology Room was, as Chitanda said, right under the Geology Room. If the Geology Room, located in the corner of the Special Block, was the remotest region of Kamiyama High, then the Biology Room, located on the third floor, would also be considered a backwater area. While I did say the Special Block was full of people, there were exceptions. Like the Geology Room, which was hardly surrounded by any other club rooms, was extremely quiet. It seems the Biology Room was the same as well. While the corridor was lively with people, the path towards the Biology Room was full of empty classrooms, and there was no one else heading towards it besides us.
Along the way, Chitanda sneezed many times.
"Is your cold that bad?"
"Please don't worry too much about me. I might not be able to stop sneezing, but it's just a sensitive nose... Ah-choo!"
I don't know. If it were me, I would have felt terrible sneezing this many times. As expected of our lady here, who can be extremely modest.
Walking ahead of us, Ibara turned her head around and said to us,
"Oreki, do you have the key with you?"
"Nope, someone else seems to have borrowed it."
"Ah-choo! ... The key's been borrowed? Does that mean the Biology Room is currently being used by some club?"
"As long as it isn't some fool that's borrowed it, it could be possible."
"Oreki-san... it's rude to call people fools."
I got scolded. If she gets upset by even that, then not even Satoshi or Ibara would have been able to retort, so I smiled bitterly and looked around, and something by the corridor wall entered my field of vision. I wonder what that was. Neither Chitanda nor Ibara seemed to notice it... It was a small box, and as it was painted in the same white colour as the corridor walls, it was rather inconspicuous. Looking at the opposite side of the corridor, I saw another similar box. I Wonder if someone left these behind? As it didn't seem valuable, I paid no more attention to it. Bending down to pick up something that's worth less than one yen is not worth the effort, as the energy spent is more or less equivalent to one yen. So it's basic common sense for energy savers like me.
We now stood before the Biology Room. While considering whether to knock or not, Chitanda had already reached out for the door knob.
The door wouldn't open.
"So it seems."
The two girls turned to look at me, Chitanda looking concerned while Ibara stared coldly. It's bothersome to have them to look at me with such eyes.
"No, I really don't have the key with me. So I wouldn't know why the door's locked."
Once again, Ibara tried to open the door, but could only hear the lock creaking. Quite aptly, Chitanda said what I was about to say, "... Again?"
Yes, that again.
"Chi-chan, what do you mean?"
"Umm, it happened in April..."
I don't think Chitanda knows this, but it seems Kami High's classroom doors are jinxed. As Chitanda recounted that story in April, I began to think of how to get around this situation without a key.
"... And that's how it was."
"Hmm, so Oreki managed to do all that, huh?"
I turned my heels around and shouted through the door jokingly,
"IS ANYONE IN THERE?"
Of course, I expected no answer.
However, there was an answer. The blunt sound of the door being unlocked was heard.
The door then opened from the inside.
Standing there was a male student wearing a thin shirt and uniform trousers. He was quite tall and slender. Though he looked more like the intelligentsia type than the athletic type of person. Upon identifying our grades from the colour of my collar, he smiled politely and said, "Oh, sorry about that. I had the door locked. You guys interested in joining the Wall Newspaper Club?"
If you're inside then you should've opened the door right away, dammit. Rather than what I was thinking, I said, "This is the Wall Newspaper Club?"
"That's right. Aren't you here to join?"
The male student shut the door upon coming out of the room. At that moment I smelled some sort of alcoholic disinfectant odour coming from him. It seems our intelligentsia fellow here has a penchant for deodorants. He raised his brows upon seeing me twitch my nose at his deodorant odour, as though saying "You got a problem with that?" Though he quickly reverted to his courteous manner and said, "Then, how may I help you?"
We exchanged glances with each other, and decided it was best for our President Chitanda to speak.
"Good afternoon. I'm Chitanda Eru, President of the Classics Club. You must be Toogaito-sempai from Class 3-E, right?"
The guy called Toogaito raised his brow in amazement,
"How do you know my name?"
A good question. Anyone would be amazed if they were suddenly addressed by name by a complete stranger. After all, that's what I felt back in April. And like back then, Chitanda merely smiled gently.
"We met at the Manninbashi mansion last year."
"Manninbashi... Wait a minute, you said your name's Chitanda, could you be related to Chitanda-san from Kanda?"
"Yes, he is my father. Thank you for taking care of him."
...Hmm, this feels like a high-society reunion. I knew that as an old clan, the Chitandas were farmland owners, but I never expected them to be so well-connected. It seems this world that I've never seen before really does exist. Come to think of it, Satoshi did mention something about the old clans of Kamiyama, and the Toogaito clan was amongst them.
"Ah, no, the pleasure's all mine. I see, you're with the Chitandas."
"Summer cold? Must be bad for you. Take care of yourself."
Upon learning that Chitanda Eru was from the Chitanda Clan with their large farmlands, Toogaito's attitude changed in a strange way. While he was still courteous, his gaze was now more stiff. Was he scared of Chitanda or something? I can't begin to imagine, but it does seem there is some sort of power influence between the old clans. Maybe it's just me, but Toogaito didn't seem to meet Chitanda's gaze and he spoke as though picking his words carefully.
"Well, what is it?"
On the other hand, Chitanda didn't seem to mind Toogaito's reaction and said, "Yes, actually, I heard that the back issues for the Classics Club's essay anthology were stored here in the Biology Room. This used to be the club room for the Classics Club, right?"
"... It was when I was still in first year. Though they moved the club rooms all over the place last year."
"Then, do you know where the anthologies are?"
Toogaito paused for a moment before replying, "Nope, never seen them."
Quietly listening to their conversation, Ibara turned and looked at me, to which I nodded gently. Anyone with an intuition would realize that Toogaito was behaving strangely.
Though she has an amazing memory, Chitanda's intuition level was below average. And so Chitanda looked dejected and was about to leave when Ibara interrupted, "Excuse me, Sempai, do you mind if we search around for them?"
"And you are?"
"Ibara Mayaka of the Classics Club. Since you have no use for the anthologies, maybe you haven't noticed them before, right?"
Though I see no point in doing so, I decided to go on a fool's errand and back them up.
"We'll try to do so without obstructing your club activities. Or is that too much trouble for you?"
"I ask of you as well."
Upon our constant barrage of requests, Toogaito gave a sullen look.
"Well, I would rather not have outsiders in the club room..."
Upon hearing that line, Ibara quickly jumped on it.
"But Sempai, while this is a club room, this is also a classroom, right?"
I held back my laughter, since Ibara was basically saying "You have no right to refuse students entry into the school classrooms". Toogaito looked rather troubled as a result, but as Ibara was rather persistent, he finally relented.
"... Alright then. You may come in, but, just try not mess anything up."
And so the President of the Wall Newspaper Club opened the door to the Biology Room.
The room we entered was designed in the exact same layout as the Geology Room, from the blackboard, the chairs, the table, to the cleaning tools, they were generally the same... Though it does have one extra door. Above that door was a sign that read "Biology Preparation Room". In the fourth floor, this would be where the storage room was, and it was not possible to enter it directly from the Geology Room.
There were hardly any other members in the Wall Newspaper Club today. Though Toogaito explained, "We normally have four members, though as there's no activities today, only I'm here to think about what to publish for the Kanya Festival."
If I remember correctly, the Kanya Festival starts in October. So about two and a half months from now.
"What's the difference between the Wall Newspaper Club and the Newspaper Club?"
Chitanda asked a totally irrelevant question, which Toogaito answered courteously.
"There are three periodicals published in Kami High. There's the 'Seiryuu' distributed to the classrooms every other month; the 'Kami High Student Council News', posted outside the Student Council office in irregular intervals; and the 'Kami High Monthly', which publishes every month except August and December, and is posted on the notice board by the school entrance. We're in charge of the 'Kami High Monthly'."
"Who publishes the other two?"
"The 'Seiryuu' is by the Newspaper Club, while the 'Kami High Student Council News' is of course by the Student Council. Though we have the longest history of the three periodicals. The 'Kami High Monthly' will be reaching its four hundredth issue soon, the other two haven't even reached their one hundredth."
Four hundred issues, huh? Besides us, the Wall Newspaper Club too has a long-standing tradition of its own. Come to think of it, if Chitanda's uncle was with the Classics Club 33 years ago, then the Classics Club has been around for at least 33 years. No matter how tumultuous my life might become, it surely cannot compare to the history of the Classics Club. Then again, it's not like my life has been tumultuous so far.
"Doesn't seem to be in this room."
Ibara concluded after looking around the room. As the Biology Room was rather empty, it was hard for her to miss anything. That leaves the Preparation Room. I asked about entering that room, "May we please check the Preparation Room as well?"
"... Yeah, go ahead."
Upon hearing Toogaito reply behind me, I entered the room, and could hear the sound of paper fluttering as well as the sound of some motor. I wonder what that was.
As expected, the Preparation Room was a small room, about one third the size of the Biology Room.
This room was originally made to store teaching equipment for Biology lessons, though right now only microscopes could be found on the shelves. As Kami High is more focused on theory learning more than practical experiments, it would seem most of the other experiment tools and equipment were stored away in another separate room. As a result, this became a tool room for the Wall Newspaper Club.
There was an amateur looking camera, a collection of pens of various thicknesses and colours, cardboard boxes cluttered beside a photocopier, and a small speaker. As for the item that most caught our eyes, it was the makeshift table in the centre of the narrow room. Rather than a table, it was merely a thick plywood board placed on top of a cardboard box. On top of it were spread a bunch of B1 papers with scribbles that can only be read by their author, with a heavy-looking metallic pen case placed on top of them. The fluttering noise came from these papers being blown by the wind.
There was wind inside the room. Though the window was open, the wind came from indoors. That must be where the motor sound came from. It was hard to spot as it was placed beside the stack of cardboard boxes, but there was a small electric fan in front of the makeshift table and opposite the window, and its wind speed was turned to the maximum.
There was something else that the wind was blowing on. Hanging by the window was a Kami High male summer uniform shirt. It was simply hung there casually.
"Oreki, what do you think?"
I turned around and found Chitanda and Ibara standing by the Preparation Room entrance.
Ah yes, we had to look for the chemical safe.
Still, with things being placed everywhere in such a narrow room, there was no way to search like that. Simply by observation alone, there didn't seem to be anything resembling a chemical safe. It should be an old-styled box with the lock damaged. Perhaps I did see it but didn't notice it properly.
I crossed my arms and stepped away from the room and asked Toogaito, who had been watching us, "Do you know why the club rooms were moved around last year?"
"Nope. Maybe they were trying to fill out the rooms emptied by clubs that no longer existed?"
"How many boxes did you bring in when you moved in here?"
Toogaito thought for a while before replying, "... Now that you mention it, how many boxes did we move?"
"The cardboard boxes?"
I see. Then it should be there. I'd nearly forgotten that the Toogaito clan was also quite a prestigious clan; it would make sense once I considered the circumstances concerning his clan.
I'd more or less figured out where the anthologies were, though obtaining them would be a problem... Let's try setting up a trap. I turned to face Toogaito.
"Sempai, since there are so many things lying around, it would be quite tedious to search like that. This might trouble you a bit, but do you mind if we ask Ooide-sensei to come help us search as well?"
Though he'd put on a sober expression until now, Toogaito's brows were raised.
"... No. I told you not to mess with anything inside."
"We'll place the objects back where we found them when we're done, please let us search."
"I said no!"
He suddenly raised his voice.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, Toogaito-sempai. It's fine, I guess that's too bad."
Chitanda replied frantically while Toogaito continued speaking loudly.
"I'm already quite busy today as I have to submit my ideas to the editorial team by tomorrow. Just what is this entering into our place to search all over for stuff? Your anthologies ain't here, so leave already!"
While Toogaito was getting increasingly agitated, I merely looked at him coldly. It seems he's sprung the trap as I had expected him to.
I gazed at Toogaito while holding a friendly smile.
"Sempai, we're interested in the contents of a chemical safe."
"The anthologies are supposed to be inside the chemical safe. If you said they're not here, then they surely must not be here. Since we don't want to trouble you any further."
I then stopped smiling and added, "By the way, we'll be heading to the library now. If after we leave you manage to find the anthologies, would you please be so kind as to bring them over to the Geology Room? We'll leave the door unlocked."
It seemed Toogaito was really furious at my proposal, as he twisted his previously rational face and stared at me. In contrast, I treated it as though it was nothing special. After all, I've never heard of anyone in the history of this world getting injured just by being stared at.
"W, why you, how did you..."
After restraining himself, Toogaito swallowed what he was about to say.
He then sighed deeply and reverted back to his courteous self.
"Fine, I'll do it when I find them."
"I am most grateful... Well, shall we go, Chitanda, Ibara?"
Probably not understanding the meaning behind my exchange with Toogaito, the startled girls merely agreed with me and followed me out, as there was no point in staying any longer.
"Oreki-san, what just happened?"
"I'll explain later."
After telling them so, I led them out of the Biology Room.
A voice called out to me from behind, "You, first year. I still haven't heard what your name is."
I turned and replied indifferently, "Oreki Houtarou... Sorry about that just now."
Along the corridor linking the Special Block and the General Block, I leaned against one of the walls. As we were killing time here, the two girls took this chance to ask me, "Oreki, I don't know what's going on, but aren't we heading to the library?"
I waved my hand.
"Nope, since there's no need to."
"I don't get it. If there's no need to, why aren't we going back to the club room?"
"We can't. We'll need to wait a bit longer."
Ibara muttered, "Just what is he up to" while still looking unconvinced.
Chitanda, while sniffling her nose, took over for Ibara and asked, "Oreki-san, Toogaito-sempai looked furious."
"It seems so."
"Of course it's good if the back issues are indeed found, but to make such a forceful request out of him..."
"Forceful? I merely requested him reasonably."
Chitanda opened and closed her mouth as she was at a loss for words. That is to be expected. Since all I asked was "to help look for our stuff" and "bring them over once they're found".
"But, Toogaito-sempai was furious."
"Was he that furious?"
Standing beside Chitanda, Ibara raised her brow and asked, "After Oreki made that request of him, his anger looked more like he was acting."
Oh, so she noticed.
"Is that so?"
Though apparently Chitanda still hasn't.
I took a look at my watch. Three minutes had passed... Should be about time. I stood away from the wall I was leaning on and asked, "Chitanda, how well-known are the Toogaitos?"
Chitanda tilted her head, wondering why I would ask for something like this and answered, "The Toogaitos? They're quite influential in the high school educational circles. They've got one member in the Prefectural School Board and one in the City School Board, as well as one school principal and two teachers."
Now I see.
"Oreki, what about the anthologies already?"
I replied, "I think it's time we return."
Chitanda and Ibara looked at each other upon hearing my answer. I merely smiled.
And so we arrived at the Geology Room.
"Ah, here they are."
It was as I said. On top of the teacher's desk were stacked dozens of thin notebooks. I couldn't help but pump my fist. It feels good to have something go completely according to plan.
"They came? How can that be possible?" Ibara said while walking towards the teacher's desk. As she picked up one of the notebooks, she muttered, "... It's really the anthologies..."
"Eh, eh?? Eru, let me have a look as well!"
"How did you do that, Oreki? Did you know something we didn't?"
Ibara's stern questioning made it sound as though I did something wrong. I was never good at evading questions, so I leaned on one of the tables nearby and answered, "I just did a bit of blackmailing, that's all."
"Blackmailing? Against the President of the Wall Newspaper Club?"
"Yup. But, Ibara, can you be more discreet?"
Ibara made a sullen face upon me saying that.
"It's not like I would go tell anyone."
"Yeah, but you don't sound too reliable. It's supposed to be a secret that Toogaito is doing errands for a first year student, it'll be too pitiful for him if that secret is not kept."
"I won't tell anyone... If you don't trust me, then I'm fine if you don't give me the explanation." she said brusquely. She's probably not lying. Chitanda was a completely different matter; sating her curiosity wasn't exactly a priority for her. So if she realizes that trouble may arise from me explaining, then she'd rather not hear it. She's the sort that would come up with such solutions.
Anyway, now that I've tested them, it seemed safe to assume that the girls won't go telling anyone else.
"Sorry about that. Anyway, Ibara, didn't you find it strange as to why Toogaito would have the door locked?"
Ibara replied bluntly, "He probably didn't want anybody to disturb him, as he did say he was preparing articles to publish, didn't he?"
"Then, what about the Preparation Room? Why was the fan on when the window was already open?"
"Maybe he's feeling hot?"
"Then he could have just placed the fan next to the window. Yet the fan was placed opposite it. With the fan in that position, if the pen case was moved slightly, all the B1 paper underneath would have been blown away."
Ibara rubbed her hair in irritation.
"So what about it?"
"Don't you get it? What Toogaito was intending to do?"
"If you put it that way, then I kind of get it. Was he trying to ventilate the room?"
I gently lifted my thumb and praised her. Of course, Ibara wasn't going to find that interesting and so turned her gaze away.
"Now then, the next question would be, why would he want to ventilate the room? To further elaborate, what was Toogaito, from a family of respected educators, doing alone in the club room with the door locked with infrared sensors set outside?"
"W, wait a minute! What infrared sensors? Are we in a spy novel or something?"
Ah, I forgot to explain, "Don't you ever see those gadget store commercials? They were selling those infrared sensors that would trigger the security alarm a while ago. I think you might get them for 5000 yen now."
"Where did you find them?"
"By the side of the third floor corridor just outside the Wall Newspaper Club room. They were camouflaged in white. It's hard to conclude that they're sensors just by observation alone, but the fact that there was a speaker inside the Preparation Room more or less confirmed my suspicions."
Ibara raised her brow and said, "You really are weird."
"Stop treating me as some outcast... Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, upon being informed by the sensors in advance that someone was approaching, why would he risk getting the B1 papers blown away just to ventilate the room? Any thoughts?"
Ibara began thinking at my question, and so I waited.
She then replied with an incredulous look befitting her sharp tongue, "... Could it be some odour...?"
I gently clapped my hands two to three times,
"You got it. He was trying to get rid of an odour. If we think along this line, then him using anti-odour sprays had nothing to do with any obsession with cleanliness. Now, what was the odour he was trying to get rid of? By the way, it's not any sort of narcotics."
"Then, could it be...?"
"That's right, he's probably smoking... It was a device used so that he may do so in peace. Considering that he comes from a prestigious clan, you can imagine what a scandal it would be if a son of a noble upbringing were caught doing something illegal. Since the Toogaitos are supposed to be respected high school educators. In this day and age, if you're a doctor, teacher or police officer, even just yawning in public could get you in a lot of trouble."
"... I see. If that's true, then he sure has gone to a lot of trouble doing all that."
Indeed. That's what I thought as well. Had the circumstances been different, the problem he faced would have been different as well. Thinking back, he seemed visibly shaken when he learned that Chitanda was from the Chitanda clan. He must have been thinking that if his deeds were exposed by someone from another prestigious clan, the relationship between his and other clans would have been greatly affected. After all, we all know how sensitive Chitanda's senses are. Had Chitanda not caught a cold, no amount of ventilation or removing of his shirt would have fooled her.
"Well, I don't exactly understand his desire to smoke on the school grounds, though. Happy with the explanation now?"
Upon saying that, Ibara's gaze changed. Whoa, she's showing her true worth with such a cold stare.
"You know, I was merely trying to ask how Toogaito-sempai had brought the anthologies over. While I get how you blackmailed him with his dirty secret in order to get him to bring them over, you still haven't explained where they were in the first place."
I see, I must have missed that part. So I explained, "They must be in the chemical safe."
"I, I'm not trying to ridicule you! The problem here is where the chemical safe was... Remember Toogaito mentioned something about moving cardboard boxes in when the rooms changed? He had no reason to lie about this, so I figured that the chemical safe was somewhere in the club room."
"... But I didn't see it."
"It doesn't mean it's not there. You couldn't see it because it was hidden... I'm talking about the safe itself, not just the anthologies."
I let Ibara digest what I meant by that as I continued, "As a result, the anthologies were also hidden along with it. As for why he hid the safe away, that's because he was using it to store his cigarettes. Notice we didn't see any cigarettes, lighters or ash trays? That's because he hid them all inside the safe. Did you notice his expression when I suggested to ask Ooide-sensei to search the room with us? Anyway, as for where the safe was hidden, I'd guess that it was probably under that makeshift cardboard box table."
I took a deep sigh upon finishing my explanation.
I did something bad to Toogaito by putting him in a position where he had to comply with my request. Though I had no intention of exposing his secret, as we all have secrets to keep, and I wouldn't like it if mine were exposed either. Let's just say he was unlucky.
Ibara, whom I've been speaking to all this time, took a sidelong glance. Following it, I noticed the presence of a person who ought to have been more talkative about this. I turned to face her.
Chitanda was looking at the anthologies on the teacher's desk. Though she was only looking and had not opened any of them. Her serious gaze was the same as those I saw in the Cafe Pineapple Sandwich. It was as though she didn't even hear me call out to her.
"What's wrong, Chitanda?"
As she didn't hear me, I got up from the table I was leaning on and walked up to tap her shoulder.
"Is something the matter?"
"Oh, Oreki-san... Have a look at this."
She handed one of the anthologies over to me.
It was a thin notebook, with the same dimensions as those Campus Notebooks seen in stationary stores2. The books were stitched together elegantly. They must have relied on someone professional to help them publish these. The cover was made of brown leather; on top was an ink painting of a dog and a hare drawn in a deformed cartoonish style.
A number of hares formed an outer ring, and within the centre were a dog and a hare biting each other. The dog's canine teeth were sunken into the hare's torso as though ripping it apart, while the hare's incisor teeth were nibbling deeply at the dog's neck. As it was drawn in a deformed way, it looked hilarious instead of grotesque. Though it also felt ominous. There was an old saying in the past about the hunting dogs getting cooked alongside the hares that they just hunted3. But now the dog and hare were instead hunting each other. Two of the hares in the ring looked on at such a seemingly cute scene.
On top of the illustration were some words, printed in proper fonts that read "Hyouka4 Volume 2". The publication date was 1968... That's quite old, and the name...
Is that the title?
"Such a strange title."
Ibara peeked across my shoulder, and agreed with me, "Yeah, and a hard to understand one as well."
We felt the same way as I felt hearing the name Kanya Festival for the first time, although guessing the origin for the name Kanya Festival was more straightforward. If the writers of this anthology had to decide upon a name, they would most likely choose one that's strongly connected to its contents. But I can see no connection between "Classics Club Essay Anthology" and the name "Hyouka".
Pointing at the illustration at the cover, I asked Ibara, "As someone from the Manga Studies Club, what do you think of this cover?"
"I think it's drawn superbly. The illustration design has brilliantly discarded all sense of perspective regarding distance... Hmm, this is good. I like this."
I was a bit surprised, as it's not normally possible for Ibara to clearly say whether she likes or dislikes something. Besides, this illustration has managed to leave an impression on her. As though regretting she just said she liked this, Ibara returned the book to me and began her justification,
"Er, 'like' is not exactly right. Since the art is not that beautiful... it looks threatening as well, after all. And I wasn't talking from an artistic point of view, but from a media perspective..."
Meanwhile, Chitanda didn't seem like she would tremble from joy at finally obtaining the long sought after back issues. Rather, it looked as though her expression had been sucked out by a vampire.
I asked her once again, "Chitanda, is something the matter?"
Upon hearing me, she dragged me to the corner of the classroom and said, "This."
Rather than her eyes glittering in curiosity, the neat expression of our elegant lady that was drenched in the orange sunset looked more like she was discovering a secret as she whispered, "I found this. This is what my uncle wanted to show me. If I have this, then I should be able to find out what it was that my uncle said to me."
"So do you remember anything?"
In place of an answer, she pointed to the "Hyouka Volume 2" I was holding.
"This mentioned something about my uncle. Something seemed to have happened with the Classics Club 33 years ago... Have a look inside."
I did as she told me and opened the cover, and before me was written a foreword.
And so we have a Cultural Festival again this year.
It has been one year since Sekitani-sempai left us.
During this year, Sempai has fallen into legend and become a hero. As a result, the five day Cultural Festival will commence as usual.
However, as the legend spread, I went into deep thought. Would people ten years from now still remember the silent warrior and the kind hero? All Sempai has left behind is this anthology "Hyouka", for which he has provided the title.
As a sacrifice of the conflict, even Sempai's smile would end up along the flow of time into eternity.
No, perhaps it is better that we do not remember it. As it was not intended to be a heroic tale.
Once the subjectivity is taken away, this story will become a classic as it transcends all historical perspectives.
Will the day come when our stories become a classic for someone in the future?
October 13th, 1968 Kooriyama Youko
"The 'last year' referred to here meant 33 years ago today. In that case, the 'Sekitani-sempai' of the Classics Club must be my uncle. What happened to my uncle back then? The answer that my uncle told me had something to do with the Classics Club then..."
I smiled, and I did not wonder why Chitanda wasn't smiling as well as I said, "Isn't this fine? You should be able to remember now."
Yet Chitanda's expressionless face gave way to one of gloominess as she struggled to get the words out softly,
"But, I just can't. Even though I was this close! I, am I really that bad at remembering things? What was it my uncle said to me? What happened to him 33 years ago?"
I could not tell whether her muffled voice came from her cold or her tears.
I decided to speak, "Let's investigate it."
I didn't think I spoke coldly.
The anthology "Hyouka Volume 2" that I took back from Chitanda was written 32 years ago. On it was the strange name "Hyouka" which was given by Sekitani Jun, as well as the mentioning of a forgotten incident.
This was a great chance. For these clues were like lights that shone for us who were groping in the dark. In order for Chitanda to regain her past, I firmly believe we must not discard such clues.
That's why I said again, "Then we'll just need to investigate what happened 33 years ago."
Chitanda drooped her shoulders.
"But it said they'd rather not remember it."
I was surprised at her timidity for such things.
"But you want to remember it, right?"
"Of course, but if we investigate further,"
She paused before continuing, "... If we investigate further, we might end up finding something unpleasant. There are things that are better forgotten, aren't there?"
That's because you're too kind, Chitanda.
"Even if it's happened 33 years ago?"
"Is that wrong?"
I shook my head.
"Yeah. After all, didn't it say here as well? 'Once the subjectiveness is taken away, this story will become a classic as it transcends all historical perspectives.'"
"In other words, there's an expiration date for that."
I made a smile. Though Chitanda didn't smile as well, she nodded gently.
Yes, and so, I chuckled within my heart as I remained smiling. Investigating shouldn't take up much effort. If the second volume mentions something about "last year", all we had to do was look in the first volume to find out what happened to Sekitani Jun. It should be finished in no time. Though I wouldn't say which was the easier option: the avoidance of the problem or the solving of the problem.
... I was naive to think like that. As Ibara was quietly fishing through the remaining volumes, she said indignantly,
"What the? There's no volume 1!"
In order to digest what I had just heard, it seemed I needed some time.