048 - ♣16
As the 42nd Kanya Festival draws to its conclusion, the various clubs have held their activities in an orderly manner. However, as our
dear readers would no doubt be aware already, that there exists those who would disrupt such order with blatant disregard. Indeed, it is
none other than the thief known as "Juumoji".
This thief would leave a message behind of the clubs which he has stolen from. Besides that, he (this writer is not yet certain as to the
gender of the thief) has also left behind something else, for fear of inspiring copycat crimes, as a socially responsible publication,
we have' decided not to disclose what it is.
In any case, seven clubs have been targeted to date. As mentioned in our 4pm edition yesterday, the clubs that have been hit include the
A Capella Club, the Go Club, and the Magic Club as well as how they were targeted. And as our previous report mentions, "Juumoji" is
still on course to stealing ten items.
The Wall Newspaper Club would now like to make an appeal to our beloved readers, the students of Kamiyama High School. Are you going to
sit by and let this "Juumoji" get away with his crimes? Can you possibly sit by and let him, most likely a student himself, think
we're inferior to him?
This cannot be allowed to happen!
The Wall Newspaper Club would thus like to seek out detectives willing to catch the phantom thief "Juumoji" in his act, and reveal his
true identity to all. We have great expectations of such a person, and their wisdom in defeating such trickery shall be published
in a special edition for all to see.
Now that sure was quite a blusterous article, though I don't particularly dislike such style.
I didn't really learn much from the part about how the clubs like the A Capella Club and Go Club were targeted. The A Capella Club's cooler box had been placed outside the courtyard from the beginning of their performance, while the Go Club left their Go stones inside their club room the day before the Cultural Festival started without locking the door. In other words, the suspect could have been anyone.
I was probably reading the article posted on the billboard by the entrance with a smiling face. While I hardly know the people from the Wall Newspaper Club, I do get a sort of closeness with them by just reading such an article.
Besides, what moved me was the timing of this special edition. As they were supposed to release a special edition once every two hours (come to think of it, that coincides with the time taken for "Juumoji" to commit his crimes) starting from 8am. But right now it's only a little past 7. They must have pasted this first thing upon arriving at school. They sure got some spirit.
As I too was full of spirits to begin with, there's no way I could lose to them, as I too had arrived at school by 7. To be precise, I was already here when the gates opened at 6. And I was thinking there wouldn't be anyone at this time of day, but there turned out to be quite a number of people. Guess common sense doesn't work during the Kamiyama High School Cultural Festival.
Now, for the main target.
There were two clubs that begin with [KU]: the Quiz Study Club ([KU]IZU KEN クイズ研) and the Global Act Club ([GU]RO-BARU AKUTO KURABU グローバルアクトクラブ). While the [KU] in Quiz Study Club lacked a diacritic1, and would seem like the obvious choice, their activities were already completed by the first day, not to mention they did not book any classroom for use (as a member of the General Committee, I guarantee this to be true). On the other hand, the Global Act Club would be holding a panel exhibition, which was quite rare for the clubs here, which means the door to their room would be open at all times. So by process of elimination, the best way to catch "Juumoji" on his act would be here.
I climbed the stairs and headed to the classroom of Class 3-E, where the Global Act Club would have their exhibition. Before leaving school yesterday, I went to check if they had anything stolen or if any note was left behind, but could find nothing. So by making a stakeout here first thing in the morning before "Juumoji" could act, I was sure of my success in catching him.
There was already someone else in the Class 3-E classroom.
"Hey, Fukube, you're late."
It's Tani-kun, and it wasn't just him.
"Hmm? You're with the Classics Club...... Thanks for the help last time. So, you're into this case as well?"
It was Haba Tomohiro-sempai from the second year. I met him during the "Empress Incident" during the summer vacation, he's from the Detective Fiction Study Club if I remember correctly. Once this becomes public, it'll attract a great deal of attention. Looks like Tani-kun's prediction was correct. Does that mean I too have been attracted to it as well? Well, I don't deny it though.
Besides these two, there was another student I didn't know standing some distance from us. As this is the last day, it's not like the clubs would need to prepare for anything extra, so I presume he too is a detective-wannabe. That makes four of us. This is bad, though we may now have more eyes present, it would also mean security has become too tight for "Juumoji" to make his move.
Hiding such anxiety, I spoke cheerfully to Tani-kun,
"Hey, morning. For you to stakeout here, you sure must have some spirits, huh?"
"Same goes for you."
"So? Has it begun?"
With his thumb, Tani-kun pointed to the centre of the classroom,
"As if I'd show any kindness to an expected worthy rival. Go investigate yourself."
He must have not found anything yet, as if the crime has been committed, these three detective-wannabes wouldn't still be here. So I shrugged my shoulders.
The clock had just moved past 7. As we would need to be by the Gymnasium by 8.30 to have our attendances taken, if "Juumoji" were to appear, he too would choose this moment to strike. I, and most likely the other three as well, would be focusing on whoever has come here before then. If the crime had happened during this time frame, we would be able to narrow down the suspects.
Silently, I moved away from Tani-kun and Haba-sempai and leaned on one of the walls by the corridor. If I were a hard-boiled detective, I would have taken out a cigarette and smoked it while I waited. Unfortunately, this is a high school, so I took out some chewing gum instead.
049 - ♥11
The final day has at last arrived.
As it's a Saturday, there were more visitors from outside of school than usual. Today is also the day where the "Juumoji Incident" must come to an end. It's a make-or-break moment, no matter how one looks at it. To get things started, I first headed to the nearest billboard to have a look at the newest edition of the "Kami High Monthly".
There was already someone else present when I arrived.
Crossing her arms and nodding her head, this person didn't seem like a high school student. She's most likely in college. Dressed in an orange shirt, she had rather tanned arms. Even though autumn had already arrived, she still wore short jeans that still give out the scent of summer. Standing with her legs slightly apart, she gently tapped the ground rhythmically with one of her feet. It looked as though she was enjoying herself.
And right now this person was reading the wall newspaper, moving her gaze up and down many times, before long a smile appeared on her face,
I heard her whisper. Unfolding her arms, she turned around, neither in a hurry nor sluggishly, and disappeared through the entrance as her guest slippers squeaked against the floor.
I wonder where I have met her before? A lively looking college student...... I just can't figure out where. But I'm sure I've seen her face before. I was quite confident in memorizing people's faces and names, after all.
I guess I just can't quite remember. It must have been my imagination.
050 - ♠13
As usual, hardly anyone came to the Geology Room. That said, we still managed to sell up to thirty copies so far, so not that we have anything to complain about.
While I'm grateful for not needing to work hard, upon seeing those boxes, even I could feel myself getting anxious. Right now those generic looking boxes look quite intimidating to me.
Inside those boxes are printed words that will never be read by a single soul. Besides, by staying sealed inside those boxes, the books would slowly transform, page after page of words would slowly go yellow. As though they would etch itself into one's heart upon being read, these words are now longing to be read. Sealed away in a damp place never to see the light of day, they would continue to ferment and go mouldy while chanting "Read me!" in eerie way. But still they will never be read, all the way until they rot away, or get burnt completely......
Guess I really have too much free time to be making such imagination. With 141 copies to go, not even entrusting 20 copies to Irisu could guarantee we would ever sell out. So I was pretty much prepared for the worst. There's just no point in keeping up to a hundred copies of a single anthology. If we end up with a large number of copies remaining, the only fate that awaits them would be for them to rot away in some storage, or be disposed as recyclable paper.
I looked at the cover drawn by Ibara, of a rabbit and dog biting each other, as well as the book binding, glued together by polypropylene.
Hmm. It wouldn't be so bad even if she had cut corners with it.
Well, at any rate, there's nothing much I could do. Resting my chin on my hands, I listened to the gentle sound of musical instruments being played from the Gymnasium. Looking across the courtyard at the General Block, I noticed one of the classroom windows being covered in black curtains, resembling a broken tooth.
I switched the hand on which my chin rested.
...... I did not dislike the idea of using the "Juumoji Incident" in order to draw visitors over to the Classics Club, much like how zoos would covet a panda to raise attendance. If the Wall Newspaper mentions the Classics Club as being the last target, that'll surely attract people's attention.
Yet I was going along a different train of thought, namely the selling of Hyouka. Just attracting visitors was no guarantee of improving sales......
There were no visitors now, though we do have lots of time. And so I began to think, slowly progressing with my thoughts.
[141 COPIES REMAINING]
051 - ♣17
The Global Act Club, as its name suggests, is involved in global current affairs, thus its exhibition panels include stuff like the flood in Bangladesh, or the internal unrest in Indonesia. Unfortunately, I wasn't particularly interested in such topics so I can't say whether this stuff is fascinating.
Wait a minute, what have we here? A panel reads "A Mexican cornbread you can make", another says "How to make Bulgarian yogurt using ordinary dairy products". They've got all sorts of ethnic dishes introduced here. Feeling interested, I decided to have a chat with their president, who replied with a bitter looking expression,
"We're not exactly a cooking club. This is a global affairs volunteer club, after all. Though we also dress in various ethnic clothing, but we thought ethnic dishes was more interesting. Actually we would be making some of those dishes ourselves...... though it doesn't look like anyone was interested in how it's made."
Indeed. Whether it's thanks to the Wall Newspaper Club, or by word of mouth, as time passed, the number of detective-wannabes seemed to have increased, and the Class 3-E classroom gradually became rather crowded. As I did not hear this from the Executive Committee, it seems the Global Act Club intends to make cornbread on the spot and give them out to visitors. In less than an hour after student attendance was taken in the Gymnasium, all the cornbread had been consumed by these detective wannabes. I can totally understand the president's lamentations. Yet if such a crowd were to appear at the Classics Club, we would probably be sighing and crying out in joy at the same time.
"...... Nothing's happening so far."
A bored sounding whisper entered my ear, it was Tani-kun. He was already saying that even though there was still an hour to go. Yet I find myself agreeing with him. My watch showed the time was approaching ten soon. If "Juumoji" were to release a note every two hours, he would have to strike soon (as Kami High's lessons begin at eight). Still, no matter how many eyes were present, no suspicious movement was spotted.
Could it be? A doubt arose in my head. Could it be that "Juumoji" really targeted the Quiz Club instead? No, it can't be. Their activity was long finished, and their members would surely be scattered around the school enjoying the Cultural Festival. How is a thief going to steal from them in such conditions?
But if I consider the question of what could be stolen, then the Global Act Club would seem like an odd target. For example, the Magic Club had "candle" ([KI]YANDORU キャンドル) that begins with [KI], but I can't find anything in the Global Act Club that begins with [KU]. Since all students would be wearing indoor shoes ([KU]TSU 靴) inside Kami High, could it be that he would be stealing those? I can't really imagine him leaving a message the reads "Hey I've stolen your shoes, mwahahaha." (That said, the shoes from the cosplay costumes in the Manga Club and other fashion clubs don't count.) If the phantom thief "Juumoji" can twist "water" as "Aquarius" ([A]KUERIASU アクエリアス), then there's got to be something here. Could it be that he's given up because he couldn't figure out what matches his sequence as well?
Amongst the detective-wannabes,
"This is getting boring, I'm off."
"Text me if something happens."
Said another. Even Haba-sempai had disappeared, apparently off for some club errand. The only people that were here since the beginning were probably me and Tani-kun.
What's wrong with you "Juumoji"? You can't simply be scared just because there's many of us! I don't believe this, it's nearly ten now!
...... Suddenly, Tani-kun placed his hand in his pocket and took out his cell. He seemed to have received a text as he turned on the display.
It was then when Tani-kun raised his voice,
Huh? What happened?
Tani-kun closed his cell phone and placed it back into his pocket, and appeared to dash off. Before he does, I decided to calmly ask him what had happened,
"Did something happen?"
Tani-kun bit his lips, as though gesturing it's got nothing to do with me. The way he's remaining silent means it's something to do with "Juumoji".
I decided to push his buttons a bit,
"I don't get as many friends like you, Tani-kun, so please do tell me what just happened."
Things sure proceed smoothly if you're willing to lower yourself. Tani-kun snorted,
"Hmph, this 'Juumoji' had set up a decoy for us to fall into."
"A decoy? Could it be that he went for the Quiz Club?"
He shook his head and smirked,
Making sure the other detective-wannabes couldn't hear him, Tani-kun lowered his voice,
"It's the Light Music Club ([KE]IONBU 軽音部). Their guitar strings ([GE]N 弦) were stolen."
The Light Music Club??
In contrast to Tani-kun, I raised my voice without thinking,
"You're kidding me, right?!"
Tani-kun's face quickly went sullen,
"If you don't believe me you can go confirm it for yourself. I'll be off then,"
He said and dashed out of the Class 3-E classroom. I thought of chasing after him, but quickly abandoned the thought, as I knew it'd be pointless.
"Juumoji" is more flexible than I could ever imagine. I have been bound by the suggestion of the gojuuon sequence and the release of a note every two hours, and was hoping to make a stakeout in his supposed next target, thinking he too would be bound by these rules. Yet, upon seeing the heavy security of the Global Act Club, he had opted to go straight for the Light Music Club. How could I be beaten by such a simple move like that? You can't win against that.
This means the usual method of meeting the suspect head on would not work against him.
In that case, I should focus on finding out what his weak spot is, but I did not have the talent for that. After all, I would have already done that if I had known what his weak spot was.
I've been thinking since last night. In order to catch this "Juumoji" from the sea of anonymity, I thought the only way was to stakeout in his intended target. I could not figure out any other way to do so.
Yet "Juumoji" had easily evaded such a confrontation. If he could abandon such rules so easily, how am I going to catch him on the act?
This requires a rethink.
There's got to be something else which I could do.
052 - ♠14
As expected of a Saturday, by noon there were already more visitors than before.
Thanks to Irisu's movie selling well, it seems the twenty copies we entrusted to her had managed to sell as well. As a result, Chitanda had came over to bring ten more copies over.
Most of the visitors that came here were those who were just visiting this part of the school grounds on a whim. Two were middle-aged women, who decided to buy a copy each as they chatted idly away. Including those two, we've now sold nine copies today. As long as this keeps up, this could be something to look forward to.
"Thank you very much," I said with a stiff smile as I saw them off.
...... I feel like taking a leak.
It's times like these when being the only person in the store becomes bothersome, as I couldn't find someone else to stand in for me while I'm away. While we're merely selling anthologies, it doesn't feel right to leave any interested buyers waiting. So I locked the candy box storing the money and placed it in my shoulder bag, and then took out a piece of paper and wrote: Currently away. Anthology Hyouka - 200 yen per copy. If interested, please leave money on counter.
Under my bag, I noticed something glowing. It was the heart-shaped brooch that Ibara threw at me yesterday. For some reason, I placed it beside the stack of Hyouka anthologies and wrote another note: Please feel free to exchange brooch with something of equivalent value.
Now then, nature is calling out to me.
Hey, I'm only gone for about five minutes and the brooch's gone. Instead, I see 200 yen being placed on the table. Did someone buy a copy? When did they come?
I noticed someone had written on the note for the brooch exchange. Upon seeing it, my face went sour. I've seen that handwriting before. Reading it, I knew right away who had visited.
You shouldn't leave the store unattended like that. You wouldn't want this brooch, I presume? Then, I'll have it. I've placed the exchange item on top of the stack of Hyoukas. This would be a good way for you to kill time...
It's my sis. So she did come. Yet it feels bad for her to sneak in during the five minutes when I was away. On second thought, personally, it's actually not that bad.
Starting with sis's fountain pen, this Straw Millionaire Protocol has gone from a needle badge, a Glock pistol, weak flour, and a brooch, and now it's gone full circle back to my sis again. So what's this item that she had exchange? As it's coming from her, it's gotta be something of interest. I took a look at the stack of Hyoukas.
True enough, on top of that mountain, was an anthology-like book similar in size to Hyouka. Bound in the back with polypropylene glue, it's quality was inferior to that of Hyouka, though it was rather thick. The cover featured an illustration of a girl's face from the side. It wasn't a live-action sketch, but a manga drawing.
At any rate, I returned the candy box to its original position and placed the 200 yen my sis left behind inside. I don't supposed I need bother counting how many copies we have remaining. Even if it's my sister, I just can't see her stealing many copies of Hyouka. Resting my back on the chair, I picked up the book my sis left behind.
On the side of the cover was a vertical row of small words. Seems to be the title. Ashes at Dusk? What a morbid title. And besides that title was the name of the author. "Anshinin Takuha"? Sounds like a Buddhist monk if you ask me, most likely a pen name. And I hope I got that name pronounced properly.
Looking at the title and author name, I wondered what my sis was thinking giving an occult book to me. Flipping to see the contents, turns out it was indeed a manga. It opens with a scene of a sailor uniformed schoolgirl exiting a train station built of wood. Whoa, this drawing is pretty good.
I see. If it's a manga, it would indeed help me kill time. Though it feels weird for sis to show such blatant goodwill. Well, if she had brought it all the way here from home, it can't be that bad. I might as well give her my gratitude and start reading this.
Before that, I decided to see if there was any afterword by the author, and sure enough, it was on the last page.
Here it is.
How did you find Ashes at Dusk?
If you ask me, I thought it was well done, though I'm mostly in charge of the background art and didn't really contribute much. If you had enjoyed reading this, rather than thank me, you should thank its writer and illustrator.
Neither three of us belong to the Manga Study Club. We are simply people interested in manga who had decided to try and create a manga on our own. As a debut work, guess we shouldn't be bragging about how good it is ourselves. That is for the readers to decide.
We do not intend to disband after just making this once. We plan on making another manga in next year's Kanya Festival. Our writer "A" plans on writing a mystery story for it, and I am told it would be based on one or two of Agatha Christie's most famous works. As such, the title has already been decided.
So stay tuned for our next work, The Kudryavka Sequence...... Yeah, I know, another morbid sounding title. (LOL)
I look forward to meeting you again in next year's Kanya Festival.
It was written in neat handwriting.
I raised my eyebrow and read the afterword again.
Kanya Festival, this means this manga was drawn by one of Kamiyama High School's students. There can be no mistake, this was created for the Kanya Festival.
And then there's this "Kudryavka Sequence". While I have no idea what on earth this "Kudryavka" means, but I am intrigued by the word "Sequence". No, if it was just that word alone, I wouldn't have been that interested. Rather, it was the mention of "Agatha Christie's most famous works".
Moreover, this was brought over by my sis. I once again looked at the memo she wrote.
This would be a good way for you to kill time...
Why is it a good way for me? If it's just for me to read a manga, then the way she said it was strange. This was definitely not her way of saying "Since my brother is feeling bored, I've brought a manga for him to read." You can bet my ass that I'm right.
"What bothersome matter have you gotten me into?"
I muttered and straightened my back.
The art looks good, and the afterword said it's enjoyable, so I might as well give it a read. While it wasn't explicitly written, but the person who wrote the afterword seemed pretty confident of what he's saying. Even if this was a random joke by my sis, it'll still do as a great way to kill time.
[121 COPIES REMAINING]
053 - ♣18
I've finally organized my thoughts.
My conclusion was: There's nothing I can personally do about it.
For better or for worse, I'm pretty good when it comes to letting go and giving up.
In other words, there was only one thing left which I could do right now. So I said calmly,
"I'm counting on you, Houtarou."
054 - ♥12
I am currently searching for a person.
It is none other than the President of the Broadcast Club. Thanks to the Juumoji Incident, news of the Global Act Club receiving more visitors than usual have reached my ears from various people, and not just Fukube-san alone. I am very curious as to who is this "Juumoji-san", and why is he continuing with such thefts. My mind was filled only with thoughts as to why he would be doing this. Yet it's only now that I began to think of such things. Until now we had only learned the what and the how, which was pretty frustrating.
If we could attract many visitors by using the Juumoji Incident, wouldn't this be a great chance? Right now, I am making the most of this bold chance, or rather, I'm executing one part of a systemized plan to make this chance work. Thus, I am attempting to offer an interview on behalf of the Classics Club with the Broadcast Club during their lunchtime broadcast.
With advice from Irisu-san, I have managed to enlist the assistance of the Wall Newspaper Club in promoting our cause, the next step would be to speak with the Broadcast Club.
However, just when I thought I would meet him at the Audio Visual Room, the president wasn't there. A girl, whose voice I recognized as the host of the lunch time broadcast, heard my request and tilted her head,
"The Prez' is probably somewhere around here. Wonder where he went...... Well, since he's not yet decided what to put in today's programme yet, you might have a chance if you speak with him."
Thankfully, I knew what the president looked like, so I should be able to find him if I see him. So I began moving around the campus in search of him. And yet, I couldn't find him.
I came to the third floor of the Special Block during my search, thinking of paying Oreki-san a visit while he watches the stall. While I did stop by before to collect another 10 anthology copies as requested by Irisu-san, but he was fast asleep.
As I climbed the stairs, I noticed a person walking towards the Geology Room. To my surprise, it was Yoshino Yasukuni-san, the president of the Broadcast Club which I was looking for. As I did not expect to see him here, I straightened my uniform scarf and chased after him,
Yoshino-san stopped and turned around with widened eyes. His unpretentious hairstyle and thick eyebrows stood out,
I bowed politely,
"My name is Chitanda Eru, the president of the Classics Club. I was looking everywhere for you, as I was hoping to request something from you."
Yet Yoshida-san did not wait for me to finish my sentence. Upon giving my name, he startled me with a yell which overshadowed the last part of my greeting.
"So you're the Classics Club president! What a coincidence, you came at just the right time. I was just looking for you for a favour."
I wondered what it was, and soon enough, Yoshino-san began explaining,
"Is the report by the Wall Newspaper Club true? That 'Juumoji's' final target would be the Classics Club? 'Juumoji's' the trending topic right now, you see? So I was thinking of doing something about that for today's lunch broadcast, otherwise we won't have anything interesting to talk about for the rest of the afternoon. Thank goodness for this incident to happen. As for who would be our guest, that would naturally be the president of the final targeted club. So you interested? Don't worry, all you'll need to do is answer a few of my questions. Besides, you've got a pretty voice, so it'll be just fine. How about it?"
I didn't even need to apply any of Irisu-san's negotiating skills that she taught me. Though I never expected myself to be a guest in a radio broadcast, as I was only thinking of having them simply mention us in their broadcast. But as a guest...... That would be like Fukube-san making his speech before the Quiz Club president in the First Day.
...... Will I be able to do this?
A long silence ensued. Yoshino-san scratched his head,
"Well, you don't have to do this if you don't want to, of course."
The sight of the mountains of Hyouka floated in my mind, as well as Mayaka's expression upon realizing she made the ordering mistake. I thought of Oreki-san and Fukube-san's hard work as well.
I should not be hesitant, so I bowed deeply once again,
"I'll be most glad to do this,"
Yoshino-san broke into a broad smile,
"Then, do please come to the AV Room at noon, the broadcast will begin at 12.30. You may bring your boxed-lunch. Thanks a lot, I'll be seeing you then!"
"No, the pleasure is all mine."
I wonder if I could say I felt relieved? Instead, I felt anxious. While Yoshino-san all I needed to do was answer a few questions, I'm sure they aren't anything private. I took a deep breath.
Oh yes, I came here in order to pay Oreki-san a visit. The Geology Room door was closed, even though it's supposed to be left open for the whole day. I knocked and opened the door.
Inside were Oreki-san, as well as Fukube-san, who raised his hand to greet me,
"Hey, Chitanda-san. Irisu-sempai's managed to sell her copies quite well, hasn't she?"
"Yes, she's asked for another 10 copies,"
I said while looking at Oreki-san, who seemed to be fervently reading some anthology and didn't bother to lift his head. Could it be that he didn't notice my presence? Noticing my gaze, Fukube-san shrugged his shoulders,
"He's reading a manga. And he seems pretty obsessed with it, since he's not even listening to what I'm saying."
His eyes fixed on the book, Oreki-san spoke,
"I heard you. The thief had skipped [KU] altogether and went for the Light Music Club, which began with [KE]."
"It's no use just listening if you don't get the importance of what's happening, you know."
"Hang on, I'm about to get to the ending."
You see? Fukube-san gestured to me as he shrugged his shoulders again.
Upon thirty seconds after he told us to "hang on", Oreki-san finally closed the manga he was reading and sighed deeply. Fukube-san began to tease him,
"Who would have thought Houtarou would be so immersed into a manga? Maybe you should consider follow Mayaka as her disciple?"
What's the difference between these doujin manga and normal manga? I'm not too familiar with such things......
As Oreki-san glared at Fukube-san, besides looking as lethargic as usual, I somehow felt that he looked somewhat intoxicated by something as well. Turning his eyes away with some embarrassment, he muttered,
"This, is good."
"Really? Let me have look at it as well afterwards."
This was the first time I ever saw Oreki-san with such an expression, and it piqued my interest in the manga as well. Taking a closer look, the cover had a cute yet sad-looking girl drawn on it. The way the girl's expression was drawn was amazing, and the way the fabric of her sailor uniform, which was similar to mine, was drawn was also an eye-opener. I could even sense the wind blowing from the direction she was facing as well.
As a habit, I tilted my head. Fukube-san saw me and asked,
"What's wrong, Chitanda-san?"
I looked at the illustration once again. A pitiable yet cute looking girl. The way the fabric is drawn.
"Haven't I seen this drawing somewhere before?"
"Must be your imagination,"
Oreki-san immediately responsed,
"I only got this manga from my sis earlier today, so there's no way you could've seen it."
Is, that so?
I looked at the manga once again...... No, there's no mistake. I'm confident of this myself,
"I've seen this before. This drawing, or rather, the drawing style of this manga."
"From long ago?"
Fukube-san asked, to which I shook my head,
"No, probably recently,"
But I couldn't quite remember when! If I can't clearly remember when I saw it, then I must have only taken a glimpse of it. Once I have seen something, I never forget it too soon.
"Chitanda, we've got our hands full right now,"
Oreki-san as though chiding me. I understood it myself, we're at a very busy period. Even when we aren't busy, Oreki-san would frequently give a grim expression everytime I feel curious about something. It's something I understand very well. But, I couldn't help myself. Feeling a desire to find the answer, I ended up saying it,
"...... I'm really curious about it."
I placed my hand on my throat,
"It's on the tip of my tongue,"
"Swallow it back,"
"I can't do that,"
"Then do something about it,"
"Let me have a look at other pages!"
Giving a sigh, Oreki-san handed the manga over to me. Looking at the cover, I don't remember seeing the title Ashes at Dusk anywhere else before. Seems like it's only the drawing that I remember seeing.
Flicking through the pages...... I came across the drawing of a boy, to which I exclaimed,
"What? You remember something?"
For some reason, Oreki-san looked as though he was disappointed, which got me somewhat curious. I nodded lightly,
"Yes, probably. The drawing of this boy, it resembled what I saw. I remember seeing it by the notice board besides the Conference Room, one of the Cultural Festival promotional posters, I think......"
I lowered my voice as I reached the end of my response. I was not very good with manga, so while it does resembled what I saw, I couldn't say I was absolutely sure.
"That poster, huh?"
Fukube-san seems to know something about that poster, which made sense since he works with the Executive Committee, after all. While I was pondering all this time, his eyes were focused on something,
"...... Hmm, it does feel like that poster, but I'm not completely sure. But you might be able to figure out something if you compare the drawings,"
That's it, that's a wonderful idea!
"Oreki-san, can I borrow this manga for a while?"
Oreki-san leaned backwards as I made my request. Oh, looks like I moved too close to him again. Shaking his head gently, but rather than refusing my request, it was more a sense of feeling resigned,
"Sure thing. As long as you're feeling curious about something, nothing will get done until it's finished...... Just, make sure you return quickly, I'm not done reading it,"
"Yes, I'll be right back!"
I said as I held Ashes at Dusk manga towards my chest.
055 - ♦11
Both Fuku-chan and Chi-chan were looking forward to the third day of the Cultural Festival in order to boost the sale of Hyouka, yet they're not alone in wishing to sell all their anthologies in the final day. The same goes for the Manga Club.
Before we were even ready to begin the day, a few members were already waiting besides the opened door of the First Preparation Room in expectation of visitors. Thankfully, there were more people coming in than the previous two days. Personally I too was glad about it, with many people happily buying the character posters without even asking for the price. If we were serious, we would break even if we sell each poster at 100 yen, though it's actually taboo to be selling merchandise during the festival as per the school rules. Even though President Yuasa was not one to make such dangerous risks, she still sold many posters to anyone who would ask for them.
We've ended up digging a hole for ourselves.
As we didn't draw a lot of variations for the characters, all that's left is just to draw the characters in differing poses. Dressed in a khaki Mao suit with many pockets alongside an army cap today, there were many people who guessed as to what I was cosplaying, yet it was Kouchi-sempai who made the correct guess,
"...... Could it be, the parakeet chasing detective?"2
"More like the miniature version, huh?"
Ignoring the remark about my height, I noticed Kouchi-sempai was also dressed as a detective character - her character was more or less the original fighting game Chinese female warrior.3 She wore a qipao with pretty much nothing covering her thighs, I had no idea whether she made this costume herself, but I had to admit it was pretty amazing in its attention to detail, and the spikes jutting out from her gold bracelets looked quite menacing.
Re-immersing myself in my work, I quickly left many thoughts behind me, like what went through yesterday, the "Juumoji" incident, and Ashes at Dusk as well. It's just that, if I forget it all, then I'll just find myself feeling miserable again once I'm done drawing. Having finished drawing one poster, I put my pen aside and begun erasing up the rough patches until I'm done.
"This one's done. Next,"
"Please draw this one for me,"
Placing the drawing paper before me, I was at a lost on what to do next. The classroom was now pretty packed, which means business is no longer as bad as before. Zeamis seems to be selling well. Kouchi-sempai's cosplay was quite popular with the older male visitors, and as a result with greeting them, she wasn't able to concentrate on her poster drawings. Her followers took on the duty from her, a glance at them showed they were neither as skilled or fast as she was. While I did not get along well with Kouchi-sempai, and I was at a lost for words at the conduct of her followers, I had to admit that she was pretty skilled in her drawing.
The water cup holding the pastel pen was becoming rather muddy, so someone decided it was time to change the water. It was a first year whom I had no recollection before. Instead of crossing through the middle of the room, which was packed, she took the long way via the side of the room. As she walked past me, her expression was one of relish, as in a dragon encountering a tiger, or a cat coming across a mouse.
As though on purpose, she suddenly lost her balance and splashed a few drops of water onto my desk.
I understood at once, as she was rather inactive until now. She was hear to teach me a lesson for daring to speak up against her beloved Kouchi-sempai. She was probably content with just flicking a few drops at my way.
Yet, things did not end there. No one knew who bumped into whom, including myself, but someone must have bumped or tripped within the crowded room, and ended up colliding into the girl, who greatly lost her balance and yelled as she spilled the water in her cup.
The water ended up covering me all over.
On the bright side, at least the water didn't splash on my head. A whole cup's worth of water splattered on my chest, and as a result, the clothes from my lower right shoulder all the way to my stomach was drenched with water, water that was stained with paint and supposed to be replaced. I think I stink.
The drawing paper of which I was still thinking of what to draw on was also soaked in a grey-yellowish colour.
"I, I'm so sorry Ibara! I didn't mean to......"
The girl looked as though she was about to cry.
I wonder why, perhaps it was the sudden splash of cold water that numbed my senses, I don't know.
But I hardly felt angry. Taking a handkerchief out of my pocket, I wiped away the water droplets that was dripping from my shirt. The white handkerchief was quickly dyed in the same grey-yellowish colour.
Well, it is a khaki coloured shirt anyway, so the stain shouldn't stand out too much.
Still lively only a while ago, the First Preparation Room was now stunned in silence. Well, sorry about that. I stood up from my chair, finding the President, I said to her,
"I'm sorry, President. Please take care of the rest."
Unlike Kouchi-sempai, who couldn't possibly wear her costume outside the school premises, I was able to come to school in my costume without having to change. I was after all still quite resistant to wearing something that people would quickly associate with cosplaying, besides, Fuku-chan had said it would be hard to find any spot to change at school during this period. Though more importantly right now, I haven't got any uniform to change into as I left it at home.
Fortunately, my PE uniform was still here. Normally I would bring the clothes back for cleaning, but as our last PE lesson was cancelled, I didn't get to wear it and so I left it here at school. Finding a room where the Drama Club members change into their costume, I got myself changed.
Come to think of it, I wonder how the Classics Club is doing. Fuku-chan seems to be planning something, while there doesn't seem to be much that Chi-chan could do. As the one who made the ordering mistake, I should at least help out as much as I can in the final moment.
I could describe Kami High's PE track suit colour as "asagi-iro"4 (light blue), but that specific colour name would invoke memories of the legendary Shinsengumi5, so I guess "water blue" would do for now. Anyway, wearing the water blue track suit, I headed towards the Geology Room. Entering the Special Block, as I slowly climbed up the stairs towards the third floor, I heard the sound of someone's slippers running from the corridor ahead.
It was Chi-chan, waving her hand happily. As I was about to ask why she was in such a hurry, she grabbed my wrist with her rather warm hands.
Speaking of which, we're on the stairs, so it was pretty dangerous,
"W, whoa! Chi-chan!"
Ignoring my protests, she began to spoke,
"Thank goodness, things would be much easier with your help. I'm not confident doing it myself, you see. Will you come with me? Are you free right now?"
With my help?
"Eh, hang on, just what is it that you want me to help you with?"
While she held on to my wrist with her right hand, in her left hand was an anthology-like booklet. It wasn't a really expensive booklet as its stapler binding was clearly visible. Anyway, I asked,
As she turned it to show me its cover, I exclaimed,
"W, why on earth would you be holding this?!"
The cover showed a familiar illustration of a girl looking sideways, it was none other than Ashes at Dusk!
"Well, it's not exactly mine, but Oreki-san's,"
Then allow me to rephrase my question. Why on earth would Oreki get his hands on this? It was only sold in last year's Cultural Festival, in a pretty hidden corner by the corridor. While mostly unlikely, I did for a moment suspect whether Oreki had stolen the book from me. Without thinking, I stretched my hand to reach out to the book, to which Chi-chan held it to her chest and asked,
"Mayaka-san, could it be that you've seen this manga before?"
I withdrew my hand,
"Well...... yeah, I have,"
"Then you must know the person who made this manga, right?"
The person who drew this manga? I wasn't sure whether to say it's Ajimu Takuha, the author's pen name, or Anjou Haruna, her real name. Perhaps sensing my confusion, Chi-chan rephrased her question,
"I meant the person who drew this,"
"That I don't know,"
Thereupon she said enthusiastically,
"You see, I'm trying to find out if the person who drew the promotional poster for the Cultural Festival is the same person as the one who drew this manga! I'm very curious about it!"
Now I get it. Chi-chan would usually get curious about things and then proceed to find out the answer to it, I could never get myself as curious as she would. But now I'm beginning to understand how she feels whenever she's curious about something. I would often see different mangas where the art style is similar and wondered whether it's by the same author.
And now she's saying the person who drew the promotional poster for the Cultural Festival is the same as the one who drew Ashes at Dusk?
If that's true, then I must confirm it for myself. Once I do that, then I'll be able to find out the identities of both the writer and the illustrator. While the writer Anjou Haruna has already transferred schools, if the illustrator is still around, then it just might be possible for "Ajimu Takuha" to make a return.
Feeling excited, I raised my voice,
"Where's this poster right now?"
Chi-chan had begun to climb down the stairs while still holding my wrist. Without letting go, she replied,
"Besides the Conference Room!"
Okay, let's go!
The illustration showed a male and female student, with the caption "The 42nd Kanya Festival" written alongside the detailed schedules.
We were looking at the said poster's design. The contrast in shading was quite clear. As Ashes at Dusk was all in black and white while this was in colour, I must be more observant.
It was actually quite difficult in trying to determine whether the illustrations in a manga and a poster were by the same person.
Yet, this time, there wasn't much difficulty. Though the artist did change his style in his drawing of female characters, the style for male characters remained the same. Just one glance and I'd recognize the similarities. To make sure, I took a step back to look at the whole drawing, and then stepped forward to examine the details. While Chi-chan mentioned how the clothing fabric was drawn similarly, the decisive spot was actually the ears, where they're completely identical.
I turned to face Chi-chan,
"I'm 80-90 percent, no, I'm 99 percent sure it's the same person,"
Upon hearing that, Chi-chan placed her hand on her chest as though looking relieved,
"I see. Thank you very much, you've taken a burden off my chest,"
It seems like I've helped her a lot, so I smiled, which was something I haven't done in quite a while.
"Haha, you seemed really curious about it, weren't you?"
"Yes, but I wasn't confident in making the comparisons myself......"
"Me neither, it's not like I have any special methods for identifying the similarities,"
Now, I might as well satisfy my own curiosity, I knocked on the door to the Conference Room besides the notice board.
A person opened the door. He looked just like the guy in the poster. A glance at his collar indicated he was a second year. He looked at us and wondered who we were.
Chi-chan said and bowed her head. This must be Tanabe, president of the Executive Committee then. He seemed like a nice guy. By the way, Chi-chan really is good with remembering people's names. While my own memory isn't that bad, but I can never reach Chi-chan's levels.
Upon hearing his name, Tanabe-sempai smiled,
"Well, hello, umm......"
"We're with the Classics Club,"
"Ah, of course. How may I help you this time?"
It's actually me that needs a favour this time. So I stepped forward in Chi-chan's place, and as we've formally met before, I skipped the formalities and asked,
"Excuse me, but would you happen to know who drew the poster in that notice board over there?"
Tanabe-sempai raised his eyebrows. There were many types of posters for the Cultural Festival after all, so it was probably hard even for him to answer right away. Of course it would help immensely if he could answer, but I shouldn't expect too much,
"Hmm, that one, right?"
"Yes, the one with the boy and girl standing together,"
After a short pause, Tanabe-sempai nodded gently many times. Did he recall something? As expected of the president of the Executive Committee. He replied briefly,
"That one would be by Kugayama,"
Chi-chan asked from behind me,
"Would it be Kugayama Muneyoshi, the Student Council President?"
"Yeah, that Kugayama,"
It was a name I didn't expect. Even I knew who President Kugayama of the Student Council was. He gave me the impression of a sportsman-type image, but never did I expect him to be capable of drawing a manga.
Now I see, so he's the illustrator for Ajimu Takuha. His face began to appear in my mind even though I could hardly remember him before that. Meanwhile, Tanabe-sempai seemed pretty proud as he said,
"You guys are probably thinking 'Wow, so he could actually draw this well', right? He's pretty good, isn't he?"
"Yes! I think it's wonderful!"
"Haha, I'm sure he'd be glad to know if he heard it,"
I've now learned who the author and illustrator were, it's as though good things were happening in quick succession now, much like how the bad things came just before. Though like a fan chasing her idol, I had wanted to ask about whether Kugayama-sempai was using any pen name, but Tanabe-sempai probably wouldn't know. No matter, I'll just have to ask him in person afterwards. It could be just possible that he might reunite with Anjou Haruna to bring back the dream team.
If that happens...... I'd be dying to read their new work. An expectation suddenly floated in my mind.
After bowing politely, we exited the Conference Room.
Chi-chan was now smiling from ear to ear after fulfilling her objective. We now happily raced each other up the stairs towards the Geology Room.
056 - ♠15
"We know who it is now!"
Chitanda said as she ran in. It didn't take her that long to return, which I'm kind of grateful, but then again, she wasn't doing it for me, but to satisfy her own curiosity.
"Really? So is it the same person?"
Satoshi raised his head to ask, but without awaiting an answer, he continued,
Sure enough, coming in behind Chitanda was Ibara, who was wearing her tracksuit when she's supposed to be cosplaying right now. Or could that tracksuit be part of her cosplay...... Nah, not possible. That's the PE uniform for Kamiyama High School no matter how you look at it. She looked cheery as though looking forward to something good to happen.
"Mayaka, isn't the Manga Club busy?"
Satoshi asked, to which she smiled gently and shook her head,
"Oh, I've had someone stand in for me,"
Someone to stand in for her? I'm not really familiar with the going-ons over there.
Like a spring, Chitanda moved towards me and placed the Ashes at Dusk copy on the desk,
"It's the same person, we also found out his name,"
"Really? That's great,"
"It's Kugayama Muneyoshi-san! I always think of him as a dignified person, but I never would have thought he would draw so well, so it's surprising,"
I looked at Satoshi,
"Do you know him?"
Upon hearing my question, Satoshi froze,
"H, Houtarou, you're joking, right?"
"Is he someone famous? I'm never really familiar with these strangers and freaks that you're acquainted, you know,"
Satoshi covered his eyes as though I'm a lost cause and shook his head slowly. Standing besides him, Ibara looked at me as though I was a fool and whispered,
"He's the Student Council President,"
The Student Council President, Kugayama Munayoshi.
"Oh, ohhhh! Of course..."
My voice trailed off as I spoke. And I thought his last name was read as "Rikuyama" all this time, not that I could tell them that. It's not like he's someone whom I wouldn't have heard of, but neither is he someone whom I care a great deal about. Trying to change the subject, I picked up the Ashes at Dusk and said,
"So, Kugayama is the illustrator for this Anshinin Takuha?"
Despite changing the subject, Satoshi continued with his "facepalm" as he covered his eyes and shook his head. Man, he's annoying. He removed his facepalm and said,
"What's this Anshinin you're talking about? Some kind of temple?"
"Isn't that how you read that?"
"Though it's spelled that way, it's read as 'Ajimu'. It's a place in Kyushu, known for its grapes,"
"Is that a city?"
"It's actually a town, legally speaking,"
Is that trivia supposed to be required knowledge? Besides, do the others know about this...... I looked at Chitanda with misgivings, to which she looked puzzled and said,
"There's a small print next to the name to indicate how it's pronounced...... Right here,"
Huh? Oh, there, the print's kinda small: "AJIMU TAKUHA"
Surprisingly, Ibara seemed quite sullen. Her eyes were wide, while her mouth was open as though wanting to say something. After seemingly reading the thing which Chitanda borrowed from me, she seemed kind of shocked. I wondered if it's something to do with her specific interest in mangas.
Standing besides me, Satoshi looked at the Ashes at Dusk copy and said,
"Well, if it's something that even Houtarou would approve, then surely this manga is something,"
Was it Ibara that made that strange grunt? Satoshi didn't seem to hear it as he continued speaking cheerfully,
"But this pen name, Ajimu Takuha, how should I put it? Surely they could come up with a shorter surname, three characters (A-JI-MU 安心院) is just a bit too unrefined,"
Should you be saying something like that?
"...... T, this can't be......"
Chitanda staggered and lost her balance, since her surname had three characters, (CHI-TAN-DA 千反田)
"I, I didn't know my surname would be so unrefined......"
"No! That's not what I mean!"
Satoshi panicked and waved his hands, trying to undo what he just said,
"When I said three characters, I was referring to given names! Yeah!"
Sensing my gaze, Satoshi moved his eyes away from him. Since my given name has three characters. (HOU-TA-ROU 奉太郎)
"Well, Houtarou's special, you see,"
I wonder how he made that deduction. Besides, the real problem is how on earth did you not notice that I had a three character name when you made that statement?
"So, Oreki's special, huh?"
Seems like Satoshi's finally realized what he's done, as tears begin to come out of his eyes. This was because Ibara's given name had three characters as well. (MA-YA-KA 摩耶花) It's not like three character names are rare at all, but in an attempt to cheer Chitanda up, he ended up digging his own grave. He ought to have said he was referring to pen-names instead of given names.
Letting the drama play on on its own, I returned my attention to the copy of Ashes at Dusk in my hand. It was an interesting manga, yet the afterword at the back seemed pretty relevant to what's been going on lately.
Unexpectedly, Ibara decided to stop her scolding of Satoshi and moved towards me,
"While President Kugayama did the illustrations, the writer is someone called Anjou Haruna,"
I said as I moved my gaze from the book,
"You familiar with this book?"
"It's my favourite manga. I bought one from the Cultural Festival last year,"
Ibara was not someone who would easily give her approval to something she likes, but I never expect her to utter the word "favourite". Well, now that's interesting. Looking at the book, she said without any tension,
"Hey Oreki, mind if you could lend me that?"
...... Man, this book is popular, isn't it? First Chitanda, now Ibara wants to borrow this? Though I had wanted to lend it to them, I replied,
"Sure thing, but just hang on for a while,"
"I can wait, but how long are you going to make me wait anyway?"
I thought for a while, and soon taped on the page with the afterword on it and said,
"At least until I've memorized this...... Once I make a copy of this, you can have it right away,"
Ibara looked at me in puzzlement. Maybe I wasn't good in explaining myself, to begin with, not even I was sure what purpose doing this would serve me. Maybe I should say "until I figure out whether this afterword serves any purpose or not".
Chitanda suddenly clasped her hands together,
"Oh yes, I have something to tell you,"
"What is it?"
"Well, I've been invited by the Broadcast Club to appear in their lunchtime broadcast,"
"The program that was aired yesterday and the day before?"
"That's fantastic, Chitanda-san! You did well to get the biggest media club in Kami High on board! This way we could use the 'Juumoji' incident to ensure 'Hyouka' gets sold!"
"Actually, it wasn't me who made the request. It was more like I was asked to appear on their programme."
"That's even better! Alright, as a frequent listener, allow me to teach you what kind of questions a guest like you should be anticipating......"
Well, guess we'll let Satoshi deal with the media stuff, I turned my gaze back to the afterword.
For some reason, I sensed some clues relating to "Juumoji" in here. Being in charge of the stall for three days, I no longer view this duty as just something I had to keep as simple as possible. For me, it's now to ensure the improvement of sales. In order to do that, "Juumoji" must be captured somehow. How ironic that Chitanda had suppressed her own curiosity in order to see that Hyouka sells well, and yet here I am, striving for the same objective in spite of my energy-saving principles. Resting my chin on my hands, my eyes landed on the pages of Ashes at Dusk, yet I made no effort to read it.
And so I began to think.
[118 COPIES REMAINING]
057 - ♥13
As I listened to Fukube-san's advice, I noticed Oreki-san had began to behave differently.
Mayaka-san and Oreki-san have been classmates since primary school, while Fukube-san was the closest male friend he had as far as I know.
And yet, why didn't they notice this change in behaviour?
Oreki-san would stop moving like that while his gaze would lose all focus.
...... That was when he would go into deep thought.
The outcome of such thinking was that he would come up with answers which I would totally not expect. And when the facts come out afterwards, it would always match his deductions.
And so, while listening to Fukube-san's words, I would keep glancing over at Oreki-san's direction.
058 - ♠16
"...... That's what I think, what about you, Houtarou?"
Hearing my name being called, I looked up, and saw Satoshi, Chitanda and Ibara all looking at me. I scratched my ear,
"Sorry, say that again?"
Satoshi gave a deep sigh,
"Houtarou...... We're discussing how to deal with the radio interview that will determine the fate of the Classics Club. This attitude won't do, man,"
Since when did we start having a discussion, and such an important one at that as well?
I then realized for some reason Chitanda was looking at me with her breath held back. Her eyes were large as always, but that's not the point,
"W, what is it, Chitanda?"
"...... What do you think?"
She sighed, though it was more natural than Satoshi's. W, what's going on? To have her sighing naturally at me, did I do something wrong?
Oh well, my thinking is a bit stuck at the moment. I was thinking of asking these guys for their opinion in order to formulate my thoughts......
But Chitanda would get in the way.
Waving my hand, I gestured to Satoshi,
"Hmm? You said something?"
He said while moving over. I then realized I've been seated here for quite some time,
"Sorry, but can you come with me?"
"Where're we going in such a busy period?"
"It's related to this busy period anyway, but anywhere is fine,"
Seated on the desk and swinging her legs, Ibara looked at a distance and said,
"Could it have something to do with the 'Juumoji' Incident?"
Stop uttering your instincts out loud! Just as I thought, Chitanda's eyes instantly came alive,
"Eh! Is that true, Oreki-san?! Could you have thought of something?"
"No, no, I haven't,"
"Then, it's not related to the 'Juumoji' Incident...?"
While "misunderstandings should be dispelled right away" is more like Satoshi's motto, after asking me so earnestly, I just couldn't lie to her. She quickly saw through my hesitation,
"...... So, it does have something to do with it!"
Chitanda placed her palms before her chest and clutched them into fists. I wonder if she herself realized the change in her mood.
"I, I've been very curious to know about this...... but why are you only telling Fukube-san......?"
She spoke in a softer than usual voice. She leaned her face forward that her eyes were covered by her bangs. At this rate, I'll definitely be cursed by a spell from her, I'll end up having to beg her for forgiveness.
What do I do? As I definitely did not want Chitanda to know my thinking this time.
Guess I'll have no choice but to think of something. I've never tried this trick before, I wonder if it would work. I made a serious face,
"You're right. I was about to tell Satoshi something related to the 'Juumoji' Incident, but,"
"Really? Then count me in......"
"But it concerns something very obscene. Is that OK with you?"
Oh, looks like it worked. Quite effectively.
Forgive me, Chitanda, for committing sexual harassment on you just this once. I picked up the Ashes at Dusk copy besides the frozen Chitanda and walked out the room with Satoshi, who was smiling bitterly. Ibara looked at us with an icy stare that I could still feel the cold from behind.
"So, what's this obscene matter that you're about to tell me?"
Satoshi said after finally catching his breath from laughing too much.
The place I chose to speak with Satoshi was the roof of the connecting corridor. The reason was because there was hardly any festival-related activities up here and so was relatively quiet.
I replied with a sullen look,
"Sorry for dragging you out here,"
"Oh don't, it was fun. To have the 'Juumoji' Incident conclude at the Classics Club is exactly what I'd wish for,"
...... That wasn't exactly what I was thinking, though.
For a moment, Satoshi gave me a curious smile,
"Well, I have great expectations of you, Houtarou,"
Well, I'm not sure about that. I placed my hand on the handrail and said,
"It's not something that you could expect a lot from. These are just my gut instincts at work, and I'm just working my thoughts around them,"
"Well, there're a lot of things that one's gut instincts can lead to, besides the biggest question of who 'Juumoji' is,"
"That's something not even my gut instinct can tell me, besides, we don't even need to consider that at all,"
"You've found the missing link?"
Seeing my dumbstruck face, Satoshi smiled bitterly,
"The missing link. I'm asking if you have found the final piece of clue that links all the clubs targeted by 'Juumoji',"
Erm, that's not what I'm trying to say. Try again.
"...... Nah, not really,"
"Then, you've discovered 'Juumoji' have made some trivial mistakes?"
"Not that either,"
Satoshi suddenly stopped moving and looked at me intently with an unusually serious look, causing me to wince. He then spoke,
"None of those? This is a phantom thief case, a serial thief, with over a thousand suspects we're talking about. And you're telling me you thought of something without even considering any missing link, or mistakes made by a suspect whose identity has not even been narrowed down?"
"Well...... yeah, that's about it,"
For someone whose only interest in detective novels come from Sherlock Holmes, you're quite excited about this, aren't you, Satoshi? Well, this is Satoshi we're talking about, it won't be surprising if his interest went from Conan Doyle from one instance to Takagi Akimitsu6 the next.
"I've not gone around to figuring out who the culprit is just yet. I'm just trying to organize my thoughts, want to hear me out?"
I requested to Satoshi, to which he shrugged his shoulders for some reason. Before I could ask the reason, he reverted to his usual smile and said,
"Sure thing, man,"
He then placed his hand on the hand rail on the opposite side like me and leaned against it. We both felt the autumn breeze blowing between us.
Now, where should I start?
I paused for a while, As this discussion was not just to explain to Satoshi, but to organize my thinking for myself as well, I began by withdrawing my index finger on my right hand,
"First, why would 'Juumoji' target only ten clubs, taking one item from each club? This is due to his name, which literally means 'ten characters', which is where our deduction is mainly based on."
"Don't think anyone would object to such a theory by now."
Neither do I. I withdrew another finger,
"Second, why would 'Juumoji' leave behind a greeting card at the crime scene? Satoshi, do you still have one of those cards with you?"
"Yeah, right here,"
He said as he took out the card he found at The Cooking Club from his drawstring bag.
The Cooking Club has lost its ladle.
"I'm pretty sure a similar card was found at the Magic Club. You're not gonna tell me you're gonna trace where these cards are sold in order to find out who bought them, are you?"
Who would do such a bothersome thing?
Now that I think about it, the way "Juumoji" wrote his cards makes sense. Though easily overlooked at first, a lingering question remains, I thus withdrew my middle finger,
"Third, why would 'Juumoji' use the word 'lost' in his message? Why didn't he say he has 'stolen' from The Cooking Club?"
While my following deduction was based on just a whim, I withdrew my ring finger anyway,
"Fourth, why did he also leave behind a copy of the 'Kanya Festival Guide'?"
If he was trying to mimic the "A.B.C. Murders", then he must have referred to the festival guide, which contains the names of all the clubs. As it's a guide for visitors, obtaining one shouldn't be too hard.
"Oh, I've got a copy of that as well,"
Satoshi said and took out a copy of the "Kanya Festival Guide" from his drawstring bag,
"This copy is the one that was found with the card at The Cooking Club,"
He's never one to miss any attention to detail. While I have a copy myself, I took it from him anyway.
Withdrawing the last little finger, I formed a fist with my right hand, pointing out an issue directly concerning the Classics Club,
"Fifth, why would 'Juumoji' target just the Gardening Club ([E]NGEI BU 園芸部), when he could also have targeted the Movie Study Club ([E]IGA KENKYUU KAI 映画研究会) and the Drama Club ([E]NGEKI BU 演劇部), which also begin with [E]? Similarly, why not target the Occult Studies Club ([O]KARUTO KEN オカルト研), which is a more natural choice for a name starting with [O], compared to The Cooking Club ([O] RYOURI KEN お料理研) with its unconventional name?"
"Ah, so it's related on whether he'll target the Classics Club ([KO]TEN BU 古典部) or the Miniature Club ([KO]USAKU BU 工作部), right?"
This was clearly a critical issue that needs to be addressed.
That said, I'm personally quite optimistic. Thanks to the Wall Newspaper Club, we've been mentioned as "one of the culprits last targets", plus we've secured an interview with the Broadcast Club, so we've more or less made our presence clear.
From my clenched fist, I released my index finger,
"Sixth, when I was reading my manga, you told me how 'Juumoji' skipped past [KU] and went straight for [KE], you must've thought I didn't paid much attention to this, didn't you? ...... On the contrary, this is the most peculiar point,"
"But I thought he was only doing it just to avoid getting caught. Like I said, the Global Act Club ([GU]RO-BARU AKUTO KURABU グローバルアクトクラブ) was too heavily guarded for him to be able to steal anything,"
Though I get where he's coming from, surely he must have realized how strange this is. Anyway, I have one more issue to raise, so I released my middle finger,
I opened the Ashes at Dusk copy I had with me and showed Satoshi the afterword, and pointed at the part that read "plans on writing a mystery story... based on one or two of Agatha Christie's most famous works", and asked,
"Satoshi, what famous work of Christie's can you think of?"
Without hesitation, Satoshi replied,
"Let's see, there's And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, The Murder of Roger Ackryod, and The A.B.C. Murders...... namely these four,"
"I would also add The Mysterious Affair at Styles to that list, but that'll do. The manga that would be titled The Kudryavka Sequence will be based on one of these 'most famous works', which one do you think it is?"
Satoshi wouldn't be too familiar when it comes to the details of detective fiction, not unlike me. But for someone who takes pride in his database, he should at least have an idea of which 'most famous work' it could be. Crossing his arms and thinking for about ten seconds or so, he spoke cautiously,
"If I remember correctly, Kudryavka's the name of a dog that was sent to space via a rocket, and died on it when its oxygen supply ran out. She died believing she was returning to the planet below her."
"Is that all?"
Who would seriously understand what a dog thinks anyway?
"Anyway, And Then There Were None would fit the bill the most. But since the title contains the word 'sequence', then it should be The A.B.C. Murders,"
"I agree. If the manga was about all the suspects being removed one by one, then the victims being specifically told that they'd be next would make no sense. So I'm leaning toward A.B.C.,"
"Is that so? Since 'Kudryavka' invokes the meaning of an untimely death, whereas A.B.C. is more like a game, and doesn't feel that associated with death. So I'm for There Were None,"
...... No matter, this is just me organizing my thoughts, so there was no need to reach any consensus.
"I feel like I'm getting where you're going with this, Houtarou,"
Before he said what he wanted to say, I needed to confirm something with him,
"Satoshi, is there a manga called The Kudryavka Sequence on sale in the festival this year?"
"...... No, never heard of it. As all items being sold need to go through the General Committee for approval, and would be duly noted in our records. If it's the Manga Club selling, Mayaka would have told us about it,"
That should do. I looked towards the sky,
"Ashes at Dusk was being sold in last year's Kamiyama High School Cultural Festival, its afterword mentions a new issue will be made the following year based on one of Christie's most famous works. It's now deduced that it's either based on And Then There Were None or The A.B.C. Murders. Just to be safe, let us also include Orient Express and Roger Ackroyd as well,
"And now, we have come to the year which the afterword has mentioned, and we are witnessing a series of events that is similar to Christie's A.B.C. Murders, which matches my seventh point. Are all these events coincidental?"
Satoshi continued where I left off,
"Are you saying that Ashes at Dusk has foretold the Jumoji incident?"
Well, I didn't exactly come to such a conclusion yet, anyway,
"If it sounds too good to be true to make these connections between Ashes at Dusk and The Kudryavka Sequence with the Juumoji incident, then what other connection could there be? Juumoji couldn't possibly be doing this just for fun after waiting for a year, could he?"
Of course, this was a rhetorical question. There was no way he was doing this for fun. Satoshi remained silent, implicitly agreeing that I was right.
"Satoshi, there is a meaning behind all this, or rather, a motive. He didn't make any warning beforehand, neither did he attempt to make himself known, plus the stuff he's stolen, like the water gun and candles, these weren't stolen for fun. I get a feeling someone is ensuring Juumoji accomplishes his task smoothly without causing any trouble to other clubs,
"And yet, skipping [KU] does not match his profile. If he had intended to target clubs starting with [KU], he would have done so regardless, so why avoid it......?"
I stopped here, for any further would require more thinking.
After a brief silence, Satoshi slowy spoke,
"...... I'm going back. I can't just let Chitanda-san go to the interview unprepared,"
He said with a bitter smile.
"I guess so. We're counting on you,"
"What about you, Houtarou?"
"I'm just gonna have a further look at the stuff you gave me,"
Nodding, he turned and walked away.
Ah, yes, I nearly forgot. Regardless of Juumoji's intention, I gotta make sure the Classics Club gets the attention it needs. Though I don't think Satoshi and Ibara would forget, I spoke just in case,
"Satoshi, have Chitanda mention about us preparing some item that begins with [KO] in her interview,"
Standing and turning his head, Satoshi gave a mischievous smile,
"A bait to draw in the customers, huh? We've gone to such lengths to make ourselves the target after all, so it wouldn't be fun if we don't prepare something...... No worries, I'll think of something. Most likely something like 'completed manuscripts' ([KO]URYOU GENKOU 校了原稿) Never thought you'd think this far, Houtarou,"
Oh, you flatter me.
"Oh and we're counting on you to watch the stall,"
He said and walked away while waving his hand with his back faced to me.
Talking with someone sure does help in organizing one's thoughts. After discussing with Satoshi, I arrived at one possibility. It was a bold guess, I believe.
I looked at the greeting card, the copy of the "Kanya Festival Guide" and Ashes at Dusk.
It would have been convenient for me to do this indoors, but for some reason, I was examining them under the breezy outdoors.
I have the materials. All that's left is to organize them nicely.
Deduce, and organize those thoughts.
This breeze is kind of chilly......
[118 COPIES REMAINING]
059 - ♣19
Before reentering the campus building, I turned to look at Houtarou once more.
Leaning against a handrail, he was looking at the autumn sky.
I wonder where his thoughts were leading him right now. I could never know.
I couldn't know.
The smile in my mouth disappeared.
As the breeze was kind of chilly, I lowered my eyes.
061 - ♥14
I feel my heart racing.
In situations like these, there's a way of staying calm, and that is to treat everyone looking at you as pumpkins. Since my family grows pumpkins as well, it was quite an easy vegetable to visualize. I'll be able to calm down will calm down should calm down...
Oh no! But right before me wasn't a person, but a microphone!
Then I must try another method. I'll try tracing the character for "person" (人) on my palm and then "swallow" it.7
Writing the word three times, I swallowed it, by which time I realized.
The character I wrote on my palm wasn't "person", but "enter" (入).8
"We'll begin as soon as the music ends. You ready?"
"Music ending in five, four, three......"
"And that was Breathe by The Prodigy!"9
"Now then, let us begin with the topic that's trending in the Kanya Festival right now. Our guest for the final day is Chitanda Eru-san of Class 1A, who is the president of the Classics Club! (Applause) Now that's a great applause, even though it's just the sound effects box."
"Anyway, we've now come to the final day of the Kanya Festival. The topic of the day is of course the 'Juumoji' Incident. In case you haven't already heard, it's about a series of thefts from various clubs right after the festival started. Outrageous, isn't it? (Says excitedly) So now, this thief is kind of artistic, shall we say? He first targeted the A Capella Club, then the Go Club, followed by the Fortune Telling Association and Gardening Club, following the order of the Gojuuon sequence. The items being stolen are namely, water, Go stones, the Tarot Wheel of Fortune card, and (Purposely asks) what was it again?"
"(Quickly answers) An AK."
"Yes, that's it. (Asks casually) What's an AK anyway?"
"It's a water gun. The Gardening Club uses it as a fire precaution."
"I see, you've done your research well. If you've read the Kami High Monthly Extra Edition, then you'd already know this, but Chitanda-san's Classics Club happens to be this thief's final target. Invincible he may seem, the thief did leave a hint that he would target ten clubs, as his name 'Juumoji' (ten characters) suggest, starting from clubs that start with [A] all the way down to [KO]. So how do you feel right now?"
"Oh yes, (brief pause) with everyone's help, we would be able to catch 'Juuomoji' in his act."
"Oh really? (Delighted) For a quiet person like you, you're pretty confident!"
"Oh, not really."
"(Attempting to make conversation flow) But you still think you can catch him?"
"...... The Classics Club is located on the fourth floor of the Special Block, right at the corner. It's where the Geology Room is. (Without hesitation) As you would know, the Geology Room, like most classrooms located in the building's corners, has only one exit. It is an environment that is unfavourable to the culprit.
With everyone's help, in case he does succeed with the theft, he would not be able to escape easily."
"And how would they help?"
"By coming to the Geology Room. We've only got four members in the Classics Club, so we're short in numbers when it comes to guarding the place. (Says passionately in order to leave an impression) We're counting on everyone's help!"
"Hmm, (Says soberly) but isn't that request a bit lacking in something?"
"(Pauses briefly) Actually, in order to confront 'Juumoji', we have prepared something."
"Now that's more like it. So, (Lowers voice slightly) what have you prepared?"
"I'm not sure if you could call it a prepared item.
"In these three days, 'Juumoji' has come close to accomplishing his ten character sequence. But he has yet to find anything that starts with [KO] in the Classics Club. Knowing he's not one to quit easily, 'Juumoji' would definitely fulfill the expectation of everyone, who is eager to find out who he is.
For that purpose, (Speaks slowly) we have prepared a manuscript for our club anthology Hyouka."
"Yes. Hyouka is the name for our club anthology, it's a strange name, isn't it? Actually hidden in this name is a secret that concerns the Kamiyama High School Cultural Festival, or the 'Kanya Festival' for short. For anyone who's interested, please do come and buy a copy to find out for yourselves."
"A secret concerning the Kanya Festival, huh? Now I'm curious. But what's that got to do with 'Juumoji'?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, I meant the manuscript for that anthology. But it's not just any manuscript, but a manuscript that has been proofread for printing. Thus a 'Proofread Manuscrip'. ([KO]URYOU GENKOU 校了原稿)"
"(Delighted) Aha, I see! In other words, an item that begins with [KO]. So this is what you've prepared in order to invite 'Juumoji' to a showdown, right?"
"Well, (A bit embarrassed) something like that...... Though it's not like we're not anxious about it."
"The person known as 'Juumoji' has been able to carry out his acts without being caught so far, so he's a very alert and bold individual. Since everyone's attention would be on us, his final target, we would of course feel a bit anxious. (Emphasizes slowly) Maybe there's another way, but we couldn't think of anything better."
"I see, so you're serious about this showdown?"
"Yes, we are. (Smiles and speaks gently) As we've purposely arranged a target item, while still feeling helpless at not knowing if it would be stolen. So we would like as many people as possible to come to the Geology Room."
"And there we have it...... (Speaks with vigour) The final target, the Classics Club, is all prepared! All that's missing is people! And they're seeking people interested in finding out 'Juumoji's' identity, or even desire to catch him themselves. That said, it may still be possible for 'Juumoji' to succeed with his act despite all the security...... In anycase, do come to the Classics Club clubroom, located in the Geology Room on the fourth floor of the Special Block this afternoon.
"That was our guest Chitanda Eru-san of Class 1-A, president of the Classics Club. Thank you very much for your time, and I wish you good luck!"
"Thank you, we'll do our best."
The mike turned off.
I proceeded to give a deep sigh.
I've managed to mention every memo that Fukube-san and Mayaka-san wrote, including "Proofread Manuscript", "Introduce Hyouka's Contents" and "Location of Clubroom". Besides these, I've also written along the side Irisu-san advices, "Do not make requests that demand the favour to be repaid" and "Do not make people think the problem is huge". For the first advice, I made sure there's no favour that needs to be repaid, and for the second advice, I made no mention of the fact that we still had many copies of Hyouka that remained unsold. I'm putting into practice the advice of making people think that "only they could accomplish this request of mine".
Thanks to these preparations and advice, I had managed to encourage myself to do this broadcast. I closed my eyes and thanked everyone who had given me their strength from the bottom of my heart.
"Hey, you're pretty good at this. Though hardly eloquent, but you've managed to convey what you wanted to say well,"
Yoshino-san said as he tapped gently on my shoulder.
I suddenly felt a sting. Oh, no, I wasn't referring to Yoshino-san's words, but a discomfort within my heart. I've been aware of this feeling during this whole festival. And right now, after the broadcast, I felt it prickling at me. It's hard for me to describe in words......
No, I should only think of the Classics Club for now. Will we be able to pull this off? We'll find out at the Geology Room later on. Placing my hand on my chest, I made a deep breath.
062 - ♠18
I took a look at my watch, it was past two o'clock.
I did so while handing a copy of Hyouka to the expressionless man before me,
"That'll be 200 yen, please."
After he promptly paid up, he was followed by another customer right behind.
This was not a dream from an afternoon nap. There were more customers coming, more copies were being sold. This was reality. The Geology Room was packed with people.
According to Satoshi, the Global Act Club room was also quite packed earlier this morning. If they could attract that many people just for the purpose of catching "Juumoji", then it's only natural that as his final target, we would also get just as many, especially when we've advertised ourselves on the radio broadcast. As a result, we were able to sell off the Hyouka copies quite quickly, compared to before when only up to two copies per hour were being sold.
Of course, having many people gathered alone does not guarantee sales. So most of the credit for this has to go to Chitanda, joining up well with Satoshi's down-to-earth PR. As another copy was sold, I came to be amazed by their dynamism.
Right now, they too were in the club room, so too was Ibara in her tracksuit, who came despite her duties with the Manga Club.
Those three stood at the centre of the room, forming a triangle with their backs facing outwards, while extended their arms firmly. Within that triangle was another triangle made of yellow stickers plastered on a table.
Within the centre of these two triangles was a stack of A4 paper. The cover sheet on top read Hyouka Manuscript. This was the "Proofread Manuscript" bait that the Classics Club was using to lure "Juumoji" out.
By the way, those were the manuscripts for Ibara's section. Since Chitanda and I wrote too many for our sections, while Satoshi wrote too little.
Those three guarded the manuscripts, emphasizing the showdown between the Classics Club and "Juumoji" to the crowd. There was no way to know when "Juumoji" will strike. The crowd who came was either feeling bored, or maybe it's due to Satoshi's advertising, they all decided to buy a copy of Hyouka from me. I couldn't see it from where I was sitting, but there's a makeshift illustrated poster drawn by Ibara that was posted on the door. The showdown felt like something from a Spaghetti Western, which was kind of embarrassing when you calmly think about it, but perhaps it wasn't so bad if it's to keep the Kami High students entertained till the very end of the festival.
As I was busy selling the Hyouka copies, I had no way of knowing...
Hey, I like the sound of that, let me repeat.
As I was busy selling the Hyouka copies, I had no way of knowing whether "Juumoji" had already sneaked in among the uniformed students or visitors in their casual wear, trying to find an opportunity to break through the triangle guard formation of Chitanda, Satoshi and Ibara. Eyeing the heavily guarded manuscript and the copies of Hyouka, I thought to myself Please don't make your move yet, as I hoped to extend the moment for as long as possible in order to sell as many copies as I could.
Regardless of whether they're detective-wannabes or just curious onlookers, I couldn't help but listen in on their conversations:
"...... Is he really gonna come......"
"...... He managed to pull it off this morning......"
"...... I think this is just a staged show by the Student Council......"
"...... Hey, isn't this To Terra... the book that you said you were reading a while ago......"
"...... Aren't they overdoing this a bit? There's no way he'd be able to get through such heavy security......"
"...... Not if he's Lupin......"
Unfortunately, "Juumoji" is no Lupin, but a mere student of Kamiyama High School. He's not gonna pull some amazing stunt in order to get his hands on those heavily guarded manuscripts. Ibara looked quite anxious, since the "Juumoji" incident wouldn't be solved even if they were to successfully guard the manuscripts.
I continued to observe.
Hyouka was still selling. Five copies, ten copies, twenty copies.
Time was passing. Five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes.
I opened the boxes that I thought would never be opened, and slowly removed the Hyouka copies within it, until I could see the bottom of the boxes. The rate at which we're selling was simply fantastic. So this was what it feels to be able to do a good business, it feels great, really. I felt like singing. If I weren't an energy saving person, I might just aim to go into business myself based on this experience.
But I guess the limit has more or less been reached. After selling about eighty copies, the sales started slowing down, and I could begin to hear the restless mumblings of the curious onlookers, and I guess our three guards were starting to feel uncomfortable as well. We mustn't be too greedy when it comes to things like these, after all. It was probably time someone put an end to this.
I moved my gaze towards the centre of the crowd.
And then it happened.
A flash sparked.
I had no idea who yell in panic, but the onlookers all turned to whomever made the scream.
"W, what's going on?"
Everyone realized something had happened, with Chitanda and Ibara being one of the last ones to know, since they had their backs to it. In other words, something was happening to the "Proofread Manuscript" they were guarding.
The manuscript which was supposed to be safe suddenly burst into flames.
The initial flash was so vivid it had stunned everyone.
The fire wasn't particularly strong, but rather a trickle of tiny flames. As it happened so quickly, for a moment, nobody was able to react. Turning to see what was happening behind her, Chitanda was so shocked at what she saw that she drew back.
"Fire! Put it out!"
As though reacting on impulse, Satoshi was the first to respond as he frantically shook the flames off the manuscript.
Most of the flames had already gone out quickly, but Satoshi still continued to shake the manuscript, smacking them many times with his sleeves.
Thanks to his quick reaction, the flames had completely gone out. But the manuscript was clearly burned badly, that brief moment was all it needed for it to happen. Satoshi held the manuscript up in the air for all to see.
It was clear to everyone that a hole had been burned through the stack of proofread manuscripts.
Satoshi looked clearly frustrated as he moved his lips, muttering "We've been hit."
After the shock, the whispers began to spread,
"...... Was that him......"
"...... 'Juumoji'? It can't be......"
"...... The thing's all burned up......"
"...... No way the manuscript can survive that......"
The mumblings got more and more excited.
Another voice exclaimed,
"He must have left a notice. Search for it!"
The crowd quickly split into the curious onlookers and the detective-wannabes, with the former discussing excitedly with their friends while the latter began looking around furiously.
...... Very soon the message was found. It was dropped on the floor, along with a copy of Hyouka which many people had stepped on. Inserted within the pages of the badly trampled copy of our anthology was a copy of the "Kanya Festival Guide", and of course, the greeting card that came with it. It was a girl who discovered it.
"Let me see that!"
Satoshi drew near to her, and next to Satoshi,
"You've gotta be kidding me!"
Ibara too arrived. I also walked over from my seat, carrying the money box with me and took a peek over Satoshi's shoulder.
It was a similar greeting card from before, written in the similar curt style:
The Classics Club has lost its proofread manuscript.
This completes the "Ten Characters".
And now Chitanda too came to have a look.
Covering her mouth with her eyes wide opened, she was so shocked she couldn't even stand properly.
[COPIES REMAINING: PENDING]
063 - ♣20
The special, three-day long festive atmosphere is quickly coming to an end. And it was time for me and the General Committee to prepare for the Closing Ceremony.
The phantom thief "Juumoji" had magnificently achieved his final objective and made the Classics Club lose its proofread manuscript. The result was announced by the Wall Newspaper Club, while the details were spread via word of mouth. With the last target being taken down, the "Juumoji" Incident has come to an end. And as though the final event of the Kamiyama High School Cultural Festival has ended, everyone realized the Cultural Festival too is coming to an end.
As the Closing Ceremony approaches, I walked towards Mayaka, dressed in a track suit. I never did asked why she was wearing such a track suit for nearly the whole day today. Come to think of it, Houtarou got a bruise on his eyebrow for correctly guessing something. But I'm not as good as he is, and I was unable to ask her properly.
Yet, as though completely forgetting about the Manga Study Club, Mayaka was mad at something else entirely,
"I don't believe this! How did he manage to bring fire in? Did he threw matches? But we didn't find any......"
She was like that for a while now. She must have thought acting as guards was just a marketing ploy to sell our Hyouka anthologies, but we never thought "Juumoji" would actually appear, so she was pretty shocked. All I could do was casually shrug my shoulders to tell her I wouldn't know the answer to her question either. After all, I much prefer seeing Mayaka look so worked up than dejected.
We walked down the stairs to the first floor.
Someone called me, it was Tani-kun.
I made an abjected smile as befitting of a loser. As I really have lost, so it was not a hard expression to make. Though it was not Tani-kun that I had lost to.
"Hey, Tani-kun. As you see, we got had. You were at the Geology Room, right?"
Yet, Tani-kun spoke with less confidence than before. That's to be expected. I went on to ask,
"So, Tani-kun, did you manage to find out who 'Juumoji' was?"
Tani-kun's face scowled for an instance. He probably felt a sense of humiliation. Yet he quickly went back to his relaxed demeanor, and said in a graceful manner,
"Nope, I haven't,"
"Well, there were too little clues. With so little information, one could never come to any conclusion no matter how much they would think about it,"
There were indeed too little clues.
"Then, what about you? Did you figure out something?"
He smiled while asking with serious eyes, I smiled bitterly and shook my head. Tani-kun quickly show a sign of relief,
"I see, I see. Even you couldn't solve it. And I had expected something of you,"
"Sorry to let you down."
"Don't worry about it. Well, it was a fun Cultural Festival. I'll have to repay you for the Cooking Club clue you gave me someday,"
Come to think of it, I did tell him something like that, but it was quite some time ago.
We waved at each other and walked our separate paths. Mayaka then asked,
...... Hmm, I wonder?
"Not exactly a friend,"
"Hmm, let's see, you could say he's just a classmate,"
I gave it some thought,
"He's bad in Languages, I think,"
"So he flunked his tests often?"
"Not really. How should I say it, it's the way he uses his words that's weird,"
Mayaka raised her eyebrows, indicating that I was saying something strange again. I smiled and explained,
"He uses the word 'expect' a bit too lightly,"
"...... What's wrong with that? It's not like it's a taboo word,"
I raised my right index finger and waved it two, three times,
"This is a really complex subject. I'll explain to you once the Cultural Festival is over,"
"One should not use the word 'expect' when one is confident of himself,"
I interrupted Mayaka before she could continue, which was kind of rare. Mayaka shut her mouth and held back whatever it was she had wanted to say.
Looking down the decorated corridor, I smiled. I was pretty good at smiling, to the point of not knowing how to make a serious face.
"Dictionaries usually have a preset definition for a word. I myself am not really a person that quotes from dictionaries. So, Mayaka, while I wouldn't know how a dictionary would define this word, but for me, 'Expect' is only something you say when you've given up,"
I really hoped she would have said something in response, or I'm just talking to myself,
"One only expects when one is depleted of time, resources or energy. The reason Nelson said 'England expects that every man will do his duty' to his men was because even Nelson himself wasn't so sure if he could defeat France. One only expects when one has run out of all other options.
"Tani-kun doesn't really expect anything from me, as he thought he was able to figure something out by himself. It's concerning how young people these days misuse their words, there should be a reform of the Japanese Language education. You only use the word 'expect' in occasions like......"
As expected of Mayaka. Just when I thought she was merely listening, she spoke with her usual annoyed tone,
"Like how Oreki beat you in figuring something out?"
Bravo. I clapped my hands,
"...... Wow, how'd you know? I didn't even tell anybody about it,"
"If it's Fuku-chan, I could tell just by looking,"
Was I really the type to show stuff on my face?
Approaching the gymnasium, the corridor was still full of smiling students from Kami High. Everyone either felt fully satisfied, or wanted to spend as much fun as they could in these three days. Dwarfed by such laughter, we could hardly hear each other speak. And so I pretended not to hear Mayaka's reply.
"...... Fuku-chan, did you want to beat Oreki that much?"
Yet I was unable to ignore that. No, that's not it, that's not what I had intended, but......
"Well, it's complicated for guys. You wouldn't understand even if I explained it to you,"
Glancing sideways at me, Mayaka muttered something without making any sound. I managed to make out "That's not true" by her lip movements. It's just that Mayaka rarely makes such a quiet expression, and I've not seen her like that before.
So in response, I cheerfully placed my hands behind my head and said,
"I should have realized from the start now that I think about it. I was careless. He's the sort that would finish things off neatly without making any unnecessary movements for not even a moment,"
Mayaka tilted her head to signal she doesn't understand what I was saying. Entering the connecting passageway, we got closer to the gymnasium where the Closing Ceremony will be held. With a voice that the Kami High Students around us could hear, I spoke clearly. After all, this was something I felt no shame in saying as I was very sure of it,
"I can't come to any conclusions just based on my own database alone."
Mayaka smiled bitterly in response.
064 - ♥15
In the end, Irisu-san was able to sell all 30 copies of Hyouka that I gave to her, that's 15% of the total amount of copies. I never thought we would be able to sell them off via this method, so I was at a lost at how to thank her.
Handing me a small nylon bag containing the proceedings, Irisu-san said softly,
"If I could, I had wanted to sell them at the full price,"
"No, that's more than enough,"
Those 30 copies were sold at a 50 yen discount, still 150 yen is worth more than nothing. It's better to sell these 30 copies at a discount than discard them completely, after all.
While I haven't heard the exact figures from Oreki-san, but I hear that he's sold quite a lot of copies in the Geology Room. I was able to feel some relief at last after such a long anxious Cultural Festival. After that...... yes, all that's left is to investigate the person known as "Juumoji-san". I'll do this. There's nothing that can stop me.
After giving my awkward thanks, I was about to return when Irisu-san stopped me.
"Hmm...... I think I'd better say this to you now.
It is rare for Irisu-san to be so hesitant with her words. I wonder if it's something important? I stood up straight and replied,
"Yes, what is it?"
She spoke as though carefully choosing her words,
"My advice...... I heard you using it on the school radio broadcast."
Oh, the school radio broadcast. Anyone in school would have heard that broadcast. Even though I knew that already, when being told of that fact, it still felt a little embarrassing.
Still, it was thanks to Irisu-san that my radio interview went smoothly. That's right, I must thank her properly for this,
"It's thanks to Irisu-san that I was able to do this properly, I......"
"It's about that,"
Irisu-san interrupted me with a forceful tone,
"I was too naive. I never thought you would reenact what I had advised.
"I knew what your intention was when you agreed to appear on that radio programme. You probably brought a memo along with you when you went, right? So I'm going to tell you clearly, you're not suited for this sort of thing."
Without realizing, I nodded gently.
Once she began, Irisu-san showed no sign of stopping,
"Unless I'm mistaken, I always knew you are the type to not want to rely on the help of others.
"Yet, I don't think you should go on manipulating expectations of other people like that. With the way way you spoke and demeanor you put on, it makes you sound very dependent. While it's a very effective way to give someone the illusion that they're reliable. Yet it's risky for you to go on like that, not just in the long term, but in the short term as well,"
She gave a very serious advice.
She was right. I realized I was very uncomfortable with myself after that radio broadcast. During that time, or rather, during these three days, I wondered if I was being too dependent on other people.
Maybe I was too conscious of my relationship with Oreki-san. Anxiously aware that I was constantly making him do the explanation on things I don't understand, without even trying to figure it out myself.
To rely on this many people, and to get some deal out of them was, how should I say this? ...... Yes, to quote from Oreki-san, this goes against my personal creed.
I think it's problematic to rely on someone else to solve one's own problems. While it is true that the Classics Club was unable to sell all the anthologies on its own, but I'm not used to such a solution. I was unable to distinguish between 'expectation' and 'reliance'. Could my fatigue last night be related to such anxieties?
With some trepidation, I asked,
"Did I really sound that dependent?"
Irusu-san raised her hand to the side of her face, and lifted her little finger.
"No, I mean you sounded as dependent as the tip of my finger,"
"If you keep on with such an act, sooner or later pretending can turn into your reality. It's true that you've never negotiated like that before...... but in that case, you should have placed your expectations on people who could do the task. What I'm trying to say is, you should quit with such unskilled maneuvering and just say what you want to say. While going straight to the point is often your weakness, on the other hand, it could also be your greatest weapon...... You understand what I mean?"
Yes, I do. Irisu-san was worried about me.
Though with apologies to her, she may be worrying too much. So I gave her a reassuring smile andsaid,
"Yes, I was thinking the same thing...... I just felt I wasn't suited for such a thing. Umm, in other words...... I'm tired of it."
Irisu-san smiled gently in response.
065 - ♦12
After the Closing Ceremony had ended, the Kamiyama High School Cultural Festival officially comes to an end. Though normal lessons won't resume right away, as before that, all students are required to clean up the school before leaving.
Borrowing something from Oreki, I took this moment to head to the First Preparation Room. I didn't feel like heading to the Manga Club, and I wasn't thinking of defeating Kouchi-sempai now of all times. Still, I had wanted to at least show her Ashes at Dusk. My position in the Manga Club and its policy during the Cultural Festival notwithstanding, I simply wanted to show it to her as a fellow manga lover.
As luck would have it, Kouchi-sempai was outside the classroom speaking with President Yuasa. I called her out from some distance,
They both turned around,
"...... Oh, Ibara,"
Kouchi-sempai sighed, and asked with her usual upright demeanor,
"Yes, what is it?"
"I know it's a little late, but, here......"
I presented the Ashes at Dusk copy to her,
"I've brought it, the manga that I believe would become a classic one day,"
Kouchi-sempai's gaze sharpened as though it would shoot through my chest. She looked at the copy of Ashes at Dusk with quite some bitterness before sighing deeply,
"Let's go somewhere else,"
The place she took me was the same place I spoke with President Yuasa, the roof of the connecting corridor. Leaning on the handrail, Kouchi-sempai glanced down at the courtyard below. I stood a few paces from her and watched her back. In the background, we could hear the sound of people cleaning things up, tearing down their makeshift stalls. The breeze blowing in the late afternoon felt a little chilly.
I continued to stand behind her as she stared at the courtyard. From this angle, her figure looked rather small. She spoke while still facing her back to me,
"...... So you really brought it with you?"
"Yes. Though it's not exactly mine,"
I realized my lips were getting dry, and licked them before continuing,
"Sempai, you knew about this manga, didn't you?"
"Yuasa told you, didn't she? She can be pretty nosey sometimes,"
"She said you were friends with the author of this manga,"
Though I could not see as she was facing her back to me, I could feel as though she was smiling gently,
"Friend, huh? I wonder how Haruna's doing now. I did ask for her number, just in case. I haven't spoken to her for so long now,"
"Have you read this manga?"
There was no reply.
My knees were trembling, but not because it was cold. While I was used to brow beating Fuku-chan, I had never pressed a question on someone else like this before...... I was scared, so much my heart was beating faster and my legs trembled.
Though as there was only the two of us, no one would notice how scared I was. I tightened my fists further,
"...... I, understand what you're trying to say. Whether a manga is interesting or not is purely subjective, I also understand that it's up to every individual to decide whether a manga suits oneself or not.
"But, I still think this is incorrect. Wouldn't that be a bit too futile?"
Sempai's voice was extremely calm,
"Well, for Ashes at Dusk, it's on the serious side, you know. If my preference was comedy, I wouldn't bother reading it. Isn't that the case?"
"No, it isn't. One would stop reading only after one has started. So I'm sure that this manga has that ability to make you understand once you read it,"
"Only to those who'd understand the difference."
Sempai continued to face her back towards me without turning around. Slowly putting her hand in her breast pocket, she took something out. It sounded like a pen as I could hear her removing the cap. She then began to scribble something on the handrail.
"...... I was joking,"
I thought I had heard wrong, yet Kouchi-sempai repeated herself,
"I was only joking. Of course I'd understand. You really think I'd seriously say everyone's work is worth the same subjectively? You sure can't take a joke, silly girl."
I slowly relaxed the grip I had on my fists. Ayako doesn't really mean what she said, Those words of President Yuasa echoed in my head.
I could feel the cold breeze blowing through my track suit.
Under such a breeze, I could barely hear Kouchi-sempai clearing her throat,
"It just couldn't leave me be,"
"I did read it, but only half way before stopping. Though I couldn't bring myself to throw it away. But I still won't read it, do you know why?"
I shook my head.
I couldn't see her expression from behind, but I could hear her laughing softly,
"You said I'd understand it I read it, right? Yeah, I did understand. A lot. But, I couldn't bring myself to admit it.
"What about you? What if a friend who has never read any manga before decided to write one herself and comes up with something like that...... you'd normally think it'd be ridiculous, right?"
What about you?
I couldn't understand why she would never read a manga written by her friend.
...... No, was that really what I think?"
What if Chi-chan suddenly decided to draw a manga?
And what if she ended up creating a masterpiece like Ashes at Dusk?
Would I be able to read it smiling?
Kouchi-sempai stopped her scribbling. Her words have been unusually calm,
"So I hid it away in a box and stored it way inside. To the point where I could not see it and tell myself such a masterpiece doesn't exist. But it just couldn't let me be. Who would have thought a copy sold in last year's Kanya Festival would end up reappearing in the hands of a first year? And during Kanya Festival to boot.
"...... It must be fate,"
Sempai said while putting the cap back on her pen. As though leaping, she pushed herself away from the handrail. Waving her hand, she headed towards the school building. Without looking at me, she said,
"I'm sorry that you went through the trouble of showing me this, but I won't read it. Since it's not yours, you'll have to return it to its owner. Because, you know?
"If I read it, I'll have to call her. And I'd have to say 'I read it, it was amazing! I look forward to your next piece!' That's not something I'd want to say, you know?"
I wasn't able to stop Kouchi-sempai from leaving. Walking lightly as though nothing had happened, she disappeared from my sight. All this time, she never saw me in the face.
It was then I noticed the doodle that she had scribbled on the handrail. It was a semi-deformed character, an anthropomorphic cat. He wasn't wearing anything in particular except for a pair of baggy boots...... I realized I had seen this character before, and I whispered,
"This is...... from Body Talk,"
So that's why.
Both of my treasured mangas Ashes at Dusk and Body Talk were amazing. But if I had to choose one out of those two, I would have to pick Ashes at Dusk after some agonizing.
And I realized Kouchi-sempai would also come to the same conclusion.
In comparison to Ashes at Dusk and Body Talk, I was reminded of how boring my own manga was, and suddenly I felt myself tearing up...…
060 - ♠17
Noon. The third day of the Kamiyama High School Cultural Festival.
The bicycle parking lot.
There's only four hours until the Closing Ceremony...... We don't really have a lot of time.
I'm feeling hungry, but I'm gonna have to hold it in. Though I may have my boxed lunch here, but it just wouldn't feel right.
The school radio broadcast should begin anytime now. Would Chitanda be able to perform as expected? If she was the same as the previous two days, then it'll be game over by the time the programme starts, as she'll probably right off the bat say "Please buy the Classics Club anthologies!"
Besides us, there was no one else around. There were no walls, just the lonely sight of an elongated roof covering the parked bicycles, a far cry from the lively atmosphere of the Cultural Festival. I put down the shoulder bag I was holding, as it was quite heavy, and instantly felt a relief on my shoulders.
"What's that for?"
He asked, I replied in a nonchalant manner,
"In short, I didn't come all this way just for nothing,"
"It's not a bribe, is it?"
"Well, not quite, but close enough,"
I smiled bitterly.
"I'll get straight to the point. You must be 'Juumoji', right?"
Unexpectedly, "Juumoji" smiled at my suggestion,
"Surely that's just a wild guess?"
"Chances of making a correct wild guess would have been less than one in a thousand. It's not that simple."
"As I don't really have that much free time, so I'll at least hear what you've got to say,"
As he said that, he leaned against a nearby pole. I took out a greeting card from my pocket,
"In a hurry huh? Well, so am I. I'll make this as short as possible.
"First, this is the card that's left in the scene of crime. Why would the culprit use the word 'lost' to describe items being taken? To be precise, what was the difference between 'lost' and 'stolen'?"
He showed some interest, though his expression remained unmoved.
"There wouldn't be much difference whether the A Capella Club had things stolen or lost. Yet along the way, something was not merely stolen, but completely destroyed. And that was a major hint. You have stolen everything from that, but why is that?"
While the "Juumoji" Incident was foretold in Ashes at Dusk, but the connection is still very weak. There must be some other meaning.
"The odd one out would be [KU]. You had skipped [KU] and didn't steal anything from that.
"Of course, had you followed the greeting card's procedure, then you wouldn't have 'stolen' from [KU], but make it 'lose' something.
"The question now would be, why would you not have [KU] lose anything? By skipping one character, you would have destroyed the meaning behind the word 'Juumoji' (ten characters). While Satoshi said it's because the Global Act Club was so heavily guarded that you've opted to avoid it, I do not believe that is the case. If we follow 'Juumoji's' modus operandum, it just wouldn't feel natural. It would feel totally random for you to just skip one character and then target [SA] as the final target,"10
I took a brief pause. As my throat was getting dry from the low moisture,
"To abandon the aesthetics of keeping within ten characters would be too unnatural, no matter how I think about it, it doesn't make sense for you to skip [KU]. But what if you had not abandoned that aesthetic, what if you had stuck to the natural order of things? In other words, what if 'Juumoji' had actually worked according to plan?
"...... What if you had also made [KU] lose something?
"Based on the message on these greeting cards, your message would have been: '[KU] had already lost something to begin with, so there was nothing to take from it'. What if that were true?"
I took a glimpse at his expression, which remained unchanged. Was he prepared for me to turn him in, or did I guess incorrectly? No, there was no sign of weakness from him. Then I'll have to go on,
"How about this? 'The owner of [KU] has lost something beginning with [KU] to begin with. - Juumoji' Indicating that it was not 'Juumoji' that had taken from [KU],"
Silence. Expecting that he would make no response, I went on,
"This is actually an accusation. Telling the victim that they have lost something on their own. In other words, the 'Juumoji' Incident actually contains a hidden message. A message intended for the owner of [KU],"
For the first time, 'Juumoji' replied,
"That would have been a very elaborate hidden message, there's no way it could be relayed,"
"You're right. Normally it would have been impossible,"
"Then we're not going where if it was impossible to begin with."
But that is not true,
"It would be a different story altogether if the owner of [KU] has a way of interpreting the message. You would send the message, and [KU] would decipher it. It would not be impossible then,"
"But it's not just if, as you have already created such a method, which I believe can be found in the plot of Ashes at Dusk,"
He had been able to remain calm until now, yet his eyes widened upon hearing the title Ashes at Dusk, as though saying "How did you know such a title?" He would have lost had he uttered that loud. Calming myself, even if he had not reacted as expected, I decided to continue in my usual tone,
"The Kudryavka Sequence is inspired by Agatha Christie's best known work, from which the 'Juumoji' Incident is born. Using The Kudryavka Sequence as a benchmark, the hidden message would be solved and the owner of [KU] would be......"
I looked up at him,
"Kugayama Muneyoshi ([KU]GAYAMA 陸山), President of the Student Council, and illustrator of Ashes at Dusk. Am I right?"
Concealing his unease, he placed his hand under his chin and began thinking. As though pondering his next time, slowly he began speaking,
"'Juumoji' only targets clubs, yet you say [KU] is a person's name? It doesn't make sense,"
A swift response.
"The name 'Juumoji' merely hints that there would be ten targets, no where does it say that he would only target clubs,"
"Now that's stretching it,"
"Not really. As the culprit, you have already provided a list of targets to begin with.
"Why would the culprit leave behind not just a greeting card, but a copy of the Kanya Festival Guide? The clue can be found in Christie's The A.B.C. Murders, the guide is actually a list of the targets. By leaving a page open when leaving behind each copy of the Kanya Festival Guide, you had wanted to give people a fair chance of guessing. I'm guessing The Kudryavka Sequence would also be something like that had it been published. The opened page contains not only a list of participating clubs and comments,"
In other words, it's this page:
Light Music Club Though we're more of a band, this time we'll be registering as the Light Music Club. All day in the Martial Arts Dojo.
Go Club Beginners Seminar in Preparation Room No. 2. There will of course be tutorial matches as well.
A Capella Club Stationed at Class 3-C. Will be performing in the School Courtyard on Day 1 at 11am. Please come listen!
Wall Newspaper Club Special Edition published every two hours during Kanya Festival. Featuring the latest and hottest topics being discussed.
The Cooking Club Cooking battle "Wild Fire" on the School Grounds on Day 2 at 11am! Seeking participants.
Gardening Club Cooking harvested sweet potatoes...... But this isn't gardening, it's farming! Are you sure this is okay, prez?
Brass Band Club Performing a different song everyday from 1pm in the Gymnasium.
Magic Club Stall at 2-D classroom. Stage performance Day 1 at 11:30am. Please look forward to it.
Fortune Telling Association Next to the stairs on the 3rd floor.
Classics Club Why is the Kami High Cultural Festival called the "Kanya Festival"? The answer is in our anthology Hyouka. 200yen per volume in the Geology Lecture Room.
Kugayama Muneyoshi (Student Council President, Kanya Festival Executive Committee President) You guys are overdoing this. That's all I'll say.
Yazaki Keita (Student Council Vice President) The Organizing Committee can be found in the Student Council Room. Do visit us if there's anything you wish to discuss.
"The list of targets can all be found in page 33. This explains seemingly random choices like how The Cooking Club ([O] RYOURI KENKYUUKAI) was targeted over the Occult Studies Club ([O]KARUTO KENKYUUKAI), or the Gardening Club ([E]NGEI BU) over the Film Studies Club ([E]IGA KENKYUUKAI). Rather than a declaration of crime, this Kanya Festival Guide is more like an advanced notice,"
"Furthermore, on page 33, there are no clubs that begin with [KU], yet there is a person's name, that of President Kugayama,"
I made a deep breath before going on,
"Let's take a brief detour. By this point, we can guess as to what sort of person 'Juumoji' is, and which club he belongs to. It would be too random for all the targeted clubs to fall so neatly into the same page. The only people capable of manipulating the order of how the clubs are displayed would be the General Committee, the greeting cards would be by the same people as well,
"By the way, concerning The Cooking Club. I had confirmed with their president that they had prepared a ladle before the tournament. For an item to be prepared before a tournament to go missing, the suspect must be involved with the tournament preparation somehow. Satoshi probably had so much fun that he probably didn't work much, but I'm guessing the General Committee had a hand in helping out with the tournament preparation, right?"
He could do nothing but smile bitterly. In which case, it makes my explanation much simpler,
"Well, there are like twenty people or more in the General Committee. So this would not be enough to pinpoint the culprit,
"On the other hand, I also know that Anjou Haruna, the author of Ashes at Dusk, and President Kugayama, whom she worked with, would also know about The Kudryavka Sequence. In other words, Kugayama should be able to decipher the message hidden in the 'Juumoji' Incident,
"Then what about the culprit, 'Juumoji'? Who is this person that was mimicking the plot of The Kudrayvka Sequence in an attempt to relay a message to Kugayama?
"We have a ten character rule starting with [A], and an accusation that 'something has already been lost to begin with'
"Now this is a bold speculation, but what if the message was Kugayama had lost the manuscript for The Kudryavka Sequence? Something which Anjou Haruna, who had left Kami High, had left behind. Perhaps the culprit could not forgive Kugayama, who had wasted the preview that 'Ajimu Takuha' had written, and thus instigated the 'Juumoji' Incident.
"In other words, the culprit's message would be: 'Kugayama ([KU]GAYAMA) has lost The Kudryavka Sequence ([KU]DORIYAFUKA NO JUNBAN) '.
"Finally, the afterword of Ashes at Dusk was written by neither Anjou nor Kugayama, but by a third person in charge of the background drawings. So 'Juumoji' is none other this third member of 'Ajimu Takuha',"
From the shoulder bag on the ground, I took out a copy of Ashes at Dusk. I showed him the cover, which clearly shows the author's name "AJIMU TAKUHA".
" 'Ajimu Takuha' is a rare pen name. I heard it's named after some town in Kyushu. This may be a bit stretching it, but what if this pen name was a composite of the names of the three creators of Ashes at Dusk? For example, if Tarou ([TA]ROU) and Jirou ([JI]ROU) had formed a unit, its name would be 'Taji' ([TA][JI]),
"We have Anjou Haruna ([A]NJOU [HA]RUNA),
"We also have Kugayama Muneyoshi ([KU]GAYAMA [MU]NEYOSHI),
"From 'Ajimu Takuha' ([A][JI][MU] [TA][KU][HA]), we can deduce the third person's name by taking off the initial characters of the other two. That would leave [JI] and [TA],
"The culprit would be amongst the second years that have participated in last year's Cultural Festival, who is a member of the General Committee, whose names contains the characters [TA] and [JI], who is close to Kugayama, and who is familiar with drawing manga. There can only be one person who fits the above description,"
I spoke in a calm tone that surprises even myself,
"It would be you, Tanabe Jirou-sempai. ([TA]NABE [JI]ROU)"
"That's amazing. I would never have thought anyone else besides Mune and Anjou-san would be able to decipher such a message,"
Tanabe clapped his hands. I meekly accepted his applause, as I didn't expect to be praised for this. Leaving that aside, I began to speak more frankly,
"What I don't understand is why you would go through such lengths just to convey a message? Surely you could have just told him directly,"
As I said that, I began to guess what his answer would be. And as expected, Tanabe smiled bitterly,
"I would have told him already if I could. And besides...... you must have vaguely guessed it yourself, as to why I would use such a method,"
While he flatters me too much, it's true that I've vaguely guessed the reason,
"This Cultural Festival is exactly one year since you've published Ashes at Dusk, so could this act be your way of expressing your sentiment to Anjou Haruna's departure?"
"Heh, sentiment, huh? That could be true, and since it's the Cultural Festival, it could be a desire to pull a prank as well. It's boring being stuck in the conference room all day, you know. So I decided to have some fun,"
Sentiment and fun. For him to carry out the "Juumoji" Incident just for these reasons, Tanabe's values sure contrast largely with my own energy-conserving ones.
Speaking in a faint voice that was hard to hear, he added,
"...... But the most important reason, was because I was unable to tell him so,"
I knew nothing about Tanabe or Kugayama. There's no reason for me to know what had happened between these two. And to be honest, I'm not interested. So I cleared my throat.
From here on is the main dish.
I slightly lowered my voice,
"Well then, now comes the negotiation.
"Besides accepting your applause, there's something else that I would like you to help out with,"
"Hmm, and what would that be?"
Even faced with a deal that concerns whether I could turn him in, Tanabe didn't look the least bit anxious. The biggest reaction I've seen from him so far was when I uttered the title for The Kudryavka Sequence. He sure has some guts.
"Oh, it's simple really,"
I took out the items from the shoulder bag,
"...... I'd like you to buy these,"
The items were of course the Hyouka anthologies.
This was my plan to expand sales: Expose "Juumoji's" identity, and then have him buy the Hyouka copies, in bulk. Compared to trying to appeal ourselves through tournaments, this was way more efficient.
"The anthology Hyouka, 30 copies in total,"
"What are you...... some gangster?"
"What're you talking about?"
"After finding out that I'm 'Juumoji', you're now asking me to buy these anthologies from you,"
I find it troubling to be described as some shady character, so I smiled bitterly and said,
"Oh, no, of course not. I won't go so far as to extort money from you personally. That's not what I was thinking,"
"...... I don't get it. Then what do you intend to do with those anthologies if you're not selling them?"
"I did say I was going to sell them, however, the ones buying would be,"
I took a deep breath,
"The General Committee,"
Tanabe's face went pale. It would be bothersome if he were to raise a commotion, so I continued,
"It's not ridiculous at all.
"I saw it, on the Kamiyama High School home page. You guys are putting merchandise from the Cultural Festival on sale there, aren't you? And since these anthologies are related to the Cultural Festival, it wouldn't be out of place, would they? You can simply buy them in the General Committee's name and then put them up on the site for sale,"
Tanabe was at a lost for words. He went into thought for a while before saying,
"...... These anthologies, they're not really that popular, are they?"
"In other words, you'll agree to put them on sale if they're popular enough?"
So he's unable to make such an easy commitment, or something like that. Tanabe began choosing his words carefully,
"If they're popular. To begin with, we had a lot of trouble trying to sell most of the items on the site. We would have asked you already if we had wanted to put those anthologies on the site for sale. That's how these sites work anyway...... So you're gonna need a very good reason for us to accept such an offer,"
"But Hyouka will be popular,"
"Thanks to the 'Juumoji' Incident, of course. You need to complete the sequence all the way to [KO] or your message wouldn't be conveyed, right? In that case, how about having fun together with others for the finale?
"Me and Fukube Satoshi will be able to provide support for your final target. You won't find insiders willing to assist you in other targets.
"The final target, the Classics Club, will be packed with people. Regardless of whether the anthology itself is popular or not, it's sure to sell like hot cakes anyway. So not only do you have a reason for putting them on the site for sale, you get to complete what you have started. How about that?"
Now how will it go?
If Tanabe were to lash out, then my plan would have failed. Not only would we not be able to sell all the Hyouka copies, I would have created a grudge with Tanabe. It's a risky move, but in order to achieve the impossible task of selling 200 copies of anthologies, this was a risk worth taking. Not to mention we have to sell as many copies as possible, though we weren't able to keep things simple......
I held my breath and waited for Tanabe's judgement. Oh man, I'm getting nervous.
Why're you not saying anything, Tanabe? You wouldn't have anything to lose in such a deal.
...... Or was he concerned about being blackmailed into such a deal? No, it can't be, but my heart is getting noisy by the second.
And then Tanabe......
Made a relaxed expression and said,
"I see, it does sound like a good deal. It is as you say, we can't leave the 'Juumoji' Incident incomplete like that. And it's time the web store needs some restocking, so I'd say we have common interests,"
If I could, I would breath many sighs of relief. After breathing a sigh, which turned out to be a deep one, as I didn't realize I had held my breath for that long. Looks like my plan had worked.
Tanabe returned to his relaxed demeanor. Smiling gently, he asked,
"...... So, how do you plan on assisting 'Juumoji' on his final target?"
Actually, this idea came from a recent news about a power outage in Fukui Prefecture,
"The Classics Club would prepare a 'Proofread Manuscript' ([KO]URYOU GENKOU 校了原稿). I'll convince Chitanda...... our president about it, and will put a guard around it so no one could get near,"
Looks like Tanabe wasn't too concerned about following the exact plot of The Kudryavka Sequence, and was really enjoying what I was suggesting,
"Then what happens next?"
"I'd like you to obtain two items, from the Chemistry Club and the Confectionery Studies Club respectively. I saw it on the Kanya Festival Guide, the Chemistry Club seems to be doing some demonstration on the power of sodium. I'd like you to try and get some of that sodium. The Confectionery Studies Club consists of two people selling biscuits around the school. They have a Glock 17 water pistol with them, try and ask them to lend it to you,"
Tanabe widened his eyes,
"...... You sure think of some dangerous stuff,"
I smiled vaguely,
"It's a festival, and it's also the finale, so let's go with a bang.
"I'll try and place the sodium between the pages of the proofread manuscript. And then wait for my signal, since it wound't be fun if the 'Juumoji' Incident ended before the Hyouka copies had sold out after all. So wait for my signal before you fire the water pistol. If you conceal your hands with a Hyouka copy and stand behind Satoshi, it would be unlikely you'd be caught,"
"And what if the pages catch fire?"
"I'll use as little sodium as possible. What's most important is that a spark is made, even if just for a moment. Just enough for a small hole to burn through the manuscript so that everyone could see,"
Placing his hand on his chin, Tanabe smiled,
"Hmm...... This would require some effort. I know some people from the Chemistry Club, so that wouldn't be a problem. As for the Confectionery Studies Club, if I can't them, I'll use the one I borrowed from the Gardening Club...... And what about the greeting card?"
"Place it between one of the Hyouka copies, and then drop it at the first chance you get. Or place it in the desk drawer if that's impossible. There'll be many people by then, so it shouldn't be a problem,"
"No, it's better if you just prepare it before hand. Try to keep the procedures during the crime as simple as possible,"
I see, you have a point. Guess I'll take it.
"Then I suppose you'll be needing this copy of 'Hyouka' for that purpose,"
"You're a shrewd one,"
"We're the ones in trouble here, after all,"
Tanabe smiled bitterly and handed 200 yen over.
"I'll give the signal by making eye contact with you,"
"Understood...... By the way, what's your name?"
Oh dear me, where're my manners? I purposely cleared my throat and announced,
"Oreki Houtarou, of Class 1-B,"
As we parted ways, Tanabe spoke as though it were nothing,
"You said that the 'Juumoji' Incident was an elaborate hidden message for Kugayama, right?"
Carrying the shoulder bag, I turned around and said,
"And you said that the message was Kugayama had lost The Kudryavka Sequence,"
"Was I wrong?"
Yet his voice was soft. I could only imagine as to what Tanabe had wanted to convey to Kugayama.
Tanabe's voice went softer. I could not understand what he was thinking then,
"No, you guessed wrongly, but I don't blame you for that. The only other person who would get the message would be Anjou-san,"
"Not both Kugayama and Anjou?"
"Mune, Kugayama wouldn't get the message,"
What's going on? I was starting to get confused,
"But Anjou Haruna has......"
"She's transferred, so she probably didn't come today,"
"Then, your target was?"
As though enjoying the reversal of roles, Tanabe smiled bitterly,
"It's Kugayama, as you've guessed. Though the message was different.
"The original message was supposed to be 'Kugayama, The Kudryavka Sequence is slipping away from you', in other words,
"'Kugayama, do you not intend to draw Anjou-san's story?'"
"A plead, huh?"
"Not even that,"
Tanabe's smile remained, but it was one of jaded realization,
"Kugayama never felt like drawing manga.
"You've read it, right? I knew Anjou-san was a genius, but I never knew Mune could draw this well. Artistic sense is not something you could describe in words, but if you've seen his works, then you could have said that he's got some artistic sense,
"Yet he doesn't seem interested in it. The manuscript for The Kudryavka Seqence does exist. I have a copy, and Mune should have a copy as well. It was a great story. If Mune had the will to draw it, it will be a work that would surpass even Ashes at Dusk. Yet for Mune, drawing manga for a year seems to be merely a fun detour for him,"
That would be......
The image of the Ashes at Dusk manga I received from my sis flashed in my head. It was a great manga, the drawings were amazing. And yet to call such drawings a fun detour.
As though reading my thoughts, Tanabe said,
"It's a waste, right? You'd feel pity for it, right?
"It's ridiculous. For him to have skills which I could never have even if I spend years working on it, Mune completely has no intention of drawing. I would do anything just for him to say yes. And so I waited. From an unskilled amateur like me, Mune was a star of hope. So I couldn't bear watching him like this. He's a smart guy, even without Anjou-san's manuscript, he would have come up with another classic,"
Even though he was still smiling, his words were nothing but sadness. I could feel it from beneath his words,
"It is from such a despairingly wide gap that expectations were born. Yet if such expectations were unanswered, one would be left with disappointment. For the past year, I had believed that Mune would draw once again, and once again, I had expectations of Mune,"
I now get it, what Tanabe intended to convey to Kugayama.
Tanabe stopped speaking and stared at the ground. If expectations were born from such a despairingly wide gap, then as someone who has no idea how wide that gap is, I have no way of knowing how bad that expectation was. Neither would I know admiration or have stars in my eyes.
...... Would there come a day when I would find myself in such a "sequence"?
However, even now, I understood the meaning behind Tanabe's actions.
And so I spoke,
"So, what you really wanted to convey in the 'Juumoji' Incident...... a question that you were unable to ask directly, 'Kugayama, have you read The Kudryavka Sequence yet?'"
Tanabe slowly raised his head,
"You really are something,"
"And your answer is?"
"Yeah, it's as you say.
"Mune has never gone to read the manuscript that Anjou-san had spent her entire energy writing. The hidden message was never deciphered, and he never did receive the message,"
So, has your expectation turned into disappointment?
Even I had the sense to not utter such a question. Without saying anything, I turned around.
Turning my head one more time, I saw Tanabe still standing there.
The school radio began broadcasting,
"...... Anyway, we've now come to the final day of the Kanya Festival. The topic of the day is of course the 'Juumoji' Incident......"
[88 COPIES REMAINING]