“Ao, do you like to read?”
“Yes! I like it very much!”
And so, Ao started working secretly.
It happened when the summer vacation of his 2nd year in middle school was ending, filled with the sound of noisy cicadas.
Three years later…
“For this year’s golden week vacation, I will be following my female sempai from the light music club and hold outdoor concert tours.”
“I will be going camping with the people I met at a Group date1! There’s a girl I want to woo there, I will work hard!”
“That’s nice. My parents found some friends on a hot spring website, so I will be forced by my family to go along for a hot spring trip. I am already in high school, but I still need to listen to my dad give his sermon on his hot spring cult. It feels so hollow. I want to go out with my friends some times too.”
“... I will be going to an amusement park, an aquarium and watching a movie with my girlfriend.”
“What!? You damn normie! And why are you frowning, making a ‘dates are such a hassle’ expression!? You hate dating?”
“Damn it, I want a girlfriend too! I want to have an intimate date with my girlfriend over the golden week!”
The day before school breaked for golden week, in the 2nd year 1st class of Kanotori high school, everyone was passionately discussing their vacation plans.
“What are your plans, Ao?”
When he heard his classmate’s question, Ao Kazetani who was putting his textbooks into his bag answered cheerfully:
“Me? I will be relaxing at home.”
The classmates who were discussing in high spirits suddenly fell silent, then everyone spoke a little panickingly:
“Is that so? That’s great, chilling out at home is good too.”
“That’s right, I can clear my backlogs of DVD, or marathon my video games, that’s awesome.”
Everyone chipped in.
The classmates Ao just got acquainted with in April were all good considerate people.
“Yup, I am looking forward to it.”
Ao shouldered his backpack with a refreshing smile.
“Well then, see you after the vacation!”
Ao ran out of the classroom with a wave.
That’s right, I will be relaxing at home during the golden week to do something enjoyable!
As Ao rode on his bike, the wind carried the fragrance of budding plants to him. With a smile, he passed through the rows of cherry blossom trees, and opened the door of a normal, two storey residence.
He sound excited.
“You are back Ao, the publisher mailed the items over.”
His mother poked her head out from the kitchen.
Ao answered enthusiastically, his eyes already on the carton boxes piled besides the entrance. There were three boxes! Every one of them was stuffed to the brim, making the box bulge. The plain brown cardboard boxes seemed to be emitting a quiet and holy aura. The corners of Ao’s mouth rose as he looked at them with sparkling, eager eyes.
A mixture of reverence and anticipation filled his chest, he felt as if he was setting off for an unknown adventure.
Ao took off his shoes nimbly while standing, and with his backpack still on his shoulders, he lifted one of the boxes. It was as heavy as it looked. It was heavy for Ao’s slender arms, as he carried the boxes to the stairs and climbed slowly. When he reached his room, he turned the door handle while carrying a box, bumped it open with his lean shoulder and entered. With a thud, he put the box and his bag down onto the carpet and panted happily. He then walked downstairs and carried the other two boxes to his room in the same way.
Three boxes were placed side by side in his room, and Ao looked at them with a sanctified anticipation.
He muttered to himself energetically and opened the first box.
A delivery manifest with the words ‘Thirteenth Paradise Publishing Newcomer Contest Manuscript (No. 220~240)’ was pasted onto the box. Ao tore off the tape that sealed the edges of the bulging box and opened it. In the box were piles of manuscript in paper bags or postal packages. All of them had been opened.
Recently, a lot of publishers were taking the manuscripts from the letters and sent just the manuscripts over. Some times, if the contest only accept online submission, the publisher would print the manuscripts before shipping it to Ao.
The job he took from the publisher last month sent him a laptop to read the manuscripts. The softcopy of the submissions were already installed inside, and he could continue judging the works even if he wasn’t home. Such an arrangement was really convenient, and he felt touched by the improvement in technology.
This reading method that was at the forefront of technology wasn’t bad, but Ao still preferred doing things this way. Looking at the piles of manuscripts with varying size and formatting was like looking at the expression of the authors themselves. A submitter from middle school used tiny fonts to fill a B5 paper with words probably did so to save money due to their limited allowance. This made Ao smile.
Of course, the font being too small would make it hard to read, even if the story was a master piece. Invariably, it would lead to the screener focusing on making out the words and affect the judgement. That would be a pity, so it would be better to print it in a easy to read font size.
First, Ao took out the A4 size envelope printed with the publisher’s company name and extracted the letter.
‘To all screeners,
Memo on the first stage of the Thirteenth Paradise Publishing Newcomer Contest’
The rest of the letter listed points of emphasis, the rough number of submission to advance past the first stage, and the way to fill in the screening comment.
There was also a sample screening comment, the serial numbers of the submissions in the box, a list of the author name and manuscript titles.
His heartbeat increased when he saw the list of titles, and Ao’s expectation reached its peak in an instant.
‘After Dying and Going to Hell, Five Brides are Waiting for Me’, a normal title, but it makes me want to read it. ‘A Pearl at the End of the Universe’, probably a science fiction story, feels atmospheric and nice, like a work that will move the readers to tears. ‘The Lamb-Like Girl (Shaggy)’ is a touching romantic comedy right? I want to read it! ‘Tale of the Genius in the Closed Room’, a catching and direct title, this must be a detective story. ‘Arriving in the Third Alternate World, Getting my Third Girlfriend, the Me who is Lonely, Sensitive and Possess ESP’, looks interesting.
The variety of imaginative stories made Ao smile.
Ao was screening the submissions for the first stage of the Newcomer Light Novel Contest.
There were all sorts of definition for light novels, but normally, it referred to books with manga style covers and illustration, light reading material that targeted teenage readers. In the past ten years, the number of light novel publishers had been increasing at an explosive speed, with over a hundred new books being sold in retail shops every month. They were marketed either to men or women, with over twenty serializations focusing exclusively on publishing light novels.
Most of the serializations include a Newcomer contest, and the number of submissions increased annually. The number of submission for one such contest even broke one thousand before.
And of course, the famed authors at the last stage of the selection process couldn’t read all the manuscripts. That was why 90% of the manuscript would be screened out, and 10% of the submissions would progress to the second stage. The ratio was about one out of ten. This ratio changed depending on the serialization. If there was a need to let more works pass through to the second round, they could make some adjustments. Allowing two out of ten to progress to the second round-- or on very rare occasion, opening the flood gate by allowing three to make it through.
The manuscript that made it through the first round would be passed on to the second round of screeners. Many publishers let their editors take charge of this part. And last of all, the third and final round of selection would determine the works that wins the contest.
Ao was responsible for the first stage of selection. The one with the most quantity and the lowest quality.
Screeners include current authors working in the publisher, authors from other fields, staff from the editorial support department, people working in related industries that were introduced to them, and housewives who were professional readers.
However, Ao was probably the only screener who was not an author, editor or work in related industries, but was just a normal highschool boy.
Ao first learned about the existence of the light novel screening job, and earned money doing so three years ago ─ during his second year middle school summer vacation.
It happened one afternoon when August was almost over, he visited his uncle who lived in a condo diagonally across from his home.
── Uncle Saku, I finished the book you lent me. Please lend me new ones.
Sakutaro was the younger brother of Ao’s mother, and was twenty nine years old then. He formed a club that made a R18 visual novel when he was in school, which received rave reviews after distributing it by word of mouth. After being held back for four years, he quit the university and opened his own company, beginning to work on game production seriously. The first project received even better reviews, and was rewritten into an anime twice. From the sound of this, he seemed to be a talented individual full of drive and passion. However ── leaving Sakutaro’s talent aside, whenever Ao brought the dishes his mother made for his uncle, this was the scene he saw: empty packets of instant noodle cups, energy bars and pudding strewn all over. Manga or DVD with erotic covers were piled messily in the room, and a terrible adult with dishevelled hair was lying on the floor, grabbing his head and mumbling something.
“Why is there a deadline, I can’t think of anything. Ahh, I will just watch the latest DVD of the ‘slutty teacher series’, or continue playing ‘Conquest! Haime Harem’──”
Ao’s mother was troubled, and complained: “That child made it into a national university education major, but he dropped out after four years, and even started making games that needs mosaic. Since he has the qualification to be a high school teacher, he should enter the workforce normally and be a teacher.”
“Don’t ever give the games you made to Ao. Ao, close your eyes when you visit Uncle Saku, don’t look at those obscene things.”
His mother even made unreasonable demands.
Ao visited Sakutaro’s home to play frequently ever since he was a kid.
Aside from being nearby, Sakutaro was a knowledgeable, cheerful, and manly person, if there wasn’t any deadline. Ao liked him, and more importantly, Sakutaro had many books in his house.
Be it mangas with naked woman doing H stuff or the nude album of famous celebrities recommended by Sakutaro, Ao was interested in all of these, and frequently flipped through the pages with a red face and racing heart. But what drew Ao’s attention the most, were the light novels that had a cute heroine and a cool male protagonist on the cover.
Ao loved to read, and would finish the national language and history text book for the school year the day he got them. All the literary works in the school library, foreign science fiction and detective books he could find had been were already read. Every one of them was interesting.
The first time he read light novels in Sakutaro’s place, he found it more endearing compared to other books, as if it was tailored for him. The main characters were almost always high schoolers, dialogues were written like how he would speak in everyday life, which resonated with Ao. The content of the novels were subjects he was interested in and he always felt the stories were written just for him.
Also, the story setting was very liberal. Anything could happen in the world of light novels.
For example, a normal highschool boy might be chosen to be the hero who saves the world, fighting continuous superpower battles with formidable enemies before winning the day. Extraordinarily beautiful angels might visit without any notice, forcefully staying at the side of a depressed middle schooler to be his wife. Such stories that suspended belief yet felt surprisingly real appeared in light novel easily. It made the readers believe that this was just how the world was. The entire cast of characters were vivid and full of personality.
── Uncle Saku, this book is really interesting.
Ao sat on the floor with a mountain of books he had finished reading growing taller and taller, and spoke with sparkling eyes.
── Is that so, that’s a light novel.
── Light novel?
── Yes, ライトノベル, short for ‘novels that are light and can be read easily’.
Sakutaro told him with a big smile. Ao who plunged himself right in was probably very happy.
Ao repeated the term he just learned in his head excitedly, then said firmly:
── I like light novels!
Sakutaro’s smile widened.
“Is that so? Then read more. You can read any of the books at my place, you can borrow any book you like.”
He even recommended some series to Ao. “These are the most famed works of the famed. You can start reading this one from the third volume. There is an unexpected development from this chapter, the ending will make you wail. The fight scene here is thrilling, images will appear in your mind one after another. The heroine Kana in this series is really moe, a heroine I will forever love.” And so on.
Ao had a lot of fun chatting endlessly with Sakutaro about light novels. Whenever he was free, Ao would visit Sakutaro’s place to read light novels.
As the boss of a game company, and wearing the hats for business operations, writing and project management, Sakutaro was very busy and often fell into slumps.
“I don’t want to write anymore! I haven’t bathed in five days, staring at the monitor all day is inhuman! Ahh, I’m going to quit and live like a man.”
Sakutaro grabbed his head and mumbled every now and then.
When Ao encountered such a situation, he would carefully leave the dishes he brought , borrow some books and exit quietly. The next time he returned with the book he finished reading, he would see his uncle leaning back on his chair cheerfully saying: “The script this time is a masterpiece! A bit erotic but not too much, and it will move you to tears even though it is lewd. Well? Oh no, I am really a genius, the players will definitely rave over this game.”
The summer when Ao was in his second year of middle school.
That day, Sakutaro was in his decadent mode, wearing a wrinkled shirt with messy hair and an unshaven face. After fulfilling all three decadent factors, he collapsed on the floor and grumbled:
── Why does everyone stuff their problems to me? The me from a week ago who said with a cool face ‘leave it to me!’, drop dead. Ahhhh, absolutely impossible! I have tons of tasks to settle, I won’t make it in time. I don’t care about screening manuscripts, just die!
── Uncle Saku, I will put the Chikuzenni2 and the avocado salad in the fridge. I will be borrowing some books too.
Ao spoke as he took new light novels from the shelf and piling the books onto his arms.
── Ao~ don’t you have homework~ summer vacation would be over in five days right~
A grudgeful voice came from behind him.
── You are probably busy~ now isn’t the time to read light novels~
I’m being chased so much, you should have a taste of the pressure too. Sakutaro turned his pupils towards Ao while lying on the floor, saying with a tone that expressed what he was thinking. Ao spoke apologetically:
── Sorry Uncle, I have only one physics paper left.
Hearing Ao’s answer, Sakutaro opened his mouth wide and sat up with a start.
── What! Middle schoolers nowadays don’t have vacation home work any more? Your homework is just one paper?
── There were others. Fifteen Physics papers, fifteen National Language papers, fifteen Social Studies papers, a booklet of questions for English and Mathematics respectively, one free research paper and a book report.
── You finished all that?
── Yes. I just needed to do one book report, but I did three.
Seeing Sakutaro’s face twist from despair, Ao felt guilt stricken and lowered his head. At this moment, Sakutaro banged his head against the floor loudly.
── Ahh, my blood related nephew, a model student who planned all his work, how annoying. Damn it, we read mountains of light novel at my place every day, but you still have time to do your homework, that’s cheating.
Sakutaro complained unreasonably, then got up in a hurry all of a sudden.
── Hey, Ao.
When his uncle called out to him, Ao who was carrying a bunch of light novels in both hands stood up straight on reflex as Sakutaro was making a serious expression.
He stared at Ao as if he was evaluating him and narrowed his sharp eyes. Sakutaro then shut his mouth as if he was thinking about something…
Showing a very gentle expression, he then asked in a warm voice:
── Ao, do you like reading?
── Yes! I like it very much!”
Ao answered with a smile instinctively.
Because to him, this wasn’t something he needed to consider.
Sakutaro smiled widely.
── Can you type with a keyboard?
── I learned that in school.
── Can you type without looking at the keyboard?
── I’m not too bad at it.
── That’s good enough. Ao, want to try working on a job? It’s a job where you can make money by reading light novels.
Ao was at a loss.
Making money by reading light novels, how could such a great job exist?
Ao remembered the advice his mother always mentioned, telling him to not be tricked and take an evil path like his Uncle Saku.
── Uncle Saku, that’s fraud.
If this wasn’t fraud, then maybe his Uncle was losing his mind because of the deadline. Sakutaro smiled in response to Ao’s words.
── No, you just don’t know that there really is such a job.
Sakutaro stood up, and carried a cardboard box that seemed really heavy over, and place it before Ao with a thud.
── Open it and take a look.
Ao opened the box doubtfully, and it was full of opened paper packages, with the following words written on it:
‘Forward from: Eidansha Publishing
To: 25th Star Literature Newcomer Contest Department’
These words entered Ao’s eyes abruptly.
Ao knew that light novel publishers would hold periodic Newcomer Contests for Manuscripts submissions. The end of books would include the steps to submit your entry, and the jacket of the book would have the word ‘Prize winning’ on it. When Ao read such award winning works, he would always be moved by the fresh ideas and vivid words.
And the manuscript of such entries were right before Ao now!
Just the thought that the winning manuscript might be inside made Ao’s body heat up, and his heart race.
── Read the entries, judge if they can be passed to the next stage of selection, this job is known as ‘screening’. As I am always strapped on funds for my projects, this lets me earn a quick buck and understand the wishes of the players by seeing what the current fads are, killing two birds with one stone. So I told an editor I am familiar with: “If you have any manuscript screening jobs, give them to me, I am fine with any number of manuscripts, and I will finish by the deadline.” It’s great that I got the job, but my actual game production job is reaching its deadline soon, so I don’t have the mood nor the time to read them.
Sakutaro said as he stared intensely at Ao, then clap his hands together and pleaded.
── Ao, please read them for me, I will give you the entire pay for this job.
Seeing his Uncle bow his head, Ao finally came to his senses and said in a panic:
── Huh, but I am just a middle schooler, Is it fine for me to take the job Uncle Saku accepted? Wouldn’t the publisher staff get angry?
── It will be fine if we don’t tell them. And I am only asking because it is you. You read all the books in my backlog, and when I ask for your review, I feel that you understood it better than me. It is impressive, so I feel that Ao can definitely do it. Ah, you will need to fill in a comment sheet after screening the manuscripts, but only the stories that made it to the second stage will receive a comment letter written by the editors, so what you write won’t be posted to the submitters. It will just be for internal reference, so write whatever comes to mind, I will read through all of them before I send it to the publisher.
── Comment sheet?
── Look, this is a comment sheet. The only part you need to write is the overall review box, this is the type that is the easiest to fill in. With different serializations, there are some that requires minimum word count for each part, such comment sheets are common too.
Sakutaro showed Ao a sample comment sheet, divided into story, character settings, writing, originality and commercial potential, with a grade of A to C for each part. There was an ‘overall review’ column at the very bottom, and needed to be filled in with specific critiques. At the very top was a box marked ‘overall’, manuscript needed a grade from A to B+ to progress to the next round of selection.
The standards for grading was stated on the sample. A was works that had the potential to be published, A- and B+ had issues, but were still charming works.
The manuscripts of the Newcomer Contest seems interesting, I really want to read them. But letting a middle schooler take on the job meant for Uncle Saku doesn’t sound fine. Filling a comment sheet isn’t like a book report. It is too pitiful for the manuscript someone wrote with all their effort to be read by a middle schooler. There might be masterpieces among the manuscript filtered out by me, which might not make the cut because of my poor judgement.
Ao rejected Sakutaro, but Sakutaro said:
── I understand, then help me categorize them: Manuscript that definitely won’t make it to the second stage of selection, and those that might make it to the second stage! Just doing that would be a big help! I will read the manuscripts that Ao can’t judge.
Urged by Sakutaro’s desperate pleas, Ao started reading the manuscripts.
In actual fact, even though he was filled with unease and guilt, Ao still wanted to read the box full of manuscripts.
And once he start reading, he completely lost track of time.
Compared to published works, there were really huge differences.
Ambiguous writing, forced events, characters with ever changing personality and unnecessary naggy dialogue.
But, this is really interesting.
He could feel the simplicity in the clumsy word usage. The disorderly stories felt refreshing. The inconsistent character setting made him laugh. Chunks of chit chat unrelated to the story was like listening to his friends complain, which gave him a warm feeling.
These manuscripts are so interesting.
He had never read such incomplete and chaotic novels that made him want to retort so much! Such flawed, messy, wilful, full of loophole stories that looked like a pirated version influenced by other famous works, were impossible to publish. But they were filled with passion that was hard to describe with words. He didn’t know such stories existed in the world!
It is full of flaws, but is very interesting.
Ao used the laptop and filled in the comment sheet: Story C, Character setting B, Writing C, Originality C, Commercialization B, Overall C+. C was work with obvious problems, B was entries with some standard.
The basis for judging if a work can make it to the second stage was very clear. This manuscript couldn’t make it. It had not matured as a work yet. Was there a chance it would be in the future? It was hard to answer yes too. Now wasn’t the time to fool around. Cliche setting and messy story development, it was just an old story with cosmetic changes.
But, why is it so interesting?
I saw this setting just now too! The heroine had blonde twin tail and cat-like eyes. The way she cross her arms is just like the heroine I read earlier! When reading this manuscript, there wasn’t the annoying emotion of ‘This again!?’, but an excited ‘She is here again!’.
Reading unfinished novels was so exhilarating.
What will I read next? And the next? And after that?
Ao couldn’t stop, and took one manuscript after another to read.
He sat on the floor littered with the jelly nutrition packages, then took a pile of paper with a large clip on right side of the pages. Ao thought anxiously: The words are hard to read, I will flip the pages the best I can without taking the clip out. He then read on.
When he started reading the fifth manuscript, Ao was surprised in a different way than before.
This person is amazing!
The first few lines made Ao open his eyes wide. If he was enjoying the clumsy music performed by primary schoolers earlier, admiring their childish movements and determined expression, then this was like an adult performer showing up, and playing his instrument smoothly with a cool expression.
The writing is clear, and the choice of words are on point, leaving an impression in the minds of the reader quickly. Wahh, I like this rhythm. The characters didn’t have strong personalities and felt strange in some places, but the heroine is plain and cute.
He was impressed until the last page, Ao mumbled to himself as he finished the work and gave an A overall grading without any hesitation.
Ah, I read a great piece!
‘I really want the second stage screener to read this work. No, I want more people to read it. It isn’t perfect, and the structure of the story is a bit hard to catch, but these can be improved immediately. Compared to the great charm of the story itself, these flaws are nothing.’ Ao wrote on the comment sheet. He felt elated to award an A grade and was all smiles. He finally noticed at this moment.
It was dark outside.
Ao arrived at Sakutaro’s place just after noon, and the clock on the wall displayed a time of 10pm!
He read for almost ten hours.
His feet were numb, stomach was rumbling and his eyes were tired. Even so, he was feeling very excited. When he heard Sakutaro said: “I contacted your mom, and told her you will be staying the night here.” Ao suddenly relaxed.
── Thank… Thank you.
Because Ao seemed so happy as he jumped right into reading the manuscripts, Sakutaro didn’t disturb him. He only asked him to rest and eat something once, then put some Chikuzenni and avocado salad onto plates, then put it on the floor with instant miso soup and biscuits.
While Ao was eating that, Sakutaro took a look at the laptop to check the comment sheet Ao wrote. Looking at Sakutaro’s tense face and tight lips as he stared at the screen with scary eyes, Ao felt anxious, thinking that the comments written by a middle schooler wasn’t good after all. Or maybe something was wrong.
── How discouraging…
When he heard Sakutaro mutter bitterly, Ao’s heart almost stop. I can’t do it after all! He apologized to Sakutaro: “I’m sorry, Uncle Saku.”
── Damn, so this is being young? Ah! I want to go back to the time I was in middle school!
After yelling at the ceiling, he ruffled Ao’s hair.
── Instead of letting a tired old man like me read the manuscript, it would be better for you to do it. So carry on like this, I will leave the rest to you too. Thirty books in total, the deadline is five days later. Minus the postage time, please finish this in four days, twenty five books left.
Sakutaro sounded really energetic when he said that as he looked down at Ao with gentle eyes.
Back then, of the three submission Ao passed to the second stage screening, one only made it to the third stage of screening, another got a merit prize and the last one won the contest. Two prize winning work being inside the set of thirty manuscripts when there were 600 submission was a rare occurrence, this might be the beginner’s luck.
Ao’s comments were also evaluated by the editorial department to be ‘detailed, easy to understand and kind to the participants’.
── After seeing the comment sheet, they actually told me: Saku-san, you are really a good guy. Damn it.
After that incident, Sakutaro passed all the screening job he got to Ao. He also told the editorial staff what actually happened through someone he knew at the company. In the beginning, only the editors read Ao’s comment sheet, but he later started writing comments that would be posted to the participants.
── Ao’s comments are regarded highly by the editorial department. They say that you are honest and have good judgement.
Ao felt happy when he heard Sakutaro say that, but how would the participants who receive the comments think? As he couldn’t ask them directly, Ao still felt worried.
In the beginning, Sakutaro looked through all the contents of the comment sheet, but he left it all to Ao now.
The workload for manuscript screening increased gradually, and Ao read them at a pace of 30 to 50 books a month. For longer breaks such as summer vacation, he could even screen a hundred novels in a month.
Ao would read the manuscripts sent to Sakutaro’s house in the beginning, but he spent too much time at Sakutaro’s place and either returned late or stayed the night. This made Ao’s mother suspicious, and she barged right into Sakutaro’s place, asking Sakutaro whether he was leading Ao astray.
They explained the entire situation honestly, and received permission from Ao’s mother: “Hmm… Since you are not helping Sakutaro make those erotic games, it’s fine… But you must do your homework!”
And so, the manuscripts were sent to Ao’s house directly.
That’s why he could put the cardboard full of manuscripts into his own room, and read it as much as he wanted.
Ao planned to read the manuscripts happily for this golden week too, so he took on fifty manuscripts. Two of the boxes should have twenty, and the last box should have ten.
How many manuscripts should be put inside a box was dependent on the serialization too. Some would pack ten into a small box that was just right for the size, while others would squeeze in manuscripts to the verge of bursting open. If they used small boxes, it would fill the entire room with cardboard boxes. As for the boxes that were stuffed to the brim, Ao couldn’t bring it up to his room on the second floor alone unless he took some of the manuscripts out, which was time consuming. Anyway, there were pros and cons to each method.
But the thrill of opening a cardboard box didn’t change for these three years. When he saw the list of titles, his chest thumped with excitement.
He took out a heavy stack of A4 paper from the already opened envelope.
There wasn’t any restriction on the formatting for this serialization, and the words would generally be printed on a 20 by 20 manuscript paper. In such case, there would be plenty of space around the side, the spacing between the words and the lines were adequate, making this easy to read layout the best. But some contestants would use excessive A4 paper, resulting in the spacing between words to be too big. The worst would be using ‘manuscript printing’3 function to print on blank paper. That would make the spacing between every single word too wide, and would be difficult to read
‘Harumare is a beautiful girl.’
If the font was like this, reading it would be smooth, but──
‘Harumare is a beautiful girl.’
Each word would be an individual term, and it would be hard to register in one’s mind.
It would be a pity if a manuscript that could be read smoothly became difficult to read because of formatting issues.
Recently, an increasing number of contests encourage the participants to submit entries online, and the editorial department would then print it out with uniform formatting. However, the first manuscript Ao got was a manuscript with overly wide spacing, something he had not seen in a while.
Ahh, such a pity.
He thought as usual, then glanced at the details of the contestant. The page after the cover include the pen name, real name, address, telephone, email, age, occupation and participating experience. Depending on the publisher, the manuscripts might not include such details. This involved the issue of privacy, and they wanted the screeners to read the manuscripts without any preconception.
Indeed, if a contestant was informed that they didn’t make it through the first stage of screening twenty times, the screener might think the author wasn’t ready yet. On the other hand, if the experience stated that they made it through the final stage of a newcomer selection, the screener might hold overly high expectations. If the screener felt that the work was just normal, it could affect his judgement and worry that another screener would approve it for the second stage. Thus, the screener might read the manuscript three more times to be sure.
That was why if participation history was included, it would be hard for the screener to judge the work purely on its own merit, and Ao was aware of this danger.
However, Ao’s habit of reading the history and knowing who wrote the manuscript would make it easier to relate to the work, and Ao liked that feeling.
This story is written by a 27 years old freelancer. Five years of participation history, he made it through the first round of screening two years ago, and even passed the third round last year. Someone who worked hard steadily, it would be great if he gets good results.
Stuff like that.
This person is an X-ray technician in a hospital, his description of the hospital is really detailed.
Some were impressive.
Wah, this person is 73 years old! Older than my grandfather back home! Wah, it’s handwritten, the penmanship is beautiful!
On closer inspection.
Hmm, the address… is prison!
Some surprised him.
Occupation, warrior!? Huh? What in the world is his job?
Ao mumbled to himself happily. When he saw a familiar name,
Ohh! This is the sixth time I saw this person’s manuscript. Ah, he didn’t use the old manuscript he submitted to other Newcomer Contest, but a new work!
Sometimes, it made him feel overjoyed.
The manuscript in his hands right now was written by a 20 years old college student, entering the contest for the first time. This was probably the reason why he printed it in such a difficult to read format.
After browsing through the synopsis and understanding the setting, Ao started reading the content.
The writing was solid, he probably read a lot of literature. On the contrary, the character setting was conservative. A large number of character appeared in the beginning, and without describing the personality of the characters further, the story kept progressing, making it hard to figure out who was saying what.
Ehh, this is Morita? But that’s Kondo here, and this… is Nikaidou right… But Nikaidou refer to himself as ‘moi’, not me? So, this is spoken by Kondo?
It was fun to deduce as he read like this too.
This felt like a story he wrote without planning it out first. The second half is much smoother and feels great. He gets it right rather fast. But the development of the story is too abrupt, he probably added the setting that just came to his mind in. Wahh, what is happening here? It doesn’t match the previous part, that surprised me, how interesting.
Ao always felt excited when he read such yet to mature novel with plenty of plot holes, which warmed his heart. This had never changed since he first took the job of screener three years ago.
Ao felt that working as a screener was the most extravagant job in the world.
So there really is a job where you get paid to read stories. For the serialization Ao was working on right now, payment would be by the pages. Screening a 300 page manuscript and filling in the comment sheet would net him 3000 yen, some serialization would even offer a generous rate of 4000 yen.
If he finish 30 books in a month, he would get 80,000 yen after tax. In terms of salary for a high schooler, that was groundbreaking, and he could read at his own time.
Reading as if he was conversing with an unfinished manuscript was really enjoyable. He would come across manuscripts brimming with talent occasionally, which was evident after reading the opening lines. Ao would sit up straight on reflex with a heart full of respect.
The sparkling words, charming characters and amazing story structure would win him over, making him continue reading in silence. Seeing the overflowing talent of the contestant made Ao take a deep breath.
“Uwah, I read a great manuscript.”
“This submission will definitely win a prize, what kind of illustrations would it get, and what would the end product look like?”
He felt exhilarated just thinking about this.
Over the past three years, twenty manuscripts selected by Ao for the second round of selection won a prize. There weren’t two winners in one batch like his first try, but in one of the year, ten participants he selected won.
According to Sakutaro, some screeners who had been doing it for ten years didn’t even select one prize winner. It was rare to see someone with high production rate like Ao.
“The editors told me a while back that the manuscripts given an A grade by Saku-san and this screener have a high chance of winning a prize.” ── Sakutaro said.
To Ao, manuscripts that had the potential of winning a prize would make it to the second round of screening no matter who the screener was. Ao didn’t feel that he had exceptional judgement, and merely selected the manuscript he really wanted to be published and read by everyone. It just happened that this work was packed into the box Ao was responsible for.
Ao felt that this was very lucky and not something to brag about. The manuscript he sent for the second round of selection making it through to the third round, becoming the prize winner of the year, get published into a book and sold in retail shops.
He would feel anxious as he waited for the judging to conclude. After confirming the list of prize winners via cell phone, he would yell “Awesome!” in his room and smiled happily.
He couldn’t stop smiling when he saw the prize winning work displayed on shelves in the book shops.
“Ao, what are you smiling about?”
Such situations baffled his friends.
And of course, Ao would purchase the winning works he came into contact with, and placed them carefully onto his book shelf. These twenty books were special works to Ao, even though he had never seen the authors before, Ao wanted to support them. I am the first one to read the manuscript he submitted! Ao took pride over this secretly.
After finishing the work by the college student who submitted an entry for the first time, Ao filled in the grades for each criteria on the comment sheet, and awarded a overall score of B-.
“He didn’t make it this time, but he has a lot of potential, I hope he keeps writing.”
With such thoughts in his mind, Ao completed the comment sheet, put the manuscript back in the envelope. He then reach for the next paper bag and took out the content.
It was a work titled ‘The lonely me came to an alternate world, becoming the hero, demon king and the emperor of a harem paradise’.
“How direct! Amazing!”
Ao flip open the cover with a smile and confirmed the details of the author.
Pen Name: Sameyoroi
Ao locked his sights on the place where the name of a girl was written.
Real Name: Hiyuki Hyonomiya4
With the ice character in her name and family name, one could almost hear the sound of the air freezing over, Ao remember this absolutely cold name.
Could it be…
Holding his breath, he checked the age and occupation.
Sixteen years old, studying in Kanotori high school
He forgot about breathing momentarily, and his heart pumped intensely.
It is that Hiyuki Hyonomiya!
What came to Ao’s mind was his classmate known as the ‘Ice Maiden’.
One week later, the day after the golden week ended.
Ao was chatting with a group of guys in his class.
“The concert was so high, it was awesome!”
“The hot spring was great too, my pimple faded and skin turned so smooth. Here’s some souvenoir, hot spring buns.”
“... I went out with my girlfriend every day, so tiring.”
“Why you! You’re doing it on purpose! You’re saying this intentionally to me who got dump by Soejima-chan during my camping trip!”
“Hey, get a hold of yourself. What are you looking at, Ao?”
Ao, who was looking into the distance from his seat besides the window, jumped.
“Hmm, ahh, nice weather today.”
He muddled it with a smile.
Actually, he was thinking about Hiyuki Hyonomiya. Hiyuki wasn’t in school yet, the third seat from the front besides the window was still empty.
“Ao stayed home the entire time?”
“Ah, yeah, it was fun.”
“Is that so? Here, have a hot spring bun.”
“I bought some chocolate at the souvenir shop near the camp site. Here, I will give you two as a special service.”
“... Want to see my girlfriend’s photo?”
As Ao’s classmates chattered noisily, it was almost time for morning self study. At this moment, a young girl with a cold aura about her entered the classroom’s front door.
It’s Hiyuki Hyonomiya! Her light brown hair that was different from a normal Japanese hung over her slender back and modest chest. Her limbs were long and she kept her back straight, standing tall with excellent posture, and she was taller than normal girls too. Her skin was so pale it was almost transparent, which was probably because of her mixed heritage. Under her long lashes were lustrous eyes that emitted ice cold light. A small mole besides her thin lips looked really sexy, and the boys were always getting worked up over her.
She was a cool beauty who really suited the name Hiyuki Hyonomiya. Over time, everyone started calling her ‘Ice Maiden’.
Ao and Hiyuki were in different class last year, but Ao heard about the nickname and things related to Hiyuki.
He heard that she was from a wealthy family and lived in a Japanese style mansion near their school.
She lived together with her grandmother who always wore a kimono and kept her back meticulously straight. She was a graceful beauty, but she looked a bit scary and unapproachable, just like Hiyuki.
Hiyuki was a solitary person, even if someone talked to her, she would show a cold expression as if she was ignoring the existence of others. Even if she replied, she would do so with a icy tone. That was why no one spoke to her anymore.
Despite that, she wasn’t ostracized, and was revered by others as the ‘Ice Maiden’, becoming the envy of others. It was scary to be close to her, but watching from afar, she felt so beautiful, mature and enchanting.
After starting the second year and becoming her classmate, Ao also thought: It’s Hyonomiya Hiyuki, what a beauty. Like everyone else, he thought the mole at the corner of her lips was very sexy.
“Hyonomiya is really sexy today too.”
“Those cold eyes, is she the fabled Queen-sama?”
“Ahh, I will get goosebumps if those eyes lay their gaze on me.”
“Are you a masochist? I won’t be able to take it, if those icy stares caught me. I will probably die.”
“…Hyonomiya won’t bother with you guys, don’t worry.”
“You are really annoying, normie!”
Hiyuki seemed unfazed by the conversations and gazes around her. She walked to her seat with composed and graceful movements, pulled her chair quietly, then sat elegantly.
Pulling the zipper on her bag, she took out her books and place them on her desk. Hiyuki didn’t greet anyone after entering the classroom. Her perfect profile that looked artificial was ice cold no matter what angle you looked at her.
“What is it Ao, you are staring so intently at Hyonomiya. Did you fall for her?”
Ao snapped back to reality after being asked so suddenly by his classmate. He had been staring at Hiyuki all this while, and was overdoing it.
“Eh, no, impossible. She is just a normal beauty to me.”
“Your face is red.”
“You guys got it wrong.”
Ao denied frantically.
He really didn’t love Hiyuki, that was not true.
Hyonomiya just entered the Newcomer Contest where I am working as a screener. How can I explain such a thing?
Ao himself was filled with doubt.
The day before golden week, Ao was very surprised when he saw the name Hyonomiya Hiyuki in the list of contestants. Sixteen years old and studying in Kanotori high school, it really is that Hyonomiya Hiyuki. When he confirmed this fact, he was dumbfounded.
The beautiful top student, the unapproachable Hiyuki known as the ‘Ice Maiden’, actually submitted a manuscript with the title ‘The lonely me came to an alternate world, becoming the hero, demon king and the emperor of a harem paradise’?
And from her submission history, Ao saw that this wasn’t her first attempt. Her first entry was in April last year, this was her fifth time. All prior attempts didn’t make the cut.
── A-Anyway, let’s take a look at the content. Yup.
Feeling more tense in reading a manuscript than ever before, Ao flipped the pages.
He scanned the synopsis first. He could tell from the title that this was a transported to an alternate world story that was popular recently.
In the real world, the main character who didn’t have friends, wasn’t close to his family, had no good points about himself and was lonely, got into a traffic accident. When he woke up, he found himself in a world similar to Europe in the middle ages. At the request of that world’s residents, he defeated the demon king by taking on the role of a hero.
However, he knew he was also the resurrected demon king. With this secret in his heart, he built great relationships with the girls who made their appearance. A standard setting seen everywhere, but with the different writing style of each author, it could be spun into an interesting tale.
That Hyonomiya Hiyuki actually wrote a Harem Comedy…?
Ao turned the page with doubts in his mind, but was hit by greater confusion.
That was the first line he read.
「Uwah, I hit someone! Oh no! He is wearing a uniform! Just a High Schooler!」
『Beee── Boop──Beee── Boop──…』
Ahh, that hurts, damn.
This is the junction before Shibuya 109, where the normies gather.
I collided with a high class black benz head on. As I bleeded to the verge of death, I could hear the sirens of the ambulance.
『Beee── Boop──Beee── Boop──…』
Tch, it’s getting louder.
「Hey, just hang on! The ambulance will be here soon!」
The one who knocked me down looked like a CEO of some company, who is wearing an expensive Armani suit with a Hermes tie. An old man about fifty years of age, he kept calling out to me.
Sorry for colliding with you, old man. I didn’t mean to, just think of me as a bug who happened to be in the way and forget about me.
The truth is, my life isn’t any different from a bug.
No friends, no girl for me.
Ignored by my parents.
A super lonely person.
『Beee── Boop──Beee── Boop──…』
「「「「Where is the casualty?」」」」
I lowered my head weakly as the cries of the medical team sounded out.
Good bye, this grey world.
I am dead.
「Jang~ Jang jang jang, jang la, jang la la la la la ♪ (Funeral tune)」5
This is… by Hyonomiya-san!?
Ao didn’t object to the usage of varying font size, repeated punctuation and onomatopoeia as a mean to tell a story. He thought that anything was acceptable if it fit in with the work.
That’s why, there wasn’t anything wrong with changing the font size in this story.
This was a great writing style too.
But, just to ask again, this was written by that Hyonomiya Hiyuki?
Reading on, words in large fonts like ‘Fluffy’, ’Soft QQ☆’, ’Striped panties \(@^Ｏ^@)/’ appeared before his eyes, but the mature and beautiful Hyonomiya Hiyuki with her cold gaze was on his mind. And so, Ao felt the world was spinning as he finally finished reading the story.
There must be a mistake, there’s no way Hyonomiya-san would enter a light novel story contest.
Since self study begun, Ao continued to observe Hiyuki. Ao’s seat was behind Hiyuki, two seats away. From this position, he could see Hiyuki’s cold profile. A light gust of late spring breeze brushed Hiyuki’s hair. Her white skin seemed transparent under the ray of the sun. Hiyuki kept her back straight as she stared at the blackboard. Her ice cold eyes were filled with maturity and calmness, her tightly closed lips gave an air of intellectuality. The mole besides her lips seemed so mature too.
Hyonomiya-san using a term like ‘Bong──Bang’? Or getting excited because ‘it’s striped panties yay～Ｏ(≧▽≦)Ｏ’? Or sticking her tongue out and knocking her head gently because ‘my skirt rolled up accidentally, teehee☆’?
Ao had never seen Hiyuki smile.
The author wasn’t equivalent to their work, Ao confirmed this from his uncle Sakutaro. He portrayed flat chest lolis as heroine and enamoured the heart of the players, but as an authority in this field, Sakutaro loved big breasts. His first girlfriend when he was in high school was an office lady in her twenties. He thought of other girls as brats, and didn’t even think of them as women.
Also, Sakutaro’s main heroines always wore strawberry print panties. Sakutaro would focus on writing the details of the strawberry panties as he mumbled: “Woman wearing panties with prints isn’t good. Panties have to be black, black! Ahh, how healing it would be if I could motorboat a 27 year old beauty’s large breasts──”
Also, the main characters in Sakutaro’s work didn’t know how to handle women, and always nosebleed with a blushed face before them. But that was totally different from Sakutaro himself.
That’s why, it wasn’t such a surprise if the impression Hiyuki gave was complete polar opposites from her work. But──
Maybe there is another Hyonomiya Hiyuki in school.
Such doubt arose within Ao.
Hyonomiya Hiyuki was probably not Sameyoroi who wrote ‘The lonely me came to an alternate world, becoming the hero, demon king and the emperor of a harem paradise’.
At this moment, the mechanical pencil in Hiyuki’s hand caught Ao’s eyes. The design was cute with a picture of a fish on it, and didn’t match the mature Hiyuki at all. The fish had a long and grey body, its most prominent feature was its eyes. Deep blue eyes, large and moist.
Hmm… Could that be… A shark?
Sameyoroi… Same, Yo, Ro, I… Same… Shark (Same)!6
Linking everything together, Ao felt his head heating up. During the break between classes, he used his smartphone to search for information about sharks.
He found a type of kitefin shark that lived at the depth of the sea, with eyes that had a blue glow, and looked really powerful.
Same, Yo, Ro, I, it’s Yoroizame (Kitefin Shark)!
He’s heart raced as if he discovered something incredible. Right now, Ao was very certain.
Hyonomiya Hiyuki is Sameyoroi!
After uttering that unconsciously, Ao shut his mouth in a panic. He looked towards Hiyuki’s seat and found it empty, she had went off to somewhere.
But he couldn’t restrain the rumbling in his heart, and had the urge to shout it out loud.
And of course, he couldn’t ask her directly ‘Hyonomiya-san is Sameyoroi correct!’ Ao had been reminded time and again: The personal information of the contestant, content of the work, results of the contest must never be leaked. On top of that, Ao also signed a contract with the publishers. It wouldn’t be good if others found out that the high schooler Ao was working as a screener. Also, Hiyuki would be surprised if a classmate said that to her out of the blue.
But, I want to talk to Hyonomiya-san.
If he talked about light novels, she would be willing to chat, right? Some of the contestants lived near Ao too. It made Ao happy: Ahh, there’s a 26 years old engineer who takes the bus at the same stop as me. The contestant this time wasn’t just in the same school, they were in the same class too.
Caught in the dilemma of ‘strictly prohibiting the leak of personal data’ and ‘hiding the fact that I am a screener and chatting with her’, Ao couldn’t keep still and was really troubled.
Hiyuki only came back to class when class was about to begin. She still didn’t talk to anyone, returning to her seat and keeping her back straight.
She makes that ice sculpture like expression though she wrote lines like ‘Striped panties’. How unfathomable.
When they were assigned to the same class, aside from thinking: “What a beauty”, Ao wasn’t interested in her. But now, he was very intrigued by Hyonomiya Hiyuki. When did she start writing light novels? Why was she writing light novels? Was she writing any other works? Which author did she like? I want to know all that so much!
During class, Ao kept peeking at Hiyuki’s face.
When it was time for lunch break, Hiyuki took her small bag and left the class hurriedly.
That’s right Hyonomiya-san is usually not in class during lunch break...
He remembered that she only made it back to her seat right before class begin.
“Hyonomiya-san is probably eating lunch with her friends in other class right?”
Ao gathered together with the boys in class and chatted while eating the lunch box his mother made for him.
“What, so you really do like Hyonomiya.”
“Daring to woo that ‘Ice Maiden’, you are really an hero.”
“Take my advice, it’s better to not go after Hyonomiya.”
Some laughed deviously, while others worried for Ao sincerely.
“I said that’s not it. She is always not around during lunch break, I’m just curious where she went.”
“If you didn’t care about that girl at all, why would you be curious about that?”
“That’s right. Ao, you have fallen for her right?”
That’s not it, really.
Ao smiled wryly. His classmates shared what they knew about Hiyuki with him.
“Every morning, afternoon and after school, Hyonomiya would shut herself inside the computer lab. I heard she stayed there all the time during her first year. She emitted an icy aura while glaring at the screen.”
“I saw it too, law and statutes, Marx’s economical theory and other such books were piled around the keyboard as she tapped on the keyboard with her body completely still. So scary, the seats around Hyonomiya are mostly empty.”
“When I first saw her, there were medical books, then philosophy books like those by Plato or Aristotle.”
“She might be thinking that it would be more meaningful to widen her knowledge than to talk with us.”
She is probably writing her manuscript in the computer lab.
Ao’s heart beat even faster.
Before the fifth period began, Hiyuki returned to the classroom and sat gracefully back in her seat.
From diagonally behind her, Ao watched Hiyuki’s cold eyes, tightly closed lips, the mole besides her lips and the Kitefin shark with large eyes on her mechanical pencil.
After school, Ao made a trip to the computer lab.
The computer lab on the third floor was usually open for the student usage. That was why many students visited the computer lab during break and after school. But as gaming and adult sites were banned, along with the ‘talking is prohibited’ poster in the room, only the sound of keyboards could be heard in the room.
Hiyuki came to the computer lab earlier and sat in a seat besides the wall, staring at the screen as she typed.
I see. Compared to her demeanour in the classroom, Hiyuki felt even more cold in the computer lab. That was why the seats around her were empty.
Ao intentionally picked a seat besides Hiyuki.
The tension in the room suddenly rose, probably because the students were spooked. They wondered who dared to sit besides the ‘Ice Maiden’.
Hiyuki didn’t even look at Ao and continued to tap on her key board with her slender fingers. On the table were books about mathematical theory and construction engineering that looked difficult to read. Each one of them were thick enough to be used as a murder weapon, like a wall that isolate herself from her neighbouring seat.
The books were in the way and made it hard to peek at her screen. Hiyuki also adjusted the brightness of the monitor down, and with the tiny font size she was using, Ao could only tell that the screen was covered in words.
But watching her from up close, she really is a mature beauty.
Overwhelmed by the aura Hiyuki’s pale and translucent skin was emitting, and her ice cold eyes and straight back, Ao felt increasingly uncomfortable. At this moment…
I already went out of my way to come here, and have confirmed that Hyonomiya-san is Sameyoroi.
Ao gathered himself, and took out a light novel from his bag.
On the cover was a young man wielding a sword and a girl holding a girl. It was a fantasy battle novel that was all the rage recently. He didn’t finish it earlier but just happen to have stuffed it into his bag.
Ao purposely dropped the book besides Hiyuki’s feet.
Hiyuki who was staring at the monitor turned to look at Ao for the first time. Her long eyelashes dropped a little, she pushed her thin lips tightly together as she looked at Ao with a cold gaze.
The moment their eyes met, Ao felt electricity running down his back. Hiyuki was so beautiful, graceful and cold, exactly like his classmates described. Ao was as nervous as a vassal kneeling before his queen and his entire body turned stiff. Extraordinary beauty could also be a weapon to subdue an opponent. Ao experienced this first hand as he looked at Hiyuki’s face directly.
He thought Hiyuki would picked up the book and return it to him, but Hiyuki didn’t look as if she planned to do that.
“Haha, I dropped my book.”
Ao made an excuse and bent down. When he saw her white porcelain legs protruding from the edge of her skirt, his heart started to race and he averted his eyes in a panic.
After picking up the book, Ao realized that Hiyuki was still staring at him. Or rather, her cold eyes seemed to be saying that she didn’t see Ao at all.
Ao still felt fearful after seeing her reaction, but…
“Ah, I am your classmate Ao Kazetani, Hyonomiya-san. Do you remember me?”
Mustering his courage, he asked softly:
Hiyuki’s expression didn’t change.
She answered with a tone as frosty as her expression.
That’s great, she knows that I am her classmate.
“This book is the newest release of this series, it was published just recently and is really good, I really like this series now. Hyonomiya-san, do you read light novels?”
Ao showed Hiyuki the cover and tried to find a topic to chat with her.
From the manuscript Hiyuki submitted, this series was the type that suited Hiyuki. Also, this series set off a boom among the light novel readers, so the probability of a high schooler contestant reading this series was high.
Hiyuki’s lowered her eyes, and looked at the book in Ao’s hand in a mature and enchanting expression, but there wasn’t any light in her cold eyes.
She answered softly with a voice that almost freezed the air, then turned her face away.
The sound gave the feeling of a roller shutter shutting forcefully.
── It’s bothersome, please don’t talk to me.
Ao’s entire body froze solid as he took that was what Hiyuki meant.
Hiyuki gathered her notes and stationery into her bag, then left the computer lab while carrying the books in her arms as if she felt unhappy about Ao chatting her up, and wanted to go to a place where Ao wasn’t there.
Her lips which had a mole besides it remained tightly shut as Hiyuki gazed downwards, straighten her body with a icy expression, and left Ao’s side without a word. Ao felt a wenching pain in his chest and his face heating up because of the shame as he watched Hiyuki leave.
Uwah… How shameful.
“What is it Ao, why are you sighing?”
After he return home, Ao went to Sakutaro’s apartment and sulked on the floor. The book he read half way was just laid there and his face was sullen. Hence, Sakutaro called out to him.
It was rare to see Sakutaro working so hard. He spin his chair away from his desk surrounded by three computers, leaned forward and asked:
“Is it love-related troubles? If so, you can talk to your uncle about it.”
Sakutaro smiled widely.
Why did his classmate and Sakutaro think that Ao was in love? Speaking of which, even though it wasn’t trouble with love, it did involve a girl. Sakutaro had dated plenty of girls, and his description of the mindset of the girls making an appearance in his games were quite high in standard. Sakutaro himself said that real girls weren’t so easy to deal with though. However, since he could state it so readily, he must understand the mindset of girls in the real world well right?
And so, Ao tried asking quietly.
“... Let’s say if, if an aloof and beautiful girl who doesn’t talk to anyone in class…”
“Oh, nice, the silent and cool type?”
“I happen to find out about the other side of that girl, and in order to understand that side of her more, I tried talking to her about that topic. But she ignored me and started avoiding me, which means she didn’t want to discuss about that topic. Does she… find me annoying? That’s definitely it.”
When he said it out loud, he felt a stone drop in his stomach.
He didn’t think she would stand up and leave. Was listening to Ao such a bother? Ao thought that she would be more receptive if he use light novels as a topic, and she might want to talk about writing novels herself.
“Was she troubled? Or was she afraid of you?”
Sakutaro showed an expression of ‘look at what you did, dummy’ and said.
“Afraid of me?”
“Because, that unexpected side of silent-chan wasn’t found out by anyone right? For her, it was something she wanted to hide.”
“Yes, so I annoyed her and made her mad when I mention that topic.”
“Yeah, there are such cases too. Someone who is always alone, is she strong or timid? No, even someone really strong have a cowardly side. This type of people are afraid of getting hurt by others. That’s why, when someone hint that: “I know everything” about the things they were hiding in their heart, they would be scared out of their wits.
Did Hiyuki leave because she was angry at Ao, or because she was afraid?
Sakutaro’s words struck Ao like lightning.
Back then, Hiyuki’s tightly closed lips, her queen-like expression… But what if things were like Sakutaro said, and that’s not how she really felt?
“Isn’t this common in games? Getting ahold of the weak point of the silent beauty, blackmailing them with it and taming them accordingly. For male orientated games, the setting of the male characters would be more crude. For female orientated games, they would be cool and handsome men. As for you, you don’t need to use intimidation. For boys with raging hormones like you, the girls will listen to you if you adopt a more forceful attitude.”
“If the one pressuring them were the handsome type they prefered, they will submit wholeheartedly, that’s what the girls want.” Sakutaro started talking about games with blackmailing themes, which made Ao’s face turn pale.
Blackmail! Did Hyonomiya-san think I was blackmailing her?
The next day, Ao waited uneasily in the classroom for Hyonomiya Hiyuki to show up. If Hiyuki thought that Ao was holding on to her weak point, and was afraid that Ao would make overboard demands, then he needed to resolve this misunderstanding and put her at ease.
Ao kept looking at Hiyuki’s seat, and his classmates whispered to each other:
“He’s in love.”
“He has fallen for her.”
Hiyuki should be writing in the computer lab this morning too. Ao really wanted to meet her there, but that would only make Hiyuki more afraid.
Ao was enduring it, and right before self study in the morning began, Hiyuki entered the classroom. She kept her eyes down, not looking at Ao at all.
What should I do? I have to try to talk to her. It would be weird if I suddenly say ‘I won’t tell anyone that Hyonomiya-san entered a light novel contest.”
If he really said that, Hiyuki would probably turn pale from shock.
Ao kept following that icy face of hers and worry. At this moment, Hiyuki sneaked a peek at Ao’s direction.
Ao and Hiyuki locked their eyes for an instant.
Ao opened his eyes in surprise, Hiyuki’s shoulders shuddered a little and she showed a meek expression. She then reverted back to her frosty face, lowered her eyes and walked to her seat. With her back straight, she started taking textbooks out of her bag.
Just now… she seemed to be showing a scared look.
When he saw the ‘Ice Maiden’ looking fearfully, Ao’s heart almost stopped. When it started beating again, it did so really intensely.
So she can show that kind of expression too.
To avoid spooking her, Ao peeked at her carefully, and saw Hiyuki holding her Kitefin Shark mechanical pencil with her head down.
What do I need to do to talk to her without alarming her...
As Ao was thinking about various things, the first period ended. The next lesson was computing. Ao followed his classmates and headed for the computer lab.
He thought Hiyuki would reach the computer lab first, but there was no signs of her and his other classmates got into their seats one by one.
Hyonomiya-san sat there yesterday, I sat besides her and showed her a light novel. I talked to her, and she stood up and left in the end.
As Ao thought about what happened yesterday with a bitter expression.
“Hmm? What is this!?”
A male student who sat at the computer where Hiyuki was seated yesterday yelled.
“There are still words on the screen, someone forgot to delete it? Stuff like ‘Bong─ Bang!’, ‘It’s striped patterned~’, this is a light novel!”
Ao held his breath.
The manuscript written by Hiyuki on the school computer was still there? Did Hiyuki forget to delete it? The other classmates gathered to look at the screen.
“Wahh! ‘Fluffy’, ‘Sparkling──☆’, are you for real? ‘Master~ it’s striped patterned panties~’, how disgusting, all light novels are like this.”
“Light novels are books Otakus read, those with girls flashing their panties on the cover right? Reading such brainless things so happily, they must be idiots.”
“The person who keep giggling to themselves while writing this must be a moron, how disgusting.”
Not just the boys, even the girls were like this.
“Ew, how disgusting.”
Everyone looked at the screen together and was getting rowdy.
When he saw Hiyuki standing at the entrance with a pale face, Ao was shocked.
Hints of weakness surfaced on her cold eyes, just like what he saw by chance during class. Her thin lips that had a mole besides it also turned white, her slender fingers that were holding her textbooks to her chest were trembling slightly. When someone said: “Disgusting──”, she slumped her shoulders with a fearful face──
When he saw that, Ao squeezed into the crowd and pulled the plug of the computer.
As the devious male students were shouting about ‘let’s find the culprit who wrote this’, the monitor blacked out.
“Wah, what are you doing!?”
Ao said with a refreshing smile while holding the end of the plug:
“Sorry, I am the one who wrote that.”
Hiyuki who was standing at the entrance with her shoulders withdrawn widened her eyes.
Ao said cheerfully before his dumbfounded classmates:
“Because light novels are the best! The most popular anime right now that has been confirmed to make it to the big screen, ‘The Mage of Time and Dragon’, was adapted from a light novel. Ono, didn’t you watch it last week and even cried?”
Ao deflected the topic to a classmate who opened his eyes wide and lowered his head.
“Koken too, didn’t you say the ‘Fluffy high school battle chronicle’ I lent you is super interesting, and you finished ten volumes in three days? Or you don’t want to borrow the sequels?”
“N-No, please lend the sequels to me.”
Ao smiled gently.
He then clapped his hands together, and said with a slightly embarrassed expression:
“So, everyone please forget what you saw just now. I put in a lot of effort into it! Also, if you read on, you will find that it is really interesting.”
Hiyuki opened her eyes wide again, her lips with the charming mole besides it were open slightly because of surprise.
“Hmm, alright, show it to us next time.”
“Okay── Ara, my masterpiece~ the data is all gone.”
Ao sighed exaggeratedly, and his classmates all laughed.
The atmosphere in the classroom soothed. After the teacher entered the room, everyone scattered and returned to their seats.
Hiyuki also sat down some distance away from Ao.
Her long eyelashes lowered as she made a cold expression, clicking the Kitefin Shark mechanical pencil in her hand.
It was noon when Hiyuki approached Ao.
Ao bought bread at the canteen, and in the corridor back to the classroom, Hiyuki appeared suddenly from the corner.
She probably heard that Ao went to buy bread, and waited here for him.
She stared at Ao who was holding pineapple bread, veggie salad, croquette and milk, she said softly:
“Why… did you claim to have written it?”
“Ehh, back then, I did so on reflex…”
Ao answered apologetically. Hiyuki slumped her shoulders a little and lowered her gaze.
“... You know… that I wrote it right?”
Ao hesitate for a moment.
Hiyuki pulled her shoulders back more.
“Why… do you know… that I am writing that?”
Ao started hesitating.
It was a secret that the high schooler Ao was working as a screener. And a screener telling a contestant that he had read her work was against the rules.
But Hiyuki took the initiative to find Ao, that meant she was very confused. Why did a classmate who didn’t cross path with her at all know her secret? Yesterday, he was talking as if he knew everything.
Ao felt that it was unfair to muddle the topic after making Hiyuki so troubled, so Ao said quietly:
“Because I read Hyonomiya-san’s manuscript.”
“Read my manuscript…?”
Hiyuki lifted her head, her face filled with confusion. Ao continued with a serious expression:
“Hyonomiya-san used the pen name Yoroisame and submitted the work ‘The lonely me came to an alternate world, becoming the hero, demon king and the emperor of a harem paradise’ into the contest ── I saw this manuscript when I was working as a screener.”
Hiyuki turned expressionless, then her face suddenly reddened.
The ‘Ice Maiden’ whose eyes were glittering with cold light became like a cooked octopus. From her ears to her neck── even the place around the mole by her lips were unbelievably red. Her slightly open lips trembled nonstop, and tears welled in her eyes.
Ao was shocked by her change. Hiyuki lowered her head forcefully.
“... You, got the wrong person…”
She was as quiet as the buzzing of a fly.
Hiyuki moved amazingly fast and ran away from Ao with a swish.
Hiyuki only returned to the classroom when the fifth period was about to start. With an unnatural posture as she averted her face away from Ao, she walked to her seat and turned to the window as if she was avoiding Ao’s eyes.
She was always keeping her posture straight as she looked at the blackboard, but for the fifth and sixth period, Hiyuki shrinked her shoulders as she looked out the window.
As she did so, Hiyuki held the mechanical pencil with a large eyed Kitefin Shark tightly.
The way Hiyuki was acting made Ao very anxious.
Is it better to not tell her that I read her work? She is not thinking that I am threatening her right?