I called the fortune teller again. The reason is that the flow of the “story” is way too different from what it should be. If it’s possible to know what’s happening, I want to hear it.
Her voice lacks all the vigor, and the confident tone she had before seems to have disappeared.
“I-I’ve been having strange dreams lately… and I’m not getting enough sleep.”
My conscience aches, but there’s no helping it. I’ll ask her for a fortune-telling.
“Well, I want to request a fortune-telling…”
In a feeble voice, she mumbles, and after a few seconds, the result of the fortune-telling is ready. At least I’m lucky.
“Four people around you… each of them has a black cloud-like haze surrounding them. However, Crimson of raging fire is avoided.”
“As I thought… is it possible for one person to be burdened with two disasters?”
“I too have no previous examples of such a thing, so I don’t know… It was evaded once, but whether it was born again or something else, I can’t tell… Were there two from the beginning…”
Can it be that after avoiding one, there could be another? Such a situation wasn’t present in the ‘if story.’ I can’t tell if it’s irregular or something else, but I’m assuming that the mid-boss, the lion, appeared, so the other three will come one after another.
“Um, do you know the faces of Silver-white of utmost brilliance, Lightning Yellow or the Deep Sea Blue? I’ll send photos of them, so can you do a fortune-telling for all three?”
“Understood… I’ll hang up for now… I need to sleep… Oh, and for the other three, the worst hasn’t come yet, that’s all…”
“Thank you very much.”
With a click, the call ends. She seemed quite worn out.
She must have her own circumstances too. Despite that, she’s cooperating, and I’m grateful for that.
I’ll send her a photo of the previous group picture, and since she knows Silver of Dazzling Light face, I’ll ask her to do a fortune-telling for all three.
After that, I must do what I can… the impending disaster. Assuming there are four heavenly kings left, then if I can go to the Artemis in the other world, everything can be resolved.
Thinking about the future, I head back to the living room for now.
[HIhara Karen PoV]
I make a phone call alone in my bedroom. After a few rings, Mom answers, and I begin to talk to her. I want to discuss my current situation and figure out what I should do from now on.
“Yes, what’s wrong? Is it about the engagement with Izayoi-kun, or did you want to report that you’ve become a couple?”
“It’s actually about something else…”
The sudden expectation in Mama’s voice weighed heavily on my heart. My current situation hadn’t made any progress compared to before.
“Seems like you’re not feeling well. Did something happen?”
“Yeah… um, to put it simply… I think I’ve started to like Izayoi-kun… or, rather, I’ve started to see him in a positive light… Because of that, I can’t talk to him properly, and I end up saying the opposite of what I really feel, or saying things I don’t mean… I’m not sure what to do.”
“I see… that’s a tough situation. I used to feel that way not too long ago…”
Mom’s voice sounds serious, with a hint of regret. It makes my cheeks burn when I think of how he helped me during my parents’ divorce.
“But in any case, you have to face it. Even if it’s difficult to convey your feelings honestly, you have to do it sincerely… Otherwise, you won’t make any progress. That’s what you and Izayoi-kun taught me.”
“So, do your best. I can only say that to you. You’ll be fine; you’re a capable and courageous person. You can do it. So, take a step forward like you used to.”
“Yeah… thanks, Mom. I’ll try my best.”
“Do your best… If anything comes up, feel free to talk to me anytime. Well then, goodbye.”
“Yeah, see you…”
I hung up the phone after the call with Mom.
She encouraged me and told me that I can do it. Alright, I’ll show her what I’m made of!
Just talking, just like before. It can be about anime, manga, light novels, or even mundane everyday topics. If I can’t talk, I’ll keep talking until I can. That’s all I need to do.
With this determination, I head towards Izayoi’s place. It’s his house, so it won’t be hard to find him, but come to think of it, isn’t it dangerous to go to the house of a younger guy? It feels kind of awkward now, but I’m overthinking it. Amidst my anxious thoughts, I search the whole house and eventually arrive at the living room.
And there he is, the master of the house, Izayoi, appears!!!
“What’s the matter?”
I’m getting nervous… calm down. Let’s start with small talk…
“Uhm, it’s hot lately, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it’s summer…”
“And the temperature is high too…”
“Y-yes, because it’s summer.”
“Why do you think it’s so hot?”
“Well, it’s summer after all… and maybe because of global warming?”
N-not good, this isn’t going well. Izayoi seems just as unsure about what to talk about. I’m not even sure what I’m saying. This is bad, really bad. Lately, I’ve been too “tsun-tsun,” and it feels like we’re growing distant…
But I have something we can talk about – our two-dimensional world. This will save the conversation. Calm down, I’m older than him. Izayoi is younger.
I take a deep breath and try to steer the conversation towards anime and manga, things we both like.
“By the way, a new light novel caught my interest lately…”
“What’s the plot about?”
Izayoi asks with an interesting expression. Finally, it feels like we can have a conversation like we used to… but wait, what was the title again?
“Wait a second, I completely forgot, let me check on my phone.”
Oh no, when things start going smoothly, I get so happy that my memory goes blank. Who could have predicted I’d end up like this? I pretended to be tough, said the opposite of what I felt, and intentionally acted tsundere.
But being a true tsundere is frustrating. Even just a little bit of conversation makes me so happy that I lose myself, and my heart races.
I try to check the new light novel on my smartphone… check… check… I can’t. The Wi-Fi at Izayoi’s place is acting up… I can’t complain since I’m borrowing the place, but…
“Um, is something wrong?”
“Oh, uh, yeah, my phone’s acting up…!”
Izayoi looks at me curiously. I look back at him, and I see my reflection in his eyes. Those gentle, strong eyes that I’ve seen many times before. They always supported me, looked at me more straightforwardly than anyone else.
[I’ll push you forward. I’ll support you, no matter what happens. So please try again! I don’t want to see you regretting it!]
[Thanks to you, our family’s issues have been resolved to a great extent. It’s all thanks to you. Thank you so much.]
[It’s because you and the others took a step forward. I just supported you; it’s not all because of me.]
Unexpected memories from the past flash through my mind all of a sudden. Why now? Just when my heartbeat was starting to calm down…
[You’re safe, and that’s all that matters.]
I remember the moment he stood before me, supporting me. And in the next instant…
My brain overheated.
“Gah! The Wi-Fi signal is too weak!! Change the router already!!!”
“I-I’m sorry. It works well in the morning, but sometimes it acts up at other times…”
I said something I never intended to say. How could I have done that? He didn’t do anything wrong…
I’m the worst…
I ran away from there, heading back to my bedroom.
Repeating the same pattern as that day, unable to say what I want to say. In the end, I haven’t changed.
Pathetic, pathetic, pathetic.
I have no willpower. Despite the encouragement from Mom, I kept pushing Izayoi away repeatedly.
The worst, the lowest, no charisma, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone said that about me.
He’ll probably end up hating me someday. Right now, he smiles kindly at me, but eventually, he’ll grow tired of me and leave.
But I don’t want that. I’m too selfish. I never knew I could be this pathetic, such a helpless girl.
I escaped from that place. Clad in my magical outfit, I put on my shoes and left the house… without any specific destination in mind, running at a speed that left the wind behind…
Lately, it’s been challenging to have a proper conversation with Hihara Karen. She’s become quite tsundere, unlike her usual self, and I don’t know what to do… I wonder why she’s acting so distant.
Could it be that living together is stressing her out? Did she start to dislike me…? No, that can’t be true… right? If that were the case, it would be more than just heartbreaking.
Should I pursue her or not? Of course, I’ll pursue her. But the thought of her hating me hurts.
However, if there’s something bothering her, I must go after her. If she has any concerns, I want to listen and if there’s something she wants me to improve, I’ll do my best to fix it.
She left, clad in her magical outfit. I have to put on mine to catch up. I quickly put it on and step outside.
Yet, I can’t find her anywhere. I check places where I can see the whole town, but there’s no sign of her.
She can move at an extraordinary speed, and I’m late because she left suddenly. A mere moment’s delay creates a significant distance between us.
Where did she go…?
She’s not on people’s rooftops or jumping from one building to another, nor is she on top of the public bath’s chimney. Without realizing it, hours pass, and I start feeling anxious.
At times like this, where would she go?
I should know, but I don’t. I should be aware, but I’m not. These contradictory feelings swirl within me.
As I move around, the sun starts to set, and the town takes on an orange hue.
I’m getting more and more anxious… I don’t know what to do. At that moment, for some reason, the park comes to mind.
The place where we faced each other that day.
I haven’t checked there yet. That thought propels me to run to that location.
The rusted park illuminated by the evening sun. The children had already started heading home, and the rarely used park was so quiet that one could think nobody was there.
However, a girl in a red sailor uniform was sitting cross-legged on a worn-out bench, burying her face in her knees.
I found her. With a sense of bewilderment, I approached her and sat down on the bench.
“Um, Hihara-senpai? Do you have any worries or concerns? If there’s something bothering you, you can talk to me.”
“It’s too late now. Shouldn’t we head home for now? We can talk there…”
Hihara Karen’s voice sounded strained as she shook her head.
“Leave me alone…”
“That’s not possible. I can’t just leave you alone.”
“It’s fine, I prefer being alone, so leave me be.”
She had been sitting cross-legged, not making eye contact and speaking in a weak voice the whole time. Perhaps she was really troubled by something significant.
“I can’t do that.”
“Leave me alone…”
“I don’t want to.”
“Go somewhere else.”
“I’m right here.”
“I said go away!”
I was slightly taken aback by her loud voice. She was rejecting me.
It was different from before. Back then, I understood the reasons. She had rejected me out of fear of intruding on the cracks in her family bonds, fearing that it might change things and even though she wanted to, she couldn’t do anything about it.
But now, I don’t understand. Maybe she really rejected me.
I’ll probably be shocked and bedridden if she rejects me. It’s scary, intruding on her.
What’s even scarier is being rejected.
But still, I like her. I like them.
I couldn’t overlook this situation. I had decided that. I’d do anything for them. No matter the outcome. For their sake.
“I won’t go… I can’t just ignore you when you’re crying. So, tell me.”
Honestly, I don’t want her to hate me. But that was the decision I made a while ago. I’d do anything for them. No matter the outcome.
“Ugh… Don’t you get it! I said I prefer being alone! Why won’t you leave me alone?”
She lifted her face from her knees and looked at me. Her eyes were puffy. She must have been crying.
Tears fell from her eyes, drop by drop. Seeing her cry, I knew that this wasn’t the usual face I was familiar with.
I shouldn’t lie about her question. I had to be honest, that’s the only way it makes sense, the only way things will change.
Her question had an easy answer. I had known it for a long time. So, I’ll say it.
But this answer has a little inconsistency. I do like them. It should be the most important thing, my top priority.
But somehow, I’ve always seen them as… ‘characters.’ I haven’t fully detached from that mindset.
That’s why it’s so confusing to act differently from what I thought.
But that’s only natural.
People change. They’re changing, even they. I realized that as I interacted with them. But I didn’t fully understand it before.
I like her. As a ‘character,’ but also as an ‘individual.’ I’m aware of that now. My heart starts beating loudly.
When we talk about anime, she gets embarrassed sometimes, when she feels jealous when I talk to other girls and pouts her cheeks, when she’s being tsundere.
When she’s laughing. Even when she’s showing unfamiliar expressions or attitudes.
I like all of it.
“I love you, Karen, even if it kills me. That’s all. So, no matter how much you might hate me or reject me, I don’t want to see you cry.”
“Eh? Th-that’s a lie…”
“It’s not a lie. That’s why, tell me. I’ll do anything. Anything. If it means you won’t cry.”
“Um, well, that…”
Even in her confusion, tears flow from her eyes. They keep getting stronger, and she can’t stop crying.
She wipes her eyes over and over again with her hands. But it’s not enough; the tears keep pouring out like a waterfall.
“I’ll… I’ll tell you.”
“Really! Then please, go ahead!”
“But… wait a second here.”
While crying, she says that in a hoarse voice and hurries to leave the spot. At that moment, she moves faster than the wind, faster than light.
And then, I’m left alone in the desolate park.
And suddenly, I became calm.
Wait, did I just say “I love you” out of the blue!!
Think about the mood and all that!! And isn’t it weird to confess to a younger high school girl!? It’s not a crime, right!?
And not to mention, why am I not using polite language anymore? I suddenly switched to informal language! It’s getting more and more embarrassing!
But I did say I would listen, so maybe it was good to say it? She said to wait, but she won’t just go home and leave me hanging, right? It’ll be okay, won’t it?
Waiting in the warm breeze, I waited for her.
[Hihara Karen PoV]
I-I just got confessed to!?
My tears have completely disappeared… I can’t stop grinning. Wait…
Let’s calm down. Let’s stay calm. As ice, like the ice element. Calm, calm…
…I got confessed to!?
No, no, this is impossible! Staying calm in this situation is impossible, right!? It’s too sudden, isn’t it!? No, I’m happy, it’s amazing. But I’m not mentally prepared, and right now, I can’t express what I’m thinking, so I need some time.
The reason I’m so happy is not just that he told me he likes me. It’s also because I feel like the wall between us that I’ve been sensing lately, or rather, between us and him, has cracked a bit.
But it’s still there. Like a glass wall, separating us.
Maybe it won’t break unless I do something. It’s not enough for one side to move; both sides need to take action. But right now, I can’t do anything about it.
I can’t talk as I wish or convey my feelings…
But even though Izayoi said so much, I don’t want to give up. So, I’ll take a step forward like I did back then.
I entered Izayoi’s house and quickly wrote a letter. Once in my magically created room, facing the desk, Moegi enters.
“Karen-chan, where were you? I was so worried, you know? Huh? You’re not with him?”
“Sorry, I’ll be going out again soon. Go ahead and have dinner.”
“You’re going out again?”
After finishing the letter, I hurriedly left the house. I’m not sure if it will really get through to him.
I don’t know if the wall will break. I don’t know if my feelings will be conveyed… I’m scared that it might hurt him again. But no matter how many times… I’ll take the challenge.
When I arrive at the park, I sit next to him and unfold the letter. My face is burning. Not just my face, my whole body, my entire heart feels hot, as if I’m burning with magma.
“I, I, I like you, Izayoi!”
I confess my true feelings as written in the letter. Embarrassed, my heart feels like it’s about to burst.
“You saved my family, and you’re always kind, cool, and giving it your all… I like you very much. I like you more than anyone else in the world. But lately, I’ve been saying things that contradict what I’m really thinking, and I’ve hurt you by saying things I don’t mean. But even so, I want to be with you. Always, always. Sometimes, I feel like you’re distant. There are times when I feel like there’s a big wall between us. It might not make sense, but that’s how I feel…”
“But I want to be with you.”
“I’m a world-class pain, but… can I be with you?”
It felt like a volcano of inferno or something. It was so hot, I felt like I would melt. Izayoi’s eyes were darting around, flustered, and his face turned bright red…
“O-Of course. I-I like you just the way you are…”
…He understood. Thinking that, my tears wouldn’t stop again. I felt so happy, my body felt light. Before I knew it, I had entrusted myself to Izayoi. The two of us embraced in the park, feeling a very romantic atmosphere.
“…Um, to be honest, I thought you might hate me… I’m glad, Hihara-senpai, that you don’t hate me.”
Izayoi murmured anxiously. He had never said anything like that before. I felt a slight joy in his words and, at the same time, realized how helpless I am.
There is no continuation to the letter. There are no more letters expressing my feelings.
But just a little more… I’ll do my best, myself.
It’s still difficult without a letter. In front of him, my thoughts can’t come together well. Come on, me!
“…Don’t misunderstand. I-I really love you, Izayoi.”
[Third person PoV]
The night had completely fallen, and the two of them were walking along the darkened street.
One was a boy with a playful demeanor, and the other was a girl with a beauty akin to a spirit. Both had their faces flushed red, regretting that they had gone a bit overboard with their actions, yet still managing to match each other’s footsteps.
Suddenly, the back of the girl’s hand brushed against the boy’s hand. At first, the boy thought it might have been accidental, but it happened not just once, but repeatedly. The boy realized that it was the girl’s way of expressing her intentions.
The boy took the girl’s hand.
Without saying a word to each other, they continued walking together, their hands tightly clasped.
At this moment, the feelings in their hearts were the same:
—My palms are so sweaty… I should have wiped them with a wet tissue.
—But, it’s precious.