Chapter 3: Part 3
We spent a bit over an hour on the train, and around two hours walking, and soon found ourselves on the outskirts of Kanagawa.
We had been walking up a mountain road that was probably steeper than 15 degrees. From the train window, it didn’t seem like there was much height to the mountain, so the steepness of this path was pretty surprising.
There were quite a few varieties of trees lining this mountain road. There were broad-leaf trees which were already shedding faded leaves onto the ground, as well as pine trees which seemed as healthy as ever despite the autumn chill. Those latter trees had probably been implanted into the existing forest in a reforestation effort.
There wasn’t a vending machine in sight, let alone any street lamps. The road was dark, and we pushed forwards.
This might’ve been the perfect place to hold a test of courage.
But… I was a zombie, Tomonori was a vampire ninja and so was used to the darkness, and Haruna was a masou shoujo monster exterminator. Nobody here was scared of the dark, and it was simple for us to move around without a flashlight.
However, we also had caught sight of a “Beware of Bears” sign on the way up here.
So, maybe this really was a test of courage.
“Agh! It’s so cold! When are we getting there?!”
Exactly how many times has Haruna said that up until now? She had been complaining the entire way up here while sticking close behind me.
Well, I was only wearing a parker too, and the temperature up here was lower than I had expected, so…
“Cold cold cold cold!”
But she was really annoying. It’s not like just complaining was going to make anything better.
It seemed that Tomonori felt the same way, because at that point she turned around with a frown on her face and lifted both hands into the air.
“Ugh! If it’s cold you should just go back!”
It was pretty rare to see Tomonori getting annoyed at somebody.
Maybe that was why Haruna widened her eyes and stopped her grumbling.
Seeing that, Tomonori looked down at the ground, looking a bit guilty.
“Um, uhh… sorry. We’ll be there soon.”
There was now a bit of an awkwardness floating through the air now. Haruna also began to fidget.
“Ah, I need to use the toilet.”
“There’s no toilets around here, though…”
Tomonori seemed at a bit of a loss, but I continued in her place.
“What about using those bushes over there?”
The mountain path we were walking on right now was fully lined with trees, and the branches and foliage all around us formed a natural tunnel. A carpet of dried leaves was spread out at our feet, and beyond the trees were a bunch of fluffy bushes which looked like big moss balls. Haruna could probably go over there and not worry about being spied on.
“I’ll go there then… I know Ayumu is a perv, so you better not peak! You better not, okay?!”
Why in the world would I want to do that…? Ugh.
And so, Tomonori and I were left alone looking up at the sky, but the space above us was so cluttered with branches from the cedar trees around us that we couldn’t really see many stars. Drying cedar leaves hung off the branches, looking like they would fall to the ground at any moment. Even if it started raining, we probably wouldn’t get very wet here… and in the spring this place must turn into a hay fever nightmare. Around five minutes passed as these kinds of thoughts ran through my head, but Haruna had still not returned.
“She’s taking a while.”
“… Maybe she went way into the forest?”
Into that dark forest… it’d be fine if there was another path in there, but if there wasn’t there was a possibility she got completely lost. I saw Tomonori’s worried expression and scratched my head. Maybe we should go and look for her?
“That idiot… Tomonori, I’m going to go look for her.”
“O-Okay! I’ll go too!”
And so, we ended up going into the dark forest.
We stepped over a few big fallen trees and continued forwards.
The same sights passed us again and again. It felt like we had gotten ourselves into a very complex maze as we went further and further in.
What the hell… how deep into this place had that idiot gotten? I started to really worry that we had already passed each other.
“Hm? What’s up?”
I couldn’t see her very well in the dark, but I could tell that Tomonori was blushing a bit.
“I was just thinking… we finally got a moment alone…”
“What’s with you all of a sudden? That’s a pretty weird thing to say.”
“C-Can’t I think something like that? I’m Aikawa’s bride, after all.”
Bride. I stopped walking when I heard that word. Tomonori and I had become husband and wife by some random law of the vampire ninjas… but I really wished she would stop with that. Zombies weren’t really reliable enough creatures to be able to shoulder a heavy responsibility like that.
“What kind of reason is that? Also, do wives usually call their husbands by their last names?”
In other words, if Tomonori was still calling me by my last name, then she also hadn’t fully recognized me as her husband yet. That’s the implication I was trying to make, but…
“Eh? … Ah… hmm…”
Tomonori’s eyes widened, and she seemed quite happy, almost as if a good chance had just fallen into her lap.
“You’re acting kinda strange today.”
“Can I… use your name?”
“Can I call you by your first name?!”
“A-Ai…” Tomonori shook her head quickly from side to side and then tried to continue, her earlobes flushed a bright red.
A girl’s shriek ripped through our eardrums. That was definitely Haruna’s voice roaring into the center of the forest.
I heard the frantic sound of grass being pushed aside coming closer and closer.
And then… we saw Haruna galloping towards us, chased by a huge swarm of bees.
“Oh my God… you can’t be serious…”
Tomonori and I both turned tail and broke into a panicked run.
We could probably do something about a bear, but bees were a bit…
“Hey! Ayumu! Stop running away!”
Haruna chased us, all the while spouting nonsense.
And, as it turns out, the reason Haruna-sama did not want me to run was…
“Ultimate Technique! Ayumu Barrier!”
She wanted to use me as a shield.
Haruna grabbed my clothes and forced me behind her, facing the bees. Gyaahhhh! T-The damn bees! Having left me behind as a decoy, Haruna quickly sprinted off alone. I began to swat at the bees which now surrounded me from all directions.
“Aikawa! You okay?!”
“Yeah, no problem.”
I turned around and saw Tomonori right in front of me. The path here was narrower than the mountain path, so I knew she was close to me, but I didn’t know she was that close. My head bumped into hers. Tomonori’s feet slipped after the impact, and we both fell to the ground together.
“Ow ow ow…” Tomonori’s face was warped in pain. She soon gave me a smile though. Maybe she just didn’t want me to worry… but her smile grew more and more stiff.
Well, I guess to a bystander, it would’ve looked like I had pushed Tomonori to the ground and was going to try something funny. So it’s natural she would be scared.
Her voice trembled. I turned my head around, still lying atop Tomonori. And I saw…
It was a bear.
It was a two-meter tall bear, brushing a huge, centuries-old tree branch over his head like some apologetic salaryman who had just brushed up the entrance curtain at a bar late at night, wondering if he could still get a drink.
W-We actually met a bear! A furry bear! A furry, fluffy bear!
Should we play dead? This is where we should play dead, right? Even though I was already technically dead!
I leapt up to my feet, and also helped Tomonori up while keeping a wary eye on the bear.
Don’t panic… yeah, you’re a zombie. You’re even more of a monster than that bear!
Calm down… okay. I could feel my heartbeat settling back to normal. But the bear reached out to my chest with a paw, seeming to want to check my heartbeat for himself.
Rip. His sharp claws ripped through my shirt! This bastard… I’ll beat him down and put him to sleep.
I took one step forwards, but I felt something cling to me from behind.
“I-I-I-I-It’s a bear! Aikawa! It’s a bear! A bear!”
“C-Calm down, Tomonori! You’re supposed to be stronger than a bear, aren’t you?!”
Tomonori hung all her weight on me, almost making me think that it’s been her lifelong dream to be a rucksack. Her arms covered my face, while some awfully soft things pushed into the back of my head… I guess you could call this a side perk. Tomonori had a reputation for having bigger breasts than she let on, after all.
“Hey, stop! I can’t see!”
Pop! I heard a strange sound next. A button on my jeans had flown off, probably also clawed off by the bear.
“It’s a bear! We’re getting beared! Beared!”
“If you have enough time to yell stuff like that, you should just get off!”
I heard an ominous growling coming from where the bear was, so I clicked my tongue and just broke out into a run with Tomonori on my back.
Fortunately, I knew exactly where I was going.
See? There it was. If we just followed the sounds of Haruna’s screams, we’ll eventually be able to meet up with her. For now, we just needed to find a place where we could calm down.
Bzz, Tsst! No, that wasn’t the sound of electricity. As if this situation weren’t bad enough, the trees around us almost seemed to be cursed as their branches caught on my clothes and ripped them even more.
Ah, I knew what was going on now!
This damn mountain was totally going after my clothes!
If I could only see in front of me, I’d be able to avoid the tree branches. I could try to just shake Tomonori off, but those soft globes pushing onto the back of my head were so comfortable that I lost my willpower to do so.
It seemed my full-speed zombie sprint paid off, since I soon couldn’t feel any hint of the bear around anymore. I don’t think bears had the ability to hide themselves this well, so we had probably successfully gotten away.
“Uwaaaaaahhh! A bear. A beaaaaaaaaarrrr! This is bad! I’m allergic to cats!”
“We’re fine now! Calm down, Tomonori! Also, what does a cat allergy have to do with anything?!”
“Eh? O-Ohh… okay…”
I thought I would finally get her off me, but at that point we lost balance. I tried to save it by taking a step forwards, but I ended up stepping on a branch, getting caught by a fallen tree, and then tumbling to the ground.
I naturally reached out for something in front of me to steady myself, but I still had a bit too much momentum left from my sprint and ended up kissing the earth. The feeling of dirt and grass on my face was really unpleasant.
Schllp… Well then, what could that sound have been? I lifted my head up a bit to check, and I saw a pretty girl there with her baggy mountain-climbing trousers half down.
Her long hair was tied up into a ponytail, her breasts were beautifully well-proportioned, and her limbs were almost frustratingly soft and slender. She looked down at me like she was staring at some dirty thing, or like she was a naughty school teacher annoyed by one of her students.
But within her pretty eyes was the unmistakable sign of a demon.
Her jade-colored eyes bled crimson after I had pulled down her trousers. After I was granted an audience with her pre-eminent light-blue panties, Sera pulled her pants back up and sighed.
“Ayumu… I assume there is a good reason to this unfortunate turn of events.”
“Ahh, of course. Sera… there’s a reaaaaaally good reason for this…”
“If there isn’t… I will kill you. Okay?”
I stood up and brushed off the dirt that had stuck to my clothes before explaining everything as simply as possible to Sera.
“I was attacked by a bear and tripped. The situation was completely out of my control.”
“In other words, to prevent yourself from falling, you ended up grabbing my pants and accidentally started to strip them off. You are telling me that something you’d only expect to happen in manga was happening right here?”
“Yes, exactly. That’s exactly what happened.”
Sera seemed to find my explanation a bit funny, because she stuck her fingers in both of my eyes. If I weren’t a zombie, that would’ve blinded me, you know…
“Seraphim… why are you here?”
Tomonori seemed to have regained her composure, but was getting flustered again at seeing Sera there. She looked like she had seen a ghost.
“I came here to watch the stars with Hellscythe-dono. There is a good spot up ahead.”
I see. Sera was a vampire ninja like Tomonori, so it’s believable she’d know about the same stargazing spot.
Tomonori drooped her shoulders. She really has been acting strange today…
“Has our presence inconvenienced you in some way?”
There was another girl next to Sera. She was the same height of Haruna, and possessed shining silver hair, snow-like skin, and blue eyes. The name of this cute girl was Eucliwood Hellscythe.
For certain reasons, this girl couldn’t talk, but instead kept completely expressionless as she held out a memo.
I am sorry.
I couldn’t see very well in the dark, but it seemed like something like that was written on the memo.
Sigh. Tomonori let out a deep sigh.
“If you are unhappy for any reason, I can cut the tallest person here to ribbons as a diversion.”
“Tallest person… you mean me?! Why are we talking about cutting me now?!”
“More importantly, Ayumu, why are you all here?”
“I’m here to look at the stars with Tomono-… ah, Sera, have you seen Haruna around?”
“No. Was Haruna with you as well?”
“Yeah. She was being chased by a swarm of bees and she should’ve come this way.”
Sera took one quick glance at Tomonori and shut her sharp eyes. She let out a sigh.
“I understand. We will go look for her.”
Tomonori seemed to brighten up at Sera’s words.
“Hm? Shouldn’t we go look for her together?”
Tomonori seemed to darken back down at my words.
Did she want to save Haruna or not? Make up your mind, ugh.
“You’re as oblivious as always, aren’t you?”
Sera said that in a suggestive tone. I guess I am oblivious… care to tell me what I’m missing here please?
“By the way, there is a strange, sweet smell in the air, is there not?”
“Why are you looking at me?”
I sniffed at my torn parker sleeve, and sure enough there was a strangely nice smell there… ah! Haruna must’ve stuck something on there!
That little brat… in either case, I wouldn’t be able to yell at her without finding her first.
Like that, we formed the Haruna Search Party.
We lined up in a row and walked along the narrow mountain road while screaming Haruna’s name. My clothes were already more than half torn to shreds and the cold was starting to get to me, but when I asked Sera to lend me some clothes she poked my eyes out (again), so for now all I could do was pray that we found Haruna quickly.
I felt something lightly pulling on my parker sleeve. I then felt my parker sleeve coming off, turning it into a no-sleeve parker on one side.
Ahh… this thing had been really damaged, hadn’t it?
I realized that Yuu had been the one who had grabbed onto my sleeve.
She showed me a memo with that written on it.
Squinting my eyes in the darkness, I saw that the path widened up into a larger area up ahead. I broke into a dash.
Yuu chased after me, followed by Sera and Tomonori.
We broke into a circular clearing with the grass mowed down. It almost looked like one of those strange crop circles you sometimes saw on TV.
The artificially planted pine trees were nowhere to be found, and the clearing was surrounded by fallen leaves which were painted the orange colors of autumn. It was really a nice place to experience autumn. I took in a deep breath, and smelled something nice in the air. But that could’ve just been my imagination.
And in the middle of that big clearing, so big that an entire tennis court could’ve easily fit inside… there was a bear.
Up ahead there is a bear.
Yuu had caught up to me, and thrust that memo at me. Maybe it had been too dark, but it seemed I hadn’t read her memo back there to the end. I was puzzling over whether we should run, but then I realized that the bear, who was sitting flatly on the ground, was holding onto something.
It was a short girl with a prominent ahoge. It was Haruna.
What exactly was that girl doing?
I wasn’t really scared of just a bear, so I just approached them straight on. I heard Haruna say something in a soft, wheedling voice.
“Mmmm… so waaarmm…”
Well, it’s wonderful she was warm then.
“Using a bear in place of a sofa… seems quite like something Haruna would do.”
Sera had also come into the center of the clearing, and was now smiling with her arms crossed.
I want to cuddle with it too.
Yuu was here too, and although she was expressionless I could feel she was a bit jealous.
We all stood around the bear, exchanging smiles.
Except for Tomonori, who was still standing at the entrance of the clearing. Her shout broke right through the rustling of the dry leaves around us.
“Why, each and every time… there’s always so many people butting in?!”
There was a hint of tears in her trembling voice. Nobody spoke up in response.
“I just wanted… just wanted to go look at the stars alone with Aikawa! Why is Seraphim and all the others always with Aikawa?!”
I see… she had wanted to come on this trip alone with me. And I hadn’t picked up on that and ended up bringing Haruna with me… usually this is the point I would try to talk my way out of things, but right now I couldn’t figure out anything smart to say. All I could do was stare at Tomonori as she clenched her fists.
I really had to say something. That was the only thought circling through my head right now.
“Don’t get the wrong idea!”
I heard a voice coming from the bear’s midsection, before his big arms were moved to the side and Haruna came bounding out.
“The way you put it makes it seem like we all like Ayumu!”
Haruna snapped her slender index finger to point at Tomonori.
“Yes, that is quite an irritating assumption.”
Sera turned towards Tomonori and narrowed her eyes.
“But… you all came here! You just wanted to interrupt me and Aikawa, didn’t you?!”
“Yukinori, do you hate me?”
Haruna looked at Tomonori with big eyes brimming with confidence. Seeing that, Tomonori shook her head fervently.
“I… definitely don’t. I’m…”
Haruna puffed her tiny chest out grandly. She looked quite proud of herself, even though I was pretty sure those breasts of hers would never grow into anything.
“I like you too! I came here cuz I wanted to see the stars with Yukinori!”
“I also only came to see the stars with Hellscythe-dono. I did not come here to observe perverts.”
It’s best if we all see the stars together.
“I… was an idiot. I didn’t think at all about how everyone else felt…I’m sorry. I’m really sorry! You’re right… we’re all here together, so we should go stargazing together!”
Well, I’m beat then. To think I’d let Haruna take all the good moments away from me in this conversation… oh well. I let out a chuckle, and waited for an opportune moment to speak up to Sera and Haruna.
“Can I ask a quick question?”
“Does that mean you hate me?”
“As much as nails on a chalkboard.”
Haruna even took the time to grind her teeth and wrap her arms around herself, wriggling around.
“I have accidentally called cockroaches ‘Ayumu’ in the past.”
Sera shut her eyes, seeming to be recollecting something.
If only you were a bit less of a pervert… Even Yuu?! That’s a bit of a shock!
“You all… okay then. In that case, why are you freeloading in my house?”
“Yes, I agree with that opinion.”
“What a shameless thing to say… okay! All of you are going without meals tomorrow!”
“Haahh?” Oh my, at that moment a voice like that of a Yakuza gangster just came out of Sera’s pretty pink lips.
“Ayumu, did you say something? Feels a bit cold around here.”
Oh my, she makes it almost sound like I was being cold!
“… Nothing. I haven’t the faintest idea what you might be talking about.”
I felt a tinge of loneliness running through me, and though I might take a leaf out of Haruna’s book and use the bear as a sofa replacement too. But the bear’s strong claws came down me… and tore up my shirt.
Ugh! This mountain is definitely going after my clothes!