While Yasuo was cleaning up the corn from his salad that he had coughed up, he was also closely listening to Diana’s words.
Maybe his mother and Nodoka hadn’t realized the true intent behind Diana’s last statement.Yasuo forced down his feelings along with his breakfast, he left the table without even saying thanks for the food. Regardless of what his mother and Nodoka were thinking, if he stayed at that place any longer, he would only end up making himself and Diana feel bad, and Nodoka would again try to fix the situation and he would be in her debt.
“…Thanks for the food. Although it’s a little early, I’ll be leaving now.”
The hands of the clock were showing the time was 6:45 AM.
“Hmm, you’re leaving pretty early.”
His mother only looked at him with eyes widened a little in surprise. Nodoka’s words were full of the nuance that she thought he was running away.
True, he would usually spend at least another thirty minutes relaxing, but Yasuo definitely didn’t feel like doing that today. If he spent another thirty minutes with Diana in the atmosphere that was starting to become more friendly, he didn’t know what kind of things he would end up agreeing to.
“I promised to go to the club room before school starts.”
Did anyone detect a lie in his flimsy excuse?
At Yasuo’s high school, morning practice for clubs was only held after receiving permission, before important competitions.
He remembered how his father, Hideo, had been very agitated when Yasuo entered high school, and he found out that there would be no morning practice for clubs.
It’s not that morning practice was forbidden, and clubs that had chances of competing at the national level and clubs that had their dedicated training spaces were not bound by this rule. However, there had been a tendency in recent years to curtail morning practice for clubs that didn’t fall into either of these categories.
Irrespective of that fact, Nodoka appeared to have seen through his intentions. Maybe that was only to be expected.
That’s because the club that Yasuo used to belong to no longer existed.
“Ah, please take care…”
As Yasuo left without sparing a single glance at the dining table, only Diana’s voice and the small sound caused by moving her chair back as she slightly stood up went after him.
Perhaps she intended to see him off at the door, or she just stood up without thinking about it, but Yasuo didn’t intend to talk to her any further even if she came to see him off. Even if he didn’t believe in all this stuff about other worlds, Heroes and Demon Kings, he understood that she was the daughter of some old friends of his parents.
However, since she was in a position where she was threatening to disrupt the peace of his family, he had no idea what kind of abusive language he would use on her if she came to see him off. If he did that, there was no doubt that the girl would get depressed and stop talking altogether. He could understand that much even from their brief encounter today morning.
Since Diana appeared to be basically a good person, if he insulted her and caused her to become silent, wouldn’t that make him look like the bad guy?
That’s why, he was glad that she didn’t come running after him.
Besides, saying that he had to stop by the club room wasn’t a complete lie. It’s just that he would kill time at the room that had previously been used by his club.
“Seriously, nothing seems to be going well.”
While bathed in the sunlight of a morning that was still a little chilly, Yasuo headed down the road that would take him to Tokorozawa Station of the Seibu Railway.
A good metaphor for Yasuo’s highschool life so far would be to say, ‘defective, but not damaged enough to bother sending it in for repair’.
He attended a private high school in his area, Takeoka High School, and had a fair number of friends, even though they were all male. As for his studies, in some subjects he was near the top of the school rankings, while in others he was hovering below average and failed a few tests.
For sports, rather than activities like soccer and basketball that would make people popular in his class, he was good at things like racquet sports, judo, and gymnastics that didn’t require a team effort.
Although he wasn’t the type of person to volunteer for committee work, he would properly take responsibility and finish any work that was assigned to him.
In short, he was definitely not the kind of person who would stand out in his class.
He didn’t particularly want to be the star of his class, nor was he the kind of person who would be noticed by the delinquents. He would speak to girls, but he was not really popular.
He had maybe two or three close friends who shared the same interests and hobbies as him, and a bunch of other people who he would tend to hang out with because they either graduated from the same middle school as him, they lived in the same direction while going back from school, or they were in the same class that he was in during the last year.
Although he didn’t have what it took to be a star, it appeared that he was living a fairly fulfilling high school life. However, his high school life still lacked something definite, that would make it complete.
On that day, he spent time in his “club room” looking at his SlimPhone until the other students started coming to school, and once the campus started to get noisy, he headed towards his class, Third-year Class ‘D’.
“Oh, Yasu. You’re pretty early today.”
Aioi Aoto, a friend since his first year at school, was carrying a bunch of long objects in a cloth bag.
Along with having the last name “Aioi”, Aoto’s birthday was on 4th April, so he always had the first student number in the class. According to him, the only people who could wrest that spot from him were his cousin Aioi Aika, who was born on 3rd April, or a person with the surname “Aiue”, whom he had yet to run into.
“What are those long things? They look heavy.”
“These? They’re katanas.”
“Katanas? Ehh, are they real?”
Yasuo widened his eyes at the unexpected reply, but Aoto shook his head.
“Of course not. They’re just props that are used by my club.”
Saying that, Aoto laughed and put down the bundle of long objects on his desk.
“The person who was President of the club before graduation knew someone who made props like these. Due to that, their house is full of props, so that person pushed them onto us, telling us to use them for the club.”
“Ahh, the Theatre Club?”
“And the Cine Club as well.”
At Takeoka High school, the school that Yasuo and Aoto attend, the Theatre Club and the Cinematics Research Club cooperated with each other and they were rated highly even outside the school.
The Theatre Club regularly ranked among the top in the Kanto region, and the Cinematics Research Club had participated in National-level competitions several times. Aoto belongs to the Theatre Club, and took over as vice-president of the club after the third year students graduated last year.
“Want to take a look?”
Aoto said that, and pulled out one of the katanas from within the traditional-style bag without waiting for Yasuo’s response.
“Oh? What’s with the katana?”
“Woah, it’s a katana. Aioi, can I unsheathe it?”
Seeing that, Igarashi and Hino, who were also classmates and good friends of Yasuo’s, came over to take a look at the four black-painted sheaths that were on the desk, probably because it’s not something you see everyday.
“Sure. But the blades are delicate, so don’t hit them against anything hard.”
Aoto readily handed over one of the katanas to Igarashi, and Igarashi accepted it while being excited.
“It’s so light. This is one of those Takemitsu swords, right? …Huh, I can’t draw it. Is it because it’s a fake?”
“No, No. It’s built like a real sword, so it’s hard to draw if you don’t loosen the sword in the scabbard first.”
Saying that, Aoto took up one of the other Takemitsu swords, held it on the left side of his waist, and pushed the guard of the sword with his left thumb. When he did that, the base of the sword blade peeked out from the scabbard accompanied by the metallic sound often heard in period dramas, and Aoto drew the blade from the sheath in a single motion.
Apart from Igarashi and Hino, sounds of delight were also heard from the other boys who had gathered around from curiosity. However, Yasuo had seen a far more incredible “sword” the previous day, so he didn’t join in.
However, when it was his turn to hold the sword, even Yasuo, who knew nothing about Japanese swords, could tell that the design of the sword felt pretty close to that of a real one.
“It’s pretty light, isn’t it?”
His father’s “Holy Sword” was lighter than this. Yasuo made a noncommittal nod while doing his best to ignore the voice in a corner of his heart that said that.
“But you know, it’s pretty hard to keep brandishing this if you’re not used to it. In the beginning, my arms felt like they were going to fall off after a single day of practice.”
“Yasu, you must have seen a staged sword fight in a period drama, right? In those fights, they have to make it look like they’re striking each other without actually doing hitting anything. So the way they use their muscles is entirely different from just waving the sword around.”
Yasuo didn’t know much about staged sword fights, so he was again only able to give a half-hearted response. Out of curiosity, he stretched his hand out towards the bag that was close to him to see what other designs of katanas were there.
“Ah, that is…”
Aoto gave a slightly sharp warning, and Yasuo also immediate understood his intent. This sword was obviously heavier than the others.
“Eh? I thought you said none of them were real?”
“It’s not real. It’s a so-called imitation sword.”
Hearing Yasuo say that, Aoto carefully unwrapped the covering, and inside was a sword with a black sheath and handguard. Just the appearance and sound made by it was enough to understand that it was heavy.
After Aoto loosened the sword in its sheath the same way as before, a single glance was enough to understand that this sword indeed didn’t have a cutting edge.
However, when the sword blade caught the sunlight streaming in through the windows of the classroom, it was clear to see that it had a dignified gleam, quite unlike the Takemitsu sword.
“Do you want to try holding it? Don’t touch the blade, as it will make it rust. Also, it’s surprisingly heavy, so be careful.”
The sword, which was an imitation of an uchigatana, was handed over to him in a serious manner.
“Eh? I-Is this for real?”
The sword was heavier than he imagined, so he had to hurry and increase his grip strength.
“Is it that heavy, Kenzaki?”
“No, it’s not just at the level of being heavy. Did the warriors of old times really swing things like this around?”
At Hino’s question, Yasuo replied with his true feelings.
“The material of the blade is different from that of a real sword, so it’s not exactly the same, but I don’t think a real sword is significantly lighter than this. Besides, a katana is basically just a lump of metal, you know? It’s said that the warriors of the Edo period who carried two swords would tilt to the right when they weren’t carrying their swords because they were accustomed to compensating for the additional weight.”
“I-I know, that, but…”
The warriors shown on TV would wield their swords like it was an extension of their body, and even in games and other media, the katana gave an impression of being lighter than western swords. But come to think of it, there’s no way that an implement of war that was used to destroy objects and kill people would be made from lightweight materials and easy to swing around.
“Nope, there’s no way I can wield this. Without proper training, it would fly out of my hands in an instant.”
Yasuo felt like he might accidentally hit someone if he tried to take a stance with it, so he immediately handed over the imitation sword to Hino who was standing beside him.
“Woah, it’s really heavy!”
“Is it really that heavy?”
“Woah, this is dangerous. Even if it doesn’t have an edge, it will make a pretty good weapon.”
“Do you think you can do Shirahadori with this?”
“If you don’t do it right, it’ll easily break the bones of your wrists.”
“…Hey, cleaning the blade is really annoying, so keep your hands off the blade, okay?”
As Aoto uneasily looked at Igarashi, Hino and the other surrounding classmates, Yasuo asked him:
“Hey, are you going to use something so heavy in your stage performances as well?”
“No, the underclassmen will be practicing with it.”
Aoto replied in an unexpectedly serious voice.
“The takemitsu swords are really light, right? So people are liable to swing them around like bamboo sticks in the beginning. However, if they know the weight of a real sword, they will be able to represent that in their acting and make it look more life-like. Well, it’s not a real sword, but the weight is what matters. Also, as Hino said earlier, you can kill someone by carelessly hitting or stabbing with it, so it’s important to learn that as well. It’ll help increase the concentration of the club members, and increase the quality of the performance as well, stuff like that.”
“…So, are you doing a historical play during your next competition?”
“I’m not sure. We haven’t decided yet. But if we have the required props, I thought that even if we don’t do it this year, then someone else can take over and do it next year, after I graduate.”
Aoto wasn’t the type of person to show his passion for acting in his regular life, but after spending time with him since their first year, Yasuo knew that he was a passionate person at heart, and Aoto also had the accomplishments to prove that his words were not just for show.
In that way, as a person with responsibility, he was thinking about the state of the club even after his graduation, and was leaving a proof of his existence in the school.
“That sounds kinda nice.”
Yasuo unintentionally let his appreciation leak out.
“Sorry, Yasu, I got kinda heated up.”
Aoto looked like he suddenly became aware of what he was doing and lowered his eyes in a apologetic manner.
Yasuo also realized what Aoto was apologizing about, and waved his hands in an unconcerned way.
“It’s fine, really. Not only did we have no achievements, something like that happened as well. It was not something that could be fixed by hard work.”
“If you’re inviting me to join the Theatre Club, no thanks. Even if you put me in front of a bunch of people, I can’t act. Besides, our Theatre Club is not so easygoing that an inexperienced third year can join and hope to achieve something right off the bat, correct?”
“…Well, yeah. But I think your chorus singing is pretty good, so you can join with a skill like that. You can sing songs with lyrics in foreign languages too, right?”
“Thank you for worrying about me, but things will definitely end up badly if the vice-president shows favoritism. Forget about that, look, someone’s touching the blade over there”
“Eh? Ahh! Hey, I told you not to touch the blade! Even though it’s just an imitation sword, the oil from your skin is bad for the metal!”
Due to curiosity, the sword had been passed from one person to the next and was currently near the edge of the classroom before they realized it.
What’s more, a classmate who wasn’t part of the initial circle of onlookers was holding the sword by the blade in their bare hands. Seeing that, Aoto rushed over there in a panic.
Seeing that, Yasuo gave a bitter smile and let out a sigh.
“That matter has already been settled, there’s nothing more we can do.”
Yasuo felt a pessimistic sense of gratitude towards his classmate who had shown concern towards his present condition.
Apart from the unexpected topic of conversation provided by Aoto in the morning, the day went by as normal and it was now evening.
From the grounds, you could hear the shouts of the sports clubs. The magnificent performance of the brass band could be heard from one corner of the school campus. The sound of several hard objects striking each other could be heard from the martial arts room, maybe because the kendo club was practicing.
Amidst this scene, Yasuo alone was walking across the courtyard of the school, and heading towards the gate as the sun started to set. Of course, he wasn’t heading towards the “club room” that he spent this morning in.
The performance of the brass band suddenly stopped. No doubt, someone must have messed up their part. Yasuo unconsciously turned in the direction from where the sound had stopped coming, and let out a sigh.
“There’s no way an inexperienced third-year can join the Theatre Club at this point.”
Although Yasuo didn’t belong to any club right now, he was also a member of a club at one point. If you just looked at his standing, he was higher than Aoto, and had held the post of club president.
“It’s already… too late to do anything about it.”
However, Takeoka High School’s Choral Club suspended their activities as soon as Kenzaki Yasuo took over as the president, due to lack of members. What’s more, the teacher who had been serving as the club’s advisor left the school that year because their contract period had expired. Due to this, the club was formally shut down.
To begin with, this result could already be expected from fact that Yasuo was the only person from his grade to join the club during his first year. However, at that time, there were still plenty of people from the third and second years, so they didn’t try to proactively search for more new members. Also, the few people who showed up after Yasuo didn’t continue with the club.
In the meantime, the third years who made up most of the numbers retired from the club and graduated. The members who were one grade above him became the new third years, and they finally realized that their club was in danger of being shut down and began to panic. However, Yasuo never had anyone younger than him join the club.
To begin with, the curriculum at Takeoka High School did not put that much emphasis on the arts. Also, the Choral Club didn’t have any great past achievements to show, and very few people who joined this school were interested in pursuing singing as a hobby.
Hence, there was not even a small hope of reviving the Choral Club under Yasuo who was in his third year, and he resigned himself to be a part of the “go home” club.
Yasuo had also lost his drive to revive the club after their advisor had left.
However, every once in awhile he would remember that the club he had joined because he loved to sing choral music no longer existed anywhere in this school, and that would cause him to strongly feel like he had no place where he belonged. He was still not used to this feeling.
Although he knew nothing about karaoke-type pop songs, he was confident in his knowledge of the techniques used to sing choral music.
He had experience singing a capella, and learned all the techniques needed to sing in that style. In fact, he was also somewhat praised by his seniors and the club advisor for his talent.
Although the praise was mostly meant to keep him motivated, the fact remained that this was the only place where he had come close to taking a leading role, hence he still wasn’t able to get rid of this feeling of loss.
On days such as this when he saw his friends living out their youth in a grand fashion, that feeling of loss only increased in intensity.
“Ahh, I need to go to prep school.”
Yasuo was shaken out of his reverie by the vibration of his Slimphone due to a coupon mail notification, he looked at the time shown on the clock, and turned back towards the gate.
His prep school was near Tokorozawa Station, that was nearest to his house.
It would take a bit more than ten minutes by local train to get from Tokorozawa Station to the station nearest to his school. However, walking from his school to the nearest station would take more than twenty minutes as it was necessary to take the smaller back roads through the large fields and agricultural land to bypass the national highway.
Yasuo thought that he should hurry, but his negative thoughts slowed him down. The fact that it was time to go to prep school meant that the time when he had to return home was getting closer.
Once he got home, Diana would be there. It looked like she wouldn’t go back until she had achieved her goals.
His current problem wasn’t whether the stuff she said was true or not. If he met with her, he would again be forced to remember what happened yesterday and this morning, and more than anything else:
“…What’s with all this talk about Heroes and Sages.”
He had thought that his parents were just an ordinary middle-aged man and woman, but in fact they might possibly be the leading characters of some incredible world. He was afraid of that possibility.
If his father hardened his resolve and accepted Diana’s invitation to go somewhere far away, and his mother agreed with that decision, then Yasuo would once again lose a place where he could be in peace.
Even at this moment, the Kenzaki household was being rocked by the storms of Diana’s proclamation, but his parents were still paying for his private school, his prep school, and were ready to pay for his college as well. In that case, now was the time to work hard and concentrate on his studies so that he could win a place for himself in society.
He wished they could at least put this talk of Heroes, Demon Kings, and alternate worlds off until his exams were finished.