“How rare, Kou. You actually managed to get up by yourself.”
“I went to sleep early, so I got just the right amount of sleep.”
Koutarou and Kenji were walking side-by-side on the road. It was early morning on a Sunday, so there weren’t many cars or people. The only things that could be seen were Koutarou and Kenji walking down the pavement.
“How many times do I have to say it, McKenzie-kun? I’m living alone as an independent adult now.”
“I’ve been waiting for this for so long.”
“Well, it’s happened.”
“I wonder… By the way, how did the thing from before go?” Kenji’s face and voice suddenly turned serious. Noticing that, Koutarou frowned slightly.
“‘Thing from before’?”
“Yeah, the thing about the room.”
“The room… Ah! The ghost thing!”
Finally understanding Kenji’s worried face, Koutarou smiled and brought his hands to his face.
“The ghost didn’t come out.”
“Didn’t come out?”
“Yeah, nothing happened before I went to bed, and afterwards everything was quiet; think about it, if there really was a ghost, there’s no way I’d have gotten up in time today.”
“That’s true, you’re bad at getting up, so if you hadn’t had enough sleep there’s no way you’d be up.” Kenji’s face relaxed a little.
“Hahaha, but McKenzie, does this mean you believe in ghosts?”
“It’s just that you’re always so scientific, so worrying about ghosts is…”
Koutarou poked at Kenji’s cheek teasingly.
“It’s fine, it’s not like the adherents of science don’t hate ghosts either.”
“If you’re scared, then just say so. You’re not being honest.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m scared. Ghosts might exist, but the worst part is having to come wake you up every morning.”
As Koutarou dropped his arms, they reached the front of the school they would be attending – Prefectural Institute Kitsushouharukaze Senior High School.
The school was about twenty minutes from the nearest station, Harukaze, and was also the same distance from Corona House. The school, station, and Corona House formed an equilateral triangle where the town’s main features were located.
The school was established immediately after the surrounding municipalities had merged. One that could accommodate children from both Kitsushou city and Harukaze city needed to be built.
The school in the area had already been undergoing renovation before the merge anyway, so Kitsushouharukaze became a large school. It wasn’t quite like one of the schools one would expect to find in a built up urban area, but more like the biggest kind of school one would see in the suburbs.
“Fight, fight, fight! Fight, Harukaze!”
It was the spring term, so there were students doing club activities in the courtyard.
“The baseball club huh… The spring tournament is over so it’s recruitment time I guess…”
“It’s really energetic, isn’t it? If new kids join, it’ll get even livelier.”
While watching the uniformed students exercising, the two of them passed by the main gate. It was just a little further to where they worked.
As they walked by, Koutarou kept staring at the students’ practice. Throwing the ball, swinging the bat, running, and catching – up until recently, that had been Koutarou.
“Hey, Kou… Are you sure you’re alright with not joining the baseball club?”
Kenji asked in an unusually earnest voice.
“It’s fine. I’m living alone and I’ve got work. Doing all three at the same time would be impossible.”
With that, Koutarou looked away from the school yard and smiled at Kenji.
Koutarou’s smiling face looked a little lonely.
“Anyway, I’m joining the Knitting Society, so I shouldn’t be so pessimistic.”
“Oh yeah, that. The Knitting Society.”
“Are you serious about joining that kinda club?”
“Yup, I’m absolutely serious.”
Actually, Koutarou had decided to accept the invitation to the Knitting Society when he’d passed the exams.
“No way, no matter how I think about it, it really doesn’t suit you…”
Kenji said whilst staring at Koutarou’s body.
A large torso, a solid build, big hands.
Kenji couldn’t see Koutarou doing something like knitting or handicrafts. If he had to say, pulling things apart would have been his forte instead.
“You rude guy. Just you wait and see, I’ll make a handmade scarf for you too at some point.”
“Stop it, that’ll make me sick… just imagining it makes me shudder…”
“Yeah, to be honest, I agree with you.”
The two shared a bitter smile.
“Tell me the truth, you’re just after that beautiful club president you saw during results day, aren’t you?”
“That’s not it at all.”
Hmmm… That wasn’t what I expected. I was sure that she was his goal… Did I misread?
Because of their long friendship, Kenji could sense the sincerity in Koutarou’s reply.
“Anyway, I’ll celebrate my youth in the Knitting Society with Sakuraba-senpai.”
“Hmm, I don’t really know what you mean, but it sounds interesting. Maybe I’ll join too.”
“Oi, oi. If a womanizer like you joins, you’ll sully Sakuraba-senpai.”
“What? Are humans like germs now?”
“Think about it. Don’t you get of all the classes’ chocolates every February 14? Do you know how many of the others cry bitter tears because of you?”
“That’s hardly my fault.”
Kenji heaved a big sigh at the old argument.
“No, it’s completely your fault. Aren’t you worried about them holding grudges?”
“Don’t you eat all of my chocolate anyway? I just hand it over to you, so it’s really not my fault. It’s really your—”
But Kenji stopped speaking.
“Huh, what’s up?”
“Nothing. It’s annoying, so I’m not going to bother.”
“What’s with that?!”
“Come on, we’ll be late.”
“Wait up, what’s the rush all of a sudden?” The two arrived at their work place soon after that.
Crash! A large rock was sent rolling together with Koutarou’s voice.
“…You’re really strong, aren’t you, Koutarou-chan?” The old woman standing next to him said in wonder, watching the rock roll. She was dressed in farming clothes and had a small metal trowel in her hand.
“It’s because I’m still young, granny. Even so, the polite stuff is your strong point, isn’t it?”
“Hohoho, I guess so. Thanks for the help, Koutarou-chan.”
“Well, you always give me sweets, so we’re even.”
“Give and take, huh?”
“Haha, yeah. Anyway, I’d better get back to work; see you later, granny.”
Koutarou bid the old woman farewell and headed back towards the area he was responsible for, which was a few dozen meters away.
Koutarou glanced back towards the old lady. She was crouched over and scraping at the dirt with her trowel.
“Fufufu… I’d better get started again. I’ll lose to the old women if I don’t keep at it!”
With that, he hefted his own tool and started digging at the ground beneath his feet.
Koutarou worked at an excavation site. The old woman earlier was one of his colleagues. When he first started working, he’d often helped her out. Incidentally, Kenji was doing the same thing as her, but the site was fairly spread out, so he couldn’t be seen from Koutarou’s position.
The place they were excavating was usually called “The Kitsushouharukaze Ruins”. It had been found by chance while the high school was being expanded.
Due to the circumstances of its discovery, it was close to the school – just a few minutes away by foot. The high school was halfway up a small hill, and the site itself was even further up. If one passed the school and carried on up the hill, he’d reach the dig site.
In the time immediately after its discovery, nothing extraordinary was found. Everyone thought it was just a common Yayoi-era site. One after another, there was nothing but generic relics.
However, this year, someone dated one of the relics, establishing its amazing value. The site was over ten thousand years old.
While the fact that the artifacts so far had been generic remained, it was a completely different story if they had been used over ten thousand years ago. This was before even the Jomon period.
Finding earthen and bronze ware similar to the Yayoi period’s was a massive discovery that went against all odds of archaeology.
They were granted a huge budget, so excavation expanded considerably. Of course, they needed more workers to speed up progress, so they also started to recruit numerous part-timers.
Koutarou and Kenji had taken advantage of this and applied for jobs. Part-time work that was so close to the school was a godsend.
Crouching and scraping away at dirt bit by bit was very tiring. However, Koutarou had been a catcher for a long time in middle school, so remaining crouched for long periods wasn’t too hard for him. At the start, he obviously had some difficulties, but after more than a month, he’d gotten used to it.
“Digging, digging, nothing but dirt.”
According to the scholars, Koutarou was working in an area related to a religious building, but even though he and around ten other colleagues had been digging nonstop, nothing that indicated it had been unearthed yet.
“We’re the only ones who haven’t found anything at all.”
From the beginning, Koutarou hadn’t seen anything but dirt.
“McKenzie’s finding loads of stuff… It looks like fun.”
If someone asked him how he felt about the situation, he would reply that it was the lack of change which bored him.
All of a sudden, Koutarou thought he heard someone’s voice.
“Who was that… Granny?”
Pausing his work, he stood up and looked around. However, he couldn’t see anyone around. Koutarou was the only one in the area, and the old woman from earlier was facing the other way.
“Was that just me?”
Koutarou tilted his head. As he did so, the voice called out to him again.
“That’s not granny— it sounds too young. Who is this…? It’s the first time I’ve heard this voice.”
“Over here… where’s ‘here’…?”
The third time it called out, Koutarou figured out where the voice was coming from. It was about ten meters away, somewhere inside the woods.
Koutarou laid his tool down at his feet, and casually walked over to the woods.
“Is McKenzie trying to prank me? Someone else maybe?”
Koutarou was about eighty five percent sure that McKenzie was pulling a prank on him, so he didn’t feel too cautious. Even so, he’d go and look just to be sure that no one was in trouble.
“Really, he’s gonna be a high school student tomorrow. He shouldn’t act so childishly… McKenzie, I’ve got you. Whose voice did you record?”
He wasn’t familiar with the voice, so he thought it was some new girl that Kenji had hitched up with.
“Hmm, it’s pretty thick around here, huh…”
Koutarou pushed through the brush, stepping into the woods. Because of the tall trees and the thick undergrowth, visibility was extremely poor. On top of that, the sharp leaves on the weeds pricked Koutarou, making his walk painful.
“Oi, McKenzie, you there? Come out already!”
Koutarou wanted to find Kenji and get out of there quickly.
“Come on, tell me what kind of girl you—”
At that moment, Koutarou felt the ground give way.
Shit, a hole?!
As he belatedly noticed this, his body fell into the hole.
Immediately after recoiling from hitting the ground, pain rushed up to the back of his head.
Koutarou had hit the ground at the bottom of the hole. He was both lucky and unlucky— lucky because the hole wasn’t too deep, and unlucky because he’d whacked his head on a rock.
“Oww… Jeez, it’s all McKenzie’s fault I have to go through this.”
Koutarou put his hand where he’d hit his head, and heaved his body up. Thanks to his sturdiness, he hadn’t received any serious injuries. In the end, all he had was a bump on his head.
“Huh, what the…”
As he got up, the scenery jumped out at him. He was at the bottom of a hole, so he had expected it to be pitch black, but somehow, the place was faintly illuminated. It could have been that the light was streaming in from outside, but this seemed to be brighter than that. The easiest way to describe it would be to compare it to the emergency lights dark corridors.
“What’s down here? A platform, some pillars… and the floor’s paved too.”
It was a strange place. The room was about ten meters wide and someone had paved the entire floor from stone. Inside it were several pillars which were as tall as a person, each topped with a shining orb. These orbs lit the room with a pale light similar to a firefly’s. Surrounded by the pillars was a platform which had a large human statue on top of it. The statue looked down on Koutarou, who had fallen onto his backside.
“Are these the ruins? That religious building they said was buried, uh…”
With the illumination from the pillars, the statue certainly looked the part of a goddess. If someone told him that this was a sacred place, it was mysterious enough for him to believe it, no questions asked.
The voice that had been calling him echoed throughout the room.
“That voice… Oi, anybody there?! Why are you calling me?!”
Koutarou swept his eyes around the area again, but nothing moved. The only thing moving was himself.
[Koutarou, I’ve been waiting for so long…]
“You waited? Where are you?! Who are you?!”
By now, even Koutarou didn’t think it was a prank by Kenj anymore. He inquired in the general direction he thought he’d heard the voice, but nothing answered.
“Uwa, w-what the?!”
Suddenly, the statue on top of the platform began to glow. It wasn’t from the illumination produced by the orbs. Rather, the statue itself began to shine. At first, it was just a weak light, but as it shone brighter with every breath he took, he could clearly tell the statue was the source of the light.
[How many billions of days and nights has it been? I wonder how many times I have dreamt of this moment, cycling between sleep and consciousness…?]
“The statue… Are you the one talking?”
The statue gave out light. At first, it was just pure white light, but as the intensity grew, something could be seen through it.
[I am not the statue. The statue is one of the prayers dedicated to me, and due to its purity, my power can be liberated, but it is not me.]
Before long, the light took on the form of a person. It was as if the statue had transformed into a human.
[…Koutarou, we finally meet…]
The light had overlapped with the statue, letting its shape be seen.
It was a girl with kind and gentle eyes.
Translator notes and references