It was the next day.
At last, I was free for the day, so I ate soumen for lunch and went outside.
Given all that happened, I wanted some time to wind down by myself. Hence, I decided that my location would be a cafe near a train station of Susuhama, a neighboring town.
(Come to think of it, this was where I first saw Aogasaki’s other face.)
If I didn’t come here at that time, I probably wouldn’t have become her “exclusive coordinator.” I probably wouldn’t have raised those needless flags.
However, there’s no point crying over spilled milk. The match against Getsushiyoukan will happen the day after tomorrow. I have to concentrate on that for now.
(Now then. I wonder how I should liven things up for the match…)
Having secured a table by the window, I soon began to think carefully with an iced coffee in my hand.
(The bout isn’t in the form of a tournament, but instead is point-based. In other words, one person does only one match.)
For King Arthur, this would be a natural proposition. If it were a tournament, Aogasaki would be able to beat the five of them. Her sword ability is that outstanding.
Frankly, it seems to me that this competition is all about the pairings. A matter of who goes against who…and such pairings will decide whether or not a match will be lively.
(At present, the preferable matchups would be…something like this?)
With the customers’ chatty voices as background noise, I laid out a sheet of paper and scribbled onto it using a mechanical pencil.
──First, a match between Yukimiya and Tanaka.
Honestly, I want to go against him, but since Tanaka is the weakest…he should be a good match for Yukimiya.
(Even if Yukimiya loses, it shouldn’t matter. It’ll be fine if we can recover.)
──Next, Elmira and I would tackle Sasaki and Miyamoto respectively.
It’s likely that my opponent will be Miyamoto. But honestly, I’m confident that I can overwhelm her. Since I’m Taotie’s vessel, my physical abilities are far from the average person’s.
I can expect to see Elmira using her swordsmanship from yesterday. She probably won’t have her sword emit flames, though.
(However, having three wins at this point in time will not do. Having the match be decided there is not the right course of action.)
──Ryuuga and Aogasaki remain. These two should go against King Arthur and the adult, Kiriya, respectively.
This will be the climax. The competition should be decided after two consecutive victories from them.
So for the three matches until then, the opening performances, so to speak…it would be best if there were two losses and one win.
(It’s fine if either Ryuga or Aogasaki go against King Arthur. Either way, it’ll make for one of those so-called fated confrontations. Well, I wonder if I should let Aogasaki be the star performer this time.)
Hopefully, my match occurs third, right in the middle. If that happens, it’ll be easy for me to make adjustments in order to secure victory…and so I immersed myself in constructing a plot.
“──Do you remember this cafe? I’ve been wanting to come back here.”
A familiar voice reached my ear. It came from Aogasaki.
“What the…you brought me this far away.”
The next voice I heard was one I knew very well. Or rather, it was my own voice.
(Aogasaki and…T, T, Tie?!)
My heart rate gradually quickened. Before I knew it, I had grasped the mechanical pencil so tightly that it snapped. What’s the meaning of this? Why are those two together?!
I made up my mind and nonchalantly looked over my shoulder.
Sure enough──there stood Aogasaki and Taotie. They were linking arms.
“We won’t come across any acquaintances here, so we can take it easy, right? This is also a store we’ve been in before.”
“There’s no waffles on the menu…what should I eat…?”
While the two conversed, they sat in the back corner. It seems that they didn’t notice me.
Aogasaki was wearing a blouse and flared skirt that I’ve seen before. She wore a scarf instead of a necktie, and faced Taotie with a smile and good humor.
On the other hand, the “Evil Spirit” had a grim expression, as if he was annoyed, and rested his chin against his hand. In contrast to the refined companion who accompanied him, he wore a plain uniform. They seemed like a seriously mismatched couple, with one of them looking like me.
“It’s lucky that we came across each other on the road. I’m even wearing the outfit that you coordinated for me.”
“I was just going for a walk, though…I just wanted to buy sweets from the convenience store.”
──Put simply, that “Stupid Evil Spirit” went outside without my permission again. He then came across Aogasaki and was invited to minor date.
When his ill will vanishes, I can’t tell whether it’s because he’s sleeping or because he’s gone…and so that shortcoming once again proved to be my ruin.
(That idiot…does he not understand something unless I beat it into him?! Why is everyone encountering everyone else?!)
I wanted to head there immediately and give Taotie a cross chop.
However, I hesitated when seeing Aogasaki’s delighted face. For her, this is likely her last moment of relaxation before the important competition.
(Hey, Tie! It’s me! Over here! Look at the window!)
In order to contact Taotie, I called out to him using our remote communication. However, there was no response.
It seemed that communication had been cut. That can happen?!
While I was getting impatient, the two continued to talk.
“Kobayashi, how’s your condition? Have you been refraining from doing anything excessive during practice?”
“Hmm? Oh, it’s not in perfect shape yet, but it’s not a hindrance during movement.”
“It would’ve been fine for everyone to practice at my dojo, but…for some reason, everyone’s been saying that they have ‘someone they’re practicing with.'”
“It must be Boss…”
You idiot! Don’t mutter the word Boss! That’s right! I’m the one they’ve been practicing with! They’re not people of the Aogasaki style, but the Kobayashi style of swordsmanship.
“However, I believe in everyone. We’ll definitely beat Getsushiyoukan. After all, if I lose──I would become Asao’s wife.”
…So things really are going in this direction.
King Arthur will interpret the outcome of this match as Aogasaki’s reply. That’s now an established fact, and not something that can be denied.
Judging by what she said just now, Aogasaki also acknowledges that. Defeat means marriage.
“It’s possible, though unlikely, for the worst case scenario to happen. So, Kobayashi. If…if we lose the competition…”
With an expression as if she were thinking hard about something, Aogasaki stared at the other me.
My back straightened before I knew it. She was speaking to the “Evil Spirit,” but her words were directed at me.
“Could you carry me──and run away?”
The words she had said were unbelievable.
“If we lose this competition of the sword, I can’t do anything about the dojo being taken away. However…I still wouldn’t be able to…call myself the ‘wife’ of a man I don’t love.”
──Aogasaki looked like a different person, and I’ve never seen this part of her until now.
This was the first time she showed a timid side, as if she were alone.
“To be honest, I used to be charmed by…Ryuuga.”
Aogasaki recalled the past, as if speaking to herself, in front of Taotie, who currently had his mouth open like he was an idiot.
“However, when you became aware of my ‘true self,’ you accepted me…and so, you gradually became more important to me.”
“I feel like I can live any kind of life, as long as it’s with you. I feel like I could even throw away my position as a swordswoman. If you and I could live somewhere quiet, modest, peaceful, and far away…”
…This is bad. This has gotten serious.
This is pretty much a confession! A plan to elope!
(Aogasaki, were you that serious about me?! No wait, perhaps it’s different…she’s just caught up in the moment. She’s just being a little delusional about her first romantic relationship with a guy!)
In contrast to how tense I felt, Taotie listened with a sour look.
While Aogasaki looked upwards in unease, Taotie picked his nose as if uninterested, lumping together the boogers he collected. What an awful guy.
“Kobayashi. If it’s alright, I want to hear what you feel. What do you think of──”
Aogasaki didn’t finish speaking.
Taotie leaned forward and stuck his booger on her forehead. A response so horrifying that it might be the only time someone ever does that.
“W, w, what are you doing?!”
Aogasaki’s scream synchronized with the scream I made internally. Seriously, what are you doing?! There are things you should and shouldn’t do!
“Who would elope with you?”
What a bold rejection! Especially one towards such a beauty when he only has a below average face!
“In the end, aren’t you placing little faith in your companions? I’m not a big fan of that kind of mentality.”
“Ryuuga’s working hard to be the bridge between apostles and humans. Even so, he’s working hard for the competition. And yet, you, the one entrusted with the ‘Azure Dragon,’ want to run away?”
“That’s what it means to elope. Cool your head.”
Taotie committed a reckless action while going as far as to scold her. He had a reasonable argument, but he went way overboard. It made me want to cut this scene out during the editing process.
“Basically, it’ll all be okay as long as you win. With that, everything will turn out fine. What you should be thinking about is how to win, not how to elope. Listen Aogasaki, the important thing is to ‘not to lose sight of the goal.'”
“Not to…lose sight of the goal…”
Aogasaki listened attentively while wiping her forehead with a hand towel.
Before I knew it, her face displayed the familiar, dignified expression that I was quite acquainted to.
“…Right. Everyone’s doing their best for my sake. It’s my duty to prevent the worst from happening. I have no right to happy if I…betray my companions and run away.”
“There you go.”
“Thank you, Kobayashi. You made me come to my senses. This time──I’ll confront the competition without wavering.”
“Oh, that’s a nice expression you’re making. Nevertheless, it seems you like Boss a lot. Well, he is quite the unique person, after all.”
I’ll take that as a compliment.
His speech just now contained a phrase he plagiarized from Ryuuga during the conference, but perhaps things will turn out all right for now. I was going to have him dive off of the roof when I got back home, but I’ll forgive him.
It was right at the moment I was feeling at ease that Taotie blurted out something unthinkable.
“Alright, Aogasaki. If you win, I’ll give you a kiss.”
I nearly spat out the iced coffee I was drinking.
Aogasaki’s cry of panic once again synchronized with the one I made internally. That idiot! I’ve changed my mind, I’m still going to have him take a dive! Then I’ll stick my boogers onto him!
“A, are you sane, Kobayashi?! Do you really mean to k, k, kiss me?!”
“If you want, I can use my tongue.”
“I, idiot! That would be my first kiss! Be more gentle about it!”
Aogasaki lost her composure. She was red up to the ears, she covered her face with her hands, and shook her head.
Isn’t she being too energetic for the straight-laced character? Or rather, please refuse it! Don’t give the approval for a kiss!
“I, I understand. I’m already a third year high school student. Perhaps it would be good to have that kind of experience during the last summer of high school.”
…Thus, it was decided, outside of my consent, that my lips would become a prize for her. Not the protagonist’s lips, but those of a worthless small fry character.
When I slumped over the table, at my wits’ end, I sensed that Taotie had stood up.
“Ah~, well then, I’ll be heading off. Sorry, but you’ll have to go back on your own.”
“I, is that so? I wanted you to send me home again, though…I enjoy the times you treat me like a girl.”
Unfortunately for Aogasaki, Taotie headed towards the exit without caring about her thoughts. What a heartless guy. It’s likely that I’ll need to patch things up.
“Ah, wait Kobayashi.”
Aogasaki stood up and asked Taotie to halt.
“Let me say it one more time──thank you for today.”
“Acting coldly when I was weak-kneed and then presenting that kind of reward…you’re sly. I suppose I have no choice but to win.”
“Leaving that aside, do you know where to buy a fan? I need it for cheering.”
He’s probably going to write “I heart Ryuuga” on it or something. I said this before, but I have no intention of letting him act freely during the appointed day.
…Once Taotie left, Aogasaki went home as well. When I looked at the situation from the window, I could see that she was skipping while in high spirits.
(I should go see Aogasaki tomorrow. That would make it the day before the match, though…)
Thanks to Taotie, the flags I had with Aogasaki have amplified. I felt that the chances of returning to being a friend character were growing ever so distant.
(Aah, I want to see Sasaki…I want to comforted by being treated as a small fry…)
Before I was aware of it, I was thinking about such things.
Sasaki was in the process of becoming a method for finding a peace of mind.