The shadows of slumber lift from my mind as my consciousness slowly becomes aware of the outside world once again. I try to force myself back into sleep’s silent embrace, but a nagging feeling in the back of my mind gives me pause.
I blearily open my eyes, squinting heavily to oppose the morning – well, nearly midday – light. Only in seeing it do I realise that my covers are thrown off and that my bed’s other occupant is missing. I’m not surprised in the slightest. This is not the first time I’ve found myself in such a situation.
I sit up, yawning heavily and stretching out my muscles as best I can. When a girl’s gotta paint, a girl’s gotta paint, I guess. I look around my room, taking in its state after last night’s romp. Well, at least she remembered to put her pants on before leaving this time.
I throw on a shirt and pants, and my favourite sweater vest. Hopefully the cafeteria is still serving breakfast. I’d hate to miss out on some of that delicious bacon they make on the weekends; it’s about the only thing they can’t turn into a flavourless white gruel.
As I make for my dorm room door, I hear a crinkling beneath my feet. I squat down to pick it up, and realise it’s a note addressed to me. I open it and find a familiar script within. Writing with one’s feet doesn’t make for particularly neat hand – or should that be foot? – writing. Nevertheless, the note is legible enough for me to read.
I hope you didn’t have any plans today, because I made some plans for you and if you couldn’t follow them that would be sad. There are a series of steps you need to take, kind of like one of those treasure hunt games that kids do, where the parents make the clues and the kids follow them to strange and exciting places, except I’m not your parent and you’re not my child because that would be weird. The first step is below. I’ll be waiting for you when you’re done. Have fun!
I scratch my head absent-mindedly. I can’t say there’s a precedent for this. That said, I find the idea of a treasure hunt quite appealing. It makes me wonder what kind of goodies Rin has in store. With that in mind, I read the first clue Rin has left for me.
[My actions trump words
Shaping the revolution
Once more, with feeling]
Huh? What is this, poetry? There’s definitely not a precedent for this. I read over the clue again. It seems pretty cryptic. And somewhat like a ‘who am I?’ riddle. So… the clue refers to a person? Someone involved in a revolution of some kind? I’m not well versed in history… maybe I should ask Yuuko?
A sharp knock at the door diverts my attention. A lilting voice calls out from the other side.
“Hicchan~, are you awake?”
I groan audibly. Perhaps too audibly, as I hear the person on the other side of the door clapping her hands excitedly.
“I heard you, Hicchan; open up~!”
“Okay, okay, just give me a sec.”
I hastily deposit Rin’s note on my desk, then take a deep breath to prepare for whatever pedantic wrath the Student Council has in store for me. I open the door slowly, peeking through the gap.
I sigh tiredly as I utter my response.
“Good morning, Misha. What’s up?”
“Shicchan has a message for you!”
Misha pauses briefly for effect, before Shizune starts signing with rapid pace. As usual, Misha’s translation lacks the sting of the intended delivery.
“Shicchan says that all student correspondence should be done through the proper channels and that it is expressly forbidden to stick un-sol-ic-i-ted letters to random doors; especially ones that lead to the Student Council room!”
“Huh? What are you talking about? I haven’t been sticking anything to any doors.”
Misha falters slightly, and a look of embarrassment appears in Shizune’s eyes for the briefest of seconds.
“Y-yes, well… Miss Tezuka wasn’t in her room, so we came to see you, since you are her boyfriend~ and all…”
I bury my face in my palm. I never would have guessed that hiding clues around the campus breached any rules. And, by the sounds of it, there are more of them elsewhere in the school. I sigh with exasperation.
“How many clues did you find?”
“Yeah. The letters. You must have found some to be asking about this.”
Misha and Shizune share a glance before Shizune starts to sign her reply.
“We just had the one, Hicchan. It was stuck on the door of the Student Council room.” A glint appears in Shizune’s eyes, and her hands fly faster than before. “Why, Hicchan? Are there more? Are you an accomplice in Miss Tezuka’s shenanigans~?”
“What? No. I got a letter too. It said I had to find someone, and had a clue on it.”
“What was the clue? Show us.”
I retrieve Rin’s note and hand it to Shizune. The way she reads it is intense; almost like she’s staring it down. Conversely, Misha peeks cutely over Shizune’s shoulder, wide eyed and mouthing each word.
After a few seconds, Shizune emits a short, snorting kind of sound from her nose, which I presume to be some sort of expression of success. She adjusts her glasses, smiling smugly, as she hands Rin’s note back to me and signs her answer.
“Are you really so dense, Hicchan? The answer is obviously me!”
I look confusedly at Shizune, who in turn becomes confused. I suspect Shizune’s response was mistranslated. I look to Misha for clarification.
“Oh! Me as in Shicchan, not me as in me. Sorry~!”
Well that makes more sense. Relief fills Shizune’s expression as mine shows my understanding. I’m somewhat ashamed that I didn’t make the connection before; Shizune can’t say words, so her actions speak for her. Pretty loudly, actually.
Furthermore, the last line probably refers to her drive to get things done properly. I’m not so sure about the middle line, but I take it to have something to do with running the Student Council.
“Huh. You’re right.”
“Of course~ Shicchan’s right! And, if these are clues like you said, then your clue leads to Shicchan. Which means our letter is the next clue!”
“Okay, cool. Where is it?”
Shizune produces a folded piece of paper from the back of her belt. I realise just how strange it is to me that Shizune and Misha are dressed in casual clothes; I’ve only ever seen them in uniform. Shizune’s blouse and skirt are quite flattering, while Misha’s attire is unexpectedly plain.
Refocusing on the paper before me, I take it from Shizune’s hand, unfold it and read the message therein.
[Student Council president,
Please make sure this note is visible, so Hisao can find it. It’s important. Plan-destroyingly important. I’m sure a planning kind of person like you will understand. Also, don’t yell at him.
[I see who you are
But others do not see me
Behind my façade]
I look up expectantly towards Shizune and Misha. Presumably, they would have already read the clue. Misha shrugs, while Shizune tents her fingers thoughtfully. With a loud snap of her fingers, Shizune starts to communicate her thought process.
“Maybe it’s ironic? Maybe this person doesn’t~ see us, strictly speaking. And maybe others do see them, but don’t see~ them, because they have this façade up.”
I see where this is going. Pun not intended.
“So then this clue refers to Lilly?”
Shizune stands proud, one hand on her hip, the other adjusting her glasses, and lips curved into a broad smile.
“Sure does~! Let’s go, Hicchan!”
“What? Are you two coming with me?”
“Wahaha! Of course we are, Hicchan! You know how much Shicchan loves games~!”
I shrug, and lead Shizune and Misha out of my room. Rin never said anything about bringing other people along. We make our way over to the girls’ dormitory, Shizune leading the way to Lilly’s dorm room once we’re inside.
When we arrive, I note the lack of anything stuck to Lilly’s door. My companions notice this as well, and without a second thought, Shizune raps loudly on the door. We wait a few seconds, with no response. Naturally, Shizune has no way of knowing this, so Misha signs the results to her.
“So, what now?” Misha asks.
I cup my chin in my hand, considering our next possible course of action. We decided the clue referred to Lilly. Were we wrong? There’s a whole class of vision impaired people at Yamaku; it could have been any one of them. And that’s assuming Shizune’s irony hypothesis was even correct in the first place. Maybe…
“The clues refer to people, right? But our person isn’t here. Therefore, Lilly’s dorm isn’t where we’re supposed to go. We have to find Lilly. And I think I know just the place.”
As I suspected, the disused classroom on the second floor is not entirely disused. My knocking and call of ‘Lilly?’ is replied to by a measured voice from within.
“Hisao? Please, come in.”
I enter Lilly’s tea room, Shizune and Misha right behind me. As usual, Lilly is seated at the table by the window, teacup in hand. I approach her, and casually brush her shoulder with my hand to inform her of my presence.
“Sorry to intrude, but I believe you have something for me?”
Lilly takes a small sip of her tea and hums lightly as she places the cup on the table.
“You are correct. I haven’t the slightest idea what, beyond it being a piece of paper. Miss Tezuka asked me to hold on to it for you.”
“It’s probably another clue~,” Misha interects.
“Might that be the Student Council accompanying you, Hisao? This is a most interesting scenario.”
“Yeah, Shizune and Misha are here. They’re helping me. Rin set up some kind of clue game, and the last one we found led us here.”
“Then I suspect you might require this, so you can continue this game of yours,” Lilly says, withdrawing a folded piece of paper, much like the one that led us here, from under a saucer. I unfold the note and read its contents aloud.
That’s what I would say if you could read this. But you can’t. I tried to do those dot things but it didn’t work out too well. What were they called again? I dunno. Anyway, I should stop writing now so I can fit the next step on here.
[The phantom lingers
My poker face hides my pain
I run from my past]
When I finish, the room sits in silence as everyone ponders the clue.
“Man, this one’s really dark compared to the others, with its talk of phantoms and pain and whatnot,” I think aloud. Misha looks at me inquisitively.
“Wait, Hicchan, what did you say?”
“Uh… the clue. It’s moodier than the others because of how it uses words like ‘phantom’ and ‘pain’.”
Misha neglects to add to the conversation, instead signing rapidly with Shizune with a devious look in her eye. As if she can understand their inaudible communiqué, Lilly’s mouth forms a silent ‘ohhh’ of understanding. I must be a bit slow on the uptake for this one.
Shizune and Misha finish their signed conversation and Misha puts her hands on her hips, puffing her chest out and grinning like an idiot. Evidently, she’s figured out the answer.
“Phantom. And pain. Put them together, Hicchan~! Phantom pain!”
“Like one missing a limb may suffer from,” Lilly continues. “And who do we know that is missing limbs and runs?”
It all makes sense now. ‘The phantom pain’. The bandages Rin had wrapped around her face all week. Her insistence on painting ‘Ground Zeroes’. Why didn’t I notice it earlier?
All of a sudden, my chest tightens. My body feels incredibly cold. In a panic, I look to Misha, Shizune and Lilly for help. The Student Council stand over me, smiling smugly.
“It looks like FoxDIE is taking effect,” Lilly points out.
Misha laughs heartily, adding, “Indeed~! Now that he is out of the way, only Setou stands between us and JD.”
Lilly stands from her seat and says, “Ready Metal Gear. We go on assault at sunset.”
My failing body forces me to vomit sour bile all over the tearoom floor. Between lurches, I sputter out, “Metal… Gear?!”
From outside the tearoom, a lone bespectacled man watches events unfold. As I collapse into my death throes, I hear him shout to the skies.
“Snake? Snake?! SNAAAAAAAAAKE!”