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Infinite Stratos Volume 4 Chapter 3: Midsummer Night's Dream

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Chapter 3: A Midsummer Night's DreamEdit

(It hasn't changed at all......)

August, it's the O-bon festival holiday. During this weekend, I —— Shinonono Houki —— have come to a certain shrine.

A certain shrine——in fact, it's......the Shinonono shrine, and it was where I lived before I transferred, and also where I was born.

(It really hasn't changed.)

The wooden planks in the kendo dojo are the same as in the past. From the information I had received, it was someone who had retired from police who opened that kendo dojo with good intentions.

That same person said to the kids 'Kendo starts with a ritual, and ends with a ritual', and so asked them to keep the equipment and the dojo in a good state, and it was a really good thought.

(Now, there are more and more people in the dojo, not like in the past, when there were only me, Chifuyu-nee and Ichika.)

Houki looked at the wooden doorplate, and began to immerse herself in her memories.

"I will definitely win today!"

"Fuun!"

"Daaaaahh!"

*Bing!* *Bang!*

"T-Tomorrow I'll definitely win!"

"Fuun! I don't know when the day you win will come!"

............

(No, wait, was I such an annoying brat? Also, do I only have memories concerning kendo? Don't I have some kind of better memories......)

Even if she thought about it over and over, she still couldn't find those kind of memories.

(It-It's impossible, after all my memories can't all concern kendo, it......is unlikely.)

Houki took out her student handbook, and took out a picture inserted in it.

In the picture Ichika and Houki were wearing a kendo uniform——it was a picture full of memories.

——In fact beside Houki, there was also Tabane, and on Ichika's side was Chifuyu, but Houki folded the two sides of the picture, leaving them covered.

In fact Rin too had folded her picture into a two-people picture. Ichika's childhood friends are alike in some weird facets.

"Houki-chan, so you're here!"

"Y-Yes?"

With her voice suddenly going an octave higher, Houki immediately hid her student handbook behind her, and turned her head.

In front of her was a woman in her 40s, near 50, who had a calm temperament conforming to her age, and her face showed a warm smile.

"Since I've been missing this place, I've returned. I'm sorry, aunt Yukiko."

"Ara, it's fine, after all you've lived here before, anyone else would like to come back to pay a visit."

Her face was showing a sincere smile——it was an expression of pure happiness.

Houki had never been scolded by her aunt. Even if she did something wrong, her aunt still wouldn't scold her.

"Then, you should know what you did wrong, don't you? Then it's fine just like that."

Whenever her aunt simply said that, Houki would feel ashamed.

After learning how to change her bad points by herself, Houki became someone who didn't need to be pampered.

"By the way, is it really OK? For you to come to prepare for this summer's festival."

"Would, would that give you trouble?"

"Of course not, I'm very happy to welcome you! But Houki-chan, you hardly get vacations, don't you have some boy you want to date?"

"Th-That......"

Houki suddenly blushed, and Ichika's silhouette naturally surged in her head.

Seeing her reaction, aunt Yukiko seemed to know the answer to that and laughed a bit.

"Then, since you've already come here, I won't go easy on you! At 6 o'clock you'll have to do the Kagura dance,[4C 1] so please go and wash yourself first."

"Yes!"

The O-Bon festival in the Shinonono shrine, if you classify the strictness, then it'd be Shinto, though it was more for the Earth god's heritage. That was why, not only in the New Year, but also during the O-Bon festival that the Kagura dance must be performed. [4C 2]

That kind of dance is to worship the spirits who return to this world as well as the gods who take them here, and at the same time it's also the reason why the 'Shinonono school' evolved into swordsmanship in the past.

Though the exact historical records had disappeared because of the wars, and the cause wasn't clear, but it seemed that there were women who could use swords in this shrine, and moreover, in the end, it was a place of 'ancient lore'.

After Houki moved, her relatives also took over the management like this.

(It hasn't changed at all.)

Houki, who was in the changing room, started yearning for the place where she lived in the past.

After that, she couldn't help but think of the reason why she left this place.

(If it wasn't that person who invented IS......)

Had it not been like that, she would have stayed here.

——And she would have stayed with Ichika forever.

".................."

She was showing a stern expression while undressing, and after her hand felt 'that' on her left wrist, she stopped.

'That' was a red ribbon, about a centimeter wide, twisted, and with golden and silver rings in the front, being a perfect pair——that was [Akatsubaki] in its standby mode.

(Though, the one who gave me this......)

After her little sister asked the first time, her elder sister pleasantly answered her.

Whenever she thought that, she could feel pleasure surging from the bottom of her heart, and forget those hateful memories.

(I......what the hell am I thinking......)

Is it to forgive her?

Is it to reject her?

(......I don't know......)

I don't know, I really don't know.

Houki felt that maybe the two were right, and the two were wrong.

(......Anyway, I'll think about her after the bath.)

Before the divine dance, to perfectly purify the body, the river water or the well water should be used, but concerning that point, it's really arbitrary——the people are more like 'So the festival can continue, we can close our eyes on this'.

And for this, the Shinonono shrine's purification, only taking a bath would be fine.

Houki entered the bathroom with only the red bracelet on her.

When Houki was young, the bathroom had been upgraded so it's all made of hinoki cypress, and it wouldn't lose to the hot springs during the seaside school last month.

Though she doesn't know how spacious is the inn's bath, but at least, four people can extend their legs in the bath.

"Huaa......"

Immersing herself in the bath she hasn't used for years, she thought that it was just as comfortable as in the past.

The bath's water was just a bit hotter than normal warm water, and it suited Houki's taste.

When she extended her body in the water, small splashing sounds were made, and she felt very comfortable.

(As I thought, a bath is really the best......)

The hot water ran over her delicate skin, with feelings of comfort and gentleness running over her body.

As she was going to happily accept these sensations, she suddenly thought of the things that happened last month.

"............"

The time that she spent with Ichika on the seashore, at night.

While thinking that their lips had almost met, her fingertips slightly touched her own.

(Had it continued like that......)

They would have kissed——for sure.

"............"

And as if she wanted to hide the fact that she was blushing, Houki plunged in the bath, with the water arriving to the level of her lips.

After that, since she couldn't bear the feelings of joy, which couldn't be expressed into words, surging from the depth of her heart, the sighs she was making, like that, became bubbles in the bath.

(Th-That, does it mean, that it's like this? I-Is it really like this? I-I-Ichika also loves me, so-so-so it means, that both of us are in love with each other......AAAHHHH!)

Even her ears and her forehead became completely red, and Houki created many bubbles around her neck.

After that, for maybe a minute or two, maybe even ten minutes after that, she was in that state. Suddenly, she surged out of the water because she didn't have oxygen remaining in her, and stood up.

"Aaaaaahhhh!"

She was happy and embarrassed, but......she really loves him.

These feelings in her heart continuously flowed, and made Houki show an unexplainable angry face. Of course, her cheeks weren't red due to the hot water, but due to other matters.

(N-No! I'll act as normal, as if nothing happened, today my job is to act as a shrine maiden, I must delete the distractions in my mind.)

And again, she got back into the water, and began making bubbles again.

"............"

After that, it had actually been fifty minutes later that Houki left the bath.

"Come, it's good, now like this, the preparations are finished."

Wearing the white shirt and dress that were used for the dance, the Houki with golden ornaments looked way more mature than usual; like that, her body was emitting a mysterious aura, and she was beautiful enough to make people hold their breath.

"Can you use the rouge by yourself?"

"Yes, I can, I've already used it before."

"Ah, right, Houki-chan has danced the divine dance since she was young. Hnn~~you were cute at that time too."

"For w-what happened before......"

"Oh, haha, I'm really sorry, it's always like that when you are older."

To cover her face which had an embarrassed expression, Houki used the fingertip of her little finger to take a bit of rouge on a plate and color her lips. To not use the lipstick nowadays, but instead using the rouge like in the past, is also this shrine's habit.

(......OK.)

After checking on her mirror whether she had put the rouge well, Houki was satisfied.

She thought that back then, no matter what her mother would do, she stubbornly wanted to do the divine dance.

Though it was really embarrassing, but compared to this, she would rather concentrate herself on the image of her that the mirror was reflecting.

(Aunt Yukiko's make-up skills are really good, the one the mirror is reflecting really looks like someone else. It looks almost like——)

A princess from somewhere.

When that word came into her mind, Houki's cheeks turned red again.

(Re-Recently, it seems that I've been getting too ahead of myself...)

And she knew the reason behind it.

"..."

Houki coughed slightly for a bit to make her expression look stern again.

Seeing Houki like this, aunty took the sacred sword from the altar.

"Speaking of which, Houki-chan. You never took this alone. Just the fan, right?"

"I-I can handle it now!"

And like what Houki said, she immediately pulled the sword out from the sheath. She wielded the sword with her right hand, and the fan with the left hand.

This sword and fan combination originated from the move 'One sword one flash'[4C 3], and even till now, it's one of the signature moves of the Shinonono sword style.

Even so, this doesn't mean that a fan must be used. The weapon in the left hand must 'Receive', 'Sink' and 'Manipulate', while the right hand must 'Cut', 'Sever' and 'Penetrate'. In other words, it's more like a defensive 'nitoryuu' style. In other styles, it's also called a 'Grove nitoryuu'.[4C 4]

"Swing the fan for me, Houki-chan. Aunty only saw you swing it when you were young."

"Ah, okay. I'll treat it as a little practice then."

Houki sheathed the sword back and put it at her belt. The way she did it looked like a samurai sheathing his sword instead of a divine dance. But this would be an accurate description, since she is of the Shinonono line after all.

"I'm starting."

Houki flipped out the fan that was folded up.

The bells on each end of the fan gave a ring, *shiian*...a solemn tone.

It's now practice, but Houki, who's doing the divine dance, gave an aura that feels like she was on stage, seemingly making everyone around her calm down.

She swayed the fan left and right, squatted down halfway before drawing the sacred sword.

Then, the blade of the sword followed the fan as it slashed the air.

Right now, she looked like a real 'Sword Miko' that possessed dignity and calmness, and Houki, who got a lot more prettier than when she was young, naturally gave such a presence.

"...That's it for practice."

"Well! Well well well! Amazing, Houki-chan! You practiced often after you left here, right?"

"Huh, yeeah...sort of...well, I am a miko after all..."

Seeing her aunt smile happily like this, Houki looked embarrassed as she said that.

But she would definitely not tell Ichika about this.

Houki had some bad memories about doing childish things.

(I got laughed at by guys before...)

At that time, Ichika looked really dashing when he stepped up. Though the first impression he gave was rather poor, after that incident, Houki had a better view of Ichika's attitude.

So she didn't want Ichika to know.

In the past, Ichika was angry because 'So many boys ganged up on a girl', and not because that 'Houki got humiliated'.

If Ichika said to her 'You're not suited to do feminine things', it wouldn't just be a mental trauma.

In the worst case scenario, she may end up crying on scene—

Thinking about this, Houki felt that she must not let Ichika see her perform the divine dance, so she didn't invite him along.

(Besides, that guy's always like that. He won't come here even if he remembers that it's the summer festival today. He'll definitely feel that it's troublesome or something and stay around at home.)

Thinking about this, Houki realized that she wasn't interested now.

(Ar-Arghhh! Anyway! Ichika won't come here! So I just need to focus on the dance!)

"Yo."

"..."

File:IS v04 161.jpg

"You've been working hard."

Ichika, he's here.

(WAIWAIWAIWAIWAIT A MINUTE! THAT'S WEIRD! WAY TOO WEIRD! WHY DID ICHIKA APPEAR HERE AFTER I FINISHED THE DIVINE DANCE AND CHANGED INTO THE MIKO OUTFIT TO SEAL THE SHRINE'S CHARMS!?)

As her mind was in too much of a mess, Houki tried to replay what she did in the past few minutes again and again in a very dazed manner, and then checked the current situation again.

"Speaking of which, you're amazing. I was shocked to see you like that."

(Am I dreaming? Something impossible just happened. Maybe I'm just dreaming.)

"And, also...very pretty."

"WH--!?"

Houki immediately blushed, and her face was so red that it wouldn't to lose the red hakama.

(U-U-UUU!? I-I-I WAS JUST DREAMING! THA-THAT ICHIKA WOULD-WOULDN'T SAY SUCH THINGS TO ME! THAT'S RIGHT, IT MUST BE LIKE THAT! IT'S JUST A DREAM, JUST A DREAM!)

"THIS MUST BE A DREAM!"

"Wha-What's wrong?"

Shocked by the sudden raising of voice, Ichika asked back in a somewhat weak manner.

"THIS MUST BE A DREAM. I'M DEFINITELY DREAMING! HURRY UP AND WAKE UP!"

"What's wrong, Houki-chan? Why are you so loud? What just happened...oh my?"

Noticing that something's amiss, aunt Yukiko came over to look at Houki and Ichika.

"Oh my."

*PAN!* Seemingly thinking of something, aunt Yukiko clapped once, and there seemed to be a light bulb above the head.

"I can settle the things here, Houki-chan. Hurry up and go to the summer festival."

"What!? ...uu, as expected of a dream, things that are impossible just continued to happen. If that's the case..."

Houki continued to mutter as she still seemed to be thinking that she's dreaming. Seeing Houki like this, a light bulb appeared above aunt Yukiko's head.

"Eih!"

*PAK!*

In contrast to her usual gentleness, aunt Yukiko swung a sharp karate chop.

"OUCH!!?"

"Houki-chan, hurry up and return back to reality."

"Huh..."

The brain that was hit caused Houki to recover.

Then, aunt Yukiko turned Houki to the right side and pushed her out.

"Okay, okay, move faster. Go take a shower to wipe the sweat off. Auntie here will take out the yukata for you during that time."

"Th-Tha-That..."

"Okay okay, hurry up!"

Auntie didn't want to let Houki have a chance to talk as she pushed her back to the main house. As they left, she even said to Ichika,

"You must wait for her. It's a boyfriend's job to wait for his girlfriend."

"Huh?"

Ichika was momentarily stunned, but aunt just blinked at him and brought Houki into the house.

He didn't know what was going on, but since she wanted him to wait, Ichika could only wait.

(Th-Tha-That's impossible!)

*SPLASH!* After letting the hot water drip down her head for the third time, Houki repeated what she said.

(Ichika came to the summer festival. There's was a possibility...and-and-and also!)

*Splash*, Houki washed herself a 4th time.

The wet black hair continued to drip, but she didn't mind.

(Th-Tha-That Ichika-that Ichika actually-that Ichika actually, called-called me 'Pretty'...)

Right now, Ichika, who had been beautified four times in Houki's mind, softly said.

"You're so pretty, Houki..."

"Ho-Hold it, Ichika! Did-Didn't you come here to see the fireworks? Why-Why are you always looking at me..."

"That's because I want an excuse to be along with you."

"I-Ichika..."

"Houki..."

And then, their lips slowly touched each other—

"KYAAHHHH!!"

*SPLASH!* She again drenched another full bucket of water on herself.

"Houki-chan? I seemed to hear a scream. Are you alright?"

"I-I'm okay! I'm alright!"

Houki said such a lie without thinking, but she didn't look alright at all.

"Any-Anyway, you should be done, right? It's been past 30 minutes."

"Huuh!?"

Completely forgetting about the time, Houki frantically washed her hair and body to clear off the sweat.

After bathing, she immediately used the hairdryer to dry her hair. Aunt made things faster by putting the yukata on Houki without allowing her to refuse, and she could only let her aunt do that.

"Mn, okay, Houki-san's really suited to wear a yukata~ because you have hair comparable to your mom."

"Tha-Thanks..."

Houki thanked her aunt for putting on the yukata and praising her, but the fact that she was wearing something different from usual made her unable to hide her panic.

Actually, Houki hadn't worn a yukata in many years, but the presence and completeness she gave was comparable to the models in magazines, even displaying her own personal style.

(It-It suits...me well...I guess! At-At least I don't look weird wearing it, right?)

Having no confidence in her own looks, Houki said that as she looked at the mirror.

The red goldfish that was swimming about leisurely was printed on the white-based yukata with light blue patterns on it, and the silver pearls and gold patterns weren't too much. They matched each other really well, creating a clear balance and presence of dignity.

"Then, bring this along. You can put your purse, handphone and other important stuff inside."

Saying that, her aunt passed a little bag to her.

When did she prepare that...Thinking about it, Houki decided not to think about it even further. Aunt Yukiko has always been such an intelligent person. She would always prepare things for anything.

"Th-Then, aunt Yukiko."

"What is it?"

"Than-Thank you..."

Seeing Houki say this shyly, aunt showed a really mystified look, and then responded with a radiant smile.

"No problems. More importantly, here, don't keep your boyfriend waiting."

"No, that's not it. Well, about that—"

"Okay okay, hurry up."

She got prompted out of the corridor by her aunt and walked down the corridor. On the way, she looked up at the clock hanging on the wall, and found that it was already past 6pm. The outside was already darkened by the orangey-red sky.

"The fireworks will start at 8. Find a place where both of you can be alone."

"So-So I say...he's not—"

"Okay~ be careful on the way~"

"Uu..."

Even though Houki wanted to say something to her aunt who didn't want to hear her explanation, she was forced to wear the wooden sandals and had to go out of the house. She didn't have any room to argue back.

Besides, she was most mindful about Ichika who ended up waiting for an hour.

(Wha-What should I do? I spent a longer time than expected. Did Ichika go home already? And aunt even got mistaken...ahh, what should I do!?)

Houki took care not to mess up the bottom of her skirt as she hurriedly rushed to the bird gate. In the past, when they said that they would meet up, it would be over there.

(Where's Ichika...)

Having reached the tori gate, Houki found that it was hard to find Ichika as there was a lot of people gathered there.

Besides, almost everyone would go through the tori gate to the shrine, so even if she stood there, she would feel that she was blocking everyone.

(So Ichika really went back...)

Just when Houki thought of that, someone grabbed her hand.

"You're so slow, Houki. I was getting impatient—oh? You're dressed in a yukata."

"I-I-Ichika! Where were you!? I didn't notice you at all!"


The second unexpected meeting made Houki overly nervous as she couldn't express her words properly.

(Ca-Calm down, calm down a bit...ahh!? My hand! He's holding onto my hand...!?)

It was only now that she realized that Ichika was holding onto her hand tightly, and her face immediately reddened.

Luckily, the surroundings got a bit dark, so Ichika didn't notice her blushing.

"Ohh~ that's not bad. This attire suits you."

"Re-Really? I-I-I think so too!"

—I-I got praised!? Did I get praised again?

Dragging along Houki who was drowning in the praises and feeling somewhat fearful, Ichika continued to head through the crowd.

"Then let's go walk around. Also—speaking of which, I haven't been to the summer festival in two years. Last year, I was preparing for my exams."

"..."

Houki placed her left hand in front of her chest to try and check & control the beating of her heart as she followed Ichika from behind. Her right hand was still being held.

"Cotton candy, yakisoba, grilled corn. This place has everything. As expected of the Shinonono shrine."

She didn't know what Ichika meant by that, but right now, Houki almost couldn't hear it.

Right now, Houki was only worried about whether Ichika could hear her heartbeat or not.

"Houki?"

"Wha-What?"

Ichika thought that Houki couldn't hear his words because there were so many people in the crowd, so he brought his face closer to Houki.

At that moment, Houki remembered the moment when they were at the seaside last month in the middle of the night. They didn't kiss, so she frantically pulled her distance this time.

Right now, Ichika looked completely the same as when she peeked and saw him.

"Hey, don't move around. You'll knock into others."

"Uu, okay, sorry."

"Alright, where do you want to go?"

"We-Wel-Well..."

After avoiding the people, the hand that was released now felt really anxious.

However, Houki couldn't say that she wanted to hold hands, and the fingers that were hidden behind could only move about anxiously.

(Bu-But, we're alone now. It's different from school. We're alone. Y-Yeah!)

Thinking about this, she immediately felt happy about the current situation, and yet couldn't get rid of the loneliness of being unable to hold hands.

"Speaking of which, Houki, you really couldn't catch goldfish."

"That-That was the past! The past!"

"Mn? You're different now?"

"Of course! Don't think that I'll always be the same as before!"

"Then let's have a match, shall we? The loser will have to treat."

"No problem. Fine by me!"

Folding their arms and nodding in agreement, Houki and Ichika went to look for a goldfish scooping stall.

After walking for a while, both of them reached their destination and tried out for one scoop

"Ah, but Houki, you're in a yukata. Is it okay?"

"I'm used to wearing a yukata already. No need to go easy on me."

"Is that so...then, a showdown!"

"Fine by me!"

Both of them dipped their nets into the water at the same time.

"Sorry to make you treat me with yakisoba."

Even though Ichika was eating the yakisoba happily, beside him, Houki clenched her fist unhappily.

Houki thought that both of them would be tied at 3-all, but one of the goldfish jumped back into the fish tank. Both of them got attracted by the movements of the goldfish, and the net broke at the same time, so the winner was decided then.

"That damned goldfish...jumped back into the water while I was serious..."

"Just the goldfish?"

After a staredown with twice the intensity, Ichika could only shut up.

"Oh well, you don't have to be so angry. Here, the yakisoba's nice. Have some of it, Houki."

After saying that, Ichika passed the chopsticks with noodles on it to her.

(Is-Is-Is this the so-called...indirect kiss...)

Her heart beating wildly again, Houki was cautious not to let her feelings show on her face as she looked at Ichika's expression.

"Hm?"

However, the person himself didn't seem too different from usual. It probably didn't mean anything else.

Even though she's unhappy about this, Houki still felt happy about the gentleness Ichika naturally showed. She looked down in a somewhat shy manner, opened her mouth only when Ichika reminded her with a 'Here, ahh', and ate the noodles on the chopsticks.

"Mn, uu, it-it's better than I thought..."

"Didn't I say so? Besides, you're hungry, aren't you? You were even doing the divine dance just now."

"Uu, mn, tha-that, that's right...I guess..."

In fact, had Ichika not reminded her, she would have forgotten that she was hungry.

But even in such a state, she still nodded her head, because she didn't want to talk too much and end the natural 'Here, ahh' Ichika had said.

(But it seems that this guy will do that to anyone.)

Thinking about this, Houki suddenly felt some pain in her chest.

—I really wish that he would specially do such a thing for me—

Houki couldn't help but think this. This is a 16-year-old girl who fell into the net of love.

"My-My mouth feels a little thirsty."

"You're right—you're feeling hot because of the crowd, right? Can't be helped then. Let's go buy something to drink."

"Uu, mn."

Though she was blushing because of a completely different reason, Houki still nodded her head.

(O-Okay, I'll just hold his hand naturally like that—)

Having a serious gaze as though she was about to draw a sword in a showdown, Houki stared at Ichika's hand.

Then, the perfect opportunity arrived.

(No-Now-Now's the time—!)

"—Huh? Ichika...san?"

"Oh?"

Ichika turned around suddenly due to the call, and Houki's hand missed.

However, as she didn't want to let others see herself being embarrassed like this, Houki raised her hand that didn't reach the target and acted like she was tidying her hair.

(Ahhh, really! Who did that? Who interrupted us!)

"Oh, it's Ran."

(...U, uu? Who's that?)

It's to be expected that she didn't know the person, but the fact that a girl she didn't know yet Ichika knew of suddenly appeared made Houki really mindful.

"Such-Such a coincidence..."

"Yeah. I thought that I wouldn't meet anyone familiar here too. What a coincidence. Where's Dan?"

"Who-Who knows? Maybe he's sleeping at home?"

Thinking about this, Ran seemed to be in a similar yukata getup as Houki. She wasn't in her usual ponytail, instead, she had a complicated hairstyle that was tied and swept behind.

"Oh, this is the first time I'm seeing you in a yukata, Ran! Though I only had an impression of you in a dress, the yukata suits you too."

"Is-Is-Is that so? Tha-Thank you for the praise..."

Trying to hide her blushing face, Ran lowered her head slightly.

From this, Houki's alert radar immediately raised into alert status as she noticed the girl's affections for Ichika.

"Ahh—Prez is embarrassed—. That's so rare—"

"I see! So Prez wouldn't even go out with boys from other schools and girls from our school because of this?"

"Do your best, Prez♪"

A group of girls in yukata standing behind Ran exclaimed.

"You-You-You people!"

"KYA~ Prez is angry~"

"We just touched the fangs~"

"That's so scary~"

Seeing the girls with her joking around, Ran took a deep breath and wanted to scold them, but Ichika took the first words.

"They're your friends from school?"

"Huh, yeeah, they're, student council members..."

Unknowingly, Ichika went beside Ran, and this distance made her jump, and she even stuttered.

The four girls laughed at Ran for being like this and then continued talking to continue her words.

"We're here today to get inspiration for the school autumn festival."

"Since it's a learning festival, we have to come here ourselves!"

"But I guess it's time for us to go back!"

"Huh? Why are you deciding—"

Ran widened her eyes because she heard that for the first time. This is to be expected, because these teenage girls decided to use the legendary eye contact.

"Bye Prez!"

"We're going off!"

"See you at school!"

"Adiós!"

"Huh? Ah, hey, wait a—"

With quick footsteps, the four girls moved away really fast as if they weren't in yukatas and quickly vanished into the crowd.

Ran, who reached her hand out at the 4 who quickly left, left it in mid-air, and she was left alone with Ichika beside her and Houki, whose mood just seemed to have gotten worse.

"Huh, umm, well, those girls, they just like to joke around."

"Ah, I can understand somewhat."

"They-They're not bad girls. They don't have any ill intentions, you know?"

Ran, who was trying to defend herself with overt passion, found that her body was too close to Ichika.

"So-Sorry!"

Ran immediately backed away from Ichika and turned right. Her face was a lot redder than before.

"Ah—ahem!"

Houki deliberately coughed to remind Ichika, probably unable to deal with their world.

"Oh, sorry, I forgot to introduce. Umm~ she's Gotanda Ran. Do you remember the time I talked to you about Dan? Ran's his little sister."

"I'm Gotanda Ran."

Ran greeted Houki formally. From her attitude, Houki immediately realized that she was her enemy in love.

"And she's Shinonono Houki, my first childhood friend. I told you of her before, right?"

"Nope, you only told me the name."

"I see. Oh well, please take care of each other. Hey, Houki."

"I'm Shi-Shinonono Houki. Nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you too."

Both of them formally greeted each other again, and then maintained a few seconds of silence.

During that time, both of them were thinking—

(I heard that Ichika-san spoke before of some samurai or some bushido...but-but he never said that she was so pretty. And, and also, those breasts are big...it feels sneaky...that's cheating...)

(That damned Ichika! Lying to me that he's not really familiar with his friend's sister...she's interested in you, right? And also...she's cute in ways different from me...uu, I'm so angry!)

Then, both of them looked at him, expecting Ichika to say something.

"..."

"..."

Ichika looked somewhat embarrassed by their serious looks.

"Wha-What?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing."

Even though both of them answered so briefly, their sharp looks didn't soften any bit.

File:IS v04 181.jpg

"Oh."

*PA!* Ichika suddenly clapped. The two people who didn't manage to get his next sentence sharpened their eyes.

"Want to go out together?"

It defied all expectations, but it's an expected answer for a blockhead, and that caused Houki to lower her head dejectedly.

On the other hand, Ran was delighted by Ichika's unexpected answer.

"You see, since Ran's friends went home...ah, Ran, you aren't going home yet?"

"Not-Not that! Okay, please allow me to go out with you!"

Ran forcefully grabbed Ichika's hand, making Ichika look somewhat mystified. Ran realized from his expression that she was really bold, and blushed as she released her hand.

"Let's walk around then."

"Okay."

"Ahh..."

In contrast to the delighted Ran, Houki made a very dejected response unhappily.

Ichika was in the middle, Houki on the left and Ran on the right, as they walked together. In the bustling summer festival, most of them are family members being together, friends being together and also lovers holding hands together.

(Thi-This is a good chance...! It's a good chance to get near Ichika-san! And that idiot brother's not around! But, but my rival's somewhat strong—un! I'll do my best!)

Ran glanced at Ichika's face as she secretly gave herself a victory pose to motivate herself.

(Uu—...I really want to get used to Ichika's blockheadedness, but at this point...as expected, he would praise other girls in yukata other than me...haa, this infuriates me...)

Thinking about this, Houki couldn't help but be even angrier. And her anxiety started to build up, including her own naive thoughts.

(Bu-But, well, never mind...I-I just got an indirect...ki...ss...anyway. Fufufu♪)

Though this may be just some unknown happiness to outsiders, to the person involved, it's enough that such a little happiness belonged to her.

Houki cupped her hands together as it seemed that she wanted to keep those memories.

"Speaking of which, Ran, you often came along with Dan, right?"

"Huh, yeah, sorta. My dad often said that it would be dangerous for girls to go out on their own, so he didn't allow me to go out freely."

—But it's because of that that I could mingle with Ichika-san.

Ran slightly muttered.

Only she could hear that voice in her heart. Deep inside her heart, Ran felt that that day was the anniversary of her first crush. The gentle, happy and warm feeling gradually spread through her chest.

(I may be able to be a little bolder today...)

I must do my best today! With those words, Ran reached out for Ichika's hand.

—*DONK*

"KYAH!?"

"Ah, sorry!"

"No, it's okay. It was my fault for not watching the road."

Having knocked into a passer-by, Ran lowered her head and apologized.

"Are you okay, Ran?"

"Ah..."

Ichika naturally pulled Ran, who lost her balance, into his chest.

She was in the chest of someone she likes. More delicate than Mozart's piano theme and more exciting than Vivaldi's Concerto, this was too sudden for a teenage girl.

"Huh, uu, ah...!"

Even though her arms were flailing meaninglessly, Ran couldn't do anything as she could only let her girl instincts run wild.

"Hm?"

"Ah, ah—it's that!"

Ran randomly pointed at the shooting shop...but that was done to prevent her thoughts from being revealed.

"Oh? Are you good with that?"

"Huh, mmn sort of."

Trying to prevent her quickening heartbeat from being discovered, Ran pretended to tidy her yukata and pulled her distance from Ichika.

(Ahh, did-did I just embarrass myself? U-Uu...Ichika-san's body's really sturdy—THAT'S NOT IT! WE-WE'RE-WE'RE GOING TO PLAY SHOOTING! I MUST DO MY BEST!)

"We're going then...hm? Houki? You'll get lost if you're so far away. Here."

Saying that, Ichika held Houki and Ran's hand at the same time as he headed to the shooting stall.

Most likely, he didn't know the feelings of the girls whose hands he was holding.

"Hello, welcome."

"Uncle, give us a game for three."

"Oh? You're holding flowers on both hands? How envious. Okay, no discount then!"

"Huuh? Don't say that. Give me a discount! At least to the girls."

"Gahahahah. I humbly refuse."

The boss of the shooting stall gave such a casual smile as he said that. He had a white T-shirt over his tanned body, and the muscles on his arms and shoulders could be seen. Ichika felt that he was nice, and so paid for all three of them.

"Thanks...oh, kid, you have some attitude there. Brats nowadays hardly pay for the girls."

"Yeah! So give me a discount—"

"I refuse. A popular guy's an enemy of all men! Gahahaha!!!"

Though the boss looked like a nice guy, there didn't seem to be any room for bargaining. Ichika, Houki and Ran received a pistol each, loaded the cork bullets, and readied them.

"..."

Like a sniper, Ran stared seriously at the target. Right now, she was hard to approach, much like a switchblade, and it felt that anyone who got near her would be cut.

(...I couldn't shoot well at all...)

Ran regretted that her self-defense mechanism that kicked in immediately a few seconds ago was basically digging her own grave.

"Oh—you look serious. Do your best, Ran!"

"Yes."

Not wanting to be distracted, Ran nodded her head.

(AHHH!! NOT GOOD NOT GOOD! I CAN'T DO THIS WELL AT ALL!)

But the longer it took, Ichika and even the surrounding customers would expect more for her.

(Got to end this now and then say 'Actually, I can't play this well, so please teach me', so let's do this! Yeah, let's do this then! That's the way!)

That's right, maybe there will be body contact when he teaches me. Besides, Ichika-san's grades in IS Academy were brilliant. I saw that on TV. Yup—Yup!

As the colors of pink, grape and fruit started to come up, the cork bullet suddenly shot out.

"Oh."

"Ohh?"

"Ohhh!?"

*PAK—PUNNK!!*

"You-You hit that metal plate...! The, the LCD TV~!"

"HUH? HUH? HUUUH...?"

It seemed that she subconsciously shot the hardest prize. Everyone, from the boss of the shooting shop to the surrounding customers and Ichika went wild.

"Amazing, Missy! I thought that nobody would be able to hit that—ahh, it's alright."

"Ha-Haa..."

"You made the LCD TV as the target! Amazing! And you even hit it! I'm impressed."

Ichika really looked impressed as he clapped his hands. The surrounding customers started clapping with him, and there was even more people.

"Kahahaha! I made a loss today! Damn it, take it take it~!"

"Tha-Thanks..."

The packaging wasn't really small, but it wasn't something a middle school girl couldn't take as Ran recevied the prize.

"That's great."

"Really..."

Seeing Ran lower her head dejectedly, Ichika had a '?' above his head.

On the other hand, standing on the other side of Ichika, Houki—

"Uu..."

Having missed 5 straight shots, Houki had no bullets left.

"Houki's as bad a shooter as always."

"SHU-SHUT UP! I-I CAN HIT IT WITH A BOW AND ARROW!"

"No, the prize will break, definitely...really, you need help."

Ichika handed his remaining bullets and even the loaded pistol to Houki.

"Basically, the way you're holding the gun is too weird. You must be like this, put your arms straight, look straight, and make sure the bullet's in the same trajectory—"

"..."

Saying that, Ichika made body contact with Houki. Though Houki looked emotionless, her heart was pounding crazily.

(WAHHH! THA-THAT'S TOO BOLD! H-HI-HIS HAND'S TOUCHING MY BODY!? UU~ HE'S BREATHING ONTO MY FACE...MOVE AWAY...)

—She didn't want Ichika to move away though.

"About that. Hm. How about it, got it?"

"Uu, mn."

"Try shooting then. Aimed carefully?"

"I-I got it!"

Sounding somewhat stronger now, Houki let out an 'Ahh' deep inside as she squeezed the trigger.

*PUNNK—Pok!*

"Oh! You hit the doll."

That was a head-sized penguin that's somewhat large and could be used as a cushion. The innocent eyes seemed to be protesting that it got shot.

"Oh! You shot good, Missy! Gahahaha, I lost badly today!"

"...I wanted the daruma nearby..."

"Hm?"

"No, nothing."

Even though she said that, Houki received the doll. Even though she was aiming for a different prize, she still gave a happy smile.

"Mn~that Ran's so slow."

"Ye-Yeah."

They continued to walk and play and eat as they went through a lot of stalls.

Right now, it was about 8pm, and the fireworks ceremony was about to start.

"I don't think she would get lost...un."

Ran wasn't with them now, and that was to be expected, since the LCD TV was too large. She called Dan over to pickup the TV, so she was waiting outside the shrine area at the road for him.

Ran mentioned that it would be too much of a hassle to make them come along, so she made them wait at the drinking point at the shrine for a while. However, it didn't seem that she would be coming back anytime soon.

Just when Ichika was considering if he should look for her, the phone rang.

"Ex-Excuse me, is this Ichika-san?"

"Oh, what is it, Ran? You lost your way?"

"No, that's not it!"

"Hahaha, I was joking."

"Mu~"

A pouting could be heard from the other side of the phone as Ran let out a 'cute imouto' feeling. Ichika chuckled.

"Actually...erm, I got caught by my brother."

"Oh, Dan's here? Call him to come over too."

"No, well...he wanted me to go home with him no matter what."

That idiotic brother...Ran added that and sighed deeply.

"Sorry, I had to go because of that."

"I see. Be careful on the way then."

Ichika hung up the phone and walked to Houki who was waiting for him.

"Ran went back first."

"I-I see."

Houki got shocked by her unexpected cry of delight, and felt ashamed of her own attitude.

(This-This is really indecent. I...)

Thinking about this, Houki felt even more ashamed and lowered her head slightly as she played around with her fingers.

"Let's go then."

"Ah..."

Ichika grabbed Houki's hand again and walked to the woods behind the shrine.

(Go-Going somewhere that's empty...don't tell me.)

Of course, it wouldn't be like that. Besides, there's a secret viewing spot behind this woods for them to view the fireworks festival.

In the woods that had high trees all around, a certain area was open like a window.

The spot looked like a picture for the four seasons. In spring, it could be used to see the sunrise. In summer, it could be used to see the fireworks. In autumn, it could be used to view the full moon, and in winter, it could be used to see a snowscape. It was a secret place with the colors of all four seasons. Only Chifuyu, Tabane, Ichika and Houki knew of that place.

"Oh—this place hasn't changed at all."

His words didn't reach Houki's ears.

*Rii*, *Rii*, the sounds of insects could be heard. A light breeze blew into the woods where humans hardly stayed in, removing the heat of summer.

Being alone with the person she liked in such a place...Houki couldn't remain calm after it ended up like this.

(It-It's just-just me and Ichika...and-and also, the-the...atmosphere, it's rather good...)

Seemingly expecting something, Houki glanced at Ichika, but Ichika just looked at the sky in an excited manner.

(Is-Isn-Isn't this a good-good time to confess!?)

If anyone asked her who she wanted to confess to, she would probably say 'The answer's in my own heart' (Find out my mind).

(Uuu...?)

Houki continued to stare at Ichika as her face gradually reddened, and let out sweat that didn't have anything to do with the heat.

(Sa-Say-Say it! Just say it! it's the time to say it...just say it!)[4C 5]

Repeating the 5 step verb utilization in her mind, Houki forcefully backed away.

Right now, the chibi-Houki[4C 6] in her mind kicked her, and another chibi-Houki kicked the one in front of her, and another chibi-Houki continued to motion...just like that, it continued on.

(I, Me? Must I say it? Do I have to say it? Shouldn't the guy be the one confessing? No, it's that Ichika. He won't say it himself. Speaking of which, I don't know if he likes me—no! He likes me! He really likes me! Most likely! I guess...)

Realizing that she was repeating the words in her heart, Houki blushed again.

The buzz of the crowds was far away from them, and they couldn't hear anything now.

(Now-Now's the time—!)

Houki finally decided to confess, and said,

"I-Ichika!"

"Hm?"

"I-I-I li—"

*DOOOO-------NN!!!*

"Ohh! The fireworks started!"

"Ik-Ike--..."

"Hm? What's the matter, Houki?"

"..."

Houki kept the tightly clasped hands behind her body.

File:IS v04 195.jpg

(Uu...I got interrupted by the fireworks...)

But it couldn't be helped even if she regretted it. It was her own fault for not confessing anyway.

The most famous of this fireworks would be the 100 shots. Once released, the booming sounds and the colors in the night sky would continue for an hour.

(I'll give up today then...haa...)

Thinking about this, she suddenly lost her strength, and the anger she couldn't vent on naturally disappeared.

"OHH~ AMAZING!!"

*PA!* *PAPA!* With the flash of the fireworks everytime, the light would show the side of Ichika's delighted face.

Seeing such a naive expression, Houki suddenly found herself laughable.

--Right now, just being with him is enough.

Thinking about this, Houki looked up at the sky with Ichika.

Red, blue, green, yellow, the fireworks in the sky continued to dazzle in the sky as most of the viewers enjoyed it.

"So pretty..."

"Mn, so pretty."

Looking up at the sky, Houki did something that was somewhat daring—

She linked her own arm with Ichika's left arm.

"Hm? What's the matter?"

"Is it alright?"

"Mn, it's alright."

Ichika just turned to the side for a while, and then his eyes turned to the fireworks in the night sky.

Houki's face was somewhat scarlet red under the fireworks. However, it wasn't because she was shy, but because she was delighted.

The summer memories of a 16-year-old passed by under the dazzling colors of the fireworks—



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