#

“Hmm…”

After winning this morning’s duel, I head to Eimei Academy guided by the map application. However, what I run into on my way makes me slightly change my expression.

There is a space in front of the academy that no one approaches. A group of people who do not look like Eimei Academy students are gathered there. They are about seven people, all women. The noble atmosphere emanating from them is eye-catching, stopping the students on their way to the academy one by one.

The cross-armed girl at the center of the group is someone I know.

“…You’re finally here.”

She is Akabane Rina, or rather, Saionji Sarasa.

Yesterday, the original seven-stars queen—the Empress—accidentally confessed a terrible lie to me.

Saionji Sarasa (though not her real name, I’ll call her that for the time being) with one hand stops her groupies. She walks slowly in my direction, stopping about two meters away. Then she says with a sarcastic smile:

“Good morning, Shinohara. You slept well last night?”

“…? Ah, I don’t think I slept any different than usual… What is it?”

“Really? I couldn’t sleep well because I was only thinking about you, don’t you feel sorry for being the one to blame for my sleepiness?”

Saionji doesn’t try to hide her bad mood at all… Yet, despite her defiant and cynical attitude, her tone still maintains the ‘princess mode.’ Unlike yesterday, today she seems to keep her cool and deliberately spoke to me.

Besides this, I can’t understand her intentions, but for now let’s continue the conversation.

“Hah… Why should I care? You lost simply because you are weaker than I. Do I have to apologize? Is it up to me to say ‘I’m sorry for being more talented than you’?

“You… you’re really full of yourself, didn’t you? One day you’ll regret what you said today.”

“What are you saying? Well, to threaten the winner is also a loser’s privilege.”

“Ahhh, really? Well, I pity those guys who get to the top just by luck.”

“What a coincidence, I think just the same.”

“…Tsk.”

Hey, this high-class lady is clicking her tongue… I simply reflected her own provocation.

By the way, most people who are secretly listening are watching our confrontation in suspense. Even so, the relationship between Saionji and me is completely ‘hostile,’ so there is not even a skeptical person here.

So, with the large group of students watching, Saionji gracefully touches her beautiful long hair.

“Hmph… Well, never mind. I’m here today to make it clear to you that I haven’t surrendered, that’s all I have to say.”

“Huh? Ah, that’s all?”

What she said makes me a little confused.

…At this moment of rambling mind, the girl whose arms are crossed in front of me moves her ruby eyes, as if she were looking at my uniform to confirm something. Then…

“Oh, you’re so careless.”

She still looks dissatisfied, and further narrows the distance with me. With the audience falling in shock, Saionji says indignantly:

“Your tie is crooked… Hey, you can’t belittle the value of a seven-stars! Better you take good care of it, as I’m planning to regain this position right away.”

With a smile, she reaches a hand towards my chest. While carefully fixing my tie a delicate fragrance waft… Even though she’s acting in a bad mood, she’s still incredibly cute…

“Are you trying to strangle me like this?”

“…”

I take it back. Indeed, (except for the face) she is not cute at all. If she moves me, it must be more out of terror than love. This is an alert from my gut. After all, she’s tightening the tie way too badly…

After finishing with my tie, she lets go of me and says mischievously:

“So, I’ll see you next time, will you set a record for being the fastest seven-stars to drop? I’ll look forward to seeing that,” even at the end, she doesn’t fail to tease me.

Saionji seems to be satisfied at last. She turns around, and leaves. Finally, she walks towards District Three without turning her head once; after her go the girls from before. I stay there temporarily, closely watching her back.

When I’m the only one left, “…Ahhh,” I let out a sigh that shatters my act… I look down without noticing, and suddenly I notice something.

Is there paper in my breast pocket…does it mean Saionji put it in?

The paper is folded in half. Probably because it was forced into my pocket, the corners are a little bent… Got it: she arranged my tie just to put this paper down? It’s true that anything she and I do in public will attract the world’s attention.

Looking through the contents of the document, coordinates and some instructions are written on it.

“… Come to this store after school and don’t let anyone see you. It is absolutely forbidden to be late—you have been warned!”

#

“Quiet! Be quiet, everyone! Please listen to me! This is a new school year… I know you’re all excited, but there are other important things to say! Look, please pay attention~!”

My classmates obey the teacher’s words, causing the room to fall silent. I stand in the hallway and press my chest with my right hand. Then I take a few deep breaths.

After that—after acting with Saionji—I ran to my classroom, where the first day’s activities were waiting. The opening ceremony ended thirty minutes ago. There will be no class today and homeroom class started long ago.

Of course, it’s fortunate that I didn’t miss the class meeting…but now is a crucial time for me.

…Lord, give me strength. There are now more than thirty students in this room. These people are probably the ones who will be most associated with me in the future… That is, they are most likely to find out about my lie.

The total number of stars each student possesses will affect their academy ranking. Because of the existence of such a system, there are basically no duels between students of the same academy—but my lie is not only involved in duels. To avoid failures, it is necessary to be always on the watch.

“Eheem! Quiet! Thank you. I’m very glad to be the teacher of class A. Let’s work together…! Ah, no, no, no, no! By the way, by the way, there’s something important! Do you know who will arrive today? I really want to introduce you to the transfer student!”

“…”

“Huh? Did you already know about that? Uh… Wow. Anyway… introduction is the teacher’s duty! So, please come in!”

An excited voice comes from the other side of the door, so I raise my right hand slightly and open the door without hesitation, keeping my eyes as straight as possible and slowly walking towards the podium.

After walking up to the podium, I suddenly turn around and look at my classmates calmly.

Hm… Of course, everyone is really interested in me.

Thirty classmates look at me without exception… But these looks are different from those of yesterday and this morning—most of them are favorable. A sense of respect, or perhaps envy, is felt. Probably, being able to be in the same class as the only seven-stars on the island makes them feel an extraordinary excitement.

Of course, these are only illusory evaluations. Still, I’ll take them in stride.

“Hello, if this is the first time we’ve met. Perhaps some of you already know of me. I am Shinohara, a transfer student. I just arrived on this island the day before yesterday. There are still many things I am not used to. Please take care of me from now on,” I say the prepared lines, and bow my head slightly to show courtesy. I’m afraid there are many people who heard my declaration of war earlier, and I may have given them the impression that I am someone evil. The greeting this time was much more polite than before, so it should be relatively easy for them to accept it.

“Yes. Thank you, Shinohara-kun,” the person answering me now is a young teacher still standing at the podium and smiling. Her short brown hair is braided into a net, giving her a college girl look. She turns her index finger towards the students and continues, “So the identity of the transfer student is the one everyone expected: Shinohara Hiroto-kun. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask everyone for help! Right, class A?”

“Yes!!!” At the teacher’s asking, everyone replies enthusiastically. And this is probably not just an act to play along, after all, this is Class A. Eimei Academy is divided into classes according to the number of stars, so this classroom also gathers the best second-year students.

According to the information collected by Himeji, the average number of stars in the class is 2.97.

Considering that in the island-wide distribution of stars, 60% of the students have one or two, to have reached this level at the beginning of the second year is quite remarkable.

So… everyone here actually has more stars than I.

Even so, there are people who look at me with eyes shining in admiration. There are also people who harbor a sense of competence and great interest in me, showing complex expressions.

“…”

In order not to let it all fall apart and turn into the worst ridicule, I must keep a steady mind.

There are several special features at Academy Island, but homeroom sessions have nothing special. The teacher gives a few precautions, distributes the schedule, followed by a special self-introduction session…

The normal thing for a transfer student is to have someone to show them the school facilities.  It is good that this issue has come up. But, in deciding who will take me on a tour of the academy, for some reason there will be a duel-like evaluation encounter (tournament format).

Moreover, everyone in the classroom will participate, including the teacher. Although inside I’m a nervous wreck, of course I maintain the super-cool aura of ‘I wonder who will be worthy of me’ for all to see. And so almost an hour later all the duels are over, and the outcome is decided.

“All right, I’ll introduce myself again. My name is Tatara Fuuka and I am the A class president. Then, Shinohara-kun, you can address me as ‘president’… Ahhh?! Wait! I haven’t been elected this year as the representative yet…”

“Well, the job of class representative is something you handle very well. No one wants to do that job, except Tatara… Well, then. I’m Tsuji, Tsuji Yuuki. I can easily be mistook for a girl because of my first name. If possible, call me by my last name.”

“Ah, I’ll remember it.”

I walk carefully listening to the words of the two walking ahead in the hallway after leaving the classroom. According to Himeji, with your terminal you can get information from lower ranked students, so for me, a seven-stars, it’s inconvenient in several ways not to know about my classmates.

One of the people at the front is a girl who gives a cheerful impression, Tatara Fuuka. She is a charming girl, full of vitality and energy. Her attitude matches very well with the cheerful smile on her face. She seems to be the type who can express her feelings frankly. The ponytail on her back bounces every time she reacts.

The other one is a real ikemen, Tsuji Yuuki. No wonder he is mistaken for a girl, not only because of his name. He has a beautiful appearance. His height, moreover, is a bit shorter than Tatara’s. Is that why he tries to act like an adult?

“Oh, but this is great,” Tatara says happily with her hands behind her back. “Since it’s obvious that I’ll be the representative, I want to walk Shinohara-kun all around the place. I’ve been waiting for him since morning, but suddenly everyone wanted to steal my place. It was really a surprise.”

“No, no. It’s not that we wanted to replace you. It’s just that we’re talking about the transfer student who defeated Saionji Sarasa on the first day of school. I can’t think of anyone who could be indifferent to a matter related to the Empress, the one who was said would remain undefeated until graduation.”

“Really? Maybe so… I guess I shouldn’t have been so rough in trying to win.

“Why are you thinking about that…? Isn’t that a good thing? Anyway, we won, so we have an obligation to meet Shinohara-kun’s expectations.”

“Well. Actually, you’re right to say that. Okay, then. Shinohara-kun, if you have any questions, we’ll answer them for you!” Tatara confidently places a hand on his plump breasts. Not paying particular attention to her gesture, I look up to meet her face and nod slightly.

“Ah… So… Uh, could you start with the basics?”

“Basics, huh? Then… I see, Shinohara-kun. Actually, the Milky Way was quite small at the beginning. But at a certain point there was a big explosion! It’s called the Big Bang phenomenon!”

“Stop it, Tatara-san, stop. By ‘basics’ he didn’t mean the very beginning of the universe… Shinohara-kun, what are the basics you want to know? Is it about the academy?”

“Well, please,” I answer bluntly, and Tsuji looks at the ceiling as if he were remembering.

“Hm-hm… Eimei Private Academy is a school located in District Four of Academy Island. It comprises several departments, from elementary school to college, with a total of approximately twenty thousand students. There are almost nine thousand in high school alone. It is often said to be a place with strong elite ambitions. In recent years, the academy has been ranked in the top five. There’s no mistake to say that this place is quite famous.”

“Hey… So, can you give an example of specific things about this academy?”

“Well, the first and scariest thing is the Principal’s policy. She really has dueling in high regard. Of course, it’s a rule. At Eimei, even the most trivial matters will be decided by dueling.”

“Yeah, yeah! For example, when it’s time to buy lunch… if you don’t win a duel, you won’t even be able to stand in line!”

“I see,” I answer like this. My face stiffens… Starting tomorrow, I think I’ll start bringing my lunch.

In short, we discussed many things in this way, and I was led through the school building. The classrooms from first to third grade, the special classrooms, such as the library and the nursery, as well as the gymnasiums, the campus playgrounds, etc. I have been introduced to as many places as possible. And now, they start to change the subject on me.

“Hey, hey, yesterday’s duel was so amazing…!” Tatara, who walks by my side, clenches her hands very excitedly and brings her face closer with an innocent expression. “I wasn’t there, so I only heard about it from STOC… But it really caused a big commotion! Shinohara-kun defeated the Empress in a magnificent five-hour offensive and defensive battle. She cried and said, ‘I won’t challenge you anymore—please forgive me.’ Awesome!”

…Huh? What…? What is this? Is she really talking about me?

“Well, I heard about that too. Did you also do something like that at the duel this morning? That guy from district nine said you pinned him down with your Invisible Arm… That’s a really scary story.”

Of course! That’s way too far-fetched!

The two of them look at me with horror and respect in their eyes, but inside I’m just as shocked… However, these two have been led to believe that I’m a seven-stars, so I can’t just deny it. All I can do is to respond ambiguously.

“Well, that’s pretty much what happened… By the way, where did you two get such information from? It couldn’t possibly have come to you by word of mouth. Was it from the SNS of the island?”

“Hmm, it’s a little different. Although STOC is also used, it’s more convenient with the app.” Tatara pulls out her terminal as she speaks. She completes the authentication skillfully and then touches the app with the LNN icon with her finger.

“Libra Network News… It is a news application published by a recognized organization on Academy Island. The information is distributed once in a while, but it publishes the most important news on the island. Their content is very interesting and popular.”

“Oh, is there anything like that?” I sigh frankly and then look at the terminal screen that Tatara pulled out. There are several reports on the titular screen.

“Shock! The Empress lost at the start of the school year! The winner is a seven-star transfer student?!

“On the morning of April 6, a major event that changed the history in Academy Island District No. 3 took place. The king of the next generation, who put an end to Sakura Academy’s winning streak, is a newly arrived student!

“[…] Out of all the people present, I’m afraid that no one can fully understand what happened. Shinohara Hiroto used a cunning technique to push the Empress into a desperate situation in which the former reaped victory. At first, the author could not believe her eyes, but the tears in Saionji Sarasa’s eyes indisputably indicated her defeat.

“[…] It is said that he defeated another student this morning. The opponent (he hopes to remain anonymous) said during an interview ‘I still feel paralyzed with horror. I really couldn’t move. It’s really scary—he didn’t even touch his terminal the entire duel!’

“By the way, information about this transfer student is still contradictory. Some people say he is the son of a magnate who can be compared to the Saionji, others say he is a spy sent from certain country (USA), and others say he is so smart that he found a bug in the game. Various speculations are intertwined, and several claims are still indistinguishable. It would be an honor for us to bring you reliable information in the near future.”

“…”

After reading this news report full of exaggerated rhetoric, I get paralyzed for a while… In paralysis… I take a deep breath and scream inwardly:

What the heeeeeeeell?!

What the…?! What is this?! The inciting tone and manner of the text are so bold that the meaning is unclear. Knowing this information, it is not surprising that Tarara and others have that kind of appreciation for me.

But, thinking about it calmly, spreading this kind of thing will never work against me. If this is inciting, the incertitude about me will definitely increase. When I claim to be the strongest, surely the rumors will cover me with a layer of gold. Then, no one will challenge me.

Looking at it like this… Well, it seems I can only accept it honestly.

Sighing with a complicated expression, I shake my head trying to fool myself.

#

🔊: “You mean I have to cut off communication?”

After classes (well, to be precise, it’s long since over, but anyway…), after a tour through the campus under Tsuji and Tatara’s leadership, I head towards district three while getting in contact with Himeji.

“Hmm. You’re monitoring me all the time, right?”

🔊: “Yes. Although it’s very rude, let me maintain communication for Master’s needs.”

“Ah, I know it’s necessary, but I’m sorry… Please can I be alone for a while?”

🔊: “…”

On the other side of the terminal, Himeji falls silent… To be honest, there’s no request more whimsical than this one. To do this kind of cruel and heartless thing with her, who has devoted her heart and selflessly supported my lie… I’d like to avoid it if possible.

But even Himeji can’t find out what Saionji will tell me.

“So… I’m sorry! I can’t tell you the details, but I won’t do anything dangerous enough for you to worry about!”

🔊: “…I see. You’re a terrible master, you know?”

“Yes, I know!”

🔊:  It’s good that you know it. Even, I think you don’t deserve a good maid like me… But… as far as I know, there is no red-light district in District Four. If you’re looking for such facilities, I recommend you to go to District Five. If you just want to find a cheap brothel, that district is also…”

“No. It’s nothing like that. Please don’t stain my image.”

🔊: “…If that’s the case, it would be great…”

Himeji’s tone feels a bit awkward, as if she doesn’t believe me. So, I apologize to her again. Finally, Himeji sighs softly and says:

🔊: “I understand… I’ll cut off communications since it’s an order from the Master. But be careful.”

“Well, of course. Also take care of yourself on the way home, Himeji.”

🔊: “Eh? Ah, well… Eh… I thank you very much for your concern… Master…”

Himeji seems to be surprised by what I said. A strange gap comes up in his reply and she cuts off the call after speaking… Probably, the communication and tracking has stopped. In fact, I have no way to confirm if she really cut off all communication and tracking, but there’s no reason to doubt Himeji.

I nod my head, pull out the terminal and launch the map application.

…The ‘meeting place’ designated by Saionji is in a remote location that is very difficult to find.

The approximate coordinates are near the boundary between districts Three and Four. It is an area inaccessible to vehicles and with few pedestrians. The location in question does not even have a door to the street; you enter through the deepest part of an old bookstore hidden in the alley, finally arriving at an entrance after descending the stairs covered by shelves. The location of this place is outrageous.

As I walk down the stairs step by step… I’ve already regretted coming here.

This looks awful… I may have made a mistake. Calling me to a place where there’s no trace of people and saying, ‘don’t let anyone see you’, isn’t that a trap? That’s probably the case. She’s probably waiting for me with a gang of thugs… Gee, what should I do, should I call Himeji with an SOS…? No, should I stop wasting any more time and run away? But, if the owner of this bookstore is also from the thugs’ gang, it will be checkmate when I go back up… I keep running into nonsense thoughts… It seems like I’ve reached the end of the stairs during this time. It’s a completely dark underground cellar. I slowly raise my head, and a heavy, undecorated door stands majestically in front of me.

This is probably Saionji’s base.

It feels like there is a very unstable and gloomy atmosphere…

Although I am a little scared, there is only one decision to make: I stretch out my hand, trembling. With a creak, the door slowly opens. Behind the door, a gang of unscrupulous thugs appear, holding iron pipes and laughing at my misfortune… Sadly, there is no such situation.

“…Huh?”

Betraying my imagination, an unexpectedly tidy café appears before me.

A ‘coffee-shop-hideaway,’ probably has this concept. The electric lighting is dim, but instead colorful scented candles burn in every corner. Hence, there is a sweet soft fragrance wafting in the room that relieves stress from the whole body at once.

It is like going to a different world, it is a fantasy and a unique atmosphere.

…By this time, a girl in a waitress uniform emerges from the darkness.

“Welcome ✩. You came alone?”

“Ah, no… I came to meet someone; I think she should have arrived by now.”

“Say no more… I see. Then please come here~” the waitress, with a soft voice, immediately begins to lead me inside the store. I haven’t said who I want to meet, but I guess there’s no need to make such a question. Because there are probably no other customers except me and the person who invited me.

…The place the waitress takes me to is a table for two at the back of the café.

She leaves a line, “Then please enjoy~ ✩” and leaves with perfect etiquette. I look away from the waitress, sigh, and turn to ‘her.’

“You’re late… you idiot.”

Sipping an iced coffee, there’s Saionji Sarasa reproaching me for being late.

Some time passed without either of us breaking the ice.

Sitting across from Saionji, I take a sip of the drink (lemon tea) I just ordered, then raise my head and look at her. As she rubs the contour of the coffee glass, she says with her face lowered:

“… Look, how can I put it? There is no level restriction to enter this coffee shop, and no one will know who was here. It’s kind of like a secret base… We will never be discovered by others. If other customers arrived, the waitress would also notify us to leave or hide our identities in advance. Also, if someone tries to figure out our location through our terminals, they will be shown a totally different location than the right one.”

“I see. It’s really convenient.”

“Right? This is perfect for a secret meeting… Well, ahem.”

Saionji seems like she wants to say something… No, she wants to say something and deliberately coughed. I’m a bit confused by all this, so I’m keeping quiet… Yesterday’s meeting and farewell, as well as this morning’s provocative acting, made my relationship with Saionji too delicate. She must be in a similar state of mind, which is why she is thinking carefully about what to say.

We often exchange glances, but choose to remain silent. About five more minutes pass.

Finally, it is Saionji who can’t stand it any longer and breaks the silence:

“Okay. Shit… Ah, really… What are you thinking? Why don’t you say anything, Shinohara? I’ve prepared such a place especially for our meeting, shouldn’t you take the initiative to talk, like a real man would?”

“Huh…? No, the meeting was proposed by you, aren’t you the one who has to start talking?”

“What… What are you saying? You made a lady like me wait all alone in this place, and even knowing that, you don’t even apologize?!”

“Wait… What, you waited for so long? If that’s the case, I sincerely apologize…”

“Yes. Please apologize. It’s a grave sin to make me wait seven and a half minutes!”

“…A sin? For a measly seven and a half minutes?! For an ‘after school meeting’, seven and a half minutes is definitely in the margin of error!”

“Yes, it is a sin! For all you’ve made me go through…! This is your fault!”

“My fault? Why is that? What does that mean?”

“Because of you, today I suffered so many miseries. No matter who I meet, wherever I go, they only mention yesterday’s duel, the fall of a seven-stars, the first defeat, etc.! Ah! They really are all idiots! I’m not a toy for you to play with, do you understand?!”

“Well, I’m really sorry… But I’ve been through the same thing too. Winning you that duel has brought me a lot of trouble.”

“Trouble for you? How bad is it? If you’re doing worse than me, I’m going to be angry.”

“I think it’s an unparalleled waste of time to fight over who’s doing worse, but if I have to give this pressure a measure, it’s enough to make me want to die.”

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration—after all, you are up against the Saionji. I’m sorry for what I said, okay?”

“To be honest, I wanted you to say it’s no big deal!”

After shouting in a choked voice, I lose my strength and sink into the seat—my chest rests on the table. Then I take a sip of lemon tea to calm down.

I turn to the front and see that Saionji, who was standing before just like me, has also taken a seat and is drinking the iced coffee. Now, moreover, she is holding her chin with one hand and keeping a cold, blank stare on me… It’s not how a lady should look, but I guess she’s in a different tune now. She is no longer acting the role of ‘Saionji Sarasa.’

“…Let’s forget this topic for now,” she finally says, after sighing and pushing the glass aside. “So, now let’s talk about the main topic. Shinohara, I promise you that what I’ll hear here I’ll never tell others. Can you tell me what you meant about yesterday?”

“Huh? No problem… But I tried to explain yesterday, didn’t I?”

“All right, all right. I wasn’t in a calm state at all yesterday, and my mind went blank along the way. So, if you can explain it again, it will be very helpful.”

“Well, if that’s the case…” I nod and start explaining how things have evolved. How I won the duel against Saionji out of sheer luck and how, in order to avoid chaos, the Red Star effect was used to forge a higher level for me. How I now have to pretend to be ‘the strongest on the island.’ And so I finish explaining the situation.

Saionji, who listened to my explanation silently, stares at the table without saying anything for a while after I finish… Finally, she shakes her head slowly with a deep sigh.

“Ha… I tried to escape from reality, but this really isn’t a dream.”

“Ah, well, probably, it’s a nightmare for you. I’m so sorry… But I’m also a victim, just like you. At least, you should be clear about that.”

“It’s okay. After listening to your explanation, I could understand. That duel was a misfortune for both parties, wasn’t it?’

“…Yes.”

Saionji still seems to be thinking about something. Then she suddenly frowns and asks with a tilt of her head:

“But… Shinohara, why did you choose that? Were you to apologize sincerely, you could have ended up being punished with a simple exile, don’t you think? Now you have to pretend to be a seven-stars until graduation. Frankly speaking, isn’t that terribly absurd?”

“Ah… Well…”

No, it’s also a bit complicated to say that I’ll just be exiled. If I believe the Principal’s opinion, no matter what path I choose, I can’t go back to the normal life I had.

But this is not the vital reason. I want to stay on the island for a different purpose.

“Don’t tell anyone about this, Saionji. Actually, I’m looking for someone.”

“Huh? You stayed on the island to look for someone?”

“Yes. She’s my childhood friend. I haven’t seen her in years, but I have no doubt she’s on this island. I failed all the entrance exams of the different academies when I tried to get in, but I finally found an opportunity after a year. So, I don’t plan to go back until I find her… That’s all. Not a great reason, is it?”

“I don’t know, but can you really accomplish that goal?”

“…”

Saionji stares at me… In fact, it might be the case. I was separated from her when we were still children and I’ve always wanted to see her again. Basically, I can’t remember neither her name nor her appearance, but her existence is deeply engraved in my memory.

That’s why I would use this big lie just to meet her again—that’s why I thought of cheating.

“But, even so, I’m afraid that with this situation I won’t be able to find her for a while.”

“Yes. During this time, whatever you do will be noticed. Maybe it’s better to be honest… Since you’ve told me so much, I’ll tell you something good in return. Become a real seven-star; with those benefits, you’ll be able to get into the student database. Heh. That way, finding someone can be done in an instant, right?”

But a real seven-stars… I can’t help but be speechless. But it’s an excellent idea… Well, I’ll keep it in mind.

“By the way, about yesterday’s story, you’re not Saionji Sarasa, are you? What does that mean?”

“Isn’t it obvious? As a matter of fact, I’m Akabane Rina, but I’m also Saionji Sarasa. I took her identity.”

“Why did you do it… Rather, how did you do it? Even if you use the Red Star effect to falsify data, you can’t just replace a person, can you?”

‘Well, in general terms that’s the way it is. But Sarasa’s situation is a bit special… You know, the Saionji family policy from generation to generation has been that children are not exposed to the world. It’s basically until they graduate from high school. And they spend their school life under house arrest. I don’t know whether they want to cultivate the elite of the elite or hide it, but that’s the rule.”

“Hey…”

“So Sarasa is no exception. Basically, she never left her house. Of course, only the relatives of Saionji’s family know what her face really looks like… They are very strict. I was allowed to meet her because of my ‘friendship’ with Sarasa.”

“Friendship?”

That word didn’t sound normal.

“Well, I don’t really know how to explain it…”

“Ah… Well, don’t worry about it.”

“Really? Alright, then. In short, the Saionji family was looking for girls the same age as Sarasa, and it turned out that I was selected. After all, I am someone elite.”

“Hmph,” Saionji puffs up her (not-so-big) chest proudly.

According to her, she was valued for her exceptional talent and sent to Academy Island. By the time she would enter elementary school, she already had the same academic ability as someone who graduated from high school, so she had never been to a school and instead studied skill development projects related to communication engineering at a university in District Zero.

Naturally, she graduated from college.

By the time she was ten years old, she had already received the highest theoretical evaluation points, causing everyone else to lose their self-confidence and doubt whether they were truly elite.

“…Impressive…”

“Heh, heh. Right? You know what I’m talking about, Shinohara. So, shouldn’t you be praising me more?”

“No. Though it’s really amazing, your prideful look is just annoying.”

“Umm… But it doesn’t matter. After all, to the world I am Sarasa. So no praise goes to me. Besides, to whatever they say, I must reply something like, ‘it’s no big deal (humility)’ or ‘it’s a relief that my efforts have paid off (putting an angel’s smile).’

“…Ah, I understand…”

I am a newcomer who has carried the lie a mere two days, but there have already been several times when I have had such experiences, such as the demonstration in that duel and the way I treated my classmates. Seeing Saionji Sarasa pursing her lips in a bitter expression, I suddenly feel a connection with her, so I quickly shake my head.

“I understand… And then? I understand that you were friends with Saionji Sarasa, the true heiress, but after that?”

“After that… isn’t it very simple? No one from the outside knows Sarasa’s appearance. So, anyone could impersonate her as long as they have the Saionji’s cooperation. I didn’t go to school either, so there aren’t many people on the island who know Akabane Rina’s identity.”

“…So that’s the case. That raises the question of what your reason is. From what you are telling, your lie is officially supported by the Saionji household—the whole family is involved. Why are they doing so?”

“Hmm… Uh… About that…”

“… Are you okay?”

Saionji’s response to the question I asked is very subtle. As if hesitating to answer, she looks at her fingertips, arches her eyebrows and lowers her head. After ten seconds, she finally makes up her mind. Her ruby eyes are fixed on me.

And what she says… is a very hard and shocking fact:

“…Actually, Saionji Sarasa is now kidnapped.”

She related it with a gloomy expression on her face. In short, this is the story:

The heiress, the real Saionji Sarasa, was kidnapped.

It has been a little over a year since the incident. It seems that the heiress suddenly disappeared. The servants who discovered this ordered a search, but no matter how long it lasted…she was not found. The most feasible hypothesis of the Saionji family investigators is that she was kidnapped, but there has been no communication from the criminal, so the investigation is at an impasse.

That was why, a few days after Saionji Sarasa’s disappearance, the day before last year’s entrance ceremony:

Akabane proposed a plan to the head of the Saionji family, that is, the top person in charge of the island.

“Then how about letting me temporarily replace Sarasa,” she asked.

“It’s impossible for her to have disappeared without telling me anything. In all likelihood, this is a case of kidnapping. But there’s nothing we can do until the perpetrator makes a move, so we’ll try to turn the tables on them.

“I will attend school in Sarasa’s place. Neither the family nor Academy Island will announce Sarasa’s disappearance. That way, the criminal will get impatient, regardless of what they are up to. They will surely make their second move.

“I beg you. Please let me do this. Because… Sarasa is my best friend,” her voice trembled, but her look and determination were undeniable.

After a wearying discussion with the leader of the Saionji family, he eventually consented.

“In the end, my strategy was a failure, and I still can’t find Sarasa,” Saionji speaks in a jaded voice as she finishes her explanation. She laughs with self-contempt and tilts her head as if spying on my reaction.

“So, well, what do you think? These are the reasons I’ve lied so far. The reasons that can’t be exposed. In general, my lie is the lie of the Saionji family. If it is revealed, it will not be just me but the whole Saionji family that will be ruined. The heiress was kidnapped. More than a year has passed, and there are no clues to her whereabouts… Perhaps she is no longer in this world? The special autonomy of the island is due to the Saionji family. That is the reason why the Japanese government does not interfere. Once this lie comes out, the survival of the island will definitely become precarious.”

“…”

“…Shinohara? Hey, could you say something?”

I’ve been silent all this time. Saionji looks a bit anxious, leaning towards me, her face full of dissatisfaction. Today’s topic is to make clear every reason for our lies, so she’s probably thinking that I should be more surprised or show her more empathy.

Ah… In short, I now know she had her ‘reasons.’ The background is deep and beyond my imagination. After understanding this, I regret even more that I accidentally won that duel. This feeling is real.

But… the next moment I let out completely unexpected words:

“…I do not believe…”

“…Huh? I’m sorry, Shinohara, I didn’t understand. What did you just say?”

“…Stop it. What I said was… that it doesn’t sound like you.”

“What?!”

Perhaps because of the huge difference between my reaction and what she expected, Saionji’s eyes are wide open, and it looks like she panicked. Facing her, I continue with my explanation:

“I don’t want to be provocative. I’ve been very worried about your situation since yesterday, and I’m also surprised because you’re telling worse things than I thought, but…”

“…But…?”

“When you say it with that serious face, something doesn’t leave me at ease.”

“You…! What do you know about me?!” Saionji points at me with tears in her eyes.

What do I know about her? I don’t even know… But, since our encounters so far have been anything but friendly, this is an expected reaction. What is important is the question her story leaves: ‘I’ll be a doppelganger to catch the kidnapper’? Could it be true? She doesn’t seem to be such a laudable character.

…Well, I guess we shouldn’t touch this topic for the moment.

Taking what she said as true, the main point is: Saionji offered herself as a substitute to rescue the real heiress who was kidnapped a year ago. What made this at-first-glance-unthinkable substitution possible was the cooperation of the Saionji family, and the Red Star. And these themselves would become the reasons for Saionji having to hold on to her position as a seven-stars.

After all, if the holder of a special star loses a duel, they would definitely lose the colored star.

And, in the case of the Red Star, the negative effect it has is the revelation of the previous owner’s lies. Subsequent holders will clearly know the lies told before. In other words, Saionji has been fighting for a long time under the pressure that she cannot lose even once, otherwise it will be revealed that she is not the real one.”

“So, you thought I knew your lie, and that’s why you tried to seal my mouth… Who’d knew you were willing to give up even your body?”

“Ugh…! I-I had no choice! When you made that declaration of war, it didn’t look like you were acting. And to say that you were a beginner who didn’t even know how to use a terminal… Uuugh. If I had known, I would never have done such a thing!”

Saionji pulls the straw out of the glass and gulps down the remaining coffee. Soon after, though, perhaps because of the bitter taste or perhaps because of the volume of the liquid, she starts coughing. I have no choice but to hand her my lemon tea.

“Huh?”

Saionji is puzzled for a moment, looks me in the eye, and finally receives the glass with one hand. Then she just replaces my straw with hers and takes a few sips with her head slightly lowered.

By the time the amber liquid disappears from my glass, she finally regains her composure.

“…Uh, um… Tha-thank you for now.”

“…Well, you’re welcome.”

After this exchange, the awkward atmosphere spreads… The reason for this meeting was to understand each other’s circumstances, so it’s not an exaggeration to say that the purpose has been fulfilled. I don’t know why, but Saionji hasn’t wanted to get up, so it crosses my mind to leave first.

But I decide to extend this meeting.

If I leave now, there will be no way to know the meaning of what she said during yesterday’s farewell: ‘don’t go losing the star until then’… Maybe she hasn’t told me the whole story. And I have a very good idea of what remains.

“…Now, Saionji. I realized something.”

“You realized something? And that would that be…?”

“At the moment you don’t have the protection of the Red Star, so, if someone were to read your profile, that person would know that you are not ‘Saionji Sarasa.’ But again, you are still a six-stars. Now, since the Academy Island Star Hunting System brags about being impenetrable, only a seven-stars could access a six-stars’ information, and it turns out that the only seven-stars is a fake; therefore, your lie has not yet been exposed. Am I right?”

“Yes. Except for you, no one else will know.”

“The important thing is that you are still in the safe zone. I don’t see any benefit from the truth of the Saionji’s lie, and for now I don’t plan to change my mind. But if I were to lose—if my lies were exposed—what would happen to you?”

“Ah, that… I see, I know what you mean,” Saionji says in front of my eyes with a sigh. Her expression looks downcast, but not so much blaming me, but as if she’s tired.

“You’re right. When you lose the seven-stars title, the Red Star will end up in someone else’s hands. And that someone will not only know the truth of your lies, but also of mine. It is because of the negative effect of the Star, the ‘settling of scores,’ that the lies will be revealed to the next owner.”

“It’s true… To have that penalty is a fate you wouldn’t wish on anyone.”

“Don’t say it like it’s someone else’s problem… Hey, Shinohara, are you sure you understand? What you’re implying is true, but it works the other way around too, doesn’t it?”

“The other way around?”

“That’s right, the other way too. What I’m telling you is that, if my lie comes out, there’ll be trouble for you too. Because… wouldn’t the whole island then find out that the one you beat wasn’t the daughter of the Saionji family? If that happened, the Headmistress of District Four would no longer have any reason to protect you. Your only reason for becoming seven stars was that I was Saionji Sarasa… Am I wrong?

“…?! N-no… We’re the same.”

To be precise, Principal isn’t protecting me, she’s using me. But in any case, Saionji is right. In the final analysis, I made myself a seven star to avoid being targeted by the Saionji family. And, if this premise suddenly disappears, the Principal’s motivation to support me will also decrease drastically.

“…Ah… Why is this happening…” Saionji’s resentful voice, lying slumped on the table, perfectly matches my mood.

Because, yes, in short, our lies are closely intertwined. If my lie falls, so does Saionji’s; if Saionji’s lie is the one that comes to light, mine will meet the same fate… As if that were not enough, that is not all. There is another reason for both of us to show such complicated faces.

We both know very well… there is only one obvious way out of this situation.

“I mean, whatever you slice it… the result is the same. Although it’s almost the worst situation, our necks will remain attached by the skin of our teeth as long as we’re together. It’s not yet a fatal blow.”

“Yeah, it seems so. As long as you remain a seven-stars, the Saionji family will stay out of it… But, if either of us ever loses a duel, it’ll be the end for both of us. Even if it’s not a duel, under any circumstances where our lies are revealed, it will be immediate ruin. On top of that… to make matters worse… the lies of the two of us are completely intertwined.

“So it seems. It won’t just be my own lies, but I’ll be dealing with yours as well.”

“We’re really in the same boat, huh? I won’t be able to keep my lie if yours gets out.”

“So, there’s seriously only one answer.

“…Yes. As much as I hate to admit it, as much as it annoys me, as much as I’d like not to believe it, it’s just as you say…” Saionji reluctantly admits with a very subtle expression.

Yes… That’s right… I hate it too much, but, in this situation, I’m afraid that joining forces is the right answer. In order to prevent both parties’ lies from becoming known, she and I will become ‘accomplices.’ It is not a positive relationship as partners or collaborators, but at least we must prevent it from becoming an ‘enemies’ relationship. And that is how our ‘united front’ is forged.

“…”

“…”

When I turn with a bitter face to Saionji, I find her watching me with a similar expression. After more than ten seconds of looking at each other, Saionji seems to give up and lets out a sigh.

“Ah… Ah… Really, I wouldn’t have to go through this trouble if you hadn’t shown up.”

“I’m thinking the same thing. If I hadn’t met you, I wouldn’t have to work so hard.”

“Hey… Well, you’re kind of right. Shinohara, let’s just exchange contact information for now. It would be very inconvenient if we don’t have a means by which to connect.”

“Oh, indeed.”

We briefly touched terminals and exchanged our contact information… This way, the reason for today’s meeting is finally complete. Saionji’s mood is as bad as ever, so I decide to quickly leave the cafeteria.

“What?”

When I stood up thinking about it, Saionji, who was still sitting, suddenly whispered something.

“Hmm? Did you just say something?”

“…No, it’s just that… It’s not a big deal, but it’s a matter of courtesy… to say goodbye, remember?”

“…? Hmm?”

“From… From now on, I’m counting on you,” Saionji says shyly, her face turning away and hugging her own knees.

As I see this cute gesture, I reply with a wry smile:

“Ah… Same to you, I’m counting on you from now on.”

#

Consequently, the sun had begun to set by the time I parted ways with Saionji and left the café.

Although the coffee shop is just on the edge of District Four, it is a bit far from my dormitory, so I finally arrived home after seven in the evening. Himeji, who ‘happened’ to be cleaning the lobby, greeted me with such a charming smile that it almost made me think of her as an angel.

Anyway… After also finishing dinner, I relax with some leisure time in the living room. Sitting diagonally in front of me, Himeji, in her usual maid uniform, turns the pages of a certain book while I browse the terminal.

“Hmm…”

“…What is it, Master? You sound as if you want attention.”

“Hmm? Nothing, it just slipped out… I was just thinking I’d better get ready.”

‘Get ready…? What are you getting ready for?” With her silver hair swaying softly, Himeji asks in a clear voice. I nod and open my mouth a little nervously.

“Ah, of course it’s… for the opinions on the net.”

I’ll do egosurfing. They also call it egosearching.

It refers to the act of searching social networks for your own name, pseudonym, or the title of some work you’re involved in. The general perception is that creators and artists do it for publicity purposes or to observe fan reactions.

Of course, I’m neither of those… As for the motive, the closest thing is probably the latter.

“…Gulp…” I swallow slowly and open my eyes, as I had kept them closed until now.

Thus, what appears in my expanding field of vision is the search term ‘Shinohara Hiroto’ and numerous posts featuring it—the exact number is a spectacular 2,471. If instead of the full name we leave just ‘Shinohara’ and add terms like ‘transfer student,’ the matches go up to around 10,000.

No way to go through them all, but I can take these that catch my attention the most:

“What’s up with that transfer student, he’s barely started the semester and he’s already turned everything upside down!”

“The level of that fucker Shinohara Hiroto is no laughing matter. They must have made a mistake with that bastard.”

“Huh? H-hey, did you hear that? Did you hear?! Shinohara-sama already got his second victory! Great!”

“The guy who was saying, ‘Shinohara Hiroto is a lunkhead’ must be wanting to be swallowed by the ground, right? You seeeee?”

“Whatever he’s a lunkhead or the strongest one. I said he pisses me off, and it remains the same.”

In the sea of opinions there are all kinds, from the most positive to the hateful ones.

Well… The reason I suddenly decided to look myself up on the Internet was to see firsthand these reactions. I wondered what the people around me thought of my actions. To get raw information and not have to rely on hearsay alone, STOC is the best I can think of.

…However…

Unfortunately… I’m only better than your average Joe at hiding emotions—nothing to do with being ‘the man with the strongest mind, to whom you can say whatever you want and he won’t bat an eyelid.’

“‘I forget his name, but I’m telling you, that new seven-stars is a braggart’? Hmm, I don’t like this one… ‘I hate it when that Shinohara laughs at everyone like they’re worthless!’! Ugh… N-no, but this one says, ‘it’s because he’s got that transfer student aura, he’s sure to kill it this year’… ‘Shinohara Hiroto’s a great, great fuck-up’?! He remembered my name, though!”

“Oh, I see. Is that what it’s for? Certainly, I would like to have a check on Master’s reputation. We will consider the manipulation of the media as a resource that will be necessary sooner or later. Look, this here is a poll: ‘Between Shinohara Hiroto and Saionji Sarasa, who do you think is the most suitable to be seven stars?’”

“Ooh! What about the result?!”

“Uh… Sorry, Master, I should have checked it before commenting to you,” while slightly averting her gaze, what comes out of Himeji’s mouth are words of apology.

“Damn it!” I look at the heavens in an exaggerated gesture.

That’s the way it is… Well, it may sound like an excuse, but the Empress has been the top-ranked and the queen of seven stars for a year already. I’ve heard that she earned the respect and admiration of many, so I’m afraid there are a lot of people who support her over me.

On the posting board there are comments like, ‘so you dare to defile my goddess, huh?’, ‘she’s not made for defeat’, and the like, which give me an idea of Saionji Sarasa’s popularity… No, I think the normal thing to do would be to get scared when receiving this level of harassment with such fanatic messages.

“Well, anyway… If we ignore the survey results, what I saw is that the opinions towards me are more or less equally distributed between favorable and oppositional.”

“So it seems, doesn’t it…? Um, but aren’t you happy about that?”

“Ah… No. Why would I? Don’t you remember all those criticisms? …I guess it’s because I’m not used to them being so blunt.”

“…Hmm. If so, why don’t you stop searching the Internet in the first place?” Himeji tells me this in a slightly displeased and concerned tone. I’m actually happy to hear it, but I shake my head slightly:

“No. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of criticism like this in the future, and I want to get used to it as soon as possible. I mean, one can’t escape forever.”

“I see… I understand. Master is surprisingly masochistic, isn’t he?”

“Lie! It’s not like I do it for the psychological damage, understand? I do it because it’s an important source of information.”

“I can see that… So, I’ll amend myself. You are surprisingly serious, aren’t you, Master?” With a delighted sigh, Himeji closes her book and goes to check her terminal. She has stopped what she was doing and seems willing to help in with my task.

…Suddenly, Himeji emits a small “ah.”

“Master. Here’s a publication that worries me a little.”

She mumbles, “Here,” and hands me her own terminal. The interface of hers is almost identical to that of mine, but, upon closer inspection, slightly different design details are noticeable.

The logo displayed in the upper left corner is also different—it says ‘STOC↩.’

“As the name suggests, this is a backdoor application for STOC. Although it operates with official authorization, it cannot be used on terminals with three stars or less. And, because of its ‘exclusivity’ and ‘high anonymity’ nature, it tends to gather the most stuck-up and annoying… Sorry. It tends to gather more selective and belligerent people than the regular STOC app.”

“I see… An app that can’t be accessed with three stars or less? Does that mean that you…?”

“…? Didn’t the bitch tell you? My current rating is four stars.”

“Yeah, four stars…” I unintentionally repeat her words like a parrot… What a level. My impression is distorted because I call myself a seven-stars, but four is enough to earn you a spot in the top ten percent of the Academy Island rankings.

Anyway… If that app can’t be accessed from low-ranking devices, there’s nothing to do. I lean over a bit to take a look at Himeji’s terminal.

“So…?”

“It’s the one here. This post from about an hour ago… I’ll read it to you, okay? ‘But the guy Shinohara beat in the morning was a two-stars, wasn’t he? They’re making a big deal out of it, but it was nothing impressive. Absolutely not. Rather, he’s a bully who likes to beat up weaklings. You’re doing him a favor if you compare him to trash’,” out of nowhere, Himeji looks at me with cold eyes of contempt as she unleashes this terrible verbal abuse on me.

“…?! Ugh. Noooooo!”

Her expression hasn’t changed that much, but the contrast with her usual devout attitude inflicts a tremendous amount of damage on me… I stand for a while clutching my chest over my heart with one hand, and Himeji, across the table, bows in apology.

“I beg your pardon, Master. I went too far a moment ago, but I’ve already thought it over. So please don’t show me that face that you want to continue to be abused, or I’m afraid I might develop a new hobby.”

“That’s enough. Seriously, that’s enough.”

“Just kidding… What I really wanted to do was to warn you about the risks of this publication. In the future it will be problematic if you are characterized as ‘a seven star who only hunts small-fryes.’”

“A-ah… So that’s what it was all about.”

For a moment I thought I had encountered a super-sadist, and I was really scared.

As I touch my chest in relief, I look back at the publication Himeji found for me… It’s true that, although this morning’s duel was an absolute victory, my opponent was quite low ranked. If I continue to defeat low-ranked people, I will be criticized, and there’s no guarantee that I won’t raise ‘suspicions.’

“…For reference, what level did Saionji operate at last year? What level were her opponents?”

“Of the Empress?  Well, according to public information… on average they had more than four stars.”

“I see… More than four stars?! Are you kidding me?!”

“I understand how you feel, but it’s not a joke… In her case, it was well known that one- and two-stars opponents were not up to the mark; on the other hand, challenging her was for those of high rank something of a ceremony to prove their bravery. There was a time when it was said that losing a duel against Saionji Sarasa would bring you good fortune, you know?”

“That’s really scary.”

We’re already talking about the level of reverence gods get… Well, there’s no doubt that she has a pretty face. Plus, when she uses her ‘princess mode,’ her personality is aiming for perfect, so she might actually get to brainwash you.

While I am in awe at Saionji’s legend, Himeji, who is still sitting diagonally across from me, exhales a little breath. She shakes her crystalline silver hair a couple of times and captivates me with blue eyes that look behind it.

“For now you may think the numbers left by the Empress are an error. They are clearly abnormal compared to those of the predecessor seven-stars… So you don’t need to push yourself, Master. It will be enough to challenge someone of four stars or more from time to time.”

“I know… But don’t you think it might still be insufficient?”

“Huh?”

“As you may have seen in STOC publications, I’m already being compared to the Empress. No matter how much I want to convince myself that I shouldn’t worry, people will definitely check the numbers. And, since we know we can’t compete in terms of quality, we’ll have to close the gap with quantity… So, if it’s okay with you, why not accept another duel for tomorrow?”

“…Ha-ha. Ha-ha-ha. I am so happy. I didn’t expect to hear such a proposal from the Master. That’s fine. I also think it would be better to do that. It will be your third day of winning streak, starting from the day you transferred. It will be a good move to make it clear that you are not inferior to the Empress. Wait a moment, please—I’ll pick a duel for you right away,” Himeji looks happy to unleash her lips in a more energetic tone than usual. I thought about it last night too: I get the feeling that she gets very excited when a duel is involved. It’s like a great pressure or a something that feels somewhere near to sadism.

Who cares—all in all, having her is something I can be glad about.

“Hum, hum-hum…♪”

…What? Is she humming?! Is it something unconscious?! Hm-hm, I’m curious… but maybe it’s better not to ask anything… Because that’s a mega cute gesture.

At first glance you might think that she simply looks at the terminal with an icy face, but, in fact, Himeji’s body sways slightly with a cheerful sound (you can see how the maid’s outfit waves).  There’s a lot I’d like to question, but I’ve decided to refrain because Himeji seems to be happy.

#

For the time being, I simply accepted the request for a duel and decided to leave the discussion of the details on formation and strategy until tomorrow. Now it is late at night.

I keep my eyes closed in bed, lost in thought.

“A lot of things happened today…”

The many things that happened today are the morning duel, the clash with Saionji, the first day of school, meeting my classmates, the clandestine meeting at the mysterious café, the egosurfing affair, and finally choosing the next duel. One of the most memorable moments was the one I spent with Saionji.

“She still seems to be hiding something… But now we are accomplices, I shouldn’t worry.”

I close my eyes and sigh softly… How can I put it? It’s really a very delicate relationship. Saionji was the ‘absolute queen’ last year and I’m the new ‘strongest’ who defeated her. Obviously, we are absolutely incompatible from others’ perspective, but privately we are complicit in big lies.

“Ah… right,” muttering after a sigh, I slowly sit up.

Although I exchanged contact information with Saionji, I haven’t messaged her yet. It’s nothing major, but I guess it would be nice to say hello to her right now. After all, she’s my lying partner.

“This is Shinohara. First of all, greetings… By the way, how much can I talk here?” I asked a question in the message I sent. As I’m about to add a sticker to season it, the word ‘read’ pops up.

“Oh?” I blink, surprised. Incredulous, I blink a few more times, but soon I get a reply from Saionji.

“Hey, look at the time! What have you been doing all this time? When someone passes you their contact, you’re supposed to call them as soon as you get home. Oh, no… As for what you asked, you don’t have to worry about conversations on this app. It’s strictly protected, and this is a fake account in the first place. But… please don’t mention my name. Yours either.”

 “Understood… So… why so angry? You could have called me whenever you wanted to.”

“Of course not! Can’t you see I was impatiently waiting for you to contact me!”

“Huh…? You were waiting? Why was that? You needed me to call you so you could sleep?”

“Wait, wait, forget what I just said! Cancel! Let’s see… I now remember, I was watching a movie. I was watching a movie while I was waiting for you to text me. No, to be precise, your message was something I had very very very very very much on the back burner.”

“Well, then you wouldn’t have any reason to be angry… I mean, are you sure you want to stay up that late? Something like insomnia is not good for a princess type character.”

“I’m fine. I’ve already lived like this for a year. Rather, you’re the one who should go to bed early, aren’t you? I told you before—if you get caught carelessly, you’re going to ruin me.”

“If either of us get caught, you mean. Just before, you spilled all the beans over me.”

“If that exceptional case happens again, I’ll go and get an exorcism or something… I’ll drag you along with me, of course.”

“Oh, with pleasure. That would be great, if I weren’t already expelled at that point, of course… By the way, there’s something I want to ask you. I just saw a post on STOC where they call you ‘goddess’… Is it normal for you to be called that?”

 “G-goddess…?! Ah, it was Kugasaki for sure. Well, he’s always called me that.”

“Isn’t it dangerous?”

“Dangerous? You mean a stalker? No, no. That’s not exactly what I mean. It’s true that he’s obsessed and that he’s someone very troublesome, but it’s all because of a duel we had… Wait, you’re worried about me? Heh, heh—I caught you! It’s understandable to be afraid that someone would want to chase a cutie like me!”

“Nothing like that. I was just thinking how disappointed someone who admires you would be to discover your true nature.”

“Mmm! What does that mean?”

“What you read. Forget it already, I’m going to sleep. Don’t stay up too late, okay?”

“Huh? Ah, um… Well, I’m sleepy too… then, that’s it. Shinohara, sleep well.”

A sticker arrives attached to that clear message. Thus, the conversation with Saionji ends. I simply lie down and turn off the terminal. I sigh and put the back of my hand to my forehead…

“What an unfair united front… Ugh. I just hope things turn out well…”

While dwelling on these banal thoughts, I fall asleep at last.