Chapter 1: Ibuki Mio is surprisingly a person with common sense
Special exam. The first thing that comes to mind upon hearing that word would normally be writing exams or practical tests related to sports or something along the lines of that. However, at the school I attend, the Advanced Nurturing High School, special exams aren't simple things like that. A special exam that pits classes against each other in a survival test on an uninhabited island, or an intellectually demanding game that pits liars against liars on a cruise ship. Such tests that surpass logic continued one after another over the course of the summer vacation.
For a 1st year like me, the days of brief respite from all that, including today, numbered only 7. Once that time is up, the second semester will resume. And by the way, the manner in which I spent those days of rest was quite simple. I just spend day after day without calling anyone or speaking to anyone. In other words, it was very lonely.
"I don't mind either way".
I'm already satisfied with just having my freedom, I don't wish for any extra happiness. It's not like I wanted friends of my own. But recently, I had begun thinking something like that.
The more connections I forge with people, the more people I would be able to hang out with. But that in itself is problematic. If a friend of mine were to ask me out, there's a possibility that I may be overjoyed by that. But even in solitude, there are things I can still do. As a matter of fact I'm doing one of those things right now, using my phone to access my point balance. I saw on the screen that I currently had 106,219 points. Of them, I transferred 100,000 points to one of my classmates, Sudou Ken. And not too long after, the person who received the transfer, Sudou, called me.
"Yo, Ayanokouji. What are you doing just now?" he asks.
"Nothing in particular. I was just wondering what to have for dinner".
"I see. I ate some Sasami just now. The taste is simple and easy to get tired of, but for that, I can change it up a bit. I can bake it or boil it...but what the hell that's not important. What I wanted to ask was about the fortune-teller" Sudou said.
Fortune teller? Now that's a word I didn't expect Sudou to say.
Normally Sudou, who thinks in terms of black and white, prefers things that are simple like the Sasami he just ate. I never expected that Sudou to talk about things as abstract as fortune-telling.
"The thing is, it seems a really accurate fortune-teller is here at Keyaki Mall just for the summer vacation. It seems to be trending among the upperclassmen. Even during my club, everyone was talking about that fortune-teller. Since I got some 'extra points' as well I feel like playing there. That's why let's go together. Of course I'll treat you" Sudou told me.
It was an invitation to hang out with my fellow classmate, Sudou. Speaking of Keyaki Mall, it seems to be that facility that students often use. Since students are obligated to live on school grounds, it is necessary to prepare the required facilities for students. But it's not as diverse and unlimited as the outside world. For instance, there are no idol concerts, no amusement parks and no zoos. Since the area is limited, facilities are naturally also limited. To put it simply, it's a small world. And in such a school, whenever something new happens, it always ends up trending among the students, but I never expected it to be fortune-telling of all things. It was unexpected. But even so, I reply back in a positive tone.
Since no one had ever invited me to hang out with them before, I was so happy I could not stop those feelings and quickly asked him back.
"When are you going?".
"Tomorrow morning. Apparently it's happening at 10 but if you don't go there early it seems you'll be stuck in a queue, we should be there by 9:30" Sudou tells me.
It seems Sudou already has the schedule planned out in his head, that means it'll save us time.
"I'm fine on my end, but what about your club?" I asked him.
"Yeah. The tournament I was telling you about a while ago ended just now so it's fine. We've been training every day until we collapse, you know. If they don't let us rest once a while our bodies won't hold up" Sudou replies.
Sudou was in a basketball tournament today. Even though he had been practicing quietly on his own every day, I was concerned about the results of the tournament. And another thing as well.
"Did you have any 'trouble'?" I asked him. I made sure to emphasize the word 'trouble' so Sudou understood the meaning of it quickly.
"Yeah. It was fairly hard, with directors and coaches all there. The level of supervision there can't even be compared to the middle school days. We weren't even allowed to chat it up with students from other schools other than direct contact during the competition. The restrictions go as far as our toilet breaks. It thought it was impossible" Sudou tells me.
Even though club activities were technically outside the school, it seems as expected the school still keeps a severe check on it.
"But anyways, I managed it somehow. I got through it somehow with guts" he said.
"I see. That's a relief. How about Yamauchi?" I asked.
"I made sure to delete the data so don't worry about it. I understand that much at least".
Even Sudou's school life rides on this, so he won't do anything rash. But just in case, I should meet Yamauchi directly to confirm that the data has been deleted, just to be on the safe side.
"By the way, did you manage to play in the important match?".
"Yeah. And among the 1st years, it was only me who got to play. I even received special praise for it. But I lost the match so it's not much to be proud of" Sudou said.
I don't know much about this, but being able to debut in a game as a 1st year itself is a praiseworthy thing. And from Sudou's words, I sensed more of an acceptance than a feeling of frustration anyways. Rather, it should be seen as him steadily achieving results in the basketball club. He was probably practicing hard for this tournament. Especially since the 1st years were away from school on the special exams, so to make up for that, he must have been practicing harder than any other student.
"So what're you gonna do? Fortune-telling. You going or not?" Sudou asked me.
"There's nothing I have planned so I guess I'll go".
Once I had agreed to go, Sudou changed the conversation and told me "Make sure to invite Suzune too. Absolutely invite her. Understand?" Sudou said.
It seems that Sudou never wanted to ask me to go see the fortune-teller but rather wanted to go with Horikita. But he must have felt even if he invited her, the chances of her accepting were low hence relied on me.
"Just so you know...I don't think she's interested in fortune-telling" I told him.
"Even so, make sure to invite her. This is the one speciality you're good at right?" Sudou asks me.
What speciality? I want him to stop using me as a Horikita invitation machine.
"I'll try asking her. But don't expect too much" I told him.
"Try isn't good enough" Sudou replied.
"Not good enough?....."
I felt that Sudou's words which slightly contained his anger had a weight to them. He's planning out tomorrow on the assumption that Horikita would definitely be there.
"You need to absolutely do it. If you don't invite Horikita, there's no meaning to this" he said.
"Even if you say that, I don't know her plans for tomorrow either. And it's still uncertain if she's interested in fortune-telling or not. Isn't it easier to invite her out for shopping or watching a movie instead?" I asked.
"No worries. Every woman likes fortune-telling" Sudou said.
I think that's just absolutism...
But anyways, girls do have the image of liking fortune-telling. But when it comes to Horikita, I cannot imagine her acting like a normal girl and enjoying fortune-telling.
"You get it? Whether you invite her or not, make sure to tell me. Absolutely, you got it?" Sudou told me.
And after saying that, Sudou cut the call by force. I had thought it was strange for Sudou to invite me out for fortune-telling, it seems this is what he really wanted.
While I felt slightly disappointed, I quickly changed my feelings. I better call Horikita quickly. If Sudou finds out later I ignored his request, it would be troublesome for me as well. Before I forget, I call Horikita on the scene right away. And soon enough, Horikita picked up the call.
"Hey Horikita, do you like fortune-telling?" I asked her.
Every woman likes fortune-telling. If there's a woman capable of destroying my perceived notions about girls in general, it is undoubtedly this woman.
"You say the strangest thing as an opener" Horikita said.
Indeed. But for me, I have nothing else to open up the conversation with, so there was no choice.
"It would be very helpful if you answered me" I told her.
"So that means if I don't answer you at all, there's a possibility you won't be saved?" she asks.
I didn't expect her to reply like that, but there is indeed a possibility of me not being saved if she doesn't answer. The image of Sudou putting me in a headlock came to mind.
"So? Will you save me?" I asked her.
"If you don't mind owing me one".
So I'll be owing her one just for answering whether or not she likes fortune-telling huh? I resisted the urge to move my fingers and quickly end the call now, but I have to hold on, Sudou's angry face appeared in my mind after all.
"Please consider it like that" I told her.
Having realized that her answer is worth something, Horikita raised her voice slightly and answered.
"Let's see...I'm not very enthusiastic about it but it would be a lie to say I dislike it" she answered me.
Unexpected, unexpected. Horikita had answered me as if affirming fortune-telling.
"Have you ever had your fortune-told before perhaps?" I asked her.
"Of course nothing like that. It's just I've seen fortune-telling come up in the news every morning" Horikita said.
Perhaps she's talking about the fortune-telling by birthday month that comes up in the news.
I can't imagine a Horikita who changes her clothes or buys accessories after hearing her lucky color is red from a television screen.
"Are you perhaps addicted to fortune-telling?" she asks.
"No, not like that. There's been rumors floating around recently, have you heard about that fortune-teller?".
Silence as though she had remembered something settled in, and perhaps she remember something but Horikita soon replies in a convinced tone.
"Indeed there seems to be quite an uproar over it. I've heard of it" she said.
"I was slightly curious about it. They keep saying it's accurate, I wanted to see how accurate it really was. But, I can't really believe that fortune-telling could be so accurate about something".
I had expected her to agree with me but a different opinion came back from the other side of the phone.
"Is that really true? I think a person with real power can be accurate" Horikita said.
"No, no. Only an esper or something can be that accurate" I quickly replied.
Horikita seemed to believe in that unexpectedly. Things like predicting a person's future from their face, hands or date of birth. I don't believe in such unrealistic things.
"Not like that. The fortune-teller has no power to divine the future. Isn't that obvious? It's as absurd as someone who believe ghosts exist. But unlike psychics, fortune-tellers have access to a large amount of your past data, in other words, they base their predictions based on a human's patterns. So the skill of a fortune-teller that can guess such things from their customer is indeed high" Horikita told me.
So she's not just a dreaming girl but actually had an answer grounded in theory.
"In other words, a power derived from cold reading, huh?".
"You know quite some cheeky things" Horikita answered in an amused tone.
"We cannot view ourselves objectively but expert fortune-tellers, in a short amount of time, can extract information about you and know even things that the person being divined does not realize. And that's what's left as the result of fortune-telling. Couldn't we think of it like that?" Horikita said.
Cold reading. Literally means reading someone's mind without any prior preparation. It's a technique that draws out information from a person through casual conversation to make them think you know more about them than you actually do. Using 'observation' and 'insight' skills to gain information on your target. And make them believe you could see the future and past by using words masterfully. It's easy to say, but actually doing it while avoiding mistrust from the target and making them believe in it requires a high level of skill.
"I've become a bit interested".
"I'm glad. I think it'll be good for you to go" Horikita said.
"Then why don't you come along?" I asked her.
"You're kidding, right?" she replies.
"I'm quite serious".
"I refuse" Horikita said.
I tried slipping in words of invitation into our brief conversation but she brilliantly rejected them all. But I have my own reasons for not being able to accept her rejection simply.
"I'm an amateur when it comes to fortune-telling, so I think it's better for me to have someone like Horikita with me" I tell her.
"I'm sorry but I'll pass. I'm the type that's bad at dealing with crowds, you know too" Horikita replies.
Indeed that is true. Naturally there would be a lot of students crowded around the fortune-teller that so happens to be a hot topic right now. There's even the possibility that it won't simply be students but also adults that would go. I certainly cannot imagine Horikita being in a crowd like that.
I tried to reconfirm it with her without retreating, but even if I stick to it I'll just end up arousing her suspicions. As for me, if I had truly understood Horikita's words, there would no longer be any reason to stick around. I'm sure Sudou won't cause a big problem too. Maybe. Once I had quickly given up on inviting her, I cut the call. Then I briefly sent Sudou a message in the chat. Of course, it immediately registered as 'read' and dissatisfied words came back to me.
Sudou had replied "Then I quit" to me in the mail. As I had thought, my existence was only necessary to him for inviting Horikita. And since I had failed, he had no more use for me. But I must admit it would be weird for two men to go together to the fortune-teller.
"But even so...fortune-telling huh?" I muttered.
I was not interested initially, but after my conversation with Horikita I had become slightly interested.
I suppose I'll go check it out tomorrow.
Who the hell actually thought it was a good idea to go see a fortune-teller.
"I may have messed up..."
I knew it, but the late August morning assaulted by a heatwave made it a burning hell. I could even see a mirage forming and gently fluctuating on the concrete that lies ahead near the roadside trees. Of course the school facilities are all air conditioned and so we don't feel the heat in there. In corridors, in lobbies or in our rooms. However, when directly exposed to the sun, one instantaneously starts to sweat.
So this is how humans die. While thinking thoughts like that, I desperately attempt to find some shade. Fortunately for me, the school that boasts of its large school grounds has quite a bit of trees planted. Thanks to that, there is no shortage of shadows to obstruct the sunlight. It is currently 9:30 before the students start their various activities. I'm heading towards the rumored fortune-teller's location. It seems they start their fortune-telling at 10:00, but I don't plan to stick around for long. I'll just have them quickly divine my fortune and just as quickly leave. That is my aim. But as I got closer to my destination, I realize that my expectations have been betrayed.
At Keyaki Mall which I had expected to be mostly empty, a crowd of students wearing summer outfits were already there. While I had hoped not all of them would be here for the same reason I am, that is unlikely to be the case. For now, to escape the burning hell outside, I decided to take shelter inside Keyaki. Since the event seems to be hosted on the 5th floor, I looked around for a nearby elevator.
Such a voice unexpectedly leaked out of me. Because close to ten students had already formed a crowd in front of the elevator. I wonder if people with the same communication deficiency I have would be able to understand too. Whenever I take the elevator alone, I'm the type of person to repeatedly hit the 'Close' button as soon as I get in. But I'm not as good at taking the elevator with a large group of people the same age as me. I will need a fair bit of courage to get in with the crowd.
It might be a bit troublesome, but for now let's take a detour and choose another elevator elsewhere. There is another elevator in the opposite direction that is currently unused by students and is kept as a reserve.
"This is calming..." I muttered.
This did require additional effort on my part, but I'm grateful just for the peace of mind it gave me. It is sad though. Having arrived on the 5th floor, I quickly search for the fortune-teller's location.
And there I encountered a situation more perplexing than the one before.
"There are only couples here".
Boy and girl. Two-in-one groups. In other words, a crowd made up predominantly of students in a lovers' relationship. Of course there are groups with only boys and groups with only girls here too, but they are the minority.
Fortune-telling was originally meant for this sort of thing after all.
Just divining the compatibility between a boyfriend and a girlfriend is not such a special thing in and of itself. However, it's just I realized this place is a lot more uncomfortable than I had expected.
There's not many people who came to the fortune-teller on their own. More so if it's just a boy like me. In any case, since there's already a queue forming I decided to line up with them. And when I did, a woman who seemed to be managing the queue called out to me.
"Good morning. Will your partner be coming later?" she asked me.
"Partner? No, I'm alone" I replied to her.
Of course, given that the people around us are mostly couples it's natural to ask that question, but I'd like her to think more about us singles.
Perhaps she still has something to say, but the woman with an apologetic face continued on.
"I'm afraid Sensei's fortune-telling is for couples only..." she told me.
"So it's impossible for me alone?" I asked.
She nods slightly and points forward. I could not see it well through the crowd of people, but there was a certain note that warned about the requirements.
'We will be guiding you as a pair. Please be aware of this fact' it said.
Reasonable. There shouldn't be a single person like me here after all. Since I had not been confronted with an awkward situation like this before, it couldn't be helped. It seems right now, I'm in a very difficult position.
And also, I understand now the reason why Sudou wanted to invite Horikita out here. In this format of fortune-telling, he and Horikita would have a long time to talk to each other while lining up for the fortune-telling and they can spend a long time together until the fortune-telling is over.
"That also means I never even mattered from the start" I muttered.
Having realized it all now, Sudou's words and behaviour start to take on an entirely new meaning. That I was never even invited in the first place. And even if I had been, I wonder if he would have found an excuse to shake me off. What a sad story.
"By the way, the queue beside you is the same, is it not?" I asked.
"...Yes. Ukon-sensei's only telling the fortune for pairs..." the female clerk answers.
I bowed my head towards the clerk and left the queue. And the students, who were already lining up behind me, simply took one step forward. I never expected this kind of trick to be involved. As for me, my image of fortune-telling was that of an old woman on the side of the street counting coins while doing her job, something like that. But recently, it seems recommended for couples fortune-telling like this also exists.
I thought it wouldn't be too bad to experience fortune-telling once at least, but it seems it can't be helped. There's not much point in trying to invite Horikita out again, so I'd better retreat here quietly.
"Huh? So you're telling me I can't get in alone?"
It seems in the queue beside me, there's another single victim who came alone, as a voice that sounded like they were angry could be heard from there. And as I sent a sympathetic gaze their way, my eyes unfortunately met with that person's.
That short answer came from a person who happened to be an acquaintance of mine. When I pretended to have not seen her and attempted to leave, for some reason, with the same timing, she walked in the same direction I did. I quicken my footsteps.
Perhaps she thought I was attempting to run away (I was attempting to run away), but she chased after me.
"Is there something I can help you with?" I asked her.
"Where is Horikita?".
Having asked that brief question, the girl quickly scanned her surroundings.
She was Ibuki Mio, a student of Class C. She too, like Sudou, seemed to be attempting to get at Horikita through me. However, unlike Sudou, Ibuki's actions in this case is reasonable.
It's just, it would be a great help if she could get to Horikita without needing to pass through me.
"It's not like I'm always hanging out with her, I'm alone today" I told her.
"Ahh. I see".
In the previous uninhabited island test, this Ibuki was sent to Class D as a spy and tried to throw the class into chaos. And then she later fought with Horikita, and since then, Ibuki has been antagonistic towards Horikita. A rivalry would be more accurate for their relationship.
Although her usual tsun attitude has not changed, she does have a pretty good fashion sense and definitely leaves a good impression. If she acted a bit more mature, I wouldn't be surprised if she became popular.
"Normally fortune-telling is done one-on-one isn't it? I didn't expect this at all, don't you agree too?" Ibuki asks me.
"I suppose so. I did have that sort of image" I replied to her.
"So? Didn't you ask Horikita out for this?" she asked.
First it was Sudou and now Ibuki. The topic of the conversation is always about Horikita, who's not even here.
"I didn't. If you want to talk to Horikita that much, why don't you go and see her yourself? Tell her you want to go see the fortune-teller together" I told Ibuki.
"Huh? Absolutely not. It's not like I have anything to talk to her about anyways".
If that's the case then I'd like you to not talk about Horikita again and again.
"I never was really interested in fortune-telling from the start so I have no regrets here. How about you?" I asked her.
"I'd be lying if I said I have no regrets..." Ibuki told me. It seems the pair requirement presents a difficult problem for her which she realized, as she shook her head while stating her regret.
"I can't do anything but give up now. I'm also bad at talking" Ibuki said.
That was an answer that wasn't really an answer at all. She did say she was bad at talking, but unlike Sakura, she didn't seem like the type that would have trouble carrying on a normal conversation. In fact she is perfectly capable of talking to me on equal terms...or even talking down on me.
"Why don't you invite Ryuuen?" I asked Ibuki.
I said that as an added joke, but she made a face of disgust equal to or perhaps even greater than Horikita's.
"I'd absolutely hate to see his face even during the holidays. You must be joking" Ibuki replied to me.
"But you were together with him on the ship, weren't you? Isn't it normal to think you two are intimate?" I asked her.
"...that's only because I felt responsible for not figuring out the leader of Class D" Ibuki said.
She answered weakly like that. If what she says is true, that would mean Ibuki acted together with Ryuuen then as a means of taking responsibility for her failure. That alone didn't give me the whole picture but that must be something only Class C would understand. Even so, in the first part of the special exam, the uninhabited island test, Ibuki successfully identified Horikita as Class D's leader, and she was not wrong in her assessment. If I had not interfered, she would have made a big contribution to Class C undoubtedly.
"I wanted to ask you something, but during the island test, who was Class D's leader?" Ibuki asked me.
"I wonder? It's not like you don't know" she said.
"Even if I knew, I wouldn't really tell you. But I really don't know. I think most of Class D is also in the dark, wouldn't they be? Horikita was moving in the shadows, and she must have pulled it off somehow and that's all I can make of this" I told Ibuki.
Ibuki stares at me as though looking through me. But, I'm not so foolish as to be seen through by such a simple observation.
"...well, if it were that easy I wouldn't need to go through this much trouble" Ibuki shrugs her shoulder as if she had given up.
"If Ryuuen is no good, why don't you invite girls from your class?" I asked Ibuki.
"If I had such a person I wouldn't be in this much trouble. I absolutely dislike the girls in my class" Ibuki said. It seems even her classmates are included in the category of people she absolutely dislikes.
Ibuki is like Horikita...or even more so in her antisocial nature. In that sense, they are birds of a feather. And with a trigger, it feels like they could get along perfectly.
"But just like you're talking to me right now, Ibuki you should be able to talk to anyone else normally. I don't get the feeling that you're particularly bad with people" I told her.
"That's not true. When you talk with me you get that feeling don't you? A thorny feeling" she replied.
"I guess that's true".
Whenever I would talk with Ibuki, I get the feeling that I'm being pierced by a sharp saw. That is probably, Ibuki's expression of her distance with others. I'm sure this feeling would be conveyed to the other students as well.
"Whatever I do, the mood always ends up bad like this. You get it?" Ibuki said.
In other words, because she's bad at socializing, she cannot invite her classmates. It is still doubtful whether 'bad at socializing' is appropriate or not, but it must be a fact that this Ibuki likely sees even her classmates in an antagonistic light.
I can even picture her challenging the fortune-teller with that headstrong attitude of hers.
"Even though you're bad at dealing with people, it's strange that you would try having your fortune told".
"That's another one of my troubles. It's sort of like liking cats but having an allergy to cats too. That sort of thing" Ibuki told me.
That must have been truly frustrating. Even though one likes something, they still find it difficult to accept or do, or something like that.
"It's amazing you'd be the spy in Class D even though you're like that" I told her.
Even though she always had a tsun attitude, she never showed any sign of discomfort during her spy activities, not once. Because even the Class D students, without suspecting Ibuki, took her in.
"That and this are different. In any case, talking to others makes me anxious. And because I get anxious, I become nervous. I don't like that. That's why it can't be helped. It's not like I became like this because I like it. Why am I even talking to you about this? What if we get misunderstood?" Ibuki stopped the conversation at that while looking away.
But that's also my line. And before I realized it, the people around us had already moved up the queue and only the two of us were left behind alone. The other students might misunderstand us. But still, getting nervous after getting anxious, huh? So that's where the root of her weakness lies. If that is true, a method to counter it might be unexpectedly easy.
There is a plan that would counter this weakness without needing to figure out the roots of what had made her anxious in the past.
"Earlier, you said it was a different matter when you were spying, didn't you?" I asked Ibuki.
"I did. Because it is a fact".
"Then what's the difference between that time and usual?" I continued the question.
Having heard the question, Ibuki mulled over the answer and was silent for a while. And answered in a way that was very like her.
"I don't know. Different things are different. That's all" she said.
More than an answer, it seems she's given up on trying to tell the difference entirely.
"It looks like you haven't given it much thought" I said.
"Obviously. I wouldn't notice such trivial differences. I was acting then after all" Ibuki replied to me.
"No. I think it's surprisingly simple. The difference between talking to others and your acting back then, is simply a matter of 'recognition' I believe" I said.
In response to the word she did not expect to hear, Ibuki's interest must have been piqued since she turned to look at me.
"Anyone would feel anxious if they imagine talking to a person face-to-face. But, that nervousness is only because you're conscious of it, whether there was acting involved or not is irrelevant" I told Ibuki.
For instance, somebody who's bad at dealing with members of the opposite sex, even if they convince themselves 'I'm going to become a normie', and go to mixers and such. There's no guarantee that their anxiety wouldn't prevent them from talking with loquacity. As a result, they would not be able to exert more power than they usually do. If they are still able to talk skillfully despite that, that would only mean from the start, they always had that capability in them.
All it takes is to consider communication skills and athleticism as the same. Your talent and ability you've cultivated are tested in that sense.
In other words, Ibuki has the 'ability to talk with others' but simply lacks the ability to 'properly carry it out'.
"Until now, you've been projecting your delusions onto the various people you meet, and when you come face-to-face with them you seize up. That turns into anxiety and as a result, you're unable to talk well with them, isn't that it?" I told Ibuki.
"What's that supposed to mean? If it's someone with a high communication ability they would not even notice. But normally when you come face-to-face with a person, anyone would get anxious right?" Ibuki replies.
"Naturally. I'm the same too, but getting anxious even towards merchants and the such is a bit too much. For instance but, would you still feel anxious even if you're talking to a convenience store clerk?" I asked Ibuki.
"For example, meeting the clerk face-to-face at a convenience store you usually go to. Do you have a point card? Would you like it warm? Do you get anxious when the clerk says those words, surely not?".
"That's...well" Ibuki muttered.
In the end, you become conscious of the one you're talking to and end up anxious after all. I wonder what they'll think of me, I want to be thought of often, I'd like them to be a good person. It's because one thinks things like that they start being anxious.
But the Ibuki who infiltrated Class D surely had no time to think things like that. She would have been busy playing the victim that she had no time to be conscious of the fact that she wanted to talk to others. That's why without even needing to think, she was able to pull it off. That is because by letting out her feelings and letting them overflow like it was usual, she was able to convince them of her confrontation with Class C.
"Now that you say it, that is true..." Ibuki muttered.
"It is inevitable that you would feel anxious since it's natural to have the impression that you would be face-to-face with the fortune-teller, but by not thinking too deeply about it. That would help relieve some tension, wouldn't it?" I told Ibuki.
"...I see. Hey, why the hell do I have to be lectured about this by you?". Once Ibuki noticed her own relief, she glared at me as though she were about to jump on me.
"Once you've been a loner long enough, you notice small details like that. It starts when you start wondering why you are unable to make friends, and like I said earlier you think about the difference between people you get nervous towards and people you don't. And then you end up thinking where people come from and where they go" I told Ibuki.
"Creepy...You seem like the type to become a mass murderer in the future...were you always this kind of person?" Ibuki asks me.
"...well something like that" I replied.
I had thought to pass this off as just a deep reflection of mine, but it seemed to have taken an odd turn. I may have given her the impression that I was a crank.
"I'm going back for now. How about you?" I asked Ibuki.
"I think I'll go back too. It doesn't seem like I can get my fortune told alone anyways. I was interested in Tenchuusatsu though...".
I replied without thinking to those words you wouldn't hear normally.
"You came here without even knowing such a thing?" Ibuki sighed in resignation. But even if you say that, I genuinely am an amateur at fortune-telling. I just came here with a vague idea of having my fortune told freely.
"If I have to put it simply, it's fortune-telling that tells you which days are unlucky for you" Ibuki told me.
I have heard that the world of fortune-telling is a deep one, but I didn't know it was possible to tell the fortune of a specific target. From the perspective of an ameteur like me, things like 'wear the color red' or 'beware of losing your possessions this month' were the full extent of fortune-telling. But from what Ibuki is telling me, it seems it isn't limited to just that.
"I was hoping for that, really. I never thought it was only for love affairs" Ibuki said while looking at the long queue with a dismayed expression.
"But looking from the perspective of the students, using fortune-telling for love affairs like that isn't strange, right? This Tenchuusatsu? There must also be people interested in that who came here" I replied to her.
"Even so, it's impossible as soon as they put the pair restriction on it" Ibuki said.
And with that, without even leaving so much as a parting word behind, Ibuki left.
After returning to my room, I looked a bit into Tenchuusatsu. And when I did so, it turned out to be an extremely deep subject. It seems just before 1980, with the public becoming more aware of its existence, Tenchuusatsu was bathed in attention. However, as its popularity boomed, its credibility also came into question. There was even a case in the news of a famous fortune-teller forced into retirement after he revealed the workings of Tenchuusatsu. I won't go as far as to say fortune-telling itself is pointless, but becoming obsessed over it, or believing too much in it can become a problem.
But on the flip side, one could also say that fortune-telling is just that charming to be able to attract the attention of that many people. It is a dominant topic, and even nowadays, if you approach it from the perspective of a believer, it still holds a considerable amount of accuracy. Now knowing this, I felt a sense of curiosity wash over me. As expected, I cannot just believe to what extent these articles I found on the net explain the truth of the matter.
It should be impossible to see the future or through a person through fortune-telling. That is precisely why I wanted to have my fortune told once, to discern its credibility. So that I could conclude that it is simply an extension of cold reading.
"I wonder if it's limited only to this month" I muttered.
Once I looked into it, it seems once the summer vacation ends, the fortune-teller will leave too and it's still unknown when or if he's coming back. Depending on the circumstances, it might even be that no person related to fortune-telling will visit this school again.
"But even if I say that...".
I don't have anyone to invite. I'm backed into a corner at this point. Horikita will most likely reject me again and I don't have the courage to invite Kushida in the first place.
I'm sure Sakura would be willing to accompany me, but if I bring her to a place full of couples, I may make her feel uncomfortable things. Other than that would be Sudou or Ike or Yamauchi. Those group of boys. But they probably don't want to spend the remaining days of the precious summer vacation going to a fortune-teller with another man.
"...checkmate, huh?" I muttered to myself.
A simple answer came out. In my limited interpersonal relationships, no matter how hard I think it seems impossible. In the first place, I dislike the couples-only sort of fortune-telling. You could almost say it's the same sort of thinking as Ibuki. For those genuinely interested in fortune-telling, it would be a great barrier. And just like that, I stopped my online search.
And the next day after I had given up, strangely my feet were drawn towards the direction of the fortune-teller. It's probably just because I was free every day. There's no other reason than that.
Yet another bizarre meeting. At the same time and at the same place, I reunited again with Ibuki.
"Why did you come again?...and alone too" Ibuki asked.
Ibuki hugs herself while looking at me with a disgusted expression.
"That's my line too. I'll return the question to you as it is" I replied.
"You said you liked fortune-telling, didn't you? I just thought maybe you'd try to have your fortune told even if you're alone. That's all".
It's a sort of renegotiation then, or perhaps she came expecting the situation to have changed. Or something of that sort. I wonder if Ibuki just likes fortune-telling that much. I started to feel like wanting to know which part of fortune-telling she likes in particular.
"This is a straightforward question, but Ibuki, are you the type of person who believes in fortune-telling?" I asked her.
"Is it wrong if I believe in it?".
"No, I'm not saying that...but it's not something you can just suddenly believe in right?".
It's not like everyone understands that fortune-telling is an application of cold reading like Horikita does. In other words, there are many people believe in that mysterious power.
"It's something people interested in fortune-telling often think about first, but if you can't throw aside that thought, you'd be better off not being interested in it at all" Ibuki said.
"Are you saying non-believers have no right to fortune-telling then?" I asked her.
"That's not quite right...let me just say this, it's not like even I believe unconditionally in fortune-telling. It's just that people who are skeptical from the start don't stand to gain anything from this" Ibuki carries on.
"The people who make fun of fortune-telling are full of contradictions. Many people normally don't believe in the existence of a god. But when they're in trouble, it's often that sort of god that they pray to" Ibuki continued.
A good analogy. God doesn't exist, ghosts don't exist. People who often make statements like that pray to God. They would visit shrines on New Year's Day and pray for a healthy life, a prosperous business and fulfillment in love. Even if you replace that with fortune-telling, it's still the same thing. What you truly believe in and what you want are different things. Nobody can deny that.
But, yes, if I think such things, indeed I can understand where Ibuki is coming from. But fortune-telling and believing in gods normally is still different. It's because fortune-telling is done by a human who exists just like you do. It's natural to be skeptical towards something like that.
"Did you get it?" she asks me.
"Yeah. It was easy to understand".
Of course I still have my misgivings, but I did understand the point Ibuki was trying to make. And that's where I made a proposal to her.
"Hey, this fortune-telling requires a pair but it's not like the only thing they're divining is love affairs, right?" I asked her.
"Naturally, yes" Ibuki said.
"In that case, why don't we ignore who our partner is and go have our fortunes told? You and I are both genuinely interested in fortune-telling after all. In any case, if it's a relationship that won't last after this I don't think there'd be any problems" I proposed to Ibuki.
I myself don't feel anything but a flat emotion towards Ibuki. I don't feel anything particularly good or bad towards her, almost like a first impression.
"I don't mind...I'd like to have my fortune told too. But are you fine with it?" Ibuki asks me.
"Horikita's just a friend to me" I replied to Ibuki.
"That's not what I mean. From the island test, there are still students who are holding a grudge" she said.
It looks like, in her own way, Ibuki is looking out for me. If I were to be seen together with her, my fellow classmates might begrudge me too and so it seems Ibuki's worried about me.
"I don't think you need to be worried about that at all" I told her. And as I answered her like that, Ibuki tilted her head curiously.
"I don't understand why you answered like that".
"If this were a school where everyone gets along, your actions would be a breach of morals. But this school cares only about 'ability' and that is everything, and besides, it was an exam where classes directly compete against each other. And depending on the situation, it's also possible to conduct spy activities or sabotage. Am I wrong?" I asked her.
"There are those that won't be satisfied with just that logic alone. It's not like everyone's this flexible" she replied to me.
"I don't think people like that would have the necessary qualifications to enroll in this school in the first place".
Having given my honest opinion, Ibuki crossed her arms and seemed to be giving it some thought.
"You're surprisingly cheeky" Ibuki finally told me.
"I'm just a failure of a student though. I'm not interested in rising up or falling down. I just ride on the coattails of a student like Horikita and consider that as being lucky" I told Ibuki.
From the perspective of someone who tries to rely only on themselves like Ibuki, what I just said would have been a laughable story. But Ibuki neither laughed at me nor mocked me.
"This isn't uncommon. In the first place, everyone who enrolls in this school is only eyeing the privilege when they graduate. Nobody would've expected they'd end up in competition like this. So most people would find this difficult" she told me.
It seems like the students of Class C aren't that different from Class D. If that's the case, the Ibuki who caught Ryuuen's eye and was assigned to spy activities early on must be pretty high up in the hierarchy of Class C. Since she is paid quite the attention by her surroundings, it's also not uncommon for her to act by Ryuuen's side. She had said she was only with Ryuuen because of her failure, but it seems to a degree, she's with him because Ryuuen also trusts in her. And with the both of us convinced, we lined up in the queue.
And the female clerk who had talked to me yesterday came by again to confirm that we were indeed a pair and handed us what seems to be a ticket. It seems there are 8 pairs in front of us we would have to wait for.
"It looks like we'll be doing some waiting".
If only one fortune-teller is available per queue, even if there were ten pairs that would force us to wait for more than an hour. It's shaping up to be a long wait. The only question now is, how will the two of us endure for more than one hour? It doesn't seem like I can carry on a conversation for that long.
"Ahh. Don't be worried about silence, our relationship is only for the sake of fortune-telling so you don't need to speak pointlessly with me, right?" Ibuki said.
"I guess so..."
It seems she's seen through my idea. That saves me the trouble.
"Next person please". It was already afternoon when I heard that small voice come from inside the temporarily set up facility.
"I've kept you waiting". In the end it seemed each group took around 15 minutes each and I ended up having to stand in the queue for quite a long time. It was around when I had started to no longer care about the fortune-teller inside, that the voice from the room behind the curtain where the fortune-teller was.
And when I entered, inside was a scenery I would often see on the television. The dark lighting inside was only about 30 lux. And added to that, there was a thick book, a hammer and a crystal ball that could also be used to throw whose purpose I didn't know.
The old fortune-teller woman inside had a hood on her and as such I couldn't see her expression. The atmosphere of this place alone is first-grade. It seems the crystal ball is shining even now as though it is reflecting Ibuki's and my future. And before the fortune-teller, there were two round seats with no backrests placed. I suppose that's where we are supposed to sit. And when the two of us sat down, the fortune-teller simply laughed briefly and her right hand moved.
"First of all, pay up" the fortune-teller told us.
And having said that, she pulls out a card reader from beneath and table and places it on the table in front of us. From the breathtaking atmosphere that almost gave off the feeling of a fortune-telling museum, artifacts of modern civilization appearing like that and gave off an incongruous feeling.
Of course, I didn't think it would be free of charge, but I was still suddenly pulled back to reality.
"What are you going to divine for us?". Before she took out her student card, Ibuki first asked that question.
"Your studies, work, love affairs and anything you like" the fortune-teller replied while laughing creepily with a grin. It certainly gave off a powerful feeling to the surrounding area, but more than a fortune-teller it looked to me as though she were a witch.
But the price list placed on the table really is a mismatch.
It seems the prices are separated into different categories. The things the fortune-teller said just now seems to be included in the "basic plan". And in there, it is divided further into more sets. And one of them also includes Tenchuusatsu. And among others there are courses that would let you see up to the very end of your lifespan. And since the fortune-telling has a pair requirement, there are also many courses that focus on romance.
This is just my spontaneous thought, but if the fortune-telling divines a bad compatibility between partners, I wonder what those partners would do then. It's just that for any course, over 5000 points are required. It's rather expensive.
"Even so...it's expensive". For a Class D student struggling with the matter of points each and every day, this seems to be a severe expense. But even if I say that, it would be a waste to go back without having the chance to investigate Tenchuusatsu. There was always the option of simply listening to Ibuki's fortune-telling results and then going back but if I do that, I would have no way of reliably telling its accuracy. I thought just in case as I checked my point balance on my phone. On the screen, my private points were displayed. The balance I currently had was roughly 6000 points so it seems like I can barely afford it.
"I'll just have the basic plan" Ibuki said unexpectedly. Even though she had professed her like of fortune-telling, she doesn't seem to intend on getting the full course.
"What'll you do?" she asks me.
"I'll have the same plan as Ibuki".
At this point it just feels like I'm ordering a meal at a diner, but I said that and held up my student card. The sound of a used card played from the reader and a certain balance was deducted from my card.
"Then let's start from the lady here, what's your name?" the fortune-teller asked.
"Ibuki. Ibuki Mio".
She answered briefly like that.
"My fortune-teller lets me see the face, hands and hearts of my customer. And during the middle of it, I might see something you'd rather keep private. Are you fine with that?" the fortune-teller asks.
"Do as you wish" Ibuki promptly replied.
Ibuki answered that she would not be upset by that, whether or not she believes that aside. From under her hood, I could see not only the wrinkled skin of the fortune-teller but also her sharp gaze. And then, instructing Ibuki to put out both her hands, she begins to speak of the results of her fortune-telling slowly.
"Starting with palm reading, you will live a long life. I cannot see you suffering any major illnesses as of now..." she spoke.
It seems a story that one usually hears is the opener. I personally don't understand how one can divine that from the lines on one's palm. Feeling it was pointless, I felt my prejudice wanting to deny fortune-telling.
Perhaps the fortune-teller is using the statistics of their own experiences to divine this? If it were me, I would simply use the good health of many of the customers to, from the color of their face and such, give my answers. And continuing on, the fortune-teller spoke of studies, financial luck and love affairs with unexpected answers.
While one would normally be angry at the seemingly phony words of the fortune-teller, Ibuki continued to listen to them with a satisfied feeling. There were not many bad predictions, mostly predictions of a bright future for her.
Sometimes warnings are given to her, but it seems there's no particular risk to her life and wellbeing.
"Thank you very much" Ibuki said.
Having finished the fortune-telling session, Ibuki bowed her head. It seems my turn, where I would be able to understand fortune-telling better, is about to come now.
The fortune-teller follows the same procedure she used during her session with Ibuki.
The answers for my session were mostly the same as the ones during Ibuki's. Even though the circumstances may diverge, bottom line is that the predictions were mostly of good things to come. However I was warned to be careful of calamity at times. That sort of knowledge was told to me.
"...I see. It seems you have had quite the rough childhood" the fortune-teller told me. But even if you say something like that, most children experience things they consider tough at least once or twice in their childhood. More so if that child is a boy. If possible, I would have liked her to answer more definitively.
More importantly, it's a bigger mystery why the fortune-teller who is supposed to speak of the future is speaking of the past instead. But Ibuki beside me, without interrupting or yawning, listens intently to the fortune-telling. Perhaps fortune-telling is supposed to be something like this. Or perhaps as a necessary ritual, we're going back to the past. Ahh, so fortune-telling really is like this. At this stage, I simply thought that.
Because humans are easy creatures, once 'good fortune' has been predicted for them, they would lock that in their memories and even if good fortune, unrelated to the fortune-telling, occurs, they would bring that memory out and interpret that as "Ahh. So the fortune-telling of that time was talking about this".
But in reality it would be different, because in life, it is inevitable that everyone would experience both good fortune and misfortune as well as happiness and misery.
Once again, the fortune-teller who seemed to be in the middle of some ritual, stopped her hands.
"You are the possessor of a fateful Tenchuusatsu" she told me.
"Uwa...seriously?". The one surprised by that result was not me but rather Ibuki and the fortune-teller herself. Tenchuusatsu was a word even I was not aware of until yesterday, so even if another word were added on top of that, it would only cause me further confusion.
"Simply put, from the moment you were born, you have been living a life of misfortunes" Ibuki explained to me.
"That is again an amazing thing...". Whether or not this is pure coincidence, it was once again accurate. It's just, the fortune-telling was still ambiguous in regards to this matter. Because if one looks at themselves pessimistically, there's no shortage of people who would look back and think of their lives as being unlucky. But if it's the unusual Tenchuusatsu, it would be a risk for the fortune-teller to say that as well.
"By the way, is that fateful Tenchuusatsu going to continue from here on out too?" I asked.
"Just a while ago, that girl over said it meant living a life of misfortunes, but that is wrong".
"Fateful Tenchuusatsu is indeed uncommon. But that doesn't mean it curses your entire life to be misfortunate. Indeed the flow itself is bad, you will be unable to receive blessing of a family or parents. But that's only up to your personality. What you will do from now on is something you yourself must decide" the fortune-teller told me.
From the sharp expression she had earlier, now in the fortune-teller's eyes I could see benevolence.
"There's no need to feel pessimistic and there's no need to act like the protagonist of a comedy too" she told me.
I've heard quite a lot of interesting stories today, but after all it's just fortune-telling.
It's not something that causes you to look with bloodshot eyes or tilt your ears to hear better. When I tried to get up from my seat, I was again called by the fortune-teller.
"One more prediction for you. Go back straight instead of taking any detours. If you take a detour unnecessarily, you may be stuck for a long time. But even if you get stuck do not panic. Stay calm and if you cooperate, you should be able to overcome that too" the fortune-teller told me.
She left behind such words of prophecy.
"How was it, your first fortune-telling experience?".
"How about you?".
"Mostly satisfied. That fortune-teller is quite famous around the world. It's said that the accuracy is quite high as well" Ibuki told me.
"I suppose so...it looks like a simple profession but it's surprisingly difficult".
"What's that supposed to mean?" Ibuki asks.
More than half of it was just based off a template, the images and words one normally hears in fortune-telling. But within that, there is no denying that there were also accurate facts. And that is something she could not have divined using only the keywords I had provided her with. I can no longer simply write it off as something one gains from living a long life or having fortune-telling experience.
"From now on, I won't write it off as mere fortune-telling anymore. That's how I feel" I told Ibuki.
"Ahh. I see".
That was a rather disinterested answer despite her having been the one to ask me. And together, we arrived at a nearby elevator.
"Geh...it's crowded again".
If I continue on it's hell and if I turn back it's still hell. Students flooded the space in front of the elevator.
"Sorry but I'll be taking a detour to head back" I told Ibuki.
"Me too" she promptly replies.
It seems Ibuki too, is thinking along a similar train of thought as me. And as the two of us head towards a distant elevator, the words of the fortune-teller came back into my head.
"Speaking of which, earlier...".
"The fortune-teller told us, don't take a detour".
For a brief moment, I met eyes with Ibuki. Whether it is simply a coincidence or inevitability, we were about to take a detour at this very moment.
"I suppose it might be interesting. Let's find out how accurate that prediction is".
If it's not, I would be able to go back without anything happening. And I would be able to think it's just mere fortune-telling in the end.
But in the end, without anything happening, we reached the distant elevator. And at the time, there was no one around us. We were able to call up the elevator at our leisure.
"Are you fine with the 1st floor?".
"I'm going back like that" Ibuki replied.
It seems we won't have the same path back and so I pressed the button for the 1st floor and closed the elevator doors.
The elevator begins to move slowly. Since we no longer have anything in particular to talk to each other about, we spent the elevator ride in silence. But when I said move, it was only briefly. Since when the 3rd floor light lit up, the elevator grinded to a halt with a heavy sound. It doesn't seem like it's someone trying to get into the elevator on the 3rd floor too but the elevator, in its attempt to descend further from the 3rd floor, came to a stop halfway. But as I mulled over it, for an instant, the lights went out and it became pitch black.
However, at that moment, the emergency lights came back on and we were able to avoid a complete blackout situation.
"Could it be a blackout?" Ibuki asks.
There are not many people who have personally experienced elevator breakdowns like this. If this is the unexpected setback the fortune-teller predicted, in a sense it hit the mark.
"For now, shouldn't the emergency phone suffice?".
There is no need for panic here. The elevator already has been prepared for breakdown situations like this. There are also surveillance cameras in the elevator, and emergency buttons (an intercom which connects the elevator to a disaster prevention center) and such have already been installed. And having told her that, with no objections, Ibuki leaned back on the elevator wall...I suppose I'll press the button and call for help.
I did that, however---
"There's no response".
I don't know if the call is ringing on the other end or not but, I don't feel like I'm getting through to the disaster prevention center.
"Isn't it that blackouts also prevent the calls?" Ibuki asked me.
"No. Elevators usually have a backup battery that can run for several hours. As evidence of that, the emergency lights are on right now. That means it must be some other internal fault in the elevator" I replied to her.
I tried pressing the button for the hearing-impaired to use, but that too did not respond. In other words, the operation panel the buttons are installed on itself is broken.
Batteries are running and the air conditioning is working as well. That alone is a blessing, but what to do now?
"Can you contact the school with your phone? It should be in range" I asked Ibuki.
"Sorry. But please do it yourself" she replied to me.
"I can understand your feeling of not wanting to talk with people, but isn't this much fine?".
"...seriously" Ibuki muttered as she brought out her phone with a displeased expression. But when she looked at her screen, her expression changed to a bad one. She then turns the screen to show me. On the screen was a notification that signalled battery shortage, and soon the power ran out in her phone.
"Because I don't have any contacts in my phone, I didn't even notice until the battery ran out. So, you call instead" Ibuki tells me.
Taking out my own phone, I looked once at the screen and immediately froze up.
"Call now, quickly" Ibuki rushed me.
"It seems the situation is a lot more serious than I expected" I told her.
Just like what Ibuki did earlier, this time, I show Ibuki the screen of my phone.
The battery percentage showing on the phone was a measly remaining 4%. It was like the flame at the top of a lighthouse that could disappear at any moment from the wind.
"You really messed with me" Ibuki told me.
"It's a lot like you. Since I don't have a lot of people I can talk to, I didn't care whether I had battery left or not" I replied.
"No, no. We really are in trouble now. You're a useless man".
"You're really harsh even though we're both the same...the problem is where to call now, huh?" I asked Ibuki.
I could call the police or emergency services, but something about that seemed off to me. If it's still within the school grounds, there should be someplace else I could call. And thinking that, I began looking to see if I could find the contact for the elevator's emergency services. As I did, near the elevator's operation board, there was a 10-digit number.
But---it must have been someone's idea of causing mischief, but the last 4 digits were painted over.
"This kind of prank is too much..."
"Why don't you call one of your friends and ask for help?" Ibuki then asks me.
It seems there's no other choice, but the problem is who to call.
"If everything goes well, then it's Horikita" I said.
"Rejected" Ibuki immediately replied.
"...I thought you'd say that".
"If you call her, it would mean she would come and save me. Don't joke around" Ibuki told me.
I don't think it's important who is doing the saving in this scenario though. And it's not like it was Ibuki's fault too, it's just an elevator breakdown so there's no need to worry on that front too.
I suppose she simply doesn't like showing her weakness in front of her rival.
"You don't want it to become an uproar, if we do that". Ibuki nods slightly in response. So in other words, someone who would help us without causing an uproar while doing their utmost. That means the 3 idiots are out of the question already. In an event like this, it wouldn't be surprising if they start trumpeting this around here and there.
But even if I rely on someone who won't go around spreading this like Sakura, resolving this situation would be difficult for her. It would be inconvenient for her to contact an adult and I would just end up causing her trouble.
In that same sense, Kushida and Karuizawa would also be unsuited to this sort of thing. Someone who can come and help us without raising a fuss. And in this case, the one I can rely on is---
"In this case". In my contacts list, the one person I can rely on right now will have to be none other than that man.
"I'll respect your wishes. But you have to leave the rest to me now" I told Ibuki.
"As long as it's not Horikita I'm fine with it" Ibuki promptly replies to me.
I then began to call a certain man. And a few seconds after the call had begun to ring, that reserved man quietly answers the call. I told him of my situation and asked him to help us. But not long after I started the conversation, my phone quietly blacked out.
"Battery's gone" I told Ibuki.
"Did you tell him properly?"
Now all I can do is sit and wait. There is no need to rush. Sooner or later, surely someone will realize this situation too. Even if we try to escape from the elevator like in the movies, it will only lead to more danger.
But the situation seems to be progressing in an unexpected way. And as I thought I heard the deep sound made by the machine reverberating inside the elevator, the cooler that was sending a comfortable breeze into the room stopped.
"This can't be real..."
Ibuki, who had been calm up until now, started to panic. We were in a sealed space in the middle of summer, it wasn't a stretch to imagine that the temperature will start to rise in here.
Right now the air inside the elevator had become slightly lukewarm but given time, whether we like it or not we would inevitably begin sweating.
"Is there any way to get out ourselves?" Ibuki asked me.
"The rescue hatch seems to be there but..."
Nowadays this seems to be decreasing, but there is an exit built into the elevator's ceiling. It's a familiar thing usually seen in movies, but escaping through it in reality is---
"How are we supposed to open that?". Ibuki, who was looking up, inevitably asked that question. Normally, the rescue hatch cannot be opened from the inside. It is there so that in the scenario where rescuers are unable to open the sealed elevator, they can use it as a last resort to rescue the people trapped inside.
"I think it's better not to do anything and just wait. It's a rule to do that in the case of an elevator emergency" I told her in response.
That is the safest and surest way.
"If you can handle this steam bath sure" Ibuki fired back.
And while we were trading an unproductive exchange back and forth, the temperature had risen. I can understand the impulse to get out of here, but I'd like to avoid making poor decisions. I took off my coat as I sat down on the floor.
In situations like this, the thing to do is to not raise your own body temperature.
"How about you sit down too? If it's too hot, you can strip too" I told her.
"....huh? Are you perhaps thinking something lewd in this situation?" Ibuki asks me.
It seems Ibuki interpreted my words that way and her guard went up.
"I heard you were able to fight equally with Horikita. There's no way I could possibly beat someone like you" I told Ibuki.
"That's true, but..."
"Of course, if you are going to strip, I'm going to turn my back to you so relax" I continued.
"I'm not going to strip".
Having said she would not do it, Ibuki then sat down on the spot.
After that, we waited for about 30 minutes patiently but there was no contact from the outside.
"This is bad...". I muttered that after hearing Ibuki's breath turn coarse beside me. We began to perspire on our foreheads. And the sweat that came out of our heads, soaked our hair and started to drip.
The shirt I'm wearing already looks like it's been under a waterfall, it seems the situation is a lot more dangerous than I had imagined. Thinking back on it, this elevator is installed into the wall of Keyaki Mall. Thanks to the air-conditioning that's always on normally, I didn't notice it but this location would be very sensitive to heat under these conditions.
There have been incidents of children dying in the middle of summer after being locked in a car, but the same is also true for adults. And as it were, the heat stroke had started to attack us.
"Ahh, I'm at my limit already. Move!". Feeling frustrated, Ibuki stood up and with all her might she kicked away at the interior of the elevator, leaving a dent in the place she kicked. She kicks the same place again. The elevator swayed slightly but showed no signs of movement.
"You're just wasting your energy...but then again, I really can't say just sitting still is the safe option anymore" I told Ibuki.
Even if a person notices the elevator breakdown in 5 minutes, it would still take the rescue crew roughly 30 minutes to make it to our location. If it's coming, it should be time for the rescue to arrive.
If we remain in here after that time has passed, we cannot avoid suffering a heat stroke. And in some cases, it could become a life-threatening risk too. Since it's come to this, I can no longer say contuining to sit still is the correct decision anymore.
"There's no other choice..."
I refuse to die in this sauna of an elevator.
"Should we kick from the front? Hey, should we kick?" Ibuki asked me, having already lost her coolness from the heat and seems to be desperately suppressing her impulse to go berserk.
"Leaving aside getting out or not for now, let's try opening the hatch at the top" I told her.
Right now, the most important thing is escaping this sealed scenario. Even if we cannot get out, as long as the hatch opens up that would be enough.
"The height should be---slightly more than 2 meters, about 2.2 or 2.3 meters"
Even if I reach up with my hands, naturally I would not be able to reach it.
Ibuki threateningly glared at me as I measured the height of the hatch. Then she jumped up from right underneath the hatch. It was a magnificent vertical jump. She then extended her right hand towards the ceiling, and pushed up with all her strength. But the hatch didn't seem to show any signs of opening, and from the impact of Ibuki landing back on the floor, the elevator swayed wildly.
"...it looks like it's stuck".
"I suppose so"
If it was just closed like a lid, with that just now, it should have opened up.
"You predicted it's locked. But if so, what's the locking mechanism for it?" Ibuki asks me.
"I wonder. I think it's locked using a padlock but...is something the matter?"
In regards to that subject, I wasn't sure too.
"I'm kicking it" Ibuki said.
"No, wait. Surely that's impossible".
I'm not sure whether or not she's just that confident in her kicking techniques but it's not something one can easily kick.
"That hatch is the emergency hatch, right? That means it's connected to the outside. That's why rescuers can open it up from the outside, that means it's a door that opens outwards from here as far as I can tell. The force needed for that should also be minimal" Ibuki told me.
It's not like I couldn't understand what she was going on about, but the situation is the situation. In the first place, since the hatch is located on the ceiling, forget kicking it would be difficult for her legs to even hit it.
"I won't know for sure unless I try it" Ibuki then said.
It seems Ibuki wants to escape from this heat as quickly as possible as she starts looking at the walls left and right. Don't tell me she wants to do a triangular jump by kicking off the walls. If it's her, I'm sure she would think of something like that, but I can't let her to do that.
"...I could say it's exactly as foretold, but it seems the fortune-teller's prediction came true, huh?".
"Huh? What was that again?".
"That old lady said it, right? Even if we suffer a setback, do not panic. And cooperate with each other".
I glanced at the location where the buttons of the elevator are located.
"The emergency button didn't respond. I wonder about the other buttons".
Since the light for the 1st floor was still lit, thinking about it, at least part of the battery is still working. I tried pressing the 2nd floor button as a test. And when I did, the light for the 2nd floor also lit up.
It may be that only the lights are still active but it's worth a try. I then start pressing buttons at random.
"It's useless, apparently".
After having pushed all the buttons, Ibuki said again as if reminding me.
"There's no other choice but to kick" she said.
"No. There's still another way. Elevators have something like a cancel command in them, right?". It's not like I'm an expert on elevators, but that alone was trivia I knew from something.
It was a way to cancel the command when I mistakenly pressed a lower floor button by mistake. I think the command defers depending on the manufacturer, but I continue to repeatedly press the cancel button, or it was supposed to be.
But having left the 2nd floor button as it is, the yellow light was lit up in suddenly blinked out.
"There must be some commands that are available in limited express mode...".
"For instance, let's say this is the 3rd floor. If there's someone who wishes to get off on the 2nd floor they press that button, it will stop on the 2nd floor. But if you use the limited express command, it will ignore those previous commands and go straight to the 1st floor" I told Ibuki.
But I don't know whether whether this limited express command is installed on this elevator or not.
"The problem is finding a way...".
"Is it worth a try?" Ibuki asks.
"It's better than doing the difficult task of kicking the ceiling" I replied to her.
But, I don't think the elevator will start moving just by that. I just said that to buy time and change the subject by giving hope to Ibuki who was on the verge of losing her rationality.
"Lend me your wits, too. This kind of command also might be revealed by different individual's thoughts too. If you give me your ideas too, it might unexpectedly succeed" I told Ibuki.
I then pressed the button for the 1st floor repeatedly and then after that I tried pressing all the buttons for all the floors.
But none of them caused the elevator to react.
Ibuki then joins in and starts working in front of the buttons. It seems it's necessary to consider the possibility that help really won't be coming. It's not like I wanted to use Ibuki's idea but I need to consider that kicking down the front door may be necessary. Even if breaking it open is impossible, I might be able to open up a small opening for a human to crawl through.
I'm not an expert on elevators, but as long as escape to the outside is possible, anything goes.
It's just, if possible, I would like to get out without having to reveal that sort of strength.
"I couldn't cancel, but I don't think you can get the limited express command just through a combination of buttons that gets used daily" Ibuki said.
Of course, using common sense that is obvious. Children sometimes like to play around by mashing the buttons after all. And if the elevator enters limited express mode each and every time, it would inconvenience the other passengers. In other words, the possibility that we won't find that mode with the usual combinations alone is quite high, or that's Ibuki's reasoning at least.
"That might be a good idea...then it might be better to include complex combinations too" I told her.
For example, after pressing a sequence like 1, 6, 5, 5, 4, 2, 4 I could then press the floor I'd like to go to. But that would be hard for people to memorize and it would impose a strict height requirement of at least 6 floors. It would be strange unless one can use it with an elevator that only goes up to 3 floors.
"We should also try using the emergency buttons".
If it reacts only by being pressed, it would be difficult to use it as a command.
"So in other words...1 or 2 or 3. Close and open on 5?".
"We should assume it's made up of that kind of combination".
But, if there are more combinations than that it would be very difficult to test them all. So Ibuki continues to test the set patterns. And as I watched her do it, I excluded the combinations that failed to work.
"Ahh---it's getting hot".
Gan! Ibuki punches the wall with her fists as if to dissipate her frustration that the heat has caused. Normally, I would give her another warning against this, but since she's satisfied with that alone I decided to leave it be.
"...it's not opening. Haven't you tried everything yet?".
"More or less everything. If there's anything left..."
Since there's still a possibility, I decided to try out the command I haven't tested yet.
"Why don't you try pressing the destination floor and the close button at the same time?".
"Close button?...I got it".
While thinking there's no way it could be, Ibuki tried a combination that had not been tested yet. And when she pressed it, although I thought it wouldn't work, at that very moment the elevator started to slowly move again. We both immediately looked at each other.
And in a few seconds the elevator reached the 1st floor and the doors slowly opened. A cool breeze flowed into the elevator, two adults who changed their expressions turned to look at us.
"Are you two ok? Are you injured?".
"Ahh. No we aren't injured. It was just hot in there".
Just by looking at how sweaty we were it's easy to guess how hot it was. Perhaps the adults realized it too but immediately we were presented with sports drinks.
And then, just in case too, we were instructed to head over to the medical center for treatment.
"Umm. Can we ask something? Could it be the elevator moved---"
"Yeah. We operated it from here".
Apparently there is a special remote control that can be operated from the 1st floor, it seems it was thanks to using the limited express mode from here. And we just happened to use that combination with the same timing.
"...you must have had a difficult time".
"Really it was disastrous. I've had enough of fortune-telling for a while". It's not like I didn't understand Ibuki's feelings for saying that. I then expressed my gratitude to the adults, and the man who was watching from a distance then approached us
"Are you alright, Ayanokouji?" he asked me.
The big man that approached had a familiar aura about him and asked me that with a worried voice.
"You saved us. You managed to bring us down".
The elevator stopping caused some trouble. But it seems it did not cause a noticeable uproar. This man, Katsuragi, probably managed to do that for us.
"The information you told me through the phone was enough. This is good enough right?" he asked me.
"I have to go to the medical center now. Please let me repay you some other time" I told Katsuragi.
"You don't need to. I myself was helped a great deal by you, and also Sudou. Since we are from different classes, there is a line that absolutely cannot be crossed for us. But if we can get along despite that, it's a most welcome thing" Katsuragi replied to me.
"It looks like that went well then".
"Yeah. Sudou answered my expectations brilliantly. Please tell him again that I appreciate it a lot" Katsuragi said.
"I got it".
"And also, Ayanokouji. I must also thank you. Even though prior evidence was prepared, there should have been some resistance at least before agreeing with the request I had made" he continued.
He bowed his head as if in apology towards me. But I'm feeling just as grateful right now though. If I were stuck for any longer in that elevator, I would have surely lost my cool.
"If there's anything you need again, please contact me. If I can be of any help, I will cooperate. Other than exams" Katsuragi laughs briefly and leaves while leaving behind a joke like that for me.
And before I knew it, I was becoming close to Katsuragi. Almost as close as the 3 idiots, perhaps even more than that. Why did I know the contact address of Class A's Katsuragi, and why was I so close to him?
---That is a story from a while ago.