LEVEL 3: Even the Best Laid Plans go Awry, but Such is This World
After returning to Altana, selling the loot, splitting the profit, eating dinner, heading back to the now familiar reserve force soldier lodge, taking a bath, and returning to his room, Haruhiro was ready for bed. Except that he didn’t feel like going to sleep right away. The lamp hanging from the wall had already been put out. Besides the two straw-stuffed bunk beds, that lamp was the only other furnishing in the bare-bones room.
Haruhiro wanted to say goodbye to the lodge and find a better place to stay. It wasn’t as if they were financially incapable of this, but for some reason he still found himself undecided. Haruhiro rolled over onto his side as he lay on the top bunk. Mogzo was on the bottom bed of the opposite bunk while Ranta occupied the top. The bed under Haruhiro was empty.
A room meant for four people, but currently only housing three. In the beginning, there had been a full four. Haruhiro started to whisper the name of their dead companion but stopped. He started to climb down.
“Haruhiro?” Mogzo asked from the opposite bunk. “Are you okay?”
Ranta was snoring lightly, already asleep.
“Uh…” He couldn’t come up with a good answer so just avoided the question. “Wrong? No, nothing’s wrong. Not really…”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he realized that he could have just said something like, “I’m going to the bathroom,” and regretted not thinking of it sooner.
“Are you leaving?” Mogzo pressed.
“Ah, no. Just… going outside. For some air,” Haruhiro replied.
He was just saying the first thing that came to mind now, making the mood entirely awkward. But Mogzo didn’t pursue the subject.
“Oh, okay then,” Mogzo said.
“Yeah. It’s been a long day, right? And you sound pretty tired so get some rest, okay?”
“Right. Goodnight, Haruhiro.”
Haruhiro left the room and wondered if he really should go outside and get some air, but he eventually decided not to. He didn’t really feel like heading out now. If Mogzo had decided to chat with him or something, he probably wouldn’t have had to leave the room in the first place. A part of Haruhiro wished that he had taken the opportunity to talk with Mogzo.
But he couldn’t.
Why? Haruhiro thought he knew exactly why, but at the same time couldn’t completely comprehend it. He just… couldn’t confide in Mogzo, even knowing Mogzo was a really decent human being. Haruhiro was confident that Mogzo wouldn’t repeat anything they talked about to others. But the ability to keep quiet wasn’t the main issue.
Haruhiro wandered into a hallway on the lodge’s first floor and slumped down into a crouch, leaning his back against a wall. An ancient-looking lamp provided some light, so it wasn’t pitch black, but it also wasn’t enough for the hall to be considered well-lit.
It wasn’t like he could talk about it even if it had been somebody else. Ranta was out of the question. He had a feeling that if he talked to Yume, the conversation would derail into something weird. And Shihoru… now that he thought about it, he’d never had any sort of serious conversation with Shihoru before. He couldn’t even imagine what a private conversation with her would be like.
What about Mary? She would definitely lend him her ear. But he had a feeling that confiding in her wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Part of it was that he didn’t want to rely on her too much; he wanted her to think he was cool, not some weakling brat, but there was another reason too.
Because Mary had joined their party afterward, Haruhiro got the feeling that Mary sometimes felt like she owed them a debt and was always looking for ways to contribute in order to pay it off. Haruhiro didn’t want her to think that he was capitalizing on those feelings. But maybe he was just over thinking it.
He didn’t even understand why he felt so confused. So far, they had been fortunate enough to avoid most life-threatening situations. If luck hadn’t been with them this entire time, they would all be dead by now. They had been extremely unlucky that Deathpatch appeared right after the fight with Mary’s former companions and Haruhiro had been extremely lucky in killing him. The good and bad luck always balanced out.
Maybe he was just dissatisfied. He was constantly thinking about the team; wholeheartedly and desperately, he was always weighing his choices and considering everything, all for the sake of his companions. Yet what about the others? They were just enjoying life without a worry in the world. All they had to concern themselves with was learning new skills, buying better equipment, and becoming stronger. And though they had gotten stronger, they were still the bottom of the barrel as far as reserve force soldiers went. Just because they had killed Deathpatch, and Kemuri from the Daybreakers had bought them a round of drinks, it didn’t mean that they were top class or anything.
Because it wasn’t their fighting ability or skill that had defeated Deathpatch, but sheer dumb luck. And that was something Haruhiro must never forget.
Why didn’t any of the others understand something that simple? It was only Haruhiro. Only Haruhiro realized that it was pure blind luck that had saved them. Was it really okay to leave things like this? Overconfidence was dangerous and led to horrible things. The others should understand that, but everyone was…
“Ugh, screw this!” he grunted, ruffling his hands through his hair.
It had become really aggravating thinking in circles like this. If everyone was fine with it, then that was good enough for him. As he started to get up, he heard some sort of sound coming from down the hallway. It was the sound of footsteps. Someone was coming his way from the direction of the entrance.
He could barely make out the shapes from the dim light of the lamp. Two people, both girls, but it didn’t look like Yume and Shihoru. New arrivals, maybe? He had heard that there was a new group of reserve force rookies around. He had almost bumped into two or three of the guys at the baths, but this was the first time he saw the girls. Maybe now would be a good time to go back to his room.
Haruhiro didn’t move, however. So what if they were girls? He should at least check if they were cute or not and if he got lucky, maybe they would become friends and could even get to know each other… privately. He couldn’t deny that he kinda sorta had an ulterior motive of that sort, but he didn’t admit it either. Well, whatever. He stayed crouched against the wall, not looking in the girls’ direction but purposely keeping his gaze focused on the wall in front of him so he wouldn’t look like he was just staring off into space or something.
That’s what he was going for, anyway. Am I just being stupid? he wondered. The girls must be thinking that he was a weirdo or something. He could tell by the sound of their footfalls that they were approaching him cautiously.
It’s okay, I’m harmless, Haruhiro said inwardly. Come closer, I’m not going to do anything, so no need to worry… But if he wasn’t going to do anything, then he should have left before they approached. Things were way weirder this way, but it wasn’t completely unheard of, right? It happened from time to time, right? Yes.
The two girls were passing him now—had passed him—when one of them suddenly stopped. Why did she stop? What was going on? Had they noticed that he was there?
Haruhiro looked up at them. He was right; the girl with bob-cut style hair was staring at him, wide-eyed. In fact, her eyes were so wide that it seemed as if her eyeballs would fall out at any moment. He noticed that she had dark circles under her eyes. Pouty lips and a stand-offish air about her gave Haruhiro the distinct impression that she was the hard to approach type. Yet Haruhiro found himself slightly fascinated.
And why was she staring at him so intently?
“Choco?” the other girl whispered, putting a hand on bob-cut girl’s shoulder. She was tall with short hair. “What’s the matter?”
“Um…” Haruhiro replied instead of bob-cut girl. “’Choco?’”
Choco… that name…
“Yes?” Bob-cut girl replied, tilting her head to one side.
…He was crouched in front of a large, glowing box-like object. Someone was standing next to him. Bob-girl. Choco. That was her name…
Huh? What was that just now? He couldn’t remember. He didn’t know. But… Choco. Choco. He knew the name. Just the name? No, more than that. He remembered those eyes and the dark circles under them. Those pouty lips. He remembered her bob-cut style, short hair. He knew her.
“Um… you see…” he started, but didn’t know what to say.
What could he say? Could he ask her, Do you know me? or something like that? If she recognized him though, she would have said something already. But this didn’t feel like two people meeting again after not having seen each other for a while. She was staring at him, as if something about him had caught her attention. The same way he was staring back at her. If that was the case then…
The other girl stepped between them. “Since you’re here, that means you’re also a Crimson Moon member, right? Do you need Choco for something?”
“No,” Haruhiro replied. “It’s not that…”
“Then we’re leaving,” the other girl declared.
“Ah, okay,” Haruhiro said.
“Let’s go, Choco,” the girl prompted, and Choco replied, “Okay.”
The two of them left briskly, but before they disappeared from sight, Choco turned to look at Haruhiro. Their eyes met. But Choco quickly spun back around. Haruhiro might have made her uneasy, maybe surprised her a little. Perhaps even really surprised her.
“Choco…” Haruhiro whispered.
And if Choco could hear him, it probably would have made her feel even more ill at ease. Could she really be the same person?
“Nah,” Haruhiro told himself. “It’s gotta be a coincidence.”