Chapter 1:

Saving the Cat

Lovable Days with Youkai

Personally, I couldn’t think of any challenge more difficult than this.Bookmark here

Confessing to the most beautiful girl in school.Bookmark here

Himeno Aika was seated at her desk, shuffling her notes into neat piles and carefully sliding them into her bag. Each of her movements were elegant, demonstrative of her noble upbringing as a wealthy ojou-sama. Her long, silky black hair fell like a curtain, the strands as dark as night. Her wintry, gray eyes glanced up intensely, stopping any guy foolish enough to approach her cold. She radiated a murderous aura that warned us that she was busy with her duties as the student council president, and anyone dumb enough to get in the way of her job would be frozen to death.Bookmark here

There was a reason why they called her the ice queen. Her glacial gaze would chill us to the bone.Bookmark here

Ice queen? More like demon queen.Bookmark here

Still, I couldn’t back down. I could hear my friends whistling behind me, whooping and whispering their encouragement. I cursed myself for accepting the bet over an hour ago. Ah, how confident I had been, thinking it would be but a simple matter to crush my opponents in a game of wits. They didn’t call me the nerd for nothing.Bookmark here

Except that there was nothing flattering about being a nerd. Too late, I realized that being a nerd didn’t mean being a genius. If anything, it simply meant I looked dorky.Bookmark here

Not that I blamed anyone. With my huge, thick glasses, messy dark hair and overly neat appearance, I was the very portrait of the stereotypical nerd. It didn’t help that I kept my nose hidden behind a book half the time. People couldn’t get a good read on me because I was too busily reading. Ha ha! Get it?Bookmark here

…never mind. Anyway, you get the picture.Bookmark here

In any event, my confidence was shattered along with my electronic avatar, the little pixels that made up in in-game character transforming into shiny fragments. I had stared at the screen of my smartphone in disbelief, the gears in my brain whirring loudly as they tried to process the impossible fact.Bookmark here

I had lost. In a game of Destiny Grand Chaos. To my no-name classmates.Bookmark here

“Inposshibiru!” I hollered, throwing my hands up – as well as my smartphone. It took a swift scramble to catch it before it could test its legendary fragility against the merciless floor. A Nokia, this was not.Bookmark here

Unfortunately, when I glanced up, I saw the mocking grins of my classmates as they looked down upon me. As much as I was tempted to wipe the grins off their smug faces, I knew that if we got into a fight, they would be the ones mopping the floor with me.Bookmark here

Not at all enthusiastic to serve as a cleaning rag, I had folded and agreed. Since I had accepted the bet, I had to man up and endure the forfeit too.Bookmark here

So I withstood the full blast of Himeno’s icy glare and bravely made my way toward her.Bookmark here

However, she held up a hand before I could say anything.Bookmark here

“If you’re going to confess to me, don’t.”Bookmark here

She turned to glare at the guys behind me, causing them to shiver uncontrollably.Bookmark here

“I don’t care what kind of bet you made with those idiots, but leave me out of it.”Bookmark here

With that, she rose from her seat, picked up her bag, and left the classroom. Probably to head to the student council room. Well, wherever she went, it was none of my business.Bookmark here

Trudging back to my seat, I dropped down and covered my head with a groan. My so-called friends fled and huddled with each other at the back of the classroom, trying to warm themselves up after receiving Himeno’s death stare. I didn’t blame them. In fact, I was glad I avoided getting the full blast. I would probably become a popsicle at such close range.Bookmark here

“Are you all right, Kenji?”Bookmark here

Wagatsuma Kei approached me, looking concerned. I glanced up at my good friend, feeling a lot better already. A cute, angelic face, framed by golden blond curls. A slender frame that looked good in a baggy uniform. That concerned expression and sweet, overwhelming kindness. Those melodic words that soothed my soul.Bookmark here

“Yeah, I’m all right.”Bookmark here

“You got shot down hard, huh? Sorry.”Bookmark here

“No, it’s not your fault. In fact, the person I love isn’t Himeno Aika. It’s you, Kei.”Bookmark here

“Huh? EH!?”Bookmark here

Dropping to my knees, I held Kei’s hand and boldly proposed.Bookmark here

“Please marry me.”Bookmark here

“I…I’m afraid I can’t!” Kei waved frantically. “I appreciate your feelings, but it’s impossible between us.”Bookmark here

“Aw…I thought it was worth a try, though.”Bookmark here

Despite being gently rejected by Kei, I didn’t feel too down about it. My friend was right. It was impossible between us for one reason.Bookmark here

Kei was a straight guy. I didn’t care if Kei was a guy or not, but Kei was attracted only to girls.Bookmark here

Oh, well. Not that much of a big loss. I could accept that much.Bookmark here

“Human girls are terrifying,” I complained, resting my head on my desk. I clutched my smartphone and opened up Destiny Grand Chaos. The heroines I had gotten through gatcha lined up on my screen, their warm smiles mending my broken heart. “As expected, 2D girls are the best.”Bookmark here

“That’s not right,” Kei admonished me. I couldn’t help but smile dreamily. Even when he tried to look stern, Kei looked cute as well. “Kenji, you need to wake up to reality. You can’t marry fictional characters!”Bookmark here

“Who said anything about marrying them?” I retorted. “I’m not that far gone. Even I can tell apart reality and fiction.”Bookmark here

Also, I wasn’t that into the game. As much as I loved the game, I preferred the storyline. Also, I had more male characters than female characters simply because I loved their background stories more. It was just that the few heroines I had were beautifully drawn.Bookmark here

If only I could draw like the artists behind their character designs…Bookmark here

“Oh, I should hurry.” Kei stood up and checked the time on his smartphone. I raised my head to watch him leave.Bookmark here

“Tennis club?”Bookmark here

“You know it.” Kei winked. “I’ll really recommend that you join us.”Bookmark here

“Nah.” I shook my head. “I’m not a big fan of sports clubs. I prefer my time in the go-home club.”Bookmark here

Kei rolled his eyes. Then he blinked, as if recalling something. “Weren’t you in the kendo club once? What happened to that?”Bookmark here

“Uh, the kendo club? Well…to be blunt, I found the seniors to be too…sharp with their words.” I grimaced at the memory. As keen as I was in honing my blade skills, I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the hierarchal relation where the seniors basically ordered the juniors about like we were slaves. In fact, that was why I didn’t want to join any clubs.Bookmark here

Picking my bag up, I headed home. Moving down the corridor, I watched my schoolmates gather for their various club activities. There was a good number who were like me, going straight home because they wisely chose to forsake tedious socialization and pretentious team bonding. What was it that they said regarding team spirit? Like hell a nerd like me would have a ghost of a chance to fit in a team.Bookmark here

Those illusions had been mercilessly cut down by ruthless seniors whose priority was victory over all else.Bookmark here

Sullenly, I made my way through the courtyard. In the middle, I paused and glanced to my right. The dojo looked the same as ever, and I could hear the clatter of bamboo blades even from this distance. My hands itched and my fingers curled, as if holding a shinai.Bookmark here

Well, if I really wanted to wield a bamboo blade, I could do it at home. My dad ran a kenjutsu dojo. Though we didn’t have many disciples, I appreciated the space and solitude. Often, I could vent some steam by practicing by myself in the dojo.Bookmark here

Some people might disagree, but I thought it was a huge bonus for me to have the dojo all to myself.Bookmark here

Yeah, that sounded like a good idea. I should just go home and use my dad’s dojo. Dad was probably at work at the moment, stuck in his office. His main career, I suppose. The dojo master thing was just a side job, something he did for fun.Bookmark here

Given that he was unable to recruit any disciples, that was probably for the best.Bookmark here

Scratching my head, I sighed. Strolling home, I knitted my fingers behind my head and glanced up at the bright, blue sky. Even though it was spring, I didn’t feel like I was enjoying the springtime of my youth.Bookmark here

My musings were interrupted by a loud bark, which was accompanied by a frightened meow. Turning around, I caught sight of a massive mastiff snarling and growling at an extremely frightened cat with pinkish fur. It was pretty small, curled up on a branch of a nearby tree while the mastiff continued to bark and hound the poor thing. The cat retreated along the branch, trying to make itself as small as possible, but the mastiff was persistent.Bookmark here

“Hey!” I yelled, moving over. Honestly, I was more of a dog person, and I wasn’t that fond of cats, but I disliked seeing bullying even more.Bookmark here

The mastiff turned to glower at me. Good lord, but the thing was huge. Like I said, I normally liked dogs…when they weren’t barking at me. But this mastiff appeared almost rabid, slavering and revealing rows of sharp fangs that resembled knives.Bookmark here

Seeing the murderous glint in its eyes, I was certain that it would have no hesitation biting me.Bookmark here

And it lunged forward, barking furiously. The bastard was going to pounce on me. Diving to the side, I just narrowly dodged a fatal bite. If the mastiff was suffering from rabies, I definitely did not want to get bitten by it. Needing to get a shot for rabies wasn’t fun.Bookmark here

Rolling across the grass, I picked up a thick branch. Good. I could use it. Holding it up in both hands, I adopted a stance. Praying that my movements hadn’t gotten wooden and my skills with the blade hadn’t dulled, I waited for my foe to come to me.Bookmark here

The dog pounced and I waited for the perfect moment before I swung the branch. It connected with the mastiff’s head loudly, the thunderous crack resounding across the clearing. The mastiff landed on the ground with a whine, flailing about. Flipping itself to its feet, it cast one terrified glance at me – or to be more precise, the branch in my hands – before it bounded away in the opposite direction.Bookmark here

“Hmph. What a coward.”Bookmark here

Then again, what did I expect? All bullies were cowards. They only picked on targets they perceived to be weaker than them. Frankly, I knew I resembled a soft victim, being skinny and of average height. Maybe that was why my seniors disdained me, even though I had years of experience of learning the sword in my dad’s dojo.Bookmark here

Well, their loss.Bookmark here

Turning to the cat, I dropped the branch and gestured to it. “You’re safe now.”Bookmark here

The cat let out a meow before landing on the ground gracefully and slinking away without a second glance. I couldn’t tell if it was grateful or not, but that was typical feline behavior. That was why I liked dogs more…as long as they weren’t trying to bite me like that fuzzy, rabid mastiff.Bookmark here

Even though I didn’t regret rescuing the cat, I still sighed wearily. Rotating my wrists, I stared at the branch I had just discarded. Seemed like I still had it in me. Then again, even after quitting the kendo club, I had continued to practice in dad’s dojo, so I would be ashamed if I had somehow blunted my own skills.Bookmark here

“Let’s go,” I muttered to myself and turned toward the direction of my home. As I did so, however, I thought I noticed movement at the corner of my eye. Whirling about, I stared at the trees that clustered around the other side of the road.Bookmark here

Funny. I could have sworn I saw someone darting into the shadows. Was I being watched? By who?Bookmark here

Shaking my head and deciding not to overthink it, I didn’t waste any time lingering about. Pushing my glasses up my nose, I headed home.
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