The grand event at the end of the camping trip was the fireworks show that happened that night.
It wasn’t something the school organized, of course. It was part of a tradition from a nearby town, but it just so happened that the fireworks could be seen perfectly from the mountain where the camp was located, so it sort of had become part of the camping trip’s tradition, too.
Because of its romantic nature, it wasn’t uncommon that those who survived the evil nature of the trip - that is, those that did not end up completely hating the other students, would end up watching the fireworks privately with a special person.
None of the six kids chosen by Cupid had this in mind whatsoever at the beginning of the weekend.
Romance was something they all had given up.
By the third day, however, their minds had slightly changed.
They spent most of the day nervously talking to each other, participating in the banal activities orchestrated by the teachers, with one single event hanging over their heads like the sword of Damocles - the fireworks at night.
Before they knew it, the sun was already setting on the horizon.
The redder the sky turned, the faster their hearts seemed to beat.
The teachers had set up two small plywood stands where they were serving the exact same food as the one found inside the kitchen, but something about serving it outside made it more exciting—almost like a festival.
The boys had changed into their outfits for the night, and it seemed like they were all lost in their own little worlds.
It was still around an hour before dusk.
The fireworks were supposed to go out at night.
Everyone had split up to do their own thing, but Yusei ran into Julius when he returned to the cabin for something.
Julius looked at Yusei as he fixed the buttons on his cuffs, ready to go out.
“...Wilde,” he smiled.
Yusei looked at him from top to bottom.
“You’re all dressed up, aren’t you.”
“So are you.”
“Shut up. They told us it was mandatory to bring something formal.”
“You could have decided not to wear it anyway,” Julius shrugged.
Yusei scoffed and looked away.
“Everyone else is wearin’ shit like this, it’d be weird to be the only one not to.”
“Oh?” Julius stepped closer. “Since when do you care what others think?”
“Hah!? Who says I do!?”
“You did, just now.”
“You wouldn’t be doing it to impress a certain pink-haired girl, would you?”
“Wh-Wha– I— N-No!” Yusei stammered with his usual angry face. “So!? W-What about you?”
“Hm? I always dress like this. It just so happened that this camp wasn’t appropriate for it.”
“It’s true,” Julius remarked.
“Whatever. You’re so full of shit.”
“Think what you wish,” Julius headed to the door, tying his formal shoes. “And even if you were right, would there be any merit in it? In dressing up to impress someone, that is.”
“What are you going on about now?” Yusei raised an eyebrow.
Julius didn’t turn to look at him.
“Under our circumstances, it simply doesn’t feel appropriate, doesn’t it?”
Yusei paused for a moment.
He knew what he meant; Julius was referring to the game.
“...Maybe. But…” Yusei scratched the back of his head, looking out the window at the bright sun outside with a smile.
“...We’re alive right now, ain’t we? Even hopeless guys like us should get to enjoy our youth.”
Julius straightened up and looked at him.
He couldn’t help but smile a little as well.
“Wow, Airi! You look so elegant!”
“Fufu, so do you, Agatha.”
The girls had changed into their outfits for the day, as well. Their clothes, hair, and makeup took more time than the boys, so they were all helping each other out.
Agatha’s glasses fogged up when Airi complimented her.
“A-Aahh… I’m not used to hearing my name from a pretty girl…”
Rika was done first, and was sitting on the bed with her legs apart, sucking on a lollipop. Her eyes kept going from Airi to Agatha.
“It’s not fair, man. You both have big boobs so everything looks good on you. Meanwhile I look like a scarecrow with clothes.”
“Don’t say that, Rika!” Emma jumped at her side, half-dressed. “All scarecrows wear clothes!”
“And a big chest can be inconvenient, too,” Airi said in a compassionate tone.
“Tch,” Rika clicked her tongue. “Neither of you know how to show empathy the right way!”
Agatha walked over to Emma to help her get into her clothes.
“Emma… Do you need to be a janitor, even today?”
“Doesn’t it bother you? You could ask for just this night off…”
“It’s fine! I can see the fireworks even if I’m holding a broom!”
“That’s not the problem…”
Emma’s enthusiasm made Agatha feel a little guilty.
“By the way, Dumas,” Airi looked at Rika. “Are you watching the fireworks with anyone?”
“Since you combed your hair for once.”
Rika looked away with a blush, dismissing Airi with her hand.
Agatha finished helping Emma with a long sigh.
“Aaah… that’s right… The fireworks are the most romantic event of the evening… I’m so jealous of you two...”
Airi and Rika simply toyed with their hair and clothes with a hint of giddiness.
Emma turned around to look at Agatha with a bright smile.
“We can watch them together, Agatha!”
“E-Emma… W-Won’t you be busy cleaning up?”
“But if I see you, I’ll stand next to you!”
“Ahaha… That’s not so much of a plan as it is just… hoping to run into each other, but… considering I never thought I’d get to watch them with anyone, I’ll be more than happy to, yeah!”
Emma and Agatha held hands, quickly jumping up and down in place.
They looked like they were having a good time.
Rika elbowed Airi playfully.
“...Look at that. We both lost, didn’t we?”
Airi gave her a cute smile in return.
“Fufu… I wonder.”
“Cupid. You’ll burn a hole through the screen if you stare at it so intensely.”
Jophiel had come to check on Cupid again, who had turned the Grand Hall of Heaven into a giant, infinite field of white flowers that extended as far as the eye could see.
The giant floating screen was still there.
His floating bed was gone, replaced by a hammock hanging from the blue sky, held up from a point too high above to be seen by two giant vines covered in flowers.
He was sitting on it while holding a pair of opera glasses.
“Hush, Jophiel. I’m getting to the good part.”
He lowered the binoculars to look at her, smiling deviously.
“Don’t you get it? I gave them romantic settings, forced encounters in the woods, sent them a bat, rigged their sleeping arrangements… All for this moment. The part where my project grows wings!”
“...There’s a part like that?”
“Indeed, my eyebally friend!”
“Please don’t call me that.”
Cupid ignored her and pointed at the screen where the six of them could be seen at the same point in time.
“This is where they finally realize why I put them through the wringer. This… is where they learn to be special.”
Cupid’s eyes were practically shining.
Jophiel exhaled, turning her head to the screen.
Cupid conjured a bowl of warm, buttery popcorn into her hands, startling her.
“Sit back and relax, honey! You’re about to witness a youthful love story unlike any other develop right in front of your eyes, courtesy of yours truly.”
Cupid forgot she had no mouth from which to eat.
But Jophiel couldn’t find it in herself to reproach him after seeing how happy he looked.
“...Selfish as always,” she muttered fondly.
The sort-of-festival-but-not-really had begun some time in the afternoon.
Everyone was in high-spirits, and despite the subpar food and events, it sounded like they were all having fun: the top students and the delinquents were both enjoying themselves equally, sometimes even with each other.
Despite their differences before coming here and the reputation the camp had, they were all singing and dancing together, racing each other from one cabin to another, or simply talking.
It was going better than anyone anticipated, especially the teachers, who were grateful they didn’t have to break any fights… until they did.
At some point, some delinquents started fighting and chaos reigned again, keeping the faculty members busy.
This was a good thing for the students not involved in the fights, however. All they had in mind was the fireworks show and their rosy-colored evening to come.
It was getting close to sundown when Ren was changing into his formal wear in the cabin on his own.
Julius and Yusei left earlier, Ren suspected they went to spend time with the girls.
Adam had left in his uniform even earlier than that. He refused to eat together with them and seemed even quieter after he came back from the hot springs last night.
But that wasn’t in Ren’s mind at that moment.
As he fixed his cuffs, he couldn’t stop thinking of the cave.
Back there, he thought he lost Emma, only to miraculously get her back.
A moment later he had the perfect opportunity to finally confess his feelings to her and he wasted it.
He completely, utterly wasted it.
A hammer made of indestructible regret had been hitting him on the head ever since.
But Ren, just as everyone else, was also looking forward to the fireworks at night.
If there was ever a time to be honest, this was it.
As he readied himself to leave, he noticed something crumpled under the bed.
He leaned down to reach for it.
It was a piece of thick paper that had been crinkled with such force it was almost hard to undo.
Once he did, he was faced with a familiar drawing of a familiar face.
There’s this bad feeling again…
He tossed the piece of paper over the shared bed before quickly exiting towards the noisy camping grounds.
The fights that broke out constantly, as well as the careless students eating on the grounds, left a lot of work for Emma, who had been working hard cleaning all the garbage and leftovers as quickly as she could.
Despite it all, she didn’t look tired or disappointed, although she did have some trouble moving sometimes because of her dress.
Whenever someone walked by laughing with their friends, she’d laugh along with them. When someone danced in the distance, she’d also dance along.
It got her in trouble sometimes, but in her head, she was as much a part of this trip as anyone else.
She was cleaning behind one of the food stalls the moment it was free when a voice suddenly startled her from behind.
She whipped around quickly, then relaxed the moment she saw who it was.
“Adam! I didn’t see you there! What’s up?”
Adam was holding the horned beetle carefully sandwiched between his hands, with its horn sticking out between his fingers.
“Ah! Is that Gregor!?”
“I want to return it to the woods.”
The other girls had explained to Emma that beetles live in the woods, so she wasn’t truly ‘rescuing’ Gregor - rather, she took it from its home, and was better off setting him free.
Still, it made her a little sad.
“Come with me,” Adam said, turning around and starting to walk into the woods.
“Eh? But I’m cleaning—”
He turned halfway to look at her with a bone-chilling look in his sharp eyes.
Emma was frozen in place.
This was the first time she’d hear him sound so scary.
From a few feet away, hidden behind a tree, Agatha had witnessed the entire scene.
She saw Emma helplessly walk behind him and head away from the main camp and into the path on the woods they had taken the day before.
She bit what was left of her nails.
Ren looked up at the hint of sunset coloring the sky when he stepped out of the cabin, exhaling softly.
He didn’t have time to gather his thoughts before a rush of quick footsteps snapped him out of it.
Agatha approached him at full speed, looking pale as a ghost.
She didn’t break on time and almost collapsed onto him.
Ren steadied her as best as he could while Agatha took in some concerning shallow breaths, her glasses all foggy.
She held onto his arms with a strong grip, trembling nonstop.
Her eyes were full of panic.
She was trying to catch her breath at the same time as she spoke.
“You gotta come quick… Emma… Emma is…”
The moment he heard her name, Ren was also filled with panic.
Did something happen to Emma!?