Chapter 42:

Stranger Still


Yuki and Saki could only manage shock at hearing that Chiharu was the granddaughter of this elderly man. “Granddaughter?!” they said together.

Chiharu was visibly bothered by the attention as well as the reactions. “Grandfather! This is none of their business!”

“Don’t be rude, Chiharu! They’re our guests.”

The stunned reaction for Yuki was quickly passed by his own realization of a fact that he found too amazing to ignore. “So this house is yours, Chiharu? That’s so cool!” Saki was quick to snap out of her paralysis when she heard Yuki acting like his usual self. She stepped in and elbowed him again to get him to be quiet. “Saki!?”

The elderly man smiled and laughed, finding the scene to be enjoyable. “My, you have some lively friends, Chiharu.”

“They aren’t my friends! I would never associate with that weakling!”

Chiharu’s grandfather continued to smile and turned to look down at the young students. “Well let’s begin this properly. I’m Masahiko Chinen.”

Chapter 42 – Stranger Still

Yuki snapped back to reality seeing that there was a need for introductions. He stood up next to Saki looking straight forward to the old man. “I’m Yuki Hayashi, sir!”

“Saki Furukawa…”

They looked over at the still silent boy putting all of the attention on him hoping that the pressure would make him speak. However, the efforts didn’t seem to be necessary as he willingly gave his name, finally. “Haruo Yoneda…”

‘Haruo, huh?’ Yuki thought as he was glad to finally have a name to his face.

Saki turned her head back towards the front taking it in. ‘Haruo Yoneda… He’s got our school uniform, but I don’t recognize the name. I guess we do have a large school though…’ She had hoped hearing a name would have sparked something in her mind to know who the boy was, but he remained a mystery to her even now.

Masahiko nodded as he heard the names and smiled back. He gave them a warm voice keeping with the kind grandfather appearance that he projected. “All fine names. Well then. As I’ve said you’re our guests for the evening. I would like to apologize for the manner in which you had to be brought here, but our family is well known and wealthy making us the target of many enemies. Considering how you met my granddaughter, we had to be cautious, but any suspicions have been dropped. So as recompense for your troubles I welcome you to my home and have a fine dinner prepared for you.”

“Dinner?!” Yuki said with his eyes growing wide and immediately being drawn in by the idea of having a banquet feast in a fancy mansion.

Saki sighed knowing that it would be his reaction to the idea of food. He had already forgotten or forgiven everything that happened. “That’s such a gracious offer, but—“

“You don’t have to worry, Miss. We already contacted all of your families letting them know of what has happened. I spoke to them personally to assure them of your safety and that you’ll be our guests for the night. You’re welcome to call your families as well.”

It had seemed that the old man had planned out everything in advance. Saki stepped back, feeling her footing being taken out from underneath her. The way that it was being presented to them it didn't seem like he was going to take no for an answer.

“What’s wrong, Saki? He said he already talked to our families. So there’s nothing wrong with relaxing. It’s Saturday so we don’t have to worry about school either!” He was almost too excited to contain himself, but he could see that Saki was still having a difficult time with everything. This was a much more exciting time than they could be having somewhere else. “Come on, Saki!”

The whole heavy handed manner didn’t sit with her very well even with the nice grandfather look that he had. Saki couldn’t get rid of the unsettling feeling that she had about the house and the Chinen Clan. “Fine…” Yuki jumped over and hugged Saki.

They were escorted out of the chambers by Chiharu. She led them back to their room where they would wait. Only Masahiko remained, but out of the shadows of the wall behind Masahiko entered the aged man. Masahiko didn’t turn, but seemed to already know that he was present behind him. “So Tamotsu, what are your impressions of our guests?” The kind gentle expression faded away as more wrinkles seemed to develop in a stern look.

“They’re quite…energetic…”

“And the Hayashi boy?”

“He seems normal, but…”

“Yes, I couldn’t tell anything from looking at him. Either he’s a good actor or he’s a simple high school student. However, something about it reads too perfect. Everything that you expect to be there is, like it’s guiding you. At a glance, it looks normal, but I sense there’s something more to his story.”

“You think he’s from another Clan?”

“Unclear, what I’m sensing as training could just be a normal child. For now it’s only a groundless gut feeling, no sense overreacting yet…”

“I’ll monitor him from a distance, sir.” Tamotsu disappeared into the shadows of the chamber leaving Masahiko alone once more with a now pensive face. He raised his thin fingers to his face trying to understand his dilemma better.

When the dinner was ready for them they were called out with escort by Chiharu, still very much bothered by the whole affair. It was very traditional with them all sitting on the floor along a long dark oak table covered in a wide assortment of traditional Japanese food. The dinner went as expected with Yuki at the table. It was shared with Masahiko and Chiharu, but the others that they had seen were not present.

Yuki returned pleased from the dinner dropping on the mats with his stomach filled. He leaned his head back to look over across the floor at Haruo. “So you’re Haruo, huh? What class you in?” It hadn’t taken Yuki very long to recognize the uniform, but the boy remained unapproachable the entire time that starting a conversation proved to be difficult. The difficulty continued with Haruo remaining quiet in the corner. “Hmm…”

“Let him be, Yuki. ” Saki sat down at the table with very little to do. However, that quickly changed as the door slid open with the aged man, Tamotsu, at the entrance looking in at them. Saki was the first to stand and approach him, needing to do something. “Yes?”

“Mr. Chinen would like to inform you that the baths have been prepared for you. You will find clothes present in the rooms after you’re done. Please leave your uniforms to be cleaned.”

The door began to close as Tamotsu was leaving when Yuki jumped up no longer looking fatigued from the meal. “Who’s going first?!” He looked around the room checking the reactions, but he seemed to be the only one enthusiastic.

Tamotsu returned back to the entrance, briefly hearing Yuki. “I should let you know it is divided by gender and large enough for all of you.” He departed the room’s threshold disappearing into the halls.

“Well come on! Let’s go then. It’s no surprise that a place like this would have a huge bath.” Yuki grabbed up Haruo and dragged along Saki both protesting (one more loudly than the other). Their escort at the door showed them the way to the bath.

As they had been told it was divided with a clearly marked sign on both doors. Yuki waved to Saki as she entered, leaving the two of them to go on by themselves. Saki couldn't help the weird feeling that she was getting as she undressed. There was a modest yukata left on the counter that she noticed. ‘What’s going on? This seems to be a little much for an apology. Though Yuki would probably say that he is just a really nice old man that wants to be generous. He’s lost in the excitement…’

She grabbed a towel holding it close to herself feeling like she was at a public bath. However, when she stepped out into what she thought was going to be a bath she found that she was outside instead. She checked around suddenly feeling a little exposed, but saw the tall bamboo fence that gave the entire area privacy. In front of her was what looked like something she would find in a hot spring rather than a bath. Saki stepped forward feeling cautious and nervous knowing that this was someone else’s house.

“Who’s there?!” a young voice said, disturbing the water as they turned upon hearing Saki approach.

Saki jumped back, almost dropping her towel. She felt put on the spot being expected to give an answer to her intrusion to the girl that she could not see. “Umm…I was told that the baths were prepared for us and…”

“Oh it’s you,” Chiharu said, coming out of the shadows. She entered into the middle of the pool of water staring at Saki.

“Chiharu, I-I…” Saki froze on the spot, feeling the glaring look from Chiharu. She normally wouldn't have had a problem with Chiharu staring at her, but she felt more vulnerable at the moment. It didn't help that the glare felt like she was checking her out.

“You going to come in? You’ll catch a cold standing out in the night air…”

“Oh! Right!” Saki nodded and entered the water feeling the heat coming off of the surface as her legs got the immediate taste. She eased herself in still feeling like she was an uninvited guest from the stares. “Umm…this is an impressive bath.” Saki tried to smile and change the mood that left a thick tension in the air.

Chiharu settled down into the water resting at the edge of the bath. “Grandfather had it put in wanting to imitate an open air hot spring that he visited.”

“Oh I see!” Saki couldn't help but feel some of the impressive awe that Yuki showed by how wealthy her family had to be. “Your family must be very wealthy. What do they do?”

It was as though a taboo had been spoken. Chiharu’s look narrowed and tightened up, turning away from Saki. She sealed her lips not saying a single word. After that it didn't take a hint. She choked on her words trying to find something that would be safe to talk about. “Umm…You’re pretty strong, Chiharu…”

“So? What’s your point?”

Saki tried to smile, becoming uncomfortable and embarrassed with the flow of their chat. She couldn't remember how long it had been since she had this much trouble talking to someone. ‘If it was Yuki he’d just start saying whatever and manage to drag out a response…’ She focused back to Chiharu. “Who trained you?”


“Your grandfather? He must be really strong!”

“Yeah…but I’ll beat him one day. I promise you!”

Saki could see a slight glow in Chiharu’s eyes as she talked. She had found something that was easy to talk about. “What’ll you do when you beat him?”

“I’ll look for someone stronger!”

‘Sounds like a typical response.’ Saki couldn't help but grin a little at hearing the simplistic answer from Chiharu. She had her drive, Saki couldn’t deny that.

Chiharu shifted in the water and threw her hand up dismissively. “Well I guess I’ll take over as head of the clan, too.”

“Head of the clan? That sounds like a lot to place on you…”

“I’m the only heir to the clan. It’s my chosen duty…”

Saki felt a little confused and sorry for Chiharu. She didn't realize that she had such a weight that was placed on her at such a young age. However, there was something that still bothered her. “But what about your family? Your father and mother? Can’t they lead the clan?”

“They’re both dead.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”

“I don’t care. It happened a long time ago.” Chiharu’s voice was so cold and empty when she spoke about her parents. It almost seemed unnatural leaving a jarring aura through the bath. There was no caring in her voice, but Saki held her words for a minute as she stared.

Holding her words, Saki saw the maze ahead of her. The young girl held more mysteries and triggers. “You’re very strong, Chiharu. I don’t know if I could ever be the same…” Saki’s voice trailed off as her mind suddenly flashed to Yuki making her choke up. She closed her eyes regretting where her thoughts traveled.

“I’ve been trained to not have emotions. So it’s not a big deal. Besides, I hardly remember them.”

It sounded like some cliché from an action movie when Saki heard Chiharu say it. She couldn't really believe that it was true. The fact that Chiharu had some difficulties with people was clear, but not to allow emotions. ‘What sort of training is that?’ She stood up part way. “You can’t just get rid of them like they’re a possession! Emotions are necessary!”

“I don’t need them! They just make you weak!”

“They make you human!”

Chiharu narrowed her eyes at Saki. Uncertainty rose up through the tension as they held eye contact. She then broke it off and stood up from the water. “I’ve had enough of the bath for tonight…” The door of the bath slid open and closed quickly leaving Saki alone in the water to her thoughts.

The night passed on in solitude as Saki returned back to their room. Yuki and Haruo were already back waiting for her. They had been given sleeping arrangements and provided Saki with another room next to them for privacy. Yuki read his manga and Haruo remained his usual quiet self. Saki was left quiet, weighing her conversation with Chiharu on her mind. It made it difficult for her to sleep into the late hours as she stared at the ceiling.

‘There’s a lot that I’m missing about this family. That feeling still hasn’t gone away…’ Saki was finally getting sleepy and ready to close her eyes when there was a disturbance that brought her to her feet. She heard several people running by the room. Curiosity brought her to open the door of her room. ‘The guards are gone…’ She looked over to see that the noise had gotten Yuki up as well as he opened the door staring at her.

Suddenly Chiharu came running through the hall with an unmistakable look of shock on her face. Saki and Yuki agreed to themselves and followed behind her. They didn’t recognize most of the place, but eventually they came to a room that was stained with blood on the doors. Yuki and Saki had become more than accustomed to the sight that it barely fazed them until they looked in the room.

“Grandfather!!” Chiharu ran to Masahiko’s bedside where blood was pooling out from his lifeless body.