Chapter 15:

Crossing Paths with Chronoa

It’s My First Time Working Late Nights at a Convenience Store, and If I Keep Getting Demon Lords, Kappa and Other Oddballs as Customers, I’m Giving My Two-Weeks’ Notice

“Chronoa? That’s the name of...the demon lord’s missing mai-...”Bookmark here

I don’t realize that I’ve mumbled that out loud until it’s too late. Chronoa suddenly vanishes — only to reappear almost instantly, right in front of me.Bookmark here

“Yeeeek!” Bookmark here

She grabs my face, pressing my cheeks between her hands as she stares directly into my eyes.   Bookmark here

“Did you just...utter the name ‘Demon Lord’? What do you know of him, hm? It’s not nothing, is it? It can’t be. You must know something.”Bookmark here

Her fingers dig into my cheeks, with enough force to leave a mark. She leans in, until she’s only inches away from my face, her wide, jet black eyes gazing at me with such fierce supplication that I start to seriously consider spilling the beans. Bookmark here

Wait, no. That’s a terrible idea. Bookmark here

According to Sheri, Chronoa’s the reason why the demon lord became an entitled, lazy brat. Bookmark here

She’d rather that they didn’t meet up — and I applaud her good sense. I’d much rather respect her wishes.Bookmark here

“Nope. Haven’t a clue.”Bookmark here

“Why, that can’t be true. I can see it in your eyes. Come now, don’t look away.”Bookmark here

“H-Hey, I said I didn’t know...!”  Bookmark here

Ding-a-ling-a-ling...  Bookmark here

The friendly chime of the automatic doors is music to my ears.Bookmark here

Just as I turn to look over at a very confused Lord Nobunaga, Chronoa suddenly leaps away from me.Bookmark here

I hear the whistle of rushing wind as a large, silver sickle whips past my ear.Bookmark here

Having distanced herself with incredible speed, Chronoa comes to a skidding stop on the tile floor, her eyes widening once she gets a good look at the latest arrival.Bookmark here

“Goodness, no one told me that people in this realm walked around with such dangerous objects. I thought this was a civilized setting.”Bookmark here

After a quick glance over at the sharp blade embedded in the wall, I’m pretty sure I know who our new challenger is.Bookmark here

“...Ayame?”  Bookmark here

Standing in between the automatic doors is the kuchisake-onna, her hair practically standing on end from the force of the blood-thirsty aura that’s radiating from her entire body. I finally got her name the last time we met...along with another firm warning to stay away from other women, human or otherwise. Bookmark here

Oh my god, she’s going to murder Chronoa.  Bookmark here

This convenience store’s seconds away from turning into an actual blood-soaked battlefield! Bookmark here

“Ayame, just c-calm down...” Bookmark here

My attempt at communication goes in one ear and out the other, as she stalks towards the register like some kind of wild animal, muttering to herself the whole time. Bookmark here

The closer she gets, the clearer I can hear her mumbling.Bookmark here

“You k-k-kissed MY Haru. I won’t forgive you for that. I CAN’T forgive you for that. You’re dead to me. I’ll rip you apart with my bare hands if I have to. Die. Die. Die. DIE. DIE. DIE. DIE. DIE. DIE. DIE. DIE. DIE.”Bookmark here

...Yeah, I can see how it could’ve looked like that from a distance.Bookmark here

This is bad. This is really bad. What should I do?Bookmark here

“Listen, Ayame — that’s not what happened. This is all just a big misunderstanding, okay? There wasn’t a kiss or anything like that.” Bookmark here

She storms right up to the counter, planting her feet in front of me. I’m telling the truth, but...Bookmark here

“Says the man shamelessly smooching complete strangers. I’d never forgive you if you touched another woman, yet there you were, inches away from her face, ‘discussing’ goodness knows what. My, you sure are popular, Haru. And always so happy to help the female clientele. First, it was feeding them, but now I see that you’ve extended Or is this an everyday occurrence for people in your position? ...Indecent encounters with the customers, that is.”Bookmark here

It’s totally not!Bookmark here

If random women regularly dropped by convenience stores in the dead of night to make out with the staff, then you’d have nothing but horny guys working the graveyard shift!Bookmark here

I mean, I can dream, but...Bookmark here

“I told you, nothing happened!”Bookmark here

“Ah... I see what this is about. I suppose he is a charming fellow, in his own way. However, you needn’t fear. I haven’t the slightest interest in this Haru of yours.”Bookmark here

From the second she entered the store, through to when she asked about the demon lord, Chronoa’s expression hasn’t budged. She turns to Ayame, addressing her with the same cool indifference.Bookmark here

I let out a sigh of relief. At least someone here is listening to reason.Bookmark here

“Did you just say aren’t the least bit moved by my sweet, loveable, kind and handsome Haru? ...Are you trying to insult him?”Bookmark here

Whoa, just stop escalating things! Bookmark here

I can’t handle any more of these bombshells!! Bookmark here

“I wouldn’t dream of it. I already have a beloved. In any case, I won’t stay where I’m so clearly not wanted. And my departure may give you a chance to quell your rage, young miss.”Bookmark here

Still just as stone-faced as before, Chronoa carefully approaches Ayame — before quickly stepping right around her to grab one of my arms in a tight squeeze, whispering in my ear.Bookmark here

“You can be sure that I’ll be seeing you again. After all - you still have to tell me what you know about the Demon Lord.”Bookmark here

The coy smile she flashes Ayame (complete with giggle) is the last straw.Bookmark here

“...You apologize right now, or else I’ll...!”Bookmark here

Ayame points an accusing finger at Chronoa, who shrugs.Bookmark here

“I simply felt like emulating the women that I’ve seen on midday dramas — particularly the ones who cause trouble for the happy couples.”Bookmark here

Despite her expressionless delivery, Chronoa does manage to seem pretty pleased with herself. That doesn’t sit well with Ayame, who lashes out to teach her a lesson. Chronoa nimbly avoids the irate kuchisake-onna, hurrying off to collect a (still) very bemused Lord Nobunaga. Then, with a quick wink at me, she’s gone in the blink of an eye.Bookmark here

“Whew... I don’t know what her deal is, but she sure is intense...”Bookmark here

...Which is exactly what Sheri had warned me about. Bookmark here

Chronoa’s consistently emotionless tone of voice and complete lack of facial expressions make it almost impossible to get a read on her true intentions, but... The one thing I do know is that she definitely set the demon lord down the road to ruin. He’d be much better off if they didn’t ever meet up again.Bookmark here

“...Haru.”Bookmark here

I hear my name spoken in a voice so low, it makes my shoulders tense up.Bookmark here

“Uh...yeah?” Bookmark here

Yep, she’s angry. Ayame is most certainly pissed off. Knowing her, she probably wants to know what Chronoa whispered in my ear — and she’s not going to believe me, no matter what I tell her.Bookmark here

When I finally, very slowly, rather reluctantly, and incredibly nervously turn around to face her, I’m shocked to see tears streaming down from those gorgeous eyes of hers.Bookmark here

“Whoa, Ayame! What’s wrong?! Why are you crying?!”Bookmark here

“...Wh-When I thought that woman was going to steal you away, I couldn’t help it... After all, I know I’m impossible to deal with... Just an awful woman... And my mouth is hideous...” Bookmark here

Ayame trails off, self-consciously covering her face before she continues.Bookmark here

“I’ve had so many men try and flirt with me over the years... They’d act all sweet while my mask was up, but they’d shriek as soon as they saw my face! They’d yell at me to stay away from them, or they’d act like they were going to kill me... Even if I told them I loved them, they all betrayed me in the end.”Bookmark here

I listen to Ayame with my eyes screwed shut, focusing on her story as she talks through her tears, her head hanging low.Bookmark here

“But, Haru, you... You’re the only one who hasn’t called me ugly. Or said that I’m a monster. Th-That’s why...I’ve fallen in love with you. Does that...bother you? Do you...hate me?”Bookmark here

I pull Ayame into a hug without a second thought. Bookmark here

“No, I don’t. I don’t hate you at all.”Bookmark here

“You...don’t? Even though I’m always stalking you, I’m unbelievably obsessive, and my face is so grotesque?”Bookmark here

I feel my eyes start to water as she wraps her arms around me, squeezing tightly enough to snap my spine in two. She must have been carrying the scars of those insults for so long.Bookmark here

“You’ve gotten me out of a few bad situations, though. And, you even had the guts to tell me that you like me. I think that makes you as brave as you are beautiful, Ayame.”Bookmark here

“Thank you... Haru.” Bookmark here

My words must’ve gotten through to her, because Ayame takes off her mask, giving me a warm, gentle smile.Bookmark here

It’s the most stunning smile I’ve ever seen.Bookmark here

Once Ayame leaves, I turn back to the hole in the wall that her sickle has left, wondering how I’m going to explain that one to my manager.Bookmark here

While I’m weighing my options, the door to the break room opens with a slow creak. My manager slips out from behind it, his eyes bright red.Bookmark here

He sets a heavy hand on my shoulder and says... Bookmark here

“I hope...the two of you are happy together.”Bookmark here

My manager gives me a thumbs up — which is easily the most shocking event of the entire evening.Bookmark here

He heard all that?!Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.