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Delta In The Darkness Chapter 1 Part2

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2

Takanas.h.i.+ Nerina got out of bed that morning at eight, went for a jog, then did some light calisthenics at the park. Every day he would come here, and every day he would encounter Negoro Kichiei. Today was no exception. Negoro was an a.s.sistant instructor at the Shaolin martial-arts dojo that Nerina attended. The two of them chatted for quite a bit, then Nerina left and trotted back to his apartment.

He made miso soup for breakfast. After that was done, he put on a little blush, did his lipstick, changed into a skirt, and headed out. Just as he was standing in the hallway and locking his door, he happened to notice an older woman exiting Horokusa Junpei's apartment directly to the right.

“Oh my, um…” The woman stared at Nerina in surprise. “You must be… a friend of Takanas.h.i.+'s?”

“No, I'm Takanas.h.i.+,” Nerina answered bluntly.

“Oh… Ah, then you're his sister?” The woman smiled and nodded.”

“No…” Nerina shook his head.

Their voices had apparently been overheard, as Horokusa was now opening the door and poking his head out.

“Hey there, Takanas.h.i.+,” Horokusa said with slightly more pomp than usual. “So um, this is Miss Odawara. Recognize the name? She's our landlord.”

“Oh, is that so…” Nerina said, lowering his head in a small bow. “Good day, Miss. Oh, actually, I just ran into Mister Negoro a little while ago.”

“Mister Negoro?” Odawara s.h.i.+zue tilted her head and frowned in thought.

“Yeah, Mister Negoro Kichiei who lives on the same property as you.”

“Ah, I see. You were referring to Kichiei. Yes, I see…” Odawara s.h.i.+zue smiled demurely and nodded. However, she was apparently still distracted, as she continued to stare fixedly at Nerina's face with wide eyes. Eventually, she turned to face Horokusa with a look that said, please help.

“I said he was a weird person, didn't I?” Horokusa said with a sardonic grin. “What do you think? How about entrusting the tutoring to this guy?”

Odawara s.h.i.+zue turned once again to stare intensely back at Nerina, as if evaluating him.

“Why exactly are you wearing that?” s.h.i.+zue asked.

“Who, me?” Nerina responded, raising his chin approximately one centimeter's height.

“Yes, I mean, um, that outfit…”

“That's a question I've heard so many times now I've lost count.” Nerina gave a single slight shrug and answered calmly. “Because of that, I've taken it upon myself to think long and hard about it, but after everything, I still haven't found an answer. And so in times like this I always respond with with a certain question. Why exactly are you wearing that?”

“Me?” s.h.i.+zue spoke up in an exaggeratedly shrill voice, eyelids flapping with the speed of a bee's wings. “My outfit? Why, is there something strange about it?”

“No, nothing strange at all,” Nerina said with a grin. “But still, do you have a reason for wearing it?”

“A reason?”

“Yes.”

“A reason…? Well I don't…”

“So now, do you find anything strange about my outfit?”

“No, um, it's quite… well, how do I say this, yes, it's lovely. Quite charming, really….” Odawara s.h.i.+zue smiled awkwardly. “Erm, I… to be completely honest, I think it suits you very well. But, um, you… are a boy, correct? For a boy to be wearing makeup and a skirt like that, naturally, it's a bit difficult for those of my generation to easily understand.”

“Yes, of course I know that. Even in our same generation it's fundamentally the same. Except, everyone who knows me is already used to it, and everyone who doesn't know me just a.s.sumes I'm a girl, right? So it's pretty much not a problem, and no one feels uncomfortable. I've never run into any trouble because of it, so it's perfectly fine for me too. Even in public, I'm not causing a nuisance or tricking anybody. Right?”

“Yes, well, that is true, I suppose…” s.h.i.+zue murmured, as she ran her eyes thoroughly up and down Nerina's body. “Hmmm, now that you say it, yes, I can see how that is possible.”

“Miss Odawara, what do you say?” Horokusa asked from behind in a quiet voice. “Is Takanas.h.i.+… not right for the position?”

“No, that's not it.” Odawara shook her head once. Then she once again stared at Nerina. “Um, I need a private tutor for my son. You are in the medical program at N University, yes?”

“Kya! Is this a job?” Nerina put both hands together in front of his face. “Uwah! Hooray! I'm so happy!”

“Er, though, in front of my son… please, would you stop with this? Um… my one condition is that you don't wear women's clothing.”

“Ah, but of course!” Nerina nodded enthusiastically. “That's a super easy requirement. I'll do absolutely anything for money, after all. Oh… whoops, I said too much.”

“Please don't tell me anything weird,” Odawara s.h.i.+zue said, frowning.

“Hm? What's weird?”

There were several seconds of silence, before s.h.i.+zue gave one final remark to Nerina with a glare. “Anyway, I'm relying on you. In a short while, I shall bring my son to introduce you,” she said, then walked down the hallway toward the stairs. Until the creaking of her footsteps had completely descended the stairwell, Nerina was silent.

“Er, but…. I thought Miss Odawara ran a prep school though.”

“Yeah, apparently she does,” Horokusa affirmed. “I don't really know the exact situation, but basically, she wants to keep this a secret from her husband at all costs, so she's hiring a private tutor. Also instead of you going to her house to teach, her son's going to come here instead.”

“By here, you mean my room?”

“Yeah, you get it,” Horokusa said, nodding. “Your room's leagues cleaner than mine, right?”

“That's an understatement,” Nerina agreed resolutely. “Oh, wait, but that's actually way terrible! The whole appeal of being a private tutor is getting home-cooked meals and little snack cakes from the family, right? I'm not gonna get any of that if the location is different… Aah, my life sucks. I so hope he brings a cake for me every time.”

“You could just claim that as a necessary expense, if you want. She can cover the cost of a cake.”

After hearing the specifics of Odawara s.h.i.+zue's request while standing at Horokusa's door, Nerina left. Neither of them were particularly chatty people, and since they'd just spent the previous night playing mahjong together until three in the morning, there wasn't anything to discuss.

Takanas.h.i.+ Nerina descended the stairs, put on his shoes, and squinted at the clean brightness of early summer outside. With a sway of his voluminous skirt, he stepped out.

If you walk straight forward with the concrete-block wall around Avarice Heights at your left, you'll run headfirst into the front gate of House Oumei Rokkaku, surrounded on either side by stone and plaster walls. There, the road forms a T, and those walls extend straight into the horizon on both sides.

(Click here for a visual of the stone/plaster walls.)
(Click here to view a crudely-drawn map of the previous paragraph.)

Nerina broke off to the right, that is to say, to the east, intending to go to the nearby subway station, but at that exact same time, he saw Kaguyama Murasakiko exiting the front gate of House Rokkaku, and stopped to wait for her.

Murasakiko had also been one of the mahjong players last night. There in Horokusa Junpei's apartment, Horokusa himself, Takanas.h.i.+ Nerina, Kaguyama Murasakiko, and Sazaimaru Beniko had gathered. Horokusa had started the night with four consecutive winning hands, and won the game easily. They had parted ways at three in the morning, but the two women in the group had mentioned going for another round of drinks before leaving the apartment.

Kaguyama Murasakiko was entirely nocturnal by nature, and while the sun was visible in the sky, she could be safely a.s.sumed to be sleeping. That was the case whether she was sleeping in her apartment, or sleeping during her university lectures. Just like Horokusa and Nerina, she lived on the second floor of Avarice Heights. Her room was directly opposite Nerina's. Her age was the same as Nerina, a soph.o.m.ore in university. She apparently went to a nearby private university, though the occasions on which she actually attended were few and far between.

Murasakiko noticed Nerina as well, and waved a hand at him. Her expression was empty and fatigued, but this was how her face always looked. Murasakiko was quite tall, taller than Nerina. Her hair was short, and she was currently wearing a baseball cap. Compared to Nerina's long hair, the contrast was palpable.

“Oh, if it isn't Ren-chan. Where you going? I see you're all dressed up again. It definitely suits you, don't get me wrong, but, how do I put this, you've been kind of… over-the-top lately? Not the makeup, but like, that frilly blouse and stuff. Don't tell me, you found a partner who's into this kind of retro style? Are you really going on a date this early in the morning?”

“Were you at Beniko's house this whole time?” Nerina asked.

“I guess,” Murasakiko answered, rubbing her eyes. “Man, I had no choice. Even though we ran out of liquor, that person still wouldn't let me leave. My head was already pounding by then, so I couldn't do anything to argue.”

By “that person”, Murasakiko was referring to Sazaimaru Beniko.

Beniko would turn thirty this year. She had a son in sixth grade, but seeing as she was a divorcee, she was currently single. This mansion, House Oumei Rokkaku, had originally belonged to the Sazaimaru family, according to very plausible rumors. These were popular stories in the area, but their accuracy was not definite. However, it was indisputable fact that the Sazaimarus, mother and son, were living on the Odawara family's property without rent, in a house detached from the mansion. Nerina had not yet visited their home, but since Beniko had taken an interest in Murasakiko, they'd been hanging out at her house a lot recently.

“What kinda stuff did you talk about?”

“Hrmm.” Murasakiko pouted and looked to the side. “I mean, we mostly talked about the glory days of the Sazaimaru family. And besides that… aah, right, I forgot, she also told me about her ex-husband. Hey, don't you think it's crazy? He still comes to visit her once a month!”

Sazaimaru Beniko was a woman of very few words. Normally, you wouldn't expect to hear her speak at all. At least, that was the Beniko that Nerina knew. Even during mahjong, it wouldn't be inaccurate to claim she hadn't said a word all night. But based on Murasakiko's claims just now, this was apparently not the case when alcohol was involved.

Talking about the husband she'd divorced. It was hard to imagine Beniko opening up about something so private.

“What's crazy about that? I mean, they've got a kid, so it makes total sense he'd come to visit.”

“No, you've got it wrong.” Murasakiko opened her eyes wide and shook her head over-dramatically. “Here's the thing. Whenever her ex-husband comes around, they move the child elsewhere. She even said there's times when he stays the night. That's totally crazy, don't you think? I mean, they're separated. Divorced, even. So why would they do that, hmm? Geez, I'm at a loss…”

“Is that… weird?”

“I don't understand it at all. It's so dirty…” In contrast to her words, Murasakiko's face had a big smile on it. This was not the expression of a girl who didn't understand. In fact, she appeared to understand full well what she was talking about. “Speaking of Beniko's ex-husband, she also told me he's a criminal investigator.”

“Huh? What did he do that makes him a criminal?”

“Geez, you're dumb. No. He's a detective working with the police.”

“Oh, wow…”

“But that's not all…” Kaguyama Murasakiko put her hand on Nerina's shoulders and brought her face close to his. “Ren-chan, have you heard about that office lady who got murdered in Irinaka?”

It was an incident that had occurred in a neighboring town about a year ago. It had been a major story in the news for a while.

“Yeah, I remember something like that,” Nerina answered.

“He's investigating that right now.”

“You mean Beniko's ex-husband?”

“Yeah!”

“Was the case… never solved?”

“Exactly. It's the TOTT.”

“TOTT?”

“Talk of the town.”

“What is?”

“Oh man, the story's crazy good like you won't believe!”

“s.h.i.+ko-san, you're getting kinda hard to listen to.”

“That's cuz I'm a teensy bit tired, so my brain's out of whack. I guess let's continue this later. I'll fill you up next time we meet.”

“You mean fill me in, right?”

“Yeah, that. See ya.”

And with that, Kaguyama Murasakiko gave a big wave and swaggered off in the direction of the apartment.

(I had to rewrite WAY too many jokes here. Murasakiko, you're gonna be the death of me.)

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