Starting from the day after the battle with the monster, Yukimiya took an actual break from school.
I wondered if she was going to force herself to attend, but it seems that wasn't the case. Perhaps it's due to the mental shock she got from her supernatural ability fizzling out.
(Would a mere cold disable her supernatural ability? There's also that rumor from her classmates about her being 'an entirely different person'...something's definitely happening with Yukimiya.)
I spent the past three days waiting in anticipation, but nothing seemed to happen with Yukimiya.
Isn't the build-up for this taking too long...? If this doesn't lead to a spectacular episode, then it could end up being a let-down. Perhaps it could even negatively affect merchandising.
(What does Ryuga think of this? Perhaps I should hear her thoughts on the matter.)
Thinking as such, I decided to visit the Hinomori household on a Sunday. In the first place, I already planned on visiting since Kyouka's condition got better and Hundun wanted to see her as well.
"──I don't think Shiori has a simple cold."
Upon entering Ryuuga's room, which was as large as a school classroom, she spoke without giving me a chance to start the conversation.
Today, she was wearing a long-sleeved jersey cloth shirt and a pink pleated skirt, making her appear quite girlish. She tied her long hair with a pretty yellow ribbon instead of the usual black string.
"The successor of the 'White Tiger' seems to have the strongest life force among the four gods. Given that they specialize in healing magic, it appears that their own life force is magnitudes higher."
"Really...? So Yukimiya's actually quite sturdy?"
"Perhaps sturdy wouldn't be the right word. There are regular people with the same constitution, you know? People who may seem frail, but don't get sick at all. Those kinds of people have a strong life force."
While speaking, Ryuuga's expression grew gloomier. She clenched her fists while they rested above her knees.
"There must be a reason for why Shiori is that weak..."
Yukimiya has been absent for three consecutive days. Even now, she's resting in her bed.
Of course, Ryuuga's team and I send her messages each day, and she's been replying so far.
She's been eating as well and she isn't in pain. Yesterday, she sent a message saying "I'm getting better, so I think I'm thinking of going to school next week."
"...Shiori was my first 'companion.' She was the first person I met who holds the same fate as me."
While staring down at the floor, Ryuuga spoke as if remembering something.
She's probably recalling the past. Perhaps there would be a flashback scene right here. I decided to take this time to drink the green tea she gave me.
"Before Shiori and I met each other, we were both fighting the 'Apostles of Hell' alone. She knew about Rei, but the Yukimiya household and Aogasaki household were hostile towards each other during that time, so they avoided being together."
"Is that so? It seems that even the four gods have their circumstances."
"Yeah. Rei's supernatural abilities specialize in offense, but...Shiori's specializes in support, so I believe that caused some tension. It's quite disheartening. Shiori is──a stronger girl than we think."
Ryuuga's probably referring to emotional strength.
Yukimiya now has her "Tree Binding Execution," which allows her to manipulate vegetation to restrain the enemy, but back then, she only had her "healing" and "movement-slowing Kagura suzu." It would be quite nerve-wracking for her to fight alone.
Nevertheless, she continued to fight. Then, she fell in love with the young boy who suddenly appeared with overwhelming power...Hinomori Ryuuga. If she didn't fall in love, she wouldn't have been a heroine.
"Ryuga. I understand your worries about Yukimiya, but for now, let's just keep an eye on her condition. The next plot point should soon unfold. All we can do is wait for it."
"The next plot point?"
"As I've said before, there's been talk in class C about 'Yukimiya being strange sometimes.' I believe the protagonist's screentime will come after that kind of foreshadowing."
Ryuuga tilted her head to the side.
Naturally, she isn't aware of her status as the "protagonist of the story." The only ones with a meta view of this world are probably the "Evil Spirit" Qiongqi and me.
"Ichirou, sometimes you say things I don't understand. Like, when you talk about being a friend character or something."
"W, well, don't worry too much about it. Just accept that I'm like this."
She quickly accepted, saying "Alright then," and then began thinking about something.
She seemed to be thinking about the rumors regarding Yukimiya. She placed her index finger to her chin in a girl-like manner. If Yukimiya saw her like this, her condition would probably worsen.
"Leaving those rumors aside, seeing Shiori in this state...makes me recall something unpleasant."
"Look, something similar to this happened before, right? When Hundun revived, Kyouka suddenly became ill──"
Something happened immediately after the mention of Hundun's name.
The man himself appeared from within me. The upper half of the wild-looking, unkempt-bearded, large uncle manifested from my back.
"You guys, how long are you going to keep talking? Let me see Kyouka."
It seems he was impatiently waiting to see his previous host. And it appears that he grew tired of waiting.
Hundun hasn't been in the Hinomori residence ever since he switched vessels. In other words, it's been over two weeks since he's seen Kyouka.
Perhaps that was pure torture for him. That is, perhaps this "Evil Spirit" is a bigger lolicon than I thought.
"It's been a while, Hundun. Did you want to see Kyouka that badly?"
"That's obvious. Once I regain my power and stop rapidly draining my host's life force, I'll immediately return to Kyouka. That's my plan."
When Hundun proudly declared that, Ryuuga squinted her eyes and said "Hmm."
She was glaring at him with a scornful look. Her eyes were full of disdain.
"Hey, Hinomori Ryuuga. Where's Kyouka? Today's a Sunday, so she should be at home."
"Kyouka's getting dressed in her room. She's going on a date."
The middle-aged man froze in place upon hearing that shocking information. His eyes widened, his mouth was agape, and he stared blankly with a pale face. His giant body trembled as if he was a phone set to vibrate.
"Ahaha. I kid, I kid. She actually is getting dressed right now, but Kyouka's──"
The "Evil Spirit" immediately roared. His voice echoed throughout the residence as if he was letting out a death cry. There was a thunder-like rumbling outside the windows.
"Nooooo! Why?! Why, God?!"
I've never seen a guy as old as him cry like that. Also, aren't "Evil Spirits" more or less divine beings? What god is he calling out to?
"Kyouka's going to hold hands with some unknown boy! They'll sit at a park bench and chat with each other! Then it'll rain and they'll share an umbrella!"
Hundun tried to leave the room with only his upper body present, dragging me with him. Though, even if his entire body did manifest, he wouldn't be able to travel far from his host.
"Oh, you're like one of those guys in Western movies who gets dragged by a rope tied to a horse, Ichirou!"
Despite the commotion, Ryuuga calmly described the situation. Her description wasn't wrong though.
"Ow, ow, ow! Calm down, Hundun! Ryuga already said that she was joking! Also, your view of a date is on the level of a grade-schooler's!"
"Just you wait! I'll send that boy into the abyss!"
Hundun spoke as if he was about to get into a fight. I wasn't getting through to him. He's lost his marbles. This stand's going crazy, ignoring its host's control! TLNReference to Jojo's Bizarre Adventure. In the series, stands are figures hovering over/near the user and possesses supernatural abilities.
"Hey, Tie! Stop this uncle!"
While my face was scraping against the floor, I turned to Taotie for help. I soon got a reply.
"Alright! Hey, Hundun! You shouldn't go on a rampage in someone else's...oh, Ryuuga! You're dressed like a girl today! Too cute!"
However, my second stand also went wild as soon as it came out. Taotie tried to run towards Ryuuga in delight, pulling my body in the other direction.
"No! Don't get in my way! I'm going to see Kyouka!"
"You're the one who shouldn't get in my way! I'm going to have a chat with Ryuuga!"
The two "Evil Spirits" were trying to head towards either the younger sister or the older sister. However, since they couldn't fully manifest at the same time, only their upper bodies appeared. And now I'm in the middle of this tug of war.
They were both pulling as hard as they could, making me feel as if I was going to split apart.
"Ow, ow, ow, ow! You're going to tear me apart! You're splitting me right in half!"
I can't bear this any longer. At this rate, my guts are going to splatter inside someone's home. We might need an age-restriction warning that states "This work contains graphic content."
"That's enough, you two! I don't want to exit the story like this──"
Something happened the moment I screamed in terror.
"──Sister, what's the commotion?"
Kyouka opened the door and entered the room. For some reason, she was wearing a maid outfit.
"Wha?! M, maid?!"
Seeing her, Hundun finally stopped. With the sudden loss of resistance, Taotie had too much momentum and fell over.
"Oh, long time no see, Hundun. How are you doing?"
Seeing the maid girl sweetly smile, Hundun went "Agh!" and clutched his chest while leaning backwards. Her trademark twintails matched her costume quite well.
"Sorry for making you worry. I'm completely fine now."
"K, Kyouka, what's with...that outfit?"
With an embarrassed smile, Kyouka said "I borrowed it from my sister," to Hundun, who returned to his usual self. She then bowed towards me.
"Kobayashi, sorry for the trouble I caused. Things ended up this way because of me...is your body alright? You must be in a lot of pain..."
"No, it's nothing painful. I was about to be torn in half just now, but that's it."
"If you think you're reaching your limit, tell me right away. Hosting two 'Evil Spirits' is really an impossible task."
Afterwards, I regained control over my own body and sat on a floor cushion facing the Hinomori sisters. Of course, behind me were the two "Evil Spirits" carrying faces of content.
"Kyouka, how's the costume? Since it's mine, the size might be a bit too big."
"It is, but cosplay is surprisingly fun. I think I understand why you like it."
"I know, right? If you want to, you could start cosplaying! We can share costumes!"
The two smiled together. Just the usual sisterly love.
It seems that Kyouka dressed in a maid uniform for Hundun. She wanted to surprise him with it as an apology for the worry she caused.
Upon hearing that, the middle-aged man sobbed. Above all, he was glad that Kyouka didn't have a boyfriend. Can someone remind me why he's an "Evil Spirit"?
"Oh, I would give anything to return to Kyouka at once...anything to be with her again..."
I overheard Hundun speak to himself from behind me, but his wishes won't come true anytime soon. Only thirty percent of his power has returned.
Until he regains his full strength, he will continue sucking away at his host's life force. It seems I'm able to withstand that. There's no reason I should be able to though.
(I hope Kyouka will take back Hundun once he fully recovers...or rather, is my life force stronger than the 'Shrine Maiden of Life's'?)
While I was grimacing, the Hinomori sisters continued speaking with the "Evil Spirits."
"So you two don't know about them either? Those monsters with multiple faces and arms?"
"Well, I don't remember every single apostle there is, but...I definitely don't recognize such strange things. Among the conflicting reactions I felt, I sensed something greater than a general though."
"But the arm you tore off when you fought that one monster turned into Gazari, right? Couldn't that thing be as Boss says, a combination of apostles?"
"So even the rulers of apostles, Hundun and Taotie, don't know about them...what strange monsters."
The mysterious monsters were the topic of discussion.
Since two of them have already appeared, it's possible that there will be more. It's fine when they're smaller, but if one of the monsters ends up being larger than the first one we faced, that will be a big problem. If that happens, I will definitely be sent into the battlefield.
(I've been ignoring this matter recently because of all the things Yukimiya's been going through, but...I guess I really should find a way to set up an appointment with Qiongqi one day.)
I feel like he would know about those monsters.
In the first place, that lizard apostle named Gazari was one of Qiongqi's subordinates. He was an apostle Elmira defeated when he was attacking Shizuma's mother, Reida.
When the atmosphere turned serious, Ryuuga suddenly struck her palm with her fist and switched topics.
"There's no use racking our brains over these monsters. So how about we celebrate Kyouka's recovery, as originally planned?"
"Yeah! That's why I came here!"
"Doing what? What are we doing, Ryuuga?!"
Ryuuga smirked at the "Evil Spirits" who showed interest. She then stood up.
"Of course, a cosplay show! Today, Kyouka and I will put on plenty of outfits!"
Hundun and Taotie raised a shout of joy. They placed an arm around each other's shoulders, raised a fist, and were greatly excited. It's only during moments like these that they unite...
"Do you have any requests?"
"I want to see Kyouka in a qipao!"
"Nurse! Ryuuga in a nurse outfit!"
"I'd also like to see her as a shrine maiden! I want her to tie her hair into a ponytail!"
"Kunoichi! Ryuuga in a kunoichi outfit!"
...These guys are more or less supposed to be longstanding foes.
They're enemies who have been fighting humanity's guardians since ancient times. They're not supposed to join humans for a cosplay party.
(Is the story really going to be okay...? Can I go back to being a friend character...?)
Everybody's been getting closer to me, forcing me further into the battle part of the story. Yukimiya and Qiongqi, can't you hurry up with your stories?
(Can I no longer have a minor role? Is being a friend character a pipe dream at this point? Is the man named Kobayashi Ichirou...suited for being one of the main characters?)
While everyone else was filled with excitement, I was filled with grief.
However──there was something I didn't know of at this point.
Before long, the story would progress in unexpected ways. My smoldering "friend character spirit" would be set ablaze once more.
Yukimiya. Those monsters. The "Evil Spirit" Qiongqi.
An encounter with a shocking character would overshadow all of those worries.