Episode.0

Episode.0

It was the last day of May in the first half of the 22nd century.

The cherry blossom trees in a row around the artificial island were in breathtaking full-bloom this spring.

Beautiful wasn’t the word for it. They seemed almost oppressive.

Surrounding humanity with blossoms in their full glory, the trees looked monstrous.

It was like a picture of paradise on Earth. The branches swayed gently in the spring breeze, and the flurry of pink blossoms that followed in their wake were hypnotizing, as if they threatened to pull you from reality. It was at that moment when Minato Yamajou suddenly realized he had stopped walking.

I have to to get to the academy.

It’s important that I meet with the principal. On top of that, I need to head over to the dormitories to unpack all of the stuff that arrived there yesterday. And of course, there’s a certain someone I’ve been wanting to finally see again.

Work starts tomorrow. There’s not enough time in the day to lose it to these blossoms.

As soon as he started to move, however, Minato stopped in his tracks once again.

A voice had caught his attention.

He spotted a girl wearing the academy’s trainee uniform high up in one of the taller cherry trees.

“It’s dangerous up here, little kitty…”

The girl slowly crept along a large branch, hunched over like a cat herself. She clearly didn’t put much thought into what she was doing and ended up in a pretty compromising position as a result. Had she only not been wearing the uniform, she might have been able to pass off as something like a cherry blossom fairy who went around and enraptured the hearts of men. As she was wearing it, though, she seemed more like the kind of girl who lived next door and tried to mimic cats.

Wait a second… She is that girl.

It’s my childhood friend.

“Natsuka?”

It was a girl one year younger than Minato who lived next to him as they grew up. It had been a year since he had graduated this academy and last seen her. What on earth is she doing up there? She wasn’t exactly an outdoors person, let alone a tree-climbing enthusiast.

He looked more carefully and noticed there was a black kitten on the other side of the branch she was crawling along.

“It’s okay. Here, kitty…”

It seems like she’s trying to rescue a kitten that can’t find its way down. There was a tall ladder resting against the trunk. Considering how uncoordinated she was, there was an awful lot of work that went into this.

She moved carefully along the branch inch by inch towards the kitten on the other side. There was a foxtail in her hand, and her voice was light and cheerful.

“Here, here… I’m not scary. It’s okay meow!”

Her speech patterns are getting interesting. Minato started to make his way under the tree, somehow managing to stop himself from recording what she was saying.

It’s a good thing I passed by when I did. I can already see how this is going to play out. As the girl inched forward more and more, the branch started to groan and creak.

Finally, she managed to scoop up the kitten into her arms.

“See? Everything’s okay now!”

That’s when the branch reached its limit. With a loud snap, it broke cleanly right off.

“Eek!”

Letting out a small yelp, she fell headfirst with the kitten still held closely to her chest.

I’m always taken aback by how tall the genetically modified cherry trees on this artificial island are. The drop from the branch was a whole five meters—this could get bad if she landed poorly.

She descended fast alongside hundreds of loose cherry blossoms fluttering around in the air.

—so Minato expanded his Territory.

His entire body become enveloped in a lustrous gray.

In that moment, the world before his eyes transformed in an instant.

As if replaying the scene in slow-motion, he calmly assessed the girl’s situation as she continued to fall.

Velocity, angle, altitude… All of this information was instantaneously collected and recorded in Minato’s mind. In this moment, he was able to follow each and every individual cherry blossom petal as they swirled around before him in countless numbers.

It was the conversion of sense input into raw data. That was the sole function of Minato’s silver Territory.

He was engulfed by a cascade of blossoms and information.

With impeccable aim, he caught his precious childhood friend in his arms.

“Oh…”

For the first time in a year, their eyes met. At that moment, the kitten jumped from her arms and scurried off without a hint of appreciation.

Ignoring the kitten altogether, Natsuka Hoshino’s eyes grew wide.

“Am I on the other side now?” she asked.

“It’s okay. You’re still in the land of the living.”

“But you’re here, Minato.”

“Wha— Was I dead to you for some reason?”

“No, you’re still alive, but… I thought you graduated.”

“It turns out I’m an instructor at the academy now.”

Immediately after, Minato let out a large “Ooph.” His childhood friend had quickly wrapped her arms around him.

Ever since they were young, Natsuka had been as friendly as a puppy. She hasn’t changed one bit.

That’s not true, actually. Her chest is noticeably bigger, now pushing tightly against her shirt’s fabric. That, and she smells so nice. This is too much for me. I swear, she’s finally starting to seem like an actual girl now.

“Come on. Get off me.”

“Nope! I’m so happy. I can see you whenever I want now, right?”

“Exactly. So how about we leave this for another day?” The logic was a bit suspect.

“Nope!”

“I can gauge your weight with my ability, you know.”

“Eek!”

Natsuka immediately turned red with surprise and then finally lowered herself to the ground. Though he didn’t mention it to her, the deed had already been done by the time she had landed in his arms.

I’ll probably end up taking those secrets of hers to the grave.

When they separated, he noticed that Natsuka’s eyes had become a little red. She rubbed them and took a deep break to calm herself down.

Maybe this island and its monstrous cherry trees aren’t so bad after all.

“You know… I’m happy you’re here again, Minato.”

“Yeah, me too. It’s good to be back.”

With the dazzling scene of cherry blossoms behind her, Natsuka Hoshino broke out into a smile that was second to none.


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