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Boundless Kakera

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Boundless Kakera

...

Author's Note: Hi, everyone! So, I really don't know where to start. I'm just simply a growing writer aspiring to write fanfiction. Originally, I planned on starting fanfiction earlier this year, but then I felt that I wasn't ready and needed more time to hone my creative writing skills. Do not fret though. I'm more prepared this time and I intend on fleshing out stories that can hopefully interest you readers.

At the moment, I have set my sights on Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni. There just isn't enough recognition for this underrated series and that just doesn't settle well with me, so I figured, why not compose a story involving my number one favorite anime series ever?

I'm starting off here in this first fanfic of mine, Boundless Kakera. It's basically just a sequence of one-shots composed together. Some are left separate on their own, though there will be a lot of one-shots that connect with each other.

It won't be hard to differentiate the two; there will be roman numerals at the end of the title that show which one-shots are the connected ones. Speaking of which, you're on a connected one-shot right now! I'm writing out a story revolving around my most cherished (as well as the most underappreciated) one true pairing in all of Higurashi: Keiichi and Rika.

Go KeiRika! Nipah~

I do have a big project regarding Higurashi in mind, but I'll put that on hiatus for now and just focus on writing out a couple one-shots here before I feel I'm ready. Anyway, I hope you enjoy my first work! Criticism would be greatly appreciated (though don't chew me out on the grammar; I aware that I'm not the greatest in English), but try not to be too harsh, and please, no flames.

Thank you all for your time.

.

STORY ORIGINALLY POSTED ON APRIL 20, 2019

[-x-]

Summary: Post-Matsuribayashi-hen; After escaping the endless cycle of Fate, Rika struggles in what to do with her life. Hanyuu offers a solution: one that may very well change Rika's life, either better or worse for her relative.

Pairing(s): KeiRika (F/M)

Rated: T (for infrequent swearing)

[-x-]

1. Moving On, Part I

...

Rika and Hanyuu had done it. After a whole century of nothing but excruciating torment, after a whole century of being subjected to constantly watch their loved ones turn against one another, and after a whole century of repeating the same blood-stained summer over and over again, they finally prevailed over the Endless June.

The Furude girls weren't sure how to comprehend it all. They once viewed the world around them as a twisted battlefield; a mass living grave that furiously fiddled their slipping sanity. Each and every time Rika and Hanyuu struggled against their horrific dilemma, they were often met with the same results that always ended in tragedy. Fate was a sick bane in their existence.

It was fortunate that they weren't alone in peril. Both girls had friends who, although were plagued by the evils of distrust and hatred through a contagious disease, were willing to risk their own lives to assist the bluenette and her horned ancestor in need. The group of friends setted aside their differences and stood united against the mastermind of their endless torture, a blond nurse whose intentions were for the eradication of their home village in hopes of completing her grandfather's research.

And their fierce endeavors paid off.

With expertise on Hinamizawa's vast forest terrain, deceitful pranks, and subterfuge doused in the cunning ways of psychological warfare, Rika and her friends were able to stride past through all the atrocities and misery that awaited them. Miyo Takano, the culprit of Rika's never-ending torture, and her Yamainu forces stood no chance.

Last they heard from the blond antagonist, she was residing at the Irie Clinic, receiving treatment for the very same illness that proved to be Hinamizawa's greatest threat, and also the cause of her ambitions in committing massacre.

It had been four weeks since then. Rika and friends were living peacefully together, happy to bath in the waters of their own happiness devoid of any profound melancholia. The dreaded month of June had passed on, leaving behind the new beginnings of July. Everyone was quite content with their current lifestyles, though Rika Furude continued to struggle over a simple inquiry: one that lingered in the expanded regions of her mind,

"What can I do from here on out?" Rika muttered to herself.

Hanyuu gave a wry smile. "I don't suppose you could give up your grotesque tendencies of drinking."

Scoffing in mild annoyance, Rika sent a cold gaze to her relative, gripping onto the egg-shaped, half-filled glass resting in her left palm tightly before shifting her focus back to her drink. "Keep on dreaming, Hanyuu. This vintage red wine is very valuable. It's what gets me going."

Both girls were resting at their home, quietly conversing with each other. They were on the second week of July, late in the starry night of Sunday.

Outside, the majestic moon shone faint phantasmic radiance, laboriously showering all of Hinamizawa's hissing, gliding trees and bushes with its crystalline moonlight. The dead of night shed life, its numerous supply of shimmering stars dispersed through the expansive reaches of the world.

Rika, indifferent with the beams of natural luminescence and invisible cool wind coating her light skin, sat perched on the edges of the opened window, partially blocked the peering light in sight.

The pensive blue-haired child shook her wine glass delicately, watching the blood-like undiluted liquid inside rebound from the translucent walls in every direction. "Let's be serious about this. Our lives are no longer trapped in bondage, and we have freedom to do as we please. There's just so much out there for us, and I just can't figure out what to do."

"Oh, my sweet, sweet child," uttered Hanyuu, glancing at her descendant with a soft expression as she sat on her knees. "You mustn't be so impatient. Unlike all the other dead worlds we've ventured through for a hundred years, this one is willing to bring the future you desire into existence. You have all the time here to decide what you want in your life." [1]

The bluenette brought the tip of her beverage glass to her mouth, allowing its inebriating contents to seep effortlessly into the crevices of her light pink lips.

Draining the remaining red wine off its brittle-material prison, Rika gulped down her intoxicated drink and gently placed her cup down on the floor beside her. She raised a hand and wiped her lips, flicking off small traces of the red wine before bitterly grumbling, "Well, shit. That's not helpful at all."

Hanyuu recoiled over the sudden expletive, displeased. She quickly chastised in a hissing voice, "Rika!"

"Mmmm.. mmmmm... ughh..." another voice jumped in, stirring.

Both conscious girls cringed visibly as they glanced over to the side. They inspected the sleeping form of their roommate, Satoko Houjou, whose eyes were on the verge of snapping open. Though their worries skyrocketed, it soon dissipated. Satoko gave up on breaking her strings of slumber, turning her back away from the Furude children. "...nnnhh... mmmhhh..."

Rika breathed a silent sigh of relief, before glaring at Hanyuu, sneering, "Way to be subtle, Hanyuu. You almost woke Satoko up. Do you not remember that you're in a visible body right now?"

"Au, au, au," Hanyuu whimpered, this time more discreetly than her previous outburst. "I apologize. I'm still not used to being out of my spirit form yet. Hmmm, on a side note, I'm glad there isn't much of a physical difference between both of my forms. It's great to look like a human child as opposed to taking the appearance of a... a... demon, even if I am still cursed with these horns."

Guilt washed over the child with lapis hime-cutted hair as she watched her lilac-haired ancestor irritably pick on the pair of dark-purple horns that grew on both sides of her head. She recalled how sensitive Hanyuu was over that demon topic. It wasn't pleasant. Retaining her cold exterior, Rika responded uneasily, "I- I... just... whatever. Forget about it. Let's move on."

Hanyuu pulled her hands away from her horns, diverting her attention back to Rika. "Honestly, I don't really see why we need to talk about this so soon. I already said it before, and I'll say it again- just take your time; really think to yourself about what you want and then go from there."

The troubled Rika sighed exasperatedly, "Hanyuu-"

But her relative was quick to intercept. "I'll give you credit, Rika Furude; you are judicious in ruminating over your new future, but you shouldn't be so fixated on this topic. Do not neglect the fact that while you may be a century old in mind, from outer appearance, you are still ten years of age, fairly young. Enjoy what life offers to the fullest while you can. Don't focus solely on your conflictions, otherwise you will forever remain an old bitter woman, resting tragically by death's door."

"Thank you for your useless preaching, o' wise one," Rika deadpanned sardonically, "Though in case you forget, I'm already an old bitter woman as is. Why are so laid-back about this, Hanyuu? We only have one life. One life. We mustn't be so dismissive. This beautiful miracle of a world is a blessing, probably the only kind we'll ever get. If there was even a single slip-up, then it's all over."

Silence smoldered the room in hidden mist. Rika's cynical persona persisted, piercing through the cool, collected form of Hanyuu Furude with stern orchid optics. Hanyuu wasn't fazed by this though. Through all the hundred years of always standing by Rika's side, Hanyuu was much too used to her descendant's pessimism to be intimidated.

Following an agonizingly long minute of tense stillness, Hanyuu's face began to lit up. She tilted her off to the side, allowing her back-lengthened lavender hair to flow down deeper. Marginally raising a hand, Hanyuu caught strands of her hair between her two fingers, massaging them tenderly as she voiced, "You know what, Rika? Assuming you are still so insistent on worrying over your future, there is one idea I have in mind."

"Oh? And just what, pray tell, would that be?" Rika questioned, her one eyebrow quirked in curiosity.

Hanyuu flashed a welcoming upside-down frown. "Love."

The bluenette came close to choking on her breath as she stared disbelievingly at Hanyuu. Her vibrant violet irises contracted, and her mouth was left gaping. Rika couldn't help let the stutter pass through to her dark adult voice, "L- L- Love?! You can't be serious!"

"I'm very serious about this, my child," giggled Hanyuu, heavily amused with her next of kin's reaction. As she fiddled with her hair, Hanyuu elaborated, "What better way to ease your mind than to be intimate with another individual? This would also help your little problem in figuring out your next step towards the future. To me, that's a win-win situation right there, au auu~"

Rika's repetitive stammers subsisted briefly before vanishing. By then, she had successfully composed herself and responded explosively, "Hanyuu, that is easily the most stupid suggestion you have ever offered to me."

"Is it now?" Hanyuu grinned, irritating Rika even further. "I think it's the right idea for you."

Her descendant spat, "Don't be ridiculous! As if I would degrade myself to display such disgusting romantic affections. Humph!" Rika crossed her arms as she averted her gaze from Hanyuu, staring off into the idyllic night through the opened glass window with an indignant huff. "And besides, who on God's earth would fit best for me as a lover?"

Hanyuu's teasing visage broadened as her strands of lavender hair coiled around her two fingers. "Oh, now that's easy. Who else, other than... Keiichi Maebara."

Almost immediately, Rika snapped her head back, away from the pleasant scenery to her mischievous ancestor. The blue-haired child's amethyst irises screamed in hostility. Though her facial features expressed bloody murder, the lovely shade of bright red glazed on her cheeks told a different tale. "What did you just say?!"

"Keiichi would be a perfect lover for you," Hanyuu uncurled her locks, using her two fingers to reach out and point over to Rika. She winked shamelessly. "Do not think for a second I wouldn't notice. During our time in Minagoroshi-hen, you and Keiichi had a lot of interesting interactions together. Just when we were on the brink of giving up, he was there to support and bring you back on your feet." [2]

Hanyuu went on, "Not only that, but he knew how distressed you were when Satoko was imprisoned with her mean uncle, so he did everything he could to bring her back, going so far as to round up all of Hinamizawa and Okinomiya, and even stood up to Mion's scary grandmother for it. All so you could be happy again."

Rika scoffed, "So he helps me a lot. Big deal. And Keiichi didn't even get Satoko back by himself."

"No, but he contributed the most out of all of us," countered Hanyuu, "And there's more. Rika, he gave you many lessons how fate could be overcome. Keiichi was the one who twisted many patterns in our cycle; he remembered his own sins and tried to redeem himself for it. He was the one who really saved you from the Endless June, through his astounding miracles and undying determination. He's the prince... to your princess, au au."

The blush on Rika's cheeks intensified. "Hanyuu, you have a very sick imagination."

"Me? No, this is all coming from you," uncharacteristic smugness overtook Hanyuu's beaming expression. "Our senses are linked together so I know how you feel at all times. What I say about Keiichi is really all of what you think of him. You regard him as a knight-in-shining-armor, the one person who you only sought interest in. You see him as a great change; a fantastic addition to Hinamizawa. I distinctively recall you saying that the other worlds were depressing when he wasn't around."

"Because they were. He wasn't there to make a difference. Things weren't good without my Keiichi," Rika mumbled to herself, and instantly regretted her words.

Hanyuu caught on to her descendant's statement, eyes gleaming in playfulness. "Your Keiichi, huh? My, my, how and why did you grow to be so possessive over the young man? Hmm... could it be that I'm right and you're in complete denial over the fact that you looove him?"

Rika remained silent.

"Au, au, what am I saying? Of course I'm right. The deep blush on your cheeks serves as explicit evidence for that theory," Hanyuu pointed out, staring attentively at Rika's red cheeks.

"H-Huh?! Mii!" Rika placed one cupping hand to her left cheek, feeling the fiery heat sear the skin of her palm.

Cursing to herself inwardly, the bluenette leaned off to the right, looking at anything that wasn't Hanyuu. She fumbled over her words marginally before speaking up, "W- Whatever. What does it matter anyway? Even if all the crap you're spilling out is true, what makes you think that Keiichi and I could ever get together? There's other girls who-"

"-who could steal him away?" finished Hanyuu. "Well, yes. That's to be expected. Competition is essential to everything, and love is no exception. If it was really that easy, then life as a whole would be stagnation, which is more or less death when you think about it."

The flustered Furude Princess fidgeted slightly, her cheeks cooling down slowly.

Hanyuu's amused smile faltered as she sighed, "Rika... you mustn't dawdle. Love does not assist the shy; it only rewards those who try. You have all the infatuation to win Keiichi over as your boyfriend. All you need to do is express it, otherwise your feelings turn out pointless. Think of it like knowledge; it's redundant to possess it if you never expose it."

Her cerulean-haired relative revolved her head back to Hanyuu. Rika's violet pearls met with its parallel. This time, Rika looked more unsure. "When you put it that way, I guess it makes some sense. But still, what about the other girls?"

"You mean the other girls in the club?" Hanyuu laughed in a haughty but subtle voice, careful to not wake Satoko. "My dear child, you need not worry about your rivals. While they are your competition, just like you, neither of them can muster up the courage to confess to Keiichi. Fortunately for you, I, Hanyuu Furude, master of matchmaking, am here to assist you in your pursuits."

Rika snorted at Hanyuu's claim of matchmaking. "Don't flatter yourself, Oyashiro-sama. You may be god, but matchmaking is a stretch for your caliber." [3]

The small deity shook her head. "That's not the point. Rika, you have a chance. No one else is willing to reach out to Keiichi. If you heed my words and tell the boy about your feelings, you could potentially get what you desire most in your heart."

"And you suppose that would be Keiichi?" inquired Rika, her head leaning towards Hanyuu slightly.

Hanyuu nodded, placing her hands on her thighs. "Without a doubt, au au. I've seen Keiichi; he truly cares about you. It's very vague, but I know his relations with you are romantic as well. That boy was never really good when it came to grasping the complex concepts of love and women, which is why you should teach him. He loves you, you love him, and both of you are still developing in wisdom. This would be a great way for you two to be happy together, as well as to teach each other and learn about the many aspects of life that have yet to be discovered."

At that moment, Rika's attention departed from reality. The sole Furude heiress plunged into the fissures of her century-old mind, strapped into tight harnesses of contemplation. Keiichi Maebara was definitely a mystifying individual, being able to produce miracles that always seemed to throw her expectations out of the water. Even through one hundred years of anguish, Rika could never get tired of the boy.

She couldn't deny Hanyuu's words; there was something special about Keiichi that left herself mesmerized by his entrancing charms. In that short amount of time, Rika very briefly began to consider her ancestor's suggestions, believing that maybe she could have been right. But then quickly, her unyielding pride surfaced, drowning out any signs of hope that grew within her.

Rika blinked, finding herself in the same bedroom she had yet left out of, with Hanyuu sitting passively before her. A thick frown plastered on her face as she bitterly said, "This is a waste of my time. Love is for brainless idiots. I'm going to sleep."

"If that's the case, then I guess that makes you and Keiichi the most idiotic of them all," not offended in the slightest, Hanyuu replied back in a chirpy voice, sustaining a positive smile that- oh so- tempted Rika to punch angrily.

"Quiet, you," hissed Rika lowly. Getting off of the edge of the window, Rika landed on her barefeet softly as she started to walk over to her futon. "I don't have to listen to your nonsense. Good night."

Hanyuu watched, keeping her scanning pupils glued to her moving indigo-haired relative.

The disgruntled Rika slipped in between the thick, colorless blanket and quilted mattress. She rested her head on top of the soft, cushy pillow that lulled her to deep sleep. Though she was fairly resilient to alcohol, due to many years of indulging in countless beverages throughout her suffering, the red wine's influence had just enough power to attack its drinker at her weakest.

Rika, her strength gradually diminishing from the intoxication, loosened her grip on consciousness and gave in to the world of unmoving darkness.

As for the other Furude girl, Hanyuu blinked blankly at her inebriated child before sighing exasperatedly with a disapproving shake of her head. "Oh, no, no, no. This won't suffice at all. Love is not something you can dismiss, Rika Furude. There is definitely something going on between you and Keiichi, and you know it. If you won't cast away your pride and accept this great gift, then I'll have no choice but to take drastic measures. Mark my words; you and Keiichi will get together. I will make sure of that."

Putting her declaration to rest, the divine goddess stood up and shuffled her feet over to her futon, which was placed neatly next to Rika's. Hanyuu slid her small slim form inside, before she, too, surrendered herself to the dark sharp claws of sleep.

[-x-]

'Damn you, Hanyuu. I should consider drowning you in a sea of wine and kimchi.' Rika thought internally as her eyes pointed down to her moving feet in great interest, ignoring the other two female companions that she was walking with.

It was five days - close to the end of the week - following the discussion that night, and currently, Rika was walking with Hanyuu and Satoko over to their school. They took the long way, wanting to bathe longer in their home village's refreshing scenery.

Disregarding the glaringly obvious contrast to its lunar counterpart, the sunrise struck a marvelous sight that rivaled its polar opposite in quality. Vibrant blue stretched its whole body across the atmosphere, decorated in scumbles of puffy white clouds.

The air- not hot, not cold, but fair in temperature- that swarmed about felt pleasantly soothing to the pedestrian trio in unhampered serenity. It followed the three girls from behind, massaging their backs tenderly. Through perfect synchronization, the strolling winds flowed with the clouds rhythmically to one direction.

Rika silently sighed to herself. 'That infuriating creampuff-loving brat just HAD to get to my head, didn't she? Great. And even on this nice Friday too...'

She couldn't stop thinking about Keiichi.

Posterior to that little chat with Hanyuu, the lavender-haired deity stopped at nothing to try and put Rika and Keiichi together, much to the bluenette's annoyance. It started with simple nudging that forced the two next to each other physically, whether they were deciding where to sit or when they were about to leave after a long school day. This usually left Rika blushing and Keiichi giving casual apologizes to the bluenette.

But then came the comments.

Hanyuu would subtly - or not so subtly depending on awareness - leave suggestive remarks on how Rika, a beautiful young princess, would look even cuter with a charming prince who'd stay by her side eternally, or how Rika desperately needed a handsome male hero to pull her out of "lonely street" and guide her over to "lovely street". There were all kinds of statements thrown out revolving around Rika and Keiichi as a perfect couple.

She even tried shifting everyone's attention over to Keiichi to clarify the implications. That, and Hanyuu simply wanted to humor herself in unadulterated amusement from her young descendant's reaction. Obviously, Rika knew, and she was none too pleased about it.

Shion Sonozaki, a long, green-haired teenage girl of mischief who had a knack for teasing others, understood quite easily and was very much entertained by the suggestive comments.

Her tomboyish, older twin sister, Mion Sonozaki, would simply keep quiet and blush in response. She was very sensitive and helpless against the ropes of romance. [4]

Rena Ryuuguu, another female teenager with auburn-hair who reveled in all things cute, would let her imagination run wild and gush over the small bits about Rika being a princess before making attempts to take the blue-haired child home. Unfortunately for her (and fortunately for everyone else), she never succeeded.

For Satoko Houjou, a notorious prankster who had a tendency to piss the hell out of most people through her snares, she would give a tilt of her head off to the side and stare questioningly at Hanyuu. Unlike the wiser and mentally-older Furude duo, the blond child was too young and innocent to understand the concepts of romantic love, so she was often left perplexed at Hanyuu's jokes.

As for the boy in question? Much to Rika's bafflement, Keiichi Maebara was entirely oblivious to what was going on. Every single time, he'd brush everything off with a hearty laugh laced in subtle puzzlement, pointing out how funny Hanyuu could be when she joked around.

Rika felt torn with Keiichi's blatant responses. While part of her was relieved she wouldn't have to deal with him discovering her true feelings, there was another side screeching for the truth to be exposed. She didn't know why, but it hurt her deeply to see the brown-haired boy dismiss Hanyuu's suggestive remarks with his incomprehensive confusion.

And it wasn't just her ancestor's meddling that affected her usual behavior either.

Sometimes, moments between her and Keiichi spurred on naturally. There were times when Rika felt her knees weaken over the sight of Keiichi, and there were other instances where the two would accidentally graze each other's hands whenever they tried to pick something up.

Even the club activities they had together would throw her off balance. Rika was always distracted with her mixed thoughts of the boy, and it occasionally sent her on the breaking point of losing. She even lost a few games and suffered the penalty game for it.

Rika shook her head, rubbing her arm uncomfortably. 'What's happening to me? Why am I pestered continuously with that boy? Is he really that special... to me? I just don't understa- ack!'

Then, as if right on cue, a sharp throb assaulted the boundaries of her sacred mind, making Rika wince in pain. The troubled Furude grabbed onto one of her temples, her hand rubbing it soothingly. As she did so, flashes of images played in her head, and Rika ended up wide-eyed in shock. That was when she started to remember.

There was a time - a distinct memory Rika Furude could now recall so vividly. It happened roughly around the earlier years of her eternal anguish, where she wasn't the stoic, judgmental, full-fledged spinster who was trapped inside a child's body, but rather an innocent hatchling that lacked complete understanding of the world and its spiteful hardships.

Back then, as a young little girl, Rika had a much harder time adjusting to her time-looping prison, even with a supportive Hanyuu by her side. She often cried because of it almost every time. Everyone around, naturally, was very concerned over Rika's melancholic behavior and would offer her their assistance, before being met with a polite rejection from the bluenette. No one could fantom why Rika was always so sad, and it pained them to see that they couldn't help in any way.

But then came the other lot who were less affectionate. There were those who grew vexed over Rika's constant wailing, resulting in verbal lashing sent out at the child angrily. Some people simply wanted her to shut the hell up, but there were those who thrived over the sick notion of tormenting the weak- and they had Rika placed as their prime target on the list.

Once, on a sunny day just two weeks before Hinamizawa's annual Watanagashi festival, Rika settled alone on a long bench, licking away the blueberry ice cream in hand without any care in the world. At that time, she currently resided in Okinomiya, parked near a motionless ice cream truck. She happily laved in the warming sun, taking no heed to the murky puddles that stained the smooth but dirty grounds as a result of the rainy weather prior. Just when the blissful girl was close to finishing her delectable frozen treat, trouble arrived.

Another female child around her age - who could have been an Okinomiya denizen, or one of her classmates who so happened to be in the area; hell, it might've even been Satoko - approached Rika with a cruel sneer. She smacked away the ice cream in Rika's hands, sending it crashing deep to the ground.

The beaming expression Rika held before quickly contorted into a pain-stricken look as she watched the splattered remains of her ice cream dissolve into an abnormal-blue pond, its wafer body cracked into millions of pieces that accessorized the colorful mess. At first, Rika sniffed. Then, her eyes watered in hot tears. And lastly came the angel's weep.

Rika struggled with wiping away the streaming tears that leaked out of her optical spheres tremendously, and she failed to prepare herself for her bully's next actions. The mean-spirited child yanked Rika off her feet, before hurling her off face-flat to the decaying remnants of the blueberry ice cream. Rika's whole front was painted in her sweet dessert's blood, and the Furude girl sobbed even louder.

The bully retaliated aggressively. She marched over to her fallen victim before repeatedly kicking her. With each kick to her abdomen, with each stomp to her back, and with even a disgusting spit to the back of her hair, Rika was subjected to immense physical abuse, which resulted in her shrieking miserably as her tormentor snarled harmful remarks about her being too much of a crybaby to live.

Eventually, the little rascal grew bored and went on home, though not before forcing another speck of saliva over to her victim's temple. Rika whimpered lightly as she laid flat on her back, watching the skies carry on in their cheerful conduct with anguish written all over her appearance. Her bosoms puffed over and over, and her breathing heaved rapidly.

Just when it seemed like the azure-haired child would once again burst into heart-aching howls of distress, she picked up the sound of soft footsteps. Rika forced herself up on her bottom and rotated her head off to her right side, preparing herself for what other torment was to come. Her clear vision was met with a mysterious new figure.

The person appeared male, possessing short chocolate hair bundled in a ruffled globe as well as deep-blue spheres that reminded Rika of the vast seas of the ravishing oceans. He crouched down to Rika's level and locked the bluenette in a warm embrace. Rika did nothing to resist and simply stared at the boy.

For once, Rika didn't feel like crying. She felt a sense of welcoming elation emit off her comforter's invisible aura - so unlike the usual hostile resentment or unneeded sympathy from those around her. Her small form loosened, assimilated in the fuzzy solaces of this young individual, who made her feel... loved. Rika felt her heart race and her face heat up a deep shade of red as she slowly surrendered to the heavenly robust torso of whom could easily be mistaken for an angel.

And that was when realization dawned on Rika. She knew this man. She was familiar with who he was: a new, charismatic transfer student from Tokyo who had acquainted himself quite well with the peaceful residents of Hinamizawa and Okinomiya. As Rika fully submitted to her comforter's selfless love, as the stained dry tears of her face evaporated, the Furude Princess uttered softly,

"...Keiichi...?"

"Yeah, it's me," Keiichi grinned confidently, causing Rika's heart to flutter. Keeping an arm hung around the child's back, he raised his other hand over to her head before ruffling it kindly. "Y'know Rika-chan, it's illegal to cry around Keiichi Maebara. No beautiful girl around my presence should ever be trapped in the cold chains of sadness. And you're no exception to this."

"M... me... You think I'm... beautiful...?" questioned Rika in pure shock.

Keiichi suspended his chin up-high, his smile growing wider. "Of course! You're the most beautiful of them all, and I'm honored to be associated with you." he flashed a thumbs-up. "I promise to always make you feel special, and to make those who dare harm you drink my piss. You can count on that!"

Rika's lips curled into a broad beaming expression, a complete contrast to her usual frowns of misery. She even giggled lightly over his promises.

"Yeah, THAT'S more like it, Rika-chan," Keiichi lifted Rika off her butt gently, keeping her in a caressing hold. His red vest was smudged with the sticky blood of the deceased blueberry ice cream, though that didn't deter the boy's focus on Rika. "All cute girls should give cute smiles, and since you're the cutest, you'll have to be extra, extra happy. It's a challenge, but I'm sure you can pull it off."

"Mii hi hi..." a tittering Rika wiggled shyly in his bridal embrace, blushing. "I'll try."

Keiichi brought her closer to his chest. "That's all I ask. You should always stay positive from here on out. Now, let's go get you some new ice cream. I'll even buy one for myself, so we can have fun together that way."

"N... nnii... nniiiii... nipaaahhhh~!" [5]

Breaking out of her trip down memory lane, the present-day Rika Furude blinked blankly to herself before giving a light shake to her head. In highsight, that distinctive spectacle between her and Keiichi seemed incredibly cliche, awfully similar to a child's infantile fantasy. And - oh, Holy Hanyuu - she couldn't even get herself started on how corny Keiichi sounded when he spoke to her at that time. [6]

Though Rika still cherished the moment in spite of the corny reminiscence. To her, it was one of the greatest memories she recollected out of that temporal hell.

Keiichi was there to help her. He didn't question her dejected behavior, nor did he pry into her business, and he certainly didn't react to her in hostility. No, he simply treated her with tender affection, complimenting the positive, innocent attributes she once possessed back then and spoiling her rotten with various edible sweets.

That boy was a major factor in her life. He was her inspiration to push forward - to always stay positive and happy, and to never forget the loving companions she would always have by her side. He was the one who taught her love. He was the reason why she even came up with her "Nipah" catchphrase in the first place.

Rika, once again, traced her thoughts back to those earlier years.

Following that ice cream incident, she and Keiichi started to hang out more often. The longer Rika associated herself with him, the more open she was with those around her. Her constant crying ceased, and in its place lied inhumane rhapsody akin to Keiichi's, though more child-like and charming in terms of cuteness.

All the mixed persistent concerns and merciless bullying everyone shot at her disintegrated. The denizens praised and swooned over the reformed bluenette, who was very grateful to be blessed with their kindness over their asperity, though there was only one person - a certain brown-haired boy whose name started with 'K' - she would ever respect the most.

Sadly, her eternal prison couldn't leave well enough alone. It wasn't long before the village was suddenly infested with toxic gases. Rika and Keiichi miraculously escaped the disaster that slowly rotted their home and their loved ones in agonizing death, sprinting off into the woods together to leave Hinamizawa - only to run straight into Takano and her Yamainu legions. From there, Keiichi was shot to death and Rika was disemboweled at the front of the Furude Shrine.

Rika hissed lowly under her breath. Things took a dark turn around those years, and it only worsened in time. She grimly recalled how persistent she was in retracting those cherished moments following her tragic death that day. She did everything she could to escape her fate and to reunite with Keiichi again.

The latter wasn't an issue. Keiichi remained the same, blunt-but-caring-and-reliable guy he had always been throughout Rika's peril. It was easy to get well-acquainted with him; there were so many instances where Rika managed to convince Keiichi in helping out with her unmoving advances. Despite all her admirable endeavors, however, Rika's efforts were left futile. In every action she took, her confinements would find baffling ways to counter.

Her tussles ticked to weeks, stretched to months, and eventually expanded to dreadful years, and by then, Rika broke down in exhaustion. The bluenette stopped reaching out to Keiichi, and the outer, overwhelming joy she created with his help devolved into a sugarcoated and bland facade, used solely to ease any arousing suspicions that potentially placed her secrecy at risk.

Nothing else notable happened afterwards. All Rika did for most of her century was endure, passively taking on the adversities that dare struck her ruthlessly. She stopped trying to inform Keiichi of her troubling dilemma. With the unalterable results that came out of her desperate cries for Keiichi's help, there simply wasn't any point to even bother.

That, and she didn't want him to experience the same pain she had to burden herself. No one deserved to be sentenced to the cruel punishment of having to relive life only to die over and over, and Keiichi most certainly wasn't fitting for that.

The shrine maiden of Hinamizawa also opted not to turn to any of her other friends either. If Keiichi couldn't do it, neither could they.

Through it all, a solemn Hanyuu, who expressed nothing but pity for her descendant, stuck to Rika, using her divine powers to repeat the same month over and over, just for the sake of hopelessly waiting for a miracle.

And it would only be a hundred years later when hope in the form of Keiichi, as well as her other friends, resurfaced and inspired her to endeavor again, only this time succeeding after assembling together as a group and planning out their survival accordingly.

'It's sad how I could forget the special bond I once held with Keiichi in those times. And it's tenfolds as depressing when I actually considered the notion that I'd be better off without him or those happy recollections in my torment.' mused Rika.

The Furude Princess' optics drooped slightly. 'Oh, well. It's reassuring that, despite my horrendous actions, Keiichi was willing to save me from my prison through his miracles and words of wisdom. Despite succeeding one hundred years, the boy's undying will and compassion never ceases to amaze me. Not once has he given up on me. I feel... touched; truly touched... perhaps, for once, Hanyuu was right. Maybe I am in love with Keiichi Maebara. He has always been there for me the most. As my hero, as my guardian, as my-'

"Rika!"

Pulled out of her musings once more, Rika Furude reacted in a violent jolt, her ears groaning over the sharp address of her name. The sapphire-haired child fizzed piercingly to herself as she placed a caring hand over one ear. She wheeled her face over to her right, her clear vision taking in a slightly-agitated blond subject staring right at her.

Satoko Houjou narrowed her magenta orbs, revealing more of her irritation. "Haven't you been listening to a word I've said?"

"No," Rika acknowledged flatly, not bothering to hide her adult voice as she kept a stone expression on her face. 'And I'm not sure I want to either, not after how you scared the life out of me just now.'

Fortunately for Rika, Satoko didn't take note of her deep-toned voice. With pinchable cheeks puffing up in balloons, her fanged friend huffed exasperatedly, "Oh, come on! You know how much I hate repeating myself, Rika! And to think, I tried so hard to explain to you the complexities and creativity of my newest creation, too," the blonde crossed her arms in pouty fashion as she sunk her head lower to her shoulders. "Humph!"

Hanyuu, walking next to Rika's other side, gave a consoling smile at the sulking Satoko. "Au, au, au, it's okay, Satoko. You can always show Rika your new trap."

"Yeah, I guess," Satoko cheered up slightly.

The three were close to reaching the branch school they attended daily. As they caught sight of the rural building, Rika's orchid pearls squinted, focusing on the broaden trail that led to the white-door entrance hooded with a dead green roof.

A strange rich-purple carpet, bordered in gold, sat in front, appearing completely out of place with the school structure's usual attire of mahogany and dull green colors. Rika blinked blankly. "What's with the carpet?"

"Oh, ho, ho! Now you're curious," grinned Satoko, eyes gleaming in mischief. She covered her lips with one hand in a snobbish manner, "That right there is my masterpiece. Hidden under the carpet is a traphole, deep enough for its victim to crawl out of, though not before being greeting to a... nasty surprise. Oho ho ho ho ho!"

'That's not complex or creative at all. Isn't she always making shit like this on a daily basis? I mean, the carpet's new, but still. Originality is clearly lacking here.' immediately, Rika's adult mind began to nitpick at Satoko's so-called masterpiece.

Outwardly however, through the child voice she often used to go along with her adolescent masquerade, the bluenette simply pointed out, "Hmmm... sorry, sir. But you've made better snares before. I don't see how this one is special."

Satoko scoffed, "I did tell you about the surprise inside the traphole, but - ooooh no - you had to go off and ignore this amazing Trap Master's elaborate explanation, and for that, you will just have to see the surprise for yourself. Consider it a punishment for disrespecting the almighty trap expert."

Rika sweatdropped. 'Vanity has met its match.'

"Okay, moving on," Satoko continued. "It took me the rest of afternoon yesterday to set this all up. You have no idea how taxing it was to find what I needed to put in the hole, so you better be grateful for this, Rika. I've also made sure to inform everyone of my work ahead of time just so they don't trigger it by accident. Right now, they're taking the back window into the school. All our classmates know what to do... well, except for a certain peasant who I'm positive will fall in, hue hue hue~"

In response, Rika simply rolled her eyes. It was mind-boggling how Satoko never grew tired of her own antics. Her pranks were amusing in the first few worlds she'd been into, but later on, they grew to be boring and bothersome. Added in with the seldom amount of times she got caught in Satoko's snares, it was a miracle how Rika could tolerate it all under her fake persona.

Hanyuu, on the other hand, applauded and cheered, "Yay! Au, au, au. I'm sure your trap will do great, Satoko."

The blonde bowed mockingly. "Thank you, thank you. But please, Hanyuu-san, save your applause for when my greatest work is sprung into action."

"Alright then," Hanyuu nodded in confirmation before glancing over to her lapis-haired relative. The innocent smile she donned widened to her cheeks as it sullied in playful diablerie.

Her descendant's optics sharpened sternly, not taking kindly to the all-knowing grin sent her way. Lately, Hanyuu had done nothing but tease her over Keiichi constantly. Not a shed of decency exuviated from her actions. Rika felt pessimistic suspicion arise. That creampuff-loving child was no doubt up to something mischievous, and whatever it was, Rika didn't like it one bit.

And she was even ready to preempt on that. "Okay, Hanyuu. I've played long enough. Stop your childish games. I don't know what kind of stunt you have in mind, but I suggest you put an end to this nonsense or I'll-"

"Hey, look!" Satoko interrupted, pointing a stretched finger out in the distance. "They're coming; he's coming."

Hanyuu and Rika both broke off their staring contest before glancing to where Satoko directed. The grinning lilac-haired goddess bobbed her head approvingly while her next of kin froze stiffly.

From afar, four figures - a male alongside three females, all teenagers - trekked their way up to the school. Two of them looked identical, with the glaringly obvious exception of different emerald-colored hairstyles and clothing. The other female had shoulder-length reddish-brown hair, appearing to be the shorter in the group height-wise. Lastly, there was the tallest of them all, the boy in his sweet sixteen.

Rika Furude felt her heart skip a beat. She kept her eyes glued to the advancing young man, who possessed short burnt-umber hair that captivated its audience through affluent aspects. His orbs radiated massive quantities of ultramarine, retaining the best of oceans in its tight, optical grasp. His toned arms exposed its well-defined muscles as his bulky shoulders and chest bulged through its red undershirt and white collared-shirt layers.

With flushed cheeks heating up gradually, Rika thought to herself absentmindedly, 'K... Keiichi...'

"Man, this sucks," Keiichi Maebara grumbled, stomping the ground with slamming feet. "Why can't time go any faster? I just want to get school done and go home. Or go to Angel Mort. Whichever works."

Rena Ryuuguu gazed softly at her disgruntled friend, concerned and saddened. "Haauu... it isn't like Keiichi-kun to be so moody. Usually, he looks forward to attending school. What's troubling him, I wonder, I wonder?"

"I'd rather not talk about it," responded Keiichi abrasively. [7]

Before Rena could press on, dramatic laughter ferociously stabbed the air, nearly deafening the travelling teenagers. Keiichi and Rena glanced over to their right, met with the sight of a cackling girl with leaf-colored hair tied in a ponytail. The girl chimed provocatively, "Nyaha ha ha ha ha! Kei-chan's rather salty today. Must be from all those times where he always had to suffer the penalty game."

"Shut up, Mion. You and your stupid rigged games," Keiichi glared.

Mion Sonozaki stuck her nose up and smiled smugly as her teal orbs clashed with the boy's blue ones. "Keep feeding this old man your tears. It makes Uncle Mion happy."

The aggrieved Keiichi scowled back more intensely. For the past few weeks, he had been subjected to unbridled horrors as a result of losing almost all the club activities. There were times where he was given a break whenever Rika lost (and there was that one time where he actually won and gave the girls their overdue comeuppance), but even then, those occasions happened so scarcely and it was only a matter of time before he was sentenced back to his loser status.

Being the leader of the Gaming Club, Mion spared no expenses dishing out his punishments. She forced Keiichi to sport various girly outfits bought just for him, some of them more revealing and suggestive than others. Once, Keiichi had no choice but to wear a pink bikini and strike many poses that left others around him questioning his sexuality.

Keiichi shuddered over the gruesome thought. Most of the girls in the club were brutal, especially Mion, who - for whatever obscure reason - took very sadistic pleasure in torturing the boy through cross-dressing measures. Lately, the elder Sonozaki twin had been paying a lot of special attention to her favorite victim, much to his disdain. Mion went so far as to even come up with a horrible nickname for him, calling him-

"Whipping boy!" Mion hollered, causing Keiichi to cringe over the loud volume. "Live up to your title as "Magician of Words", and keep on ranting. You have such a way with words, even as a sore loser, and frankly, I wanna hear more of your petulant whining."

It took everything Keiichi had to hold in his scream.

Then, a new voice joined in on the conversation. The third and final teenage girl, with long lush emerald hair flowing down in a straightforward path to her curvy back, added in, "You have to admit, Kei-chan. Although Onee is extremely critical about it, she makes a valid point. You haven't exactly been doing a great job these past few weeks." [8]

"Oh, gee, I wonder why that is, Shion," Keiichi bristled before mumbling silently, "...filthy cheaters..."

Shion Sonozaki whipped her face left-to-right and flicked her hair, letting her dainty fingers graze the gold ribbon that tied strings of her hair down from the top rear. She simply winked back, not minding the dry sarcasm hurled at her.

The moping boy's optics cast below, leering at the opaque black puddle hitch-hiking alongside his feet. He wasn't sure if he could handle the abuse any longer. When he was first introduced to the club and its minimal, simplistic rules, Keiichi truly believed he could win at least one game. How reality proved him wrong.

He was left unaware of the way everyone purposely played unfair in the games- how they left distinctive marks on the cards to read off, how they all teamed up against him, or how they simply found other ways to deliberately make him lose- until it was too late. Keiichi Maebara, being the type to never give into submission, preserved his persistence and kept on participating in the club, determined to get the long end of the stick.

So far, his progress only lead to him winning a single, measly game, and that was only because Lady Luck was merciful.

'Damn. These women love to torture me so much and it is downright frustrating. Oooooh, how I would LOVE to put Mion and Shion in their places right now.' Keiichi thought angrily. 'And Satoko too. That brat definitely needs her just-desserts. I know I shouldn't be getting so upset over this, but my patience is running thin. I'm not sure how long I can tolerate these games anymore.'

Keiichi's anger slowly melted, replaced with disheartened sadness. 'The only people who don't ever mock me are Rena, Hanyuu-chan, and...' his brooding paused shortly before continuing. '...Rika-chan.'

And from there, the Maebara boy's concave sulking came to a full halt. Rika Furude... those five tasty syllables always did roll smoothly off his tongue. Enunciating that single name alone was more than sufficient enough to brighten his day. Keiichi couldn't figure out why, but there was just something special about that girl.

She knew how to cheer him up, with an effortless pat to the head drenched in words of encouragement. She knew how to make him feel proud of himself, praising him for his commitment to never stop trying in the Gaming Club, even if he barely achieved victory in a single game. And Rika knew what it was like to be scarred, to be burdened with so much pressure from the world.

That last bit was one Keiichi could see clearly, unlike all his other friends.

The boy remembered that unfortunate incident back in Tokyo: the reason why he moved to Hinamizawa in the first place. It wasn't a good time for him that day. Though he was the culprit in that incident, Keiichi was also a victim of harsh adversities.

He came across bullies who would diss him for being a loner, and he locked himself away into the cold solitude of isolation with no one but his remarkable grades in school to turn to. Not even his parents helped him out, only instead expecting him to improve in his academics.

Driven insane from those circumstances, Keiichi bought an airsoft gun through his allowance and began shooting people after school to ease his boredom. No one found out he was responsible. It wasn't that challenging to conceal his identity. Sneaking and hiding had great advantages. But no, it was what happened to his victims that left him guilty to his actions.

A young girl walked alone in the streets, with Keiichi stalking her every movement. Just as he pointed the airsoft gun at her, just when he pulled the trigger, she spun her head around and her eye was greeted to a breath-taking hug, courtesy of an airsoft pellet. Her screams of pain were so frighteningly lucid to the boy, and it was enough to make him realize what he had just done. Keiichi quickly ran home and researched what would happen if a person got hit in the eye with airsoft ammunition.

The results left him horrified: Permanant blindness.

From that point on, Keiichi and his parents moved away. He confessed his crimes to his mother and father. Both his guardians, naturally, were upset, but they chose not to lash out at him for it. Deep down, they felt it was their own fault for not batting an eye at their son when he needed help. Keiichi's father stumbled upon a brochure of a quiet town named Hinamizawa, a peaceful village he once went to for sight-seeing, and that was all he needed to plan where his family should go.

The rest was ancient history. Keiichi changed his ways, vowing to never commit similar atrocities he performed in Tokyo ever again and to be the Keiichi Maebara he should have been before. He went over to Hinamizawa and attended its small campus, where he met all the fourteen students that would remain as his classmates for a long time. Keiichi was most acquainted with the female members of the Gaming Club, adjusting well with their unorthodox lifestyle.

Most of the girls in the club he met were nice and amicable to be around, but there was only one out of them all who caught the most attention from him: a young girl with ultramarine hair, seemingly Hinamizawa's cute, bubbly, and innocent idol who went by the name Rika Furude. However, one look into her eyes and Keiichi saw something else.

Pain. Whereas the denizens of all Hinamizawa and Okinomiya saw fresh life sparkle brightly, Keiichi spotted pure agony glisten dimly. Everyone bought the plastered fake smile on her face hook, line, and sinker; all but Keiichi. He saw through the false pretenses and found an ashen old woman trapped in chains, reaching out to him helplessly to escape.

Keiichi felt pity for her. He knew what it was like to be imprisoned. The more his blue orbs collided with Rika's violet ones, the more relation and understanding Keiichi sensed between himself and the child. Both of them were confined against the world's sour truth; its veracity feeding on their freedom and happiness.

They were like two birds marked in bleeding scratches harsh reality had unleashed upon them, locked away in cages, kept hidden in cold shrouding darkness and forced away from the warm light. The duo could only sit in their confinements together and watch the whole world around them decay into dust.

There was something else too. Rika seemed to know fully well who he was. He recalled their first initial meeting in the school, the time where she addressed him by his name before he even had a chance to introduce himself.

It was so strange, yet... uplifting? For whatever reason, Keiichi felt a sense of happiness blossom inside him, almost as if he wanted her to recognize him. And somehow, he also sensed the signs of familiarity that linked him and Rika together, as if he met her a long time ago. Keiichi couldn't place his finger on it. No doubt in his mind he somehow knew Rika from a distant time, though the frustrating lack of memories centered around that connection prevented him from pressing further.

'Maybe I should go talk with Rika-chan later, sometime when school's over. I haven't really interacted with her that much anyway, and it'd be great for me to get answers on what's going on between us.' Keiichi considered carefully as his optics looked up absentmindedly. 'Hopefully she isn't absent.'

"Mii!"

The next thing Keiichi knew, he was suddenly tackled by a barreling blur that nearly sent him down on the ground. He felt smooth, organic branches wrap around his waist lovingly. His footing faltered slightly, but not enough to collapse, so thankfully, the boy managed to prevent himself from falling.

Keiichi redirected his sharp eyes downward. His optical pupils pinpointed the origins of his assailant: a small petite figure with a vibrant curtain of lapis-lazuli cascading down to her delicate back, her spellbinding violet orbs scintillating in a confusing mood - mixed between happiness and subtle concern - as they stared back at its captive's orbs.

Recognizing the same, two optical spheres that never once ceased in fascinating him, the chocolate-haired teenager addressed kindly, "Rika-chan, hey! Great to see you!"

"Miii~" Rika clung onto the boy, her arms tightening around his waist in tender grasp. She buried her face into his smooth stomach, nestling it affectionately as she uttered in a muffled voice, "It's good to see you too, sir."

Around them, the other girls eyed Keiichi and Rika with interest.

Rena swooned over how cute her two friends looked together and was on the verge of falling into her signature "take-it-home" mode. Shion cocked an eyebrow, mildly dubious with what was going on. Satoko and Hanyuu, who weren't too far from the group, also shared different reactions. The former was very confused - and slightly embarrassed - over the scene before her while the latter simply stared at Rika and Keiichi with an all-knowing smile.

Dissimilar to her companions' responses, however, Mion appeared vexed, not liking the scene before her one bit. Though the club leader wisely refrained from making a scene. Coating her envious irritation with smug laughter, she quipped warningly, "Ha ha ha! Be careful, Rika-chan. I wouldn't cling onto whipping boy like that. You might get a case of his loser disease."

"Mi-chan, no," Rena, snapping out of her euphoric state, smacked Mion harshly upside the head, earning a loud yelp from the elder twin. "Don't be nasty to Keiichi-kun or Rika-chan."

"I don't know, Onee. Based off her previous losses in the past few weeks, I'd say she's already got it," remarked Shion. In seconds, she, too, received a nice firm slap to the back of her head. "Ye-ow! Rena-chan!"

Satoko hauled her attention away from Keiichi and Rika before glancing over to Shion, the glitters in her optics brightening joyously. She rushed to the younger twin recovering from her headsmack and embraced her lovingly. "Shion-san!"

Giggling lightly to herself, Shion reciprocated the affectionate gesture. "Hah, hah. Nice to see you too, Satoko-chan."

"I know I've said this an absurd amount of times, but it's really great to have you here. Good of you to transfer over to our school after that whole fiasco with Takano-san." Satoko broke the hug, flashing a beaming smile.

"Yeah," Shion laughed. "You've been bugging me a lot to attend school with you around that time, and well, who was I to deny the request of my surrogate little sister?"

The blonde blushed in response.

"Mmmmm..." Rika hummed fondly, pulling her face off of Keiichi's stomach. She aimed her soft gaze at the boy in front of her before commenting, "...something wrong, Keiichi?"

Keiichi blinked, his mind fuddled in intoxicated bemusement over the sudden question. "What?"

"You are upset about something. I can see the rancor dancing in your pupils clear as day," elaborated Rika. Her pupils fluctuated in size as her eyelids drooped. "I hope I'm not the source of your problem."

The male in his sweet sixteen waved his hands wildly in a surrender gesture, flinching over the bluenette's dejected appearance. "Oh, no, no, no! There isn't any issues I have with you, Rika-chan. And I'm not that upset either. It's just-" he fired a resentful frown at Mion. "-an itch I have a hard time scratching that's been bugging me. Never knows when to quit."

Mion snorted.

Rika's deflated countenance arose in high spirits. She hid her arms behind her back, allowing both her hands to intertwine.

The indigo-haired girl's eyes straightened and reverted back to their zest nature. "Ah, yes. A twitch of an itch, gripping the power to quiver one's serenity so aggressively. Sure sounds troublesome, that-is-so. Hmmm... well, I know a friend who deals with this kind of difficulty daily. If I remember him well, I would imagine him to focus more on what makes him most happy and just leave the itch alone until it departs. Itches only feed themselves from discontentment, after all."

"Heh, heh, heh," Keiichi chuckled, completely aware of who she was referring to. Uplifted away from bitterness' acidic grounds, he felt his usual buoyancy gradually return. "Hey, you're right. Being negative is a no-go. It is better for me to look more into the positive side. Can't believe I forgot all about that. Thanks for reminding me, Rika-chan."

"No, thank you. You were the first to teach me such a lesson a long time ago. It's the least I can do to repay you for that. You pry me away from my itch, I pry you away from yours," Rika's lips stretched outwardly to her cheeks, forming a broad grin of pure innocence. "Nipah~!"

Everyone excluding Mion laughed wholeheartedly.

As for the club leader herself, her face flared beet-red in humiliation from being compared to an itch. The implications in Rika's last statement about "prying Keiichi away from itches"  only made her feel ten times worse. Wanting to change the subject and to get Rika and Keiichi to stop conversing with one another, Mion spluttered, "W- W- We should get going now! Off to class!"

The joyous howls ceased. Rena piped up, "Hauuu, definitely. It isn't good to be late to school."

"Ha ha ha! Race you all there," Keiichi darted towards the entrance of the school, oblivious to the surprise awaiting him there. "And while you're at it, kiss my ass, Mion!"

Mion glared daggers at the scampering boy. "Why you...!"

"Oh my. Keiichi is wasting no time, it seems, au au. Too bad. I wonder if he can prepare himself for what's about to happen next," Hanyuu, faking to be worried, stared at the male in question before averting her gaze over to Rika. Raillery flooded all over her gleaming orchid spheres. "I'm sure you know where I am going with this, Rika."

Her relative, adorned in a vibrant cataract of azure hair, paled tremendously. The thought of Satoko's special surprise began to rush through alarmingly in memory. "Oh, no..." and before she knew it, Rika's feet were already shuffling swiftly towards Keiichi, struggling to catch up. "Sir, wait! Don't go! Don't go!"

The rest of the girls stayed behind and simply watched Keiichi go. They were all well-informed of the snare hidden in front of the school, so wisely, neither of them followed the boy, not wanting to get caught in the trap. Though they were all somewhat surprised to see Rika pursue the boy, the other female club members shrugged off her actions, too engrossed with Keiichi and his potential failure to care.

Mion and Satoko sniggered together, excited to watch Keiichi fall in. Shion and Rena simply shook their heads, pitying the boy for his uncontrollable rashness. Hanyuu nodded approvingly at her descendant in haste.

"Keiichi, stop! No!" Rika called out frantically as she tried to reach the male teenager. Surprisingly, the child was making good progress. She had a lot of speed to go around by.

"Almost there. Oh, man. It's been so long since I've been this close to beating the other girls," Keiichi spotted a peculiar sight laying on the ground near the doors as he ran. "Huh. Nice carpet."

Satoko and Mion felt their cheeks puff up immensely.

"Ah, shit!" in an unexpected turn of events, Keiichi lost his footing and tripped. He hurtled onto the ground harshly, grunting in discontent as he landed.

The boy quickly picked himself back up on his feet. Brushing off the dust that dared clasp his school clothes, he heard roars of taunting laughter emit from behind; his ears perked upon hearing the two familiar voices in those laughs. Not bothering to glance back, Keiichi shouted, "Damn it, Mion! Satoko! Both of you just shove it. Wait until I'm the first to reach the entrance. We'll see who gets the last laugh then."

Both girls in question responded by cackling harder.

'Achk! Why isn't he listening to me?! Oh, that boy and his reckless behavior, I swear.' cursed Rika internally. She raced faster, marginally closing the large gap between herself and Keiichi. "Sir, sir! Miiiiiii!"

"Whew," Keiichi panted as he shook off the aftereffects of his plummet. Fortunately for him, the fall wasn't too severe. There wasn't even a single scrape on his body. The teenager with chocolate-colored hair persisted in getting to the school's entrance, this time advancing slowly. "I'm close to the doors, hue... No- hah- need to- huff- rush. All those- gasp- crazy girls... gonna lose..."

Through forces unexplained, Rika's sprinting feet picked up massive quantities of momentum, bolting towards Keiichi in lightning speed.

"And with this last step... marks the end of this race," the sixteen-year-old male youth was only a step away from his destination. He extended one hand out to the closed doorways, paying no heed to how close his feet were in stamping the inapposite carpet. "My victory is ensured."

His right foot was just centimeters above the rich fabric.

"Nnnnooooooooooooooooooooo!"

"Uhngh!"

Splash!

An enormous column of light-pink erupted from where the carpet once rested. Emerging as a strange and unidentifiable liquid, the rising pillar dispersed into showering rain, descending down on the motionless earth and school building in full glory.

One person was situated near the volcanic traphole that exploded. They sat on the dirt ground with eyes as wide as dinner plates, their gaping mouth nearly reaching down to their neck in shock.

All the other females that stood away from the incident in yonder were wide-eyed as well. They briskly scuttled over to the scene, letting their stomping feet jab the faint dust out of the terra firma repeatedly. Most of the girls catered to the pothole that served in place of the missing fabric, cringing for reasons unknown.

Only Rena tended to the shell-shocked person. "Haauuu, are you alright?"

"Yeah," nodded the fallen figure as Rena helped them spring up to their feet. "I can't believe what transpired just now. Did it really...?"

Rena displayed a gentle smile. "It did. I never saw it coming either. Who would have thunk a day like this would occur? A time where you don't fall into one of Satoko-chan's traps. Astounding, isn't it... Keiichi-kun."

"Understatement of the year," Keiichi, now revealed to be the person in mystery, admitted truthfully. He glanced over to the small crater in concern. "I hope Rika-chan's okay. That trap Satoko set up looked pretty intense."

Seconds later, a high-sonic screech busted out from the deep opening. Everyone around had either recoiled in trembling alarm, or had covered their sensitive ears to protect their hearing. Keiichi rose on his feet posthaste and strode over to the pit-trap, with Rena accompanying him from his right.

The two joined their friends and inspected the screaming hole. Their noses were instantly clogged in a miasma of overwhelming aroma, leaving them to swallow the threatening urges to puke.

Inside, there emerged a seething Rika Furude, drenched in faint rose-colored liquid. Her school clothes were saturated to the hilt, and her flooding-cerulean hair was sullied. Rika pinched her nose tightly as she floated in the aberrant pond, screaming, "Oh, god! Hot sauce and rotten milk?! Ugh! You have got to be kidding me! Some of it managed to seep in my mouth! Bleh!"

All the other club members scrunched their noses in disgust, using their thumbs and fingers to seal any open entrance off for the unwelcome stench. Satoko, fuschia orbs glimmering in guilt, shot a fixed look of remorse at her best friend. "Sorry, Rika. I didn't mean for this to happen to you."

"Well, it did! Inconceivable! Egad!" a sickening shade of green eclipsed the Furude Princess' face. Firmly keeping one hand placed on her compressed nose, Rika moved her other hand and swung it vigorously through the floundering mixture of spicy condiments and decaying dairy. She upraised the reeking liquid towards Satoko, spraying her clumsily. "Have a taste of your own crap! Damn it, someone get me out of here!"

Satoko squealed shrilly, flinching over the warm wet touch of concocted fluids that assaulted her green dress harshly. The snare specialist stumbled back.

Keiichi reacted the quickest. He crouched down, bent over, and stretched an open hand out to the irate bluenette, who blatantly swam closer and accepted the open fist in moment's notice. Grabbing onto the small appendage securely, the brown-haired boy levered Rika up, keeping her suspended in midair momentarily before helping her out of the deep hole.

The child with lapis-lazuli hair let out a low hiss, mumbling inaudibly to herself as she wiped off the little remains of hot-sauced milk that dawdled down her arms and legs. Rika grabbed a handful of her indigo mane and distorted it in a tight braid, squeezing out the parasitic fluids that soaked her hair through heavy twisting.

She then dug into her backpack and pulled out a metallic water bottle, which she used to guzzle down on, drowning out the grotesque stale tastes invading her mouth.

Placing the now half-filled container back in her bag, she glanced down at the crater in contempt, momentarily eyeballing the stained carpet that wafted mindlessly through the foul-smelling pond.

After that, Rika shifted her focus back to Keiichi, who had taken a few steps back away from her so not as to be caught in her circle of rage. Any residuals of lingering anger dissipated from Rika entirely. Her scornful visage alleviated, and at the same time bringing life to a more appreciative, lighthearted look on her face. She said graciously, "Thanks for helping me out, Keiichi. I knew I could count on you."

Keiichi, sitting down on one knee, sheepishly scratched the back of his head. "Ah, ha ha. It was nothing," and at that precise moment, veins suddenly popped out near the sides of his head, throbbing strenuously. Bothered tremendously by the dull aching, he clutched onto his head, cringing as he groaned, "..hnnghh... nhhh..."

The other girls noticed his ordeal, scrutinizing him with worry in their eyes. Hanyuu asked in concern, "Au, au, is everything okay, Keiichi?"

At first, Keiichi didn't respond. Though after half a minute of silent waiting, the boy withdrew his hand away from his head, no signs of pounding vessels nor a strained expression evident on any part of his face. He smiled reassuringly, "Yeah, it was only a small migraine. Nothing too bad."

"Alright then," Shion started, changing the subject as she tended to Satoko, who appeared discomfited over her stained dress. The feminine twin held her surrogate sister's hand protectively. "Now with that settled, we should probably go inside and help these little ones get cleaned up."

Rika shook her head over Shion's offer, politely declining, "Mii, no thank you, sir. I'll clean myself later, but right now, I need to speak to KeiKei alone." [9]

The brown-haired teenager in question shot a bemused look at Rika, puzzled over her desideratum. He couldn't help but wonder what she needed him alone for.

As a perplexed Keiichi wandered off thoughtfully in his cogitations, Mion stared at Rika in disapproval. "Ah-ah-ah, absolutely not. 'fraid I can't allow you to do that, Rika-chan. Class is starting soon, and you shouldn't be wasting your time chatting with Kei-chan."

"I won't hold Keiichi for too long. We'll be joining the rest of you soon," reassured Rika. "Even if both of us are late, it won't be that much of an issue to deal with."

Mion looked unconvinced. The club leader seemed bothered over the notion of Rika and Keiichi sharing a moment together. To her, it all spelled trouble. "Hmmm... nope. Sorry, but Uncle Mion doesn't endorse this."

"How unfortunate. But I'm still going to be stealing KeiKei away regardless," Rika stuck her tongue out playfully at Mion, giving a teasing wink. "Nothing personal. Nipah~!"

That taunt was more than enough to rattle Mion. With her nerves piqued, the elder Sonozaki thickened her sour frown. She marched over menacingly towards Rika, ready to forcibly usher her inside of the school.

Only for Rena to intervene in Rika's defense.

The redhead stepped in front of Mion, putting an end to her movements. "Hauu, Mi-chan. If Rika-chan wants alone time with Keiichi-kun, then you should leave her be." she re-examined her words carefully afterwards, and fell in a flustered squirming mess. "H- Ha- Hau! Alone time, Rika-chan and Keiichi-kun... haauuuu~"

"Yeah, okay," Mion tried to snake past her excited friend. "I'm just gonna stop Rika-chan now."

"No!" before she had the chance to slip through, Mion felt her feet elevate off the ground promptly. She found herself laying on top of a stiff shoulder, her arms and legs dangling about loosely. Rena kept a fastened arm wrapped around Mion's slim waist as she responded vehemently, "Rena will not allow Mi-chan to be mean. Everyone, let's go on inside and leave Rika-chan to do her own business."

Mion kicked and punched the air, demanding briskly, "Argh! Release me!"

The auburn-haired girl, unfazed by her friend's violent endeavors for freedom, glandered to Rika with a nod of approval before revolving her attention back to the school building. Rena strutted around to the back with her swinging schoolbag and Mion in safe hands, ignoring her captive's tenacious clamors as she casually avoided the trap blocking the usual entrance inside. The other girls, Rika not included, followed soon after.

"Heh, heh, heh. That was amusing," chuckled Keiichi. Not too long ago, he was brought out of his contemplation just in time to see Mion being carried away. He watched his friends go off, keeping his optics primarily aimed at Rena and the fuming Mion hoisted on her shoulder.

"You took the words right out of my mouth," a smug Rika smirked evilly. "I doubt I will ever fathom how Rena can possess such tremendous strength, but I'm not complaining. Good of her to take care of Mion for me. Speaking of which..."

The well-pleased child gloatingly waved goodbye to Mion, who had been glowering back at her. In response to the sardonic gesture sent directly at her, Mion let out an appalled gasp before struggling harder, repeatedly slamming her fists down Rena's back as the volume of her protests increased. "Why you cheeky little raccoon! Wait until we start club activities; you'll be sorry when I make you lose!"

Everyone else accompanied the humming Rena and malcontent Mion, ignoring the non-stopping barrage of screams sent pass them.

Hanyuu hauled herself closer to Satoko and Shion. The lavender-haired child leaned into the blonde's ear and whispered, "Thanks for doing what I asked you to do. I knew Rika would take the bait."

"Don't mention it," Satoko flashed a toothy grin in reply. "I'm more than glad to assist Rika. And Keiichi-san too. That guy's a great addition to have in our group. I respect him a lot, and really admire him as a person," the trap expert's magenta orbs leaned off to the side as her cheeks flushed. "Just... don't go telling Keiichi-san that. He'll never let me hear the end of it if word got out."

"Au, au, au," chirped Hanyuu. "Something tells me he already knows. Ha ha! But for your own sake, I'll heed to your request."

Satoko looked up thoughtfully. "Still, I kinda wish Keiichi-san actually fell into my special surprise snare. It just isn't as fun when somebody other than him triggers my traps."

Having overheard the little ones' murmurs, Shion decided to chime in, "You don't need to wish for that, Satoko-chan. I'm sure Kei-chan will fall in your pit-trap sooner or later."

"Hey, yeah," Satoko grinned deviously at Shion. "He pretty much falls into my traps on a daily basis. There's no way he'd be able to avoid this one. Maybe I should use something less conspicuous then that carpet to lure him in though. How does a dead patch of grass sound? Keiichi-san's gullible enough to fall for that."

The trio laughed and carried on, catching up to their other two friends in front.

Meanwhile, Rika and Keiichi were situated together at the face of the school, all alone with no one around to intrude. Rika was beaming ecstatically at Keiichi, much to his puzzlement over her cheery comportment. Her arms hid behind her back playfully, her heels hopped over and over in excitement while her toes remained attached to the ground, and her eyes dilated, revealing more of her sparkling orchid bubbles.

"So, uhh," Keiichi began awkwardly. Not breaking out of his kneeling position, he kept himself close to Rika's level of height. "I see you're happy... to, erm, see me. And you want me alone, to talk."

"Yup!" Rika tweeted before giggling cutely, heavily entertained with the boy's nervous state. "Are you embarrassed to have a cute girl pull you over in private, sir? It's okay if that's the case. This isn't something that occurs naturally, especially for a boy like you. But you mustn't be so timid. This kitty cat doesn't bite. Nipah!"

Keiichi figited lightly, feeling chagrined. Though he couldn't resist revealing the bright grin that crept slowly on his facial features. There was never a single moment when Rika would ever fail at making him happy. He sniggered, "Yeah, I know better than to believe you would ever bite. I'm just very surprised, is all. So... what exactly did you want me for?"

The Furude Princess stretched her vivacious smile ear-to-ear. She swayed towards Keiichi, moving in such blissful, elegant grace that would send any awe-stricken human being grovelling down at her feet. Rika stopped in her travels, grabbed Keiichi by his shoulders, and leaned in. She was inches away from his flushed face. "I want to thank you, Keiichi."

"Huh?" mumbled Keiichi, the heat on his cheeks cooling off. He plainly blinked in utter confusion as he went on ahead in his questioning. "Thank me for what? And why?"

Rika lifted one hand off from one of the male's shoulders and dragged it over to his head, patting the turts of his burnt-umber hair fondly as she answered, "For all the numerous things you've done for me when I needed help, and for always being the only one to really be there for me. I'm extremely grateful. Earlier from that surprise Satoko nearly pulled on you, I pushed you out of the way. That was me trying to repay you for your good deeds, though, ermm... obviously, I ended up needing you to get me out of trouble again, as usual."

"Hey, now that's okay, Rika-chan," Keiichi eased kindly, feeling Rika's patting hand slide back down to his open shoulder as he pressed on. "I am more than willing to assist you with anything in any way. No exceptions. There's no need to thank or repay me for it all."

"You're wrong," the sapphire-haired child shook her head. Her child-like voice deepened in tone, a swarm of solemnity invested her speech and crumbled any residual pieces of joy that stood in its way. She said maturely, "For me, it is necessary to express my gratitude. Believe me when I say you are a great significant part of my life. I would have never gotten this far in life without you. You're the best gift this world has ever given me."

Discernible astonishment made its way up Keiichi's face. "R.. Rika-chan..."

Refusing to acknowledge his great surprise, Rika persisted in talking. Her face heaved onward, gradually erasing the invisible force that blocked off the face of the young man before her.

The couple's cheeks flared in crimson, though Rika's manifested more intense heat. She said, "Lately throughout the past weeks of this new July, I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, wondering without end over what you were to me. My first and grievest mistake in this conundrum was regarding you as a good friend, but now I start to see the truth clearly."

Keiichi gulped, irritably agonized by Rika's snail-snaking motion. It was as if time judged movement through observing the dragging hours. His mind already started to see where the whole situation was heading, but ignorance insisted on playing its part. "What do you mean? What truth?"

"You silly, silly boy," Rika felt her eyelids drape halfway as she puckered her lips slightly. "I'm saying that I don't view you as a platonic companion. I perceive you as someone who I can truly connect with in body and soul. In my clear perspective, you are my hero: the one who scorches my burdens with hopeful luminescence, my guardian: the one sent down from heaven's paradise to look out for me, and, you're the one my beating heart is drawn to..."

The bluenette halted her advances, her face standing just an apple's stem away from Keiichi. With the subtle movements of her lips, Rika Furude enunciated the conclusion of her finishing statement: the words that perfectly described her relations with the male visible in her unblinking vision, and the words that would, once and for all, uplift the curtains blinding Keiichi Maebara's cognizance of romance. "...my partner."

And at that moment, Rika pressed her soft lips against Keiichi's.

It was a kiss that had lasted no more than fifteen seconds at most. But that wasn't the case for the two kindred souls entwined through lip contact. For them, the display of affection stretched over to eternity's distant range. Rika pushed deeper, squeezing the smooth, slippery flesh that watered her own. She gripped onto Keiichi's shoulders in tender tightness as her lips sank deeper into the kiss.

A feminine groan of pleasure roped between the mouths of the duo, signaling the overwhelming passion and long overdue desire that pranced about.

Rika's viewpoint was pitch-black through the beginnings of this eventful moment, but halfway, her optics shot open in shock. Her body jolted, taken aback by the unexpected pressure from her lips that shoved her head rearwards. The child let out a muffled gasp before whimpering lightly, perceiving the strong, gentle, and warming soft arms coiling around her tiny waist cordially.

She couldn't believe what was transpiring. 'Keiichi... he's.. he's kissing back...'

"Mmmm... mmmnnhh..." moans ejected from both parties, muffled voices of sonorous male and gentle female resonated in flawless unison. Rika felt the on-going surges of pure love intensify, plunging her in heated dizziness. She twisted and rotated her lips around in a myriad of directions, with Keiichi mirroring every one of her maneuvers perfectly as she did so.

The duo joined in mouth-to-mouth welcomed the oozing warmth together, happily sharing and partaking in the compelling magic that hopped vigorously around their connected lips through its exhilarating wild sparks.

Eventually, succeeding a fourth of a minute, Rika and Keiichi split away from their passionate parade of love, both puffing for air with raptured smiles plastered on their searing hot faces.

Keiichi gave a limped flash of his shiny white teeth. "Wow... uhmm... that was... incredible! I've never felt so alive before in my whole entire life. The more shocks I received, the more shocks I craved. It's as if euphoria clung onto me firmly and soared over to the vast beauties of the stars above; I wanted to explore and explore, never ending the adventure ahead."

"Excellent way to describe our new-found experience together, Magician of Words," Rika complimented. "Indeed, this feeling was an occurrence that should have been non-existent to reality, yet both of us joined as one and managed to create this enchanted spell. Amazing... once again, you brought your miracles to life."

"No, Rika-chan," laughed Keiichi. "We have brought this miracle to life. Together."

They both chortled. To them, their kiss was the prime epitome to life itself. Both parties felt the enormous rupture of jouissance explode from their hearts, its sizzling particles climbing up to their lips, blanketing them in cozy tenderness.

Keiichi and Rika could only quiver in pleasure as they recalled the caressing warmth transmit over to one another, tying them together in concerted snuggles. With that kiss, the couple felt whole, completed, united as one.

"I feel like a lone spirit conjoined with another soul possessing certain attributes, ones that blend and conflict amidst my own. I see you as the optimistic side of myself I've lost all those years ago, and as the courageous person whose valor defines you as your own individual," Rika used her dainty hands to knead Keiichi's shoulders. "You're the second half to my life, and I don't ever want to depart from you."

Keiichi's pupils and blue glimmering rings fixed at Rika's, enlarging in amazement. Doing his best not to submit against the easing massages, he grabbed onto the small pair of shoulders the bluenette carried around, squeezing them gingerly. "You really love me that much, Rika-chan?"

"Yes," the sole Furude heiress cheeped bashfully and boldly. Her amethyst spheres veered to her left, staring off in the open isolated environment of the campus. She croaked, "I do."

And it was then Keiichi noted a particular facet to Rika's outward appearance upon closer inspection. "Hey... are you crying?"

Beads of fresh salty tears moderately inundated the edges of her eyes. Bothered by the stinging heat around her optical spheres, Rika wiped off the looming tears with a simple wave of her hand across it, leaving a dried line of water tracing over her left eye and side of her face. She sniffed, "I suppose I am. But these are happy tears. This is the first time in so long since I've been able to indulge in genuine joy."

"Oh, now that's not an excuse, Rika-chan," Keiichi brought up bluntly. "You know better. You shouldn't be crying."

"H- Huh?" squeaked Rika. She stared at him with a look of confusion and slight shame, flinching over the abrupt scolding dished out.

"You heard me. No crying, even if it's tears of joy. I will not stand for it," Keiichi fleshed out. The boy placed his hands on his hips in a chastising manner, optics narrowing in slits. "Do you know why?"

The ultramarine-haired child simply shook her head, puzzled.

Keiichi's stern visage dissipated, replaced with a familiar grin that spoke confidence and reassurance.

His upbeat eyes widened in normal size, pupils enlarging and stretching to the tips of his folded eyelids. He raised his chin marginally and stated, "Oh, Rika-chan. I already told you this before and I'll tell you this again; you shouldn't be crying... because it's illegal to cry around Keiichi Maebara."

"Ehh?!" Rika was beyond shocked. Her jaw slacked, rendering her mouth a gaping mess. She couldn't believe what she just heard. Straight away, her mind was bombarded with missiles of questions, but Rika thankfully composed herself before she got too crazy, only giving away a simple query. "D- Do you know?"

"Do I know about me sweeping you up off the ground for ice cream when you got bullied in Okinomiya?" Keiichi's smirk broadened to his cheeks before he nodded, gently closing Rika's mouth. "Yeah, I do, and I also recall everything else beyond that. What was it you called your suffering; The Endless June? My, my, my, how you changed drastically. You're so precocious now! Shame you don't smile as much though. I always believed you looked best with a cute smile, even when you started faking it later on."

'Events he went through in previous worlds are starting to reach back to him, exactly like that time when he recalled his sins of bludgeoning Mion and Rena to death, but...' musing inward and inquiring outward, Rika stammered, "But how is it that you can recollect our beginnings together? It's been one hundred years since then. There's no way you could retract memories from that far."

"Remember when I had that migraine earlier today?" the male teenager watched Rika nod. He tapped the side of his head lightly. "There was more to it than that. You see, when it happened, flashes of images played in my mind, and almost immediately, I recognized it as lost memories that long since slipped away from my hands until recently. First, I saw you in that ice cream incident. Then, it was just the two of us sharing good quality time together. Later came Takano and her Yamainu."

Rika grimaced in thought. 'Of course! So just like me, Keiichi experienced a headache that triggered locked away memories of our origins. This must be the aftermath of the eternal summer's end. Instead of recalling our sins, we start to remember the good in our previous lives, the cherished moments our temporal prison had kept away from us for so long. Silly me, how come I didn't realize this sooner?'

Keiichi paused briefly to release a pained hiss. Subsequently, he went on, this time more hesitant and careful in his words.

"It... wasn't very good for you, I can tell. You were depressed from the start and I succeeded in showing you what it was like to be happy, only for you to be plunged back into that angst and filled with even more hopelessness in the end," Keiichi slumped down in dejection. "I was only able to help you for a short extent during that time, and eventually you gave up on reaching to me. You know, I don't blame you for that. Not much progress was being made. I was just slowing you down... and for that, I'm sorry."

The guilt-stricken bluenette held the brown-haired boy's hands comfortingly, softly denying, "There's no need to apologize, sir. Never have I believed you were dragging me down. No, I stopped getting you to help me because I didn't want you to go through the same pain I was going through in my hundred years of endless torment. I thought it would have been best if you were kept in the dark. Irrationality blinded me from what I should have done before: to believe in my companions."

"Rika-chan, it wasn't-"

"No," Rika cut off tersely. She glanced down and grieved. "It was my fault. I was the one who cut all ties with you. Alienating myself off from the rest of the world turned out to be a very stupid choice. I should have trusted you and everyone else to help out."

Keiichi pulled Rika in for a hug as he argued, "It's perfectly normal to make mistakes at your age. You are very young, Rika-chan; still are to this day. The accursed Endless June caused you to grow up unnaturally as a human being."

Rika didn't break off the warm solacing embrace, though she scoffed with a dry retort, "You're still young too."

Things went silent after that. The fresh air was polluted in unnerving tension. Rika and Keiichi, however, refused to submit to the pressure. They both gazed into each other's eyes steely, neither one breaking out of their grim states. The breezing wind blew in a chillingly passive wave over to one direction, catching the flowing hairs of long blue and short brown along with it.

Then, once the first minute reached its end, Keiichi drew himself away from Rika, releasing her from his uncoiling arms. His grave countenance evaporated, converting into an uplifting smile that made Rika's tough demeanor alleviate to a softer gaze.

He laughed sheepishly, "When you put it that way, you make a valid point. I have a lot more experience ahead of me before I can truly have wisdom, and it's a similar case for you too, Rika-chan."

"Oh?" Rika cocked an eyebrow.

"You and I have made myriads of mistakes, all from the same struggles in the same perils. You did nothing but witness our friends be stained in blood whereas I have stained blood upon those same people, and it was very much through the distrust we hold. Because of this, we force these afflictions to roost on our backs and prevent ourselves from advancing towards the future," Keiichi orated smoothly before continuing. "And I've had enough of it. It's time to make a stand to our sins."

He extended an open hand out to Rika and grinned ear-to-ear. "Our burdens exist to serve as dead-weight. Let's leave them from whence they came and move on. Lurking in the past does nothing but hinder our progression as people. Striding to the future allows us to grow in sagacity and seek new happiness in our lives, thus compensating for the trials we have went through or may eventually face later on. So what do you say, Rika Furude? Would you like to walk with me and discover what life has to offer?"

Hinamizawa's shrine maiden kept her mouth sewed as she pondered deeply over the enthralling speech. Once again, Keiichi had serenaded her with his philosophical words, living up to his title as Magician of Words. Rika took his offer in careful consideration.

Everything he said was true. She had deliberately trapped herself in the past for self-torture, overwhelmed by her own remorse of her actions. It wasn't right- not for her, not for Keiichi- and she knew it. The errors Rika committed were things she could never forget, though that didn't excuse her clinging onto her mistakes and letting it run over her life, the gift she and all her loved ones fought so hard for.

There was one thing Rika knew she had to do.

Straightening the pink bow donned on the collar of her white sleeveless shirt, Rika studied the proffering hand reached out to her. Her vacant features remained fixed as she adjusted her ribbon. Once she finished tuning her accessory, the lapis-haired child's blank stare progressively morphed into a beaming look of acceptance.

Rika graciously accepted Keiichi's hand, shaking it firmly. "Of course, Keiichi Maebara. I tire of wallowing in self-pity. I want to move on. I want to view the whole world, not in oppression but excitement, for its many thrilling surprises in store. No longer will I ever live in dreadful anticipation of my undoing, but rather in seeking of new revelations that could improve my life for the better."

"That's the spirit," Keiichi winked as he flashed a thumbs-up in approbation with his other hand.

"I only ask for one thing in return," Rika withdrew her hand away, disbanding the concurring hand gesture. Her cheeks burned in bright crimson as she rubbed one arm coyly, amethyst pearls quivering about. "That you will always be there for me, as someone who I can share my blooming life with."

Keiichi chuckled before stroking Rika's hair, causing her cheeks to heat up even further. "Oh, come on. I've been doing that for a whole century, and I'm not going to stop now. You have my word."

"G- Good. That's just what I needed to hear, KeiKei," faltered Rika, smiling abashedly. She closed her eyes and laid both her hands on top of the male's brushing tanned-hand, cooing fondly over the smooth touch of his hand and how the soothing massage pampered her head lovingly upon contact. "Miiiii..."

"So, Rika-chan, how will we start off our newborn ambitions?" Keiichi inquired as he looked up thoughtfully. The child in question opened her mouth to speak, and just when she was about to make a suggestion, Keiichi yelped abruptly, his face litting up. "Oh, I know!"

He used his free hand - the one not ruffling Rika's hair - to dig deep inside one of his pant pockets. Rika inquiringly surveyed the boy rummaging through his compartment. Then, a few seconds of scavenging later, Keiichi whipped out two strips of paper out from his black trousers.

Rika leaned in and scrutinized the pieces of small paper. Upon closer inspection, her eyes widened as she noted the distinct logo of a familiar restaurant, one that she and her friends often went to for desserts. She enunciated the legible text, "Angel Mort coupon? For all you can eat, one-time use?"

"Yes, your eyes don't deceive you. These are non-counterfeit vouchers for Angel Mort," Keiichi began to explain. "Do you recall when I miraculously won Zombie Tag and when you lost the club games a third time on that same day? Well, surprisingly, Shion was kind enough to express her felicitations by handing me these two puppies. She also constantly hurled vague hints at me on how I should use the coupons for a very special girl in my heart."

'Shion was most likely talking about Mion...' Rika brooded to herself, sorely recalling the club president's subtle crush on Keiichi. Mion fell in love with him, but couldn't bring herself to confess, and based off the recent barrage of punishments she fired at him, it was clear the green-haired teenager wasn't sure how to go about her dilemma either.

The burnt-umber haired boy ignored the musing look on Rika's face, and fleshed out more elaborately, "Thanks to Shion, I couldn't get those insinuations out of my head after that. I pondered and pondered on who she was talking about, on what kind of girl was most special to me. From the start, you were always the first thing that popped up, Rika-chan. I tried giving the other girls some thought, but neither of them really caught my attention as much as you did."

"So then, how come you didn't sought out to me about this before?" Rika tilted her head in confusion, slightly surprised, yet dearly touched, over the last bit of details he revealed.

"I was conflicted," Keiichi answered flatly. "Part of me was a bit unsure whether you'd accept or not. I didn't think you would be thrilled over spending time with me alone. Not to mention that with the losing steak I have in Mion's stupid games, I was pretty crabby, so it wasn't best for me to ask you when I was so moody."

Rika stayed quiet for a moment before shaking her head with a faint whisper of laughter, "Oh, sir, it is so like you to be troubled with girls. Your lack of comprehending women is almost humorous."

The male teenager deadpanned, "That statement makes me want to cry. Must you be so cruel?"

"Yes." smirked Rika.

Keiichi ejected a playful glare at the devious bluenette, which made her snicker cheekily. Amused heavily with Rika's adorable, teasing nature, he sassed jokingly, "I never pegged you to be the type to verbally assault me so savagely. How on earth can anyone deal with that little potty mouth of yours?"

"Years of practice. But for you, it will take a thousand years at most." the indigo-haired child quipped teasingly.

"Ha ha ha! Okay, okay, we're digressing," Keiichi changed the subject, directing his attention back to the origins of his pair of Angel Mort coupons. "So, anyway, I was grumpy from constantly losing and I had a hard time deciding what to do with the vouchers. I planned on putting them on hold 'til I reached a decision, but then you and the whole "moving on" thing came up and, well, I figured it was impeccable timing to bring these coupons up."

He jerked the coupons in Rika's front view, clumsily dangling them. "I mean, what better way to begin our goals of achieving new happiness then to go to one of the best restaurants around Okinomiya? Besides, with our freshly-born relationship, combined with that little mirthful kiss you gave me, it'd work well for setting up a..."

His optics gleamed in mischief. "...romantic date."

"Oh my. Getting a little cocky now, are we?" though red-faced over the bold but endearing suggestion given, a smirking Rika succeeded in speaking huskily, "I give you one kiss and you are already asking me out. Seems I've spoiled the mewing kitty. Hmm... no, wait. It must be the waitresses at Angel Mort and their suggestive clothing. Naughty, naughty boy. Are you taking me out just to make me watch you gawk over their sex appeal?"

"Your accusations wound me, Rika-chan. As if I would ever stoop low to that of a perverse degenerate," the male responded calmly, unfazed from Rika's statements. He laughed halfheartedly, "Hah hah haha, in all seriousness though, I really do want to take you to Angel Mort. Just to unwind and savor the desserts together, of course."

"Well, it'd be foolish of me to kiss you and then just reject your request off the bat, but-" there was one question that bothered Rika. "-when exactly do we go on this date?"

Keiichi smiled. "Today. Once school ends. Maybe somewhere around five-thirty if you need to prepare, otherwise we could just head straight to Angel Mort."

Rika shot an incredulous, questioning look at Keiichi momentarily before shrugging. The arrangements were a bit too soon for her tastes, but she could manage. It wasn't like she had anything else to do on a normal Friday anyway. She replied, "You aren't wasting any time in dating me, Keiichi; that-is-so. But I shall gladly accept regardless. Sounds like you to be impatient and rush in to the good stuff."

"Nice!" Keiichi fist-pumped the air.

"Do you want to get club activities done and over with, then go on this date? Or is there another option in mind?" asked Rika.

The inspirited boy tapped his chin in thought, his eyes wandering curiously up towards the celestial beautiful blue skies beaming brightly.

He then looked back down seconds later, grinned deviously, and answered casually, "Actually, there is. I say both of us just ditch the club for today. Cross-dressing for that pesky Mion is asinine. I don't want to satisfy her cosplay fetishes, nor do I want to be ridiculed by the likes of Shion and Satoko. Plus I'm going to be on a date with you soon, Rika-chan, so why should I let those rigged games ruin the mood?"

Rika giggled as she remarked, "This is the first time I'm hearing you reject participating in the club, Keiichi."

"Pah," Keiichi snorted. "I should've planned on escaping the Gaming Club way long ago. How I was so unbearably persistent on winning those games is beyond me," he shoved the coupons back into his pocket and pulled Rika close to his chest. "Oh, well, doesn't matter. I very much prefer you over anything else, any day. It makes me happy you're willing to tag along with me. Thank you."

Snuggling her hime-cut indigo bangs against Keiichi's robust smooth chest, Rika hummed contently, welcoming in the protective cushion with open arms. She succumbed to the tranquil presence of her guardian angel, who made her feel safe and happy, whose words rendered her engrossed in its mystical magic, whose undiminished prowess left her wonderstruck and inspired to follow through its footsteps, and the one who ensnared her through the inpenetrable bonds of pure, sincere infatuation.

"O-Oh!" Rika gasped as her feet were whisked off the dirt, the soles of her red Mary Jane shoes no longer planting the ground. The child shivered in delight, feeling a pair of chivalrous hands seize her bare arms and legs delicately. Peppermint red permeated between the chubby sides of Rika's face as several unwrinkled fingers stroked her exposed appendages lovingly. "KeiKei!"

Keiichi smiled warmly, keeping Rika close against his chest in bridal hold. His sleek chocolate hair fluttered gently as its saccharine spiked fringes, riddling around his brows in a smooth curve, swept his forehead breezily. His lustrous ultramarine orbs, outpouring in a balled-up torrent of aquatic color, washed over the full appearance of Rika Furude.

"Don't fret, Rika-chan. I've got you. By indwelling your presence eternally, I will always keep you in angel's sanctuary." he gazed longingly at the ethereal maiden cradled in his strong arms.

Rika's amethyst optical globes twinkled divinely, signifying the sprouting life of a holy seraph. Her sapphire threads spoke tales of an unsullied waterfall flowing downward to her back in steady current. Adjoining her pinchable cheeks from both sides, her dangling sidelocks poured down beneath her shoulders, washing over the navy-blue suspenders holding up a miniskirt that matched in color with the straps. Her bubbly face and bare limbs, both in fabulous silky condition, unveiled its flawless pastel skin, glittering in sacred radiance from the sun.

She mitigated the residual stain left in her body and submerged into the embracing holds of her guardian angel. "Yeah, I know. I'll do my part too and welcome you to the promised land of my ideals, forevermore. Together, we will transverse through this profound love we share amongst ourselves."

"That would be an honor. Thank you," Keiichi rocked the bluenette back-and-forth delicately, careful in not dropping her. With a graceful whirl, as the swaying persisted, he made one full spin before stopping a third quarter on the next, facing the direction that was previously his right. "Now, what do you say we go off to class through the back? Once school ends, both of us will start our fun together."

"Sure, I see no reason to refuse. Our friends must be worried sick waiting for us," agreed Rika, wiggling in adorable fashion to get comfortable. She closed her eyes in pure bliss. "Let's be on our way."

And so, Keiichi sauntered around the school building as he carried Rika bridal-style, idyllic joy visible on both their faces. With each step taken by the soles of the black shoes belonging to Keiichi, the surface of the dirt soil evaporated into an invisible smog, suffocating the couple's nostrils with its earthly scent. Fortunately, that did nothing to hinder the heartwarming scene.

The blazing sun hovered above the vaults of heaven, shedding natural igniting radiance down to the terrestrial floors beneath it. Keiichi and Rika were cleansed in warmth, their forms treated to angelic luminescence. From afar, the lush green trees and bushes rustled as they flew with the wind, cheering on for the enchanted duo.

As they drew hither to an open window leading to the inside of the infirmary, from outside, for the umpteenth time since the century-aged Endless June lingered no more, reveling in five-week-old rapture and tranquility, the cicadas cried. [10]

[-x-]

"Moouuu! What's taking them so long?!" whined Mion. She had her arms folded angrily under her ample breasts. With remarkable swift motion, her right foot tapped impatiently on the grunting classroom floors.

Rena whimpered as she gazed worryingly at her best friend. "Calm down, Mi-chan. It's only been two minutes since Keiichi-kun and Rika-chan gone off to the bathroom."

"Two minutes is too long," Mion countered adamantly with one eye twitching. "Unless I say otherwise, club activities is a priority, especially on a school day. Raccoon Rika and whipping boy know this well, therefore, they shouldn't be taking this long! There is absolutely no excuse for this!"

"Haaauuu," Rena, intimidated by Mion's aggressive riposte, shrunk back. Her baby blue spheres trembled fearfully, the soft sparkles in it beginning to intensify. She remarked perceptively, "You must really be in such a bad mood to talk like that."

The club president growled in loathe, "Damn straight. Rika-chan really grinded my gears this morning. For today's games, I will personally make sure she rues the day she decided to mess with Mion Sonozaki. Taking down Kei-chan is an extra bonus."

"Hee hee hee~," seeing it as good timing to intervene, Shion threw her two cents in, "Rena-chan is right about one thing; you are acting awfully grouchy today, Onee. Why could that be? What did Rika-chan do to get you so riled up?"

Mion glowered at her sister. "Shion. No."

That warning wasn't enough to stop Shion. Smirking naughtily, she continued, "Is it the way she comforted Kei-chan when you taunted him that troubles you so? Or is it how Rika-chan pulled him away to talk in private? Oh, yes, that must be it. You were dead set on preventing that."

"Shiiiooon!" Mion's blood began to boil.

Her younger twin laughed, brushing off the glare sent her way with a waving nonchalant hand. "Relax, Onee. I don't blame you for being paranoid. Rika-chan has been acting strange lately, and somehow, my intuition is telling me that it has something to do with Kei-chan. Think about it - she has been more giddy than usual around him, and just today, she keeps him all to herself before class. When they came back, both of them refused to reveal what they did alone together. Now that doesn't sound coincidental."

"S- Shush, you!" the ponytail-haired teenager spluttered, her rampant thoughts running wild over the suggestive comments whooshing through her ears. "Rika-chan is too young for such a thing! No way in hell would she be so bold to seduce Kei-chan!"

"Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuuuuu...!" streaks of blood spurted out of Rena's nose as the redhead propelled back, falling flat on her back. She rolled frantically around the floor, blushing furiously as she mewed in embarrassment.

Satoko, cheeks flushed deeply in chagrin akin to Rena's, directed her attention over to the windows without saying a word, yearning to drown out the discussion. The trap extraordinaire wasn't one who could digest topics regarding intimacy that well.

As for Hanyuu, she simply stared with amusement at the spectacle, letting the events play out naturally.

Shion raised her hands in a surrendering gesture, slightly alarmed. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Not the kind of idea I was gunning for-" her cat-like grin returned. "-but okay, sure. If you want to think that way, hue hue hue."

"Y-You... humph!" Mion ceased her slurs and spun away with a scowl. "You should go back to Okinomiya."

"And you should probably go do something about our dear Kei-chan and Rika-chan," Shion quipped offhandedly, entertained with her elder sibling's reaction. "It's been three minutes since they went to the bathroom... at the same time. Let that sink in."

Under normal circumstances, Mion would never listen to Shion when it came to those horrid remarks. But from being on edge with everything that had transpired recently, her mind couldn't resist wandering off toward the endless realms of insinuation.

Letting her sister's suggestive words settle in, the club leader gasped in horror as she let her arms drop carelessly to her sides. "Why those sneaky little weasels! They must have formed a special alliance conspiring against me. Right now, the two of them are probably wasting our time, trying to convince me into thinking that they're getting intimate, just to catch me off my guard for today's club game!"

"Oh, wow. So first you think Rika-chan is enticing Kei-chan, and now suddenly you believe they're working together to gang up on you?" Shion stifled a laugh, snickering uncontrollably, "Pshh... Onee, your mind is a muddle of conspiracies. I guess that's what happens when one gets clouded in jealousy."

"Blasphemy! Stupid Shion, I'm not jealous!" Mion denied, shaking her head vehemently. "U- Un- Uncle Mion just doesn't approve of what's going on between Kei-chan and Rika-chan!"

Shion, whose grin broadened in length and mischief, simply pointed out playfully, "Suuurrrre you aren't. Like it isn't obvious from the way you're acting as of now."

"Quiet!" a flustered Mion silenced her with a sharp order. The class president began to stomp her feet, marching towards the way out of the classroom menacingly. "This old man is fed up. I am going to get our two scheming foxes out, tow their asses back here, and put an end to this childish masquerade. For rebelling against their leader, they'll suffer severe penalties on the double."

Then, Satoko looked back, just in time to see the aggravated club leader take her leave. Her optics widened apprehensively as she watched Mion storm off to the closed door, which held a peculiar object on top, unseen by the enraged teenager. The blonde cried out frantically, "Mion-san, wait! You'll activate-"

Klunk! "Ack!"

As soon as Mion grabbed onto the wooden door and roughly slid it aside, a large metal bowl was sent crashing down with moderate velocity, having lost its balance from the sudden movement of the divider that had barely held it in place. The steel pot landed straight on top of Mion's head, resulting in a pained shriek from the elder Sonozaki.

Thankfully for Mion, there wasn't any liquid inside the water container. But she still had to deal with the harsh repercussions of the collision. The green-ponytailed teenager collapsed onto her knees with a loud thud, before crumpling down face-flat on the floor, a pink goose egg slowly forming on the surface of her stucken head. As for the basin, it slid off Mion's head and landed with an ephemeral clatter as its target collapsed.

Satoko winced, finishing carefully, "...the basin trap... meant for Keiichi-san..."

"A- a- ahh... ngghhh..." groaned Mion, rubbing her left cheek against the flooring weakly to shake off the pain.

"Yeah, that pot is heavily than it looks. Doesn't surprise me that the trap would hurt a ton," the Trap Master commented before hanging her head in guilt. "Sorry, Mion-san..."

"Ho, ho, ho!" Shion let out a haughty laugh as she looked down at her sister condescendingly. The younger twin strode over to Mion's left and crouched down, lightly caressing the bulging bump crowning her head. "What'd I tell ya, Onee? Envy is a powerful instrument, both for its enemy and for its user. It has the ability to blind one's mind in rage, fogging their entire perceptions. Triggering one of Satoko-chan's simple works is proof of that. That's why you need to be more careful next time."

Mion, though hissing faintly under her breath, said nothing as she shot a bitter glare at her younger relative.

"Hau! Hau! Hau! Hauuuuuuuuu~!" with cheeks as red as fresh cherries, Rena still resumed on her self-conscious barreling, having not paid any attention to her other friends. The auburn-haired girl rolled everywhere around the classroom, ricocheting like a bullet from the walls, chairs, and desks she bumped into occasionally.

While her fellow companions were currently preoccupied, Hanyuu Furude drew away from the other remaining girls in the room, advancing softly towards the coruscating window. Her pensive thoughts wandered aimlessly around Keiichi and her descendant's well-being.

Rika was finally at peace. She no longer contemplated over the eternal summer that snatched away centuries of her life. Instead, the bluenette fixated on the inchoate future ahead, and in addition, she amended her broken relations with Keiichi, stitching the powerful and tender bonds between them back together.

Not a tear of doubt pelted in Hanyuu's mind. The small goddess knew that Rika and Keiichi would do just fine together. Both of them were their own remedies to each other's ordeals, their own halves to their happiness, and their own puzzle pieces to forming a delightful heaven for themselves. Together, by always remaining with one another side-by-side, they would be able to truly move on.

Hanyuu blinked and lightly shook her head, snapping out of her thoughts. She concentrated on the scenery that overshadowed her viewpoint.

Outside, the school yard was in its post meridian. Indistinctive tones of vibrant orange and subtle red striped over the blue skies in a panoramic canvas. The vegetation distanced away but sitting close near campus grounds heated in sunny temperature, having reflective warm colors from the sun scour its natural green forms.

But that wasn't what interested Hanyuu most.

Far away, two silhouettes were walking forward into the massive sun before them, shrinking in size the more distant they grew from Hanyuu's vision. Their moving figures were embellished in broad but messy borders of yellow radiance, bestowing upon them a glowing transcendent appearance. One figure was tall with short hair, while the other was small with long hair travelling down shoulder-length. Both of them each had one of their own hands entwined.

One of the shadowed enigmas - the smaller one - revolved their head back, their barely-visible eyes piercing right through Hanyuu's gazing orbs. This figure opened their mouth, uttering mute words that failed to passed through the distance and window barricade leading to Hanyuu.

Though Hanyuu didn't need to strain herself in hearing. She knew who the enigma was: a certain child with maturity who Hanyuu was well acquainted with, and whose lapis-lazuli hair watered down to her back. The girl was special to Hanyuu; somehow, she had her senses linked with the goddess', thus allowing Hanyuu to understand her desires, emotions, and the most private of thoughts.

So naturally, when the small silhouette began to talk, Hanyuu focused - not on what she was trying to say, but - on what she was thinking. A female voice, darker and deeper in tone and befitting to that of an adult woman, delivered three words through the living dimensions of connected minds.

Hanyuu, violet optics shimmering and dancing in tearing joy, smiled and waved to the child darkened in shadow, who had then glanced back front and faded away into the colossal combustible of plasma with the other tall figure adjoined to her.

On the brim of bursting out into euphoric weeping, fueling her emotions with endearment, the words that tackled Hanyuu's mind, in touching grace, replayed,

'Thank you, Hanyuu.'

[-x-]

A/N II: And that's a wrap. Whew! This was very long to write out, and it for sure took an eternity for me to finish entirely. I hope that I didn't go too overboard with the details and figurative language. Sorry if it's hard to understand.

And I also apologize deeply if anyone in the Higurashi cast seemed out of character. It's pretty challenging to capture their personalities, ha ha! Looking back, I think I made Rika a bit too sentimental, though considering that she's traversed through countless, agonizing timelines for a century, I think I can let that slide.

I've left a bunch of notes down below, which are marked by [X] to pinpoint where each note goes, just to clarify a few topics that seem confusing. I hope that isn't too much trouble.

Well, anyway, thanks so much for reading! I hope you all enjoyed. This is only the beginning of my writing, so expect more written works out of me. See you next time!

[-x-]

Notes:

[1] To clarify, yes, Hanyuu and Rika are both eleven and ten-years-old respectively, in appearance terms that is. Mentally, however, they are both older than that.

Rika's mental state, as a result of repeating the same day for so long, reaches up to a century while Hanyuu is close to being a thousand years older, hence why Hanyuu, the elder out of the two, refers to Rika as "her child". At one point, before she became Oyashiro, Hanyuu was a mother of one child- a young girl who awfully shared an uncanny resemblance to Rika, hence why she is often depicted as a sort of mother figure towards her descendant in the series.

Even Rika feels the same, parent-child bond towards Hanyuu. In the manga version, towards the resolution of the last arc: Matsuribayashi-hen, Rika fondly calls her, "Mother".

[2] Minagoroshi-hen refers to one of the many dead worlds Rika and Hanyuu encountered during their Endless June peregrination. At some point, both girls considered naming each of the countless worlds they'd come across. "Minagoroshi" in Japanese translates to "Massacre" in English, and the "-hen" part means "chapter" so Minagoroshi-hen, put in English, is the Massacre Chapter.

[3] Hanyuu Furude takes the identity of Oyashiro, the guardian deity of Hinamizawa. Urban legends viewed Oyashiro as a vengeful god who spared no mercy for his human sacrifices, though in actuality, Oyashiro takes the form- not of a male- but of a kind-hearted female child who would never dream of harming anyone. She possesses supernatural time powers that allow herself and Rika to travel to different worlds, providing aid to her descendant in her struggles against the Endless June.

[4] Though the description says Mion is the older twin, she is actually the younger twin. As kids, Shion and Mion would often switch identities with one another and play around with other's confusion for their amusement.

But at some point, one of the twins receieved a tattoo that would forever trap the two in their respective identities, and unfortunately, they were swapped at that time. Shion is actually Mion, and Mion is actually Shion. Both twins came to accept this mistake later on though, and just stuck to their own swapped personas. This is one of the most confusing topics in Higurashi, so we're better off sticking to their current identities as well.

[5] "Nipah" is a catchphrase Rika would often use randomly in happy moments, very much like Hanyuu's "Au, au, au,". But unlike the latter, which is meaningless onomatopoeia, Nipah is based off the name of a zoonotic virus. So when Rika uses the term, she refers to the Hinamizawa Syndrome, a parasitic virus that affects the human mind by amplifying their anxiety and paranoia with delusions.

Though the phrase can also just be used as a way of telling someone to smile, hence why she always grins innocently when she says it (and also why I sort of had it to be based off Keiichi helping her be happy).

[6] Ha ha, don't mind "Holy Hanyuu". Just a little something for my own amusement.

[7] Just a short nod to Code Lyoko, an underrated cartoon series that also need more recognition. It's based off of one of its memorable characters, Jim Morales, using his usual phrase to avoid any unwanted topics concerning his past.

[8] "Onee" is Japanese for "older sister" so when Shion addresses Mion by that term, she means to call her "older sister".

[9] "KeiKei" is a nickname Rika has reserved for Keiichi. She refers to him as "KeiKei" in episode 2 of Higurashi No Naku Koro ni Kira.

[10] In case of confusion, when I added in the "five-week-old rapture and tranquility" bit, I meant saying it as how long and how well Hinamizawa's been since Takano was stopped. In this story (well, by the end of this connected one-shot), it had been three weeks after Rika's triumph. Also, the cicadas are the insects native to warm countries like Hinamizawa.