Suzumiya Haruhi:Volume5 Snow Mountain Syndrome

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Snow Mountain Syndrome


Haruhi, ahead of me, spells out what she really thinks.

"You can't see anything in front of you!"

Would you like to know where we are? We were at some lone island in the summer, then what of winter? Put yourself in Haruhi's shoes and take a guess.

"It is peculiar."

Koizumi's voice drifts from the rear.

"We should be at the base of the mountain after hiking such a long distance."

My hint for everyone is that we're in a cold and snowy place.

"So, cold, oh... Uuuu~"

The piercing winter gusts cut Asahina-san's voice. I turn my head to reassure the one in the ski jacket wobbling like a little duckling and nod to cheer her on, then turn back toward the front.


Perhaps it's just a psychological thing, but I feel that Nagato, who is leading the way, seems to be dragging her steps. The snow crystals stick to her boots, they accumulate with each passing step. Where would one experience such things?

I won't keep you guessing any longer. Here's the answer:

It is a silvery white world as far as the eye can see, where all that exists other than snow is snow wherever you go.

Other than a snow mountain where else could this be?

And it's a snow mountain hit by a blizzard.

To be accurate – Thanks to an incoming snowstorm, our return trip to the lodge is a total disaster – this description would match our current status 100%.

Going back on topic, just who made up this script? Only now am I willing to believe that there is an end it and that all five of us will face the threat of death, perhaps only to see the light of the day as five frozen corpses appearing when spring melts the snow away.

Koizumi, think of something!

"I am out of ideas."

Koizumi says while staring at the compass.

"The direction seems to be correct. Nagato's navigation is incomparable. However we have been walking for hours on end without sight of the foot of the mountain. Normally, this would be a most bizarre situation."

Then what's up right now? Are we trapped in this huge skiing retreat forever?

"The only conclusion that can be drawn right now is that it is a bizarre occurrence, an unpredictable abnormality. Not even Nagato-san understands the cause and only knows for sure that we're facing some adversity."

You don't have to tell me that since I already know. It's strange for Nagato in the lead to be unable to find the way home.

It must be one of Haruhi's out-of-this-world ideas at work.

"Don't conclude that just yet. My instinct tells me that Suzumiya-san will not burn her bridge."

Why are you so sure about that?

"Because Suzumiya-san is looking forward to the mysterious murder mystery in the lodge. For that mystery I have made quite a few arrangements and thought it through."

Ever since summer, a murder mystery has naturally been planned for the winter co-ed. Last time it was a horror story that ended with an anticlimax, and this time it was a deductive game with everyone knowing the drill. The cast is the same, featuring Arakawa the butler and Mori the maid. Tamaru is also going to guest star using the same role, the same relationship and the same name.

"That's true..."

Haruhi can't possibly wait to unveil the conspiracy of the culprit and the identity of the killer, so she would not do something subconsciously that would deter us from returning to the lodge given that a murder mystery awaits her.

That aside, my sister, Tsuruya-san the extra that fills in all the time, as well as Shamisen are waiting for us at the lodge.

To be honest, the lodge that we borrowed belongs to the Tsuruya family. That upperclassman of boundless energy agreed right away to providing the lodging so long as she came along. Bringing Shamisen with me was due to Koizumi wanting him as a part of the set. My sister became my luggage by her own accord. The two plus one however are not a part of the team that are facing certain catastrophe. Shamisen should be curled up in a ball by the fireside and Tsuruya-san should be building a snowman with my sister who doesn't know how to ski. That's the last of them that I recall.

To Haruhi, those three are reserve members, which is the reason why Haruhi doesn't object to meeting them again.

Why is that? Why is it that we cannot get back to the SOS Brigade winter retreat with heating?

Even with the blessings of Nagato Yuki, we still can't find our way back. Just what is going wrong?

"We keep meeting freak storms in both the summer and winter..."

Could it be that there exists some law of nature which dictates that during any long vacation, we will be thrust into some anomaly that is beyond human comprehension?

I, as if drunk on a cocktail mixed with anxiety and uncertainty, call upon my memory in a haze.

"Why did things turn out like this?"

Flashback mode, start.




Winter co-ed is almost predestined. If we could foresee the future, even if it did happen in real life, we would be unfazed.

Besides, the moment the murderous lone island cruise (complete with a typhoon) ended, someone had already proclaimed loudly what was to come. Who else but Haruhi? The ones that swallowed her might and her expression would be all of us excluding Haruhi. The tour guide would be Koizumi.

I had originally hoped that Haruhi would become distracted by winter, but alas, the chief's memory doesn't fail at times such as this –

"Annual Countdown in Snow Storm."

Haruhi handed piles upon piles of paper stapled together to us. After handing them out, she smiled a kidnapper's perverted smile.

"As planned originally, this winter we're going to a lodge covered in snow, to jump-start part two of the mystery tour!"

The location was the clubroom, and the time would be the twenty-fourth, right after the end of year ceremony. We had a ceramic pot atop a small portable gas stove, placed on an end of a table that wobbled about as we tossed ingredients of all kinds into the pot, substituting a hot pot for lunch.

Haruhi tossed in meat, fish and vegetables in no particular order as maid-version Asahina-san, adorned with a head scarf, separated the food with a pair of chopsticks and handed out the broth once in a while. Nagato, Koizumi, and I were directed to consume. Apart from the group of five in the SOS Brigade, we had a guest today.

"Waaa! This is great! What is this? (gnawing)... Haruhi, you wouldn't be the iron chef? (chewing)... Yoho! This soup broth is the best! Yumyumyum~ (devouring)"

The guest would be none other than Tsuruya-san. The originator of such lively tones looked to be competing against Nagato who was eating silently as she called about and moved her chopsticks with haste, scooping the goodies onto her plate.

"One must have a hot pot in winter! Kyon as a reindeer is also the bomb, haa, this makes my day!"

So the only one that gave me an encore for the performance was Tsuruya-san and Tsuruya-san alone. Haruhi and Koizumi were just faking the smiles. Asahina-san had suddenly covered her face and shook her shoulders; Nagato from top to bottom displayed signs of trying to find the source of humor using logic, while I felt a sense of total embarrassment as sweat poured down my face. There goes any shred of ambition to enter the entertainment industry... Never mind, it's better this way.

There must have been some reason for Tsuruya to be our guest, not just to dip into the feast nor to be Asahina-san's entourage. As for that special reason...

"About that cottage in the blizzard."

Haruhi's description upgraded from a snow storm to a blizzard.

"Rejoice, Kyon! Who knew that Tsuruya-san would lend her villa to us for free! That, and it's top notch! I am already boiling in anticipation! Come, come, come! Don't be shy, dig in!"

Haruhi tossed a couple of pork cutlets onto Tsuruya-san's plate while scooping the angler [1] slices onto hers.

"Normally our family would go there for vacation..."

Tsuruya-san stuffed her mouth full of pork and gulped it down.

"But my dad's out on a business trip to Europe this year so he's away. Since his work will be done in three days, we've decided to go to Switzerland on a skiing trip. Therefore I will go with you guys to the villa! It'll be a blast!"

Apparently Tsuruya-san handed her own villa over for the co-ed retreat the moment Asahina-san made a passing mention of our winter plan. Koizumi pushed it along and agreed to it wholeheartedly as he nodded all the while, and Haruhi was as excited as a cat met with a plate full of sashimi when the final plan was handed to her.

"Tsuruya-san, this is for you!"

Haruhi took out a violet cuff band, scribbled "Honorary Consultant" on it, then handed it over to her – and that's the end of that chapter.

Koizumi had a beaming smile on his face as he looked on at Haruhi, Nagato, and Tsuruya-san eating as if in an eating contest. Maybe noticing my look, he opened his mouth:

"Please don't worry. This time we will not be scaring anyone. It will simply be a prearranged game of deduction. Actually we'll have the same crew."

Taken literally, Arakawa the butler, Mori the maid and the Tamaru brothers would all show up for the show. That didn't matter. More importantly, just what did they normally do? Are they the administrative staff of the 'Organization' ?

"They are actors of a small guild that I happen to know... Can you accept that as an explanation?"

So long as Haruhi was fine with it, I had no qualms.

"Suzumiya-san's main focus is whether or not the event is interesting and nothing else matters. Although that is the most difficult problem to address... I am not sure if she will find the scenario satisfactory, and thinking about this gives me a stomachache."

Koizumi pressed his stomach, feigning heartburn, but still retained that smile of his. What a terrible actor.

I am more of a normal person than Haruhi, given that I can't place fun in the center and ignore everything else. I looked around for something that could calm my nerves, and I stopped first at the expressionless façade of Nagato. Good old poker face Nagato. The typical Nagato Yuki that I have come to know was gulping at the hot pot ingredients as if nothing had happened.


Whatever, I thought to myself.

There should be no critical mishap this time that would burden Nagato tremendously. No, more like such an event should not occur. Looking at the order of things, we should have smooth sailing this time. Nagato was not overly active in the summer co-ed and I hoped that it would be the same in this co-ed. Best leave all the work to Koizumi and his friends.

I thought of this as I read the booklet by my side.

According to the schedule on the booklet, the departure date was 30th December, a day before New Year's Eve. The snow mountain was not all that far away. It was reachable within a couple of hours on a bus ride, pretty much within the same day.

When we arrive, the orders of the day would be to ski, ski and ski. A party would follow at night (no alcohol allowed), with the dining arranged by Arakawa-san the butler from that lone island (although a fake butler, he was so impeccable as to be even more convincing than a real butler, so I've no complaint) as well as Mori-san (although a fake maid... et cetera). The Tamaru brothers would appear a day after as the late guests of honor, and after that the curtain on the detective game rises.

Following that, New Year's Eve would be spent dissecting the act and the conspiracy behind it. The group would meet at the crack of dawn, each in turn taking a guess at the "Poisoned Chocolate Case," then, Koizumi the mastermind will reveal the truth nonchalantly as set in advance. Everyone then can bid farewell to the passing year without regrets, and say hello to the new year. Happy New Year!

– and that would be the entire co-ed plan in a nutshell.

The moment I lifted my head up, I ran right into Haruhi's gloating face. It wasn't a real shocker for her to look at me in this godforsaken hour anymore.

"We should really celebrate the coming of new year!"

Haruhi picked up the leek with her chopsticks.

"And then, give proper thanks to the new year, so that the new year will be a good one as well. I really believe that the coming year will be one where the fortunes of SOS Brigade will turn in our favor."

Missy, it's fine and all that you like to personify the year. However, I do not think that your definition of a good year is the same as the one for us as a whole.

"Really? I keep thinking that this year has been interesting, which is why I wish for the same next year. Ahh, Mikuru-chan, the broth's about to totally evaporate, hurry with the water."

"Okay, coming right up."

Asahina-san headed to the teapot in running steps.


She carefully poured the water from the seemingly heavy teapot into the pot.

Watching the alluring visage of Asahina-san led me to look back at the misadventures of this year, and my emotions wavered a little. Haruhi said that this year has been interesting. If I was asked the same question, my answer would definitely be yes.

Actually, when I was a kid I had hoped for encounters that I could boast about. Be it meeting an alien or anything for that matter, I really wanted for something of the like to happen, so as to add a new, exciting page to my childhood. It'd be bizarre not to be raving over fantasies coming true. Although, as it is right now, having new chapters of life added without pause is beyond my expectations.

That said, having lived through these events, how I really feel is as follows –

– yes, very pleased.

I can only declare this so loudly after the turmoil is over. It has taken yours truly quite some time to reach this state of mind. However, if I had a chance to say any more about how I feel inside, I would say that I wish for more peaceful days. Personally, I do hope for more of those times spent goofing around in the club room; just a little more.

"You and all that crazy talk."

Haruhi's cheeks were filled with angler fish liver as she barked out:

"You've been just messing around! Don't come and tell me that you've not had enough. If you want more, then make use of these days before New Year and really party hard until the last moment!"

"No, thank you."

This twerp has no idea how much suffering I have endured and how I recovered from all those wounds. Claiming victory in that baseball game, putting an end to summer vacation, restoring the derailed reality to order since the filming of the movie, going back and forth from the past and future and even to re-do the recent past. It is true that all of this has been at my own discretion so I cannot blame anyone, but I can't justify it given how I shouldn't be this busy right now if I have no plans to become a teacher.

Never mind, I can't vent to Haruhi even as I complain to the world.

"There's still plenty of time to party hard after we get to the lodge."

I brushed aside Haruhi's extended chopsticks to pick up the cabbage in the pot. This was a rare Haruhi-made dish. I better scoop some grub into my stomach before the hungry group of females (except Asahina-san) claimed it all, given that I have no idea if we will have such a delicacy again.

"We'd still make it."

Haruhi flung beef onto her plate.

"Just partying isn't enough, we have to set it ablaze. Listen up, there's only one New Year's Eve every year. Think about it, New Year's Eve this year is once in a lifetime, just as today is. This day won't come again after it is gone. Therefore, you wouldn't be living up to today if you don't live it to the fullest. That's why I hope I can live all of my days fully; making them unforgettable is best."

Hearing those naïve words, Tsuruya-san opened up as she chewed on some half-done chicken meat:

"Whoa! Haruhi, you remember all three hundred and sixty-five days of the year? Way to go! Ahh, Mikuru, I need some tea."

"Of course, coming right up!"

Asahina-san took that clay pot, and poured out the boiled tea carefully into the cup that Tsuruya-san had lifted way up. Although treated as a mere waitress, Asahina-san seemed to be more than happy to do this. Haruhi, the chef that tossed whatever she could grab into the pot was also quite into the moment, Koizumi's graceful smile could reflect on even the steaming hot pot as a canvas, and the quietly dining Nagato was hammering it down silently. Tsuruya-san, the honorary consultant was here only as a reserve member, but it didn't really affect the mood of all of us getting along together as per usual in the SOS Brigade.

I was presently very sure how precious this time really was. As I had chosen the world on this end, more tall tales surrounding Haruhi would no doubt define our path. Before the day I hit the ground, I expect to have been through one or two more headaches of a crisis.

Besides, the slider has yet to appear.

"Hurry up and appear already!"

My tongue slipped. Thank goodness that Haruhi and Tsuruya-san were knee-deep in a fight for the mushroom, so it seemed that nobody caught what I said to myself.

However, I noticed that Nagato's eyelash moved just slightly.

I took a general glance outside the windows, and the shy sky made one feel rather lazy as the snow drifted about. Koizumi caught where my sight was at.

"The destination of our trip will make you sick of snow when we're done. By the way, do you like to ski or sled? Part of my job is to take care of the gear."

"I've never sledded."

Tossing out this ambiguous answer, my view left the winter sky. Koizumi kept up his harmless smile, but opened his mouth to pry at me:

"Which yuki (snow) would you be looking at? The one drifting down from the sky, or-"

It was not to my benefit to stare Koizumi down. I shrugged and thrust myself into the mushroom fight.

This hot-pot feast slipped under the teachers' radar and was not sighted by any tattletale. Well perhaps they did find out, but instead turned a blind eye at us. Whatever it was, when we were fully stuffed, we cleaned out the bowls and the garbage and promptly left the classroom. The moment we walked out of the gates, the snowfall stopped.

After bidding farewell to Tsuruya-san, who had to hurry back to her family's Christmas dinner, the SOS Brigade proceeded to the bakery. After we picked up the extra-large cake that Haruhi had ordered, we set forth to Nagato's apartment.

It wasn't as if we took pity on Nagato spending Christmas alone, rather it was that Nagato's place provided the unique opportunity for us to enjoy the cake together and to go crazy with no one to frown at us. I wondered which one of us was luckier: Koizumi with Twister or me with the cake. Haruhi, in the lead and skipping about, looked to be rather pleased; there was no doubt about Asahina-san (whose hands were held and being waved about) and even the muted Nagato moving step by step must have been infected by that cheery mood.

From the looks of things, I would say that such incidents as having Santa Clauses raining down on us instead of snow should not occur. Haruhi had fully experienced the commoners' Christmas Eve and seemed to have enjoyed it. Her spirits were on par with that of my little sister. Well it could just be the day that stood out.

For no particular reason, I am more forgiving during this period. Even though Haruhi was on a Santa hunt and spent the time stalking the streets in the winter air, I just might oblige her to the end with a wry smile.

As we played the numerous games that Koizumi had brought along, each and every one of us seemed to have a good time. Nagato's attention was on <<The Day of Sagittarius 3>> elimination game on two networked notebooks, while Haruhi and I pushed and shoved on Twister. This really was a wild night where passing couples would jump into the fun.

With that, we had a fun-filled Christmas Eve.

The days between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve went by in an instant as if Haruhi were pushing along Chronos, the god of time. We did a total clean up of the clubroom, and even got a phone call from a seemingly brain-dead high school former classmate. After being begged, I went along to a football game with him. The end of the year approached during this time.

The New Year. Would the new year be good or bad, I did not know. Personally, if I didn't improve my marks, I would fall flat on my face.

My mom's desire to shove me into a cram school was already beyond mere rhetoric. Had I joined some full-fledged sport club and really got into it, or even just some established clubs that were not so well featured, I might have some excuses against it. It just so happened that I am in a lacking and obscure group that is involved in nothing but messing around – at least that is how things appeared to outsiders. If there was ever a bunch of students that did poorly in school but still wanted to advance, I'd be wondering what they learned in high school.

Maybe there is no such thing as fairness, as Haruhi's marks were splendidly off-the-scale high. Koizumi's marks from the previous final would be good enough to be on top of the pack, Asahina-san also attended to her lessons very keenly perhaps due to her interest in archeology, and Nagato is a no-brainer.

"Never mind, let's save it for later."

The pressing matter was to deal with the winter co-ed event. It was fine just to look into that for now. Schoolwork could wait till the coming new year. The countdown to the new year co-ed had to happen in this year.

With that –

"Let's go!"

Haruhi called forth!


Tsuruya-san cried back.

"The weather apparently is clear, making today perfect for skiing. Although this is according to the weather at this point in time."

Koizumi relayed the forecast.

"Skiing? Where you scoot about on the snow?"

Asahina-san remarked as she lifted her chin, which was sealed tight by her scarf.


Nagato stood still as she held her small luggage in one hand.


My little sister jumped out.

We were standing over the station bright and early. We would take the train, and hop between connecting rides. Estimated time of arriving at the snow mountain would be by afternoon. That was not an issue; it was rather how my little sister came out uninvited that posed as the real issue...

"No matter, what can you do if she's already here? Let's take her along, probably easier to solve this if we go together. You won't cause us any trouble right?"

Haruhi leaned forward, and flashed a smile at my sister.

"If it were somebody that I don't give a damn over, I would've kicked him out already, but your sister is different from you, having such an honest personality, no reason to say it’s not OK. That and she took part in the movie and Shamisen needs a playmate."

True, even Shamisen, my cat was included in the luggage. Want to know why that was? Listen to what the event planner of the SOS Brigade winter co-ed had to say:

"The cat needs to be there for the plot of the suspense drama."

Is it a suspense mystery similar to The Cat Knows? 猫は知っていた

Koizumi, sitting atop his own luggage continued:

"It doesn't matter which cat, one way or the other, so long as the cat can crack the case. His superb acting performance in the movie however makes me want to have him come back and act once more."

The present Shamisen is but a typical house cat that can utter no word. It is best not to have high hopes for his acting skills. I went on and said the following to Haruhi, who was nose-to-nose with my sister:

"Thanks to her, I was caught in the act as I was leaving the house."

It was simply too early to be leaving at the crack of dawn. I had already sealed my mouth when it came to my mom to preserve my own hide. My sister had no sense that I was to head off with Haruhi and gang on a trip. However, a leak sprang. Just as I was in my room, shoving the dozing Shamisen into the traveling bag for a kitten, my sister had to stumble her way in. It could've been that she needed to head to the washroom and went the wrong way, being half-asleep, I suppose.

Things got out of hand right after that. My sister's hazy eyes suddenly expanded wide open –

"Where are you taking Shamisen? Why are you dressed like that? What's with the luggage?"

Jeez, shut up. With that I witnessed a tantrum worse than in summer, from the fifth-grade eleven year old that is my sister, making full use of her hands and legs as she clung onto my bag and wouldn't let go. It was the splitting image of those colorful clams that have solid steel grips on the rock they are on and won't let go no matter what.

"It is still quite manageable with one more on board." Koizumi smiled. "We won't go over budget paying for a child fare. Besides, both Suzumiya-san and I feel that given that she has already come this far, it would be too cruel to send her home."

After goofing about with Haruhi, my sister sneaked her little face into Asahina-san's full bosoms, and hugged the knees of the still Nagato. Finally, she was swung in circles by the laughing Tsuruya-san and wouldn't stop squealing.

Thank goodness that she's a sister. Had she been a brother, he would've been covered up in a bag in some dark alley by now.

On the express headed for Snow Mountain, my sister's urge to play did not subside and she tunneled about in between all of us, burning away at her energy. Getting so worked up now would have you totally exhausted by the time we hit our destination. By that time I would have to carry my snoozing sister, but my warning on that fell on deaf ears. Haruhi and Tsuruya-san, in the same class as my sister, were still psyched up; even the more refined Asahina-san seemed to be excited. Even Nagato, who shoved her book into her luggage after only a few pages, observed my sister with quiet stares.

I hugged my chin over by the windowpane, pensively staring at the fleeting view. Koizumi sat in the seat next to me. Haruhi and the other girls were right in front of us. They turned the seats to face each other, so the five of them could play UNO together. Don't get too loud, you'll startle the other passengers.

The discriminated-against Koizumi and I played Joker for about ten minutes after the train set off. It got progressively more and more boring, so I gave up. Why must us two men be cast as tragic fodder?

If that was so, all that was left was to let the mind's eye drift to a glorious feast. Imagining the yet to appear skiing attire on Asahina-san was far more constructive. Just as I was deep in thought over how I should forge a scene of just me and her on the ski slopes in lovey-dovey mode...


A sound came from my carrying bag, and cat whiskers appeared from the opening.

After the movie phenomenon, Shamisen turned into a well-behaved house cat of low maintenance, leaving no trace of being a stray to anyone. He would behave and wait for feeding time to come, and would not scratch or chew on things. Maybe it is because the number one priority to the fellow is none other than sleep. He was snoozing the moment he was in the cat cage in the morning. Having said that, no matter how lazy the cat is, it'll get sick of sleep and wake up eventually. He brushed the edges of the lid as if he was bored. However, there was no way for me to let him roam about in the car.

"Hold on for a little longer."

I persuaded him, as he lay beside my legs.

"After we get there, I'll get you new cat food."


Shamisen fell into silence, seemingly understanding my intention. Koizumi, amazed, remarked:

"At first, when he first started talking, I was totally blown away. Having caught this cat was to have struck gold. I don't just mean having found a male calico, but to have him so understanding of emotions makes him just incredible."

It was Haruhi that grabbed him from a pack of stray cats, which happened to have a mutation in the chromosome that only occurs once in a couple thousand cats. I really should tell Haruhi to buy lottery. No matter what we got, we could somehow offset the costs of our activities. I feel rather bad having to use the Literary Club's budget all theåç time.

"Lottery... If Suzumiya-san really won the lottery, the aftermath might be difficult to cope with. Just think, what would happen if she had millions of dollars in her hands?"

I don't think of such things often, but I believe the twit would start buying up second-hand fighter jets from the Americans. A single seater is ok, the real headache would be the twin-seater. You don't need to think to know who's going to be stuffed into the rear as a co-pilot.

Either that, or she'd lavishly toss it all on advertisements. One of these days as you sit back and watch prime-time entertainment, you might suddenly run into "This show is solely sponsored by the SOS Brigade" on the screen. Just the thought of our advertisement being broadcast to every family in the nation sends chills down my spine. If Haruhi became producer, any show would become totally whacked. A kindergartener would fare better in stocks than her at the helms.

"Perhaps she would do things that would benefit the masses, such as setting up some grants for inventions, or to create a laboratory."

Koizumi fiercely launched the wind direction balloons into the air. You lose 90% of the time in life however and the stakes here were just too high. Even a skilled statistician would hesitate at this. We shouldn't ask for more trouble without some very convincing reason to do so.

"It would be enough to have her buying popsicle sticks in supermarkets that might fetch a prize."

I looked at the scenery outside once more. Koizumi leaned back, sank into the chair and shut his eyes to rest a little. The moment we got there we would be totally occupied, so storing up energy was the right thing to do right now.

The scenery outside became more and more rural. As we pass each tunnel, the view became more silvery white. I headed into sweet dreams as I enjoyed the view.

With that, we concluded our train ride as we hugged our luggage and rolled out of the train station. What greeted us was the dichromatic view of the clear blue sky accompanying the glaring white snow and the familiar greetings from a group of two.

"Welcome, everyone. It has been some time since we last met."

With a deep bow, here was the best actor as the butler –

"You must all be tired from the long trip. Welcome."

– alongside the beautiful maid of age unknown.

"Not at all, not at all, sorry for making you so busy."

Koizumi, ever so able to make such talk, headed their way and stood alongside the two of them.

"This would be the first time that Tsuruya-san has met them. They are my friends, Arakawa-san and Mori-san. I have asked for their assistance regarding the dining accommodations for this tour."

Their attire remained exactly as they was in Lone Island... here was the three-piece wearing, gray haired gentleman butler Arakawa, and wearing a plain apron atop a dress, the maid Mori san.

"I am Arakawa."

"I am Mori."

The two greeted us at the same time.

In this chilling temperature, they greeted us without donning even a coat. Would this be part of the act, or was it a sense of professionalism stemming from their roles that prompted them into this?

Tsuruya-san dangled the heavy luggage around.

"Hi! Nice to meet you! Since Koizumi-kun recommended you all, I have no doubt whatsoever. Please take care of us. Use the mansion however you like!"

"Thank you very much."

The sincere Arakawa-san bowed once again, and lifted his head after some effort, as he revealed a stiff smile on his face.

"It is of much relief to see all of you in high spirit."

"I apologize for the poor reception in the summer, please do forgive us."

Mori-san revealed a warm smile, and the moment she saw my sister, that smile softened even more.

"Wow, such a cute little girl."

The uninvited guest quickly sprang back to life as seaweed does when it hits boiled water. "Hi!" she said and quickly dashed to Mori-san's skirt.

Haruhi walked forward and stepped onto the snowfield.

"It's been too long. I am really looking forward to the winter co-ed. That typhoon which blew over in the summer was quite the bummer, so I plan to make up for all of that in one scoop this time around!"

With that, she turned around and went on as if she was a rook about to charge:

"Let's get going! We can really go crazy after this! Let's get rid of all the dirt from this year out of us, and welcome the new year anew! Not even one speck of remorse can be taken to the new year. All right!"

We each answered in our own way. Tsuruya-san lifted a hand up high, shouting "YA-!" Asahina-san seemed rather shy and timidly nodded, Koizumi had only smile after smile, Nagato as per usual was totally silent while my little sister wouldn't let go of Mori-san.

As for myself, I looked aside at the horizon to avoid that beaming-to-the-point-of-glaring smiling façade of Haruhi.

The sky was absolutely clear and showed no sign of an impending storm.

At this point in time.

We went in 4x4s to get to Tsuruya-san's mansion. The drivers were Arakawa-san and Mori-san, so one could conclude that Mori-san must've at least been the legal age to obtain a vehicle license. This would be quite a breakthrough since I had little doubt that she would be of our age group from before. No, no, I don't mean anything else. Having Asahina-san as the sole busy maid is enough. I have no desire toward Mori-san, just to clarify. This is important.

The car ride through the view blanketed by snow was rather short. It only lasted about fifteen minutes, and the four-wheeled monsters came to a halt in front of a very classy building.

"Quite the atmosphere!"

Haruhi, the first to step off the car, remarked fondly.

"This would be the most petite and beautiful of the villas that we have." Tsuruya-san said. "But I really like it here, since it is the most comfortable."

This place was not far from the station, and there was a skiing ground accessible on foot. Based on the location it was clear that the villa could fetch quite the pretty penny. The comment that this was the smallest mansion was no lie, for her to say this was the smallest and the most beautiful should be due to having to compare this to her own Japanese style estate. If I am to use the impression of a commoner to describe this, I have to say that the stretch of this property is on par to that of the lone island resort we were at this summer. Just what kind of shady things did the Tsuruya family do to have obtained such grand houses?

"Please come in."

Arakawa the butler was in the lead. He and Mori-san obtained the permission of Tsuruya-san and had the key beforehand, and headed here a day in advance, which meant that they had been setting the stage since yesterday. This was thanks to the minute detailed planning of Koizumi as well as revealing how easy-going the Tsuruya family was, with just this detail.

This villa of all-wood construction would be overbooked if it were open to the public come skiing season. Just as I stepped into the apartment being utterly thankful, a small premonition slipped past me.

What that might be I couldn't put to words. However, I definitely had a slight premonition slip past me.


I turned around and gazed in awe at the internal furnishings of the villa.

Tsuruya-san could not stop smiling with Haruhi showering her with her seductive praise, and Tsuruya-san replied with booming laughter. Koizumi and Arakawa-san along with Mori-san were in conversation. My sister took out Shamisen right away and hugged him as Asahina-san took a deep breath upon putting her luggage onto the ground. Nagato locked her vision towards the sky at some unknown, unclear target.

No anomaly.

Afterwards, we would spend the next few days to enjoy the R&R vacation that is co-ed in name and to return to our posts to enjoy everyday life...

In theory.

We all knew that the murder mystery act that would take place is just an act, not an actual case, so Haruhi's mood would not waver. There should be no need for Nagato and Asahina-san to intervene. Koizumi's powers also have no use.

To put it another way, what was to come would be almost like insider trading and not some bizarre murder case in a thick mist nor some gigantic cricket that would spring forth the moment you pry a room open, so nothing extraordinary.

Although, just what was this feeling? It could only be described as incoherent, which by now is a common term... Not unlike having a phantom passing by. Yeah, just like that never-ending summer break which eluded us. It felt rather similar, except without the déjà vu...

"I give up."

As if I caught the slippery body of a fish, that feeling vanished from my hands.

"Am I just thinking too much?"

I shook my head and headed up the stairs inside the mansion, inching toward my allotted room. The internal furnishing could not be said to be lavish, or perhaps it was just me not having an eye for quality material. Maybe the moment that I started asking how much this seemingly simple stair banister costs an astronomical quote would come my way.

We were on the bedroom filled second floor.


Tsuruya-san approached me with a smile.

"May I sleep with your sister? To be honest, we don't have enough rooms. I could open up the room that I used when I was a kid to her, but if she sleeps alone wouldn't she be lonely?"

"It's fine for her to share a room with me."

Haruhi suddenly peeked her head over.

"I looked at the room; the bed is huge. Having three sleeping in files is not a problem. No matter how you put it, girls sleeping with girls is more healthy."

What healthy? Having my sister in my room... As if I would do anything to her. I might go down the slippery slope if I am to share a room with Asahina-san. Whether it'd be my sister or Shamisen is really of no difference to me.

"Oy, what then?"

Haruhi asked my little ol' sis who placed Shamisen on her shoulder. She giggled and answered without a giving a damn about the general mood:

"I want to sleep with Mikuru-oneechan!"

My sister sneaked her way into Asahina-san's room just like that and left Shamisen with me. I set out to offer the others a rare chance to spend the night with this bright feline –

"Thank you for your goodwill, but I have not the patience to take care of a talking cat."

Koizumi hit me with a soft nail while Nagato stared at the eyelashes of the calico for about thirty seconds –

"No need."

With that short answer, she promptly turned around and left.

Fine, letting him roam the premises didn't seem to hurt. Although in foreign territory, Shamisen acted no differently than at home, as he jumped right into bed and started snoring. He'd been sleeping for so long in the train already. I would've loved to lie down myself, but Haruhi spared no time for rest, so one had to follow the orders of the day and gather around downstairs.

"Good! Let's go! Off to ski!"

I think this was getting ahead of ourselves, but Haruhi would not waste even a second while being on the burning edge. With the energetic Tsuruya-san stoking the fire, Haruhi might just double her speed with the even more hyper Tsuruya-san by her side.

Ski outfits and the skis were rented elsewhere by Koizumi. It was unbelievable how he had obtained our exact measurements. There was even one for my little sister who came at the last moment and it was a snug fit for her. I could almost picture spies of the 'Organization' (in black suits and dark shades) sneaking into North high and the elementary that my sister attends and raiding the clinic room for the check-up records. Hmm, I should ask about Asahina-san's measurements from him one of these days. This is for no other reason but pure curiosity.

"I have not skied for some time. Ever since the get-together in my elementary days I have had no chance at it. It's all because it doesn't snow where we live. There's gotta be snow in winter to really get the mood going!"

The utterance of a brat that knows not of the perils of snowy fields. There are plenty of people who detest snow. From what I can conclude, Uesugi Kenshin [2] of the warring states was one such individual.

Laden with boots and with skis on our backs, we finally marched our way into the grand ski slopes. Like Haruhi, I hadn't had a chance to ski for some time. The last time would've been in my junior days. This would be a first for my sister and, apparently, the same for Asahina-san as well. I am positive that Nagato had never experienced this, but my educated guess is that she would rival any professional the moment she hit the slopes.

The scattered flags of various color that were the ski jackets entered my view as we ascended the lift, which made me realize just how few people there were compared to my own imagination, and Tsuruya-san started to explain:

"This is a hideaway that is known only to a few; a secret skiing ground known only to experts. That is because this had been a private skiing area until only a decade ago."

Although it had since then been open to the general public, Tsuruya-san's supplemental showed no air of prejudice. There exist people like that in this world, having good looks, great personality, great financial situation, good background, and are essentially helplessly flawless.

Haruhi remarked as she put her skis onto her boots:

"What to do, Kyon? I would like to go to the expert trail straight away, but does everyone know how to ski? How about you?"

"Let us get some practice."

I looked at my little sister and Asahina-san, who after having the skis put onto their boots, were tripping after going a distance no greater than thirty centimeters on them, and promptly answered Haruhi.

"If you don't teach them even the basics, never mind the expert trail, just getting onto the chair lifts will take forever."

Asahina-san, who had snow all over her from falling into the ground, was a natural as a skiing gear model. I thought occasionally about whether or not anything existed in this world that would not go well with her?

"Let's do this! I will train Mikuru, Imouto-chan will go with Haruhi-nyan. As for Kyon-kun and the rest, think of something on your own."

Tsuruya-san's proposal could not have come at a better time. I needed some time to get used to the feel of being on skis. As I gave a passing glance off to the side...


The absolutely emotionless Nagato, with poles in hands, had already taken off smoothly.

In the end, my sister didn't learn anything. Was Haruhi's teaching method flawed?

"Put your feet together, and push hard on the poles, zoom and you are on your way, and just keep going ahead on full steam, and also stop on full steam. All right! Now you're all set to go!"

More like inching bit by bit. If running on full steam was all you needed, then the first hybrid car would actually stand a chance of being rolled out. Regrettably, my sister's efforts on full steam only extended her endurance from thirty centimeters to three meters before she crashed into the ground. However she enjoyed herself as she shouted and fell and ate snow. No matter the outcome, this is a healthy form of relaxation. Although one should beware of getting a stomachache from this and getting too carried away.

Now, on the other hand, either Asahina-san has talent or Tsuruya-san is just a great instructor, since Asahina-san had mastered skiing in a matter of thirty minutes.

"Wa, wa! This is fun! Wa! This is great!"

In the pure white backdrop, the visage of a smiling Asahina-san skiing was, to summarize and to cut short my comments, like a superbly crafted rendition of a snow fairy, as dazzling as a piece of art. Just seeing this beauty was enough for me should I be sent packing right after this. Before that however, it's picture time.

Haruhi took a snipe at Koizumi and I who were practicing by ourselves, and looked on at my sister who made no progress. From her looks, she seemed to convey that she wished to hit the hilltop and get a shot at descent, but there was no way to take the fifth grader along.

Tsuruya-san must have seen through her, which is why she said:

"Haruhi-nyan! You all go on ahead and take the lift!"

Tsuruya-san fell but was laughing heartily as she dug my sister out in haste.

"I will teach Imouto-kuntu! Either that or I'll build a snowman with her, or ride a sled even. It's just a matter of renting a sled."


Haruhi looked on at my sister and Tsuruya-san, as she thanked her.

"Thank you so much~ Sorry~"

"No biggie no biggie~ Come, Imouto-kuntu! Would you like skiing lessons, snowman making, or riding on a sled?"


My little sister loudly replied as Tsuruya unloaded her skiing gear.

"Okay, snowman it is. Let's make him a big one, all right?"

Looking at the two as they proceeded with making a snowball, Asahina-san said enviously:

"Snowman... I want to stay behind and build a snowman..."

"No way."

Haruhi quickly arrested Asahina-san's arm, and said with all smiles:

"We're heading to the top of the hill, and we will go up against each other. The first to reach the foothill will be granted the title of General Winter by me. Do your best!"

That brat would no doubt call it quits only when she emerged as the victor. No matter, but to challenge the summit right off the bat did make me somewhat scared. It is better to take things one at a time.

Haruhi held her nose high and scoffed.

"Wuss. To really have fun in skiing, you should head straight for the top!"

Although she might have said that, she still opted for my suggestion, which is a rarity. We decided to tackle the intermediate level slope first, and save the main event of the day, the expert level trail, for the last challenge.

"Let's get on the lifts. Yuki, we're going! Get over here!"

Nagato, who was going in wide arcs around us, hurried to our position when Haruhi sounded off, and stopped right next to me.

"We're going against each other! Compete! I've got enough free lift vouchers to last us till sundown... No! Even at dusk, we'll still be able to take the lift! OK, come with me!"

I would have done so without you hollering about. Besides, even if I declared my intent to join the snowman building class, you would've vetoed it. Let's not talk about Koizumi, for just having Nagato and Asahina-san giving Haruhi free reign to do whatever she desires, I'd say never mind blizzards, even the return of the glacial age was not out of the picture. As such, not having an open-minded man of ethics just wouldn't do. I wasn't sure if I had the open mind to look at all the greats in our midst, and Koizumi would have a field day as he came up with several rebuttals against me. So I didn't care anymore. That was, because none of this really mattered now.

The entire brigade stood energetically. The snow was powder snow, the clear bright sky was a shade of cyan. The chief, with an expression as clear as the sky above her, extended her hand.

"The chairs are twin-seaters, so for fairness, let's RPS over them!"

Up next...

...the shape of the snowman became more pronounced, with Tsuruya-san and my sister really enjoying themselves as if they were the same age.
...the shape of the snowman became more pronounced, with Tsuruya-san and my sister really enjoying themselves as if they were the same age.

Absolutely nothing worth mentioning. My sister and Tsuruya-san decided to stay behind to do individual activities, as the regular members of the SOS Brigade were slowing going up through the lifts, and enjoying simple skiing thrills. The moment we skied down to the foothill, the shape of the snowman became more pronounced, with Tsuruya-san and my sister really enjoying themselves as if they were the same age. Whether it was putting on the bucket, or installing a nose, they were lost in the act. Soon after, they started on a second snowman. This would be the most recent scene of them in my memory.

Or, perhaps the last memory of them for that matter.

How many turns of the skiing tournament had it been by now?

After descending from the mountain with no mishap, somehow... We really paid no heed of the time. Just out of the blue, almost suddenly, we found ourselves in the thick of a storm. Only a vision of white was before us, and anything beyond a meter fell out of our vision.

The gusting storm mixed with snow fragments pounded on us. The pain was more pronounced than the cold. Our exposed faces quickly become frozen. We could only breathe normally by facing down; that was how strong a blizzard we found ourselves in.

There really was no prior warning.

Haruhi in the lead came to a stop, and Nagato who was against her also came to a screeching halt, while Asahina-san and I caught up, with Koizumi bringing up the rear  

  we were already surrounded in this blizzard.

It is almost as if it were summoned by somebody out there.




End flashback. Now do you see why we are in such a grievous situation over this snow mountain?

The visibility is simply too poor, and should there be a cliff a couple of meters away, we might fall and meet our demise if not careful. There really shouldn't be a cliff, but it would not be surprising if something unidentified on the map appeared before us. This ski retreat has no jumping platform, not that I want to challenge the large hill. To say fall would be exaggerating things, but we might knock our nasal bridges out if we come into direct conflict against trees camouflaged in white.

"Where are we right now?"

I feel rather dismayed having to rely on Nagato at this hour, but nothing is more important than our lives. But we are in a situation where Nagato is unable to pilot us after hours of trekking about and we are still stuck at square one.

"This is odd."

Even Haruhi's grumbles bear the scent of confusion.

"Just what is going on? How can it be that we don't even see a shadow of a person? This is way too bizarre. How long have we been walking?"

She looks toward Nagato in the lead, as Nagato shows an expression that looks to be wondering whether or not she has taken the wrong path down the mountain somehow. This matter will have to be left at that for now. This is not some wonderland. So long as we grasp our rough bearings, we should naturally reach the base of the mountain as we head downward along the slope. The problem is that we can't get to that point for some reason, talk about weird.

"We have no choice, let's dig a hole in the snow and set up camp. Keep going when the storm dies down."


I call Haruhi off, as I head to Nagato who seems to be brushing the snow aside.

"Just what is going on?"

The young girl with a poker face, with her short hair stiffened from the freezing air lifts her head towards me slowly.

"An incomprehensible event has occurred."

She quietly says. Those dark irises look at me in earnest.

"If the dimensional coordinates that I recognize are correct, our current whereabouts should have exceeded the point of origin."

What and what? If that is so we should have landed in the midst of human life signs. But even after all that walking, we fail to run into the lift cables or even any cabin.

"An event that is beyond the control of my dimensional manipulation abilities has occurred."

Hearing the chilling voice of Nagato, I take a deep breath. Words vanish from the edge of my mouth just as how snowflake evaporates in an instant upon contacting the tip of the tongue.

Event beyond Nagato's abilities to control?

Are the strange premonitions directed at this?

"Who could've done it this time around?"

Nagato falls into silence, without blinking her eyes as the snowflakes dance wildly and blow straight at her.

None of us has a watch with us, nor do we have a cellular phone when we rushed to the ski grounds, so nobody really knows the time. We only know that we left the villa at approximately three o'clock in the afternoon. But we are sure that we have been out for some time. The cloudy sky still has some glimmer of light, but the thick cloud and the blizzard covers prevent us from seeing where the sun is. It is about as bright as a moss-filled cave. A strange taste of rust gushes out from the depths of my wisdom tooth and a slight pain starts up.

We can't seem to get out of this wall of snow, and a uniform grey covers the sky.

It is not as if I haven't experienced this somewhere before.

Could it be that –


Haruhi who is standing next to me suddenly exclaims. I am shocked to the point that my heart was about to jump out of me, going right through my ribs.

"Oy! Don't go around scaring people like that! What are you doing shouting out of the blue like that for?!"

"Kyon, look at that!"

Haruhi points her fingertip, and utterly fearless over the strong winds-

A dim glow is ahead.

"What is that?"

I gaze into that light. Due to the tempest, the glow fades in and out, but the source remains consistent. It is similar to the dim glows of the fireflies after they mate.

"That light's coming from a window!"

Haruhi's tone is filled with a sense of exhilaration.

"There must be a house over there! Let's go and take a look. We will freeze to death if we stay any longer."

Staying still, we will perish as she just said. Although... a house? Can there be a house in such a desolate place?

"Over here over here! Mikuru-chan, Koizumi-kun! Everyone keep following me!"

Haruhi becomes a human plowing machine, and valiantly opens a path for us up front. Frigidity, anxiety and exhaustion make Asahina-san's body tremble. Koizumi follows Haruhi while holding her. The lines that he spewed forth as he went past me chills my heart to the bottom of the pit.

"This is definitely an artificial light. However I am very certain that there was no light coming from this direction before, since I have been monitoring the situation nearby."


Nagato and I utter no word, as we stare at the back of Haruhi who is using her skis to shovel the snow away.

"Hurry up! Kyon, Yuki! Don't get left behind!"

There remains no other alternative. Rather than having our frozen corpse becoming the news headline a century later, I would gamble on this seemingly slim chance of survival. Even if it's a trap set in advance, we have no choice at this point.

I push on Nagato's back, as I head along the path in the snow that Haruhi has opened up.

The closer we get, the brighter the light becomes. Haruhi's better than 20/20 vision is no joke. This is definitely an indoor light permeating from the window.

"It's a mansion! And a large one..."

Haruhi stopped in her footsteps, shot her head straight up, and after having expressed her thoughts, kept going.

I stare at the massive structure, and my darkened mood sinks some more. In a backdrop composed of the silvery white snow and the pencil grey sky, it stands like a house in a shadow play, making it all the more uninviting. It isn't so much that its appearance is not commonly seen. To call it a villa, well it stands as grand as a castle. Several towers of unknown purpose protrude from the roof, and though it could be due to inadequate lighting, they look very dark. To have such a structure within the snow mountain is the very definition of bizarre. If not, then all the dictionaries of the world should have to be rewritten with the new definition of the word.

The location is a snow mountain clouded by a blizzard. The cast is us who are in distress. Finding a dim light while we are lost on the way, and stumbling upon a strange mansion after following that light –

Only one ingredient is left. Would what comes next be the appearance of the owner of the house, being even more peculiar than the mansion, or even some alien monster? Would the story head into suspense, mystery or horror?

"Hello –"

Haruhi quickly faces the portal, and projects her voice. The door has no intercom nor does it have a doorbell. Haruhi's fist knocks on the inelegant door.

"Is anyone there!?"

I give the mansion another look, while standing behind Haruhi.

It is not that I'm cynical, but this setting is just too well prepared, as if it was custom-made for us. However, I am aware that this couldn't be the work of Koizumi. It'll be great if the moment that door opens, Arakawa-san as well as Mori-san are there to greet us ... but even Nagato has said that the current situation is beyond her, proving that this can't possibly be the doing of Koizumi, as I don't think Koizumi can fool Nagato. Even if he had Nagato in it, and got her to be part of the surprise, Nagato would not have lied to me.

Haruhi yells out with a booming voice comparable to this tempest:

"We're lost! Would you please let us rest inside? We are trapped in the snow and are about to die!"

I turned my back to verify that everyone's still on board. Nagato looks at Haruhi's back with her typical marionette expression. Asahina-san is hugging her own body for warmth with a panicked face, occasionally letting loose a cute sneeze and wiping her entirely red nose. Koizumi's signature smile has vanished. His arms are crossed like he is deep in thought, with his head cocked on an angle. His expression is as if he has tasted something bitter. He looks as the indecisive Hamlet might, pondering whether or not one should open the door.

Haruhi's noise level is so high that should she be doing this close to my home, the neighbors would be up in arms. The question is that there is no answer so far.

"Is nobody home?"

Haruhi, with her gloves removed and blowing steam at her fists says resentfully:

"There are lights inside, so I thought there'd be people inside... Kyon, what's next?"

I can't give you an answer just like that even if you ask for one. Only some hot-blooded hero that would do whatever comes into his head would rush headlong into this place shrouded by mystery.

"It'll do if we can find a place to use as shelter... is there a garage or a shack nearby?"

However, Haruhi opts not for such distractions as trying to find shelter. She puts on her gloves before us, grabs onto the handle that has accumulated ice on it, and lets go of a breath that looks like a prayer. With a serious expression, she slowly turns the handle.

Maybe I should stop her. At least, after hearing Nagato's advice, I should have some idea about what's ahead. But it's too late now –

– it is as if the mansion is opening its mouth.

The door is open.

Artificial lighting lit up our faces.

"So it's unlocked. Would it kill them to get the door if somebody's in the house?"

Haruhi storms in at the lead as she puts the skis and the poles off to the side on the wall.

"Anyone? Is there anyone here? Sorry for the intrusion!"

What can you do? We can only mimic what the chief does. Koizumi, the last in, shuts the door, and we are finally able to bid a temporary farewell to the hours of cold and the piercing sounds of the gale, so we can rest easy.


Asahina-san lands right on the ground.

"Hello! Is anyone there–?!"

The boisterous shouts of Haruhi ring next to my ear, as the warmth and the brightness of the house sink into my bones. It is like the feeling one gets from taking a hot shower after coming back into the house deep in winter. The snow accumulated on our jackets as well as our heads quickly turns into droplets that drip onto the ground. The heating must be on pretty high here.

Strangely, there is nobody in the house. It should be about time that someone comes out to express how they are disrupted by Haruhi and sends her out of here, but there remains no reply to Haruhi's calls.

"Would this be a haunted house?"

I mutter as I look around the house. The hall comes up the moment one steps through the double door. Is it easier to say that it's like the lobby of a high-class hotel? The ceilings are quite high, with a large chandelier that hangs above for illumination. The floor is covered with a deep red carpet. The exterior might look like some haunted castle, but the inside is fairly modern. An impressive elevator that leads to the second floor is right in the centre of the hall. If there were a coatroom nearby, I might mistakenly call it the ground floor of a hotel.

"I'll go take a look."

The absent house owner has got onto Haruhi's nerves. She rids herself of the ski jacket as if shedding her skin, and kicks her boots away.

"Can't worry so much since this is an emergency, but I wouldn't want to get grilled for trespassing on private property. I will go and see if anyone's here. All of you wait here."

As expected of the chief, having made a statement befitting a leader. Just as Haruhi is about to take off, with only her socks on -

"Hold it."

I called to her.

"I'll go with you. God forbid if you go alone and do something totally out of line."

I take off my boots and jacket in haste. My body instantly becomes more agile. All the fatigue from having been lost in the snow mountain clouded by the storm has seemingly vanished. I push the heavy clothing aside.

"Koizumi, take care of Asahina-san and Nagato in the meantime."

A contorted smile appears on face of the esper guy who can't help us out of the snow mountain at all, and he nods lightly. I look at the worried expression of Asahina-san, and glance at Nagato who is standing still.

"Let's go. This place is huge, the owners might be deep inside which is why they didn't hear you roaring."

"When is it ever up to you to call the shots? In times like this only I give out the orders! Do as I tell you to do!"

The sharp-tongued Haruhi flaunts her power, grabs my wrist, and says to the three on stand by:

"We'll be back in no time. Koizumi-kun, take care of the two of them."


Koizumi replied to Haruhi with his everyday smile, and nodded his head to me.

I guess that guy must be thinking the same thing that I am.

There is not a ghost of a person to be found even after scouring all the corners of this house.

For some reason, I just feel that way.

Haruhi decides to explore the upper level first. Just walking up the grand staircase, long corridors to our left and right open themselves up, and the walls of the two corridors have countless wooden doors. We decided to open one such door, and it opened with ease. A tidy European bedroom lay within.

There appear to be stairs at the end of each corridor, and we walk up, of course following wherever Haruhi decides to go.

"There, after that go this way."

Haruhi points to the headings with one hand, and using the other to pull on my wrist. Every time we hit a new level, she shouts out: "Is anyone there?" The volume is so loud that I am tempted to cover my ears, but I can't even do that, so all that I do is what Haruhi tells me, and tag along with her.

Because there is an uncountable number of rooms, we can only randomly open some of the doors to peek inside. When we verified the same kind of bedroom, we are at the fourth floor. Are the night lamps always on in the corridors? Each and every level seems to be brightly lit.

Which door to open next? As I was taking my pick –

"This reminds me of that time in summer when we went outside to see if the boat was still there."

... hmm, such a thing did happen. During that time, I was dragged by Haruhi as I am now and ran while it was pouring down.

As I turned the dark brown films of my memory, Haruhi suddenly stops, and as she holds me by the wrist I come to a stop as well.

"Well I..."

Haruhi proceeds quietly:

"…can't remember when this started... I started to try to choose the road less traveled whenever possible all the time. Ahh, I don't mean typical road when I say road, but instead it's like the one with a direction or a heading, such as the road of survival for example."

"Oh." I pay lip service. So? What about it?

"Therefore, I would take a different path from everyone else right from the start, that way I would have a different experience from everyone else, given that the typical choice tends to be rather boring. Why it is that people would decide on dull things is beyond me. Subsequently, I found out something. As long as I start to make different choices from most people right off the bat, I would have interesting things awaiting me to discover."

The born rebel would take the other path just because of things being too mainstream, choosing the alternative without considering the risk-benefit. I have that inclination myself, so it is not as if I don't understand what Haruhi is suggesting. However, I think you are a bit too extreme, and are operating beyond the level of what is reasonable.

Haruhi gives a Mona Lisa smile back.

"Nevermind, it's nothing serious."

What! This clearly doesn't need my reply, so don't bother asking in the first place! Would you look at our situation! This isn't the time to joke about and take it easy!

"Although, something has been on my mind."

"What is it this time?"

I asked impatiently.

"What's with you and Yuki?"


Haruhi doesn't look at me, and stares ahead at the corridor.

My response is off by a beat.

"... What are you saying? Nothing's going on between me and her."

"Liar. I can see that you've been paying attention to Yuki ever since Christmas Eve. Every time I look at you, you've been looking at Yuki."

Haruhi still stares ahead.

"It's not because you hit your head or something? Or is it that you're plotting something for Yuki?"

I don't feel that I have been staring at Nagato excessively. The ratio compared to looking at Asahina-san should be at best 6:4... but now's not the time to say that!

"As if..."

Cat got my tongue. Ever since the event of the disappearance, just as claimed by Haruhi, I have paid a bit more attention to Nagato. I feel somewhat uncomfortable about this, which is why I am denying it. But I didn't anticipate that Haruhi would notice, so I never came up with a script to use. That, and it’s not as if I can tell her the truth.

"Say it!"

Haruhi pronounces each word distinctly.

"Yuki has changed somewhat. Although she looks the same as ever, I just know. Something has happened between you and Yuki, right?"

Just in the space of two to three sentences, we went from 'ill intent' to 'set in stone'. If we let her keep going at this rate, by the time we get back to Koizumi and the gang, it will have become 'for real' between Nagato and me. It is true that something did happen between us, so it's hard to outright deny this charge, to think about it all of a sudden.

"Eh... um... well..."

"Don't try to weasel your way out! You lowlife scum!"

"No! We didn't do anything shady! It's just that, just... actually..."

Haruhi's expression looks more and more like a hawk’s eye aiming at a target.

"Actually what?"

I manage to squeeze my words out with great difficulty with Haruhi's provocative glares fixed on me.

"Nagato has had some troubles. Yea, that's it. She came to me to talk about it."

To think at the same moment that you speak is quite a chore. It gets harder if you have to make up lies on the spot.

"Actually, her problems aren't over yet. How should I put it... it's like... basically this is up to Nagato to resolve. I can only listen, and how to do it is also something that Nagato has to decide. Nagato has not told me what she will do, so of course I am worried, and maybe that's why I would look at her occasionally."

"What's Yuki have to worry about? Why would she go to you? Talking to me is alright too!"

She still sounds skeptical.

"I do not think that Yuki would find you to be more reliable than myself or Koizumi."

"Basically anyone other than you is fine for Nagato to talk to."

My free hand caught Haruhi whose eyebrow was way up high, and my brain finally resumed its free thinking.

"It's really like that. Do you know why Nagato has to live alone?"

"Family reasons? I don't like poking my nose into private matters, so I don't know for sure."

"There's been changes to her family situation. Depending on the outcome, Nagato might have to end her days of living alone, renting her apartment."

"Just what's going on?"

"To put it simply, she might have to move. Leave that luxury condo and move to some place far away... maybe to a relative's place. Of course, that would have an impact on schooling, as she would need to transfer. She might have to go to another school by next spring when we head off to our sophomore year...


Haruhi's eyebrows have lowered, so just a little bit more would do.

"Really. But no matter what her parents have said, she doesn't want to transfer out. She wants to stay at North High until graduation."

"So she's worried over this..."

Haruhi lowered her head for some time, but she faces me with anger when she lifts it up:

"That's all the more reason to tell me about it! Yuki's an important brigade member, I wouldn't allow her to leave on her own!"

I am satisfied the moment I hear her say that.

"Talk to you… You would just blow this thing out of proportion. You would probably run off to her relatives' home and protest to them about Nagato transferring out."

"That's true."

"Nagato has had her mind made up about solving this on her own. Although she might be a bit puzzled, her heart lies with that clubroom. To keep dwelling on it is quite an emotional burden, so she decided to talk to me about it. I was hospitalized at the time, so she told me when she visited alone. It's just that there was nobody but me over there."

"So that's it..."

Haruhi sighed lightly.

"So Yuki worries about such things...? She looks to be happy lately so I can't tell. Before vacation, I saw peons of the Denkensha giving her a full ninety degree bow. She didn't seem to mind it..."

I try as hard as I might to picture what Nagato not minding that would look like, but I simply cannot, so I shake it off. Just then Haruhi suddenly lifts her head and says:

"But, hmm, never mind. That does sound like what Yuki would do."

Looks like she bought it. I let out the air in me. Just what part of this little serenade sounds like something that Nagato would do? Even I find it unbelievable. I should wrap this up given that Haruhi seems to have concluded that Nagato is that kind of a girl.

"Don't leak this out to other people, and most definitely not to Nagato. Don't worry, she'll still be sitting in the clubroom and reading her books come next year."

"Of course, or I wouldn't leave it at that!"


I, whose wrist burns from Haruhi's steel grip, offer this supplemental explanation.

"In case, just in case, if Nagato still has to transfer or is taken away by force, you can make as much of a ruckus as you like and I will stick with you all the way."

Haruhi stares at me with soft eyes and blinks twice, following this with a wide open smile and says:

"Of course!"

By the time we returned to the main hall on the first floor, the three that were left behind had taken their jackets off, and they greet us with varying looks.

For some reason, Asahina-san still seems as if she is almost in tears.

"Kyon-kun, Suzumiya-san... you are back, finally..."

"Why are you crying, Mikuru-chan. Didn't I say that we'll be back in no time?"

Haruhi happily comforts Asahina-san, and touches her fine hair, while Koizumi gives me a most distracting expression. Just what is that look trying to say? Making a pass with that kind of stare is useless, it just won't reach my heart try as you might.

The lone Nagato just stands there, looking directly at Haruhi with those dark pupils. She looks even more inanimate than usual. Even for an alien-made organic life form, having to go around in all that snow like a snow blower might be too taxing. I explain it this way so that I can comprehend it myself. Nagato is not a perfect individual. I thoroughly understood this point by now.

"There is something that I need to tell you..."

Koizumi approaches nonchalantly to my ear.

"But you must keep this from Suzumiya-san."

Since he puts it this way, I better hear this out.

"How long do you think that you and Suzumiya-san have been gone for?"

"Should be no more than thirty minutes."

Even though I heard Haruhi ramble on about rubbish and had to lie to her, I felt as though we were only gone for that long.

"I knew that you would say that."

Koizumi sounds puzzled yet somewhat satisfied.

"For us who stayed behind, three hours have passed from when you and Suzumiya-san set out exploring to the point that you came back."

Nagato was the timekeeper, said Koizumi.

"Mikuru-chan is upset because you have taken too long."

The guy brushes some of his dried fringe aside, and goes on with a smile:

"That is why I decided to carry out an experiment. I asked Nagato-san to head off to a corner where we cannot see her, and asked her to time herself for ten minutes before she returned."

Nagato did so with no objection. She headed off to the passageway off to the side of the hall, and disappeared at the corner –

"However, before I had even counted up to two hundred, Nagato-san had returned. I cannot help but wonder, since I felt as if that she had only been gone for about three minutes, but Nagato-san did in fact clock herself at ten minutes."

Nagato can't possibly have been mistaken. Could it be that you either fell asleep, or rounded off incorrectly?

"Asahina-san was counting quietly with me, and got around the same result."

Is that so... I still feel that Nagato's figures would be more precise.

"Not even I doubt the precision of Nagato-san. She cannot make an error with simple counting."

What then? The world is like that.

"I suspect that the flow of time within this mansion varies depending on the location... or that the perceptual time of each of us and the general time have a discrepancy. I cannot say which is more correct... it could be that both are valid."

Koizumi looks at Haruhi who is comforting Asahina-san happily with a brash manner, and at me.

"It would be best to move as a group, for I fear this chronological quarrel might worsen. It is rather a relief if that is the scope of the matter, for there are means to compensate if time disruption applies only within this building. However, what if this chronological quarrel had occurred before we were lured into here? What do you have to say about that storm which came without warning, and the trip without ever reaching the destination that followed? What if we were pulled into another space-time then..."

I look at Asahina-san whose hair has been disheveled by Haruhi, and at Nagato. Her hairstyle, which was blown out of shape, has now dried and returned to normal, and even her complexion has returned to a white warmer than the white snow.

I start to whisper to Koizumi.

"And then, you and Nagato and Asahina-san must have had a group meeting? Any results?"

"Asahina-san had nothing to offer."

It is self-evident looking at her crying like that. The focus is now on that other person.

Koizumi further lowers his voice.

"She said absolutely nothing. She went off without a word also when I asked for her help earlier, and remained silent when she returned. When I asked her if she really did measure for ten minutes, she responded only with a nod. Otherwise she has revealed no other opinion."

Nagato continues to stare still at the red carpet. Her poker face is the same today as it was yesterday. Although I feel as if she is somehow dumbfounded... am I just thinking too much? Just as I am about to show some sign of concern toward Nagato –

"Kyon, what the hell are you doing? Hurry up and report to everyone!"

Haruhi, with piercing glare, talks about the result of the expedition:

"We came back after going around once, and it's all bedrooms from second floor and up. We thought that there'd be telephones..."

"Yes, but we found none." I added. "In addition there is no television nor is there radio. We also didn't see any telephone jacks or wireless equipment."

"I see."

Koizumi touches his chin with his fingertip.

"In other words, there is no channel to contact or to obtain information from the outside world."

"At least for floor two and up."

There is not a shred of anxiety in Haruhi's smile:

"It's fine if there's something on the first floor, although is there any? This house is so big, there might be a room used specially for communication somewhere."

Let us then set out to find it – Haruhi uses a hand signal instead of a flag sign, and pulls the concerned Asahina-san to her side.

I followed after Koizumi and Nagato, and we walked out.

We settled in the dining room soon after. In a space furnished with antique style we found a luxurious, glittering, shining golden candelabra sitting atop a dining table with a white cloth cover over it. Such things are also seen in three-star hotel restaurants that I have never graced before so I know very little of them. Just look upward and there is another chandelier hanging from the ceiling, watching over the members of the SOS Brigade coldly.

"There really is no one else."

Haruhi lifts a steaming teacup to her lips.

"Where did everybody go? Lighting and heating are still turned on. Talk about a waste of electricity. There's no communication room. Why is that?"

The hot milk tea that Haruhi sips was just taken from the kitchen, which is of the same class as the ones in high-class restaurants along with the teacups and water bottles. While waiting for the water to boil, Asahina-san and Haruhi dug around and found glittering kitchen wares in a storage drawer that looks to be washed and dried. The extra large refrigerator houses quite a stock of food, making it hard to imagine that this is an abandoned house. It feels as if the moment we arrived, the inhabitants of the place just packed up and left. No, even that hypothesis has holes in it. For if that were true, then there should still be some sign of life in here.

"It almost mirrors the Mary Celeste."

Haruhi wanted to lighten the mood, but no avail.

The exploration of the first floor was carried out with all five of us. Walking in file, we opened up any door that we come across, and each time we found something we could use. There was the laundry room with a massive washing machine, an enormous bath the size of a bath house, and even a gaming room complete with billiard table, ping-pong table and an automatic Mah-jong table...

I only wish that the rooms over this corridor are not newly made space.

"There is another possibility..."

Koizumi puts the teacup on the saucer, and plays with the glimmering candelabra. I thought he wanted to claim it as his own, but after giving it a good appraisal, he placed it back where it was.

"The inhabitants of the mansion went off on a trip before the storm started, but cannot return under this inhospitable weather."

He shows a light smile, looks to be for the sake of Haruhi.

"If so, then they will return when the storm dies down. Hopefully they will put themselves into our shoes, and forgive us for rudely intruding upon their property."

"They definitely will, since we really have no place to go. Ahh, could it be that this mansion was set up as an emergency shelter for skiers like us who have lost their way? That would explain why there is nobody inside."

"What kind of emergency shelter would have no telephone?"

I sounded rather weary. We have accomplished so little after having all five of us heading door-to-door on this one floor. This building has no means to contact or to obtain information from the outside world, nor is there even a clock.

But before all of this, I think that this mansion has clearly violated the building and fire codes.

"Who on earth would build such a large and unwieldy emergency shelter?"

"Maybe some national or municipal organization? Operating on the tax money of the people? Looking at it this way makes me feel justified drinking this black tea. I am paying tax after all. Mikuru-chan, give me a hand."

"Eh? Ahh, okay."

Asahina-san is dragged into the kitchen moments after throwing us a worried look. This is unfair for Asahina-san, but Koizumi's time distortion theory upsets me, so having Haruhi out of sight cannot come at a better time.

"Nagato," I say to the short-haired girl who is staring at the bottom of the chinaware off to the side.

"Just what is with this mansion? Where exactly are we?"

"This space is providing significant stress to me."

She tossed such a sentence at me.

I don't get it. What does that mean? Couldn't you contact your maker or your patron, and ask for their help? This is an extraordinary situation. Is the occasional helping hand too much to give?

The face that finally turns my way still shows no sign of emotion.

"My connection to the Integrated Data Sentient Entity has been disrupted. Reason unknown."

I didn't understand it because she put it so lightly. After getting myself together, I ask yet again.

"... When did this happen?"

"From my own perspective time, as of six hours and thirteen minutes ago."

It is hard to have that expressed in numerical terms with the sense of time lost. Just as I am pondering –

"Since the moment that we were plunged into the blizzard."

The dark pupils are as still as before, but my heart is now brewing a torrent.

"Why did you not say anything at the time?"

I am not laying blame on her. Nagato's spell of silence is her own personal trait. Better to say that she's born with it rather than saying that she picked this up.

"So you mean, this place is not the real world? Not only just this mansion... but also the snow mountain that we cannot get away from. All of this is an alternate space created by someone out there?"

Nagato falls into silence for some time before saying:

"I don't know."

She sinks her head as if in defeat. I am somewhat anxious since this reminded me of Nagato that day. However, is there anything outside of Haruhi that could cause such an anomaly that not even this person could comprehend?

I look towards the ceiling, and ask another member of the SOS Brigade.

"What do you think? Anything to add?"

"Nagato-san's comments aside, this anomaly is beyond my understanding."

I pay some attention to the right honorable vice Brigade chief who is straightening himself a little:

"From what I know, this is not the enclosed space in prior cases. This is not a space created by the will of Suzumiya-san."

You positive?

"Yes. You can call me an expert when it comes to the study of Suzumiya-san's mental activities. If she had changed the physical world, I would definitely know. However, Suzumiya-san has done nothing of the sort this time, since she did not hope for such contingency to occur. I can guarantee that this is in no way related to her. Let's bet on this if you want; no matter what you bet, I will double the wager."

"Then who can it be?"

I feel a slight sense of chill. It might have been because of the storm, but the view from the dining room window is a uniform grey. Even if a neon blue 'avatar' suddenly takes a peek inside, it wouldn't really clash with the background.

Koizumi does a Nagato impression, and silently shrugs his shoulders. He doesn't seem to be worried. It could just be his acting abilities at play though, since he doesn't want to show his worried face to me.

"Sorry to keep you all waiting!"

Just then, Haruhi and Asahina-san carry a huge plate full of sandwiches toward us, as tall as a small mound.

My biological clock tells me that we have not been waiting for all that long. It must have been no longer than five minutes since Haruhi had dragged Asahina-san along into the kitchen. However when I ask Haruhi while acting as if nothing has happened, it turns out that it must have taken at least thirty minutes to make all those sandwiches. Judging from the results, I don't think she is exaggerating. Each individual toast had been toasted, the ham and the cabbage all had to be flavored, the eggs were sliced after being fully boiled, and mayonnaise was used to top it all off. Just preparing the ingredients alone would have consumed more than five minutes. Besides, given the quantity of the sandwiches made, no matter how much corners were cut, quite a commitment in time would have been needed nonetheless. This is off topic, but I have to mention that the taste is pretty good. Of course, I had the chance to experience Haruhi's culinary skills in that Christmas stew already. Just what is this person not good at? Had I met her in elementary school, about the only subject that I could've trumped her at would be ethics maybe...

I hit myself on the head.

Now's not the time to think of such trivial things. The thing to really worry about is our current situation.

Asahina-san seems to be mindful of who is eating her works. Whenever I started grabbing a new sandwich, she would look on intensely with anticipation, and her facial expression would go from relaxed to tense intermittently. You can tell really easily that the one before would be Haruhi's and the one after it Asahina-san's.

There is something that she doesn't know. I haven't even told Koizumi. Haruhi most definitely must not know.

Only Nagato and I are aware that there is something that I haven't done.

That's right-

I have yet to return to the past to save the world.

I thought initially that this was not a priority, and getting around to it after New Year's would be fine. The fact that I had to somehow break it to Asahina-san only made me delay further. So leaving it till the next year and forgetting about it just won't do? What if we can never escape from this estate...

"Wait, hold on."

This is odd. Nagato and I, along with Asahina-san definitely headed to the past sometime in the middle of December. How else do you account for me seeing those three that time? To put it another way, we definitely will return to our rightful space-time. Thinking like that gives me some assurance.

"Come, come, everybody dig in."

Haruhi grabs the sandwiches and stuffs her mouth full with them while gulping down black tea at the same time.

"There's still plenty left, dig in, I can make whatever you guys want. There is more than enough food in the storage for us to go through."

Koizumi gives an awkward smile as he enjoys a ham and pork chop sandwich.

"Delicious. Simply delicious. This is as good as the ones made in great restaurants."

This exaggerated compliment is of course directed at Haruhi, although I don't really worry about her. Nor am I worried about Asahina-san who can't seem to enjoy the meal due to her guilty conscience acting up from using someone else's stock.


Rather, it's Nagato.

To take only one small bite after another is not her typical way.

The ferocious appetite of the alien-made organize artificial intelligence robot is nowhere to be seen. The hand to mouth motion seems to have decreased by half at least.

After the scene degenerated to Haruhi and I going neck to neck to swipe the majority of the light meal-

"Off to bath."

Haruhi's sudden proposal meets no objection. It's her nature to assume that no objection means outright approval from everyone.

"This bath is pretty big, but there's no gender separation, so it's a must that we take turns. As the chief, I cannot allow indecent acts to take place in the Brigade. Females first, any problem?"

Having no real clue what to do first makes having a person such as Haruhi directing everyone step by step a good thing. That way we can focus elsewhere. If one is stuck without a lead, we might as well move the body in a mechanical fashion to stimulate the brain. Who knows if sudden sparks of inspiration will appear. Here's to my brain power.

"Before that, let's decide on the rooms. Which one do you want? And yes they're all the same."

According to Koizumi's hypothesis, it would be best to cram everyone into the same room, but if anyone even dares to propose such a thing, you can expect a straight punch from Haruhi coming right at you. Sometimes self-preservation comes first.

"It's better for us to sleep in close proximity. Something like opposite or neighbouring rooms so long as we can get five of them."

Having said these more serious words, Haruhi stands up.

"Well then, let's sleep on the second floor."

Haruhi walks out in broad steps, and we hurriedly follow. Before heading up we dumped the ski jackets left out in the hall into the dryer in the laundry room.

Haruhi chose the five rooms closest to the staircase to address the matter of getting downstairs the moment that the owner of the estate returned. I sleep next to Koizumi, and the opposite rooms in order are taken up by Nagato, Haruhi and Asahina-san. Haruhi's room is dead opposite mine.

The feel of the bedrooms remains the same as when Haruhi and I inspected them before. Each room has little furniture and it is just a place to crash. Even those cheap business suites have more furniture. Apart from an archaic dressing table, there are only curtains and a bed. The window is totally sealed shut. Look closely, and you'll see that it's a two layer type. Maybe that gives better sound insulation, since although horrendous weather brews outside, it remains quiet as a mouse inside, which actually gives a sense of suspense instead.

Since we have no personal luggage to sort through, we decided that after claiming the rooms, we should meet in the passageway paved with red carpet.

Haruhi speaks with a smile meant to provoke:

"Kyon, you know what?"

What do I know?

"Who are you kidding? You definitely can't do the one thing that boys filled with worries would do in such a setting. I hate that mundane behavioural pattern."

What should I do then?


Haruhi catches the arms of the two female members, leaning her head in right next to the hair on the side of the immobile Nagato, and lays everything out with a shout:

"Don't peek!"

I left, more like slipped out from my room as soon as the group of three girls walked away, the jittery Haruhi amongst them. The air is warm and the passageway is dead quiet, unaffected by the blizzard outside, but my heart is anything but calm. I am not gratified by this warmth contrasting with the chill in my heart.

I tiptoe to the neighbouring room and knock on the door lightly.

"May I help you?"

Koizumi shows his face and unveils a welcoming smile. Just as he is about to speak, I put my index finger against my lips and he shuts his mouth in response. Without a word, I sneak into Koizumi's room. I actually would rather sneak into Asahina-san's room, but this is no time for that.

"There is something that I have to tell you first."


Koizumi sits by his bed and signals me to take a seat as well.

"What might it be? I am curious. Is it something that must be kept from the other three?"

"Well Nagato getting wind of this is ok."

What is it? You still ask what it is about?

Of course it is about what happened from the point that Haruhi had vanished to when I woke up in the hospital ward. The revival of Asakura Ryouko, the second coming of Tanabata three years ago, the SOS Brigade members on totally tweaked settings, adult Asahina-san and the world resurrection project up ahead-

"This will take some time."

Koizumi is a great listener. Not only does he give me good feedback when I come to a pause, he also retains the attentiveness of a top student all the way until the end.

Since I only focus on the major points, it didn't take all that long for me to explain everything. I thought of going into grisly details for parts of the story, but with the concern of putting ease of understanding first, I opt for a compact summary.

Koizumi exclaims after having listened to everything.

"So that's it."

He doesn't seem to be particularly moved. I see him touching the side of his mouth with a finger.

"If everything that you have said is true, then I can only say that it is all very interesting."

Are you trying to be courteous with that 'interesting'?

"No, I really do think this way, for I thought of something in my mind as well. If you have experienced all those events, then my suspicion will have support."

My facial expression should be along the lines of: "That's not good. Just what on earth was it that he thought of?"

"I suppose that it has weakened."

What is it?

"Suzumiya-san's power. That and Nagato-san's data manipulation ability."

What are you talking about? I look at Koizumi. He shows that innocent smile of his.

"Suzumiya-san creating enclosed space has become less frequent, which I mentioned to you during Christmas. Almost in response to this, I feel that Nagato-san's... how do I put it? That air of being alien? Such a feeling or sign seems to have drastically decreased."


"Suzumiya-san is increasingly becoming more and more like an ordinary girl. As is Nagato-san, who is less and less like a terminal for the Integrated Data Sentient Entity."

Koizumi looks at me.

"In my view, I cannot ask for a better development. If Suzumiya-san can come to terms with herself in reality, she would not need to think of things such as changing the world, which effectively will end my mission. It is also to my benefit should Nagato-san become an ordinary high school girl with no special power. As for Asahina-san... well, there is no difference to someone from the future no matter how things turn out."

Koizumi continues with his monologue, as if I am not there.

"You have to return to the past to restore the world and yourself back to normal. That is because your past self witnessed your future self with Nagato-san and Asahina-san- is that correct?"


"However we are now lost on this mountain covered up by a blizzard. We find ourselves inside this strange mansion that someone has gone to great lengths to prepare for us, locked inside an alternate space that not even Nagato-san can comprehend. If this state of being continues, all of you will never return to the past. Therefore, at least you, Nagato-san and Asahina-san must return to normal space. No, it should be for certain that all of you returning to normal space is an established fact..."

It would be weird if it were not so. I am not in a state of panic because of that. During that time I most definitely heard my own voice. Although, if I have yet to return to that point in time, going back to the past must be something that will be done in the future. This indicates that we won't be stuck in this crazy house with the raging storm outside forever as a safe escape is firmly set in stone. To paraphrase Asahina-san (big): "or else, the current you would not be here."

"So that's it."

Koizumi repeats the same line, and smiles at me.

"However, I have other theories, but they are all pessimistic. To put it simply, they would be arguments which suggest that it doesn't matter even if we are never able to return to the original space-time."

Stop with going around in circles, get on with it.

After that lead-in, Koizumi lowers his voice carefully-

"Suppose that we right now are not the 'original us', and are mere duplicates that exist in an alternate world."

Koizumi keeps staring at me, as if waiting for me to digest those words. To be honest, I am having digestive problems.

"I will word it another way to make it easier for you to understand. Suppose our minds were copied as-is and pasted to a digital space, what would happen? Let's assume that only the minds were moved as-is to an imaginary reality.

"This is what you meant by duplicates?"

"Yes. Anything can be duplicated, not just the mind. It is possible at the Integrated Data Sentient Entity class level. In other words, we who are caught in this alternate space are not the originals, and are merely accurate copies made at some fixed time. And as for our originals... well, perhaps they are partying happily at Tsuruya-san's estate as we speak."

Wait a second. This has just gone way over my head. Could it just simply be that I lack knowledge?

"I don't think so. To give a better example. Suppose you are playing some video game, let's say one of those fantasy type RPG games. It would be smart to save progress before you enter a cave with god knows what inside it. Saving the game is an obvious thing to do. Even if the entire party gets wiped out by the monsters, you can restart from the save point. As long as you duplicate all data, you can keep the master copy safe and let the duplicate version of the Brigade members take all the risk. Should something go wrong, pressing the Reset button will solve everything. Would you say that it is sensible to use this as a metaphor of our current situation?"


A very intense sense of familiarity hits me the moment I let that out. Just like that feeling I experienced during that endless August with the sudden memory disconnect. What is it? I shout out in my mind for a memories which I should not recall. Come on! Hurry!

I hazily said:

"Have we experienced anything similar in the past?"

"You mean trapped in a snow mountain? No, not personally."

"That's not it."

It's not related to the snow mountain. I mean other than this encounter, I keep thinking that somewhere in my head there's memories of us being tossed into other dimensions... and some place very unreal...

"You mean that time we took down the giant Cricket? That happened in an alternate space."

"Not that one either."

I keep wracking my brain and a barely visible watermark appears. There's Koizumi in strange clothing, Haruhi, Nagato with Asahina-san, and lastly myself.

"Ahh there we go. Koizumi, for some reason, I keep thinking of you with a harp in hand and everybody being dressed in historical clothing and doing something..."

"Are you trying to say that you have retained memories of previous incarnations? I thought you didn't believe in that."

If there really is such a thing as reincarnation, people should be more understanding and would be more forgiving towards each other. That kind of stuff is just mere fantasy made for people that want to find an excuse to escape from the present reality.


Damnit. I can't recall anything. My own logic dictates that I have no recollection of any alternate space, but my gut instincts deep inside tell me that is definitely not the case.

What could it be, although I can only recall key words in fragments, there are fleeting visions such as kings, pirates and gunfights in a spaceship drifting about in my mind. Just what is with this? My memory tells me that there's nothing of the sort, but what's with these pieces that I can't seem to piece together that are intertwined inside my heart? I can't put the whole picture together.

Who knows how Koizumi interprets my puzzled appearance? He continues with a calm tone:

"If not even Nagato-san is able to interpret everything that has happened here, along with how this space is creating a burden to her, then it's basically not hard to conclude who the mastermind is, that has orchestrated this snow mountain disaster along with this mansion."

I can say nothing.

"It would have to be someone on the same level or surpassing Nagato-san."

"Who then?"

"I do not know, but, assuming the intent of the opponent is to force us into this crisis and make us stay put over here, Nagato-san would pose the greatest obstacle to that plan."

Koizumi touches his lower lip.

"Had I been that individual, I would target Nagato-san first, for she, unlike I who am powerless alone and unlike Asahina-san, Nagato-san is an alien android with direct connection to the Integrated Data Sentient Entity."

From that description, this person might be above Haruhi. Whether it'd be a person or a whole group, I have no idea at all. But Nagato did say that her connection with her boss had been disrupted.

"Perhaps the mastermind is far more powerful than even the creators of Nagato-san. If that is the case, than we are in effect already out of the game..."

Right in the middle of his speech, the young chap seems to think of something, and crosses his arms around his chest.

"You do recall Asakura Ryouko?"

I had almost forgotten, but the series of unforgettable events this month has jogged my memory.

"There exists a minority within the Integrated Data Sentient Entity who are radical elements. Just think, if they had a successful coup d'état, what might happen? From our point of view, they are omnipotent entities. To isolate Nagato-san and detain us in another world over in some other dimension would be a walk in the park for them."

I remember that socialable, outstanding and easy-going class rep, along with that sharp machete. I was attacked by her twice, and saved by Nagato twice.

"At any rate, this will not affect the outcome. If we cannot leave this mansion, we will have to stay here forever."

What? Is this Ryugu-jo [3]?

"Bullseye. I can even say that we are being given the VIP treatment. Everything has been provided for. A comfortable mansion, fridge stuffed full of food, a bath house filled with hot water, comfortable bedrooms ... just about everything is here save the necessities that can help us leave this house."

That existence would be meaningless. I am not so disappointed at my life as to want to stay in this unknown space and enjoy a carefree life. It is just too short to call my high school life over in less than one year. Other than the people here, there are still others that I want to see again. It is just too tragic to be unable to see my family as well as Shamisen, and you can count Taniguchi and Kunikida in as well. To top it all off, I don't like winter, sorry to the Icelanders, I don't think that I can ever get used to having to spend my life in frigid ice and snow. Call me a man that craves the heat of summer and the noise of a cicada.

"I am much relieved hearing you say that."

Koizumi sighs dramatically.

"The aftermath of Suzumiya-san releasing her power after realizing the problem in the situation is anyone's guess. That might be the actual intent of the perpetrator. If there is no progress, one might as well put in some stimulus and provoke her into action. This is a common tactic. Should this really be a simulated environment, and if we are all mere duplicates of the original, the hidden hand would not need to be too reserved about anything. Very rarely do you see anyone having a sense of remorse from working video game characters to death. Aren't you like that as well?"

Since he mentioned it, of course I don't feel remorse. However, video game characters are just numbers, and I'd rather be a real character within the real world.

"The priority right now is to escape from here. It would be better to face disaster in the real world than to stay in this alternate space. There will be a way; no, rather we have to think of a way. Whoever it is that has Suzumiya-san and all of us trapped is evidently 'our' enemy. I do not mean 'us' as in the 'Organization' or the Integrated Data Sentient Entity, but rather the SOS Brigade."

Whatever is fine. So long as you see eye to eye with me, I will see you as a brother.

After that, I embarked on some deep thinking. Koizumi joins me in thought as he lifts his chin with his hand.

Soon after-

The sound of a light knock breaks the silence between me and Koizumi. I lifted my body, which was as heavy as if it were stuck to the bed by glue and opened the door.

"Umm... the bath is now empty. The two of you can use it now."

Asahina-san's façade shows blushes that are just right for displaying a sense of sweetness and innocence. A strand of rinsed hair stuck to the side of the cheek stirs up affection, and the thigh exposed from the slightly long T-shirt is incredibly sexy. If my mental state were in its normal state, I would be thinking about taking her back to my room, putting her in a corner and enjoying the view.

"Where are Haruhi and Nagato?"

I gaze at the hallway, and Asahina-san smiles beautifully.

"They are drinking juice in the dining room."

Seeming aware of my thirsty eyes, she pulls on the hem of the T-shirt.

"Ahh, spare clothing is in the changing room. I got the T-shirt there. Towels and bathing necessities are all..."

It is hard to express the sense of beauty of her being so timid and embarrassed.

I turn my head with a look to thwart Koizumi's moves, quickly move to the passageway and shut the door with my hand reversed.

"Asahina-san, I have a question."

"What is it?"

Those round, large eyes look up at me as her head leans off to a side with uncertainty.

"What do you have to say about this mansion? I find it odd, how about you?"

Asahina-san blinks her long and thick eyelashes and answers thusly:

"Umm, Suzumiya-san thinks that this is a part of Koizumi-san's detective game... what is it called? Yes, something like a prelude. That's what she said in the bedroom."

It's for the best if Haruhi can think of it like that, although it will be problematic if Asahina-san also sees it that way.

"How then can you account for the irregularity in the flow of time? You witnessed Koizumi's experiment firsthand didn't you?"

"Yes. But that's a part of the plan... right? Or is it not?"

I press on my forehead, trying to hold off my sigh. I really don't know if Koizumi is that capable, but if even time dilation is a part of the whole setup, it would be too unfair not to give an advanced warning to Haruhi. Besides, isn't time the expertise of Asahina-san?

I decide to take a shot at it.

"Asahina-san, can you contact the future? Right now, right here?"


The puzzled childish face of the upperclassman looks at me.

"How can I tell such things to you ? Huhu. That's classified information!"

She chuckles as if she finds it funny, but I am not joking nor do I find it funny.

However Asahina-san keeps laughing.

"Enough of this, just go and take a bath, or else Suzumiya-san will get angry again. Hoho."

With footsteps as light as butterflies flying about in a field of rapeseed flowers [4] in springtime, the diminutive upperclassman drifts toward the stairs, and disappears after turning her head over and tossing an unnatural, enchanting look at me.

No good. Asahina-san cannot be depended upon. The only reliable one is...


I sighed towards the carpet.

I really don't want to put additional stress on her right now. As luck would have it though, she is the only one that can turn things around for us. Koizumi's guesses are all just playing armchair strategist and who knows what kind of chaos Haruhi would unleash with her ways. Even if I were to hold the trump card, after all that horror talk that Koizumi gave me, I wouldn't act recklessly. It could well have been that the individual that had set us up in this situation had already anticipated this.

"What to do now...?"

I was banking on being able to come up with some good idea after taking a bath and improving my blood circulation, but my brain knows itself best. Even if I squeeze at it, not even half of an idea that might turn things around will come out. That is just a no-brainer. I don't feel discouraged, but it's kind of sad now that I think about it.

Just as Asahina-san had said, the changing room has towels and spares ready. Elastic pants and T-shirts were lined up on the racks nearby. I put on a random set, and headed to the dining room with Koizumi.

The three that bathed beforehand had placed a whole row of juice jugs on the dining table and have been waiting for us.

"So slow, why the hell did you all take so long?"

To me, that was only a little longer than the time a crow might take in the bath.

I sip on the orange juice that Haruhi handed over, and my vision is directed not at Nagato, but outside the window. Perhaps because her body has warmed up, Haruhi is chugging at the canned juice happily with her good index finger shooting upward, Asahina-san has a smile from being oblivious to the current situation, while Koizumi who clearly understands everything does the same. Nagato seems even more minute than usual, could it be because her wet hair is hanging downward in a straight fashion?

Although just what time is it right now? The view outside the window is still a snowstorm as before, but it seems gloomy and not pitch black, which gives me the chills.

Haruhi seems to have lost the sense of time.

"Let's go and play in the gaming room."

Still in the mood to play.

"Even Karaoke is fine, but we haven't played Mahjong for such a long time. The bet is three times the number of tiles, and anything goes, but I want to do major tiles, so there's no need to chip or to add points. We will decide based on the final points. Kokushi Shisan-men and Su-ankou Tanki on yakuman alright?" (note: Japanese Mahjong terminologies are unique)

Although I don't want to complain about the rules of the game, I still slowly shake my head. Right now, what must be done isn't Karaoke, nor is it to bet on Mahjong, but to think.

"I say that we should get some shut-eye. We'll have plenty of time to play later. I am really tired."

Before this we had walked for hours with skis on our back, being half buried in the snow. Only Haruhi's muscles are not totally worked to exhaustion it seems.

"That's true..."

Haruhi seems to want to know which side the others are on. After examining everyone's expressions:

"Fine, alright, let's take a break. But once we wake up I want everyone to play with their all."

She announces with the glow of two to three nebulae coming from her pupils.

After everyone returns to their respective den, I start to engage in a self-personality meeting inside my head as I lie on the bed to think of a way out. Sadly my personalities just had to expose my uselessness right at this moment as not even one constructive proposal comes out. Everyone stays silent, hoping that someone will break the ice. As the time passes by, minute by minute, my conscious becomes more and more hazy. Why would I say that?


I didn't even catch the sound of the door closing, or the footsteps of someone entering the room, nor the sound of rustling clothing. I got scared from this anyway, and I am just shocked by the silhouette of the person standing in the middle of the room.


The light in the room comes reflected off the snow, shining through the window with the shade pulled to one side. However, even in this dim light, I am sure that what I am seeing is correct. The one here is the cute fairy stationed in the clubroom, the lucky charm of the SOS Brigade, Asahina-san.

Asahina-san reveals a smile on her face as she calls my nickname, moves ever so lightly and sits by my side. I scramble to sit up straight, as her naked legs close on each other.
Asahina-san reveals a smile on her face as she calls my nickname, moves ever so lightly and sits by my side. I scramble to sit up straight, as her naked legs close on each other.


Asahina-san reveals a smile on her face as she calls my nickname, moves ever so lightly and sits by my side. I scramble to sit up straight, as her naked legs close on each other. There is an unexplainable surreal sense somehow. Looking closely, what she is wearing right now is different from the moment that we bid each other goodnight across the hallway. It is not that single long T-shirt, but the amount of cloth hasn't increased by much.

At this time, Asahina-san is looking up at me, dressed in a white shirt that is almost ripped from my imagination, and she cannot get any closer to me.


That beautiful, childish face seems to want something.

"May I sleep over here?"

Her speech is enough to put both my lungs in my mouth. (crazy)

Those dewy eyes look straight at my face as this cheeky Asahina-san leans on my shoulder softly. Wha... whawhawhat is this about?

"I was scared by myself, kept tossing around and couldn't fall asleep... if I am beside Kyon-kun, I should be able to get a good sleep..."

Hot body temperature seeps through that shirt. It is a heat that someone could mistakenly think of as burning. Something soft is pressing on me. Asahina hugs my arm, and presses her face closer to me.

"Is it OK?"

This isn't a matter of OK or not. There is no man or woman in this world that has the heart to turn down a pleading Asahina-san. So the answer is of course, yes, this bed is a bit too big for one person.... (hold it)

Hoho, she lets my arm go with a gorgeous smile, and starts to unbutton that shirt which is already very loose. That bedazzling, soft curve slowly starts to reveal itself. The full bosom that I saw when she was forced into being a bunny girl by Haruhi, that I saw when I accidently barged into the clubroom and saw her changing, that I caught in a photo now sleeping deep within a hidden folder on the hard drive of the computer ... was now before me. (wake up, that's not it)

Only two buttons left on the white shirt... no, one. This is more tempting than even full nudity, since the model is of high quality. Besides, no matter how you put it, the one doing these provoking poses is Asahina-san. (hey)

Asahina-san takes a glance at me with her eyes tilting upward, and tosses a shy, teasing smile my way. Her finger finally lets the last button loose. Should I move my sight elsewhere? (keep your focus!)

From the innards of the completely unbuttoned shirt, pure white skin moves up and down with each breath. On the body of this person that is so artistically crafted to perfection that even Venus herself will cower inside the clamshell (not telling you to look that way), on top of the half mound over that smooth and round breast, lies a very visible star...

A deep breath comes forth from the depths of my throat.


I jump out of my bed as if I had a spring in me.

"No way!"

Look closely! Why is it that I didn't notice this? The person before me is not 'my Asahina-san'. I should have known better than anyone else. Didn't I do this last time to verify for authenticity? You would know after looking at 'that spot' on Asahina-san.

"Who are you?"

-There is no mole on the left breast of this Asahina-san.

The half-naked beauty sitting on the bed talks with a distressed look.

"Why? You don't want me?"

If this were the real Asahina-san (I told you she's not it!), I should still be able to hang on. No, nope. The problem isn't that. Asahina-san would never sneak in and seduce me. I am hooked without her having to do that.

"You are not Asahina-san."

I keep retreating, and gazing upon those alluring eyes that are about to burst into tears. My reason is about to derail. How can a man make a lady sad. This isn't related to her not being Asahina-san right? (get a grip of yourself)

"Please don't do this."

I finally utter this out.

"Who are you? Are you the maker of this strange house, an alien or a slider? Why did you do this?"


The Asahina-san before me sounds so sad. Her head lies low and her lips are twisted from being depressed. And then-


She turns around and flies to the door like wind, her shirt lifted about in the air. The moment she leaves the room, she turns around, looks at me with tears in her eyes and heads to the hallway. The bang is surprisingly loud, and that sound wakes my memory. I locked the inner lock. Without a key there should be no way to get in from outside.

"Please, wait a second!"

In that instant I suddenly say this in a respectful tone and run to the door to open it.

Bang! A loud noise is made. No matter how forceful I get, the sound of a door opening shouldn't be so intense that my abdomen would tremble. Just as I thought of this-

"Ehh, you..."

I run straight into Haruhi. Haruhi, with her room directly opposite mine, has her head out of the door, and looks at me with her mouth wide open.

"Kyon, you were in my room a moment ago... or were you?"

There are more people than just Haruhi and me with their head stuck out into the hallway.


Haruhi's neighbor to the right, 'T-shirt' clad Asahina-san is also puzzled and has her door half-open. As for the neighbor to the left-


Nagato's slim body is present. I look over the side-

"What was that..."

Koizumi touches the tip of his nose, and gives me a strange look along with a very awkward smile.

It becomes clear that the reason why the reverberation from opening the door was so loud was because all five of us had opened our doors at the same time. This would be the resonance of an ensemble of five.

"Why everyone? Something happen?"

Haruhi's mind returns first and talks as if she is staring right at me.

"Why is everyone out of their room at the same time?"

I went after the fake Asahina-san- just as I was thinking of saying that, I realized something. Haruhi's prior words were not grammatically sound.

"How about you then? You wouldn't be out to go to the toilet."

Surprisingly, Haruhi actually lowers her head, bites on her lower lip and only opens up after some time.

"I had the strangest dream. I dreamed that you had sneaked into my room and you didn't talk like you would have... urr, and you did things that you wouldn't do. I found it odd... in the end, I punched you hard and you ran off! that's an odd dream! Right? But it didn't feel quite like a dream."

If that was a dream, then this would be a continuation of the dream. As I look at the vexed Haruhi with locked eyebrows, Koizumi heads to my direction.

"I, as well."

He stares right at my face.

"You appeared in my room as well. The appearance might have been you, but the behaviour was just terrifying... anyways, you did things that you wouldn't do."

I start to get frightened out of the blue. My sight moves away from that smiling face of Koizumi, seemingly up to something, and turns instead towards Asahina-san. This is the real McCoy. One look and there's no question about it. How could I have mistaken that person as her? Whether it'd be the feel or in her actions, she cannot compare to the bona fide Asahina-san.

Perhaps my gaze embarrasses her. Asahina-san blushes. Did I appear before her? Just as I assume that to be the case-

"Suzumiya-san came into my room."

Her fingers are caught together and move uneasily.

"That strange Suzumiya-san... I don't know how to describe it, was like a fake..."

Yes, definitely a fake. That is for sure, the problem for this to have happened. Why did fake versions of ourselves appear in each other's room? Asahina-san in mine, I went to Haruhi and Koizumi's rooms, and Haruhi in Asahina-san's room...

"Nagato." I keep pressing. "Who came into your room?"

The stoic façade of Nagato, who is in a t-shirt as is Asahina-san, lifts up and looks directly into me:


Having said that in a whisper, she slowly closes her eyelids.

And then-


With the background music composed of Haruhi's puzzled shout on the side, I witness an unbelievable scene.

Nagato, the very Nagato Yuki falls, as if pressed down by an unseen demonic hand, flat on the ground.

"Yuki! What happened? Yuki..."

Everyone is too surprised to utter a word, and are dumbstruck frozen on the scene, with only Haruhi rushing in and lifting that small body up.

"Whoa... so hot! Yuki, are you alright? Yuki? Yuki!"

The sleeping face of Nagato had her eyelids shut and head slanted downwards. My instinct told me however that Nagato is not in a sound slumber.

Haruhi hugs Nagato's shoulder and hollers out with a sharp gaze:

"Koizumi-kun, get Yuki onto her bed quickly. Kyon, go find some ice pillows. There should be some over there. Mikuru-chan, go prepare the wet towels."

Seeing how I, Asahina-san and Koizumi stand still, Haruhi barks out again:

"Hurry up!"

After seeing Koizumi lifting up the entirely collapsed Nagato, I head off downstairs in a hurry. Ice pillow, ice pillow, ice pillow, where might the ice pillow be?

It would be that I hadn't fully recovered from the shock of seeing Nagato fainted that led me to be frozen in place earlier. It just seems to be impossible. That's why the case of fake Asahina-san in my room and fake versions of ourselves roaming about in each others' rooms is something that I am just so sick of that I want to forget about it. Leave it alone. That has nothing to do with me.


This is just bad. Curses. I was hoping to let Nagato live a peaceful life like a normal person for the next few days, who knew that the exact opposite would happen.

There is no trace of any ice pillow anywhere, so I wind up in the kitchen by instinct. My own ice mat is not in the emergency kit, but in the fridge. Where would it be in this strange house?


I stop my hand as I hold onto the handle of the fridge door. I pray as hard as I can in my head after having visualized the image of an ice pillow in my head.

Following that, I open the fridge.


The blue ice pillow sits atop the cabbage.

Everything really is provided for. This is way too convenient. I don't know who pays such attention to detail, but it will only lead to an undesired outcome. I am more resolute thanks to that fellow.

We definitely can't stay in a place like this.

I have walked all the way out of the dining room with the rock solid ice pillow, and I see Koizumi standing over in the entrance hall, giving attention to the door at the portal. What is he doing here? Did the right honorable Haruhi order him to dig out snow to cool Nagato down?

Just as I am about to give him a few words of advice, Koizumi has spotted me and opens up first:

"You have come just in time. Take a look at this."

And he points to the door.

I swallow my saliva and look towards where his points to. I see something quite incredible, and am so surprised as to be choked of words.

"What... what is that!"

That is all that I can squeeze out of myself.

"We didn't see this before."

"Yes, this was not here. I was the last one to have entered the house. When I shut the door, I did not see anything like it at the time."

On the inner side of the door, something hard to describe is attached to it. The closest things to compare it to would be control panels or interface panels I guess.

A board about fifty centimeters in length is embedded into the door- or is it an interface panel? A bunch of symbols and numbers that give me nothin but headaches are written on the panel.

I look at them patiently. The top row is -

x-y = (D-1)-z

The bottom row is labelled:

x= □ , y= □ , z= □

□ part is concave inward. It's only just short of having someone tell you to socket something in. Just as I look at those indentations with a confused look-

"The accessories are over here."

Koizumi points to a group of numbered blocks placed inside a wooden frame on the floor. Looking at it closely I see that three rows of digits from 0 to 9 are stored there. I bend down to take one out and have a look at it. The appearance is like a Mahjong tile as is the weight. The only difference is that the pattern carved onto it is that single digit Arabic numeral.

Ten kinds of digits are divided into three groups, and placed in a flat wooden box.

"These should be the numbers that we are to use to solve the equation." Koizumi picks one up as well to examine it. "Perhaps they are to be slotted into the empty squares."

I look back at that equation and my head hurts again. Mathematics has always been a source of pain as a matter of course for me.

"Koizumi, can you solve this?"

"I seem to recall the equation, but these hints are not enough. If this is purely to equate the values on both sides, then there exists an innumerable amount of possible combinations. To reduce that number to only one set, there need to be more conditions set."

I look at the most unique letter out of the four.

"What would this D be? It might not need to be resolved."

"It is the only one in upper case."

Koizumi plays with his number 0 tile and says in a lowered voice:

"This equation... I really have seen it before, but I have no idea that it would appear over here... what is it? I keep thinking that I have had seen this only recently..."

He locks his eyebrows and stands still. A rarity for Koizumi to show such a face deep in thought.

"So? Do you think there's special meaning in that?"

I put my tile back into the wooden frame.

"I know that a mathematical question suddenly appeared from the inner side of the door, but what does that mean?"


Koizumi's attention returns.

"I think this might be the key, since the double door is locked. To open it from the inside is impossible. It is a waste of effort to try turning the handlebar."

"What did you say?"

"Go ahead and try it for yourself. See, there is no keyhole over the inner side of the doors, nor is there a key slot." I tried and can't open it.

"Who might have locked it? Even if this were an automatic, it should be openable from the inside."

"This further proves indirectly that this space is beyond common sense."

Koizumi returns to his meaningless smile.

"The identity of the perpetrator is unknown, but it is clear that the opponent intends to imprison us in here. The windows have been sealed shut and the doors soundly locked..."

"If so, just what is the equation on the interface panel for? Some puzzle for us to pass the time?"

"If my guess, if correct, this equation would be the key for us to open the door."

Koizumi continues with a carefree tone:

"I also think that this is the last means of escape that Nagato-san has left for us."

I have reawakened my recent memories, and am totally immersed in recollection, but Koizumi pays no heed to it and keeps up with his rhetorics.

"This can be said to be an information conflict. It is a kind of warfare that is under some form of limitation. Someone has imprisoned us in this alternate space, and Nagato-san has left us with an escape route in advance to combat this dark faction. This equation is the result. We should be able to return to our world by solving the equation, or else we will remain here."

Koizumi knocks on the door.

"I am not clear as to what kind of a battle it is, but if it is an all-out struggle between some sentient lifeforms, it would be waged on a plane beyond our imagination, and this is only the physical manifestation of that struggle. That interface should be the end product of this fight."

An equation that is totally out of place in this strange, mysterious house.

"It is no coincidence that soon after our strange dream, Nagato-san fainted and this interface panel appeared... these events are not isolated phenomena, but are all somehow interrelated."

Koizumi goes on, being quite good at hiding the anxiety in his heart.

"This would be a key out of this alternate space, an escape key forged by Nagato-san."

That makes me look all over the board for any markings of 'Copyright © Yuki Nagato'. Unfortunately I cannot find such a thing.

"Basically, this is only my own prediction. Nagato-san has only limited powers at her disposal inside this space. Seeing as her connection to the Integrated Data Sentient Entity has been severed, she could only use her innate abilities, which resulted in this roundabout solution."

You may call it prediction, but your tone is rather decisive.

"Hmm, that is true. The 'Organization' has tried to make contacts with other sources of connection, so I do hold a certain amount of intelligence."

Although I really would like to hear more about other aliens, it simply isn't the time for that. The pressing matter is to solve this equation written on this interesting interface. As I look at the symbols on the interface panel as well as the group of numbers in that wooden frame, the calm voice of Nagato comes to mind.

"This space is providing significant stress to me."

I do not know who might have set the trap to lure us into this weird house in the snow, but I definitely cannot forgive the person that caused Nagato to have a high fever and to faint. That and the alien bastard won't have their way! No matter what, we will all leave this place and return to Tsuruya-san's villa! No exceptions, the entire SOS Brigade will leave this place.

Nagato has already done her part. Although I did not witness it nor had I heard of it, she no doubt had been waging warfare against the invisible 'enemy' since we had intruded into this alternate space. This must have been the reason why she seemed more withdrawn than usual. She fought with everything she had, but she still left us a small opening. Well then, what comes next would be for us to open this door.

"We have to leave this place."

Koizumi returns a crisp smile towards my declaration.

"I plan to do so as well. No matter how comfortable, this is not a place to stay in. Utopia and Dystopia are two sides of the same mirror."


The seriousness in my tone surprises even myself.

"Can you not bore a hole into the gates somehow? The situation is rather grim. Nagato has already fallen ill, so the only one that has any power is you."

"You have overestimated me by far."

Even faced with such adversity, Koizumi still responds with a smile.

"I have never said that I am an all-powerful esper. My abilities can only be triggered under a certain set of conditions. This is something that you should-"

I grab the front of his shirt and pull him over before Koizumi finishes his bullshit.

"I don't want to hear that!"

I stare at Koizumi and his sneering, smirking lips.

"Alternate space is your speciality. Asahina-san cannot be depended upon, and Haruhi's a bomb that can go off at any time. Didn't you show off your powers the last time when we faced the cricket? Or is it that the 'Organization' festers a bunch of nincompoops?"

Actually, I am like that too. I can't do anything, not even the most basic of sound judgments. I can say that I am lower than Koizumi. The only thing that I can think of at the moment is to beat Koizumi into a bloody pulp, and then have him pummel me back. I can't vent my anger by punching myself since I will go easy on myself.

"What the hell are you all doing?"

A sharp sound shoots out from behind us, and it seems to be rather displeased.

"Kyon, didn't I tell you go find ice pillows? I ran down after having to wait for an eternity on you, and lo and behold, you and Koizumi are practicing how to fight. Just what is your head loaded with?"

Haruhi has her arms crossed about her waist, and stands firmly with both legs. The scene looks like an old man that lives around my house catching a thief stealing persimmons red-handed.

"Still goofing around at this hour! Think of Yuki, even for a second!"

Haruhi treats the standoff between Koizumi and me as mere play, maybe because her heart is elsewhere. I let Koizumi loose and pick up the ice pillow that dropped onto the ground some time ago.

Haruhi grabs it from me.

"What is that?"

Haruhi's sight quickly converges on that strange equation. Koizumi straightens himself out and answers:

"No idea. Both of us were thinking about this. Does Suzumiya-san have any opinion?"

"Isn't that the Euler formula?"

Haruhi says that without even thinking, what a bummer. Koizumi responds:

"You mean Leonhard Euler? The mathematician?"

"Yes, the mathematician, but I don't know his name."

Koizumi re-examines the strange interface panel, and stares for several seconds.


He snaps his fingers as if he is acting in front of somebody.

"This is the Euler's Planar Graph Formula, or rather a variation. As expected of Suzumiya-san."

"It might not be it. That D though must mean dimensional factor. I guess."

Whether or not that is correct, I have a bunch of questions in my head. Who is Euler, and what did he do? What is the Planar Graph Theorem? Did we ever do this in math class? Just as I am about to raise my questions, I suddenly remember that I have mostly slept through my math classes! So I don't dare to raise my doubts.

"No, this is not a part of the high school curriculum. However the seven bridges of Königsberg question should not be foreign to you."

Ahh, that one I know. Math taught by Yoshizaki would occasionally refer to some of these hard questions during his lectures. This question would be that illustration showing two islands and streams with interconnecting bridges? I remember that there is no solution.

"That's right." Koizumi nods. "That problem is on a flat plane, but Euler proved that one can view a surface as a three-dimensional object. The Planar Formula is one of his many legendary works."

Koizumi continues to explain.

"This principle holds for all polyhedra [5]. The result of taking the number of vertices plus the number of sides minus the number of edges must be 2." [6]


Having seen that look of wanting to toss aside all things related to mathematics, Koizumi gives a wry smile and puts one hand behind his back.

He takes a black oil-based marker out. Where'd he get that? Was it purposely hidden? Or the same way that I got the ice pillow?

Koizumi kneels on the ground and starts to doodle on the red carpet. Neither Haruhi nor I try to stop him, seeing as no one cares if someone is painting graffiti all over this place.

Koizumi creates the picture of a dice-like polyhedron.


"As you can see, this is a regular hexahedron. The number of vertices is 8, the number of surfaces is 6. There are 12 edges. 8+6-12=2... that is true, is it not?"

As if that weren't enough, Koizumi has drawn a new shape.


"This time I have drawn a pyramid. There are 5 vertices, and 5 surfaces. There also 8 lines. 5+5-8 is still 2. Therefore, even if the number of sides increases to hundreds of sides, the answer is still 2 (the Euler characteristic), which sums up Euler's polyhedra principle."

"Really? I think I got that then. But... what does Haruhi mean for dimensional factor?"

"That is very simple. The principle can be used not only on three-dimensional objects, but also on flat surfaces. It's just that the formula becomes 'points + sides - edges = 1'. The seven bridges problem is rooted from this principle."

A new sketch appears on the carpet.


"As you can see, this is a five point star drawn with a single stroke."

This time around I will count it out for myself. There are 1,2... 10 vertices. Sides well... 6 surfaces. Lines is the biggest with um... total of 15. The answer of 10+6-15 is 1.

While I was busy counting, Koizumi has already completed the fourth graph. It looks like a misdrawn Big Dipper.

Image:Big dipper.JPG

"This applies even with such a doodle."

You really don't need to go through the trouble. Alright, since you've drawn it, I might as well take the time and add it up. Umm... there are 7 vertices, 1 surface... lines... maybe 7? I see, the answer really is 1.

Koizumi puts the cap back on his pen with his signature smile.

"At any rate, the characteristic is 2 for three-dimensional polyhedron, and 1 for planar objects. Got it? Now take a look at the equation."

The pen points to the interface panel.

"x-y = (D-1) -z is. x is the number of vertices, and we can derive by reworking the Euler Formula that y would be the edges. It is only evident after examination that z, originally on the left, would be the number of sides and has been shifted to the right and negated. As for this (D-1), if we substitute in the Euler characteristic where 2 would be for three-dimensional objects and 1 for planar, D would be respectively 3 or 2. That D would be initial for 'Dimension'."

I listen silently and work my brain while at this. Hmm. I have a general idea now. So the equation on the board is related to Mr. Euler's what's that called principle, I got it.

"And then?"

I ask.

"What would the answer be? What numbers in the frames are we to use to substitute for x,y and z?"


Koizumi answers.

"Without the original polyhedron or the planar graph to use as reference, I cannot resolve that."

Isn't that just a load of crap, where is that? Where are we going to find that original graph that you have mentioned?

Don't know- Koizumi lifts his shoulder, and I start to panic.

Just then-

Haruhi, seeming totally lost in the equation, suddenly barks out as if she remembers something:

"This really isn't important - oh yeah, Kyon!"

What the hell!

"You better go and visit Yuki later on!"

I will go without you having to remind me, but do you really have to boss me around and coax me like that?

"Because that girl called out your name, although only once."

My name? That Nagato? You're kidding?

"What did she call me?"

"Just 'Kyon'!"

Nagato has never called me by my name, not even once. Ahh, that is to say, be it my name or my nickname, Nagato has never called me by them. Whenever we talk face to face she always refer to me in second person...

An irregular thin sense of emotion lifts from my chest.


Koizumi objects.

"Is it really 'KYON'? Are you sure that you have not have made a mistake?"

What's he up to? Got an opinion on Nagato's murmuring?

"Suzumiya-san, this is very important. Please try to remember."

This is quite strong a wording for Koizumi. Even Haruhi finds it surprising, as she thinks back with her eyes looking up above.

"Hmm... well I didn't catch it very clearly. It might not have been KYON. That and she whispered it. It could've been HYON or ZEON. It is definitely not KYAN or KYUN."

"I see."

Koizumi answers in satisfaction.

"So that means the first syllable is unclear so we only caught the end. Hahaha, so that's it. Nagato-san might not have meant to say KYON, or even ZYON, but YON (four)."

"Four?" I said.

"Yes, the very number '4'."

"So what if it's 4..."

I stopped and look back at the equation.


Haruhi impatiently toots her lips.

"We haven't the time to play around with this number game! Would you worry about Yuki for a second? I can't stand you two!"

She tosses the ice pillow as her eyes forms into triangles.

"You've better take a look at Yuki! You hear!"

After belting that out, she stomps, stomps, and stomps as she heads upstairs. We send her away with our eyes, and Koizumi only starts the conversation after she's gone, full of confidence in both tone and looks.

"All the conditions are now present. We can now solve for x, y, z."

"Please think back to our prior encounter. The fake version event that Suzumiya-san thought of as a dream, but I find it hazily real."

Koizumi picks up the pen again as he bends his back.

"Let us draw a graph showing whose apparition appeared in whose room."

Koizumi starts by drawing a dot on the carpet, and labels it 'KY'.

"This would be you. Asahina-san went to your room."

From there a line is extended and a dot is made on its end and is labelled 'ASA'.

"Suzumiya-san appeared in Asahina-san's room."

This time, he draws a line to the rear left diagonally, and writes 'SUZU' on the new dot.

"The one that has entered into Suzumiya-san's room would be you."

And following that, he extends a line from 'SUZU' to 'KY' and completes a right triangle.

"And the one that entered my room would be you. Ahh, I should say a person that looks like you but not you. I believe that you would not have done what he did even if you went insane."

A line is drawn downward through 'KY' and the point is called 'KO'.

"Nagato-san also said that you have entered into her room."

Now I see. Koizumi seals the pen and stops after drawing a line extended from my point to the right, an end point called 'NAGA'.

"Everything is interrelated. It almost seems that the fake versions of ourselves that appeared seemingly in dream and for real were apparitions made by Nagato-san."

I stare at the newest graph made by Koizumi without moving my eyes from it.


It is exactly a '4' drawn in one stroke.

"It is now just a matter of directly applying this graph towards the equation on the door. This graph happens to be related to our double. Since it is a planar graph, D would be '2'."

Koizumi brushes his fringes aside and continues with a smile:

"x=5, y=5, z=1. That is the answer. Both sides reduce to 0."

I save myself the time to stay in awe or to praise it at all, as I hurry myself to get those tiles. Three of them. Now that the answer's out, what are we waiting for!

However Koizumi seems to still have some last doubts.

"What I am afraid is whether or not this is a delete program?"

Let's ask first. What would that be?

"If we are really duplicated copies of our personalities, then there exists no reason to really go out of our way to leave this alternate space, so long as our originals stay safe and sound in the real world."

Koizumi lays his hands out.

"This mechanism might be set up so that the moment we solve this equation, we will be deleted. For us, such action would amount to suicide. Do you wish to carry on with our lives here forever with no change whatsoever, or would you rather be deleted? Which do you prefer?"

Neither. Although I don't have the will to have eternal life, but I am not so down as to hope for my demise right now. I am me. There is no one that can substitute for me.

"I believe in Nagato."

Even I am surprised by how calm I appear to be.

"I believe in you as well, for I believe your answer is the correct one. However that trust is only limited to that equation."

"I see."

Koizumi smiles kindly as if he knows telekinesis. Following that he takes a step back.

"I leave the rest to you. Should something go wrong, I will stand with you by the side of Suzumiya-san, for it is my duty and my mission."

It's fine if that's what you want, as long as you're happy with it. There aren't many jobs that you are actually happy to do in this world.

Koizumi retracts his smile slightly, and shows a degree of earnestness.

"If we really do return to normal space, then I would like to make a promise to you."

He continues calmly.

"Following this, should anything happen that will push Nagato-san into a tight corner, I will betray the 'Organization' once and stand by your side no matter how beneficial it might be for the 'Organization'."

Why stand by my side? Standing by Nagato's side is the right thing to do.

"Should such a situation develop, you will no doubt be the first to support Nagato-san. Helping you will amount to helping Nagato-san, although it may be by proxy."

His lip twitches.

"Personally, I believe Nagato-san is a vital member. When the time comes, I will lend a hand to Nagato-san. Although I may be a part of the 'Organization', I am the the deputy chief of the SOS Brigade before that."

A look of concern fills Koizumi's eyes, and the expression on his face seems to have the determination to deny any way of backing out, as well as having relinquished the right to defend himself. If so, I don't need to hold back and should just do what my gut instinct tells me to do.

In the middle of December- I was left all alone in a foreign world, and had only managed to escape by running everywhere. This time of course I will do the same. However, unlike that time I am not fighting alone, but instead am working with everyone in the SOS Brigade to find a way out of here. Ryugu-jo is not worth longing for. It is not we but this space that must vanish.

Without any hesitation, I slide the tiles into their designated slots.

'click'- a small but crisp noise is heard. It is very much like the sound of door being unlocked.

I focus all of my attention onto the handle, and it turns!

The gates slowly open.


There have been times in the past when I was too taken aback to say anything. Or I was dumbfounded, or in hysteria or even absolutely mortified! All sorts of similar experiences come to mind: "You're not joking?" But after living through time and space being bent like a rubber band, even I was about as resilient as a cockroach after being sprayed, and to totally collapse right about now would not be surprising.

Looks like I better retreat for now.

I, the one that opened the heavy gates-


- have entered into a state where I can't make a noise no matter how hard I try.

I cannot believe what I am seeing. Why are my optic nerves sending such a scene into my brain? Is it because I have finally snapped? Is it that my retina and cornea have finally given up?

The piercing light makes me dizzy. The bright sunlight shines from the above.

"-this is..."

The weather is as clear as a crystal ball. Not even a snow flake has fallen upon us, let alone a snow storm. It is clear as far as the eye can see, without a cloud in the sky. There exists only...

...the lift cables cutting across our field of vision. The swinging seats have pairs of skiing couples on them.

My fumbling feet, for some reason, have become so hard to lift.

It is the snow. I am caught in a field of snow. The glittering white landscape dazzles my eyes, driving me ever more faint.

I feel as if something is up, and when I lift my head, a figure whisks by me in a hurry.


I jump in reflex as I follow the shadow with my eyes. The skier had dodged me as if I was an obstacle on a ski run.

"This is..."

The skiing ground, simple as that. Without taking even a close look, one can see the skiers everywhere having all kinds of fun as they come into view quite naturally.

I look to the side, and I suddenly feel as if my shoulders have quite some weight on them. That would be from having the skis and the poles on my back. After that I look at my feet, and I find myself wearing ski boots. As for what I am wearing right now, well it is the skiing outfit that I was given before I stepped out of Tsuruya-san's mansion.

I turn around hurriedly.


Asahina-san looks like a Koinobori (carp flag) in the wind, with her mouth and eyes wide open.


Koizumi looks at the sky in astonishment. Both of us are in familiar getup and definitely not in T-shirts.

That strange house has vanished without a trace. Looks like it will not appear again. This is just a simple skiing paradise. The mansion unmarked by maps has evaporated to the point that there isn't even any steam left...

... to put it another way.


From where the sound originated it seems that Haruhi is dead ahead! I turn my head and eyeballs around to look for her.

Haruhi is right next to Nagato as she helps Nagato out of the snow.

"Are you alright, Yuki? You're still running a fever... eh?"

Haruhi glances around like a Hyrax peeking out of its den.

"That's odd... we were in the mansion."

And then, she finally sees me.

"Kyon, something's up..."

I have not replied, and have merely put my skis and poles down and kneel beside Nagato. Haruhi and Nagato are both wearing the same set of clothes that they were in before the snow storm, when we were 'racing'.


Answering my call, her hair moves slightly and she slowly lifts her head.


The poker face is still frozen as those pupils as large as they usually are look toward me. Nagato, with snow all over her, fixes her sight on my face just like that.


Haruhi knocks me out of the way, and is now holding Nagato.

"I don't really know what had happened, but... Yuki, are you awake? Are you still running a fever?"


Nagato replies lightly, as she stands on her own feet.

"I have merely tripped."

"Really? But you were running a fever before.. eh? What happened?"

Haruhi puts her hand on Nagato's forehead.

"Wow! Your fever is gone. But..."

Her eyes come back after having taken a panning view of the scenery.

"Eh? Snowstorm...? mansion...? No way? That wasn't like a dream... Ehhhh? Or... was that really a dream?"

Don't ask me about it. I can deny technical support service to you and just you.

As I am planning to feign innocence, the sound of a lively "hey-!" comes to me from a short distance away.

"What's up?"

Tsuruya-san shouts out. Three snowmen from large, middle to small stand next to her, and a figure about as tall the the medium one also to the side. That hopping figure that's looking this way would be my little sister.

We have managed to reorient ourselves.

We are not far from where the lifts are and are only a little way from the novice trail. All five of us present.

"Sigh, nevermind."

Haruhi has decided to not press any further.

"Yuki, I will piggyback you, get up."

"No need," says Nagato.

"Oh yes!" Haruhi is determined. "I don't really know what has happened, nor do I know why it is that I have no clue about it, but you're really pushing yourself too hard. Although you're not running a fever anymore, anyone can see that you're not well. You need rest!"

Without waiting for any feedback from Nagato, Haruhi has lifted her up and starts running towards Tsuruya-san and my sister. Her pacing would have left even the fastest snow blower in the dust. If there was ever such a category as a hundred-meter dash in the snow while piggybacking a person in the Winter Olympics, Haruhi would no doubt have taken the gold.

Following that,

Arakawa-san had us picked up after being notified by Tsuruya-san.

Nagato was protesting somewhat about being treated as a patient by Haruhi, as she showed her vitality the Nagato way, but the look I gave her seemed to have an effect as she finally succumbed to Haruhi's instructions.

Nagato, Haruhi, Asahina-san and my sister headed back to the villa first. Koizumi, Tsuruya-san and I took a walk to get back.

In the middle of the walk, Tsuruya-san started off the conversation like so:

"That's odd, why is it that you all were heading out of the mountain with heavy footsteps and with skis on your back? Did something happen?"

Uhhh, no blizzard?

"Hmm? Ahh, you must be talking about that snowfall which lasted for ten minutes? It's not all that much of a big deal. It's just a short, sudden snowfall."

From the looks of it, us going in circles in the snow and spending an eternity in that strange house was but a few minutes to Tsuruya-san.

Tsuruya-san went on, full of life in her pacing and tone:

"I was wondering why y'all were coming down and falling all over the place. Lo and behold, it's because Nagato-chi took a nasty tumble. Thank goodness that she recovered from that so quickly."

Koizumi can only give a stiff smile at that and says nothing. I didn't talk either. The observer that was calmly analyzing this whole situation, in this case Tsuruya-san, found us just as she said. If so, let's just use her point of view as the reference. We might have been through wonderland or a dream world, but this is reality, where the original version of the world is located.

After walking in silence for quite a while, Tsuruya-san started to break into laughter once more, as she stuck her mouth next to my ear.

"Kyon-kun, lemme ask you somethin'."

What is it, sempai?

"I can tell that Mikuru and Nagato-chi are no ordinary folks, probably Haruhi-nyan is also a cut above?"

I examined Tsuruya-san with seriousness, and having found that her bright façade is just that, a plain bright outlook-

"So even you have found that out."

"I've reckoned that for quite a while! It's just that I haven't totally sorted out where the two of them've come from. But I'd say that they're doing some strange stuff behind our backs. Ahh, don't tell this to Mikuru. That kid keeps treatin' herself like she's an average Joe!"

She was laughing from her stomach, which must have been because of how I had reacted to that.

"Hmm, but Kyon-kun now is pretty normal. You reek of the same kinda smell that I've got."

Following that, she started to look at my face.

"Nevermind. I don't really wanna dig up dirt about what kinda person Mikuru is. You'd be having a hard time to answer. Who cares what she is, friends are friends."

Haruhi, just stop with the honorary member or the honorary advisor thing and recruit Tsuruya-san as a regular member. This open-minded girl might be more suited than I for the role of being an understanding average person.

Tsuruya-san patted my shoulder with ease.

"Take care of Mikuru. If that kid has some things that she doesn't want me to help her with, you're gonna have to bear the brunt of that."

That... is a definite yes.


Tsuruya-san's eyes were glimmering even brighter:

"The movie that time, the one for the festival. Are the CGs' for real?"

Koizumi might have had heard that, for I spotted him off to the side, shrugging his shoulders and having no comment.

The moment we have arrived at the villa, Nagato is hurried off to bed by Haruhi.

The stifled expression has disappeared from her pale face and is replaced by that calm complexion. She is back to being that person that wavers ever so slightly like the swaying grass in a gust of wind, back to being the Nagato that I know.

As if they are all on vigil, both Asahina-san and Haruhi are sitting by Nagato's bedside while my sister and Shamisen are on standby off to a corner. Perhaps they are waiting for me, Koizumi and Tsuruya-san, who have come in later. When we are all present, Haruhi speaks out:

"Hey Kyon. For some reason, I keep having thoughts that I had the most realistic dream. I dreamed that we arrived at a mansion, and took a bath in it as well as had some hot sandwiches there."

You were just seeing things - just as I am about to say that, Haruhi continues.

"Yuki said that she has no idea, but Mikuru-chan says that she recalls the exact same thing that I've said."

I look toward Asahina-san, and the miss-maid that just evokes pity returns an 'I am sorry' look.

This is not good. I was hoping to just gloss it over by calling all of it a daydream or some kind of illusion, and now I can't think of a good roundabout way to explain when the two have the exact same dream.

As I ponder about how to lie to Haruhi,

"It is collective hypnosis."

Koizumi looks at me with a 'there there, leave it to me' expression and cuts in.

"I actually recall similar things."

"You're saying that you and I both got hypnotized?" Says Haruhi.

"This is not a man-made hypnosis. Hypnosis for Suzumiya-san normally wouldn't have worked since you might have doubts if it was announced beforehand that you were to be hypnotized."


Haruhi falls into silence.

"However, we had walked round and round in the snow mountain, with only a uniform white scenery. Are you aware of Highway Hypnosis? People that are driving on the highway can fall into a state of hypnosis by looking at the scene with the street lamps spaced out uniformly. This might be the phenomenon that has led to our situation. One falls asleep while taking the train due to the rhythmic vibrations in the cars. This is the same principle that applies to sending a baby to sleep by slow, rhythmic patting on its back."


Haruhi shows a 'first time that I've heard of this' look as Koizumi nods deeply.


He continues on:

"While we were moving in the snowstorm, I think that somebody had said: "It'd be great if there'd be a house that we can hide out at, and it'd be great if it's fully equipped, really comfortable..." or something similar to that. At any rate, the mental state of people in a disaster will not be very good and, under such extreme stress, it is not surprising that incredible apparitions might overtake us. In story books, don't travelers going through the desert often see mirages?"

Damn Koizumi, that was beautiful!

"Umm... maybe you're right. So that's basically what happened?"

Haruhi cocks her head and looks at me.

That's right. I keep nodding along, trying to force an expression of sudden realization. Koizumi pushes along with me:

"The sound of Nagato-san falling must have awakened us to reality, it definitely must have been like that."

"If you put it that way, I guess it really was like that..."

Haruhi cocks her head further, but she quickly aligns it back to normal.

"Fine, I'll call it that. It's absurd to think that there'd be such a house for us to shelter in when we got into trouble. My memory is getting kinda hazy on this. All of this is like a dream within a dream."

Right, a dream. That weird house is not really there so don't mind it too much, it's just a figment of our imagination from fatigue.

The only thing that has me worried would be the two outsiders who are non-SOS members. I look at Tsuruya-san.


Tsuruya-san blinks at me, all smiles. I read that as the code for "fine fine, let's leave it at that", although it might just be me getting worried too much. Tsuruya-san makes no comment and she doesn't say anything more, only has her own signature smile on her face.

As for the other person ― my little sister has already fallen asleep on Asahina-san's lap. Although she can be as loud as a meowing cat while awake, she is adorable when asleep. Asahina-san looks at my little sister as if she is satisfied. It is kind of obvious that Asahina-san and my little sister didn't catch even one word from the second part of Koizumi's explanation.

Finally! After toiling for an eternity, the first night of the winter co-ed has arrived!

Nagato seems to have trouble staying in bed, but is finally put down with a bedsheet by the screaming and jumping primate Haruhi.

I think that there's no need to force Nagato to sleep. Even if you have a nice dream, it is still only a dream once you wake up. The important thing is that all of us are still together. No matter how exciting being on that glimmering stage might have been, if it is only an illusion that ceases to exist the moment you open your eyes, it has no meaning. I definitely have realized this deeply.

I have decided to leave certain things aside for now. All of them can be confirmed later, be it the background story to that weird house in the snow mountain or to wonder if Haruhi totally bought Koizumi's dazzling jargon-laden speech. Of course it seems that none of it matters with her busy at taking care of Nagato right this moment.

For some reason, I want to catch some air outside, which inadvertently means escaping from Haruhi's demonic voice reaching into my head. I don't feel cold for some reason while the stars, and the reflected starlight coming from the silvery landscape is unusually catching.


The next day would be the last day of the year. Koizumi's carefully planned detective drama will unfold itself on New Year's Eve. Haruhi will also do her best with her holiday bash.

Screw this, things will work out in the end. I only need to worry about taking good care of myself before those things occur. This happens to be a rare opportunity for Nagato to get some R&R. Who cares when she usually sleeps or if she even needs to in the first place, she can really unwind herself and fulfill her urge to sleep this time around. Putting Shamisen onto her bed is quite a nice idea, as it's great to have an instant bed heater!

I look at the endless snow field as I talk to myself.

"Just for tonight, please don't let a blizzard start up again."

If Nagato does dream when she sleeps, may she have a good dream... just for tonight, at least.

At least I, personally, have no reason for wanting her to not have a good dream tonight.

Lastly, I am also going to make a wish to the stars. Although it isn't Tanabata, nor is it New Year's Eve, and it is totally off-tangent to the story of Altair and Vega, but I would like at least one star to take my wish, given how many stars are out there in the universe.

"May the coming year be a good year."

Please make it come true, whoever is up in those stars.

(Snow Mountain Syndrome End)

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