“Osawa-kun. Osawa-kun! Get a move on! We have many things to do today!”
Whoever thought that waking up at 04:30 was a good idea should be shot! It felt like being in basic training all over again. The intense structure and schedule only tempered with the idea it would end in a few weeks by pushing forward to muddle through. There was great power in knowing that struggle was not indefinite and that a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel could really motivate someone to go just a little bit further. Sadly I wouldn’t be getting that reprieve. No, this wakeup call would be a constant until I had enough money to live on my own.
A struggle on its own, no doubt.
Sadly, even in alternate magical Japan the age restrictions for working minors was fifteen… as was emancipation. I was five years off until I could even get so much as a mundane paper route. The frustration of that was something I was struggling not to think about when compared to having the spending power and autonomy of a fully functional adult. So until then I was stuck living under the ‘my house–my rules’ mentality. Being completely dependent on others to basically make sure I was fed and had a roof over my head until I got my bearings.
Bearings that felt even further away than a minimum wage job.
Drudging up from my meager futon, I began to get ready for the day. My clothes now consisted of more traditional Japanese clothing. It was a dull blue top and bottom that was tied around by an obi. It had been a while since I wore a Gi so it wasn’t too dissimilar. I was to wear this outfit while on the premises. Only when I was leaving was I allowed to slip into more familiar western clothing. Even those were just basic polo shirts and khakis.
Which meant I would need to change again in three hours before I got a reprieve from this stuffy place and went to an equally annoying place I would never thought I would ever set foot in; Hibiya Elementary school.
Yes, I was in hell.
I quickly gave myself a once over in the little mirror hanging by a piece of string in the corner of the room before shuffling off to my morning tasks. Making note to make sure my hair wasn’t a complete bird's nest like it normally was. My gaze lingered on my reflection just a few moments longer as I traced my small fingers across my skin. One might say that you shouldn’t make a big deal out of color. In most cases that was true. But when you went from a dark haired, blue eyed, 6’1 man to a light brown haired, green eyed, 4’5 child, it spoke volumes on your capacity to simply brush those things off.
Speaking of color; Stepping out of my little room, nestled up against the storage room on the Yukihana compound, I found a pair of beady dark brown eyes staring down on me with irritation. A sight that I had come to see no end of in the last ten days since coming to this hell.
“Erm… Good morning, Oharu-san,” I offered an uncomfortable bow as a greeting like a true native. Another little annoyance that I was getting used to unnaturally quickly.
Oharu… something or other, let out an impatient sigh. She was just past middle aged, a bit scrunched up in her posture and had a face that showed a woman who only smiled when she had to. I wasn’t able to get a good read on what her deal was. She was essentially a servant for the Yukihana family and probably had been since she was the age I currently was.
Serve someone for your entire life and that person’s schedule must become akin to teeth. It’s what I found out when having to deal with this infernal woman when I made a simple mistake. Any time she had to step in to fix something she looked like she had one of her teeth pulled out. Of which, I got the brunt of that with a good whack on the top of my head with whatever cleaning/cooking utensils she happened to be wielding at the time.
“We are already behind with our tasks,” she scolded. With a snap of her finger she gestured across the tiled courtyard towards the main building. “You must be quicker otherwise I’ll be waking you up earlier. Now go assist the others with cleaning the dojo.”
Not sparring her with another word I shuffled towards the Yukihana family dojo. Like every cliché Japanese setting, this compound was actually a famous kendo school. The practitioners of the patented Densetsu-fubuki-ryū of swordsmanship. A bit heavy handed on the whole winter gimmick but again… not a lot of creativity into this world. Oh and in case anyone had figured it out yet, yes, this place did tie into the main story of the game in an obscure way.
In what way does this remote training temple located on some remote mountain several hours north of Hokkaido matter to the main story?
Well, honestly, it doesn’t. No, the only real reason anyone who ever played Love Hero Chronicles took the time to delve into this area was for one reason and one reason only…
“You’re all slow! Father and Grandfather will be returning today! You slackers must make sure every training area is spotless for their return!” Standing in the middle of a gaggle of grown ass adults – hand scrubbing every inch of the dojo – was the ten year old heiress.
From my limited interactions with her in person so far added to my past knowledge of the game I’ll spare you all the details and just summarize her with three adjectives; Prideful, bratty, and cold. Yes, she was the type of character that warmed up to the player in a cringey tsundere fashion. Knocking her down in duels and then helping her with her personal issues typically raised her affection rather quickly… well, at least for someone of her character, anyway.
“Hey you! New boy! Why are you just standing around!”
I turned to the little girl, once again noticing how typical she looked as a Yukihana. Unlike myself who had clear mixed parents, everyone in the main family, branch, and attendants were a homogenized bunch. Toki was like every stereotypical Japanese princess and was one of the more realistic looking heroines of the bunch – future bodily proportions notwithstanding. I’d rip on the developers more for being lazy on her design but since I was a foreigner she was essentially an exotic beauty when she actually grew up. Plus she was one of the more powerful characters in the game.
Not that I chose her for any meaningful romance option in any of my playthroughs.
“Your Majesty.” Not giving her the satisfaction of a customary bow I opted for a two fingered salute instead. “If you don’t like me standing I can just as easily lay down and do nothing instead. Preferably back in my futon.”
“Ah! What did you just say! How dare you show such disrespect even though you're a new servant here!”
“Servant? I’m not a– Er!”
“–Osawa-kun.” Gritting my teeth, I barely managed to suppress a grunt of pain as a firm hand grasped my shoulder. An irritatingly familiar voice began speaking softly in my ear, just loud enough for me to hear but no less sharp to listen to. “In this household every attendant no matter their age must pull their own weight. I thought I told you your circumstances gave you no special treatment. Your status here is to serve the Yukihana family like everyone else.”
A vile scent of sour pine needles hit my nose first as I tried to turn away from the older man’s grip. It was like a vice that was threatening to tear the muscle fiber from my left shoulder. Likely there would be bruising for a few days afterwards. Of course the man behind such an abrupt action had to be just as frightening.
My memories gained from Hisato Osawa were limited but I got the gist of the specifics only referenced briefly in the game. A deeper insight I got to witness first hand. This man was the head attendant to the Yukihana family, Nobuo Tatawaki. A true passive aggressive bastard whose role in the game as a recurring character was only to keep the player from getting too close to Toki. He was the family’s bodyguard/lap dog essentially. An ever present smile on his face, wide framed glasses and slick black hair without a single strand out of place.
He was also the man who brought Hisato – now me – to the Yukihana compound only a few days before I took over the boy’s body. When I referenced ‘my house–my rules’, it was this bastard that laid down the laws of this place as he showed me to my little room next to the compound's storage shed. As for the words exchanged during that time… essentially just a nicer warning than what I was just subjected to.
I looked back to Toki who seemed a little more cautious towards Nobuo as well. No, all the servants and family members appeared standoffish in the man’s presence.
“Ya I got it. Just give a rag and I’ll clean whatever you want.”
“Very good. Before that though…” With a small gesture to Toki and a wide smile his intentions for my actions weren’t settled yet.
“Fine.” I bowed my head low, trying to sound as sincere as I possibly could to keep this bastard off my back. “I apologize, Lady Toki, for my disrespectful actions. I shall strive to ensure to fulfill my duties without error in the future.”
Until I got the hell out of here that is.
“Hn, next time you act out you can expect a more serious punishment. I’ll be sure Father and Grandfather know of this though.”
Ya it sounded intimidating… Not so threatening when it came from a little girl though.
Thankfully my only chore was to sweep the tiled areas of the compound of leaves and dirt. It still took almost all of my time and was a pain in the ass to do when the rise had yet to rise. While Japan may have been the Land of the Rising Sun, it still didn’t rise until 06:00. What sucked worse was the fact I was using what had to be a handmade broom made fashioned from a tree branch and straw. If I had a leaf blower or even a halfway decent push broom this chore would have been done so much faster.
Wiping grime off roof tiles, prepping training dummies, getting baths ready, cleaning the storage room. It seemed like my last week had been nothing but menial tasks that seemed like they should have been done long before I arrived here. My free time so far had been non-existent and what luxuries I had gotten were… Well, I couldn’t think of any off the top of my head.
No Television, no phone, a small communal washroom, and a single outlet with a ratty old lamp for a source of light. It was as spartan as a typical city slicker could get. My free time outside of school and chores was mainly filled with an anxious dread about the future. How sad it was that this new rigid routine had the unintended result to keep my mind off my current situations. Especially when the state of being used as free labor and being stuck in an eroge game were circular.
“And done!” With the last of the leaves swept off I rushed back to my room to change into my normal clothes. Since school was about half an hour walk I was just cutting it close. The real boon to this place was that meals were typically ready to go. While it was mainly fish and rice dishes, I could honestly say it was more than what I was expecting under the circumstances. “Huh? Where’s my…”
Except when you go to the kitchen and find there isn’t breakfast prepared.
“Why are you wearing those clothes? Who told you to get changed?” Oharu asked, stepping out from the little kitchen island.
I saw Yuki in my peripheral vision just outside the window. She was rushing towards the front gates in her casual clothes. Like myself she also went to the same school but was mercifully in a different class. That’s why I hadn’t interacted with her much. “Umm, school? It is Wednesday after all.”
“You won’t be going to school today. Go change back. There is still much that needs to get done today.”
“What? Why? I’d think school has priority.”
Oharu scowled, slowly raising the wooden spoon in her hand for arguing back. “Not for you it isn’t. Servants of the Yukihana family place serving the wishes of Master Komuro first and foremost. With his return alongside Master Takei we must have the estate prepared for their return this evening.”
“Well I’m not a servant of the Yukihana. Just an indentured guest and don’t plan on working here after I get an education.”
Strangely enough, the woman's scrunched up face relaxed, seemingly perplexed when I revealed this so candidly. I had thought everyone knew what my reason for being here was but it appeared with each passing day that it wasn’t the case.
Not that anyone had cared to ask.
“Once more it seems I must tell you that your circumstances don’t matter here.” Nobuo announced, appearing out of nowhere. “It is Master Komuro’s wish that you learn the role of an attendant. As the Yukihana family is solely responsible for you it is up to their discretion as to whether or not you’ll be attending school.”
“Yes, now stop talking back and help me prepare this evening's meal,” Oharu ordered.
I crossed my arms, not budging an inch. While the creepy bastard could likely kill me without batting an eye, I wouldn’t take all his bullshit as scripture. “Oh? I didn’t know the Yukihana’s could skirt the law so flagrantly. It was my understanding that the law states children my age must attend school. It’s legally compulsory and can get the Yukihana in trouble with the government if this crude homeschooling method of yours is revealed.”
“Oh? You would tell outsiders of the Yukihana’s internal matters? Should I take that as a threat?”
If there was ever a moment to be scared it was likely this moment. All it took was for a man like Nobuo to start glowing to really know you went too far. I didn't forget the fact that magic was an honest to goodness factor in this world and that even little old lady’s could whip out fireballs or shoot lightning if they were proficient enough. That would be preferable to this moment where I might actually have to go change my clothes again just because I felt like I was going to piss myself.
I slowly took a step back, ready to run as fast as my legs could carry me before this psycho snapped my neck.
“Oof! Ah, what the hell?”
Only stopping as I seemed to back right up into someone trying to enter the kitchen.
“Yasue-kun?” Oharu said. “Why are you still here?”
Behind me was a teenage boy dressed in a familiar black and white school uniform with gold trim. He, like the others, had black hair/eyes but with a wild mane of hair that looked like it had never been brushed a day in its life. I assumed this one was a highschool student but was perplexed as to why he was here. That uniform was the one used for the magic academy in Tokyo where the game mainly took place. So why would he be up here in Hokkaido if he needed to get to school.
Did the boy possess some strange magical fast travel?
“Woke up late,” the boy drawled, yawning into his hand. “So why is Tatawaki-san in a bad mood? Did someone move a picture frame an inch out of place again?”
Oharu pointed at me, declaring the reason like I had just committed some great crime. “This ungrateful boy is being disobedient and isn’t helping for the return of your great Uncle and Honored Cousin.”
“I’m been helping all week,” I muttered under my breath. “I've been getting up at freaking 04:30 to do chores.”
“Ha ha! Well the kid seems to disagree with you Aunty. He's certainly a clever one and a kid like him should be going to school.”
“But–But!” Oharu sputtered.
“Yasue-kun, it has been directed by Master Komuro that–”
“–Ya I don’t really care.” The boy cut off Nobuo mid sentence – making me almost do an exaggerated double-take. “Uncle isn’t here right now so I’m saying he should be going to school. What? Is his assistance here so detrimental that you can’t handle Uncle Komuro and Cousin Takei returning? I’ll be sure to let them know if that’s the case.”
There was a pregnant pause, a strong tension that was exhumed from Nobuo and this teenager. Maybe I was too quick to judge the boy on his influence in this house. If he was going to the Magic Academy then that meant his skill and power with magic could be fairly decent if he was a sophomore or a senior. Whatever the case may be I was grateful that there was someone here that didn’t have a stick up their ass.
“Your Hisato-kun, aren’t you?”
“I heard about you and I’m deeply sorry for your loss. I’m Yasue Yukihana by the way. Just refer to me as Brother Yasue though, okay?” From his pocket, Yasue pulled a 2000 yen bill from his pocket and handed it to me. Then he hooked his thumb to the entryway of the main house. “Here, use it to buy yourself some lunch. You should go to school quickly if you don’t want to be late.”
“O-Okay. Thanks for this.” Perplexed but not looking a gift horse in the mouth, I power walked like a champ before sprinting out once I was past the front door.
I was like a blur running down the mountain. My eyes were watering from the small particles in the air as the wind pushed against my face. While I was seriously risking a potential faceplant by running down such a steep angle I wasn’t about to stop just because I might trip and skin my knee. No, I was going full tilt away from that fucked up place and fought through the lack of oxygen until I was certain I was in a place with witnesses around. Definitely a problem given the fact the town that surrounded the Yukihana’s mountain was mainly for agriculture. Meaning, not many people around.
Just rounding the bend at the foot of the mountain where the road met the steps leading up to the compound was Toki. She too walked to school given how close it was and the fact a place like this was likely under the thumb of the Yukihana family. No sane person would mess with a family of powerful magic swordsmen, especially their heiress.
A shame I wasn’t.
“Good morning again, your Majesty!” I shouted out as I ran past her, giving her another two finger salute.
“Ahk! You again! Have you no manners at all!”
“What? I’m sorry I can’t hear your whining all the way back there!”
“Whining! Come back here and say that my face you delinquent!”
“Ha! You’ll have to beat me to school first!"
Well maybe not everything was so bad. The sight of the little Princess blowing her lid and trying to chase me down was certainly a sight to see. Unfortunately for her my legs were longer and I had a decent head start. I could still hear her cussing like a child at me even as we reached the boundaries of the school gates. And like every spoiled Princess she took her defeat with the grace and maturity afforded to some of her station…
“Not fair! You had a head start so it doesn’t count!”
“Ya well, I have a feeling I would have won even if our situations were reversed.” I pointed just behind her to see just how much she fumbled trying to catch up to me.
“Ah! All my stuff fell out!”
Yes, littered over a hundred meters along the road were papers, books and writing utensils. If that wasn’t bad enough a heavy breeze cutting around the mountain picked up and took off into a field of tall grass. Worse was the state of the dropped box lunch splayed over the asphalt. The Princess’s lunch was drawing in a flock of birds that were already swooping in to feast on.
It seemed like even shedding weight she still didn’t manage to gain any ground in our impromptu race to school. The timing and misfortune of this was almost too unreal to believe yet seeing it happen only made it that much more amazing.
In any other situation I would have laughed my ass off.
It’s just… I honestly expected her to scream and rage at this. Perhaps my expectations on her character were a little too biased on what she was like as a teenager in the game. Ten year old Yuki wasn’t that same person yet. As I was experiencing right now – feeling like the biggest asshole in the world.
“M-My h-homework is gone. I-I don’t have anything else t-to eat for lunch now.” Clutching the hem of her shirt the little girl began to cry. Whimpering with her head facing down as she slowly walked to pick up what belongings hadn’t been swept away or eaten.
“Shit. Just my luck.” Letting out a deep sigh, I could only curse seeing this scene. “Don’t worry. I’ll fix this.” I placed a hand on her shoulder guiding her back towards the school's entrance. Pulling the 2000 yen bill from my pocket I slipped it into her hand. “For your lunch today. You go inside and wash your face. I’ll collect your things and speak to your teacher about your homework. Okay?”
Still whimpering, she only gave the faintest of nods, dragging her feet inside.
I quickly grabbed her binder and textbooks and placed them into her bag. Some of her remaining worksheets fell into the ditch and were now covered with dirt. Well, if this wasn’t indicative of my age then this really spoke volumes; When you were ten years old not having your homework ready to show your teacher must have seemed like the end of the world. How strange to think that I used to care about such unimportant things too. Now it was all about paying rent, making sure my fridge was stocked, ensuring I didn’t get fired from my job, and the price of gasoline. Everything that I and just about every other self possessed adult cared about really dulled the idea that we needed to make sure we wrote some catchall paragraph on why some historical figure was important to Japan.
Over the last week these thoughts were really hammering in every time I walked through the halls of Hibiya Elementary. Hand drawn pictures everywhere, cute motivational posters on learning, and cubby’s for everyone's stuff with name tags labeling which belong to who.
Hell certainly was colorful.
“Hmm? Yes? How can I help you?” One of the teachers, a young woman sipping on a cup of tea, answered as I knocked on the faculty door.
“I’m looking for the teacher of 5A.”
“You mean Kawamura-sensei?”
“Ya, one of her students had an accident.”
“Oh dear. Just wait one second and I’ll get her.”
It didn’t take long for an older woman with graying hair to come bustling out. Her red floral pattern dress being a really catching eyesore given how unappealing it was. She looked kind though, like a new grandmother.
“Hello? You needed to speak to me?” Kawamura-sensei asked.
“Yes. The lace to Toki Yukihana’s bag broke when we were racing to school. A lot of her stuff fell out and got carried away by the wind.” I handed her Toki’s things with the dirtied worksheet on top. “I collected what I could but she’s really upset about it. Please, just tell her it’s not the end of the world.”
The woman smiled after hearing the circumstances and even started to giggle. “Of course. I’ll talk to her. Thank you for taking such good care of her. You’re new here aren’t you?”
“Yes, I’m Hisato Osawa,” I answered with an introductory bow. “I was put in class 5B with Sawako-sensei.”
Eyes widening, her cheerfulness faded quickly and was replaced with a façade of pity. Likely all the staff members were made aware of my – Hisato’s circumstances – too. “Ah. Then you’re Toki’s…”
“Ya… I’m her cousin.”