The knife in my left hand swept across the practice dummy and sliced the top of its head open. I let out a wary sigh as I tried to catch my breath.
"Missed again..." I mumbled in dismay. I looked down at my hand.
My palms were sweaty, and my nails were chipped from digging into my skin as I held tightly onto the kitchen knife that was given to me for practice.
"You seem to be having trouble hitting the target area." Hideyoshi said as he inspected the cut marks.
"How are you feeling about that knife? Is it too heavy? Are you not comfortable with its grip?"
We've been at the school gymnasium for a few hours now. Hideyoshi was teaching me the basics of using knives and what little combat skills that could be applied in the short amount of time.
"Not at all." I shook my head in reply. "The knife fits so well in my hand. But, it's strange. It's the first time I've ever held such a thing, yet it feels oddly... familiar.
"Really? Have you not cooked before?" He asked in surprise.
"No, never." I replied meekly.
"That's... unfortunate." He chuckled. "But despite what you're telling me, the way you're handing the knife so well is amazing. I might even say that you have natural talent."
Hearing his sudden praise made me felt awkward.
"Should that be a good thing? To be skilled in acts of violence isn't something I want as a talent..."
"Ah... I think you might be misinterpreting what I meant. I'm saying you're a fast learner, not that...err... whatever you might be thinking." He replied as he scratched his head.
"Oh... I see. But even so, I'm still having trouble applying what you've told me." I sighed.
"That's because you're still just a beginner. Don't be too hard on yourself since you've just started doing this, but also try not to give in so easily." He replied with a stern yet placid tone.
"I'm still having a hard time trying to balance myself as well." I told him. Without my right arm, Hideyoshi had to talk me through ways to move while shifting my weight away from my sides.
"It is difficult to get used to your condition, no doubt. Even what I've told you, it was just from general physics but applying it is harder than just knowing."
I nodded my head in agreement. It took some time and I was still struggling to understand what he had told me, but I was able to feel more comfortable now moving with just one arm.
However, it won't be enough.
I looked around to the sound of the unruly gymnasium we were in. We were not alone, as there were other people in their usual school activities.
Everyone was doing their own thing, as if without a care in the world.
"It's strange isn't it? No one noticing us, even as we stand right in front of them." Hideyoshi said as he noticed I was staring at the other students.
"Whatever kind of manipulation Artificial is using, it sure is powerful."
"I just don't understand why it is like this. What does it accomplish to isolate us from the people?"
Hideyoshi was silent. He did not respond. I knew there would be no answer, yet the question slid out from my mouth.
Even though there was no way he would be able to reply to me, I selfishly held on to the thought that maybe... just maybe... I would be able to get an answer.
"Sorry, I don't know." He finally said in defeat.
"You two are thinking too much into it. So what if nobody notices us, that just makes everything we do so much easier." Came Mitsuhide-senpai's voice from a phone.
He was watching over us via live chat on the benches. "I think it's great that we basically have the whole world to ourselves."
"Senpai... that's such an outrageous thought." I sighed.
"Huh? Senpai? What happened? Did he say something stupid again?" Hideyoshi asked me.
"No, not really." I replied as I repeat what he had said.
"Ugh, it would do you well to ignore whatever Senpai says. His idiotic remarks will only tire you."
"Hehehe..." I laughed nervously in reply.
"Tsk, Takuya you're such a..., anyway, just watching you struggling to teach her is boring. Can't you step it up a notch?"
"Look Senpai, the basics are very important. We must get those down before we can do anything else. And no one is asking you to watch.
You can easily jump elsewhere if you're looking for entertainment." Hideyoshi snapped back.
"Bah, whatever. You and your perfectionism. We only have one day left, so don't waste your time just teaching her the simple stuff."
Hideyoshi ignored him and turned towards me.
"The movement of your left arm is quite good, and your cutting is getting better.
Unfortunately, when using knives, and if we are to fight those monsters, just slicing isn't going to get you far.
Even sharpened, it won't do much to just cut through their skin, and it will cause your blades to break much faster. Here, why don't we practice lunging and piercing?" He told me.
I nodded my head and took a simple stance that he had shown me earlier.
"HAAA!" I shouted as I moved forward and plunged my knife into the practice dummies' chest.
"Good, good. But you're going to have to put more strength into it. Try twisting it the moment you touch."
"Eh? Is that even possible?" I asked.
"Hmm... it might be too advance for you, yes. But I think it would still be good practice if you can do it. Here, let me show you."
"Oh..." I let out a small peep of surprise, as he got close to me and held my hand to demonstrate to me the move.
"Here, turn your chest with your waist when you do it for momentum. It's like dancing, where you need to shift your body at certain points."
"Um...." My face started to turn red as I felt his right hand around my waist.
"It's just... um..." I stuttered as I blushed uncontrollably.
"Huh? Oh... OH!" He immediately jumped backed the moment he noticed what was going on. "S-Sorry! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean- "
"BAHAHAHAAHA!! Oh, you kids! Like a couple of little children when they first touch someone else." Senpai burst out in laughter.
Hideyoshi's face was bright red from embarrassment and anger. "He's laughing at us, isn't he? That metadata bastard."
Senpai laughed even harder. It was starting to make me mad as well, but I was still completely flustered.
"I'm... I'M GOING TO THE BATHROOM!" I cried as I hastily ran away.
From behind I could still hear the two laughing and fighting with each other. My heart was beating rapidly, the loud thumping in my chest seems to drown out everything else in the gym.
I splashed my face with water from the bathroom sink. The cold water stung and caused my hair to flop down to my face. But more than that;
"Nothing happened..." I mumbled.
It wasn't like before, when I first met the president and Hideyoshi. But, why?
"Then does this means..., it was that all just a terrible hallucination?"
I immediately splashed more water on my face. With each splash, I felt myself calming down.
As I looked in the mirror and saw my face, dripping wet and my hair a sobbing mess, I suddenly felt a sense of relief.
"Ha... hahaha..." I found myself laughing. "I'm glad. I'm so glad."
I looked down at my hand.
"That was the first time someone touched me like that. Heh... it didn't hurt. It was embarrassing but," I smiled. "It did feel nice."
My face turned red as I realized what I was just thinking, and I immediately splashed more water on my face.
"Oh? Ryuuko." Suddenly called a voice. I looked up and saw Asumi coming into the washroom.
"What are you doing here?" She asked.
"I could ask the same. What's wrong? Constipation again?" I smirked.
"Awawawa...! You...you vulgar girl!" She cried out in embarrassment as her face turned bright red.
"Heh heh..." I giggled at her cute reaction.
"Shouldn't you be going back to class?" Asumi asked with concern as we walked together down the halls.
"Huh? Uh yeah...sure." I answered nervously.
"Hmm... you're not cutting class now, are you? Have you finally gone delinquent?"
"Oh geez, can't a girl wash her face without it ending up being part of the Yakuza?" I giggled.
"I'm just teasing. You're a good girl, yes you are." She said as she softly patted my head. "I have to go now, bye bye!"
"Ah, Asumi wait!" I suddenly called out to her.
She turned around and looked at me. "What is it?"
"C-can I touch your hands?" I asked timidly as I played with my hair.
"Huh?" She tilted her head and came back to me. She held out her hand as she waited for me with a smile.
"Umm..." I reached out my left hand as she grasped it and promptly pulled it to her chest.
"Ah...." So warm. Like touching a soft pillow. Just holding Asumi's hands gave me a feeling of peace and familiarity that I never want to let go.
"So? How are they? I've been using a new hand lotion, you know."
"A little slimy." I joked.
"EH!?" She cried out in shock.
"I'm kidding, I'm kidding. They're very smooth." I smiled. "I could hold on to them all day. I really like it."
"Heh heh, me too. Your hands are also very nice."
"Asumi, are other people's hands like this as well? Warm and gentle? Is this what human contact is like?"
"Oh Ryuuko, what is with the sudden need for skin ship?"
"D-don't say it like that. It's just... you've been the only one that I've touched or let touched before. At least, like this." I stuttered as I turned away from her eyes.
"And I don't dislike it. It feels nice."
"Hoooo... what is this? Ryuuko, did someone else touch you?" Her face suddenly turned dark and a devious grin spread across it. "Was it a boy?"
"EH!? W-w-wha... H-how... I mean! Um... Umm...!!" I stammered.
"Ehehehe, I can read you like a book Ryuuko. So?" She giggled mischievously.
"So? S-so what?"
"Who is it? Is he handsome? What did you two do?" She leaned in closely as she interrogated me.
"It's not like any of that! All he did was touch my hand!" I said as I pushed her back.
"Oh my! How scandalous!"
“Stop it! You’re making me feel even more embar...” I immediately caught myself.
“What was that? What were you going to say?” Asumi chimed playfully.
“Nope, not this time. I’m not letting you turn on your switch.” I smirked.
Asumi puckered her lips in disappointment.
“Geez, you’re no fun. But, I’m glad for you, Ryuuko.”
“You were never good with people, doubly so when it comes to the opposite gender. But hearing that you don’t dislike it,” She said with a warm smile. “It makes me very happy.”
“Asumi... what are you even saying?” I felt my face turning red from hearing her words.
“But I am disappointed that was all. I was hoping for something more, but I expected no less from you, making a big deal out of something so minor.
Heh heh, just hand contact from a boy and you’re like this. Unless, you’re hiding something from me.”
“You’re the one whose making a big fuss out of this! Geez, just go back to your class!” I cried as I shoved her away.
“Heh heh, I’ll see you later then. I to hear more from you afterschool!” She laughed as she skipped away.
“Oh, that girl...she such a...” I stared down at my hand. “She is right, that I’m making a big deal out of something so minor. But I’m still glad.”
“It really did feel nice.” I giggled to myself as I made my way back to the gymnasium.
“Ah, Takatora. You’re back.” Hideyoshi greeted me.
“H-hey!” I waved to him.
He came over to me but stopped short and kept a distance.
“Uh... listen. About earlier... I know that you don’t like to be touch and... umm...I’m sorry about that.” He stuttered; his face flustered as he tried to apologize.
“Ah! Don’t worry about that! I was just slightly surprise, that was all. The practicing must have made me tired, and I just needed a quick rest.” I tried to reassure him.
“I see...” He laughed. “Well, we still have some time, so do you want to keep training?”
I nodded my head. “Please.”
“Okay then.” He handed me a knife.
“I believe that you have gotten most of the basics down. Although I wish we could have more time to refined them, it would also be important to move a step further given the time we have left. So, what do you say we spar a bit?” He asked me.
“Huh? Spar? But, I’m no match for you.”
“I won’t be attacking. Rather, you’ll be the one using what you’ve learn on me while I dodge. Don’t worry, I’m quite skilled at this.” He said with confidence.
“Okay, I guess.” I agreed hesitantly.
“Then let’s start.” He immediately took a stance. His two knives twirling in his hands as he awaited my move.
Taking a deep breath and exhaling, I too took a stance that he had shown me. Remembering what he taught me earlier, I quickly moved and lunged forward with my blade.
He parried just as it was about to hit his chest.
I immediately jumped back, spun the blade and attacked from below. The idea was to use the sudden momentum from the ground, rising to aim for the higher vital points.
He nimbly moved and dodge the incoming slash as it barely grazed his uniform.
I was panting as I tried to catch my breath.
“You’re doing pretty well. Much better than I expected, but not exactly beyond my expectations.” He laughed as he twirled his knives in his hands.
Throughout the match he had been dodging every one of my moves. While I was glad I didn’t hurt him in any way, it also got me a bit frustrated that I couldn’t touch him at all.
I knew that was because he was much more experienced, but it still left a bitter taste in my mouth.
“It was a good match. Well done.” He said with a big smile.
“Would you believe me if I said I’m mad that none of my attacks landed?”
“Huh? Are you?”
“Hideyoshi, can you hold out your hand?”
“Eh? But... okay? Left or right?” He asked nervously.
“Your left please.” I requested.
He hesitated as he wiped his left hand on his vest and held it out.
Taking a deep breath, I shook his hand with mine.
Warm... his hands were different from Asumi's yet it felt similar.
His hand was bigger than mine, they were slightly rough yet gentle, and as I wrapped my fingers around his hand I could feel it;
the warmth of human contact. It was such a nice feeling...
“Uhh... I’m sorry, but what is this?” He asked, confused.
“It’s a handshake. Isn’t that what you do after a good match?” I replied happily.
“I know that but... nevermind.” He sighed, looking disappointed.
“Ha, stupid Takuya thought he was getting something more. Good job, Ryuuko!” Senpai laughed.
“Next time, I’m going to make sure all my attacks hit. Until then, I’m counting on you to teach me more, teacher.” I said with a smile.
“I’m not sure if I should look forward to that.” He chuckled nervously.