Chapter 1: The Girl Who Carries a Coffin
When he woke up, his sister’s face was right in front of him.
She was close enough that he could feel her light breaths.
For a short while, neither of them said a word.
He heard the chirping of birds from far off.
White sunlight shone through the window, leaving a trace of warmth hanging in the air. It was a sure sign even to those holed up in their rooms that the long winter’s end was near. The plants would start to bud, and the animals would leave their dens. It was that time of year when life began to stir once more in anticipation for the prosperous days ahead.
“Good morning, dear brother,” his younger sister Akari said in a hushed voice.
Both siblings were on the bed.
Akari was on top of him. She was hunched over on all fours like a carnivorous animal in anticipation for its meal, ready to consume its helpless prey. She was taller than most girls her age to begin with, so naturally, stretching over anyone with her back arched like that would cause them to immediately submit.
His sister though she might be, Tohru had to admit that she was beautiful.
She was only seventeen, yet she was already at that ripe age where it was more appropriate to call her “beautiful” rather than “cute”. Her authoritative facial features stood out clearly and her long black hair gently cascaded down, perfectly arranged like a genuine work of art. Naturally she was well-liked by members of the opposite sex, but her looks were such that even the those of the same sex couldn’t help but take notice.
However, her severely limited range of expression was a black mark against her. Tohru felt like she’d really been handed the short end of the stick here—though it didn’t seem to bother her in the least.
The face of a boy with narrowed black eyes and a fed-up expression was reflected in Akari’s pupils.
His hair and eyes were black, same as Akari’s.
It wasn’t wrong to call the arrangement of his facial features “handsome.”
However, that expression had an overall looseness to it.
Like he was bored, or perhaps listless.
His face distinctly lacked the ambition and vitality typical of a teenage boy; a dried-out, exhausted expression was plastered there in its place. Though there were no wrinkles or dark spots anywhere on it, it was a face that called to mind an old man approaching the final stage of his life. Even for someone having just woken up, the impression was overly pronounced.
This is a pretty gloomy face even for me, isn’t it? he thought.
But a mere thought wasn’t enough to get him to change his attitude now.
The brother lying on the bed, and the sister straddling him from above.
To say this was a completely unexpected event—would be a lie.
He had figured it would end up like this eventually.
That’s because he had noticed that she’d been looking at him strangely for a while now.
“I–can’t hold back anymore.”
Akari gazed into Tohru’s eyes.
“When I think about my beloved brother, I just…I just…”
“You just…what? Spit it out already,” Tohru asked her, looking bored.
“…I had no intention of ever acting this boldly, you know…” said Akari, casting her eyes downward ever so slightly.
“But it’s because you’re just so terrible.”
“That’s right. My dear brother is—a terrible person,” she said with a tiny shake of her head. “To act this way…even though you already know how I feel.”
He frowned, looking up at his sister’s face. Almost as if it could stand it no longer, a tuft of her black hair fell down, tickling his cheek.
“Quite frankly, I wasn’t aware it had become that big of an issue,” he said.
Her range of expressions was poor and she was often unpredictable to boot, so even Tohru had difficulty reading his sister’s thoughts. Normally she had a strong sense of self-control—but all this time she’d been holding it in and holding it in until the day where she let it all go in a sudden explosion, putting anyone in her immediate vicinity in danger.
The older brother—Tohru Acura.
The younger sister—Akari Acura.
Those were the names of these two—the Acura siblings.
Yet the instances in which they actually had to give their first names were few and far between, and none of their neighbors even knew their surnames. There were many countries that had commoners without surnames, so it wasn’t so rare. The end of the long era of war had brought with it many refugees, and it wasn’t rare to find immigrants from various countries cohabitating in the same town or village, either.
Well, that aside…
“Akari. Mind if I ask you a question?” said Tohru, still looking bored.
“Whatever could that be? If it’s a question from you, my dear brother, I will answer anything.”
Her words belied her eyes, which were as frigid as the frozen surface of a lake in winter.
Though that was the norm for her.
“What the hell is this?”
Tohru pointed to what was right next to his head.
It was—an iron hammer.
The sharp point of which was embedded deep in his pillow.
“What do you mean, dear brother?” Akari tilted her head with a curious expression. “You’re much too young to be losing your memory already. It’s been my cherished weapon for at least ten years now.”
“Of course I know that,” Tohru groaned.
For an iron hammer, however, it was not really that large. Its power came from the firm, weighty material itself, as well as the ability of its user. It was designed to be swung easily—in other words, it could sufficiently be used as a lethal weapon even indoors.
“What I’m asking is why this thing is on my pillow.”
“Well, that’s obviously because I swung it down onto your pillow.”
“I get that as well.”
“Then what else is there to not get?”
“First off, what I don’t get is how you don’t get what I don’t get,” Tohru replied while giving his younger sister a sharp look. “This ‘cherished weapon’ that you’ve been carrying around for ten-some years”—he indicated the hammer by tapping it with his index finger–“why did you swing it down on my pillow? That’s what I don’t get.”
“Oh, dear brother of mine…” She shook her head sadly.
However, her expression remained stoic.
“I wasn’t aiming for your pillow.”
“I was aiming for your head.”
“That’s even worse, you idiot.” Tohru intended to yell that insult, but since he had just woken up he couldn’t muster the energy to raise his voice any further. Instead, it ended up coming out like an unintelligible mutter. “What were you trying to do, kill me?”
“Ridiculous. I would never harbor any murderous intent towards my cherished and respected brother,” Akari said grandly, still in the stance of having just swung her hammer down.
It could be said that her behavior was even somewhat refreshing in its overtness.
“I just thought I might rouse my chronically-sleepyhead brother from his slumber.”
“You almost put me in a state of eternal slumber…”
Just by a hair…if Tohru hadn’t turned over towards the wall in his sleep right before the hammer came crashing down, it definitely would have been his forehead that was crushed, not the pillow. Incidentally, it wasn’t visible right now because it was buried in the pillow, but due to Akari’s hammer having a sharp point on one side, the hammer would have gone straight through the cranium and into his brain.
“Huh, perhaps so,” Akari nodded her head, remaining cool and composed with a look that seemed to say, And what’s wrong with that?
They stayed silent and still for another short while.
The chirping birds outside were even more audible in the silence.
“…Dear brother.” Akari began in her usual indifferent tone that sounded as though she was tired of even looking at him. “What are your plans for today?”
“Sleeping,” Tohru said, as if it was bothersome to even respond. “Lying around all day, doing nothing.”
“I see. And what else?”
“And…when I’m hungry, I guess I’ll eat something.”
“I see. How sensible. And?”
“That’s pretty much it.”
Tohru rolled back over on his side, as if saying anything further would be a nuisance.
Akari waited for a bit in silence, perhaps expecting the conversation to continue, but—
Then she spoke, looking down on her brother’s profile.
The hammer, by the way, had sunk even further into Tohru’s pillow.
“If you were to do some work for me today, I would probably be so delighted I’d spurt blood from my nose.”
“Then you can just go ahead and die from excessive blood loss.”
“That’s a cruel thing to say, my dear brother. Even after all the love and respect I give you…”
“That’s why you’re going to clobber me with that hammer, right?”
“This is the Hammer of Love,” Akari replied calmly.
With nimble movements she grabbed her hammer like it was a feather and, got down from the bed, swinging the hammer over her shoulder just as fluidly. Looking at her lean, toned arms you could see how it was possible, but even for one used to this combination of young girl and deadly blunt weapon, it was still a surreal sight.
“Beloved brother of mine, I’ve been thinking this was strange for a while now, but…”
“Why aren’t you out working?”
Now that she wasn’t threatening him with his life, the questioning was a lot more bearable.
After swallowing down an instinctive sigh, Tohru replied.
“Those who work, lose,” he said, his back still to his sister.
The sense that she was tilting her head in puzzlement drifted over him.
“Who is that directed towards?”
A heavy silence fell over the two.
Staaaaaare—sensing Akari’s piercing gaze from behind, Tohru spoke further.
“Just let it go already.”
For a bit, he had the sense that she was considering it. But then—
He could read the murderous intent that was practically written in the air.
The hammer, swung with ridiculous force, came for him in an arc. By shrinking back, he managed to evade in the nick of time, the hammer coming a hair’s breadth away from skull. If he had been late in dodging by even one instant, the hair on his head would have been sliced off along with the skin, giving him a magnificently bald head. That is, if you could call having your bare skull exposed “bald”.
As one would expect after something like that, Tohru was now wide awake, and he spun around to face his sister.
“Oh, dear brother…” While pressing her left hand to her forehead in pity—though still expressionless, mind you—her right hand was twirling her hammer around and around with unrelenting force. “If that’s the way it has to be, then…”
“No, wait. Wait. For now, just put that damn thing away!” he said, holding up both hands in front of him as if to keep even the slightest bit of distance between them—-at this range if she extended her arm even a little bit the hammer would easily score a direct hit on his head. She was within “the sweet spot,” so to speak. If that hammer struck him with maximum centrifugal force, both Tohru and the bed would likely be split in two.
As for Akari—she was now twirling the hammer around with such force that it began to emit a whistling noise. She clearly had no intention of yielding whatsoever. Usually he could talk his way out of the situation by changing the subject or distracting her, but today Akari was determined to hold her ground to the bitter end. As one would expect, she had reached the limit of her patience.
“I’ve had it up to here with you, you know. Not making any effort to work, not even leaving the house, just lazing around and lazing around and lazing around and lazing around just lazing around and lazing around and lazing around and lazing around in the house all day. If you keep on like this, I…”
“That’s a lot of lazing around, even for me.”
“I’ve had enough…at this rate…”
“At this rate…what?”
“At this rate I might as well just stuff you and sell you off…”
“Don’t do that! I mean, it’s not like I would sell anyway!”
“You fool.” Though Akari didn’t slow the twirling of her hammer, she shook her head as if his response was asinine. “I would be willing to go up to my eyeballs in debt to buy you.”
“My stuffed corpse, you mean?”
“In the long run wouldn’t a stuffed brother be more economically viable, since I wouldn’t have to feed it?”
Neither of them said a word.
The only thing that could be heard was the sound of the hammer still whirling around with the same insane force.
“Yes, come to think of it, stuffing you would be—”
“Okay, I get it, I understand!” Tohru said in a panic.
At this rate he really was going to be smashed to a pulp by his younger sister. Of course, he wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of becoming a taxidermy project either. Even now he had no intention to lift a finger to help, but right now it was best for his well-being to prioritize getting out of this situation over another snooze.
“A-anyway, let’s—oh yeah, breakfast! save this for after breakfast.”
“We don’t have any more money for that,” Akari said, dropping her hammer at last. “I believe I already told you that last night’s dinner was the finale, did I not?”
“Oh…did you now?”
“Surely someone as sensible as my beloved brother wouldn’t have forgotten such a thing.”
Tohru looked up at the ceiling and sighed.
Now that she mentioned it, he may have heard her saying something like that last night…or maybe not? He usually let Akari’s scolding go in one ear and out the other, so he didn’t remember too well.
“Now, dear brother—”
She readied her hammer once more.
“All right, all right, I get it! For now, I’ll do something about breakfast!!”
In accordance with Tohru’s screams and shouts, the hammer that had traced a violent arc in the air stopped on a dime, just before pulverizing his face.