A favourable rating of over a minus(1)
That day was the first time I started feeling out of place in『 this world』. When I met a scrawny young boy, carrying wariness and distrust in his eyes– a young boy who would later become my「step-brother」, Sylt, it had been a winter day.
As it was, I was born as the only daughter of a wealthy merchant. Until the day I was ten, without thinking that there was anything strange about my life, I spent my days normally. Even on that particular day, up until that evening, it hadn’t been any different from the other days——
Upon hearing the bells attached to the front hall entrance sound, I, who’d been doing homework on the large table of the first floor saloon, vigorously stood up. It seems my dad came home.
「Welcome home, Dad! 」
Although I came out to greet my dad as usual, the moment I opened the door of the saloon, I unintentionally stopped in my tracks.
In front of the entrance hall was my dad, idly brushing his moustache as he stood. He was shivering slightly clad only in a thick suit without the warm-looking black coat he was wearing this morning. Behind that dad of mine, was a small boy. The moment his eyes met mine, he looked down, his golden hair hiding his face.
It’s a boy I haven’t seen before, but.. who could he be?
Even my mom, who came out to meet my dad just as I had, widened her eyes when she saw the boy.
Although my mom was usually very gentle, she smilingly declared, 「…if you’ve done the unforgivable by bringing home a child from a lover, please be prepared, okay?」.
「That’s not it!」, my dad denied, paling.
「He was trudging along the streets. Although it looks like he ran away from the orphanage, in this cold weather, he might end up dying if he’s dressed as lightly as this…」
Hearing my dad’s explanation, Mom replied with a「 Good heavens!」 , and cupped a hand over her mouth as she looked at the boy.
I wonder, was he around six years old? Long trouser over a thin long sleeved shirt, no shoes or socks, and hair that was dry and hard as if it had been frozen. His small shoulders were covered in dad’s black pelt coat, but looking at the young boy’s pale face, it doesn’t seem enough to warm him up.
Lillebonne, the town I was residing in, was very cold region. It wasn’t that far from the most prosperous imperial city in this country, Le Havre, but unlike the imperial city, snow falls throughout the year here. There’s a lot of forest land that haven’t been claimed yet, and there’s not a lot of people here either. Having tons of snow falling is a little inconvenient, but the public order here is excellent. That’s why, children without families living outside… were virtually nonexistent. I’m sure Dad felt pity for him, so that’s probably why he invited him to our house.
The young boy was flickering between listening to our conversation and gauging his distance to the door of the entrance hall. His face, which was covered in dirt, held wariness, distrust, and even fear, in it. He’s probably tensed with the thought that we might kick him out and send him back to the orphanage. He seemed prepared to run away immediately if anything happens.
Without thinking, I called out to him.
「Aren’t you cold?」
With a jolt, his shoulders trembled as he looked my way.
When our eyes met, his beautiful blue eyes wavered in fright. I quietly closed the door behind me as I posed a question to him.
「Your hands and feet are bright red. Will you be taking a bath?」
Upon my words, he looked at his own hands and bit his lips. However, he didn’t make any further movements other than that nor did he bother to reply.
In that tensed atmosphere, a gentle voice descended over us.
「 Aah, that’s right. Rikka」
Gently smiling like she always does, Mom turned to me and said:
「Why don’t you show him the way to the bathroom」
With the patter of slippers on the floor, I went past the entrance hall’s fireplace and made my way to him.
The young boy’s eyes wandered to me with a bewildered look, and then, he took a tiny step back.
His eyes darted between me and the entrance hall door several times.
— What should I do? Should I run?
That seemed to be the sort of sentiment he was giving off, so I stood before him and put on a wide grin. Then, I reached out my hand to him.
「 Let’s go, come on」
When I held his hand, it was cold as ice.
In the next moment, hitching his breathe, he shook off my hand. And with a start, he drew back and stared at me.
Since his face twisted as if he was about to cry at any time, I faltered a little, wondering if I did anything wrong.
「 It’s okay, go with her」
Dad crouched down and gave the young boy a light push in the back. With just that, the boy stumbled up to me as if he aimlessly flopped forward. Spying his long sleeves, I saw that his wrists were very thin and even his hands were small. Once again, I reached out a hand to him.
「 Let’s go? 」
He didn’t shake me off for a second time. His cold hands robbed the heat away from mine, and just like the times I touched snow, my hands turned cold as well.
And so, I pulled his hands and headed to the bathroom.
Since my family was modestly well-off, our home was equipped with several rooms and was fairly large. There were six other rooms in between the entrance hall and the bathroom.
Just as we passed through the second room, I released my right hand in order to switch it with my left.
The moment I released my right hand’s grip from his, he started shivering a little.
「 Ah, sorry. Are you okay? 」
There was no reply, instead, as if he was clinging to a life-line, his left hand grabbed my hand tightly.
As soon as I led him to the bathroom, Mom and the servants came in to administer first-aid. Because of the snow, both his freezing hands might be covered with frostbites and he might even be injured somewhere.
「It would be bad if he gets frostbites」
After saying this out of concern, Mom went to attend to the young boy and took the servants with her as she entered the bathroom.
After I finished my role without any complications, I stayed by the big table of the saloon. Even though I thought of doing my homework from school, I couldn’t do it because I felt restless. The young boy was on my mind, so there’s no helping it.
His eyes, which made it look like even his heart had frozen over, was something I couldn’t get out of my mind.
I wonder, how long had he been that way? While I stared distractedly at my homework, still seated in my chair, the door of the saloon opened up.
I ran up to her and asked about him.
When I did so, Mom murmured something to me with her usual kind smile.
「That boy had frostbites all over his hands and feet just as I thought. We’ve applied medicine on him so he’s in the room right now, but could you bring warm soup over to him? 」
「Yeah, okay. Hey, Mom? That boy, what’s his name?」
Mom made a slightly troubled expression and shook her head.
「 …. he hasn’t said a single word to us」
…not even one?
After she gently embraced me like that, Mom smiled.
「Rikka, do you want to have a little brother? 」
「Huh? Uh? Yeah?」
Without fully understanding what she meant, I responded while inclining my head, and then, as if she’d been convinced of something, Mom nodded.
「Alright. I’ll be talking to your dad for a while, so I’ll leave you to deliver the soup, okay?」
「Yeah, got it」
I nodded as I thought over what Mom’s question had meant. Little brother…………. Little brother? Sure, I did want siblings.
Having no one in the same age group as me in the neighborhood, I didn’t have anyone to play with me. Not only that, it takes 30 minutes to get to school by horse carriage. So, having someone around the same age to play with was very attractive for an only child like me.
Receiving the warm soup from the servants in the kitchen, I was about to go to where he was when I suddenly realized with a start.
…I forgot to ask which room he was in. Now where should I carry this to?
Not knowing which room he was placed in, I decided to start by opening the door of each room at the first floor in sequential order. After opening the third room’s doors, while saying,「It’s pitch black here too」, I was about to make a U-turn, when for some reason, I felt the presence of life.
When I strained my eyes and peeked inside, a young boy was cowering in the corner of the room.
I wonder, did the candles on the candlestand die out? Relying on the fitted lights from the corridor to see, I set the soup on the table. Then, I picked up a candlestand that had been placed there.
After setting the candlestand on a table at the corner of the room, I lit each candle one by one. After doing so, the room brightened up.
This relatively small room had things like a bookshelf, a desk, a table and some chairs among the furniture placed with the bed. It wasn’t normally used, but the servants always swept it clean. It was a room not far off from the saloon.
The young boy continued to sit, hugging his knees, motionless.
「 I brought some soup. Won’t you drink some? 」
Even when I called out like that, he set his head over his knees, and, with bandaged covered hands, gripped his arms tight.
Ummm, the moment I tried scratching my cheeks with my index finger…
Something appeared right in front of my eyes.
I stiffened at the screen that suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
What… is this?
I stared intently at the screen in confusion. But no matter how many times I blinked, it wouldn’t disappear.
After a while, I thought:
— Huh? Doesn’t this look like a video game screen?
The second I thought that way, I realized there were two sides inside me: a side asking,「 What’s a video game? 」, and another side agreeing with a「Yeah, it definitely looks like a video game」.
Then, I remembered. I’d seen fleeting glimpses of this video game screen when my little sister used to play it before.
Naturally, I, Rikka Belmonte, never had a little sister. But, the former me… Ochiai Rika had one.
My past self lived in a small room together with my little sister at a 1LDK apartment.
My little sister’s name was Ochiai Momo. She had been a high school freshman and a year younger than me.
One night, when I went to the kitchen to drink cocoa or something, I saw my little sister rummaging around doing something. Apparently, she was tearing off the wrapping for a game software.
When I took a glimpse of that packaging, I spoke aloud in amazement.
「….you bought another game?」
Upon my words, Momo showed it to me with a smile of satisfaction.
「Ehehehe. Want to play it too, Big Sis? This game is pretty popular lately」
「I’ll pass, I’m in the “Ochi Mono”(1) faction after all」
I promptly turned her down.
“Ochi Mono” is one genre in games. It’s the kind of game where you had to stack blocks falling down from above and clear them up by, for example, matching the colors.
By the way, I really love the falling squishy slime monster game.(2)
I wanted Momo to taste the same exhilaration I do when I manage to clear all the stacked up blocks in one move. But she always ends up tossing the controller halfway through. She was a little sister who was weak at detailed task. First of all, the controller is going to break so stop tossing it away.
After she finished tearing the packaging off, Momo headed to the living room, lied down on the sofa, and promptly began playing her new game. Then,
when she saw the small screen of her handheld game, she smiled.
「Who should I make fall first~」
‘Why not just have squishy things fall?’, I thought.
Humming, she pressed the button of the handheld game. When I peeked at it from her back, a character screen listing the name, illustration, and other various info of a boy who looked to be at least a high schooler, came into view.
Since I’ve never played the games that my sister preferred, I don’t know what it was specifically for.
But, even if I don’t know, I had thought it had nothing to do with my life… that was what I thought then.
I reckon the screen that appeared in front of my eyes was very similar to what I saw back then.
I don’t remember what happened to my past self— to Ochiai Rika, after that. Even though I don’t remember, I was living as Rikka Belmonte before I knew it.
And I was seeing the game’s screen in this world.
I wonder what it all means. Although my past knowledge, and even the knowledge I have up to this point was unheard of, is it normal in this world for popup screens to appear? I put down my finger while thinking in that manner, and the screen disappeared. All the while, the boy continued hugging his knees in the corner of the room, not once looking over.
I rushed out of the room in a hurry leaving the young boy behind.
I continued on to the saloon, and then tried lifting my index finger in front of them while Dad and Mom were talking about something with serious expressions on their faces.
「 …? 」
Both parents stared at me with mystified expressions. But nothing showed up in front of my eyes.
I ran back to the room where the young boy was, then vigorously opened the door, and once again lifted my index finger in front of him.
It’s still the same screen that appeared a while ago.
What does that mean? I held my head with my hands. Sylt was under the name field, but I wonder if that’s the name of the young boy in front of me.
The young boy glanced at me, who’d returned to the room, keeping his head down.
Slamming the door close, I asked him.
「 Hey, what’s your name!?」
「 … 」
The young continued to bury his head in his knees, not moving. For now, I wanted a name to call him with. If the screen in front of me was correct, then by some chance…
I went in front of the young boy imploringly and begged.
「 I’m begging you, help me out, tell me your name」
I wonder if he noticed my ghastly expression. Furrowing his eyebrows, he then murmured in a hoarse voice.
…what in the world. I dropped my finger in order to turn off the screen, and hanged my head, crestfallen. Then, isn’t it normal for people in this world to see the popup screen? Loading my only hope in that question, I tried asking him.
「 …Sylt, did a popup screen just appear in front of you?」
I felt the piercing look he gave me was saying, ‘What the heck is this guy on about?” .
(1) Literally: Falling things.
Although Tetris is the first thing that came to mind, it seems like this genre is not only limited to that game.
(2)I guess it’s this kind of game?