“‘Fire’? What does the word ‘fire’ bring up in my mind? Well, what else is there? The fiery heart burning in my chest!”
Karen-chan gave an answer to my question with just the slightest of posing. From the way she answered without any hesitation, it would seem that she had responded to this question many times before.
It was more instant a reply than I had expected.
It felt almost as though she had answered me before I even asked.
“In a word, it’s passion.”
When she mentioned playing with cards, I had assumed that it would be poker, blackjack, or parliament but, unexpectedly, Tsukihi-chan’s suggestion turned out to be for the three of us to each build a house of cards.
Using ten decks of cards between us, the one who completed the tallest tower in the least time would be ruled the winner.
It pains me to say that this game was not fun at all.
We were more or less playing with building blocks, and there was little room for creativity.
At the very least, I doubt it was a game that people would gather to play together — perhaps this was what they called the ‘generation gap’.
Although in this case, as we were supposed to be playing cards together, I could not be negligent, so I began making a triangle shape with my cards as I questioned the two under the guise of idle chatter.
“In that case, what does the word ‘flame’ make you think of?”
“Hot feelings made even hotter!”
She really did not hesitate at all.
“It’s justice. In a word, it’s justice.”
“Mmmn, I see.”
I nodded vaguely.
It was nearly a complete contrast, the way I myself began hesitating.
At the very least, it was unlikely that the way I felt right now could not be interpreted as agreement.
“Is that why the two of you call yourselves the ‘Fire Sisters’?”
Said Karen-chan emphatically.
“In other words, the Fire Sisters are the sisters of justice!”
“Technically speaking, that’s totally wrong.”
Tsukihi-chan, sitting beside her, readily refuted what Karen-chan just said.
She refuted it with a smile.
“We were called the ‘Fire Sisters’ just because we both had ‘fire’ in our names. It’s so normal that it’s sad, really. We’ve been called that since we were primary schoolers. Even before we started working for justice.”
“Was that how it went?”
Karen-chan tilted her head.
Her memories did not seem to be very concrete.
Well, the story was more or less as I had expected it to be, but seeing as they did not give themselves that name, I suppose it was still one step above than the ‘Valhalla Combo’.
“For me, by the way, ‘fire’ or ‘flame’ remind me of love, I guess.”
That was true.
As a matter of fact, the tale of Yaoya Oshichi, though having somewhat deviated in the course of its story, could also said to be based on love — after all, was there not the expression, “kindle the fire of love”?
On another note, Tsukihi-chan was building up her tower with incredible speed. She was simply incredible at fine works.
She apparently possessed a kind of concentration that would casually surpass any opponent.
I had actually begun this game of association beginning with “fire” by myself on my way back from the park — but it bore no fruit when played only by myself.
I could think of nothing besides words such as “red”, or “heat”, or “civilization”, all of which seemed to miss the mark.
Attaining no results due to the limits of a single human’s thought patterns — the problem laying in my own lack of imagination — those did not seem to be the generalized reasons why I had gained nothing.
It was likely that I had been thinking about it while intentionally avoiding the decisive terms.
My thoughts proceeded even as I avoided the hints.
That was why, rather than consider this by myself, I shifted to this method where I sought the answer while playing with Karen-chan and Tsukihi-chan —
“Love — huh.”
That was, well, not a term that I had associated with “fire” in my mind — not a term that had occurred to me even as the story of Oshichi floated in my mind — but, as with “justice”, things did not seem to become immediately clear.
It still felt — as though the picture was out of focus.
Tsukihi-chan gave me a cute little nod.
“You know, you might not know this, Hanekawa-san, but we Fire Sisters don’t only work for justice. We accept requests for love consultations, too.”
Certainly, it was the first time I had heard about this.
Araragi-kun had always emphasized their “ally of justice” aspect, so I had been under the impression that that was their mainstay, but now that I thought about it again, seeing as they were rather influential among the local middle school girls (and that was amazing, truly) perhaps this type of work was more prevailing for them.
“Yep. Even Onii-chan’s come asking us for help, you know.”
So you’ve asked your own sisters about your love life before, Araragi-kun…
That’s just sad.
“Oh, right. Now that you mention it, yeah. It was back around May.”
Hearing what Tsukihi-chan said, Karen-chan attempted to recall something.
“He asked something like, ‘what does it mean to like someone’, some juvenile question like that, I think.”
“Oh… so I guess that means he’s discussed about Senjougahara-san with the two of you, huh?”
Putting aside how accurate Karen-chan’s memory was, this would probably be the case if it had been around May.
The two of them had started going out in that park just now on Mother’s Day, after all — although I assumed at first that they had begun before that.
Why did this feel so unnatural?
I felt too at ease, as though my memories from that time were gone — or rather, as though I had jumped onto a possible conclusion while all other thoughts were forcibly sealed off.
Did I — just turn my eyes away from something again?
“Mmn, I wonder about that. It was a while back so I don’t remember exactly what Onii-chan said. Not even what answers we gave him.”
Tsukihi-chan’s tone was quite smooth for saying something so dry.
However, from the way she spoke, it did not feel to me as though she had forgotten about it, but rather that she was trying to hide something.
…Actually, unlike Karen-chan, when she heard my question, a hint of suspicion appeared in Tsukihi-chan’s expression — or perhaps that was overstating it, but it did feel as though she was puzzled.
As though she were making some difficult measurement.
Although it was not exactly unbidden — certainly, if a person who had just been burnt out of her house came asking something like what the word “fire” brought up in their minds, it wouldn’t take the planner of the Fire Sisters to find it somewhat mysterious.
“Anger feels like ‘fire’ as well, but that’s like what Karen-chan was saying about justice. To Karen-chan, justice is anger.”
Said Karen-chan emphatically, once again.
So emphatic was she that the tower she was building collapsed (though it was still only on its second level).
It looked just like a building block tower tumbling down.
“Basically, anger is a flame, and that’s justice!”
“In any case, I guess Karen-chan and I define ‘fire’ as ‘passion’.”
Of course, expressions like “cold justice” or “freezing love” would be on the same level as a chance meeting on the dissecting table, so at the very least, I could understand where Tsukihi-chan was coming from moreso than Karen-chan —
What was “passion” to me?
Heat… heated… hot… it’s no good.
It felt as though I would never hit the mark.
“What do you mean, ‘in any case’? Passion equals justice, Tsukihi-chan!”
Karen-chan turned on Tsukihi-chan’s choice of words.
Apparently, Karen-chan had the stronger admiration for justice — normally, one would think that the younger Tsukihi-chan were the more enthusiastic with their acts but, if anything, it felt as though she was simply going along with her older sister.
Well, a structure wherein the older sister held influence over the younger was quite easy to understand — although, seeing as I had no sisters, this was still quite difficult for me to understand.
“Yep, that’s right.”
Was that why she at first appeared to agree to Karen-chan,
“But you know, Karen-chan. What you feel for Mizudori-kun, that’s passion but not justice, right?”
and then said this?
“Hmm, I guess. Sorry, I was wrong.”
She was oddly submissive like that.
I understood why Araragi-kun worried about the way she readily complied — it felt only obvious that Kaiki-san would be able to deceive her at his leisure.
Oh, but, ‘Mizudori-kun’?
When I asked, Tsukihi-chan told me this with no attempts at secrecy.
“Mine is Rousokuzawa-kun, by the way.”
“…Huh? Wait, do both of you have boyfriends?”
This truly was the first time I had heard of this.
It was quite a shock.
“I’ve never heard about this from Araragi-kun.”
“Ah, Nii-chan just treats them like they don’t exist.”
I see. That was straightforward and easy to understand.
In fact, it was too easy to understand.
It was just so like Araragi-kun to do something like that — after all, one way or another, he always doted on his two little sisters.
This could be felt from the general tone of his remarks, and was exactly why he became so unimaginably enraged when Kaiki-san had deceived Karen-chan.
Goodness, he truly was a big brother, wasn’t he?
“What are they like, by the way?”
Although digging further on this end would be unlikely to produce anything related to my current problem, as I was merely curious about the boyfriends of the Fire Sisters, I asked them.
However, finding out their answers,
“Someone like Onii-chan.”
made me regret it.
These siblings, were they really…?
But, well, if that was the case, perhaps it could not be helped that Araragi-kun would treat them “like they don’t exist” — otherwise, he would unmistakably be tormented by hatred for his own kind.
Just as it was for certain that Araragi-kun was negative towards the acts of the Fire Sisters due to his unmistakable hatred for his own kind or rather, I daresay, for himself.
He fought, even as he hesitated, even as he regretted.
“It’s just not working out.”
Karen-chan shook her head troubledly.
“We want to get Nii-chan’s official approval somehow, but he just doesn’t want to meet Mizudori-kun or Rouzokuzawa-kun, ever. He’s so cheap when it comes to stuff like this.”
“That’s true. And he’s the one who put one over on us when he introduced us to Senjougahara-san. He really pulled the wool over our eyes.”
“Ahaha! That’s cute, isn’t it?”
My sincerest apologies for Karen-chan and Tsukihi-chan, who seemed to be troubled in earnest, but this truly was amusing and so, forgetting the predicament that had befallen me, I laughed.
I gave a genuine laugh.
“Doesn’t that just basically mean that Araragi-kun, feeling his adorable little sisters are being taken away, is getting envious? Like they say, he’s burning up with jealousy — ”
At my own words — I snapped to.
Burning up — with jealousy?
Yes. I see it now.
Was that not — yet another keyword connected to “fire” that I ought to have thought of from the very beginning?
Envy — like the rising of a flame.
Despite having been a joke, just as how Araragi-kun treated those two as though they did not exist, or to reword it, how Araragi-kun turned his eyes away from reality — I was doing the same.
That, at least, was the same with me.
I turned my eyes away.
Away from reality.
To speak of what would cause such a thing, what else could it be but for one of the strongest emotions within a human being, one even counted among the seven deadly sins — the feeling of envy?
It was passion — envy, which could light a fire inside you.
That was why — we burn with envy.
Pierced so suddenly by the truth that I could not even turn my eyes away in time, my trembling hands — brought the partly-built tower crashing down into a miserable pile.