The following morning Ryu stood waiting for their home room teacher to arrive before they boarded a bus for Nara. With memories from Hatsumode still fresh in his mind he made certain to handle all bodily needs lest he spend the day trip in a toilet. For the very same reason he hadn't disturbed his sister and Urufu when he saw them together late last evening.
Nara turned out to be just the kind of postcard experience he had expected with deer, parks and a huge, wooden temple as the centrepiece of attraction. The only cloud on his personal sky was the total absence of anything Kuri.
'And I even tried to dress up nicely for you.' Ryu threw the end of his scarf back over his shoulder. It made repeated attempts to plaster itself across his face whenever the breeze felt mischievous enough to call out his attention to the surrounding girls. There were girls; lots of them. A Ryu sans Kuri apparently meant he was free for the taking, at least temporarily.
"Of course," he said to yet another party of high school girls. "No problem at all," he added when they forced him to join them in a group shot. From what school, or even what city, they were he didn't know.
"You're impossible," one of his classmates commented when the last group finally returned to their own class.
Ryu smiled but refrained from answering. In the background he saw a few of his smaller classmates lining up to crawl through a hole in one of the enormous supports. Then he heard a hesitant voice signalling that it was time for yet another smartphone being turned in his direction. The Todaiji was packed full with high school students from all over Japan. Quite a few of them were probably middle schoolers though, but that didn't make them any less prone to request photos with him in the middle of a group of giggling girls.
"There he goes again," his class rep said. There was no venom in the voice. If anything it carried a little pride of wearing the same uniform as the impromptu tourist attraction on two legs.
"Not here? What do you mean by no here?"
Ryu waited for his latest admirers to disperse before he turned after the voice. Something had upset Kyoko. He found her together with a few girls from Kuri's class just beneath the central Buddha statue.
"Excuse me, could you please tell sensei I'll be back in a minute," Ryu asked his class rep. He didn't wait for an answer but made for Kyoko. For once he shook his head when someone waved with her phone with a question in he eyes.
She met his eyes. "Ryu, Kuri-chan's gone missing."
'Missing?' "She's lost?"
"No," Kyoko shook her head, "she never made it to Nara at all."
He grimaced. "Kuri, for the love of..."
"And that's not all of it."
'It gets worse?' "Spill!"
"Their class rep says a third of their class went missing together with her."
That was bad. That was really bad. "A third? How the hell did she manage to misplace a dozen of her classmates?"
Kyoko shook her head. "I don't know, but there seems to be toilets involved."
Toilets were worse than bad. Ryu didn't want to hear anything even remotely reminding him of toilets. He had, after all, taken extra precaution not to this very morning. But still, a dozen students? Whatever Kuri did she did it with gusto.
He left Kyoko with a smirk. It wasn't like he could help her anyway. She had Kuri's number as well as Line address just as he had. If Kuri wanted to vanish she'd be invisible to both of them. With a shrug Ryu went in search of his own class. Now he knew that his singular cloud would cover its part of the sun for the rest of the day.
He walked through the bedlam and managed to avoid all but two more photo sessions before he saw the back side of his class rep. As it turned out their teacher didn't even need any notification, and for that Ryu felt a certain degree of gratitude.
Less than an hour later they left the Todaiji for lunch and the afternoon was spent shuttling between minor attractions in the former capital of Japan. It was shuttling, or at least it felt like they spent more time in the bus than at the places they were headed for.
With a substantially lighter wallet and bags filled with souvenirs to distribute among family and family friends they returned back to their hotel in Kyoto just as evening fell. Ryu left the bus in the last lingering daylight, and when he disposed of his bags in his room it was already dark outside.
To his dismay Kuri still wasn't to be found anywhere. To his surprise it didn't look like their teachers cared all that much. That meant they knew something Ryu didn't, and that in turn indicated something connected with Kuri's work. Since her job really couldn't be called a part time one Ryu suspected she might be gone for over a day, if she even returned to their trip at all.
He left his room as quickly as possible. With a bit of luck he'd find Kyoko before dinner. If not he'd try to contact her after their meal.
'This sucks!' Ryu observed after first having fallen out of luck and then finding out that Kyoko had her phone turned off. He played with the idea of calling Yukio, but Yukio probably was the very reason Kyoko's phone was off in the first place.
On his way back to his room Noriko caught him just as he was about to take the stairs up.
"Anything about Kuri?"
Ryu shook his head. He searched for Urufu behind his sister, but it seemed Noriko was alone this time. "Can't even reach Kyoko, so I have no clue."
"Ah, OK. I heard something about toilets and thought you knew."
Ryu grimaced and pulled her ears.
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"Ouch! That hurts! Idiot bro!"
"You deserved it," he said and let go.
Noriko stuck her tongue out at him, but her eyes were friendly. "Fill me in if you hear anything," she said and turned.
"Promise," Ryu said to her back. At least he knew she's do the same for him if she learned anything.
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