Chapter 3

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VOLUME 1: 16

Chapter 3 “Now, off to Hokkaido”


“I can’t eat anymore. Please spare me”

I complained as I rubbed my swollen tummy.

Hair crabs continued to parade before my eyes, one after another, aiming and crawling towards my mouth.

I had no choice but to eat the crabs, but more continued crawling towards me.

Soon, my firm and swollen tummy could not bear it any longer, and exploded with a boom!

“Uwaaaaaaahh!”

I was woken by my own scream.

“D-doremi-chan!”

I was on a plane heading towards Shin-Chitose Airport, and Hazuki-chan and Ai-chan, seated on either side of me, were covering my mouth.

“C-c-can’t breathe…”

“Will you stop making strange noises?”

Hazuki-chan asked in a soft voice, and I nodded repeatedly.

Satisfied, the two took away their hands.

The passengers around were giving us strange looks.

“Sorry for the trouble caused”

Ai-chan apologized, head bowed.

“Doremi-chan, apologize too,” she told me.

“S-sorry…”

I said as my head was held down forcefully.

Throughout this exchange, laughing voices could be heard coming from around us, and the mood lightened.

“Honestly, Doremi-chan. What kind of dream did you have?”

Hazuki-chan asked softly.

“Hair crabs were…”

I began, but realizing that I would just expose myself to embarrassment, I fell silent.

Even I was amazed at my single-track mind for making up a dream about their famous hair crabs, just because we were heading to Hokkaido.

So, why were the three of us on a plane headed to Shin-Chitose Airport? I need to go back to yesterday to answer that.

~~~~~

The women’s magazine, whose reporter chatted us up in front of Onpu-chan’s house the other time, had published a huge feature article on Onpu-chan.

They had analyzed the drastic fall in Onpu-chan’s popularity, and claimed that the biggest reason was due to the movie “Zagaidon”, a rehash of the big movie hit series “Gazamadon”, being a huge failure in the show business industry.

Back then, Onpu-chan had noticed the decline herself, and spoke to us about it. There were decent articles discussing the issue too, but also some inexcusable articles as well.

This article was full of pure rumour, but it was also filled with slander, talking about the family selling their home, and that Onpu-chan was concealing her location now because she was shooting a sexy photobook to earn cash.

Of course, we did not believe that, but we could not sit still any longer, and discussed the issue with Majorika.

She encouraged us to become witch apprentices again.

It was obvious that she wished for Onpu-chan to return and become a part of MAHO-do so that sales would increase, so we flatly rejected her offer.

In exchange, we asked for an early payday, bought tickets immediately, and took a flight out to Hokkaido.

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Our plane took off from Haneda Airport at 8am, and reached Shin-Chitose Airport at 9.35am.

There, we boarded the JR Hokkaido airport express, and were jolted around for thirty minutes until we reached Sapporo. It was around 11am then.

Since I woke up at 5am and had an early breakfast, my tummy was already rumbling.

“It’s still early, but let’s have lunch”

“Ehh?! Didn’t you eat a box of candy on the plane?” Ai-chan asked.

“I have a separate tummy for sweets. Hey hey, shall we have miso ramen? Or the Genghis Khan nabe?”

“Doremi-chan! We came here to meet up with Onpu-chan! We’re not here to sight-see or to eat!” Hazuki-chan scolded.

“Hazuki-chan is right! Let’s go to Onpu-chan’s dad’s company office first. This is no time to be eating ramen!”

“B-but, isn’t there a saying that goes, “One can’t go to war on an empty stomach”…”

Suddenly, the two grabbed an arm on either side of me and started to drag me along forcibly.

“W-wait! I’m sorry! I get it already, let me go!”

Just as I was crying for mercy,

“Ah!”

The two let out a gasp and stopped.

“Doremi-chan, do you remember that gait in front of us?”

Ai-chan asked as she pointed at a man with long curly hair walking in front of us, banging his walking stick.

The man’s butt wiggled vigorously as he walked, even more so than the famous Marilyn Monroe walk.

“That gait, there’s no mistake!”

Hazuki-chan exclaimed in excitement.

I remembered the gait as well, but the name still escaped me.

“Oyaji, it’s Oyaji!”

Hazuki-chan shouted excitedly.

“Oyaji? Oyaji… Oh!”

I remember now.

“Oyajide!”

We shouted in unison, and the man, like a dancer, did an elegant turn to face us.

There’s no mistake, it was the wizard Alexander T. Oyajide.

Oyajide used to be our rival with regards to Hana-chan, but he is fundamentally a kind man who loves kids.

Furthermore, he is a huge Onpu-chan fan, and is proud of his status as the Number 7 fan of her fanclub.

“Oh, you girls are Doremi-cchi, Hazuki-cchi and Aiko-cchi, right?!”

“Long time no see, Oyajide!”

We dashed up to Oyajide, rejoicing in the reunion.

“Oyajide, why did you come to Sapporo?”

“Not much reason. I was just worried when I saw this”

Oyajide pulled out the special feature on Onpu-chan written by the women’s magazine from his shirt pocket.

“Are you searching for Onpu-chan, just like us?”

“Oui”

“So you’ve found out that Onpu-chan is in Sapporo?”

“I overheard you girls talking about coming here when I passed by the MAHO-do”

“Oh, I see. Since we are together with Oyajide, you can help us search for Onpu-chan by using magic. That’ll be a great help!”

I said with a smile, but Oyajide’s expression suddenly clouded over,

“I have actually tried to find out Onpu-chan’s location using the magic in this stick many times, but there’s been no response at all…”

“Shouldn’t magic be able to do that easily?”

I asked unhappily.

“It’ll be OK if she is in downtown Sapporo, but even magic is useless if she’s somewhere outside the city”

Oyajide answered apologetically.

“So even though we finally came to Hokkaido, it was all in vain?”

Ai-chan asked, crestfallen, with shoulders slumped.

“But if we can meet with Onpu-chan’s dad, we can ask him about Onpu-chan’s whereabouts,” Hazuki-chan suggested.

“Tres bien!”

Oyajide appeared happy with Hazuki-chan’s suggestion, and even Ai-chan looked up hopefully again.

~~~~~

The railway company’s Sapporo branch office, where Onpu-chan’s dad was working at, was located in a tall building near Sapporo station.

The four of us entered via the main entrance on the first floor, and approached the reception counter.

However, two security guards took note of Oyajide’s strange gait, and came over to inquire about his occupation.

“I’m not a weirdo! I’m the director of a preschool!”

“Which preschool would that be? We need to check that, so please provide us with a phone number”

In response to the guard’s request, Oyajide answered honestly,

“It’s a preschool in the wizard world, so even if you call…”

“Wizard world? You are a weirdo! Please accompany us to the office!”

They suddenly moved to capture Oyajide, and we all took off in escape.

“H-hey, wait!”

The guards started chasing after us.

“You leave me no choice”

Oyajide waved his stick, and a whole lot of pachinko balls appeared on the lobby floor in a puff of smoke.

He has used magic.

The guards stepped on the pachinko balls and fell with a groan.

~~~~~

Somehow, we lost the guards and managed to escape, retreating to a cafe overlooking the railway company branch office’s main entrance to come up with a back-up plan.

We had already been associated with Oyajide, so even if we went to request to see Onpu-chan’s dad at the reception counter, we would probably not succeed.

“Does anyone have any good ideas?”

“Even so…”

Just as I grumbled in a half-defeated tone,

“Wait, look at that!”

Ai-chan, who was watching the office building, shouted.

We looked over and saw the security guards from just now, along with various other company employees, bowing as a really important-looking elderly man entered a luxury car.

“Hoho! I can make use of that!”

So saying, Oyajide waved his stick and transformed himself into the elderly man who had just entered the luxury car.

~~~~~

As luck would have it, the man Oyajide transformed into happened to be the vice president of the railway company.

As the vice president, Oyajide entered the branch office building and found out that Onpu-chan’s dad would be driving the sleeper express train out from Sapporo station this evening. After learning that, he returned to us.

Since we had much time to waste before the departure time of the sleeper express train, Oyajide gave us a treat and we enjoyed a Genghis Khan hot pot with relish.

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We decided to talk to Onpu-chan’s dad on the platform of Sapporo station where the sleeper express was parked, before he went into the driver’s compartment.

About twenty minutes before the train’s departure, Onpu-chan’s dad finally appeared on the platform.

“Onpu-chan’s dad!”

Oyajide watched us from a distance, in case he was mistaken for a weirdo again.

“Ah, you are… Doremi-chan, Hazuki-chan, and Aiko-chan!”

“Long time no see, uncle”

After greetings were exchanged, we explained that we had traveled here to see if Onpu-chan was well.

“Sorry for making you girls come over here specially”

“Is Onpu-chan well?”

Onpu-chan’s dad’s expression faltered for a moment before he replied,

“…Ah, she pretends to be well in front of me, but so many things have happened…”

“So many things…?”

Hazuki-chan asked, but Onpu-chan’s dad did not answer her, and changed the topic.

“Onpu was very concerned about not being able to speak to you girls about moving to Hokkaido, nor to inform you about her new phone number and e-mail address”

“Yea, we couldn’t reach her at all,” Ai-chan said.

“The media has been really crazy lately. I think Onpu doesn’t wish to bother you girls with it until the whole thing has settled down. So please give her some time”

So saying, Onpu-chan’s dad bowed. Just then, the assistant driver of the sleeper express, who was in the driver’s compartment, announced that the train would be departing soon.

Onpu-chan’s dad gave us a nod and headed towards the driver’s compartment. However, he suddenly stopped.

“Onpu is living with her mum now in Wakkanai, so please don’t worry about her. Bye”

With that, he entered the driver’s compartment.

“Thank you!”

We gave a deep bow, then dashed over to Oyajide.

“Oyajide, we’ve found out Onpu-chan’s location!” Ai-chan announced.

“He said that she’s in Wakkanai!”

“Wakkanai? No wonder we couldn’t find her using magic!”

My old man’s joke caused Hazuki-chan to laugh out.

“Can’t be helped”

Ai-chan immediately retorted, but Oyajide, being an uncle, showed no response.

“Oyajide, use magic to bring us to Wakkanai”

Ai-chan requested. However, what Oyajide said next explained why he did not laugh at my joke.

“I’m sorry, everyone, but it’s time-out. I need to return to the wizard world now”

Oyajide was referring to his preschool in the wizard world. Recently, the wizard penpen grass had been lively, and many wizard babies were being born one after another. There was thus a shortage of nannies, so Oyajide could only take a half day off today.

“Us too. We’ll be late for our flight if we don’t head over to Shin-Chitose Airport soon”

Hazuki-chan said with regret.

In the end, we parted from Oyajide at Sapporo station and, with feelings of painful reluctance at not being able to go to Wakkanai, boarded a train for Shin-Chitose Airport.

~~~~~

At Shin-Chitose Airport, we received another shock.

Just as we were going through the departure procedures, we spotted the reporter from that women’s magazine emerge from the arrival gate.

“W-why is he here…?”

“It’ll be bad if he sees us. Let’s hide our faces”

Following Hazuki-chan’s instruction, we managed to evade the reporter.

“What is he doing here?”

I whispered as I glared at the reporter’s retreating back.

“He must have found out that Onpu-chan is in Hokkaido,” Hazuki-chan guessed.

“It’ll be a matter of time before he finds her…” Ai-chan warned.

So saying, the two chewed on their bottom lips.

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On the return flight, and during the ride towards home from Haneda Airport in Hazuki-chan’s dad’s car, we barely said a word.
We were all regretting the fact that we only took a day trip out to Hokkaido.

If we had stayed for one more day, we could have gone to see Onpu-chan…

However, when the car entered Misora City, we noticed the moon glittering in the night sky, and we all spoke at once.

“It’s the smiling moon!”

The smiling moon occurs when the moon, going through its lunar cycle, wanes to a point where it looks like a smile. On nights with a smiling moon, the human and witch worlds would link up, and even normal humans could travel to the witch world.

We looked at each other.

There was no need for words.

We needed to find Onpu-chan before that reporter.

And to do that, we had decided to become witch apprentices.

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The door at the back of MAHO-do does not lead into a backyard, but on to a long road that stretches far away to the witch world.

Just think of it as a supernatural occurrence which only happens on nights with a smiling moon.

Once here, one just gets a strange and wondrous feeling.

Space is warped here, with piano keys and music scores floating around. Surreal is the perfect word to describe it.

We walked through this surreal scenery.

In the past, we used to be able to fly straight to the Queen’s palace on our brooms, but walking on foot does take a lot more time.

However, we made use of the time to discuss various things along the way, so it wasn’t a waste.

Three years ago, we rejected the chance given by the Queen and witches’ senate to become witches without any hesitation. However, we were now returning to become witch apprentices, so we needed to be prepared. We might want to find Onpu-chan really badly, but we must not use magic recklessly, so we decided on some rules of our own.

~~~~~

In the end, we walked for an hour before reaching the palace, where we sought an audience with the Queen.

Majorika and Lala, who had reached before us, had already explained our situation to the Queen and the witches’ senate, so after exchanging greetings, the Queen’s advisor Majorin brought out the apprentice taps.

My eyes sparkled when I saw the taps.

“Wah, it’s the apprentice taps!” Hazuki-chan exclaimed.

“Are they normally this small?” I asked.

“Don’t be silly. The tap is not small, it’s just that we’ve grown bigger.” Ai-chan explained.

“Haha, that’s true”

Just then, the Queen smiled and spoke,

“Come, take it”

“Is it really alright that we become witch apprentices?”

“For better or for worse, you girls are the saviours of the witch world. Of course it’s alright”

That’s right, the Queen had applauded our efforts at waking Majotourbillon, the Queen from two reigns ago who had fallen in love with a human youth and went into a long sleep after being beseiged by sorrow, and dissolving the witch frog curse which she had cast.

“Come, take it,” the Queen coaxed us again.

Just then, Hazuki-chan, who had been listening with her head bowed, looked up at the Queen.

“Queen, before we accept the taps, will you listen to our request?”

The Queen nodded, and Hazuki-chan continued,

“While we were walking here, we had a serious discussion about us becoming witch apprentices”

Ai-chan then lifted her head and added,

“We have set a rule for ourselves”

“Rule?”

The witches of the senate, who were standing to the Queen’s left and right, asked in shocked voices.

We then explained,

“Magic can be really useful, right? We often think about using it to make life easier for ourselves, right?”

The Queen smiled hesitantly, unsure of our intention.

“Furthermore, we had rejected the chance to become witches once,” I said.

“We feel that that was a little selfish on our parts,” Ai-chan added.

“That’s why, even if we become witch apprentices, we hope to never use magic for our own benefit,” Hazuki-chan concluded with a serious look on her face.

The Queen finally understood us, and nodded agreeably,

“I see. In other words, you will only use magic to benefit others, right?”

“Yes!”

We answered loudly.

“I understand. So, if you use magic for your own benefit…”

“Then change us into witch frogs or something,” I stated decisively.

Just then, Majorika, who was standing behind us and waiting to speak, spoke up,

“Are you really OK with that?”

We turned around and nodded.

“But Doremi-chan may use it for her own benefit before we even know it,” Lala said worriedly.

Gasp!

I winced at her comment.

“The witch frog curse can only be cast by the Queen from two reigns ago, so let’s do this instead. The moment any one of you girls uses magic for her own benefit, all three magical taps of yours will be destroyed. How about that?”

We looked at each other before nodding,

“Let’s settle on that,” we answered in unison.

The Queen nodded in satisfaction and called for Majorin. Then she started to chant as she held her right hand over the three apprentice taps.

The next moment, the three taps started to glow.

The glow soon vanished, and Majorin brought the taps before us again.

“Come, take them”

We nodded and took the taps one by one.

“Do you know how to use them?” Majorin asked calmly.

“Just press the button in the middle, and the apprentice uniform will appear, right?”

“Yes. However, if you just press the tap’s button, a child-sized apprentice uniform will appear. So when you press the button, imagine the apprentice uniform fitting onto your current body, and a uniform fitting your image will appear”

Majorin explained, but I was too set on becoming a witch apprentice that I did not hear her, and pressed the button in the middle of the tap.

An apprentice uniform immediately flew out of the tap.

Yes, it’s transformation time!

I need to finish changing before the music playing from the tap ends.

However—,

“Eh?! W-what?! My head can’t fit in!”

Even so, I forced my head through, and somehow managed to finish changing, but,

“Doremi-chan, your underwear is showing,” Ai-chan pointed out.

“Eh?! Uwaaaahh, why?!”

Watching me panic, Hazuki-chan sighed,

“Doremi-chan, you really don’t listen to what others say, do you? Majorin-san told us to imagine the apprentice uniform fitting onto our current bodies when pressing the button”

“Eh, is that it? Ha…hahahaha”

“Honestly, girl”

Amazed at my blunder, Majorika snapped her fingers.

The tiny apprentice uniform was sucked back into the tap.

“In that case, I’ll do the change perfectly!”

Ai-chan closed her eyes, imagining the apprentice uniform fitting onto her current body.

“Alright!”

And she pressed the button in the middle of the tap.

A blue and cool-looking witch apprentice uniform appeared, and she changed quickly, lastly pulling the brimmed hat onto her head.

“Pretty, witchi, Aiko-cchi!” She shouted as she struck her pose.

“Wow, such a nostalgic phrase! I’ll transform too”

Hazuki-chan, with the image of Ai-chan’s apprentice uniform in her mind, pressed the button on her tap.

An orange and cool-looking witch apprentice uniform and hat appeared, and she quickly changed too.

“Pretty, witchi, Hazuki-cchi!” She shouted as she struck her pose.

“Uwaaaah, so cute! Alright, my turn!”

This time, I paid attention to imagining the apprentice uniform in my mind before pressing the button on my tap.

A pink and cool-looking witch apprentice uniform and hat appeared, just as I had imagined.

The size was perfect too.

Similar to the other two, I quickly changed.

“Pretty, witchi, Doremi-cchi!”

Having successfully transformed, I struck a pose. Hazuki-chan and Ai-chan headed over to either side of me.

“Witch apprentice, version 16!” We shouted as we struck a cool pose.

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“Next will be the Porons! It’s Do, Mi, So, Do, right?”

“Yes!”

“Let’s go!”

We pressed the “Do”, “Mi”, “So” and high “Do” buttons on the tap, which was now on our chests.

Our respective Kururu Porons flew out of the taps.

“Wow, it’s the Kururu Poron! I was so certain that it would be the Puwapuwa Poron…”

Hazuki-chan was right to be shocked.

Seven years ago, when we first became witch apprentices, the Porons that appeared from the taps were the Peperuto Poron for me, the Puwapuwa Poron for Hazuki-chan, and the Poppun Poron for Ai-chan.

Oh, the Poron is a magical item that we use to cast magic, sort of like a musical instrument. We could only cast magic when we put Magic Spheres into the Poron.

And then, the Kururu Poron was created by witch apprentices who had passed their Level 6 exams, through the fusion of their Poron and a beloved instrument. I chose my toy piano, Hazuki-chan her very first violin, and Ai-chan a harmonica that her parents bought for her when she was young.

Seeing our shock at receiving the Kururu Poron, Majorin explained,

“After hearing your story from Majorika, the Queen has decided that the Kururu Poron will be more convenient for you, since it can cast higher-level spells”

“I used magic to bring over your beloved instruments from the human world,” Majorika added.

“The Queen did the fusion for you girls just a while ago”

We were touched by the Queen’s kindness.

“Thank you for everything!” We said as we gave a deep bow.

We then left the palace on our brooms, with the Queen sending us off.

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The next day, which was a Sunday, we left the MAHO-do in the care of Majorika and flew to Wakkanai, Hokkaido, on our brooms.

It was raining over the Kanto and Tohoku regions, so it was a tough journey riding in raincoats, but after flying over the Tsugaru Strait, the thick clouds parted and a clear blue sky stretched out.

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“Yahoo—!”

“The broom is indeed the best!”

Straddling our brooms as if riding a bike, Ai-chan and I raced each other as Hazuki-chan followed a little way behind, riding her broom sideways like how she used to do in elementary school.

“This feels really good!” Hazuki-chan said with a smile.

Having such a wonderful journey in the sky; being a witch apprentice sure is great!

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We left Misora City at 5am in the morning, and at 11am, after six hours of travel, we arrived in Wakkanai, the city on the northernmost tip of Japan.

Unfamiliar with the area, we made sure that no one was looking before landing on the roof of the tallest building in front of the train station.

“How shall we search for Onpu-chan?” Hazuki-chan asked.

“We’ll need to use Magical Stage!” I exclaimed.

“We’ve already saved up enough Magic Spheres!” Ai-chan confirmed.

“Alright, let’s do it!”

We quickly positioned ourselves to form the three points of a triangle and pressed the “Do, Mi, So, Do” buttons of the apprentice taps on our chests to summon our Kururu Porons.

“It’s been such a long time, so I’m kind of excited” I said. Hazuki-chan and Ai-chan smiled and nodded in agreement.

“Magical Stage will fail if our hearts aren’t feeling as one. Doremi-chan, don’t you start thinking about steak,” Ai-chan joked.

“W-why would I think of that!”

I might love steak, but I had become a witch apprentice and come all the way to Wakkanai, so searching for Onpu-chan was definitely my number one priority.

“Fufu, so, shall we begin Magical Stage?”

I nodded vigorously at Hazuki-chan’s words, then prepared my Kururu Poron as I started to chant.

“Pirika pirilala, freely!”

A melody played by a toy piano started flowing from my Poron.

Next, Hazuki-chan prepared her Kururu Poron and started to chant.

“Paipai ponpoi, flexibly!”

A melody played by a violin flowed from her Poron.

And then, Ai-chan prepared her Kururu Poron and started to chant.

“Pameruku raruku, sonorously!”

A melody played by a harmonica flowed from her Poron.

“Magical Stage!”

We shouted, our hearts as one, and rings of light appeared at our feet and rose into the sky.

In the next instant, the rings of light formed into a mobile and started to spin.

“Let us know where Onpu-chan is!”

As if in response to our cries, the light mobile formed a curtain of light and shone on us dazzlingly.

Just then, something fell down from the sky.

“Hmm?”

With a tiny sound, a calligraphy brush fell to the ground in the middle of the three of us.

“W-why a brush?” Ai-chan asked as she picked up the brush, her head tilted to one side.

“Maybe it’s because we haven’t used Magical Stage in such a long time, so we got a nonsensical item…” I suggested.

“I don’t think so. Do you remember the first time we used Magical Stage?” Hazuki-chan asked as she pushed her glasses, which had slipped down slightly, back up on her nose.

“When was that?” I asked, unable to remember.

“When Dodo ran away from home,” Ai-chan, who clearly remembered it, said.

“Ah, that was it…”

My fairy Dodo and I had argued over some trivial matter, and she had run away from home. We had used Magical Stage for the first time in our search for her.

“Yea yea, I remember. That time too, an item totally unrelated to Dodo had appeared, and we had to exchange it for various other items like some trade merchant before we were led to Dodo, who had returned back to my room”

“That’s right…” Ai-chan said with a wink.

“So if we walk around with this brush, we will be able to reach Onpu-chan!”

I grabbed the brush and held it up to the sky.

~~~~~

And so, we took turns holding the brush out conspicuously as we walked around Wakkanai. However, most of the passers-by did not show any response. There were some who gave us puzzled looks, and some who plainly pretended not to see us.

It can’t be helped. We were a group of three high school girls dressed in our flashy witch apprentice uniforms, waving a brush around as we walked…

“Ahhh—!” I suddenly shouted.

“W-what’s wrong, Doremi-chan?”

“Have you spotted Onpu-chan?”

“No. It’s because we’re still dressed as witch apprentices. Doesn’t that make us seem weird?”

“You’re right!” Hazuki-chan and Ai-chan looked at themselves and nodded in agreement.

We were like some strange high school cosplayers.

And this was not Akihabara too.

We dashed into an alley and pressed on our taps to return to our normal forms. Then, we started walking towards the port.

And soon—,

“Young lady, may I borrow that brush?”

The speaker was a man who looked about thirty-five years old, holding a convenience store bag in one hand.

“I’ve been wanting to sneeze since a while ago, but it just won’t come out. It feels really uncomfortable”

“Ah, I know that feeling. Please use this,” Hazuki-chan, who was holding the brush, passed it to the man who looked thirty-five.

The man inserted the tip of the brush into his nose and twirled it around.

“A… A… Atishoo-shoo-shoo-shoo!”

I thought only people from Dad’s generation still sneezed like that.

I silently amended my estimation of his age to forty-five.

“Ah, that’s a relief!” The man who looked forty-five said sincerely as he took out some chocolate from the convenience store bag in his hand.

“Thank you, young lady. Please have this if you like, as a thank-you gift”

The man handed the brush and bar of chocolate to Hazuki-chan and left.

“Well, we’re like trade merchants again,” Ai-chan commented.

“Just what will we get from this chocolate next? I’m looking forward to that,” Hazuki-chan said excitedly as she held out the bar of chocolate and walked on.

Hey hey, Hazuki-chan, our goal here today is to search for Onpu-chan, remember?

Ai-chan and I looked at each other and exchanged wry smiles, then followed Hazuki-chan.

Then, we spotted two women, one who looked about thirty-eight years old and the other seventy, quarreling in front of the ferry terminal.

It was a typical fight between a daughter and mother-in-law.

We should let sleeping dogs lie. We pretended not to see the two women as we walked past in front of them.

“He doesn’t like sweet bean jelly!”

“That’s not true. He told me that he loves it”

“He just said that to make you happy. What he really likes is not sweet bean jelly, but chocolate. And you still went to buy sweet bean jelly”

The reason for their quarrel seemed to be the sweet bean jelly that the daughter had bought for her father-in-law as a souvenir.

Hazuki-chan immediately held out the bar of chocolate to the two women.

“Please have this,” she offered.

“Oh, is that alright?” The mother-in-law who looked seventy said as she accepted the chocolate.

“It’s too much if we just accept it. I’ll exchange this with you if you don’t mind”

So saying, she snatched the box of sweet bean jelly from the daughter who looked thirty-eight and handed it to Hazuki-chan.

“Michiko-san, let’s go home”

“Oh, alright!”

The daughter who looked thirty-eight bowed in apology to us and left, chasing after her departing mother-in-law.

Watching them leave, Ai-chan smiled as she said,

“This feels good. This is Magical Stage working, right?”

“Right! Hey, Hazuki-chan, no one will know that we have sweet bean jelly inside the box, so let’s open it up and show it off”

Hearing my suggestion, Hazuki-chan smiled and nodded, before taking out the sweet bean jelly from its box and opening up the bag.

It was delicious-looking chestnut-flavoured sweet bean jelly.

Just then, I thought I saw a shadow of some sort slip past us, and in the next instant, the sweet bean jelly had disappeared from Hazuki-chan’s hands.

“Eh? Ahhh!”

Watching the escaping shadow, we made out a Shiba Inu holding the sweet bean jelly firmly in its mouth, running with its leash trailing on the ground.

Just as we were about to give chase, a voice called out from behind us.

“Chako, wait!”

Turning around, we saw an old man of about eighty-five, probably the Shiba Inu’s owner, staggering towards us.

“S-sorry, little girls, please catch Chako for me!”

“You don’t need to say that again!” Ai-chan called out as she started chasing after the Shiba Inu named Chako.

Hazuki-chan and I immediately followed.

~~~~~

That Chako was a sly dog. Whenever we were about to catch it, it would dash across pedestrian crossings just before the light turned red, and purposely weave through walkways crowded with people.

Ai-chan, who was running in the lead, shouted angrily after it in her Osaka dialect, but Chako continued to escape, as if mocking her. Lastly, it ran into a large park and disappeared.

“Such a headache! The next time I see that idiot dog, I’ll definitely catch it, stick my arm into its mouth and rattle its teeth!”

I understand you, Ai-chan, but that is not what a sixteen year old girl should be heard saying.

Just as I was about to retort,

“Eh?!” Hazuki-chan, who was catching her breath behind me, exclaimed.

“What’s wrong?”

“I-i-is that…!” Hazuki-chan, with a shocked look on her face, pointed.

Ai-chan and I turned in that direction, and saw a bishoujo of about sixteen pushing a wheelchair while walking towards us.

In the wheelchair was a woman of about forty… No, this is not the time now!

It was Onpu-chan’s mum, no mistake about it.

Nearby, Chako was eating the sweet bean jelly.

The Magical Stage had worked.

“Onpu-chaaaaaan!” We shouted as we dashed over.

c3-3

“Ahh, you girls are…!” Onpu-chan’s mama said, eyes wide.

Onpu-chan appeared shocked too, but a teasing smile soon came onto her face and she said in a bright voice,

“Fufu, you’ve found me”

I had not seen Onpu-chan for a year, and the devilish and cute child idol had grown into a beautiful young lady. It was hard to believe that we were actually the same age.

“Onpu-chan… You’ve grown pretty,” Ai-chan, who had not seen Onpu-chan for even longer than myself, whispered as she stared in awe.

However, that did not matter to me.

“Why didn’t you contact us?! You didn’t come for the reunion too, and even changed your mobile number,” I said as I hugged her.

“I’m really sorry. So many things have happened,” Onpu-chan said with a glance at her mama. Chako, who had finished the sweet bean jelly, moved closer to us.

Ai-chan immediately grabbed its leash and pulled it back.

“What’s with this dog?” She asked.

“The owner was chasing after it along with us all the way to the park, but now…” Hazuki-chan said as she looked around.

“I’ll look after the dog. You girls must have lots of catch up on. How about going over to that bench for a good chat?” Onpu-chan’s mama said brightly.

“Thank you, Mama. Let’s go, everyone”

“OK!”

We gave a bow to Onpu-chan’s mama, then headed over to the bench.

After passing the leash over to Onpu-chan’s mama, Ai-chan dashed up to join us.

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Having sat down on the bench, Onpu-chan suddenly walked in front of us and said with a deep bow,

“Doremi-chan, Hazuki-chan, Ai-chan, I’m sorry for not contacting you at all”

“After seeing Onpu-chan’s face, we don’t feel angry anymore”

“Thank you,” Onpu-chan said with a smile before continuing, “even so, it’s amazing that you managed to find me here”

“Well, actually…”

Together, we pulled out our apprentice taps from our pockets and showed it to her.

“Ahh! Isn’t that the apprentice tap? Don’t tell me, the three of you are witch app…”

Onpu-chan was going to say “witch apprentices”, but hurriedly covered her mouth with her hand.

“It’s OK. Even if our true form is known, the witch frog curse won’t work anymore,” Hazuki-chan reassured her with a smile.

After that, we started to tell Onpu-chan about our journey to becoming witch apprentices.

“All for my sake…”

Tears swam in Onpu-chan’s eyes, and she bowed to us once again.

“More importantly, why is Onpu-chan’s mama sitting in a wheelchair?” Hazuki-chan changed the topic.

“Mama pushed herself too hard and suffered a mild stroke”

Onpu-chan then told us about all that had happened in her life after she graduated from elementary school.

Onpu-chan used to belong to a company named Ruka Entertainment, which was owned by Majorika’s lifelong rival Majoruka, but after Majoruka returned to the witch world, Onpu-chan’s mama had no choice but to set up her own company and take on the role of CEO.

However, she pushed herself too hard at marketing Onpu-chan, and suffered a mild stroke and collapsed at the end of last year.

It was tough, but as it was just a mild stroke, she did not lose her speech ability, and was currently undergoing rehabilitation to learn to walk again.

“She has recovered such that she can walk with a walking stick now. Today, I happened to want to come to the park, so she decided to come in the wheelchair”

So saying, Onpu-chan smiled.

“It must have been tough,” Ai-chan said.

“I knew Ai-chan would say that. However, I’m just like Ai-chan, and do not like people pitying me”

“That’s why you kept this even from us, and didn’t let us know your new mobile number?” Hazuki-chan asked.

“Not only that. The media has been really crazy searching for me, so if I had thoughtlessly given out my contact, I felt that I would have brought trouble to everyone…”

Indeed, this was Onpu-chan’s thinking, so much more mature than ours.

“It’s that irresponsible women’s magazine that writes untrue things, right?” Ai-chan asked.

“Eh? Did they appear before you too?”

“Well, yeah”

“We wanted to protect Onpu-chan from those people, so that’s why we became witch apprentices”

Hazuki-chan’s explanation brought tears to Onpu-chan’s eyes again.

“I’m sorry for being so much trouble…” she apologized, choking on her words.

“What are you saying! We’ll take on all kinds of trouble for Onpu-chan, no matter how bad it gets!” I said.

“That’s right. In the end, we are best friends,” Ai-chan continued.

“Best friends… It’s been so long since I last heard these words. It sounds wonderful”

Onpu-chan said as she enjoyed the light breeze which had started to blow.

“No matter when or where, we will always be best friends”

Onpu-chan closed her eyes and nodded repeatedly at my words.

“So, Onpu-chan, what will you do now?”

“Until mama can walk on her own, I plan to continue to stay here to care for her”

“How about high school?”

“I’m attending a high school here, and living at my uncle’s place”

Onpu-chan’s uncle was a relative from her father’s side of the family, and Onpu-chan and her mama were living with them.

“What about your celebrity job?” I asked.

“I’m confused about that now. I’ve wondered if I can just pull out of things like this and live life as a normal girl,” Onpu-chan replied as she averted her eyes.

“That’s not possible! Onpu-chan is so talented,” I protested.

“Doremi-chan is right,” Hazuki-chan said.

“I agree,” Ai-chan added.

Lifting her head, Onpu-chan joked,

“Thank you. However, I like the life here. Many people do not know about me, so I don’t need to disguise myself…”

We understood that Onpu-chan was just putting up a strong front.

Also, we realized that it was only a matter of time before that persistent reporter found her, so we kept silent and did not say anything.

“Don’t worry about me. I will let you know my mobile number and e-mail address”

Quickly, we exchanged mobile numbers and e-mail addresses via our phones’ infra-red port.

Shutting her phone, Onpu-chan said,

“I want to think more about my own future. If I feel confused, I will contact everyone and we can discuss about it”

“Of course! More importantly, will Onpu-chan become a witch apprentice too?”

In response to my invitation, Onpu-chan replied decisively,

“I’ll pass on that”

“That’s OK. Onpu-chan doesn’t have any reason to want to use magic”

“Besides, it is forbidden to use magic to heal illness”

As Onpu-chan nodded, I suggested,

“Oh! I just remembered this. My family will be visiting my grandpa’s place in Hida during the Bon Festival this year. Will everyone come along too?”

“Ah! Is it that place which we visited together when we were in 5th Grade?!”

“I want to go!”

“Me too!”

“Papa will be taking leave during the Bon Festival, so maybe I can get him to look after mama so I can go”

“You’re all welcome! Yay, yay—!”

We held each other’s hands and laughed out loud as we jumped around, like how we used to do in elementary school.


TRANSLATOR’S NOTES

1. Doremi’s joke is based a play of words; she used “wakkanai”, a shortened form of the phrase “wakaranai”, in her sentence, making a pun on the place name “wakkanai”.
2. I’ve translated the Ojamajos’ Magical Stage chants into English, so instead of “nobiyakani”, “shinayakani” and “takarakani”, they are “freely”, “flexibly” and “sonorously” respectively.


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