Since this is still lagging behind Eden, I'll do chapter 14 as well.
And it's horribly difficult, to the point where it's enough for me to keep it in its trial status. Though I don't think completing Vol 1 is that much of a problem.
Also, if there's anything wrong with the musical technicalities of the chapter, please let me know.
The skies, on the last Friday of May, were filled with dark clouds. I couldn't fall asleep, so I headed to school early in the morning. As soon as I entered the classroom, I was immediately surrounded by my classmates.
"I heard you're gonna have a showdown with the Princess today?"
"What? What do you mean by showdown? What'll happen if he loses?"
"Perhaps he'll be her slave for life?" "Then isn't that the same as things are now?"
My face turned green after hearing everyone say things like that.
"Urm...... Well...... Why...... does everyone know about this?"
"Didn't you talk to Ebisawa in the courtyard yesterday?"
"You guys saw?"
"The atmosphere was quite nice, but you just had to say something like having a showdown. The audience was really disappointed!"
It's not like we were putting on a show there.
"So, when are you guys competing? Competing in what? What does the winner get?"
Ah, so they didn't hear the part about having the showdown later after school? That was fantastic. Despite trying to divert the topic, I still ended up telling them everything other than the place and time of the showdown.
"A new club? With Ebisawa? And Aihara? And Kagurazaka-senpai too?"
Why are they so damn excited?
"The Kagurazaka-senpai you're referring to is the one in second-year?"
"Yeah, the one who looks like the head of a band of female ninjas."
What sort of analogy is that? I can't understand that at all! Then again, is Senpai that well known at school?
"Starting a band in that small room together with those three girls? Nao! That's unforgivable, so you better lose!"
"I'd rather you win. Then I'll take over your place in the band." "Yeah, you definitely must win, and then I'll join too." "You know nuts about instruments, right?" "I can be in charge of moving the instruments." "Then...... I'll be in charge of wiping their sweat." "Somehow, I'm feeling more and more motivated."
And then they actually started singing our school song—I felt like I should just run out of the room. As they were discussing the time of the showdown, Chiaki walked into the classroom. Everyone became silent. I'm saved......
"Are you guys saying bad stuff about me?"
A few guys flashed an awkward smile before returning to their seats. Seemed like everyone had finally learned one of the basic etiquettes of society: to not gossip about someone right in front of the person herself.
During lunch break, my desk was filled with sauce cutlet bread, which the guys purchased from the store—seemed like they were all praying for my victory. But how can I possibly finish this much bread!
"Nao, you mustn't lose."
"Though I'm not too sure about what's happening, you must definitely win!" One by one, they grabbed my shoulders and cheered me on. I just stared blankly at the pyramid of sauce cutlet bread. It wasn't like there was zero chance of me fulfilling their expectations, but with everyone being that excited about it, I was honestly quite troubled.
After school, I brought my bass to the roof. Senpai wanted me to go there first, before the showdown, but I didn't see her around when I got there. Then again, I recall she has work today? I then spotted something on the floor, near the fence where Senpai usually sat. I walked over to take a look. It was John Lennon's album of covers, <Rock 'n' Roll>. The second song of the CD was simply titled <Stand by Me>. I took out my discman and placed the CD inside. As I listened to the hoarse voice of John Lennon, I looked downwards through the fence and waited. I took out a piece of unfinished sauce cutlet bread and stuffed it in my mouth.
Halfway into the song, I suddenly remembered that Mafuyu would always head straight home on Fridays. Shit, I had actually forgotten that.
But just then, the back of a girl, together with her maroon-colored hair, came into sight. I was at ease. What's going on? She doesn't have to do what she usually needs to do?
I continued to let the song flow from my earpieces and into my body, even as I watched Mafuyu walk into the practice room. I grabbed hard onto the fence and stood there motionlessly, till John Lennon's voice faded away.
I switched off my discman and grabbed my bass.
When I reached the practice room, I heard Mafuyu playing Beethoven's bagatelle on the other side of the door. I stopped in my tracks and thought about how I should enter the room. I came up with various lame ideas, such as kicking the door open with my foot and yelling, "Sorry to disturb!" But in the end, I decided to just knock on the door.
The bagatelle suddenly stopped, as if it were shocked motionless.
The uncomfortable silence was like a gush of bone-chilling cold air that seeped through the gaps. It persisted for quite a while.
"Urm......" I was the first to talk, but I had no idea what to say. "I'm here to compete with you. I told you about it yesterday, right?"
The door opened.
Mafuyu's guitar was slung across her shoulders. She looked at me, then lowered her gaze.
"...... You really came."
From Mafuyu's tone, I could sense something was not quite right. Somehow, she was different than usual.
"As the representative of rock, I'm here to take revenge on the stubborn classical supremacist."
"You idiot! Are you serious about this? You didn't even know how to do the hammer-on a few days ago."
Don't belittle me. Then again, why does she even know something like that?
"You peeked at me while I was practicing?"
With her face flushed red, Mafuyu slammed the door shut with her two hands.
"— Why do you have to do such a thing? Do you really want to use this room that badly?"
Why do I keep doing such things? Ah, I don't even know myself.
Senpai said it is for love and revolution.
Chiaki asked before, "You're very concerned about Ebisawa, right?"
I don't know. But I can't allow things to go on like this.
Mafuyu said from the other side of the door,
"Just do whatever you wish over there! I don't care anymore."
Just this once, I chose to remain silent.
Oh well. I already knew things would turn out like this.
I took out my bass, plugged in the cable, then squatted down near the door. There was a hole beneath the hinge of the door that I could directly plug my cable into. This was the result of my fifteen minutes of work yesterday—a cable that extended from the amplifiers to the door.
Just as I was about to hijack the stereo device, my hand stopped. For some unknown reason, I suddenly remembered a certain piece of music history that Tetsurou had once told me, half in jest.
It started with a small stream in Germany. The river flowed into a beet plantation, then later spread throughout all of Europe. It clashed with the local music, ending up either becoming engulfed by the music, or swallowing the music instead. It then flowed into the seas, and spread throughout the world. That's how a lot of things in this world are born, and rock is one of them.
Therefore, if we sought out the history of invasion and integration that spanned three hundred years, we'd find that all things were linked to each other.
I plugged the cable into the hole.
In that instant, a sharp screech blared out from the amplifiers on the other side of the door.
I could almost see the frightened looks of Mafuyu.
"What have you done?"
She found out. In reply, I turned the volume on my bass to the maximum. The room filled with feedback.
"Hey, what are you do—"
In order to drown out her voice, I played the opening note of the piece. Allegretto vivace. I must not play too quickly—as if I were stepping on the floor with force, but at the same time, seeking for a place to step with my toes. Use the low notes to stomp out the boundaries of the octave, then retreat back a little with slightly hesitant steps.
I could hear Mafuyu holding her breath in shock. Of course, she should know what piece this was, just from those eight bars. She had released an album with this piece in it two years ago in February. I had listened to that CD many times, to the point that the CD was close to being damaged.
It was Beethoven's 35th piece, <Variations and Fugue for Piano in E♭ major>—the variations were later used in his <Symphony No. 3>. There was another title for this piano piece: <Eroica Variations>.
Kagurazaka-senpai told me there were four reasons for choosing that piece.
"As you can see......" Senpai began pointing at the scores as she explained on. "This is a piece that starts off with a single melody at low pitch. Only the bass will play in the opening thirty-two bars—she will definitely recognize this as <Eroica> straight away. With this, we'll be able to fire the first salvo and pull the opponent into our music."
With that, Senpai tapped the tempo on the score with her finger.
"It's allegretto vivace, so don't ever go too fast. One of Ebisawa Mafuyu's weapons is her ability to strum her guitar accurately at great speeds. Should the showdown turn into a situation in which speed will decide the victor...... young man, you will lose all chances of winning. However, you can set the speed of the whole piece with the opening thirty-two bars—that's the first reason I chose this piece."
"But......" There was a hint of uneasiness in my voice. "At this part that leads to the overture, there's a place where the four voices merge, and the melody after that will be led by Mafuyu! If she starts to rush then......"
"Young man, all you're thinking about are the areas where you might lose......"
Senpai shook her head and let out a sigh. I curled my body up. I'm sorry, but I'm a born loser.
"Don't worry. This is the second reason why I chose this piece. This variation......"
Senpai scanned through the scores quickly. A variation is a section in which a short main theme is repeatedly played by altering its playing style or even its melody. In general, the similar parts are repeated for several cycles.
"Almost every variation has a ritardando and a fermata later in the part. You get it now? There's always a 'pause' after a certain fixed distance. No matter how fast Ebisawa Mafuyu speeds the tempo up, the fermata will always disrupt the flow of her playing, and with that, you can get back your own allegro. This piece of music is unique in that sense."
*Phew*—I heaved a loud sigh. Indeed, everything made sense. I was certain this was the only possible piece—if it was this piece, then I could actually win.
"And the third reason......" Senpai gave a sinister smile. "This piece is in E♭ major."
I recalled each and every sentence Senpai had said, and walked through the opening theme with heavy steps. At the end of the low-pitched melody I played, was a long pause. Mafuyu's guitar finally made a recovery, and the noise of her electric guitar overwhelmed the pause.
I held my breath as we entered the second overture; a series of simple, yet hesitant, guitar melodies emerged. Goosebumps appeared on my skin in an instant. The ingenious use of syncopation moved and fused just two overlapping tones. However, all music we know is born from that intoxicating feeling one gets when two sounds overlap.
In the third overture, I threw a simple line of melody towards Mafuyu. The high-flying, high-pitched notes of the guitar descended into the low-pitched notes of the bass—it seemed as if Mafuyu's steps had passed right through the torrential waterfalls.
Mafuyu's guitar led the fourth overture and took over the main theme. The whole melody shifted an octave higher, and skipped through the brisk middle octave beneath it. The tempo suddenly hastened, and even though I was thrown about by the huge force, I finally managed to barely grab onto the gaps in-between the phrases of Mafuyu's melody, and pried them wide open with my low notes, which acted as an intermediary between the phrases. I'd be a goner if I were to fall here; there'd be no chance for me to start over. I applied the brakes to restrain Mafuyu.
We finally reached the main theme, but I was barely hanging on by a thread. It was just an ordinary chord accompaniment, but my fingers were trembling nonstop. I desperately tried to use the short pause to get back the original tempo, but Mafuyu never slowed down, despite going into the second variation at a merciless speed—Mafuyu could continuously play triple notes in the time it took me to play a single one.
I took a deep breath before entering the fourth variation. This would be the first crisis.
As my fingers smoothly strummed the sixteen-beat legato, I realized Mafuyu was currently slightly disadvantaged—Mafuyu's simple theme sounded wobbly amid the constant rising and falling of my timbre. She probably thought I wouldn't know how to play that part. I held my breath and focused my attention on the intense passage. I then recalled the words of Kagurazaka-senpai yet again.
"E♭ major is—"
As she gently caressed the guitar lying on my knee with her fingertips, she said,
"You should know, right? It's one of the most difficult scales to play on the bass and the guitar."
I nodded my head.
Simply put, scales that are easy for guitars are those that don't require the guitarist to press the chords much as they play. However, E♭—which frequently appears in E♭ major—is a semitone lower than the lowest note playable by the guitar or the bass. As a result, the guitarist needs to press on the higher ends of the chords while playing, and that's something that's rather difficult to do in terms of finger movements.
"E♭ major is just as difficult for Ebisawa Mafuyu, especially where she has to play the middle-pitched notes during the high-pitched melody. Even if speed is the greatest weapon in her arsenal, she will definitely be severely weakened by that."
"Urm, no, wait......"
I knocked on my bass once.
"It'll be equally difficult for me to play too, right? Isn't that so?"
The strings of the bass and the strings of the guitar would be tuned to the same tone, so the part would be equally difficult for both parties to play. To counteract this, Senpai had specially shifted the pitch up a semitone in her composition, converting it to E major.
"Young man......" The expression in Senpai's eyes was no longer that of irritation—instead, it had been replaced by pity. "Do you still remember what I said? I said we'll be doing exactly what Paganini did, right?"
I did..... remember something like that.
That was...... something that happened on the day Senpai picked the piece out of a huge stack of CDs and scores. After hearing the sounds of Mafuyu's guitar, Senpai did mention Paganini's name out of the blue.
"...... But, how do you explain that?"
"Paganini's <Violin Concerto No. 1>. You should know that, right?"
I tilted my head and tried recalling the songs I should have heard of before. I then remembered the vast knowledge of Tetsurou—
The bass on my knee fell to the floor with a thud.
Paganini's <Violin Concerto No. 1> — in E♭ major.
I see, so that's what it was.
"You finally understand?"
"I have to lower it by a semitone when tuning?"
Kagurazaka-senpai laughed and patted my head gently.
E♭ major is difficult for violinists in the same way it is for guitarists. However, the solo in the concerto played by the Violin of the Devil, Niccolo Paganini, is written in E♭ major. Therefore, he tuned his violin a semitone lower—
I just...... have to do exactly what he did.
By lowering the strings of the bass by a semitone, I would force Mafuyu to take on the highly difficult E♭ major, while I played the simplest E major.
"...... That's really despicable......"
I accidentally let that slip out of my mouth.
"How's that despicable?" Kagurazaka-senpai prodded my forehead with the pick. "In order to achieve victory, giving it your all till the final moment before the battle is necessary, no? This is also an act of respect for your enemy."
"Urm, that may be the case......"
"The fourth reason, is that we'll be doing the fugue after the variations." Senpai stated the final reason.
"Ebisawa Mafuyu will definitely not let go of the fugue. Therefore, we just have to let her know that this piece of music is not something that can be played by one person alone. Those are my reasons for choosing this piece, <Eroica Variations>; it practically exists for your triumph over Ebisawa Mafuyu. Therefore—"
Senpai placed her hands on my shoulders and looked straight into my eyes as she said,
"—Resolve yourself, and teach her a good lesson."
After playing through the continuous phrases, I pressed my back hard against the door and swallowed a huge gulp of air. The strings and the neck of the bass had become slippery due to my sweat. The fifth variation finally returned to the simple two voices melody, but that moment of rest was over in an instant. I rushed straight into the sixth variation in C minor without getting a chance to slow down the tempo. That was the only part where the lowering of the bass by a semitone was unable to wield its effects. It was as though Mafuyu had cleaved open the opening phrase with an axe. The screeching melody dragged my body along. My fingers began to spin, and I played quite a few notes wrong. I could almost see Mafuyu's rapidly-firing questions appearing in the places I had planned to stop at—in response, I replied using the same tones that had my stuttering sighs mixed into them.
Even as we entered the beautiful dreamlike canon, Mafuyu hardly showed any mercy. If I were just a beat slower, she would immediately smash my line of melody that was trying to sketch out her footsteps, and begin the next melody by herself.
I could then feel a slight amount of weight pressing against my back. Even though I couldn't see, I somehow knew...... that Mafuyu was leaning her back against the door, just like me. I could almost hear Mafuyu's heartbeats, though that could've very well been the sound of my own heartbeat, or the echoes of the bass.
As the backbeats sustained the melody of the tenth variation—the melody with the dragonflies fluttering all around us—I became more and more confused. Why am I doing such a thing in a place like this?
I had forgotten about the fact that I had been thinking of all sorts of things as I glanced at the scores in an effort to keep up with Mafuyu's guitar. The tips that Senpai had given me had already disappeared completely from my brain.
All that was left were my fingers moving willfully.
Which of the sounds came from my bass, and which of them came from Mafuyu's guitar? I don't know. My modified Aria Pro II and Mafuyu's Stratocaster were like twins shaved out from the same piece of wood—they blended with each other impeccably. I couldn't quite explain the phenomenon by saying they had tuned themselves with each other so as to harmonize perfectly. It was like a mere millimeter of distance between them, a circuit bypass, and a careful balance of high and low tones—a miracle that happened only after the integration of everything mentioned above.
Mafuyu and I were like the left and right hands of one person—
And with that, the final variation came. C minor. It was similar to the vastness of the sea during a night that had just experienced a violent storm.
The thunders were gradually receding, but they were still reverberating deep within the clouds.
The whispers from the depths of the ocean.
Using my right hand, I strummed out a low G that extended endlessly outward.
And then, along with the parting of the clouds, I could finally see the arrival of dawn.
I listened to the rumbling echoes in my stomach intoxicatingly, and loosened my left hand. Then, I gripped the neck of the bass tightly with my sweaty palms once more.
It was the fugue. I had finally arrived here.
After expelling all of my wishful thoughts that were burning in flames of darkness, what appeared before me was something filled with endless possibilities—the ensemble that shimmered like crystals. I immediately drew out the first note of the beginning phrase. The four simple voices—that had existed since the beginning of the war—rang, while the main melody of the fugue followed the signal and began its flow. After four bars, Mafuyu began chasing the already-running me. Between the two melodies that wouldn't intersect and that would never touch each other, existed what seemed like the melody of a mirage. Who actually played that? Obviously, it was Mafuyu and I. We constantly sent out fragments of the melody, which slowly merged into a crystal clear line of melody—it felt as though there were a third person there playing together with us. I didn't quite know what was happening—all I did was play whatever was written in Senpai's scores. Mafuyu seemed to have analyzed the meaning of the tune in an instant, and kept replying to me. That was the only thing I could come up with. However, was that really something that was possible? Without using words, only transmitting our feelings through music—could this miracle really happen? Or would the miracle disappear the moment I opened my eyes—
...... It gradually disappeared.
I stopped moving my fingers.
Mafuyu's melody, which was supposed to be chasing me, had suddenly disappeared.
The hallucinated warmth of Mafuyu, which I had felt on my back this whole time, had disappeared as well.
I turned around. An *eek* sound came from the other side of the door. It was the faint sound produced by feedback from the guitar.
I had a bad feeling about this.
I tried calling her once. She didn't reply.
Instead, I began hearing the ominous sounds of moaning and weeping through the gaps of the door.