There is a junior named Maki Kinoshita at my university.
She is one year below me, and she is in one of the student groups I joined. Namely, the Earth Science Study Group, or Chigaken for short, also known as the Stone Lovers Association.
From gemstones that shine dazzlingly to raw ores straight from the depths of the earth and really any kind of interesting stone or mineral, we are a motley crew of mineral and gemstone aficionados who travel far and wide in search, of new types of stones, from dedicated shops to natural museums. We sometimes celebrate good finds with a drink, and anyway, maybe it’s because of the “power stone” boom, but it’s a lively and growing student group.
Our growing popularity might be because it is a joint group with a coeducational university in the neighborhood. Because of that, there are plenty of chances for meeting and mingling with male students. Thanks to that, we have quite an influx of newcomers more interested in the opposite sex than in stones. But oh well, I guess I shouldn’t mind since, after all, just about every college student group is like that.
The aforementioned Maki-chan, a junior of Chigaken, is a young lady with bewitching, glossy, colored orange-brown hair locks and expertly applied makeup that enhances her already stunning facial features for maximum effect. Her feminine charm and power are undeniable. Moreover, she shows a genuine interest in stones and, for some reason, has grown attached to me.
She sometimes blurts out things like, “Michiru-senpai is interesting!” (note: ‘senpai’ means upperclassman), and such.
I don’t think there’s anything particularly interesting about me, but it looks like she is just the outspoken, “action girl” type.
Far be it from me to criticize or judge other people’s tastes. Still, this girl, who looks like the embodiment of the typical male student’s fantasy and I’m fairly sure wildly popular already, for her to be hanging out with me more than with hunky guys, makes you think she’s some sort of total weirdo, right?
Going back a bit, so there I was, happily smiling and taking another lick of my strawberry milk gelato, just enjoying myself in simple happiness, when Maki-chan found me in the cafeteria and walked up to me.
“I found Michiru-senpai! Sitting in a nice place like this enjoying ice cream by yourself… Michiri-senpai really goes her own way.”
“I don’t see how having some ice cream is ‘going my own way.’ It’s just delicious, and I love strawberry milk.”
I replied thusly while my face broke into an expression of bliss from enjoying the harmony between the rich evaporated milk and refreshing strawberries.
“No, no Senpai. Isn’t it the normal thing to do for girls at places like this to gather and eat together? Michiru-senpai has this air of freedom that is just super interesting. Taking a seat all alone in a place like this and eating ice cream as if nothing else exists in the world… Senpai really is like a wild squirrel or other such small animals of the forest. You are really interesting! And the pink ice cream really compliments your overall look and is super cute!”
Maki-chan’s melodious laughter sounded like the tinkling of soft bells, and I just looked at her as if she were a girl still in that childish young age where every little thing is fascinating.
“Oh yeah, Senpai, I almost forgot, take a look at this. I was looking for you so I could have a senior student give me her opinion.”
So Maki-chan is here on business, after all. Without taking a seat, she reached into her bag and rummaged in it with her hands.
“Oh, that’s really nice of you to share a new find with me. So, what is it, did you find something cool? It’s a stone, right? We’re talking about stone, right?”
So I said, trying to take a peek into Maki-chan’s bag and impatiently urging her to show me already.
“… Oh Senpai, please don’t jump into a stranger’s car someday if they tell you they have a stone inside. Michiru-senpai has an innocent baby face, so I got worried just now.”
Maki-chan, acting all adult and responsible, warned me about the dangers of the world, as if I were a little girl. She took out a wrapping cloth decorated with a brown floral pattern out of her bag, which looked like a bag from a prestigious brand, and she laid it on the table. Then, unfolding the wrapping cloth, a soft material designed to protect its contents, she revealed a fist-sized ore inside.
“Wow, a stone, a stone! Here, here, lemme see.”
I wolfed down the last bit of my waffle cone and hurriedly cleaned my fingertips on my jeans before reaching out with both hands for the stone.
“Whoa, whoa, horsey.”
Maki-chan just talked down to me like I was an anxious unruly horse, with the tone of voice to match. Why, of all people, is this girl who is supposed to be my underclassman and quite beneath me in the student group’s pecking order (actually, that last part is not true, sorry) talking down to me? Anyway, Maki-chan took the stone out of its bag and placed it in my hands.
“About a week ago, I was looking for a power stone shop in Shinjuku, and they were holding some kind of lithomancy special event. A mysterious seller who was covering his face behind a black veil recommended this stone to me. It looked quite curious, and it was just a thousand yen, so I just bought it without thinking about it too much.”
“A black-veiled mystery seller! Wow, I would have liked to see that. I have never seen someone do cosplay for a lithomancy event. So… Hmmm…? This is… Well, I don’t know what kind of stone it is, but it really is in mint condition… Yeah…”
I found myself a bit perplexed at the stone in my hand, and I gulped as I tried to focus on remembering everything I knew about stones to try to identify it.
“Huh? Hey, wait a minute. This is not a thousand yen stone at all. This thing’s on a whole ‘nother level… Wait, make that two levels. Maybe three even?”
Looking at it more intently, it seemed to me to be a rough crystal cluster made up of several large crystals, each about half an egg in size and shape. Each one had a well-defined outline, and they were faintly bluish.
That was really weird: other than a few exceptions, such as smoked crystal and rose quartz, crystals are usually colorless and transparent, and it’s rare for them to be faint blue like this. Certainly there exist blue crystals, but they are either artificially colored or processed products such as glass spheres and do not exist in nature.
This one was beautiful in shape, and no matter how closely I looked, I couldn’t find a single imperfection within its crystal; it was indisputably a gemstone in prime condition. As an appraiser who has seen a wide variety of stones and ores, this gemstone looked to be worth at least 100 thousand yen in my experienced eyes, if not much more. If I appraised it more closely with special equipment, I have the feeling its value could be far more than what I just said.
Picking up such a gem for a mere one thousand yen, isn’t this what you call the bargain find of a lifetime?
And then I looked up at Maki-chan, who was just standing still there, and for some unknown reason, wearing a grim expression on her face.