A lot of time has passed, now, since that year of emotions that surpassed all our expectations. It was that year more than any other that changed all our lives forever – none of us will ever forget our dealings with Chinese magicians, our trips to the hot springs, our party or our summer festival, all the times that eternally left their mark.
Still, a lot of things change in a decade. We grew up, eventually, and became adults rather than school kids. Each and every one of us is a little different now than we were back then. These are my memories of those years.
Take Tsumi, for example. She's become the joint owner of her mother's restaurant now, and I think both of them are a lot happier now that they've cast off the shadow of Tsumi's father. She never said what happened on that day, but from then on Tsumi's used her name and heritage more confidently.
She's developed boyfriend after boyfriend, and sometimes girlfriend, since our school-days, but still has never felt like settling down with someone. Part of me doubts she ever will – for her, the single life is far too much fun to leave behind.
Come to think of it, Setsuya is much the same. He still lives in that huge house on the hill, and these days revels in his own money as much as his parents'. He's become and entrepreneur and a millionaire in his own right. Of course, that does nothing to put off the endless stream of young ladies who pursue him – mostly without success. Relationships, right now, are not a concern for him; they're just clutter.
Talking of endless successions of casual partners, I hear Ritsuko's still up to her old tricks. There's rumours that she might have a long-term boyfriend now, but that doesn't seem to stop her acting single whenever she can.
Jumping back to the subject of heritage, it looks like Tora's becoming more and more proud of hers with every passing year. What began as a thing to be ashamed of on that day after her 18th birthday has now become a drive that keeps her going through any difficulty. To be able to walk the streets of Tokyo unashamed of her wings is something truly special, I think.
She briefly returned to the armed forces after leaving school, but it seemed to hold too many painful memories for her to stay there for long. She works for the police force now, and runs a gym and dance studio with her long-time friend Tsune – yet more things in her life that she's intensely and rightly proud of.
Her friends Erik and Naomi are married now, something that none of us were expecting. After college, Erik never did move back to Germany – instead, he and his wife-to-be started working on government-funded research projects here in Japan. I don't know exactly what it is they do in that job of theirs, but I can assure you that nothing could possibly make them happier than they are now.
Ichiro still practices martial arts, and undoubtedly will one day become the successor to his father as head of the Kuramanji dojo. The family (now only four due to the passing away of the grandfather) have become even more tightly-knit than they ever were, and they still keep in contact with Alex despite the vast distance that now lies between them.
Ah, yes, there was something I forgot to mention when I said that there were four members of the Kuramanji family – someone, rather. Ichiro's wife, Yasa.
Not realising about her promise, Ichiro beat Yasa in a tournament match some seven years ago now. Her parents spoke to his parents, and it was decided that the two of them should marry. Thankfully there was somewhat of a romance between the two of them anyway, and although talk of marriage was somewhat sudden for them they decided in the end to go along with it.
On the subject of surprise marriages, who'd ever have thought that Sho would ever manage to pop the question without dying from some kind of nasal haemorrhage? But ask the question he did, eventually, to Azumi.
He learned about the world quickly since the time Tsumi's family adopted him, and eventually lost a little of his shyness too. He and Azumi, once too embarrassed even to talk to one another, are now almost opposites of what they once were – happy, extroverted, and at times even bordering on being loud.
As far as loud couples go, you can't get much louder than Mizuki and Daisuke. Upon leaving Inazuka High they set up their own dojo together, and their training and teaching have now become their lives. Despite lacking the wisdom of any old men, their style is so popular that students travel from all over Japan to train under their supervision.
Espan and Sayuri, however, we haven't heard much from. They moved to Espan's home town in France less than a year after we all left school, apparently lured by the taste of European ice cream. Despite having hounded them for the majority of their school life, Erik seemed rather sorry to see them go.
Speaking of those who went back home, Alex now lives back in Ireland where she's now settled and started a family. We all were distraught at her decision to return to her homeland, but she keeps in such regular contact with all of us that it seems almost like she never left Tokyo.
Maiko Buzzsaw, not such a little girl any more, now lives in Ireland too. In much the same way as Alex came to Japan, her father sent her to college in Ireland. She's now, we hear, studying veterinary medicine at university there. Rabbit-san has barely left her side in the last ten years. Now she's aged twenty-two the stuffed toy seems to others like strange anachronism, but to her that doesn't matter. After all, Rabbit-san will, always, protect her.
Also in Ireland, Shirou and Morgainne are rumoured to be living together. Shirou went through a bit of a mental breakdown a few years back, and decided to leave Japan for good. He headed to Ireland to see Alex, but didn't stay with her for very long before deciding that he had to move on again. It was about that time that Morgainne moved back to Ireland, and the last message we received from Alex said that they were now renting a place together, although apparently it's more likely to be for financial reasons than anything else.
There's an odd thought, on the subject of finances. Does anyone remember those four girls that we ran into a lot during that year at school? Apparently they have their own business now – private investigators, who'd have thought it? Despite another ten years of life, they haven't changed a lot. They still argue and squabble and rant about ice cream, just like they always used to.
One relationship where there's guaranteed no squabbling is Giniro and Risa's. Not long into our third year of high school, Risa ran away from her parents and the man she was arranged to marry, and came to live with Giniro here in Tokyo. Since that day the two of them have been inseparable, the bond between them stronger than anything the world seems to be able to throw at them.
Giniro and Risa now travel the country as journalists, and they continue to exercise their passions for painting and dance whenever they get the opportunity.
And that, I think, just leaves us. It's been a strange ten years indeed, but I've loved every day of every one of them.
It turns out, when I thought of that summer festival day as being the perfect end to the best year of my life, that wasn't quite right. In truth, it was more like a new beginning. Over the next year, our final year at Inazuka high, Kai's band turned from being something even I was only vaguely aware of into a worldwide sensation. We started touring the country, and within a few years were playing gigs in Europe and America. It's something I'll forever feel blessed to have been a part of.
Five years ago, though, at the end of an American tour, the band came to an end. Not abruptly, but peacefully. We'd all just decided that we'd had too much of the touring life.
Morgainne headed back to start a new life for herself in Ireland, while Monomi stayed in America and took a job as a voice actress. Sadly, we hardly hear from her any more.
Cecillia, Kai and I came back to Tokyo and almost regressed to being school kids for a while. It was only a year later, though, that Kai and I were married.
By that time Minami had moved out of the shrine, so the two of us – following a lot of polite suggestions from the Suzumiya parents – moved there from the dingy apartment block that we'd been living in up until then. An odd year followed, during which the two of us finally learned what it was to be adults, and what it was to be married too. At the end of that year, Hiroshi gave up his role as priest of Yukikami shrine, transferring the honour to me as he and his wife retired to a house in the country.
So it came to be that I became the priestess of Yukikami shrine. Since that day both my husband and I have been blessed by Yuki's presence and frequent gifts – not least the gift of a soon-to-be-born daughter. Her name will be Shiaru, in honour of my mother, and we pray that the Kami will bless her as they have blessed us.
I feel like I can see the future more and more these days, and what I see is a future full of light, and life, and love. I see a heaven, a glittering future story, a never-ending tale of hearts and swords.