Meanwhile, somewhere near one of the vassal kingdoms - Ronerulle, to the south of Evalitia's capital…
I roll from one side to another in my sleeping bag, trying to muffle the intense sounds coming from the tent adjacent to mine with a fluffy pillow rolled around my head. It’s already been an hour or two since they started and there are no signs of them ending anytime soon.
Violent, rhythmic slapping is accompanied by a myriad of different moans, gasps and grunts. Occasional shouts and curses get released into the air with a lot of giggling and chuckling from both a man and a woman. It’s insufferable. I bet it’s like three in the morning already and I haven’t gotten even a whiff of sleep.
I take the pillow off my ears, raise myself to a sitting position and slam it into the ground furiously.
“Ahnnnn… ahhhhh… ahhhhh… you beast… ahhhh… so fierce… ahhhh… moooreeee...”
“You love it there… uuuuffff… huuuuuh…”
Without any second of delay, the now unobstructed and clearly noticeable sounds of battle from the people to my right instantly fill in the quiet air. The amount of dirty talk surrounding it makes me start feeling a warm sensation spreading through my cheeks as my fingers grasp the sheets of my bedroll tightly.
Shaking my head to clear all the thoughts and imagery, I stand up, get into my boots and leave the tent. Furrowing my brows, I take one last glance at the slightly fluttering structure next to my own shelter and head the opposite way with a snort.
Not that far away from where the tents are put down, a small campfire is currently rippling with lively tongues of red and orange. The distance is not enough to make the noises completely disappear, but it’s much better than lying right by the source.
Natalie-san is sitting near it on the ground, with her guitar placed on her lap, serving as a table, and writing something in her small notebook with one hand while the other supports her head, resting the elbow on the wooden instrument. She looks so beautiful with part of her golden hair hung over her ear, showing her amazingly calm profile.
She notices my approach, moving only her eyes to the side for a moment and then getting back to focusing on whatever she was doing. I sit down on my knees by the fire and stare at the enchanting figure of Natalie-san focusing on her writing. After a few moments, she stops, closes the notebook and glances back at me. I quickly move my eyes to the fire.
“My shift doesn’t end for three more hours.”
A soft and melodic voice travels through the air and reaches my ears. I could never understand how someone can have such a pure and musical tone. It’s like Natalie-san was destined to become an actress or a singer from the day she was born.
Countless men fall for her angelic voice the instant they hear it on TV or on the radio. And it’s not only boys. Even in our small school, there were girls who fawned over the distant, blond beauty with heavenly vocal skills. Many approached her just to get turned down in a blink. She didn’t seem even slightly interested in anyone. I feel really lucky to be able to call myself Natalie-san’s friend as she doesn’t allow other people to get even this close to her, giving them the cold shoulder treatment.
I nod to her words. “I know.”
“And it’s Marcia who is supposed to take over.”
I nod again. “I know.”
“Can’t sleep?” she asks.
I groan while rolling my eyes and point my gaze towards the direction of the tents. Natalie-san follows it.
“Ah.” She cocks her head back in understanding.
Now, Natalie-san has this amazing ability which she developed while working on many bustling movie sets where she can completely shut herself off from any sound and noise around her at will. She just needs something to focus on. And that’s why, even if she was sitting right by them, it wouldn’t be even slightly inconvenient for her. I’m so jealous… Ughhhh…
“They are going at it for something around two hours now like some inexhaustible, horny rabbits!” I continue.
“That’s the Hero’s high Constitution for you,” she comments.
“They are like that since the day we’ve left the ruins, getting touchy with each other almost every other night! It’s getting worse and worse day by day! Seriously, I have no idea how Paul-san is unaffected by this! Their tent is in between mine and his!” I cover my face with both of my hands and huff in annoyance.
“You know that he went through pretty much every possible military training course that didn’t require him enlisting after. There could be a stage with the loudest death metal band playing live and he could lay down behind it and just sleep through the whole thing like there is nothing around. But, let someone step on a small branch in the three-meter-long vicinity of the tent and he is up in an instant,” Natalie-san explains what I’m already aware of.
“Ughhh… why can’t I ignore things like you or Paul-san…” I sigh.
We sit in silence for a few minutes. Natalie-san goes back to reading her own writing while I stare at the fire. Noticing a branch by my side, I pick it up, move closer to the small tower of burning wood and switch into a position where I sit with my knees huddled to my chest. While gazing into the mysterious, dancing wisps of fire, I use the stick to lazily poke all around the burnt coals. I release a long sigh.
“I wonder what he is doing right now…” Natalie-san’s voice brings me back from my thoughts.
“Eh?” I turn my head towards her.
“That’s the face you are making,” she clarifies while supporting her chin with both hands and staring right at me.
“I… don’t understand…” I gaze back at her confusedly.
“You always have this exact expression whenever something reminds you of him.”
My cheeks start turning warm again and I’m sure that it’s definitely not from the fire. I move my gaze away from Natalie-san just in case and hug my knees closer to my chest. I had no idea that it’s showing on my face so clearly that people can notice it… So embarrassing...
“You should have approached him long ago,” she says casually.
Feeling my whole face getting warmer and warmer, I hide it in my knees. “It’s not so simple…”
I hear Natalie-san sigh. “From all of us, and I could bet all of the people he knew back on Earth too, you are the one closest to Mr Carter and know him the best. There’s not even a shadow of a doubt he likes you back.”
“W-w-w-w-whatever could you mean?” I stutter a little while my mind gets a bit fuzzy.
Another sigh follows. “Okay. Stop me when I say something that is not true.”
I slowly raise my head to peek at Natalie-san’s expression. She looks at me with one brow raised, waiting for my confirmation. I give her a little nod.
“You liked him since the very first day he appeared as our teacher. You started being interested in him after we noticed during one of our breaks that he was playing Destiny/Insignificant Chaos on his phone, spending hundreds of dollars to get the new character, which as we later learned, was one of his favourites. After that, you accidentally dropped your phone onto his desk from your hoodie’s front pocket, having the game open. He started talking about it to you and you exchanged ID’s.”
She pauses and glances at me, checking if I’m going to disagree with anything, but… I would lie if I did… uuuuggghhhhh… that was so stuuuuuuuupid…
Not seeing any reaction, she continues. “Then, you sometimes chatted about random stuff during breaks and you learned that he is as much into anime as you are. You found out that he loves most of the books, movies, novels, series, games that you personally like and you started exchanging opinions, reviews and suggestions about them, right?”
I can’t show any more of my face. I’m certain it’s all red from how hot I feel. My heart is starting to beat faster and faster as Natalie-san recounts all the major events from the past. She is my best friend so we, of course, talked a lot about them, but having anyone present things about you like this is just insanely embarrassing… I just wiggle my head a bit, with only a bit of my eye poking out from above my knees.
“He added you as a friend on every single communicator he used. He even gave you his private phone number. You guys talked to each other pretty much every day. The moment we were leaving the classroom, the first thing you always did was pulling out your phone, opening Harmony and staring at it for five minutes at least, figuring out what to write to him, just to not send anything in the end. You guys played multiplayer games together on most of the weekends you weren’t busy with practice or traditional lessons. You were basically a couple already.”
“C-c-c-couple?!” I let out a quiet scream.
“Didn’t you even go on a date?” Natalie-san asks.
“Yeah. I remember you getting VIP tickets for AniFest XIV and inviting Mr Carter to go with you, saying that there’s no one you could take and you don’t want to let the entry go to waste. You went together and had a blast. You kept talking about it for two weeks straight, how you played arcade for hours, attended panels about your favourite series, ate together and how he gifted you a purple ribbon he won in a knife-throwing contest. You still have it, right? Tied around the tip of your katana’s handle right now.”
「Certainly, all of that is true, especially the part about the ribbon… but…」
“Can you say with a clear conscience that you didn’t consider that a date even for a moment? Or are you perhaps saying that a girl inviting a guy somewhere can’t be counted as a date because it has to be the other way? You know that he completely doesn’t care about things like that.”
I let out an embarrassed groan and quickly hide in my knees again. I… thought about it as a date from the very moment I ordered those tickets… but sensei… he definitely didn’t see it as one, because…
“I know that you were afraid to confess to him back then, worrying that he would reject you because you were a minor and his student at that, but Shino, you are almost nineteen now. You turned eighteen six months after we got here. You should have gone to him straight after we settled down, even before your birthday. This is no longer Earth. And we both know Mr Carter understands it the best with how active he was to learn about this world.”
Natalie-san’s words perfectly hit all my doubts, worries and thoughts. It’s not that unexpected, we have been close friends since the first week of school. She is the only one I have been completely open with about everything and we were spending lots of time together back on Earth. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that she knows me best after sensei. Or actually, even better since she knows that I… I… love him...
Natalie-san takes her guitar off her hip and places it on the side. She then stands up, walks to me and sits down. She is so much taller than me… Even though she is currently seventeen, I feel like I’m talking to mom when we speak sometimes…
I try my best to raise my head up and look at her. She shows a very faint smile. How can someone have so much control over their emotions? Seeing her on-screen and in-person is unimaginably different. I can’t even hide a blush while she can fake lively, evil smirk as easily as keeping a poker face in reality.
She places a hand on my shoulder. “If you keep distancing yourself like this, someone will steal him from you. Yes, back at home he might have had issues with dating women due to his hobbies and interests, but here, Mr Carter is just a very handsome, nice, kind, gentle, understanding, helpful and protective man. And do you remember his Class? I really hate to say it, but it’s possible that someone has already made a move on him. Or more than just one someone. When you finally find the courage to step up, you might find yourself being one of many—”
“I’m fine with that,” I stop Natalie-san and glance at her. Seeing that she doesn’t ask anything, I sigh a little and continue. “Natalie-san knows that I come from an influential family back in Japan. Daughters in our clan almost always end up being wed to other big houses to maintain positive relationships between our families. Male heirs often have many wives and concubines and that’s why we are raised fully aware of that possibility from a very young age. We know that it’s our responsibility.”
It’s one of the things I never spoke with Natalie-san before. I didn’t particularly hide anything about my family, but we just never discussed these topics deep enough to reach that information. It isn’t something I am proud of. I know how it looks in the eyes of outsiders. I didn’t want Natalie-san to unnecessarily worry about me. I was lucky to not be engaged to anyone yet due to my achievements in studies and kendo. I still had to be prepared for the worst. There was even a low chance that my family wouldn’t allow sensei as a candidate for my husband… but now… it doesn’t matter anymore.
Noticing that I keep unintentionally glaring at Natalie-san while recalling our family’s overbearing traditions, I quickly move my face away again.
“So… if sensei would end up with many girls… which I think would be actually weird if he didn’t with how nice and handsome he is… I would be happy if I… could join his harem… Even if I wouldn’t be the main wife… I’m sure he would take good care of me… not like the young heirs who are just forced to accept the marriage.”
I speak very quietly, slowing down the more I talk about that potential situation. My words are additionally being muffled by my knees while my mind starts getting filled with a myriad of images where sensei pulls me into a hug, pats my head or… gives me a kiss…
Natalie-san’s hand rubbing my shoulder brings me back from my daydreaming and I struggle to look at her while feeling like my whole face is melting. Not from the nearby fire.
“I see. I didn’t know,” she says calmly.
“It’s okay, Natalie-san. I just never brought it up before. And it’s not like I agree with these practices. As sensei always kept saying, everyone should have the freedom to choose who they want to be with, no matter the family situation, common beliefs, race or even gender. I… I’m actually a bit happy that… ummmm… we ended up here…” I take a quick glance at Natalie-san’s face, just to drop my gaze again in an instant. “I’m sorry!”
A very soft and quiet chuckle arrives from her side and I raise my head to see another very slight smile. She rubs my shoulder a bit more.
“Don’t worry about me. You are not being rude. We all have different situations. And, Mr Carter convinced me back when we arrived here that I should focus on the present and the future rather than let my thoughts wander over my relatives. We don’t have even the slightest idea of what is happening on Earth. Maybe the time stopped. Or maybe it doesn’t even exist anymore.”
I smile at her. The thought about our world being gone is quite a scary one, but I don’t think something like that happened. I hope… or… do I? Would I even want to come back if sensei would actually accept me? There’s no point in thinking about that now. We could die at any moment too.
“Anyway, this is not about me but you. If you have resolved yourself this far then all you need to do is just go to him. As I said before, you know him the best. Tell me, do you really think he doesn’t like you even a bit?”
She keeps gazing into my eyes with her stoic expression. I can feel how flushed my face must now look from the intense goosebumps that envelop my whole skin and the heavy thumping of my racing heart. I hesitantly shake my head.
“Then that’s it. If you keep wasting any more time, who knows how long it will take before you two have a chance to sleep tog—”
My eyes shoot wide and I start flailing my arms in front of Natalie-san’s face in panic. She backs off a little and raises her brows questioningly while I stop my hands in the air and look at her through my fingers.
“... Pardon?” she asks, slightly befuddled.
“W-W-W-WHAT COULD YOU BE TALKING ABOUT!?” I shout at her.
“Um, obviously se—”
Met with another scream from me, she stops. I’m getting so hot that the temperature of my body must be rivalling the core of the campfire right now. I’m getting slightly dizzy and my vision shakes with every beat of my heart, which now sounds like some huge, tribal drum during a pre-battle rally.
“You pretty much drew explicit content, and from our time together, I’m quite sure that you also watched and read a lot of it too, so… why are you reacting like this?” she asks.
“Fiction and reality are two completely different things! It doesn’t matter how much hentai I watched! Talking about inappropriate stuff like this in the open is embarrassing!” I try calming myself down a little but still answer in a raised voice.
“But, you didn’t seem so flustered when we spoke about Kamil and Marcia doing it.”
“It’s… it’s… that’s obviously because it wasn’t about me and sensei!” I wave my hands each time I speak.
She sighs. “Don’t you want to become one with the man you love?”
I stop. I can feel myself squirming under Natalie-san’s gaze, but I don’t want to straight-up deny her words… It would be a lie… I do want sensei to embrace me... but… how can everyone just talk about things like this so casually?! I don’t understand… Every time I see Kamil-san and Marcia-san flirting together I’m getting all hot from embarrassment, but no one else even bats an eye…
Taking a few deep breaths, I move my hands down and do my best to look Natalie-san in the face. She’s unmoved as usual. She’s my best friend… we’ve gossiped about sensei a lot in the past… It’s normal to talk with your best friend about se… se… se… ughhhhhhh… I can’t… My imagination is too vivid and clear…
“I… I… mhm…” The best I can do is to nod while lowering my eyes to the ground.
“I’m sure Mr Carter wouldn’t mind, but do you really want him to see you freak out when you guys end up alone in his room and he finally reaches out to you?” she asks.
“I won’t… freak out…” I answer.
“Are you sure about that?”
I stay silent. I don’t know. I think I wouldn’t, but… would I? What if he dislikes shy girls? No… that’s impossible. He was into danderes and kuuderes the most. But...
“Listen. Since we are already going through a lot of things, let me just sum everything up in simple words. Mr Carter definitely likes you. He wouldn’t spend so much time with you outside the school if it wasn’t true. You don’t need to be so hesitant about this. Don’t overthink everything. Even though you know him so well that you could probably pinpoint his answers to most questions we came up with, you are letting yourself forget about that because of stupid anxiety. Want me to tell you something as your friend and as someone who watches from the side? He definitely fantasized about you more than once.”
“Ehhhhhhhh?!” I cry out in shock.
“What? Aren’t you basically a textbook definition of a beautiful otaku girl, being a Japanese princess at that, for which many men would die just for a chance to even talk to? And with the fact that you often draw your characters after yourself, do you really think he didn’t?”
I start fidgeting with my hands back between my knees while smiling to myself over the thought that sensei might have had lewd thoughts about me.
「Ehehehehe… It’s not like I drew most of the kitsunes as myself because he loves them the most…」
“So, believe in yourself and go for it. Or are you planning to wait forever?”
I take a very long and deep breath, clearing my mind completely. I slap my cheeks a few times and switch my position back to a sitting on the knees. Turning towards Natalie-san, I lower my head.
“Thank you, Natalie-san. I will look for sensei as soon as we are back in the capital. I really appreciate what you did. You are the bestest best friend I ever had. I really can’t thank you enough. I promise you that I will take your words into my heart and stop acting like this. Well… at least as much as I can…” I speak my honest feelings.
She chuckles quietly again. “Good. You better do. You made me utter more words in one night than I have spoken during the last few years. Excluding castings and recordings.”
“Ehehehe, I’m sorry! I know how much you hate talking. But… it meant a lot to me. Thank you again, Natalie-san.” I bow my head as far down as I can, almost entering full dogeza.
“Okay, okay, get up. Just treat me to something nice when we get back to civilization and we will be even. We are best friends, right?”
We both giggle a little and spend some more time together just talking about random things. Most of them somehow end up connected to sensei in some way. About half an hour later, we hear footsteps behind our backs and turn around to see Marcia-san coming our way. She is all sweaty and a bit out of breath. She arrives at our side while gulping down water from her waterskin.
“You still have a bit over an hour before your turn,” Natalie-san informs her.
Marcia-san finishes drinking water with a long huff afterwards and chuckles. “I know. I came early. Like a certain someone, heh.” She smirks with a wide grin and laughs again.
“What about Kamil-san?” I ask.
“The Hero’s valiant steed ran out of juice and he fell asleep. Sorry for keeping you up, Shino.” She winks at me.
“Ahahaha… well…” I shift my gaze to the side.
“Also, what was that scream from before about?” She glances down at me.
“Nothing!” I quickly avert my gaze. I can feel Marcia-san squinting her eyes on me.
“Anyway, remind me to ask that Court Magician woman in purple robes and glasses about that spell to mute your surroundings when we have a chance… What was it called?” She scratches her head.
“Hall of Serenity, I think,” Natalie-san answers.
“Yeah, most likely that. Would be great if we could learn it. Well, I think you would definitely be able to with your magical talent, Nat.”
“So that I can cast it on your tent when you guys want to have sex?” she asks.
“Bingo. And I guess it’s a useful one anyway. Or we could ask the King for an artifact which works like that or something. That blondie is quite generous.” Marcia-san smirks and plops down to the right of me and Natalie-san.
A curious thought appears in my mind and I decide to let it out. “Ummm… Marcia-san... aren’t you afraid of getting pregnant?”
She glances at me while taking another sip and quickly finishes it. “Huh? Ah, I’m infertile.”
Suddenly, unexplainably uncomfortable silence falls onto all of us. It seems as even the crackling of the campfire has toned down to accentuate the tense atmosphere. I can feel that bitter hotness, which appears after you say or ask something stupid or inappropriate, quickly spreading through my whole, stiffened body.
“I’m… really sorry…” I drop my eyes to the ground and apologize.
Marcia-san notices my and Natalie-san’s expressions and furrows her brows. “Oh, come on, you two look like you just killed my grandma with a banana peel and don’t know how to tell me, hahaha! Chill, Shino! We are good!” She grabs my shoulder and shakes it a few times while smiling.
“Still… I didn’t know…”
“Obviously! Judging by your reactions, you wouldn’t ask if you knew! I’m not offended so forget it. Life is too short to worry over small details like that.” She leaves my shoulder and takes another gulp of water. “My mother was attacked by some maniac with acid when she had me in her belly. Supposedly, some kind of a developer which lost most of his fortune when my papa’s company’s expansion went completely bonkers. Total piece of scum. Not even aiming for him but his wife. The trashiest trash of all trash on Earth. Phtoo.” She spits to the side with visible disdain.
“Does… Kamil-san know?” I don’t know where I get the courage, but I somehow ask what I’m curious about again.
“Hm? Yeah. I tell that to all the people who would like to get closer together. Remember girls, honesty is the most important part of a relationship! No matter what kind of relationship. Fueled by love, affection, mutual pleasure or interest. Only a total bitch would hide crucial facts like that from a man. Or another woman. Being open is the best!” Marcia-san looks at both of us in turns and smiles. I don’t think there’s anything that can bring down her enthusiasm.
“Is that why you are…” Natalie-san starts a question but it seems like she can’t find the proper words to finish it. Marcia-san catches onto her thoughts.
“Having sex with any healthy and handsome guy who also looks interested in having some fun together after knowing about me and my sex-friends? No, no, no, no, no.” Marcia-san waves her index finger at us. “Yes, the fact that I can’t have kids is a part of me, but no, it didn’t influence who I currently am. I’m not on a fuck-spree out of spite or frustration at my situation or from the need for revenge on the unfair fate that was brought onto me by that bastard. Nor I am jumping on so much dick in hope that maybe one day I will magically go poof, pregnant. You know that I grew up in a tolerant and understanding community with loving parents and lots of friends. It’s just my way of being, my style, it has nothing to do with that issue. Well, all in all, I don’t care, it’s quite useful, right? I can have as much raw fun as I want without any worries, hahaha!”
Marcia-san explodes into a hearty laugh. The loudest one as of now. We glance at each other with Natalie-san and nod together. We move on our knees closer to her and sit on both of her sides. I take Marcia-san’s left arm and hug it while Natalie-san picks the right one. The person in the middle stops laughing and looks at both of us.
“What are you doing?” she asks while raising one of her brows. “Oi. Are you pitying me?”
“Don’t you wish you were healthy?” Natalie-san asks her with a serious gaze.
“Huh? I told you that I don’t care, didn’t I? I’m long after the phase of—”
She stops her sentence and her smile falters a little after Marcia-san locks her eyes with Natalie-san’s. She turns to me and even though I can’t make the same concerned expression as her, I do my best to look as serious, even though I can feel some tears forming in the corners of my eyes.
Marcia-san throws her head to the back with a groan. “God. Fucking. Dammit… Haaaaaaah…” She shakes it and brings it back to us, slightly dropping it down. “Of course, I do. It’s not even a matter of wanting kids or not. If I wanted one, I could always adopt some poor bastard without a loving family. I hate not even having a choice. I was robbed out of it. Forced to accept the outcome. No matter what we tried or how much money did papa drown to fix me… Fuck! You are fucking the worst, Nat! You don’t talk for shit, but when you finally do, you always know what to say to get to people! Arghhhhhhhhh! Are you some god of counselling?!”
She moves her face closer to Natalie-san’s and raises her voice, but we both know that Marcia-san doesn’t mean anything bad. She could push us away at any given moment yet she lets us stay with her. No matter what she says, I know deep down, that I would never completely get over something like that. She definitely didn’t lie when saying that it wasn’t the reason behind who she became in the end, but she definitely cares and we both felt that somehow.
We sit in silence for about a minute or two, just glancing at each other. I admire Marcia-san. I would most likely burst out into tears when reminded about such a thing and she just keeps calm after shouting a bit earlier. She is strong. Suddenly, I feel stupid for my biggest worry being about a person who I’m close with, liking me.
I shake my head. Now, it’s not about me. That part ended after Natalie-san helped me organize my thoughts. I’m sure that she will also say something to Marcia-san soon, but I feel like it’s my turn now. I take a deep breath.
“Mhm.” She turns her face to me with a smaller smile than usual.
“I… I don’t know a lot about biological stuff from back on Earth, but… we are now in a fantasy world where magic exists. There are Priests, Shamans, Artificers, and many other magic users that could potentially be able to heal your condition, don’t you think? Or some very strong potion or elixir. Or maybe your body would even heal by itself after you reach a high Tier? We don’t know that, but it’s possible, right?”
I squeeze her hand with mine and try to smile kindly like sensei usually does. “I understand that you might have lost hope back there, but now, here, there are many new options to try out. I’m sure that you will—, no, we will, together, find a cure one day. And if we end up saving this world without stumbling onto it, we will just start another journey to find it. So, let’s do our best. We are friends, right?”
She stares at me for a moment before throwing her head to the back again and releasing a long sigh. A few seconds later, Marcia-san starts chuckling louder and louder. She moves her face back to us.
“You damned shortie.” She places her hand on top of my hair and begins violently brushing through it, making me giggle a bit. “That’s right. We are friends. All of us. Even though some of us might be jerks with a slightly inflated ego. But, that’s all we have. Let’s keep pushing forwards together.”
Marcia-san stops making a mess out of my hair, places her other hand on Natalie-san’s head and slowly stands up, leaving us on the ground. She then moves her hands to her hips and shows a wide smile.
“I would have never imagined that I would be getting comforted by you, Shino-chan. Thanks. Both of you.” She lightly taps us with her feet. “Now go. You gotta sleep. I’m so full of energy that I could keep watch for three days straight!”
We smile at each other with Natalie-san and stand up too. After bumping fists with everyone, our duo heads towards the tents.
“Oi, shortie!” Marcia-san calls out to me when we are at half-point. We turn around. “That includes that handsome teacher-boyfriend of yours too, so you better get him back to the squad soon!”
Natalie-san chuckles softly at me. “I told you. A couple.”
I quickly turn away and leave her with a hasty step, moving straight to my tent. Using Shadow Step, I flutter inside, through the small hole in the bottom of the zipper. I could practically feel my head steaming out of embarrassment.