City Series:Volume4a Chapter 8
Chapter 8: New Words (Special Moves of Each Character) – (12/19/1996)
Before sunrise, the early winter morning was indistinguishable from night.
Wind blew through the Koto region.
It was a wintery north wind.
The wind raced through the basin-like Koto plateau and cleansed the air of the night. As the process repeated, the air of the winter night became that of morning.
The wind blew from north to south, pushing the night air south.
That wind moved toward Nara Station to the south of the Koto region. It was a single-story train station, but it was large enough for limited express trains to stop at.
This early in the morning, the platform had only just opened for business. The lights were on, but no one was there.
The people were all gathered at another part of the station: the ticket gate.
About ten station attendants had gathered at the ticket gate despite the chilly north wind.
They wore the blue uniforms of the national railway, three of them were positioned inside the station, and the rest were placed outside. Based on the weapons they held, they were apparently making sure someone could not leave the station.
Their gazes were fixated on a man standing in front of the ticket gate.
The short man was dressed like a Buddhist monk.
He looked to be in his mid-thirties and he had strangely straightforward eyes.
Instead of a shaved head, he had short hair.
A red basketball bag hung from his shoulder and he wore basketball shoes on his feet.
Only his clothing and face looked anything like a monk.
He looked up at the three station attendants directly in front of him who were much older than him.
He looked straight ahead to the station master who had some white hair on his chin.
“I would rather not hit an old man. Move out of the way.”
Each word was well-enunciated and quickly spoken.
The station master cleared his throat and answered.
“Unfortunately, Iba-sama, a few organizations have – and I’m sorry to say this – requested that you be returned to Tokyo.”
“Organizations? You mean the Emergency Teachers and the Mountain?”
“I cannot say.”
“What will happen if I do pass through here?”
“Those waiting behind us will hit the emergency switch and the railroad police will rush here.”
“Why haven’t you already called the police?”
“If we do that, people will question the safety of our station. As a tourist-focused station, the police are an unwelcome presence.”
“A wise decision.”
The man named Iba stopped asking questions and the station master bowed toward him.
“I apologize, but if possible could you leave the Koto region and enter through a different route?”
“I cannot do that.”
“I came here for my own objective. I have done nothing wrong.” Iba then asked another question. “Will you let me through?”
None of them answered his straightforward question, so he said more.
“Then how about this? You detained me here, but I escaped before the police could arrive.”
“We can’t do that. The request we received contained a certain statement.”
“We were told we must not allow you through here and that you must pass through here.”
“That is contradictory.”
“Indeed it is.”
“Now, let me tell you what that statement you mentioned was.”
The station master fell silent at that.
The one who spoke instead was of course Iba.
“Did it say my presence carried the risk of another Kinki Riot?”
As soon as he said that, someone behind the station master rushed forward to attack Iba.
—Iba – Savate/Dodge Tech – Multi-Take – Jumping Dodge – Hit!
Iba evaded the attack with a tone of slight surprise.
A station attendant stood before him with headphones in his ears and a sword in his hand.
He was one of those who had been waiting behind the station master.
Even through his blue uniform, Iba could easily imagine the powerful body below.
He rested the sword on his left shoulder.
“Nijou Makoto. My Dance Combat is the Youmon Nijou style.”
“Nijou of Youmon? You were the Koto Chancellor nine years ago, weren’t you?”
The man named Nijou nodded at Iba’s comment. The square face below his hat contained a slight smile.
“I’ve heard the name Iba. …You were Osaka’s 1st Special Duty Officer who stood between Osaka Chancellor Kuki Udai and Tokyo Chancellor Nakamura Midori during the Kinki Riot.”
“I thought you’d gone missing in the Tochigi mountains along with the two Chancellors, but are you working as a Mountain instructor in the Tokyo region?”
“Ask any more and this will develop into a fight.”
Nijou smiled bitterly at Iba’s expressionless tone.
“That’s why I came out here in the first place.”
“So if you are going to call the railroad police anyway, you might as well do what you can before then?”
Iba glanced over at the station master.
“It may be a bit extreme, but a wise decision all the same.”
The station master did not reply and looked to Nijou.
“Don’t hold back.”
“He is already holding back a fair bit,” replied Iba.
Ibe held out a hand to stop Nijou from swinging the sword on his shoulder and stared straight at the man.
“You seem to have gone soft during your nine years away from the front lines. Your primary weapon is not the sword.”
—Nijou – Mind Tech – Take – Prevent Disturbance – Miss.
“…What makes you say that?”
“Your previous slash was shifted slightly to the right. Even if you are right handed, no swordsman would do that.”
Nijou used his empty right hand to pull a bullpup SMG from his pocket. It had the characteristic white plastic body of the Izumo Company and a larger caliber than one would ever imagine from how light it looked.
It fired normal bullets, but Nijou sang his Words as he fired them.
The words I send out carry the weight of metal
The body that receives them carries the pain of metal
It is all supported by the power of metal
The words and the attack both lasted only an instant.
—Nijou – Shot/Metal High Rhythm – Multi-Take – Ether Rapid Fire – Hit!
Ether enveloped the eight fired bullets and they transformed into long metal spears.
They would cause far more than injuries if they hit, but Iba did not use any kind of Tech.
He did not dodge.
As soon as Nijou yelled, the eight metal spears touched Iba’s body and were deflected with a metallic noise.
Iba ran while ignoring the confused voices coming from Nijou and the rest.
He ran straight forward.
He was moving right up to Nijou, but he still did not use a Tech.
Nijou pulled the trigger of his SMG.
He did not hesitate to fire straight ahead at Iba’s face.
—Nijou – Shot/Metal High Rhythm – Multi-Take – Ether Rapid Fire – Hit!
Metal spears were fired once more.
Iba only held his hand straight forward as he ran.
The metal spears were deflected every which way by that hand. They stabbed into the station platform or roof, but not even one stabbed into Iba.
Nijou threw aside his SMG and jumped backwards.
As Iba continued toward him, Nijou moved forward for his own attack. Jumping back had been a feint.
—Nijou – Sword/Dodge Tech – Multi-Take – Intercept – Hit!
But Iba slipped past Nijou’s sword and right up to the man.
Iba answered Nijou’s question through actions.
His right heel stomped on Nijou’s right knee.
With a dull sound, Nijou’s knee bent at an odd angle and his body collapsed.
“I must compliment your willingness to aim for the face. As a student, I would have lost.”
As Nijou collapsed, Iba thrust the heel of his palm up into the man’s jaw at a diagonal angle.
“But that was thirteen years ago.”
The blow landed and Nijou’s face turned upwards.
The battle was over.
Shoui came to shortly after sunrise.
The first sensation was that of lying down.
He opened his eyes to find a large white ceiling filling his blurry vision.
That was his first thought when he saw how large the ceiling was and he moved just his head to look around.
He was in a lobby. To his right was a counter built into the wall.
The counter was closed off by a curtain and a few labels were displayed on the wall.
…Reception, New Patients, Outpatient, and Accounting.
After reading those labels, Shoui finally realized where he was: Osaka Central Hospital.
He shot up in surprise.
…Why am I sleeping in the hospital lobby?
That question brought back the memories of the previous night.
He had met Saki on the rooftop and Tokyo’s Chancellor in the dorm.
Then he had fought that second boy.
But that final scene did not lead into this one.
…I faced him in a room…?
What had happened after that?
He could not answer.
His forehead briefly hurt, but he ignored it and looked around to check on the situation.
A student was lying in each of the sofas lined up in the lobby.
They were lying on the floor as well. A few were receiving an IV.
This was a war wound hospital.
Anyone who had experienced the Kinki Riot thirteen years before was familiar with that term.
Every hospital in Osaka had once worked at full capacity with the injured filing the lobby and hallways.
…I can’t believe this.
That thought brought more pain to his forehead.
He reflexively brought a hand to it and felt cloth there.
After that thought of confirmation, the pain receded.
He sighed, got up, and put on the shoes placed next to the sofa.
As he did, he remembered what he had wanted to do the previous night.
He had wanted to ask Tokyo Chancellor Nakamura Hisahide if he intended to attack Koto Chancellor Yuuki Yuuki.
That would have let him protect Yuuki, but he had not received an answer.
…This isn’t good.
He glanced at the clock and found it was not much past 7:30.
However, at least ten hours had passed since the previous night’s tragedy.
That was plenty of time for that boy to attack Koto.
…I need to find out.
A payphone was located by the mirror on the wall next to the counter.
He took his wallet from his uniform’s hidden pants pocket and pulled out his telephone card.
…I need to ask if Yuuki knows about this.
He picked up the receiver and searched his memories from two years ago to place the call.
He also had to ask if Tokyo’s Chancellor had visited Yuuki.
He had to ask if she knew if Tokyo’s Chancellor was after her as the Killing Holder.
He had to ask if she knew about what had happened at the student dorm the night before.
He had to ask about it all and tell her about it all.
A thought filled his chest during the short time it took him to dial the number.
…She isn’t going to ignore me about this, is she?
He recalled the night before last.
He recalled the term Killing Holder.
Killing Holder referred to someone who held the will to kill inside themselves and would not hesitate to kill.
Yuuki had earned that Urban Name during the two years he had been gone.
…I guess she isn’t going to cry and say she wants me to protect her anymore.
The phone rang.
He realized he was holding his breath.
There was something he wanted to ask.
He wanted to ask it far more then about the previous night or about Tokyo’s Chancellor.
…Is there any meaning in protecting Yuuki now?
He had wondered that ever since descending from the Mountain.
Asking that question threatened to destroy everything, even his promise on that night three years ago.
The phone continued to ring.
Unable to bear it any longer, he just about hung up, but then they answered.
“This is the Yuuki family of the Nandaimon Shrine. …Who is it?”
It was Yuuki’s voice.
Shoui adjusted his grip on the receiver.
He knew what he had to say first: a greeting.
…Chancy seeing you here.
He shook his head to erase that thought and gave a quick sigh.
He quietly cleared his throat, and…
“It’s Shoui,” he said.
Or so he thought he said.
However, Yuuki gave the following reply:
“…Who is it?”
For a brief moment, he had no idea what she was saying.
She sounded just like she was speaking to a complete stranger.
…Has she forgotten me?!
“It’s Shoui! Can’t you hear me!?”
Only after saying that did he realize why she had ignored him.
He had not actually spoken.
“Why aren’t you saying anything? Hurry it up already.”
He heard Yuuki’s voice and tried to say something, but…
Only a rough breath escaped his throat.
He quickly brought a hand to his throat and found bandages wrapped around it.
He thought back to the previous night while Yuuki fell silent.
He had fought Tokyo’s Chancellor…
…And took a kick to the throat.
His vocal cords had been crushed.
He could not speak.
“Who is this?” asked Yuuki.
Even his shout only created a slight disturbance in his breathing.
He could not get anything through to her.
He could not ask any of the questions he wanted to ask her.
The abnormal breath that should have been her name spilled from his throat.
A moment later, she hung up.
On reflex, he prepared to punch the wall.
—Shoui – Mind/Boxing Tech – Multi-Take – Restraint – Hit!
He stopped his fist right before it reached the white wall.
He dropped the receiver that only produced a dial tone.
He was breathing heavily.
He touched his throat and found the bandages there.
He grabbed the cloth in his fingers and quickly unraveled them.
After throwing the bandages and the compress to the floor, he tried to speak.
Nothing came out.
He could not form any words.
He truly was a Dis-Worder, just as his Urban Name said.
He gave a deep sigh and relaxed his entire body.
He looked around and saw the many students sleeping in the lobby.
…I can’t cause a commotion here.
He shoulders drooped and he placed a hand on the wall.
An unexpectedly cold sensation reached his fingers.
It felt like ice.
He turned back and saw another lobby where the wall should have been.
It was a mirror.
The large mirror on the wall reflected the lobby and Shoui.
The Shoui in the mirror was covered in bandages.
His coat and shirt had been removed and he wore bandages in place of that clothing.
He could see charms in a few of the gaps between bandages, so he must have undergone Tune healing.
Barely any pain or fatigue remained in his body.
He noticed a gray cloth sticking out of his front pants pocket.
It was his bandanna.
…Didn’t I feel that on my head when my forehead hurt?
He had felt some cloth on his forehead.
He checked the mirror again.
A bandage was wrapped around the forehead of the Shoui in the large mirror.
The center of the bandage had grown a light reddish brown, so some blood must have seeped out below it.
That was the location of the wound Nagoya Vice Chancellor Yamashita Gihei had given him two years before.
The previous night’s attack had caused that wound to bleed again.
He remembered everything when he looked at himself in the mirror.
After seeing the bruise on his throat and the blood on his forehead, the memories returned to him.
He had taken Tokyo Chancellor Nakamura Hisahide’s kick to the throat and then the boy’s heel to the head.
It was just like two years before, just with a heel instead of a slash.
The nightmare had replayed itself.
…So I lost.
That thought filled him with exhaustion.
Strength left his knees, so he pressed his shoulder against the shoulder in the mirror and crumbled to the floor.
It did not take long for him to fall asleep.
A thick curtain covered the room’s large window, cutting off the outside world.
It was a twin room on the twentieth floor of the Osaka Hilton hotel.
Tokyo chancellor Nakamura Hisahide and 1st Special Duty Officer Ikemaru Takahiro were staying in the room.
The warm red cloth created a solid barrier that completely hid those two boys from the outside world.
The concepts of human presences, gazes, outside light, noise, and time did not exist in that room.
The room primarily contained darkness.
The one light destroying that darkness was a TV displaying a dark forest.
That slight light gave a vague view of the room’s structure.
The TV and table could be seen as shadows.
Hisahide and Ikemaru sat at sofas surrounding the short table.
They were both looking to the dark sky, earthen ground, and forest shown on the TV screen.
It was night.
The structure of that darkness suddenly changed.
After a great shaking of the footage, the heavens and earth tilted on their side.
The camera had fallen over.
The forest footage showed a hand which lay unmoving on the ground.
Then a giant humanoid figure passed by in front of the camera. It was tall enough to surpass the trees behind it. It was over five meters tall.
A roar left the TV.
It was a bestial roar, released as the great beast passed by the camera.
“I feel bad for the collapsed cameraman.”
Legs appeared on the screen.
They were mechanical legs not wearing any shoes.
“Nanba Souichirou took prosthetic limbs after the battle that occurred prior to this footage,” said Ikemaru. “Aren’t you going to watch? The battle is starting.”
Nanba Souichirou walked across the screen wearing white burial clothes.
He walked to the back of the screen, where the giant form stood.
It resembled a human and was colored with red and black tiger stripes.
“An ogre, huh?” said Hisahide when he looked to the screen. “Kyoto’s Nandaimon apparently has the arm that was cut off here.”
“You went to see it? I can’t believe you…”
“Don’t lecture me. I was turned down by a girl, so that’s better than going to the movie theater alone, isn’t it?
“A girl…? Oh, the Koto Chancellor.” Ikemaru glanced over at Hisahide. “I thought my cousin was the only girl you would talk about.”
“To me, Takada is the same as you and Aoi. She’s more than just a girl. But, I’d heard rumors that the Koto Chancellor is a decent girl…and she’s the Killing Holder, so that’s a plus.”
“How is that a plus?”
“She’s killed someone, so she sounds stronger than me.”
“Are you really planning to do what your master told you to?”
“If I’m going to call myself the strongest, I have to be better than everyone else.”
“I hear your sister said that a lot too.”
“I live by those words. Always have.”
“Look at the screen. The ogre is starting to move.”
“Every time I see this I’m amazed by how much it moves. It’s like watching an anime with a budget in the hundreds of millions.”
A black form and a white form moved around on the screen.
Souichirou’s left arm was gone. He fought with his sword in his remaining right false arm.
Ikemaru crossed his arms.
“He really is intent on fighting. And after that ogre devoured the Lives of twelve people.”
“Don’t dodge the issue. It literally ate five people and not just their Lives.”
A large motion occurred onscreen.
The giant humanoid form swung its red right arm like a bear.
In that instant, Souichirou jumped in and severed the ogre’s right arm at the base.
“Here comes Kusanagi.”
Souichirou swung his sword in midair.
He released his Words: “Ah.”
A tearing blow struck the ogre.
It produced an explosion of wind.
The ogre as instantly knocked to the ground by the lightless and heatless explosion.
Destruction burst out, a gust of wind spread in every direction, and dust approached the camera.
After some static, there was a glimpse of the night sky and then nothing.
“Since he has Kusanagi, I doubt Osaka’s Chancellor will be the one using the strongest Rhythm,” said Hisahide as he watched the dusty screen.
“What do you mean?” asked Ikemaru.
“The Heavy Rhythm Flame High is neither a Wind Rhythm nor an Over Rhythm. Nanba Souichirou may be able to use any of the lower Wind or Over Rhythms, but there’s no chance he can use the Flame High.”
“You mean the skill needed to use Kusanagi isn’t enough to use the Flame High?”
“Even with his Modified Purple Electricity Style of Dance Combat, he only raises his power, not his skill. He’s only able to use Kusanagi.”
“He can ‘only’ use that incredible destructive power?”
“The Rhythms greater than Wind Rhythms are given names like Kusanagi, Yata, or Yakusa, but do you know what the Heavy Rhythm Flame High was called in the past?”
“…The great serpent of flames?”
“Yes. Kusanagi came from the body of Yamata…of the Kuzuryu after Susanoo defeated it.”
He smiled bitterly.
“In other words, Kusanagi was swallowed by a dragon once. It’s not that great a sword.”
Hisahide got up, grabbed the remote from the table, and turned off the TV.
Darkness filled their surroundings.
“I can’t defeat an ogre. My attack power is the same as that of a child who can’t use Rhythms.”
“But this conflict is only between people.”
“Exactly. And that makes me the strongest. When you know how it’s going to turn out, these battles are surprisingly boring.”
After that satisfied comment, Hisahide yawned.
“Takada hasn’t shown up, so I’m pretty bored. …And you’re not subordinate to me.”
“I am that girl’s servant.”
“How about you quit being her servant and be her butler? You and Aoi will be together eventually. Takada’s prophecy said so.”
A bitter laugh rang out, but it was impossible to tell which boy it came from in the darkness.
Ikemaru was the next to speak.
“You need to get to sleep. We can’t do anything if our leader is sleep deprived.”
“Don’t act like you didn’t stay up all night too. Just say you don’t want me interfering with your date.”
“It is not a date. We are shopping for a bra. A piece of the bike apparently cut the strap yesterday.”
“She doesn’t have any more with her?”
“She apparently forgot her clothes at Inuyama Station. I will be shopping for a bra and creating charms until time for today’s diversion.”
“I’m less important than a bra?”
“Not quite, no.”
Suddenly, an electronic tone came from the intercom.
“Takahiro? Are you there? How about some breakfast? Or do you want to sleep a little longer?”
Aoi’s somewhat scratchy voice came from the speaker.
“The bra is calling you, combat salaryman.”
“I prefer the term businessman. My Ikemaru family has served the emperor for generations.”
With that, Ikemaru stood up and left the room.
After the door opened and closed, only the darkness and Hisahide’s presence remained.
It did not take long for him to begin the deep breaths of sleep.
By the time the sun reached its late morning height, Osaka 1st Special Duty Officer Saki Seiji was in Nagoya.
He was not sightseeing.
He was visiting Nagoya’s student hospital with Nagoya Chancellor Yamashita Taeko.
Specifically, they were visiting a room on the top floor of the four story building.
The label on the door gave the names Ichiyama Yuusei and Kasumi Ryuuichi.
Both were weighty names to Saki because he had heard they were powerful individuals.
“We’re comin’ in.”
Taeko’s carefree voice completely erased Saki’s tension as he stepped into the hospital room.
The room was unexpectedly small.
It was utterly colorless except for the blue sky and the boxy Nagoya Tower visible out the window.
It was all white walls, white ceiling, white curtains, white beds, white blankets, and white bandages.
Ichiyama Yuusei’s large body was covered in bandages on the closer bed and he sat up to look at the two visitors.
He had swapped out his combat false arms for thinner ones meant for daily life.
He had bandages around his face at forehead, nose, and chin height.
The wrinkles in the bandages moved a little and a voice came out.
“I must apologize for my shameful appearance.”
“Don’t worry about it. Where’s Kasumi?”
“In that bed.”
A blanket was wrapped around a human form on the other bed.
It did not move in the slightest even though Nagoya 1st Special Duty Officer Kasumi Ryuuichi was inside.
“After losing, he’s too embarrassed to look you in the eye,” explained Ichiyama as he looked over at Kasumi. “Who is that?”
“I am Osaka 1st Special Duty Officer Saki Seiji. On my Chancellor’s orders, I am here to gather some information.”
—Saki – Mind Tech – Take – Decode Expression – Hit.
“Don’t worry. I have no intention of doing anything to Nagoya.”
“How can you prove that?”
Taeko answered that one.
“Because most of Osaka’s Chancellor’s Officers were beaten down too. By a single boy.”
“Silence filled the room and Ichiyama’s expression stiffened.
“But the news this morning didn’t say anything had happened in Osaka.”
“We’re just keeping it quiet. We have some influence over the media. …The incident was contained to the school after all.”
After saying that, Saki asked a question.
“Now, I’ve given you some information, so how about you return the favor?”
“Ichiyama, tell him.”
“Well…” Ichiyama thought for a moment and asked a question. “I’d like to ask one thing. After this boy attacked you, what did he do?”
“He fought for a bit and left once our security system was back up and running. We did get him on video and my men are analyzing the footage.”
“He left, did he? I guess machines wouldn’t be easy for him since they don’t have a will of their own.”
“…What do you mean by that?”
“Have you ever heard the term White Noise?”
Saki did not answer, so Taeko asked about it.
“Occasionally, there are people who have no Words of their own. No matter what Rhythm they listen to, it doesn’t affect them.”
“Hizaka is different,” replied Saki. “He doesn’t have any Words, but he can use pretty much any Rhythm, can’t he?”
“A White Noise master can’t even use Techs properly.”
“So like the ancients?”
“It’s just like how you can’t cook, boss. …Gwoh!”
“…I’m impressed. Not many people could throw a wall clock at their badly injured subordinate.”
“Shut up. A moron isn’t the same as a subordinate.” She glared at the boy as she continued. “In other words, it’s someone who’s senses aren’t suited toward learnin’ Rhythms or Techs?”
“It used to be that everyone was like that.”
“Why were those ancients so strong?”
“Since they didn’t know about Rhythms and Techs, they could attack and defend from outside those things,” explained Ichiyama while holding his head after being clocked with a clock.
Saki then told him what had happened the night before.
“Zenon’s paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise. And he is from Zenon City – Tokyo. I guess that’s how he came up with his theory to reach White Noise.”
“Can you defeat him?”
“I don’t know. Besides, we don’t even know what he’s…”
Saki trailed off, but Ichiyama continued for him with a serious expression.
“I can only imagine he’s after Ixolde. Nakamura Hisahide mentioned a bond with his sister.”
“His sister? Seriously?”
“He also said he would become king. …Sadly, that’s all the information I have.”
“I see,” said Saki.
“Have ya figured somethin’ out?” asked Taeko with a puzzled look.
“Well, the Chancellor’s Officers HQ acts as a second security building and, but the computers there were left a complete mess after he attacked last night. …It’s possible he hacked in to get some information on Ixolde.”
“Oh, in that case, he probably did. This could be trouble.”
Taeko nodded and Ichiyama asked her a question.
“But…you mentioned Hizaka Shoui just now, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, the moron’s come down from the Mountain. I was plannin’ to bring him to see ya too, but he was beat up during that attack last night.”
“I managed to reboot the security system while he was being taken out,” emotionlessly said Saki.
—Ichiyama – Mind Tech – Take – Decode Expression – Hit.
—Saki – Mind Tech – Take – Decode Expression – Hit.
Ichiyama smiled bitterly.
“And what happened to him?”
“Seven blunt blows across his body, two cracked ribs, and plenty of abrasions. He’s probably sleeping at the hospital right now.”
“I see… So did he get serious?”
Taeko nodded at Saki’s question.
“I doubt he did. He was probably on the receivin’ end the whole time.”
“…? What’s this about Hizaka getting serious?”
Ichiyama looked to Saki.
“I was in the West Japan Middle School Karate Championship three years ago. During the final round, I got the first hit in on my opponent’s side…and broke their ribs.”
“But that opponent made a miraculous comeback. Both of my false arms were destroyed and I was lying unconscious on the floor just a few minutes later.”
“Are you saying Hizaka did that?”
“He passed out and was taken to the hospital afterwards, though. …I haven’t met him since.”
“The calmer they seem, the scarier they are when they snap,” said Taeko as she stroked the Dragon Emperor’s shoulder. “But…”
“Shoui is probably weaker than he was then. On a fundamental level, both in strength and skill.”
“And so you don’t know if he would’ve won that battle yesterday?”
“He couldn’t have won!”
The blanket on the other bed gave a shout.
It was Kasumi.
“No matter how strong he is and even if he snaps, he can’t win as long as he’s using a Rhythm and Techs! Everything he does will be dodged and copied…so he’ll lose!”
“Boss, you wouldn’t be able to think of it like a normal fight if you’d fought them! Ichiyama! You lost to them too, so face reality! No one stands a chance!”
“Answer me, Ichiyama. Tell them he can’t win!”
Ichiyama said nothing and Kasumi roared back.
“Are you afraid to admit you lost!?”
Taeko’s sharp voice rang out.
—Taeko – Intimidation Tech – Take – Stop – Hit!
Kasumi’s voice stopped and silence fell.
The Dragon Emperor moved slowly so as not to interrupt that silence.
The giant metal hand lightly struck the blanket wrapped around Kasumi.
“Don’t worry. As long as I haven’t lost, Nagoya’s Chancellor’s Officers haven’t lost.”
“B-but the Student Council…is discussing whether Nagoya should surrender to Tokyo…”
“That is one way to respond, but what matters is that we survive, right?”
“Turbulent City – Nagoya is a city that desires to survive whether that means winnin’ or not. …I came here to find a method of survivin’. Not to fight and lose.”
“But if we’re going to survive, how are you going to fight, boss!?”
“Our opponent might be more powerful than me, but I have somethin’ that no one in Osaka or Tokyo has.”
“This left arm, the Eighth Dragon Emperor, and the information I can get here.”
“Work with me, Ryuuichi.”
The Dragon Emperor’s hand once more tapped the blanket surrounding Kasumi.
Soon, suppressed sobs escaped the blanket.
No one said a thing.
Saki Seiji scratched his head with the attaché case he held.
Time slowly moved toward noon.
By the time Shoui left the hospital, the sun was already approaching its afternoon angle.
…Today was the last day of the second term, but the closing ceremony is probably already over.
He was on a bus to the Chuo Ward where Osaka Prefectural #2 was, but he decided to get off in Naniwa Ward.
He walked toward Tennoji.
The Ousaka district of the Tennoji Ward was a relatively calm section of Osaka. As he walked along the hill there, he could already see the white walls of the Shitennoji that gave the Ward its name.
“That takes me back,” he muttered as a scratchy sigh.
He held his throat.
…When will my voice come back?
He had no answer to that question.
At some point, he realized he had passed Shitennoji and was walking south toward Tennoji Station.
He left a residential area and entered an open commercial district.
He slowly walked down the wide stone steps giving shape to the hill and touched the white walls on either side of the hill.
…After walking to Tennoji Park, I guess I’ll circle around back to the bus stop.
Just as he was silently making his plans, he heard screams.
He heard several male voices.
—Shoui – Hear Tech – Take – Determine Position – Hit.
It came from up ahead.
The slowly curving stone steps had a wall on either side, so he could not see very far ahead.
He gently continued down.
With that shout, some people ran up the stairs.
It was three male students.
None of them was wearing their uniform’s coat and they wore their own coats and jackets instead.
They had been skipping school.
They would normally use a harsh look to pick a fight with people, but those expressions were completely distorted at the moment.
—Shoui – Mind Tech – Take – Decode Expression – Hit.
…They’re afraid of something?
They did not answer him as they practically crawled up the stairs on all fours.
They did not so much as glance at Shoui because they were so focused on the area further down the stairs.
They seemed to be rushing, but they were not moving all that fast.
Shoui tilted his head and one of their shoulders ran into him.
This type of student would normally use that as a pretext for a fight, but the boy said nothing.
Also, the force of the impact splattered a few drops of a liquid on Shoui’s cheek.
He touched it with his hand and looked down to find his fingertips dyed slightly red.
He quickly turned around and saw quite a few bloodstains on the stone stairs.
He then noticed something odd about their clothing as they hurried up the stairs.
There were holes at the shoulders and thighs. They were giant bite marks.
Confused, Shoui looked forward.
He shifted his position to peer down the curving walls.
—Shoui – Sight Tech – Take – Locate Enemy – Hit.
He saw a figure standing next to the wall.
It was a human form.
A girl was pressing her back against that white wall.
The short girl had semi-long black hair and wore a stole.
She was breathing heavily with a look of fear on her face.
She was afraid.
Shoui could sense that emotion without even using a Tech, so he ran forward on reflex.
The enemy stood in front of her, hidden from view by the wall.
It was the animal which had left bite marks on those three boys.
He covered the distance in just five racing steps.
He ran in front of the wide-eyed girl, prepared to fight, and faced his opponent.
He looked in the same direction as the girl. But…
There was nothing there.
There was only a wall in front of him.
There was no animal and none of the monsters created by a disturbance in the Lives.
There was only empty space and a wall.
…Hm? That’s odd.
He glanced around, relaxed his stance, and looked back.
A girl stood by the wall.
Her eyes were unfocused and she was breathing heavily.
—Shoui – Mind Tech – Take – Shared Thoughts – Miss.
He could not tell what she was afraid of.
He could not speak and his Tech had failed, so he could only express himself through clumsy actions.
He looked her in the eye, grabbed her shoulders, and shook her a little.
She gasped and a set rhythm finally returned to her breathing.
He could tell she was holding her own body in her arms below the stole.
She wanted to eliminate her trembling.
Shoui breathed a sigh of relief and recalled the past. He recalled when Yuuki had visited him that night.
…Did Yuuki want to eliminate her trembling back then?
But he smiled bitterly when he realized this was not the time to be thinking that.
The girl’s breathing was still heavy, but it was not as erratic.
He looked around once more to make sure no one else was around and then nodded.
…I guess everything’s okay now.
And as soon as he thought that…
“I guess everything’s okay now.”
His own voice rang in his ears.
…Eh!? / “Eh!?”
He turned around in surprise and his confused voice reached his ears.
However, there was no one behind him.
…That’s strange. / “That’s strange.”
The voice came from his left, so he looked left.
There was no one there.
…What is going on? / “What is going on?”
This time, the voice came from his right.
In that instant, he used his reflexes to swipe at his right shoulder.
—Shoui – Boxing Tech – Take – Grab – Hit!
He grabbed something like a soft puffball in his left hand.
…An animal!? / “An animal!?”
The puffball in his left hand gave a shout.
At the same time…
“D-don’t treat him roughly! He’s taken a liking to you!”
He heard a girl’s voice and felt something press against his hands.
The girl who had looked so afraid was now reaching out her hands and gently pressing down on his hands.
The chill of the golden ring on her right hand stopped him.
She looked up at him with a somewhat pale but desperately pleading look.
However, he did notice one odd fact.
“Sorry if he scared you.”
The girl’s lips were still held somewhat tightly shut.
She was speaking with her mouth closed.
…Eh? / “Eh?”
His voice once more came from the puffball in his left hand and she spoke to him again without moving her mouth.
“Please let go of him. …If you don’t, I can’t guarantee what will happen.”
…O-okay. Understood. / “O-okay. Understood.”
He opened his left hand.
Immediately, a brown mass ran from his opened fingertips to his hand, arm, and shoulder.
Surprised and anticipating an impact, he swung his head to the side, but the brown color hopped up from his shoulder.
As the silhouette leaped over his head, he could tell it was a small fox or rat.
It was now directly speaking his thoughts for him.
It finally landed on his right shoulder.
He felt no impact and he turned just his head to see a creature of about fifteen centimeters.
Its body and face resembled a rat, but its coloration and tail were more like a fox.
“What…is this thing?”
The creature opened its mouth and spoke his thoughts.
“He is a Dog God.”
The answer to his question came in the girls’ voice.
She was still restraining his hands and she looked up at him with some slight fear in her eyes.
“Please do not be afraid. He has taken a liking to you.”
Her lips were not moving, but an identical creature was poking its head out from the neck of the stole placed over her shoulders.
He nimbly slipped out onto her shoulder and looked up at him.
The Dog God looked him in the eye from her shoulder.
“I’m sorry for surprising you…but it’s the first time he’s taken such a liking to someone else.”
As she was speaking, another Dog God fell from the bottom of her stole.
It scrambled to its feet on the stone steps and looked up.
A moment later, about five more fell from her stole.
“Hey, stop that. Quit playing around!”
The Dog God on her shoulder shouted for her as she reached for the ones that had fallen.
The six on the ground began running around her legs as if to tease her.
Once they appeared in front of her again, five of the six had vanished and just the one remained.
She grabbed the back of its neck and placed it inside her stole.
She sighed and Shoui was left all alone in his confusion.
“What is all this?” he asked via the Dog God on his shoulder.
She turned around in surprise when she heard his voice.
“It’s a type of the Dog God said to possess and control people. …Have you heard of them? They’re a type of monster created by a disturbance in the Lives.”
“This thing is?”
When Shoui looked to the Dog God on his shoulder, it looked him in the eye and tilted its head.
The girl looked to him and the animal.
“Sorry. I seem to have worried you.”
“Well, I saw you looking scared, so I thought something had happened.”
“…Did I look scared?”
“Yeah. So did those three who ran away.”
“Those three.” She hung her head. “Then they all survived?”
“Survived? So something did happen?”
“Taromaru… That’s this Dog God’s name, but he did that to them.”
The girl looked away from Shoui and the Dog God on his shoulder as she answered.
“I was lost and I tried to ask them for directions, but…well…”
The Dog God on her shoulder scratched at its head with its short front paw.
“They hit on her,” it quickly said.
She blushed and glared at the Dog God which spoke on her behalf.
“You didn’t have to say that!”
Shoui was shocked by this exchange that sounded like a one-man comedy routine, but then she seemed to recall the situation. The Dog God spoke in her voice.
“Ah.” Both of them bowed down. “Sorry. I forgot I was speaking to you.”
“No, no. Go right ahead.”
“Um, anyway, I didn’t like it and a lot happened…” She took a breath. “Taromaru can sense my will and turn into a beast. He’s usually so small, but he turns into a large beast.”
“Then…the bite marks on those guys were-…”
“S-sorry for surprising you…but, u-um, please forgive me! I was scared too!”
Shoui decided to trust the girl who was honestly letting the creature speak her feelings.
He understood that the Dog God on her shoulder would directly read her thoughts without hiding anything.
“Of course, being deceived by a girl this cute might not be so bad. …Ah, wait! I take it back!”
“Eh? What do you mean you take it back?”
Shoui chose his words carefully and had the Dog God speak them.
“Um, how should I put it? You don’t have to worry about whether I forgive you or not. If they were skipping school at this time of day, you know they’re up to no good.”
He crossed his arms and gave a serious nod.
But then he looked back to her.
She was once again pressing up against the wall to move away from him.
“Yeah, I guess you would do that. But I have a reason to be skipping school! I’m not like those guys! …I can’t believe this!”
“You don’t need to make any excuses. I trust you. I have to when Taromaru seems to like you so much.”
“Thanks. But, um, you really don’t have to worry about it. Those guys will be ashamed of running away, so they won’t accuse you of anything.”
“You being afraid is another issue entirely, though.”
“That’s true,” she agreed.
Shoui sighed and looked to the creature on his shoulder.
“Well, I got to see something neat, so I’m personally fine with all this. …More importantly, Miss Pet Owner.”
“Don’t call me that. That isn’t my Urban Nam. I’m Takada Seigi, the Fast Reader.”
“Then Takada-san, um, I’d like to give back this guy on my shoulder.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. A Dog God has seventy-two copies. Plus, Taromaru went to you because he’s taken a liking to you.”
“Th-that really isn’t the issue. I’d like head home…”
“Then take Taromaru with you. He went to you of his own free will, so there’s nothing I can do.”
“I can’t believe this… Are you sure this isn’t any trouble for you?”
“Then how about we make a deal?”
“What might that be?”
“I want you to give me directions.”
Seigi smiled at his confusion.
She hid her mouth with the right hand she wore a ring on and nonchalantly continued.
“I’m not used to Osaka, you see.”
Shoui did not have a single reason to refuse.
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