City Series:Volume4b Chapter 4

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Chapter 4: Rest (After Playing for an Extended Period of Time) – (12/20/1996)[edit]

Part 1[edit]

11:57 AM

The sun was at its peak in the sky.

There were no clouds.

There was no wind either.

Unusual for winter, warm sunlight shined down.

But that sunlight did not provide heat to all parts of Osaka evenly.

Most of the narrow land known as Osaka was occupied by cold buildings.

There was little land in the city that could be warmed by the sunlight.

The Tennoji Park in the Tennoji Ward was one of those few places.

The large park contained large flower beds, many trees, and brick pavement. Occasional bird calls and beast cries could be heard from the Tennoji Zoo inside the park.

It was the carefree time of midday on a weekday.

The flow of time seemed slower than usual.

Few people walked through the park and none of them were in a hurry.

Some of those were casually-dressed boys and girls.

The schools were on winter break. Freed from the bonds of time, they were able to walk slowly.

The occasional bird calls from the zoo were the only sound supporting that pace.

They all slowly but surely made their way to their destinations.

But there was one person who had come to a stop inside the large park.

She sat on the edge of a large round flower bed in the center of the park.

She was Aoi Hijiri.

She had a shirt wrapped around the waist of her jeans and she wore a white blouson. The outfit combined with her short hair gave her an androgynous look.

She sat on the brick flower bed and ate a somewhat late lunch while facing the sun.

She was eating some takoyaki she had bought at a stand at the park entrance.

She slowly but precisely took the nine takoyaki from their paper box and tossed them into her mouth while her gaze was fixated on the ground at her feet.

A newspaper sold on the roadside was opened there.

It was a sports newspaper that sold itself on the entertaining gossip articles.

“The rumors were right. This newspaper really did change its name from the Tokyo version…”

City v04b 139.jpg

Hijiri moved her foot to skillfully turn the page with the toe of her sneaker.

She kicked past the TV section as she read it in reverse.

She was looking for an article on the previous night.

Hijiri had no idea what had happened since she had escaped the Osaka Hilton and spent the night in a business hotel.

If things had gone as planned, the newspaper would probably mention that Nakamura had escaped to Nagoya.

“…”

She skipped the entertainment section and the horse racing information, but she stopped on the financial section.

While eating two takoyaki, she read the fashion information, glanced at the actions of an Osaka corporate group, and turned the page again.

Then her expression stiffened somewhat.

Not a single article mentioned the previous night’s incident.

Not a word about the Osaka Hilton turning into a flower, about Osaka Prefectural #2 collapsing, or about Nakamura.

Her hand stopped with the toothpick stabbed inside a takoyaki and she kicked at the newspaper again.

She reached page three.

She passed by it after only glancing across the page.

There was nothing there.

She looked at page two across from it.

She glanced across it and prepared to turn to the final page.

“…Oh?”

But her foot stopped.

On the edge of page two was a notice about the temporary suspension of a bullet train.

The bullet train route from Osaka to Nagoya would be stopped from the first train early in the morning to the third train in the afternoon.

The only reason given was a train car malfunction.

There were no related articles, but…

“Come to think of it, there was a weird story earlier…”

She used her toes to flip back a few pages at once.

In the financial section, one piece of information about a corporation had caught her attention.

“The Houzenji Group’s special forces had a live-fire exercise late at night, hm?”

The Houzenji Group was a corporate group that had been under the protection of Nanba Souichirou’s Modified Purple Electricity Style.

An article mentioned that the group’s corporate combat special forces had held a live-fire exercise in Osaka Plain the night before.

No matter the age, corporations would always secretly fight over their patents and technology. These exercises were daily events and normal people and students like Hijiri would likely end up dragged into those conflicts if not for the academy rules.

“But why did a simple exercise make the news?”

Hijiri looked down at the article that expressed some questions about this exercise.

Most of the exercise had occurred on national land without receiving permission from the appropriate government departments, so the article simply gossiped about a possible true meaning behind the actions.

The author ultimately concluded that they did not know the truth but that it might have been a way of disguising a search for Hideyoshi’s buried treasure or making contact with aliens.

Hijiri, however, sighed.

She stuffed all four remaining takoyaki into her mouth.

And she swallowed them.

Five seconds passed.

After another sigh, she picked up the newspaper and looked at page one, which she had been unable to see while it was lying on the ground.

The headline article was about a professional baseball winter camp.

There was no record of their rampage from the night before.

But Hijiri was no longer frowning.

She quickly flipped through the newspaper while moving her lips.

“One, two, three,” she counted as she flipped through.

When she reached the end, her count had stopped at 32.

She closed the newspaper and looked up into the sky.

“Including the five text ones and the seven 1/8 size ones, that’s how many ads the Houzenji Group has in here…”

To have their ads printed, they had to be paying the newspaper.

Newspapers of course made money by publishing articles to bring in readers, but they more directly made money through advertisements.

Most of this newspaper’s direct income was paid by the Houzenji Group.

“They bought up the page, did they? If the other newspapers are the same, it must have cost quite a lot.”

“Does that frighten you?”

A man’s voice suddenly reached her.

Hijiri turned around to see a man dressed like a monk standing in front of the flower bed on her left.

He was Iba Masaaki.

He too was holding a rolled-up newspaper in his hand.

“I overlooked the fact that the Osaka Chancellor’s patron is from the Houzenji family. I never thought the wealthiest merchant in Sakai would be so fixated on a child who merely slayed an ogre.”

“Looks like they’ve made a really big move here. Is that newspaper the same?”

Iba frowned slightly and nodded.

“It mentions the collapse of Ixolde and the damage from the destroyed hotel, but it blames those on a localized Clockquake, ridiculously enough. The victims will apparently receive disaster relief from the anti-Godquake fund set up after last year’s Godquake – that battle between gods – in Kobe.”

“That was fast…”

“That’s what happens with the Houzenji family, Osaka’s wealthiest merchant group. They intend to conceal Osaka’s defeat.”

“There’s no helping that. The Kusanagi Rhythm works on the emperor, so the Kinki-Kansai corporate group that includes Kyoto probably also wants to hide that it lost.”

“Yes, they cannot afford a loss. …Most likely, this was the doing of Houzenji’s Iwai Sanzou.”

“Do you know him?”

“Yes, although I doubt he remembers me.”

Hijiri did not comment on the emphasis Iba put on the word “me”.

She asked about something else instead.

“Do you know where that idiot Nakamura is, Iba?”

“He did not arrive in Nagoya.”

“…What?”

Hijiri rolled up her newspaper.

“What do you mean? Don’t tell me the Koto Chancellor-…”

“The Koto Chancellor was out on patrol in the city today, but Nakamura did not lose to her.”

“Then…”

“The bullet train they were riding derailed in Osaka Plain and the remaining front car stopped at Kyoto Station instead of continuing on to Nagoya. But…”

He took a breath.

“Nothing remained inside the cars besides a handful of ashes.”

Hijiri remained seated and silent.

She slowly set the newspaper down on the edge of the flower bed and rested her chin on her hand with a serious look on her face.

A few seconds passed.

Then she looked over at Iba.

He looked her in the eye and spoke with no apparent expression.

“Takada is dead.”

“Are you certain? Those ashes could have belonged to the Osaka boy or Nagoya’s Chancell-…”

“Nakamura is not in Nagoya.”

Iba’s short and powerful statement seemed to be all the reason he needed.

Hijiri looked away from him and down at her own feet.

Iba’s voice reached her from above.

“What do you think Nakamura will do?”

“…Wouldn’t you know that better than me?”

“Why?”

“What did you do when someone important to you died?”

Iba fell silent and Hijiri did not look in his direction.

She kept her head lowered as she quietly asked herself a question.

She kept a carefree tone throughout.

“Now, what will I do?”

She smiled bitterly.

“So this is what it’s like, Seigi, Takahiro.”

“What what is like?”

“Being alone.”

With that, Hijiri stood up.

And she faced Iba.

“I don’t like the possibility of Seigi having died, but Nakamura is a problem.”

“What will you do?”

“For now, do what I was doing before: search for the winter cherry blossoms.”

“Those cherry blossoms are the beginning of misfortune. Will you still search for them?”

“What greater misfortune could I find? I never thought the destruction of an entire hotel would be played off as no big deal.”

“The Osaka Hilton, Prefectural #2, and the New Yodo River Bridge are already being repaired. …By repair companies belonging to the Houzenji Group.”

“So a red flower did not bloom in the darkness.”

Hijiri’s bitter smile deepened and a manly smile appeared on her lips.

“Iba, if you have any hints about the cherry blossoms, please tell me. If they bring misfortune, then I intend to start with them as I find a number of things.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes,” she confirmed.

Iba fell silent for a few seconds.

Then he crossed his arms and gave Hijiri an upturned glance.

But that too only lasted a moment.

He then practically spat out his next words.

“Those cherry blossoms are born from battle.”

“Battle?”

“Yes, that’s right.” He nodded. “Nakamura Midori and Kuki Udai had interacted in the past, but then they became enemies. When they fought in a certain location, cherry blossoms were seen at the end of the battle.”

“…”

“Your parents must have been the same.”

“My parents never told me much about that kind of thing.”

“But those cherry blossoms are born from battle. …Your father, mother, or both of them must have seen them at the end of a battle.”

Hijiri suppressed a bitter smile at that.

A possibility came to mind.

Her father had abducted her mother from Osaka and returned to Tokyo with her.

It would not be surprising if a battle had occurred then.

What effect had those cherry blossoms had on the two of them?

“…”

Iba would not tell Hijiri that.

And Hijiri chose not to ask.

But she did ask something else.

“What do you intend to do now?”

“Bear all responsibility by fulfilling the prophecy.”

“For who?”

“For those who have died.”

With that brief answer, he looked Hijiri straight in the eyes.

There was no intimidation or questioning in his eyes. It was a powerless gaze.

And he spoke with no hesitation in his voice.

“Aoi, promise me one thing about what is to come.”

“?”

“No matter what might happen, please stay on Nakamura’s side.”

“Eh?” Hijiri lowered her head. “S-sure, that’s fine. But why?”

Iba turned around without answering.

He began to walk away.

Just as Hijiri prepared to call out to him, his voice stopped her.

He uttered some Words.

Companions vanish

Even he vanishes

She too vanishes

A hand that can hold onto no one remains
A hand that fosters destruction remains
That hand pleads for no one to leave

They were Iba’s own Words.

Hijiri simply listened to the low rhythm of the quiet Words.

The back of the monk’s outfit slowly, slowly vanished into the few people walking through the park.

“Iba…”

She could not ask where he was going.

The wind blew through.

It was a quick gust of the north wind that instantly swept away the midday warmth.

“!”

Hijiri covered her face against the dry dust carried by the wind.

She faced forward while surrounded by quiet cries of surprise about the wind.

Iba was already gone.

She could no longer see his back, as if he had been swept away by that wind.

Part 2[edit]

2:00 PM

The repairs to Osaka Prefectural #2 would take about two weeks.

Even with workers sent out from the prefectural health department, a repair company from the Houzenji Group, and the Kansai General Student Onmyouji Unit, restoring a three kilometer square of collapsed earth was no small task.

The work was officially said to be the measurement and repairs for a localized Clockquake experiment, but everyone in Osaka knew the truth.

The people avoided that truth because it would not benefit them in any way.

As long as they received large Godquake insurance payouts, rumors would spread, but no one would demand a public announcement of the truth. And even if some smaller voices demanded it, they would fade in time.

Various parts of Osaka were repaired within that almost dependent mood of utilitarianism.

It was lucky that winter break had begun for the schools.

With no classes, it did not matter if the school did not function.

The supplementary and extra lessons for the second term were held at Osaka Prefectural #1 and most of the dorm students temporarily moved to the dorms of other schools or the residences of local wealthy families.

And the wealthy family that took in the greatest number of Prefectural #2 dorm students was the Nanba family.

A large green space was located behind the Naniwa Ward Office.

That was the Nanba family residence.

Two buildings were hidden in the woods surrounded by 200 meter walls.

One was a single-story wooden house and the other was a five-story reinforced concrete dojo for the Modified Purple Electricity Style.

The dojo cut through the wall to border the road and sporadic sounds of bamboo swords could be heard from within.

The first afternoon general lesson was underway.

The retired, housewives with too much time on their hands, college students without a class that afternoon, and workers sent by their company as a form of training were all sparring.

Outside the dojo, the colliding bamboo swords blended together with the rustling of the leaves in the wind.

It was a horribly pure and relaxed sound.

And that sound was audible to the single person in the open-air training ground behind the dojo building.

It was Shoui.

He had removed his coat as he moved his body in the open-air training ground.

He was repeating the simple action known as a push-up.

But his technique was different from normal.

It came down to how he positioned his hands.

The palms were normally pressed against the ground, but he pressed his clenched fists against the ground.

This technique was known as knuckle push-ups.

It required grip strength, wrist strength, and the balance to extend one’s arms perfectly straight.

A normal person would be unable to do 30 of them, but Shoui’s breaths carried a count that had passed 300.

His voice was not yet leaving his throat, but the sound of his breaths provided the count.

As his body moved up and down, his breaths passed 400 and quickly reached 500. Then he maintained the same position but brought his right hand behind his back.

He used just his left arm to continue the knuckle push-ups.

His pace did not drop.

The muscles on his back and shoulders slowly moved without end below his inner suit.

By the time he passed 300, white steam rose into the winter air from his shoulders.

He was beginning to sweat.

That meant his body had only now begun to activate.

He reached 500.

Without taking a break, he placed his right fist on the ground and placed his left hand behind his back.

He began knuckle push-ups with just his right arm.

His pace still did not drop.

In fact, his slow movements were beginning to grow faster.

He passed 200.

As his movements evolved, the steam rose from his back as well as his shoulders.

His body was activating. The back and shoulder muscles pushed up at the inner suit and moved like a separate creature.

Shoui’s body stored a power that looked ready to begin moving and explode out at any moment.

It was a great strength.

The monotonous exercise restrained that power.

He passed 300.

The strength and speed building up inside him had already grown to nearly twice their original size.

But Shoui gradually stored that power inside himself.

Shoui – Hear Tech – Auto-Take – Listen – Hit.

His ears listened to the sporadic sounds of bamboo swords coming from within the dojo building.

The rustling of the trees blended together with them.

He let the sounds wash over his body as he continued his exercise in silence.

He passed 400.

More and more strength built up inside him.

It was a nostalgic feeling.

At Nandaimon, he had done this exercise in front of the detached room he had used.

Yuuki had often stood by his side and counted his knuckle push-ups and sit-ups.

Two years ago, 200 was plenty.

He reached 500.

He stopped moving and stopped breathing too.

He brought his left hand forward and placed both fists on the ground.

He spread his fingers.

He dug his fingers into the ground like an animal’s claws to raise the palms from the ground.

In that position, he used his toes to kick lightly at the ground.

His legs lifted into the air.

He did not stop there. He bent his arms to control his balance with his legs pointed toward heaven.

He performed a handstand.

His fingers supported his entire body.

But that alone was insufficient.

Once 30 seconds passed, he bent both middle fingers.

His body was supported by a total of eight fingers now.

After another 30 seconds, he bent both index fingers.

After 30 seconds, he bent the ring fingers.

He was down to a total of four fingers.

But his body remained motionless in its handstand.

His grip strength and overall balance supported everything. This was a trick one could not pull off with the unnecessary muscles gained through bodybuilding.

He slowly removed his pinkies.

He supported his body with only the thumbs sticking out from his clenched fists.

30 seconds passed.

“…”

Shoui deeply bent his arms for just a moment, extended them again, and used that force to jump in the direction his back was facing.

He made a perfect half-flip and landed on his feet.

He then faced the wooden training post on the east side of the open-air training ground.

Some faint exhaustion colored his face as he stared at it.

He had only just taken a short break after finishing some questioning from Saki which had lasted until the afternoon.

The slight scars from his injuries the night before had not had a chance to heal and his skin was worn out.

But he stood up.

He said nothing.

He did not move.

He was simply alone.

He continued to stare at the training posts with no apparent expression on his face.

His hair blew in the afternoon wind.

The branches and leaves shook and rustled in the woods.

Several bamboo swords audibly collided.

Shoui moved his hand as if drawn by that sound.

He opened his right fist and raised it for just a moment.

The object in his fist flew straight up.

It was a small gold light.

It was a ring.

The Dog God had given it to him the night before.

It was the one Takada had worn.

The light rose to Shoui’s eye level and then dropped back down.

And the wind blew.

The tree branches shook and the sounds of bamboo swords seemed to combine into a single spray.

On that signal, Shoui’s hand caught the falling gold light and closed into a fist.

From there, he carried it straight forward. His gauntleted fist struck the training post.

It was a quick movement.

Shoui – Boxing Tech – Take – Straight Fist – Hit.

The sound of the strike rang out.

It was a loud sound.

A water bird flew from the large lake located between the open-air training ground and the house.

Needless to say, Shoui paid it no heed.

And he did not stop moving there.

He pulled his arm back and threw a somewhat exaggerated punch.

Shoui – Boxing Tech – Take – Straight Fist – Hit.

It was a highly telegraphed strike that he would never use in an actual battle. Due to his lack of warming up, it was a somewhat stiff motion.

But it worked just fine against a training post.

It was a strike that allowed him to feel his own strength.

He threw a right.

Shoui – Boxing Tech – Take – Straight Fist – Hit.

He threw a left.

Shoui – Boxing Tech – Take – Straight Fist – Hit.

The sounds of strikes never ended.

The wind blew.

The woods rustled.

The bamboo swords crashed together.

And pushed on by those sounds, the audible blows continued and accelerated.

He did not cry out as he threw his punches. He could not speak with the bandages around his throat.

He did not have a Dog God.

He did not even have a Rhythm.

The Dis-Worder boy silently punched the unspeaking training post.

He moved quickly.

The continuous sounds rang loud through his steel gauntlets.

It was fast, but it had not been enough.

“…!”

Shoui – Savate/Gym/Boxing Tech – Multi-Take – Combination – Hit.

He added in some footwork for a barrage of blows.

He used his entire body to strike the training post from the left and right.

He stepped in close, spun on his heel, shifted his center of gravity, rotated his hips, put his shoulders into the blows, and timed the extension of his arms.

By combining all of those things, he kept up the blows as a series of motions.

The actions could be called the ultimate in anaerobic exercise.

But this was not enough either.

Shoui thought as he moved.

He thought about how to overcome his opponents.

His opponents were Tokyo Chancellor Nakamura Hisahide and Koto Chancellor Yuuki Yuuki.

Both of them were Killing Holders.

He tried and failed to imagine himself surpassing them.

Something was missing. Something very, very important.

Until the night before, he had had it in some form.

The desire to grow stronger so I can fight and protect her.

That desire was missing.

That driving force of his will had disappeared after Yuuki had rejected it the night before.

She had rejected him by telling him he did not need to fight.

“…”

Shoui – Savate/Gym/Boxing Tech – Multi-Take – Combination – Hit.

The sounds of the blows and the impacts returning through his arms briefly blew away his indecision.

He kept up the barrage.

He threw the punches to determine his direction.

With each audible hit, thought filled his mind, his indecision vanished, and only pure imagination remained.

But even in that faint remnant of imagination, Shoui could not defeat his opponents.

He had felt undeniable fear on that bullet train.

He had feared the Flame High’s fire.

Flames could be seen as a manifestation of death and destruction.

But he had overreacted to the fire burning Takada.

If he had not feared the Flame High’s fire, he might have been able to save her.

Shoui had no Words and was familiar with all sorts of Techs and Over Rhythms, so he could of course use healing Rhythms.

But his instinctual fear had overpowered the desire to use one to save her.

Why is that?

He did not know.

Shoui – Savate/Gym/Boxing Tech – Multi-Take – Combination – Hit.

What did Yamashita Gihei think when he faced Yuuki and me back then?

In his sorrow over Nagoya’s future and his desire to escape the bonds of his family, that boy had fought Yuuki and been killed.

When he had faced Yuuki, had he not feared the power of death and destruction?

Had his mind only contained images of himself defeating Yuuki?

“…Kh.”

A breath escaped.

Shoui had been continuing the barrage without breathing so far.

Shoui – Boxing Tech – Take – Straight Fist – Hit.

He released a single punch from a short distance and breathed lightly enough to maintain the tension in his body.

He drew the oxygen into his gut and moved.

He made no preparation whatsoever, but he simply punched to further his thoughts.

Shoui – Boxing Tech – Take – Straight Fist – Hit.

Shoui – Boxing Tech – Take – Straight Fist – Hit.
Shoui – Boxing Tech – Take – Straight Fist – Hit.

Thoughts floated up in his mind:

The promise on that night three years ago.

A certain incident two years ago.

His ultimately wasted training over the two years since.

His defeat by and fear of Nakamura.

The truth of his training according to Iba.

Takada’s death.

Yuuki’s rejection.

All of those grew into one large doubt which was answered by his fists.

Shoui – Savate/Gym/Boxing Tech – Multi-Take – Combination – Hit.

His question grew clear.

How can I protect her?

If he could not fight and win, he could not protect her.

But he could not imagine himself defeating them.

And yet if he could not defeat those Killing Holders, he could not protect her.

Yuuki Yuuki had killed Yamashita Gihei who had opposed her and Nakamura Hisahide had killed Takada Seigi who should have become his queen.

Shoui recalled Nakamura’s cry when Takada had burned away and vanished.

It had been a powerful cry.

It was a cry only made by someone who had experienced someone’s death.

Shoui could not do that.

He was missing something.

Shoui – Savate/Gym/Boxing Tech – Multi-Take – Combination – Hit.

He had to regain what he had lost.

Shoui – Savate/Gym/Boxing Tech – Multi-Take – Combination – Hit.

He suddenly realized something.

I’m still thinking about this even after she rejected me…

If he had given up on it all after the rejection, he would not be out here agonizing over it all while punching the training post.

But he was moving now with no relation to his promise or his past.

He remembered Takada’s words.

“The more indecisive someone is, the stronger their ultimate answer will be. And the people who make powerful decisions are quite indecisive.”

In that case…

Am I still trapped in indecision?

The rejection, his fear, and the death of a girl had not led him to a decision.

And his body desired to move.

At the very least, the will of his body had not come to a stop.

“…”

He smiled bitterly.

He stopped his punching.

He stopped his feet.

He took a breath.

He looked up.

He saw the sky.

It was a vast winter sky.

The sun grew pale as it started to sink and the wind whipped through the sky.

The wind was blowing.

The woods were rustling.

He could hear the bamboo swords.

And then he heard something like a dog howling in the distance.

Shoui – Hear Tech – Take – Listen – Hit.

It was not a dog.

It was some other animal.

It had come from the house.

What is that?

The animal did not howl again, leaving him with no answer.

“…”

He felt there was more to that, but even greater indecision stopped him from pursuing it.

He nodded.

He remained silent, but his body resumed moving.

He stretched his hand behind him to strike the training post and took a deep breath.

Then he truly began moving once more.

And he tried to figure out a way to catch up to those two.

Part 3[edit]

4:12 PM

By the time the afternoon north wind began to wash across the Koto region’s fields, Koto Chancellor Yuuki Yuuki had just finished climbing the stairs to the Nandaimon Shrine.

She looked around with Housei in her right hand and a small paper bag in her left.

“…”

In the setting sun, the leaves of the shrine’s pine trees rustled coolly in the wind and some of the weak brown leaves fell to the ground.

With the green breath of life gone, the dried leaves were only trash.

Cleaning the shrine of such filth was Senga’s job.

But Senga was nowhere to be seen at the moment.

Instead, someone else stood in the shrine.

It was an elderly man in a suit.

He slowly walked toward Yuuki from the house behind the sanctuary.

He approached with the sound of gravel underfoot.

Yuuki – Person Tech – Take – Identify Person – Hit.

“Houzenji Head Butler Iwai Sanzou…”

The man stopped when Yuuki spoke that name.

They were ten meters apart.

They faced each other with too much room between them to attack in a single beat.

Yuuki – Mind Tech – Take – Decode Expression – Hit.

Her Tech succeeded, but she still could not read his expression.

Iwai’s gentle smile was so tense that not even Yuuki’s Tech could read through it.

With his many years of experience, he did not even need to focus to guard against that sort of search.

It was an expressionless-looking smile and it moved only slightly as he spoke.

“Oh, if it isn’t the Koto Guardian. It has been far too long. Three years, is it?”

“Not since the ceremony giving me the title of guardian. …Why are you here today?”

“To discuss old times.”

His casual answer put a derisive smile on Yuuki’s face.

“Are you sure you didn’t come with some treats as you gave a report on last night’s incident?”

“Well, I did bring some treats. But…”

Iwai Sanzou made a show of tilting his head.

“What is this incident you speak of?”

“…I see. So that’s how it’s going to be.”

“Is something the matter?”

“You’re the head butler now, but it seems you have just as much influence as 13 years ago.” Yuuki aimed Housei toward Iwai. “You aren’t planning to use your corporate power to intervene and take control of everything like you did during the Kinki Riot, are you?”

“You seem quite mistaken. I am no more than a loyal servant of the Houzenji family.”

“Did it slip your mind that you used to be the commander of the Houzenji Group’s special forces?”

“…”

“You and my grandmother are probably the only adults who were involved in the Kinki Riot to the end and know everything that happened.”

“Are you all that different, Koto Guardian? You too know the secret of the Rhythms and Techs.” He took a breath. “I heard from Senga-sama why you are a Killing Holder. …And if you know why Rhythms and Techs exist in this world, then I suppose that works.”

“You talk too much.”

Just as Yuuki said that, Senga’s voice cut in.

“Stop it, Yuuki.”

Senga stood in front of the house’s sliding door in her usual white shirt.

She grabbed the broom leaning against the wall and walked toward the other two.

The gravel crunched under her feet as she did so.

“That man and his corporation are no fools. They will not do the same thing they did during the Kinki Riot.”

“…Really?”

“Besides, Yuuki, think about it. It is because Houzenji covered up last night’s incident that you can remain the only Killing Holder.”

If word of Takada’s death got out, Nakamura would also be given that name.

It was a side effect of the press restrictions that that had not happened.

“For the time being, their corporate group is not your enemy. Please make no mistake here.”

Iwai slowly walked forward, as if encouraged by Senga’s worried-sounding words.

He made a wide circle around Yuuki to keep his distance while also lining up next to her.

Senga stopped in the same position he had been in.

“You should leave, Iwai. You have a lot of preparations to make, don’t you?”

“Yes, I must prepare to protect Osaka.”

The elderly man bent his straight back in a bow.

“I will be going then,” he said as he turned his back.

And he began to walk.

Yuuki stared at his back.

Yuuki – Mind Tech – Take – Emit Killer Intent – Hit.

Pure tension came from Yuuki’s biological left eye.

The wind blew and the pine leaves rustled or fell.

But Iwai Sanzou did not look back.

His pace did not falter as he descended the stairs and disappeared from view.

Her killer intent had to have reached him, but he had ignored it.

“…”

Yuuki frowned and looked away before looking to Senga who was smiling bitterly a short distance away.

“What’s so funny?”

“It’s no use, Yuuki. Honestly… He and I are very different from the people we were in the old stories I tell.”

“Isn’t he the one who cornered Kuki Udai and Nakamura Midori when you tried to protect them? Have you forgotten your grudge over that interference?”

“What good is causing more deaths?” muttered Senga as she approached Yuuki. “You know why I set aside the spear, don’t you? He is the same.”

Yuuki said nothing.

She held her tongue and hid her expression, so Senga sighed.

“You really are serious when it comes to yourself.”

Then Senga’s eyebrows moved.

Her eyes turned toward Yuuki’s left side.

Yuuki held a small paper bag there.

“What is that?” asked Senga. “Ingredients for dinner?”

“No.”

“Stationery.”

“No.”

“Medicine?”

“No.”

“Then what is it?”

“Something I will need once I leave my past.”

“Eh?”

Yuuki responded to that confused syllable.

“It’s something I will need to ensure I don’t give up.”

She held the paper bag in her arms, and…

Yuuki – Hear Tech – Auto-Take – Listen – Hit.

She heard a quiet, barely-audible sound behind her.

She turned around in surprise at the small presence she had failed to notice until now.

Yuuki – Sight Tech – Take – Spot – Hit.

Something strange grew up from the tall grass that separated the hill’s slope from the shrine grounds.

It looked like a light brown calligraphy brush with a white tip.

It was an animal tail.

“…?”

When Yuuki took a step back and readied Housei, it half-frantically ran out from the grass.

The 15 cm creature looked something like a fox and something like a mouse.

It stood on its hind legs and shook its long tail as it looked up at Yuuki.

“Oh…” Senga opened her narrow eyes. “How unusual. That’s a Dog God.”

“A Dog God?”

“They are a relatively docile type of spiritual beast. …I wonder why it’s here.”

“Maybe it was drawn here by something in the sanctuary.”

“No, I wouldn’t think so. Dog Gods are known for holding an interest in people.”

“Hm.”

Yuuki nodded and took a step forward to approach the Dog God.

The Dog God jumped back the exact distance of her step forward.

With a rustling from the grass, she saw just its tail sticking up again.

Yuuki looked to Senga.

Senga looked to Yuuki.

They both looked back to the tail in the grass once more.

The tail did not flee.

“…?”

Yuuki took a step back.

Again, the Dog God ran forward to fill exactly the distance of her step.

The small animal looked up at Yuuki from a distance of approximately five meters.

Yuuki looked at the Dog God.

The human and animal motionlessly waited for the other to do something.

Senga smiled bitterly as she watched.

“Reminds me a lot of Shoui and you right now.”

“Hizaka Shoui…”

Emotion briefly filled her eyes as she muttered that name.

She looked at the Dog God with slight surprise in her eyes.

“Come to think of it, Hizaka Shoui had an animal like this with him yesterday…”

“Oh? Perhaps it came to visit you.”

“I seriously doubt it.”

Yuuki looked away from the Dog God, but she sounded more intrigued by the idea than the words themselves let on.

She began walking toward the house.

Senga quickly called out to her.

“Yuuki, what about the animal?”

“You said they’re docile, right? Then it doesn’t matter.”

She listened to the quiet footsteps following her.

It stepped much more lightly on the gravel than a human.

These were the footsteps of a Dog God that may have been accompanying Hizaka Shoui.

“…”

Yuuki embraced the paper bag as she walked.

The wind blew and her hair fluttered.

That wind gave a chill to the growing colors of evening.

Part 4[edit]

6:23 PM

The sun had set and night had been around for some time.

There was no moon in the sky and the stars alone were beginning to twinkle.

There was one sort of place far more suited to seeing that starlight than the city.

Those were large, unlit places.

The fields of Takatsuki on the northern end of Osaka Plain were perfect for stargazing.

That vast unlit land had a slight slope and the starry sky was reflected in the distant Yodo River.

The only thing to obstruct the view of the sky was the long elevated railway that passed by overhead.

That railway was used by bullet trains.

It was the same railway from which a bullet train had derailed the night before.

Two people were currently below that railway.

One was a boy and the other a girl.

The boy was somewhat short. The girl was tall and had a giant prosthetic in the place of a left arm.

They were Tokyo Chancellor Nakamura Hisahide and Nagoya Chancellor Yamashita Taeko.

Taeko leaned against one of the railway’s supports while Nakamura crouched down on one knee.

They were surrounded by darkness.

They could see the city lights far in the distance at the bottom of the vast slope.

Other than the somewhat bright sky there, they only had the starlight for illumination.

Taeko suddenly spoke.

“If ya can’t find it, maybe a Buster destroyed it along with the train.”

She received no response.

Only a gentle wind blew through.

None of the train cars remained from the night before.

The Houzenji Group’s special forces had likely Busted them that night. Only shards of glass and small metal components were scattered around.

Taeko sniffed quietly.

“So ya can only find glass and screws lyin’ around, huh?”

“Shut up.”

Nakamura finally spoke.

It was a deep and exhausted voice.

It was also full of menace.

But Taeko was not afraid.

“If ya can’t find that girl’s ring, are ya actually gonna beat up everyone from Osaka like ya said ya would?”

His answer came after a short pause.

“What other choice do I have?”

“?”

“She was the one that knew how I could become king…but there’s nothing left of her now. Not even a memento.”

“Ya can’t make yer triumphant return to Nagoya without the girl who was supposed to be yer queen?”

Nakamura did not answer.

He said nothing as he crouched in the darkness.

Taeko sighed.

“I can’t believe this.” She smiled bitterly. “Yer prophecy belonged to both of ya, didn’t it?”

She stood up from the bridge support and stood next to Nakamura.

“Ya wanted to us her prophecy to become king so ya could make her queen, didn’t ya?”

“…I wanted to show her the truth about herself.”

“And what was that?”

“That she could be more than just a Fast Reader.”

She answered him after a short pause and with some sadness in her voice.

“So ya would’ve become her possibility?”

It was too dark to tell whether or not he nodded.

But he did stand up.

And he turned to look toward Osaka.

“It’s time I became king,” he said.

“Is there any reason for that?” asked Taeko. “It’d be a lot easier to return to Nagoya.”

“When the result is a foregone conclusion, a battle’s possibilities are meaningless.”

“So ya want to choose the more difficult one?”

He did not answer and silently started walking.

Taeko followed him.

After a few steps, Nakamura asked her something.

“Why are you following me?”

“I’m not followin’ ya. But if yer goin’ to Osaka, then that’s where the action’s gonna be. And…” She took a breath. “There’s somethin’ I wanna try in the center of that action.”

She smiled bitterly.

And at that moment, Nakamura came to a sudden stop in front of her.

“…?”

Taeko also stopped.

Taeko – Sight Tech – Take – Night Vision – Hit.

She saw why Nakamura had stopped.

A man stood about ten meters in front of them.

The silhouette in the pale starlight was that of a short man in a monk’s outfit.

It was Iba.

He stood alone on the ground and looked to the other two.

“Where do you think you are going?”

Nakamura answered him in an awfully calm voice.

“To Osaka. To become king.”

But that proposal was instantly rejected.

“Go to Nagoya. We must avoid unnecessary conflict.”

“…”

Nakamura answered Iba with silence.

After a while, Iba spoke once more.

“What is this? Do you intend to defy the prophecy? That is the prophecy that will make you king.”

“If I had my queen, you mean.”

“What?”

Nakamura decisively answered Iba’s question.

“The prophecy was wrong and my queen is dead. …I refuse to rely on it any longer.”

“…Do you intend to become king using only your own power?”

“I have my sister’s Flame High. …You wanted me to use that power to become king, didn’t you?”

“I said nothing about killing for no-…”

Iba stopped midsentence and shook his head.

He lowered his hips and slowly raised his arms.

He was prepared to attack.

“Have you lost your way?”

“There is only one way forward: becoming king.”

“Then why are you fighting to achieve that?”

“To show them my possibility. To show them I can become king without relying on the prophecy.”

“Show them? Show who?”

Nakamura did not answer.

He placed one foot forward and the other back as he prepared to fight.

Taeko quickly stood behind Nakamura.

“Wh-what are ya doin’ all of a sudden?”

“Get lost. Unless you want to die.”

“Once I defeat this boy, you are next.”

Taeko was conflicted.

What was she supposed to do?

Nakamura gave her the answer.

“Go and do whatever it is you want to do!”

She nodded at that.

And then she lowered her hips and raised the Dragon Emperor.

Nakamura frowned.

“What are you thinking?”

“I’m doin’ what it is I wanna do.”

Taeko said that with a slight smile and then shouted to Iba.

“My brother was more or less killed for the convenience of the adults too!!”

“Fear not. I will not kill him.”

With that, Iba took action.

Nakamura followed suit after a click of the tongue.

As did Taeko.

Part 5[edit]

6:52 PM

The two-against-one battle ended after two deafening sounds.


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