Hidan no Aria:Volume6 Chapter4

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4th Ammo: Flash Cannon[edit]

Butei Charter article 4: Butei must be independent.

Butei High's field trip follows this rule, making its students find lodging for themselves.

Because Reki will definitely stay with me, even at night, I, not willing to be mocked by my classmates...booked an isolated hotel in northeast Kyoto, at the forest near Mount Hiei, online. After all, the site said that pets are OK.

We took a minibus, going along the driveway, disembarking at a desolate night path...

Standing there all alone, the hotel, "Bee's child", had a retro appearance, and personally, I liked it.

If she was a normal high school student, she'd definitely scream, "I don't want to stay at such an old place!" However, Reki, wearing her dress, her Butei High uniform in a paper bag...didn't say anything. I'm so glad that, at times like these, I don't need to worry about her.

*Clatter Clatter*, I opened the sliding door at the entrance, and an unexpectedly young landlady welcomed us from inside.

"My, my. Welcome."

"Ah, um...I'm the Tohyama that reserved a place here online. I reserved two rooms...but, I'm a little short on money, so could you change one of the two rooms into a cheaper one?"

So I said to her...Wearing typical Japanese clothing, the landlady looked between Reki and I...

"My, my~, ufufufu."

Covering her mouth with her sleeve, she narrowed her eyes happily.

...?

"Customer-han, since that is the case, wouldn't it be fine if ya switched ta one room? Ya can stay together with yer girlfriend."

Fufufu. The landlady said so extremely happily. I waved my hands violently, saying,

"N-no, she isn't my girlfriend."

"I am his girlfriend."

Eh? I turned my head, and the person who had cut in was Reki.

Wh-what are you claiming to be?

"The hotel is the subject of the sentence, and the only other girl here is me. Therefore, the third person noun for such a situation would be 'she'."[1]

Her speech like that of a teacher's, the robot girl said these things as if putting forth a counterargument.

"Mmnnn, I'm so jealous about how innocent you two are~~. Saori is so jealous~~."

With a strange movement like that of a little girl, the landlady swayed left and right.

She seemed to be dancing in time with the pendulum affixed behind her.

Facing her, who, if I were to put her in a manga panel, was scattering hearts everywhere, the landlady--Saori-san

"Ah, no...she's a girl that's a little bit...that..."

I wanted to try explaining Reki to her, but...

"Fortunately, there aren't any other guests today, so I'll prepare a nice room for ya, OK?"

Saori spun around, daintily walking inside, bringing us in.


The "Room of the Western Front" that we had been led into was a luxurious 8-tatami room, the tatami is completely new.

Aptly named, the walls of the room were decorated with vividly colored Nishijin, which looked like tapestries.[2]

In front of the silk was a vase, which looked big enough for someone to enter, raising the overall feeling of classiness.

This is an amazingly...good room. Almost too good.

Preferring Japanese-styled rooms to the rooms in modern city-hotels, I was extremely thankful to the landlady, who had given us such a high-class room for such a reasonable price, but...

The problem is, the fact that Reki is sharing a room with me.

For these few days, I had been living in Reki's room, but that was just a desolate emptiness. Rather than, "living" together with Reki, the mood was more like, "in the midst of battle."

So, I was able to somewhat convince myself, but--

Staying in the same room during a trip, however, the mood was completely different.

"..."

"..."

Reki and I were sitting next to the wooden table, eating the food that the landlady, Saori-san, had quickly prepared for us. It was delicious, but I was agitated to the point where I wasn't sure what I was eating.

(He-heavy, this atmosphere...)

Reki and I...for some reason...

Isn't this ambiance something like the "couple that ran away together for whatever reasons" atmosphere, so commonly found in old movies?

And, the majority of those would be, the so-called adult movies...and afterward, it will go into something where I can't help but avert my eyes, pushing the fast-forward button...that stimulating scene.

Ah...

(I may be alone with Reki, but because we have nothing to talk about...I'm thinking about these unnecessary things.)

*Stare* Looking in front of me, Reki, sitting up straight, was eating her meal from the right to left, just gradually eating, as if the taste was completely irrelevant.

In a short while, she had finished all the rice, next, she ate all the tempura, from then on, it was sashimi, and lastly, she drank the miso soup in one gulp.

"..."

Afterwards, having finished our meal, together, Reki and I put our cellphones, both out of charge, on top of the TV, and each of us plugged our respective phones into our respective chargers.

When I had released my cellphone because there was nothing that I could do...I ordered Reki to: "Sit at the wall," sleeping at the sliding door at the other end of the room.

Us two, completely silent, could hear the sound of crickets coming from outside of the paper walls...

In the silence of the long, autumn night, it stood out even further.

"..."

Following my orders, Reki was sitting at the wall, apparently resting after she had eaten, staying completely still.

...Even though she's wearing such a beautiful dress, she's still sitting upright.

Turning my back on Reki, who was in that kind of position, I fell asleep...

*Slide*

"Forgive my rudeness."

The sliding door in front of my eyes opened, and Saori-san, kneeling in the corridor, had made her appearance once again.

"--How was your meal?"

"Ah, yes, it was delicious. Thank you for the meal."

Completely caught off guard, I sat up straight, slightly panicked, and Saori-san, seeing the distance between Reki and I--

She made an expression: "I grow tired of this."

"If yer completely finished with ya meal, then feel free ta take a bath. Because, today, both of ya are my only customers...You can use the hot springs for a while."

A bath...?

Flashing a face at me which said Give it your best shot, because of Saori-san's expression--

I had a bad feeling about this.


Confirming my premonition, the hot springs at the hotel didn't have any signs with "Men's bath", or "Women's bath".

In short, this was a mixed bath.

--Mixed hot springs.

For me, a no-man's land.

When I had strode into the ICBM hangar in I-U, I was completely unarmed...and now, this was like entering there naked.

But, today was quite hot, so I had sweated a little, so I had no choice but to go bathe.

According to what Saori-san had said, there were no other customers, so there was no danger of being surrounded by any hostiles (= women).

"Reki, you, absolutely, cannot come in here. Absolutely forbidden. Absolutely."

In the room, having warned Reki--somehow, feeling as if I was the preview act for a comedy routine--I headed towards the hot springs.

Thankfully, this hotel had a service where Saori-san would wash our clothes for us while we were inside the bath.

As such, I put my clothes inside the laundry basket...*Rattle*, opening the sliding door...

Because I had confirmed that no-one was around, I walked to the bath that was formed by rocks and a bamboo wall, lowering myself into the water in order to wash myself.

(...)

This...feels amazingly good.

The temperature of the bath, lukewarm, was exactly to my liking, and besides that, the fact that I was alone allowed me to slip into a state of complete relaxation.

It was as if the fatigue from the journey was seeping out of me, into the bath.

Inside the steam of the bath, slowly wisping upwards, I...

(I wonder what everyone from Butei High is doing...we're on a trip, so they're probably having fun right now.)

...thought about my classmates, time flowing by.

After thinking about this and that, it was already 9:00 at night.

Looking towards the stars, I saw that they were visible in the midst of the steam, and it was a beautiful sight. This is something that would be described as 'elegant'.

*Buzzz*....*Buzzz*...

The sound of insects from the forest.

Hooo...Hooo

What I had heard from the faraway forest was the call of an owl. It had been a while since I'd last heard it.

And, *Rattle*...

The sound of the sliding door opening.

(...Mm...?)

*Splash* The sound of splashing water.

*Splash*...*Splash*.

(...Mmm...!?)

And, *Splash*--

The sound of someone's foot entering the bath.

--That!

"Hey!"

*Splash!*

Standing up immediately, I dropped the towel that was sitting on my head, and catching it, I--covered one specific part of my body, backing up.

Looking into the steam, the figure which I could see belonged to a--

Gi-girl.

Rather, no matter how I looked at it, it was Reki.

Leaning against the large rock at one side of the hot spring, was a Dragunov.

Moreover, this was beyond obvious, but--she was naked.

One wouldn't be able to say that Reki had a nice figure, even as flattery, since she had a body akin to a middle school student, but...

Seeing the lines of her body where the steam was thin, she really had feminine, beautiful curves.

Comparing is something that I would never do, but...her body was less flat than Aria's.

The plumpness of her chest was like that of an unripe plum, or an apple. A slender waist. Her skin, normally reminiscent of ceramics, was shining even more, light reflected off the condensation of the steam, its pigment slightly flushed.

"Re-Reki...!"

--Reki isn't a robot, after all. She's a person. And she was, very clearly, a girl.

The image she gave off, far from being anything like a normal girl, couldn't even be said to be human, but at this moment...I was made sharply aware of this sense of lust, of immorality. Reki, was a girl.

But--

If that is so, then why. Why did she enter the bath with me so calmly. We are no longer children with no sense of the relationships between men and women, just playing with bubbles.

The one saving grace was...because of the steam, I had no way of clearly seeing Reki, who was standing three meters away from me.

After, all I can do is hope that this steam, almost unnaturally thick, doesn't disperse, for any reason.

"I-I said not to come, so why..."

Aria06 199.jpg

Hearing me say that, Reki turned her small face, veiled by her damp short hair, looking this way.

"Yes. Kinji-san gave me that order--but, I sensed danger, and I came to protect you."

Eh, for me, you're the most dangerous thing here!

Looking at Reki, who had ignored my orders, entering the hot springs, I could only dip myself back into the water, hiding my body.

Calm down...you have to calm down...Kinji...!

The trigger to Hysteria Mode, is the heart.

As long as my heart keeps calm, then I should...be able to suppress it!

Alright, think of normal things. Think about the primary reason for bathing.

Bathing is something that one does to cleanse oneself, dispelling the pressure on one's soul.

There were no unhealthy impulses behind it. Absolutely not.

"Pro-protect me? Protect me from what...!"

I wrapped the towel around my waist, and with an immovable resolve, I strode out of the bath.

Keeping my breathing steady, I turned my face, following the bamboo fence towards the exit.

*Splash*

The splashing sound that Reki made, apparently coming my way, made my heart skip a beat.

"--I have felt an ill wind. Please do not go too far from my side."

Feeling the flow of blood become ever more dangerous, I ignored Reki's words, leaving the hot springs.

Taking deep breaths, confirming the status of my body's core...

I-I did it. I'm safe. I overcame it.

Reki is definitely a beautiful girl. She's as cute as a small animal, a girl who carries an inexplicable, indescribable attraction.

But--in reality, it appears that it's hard for me to go into Hysteria because of her.

I still don't know the reason, however, having been kissed by her once before and transforming, I could not let my guard down, not for any reason.

My uniform, during the time that I was in the bath, had already been cleaned and dried by the landlady, Saori-san.

Thanking her gratefully in my heart and wearing my uniform, having returned to "The Room of the Western Front", I never thought that my agitated blood flow would become even more excited...

Because, inside the room, there was a huge futon.

And, there was only one.

Added to that, the two pillows on top of it were pressed together, intimately.

(Did...Did Saori-san do this...!)

This will definitely--even someone as slow as me understood the underlying meaning behind this scene--preventing me from composing myself.

I opened the cabinet in a panic, but it was empty, there were no other futons prepared.

(What do I do...!)

Kinji, what do you do! You're out of the frying pan and into the fire!

The futon and pillow were wondrously soft, making one feel as comfortable as if it was heaven. Although, sleeping in it alone and making Reki sit on the tatami...I thought that I'd get an ulcer out of guilt.

But, if I let Reki sleep inside, heaven will immediately become hell.

Just thinking about it triggered slight Hysteria, an extremely dangerous action.

Maybe, if I use this side, and she uses that side...?

I separated the pillows, placing them at opposite ends of the futon, and my mind was running scenarios of what this would look like while asleep.

Th-this won't do. This kind of distance would be covered just by one of us rolling over.

And, I have no reason to wear the complete protective gear, Armament Set C, to sleep.

Because, yukata were placed next to the pillow, meant to act as pajamas.

--Yukata are very dangerous. Because, they can be stripped off in an instant.

Also, comparatively, my sleeping posture is quite bad. When I was a child, I had stayed at the Hotogi shrine, wearing a yukata...but, once I woke up, I noticed that, sleeping next to me, Shirayuki, Kiriyuki, Kazayuki, and Konayuki, (there were only 4 sisters then,) were pressed against me like a sandwich.

If that kind of scene appears in a situation like this, where Reki and I, a boy and girl, are alone together--whether it be in the dead of the night or at the crack of dawn, because of Hysteria Mode, I will really do some things that will render me unable to do anything but submit a wedding application.

I cannot let such a thing come to pass.

I held up one pillow, and like Nakasorachi in Connect, I started rolling around the futon...

--*Rattle*

At that moment, Reki, changed back into her uniform, opened the door.

Having been completely unaware of her presence, I, shocked, started swinging the pillow, twice, thrice.

"Ah, no, we're only two people, so we can't have a pillow fight."

Saying things that even I didn't understand, I exerted all my willpower, forcing myself to act calm, keeping the pillow inside the cabinet.

Hey, hand. My hand. Stop shaking.

No matter what, I cannot let the topic turn to the futon...

Steeling myself in my heart, I-

"No-now that I think about it...what happened to Haimaki?"

-asked this question, which I had been thinking of, trying to lead away from the topic.

On the other side, Reki, going her own pace, grasped the Dragunov as if it was a stick...and at the wall, she sat upright.

"--He's inside the room."

"Inside the room?"

I asked because he wasn't here.

Well...whatever. At least, I've temporarily prevented any discussion over the futon.

If Haimaki really were here, it'd just be even more hateful, anyways.

"..."

I re-arranged the things that I had disturbed in my panic just now, sitting down at the wall opposite Reki.

This...is, strangely enough, like a painting. Separated by a gigantic futon, a boy and girl sits apart, on opposite walls. Doesn't this situation make it seem as if we're paying special attention to that one futon?

(Aw-awkward...)

This is far too awkward.

Did the people who really went through arranged marriages in the past have this kind of feeling too?

Rather, what does Reki plan to do?

It can't be that she can't see this gigantic futon.

But, if you're going to sleep sitting down as always...I'm sorry, but I will be sleeping inside the futon by myself. I'm really sorry about doing this to you. But, let the ulcers come.

"You, that...Do you plan to sit here, holding your gun while sleeping?"

Unable to stand the silence any longer, I started to speak--

-suddenly, I realized that the way I had started speaking might cause an understanding.

What I had said just now seemed as if I was trying to draw Reki in. "Don't sleep that way" → "So, let's get into the futon together." If it were to be misunderstood like that, then I really won't have any way of backing out. I've really done it.

But, it seemed as if I was just adding on to my imagined torments...

"Yes. When the time comes, I have to fend off the enemy--The wind ordered me to do so."

Reki, her head slanted downwards, looking at the tatami, answered me softly.

If you say that...you're going to sleep upright. Alright, alright.

The ball's in my court now.

"The wind's orders, huh. Then, please obey them fully as well."

"Yes. Just..."

"...?"

"The wind has two other orders. And, I haven't fulfilled them yet."

"What orders?"

I couldn't help but frown.

Reki--

-wordlessly, stood up.

"Protect the wind, creating descendants for Ulus."

"Descendants for Ulus...?"

"The child of Kinji-san and I."

"...!"

Th-those words...

Why are they being said again, in this kind of situation...!

Reki, *Footstep, Footstep*, walked onto the futon--

The wood-framed chandelier that was hanging from the ceiling, *Click*, she extinguished it.

Reki's eyes, reflecting the light of the stars that was shining into the room, which had darkened in an instant...*Turn*

...turned towards me.

And as if at that signal, *Thump*...!

The gigantic vase under the painting fell over, and a silver beast appeared from within it.

Ha-Haimaki. That was where you were hiding?

Haimaki-

"Uu...?"

*Shuffle. Shuffle*

-pushed me forward forcefully, coming to a stop when he had reached Reki's feet.

He-hey. Stop it! Th-this is bad...Ku!

The flow which I had thought we were following, was broken.

Rather than that, in the blink of an eye, I had run into a terrible danger.

Before me, was Reki's soft, supple legs. Behind me, Haimaki's fangs, completely bared.

I mean, I'm not too versed with this kind of thing, but this "overly forceful" approach...normally, the position of the boy and girl should be reversed, right?

"That and--I was given one more order."

Reki suddenly lowered her voice, bending down.

Wh-what is it?

"--protecting Kinji-san."

Saying that--*Thump*

Completely unlike the normal Reki, she shoved me with all her force, pushing me down to the ground.

"...!"

Because of the pillow, I didn't smash my head, but, held tightly by Reki, I had no way of getting up.

Reki was clutching me as if she wanted to use her chest to squash my face--

At the point in time where I was utterly confused, my face reddening.


*Sshhhcc....Sshhccc! Kch!


The sound of something ripping through the air, piercing the paper screen--

And, the sound of breaking glass at the end of the hallway rang out in the midst of the darkness.

"--!?"

*Sshhcch!*

*Kch! Kch! Kch!*

The continuous sound of glass crackng.

*Bang!*...under the impact of multiple bullets, the window fell out of its frame--

*Shhchhch Shhhchch*!

On top of the TV, Reki's cellphone and my cellphone took direct hits.

And on top of that, the bullet, *Bccch*...!

The broken window, just like a frame, span around, falling down--smashing into the wall.

The silk decorating the walls dropped down like flowing water. The vivid tapestries were ripped off from every direction, covering Reki and I.

"--A snipe."

Hearing Reki's words and not being able to help but turn pale, I,

*Clank*...*Clank*...! *Clank*...*Clank*...!

-heard the sound of several gunshots coming from the mountain.

That--was the gunshot sound of those snipes.

A sniper rifle's bullets exceed the speed of sound. So, the bullets arrived earlier than the gunshots.

Then, Reki pushing me--was for the sake of preventing me from being hit by those snipes.

But...who is it? Why are they firing? Why are they attacking us!?

"--Remington M700. Distance: 2180m. Fired from the mountain."

Apparently able to judge the opponent's location and gun model merely from the gunshot, Reki said those words calmly.

Upon hearing that number, I could not help but widen my eyes.

(...2180m...!?)

Reki's Killing Range is 2051m.

Among the S ranked Butei in Tokyo Butei High, it was named as the greatest range.

But, the person attacking us appeared to be an elite sniper who was even more skillful than Reki.

Morever, that person was equipped with a Remington M700.

It is the world's most reliable sniper rifle.

"This place is extremely dangerous. The enemy is very clear about our location. Go outside."

Crawling, I extricated myself from underneath Reki, who was covered with the beautiful silk.

The room was filled with feathers, dancing through the air, having flown out of the torn futon.

"Who...is the enemy? Why are they assaulting us!"

Well, in terms of a vague idea...it's not that I'm at a complete loss. The important thing is, this has something to do with I-U.

But if this is one of the remnants of I-U acting, it's too fast.

Reki didn't answer my question, and she swept away the fabric--

Those eyes looked like cameras, embedded into a robot.


With Saori-san, who had called the police, trailing behind us, Reki and I, as well as Haimaki, his fur standing on end, exited from the kitchen door, which should have been in the sniper's blind spot.

At that time, from an unknown location,

"Tohyama Kinji Reki You two Surrender."

(...!?)

This...is the vocaloid that is so popular on the net, that sister-like voice.

Next to me, who had realized that, Reki pointed her Dragunov into the air--

Bang!!

--firing into the night sky.

In the pitch black sky, something akin to small sparks burst forth...

Immediately afterward, a remote-controlled helicopter, painted jet black, fell towards the driveway.

And afterward, from the skies-Dadadadadadada

-as if counterattacking Reki, several bullets buried themselves in the ground around us.

"There's more!? --Saori-san! Don't come outside!"

Hurriedly, I pushed Saori-san, who was clutching her cellphone in her hands, back into the room.

And, exactly as I did that, a bullet pierced through the air, flying towards us. We dodged it by a hair's breadth.

The shots, coming from the air--weren't very accurate. For the sake of keeping silent in order to prevent themselves from being noticed, miniature remote-control helicopters were being used. As such, the gun's recoil prevents them from accurately locking on to their target.

However, there is the saying: 'It only takes one'. Just from the bullets ricocheting off the ground, there was the danger that we would be caught by a stray.

Under the downpour of the rain of bullets, the cars and the asphalt parking lot were pockmarked with gouged-out bullet holes.

"--I am a single bullet--"

--Bang! Bang! Bang!

Her sniper rifle pointed into the sky, Reki fired three continuous shots.

From the parking lot, they hurtled into the darkness.

Each one burst into sparks in the air...afterwards, we could see the remote-controlled helicopters, leaving a trail of smoke, fall from the sky.

"If you run the... Saori-san there...break her Ahaha Ahahahahahahaha"

The voice came erratically...but the helicopter announced that it would start firing indiscriminately.

I cannot let Saori-san get dragged into this.

Well, from the beginning, as for planning to run--I had no intention of doing so.

"There are no more helicopters. Let us enter the forest from the hotel's shadow, circling around so we can counterattack."

Reki said, lowering her Dragunov. I nodded...

...but, the enemy's attack had made me even more uncertain.

A machine-synthesized vocaloid. Remote controlled devices armed with sub-machine guns.

This mode of operation. It's indelible.

This is exactly the same as the "Butei Killer"--Riko's attack method when she assaulted us in April!

Although, it could not be Riko.

That was something which exceeded Reki's Killing Range, a snipe from 2180 meters away.

It is a superhuman technique which, with the exception of elite snipers, is impossible for humans to accomplish.

The offender is definitely an expert who has undergone severe sniping training ever since he was a child.

Even if Riko had familiarized herself with sniper rifles, judging from her past, it was impossible that she could have this kind of skill.

Also, she has no reason to attack us...after all, Riko and I are in what amounts to a truce. Furthermore, Riko's target is, "Aria and I", this partnership, not Reki and I.

Added to this--

The name the enemy designated us as, "Reki and I", was also an enigma.

Just now, for a moment, I had suspected that this was an assault from the remnants of I-U, but if it was them...their sights should be locked onto Aria, who was defending Kanzaki Kanae-san, who had been made their scapegoat, or perhaps the person who defeated Sherlock--me.

Because, in the battle with I-U, Reki was only support. I can't say that they bear absolutely no hatred towards her, however, as for the order of targets, she should be relatively low on the list.

--I don't understand.

Who is this enemy?

Why did you...attack us!?


Reki and I crossed over the parking lot, taking care to keep ourselves hidden in the shadows of the trees--

First, the forest, afterward, we enter the jungle that stretches far behind.

The humidity here is extremely high. The abnormally rugged ground emitted the smell of dirt and rotting leaves.

At the beginning, I was constantly gazing at the uneven ground below my feet...

(...So dark...)

But, once we had gone deep into the jungle, the surroundings were swallowed by darkness.

There was the light from the stars, but it only just managed to pierce the thick jungle canopy.

"Reki. We should--"

-go to a slightly brighter area; before I had finished my sentence--Reki looked back.

Her forefinger was held to her lips, forbidding me from speaking.

...I swallowed my words, approaching her...

Reki stood on her tiptoes, softly whispering into my ear,

"Stay silent. The enemy should have set microphones up. Just now, after Kinji-san alerted the landlady--the enemy said her name."

...Now that she mentions it, that's how it was.

There was never a mention of the landlady's real name on the website, the "Saori" which the vocaloid had uttered.

I nodded--

Following Haimaki's lead, I, along with Reki, strode deeper into the jungle.

But, not fit to this kind of environment, I...felt my breathing become erratic extremely quickly. I had completely lost all sense of direction as well. It was as if I was wandering through the forest, my only guide the faint starlight that pierced through the trees.

And on the contrary, Reki hadn't even taken a deep breath once--it seemed as if she was advancing, a clear objective in her mind.

"Where are you going?"

Lowering my voice, I asked Reki, whose footfalls were near non-existent.

"Judging from the hostile's location when he sniped us, I am estimating his current location--while searching for territory advantageous for my sniping."

"Territory..."

A battle between snipers...I had heard that they were like battles of positioning.

A location where you can see the enemy clearly, yet a location where the enemy cannot do the same, the side that finds such a position, extremely fitting for snipers, gains an overwhelming advantage.

"How is it that you're so clear about this mountain's topography. Our cellphones...are already broken, do you have something like a GPS with you?"

"There are minor flaws in the output of GPS. My memory is accurate."

"But, you haven't even seen a map of this area, right?"

"Before, on the bus to the hotel, I saw a map of the topography here."

...As expected of an S rank Butei.

The difference from me, who had been looking at a movie website with my cellphone while on the bus, was truly colossal. Apparently, Reki, who had been next to me, had memorized the surroundings' characteristics, a blank look on her face the whole time.

"...?"

Squelch...My feet sunk slightly into the ground.

Only now did I realize, there appeared to be water in front of us.

From the faint sound of running water, I thought that...it was probably a rather shallow river.

I don't know whether she had night vision, but Reki, moving lightly, crossed the river, almost like a water fairy.

Apparently, there were stumps and rocks, and it seemed that she had crossed over above them.

The river was filled with water, and I couldn't let it slow my movements. I recalled the little wilderness combat training I had learned in Assault, and keeping my body low, I kept careful watch of my feet while crossing over the deeper parts of the river. If I do this, then I can more or less make things out in the darkness.

Stepping on the moss-covered rocks and stumps, I somehow managed to make it to the other side of the bank...

Reki, having reached the other side far ahead of me, was standing next to a gigantic tree, and she was gesturing towards me.

I walked to Reki's side, looking up at the enormous tree, which appeared to be a camphor.

The large, wide trunk was already covered with vines, merging with the ground. I don't really know much about plants, but its age...is probably over 1000. It is the master of the forest.

Is she going to use this tree's branches and trunk to act as cover, initiating the battle?

I'm sorry, master of the forest-san. We're going to drag you into this mess, which reeks of gunpowder.

"Then...What do we do now?"

I pressed myself against the trunk of the colossal tree, drawing the Beretta at my waist, checking its functionality.

Well, there isn't really a use for these in the coming battle--both the gun and me.

"We will lie in wait here, scanning for the enemy. I will look for an opportunity to snipe."

Scanning for the enemy...?

We can't see anything in the midst of this darkness, right? And, the enemy is, like us, on the mountain.

"Kinji-san, please keep your watch."

"...Why?"

"Its fluorescent paint could be noticed by the enemy."

"That's retarded. How can anyone see something like this?"

"I can see it."

Seeing Reki, who never lies, say this with such a serious look, I...couldn't help but swallow my saliva.

The enemy--is someone who holds the same level of skill as Reki, no even more skillful, an elite sniper.

Really, even this kind of tiny light might be seen by him.

"It might be that the enemy is equipping a starlight scope. If so, we will lose the ability to take advantage of the night to surprise him, nor will we be able to see his remote-controlled helicopters, which are painted jet black."

Starlight scope, it's a night-vision scope that can be attached to armaments like sniper rifles.

I had used them once before--

It really is able to make the dark night, only faintly illuminated by the stars, turn into day.

"...Does that have any night-vision capabilities added to it?"

While taking my watch off, I pointed at the Dragunov's scope. Rustle

Reki shook her head--

"The only night-vision functionality that this scope has is lighting reticule."

Lighting reticule...an overlayed aiming function, a cross that can be seen when one looks into the scope. Because it is luminous, it can be used at night, a very outdated attachment.

It's better than nothing, but when pitted against starlight scope, it is nearly equivalent to fighting blind.

Frowning, at my feet--

Haimaki's ears stood straight up, twitching slightly.

And, he was staring deep into the dark forest...killing his footfalls, he walked towards it.

"...Hey..."

Reki, staring in the same direction that Haimaki was going, stretched her hand out to stop me, who had called out to him in a small voice.

"..."

...Wh-what is it?

What happened? Don't stay silent, explain this to me.

--Fwoosh! Cutting through the air, Haimaki rushed out.

Huuu! That breathing noise--did not come from Haimaki.

"...!?"

In my line of sight, a black dog appeared, charging towards the silver wolf.

That was something I had seen on one of Aria's animal programs, a dog-hunting dog--a Shar-Pei.

It's a species that is used in China as a hunting dog or a military dog, a particularly vicious breed. And, its strain appeared to have been heavily modified, as it was far bigger than the ones I had seen on TV. It looked as if it could easily tear off a man's limb.

"--!"

I hurriedly brought my gun up--Clank!

But, my elbow collided with Reki, who had brought her Dragunov up at the exact same time.

Reki, a petite girl, lost her balance, and she leaned against the trunk with one knee.

And, staggering, I--as if trying to push Reki down, fell down on her.

--Thump!

(Uu...!)

The frontal impact jarred the Beretta, which was in semi-automatic, and one bullet was released, thudding into the ground.

At that moment--Haimaki and the Shar-Pei had engaged each other, entering a state where we were forced into inaction, unable to shoot. If we fire, there is no guarantee that we will not fatally wound Haimaki.

Standing up, thinking that I should at least fire some shots to intimidate the opponent--Woah.

This time, Reki's legs and my legs were tangled, and I fell against the trunk once again.

"...!"

What the hell am I doing.

Damn it.

Reki and I--have never really fought together like this.

Because, when we had worked together in Assault, Reki always acted as long-range support. Battling together with her in this kind of close-contact fighting...had only ever occurred during the Odaiba casino security detail.

So, there is no coordination between us.

(Right now...if it was Aria...!)

In my mind--Aria's image, charging towards the dogs without any thought whatsoever, using the flat of her blade to start beating the enemy down, appeared. At that point, because she'd be unable to halt her momentum, she'd definitely strike Haimaki a few times. And I, standing on the side, would use the vines to bind the powerless dog, capturing it. If it was Aria, I felt that that kind of combination would be possible.

--Bang! Bang!

Reki, still being crushed by me, extended her Dragunov to the side, firing.

"!"

The empty casing which flew into the air before me, as well as the unique metallic clack of the Dragunov, forced me to slam my eyes shut.

When I had opened them again...

The black dog had suddenly weakened considerably.

"--Haimaki, let that dog go. Stop fighting."

Hearing Reki, who was below me, give him an order, Haimaki--kicked off the dirt with a thud, retreating.

Keeping some distance away from that dog, Grrrrrrrr..., he growled threateningly.

That black dog...limping all the while...ran away.

"...Did you hit?"

"Yes. The bullet grazed both his legs."

"That dog...probably ran back to its master. Like this, our hiding place will be exposed. I'm not trying to say that you should have killed it, but is it really fine..?"

"Our location was already noticed by the enemy when Kinji-san fired. So, I fired as well."

..I-I see. The accidental discharge when I fell just now has already exposed our position?

Because, the enemy really has microphones set up. That's probably it.

To Reki, I'm really a dead weight.

"Please do not concern yourself. That dog is very powerful. Haimaki wanted to clamp down on the dog's throat, not allowing it to bark, and afterward, he wished to use his claws to rake what appears to be a transmitter off the dog's body, but--Haimaki was unable to do so immediately. If the dog stayed abnormally still, the enemy would have turned his attention this way."

"Transmitter..."

I never saw such a thing...is that how it was?

I turned my head, looking at Haimaki, who was staggering back, exhausted...he was injured.

During the fight with the Shar-Pei, he appeared to have been bitten in several places. That beautiful silver fur was flecked with crimson blood.

It appears that this confirms Reki's words. That battle dog was quite strong.

Added to this, ringing out from inside the forest, as if reporting that it had already found us--a dog's howl. Probably the one from just now. It was vicious and chilling, a sound that easily inspired fear in people's hearts.

"...We should change our position, right? We've already been exposed, so it's pretty dangerous here."

Just about to move, I--

-had my belt,Tug, grabbed by Reki.

"You cannot move."

"...Why?"

My eyebrows furrowed.

Reki took out a box filled with Calorie Mate energy bars from her pocket...and with a click, she opened it.

Emptying its contents, she filled it with the earth by her feet.

"...What are you doing?"

Not turning towards me, Reki-Fwoosh

-threw the dirt-filled Calorie Mate box away from the tree.


--Clank--!!


The box burst open, the dirt inside showering down.

That scene made a chill run down my back.

It had been sniped. And, it was a box roughly the size of my palm.

"The moment we step to the right or left of this tree, we will be sniped. We cannot move."

...Bang...

Immediately after Reki's words, the sound of a gunshot reached us from afar.

"As predicted, the enemy has not left the location he was occupying when he first attacked the hotel. The distance is 2050m, and as such, he is in range."

"...From 2050 meters...he is a sniper that is able to snipe that box from such a distance, huh?"

There's nothing we can do. At least, there's nothing I can do.

In this battle, I can only be a burden.

"...He's really a powerful enemy. I have no idea what kind of person he might be."

"The enemy is certainly an expert in sniping. As for his personality, it is overflowing with confidence."

"...You can understand the enemy's personality?"

"Because, the enemy sniped the box. That is meant to express that, even if his position is known, he will not lose, a challenge to his opponent."

"..."

"At the same time, the enemy has shown that he puts a lot of trust in new technology. He is a very adaptable person."

"--I can't believe you know so much. But, what does it matter if you're able to deduce the opponent's traits? A battle of sniping is but a battle of marksmanship, right?"

"A battle between snipers is done by reading the opponent's characteristics, and using that as a basis, deciding upon the method of attack."

"Characteristics...?"

I have no idea what use that might hold in a battle...

And, not being clear about this point means that, for this battle, I cannot help in the slightest.

...I have no choice.

Then, Haimaki and I will sharpen our gaze, looking out, seeing whether that hunting dog returns.

I sighed, sitting down on the trunk--

"--This will become a drawn-out battle. Please eat."

Reki took one of the Calorie Mates which she had emptied just now, handing it over.

...I see. Now I know why Reki only ever eats these.

This is like a wilderness ration. For the sake of being able to respond to these wars of attrition, Reki carries this kind of nutritious food at all times.

As expected of a girl who is ready to fight whether she is walking, sitting, or even sleeping.

I started thinking outside the box, and I asked Reki whether we could escape, running directly backwards from the tree...but the words had scarcely left my mouth before they were denied.

But, that was normal, since this is a forest.

As long as I move left or right even the slightest bit, just for the sake of avoiding a tree or rock, my head will suffer the same fate as that box.

The safe zone only extends from this tree to the river. As such, Reki and I ate the Calorie Mates, scooping up some river water to drink....

Staying by the trunk of the tree, unmoving.

...10 minutes...30 minutes...1 hour...

Nothing...happened. We just waited. Both us, and the enemy.

2 hours...3 hours.

The time was 0:00.

Right now, it's the season of passage between summer and autumn, but as time dragged on, the forest air was becoming colder and colder.

Our body heat slowly being stolen by the frigid air, our strength was being sapped as well. And, not only was our body affected, but drowsiness soon fell upon us. Quietly sitting in the darkness, I felt exhaustion come upon me...and, forcing oneself to stay awake is a large test of willpower.

I understood, my own willpower was fading, along with the passage of time.

Until now--in all the battles that I had fought with offenders...

I had been able to see the enemy.

Even if the enemy hid himself, all I needed to do was to force him out of hiding with my pistol.

Although, the offender we're facing this time is a sniper. An unseen enemy. And, this isn't like the battle with Reki, where I had been running everywhere, but this was a war of attrition which had already been dragged on for several hours.

Humans cannot maintain a state of agitation for that long a period.

However, I needed to keep myself in that state.

Because, once that was interrupted--My life would be put in danger.

...Fuck.

(This too...is a battle, huh...)

I had never experienced this kind of battle before. To be honest, I was about to reach my limit.

And even now, I wanted to--test my luck, charging out of cover, running away from this place.

On the contrary, Reki...completely still, was staring at me, who was in this state.

Haimaki licked his wounds, his face fatigued.

We still can't act...We still can't act!?

Like this, when time had passed into the deep night--

"..."

Reki made her move.

She slipped the bayonet out from under her skirt, affixing it to the Dragunov...

And, she took off the scarf of her uniform, releasing a soft sound of rubbing fabric, placing it on the tip of the bayonet edge.

"...If you want to make a white flag, I'll lend you my shirt."

Reki glanced at me, who was struggling to keep his eyes open, joking...

Rustle...She extended the scarf to the side of the tree.

A gust of wind washed over it, and the scarf danced in the air, slightly outside the tree.

Shhchh! Shhchh!

The scarf had been torn past at high speed by something--by a bullet.

A few seconds later, the echo of two gunshots reached our ears from afar.

--The opponent fired.

The enemy's concentration was amazing, he had been staring this way for three and a half hours.

"...Did he fire from the same location?"

"Yes. He should not have moved from the location he attacked the hotel. I'm afraid that, securing the mechanical advantage of starlight scope and having set up several microphones, he has no intention of leaving that position."

"He doesn't care even if we know where he is? Then, he really is very confident."

"That is probably correct. The signal that I had released was returned to me unflinchingly."

"Signal?"

"The exhibition of technique. On each of that hunting dog's legs, I left a 3cm long, 3mm deep, 3cm high wound, exactly the same on both legs.

A-a completely identical wound...? Furthermore, she's able to control its shallowness to such a degree that the dog can still walk?

I can't do that even while in Hysteria Mode. Probably.

Al...although I've been shocked at your strangeness up till now...exactly how much of a genius are you?

Rustle. On the bulletproof scarf that Reki opened up for me to see...there was an X-shaped hole which was probably caused by the two bullets from before.

Those two obliquely angular lines...their length was exactly the same. Each one was about 30 centimeters long.

--"I can do even this."

The enemy is sending that kind of signal, right?

"What do we do? Do we just last till daylight...I don't know if they'll come, but should we wait here for the police to come up the mountain to investigate?"

Reki shook her head.

"We would not be able to do it. The enemy is in a hurry to decide his victory."

Stare. She said, turning her eyes to the forest. It seemed...that there was something there again.

"Kinji-san. Please use me, and go into HSS--Hysteria Mode."

Wh...?

What...did you say?

"No matter what the result of this battle is, the you as of now cannot escape from this forest."

"...Wa-wait. Hysteria Mode...you...I don't know where you found this information, but seeing as you know, I'll tell you. If I am to go into Hysteria Mode, I have to..."

Suddenly telling me that crazy battle plan, Reki cut off my words.

"--I will not mind no matter what you do to me. Because it's you."

She said, her grip loosening on the scarf in her hands.

The rouge colored scarf, fluttering in the midst of the darkness, seemed to imply some sort of deep meaning--and slowly, it fell towards Reki's feet.

"We are nearly out of time, are you able to do it?"

Thud...Reki pressed herself against the gigantic tree trunk.

Staying like that, unmoving, she stared directly at me.

"Time...?"

"After this, I will commence an exchange of shots with the enemy."

"...!"

"If I die or am injured, please leave me. If that time comes, please bring back the scope on this gun. Hidden inside this is a camera, it has already been set to record the scene at the instant that I snipe--You can use this to confirm the enemy's appearance."

"Hey..."

Facing Reki, who was able to state her purpose so coolly despite the fact that she knew she might die, I couldn't hide the tremor that ran through my body.

However, Reki, as if there was no time to answer, continued,

"On my body, there are 3 DAL for sniper rifle use."

--Butei Bullets.

Different from normal bullets, they are special modified bullets that are only circulated among elite Butei.

All of them are handmade by professional bullet craftsman, the price of one cannot fall lower than 1 million yen...Other than the Grenade and Flash that Nii-san gave me on I-U, there were many different types, such as Flare or Cannon.

But, Reki, you brought those kinds of things with you to travel?

"In a while, I will fire two DAL. For the third shot, I will use a Russian bullet, and when I've finished--we will start to leave this place."

Scarcely telling me what I needed to know, Reki ejected the magazine from her Dragunov.

From its contents, she took out two bullets--Click Click

-and she slotted in two other bullets that she had taken out from her breast pocket.

They were probably attack-type Butei Bullets.

"Kinji-san. Quickly go into HSS...Hysteria Mode--We have no time left."

I hesitated.

A few seconds later...

Reki closed those wise eyes.

As if saying--that I was "useless".

"Then, we shall change our plan. We are already at a dangerous distance. I will definitely take care of the enemy. After that, please go into Hysteria Mode...running away from here."

Reki, not caring whether I approved of her plan, pressed her back against the tree--

"...I am a single bullet."

-she softly recited those mantra-like words.

"A bullet has no heart. As such, it does not think."

That voice is something that I had gotten used to hearing when she had acted as support, sniping--

"It just flies towards its target."

At that moment, I didn't know why, but a sense of unease sprung up in my chest.

--Reki---

Flutter--Her skirt fluttering, turning her Dragunov to the right, Reki--

-flickered out to the side of the tree, her gun held ready.

Bang!

She fired without a moment's hesitation, and immediately, Reki turned left, returning behind the tree.

As if grazing past Reki, Shhhchhh! , the bullet of the enemy's counterattack hurtled out of the darkness.

...!

I didn't truly understand what had happened in that instant, but...wh-what was that!

Just now, that was truly amazing.

The enemy had fired the instant he saw Reki.

The two sides are around two kilometers away from each other....the muzzle velocity of the M700 with 7.62mm NATO bullets that he was using, was 840 meters per second.

The time between the shot and its impact is around 2.5 seconds.

In that 2.5 seconds, Reki had aimed at the enemy, who was enveloped by the darkness, fired, and returned to the safe zone behind the tree.

As I realized what had happened, stunned--

Pch...!

Light glared out, coming from the direction of the forest. Almost as if lightning had struck.

(Flash...!)

Just now, Reki's attack--appeared to be the same as the one I had used in I-U, the bullet that brought a blinding light to life.

The enemy's surroundings have definitely been lit up like a day at the height of summer.

Continuing, Reki performed the same movement--flashing out to the side of the tree.

Bang!

The second shot...

--GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIN--!!

"Uu...!"

From the depths of the forest, a high-pitched blast, which seemed to shake the ground even here, rang out.

--Cannon.

Normally used to disrupt the enemy's battle ability, it is a Butei Bullet that creates massive amounts of sound pressure.

(Reki...)

--I understand.

I understand what Reki wanted to do.

The first shot, Flash, was directed against starlight scope.

That type of night-vision attachment, amplifying the light of the stars umpteen times, was extremely weak against strong light.

A scope that faced that way would probably undergo 'white out'--or otherwise the safety function would engage, momentarily forcing a shutdown of all functionality.

With this, Reki followed through with her second shot, Cannon, firing at the enemy, who had lost his sight.

The enemy had used microphones, which amplified all sound, setting them up all around us. And, if he's wearing something like headphones to listen to their input, his hearing would definitely be damaged from the sonic-boom.

"--The enemy sniper has reached for his ears in pain. He is a solitary killer, he has no observers."

Looking into her scope, Reki reported these facts, like a scientist examining a guinea pig.

(...I see...)

--In a battle between snipers, the two sides read each other's personalities, deciding their method of attack.

That was what had happened here.

The overconfident enemy had responded to Reki's provocation. And, from that behaviour, Reki was able to recognize the enemy's position in an instant.

Additionally, the enemy is also someone who relies a lot on machines. Setting up a location which he could not move from easily, he put too much faith in them.

Reki specifically targeted this specific point--using light and sound, she assaulted the enemy's machine-heightened eyes and ears.

And now, she held the enemy's life and death in her hands.

We won...

"The enemy--is a little girl. Younger than me."

The sniper over there is a girl as well--and moreover, she's younger than you?

It's unbelievable, but...these are Reki's words. They must be true.

"Shoot to kill?"

Towards Reki, who was saying this as confirmation, I immediately replied with: "No, respect Butei Law."

"Then, I shall break the enemy's weapon."

Bang!

Immediately after Reki sniped at the enemy, her gun emitting a sharp muzzle flash--

(...?)

Bch! BchBch!

Small dots of light scattering about her, she seemed to be in pain, as if she had been struck. Reki's skirt, as if dancing in place, spun a semicircle, fluttering up, before it fell down.

Drip, Drip The sound of a certain liquid falling to Reki's feet reached my ears.

"Reki...?"

...!?

What...happened?

Her appearance is extremely strange. Was she counterattacked?

No. The enemy should have had her battle ability ripped from her, she shouldn't be able to do anything.

Even if she had been sniped, I would have heard a gunshot, but none came.

"..."

Reki raised her gun again, aiming towards a location slightly different from before...and one step, two steps, she retreated.

"..."

Silently--she lowered her gun.

In that state, she placed the stock of her gun against the ground, and while she appeared to be using it to support herself...

Scrape...Scrape...

...she sat down, unable to move.

"...Ah...Hey...!"

I immediately crouched down, supporting Reki, whose head was drooping down--

"...!'

She's injured...! When!?

In the darkness, I fumbled around, trying to find Reki's wound, copious amounts of blood were flowing out.

Her upper head was heavily wounded, as well as her forearm and left thigh.

In that instant just now, what on Earth was she counterattacked by? I don't understand...

Pressing down on Reki's wounds with a frantic desperation, I, OOOOooOOoo...! UoOOOoooOO...!

-suddenly heard the sound of several howls, all around us, continuously echoing out from within the forest.

Those voices were similar to the Shar-Pei's that came earlier. And...there were 10...No, 20 sets of them.

I see. It was because they were surrounding us, that Reki was so eager to decide the battle.

"Kinji-san. This..."

Reki handed her Dragunov and bayonet over to me.

Drip, Drip. Blood was still flowing down her forehead and elbows, dripping off of her.

"Regrettably, I have been injured. I no longer have the strength to drive those hunting dogs away, protecting you. After this, please protect yourself, and run away alone. The enemy will definitely regain her composure in short order...and she will come to perform the final blow."

"What are you saying? Since that's the case, it's even more clear that this is a path that we cannot take! How can I leave you here, alone and unarmed?"

I pushed the Dragunov back towards her.

"I have one more Grenade left. It can be detonated even without a gun."

Said Reki, taking the third, the final, Butei Bullet from her breast pocket.

Understanding the meaning of her words, I...clenched my teeth.

--Do you wish to commit suicide?

Do you wish to go down the path of killing yourself and the enemy!?

"Stop saying such idiotic things...!"

"Kinji-san, hurry. The enemy's net is closing in, and soon, you will no longer be able to escape."

Having lost too much blood, not even able to lift her head up, Reki--was still trying to hurry me, who was crouching there, not willing to stand up.

"I failed. I was weaker than the enemy. The weak will be devoured by the strong. This is the natural law of the world."

This...certainly, might be the truth.

"This is very logical, Kinji-san. If you linger any further, both of us will be killed. As such, it is better if you yourself live."

This too...might be the truth.

"Kinji-san...there is no need to worry about me. I live the life that the wind has determined, and I shall die in the same manner. That is of no importance to me."

People--whether they be few or many, live by the rules that have been determined for them.

Whether it be a delusion or something else, the "wind" is the rule in Reki's life. Just like a normal person's society, as well as their laws.

So, Reki has been respecting those rules since she was born, and it is certainly possible that she will follow them till her death.

--But.

"Reki...dying in this kind of place, dying by the hands of an unknown person...Isn't this a worthless death...!? Don't always listen to the "wind's" orders, never laughing, never even crying...dying with no emotion, dying with no feeling, this is too...!"

I knelt by Reki's side. Reki--

Rustle.

Her hair shaking, she shook her head.

"Kinji-san. Yesterday...I said that I 'had no emotions'. But, actually...I do not know why I did not tell you then...I...once, had a very clear emotion..."

"...Reki..."

"The 'wind'...ordered me, it ordered me to take a boy...to take a powerful boy and bring him into Ulus. And when the 'wind'--ordered me to become Kinji-san's everything...in my heart...for the first time, I had my own...I had my own, true feelings."

Reki...

"--I'm so glad that Kinji-san is the one.--"

An emotion had sprouted within you.

You may not have been able to convey it through your expression or behaviour, but in your heart...an emotion, only belonging to you, had been brought to life.

Drip, Drip Her blood trickling down without pause, Reki said,

"So, Kinji-san, I will not die without any emotion. You...don't have to feel sadness for me inside...the responsibility of keeping the line of Ulus eternal, now lies with my sisters."

Reki...!

"I, have no regrets. I can, with the person who first created emotion within me...eat a meal with you, I can travel with you, I can receive clothes from you. It may not have been long, I may not have been able to...express it within this period of time...but, that is definitely an emotion...I...am very happy...the last two weeks that I have spent with you, those days were filled with joy..."

Reki said, raising her bloodstained face.

That face--

Ahh, it was, for the first time...

--Smiling--

She smiled.

This is probably Reki wanting to make me relieved.

"Reki..."

That beautiful, unblemished face--made me feel as if, in an instant, I had understood Reki.

It isn't that Reki doesn't have emotions.

She just doesn't understand what emotion is.

Just that, her heart hasn't developed yet. Exactly like a child.

And, the reason it was so difficult to go into Hysteria Mode from Reki, was also because...in my heart, I had a faint feeling that she was still a child.

Reki.

The enemy is approaching. We will fight for an instant.

You cannot fight anymore. You yourself said very clearly for me to leave you behind.

And I...only have to run away. By myself.

"Kinji-san...please go...it's already..."

Reki's voice was losing all strength, but even in that state, she was calmly hurrying me on...

I slipped the bayonet into my belt, and I shouldered the Dragunov.

"Reki. As opposed to two people dying, it is certainly better for one to live."

Hearing my words--

Reki, as if relieved, lightly nodded.

You don't even have the strength to answer anymore.

"Yet--my math isn't very good, but at least, I can understand that that isn't the best answer."

"...?"

Reki's eyes, under her bloodstained locks, looked at me.

Rustle.

Putting strength into my arms, I lifted Reki's arm.

"Obviously, it is better if both can live."

I helped her stand up, and Reki's--

-almond eyes were slightly wider than usual, staring directly at me.

It was extremely slight, but she had an amazed expression.

Aria06 243.jpg

That's good, Reki. That's good.

Doing this, you have to find yourself.

From this moment onward, let your life be filled with more surprise. With more tears. And--with more, more smiles.

That kind of smile, shown to me while sitting in the midst of a puddle of your own blood--

-your first and last smile...That isn't fine at all!

"Reki. You cannot. You cannot die. I saw it. At this moment, you--smiled. You can smile."

Reki--this is the moment where you start to grow.

In this situation, where you've taken your first step, you cannot die.

From now onward. For what comes after.

You are no longer the wind's slave--you are a human, a new life.

Therefore, you cannot die!

Reki seemed to start trying to resist...but immediately, she lost all strength, and while standing, she swayed dangerously.

She can't. Reki can no longer walk.

The Dragunov slung around my back, I took Reki with my two hands before--holding her up, princess-style.

It's a relief that this girl is so light. Because of that, I'm able to run. Relying on the strength that comes when one is in the midst of a firestorm.

Tap Tap Tap...!

The hunting dogs had already reached a point where I could hear their footsteps.

While holding Reki, I wasn't able to fire off any intimidation shots, and I had no idea as to where to escape--when from my feet.

Whisper...

A white shadow flickered out.

--Haimaki.

Having been injured earlier in the fight with the Shar-Pei, Haimaki was standing up.

Grrrrrrr...Growling softly, Haimaki's fur was standing up, and although he was in the darkness, I was able to see that his fangs and claws were extended.

His back facing me, running towards the forest, Haimaki--is an extremely faithful wolf.

That blind faith was always there, a willingness to die for his master. Even when he had been struck by Patra's hideous golems, even when he was pursuing me, acting as the platform for Reki's ricochet, those positions of enormous danger.

And now, even now, he was like this.

Haimaki. You...

...are going to volunteer to be our bait?

By yourself, you're going to challenge that entire pack of ferocious hunting dogs?

You too--are a man.

It matters not whether you're a human or an animal. When in times of need, men...have no choice but to help women. Even if one is to die, it is something that one must do.

Only turning his head back halfway, Haimaki's eyes, gleaming in the darkness, looked at me.

Those eyes had faith in me--

Go. I leave Reki to you.

They seemed to be saying that.

"--Haimaki. When you survive and come back, I'll buy a box of fish sausages for you."

Saying that, I--

-turned my back on Haimaki, already surrounded by the countless gleaming eyes of the hunting dogs in the darkness by his side--

-I turned my back on Haimaki, who howled, bursting into the midst of the pack like a hurricane.

Facing the hunting dogs which had bundled up, preparing to savage Haimaki together, I held Reki's delicate frame in my hands, rushing towards the river--


Run.

I have to run.

I have to run with all my strength.

Still holding Reki, who was completely still, in my arms, I ran. Into the forest. Recklessly.

The me as of now isn't in anything like Hysteria Mode. The me as of now is just a normal high school student.

However, I still have the ability to carry a girl in my arms, running away. I can still turn my back on the enemy, running away with all my strength.

Besides, Reki--I had run away from you during the "Manhunt", and normally, I run away from Aria as well. Running away is the only field in which I have a wealth of experience. So, don't worry.

Having crossed over a few muddy creeks, my limbs scratched as I hurtled through the dense branches, having slid down steep slopes, my body stained with mud, covered with wounds, I still ran, despite being in this state. I had emptied my mind of all thought.

In the midst of the mountain, Haimaki is probably still fighting with the hunting dogs, preventing them from going after us.

Or perhaps, because I had crossed through many rivers, it was hard to track me? The dogs--had not given chase. It seemed as if they had retreated.

Continuing to run deep inside, my breathing erratic, my vision suddenly opened--

-I exited into a vast field where cosmos was growing abundantly.

Under the light of the stars, the pink color of the petals, all blooming simultaneously, seemed like a haze of pink.

"Reki...Reki!"

While entering into the midst of the cosmos in the field, parting their branches, I called out her name, trying to confirm whether she was conscious or not, but...

Reki could no longer answer.

I understood that the temperature in her limbs was already dropping.

"...Reki..."

Panicked, in an instant, I placed Reki into the midst of the cosmos--and pulling out the wire in my belt, I cut it with the cutter on my belt. Using it, I stopped the blood flow to her thigh and forearm.

Because I had ascertained that Reki was still breathing, I raised my head, looking around. There was not a single house around. Not even the tiniest home. At any rate, we cannot contact a hospital.

Aah, if my cellphone hadn't been damaged in the very first attack...

I could have called in reinforcements for support, called in ambulances, called in anything.

There were no lights around us. I had no idea where the city was. I had ran directly away from the enemy, but...it could be that I had ran in the opposite direction from the city.

At that moment--

Flutter.

Flutter.

A butterfly...flew into my field of vision.

Appearing to be a swallowtail butterfly, it flew in small circles before us, and as if guiding us--it started flying in a certain direction.

Heading in that direction, at the forest on the other side of the swamp--

Shine. I saw a light. Squinting, looking closer, the lights...continued.

Most likely, that's a streetlight.

If I head over there, a car will probably pass. Then, I will be able to ask for help.

But, aahh...

It's so far...! To the point of despair.

(Reki...you cannot die...!)

Once again taking Reki into my arms, I stood up, focusing all the strength in my body into my legs.

Reki, you cannot die.

I have finally reached this point, I have finally understood you.

Just the slightest bit...I can understand you.

So--there is still something that I need to tell you.

Something I haven't told you yet.

So, you cannot die.

You cannot die, Reki!


Translator's Notes and References[edit]

  1. 彼女 (Kanojo) means both 'she' and 'girlfriend'. Kinji misunderstood her the first time she said it, though she really meant to say "she", as explained.
  2. Nishijin means 'Western Front'.