Kamisama no Memochou:Volume 9 Chapter 6

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Chapter 6[edit]

Major’s most dangerous mission was to be done the day before the operation. Our plan would have been leaked if I appeared at the enemy camp, since I had shown my face before, so I could only wait at ‘Ramen Hanamaru’ for Major to report in.

At the evening, Major finally returned with much vigor, dressed in rare millet-colored work clothes,

“Good win, good win! 25 seconds is too long for me. Go see the video yourself.”

“I’ll go have a look.”

I received the Major SD card from Major, inserted it into the laptop, and watched the video.

Shown on the screen was the surveillance office building Aster Tataricus was located. As it was a direct feed from a digital camera processed to a surveillance monitor, the footage was extremely poor in quality. Nevertheless, one could still see movements inside the elevator.

The elevator opened at the first level, and a male transportant moved in some cargo that was taller at him. The elevator doors closed, and started to rise. It took about 25 seconds to reach the 12th level. Once the doors opened, the transporter pushed the cargo in.

Major himself was not captured on film in any way.

“…Did you really do this at this moment?”

I asked incredulously.

“I just opened the panel and adjusted a few parts.”

I sighed. That skill could only be described as god-like. Major took action while the cargo created a blind spot in the video. However, that transporter didn’t act unnaturally at all, and Major didn’t show up as he was small. The disguise was perfect.

“One other thing. I installed some ropes at the roof

“Eh?”

Ropes?

“Isn’t there a large window in the target’s room? If we can film the room from the outside, there’s a failsafe even if the operation fails.”

“E-erm…wait a moment. From outside the window? Like hanging a rope from the roof like the building cleaners hanging outside?”

“Right. I always wanted to be Spiderman!”

“I-isn’t this…too dangerous?”

I was commenting as an ordinary person, but Major went on a long tangent on how descending training is so strict, that he hung on for hours, and that the rope he developed was light and sturdy. In the end, I could only give up on trying to convince him.

“I get it. I’ll let you do whatever you want…”

Once the sun, Tetsu-senpai, Hiro and Yondaime were all gathered, and we could being meeting. Before that, Ayaka served dinner to everyone, and asked a careless question,

“Fujishima-kun, are you done with your spring assignments?”

“…Eh?”

That was all I could only answer. I hurriedly checked the calendar on my phone, and found that the following day would be the last day of spring vacation. Spring assignments, well, I did a little beforehand, but I had long forgotten about its existence thereafter.

“That’s perfect, Narumi. This is the perfect chance to dropout right now.”

Tetsu-senpai patted me on the shoulder, saying this.

“Submitting a report relating to fraud and blackmail should do the trick.”

Major continued with the sarcastic words.

“How haven’t you dropped out already?”

And most hurtful of all was Yondaime, who clearly didn’t sound like he was joking.

“Actually I love to finish everything on the last day of vacation! Once everything’s settled tomorrow, let’s get to work together!”

Ayaka said, tapped me on the head with the tray, and returned to the kitchen.

Hiro snickered,

“For assignments, can’t you not get Alice to finish it for you? She owes you a huge favor, and an assignment’s nothing much, right?”

We laughed at ourselves, picked up our bowls, and slurped away at the noodles.

Everything’s going to end soon. We’re going to get back our daily lives with our own hands, the life with Alice accompanying us.

Five empty bowls were stacked together, and our final strategic meeting began.

“The doctor dropped by again.” Tetsu-senpai started with the report, ”But we don’t know which floor he went to. The elevator stopped at the 14th floor, but that might be the doctor going to greet. The 14th, 15th and 16th floor are all leased by Aster Tataricus, and Alice might be at one of the three levels. He knows that we’re looking for Alice, and maybe she’s hidden in a different level.”

“If there’s a girl to be hidden in the company, that will require hiding her from all the staff members. It’ll be really difficult, so I guess she’s at a different level.” Hiro too nodded in agreement.

“Looks like we can only split up and look around everywhere. We’ll react accordingly if things crop up.” Saying that, Yondaime started writing the number of people on the blueprint of the office building. I’ll just defer fully to the leader of Hirasaka-gumi here.

“Ah, right. When I went out on my mission today, I found a few suspicious people.”

Major suddenly chimed in,

“They look very fierce, and there were loads of them on every level. They’e also been going around checking for trap doors and such. Really suspicious.”

Seriously, is it really convincing coming from the already stealthy Major? Major? He said he took a photo, and showed me his digital camera.

The few men on the screen seemed familiar. I recalled back a moment, “Ah”, and ended up attracting attention from the others.

“You met them?” I nodded as I answered Yondaime.

“At the hospital parking lots. They had their cars parking there…”

Since they didn’t attend the meeting, that meant that they weren’t Shionjis, working for them. If they’re showing up then, surely it has to do with Alice. Shionji Keiichi did say that his grandfather, Shionji Mikitsugu, intended to deal with Alice.

“So the old man nearly had the inheritance taken away, is feeling really anxious, and wants to find Alice now? Why’s he messing things up at such a crucial moment …”

Tetsu-senpai ruffled his short hair messily.

“These guys…might be in the same line of work as me.”

Yondaime glared at the screen, muttering,

“Shady work?” Major enlarged the visual of the camera, focusing on their ferocious faces.

“Yeah. You said they went to the hospital too. There’s no way these guys are just chauffeurs. The Shionjis hiring them probably aren’t any decent either.”

Suddenly, I had an idea.

Even if that incident did not happen, Alice’s father might have been murdered, right before the Head Mitsutoshi. These people showed up at the hospital that day, probably so that Mikitsugu could take the inheritance for himself.

I discarded the chilling thoughts for a moment, and said,

“We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Please get everyone in Hirasaka-gumi to see this photo.”

Yondaime nodded, pulled the SD card from the digital camera, and slipped it into his pocket.

While we were going through the itinerary for the next day, Xiao Ling-san gave me a call.

“We’ve just finished here. Do you want to come by to have a look?”

“No. I want to go over right now, but there’s a chance he might notice.”

“Got it. Am I to send the invoice to Hirasaka-gumi?”

“Yes, thank you very much.” Once the call ended, I exhaled in the dark, cramped space.

“Speaking of which, this setup of yours is way too much. That’s the most amount of money you’re splurging here, right?”Tetsu-senpai complained.

“This concerns Alice’s life. The money isn’t much compared to that.”

“I’m the one paying. If you want to act cool, wait till everything else is over.”

Yondaime’s reproach left Hiro chuckling.

*

The following day──

It was 9am, and I exited the subway station, looking around at the streets of East Shinjuku that was still in slumber. No matter where I looked, there were only office buildings, apartments, and construction trucks, a plain, lifeless scene.

I turned my head around, and looked up at the massive buildings behind me. The brown walls formed out of jigsaw blocks was extended far into the sky. That was our battlefield for the day.

I had already memorized the layout completely, but I gingerly frisked the layout I had looked at for an umpteenth time, and looked at it over and over again. There’s no problem. If things go as planned, everything will end well.

Major’s voice reached me through the earphones.

“Final checks are complete. Everything is normal.”

“Right…are the ropes OK?”

“Of course. Beginning descent. During this operation, please clal me Spiderman.”

What in the world? Be serious. At this voice, Hiro interrupted.

“Target car is approaching your position.”

“Copy that, begin operation.”

“Be careful.” “We'll meet again at Yasukuni!”

I went from the stairs to the pedestrian pathway, and there was a large white Benz turning towards the basement parking lots. I hurried along, and ran down the slope.

It seemed Shionji Keiichi had already noticed me, for he was leaning by the door of his parked car, waiting for me.

“Good morning.”

I felt that it was pretentious, but I did lower my head. He removed his headphones, slung them around his neck, and stuffed the car keys into the pocket of his white robe.

“Is there something?”

There was no kindness in his words, but it didn’t seem that I ruined his mood. In any case, I really wondered if this guy really has any ‘emotions’. Will my strategy really work against such a weird person? My heart raced. Calm down. I can’t let him know that this is a gamble on my part.

“I want to talk to you about Alice.”

I said calmly,

“Can we talk in your office?”

“Over here will do.”

I gulped. It’s nothing, just an expected answer. I can’t let myself be led astray by him.

It has to be in your office. I can’t show my cards now, and most importantly, I need you to log in to confirm the intel I give you, or we can’t negotiate.”

Saying that, I forced myself to glare at Shionji Keiichi’s face. I couldn’t lose to him in terms of willpower at least. The glasses lens reflected the sunlight, turning white.

“Fine.” Shionji Keiichi nodded, and strode off to the glass doors by the parking lines. He probably wouldn’t believe all of what I say, just that it’s pointless to maintain a deadlock here, and that it’s better to be certain if what I say is true. The risk of me entering his office probably is insignificant to him.

So I entered the elevator along with him, and watched the number on the electronic display panel rise, my heart racing away without restraint. If I fail here, the losses will be no less than devastating, at least

“About Alice──”

My parched tongue was sticking to my mouth, and I stammered. I coughed, and repeated,

“How’s Alice right now?”

“Do relax.” Shionji Keiichi stared at the elevator door, answering, “She should have enough strength to move on her own and use the computer.”

I felt number. He could nonchalantly say something that basically means she won’t be able to do so soon.

The level 14 was showen and announced, and the doors were opened. Once Shionji Keiichi entered, he took the access pass and scanned it. The glass doors with the purple ‘Aster Tataricus’ logo slid aside silently.

“Morning, chairman.”

The young lady who visited me the last time appeared on the corridor, and her face frozen once she saw me.

“I'll bring him into the chairman room. Don't disturb us.”

Shionji Keiichi coldly stated, and the lady bowed sheepishly.

We went down the long corridor, and entered the chairman’s room. As usual, I didn’t see anyone around. Shionji Keiichi tapped his pass on the bell to the chairman’s room, and I, so tense that I was about to collapse, felt prayerful as I followed him into the room.

Like usual, there was a purple carpet laid out on the floor, along with a purple white office desk leaning by the side of the window. Three monitors were facing away from me.

“I shall hear what you have to say then. Keep it brief.”

Shionji Keiichi turned around before the table.

I nodded, and approached him one step at a time, took out the tablet form the pocket of my jacket, started it up, and handed it over to him. Shown on the monitor was the homepage of ZODIAC, and I pointed out a certain important news.

Shionji Keiichi’s sharp and thin brows curled into a frown, the eyes behind his glasses looking back and forth twice between the monitor and my face. This was written,

“it’s suspected that the Aster Tataricus account details have been leaked”.

Shionji Keiichi reached his hands to tap at the monitor, quickly scanned for the reports, and glared at me.

“If that is to happen, I should have received information before the news aired.”

Everything following this would determine the outcome, so I convinced myself as I said,

“You wouldn’t have received any information. This report was released by a leaker just now.”

In the blink of an eye, Shionji Keiichi took out his little tablet from the pocket of his robe, and logged into the homepage of ZODIAC to see it was real. It’s an expected reaction, since he suspected that I fabricated this webpage.

He took a step towards me, saying,

“…You know the boss of ZODIAC. It's not impossible for her to publish fake news for you, right?”

So he knows that too. I felt a creaking chill in my stomach. Each and every move was read through by him and neutralized. It’s not over though. There’s a lot more after this.

“It’s fine if you want to suspect me, the damages will only spread. What I want to say is simple. We’ve hacked through your company’s systems, and your important intel is being leaked. If you want us to stop, let Alice go and tell me where she is.”

Shionji Keiichi continued to work at the computer quickly at an alarmingly rate. Most like, he was searching through the internet for related news, but that’s probably unable to help him figure out this plan completely. Soon after, he slotted the computer into his pocket, went around the table, and said,

“Without Yuuko, you probably don’t have that level of expertise.”

Is he still trying to probe me? Where’s this callousness coming from? I did my best to kick my anxiety back into my lungs, and answered,

“Since you do know that I know the boss of ZODIAC, you still have the time to suspect me?”

I might be overacting. Our eyes met. Shionji Keiichi was the first to look away, down at the keyboard at his hand.

“…You’re trying to get me to log in and check on the damages, right?”

Shionji Keiichi muttered, digging a hole of despair behind my head. So vicious his words were that I was left completely reeling. This guy’s the toughest antagonist to deal with. He continued to work at the monitor by the turn, and the wall behind the table started to darken. He let down the curtains.

“You’re planning to use a telescopic visual from the outside of the window, or a camera you brought into this room secretly, hoping to film me entering my password, right?”

At that moment, the lights were gathered on my ‘stage’. My face tensed up, my eyes slightly widened, the words stuck in my throat.

He saw through everything. Game over.

I realized that I was looking completely dejected, that I appeared to have lost completely. It’s all an act performed to me.

Right, you closing the window ruined one of my pieces, Major’s dangerous movie-like stunt. That’s just a failsafe however. What’s going to kill you will come later.

Shionji Keiichi continued to mutter,

“This isn’t a bad idea, but my computer requires a fingerprint identification along with a password to log in. Just filming my fingers is not going to work. For safety reason, I had the shades pulled down too.”

After typing away, his fingers slid past the fingerprint identification by the side of the keyboard.

At that moment, I seemed to have heard a strange sound.

There seemed to be countless ancient gears assembled together in a complex manner, meshed and yet rotting away as they remained inactive. The gears started to click, and spin. The screeching of my bones, my maddening pulse, and the pain in my teeth seemed to be caused by this extreme tension. However, they seemed to distant, for something big seemed to be rumbling away.

Shionji Keiichi lifted his eyes.

I tried to scan for any emotion on his face, but I found nothing. Did I fail? My consciousness nearly fell into the darkness, but what drew me back was the reflection of the monitor on his glasses. .

The screen was completely blue. The computer was disconnected

“…This─”

Shionji Keiichi muttered monotonously, as flat as a nanosized metal chip.

“This isn’t my computer…right?”

I nodded, and gulp. The burning sensation inside the throat had spread to the back of the ears. I could no longer suppress my heartbeat, and my fingertips were trembling so much, they were numb.

“Doing that is simple. Alice’s monitor and keyboard are the same as yours.”

My voice was cracking due to the dryness.

“You swapped it? How did you do it? Did you sneak into this room? Your level of expertise shouldn’t allow for you to break the lock and the security system.”

Right, at this point, we can’t do it, or we would have broken the door and security system down to rescue Alice. It’s because we had no such power than we created this laughable, ridiculous bluff.

“I did switch things around, not just the computer though.”

Shionji Keiichi narrowed an eye skeptically. I bit onto my trembling lips, barely shook off the tension through the pain, and continued on,

“It was your mistake to cover the windows directly. If you had it open, you could have realized before you logged in.”

His hand reached for the edge of the table, and he pressed a button to pull up the curtains, the sun shining in thereafter. The skyscrapers in the heart of Shinjuku cut through the clouds from the ground, standing tall outside the windows.

I went around the table, and approached the window,

“This is a little different from the usual scenery you see, right?”

I pointed beyond the thick glass wall, saying this. Shionji Keiichi turned his head around. Finally, I saw a surprised look on his face. The eyes beneath his glasses widened slightly, albeit so little it was almost impossible to see.

“I swapped out the entire level.”

I didn’t know if it was Shionji Keiichi who gasped, or me for gasping away every time I spoke.

“This isn’t the 14th level, but the 12th, ZODIAC Electronics. The layout is the same, so the entire yesterday was spent modifying the level to mimick your office. The hardest part however is to modify the elevator and the circuit board, and also to get that staff member of yours to help us”

Shionji Keiichi did actually press the button to the 14th floor, and the display did show the 14th floor. The circuit board Major rewired merely caused the elevator to operate differently, and brought him to the 10th floor.

The last, most important part was Hiro conquering the female staff member of Aster Tataricus. Hiro did say that he shied away from the lifestyle of a gigolo, and basically intimidated her. She did listen to our request however, and waited for the chairman at the 12th level, attending to him as though she was at her actual company.

Shionji Keiichi removed his glasses, and laid them on the table. That might be the most exaggerated gesture he had ever done, but his expression remained unmoved.

“Now you understand, right? The password and fingerprint you entered were duplicates prepared by us. The report of the leak was really fabricated by me, but it just turned real. With your password and fingerprint, we’re able to hack into the Aster Tataricus system through the real computer in your office.”

Shionji Keiichi let out a long sigh that landed upon the fake keyboard.

“That password can only be logged into my usual work computer. You can’t really do as you please in my company’s internal system as you wish given your level of expertise, right?”

The dry breath formed several cracks in my windpipe.

Right, we don’t have that sort of power. This is ‘all’ we can do for our operation, but──

“We didn’t have to do anything ourselves.”

My voice was as feeble as wilted grass.

“There’s one person in this building capable of doing this, right?”

A crack appeared on Shionji Keiichi’s stoic face. Enduring this anguish, I continued,

“You’re saying that she’s not leaving your cage because she’s unwilling to, right? I don’t think so. Since you did give her an avenue to connect to your network, she’s definitely still fighting right now, watching over all the networks connected to this facility, looking for the gaps in the wall. She’s the kind of person to never give up her pride, even if she has to give up her life.”

My final line was practically devoured by the heat stuck in my throat. I knew, more than anyone else, that no matter how feisty I tried to say, I dared not to affirm if it was just a wish, or a prayer. We mobilized lots of funds and manpower for this operation, but the most crucial point rested upon her, whom we couldn’t hope to contact.

But at this moment, I could practically see her slender fingers racing away on the keyboard like raindrops. The binaries kept changing in the billions as she tried to break through the firewall, cutting through the clouds cluttering the skies, reaching the satellites, and looking down upon the surface, filling each and every void.

The cellphone in my pocket started to vibrate. The roar of the guitars, bass and drums rocked at my ears, the blaring fireworks storming at my feet.

‘Colorado Bulldog’.

I held my breath, intoxicated as I listened to the maddening, repeating melody that scratched at my skin.

We were connected by this song.

I then brought the cellphone in my hand to my ear.

“…You…idiot.”

The nostalgic voice was full of tears.

“Didn’t I tell you to leave me alone?”

The air was filled with an electric sensation, causing me to lift my head, and I saw Alice’s face appear on the three monitors. She was dressed in a blue dress, her cheeks a little thinner, her skin eerily white, her moist eyes on the verge of breaking into thousands of droplets.

I couldn’t make a voice, and squeezed out all the air in my lungs, but that too ended up sounding dumb,

“…It’s been a while. You’re a lot skinner.”

“I’m no longer your detective!”

“But no matter what you say, I’m always your assistant.”

“…listen, as a detective, I’m always working to serve the living. No matter how unbearable and ugly the truth is, the living has to live accept it, make the decision, suffer over it, and continue to live on. That has been what I’ve been saying all this while …”

The sparkling little drops formed a little trail down her cheeks,

“B-but! After seeing my father like that, I couldn’t maintain my resolve and speak for the dead! Being a detective is everything to me, but I have no right to do so!”

So what? So I thought I as I gripped the cellphone with my trembling hand. There’s no need for any right to continue living. Worms aren’t scared of the dark. Penguins aren’t ashamed of being unable to fly. Didn’t you say that before?

“…So you want to kill off the Alice in my heart too?”

What I said next was completely emotional, without thought. There should be a more rational, logical way of expressing myself, but I could no longer hold back the riveting sensation within my body.

“But Alice, aren’t you still alive? N-no matter how much you are suffering…you have to accept it, suffer some pain, and make your decision. You’re still alive!”

The tears muddled Alice’s face on the monitor. Or maybe the muddled ones were my eyes.

“…Seriously, you──”

Her voice was weakening, shattering. The cruelty of survival shattered her little body, revealing the heart kinder than anyone else.

But Alice, no matter how you try to manipulate your words, I won’t be fooled by you. You’ve received my signal, unlocked the chains, and called for me through the fated song, so you lost. You defeated yourself through your omnipotent eyes, ears, and fingers.

Thus,

“Enough with the nonsense and open the back door. You’re hungry, aren’t you?”

Ugh. Alice swallowed her words, and sniveled twice, rubbing an eye with her palm. A red tinge appeared on her cheeks, and they were proof that she remained alive.

“…Seriously…you’re always like this!”

The reddened eyes showed new tears again.

“You never listen to me. You’re always so reckless!”

She removed the headset off, and threw it at the camera.

“Enough! Your folly gets worse without me throwing empty cans at you all the time!”

Alice’s hand reached towards me, and I could feel energy in my body flowing freely, the fleeting tapping at the keyboard fizzing away/

Soon after, the little door behind her on the monitor slid open.

The heat in my body was about to burst out like a dam, rising out of my throat. I was about to turn and leave the Chairman’s room, but I turned back to the computer again, for I forgot to ask where Alice’s room is.

“I’ll go get you. Which floor is that──”

Shionji Keiichi’s shout suddenly interrupted,

“No, close the doors!”

Stunned, I turned my head around. Alice didn’t hear, for she had already stood up and left the microphone before the computer, stumbling towards the door.

“Didn’t I say that my grandfather wants Alice──”

I didn't hear the end, for when Alice stepped beyond the opened door, a large hunk dressed in a black suit so happened to appear on the corridor. Alice’s shriek reached my ears. She wanted to retreat to the room, only for the man to grab her arm violently.

“Alice?”

That man was one of those I met at the hospital parking lots, and appeared in Major’s photo. So they located Alice’s before us? Shionji Keiichi shoved me aside, and tapped at the keyboard. The left monitor showed words on the screen, and the commands he entered raced towards the right. The other two monitors showed the man at the door, trying to pull Alice, only to let go due to the pain. It so happened that the door was suddenly slammed on him, clamping on his shoulder. Thinking back about it, I realized it was because Shionji Keiichi exhibited a godlike skill. Within a matter of seconds, he hacked into the building’s security system through the fake computer, removed the safety features of the doors, and shut the doors. However, I did not have the time to think about that. Also shown on the monitors was Alice’s little body that helped her out, and she tumbled onto the corridor.

“She’s on the tenth floor, hurry!”

Shionji Keiichi yelled. I immediately bolted out and contacted Yondaime by phone.

“Found Alice, she’s on the tenth floor! Those guys are here!!”

The tenth floor was beyond our allocated positions, so I should probably arrive them first. I didn’t have the time to wait for the elevator, so I darted into the emergency staircases, descended two levels, hastily opened the metal door, and entered the building again. The corridors on this unleased level was dim, the stench of new paint and materials stinging at my skin. I could hear some soft footsteps.

“Alice!”

I yelled, sprinting down the carpeted corridor.

I nearly collided with the petite body in blue around the corner. Both of us stumbled, tripping over. I barely managed remain upright, for my back was on the wall, but she ended up falling on her backside.

Our eyes met.

“Ah…”

We exclaimed in unison.

Beneath the messy black hair were Alice’s dark blue eyes, sparkling with light. Our eyes met, along with the countless emotions we had. However, we had no chance to talk, for there were frantic footsteps, along with silhouettes gaining on us.


And I immediately lifted Alice up.

“──Narumi?”

I ignored Alice’s shriek as I ran the other way. While passing through a corner, I pulled a mop out from the cleaners, shoved the emergency exit, and went out. The sudden brightness dazed my eyes, but I gently dropped Alice to the floor, spun around, and stuck the mop beneath the handle, using the railing as support. Once I let go, someone started banging at the door on the other side, twisting the handle, and bending the mop greatly. The doors rattled, and behind them, there was a heinous man cursing away. While I thought they had given up on banging the door down—

“──The emergency stairs! He’s on the emergency stairs, going from the outside!”

Damn it! He’s calling for help!

I dropped Alice on my shoulder, and shocked her so much she was flailing and screaming about. “I’ll run on my own!” Shut up and stop moving. You can’t even walk straight. The deafening footsteps upstairs got my stomach tied in a knot.

“Found her!” “The brat’s there too!”

The voices of many men came down upon me, and I started jumping three steps at a time. Should I find a floor to seek aid, or should I continue to run to the ground floor? This hesitation caused me to slow down.

At the stairwell, the metal doors to the 9th level opened, and I stopped. Men in dark suits entered the emergency staircase, one at a time. They lifted their heads, and saw Alice and me, shrugging away. Despair caused my consciousness to fade.

“Who’s that brat?”“The one that day.”“Met him at the hospital.”

I could sense the men sneering away, and glaring at me.

“Do we deal with him?” “He knows too much.”

I felt a chill in my heart, the hand on the railing shivering.

“No.” There was a voice upstairs, curshing my frozen consciousness. ”He’s an ordinary person who brought friends. We can’t finish them all. Just deal with the lady alone.”

Alice’s fingernails sank deep into my shoulders. Ahh, these guys are really planning to kill Alice. If they’re saying that they can deal with her, that means they’re going to eliminate those within the Shionjis.

“Don’t you dare touch Narumi!”

Alice yelled with a parched voice,

“I-I’ll come along with you then!”

She wanted to hop off from my shoulders, but my hands remained latched onto her waist, and I exerted strength. If I let go, our efforts will be for naught, right?

“Narumi, let go of me!”

There were foosteps approaching from both above and below me, and my blood was churning away in my ears. I’m not letting go, no matter what you say. Do you know how many favors I owe just to get into this point? How many times I had to change my feeble assumptions and guesses, and bluffed my eye to risk this gamble? I leaned towards the railing, and exerted strength into my feet.

Suddenly, there was that thing in a corner of my eye.

So I held my breath, listening intently on our overlapping heartbeasts. Within me, a question was posed to myself.

Can I do it?

I kicked aside this question along with the reality. It’s not a question of whether I can do it. I have to do it.

“Hang on, Alice. Don’t let go.”

“Wha──”

Alice was left speechless. The men closing in too looked dumbfounded, their footsteps hastening. My feet were on the railing, and I lifted Alice along.

Alice was grabbing me tightly on the, her eyes blurred due to fear. The memory buried deep within her heart was being broken up, about to swallow her. You’re right, Alice, I’m going to do the same thing your father did, reckleness, stupid, barbaric dangerous, a very risky, suicide idea.

But there was something a little different. I’m not alone. I still have my friends.

I stepped onto the railing.

The cold air immediately engulfed me. The walls of the building filled my vision closing in at an alarming rate. At this moment, I can clearly feel the warmth of Alice’s body. The fear and wind pressure sliced at my ears, and my consciousness was about to be robbed away from my body, abandoned far behind me.


No, I can’t pass out here. I need to grab on.

So I reached my hands out, trying to grab my fading consciousness—

And the rope that actually existed.

My palms instantly felt heat so unimaginably strong. My arms, neck, shoulders and back were exerted fully, aching away. My joints and muscles were screaming away. Alice’s arms were sinking deep into my neck, causing me difficulty in breathing. A nauseous heat engulfed me from head to me, burning me. I grabbed onto the bloodied rope with all my might, and latched my legs on. The rope dangled greatly, and I slammed into the wall a few times

“──Vice Admiral Fujishima!”

Once the shaking stopped, I heard a growl from behind.

“Wha-what are you doing? You wanna die!?”

Even with the strong gales blowing away, Major’s voice clearly reached my ears. I gnawed awa at my pain and fear, and glanced down even though I knew I shouldn’t. The end of the rope was touching the ground far below me, and Major was as small as a bean. Suddenly, I felt a shiver, as though my entire lower half was gone. I hurriedly concentrated, gathered my strength, and stepped onto the wall, trying to stabilize myself, glancing at the disturbing voices. The men in dark suits were lined up at the railing of the emergency staircase, only to be blocked at the emergency doors by several hunks. It’s the black T-shirts of the Hirasaka-gumi. I closed my eyes, experiencing the pain all over my body, and checked if my limbs were still able to me. “One step at a time, move back slowly! Rest when there’s a ledge on the wall” Major’s inaudible roar kept going. Alice’s teeth were clattering at my ears. All these sounds however, were practically concealed by my heartbeat.

I can do this. I have to. I concentrated fully on Alice’s warmth, and my limbs. Slowly, descend slowly. Nice and slowly—

The moment my feet landed, I relaxed, and collapsed, nearly crushed by Alice’s weight.

“Vice Admiral! Get up! We’re moving!”

Major shouted at my ear. I lifted my head in a huff, and before I could say anything, a hand was tucked right under my armpit, lifting me up violently.

“Major, take Alice and go.” Yondaime’s sidelong face was next to me. My wilting body suddenly accelerated, and my vision was bouncing back and forth between Yondaime’s back and the concrete floor. It seemed he carried me up, so I thought in a daze.

I forgot everything that had happened after Alice and I were shoved into the back of Yondaime’s car. I was completely groggy, my flesh bloodied due to the rope burns, causing red drops on Alice’s blue dress. She too was crying away, her little fists slamming at my chest.

“You idiot! Really…you’re this reckless…every time …”

The damp grumbling then fell upon me.

I grabbed Alice’s wrist, and she shivered, before she bawled out loud, her face buried beneath my chin. Her sobs, her heartbeat and her warmth reached me.

That's proof that she's still alive.

This is enough. It’s great that she’s back alive. This is enough ──

The acceleration shoved my body onto the seat, crushing my consciousness and flattening them into fragments as I slowly sank into darkness.

My left arm was wrapped around the back of the suit, and once I saw that Alice was really there for the last time, I closed my eyes, and let sleep take over my consciousness.

*

Before knowing it, the sakura trees showed some green.

I started my third year of high school with a glorious record of taking absence from school for two days. On the day of the school opening, my muscles were bruised and aching, and I spent the entire day lying on the bed, unable to get up. The next day, my legs were still weak, and I couldn't take a few steps.

And so, Ayaka ended up delivering all the information and lectures given by the school to my house.

“Speaking of which, it’s the first time I entered your room, Fujishima-kun.”

Ayaka, still dressed in uniform, entered my room, and scanned my plain room enthusiastically. It's her first time here?

“And you can't write your assignments after all.” Ayaka saw my bandaged hands, smiling.

“Erm, yeah…sorry.”

“Our classmates were asking why you're taking leave. I really couldn't lie my way out of it, but I couldn't tell them everything, so I told them you got involved with a hostess from Ginza, and was really injured.”

“You're really killing my desire to go to school…”

Why mention only these provocative lines? Enough with that.

"Oh yeah, the future aspirations survey! You need to submit this tomorrow. The teacher wants me to get you to finish this."

Ayaka pulled out a sheet of paper from the stack.

"Aspirations...I need to write three? Ugh…"

I'm in no mood to think about the future. Every case had me running everywhere, worn out, battered and lethargic.

"Oh yes, you can't really write. How about NEET detective gang? Or just NEET will do?”

“Why give me two options?”

“But you're not thinking of continuing your studies or look for a job, right?”

“Don't presume on your own, okay!? Even though I haven't really thought about it!”

“But if you write Hirasaka-gumi, won't people misunderstand that you're joining the yakuza?”

That's no misunderstanding already, okay?

“Ahh, well, I just want to think this through a little before writing on my own.”

I asked about Ayaka's future plans, and I never thought that (though I had to apologize to her) she actually named her preferred university and faculty, and I really felt that I was far behind her.

“I want to work in an IT company to do marketing work. There are many around me who can teach me.”

Ayaka's so hardworking, and can succeed anywhere.

Later, she discussed lots of school stuff with me. Once done, she sat at my chair by the desk, and stared at the blooming cherry blossom tree outside the window.

“…How’s Alice doing now?”

I pretended to have just thought of it, and asked.

“Hm〜”

Ayaka showed a little smirk, watched the black sakura tree branches, and answered,

“She's at the doctor Yondaime knows, and still can't eat. She's relying on a drip now. I heard that she demanded for Dr. Pepper from the nurse, and she got scolded.”

“I see…great.”

Really great. That’s all I thought. Back then, Alice chose death. If she didn't have a change of heart, our actions would be for naught. Really, thank goodness. I reached my legs out on the beg, and heaved a large sigh.

“I visited her yesterday…” Ayaka grumbled, "But she wouldn't tell me anything. She ended up asking me lots of things instead.”

I silently looked down at the bandages on my arms.

“So I'm guessing you probably won't tell me.”

I didn't know how to explain, and didn't dare to look at Ayaka's face.

“I'll tell you once it's all over.”

I could only say such empty words.

But Ayaka turned around with a smile,

“I see…so, it’s still not over?”

I nodded. There’s still one thing I had to do.

The detective’s job.

*

It was the following Monday when Alice returned to the detective agency. Right after school, I went straight for ‘Ramen Hanamaru’, parked my bicycle at the back door, greet Min-san, and went up the emergency stairs.. I opened the door, and found her changing her clothes.

“Ah──”

Alice was dressed only in her undergarments, and her long socks were partially on. She went beetroot, and shrivelled.

“Right…sorry.”

“Don’t you know how to press the doorbell!?”

I gaudily closed the door, and I heard sharp clashes of empty cans hitting the door. With my back resting on the door, I took a deep breath, and reflected on this moment. Alice had not been around the past few days, and I got used to entering the agency without knocking. It’s my fault. My fault.

After fifteen minutes, I pressed the doorbell, and the blue light flickered in a tantrum.

“Seriously. How is it that after leaving for a few days, you forgot all basic manners? The learning ability of a shape memory shirt is superior to yours!”

Alice was seething as she remained on the bed, welcoming me.

“Sorry …”

While I appeared to be grovelling and apologizing, I was quietly relieved that I could be scolded like this again. Feeling pretty despicable, I lowered my head in a grimace, so that Alice couldn’t see it.

But even so, I quickly lifted my head, and sized up our detective.

“…Mourning clothes?”

Alice was dressed in a Black goth dress, her head adorned with a hat with a black veil that covered her eyes.

“Kei nii-sama contacted me yesterday.”

Alice said forlornly,

“Thinking about it, there are ten of these, but it’s the first time I’m using it for its intended purpose.”

“I see, you’re coming along too?”

Alice got off the bed, nodded, and held my hand.

Alice was being a mourner on this day, and not the speaker of the dead, as per the usual purpose.

“I’m just making a trip there…you’ll be the detective.”

“I know.”

   

Alice and I never said a single word as we took the taxi, just holding hands, watching the remains of spring passing by outside the windows. We knew that it was all coming to an end, that if we said anything, the things we couldn’t say to each other would be wilted.

Soon, the taxi arrived at the hospital, and entered the parking lot through the back door. There was a white robed man at the narrow alley leading to the courtyard. From distance, I thought a doctor was there to welcome us, but up close, I found that it was Shionji Keiichi. He maintained a stoic face, and him wearing his headphones made him look all the more condescending. Once he saw me however, he removed it, and I had a feeling he was expressing his respects his own way.

“Yuuko, how are you feeling?”

Shionji Keiichi glanced aside at me, and turned to Alice.

“Still good.”Alice shrugged,”I thought the doctors at this hospital are evil scientists treating me as a lab rat, but the doctor Yondaime introduced was worse, pushing me down on the bed and shoving food into my mouth. It’s like a goose being raised for Foie gras.”

“Great then.”

Shionji Keiichi looked displeased as he said that, and then he turned his eyes towards me.

“──You’re here to round things off, aren’t you?”

I nodded.

“I’m the detective this time…it’s unlikely that I can do it as well as Alice though.”

“You can leave Yuuko with me. I have some things to settle. The room’s on the sixth floor, first room.”

“Thanks.” I left Alice behind, and went to the building deep beyond the courtyard. To be honest, it’s weird that I could actually trust this man called Shionji Keiichi. The Shionjis might be at this hospital. I firmly believe the best option is to leave Alice with him, even though I set up an elaborate ruse on him, all to get Alice back.

It was only at the very end that I realized that he simply doted her.

I was about to pass the doors colored with stained glass, but Shionji Keiichi called me, and I turned around. He asked,

“Back then, you said you couldn’t answer my fifth question.”

Next to him, Alice tilted her head in confusion.

“This right now should be your answer, no?”

Shionji Keiichi’s fifth question.

I recalled the strange conversation I had with him on that day.

   


──““If Yuuko is to vanish from your life, what will you do?”

   

I nodded, and answered,

“I’ll do this over and over again, no matter how many times.”

Shionji Keiichi too nodded back. The stoic look seemed pretty satisfied, or maybe it’s just me.

   

The door to the first ward room on the sixth floor remained open, and there was no blanket on the bed. The comforting wind fluttered at the windowsill, swaying the sun on the floor. Mari-san was putting in the last things into a little bag, and stopped once she noticed me, getting up from the round chair.

“…Narumi-kun”.

She called my name, and remained silent for quite a while. The look containing various emotions poured upon the chest of my T-shirt, seeping in, and spreading out.

“…You alright?”

After saying that, I realized how stupid the question was. Mari-sanchuckled. It was a façade, as she often did after I encountered her.

“I’ve been accompanying grandpa for a while. I wasn’t allowed out, but he never did anything overbearing to me.”

“I see, that’s good.”

“…I wrote in the message, he passed away last night.”

I looked towards the feet.

For Mari-san’s expression was no longer melancholic, but unnaturally white like a sheet, and I couldn’t look at her directly.

“Yuuko isn’t with you? Keiichi-san said that he contacted her.”

I pointed at the window, where the sun shone through,

“She’s talking to Keiichi-san at the courtyard.”

Mari-san approached the window, and tied the curtain up. The black hair fluttered with the wind. She really resembles Alice. So I thought as I saw her sidelong face again, and went up to her back.

At the courtyard that’s filled with lively, growing greens, there was a white clothed man and a black clothed girl walking side by side under the tree shades, forming a strange contrast. The growing green around them continued to add color for the summer, and there was the feeling of life everywhere. However, their silhouettes had me thoroughly empatizing the existence of death.

“Summer’s coming soon”

Mari-san stared at Alice, her words seeping out from the lips.

“it’s been a while since I got to work. This is bad. I should be starting with the girls fashion in May.”

“The swimsuit season is here too.”

I too stared at the courtyard, saying this,

“I have a friend who knows fashion. He said you are the model for basically all your clothing under the Marie Shion brand, but you don’t wear swimsuits.”

Mari-san lifted her eyes skeptically, her eyes scanning my face.

I gulped,and continued,

“You don’t wear swimsuits before anyone because of the caesarean section on your body, right?”

A long while passed, and she never answered.

The wind got stronger, and the curtain flapping high at the window slapped My other cheek. Why does it hurt so much? The pain and scorn of digging up corpses doesn't go to the dead, but the detective. So that's how it feels like. Alice had gritted her teeth and endured this countless times, yet this weak-willed me couldn't stand just with that little slap.

“…You found out.”

Finally, Mari-san said, looking dumbfounded,

“…I see. So, Yuuko knows about it too?”

I bit my lips, and nodded.

“In that case, then I've really done something very foolish. It was a waste of effort…did she realize after I did that foolish thing?”

I sought all I could think of to console her, but the truth in my heart were all sharp blades that could easily pry flash away on a slight touch. nothing other than to say that this is a detective's job.

“You killed your father so that your DNA won’t be matched, right??”

It's really a terrible way of saying this. Whatever, let's not think about it. show bleed by the way she will bleed either way so let the blood flow out from the wounds. Just say it all out.

“If your grandpa passed away first, you and Alice will be involved in a succession crisis. There will be people wondering if you two are borne from Mitsuki-san, and they will demand for you two to do a DNA verification, Which is what you are most terrified of. I don't know if it will be carried out in the manner you feared, but you're really terrified of the possibility, and didn't want the fact that Alice is your daughter be revealed.”

So that night,Mari-san personally killed her father Shionji Mitsuki, with whom she had a forbidden love with. She removed the artificial ventilation, and broke Alice and herself from Shionji Mitsutoshi's massive fortune.

“Of course, your motive can't possibly be that simple. Having watched your father bear that for so many years, you might have intended to release him. decided to do it because that night, Alice was present, involved in the turmoil over the Shionjis' inheritance.”

From the corner of my eye, I could see Mari-san nodded away.

“Even after seeing Alice deemed as a murderer, you couldn't say the truth. You could only say that you were in the entire time, and lie to protect her. If they knew that you killed him, they could infer the truth from the motive.”

Mari-san snivelled, and said,

“…How foolish I was…Yuuko pretended to be the murdered to protect me, did she? In other words, she had already figured it out back then …I’m really foolish.”

I knew she wasn’t looking at me, but I shook my head. No, you’re only half right, Alice didn’t figure it out back then.

“I’ve been doing dumb things since the beginning. Doing it…with dad”

Mari-san’s voice was heating up, dampening.

“But I…really loved dad. I wanted him to meet mother again. When father heard that mom killed himself, he became so frail, and I too had enough. So I tried to console him…accompany him in mom's place, and then…”

The words seeping into the tears dripped upon the window sill.

Mari-san, who offered her body to her own father, got pregnant at the age of eleven. Needless to say, it was a really dangerous time to get pregnant. The Head Mitsutoshi wanted to ensure the safety of both mother and child, and the secret that father and daughter mated together, so he invested a strangely exorbitant amount into the hospital where he too conceived the forbidden child with a woman, his own little sister, helping Mari-san conceive at such a ridiculously young age. For Mitsutoshi, so obsessed with the 'Shionjis' bloodline', he ended up causing the birth of a child that shouldn't be born.

And that baby was hidden in the cage of the Shionjis just like that, growing into a girl who resembled her mother/sister Mari-san so much, and had everything except for freedom, and the name 'Yuuko'.

Again, I looked over to the petite body of Alice, standing amongst the green.

“Narumi-kun, to tell you…”

Mari-san's voice was practically scattered by her hot breath.

“Do you know why I wanted to stay by grandpa’s side? I wanted to say, every day and night, that his dear Mitsuki is deadbefore him, killed by me. This would be my revenge. These people killed my mother, and I will never …never forgive them. B-but …”

She covered her face with both hands, lamenting with utter anguish.

“But what's the point of doing such a thing…it’s not like mother will return to me!”

A dead person can never revive.

Even this foolish me understood that simple and cruel truth.

But I'm not a detective, just standing in for her. I can only accompany the detective, and watch her rip apart the truth with swords of words. I'm just being a humble author flipping over to write on a new page, recording the story, fulling it, and shaping all happiness and desires.

So I’ll try to bluff her.

“She’ll be back.”

My reply took a long time, so long that I could see the sunlight tilting before it reached Mari-san’s eyes. She lifted her head, and her deep sea eyes, that same as Alice’s, burst into a faucet of tears.

“Didn’t you give birth to Alice? She’s you little sister. Alice’s mother is basically your mother. Didn’t you say you want to replace your mother? Hasn’t this come true now? You gave birth to a new life. You’re a mother.”

You wish to use this manner to call for your mother to enter your heart again. Now, there’s a girl strolling in that brilliant green beyond the window, right? That’s your answer, no?

Mari-san bit her lips furiously, and shook her head hard, the speckles of light dispersing from her eyes, vanishing into the spring breeze.

“That child shouldn't have been born.”

The pained voice seeped out of her bleeding lips.

“On the day grandpa fell ill, the doctor said that grandpa’s my real grandfather, the real father to dad …he had a child with his own sister…”

I watched Mari-san’s face sink into the shadows. I knew that, but at that moment, I didn’t know what to say to her.

“The doctor wanted to say…that since they’re both father and son, the organ transplant won’t really be rejected Do you understand? If dad’s brain dead, they should well donate an organ to grandpa. He’s in his 90s, and might not last through surgery, but no matter how small the chance, they hoped the familiar will agree. They couldn’t tell dad’s wife about this secret, so they could only discuss this with me…”

I realized. Shionji Keiichi mentioned that when Mitsuk-san died, there was a ‘document’ in the room. Surely that proves the fatherly relationship between Shionji Mitsutoshi and Mitsuki, along with an agreement to do an organ transplant. . “Having known this, I just laughed in disbelief. This shows that our family’s all the same. I ended up sleeping with dad, because of this mad bloodline of the Shionjis.”

I kept shaking my head. That’s not true. Please don’t think this way.

“Yuuko has that strange constitution because of my blood.”

Tears rolled down Mari-san’s large eyes, sliding down her cheeks.

The blood as thick as paint created a strange plant in the darkness, a girl who wouldn’t sleep, eat, or grow up, one who survived on knowledge

“Actually, grandpa did wake up once before he passed away.”

Mari-san did not wipe her tears away as she curled her lips, feeling vexed,

“It seemed he thought of me as Yuuko, and kept apologizing to me. Sorry Yuuko, asking for forgiveness, that her actual mother's actually me, that she's the pinnacle of the Shionji bloodline, the perfect creation. That's why her wanted her to remain by his side forward, and not let her out to the outside world…”

Her trembling shook the air, and I felt it too.

The reason why Alice was confined with the Shionjis and raised there not because they wanted to hide this illegitimate child, but that an old man, obsessed with 'bloodline', deemed her as the rarest treasure of them all . “I didn't say it out. What grandpa said really disgusted me, and I felt filthy myself, for I too did the same thing as him grandpa, with my own dad. It's my fault that Alice was locked in the room and raised there.”

Each word was filled with tears as they dropped, forming a puddle.

“I really don't wish for Yuuko to know this secret.”

Mari-san lowered her eyes,

“When's they mentioned the DNA verification, I really panicked madly. His wife never returned to the Shionjis, and never knew of Yuuko's birth,So surely she will request to check Yuuko's DNA.”

It's likely that the Shionjis already knew who Alice's biological mother was, and the ones who didn't were the 'outsiders', Shionji Kyouka who was living away, along with her relatives.

Also, there’s another one, Alice herself.

“So I thought that if dad died earlier than grandpa, we will have nothing to do with the inheritance, and dad will be released from the family…but in fact…I just wanted to release myself…”

So that night, she came to Shionji Mitsuki's room, and personally removed the artificial ventilation, ending the lingering life of her father, or husband.

Maybe somewhere in her heart, she wanted to use this chance to sever the bloodline entangling her and her sister.

“Basically, the entire matter is basically just me feeling guilty over my father complex. I lured in dad through such filthy thoughts, and even bore a child…I really don't wish for Yuuko to know about this. If she does, she will surely hate me.”

I watched Mari-san abuse herself probably verbally, but couldn't help but look at my feet. I then lifted my eyes, saying,

“She doesn't hate you.”

The me reflected in Mari-san's eyes seemed to be as shrouded by the moon covered by the thin clouds.

“Alice won't hate you for this reason.”

Once again, I repeated what I said.

Not out of mercy, not to console her, but simply to say the truth.

“…Narumi-kun, it’s just you.”

“It’s not just me.”

I’m not a detective, and that’s why I can speak for the living without hesitation.

“Alice has long figured that you’re her mother, probably back when she was still with the Shionjis.”

The seas in Mari-san’s eyes were dispersed by the winds. Her lips remained feeble but she eked out a brief answer,

“…You’re lying.”

I shook my head.

“I’m not…the name ‘Yuuko’ was given by your father,Mitsuk-san, right?”

Despite feeling skeptical, Mari-san nodded.

“Mitsuki-san’s a fan of James Tiptree Jr. works. It’s a male name, but the person’s actually a female, and her actual name is Alice Bradley Sheldon. The name ‘Yuuko’ is derived from Alice.”

“…I never heard that. But what’s the point of saying this?”

I took a breath, and the heat and cold of the truth tore at my throat.

“Alice Sheldon’s mother is called Mary.”

I waited for the emotions to spread in the heart of the speechless Mari-san, and it seemed time had stood still for this matter. She didn’t answer, and her eyes remained teary as she did not do anything more.

“Mitsuki-san once gave Alice a set of Tiptree’s books, and this matter was written in one of the translator’s afterword. Maybe him sending Alice’s these books is him trying to hint the truth. That’s why she calls herself ‘Alice’, and that means she knows from the beginning that ‘Mary’ is her mother.The teddy bear pajamas she wears every day is also a creation of her mother.”

Again, I looked outside the window.

That petite black figure moved from the tree shadw to the sun, and was blocked by the shade …

How can she hate you? It’s because of you that she live, walking in the green that’s entering my eyes, experiencing life, breathing, walking on her legs. You can’t see the clear truth when you’re your tears are blurring your eyes?

If that’s really case, I’m going to tell you what I really think, at this very end.

It might sound hollow and meaningless, completely unnecessary even, but,

“Actually, Mari-san…I’m really grateful to you. It might be weird for me to say this, but …”

Eh, why do I always break down right before the important bits? I can’t even say anything nice here.

“Because you gave birth to Alice, I got to meet her, and I had a chance to participate in her miraculous life. I’m older by a year at least, but I’m really ─”

Pull yourself through. So I chided myself. If I’m going to cry here, who am I supposed to console?

“──Really, grateful. I really am. So…so…”

Please don’t say that you shouldn’t have given birth to her.

Mari-san turned her face aside, grabbed the curtain, and covered her eyes, her shoulders quivering. The scattered black hair fluttered with the , caressing the back of my hand.

So I left the windowside.

Before I exited the ward room, I heard sobbing behind me, as serene and crystalline as melting snow.

   

I reached the courtyard, and Alice, under the tree by the building, came running out its shadow, the dress of her mourning clothes fluttering. Shionji Keiichi’s stunningly white silhouette then followed suit.

“Is it over?”

“Yeah, it’s over.”

I lifted my head towards the ward building. The sixth floor windows remained open, but there was no one by the windowside, and I wondered if it was all a dream . I turned around, saw Alice being hesitant, and asked,

“Alice…you’re not going to meet her?”

Alice shook her head beneath the black veil.

“Sometimes, it’s better not to meet, I guess?.”

“I see…”

“You’ll feel uncomfortable if your parents cried next to you, right?”

I couldn’t help but laugh. She’s right. Suddenly mentioning this common occurrence brought me back to reality.

“Need me to drive you out?”Shionji Keiichi approached us, asking, “Or a taxi?”

I looked over at Alice. She was holding down the hat that was nearly blown away by the wind.

“I’ll take the train. It’s fine to walk about once in a while. The station’s not too far away.”

That’s surprising.

“Pretty rare of you to do that. What’s with you? Don’t you normally hate getting suntanned or the hot weathe ─”

Alice snorted slyly,

“I’m wearing a veil and mourning clothes this time, so the sun isn’t too scary. The doctor Yondaime introduced laughed at me for having limp legs, that I can’t walk 500m. Next time, I’m walking to the hospital to prove him wrong.”

I chortled.

   

Alice and I walked side by sideunder the gentle afternoon sun, down the river walkway surrounded by the brown trees. The relieving breeze grazed out heads, and it really was good weather for strolling.

“Taking the train is just an excuse I said to Kei nii-sama.”

We kept walking until the hospital was no longer to be seen, and Alice said.

“Hm?”

“Actually, I have something I want to ask you right now.”

“…Oh, what is it?”

So it’s a conversation only the two of us can hear, you mean? What?

“Erm, in other words…”

Alice’s gloved fingertips fidgeted about.

“First of all, I’m asking this to be sure that you have thoroughly fulfilled your role as a detective.”

“Right, speak up.” What does she want to ask?

The huffing face hidden under the black veil seemed devoid of life.

“You know everything about what I did that night…didn’t you?”

“Yes, I do.”

“I-I don’t believe you. Now tell me!”

“Well, before the alarm rang at midnight, the Mari-san who came to my room was you in disguise.”

Alice lowered her hat past her eyes, her right hand fanning away.

Right, that wasn’t Mari-san, but Alice disguised in Mari-san’s clothes. The tables folded outside the table were simply meant to make up for her lack of height. It’s really embarrassing to be fooled by such a simple trick

I never thought she could act without batting an eye. Both sisters are chip off the same block. A bit of acting, and they can bluff anyone.

“U-uuu, I thought a fool like you wouldn’t have seen through it. How did you realize it?”

“Well, I realized it after thinking back about it. Back then,Mari-san…ehh, basically you in disguise did say “Yuuko’s the disciple Keiichi groomed”, didn’t you?”

The eyes beneath the veil blinked several times,

“So-so what?”

“Mari-san doesn’t know that Keiichi-san often interacted with you. She said that when you were at the Shionjis, you only met her and Gorou-sensei.”

“Ahhh…”

Stunned, Alice stopped in her tracks.

“…I-I never considered this part…”

“You should have paid more attention here if you want to lie, you know?”

“Wh-what’s with that tone of yours? Why are you acting like an old senior? You’re saying that you’re much better than me at bluffing!?”

Well, I didn’t really intend for that, but it’s no wonder the listener would feel that way.

“E-erm…” The face under Alice’s veil paled. “You remember what I said when I disguised myself as nee-sama? You didn’t remember the fine details, right? Tell me you didn’t!!”

“Eh, yes, I remembered it all.”

“Why are you remembering those things!? You normally have a sieve of a head, and can’t remember more important stuff!”

I jumped backwards, avoiding the punch Alice swung at me.

“What are you being angry about? It’s because those things are important that I remember.”

“Wh-what’s important! Forget it all! Right now. Erase, everything!”

“Not at all. Anyway, Alice, you’re not done back then, right?”

“Wh-what are you saying!?”!”

“You asked if I want to leave you, and I said you’re a very important partner to me.”

“Ahhhhhh!”Alice wanted to cover up my words with a scream.

“And then, you said, “Yuuko will surely──”, before the alarm rang.”

“Forget everything right now! I-I just asked because I wanted to fool you!!” The reddened face beneath the black veil didn’t seem so ashamed. That’s not the truth; she was so embarrassed, her neck was rant, and she was thoroughly flustered.

“Now are you going to add on?”

“You idiot! Who’s going to!?”

Alice spun around, and stormed forward. I gave a wry smile, and caught up to her. I wasn’t moving too fast, but the difference in our strides allowed me to do so quickly.

Soon after, we continued to walk silently under the sun. There were people jogging and walking their dogs, people riding bicycles, and people wearing skates passing us by. They all gave Alice and me strange looks, but I didn’t mind.

Because I was walking alone with Alice, in such a nice weather to boot.

This might be the last chance.

A bridge appeared before us, and Alice muttered,

“…Then, you know the significance of my actions now, don’t you?”

I narrowed my eyes at the fragmented dazzling sun on the water surface to the right, answering,

“Yeah.”

“I see.”

A warm silence engulfed us once again.

What did Alice’s actions signify?

Mari-san left their bedroom saying the half-truth that she was going to get me something to eat. Alice immediately realized she was lying, and what she truly intended to do. That’s why she changed into her sister’s clothes, and visited me at my ward room on the first floor, creating an alibi for her sister.

But that’s not all Alice did. She hacked into the hospital system, and probably delayed the alarm when Shionji Mitsuki’s artificial ventilation was removed.

Without it, the alarm wouldn’t have rang while Mari-san was still talking to me.

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Also, if the alarm did function normally, the medical staff should be able to save Shionji Mitsuki’s life in time.

Alice’s actions delayed the time of the crime back, one reason being to cover up for Mari-san’s crime, and secondly, to kill off her father who was a living corpse.

The confession Alice made in that footage wasn’t a lie; it was the truth.

“I wanted to release my father, and also myself.”

“I had no choice.”

The younger sister realized the crime the older sister was about to do, pretended not to know anything, and fulfilled it.

It was Alice who killed him.

I knew that. That’s why I remained silent, and accompanied Alice till the end of the road. My right hand and Alice’s left hand just so happened to touch in unison, and they clasped together. The little warmth in my hand shivered, touching my palm as we waited at the red light. Once the traffic lights finally turned green, she and I continued forward again, to the other end as the seasons changed.

It was a spring afternoon, and while the wind is faintly dotted with tears from the distance, everything within the line of sight is so clear.


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