Owari no Chronicle:Volume10 Chapter 10

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Chapter 10: Sounds of a Visitor[edit]

OnC v10 0249.png

Come

For I have called for you

For my very being is calling for you


The color of the night sky began to change.

The bottom of the sky to the east was growing bright.

The entire eastern sky was already lit by something rising from below the horizon, so some purple was spreading like a wave.

The sky’s color change was the preparation or foreshadowing of the breaking dawn.

The air remained still and did not produce any mist.

The final night dew sank down, but that was all.

The faint light from the east revealed the silhouette of the land.

The shadows were formed by a forest.

A mountain was filled with darkness, a valley was steeped in the color black, and a narrow yet swift river could be heard flowing between them, but trees covered it all and hid them.

The thick and massive mountains and forests were nothing but trees and slopes.

Nothing moved in this predawn hour. The nocturnal animals had sensed the morning and gone to sleep, but the diurnal animals had yet to wake.

Nevertheless, something did move through those mountains and forest.

It was a boy in a suit with a rucksack on his back.

It was Sayama.

He walked up on a mountain ridge while moving through the forest at running speed.

There was a path there. The wind and rain had naturally worn down the dirt on the ridge, so stone footing had been exposed. A mountain path along the ridge used that footing.

The Okutama mountain range was vast, but a path ran along that ridge of the primary mountains. It was currently just before November, so Okutama was approaching winter. To maintain the power lines, water pipes, and other utilities running along the ridge, people had travelled on the side paths straying from the ridge and the unnecessary underbrush had been cut away.

Sayama had travelled through most of these places back when he had been training, but his current goal was even higher.

A little to the north.

Mount Kumotori, Tokyo’s tallest mountain at approximately two thousand meters, was to the west. He was about seven kilometers east of it after climbing to Nippara from the south.

His destination was near Nikengoya Ridge northeast of Mount Kumotori.

If he used the hiking trail to Kumotori, it would take about half a day.

He had entered from the Ootaki mountain trail to the far west, but he had considered taking a more direct route from a more remote trail.

Most notably, he could have reached the base of Kumotori by road if he had circled around to the Saitama side.

However, he had decided against that.

He was familiar with tall mountains.

He had only climbed the Tokyo mountains of Akigwawa or Okutama, but even then, he could still come down with mild altitude sickness if he climbed a two thousand meter mountain deep in the Okutama mountain range with no preparation.

If he rested with proper posture, he could recover from altitude sickness, but that would prevent him from moving much for an entire day.

Climbing the mountain would be simple, but when thinking about the descent and what came after that, he decided not to rush things.

Travelling along the Nippara mountainside added several kilometers to his journey, but it also allowed him fuller breaths and the amount of oxygen in his blood gradually changed as he walked and took brief breaks.

This is perfect, he told himself in the dark forest.

“Long ago…”

I climbed a mountain without this planning or consideration for altitude sickness.

That had been during his training days.

As part of that training, Hiba Ryuutetsu had chased him around with a large machete for three days. He had rushed up the mountain then, but that had kept him from moving the following day.

Afraid of an attack during that time, he had set a trap.

It had been a popular variety of trap.

When someone approached, a rope would wrap around their neck and lift them into the air.

For bait, he had used a porn magazine found in a Mount Kumotori cabin. He had doubted it would work, but only three hours later, it had caught Ryuutetsu and the old man had swayed back and forth while struggling.

Sayama distinctly remembered the heart-to-heart conversation between teacher and student then.

“M-Mikoto, you’ll pay for this one! I wouldn’t walk anywhere near a cliff if I were you!!”

“Ha ha ha. I filled this area with the scent of raw meat, so try to rest in peace once a bear eats you. Is that what you call a bear-ial? But do not worry. I will tell Toshi-kun that you were bravely eaten by a bear.”

It had been a conversation of mutual consideration. His preparations for luring in a bear had been flawless, but Ryuutetsu had beaten him back to the dojo and dinner had been a pot of some strange tough meat.

Thinking back, he decided he should have finished the man off himself instead of leaving it to something else. That naivety led to the loss of a piece of nature, he realized. I need to treat nature more carefully.

“This is that same tree.”

He stopped below a familiar tree. The thick tree that towered above him in the darkness was the one he had once hung Ryuutetsu from. The rope was probably still there up above.

It is all so nostalgic, he thought just before a sound came from his pocket.

It was an electronic tone, but it did not come from his cellphone. He had left his phone and wristwatch in his dorm room after having Team Leviathan disband. The sound in his pocket came from the timer on a pocket watch.

He checked it and found the glow-in-the-dark paint on the hands pointing to five o’clock in the morning. The LCD screen at the bottom indicated half an hour had passed.

Time for a break.

“And given the time, I should eat an early breakfast.”

He nodded and came to a stop.

He sat below the old hanging tree and lowered his rucksack.

The most noticeable item in the bag was his change of clothes. A mountain-climbing suit and underwear were folded and placed inside. Next was two liters’ worth of water bottles, but he also had a straw-shaped filtration device because that was not enough water for this trip.

He thought while pulling out and eating some portable food and drinking some water from a bottle.

I would normally still be asleep at this time.

The watch said it was 5:10. In another hour, Shinjou would wake him or he would wake her.

Have I really been living such a happy life for more than half a year now?

He had not had that before. He had always gone to sleep alone and woken alone.

That solitary lifestyle had returned to him here.

“It feels so lonely, Shinjou-kun.”

He suddenly stood up.

The eastern sky had grown a little brighter and he could see the next mountain range from the ridge.

He placed his hands around his mouth.

“Shinjou-kuuuuun!!”

After a few seconds, his shout returned to him.

“Shinjou-kuuuuun.”

He focused his ears on the echo and nodded several times. Okutama’s nature also desired Shinjou.

For that reason, he pulled a portable digital recorder from his pocket and pointed it toward the dimly-lit Okutama mountains.

“Ah! N-no, stop! Don’t touch my butt! Don’t pull down my underwear! My butt!”

He placed a hand next to his ear and waited the few seconds for the reply.

“Ah. N-no, stop. Don’t touch my butt. Don’t pull down my underwear. My butt.”

The echo returned in a milder form.

Such deep meaning.

Can you hear this, mountain trees, the earth, and all of nature? This is what I once did not have.

Nodding at that, he sat back down.

“But what I have with me now is not the real deal. And that includes myself. That is why I am taking this solitary journey and why I have given myself an assignment. …I will make myself the real deal.”

He shallowly closed his eyes and thought of an important person.

He then brought his right hand to his chest and muttered to himself.

“Around ten years ago, I lost my father and was almost killed by my mother.”

He frowned and strength gathered in the hand on his chest.

The usual pain filled the depths of his chest there.

The pain seemed to disturb all of the blood circulating his body. He had not felt this definite pain for a while, but…

“…”

He took a deep breath and forced it down.

He gently raised his left hand and spread his fingers in front of his face.

“I trained my body in order to sweep away that past, but this broken left fist…while it can hold a weapon, I unfortunately still cannot clench it into a fist, Shinjou-kun.”

He smiled bitterly.

He swung his left fist toward the tree behind him.

“…”

But without him telling it to, the fist slowed down and stopped before reaching the tree trunk.

On a subconscious level, he feared that phantom pain.

He sent a bitter laugh into the sky.

“How pathetic. Shinjou-kun, you understand the issue in your body and are attempting to mature, but I am simply dragging around my chest pains and left fist without changing a thing.”

He then muttered a rejection of that.

“No, this is my only chance. After all, you are sure to find something in Sakai. And whether you find success or failure, you will continue forward. If I am to be the one to accept you back, I must reach that same level. …And this is my only chance. I am alone now, so I can settle my past without worrying anyone else.”

He carved those words into his heart.

I will pursue my parents’ footsteps.

He told himself he would no longer look away from the truth. He could not afford to do so anymore.

It was necessary for the Leviathan Road.

It was necessary to no longer fear his own pain.

It was necessary to reach the same level as the one he cared for.

It is necessary for everything about me. And…

“And this is how I will gain my past. …But what about Kazami and the others? Will they be able to use the past to rethink their current selves?”

He opened his eyes and faced forward.

At some point, the sky had grown very bright. With the darkness gone…

“Questioning myself like this feels rather embarrassing.”

He smiled bitterly and the smile only grew.

Why was I speaking to myself for so long? he wondered.

I used to be much better at restraining myself when I was alone.

“I have grown weak,” he muttered happily. “I have grown weak, Shinjou-kun. After meeting you and living with you, I have grown weak. I have simply been hiding it from you…no, you have simply not tried to notice it.”

He put away his things and placed the bag on his back, but brought a hand to his chest.

He thought of the past as he faced eastward. He could no longer see anything but mountains in the distance.

It was in an unseen place beyond those mountains that my mother almost killed me.

He thought along with the pain in his chest.

Why do I feel this pain?

“That is a simple matter.”

He recalled something. It was the same thing he had recalled to escape Atsuta’s Art of Walking when battling 2nd-Gear.

Long ago, his family had been whole and had smiled.

His father had been very reliable and his mother had been kind and gentle.

He had not shared this memory with anyone since losing them.

Why?

Why did you die?

Why am I still alive?

He did not need to worry about it. He was happy now and there was no need to question that happiness.

But the reason for his chest pains and the phantom pain in his fist was there.

Why?

He had asked himself that a long time ago. Since Shinjou had arrived and since he had grown serious, he had hidden that question, but he stood with it in his heart once more. He held his chest and frowned.

“I will go find the answer. Father, mother, I will follow after you, surpass your unseen forms, and continue on with only a quick glance toward you. And wait for me, Shinjou-kun. I want to be with you again, but only after I can survive without you. If I can do that…”

He held his chest as he began to walk once more.

“The world’s greatest happiness will be mine.”


The world was broken.

The night sky blazed red and a city crumbled and burned.

Something walked along a wide road in the collapsing city that sent sprays of fire into the air.

It was someone with no form. It was nothing but a gaze.

The gaze weakly climbed the tilted asphalt and reached the peak.

“…Eh?”

Only then did the gaze realize it was in a burning city.

“Eh? W-wait. Um, when did I end up here? All I did was secretly strip naked in the futon and go to sleep. Don’t tell me that made me turn invisible.”

Heo, the owner of the gaze, quickly looked in every direction.

However, her wandering gaze stopped when it spotted something in the scenery: a collapsed traffic light.

The traffic light’s base had crumbled when the asphalt had tilted and its lights had gone dark, but the sign below it gave the place name.

“Osaka Castle?”

She faced forward.

A building was gently tilted toward the broken road Heo stood on.

Beyond it were the remnants of an elevated roadway and a river.

Beyond those was a small mountain.

The mountain was formed from the accumulated rubble of a collapsed structure.

It was dark and cracked and the light of a fire leaked out from within.

That was when Heo first felt the wind.

It felt more like a scorching rush of air than a hot wind.

As the racing wave of heat washed over the trees lining the street, their leaves instantly turned to ash.

Even the metal street signs, store signs, and traffic lights instantly lost their paint and bent like melting hard candy.

What is this?

It was the hot gusts of wind produced in a disaster-stricken city.

Heo then realized what exactly she was seeing.

The Great Kansai Earthquake.

This was thanks to Baku. The small creature had taken a liking to her at the hospital before arriving at Hiba’s dojo and he was showing her an image of the past.

The night after the Black Sun battle, Heo had seen her great-grandfather’s past in a dream.

This is the second time, she realized while looking around.

She saw a mountain and sea of destruction and it all matched what Sayama had described.

Her father had died here and so had Harakawa, Hiba, and Sayama’s fathers.

They were likely the reason she was having this dream. The night before, they had looked at the photograph of her great-grandfather and the others that Brunhild had brought. Mikage’s mother had also been in the photo and they had discussed it.

The photograph had contained a few dozen people in front of a mountain range. In addition to the main force of old UCAT, it seemed to include their families and the people with normal posts as well. They had not known who anyone was outside of Chao and their own relatives, so they had been forced to discuss it and use the process of elimination.

The man with pale hair in the very front had been Hiba’s grandfather. Next to him was Hiba’s grandmother Toshi and next to her was Thunderson. The man in a military uniform on the left of the back row had been Sayama’s grandfather. To the right from there had been Chao, a man who was probably Izumo’s grandfather, and then Ooshiro’s father. There were a few Arabs in the photo, but they had concluded Abram was the biggest one and not the man who looked more like a doctor or a cook.

Behind them all, a man had been sitting alone on a raised tree branch and facing the mountain range in the background. The hair on the back of his head suggested he was an old man and his left arm had been missing.

That was Professor Kinugasa Tenkyou.

She wondered what kind of person he had been and Sayama was currently working toward that answer.

They were simply seeing an image of him cut out of the past.

It was likely their thoughts then that had led Baku to show her the past now.

But she belatedly began to worry about Harakawa.

None of his relatives had been in the photo and he had remained silent the night before.

Sayama had said to search for their pasts…

But what about Harakawa?

He said nothing about his relatives. He never said what had happened with his father or grandfather.

However, his father’s grave was near her father’s and his father had also died in the secondary damages of the Great Kansai Earthquake.

He’s the same.

Heo nodded in her heart.

“Sayama said he saw his parents and some others entering the city.”

In that case…

“Were my father and Harakawa’s father there too?”

As soon as she asked that, someone suddenly appeared next to her.

A man landed on the top of the tilted asphalt with such force that she was afraid they would collide.

He had a medium build, he wore a combat vest, and his long black hair blew in the wind. He wore a Japanese sword scabbard on his back and held a drawn Japanese-style Cowling Sword in his hand.

He had laughter on his lips and he let out a shout while looking around.

“Ha ha ha! If you’re a man, then come at me! If you can take me on, I’ll admit you’re powerful!!”

Speed fell upon the surrounding area in response.

Five figures appeared after apparently jumping down from the surrounding collapsed buildings. They maintained a distance of ten meters while forming a circle around the man.

All of their black leather combat coats swelled out to an odd extent and they held blades that resembled machetes and were over a meter long.

They had artificial bodies and wielded cowling blades.

The man looked across the five men who looked up from below the raised asphalt.

“So the challengers look up at the ruler from below, hm? Then let me tell you something: a true man does not look up at or down on anyone.”

The man had been standing next to Heo, but the next thing she knew, he had leaped toward one of the artificial body soldiers in front of him.

She heard him speak as he did so.

“I’ll do this head-on. The position of the Five Great Peaks may have been quickly created just for this battle, but I’ll fulfill my role. I’m the temporary manager of Japanese UCAT’s Independent Action Division. The name’s Hiba Ryuuichi.”

That name surprised Heo.

Eh?

Once her confusion caught up with the facts before her eyes, Ryuuichi was already rushing toward another soldier to the right.

Her vision could not keep up. All she managed was seeing the first man Ryuuichi leaped toward suddenly fall to his knees.

That first man collapsed almost without warning.

Ryuuichi then tried to hit the man to the right with a backhand sword strike, but the four remaining men, including the one being attacked, took action.

The targeted one intercepted while the other three chose to attack.

Ryuuichi’s target ran right to put some distance between them and swung up the machete in his right hand. The mechanically-enhanced arm lifted the flat blade to slice Ryuuichi’s body in two from below.

The remaining three used the rising asphalt in the center as cover and prepared their left arms.

Thick metal tubes protruded from below their hands. The caliber looked the same as a machinegun.

Are they going to defeat their enemy without worrying about the one being targeted!?

That meant their enemy was worth enough to sacrifice one of their own.

However, Ryuuichi still took a step toward the artificial body soldier swinging the large machete.

He moved to cut down the man. Even if he dodged the blade, the bullets were coming, so Heo gasped.

But with a carefree voice, Ryuuichi placed a foot up on the machete blade.

“Eh?”

Heo watched the movements of his feet.

It’s like he’s climbing a staircase.

He placed his feet on the quickly rising blade, his hips floated up, and he lifted his body.

The blade was moving too quickly for Heo to see, but Ryuuichi’s movements looked awfully slow.

He stood on top of the rising blade.

He caught its strength, shrunk down his body as the blade rose, and…

“!”

The other three men began to fire once they realized what Ryuuichi was doing.

The bullets flew, but the mechanical arm raising the machete was faster.

A moment later, Hiba Ryuuichi used the momentum of the machete to leap back toward the other three.

He flipped through the air above the flying bullets, gunshots, Heo’s consciousness, the three men trying to raise their guns, and everything else.

The artificial body soldier with the machete was struck by his comrades’ bullets and was blown away.

However, Heo tried to view all of Ryuuichi’s actions this time. She looked up, turned around, looked down, and saw the man’s long hair flowing behind him as if in the wind.

He landed behind the other three. They were in a line and he was behind the farthest left one from Heo’s perspective.

That leftmost artificial body soldier turned to the right and threw a backhand blow with the machete in his right hand.

The central soldier responded by leaping backwards while making a similar backhand blow with the blade in his right hand.

The rotating backhands approached Ryuuichi from either side.

Then, the rightmost soldier made an attack to make absolutely sure. He spun around and fired his machinegun between the other two attacks.

The sound of slicing wind mixed with gunfire.

There’s no way he can avoid this!

But Ryuuichi reacted to it all.

He had his back to Heo and thick blades were arriving from his front left and back right.

As he stood up after his leap, he suddenly threw his body to the left.

“…!?”

Heo just about cried out that he was going to be hit, but his movement changed once he arrived right next to the arriving blade.

He slipped to the right in order to jump over the blade on that side.

Oh.

She understood the idea behind his evasive action.

In the intersection between the two blades, there was nowhere to evade.

But if he moved toward one or the other, a gap would open up.

By using that gap as space to move and by buying some time before the blades met, he could jump over and evade the right blade.

However, the created space was less than ten centimeters.

And that was not the only problem. The blade would try to move into the opened space.

So he has to move even faster than the blade.

Beyond Heo’s unease, Ryuuichi’s body spun around.

He flipped quickly to the right without ever placing his hands on the ground.

He used the height difference between the two blades to twist his flipping body through.

A few tufts of hair were cut away and the bottom of his combat vest was split.

His flip isn’t strong enough.

His body was slipping through, but he wasn’t rotating quickly enough.

Knowing he would be cut in two, Heo tried to close her vision even though she had no eyelids.

But in that instant, Ryuuichi placed a hand on the left blade even as he flipped.

He caught its strength and gently wrapped his palm around the blade.

“!!”

He quickly rotated over the right blade and shot away from the left blade.

He made it through.

“Wow,” said the voice of Heo’s consciousness.

But the machinegun.

The bullets were still coming.

He has no way to avoid them, she thought.

Immediately afterwards, she heard his voice.

“Don’t make me go to so much trouble!!”

He swung his sword horizontally as he landed from his side flip and he rotated his body as he did so.

However, he lacked the necessary reach. The sword’s blade was long but not long enough to reach his three enemies.

Nevertheless, the attack reached them.

“!?”

Light raced along the path of the sword. The pale light shot through the air like a swift wave.

It even reached the roadway and surrounding buildings!?

The elevated roadway’s supporting columns were nearly five meters thick and the buildings over twenty stories tall, but the horizontal cut ran straight through them.

The sound of an explosion rang out.

The men with artificial bodies had their torsos cut through at the waist and the buildings were sliced through as easily as tofu.

The elevated roadway slid down from above the cut and the buildings collapsed as if sinking inwards.

The reverberating sound resembled a waterfall.

Everywhere the cut had reached crumbled in the same way.

And by that time, Ryuuichi had already sheathed the sword on his back.

He had won.

He raised his head while surrounded by the sounds of buildings crumbling to the ground, of scattering metal fragments, and of motors racing fruitlessly.

“You did a good job, Tsukuyomi Arihito.”

But even after the man had overwhelmed his enemies, Heo saw him frown and looked up into the sky.

What is he looking at?

She looked up as well, but she saw something else first.

“Ah.”

It was a blue mechanical dragon.

It resembled American UCAT’s mechanical dragons, but it was a little different. The shapes of the components were not quite as streamlined and she could sense its age.

The dragon wrapped wind around itself and passed by at extreme low altitude in a split-second.

It was moving quickly, but Heo saw a certain image as strongly as if it had been burned into her retinas. She saw the person sitting in the cockpit.

It was a man wearing a blue armored uniform.

“Dad!?”

After it passed by, she turned to see it shaking its tail.

The sky reflected the burning color of the city and the blue dragon grew more distant. And as if pursuing that dragon, a group of gray mechanical dragons flew up from the shadows of the burning city.

Heo saw the blue dragon tear through the sky in a rising arc. The gray dragons descended in an opposite arc and they crossed paths in an instant.

“———————”

The gray dragons became blooming flowers of red light in the sky.

Repeated explosions rumbled like distant thunder, but new gray dragons ascended to pursue the blue one.

That was when Heo saw the stars in the sky.

Eh?

She realized she had not seen those stars until now.

The fire may have been creating thick clouds in the sky because there was a clear division between where the stars were visible and where they were not. Heo’s attention was entirely stolen by those stars that seemed horribly out of place.

And yet I didn’t even see them before.

She tried to look up into the sky, but that was all she managed.

She realized the surrounding scenery was twisting and growing dark.

The past was ending.

Realizing that, she tried to gather her thoughts on what she had seen.

“So was my dad fighting in a mechanical dragon?”

Why? What was he fighting for?

She only knew that a battle had occurred in Osaka on the night of the earthquake and that her father had died there.

Sayama had said that battle was likely fought with the group that preceded the Army.

Then why was this hidden?

There was no one there to answer that question, so her mind fell into the darkness without knowing.

She was waking from the past.


Heo sprang up from her futon.

“…!?”

The scene entering her eyes was too incongruous with what she had seen a moment before.

She was in a dimly-lit room.

This is a room in Hiba’s grandfather’s house.

She saw Mikage curled up in a futon, Brunhild sleeping in a yukata with her futon pushed off of her, and a basket sitting by her own pillow.

When she saw the small creature sleeping on its back in the basket, Heo came to her senses.

She felt her pulse race through her entire body and she trembled.

She remembered a certain fact concerning Baku: other people would see the past he showed you.

Harakawa!

He was sleeping in the neighboring boys room. If she opened the sliding screen dividing the rooms, she would find him.

She wanted to hear his opinion and she wanted to compare her thoughts with his, so she jumped from her futon, opened the screen, and entered the next room.

The identically shaped room contained two futons. Her impatient mind realized it was so dark because the storm shutter was closed, but that was all she noticed.

“Harakawa!”

Someone sat up within one of the futons.

It was Harakawa. He pulled a hand from his yukata pocket, placed it on his chin, and turned a puzzled look her way.

“Heo Thunderson, what are you-…”

She relaxed a little when their eyes met.

She almost leaped toward him as she ran the short distance and climbed on top of his pushed back blanket.

The shock and unease from her dream produced a series of words from her mouth.

“U-um, it happened again while I was asleep. It was the second time and I thought I was used to it, but I tried to cry out but couldn’t and, um, everything was so hot and falling apart, so…um…”

“Stop confessing whatever nonsensical dream you had and calm down, Heo Thunderson.”

She felt his hand in the hair on the back of her head. He almost seemed to grab her scalp as he pressed her face into his chest.

Ah.

It surprised her, but she also managed to calm down.

She smiled a little as the blanket tickled her skin and she took a deep breath to calm down further. The past she had seen played back in her head.

That was…

Her father and the others had been fighting.

Despite her close connection to the man she had seen, she did not know why, she did not know who else had been there, and she did not know what had led to all that. All she knew was what Sayama had said.

UCAT fought a battle during the Great Kansai Earthquake.

“What does it all mean?”

“I don’t know either, Heo Thunderson. After all, I’m a newcomer. And so are you. Also, don’t make so much noise. You’ll wake Hiba.”

“Eh?”

She looked to the other futon and saw Hiba wiggling back and forth inside it.

“Nnn, ahhh! The car! The car! It’s so round!!”

“Harakawa, he’s repeating a joke and he’s become completely unintelligible.”

“Don’t nitpick how other people’s brains work, Heo Thunderson. Also…”

She felt his hand loosen on her head, so she looked up and found his eyes right in front of her.

She tilted her head at close range.

“What is it?”

“Look behind you for a second.”

She twisted her shoulders and turned her head backwards as instructed.

OnC v10 0277.jpg

Confused, she saw Harakawa’s futon blanket and something skin-colored and round on top of it.

She tried to figure out what that was.

“A butt?”

“That’s exactly right, but why are you naked, Heo Thunderson?”

Once he pointed it out, she realized she was indeed naked.

The phrase “how could you?” reached her mind before the phrase “what have I done?”.

“————!”

She gave a wordless scream and grabbed a nearby object to hide herself. That object happened to be the blanket covering Harakawa.

But that meant…

“Hey, wait. Don’t climb into my futon!”

“B-but you’ll see me naked! I’m unprotected!”

She hid between Harakawa and the blanket as if clinging to his body and she looked up at him.

He frowned as he lay below her with their bodies almost overlapping.

“What’s the point of hiding?”

“S-sorry, but can I borrow this blanket to go to the next room?”

“And leave me in the cold?”

“U-um, then I’ll, uh, warm you up myself.”

“Think about what the words mean before you use them, Heo Thunderson.”

Heo hung her head and nodded.

He sighed.

“Well, just get going. It sounds like Hiba’s still in his disturbing dream world, so I don’t think he’s noticed.”

“S-sorry. I’ll find a way to thank you later.”

“Then you take dinner duty today.”

He sat up a little and patted her head a few times with a look of exasperation.

“But make it something exciting. Things have been gloomy around here lately, so make some fried chicken or something and we can all eat it together.”

“Oh, okay. I know a good spice recipe, so that’s fine.”

She began to stand up, but then she felt a gaze on her from the side.

She looked over and saw Hiba. His head was poking out of his futon and he was rubbing his eyes sleepily.

“Oh, good morning, Harakawa-san and-…”

He trailed off and his expression froze.

Eh? thought Heo as the boy looked directly at her and Harakawa.

She was lying naked on top of Harakawa and they even had the blanket placed across them.

Um…

Just as she prepared to explain the situation, Hiba jumped to his feet.

“H-has the Eros Road to the Eros World finally opened in the real world!?”

“Calm down, Hiba Ryuuji.”

“Wh-where’s the entrance!? I want to… I want to dive into that other world! L-like this!!”

“I said to calm down, Hiba Ryuuji. There is no entrance to anywhere like that.”

However, Hiba twisted around and pointed both his index fingers toward them.

“Th-then what do you think you’re doing there!? Damn, I’m so jealous!”

“You’re supposed to keep one of those opinions a secret, Hiba Ryuuji. Just to be clear, this is a misunderstanding.”

“B-but Harakawa-san! I’ve caught you red-handed, you immoral person!”

“H-he is not immoral!!” shouted Heo. “H-he is a very straightforward person! I’m sure he needs more than a kid like me! He would probably only be satisfied with an adult who can only be described with the word ‘boing’. That’s right! Boing! Boiiing!!”

“I get the feeling you’re rejecting a part of my personality here, Heo Thunderson. And don’t use so many sound effects.”

“But!”

Heo rose up to protest, but that caused the blanket to fall off of her.

“————!”

Just as she swallowed a scream and frantically pulled the blanket toward her, she heard a sudden sound.

Something was banging on the storm shutter from the outside.

She could only think of one reason to cause so much noise at a time like this.

“A pervert?”

“I-it isn’t me, probably! I-it really probably isn’t me, right!?”

After Hiba’s desperate denial, Heo heard another sound.

This one was of destruction.

But it was different from the sounds in her dream. It was the sound of wood splitting and breaking.

Eh?

Her question was followed by a wind that chilled her even through the blanket.

“What is going on?”

She poked her head from the blanket and looked.

The wind was coming from where the storm shutter had been, but it was now entirely open and the early morning light and wind came in.

The twilight outlined the faint silhouette of a man.

He was a skinny old man with long black hair.

“My name is Yonkichi,” he said in inappropriately old-fashioned speech. “I take it you are awake.”

Heo heard those words and felt Harakawa’s arm wrap around her waist.

This is…

She knew what was happening. There was only one reason he would pull her close and try to protect her.

And Yonkichi gave that reason with a bitter smile of resignation.

“It is time to fight, ladies and gentlemen.”

The word “fight” reminded her of the dream and she gasped.

However…

“Why do we have to fight?”

“Because it is fun. For us, anyway.”

“B-but what about for us!?” she replied from below the blanket.

“Well,” said Yonkichi with a nod. “Your first reward is the Concept Core, but it would seem Sayama-sama has yet to inform you of the second reward. As one of the four brothers, I will explain it once more. When you defeat us, we will tell you a little of what we know of the past.”

Heo heard what she most wanted at the moment.

“We fought in that battle in Osaka, so if you defeat us, we will leave you with a small piece of that memory. Yes, the memory of the past that created the current UCAT and your current situation!”

Heo sucked in a breath.

What do we do!?

She knew they had an enemy and she knew they would gain something by defeating that enemy.

But…

However, Yonkichi took action with no concern for her thoughts.

He raised his right arm without losing the bitter smile.

“Now, get up!”

Before his short sentence had even ended, a corner of the house exploded.


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