Owari no Chronicle:Volume12 Chapter 10
Chapter 10: A Comfortable Place
I may be feeling down, but you’re full of energy
Even if it’s really annoying
A small six square meter room faced the east.
The fluorescent light on the ceiling had a Japanese-style cover and two people moved below it.
One was a woman in glasses and a blue kimono. The other was a girl in a gray kimono.
The two of them were laying out a futon in the room.
However, the woman in blue was having trouble getting the kimono in place and the girl in gray could not use her right leg well enough to fix it.
“Um, Ryouko? The sheet is out of place on your end.”
“Oh, sorry, Shi-chan. But don’t you think that’s the sheet’s fault?”
“No, I don’t see how it could be-… Anyway, how about I do it all?”
“You can’t. It would hurt the reputation of the Tamiya family.”
The girl in gray, Shino, looked at Ryouko.
Ryouko frowned as she stared at the sheet and groaned as she fixed its position.
“And we have to treat you right when Kouji of all people took you in.”
Ryouko brought a hand to her chin and looked at the sheet’s position.
“He doesn’t have a tendency to take people in like I do, so someone like you is rare.”
“I wonder why he took you in.”
“Well, um, I was lying injured on the road.”
“That’s too boring.”
She gave Shino a serious look and raised her right index finger.
“You have to at least say it’s because he has a thing for little girls! Otherwise it isn’t exciting enough.”
“I-I’m not that little!!”
“You’re right. We did take a bath together when you first got here.”
That unexpected response made Shino lean back in surprise.
She had needed some assistance because of her broken leg, but Ryouko had handled most of it. She could not let the leg get too warm, so she had started with only using the shower. However, Ryouko had often spoken to her from the bath. She had initially ignored the woman, but…
“You were so quiet, but you finally said something when I tickled you.”
“It’s easier to talk than to stay silent, isn’t it?”
“And you know what?” she continued. “Talking about what you decided not to say is a lot of fun. In an immoral way.”
She spoke with a smile, but her tone was even sharper than with her previous serious expression.
Shino was a little surprised, but Ryouko’s smile remained.
“Is everyone treating you well?”
“Eh? …Oh, yes. They’re giving me plenty of food.”
“Tch. They’re all trying to get on your good side.”
“Eh? D-d-did you say something!?”
“Don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it. But Shi-chan?”
Ryouko tilted her head while still smiling.
“Do you like it here?”
Shino was unsure what to say.
They had taken her in, they let her stay without asking anything, they made food for her, and lately she had helped with that too.
Kouji was indirectly inviting her to venture outside for rehabilitation, but she had not yet worked up the resolve to face the world, UCAT would be looking for her, and…
…The others from the Army might find me.
That kept her from wanting to head outside.
All those things kept her here, but on the emotional side…
“It isn’t a bad place…”
What do I think? she wondered.
She had met Kouji, Ryouko, and other unique people here.
…So what am I supposed to think about the people of this world?
Before, she had thought about the school near this house and the lives of the people living in this area.
What was she supposed to think now?
…I’m supposed to be their enemy.
But she could not even say that and she could not join the others because she did not want Mikoku to push her away.
She had come to her own understanding of what Shinjou had said about her “graduating” from the Army.
…My feelings are still with the Army, but I now belong here instead of with them.
However, did that mean she was no longer part of the Army?
That thought made her gasp and she felt a dull sweat on her back.
She was brought back to her senses by Ryouko’s voice and the eyes leaning over like a cat to peer at her.
Her eyes focused and she saw Ryouko’s face close enough to feel her breath.
“No, um, you don’t have to…”
“But I do. I shouldn’t have said something that got you so lost in thought. I forgot you’re the serious type.”
Ryouko brushed back her hair, laughed quietly, and narrowed her eyes.
“But you sure are cute. When you’re worried about things, it shows on your face.”
“P-please don’t tease me. I’m trying to take this seriously.”
“Wow, you’re actually mad. I’m so happy.”
Ryouko clapped her hands in joy, but Shino sighed and lowered her shoulders.
“I already knew I couldn’t stand up to you…”
However, she then said “um” to begin a new question. She asked about the greatest reason for her mixture of relief and doubt concerning her current situation.
“Why are the people here so kind to me?”
“Why do you think?”
“I was asking because I don’t know.”
“I see.” Ryouko glanced up at the ceiling. “It’s because they’re only interested in girls below the age of 15.”
“Just kidding, just kidding.”
“Yeah, that’s only a few of them. …Just kidding, just kidding. But I don’t think they mean any harm, so go easy on them.”
Shino wondered how she was supposed to “go easy” on them and she saw Ryouko smile bitterly.
“Well, I think it isn’t really kindness if there’s a reason for it. …Did you think we were showing you that ‘other kind’ of kindness? Did you think we were getting something out of it?”
Only then did Shino realize what her question had meant.
She sensed something nasty behind the thought that created the question.
“You’re so cute, Shi-chan. That was a leading question.”
“You only asked if there was a reason. But when I asked what you thought, you had to start thinking of a reason, right?”
Shino was at a loss for words and Ryouko lowered the ends of her eyebrows.
“Sorry about that, Shi-chan. I should be the one apologizing. But make sure you only fall for that kind of thing when it’s me. Otherwise you’ll get abducted by some bad men.”
A moment later, Shino felt a weight on her head. It was Ryouko’s hand as she rubbed her head.
“And Shi-chan? Because of what happened to our family in the past, we make a point of helping people.”
“In the past?”
“Yes,” replied Ryouko. “It was the kindness of a complete stranger that allowed our family to survive.”
“What happened to that stranger?”
“They died before we could thank them. Since my parents didn’t know who to thank, they decided to be kind to everyone just in case it would reach that person somehow. That gave us a habit of being kind and…”
A quiet laugh reached Shino’s ears.
“More recently in the past, I learned that the stranger had a granddaughter, but that granddaughter didn’t know anything about what had happened.”
Shino thought about what that meant.
…Ryouko knew something that person didn’t.
Shino felt she shared that trait.
And that made her wonder what Ryouko had done about that important fact.
Ryouko gave the answer before she could even ask.
“I never told her. If I had…it felt like it would have placed her above me.”
“Th-then do you ever wish you had told her?”
The fact that she held such an important secret led Shino to ask, but…
“I don’t know. Because no matter what I think now, there’s no way I could have said it at the time.”
Ryouko answered with a bitter smile, leaving Shino slightly dumbfounded. Shino had started leaning forward, so she straightened up.
“Do you not…regret it?”
“Hm? Of course I do. I didn’t say it at the time, she ended up leaving for somewhere far away, and I was actually relieved by that fact. I regret every part of that and I seriously worried about it for a long time, but…”
Ryouko rubbed Shino’s head again.
“Our young master brought back someone who had inherited that person’s surname. The Tamiya family was finally able to give its thanks and repay them. After sixty years, we finally did it.”
Shino belatedly realized who Ryouko was referring to.
“You mean Shinjou, don’t you?”
“Yes. And I would be happy if you could get along with our young master and Setsu-chan.”
Ryouko finally let go of Shino’s head.
She straightened up on the futon, smiled, and opened her mouth again.
“Are you listening?” she began. “If you’re worrying about whether you should be here or not, remember that we don’t mind at all. If there’s a problem, it’s on your end. Kouji, the others, and I don’t care what kind of person you are. You may be a bad person, you may have run away from home, there may be a search for you underway right this moment, and it may be a crime to keep you here, but… None of that matters as long as you do one thing in addition to getting along with our young master and Setsu-chan.”
“Yes.” Ryouko nodded. “Don’t force yourself to do anything. Forcing yourself to do something is painful.”
She took a breath.
“And what you’re worrying about is your problem, so don’t hold it inside. You can’t make it someone else’s problem, so you should just do whatever it is you want to do. And…”
Ryouko said one last thing to Shino.
“I think you should be fine going with whatever answer that gives you.”
A ten square meter tatami mat room was prepared for a meal.
The round fluorescent light had a Japanese-style shade and a round table sat below it.
A girl in track shorts and a T-shirt was wiping off the table.
The chest of the T-shirt said Heo in magic marker.
“Harakawa, I’ve finished cleaning the table. I’ll go clean up the closet now, so you go take your bath.”
“You take your bath first, Heo Thunderson. I’m busy fixing our late dinner.”
She heard Harakawa’s voice and the sound of a knife on a cutting board coming from the kitchen.
He could not see her, but she still shook her head at his suggestion.
“A package should be coming for me soon.”
“You called UCAT after we left the school, didn’t you? What’s in the package?”
“I see. Then we’ll at least have to check it for bugs and hidden cameras.”
“You’re following a pretty strict set of rules, aren’t you?”
Heo’s shoulders drooped as she slid open the closet door.
“And Heo,” continued Harakawa. “Don’t tell me…”
“I’m only borrowing it. I didn’t buy it or have someone give it to me.”
As a freeloader, she made that clear up front.
“There’s something I want to look into. …Back before November, Hajji of the Army explained how the world was made, remember?”
“What about it?”
“That’s been bothering me. I don’t really understand it all, but I can’t help but wonder if that’s really true or not.”
“We do know that Top-Gear existed, so it must be true.”
“Yes,” agreed Heo while asking herself where this doubt came from if she thought it was true. “I’m not trying to say that explanation of the world’s creation isn’t true. But…it scares me to think it all happened the way Hajji said it did.”
“Are you looking into it because you’re scared? Are you borrowing a computer, running simulation after simulation, and wasting your time until you give up, Heo Thunderson?”
Harakawa’s words briefly caused Heo’s heart to shrink back.
She thought that was a more realistic way of looking at it than her own and she wondered if he would ever understand her worry.
“I don’t want to give up. I want to be prepared.”
To make sure he did not reject her opinion, she continued before he could say anything.
“I want facts to support the truth. I want to solidify our footing. After all, Top-Gear isn’t our only opponent anymore. We have to speak to Low-Gear’s crimes when facing the other Gears as well.”
“That’s not quite accurate, Heo. They aren’t Low-Gear’s crimes. They’re our parents’ crimes and they’re crimes that never would have been found out if no one had said anything.”
“Yes,” agreed Heo, but she said nothing more.
She did not want Harakawa to reject her doubts or thoughts any further.
She had a feeling he would not accept a mere vague uneasiness.
…I really should talk it out with him, though.
She had nothing to support her doubts. She simply felt that something about it did not sit well with her. It could be nothing more than a desire to oppose Hajji for rejecting their world without giving them a chance to speak.
But she wanted to investigate it and find an answer she would accept. And she did not want anyone to keep her from doing that.
With that in mind, she crawled into the closet. The bottom shelf acted as her bed and bedroom and the walls and floor were fully equipped with insulating mats now that winter had arrived.
She would sometimes hit her head on the top, so Harakawa had added a polyurethane cover.
She turned on the light to reveal a bookshelf filled with textbooks and other books and a shelf containing her clothes and other small belongings.
The drawing board she had originally used as a study desk had been added to the wall after Harakawa told her to maintain a proper posture while studying. She now used the living room table as a study desk, just like Harakawa did.
She pulled a board from between the books on the bookshelf.
It was a mirror of about A4 size and a photograph was held in the skinny wooden frame. It was from when she had won 1st place at the athletic festival race and accidentally ran over to Harakawa in the stands instead of lining up by the numbered flags.
She was satisfied that her current self in the mirror resembled the smiling self in the photo.
She returned the mirror to the bookshelf.
Her surroundings were dimly lit and the kitchen’s sounds reached her.
The chopping had changed to the washing of a pot.
Harakawa always used cold water to wash the dishes and he never let Heo help.
She had yet to decide how to interpret that.
…Should I help?
But a sudden sound cut off her thoughts.
It was a cellphone.
Hers was sitting in the charger at the back of the closet, but Harakawa’s was in his pocket.
Before she could climb further into the closet, the water stopped and there was a short pause for Harakawa to dry his hands.
“This is Harakawa. Heo’s here too.”
She heard him speak and then silently listen to something.
Sudden confusion filled her as she crawled out onto the tatami mats.
She felt distinct unease in his silence.
There was a reason for that.
This silence came from complete motionlessness.
She knew Harakawa’s habits when he listened to people, but she did not hear him cautiously crossing his arms or leaning up against anything to urge the speaker on.
What was UCAT telling him that warranted such silence?
…Did someone else fight one of the other Gears like Kazami and Izumo did?
But why would that make him so silent? He had received word of Izumo and Kazami’s battles before heading out to the school, but he had still conversed with the caller then.
So where did this motionless silence come from?
Unable to endure the silence, Heo started to speak.
But at that exact moment…
“Understood. You take care of things there.”
She heard Harakawa’s voice from the kitchen and the sound of him putting plates in the sink to soak.
Hearing her name came as such a surprise that she found herself unable to respond.
“Can you hear me, Heo Thunderson?”
“Y-yes. What is it?”
“I have work to do. I’ll be going to Yokota. Make and eat dinner on your own.”
What is going on? she wondered.
She had heard her cellphone ring too.
That call had been from UCAT, not from Harakawa’s part-time job at the US base.
As if to answer her doubts, he left the kitchen. He balled up his khaki apron, tossed it toward the washing machine, and removed his leather jacket from the hanger by the entrance.
“Heo, let me tell you one thing. Until Sayama returns…no, until Sayama returns and settles things with Top-Gear, don’t get involved with the Leviathan Road.”
She stiffened at that sudden command and he continued as he put on his jacket.
“You should stay away from the Leviathan Road altogether, Heo Thunderson.”
After Harakawa verbally pushed her away, Heo breathed in yet did not lose her voice.
“I don’t want to do that! Wh-what came over you all of a sudden!?”
He did not answer her reactionary shout. Instead, he picked up the keys sitting on the shoe-holder at the entrance.
The jingling of the keys sounded awfully cold among the living sounds of him dressing to go out.
So Heo got up from the floor.
“Harakawa! Please say something!”
“I’m saying it’s dangerous, Heo Thunderson.”
She thought she heard him sigh.
“Continuing with the Leviathan Road will create hatred directed at us. …Until now, all the hate was caused by what our grandparents or parents did, but from here on, it will be us they hate. Are you sure you want that?” he asked. “Is the power you were given meant to spread hate? Think carefully, Heo Thunderson.”
“Think carefully? But about what?”
“Luckily, there are no survivors of 5th-Gear. You are the representative of 5th-Gear and its Concept Core is safely stored in the Vesper Cannon below UCAT. That gives no one a reason to attack you. …And as 5th-Gear’s representative, you need to be protected, Heo.”
“If you stay put, you can avoid having anyone hate you.”
As he spoke with his back turned, Heo realized two things.
“Someone was attacked, weren’t they? And had their Concept Core taken.”
The answer to her question was simple.
“You can stay in a safe place, so that is none of your concern, Heo Thunderson.”
He put on his shoes, sighed toward the floor, and gave an additional comment.
“There is nothing for you to do now. Taking any careless action would only put you in danger. …You understand, don’t you? This apartment is protected by the Americans, so don’t make their job any harder than it already is.”
She tried to shout in protest, but he cut her off.
“Do you really think I don’t know about the dreams that wake you up in the night?”
“Who is it that still has nightmares of Black Sun or the Army’s attack? Do you want to add more bad memories to the list? That isn’t a duty of yours. Would your parents have wanted that?”
“B-but without us, the others won’t have any large aerial firepower if there is a battle! Kazami can’t handle it all on her own.”
“But that would place the sins on your own back.”
He crushed her words and she could not deny what he was telling her.
But she still wanted to object, so she took a breath and a step forward.
“Why are you saying this all of a sudden? We’ve fought alongside the others until now!”
“Because I’ve realized doing that any more would be too dangerous. From here on, you would be accepting the world’s hatred.”
With his shoes on, Harakawa stood up and kept his back to her.
“This is no longer a battle against the hatred created by our grandparents or parents. This is about us changing the world ourselves. Heo, are you really prepared to do that just because someone you know is?”
She had no logical argument against his point.
It was true that the others were fighting as Team Leviathan, yet she could avoid being targeted herself.
Even her investigation of the world’s creation with that borrowed laptop was only for her own personal satisfaction.
So if possible, she should remain safely in UCAT as much as possible.
…And try to head out only in an emergency.
But that was definitely the plan of someone in a safe place.
And if she left that safe place, she would be placing hatred onto herself.
“So, Heo. Is your power truly necessary at the moment? There is no hatred directed at you, so are you really going to go out of your way to find some? Well?”
With that last word, Harakawa turned back toward her in the entrance.
She wanted to say something and stepped forward.
But no words left her.
The boy standing before her had his eyebrows slightly raised and a sharp look in his eyes.
He seemed to be telling her not to make any pointless arguments.
Her words crumbled.
“Why are you trying to hold me back?”
Just before October, he had kept American UCAT from doing exactly that.
Instead of feeling satisfied at being holed up in a safe place, he had told her to go wherever she pleased.
That was why she was here in the first place.
“If I’m trapped here, I can’t go anywhere anymore.”
Even she knew that was an odd thing to say, but that was all she could say.
This was the only place she had and yet she was being imprisoned here.
She brought her trembling hands to her cheeks and felt tears spilling from her eyes.
She wiped the tears away as she asked.
“Why would you say that, Harakawa? You were the one who pushed me to go somewhere dangerous, so why are you holding me back now?”
“Think about that for yourself, Heo Thunderson.”
He stood up and looked at her without holding out his hand.
She felt like he was testing her, but in that case, what was he testing her for?
“Do you not want me here?” she asked.
His eyebrows moved a little at that.
“If that is what you think, then you can leave, Heo Thunderson. You might think you have nowhere to go, but you have plenty. You could go to Japanese UCAT or American UCAT. But…”
She listened to him.
“At the very least, this is not the kind of place you’re looking for.”
“Th-then where am I supposed to go!?”
“Pay attention, Heo. What do you think I’m doing right now?”
She looked to him, sniffed her runny nose, and saw him in his leather jacket.
She then remembered what his mother Yui had once said.
…If he really did mind, he would leave on his own.
What that meant reached her all the more because he had not told her himself.
And so her words came from deep in her heart.
Not even she had expected herself to sound so dazed, but she still tried to step forward into the entranceway.
“N-no! If anyone…if anyone should leave, it’s me!”
If he left, she could no longer stay here.
And that would ultimately mean she would be trapped.
But he gave a single answer with his back turned.
“I’ll be back late. This job will probably take a while.”
Those words were accompanied by the chill of the winter night.
Harakawa opened the door and stepped out into the rectangle of night beyond it.
She tried to follow, but the outside air turned her breath white and her T-shirt and bike shorts were not enough to protect her.
Her trembling legs stumbled on the room’s divider frame.
She tripped onto the entranceway floor just as the door closed.
She bent her body and pushed herself up with both hands.
The closed steel door bounced her words back at her.
She had been abandoned and left behind.
She had been left alone.
…He thinks I’m someone he can just leave behind. He doesn’t care if I’m left alone.
She wanted to think that was not true, but the sound of a motorcycle starting up said otherwise.
So she stood up. She grimaced at having fallen on her knees, but it was not an issue of any actual pain. There was a different, invisible pain coming from somewhere else.
A heavy, sinking, and inescapable feeling filled the bottom of her chest.
She shouted for him not to leave her behind and stepped barefoot into the entranceway.
She turned the steel doorknob and prepared to push her body against the door to open it.
But she heard the motorcycle driving off into the distance.
He was leaving. The sound of the engine shook the door and permeated her body, but it quickly faded away.
And it was gone.
It had completely vanished.
Even when she strained her ears and held her breath, she could not hear a thing.
He’s gone, she thought.
However, she had no idea where to place that fact in her mind. She simply went limp and leaned against the door.
The green door would not open. She removed her hands from the knob and covered her face.
She did nothing but raise her voice and cry.
She had been abandoned, she had been left behind, he was not coming back, this was all she had been to him, and she no longer knew what her life here had meant. All of that mixed together and weighed on her heart.
She doubled over, slid down the door, and found her elbow had reached the cement. She had fallen onto her side in the entranceway.
She curled up, forcibly kicked away the shoes in the way of her body and legs, and cried some more.
She sobbed and let her covered face sink into the center of her curled-up body.
She then let out a trembling voice.
There was no response and she eventually stopped calling his name.
However, she did hear a sudden sound in the quiet entranceway.
It answered her doubt by sounding again. This time, she realized it was a low and quiet rumbling.
It was her stomach growling.
Still crying and with her face red, Heo stopped moving.
However, her stomach did not care.
It quietly growled again as if asking for something.
So she got up and brought a hand to her stomach.
“H-honestly. Why do you have to do this now? Why when I’m feeling so down?”
She willed it to stop and gathered strength in her abs.
But it did not hesitate to growl again, so she sadly collapsed back onto the floor.
“Honestly… Does my body not know how to take anything seriously?”
Feeling ashamed of herself, she stretched out on the floor.
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