Owari no Chronicle:Volume12 Chapter 7
Chapter 7: Surprise Guest
You can jump in with a single step
Up ahead is darkness or a hole
But there is no brightness if you escape
Shinjou watched Shino in the slightly chilly air of a large room.
They had already introduced themselves and Shinjou had said she was leaving that night to complete the Leviathan Road with 8th-Gear and to pursue Shinjou Yukio’s past to learn about the destruction of Top-Gear.
On the other hand, Shino had not said much.
She had said she was from Top-Gear, she had given the surname Tamiya, and she had informed Shinjou that the Tamiya family had taken her in when she was injured on the night of the attack. Shinjou had a single thought based on that.
“Are you the…real version of a Tamiya here? Since the sex is reversed, are you Kouji?”
Shino quickly shook her head.
“No, I don’t think so. My parents might have been, but I was an only child. …I’ve heard that there were a lot of people in Top-Gear that did not have a counterpart here.”
“I see,” said Shinjou while breathing a silent sigh of relief.
…I don’t like thinking about people as real or fake.
She gave a small nod to herself and Shino raised her head to look at her.
“Um, what happened to the Army? I got separated when we were retreating.”
“The Army… Well, Hajji was captured as its representative.”
Shino fell silent and her expression stiffened, but Shinjou did not soften her words. She simply spoke the truth.
“There has been no announcement of the Army being remade, so it’s thought to have been destroyed.”
“Then my sister and the others are…?”
Shino’s shoulders shook a bit and she brought a hand to her mouth.
“I mean Mikoku. She, Hajji, and I lived like a family.”
“I see. Well, she wasn’t captured.”
Shinjou hesitated, but decided to tell her.
“The person named Tatsumi, the mechanical dragon named Alex, and about…fifty other people weren’t captured either.”
Shino’s eyes opened wide, but after a moment, her expression softened.
She gave a look of relief but then closed her eyes.
Shinjou understood. Shino had realized those others were not going to stop resisting.
After muttering something – a name – under her breath, Shino raised her chin and opened her eyes to look at Shinjou.
“Then what is it you want to ask me? I have to give you some information in exchange for what you just gave me.”
“Yes. I would be grateful if you did.”
Shinjou nodded and thought of a few topics.
…Does she know about my parents?
She of course wanted to know about her mother, but she also wondered what her Top-Gear father was like. And what had happened to them?
She also thought about asking what her life in Top-Gear had been like, but…
…That’s what we’re about to go investigate.
So she asked something else.
“Is what Hajji said during the Army’s attack true?”
The response she got was not the one she expected.
“You really don’t remember your life in Osaka?”
That question gave Shinjou her answer.
“So it is true.”
Shino averted her gaze a bit downwards, but there was no darkness in her expression. She looked somehow nostalgic as she made a gesture like holding something in her hand.
“A concept creation facility was made in Osaka. It was placed near where Babel is in Low-Gear to act as its pair. After that, Japanese UCAT and the people connected to it moved to Osaka.”
She somehow managed to accept this information that she had known but could not remember.
But then Shino asked a sudden question.
“Are you going to report that I’m here?”
Shinjou suddenly realized the significance of Shino being here.
It had been so sudden that she had overlooked it, but it was an extremely obvious thing.
“Before I answer...can you tell me why you’re here? You had to have known you would run into us.”
Her leg was apparently injured, but she could always use her crutch to escape. Shinjou felt it would have been better for her to meet up with the remnants of the Army before she had been found.
“If it was to heal your leg, wouldn’t it have been faster to go to UCAT or meet up with the others from the Army? Why did you stay here?”
Shino brought a hand to her mouth, but she finally shook her head and took in a breath.
“For some reason…I just don’t feel like going anywhere. I do think I should go somewhere, though.”
“I don’t really know if I should be here in the first place. …They’re letting me stay, but I feel like this isn’t where I should be or like I don’t belong anywhere. …I just feel like I’m intruding.”
Hearing that, Shinjou’s previous doubt grew in her heart.
…What is this?
“Um? We happened to learn you’re here, but you can walk, even if not well. So why don’t you want to meet up with the remnants of the Army? And…”
Shinjou asked about the contradiction Shino held.
“You’re hiding from the remnants of the Army here and yet you’re not sure if you belong here. Why do you think that? And in that case…where do you belong?”
Shino looked to the girl who had asked her that question.
As she did, she belatedly thought about it.
…What is my answer?
The Tamiya family was looking after her. Kouji had taken her in because he thought she “had her reasons”.
There were several others who had been taken in for similar reasons.
She thought it was a nice house. It had a nice atmosphere and it had nice people.
She heard a stabbing spear and a commotion in the distance, but she was grateful that everyone was always so lively.
In Top-Gear, she had once lived in a large house much like this one.
She could not walk properly, but she felt perfectly comfortable under the Tamiya family’s care.
…So why do I feel bad for staying here?
To collect her thoughts, she asked a question.
“Do I want to return to the Army? Or do I not?”
“That’s not really something I can answer for you.”
Shinjou brought a finger to her mouth and hung her head a little.
“But,” she muttered as if checking on and gathering her own thoughts.
First, she raised a single finger toward Shino.
“You’re here alone, right?”
Shino nodded and Shinjou raised a second finger.
“You were happy to learn that the people of the Army were safe and that some of them had not been found.”
She raised a third finger.
“But you don’t want to go meet up with either group.”
A fourth finger.
“And you feel guilty for staying here.”
She lowered her hand, lightly slapped her knee, and asked a question as if to herself.
“What does it mean?”
“What…do you mean by that?”
Shinjou nodded, looked up, and looked to Shino with the ends of her eyebrows lowered.
After a shout in the distance, she frowned.
“This is a hard house to have a serious discussion in. Was the one in Top-Gear the same?”
“N-no. That’s unique to this one.”
Shinjou nodded and looked Shino in the eye again. This time, she tilted her head a bit.
“Um? I don’t entirely understand, but it seems to me that…well…you want to be with the Army, but you don’t want the Army to continue.”
“It’s almost like you reluctantly graduated from the Army during that attack.”
Shino had never graduated from anything before, but it helped her understand the state of her heart.
She recalled a moment in the past.
It was the moment when she had parted ways with the Army and had been alone.
A month and a half ago, she had run through the mountains after the Army had lost.
At the time, she had tried to stay by Mikoku’s side, but when it came to a fight…
…I was kept from fighting.
After escaping, Mikoku and the others would likely continue fighting in some form.
So if she did end up meeting Mikoku again, she would only be rejected once more.
After all, Mikoku would continue rejecting her as long as she was near the fighting.
She had a question.
…If she was only going to reject me in the end, why did she stay with me for so long?
She did not know. There was no way she could know. It all came down to Mikoku’s heart.
But if she did not want to be separated from Mikoku, she had to remain with the Army.
Yet if Mikoku would find some reason to reject her…
“I should try to keep my distance.”
…That’s why I can’t leave even though I’m not sure I should be here.
She was hiding her identity as a Top-Gear human and having the enemy protect her.
That brought on the guilt of deceiving Kouji, Ryouko, and the others, but…
She had a single reason for choosing that option.
…It’s so difficult when I’m near her.
She would be thrust away without being told why.
She would receive no answer even if she asked why.
…So I decided to stay away on my own.
“But I’m not determined enough for that, so I start hesitating again.”
As soon as she muttered those words, a sudden sound of impact reached her ears from behind.
Shino reflexively stood up and looked behind her.
She saw something strange growing from the plaster wall there.
It was the tip of a spear.
The sharp and shining blade was accompanied by a voice coming from the wall.
She heard a scream and a series of stabbing sounds as the blade quickly moved in and out of the wall.
“Owwww, ow, ow, ow, owwwwpaaaah!! 7-hit combo!!”
“Eeeek! Onji was taken out in midair! Retreat! Retreat!”
After more shouts and fleeing footsteps in the wall, Ryouko’s voice reached the room.
“Okay, three more minutes until the time limit. …Wah! Don’t run this way!!”
“Heh heh heh. Are you going to run? But with three whole minutes to go, I can easily reach a high score!”
After a single footstep out in the hallway, Shinjou spoke from behind Shino.
Before she could say any more, a voice answered. And it had clearly heard what Shino had said.
“Keeping your distance because you are not sure where you belong takes quite a bit of determination. And yet even the world’s air is blushing and panting as if it floats around you in the hopes that you will breath it in.”
“Sayama-kun, that air surrounds us too, you know?”
“Calm down, Shinjou-kun. What surrounds the two of us is a much denser gas.”
“Heh heh heh. It is not often you make puns, Shinjou-kun. Tanaka-kun, bring out all of the cushions. Tanaka-kuuun.”
“Ahhh, Tanaka!! He got a critical hit on Tanaka!! Now he can’t carry the cushions!!”
Ignoring the excited voices, Shinjou scratched at her head and spoke to Sayama through the wall.
“Um, Sayama-kun? I don’t think Shino-san wants to go to UCAT either.”
Shino felt her pulse race at those two words.
It was clear that he was about to give his answer.
So she tried to say something. It did not matter what as long as it bought her some time.
But before she could, Sayama’s voice reached her through the wall.
“That is fine.”
She swallowed her words and fell silent, but he continued regardless.
“She is no longer a part of the Army.”
Shinjou stood and looked back and forth between the wall and Shino.
She was aware she was frowning.
“She isn’t part of the Army?”
“Then can you tell me why she has not used her thought coercion concept?”
Shinjou finally recalled Shino could make people do what she said.
…That power would probably help handle Sayama-kun.
She was certain her very first command for him would be “calm down”.
But why had Shino not used that power?
“You don’t mean…”
Shino was hanging her head in resignation and Shinjou looked to the two chains hanging from the girl’s neck.
One of them held a red cloisonné pendant.
The other held a blue stone pendant.
But the blue one had changed.
Shino gave a small nod and held up the small blue stone to show the white crack through it.
“During our retreat, I was hit by a powerful cutting concept. I deflected the attack by ordering it to be ‘rejected’, but the concepts seemed to be a bad match. Now my power is sealed and I can’t use it. It let me enter concept spaces before, but I’m not even sure I can do that now that it’s broken.”
Shinjou waited a moment after Shino finished.
She took the time to think about what this meant.
“In other words…you have no ability to fight, you won’t meet up with the remnants of the Army, and you won’t move from here? And without a Low-Gear counterpart, you have no hated enemy?”
She was powerless, she could not move, she had no foe, and she did not wish to fight.
That did indeed mean she was not part of the Army. She was no different from an injured person of this world.
From a physical perspective, they were no different from Low-Gear humans.
They were only different in that they were part of the Army and were residents of Top-Gear.
…Then which are you?
Shinjou just about asked that, but she swallowed the words.
She had once fallen into a similar state of mind.
She had wondered which side she should be with and which side she should be on.
…She’s the same.
With that understanding, Shinjou sat back down.
She looked straight at Shino who tilted her head and lowered the ends of her eyebrows.
Shinjou chose her words carefully while playing with the hair falling onto her cheek.
“Then how about this? Once you decide which side to be on, we will use that to decide who you are.”
“B-but you two don’t have the authority to-…”
Sayama’s voice answered her from beyond the wall.
“No, we do not. But what proof do we have that you are truly that girl from the Army?”
Shino looked surprised and straightened her back.
“You do not have a ghost dog and it is impossible to genetically determine you are a ‘real human’ of Top-Gear when you have no Low-Gear counterpart. You could be someone else entirely who just so happens to be the spitting image of that Army girl. The Army’s remnants may have led you here to trick us.”
“But that isn’t-…!”
“Eeek! He got Tetsu! He even got Tetsu!!”
Before Shino could say anything more, Sayama’s footsteps moved away with sounds of stabbing.
Shinjou listened while looking back to Shino.
“Um,” she began while placing a hand on her chest and breathing in. “We may not know if you are from the Army or not, but I would like to ask you one thing.”
“What is it? …I don’t really want to tell you anything that would harm the others, though.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” agreed Shinjou.
Shino still cared about the Army and Top-Gear.
At the same time, she cared about the peace this world had gained from not knowing about the Concept War.
…How will this turn out?
Unlike Shinjou, Shino still remembered Top-Gear, so what would she end up doing?
With that in mind, Shinjou formed her words.
“Today, we’re leaving for Kansai. We have a lot of work to do there and I think we’re going to stop by Sakai on the way back. So if possible, can you tell me just one thing? I think my mom must have lived in Top-Gear’s Osaka, but where exactly did she live?”
Shino’s voice was scratchy, but she answered.
“At first, it was an orphanage in Sakai.”
Shinjou engraved the girl’s next words into her heart.
“After that, your mother lived in the concept creation facility built in Top-Gear.”
“In the concept creation facility?”
Shino looked her in the eye.
Her black eyes seemed to peer deep into her own.
“Yes. The giant facility was built to save the peoples of all Gears. It was called Noah.”
A river flowed through the night.
It had a white cement embankment, but the private road above had no lights.
This was the Aki River that flowed east to west through south Akigawa.
The only light came from the amusement park on the other side of the river.
“It is strange that an amusement park in Akigawa is known as Hachioji Summerland.”
A girl muttered to herself while facing that light halfway up the embankment on the private road side.
The girl lying on the embankment wore a black suit.
It was Mikoku.
A large white dog sat next to her.
The two of them looked to the lights of the amusement park and other external lights across the river.
The east end of the amusement park contained a one hundred meter white indoor pool building. The west end contained a roller coaster and an outdoor pool.
During this season, the outdoor pool was used for a nighttime skating rink.
“They probably cannot see us from over there,” muttered Mikoku and the dog barked quietly next to her.
She glanced over at the dog accusingly.
“Shiro, wouldn’t you rather be with Shino?”
Shiro did not answer and simply stared at the light.
He did not even move, so Mikoku brought a hand to his throat.
…Come to think of it, I have never done this before.
She could be bolder with no one else around. I really am a coward, she thought.
“O-okay. It is time for a tickle attack.”
The dog brought her outstretched hand deep into its mouth and gently bit her.
He released her hand as soon as she cried out, but he immediately went back to ignoring her.
Seeing that, she sighed, crossed her arms behind her head, and thought about one thing.
…Shiro is not searching for Shino because Shino is trying to avoid me.
And she had yet to find Shino.
The members of the Army had safe houses and emergency storage areas around Kantou, but Shino’s belongings had not been moved.
Mikoku had tried bringing Shiro around, but the dog had not reacted to anything.
Most likely, she qualified to herself. Shiro has picked up on what Shino is thinking.
He must want to search for her too, but she is trying to keep her distance right now.
She did not know why, but Shiro showed no sign of searching for Shino and as far as she was concerned…
“That is exactly what I want.”
This meant Shino would no longer be involved with anything dangerous. If Shino was avoiding the Army, it meant she agreed with that.
“Isn’t that right, Shiro? …Ahhh!”
Shiro gently bit her and let go again and Mikoku could see through him much more than before.
During their retreat three weeks before, the man known as “the rapist” had attacked and destroyed Mikoku’s body.
The mountain had collapsed, she had been washed into a river, and she had woken up three days later in a rocky area.
The locations prepared for regrouping had already been abandoned by that point.
The house they had lived in with Hajji had been under surveillance, as was the factory.
This had left Mikoku separated from the rest of the Army and without Shino.
Staying in Akigawa brought a risk of being found by UCAT, but she was still there because it seemed the best way to search out the rest of the Army.
But she had yet to find them or even any trace of them. The only thing she had found was Shiro who had been next to her when she had woken up in that rocky area. However, the dog had been growing thinner ever since.
Shino’s philosopher’s stone created a synchronization of minds more than it did control minds. It could even gather up traces of thought, but due to Shino’s personality, it would create embodiments of what could be called dog ghosts.
Shiro was the strongest of those and he would continue to exist as long as Shino’s philosopher’s stone remained.
But now, he was beginning to vanish.
…Was her philosopher’s stone destroyed or abandoned?
It’s hard to say, she groaned to herself while sitting up.
…That was ten years ago…
During the battle that destroyed Top-Gear, Shino had been given that philosopher’s stone by her philosopher’s stone developer parents.
It had been inside a facility known as Noah. The negative concepts had been wreaking havoc on the world and the inside of Noah had been no different. Shino had been given the stone as a protective charm. She had been given nothing more, not even words, before she had been sent outside Noah and toward the gate opened to Low-Gear.
Mikoku also remembered being sent away by her parents and the automaton that managed Noah.
When she had stepped outside, the world had already been destroyed and Noah had been surrounded by Low-Gear’s UCAT. The Top-Gear residents of Top-Gear’s UCAT had left the children inside Noah with Hajji who had temporarily withdrawn. After that, most of the adults had gone back out to fight.
According to them, they had to because it was a battle between Top-Gear and Low-Gear.
The children had then evacuated to Low-Gear.
Mikoku thought she knew why Hajji was so hostile to Low-Gear.
…Is it because he was unable to fight to the end back then?
She had a similar feeling inside herself.
A month and a half ago, her own inexperience had prevented her from fulfilling her job to the end.
“What is this regret?” she muttered.
Shiro turned toward her and she once more noted how she could see through him.
…And if Shino’s philosopher’s stone really is losing its power…
That would be a first for the girl.
That stone had been her final line of defense when setting foot in this strange world that seemed so very similar to the world she knew.
She had never been in Low-Gear without the stone.
…But if she no longer has it…
Mikoku held her breath as she continued on that train of thought, but…
She got up.
Shiro quickly turned toward her again and she tried to pat his head.
“Ahhh! Calm down, Shiro. …At any rate, Shino is a smart girl. I do not know where she is living, but she will no longer need us once she gets used to it.”
The way she hung her head and spoke made it look like she was trying to convince herself of that.
“That means I am the only one that is alone.”
I do not like the sound of that now that I have no one else, she thought.
The only piece of hope was that Shino was apparently with good people. Shiro would have done something if she was in danger.
…This is my problem and only my problem.
In the near future, they were sure to oppose the world in some way. Tatsumi had Alex and the others had their own people to worry about, but…
…I am alone.
She had pushed away the person she cared about most.
Now that she had made an enemy of this world, she would never have anyone to care for again.
“All I can be is alone.”
Suddenly, her lowered gaze caught sight of a light.
It was a straight line of light visible between her eyes and the philosopher’s stone in her throat.
The light was reflected off of the metal blade sticking through the back of her neck and out the front.
Mikoku’s voice did not form proper words.
Her eyes showed her that a thick-bladed knife was sticking through her neck from behind while muffled breathing and bubbling blood escaped her neck.
So she clenched her teeth and swallowed the blood. Whatever this was, letting out a cry of pain would only inform the attacker of her situation, so she breathed in through her nose.
Calm down, she told herself while reaching behind her with her right hand and grabbing the knife handle.
She held her head in place with her left hand and pulled out the knife.
She felt something cold leaving her neck where she normally breathed and swallowed.
She resisted the urge to vomit and removed the blade.
Other than what spilled out from removing the blade, no blood left her.
She had pulled it out straight enough for the healing to begin immediately.
That was when she realized how skilled the thrower had been.
She sensed no one on the embankment behind her.
That meant they had thrown the knife in a parabolic arc from the other side of the embankment.
Not many people could accomplish that in a blind throw. Especially with enough force to stab in so deeply.
“It can’t be.”
A name came to mind and she just about spoke it aloud, but she stopped when she noticed something else.
The knife she held had something written on it with magic marker.
One side of the thick, brown leather handle had a message.
“Don’t let your guard down. Enemies. Tomorrow in Sakai, announce our intentions as leader.”
The letter folded on the opposite side was held on with a rubber band.
As soon as she read the writing, Mikoku was convinced of who had thrown the knife.
It was a rough method of telling her to not let her guard down and that the enemy was coming. Also…
…As leader!? What does that mean!?
No, she knew the answer to that.
She was being told to take Hajji’s place.
She thought it was ridiculous, but she also knew what Tatsumi was trying to say. Now that Hajji was a prisoner, the Army had no leader. That meant the Army would vanish and they would become the forces of Top-Gear.
They would need a leader, but Alex was restricted by his mechanical dragon body, Tatsumi was not the leadership type, and Shino was missing.
That process-of-elimination answer angered Mikoku. And…
…Tomorrow in Sakai, announce our intentions?
Information on Shinjou’s mother was in Sakai, so would she go there? But…
“I am supposed to decide everyone’s fate!? What is the meaning of this!?”
Just as she began to tremble in fear because of her own inexperience, she heard a sudden sound from the top of the embankment behind her. It was the sound of a small rock being kicked and Tatsumi would never make a sound like that as she approached.
She did not even need to think what this meant as she got up from the embankment.
She moved forward, toward the river.
As she gave that bloody shout, she decided she was thinking too much.
She has thinking too much about Shino, about the regret brought on by her inexperience a month and a half before, and about her own loneliness.
It was all weighing on her mind so heavily that she had allowed Tatsumi’s throw to reach her.
She was sure Tatsumi would tell her she would normally have noticed the knife.
But even if she could guess how someone else would warn her, she could not find a decent answer.
She only knew two things.
First, she had let her guard down due to her inexperience.
…Sayama is on the move!
The Army and Hajji had shaken them so much, the Gear reservations had to be reacting, and the foreign UCATs would never stay silent.
Mikoku dove into the winter river to escape.
As she did so, she realized she may have nowhere left to run.
Two splashes could be heard from the top of the embankment.
Four pairs of hard shoes could be heard shortly thereafter.
Four well-built people in suits stood on the unlit asphalt at the top of the embankment.
Three were men and one was a woman. One had blond hair, two had black hair, and one had brown hair.
Their eyes were covered by the visor-like objects they wore.
The black-haired man who seemed to be their leader spoke into a cellphone.
He spoke in English.
“They escaped. The philosopher’s stone reading is moving away through the river. We will continue to the other…no, we cannot split our personnel. …Testament. Then we will continue with our normal guard duties.”
The black-haired man ended the call.
The splashing sounds had already vanished from the black river surface.
A few seconds later, he brought his right hand to his visor.
He spoke quietly and deactivated a few switches on the side of the visor.
“Not being able to act publicly is difficult. There are a lot of people we must covertly protect, so we can’t pursue when we do find a target. …This is the most stressful situation. It’s a shame. I was born in Texas, so I love gun battles.”
“Calm down,” said the brown-haired woman next to him. “I’m sure Colonel Odor wants to take action more than anyone else, but he’s stuck negotiating with our home country below Yokota. And you know how much he hates deskwork.”
“But if he went to the meeting in the major’s place, he would probably physically crush the representatives of the other UCATs. I can almost hear him saying ‘They’re pissing me off! They’re pissing me off, Roger!’ The entire meeting room would be flattened.”
“That’s for sure,” said the two men behind her with bitter smiles.
But the woman only shrugged.
“But that’s what he normally does. Why isn’t he doing that? If he used the full authority and dignity of the United States, most of the countries in that meeting would have no choice but to go along with it.”
The black-haired man removed his visor, folded it up, and put it in his pocket.
He then turned around and started toward the black car stopped on the edge of the embankment.
After the first step, he spoke.
“Then can you answer this? Who was it that defeated Black Sun?”
He heard a gasp behind him and kicked a small piece of loose asphalt as he walked.
“I was there at the Chofu airport. I saw it destroy those vehicles and my comrades. What we had destroyed turned out not to be Black Sun and we allowed the real one into our airspace. But,” he said. “Some people tried to understand Black Sun and received the Concept Core as a sign of apology.”
He let out a bitter laugh.
“What we and the colonel are doing is making sure those people do not have their power sealed away. The other Gears are trying to pick a fight with them right now, but I at least know that those people are the only ones who can fight them. I’m sure the colonel and the major know as well. And we know that letting them fight is the fastest answer.”
“But the other UCATs don’t know that and are trying to interfere, aren’t they?”
“Testament,” replied the blond man in the back.
He tapped the shoulder of the man next to him and also began walking toward the car.
“Members of a few different UCATs have shown up at or near Team Leviathan residences about thirty times in the past two weeks. We’re counting perverts, arsonists, and UCAT Director Ooshiro separately, but it seems we’re still doing quite a bit to maintain the peace of this country.”
“It looks like we can spread freedom and peace on the household level as well. We will continue to police every UCAT by keeping an eye on the other ones and we will report any hostile actions from the other Gears. This is an important job…and we sometimes catch people like that in our net.”
“That was Toda Mikoku, the girl with an immortality philosopher’s stone, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” answered the man walking in front. “But it isn’t immortality. It’s high-speed regeneration and it has a flaw. The regeneration is not instantaneous and it relies on the stone, so the regeneration stops if the stone is destroyed. In other words, if you blow her to bits with an explosive and then destroy the stone before she can fully regenerate, she will die. There’s nothing she can do about it,” he added. “Also, the Army spoke about the truth of Top-Gear, but they forgot two things. First, we are now living in the present. And second, they failed to steal even one of the Concept Cores. Everything they mentioned is nothing but the past and they have nothing to bring to the negotiating table. So…”
He suddenly trailed off.
His footsteps stopped, too.
He had stopped seven meters from the car on the end of the embankment.
The embankment lowered to the left and connected to the road running alongside the river.
He looked to the streetlights on that road and silently looked back.
He saw someone standing on the asphalt.
This was not any of his three companions.
A single new person stood there.
It was a girl with long hair who wore a combat coat.
There had been no sign of her previously.
She was five meters away and he had not noticed until she was that close.
It had likely been the same for his companions. Three people were collapsed and unmoving along the path she had taken thus far.
After noting that they seemed to have simply collapsed as they walked, he began to move.
He pulled a submachine gun from his coat.
He turned the short suppressor toward her and muffled gunshots shook the air.
A cold smile charged toward him in response.
“Yes. That is the name I am going by now.”
The man saw Tatsumi slip below his arm.
She had moved under the arm he was using to hold the gun forward.
Her flowing black hair wrapped in the wind and the sword she drew from her back produced the color silver.
Her movements looked relaxed, but they were lightning fast.
“Sorry, but I need you to stay still for a bit.”
After drawing the sword, her left elbow sprang up.
The elbow knocked up his right arm which held the gun.
He saw his arm bend a little and then fully bend as if releasing its strength.
A moment later, Tatsumi’s blade raced forward and split the submachine gun in two.
However, the man could still move.
He pulled back his left hand and tried to draw the combat knife on his left hip.
“Is this what you’re looking for?”
Tatsumi tilted her head as she asked and she held a knife in her right hand.
She gently pushed on the back of the knife and drove the entire blade into his chest just below the right collarbone.
As soon as he gave a cry of pain, he saw something.
Tatsumi pulled back the silver line and it seemed to multiply several times over.
The illusion was caused by a series of jabs too quick for his eyes to fully capture.
They all hit.
The sound was as light as paper being struck, but the strikes all penetrated to the other side of his limbs or torso.
His bones broke, his tendons were pierced, and he began to collapse back onto the asphalt.
“You can still speak?”
She reached her hand out toward his chest as he fell.
Just as he wondered what she was going to do, she grabbed the handle of the knife stabbed there.
“I’ll remove that for you.”
She used his falling motion to pull out the knife.
A gouging sensation filled the right half of his body from behind.
He swallowed the cry of pain and instead looked up to the moon and listened to Tatsumi’s voice.
“Don’t make fun of Mikoku too much, okay? If she really was useless, I wouldn’t bother teaching her anything. With Shino gone and nowhere to run, this is the perfect chance to train herself. And…”
He heard a bitter laugh.
“Who were you in charge of protecting? If you remember that, you should understand that we haven’t given up just yet. Yes, since Mikoku hasn’t pulled herself together yet, we need to set the stage for her.”
He fell onto his back.
The intense pain in the right of his chest sent his mind into darkness, but he clearly heard Tatsumi’s voice just before it did.
“We will set the stage so Top-Gear can correct the Leviathan Road. …I hope you’re looking forward to it.”
A certain large space was surrounded by books.
That room on the first floor of Taka-Akita Academy’s Second Year General Education School Building was known as the Kinugasa Library.
It was stepped with the center at the lowest point, countless bookcases filled it like a forest, and the scene outside the nearly covered windows was dark.
The wall clock said it was nine at night, so the fluorescent lights on the ceiling were the only illumination.
The artificial lights produced shadows from the lines of bookcases and the entire library was somewhat covered in shadow.
The only area free of shadow was the highest point of the stepped floor where there were no bookcases.
That meant the counter by the entrance and the area in front of the preparation room in the back.
Two people stood in front of the unlit preparation room and one stood within it.
One of those outside was a girl with long blonde hair who was leaning against the wall.
The other was a girl with short blonde hair who was peering inside the dark room.
The one inside was the short-haired girl that the one blonde girl was peering in at.
That blonde girl spoke to the girl who wore a track suit and searched along the room’s wall.
“U-um, Kazami? Are you okay?”
“Eh? I’m fine, Heo. They just store stuff in here, so I won’t get in trouble for being in here. Besides, the Kinugasa Library isn’t being used for the year end festival yet.”
“No, Kazami. …I meant about the battle.”
Hearing that, the girl with long blonde hair moved from the wall. She spoke to Kazami who was searching for the light switch in the dark room.
“You’re not hurt?”
“I’m fine, I’m fine.”
With a bitter smile, Kazami found the switch and pressed it.
A quiet flashing sound came from the ceiling and a brownish light turned on.
“Now, then,” said Kazami below that light. “This is a lot of books. The small room is packed full of them.”
“Wh-what are you doing?”
“I’m not sure. But you heard what Sayama and Shinjou called ahead about, right? There should be a ‘Study’ inside the Kinugasa Library.”
Kazami knew Sayama had gone to the Tamiya house and she knew why.
…He’s searching for his mother’s past.
She understood the past still gave him pain, but she now knew he was stepping forward without fearing that pain.
…In that case…
“I need to help him out.”
Mikage tilted her head at that, but Kazami simply smiled and changed the subject.
“Let’s get this cleaned up while the guys are out buying snacks and drinks. …I think the big pile of books in the center is actually because of a work table below them.”
Hearing that, Heo’s shoulders trembled below her flight jacket and school uniform.
“Is this the Study?”
“Hm? No. It’s the preparation room.”
Heo looked doubtful and Mikage expressionlessly tilted her head, so Kazami nodded.
“I think this is the entrance to the Study.”
“B-but there’s nothing here. Even in the back, there’s only bookcases.”
Oh, that’s right, thought Kazami. Heo and Mikage don’t know the library that well. If they did, there’s one thing they would have noticed.
So she looked to the wall clock.
It was just before 9:00 PM and there was no sign of Siegfried at the counter.
“Did you know that Siegfried the librarian plays the piano in the second floor music room at a set time every day and whenever he has some spare time?”
Even as she spoke, the music reached them.
It was Silent Night.
The piano sounded almost serene.
The ends of Heo’s eyebrows lowered as she listened to the loud yet calm music.
“I can hear it, but what about it? Mikage, you can hear it too, right?”
Heo looked uneasy and Mikage tilted her head, but Kazami was satisfied.
“That’s right.” She nodded. “You can hear it. …Now, come here.”
Kazami grabbed the two girls’ shoulders and left the room.
After taking a few steps, they corrected their posture to walk alongside her.
She took a few more steps without answering and moved down one level of the stepped floor.
Kazami stepped down with Heo after watching Mikage time her step down a bit ahead of the other two.
After a few more steps, it became clear what Kazami was getting at.
Heo and Mikage did not take their next step with Kazami.
They came to a stop, so Kazami did the same.
She looked to either side. She saw Mikage expressionlessly lower her head on the right and Heo open her eyes wide on the left. They were both speechless, so she spoke up in triumphant laugh.
“Heh heh. What’s the matter, you two? Why did you stop?”
Mikage nodded and Heo hesitated before slowly speaking.
“The music…went away.”
“Right,” said Kazami as she let go of the girls’ shoulders.
She took a step forward, turned around to face their surprised and confused faces, and breathed in.
“I just now found the answer to one of this school’s mysteries.”
She looked up to the ceiling. Beyond the white ceiling panels and fluorescent lights was the music room.
“The music room above here is fully soundproofed. You can’t hear anything from inside even in the hallway right outside it. Above that is the art room. …So why do the sounds of those two floors reach the preparation room separately?”
“Yes.” She nodded and looked the other two in the eye. “When Brunhild was keeping her bird in the art room, we heard it chirping from the preparation room. However, the sounds from the music room can’t be heard in the art room. Siegfried suggested it’s due to the sounds resonating with the walls, but…”
She looked toward the preparation room as she continued.
“What if there’s a hidden room back there? What if it’s not resonating with the walls? What if the hidden room’s air conditioning travels through the art room and music room’s walls separately, so the sounds arrive separately as well?”
Heo and Mikage looked surprised, but Kazami only felt more satisfaction.
“Now,” she said with a clap of her hands.
The sound reverberated through the library and she lifted her eyebrows in a smile.
“Let’s clean this up. At least enough to reach the work table and bookcases in the back. …The wall beyond those bookcases seems suspicious, doesn’t it?”
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