Owari no Chronicle:Volume12 Chapter 8
Chapter 8: The World’s Entrance
Where do we go from here?
Where did we come from to get here?
Even after clearing out the books, the room was still small.
The wood floor did not even cover ten square meters. It had the door-less entrance to the front and the bookcases in the back.
The scarlet light on the ceiling filled the room which smelled of damp dust.
“There sure were a lot of books in here.”
Those words came from one of the eight people inside the room.
It was Shinjou.
She and the others were not looking to the central work desk or the snacks and drinks sitting on it.
They were focused on the bookcases and the books filling them.
There were four of them beyond the piles of old books that remained on the floor.
The bookcases reached the ceiling. The two on the far left and right were placed farther forward while the two placed between them were kept in the far back.
“That’s clearly a double-layer bookcase.”
Kazami rolled up her track suit’s sleeves and Shinjou felt the girl had spoken for everyone there.
There were no rails on the floor for the bookcases to move along, but according to Sayama…
“The two in the front are likely fixed in place, but if the back two have rails to slide to the side – that is, between the front bookcases and the wall – then those back bookcases are effectively doors. In other words, there is a hidden room or a concept space behind them.”
He gave a troubled smile.
“Shinjou-kun and I are about to leave for 8th’s Leviathan Road and to search for her mother’s past in relation to Top-Gear’s destruction, but I never expected to begin a treasure hunt for this ‘Study’ before we left.”
Shinjou smiled a bit and nodded at his words.
“Well, we already told them about Noah and your mother, so let’s do what we can before we have to leave for the train.”
When she had arrived with Sayama earlier, most of the books on the preparation room’s floor had already been removed.
They had all ignored the snacks laid out on the work desk, discussed how to move the bookcases, and discussed the information Shinjou and Sayama brought from the Tamiya house.
The front and back bookcases were both filled with books, but the top left of the left one in the back had an open space.
An old globe had been placed there.
They had learned three other things in their investigation.
There was no switch hidden in the back of the bookcases.
When they tapped on the back panel, it made a light sound that indicated there was empty space beyond it.
“We can’t break through it even though it’s made of wood.”
It had been Izumo who had discovered the bookcases and the surrounding wall were protected by a concept.
After returning from the hospital and hearing Kazami had fought a battle, he had tried to reach inside her track suit to make sure she was not injured.
He had subsequently crashed into the bookcase, but he had bounced off without it breaking or even creaking.
However, that had not improved the situation.
Sayama frowned and crossed his arms next to Shinjou, Harakawa and Heo stood by the wall, Hiba and Mikage leaned against the left and right bookcases, and Kazami and Izumo gathered up the remaining books on the floor.
Shinjou groaned in thought as she observed the contents of the bookcases.
“This is a strange mixture of books. I wonder why.”
“Have you figured something out, Shinjou-kun?”
She hesitated and looked around.
The others turned toward her and her shoulders shrank down.
“Well, I’m probably way off base here, but…”
She tried asking the question that had occurred to her when she noticed the strange mixture of books.
“These books seem almost random, so why are all of the shelves nearly full?”
“Didn’t they just put them on the shelves randomly until they ran out of space and had to use the floor?”
Izumo did have a point, but…
She pointed at one shelf and the colors formed by the arrangement of books.
“It looks random, but the series are all lined up together.”
It was obvious if one paid attention. Clumps of a single color formed groups on the shelves.
As for the seemingly random books that filled the gaps between them…
“They all have the same author or publisher. …It’s all grouped together.”
“Then,” replied Sayama. “Are you saying the books here have some kind of meaning and are only meant to appear random?”
“I can agree with that,” cut in Harakawa. He crossed his legs while still standing by the wall. “Something caught my attention too. Can I pull out the books?”
“Something caught your attention? What is it, Harakawa-kun?”
He shook his head at her question.
“You’ll understand once I pull out the books. Wait until then. …Assuming I’m not imagining things.”
He moved from the wall in order to pull out the books, so Hiba and Mikage left the bookcases they stood in front of.
“Um, Harakawa-san, do you want some help?”
“Hiba Ryuuji, have you ever worked as a mover or shipper? For those jobs, you need to remove books from a bookcase and put them back in the same order at the destination.”
Without even looking at Hiba, Harakawa walked to the back bookcases and rolled up his sleeves.
“There might be a trick to the order of the books, so someone who can put them back how they were needs to do the work. And that’s me.”
He always says things like that, thought Shinjou as he spoke with his back turned.
Before she could continue her thought, Heo stepped up next to him.
Heo helped him line up the removed books behind him.
“In other words, Harakawa, you’re an expert cleaner?”
“Don’t put it like that, Heo Thunderson. And stop plotting a change to our division of work at home. Got that?”
She groaned and fell silent, but they continued working without speaking.
They lined up the even piles of books behind them which formed a wall between them and the others.
As she watched them, Kazami gave Izumo a puzzled look.
“Hey, Kaku. Is it just me or are they making a wall of flirting with those books?”
“Yeah, their love comedy aura has gone beyond all acceptable levels. It’s enough to actually feel cold.”
“Ha ha ha. But, Izumo-san, Kazami-san, you two practically wrote the book on that kind of thing. Ha ha. Maybe that book is on one of these shelv- I’m sorry. I’ll go buy you a drink, so please stop giving me that look of scorn.”
“That wasn’t scorn. That was just a terrible joke.”
“Th-that’s even worse!”
Shinjou thought calmly to herself while watching that exchange.
…We really have a unique cycle set up here, don’t we?
She decided to stay out of it so she could stay normal, but she suddenly realized someone else was staying out of it too: Sayama.
He was the strangest of them all, so why was he not taking part? She thought about that for a bit.
“Ah. D-don’t tell me it’s weird not to take part in this strange conversation!”
“How did you reach that bizarre conclusion, Shinjou-kun?”
Sayama tilted his head and Baku emulated him.
He quietly looked her way and thought about something for approximately three seconds.
Immediately afterwards, he gave an understanding nod, removed his coat, and slapped his opened chest with one hand.
“Now, come at me!”
“With what? With what, you say? Heh heh heh. I suppose it would be hard for you to say it out loud!”
“Yes, the decidedly negative feeling I want to throw at you right now definitely is incredibly difficult to describe.”
Meanwhile, she heard some whispering voices.
“Look, Harakawa. Sayama and Shinjou have started their weird kind of flirting again.”
“Don’t let them influence you, Heo Thunderson. More importantly, do something about this, you stupid president.”
“I’d love to, but my divine protection doesn’t help against whatever has infected them. …How about you, Chisato?”
“No, I don’t like criticizing other people’s tastes.”
“You say that, Kazami-san, but why are you giving me that look saying I should go do it?”
Shinjou’s danger meter quickly filled, so she frantically spoke up.
“W-wait a second! Why is the cycle surrounding me now!?”
“Ha ha ha. Shinjou-kun, the others are merely jealous. They can sense the happiness exuding from us.”
She tightened a nearby necktie and the windpipe releasing that “happiness” closed up and fell silent.
She then sighed in that silence.
“You know, Sayama-kun?”
“Chisato, I think we’re being tricked here.”
“You’re right, Kaku. They’re trying to alter their world for us.”
“E-enough of that! Let’s focus on this!!”
Shinjou pointed at Sayama.
“He’s been sitting there silently this whole time! Isn’t that weird!? You need to ask him why!”
“How’s he going to answer?” asked Kazami.
Shinjou looked to the boy she was pointing at.
For some reason, he was collapsed limply on the work bench with his red tie wrapped tightly around his neck.
“Stop turning this into a mock crime scene, Sayama-kun! You can’t just go to sleep and abandon your duty, so let’s take this seriously!!”
“Wait, wait, wait, wait. That’s one hell of an interpretation there, Shinjou.”
However, Sayama loosened his tie while still pretending to lie limply on the desk.
“I am suffocating, Shinjou-kun. Heh heh. I believe I need mouth-to-mouth.”
She dropped her fist straight down on his stomach.
His body shot up from the desk, landed on his feet, and caught Baku out of the air.
“Sh-Shinjou-kun, I said mouth-to-mouth, not fist-to-gut.”
Shinjou nodded with the biggest smile she could manage and slowly opened her mouth.
“Will those be your last words?”
“Now, how about we take this seriously?”
Sayama nodded and stepped up alongside her.
He calmly faced forward as the others glared at him.
He crossed his arms, placed a hand on his chin, and looked to one person in particular.
“Harakawa, have you reached your answer yet?”
“Once I remove this shelf, my suspicion will be effectively confirmed.”
The boy turned back and Heo looked back too. She tilted her head toward Sayama from beyond the piles of books with almost equal heights.
“I don’t really get it either. What is this?”
“Well, Heo-kun, it is nothing much. Also…that is Harakawa’s answer to give.”
They all turned toward Harakawa and Shinjou noticed that he had stopped removing the books.
Why? she wondered.
“Ah,” said Heo as she faced the wall of piled-up books.
She raised her right hand with a look of surprise.
She spread her fingers and lowered them on top of one stack.
Each stack in the row was made from one of the shelves and there were six shelves’ worth.
“They’re almost even.”
Each stack came from a single shelf, so Shinjou felt it made sense for their heights to generally be the same.
However, that was not what Heo meant when she said “almost”.
Of the six stacks in front of her, four were one book shorter than the other two.
However, that was not the problem.
The problem was the height of that difference.
“It’s too exact,” concluded Harakawa.
Everyone watched as Heo nodded.
The four shorter stacks were about the same height and the two taller ones were also about the same height.
The books formed two separate groups of equal height.
…Why is that?
After helping Harakawa, Heo tilted her head as if responding to Shinjou’s silent question.
“What does this mean?”
She brushed her hands along the lower stacks to compare their heights, but the top books formed a perfectly horizontal surface.
“This equal height is intentional, isn’t it? But why would you do that?”
She almost seemed to be talking to herself, but it gave Shinjou a sudden thought.
However, she was doubtful of the answer in her heart.
…Huh? Can I really say this?”
She was not sure, so she frowned, lightly crossed her arms, and felt a little concerned that her actions were identical to the dangerous individual next to her.
But in the end, she opened her mouth and spoke.
“You see this kind of thing in video games.”
Heo listened to Shinjou from beyond the stacks of books.
“Video games?” she asked.
She did not know much about video games. She had moved so often when living in the United States and she had been too busy with various daily tasks to have much free time. Her great-grandfather had always asked if there was anything she wanted, but she could borrow books from the library and visiting a new library was always something to look forward to each time they moved.
After moving to Japan, Harakawa did not ask if she wanted anything, she could still visit the library, and she had yet to complete the bookshelves in the closet.
Her friends seemed to play some games, but with her club activities, everyday tasks, books, Harakawa, and the other strange people around her, there was unfortunately no space left for games.
However, she did often hear her friends at school talking excitedly about the female-oriented games they played.
…They’re always talking about which guy they “won”.
The Japanese seem to think of people as something to be conquered. Is that the influence of the previous world war?
If I’m going to date Harakawa properly, do I have to use Thunder Fellow to fire on him while he drives his motorcycle down the road at night?
But based on the games I’ve seen Ooshiro play, a Japanese girl is supposed to be a younger step sister, have pink hair, and have absurd speech quirks. But I don’t think I can do that and I still don’t know what Harakawa wants, so what’s going to happen between us?
“H-Heo? You look like you’re thinking a little too hard, but the kind of game I was talking about is-…”
She came back to her senses.
“If it’s about a blonde uninvited guest, then everything’s fine already!”
“That is not fine at all, Heo Thunderson.”
“Eh? Th-then I’m not the right genre for you!?”
“Calm down, Heo. Write the character for rice on your palm and then lick it.”
“Oh, I know that one. It’s a Japanese custom that’s supposed to calm you down, right?”
“No. If you do that, you’ll realize how stupid you are.”
Feeling dejected, she hung her head.
Harakawa sighed and stood up.
“Okay, what did you mean, Shinjou?”
“Heh heh heh. Harakawa, if you want to hear Shinjou-kun’s wonderful idea, you will have to get through me firs- gh.”
“Sorry, Harakawa-kun. There was a bit of background noise there. Now, what I’m saying is…there’s that game, right?”
“There? Where is there?”
…He always has to say things like that, doesn’t he?
Heo gave a silent nod of understanding at Harakawa’s comment.
After sighing in her heart, she looked up and tilted her head toward Shinjou.
“What kind of game? I don’t really know the details.”
“Y’know, the one where you place Ls on top of Ts and stick a long red one into the hole.”
“I-is this some new 18+ world of spread legs!?”
Harakawa hit her on the back of the head.
“Ow. Wh-what was that for!?”
“Think of it as removing the poison from your brain. And for some general education, I’m going to get a game system from someone I know at the base.”
“Thank you very much.”
Heo bowed and found a hint in Shinjou’s explanation.
She realized what the girl had been trying to say.
“This bookcase had two kinds of shelves: incomplete ones with a single book missing and complete ones?”
She seemed to be speaking to herself, but she then asked the others something.
“But…what books are missing?”
Everyone but Sayama – who was still collapsed on the work desk – tilted their heads.
They did not know.
Of course they did not. A few books were missing, but the Kinugasa Library was overflowing with books.
They needed to fill the empty space, but they had no way of knowing which books would work.
“Don’t worry. Someone give us an idea. It can be anything.”
Kazami was the first to speak.
Heo looked up and saw the girl’s eyebrows lifted with a powerful smile.
“If it’s wrong, someone else can think up something. Since there’s no clear answer, whoever says it first is the winner.”
Someone agreed with Kazami with an “Nn.”
It was Mikage and she raised her hand.
She pointed above Heo.
Heo turned around and saw the top shelf of the left bookcase.
A globe sat on the far left end of that shelf.
In case there was some trick to the globe, they had not touched that shelf.
But as Heo looked up at the untouched shelf, she heard Mikage speak.
“That shelf is different. It has the globe and books filling the rest of it.”
Sure enough, the entire shelf past the globe’s base was crammed full of books.
…That top shelf is a completed one.
In that case, she thought.
Before she could continue, Sayama’s voice filled the room.
“There are nine shelves on each bookcase, which is eighteen between the two. And other than the completed shelf on the top left, we have found that two of six shelves are entirely filled. That means,” he continued. “A crude ratio calculation gives us an incomplete to complete shelf ratio of four to two. There are eighteen shelves in all, so twelve of them have empty spaces and six do not. However, one shelf is already completed by the globe, so that shelf can be eliminated from the calculation.”
“So either eleven have empty spaces or five don’t?”
“Correct.” Sayama nodded. “Does the number eleven ring any bells? For example, a set of eleven books in this very library?”
Heo saw Sayama kneeling on top of the desk.
He formed a small smile as everyone focused on him.
“The answer is simple. Bring in all eleven volumes of Professor Kinugasa’s mythology encyclopedia. Perhaps the bookcase door will open if we place them in the proper gaps on the shelves.”
“B-but Sayama-kun, where in the bookcases do we put them?”
Heo nodded in agreement with Shinjou.
There were gaps in the shelves, but would the bookcases really move just from filling them?
If there was a switch…
“I think where we put the books might be a riddle.”
“The answer to that is also simple,” replied Sayama.
He knew the answer from the current situation.
…What here gave him the answer?
That thought somewhat filled Heo with a desire to continue on.
Just like her previous timid suggestion, she wanted to find the answer here.
…But I need a hint.
She found one.
It was the object Mikage had pointed at earlier and it was on the completed top left shelf of the incomplete bookcase.
She could now speak the word that led to the answer.
“The globe. No, the world and the eleven mythologies found there!”
She saw the corner of Sayama’s mouth rise in a smile as he nodded.
“I see. In that case, what should we do, Heo-kun?”
“Well,” she answered.
She glanced over at Harakawa. He was already holding the top and bottom of the stacks of books between his hands and returning them to the shelf.
Realizing her words had led him to do that, she spoke.
“Based on the globe in the top left, we can view the two bookcases like a world map…and we put the eleven mythologies in the appropriate place on that map.”
She realized confidence filled her face.
“I think the entrance to Professor Kinugasa’s study is one with a view of every Gear and its mythology!”
About three minutes after Heo’s confident statement, they had placed the appropriate books on the shelves.
However, the bookcases did not move.
The eleven books were in the proper regions for their respective mythologies, but…
“Eh? Wh-why aren’t the bookcases moving? Um, uh, well…”
Before Heo grew completely flustered, Shinjou had a thought.
…The usual cruel show is about to begin.
After putting in the books, Kazami and Hiba expressed their confusion.
Kazami held her head in her hands and her tone said this had to be some kind of mistake.
“Why isn’t it opening!? And after Heo had such a good idea!!”
“This is strange, Kazami-san! And after Heo-san worked so hard to come up with that answer!!”
“No, um, I only, uh…”
“What is going on here!? Hiba, put some more effort into this for Heo’s sake!”
“You’re right, Kazami-san. I don’t know how to put effort into this, but I’ll do it for Heo-san’s sake!”
“Um, but I, uh, must have been wro-…”
“No, we were definitely the ones who did something wrong. Right, Hiba!? Especially you!!”
“Yes! I don’t really know what I’m being accused of here, but I’ve started to think I might as well just go along with it!”
“U-um, I don’t know what’s going on, but, um, uh…”
“Let’s put all eleven in again, Hiba! Fnaaaaahhh!!”
“I-I don’t think putting the books in more forcefully is going to help. Um, uh…”
Heo was almost in tears and she turned to Harakawa who was putting some books in order to the side.
“Harakawa, they’re bullying me-… Don’t ignore me, Harakawa!”
As she watched the exchange, a previous thought returned to Shinjou.
…This is really is a unique kind of natural cycle.
She considered saying something to help but decided against it to make sure she was not caught in the crossfire.
However, this was odd.
Kinugasa Tenkyou’s books had filled the empty spaces perfectly.
It had almost seemed to say that those eleven mythology encyclopedias had originally been in this shelf.
Also, the spaces in the shelves had corresponded to the regions for the various mythologies, so they had been able to find the proper locations using an atlas.
And when they had put the books in…
“There was a sound.”
Kazami had been the one to notice a sound much like the hands of a clock moving somewhere in the bookcases.
They had relied on her hearing while putting in the eleven books and she had heard eleven sounds as they filled the bookcases.
However, the door did not open.
“Why not?” muttered Shinjou.
Meanwhile, Izumo opened a plastic bottle of oolong tea while sitting at the work desk.
“Why even ask? We were wrong. That’s why it won’t open. Then again, I guess you could ask why it won’t open if you had it right and it still didn’t open.”
Kazami frowned at that and turned around.
“Hey, Kaku. Everyone’s trying to think.”
“I’m thinking too. But my thoughts can’t get past a certain point.”
“A certain point?”
He brought the bottle to his mouth and swallowed once.
“According to Sayama, his mom looked after these bookcases, right?”
“Well, yes. She was the librarian, so she would have organized the shelves…”
Sure enough, most of the flood of information filling the shelves as books was from the late Showa era.
…There would have been different books during Professor Kinugasa’s era.
As the books aged, Sayama’s mother must have searched out books of the same size to take their place.
“In other words, the current form of the bookcases is based on Sayama’s mom’s rules. However, Professor Kinugasa’s books would have to be put inside based on the pure Kinugasa rules.”
“I’m not sure how to put it, but I’m trying to say that the way we see the bookcases now isn’t how Professor Kinugasa made them. I don’t know if that’ll help, but it sounded like you were mostly overlooking that.”
Izumo was exactly right.
The spines of the books and their thicknesses were all almost modern, but they had not noticed.
One reason for that was the misconception that bookcases and books were the same in any era.
…What did the bookcase look like in Professor Kinugasa’s time?
The space filled by the books would have been the same and the books to add would still have been the eleven encyclopedias, so…
“Would anything have been different?”
It was not clear if answering that would tell them anything, but it was worth pursuing and one thing was certain.
They had been so focused on finding the “trick” that they had forgotten to look at it from a different viewpoint.
“How did Professor Kinugasa open the bookcase door?”
Even as she spoke, Shinjou realized something.
Opening that door was not a matter of solving a trick.
…We have to reproduce what Professor Kinugasa did to open it.
“That’s right,” she muttered while bringing a hand to her cheek and beginning to walk.
She walked forward, toward the bookcases.
“How would Professor Kinugasa have opened it?”
She felt the others’ eyes on her as she arrived at the bookcases.
“First, he would probably have placed the eleven books on this work desk.”
“Not in the library?” asked Sayama.
“Carrying eleven books in from the library couldn’t have been easy. He only had one arm, remember?”
She pulled out one of the books.
“For example,” she began. “Putting in all eleven each time would be a pain, so maybe he only removed one and set it on the desk.”
She pulled out a book with her right hand.
It was the eleventh volume which covered the Bible. It was so old that the cover was too worn down to read the title.
She felt the weight of its many pages in her right hand as she walked back to the desk.
As everyone watched her, she nervously brushed aside the snacks and set down the book.
It was bound on the left and written horizontally. She had heard it was made that way to help Professor Kinugasa use it with only his right arm.
With the left-bound book, she could easily hold the pages with her right thumb and flip through them.
She did so and flipped to the final page. Before closing it, she noted the author’s name was written using the alphabet and the publisher was Izumo Publishing.
After making sure she was looking at the back cover, she stuck her fingers between the front cover and the desk.
She lifted it up with the spine in her hand to make sure the title would be visible and then she stood up.
“And now I put it back-…”
“W-wait a second!”
She heard Hiba’s voice and considered ignoring him as was customary, but…
“Um, what is it?”
“Did you just consider ignoring me?”
“Would you prefer I did?”
He frantically shook his head and then looked behind him.
Mikage approached with a question mark on her face.
Meanwhile, Hiba turned back to Shinjou.
“Sorry, Shinjou-san, but can I borrow that book?”
“Eh? But I don’t have any porn.”
“Ha ha ha. I already got the latest ones of that from a loyal member of our alliance, so-…”
Everyone gave him legitimately worried looks, so he fell silent for two seconds with a smile frozen on his face.
He finally cleared his throat and gave a serious look.
“I meant the book you’re holding right there!”
“Oh, well why didn’t you say so? …Here, Mikage-san.”
“Um, are you treating me like I’m made of air?”
“No, air isn’t perverted. And I can just give it to Mikage-san, right?”
He nodded, hung his head, and fell to his knees.
“Is this persecution? No, did I do something wrong? No, no, no, no.”
“I’m not sure what you’re talking about, but what do we do now that Mikage-san has the book?”
“Eh? Oh, right. Mikage-san, just copy what Shinjou-san did.”
“Nn. Copy it exactly?”
Mikage asked that as she sat in the chair, but Hiba shook his head as he stood.
“No, do it how you would. And only use your right hand.”
Shinjou then saw why Hiba had stopped her.
Mikage mentally tilted her head.
…What is this about?
She did not really get it, but Hiba seemed to think she would solve something by doing this.
Hiba had not said why, but she decided she should do this as naturally as possible.
This was the same as when he said she should go outside or that she would have fun if she got in the water. The reasoning behind those statements was uncertain, but she would likely gain something if she did it anyway.
And so she nodded.
She did what Shinjou had done, but in her own way.
First, she read it.
She held the right side of the left-bound book in her right hand so she could flip through the pages and she placed the spine of the book on the desk.
That placed the book vertically with only the cover lying to the left.
She held the pages with her right thumb, released them by moving that thumb, and let them spill to the left.
There was a slight waver to the sound of the flipping pages and their speed was random.
After reaching the end of the pages, she closed the back cover.
She nodded and grabbed the book the way she always did at home.
She stood and immediately realized that everyone was looking at her and gasping.
She did not understand. She had not done anything special. She did the same thing whenever she grabbed a book from a table or desk.
There was something different from when Shinjou had done it, but what did that matter?
With that in mind, she asked a question.
“Was that good?”
Kazami nodded at Mikage’s question.
She breathed in and spoke as if checking with herself.
“I think that must be how Professor Kinugasa would have held the books.”
She looked at Mikage’s right hand.
The girl’s slender fingers held the book, but not by the spine.
“By the opposite side,” she slowly muttered.
The others nodded and she recalled the previous moment.
There was a clear difference between Shinjou and Mikage’s methods.
All they had done was pick up a closed book.
Shinjou had used the spine where the title was written.
If placed vertically on a shelf like that, the title would be visible.
After closing the book, she had needed to let go of the book.
Only then had she grabbed the spine and picked up.
But Mikage had been different.
She had not let go of the book after closing it.
She had kept her hand on the back cover with the front cover pointed down.
…And she pulled it toward her.
It was obvious once she did it. She had relied on the friction of her palm to slide the book along the desk.
Once it reached the edge of the desk…
…She picked it up with that same side.
Her hand never left the book, so it could be seen as the lazy way.
But it was the kind of technique one would develop after years of eliminating unnecessary effort.
Shinjou’s method had been careful and had ensured the title would be visible on the shelf, but one could say she was being too cautious.
Mikage had not had full use of her hands until recently, so she had prioritized function over form.
That was where her technique had come from.
…It is possible Professor Kinugasa was a careful person, but…
One fact allowed them to reject that possibility: the cover of the book Mikage held.
“The covers of Professor Kinugasa’s books are all worn down, but that’s due to more than just their age.”
“I think it’s because he always slid them across the desk or table with the cover facing down,” said Heo.
Everyone but Mikage nodded in agreement.
The cover of the book in Mikage’s hand was worn down, but the title on the spine and the back cover were not. Only the front cover was noticeably worn.
…In that case, the correct answer is to put the books in the shelves backwards.
Kazami imagined the bookcases as they had been originally.
Most of the books would have been put in with the spine to the back and only Professor Kinugasa would have known what they were.
Had he never fixed them no matter how much people complained? Or had it just naturally ended up like that?
She did not know, but she had seen the actions of that man in Mikage’s movements and it gave her a smile with a bit of bitterness mixed in.
She looked to Mikage who held up the book and tilted her head.
“Is this good? Ryuuji-kun’s mom says it isn’t good because it damages the book.”
“That was perfect, Mikage-san.”
Kazami heard a smile in Hiba’s voice.
“After all, that book wanted you to hold it like that. Now…”
He placed his hand over hers and pushed in the final book.
“This will surely open the door to the Study!”
Something reacted to their movement.
It was Baku.
The creature raised his front paws on Sayama’s head.
A moment later, they all saw the past.
Heo saw the color white in the night.
Where was she?
She did not know. All she could see were the dark night sky and a white land below it.
The white was the snow falling from the sky.
The white ground swelled up in places and those places formed…
…A slide and swings.
She realized this was a park.
It was in an elevated place and it had a proper gate. It looked like a clearing on top of a cliff.
A church-like building existed to the north of the park and its roof was pure white.
She noticed the church had recently been built with a brand new bell tower and concert hall added on.
A large cherry tree grew near the cliff on the opposite end and the snow was beginning to accumulate on its branches.
Heo moved her vision toward the open area near the cliff.
Once she arrived on the edge, her field of vision opened up.
A nighttime city spread out below and the night sky above was obstructed by the falling snow.
How far did this snow stretch into the distance?
The city was dark and yet colored a dark blue by the falling snow. The countless lights of human life filled that city.
She had heard about this place. An orphanage with a large cherry tree had existed on top of a hill, but it had collapsed during the tertiary damages of the Great Kansai Earthquake.
If that building was still here…
…This is before the Great Kansai Earthquake?
If this was Sakai and the dark expanse beyond the city was the Seto Inland Sea, then Osaka and north were to the right. That was the city she had seen burning in a previous dream of the past.
She suddenly turned in that direction, but…
…I can’t see it.
All she could see beyond the falling snow was a great darkness.
Something seemed odd about the darkness before her eyes.
…What is it?
She knew something was not right, but she could not put her finger on what that was. It felt like she had not realized what baseline she was using to think of this as “right”.
However, she remembered finding something similarly “not right” once before.
…That was in a previous dream of the past.
It was when she had seen Top-Gear’s Osaka burn below the dark sky.
No, she corrected herself. It wasn’t the city that felt odd back then.
…It was the sky.
When looking up into that space she could fly through, something had seemed wrong.
“I saw the stars.”
The sky had been nothing but darkness while Hiba’s father had fought, but once her own father’s mechanical dragon had arrived, the darkness had cleared and the stars had come into view.
Something had seemed wrong about her vision clearing and those normal specks of light appearing. She was feeling that same thing here.
Osaka was merely hidden by the dark sky and the snow. It was normal not to see the stars here, so she still could not figure out what exactly felt wrong.
But she was still filled with doubt and she took a step back while tilting her head.
Suddenly, someone stepped forward to her right.
Her mind shrank back.
It was a slender woman in a lab coat. Her black hair was tied back and she stood on the edge of the cliff with her breath visible in the cold air.
She stopped in front of the railing that snow had started accumulating on and her gaze and white breaths turned toward the sky.
She looked across the sky as if checking on the entirety of the heavens.
She turned around.
The bottom of her white lab coat fluttered above the white snow and her black hair danced toward the heavens.
Heo then saw the woman’s black eyes and slender face.
Heo knew that Shinjou Yukio had defected to Top-Gear.
She also knew that woman had caused the destruction of Top-Gear.
If that woman was here and the orphanage was safe…
…This is Top-Gear’s Sakai before the battle!
Why was Baku showing them this?
Baku was said to show people the past when it was necessary for them.
Did he choose what to show or did the past have him show it?
Heo did not know, but she saw Shinjou Yukio look up into the sky, spread her arms, and face the gate.
Heo heard a song.
She recognized it. Her own mother had sung this song.
She recalled its title was Silent Night.
But that was when her mind was thrust into darkness.
…This scene from the past…
How was it necessary?
To Shinjou and Sayama it may have been a challenge meant to show them what they needed to pursue.
And to Heo…
…What was that feeling that something was off?
She may have been imagining it, but…
…I felt it, so I need to act on it.
As soon as she decided that, her entire being was dragged back to reality.
Once she woke from the past, Shinjou looked to the room in front of her.
It was a small room hidden behind the bookcases.
This was the Study.
The preparation room’s scarlet light showed a tall but otherwise small room.
It was only about six square meters, it had a wooden desk in the center, and the left and right walls were bookcases.
The ceiling was high and it had openings for two air conditioning ducts. And the back wall…
Just as Heo said, the back wall was different from the rest.
The floor and the other walls were made of wood, but that back wall was white.
The white surface was about four meters wide and two meters tall. Above that, a normal wooden wall began and continued to the tall ceiling.
The room was too poorly lit to see it well, but a vertical line ran through the center of the white surface, splitting it in two.
As they all stood motionless in the preparation room, Shinjou spoke quietly.
“So this is the Study.”
“Yes,” said Sayama from her right.
He looked her way, nodded, and moved forward.
“I think the other Georgius that Professor Kinugasa hid is located through that barrier. According to the Kinugasa Document, it should be the negative Georgius.”
After saying that, he came to a sudden stop.
…What is it?
Shinjou stepped forward and found two things.
First, there was a wrist-wide hole on either side of the barrier.
They were the perfect size to stick an arm into and she could only see darkness inside.
And second, there was something on the desk.
“A binder, a photograph, and a letter?”
The faded binder contained some documents and something was written on the cover in obvious magic marker.
Sayama read it aloud.
“Babel Interior Investigation – 1983.”
But that was not all that was written.
“Shinjou Yukio and…Sayama Asagi!?”
Sayama held his chest with his right hand just as Kazami’s voice reached them from behind.
“What!? I thought only Professor Kinugasa ever entered Babel? Why were Sayama’s father and Shinjou’s mother inside?”
“It was from the blank period, so of course there were no records of it. And based on what this says, I think only my father and Shinjou-kun’s mother were able to get inside.”
How? wondered Shinjou. During the National Defense Department and old UCAT days, only Professor Kinugasa could get inside Babel, so how did our parents get inside and write this report?
Most likely, no one knew the answer.
She then looked to the photograph and letter on the desk.
The letter was sealed and…
…My mom’s name is listed as the sender.
The photograph sitting next to Shinjou Yukio’s letter was large.
“A group photo in the mountains, just like with the National Defense Department and old UCAT.”
It showed a number of young men and women.
“My parents are there,” muttered Heo in a daze.
Shinjou did not need to say anything. Her mother was clearly there too.
This photo was from a time in the blank period before Shinjou Yukio had betrayed Low-Gear.
…They probably all went together to investigate Babel.
So if only her mother and Sayama’s father had been able to get in…
“Now we really do need to search for your mother’s past, Shinjou-kun. We need to find out what she did.”
What are we going to discover? she asked, knowing no one could answer that.
That answer would only come later.
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