Owari no Chronicle:Volume13 Chapter 23
Chapter 23: Notification of Continuation
Your world is turning
You are turning your world
Your world is embracing you
Light footsteps traveled down a night road covered in winter dew.
They moved at a jog.
The figure passing below the streetlights was a girl wearing a flight jacket over her school uniform.
She wore a large rucksack on her back.
The name “Heo” was stitched into the flight jacket and her light body moved with a light step.
Her breath was white, but there was no disturbance in her swaying body and blonde hair.
“How is it? Is my fatigue good enough?”
She looked back at the plant creature sticking its head out of the rucksack.
The creature expelled more white air than she did.
“Delicious. H Heo is delicious.”
“I don’t really like how that sounds.”
If she sped up, she could feed the creature more heat, but…
…Once I get home, it’s over.
Feeding this plant creature is surprisingly difficult, she thought. Is heading out on a walk with no real destination the best way?
After that, she wondered if Harakawa was back home.
Did he know what his mother had told her or what she had learned from Sayama and Kazami?
…It’s hard to say.
Her knowledge of the past was incomplete, but she still had a few thoughts.
…I want to head out and protect everyone.
This was not because she had an opposite or because it was her duty. There was something she wanted to protect, so she would do so. If anyone was working towards that end, she would help them and fill any gaps they might have.
At the very least, her parents had done that.
Instead of leaving Top-Gear to be destroyed and escaping, they had done the best they could inside that destruction.
As a result, Top-Gear had been destroyed and Kansai had suffered an earthquake, but Low-Gear had survived.
So, thought Heo.
…I will do the same.
She wanted to know everything. She wanted to know the truth, what had happened, and what had not happened.
If she did not know what her parents had done, she doubted she would be able to do the same and be proud of it.
“After all…I’m here because of them.”
If a great number of options lay ahead, she wanted to follow the example that had left her here.
No matter what happened, she wanted to choose what was most important to her.
She suddenly found herself running. Her body had responded to the answer her thoughts desired.
Her breath was white, but…
“…? Yes, what is it?”
“Time to go home.”
“Yes, we’re on our way. Would you like to take the long way back?”
The plant creature said “time to go home” again and suddenly moved within the rucksack.
She frantically stopped and found they were already in front of the apartment.
She quickly brought the rucksack in front of her and found the creature was stuck with only its head sticking out.
It clearly wanted to get out and she finally realized what it meant.
“You want to go back to the 4th-Gear reservation?”
“Already going home, so go home.”
At the same time, her cellphone rang. It was from Kazami who was staying inside UCAT.
“Heo! Did you finish the renegotiation!?”
“Eh? Well, um, I’m not sure.”
“The plant creatures in the beast bath are all leaving. …So what kind of negotiation was it? Since it’s you, did it have to do with tentacles!?”
“What kind of person do you think I am?”
The plant creature directed its thought voice toward the phone.
“Heo is H. Negotiation in the hospital. Makes H with Harakawa.”
“Eh?” Heo was briefly left speechless, but then she quickly spoke up. “K-Kazami! Just to be clear, I think you’re making an 8000 meter misunderstanding here!”
“Eh? Oh, right. Ha ha. Sorry, Heo. Something just came up, so I have to go.”
“I-is that something ‘telling other people so you can make fun of me’!?”
“No, no. It’s nowhere near that kind. Don’t worry. Don’t worry. Okay?”
“That doesn’t sound remotely convincing! Stop moving things along without listening to me!”
The next thing she knew, the call had ended.
She sighed while holding the plant creature’s bag and shrugged.
“What am I supposed to do about this?”
She faced forward and trudged toward the room.
There was a gravel parking space in front of the steel door.
…Harakawa’s motorcycle still isn’t there.
She walked across the dry gravel and spoke to the creature.
“Harakawa isn’t here, so should we head back to UCAT?”
It had said it was time to “go home” and she was certain Kazami and the others were making all sorts of jokes about her.
That would surely be more fun than sitting alone in the apartment.
She turned her back on the apartment while realizing she was doing this more for her own sake than for the plant creature. As she did, she saw her shadow on the gravel.
She realized a light had to be on for her to cast a shadow.
The gravel crunched below her feet as she turned around and saw a light on above the steel door.
However, the frosted glass to the side of the door showed the room was dark.
…Did I forget to turn it off when leaving this morning? Or…
With hope filling her chest, she unlocked the door and peered inside the room.
It was dark.
A silent stillness filled it, but Harakawa’s shoes were not sitting in the entranceway.
So did I really forget to turn off the light? she wondered while stepping inside.
She turned on the entranceway light, removed her shoes, decided to eat dinner at UCAT, and turned toward the kitchen.
She saw something odd there.
A pot sat on the kitchen stove. It was filled with water.
A plate sat in the kitchen. It contained chopped vegetables covered in plastic wrap.
A meal could be completed just by adding curry powder or some other seasoning and then cooking it.
Who had prepared that and why?
She thought back to that morning. She was fairly certain she had cleaned everything up then.
…And I think we had just run out of curry powder.
At that point, a breath escaped her lips. It was a sigh of relief.
Her shoulders relaxed and tears welled up in her eyes before falling.
She wiped her eyes with her jacket’s sleeve.
“You can’t just win me over with food.”
She forced a bitter smile.
“I guess I got back before him. Oh, I know. How about I cook up the vegetables and then see how shocked he is when he comes back with the curry powder?”
She gave a triumphant snort and started in from the entranceway.
As she did, she noticed a black leather wallet on the shoe rack.
It was thick and likely contained every last yen he owned.
…He went shopping without it?
Was he lost in thought? she wondered.
…Is he having trouble?
At that point, she frantically shook her head.
“Th-that isn’t my problem.”
Besides, she did not even know if he had actually gone shopping.
“I-I don’t have to worry about him. Not after he abandoned me.”
If he really was having trouble, he would call her and tell her to bring his wallet.
…But he doesn’t know I’m back.
Also, she doubted he would actually call her asking for help.
After two nods of understanding, she realized something.
“N-no, wait! He abandoned me!”
But, she thought.
…He always tried to protect me.
She breathed out. She did so thrice. Not yet, she told herself as she made it to five times. A little longer, she added on her way up to seven.
That was enough to relax her body and allow her to move more naturally.
She reached for the wallet on the shoe rack.
It had a weight to it. It was important to him and she felt it was not something she should have, but she knew a supermarket that was open this late and he knew about it too.
When they would go shopping together at night, she remembered getting excited and buying excess food.
Two things worried her.
“We won’t just miss each other if I leave now, will we?”
“He won’t turn me away if I go to meet him, will he?”
That comment received a response.
It came from the rucksack she held to her chest.
The plant creature rose up and hopped down from the loosened opening of the bag.
“Go, Heo. That is best. Don’t worry.”
“Heo and Harakawa should be together. Together, so can’t be not together.”
Once it landed, the creature sat down.
…It’s telling me to go?
“Want to see you two join together.”
Am I reading too much into it if that sounds dirty? wondered Heo as she shrugged and smiled.
She then nodded, put the wallet in her jacket pocket, and gently stretched her knees to either side.
After gathering her breath, she took five seconds to settle her mind and let it show on her face.
“Understood. If I show you that even two very different people can be together, will it settle the renegotiation with 4th-Gear?”
The creature nodded and she realized anew why it had said it was time to go home.
She did not know what she had taught the creature in their short time together, but 4th-Gear must have made up its mind and decided there was nothing more worth learning.
That was why it was time to go home. There was nothing more to check on.
…They’re no longer worried.
And so she decided to go in order to eliminate her own worries.
She would go meet Harakawa, return with him, and try to find something she could do with the laptop she had borrowed.
She turned around and opened the door.
It was dark out and her white breath scattered into the cold air.
But the night dew had yet to stain the gravel illuminated by the lights.
…That means whatever was there hasn’t been gone long.
She realized she could catch up with him, so she began to run.
She took off into the chilly darkness.
A pair of white breaths warmed the chilly air on the way down a slope.
They came from Sayama and Shinjou.
The two of them hurried down a slope located between a concrete hill and lit houses.
A thin line of sand followed Shinjou’s shadow along the ground.
“Train” “Time” “Time to spare” “Only have to jog” “God of war” “Run?” “Ended on ‘n’ ” “Over” “Over already” “Utter failure” “Stupid moron” “Curses” “You fool” “Loach” “Halibut” “Trout”
“Their shiritori just took a fishy turn, didn’t it?”
While watching the Messenger of Wanambi’s game of shiritori, Shinjou let out a white breath and looked to Sayama.
He had previously contacted Kazami and the others at UCAT as well as Heo who had been on her way home from the hospital.
He had been lost in thought ever since.
She knew why: his parents.
…Harakawa-kun and Heo’s parents fought to make sure the world wasn’t destroyed, but…
Sayama’s father had said he had caused the initial destruction. The documents he had sent had activated the negative concepts.
In that case, Top-Gear had been destroyed by Sayama’s father and, by connection, Low-Gear.
Responsibility for Top-Gear’s destruction fell on Low-Gear.
During the day, Sayama had told Izumo Retsu that they would gather all of the Gears for a meeting.
Shinjou did not know what form that would take, but the past they had seen could be used as a weapon.
…And as a blade to make us aware of our own crimes.
He had to be thinking about what to do once everyone sat down together to speak.
As the negotiator, he would be making a gamble with the entire world on the line.
She wondered if he could manage, but then saw him doing something unexpected with a perfectly serious expression.
“Sayama-kun? Why are you holding my underwear up in front of you?”
Despite her question, he simply walked on while still staring at the underwear.
He had not reacted, but he did finally move.
“Don’t put them on your head!!”
He gave a start and turned toward her in surprise.
“Wh-what is it, Shinjou-kun? Why are you interrupting my thoughts on the past?”
“How did that lead to staring at my underwear and trying to put them over your head?”
He looked at the underwear in his hand. He stared at them for a while before responding.
“This is not underwear, Shinjou-kun.”
“What a revolutionary philosophy you have there.”
“Yes. This must be a focusing tool that god has given me to help me concentrate. Logically, it must be an offering to the heavens, so the butt spirit must present it to the butt god thusly.”
“You don’t have to offer it to the heavens and neither spirits nor gods matter right now. Try to focus on reality! Even if we run across weird things from time to time, this is still the world of man!”
Sayama turned toward her and grabbed her shoulders with a calm expression.
“A living butt god has made an appearance!”
Once she chopped his wide-open sides with her hands, he twisted away from her.
“Sh-Shinjou-kun, a proper tsukkomi is done with a single hand into a single side.”
“Enough of that,” she insisted for the umpteenth time that day. “Are you prepared for the meeting?”
“I would like three days including today,” he said readily. “I have my own thoughts, the memories of your parents, Heo’s inspection of the world’s creation, and the pasts of Harakawa and the others’ parents. On top of that, Kazami, Izumo, the Hiba boy, and the others are sure to give me some ideas, a change of pace, and a sense of calm. Plus, Mikage-kun is still asleep. After three days of that, we will likely be able to settle quite a lot.”
“Three days including today would mean…”
“The 23rd. That is cutting it close, but we can still make it,” he said. “So once we return to Japanese UCAT, we can speak with the others and tell them we will be holding a meeting with every Gear and every UCAT. On the 23rd, Low-Gear can respond to the other Gears. …If we let that be known, Top-Gear will have no choice but to comply.”
Shinjou thought on what he had said.
…But if he says it will be okay, it’ll be okay.
He had specified that three days would be enough, so she gave a trusting smile.
“I’ll be rooting for you and helping you, so let’s do everything we can until then.” She tilted her head. “But what part of this do you think we can use?”
“All of it, Shinjou-kun. If we question every single part, a path forward will present itself. But that path may be closed further along, so I would like time to check on it.”
He crossed his arms and Baku emulated the action from his head.
“For example, the answers to a few questions are still teasingly eluding us. Your mother mentioned three things only Low-Gear has, but we only have the temporary answer of ‘Shinjou-kun’ for the third one.”
He raised his left hand to his chin.
“Also, I have a question about something we saw your parents say earlier. Your mother told your father that someone on his level would know the data she had given him was modified and he would know why she would not create concepts in that Gear.”
Shinjou remembered that her father had answered that he did know those things.
“Does that mean my mom had no intention of creating concepts in Top-Gear?”
“But why not? The simplest answer is that her defection was a ruse and she had used them to her own ends,” said Sayama. “But in that case, why did she decide to work with Top-Gear on that snowy night? That would give Top-Gear the advantage.”
Shinjou realized he was right. Something did not add up.
Had her mother tried to keep the worlds in balance or had she tried to ensure one or the other would survive? Her mother’s intentions were up to one’s interpretation and Hajji’s group insisted on the latter.
However, Shinjou currently felt her mother had been the kind of person to choose the former.
…But we’re missing the piece we need to support that interpretation of their conversation.
She guessed the two of them had had an implicit understanding of that missing piece and had therefore not had to speak it aloud.
“That would be the reason why my mom handed over modified data and refused to create concepts in Top-Gear.”
“Perhaps the final thing that only Low-Gear has is related to that mystery.”
“Maybe,” agreed Shinjou before sensing her feet slow.
…But is it really?
Deciding whether to pursue that mystery or not was Sayama’s job as he looked at the big picture.
He also had the issue of his parents. He would want to prioritize learning why his father had made the decision he had.
But as he crossed his arms as if holding all the questions, he spoke.
“Well, I have a few guesses. I should be able to narrow it down if I have three days to think it over.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
This was about her parents. In the three days before the meeting, she would likely have time to read the letters and documents she had received today. She could tell him anything they told her and think on it herself.
But other than that…
“I’ll do anything to help you with that.”
“Is that so?”
He gave a serious nod, so she immediately cut in.
“That is a new reaction, Shinjou-kun.”
“I had a feeling you were going to do or say something awful in seven seconds’ time.”
“What are you talking about? All I want you to do is strip.”
She watched as the idiot stopped walking and spread his arms in her direction.
“Our temporary answer to the third thing this Gear has is ‘Shinjou-kun’, so it is only natural to thoroughly investigate you for any information on the actual answer.”
“Are you serious?”
“I am. It is necessary for our investigation of the past.”
There’s no fighting this, is there? she thought while placing a hand on her heated cheek.
“Then what would you do if I stripped right here and told you to go ahead?”
“I cannot know for sure until it happens, but I would most likely be incredibly turned on.”
“You just ruined this!!”
He swung an arm and pointed the palm toward her. The elbow of his suit snapped as he did so.
“Shinjou-kun, what comes next is what matters! Reason can overcome that filthy base desire! Have you never heard of self-control great enough to defeat arousal?”
“You certainly don’t have that.”
“Ha ha ha. Shinjou-kun, how can you say that when I have never shown it to you?”
“I’m saying it because you’ve never shown it to me!”
She shouted back and sensed something like a presence.
A chilly wind blew in from below.
It blew against the winter air descending from the sky.
That disturbance in the air was caused by someone climbing the slope.
…Who is it?
She and Sayama turned around and saw someone there.
In the depths of the darkness, the streetlights seemed to form steps of lit pavement and someone climbed them with a white dog.
Shinjou sounded doubtful because the girl seemed somehow different from before.
She was different from their meeting in Kurashiki or their meeting at Izumo UCAT.
…She seems somehow…calmer.
She realized the girl currently carried no weapon.
She only had the large white dog, but her gait was more certain than before.
What did she have?
Shinjou saw that Mikoku’s right hand was held against the center of her chest and her neck.
Instead of simply looking up, the girl was looking right at Shinjou.
With a cold look in her eyes, she stopped at five meters away.
“I am Top-Gear’s…provisional representative, I suppose. I am Toda Mikoku.”
Sayama heard her speak in the darkness of the night.
“I am here to present our demands to Low-Gear’s representative. This concerns 3rd-Gear’s Concept Core.”
Sayama frowned at the mention of 3rd’s Core.
Wondering what she meant, he crossed his arms and glanced over at Shinjou’s worried look.
“What is this about? So you have demands related to the 3rd-Gear Concept Core stolen by Nagata Tatsumi?”
“Yes.” Mikoku nodded and opened her mouth to continue. “First, 3rd-Gear’s Concept Core was acquired by one of ours in a personal battle, so we would like to return it to 3rd-Gear.”
By calling it a “personal battle”, she prevented Tatsumi and Hiba’s fight from being Top-Gear and Low-Gear’s fight. She intended to keep it a purely personal affair between those two individuals.
…That means the stolen Concept Core was not a hostile act against 3rd-Gear. She wants to say it was only an accident.
But why? he wondered. How is returning the Core to 3rd related to their demands?
She opened her mouth as if to answer his silent question.
“Top-Gear would like for Low-Gear to prepare a venue and opportunity to return it. And we also demand that venue have another use.”
Sayama listened as she took a breath and continued.
“We would like to gather every Gear in a meeting so we can hold a trial against Low-Gear.”
A meeting like that was exactly what Sayama wanted.
…So Top-Gear had the same idea.
But a moment later, Mikoku’s calm voice gave a dangerous demand.
“The meeting shall begin tomorrow.”
Mikoku saw Sayama frown and Shinjou shrink back.
She understood why they would react that way.
…I just made two unreasonable demands.
One was the meeting and the other was how soon it would begin.
But both of those things were necessary.
So to negotiate, she opened her mouth again and spoke as if those demands were only natural.
“Yes, a meeting,” she said. “The world is on the verge of destruction, so we would like to hold a meeting to determine how to settle this.”
That was the path to the ultimate conclusion in her heart.
When Hajji and the others had attacked and been defeated a month and a half earlier, their fight as the Army had come to an end.
Hajji and the others had showed no sign they wanted to be rescued from captivity. That was because they trusted the others, but also…
…Do they not want to weigh us down?
She did not understand, but that was why it was her job to give it meaning.
And so she had a thought.
…At the very least, the battle of resentment should have ended then.
Victory won with unilateral force would leave behind a grudge.
She had learned that from her encounter with Gyes and the other automatons.
So what she wanted first and foremost was a place to speak.
She also knew why the meeting had to begin so soon.
“It will take place tomorrow. I am sure 3rd-Gear would like their Concept Core returned as soon as possible.”
She had a simple reason for rushing this.
…I do not want to give Low-Gear time to think.
She was up against her other self who was a clever person. Given time, he would build up a logical attack formation and defenses of sophistry.
That would make it difficult to win even with a legitimate argument.
…Based on the records I have seen, this Sayama has formidable negotiation skills.
She gave a mental sigh of exasperation toward her other self.
How could he be so different from her?
He would have acquired a lot of information here in Sakai and that would help him build up his arguments.
So even if she had to force it, she had to rush the beginning of the meeting.
“Every world will want to see us settle this, so why not hold a meeting when 3rd-Gear’s Concept Core is returned?”
Sayama stood before her with his arms crossed.
She could tell he was thinking. Her proposed time for the meeting was too early, so he would be trying to find a way out of it.
After a while, he looked up.
“I have no objection to holding a meeting, but…”
“But can’t you return 3rd-Gear’s Concept Core without our help?”
…Can I pull this off?
She thought she might just be able to control the discussion here.
She might just be able to have the meeting and have it held tomorrow.
She began speaking again towards that end.
“Listen. Returning the Concept Core without your help would be difficult.”
“Why is that?”
“A portion of 3rd-Gear holds a hostile view of us. In fact, I was attacked by 3rd-Gear automatons and fatally wounded this very afternoon. However, I chose not to fight back and left. I did so because Top-Gear wishes for a peaceful resolution.”
Mikoku held a hand to her chest and stared into Sayama’s expressionless face.
“We wish to return the Core peacefully, but 3rd-Gear may not allow that. So we need an intermediary. We need a venue where a great number of people can observe us and guarantee our safety.”
“Once that is arranged, we can hold a meeting. Either way, only a few days remain until this world is destroyed, so wouldn’t it be best to settle things sooner rather than later?”
“It seems too soon to me.”
She made sure to keep any emotion from her face.
“For the past month and a half, the other Gears have been continually discussing this in their reservations. They will want to reconfirm the conclusion of the Leviathan Road. And we are prepared as well.”
“So if this meeting is delayed, you are placing the blame on Low-Gear?”
“Yes.” She faced Sayama whose eyebrows were slightly raised. “Does Low-Gear have any intention of keeping pace with the other Gears?”
She watched as he placed a hand on his chin and thought for a bit.
However, he soon faced her again and slowly pulled a cellphone from his pocket.
“Let me check on something. It would be wrong to decide this on our own, so I will contact 3rd-Gear’s representative.”
Night came early to Izumo UCAT.
Miyako was the master of the underground area and she would fall fast asleep after taking a bath and receiving a gravity vibration massage from the automatons.
For dinner, she had eaten the sea bream chazuke they had not managed to serve Shinjou and Sayama and she had taken a long, lukewarm bath.
Wearing a gown and surrounded by automatons, she lay in her bed, but she was speaking on the phone with a magazine in one hand.
“What is it, Sayama? Did you forget something? Like common sense?”
She teased him, but he only said “no”.
She frowned at how he actually sounded like he was thinking about something for once.
“Sorry about the sudden call, Miyako-kun. To get right to the point, would you prefer to have the Concept Core back in three days’ time or tomorrow?”
She tilted her head and realized he had gotten himself into some kind of trouble again.
But she still said “what a pain” loud enough for him to hear.
“Of course tomorrow would be better. I’ll take the 24-hour delivery. If it’s late, I’m only paying half price.”
“Is the Concept Core no different from a pizza?”
“Then how about you throw in a drink for free, Sayama’s Pizza? And I’m not sure what’s going on here,” she said. “But you’re planning something, aren’t you? Then I’ll leave it up to you. I’m sure only you can pull off whatever it is.”
He fell silent at that, but finally spoke clearly.
“I see. Understood. Then to fulfill your request, I will arrange everything for tomorrow.”
“Sure,” she said. “Don’t do anything too crazy.”
She hung up there.
She handed the phone to an automaton and someone stepped out of the darkness.
It was Gyes. Her eyebrows were lowered in worry as she approached the bed.
“Lady Miyako, I bought the new dessert from the ‘Shops with a Long Line’ series as you requested.”
“Yeah, that series is pretty good. So what is it?”
Gyes tilted her head and Miyako smiled bitterly.
“You don’t look very happy. Is it about that phone call?”
Gyes handed the convenience store bag to another automaton.
“Did our battle with Top-Gear’s Toda Mikoku have anything to do with this talk of returning our Concept Core?”
“Are you asking if the attack on Toda was a mistake?”
When Gyes nodded, Miyako’s bitter smile grew and she waved a hand dismissively.
“It wasn’t. It really, really, really wasn’t. If it had been, that idiot would’ve mentioned it on the phone. Since he didn’t say anything, it wasn’t a problem and he can manage.”
She lay face down and the surrounding automatons spread their arms and approached.
On Moira 1st’s instructions, they placed their hands on different parts of her body and she looked to Gyes.
Gyes still looked worried, so Miyako smiled.
“Basically, worrying is wasted effort. I just say whatever’s convenient for me and Sayama just has to think of a way to- hyo hyo hyo!! Nwoh! That really…hee hee hyah!”
Miyako began writhing around with Moira 1st and the other automatons partially holding her down, but Gyes relaxed her shoulders and sighed.
“It is true that boy and his friends can’t do anything normally.” Gyes sounded annoyed. “So they’re sure to do this in some crazy way too.”
“To sum up, 3rd would like the Core returned as quickly as possible and with a complimentary drink.”
Shinjou saw Sayama put away his phone and heard him speak.
Mikoku tried to pet the dog, but it lightly bit her hand instead. The girl then faced them.
“I did not expect the drink, but I am glad to know exactly what 3rd wants. …So what will you do?”
Sayama nodded and spoke to Mikoku.
“It is true that holding a meeting then would be the most efficient option.”
He was stating his understanding of her demand.
…Don’t tell me he’s going to agree to have the meeting tomorrow!
Shinjou turned toward him in surprise.
But his expressionless face looked straight ahead.
He did not look away from Mikoku.
“Do not worry, Shinjou-kun. It is a decent justification for a meeting.”
His words reached her chilly ears.
“And there is nothing to worry about it. Nothing at all. The only reason to reject having the meeting tomorrow is our own self-preservation. And it is not a problem to me if I agree to hold the meeting then.”
He turned toward Shinjou with a sharp look in his otherwise expressionless eyes.
He then asked for her confirmation.
“I will do something about this and I would like your help.”
That was all.
That was all he said.
But it was not the chill of his words that made her tremble.
It was the request for her help.
He trusted her.
And she replied while aware the ends of her eyebrows were slightly lowered.
This is dangerous, she thought.
He had originally said he needed another three days.
But Mikoku had requested tomorrow and he had agreed.
She was nervous about quite a bit, but she accepted that anxiety in her own agreement.
…He said this is fine.
So she chose not to doubt him.
She decided to do what she could.
With that decided, she turned back to Mikoku.
The girl stood with the city’s nightscape at the bottom of the hill behind her.
Shinjou saw her shoulders lower in relief. A worrisome burden had been lifted from them.
Shinjou realized that girl was standing on the edge as well.
They were interacting on the border between their different standpoints.
It was their knowledge of that which had led Sayama to agree and Mikoku to sigh.
Next, Mikoku gave Shinjou a different kind of look. Her sharp look softened and she let out a white breath.
“You have my thanks.”
“And you have ours. I’m impressed you managed to choose a bloodless meeting.”
Shinjou saw a small smile on Mikoku’s lips.
Afterwards, Mikoku looked down at the dog beside her.
After about three breaths, she seemed to make up her mind about something and asked a question without looking away from the dog.
“I apologize, but may I ask a personal question?”
“What is it?” asked Shinjou.
After some more hesitation, Mikoku opened her mouth.
“Is this dog’s owner okay?”
Shinjou turned toward Sayama.
She was silently asking him if they should tell her and his gaze told her to go ahead.
She nodded, breathed in, and made up her mind as she looked at the side of Mikoku’s face.
“She’s just fine. She’s living somewhere away from both UCAT and the Army.”
“I see,” said Mikoku.
After a while, she repeated the two words.
“I see. Is it a place free of fighting?”
Sayama was the one to answer that.
“If you do not think of everyday life as a kind of battle, then it is.”
“Is she happy there?”
“That is up to her.”
Mikoku nodded, stood back up, gently tapped the dog’s back, and suddenly turned around.
“We will settle this tomorrow. If you make the place known, it will reach us. I am counting on you.”
She let out a white breath.
“And if possible, can you make one personal promise?”
“What might that be?”
“I am sure it will be many years after this is over, but if Shino ever marries someone, can you send her some flowers for me?”
“You can do that yourself. And…you are surprisingly sentimental.”
“I know,” she replied before beginning to move.
She and the dog walked down the slope and toward the nighttime city. They picked up their pace and seemed to dissolve into the darkness.
“Sentimentality, memories, and Top-Gear’s feelings…”
The wind carried Mikoku’s voice to Shinjou’s ears.
“…will all bring her happiness.”
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