Owari no Chronicle:Volume13 Chapter 30
Chapter 30: How to Advance
Now, what to do?
Now, what do I want to do?
Now, that has already been decided
Rocking had a surprising calming effect.
Shino woke when she sensed light and felt herself rocking.
The last thing she remembered, she had been lying down. She had collapsed onto the bench atop the central park’s hill and been looking up into the dimly lit sky.
She had been wondering what she was doing.
But she saw something else now.
…The light is shining on some kind of red wall.
She was clinging to something warm and rocking.
As soon as she wondered what it was, the answer came to her and her body shot up.
“Wow!! Don’t surprise me like that!!”
Ryouko was carrying Shino on her back. Because Shino suddenly sat up on the back of the woman’s red kimono and because Ryouko bent backwards in surprise, they naturally lost their balance.
They were currently walking along the sunlit sidewalk running alongside a road, but it had no guardrails.
Ryouko staggered and leaned back toward the road.
Horns honked along the road and several dump trucks passed by.
Just as the trucks grazed the hair on the back of Shino’s head and she cowered down, the exhaust and wind washed over Ryouko and she dug her heels in to force herself back toward the sidewalk.
Once they settled back on the sidewalk, the two of them breathed a simultaneous sigh of relief and Ryouko gave an exasperated comment.
“Are you okay, Shi-chan?”
After smiling to Shino, Ryouko faced forward and began walking, so Shino frantically spoke up from her back.
“U-um, you can put me down.”
There was a lot she wanted to say, but she decided she had to say that first.
However, Ryouko did not even turn around to respond.
“Nope. I don’t want you going off and leaving.”
Shino shrank down at that.
What should I do? she wondered. She did not know how to explain this, what she should say if Ryouko asked, or what she should do in the future, but she knew she had to say something.
“Ryouko… You aren’t mad?”
She gathered her resolve and asked, but Ryouko paused before simply tilting her head.
“I’m not sure.” The woman groaned in thought. “The people who found you said you had to have your reasons.”
“The people who found me?”
“That would be Taki-san and Ume-san who were homeless children fifty years ago and are still living that lifestyle to this day.”
Ryouko looked back with a smile and noticed Shino had gone pale.
“Don’t worry. They’re not bad people. They just have some problems is all. …And you know what? I’m not too good at getting mad. It’s so exhausting.”
“I see,” said Shino while relaxing her body and breathing in.
She then asked a question to the smiling face in front of her.
“Then you aren’t going to ask why I ran away?”
“Do you want to tell me?”
She hesitated to answer that.
“Sometimes you feel better when you’re asked.”
Still looking at the girl, Ryouko nodded once, twice, and then thrice.
“You know what?”
She immediately followed that question by tripping spectacularly on the curb of the sidewalk.
Shino was almost thrown right onto the road and she spent some more time covered in a cold sweat.
“Y-you can face forward if you want.”
“But it’s rude not to look at people when you speak with them.”
Ryouko smiled bitterly, but then she faced forward and began walking again.
“If it feels better to talk about it, does that mean it’s painful to keep it to yourself? And because you’ll feel better if you talk about it, you want to do so? Am I right?”
“Wow! I was just making that up, but I got it right! Maybe I could be a fortune teller!”
Shino smiled a little when she saw Ryouko celebrating so seriously. She also wondered why the woman was letting so much slide.
But that was exactly why she hung her head and pressed her forehead against Ryouko’s back.
“Hm? Why are you apologizing?”
Ryouko’s back shook slightly and Shino heard a laugh.
Ryouko lifted her up further and rocked back and forth as if to comfort her.
“I don’t know your reason, so why do you need to apologize?”
“B-but that’s because I haven’t told you.”
“Then there’s no need to apologize,” immediately replied Ryouko. “After all, I wouldn’t know what the apology meant.”
Shino was speechless and Ryouko’s back shook in laughter again.
“But that’s fine since you’re so cute, Shi-chan. You can stay with us as long as you want. And if you want to run away, you can do that too. …You can keep trying until you actually get away.”
“B-but I’m…betraying all of you…”
“I don’t know why you’re doing any of that, so…” Ryouko spoke clearly. “I think running away is just part of who you are.”
Shino’s response was not quite a full protest and she pressed it into Ryouko’s back along with her forehead.
She then breathed in, but the trembling breath broke apart.
“Why don’t you hate me?” She opened her mouth to let out her trembling voice. “Someone I thought of like a sister did. She pushed me away… The more I tried to be with her, the farther she would push me away.”
“Did you want her to care for you?”
Shino nodded ever so slightly and the action sent tears spilling from the corners of her eyes.
“I wanted to be with her like always…”
“You know what?”
Ryouko’s back shook in laughter again and she shifted Shino’s position on her back.
“A long time ago, I cared so very much about someone.”
“This really is embarrassing,” said Ryouko with a shrug. “But I never said anything to that person or made any kind of move. Why do you think that was? It’s a simple answer: I was a coward.”
Ryouko stopped walking.
“I knew what they would say if I did say something. They would have been incredibly considerate and tried to keep things the same as always. …And that thought was such a burden on me.”
“So you didn’t do anything?”
“But you said something, didn’t you?”
“And did the person you care about say anything to you?”
“No,” she weakly answered while slowly looking back in her memories. “But she did try to distance me from what she was doing.”
“Is that so?” Ryouko nodded and began walking again. “Then she didn’t hate you. She would only try to distance you if she cared about you. If she hated you or didn’t care about you, she wouldn’t have cared one way or the other.”
Shino heard the woman laugh.
“That person must be a coward. She was worried about you and cared about you, but she didn’t know how to say it. And because she knew what you wanted, she had no idea what to do.”
Ryouko laughed again, but bitterly this time.
“I completely lost out when I did that.”
Shino could not even nod, but she did lean up against Ryouko’s back.
She thought about one of the worries inside her.
…I’m sorry, Mikoku.
She had wanted Mikoku to be her usual self, but she only just now realized she herself had not been acting like her usual self.
And had Mikoku understood that about her? Had Mikoku noticed that she had decided for herself that Mikoku was rejecting her?
What had Mikoku wanted of her but been unable to say?
…She was always telling me not to fight or not to do some other thing.
What was the opposite of fighting?
A certain thought came to Shino. It may have just been a convenient idea, but…
“Do I not have to fight?”
She thought it was a selfish idea. She thought it was simply a way of running away from the fighting.
“If you don’t want to, Shi-chan, then that’s fine.”
Shino found her vision blurring at Ryouko’s acceptance.
…If Mikoku knew I wasn’t fighting and I was living with some kind people…
Would she be happy and not reject it?
While asking herself that, she gently clung to Ryouko’s back to confirm the answer for herself.
There was so much she could not say and likely would never be able to say, but even though she remained silent, Ryouko spoke to her.
“Kouji said he was making some food and would be waiting for us. …Now, c’mon. That idiot said he was making Salisbury steak. How could he make something so greasy this early? And you prefer Japanese food, right?”
That brought a natural smile to Shino’s lips and more tears spilled from her eyes as she relaxed.
“But I like Kouji’s cooking.”
“That pedo has won you over better than I thought!! That is not the kind of news a sister wants to hear.”
Shino’s smile grew when she heard Ryouko’s laughter.
She then closed her eyes and rested on the woman’s back.
She rested on the back of someone from an opposite world, someone from an alternate version of her home, and someone she could perhaps call a sister.
She called that previous name in her heart and peacefully drifted off to sleep.
At the final moment, she breathed out and thought.
…I might have a sister and brother in this world, too.
Lunchtime scenes filled the waiting rooms.
A short recess had followed the end of 5th-Gear’s question-and-answer session, so all of the Gear and UCAT representatives had moved to the concept space used for their waiting rooms.
Team Leviathan had done the same.
Sibyl had used the cafeteria to create a large boxed lunch set as well as some soba and stew. Ooki had been blessed with quite a few snacks and drinks while walking around the festival, so the classroom desks were just about covered.
Everyone grabbed what they wanted, piled it on a plate, and got back to work from their spot in the room.
Heo and Kazami were the ones with the most work to do.
“Shinjou-kun, have you finished?”
“Yes. Now I’m just waiting for Kazami-san and Harakawa-kun’s translation. Once I check over the layout, it just has to be copied. We can probably have it all out before the question-and-answer session with 9th-Gear.”
“Thank you,” said Sayama before Shinjou held a takoyaki out toward him. He grabbed it and looked across the table.
He looked to Heo’s back as she faced her laptop in Harakawa’s window-side seat.
“Heo-kun, thank you for the valuable question-and-answer session. …Now, how is your work there going? Have you found a hole in the world creation theory presented by Hajji-kun?”
Shinjou followed his gaze and first saw Heo facing them.
The ends of the girl’s eyebrows were lowered and she gave them a troubled smile.
“Sorry, but I just can’t seem to find a hole.”
Instead of tensing, her shoulders dropped straight down.
“Whenever the world is created from the mother element, it either plays out the way Kashima said or the way Hajji said. And only the latter is able to produce all twelve Gears.”
“So the world is siding with them? How rude of it. Especially since I own it,” said Sayama. “Well, not to worry. Before long, everyone will be residents of my world.”
That might as well have been an announcement of his victory, so Shinjou exchanged a glance with the others.
And all of the others naturally looked to her as if urging her on.
…Why do I always get stuck doing this?
She sighed in her heart, faced Sayama, brushed back her hair, and tilted her head.
“How can you be so confident? And what do you mean by ‘before long’?”
She sounded troubled, but he replied with a smile.
“I will tell you once you give me the drink you just set down.”
She thought for a moment, looked around again, and found their gazes begging her to give it to him, but she could not help but worry over it a little longer.
“I-I’ll give it to you after you answer me.”
“Then I will answer,” he said casually while crossing his legs in his chair. “Based on a few different facts we already know, I believe I can tear down Top-Gear’s apparent advantage.”
Shinjou was more surprised by what he said than by the refreshing tone of his voice.
“After the question-and-answer sessions, we will move onto the trial and vote. That will surely involve a comparison of Top-Gear’s righteousness and the benefits of Low-Gear, but they will undoubtedly use their question-and-answer sessions to inform everyone just how cruel we were as we destroyed them.”
He expressionlessly looked specifically at Shinjou as he continued.
“But what if it was not a cruel choice? What if it was inevitable?”
“Inevitable?” she asked.
“What if Top-Gear had to be destroyed like that?”
As the others gasped, Sayama grabbed Shinjou’s cup from the table and gulped it down.
“Delicious! Truly an exceptional flavor!! It looked like coffee, so I never expected it to taste like this!”
“That’s actually the extra soba sauce I put in a cup because I didn’t have anything else to put it in.”
“…Did your mouth ever touch it?”
“Of course not. You’d have to be an idiot to drink that. It’s bad for your liver.”
“For a variety of reasons, I demand a redo!!”
“Calm down,” she said, so he nodded and sat down.
Then, as the representative of the others, Shinjou asked another question.
“Why do you think Top-Gear’s destruction was inevitable?”
“Before I answer, I would like a redo with something your mouth actually touched.”
Shinjou hung her head and clenched her fist while whispering voices reached her from behind.
“Kaku, why is Sayama so obsessed with indirect kisses?”
“Because a 5th-Gear VIP said direct kisses make babies.”
“Th-that was only because I was negligent in my studies… But how are they really made?”
“Heo, Heo Thunderson. When you get back to the States, turn the TV on late at night. We can talk after that.”
Shinjou sighed as the conversation continued behind her.
“Well, I’ll give you something like that later, so can you please tell us? …Why do you think Top-Gear’s destruction was inevitable? Do you have any evidence?”
“There is evidence, even if only circumstantial. And it can be found in the report you wrote. It is the last of the three things that your mother said only Low-Gear has.”
Shinjou frantically wondered if she had written anything like that.
“W-wait a minute. You know what that last thing is!?”
“I can only speculate at this point, so I cannot say for sure. Still, it is certain that Low-Gear has it.”
Sayama seemed to be confirming a fact for himself.
Shinjou was left speechless by how sudden this was, so she simply sat back down.
…Is there really something like what my mom mentioned?
She had used herself to answer Wanambi’s riddle. She did not know what the actual answer was, but Sayama claimed something like that did exist in Low-Gear.
And he had likely found whatever it was in the past and in the facts they had searched out.
“I plan to use this to our advantage in the question-and-answer session with Top-Gear.”
Shinjou placed a finger on her forehead and thought for the span of a breath.
“But why would this thing that Low-Gear has make Top-Gear’s destruction inevitable?”
“It is a silly thing. A truly silly thing,” he said. “Yes, and that silly thing is why your mother moved to Top-Gear, why your father hesitated, and why my father decided to destroy Top-Gear. Also…”
“Top-Gear had to be destroyed and it was not in fact destroyed by my father’s hand. Because they attempted to lead all of the Gears, Top-Gear destroyed themselves.”
The first to speak was Ooki.
“U-um, Sayama-kun!? Um, I…uh…well…”
“Sayama!” cut in Kazami. “If you say that without any definite proof, none of the Gears are going to believe a word you say! They’ll claim you’re making things up to escape Low-Gear’s crimes!”
“Th-that’s right! That’s what I was trying to say!”
Everyone did the right thing and ignored Ooki.
They all watched Sayama as he placed a hand on his crossed leg and pulled the knee toward himself.
“But stating this is the only way to win. As the evil ones, we must deny our crimes. And that is something only we can do because we were the ones to search out the evidence. Also, this is something only a villain like me can do.”
“B-but are you sure? If they argue back, they’ll be able to defeat such a ridiculous claim.”
He simply shrugged at Shinjou’s question.
“I still lack a few pieces of evidence and a lot still does not fit together, but I will of course be able to compensate for that. I would like to gather my thoughts and finish putting together my argument before the question-and-answer sessions with 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th have ended,” he said. “So please keep working until then, Heo-kun. If you find some kind of answer, it will surely help my argument.”
He then turned to Hiba and Izumo.
“8th’s session is sure to be short. Probably less than ten minutes. And I doubt 9th or 10th will give us much time to work with. So…I have one request.”
“You want us to buy you some time, Sayama-san?”
“Yes.” He nodded. “I should be able to organize my thoughts if I have two hours to work with. I can likely extend the sessions with 9th and 10th to buy an hour, but 8th will likely only be ten minutes. So…you two need to buy me the remaining fifty minutes.”
Shinjou saw Izumo nod and scratch his head.
“I prefer to make sure every word out of my mouth is meaningful (except right before going to bed), but I guess I’ll have to make an exception.”
Kazami’s elbow struck him in the center of the gut.
In another waiting room, two people stared out the window as they ate.
One was Mikoku who wore a men’s black suit and the other was Tatsumi who wore a khaki-colored combat coat.
Mikoku sat parallel to the window on the windowsill and Tatsumi sat on top of four desks pushed together.
Mikoku patted the head of a large white dog sitting on the floor at her feet.
Tatsumi grabbed a convenience store bag and pulled out a can of beer she had bought off campus.
“I was afraid of this. It’s lukewarm now. Well, that strengthens the taste, so I guess it’s fine.”
“Do not drink too much. It would be a problem if something happened.”
“Don’t worry. My other self still hasn’t fully healed from the injuries he got somewhere.”
“That’s right,” said Tatsumi. “His left side wasn’t tensing up properly. He probably has a charm or something there.”
“I am amazed you can tell that.”
Mikoku stared out the window and took a bite of the hot dog she had bought at a festival stand.
Tatsumi’s voice reached her from behind.
“Do you enjoy looking out there?”
“This is my first time at a festival like this.”
“Don’t make excuses. Personally, I love festivals.”
“Even though it is a part of Low-Gear life?”
“We’re living our lives here too. Hating it will only make it feel more oppressive. You and Shino take all this so seriously, but…”
She heard a bitter laugh from Tatsumi.
“Are the two of you okay now?”
“I do not know,” replied Mikoku with a hand on her chest. “I…kind of think I am fine now. And Shino…Shino is apparently somewhere where she can live a normal life if she wants. And that sounds good to me.”
“Quit trying to act strong. Women who do that end up with nothing and lose so much. Did you know that?”
“Then I will head out and take what I want.”
Mikoku saw people in school uniforms and festival outfits walking around outside.
The stands sold their wares, music played, and the people were likely speaking.
But she could not reach any of it from here.
“There is nothing to worry about.”
She clenched the hand on her chest.
“It will reach.”
As soon as she said that, the classroom door opened.
When they heard the scraping of the rail, Tatsumi, Mikoku, and Shiro all turned around.
Someone wearing white stood in the door.
“Yes,” replied the man with his right hand covering his mouth. “The second half of the question-and-answer sessions is about to begin. But…”
Mikoku heard him laugh.
“Jord and I came up with a bit of a plan. How about we throw some more pressure onto Low-Gear? Hm? How about it, Mikoku? Are you in the mood for a challenge?”
“Yes.” Hajji spread his arms. “We can enjoy a nice debate with Low-Gear.”
At one in the afternoon, the question-and-answer sessions resumed.
Izumo sat with Boldman in the seats for 6th-Gear, but that was because V-Sw had chosen Izumo as its master and because Boldman, the primary representative, had suggested it.
6th-Gear had already joined UCAT and had only just lost the battle from the other day, so the question-and-answer sessions progressed smoothly with few issues.
As the people in the representative seats and audience seats listened to the discussion, they all felt it was progressing too quickly.
They all had their thoughts on the sudden announcement of this meeting, but they generally assumed Top-Gear had refused to give Low-Gear any time to think.
Every minute and second had to be valuable to Sayama, but a puzzled-looking Boldman worked through 6th-Gear’s session without issue.
In general, they agreed that the 6th-Gear people currently in UCAT’s standard and special divisions would be positioned around the world as personnel for the policing and rescue organizations 3rd and 5th would be setting up.
“As 6th-Gear’s people are already familiar with UCAT’s tactics and equipment, I can promise you they will be received as officers.”
With that, Sayama completed the question-and-answer session.
Only about five minutes had passed, making it the shortest of all the sessions so far.
Everyone looked to Sayama, wondering if he had a plan to buy some time to think or if he had thought out his argument enough to no longer need any time.
But just as Sf was going to declare 6th-Gear’s session complete, Izumo stood up from the seat next to Boldman.
“Hold up. Are you serious about 6th-Gear’s people getting to be officers? This bald guy’s gonna be my superior?”
As he spoke to Sayama, he slapped the hairless head next to him.
“That’s just gonna give him a swelled bald head.”
Everyone gulped, but Boldman kept his head low and tried to resist.
“Not to worry,” said Sayama. “If his head swells, he can be used to reenact the ‘Hand-Washing Water’ rakugo story.”
“Ha ha ha. Isn’t that great, Boldman? When you’re bald, people believe you’re just being modest. Isn’t being bald great? It’s hygienic, it helps you cool down, and…”
Izumo slapped Boldman’s head like someone hitting a quiz show buzzer.
“And it looks indecent! It’s just the best!”
Almost immediately, an enraged shout signaled the beginning of a violent brawl.
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