Owari no Chronicle:Volume13 Chapter 41
Chapter 41: Title of the Heart
Where nameless regret takes you
What you want to a maddening degree
And the crest of a heart that desires once more
A clock rang six times in a large space.
The people in that underground room of Japanese UCAT’s Kanda Laboratory were watching two worlds reach a conclusion.
They all glanced upwards as the six tones continued to sound.
A single red light could be seen on the map of Tokyo displayed on the ceiling.
“So the two remaining battles will be Mikoto-kun and Hiba-kun against Hajji-kun and Mikoku-kun.”
Ooshiro nodded, took a sip of the tea sitting on the desk, and gave another gentle comment.
“This is bitter. Where is it from?”
“Testament. I had tea leaves hand-prepared especially for you shipped in from India.”
“The region emphasizes sincerity, so they squeeze the tea leaves in their fists to draw out their power. …We have named it Stubborn Old Man’s Fist Tea.”
Ooshiro immediately tried to run from the room, but #8 grabbed his collar.
“Ooshiro-sama, why are you leaving your post?”
“I-I couldn’t possibly say that.”
He wiggled around but his expression suddenly grew serious and he collapsed limply to his knees.
Sweat poured down his face as he hung his head to look toward the floor.
“#8-kun, I think that sudden movement sped up the process.”
“You are imagining it. And they say one’s imagination can bring illness. …Not that we can understand such unscientific ideas. At any rate, please explain the current situation.”
“Oh, well, um, uh…”
He crawled below the desk and rocked back and forth as if bearing with something.
“Low-Gear has two ties and one loss. To win, we must win the remaining two battles.”
“Testament. I am surprised you calculated that out correctly.”
“…How stupid do you think I am?”
She did not reply. Instead, she raised her right palm toward the surrounding automatons and gently waved it back and forth. She then turned back to Ooshiro.
“We have nothing to say about that.”
“Y-you just made sure you didn’t, didn’t you!?”
“Calm down, Ooshiro-sama. To be blunt, Low-Gear is in trouble, isn’t it?”
Her expression grew slightly more serious.
“Hiba-sama is a problem.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Testament. He does not have Mikage-sama with him at the moment, so he will have to fight on his own. His odds of victory are extremely uncertain and his odds of defeat are high,” she said. “So I hope his opponent is Mikoku-sama.”
“Why not Hajji-kun? He lost pretty badly during their attack on UCAT.”
“He pushed back Abram-sama on the surface, defeated Kashima-sama and the other defense units, fought Abram-sama a second time, and then finally faced Sayama-sama. And both Arnavaz-sama and Shinjou-sama provided assistance. …One could say that he was only stopped after all those people were thrown at him.”
After pausing for a breath, she continued.
“In a one-on-one battle, Hajji-sama may be Top-Gear’s most powerful representative.”
White clothing fluttered in the city at night.
It was in front of a large building’s tiled entrance which created a small plaza of empty space.
The white clothes were atop the guardrail protecting the trees lining the road.
An elderly Arab man sat on the guardrail with a cellphone to his ear.
He was looking to the building in front of him.
“Meiji University’s Surugadai Campus.”
It was located in Kanda, down a southern slope from Ochanomizu Station which bordered Akihabara on the east.
It was to the west on the way down to the Imperial Palace.
The school building was covered in nearly olive-colored tiles and it stood twenty-three stories tall.
The university’s winter break had begun at this time of year, so not many people left even at six in the evening.
But he spoke regardless. He spoke into the cellphone held to his left ear.
“Abram…no, Sarv. Can you hear me? Hm?”
After a short delay, his carefree question received a response.
“Testament. I can hear you…Hajji.”
“Oh, is that so?” Hajji nodded. “Then I’ll call you Abram. …That sense of distance is a relief.”
“Do you really have nothing better to do?”
“We’re only ever busy when engaged in battle. Isn’t that right?” He looked to the sidewalk as he spoke. “I visited the Imperial Palace’s garden today. I realized I never had before. …I’m not going to say it looked artificial or that the security seemed far too lax. Once we change the world, it won’t need security at all. Yes.”
He gently kicked the asphalt sidewalk.
“Did you know this sidewalk was paved with bricks and Westernized about forty years ago?”
“Yes. But people began throwing the bricks during student riots involving thousands of people, so it was paved over.”
“Were they sealed away because they were thrown? Or was it because of history? Or…might it have been their will?”
“I’m not a politician, so I don’t know. But Hajji…”
“What?” he asked.
“First the attack on UCAT and then the meeting yesterday. You really do like playing the villain.”
“You sound just like Mikoku. And I’m not playing anything. This is who I truly am.”
“After the meeting, Sayama told me to keep an eye on you to make sure you didn’t kill yourself as the villain in an attempt to take all the responsibility with you.”
Hajji froze for a moment at that, but he soon responded.
“Everyone is far too kind. Have you forgotten what I did to 1st and 3rd as the Army?”
“Neither of those Gears would have been able to survive without you.”
“That was only due to our agreements. …Please stop treating me like a good person. I thought I understood Top-Gear, but I understood nothing and I used my blind hatred to borrow Top-Gear’s authority and oppose you all. Once all of this is over…I suppose I’ll be burnt at the stake or something.”
“Then let me ask you a question Sayama left with me.”
Hajji stiffened at those sudden words, but he still let out a long white sigh.
“What is it?”
“Do you think Shinjou Yukio had realized the truth of Top-Gear and the true creation of the world?”
Hajji fell silent.
“If she had, then your actions were truly those of a villain committed to evil. Sayama said that would be truly regrettable. And…he also said you do not need to answer that question.”
“Well,” said Abram. “According to him, Sayama Kaoru once said that people become villains when they experience circumstances that leave them not wanting to touch anyone but those closest to them. And Sayama Kaoru had lost the person closest to him.”
“I see,” said Hajji as he closed his eyes and let out another white breath. “You are soft, Abram.”
“Not as much as you. Nor am I as hard on myself as you are.”
“You are imagining things. More importantly, have you and the wife you chose had a child?”
That question remained unanswered, but a response came in another form.
“My wife wants to build schools.”
“Yes. In the sandy desert she comes from and in many other places. …She wants them to be places of shade where people are taught how to live and, in some cases, how to change or fight against nature.”
“I see,” muttered Hajji. “If it was your idea, I would have called you a hypocrite. Yes.”
He kicked the asphalt sidewalk again.
“Hey, does that land resemble ours?”
“Yes,” replied the other man. “It was just as I’d heard: no water, a drastic difference between day and night, dark shadows, sand everywhere, and the people are swept away by the wind and sand. But…”
Hajji heard him breathe in.
“There were people there who tried to change that land, lamented or tried to stop the conflict, wished to go elsewhere, or…waited for someone to arrive from elsewhere. So…”
“I no longer knew what was important and I began to wish it could all be important.”
“So you did know.” Hajji placed his feet on the sidewalk. “You did. You are a hero, Abram Mesam. …You are the hero who chose this world, so you can continue on ahead. I on the other hand…”
Hajji smiled bitterly, trailed off, and said something else instead.
“Let me answer that question and you tell Shinjou and Sayama. …Tell them that Shinjou Yukio was a woman who only ever said the truth.”
With those words, he ended the call.
He stood on the sidewalk and reached out his left hand. He grabbed a long bundle of white cloth that was leaning on the guardrail and turned around.
“I on the other hand will remain in the past.”
As he turned around, he saw a short figure on the sidewalk across the two-lane road.
The boy, Hiba, wore a backpack and had walked here from Akihabara.
Hajji looked to Hiba and Hiba looked to Hajji.
Their eyes met and Hajji opened his mouth, but Hiba cut him off with a shout.
“Th-there is nothing inappropriate in this backpack! Just because I came from Akihabara d-doesn’t mean it’s filled with inappropriate DVDs and games!! A pure minor such as myself…”
He tilted his head and almost seemed to be asking Hajji for his opinion.
“...w-wouldn’t buy anything like that?”
Hajji immediately attacked with the long object in his right hand.
The surveillance plane flying over Kanda reported on the beginning of the battle.
The report was broadcast out to the world.
“…done something stupid!!”
Hiba ran through the nighttime city.
He ran full speed down a slope.
He chose to travel down the very center of the two-lane road because the surrounding cars were moving.
There was no one driving them because he was inside a concept space, but their residual speed kept them moving and crashing before slowing down in clumps.
As they moved so unpredictably, Hiba raced down the road while ignoring the traffic lights and letting the lights of the roadside stores wash over him.
He had pictured Kanda and Ochanomizu as a region of musical instruments and books, but he decided to forever abandon that enjoyable image.
Attacks flew in from behind him.
The attacks demonstrated the powers of fire and darkness.
A pillar of fire shot his way from behind and it burned away anything it even grazed.
And the reverberating darkness stopped all things and shattered them like ice.
The sounds of spreading flames and shattering reached him from behind, along with footsteps far wider and calmer than his own racing ones.
…I can’t believe this.
“Miki isn’t my opponent?”
Even as he said that, he asked himself what that meant.
Was he disappointed or happy he was not fighting her?
To lighten his load, he threw out the contents of his backpack.
…Ahh, and there were some rare DVDs and games in there.
He cried as he ran and tossed the items backwards.
“A worthless diversion!” shouted a voice behind him.
Multiple flames raced through the air and incinerated Hiba’s rare finds.
Hiba thought to himself as he watched the wind scatter the white DVD ashes into the night sky.
…Perverted things are being dissolved into this concept space.
The next attack was directed at him, so he took a leap.
“Wah!” he shouted while jumping like a frog, stepping atop a nearby car, and jumping again.
A pillar of fire immediately swept by below his feet.
The Ochanomizu street was instantly annihilated.
Within a radius of about three hundred meters, everything along the path of the swing was turned to ashes: the trees, the buildings, and even the air itself.
The ephemeral white remnants scattered like confetti.
Hiba ran below all of those paper blossoms filling the dark city.
…What do I do?
He jumped from car to car as he thought.
…How do I fight?
He built up the flow of the battle.
His opponent was Hajji. The man’s combat experience far exceeded his own, the man was physically larger than him, and the man had a weapon.
Most of the factors that influenced a fight came down to one’s build.
A height difference of thirty centimeters created a full fist’s worth of difference in reach.
Hajji was about forty centimeters taller than Hiba and he was probably more than thirty kilograms heavier.
On top of that, Hajji had a weapon. The spear was likely B-Sp which Abram had used against American UCAT’s mechanical dragons during the battle with Black Sun.
Hajji had the upper hand in experience, size, and weaponry.
…So what do I do!?
Just as he wondered that, his vision opened up.
The large intersection leading to Jinbocho came into view down the hill.
This created a valley in the dully glowing buildings straight ahead and to either side. The valleys seemed to be waiting for him there.
The cars that had collided in the intersection were stopped there, clogging up the road.
Once he reached the intersection, he would run into that group of stopped cars.
One of them was sitting below the traffic light, facing him.
As soon as he began to jump over it, he sensed a presence behind him.
…Is it coming!?
Something like intent to kill or a premonition stroked his back and flames powerful enough to pierce straight through the car were fired toward his jumping back.
Hajji broke through the darkness that could not be fully banished by the artificial lights.
A pillar of fire shot ahead of him and instantly set a car on fire further down the slope.
The ground beyond the car did not escape that piercing incineration either.
Flames rose from the center of the intersection as the asphalt burned.
A pillar of fire rose and the explosion of air sent the car flying.
As it rose five meters in the air, even the metal parts of the car burned to ashes like kindling and the lingering flames illuminated the surrounding area.
That illumination revealed the burning intersection.
There was the sound of burning, a heated wind, a scorching pressure, and a flickering light.
They all reminded him of old times.
However, something of those old times was missing.
There was something he had always felt with each attack.
“Why didn’t I feel it hit anything!?”
As soon as he shouted, Hajji realized he could not hear his own voice.
…No, not just my voice. My entire surroundings.
The scenery, the sounds, the temperature of the air, and every sensation besides that on the soles of his feet had vanished.
This was one of the powers of 7th-Gear’s Concept Core.
Hiba kicked off the hood of a car and flew up above Hajji.
He used the sinking and recoil of the car’s suspension to propel himself ten meters high.
The strength for this great leap had come from Nijun’s red sphere which he had pulled from the bottom of his backpack.
He had also pulled out Mitsuaki’s black sphere to seal his opponent’s senses.
Ten meters below, Hajji had stopped moving.
He had only kicked off the hood of the car and jumped after drawing Hajji’s flames in to hide him from view. And as he began to drop, he was certain that Hajji had still lost track of him and had also lost his senses.
…Even Kazami-san and the others had trouble with this concept.
He knew what the most effective attack was when your opponent had ample experience.
…You put them in a situation they’ve never experienced before.
He had run and drawn in Hajji’s attacks before doing this.
Hajji would not have realized he had 7th-Gear’s concepts, so this attack was key. He knew this would not work against this man more than once.
He chose to move straight in and dropped toward his right knee.
But in that instant, he heard a quiet sound like a creaking glass door.
The sound gradually grew like a swinging pendulum.
And it broke.
Space…no, the power of the concept shattered.
Hiba saw Hajji remove his eyepatch and…
“You stopped and shattered the portion of the concept space around you!?”
“Did you think I couldn’t?”
Hajji directed his voice up at Hiba and spun B-Sp around in his right arm.
“Now, answer me! Are you a hero!?”
A pillar of fire shot straight up toward Hiba.
In a split-second decision, he chose one of the four colors: blue, red, black, or white.
He chose white.
He pulled Yonkichi’s sphere from the backpack. That white sphere instantaneously swapped his and his opponent’s positions.
Hiba looked up at the rising pillar of fire and saw Hajji in its path.
It was on a collision course, so Hajji would be burned away by his own flames.
However, a denial of that fate appeared before Hiba’s eyes.
B-Sp’s all-consuming fire was stopped.
It was stopped by Hajji’s eye.
The fire stopped moving and became a glowing shape.
Hajji calmly kicked the pillar of fire, breaking it.
With the sound of shattering glass, the fire crumbled away.
It looked like red and yellow flower petals scattering in the wind.
Surrounded by what sounded like small bells, Hiba realized Hajji was dropping back down with his spear aimed at him.
…This is ridiculous!
A month and a half earlier, 7th-Gear’s Concept Core had given them so much trouble, but it did not slow this man down in the slightest.
Not only that, but he could freely destroy and manipulate his own attacks.
Hiba leaped down the hill toward the intersection to escape Hajji’s attack, but then he saw something from above the ash-filled intersection.
Hajji had kicked off empty air and was catching up to him.
It was only after that when Hiba heard the metallic sound.
Hajji had used his eye’s stopping power to solidify empty air so he could kick off it.
The air shattered and Mitsuaki’s power shattered around him as it continued to expand.
There was no escape. Hajji descended from midair as if descending a flight of stairs.
…He’s right in front of me!
He back-stepped as if looking up the slope just as the tall form in white dropped down in front of him.
The white cloth seemed to flap around him and he landed on the white ash-filled land in a crouch.
“You do not show your back when you run. You must have been trained well as a soldier.”
Hiba only realized a slash was coming once the man had finished speaking.
Hajji raised his right arm and swung down B-Sp2 without any flames.
Hiba felt cold air running from his right side to directly above him and from the right side of his chest to the right side of his collarbone.
He also felt chilly air stroke his right cheek.
It felt cold because there was heat there.
The thought of “oh, no” came later.
As his heart beat, the clothing covering the right side of his body was torn and color burst into the air.
It only burst out at first, but it did not stop.
He took a step back as if pushed by the pressure of his blood, but then Hajji spoke.
“You did well to dodge that.”
I didn’t dodge it, thought Hiba. You intentionally missed.
And that was why Hiba breathed in, wiped the blood from his right cheek, and looked to Hajji.
That’s right, he thought. I can’t hope to match him.
But, he also thought.
…I can’t let myself die here.
“Because a future of flirting with Mikage-san awaits me!”
“Did you perhaps think what you meant to say and vice versa?” asked Hajji. “And can you not take this fight seriously since I am not Tatsumi?”
Hiba gasped at the sudden mention of Tatsumi’s name.
He looked to Hajji’s face and found the man was not smiling as usual. He was staring intently and quietly back at the boy.
“Even if this battle comes to an end and the world is changed, you will still have to face Tatsumi. …And at the very least, you cannot stand before her if you are cut down by me.”
Hiba reflexively asked a question.
He maintained his defensive stance but frowned and tried to ask what Hajji was getting at.
“Why do Miki and I have to fight each other!?”
“Well,” began Hajji. “That is probably because Tatsumi chose you as her opponent.”
“B-but that’s so selfish! Then again, Miki was pretty selfish!”
“Then aren’t you also selfish for not answering her? No matter how weak you are or how much you run away, she has continued to choose you as her opponent. …But have you even once answered her?”
Hajji’s words slammed into Hiba who remained still.
“She is asking a question that can only be answered by fighting you, so until she does so, she has never once allowed herself to lose and she waits all alone. …She is waiting for your true self once you have sought true resolve.”
He swallowed the rest of his question.
The answer to that question was something only she would know.
…I can’t believe this.
He had heard a number of reasons, but he still could not accept it.
However, he had a general understanding that she was indeed waiting for him.
“If I don’t go face her, will…”
He asked his question.
“Will Miki continue to win?”
Hajji gave him a single answer.
“Can you win?”
That question gave Hiba a single thought.
“…Can I not run away?”
“You can,” said Hajji. “But Tatsumi will wait for you even then.”
“Just as you wait for another girl to awaken.”
Hiba hung his head at what Hajji said.
…I can’t believe this.
He suddenly thought of Mikage.
He pictured her waiting for him at home, in an alley, and in the UCAT lobby.
He quite liked that she waited for him and she said she liked it too.
But that was due to a certain promise.
…That I’ll definitely be there.
“What does Miki think?” he slowly asked. “Does she think I’m coming?”
He knew the answer without being told.
What a troublesome person, he thought. She really is my opposite.
…Is she the version of me that likes waiting?
Hiba sighed and his lungs cooled.
…I don’t know.
He had yet to decide whether he should fight or what he should do, but…
“Miki will continue to wait for me even if I don’t know, won’t she?”
Hajji slowly nodded and lightly threw out his chest.
“Then do you know what you will do here?”
“Yes,” nodded Hiba.
What I’m going to do and say here is outrageous, he thought. But if I don’t go through with it, she’ll probably be waiting forever.
He raised his fists, faced Hajji, and breathed in. As the air entered his lungs, strength filled his gut and he gathered his resolve.
He spoke to the man who had travelled much farther than him down the path of combat.
“Please be my opponent so that I might continue on to where Miki is.”
“You might lose here, you know?”
“She will still wait for me even if I do. But I don’t know what I should do for her. All I know is that I’ll lose again if nothing changes.”
“So you want to grow at least a little stronger by defeating me?”
“Yes,” said Hiba while realizing how outrageous this really was. “Miki is undefeated, but you have lost once. So at the very least, I can’t stand before her without defeating you first!”
Without hesitation, he crouched down, stomped a foot down, and used the recoil.
He charged forward as he wondered if he could reach the person…no, the two people who were waiting for him.
A combination attack required speed and endurance and it could only be pulled off after learning how to segue one movement into another.
It all came down to linking one attack with the next.
For example, if one sent their right fist forward, the right side of their body would also move forward.
The left side of their body would be pulling back, so it became difficult to send their left fist forward.
But what if, when stepping forward on their right foot, they twisted their heel inward?
Their body would slide rightward and it would more easily rotate clockwise.
If they kicked forward with their left foot in that instant, they would be able to move their entire left side forward along with their fist.
By repeating similar actions, they could pull off more than just a series of punches; they could put their hips behind the blows and each attack in the series would be strong enough to actually defeat an opponent.
Hiba was able to do this.
He had the speed, endurance, movements, and experience.
But in his case, that experience was not from flesh-and-blood combat.
Most of his battles against 3rd-Gear had been fought between gods of war and none of his training in the dojo or at UCAT had forced him to put his life on the line.
But he still had definite experience: experience of defeat.
That was how he viewed himself. He felt he had yet to mature into a proper fighter.
But, he thought. But what’s wrong with that?
He just could not let himself be content with that position.
…I want to grow stronger.
He let loose his combination attack and Hajji received it.
In Hiba’s case, having his fist blocked did not mean his attack had been stopped.
He redirected the recoil of the blocked fist into his next attack.
His fists flew while he seemed to quickly spin. His knees, his legs, and especially his elbows were perfect for this high-speed rotation.
And Hajji put some distance between them.
He put a car between them and then sent his stopping concept toward the car.
But Hiba swung his body toward the slope and side-flipped out of the way.
Once he landed, he leaped towards Hajji and threw a backhand blow.
He heard a solid sound as Hajji blocked with B-Sp’s shaft.
The tip was pointed down and it flew up to scoop Hiba upwards.
Hiba kicked the tip and jumped straight up on his own.
At the same time, B-Sp collided with the car behind him.
Hajji continued swinging B-Sp.
As if he were playing golf, he hit the fallen red car toward Hiba.
A tremendous noise rang out and the “golf ball” flew.
Hiba kicked the side of the flying car and prepared to jump from it, but the car fell to pieces.
Hajji had planned this. By destroying the car just as Hiba was going to jump, he had canceled the boy’s jump.
Hiba would inevitably fall without having time to prepare for a landing.
Except he did not.
He was not acting based on reflex.
He had predicted what Hajji would do and had prepared for his landing while damp with cold sweat and warm blood.
Once he landed, he would charge toward Hajji who had just finished swinging B-Sp. The man’s eyes were turned upwards toward the car, so he would be wide open.
Except that did not work out either.
Hiba suddenly realized he had stopped falling.
It lasted just a brief moment and then he heard something like shattering glass coming from the empty air below his feet.
…He used his stopping power to create a path for my fall!?
That meant the man had predicted what Hiba would do two steps in advance.
And as Hiba’s slightly delayed fall resumed, he saw Hajji charging his way. The man rotated B-Sp once and swung it horizontally as if to scoop up the boy.
The spear tip hit.
The automatons in the surveillance plane heard a solid impact coming from one section of Kanda.
An electronic tone came from the surveillance system.
“Hiba-sama was hit!!”
That announcement filled the plane with tension.
Hiba had not been holding back.
When none of a fighter’s attacks could reach their enemy and they were hit first, one thing was more frightening than the injury: the loss of momentum.
Their focus would drop and they would be unable to move as quickly again.
And as if to prove that, an automaton spoke up quietly.
“Hiba-sama is not moving. He is alive but motionless.”
I can’t believe this, thought Hiba.
He could see the sky. The night sky was slanted.
He thought about where he was.
…Where is this? It looks like the school building of some university.
He was probably on the seventh floor and he was lying face-up near the window of an unlit classroom.
His moonlit bed was made from a windowsill, glass, and a broken wall.
He tasted blood in his mouth.
His back had broken through the window and was intermittently convulsing from the impact.
Pain filled his entire body and he could barely breathe.
This was the result of just one mistake.
…I can’t believe this.
Suddenly, something blocked the moonlight.
The pale light backlit Hajji and his white cloak. The man’s shoulders rose and fell as he caught his breath and his spear was lowered in his right hand.
“What’s the matter? Hm?” he asked. “Didn’t you want to be a hero?”
Hiba just about apologized because he felt he had been rude to this master fighter.
But the voice that left his lungs said something else.
His voice was trembling and scratchy.
“You’re so strong…but can you not become a hero yourself?”
His question brought silence.
For a few seconds, he simply tried to catch his breath and saw Hajji hang his head.
But then the man spoke from the moon’s backlighting.
“That is none of your concern. …Besides, some people do not wish to be a hero.”
Hiba thought about calling that a lie. This man had so much strength and the power to lead.
…So why does he try to make people hate him?
Hiba did not know.
All he knew was that Hajji had not once done anything remotely unfair during their battle. He had done a few things like that during the attack on UCAT, yet he had done no such thing during this battle that he absolutely had to win.
That meant he was not willing to win at all costs.
Hiba tried to get up. His entire body ached and he was frozen with pain.
His body was telling him not to move.
And Hajji’s words seemed to respond.
“How about we end this? How about we declare this my victory and thus Top-Gear’s overall victory?”
After a pause, he spoke more quietly.
“You go pursue Tatsumi.”
Dammit, thought Hiba. I can’t let it end like this.
This man still hasn’t gone all out. He still hasn’t put up a fight worthy of the title hero.
A hero, thought Hiba.
If I was a hero, I’d be able to reach Miki.
He now realized the opponent before him was a shortcut to that goal and he wanted to face him as a hero.
But his body ached and refused to move.
And then he heard a sudden noise. It came from the cellphone he had dropped on the floor.
After ringing twice, it automatically answered and he heard new sounds: hurried footsteps and a female voice.
“This is Tsukuyomi of Japanese UCAT’s Development Department. …Am I interrupting? Or did I make it in time?”
For what? he wondered as he slowly breathed in and listened to the fallen cellphone.
“Listen. I’m about to let you hear something very important.”
Another sound immediately followed.
It was a heavy, deep, muffled sound, but it was also very short and it played again shortly thereafter.
It was a pulse.
“Now that we’ve made it this far, I’m sure she’ll wake up. So…so make sure you come back.”
He heard a hint of a smile in Tsukuyomi’s voice and also heard a chair move.
“Knowing you, you’re probably on the verge of death. But you know what, Hiba boy? The people who return from the verge of death, are the ones who still have something to do in this world. If you die, then why is she even trying to wake up? She has something she still wants to do here and she’s waiting for you.”
“Climb up the hill leading from the underworld. Climb up that hill and you’ll find the land of the living.”
Hiba breathed in just as the call ended.
But he had managed to breathe in.
He forced in the air he needed to move.
And as if tearing his own body, he moved.
Two figures jumped out into the dark city.
They attacked in midair, put distance between themselves, and landed on the slope.
They were Hajji and Hiba.
Hajji was to the west and Hiba to the east.
Hajji stood calmly while Hiba’s trembling body doubled over and blood spilled to the ground.
However, Hiba did not hesitate to charge forward.
By taking in a quick breath, he kept his body as tense as he could manage. He used the breath to keep the bleeding to a minimum and began the battle with a fist.
Hajji blocked and then attacked.
Hiba avoided the rising blade with quick footwork.
He moved in by reversing that footwork.
As the two of them continually attacked, dodged, and defended, they raced up the slope.
The top of the slope came into view, along with Ochanomizu Station and the bridge crossing the river next to the station.
The two of them arrived within one hundred meters of there.
Hiba was able to focus, so he gave a yell.
He asked a question of a man who had fought more than he knew.
“Why did you give up on being a hero!?”
“Because I couldn’t protect them!”
“Neither could I!”
“But you have someone waiting for you to return. …Two, in fact.”
Hiba’s bloodshot eyes saw Hajji smile in a way he had never seen before.
During the meeting, he had seen the man smile normally several times, but never this closed-mouth smile that simply narrowed his eyes a little.
Hiba moved quickly so his combination attack would reach.
It was as if getting a blow in would convey his thoughts.
Solid sounds rang out, his evasion and attacks flowed together, and even his own blows shook his entire body.
“But that’s too sad!”
“Emotions that can be described in words lack reality, Hiba. You know what? I no longer have anyone to protect.”
Hiba thought about the man’s words and smile.
Oh, he might be a different form of me.
I can stay as I am because the people I care about are still alive, but after losing the people he needed to protect, did he no longer know what to do?
Did he give into desperation and decide to become a villain?
Then did my step-sister who now goes by Tatsumi do the same?
He had recovered when he heard Mikage’s pulse, so it was possible he could not understand them.
But, he thought about what Hajji had said.
“Why did you make your sister’s power a part of yourself!?”
Yes, that’s right.
I’m certain of it. I understand. Or at least I feel like I do. On this point, he’s definitely just like me.
“Once, I put a barely-conscious girl in a wheelchair, took her outside, and showed her this world.”
He sent out another blow that would not reach the man, but still wanted this to hit home.
“You too showed that eye this world! And you must have promised to show her a new world! And…and when you did…”
His voice rose to shout.
“You decided to become a hero, even if no one would know it!!”
His blow hit, but Hajji blocked it with B-Sp.
However, the man’s defense was slightly different from before.
This time, he pushed Hiba away as he blocked.
The next thing Hiba knew, they had reached the top of the slope.
They both let out white breaths and faced each other from a distance of ten meters.
They looked straight at each other with the light of the surveillance plane overhead.
Even as he trembled, Hiba gave a powerful nod with a serious expression.
“I will win. …So that I can continue on to those who are waiting for me.”
“Please lose. …So that you can face those who waited for you.”
Hajji smiled bitterly, but…
“So you have two people waiting for you? …Kids these days are spoiled.”
The bitterness left his smile just before they both leaned forward and moved.
He blocked his enemy’s attacks, sent forth his own power, moved his body, and continually searched for an opening to victory.
Sounds reverberated around him. They were the sounds of battle and they were familiar to his mind and body.
It had only been a month and a half since he had fought Abram, so he felt fortunate to hear these sounds again so soon.
His weapons were the eye in which his sister resided, 9th-Gear’s Concept Core, and his own body.
He had no real grudge against his enemy.
That enemy saw himself in Hajji, but it was a one-sided view.
As an emotion, it was sentiment. As a color, it was green. As a texture, it was soft.
However, Hajji felt something nostalgic in that.
He and the others had once been like that.
While attacking again and again and pursuing his enemy’s movements, Hajji recalled days long past when he had fought and trained like this in the sand and below the bright sky.
His enemy here was young. The boy could easily have been his grandson.
As they fought, that boy was catching up. He had caught up in speed, he made up for his weak attacks with combinations, and he would circle around behind Hajji before sending in his fists.
To land a blow, he would make feints, throw decoy attacks, use tricky movements, and do whatever else it took.
But none if it felt underhanded. After all, Hajji was overwhelmingly more powerful.
Hajji’s blows were stronger, the speed of his straight-line movements was greater, and he had the advantage in reach, endurance, build, experience, and so much more.
So the boy used everything available to him as he faced the man.
He moved around Hajji and slipped his own attacks in. A few of them grazed Hajji, but he never managed a solid blow.
All that reached Hajji were the sounds, movements, and breaths of battle.
Wonderful, thought Hajji.
Do whatever you can, he thought. I will receive it all head-on.
I am fighting with my full strength, but you are desperate. I will do nothing to damage that desperation.
Why? Because a desperate opponent feels that defeat is the same as death.
It is like a glass knife.
Strike it on the side and it readily breaks, but to do that is to forcibly break it.
If the glass knife breaks when received head-on, then it broke due to its own weakness.
In the former case, the knife will never be made again. No one will know whether it was a poor-quality knife or not, but the fact that it broke still remains.
But in the latter case, someone will surely decide to make an even stronger knife.
This boy is the latter.
I really do think I’m a teacher, don’t I? thought Hajji before thinking about his sister.
If she had lived and married the hero, would he have taught her how to use a sword?
That could never be now.
He had not taught Mikoku or Shino how to use a sword. So that they could live in the new world, he had felt they should not wield any more power than they themselves desired.
But lately, Mikoku had chosen to enter that territory and seemed to have gained some kind of confidence.
If, he thought.
…If I had trained those two, would they have become like this boy?
This enemy was filling all of his inadequacies with desperation in order to defeat Hajji.
This enemy was forming attacks from his desire to defeat Hajji.
These attacks did not come from hostility.
They were the product of a pure desire to overcome him.
Wonderful, he felt.
A wonderful enemy.
This boy has something he must protect. He has someone who protects him, who he protects, and who creates a place for him to return to.
He is a hero, thought Hajji.
And he had self-importantly asked Hajji to lose.
…So I can face those who waited for me, hm?
Don’t worry, he thought. You are a hero.
And I can no longer become a hero.
That’s right, he muttered in his heart. I am no hero.
“I am simply a man with strength.”
But his comment received a response.
The shout ran to the side.
“That can’t be true. After all…”
Hajji caught sight of the opponent who quickly back-stepped away.
The boy twisted his eyebrows and looked on the verge of tears as he created the space he needed to charge in.
“Why do you always think about how you can’t be with anyone!? Why don’t you ever think about being somewhere for others to return to!?”
They were ten meters apart once more. Without taking a breath, the boy shrank down like a spring.
“The people you lost are looking at this same world with you and the world you lost gave you this world you stand in now!”
“Do you really think they and their world would rejoice in a world that paves over and hides everything?”
Hajji forcefully prepared for his next move.
He decided to end this here and to win no matter what it took.
“This is a world of lies!”
“But as a false version of yourself, you spoke of them on the night of that attack!”
A voice rang through the air and Hajji calmly saw the boy take the first step of his charge.
“Are you saying even that was a lie!?”
Hajji saw an explosion of speed.
The boy had chosen to dash forward.
In what was likely his final move, he ran in a straight line in order to simply win and overcome Hajji.
The boy’s blood sprayed into the air and his body overcame his speed.
He rushed in and Hajji launched an attack on the coming conclusion.
Hiba no longer hesitated.
He used his power as he ran.
The first thing he used was Mitsuaki’s concept of non-understanding.
The concept’s power was unleashed with a metallic noise, but Hajji immediately shattered it with his stopping power.
Hiba had known it would not work.
But Hajji’s use of that power had made him waste some time, no matter how slight.
Hiba had done it because it could lead to even a tiny chance for victory.
He swung his body, propelled himself forward with the bottoms of his feet, felt a sticky sensation as the soles of his shoes left the asphalt, and continued forward.
Hajji raised B-Sp.
There was still some distance between them, so Hajji would be able to thrust B-Sp forward and send out the flames before Hiba arrived.
That was why Hiba used his next power: Nijun’s concept of truth.
There could be no lies, so all feints and diversions were sealed.
…My movements will accurately guide me!
His body felt a bit restricted because the feints burned into him by experience were being restrained as unnecessary.
But that restrained power brought his feet more strongly to the ground and Nijun’s bodily reinforcement power raised his speed further.
However, Hajji was faster.
At seven meters apart, Hajji’s arm was just about to complete its swing.
With the nighttime city in the background and the lights of the shops and streetlights as his backlight, the tall figure targeted Hiba.
Amazing, thought Hiba. He always uses his full strength to defeat his opponent.
He fully focused on the fight and produced the greatest movements, power, and speed he could.
This was how he had forced back Abram and the others and reached the lowest level during the attack on UCAT.
With the enemy before him, Hiba had another thought.
…Can I become like that too?
Could he become that strong?
Hajji did not have the divine protection Izumo did. Nor did he put up with the kind of pain Sayama did.
But even without the stopping power of his eye, he would still be powerful. His physical build was a part of that, but he primarily fought with nothing more than his own body.
No one in UCAT had defeated him one-on-one.
So, thought Hiba.
I want him to be a hero.
I don’t want him to create a false version of himself because he couldn’t protect what mattered most to him. I want him to protect what matters most to him even if it means creating a false version of himself.
And isn’t that what he did during the attack and during the meeting?
…Wasn’t he a hero going by the name of a villain?
Hajji had claimed to have set up bombs when negotiating with Sayama.
Hiba was certain he had intended to press that button.
But in the end, he had not pressed it.
Why not? wondered Hiba.
If he would have pressed it, had been willing to press it, then…
…He changed his mind.
Hidden below the surface, this enemy had the will needed to not press the button.
And he still did. No matter what methods Hiba used, the man was willing to receive them.
He seemed to be saying that was the proof of a truly powerful warrior.
And the man sped up his counterattack. At this rate, Hiba would be unable to reach him.
So Hiba took action. He too sped up, but once he saw he would not make it, he used his next power.
A moment later, Hiba and Hajji switched places.
Hiba stood still where Hajji had been and Hajji raced toward Hiba from where the boy had been.
The situation was simple: Hajji was moving his weapon forward while approaching Hiba.
So Hiba leaned forward.
And he closed the gap between them.
He used their relative speeds. Hajji had been given Hiba’s speed and Hiba created that speed in himself once more, so they rapidly approached.
But even after that, Hajji was faster.
Before Hiba could reach the man, the muscles of Hajji’s right shoulder swelled out and he thrust his spear forward.
“Go forth, light and darkness of my mother world!!”
As he shouted, B-Sp’s flames and his eye’s stopping power shot toward Hiba.
Hiba did not have time to evade, so they were sure to hit.
Hajji realized he had released his power.
This excellent enemy had faced him head-on and he had overcome the speed that was that enemy’s greatest asset.
…What will you do about that?
Hajji silently asked while looking at the flying flames, the expanded stopping power, and Hiba beyond them.
…What will you do about that!?
He had launched the perfect attack to overcome this enemy.
“Can your desperation overcome my best!?”
A moment later, Hajji saw Hiba display his final power.
He threw a blue sphere from behind him. That sphere raised all attack power to maximum.
But, thought Hajji. What will he do with that?
Hiba was unarmed.
While he might be able to negate B-Sp and the stopping power with his two fists, his arms would be destroyed and his defeat made certain.
But in the following instant, Hajji saw Hiba throw two weapons.
“Yes,” answered Hiba. “These are the pieces of Mikage-san’s evolution stone!!”
As if to protect Hiba, the pair of blue stones flew with maximum attack power and collided with the flames and stopping power.
And they destroyed them.
The flames and stopping power were shattered by the evolution stones that protected him.
Hiba’s momentum carried him right up to Hajji.
Hiba clenched both his fists and stepped forward.
Mikage could no longer evolve, but she would wake up.
One day, surely she would wake up.
That had already been determined. And once she did, he would be with her.
And at the moment, he felt she had protected him.
He also felt what he had done was selfish, but…
…If I don’t do this, I can’t protect her!
He avoided Hajji’s B-Sp just before it reached his face.
His bandana tore and the night air reached his forehead.
He had not felt this sensation in a long while. He had worn the bandana ever since being unable to protect Mikage so long ago, but he felt like it had just been removed for the very first time.
The chilly air seemed to wake him up and told himself to redo things.
Even if Mikage could no longer evolve, they could begin much like they had when they had first met, but redone as the people they were now.
…I need to face Miki!
He would not run. He might hesitate or feel doubt, but he would no longer run away.
He would not fear fighting or try to avoid it and he would try to listen to what she had to say.
And to do that…
He stepped forward and sent his fist forward.
In the instant of impact, he saw a smile of resignation on Hajji’s face as the man looked down at him.
Hiba had not hesitated.
He simply produced the greatest strike he possessed.
And he let out a roar.
Even after he was the only one left standing atop the hill, his wavering roar continued on and on without end.
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