Owari no Chronicle:Volume13 Chapter 42
Chapter 42: Their Respective Conclusions
The two of us are close
And that is exactly why we are so distant
People remained in the Kinugasa Library even after night fell.
A lot of the school’s students lived in the dorms and the year-end festival had a lot of late-night stands and events because no one had to worry about tests or classes. And with the chill of winter outside, people naturally filled the library which doubled as a large rest area.
Currently, Shinjou sat across from one of those guests.
“Why are you here, Ryouko-san?”
Ryouko’s outfit consisted of a leather jacket over her kimono.
“Hm? We run a stand here every year. All of the shops in the area do. We sponsor the festival, you know? I think Kouji’s running a yakisoba stand today. He said something about it being superb since he has someone from the dish’s homeland working on it. How about we go mooch some off of him later, Setsu-chan?”
What country is yakisoba from? wondered Shinjou, but she decided not to ask.
Ryouko looked around and smiled.
“But you know what? This is my first time at the school’s festival.”
“I think I had some issues holding me back.”
She waved a hand with a smile, rested her head on her hand, and continued looking around.
“I was really missing out.”
She looked deeper into the library where students from the weightlifting club were cosplaying as nudists and getting into a philosophical argument with the public morals committee over whether their state of undress counted as a costume or not.
“We only look nude because you’re looking with your eyes! Stop being so filthy and look at us with the eyes of your heart!!”
“You look just as naked to our hearts!!”
The public morals committee wielded stun guns and the muscular nudist cosplayers held barbell weights like cymbals. An excited crowd gathered around them and Ryouko gave a comment while watching from the side.
“Can’t they just hide their crotches behind those round weights? Right, Setsu-chan?”
“D-don’t ask me about that… And if they did, what do they do with the bars?”
Ryouko stared up at the ceiling and thought for about three seconds before a surprised look came over her.
“Wow, you’re so dirty, Setsu-chan!!”
“H-how!? I am not dirty!”
However, Ryouko bent back as if she could not endure that response.
She then slapped Shinjou on the shoulder.
…She’s a lot like an old man.
Ryouko laughed, leaned back forward, and looked at Shinjou.
She then suddenly looked down at the desk in front of Shinjou.
Shinjou had placed a laptop and something else there.
“Setsu-chan, what’s that pile of paper?”
Shinjou looked down at the paper that was still warm from when she had printed it off.
The stack was over ten centimeters thick and had the same full softness as fresh-baked bread. Each page had about twenty lines of text on the left and right sides.
It was a novel.
It was the novel she had written and just now finished.
When she realized Ryouko had noticed it and remembered what she had accomplished, she could not keep her cheeks from relaxing.
“Well… I made one.”
“You would fit in pretty well at this school, you know!?”
“Really!? Then I think I’ll enroll! I’ll be your and the young master’s underclassman starting next year, okay?”
Their raised voices drew the attention of the surrounding people and the nudist cosplayers.
A naked third year placed his weight-holding hands on his hips and frowned their way.
“Now, now, you two. You need to stay quiet in the library.”
“But…you can be naked?”
“What does nudity have to do with being quiet?”
“Understood,” weakly replied Shinjou as she and Ryouko bowed.
After about seven seconds, Ryouko leaned her way and looked at the novel.
“That’s the first time I’ve been scolded by a naked person. Now, let’s get back on topic. …So it’s a novel?”
Hearing that, Ryouko’s eyes opened wide and she straightened up.
“Wow. You wrote all this?”
“I-is it that much? I knew what I wanted to write and, when I let it all out, it ended up like this…”
Ryouko nodded and gave an impressed cry.
“So you had a whole bunch building up inside you and you worked hard to get it all out of you?”
“D-don’t say things people will take the wrong way, Ryouko-san.”
However, Shinjou could sense what Ryouko meant.
The woman was surprised and was praising her.
Ryouko of course did not know what Shinjou had written.
And Shinjou had no intention of getting it published. It was just a personal hobby.
However, Ryouko had commented on the mere fact that she had written a novel.
I see, she thought.
…I’m being praised for something I did myself.
She did not know what that meant, but it briefly reminded her of the previous night.
They had done something for the world and that would link them all together.
And just now she had made Ryouko think something about her.
“…Is that how it works?”
She nodded and woke from her thoughts to see Ryouko give an impressed sigh and look back and forth.
“Is the young master at work?”
“Yes. I don’t think he’ll be back until late at night today.”
“I see,” said Ryouko. “Want to go get some yakisoba from Kouji?”
Shinjou started to wonder if she should, but Ryouko said something more.
“Shi-chan’s helping him right now, so should I call for her?’
It surprised her to know that girl was at the festival.
And she also knew Sayama was inside a concept space set up within the school.
He had chosen the location of his beginning for the final showdown.
Shinjou did not know who his opponent would be, but it would definitely be someone Shino knew.
…It might be bad if she notices.
So Shinjou shook a hand side to side.
“Um, no, thanks. Yeah, you don’t have to buy me any yakisoba.”
Ryouko’s doubtful tone meant she did not believe Shinjou, so Shinjou panicked a little and stood up.
“Oh, but maybe I should go take a look. Then I can decide if I’m in the mood.”
“So I’ll be waiting here?”
Ryouko shrugged and looked to the laptop and pile of paper.
“Can I read it?”
“Sorry, but I already know who I want to read it first.”
“It’s the young master, isn’t it?”
She asked with a smile and Shinjou smiled back and nodded.
“I’ll be right back,” she said while rushing toward the library exit.
As she did, she wondered what Sayama and the others were doing at the moment.
A dividing line between light and darkness existed on the edge of the festival.
The light was filled with enjoyment while the darkness supported that light from outside.
That borderline between light and darkness was made up of festival stands surrounding the dancing ground.
One stand on the southwest end of the large schoolyard was selling yakisoba. Its sign said “Festival Stand Detective – Yakisoban” as well as “Agedama Blade”.
The stand was run by a foreigner who spoke a mysterious Swahili-like language, someone in a red and yellow Festival Stand Detective costume with lots of lit decorations, a young man easily speaking with them in Japanese, and a girl sitting in a seat next to them and chopping vegetables.
The detective costume must have been hot inside because he would occasionally crouch down and stop moving, but it did not affect the stand.
The transistor radio hanging from the top of the stand informed them it was now half past six.
After handing a customer their change, the young man looked to the girl.
He pulled a few coins from the bamboo basket he kept the change in and held them out toward the girl.
She turned around and was noticeably surprised to see the coins. She tried to refuse a few times, but the young man pointed at himself, the foreigner mixing soba with amazing skill, and the detective directly cooling himself by shoving his head in a bucket of water. He then held out the coins again.
The girl still hesitated, but she did take the coins.
She held them tightly as something precious and a gentle smile came to her lips.
She then grabbed the crutch leaning against the chair and began to walk.
She bowed toward the men in the stand, placed her jacket over her shoulders, and opened the canopy placed over the side of the stand.
Supported by the crutch, she seemed to move away from the darkness behind her.
She walked into the light and all the people there.
The school was empty.
Only the reserve lights and the outside lights were on, so the schoolyard was poorly lit.
However, a few forms were visible on the athletic grounds in front of the school building.
One was a boy in a suit.
The other was a girl in an armored uniform.
And the others…
“The Concept Cores have gathered here.”
The boy turned toward the transport pallets and the swords stabbed into the schoolyard.
“Are you all here to see the conclusion?”
As if to agree with the girl, the Concept Cores all glowed faintly. It was a pale light, much like moonlight.
“My side has 7th-Gear’s Dragon Balls and 9th-Gear’s B-Sp,” said the boy. “And you…”
He looked at the forms that resembled differently sized towers.
“3rd-Gear’s Keravnos and 5th-Gear’s Vesper Cannon, hm?”
“You cannot judge them based on their size. And the other four Concept Cores are surrounding the two of us. …This must mean there were two draws, one victory, and one defeat. In other words, the world is still in equilibrium.”
The boy looked to the sword standing before him.
It was a wooden sword, but it had not been carved. It was a branch that had naturally taken that form.
“Mukiti chose this and resides within it, so that he could ‘be with Sayama’.”
“Then,” replied the girl with a long sword standing before her as well. “I will take Totsuka, 2nd-Gear’s Concept Core. I will use the power of my name…and carve life.”
She seemed to be asking for confirmation in the dim light, but the boy only nodded at first.
“I see,” he said before tilting his head. “Where is your dog?”
“He is not my dog and I did not want anyone to think I had help here, so I had him wait at the concept space’s boundary.”
“The students with nothing better to do will be unable to leave him alone. Those who live in the dorms are always starving for a pet.”
“They eat dogs?”
“You just said something amazing, you know?”
“Did I?” She smiled a bit and must have recalled the festival outside. “But anyway, this is a nice place.”
“It is,” agreed the boy.
The two of them then slowly breathed in and reached for the weapons in front of them.
“Sayama Mikoto, Low-Gear Representative and ruler of the world.”
“Toda Mikoku, Top-Gear Representative and someone who wants to live a simple life.”
After naming themselves, they prepared their weapons.
Shino walked through the festival with her crutch.
She was on the way back from buying four canned drink she held under her left arm below the jacket draped over her shoulders.
…Kouji said I could buy something and eat it, but…
She had not known what would be best to buy, so she had instead had fun seeing as much as she could.
The schoolyard was large and there was a dance at the center. Their stand was to the southwest and the vending machines were near the school buildings to the north. She had intentionally chosen the longer counterclockwise route to the east, so it had taken her nearly half an hour.
After making her purchase, she had taken the shorter western route instead.
On the way, she had seen the general pattern of the stands.
There was yakisoba, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, water candy, chocolate bananas, candied apples, target practice, human target practice, die cutting, 3D figurine die cutting, string lottery, nude string lottery, fortunetelling, and “exciting” fortunetelling.
Shino had seen a lot of it on her way there, but it was all new enough to her that it still felt fresh.
In the distance, she heard a muffled moan followed by a ringing bell.
“We have a first prize winner in the nude string lottery! Oh, they’re passing out. They’re really passing out!”
Someone was lucky, thought Shino with a deep nod.
A soccer goal had been moved almost to the edge of the schoolyard. It was shoved between two stands and it seemed really big to Shino.
“Why is there a surfboard here?”
A surfboard was stuck in the ground about sixty centimeters from the edge of the schoolyard. It almost looked like some kind of sign, but then she noticed a color there.
It was the color white. It was the color of a beast. Despite all the food stands surrounding it, the color intently faced the center of the festival.
The large dog turned toward her.
Its black eyes looked at her and they both reacted.
Shiro gave a start, suddenly got up, and ran toward her.
Shino gasped and watched the dog approach without moving.
“Why are you here?”
Deep down, she knew the answer.
She had last seen Shiro on the night of the attack. The landslide had separated them.
And who had been with them then?
She told herself to forget it, that this was not the time to approach that, and that she needed to think about something else.
The next thing she knew, Shiro had circled around to her left. Without looking at her face, he pressed his shoulder to her waist and tried to push. It was almost as if he was trying to move her away from the center of the festival.
That clued Shino in
“Is she…in the festival?”
Shiro did not answer. He simply tried to push her away from the festival.
And as Shino looked to the center of the dancing, she realized something.
…No, she isn’t actually in the festival.
The person who she was still not willing to draw up from the depths her heart was not skillful enough to dance with these Low-Gear people.
She was someone who could not face Shino until she had settled everything.
She was someone who refused to face her even though she knew it was a necessary part of settling everything.
She was someone who refused to face her not despite the power she had, but because of that power.
She was someone who believed she would harm someone and something precious.
Shino knew she would not be here now if that person had faced her.
Shino knew she would also not be here if she had tried to face that person.
That person refused to face this world and thus could not dance with this world.
She refused to face them but desired to fight them.
She thought she only had to avoid harming what mattered most to her, so she fought without even looking at those precious things.
And so she would choose to fight somewhere where no one could see her.
…A concept space.
Shiro knew where she was and what she was trying to do.
…Is it a showdown between Low-Gear and Top-Gear?
Sayama and Shinjou had said they were searching the past in order to oppose Top-Gear.
That meant they were going to settle everything once and for all.
…It can’t be…
Shino sensed a certain conclusion.
“Mikoku is fighting to end it all?”
She realized the cans had fallen from her left arm.
That hand was now holding the blue stone that hung from her neck.
That cracked stone had lost most of its power, but…
…I can still enter a concept space one more time!
She started forward with her crutch, but Shiro held her back.
He seemed to be telling her not to go and not to stop the conclusion that so many people wanted.
She raised her voice, tried to move her knee forward, was pushed back, and realized something was getting in her way.
A moment later, she threw away the crutch.
Strength filled her trembling left leg and she brushed the dog out of the way.
“Shiro…please. Mikoku might leave me!”
She took the blue stone from her neck and wrapped her left hand’s fingers around it.
She thrust it forward with her left palm as if pressing it into midair.
“Let me go! I need to…”
She released the thought she had tried to seal in the bottom of her heart.
“I need to stop the conclusion Mikoku has chosen!”
Shinjou saw a girl and a white dog near the gap between festival stands created by a soccer goal.
The dog was the one that had accompanied Mikoku.
Shinjou reflexively broke into a run. An uncertain but bad feeling filled her chest.
She was about fifteen meters away, so it would not take her long to get there.
She assumed she would make it if she ran, but the girl was already moving.
Shinjou saw the girl raise her left hand toward the center of the festival with a tearful and desperate look on her face.
…She threw away her crutch!
When she took a weak step and reached out toward the festival, Shinjou cried out.
“Wait! Someone…stop her!!”
But her voice did not reach anyone.
There was sound.
There was light.
A firework had been launched into the sky from the bonfire at the center of the festival.
It whistled up into the midwinter night sky and the explosion briefly filled the festival with blue light.
The girl had vanished.
Only the white dog remained, tail lowered and looking bored.
She let out a rough breath and pulled her cellphone from her pocket.
With eyebrows raised, she clenched and ground her teeth, using the sound to suppress her emotions.
“Sibyl-san! We need backup! Send everyone out!”
“!? …Wh-what do you mean? Don’t tell me it’s Ooshiro-sama again.”
“This might be worse than that…”
“Y-you mean the entire earth is about to be destroyed?”
“That’s not what I mean,” began Shinjou as she slowly chose her words. “Someone’s trying to get in the way of Sayama-kun’s conclusion.”
She thought about what she had seen and what it meant.
She wondered if it was what she had actually wanted to do.
“An intruder entered the concept space.”
“Yes,” confirmed Shinjou.
She chose not to say anything more, hung up, and looked to her left arm.
A black watch was strapped to her wrist.
Mikoku moved through the night.
The battlefield was a school.
The school was empty and it was nighttime.
But if one looked closely, faint shadows of people were visible.
A festival was underway beyond the concept space.
Mikoku did not overlook the presence of those people.
She ran across the schoolyard, attacked, threw a knife to put some distance between herself and her opponent, and dashed inside a school building.
Darkness covered everything, but human shadows moved through that darkness as well.
It was not difficult to imagine the sounds they made as they moved.
Two faint shadows stood in the hallway ahead of her, but what were they discussing?
…They are peeking inside the classroom in front of them, aren’t they?
A shadow stood at the wall to the side of the stairs, presumably waiting for someone.
As Mikoku ran up the stairs, a shadow rushed down them and seemed to be riding a bicycle despite being indoors.
Everyone moved out of the bike’s way and a few raised their arms and seemed to be saying something.
Mikoku smiled bitterly because it felt like she was a part of their group.
She imagined she was participating in the festival.
She crossed blades with the person who either pursued her or was pursued by her and imagined participating in the festival as the blow shook her body.
No one noticed her.
No one turned toward her.
No one said anything to her.
But, she thought. This is easier on me. After all, I don’t have to hurt anyone this way.
To avoid her enemy’s next attack, she made a feint toward a classroom.
They exchanged attacks as one pursued and one turned around.
She used her skill, judgment, and physical strength to swing her sword from her lowered stance. She sliced through the ceiling and wall but was unable to hit her opponent.
While falling back and making her sword strike, she saw a window to her left.
It was a classroom window.
The classroom was too small for this kind of fight and the window was the one view out of it.
The thick window blocked her way and she was bound to this fight by obligation, but…
…Everything looks so calm out there!
She of course had a view of the school at night. The next school building cast a dark shadow and the moon had risen in the dark blue sky.
But in her imagination, Mikoku participated in the festival.
While inside the classroom and listening to the clashing of swords, she thought.
…This is the windowsill at the very end of the line.
It would have felt nice to rest her head in her hand and stare out that window.
She then realized she probably would not have been able to speak with anyone even if she had gone to school. She was sure she would have remained silent and stared out the window.
…All while wondering what I could do or if I was alone.
She had continued to wander through the supposed freedom of not going to school, so if she had been faced with even more guidelines, would she have hesitated even more?
But, she thought.
She had lost her world, naturally wished to fight, worried over so very much, and was now fighting.
…But if I had gone to school, I definitely would have ended up staring out a window like that one.
No matter her situation, she felt that would not have changed much.
No one would have spoken to her, she would have been fine with that, and she would have found herself walking through the festival all alone.
She would have been alone, but she still would have felt like she was participating by walking through it.
That would have made her painfully aware that she was a part of this world.
If she had bought something at a festival stand, it would have been proof of her existence.
It would have been proof that she was an element of the festival.
…I am such a cheap person.
She liked things simple.
Or maybe I am surprisingly spoiled, she thought as she swung her sword outside of her imagination.
A close look showed a faint shadow cut by in front of her.
It was likely a waitress for the café being run from the classroom. The shadow on her hand had to be a tray.
Mikoku directed her attack around the waitress.
Her opponent received the attack and made an attack of his own, but his slash was the same as hers.
She realized that both of them had been avoiding the faint shadows throughout the entire fight.
…Are you participating in the festival, too?
In a way, treating the unseen and invisible no differently from anything else was restrictive.
As they fought, they eliminated the primary advantage of the empty concept space.
But what is wrong with that? thought Mikoku as she ran out into the hallway.
Her enemy pursued and she made an attack from behind the door, but his wooden sword passed over his head to block her blade with a solid sound.
She back-stepped and rushed down the hallway toward the emergency staircase.
She held back her opponent by throwing a knife hidden on the back of her armored uniform.
She then reached backwards while making sure not to get in the way of the barely-visible shadows.
She reached toward the end of the hallway and the emergency exit.
She grabbed the knob, turned it as her enemy approached, and pressed her back against it to move the heavy door.
She ran outside onto the concrete emergency staircase and sensed something.
It was not the night air, the moonlight, the wind, or the darkness.
She only sensed a broader version of the scene glimpsed through the classroom window, the height of her vantage point, and…
From that second story landing, she looked out on the schoolyard, the neighboring school building, the people there, the scenes of morning, noon, and night that had to exist there, and the current festival.
She imagined it all.
And she sensed something about this place.
…It is a little different.
This was not a classroom, it was not closed off, and it gave a splendid view.
There were other elevated spots and other locations exposed to the breeze, but this was the only one a few steps from the classroom.
She was certain someone had a habit of gathering here.
People who found their position inside the school to be somewhat lacking would come here as a privilege of knowing about it, and they would speak with the people walking down below and the people who arrived through the door.
She suddenly realized some writing in the schoolyard sand was plastered on the wall.
…What is this?
She tried to check the ten or so lines of text, but the door suddenly opened before her.
It was her enemy.
“So you will not let me take my time!?”
She clicked her tongue once, intercepted with her sword, and thought as she immediately jumped down from the landing.
This was a fun time, but the festival would eventually end.
…How will the festival end?
She knew how it needed to happen.
Deep in her heart, she pictured a certain girl for the briefest of moments.
She was certain that girl would be happy and that her happiness was completely unrelated to Top-Gear or Low-Gear.
So Mikoku carved into herself a method to end this that would allow for that.
She had a power of her own.
And as she sensed her parents with her here, she made up her mind.
This was a conclusion that only she could bring about.
Sayama ran alongside Mikoku as he chased her into the schoolyard.
He slipped through the dancing and rotating shadows, spun around in his pursuit of Mikoku, and was sometimes pursued himself.
…What a strange opponent.
He felt her skill with the sword was a bit higher than his own. He was a skilled martial artist, but he simply did not have as much experience with swords.
Rather than blocking and striking back, Mikoku more often evaded and charged in or evaded and moved away.
She primarily fought at close range, as if assuming she could always dodge.
…Perhaps that is due to her regeneration concept.
Even if she could not avoid an attack, it would not be fatal for her.
But a normal person was different.
If they failed to avoid an attack and the blade cut even a centimeter into their wrist, they would never hold a sword again.
She did not need to worry about that, but…
…Oddly enough, I sense no carelessness in her.
According to Gyes, Mikoku’s regeneration had reached abnormal speeds. She had speculated that not even the mechanical speed of the automatons would be enough to fully destroy Mikoku.
For Mikoku itself, it would have distanced her from death.
She could afford to be careless.
And yet she moved vigorously and confidently while making sure to avoid the surrounding shadows, as if following Sayama’s own lead there.
…She is not careless. She is confident.
She knew that she would not die and that she was protected by her power, so had that relief widened her field of vision?
This is dangerous, he thought.
When people on the verge of death were shown their impending doom, they generally gave up and fell into that doom. When they knew they were on the verge of death in the first place, they would give up more quickly when it was placed right before their eyes.
It was the ones who overcame that fate that were the most dangerous. Even when death was right before their eyes, they would sometimes fail to notice it or shrug it off as irrelevant.
Mikoku had taken a step into that territory.
…This is bad.
However, there were a few ways to defeat someone with powerful regeneration.
To regenerate was to not die, but that still allowed them to be defeated or beaten.
Grabbing and restricting their joints would prevent them from moving, which was enough for victory.
Strangling them and cutting off their brain’s oxygen supply would knock them unconscious, which was also a way to victory.
Both were an extension of martial arts and something he excelled at.
That was why he stayed close to her but backed away when she got too close.
And at the moment, he moved in to attack.
She would occasionally throw a knife to keep him away, but he kept up with her otherwise.
Before long, the two of them reached the center of the schoolyard.
Mikoku was to the south and Sayama to the north.
They were both near their staring points, their heavy breathing appeared white in the air, and they were covered in sweat.
“…no need to stop.”
They spoke in unison and they both leaned forward.
They ran toward the conclusion.
They ran toward the conclusion of the world they both supported.
“The clashing of swords sounds wonderful.”
A voice joined the sound of wood on metal and the sound of quick evasions.
“It is a nice sound.”
One or the other of them spoke from the darkness and shadows.
“To be honest, I have no real grudge against you.”
The other replied as if accepting those words.
“I feel similarly about you. You are my opposite, but I have no further connection to you.”
Their swords clanged together.
“Then why are we fighting?”
Their feet sounded loudly on the ground.
“Because our respective positions demand it.”
They stepped away from each other on the sand and raised their swords.
“Then it would seem we both enjoy troublesome things.”
The metal sword produced a metallic noise.
“We may be similar.”
The other took a step.
“If we are similar, are two of us really necessary?”
They moved forward.
“If you could fulfill my role, then perhaps not.”
The wooden sword attacked.
“It is too bad.”
The metal sword attacked.
“We have reached an impasse.”
The wood blocked and repelled.
“There are enjoyments that only I can do. …What about you?”
Next, the metal blocked and repelled.
“Yes, I too have things that only I can do.”
The opponent spun around to attack repeatedly.
“And you cannot give them up?”
Footsteps blocked them with a wind of evasion.
A pursuing strike rang out.
“Nor can I.”
A second strike followed.
“If neither of us can give those things up, then what are we fighting for?”
Someone side-flipped over the ground to dodge.
“That should be obvious.”
They stood and began to move again.
“To ensure the things which we cannot give up.”
They pursued some more.
“I am glad you were my opponent.”
One of them ran.
“Crushing something which someone refuses to give up will pain my great heart, but…”
The other also ran.
“You are willing to do so if it is your other self?”
One moved in to attack.
“Yes, that is right.”
They attacked each other.
“Hey… What were our parents like in your world?”
They evaded at the same time.
“What about in yours?”
They attacked at the same time.
“So they were the same.”
They locked swords at the same time.
“Yes, they must have been the same.”
The two weapons creaked from the strain they put on each other.
“Hey, don’t you think this fight might be meaningless?”
A short silence followed.
“What a coincidence. But don’t you also think that this fight can be given meaning?”
One of them breathed in.
They repelled each other to put some distance between them.
“Yes, you understand, don’t you? The two who will cause the least possible damage to the world should settle this.”
As soon as they landed, they kicked off the sand to dash.
“Hey, Sayama Mikoto.”
Running footsteps approached.
“What, Toda Mikoku?”
They continued to approach.
“Are we the same?”
The approached without end.
They approached too close to measure.
They prepared their weapons.
The wooden sword was held at the ready on the left side.
The metal sword was raised up and back in two hands.
“We are the same person.”
And the two swords were swung.
“We are nothing more than that.”
Mikoku swung her sword straight down toward Sayama.
Her sword could carve life, but he did not hesitate.
He stepped forward and drew his wooden sword from a crouched stance.
Getting the distance of a sword strike right was tricky while running, but he calmly pulled it off.
His blade would arrive directly below the wide crescent moon arc of hers, but it would not arrive in time.
She briefly narrowed her eyes, but followed through with her attack.
She immediately heard a certain sound.
It was the dull sound of something tearing into the ground.
She then saw Sayama charging toward her from his lowered stance.
For some reason, Totsuka had not swung all the way down. It had instead stopped about a meter off the ground.
The reason was obvious: Mukiti’s wooden sword.
Sayama’s weapon was stabbed into the ground like a stake.
He had not been preparing to attack Mikoku with it.
He had instead drawn Totsuka in and caught it on the bottom of Mukiti.
Totsuka’s power attempted to carve into the life of the wooden sword, but…
Air blew out as it resisted. The powers of two Concept Cores collided, trembled, and cried out.
Mikoku reflexively fell back with Totsuka in hand.
In that instant, Sayama straightened up after charging in below Totsuka.
His left shoulder hit the weapon and tore his clothing, but he continued running regardless.
His forward movement cut his clothing further and blood sprayed from his shoulder.
“By the name of Mikoto, I command the concepts of 2nd-Gear.”
He punched Totsuka’s blade from below.
Mikoku realized her weapon had flown up and out of her hands.
She had been holding Totsuka’s hilt, so her arms were pulled up and her body left wide open.
Sayama charged toward her and she immediately realized this could lead to the conclusion she desired.
Sayama did not hesitate.
He threw a right hook into Mikoku’s gut.
Just as she doubled over and her chin lowered, he unclenched his left fist.
And he threw a chop.
Her face wobbled and her body was knocked backwards thanks to the previous hit.
The flat-handed blow to the chin had shaken her head on her neck.
The greater the speed, the more her brain was shaken in her skull and the more control she lost.
This was known as a concussion and that was what had happened to Mikoku.
She might still have had control of her limbs, but with her brain taken out, she would not be able to stand.
But to win, Sayama would need to pin her down or something along those lines.
That was the way to defeat this immortal girl, this other version of himself, without giving her a chance to resist.
And at about the same time, he heard a sound.
It was the sound of breaking wood and it came from Mukiti’s wooden sword.
To the left, mist rose from the broken sword and it moved like a cobra rearing its head.
It flew toward the collection of Concept Cores to their right, where Mukiti’s small transportation pallet waited.
According to the rules, he would lose if he lost the Concept Core.
But Totsuka had been knocked into the air and Mikoku was unable to fight, so if he restrained her here…
…It will be a tie.
Everything would end in equilibrium.
“That is the conclusion I wanted!”
Sayama had decided he would not allow a division between winner and loser, even if he had to force it.
He was prepared to do whatever it took to ensure everyone was on equal footing.
Low-Gear and Top-Gear had their own circumstances and righteousness.
…But we must face each other and accept that we are equal!
They had held a trial and fought, so he felt there could be nothing more they had to do. And…
“You feel the same, don’t you!?”
He shouted his question and ran over as Mikoku’s knees gave out and she began to collapse.
As he started forward, Sayama saw hostility before his eyes.
It was the tip of a blade.
It was a knife.
It was one Mikoku had hidden on the back of her armored uniform.
He reflexively jumped back.
And he grabbed the knife from midair.
His eyes had focused on the blade and it took them a brief moment to focus back on the girl.
In that vague but instantaneous time, he asked a question in his heart.
The question came from the knife in his hand.
She had to have thrown the knife after letting go of Totsuka.
It would have been when her arms were raised, leaving her body unguarded. She had to have thrown the blade while receiving his attack.
But, he thought. That is not something she could have suddenly decided to do.
At the very least, she had to have made the decision before the pair of attacks leading to the concussion.
And that suggested something to Sayama.
…Did she predict my attack?
But that question brought two new questions.
First, if she had predicted it, why had she let it hit?
And second, what had she been trying to do by taking an attack that would keep her from moving?
At the same time, his eyes focused on what lay before him.
From seven meters away, he saw Mikoku collapsing backwards as her knees lost their strength.
But that was not all.
Only then did he realize what she was trying to do.
She held a knife in her right hand.
As she fell, she forcibly moved her right arm via brute strength.
A moment later, Sayama saw his other self swing her blade.
Having predicted what she would do, he cried out.
She held the knife in a backhand grip and pressed it against the back of her own head.
He heard a dull sound as she plunged the knife up to the base into the back right side of her neck.
And she pulled it forward, toward Sayama.
She was trying to cut through her medulla oblongata to reset the trembling of the concussion.
And she did just that.
Mikoku felt her mind grow instantly clear, so she calmly stood up.
She had a smile on her face and sweat covered her brow, but she kept her eyes pointed straight forward.
Totsuka spun as it fell from overhead and the pieces of the wooden sword lay abandoned on the ground.
Now that she was alive and could move, the result was obvious.
“If I catch Totsuka as it falls, I suppose I will win.”
Sayama shook his head and remained in a defensive stance.
“I will not wait. If I catch that sword, I will win.”
She extended her right hand up toward the falling blade.
She slowly bent backwards as she did.
“Sayama Mikoto, you were attempting to incapacitate me so that we would tie, weren’t you? It is true that I cannot be defeated in any other way…generally, anyway.”
Sayama took a half step forward, but she shook her head.
She tried to catch Totsuka as it spun down from directly overhead, but he gave a shout at that exact moment.
“Wait, Toda Mikoku!”
“I will not wait. I made the same decision as you…but chose a different method.”
She had her own way of bringing the world into equilibrium.
“I know my only skill lies in fighting and that everyone sees me as Top-Gear’s final leader.”
“Sorry, but I will take all of the responsibility onto myself. …Accept this tie and forgive them all. You understand, don’t you? Even Hajji was a victim.”
“Wait!!” shouted Sayama. “Death is the worst possible option, Toda Mikoku!!”
As he stepped toward her, she threw a knife with her left hand to keep him away.
With both her arms raised, she spread those arms, leaned back, and left her chest entirely defenseless to the falling bearer of the conclusion.
In this concept space, that sword was aligned with the one whose name carved life.
The metal tip fell to pierce her chest and the philosopher’s stone embedded there.
Her regeneration power and her life were there.
But Totsuka’s blade could carve life, so if it broke the philosopher’s stone and stabbed her, she would die.
This was the conclusion Mikoku desired.
If she was gone, Top-Gear would lose its leader. Shino would choose a life of happiness and so would Tatsumi. Even Alex would be able to live out his remaining life in peace.
And if she bore all responsibility herself, Hajji and the others who had fought alongside her would not be harmed.
Low-Gear would be unable to demand any other sacrifices or anything else unreasonable.
She was still worried about the negative concepts, but if Noah began to wake up, she was certain that Noah herself would do something about it.
…It will be okay.
Shino was not by her side, but with her parents’ power inside her, she was not alone.
That knowledge was enough.
Even if she lost her life, she would not feel lonely.
Her fight would end here.
So she raised her head toward the heavens and held her chest up toward the blade that would pierce her.
Just before it all happened, a girl rushed onto the battlefield.
She ran a short distance to charge in from outside the field of vision of the two focused on themselves.
The girl embraced Mikoku who was trying to end it all by taking her own life.
She embraced her, pushed, and a moment later, the falling metal sword pierced through her bent back and toward her chest.
With a dull sound, the girl stopped moving as if she had tripped forward and her outstretched arms clung tightly to Mikoku.
After a rustling of cloth, the sword in her back collapsed under its own weight.
It fell toward the girl’s waist, which also moved the girl.
It moved the girl’s raised body closer to Mikoku.
The movement was accompanied by a wet sound as the thick blade sank into her gut and fell out through her back.
The sound of the sword falling to the sand-covered ground rang heavily through the air.
Afterwards, only a breath could be heard.
It sounded like all air was leaving the girl’s lungs.
Mikoku did not understand.
What had just happened before her eyes?
What had happened to her?
Why was Shino here?
Why had Shino stopped her?
She did not understand any of that, but she did understand one thing: what was going to happen to Shino now.
Mikoku stood in a daze as Shino leaned up against her. Her bent arms caught on Mikoku’s armored uniform and she finally managed to stand on her trembling legs.
But Mikoku did not know what to do.
Only a tenseness that was not even a breath escaped her throat.
But she could feel the heat and trembling coming from Shino.
Shino’s heat was spilling on Mikoku’s stomach and dripping down her waist and thighs.
She did not know what, why, or how. She could not even go mad, she could not run away, she could not breathe in or out, and so she said nothing. All she could do was somehow listen to Shino’s faint voice.
How is this good? There is nothing remotely-
“Mikoku, you’re a coward, so I thought you might do this. Because you’re a coward…”
Wait. Wait. Please wait. Don’t…don’t say anything.
If you do… If you do… If you say it… If you say it…it will sound like goodb-
“And because you’re kind.”
She heard a voice say “I’m sorry”.
She tried to say “wait” but could not. She could not say it, so she remained silent. And as that silence felt like some kind of punishment, Shino’s voice continued with a hint of happiness and even some faint joy mixed in.
“I’d always known it…but it was so obvious…that I’d forgotten.”
Shino raised her lowered head.
Don’t look at me. Don’t. I have no idea what kind of awful look I have on my face.
But Shino did look at her and gave her a smile that made her want to tell her to stop.
“You’re actually the kindest person of all, aren’t you? That’s why you’re so fearful and why you try to avoid hurting anyone. …That’s who you are, isn’t it?”
Shino mouthed the words “I’m sorry”.
She closed her eyes as she smiled.
Seeing that smile, Mikoku’s face crumpled and she opened her mouth.
Her voice – her trembling voice – finally escaped.
Shino’s eyes opened a bit, but she only nodded with a gentle smile and lowered her head.
“From now on, you can be kind without having to fear, okay? After all… After all, I’m already living without my concept…and everyone is so kind to me.”
Shino’s body sank into Mikoku’s chest. She felt like nothing more than a limp mass of lingering heat.
“I won’t be a burden on you anymore, so…”
With those words, the last hint of strength left Shino’s body.
So Mikoku embraced her.
And she realized Shino wore a red cloisonné pendant along with her half-broken blue pendant.
She realized Shino had continued to wear it all this time.
Sayama found himself collapsed on the ground.
He did not know what had happened.
He remembered trying to stop Mikoku and that she had thrown a knife when he had tried to approach.
Just as he had tried to brush it out of the way, a girl had run out in front of Mikoku.
It had been Shino.
She had likely used an unstable method to enter the concept space because an odd distortion had accompanied her appearance and it had happened so suddenly.
Confused by the sudden event, the knife had approached before his eyes.
He looked down at his own collapsed form and found a face there.
He also saw long hair bound by a ribbon and a school uniform.
Shinjou smiled bitterly as she clung to his chest.
“Sorry about interrupting.”
Those words left him speechless.
It was true she had interrupted. She had interfered while the representatives of Low-Gear and Top-Gear settled their dispute.
Seeing Shino had surprised him enough to briefly lose sight of the knife, but that was his responsibility. He could not let the interference of someone other than the Low-Gear representative help him avoid a weapon thrown by the Top-Gear representative.
…It is true she saved me.
As he wondered what he should say, he noticed something.
He held up his left hand which had been wrapped around Shinjou’s back.
Enough dark-red covered his left palm to drip from it.
He got up and realized Shinjou’s body was limp and heavy.
Her bitter smile was the soft expression of someone about to fall asleep.
He looked past her smile and saw Mikoku’s knife sticking from her back.
It was on the left side of her back and the red stain grew with the same timing as her pulse.
It will be okay. Calm down. Yes, he told himself.
He suddenly remembered his mother.
She too had protected him from an attack and embraced him. What had happened to her afterwards?
The pain inside him linked with reality.
The pain in his chest linked not to his mother and the others he had lost but instead to Shinjou who he held to his chest.
He embraced her and let out a yell.
A pair of cries rang throughout the dark space.
And something answered them.
The girl’s bestial cry was answered by two objects that flew down from the sky.
One was a badly-damaged mechanical dragon and the other was a similarly-damaged white giant.
The white giant fell down almost vertically and the girl standing on its shoulder looked down to the ground.
The girl in Mikoku’s arms was covered in scarlet.
Mikoku’s chest was bared.
She was trying to use a knife to dig out the philosopher’s stone buried at the base of her throat so she could give it to the girl in her arms.
But every wound she made was instantly filled, she could not fulfill her wish, and she simply opened her mouth and wailed.
Her voice sounded like a scream or cry of anguish and the girl falling with the white giant closed her eyes.
She wrinkled her brow and audibly gulped.
“I’m sorry, Alex.”
“Do not apologize, Tatsumi. I am here to make sure you do not have to.”
“I see.” Tatsumi nodded with the ends of her eyebrows lowered. “I will take Mikoku’s side no matter what happens.”
“My emotions are nothing compared to hers.”
“Neither are mine. If this comes down to a conflict between reason and emotion…then I prefer the latter, Tatsumi.”
“I see,” said Tatsumi with another nod.
She then opened her eyes, looked down at the girl crying on the fast-approaching ground, reached out a hand, and raised her eyebrows.
Tatsumi gave a shout to drown out the cries coming from the depths of the earth.
“Release your desire! This is a place of conclusion! You are Top-Gear’s representative, so we will follow whatever decision you make!”
Mikoku looked up.
Her eyes wavered from the tears and her hair was a mess, so Tatsumi briefly closed her eyes again.
But Tatsumi quickly brought her expression in order and breathed in to gather strength.
“Wish for whatever it is you desire!!”
At the same time, Alex and the white god of war slammed wind against the earth and landed.
The two of them heard Mikoku’s voice in the whipping wind.
They were quiet yet distinct words.
“Give her back…”
Mikoku shouted words of emotion that were impossible yet that everyone had wished for at some point.
She extended her bloody right hand toward Tatsumi and strongly spread the fingers.
“Give her back!!”
In that instant, Tatsumi closed her eyes, accepted it all, and nodded.
She then took action to grant her leader’s request.
A gust of wind raced across the earth and ascended into the sky.
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