Owari no Chronicle:Volume2 Chapter 17
Chapter 17: Tranquil Flowers
Peaceful, peaceful, peaceful
The noisier the person, the more they desire silence
The noisier the person, the more they sink into silence
Brunhild’s awakening began with surprise.
A slight sensation suddenly came to her right cheek.
Her shoulders shook and she opened her eyes. She looked at her right shoulder, but saw nothing there.
What was that? she wondered as she saw an unfamiliar scene. She was not in her usual dim dorm room. The ceiling was tall and bookshelves were lined up. She could see the light of morning.
The clock on the wall was larger than the one in her dorm room and it read 6:30 AM. Seeing that time caused her to panic slightly. Her panic raised her heart rate which swept away the last of her drowsiness. A clear question floated up in her mind.
“Where am I?”
This was not her dorm room. It was some other place. It was somewhere larger and warmer.
She focused on her vision, but all she could see were the tall ceiling, the bookshelves, and the large space. However, Brunhild recognized it. Her memories took the form of words.
“The library counter.”
She was sleeping on a chair rather than a bed. The fact that she had fallen asleep, the stove next to her, and the green blanket someone had placed over her all made her feel she had failed.
However, she wondered how long it had been since someone had last placed a blanket over her. She had just woken up, but she placed the blanket over her shoulder where it had slipped down some and gave herself in to its warmth.
As she did, she saw what had woken her. A small form stood on the blanket near her chest.
The sunlight entering through the window between two bookshelves and the light from the ceiling illuminated a small bird with a blue head and black wings.
Brunhild’s eyes met with the bird’s. The bird raised its tail and chirped quietly.
Brunhild stopped moving.
A small voice escaped her lips and the ends of her eyebrows lowered.
She moved her hands to lift up the blanket and gently held the bird through the blanket.
With a creak from the chair, Brunhild stood up. The small bird tilted its head on top of her hand and the blanket. It pecked at the inside of its wings, but it otherwise remained still.
“You can jump out of the box, but you still can’t fly, can you?”
Brunhild held her hand out toward the cardboard box.
The bird jumped from the slope of the blanket and into the box.
The state of the box’s contents had changed from the night before. The food dish now had tiny yellow grains in it.
It was millet. Siegfried would scatter it for the birds in the morning and it appeared the bird had pecked at it some while Brunhild slept. However, the bird looked up at Brunhild and opened its upturned mouth.
A comment on the bird came from the side.
“It seems to have taken a liking to you.”
That low voice was followed by a white paper cup in an outstretched hand. Both steam and a slightly sour smell rose from the cup. It contained coffee.
Brunhild turned toward the person holding out the cup.
A tall old man stood there. It was Siegfried. He nodded once.
“After drinking this, take your bird and cat and leave,” he said to emphasize what she should do.
The old man placed the cup on the counter.
He turned his back, put out the stove, and began organizing the objects below the counter.
Brunhild placed the blanket over the chair and woke the black cat sleeping curled up below the chair. The cat stood up and looked around. Its sleepy eyes turned toward Siegfried’s back.
The cat nodded once and tapped at Brunhild’s leg.
It pointed its front right leg toward Siegfried before bringing its front paws together as if in prayer.
Brunhild nodded and stood.
“Um,” she muttered under her breath. She touched her face to find it held the same expressionless look as ever. Her hair was disheveled, but she decided it was within acceptable limits. She picked up the cup from the counter and took a sip of coffee.
She felt as if this was the first time in a long time that she had tasted actual food or drink. The remnants of her tension had left an odd iron taste in her mouth, but the coffee washed it away.
The taste seemed to warm her body. After drinking the entire cup of coffee, she realized there had been sugar at the bottom. But she could not have done anything about it because she had no spoon. She almost gave a bitter smile toward the crouching back that continued to organize things below the counter.
She regained her proper expression. The cup produced a light noise as she placed it on the counter. She knew what she had to say.
“Sorry about…last night.”
“You mean your sudden visit?”
“There is that,” Brunhild replied to the back’s question. “But you kept me warm even after I fell asleep and you gave me soup…”
“My help was already over by the time you fell asleep. Do not worry about it. You asked me for help. At that point, you only needed to fall asleep.”
As he spoke, Siegfried picked up some documents.
As he slowly turned around, Brunhild tried to take a silent step back. However, something pressed up against the back of her lower leg. It was the black cat’s back.
Brunhild stopped moving backwards. She faced Siegfried. He was two heads taller than her. Brunhild looked up at his blue eyes. His eyes held no emotion and Brunhild realized the look in his eyes was the same as hers.
She felt danger. Not from him but from her past. Holding any more emotional bonds was dangerous.
And so she lowered her head in order to avert her gaze.
“Thank you very much.”
She thought about what to do next. First, she would raise her head. Second, she would pick up the bird’s box. Third, she would turn around. Fourth, she would casually kick the black cat. And fifth, she would walk to the door. She began to implement this plan.
And she was suddenly stopped at the very first step.
When she began to raise her head, something large gently pressed down on it from above.
It was Siegfried’s hand. He was stroking her head.
“You did well.”
She could feel her cheeks reddening at his words and the sensation passing through her hair.
“P-please stop that.”
She shook her head and tried to place her hands on her head in order to escape his hand. She hurriedly placed her arms on the cardboard box for the small bird so she could carry it. She turned around.
And when she turned her head to glance back, she saw Siegfried with the exact same look on his face as before.
Those words caused Brunhild to realize why she had avoided him.
She averted her gaze, fully turned her back to him, and lowered the edges of her eyebrows.
“No… I was just a bit surprised.”
“I used to know a girl who loved it when I did that.”
Brunhild shut her eyes when she heard that statement.
“…Zonburg-san?” she said.
“What is it?”
“Why did you decide to save this bird last night?”
“You decided to save the bird because I asked you to?”
After she cut off Siegfried’s answer with that question, she received a short silence in response.
Brunhild took a breath. She took one, two, three, four, five breaths. On the fifth, she received her answer.
“It is a means of atonement for me. Even if it is going against the law of nature…”
Brunhild opened her eyes and listened to his voice.
“I do not want to lose what cannot be regained.”
Brunhild moved slightly when she heard that. She brought the arms carrying the box closer to her chest and walked toward the door.
All strength had left her body without her realizing it.
As she wondered why, Brunhild reached the door and opened it.
Siegfried’s voice arrived from behind.
“If anything else happens or you need to leave for a bit, you can leave the bird with me.”
Brunhild nodded and walked out into the hallway. She closed the door. This was a school hallway, but it was the early morning during spring break. The entranceway was dimly lit and the air was cold.
That darkness and chilliness awoke her body rather than her mind.
And even though her body woke, it still felt weak.
Brunhild sighed. She walked to the central lobby and leaned up against the wall. She felt the box up against her chest and the cold wall against her back. The bird’s chirping and the coldness on her back caused her body to tremble.
The black cat arrived at her feet.
“Are you okay? Maybe you should rest in the art room instead of walking back to the dorm.”
“Yes,” said Brunhild with a nod.
She sucked in a breath, looked up at the ceiling, opened her mouth, and straightened her throat.
I look like the small bird asking for food, she thought.
She brought air into her lungs and contemplated why her body felt so weary.
She did not know.
But she did understand one thing: Siegfried.
Brunhild closed her eyes and mouth and lowered her face.
She closed herself up but thought with her heart. She thought on what she had learned after sixty years:
He had not forgotten either.
The large clock on the school wall indicated it was 9:00 AM.
It was spring break, so the bell did not ring. Instead, a motorcycle engine could be heard.
A black touring motorcycle passed through the main entrance and continued toward the parking lot behind the dorms. A couple rode it. They were Izumo and Kazami.
The motorcycle engine ceased to rev as it came up alongside the line of school buildings. With his brown coat fluttering in the wind, Izumo gripped the clutch letting the engine go free. He placed his heel on the ground and lowered their speed.
He removed his helmet with his right hand and muttered to no one in particular.
“…So being stubborn will leave you sleep deprived.”
“Sorry about having you come with me,” said Kazami who was riding tandem.
Izumo stopped the motorcycle and turned around. The girl wearing a warm sleeveless top and a men’s leather jacket held her helmet along with her rucksack.
Kazami’s expression had her eyebrows bent downwards a bit. Nevertheless, she had a smile on her lips. After seeing her face, Izumo looked forward once more.
“Well, I’ll stick with you until we get an agreement.”
“Sorry. I think it will be like this at least until Sayama decides for himself.”
“Really, it doesn’t bother me that much. Will your friend have the new song done in time for the Zenren Festival in May? We’re already printing posters for the school band competition.”
“We have enough songs stocked up. And if it comes down to it, I can head home and beg for help from my father, so everything will be fine.”
Izumo glanced back to see Kazami nod and change her expression. Her eyebrows rose slightly and her eyes looked straight up at him.
“Friends are important, but there is something else we need to prioritize. Let’s start there.”
“The Leviathan Road?”
“Yes. As the ones who are already involved, isn’t there something we should be showing him?”
“Yeah, I can think of some things he would want to see. Like-…Ah, wait! I didn’t say anything yet!”
“Tch. You’re getting smarter.”
Kazami lowered the right fist she had raised in order to tear into Izumo.
She sighed. The collar of her jacket slipped from her limp shoulder.
Something other than skin was visible on Kazami’s bared right shoulder.
Izumo reached out his hand without warning. He placed the hand on Kazami’s slightly cold collarbone.
“Ah…What is it?”
Kazami cowered down a bit as she wrapped her arms around her rucksack and helmet, but Izumo quickly moved his hand to her shoulder. As she looked up with a troubled expression, he showed her what he held between his fingers.
It was a small yellow flower petal.
Kazami’s expression clouded over when she saw its color and shape. She cast her eyes down a bit and her eyebrows drooped.
When she opened her mouth to speak, Izumo suddenly shoved his finger and the flower petal inside her mouth.
“Nn!” gasped Kazami before swallowing the flower petal.
Izumo pulled out his finger and said, “Listen. That gloomy look isn’t like you at-…Ow ow ow! Dammit, now this is more like you!”
“Shut up! Why would you do that all of a sudden!?”
“You don’t like it all of a sudden? Okay, next time I’ll ask permission first.”
“That! Is! Not! The! Issue!!”
Kazami’s repeated blows rang out in staccato. She struck him in the body, hit his face with a left-handed backhanded blow to the left when his head stuck forward, hit him in his unguarded right flank with a hook, and began a left-handed uppercut.
But she stopped there. Izumo took a breath while waiting for the uppercut that should have come.
“H-huh? This feels inadequa-…no, I mean. What’s the matter, Chisato?”
“I hear an organ,” replied Kazami as she pointed toward the second year general school building which they could see the back of from there.
Izumo turned an ear in that direction and realized he could hear it, too. It was coming from the music room on the second floor of the building.
“Is that Silent Night? You do hear it on occasion. Does that room have bad soundproofing or something?”
“No music room would have bad soundproofing. Look, the window is open.”
Izumo looked up toward the second floor and the music room’s window was indeed open.
“See?” said Kazami. “The art room and music room actually have excellent soundproofing. We use the music room for practice, so I know.”
“You say that, but we sure could hear that bird from above while in the Kinugasa Library yesterday.”
“It must have passed through the ventilation. …You never hear anything while up above because the library’s supply room is always quiet.” Kazami’s gaze stopped on the third floor. “That’s unusual. One of the art room’s curtains is open. …Oh, it’s Schild’s black cat.”
Drawn in by Kazami’s last word more than anything else, Izumo looked up at the art room’s window on the third floor. A single black cat sat in the window. The cat did not seem to have noticed them. Kazami held her helmet up against her chest.
“How cute. That kind of cat is just perfect for a completely cement-like German girl like Schild.”
“I think the things you say are a lot more cement-like…”
The instant Izumo looked over at Kazami, she gasped and her eyes opened wide in surprise.
Izumo followed her gaze to the art room window to find the curtain closed.
“Th-the cat just closed the curtain. It closed it. It really did!”
“I-it stood up, grabbed it with its paws, and tugged like this.”
“I see. …You seem to be having a hard time of it, Chisato.”
Without saying anything more, Izumo faced forward and kicked off the ground to begin driving once more.
“Now, then. Let’s head back and get some sleep.”
“Please believe me!!”
As Izumo’s back shook from repeated blows, he muttered with an annoyed expression.
“Is it really that surprising in the world we live in?”
Sayama arrived at an IAI-affiliated hospital located across the Tama River from IAI.
Shinjou had come from the IAI lobby and brought him to the central of the five white buildings making up the hospital. Shinjou showed a card at the reception desk and they were led to a staircase to the side of the reception desk.
They walked down approximately five floors and passed through a few barriers that opened up before them. They arrived at a stairway that split off in two directions and Sayama followed Shinjou down the left path. There he found…
“A room? Is it a waiting room leading to a large hall?”
At the end of the staircase were a small cement room and a dark space that opened beyond it.
The northern end of the room had a large elevator, but the floor number display did not go up to the first floor. It ran from B3 down to B7.
Sayama frowned at the atmosphere of the room. Baku’s nose twitched from where he sat on Sayama’s shoulder.
Sayama recognized the smell in the room. It was the scent of incense. He had recently smelled it at his grandfather’s funeral.
And he could hear the sounds of an air conditioner.
Both the smell and the sounds came from the dark space beyond the room.
The room had a stone sink with running water, a trashcan next to it, and a waiting room sofa. The trash can contained tall, withered flowers and white cloth.
Shinjou turned around in the center of the room to face Sayama. She removed her brown jacket to reveal a black shirt and black trousers below. Only the scarf around her neck was white.
“U-um. This is my second time, but…well…this is…”
“You do not have to say it. If you had told me we would be coming here, I would have worn mourning clothes.”
“Ooshiro-san told me to bring you by before the negotiations. He raised his thumb like this.”
“Is that why you do not look very cheerful today? You did not seem to be listening when I told you about your brother’s arrival.”
“Oh, th-that’s right. Sorry. Here, take this.”
Shinjou pulled a black necktie and a small plastic bag from the inner pocket of the jacket hanging from her hand. The necktie was for the funeral and inside the plastic bag was…
“These are the objects I had on me the day before yesterday.”
It contained an IAI cell phone that could record audio and video with its microphone and camera, a handheld digital voice recorder, and a black leather seal case.
“I was told the pens and broken watch were sent in for analysis.”
Sayama first took the plastic bag and opened it. The handheld recorder’s battery was dead.
“Did someone accidentally switch it on?”
He placed it in his pocket along with the cell phone and seal before placing the plastic bag on the sofa.
Sayama removed his current necktie in an instant and took the black necktie from Shinjou.
He tilted his head, wrapped the tie around his neck, and tied it.
“Oh, it’s a bit crooked.”
Shinjou walked over and grabbed the tie.
As she held the knot in place with her right hand, the ring on her middle finger glittered a bit. Shinjou fixed the tie, took a step back, gave a small groan, and fixed it once more. She asked a question as she moved the base of the tie.
“How was Setsu?”
“It seems he decided to visit back home this morning. He was gone when I woke up.”
“Oh, um, that isn’t what I meant. What did you think of him?”
“I try not to speak about people when they are not present.”
That put a bitter smile on Shinjou’s face. She stroked Baku’s head as he sat on Sayama’s shoulder.
“That is just like you, Sayama-kun.”
“Is it? Well, there are some people for whom I have partially removed that restriction. Izumo and the old man, for example.”
“That is also just like you,” said Shinjou with a grin. She then asked, “Setsu said that you are a strange person.”
“Oh, that is probably because I suddenly checked over his body. It may have been a bit too soon for that.”
“I want to know what you think ‘a bit’ means…”
“Do not worry about it. I did it because I thought Setsu-kun might be you.”
“Eh?” asked Shinjou.
Sayama replied, “Last night, I thought about removing Setsu-kun’s underwear while he slept to see if he was you.”
“S-Sayama-kun? …Are you crazy?”
“How rude. …How about I ask you why you are tying my necktie with a smile on your face?”
“Am I not allowed to do that? And, well, Setsu is a boy. You understand what I mean, right?”
“Yes, I do. And I have only just met him. That is why I have a request for you instead.”
“Eh? What is it?”
“I memorized the bodylines of Setsu-kun’s legs and butt last night. I would like to compare them to your body, so I can-…”
Before he could finish speaking, his tie was tightened to its limit.
A few minutes later, Sayama and Shinjou bowed in greeting and entered the next room. It was quite large. Stone platforms were arranged in four rows and five columns. Seven of them were currently in use.
Six of them were covered with white cloth and one was covered with black cloth.
Each of the cloths had flowers placed next to them. However, one of the white cloths was decorated with a light purple flower Sayama did not recognize.
“That is Primula modesta. It was growing in a flower bed behind UCAT. Sibyl, who is in charge of communications and maintenance, was picking them earlier. You haven’t met her yet have you, Sayama-kun? …I bet those flowers are from her.”
“I see. Who are these six?”
“The members of the advance unit. They pursued that werewolf. Their normal duty is that of guards, but they requested to be sent out because it was an emergency. It is UCAT’s job to capture suspicious people and radicals.”
And to know how that turned out, I only need to look in front of me, thought Sayama. So this is why Shinjou-kun told me I should decline the Leviathan Road.
Shinjou pulled an unopened package of incense sticks and a lighter from her back trouser pocket. The cheap and well-used lighter belonged to Ooshiro. It had his name and its intended location (“On top of the TV”) written in marker.
She lit it.
The two of them each placed an incense stick next to and brought their hands together at each of the six stone platforms.
“We have permission from the families of that one and that one, so you can look at them.”
Sayama pressed his hands together once more before lifting up the cloth. He did not hesitate and he was not surprised. After his time with the Tamiya family and his grandfather, he had seen the same thing a few times.
However, this was the first time he had seen a body that had been ripped apart by a beast.
The first body looked as if the area from below the neck on the right to the left flank had been dug out with a shovel. It must have been gouged out by a poor-quality blade because white fragments of bone were visible within the blackened folds of flesh.
The second body had no visible external wounds aside from three large ones and some bruising on the head. However, the neck and abdomen had sunk in like a deflated balloon. That area must have been crushed with a powerful blow.
Sayama replaced the cloth and placed his hands together again. Shinjou did the same next to him.
Shinjou had said this was her second time, but her face still looked pale. Sayama showed no concern, however.
In this place, the dead took precedence.
Shinjou glanced over at the cloth hiding one of the bodies.
“It seems this incident has led to some second thoughts about the current system. Specifically, the entrance requirements for the special and standard divisions, the division of work, and the process for dealing with this sort of situation if it happens again.”
“If someone dies, how is their family told?”
“Official employees are said to be overseas while on active duty. In that case, the family is told there was an ‘accident’ while they were on guard duty in a dangerous part of the world. Any family members that are in UCAT are simply told the truth.”
“What if a student like Kazami died?”
“She is not connected to UCAT or IAI, so it would be said she was in an accident.” Shinjou looked up at Sayama. “Are you mad?”
“Of course not. It is only natural for a corporation to protect itself. And… With a conflict like this, they would never understand if you tried to tell the truth. I am sure each country’s UCAT works with the government and corporations to keep certain information hidden.”
“Yes,” said Shinjou with a nod.
Shinjou then looked toward the one remaining cloth. This was the black cloth located at a distance from the others.
Sayama had a guess who was below that cloth.
“Is that the werewolf from the day before yesterday?”
“Yes,” affirmed Shinjou.
She handed Sayama a piece of cloth she took from her back pocket. It was white canvas. It had something written on it with black paint.
“Placing this by the body on your first visit is the 1st-Gear custom.”
Sayama looked over and saw that a number of the pieces of cloth were placed at the body’s feet while the flowers were placed next to the head.
While Sayama placed the cloth, Shinjou dipped her finger in a glass cup of water placed next to the flowers. She let water drip down onto the cloth covering the chest.
Sayama did the same.
As he let the cold water drip down, his gaze stopped on the arrangement of the flowers.
In addition to the white flowers that had also been placed with the other six, there were two bouquets of yellow chrysanthemums. From the number of fallen flower petals, Sayama deduced that one bouquet had been brought the day before and the other today.
The water in the cup was cold and it contained no sediment or bubbles.
…So someone is properly watching over him.
Suddenly, his eyes moved to the stems of the chrysanthemum offerings. Each flower had a straight horizontal scrape fairly high up the stem.
Sayama sighed when he saw the slight watery green color in the scrapes.
“What is it, Sayama-kun?”
“Oh, it just seems I cannot help but be surrounded by softhearted people. But if that is who they want to be, I will go along with it.”
“Eh?” asked Shinjou as she tilted her head.
“Do not worry about it,” said Sayama.
He placed a hand on the top of the black cloth.
“Do we have permission for him?”
“Yes, we received it from both the peaceful faction and the ones we captured yesterday. …The Royal Palace Faction was it?”
“I see,” said Sayama with a nod.
They likely wanted to go into the negotiations with no secrets.
He brought his hands together, bowed, and lifted up the cloth.
In his mind, he was picturing the werewolf’s expression at the conclusion of their fight the day before yesterday.
…What will I think if that expression is still there?
He did not hesitate or show any surprise. He merely pulled the cloth down with that question in mind. However…
Below the cloth was a brown-haired foreign man. He had short, messy hair and an angular face. His eyes were closed, so his expression made it seem he was only sleeping.
Sayama heard Shinjou speak.
“The werewolves of 1st-Gear turn into wolves when they are tense. And they return to normal when that tension leaves. They can’t actually turn into wolves within the concepts of Low-Gear, but a philosopher’s stone making an inferior copy of 1st-Gear’s writing concept was found in his stomach. …Can you see the traces of that fight?”
Sayama looked closer and noticed the man’s lips were split and he had been stabbed in the center of the chest. The area around those wounds was burnt. That had been caused by Sayama’s watch and ballpoint pen.
A line as wide as a business card cut through his left and right sides. That was from Kazami’s sniper shot.
“Apparently, the peaceful faction gave permission to shoot to kill when they heard the situation.”
“He killed himself in the end… He must have known he had no allies left.”
Sayama placed the cloth back over the body.
He bowed and then glanced around the room. In that quiet, dimly lit hall were seven people who had already been lost.
…And the same could happen to me.
He thought for a moment and a single question came to him. This could happen to him, but if that did not happen…
“This could happen to someone else…”
As Shinjou let out a questioning voice, she and Sayama exchanged a glance.
Sayama looked into Shinjou’s black eyes and had a sudden thought:
Would Shinjou choose a battlefield on which she could be lost?
|Back to Chapter 16||Return to Main Page||Forward to Chapter 18|