Owari no Chronicle:Volume3 Chapter 9
Chapter 9: Blocked Perception
It is your heart that orders you to notice
And so you stand up
And so what should you do?
UCAT’s first basement contained a large cafeteria near the aboveground equipment exit.
The cafeteria was one hundred meters square and almost full. The eight-person tables were filled with people and the walls were lined with vending machines and air conditioners disguised as decorative plants.
The clocks attached to the ceiling at a set interval all read 6:15 PM. Night was falling.
Surrounded by a mixture of voices and footsteps, Sayama and the others sat at a table almost in the very center of the room.
“S-sorry. Changing took more time than I thought,” said Shinjou in her casual clothes.
She wore a white shirt and an orange skirt and she carried a bowl containing the cafeteria’s doria meal.
The seat next to Sayama was open, so she sat there and once more looked across the people around the table.
In addition to herself, Izumo and Kazami sat together and Sayama had Baku on his shoulder. Sibyl was the same as ever. They all had a meal in front of them and held the document copies Kazami and the others had brought.
Sayama passed her a copy and she looked over it.
“The giant humanoid machine and the Cowling Sword that sealed Yamata?”
“Both of them used 2nd-Gear technology. Also…”
“The project to construct Susaou began on March 12, 1945.”
Sayama seemed to contemplate the date he had spoken.
“Did something occur to you, Sayama-kun?”
“No, something caught my attention is all. I will mention it if I receive some kind of confirmation.”
Shinjou nodded and began flipping through the pages to store the knowledge in her head.
She suddenly realized Sayama was watching her from the side.
“What is it? Is there something on my face?”
“Yes. Eyes, a nose, a mouth, and hair.”
“That is an old joke, but that last part was a bit new. …Anyway, what is it?”
Sayama fell silent as he thought for a moment.
Surprisingly, he seemed to have difficulty saying something.
“It is nothing. I realized something while speaking with the old man earlier, but I have yet to decide what to do about it.”
“I see,” said Shinjou without pursuing the matter.
She did feel her pulse quicken a bit, though.
There was something she was thinking about as well.
It was something she had discussed with Ooshiro the night before.
She was currently bothered by that word.
…Is that what Sayama-kun started to say?
She had never mentioned the lie to him, but he was clever.
What would she do if he suddenly asked her about the truth she was hiding?
As she thought, Shinjou quickly shook her head.
This was no time to be thinking about herself.
“Anyway,” began Shinjou as she turned back to the document.
She had always been the type to read. Even on documents, writing had a way of stealing her attention.
A lot of the information was new to her.
She was surprised to see someone who was likely Ooshiro’s father listed as Susaou’s captain.
The great size of Susaou also surprised her.
Drawn in by those surprises, she read through the entire document without worrying about her food growing cold.
As she did, Sayama gave them the details of his meeting with Director Tsukuyomi of the development department.
After around fifteen minutes, she had finished reading it all.
She took a breath, arranged the papers into a proper stack, and checked everyone else’s progress.
Sibyl was rereading it through from the beginning again and again to memorize it, Kazami was flipping back and forth between pages, and Izumo…
“Wh-why is he sleeping with his eyes open, Kazami-san?”
“He thinks it’s funny. But look, Kaku, your beer is getting warm. Look.”
Even when she tapped his cheek, Izumo did not react.
He was fast asleep, so Kazami gave an exhausted sigh.
“Hey, Kaku. Wake up. C’mon, c’mon. Wake up. C’mon… Wake up!”
“Gah! …Ah, wh-what? Did something just explode next to my face?”
“What are you talking about? Here’s your beer.”
“O-oh. Thanks, Chisato. But I’m still a bit confused…”
Wow, thought Shinjou as she finished arranging her papers.
“So UCAT has a blank period in their data,” muttered Sayama as he arranged his own papers next to her. “Shinjou-kun, could you pass me the Worcestershire sauce?”
“Oh, sure. You put Worcestershire sauce on tempura?”
“The Tamiya family put soy sauce on everything, so I have been in a bit of a reactionary period ever since I moved to the dorm.”
“I see,” said Shinjou with a nod.
She had a white doria with soup and salad. Across from her, Sibyl had bread and white stew. Next to Sibyl, Kazami and Izumo both had the yakiniku meal with a beer for Izumo.
Izumo must have noticed her gaze, because he held up the frothy glass.
“Just to be clear, I’m over twenty.”
Kazami began eating her meat without saying anything and Sibyl gave a small nod.
“How did the two of you meet?” asked Shinjou out of curiosity.
“You should not ask that, Shinjou-kun. I am sure the two of them have a reason for their violence.”
“I appreciate your consideration, Sayama, but what are you trying to say?”
As Kazami smiled and cracked her knuckles, Sayama quickly looked away.
“But why do you ask, Shinjou?”
“Well, I’m a bit curious how you ended up in this relationship,” explained Shinjou while thinking about the word “lie” and about Sayama.
Izumo responded by putting down his empty glass and sighing.
“I suppose we can tell you. Right, Chisato?”
“Hmm. Well, if you’re okay with it.”
“Th-then you’ll tell me?”
“Yeah. I’ll never forget that day. It was…um…a snowy day…in summer.”
“Kazami, ignore that idiot who forgot and tell us,” prompted Sayama.
As she thought, Sayama gave Baku some of his food.
Kazami gave a small snort and opened her mouth.
“To put it simply, Kaku is the child of a 10th-Gear princess and the president of the Izumo company. The peaceful faction of 10th-Gear was given a reservation in the Kinki region. On his way back there, he was attacked by a group from 6th-Gear who had a grudge against the Izumo family.”
“I was injured in the attack and Chisato took me in. She was amazing back then.”
“Oh, c’mon, Kaku. I wasn’t that amazing.”
“You were. You took me to the girls’ dorm because I didn’t have anywhere to stay.”
“Eh? Y-you brought him to your room after just meeting him?”
“No, she threw me in a wax storage room and forgot about me for half a day.”
“Wait. Stop that, Kaku!”
“It was the middle of summer, so I almost went insane due to the pain of my injuries, the dehydration, and the closed space filled with vaporized wax. W-wait, Chisato. I’m not lying. It isn’t right to raise your fist now. You’re trying to suppress the truth!”
Kazami clicked her tongue and Shinjou’s mouth hung open.
“How about we talk about what happened after that?” said Kazami with a smile.
Shinjou quickly nodded.
A glance around the room showed some of the people in the large cafeteria listening in to Izumo and Kazami’s story.
Kazami looked around and sat up in her seat a bit.
“It happened two years ago. I was pretty much in the same situation as you, Sayama. Kaku was taken in by UCAT and I tried to bring him something he left behind, but I was caught in a battle with 6th-Gear.”
“Boldman was the leader of the 6th-Gear group and they were trying to steal G-Sp and the prototype X-Wi that UCAT was transporting.”
“When I fell into the concept space, they were both right in front of me. The truck had rolled on its side.”
“Afterwards, 6th-Gear’s Concept Core was transferred to UCAT and contained within V-Sw because it was on hand. A lot happened after that, but the Leviathan Road was finished for both 6th and 10th back then.”
Shinjou watched the gazes of the three people in front of her and the other UCAT workers surrounding them.
The looks on their faces were perfectly serious and they would nod when she met their gaze.
Next to her, Sayama grabbed some of his food and spoke.
“You look more mature discussing this than you do drinking beer.”
“Yeah. You don’t usually look that way. I have to rethink my opinion of you. I should probably start calling you Izumo-san,” added Shinjou.
“Kaku, they’re casually denying your entire personality.”
“Are they? I don’t really get the details, but feel free to look up to me, Shinjou.”
Unsure how to respond, Shinjou turned to Sayama.
“Just speak the words that fill your heart,” he told her.
“I-I can’t do that. Kazami-san would do something horrible to me.”
“Shinjou-sama?” replied Sibyl with a perfectly serious expression. “If I may interrupt, Chisato-sama will make sure you survive.”
“I am curious what you were trying to say there,” commented Sayama. “Anyway… Kazami, do you ever feel as though you have made a horrible mistake?”
“Yes, but only when I’m with Kaku… Also, I will be returning to my parent’s home tonight, so I can go back to a normal life for a short time.”
“Oh?” said Sayama.
“Really?” said Shinjou.
“I usually go back on Sundays,” she replied. “But it looks like we’re going to be busy from now on. After going back today, I can return tomorrow and stay in the dorm for the entire weekend. We’re going to the Showa Memorial Park tomorrow, right?”
“I intend to, yes. I have a lot to think about regarding the preliminary negotiations.”
“Hm. But is there really a 500 meter humanoid machine in that park? I ran through it a lot for club marathons in middle school.”
Kazami’s answer did not come from Sayama or the others.
The gently moving air carried in a male voice from behind Sayama.
“It’s there,” began the voice. “If you go there tomorrow, you will see the truth of Tokyo.”
“Eh?” said Shinjou as she turned around.
She turned to the left.
Kazami and the others turned defensively toward the speaker and Izumo could be heard gulping down another beer.
At some point, a man had appeared on the left side of the table.
He was a young man with glasses who wore a lab coat over a work uniform.
He held a laptop under his right arm and a bento box under his left arm.
He turned agreeable black eyes toward them.
“I am Kashima Akio of 2nd-Gear. I am the representative you must negotiate with for the release of 2nd-Gear’s concepts.”
All of them gulped.
That was the name of the military god Tsukuyomi had told Sayama.
And the document they had just read gave Kashima as the surname of the second in command for the giant humanoid machine.
…It can’t be…
But it most likely was. She could sense Sayama growing tense to her right.
…The next Leviathan Road has already begun.
“Now then,” said the man named Kashima with a nod. “How shall we carry out this Leviathan Road thing?”
His question was so carefree he seemed to be talking about a game.
Sayama was the one to answer him.
He began with a question.
“You mention the Leviathan Road, but do you have your Concept Core ready?”
“Yes, we know exactly where it is. 2nd-Gear’s Concept Core transformed into the flame dragon Yamata which is currently sealed within the divine sword Totsuka. And Totsuka is stabbed into Susaou’s bridge. But I think you already knew that,” he said while glancing at their documents. “It all comes down to how our negotiations go and whether Yamata will accept you or not.” He took a breath. “That is the biggest issue.”
The nighttime city contained a forest.
The forest spread out as far as the eye could see.
However, a large parking lot bordered a train station to the south of the forest.
The sign in front of the parking lot contained the three words “Showa Memorial Park”.
It was a state-run nature park.
The large clock standing in the parking lot indicated the time was 7:30 PM.
The park had already closed.
The darkness of the night contained only the trees of the forest and a narrow asphalt road.
In the distance of that vast space, a large pool and a rest area could be seen sinking into the darkness.
The sounds of a train suddenly came from the south.
A train was passing through the JR Nishi-Tachikawa Station.
The sound gently filled the artificial forest.
No one should have heard that sound, but someone was listening to it now.
Inside the closed park, two girls stood on the path used during the day as a cycling course.
One was a tall girl. In the darkness, she could be seen standing tall with her black hair tied behind her head and wearing a black shirt and white vest.
She simply stood in the darkness.
Another girl walked quickly up behind her.
This girl was short. She had long black hair and she wore a white blouse and black vest.
Her black eyes looked up at the girl standing before her.
“You walk too fast, Mikoku. I can’t keep up.”
“This is why I told you not to come, Shino. We still have a long way to go.”
Shino sighed at what the tall girl, Mikoku, said.
“But I thought we could go hiking for the first time since visiting 1st-Gear’s hideout,” said Shino disappointedly.
“I do not think hiking means what you think it means.”
“Then what does it mean?”
“Running around the countryside on a sunny Sunday while singing songs and eating the homemade lunch you brought with you. Very sophisticated, isn’t it? You can spend a lazy weekend day traversing the mountains singing war songs with nothing but salted rice balls to eat.”
“I think your definition is wrong too. By any chance, do you not actually know what it means either?”
“D-do not be ridiculous. It is called ‘high-king’ because you act like the king of the heights.”
“Do not give me that doubting look.”
“I wasn’t giving you a-… Ow ow! Don’t pull on my cheeks!”
Mikoku let go of Shino’s cheeks and sighed.
“At any rate, tonight’s walk is about sentiment. This time, we will not be contacting 2nd-Gear.”
“Is 2nd-Gear really that close to UCAT?”
“Yes. According to Hajji, contacting them holds too great a risk of having our information passed on to UCAT.” Mikoku turned around in the direction they were headed. “He also said the people of 2nd-Gear have already become residents of Low-Gear, so they will not join us even if we contact them.”
“That’s too bad. It was Japanese UCAT’s development department that created Team Leviathan’s V-Sw and modified G-Sp into G-Sp2.”
“That is not all. Totsuka, the Cowling Sword here that sealed Yamata, is also from 2nd-Gear.”
Mikoku began walking and heard footsteps following her after a few steps.
“B-but why don’t we steal Totsuka? If it’s in the concept space here, can’t we just sneak in and take it? You could do it, right?”
“This place is under UCAT’s control. If I entered the concept space, they might detect the change in string vibration. It would be difficult for me to steal it on my own,” explained Mikoku. “Also, the method of releasing Yamata and the method of sealing it are apparently only known by a small number of people in 2nd-Gear. Even if we had Totsuka, we could not do anything with it.”
“What is this method of releasing and sealing?”
“I hear it is a word. However, it requires someone with connections to 2nd-Gear’s emperor and someone who can give the proper response. But the Army has no influential 2nd-Gear members or anyone who knows that response. …There is nothing we can do.”
“I see,” said a disappointed voice behind her.
Mikoku smiled bitterly and looked into the sky as she walked.
Stars were visible beyond the tree branches.
“At any rate, we can take it easy tonight. This is just a walk.”
“Okay. But what is up ahead?”
“Something sentimental: Susaou and Totsuka, the pinnacle of 2nd-Gear technology.”
The man named Kashima brought a chair to the corridor-side edge of the table and sat down. From Sayama’s point of view, he sat on the opposite side of Shinjou.
He opened his bento box which contained a homemade Western-style meal.
When Sayama saw the apples peeled to look like rabbits, he concluded this was made by a member of his family.
As he ate, Kashima supplemented what they had learned in their investigation.
He gave a general outline, swallowed a korokke, and finished speaking.
“And as you said, Yamata is still sealed in Totsuka within that concept space.”
“It was daring of them to seal it inside Tokyo.”
“I heard your grandfather constructed the theory behind that seal,” said Kashima.
That sudden revelation about his grandfather’s past brought a hand to the left side of Sayama’s chest.
And as if responding to his action, his chest began to hurt.
His groan caused Kashima’s eyebrows to move.
He looked toward Sayama and stopped moving his plastic chopsticks.
“What’s the matter? Are you ill?” he asked frantically.
Shinjou’s shoulders trembled and she turned toward Sayama. With the ends of her eyebrows lowered she smiled bitterly while feeling his pain.
He leaned his weight on her outstretched hand and felt some relief.
He could not breathe properly, so he mouthed the words.
Shinjou read his lips and turned toward Kashima.
“He says not to worry about it.”
Sayama nodded, felt better, and took a deep breath.
And he straightened up.
Seeing that, Kazami, Izumo, and Sibyl all straightened a bit too.
The fact that all of them had been worried about him made him feel even better.
“When I hear about my relatives’ past, I get chest pains,” he explained to Kashima.
“That must be tough. …Your relatives’ past, hm?”
Kashima’s eyes narrowed as he gave a sigh of relief.
…Does he have some thoughts about his relatives or his own past?
And Sayama had a further thought.
…I suppose everyone has some kind of issue.
“Now, can you tell us what you meant? Earlier, you said 2nd-Gear’s Concept Core, aka Yamata, is located in the sword stabbed into the bridge in the head of Susaou. And you said the remaining issues are how we will negotiate and if Yamata will accept us.”
“What do you mean by ‘accept us’?”
Kashima brushed up his hair with a troubled expression.
“I’ll be blunt. 2nd-Gear’s Concept Core became Yamata when it lost control in its synchronization with the control system. So if you want to obtain the Concept Core…”
“You need to obtain Yamata’s permission. You must answer Yamata’s question and gain its understanding.”
“You mean I must negotiate with Yamata?”
“No. You need an intermediary because Yamata does not understand human language. I will ask in your place. As a question, I will speak the word that can control Yamata.”
“As a question?” asked Kazami.
“Yamata seeks the answer to a certain question,” said Kashima as he turned toward her. “Someone once answered that question, but he was burned to death when Yamata was sealed. In other words, the seal was achieved, but the person who knew the answer died.”
“So what is wanted from me is to release Yamata, answer Yamata’s question to earn its allegiance, and to not die.”
Kashima nodded and Sayama glanced at Baku on his own shoulder.
“I heard Yamata’s question in an image of the past.”
“What kind of question was it?”
Sayama recalled what he had seen in that dream.
He had heard that ocean of flames beyond the closing gate.
“It was a roar. It sounded like…like the dragon was trying to convey some meaning.”
“Did you see the answer?”
“No. As soon as the dragon asked, the ‘gate’ in the dream closed.”
“That’s good,” said Kashima with a slight smile. “Yamata’s question and answer were only known to 2nd-Gear’s emperor and chief engineer. …The Kashima family line which created the Cowling Sword Totsuka fell under the latter category. That is why I know.”
He grabbed another korokke from his bento and swallowed it.
“So what will you do? If you are going to carry out the Leviathan Road with 2nd-Gear, what do you plan to give us in exchange for going along with it?”
Everyone at the table froze in place.
This is where the real issue lies, thought Sayama amid the silence.
Baku must have sensed the change in the atmosphere because he turned toward Shinjou, Kazami, and the others and tilted his head.
Kashima placed his elbows on the table and rested his head in his hands.
“Listen. 2nd-Gear has already become naturalized. We can live in this world without issue. We’re perfectly satisfied with the current situation and we don’t want to make any waves. In that case, I could ignore your grandfather’s will, not bother with the Leviathan Road, and-…”
“It would be easier for you if you unconditionally told me Yamata’s question and answer, wouldn’t it?”
After a moment, Kashima finally nodded to Sayama’s leading words.
“Yes. That would be easier, wouldn’t it?”
Mikoku and Shino spoke as they walked through the forest.
“Are we still not at Susaou?”
“Just a bit further. Is this your first time here, Shino?”
“You only just realized?”
Shino sighed and gathered her collar against the growing chill in the air.
“This is my first time coming here. I’ve seen this place from the train plenty of times, though.”
“I see. Well, it is only my second time. Tatsumi dragged me here one night. At the end of March, the park is open until nine for evening flower viewing.”
“Hey, I didn’t know about that. No fair.”
“Do not say that. It happened around seven years ago. You were still young, so I think you were already asleep. Hajji said Tatsumi and I should see another side of this world.”
That last sentence caused the ends of Shino’s eyebrows to droop a bit.
“Tatsumi-san had some lingering attachment for Low-Gear, didn’t she?”
“It was a bit different for her.”
“I suppose so,” said Shino as she raised her head. “But why are we here today?”
“Didn’t I say it was a sentimental walk?”
“Sentimental for what?”
Mikoku wrinkled her brow a bit and looked annoyed. “Susaou is in the concept space here, but we cannot enter that space for fear of being detected.”
“But I think it is important to think on it even if we cannot actually see it.” She took a breath. “A battle occurred here. And what happened after that? We must not speak of the past without giving thought to that.”
Shino walked up alongside Mikoku and her expression relaxed.
“If you agree, then listen carefully, Shino. With your power, you should clearly understand what happened to this world.”
“Yes,” said Shino as she walked along and looked among the trees in the darkness.
After a short silence, she smiled bitterly.
“What is it, Shino?”
“Everyone is asleep: the trees, the flowers, the birds, and the beasts.”
“You can tell? Maybe we should have come during the day.”
“No. I would rather come during the morning than during the brightness of the day. Everyone would be more energetic then.”
“I see.” Mikoku quietly looked around. “I wonder if they are aware their homes are under human control.” She turned her calm gaze toward the sky. “If not, then it is evidence of Low-Gear’s excellent control.”
“Isn’t being under someone’s control a bad thing?”
“Good control is better than bad freedom. But if it had not been for the fighting, this place would never have been created. It would simply be part of nature.”
Mikoku saw a small light moving through the night sky. It was an airplane taking off from Yokota Air Base.
“Apparently, Showa Memorial Park was originally an airfield belonging to the old Japanese army.”
“You mean Tachikawa Airfield? That was back when propeller planes making loop-the-loops was as advanced as it got.”
“Yes. It was taken by the American military after the war and UCAT created a large concept space here. And in 1946, UCAT succeeded in sealing Yamata in that concept space. In ’69, the stability of Yamata’s seal was confirmed and the American military stopped using it as an airfield.” She took a breath. “In ’75, the higher ups of Japan made a certain decision while celebrating the 50th year of Emperor Showa’s reign. For the sake of the surviving Low-Gear and the destroyed Gear, they decided to create a park to preserve the concept space in which Yamata was sealed.”
“And that park…?”
“Yes. In ’77, the American military made great progress in their investigation and development toward returning Tachikawa Airfield. By ’83, the airfield had become a large nature park that even had hills. It had water, it had greenery, it was carefully maintained, and it had become a place for the survivors to enjoy their life without realizing the truth. This is essentially a giant memorial for the dead.”
The forest opened up and a lake could be seen. The lake had an area for boarding boats and sleeping ducks could be seen floating on the water.
“This is the place,” she said and took a breath. “Susaou is here.”
“What will you do?” asked Kashima as a small sound rang out.
Everyone saw Izumo place his empty glass on the table.
The sounds of muttering voices and moving chairs filled the cafeteria.
However, Sayama and the others at the table created the silence of thought and stillness.
“What will you do?” asked Kashima again.
…If I asked for Yamata’s question and answer here, would he tell me?
Sayama decided this was a test.
He would be given his answer, but if he did that…
…This Kashima would give up on me.
He was unlikely to gain the man’s trust that way.
Sayama looked toward Kashima’s work uniform and laptop and he nodded internally.
Engineers took pride in their work.
He could not just ask him.
But he could not simply negotiate for the answer. 2nd-Gear was satisfied with their situation.
…To think about this, do I have to face 2nd-Gear?
Sayama folded his arms as he thought.
And he suddenly sensed a presence next to him.
He turned and saw a man sitting in the empty chair next to him. The man had short hair dyed blond, wore a white combat coat over a thin frame, and had already finished half a bowl of soba.
He did not look toward Sayama. He used a Chinese spoon to carry an egg to this mouth, slowly brought the bowl to his mouth, and slurped at the broth.
That was when Kazami noticed him.
Izumo, Shinjou, and Sibyl all noticed him in turn and quickly faced him.
However, the man loudly slurping the broth did not look at them.
As they stared at him, Kashima spoke up.
“Stop using the Art of Walking, Atsuta.”
The man named Atsuta finished slurping about half of the broth and raised his head from the bowl.
He looked directly at Sayama, bent his black eyes, and turned to Kashima.
“Hey, Kashima.” His breath smelled of tuna. “No matter what anyone else may say, you can’t let this end with nothing more than words.”
He was half-surprised and half-annoyed that there were people like this in 2nd-Gear.
“That is not for you to decide,” he said.
“Ah,” said Kazami an instant later.
What is it? he wondered, but he had his answer almost immediately.
The chopsticks in Atsuta’s hand held a familiar object.
It was Baku.
While still looking at Sayama, Atsuta brought Baku over to the bowl.
He dropped the creature. He held the chopsticks in his fist and stirred the broth to form a whirlpool.
“What are you gonna do, kid? Are you just gonna let me do this to your pet?”
As Atsuta spoke, Baku spun quickly around in the bowl. But once he arrived at the center of the whirlpool, he raised his front legs and began to rotate like a ballerina.
Sayama tilted his head.
“Is there something wrong with what you are doing?”
Atsuta frowned and looked down at Baku.
“Dammit, he looks like he’s having fun…”
“He always lives in the moment, so everything is enjoyable for him. He is an excitable masochist.”
That was when Shinjou began to tremble.
“Wh-why are you trying to smooth this over, Sayama-kun!? He’s being mean to him, so you have to take him back!”
The panic in her voice told Sayama that she had only just noticed Baku.
He also realized another fact.
…Is this the same technique Director Tsukuyomi and Diana showed me?
The instant that thought came to him, he took action.
He stuck his right hand into Atsuta’s bowl.
It was a sudden motion. He had no other choice.
He used a surprise attack before the man could take action outside of his perception.
His hand knocked away the Chinese spoon in the bowl, grabbed Baku, and sent the soba broth splashing into the air.
An instant later, Atsuta showed off his teeth in a smile.
At the same moment, the bowl Sayama’s hand was supposedly inside of was lying discarded on the floor.
Baku had supposedly been in his right hand, but the creature was gone.
He looked up and saw Baku held between Atsuta’s chopsticks.
Atsuta smiled and held Baku up in the air.
Sayama looked down at his right hand. The sleeve of his suit was stained brown and had steam rising from it.
“I see. You can remove something from my perception for just an instant.”
“You sure are calm.”
“Of course I am. My calm rivals the heavens in size,” said Sayama with a smile. “And in my calm, I have something to kindly tell you: look at the bowl you discarded.”
With Baku still in his chopsticks, Atsuta looked down.
The bowl lay on the tiled floor with its broth spilled around it. However, one thing was missing.
“You don’t mean…” muttered Atsuta.
The missing object fell from above.
It was the Chinese spoon.
“I did not stick my hand in the bowl so strongly for no reason.”
The Chinese spoon had been knocked away by Sayama’s hand earlier and now it fell and struck the chopsticks Atsuta held.
The slight impact on the chopsticks caused the man to look down.
This created an opening.
In the next instant, Sayama knocked Baku from the chopsticks with his right hand.
He knocked the creature behind him and he took a step toward Atsuta to keep the man from pursuing the creature.
Atsuta glanced toward Baku and smiled bitterly.
“Where are you knocking him? The poor thing’s gonna fall on the table.”
“No need to worry. I have outdone you in every way.”
As Sayama spoke, he heard someone catch Baku behind him.
Sayama turned around and checked who had caught the creature.
As he thought, it was Kashima. He held Baku with an exasperated look.
“Sorry about the trouble my friend is causing. Let me clean up for you. I can wash your suit too,” he said with a sigh. He then turned to Atsuta. “Okay, why are you here?”
“I came to see how much it took for these kids to get mad.”
Hearing that, Sayama suddenly turned toward Kashima.
He knew what this kind of provocation meant.
“2nd-Gear is having difficulty deciding how to negotiate with us, isn’t it?”
“Sadly, yes.” Kashima wiped Baku off with the sleeve of his lab coat, placed him on the table, and shrugged. “My name, Kashima, is the name of 2nd-Gear’s strongest military god and the name of a swordsmith family. But I don’t look it, do I? …That’s the situation. Most of 2nd-Gear can no longer tell if they really are from 2nd-Gear.”
Someone raised their voice at that.
“That isn’t true!”
It was Atsuta.
Kashima’s words and Atsuta’s shout caused Shinjou to gulp.
“It may be the case for most of 2nd-Gear, but you’re just hiding your pow-…”
He only made it that far.
Atsuta swallowed his words and gathered his strength as if resisting something.
Shinjou thought about Kashima based on what Atsuta had said.
…He’s hiding his power? Why?
She could find no answer to that internal question.
But she did know one thing.
…This Atsuta person sees Kashima-san as more powerful than him.
Atsuta had just shown them his skill.
He had used his Art of Walking to leave their perception.
When Diana had used it in the training room, it had been limited to one person, but that was not the case with Atsuta.
It was possible he could leave the perceptions of every single person in the cafeteria.
Kazami and Izumo were placed on the vanguard of the Leviathan Road, but they had not been able to perceive him. Neither had Sayama.
Someone that powerful viewed Kashima as higher than him.
…But Kashima-san said he can’t tell if he’s from 2nd-Gear.
Why was he unable to recognize the power he had?
She asked the question to herself.
And she found an answer.
…Because of a lie.
The words she had spoken to Ooshiro filled her chest.
And she spoke different words now.
“Kashima-san… Are you telling some kind of lie?”
Her voice filled the cafeteria.
But she did not hesitate.
She looked at both Atsuta and Kashima and asked the question as if she were asking it to herself.
“And because of that lie, you can’t think of yourself as a person of 2nd-Gear?”
Her words received two things in reply.
The first was silence.
“Don’t act like you know what you’re talking about!!”
The second was Atsuta’s shout.
As he took an offensive stance, someone else moved in response.
It was Izumo.
Mikoku looked at the stars reflected in the water’s surface.
The night wind crossed the artificial lake and cut past her. It continued on to the forest behind her and caused the leaves to rustle.
She suddenly heard something other than the sounds of nature.
It was a song. Specifically, the hymn Silent Night.
“Silent night, holy night.”
She turned toward the clear voice which did not destroy the stillness surrounding her and saw Shino with her head lowered and her small mouth opened.
She was really only singing to herself as she distinctly stated the words.
The warm wind of that spring night carried her voice into the sky.
“Promised to spare all mankind.
Promised to spare all mankind.”
The song came to an end and Shino raised her head.
Mikoku saw Shino’s black eyes look at the water surface.
Her slender hand reached toward Mikoku.
She grabbed Mikoku’s left sleeve from behind. The weak tug caused Mikoku to gasp slightly.
“Can you tell?”
“Yes, I can. Susaou is definitely here.”
Mikoku nodded and turned back to the still water. The water was the same color as the night sky above and not a single ripple could be seen.
“This lake was placed in the same location as Susaou to reinforce the meaning of restraining the flame dragon Yamata. I have heard a lake was also placed around Susaou inside the concept space.”
Shino looked around the area.
They were surrounded by the artificial forest and lake.
“I’ve heard 2nd-Gear was a biosphere. This place is the same, isn’t it?”
“This is a location Low-Gear obtained with many sacrifices. It is a peaceful place, but ironically they cannot view something as peaceful without creating it artificially.”
“We can only go this far, but remember how this peaceful atmosphere made you feel. No matter what may have happened here, this is a nice place to be in the present.”
“Yes, it is,” agreed Shino and Mikoku answered with a nod.
“But it is disappointing that we cannot bring the residents of 2nd-Gear into our Army.”
“Interpersonal relationships are hard. The people of 1st-Gear wouldn’t get along with us either.”
“Well, Hajji likes to show off a little too much. I think part of him enjoys making people wary of him. We need to make sure he restrains himself.”
The grip on her sleeve strengthened.
“I thought you had died.”
It took Mikoku a few seconds to answer.
“Oh, you mean when Fafnir Custom shot me. Why are you bringing that up now?”
“I thought you had died,” she repeated in the exact same tone of voice.
“I will not die, so do not worry, Shino.”
Mikoku raised the hand Shino was grabbing onto.
Her left fingers had the slight firmness of a swordsman and she placed that hand on Shino’s head.
She gave a bitter laugh when Shino did not let go of her sleeve.
“Wh-what’s so funny?”
“It looks like you grabbed my hand and made me rub your head.”
Shino opened her eyes a bit, blushed, and let go.
Mikoku ran her hand through Shino’s hair and stroked her head. Strength left her eyebrows.
“How about you grow up a little?”
“That isn’t something you can do just because you want to.”
Shino brought a hand up from her chest to her neck and reached under her collar.
She had a metal chain around her neck. She grabbed the chain with her fingernail and lifted up the decoration attached to it.
It was a small blue stone. She sighed as she looked at the faint light coming from it.
“I should get mine embedded inside my body like yours.”
That word stopped Shino from continuing.
“The time will eventually come when you will cast something aside. You will not have it taken. You will cast it aside.”
“After all, we are carrying too many things for the sake of every world,” said Mikoku. “But the more one casts aside, the happier it shows they were. And they will gain just as much happiness later. So do not try to make everything yours.”
“But that’s so vague…”
“That may be, but it is clear you possess many things. At the very least, you have more than I do.”
Mikoku lightly struck Shino’s head with her palm two or three times. The ends of her eyebrows lowered as she smiled.
“Well, spending all your time thinking about these philosophical questions will only make you dumber. …How about doing an adult job for once?”
“Eh?” said Shino as she raised her head. She was blushing and she intertwined her fingers and rubbed them together. “U-um, when you say an adult job…um… Do you mean something i-indecent?”
“No. You should stop reading the newspapers the people who maintain Alex read.”
“Eh? But I thought all division and department chiefs are perverted people and the victim is always the woman sub-chief below them.”
“That only happens in certain types of novels. By the way, the real prize is the handsome man who works as their subordinate.”
“See, you read them too.”
“Crap,” muttered Mikoku before lightly striking Shino’s head with her palm a few times.
“Ah…ow… S-stop trying to avoid the issue.”
“Listen, Shino. 2nd-Gear will not join us, but there is still something we must do.”
Shino stopped the hand she had been using to guard her head.
“Something we must do? Um, you mean we have a job that requires something…indecent?”
“Stop thinking about perverted old men. Do you really think any guy is interested in a child like you?”
“The newspaper said there are a lot of guys like that lately.”
“Then do you want to try doing a job with them?”
Shino frantically shook her head and Mikoku nodded.
“Good. I am well aware you have romantic shoujo manga hidden under your bed, you know? Also, you should really stop secretly setting up the TV to record yakuza movies just because Hajji and I do not know how. …Hm? What is it? Why are you blushing so much?”
“Th-that’s a violation of privacy! And don’t act like you don’t secretly read magazines like Monthly How to Hit the Vitals. If there’s nothing wrong with that, then why do you hide it?”
“That is my kindness as an older sister. If you saw this month’s article on hitting the sweet spot below the nose, you would faint.”
“Uuh…” groaned Shino as she flinched back just from hearing the title.
Mikoku folded her arms and sighed.
“At any rate, there is something we must do. I will suggest it to Hajji tomorrow.”
Shino looked surprised to hear that.
“Wh-what is it? Is it really that important?”
“Yes,” began Mikoku. “We will take some time off.”
“Now then,” said Izumo as he stood up.
Atsuta turned to look at him.
“Hah. What is it, rich boy? Are you gonna use your influence and money to have a servant knock me away so you can get back to drinking beer with your mistress? You must have it nice. Well? Are you gonna do it?”
“I don’t know,” was all Izumo said before turning to Sayama. “Sayama, take Shinjou and move back. I’ll handle this. Also…”
He held his hand to the side at head height and spoke casually.
“Just for fun, I’m gonna call in my weapon.”
Atsuta nodded and stuck a hand in his right pocket.
Sayama grabbed Baku from the table, wrapped an arm around Shinjou’s shoulders, and took a step back.
At the same time, Kashima spoke up. His eyebrows were raised slightly.
“Give me a few seconds. This should make for some light recreation.” He bared his teeth in a smile. “6th-Gear’s V-Sw, hm? I always wanted to try my hand against it. Are you gonna use the power of the Concept Core to charge at me and create a crater? Sounds like fun.” He suddenly turned toward someone next to Izumo. “Don’t sneak around, mistress! If you want to call in your weapon too, do it! One kid wouldn’t be enough to handle me anyway!”
Atsuta saw Kazami tightly close her mouth and stand. At some point, armbands had appeared on her arms. She walked up to Izumo.
She placed a hand on his chin and pulled his head down.
Their lips met.
After three seconds, they parted and she raised her hand just like his.
“I’m not his mistress. Are you completely blind? I’ll make you sorry you ever said that.”
The crowd that had formed let out a cheer and Izumo nodded.
“And if you still can’t tell she isn’t my mistress, we’ll do something even more-…gwoh!”
“Oh, sorry. My elbow slipped. I hit your solar plexus? Sorry, Kaku.”
The crowd let out a low groan.
Atsuta on the other hand was grinning the same as before.
He seemed to be enjoying the prospect of fighting two people who owned a concept weapon powered by a Concept Core.
And he spoke in a tone that matched his expression.
“Hah. Let me tell you one thing. I use the combat Art of Walking passed down by 2nd-Gear. Most major members of 2nd-Gear or powerful members of UCAT can use it.”
“See it and go to hell.”
With those words, everyone in the cafeteria lost sight of Atsuta.
Izumo and Kazami’s eyes narrowed because they could not see him either.
They opened their mouths to call the names of their weapons.
Everything was about to move.
But someone brought it all to a stop.
“Let’s leave it at that,” said Kashima with a troubled expression.
Izumo, Kazami, and Atsuta faced each other in the cafeteria.
And Kashima had appeared between them at some point.
Plus, his right hand held Atsuta’s face.
“You overcame the Art of Walking and grabbed his head,” muttered Kazami blankly.
Everyone who understood what that meant gasped.
However, Kashima did not nod. His shoulders drooped and he removed his hand from Atsuta’s face.
“Sorry, Atsuta. I know you’re just trying to help me in your own way.”
He turned toward Kazami and Izumo and then turned toward Sayama and Shinjou.
“Sorry. We didn’t really settle anything here.”
“I am just glad to see the two of you get along so well. But…what should we do about the Leviathan Road?”
“Well…” Kashima appeared troubled. “I’d appreciate it if you gave me some time. And once I seriously make up my mind about something, I want you to give me your answer. Is that enough for now?”
Sayama narrowed his eyes and spoke in a cautious voice.
“Do I only have to wait?”
“Good question.” Kashima glanced at Shinjou and seemed to choose his words carefully. “I would like it if you thought some on what she said about a ‘lie’. Whatever I decide, I am sure it will come from there. I do not want to lose what is important to me.”
That last statement caused Atsuta to clench his teeth.
“It sounds to me like you’ve already made up your mind.”
Kashima did not respond.
And so Sayama nodded.
“Testament, I suppose I should say. To be honest, I do not think I could stand simply waiting either. I want to give various issues some thought so I can properly face 2nd-Gear.”
“Properly face 2nd-Gear?” asked Kashima.
“Yes,” replied Sayama with a nod. He spoke slowly as if driving the words into himself. “Right now, I see the Leviathan Road with 2nd-Gear as something I need in order to face the other Gears and everything else I must face.”
Those words brought a slight look of surprise to Kashima’s face.
But he quickly brought back a calm expression and gave his thoughts.
“You are…a brave person.”
“No, I only just now decided this.”
Kashima smiled bitterly.
Sayama smiled back, swung up his left forearm, and looked across everyone there.
“Then Team Leviathan will once more look into 2nd-Gear’s history and the sealing of Yamata. That is the first step to seeing you properly. If possible, I hope tomorrow’s preliminary negotiations will allow us to face each other from a good position.”
“Yes. It may not be me in that good position you mentioned, but I will say testament for now,” said Kashima with a smile.
“Oh, my? Have things been settled? Or…”
They heard a sudden female voice.
They all turned toward the cafeteria entrance. An elderly woman leaned against the large open door.
It was Tsukuyomi.
With a lab coat over her slender body, she brushed her semi-long graying hair into place with a hand and walked forward.
Atsuta took a step back and she sighed.
The eyebrows above her narrow eyes did not rise.
“The negotiations have yet to begin, so let’s leave it at that, you naughty children.” She turned toward Sayama. “I apologize that we have so many fools with us. I will give him a pay cut, so please forgive him. That will suffice, won’t it?”
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