Owari no Chronicle:Volume4 Chapter 23
Chapter 23: Chooser of Power
A question arrives
It comes from the past
It comes from something precious
The sky was dark and the morning sun had yet to rise.
However, a few lights were visible in the mountains of Okutama.
Most of them were from the early risers in farming homes, but one was different.
The light came from the Hiba household which had an outdoor dojo in an elevated area.
The light coming from the kitchen and entrance cast two people’s shadows in front of the entrance.
Shinjou and the old woman from the previous night stood in the chilly morning air.
Shinjou’s shadow was moving as she bowed to the old woman again and again.
“Thank you so much for everything.”
With a troubled expression, she held a paper bag containing the breakfast the old woman had given her. It contained rice balls and vegetables.
The old woman wore a cooking apron and was smiling. She wiped her hands on the bottom of the apron.
“Hurry on home. You do not want to wake young Sayama, do you?”
“No,” said Shinjou as she remembered when she had woken up that morning.
When she had first opened her eyes in the dark, Sayama had been sleeping in the futon next to hers.
His neck and right shoulder had been wrapped in bandages, he had been sleeping deeply, and he had shown no sign of waking as she changed clothes.
When she exited into the hallway, the old woman had stepped out of the kitchen.
“Um, Sayama-kun had bandages wrapped around him. Is he okay? Did he hit his head and…um…”
…I really hope he hasn’t become even crazier.
She was seriously worried, so the old woman had thought a bit before answering.
“I heard he managed to prepare for the landing, even if just barely, so I doubt he will become any crazier than he already is.”
“I see we view him the same as far as that is concerned.”
She sighed and the old woman smiled bitterly.
“Well, after our chat last night, I spoke with him a little longer. Shinjou…Sadame-san is it? It seems there is a lot going on between the two of you. Oh, and your brother Setsu-kun.”
The old woman’s words reminded Shinjou of the past. She did not recall anything in particular, though.
“Yes, there really is a lot going on.”
“I hear he stuck his hand between your legs while you were in your underwear.”
“Wh-why is he so open about that!?”
“Ha ha ha. Don’t worry about it. It is not often that he speaks about people his own age. …You seem to be going through some difficulties, though.”
“I might not call them difficulties, but I definitely find new surprises every day.”
“In our opinion, it’s a good thing. And we won’t ask anything more.”
“Why not? Don’t you want to know more about me?”
“Do you want me to ask?”
Shinjou shook her head. She had made up her mind the night before.
“I will tell him myself.
The old woman nodded.
And her smile suddenly vanished.
As Shinjou was wondering what had happened, the old woman looked toward her right hand.
She asked a question with a curious tone of voice.
“By the way, who gave you that ring?”
Shinjou looked down at the ring on the middle finger of her right hand.
She had a feeling it was okay to tell this old woman its origin.
“I’ve had it as long as I can remember. …I had this ring, a song, and my name.”
“How much of this does young Sayama know?”
“He knows about the ring and the song, but he doesn’t know about our name. He doesn’t know the truth of the names Shinjou Setsu and Shinjou Sadame.”
“The truth?” asked the old woman.
Shinjou nodded, thought for a moment, and chose her words carefully.
“The thing is, my real name is not Sadame or Setsu.”
She had yet to tell Sayama this.
…He will never see this unless I reveal my lie.
“My current name is something like an alias. Everyone would treat my true self as something special, so I was given my current name. That’s why I’ve never really used my true name.”
“Are you okay with that?”
“My current name is more convenient for being who I am now. That is why I…no, we have been lying to Sayama-kun this whole time. I have never shown him my true self. Not even once. So…”
Shinjou trailed off and the old woman shook her head.
“Isn’t young Sayama the one you should tell the rest to? This isn’t something to tell an old woman like me.”
Her scolding tone made Shinjou nod. And…
“Do you know something about this ring?”
“I’m not sure.” The old woman tilted her head with a troubled expression and chose her words carefully. “I don’t want to get your hopes up, so I’ll say this up front: that ring is a common product someone could have bought anywhere. I just thought I could make conversation if I knew who had given it to you.”
“B-but do you know someone who wore the same ring?”
Her question was wrapped in urgency and hope, but the old woman shook her head.
“I cannot talk about that so easily,” she said. “It does not matter when, but if you ever feel like it and have the spare time, pursue that person and give it some thought. I hope that the answer you find is the same as the answer I have.”
Shinjou remained silent, but she inwardly hoped for the same thing.
Just as a smile slipped out on Shinjou’s face, the old woman nodded.
“But I know one thing for sure. You wish for the same type of place that young Sayama does, don’t you? You wish for a place to fight and pursue yourself.”
No, she had the answer without needing to think. She had found the answer back during the battle with 1st-Gear.
“Yes, I’ve made up my mind. I will stay by Sayama-kun’s side. It scares me, but I will have him choose. I will reveal my lie…and see which version of me he prefers.”
“Which version of you? Do you know which one he wants?”
“Yes. I know which version of me he will choose. …He will choose Sadame. He will choose the girl named Shinjou Sadame as the one who will guide him to his destiny.” Shinjou took a breath and continued quietly. “I will make up for the lie I have told by going along with Sayama-kun’s wishes. Lately, I have been constantly bewildered by him…and that helped me understand.”
“If acting according to my own convenience is painful, I should try acting against my own convenience. That is what I have decided to do.” Shinjou nodded. “I am convinced the answer I reach like that will not be painful.”
…I am not making the wrong decision.
Suddenly, she heard a motorcycle in the distance.
The old woman looked up.
“That is our grandson. He promised to come take some of our pickled vegetables. Apparently his girlfriend won’t eat breakfast without them.”
As the old woman nodded, Shinjou realized it was her time to leave.
And so she bowed. The Hiba Dojo would cease to be a place for her and Sayama and become a place for this grandson and his grandparents. Just as she decided to leave, Shinjou belatedly realized something.
There was something she had to ask. She could not believe she had not already done so.
“I never asked for your name. …Do you mind telling me?”
Toshi-san, she thought for an instant.
She felt as if a slight burden had been removed from her chest. She embraced the paper bag, took a breath, and spoke.
“Thank you very much, Toshi-san. The next time we meet…” She took a breath. “I will have stopped lying and I will visit along with Sayama-kun.”
There was a place the morning light did not reach.
Several people slept underground in UCAT’s third production room which had its lights off.
Five youths in work uniforms slept around a two and a half meter sword. They were all sitting or lying on the floor as they pleased.
A short distance from those five was the one person who was awake.
Kashima sat next to a grinder positioned a bit away from the center of the room.
He wore a lab coat over his work uniform and his stubble-covered face was turned toward the blade.
The blade was floating in a fixed place in midair and it no longer had any damage or heat.
The black metal had been sharpened and it produced a smooth shine.
As he watched it, Kashima placed a hand in his pocket. A few seconds later, he seemed to realize something.
“Oh, right. I…
“…quit smoking quite a while ago. Congrats, papa.”
He heard a male voice from behind. Without turning toward it, he removed his hand from his pocket.
Someone held a stick of UCAT’s nicotine gum in front of his face.
“Atsuta,” he said while looking up at who held the gum.
“Have your memories of smoking reverted to eight years ago, too?”
The young man in a white cloak let out a breath when Kashima took the gum.
He stepped forward.
That sword god would always say something unnecessary when he acted, but he said nothing now.
He merely touched the blade.
Kashima remembered the past as he watched the man’s back, the hand touching the metal, and the legs supporting hm.
…This happened long ago, too.
He would create a blade and this sword god would evaluate it. That had seemed to happen almost every day eight years before.
At first, Atsuta had not wanted anything to do with him, but Atsuta had gradually accepted he had skill. At some point, it had evolved into their current relationship.
It lasted approximately ten seconds.
After that short yet long silence, the back before Kashima’s eyes spoke.
“What the hell is this?”
His hand stroked the blade.
“Yeah,” said Atsuta. “You go to all this effort, but it’ll be obsolete once new technology comes along.”
Atsuta’s words led Kashima to realize something.
Atsuta was not looking at the blade. He was turned toward the five youths sleeping around it.
“Now we’ve become trailblazers to a certain extent. We have created 2nd-Gear’s strongest Cowling Sword.”
Atsuta looked over his shoulder to turn toward Kashima. He was smiling with his eyebrows bent. It was hard to tell if it was a troubled smile or a joyous one.
And he asked a question with that smile.
“Can I use this sword?”
“Atsuta, tell me the truth.”
“Did I…do a good job?”
“Of course.” All doubt left Atsuta’s expression. “But praising you would just make you conceited, so I won’t say anything more. Even these kids here turned out to be some use. But...” He took a breath, started to speak, and stopped to choose his words. “It’s a shame you can’t brag about it to your wife.”
“It is,” agreed Kashima with a nod.
He removed the gum from its wrapper and placed the thin stick in his mouth.
He chewed it a few times and spoke with a smile.
“This thing tastes horrible.”
The morning sun had begun to rise toward noon.
In the mountains of Okutama, a single voice came from the Kashima’s parents’ house.
The voice belonged to Natsu. She was reading a picture book.
She sat on the wooden floor of the southern veranda which faced a paddy field. She wore track pants and a white T-shirt and she held Harumi.
A blue knapsack she had brought from home sat next to her and it was open.
Natsu held a picture book titled “Yamata no Orochi”.
As she read the book, a smile covered her face.
“Kusanagi was brought to heaven and it became known as Murakumo.”
Those ending words were ones of happiness and Natsu closed the book with a smile after reading them aloud.
“Are you tired?” she asked.
However, her daughter had already closed her eyes.
She heard someone walking up on the tatami mats behind her.
She turned around to find Kashima’s mother. The old woman wore Japanese-style clothes and peered at her from behind.
“Should I bring out a futon?”
The old woman nodded and headed for the closet inside the house.
Natsu stood up while holding her child.
“Um, where is father today? He did not even come out to mow this morning.”
“Oh, that old man was sulking last night because you didn’t drink with him even though he made the sake. He was getting annoying and a lot happened, but I ended up throwing him in the storehouse.”
“I heard some noises coming from the storehouse this morning, but I thought it was just a cat.”
“He’s quieted down now, right?”
“Yes. In fact, I do not hear any signs of life.”
“If I let him out now, he wouldn’t learn his lesson, so we need to wait until noon.” The old woman laid out the futon. “This is just the cute jealousy of an old woman. Keh keh keh.”
As she laughed, she placed the futon in the shade but near the sun and placed a sheet over it.
“For one thing, you decided to only drink with Aki, right? You can’t make an exception for his parents there. …Now, come on over.”
Natsu placed Harumi in the futon. She then pulled a towel from her bag, lightly wrapped it around the baby, and made sure the child’s neck was sitting properly.
“You’ve gotten good at that.”
“I had a good teacher.”
Natsu and the old woman exchanged a slight smile.
After a moment, the old woman looked outside. She looked far off in the east. The white buildings of IAI were visible on top of a mountain.
If one stood in the yard on a clear day like this, one would have an unobstructed view all the way to the city.
“How can that idiot Aki neglect such a wonderful wife on such a nice day?”
The old woman then looked at the two picture books on the veranda.
“Natsu-san, are those what I think they are?”
“Yes. My father drew those. Akio-san does not know I have them.”
“My mother told me long ago that he drew that series once he knew I was going to be born.”
Natsu took a breath, looked toward Harumi, and narrowed her eyes.
“I thought I could understand my father a little bit if I read them again now. Both as Kashima Natsu and as Takagi Natsu.”
“No. …But once I return home with Akio-san, I think I will call my parents.”
“The situation with you and your parents sounds complicated.”
“It is.” Natsu gave a small smile. “May I ask what your maiden name was?”
“Kasuga. One could say you have the protection of both the Kashima Shrine and the Kasuga Shrine.”
“Also, Akio-san has a friend who can be the Atsuta Shrine and the company he works for has the name Izumo. …It may be nothing but coincidences, but with this many, it has to be a good omen.” Natsu turned toward the picture books. “I think you would understand. …We are both the princess and Kusanagi, aren’t we? By marrying the bearer of power, we gain a surname and also change. And we also provide strength to the bearer.”
“I’m not sure that works with my idiot trapped in the storehouse, but you are indeed providing strength to Aki.”
“Thank you very much. …We recently ended our couple’s meeting by deciding Akio-san is Yamato Takeru. In that case, who is the hero to him? Who does he see as Susanoo? And does that person have their own princess and their own Kusanagi?”
“Which one are you right now?” asked the old woman. “Are you Kusanagi which was held by human hands or are you Murakumo which was presented to heaven?”
“I am Kusanagi. I am not Murakumo which knows nothing of the world and only acts a decoration. I am Kusanagi which cuts through the grass in the land of man.”
“That is how I should use the power my bearer has given me.”
A train station on the western side of Tokyo connected a few different lines.
It was named JR Haijima Station.
The station had four flat platforms, but few trains stopped there in the morning. The transfer between lines also required a little bit of time.
The train at the first platform was on the Itsukaichi Line which headed to Akigawa. It was currently waiting ten minutes before leaving the way it had come.
The smell of the ramen shop in front of the station filled the front car. A single person sat within it.
It was Sayama. His suit coat was folded in his lap and he was facing forward with his elbow on the handrail.
He was on his way back from the Hiba Dojo and he was as expressionless as ever. However, his face looked somehow contemplative.
He had contacted the dorm earlier, but Shinjou Setsu had still not returned.
“He was not there when I called the dormitory leader last night either. Where has he gone?”
He gave a discouraged sigh.
Sadame likely knew where Setsu was, but she had left the Hiba Dojo before he had woken.
“When I asked old Toshi, she would not give a straight answer.”
…Both members of that old couple are very strange.
However, he would have a definite chance of seeing Sadame today.
At eight that evening, the mock battle between Team Leviathan and UCAT was being held at the Showa Memorial Park.
“How should I confront Shinjou-kun there?”
Just as he started to think about both of them, Baku poked his head out of his breast pocket.
The cell phone in that pocket was vibrating.
Sayama stood up and exited onto the platform.
As he felt the chilly air, he took out his cell phone.
“Oh, S-sayama-kun? This is Shinjou Setsu.”
Hearing that voice after so long caused a laugh to escape Sayama’s lips.
“A call from you? How rare. Are you doing well?”
“Y-yes. I’m fine.”
“Really? Are you sure you were not actually abducted by a shady group when you left school and now they are demanding a ransom? If so, I would like to earn your praise by gracefully resolving the issue.”
“S-sorry, but I’m using a pay phone, so I can’t talk for long.”
“What a shame. So what do you need?”
“Well,” said Shinjou. “I will be back at school today at 5:00 PM. Will you be in our room?”
The mock battle in Showa Memorial Park was at 8:00. If they were to gather at 7:30, he could easily arrive if he left school shortly after 6:00, so he nodded.
“That is fine. Five, you said? I promise I will be in our dorm room.”
He heard a sigh come from the phone.
It was a sigh of relief.
And just as Sayama wondered what that meant…
“Thank you. It’s a promise, then.”
Shinjou ended the call.
Sensing a sort of impatience from Shinjou, Sayama stared at his phone.
But no further words would come from that black phone.
He merely heard the bell on the platform indicating the train would soon be leaving.
- A kanji pun that combines the name Sadame and the name Mikoto to create the word for destiny.
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