Owari no Chronicle:Volume6 Chapter 18
Chapter 18: Future Circumstances
Do you call ambition for oneself the ego?
Do you call ambition for others hope?
Do you really need to think so strictly?
When Miyako awoke, her vision was filled with scarlet light.
Every part of her vision, from the center on out, was filled with the colors of orange and reddish yellow.
She noticed the state of her body a moment later. She was lying on her back and the leaves of the forest and the sky lay before her.
Even the layers of green leaves were dyed red.
She looked around and saw a shadowy form. That shadowy form was a man she recognized.
“Hey, you idiot!”
She quickly rose up for two reasons. First, she was not actually lying on the ground. He was holding her. And second…
She got up and turned around to find him sitting with his back to the earth that had crumbled from the cliff.
His blond hair was in disarray and dyed red by the light and something dark was flowing down his forehead. For an instant, she recalled her upperclassman in middle school who she hit in the head with a baseball, but she shook her head.
He was not bleeding as much as that incident.
A closer look showed his right arm was bent at a questionable angle. One of the two bones making up his forearm had to be broken.
She could tell he had protected her. She felt the pain of a scrape on the outside of her right calf, but it was a light injury compared to his. She could rub some spit on it and let it heal.
She looked around and saw no one else around. It had clearly been a fairly large landslide and the cliff had collapsed diagonally toward the inside of the concept space.
While atop the cliff, Apollo had said the concept weakened around the outer edge, but how strong was the concept here? They were farther from the outer edge than before.
She opened her mouth to call for someone, but something stopped her.
“There is no need to worry. I will heal before long,” said a quiet voice.
She turned around in surprise and breathed a sigh of relief that he was alive, but she spoke so as to hide her relief.
“Don’t try to protect me to show off, you idiot. You’re too weak for that.”
“And here I thought you might thank me.”
He wearily closed his eyes, but formed a smile with only his mouth.
That was the expression of his lies, so Miyako ignored it and took his right arm.
“It’ll hurt a bit, but bear with it. I’ll set it in place.”
“No need. It’s no use, so please stop. You’re being a nuisance.”
“Don’t be stupid. Is that anything to say to the person you just tried to save?”
“Are you any different, Miyako? You are complaining to the person who saved you.” He gave the mouth-only smile once more. “Why didn’t you leave? Now is your only chance. This base will soon prepare for battle and we will be unable to let you go. …I hear you are ‘job hunting’. In other words, you are being tested in order to join an organization.”
“That doesn’t matter. You don’t have to worry about it.”
“It does matter,” he insisted. “Miyako, you live in the world beyond that wall. You must leave those of us who live on this side of the wall. You should prioritize your own future over us.”
“Even if I still have things left to do here?”
“You mean naming the automatons? It makes no difference whether they have names or not.”
“Yes, it does!!” she roared back.
She was aware she was losing her cool, but it was too late.
She grabbed his collar and made him face her. As soon as he opened his narrow eyes, she stared into them.
“My name is Miyako. My father gave me that name so a great number of people would gather around me. You have the name of the sun god and you have that power, don’t you? Are you saying it’s meaningless to give those maids names and let them trust in their own strength!?”
“You truly trust in your name, don’t you?” His eyebrows lay flat and he looked her directly in the eye. “But my father was not like yours. He gave me my name, controlled what I did, and then left after forcing everything onto me. …And I can no longer live up to my name. 3rd-Gear’s sun was lost and there are no more people to wish for a king. Having a name includes things like that as well.”
Apollo spat out a short laugh.
“Go home, Miyako. Go home and tell your father you gave names and strength to a great number of people who gathered around you, but then a heartless man prevented you from doing anything more. That gives you enough of a reason to go crying to your father, doesn’t it? Return to that father who understands you, unlike mine.”
“My father died ten years ago! He left to save others and died!” said Miyako. “Do you even know what Christmas is, foreigner!? I got into a lot of trouble as a kid and I was always thinking that I should be honest with my dad at some point. I used that as an excuse to buy him a small bottle as a Christmas gift, since he loved alcohol. He laughed and we both promised never to drink too much. That was when he first told me why he gave me my name. He said he had work to do and we could discuss it more later, but that was the last I ever saw of him!”
Had he understood her or not?
…I can never know what he thought of me.
She then realized they were more or less arguing over who had been the most unfortunate.
She did not like it, but she could not forgive someone who thought of themselves as unfortunate.
…Even in similar circumstances, I never thought of myself as unfortunate.
“A lot happened after that. I’m not trying to whitewash the past, but there’s one thing I can never forget: the meaning of my name. And I’m trying to live up to that name! Even if my dad is gone and no one is expecting it of me, I won’t back down when it comes to my name!”
She punctuated her words with a headbutt and felt the impact.
It brought pain, but the man shook his head once and glared at her beyond that pain.
She heard him speak.
“You’re trying to live a life you aren’t ashamed of? You won’t back down? Don’t be naïve!”
An answering headbutt reached her.
The sound of impact rang through her head.
It had a decent ring to it.
This bastard’s not half bad, she thought as she was knocked back and quickly recovered.
She started with a return hit.
But the sound of impact was weak because he had kept his head from being knocked back.
They pressed their foreheads together, he ground his teeth together, and he spoke some more.
“Leave, Miyako. If you are that insistent, then use your name to take on the world outside of here.”
“Yeah, I will leave and I will take on that world. But I’ll finish things here first.”
“What is there to finish here? Do you like being pampered by automatons that much?”
“I’ll overcome that pampering!”
She gave a point-blank headbutt and pushed him away with the movement of her head.
“The automatons started saying they were grateful for what I had done. I’ll go from being a guest and become someone who can do for them what they can’t! What’s wrong with that!?”
“That is for their master to do!”
“If you’d been doing it, I wouldn’t have been able to take your place!”
“Then are you trying to become their master!? Are you doing these things while setting aside the final human of 3rd-Gear and ignoring his decisions!? How will you take responsibility? The automatons would not have changed if you had left well enough alone, so how will you take responsibility for changing them!?”
His question was accompanied by a headbutt and it was quite effective.
She felt briefly dizzy and somewhat reevaluated him.
…He’s got a decent amount of resolve.
There was more to a fight than having resolve, but that could be the deciding factor in some things. Without resolve, one could not gather the strength needed to withstand pain.
His question shook her resolve and filled himself with it. That synergy caused twice the damage.
His question of responsibility had likely been what he truly thought, so Miyako opened her mouth to speak.
To bring back her shaken resolve, she did not bother calculating anything out in her mind. If he was throwing his true thoughts her way, she would say what was on her mind as well.
“You don’t know what to do, do you? You lost your world, you lost your father, and now you don’t know what to do.”
I’m tearing into him, she realized. But I’m also talking to my old self.
But these were her true thoughts. She did not hold back and she did not think about the consequences.
She went on to say something she should not have if she wanted to maintain an amicable relationship.
“I don’t care about taking responsibility. It doesn’t matter to me that your world was destroyed.” She raised her head. “But I know what I’d do if I were you. I’d eventually find a job in the outside world. I’d make sure of it. Once I desired that, I’d go to the place I desired, work there, become accepted there, make mistakes, complain, kick my boss, get punched by my boss, become friends with my boss, and all the while create something and earn money. And…”
“I’d use that money to feed the automatons here.”
She faced forward and saw Apollo’s yellow eyes looking her way.
“The automatons do not need you in order to be fed. They are self-sufficient. In fact, they do not need to eat anything other than small amounts of fuel. And how would you feed all of the automatons here? Would you earn enough money to pay them all a wage?”
“Are you stupid? People don’t eat food. They eat satisfaction.”
She felt she was being naïve, but this was what she truly thought.
Strength filled her grip on his collar. This will work, she told herself before saying what she had wanted to say at the company interview.
“Money, food, things, social status, questions, answers, going somewhere, returning home, doing something, destroying something, being with someone, and leaving someone are all forms of the same sense of satisfaction!!” she said. “If serving people is what automatons do, then even a small amount of money will make a record of that service. Even adding on one more coin to the pile will make a noise they can store in their mechanical memory and the number of those stored noise will show the passage of time as they’ve served their master. Those memories will prove that it happened in the real world and not just in their heads.”
“And what will that accomplish? That is sentimentality and you are forcing it onto them.”
“What’s wrong with sentimentality? Even machines remember the past and they need some proof to feel pride in their work. If that kind of sentimentality is wrong, are you saying it’s wonderful to have no emotions at all, Apollo!? If you do nothing and avoid any emotions, you’ll never gain the pride you might lose and you won’t have any pain in your past! But isn’t it the lack of those things that led to the destruction of 3rd-Gear’s people and left only machines behind!?”
“The hopeless humans who had lost their emotions died off while the machines with the ability to gain those things survived. And where’s the god who made your world like that?”
“That god is no longer just in our minds. He’s in the sky above those machines who are growing flowers! When those flowers inevitably die, it will scar those dolls’ memories and I’ll tell them not to fear the fact that flowers die. Just as they let the flowers bloom to create their own pasts, the flowers created their pasts to leave behind seeds. The same satisfaction lies in both the dolls and the flowers. I’ll find my satisfaction in increasing 3rd-Gear’s sentimentality like that, so I’ll be perfectly happy ignoring you as you reject that satisfaction!”
She swung back her head and felt strength fill her entire body.
…This will definitely work.
She gave one last comment as she swung her head toward his forehead.
“Just you watch! If you insist on being an emotionless master, I’ll become a sentimental master!”
Her shout was immediately answered by a voice from the cliff overhead.
“Is that true, Lady Miyako!?”
Moira 1st’s sudden voice was followed by a few dozen figures leaning out from the cliff.
Miyako froze in place when she heard the sounds of several people moving at once. She looked up at the cliff while still holding Apollo’s collar and pulling him toward her.
Moira 1st and the other maids were gathered below the scarlet sky. Moira 2nd was missing, but all those she had named were there.
Miyako looked at them while on her knees.
“Wh-what are you doing?”
“We arrived to save you two, but Lord Apollo said he wished to speak with you first.
Hearing that, Miyako looked down and saw the young man’s shoulder’s shaking as he averted his gaze.
…That son of a bitch.
“Were you faking when you looked unconscious before?’
“Yes, I suppose you could put it that way.”
“And…were you guiding my thoughts?”
“Such cruel suspicion, Miyako. I simply wanted to speak honestly with you.”
“Oh? That’s surprising.”
She nodded and some new dark emotion welled up from the bottom of her gut.
She opened her mouth to speak and only a simple verb escaped.
“Ha ha. No need to be so violent, Miyako. Women should speak with more lovely language than that.”
“Have a lovely death.”
“W-wait. Calm down, Miyako.”
“Death is an instant. Not even I can make it wait.”
“You are quite the poet.”
“Then do I need to write you an elegy? Viva the afterlife.”
As she spoke, Miyako realized something.
She grabbed his right hand and looked at his supposedly broken right arm.
“What is it, Miyako? Is there something wrong with my arm?”
It was no longer broken.
She felt her back tremble, but not from fear or surprise. She did not understand the truth in her hand, so she gained a feeling of the unknown.
But as she remained speechless, Apollo pulled on her hand and lightly brushed off his arm.
“It seems to have healed. The people of 3rd-Gear have long lives, after all.”
“S-sure,” she agreed while thinking back.
According to Moira 1st, the people of 3rd-Gear had long lives, but their metabolisms were about the same as the people of Low-Gear.
…So why did his arm heal so quickly?
The injury on his forehead was also gone. She touched her own forehead and found no blood on it. That meant his forehead injury had healed before the exchange of headbutts had begun.
…What’s going on?
As she thought, Apollo stood up and the maids descended the cliff to meet him. The maids held their hands down, used their gravitational control to press and hold the crumbled cliff face in place, and jogged down.
Moira 1st took the lead and she looked back and forth between the two humans with a smile.
“We have now reconfirmed the two of you as our masters.”
“No, um. I was only…”
As soon as Miyako frantically spoke up, Apollo turned his back and his shoulders shook.
Once she realized he was laughing, Miyako felt her cheeks flush. She assumed no one could tell in the evening sun, so she turned toward Moira 1st, relaxed her shoulders, and had a single thought.
…Well, that’s how it turned out.
“Fine then. I’ll help out where I can. A university student working to find a job in modern Japan only knows the ideal form of a corporation and I’ve heard people seeking a workplace to achieve their goals is the way out of a recession. Sorry I don’t have the experience to say anything that isn’t straight out of a textbook.”
She took a breath and spoke in response to Moira 1st’s deepening smile and the smiles of expectation behind her.
“Doing nothing is an acceptable choice too. It’s a whole lot better than actively making thing worse. Still, I want to do something with this world that’s being wasted.”
“Really, what is going on?”
A voice filled a small, oblong room.
The student dorm room contained a bunk bed and the lockers near the entrance were labelled “Center of the World – Sayama” and “Sensible One – Shinjou”.
The beginnings of night could be seen through the window across from the entrance and someone sat at the desk by the window. The short boy had a white bandanna around his head and he wore a black T-shirt and the pants of his school uniform.
He spoke to someone over a cell phone.
“How is Mikage-san doing? Oh, that’s her journal. She writes in it every day. Could you put her on for a moment?”
After a few seconds, he spoke toward the sounds coming from the phone.
“Mikage-san, you’re writing in your journal, aren’t you? I don’t think I’ll be able to read it today, but would it be okay if I read it tomorrow morning when we travel to Okayama with the others?”
After a short silence, he lowered his head a bit.
“I’m sorry. I should have been more reliable. Anyway, I’ll call again in the morning, but you can have Kazami-san call me if there are any problems. Don’t worry. She’s my upperclassman, so she holds a higher position than me and you can trust her. I promise she won’t do anything you don’t want. Can you put her back on?”
After more silence, he scratched at his head.
“Oh, yes. That’s right. I can somehow understand her even though she can’t speak. I just have an idea what she’s probably thinking. Sure, I’ll put Izumo-san on.”
Izumo appeared from the bottom bunk wearing a black track suit and raised a hand toward the boy by the window.
The boy tossed the cell phone and Izumo caught it
“What is it, Chisato? Are you lonely?” he asked sleepily. “Yeah, Hiba said something about understanding her even when she doesn’t speak. Making all those assumptions seems pretty dangerous to me.”
“I-Izumo-san! You’re ruining everything!”
“Hm? Don’t worry about it, Chisato. It’s just the complaints of a small fry. We can get across what we want to say without speaking too. Like when we’re in bed every night and- you’ll kill me if I say any more? You’ll shove me out of the helicopter tomorrow? Ha ha ha. No need to be shy.”
“That’s being shy?”
Hiba glared over from the window, but Izumo ignored him.
“Well, I hope you can enjoy your time with Mikage. It’s been a while since you’ve had a female roommate, hasn’t it?”
“Oh, can you pass something on to Kazami-san? Tell her not to help Mikage-san when she uses her cane to walk and not to help her even if she trips. And even if it’s easier to communicate in writing, tell her to avoid it if possible. It might take longer, but she can figure out what Mikage-san is saying from her limited pronunciation.”
“You sure are strict.”
“Mikage-san is the one that wants it.”
“Oh?” Izumo sounded impressed. “Did you hear that, Chisato? Of course, I hear it caused quite a commotion when you reserved the women’s bath for her. She’s pretty mature.”
For a while, Izumo simply nodded as he listened to the voice over the phone.
After a fair number of comments and about seven nods, he turned to Hiba.
“Do you have anything to say?”
“No,” answered Hiba.
Izumo passed it on, hung up, sighed, and placed the phone in the charger stand on the floor.
Izumo faced Hiba and Hiba frowned.
“What is it? You look like you have something to say.”
“I was just thinking how strange it is that my grandfather, yours, and Sayama’s all knew each other.”
“It is a strange feeling. But…”
Hiba scratched his head apologetically.
“I still have no intention of telling you about the second impurity. Sorry.”
“That’s fine, but did that battle this morning make you want to join us?”
Hiba gave a troubled smile and did not answer, so Izumo gave a quiet laugh.
“Hiba, what do you plan to do if the battle with 3rd-Gear ends?”
“That’s easy. That should mean Mikage-san can evolve once more, so I would leave Keravnos with all of you and live in peace.”
“Are you fighting for her evolution?”
“Yes,” he replied. “I think she isn’t evolving because we have to fight and because we don’t have the Concept Core. I just want to be with her and-…”
“Don’t say it all. You’ll spread the feeling too thin.”
“Perhaps, but do you have anything like that?”
“Yeah. I’m always thinking about…well, unspeakably dirty things I can do with Chisato and- What’s with that look? Is that not what you meant?”
“No, but I did gain a bit of respect for you. About 20%…no, 15%.”
Izumo nodded in satisfaction.
“But it doesn’t look like that’s all there is to it. Do you have another reason?”
“Yes. 3rd-Gear’s Typhon abducted someone the other night, remember? Well, I lost an older sister a long time ago. She went missing.”
“An older sister?”
“Yes. My grandfather took her in about ten years ago. It was about three months after Mikage-san arrived. He said he was making her his granddaughter.”
“What kind of girl was she?”
“Despite being a girl, she was an incredibly good swordfighter. I was no match for her at all. I tried so many times to get up close and grope her breasts, but I never managed it.”
“I see. If someone as agile as you couldn’t manage it, she must’ve been quite something.”
Hiba nodded, but clenched his right fist and gathered strength in it.
“I don’t know how it would turn out now. At the time, my father had died and I think my grandfather was planning to make her his successor, but she suddenly vanished about a year later.”
“Vanished? What was her name? I might be able to check on it with IAI’s intelligence network.”
“Her name was Miki. Do you know a Hiba Miki?”
“No.” Izumo scratched his head. “Sorry. But you think it might’ve been 3rd-Gear’s doing, don’t you?”
“We’ve covered more or less why I’m fighting, but what about you?”
“Because it’s fun. Why else?”
His immediate and casual response caused Hiba to stop moving.
After a few seconds of silence, Hiba frowned.
“Fun? People die in these battles.”
“I can’t help it if I find it fun and there’s no point in lying. I’ve given this a fair bit of thought even if I don’t have as much combat experience as you.” A bitter laugh leaked from his mouth. “I have divine protection from my mother, a place where I can go all out, my bonds with Chisato, my trust with my foolish underclassmen and comrades, and other things you wouldn’t believe if I said them aloud. And for the moment, I find all those things out there on the battlefield. With a normal life, I’d probably find them on a sports team or in a club, though.”
“Are you treating the concept battles like a sport?”
“The classroom and the workplace are their own kind of battlefield. Or do you think your battlefields are especially harsh compared to school or work?” Izumo looked straight at Hiba. “If so, you need to apologize to everyone staring out the school window or doodling in class. And you need to apologize to the people standing behind the register or riding a scooter around delivering pizzas. You can apologize by stripping naked, fully prostrating yourself on the ground, and having a photo shoot. And make sure to do it outside.”
“I-I don’t want to do that outside! Oh, but I don’t want to do it inside either.”
“I see. So you don’t like exhibitionism. Then remember this,” said Izumo. “You’ll find battlefields everywhere. No matter where you go, some people win, some lose, some succeed, and some fail. And people can leave or die in accidents anywhere. All I’m saying is that I want to enjoy it all if possible. In that way, there’s no such thing as a fun and peaceful life where you do nothing. If you want to find real peace…”
“It’s when you sleep with the girl that means the world to you. Although you could say that’s its own kind of battle. So are you going to do nothing but sleep with Mikage?”
“That’s not possible… And you’re absolutely horrible. My respect for you rose to 30%, though.”
“Good, good.” Izumo nodded. “Anyway, I heard from Chisato that you’ve been taking baths with Mikage every day.”
“W-wait a minute! Someone needs to wipe down her body and help her when she can’t get up from the bath.”
Hiba frantically stood from his chair, but Izumo held out a hand to stop him while sitting on the bed.
“No need to panic. I’m not criticizing you. In fact, I heard that her body is still not fully made. Is that true?”
“Yes.” Hiba slowly sat back down and crossed both his legs and arms. “I couldn’t say it before because she was with us, but nothing related to being a girl has developed. I think it’s because her evolution stopped before she had any knowledge about that stuff.”
“Does she have the knowledge now?”
“Yes. An upperclassman in my club works part-time at Yokota, so I asked him to get me a foreign textbook. Mikage-san’s questions when she reads it are so unintentionally severe that you would have a hard time making me that embarrassed if you tried. She’ll lean up against me or suddenly take off her clothes to compare with the textbook. I’m just…how should I put it? I don’t know what to do!”
“Calm down, boy. To her, she’s just trying to learn. You need to restrain yourself. Although I suppose she isn’t equipped for it even if you couldn’t.”
Hiba narrowed his eyes at that and sank a bit in his chair.
“She sometimes asks if I would be happier if she were a proper girl.”
“What do you say?”
“I’m not telling.”
Hiba smiled bitterly and Izumo did too.
“Well, from what I can see, she’s a good girl. I thought she would be more reliant on you, but she’s actually doing what Chisato tells her.”
“She’s neutral about anyone I don’t view as an enemy. The only people she will smile at or let touch her without getting cautious are my mother, my grandparents, and me.”
“That was the first thing she learned with her evolution.”
Izumo nodded but did not ask further.
Hiba then seemed to realize something, looked around with a serious expression, and shrugged.
“Anyway, what’s the deal with Sayama-san and Shinjou-san?”
“What do you mean?” asked Izumo.
“There are rumors going around the school that they’re in a homosexual relationship,” he said quietly. “The Daily Rose Taka put out by the girls newspaper club is serializing a novel, the school-wide hard gay poll had Sayama-san at the top, and they were seen embracing each other this morning.” Hiba slapped his knee. “Oh, right. Kazami-san might know something. I hear she was at the school department store with Shinjou-san buying swimsuits. And both of them bought girl’s swimsuits.”
“Wait just a moment. I need to check on something.”
Hiba tilted his head as Izumo pulled out his cell phone.
“Hey, Chisato? Have we not told Hiba about Shinjou?”
As Hiba continued tilting his head, Izumo quietly said something into the phone and nodded a few times. Finally, he slowly returned the phone to its stand.
He sank back onto the edge of the bed, hung his head, and rested that head on his hand.
“D-did something happen?” asked Hiba.
“Well, it looks like we’ll be seeing a lot of each other for a while, so I should probably tell you.”
“Is it about Sayama-san and Shinjou-san?”
“Yeah.” Izumo nodded and faced Hiba with a serious expression. “Keep it a secret, but everything you’ve heard is true.”
Izumo said nothing and did not nod, but then he sighed.
“As your upperclassman, I order you to sleep on the top bunk tonight. I don’t want to catch the Sayama germs.”
“W-wouldn’t Shinjou-san’s bed be the same?” asked Hiba as he stood.
His foot caught on the chair and the chair’s wheels sent it sliding into the dresser to the side. The collision produced a dull noise.
“Oh, s-sorry. And this isn’t even my room.”
“I wouldn’t poke around over there. You might find some evidence.”
“P-please don’t scare me like that.”
Hiba moved to the dresser hidden behind the bed, so he left Izumo’s sight.
“It looks like something fell from the top of the…”
Hiba trailed off and the silence continued for several seconds.
After a few more seconds of nothing, Izumo tilted his head.
“Hey, Hiba. What’s the matter?’
Hiba moved out from behind the bed holding something white. He spread out the white object between his hands.
“This fell from the top of the dresser.”
“Looks like girl’s underwear to me.”
“D-don’t act like it’s normal! Why is this here!?”
“Let me be blunt: with Sayama and Shinjou, it is normal.”
“Wait a minute! Have this school’s morals completely crumbled!?”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Izumo as he stood up and slapped his own chest. “Well? Do you see how normal I am now?”
“I think you’re making an unfair comparison.”
“Don’t worry about that either. Anyway, at the Seto Inland Sea training camp tomorrow, I order you to share a tent with Sayama. Good luck. I know you can manage.”
“No, I can’t!!”
As soon as he shouted out with the girl’s underwear in his hand, the chime indicating lights out rang.
A hard sound broke through the stillness.
In the forest below the night sky was a clearing behind a lit factory.
The fifty meter clearing had been created by digging down into the ground and it contained two figures.
The two figures in the darkness were female.
They were both tall, they both had long black hair, and they both held wooden swords, but one was collapsed on the ground.
The one who had fallen to a sitting position was the younger of the two. The girl had sharp eyes, she wore a white denim shirt and jeans, and she clicked her tongue.
“You’re the same as always, Tatsumi.”
She glared up at her opponent. The girl named Tatsumi’s wooden sword was hanging down and not at the ready.
Tatsumi wore a yellow dress and a white cardigan and she had a smile on the eyes below her hair which was brushed to the side.
“If you can give me a look like that, you have the right attitude, Mikoku. You have to leave before long, right? If you’re catching the ten o’clock train to Yokohama, you need to leave here by eight.”
“Isn’t that a little early?”
“You’re going to Yokohama and you’ll be eating dinner there, right?”
Mikoku sighed, ignored Tatsumi’s subsequent complaint, and pointed toward the factory with her chin.
“I would love to visit Chinatown there, but Shino has prepared something for today.”
“Really? But she has her own work to do. …Alex, where is Shino?”
“Asleep. On top of me.”
The voice seemed to come from a megaphone, but it did not reach the surrounding area. It was a directional voice.
“I see,” replied Tatsumi as her shoulders lowered. “If Shino has prepared something, that may be better.”
“That would be best. I’m sure she has made much more than necessary.”
Mikoku began to stand up.
But Tatsumi stepped up to her and swung her wooden sword at the younger girl’s ankle.
Mikoku evaded the high-speed attack by using her standing motion to jump straight up and she brought her wooden sword toward Tatsumi.
Tatsumi was already twisting her body upwards.
The sword swinging down responded to the twisting by jumping upwards.
A clear sound filled the air and Mikoku’s wooden sword broke in half. Pieces of cloth scattered from her shirt’s collar and wind struck her cheek.
She could do nothing while in midair and something struck her chest.
The hard and gently pointed object was the tip of Tatsumi’s wooden sword.
The wooden weapon was lightly pressed against her sternum and a smile gave a warning from the other end of the weapon.
“Open your mouth and breathe out.”
Before she could, something happened.
Strength slowly gathered in the tip of the sword. It was not enough strength to provide pain, but it accelerated over a series of instants.
“This will knock you away, so prepare to land!”
Exactly that happened while still providing no pain.
Tatsumi vanished from Mikoku’s vision and was replaced by the sky.
Mikoku did not know what had happened.
She finally realized she had rotated around, but then her back struck the grassy embankment making the edge of the clearing.
She had known this would happen, so she was sprawled out and relaxed. The air in her lungs had vanished and her loosening muscles opened up her chest before she could try to breathe in.
She was able to take a normal breath of oxygen which steadied her vision.
Where is Tatsumi? she thought.
The other girl’s location would tell her how far she had been thrown.
But that idea proved fruitless because Tatsumi stood to her right.
“You are absurd.”
“You should be able to do this much yourself.”
She did not think she could, but she did not feel like saying it now. They had argued countless times and she always lost.
As Mikoku remained silent, Tatsumi narrowed her eyes and held out a hand.
“I taught you a good bit in today’s lesson. Do you realize that?”
“Yes,” she agreed while reaching out her own hand.
Their hands touched.
An instant later, Mikoku heard her own footstep below her.
This was simply because Tatsumi had lifted her up in an instant. That footstep had been the sound of her standing.
Tatsumi stood before her like always and that made Mikoku gulp.
“Stick with it, okay? You haven’t been putting much effort into it lately.” Tatsumi narrowed her eyes. “You were not made Hajji’s bodyguard this time out of trust or obligation. Of course you weren’t. You understand, don’t you? You can use that technique too.”
“But I have never gotten a single attack on you during training.”
“You’re the type that shines during real battles.” Tatsumi shot down that excuse and tilted her head with a smile. “The trick is to carefully observe your opponent and use your strength to its fullest. If you observe them, you can see how to evade or block as much as possible, right? I prefer to block and knock them away, but you would likely do better evading and using their own movements to cut them down.”
Tatsumi made a small spiral movement with her outstretched hand.
That motion was the trick to scooping up one’s opponent’s strength and using it against them.
Mikoku had never succeeded in using it.
…I do best when simply using my full strength.
“I do not think I can fight like you, Tatsumi.”
“You don’t have to, but you’ll be in trouble if you can’t even keep Fafnir Custom’s cannon from hitting you. What if Hajji or Shino had been shot immediately afterwards?”
A gentle summer breeze washed over the concept space as Tatsumi spoke.
“Don’t worry, Mikoku. You can gain even more power than this and you will be able to master it for the sake of your world.”“How can you know that?”
“Because that is what you wish for,” said Tatsumi. “Think about it. The more power people have or desire, the harder it is for them to fully utilize their power. I do not desire much power, but even I can reach this level.”
“The fact that you still can’t fully utilize your power says you will grow to incredible heights.”
“You’re giving me too much credit. What I desire is a small thing.” She brushed aside Tatsumi’s hand, turned her back, and stepped up on the embankment. “I will wake Shino, eat dinner, and head to Kurashiki. Shino has her own mission to deal with.”
She heard a sigh from behind her.
“Are you worried about Shino?”
“Yes. Even if she will have Shiro with her, she is still-…”
“She’ll be fine. The problem is how worried you are, Mikoku,” said the voice behind her. “I’ve thought this for a while, and I think I should tell you now that you are taking on Army missions as an individual. Mikoku, what are you fighting for? Answer me like this is a teen film.”
Mikoku could not answer Tatsumi’s question.
…What am I fighting for?
She knew the answer, but it was no one else’s business. Not even Tatsumi’s.
She remained silent, stepped on the grassy embankment, and began walking away.
“You can’t do it like a teen film?”
“No,” she answered. “I can’t do it like a yakuza movie or a monster movie either.”
“Yeah, that probably wouldn’t work. Although doing it like last week’s Heidi vs. Mecha Onji could be good.”
“They never showed how the fight between Mach Peter and Giant Clara turned out, so I give that one a D. Anyway, if you have something to say, stop beating around the bush and say it.”
She turned around on the embankment and found Tatsumi had not moved.
As Tatsumi looked up from halfway up the embankment, the moonlight illuminated her quiet smile.
That expression was enough for Mikoku to draw back.
“If you want me to tell you, I will,” said Tatsumi while still smiling. “I believe I know what you are thinking concerning Shino. Once the coming battle with UCAT is over and this world is ours, you will leave everything to Shino and disappear.”
For a moment, Mikoku was unsure what to say.
…How does she know that?
She forced herself to shrug in order to hide the surprise in her heart. She gave a mocking laugh and tried to deny Tatsumi’s allegation.
She opened her mouth, but Tatsumi spoke before she could.
“Don’t worry. I won’t tell Shino and she won’t be able to tell how desperate you are unless she crosses swords with you.”
“Wait, Tatsumi. Enough with the crazy delusions.”
“You wanted me to tell you, didn’t you? You have no right to stop me from speaking, so I will speak and you will listen to the end. If you have any complaints, then feel despair and do so with a loud sound effect.”
“Alex, you be quiet. And no eavesdropping on a conversation between girls.”
Tatsumi sighed, but Mikoku brushed up her hair while feeling the impatience inside her.
Tatsumi was exactly right.
The Army would eventually clash with UCAT and the Army would use its power to take the leadership role of this world.
But Mikoku knew a certain fact.
…Winning by force rarely ends well for you even if you manage to maintain control afterwards.
If the Army gained the rights to the world after their victory, Mikoku felt it would be best to leave those rights with the person who seemed the farthest removed from the Army’s power.
And as the one who used that power, she would have to distance herself from that person.
…I need to distance myself from Shino.
But Tatsumi had also mentioned how she had realized this.
…She realized I was desperate as we crossed swords?
“Tatsumi,” she called out. “Why is my being desperate related to Shino?”
The answer came immediately.
Tatsumi opened her mouth and spread her arms in the moonlight.
“That’s simple. Being desperate means you are willing to die, but why are you willing to die? Normally, people do not die for their own sake. That means it’s for someone else, and with you, who could it be but Shino?”
Tatsumi’s shoulders moved and she arrived before Mikoku’s eyes before the younger girl could prepare.
She could not even cry out in surprise before Tatsumi held a hand over her head.
The hand was clenched into a fist and pointed down.
A great noise burst from the space between the fist and head, pain shot from the top of her head to her butt, and all strength left her legs.
She held her head and crouched down while Tatsumi sighed and put her hands on her hips.
“Y’know,” said Tatsumi as if asking her to prepare for the coming words.
Mikoku looked up toward that swordsmanship teacher who had stopped smiling and gave a relaxed expression.
“Mikoku, you’re fighting for Shino’s sake,” came Tatsumi’s voice. “But if you die, it will be Shino’s fault. That’s what it means to fight for someone else’s sake. You are able to fight because they are there, but it will also mean you died because they were there. It means you would not have died if they had not been there.”
“It’s fortunate Shino has not realized what you are thinking. If she had, she would stop you from heading out to fight. She would tell you not to do that kind of thing for her. However, that would be more about escaping responsibility than about worrying for your safety.”
“Shino would never think about escaping responsibility!” reflexively shouted Mikoku. “She cares about others and she would never worry about her own responsibility!”
“That is why you can so easily blame your injuries on her. That isn’t fair, Mikoku.”
“What’s with that look? Did I hit a sore spot? You can get mad if you want. Give a nice explosion of rage.”
Mikoku took action at that.
Her movement was sudden, but Tatsumi stepped back calmly as if she had predicted it.
However, Mikoku was able to see Tatsumi.
…To the right!
She used her instincts more than her eyes to step on the embankment and send her right hand out in a jab.
An instant later, she felt something wrap around that hand.
Her hand had been grabbed.
She could not move. Her wrist was held in place and her legs were stopped by pressure on her thigh.
However, her hand had made it through.
“Is this the first time one of your attacks has reached me?”
Mikoku turned toward that question and found the two of them facing each other halfway up the embankment. Tatsumi’s right hand had grabbed her hand and Tatsumi’s usual expressionless face lay beyond their hands.
“That anger brought your attack to me, so who was that anger for?”
Mikoku’s vision rotated.
By the time she realized she had been thrown, the moon had come into view. She felt the pale moon looked like a glowing jewel.
When she struck the ground, she was no longer anywhere near the embankment. She was near the center of the clearing twenty meters away. The impact made her cough and Tatsumi’s voice reached her from the distance.
“You really can be stupid. Why did you let your guard down? Don’t forget to prepare to land and make it easier on your lungs.”
She did not have the composure to reply and she continued coughing as she got up and Tatsumi jogged to her side.
“C’mon, c’mon. Stand up and think. You have a decision to make. Will you yourself desire to fight or will you place the blame on Shino? I will not say either one is right or wrong. If you choose to fight for yourself, you might selfishly head off to your own death,” said Tatsumi. “But Shino is doing her best to be accepted by all of you. She’s not doing it for you, though. She’s doing it for herself.”
“I…” she began until Tatsumi struck her head.
“You don’t need to give your answer now. Don’t be so hasty.” Tatsumi laughed. “Think about it for as long as you need. Whenever you fight, you will hurt your opponent, they will hurt you, someone important to you may be hurt, and yet you will survive. Whenever that happens, see if you are glad that you survived. See if you can selfishly be more glad that you survived than that you hurt your opponent.”
As Tatsumi spoke, she suddenly looked Mikoku in the eye and her expression crumbled into a smile.
“Don’t make me lecture you too much, okay? Shino is obedient, so lecturing her is boring. You on the other hand fight back, so lecturing you is a lot of fun.”
“That last half was nothing but forcing your own ideas on me.”
But after standing up, Mikoku asked a question.
“If I fight, will I eventually be able to speak on and on about nonsense like that?”
“Do you want to?”
“I have no one to tell it to,” said Mikoku. “And I think I need a partner like that if I am to find my reason to fight. I need someone who will not be shaken when I ask for the meaning of my actions and who will accept it all with a smile.”
“Am I not good enough?’
“Sorry, but you’re just someone I train with. The kind of partner I need in order to fight is an enemy. I need an enemy to take Shino’s place.”
As she spoke, Mikoku realized something.
…Oh. I’m rejecting the idea of fighting for Shino’s sake. I really am simpleminded.
She had not verified it and Tatsumi may have been guiding her there on a whim, but she was trying to choose some unknown enemy over Shino who she had been with for so long.
…But I don’t want to make Shino cry when I get hurt.
There had once been a certain dog and that dog had saved Shino at the cost of its own life.
Had that dog done so for Shino’s sake? If not, why had it done so?
…Did it think doing that would satisfy it?
Or had it been a sudden thing with no real thought behind it?
Mikoku did not know and Shino likely did not either.
What Mikoku did know was that Shino had still not forgotten that dog, that she would leave flowers and water for the dog, and that she would embrace the dog when it was summoned with the power of her philosopher’s stone.
…Would the same happen if I died?
Part of her hoped so, but another part knew it would be painful.
She made up her mind.
“But if you make something abnormal a part of everyday life, is there no avoiding that pain?”
Mikoku gave a nod and the harshness vanished from her face. She turned to Tatsumi and found the usual narrowed-eye expression.
“Do you have an enemy, Tatsumi?”
“Yes, I do. And I fight to ask a question.”
“That is something only my enemy knows.”
Mikoku did not know what that meant, so she could only nod toward the other girl’s troubled smile.
“I see. I wonder if I have an enemy as well.”
“Don’t you? For example, there is the one with the surname Sayama on Team Leviathan.”
“I’m not so sure. That boy knows nothing. …Do you think he will become my enemy once he learns the true meaning of the Leviathan Road?”
“Will I be able to find my reason to fight before that happens?”
She looked up toward the moon.
Looking at the cold light of that pale arc, she nodded.
“I need to head out on my mission to protect Hajji. If that results in a fight, I may learn something.”
She lowered her gaze and looked Tatsumi in the eye.
“But why did you bring this up all of a sudden?”
“That’s simple,” said Tatsumi. “I felt like it.”
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