Owari no Chronicle:Volume6 Chapter 21
Chapter 21: Silently Read Memories
Someone said to go outside
What did so before you could respond?
Your thoughts, your gaze, or your advancing feet?
Below the blue morning sky was a dark blue expanse that reflected the sunlight and rose and fell with waves.
It was the sea, but this sea did not continue to the horizon.
Beyond the ships and water birds was an opposite shore and bluish-gray mountains.
A voice flew toward that sea.
“The Seto Inland Sea!”
The female voice belonged to Kazami.
Her voice came from a wharf sticking out into the sea. A few dozen people were gathered on the concrete harbor and Kazami stood in the lead while holding a wheelchair’s handles.
The wheelchair carried a girl with long blonde hair across the wharf.
That girl, Mikage, looked up toward Kazami, opened her mouth, and spoke with silent words.
“Ee ehoh ihluh ee?”
“That’s right,” replied a smiling Kazami. “The Seto Inland Sea.”
Mikage nodded and looked behind the other girl.
Two boys stood there: Izumo and Hiba. The latter gave Kazami an impressed look.
“Kazami-san, you sure have gotten close to Mikage-san.”
“We’ve been together since last night, including the bus, helicopter, and train rides coming here. Are you jealous, Hiba?”
“I am, Chisato. I’m worried you’re going to awaken to a love that crosses the gender barri- gfh.”
Kazami ended the unnecessary comment prematurely and glanced around.
The ones waiting for a ship on the wharf and harbor were Team Leviathan and the members of the special and standard divisions that often worked with them.
The training camp was taking place on a desert island and they had already travelled from Okutama to Okayama UCAT by helicopter and from there to Kurashiki by train.
They had arrived at the Port of Mizushima on the southwestern side of the Kojima Peninsula, but it was not a fishing harbor. It functioned as an industrial transportation harbor and it was reachable on a train from Kurashiki. The industrial area was used by many corporations such as Mitsubishi.
“The Izumo Company has apparently been using this since the early days of the Izumo Aviation Institute.”
From what Kazami’s father had told her, the area had been an even greater shipbuilding area than Yokosuka during World War Two.
She turned to Hiba, then to Mikage, and finally to the western sea.
“That’s Kure, Hiroshima over there. During the National Defense Department days, warships like the Yamato were built there.”
“They build passenger ships and tankers now, don’t they?”
“Oh, do you know a lot about this, Hiba? Do you like this kind of thing?”
“No, but my grandfather does. Back in the National Defense Department days, the military apparently asked them to share some technology for a giant warship. They planned a warship that flew and fired a destructive beam from the bow, but the military thought they were joking and rejected it.”
They were probably serious, thought Kazami. If the plans still exist, my dad could probably use it for something.
Mikage then lifted her body up to look at Hiba.
Kazami guessed that Mikage had not heard that story and that she wanted to hear as much from Hiba as she could.
The night before, they had spoken together and Kazami had occasionally let Mikage handle the calls to Hiba, so she could now understand what the girl was thinking to a certain extent.
…But I’m probably not as good at it as I think I am.
She had been woken early that morning by the sounds of Mikage attempting to leave the room on her own.
Kazami’s current mood would change based on whether that was due to Mikage’s desire to see Hiba or a desire to get away from her.
I can’t let my guard down, she thought. Mikage has her own thoughts. As long as I don’t hastily read too much into her actions, I’ll get my answer eventually.
Suddenly, Hiba glanced around.
“Come to think of it, I haven’t seen Sayama-san or Shinjou-san since Kurashiki Station.”
“Oh, those two couldn’t resist any longer and they can’t exactly do it in front of us, now can they?”
“It happens a lot.”
Kazami beckoned Hiba over. After Mikage tilted her head and Hiba walked over, Kazami crouched down, placed a finger over her mouth, and gestured for Hiba to lower down as well.
He lowered his head and Kazami reached into his collar and toward the wheel of Mikage’s wheelchair.
She searched around with her hands for a bit.
…There they are.
When she pulled out two small devices about the size of a grain of rice, Hiba mouthed a word much like Mikage would.
Kazami nodded, quickly opened the backpack she wore, and pulled out a handheld recorder much like the one Sayama owned. She switched it on and Hiba whispered a comment on the sound it produced.
“Kazami-san, what is this sound of flesh and bones being struck?”
“Shh. Sayama edited this four hour selection of my attacks. For the moment, it’ll sound like I’m hitting Kaku.”
She placed the bugs in a small pill case she took from her backpack and placed it back in along with the activated recorder.
She tossed the backpack toward Izumo who lay collapsed on the ground. It made a dull noise as it struck his face, so it must have had some kind of weapon inside. She decided not to think about it and took a breath.
“Now then, let’s talk seriously.”
“Sounds good. …Wait. Why were we bugged!?”
“Not so loud, Hiba. This isn’t a simple matter. There are people who are interested in our actions, so they asked to have us monitored. Probably from the other side of the sea.” Kazami pointed at Hiba’s collar and Mikage’s wheelchair. “They must have been slipped onto you during the body check before boarding the helicopter. I’ll put them back on you, so we need another way to eliminate them. Hiba, when disembarking from the ship later, purposefully fall into the ocean and change your clothes. Mikage, you try to use your cane instead of the wheelchair. Also make sure to check your tent every day.”
Hiba frantically nodded and Kazami smiled when Mikage emulated him. Hiba had plenty of combat experience and Mikage had a long past, but their one-on-one battles had not prepared them for this kind of tactic.
…I actually feel like an upperclassman for once.
“So where are Sayama-san and Shinjou-san?”
“After leaving the helicopter at the Okayama IAI branch, Sayama received a phone call, remember?”
“Yes. A group called the Army attacked UCAT and escaped. Shouldn’t you all head back there? I heard most of the internal data was destroyed.”
“They targeted the central data server, so the servers of individual departments were unharmed. It seems transferring over the data from those servers will recover most of it. In fact, the IT department was glad to get a new backup from everyone. A lot of the departments don’t bother with periodic backups to the central server because it’s too much trouble.”
“Then what was the enemy after?”
“Well,” said Kazami while narrowing her eyes. “Do you really think UCAT’s databank had nothing but backup data from the different departments?”
“Also, that phone call to Sayama wasn’t from an official UCAT contact. It was a secret message from 2nd-Gear’s military god in the development department.”
Kazami intentionally emphasized their connection to other Gears.
…I don’t really like showing off our strength.
But they needed to demonstrate their past results.
She saw Hiba’s expression stiffen a bit and the look in Mikage’s eyes changed.
“What did that military god say?”
“Something very interesting. His boss had saved the majority of the data from the central server. She acted ahead of time and copied over everything the Army would want to steal and destroy.”
“But how did-…?”
Kazami cut him off with a shake of the head.
“It’s rude to ask that. Anyway, it contained a lot of documents concerning the National Defense Department, including some image data. The military god was instructing Sayama to pick up the important documents by fax so the higher ups won’t notice. He’s probably waiting by a convenience store fax machine near Kurashiki Station right now.”
“Then the idea that he and Shinjou-san went off to do dirty things was just camouflage?”
“Well…” Kazami trailed off in thought, looked up toward the sky, and gathered her thoughts. “That might not be a complete lie.”
Kurashiki was located a bit west of Okayama’s center.
It was somewhat west of the Kojima Peninsula that stuck out into the Seto Inland Sea.
The city was a twenty minute train ride from the prefectural capital of Okayama. To the south of that northeast-southwest railroad were museums and a sightseeing district known as the Bikan district which was filled with antique houses. To the north were an amusement park and a flat, seemingly never-ending residential district.
Kurashiki Station was located in the center of the city, a hotel was situated above the station building, and department stores were connected to either side.
Outside the southern entrance of the station was a large roundabout made with tourists in mind and major roads led away from it in three different directions.
The central street was primarily lined with bars, business hotels, and restaurants. Convenience stores were located between the different stores and restaurants.
Two people stood in front of a convenience store with a blue sign on the left side of the road. One was a boy wearing a vest and suit pants. The other was a boy wearing a white shirt, shorts, and a white straw hat.
The summer sun shined down as noon approached, so the two of them stood in the shade of a tree and out of the way of the walking people.
The one in the straw hat looked to the backpack carried by the one in the vest.
“Sayama-kun, you’ve been carrying that for me this whole time. Isn’t it heavy?”
“Ha ha ha. This bag contains your binder, Shinjou-kun. That would never feel heavy to me.”
“I put Izumo-san’s spare sunglasses in it because they wouldn’t fit in his bag.”
“So that’s why the right side seemed oddly heavy. Is there a trashcan around here?”
“Um…” Shinjou thought and looked at her watch to change the subject. “S-Sayama-kun? It’s 11:55 right now, so we have five minutes until Kashima-san told us to call him. Have you taken care of the bugs?”
“I have. It will only last about 90 minutes, but that should be enough.”
Sayama pulled out a clear plastic case from the backpack’s side pocket.
It contained two listening devices and Sayama’s portable recording device. That combination made Shinjou tilt her head.
“Will that really work?”
“It will. I am playing a dummy conversation I edited together.”
He raised the volume of the recorder so she could hear.
“I-I can’t handle something th-that hard!”
“We are running short on time. You seem extraordinarily interested in this. Anyway, there is no need to be afraid. Ask for it hard and rough!”
“I know I said that…but…”
“Now, then. Continue, Shinjou-kun. …Hm? Why did you just twitch?”
Sayama turned a serious expression toward Shinjou.
“Such a wonderful editing job. Now, do you see a problem with this, Shinjou-kun?”
“I see one in your brain!! …Wait. You aren’t recording everything I ever say, are you?”
“Unfortunately, that proved impossible as we first met and spoke inside a concept space where batteries did not function.”
Shinjou suddenly felt faint and collapsed to her knees, so Sayama’s eyebrows rose.
“Oh, no. Are you anemic, Shinjou-kun? Is there a restaurant that serves liver sashimi around here? No, we must not act like a carnivorous couple. A better option would be-…”
“U-um, try to calm down before you jump to too insane a conclusion. Let’s focus on a more pressing issue.”
She stood up with a hand on her forehead, frowned, and tilted her head.
“Have you been playing that for the bugs this whole time?”
“Of course. The bugging team of UCAT’s special division is likely listening to their headphones with meek looks on their faces. But do not worry. If they attempt to make unauthorized copies or to sell it, I intend to sue them for copyright infringement.”
This is hopeless, realized Shinjou. Maybe I should have been more prepared.
She could only sigh, but after a second sigh, she managed to speak.
“Well at any rate, you go do what you have to, Sayama-kun.”
“Why are you waving your hand as if trying to banish me to the convenience store?”
“Oh, um… It just came out that way for some reason.”
She checked her watch and saw it was exactly noon. He checked his own watch, placed Baku back in his breast pocket, and faced the convenience store.
“If possible, I hope to receive some information concerning the Shinjou in the National Defense Department,” he said suddenly.
Shinjou gave a small gasp as he spoke with a straightforward look despite not facing her.
…He actually thought about it.
She was happy, but she cleared her throat to indicate her next comment was what she felt she should say rather than what she wanted to say.
“I’m glad to hear you say that, but you can’t prioritize me. You have to prioritize everyone.”
He gave a bitter laugh, nodded, and turned his expressionless face her way.
“I am well aware. For one thing, information on the National Defense Department should also include information on the mountain ape with the same surname as me. I must eliminate the more disgraceful parts before anyone sees them.”
“I think that’s wrong for a different reason…”
“I see. At any rate, I hope we can learn something from this. Both about our relatives and about 3rd-Gear.”
He turned toward a cloth wrapper attached to the backpack’s side with a band. It contained the sword Gyes had given them while promising to speak with them.
“We’re supposed to place that where we think 3rd-Gear’s base is, right? Do you have any ideas?” she asked.
“I have a general idea. When we arrived here, I heard about that attack by the Army that the old man referred to as the ‘delightful beauty invasion’, but he also mentioned a piece of information he heard from Brunhild-kun.”
“From Brunhild-san? Why does she know about 3rd-Gear?”
“The headquarters of 1st-Gear’s city faction were around here. It seems they clashed in the past and 3rd-Gear moved afterwards. When 1st-Gear’s recon team visited the area again, nothing was left.”
“But that makes it even harder to know where they are. If they were still in their original position, we could at least make a guess using the Divine States-World Interaction Theory.”
“Predicting the destination of someone who has gone missing can be quite fascinating and teach you a lot. And that includes your parents, Shinjou-kun. So let’s take it easy for now. I want to think about some things.”
“What things?” asked Shinjou.
“The second impurity the Hiba boy will not reveal to us, for one.”
Shinjou recalled the previous morning. Sayama had been oddly forceful while speaking with Hiba and he had negotiated with Gyes afterwards.
“Did you realize anything after those discussions yesterday?”
“I did. Last night, I was thinking in the bath before you arrived, and…”
“You suddenly lost all credibility…”
“Just listen. Yesterday morning, I asked the Hiba boy why Apollo had switched to piloting Typhon when he had previously used a pale blue god of war.”
“Yes, and he told you he doesn’t know why.”
“That he did, but he did not deny that Apollo had switched from one god of war to Typhon. Do you understand what I mean?”
“Ah,” gasped Shinjou as she recalled what Gyes had said. “Gyes said it is impossible to negotiate with Typhon’s pilot, that they utterly reject that option, and that anyone who knows the secret will bear an impurity.”
“Yes, but Apollo is alive. So why is it impossible to negotiate? Why do they utterly reject it? And why would that lead to bearing an impurity? I think all these mysteries can be narrowed down to a single point: why did Apollo switch gods of war? I already have a theory, but I lack evidence.”
He seemed certain, so Shinjou believed him. When he spoke with confidence, it could often cause problems, but he was never outright wrong. This naturally led to her next comment.
“You’re amazing, Sayama-kun.”
He narrowed his eyes, nodded, and let out a charming sigh.
“That is the ultimate compliment, Shinjou-kun. …From the Hiba boy’s behavior, I think he feels he has already lost his chance to tell us.”
“Then…” Shinjou chose her words carefully. “Is it like when I wasn’t sure I could reveal the truth about myself?”
“Yes. He is likely an incredibly nice person, so he seems to hesitate too much out of concern for others. He views everything as an imposition on others. Mikage-kun’s presence is also holding him back,” he said. “Do you think he ever has her comfort him?”
She could not immediately reply.
She thought about what he meant and applied the concept to the two of them.
She realized he was referring to when he would rest in her lap.
…He won’t use my lap unless he’s injured saving me or he beats me at cards.
When he felt he was in a position to freely ask for it, he would show his need for comfort.
“I wonder if Ryuuji-kun is the same?” she thought aloud. “Is he comforted by Mikage-san who can’t evolve, speak, or walk?”
“I am certain Mikage-kun would gladly do so, but I think he would hesitate to ask. He would at least subconsciously view it as placing a greater burden on her and he would deem that as arrogant,” said Sayama. “But there are times when he can accept that comfort without guilt.”
Shinjou looked up and he smiled back at her.
“And that is connected to his reason for fighting. The question is whether he has realized it or not.”
“Does he really have times like that?”
“He does. Everyone does.”
She did not know the answer.
She felt she had Sayama comfort her too much.
Even being with him now was a part of that.
“I think only a small portion of people ever have that desire for comfort met,” she said.
He tilted his head and she saw something like doubt in his usual lack of expression.
He appeared unsure whether he should say something or not.
Finally, he brushed up his hair, raised his right hand, and began by calling her name.
“Shinjou-kun, there was once a certain automaton.”
This sudden comment brought only confusion to Shinjou, but she quickly realized he was actually thinking for once.
She did not know what he meant or who this automaton was, but she understood what it was he desired. He wanted someone to listen to his answer, so she spoke up.
“U-um… What about this automaton? Will you tell me, Sayama-kun?”
He took a breath, looked away from her, and continued.
“That automaton was quite foolish.” He paused for a beat. “For some reason, she was set to destroy herself and yet made no attempt to change that. Even when her master asked that she change that setting, she refused with a smile.”
He remained expressionless, but looked up in the air, brushed up his bangs, and chose his words carefully.
“Perhaps troubling and worrying her master in that way was her way of being comforted.”
“Everyone is comforted in their own way. And that is exactly why everyone has some way or another.”
He let out a small sigh, tightened his tie, and regained his usual expressionless look. It was as if his previous words had never been spoken.
“Well, most of what I said is speculation and the person in question is not with us. You can ignore it.”
“I don’t want to,” said Shinjou.
She could tell the ends of her eyebrows had lowered and a small smile crept onto her lips.
…What happened to #4 really bothered him.
On the other hand, she had almost forgotten about it.
“I appreciate that you talk about that kind of thing from time to time.”
“Then we truly are opposites, Shinjou-kun. I view it as a horrible failure.”
He spat out the words and did not look her in the eye, but he soon hurriedly looked at his watch.
“It is time.”
“Oh, you’re right. We can leave it at that.”
“What a disagreeable tone you have there.”
“We really are opposite. I wasn’t being disagreeable. I just thought you were being oddly…”
“Funny and amicable. What would that combination be in the Sayama language? And if you just combine ‘fu’ with ‘cable’ without thinking what it sounds like, I won’t take a bath with you for a while.”
“Y-you don’t have to think about it so seriously.”
“I see. But that proves you do not view it as all that important. I would prefer it if you forgot I said anything.”
She stuck her tongue out in response and he merely smiled bitterly.
If she had the chance, she decided to bring up that sort of thing herself next time.
Meanwhile, Sayama took a step toward the convenience store.
“Please wait here, Shinjou-kun. Afterwards, we can take a walk as we gather our thoughts. How about looking around the Bikan district?”
“The others will complain if we’re late. We need to set up the tents and the stove.”
“Our athletic couple can handle the sweaty work like that. We can buy a souvenir that will make them forget.”
He took a few steps and passed through the automatic door to the convenience store. Seeing the door open as if avoiding him made Shinjou smile.
She watched through the glass as he walked inside and spoke to the clerk.
…The Bikan district, hm?
When he had mentioned visiting Kurashiki, Kazami had been jealous. It was an old city and some old areas remained. Those areas had been preserved and turned into sightseeing areas.
…A normal girl would be happy to be taken somewhere like this.
She reached into her shorts pocket and pulled out the Okayama sightseeing booklet she had secretly bought. When she had bought a swimsuit with Kazami, she had asked the girl for advice and she had added some labels to the booklet based on her response.
She had thought the training schedule would leave no time for fun, so arriving in Kurashiki so suddenly was quite fortunate. The Bikan district page had a label attached and this backing from Kazami allowed her to breathe a sigh of relief.
“Maybe I can let him comfort me a little more,” she muttered.
A car driven by a man in a suit passed by, so she stepped back. With the tree behind her, there was not much space, but there was enough for one step.
Her back struck something other than the tree. It was more flexible and it shook.
It was a person.
She frantically turned around. This was the result of focusing too much on the booklet and thinking about letting Sayama comfort her. She needed to apologize.
She found a girl about her own age. The girl was tall and had her long hair tied behind her. She wore a black backpack with a cloth fishing rod holder attached.
…I hope she isn’t mad.
Shinjou looked, but the girl’s expression seemed strange.
When someone was hurt by a stranger, they would normally gather their eyebrows together in a frown, but this girl was staring at her with slightly raised eyebrows.
She almost looked surprised.
Was it really that surprising? worried Shinjou.
“I’m sorry. A-are you okay?”
The girl took a moment to react. The pause was long enough that Shinjou worried she had not heard her.
The girl’s first reaction was to relax her expression and shoulders.
She then took a breath and brushed up her hair.
“There is nothing to worry about. Um… What is your name?”
The girl asked probingly, but Shinjou saw no reason to question her about it.
“Sadagiri. Shinjou Sadagiri.”
As soon as she answered, Shinjou worried the girl was going to demand money from her. Rude terms such as extortionist, con artist, and ransom abduction filled her mind for a moment.
…But I have someone even more amazing by my side.
Thinking that put her at ease, so she relaxed and let out a breath so the girl would not notice.
“What about you?”
The girl answered as if she had been waiting to be asked.
“Toda. …Toda Mikoku.”
Mikoku saw Shinjou right in front of her.
After hearing her name, Shinjou looked up a bit and moved her lips as she thought on the name.
“Toda-san? I’m very sorry.”
She bowed. The words accompanying that movement of long, black hair were those of one speaking to a stranger.
That fact caused Mikoku’s shoulders to droop a little.
“I knew it.”
“Nothing. More importantly, you need to be careful. You might be fine on a major road like this, but the back roads of this city are narrow and the telephone poles stick out into the road in a lot of places. Not paying attention to your surroundings is dangerous.”
“Oh, I see.”
Shinjou looked around the major road and then down the narrow roads between buildings.
After confirming what she had been told, she nodded.
“Do you live here?” she asked.
“No, I am from Tokyo.”
The cautious strength in Shinjou’s expression left when she heard that.
“Oh, so am I. Where in Tokyo do you live? I’m from Akigawa.”
Mikoku just about answered but caught herself and gave a displeased frown.
When Shinjou lowered her head in disappointment, Mikoku frantically spoke up.
“Oh, but I hear Akigawa is nice. For example, the central park was opened up to the citizens after it wasn’t being used for many official events, they rely on other cities for garbage disposal so as not to pollute their own air, and they use a lot of tax money to build up the river banks and keep the river from flooding.”
“I-is it really that nice a place? And you sure do know a lot about it. Do you live in a nearby city?”
“You could say that.”
She had to keep Shinjou from asking further and there was a lot she had to ask as a member of the Army.
She needed to secretly ask about the important points.
“Um… What are your hobbies?”
That was not what she was supposed to ask. She was focusing too much on the personal side, so she slapped herself on the cheek.
“I am here for work, but what about you?”
She was worried that question was being overly familiar, but Shinjou began to think with a finger in front of her mouth.
“Well… A training camp I suppose. Yes, a student council training camp. We’re staying on a desert island in the Seto Inland Sea.”
“Sounds like quite the adventure. I hear there are pirates known as Wokou in the Seto Insland Sea, so be careful.”
“It’s not the Sengoku period anymore, so I don’t think they’re still around.”
“I see. I did not look into it that far. …Anyway, why are you in Kurashiki? Securing supplies?”
“Yeah, we’re picking up something.”
Shinjou turned toward the convenience store and Mikoku followed her gaze.
She saw a boy through the window. He held a fax telephone receiver in one hand while looking through the documents being printed off.
“After we finish here, we were going to look around the Bikan district.”
Her tone was cheerful, but it caused Mikoku to hold her breath. She had a sword inside a cloth fishing rod holder. She could enter the convenience store and swing the sword with all her might while he was trapped in the fax corner.
…He would not be able to avoid it.
Tension ran across her face and she grabbed the cloth holder.
“Um, can I ask you something?”
Shinjou turned a smile toward her, so Mikoku’s expression returned to normal.
She regained her slightly relaxed smile.
…I’m being too soft.
She scolded herself, but then made an excuse.
…This is better than having her find me suspicious and putting up her guard.
She took two breaths before slowly responding.
“What do you want to ask me?”
“Eh? Oh, right.”
Shinjou held out a booklet with hand-drawn maps of Kurashiki that was turned to the map of the Bikan district.
“You seem to know a lot about Kurashiki, so do you know any interesting places in the Bikan district?”
Mikoku was unsure what to say.
During the overnight train ride, she had carefully read a sightseeing booklet of her own. She had put together a list of places to visit after she finished guarding Hajji, but it had been centered on places to buy souvenirs for Shino.
“Will you be going there with him?”
“Eh? Oh, yes.” Shinjou blushed. “With him.”
“I see.” Mikoku mentally sighed. “Then I have a suggestion for you. There is a photo studio around here in the Bikan district. Also, you can likely take a nice commemorative photo on this street here. I suggest you do so.” She nodded. “That way you will still have a record of it even if you lose your memories.”
Mikoku belatedly realized what she had said.
She realized how careless she had been, but did not let it show.
After a moment of hesitation, she held out her hand to distract Shinjou from her question. She held the hand above Shinjou’s head and gently touched the top of her hat.
She could feel the fibrousness and softness of Shinjou’s hair through the white-dyed straw.
Shinjou tensed up a bit, but Mikoku did not pull back.
…She is so soft.
As she thought, a wind blew through.
Kurashiki was a flat city, so this summer wind was warm and gentle. A few beads of sweat appeared on her face and the surrounding noises sounded louder than before.
“I must hurry on, so this is as long as I can stay. We may meet again some time.”
“Yes. Until then, Toda.”
“Call me Mikoku. It means to carve into life. Much like your name, Shinjou Sadagiri.”
Shinjou’s eyes widened somewhat and Mikoku made sure she would remember that expression.
And then she turned her back.
Shinjou spoke up, but Mikoku did not turn back around. She merely raised a hand.
“Give my regards to that boy. That fortunate boy.”
|Back to Chapter 20||Return to Main Page||Forward to Chapter 22|