The Zashiki Warashi of Intellectual Village:Volume5 Side B
- 1 Jinnai Shinobu's Apocalypse — Side B — OP_code"Rail_song_jail".
- 1.1 Part ? (3rd person — Day ??/?? ??:?? - ??:??)
- 1.2 Part 2 (Jinnai Shinobu — Day 10/03 20:30 - 20:40)
- 1.3 Part 3 (Uchimaku Hayabusa — Day 10/03 20:30 - 20:43)
- 1.4 Part 4 (Hishigami Mai — Day 10/03 20:45 - 20:55)
- 1.5 Part 5 (Uchimaku Hayabusa — Day 10/03 20:45 - 21:05)
- 1.6 Part 6 (Jinnai Shinobu — Day 10/03 20:55 - 21:04)
- 1.7 Part 7 (Hishigami Mai — Day 10/03 21:10 - 21:20)
- 1.8 Part 8 (Jinnai Shinobu — Day 10/03 21:10 - 21:20)
- 1.9 Part 9 (Uchimaku Hayabusa — Day 10/03 21:05 - 21:20)
- 1.10 Part 10 (Hishigami Mai — Day 10/03 21:30 - 21:45)
- 1.11 Part 11 (Jinnai Shinobu — Day 10/03 21:40 - 22:00)
- 1.12 Part 12 (Uchimaku Hayabusa — Day 10/03 21:35 - 22:10)
- 1.13 Part 13 (Hishigami Mai — Day 10/03 22:19 - 22:45)
- 1.14 Part 14 (Jinnai Shinobu — Day 10/03 22:10 - 22:40)
- 1.15 Part 15 (3rd person — Day 10/03 23:00 - 23:05)
- 1.16 Part 16 (Jinnai Shinobu — Day 10/03 22:45 - 22:55)
- 1.17 Part 17 (Uchimaku Hayabusa — Day 10/03 22:45 - 23:05)
- 1.18 Part 18 (Jinnai Shinobu — Day 10/03 23:10 - 23:18)
- 1.19 Part 19 (Jinnai Shinobu — Day 10/03 23:18 - 23:28)
- 1.20 Part 20 (Hishigami Mai — Day 10/03 23:28 - 23:45)
- 1.21 Part 21 (Uchimaku Hayabusa — Day 10/03 23:45 - 23:50)
- 1.22 Part 22 (Jinnai Shinobu — Day 10/03 23:45 - 23:58)
Jinnai Shinobu's Apocalypse — Side B — OP_code"Rail_song_jail".
Part ? (3rd person — Day ??/?? ??:?? - ??:??)
“Lost baggage? …What? You mean, um, wait. So it was lost!? But that ‘item’ was top secret!!”
“It’s already gone, so there’s no use complaining about it. Or do you think that’s going to magically make it appear?”
“If it was that important, why didn’t you keep it with your carry-on baggage? I’m going to officially report this!!”
“I didn’t want something that dangerous on me! I know plenty of people who assumed a domestic flight was safe and came to regret it!!”
“Okay, understood. Everyone, we need to calm down. The carrier decided to transport the ‘item’ by hiding it in a civilian travel bag, but that travel bag has gone missing as lost baggage. Is that clear?”
“Can’t we track the bag?”
“If we’d attached a transmitter, the signal would have been intercepted. It would be like telling the entire world to come take it from us.”
“No one knows what airport it ended up at.”
“The airline isn’t stupid. They’ll find it before long and contact the civilian student. There’s nothing we can do until that student picks up his travel bag.”
“Could someone fake their identity so we can collect the bag ourselves?”
“Do you want to stand out? That would increase the risk of revealing the ‘item’s’ existence, you know?”
“Now you’re catching on. Unfortunately, all we can do now is pray.”
Part 2 (Jinnai Shinobu — Day 10/03 20:30 - 20:40)
“………………………………………………………………………………………What the…hell is this?” I muttered while staring at my cellphone’s small screen.
What I had read was so insane that I may have briefly passed out at points.
It had all started as I tried to kill some time waiting in the lobby of the island’s floating airport in the hopes of my lost baggage showing up.
I had used Singer Song Liar.
It was one of the many free net services flooding the market and it was best described as “strange songwriting software”.
If you entered lyrics and music, it would automatically create a story to go along with it. It had an easy mode that allowed you to paste in countless pre-recorded samples and gave you help with what to write next using something similar to a predictive search. That allowed users to casually create a song in as little as ten minutes. (Of course, I’d heard all the songs made with easy mode sounded a lot alike.)
I didn’t know exactly how the story creation worked, but it apparently took the genre (classic, jazz, techno, rock, etc.), the type of melody (ballad, blues, pop, etc.), commonly-used phrases, the rhythm, and the terms and names used in the lyrics to arrange hundreds of thousands of phrases to form the best story. Or something like that.
It had gotten famous when the big message boards started asking why they would let people use such a convenient and high-level service for free and then I had heard it got pretty overloaded during the weekends and late night.
Since I was bored, I had spent about twenty minutes making a song just to try it out, but…
“Wait, wait, wait. That is a lot of text.”
According to the message boards, the shorter ones were only a few pages long and the longer ones were a full thirty-page short story, but it looked like I had a full novel.
And then there was the content.
This says the Japanese archipelago was entirely sealed off, I became a world-famous robot scientist to take Japan back, I made a contract with the Succubus and made full use of her, I made a contract with a Seven Deadly Sins class demon to power up an unmanned robot – oh, wow – I one-shotted Hishigami Mai, I was some sexy mad scientist, I fulfilled my promise with the Zashiki Warashi a decade later while wearing a spacesuit, “Once it’s all over, let’s begin it all anew…Yukari. (Trying to sound classy)” Oh, wow. Using her name? What!? Was she my wife or something? Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!
“Why do I feel like I was just presented with some embarrassing old notebook I don’t remember writing!? I didn’t do anything, so why am I stuck here writhing in embarrassment!? Besides, my name was the only one in the lyrics, so where did all the rest of this come from? It’s strange but really embarrassing!! I’m curious, but I want nothing to do with this!!”
N-not to mention that it said I took on a legit con artist in a casino, that I survived a direct hit from a car bomb, that we tried to rescue the kidnapped Zashiki Warashi on our own, and that we dragged twenty-four corpses into one spot! That should have been enough to think this was unrealistic! I never knew how scary it was that machines have no sense of shame! I’m not my uncle, the living police drama who dreamed of being a police officer and actually got into Investigation Department 1, and I’m not Hishigami Mai, who can singlehandedly fight a war and head home with a smile! What is this? If the song I made without really thinking produced this, then is my mind still filled with embarrassing teenage delusions!? That’s depressing! And why the hell would you omit the part where I misused the Succubus’s power to make out with Madoka!? That’s the most important part! I can’t believe this! This damn digital program doesn’t get it at all! You stupid, stupid, stupid thing!!!!!
“…I want to die.”
It made sense that my mind had gone blank and that I had lost track of time. It was only once I muttered those four words that I noticed a soft sensation leaning against my upper arm.
My right temple itched. It was true I had been holding the Zashiki Warashi in my arms in Singer Song Liar, so I looked over.
It was Hafuri.
The young leader of the brutal and villainous organization named Hyakki Yakou was sleeping there in a kimono.
My throat immediately went dry and I screamed before my brain could catch up.
I impulsively tried to escape, but this time I felt something heavy resting on my opposite shoulder.
What is it now? A Konaki-Jijii?I thought as I looked over.
It was Hishigami Mai.
The assassin in a tank top and hot pants was sleeping with her head on my shoulder.
No, a closer look showed her eyes were ever-so-slightly opened like thin blades.
“What’s wrong with you? Don’t wake the young lady when she’s so sleeping so comfortably.”
Does that mean I can’t sneak away!?
Being with my parents is a negative, but I still hoped to meet a bunch of girls on this casino island and make some wonderful memories. But does this that dream has been destroyed before I even leave the airport!?
A small canine Youkai was rubbing his head against Hishigami Mai’s boots. I remembered it was a Sunekosuri.
“I can understand reacting that way to Mai-san, but isn’t it rude to include kind Hafuri-sama in that?”
“It’s not her I’m afraid of. It’s all the people around her!!”
She must have been a little tired from the trip because the girl with a bob cut showed no sign of waking despite all my shouting.
“A-anyway, I’m waiting for my lost suitcase. The Zashiki Warashi was with me, so do you know where she got off to?”
“As soon as she caught sight of Hafuri-sama and Mai-san, she left as quickly as she could.”
Of course she did.
My right temple itched. In Singer Song Liar, she had shielded me from bombs and bullets and gone on a rampage like a murder machine, but reality was a different story.
“Why are you all here?”
“Wait until the young lady has gotten some rest.”
“To be honest, I have to pee so bad I’m about to wet myself! If you make me wait here any longer, it’s going to end badly for everyone involved!!”
“We’re here for you.” Hishigami Mai rubbed her own face. “A special Package using an Amanojaku has been constructed on Goldmine Island. People like us normally don’t head out to deal with some criminals trying to make a little money, but this Amanojaku Package is pretty bad. They want it dealt with quickly even if they have to pay a steeeeeep price for it.”
“Right. We don’t know the details of the Package, but we can see its effects popping up here and there. How should I explain it? People’s actions are supposed to be based on ideas inside them, but we’ve noticed a lot of people such as corporate bigshots and national bureaucrats doing weird things that completely ignore those ideas. It’s like they’re being pulled by a magnet and the higher ups of our world don’t like the looks of it. They want someone – anyone – to take care of it and fast.”
I remembered that the Amanojaku was said to be a mischievous Youkai or one that answers any question with the opposite answer. There were apparently a number of theories saying it was originally an oni or a god. If you checked through the stories, it would sometimes capture people, eat them, skin them, wear the skin, and pretend to be them. That put it squarely in the “deadly” category.
“Um, I’m not going to be seen as an accomplice because you told me that, am I?”
“Either way, this is never going to be public knowledge.”
“That just scares me more!!”
I turned to the Sunekosuri, hoping for help, but the canine Youkai was focused on rubbing up against the woman’s boots.
You stupid perverted dog! You’re completely useless!!
“Wait, so what does that have to do with me!? If you underworld people are going to fight to the death, do it somewhere away from me!!”
“We need to know what you created.”
“I-I-I-I-I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“You can’t fool me. I know you’re hooked on Singer Song Liar. Didn’t you know it’s made to steal your personal information?”
C’moooooooooooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!! You mean I can’t ignore this? And how did that thing turn into all this!?
“We still haven’t located the core of the Package, but we can guess it brings a manmade world into reality. They probably polished up the ‘answering with a lie’ trait and remade it into ‘turning a lie into the answer’.”
Wait. No, no, no, no!?
Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait! What would that mean? Will that embarrassingly delusional automatically-created story actually happen!? The poker game against a con artist, the car bombing, the kidnapping, the slaughter of the villains, the Zashiki Warashi’s rampage, the theft of the country, and the elimination of Japan will all come true!? No, wait! Just remembering it is making my temple itch like hell!!!!!
“Why? Why was I of all people dragged into this Amanojaku Package!?”
“Who knows. I said we haven’t located the core, remember? More importantly, let me see that phone you’ve been so focused on. What it says will let us know how to deal with what’s coming.”
“…………………………………………………………………………..Do I have to tell you?”
“What? Is it some adolescent wet dream?”
I covered my face in a hand and confessed.
“In a way, it’s worse.”
Part 3 (Uchimaku Hayabusa — Day 10/03 20:30 - 20:43)
I descended the stairs that rolled up to the airplane and set foot on the national airport’s runway. A detective usually wore a cheap suit year-round, but it was feeling a little too hot for that now. It made me wonder if it really was October.
“Ahh. So we’re finally at the casino island!! Was it called Goldmine Island? I’m glad to see you’re so excited.”
My general grumpiness was contrasted by the grinning National Police Agency VIP next to me.
He was Chief Superintendent Mishima.
If you wanted to know just how much of a VIP he was, there were only two or three more ranks above him. No matter how perfectly you went about getting promotions, that wasn’t a position someone in their late thirties should have.
“Why am I on a Kyushu resort island?” I asked without thinking.
Chief Superintendent Mishima must not have had anything to do because he actually answered me.
“For some observation and a study meeting. With thirty million people crammed in together, Tokyo keeps ending up in the red with its social security and infrastructure maintenance, so they’re looking for a new source of income. They’ve been talking about building a casino in the city for a while now. It would be centered on the Izu Islands and far away from the city center.”
“Yes, I’d heard all that, but still.”
“As the police, we’d like to know the positive and negative sides of a casino before laying the groundwork for a new system. We especially need to know how it affects the criminal map. As you can see, there’s nothing strange about Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department taking a trip to Kyushu’s Goldmine Island. Even if the trip is paid by the city residents’ tax money.”
Incidentally, I belonged to the Metropolitan Police Department which guarded the peace of Tokyo while Mishima belonged to the National Police Agency which supervised all of Japan’s police. That made everything from Hokkaido on down to Okinawa his territory. It didn’t matter to him how fiercely the ombudsmen or civil groups complained about how we used the taxes.
“You’ve heard about Kobe’s failure, right? It got so surrounded by famous hotels, casinos, shopping malls, and leisure facilities that the sightseers never set foot outside those places and nothing went back to the locals. There are even groups online demanding they drive out the ‘shut-in resorts’. We want to avoid that kind of trouble when we’re making plans for the city, so this is an important job.”
“But isn’t this a job for the uniformed officers way, way, wayyyy higher up than me!?”
“Yes? Why do you think I’m here?”
Chief Superintendent Mishima glanced around the runway as he spoke.
There were quite a few people in the area who seemed out of place. Beyond the normal workers running around refueling planes or guiding flights in, I noticed some people guarding our surroundings. And they were all dressed in the gaudy miniskirts of the female police officers you would see on the cover of an American pin-up magazine.
Needless to say, no Japanese police organization used that kind of uniform.
Chief Superintendent Mishima (appeared to) casually observe them while speaking.
“We don’t want an influx of armed guards into Tokyo. Did you know these guards actually get pharmacist licenses so they can carry around a compressed-gas tranquilizer gun? I wonder who would win if one of them got in a fight with one of our officers.”
The thick belts around their waists contained several leather cases and I could see a gun-like silhouette along with the baton and handcuffs.
“I hear they’ve formed a high-level and large-scale organization here. I just hope they don’t start taking bribes and turn into a new gang.”
“That isn’t what I meant. Why did you have to drag someone with a dead-end police sergeant job out here!?”
“You can never get the whole picture just by looking down on things from above, so I want to know how things look to someone who investigates crimes on the ground. And when I told your department chief, he immediately suggested you.”
Damn him!! Is he shoving all the pain-in-the-ass work onto me!?
I turned around just as several people from the police rushed noisily down from the plane. There were a lot from both the Metropolitan Police Department and the National Police Agency. While they were uniformed police officers, these were not the people out on the streets. They were all distinguished enough it wouldn’t have surprised me to see medals on their chests.
Overall, this didn’t feel at all like a fun trip to a tropical island, so I wished they could feel even a fraction of the pressure weighing down on my stomach.
I felt like I was only receiving half the oxygen I breathed in as we rode the shuttle bus to the airport terminal. Lately, security had gotten stricter even for domestic flights, but all of them were let right through the gate. Not only did security not X-ray their suitcases, but security didn’t even check what they were carrying with them. Of course, none of them seemed to have any intention of carrying their own bags.
And if the higher ups had it easy, those at the bottom had it tough.
I dragged Chief Superintendent Mishima’s suitcase around as I exited the airport building with all those important people.
They immediately began boarding black luxury cars that were clearly not normal taxis. There were five or six of them in a row with police cars in between and two police motorcycles at the very center. The National Police Agency probably saw this as being self-sufficient, but normal society would want to ask if they thought they were royalty.
After I shoved someone’s suitcase in the unlocked trunk, the smoked window lowered and the career policeman addressed me.
“Okay, Uchimaku-kun, just follow the time schedule from here on. We’ll be having a secret strategy meeting on a luxury cruise ship, but be honest. You don’t want to join us, do you?”
This was obviously an order, so I had no choice but to answer with a huge smile.
“Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooot at all.”
“To be honest, I don’t either. I don’t want to meet with people so old they can’t taste the drinks and only focus on the price tag. …Do you think there’s a good Chinese dumpling place around here? I feel like showing up with terrible garlic breath just to mess with them. See you later.”
He waved his hand and the parade left the roundabout. Only the others as young as me were left behind. As soon as the cars vanished, we all let out heavy sighs but immediately exchanged a glance and cleared our throats. We couldn’t have anyone informing the higher ups of that. There was no chance of us getting along, so we all walked off in different directions.
“Now, then. What to do?”
My official duties were clear. My immediate objective was to find some dinner, but I grimaced as soon as I saw a vending machine. The drinks were all over a thousand yen each, so the casino city would be hopeless. I would be better off spending the night holding my stomach. So what else was there to do? A police officer in a suit couldn’t exactly go gambling on his own. Besides, my repeated pay cuts had left me with nothing to gamble with. However, I didn’t want to head straight to the inn and go to sleep either. I just knew I would wake up at some weird time like three or four in the morning.
I had nothing to do.
I was on a resort island, and yet I was about ready to lean in over my cellphone and download a mystery-solving app or something.
But then a familiar voice reached me from the side.
Well, to be honest, something had smelled fishy from the moment I was asked to go on this irregular trip. You know what I mean? It felt just like one of those moments you invariably run across if you live long enough. Like when a landslide blocks the road and you go to a creepy mansion to get out of the rain, when you board a sleeper train after waiting for someone to cancel and run into a man in a mask, or when you win a ticket in a shopping center lottery and it turns out to be for the detached room at an inn where people kept suspiciously killing themselves ten years ago. It felt just like that!! Like when there’s some ancient bloody ritual or a gloomy counting song that ends with not just the secret basement but the entire inn making a complete 180!! Just like that!! So I had expected this much! I wasn’t crying yet!!!!!
It was Hishigami Enbi.
That mystery freak had a way of popping up at the scenes of disturbing murders. It was to the point that I wondered if that indiscrete twintailed middle school girl had the Grim Reaper walking around with her.
However, my shock this time wasn’t over her showing up without warning on Goldmine Island.
It was over how she was dressed.
“What in the world are you wearing?”
“You don’t know what a bunny suit is? This is a casino city, so what else am I supposed to wear if I want to blend into the background without standing out?”
“You look like you’re illegally working in the red-light district!! You’re nothing but trouble to all the law-abiding businesses around you!!”
“Heh heh heh. There may not be much space, but I do have a lighter in my cleavage just like the real deal.”
“Did you know that carrying flammable material around in public without any obvious purpose is against the law?”
When I sighed and confiscated the lighter, Bunny Enbi got mad.
“How can you stick your hand in there so casually!?”
“Because it’s part of my job.”
“Yeah, but you’re supposed to blush and fidget a bit first! You’re doing a terrible job!!”
I felt like the voices of the surrounding crowd were changing a bit.
Oh, this ain’t good. A grown adult in a suit with a middle school bunny girl is definitely going to give people the wrong idea!
The (female, of course) armed guards in miniskirts who looked like something from an American pin-up magazine were slowly approaching and I felt the hair all over my body stand on end.
It was true a legit police officer wasn’t about to lose an argument with a civilian guard, but there was no way I was going to use my full intellect to argue about something like this at my age!
“Why are you here!? Why in the world are you here to ruin my social standing!?”
“Huh? You mean you aren’t here because you’re pursuing that incident?”
I want nothing to do with this, I thought while covering my face and curling up, but that wasn’t enough to stop the Mystery Bunny.
“Y’know, the one with all the rumors online.”
“You mean the Samejima Incident?”
“It’s a little more credible than that online urban legend.”
I could clearly picture the grin on her lips as she continued.
“You mean you haven’t heard of the Urashima Incident?”
Part 4 (Hishigami Mai — Day 10/03 20:45 - 20:55)
“Dwa ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!”
I had Jinnai Shinobu tell me the Singer Song Liar story at the center of the Amanojaku incident, but…
I-I can’t… I can’t stop laughing! Hee!!
“W-well, I’m sure whoever it was chose a song that fit their goals, but still. Japan was sold off? What a ridiculous story. Ah ha ha ha!!”
“Stop! Just stop!!”
Unsurprisingly, the blond high school boy blushed red and sobbed.
“Besides, a Singer Song Liar story is normally only two or three pages and twenty to thirty at the most. Hm, so did someone set this up? Or was Producer Jinnai’s wonderful song just that exceptional!?”
“How many times do I have to tell you to stop rubbing salt in my wounded heart!?”
Drawn by my uproarious laughter, the young lady of Hyakki Yakou finally woke.
“Mumble… What is going on? Oh, is Target A up?”
“Now I can’t escape!!”
Jinnai Shinobu shouted as he was held from both sides.
C’mon, you’re sandwiched between an innocent little girl and a glamorous young woman, so why not look a little happier with your life?
Meanwhile, the young lady rubbed her eyes.
“How is Target A progressing? Have you figured out anything about the symbol of the lie? In the story of the Amanojaku skinning the princess and wearing her skin, it began attacking the humans once its identity was revealed. Similarly, revealing the great lie should be the best way to damage the enemy in this case.”
“Let’s see. (Grin, grin) What should I do here? (Hee hee) Should I tear open his wounded heart any further? (Heh heh heh)”
“I’ll give you up to three thousand yen!! Either don’t say anything or do it where I can’t see you!!”
The boy was truly in tears, but I ignored him and shared the necessary information with the young lady.
It looked like his temperature rose by another half a degree.
The ten year old with a bob cut brought a hand to her mouth.
“The national suicide Package using an Usuhiki Warashi, a subspecies of the Zashiki Warashi? Yes, it looks like the Amanojaku system is strongly affecting Jinnai Shinobu’s words and actions. Otherwise, a mere high school boy could never arrive at something hidden so deep inside Japan.”
“It’s real? Are you saying that national suicide thing is for real!? That isn’t some embarrassing story a computer made up on its own!? What is wrong with Japan!?”
“But I’m surprised to see that old abandoned thing showing up again. How did the information get out?”
“The casino city has to have a bunch of ridiculously huge financial servers to deal with the black cards, so it wouldn’t be too difficult to access the ‘core’ of that old thing remotely. Maybe this island has something like a backdoor terminal.”
“I’m curious about the gray-haired man that appeared at the end of the Goldmine Island part. He was an elderly white man with an Ikiryou assassination Package that used a Kechibi and he also had the superhuman Obou-Jikara gained through the trial of an Ubume’s baby. And his goal was to buy Japan.”
“It was probably Sid Clouds. He’s an occult expert who specializes in weaponizing the local oddities of wherever he’s infiltrating. Plus, a thorough shift toward offense is totally his style and I could definitely see him showing up at the very end to take all the credit.”
“Isn’t he with the CIA?”
“The top secret national suicide system was leaked, so wouldn’t the possibility of someone here letting it slip be more likely than an external cyberattack? And using some random criminals for the dirty work and letting the official agents stay hidden is their specialty.”
“If you’re right about it being Sid Clouds that means America is behind this.”
“What proof do we have that America is always going to be an ally? With their domestic economic issues coinciding with the commotion of withdrawing from their foreign military bases, the influence of the ‘world police’ is being shaken from the inside and the outside. It doesn’t seem that odd for them to consider taking control of this country’s financial foundation before their sources of money dry up. And I bet those macho-men in tights think they’re wisely protecting their ally from its incompetent administration, so they don’t even realize they’re making an invasion.”
“Either way, we need to put an end to the sale of Japan while also dealing with the Amanojaku that is making that false information a reality. I do think it’s too soon to decide Sid Clouds really is behind this, though.”
“Fine, fine. I have two or three things to get back at him for, so I have reason enough to kill him even if he’s completely innocent on this one. So look at it this way: I’ll ask him about this while I kill him. So can I get going?”
“Hyakki Yakou does not condone revenge.”
“That’s why a freelance agent like me does the dirty work. Do you get what our different roles are now?”
“You will not be going with me. If someone in as important a position as you walked the back alleys on your own, it would throw everything out of balance. I’ll leave your protection to those official members sending all sorts of murderous stares our way from behind the pillars, okay?”
The Sunekosuri must have sensed something dangerous because he tried to sneak away, but I snatched him up and stood from the bench.
“Well, I’ll be doing what I can while assuming what Jinnai Shinobu said is correct.”
She must not have fully woken yet because the young lady was still leaning against Jinnai Shinobu.
“Do you know where Sid Clouds is?” she asked.
“One of the moored cruise ships.”
“Based on what?”
“Mostly based on my knowledge of his taste and methods, but fine. To explain it logically, he can’t sleep without a bed, can’t use chopsticks, won’t eat raw fish, doesn’t call something a meal unless it has more than 250g of red meat, and doesn’t like sharing open air baths with others. That means there’s no way he would be using one of Goldmine Island’s Japanese-style inns.”
“Do you have any more tactical reasons?”
“The cruise ship has a heliport he can use. He can bring all sorts of tools to the island while ignoring harbor and airport security, so it’s convenient for building multiple Packages like the Kechibi and Ubume ones.”
That meant I had to sneak onto that cruise ship.
Now, what method should I use?
Part 5 (Uchimaku Hayabusa — Day 10/03 20:45 - 21:05)
Cosplay is my hobby, so don’t worry☆
“Hey, detectiiive, why do I have to walk around with this sign?”
“Because you’re scaring all the businesses around you a lot more than you think. They’ve put in a lot of hard work, so don’t ruin it all for a joke!!”
“Okay, I get it. If it’s that big a deal, I’ll take it off right here.”
“Try that and I really will handcuff you.”
A drink can cost more than a thousand yen on this crazy casino island, but there were apparently areas with cheaper prices if you looked.
We arrived at one such area while walking around looking at the red or yellow maple and gingko trees mixed in with the pineapple-like tropical trees lining the roads.
“It’s called Harbor Alley,” simply explained Bunny Enbi.
Instead of restaurants on a normal street, each small shop was located on cruisers or boats packing the harbor. They felt something like food carts with a roof and walls.
“The casino city is generally made so only the winners can enjoy it, but it would be a problem if the losers went on a rampage. That’s why they intentionally added in these areas for them to let off some steam. The service here prevents incidents before they happen, so it’s a way of protecting the peace that the police can’t do.”
“The best option is an inn using the ultra-high quality brands of an Intellectual Village, the second best option is a luxury cruise ship, but the worst option is life on a cruiser? Honestly, this island really is crazy.”
I was clearly fed up with it all.
“Ohh? Detective, are you nervous?”
“I just don’t want any more unnecessary work.”
The boats didn’t seem to be made of metal. They were more like plastic or an extremely hard polyurethane. Basically, it was something like a life preserver, but harder and cheaper.
Making the boat entirely out of plastic probably gave them a lot more freedom than pressing metal, cutting it apart, and assembling the pieces.
We eventually chose a random cruiser restaurant from among those plastic boats. Only after sitting at the table in the cabin did I realize it was a Chinese restaurant.
“Why doesn’t this Chinese restaurant have normal ramen?”
“Detective, you’ve never travelled overseas, have you? Most of what the Japanese think of as ‘Chinese food’ has been customized for us. There is no miso ramen in China. Got it?”
I ordered the salmon and cabbage fried rice (half size) because it was cheapest and Enbi started with the appetizers by ordering the century egg, bird’s nest soup, shark fin soup, abalone in cream, seafood ankake okoge…and at that point I confiscated her menu.
“Are you trying to eat yourself to death?”
“I’ll only eat a bite of each and give the rest to you. I have a guy with me, so I have to enjoy myself! And what better way than with a bunch of indirect kisses!!”
The Mystery Freak pouted her lips and complained, but I still opened the menu to the main dish page and held it out to her. Finally, she reluctantly chose just the dandan noodles.
There was no reason for us to wait for the food.
“So what all is going on here? What’s this Urashima Incident?”
“The horror stories about Goldmine Island are a pretty hot topic right now☆”
Enbi took a gulp of chilled water from her glass, set it on the table, and for some reason tried to swap it with my glass, so I slapped the back of her hand.
Undeterred, she continued speaking.
“It began with a single phone call between some stupid rich couple. The girlfriend had a new cruiser she wanted to show off, but the boyfriend didn’t like being outdone. He secretly bought an even more luxurious boat to surprise the girlfriend. He asked the girlfriend where she was on her boat and planned to show up on his new boat to surprise her.”
“But when he went to where she said she was, neither of them could see the other’s boat. And that was even when they were speaking on the phone at the time. The boyfriend thought it was a bad joke at first, but it gradually started to creep him out.”
“Oh, the dandan noodles were hers. I had the fried rice. Yes, thank you.”
“In the end, they exchanged data between their phones’ GPSs and their navigation devices, so they knew neither of them was lying. Nevertheless, they couldn’t seem to find each other despite supposedly looking at the same area. Eventually, their phone batteries died and they never did find each other. …Now, was one of them simply lying in some clever way or is there some ‘demonic sea’ around Goldmine Island that briefly sent them into the past or future yet still let those lovers talk over the phone? It’s up to the beautiful middle school girl and the sexy detective to reveal the truth!! That’s what’s going on here. …Are you even listening, detective? Stop focusing so much on your fried rice!!”
Munch, munch, munch, munch, munch.
Damn, this is good! I shouldn’t have cheaped out with the half size. This cruiser restaurant needs to come to Tokyo Bay!!
“There are other similar stories here and there, too. Like a helicopter camera crew trying to get a shot of a yacht for a TV show, but never being able to find the yacht. Or a boat of people coming to cheer on a macho man trying for a long-distance swimming record, but they not finding the man despite his course being a straight line. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?”
“What is all that? Did you find it on some message board? All of it? Are you sure some freelance writer didn’t make it all up for fun?”
“Let’s investigate it with that possibility in mind.”
“I thought you loved murder cases. It isn’t like you to get so excited about a trick or chasing down a criminal. And is this even a criminal incident? Are you sure those aren’t just accidents?”
“My Enbi-chan sensor is beeping like crazy.”
After trying to show off, she took a bite of her red dandan noodles. The middle school girl immediately turned her head to the side and choked quite spectacularly.
“And what part of those doubtful rumors does your sensor think is suspicious?”
“Cough, cough!! W-well, you see…”
She pulled a handkerchief from the slight cleavage of her bunny suit, covered her mouth, and replied with tears in her eyes.
“All three freelance writers who covered these rumors died suspicious deaths.”
There was no sound.
Rather than feeling the atmosphere freeze over, I felt like all of my senses vanished. All information was taken from me and the world became flat and flavorless.
But Enbi continued as if she were only getting started.
“Specifically, it was freelance writer Hashiba Tooru, occult site administrator Ishida Megumi, and infamous self-proclaimed screenwriter Mouri Yajiri. They all focused on gathering rumors from the internet to write their works or articles.”
“What were these suspicious deaths?”
“They’re probably registered separately in the police database. Hashiba took an eight-story dive from a parking deck after the auto-brake system of his new car malfunctioned, Ishida’s cellphone battery exploded when she had it up to her ear, and Mouri’s hot water heater broke, quickly transforming his bathroom into a gas chamber. In all three cases, it was treated as an accident due to improper contact inside the electronics.”
“They certainly do sound like they could have been unfortunate accidents.”
“But what if there was a system that let someone intentionally cause electronic circuits and semiconductors to lose contact?”
I placed my Chinese spoon on the edge of my plate.
At first glance, it looked like trivial rumors spread on the internet, but the people who had dug a little deeper kept ending up dead.
“Hm? What is it, detective?”
She knew she fit those criteria since she was in the process of gathering information on it, didn’t she?
She blinked her perfectly proportioned eyes and continued.
“Also, the online stories themselves are strange. As far as I can tell, the story is just about the ‘demonic sea’ that prevents two people from meeting each other. That’s all.”
“Of course it doesn’t end with that. What happens afterwards? This is a big casino island, remember? The people working here are going to seem sketchy no matter how seriously they take their work. Stories of people disappearing on trips worry people enough, so what if a lover disappeared on this island of money and desire? It would cause a commotion far greater than from female customers vanishing from boutique dressing rooms. When someone disappears at sea, you normally report it to the lifesavers or the fire department, right? But I can’t find any data on that kind of thing in the official records I can reach.”
“Could it all be nothing but rumors and nothing actually happened?”
I grabbed the Chinese spoon again and brought some fried rice to my mouth, but it tasted nothing like it had before. It felt like eating 3D polygons.
Enbi, on the other hand, recklessly attempted to eat the red dandan noodles again and started choking for her trouble.
“Ugh. It’s so spicy it’s stinging my nose. …Well, that would be the most boring ending, but I do think it’s possible. But what if the ‘demonic sea’ and the island at its center had a system to suppress any complaints or objections? That would require the same kind of infrastructure needed to make female customers vanish from boutique dressing rooms without word getting out. And just as you would expect, several people investigating the truth of the rumors have ended up dead. …With all this lined up, wouldn’t it be weird not to find this topic interesting?”
There’s no hope for her when this actually makes her grin.
I thought while soaking the rice-covered Chinese spoon in the (small) chicken soup that had come with my fried rice.
“Some of that does bother me, but my policy hasn’t changed. I work for the Tokyo Municipal Police Department, so there’s nothing I can do on a small Kyushu island.”
“Oh? While the rumors happened here, the freelance writers who actually died were allll from Tokyo. And they died in Tokyo, too. Now, whose jurisdiction would that fall under?”
“Son of a bitch!!”
I swore without thinking, but there was no stopping Enbi once she was grinning like this.
She repeatedly blew on the red noodles that she couldn’t seem to conquer.
“And after coming this far, you can’t exactly say it has nothing to do with you.”
“After coming this far? All I’ve done is hear the rumors.”
“No, no, no, no, no. A few of the cruisers and yachts that vanished in the ‘demonic sea’ left this very harbor. They were right here in Harbor Alley. That means you’ve already set foot in one of the related areas. Do you understand?”
The minor in need of protection seemed to be having trouble eating her dandan noodles, so I kindly helped by shoving them into her mouth.
Part 6 (Jinnai Shinobu — Day 10/03 20:55 - 21:04)
I took off running while Hishigami Mai and Hafuri were whispering to each other (but they probably let me escape).
I found the Zashiki Warashi elegantly enjoying some milk tea at an airport café, so I grabbed the back of her neck.
“You traitor! You filthy traitor!!”
“Stop it, Shinobu. If you keep doing these embarrassing things in public, people might think we know each other. That would be a huge loss for me.”
“You can run if you want, but at least clue me in!! Why would you escape on your own!? You left me all alone in the middle of Hyakki Yakou! That’s scarier than going to a hot spring and finding tattoos everywhere you look!! Do you have any idea the kind of fear I was feeling!?”
“You’re a human, so you’re fine. It’s the Youkai like me that have to worry about that organization.”
The Indoor Youkai turned her face to the side to show off a melancholic look in profile, but I asked about something that was bothering me.
“By the way, how were you planning to pay for this? Youkai can’t take part in economic activity and a single drink costs a thousand yen on this casino island.”
“Smartphones sure are convenient. You can hold one up to the register to pay for things.”
“And whose smartphone did you use!?”
“Mine, registered under your name.”
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………Looks like I need to give her a serious talking to.
“Then I’ll be taking back what you ‘borrowed’ once we get home. Oh, but don’t bother saying you have no money. I can just take a few of the video games from your shelf and sell them. You’ll be fine as long as I leave just one FPS game, right? I’ll take care of the rest.”
“No! Even you know it takes a monster to mess with someone’s collection, don’t you!? I need them all! I can’t lose even one of them!! You can’t do thaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaattttttttttttttttt!”
“Don’t cling to me with tears and snot all over your face!! Everyone’s watching and it’s embarrassing!!”
I used both hands to peel away the Zashiki Warashi who was clinging to me without worrying what it did to the collar and hem of her kimono.
Of course, my lost baggage left me with almost nothing in my wallet, so I was forced to pay with the smartphone regardless.
“The milk tea is three thousand yen and the table charge brings it up to four thousand five hundred♪”
“I so want to throw this Good-for-Nothing Youkai in the kitchen to wash dishes…”
With an electronic jingle, I paid for the tea at a price that would normally buy an entire can of tea leaves and then left the café with the Zashiki Warashi.
“Shinobu, what did you do to bring Hyakki Yakou here?”
“I don’t really know either, but it seems I was caught in the middle of an Amanojaku Package.”
“I see Youkai love you as much as ever.”
“But it seems the contents of a delusional story I had a program automatically create are going to be real. It sounds like we need to stop it before that happens.”
The Zashiki Warashi immediately began covering her chest with her hands.
“What…are you doing?”
“Your delusions…will become real? I-I can see it now!! School uniforms will be school swimsuits with bunny ears and every girl as far as the eye can see will have been impregnated!!”
“It was made by a shameless machine! It’s not my fault!!”
My angry shouting caught the attention of airport security, so we meaninglessly fled. We decided to hold a quick strategy meeting on our way to the building’s exit.
“But Singer Song Liar? Can a story made by a machine really encroach on the outside world?”
“Hyakki Yakou is the leader in that kind of thing and they said so.”
“Personally, I’d rather think we can’t believe it because Hyakki Yakou said it.”
“Then let’s test it out.”
We left the airport and found the taxi roundabout in front of us.
My right temple throbbed.
I snapped my fingers.
“Let’s use the white limousine taxi closest to us.”
“What are you going to do?”
I approached the middle-aged driver leaning against the side of the vehicle and I whispered so only the Zashiki Warashi could hear.
“(The first thing he says will be, “Welcome to Japan’s Vegas! This is the special casino district of Goldmine Island!!”)
The Zashiki Warashi in a red yukata frowned.
“Welcome to Japan’s Vegas! This is the special casino district of Goldmine Island!!”
The Indoor Youkai then looked back and forth between the driver and me.
It felt like cold fingertips were running along my spine.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised too.
But I could say even more if Singer Song Liar’s story was true. I just had to follow the text automatically created by the songwriting software.
“The license plate is ‘NAGASAKI X0X IS 37-XX’, the first ride is eight hundred yen, it’s one hundred twenty yen per three hundred meters after that, the driver’s seat and the back seats can be separated by smoked glass so lovers can make out in privacy, there are fifteen seats inside, and there’s a mini-fridge. The mini-fridge wasn’t opened, so I don’t know what’s inside it, though.”
“What’s this, what’s this? Are you using me for a magic trick? You’re gonna have to pay a fee for my consent, dammit.”
The driver sounded confused, but the Zashiki Warashi ignored him to check on the license plate below the bumper and to peer inside the black window.
But I was already convinced.
“The temperature is twenty-eight degrees and there are two crows flying in the night sky.”
I looked up.
“Five fireworks will go off with three seconds in between: red, red, yellow, blue, green.”
The drum-like blasts reverberated in my gut.
“The newspaper headline reads ‘Value of Aquaculture Eels Finally Outperforms Natural Ones’.”
It was now clear I could accurately predict even the text on the scraps of paper blowing in the wind.
There was no freedom of choice. This was not an open world.
It was like a linear RPG.
I was painfully aware of being on some great rails.
If I took it easy without thinking about this, we would be carried to that conclusion I had already seen.
The sense of danger had finally been properly installed.
“Let’s get going, Zashiki Warashi.”
“Get going where?” asked the Indoor Youkai.
“In the Singer Song Liar story, I rode that limousine taxi to the inn and then walked back to the casino city.”
I had to be careful.
Each and every decision could influence this one shot at reality.
“So let’s try something different this time. At the very least, we can’t follow these rails to the end.”
Part 7 (Hishigami Mai — Day 10/03 21:10 - 21:20)
“That’s the luxury cruise liner Yakata-II, constructed by Nagasaki Sakimori Heavy Industries, owned by Seven Oceans Sightseeing Corporation, registered with Panama, holds 1700, maximum displacement of 80,000 tons, and powered by three diesel turbines and a towing kite.”
After parting ways with the young lady, the Sunekosuri and I observed the enemy.
Most likely to divide up their interests, the airport was in the casino city and the port was by the inns.
That made it easy to observe. Unlike the casino and all its bright lights, there was a lot of darkness here. There were also plenty of small hills or mountains that had not been fully developed, so it was perfect for the likes of me to lie on the ground with binoculars in hand.
I hid among the pineapple-like tropical trees and checked on the port through the gaps in the few remaining maple and gingko trees. It was probably meant as a way to expand the port, but the floating portions made it even easier to observe. Those flat areas were perfect for peering down on from above.
The Sunekosuri scratched his ears with his back leg.
“What is a towing kite?”
“Exactly what it sounds like. It’s a giant kite attached to the bow with a wire to pull the ship with the power of the wind. It’s only a secondary means of propulsion, but German tankers have already adopted it as a way of cutting down on carbon dioxide emissions.”
I didn’t know how this dark night looked to Youkai eyes, but the canine Youkai was nervously glancing around.
“How are you going to sneak into somewhere so strictly guarded? You have to do that first if you want to reach…Sid Clouds, was it? But can you?”
“Wait, wait. …Okay, there we go,” I said while looking at a thin LCD panel.
There was no easy way to hack into the systems used by Sid and the CIA, but the cruise ship belonged to a civilian sightseeing company. Their defenses were full of holes.
“Tonight, the Yakata-II is holding a dinner show with a female singer, a gathering of National Police Agency members and local politicians, and a seasonal stage musical. …None of them have been canceled due to unforeseen trouble, so the ship won’t be completely closed off. They’re even accepting guests from the island, so it looks like I won’t have to swim through the dark sea with an oxygen tank and suction cups.”
“Eh? Eh!? It’s that easy!?”
“All I need is a showy dress, a color copy of a fake ticket, and a bit of acting. Okay, let’s go.”
No one else was watching and I didn’t care if the Sunekosuri saw, so I pulled a dress from my bag, stripped naked in the darkness, and finished changing.
I walked down the hill holding the Sunekosuri and hailed a taxi. From there, it was a straight shot to the floating port connected to the island. The taxi was an unnecessary expense, but it would have stood out too much if I arrived at the luxury cruise ship on foot.
The giant ship was moored alongside the land and a young man was checking a list of names and people’s tickets at the bottom of the gangway for normal guests.
“(Th-they’re going to notice!! It may be dark, but they’re going to find something wrong with that quick color copy. Besides, your name isn’t on their list!)”
“(Don’t worry. The ticket is just for him to see, not to give to him.)”
I ended my conversation with the Sunekosuri and smiled toward the young worker.
“Excuse me, but I need to check your ticket before you board.”
“Yes, yes. Um, I believe it was this- ah!!”
I pulled the color copy from my cleavage and intentionally let go of it just before handing it to the young man. The wind carried the counterfeit ticket away and I gave an adorable scream.
“N-no, that’s fine. I can check the computer, so we won’t turn you away. So please calm down.”
“The reservation wasn’t made under my name, so I don’t think you’ll find it if you search my name.”
“Oh, um, and what name is it under?”
I leaned in so my wonderful breasts were at the perfect point on the verge of touching him and I whispered to him from close enough that he could feel my breath on his ear.
Of course, I had never met the middle-aged man I pointed at. I could guess what kind of person he was based on his posture and gait, though.
“(He wanted to enjoy himself in the nicest bed he could during his business trip, so he called me out without telling his wife. If you turn me away here, he might just go on a rampage like a wild animal.)”
“Eek!? Y-you mean, um, well, you’re his mistre-…”
“(We would prefer it if you didn’t use that term.)”
I continued my whispered slander.
“(After all, he’s with the police. In fact, he’s with the National Police Agency at the top of all the police in Japan. Even if it isn’t illegal, it would be a professional ethics problem if it got out.)”
“Ah, ah, ah.”
“(So. It would be a lot of help if you let me through without bothering to search the list. Even if you haven’t done anything wrong, it probably wouldn’t be fun to live your life under the eye of the head of the police.)”
“G-go right on in! If you know the police, I’m sure you won’t cause any problems!”
The young man quickly moved out of my way.
Even if the CIA were using it as a mobile base and even if Sid Clouds was using it for his own purposes, the ship itself was innocent and the people working there had no ill will. That was exactly why it was good camouflage, but the security was still full of holes.
“Um, then why are you carrying a Youkai? Even if it looks like a small dog.”
The Sunekosuri clearly gave a start in my arms, but it did not matter.
Once I had started with a bluff, seeing it through to the end was the only option.
“(Oh, are you curious about that man’s ‘proclivities’? I wonder what he would do if he thought you were trying to find material to stir up a scandal. Do people do that on the internet and SNSs these days? Well, everyone has a way of getting information out, so he can’t let his guard down even with an amateur.)”
“I-I didn’t ask anything!! Please just hurry past!!”
“(Make sure to keep this a secret.)”
I waved a hand, boldly walked up the gangway, and boarded the cruise ship.
The Sunekosuri yelled a challenge at me while being squeezed into my breasts.
“What do you mean ‘proclivities’!? Just how were you thinking of using me? That’s disgusting!!”
“Oh, you want to go through it, step by step? How about I demonstrate while we’re at it?”
A lot of idiots judged people by their family, appearance, aura, or brand, but I used their posture and gait. It was suspicious for a nurse to walk around with their sensitive medical equipment clattering around and, if a police officer pressed your door’s intercom while slouching and mumbling, you should check their ID before undoing the door’s chain lock.
Similarly, people with holes in the knees of their pants, leaves in their hair, or other slight issues with their clothing were often accepted without issue as long as the person inside acted naturally.
When infiltrating enemy territory, you had to act like the people there.
I had to fit in with the ladies and gentlemen with money, time, and libido to spare (although they would never admit it), so I focused on changing how I controlled the axis running through the center of my body. I accurately took the “actions” that would match the dress that showed off every line of my body and the obviously impractical stiletto heels. I moved like the 3D polygon dolls that performed graphic dances based on motion capture data.
“We’re only in the passageway and there’s already a mini-skirt maid, so what are things like inside? Are the police holding a Black Mass or something?”
“Is she like a waitress?” asked the Sunekosuri.
“They really need to stop making this kind of mistake!! A maid and a waitress are completely different things!! A maid is supposed to wear a long skirt and an apron dress! Don’t give them a corset and a skirt with suspenders that accentuates the breasts! That’s just indecent!! The point of a maid is to have beauty too great to be fully hidden by the plain and conservative outfit! Hmph!!”
“I have no idea what has you so mad.”
As I walked past, I grabbed a cocktail glass from the tray the mini-skirt maid held in one hand. I couldn’t tell what the clear liquid was until I tasted it, but it turned out to be a martini. To be honest, that wasn’t my kind of drink. It was more for a police detective who thought he was hardboiled. Y’know, something that’s more about the atmosphere than the drink. Like black coffee.
“B-but what do we do now? We got on the ship, but it’s pretty big.”
“Yeah, there are one thousand seven hundred beds, so it would take us all night to check each room individually. But the biggest merit of the ship was the heliport to sneak things onto the island, remember? That means Sid Clouds will only be in the areas where he can control the heliport.”
It’s a straight shot from the heliport to the ship’s cargo area. With normal guests and the National Police Agency here, he’s going to hide anything he doesn’t want seen somewhere safe. Reality isn’t as fascinating as a story. Let’s reliably search him out and reliably take him out.”
If we directly ran across him, that would work. But even if we didn’t, we could destroy his equipment or set off a bomb to gather the police’s attention.
At that point, I heard footsteps and saw a group walking boldly down the center of the corridor. They were clearly police bureaucrats, but there was no reason to panic. They would pass right by people like me if we smiled and moved out of the way.
As I did so, I spotted someone pretty famous in the group: Mishima Jun.
Based on his rank insignia, he seemed to be chief superintendent.
I moved past them without paying too much attention and casually muttered to myself.
“So he’s still alive.”
Part 8 (Jinnai Shinobu — Day 10/03 21:10 - 21:20)
Just as the Zashiki Warashi and I were about to head into the casino city, we were caught by Hyakki Yakou’s young leader. It seemed she could see through everything we were doing.
Walking through the neon-filled streets at night with a girl of around ten seemed like too high a hurdle for me, but for the time being, no righteous heroes showed up. Also, I couldn’t even imagine how many bodyguards or other Hyakki Yakou members were hidden in our surroundings.
“It would help if you told me what you intend to do now. Or rather, tell me the specifics of the Singer Song Liar story. I only know the overall outline.”
I answered all her questions while my right temple twitched.
“I’m going to defeat a con artist making a ton of money at the casino. His name is Kodama Ryou. It’s settled with a single round of poker, so it won’t take much time.”
“Is that really necessary to destroy the Amanojaku Package sending lies into realty or to deal with the sale of Japan that is occurring alongside that?”
“We can’t move on until my lost suitcase arrives at the airport, so everything until tomorrow morning is just the lead-up. Give me this much.”
“I’ll get it over with quickly. I can’t ignore this one.”
A casino door was thrown open and what looked like three stuffed animals were chucked out.
It was a fox, a tanuki, and a badger.
I caught them all in midair like magic, leaving the Youkai dizzy and confused.
“Wh-what!? Who are you!?”
“That is no way to speak to the kind person who caught us!”
“Mh. I feel a chill running down my spine. Is my natural enemy somewhere nearby?”
Honestly, these things are just as noisy in reality as in the Singer Song Liar story.
Still holding them, I spoke casually.
“Hey, we don’t have all the time in the world, so let’s hurry up and defeat Kodama Ryou to win back the money he stole from the old lady. It’s going to cost a lot to heal the kid suffering from some kind of artificial illness, right?”
This time, the three of them fell silent and looked up at me and the Zashiki Warashi spoke to me from the side.
“Shinobu, you’re talking about finishing him off in a poker game, but a big game in a casino is going to take quite a lot of money. Where are you going to get enough for your initial bet?”
“That’s the thing.”
My temple twitched.
In the Singer Song Liar story, I had brought some fake Jinnai Brewery junmai daiginjo under the assumption Kodama Ryou would notice (although it was really just a way of putting the Zashiki Warashi at ease so I could set her up as the prize), but would that actually work?
Even if reality was following the Singer Song Liar story, there had to be a limit. When I didn’t know how strong the rails were, I couldn’t risk everything on this. The mere fact that I was walking through the casino at this time was a divergence from the original story.
That meant there was a risk of failure.
When the rails led to the sale of Japan, some freedom was certainly desirable, but it brought a dull pressure to my stomach here.
“In other words, if you fail here, you’ll have a few of your organs taken? This is just like a drama.”
“Huh? Ow, ow, ow, ow. Talking about that makes my side prickle, so could you stop it?”
“That didn’t actually happen, so there’s nothing to worry about. Of course, it was overwritten so many times that it would be hard to return history to normal at this point.”
“If we’re talking about ways to settle a debt at a casino, wouldn’t putting a collar on a glamorous symbol of good fortune and selling her at a secret auction house be more appropriate?”
“Ow, ow, ow, ow. Shinobu, talking about that makes my head prickle, so could you stop it?”
“What in the world happened to you before you ended up at our house?”
At that point, the Hyakki Yakou girl reached into her kimono’s sleeve and spoke.
“I’ll settle this.”
“What is that?”
“I can get you up to one billion right away. Just write the amount you need on this check.”
“Wow. I’ve never actually seen someone pull a bunch of money out of their sleeve before. Do you think you’re eccentric beauty Madoka-chan or something!? I’ll have you know that’s a very bourgeois way of having fun!!”
“This is not for fun.” The bob cut girl gave me a composed look. “If you know for certain you will win and you have a means of winning, then isn’t it a safe investment to pile on as much as you can? And any amount of Japanese yen will be meaningless if Japan itself collapses, so hurry up and finish this so we can deal with the real issue.”
I had no choice but to accept her offer.
I didn’t really know how to use it, but I took the first check I had ever been given.
“But we’ve already done a few things different from the Singer Song Liar story, so it seems like there’s a possibility I could lose horribly. No complaining if that happens, okay?”
Hyakki Yakou’s leader started hopping up and down trying to take back the check, but I straightened my back and stretched my arm upwards to keep it out of reach.
Youkai weren’t allowed in the casino and I needed them to set up the magnet trick on the switchboard behind the casino, so only the kimono-wearing girl and I entered the casino.
We walked through the front door.
“Please win!! You decided to do this, so please make sure you win!!”
Surprisingly, the bob cut girl had some tears in her eyes as she waved at me.
As I made my way around the casino, I found the place was filled with familiar scenery even though I had never actually been here before.
I walked down the hall and called a classmate with my cellphone.
“Madoka-chaaan. I’m about to make a ton of money at a casino, so can you contact an accountant and tax advisor for me? I want someone to manage the bank account.”
“Eh? What? I can do that, but can you explain to me how you’re in this situation?”
“Today or tomorrow, something I do might cause a chain reaction in Japan’s exported financial systems which will destroy the world economy and make you really, really mad, but don’t worry. I’m working at keeping that from happening.”
“Shinobu-kun, what the hell did you just say?”
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to explain.
I sat at the same table as the snakeskin man named Kodama Ryou, slammed the check down on the table, and made an announcement to the little con artist.
“Let’s play a game, man-eating snake. I’ll take you out in one go.”
He was 100% cheating and I already knew I couldn’t win by playing normally, so it was time to see how much I could do in reality when faced with the Usuhiki Warashi Package that swapped out the cards.
Part 9 (Uchimaku Hayabusa — Day 10/03 21:05 - 21:20)
In Harbor Alley, the Mystery Freak (dressed as a bunny) returned to land from the restaurant cruiser that was crammed in with all the others.
There were trivial rumors of boats, helicopters, or long distance swimmers trying to meet up in the “demonic sea”, yet never finding the other person, and three Tokyo residents who had investigated the rumors out of pure curiosity had ended up dead.
Most of the small ships that had left for the “demonic sea” were stored in, serviced at, and left from Harbor Alley.
“What? I guess not all of them are restaurants or food stands.”
As we wandered around, we found something else mixed in among the filthy cruisers. Instead of the aroma of cooking meet or boiling stews, I found one boat that smelled more like solder. In fact, there were a lot like that.
Thinking they all served food had brought a heavy sensation to my stomach, but it looked like that wasn’t the case.
These shops had nothing to do with food.
“This boat is filled with bare speakers, this one is packed full of capacitors and transistors, and this one has…what? Those aren’t lightbulbs. Are they vacuum tubes?”
“Looks like a small electronics marketplace. They’re probably stripping them from somewhere.”
A lot of boxes had “defective” written across them in permanent marker.
It made me want to ask the owner if any of the products weren’t defective.
“Why does this shop have dozens of similarly-shaped massagers shoved inside umbrella stands?”
“Eh!? W-well, you know, detective. The women might be too embarrassed to bring those ‘specialized goods’ to the register, so this gives them an excuse that hides their true reasons.”
“Oh, c’mon! It’s a device that vibrates when you switch it on! Try to imagine why someone would buy that!! Japan doesn’t that have that many people with stiff shoulders!!”
For some reason Enbi’s face was beet red.
Hmm. This middle school girl has no problem walking around at night in a bunny suit, so why did this produce such an extreme reaction?
Confused, I looked back at the Mystery Freak, but she did her best to not look me in the eye and used her small hand to frantically fan her heated cheeks.
When she spoke, her voice was more high pitched than usual as if trying to hide something.
“O-ohh, I see. They secretly gather up any defective products before they’re disposed of at the factory. Mass production ensures that there will always be a certain number of these.”
“Hm? How do you know?”
“I-isn’t it obvious!? A completed product has a number printed on it to indicate which factory it was made in. That means it’s a proper piece of electronics. But that part comes last because they don’t want to print the number on defective products they’re only going to reject.”
“And they still work?”
“This is why they’re labelled ‘defective’.”
We looked around a few of the cruisers but didn’t find any useful information.
What were we even supposed to ask about? I couldn’t exactly pull out my police badge to question them about the truth of some rumors and there wasn’t a clear target like Hanako-san or a Kuchisake-Onna. It was nothing more than boats and helicopters not being able to find each other in the nearby ocean. Other than those who actually went out into the sea, the people on the island wouldn’t have noticed anything out of the ordinary.
“Detective, don’t tell you’ve decided this is hopeless and are considering leaving.”
“If you can read my mind that well, I’d prefer you made the much kinder choice of not getting me involved in the first place.”
“You can’t do that!! If you don’t take the investigation part seriously, you’ll pay for it later! You’ll be hit by a metal bat from behind or stabbed in the gut by a fruit knife and realize you’d seen something after all as your consciousness fades away!!”
“This isn’t a mansion mystery where the mountain road is blocked by a landslide, so nothing that harsh is going to happen!!”
“Detective, have you forgotten we’re on a desert island isolated out in the middle of the ocean!?”
“It isn’t a desert island and it isn’t isolated. This is a tourist destination with proper infrastructure!!”
“Not to mention that a genius beautiful mystery-solver and a foolish policeman have come to that island with a meaningful lead-in!! Something’s bound to happen, right!?”
“I’m not even going to bother getting after you for the ‘foolish’ part. I’ll just get right to the point: get away from me! Now that you mention it, you look a lot like the Grim Reaper!!”
The police may be the home of scientific investigation, but even we could be superstitious.
For some reason, the Mystery Freak started trying to hug me, so I grabbed her face and tried to pull her way.
Suddenly, something heavy grazed my nose and made a large dent in the side of the cruiser next to us.
Something had flown our way.
I reflexively turned toward the loud noise and saw something fall into the ocean between the boat and the wharf. I only caught a glimpse, but it was about the size of a softball. However, it wasn’t actually one. Even when thrown at 160 kph by a pitching machine, a softball wouldn’t have the destructive power to dent a ship’s hull that was built to withstand collisions with other ships or running aground.
The dent in the cruiser’s hull was the size of a fist, so that was how large the blunt weapon had been.
I guessed it had been a stone.
I couldn’t take this lightly. I seriously doubted it had simply been thrown by hand, so some kind of device had to have been used to throw it. And with that weight and speed, even a fully equipped riot squad would have their helmet and skull split open by a hit to the head or have their ribs utterly crushed through their bulletproof vest by a hit to the chest. In a way, this weapon was more dangerous than a handgun.
“How did they pull that off!?”
“Where are you looking, detective? Don’t look where it hit. You need to look where it was fired from!!”
The Mystery Freak grabbed my shoulders and turned me around.
Harbor Alley had several cruisers placed atop some flat concrete ground in addition to those moored along the wharf. Rather than just having the engine die, those worn-out boats probably couldn’t even float in the water anymore, so they were being used in place of tents.
I spotted a small figure darting behind one of the cruisers packed in like it was a full parking lot.
Was that a child?
And what was that in their hand?
It had looked like a bow gun. It was seventy to eighty centimeters long. It looked quite large, but part of that would be due to comparing it to the small figure holding it. However, the bow portion was strange. It was not curved like a crescent moon. Like the letter M, a fork-like metal part extended from each side to join with the string.
“We can think about it later! They’ll get away, detective!!”
“Idiot! Don’t run after someone when you don’t know what they’re armed with!!”
I remembered words would never stop her, so I grabbed the Mystery Freak’s arm as she tried to run up ahead and I lightly threw her. I supported her body just before her back hit the concrete ground and I gently lowered her.
“I’ll give chase! You lie here!!”
I began running before she could complain.
Why had this person targeted us so suddenly? Why at that moment? Had they been targeting me or the Mystery Freak? Who even were they? Several questions spiraled through my mind, but I would never answer them if I lost sight of this person.
Despite all the cruisers packed together, there were still narrow pathways like the lines on a Go board. There were a lot of things to hide behind, so it would be easy to lose track of them even at close range, but I was most worried about a surprise attack. To make matters worse, I didn’t have my gun. Unlike in police dramas, detectives didn’t wear a revolver on their hip every day.
I passed by a few cruisers and caught sight of the small back.
Their white shirt stood out in the darkness.
Just when I thought I was going to catch up, the figure turned back toward me.
They accurately aimed the strangely-shaped stone-throwing bow gun and I saw a small flash of red light in the darkness.
A laser pointer!?
As soon as I ducked behind a cruiser, I heard a spectacular dull sound like a frying pan being crushed by an elephant’s foot. The hull of this cruiser had been dented, too. If that had hit me, it would have smashed the bones wherever it had hit.
The plastic hull really scared me. It was probably no weaker than metal, but I had a lot more trouble trusting it.
I guessed they were using stones instead of arrows because of the Minor Offenses Act. Even if they don’t violate the Swords and Firearms Control Law, electric drills and spare razor blades technically violated the law if you carried them around “for anything other than their intended purpose”, but no one was going to stop someone from picking rocks up off the ground.
And unfortunately, bows did not violate the Swords and Firearms Control Law. No registration was needed to purchase one and no one would get after a kid for making their own arrows by whittling down bamboo with a knife.
But all of that brought a question to mind.
Then what crime am I supposed to accuse them of when I catch up?
I changed my line of thinking when I heard a spine-chilling sound greater than a full swing of a metal bat.
Attempted murder will do nicely!!
Two fist-sized stones had flown my way in quick succession. That meant their plan was not to shoot and run. They may have decided to take me out to make sure they could escape safely and they may have changed their mind after I didn’t fire any warning shots with a gun. Perhaps I should have shouted “stop or I’ll shoot” even though I didn’t have my gun.
“This isn’t good…”
A third sound of impact shook my surroundings.
When I instinctually stepped back, I realized the chased and the chaser had swapped positions and a boiling heat filled the bottom of my stomach.
And at that point, I finally noticed something.
My surroundings were very quiet. Too quiet. Even if the cruiser in front of me was a piece of junk, I still would have thought its owners would come running when it was being damaged. Either when eating at the Chinese restaurant or when going around the electronics shops, someone must have informed them that the police were here. Everyone had long since evacuated and then lured me into these hunting grounds.
What was this person so afraid of? Why were they willing to kill me just because I was with the police? Was the Mystery Freak right and Harbor Alley had some great secret? Were the rumors true? Was something more lurking here? Question after question raced through my mind, but one especially large sentence pushed all the others out of the way: then what do I do?
The straining sound of a tightening string hurt my ears.
Most likely, this person was pulling back the string of their special bow gun.
What do I do!? Run? Hide? How far will either of those get me against someone who can fling stones with enough force to smash human bones!?
The straining sound of the string continued.
However, it did not stop. I didn’t hear the string catching on the notch from the trigger. Confused, I hesitantly poked my head out to check and I found an odd sight indeed.
First of all, the attacker was a girl with short hair who was about the Mystery Freak’s age or possibly even younger. She wore what was not quite a school uniform. The outfit was made up of a sailor shirt and shorts. It looked more like an actual sailor suit than a school’s sailor uniform.
The girl had the front of the stone-throwing bow gun pressed against the ground, her feet held a metal ring-like part down, and she was using both hands to pull on the string. Or at least I thought that’s what she was trying to do. Really, she was just crouched down and trembling while red in the face.
She must have been really focused on the work because she showed no sign of noticing my movement. She hadn’t even noticed that crouching down like that just about gave me a view of her modest chest through the collar of her sailor suit.
Oh, that’s right.
When I thought about it, I remembered this was a giant bow gun that fired fist-sized stones with enough force to dent a ship’s hull. It would use thick leaf springs and other things to thoroughly strengthen the string and it had no special mechanisms like pulleys or a hand crank, so it seemed unlikely she could pull the string back so many times in a row with those skinny arms.
What does this mean?
Can I really walk right up and take that dangerous toy from her?
That can’t be it. No, no, no, no, no!! She might finish setting the string and stone the instant I run out and then smash my skull from head-on. Just because she’s stupidly crouching over, sticking her shorts-wearing butt backwards, and groaning in an oddly suggestive way doesn’t mean I can do anything so reckless! Don’t forget that you’re in the middle of a life-and-death exchange with a fleeing suspect!! Don’t laugh, Hayabusa, you need to keep a straight face!!
I decided to take a more careful route.
I filled my lungs with air and formed a megaphone with my hands.
And then I gave a shout.
I immediately saw a sight that was rare even in my life as a detective.
A girl in a short-sleeved sailor suit and shorts had a stone-throwing bow gun pressed against the ground and was holding a metal ring-like part down with her feet while she used both hands to forcibly pull the string upwards.
My shout had caused her shoulders to jump and she hopped up a bit herself.
Her hands were still holding the straining string and she removed her legs from the bow gun itself.
What would happen then?
This was nothing as simple as a “twang”.
It was more of a series of crashes.
The force of the string sent the back end of the bow gun straight up into the girl’s jaw as a powerful uppercut. The bow gun itself may have been five or ten kilograms, so it was a weighty blunt weapon of steel and wood.
Her small form collapsed backwards like a toppled mannequin and her legs spread open in an M-shape. The ridiculous pose placed quite a burden on her shorts, but as she didn’t look embarrassed or try to squirm, I could only assume she had completely lost consciousness.
All I could do was bring a hand to my forehead.
Part 10 (Hishigami Mai — Day 10/03 21:30 - 21:45)
You could call it a sense of fellowship or an illusion of community, but once you were on the same boat, no one would suspect you. They cheaply assumed that everyone had gone through the same process to be here and thus everything was fine. And yet everyone around them was a complete stranger and they had no idea what any of those people were thinking.
Japan truly is a peaceful nation.
Anyway, the Sunekosuri and I slipped away from the group and down some stairs.
I had memorized the Yakata-II’s layout ahead of time, so I knew how to reach the ship’s hold on the lower levels and which routes would be the most deserted.
Sid Clouds had to have gathered materials brought in via the heliport to accumulate power for himself. In Japan, he would use Japanese Youkai. In Europe, he would use European fairies.
If what Jinnai Shinobu said was true, he was using a Kechibi and an Ubume.
It was up to luck whether we would reach the Amanojaku at the center of it all or not.
“B-but won’t they find it suspicious if they catch you in these worker’s corridors or stairways in an open-back dress?”
“There are multiple elevators and stairways. If you take the location of the facilities into consideration, you can figure out where you’re more or less likely to run into someone. You know how identical soba stands and convenience stores can be full of customers or completely empty depending on their location, right? This is the same. By noting the probable flow of people based on the layout, it isn’t difficult to choose a good route.”
“But isn’t that an issue of probability and statistics? It’s all over if one of the crew comes down this way on a whim.”
“Then it comes down to my posture and gait. I drank a disgusting cocktail earlier, so if I claim I’m lost with alcohol on my breath and flushed cheeks, they’ll just guide me out of the backyard. Besides, only the control room, engine room, or other facilities directly related to controlling the ship are actually off limits to normal passengers.”
Fortunately, I didn’t need to put on an act like that.
After descending the metal stairs to the bottom, we arrived at a “large box” with one of the walls missing. It was a floating object with the same area as a small school building. In other words, it was the ship’s hold.
The Sunekosuri spoke up in surprise while rubbing against my shins.
“There are piles of containers everywhere. This doesn’t feel like a luxury cruise ship. It’s more like a rough cargo ship.”
“There are 1700 passengers onboard. If you add in the crew needed to cater to them, a lot of supplies are needed to meet their needs. They probably carry thirty days’ worth of supplies at a time, but with all these containers, it wouldn’t be difficult to slip in an extra one or two.”
Incidentally, this was not the very bottom of the ship.
A device called the ballast tank was even lower. Basically, it was a weight using water. Several giant tanks were lined up and filled with seawater to maintain the ship’s balance when large waves on a stormy night might otherwise capsize it.
“B-but how are we supposed to find the suspicious occult items of Sid Cloud’s plan in all these containers? If we search blindly, it would take more than two weeks.”
I tilted my head and pulled a clump of plastic packaged “clay” from the chest of my dress.
“If worse comes to worst, can’t we blow up the bottom of the ship to sink the entire thing, onii-chan☆”
“No, we can’t! And it doesn’t matter how cutely you say it!!”
Well, that was a last resort.
If possible, I wanted to get some data on or traces of what Sid Clouds was trying to do and then get to destroying. And it was unclear how effective sinking the ship would be when it was at port and not out at sea.
“That leaves two methods.”
“Wh-what are they?”
“First, we use the layout to determine what the enemy is thinking. We throw out any optimistic ‘maybes’ or ‘perhapses’ and think about what we would do if we were in the enemy’s shoes and had to make things as difficult as possible for us. We don’t want anyone to find our secret container, but if we put it where no one can reach it, we can’t get to it either. So where in the piles do we put it? We do some profiling and find the right answer.”
“And what’s the second method?”
“That’s simple.” I pointed straight up. “We ask Sid Clouds himself. That would be fastest.”
I heard footsteps as a new figure descended the stairs. I turned that way and the Sunekosuri seemed to hesitantly raise his head. Unless he was intently staring at my panties, he would be looking at the same thing as me.
He had refined gray hair and muscles unbefitting of his age.
He wore a chic suit that seemed to be announcing to the world that his entire outfit was custom made.
He spoke as he stroked his fingertips along the metal railing.
“You knew this would happen.”
“Yeah. First of all, I didn’t have the overwhelming amount of prep time I would need to slip under the great CIA’s radar. However, you can’t exactly send in a group of masked men to the headquarters of your secret plan. I knew Sid Clouds himself or someone under his direct command would show up.”
“So you thought you would capture whoever showed up and get them to talk? That is too crude. And more importantly, too green.”
“But I wasn’t wrong, was I?”
I returned the “clay” to my cleavage.
Still stroking the railing, Sid Clouds calmly descended the stairs.
“I am not trying to teach a monster like you, but normally, the CIA does not dirty our own hands. We infiltrate areas around the world, but we have locals commit the crimes. We give guerrillas and terrorists funding and weapons or we capture mafia drug and weapons sellers so we can have them work for us instead of handing them over to the local justice system.”
He spoke smoothly.
“But I came here personally. Do you know why that is?”
As his fingertips slid along the railing, they sank down like a hot knife in butter.
They sank into the metal railing.
“That is because your death was guaranteed from the moment I showed up.”
I heard an unpleasant snapping sound.
It was the sound of him pulling the metal railing from the wall with one hand. The screws holding it in place burst off like buttons from a shirt. The gray-haired man now had a spear with a harsh, jagged end and he did not hesitate to throw it toward us.
In that instant, I was reminded of an imaginary weapon known as a potential energy mass weapon.
A metal column was dropped from satellite orbit to artificially recreate a meteor strike.
I ignored the Sunekosuri who had a powerful resistance to purely physical attacks and I jumped to the side with all my strength. A moment later, the ship’s hold shook and the pile of containers crumbled. I say crumbled, but it looked more like it had been placed on a trampoline and launched upwards.
And this didn’t just apply to the ship’s hold.
That man caused the eighty thousand ton cruise ship to sink by at least fifty centimeters!
“Don’t look away.”
His voice was far too close by.
At some point, he had approached within fifty centimeters of me. He had caused all that damage just to jump down and get close.
He used his overwhelming strength as a weapon and crouched down.
“Are you seriously using my breasts' blind spot!?”
We exchanged fists two or three times.
By the time I jumped back, my left arm was dangling unnaturally by my side.
Dammit!! I thought I had let the force escape, but he messed up my joint! My method and timing were perfect, but his base strength is just too high!!
“Didn’t I tell you?”
He approached no further and reached for a nearby object.
It was a metal container.
Empty, it would weigh around five hundred kilograms. Packed full, it could reach maybe four tons. Yet he lifted the thing as easily as a plastic umbrella.
“Your death was guaranteed from the moment I showed up.”
He threw it.
But he didn’t stop there, or even at five or ten of them.
He grabbed everything he could and threw and threw and threw and threw!
It was enough for the ship’s hold to rock. Everything shook so much that the giant ship felt unstable. It reminded me of a suspension bridge supported by an old, rusty wire.
“Tch. Are you trying to wear me down!?”
“The States demands certainty above all else, so we naturally end up choosing the least interesting of options.”
“Certainty? You mean bringing the Singer Song Liar story into reality and buying Japan? Are you really seeing that ridiculous machine-made story through to the end!?”
“Ha ha. That is a job for the people at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I really don’t care who stands on the center stage of history. As long as our national interests are protected, that is.”
At any rate, I ran in a large circle around Sid Clouds and avoided the downpour of containers. With that many mass weapons in the air, the small piles located here and there wouldn’t be enough to protect me. Hiding behind one would just get me crushed along with it.
I then turned my attention to his strength.
“The Ubume’s trial, hm? If you can hold the baby to the end as its weight increases infinitely, you gain the Obou-Jikara, right!?”
“You found the answer so soon? I suppose I should expect no less from Japan’s underworld.”
“Take a look at your shadow. It’s got four arms!!”
The legend of the Ubume was generally as follows:
When walking along the road at night, you would find a beautiful woman holding a baby and she would ask you to hold the baby. Now, if you refused, the Ubume herself would kill you.
But if you held the baby, it would grow heavier and heavier for some reason. If you couldn’t keep it up to the end, you would be crushed to death by the baby’s weight. It must have been a famous story at the time because parts of it showed up in the Yuki Onna and Nure Onna stories as well.
But if, in an exceptional case, you managed to hold the baby to the end without being crushed, the Ubume would praise you and give you a special power. That power as known as the Obou-Jikara. There were a number of sayings about that power. For example, some said it let you uproot a great tree on your own and others said it made an illusion of having four arms when used.
In which case…
My circle around Sid Clouds brought me back to the Sunekosuri , so I kicked him up with my toes and caught him in my still-usable right hand.
“(It’s about time I killed that bastard Sid. You’ll be helping.)”
“(Wh-what can I do!? I’m just a small dog!)”
“(No, you’re not. A bullet or a shell wouldn’t kill you. A direct hit from his fist might be trouble, but you can ignore the containers. And so…)”
I whispered some more to him and then threw him to the side.
The containers had been flying like shells from a warship’s gun firing at seventy shots per minute, but they stopped.
However, this was not him being kind. He had simply run out of containers within arm’s reach.
He cracked his neck and looked my way.
“I think I’ll kill that Youkai first. Is that okay?”
“I see you still don’t let pride get the better of you. But I’m the one you have to worry about. Looking the other way would be deadly.”
I pulled the same “clay” as before from my cleavage, but not a single new wrinkle appeared on his face.
“Do you think a mere five hundred grams is enough to kill me?”
“No, I don’t,” I answered with a smile. “What matters is that your strength comes from the Ubume legend. That’s so very important. After all…there is no way of overcoming the Ubume’s trial.”
Sid Clouds looked to his surroundings.
He seemed to have lost sight of the Sunekosuri’s small form. He had thrown the containers around and knocked over all the piles of them, so there was plenty of wreckage large enough to hide something the size of a stuffed animal.
“The only way to save yourself from the Ubume’s trial is to stick a short sword blade-up in the ground before accepting the challenge. If you’re crushed by the baby’s weight, it will be skewered by the blade, so the Ubume is forced to interrupt the trial before it’s over.”
The gray-haired man kicked up a container from the floor, grabbed it, and tossed it straight up. The gravity-defying guillotine destroyed the sprinkler on the ceiling far above and scattered water over the entire area.
“In other words, no one can complete it. There is no answer to the Ubume’s trial. What does it even mean to keep holding it ‘to the end’? What if the Ubume waits for a full century? So you used some kind of trick to make sure you weren’t crushed by the weight even if you couldn’t complete the trial. So if I pull out that prop, won’t you be crushed by the baby’s ever-increasing weight?”
Without batting an eye, Sid Clouds made an announcement in the artificial downpour.
“I will fill this water with an electric current.”
“That won’t kill the Sunekosuri.”
“But the electricity will be diverted around him. If I measure that anomaly, I can locate him.”
Tch. He really is clever.
Your average member of the underworld would have given up on the Sunekosuri. And even if not, I would have been able to redirect their focus back to me. But that wasn’t going to work here. He was going to use all of his strength to thoroughly crush the tiny doubt budding in his mind. He did not falter in the slightest, so there was no opening for me to attack.
“Then how about I buy some time?”
I charged straight toward him. He breathed lightly from his nose and our arms and legs intersected. I was more skilled, but his strength was far greater. In the blink of an eye, I heard several dull sounds. He grabbed my neck and held me up in the air.
He did not even make a victorious comment.
With the heavy sound of a solid hit from a metal bat, my body flew forcefully to the side. I slammed into the wall and crushed a thick power cable surrounded in a metal covering. I heard a zap and my vision was dyed in pure white.
But more importantly, the current would flow through the water covering the floor and Sid Clouds would locate the Sunekosuri.
He had not bothered going through the process needed to kill the human named Hishigami Mai.
He had simply woven my actions in as a step in his plan to kill the Sunekosuri.
Sid Clouds accurately turned his head and I weakly opened my mouth while slipping down to the bottom of the wall.
“By the way, was the ballast tank the right answer?”
That space took in tons of seawater to create a great weight that kept the ship from capsizing on stormy nights and it was located even further down than the ship’s hold.
The gray-haired man said nothing, but I heard him cutting across the pile of rubble that the ship’s hold had become.
“The Ubume kills people with the weight of its baby. Anyone who can’t take the weight is crushed to the ground along with the baby. That makes a floating cruise ship perfect. The large ship can withstand eighty thousand tons, so it can continue to float without ever letting the baby touch the bottom of the ocean.”
His silent eyes seemed to say “so what?”, but he suddenly came to a stop.
“You don’t want anyone to know about the baby, so the ballast tank full of seawater would be best. It’s surrounded by thick walls, it’s dangerous, and no one has any reason to go there, so you can hide whatever you want there. And if I know that, it’s not too difficult to deal with.”
“If I throw some explosives into the ballast tank and blow a hole in the bottom of the ship, the baby will fall into the ocean. And if it reaches the bottom, your delayed Ubume trial will finally end!!”
“Where did that ‘clay’ you had go!?”
There was only ever one bomb. All I asked of the Sunekosuri was to open the ballast tank’s maintenance cover. If I honestly asked him to help me blow up the ship, that pacifist never would have helped.
And you focused so much on efficiency that you threw me horizontally across the ship’s hold to break the power cable on the wall. However, that wasn’t unexpected. I threw out any vague optimistic ‘maybes’, ‘perhapses’, and ‘surely he wouldn’ts’ and I thought about what I would do in your shoes if I had to make things as difficult as possible for me. Doing that naturally showed me what your future decisions would be.
I just had to think about what I would have done.
And what if I let go of an explosive with fuse attached while I was thrown through the air?
It’s time you found the answer, you idiot.
A tremendous heavy vibration shot up from the ballast tank below.
I heard a dull sound. It was an unpleasant sound like a large tree breaking between giant gears. It came from Sid Clouds’s spine. That bone made up from a series of smaller bones had its connections snapped apart. The weight being forcibly propped up by the eighty thousand ton displacement of the cruise ship was bearing down on that human frame, so his fate was sealed.
I slowly got up, pressed my right hand to my left shoulder, and heard a dull cracking sound.
“Give it up. There’s no saving you. And if you have nothing to protect, could you tell me the truth behind all this?”
You’re kidding, right?
I heard a ton of thin fibers snapping as Sid Clouds continued standing without being crushed. I estimated the weight at around five hundred kilograms or maybe over a ton. Based on the records leftover from the cruel tortures of the medieval Europe that everyone knew from their RPGs, a victim lying face up could have weight slowly added up to about three hundred kilograms without dying from shock, but this was clearly past that limit.
“The baby’s weight…is crushing me. But you know what? Even if it isn’t complete…I still received the Obou-Jikara… So I can push it back. I can push back on the baby’s weight…with these abnormal muscle fibers.”
My mind turned toward the handgun hidden in my boot.
No, that wouldn’t work. If he can bear a weight of over a ton, his muscles have to be as tough as a concrete pillar. I used my “clay” already and a lead bullet would just bounce off.
Honestly. I’m really reaching for the Deadly Dragon Princess here!?
“I don’t have time for an interrogation, so I’ll ask once and you have one chance to answer me. Will you fall back here or will you continue? Choose whichever one you want. Depending on your answer, I might have to bring out the power tools.”
“Ha ha,” he laughed.
The burden on his body seemed to be a serious issue because his body was splitting open in places and his clothes were soaked with blood.
“Fall back here? If you like. We were holding out a helping hand for your country, but I suppose the freedom to bat that hand aside is part of national sovereignty. It might be fun to switch to a different progress manual and instead prepare to watch the blue light from safety.”
“But even if I fall back, it won’t stop her. You know that I always have someone even more powerful working under me, don’t you? I had hoped to use her as an emergency exit, but since she hasn’t shown up, she must be prioritizing the operation.”
I could not kill him and he could not take even a single step because of the great weight.
Even in our impasse, his bloody lips maintained a smile.
“She is powerful.”
“Even more than this?”
I couldn’t help but sound annoyed and his eyes narrowed as if he had wanted to hear that annoyance.
“I chose her, so she is definitely more powerful than me. Now that she has focused all of her resources on the operation, it is guaranteed to succeed.”
It looked like we were on separate parallel lines, but in our world, there was always a conclusion.
In this case, it came in the form of bullets.
That conclusion struck Sid Clouds once each in the head, the chest, and the gut.
But I hadn’t done it.
For one, no normal bullet could do anything to him. To take advantage of the Ubume’s weakness, it may have been forged from the same carbon steel as a Japanese sword.
One glance at the surprised look on Sid Clouds’s face was enough to know who had fired that magical bullet.
But he was not allowed to speak even a word.
As soon as his eyes rolled back in his head and he fainted, the final pillar was broken. A multitude of wet squishing sounds followed. That human form was crushed under a massive weight and made the dramatic transformation into a dark red stain spreading on the floor.
“W-w-w-wah!? M-Mai-Mai-san!! Look!!”
“Oh, dear. Even after being crushed that badly, he’s still breathing. Just how tough is that Obou-Jikara?”
Even as a dark red slug-like creature measuring one hundred eighty centimeters, Sid Clouds continued to squirm.
This is hopeless. I should assume this guy isn’t going to die even if you kill him. I get the feeling he’d be back for revenge if someone dragged the Ubume’s baby up from the ocean bottom with a ship’s salvage crane.
But that wasn’t what I needed to focus on. Whatever the details, he couldn’t move now, so I could put him off until later.
I had to look up above.
I heard some light departing footsteps and I caught a glimpse of a maid uniform’s fluttering short skirt at the top of the stairs Sid Clouds had destroyed.
“That’s some fancy underwear. …Looks like she really doesn’t understand the concept of a maid.”
A handgun in the garter and spare magazines covering the underside of the skirt was far too exciting for a tidy and kind maid.
At any rate, this was the waitress I had taken a cocktail from while passing her by in the ship. She was apparently the CIA’s final boss. Since she was supposed to be stronger than Sid Clouds who was still moving after all that, it was sounding like a lot of trouble.
Part 11 (Jinnai Shinobu — Day 10/03 21:40 - 22:00)
The casino hall was wrapped in crazed excitement.
He really had fallen for it. In the Singer Song Liar story, I had easily established the ten thousand times multiplier penalty with my cheating bluff and by making him think the noise on the card reader was due to skimming, but in reality, it took a while after the game came to an end. After all, Kodama Ryou just kept complaining. When I thought about it, it was obvious, though. This wasn’t the score in a video game. We were talking about someone’s life and everything they owned. Even if he had gotten it all by dirty means.
The man before me had been robbed of the perfect order of his hair, clothes, expression, and aura and a noise I couldn’t quite call a voice escaped his mouth without end.
It had all turned out the same.
It was as if everything were following the story I had made and anything that didn’t fit was being corrected.
I called out to the con artist who had fallen to his knees.
He didn’t respond, so I grabbed his collar with one hand and forced him up.
“What…? Do you still want more after all that!?”
That’s right, you idiot.
Normally, I’d want to leave trash like you to die, but I can’t.
I felt a twitch in my right temple as I spoke to the con artist.
“At this rate, you’ll be killed by midday tomorrow.”
“You’ll be killed by an Ikiryou assassination Package using a Youkai called a Kechibi. It was assembled by the CIA. I know this probably sounds like something out of a movie, but you can choose how to use the time you have left. You can believe me and struggle to survive or laugh at me and be killed. It’s your choice.”
“Wait. Wh-what are you talking about? Who are you?”
“As I said, you can choose how to use the time you have left.”
I practically threw my words at that greasy loser from close range.
“But the current situation isn’t normal. There’s no other way a normal high school boy could win everything a professional con artist owns. So how about you catch on that something dangerous is brewing on a much deeper level than you think?”
That was when my cellphone rang in my pocket.
I let go of the con artist’s collar, turned around, and pulled out the phone.
“H-hey!! What am I supposed to do!? What do you mean I’ll be killed? Are you saying my despair still isn’t over!?”
He shouted something at me, but there was nothing more I could do.
I wasn’t even sure I could stop the Singer Song Liar story I had created. And if I didn’t, he would be assassinated at a set time and place no matter where he tried to hide.
That meant I could only keep moving.
I answered the phone and held it to my ear.
“Shinobu-kun, do you have any idea what you’ve gotten yourself involved in?”
That was faster than expected.
'This only happened at dawn in the Singer Song Liar story.
Should I rejoice at the change or will this lead to an even worse conclusion?
“You mean the collapse of the world economy due to Japan’s exported financial systems, the Japanese yen becoming scrap paper, and the sale of Japan in the name of supporting its recovery, right? Unfortunately, I’ve been placed in the very center of all that.”
“Sorry, but I’m the one that was placed ‘here’,” I said to cut her off. “Only someone ‘here’ can stop this, so instead of complaining, why don’t you help me? Have you contacted an accountant and tax adviser yet? I defeated the con artist named Kodama Ryou and won a ton of money. Although it is all Japanese yen which might be worthless this time tomorrow. I want to return it to the people he victimized. Can you help me with that?”
“I can, but do you really have time to get sidetracked with this?”
“I’m about to get started here. To be honest, I had to bait the hook before I could make my counterattack. Getting sidetracked here was necessary.”
After exchanging the necessary information, I ended the call with Madoka.
Depending on what happens, this might be our last conversation.
“Um, it’s Hafuri, right? I’m done here, so let’s get out of here.”
“Sigh… I’m glad you settled that with the original money still intact. Then again, we can’t have this all continuing ‘as planned’, so it’s a bit of a complicated feeling.”
We left the casino’s front entrance and the fox, tanuki, and badger hopped out of hiding. The Zashiki Warashi in a red yukata gave me an exasperated look.
“S-so how did it turn out?”
“Did it all go well?”
“After showing off like that, it would be no laughing matter if you lost everything!!”
The three noisy animals wouldn’t stop yelling, so I just shoved a folded memo toward them.
The tanuki gave hysterical shout.
“Kyah! Wh-what is this?”
“The phone number of the accountant managing the bank account. Call this number with the old lady once you get home. You can ask that accountant about the money you need. Don’t think about moving the money yourself. Leave it to the professional and you won’t be tricked again.”
I shoved it up against them.
“Don’t lose this, don’t show it to anyone, and hurry back to the old lady who must be worried sick that you suddenly vanished. That will settle everything.”
I left the three Youkai blinking in confusion and walked away from the casino with the Zashiki Warashi and Hyakki Yakou’s girl leader.
“Shinobu, volunteering for good deeds is fine, but what do we do now?”
“I can only tell you ‘what’s going to happen’.”
My right temple itched and I shrugged.
“In the Singer Song Liar story, we had a celebration party until past dawn and then a car bomb exploded on the early morning road. You carried me, we escaped into the mine, and the entire tunnel was blown up. …That much probably can’t be changed. Even if the details are a little different, we’ll still be attacked come morning and you’ll be taken hostage. And all to have me retrieve my lost suitcase.”
“Shinobu, that sounds like a pain in the ass. Do you really think I’ll do that?”
“But you did. Maybe once it actually happens, you’ll have a change of heart and decide to act out of character.”
Even I thought my tone was a little too careless.
“The car bomb is one thing, but that mountain has as many tunnels as an ant colony and it has to take a while to rig it all up with explosives. They attack in the morning, so they’re probably doing a final check of the mine right now. I don’t know how far in advance they set up the explosives, but they at least need to make sure the detonation signal can get in before they arm it. They were an unknown enemy until the very end of the Singer Song Liar story, but if we head to the mine now, we can run across them.”
On top of that, I had a feeling they had only decided to take an obvious hostage after I defeated Kodama Ryou, who had a connection with them. I had shown them they couldn’t let their guard down with me, so they had been forced to take a Youkai hostage which was probably more difficult than capturing a lion alive. For them, that had been the last card they had wanted to play.
“Not a bad idea,” said the Hyakki Yakou leader with a composed expression. “Then how about I contact my organization and have them make a quick attack?”
“You’re sounding dangerous again.”
The normally arrogant Zashiki Warashi began casually keeping some distance from the small girl.
Meanwhile, the leader girl did not seem to mind.
“I am their highest leader, so whether in a crowd or the dark, I always have a certain minimum force prepared.”
She pressed a hand to her ear and I assumed she was putting on a small headset, but…
“Hey, why do you sound so confused? Please don’t tell me you can’t contact anyone.”
“No, that shouldn’t be… How strange. Our standard security structure should prevent this from happening.”
I couldn’t help but hold my head in my hands.
It seemed the Singer Song Liar story was more powerful than I had imagined. Had the girl’s bodyguards’ equipment simply failed or had they been attacked by our enemies without anyone noticing? Both possibilities should never have been able to happen with Hyakki Yakou, supposedly the nation’s most powerful paranormal organization.
I was reminded of the fancy hotel in northern Fuuka Village where I had had my first encounter with Hyakki Yakou.
Then too, a Package had prophesied a slaughter and I was tossed around by that Package from beginning to end.
“I guess we have to do whatever we can,” I spat out as my right temple twitched. “Either way, we’ll be attacked come morning if we just wait around. No matter what we do, it can’t be worse than that.”
Part 12 (Uchimaku Hayabusa — Day 10/03 21:35 - 22:10)
After the Mystery Freak caught up, we both looked down on the suspect sprawled out on the ground with her eyes spinning.
Looking at her again, I realized she was even skinnier than Enbi. Her short-sleeve sailor shirt was not quite like a school uniform and her hot pants were so short you could just about see the base of her thighs. The string to the stone-throwing bow gun she had been using as a weapon must have been really hard to pull back because her palms were scraped red.
“What did you do, detective? A punch of justice against a minor girl? That must have felt really good.”
“Stop it, idiot. She took herself out. …Although it is true I led her in that direction.”
I heard a groan from the girl stretched out on the ground.
The first thing I did was present her with despair.
“This is the police.”
“Detective, did you forget your badge?”
“A badge from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department has no effect outside the city and you don’t need a badge when you catch them in the act.”
I heard a great shriek and the girl started looking restlessly around, so I kicked the bow gun away.
“A-ah, ah, ah, ah…”
“Give me your name, address, and occupation.”
“I-if I tell you, will you let me go? Heh. Eh heh heh.”
“No actual harm was done to me, so this can be settled with a simple obstruction of justice charge. That probably means a summary indictment and a fine of ten thousand yen. But if you prefer something more adolescent and cool-sounding, then maybe I should alter my interpretation of what happened. For example, that could have been attempted murder or a terrorist attack against the National Police Agency’s casino inspection team.”
“O-okay!? M-my name is Kozakura Sobiki! I’ll tell you!! I’ll tell you everything!!”
The girl had tears in her eyes as she flailed her arms around.
“We…you see, um, eh heh heh, we specialize in hardware cracking.”
“Detective, she means illegal ROMs for pachinko parlors or illegally skimming credit card data. Instead of using data or viruses, she’s an information criminal that uses physical devices.”
“L-lately we’ve started messing with cables too.”
This must have been awkward for her because Kozakura Sobiki wouldn’t look me in the eye and pressed her index fingers together in front of her chest.
“Y’know, like the lines connecting ATMs to banks or the cable TV selectors on telephone poles.”
“Oh? Don’t those things have a metal web thinner than a hair woven into the outer covering? I thought the security company was notified as soon that outer covering was broken.”
“No, no, no. Have you ever heard of alien crosstalk? If it isn’t fiber optic, the electrical signal will disturb the magnetic field around the cable. Even if you don’t break the covering and expose the metal wire, you can still attach a wiretap line right along that covering to steal the data-…”
“…is what I’ve heard you might be able to do!! Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!”
My irritation must have gotten through to her because Kozakura Sobiki made a harsh course correction mid-sentence.
“The latest trend is the undersea cables. While city lines spread out like a spider web, there’s pretty much just the one going undersea. If you suck the data out of there, you can steal allll the communications from an entire city or even an entire nation. …Well, that’s the theory anyway. It’s just, um, hypothetical.”
Even I could tell my voice had dropped lower than necessary.
“Can you blame me for being scared!? I just got done working on the only line running from this island to the mainland and then a plainclothes cop shows up in the waterside electronics marketplace. I don’t think the people who are going to use the line would betray us, but I was certain it was an assassin with a fake police badge coming to silence me!!”
“Wait a second,” I cut in. “ ‘The people who are going to use the line’?”
“You mean you weren’t working alone?”
She must have gotten desperate because Kozakura Sobiki collapsed backwards and started flailing her limbs around and shouting.
Of course, I hadn’t gone through the proper process for interrogating her, so I had no right to keep her here against her will.
“The locals and the entertainment companies are fighting over whether to preserve or develop the mining island. They wanted me to attach a wiretap to the undersea cable so they could steal and destroy the data, so, well, it seemed like they wanted to destroy the relationship between the casinos and the card companies.”
“(So was she hired by the locals?)”
“(Only if whoever hired her was being honest.)”
“I don’t think it was them,” readily cut in Kozakura Sobiki. “Based on their interests, the locals would make the most sense, but the payment method was just too complex to be them. I don’t know who, but I think someone else was trying to interfere with the locals’ plan. It looks like they’re stealing a pre-existing criminal plan so the crime can be safely pinned on the locals while whoever it is does whatever they want.”
Wait, wait, wait.
Stealing the data sent between the casinos and the card companies was a big enough deal on its own. After all, that could easily destroy the island’s entire source of income. But was there something else beyond that?
The Mystery Freak cut in from the side.
“Hey, hey. What was the original plan? What were the locals trying to do and what were they trying to steal?”
“I don’t know that. All I did was take the wiretap they gave me and attach it to the undersea cable. But…”
“Heh. Eh heh heh. I actually opened up the wiretap unit before attaching it. Y-you see, you have to teach yourself in this business, so you can learn a lot from someone else’s tech! And there was something clearly unnecessary stuffed in there along with the necessary equipment.”
“What was that?”
“At first, I thought it was a cylindrical coil, but it was actually a really old kind of money! That really made me mad. That had to be over seventy percent of the thing’s weight!! But when I thought about it later, I realized it might be an occult object meant to interfere with a criminal Package involving a Youkai.”
I brought a hand to my head.
If that was true, this had just gotten all the more troublesome.
“What Youkai has a connection to old money?”
“There are far too many for that to be useful,” said the Mystery Freak. “There’s the tanuki and foxes, the Onbu-Obake, the god of poverty, and pretty much all of the Zashiki Warashi types. For example, it could be an Usuhiki Warashi or a Notabariko.”
“Anyway,” said Kozakura Sobiki. “After I’d finished that job, a suspicious person claiming to be with the police showed up, so I thought they were trying to silence me. I thought they had found out I opened the wiretap unit or that I’d seen ‘that’.”
There’s still more?
Annoyed, I asked what she meant.
“And what is ‘that’?”
“Well, I’m not entirely sure myself, but…”
Part 13 (Hishigami Mai — Day 10/03 22:19 - 22:45)
Wow, I’m soaking wet!!
After the excitement of Sid Clouds making a lot of noise throwing containers everywhere and him being crushed into mincemeat on the floor, I had decided there was no chance of making a quiet escape. Instead, I entered the ballast tank, closed the maintenance cover, swam out the large hole in the bottom, and climbed up onto the port.
I used a needle and thread to sew up all the lacerations on my body and covered up the wounds themselves with the kit inside my makeup pouch.
That left doing something about the wrist and elbow of my dominant arm.
“Why are you shouting in such a needlessly suggestive way!?”
“It’s a quick way of getting rid of the pain. It’s healthier than using morphine.”
After a series of dull sounds like the shifting of a manual transmission’s shift lever, my joints moved back into place. For anyplace that was split or missing, I used a dropper to fill them with a repairing liquid.
I really was torn up this time. And I have to be prepared for even more damage against that maid. Realistically, I should probably expect to have my heart stopped for a few seconds.
Since the final test was coming up, I stripped off the dress and changed into my original tank top and hot pants.
“Well, I dealt with the Ikiryou assassination Package using a Kechibi, so I think I’ll give myself more than fifty points.”
After shaking the seawater off, the Sunekosuri asked me a confused question.
“Eh? I know you dealt with Sid himself, but how did you do anything to the Package?”
“According to Jinnai Shinobu’s explanation, the Kechibi Package follows the target’s footsteps to find them and then the criminal kills them using the fact that damage to their Ikiryou also damages the person. The Kechibi isn’t a simple Ikiryou. It’s a special type you have to summon by rubbing the sandal bottoms together. In this case, the sandal footprints were one’s footsteps on the internet. By combining multiple types of big data, they can pinpoint an individual when they shouldn’t be able to.”
“In addition to the normal casinos, Goldmine Island has Heavy Cruiser Island, a VR casino city where people can walk around and gamble with their avatar. It’s linked with a monster of a point card that has over forty million users and is accepted at drugstores, video rental stores, and online stores. It’s mostly done using a kind of data seen as a virtual currency.”
“What are you getting at?”
“You don’t get it? Something that large will have countless companies affiliated with them and can spread their sales far and wide. Everything from airplane tickets and hotel reservations to convenience stores and vending machines. So if you look through the purchase history, you can easily turn up an individual’s location.”
This of course had nothing to do with me since I used a fake name and not even I knew my real name.
“Y-you mean by combining the big data of multiple companies, they have a system to ‘regain’ the ability to search for an individual even though big data is made so you can’t link the data to an individual?”
“That’s really the whole point of the point card. It looks like a way of saving some money, but it’s actually an efficient system of gathering people’s purchasing information. The young wives smiling innocently at their receipts probably have no idea the kind of price tag human information has.”
I then gave the Sunekosuri a casual quiz.
“Anyway, let’s say they have a system of locating an individual from the chaotic pool of big data. They would need a massive information processing system that could use…no, misuse that to instantly search out a name from all the data. Now, where would the communication center for that be located?”
“Um, didn’t we head down to the ship’s hold to find the Kechibi itself? And it didn’t look like you ever found the correct container.”
“True, but there was a huge parabolic antenna on top of the ship. That was for communicating with a satellite. And from what I saw of the ship, it had a luxurious casino of its own. It was a large facility, but only a limited number of VIPs get to use it. They need giant servers to check on those VIPs’ cards, but the servers would be mostly unused. That means they can be used for information processing they don’t want anyone to know about.”
“I messed with the wiring just a bit before leaving the ship. A surge of electricity will be frying all of the ship’s electronics right about now. And if the servers don’t work, the Kechibi may still be there, but it can’t follow anyone’s ‘footsteps’. It’s just like you don’t need to fear a gun with a broken sight no matter how much ammo it has.”
“Y-you did all that in that limited time? Shudder.”
“You can’t leave with anything left undone, so a professional has to achieve results in the limited time they have.”
I was worried about the maid who had given up on Sid and run off, but I had to review the current power balance first.
Overall, there were two forces on Goldmine Island.
One side had obtained the Usuhiki Warashi Package, but wanted to stop it now that it was clearly leaving their control. They were probably the locals who were displeased with the policies of the casinos.
The other side was the CIA who had taken over the Usuhiki Warashi Package and was misusing it to arrive at the sale of Japan. They wanted to send the Usuhiki Warashi out of control even it meant slaughtering the locals with the Kechibi Package or the Ubume’s Obou-Jikara.
We had just crushed Sid Clouds of the CIA and his Kechibi Package, so the locals would be getting more active.
Now, what exactly should I do now?
“Well, I doubt the CIA maid is going to sit idly by just because they had their superior position taken from them. That type will use an embassy, a consulate, or a military base to ‘legitimately’ return home if things start getting dangerous. Since she’s still in hiding, she must still be motivated. That means she’ll try to reverse what we’ve done, even if she has to force it.”
“But you took out that muscular Sid guy and the Kechibi Package, right? D-do they still have some other secret weapon!?”
“Of course they do. And it’s their biggest one.”
Mh, my tank top is sticking to me more than usual. Is it because of the seawater?
“The Amanojaku. That final weapon bends reality in accordance with Singer Song Liar’s automatically created story. Even now, it must be optimizing everything, but I bet that maid will overclock the thing to boost its ability to change the flow of events. If so, she’ll need direct contact with the Amanojaku’s core.”
The Sunekosuri scratched his ear with his back leg.
“Ah! You mean that Jinnai Shinobu boy!?”
“Yes, that’s part of it,” I agreed. “But he’s probably just the key. There’s also a keyhole to stick that key in. But where are the actual ceremonial grounds? It has to have a constant connection to Jinnai Shinobu, it has to be overwritten with a collection of lies that symbolize the Amanojaku, and yet it has to be completely hidden from our eyes.”
“Wouldn’t that be the story Jinnai Shinobu created?”
“You mean they left it up to the automatic creation software? That would be too unstable for a Youkai’s permanent location. But what other symbol of lies is there? The virtual world? But the VR casino city is already part of the Usuhiki Warashi’s framework, so using that would add the risk of a conflict between them. Maybe it could be a restaurant that lies about the source of its food or a replica hot spring with no real benefit? I’m not sure what it could be at this point.”
“Either way, the maid will definitely be approaching Jinnai Shinobu. It looks like we can only wait until then to intercept her. If she takes him away, she’ll have us in checkmate.”
Didn’t he go with Hyakki Yakou’s young lady?
That meant I could contact her to figure out where he was, but I was a little worried about taking action before I had all the necessary pieces of the puzzle.
I looked reluctantly up at the moon in the night sky, tried to think more about the Amanojaku’s location, and suddenly noticed something odd.
I had a thought as I looked up at the moon.
Could it be…?
Part 14 (Jinnai Shinobu — Day 10/03 22:10 - 22:40)
The Zashiki Warashi, Hyakki Yakou’s leader girl, and I left the neon-filled casino city and made our way to the mountain in the center of the island. All of the light faded away and we were surrounded by pitch black shadows that covered the entire area. The pineapple-like tropical trees and the few maple and gingko trees adding some red or yellow all looked like a single pitch-black mass.
“Damn. …This is a hell of a place.”
I used the back of my hand to wipe away the sweat that had dripped from my forehead to my jaw.
My right temple itched.
We had followed an animal trail based on the scenery I knew from the Singer Song Liar story, but actually doing the walking wore me out quite a lot. I was wearing sports shoes, so it had to be even worse for someone in a kimono.
“Hey, are you okay?”
“Being surrounded by nature like this is actually more comfortable for me.”
“I’m not worried about you and your infinite stamina. This girl is only about ten, you know?”
“I-I am the leader of Hyakki Yakou, so I can walk a mountain trail on my own. I am not asking you to carry me.”
“You’re so exhausted that you’re letting slip what you really want. C’mon, Miss Infinite Stamina.”
“What are you talking about? This is clearly a job for a guy.”
We ended up playing rock paper scissors and the Zashiki Warashi pinned me down even though I won. I was held in a bizarre Boston crab by a beautiful Youkai in a red yukata and I knew I couldn’t allow a folklorist to record the scene as a new Japanese legend.
“W-wait. Vahhh!? I give!! I give!!”
“Shinobu, you’re supposed to tearfully proclaim that having an unrivalled beauty’s butt sitting on you is the greatest reward.”
“Your strength is far, far too much for that!! I’m going to burst open like something from a sausage commercial!!”
“And what do you say about our game?”
“I lose!! I’ll carry her or anything you want!!”
Even after I was released, I lay trembling on the ground for a while.
With a few mystery leaves in my hair and on my clothes, I was forced to carry a girl who was more frightening than a mafia boss.
Girls are a lot lighter than I expected, I thought as my endorphins gave me that happy illusion, but when I thought of her as simple baggage, I found she was actually incredibly heavy.
At any rate, we continued through the forest.
After walking a bit, we came across a steep slope. The forest was becoming a mountain. The smells reaching my nose also changed from greenery to a chocking scent of black soil.
After climbing the slope for over ten minutes, the trees thinned out and the scenery opened up.
I hurriedly took a step back and checked on the situation from a thicket.
The exposed dirt of the slope contained a two meter hole that looked hand-dug and a few short cabins were located around it. They were probably rest areas for the miners and storage for the digging equipment. There was dim light on in one of the cabins and I could make out several figures moving to and from the tunnel.
My right temple itched again.
“I recognize one of them,” I whispered. “He was in the Singer Song Liar story.”
I had only read it as text, but it had been detailed enough to have a clear picture in my head.
“After the Zashiki Warashi was taken hostage, I ran across these people in the airport. These must be the locals and this must be where they normally work.”
If they were moving back and forth between the cabin and the tunnel, they had to be carrying the explosives and wiring into the tunnels.
The action was filled with malice, but they looked much livelier sweating and moving around than they did sneaking through the carefully maintained airport. They looked like fish in water.
“What are you going to do?”
For some reason, Hyakki Yakou’s leader did not ask to be lowered from my back, but she did whisper to me as if naturally breathing into my ear.
“There are two forces on this island. The locals prepared the Usuhiki Warashi – a Zashiki Warashi subspecies – Package on their own but are desperate to seal it away. The CIA wants to misuse that Package. …However, it wouldn’t be safe to just ignore the locals. If they completed a safety device and fully suppressed the out-of-control Usuhiki Warashi, they would probably get greedy again.”
“If everything is following the timeline, I’ll be buried alive before that.”
That meant I had to do something before they had finished their preparations.
But then the Good-for-Nothing Zashiki Warashi threw cold water on my hopes.
“But Shinobu, there are a lot of them and they have pickaxes, hammers, large drills and other excavation equipment, and even explosives. If an unarmed high school boy rushes in there giving a battle cry, I think he’ll only be turned to mincemeat, so how exactly are you going to safely make them surrender?”
Come to think of it, what am I going to do?
“Can’t I just rely on a wonderful Youkai that can’t be harmed by physical attacks?”
“Please don’t joke. Why would I do something like that?”
She bluntly refused me!!
But what am I supposed to do? Even if she does get motivated, we’re still outnumbered. We’ll be right back to square one if they capture Hyakki Yakou’s leader and me while the Zashiki Warashi charges the enemy. And having the girl taken hostage would be especially bad. The scale of the problem could grow even more hopelessly large than in the Singer Song Liar story.
What should I do?
What should I do?
What should I do?
“Zashiki Warashi, you stay with the girl. If it comes to it, you two run.”
“Why is this Hafuri girl moaning on my back!? If you’re going to fall asleep, do it on the Good-for-Nothing Youkai’s back!”
Hm. She might have divinely inspired skill at moving pieces on the board, but she may not be very good at running around on the scene herself.
“What are you going to do?”
I answered the Zashiki Warashi’s question honestly.
“What I can.”
Part 15 (3rd person — Day 10/03 23:00 - 23:05)
“She” ran through the dark forest.
She wore a maid uniform with a short skirt and shiny enamel shoes. She looked horribly out of place on a mountain, but she did not show any kind of handicap. Like a wild beast of the forest, she nimbly and smoothly made her way to her destination while becoming one with the night and suppressing any sound or other sign of her presence.
The fluttering of her short brown hair showed the flow of the night wind.
Her goal was clear: Jinnai Shinobu.
He was the key to it all. He had been randomly chosen from the great number of people visiting Goldmine Island. Instead of using a chosen VIP and isolating them, they had placed the core on a normal, unrelated individual and then released them. They had decided that letting it dissolve into the sea of information would reduce the risk of interference, but she now had to contact Jinnai Shinobu again.
This was like extracting information on a specific individual from a massive pool of big data.
If she got her hands on Jinnai Shinobu, she could reverse the damage done. The situation had left the predetermined rails, but she would be able to forcibly bring it all back on track.
And she could take full credit for the victory.
That was why she made her way to Jinnai Shinobu.
She had to continue the preparations for buying Japan so that they could reach for the blue light which was their goal.
Part 16 (Jinnai Shinobu — Day 10/03 22:45 - 22:55)
The enemies were the locals who opposed the casino policy.
From what I could see, there were at least more than ten of them. Once those working inside the tunnel or cabins came out, there was no telling how many there would be.
I expected their weapons to be shovels, pickaxes, hammers, excavation tools like large drills and continuous vibration drill rods, and even explosives for blasting. Needless to say, any tool meant to break through solid bedrock would turn a flesh-and-blood high schooler into mincemeat.
Meanwhile, I only had myself, a single high schooler, to work with.
The only weapon I could hope to get was a rock or stick found on the ground. Even if they didn’t have any of their weapons, it was still entirely possible I’d be beaten to a pulp.
So what was I to do?
My right temple itched. If I was caught here and they were able to tell me what to do, it would all lead to the conclusion seen in the Singer Song Liar story. Yet if I stayed silent and fled, they would begin their attack plan by morning and I would be buried alive sooner or later. If I wanted to alter the flow of events and change the future, I had stop them here.
The Zashiki Warashi sounded doubtful, but I ignored her and began to move.
I slowly raised my hands and walked boldly out in front of them.
Naturally, the atmosphere changed entirely. I first sensed surprise and soon thick tension filled the darkness of the night. Several bright flashlights turned toward my face and I felt pain stabbing deep into my head.
“Who’s that!? …!!”
The figure who asked who I was gasped as soon as he saw my face.
Even if we had met in the Singer Song Liar story, we didn’t actually know each other. Still, he seemed to know me, most likely as the target they planned to attack.
“I want to speak with you! I’m sure this would be of interest to you!!”
Several sets of footsteps ran up and I was quickly partially surrounded by a semicircle. The situation was underway, so there was no backing out now. The thick steel machinery they held was enough to tell me that.
“You’re after the USB memory stick for the Usuhiki Warashi you hid on my suitcase, right? And you need it to restrain your out-of-control Package! Then there’s no need to take a hostage. We should work together!!”
“Where did you learn that?” asked a young man’s voice as a strong grip reached my shoulders. “Where did you learn that!? ‘That’ should still be a secret!!”
“What should still be a secret? That you’re opposed to the casino policy? That you want to blow away the stock transactions of the rich people gathering fortunes here? That you’ll do that by connecting an Usuhiki Warashi to the financial network, causing connection issues in the semiconductors, and accurately destroying only the clusters containing that transaction data!?”
The man seemed taken aback when I yelled from some close.
“You’re the only ones who think any of that’s a secret. Several groups are already on the move. The CIA is trying to steal the Usuhiki Warashi for their own purposes and Hyakki Yakou is trying to obliterate it all to resolve the problem. All of you will be slaughtered by midday tomorrow at the latest. I don’t know what exactly will happen, but I do know the future you’re imagining isn’t going to happen! Not as things are, anyway!!”
Realistically, this conversation may have been meaningless.
Other options had been available to me.
I could have checked on the location and hurried down the mountain. Then I could have found a way to meet up with the Hyakki Yakou leader’s bodyguards or contacted Hishigami Mai. If I did that, those expert killers would have quickly annihilated them for me. At the very least, the odds of success would have been far greater than for an amateur high school boy.
“There’s still time.”
Did we really have to fight?
My right temple seemed to writhe eerily. It was true we had been enemies in that Singer Song Liar story. There was no way we could have gotten along there. I knew that.
But that was only because their attack plan had succeeded. In that world, they had buried me alive in that dark cave, they had taken the Zashiki Warashi hostage, and everything had been far too late.
But what about now?
What about before all that?
“You planned revenge. You decided to take everything from the rich people who forced these difficulties on you, so you acquired the Usuhiki Warashi Package! But…but!! That’s all you did. You still haven’t actually taken anything from anyone!!”
Nothing was settled “yet”.
No one had committed a crime “yet”.
Therefore, there was no need for us to fight to the death as if manipulated by a nightmare.
Therefore, we could take a different path.
Therefore, we could work together.
“You can still turn back.”
I swore I would change the future.
That future was not set in stone just yet. It wasn’t certain. Could I really abandon them just because they had died in that “original” version of the future? Straying from one’s path required an appropriately strong will. After acquiring that Package as their ultimate weapon, they had noticed its problems and decided to halt their plan and prioritize safety. Some might accuse them of being cowards, but there was a reason they had been able to stop for fear of sacrificing unrelated people and there was a reason they had been able to force themselves to a stop without moving onward. That reason was human strength. And there was no way I could abandon someone with that powerful will as if they were sacrificial pawns or mere symbols.
If I did that, I would be the one stuck looking at the sickening ending with dark despair in my eyes!
“You can still turn this around! And I’ll give you as much help as you need!! I don’t want to be buried alive and a reality worse than death lies waiting beyond that. And since you’re so afraid of the Usuhiki Warashi Package going out of control, you probably know better than me what that entails!”
“What will you do?” I asked them with my hands in the air. “This is the final crossroads. Will you continue along the planned path and meet annihilation or will you actually take a step out of this dead end situation? The decision is yours, so which will it be!?”
My words were a mixture of reality and a formless conspiracy, so it probably wasn’t really getting through to them.
However, they had to know they were standing at a dead end here.
Otherwise, they wouldn’t think about rigging their workplace with explosives and burying someone alive.
Silence continued for a while.
“…Can we really stop?”
Finally, the young man holding my shoulders spoke quietly.
“Can we still end this without killing anyone?”
“Yes,” I answered. “The CIA and Hyakki Yakou are only your enemy because the Usuhiki Warashi Package is still active. If we destroy it beyond repair, the CIA won’t be able to take it for themselves and Hyakki Yakou will have no reason to kill you. That will settle everything.”
The young man swore.
It felt less like his gentle conscience was rising to the surface and more like his tension had lapsed and he had lost the resolve to kill.
But whatever the reason, they were hesitant to kill me.
They too had to be proper “humans”.
“Now,” I said. “Let’s change the future.”
Part 17 (Uchimaku Hayabusa — Day 10/03 22:45 - 23:05)
I handed admitted hardware cracker Kozakura Sobiki to the uniformed police officers I had called in.
“Ah... Hey, hey!! I’m going to be okay, right? You haven’t forgotten what you said about a summary indictment and a fine of ten thousand yen, have you!?”
The suspect girl seemed relatively energetic even as she was dragged away by a police officer on either side.
Mystery Bunny Enbi then whispered to me.
“(I don’t know what cracking gets you, but couldn’t her punishment get extended a good bit if additional charges get added?)”
“(That’s none of my concern. Still, she looks young enough to fall under juvenile law, so I doubt she’ll be imprisoned for long.)”
Left alone, the two of us looked down at the memo Kozakura Sobiki had given us.
Someone had hired her to rig the undersea cable with a special wiretap that included a bundle of old coins to affect a Youkai-related Package. The payment method had been too complex to be the locals…or so she had claimed, but she herself had apparently tried to use a method she hadn’t wanted to specify which allowed her to keep some evidence.
And that evidence was on the memo.
“It’s hard to tell what it is with just the string of a dozen or so alphanumeric characters.”
“So it went through the financial server on the Yakata-II cruise ship? …Is this true?”
If the ship’s casino had a financial transaction service, then it would indeed have a powerful satellite line connecting them to the card companies. And you would be able to use that to make a secret payment, but…
“This isn’t good. I clearly can’t investigate a luxury cruise ship filled with VIPs.”
“Well, that was probably their intention.”
“Even Chief Superintendent Mishima of the National Police Agency is a guest on that ship and there’s nothing I can do outside of my Tokyo jurisdiction.”
“Even though there are hints of an actual crime here? A Youkai-related wiretap can be used to interfere with a Package someone else has built into the network. I doubt anyone who went to the trouble of preparing that would never actually use it.”
“I’ll do what I can, but still.”
“Now, now. Enough formalities. I know you’ll step out into the party hall when it comes down to it. I’m looking forward to seeing how cool you are☆”
As we argued, my cellphone rang.
I didn’t recognize the number, but when I answered it, I heard Chief Superintendent Mishima’s voice.
“Hi, Uchimaku-kun. I hear you’re hard at work this late at night. I just got word of the suspect you arrested.”
“If you have a moment, can I ask something of you?” He did not hesitate to begin. “There was a bit of trouble on this ship. Based on the situation, it’s looking like pressure from a number of sources is going to erase all hints that anything happened, though.”
“Anyway, we’ve determined one individual who fled the Yakata-II: Hasukawa Yumi. And the real surprise? While she doesn’t actually have a diplomatic passport, it seems, under normal circumstances, she would be picked up by a car with a diplomatic license plate. If the uniformed police questioned her, the Public Security Intelligence Agency and the Foreign Affairs Division would rush in and start intimidating everyone. Do you know what kind of person I’m talking about?”
“A spy or intelligence agent? And from an allied nation?”
“Yes. Normally, information on this kind of ‘personnel’ doesn’t get around to us in the police even when they’re helping on the scene. The information gets suppressed along the way. But this time, we got it. There must have been some trouble on a scale that’s preventing the information suppression system from functioning.”
“And what do you want me to do?”
“The Public Security Intelligence Agency and the Foreign Affairs Division won’t do a thing because they don’t want to cause any trouble with America. If nothing is done, other hidden elements will probably deal with this hidden element and nothing we do is likely to change things much, but should a police officer really just ignore this? Either way, not many people can move freely here. That’s why I’m leaving the rest to you. And of course, you’re free to take it easy if you would prefer.”
“I will do the best I can.”
“That’s what I like to hear. Then I’ll send you Hasukawa Yumi’s location. …She must be protected by a pretty secure system under normal circumstances. Otherwise, she would have at least turned off her cellphone.”
He hung up and I saw Bunny Enbi’s face right in front of me, most likely to listen in.
“What will you do, Detective?”
“Shut up and move back. It seems an American spy has vanished from the cruise ship we were suspecting. It’s unclear if she has any connection to the wiretapped undersea cable or the deaths of the freelance writers, but it couldn’t hurt to pursue her.”
Normally, I would have dismissed Bunny Enbi at this point, but she would have followed me regardless and it would affect her safety if she ran across a criminal where I couldn’t see her. In the end, I could only bring her with me, just like she wanted.
“By the way, do you remember what Kozakura-chan said earlier?”
“She said a lot, so tell me what exactly you mean.”
“Why she thought she was being attacked. The reason other than opening the wiretap unit.”
“Oh, you mean what she saw on the ocean bottom?” I asked, a little annoyed. “Do you really think that’s true? If it is, it means this entire area rose pretty quickly thanks to an undersea volcano.”
Part 18 (Jinnai Shinobu — Day 10/03 23:10 - 23:18)
There was no way I could remember more than ten people’s faces and names in such a short time, but it seemed the young man who had grabbed my shoulders was named Emura Ryouichi. My right temple throbbed. I was pretty sure I had met him at the airport in the Singer Song Liar story.
After ensuring everything was safe, I met up with the Zashiki Warashi and the girl leader of Hyakki Yakou.
“I certainly didn’t expect it to end like that,” asked the girl.
“Oh? You didn’t? If you think about it carefully, the attack only happened in the Singer Song Liar story. Fearing that and making a preemptive strike seems like boarding those imaginary rails and letting them determine the future.”
Oh, honestly! Don’t act so calm now that we know the answer, you good-for-nothing! Do you have any idea how many years I worried off of my life getting to this peaceful resolution!?
At any rate, we had defeated the Singer Song Liar story for the first time, so we all began strategizing how to use that in the next step.
“The goldmine had always had a limit,” said Emura. “When talk of inviting in casinos first arrived, we rejoiced at the change to the island’s environment. But it was no use. None of the money that produced ever came back to us. The living infrastructure remained old and worn out and the only school is on the verge of shutting down. In the end, the locals dry up while the entertainment companies get all the money. It was set up like that from the beginning, but we didn’t catch on until afterwards.”
“And so you tried to destroy that cycle of profit?”
“Yes, even though getting rid of the casinos would only leave the dying island. It wouldn’t give us any new life. Still, we were going to collapse if we didn’t have some kind of goal.”
But something must have led them to stop.
Something great enough to make them fear the Usuhiki Warashi Package and try to seal it away.
“It was the deaths of the freelance writers,” said Emura. “They were caused by a malfunctioning automatic brake system, an exploding cellphone battery, and carbon monoxide leaking from a hot water heater. The people investigating Goldmine Island died strange deaths one after another. We initially thought it was a coincidence, but as we investigated the Usuhiki Warashi Package, we realized it could do all that. But I swear to you it wasn’t us. Someone had taken control. And once we realized that, we got scared.”
If they didn’t do anything, something even worse would happen and all of it would be blamed on them, so they had decided to abandon the Package they had acquired.
“What are you going to do now?”
“The heart of all this is the USB hardware key hidden on my suitcase which can stop the Usuhiki Warashi. By taking over the Package, the CIA will use Japan’s exported financial systems to spread fear around the globe and place all responsibility on Japan. That way they can drive down the price of an entire nation. We need to somehow safely retrieve that suitcase.”
The locals and the CIA had likely considered having a double retrieve the suitcase or making an attack on the airport itself. In the end, the risks had probably outweighed the benefits, so they had decided to let me retrieve it.
My right temple itched.
But if we followed the same series of events, a hellish conclusion awaited.
And just as I started wondering what to do, I heard an odd rustling sound.
I looked over toward it.
“Phew… I-I am exhausted.”
A tanuki that looked like a round stuffed animal left a thicket.
“What in the world are you doing?”
“I am here to repay our debt, of course. It was not easy following your scent all the way here.”
Come to think of it, they saved me at the airport during the Singer Song Liar story.
The Zashiki Warashi tilted her head.
“Can this tanuki transform into a human?”
“Why of course.”
After a burst of comical smoke, the round tanuki became a maid with a nice body. It pained me to admit it, but my eyes were drawn to the thighs below her miniskirt.
Hyakki Yakou’s leader clasped her small hands in front of her chest.
“Then can you transform into Jinnai Shinobu to fool the CIA?”
“She did that in the Singer Song Liar story. Even if we get the fox and badger’s help too, we won’t be able to change the flow of events.”
The kimono-wearing girl gave a start.
She reached into her sleeve and pulled out an extremely simple cellphone. She held it in one hand, poked at the buttons with her other index finger, and wrapped both hands around it to answer it.
“Yes, yes. …Yes?”
For some reason, she held the phone out to me.
“It’s for you, apparently.”
“Who is it?”
Pointless tension ran down my back.
It felt like death’s fingertips were stroking my spine.
I stared down at the phone for a while, but I finally held it to my ear since I had no choice but to answer.
“Hi, Jinnai Shinobu-chan. How does it feel for the grim reaper to know your name?”
“Oh, dear. This is no laughing matter.”
“By the way, the grim reaper in this case isn’t me. Where are you right now?”
For some reason, I hesitated to answer.
“The mountain. It’s a ten to fifteen minute walk from the casino city. There’s a hand-dug tunnel entrance and about three cabins nearby.”
“That’s enough. Don’t you die until I get there.”
I thought I was going to pass out.
When she said it, words like “die” or “kill” had an entirely different meaning than from the dimwitted delinquents that liked to use them so frequently. They held their pure, original, and thoroughly honed meanings.
“What? What are you saying is going to happen to me!?”
“I don’t have time to explain. It will probably take me ten minutes to arrive if I go all out, so working to survive that long is the bare minimum required of you. Don’t even think about defeating this CIA agent. Just think of ways to buy time. And be especially cautious of miniskirt maids with short brown hair.”
I froze in place when I heard that.
I felt like an invisible thread was wrapped tightly around my heart.
Miniskirt. Maid. Short hair. Brown hair. As I thought of those four criteria, I slowly and hesitantly turned my head as if photographing the stars.
The wet nurse tanuki was there.
She was smiling with the others in our group, but what was her current form?
I took a slow step backwards.
That’s…that’s right. How did she so conveniently find this spot just now? Did she really follow my scent? And if not, who was the skilled person who would have gone on a rampage in the airport in the original flow of events?
As I wondered that, my intense unease managed to distract me for just an instant.
And in that instant, I was suddenly hit on the side of the head so hard I thought it had to be a hammer or something.
I was knocked to the ground and someone had climbed on top of me. She had short brown hair and a maid uniform with a short skirt, but the face I could see in the darkness looked completely different from the wet nurse tanuki.
What is going on?
If Hishigami Mai hadn’t called, I wouldn’t have been distracted. No, if I hadn’t had the advance information from the Singer Song Liar story…
It’s like the rails we finally started to get switched over are being forced back to the Singer Song Liar story!
“Once I have you, it will all be settled.”
The others quickly caught on, but before they could do anything, the miniskirt maid had pulled a small handgun from her thigh.
“If I overclock the Amanojaku, all of the appearing options will be flattened down. The protruding nails will all be hammered down and the future will be corrected back to the plan. If today ends and tomorrow begins, the rails will return to normal and we can reach the blue light.”
I heard a series of gunshots that seemed far too rapid for a handgun.
She was driving away the others with a storm of lead before they could approach and surround us.
The wet nurse tanuki shielded the miners who had yet to move and she was blown backwards. While a Youkai was immune to physical attacks, she could not cover for them forever. And this miniskirt maid would not shy away from bloodshed.
She was overclocking the Amanojaku directly linked to the Singer Song Liar story.
That would flatten down the appearing options. It would hammer down the protruding nails.
It would correct the future back to the plan.
Even if I did not understand what each individual part meant, it was enough to get my right temple itching. She was going to crush whatever it was we had finally started to change and she would bring it all back to its original path. She wanted to bring about that conclusion that made me want to vomit when I so much as thought about it.
The maid sitting on top of me aimed her handgun at the Zashiki Warashi and Hyakki Yakou’s leader.
I won’t let you do that.
I won’t let you just do whatever you want any longer!!
I gathered all my strength and moved my body with her still sitting on top of me. I didn’t so much push her off as I crawled like a caterpillar with her still on top of me.
But that was enough.
We were on a mountain slope near the tunnel entrance. Other than the artificially maintained parts, the ground was steeply sloped, so I only needed to get us started. From there, we would follow gravity and roll down on our own.
I felt something sliding and a prop being removed.
I heard dry gunshots, but the Hyakki Yakou girl was not bloodied.
The ballistic paths had been thrown far off course.
The maid and I fell quickly down the mountain slope.
Part 19 (Jinnai Shinobu — Day 10/03 23:18 - 23:28)
I rolled and rolled. I rolled into the forest and my back slammed into a thick tree trunk. The shock was enough that I thought I was going to cough up blood, but it was also enough to finally stop me.
The miniskirt maid had already separated from me, but not because I had thrown her off. She was only a few meters away. Too far for me to reach her, but close enough to kill me with her gun. She had avoided the collision by pressing her hands and feet against the slope like a wild animal.
Her eyes glowed eerily in the moonlight and they were accurately trained on me.
“What will you do now?”
She asked in human language.
Someone with a human form spoke in human language. That was a perfectly normal phenomenon, yet it seemed horribly wrong somehow. I simply could not place this enemy in the same category as myself. That was how powerful the invisible “something” surrounding her was.
“Will you oppose me, or won’t you? Will you persuade me, or won’t you? Will you collapse into tears, or won’t you? Any of them is fine and all of them are fine, but the outcome will not change. The outcome has been set from the beginning.”
“What are you trying to do?” I groaned while having trouble breathing.
Human speed could not hope to win against a bullet. I knew that, but I still tried to think. I needed to buy time and make sure I could move my body.
“You’re going to spread fear around the globe, force all responsibility on this country, and drive down the price of Japan. …It’s simple enough to say, but how many people do you think are going to have their lives turned upside down by that? It won’t just be the Japanese hanging themselves. A lot of people trust in the Japanese yen. If it collapses that badly, investors the world over will have no choice but to hang themselves. From the shadiest investment fund to some newlywed wife investing her spare change, you can’t know how far the damage will spread!!”
“That is simple.” That monster in a woman’s body accurately aimed the gun at me and answered in undeniably human words. “This is all for you and your country. We must snuff out the blue light.”
“What…are you…talking about?”
“You do not have to understand. It is because you are so immature that someone else must protect your country from the blue light.”
I did not understand a word of it.
Language was a tool meant to convey people’s thoughts and it had no meaning if it was an empty container. That philosophical thought felt disturbingly real to me here. It felt as threatening as being handed a blank sheet of paper and being told to decipher it. I couldn’t help but be overcome by confusion.
“How can I accept that?”
“You are free to accept it or not, but the outcome will not change.”
“Don’t be so sure.”
“A certain woman told me to survive for ten minutes. She said that was the bare minimum required of me. She said not to think about defeating you and to think of ways to buy time.”
“All I have to do is wait. I just have to drag out this conversation by any means necessary!!”
I don’t think she had time to turn around.
A moment later, the woman in question, Hishigami Mai, rushed in as a gust of black wind.
Part 20 (Hishigami Mai — Day 10/03 23:28 - 23:45)
The forest was quiet and the mountain was sleeping.
A clawless and fangless human that had given up its fur was an outsider there. It was said a soldier with their senses honed to the extreme could detect the scent of shampoo from four hundred meters away. If they knew the general direction, they could turn all five senses toward their surroundings and find the person hidden there.
At any rate, I was lucky to get the first attack in.
Does it hurt to have a knee digging into your cheek? Then how about I push you down and finish you off!?
Dry gunshots rang out, but I moved just my upper body around to avoid the bullets while still sitting on the maid’s stomach.
Or that’s what should have happened.
Something warm trailed down my cheek.
Once I realized it came from the scrape of a bullet grazing my temple, I quickly made a change of plans.
I forcefully jumped back to put some distance between us and the maid fired more bullets.
This time, I was sure I had dodged them.
I kept my body entirely away from the straight line running from the muzzle of the handgun.
Yet in reality, the bullets opened dark red holes in my right shoulder and side.
“What…is going on!?”
“That is not what you should be surprised about. The true surprise is that you still haven’t been fatally wounded.”
She threw aside the old magazine and replaced it with a longer one that was twice the length of the gun itself. She then pulled the slide to load the first bullet.
“I am using the same resources. I could not prepare a new Youkai. Just think back to Sid Clouds’s method.”
“He was boosting his muscular strength with the Ubume’s baby. Did that leave the Ubume itself available!?”
I had lost a fair bit of blood, but my bones and organs were untouched. I relied on my speed and rushed back in toward the maid to swiftly get in a fatal blow.
Once I was in range for a certain kill, the maid’s body vanished like fog or an illusion and I heard dry gunshots from the side. I was far too slow to react to the sound, so one arm was destroyed and the bullets stopped just before reaching my organs.
“The Ubume appears on a road at night and she prefers intersections of multiple paths, be it at a crossroads or a bridge. That is of course because the common point between a number of paths raises the odds of more victims encountering her.”
By the time I heard the voice, the maid was already gone.
“I have made a broad interpretation of that trait. In other words, I can freely control the probability of an ‘encounter’. I connect to the surrounding space, bind all of the paths together, and divide that which will meet from that which will not meet. Just like the Ubume meets her victim and separates that victim form any witnesses to ensure their death.”
It sounded like we were in an echoing cave. The source of her voice was dispersed to the point I couldn’t pinpoint a direction.
“You will not meet me.”
Only the dripping of my blood on the ground was clear.
Not good! Really not good! As long as I’m caught in her technique, I’ll be killed in a completely one-sided game!!
“But my devilish attacks will always meet you.”
The voice was directed straight toward me, just like the sights of the gun.
“After all, bullets follow a ballistic path, so I can freely bind them to you.”
Gunshots rang out.
The multiple lead bullets flew like lightning and accurately pierced my body.
Part 21 (Uchimaku Hayabusa — Day 10/03 23:45 - 23:50)
The continuous gunshots stabbed into our ears.
Hiking up a mountain in a cheap, impractical suit and leather shoes was not fun, but that discomfort was immediately swept from my mind by the sense of danger that spread from the center of my head to the farthest reaches of my body.
“This isn’t good. That wasn’t just a hunting rifle. It was lighter and rapid fire.”
“Probably a machine pistol or a submachinegun. Either way, it’s firing handgun rounds. But it sounds like there’s only one source, so I don’t think they’re fighting a war at the port or anything.”
Why are you grinning? This isn’t just some news on TV. We can get dragged into the center of it at any time.
I really shouldn’t have brought her along.
I don’t have a gun with me and a bow gun was enough to give me trouble.
“Mystery Freak, you stay here. If you hear gunfire again, run straight away no matter what’s happened.”
“Um, are you serious, detective?”
“We can’t just sit in safety, observing the suspects and hunting down the criminal anymore! This is beyond what you can handle and I can’t guarantee I can protect a civilian minor here!”
“Not what I meant.”
Bunny Enbi placed her index finger on my lips to silence me.
“According to that NPA guy, the enemy here is the CIA. I don’t know if she’s an official agent or a local helper, but a criminal protected by state secrets has shown herself. You may have taken one step outside of the formal police agencies, but do you really think that’s enough here? You can’t take your other foot out, so it would be best to have someone with you to step in the puddles and pick up the items.”
“I wasn’t taking you with me to turn you into a criminal.”
“Thank you for looking out for me. If you had added ‘I love you’ at the end, I might have forced myself onto you right here.”
But Enbi quickly changed her tone.
“This doesn’t look like the time to be carefully choosing your cards. Can’t you feel this tense atmosphere, detective?”
“This isn’t like the Funa Yuurei on Zashou Island or the Aoandon in Zenmetsu Village. It isn’t that we’ve gotten ourselves involved in my sister’s territory. This is a surprise, because I didn’t know there was a world beyond even that.”
Part 22 (Jinnai Shinobu — Day 10/03 23:45 - 23:58)
I could only watch.
Hishigami Mai’s body tilted. She had taken several bullets to the back and she was limply collapsing to the ground. Only after seeing that definite loss of life did I realize she too was a human just like the rest of us.
She could fail and she could make mistakes.
No matter how much she showed off and how full of herself she was, there was no guarantee she could keep her promises.
“It’s over now,” said the miniskirt maid, far too easily. “Didn’t I tell you? Whether you do anything or not is your decision, but it will not change the outcome.”
It was no use.
How was I supposed to fight this?
I wouldn’t have stood a chance against someone with a normal gun, yet this woman was using a Youkai power and had overwhelmingly defeated even Hishigami Mai. What could a normal high school boy do against a true monster like that?
“Once I have you, I can overclock the Amanojaku.”
She slowly but surely walked toward me.
“That will correct the twisted path and return everything to normal. We will be able to reach the blue light for your sake and for your country’s sake.”
Was it all over?
I could not stop the CIA. They would misuse the Usuhiki Warashi Package, spread fear around the globe concerning the exported Japanese financial systems, place all of the blame on Japan, and buy Japan at a vastly reduced price while claiming to be assisting its recovery. Was this leading to that future?
I just about gave up, but then some oddly muffled gunshots were directed toward the maid’s back.
“You showed your back, didn’t you?”
I heard a voice.
It came from Hishigami Mai who was collapsed on the slope. At some point, a small handgun with a suppressor attached had appeared in her hand.
“You can connect all ‘paths’ and manipulate their encounter rate, but for some strange reason, you never showed your back. Yet if you could simply determine my attacks wouldn’t hit, that shouldn’t have mattered.”
The maid slowly turned around.
It didn’t seem Mai could get up, but she showed no sign of caring.
“That means your back is the exception. Wasn’t that your Achilles’ heel? The Ubume is said to be a collection of the women who died in childbirth and their persistent desire to at least protect their child. An Ubume cannot exist as just an Ubume. There must always be a symbol of the child. They ask a passerby to hold their baby and kill them by the baby’s ever-increasing weight, but it’s said they leave and stop trying to kill the victim if they sense any danger to the baby.”
“You…mean…?” I muttered without thinking.
Mai responded with a smile on her bloody lips.
“The Ubume appears holding her baby, but since your back is your weakness, are you carrying it on your back? It might be a paper doll shaped like a child and it may just be stored inside your maid outfit to make it look like you’re carrying it, but it would be deadly for you if it were damaged. The Ubume will always keep her baby safe even if it means abandoning her fearsome power, so you’ve lost your special ability. You can no longer connect paths and manipulate the encounter rate!!”
More muffled gunshots continued and the miniskirt maid could only let them hit her.
I clearly saw the woman smile.
“No,” I muttered as I spoke what I could instinctually sense. “She wasn’t relying on the Ubume. She’s been fixated on another Youkai from the beginning! So…!!”
“Yes, I was using – and truly wanted to use – the Amanojaku.”
The maid slowly aimed her handgun at Hishigami Mai.
The bullets had definitely hit her, yet there wasn’t a single red stain on her miniskirt maid outfit.
“That Youkai can replace everything with lies. That is why I deceived you so easily.”
It happened far too quickly.
As several bullets struck her, Hishigami Mai transformed. The face that symbolized her transformed. It splattered apart like a jigsaw puzzle thrown to the floor.
There was nothing I could do.
The situation had suddenly gone two steps too far for me to even feel fear or sadness.
I forgot to even scream and simply spoke in a daze.
“You mean you only made it look like you were using the Ubume in your tactics? And all so you could misuse the Amanojaku’s lying trait?”
“Yes. It was really just an elementary illusion. I was a little let down when it looked like I was going to win without having to use this, so I’m glad I was able to use everything I had stocked up.”
All was lost now.
Every single chance of victory had slipped from my fingers.
“Whether you do anything or not is your decision. Who will you rely on now? That Zashiki Warashi and the local miners? Or maybe the detective who is only now carelessly entering the forest with a girl? They will arrive here eventually regardless, but all of them will die once they do. That is how this is set up.”
It felt like she was reading from a book of prophecy.
And an extremely cruel one that went on and on about all sorts of destruction yet never mentioned a way to stop it.
Anyone who met her would die.
And at this rate, it was only a matter of time before a whole lot of people approached this monster.
“So choose for yourself. At what stage do you want this to end? At Hishigami Mai’s death, at the annihilation of the Zashiki Warashi and the others with her, or at the detective’s discovery of all the corpses? You have options, but you cannot undo your previous choices. So choose for yourself when you will step down.”
My mind went entirely blank.
After all, there was nothing I could do. What could I possibly do? It was obvious that struggling and resisting any longer would only increase the number of deaths. It was plain as day. So what was I supposed to do? My right temple itched. Was my best option to follow the Singer Song Liar story while ensuring everyone survived so I could at least regain the country decades later? Was that really the best option? Could I really accept that?
“You are free to choose whatever you want,” said the maid. “But there is only one result. No one can escape the Amanojaku. You understand that, don’t you?”
She seemed to be tempting me, soothing me.
She made that bold and triumphant announcement while completely looking down on me.
No one can escape the Amanojaku?
What are we dealing with here?
Both my Singer Song Liar story and this miniskirt maid’s power come from the Amanojaku. That’s a single Youkai. This isn’t about the Usuhiki Warashi, Kechibi, or Ubume anymore. If everything is ruled by the Amanojaku alone, I can turn this all on its head by finding a way to defeat that Amanojaku. I can still turn this around!!
You have to think.
What is the Singer Song Liar story anyway? Sticking a Youkai in a fantasy is too simple and vague. If it was built into a Package, there has to be some kind of concrete, physical system. The Amanojaku is a contrarian Youkai that answers any question with a lie. It commits small pranks like reading traveler’s minds to mimic them and surprise them, but it’s also known to commit great crimes like killing a princess, wearing her skin, and taking her place. To include an Amanojaku, there must be a huge symbol of a lies. It has to be a concrete, physical, secure, and sturdy symbol of lies and not something easily shaken or erased like an automatically-generated story.
Think back to the Singer Song Liar story and what happened in reality.
Think back to everything presented there, seen there, and heard there.
Goldmine Island. A small island off of Kyushu. The temperature is twenty eight degrees. It’s a mining island originally known as Heavy Cruiser Island. It’s now the stage for a new casino policy, but the profits aren’t evenly returned, creating friction between the locals and the entertainment companies. The locals claim the companies are mining deep below the island with work ships and that’s why there’s no more gold in the mines. The locals thoroughly hate the casinos. The pineapple-like tropical trees have some red and yellow from the few maple and gingko trees still mixed in.
“…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………Oh, I get it.”
I had finally found it.
I had found the symbol of lies and the system prepared to store the Amanojaku.
And of course, the entire Package would cease to function if that was destroyed. It would all disperse and her plan would fail.
In that case, I had no reason to hesitate.
I would reveal the lie.
I would defeat the Amanojaku using the truth.
I would turn everything on its head.
I would end it all in just a few words.
And so I spoke those few words to the woman of lies who ruled everything here.
“This island isn’t in its original location. It was artificially moved from its original coordinates.”
I clearly heard the sound of cracks running through glass.
“You slowly moved Goldmine Island far from its original location, but moving it wasn’t your goal. You wanted an environment where everyone was unknowingly being deceived. It was all for your symbol of lies, the Amanojaku!!”
“What…are you talking about?”
“You tricked everyone here!! You threw us all inside a giant lie! That allowed the Amanojaku to use its full power and that made my story so tremendously effective!! That’s all it was!!”
“Ridiculous. Do you really think we could do that? Even if it’s a small island, how much mass do you think that is?”
“The amount of mass doesn’t matter. As long as you can achieve buoyancy, any object will float. There’s been talk of strange work ships stopping at the island since the casinos were first invited in. They would secretly carry out huge amounts of dirt and sand, so people thought they were digging up gold without permission.”
The locals hadn’t been wrong, but they had only been looking at it from their interests.
“But they were doing something else. They were creating a spider web of tunnels deep below the island and filling them with a foaming substance like polyurethane. If they separated the island from its roots with a bunch of explosives, Goldmine Island would float up like a life preserver!”
To put it more liberally, it was like floating the entire island on a giant kickboard.
As the casinos arrived, the beaches had apparently rapidly shrunk. Everyone had accepted it as sea level rise due to global warming, but that probably wasn’t it.
After spending more than a year slowly moving the island a few kilometers, it had been sunk down and affixed to a “new base” prepared on the ocean bottom. And they had done that by removing the foaming material.
But it had rocked in the waves while being moved. And when it was affixed to the new base, a height difference of a few centimeters to a few dozen centimeters could have been introduced. That would have made it look like the ocean level had risen and the beaches had shrunk.
The miniskirt maid tensed her lips.
“Nothing that ridiculous could have happened. What about the airplane pilots? Or the ship captains? How could we have fooled them? How could we guide them to Goldmine Island’s supposed new location!?”
“These days, no captain navigates with a sea chart and compass in one hand. They’re entirely reliant on the electronic control and digital display, so you just have to fake those numbers. If the island was moved bit by bit in a circle around a central point without changing the actual distance, the pilots just looking at the numbers won’t know that the numbers have been swapped out and that they’re being guided in a different direction!!”
Someone who determined directions by looking at the moon or stars may have noticed something was off, but no one captained a ship or piloted an airplane with those primitive methods anymore.
And while it would be a lot of trouble to swap out those numbers, that made sense too.
The Amanojaku was a Youkai of lies and it would answer any question with a lie. When the ships and airplanes sent out their “questions”, the navigation equipment would “answer” with false data, guiding them to the island of lies.
That setup had to have been quite comfortable for the Amanojaku.
“GPS systems are reliant on America, so you in the CIA can easily make changes to all the map apps and car navigation systems that use it. The same goes for airport control and ship navigation systems. Even if the equipment itself is made in Japan, the software inside is all made in America. It wouldn’t be difficult for you to swap out the numbers for this island that everyone was looking at.”
If someone had dived down to the ocean bottom, the terrain around the island may have looked completely wrong.
That would have turned Goldmine Island’s surroundings into a demonic area of sea. After all, the actual coordinates and the data were completely different. If one was using older means of determining direction or a navigation system that didn’t rely on America, it was possible two ships could head to the same coordinates and never find each other even as they spoke over the radio or phone. That was to be expected when their ideas of the “same coordinates” were so different.
“But you failed. I saw through it. I used the truth to break through your world of lies! This is no longer a world running on lies. By bringing in the truth, the conditions you need to keep the Amanojaku will have crumbled. That power won’t last much longer!!”
“Don’t… Don’t be ridiculous. We were not doing anything like that. Your method of refuting us was wrong. Your incorrect deductions won’t do anything to the Amanojaku’s power.”
Then why are you cutting in like this?
Are you panicking?
“Yes, really!! No one on Goldmine Island has noticed anything off. And even you have no proof of any of this, do you? Do you really think you can force this onto someone else when you can’t even convince yourself!?”
It did indeed hurt to have her point that out.
I wasn’t a forensics expert and I didn’t have time to call one in. If this miniskirt maid silenced me, she would probably be able to reach the Amanojaku almost immediately and that would determine the future. This country would fall into ruin.
That meant I had to do something with what I had here.
I had to prove this was an island of lies using what I had at my disposal.
“We’re currently farther north than Goldmine Island’s original location, aren’t we? Whether it’s five or ten kilometers, it has to be enough to make the island’s mere presence here a lie.”
“What are you saying?”
“My cellphone says the temperature is twenty eight degrees. Just like a tropical island, the temperature has fluctuated between twenty five and thirty degrees over the past week. This is a warm enough night to forget it’s October.”
“What’s your point?”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
I pointed, but not at the miniskirt maid.
I pointed at the tree behind her.
“The maple trees are turning red. But if this midsummer heat was constant, they never would have started changing color!! It’s possible to place dry ice at the base of a tree to make its leaves change color early, but I can’t think of a single logical reason to do that on a tropical island like this. That means the maple trees are changing naturally!!”
“But why!? Why is there a difference between the temperature on the screen here and the color change in the leaves? That’s because Goldmine Island is supposed to be south of here where it’s warmer and the trees haven’t started changing color yet! When falsifying the data to fool the locals, you had to swap out the meteorological data like temperature and humidity, didn’t you!? And that’s why the leaves have started changing color several days early!!”
From the very beginning, I had thought this island was “chilly”.
When I had checked my cellphone and seen the lie that it was twenty eight degrees, I had just assumed it was due to the low humidity and the night wind.
“There’s a huge difference between the actual color of the leaves and the temperature shown on the screen here!! This proves that the island was moved from its original location and that we’ve been thrown into a giant lie!!!!!”
Multiple gunshots rang out and dark red holes opened from my chest to my navel as if I had fallen victim to a giant sewing machine.
She may have tried to silence me before I made the decisive statement. She may have decided she could include “Jinnai Shinobu” in the system as long as my brain or heart remained.
My body tilted to the side and a rusty flavor rushed up into my throat.
There was probably no saving me.
But make no mistake.
All I needed was the strength to move my trembling lips.
Her power was a collection of lies. No matter what she accomplished, it was nothing but a house built on sand.
If the lies were revealed, it would all disappear.
I just had to use the truth to break the many tragedies she had created.
“It was all…lies. This is the truth!!”
With that, I heard shattering glass and our surroundings entirely changed.
They were overwritten.
The many holes in my gut vanished. The corpse with the smashed face returned to Hishigami Mai’s lovely form.
It had all begun with a lie, so no matter what was piled on top of it, it would all come tumbling down once the foundational lie vanished. It was just like a tree trunk and branches. No matter how long the branches were, if you took an axe to the trunk, the entire tree would fall.
That was what had happened here.
The miniskirt maid glanced around.
She seemed to be thinking about how to recover from here, so I spoke.
“Don’t act so full of yourself! You’re just an amateur!! Just because I can’t control the Amanojaku doesn’t mean that you can defeat me here. I can vanish for the moment, rebuild my foundation, and return it all to normal!!”
“Yes, you can escape right now, but without the Amanojaku Package, we won’t do what you say. You can’t take over the Usuhiki Warashi and you can’t buy Japan. So is there still any reason to fight?”
“So that means you have a choice. At what stage do you want this to end?”
I repeated the same question she had asked me earlier.
“Defeating me and continuing on would be easy. I’m just a normal high school boy. But a more powerful enemy will show up next. Will it be my detective of an uncle? Or if he isn’t enough, will it be the skilled agent that even Hyakki Yakou fears? How far can you get now that you’ve lost your power?”
“So let me say this.”
I gave my final notification to the woman whose throat had to have gone dry.
“Jinnai Shinobu, Uchimaku Hayabusa, or Hishigami Mai? Which one do you want to settle this with you!?”
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