Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume7 Chapter2
Chapter 2: The Wandering Beast and Outside the Cage. Dead_Girl.
If he was being perfectly honest, he could not say it had not irritated him.
Tsuchimikado Motoharu had been a magician who had earned the title of an Onmyou expert at a very young age. Officially, magic was known as a field for those without talent to overcome those with talent. For that reason, he did not like the term, but “genius” did fit him quite well. That was how skilled he was.
And then he had been given the mission to sneak into Academy City.
He was to sneak in as a student, so he would need to undergo the psychic powers development of the science side. One did not even need to read the records on the accident involving Sherry Cromwell and Ellis Warrior to know the simple fact that espers could not use magic.
Simply put, the Anglican Church had asked him to abandon magic.
He had of course wondered why he had been chosen and resented the higher ups for choosing him. If it had simply been a means of taking care of someone the higher ups felt was a bit too skilled, he would have simply laughed and left the organization. What was not funny was the fact that he truly had been the best suited person for the undercover mission.
And if Tsuchimikado Motoharu had not accepted that, the balance between magic and science would have collapsed.
Something had been advancing below the surface that had forced them to make that judgment.
“If you are to fake your identity as a student, you must have all the relationships that come with it.”
The one who had shrugged and told him that had likely been Bishu.
“In other words, a family.”
Tsuchimikado Motoharu, Tsuchimikado Bishu, and Tsuchimikado Touzu.
The last two were not to sneak into Academy City. They merely took on those names to play the role of his family outside the city. But they had been forced to abandon their family names of Urabe and Ashiya, so it could not have been an enjoyable task for them.
Tsuchimikado Motoharu had lightly clicked his tongue and replied, “This fake identity will be seen through in half a day.”
“Then how about we mix some truth in with the lies?” Bishu had immediately replied. The response had seemed arbitrary on the surface, but she had of course prepared everything in advance. “After you arrive in Japan, go around to different orphanages. Choose a…young girl to add to the family. This will be a girl who truly knows nothing of magic or science. Her existence will confuse the analysts in Academy City’s intelligence department. They may think you might be an enemy, but they will find it too irrational for an enemy to do this.”
It had not been an enjoyable suggestion.
He was being ordered to bring an innocent girl into the picture.
“That may help, but it still won’t last longer than 3 days. I don’t see the point.”
“Three days is long enough for the entire world to change,” Bishu had said. “Sneak into that city of science and show some results before their intelligence department catches up to you. If you are able to become indispensable to them, you might be able to ‘stick’ when they try to wash you away.”
That had been the circumstances surrounding it.
It had been a family that was held together by lies and contained no hint of love.
The reason Tsuchimikado Motoharu had chosen that girl to join the family had been quite simple: her circumstances made it easy to fake her official records. That was all there had been to it.
Tsuchimikado Motoharu had said the following to that girl while on the way to Academy City with her:
“If you do not question the circumstances you find yourself in, I will give you anything you want.”
That had been the extent of the contract between them.
It had been his way of apologizing in advance for an expert like him getting an amateur like her involved.
That girl of course had not understood the situation, so she had tilted her head in confusion.
“You’ll do anything for me?”
“Within certain limits.”
“But...” That girl had smiled as she continued to speak truly smoothly. “If I have a ticket like that, I should give it to someone who actually needs it.”
He had not expected that response.
Tsuchimikado Motoharu had been abandoning everything about himself as a magician. And that response had been enough to softly stimulate something that had just barely begun to appear within him.
Diazinon Insecticide - Toxic.
Those words were printed in large text on the side of a tanker truck. The driver’s side door opened and Fugan Ryuuzou stepped out onto the asphalt. He inserted bill after bill into a drink vending machine on the sidewalk and pressed the green tea button repeatedly. He had a small refrigerator inside the truck similar to a hotel or hospital room, but the drinks inside had run out.
A light electronic tone rang from the pocket of his work uniform.
He used different tones to distinguish between business and private and this was the business one. He pulled out his cell phone with a grimace. Even more wrinkles covered his face when he saw an even more ridiculous order than he had expected.
Nothing was blatantly spelled out in the email, but a list of unrealistic “products” was hidden beneath the surface if one saw through each of the metaphors and codes.
“An auto-loading mortar? What are they thinking? Are they planning to load it into a disaster relief robot to cause some kind of disturbance?”
Fugan was not a weapons seller.
He was nothing more than a designer. Whether it was a safe device or a dangerous one, he would draw up the plans for whatever his clients asked for and send those plans to them over the internet. Thanks to private video services becoming so plentiful lately, net rentals with excellent copy guarding and timed file deletion had become easy. He had no trouble passing the necessary data to the client while also preventing the data from spreading uncontrollably.
As he walked toward the tanker truck holding a large number of plastic bottles, Fugan thought about whether he should accept this job or not. His initial opinion was 8 to 2 opposed to the idea. With this sort of job, there was no established price, but the amount suggested was still a problem. But not because it was too low. It was too high. This was likely either a rookie who knew nothing of the business or an Anti-Skill sting operation.
(Well, first impressions are important. I just finished a major job, so I don’t need to take any risks. In this field, you will never survive if you can’t trust your own nose.)
As he thought, he opened the driver’s side door and leaned inside to drop the drink bottles on the seat.
Someone kicked the door closed with Fugan Ryuuzou caught in the middle.
Fugan’s entire body convulsed as if he was being bitten into by a dinosaur. He felt so much pain he was amazed he was not coughing up blood. He might have broken some ribs, but the attacker did not care. Fugan’s arms were brought behind him and handcuffed. The attacker grabbed his clothes, spun him around 180 degrees, and slammed his back up against the side of the driver’s seat.
The attacker was a boy who had thin-lensed glasses and short hair dyed brown.
He was Tsuchimikado Motoharu.
“Why do you think?” said Tsuchimikado in a low voice. “Why do you think a weapons seller like you is being attacked now?”
For an instant, the attacker glanced somewhere else. Fugan wanted as much information as he could, so he desperately followed the boy’s gaze while the boy still held his collar. Inside the half-open truck door was the small screen of the car navigation system. It had 1seg functionality and could receive the news.
Fugan could only think of one possible connection.
The recent news of a fire that had been disguised as a completely normal incident.
“Wait! Please wait! I had nothing to do with that. I only sold the designs. This is how I make my way through the underside of this city without dirtying my own hands. Do you really think I would do something to anger you!?”
“Are you saying you don’t know where the weapon you sold the plans to was manufactured or who did it?”
Tsuchimikado gave a small smile.
However, his eyes were not smiling.
“You’re afraid of these dangerous weapons plans spreading uncontrollably, so you use the net rental format. I doubt someone like that would stop tracking things after the sale. You monitor them. You check to make sure what you created is only used within the scope of their request.”
“I-I don’t do that. You’re just speculating. What proof of this do you-…”
Fugan Ryuuzou trailed off.
This was because Tsuchimikado had suddenly let go of his collar. Fugan fell into a sitting position and coughed.
And then he saw it.
That boy in the chic jacket was pulling out a toolbox from the floor of the passenger seat.
“Did you think this was a police interrogation room where you would be served katsudon? Or were you expecting a scene of me presenting evidence sealed in plastic bags?”
“Wait!! Why are you lining up wrenches and crowbars on the street!?”
“Then again, recording things like they do in an interrogation room isn’t a bad idea. Or maybe a live broadcast would be better. I may not look it, but I know how to put on a blue-fin tuna dissection show. I can even show you your beating heart while you are still breathing. Do you know how hard it is to bring out the heart without using anesthesia?”
Fugan almost cried out in fear, but he managed to cover his mouth with one hand. Tsuchimikado had started by breaking his pinky finger.
“Bbh…Bbah!! I-I get it…wait, stop!!”
Next came his ring finger.
And then Tsuchimikado reached for the man’s plump middle finger.
“Stop!! Stop! I-I’ll talk…!!”
In truth, Tsuchimikado did not have time to slowly torture the man. If an unrelated person came along and called Anti-Skill, it was all over. And a rotten weapons seller who dealt with the dark side would never break in just a few minutes if all Tsuchimikado did was punch and kick him.
Not all pain was equal.
Some was worth much more than others.
How much fear could be produced with a single act of violence? That was where the preparations became important. It was not just in the medieval witch hunts that experts would line up cruel collection of overly musty tools with ominous stains still on them. Even if those tools were never used, they could still be quite effective.
Tsuchimikado Motoharu was not only a member of the science side as a resident of Academy City.
He was also a member of the magic side as an expert from the Anglican Church which specialized in inquisitions.
“I’ll talk!! I’ll talk!! What do you want to know first!?”
As Fugan’s trembling almost reached the point of being convulsions, Tsuchimikado grabbed his collar once more and slammed his back against the side of the tanker truck.
He slowly spoke in the man’s ear.
“If someone sees us and interrupts this, I will kill you. So make sure you tell me everything before that happens, okay?”
“…I-I fucked up big time,” weakly spat out Fugan. “It was wrong of me to hold some strange sense of justice despite being so deep in this world. I caught a glimpse of something I should not have seen.”
“What exactly was it?”
“Wait…” Fugan Ryuuzou shook his head while Tsuchimikado still held his collar. “Please, please. I know this is someone dangerous. I don’t want to make an enemy of them. I’m already on the edge of a cliff here! I think what happened to your friend was unfortunate, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to die with you!!”
“I wasn’t able to track them! I’ve been involved in a lot of dangerous incidents, but this is the first time I’ve completely lost the trail. I don’t know who exactly this is, but I know they’re dangerous. This was a sign that I shouldn’t investigate any further. I don’t want a monster like that turning their focus on me! Please believe me! I really don’t know anything more!!”
“I see. Fine then.”
“What are you-…?” started Fugan before catching on.
After letting go of the man’s collar, Tsuchimikado Motoharu pulled out Fugan’s business phone and used his thumb to operate it.
“I hear you’re one of the top weapons sellers in the city. You must make a lot of money.”
“I’m a general designer. It just so happens that most of the requests I get are for weapons.”
“This was clever of you.” Tsuchimikado used a fist to bang on the tank loaded on the back of the large vehicle. “Undiluted toxic insecticide. With that kind of warning, Anti-Skill isn’t going to open it up and check inside even if you’re pulled over at a checkpoint or for questioning. And even if they crack it open, they’ll back off when the smell hits them. No one will try to check further inside. And no thief is going to steal such an obvious truck. Gold bars are heavy, so a weapons seller who doesn’t trust the defenses of internet banks needs a giant vault on wheels to carry around his earnings.”
With that casual comment, Tsuchimikado tossed the cell phone back toward Fugan. The man’s arms were handcuffed behind him, so he could not catch it. However, when it bounced off his chest and landed on the asphalt with the screen up, his eyes opened wide.
“I announced your defeat and revealed the secret of your vault. The hyenas should arrive in 5 to 10 minutes.”
“If you won’t give me the information I need, I’ll try someone else. This is a total of 7 billion yen, after all. I’m sure someone important will be mixed in with the hyenas. I’ll pursue them.”
Fugan cried out and slammed his heel against the ground.
But before the sneak attack gimmick hidden in his shoe could show itself, Tsuchimikado grabbed his collar and threw him onto the sidewalk.
“I’m not going to kill you here. Killing you would be easier, but I won’t. Do you know why that is?” slowly asked Tsuchimikado while crouching down next to the man. A cold look could be seen beyond the lenses of his glasses. “Because this way is more effective. The sight of a crippled herbivore being devoured by hyenas is quite unpleasant. I recommend you hide somewhere and wait out the storm.”
Fugan Ryuuzou was lying on the ground having trouble breathing and Tsuchimikado unhesitatingly stomped on the man’s right knee.
He heard the dull sound of the joint breaking followed by a scream.
“This is what you get, you piece of shit. The plans you prepared were used to make a weapon to kill my little sister. You don’t get to say you had nothing to do with it.”
“Shit! Damn you!! I’m still handcuffed. How am I supposed to run away without my leg!?”
“Don’t ask me. If the hyenas find you, your life is over. Crawl away. That suits you.”
Tsuchimikado headed for the back of the tanker truck while ignoring the designer writhing on the ground.
Fugan could do nothing with his arms restrained behind him and one knee crushed.
Despite his erratic breathing, he loudly asked, “Ow… What is it? What are you willing to go this far to search for!?”
Without turning around, the jacketed boy replied, “The Agitate Halation project.”
Everything had changed the instant he had gotten involved in that.
In that case, the identity of the person who had thrown his little sister into a sea of flames had to be connected to that project.
Learning facilities were often created with public funding. That was why those nonprofit institutions often managed to not be pushed on by the flow of time.
For example, a library.
And unlike a middle or high school, elementary schools (mostly) did not need to worry about entrance exam preparations. For that reason, the libraries near them did not have a specialized space for quiet studying. Some might then wonder what the point of the building was, but if one took a step back and looked at it, it may have looked like a day care center.
“Nyah, nyah! Santa Claus really, really does exist! Nyah!!”
“Don’t be stupid. There’s no way Santa is real!!”
Despite that fairly chaotic argument being shouted back and forth in the afterschool library, the young female librarian did not try to stop them. Even if the library was meant to be orderly and quiet, she may have felt this was better than the complete silence of the library being empty because no one read books anymore. There was also the Learning Core facility nearby that was a combination of a museum, a library, and other similar institutions. The library needed to compromise if it was to survive.
The blonde-haired, blue-eyed elementary school girl in the center of the commotion was Fremea Seivelun. Her class was having a debate over whether Santa Claus existed. The class had split between the “he does” side (mostly girls) and the “he doesn’t” side (mostly boys) and the situation had almost developed into a fight. Every time Fremea moved about roughly, the white rhinoceros beetle key chain on her red backpack would shake around.
This conflict would produce nothing but sorrow, so the class’s intellectual girl (with glasses) had made a suggestion to put an end to it. She had suggested going to the library to check to see who was right.
“Nyah! See, it says it right here! In the first place, Santa Claus exists!!”
“You idiot. That’s a picture book!! Japan’s skies are protected by radar. If a sled was flying through the sky, it would be spotted right away!!”
“Nyah! In the first place, what is radar!?”
“I don’t know, but radar is radar!”
But then the intellectual girl (with glasses) found a book that mentioned that NORAD, famous for ballistic missile defense, used radars and satellites to track Santa Claus. This only confused the situation further.
A few of the boys who had grown tired of the fight, decided to make a pass at the young female librarian (with giant breasts). She had been trying to read an SF novel (that she had brought from home) which used way too much hard slang to ever receive a translated version.
“Hey, hey. Does Santa exist or not?”
“I make a point of not discussing religion, baseball, politics, or what the best ramen shop in Japan is.”
“Is it true there’s a miniskirt Santa?”
“Eh? There’s a bearded old man wearing a miniskirt?”
And then a new development occurred with Fremea and the others who were still arguing.
It started with a comment from the intellectual girl (with glasses).
She nervously asked, “Um, Fremea-chan?”
“Nyah! What is it, Azumi? In the first place, are you trying to say Santa Claus doesn’t exist too!?”
“N-no, it’s not that.” The girl named Azumi seemed to hesitate over whether she should say something but finally spoke. “Hey, Fremea-chan. If Santa really does exist…”
“There’s a story in Germany about a black Santa Claus that kidnaps bad children. So is that true too?”
A new topic had appeared.
Panic filled the afterschool library.
As expected, Fugan Ryuuzou’s tanker truck was attacked within minutes. The situation was reminiscent of leaving a sugar cube near an ant hill. At first, a few groups began fighting over it, but they soon realized it would all be for naught if someone called Anti-Skill. Once they decided to work together, they used gas burners and high pressure water jets to disassemble the tank and take away all the gold bars.
The weapons seller who owned the truck had hidden directly below it. It had been a desperate strategy forced onto him by his inability to move. If any of the men had glanced under the truck, his death would have been unavoidable.
Tsuchimikado was on the roof of a nearby building.
He was monitoring the situation using binoculars that could digitally change the magnification. One of the hyenas may have been keeping track of the time with a stopwatch because they scattered at exactly seven minutes. Tsuchimikado started hearing Anti-Skill sirens two minutes after that, but it was of course too late.
Tsuchimikado took a deep breath and pressed a few buttons on the side of the binoculars.
He switched the mode over to one that displayed a few glowing bluish-white lines on the cityscape below. The lines were all straight but took countless turns along the way as if they were carelessly travelling through a maze. Needless to say, the lines indicated the escape routes of the hyenas who had taken the gold bars.
Tsuchimikado had added a special “scent” to the gold bars Fugan had collected.
(When things go this well, I start to suspect a trap.)
The hyenas had started fighting when they first saw each other, so they were obviously not comrades. The different teams naturally used different escape routes.
However, as Tsuchimikado watched on from the rooftop, the scattered groups started to converge on the same point.
(Just as I thought, someone bigger is secretly controlling all of the hyenas.)
Tsuchimikado noted the location and then left the building rooftop.
The hyenas all gathered at a coin laundry in District 7. Or technically, the ruins of one. None of them were stupid enough to try to just take the gold bars with them. They needed to be “laundered” by melting them down and altering their form. A large-scale facility was needed to process so much gold, so the hyenas left their gold bars at the coin laundry to let a specialist handle it.
The person controlling the hyenas would of course disappear with the gold instead.
Tsuchimikado hid near the abandoned coin laundry and waited for the hyenas to leave. As he continued to watch the abandoned building, a new figure appeared. Once he saw a young woman drive up in a street cleaner and enter the building, Tsuchimikado followed.
Two men were set up as guards at the entrance, but they were on the lookout for weapons and esper powers.
The street cleaner, the guard rail, the street signs, and the asphalt.
They were surrounded by all sorts of hard objects, but they did not give them much thought. A blow to the head knocked them both unconscious.
Partially to prevent a surprise attack, Tsuchimikado tossed the men into the abandoned building.
The young woman wearing a tight jacket and a long skirt frantically turned around and brought a hand to her back, but then she froze in place
“That’s right. If we start a firefight here, Anti-Skill will show up. Those gold bars are heavy. You would have to abandon the treasure you went to such effort to gather.”
“Dammit… You put a ‘scent’ on them, didn’t you!?” spat out the young woman as she kicked a dirty dryer.
The ruins of washers and dryers lined up along the wall had likely been used as lockers by the hyenas. By telling them which dryer on which row to use, each hyena would put their gold bars in one of the lockers without realizing a different hyena put gold bars in the locker right next to it.
“I didn’t expect to find the Spider Queen was behind this. You’re one of the official intermediaries. There are even rumors that you’re an AI with no real form.”
“Stop it. I was already regretting that I’d lost my edge. I was seriously considering retiring.”
Tsuchimikado let out a small sigh and said, “Do you want to know what kind of perfume I used? You’ll have no way of laundering the gold without that information. There are some scents that stick around even at the high temperatures needed to melt gold.”
“Tch. What do you want in exchange?”
“The Agitate Halation project. …Who would want to kill someone over that name?”
“Do you really think I know everything the higher ups are after? If so, you’re overestimating me.”
“But you pay careful attention to the soldiers below you. Your specialty is spreading your web to control people.”
“Even that has its limits. I can only wrap my web around those I deal with directly as an intermediary.”
Tsuchimikado almost burst out laughing when he heard that.
It was a blatant lie. But it was also the answer he had expected.
He had already lost a fair bit of time, so he made a mental memo that he needed to take some shortcuts.
“That may be the industry rules, but it doesn’t add up. You’ve spread your web around everywhere to control the entire battlefield. And that means you need information from more than just your allies. …You’ve been spying on people, haven’t you? On your enemies, on your allies, and on the data controlled by the other intermediaries.”
The Spider Queen let out a deep sigh.
And then she said, “Maybe I should give up on the gold and kill you here.”
“I suppose you would be eliminated if this information got out. If it was me, I would fake my own death and get cosmetic surgery. And you just so happen to have the funds for it.”
The young woman only grew more frustrated and scratched at her hair.
“I get the feeling you’ll torture me if I give this answer, but I don’t know. I haven’t been given any jobs or allocated any personnel related to the term Agitate Halation.”
“Could you have taken the job without being told the name?”
“It’s certainly possible, but if I was, I think I would have heard the term at some point during the job. If any of my pawns see something they were not meant to see, they have to give a debriefing. After all, there are certain taboos that must be hidden no matter what. However,” added the Spider Queen. “This is the age of the internet. Some of the most dangerous jobs are given directly to the pawns without using an intermediary. Although that just seems like suicide to me.”
“Do you have a way of knowing when that happens?”
“There are a few pawns who have left my control in the middle of another job, but that’s all I know. You’re free to try your luck and attack these pawns, but you might find they’re involved in some other dangerous project that has nothing to do with Agitate Halation.”
“That’s fine,” replied Tsuchimikado with a shrug. “Give me the list. …I’m not expecting to easily pick the right one. I’m just hoping I will find the right one after trying all of them.”
The Spider Queen pulled a memo pad from her jacket pocket, jotted down a few names, ripped off the page, balled it up, and tossed it toward Tsuchimikado.
“That paper is made from corn starch and the pen uses chocolate ink. If you eat it, you will digest it. Do you understand what I’m getting at?”
Tsuchimikado checked the names and then swallowed the list.
“You could at least fry it and add some salt.”
“Is that so? Well, those are the ones who ignored my services and took jobs on their own. You could say they betrayed me. You can deal with them however you like. How about you fry them and add some salt?”
She used people as she saw fit and then responded like this when she was betrayed. Perhaps one had to be that way to survive in the city’s darkness.
“I’ve told you everything I know. …What number is the perfume you put on the gold?”
“Shit!! That’s a cheap one that disappears at 300 degrees!!”
The Spider Queen looked angry enough to ignore her situation and start firing her handgun like crazy, but Tsuchimikado merely smiled, raised his middle finger, and left the abandoned coin laundry.
The memo he had swallowed had listed around 10 names.
The odds were extremely good that one or all of them had driven Tsuchimikado Maika to her death.
Who is the terrifying black Santa Claus!?
His official name was Knecht Ruprecht. This mysterious person was occasionally spotted in Germany. The good children would have presents brought to their houses by the normal Santa Claus while the bad children would be visited by this creepy black Santa Claus who covered himself in pitch black clothes. Those bad children would be stuffed into a giant bag and would never be seen again. No one knew what happened to the bad children after that.
“Don’t worry!! Santa doesn’t even exist in the first place! It’s unscientific! Both the red and black ones don’t exist!!”
“No, Santa Claus exists! In the first place, I know the truth!!”
“Then that means the black Santa is real too! He’ll probably be stopping by your place.”
It was evening while Fremea and the other children were trembling and heading back to their dorms in District 13. The elementary schools were gathered in this district and the dorms provided many more services than those for older children. Naturally, some people wondered why the children were left unsupervised as they walked home if both the school and the dorm were so heavily supervised. However, letting them walk home was considered important for many different reasons: it gave them firsthand experience with the traffic rules, it prevented them from becoming too out of shape, it helped cultivate a sense of direction, it helped develop their spatial awareness, it taught them how to read a map, etc.
This allowed ghost stories to be told on the way home from school.
It was not unusual for Anti-Skill to come running after someone spotted a mysterious person hanging around, but it always turned out to be a sociologist or folklorist studying the creation and spread of rumors.
The intellectual girl (with glasses) named Azumi nervously said, “U-um, but the black Santa Claus only takes away bad children.”
“If the black Santa Claus does exist, won’t he stay away as long as we are good?”
That was of course the exact reason German mothers spread the story, but Fremea and the others did not think it through that far.
“Ny-nyah… You’re right. Then we’re safe! Nyah!”
“Don’t act like you’re a good kid.”
“Nyah! In the first place, if the black Santa Claus is coming, he’ll be coming for you!!”
Another fight broke out. The white rhinoceros beetle key chain on her red backpack shook as she moved.
The intellectual girl (with glasses) named Azumi tugged on Fremea’s clothes. Fremea looked over in confusion to find Azumi frozen stiff and looking off into the distance. She was looking quite high up. Her gaze was fixed on the rooftop of one of the buildings lining either side of the road.
She had glimpsed some sort of black figure.
It had been so quick she had not seen the details, but she had definitely seen the black figure holding some sort of large white cloth.
“It’s the black Santa Claus…” muttered Azumi.
He really existed.
And this black Santa Claus supposedly abducted bad children. Once Fremea’s thoughts made it that far, she let out a gasp.
“H-Hamazura’s in trouble!!”
Meanwhile, Kuroyoru Umidori, a partial cyborg and resident of the city’s dark side, frowned while jumping from building to building. She wore a top and bottom made of tight black leather and a white coat with just the hood over her head.
She had heard some kind of commotion on the surface, so she wondered if something had happened. (Although she was not the type to go help if something had.)
“Well, who cares. I have work to do. …Wah!?”
Kuroyoru let out a shout just as she tried to get back to the task at hand. She had almost stepped on a girl wearing a white dress who was sleeping on the rooftop with a body pillow shaped like a white rhinoceros beetle. Kuroyoru could not guess where the girl had gotten it, but there was a chicken sleeping next to her while puffing itself up with its feathers.
“Mumble mumble… Dreams are so delicious…This information is worth eating…”
“She’s insane…” muttered Kuroyoru Umidori before quickly leaving.
This was an old story.
Tsuchimikado Motoharu had successfully infiltrated Academy City.
However, his guess of it lasting three days had been a bit too high. It had actually taken only 36 hours for him to be found out as a spy sent by the Anglican Church.
If he had been even a bit slower making his preparations, he would have been assassinated.
On that day, Tsuchimikado Motoharu had been forced to go from being a spy for the magic side to being a double spy who passed information to both science and magic. This had all been according to plan, but both the Anglican Church and Academy City were not single solidified organizations. He had to pay careful attention to ensure he was not stabbed in the back by someone.
He and Tsuchimikado Maika had ended up living in separate student dorms, but their relationship had started to change bit by bit.
“That is a good sign.”
It had probably been Bishu who had laughed and told him that over the phone.
While observing Maika, he had discovered that she always wanted to share her possessions with others. She loved cookies and chocolate, but she would readily split them with others. She would finish her homework early so she could show it to her classmates the following day. It sounded good to say she naturally liked to help others, but as an intelligence specialist, Tsuchimikado Motoharu had immediately determined what it was that motivated this side of her.
She wanted to be useful.
What that meant completely changed when one realized it was because she did not want to be abandoned by others.
That was why she had always given others the #1 spot and shared her possessions with them.
Tsuchimikado Motoharu had set one of his goals to eliminating those worries and fears of hers. If he was going to use her in the framework of a family member, he had decided he needed to give her every benefit of being in a family. He had seen that as perfecting his camouflage.
But he had failed.
Tsuchimikado Motoharu had always been an expert spy. If necessary, he could fake a coincidence, approach his target, and become their good friend within 15 minutes. Yet even he had failed. He had watched the direction of her gaze, the strength of her tone, the trembling of her lips, and the minute movements of her fingertips. He had accurately read everything about Tsuchimikado Maika from the visible reactions on the surface of her body, but all of his prearranged conversations had ended in failure.
“Hey, I hear there’s a school that trains maids in District 7.”
She had said that when she was just about to enter middle school.
She had wanted to be useful. She had even wanted to perform physical labor for others.
According to Tsuchimikado Motoharu’s analysis, that had been based in dark fears of being abandoned.
But she had said more.
“Helping everyone live their lives with a smile is the most wonderful dream I can think of.”
Once she had revealed her cards to that extent, Tsuchimikado Motoharu had finally realized something.
He had been analyzing Maika under the assumption that everyone had a hidden side. That was why he had completely misread her and had not given her what she wanted.
Tsuchimikado Maika had not been an enemy during a spy mission.
She had been family.
She had not been someone whose every statement and action he had to read between the lines of so he could act first.
She had finally let him realize such a simple fact.
In the end, Tsuchimikado Motoharu had been wrong to think he needed to save Tsuchimikado Maika.
It had been the same as someone cleaning his room when faced with a huge pile of homework. It had been nothing but an escape. He had wanted the goal of mentally saving his stepsister as a distraction from the pressure created by the constant threat of an assassin from either the science side or the magic side.
From that moment on, Tsuchimikado Motoharu had silently sworn to truly protect his little sister.
He had sworn to protect that true family member who had slowly taught him something so obvious.
The first was Anjou Haruka.
She was found floating face down in a District 18 river.
The second was Kuromatsu Takao.
He was found hanged by a rope from a tree in the mountains of District 21.
The third was Imagawa Shiguma.
He was found with gum stuffed down his throat in a back alley of District 15.
Tsuchimikado jumped from rooftop to rooftop.
His gaze was fixed on the back of a man around 15 meters ahead of him.
He was in District 15. This chase scene through Academy City’s largest shopping district had started in an underground mall and eventually moved to building rooftops.
(You aren’t getting away.)
These were the 10 possible members of the team that had been tasked with killing Tsuchimikado Maika.
A quick investigation had found that nine of the ten were already dead. And these were not natural deaths. Now that their job to kill Tsuchimikado Maika was complete, they were being buried in the darkness. It was the most obvious sort of one way trip.
This man was the sole survivor.
This could very well be the last person who knew who had truly been behind the plot to kill his stepsister.
(I will not let you get away!! If you get away after all this, I lose everything!!)
All of the previous victims had been killed by some form of suffocation. The second victim had been hanged by a rope just long enough that he could barely reach the ground on his tiptoes. Whoever had killed him had gone to a lot of effort to ensure the death was by suffocation.
This was a combination of surefire results and a cruel sense of playfulness.
Tsuchimikado did not know who had done it, but they had clearly been a specialist. The person was enough of a specialist that a lead of only one minute or even one second could influence the fate of those involved.
The fleeing man pulled out something.
Its barrel was too thick to be a submachine gun. It was a handheld grenade launcher.
With a muffled noise, an object was fired in a parabola. Tsuchimikado frantically jumped to the side.
The weapon did not produce a normal explosion.
Instead, a high-pitched whistling sound burst out.
(An ultrasonic weapon!!)
The weapon had been developed for quickly suppressing an enemy in a location such as a museum or armory where secondary damage had to be avoided at all costs. Simply put, it used noise to tear apart the lungs from the inside. That cruel toy would cause anyone directly hit by it to drown in their own blood.
(But its range must be really small if I was able to avoid it at the last second. Why is he using something like that?)
The man fired a second and then third canned coffee-sized object.
Instead of trying to hit Tsuchimikado, he seemed to be trying to cut off Tsuchimikado’s paths of escape.
(It uses a timed fuse. It takes somewhere between 3 and 5 seconds!)
Tsuchimikado reached around to the back of his chic jacket and pulled out a semi-automatic handgun. He did not even have time to carefully aim. He pulled the trigger and shot one of the grenades out of the air.
“Ah…” said the man in surprise, but Tsuchimikado ignored him.
Tsuchimikado ran through the opening he had made in the wall of grenades.
The man who had hastily assumed Tsuchimikado was done for quickly prepared to flee once more. He frantically swapped out the thick magazine for his weapon and grimaced when he saw something on a display. He opened a cover on the grenade launcher and sprayed some kind of coolant inside.
Tsuchimikado’s first shot hit the man in the shoulder.
Before he could even cry out, the second shot hit the coolant spray the man had dropped at his feet. It exploded.
With an unnatural white steam enveloping his legs, the man fell face down with his eyes opening wide. He seemed unsure whether he should touch his ankles which had been transformed into something like a frozen fish.
“Gyah! Gbh!! Uuh…My legs…!?”
“Don’t move,” said Tsuchimikado Motoharu as he approached the man while circling around the white steam. He returned his handgun to his belt. “Modern technology can perfectly thaw out your legs as long as they take extra care while transporting you to the hospital. But once they break, they can never be fixed. I recommend not provoking me.”
“Shit,” cursed the man as he slammed a fist against the concrete floor. He clenched his teeth, but he understood that he could not escape. “What do you want to know?”
“Nine of your colleagues were killed over the past few hours. You are the only one left. Do you know why this might be?”
While the man fell silent, Tsuchimikado slowly placed his foot on top of the man’s frozen ankle.
This ankle was now less reliable than a biscuit.
The man frantically shook his head.
“Tell me everything you know.”
“I am…well, what they call a ‘destroyer’!!”
“I slip into large projects at the bottom level. I then intentionally cause trouble and secretly kill my colleagues. Those that want the project to succeed no matter what will want a greater guarantee of their success. They don’t want any more problems and so the price of each individual soldier is driven up.”
(In that case…)
Tsuchimikado thought back over the names of the nine who had already died.
He thought back over the fates of the team sent to carry out the mission.
Their deaths had not been an attempt to cover up the evidence of the plot to kill Maika.
“Heh. I did quite a bit of damage, didn’t I?”
“You piece of shit…”
That was also why the man used those ultrasonic weapons with a low destructive range when another type of grenade would have been more dangerous.
He was the specialist who had insisted on suffocating them. There had been no perfect way of estimating their time of death. However, this made it obvious they had been killed just before they were meant to attack Maika.
“But I didn’t expect what happened next. I thought I had stopped the fire by killing those nine, but there must have been more people involved than I thought. The overall plan continued and now I’m not getting paid because I ‘didn’t do my job’.”
“Who is it?” asked Tsuchimikado in a low voice. “Who is behind all this!?”
“That’s all I can tell you.”
“Do you want me to shatter one of your legs?”
“This is as much information as I’m willing to give in exchange for my legs! If you’re gonna do it, then do it. I’d rather live the rest of my life in a wheelchair then anger this person!!”
All emotion disappeared from Tsuchimikado’s eyes.
Every last hint.
“Then I just have to do something even more horrible.”
“What?” said the man nervously, but Tsuchimikado ignored him and stuck a hand inside his jacket.
He pulled out the kind of simple travel toothbrush sold at any convenience store.
“What do you think I’m going to do?”
Tsuchimikado also pulled out a small tube similar to the ones containing sauce for a bento. He squeezed some toothpaste out of it and onto the toothbrush.
“If you use this in a way it is not meant to be used, you can make even a battle-hardened mercenary cry like a baby. So how can I use this normal toothbrush in such a devilish way? Hint: mucous membranes.”
Tsuchimikado applied a great pressure on the man by intentionally leaving out the details.
The man was caught by the technique in just two seconds.
He already had both legs literally frozen, but now he was unable to even move his fingertips.
“Stop…wait! Stay back!! Stop!!”
The man’s shouts suddenly ended.
Something like a dart had stabbed into the side of his neck.
It had been a long distance attack.
Tsuchimikado suddenly jumped behind an outdoor air conditioning unit. But he quickly realized that was not enough.
(What was that? Did that dart just fall straight down from the sky!?)
Once he had crawled into the gap between the air conditioner and the concrete floor, Tsuchimikado finally had time to carefully yet nervously observe what had happened.
The back of the object had feather-like objects attached and the sharpened needle on the front had the sort of drug administering case used with tranquilizer darts. However, the effects were not those of a tranquilizer.
The man choked oddly.
His skin grew purplish red around where he had been hit on the neck. The area quickly swelled up. It looked like plastic being heated in a fire. As the skin bulged out from within, the right half of his face swelled so large a face recognition program would not have recognized him.
Tsuchimikado clicked his tongue as he watched the man yell out and writhe on the ground.
He recognized the man’s symptoms.
It was not all that rare a thing.
That substance was found in bee venom. However, this man had been injected with a huge amount, so the change had occurred all at once. He had to be swelling below the surface as well and the swollen flesh would be constricting his windpipe.
In other words, he was being suffocated.
Just like the nine who had already died.
The attacker had chosen the same method this man had used as a “destroyer”.
(Is this supposed to be ironic?)
That “destroyer” had killed nine people on this day alone, but Tsuchimikado thought it was unlikely someone had come to take revenge.
This was likely the person behind the entire plan.
This was the act of someone who knew who held the more dangerous information. This person had understood who to attack to cut the last thread leading back to them.
(Still, this is pretty cruel. His death is unavoidable, but he’s going to suffer for over 15 minutes before finally dying!!)
Normally, insect venom was only used to disguise a death as natural.
Using it at such an escalated level showed this person had an abnormal obsession.
(How did they shoot this? It wasn’t a normal sniper rifle. This was a direct hit on the neck of a target lying on the ground. You can’t hit something like that so easily. Unless it was dropped down from above, they couldn’t have hit a target lying down like this!!)
There were weapons that fired up into the sky and dropped down onto the target from above. However, those were normally used to fire explosives, not for accurate sharpshooting.
(Is this another nasty piece of cutting edge technology? Or was some esper power used to help out? Either way, this is no normal opponent.)
Tsuchimikado heard a hard sound repeating at irregular intervals.
The man could no longer even grab at his own throat. His arms were sprawled out and convulsing. The sound came from those arms hitting the concrete.
The man turned his head to look at Tsuchimikado.
The swelling was no longer contained to the right half of his face. He had not been punched even once, but it was becoming hard to tell the front of his head from the back of his head.
There was nothing he could do.
If he so much as poked his head out, he would be hit with that bee venom just like the man had been.
“I can’t do anything to help. This is your only chance to leave a dying message. Will you let them have the last laugh or will you use your last breath to get back at them. Choose for yourself!!”
“I…don’t want…to die…”
Tsuchimikado heard a squishy noise.
“…Help…me… I don’t…want to die…”
“Stop that. You should have known you would never meet a proper end once you set foot down this path.”
It was impossible to tell where the man’s eyes were looking, but he still stared Tsuchimikado in the face. The man could not make any proper expressions, but Tsuchimikado understood what emotion he was filled with.
Tsuchimikado clicked is tongue and spoke.
“This is toothpaste.” He tossed the bento sauce sized tube toward the man’s hand. “The magnesium carbonate inside is weak, but it has a muscle-relaxant effect. Swallow it all! That will free up your windpipe!!”
“You’re really saving me…?”
“Yes, now hurry!! Do you want to die because you waited too long!?”
While still lying on his back, the man frantically grabbed at the toothpaste tube. He could barely hold on to it, but he gathered all of his strength to slowly, slowly bring it to his mouth.
“…Thank…you…” said the man while barely able to form the words. Tsuchimikado did not want to listen. “Thank you…so much…”
It was impossible to tell if the man’s eyes were open or not, but some clear drops of liquid fell from them. And then the man spoke a single name to Tsuchimikado.
It was the information Tsuchimikado had wanted most.
The name belonged to the person behind it all.
In the next instant, the man’s entire body began to convulse violently. This happened the instant he poured the toothpaste into his mouth.
The magnesium carbonate inside did not have the effect Tsuchimikado had said it did.
It was obvious what would happen if that thick substance was poured down the slight gap left in his throat.
There was nothing Tsuchimikado Motoharu could have done to save the man.
And so he had given him the one thing he could: a quick release from his pain and fear.
He still did not know where the sniper was or how the sniper was targeting him, but the sniper had to know Tsuchimikado was there. And he doubted the sniper would overlook him when it was possible he had received some information from the man.
Tsuchimikado might have to wait dozens of hours before he could crawl out from under that outdoor air conditioning unit.
He could not let himself be stuck here.
Tsuchimikado Motoharu gritted his teeth while hiding in the slight space between the air conditioning unit and the concrete floor.
(I have to break through this floor.)
Normally, that would be impossible. He could not destroy a thick concrete floor with his bare hands. He had undergone Academy City’s psychic powers development, but had only received the ability to apply a weak membrane over torn blood vessels to stop the bleeding. He could not use that in a destructive manner.
He had another power. One could call it his trump card.
But in exchange, he bore the risk of tearing apart blood vessels all across his body.
(I don’t know how many times I will be able to use this trump card, but I have to use it here!!)
This was worth taking that life-or-death gamble.
The words that man had spoken on the verge of death had been…
(A member of the board of directors…)
Tsuchimikado Motoharu escaped the sniper by destroying the building’s roof with magic and taking refuge inside. An unpleasant straining sound came from his entire body and blood soaked his clothes in places. Each time he took a breath, he tasted blood.
(Shit… The worst result the very first time!!)
He had injured a thick blood vessel.
He knew this, but did not have time to call an ambulance.
The sniper would soon realize he had lost Tsuchimikado. Once he did, he would contact the person running the Agitate Halation project and put them on guard. If this person disappeared, Tsuchimikado would lose his chance to attack the one who had driven Maika to her death.
He forcibly regulated his breathing and used an underground tunnel to travel through the shopping district just to be safe.
From the moment that man had told him that name, he had already known where he needed to go.
Most of Academy City’s elementary schools were gathered in District 13, so it received a relatively large law enforcement budget. To prepare for worst case scenarios, different universities had also built large hospitals in the district.
One of those hospitals was officially known as a detached part of a university, but it was actually operated for the sake of a single patient. It would treat over 500 patients every day, but all of those were handled by the hospital’s “excess” ability.
A woman in her thirties slowly turned around when a young nurse called out to her. The woman was also wearing a white coat, but unlike the nurse’s, its design made her look like a doctor or scientist. Her nails were manicured and her long hair was curled and left loose. From a sanitation standpoint, this was not suited for hospital work, but no one tried to stop her.
This was direct proof that this was no ordinary hospital.
The nurse who wore a pink coat and a cardigan spoke expressionlessly.
“I have the test results for Mr. Gerascophobia. I also have the treatment schedule for “I am fat because of a fried chicken conspiracy”-chan and a complaint to the hospital from the Clean-Freak Princess. Please look over it all.”
“…Um, Rensa-chan. You can give the patients friendly nicknames if you like, but keep it within the nurse station.” The woman in the white coat who had been referred to as “doctor” spun her index finger around. “One other thing, Rensa-chan.”
“What is it?”
“This is a hospital, so keep your electronic output from getting too high.”
The nurse tilted her head in puzzlement.
She had been reading her report from a cell phone screen.
“I have it set to airplane mode, so it is not transmitting any signals.”
“That isn’t what I meant.”
Rensa remained expressionless and the white coat-wearing “doctor” gave a bitter smile.
A quick change came over the fluorescent lights on the ceiling. It was less a flickering and more a slight dimming before returning to normal.
Rensa remained silent and lightly brought her fists together in front of her chest.
After hearing a dull sound, the “doctor’s” cheek stiffened.
“Rensa-chan, you’re a nurse, remember? And what is a nurse’s job?”
“The power has switched over to the emergency power supply.”
“Seems that way.”
The hospital had newborns and patients who would have trouble without life support devices, so an attack on the power supply was a life-or-death problem. Nevertheless, the “doctor’s” expression remained completely unchanged.
For one, Academy City’s power was supplied by countless wind turbines, so there was little danger of a major sudden power outage even if a portion of those were attacked. And even if one did occur, this hospital had a second power supply created by underground generators.
The lights in the hallway had not cut out even for a second.
The same went for all of the electronic equipment. They had not even needed to restart.
“Buuut anyone who would bother attacking here would know that.”
“I shall exterminate them.”
“That means their true goal might not be what it seems at first glance.”
“I shall exterminate them.”
“Please, Rensa-chan. Please give some other answer.”
“Doctor, you said ‘please’ twice.”
“Is this really the time to bring that up?”
The enemy had attacked the hospital’s power supply as if to cause a power outage.
However, no real damage had been done thanks to the emergency power supply.
If the enemy was clever at all, they would have known this would happen.
And yet the enemy had still taken the risk of making the attack.
That meant the attack had held some other meaning. Was there some merit in having the hospital switch over to the underground power supply facility?
“Oh, damn.” The “doctor” slapped her hand against her forehead. “This was to see what rooms are brought online first! Even if the entire hospital recovers in a fraction of a second, power is restored to the most important equipment first!! This defeats the purpose of the hospital’s labyrinthine structure and all the hidden rooms!”
“Search complete. The top priority is the Sticky Freezer on basement floor 5.”
“Rensa-chan, what did I tell you about the nicknames? …But I suppose the Critical Pathogen Specimen Freezer is the most dangerous. In that case, Rensa-chan, please take some soldiers to check it out.”
“Understood. What will you do?”
“I will be evacuating just to be safe☆ That’s the protocol after all.”
After waving her hand next to her face, the “doctor” opened a nearby door and stepped inside an empty ultra-high frequency treatment room. She locked the door behind her and roughly pushed aside a metal box-shaped piece of machinery with a high voltage warning on it. This revealed a small door that led directly to a service elevator shaft. If she climbed down a maintenance ladder, she would have a direct path to the underground parking garage.
“Physical labor is so exhausting,” she complained.
“My apologies,” replied a voice.
The “doctor” froze in place and then slowly looked around the room. She had no idea where he had been hiding, but a bloody boy was now leaning against the wall next to her. He was Tsuchimikado Motoharu.
After a short silence, the “doctor” tried to leap into the elevator shaft. However, Tsuchimikado was faster. He dragged her away from the shaft by grabbing the back of her neck and then slammed her back against the box-shaped device with the high voltage warning. He then grabbed the control box hanging from the ceiling by a cable.
Her body jerked unnaturally and she collapsed to the floor.
“Next time, it won’t just be for an instant. I’ll have you sit in the electric chair until your eyes boil.”
The “doctor” coughed up sticky saliva while trying to speak.
Her arms and legs were cramping, so she could not stand up.
“Umm, can you please explain what is going on here?”
“The board of directors,” said Tsuchimikado in a cold voice. “Anyone with that level of information would have some idea what is happening here. And they would know I will not hesitate to kill right now.”
“W-wait a second. You seem to be making some kind of mistake. This hospital is…”
“Yes, I know. This facility is an anti-terrorism trap disguised as the location of a member of the board of directors. Anyone who has given themselves to the darkness even a little would never even think of attacking such a dangerous place. …But the trick is that a member of the board of directors really does live here! The idea that this facility is a trap was a rumor spread for show. Isn’t that right!?”
“Heh. Eh heh heh.”
“Yakumi Hisako. That old woman is one of those twelve VIPs and has an especially strong influence in the medical field. She is who I am here for.”
“This hospital is built like a maze. I doubt I know my way around even a third of it. How are you going to find where this old woman’s room is?”
“I am already speaking with her, Yakumi.” Tsuchimikado lightly poked at the control box hanging down from the ceiling. “Anyone with as powerful connections to the medical field as you can easily receive anti-aging treatments. I already know your real age is over 70. Now, how about we have a nice chat.”
The “doctor” let out a breath.
The look in Yakumi Hisako’s eyes completely changed.
“If you knew you were dealing with an old woman, why would you use that electric shock?”
“Your bones and organs are healthier than mine.”
“What do you want?”
Yakumi glanced over to the exit from the ultra-high frequency treatment room.
There was no sign of anyone coming. In fact, Yakumi herself had locked the door from the inside.
“Is it that Agitate Halation project? Or is it that dorm fire meant to hold you in check?”
An unpleasant noise came from Tsuchimikado Motoharu’s fist.
“If you want to kill me, go right ahead.” Yakumi smiled while spreading her hands that were still trembling while she lay collapsed on the floor. “But then you will never arrive at the truth.”
“…I know that,” replied Tsuchimikado with a thin sigh. “That project is being run by a member of the board of directors, but not by you. It’s him.”
“Unlike with you, I have no clue to his location. And so I needed to create a handhold to help me scale the cliff.”
As he spoke, Tsuchimikado stuck his hand in his pants pocket.
Yakumi Hisako’s expression stiffened when she saw what he casually pulled out.
It was a cylindrical glass container about the size of a pinky finger. Tsuchimikado read its label aloud.
“Wild Card Coccus. It’s labeled as very dangerous.”
That was a highly virulent killer bacteria.
Its method of infection was very complex and it would mix in with other microorganisms and multiply. It could be transmitted via air, blood, mouth, or skin contact. It could grow even more dangerous by combining with athlete’s foot, lactobacillus, or other extremely common pathogens.
Yakumi Hisako recalled that Rensa had been sent to the “Sticky Freezer” in the basement.
They had not noticed the change when he forced his way into the facility.
It had been the opposite. He had already finished.
“Making my way in was easy enough, but I couldn’t find a good way of making a U-turn and leaving without being noticed. I decided to set off the alarm myself to distract the guards while I let a VIP like you show me the way to the escape route prepared for you.”
“You can’t mean to use that bacteria to negotiate…”
“He won’t be able to ignore me, will he?” Tsuchimikado waved the specimen case around. “And I can’t spend too much time convincing him I’m serious. That’s why you will give me the ability to quickly persuade him.”
“Members of the board of directors have to have a means of contacting each other. There must be some address you can use to directly reach him. Hand that over. If he receives a message card from Yakumi Hisako’s address informing him of the upcoming attack, he will believe it.”
Yakumi tried to point at her clothes with a trembling finger, but she could not quite manage it. Tsuchimikado crouched down and performed a body check. He pulled out a pink smartphone.
“The password is 7071,” said Yakumi as if spitting out the words. “Do you know exactly who to call?”
“All too well.” Tsuchimikado used his thumb to type in a short message and sent it to one of the addresses recorded in the phone. “Kaizumi. Kaizumi Tsugutoshi. …He’s just an ordinary old man, but the bastard has tamed the monster known as Kumokawa Seria as his brain.”
“What do you think?”
“This is bad.”
In a high-rise building in District 3, Kumokawa Seria gave a blunt response to Kaizumi Tsugutoshi’s question. That office that took up an entire floor of the building had a chic coloration centered around antique wood. Gentle classical music filled the air, but it failed to provide any calming effect.
Kumokawa tossed some reports onto a large desk while sinking into the leather chair the owner of the room was supposed to sit in.
“You understand what I mean, right? I am not talking about the appearance of that Wild Card Coccus.”
“I am well aware of that,” said the old man bitterly.
The progress of the Agitate Halation project. An outline of the individuals and organizations investigating it. A list of all those involved in the suspicious student dorm fire, be they victims or perpetrators. All the information needed to arrive at the truth of this incident was laid out on that desk.
And at the same time…
It was obvious what it meant that they had all that information.
“This is still very bad.”
“But you did predict this could happen.”
“Yes, but this is the worst of the predicted scenarios. What should we do now?” asked Kaizumi while tapping on one of the documents with his index finger.
His fingertip seemed to be stabbing at the forehead of the person pictured there.
The greatest rabid dog at the moment.
He was wholly unrelated to their original plan, but he could no longer be ignored. Tsuchimikado needed to be dealt with even if it meant temporarily putting the main plan on hold.
Kumokawa Seria let out an annoyed sigh as she looked at that photo of an underclassman from her school.
“If we call in more guards, he will just sneak in with them. If we try to leave here, he will attack the defenseless escape vehicle. Even if we lure him into an empty building and blow the entire thing to pieces, he will fake his death and kill us in our sleep once we let our guard down.”
The scariest part of a spy had nothing to do with the great firepower or nimble mobility displayed by Hollywood action stars. Their true value lay in their ability to disturb information. Was the information before your eyes true or not? Who was an enemy and who was an ally? Was it safe to think you had won or not?
“So we can only sit and wait for him to arrive?”
“Yes. But first call off all of the normal guards. Once you chop down all the trees in the forest, there is nowhere left to hide a tree.”
Gathering a proper military force and using proper strategy would provide great power, but it would be of no use here. It was best to assume the boy would use it all against them.
“But I doubt this will end with nothing but a conversation.”
“Given what we did, that is to be expected,” said Kumokawa in annoyance.
She was looking at a photo of a burned student dorm room. Kumokawa knew about Tsuchimikado Motoharu’s “little sister”, but she only felt “annoyance” well up within her when she called the girl’s face to mind.
The adult world was not so kind.
They had a great plan they had to see to fruition. If people dealt with every little clichéd revenge story, the guy at the top would switch out twice a day. They did not have the time.
“After eliminating as much of what he can use as possible, we can send someone to intercept him. I will make the proper preparations to ensure breaking in the front door is the only route available to him. He will be dealt with there.”
“That requires a powerful individual to face him. Do you have any ideas?”
“Yes,” she simply replied. She implicitly stated that this was part of her duty as the brain who compensated for her client’s deficiencies. “I will go. And I will use a method his type hates most.”
While hiding near the high-rise building Kaizumi Tsugutoshi hid inside, Tsuchimikado Motoharu switched off a few devices. He had been using devices such as a parabolic microphone and a laser bug that worked on windows to monitor the situation, but he could not detect any noise whatsoever.
He decided this went beyond a large number of troops hiding silently inside or excellent defenses against listening devices.
(He called all of the guards out of the building. Is he luring me in?)
If the man cared about his life at all, it was difficult to think Kaizumi would have fled from the building in an automobile or a helicopter. That would allow a single shoulder-fired missile to end the battle. Assuming the man had not done that, why had he removed all of the guards?
(He wants to keep me from mixing in with the guards and he wants to make sure he knows I’m dead. Someone truly dangerous is waiting for me inside.)
It was possible the entire building would explode as soon as he made his way far enough inside, but his opponents did not know where the Wild Card Coccus specimen case was. If they were smart enough to realize crushing Tsuchimikado to death risked releasing that deadly virus, they would not use some bold strategy in District 3 which held many important administrative and diplomatic facilities.
And either way, he had to finish off the one who had driven Maika to her death.
It did not matter if this was a trap. All that mattered was that his target was here.
“…Time to go,” muttered Tsuchimikado before tossing the bugging equipment in a roadside garbage can as it would only get in the way now.
Given the number and locations of the entrances to the building, he decided the risk of countermeasures would be the same for all of them. He boldly walked through the main entrance and into the entrance hall.
The entrance hall was three stories tall and even had tropical plants and waterfalls decorating countless waterways. A semicircular reception counter was located directly ahead and gates equipped with metal detectors were located to either side, but the receptionists and guards were nowhere to be seen.
“I thought you would choose this route.”
A female voice seemed to fill the entire basketball court-sized space.
Tsuchimikado looked further up.
A gentle staircase connected the first and second floors, but it seemed more like a decoration than a functional staircase. A black-haired girl wearing a winter sailor uniform stood on the second floor portion.
She was Kumokawa Seria.
She was Kaizumi Tsugutoshi’s brain. It was possible she was not simply a helper and was truly the mastermind behind the entire incident.
Either way, she had been heavily involved in Tsuchimikado Maika’s death.
She was a target for his revenge.
“For all the preparation you put into this, you chose the wrong place to wait for me,” said Tsuchimikado quietly. “You can’t escape a bullet from there. You have no nearby cover.”
“Stop that. Didn’t you hear me say I thought you would choose this route? This building has nine entrances total. You entered my first choice. …Why wasn’t that enough for you to realize I have complete ‘control’ over you?”
Kumokawa Seria was not a very valuable existence when it came to Academy City’s psychic powers development.
Nor did she excel at using guns or assassination techniques.
Nevertheless, she had worked her way through the darkness until she had practically been absorbed into the board of directors.
There was a reason for this.
She could control human hearts. And she did so with no special powers or drugs. She controlled people solely with her words. She had taken this to a level that rivaled bullets and blades.
“There are many different magic tricks, but they all belong to one of two types: the ones that are enjoyable until the trick has been revealed and the ones that eternally retain their value even after the trick has been revealed. It goes without saying which type is more difficult to pull off.”
“Is the Agitate Halation project really this important?” muttered Tsuchimikado. He finally bared his teeth and forced down the anger that was so intense he almost felt it would materialize around him. “Is it really important enough to drive my little sister to her death?”
“I have no obligation to respond to that.”
“Have you forgotten I have a biological weapon with me?”
“You mean the Wild Card Coccus? And where might that be?” asked Kumokawa with a mocking smile. “You were never planning to bring that dangerous bacteria to the battlefield. You didn’t have the guts. I knew you would never have that live bacteria in your pocket and I knew you would never infect yourself with it before confronting me. …If I had not known that, I would not be standing here without a mask and protective suit.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“By how you chose to convince us you had it. The most effective way of doing so would have been to scatter it around somewhere beforehand. However, you chose not to do so. You chose the ridiculous option of emailing us from a special address. You were practically announcing that you wanted us to believe you had it despite your unwillingness to actually prove it.”
She was dead on.
That Wild Card Coccus was powerful, but it could be easily sterilized by exposing it to powerful ultraviolet light for a certain period of time. That was part of what created such a danger of it being used as a weapon. The real specimen case was in Tsuchimikado’s pocket, but he had stopped by a tanning salon on the way. The contents were dead.
“So you finished profiling me before I arrived.”
“You are the type of person that likes to think of himself as different from the others in the city’s darkness. You could say you have a professionalism that is common in this field. …Or you could say you have a weak heart that seeks that as a means of justifying what you do. You may have gotten a lot of people involved on your way here, but they were all those that reeked of the darkness. And so you would never choose to bring in an indiscriminate weapon like the Wild Card Coccus.”
“Then can you read my pain?”
“I find it to be horribly clichéd.”
“I suppose it is,” admitted Tsuchimikado. And then he gave a cruel smile. “But you have not read everything about me. All of your calculations may be accurate, but that doesn’t matter when your original data was faulty.”
“Are you aware you are only thinking that because I led you to think it?”
“If so, that’s fine. And that leaves…”
“…nothing left to discuss.”
Tsuchimikado Motoharu and Kumokawa Seria came to the same conclusion simultaneously.
This person is in my way.
I must quickly eliminate them to achieve my goal.
Tsuchimikado made the first move.
He brought his right hand to his back, pulled out a fully-auto handgun and aimed at Kumokawa’s position on the second floor. He pulled the trigger and a high-pitched string of gunshots rang out.
However, he did not hit her.
This was not because Kumokawa moved exceedingly quickly. Nor did she take any tricky actions such as kicking off of walls or pillars. In fact, she moved slowly. She walked down the stairs while swaying back and forth like she was weaving through a crowd.
“Did you think your ‘heart’ would disappear if you used a fully-auto weapon?” Kumokawa Seria smiled thinly as she walked down the stairs. “It changes nothing. As long as it is being wielded by human hands, the human heart will bleed through. And that creates an opening that can be taken advantage of. Bullets are powerful, but their effective range is only 9 mm. If you move just 9 mm away from the direct line of fire, the bullet will not hit. Do you understand what that means?”
Tsuchimikado clicked his tongue and reached his left hand around to his back.
He forcefully pulled out an L-shaped handgun, but he did not stop here.
It did not simply slip from his fingers.
The handgun identical to the one in his right hand flew in a large parabola and fell directly toward Kumokawa’s head.
An instant later, a tremendous shockwave scattered in every direction.
What had looked like a handgun had actually been a disguised grenade. Technically, the bullets remaining in the magazine had all been detonated with an electrical current, causing the handgun to burst from the inside and scatter sharp fragments everywhere.
It was deadly within a range of 3 meters and would injure anyone within 10 meters.
Normally, someone with no powers like Kumokawa Seria could not have escaped the blast. A brightly colored hell should lie beyond the gray dust.
“Did you think…?”
He heard a voice.
It came from beyond the gray dust.
“Did you think your ‘heart’ would disappear if you used an explosive?”
“Damn you!!” shouted Tsuchimikado while firing short bursts with the automatic handgun in his right hand and running toward the staircase.
He was not trying to kill her; he was trying to hold her in place. Weaponry no longer gave him any advantage. In fact, the wall of dust robbed Tsuchimikado of too much information and gave her a chance to counterattack.
Whether she would choose to flee or kill…
It was now her turn.
Kumokawa Seria could not teleport. Nor did she have a physical body strong enough to withstand a direct hit from a bullet or explosive.
So how had she survived having an explosive dropped from above?
The trick was the type that seemed silly once explained.
(I couldn’t do anything, so that leaves only one possibility.)
Kumokawa thought to herself while slowly walking through the dust.
(Tsuchimikado failed. He did not throw that explosive as far as he thought he did. The wall behind me is mostly made of white marble. It helped throw off his sense of distance.)
Of course, if Tsuchimikado had taken his time to aim and carefully thrown the explosive, he would not have made such an elementary mistake.
The way Kumokawa had “easily” avoided the handgun bullets had placed a fair bit of mental pressure on him.
From the beginning, Kumokawa had expected an attack from an explosive with a grenade’s level of destructive power. She had read what a merciless person like Tsuchimikado would be thinking when he faced an opponent that could read his heart and she had read what he would bring with him.
(Everything is going according to plan. I don’t even have to make any slight improvised corrections. Give me something, Tsuchimikado. Anything at all. What happened to your clichéd revenge? At this rate, you’ll die before we even reach 30 moves.)
The grim reaper’s advance continued.
She did not run or roll across the ground like in an action movie. That would give away her limits. She maintained the situation where her opponent had no idea of how far she could go. After taking control of someone’s heart, she would apply fear in the most effective way. Her target would be bound by their own fear and lose their true potential. In the worst cases, they would even stop breathing on their own.
It would have been a mistake to take her “next move”, be it a surprise attack or escape, while the curtain of dust cut off her enemy’s vision.
There was only one optimal answer.
To move leisurely.
By walking straight through the dust and casting aside her own advantage, she would increase the mental pressure on her opponent.
Kumokawa Seria walked down the stairs and through the dust.
In the next instant, Tsuchimikado Motoharu had approached right in front of her.
He had likely decided his gun was of no use. He would trade in his hand for something more complex and rely on his fists to defeat Kumokawa.
He first threw a punch for the face…to hide the pile driver-like stomp aimed at Kumokawa’s big toe.
The noise of a tremendous impact rang out, but Kumokawa had pulled her right foot back before the strike hit. His attack had failed. But as explained before, Kumokawa Seria’s ability was not enough to keep up with Tsuchimikado Motoharu’s “Deadly Thrust Killing Slash” fighting style that was formed from the illegal techniques of all sorts of martial arts.
And yet she had successfully avoided it.
She and that assassin in a chic jacket stared at each other from close range.
(His muscles are so tense it’s slowing him down and he is fighting fear so much he’s losing flexibility in his thoughts. It’s over, Tsuchimikado. Your status has dropped to the same level as your average high school girl.)
She was sure of her victory.
She heard a wet sound. At some point, Tsuchimikado Motoharu had stretched his right arm out. And she felt an unpleasant feeling scraping beyond her eyelid.
He was crushing her eye.
No, he had jammed his thumb and forefinger in, bent them, and was going to pluck out the eyeball.
Kumokawa’s control had always been nothing but a deception. She had only been able to trick this person who had trained for years for a short time. It was impressive enough that she had fooled him even for one strike.
“Ha ha! Yes, this is the optimum answer, Tsuchimikado!!”
Despite what had happened, Kumokawa smiled.
By the time Tsuchimikado realized what that meant, it was too late. Kumokawa ignored the physiological sense of revulsion coming from deep within her right eye and moved her right hand. A handgun smaller than a deck of cards appeared from her sleeve.
It could only hold two bullets and she was not skilled at using it.
But Kumokawa Seria had obtained the distance and timing an amateur needed to hit.
The gunshot reverberated in her gut.
A dark red hole opened in Tsuchimikado’s left side and he let out a groan. He collapsed backwards, so it was as if he was taking Kumokawa’s eyeball down with him. Despite the blood flowing down her face from the empty eye socket, Kumokawa continued to smile.
(A normal person would arm herself with assassination techniques and weapons if she was facing a wounded beast. A weak intellectual type would fight back using a weapon. But I trapped you in your own fear, so those simple truths disappeared from your mind.)
“Ow…!! That is why you were too naïve…” Kumokawa put the gun back in the sleeve of her sailor uniform and placed a hand over her empty eye socket while staring down at where Tsuchimikado lay on the staircase. “You were the type to slowly savor your revenge. That was how this revenge story was supposed to go. When you started trying to eliminate me as a threat as quickly as possible, you should have realized you were being led there by me.”
Tsuchimikado Motoharu still did not move.
With one hand still on her face, Kumokawa started to move away. She walked to the passageway circling around the entrance hall on the second floor and pulled out her handheld device. She activated a VoIP app and called someone.
She was speaking with Kaizumi Tsugutoshi, the board of directors member waiting on the top floor of the building.
“It’s over. The rabid dog who escaped his collar has been dealt with.”
“It doesn’t sound like it was easy. What happened?”
“An eyeball is a cheap price to pay for an amateur girl to defeat a monster like that.”
The hand on her face slid wetly down. She started feeling an unpleasant heat across her entire face. She felt as if her entire head had grown a size bigger.
“Please prepare the part of mine that was divided into the Micro Cosmos. I can dilute the pain through self-suggestion, but it isn’t perfect. It would be faster to add in the missing part.”
“Underst… I…the arrangemen…”
She seemed to be losing the signal because Kaizumi’s voice grew more distant.
But then Kumokawa realized that was not what was happening.
(What? It’s my ears…?)
The change was coming from Kumokawa’s own body. She felt an unpleasant pressure in her chest. She first thought it was due to the blood loss, but something was still strange.
(This is similar to a placebo attack using suggestions, but it’s somehow different… What is this? I’ve never seen anything like this before!!)
With one hand still on her face, she leaned on the passageway railing. Her sense of up and down was growing more uncertain. She had no idea if Kaizumi was still speaking from her handheld device or if even if she was still holding the device.
Tsuchimikado Motoharu moved his bloody lips while lying face up on the staircase.
He was muttering something under his breath.
“Hey, you pieces of shit. It’s time for a sickening job. (I humbly ask your assistance like the iron and the nail.)”
Magic could be divided into the broad categories of infection magic and imitative magic.
The infection category could use objects such as hairs or fingernails. The most popular forms of curse magic would remotely attack the target by destroying a piece of one’s target using a special method.
By ripping out her eyeball, he could make a lethal attack on Kumokawa Seria.
“This is like an assembly line. Drive the bullet straight into that bitch’s heart!! (I have a sign to the hated enemy in my hand. Follow this flesh and blood to bind a curse to the owner!!)”
With his curse complete, Tsuchimikado gave the stolen eyeball a light kiss.
He heard a wet coughing sound followed by something heavy collapsing to the ground.
He had successfully neutralized his target.
At the same time, Tsuchimikado’s body shook from blood loss while he lay face up on the floor. The eyeball slipped from his fingers.
He had used magic for the second time.
Every blood vessel in his body cried out. He coughed violently and saw that his saliva was dyed red.
“Ahh…cough, cough!! Cough!! Cough, cough!!”
Sticky blood felt like it would block his throat, but he somehow managed to cough it all up and clear a path for air. He then slowly stood up.
“Didn’t I tell you? You only had the information on me from the science side. Without the magic side data, you could never complete an accurate profile…”
Even children know about the Ushi no Koku Mairi curse. He had used a popular spell that reconstructed it to use just the hair rather than the doll. It could attack a target remotely, but any decent magician would be able to put together a countermeasure as soon as they sensed the signs. It was only effective against those who did not know magic.
(Dammit… Maybe it would have been faster to search through her trash can for some nose hair…)
Tsuchimikado headed up the stairs on unsteady feet.
He was not careless enough to use the elevator, but it did not seem to be working anyway. Using the emergency staircase would be better, but the obvious routes would likely have traps. And that was a direct route.
(I could try the air ducts, the elevator shaft, or the trash chute, but they’ll probably all be booby-trapped too.)
Tsuchimikado let out a sigh.
He would never overlook a trap set up by your average member of the dark side. However, these presents had been left by Kumokawa Seria. Even if he was at 100% and had time to carefully search, he was not convinced he would be able to find and eliminate them all.
(But did Kaizumi set these traps himself? No. He wouldn’t take part in the battle. That means he doesn’t know where his subordinates laid the traps. He has no choice but to stay here. He’s so focused on protecting himself that he can’t move.)
If Tsuchimikado had a safe way to the top floor, it did not matter how long it took him.
With that in mind, Tsuchimikado opened and closed his hands to check on his grip.
He headed through the entrance hall and looked at the decorative shape of the building itself. He was checking the silhouette of the entire building.
(I need three points of support at all times. The protrusions don’t have to be that large. 1.5 cm should be enough.)
District 3 was often used as a site for diplomacy, so a lot of attention was given to the aesthetics of the buildings. A building designed from the ground up by a famous designer would possess more elements than were functionally necessary. That created an opportunity. If it had been a rectangular building with smooth sides, he may have been out of options.
After checking on his general route, Tsuchimikado headed for one of the nine entrances.
He had to go outside first.
His next task was to climb up to the 50th floor with no lifeline.
“Gh…” groaned Kumokawa Seria.
She finally realized she was collapsed on a second floor passageway in that high-rise building.
(What…happened? Was I…rescued? No…)
Her consciousness was still flickering in and out. She had no idea how long she would last. She felt as if her eyes might not reopen if she so much as blinked.
Tsuchimikado Motoharu was not pursuing her.
There was no sign of any of the traps on the paths up having activated. If any of them had, an email would have automatically been sent to her handheld device.
(Then did he go outside? Dammit, how reckless can you be!?)
The idea had come to her before, but the observation floor on level 30 jutted out at the top. She had abandoned the idea, thinking it could not be done with normal rock climbing skills.
However, he had chosen that route without hesitation.
What frightened her the most was not how reckless it was; it was the fact that he had left her expectations.
She tried to stand up but could only manage to make her fingers and toes move slightly.
Standing would be difficult.
Her handheld device was still lying on her palm, so she could use it. However, warning Kaizumi of the danger would be meaningless. That old man had no ability to fight. Whether it was to fight or to flee, he had lost if he was even appearing on the field.
She was contacting someone else.
Fortunately, Tsuchimikado Motoharu had chosen the insane option of climbing up 50 stories. That meant it would take a long time for him to reach the top. Even if she called someone from the other side of Academy City, they could arrive before Kaizumi fell into Tsuchimikado’s grasp.
She needed someone who would be most effective at a time like this.
She needed someone who knew who she was.
She needed someone would come running over at a moment’s notice.
She knew the danger, but she could not allow that rabid dog to assassinate a member of the board of directors.
She used her thumb to call up a certain address. She mustered up all of her strength but gritted her teeth when that was not able to type in even 50 characters. She then attached a file that would automatically release the trap and allow the signal to be classified as a cell phone signal. Finally, she weakly pressed the send button.
As soon as she pressed it, a thought came to her.
She had a very bad feeling. She was no longer even sure if the idea had really been hers. It was as if a new idea had come to her like a billiards ball after her clash with Tsuchimikado.
(It can’t be…)
But it was too late. The “message sent” message popped up on the screen.
She heard a soft thunk.
The handheld device had slipped from her grasp.
That old man would normally never drink a drop of alcohol.
This was not because of a belief in moderation or restraint. He enjoyed music, theatre, antiques, and fine arts. He had even bought a horse and could picture the corresponding scenes in his mind when reading a train schedule or historic dates. As far as hobbies and tastes went, he indulged more than the average person. However, he felt alcohol, tobacco, and other things that (he believed) dulled the senses would only diminish his enjoyment. He preferred to enjoy his limited free time to its fullest during his long lifetime. You could even call that the principles the old man lived by.
That old man, Kaizumi Tsugutoshi, pulled a bottle of Irish whiskey from a shelf where he kept items prepared for receiving guests. He poured the brown liquid into a small crystal glass and stared at the surface of the liquid. Others would have said his face was as hard as rock, but Kaizumi himself called it a pathetic expression.
He would only choose to drink during the most unpleasant of times.
He had never before used alcohol as an escape.
The old man made up his mind, grabbed the glass, and gulped down the alcohol just like the ancient nobles drank their cups of poison when their castle was surrounded by enemy troops. He first felt a heat in his neck which quickly spread to his entire head. Kaizumi felt as if he was being strangled.
He spoke just after bringing the bottom of the glass back to the solid table.
“So he’s here.”
Just as he spoke, the tempered glass covering the wall directly behind his leather chair shattered. Kaizumi remained seated and swiveled his chair around. The sun had mostly set, leaving behind a nighttime scene decorated by countless lights. A bloodthirsty beast ignored the burst of wind and walked slowly into the office.
Tsuchimikado Motoharu was dyed red with blood. He had a dark red gunshot wound on his side and fresh blood stained his clothes in other places too. Some was likely his and some was likely to have belonged to others. In payment for climbing the outside of the building with no lifeline, his fingers were shaking and pale.
Even so, the light in his eyes beyond the thin-lensed glasses retained the look of a predator.
He calmly asked, “Are you ready?”
“I believe I am,” replied Kaizumi Tsugutoshi as he sank back into the large chair.
Tsuchimikado’s eyes narrowed slightly.
“You will not receive a quick end. Your path to death will be a long and painful one. Do you know why that is?”
“I controlled a large project with full knowledge that it would affect the lives of many people. I was prepared from the moment I sat in this chair.”
“Are you trying to act cold and unfeeling?” spat out Tsuchimikado.
The boy used all his strength to suppress the desire to rip the two sides of that old man’s body apart. That was not enough. Simply killing him would not be enough payment for the anger he felt.
His revenge had to make up for all of his anger.
If not, he would lose a target to take his anger out on and become ruled by that anger. He would become a vengeful spirit that was eternally searching for its next prey.
Tsuchimikado was aware he was only a step away from that.
“What you were involved in was simple murder. No different from me.”
“True,” honestly admitted Kaizumi.
That old man was not so young as to fool himself into thinking his actions had been just. It simply involved too much for that to be the case. However, he was not the type to be shaken if his actions were summed up as evil either. Kaizumi Tsugutoshi most feared dulling his thoughts and senses, but he had ended up giving so much focus to himself that he was almost sick of it.
“But do you really understand what is going on here?”
“If you kill me in any way you can think of, you will achieve your revenge. Who can say if that will make your little sister happy, but it will certainly satisfy you. However, that will end your revenge here. You will reach satisfaction without learning the truth.”
“…So what?” spat out Tsuchimikado in response. “I no longer care what the Agitate Halation project is. My goal is to take revenge against everyone behind driving Maika to her death. I will kill everyone who so much as helped. You are the signal gunshot that rings across the hunting grounds. You are nothing more than a victim to be shown to the others.”
“Taking revenge against everyone behind it, you say?”
Kaizumi gave a slight smile.
The alcohol seemed to be helping somewhat.
“Then will your revenge only end when you die?”
“I am not simply saying your sister’s death was indirectly brought about by your investigation into the Agitate Halation project,” continued Kaizumi when he received no response. “I know what happened. I am not a fool and I have plenty of power. I had a chance to learn what happened. It is quite simple.”
“What is simple?”
“The truth.” As the old man smiled, tension spread across his entire face. “What happened first. What led you to this quest for revenge.”
The gaze behind Tsuchimikado’s glasses did not waver.
However, his eyebrows twitched slightly. An expert like Kumokawa Seria may have been able to draw enough information from that to map out his entire mental state.
Kaizumi Tsugutoshi, a member of the board of directors, made a decisive statement.
“It was you who set fire to Tsuchimikado Maika’s dorm and killed your stepsister, wasn’t it?”
A silence followed.
Technically, gentle classical music was still playing, but the two of them had completely tuned it out. That song that glorified the creation of humanity no longer left any emotional impact with Tsuchimikado or Kaizumi.
“Or to be more accurate, you learned that an attack group was targeting your family as the intelligence battle over your investigation of the Agitate Halation project intensified, so you acted first and ‘killed’ her. You kidnapped her, set fire to her room, and rewrote the official records. You killed your little sister to protect her. That is the truth of what happened here.”
“…So what if it is?”
“If it is, then this revenge of yours is nothing but a farce. The supposed death never even happened yet here you are claiming you will risk your life to make up for it! …What are you getting revenge for? Are you disguising yourself as a bloodthirsty monster to soak your sister’s death even further into the darkness!?”
“Yes,” said Tsuchimikado almost in a groan. His tone was that of someone who had just been explained some basic fact everyone already knew. “That doesn’t matter. I didn’t really care.”
“If I hadn’t ‘killed’ Maika, some group or another would have killed her sooner rather than later. There would have been nothing I could do. And that was enough. Just having someone targeting her life was enough to pass the boiling point. That gave me a reason to fight.”
“But this veers sharply from all your previous actions. You have always remained behind the scenes. Who even ordered you to investigate the Agitate Halation project? No matter how many people the instructions passed down through, your intermediary would not have wanted you to take such obvious actions.”
“Of course not.” Tsuchimikado took a step across broken glass shards. “Do you…do you really think I can calmly do my job like normal? Do you really not understand something so simple? Have you gotten so rusty I need to explain everything from the beginning? Fine, I’ll tell you.”
He paused for a beat.
And then he spoke as if confessing some definitive crime.
“Kaizumi, I killed my little sister.”
His voice was oddly gentle.
Or perhaps it should be described as the voice of someone who had lost the core of their being and had lost all emotion.
Tsuchimikado Motoharu’s mouth uttered “words” more mechanically than the classical music filling the room.
“It doesn’t matter if it was only faked on paper. It doesn’t matter if no one died. It doesn’t matter if she was given a sudden request from her maid school to clean some strange building. It doesn’t matter if she’s even now mopping the floor in confusion. It doesn’t matter if she’s perfectly healthy and has no idea her dorm has burned down or that she is thought to be dead. It doesn’t matter if her room, its interior, its furniture, and everything else will be restored back to normal by the time she finishes the work and returns to her dorm.”
Tsuchimikado held no blade or firearm.
The distinctive aura of one who has been utterly destroyed was all it took to crush Kaizumi’s spirit.
“I still killed her.”
These were the ruins of his ideals.
This was the empty carcass of his beliefs.
That betrayal of trust had transformed into hatred. And the strength of that trust had led to a powerful rampage that was not easily destroyed.
“The thing is, Kaizumi, I raised my hand against my own little sister with the techniques that I was supposed to only use behind the scenes in the darkness. Yes, I know. I know what you’re thinking. I’ve been deceiving her and lying to her all this time. These are the rules I set for myself and I don’t expect anyone else to understand them. But even so, I had drawn a line! I had sworn I would never bring my sister into this filthy world!! But you made me do that!! You!! This was something I swore never to do! And yet you gave me no choice but to do it!!!!!”
In that moment, Kaizumi Tsugutoshi’s expression was a complex one that could not be described with any of the standard emotions. But Tsuchimikado did not notice. He pointed at that old man and shouted accusations as if he did not even know who he was accusing.
“Do you understand now, Kaizumi!? Do you!!? You…no, all of you destroyed the gears I had set up!! How long do you think I can maintain my rationality and reasonability now? I’m done for. And now that I know that, I have decided to deal with everyone involved in it before I eventually forget how to stand on my own two legs!! I will deal with everyone who led me to kill my little sister!!”
“Then,” said Kaizumi quietly. “Let me give you one piece of advice. The Agitate Halation project runs much deeper than you think. After becoming as deeply involved as you have, there is no turning back. And…prepare yourself. The situation is only going to grow worse.”
“What are you talking about?” spat out Tsuchimikado while glaring at the old man. “You’re the one behind it! Or are you saying it’s such a valuable project that a donut-shaped outer group that you can’t control has formed!? Or have you set up some backup that will take over when you die!?”
“You will understand soon enough,” replied Kaizumi with a slow sigh. The hands holding the armrests of the leather chair were covered in sweat. “You will not listen to what I say here. That is fine, but just know that it does not end here. …It seems it was a success. The situation is hardly good, but it seems a better result has arrived at the very, very end.”
“Stop joking around,” muttered Tsuchimikado as he took a large step forward.
He used a hand to brush the various reports off of the thick table and forcefully opened a drawer. He began pulling objects out and slamming them onto the table.
“A fountain pen! Nail clippers! Cold medicine!! ….Do you still write letters in the age of emails? Then you must have a paper knife, a glue stick, and a stamp sheet!! Do you have any idea how much pain and fear I can cause with just those objects? I’ll show you. Don’t think you’ll be able to die of shock. By separating out the components of the cold medicine, I can create a countermeasure against that. Remember what I said? Your path to death will be a long and painful one. You can look forward to learning the details later, but just know that you will be in full bloom while still alive like a rafflesia. Life is a classroom up until the very end, so make sure to pay attention. I’ll teach you the negative techniques that humanity has built up with a dark smile!!”
“I see.” Kaizumi let out a sigh while still sitting in his chair. “I suppose those would be cruel techniques to use on your ignorant little sister.”
Tsuchimikado silently swung his fist.
After silencing the old man with that blow, Tsuchimikado tied his arms and legs to the chair with wire.
He started with the glittering paper knife.
It had no blade, so it had little ability to injure. However, that meant it could lengthen someone’s suffering if used properly.
“I will leave your face untouched,” he announced with words sharper than the knife in his hand. “But not out of kindness. Most of your five senses are located there. However, I will thoroughly destroy everything else. Seeing your body change form is much more of a shock than you think it is. That will be the first step. And you will have to accept with terror that this is only the first step.”
“That is unlikely to happen.” With blood trailing down from the corner of his mouth, Kaizumi stared Tsuchimikado straight in the eye. “I doubt you have the time.”
“You have no pawns left. Kumokawa Seria was defeated. No normal soldier can find the traps she set up. Your allies will only be taken out by the net another ally left behind. That is why you did not call in reinforcements, right?”
“This has nothing to do whose side anyone is on.”
“Are you saying some completely unrelated hero of justice will show up? If this world was that convenient, the darkness would not have existed as long as it has.”
“Someone is coming,” declared Kaizumi decisively. “A hero is coming. However, this is no kind coincidence. You should grasp a piece of the truth once it happens. You could say this is like a special game of billiards. Or perhaps a form of mutual destruction. Either way, you will learn what you have been involved in and in what form.”
As soon as Tsuchimikado frowned in confusion, a soft electronic tone sounded.
The office was soundproofed, but an internal speaker was used to inform Kaizumi when the elevator arrived.
When he realized someone was coming, tension ran across Tsuchimikado’s skin like an electric current. Something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong. Someone had been able to use the elevator normally, Kumokawa Seria’s traps had not activated, and someone had arrived to interfere just as Kaizumi had announced. However, the feeling Tsuchimikado felt was not in response to all of those aspects of the situation.
The problem could be simplified further.
Kaizumi had said it was like a game of billiards.
Tsuchimikado Motoharu and Kumokawa Seria had clashed. His defeat of her had directly led to “someone else” arriving. It was just like how the cue hitting a single ball caused a chain reaction of balls hitting balls until the needed ball fell accurately into the pocket.
“Know this: I do not know who is coming. This person may have done nothing wrong and may have nothing evil about them.” Kaizumi was speaking much more quickly than before. This implicitly told Tsuchimikado that the man felt he was running out of time. “However, this person will certainly be your enemy. …Damn. Why did I not realize this until now? Their goal was not for the two of us to defeat each other. I was never even one of their targets! They wanted you and this other person to defeat each other!! From the start – the very, very start – this was all meant to eliminate you!! It all stretches back to the attempt on your sister’s life! The answer was staring me in the face the entire time!!”
Tsuchimikado Motoharu’s head filled with questions.
(Who holds the cue in this game of billiards and what pocket are they aiming for!? My clash with Kumokawa and Kaizumi were nothing more than a means to an end? Then what have I begun here!?)
Defeating one enemy created a new enemy. However, this was not a simple case of revenge. In terms of billiards, that would be hitting a ball straight forward into another ball, but that was not the case here. The movement was much more complex. This was a type of acrobatics where the balls in the way were jumped over to reach the target ball.
He had decided to climb up that 50 story height because his opponent was Kumokawa Seria. That would not have happened with a different enemy, with a different ball.
The same could be said about the fact that he had been badly injured on his way to Kaizumi’s office.
One person against another.
One hero against another.
What if there was a system to freely create a battle at an unspecified time and place so that two individuals defeated each other?
What if this coming battle was the final battle? What if it had been set up ahead of time to accurately land a specific ball in a specific pocket? What if that was why the ball named Tsuchimikado Motoharu had been sent out to strike against all those other balls?
“Answer me…” said Tsuchimikado to the man tied to his chair with wire. “Answer me!! How were you involved in the Agitate Halation project? The way you’re talking, it almost sounds like…!”
“I was working to destroy the Agitate Halation project. Just like you, I viewed the one behind it as much too dangerous. That was why I assumed they wanted to knock our two balls into the pocket. I assumed they wanted us to defeat each other. I decided my failure to stop the project was enough to say I was involved with your sister’s death. As long as you would destroy the project after I was gone, that was enough for me. …And you would have rejected the truth even if I had tried to tell it to you.”
“How could this happen…?”
He had misread the target for his revenge.
He had worn his body down pursuing the wrong target.
And now someone who had been pushed forward just like he had had arrived at the floor to finish him off.
The balls in the way would be avoided and only the targeted balls would be struck from the perfect angle to send them into the pocket.
But it was too late by the time he realized it. He could not turn the situation around now.
“What will you do?” asked Kaizumi. “If the two of us are defeated, no one will be able to stop the Agitate Halation project. This is the worst possible turn of events! If you are going to flee, do so now. Is there no way for you to safely escape now!?”
There was not.
The enemy controlled the entire billiards table.
“I have no choice,” decided Tsuchimikado while steadying his breathing. The heavy double doors slowly opened before his eyes. “I don’t know who this is. They might be good and they might be evil. But I can’t let myself be defeated here. I still have to carry out my revenge!! I can’t let that end here!!”
Tsuchimikado’s words were like a forced injection of vitality after he had fallen into despair. And they were cut off before he could continue.
His eyes opened wide.
He let out a trembling voice when he saw who stepped into the room.
But when he thought about it, this may have been the possibility that he had feared the most.
Kamijou Touma stepped inside that high-rise office in District 3.
When he thought about it, everything leading him here had been strange. It had started with being tricked by Tsuchimikado Motoharu and thrown into the School Garden. In there, he had guessed that everything related to the Altar of the Wisdom King had been a lie and had seen the news saying Tsuchimikado’s little sister Maika was dead. The girl controlled by Shokuhou Misaki, Academy City’s #5, had helped him somehow escape the School Garden. As soon as he had turned back on the cell phone he had turned off so no one could track him with it, he had received an anonymous email from an unidentified address telling him where Tsuchimikado was. He had followed the directions to District 3 and then to this elevator.
Kamijou set foot inside a large office that he would never have even seen in his normal life.
Despite being on the 50th floor, the tempered glass window had been shattered and documents were scattered around the room. The old man who likely owned the room had his arms and legs bound to his chair with wires and Tsuchimikado stood next to him. Unlike normal, the boy had his hair dyed brown, wore thin-lensed glasses, wore a chic jacket, and was covered in blood.
This was clearly no normal situation.
But at the same time, Kamijou intensely felt that something was very off about the situation.
It was a hopeless feeling as if a billiards ball that could not be allowed to fall into a pocket would do so no matter where the cue ball was hit.
“What…is going on?” asked Kamijou in confusion.
Had Tsuchimikado trapped Kamijou in the School Garden with the story about the Altar of the Wisdom King in order to keep him from seeing this? However, Kamijou refused to believe that everything happening here was based on Tsuchimikado’s own malice. This was not simply a desire to trust his friend. The situation was simply too unlike Tsuchimikado. The scene before Kamijou’s eyes looked like an extended version of someone giving into their anger and beating someone else over the head with an ash tray. Tsuchimikado would not choose such a simple method even if he chose to use violence. Even if there was something he could never forgive, he would work all the harder to remain rational and aim for a perfect victory. So why?
The expression of the old man bound to the chair changed as if he had realized something.
“Wait… Is he still only a stopped ball? If so, this is bad. The ball the enemy has hit is you, Tsuchimikado! The next move is not yet set in stone. If you stop moving, the collision of balls will come to an-…!!”
The old man trailed off when Tsuchimikado pulled out a handgun and beat him on the back of the neck with the grip.
After knocking the man unconscious, Tsuchimikado stared at Kamijou.
“Kami-yan, how much do you know?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all! Tsuchimikado, I…”
“That’s the most troublesome answer. It gives me nothing to base my decision on,” spat out Tsuchimikado. “But from the look in your eyes, I take it you’ve at least heard of my sister’s death. I have to take revenge for that. Whether it was a coincidence or I was tricked, I’ve been running in the wrong direction, but what I must do has not changed. I will continue. And this is a path you can never follow me down, Kami-yan!!”
As he shouted, Tsuchimikado unhesitatingly pointed his handgun at Kamijou.
Kamijou stiffened, but he did not hear a loud gunshot. Instead, he heard a much quieter metallic clicking.
“So this is another result of my clash with Kumokawa. Honestly, this is one hell of a game of billiards.”
Tsuchimikado clicked his tongue and tossed the gun aside.
“Words are not needed here.”
Tsuchimikado’s body wavered unsteadily.
Spirit. That word was the only thing keeping him standing.
“From the severity of my wounds, I don’t have time for a long chat. And since you don’t know the situation, you can’t put together an argument that will convince me. …Kami-yan and me. Someone hit the cue ball so we would both fall into one of the pockets. There is nothing left for us but violence!!”
“Wait, Tsuchimikado!! Shit!!”
He did not even have time to swear.
Tsuchimikado stepped forcefully forward and charged at Kamijou with tremendous speed.
A fistfight began.
The Tsuchimikado Motoharu that Kamijou Touma knew was well-versed in banned techniques and he would not hesitate to use them to accomplish his goals. He knew just how much pain those attacks would bring, but he used them anyway. He forced down his own thoughts, gritted his teeth, endured each and every tragedy, and ultimately put an end to a much greater tragedy. That was the sort of person he was.
That was how he fought and those were his principles.
This was an opponent Kamijou could never defeat.
Kamijou twisted his upper body to the side and evaded the arm that was violently swung toward him. He succeeded. He also avoided the fingers stabbing for his eyes and the foot trying to wave its way between his legs. Sometimes he would evade and sometimes he would block.
It was not simply that Tsuchimikado’s speed had dropped.
In fact, despite all of his injuries, Tsuchimikado’s speed remained greater than Kamijou’s.
That speed was meaningless.
When he had defeated Kamijou with overwhelming force before, he had given off a hopeless sense of intimidation. That was now gone.
Kamijou saw nothing but actions before his eyes. Nothing but movements. Nothing but phenomena. That was all it was. It was as if he was looking at an empty shell of the human named Tsuchimikado Motoharu. This was a mere shadow of his former self that could not even be called the ruins of the original boy.
“What are you doing?”
A dull sound rang out.
Tsuchimikado had not struck Kamijou with one of his banned techniques. It was the opposite. It had been an amateurish punch thrown just by swinging a fist as hard as one could. It had flown straight into Tsuchimikado’s jaw with disturbing accuracy.
Tsuchimikado’s upper body swayed.
Kamijou had gotten in a clean hit, but he felt nothing in his heart.
After being hit, Tsuchimikado continued further forward, so Kamijou was forced to fight back with punches and kicks. Each and every strike hit Tsuchimikado. They all ended up hitting. Each time, the boy staggered. His feet grew more and more unsteady. This was not the Tsuchimikado that Kamijou knew. It was like watching a king of professional wrestling passed out drunk in a filthy back alley. Kamijou’s heart was filled with overwhelming despair.
“What are you doing!?”
He wanted Tsuchimikado to tell him he had interpreted this wrong.
He wanted to hear that this had all been a game. He wanted the boy to turn everything around with a single special attack.
He wanted the boy to coldly demonstrate the difference between an expert and an amateur and then arrogantly announce that he would take care of everything.
Sounds of great impacts rang out again and again. Tsuchimikado Motoharu finally collapsed to the floor. Kamijou climbed on top of him. He threw his fist down on the boy again and again and again while tears welled up in his eyes.
“What is this? What the hell is this!? Is this really you? Is this who Tsuchimikado Motoharu is!? No, it isn’t. No matter how injured you might be and no matter what situation you might be in, you are not someone so weak you would lose to the likes of me!!”
The very act of winning this fight felt like some tremendous blasphemy.
It was like a crowd ignoring the masterpiece a great composer poured his heart and soul into yet giving a standing ovation to someone slamming their fingers against the piano as a joke.
Even with Kamijou’s entire body weight holding him down, Tsuchimikado spat bloody saliva at Kamijou’s face. Was he trying to blind him or was he trying to surprise him into losing his balance? Either way, Kamijou blocked the weak surprise attack with his palm. He was able to block it.
Tsuchimikado Motoharu may have run out of ideas.
All light left his eyes and the back of his head fell to the floor.
Why had this happened?
What did Kamijou gain from this victory?
It had ended before he knew what had caused it or what this result meant. He could not imagine what ideals had been in conflict. He could not imagine what anyone had wanted to achieve at the risk of their lives. His opponent had been a fellow human being, but he could not imagine how he might have ended up in the same place had conditions been different.
It was over.
“What the hell…?”
Clear drops fell from Kamijou Touma’s eyelids.
“What the hell!?”
These were the most bitter and pathetic tasting tears in the world.
He instinctually knew that this was the flavor of disgrace.
“I shouldn’t have been able to win no matter what I tried… There has to be some trick. Something I’m not aware of!! Dammit, don’t make me accept this ending. I don’t even know who I let win! Who did I give victory to here!? Tsuchimikado, who were you fighting? I wasn’t your final objective, was I!? Why did you even have to continue fighting until you were so worn down!?”
He received no response.
It may have no longer mattered.
“Why did you have to lie to me!? What is going on here? What kind of incident is this!? How…how are you involved in all of this!?”
Tsuchimikado Motoharu ignored Kamijou and let it all come to an end.
No matter how many dominos had been lined up, they could not continue further if a thick wall was placed in the middle of them. Kamijou simply stood on the board as that wall while ignorant of the overall layout of the dominos.
“Answer me, Tsuchimikado! Answer me!! Dammit. Dammiiiiiittttttt!!”
It seemed Tsuchimikado had no intention of saying anything more. Kamijou raised his head and looked around. The old man was still bound to the chair with wires, but he was still unconscious. He would be no help.
The office was quite high up and the window had been shattered, so a powerful wind was blowing in. Piles of documents lying scattered on the ground were blown into the air. They described many different things: the Agitate Halation project, those connected to the project, a list of those pursuing the project, the student dorm fire, a list of both the perpetrators and victims, and partial records of Tsuchimikado Motoharu’s actions over the last couple of hours.
Kamijou grabbed one of the documents.
It gave the name of the central figure running the Agitate Halation project that Tsuchimikado had apparently been investigating.
This was a member of Academy City’s board of directors. This was one of those ultimate VIPs.
The name given was Yakumi Hisako.
Between the Lines 2
A certain hospital in District 13 had some unusual equipment and facilities prepared due to its university connections…or at least that was the official reason. It had a large electric furnace that could surely and swiftly dispose of bodies carrying dangerous viruses, it had nanotech pharmaceutical production devices that could do work on a level more minute than the membranes and valves of organs, etc. Even for a hospital connected to a university, it contained far too much equipment that was out of the ordinary.
“Hee hee hee.”
A woman laughed within a room that was more sanitary than any normal room in a hospital, especially one a normal patient would want to stay in.
She was Yakumi Hisako.
This dimly lit room that was secretly known as the “planning room” was the sole place she could relax and feel at ease.
“Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee!! Hah hah!! Gya ha ha!! Oh, I can’t stop. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!! Ee hee hee ee hee! I-I can’t stop laughing! I’m dying!!”
The nurse known as Rensa tilted her head in confusion.
“An error has occurred in the experiment.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine. Tsuchimikado didn’t do enough to kill me. He let me go. His hated enemy was before his eyes and he didn’t even know it! He went out of his way to avoid the ball he wanted and sent an unneeded ball in Kaizumi’s direction!! Hah hah! This was a huge success!!”
“Whether it worked in your advantage or not, an error is still an error. Shouldn’t you give this more focus?”
“It’s okay,” replied Yakumi with tears in her eyes. “If Agitate Halation had exceeded its acceptable margin of error, I would have been killed. I made an appearance on the billiards table and yet here I am still alive. …That confirms it. Agitate Halation is now unstoppable. We can now move on to the final phase of the project. Let’s throw everything into chaos.”
“Doctor, I must remind you that the primary objective of Agitate Halation is in its practical applications…”
“I know that. This is just a side effect. Buuut it’s just human nature to want to enjoy it if you can,” said Yakumi Hisako offhandedly while Rensa checked the schedule while standing next to her. “By the way, is there aaany other job I need to deal with at the moment? If possible, I would like to focus on Agitate Halation.”
“Nothing urgent enough to need your attention, doctor. Fatty-chan, Wrinkly-san, and Mister Psychedelic are all doing well.”
“Using those nicknames doesn’t tell me anything. Leeet’s see, what about Enzu-san?”
“The private clinical test of the designers’ gel that rearranges the structure of cholesterol has begun. The amounts are being carefully adjusted to acquire accurate data, but the thrombus should be complete in about a week. It is still too soon to know for sure, but this may be an excellent assassination weapon that would slip past any forensic investigation.”
“What about Akinai-san?”
“The private clinical test of the inhaled oxygen level regulation technique using low frequency suggestion has begun. It has allowed us to increase or decrease the concentration of oxygen in the blood without the use of any drugs. It is still too soon to know for-…”
“That one is not for assassination purposes, so is he okay?”
“We are calculating the data needed to use it as a nonlethal weapon for threats by rapidly increasing the number of wrinkles and spots on the target. Although changing the parameters would allow it to kill via hyperventilation.”
“Okay. And lastly, what about Kevin-san?”
“Doctor, what merit is there in developing technology to dissolve only the bones while keeping the target alive?”
“That is what we were asked for, so that’s what we will develop. It might be a form of punishment and it might be someone’s sick fetish.”
“His immunity still requires attention, but he is doing well.”
“Fine then,” said Yakumi Hisako with a nod. And then she sighed. “We certainly have gotten a lot of troublesome patients lately.”
“And you certainly have enjoyed dragging them down into the darkness.”
“Yet I rarely hear any complaints overflowing with a sense of justice. Of course when I do, I just suppress them.” Yakumi Hisako then casually added, “What a cruel world this is.”
That was all human life was to her. If they irritated her, she would send them into the darkness and if she liked them, she would miraculously save them. Either way, she took human lives lightly. She influenced them no more seriously than deciding if she wanted toast or rice for breakfast.
“Now, then. I’ve gone over the schedule, so let’s get to the fun.”
The planning room had a white board set up. Several photos were attached with magnets and thick lines had been drawn on the board between them.
“Where is the leverage point?”
“We have already located Fremea Seivelun. According to the report from that Kihara, her progress is going well.”
“Kuroyoru Umidori has already been guided in. She does not have the ‘disposition’, but it is estimated that an opposite will be affected in its own way.”
“Then carry on as planned, Rensa-chan.”
“Understood,” immediately replied Rensa while still standing.
Yakumi Hisako reached for a desk in the planning room. She pulled a dart out of a pencil holder that also held some writing tools. The dart was colored with black and yellow stripes. Anyone would be naturally cautious of a living creature with that design.
When a special bullet known as the Sniper Bee had been created, this large model had been created for design purposes. Smaller versions were loaded into a special magazine that used compressed gas.
When she squeezed it between her thumb and forefinger, a clear liquid oozed out of the needle’s tip. She carelessly tossed the dart.
With a loud thunk, the dart accurately pierced one of the photos.
That photo was…
“The final phase begins. Fiiirst, let’s get the ball rolling by ending this person’s life.”
A liquid flowed down from the forehead of the person in the photo.
That liquid was not blood. It was formic acid, the bee venom that they liked to use.
“This will drag everything else into this. The entire world will be renewed☆”