From a young age, Takeru and Mia’s playground had been the Rabbit Shrine.
Its proper name was the Hanesagi Shrine. It considered rabbits the envoys of god, and to the side of the tori gates, instead of lion-dogs, stood statues of guard rabbits. The two had always played at the shrine, but after Mia entered Teiko FC, it became common to make a pilgrimage before matches to offer a prayer for victory.
That day just happened to be one they dropped by the shrine for such a prayer.
“Are you ready, Mia?”
In unison, Takeru and Mia threw their five-yen coins into the offertory bod. They clapped their hands before quietly holding them together. After his hands parted, Takeru gathered strength into a clenched fist.
“We’re definitely winning tomorrow’s match. We’ve got to win the city tournament to take part in the prefectural one.”
“But tomorrow’s opponent’s in the city best four, Kagari FC, right? Their number ten has a really big body and he’s fast. Will we really be able to take them on…”
“Why are you giving up before even trying?”
Takeru sent Mia’s anxieties flying with a scoff.
“Victory comes to those who never give up in thought or action! Hey, you’re fast on your feet, if nothing else, so just use that and keep running.”
“It’s not just my feet. I can properly kick now too.”
“Also, make sure you’re properly cheering from the sidelines. Your voice ‘s always puny. Those plain things help out in the long run. You got that?”
“… Erk, got it, Take-chan.”
Four years since Mia entered Teiko FC.
The two had grown taller in no time, and both Takeru and Mia were on the tall side for fifth graders. As far as Takeru knew, Mia wasn’t being bullied by her classmates anymore.
Even so, the way they hung out together hadn’t changed.
The soulless grounds were somewhat lonesome. The town was being dyed a madder from the evening sun.
“We should get back. Catch a cold, and it all goes down the drain.”
“Ah, wait a second.”
For some reason, Mia produced change from her coin purse again.
“The last one was a prayer for victory, I’ve got to make another one too.”
From Mia’s response, Takeru guessed the situation.
He spoke to brush away a dark silence.
“You don’t have to worry. Uncle always comes home better than ever. A freelance journalist’s just a hectic job to have.”
“But he’s aaalways injured. Maman’s worried too. The other day, both of them were really hurt…”
Mia powerlessly shook her head.
“Father won’t tell me anything. I don’t know if he can come to tomorrow’s match.”
“… I see.”
Takeru took out a coin and lined up with Mia.
“I don’t know if he’ll listen to two wishes at once, but if we wish for the same thing together, I’m sure god will listen. That’s why, well, don’t worry about it.”
The five-yen coin he tossed chimed out inside the offertory box. Her eyes open round and wide, Mia hurriedly turned her face from him. Perhaps illuminated by sunset, Mia’s profile flushed red.
“Thank you… Take-chan.”
Once again, the two stood in line and put their hands together.
After the wishing was over, a thought struck Takeru’s head.
“Come to think of it, did you know? It turns out Gaimoon’s the emissary of the rabbit shrine.”
“I mean, Gaimoon’s got a rabbit-like look to him. So there are people saying he’s got to be a messenger of god. It might just be that Gaimoon will grant our wishes.”
“Hmm… Gaimoon will…”
Mia gave an impressed nod. Neither Takeru nor Mia had ever seen Gaimoon before. But they knew he existed. That’s precisely why their admiration was stirred. A fantasy far more realistic than god.
After confirming Mia’s heart had become somewhat lighter, Takeru added on.
“I’ll just say it, but you’d better not rely on Gaimoon for the outcome of the match. You’re the one who’s scoring the goal.”
“I know that already!”
The melody that signaled eighteen ‘o clock chimed through the town.
“Ah, it’s already this late. Take-chan, let’s hurry.”
“I’m with you.”
Takeru took right off towards the tori gate, but there he realized a certain something. After thinking a bit, he turned to Mia.
“… Sorry, Mia. Go without me. I’ve still got something to do.”
“Eh? What are you doing this late?”
“Don’t worry. Umm, it’s that. Men have secrets they can’t mention to anyone.”
“… How suspicious.”
For a while, Mia furrowed her brow dubiously, but eventually, she gave her shoulders a resigned shrug.
“Don’t stay out too late, you’ll worry aunty.”
“I know. Don’t take any detours yourself.”
“I’m already a fifth grader! Quit treating me like a little kid.”
She said, with a small wave of her hand.
“By, Take-chan. See you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, ‘cya tomorrow.”
And Mia started walking towards the tori gate.
A faint song on her breath.
“Gai, Gai, Gaimoon ♪ Wiping away all our sorrow soon ♪
Gai, Gai, Gaimoon ♪ Racing through the city of the moon♪
Natural enemy of evil, bababababang! Gaaaii Mooon!”
“… What is she, a preschooler?”
Takeru said with a sigh. ‘Gaimoon’s Song’ was a hero theme drafted up by the volunteers at the Tsukimori City Youth Association. Calling back to some anime song from years ago, the lyrics that called out the hero’s name up high were vouched for by the Tsukimori male demographic ages thirty to forty.
After seeing off Mia as she slipped into the twilight, Takeru walked to the shrine’s office.
The rabbit shrine served a lunar faith. On special nights of the lunar calendar, they’d offer prayers to the moon to cleanse away evil spirits. In association with that, the shrine sold some unconventional evil wards.
“I guess I’ll give it to her after tomorrow’s game…”
What sort of reaction would he get from Mia?
Would she be delighted, or would she act bashful?
As he tried to picture it, the inside of Takeru’s chest flared heatedly.
It didn’t matter which. For Mia’s house to spend their time in happiness.
Putting in a meager prayer, Takeru purchased a ward.
An hour later, when Takeru reached home, he came to know.
Mia’s house had been attacked by someone.
Mia’s mother who had been home at the time was murdered. Having returned at a bad time, Mia was dragged in as well, there were multiple stab wounds across her body, she was unconscious in critical condition. The culprit hadn’t been caught. But from the traces left at Mia’s house and witness reports, it was concluded the perpetrator was a kaijin.
— Did you hear about that hotel fire the other day? About the second year Midorikawa…
— She was attacked by a kaijin, right? What’s more, it was a hotel, right? Did her man ditch her there or something?
— Serves her right. She was merciless with the bullying, that girl.
—… But lately, don’t you think there’ve been a few too many kaijin incidents?
— It’s going around the net, a pic showing Gaimoon done in. It’s not Photoshop, right?
— But it’s got to be a kaijin that posted it!
— Do you think Leviathan’s really back?
She could hear the incessant rainfall outside.
Mia walked down the school corridor after school, making her way towards the library.
Be it the classroom or the hallway, various rumors entered her ears. A majority of them were in regards to Midorikawa.
Only when an incident occurs in close proximity, do people start to sense the danger. Who did she hear that from? Perhaps they were the past Gaimoon, her father’s words.
In the end, at the hotel fire, Mia ended up letting the alters get away again. She fell for their traps, she was driven into a corner. The alters’ movements had clearly changed. Something was squirming where she couldn’t see. In the midst of an impending violent storm, how would she, Gaimoon stand against it?
Holding onto a sense of melancholy, Mia opened the library door.
For some reason, the female student at the reception desk reacted surprised.
The first year who handled her when she borrowed a book the other day. The way she spoke about ‘What it took to be a hero’ with Takeru left an impression, she remembered her well.
“Hello, I’m here to return a book.”
“Omou-senpai… u-umm, a return, right, yes, yes, right this way…”
Terribly nervous, the first year accepted Mia’s ‘Flowers for Algernon’ softcover.
With the book handed over, that was her business finished, but Mia ended up talking to the first year.
“What it takes to be a hero, did you figure anything out after that?”
While the first year opened her mouth blankly, she eventually boisterously waved her hands in a panic.
“Ah, no, umm, Omou-senpai, why are you asking me…”
“I overheard when you were talking about it the other day. A hero is the symbol of another’s aspirations, was it?”
On the verge of letting out a loud voice, the first year hurriedly covered her hand with her mouth. The way she reacted to everything was interesting. Though Mia couldn’t quite understand why she was acting so meek.
“… I-it was nothing important, please forget about it. Just some chatter.”
“Really? I found it interesting. So that’s what it is, I got to thinking.”
Nervous as she was, the first year’s eyes started to sparkle.
Truth be told, the reason Mia was eavesdropping was something else. She kept quiet on that point. While she did want to talk more, she noticed there were other students wanting to borrow books.
“… Sorry, looks like I’m holding you up. Let’s have a good talk another day.”
“T-thank you, umm,” The first year continued on. “I’m Tsuzuki. Tsuzuki Nozomi, it is my pleasure to be of your acquaintance.”
“Got it, Tsuzuki-san. Ah, that’s right.”
Mia asked a final question.
“Tak… Okina-kun isn’t on the register?”
“Okina-senpai? I think he’s organizing books in the back.”
“I see, thank you.”
Mia parted from the counter and slowly made her way to the back of the library.
Would he be angry if she suddenly called out?
No, there was nothing to worry about. For Mia still had Takeru indebted for the difference in drink cost. Sawako had said it as well. If there’s a chance, cut in and attack. Otherwise, you’ll never grasp your goal.
Even if she ended up disappointed, there were things she wouldn’t see unless they collided.
Courage. With courage. It’s nothing major. As a childhood friend, she was just a little curious about how he was doing. Just call out, that’s all there is to it.
Mia encouraged herself as she proceeded between the bookshelves.
And to call out to him, Mia took a step forward. An unthinkable scene entered her eyes.
What looked like the books he was supposed to organize were scattered across the floor.
Unable to retrieve them, Okina Takero was collapsed on the floor without the slightest twitch.
“That was utter shit.”
Kneeling in the Japanese-style room, Takeru took those words with a sour look.
Akutsu Chiyo held our her pipe in one hand, the smoke wafting off of it.
The bewitching, swaying smoke made it so Takeru couldn’t remove his eyes.
“Sure enough, you’ve secured a route for funds and weapons. Well, quality and scale-wise, my poor old heart won’t hold up if you call yourself Leviathan with that, but for now, I’ll give that point a passing mark.”
Chiyo tapped the pipe against an ashtray. The ashes fluttered out like snow.
“But right now, the greatest thing you should never let go of is leaving your hands. It’s as if you haven’t noticed that at all.”
“What I shouldn’t let go of?”
Chiyo’s words came with a heavy ring to them.
“In your first mission, what you had to grasp wasn’t a source of money, it was the awe of Lord Helvenom. You should place weight on the fact that your comrade alters rebelled. Rebellion is something like measles. It’ll spread through the organization in no time, and rear a deep-rooted disease called doubt. Sooner or later, an organization that can’t trust its top will self-destruct.”
“… That’s what Terreur is for. You’re the one who said you wouldn’t let me move as Lord Helvenom until I acquired it.”
“Terreur isn’t omnipotent. Exposed to the same stimulus, soon the heart grows dull, and you no longer feel fear as fear. Awe, you see, you have to make it with reverence and fear as a set. Take special caution around Ikaruga. You don’t know when he’ll come for your sleeping head with that kid.”
Chiyo spoke as it reminiscing over an unruly delinquent son.
“The other alters are the same. You’re still being tested. Whether you’re worth the name Lord Helvenom or not. Keep going at this rate, and you’ll be abandoned. In a not-too-distant future at that.”
“… Then what are you saying I should do?”
Takeru was aware. That Chiyo’s indication was correct, that he had failed to grasp the alters’ hearts, that in the first place, asking her like this would be futile.
That’s precisely why his impatience fumed in excess.
“Don’t take your eyes off your comrades. Your own desires either. Carry out nothing but safe plans, and you won’t get anywhere. I told you that three years ago”
Chito’s head deformed and changed. The skin, the flesh fell away to a red skull.
She was changing to the shape of the First Lord Helvenom, ruler of indignation.
“What you walk is the path of carnage, an empty path of no recompense. Unless you keep losing, you’ll never be able to become Alchemuls.”
Before he noticed it, Chiyo’s figure had vanished. Takeru was alone, shoved into a pitch-black space. He didn’t find it strange in the slightest. The boundary between memory and dream had grown hazy.
Click, clack, the approaching footsteps.
A skull waving a coat, the color of crows’ wings. Takeru’s offshoot, Lord Helvenom.
Lord Helvenom’s heatless hands suddenly grasped his throat.
“Know this, Okina Takeru.”
The black skull whispered with the voice of a corpse
“You will lose, and lose, and continue to lose. For that is your–”
“Oh, are you finally up?”
When he opened his eyelids, his eyes met with Sawako, who was in a white doctor’s gown. After gazing at Sawako on a swivel chair, he noticed an IV drip pierced into his left arm. The ceiling that reflected back at him was neither the library nor the infirmary, it was a sight he remembered. The ceiling of the examination room he had grown accustomed to.
“… Why am I at your clinic?”
“You collapsed, Mia gave me a call and carried you here. Can’t get an IV at the infirmary, after all. You’d better go thank her later.”
“So that’s how it is…”
Today was supposed to be the day Mia returned her ‘Flowers for Algernon’. He had gone off to arrange bookshelves so he wouldn’t have to see her, but it seems that ended in failure.
“I think it’s just overwork, but what sort of life are you living? You were groaning the whole time.”
Takeru swallowed his breath.
“… Did I say something?”
“Who knows? Your groans never developed into sleep talk.”
Overwork. Hearing his own circumstance, Takeru gave a bitter smile.
After the fire incident, taking care of the post-work, planning the next operation, contriving smuggled goods from the newly gained route had worked him to death, and these past few days, he hadn’t even the leisure to reflect on his own body.
Even if he received the grace of the system that worked with the mask, it did seem both his body and spirit were burdened far more than anticipated.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you. To be blunt, your state right now is abnormal, abnormal I say. I can’t think you’re living the life of a healthy high school boy. Push yourself just because you’ve got youth, and your body cried out. You get what I’m saying?”
Sawako tiresomely shook her head and spun her chair. Facing the desk, she filled out the clinical records.
On the desk was a pink rabbit mascot—the ‘ward rabbit’ Takero had given her. A doll with its entire body design focused on roundness, it was connected to a laptop through USB cable. Its LED eyes lit up red.
“… So you put up the one I gave you.”
“Ah, right, right. It’s a hit with the kids who come for checkups. See, the shrine priest changed, and they don’t deal in these ward rabbits anymore, right? There was a time when they were all the rage you know. When they’re supposed to be charms, they’ve got USB connectability, what’s more, all it does is light up their eyes, they’re needlessly machined I say. But are you okay with that? This is a rare item only for those in the know.”
“It’s fine. I just happened to find it lying around the room. Could never say it was ever too effective.”
It was a ward rabbit he had originally intended to give Mia. But in the end, that wish ended undelivered.
“Quit saying things that are just asking for divine retribution. Alright, that’s that for the examination. Here’s my prescription: learn well, play well, eat well, sleep well. That is all.”
“… And what an arbitrary examination it was.”
“What are you talkin’ about? There’s no better medicine in the world.”
Turning back towards him, Sawako spoke with a grin.
“Since you’re at it, why don’t you go on a date with Mia? It’ll be a nice diversion, don’t you think?”
“… I can do without it.”
“How long do you plan on avoiding the girl like that?”
While her lips were smiling, Sawako’s eyes gazed irritated at Takeru.
“I’m not particularly trying to meddle, but stop being stubborn and try facing her. The kid’s lonely, she’s got no friends at school to talk to.”
As he responded, he recalled Mia from the other day.
Mia reading a book on the third-floor landing. While she grew a following as Tsuki High’s Hero, he had never seen her get along especially well with any particular someone.
“Everyone relies on her, and then what? It seems that’s made for a strange distance. She’s busy in her own way, and she doesn’t really relate with the kids at school.”
“… She always did suck at making friends.”
“You’re in the same boat.”
Sawako extracted the IV from Takeru’s arm. She pressed the puncture with gauze.
“If you can snark like that, you’re not bad enough to be hospitalized. Anything happens, just say the word. And so,” Sawako added on. “You’ve got to pass on the word to the kid in the waiting room.”
“Hop to it. Your bike’s been carried out back.”
Wit Sawako pushing his back, Takeru was driven out of the examination room.
Looking at the dim waiting room where the reception desk light had gone out, he saw a single young girl sitting down on the sofa.
Mia, with her bag on her knees, nod by nod dozing off.
After gazing at Mia’s sleeping face a while, Takeru took a glance back. Sawako, whose head peeked out of the examination room entrance, stood up her thumb to wish him good luck.
The escape route was blocked off. Reluctantly, Takeru poked her on the forehead.
“… You’ll catch a cold if you sleep here.”
The girl’s eyes dimly opened—in her head that hadn’t yet fully awoken, Mia gazed absentmindedly at Takeru. Her cheeks loosened into a smile.
“…… Ah, Take-chan?”
A while later, as if a switch had clicked, Mia’s deep blue eyes snapped open. She hurriedly wiped the drool around her mouth and corrected her seated posture. After two, three coughs to play it off, she spoke.
“G-good morning, Take-chan! A-are you feeling fine now?”
“Thank you, you saved me there. It was just overwork, she said.”
“N-no, oh no, don’t mind me.”
The conversation that continued was as clumsy as ever.
This was fine, Takeru thought. Their relationship had changed.
What was lost would never return. They could no longer hold the relationship they had before—
— But right now, the greatest thing you should never let go of is leaving your hands. It’s as if you haven’t noticed that at all.
“What’s wrong, Take-chan?”
Mia worriedly peered into his face.
“You just made a really scary face… are you sure you’re alright…”
“… Yeah, I’m fine, don’t worry.”
Takeru plainly shook his head. His and Mia’s relationship had certainly changed. But precisely what had changed, and what had stayed the same? Takeru still didn’t know.
In that case, it was necessary to ascertain that.
“… I’ve got myself in a debt greater than fifty yen.”
Takeru looked straight at Mia and spoke.
“Is there anything I can do to thank you for this? I’ll do my best to the extent of my capabilities.”
For a while, like a child who’d come face-to-face with Santa, Mia feebly opened her mouth.
“U-umm, you don’t have to force yourself… but you did propose it, so…”
Mia thought to herself, but when the thought struck her, she energetically raised a hand and answered with a smile.
“I request a date at Tsukimori Tower!”
Three days later.
Kanon was suddenly called out by Tsumugi to Kagari Odeon.
She wore a sea-blue long one-piece dress, a cap with a wide brim over her eyes. Lately, whenever she went out, she would never forget a hat. A rosario hung at her chest.
“Ah, Kanon. Over here, this way.”
When she entered, Tsumugi sitting at the ticket counter raised a hand.
“Sorry for calling you out all of a sudden.”
“No, I’ve got time to spare today… but what’s wrong? Is there something you want to consult me on?”
“I wanted to talk a bit about the second.”
A tension raced through Kanon’s body.
Tsumugi gave a wry smile as she handed over an iced café au lait.
“… No need to stand around talking, let’s use that sofa over there.”
Kanon sat beside her on the shabby sofa in the lobby. While the two of them held drinks in their hand, neither had the mind to put their mouths to them.
“Hatoko and Matoko are dissatisfied with the Second’s way of doing things. Reo as well. Though I’ll admit that guy’s got a knack for making a fuss over nothing. Ikaruga-san… do I really have to say it?”
“Has it got something to do with that plan the other day?”
“Right. The plan itself was a success, and we managed to secure a source of funding, but… it seems everyone wants to see a more tangible gain. I hear the pic of Gaimoon’s defeat is flaring up on the net, but… from their point of view, so what, I guess?”
The hero of justice who protects Tsukimori, Gaimoon.
No matter how cornered, an evolving fantasy that would always stand up.
“… What about you, Tsumugi-san? Are you against the Second Lord Helvenom’s methods?”
“I think it’s too early to make a call. Practically speaking, the second’s power is great. We’ve only just started, and if we rush for results, there’s no way it’ll go well… it’s just, perhaps we’ve piled on just a few too many losses for us to make due with those words.”
Tsumugi rocked her cup of black coffee as she looked towards Kanon.
“… That’s why I want to know how you feel right now, Kanon. What do you think of the second, and what do you want to do from here on?”
Kanon was lost for words. What crossed her mind was the many people she hurt as the Alter Ecole. No matter what justice she smoothed it over with, the facts of the matter didn’t change.
“… I do think we’re doing something unforgivable. But we didn’t have any other path we could choose. Taking Lord Helvenom’s hand, choosing a life in hell was my only option…”
Our good fight.
Kanon had never felt the meaning of the words.
While learning there were things that couldn’t be gained without battle, some part of her heart wished to avoid conflict.
“It’s strange that alters are unilaterally decided as evil… teacher said it, didn’t he? We have to fight to prove we’re human too… I think that’s why we need Lord Helvenom.”
“… Natives and alters are humans all the same, huh.”
Tsumugi lonesomely repeated the words.
They were words the stranger class’ professor Togumo would repeat as a force of habit.
“It’s a right bother. Whenever the previous generation does what they want and wracks up a tab, it’s always the current gen that has to pay for it. Thanks to the warmongering first gen, us second gen have to squinch our shoulders. If the past Lord Helvenom was a pacifist, our lives may have been a whole lot easier.”
“… Do you think there are any people like us in other towns too?”
“Who knows? I’ve never heard of them outside Tsukimori. On the contrary, perhaps it’s precisely because we’re shut away in Tsukimori that our existence is even permitted.”
Tsumugi sipped her ice-cold café au lait and thought.
Lord Helvenom said. He would lead them to a new future for alters.
Perhaps that was where Kanon could find the answer she desired.
Why were alters born, where were they headed? How were they supposed to live in this world?
“Don’t expect too much out of Lord Helvenom.”
At Tsumugi’s declaration as if she had seen straight through her heart, Kanon swallowed her breath.
“If not wanting to become evil is your reason for fighting, then Lord Helvenom is leading you to a complete opposite future. What he shoulders is the title of Alchemuls, the absolute evil. Well, at the very least, I can’t think he’ll bring us any peace.”
The question struck Kanon.
“… Come to think of it what does Alchemuls mean? I did hear it meant absolute evil, but I never did find out where the word came from…”
“Eh? Ah, now that you mention it, what could it be… it never really bothered me up to now, but… and wait, given the conversation, that’s the part you question?”
“Ah, I’m sorry… I just got stuck on it…”
“Haha, it’s fine. Sounds like you.”
Tsumugi pat Kanon’s bashful head.
“… Well, in the end, whatever happens, happens. But be on your guard. Unless the second demonstrates he can stand on the same level as Gaimoon, Leviathan’s revival is impossible.”
The conversation flourished for a while longer, but as if she had recalled something, Tsumugi opened her mouth.
“Right… there’s something I was planning on giving you today.”
“Truth is, I received some tickets to the museum, but I’m not really interested. Do you want to take them off my hands? You like that sorta thing, don’t you?”
“Ah, then I’ll gladly take them. I’m free after this, maybe I’ll use them right away…”
“Alright, that’s decided then. Here you go. Now go have some fun.”
Tsumugi produced a single ticket from her wallet.
“It’s for that ‘Surrealist World’ exhibit they’re holding at Tsukimori Tower Museum.”
For Omou Mia, it was her first visit to Tsukimori Tower in eight years.
Tsukimori Tower was a 200m structure towering over Tsukimori JR Station, widely adored by foreign sightseers as the symbol of the city. A museum and aquarium had been established within the tower, and it was also active as one of the prominent date sites in Tsukimori.
“… Why is the line this long just to use the elevator?”
“That’s because you chose to come when it was crowded.”
At present, Takeru and Mia were outside the tower in the entrance queue.
Takeru was in a black polo and jeans. While it was a simple pairing, it made him look surprisingly mature. Still, the lameness of his glasses was hard to accept. It made one want to tilt his head at why he chose them in the first place. It was almost as if he wanted to put his own lack of fashion on display.
Meanwhile, Mia had equipped denim short pants and a patterned T-shirt, with a jacket wrapped around her waist. A pochette was hung diagonally over her shoulder.
From the time she returned to Japan, this should be the first time they were meeting in casual clothes. All the way there, her heart raced at what sort of reaction he’d show, but unfortunately, Takeru remained completely unmoved.
“Well then, let’s get going, Omou-san.”
Was all he said, and as always he called her ‘Omou-san’ like a stranger.
Takeru was the same as ever. Without any hint of elation, he indifferently accompanied Mia’s actions. As Mia was miffed, a woman passing by the side of the line caught her eyes.
Wearing a wide-brimmed hat low over her eyes, she wore a light-blue lone one-piece dress. While Mia couldn’t see her face well, her gestures carried with them a sense of elegance and she couldn’t help but watch in fascination. Her rousing chest as well.
It did seem Takeru hadn’t noticed this beauty. Feeling relieved by that fact, Mia’s attention was drawn to the flier in the woman’s hand.
“… They’re holding a ‘Surrealist World’ exhibit at the museum, Take-chan. Want to go have a look later?”
“We haven’t even got into the tower yet. In the first place, were you ever interested in paintings?”
“What are you talking about? I’ve seen the real Mona Lisa with my own two eyes!”
Takeru’s brow twitched in surprise. Oh, so that one he reacts to?
While half of her felt happy, the other half realized she had lost to the Mona Lisa, making her just a bit conflicted.
“The real Mona Lisa means you went to the Louvre?”
“Right, right. It’s amazing, looks exactly as it did in The Davinci Code! I thought I really did have to go see that reverse pyramid…”
“Ever since you left the town six years ago, were you in France the whole time?”
Mia closed her mouth. She understood what had caught Takeru’s attention.
Yeah, she lightly nodded.
“The surgery was a little too difficult for Japan. How do they say it? I was knocking on death’s door? Something like that. Father, see, he used to work in France, so it seems he had some connections over there. I was right to have such a global papa.”
For some reason, Takeru’s brow furrowed as if he was terribly in thought.
The line moved a great deal. With Mia and Takeru still silent, they boarded the Elevator together.
The door closed on them, a quiet ascent began. The pressure changed, as their inner eardrums were assailed with a tightening sensation.
Eventually, the elevator door opened, and the two arrived at the viewing platform.
“Oh, amazing! You can see all of town from here, all of it!”
Mia raced straight for the panoramic view. The panorama of Tsukimori City across the window glass. The town she was born in, raised in, spread across the whole surface.
Standing beside her with a meek face, Takeru gazed out over town.
Mia daringly opened her mouth.
“It’s in the neighborhood, but we never stop by. I haven’t been since that field trip in grade school, but I’m surprised to see the scenery from here hasn’t changed.”
“… I don’t remember how it used to look anymore.”
‘That’s not true. Look, you can see the Teiko River grounds over there. When we came here before, it looked the same, and we made a ruckus about it.”
“… Did we?”
“You say that, but Take-chan, you’ve been staring at the grounds since we got here, haven’t you.”
Takeru made a face as if she pricked his weak point.
“… We’re on a date here, so I want to hear your own words. Right now, what are you thinking, what are you seeing, what are you feeling? Is that no good?”
For a while, Takeru didn’t answer anything. Even so, Mia patiently waited.
For what her childhood friend would say.
“… I thought you weren’t coming back, Omou-san.”
Takeru said. Indifferent as he sounded, he continued on in a firm tone.
“I mean, it’s nothing but bad memories for you, here in Tsukimori.”
“… That’s not true at all. To me, this is my homeland, the place I was born.”
Putting a hand to her chest, Mia declared.
“I can’t forget Maman’s incident and I’m sad about it. But I can’t come to hate this town where I met everyone. Truth be told, I wanted to return sooner. I didn’t want to be away. And…”
“… No, it’s nothing.”
She wouldn’t tell Takeru any more.
The previous Gaimoon, her father, entrusted her with the town’s peace, and now she was active as the second Gaimoon. Her body was operated on, one of her father’s work friends hammered the art of combat into her, and she acquired the means to fight as a hero of justice. After returning to Tsukimori came her days of fighting kaijin.
These six years were by no means short.
There were definitely things that had changed.
“I’m sure if you look at this scenery from above, you’ll be able to spot things that’ve stayed the same.”
After Leviathan was gone, the evil acts of kaijin were still fomented.
Even so, this was the town Mia loved.
“It’s the town I love with the people I love. I’m sure there are things that haven’t changed; I believe.”
“People you love, eh.”
With Takeru repeating it, Mia’s cheeks blazed in heat.
“Y-you’ve got it wrong! I’m talking about in the like sense, and not the romantic love one! I’m serious here!”
“What are you so panicked for?”
“I-I’m not panicking.”
Mia was completely in a state of chaos. Freaking out, she pointed at the town out the window.
“Man, this really is a nice view! What was around that area again!?”
“Oh, that area should be the Koheru District.”
Takeru said as if nothing had happened.
“It was three years ago, was it? There was a huge fire around there. Do you remember?”
“Fire? I don’t know, I’m not sure if I was back by that time.”
“Sawa-chan told me you got back around spring. The fire was in winter, so you probably at least saw it in the paper or something.”
“Really? In that case, maybe I have…”
Abruptly, the memories crossed Mia’s brain.
A burning building, the collapsing people, the black skull standing within the crimson blaze.
— I am Alchemuls.
A voice that didn’t let her feel the slightest touch of warmth, the voice of a corpse.
— I do not forget. I do not forgive. Quiver and wait for my coming.
Mia returned to her senses. Takeru’s worried eyes were peering her way. Seeing those eyes, Mia regained the tranquility in her heart.
“Sorry, sorry, I just remembered a strange dream I had last night. And man am I beat.”
“… Are you really alright?”
“God, you don’t have to get so serious about it! It’s nothing big, I assure you.”
She didn’t want to say she was dragging out a nightmare forever.
It was time to promptly change the subject.
“More importantly, I do think there’s something else you’re supposed to say to me.”
“And what would that be?”
“My clothes today, your thoughts?”
Once she had said it, a new embarrassment took root. Takeru slowly opened his mouth.
“Yeah, truth be told, they’ve been on my mind for a while now.”
To a flustered Mia, Takeru directed his gaze down and offered a word.
“… Aren’t you showing off too much leg?”
Right after, Mia’s kick exploded out two hundred meters above the ground.
Time with Mia went by in the blink of an eye. But strangely, Takeru’s physical condition didn’t take a turn for the worse. It was as if his collapse just a few days ago had been a lie. After snooping around the observation deck a while, Takeru and Mia took a break at the café terrace on the platform.
“Yeah, a meal with this view as an appetizer is delicious!”
“Eat too much and you’ll get fat.”
“I exercise, so it’s not a problem! My metabolism can manage!”
The way she was stubborn about the most pointless of things hadn’t changed.
Ever since Mia returned, he got the feeling this was the first time he’d spent such a long period of time with her. Takeru’s eyes naturally ended up searching out the parts of her that hadn’t changed, and those that had matured.
She was growing closer and closer to resembling her late mother. The adult form he couldn’t picture in the slightest back then was gradually approaching.
“… When I look at you like this, Take-chan, you’re surprisingly rugged.”
Mia abruptly reached a hand, and pat it against Takeru’s arm.
“You’re not in any club, but you’re considerably trained, or rather… did you pick up some martial art?”
“… I’ve just been into weight training lately. And wait, aren’t you feeling me up a bit much?”
“Hmhmm, I see, this bicep brachii is rather… then how about those abdominals–”
“Aw hell no!”
For some reason, Mia’s nasal breathing had grown rough before her face was pushed aside. Takeru was utterly amazed, yet for some reason, Mia burst into delighted laughter.
“Take-chan, you’re getting closer to past you.”
“—You’re imagining it, surely.”
“It’s something you can’t notice on your own. With that, all that’s left is to turn back the way you address me.”
“Did you say something, Omou-san?”
“… You’ve got a stubborn streak too, Take-chan.”
Mia sighed as she shifted her eyes to the terrace’s panorama view. The Tsukimori City spread out to fill the window, she gazed out with melancholic eyes.
“… It’s strange, when you look at it like this, it’s just a normal town. But somewhere in this view, the kaijin are lurking, aren’t they.”
“… Do you hate alters after all?”
For a while Mia didn’t answer, she gazed out over town. Only her hand continued twirling the straw of her ice tea. The ice in the glass chimed pleasantly against the sides.
“When I went over there, after my conscious returned, I had nightmares for a while. Nothing but dreams of the kaijin who killed maman stabbing my body. All over my stomach, chk, chk, again, and again. The kaijin stabs me as he hums a tune, I’ve never been able to get it out of my ears.”
Mia said with a disinterested tone. Perhaps unconsciously, her fingertips were tracing out her chest. The stab wound and the surgery that had once been carried out there.
Under Takeru’s eyelids, the form of Mia six years ago floated. In an emergency room, with all the tubes connected to her. Her eyes closed, lying on the bed.
“Back then, I was scared of kaijin, and more than anything, I detested them. I couldn’t forgive the kaijin who stole Maman from me and father… I wanted to kill them.”
“… Back then?”
“I trained quite a bit since then.”
Mia suddenly made a fist. Takeru couldn’t take his eyes off the fist that had fought a great many evils.
“What I truly detest isn’t kaijin. It’s the very evil that makes someone’s heart shed tears. That’s why, if I could, I wanted to fight whatever’s driving these kaijin to evil.”
“… And how do you intend to fight something like that? This isn’t a manga or anima. You won’t find such a clear discernable evil anywhere in the world.”
“Well that’s… what do I do? No clue.”
Mia laughed, but, she continued.
“Rather than revenge, see, I just don’t want to abandon people who are facing the same things as me. I want to be the power to wipe away that sort of sadness… just as someone did for me.”
“…What do you mean?”
For some reason, Mia’s face bashfully flushed.
While Takeru mused over that fact, she stood as if to brush it off.
“T-this room sure is hot! H-haha… I-I’ve got to go to the ladies’ room!”
In a sudden panic, Mia left the table. It was as if she wanted to conceal her own embarrassed face. Left on his own, Takeru took a look at Mia’s now-unoccupied seat.
On the Mia-less chair, a lovely pochette had been left behind.
If he wanted to do it, now was the chance.
Swiftly, Takeru removed the pochette from the chair and stuck his hand inside. He found what he was looking for soon enough. The white smartphone she had quite an attachment to.
He tapped the screen without hesitation. As expected, it demanded a four-digit passcode.
To start off, Takeru entered Mia’s birthday. ‘Invalid password’. Next, he tried her mother’s birthday. ‘Invalid password’.
Based on the phone’s specs, after three failed attempts, it would request fingerprint identification. He couldn’t fail again. After careful consideration, he made one more attempt. The lock came off, changing to the home screen.
Takeru quickly checked her call log.
0 Entries in Call History. 0 Received emails. 0 Numbers in Phone Book. While she had contacted Takeru yesterday to verify their meeting time, even that mail had been erased.
This smartphone was thoroughly cleaned of all personal information. As if some existence had anticipated Takeru would try probing from the start.
Was the data backed up elsewhere? Or perhaps she was simply a receiver, and Mia never made contact from her side.
Takeru tucked Mia’s smartphone back in the pochette and placed it on the chair.
At that moment, the ringtone of his own phone rang from his pocket.
The number was ‘withheld’.
Mia had yet to return.
After gazing at his phone a while, Takeru pressed the answer icon.
‘I can’t say I’m impressed with you, stealing a glance at someone else’s cellphone, Okina Takeru-kun.’
A voice altered with a voice changer. Takeru immediately shot a look around.
There were too many people on the viewing platform, he couldn’t spot anyone that fit the part.
‘Ah, I’ll just say it, but you won’t find the information you’re looking for, going through Omou Mia’s smartphone. I taught that kid to always wipe it clean.’
“… Who might I be talking to?”
The person he heard across the speaker gave an amused laugh.
‘Gaimoon’s little collaborator, let’s go with that. I want to talk with you a bit. Won’t you accompany me for a bit of banter, Okina Takeru-kun. No,’
With a clear conviction, the other party declared.
‘—The second Lord Helvenom.’
Sakurai Kanon ascended to the viewing platform out of a slight flight of fancy.
When she was about to leave the museum, she noticed the line for the direct elevator was gone, and feeling half-invited, she decided to board.
Wincing back form the swarm of people on the platform, she gazed around the Tsukimori scenery alone. Looked down upon from 200 meters, the city looked almost like a miniature garden.
“Come to think of it, I’ve never been to that part before…”
Each time she spotted a building or river she’d never seen before, Kanon reaffirmed the fact she still knew nothing about Tsukimori City.
As a test, she took out her smartphone, and took a picture. But a few pictures in, the battery ran out. There were displays in the museum were photography was allowed, and she ended up with a photo gallery full of pictures. The battery never did last long.
There was no getting around it, so she endeavored to burn the panoramic view into her naked eyes. In the first place, Kanon wasn’t born in Tsukimori.
As she rose to middle school, she visited the town for the first time, and met with her alter comrades. Her meeting with Tsumugi, her meetings at the stranger class, mourning for Professor Togumo who taught and lead them, and after that, meeting Freiger and Ikaruga who endorsed Tsumugi’s plan—
Thinking such things as she walked, Kanon suddenly noticed what had entered her field of vision. A young boy loitering aimlessly near a pillar.
He was still around five, perhaps. He sobbed while nervously looking around.
The other adult surrounded at a distance, as if he was an object to be treated with extreme caution.
As Kanon mulled over what to do, the boy’s eyes met with hers. She couldn’t run anymore. Kanon made her resolve and approached the child.
“Ummm, what’s wrong? Are you lost?”
Kanon timidly asked. As if the mold had been removed, the boy she talked to’s face slumped into a frown. Kaon hurriedly tried to stop it, but it was already too late.
“Waaaaaaaaaaaaahn! Urp, hic…!!”
“P-please wait…! Umm, calm down… just calm down…!”
The fearsome cry put her into a panic. This was on another level from silencing a hostage. In her native form, Kanon was powerless to no end.
It happened when she was at her wit’s end.
“Little boy, what happened? Do you want to tell me about it?”
Before the boy’s eyes, from somewhere, a mascot doll was thrust.
The mascot character of Tsukimori Tower, ‘Luna-chan’. Gazing intently at the Luna-chan, the boy had forgotten to cry.
The one holding it was a young girl, around the same age as herself, with deep blue eyes.
“If something’s troubling you, just ask me, I’ll make it better!”
Through Luna-chan, the young girl gently addressed the boy. The boy sniffled his nose as he timidly spoke up.
“Mama… went away… can’t find her…”
“Then I’ll search for her with you! Let’s try the lost child center over there!”
Was she used to dealing with children? The girl had established contact in no time.
Kanon confirmed the map posted on the pillar. According to it, the lost child center was on the complete opposite side. Kanon gently whispered into the girl—Mia’s ear.
“… Umm, will that be alright? The lost child center’s quite a distance from here…”
“It’ll be fine, I’ll just give my companion a call… wait, I see, it was in my bag…”
Crap, Mia’s gaze wandered, but she immediately got herself together.
“Yeah, but it’s no problem at all. He won’t get angry if I keep him waiting a bit.”
“Is that so…?”
A certain notion crossed Kanon’s eyes.
After a careful look around, she covered her left ear, turning it to the side so neither Mia nor the boy could see. Her hat and long hair covered it up. They shouldn’t be able to notice.
Just like that, Kanon recalled a melody in her head.
The interlude to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, she concentrated her mind on a tune her ears had grown accustomed to from her tender years. Her left ear was tinged with heat. Her activated alter ganglia generated alter cells, producing an external organ over her ear.
When transforming, each alter boasted their own individual transformation ritual. This was a psychological brake to prevent them from carelessly taking on alter form in their daily life, and by going through a set process, there was an additional effect of stabilizing the transformation.
Furthermore, for an alter trained in transformation, it was possible to alterize just a portion of their body to enhance their physical capabilities.
In Kanon’s case, recalling the melody to Swan’s lake, and concentrating on it became her transformation ritual. To fully transform, she would need to listen to the entire Berlin Symphony Orchestra playing Swan Lake- recorded on her music player- but for a partial transformation, just recalling it would suffice.
Through her eternal organs, her sense of hearing was enhanced to 100 times that of a normal human. The amount of information vibrating her eardrums expanded all at once, as all sorts of voices flowed in.
So as not to be led astray, Kanon carefully places a conscious filter.
From the flock of resounding voices, she ‘searched’ for the one she sought.
Hey, is your house over there? I’m sick of the sights already, let’s go karaoke. Do you think grandpa will like this as a souvenir? Yes, chief, it’s about that matter. I’ve fallen in love with you… That elevator makes my ears go tingly. Buy me an Usamoon! Hey, buy it! No way, it’s so too high, I can’t see anything… Maa-kun, where are you!? Maa-kun!
When she repeated the name she heard, the boy twitched in surprise. After looking in the direction of the voice, she turned towards him.
“Your mom is probably that way. I just heard a voice…”
“Eh? Really? I didn’t hear anything…”
“Yes, umm, please follow me…”
Turning her hat diagonal, she hit her left ear before leading the two.
The boy had followed along anxiously, but all of a sudden he raced off like a fired shell.
The boy spotted a woman wandering around and clung onto her with a relieved face.
“God, what were you doing, Maa-kun! I told you to stay close to me!”
“So you see, those ladies over there found mama.”
“That’s… I’m sorry, how ever can I thank you…”
As the woman shamefully lowered her head, both Kanon and Mia were flustered.
“Ah, no, it’s this fine lady who assisted Maa-kun, so…”
“I didn’t do anything, nothing at all! It’s all thanks to you that we found his moher…”
Kanon and Mia conceded points to the other. It was so peculiar, the two meeting faces, and even the woman ended up laughing.
“Thank you, both ladies! See you later!”
Seeing off the child waving his hand, and the woman bowing her head time and again, Kanon exhaled a relieved sigh.
“… Umm how was the museum?”
Her conduct suddenly deducted, her body shook in surprise. Mia hurriedly waved her hands.
“Ah, I-I didn’t mean to startle you! That pamphlet, you went to the museum, didn’t you? I was a little curious about it.”
The pamphlet she held pointed out, she stroked her chest. Perhaps she had overreacted a bit.
“It was splendid… but this, exhibit only, runs to today…”
“Ah, I see, that’s a shame… looks like I missed my chance.”
Even as her shoulders’ dropped, Mia quickly formed a carefree smile.
“Miss, your ears are really nice. You saved us there. We safely found his mother, and now I won’t have to keep Take-ch… my companion waiting.”
“Oh no, umm, I’m the one who feels saved… I didn’t know how to handle the situation alone…”
“With children, you have to start by dropping their guard. Get across that you’re not their enemy, and they’ll have some peace of mind.”
“Not, an enemy…”
Kanon thought back to the bus jack and hotel incident.
Lately, she’d continuously asserted herself as an ‘enemy’ to women and children. Perhaps that child ha perceived the ‘enemy’ portion of her. In the eyes of this young girl before her eyes, just how did she appear?
“Well then, I’ve got to get back. May we meet again!”
Looking at Mia who came and left like a gale, Kanon giggled to herself.
If she could become friends with a girl like that, then no doubt the world would become interesting. Alone again, Kanon looked around, and hid in the shadow of a pillar.
If Tsumugi had witnessed the scene, she’d reproach her with a terribly threatening air. That was simply how great of a taboo it was for an alter to transform in front of people.
Even so, if it helped someone, she ended up thinking that wasn’t bad. Surprisingly enough, you don’t get found out. That was a fact she had become familiar with through many breakings of taboo.
Changing from alter to native form was comparatively simple. She called to mind her own native form, that alone was enough. Like that, the external organ over Kanon’s left ear was about to be dispelled.
That’s why, the fact the word flew into her ear truly was just a coincidence.
—The Second Lord Helvenom—
Her heart almost stopped.
She immediately darted her eyes to the crowd on the viewing platform. Lord Helvenom was one thing, it was a name that had permeated into the populace. It wouldn’t be strange if someone put that name to mouth.
But for someone to purposely tack on a Second, just who could they be?
Kanon carefully concealed her ear as she concentrated her mind.
To search out the location of the human who had voiced that name.
“… Haven’t you got the wrong guy? I don’t take wrong numbers.”
‘You’re going to play dumb. You’re a real piece of work, you know that. Using your childhood friend’s goodwill to probe into Gaimoon.’
“My apologies. I don’t really have the time for you, so if you could start by stating your business?”
‘Stop assuming the name of Lord Helvenom. Wash your hands of all the kaijin you’ve come into contact with.’
“I find it difficult to comply with those terms of service. Please provide an alternative.”
‘Spend a happy high school life with your childhood friend. I do think that is the best choice you could hope for.’
“And what happens if I do not comply?”
‘Think of the reason I’m calling your phone like this. As you are now, it’s simple to choose the least desirable option. For example, telling her your secret.’
“… I see this as a matter that does not require such an urgent decision.”
‘I expect a wise choice from you, Okina Takeru-kun. I’m praying for a happiness-filled future between you and her.’
“Sorry to keep you waiting, Take-chan! I went and spotted this kid at that shop over there. She was so cute I had to go buy her! What do you think about ‘Luna-chan’? Huh? Huh?”
“… Yeah, she’s probably cute.”
“So anyways, Take-chan. After this, how about we…”
“I’m sorry, Omou-san. The continuation will have to come later.”
“Eh? Did something happen?”
“… A bit of trouble. I have to get back immediately.”
“It has to be now?”
“Yeah, I’m really sorry.”
“O-okay, got it… so umm, Take-chan.”
“… Was today fun?”
It was a blast.
Evening. After parting with Mia, Takeru used the Tsukimori JR line and disembarked at a certain station. After walking down the familiar path, he arrived at his destination.
Placing a hand on the doorknob, he quietly slid open the frosted glass door.
Whether he liked it or not, he knew when the building would be open detestably well. Today was supposed to be a holiday, even so, its open hours were decided so it could deal with urgent business.
Proceeding down the dim lobby, he didn’t hesitate the open the door to the room and flick on the lights. It was a room he’d seen time and again from his youth. The smell of medicine. A great many vials systematically lined the shelf. Mixed in with the medicinal magazines on the desk, a single ward rabbit.
“What are you doing, Takeru?”
when he turned, the owner of the establishment, Mizumachi Sawako stood in the doorway.
Not in her usual lab coat, she was dressed for a rare outing.
“To hell with ‘’howdy’! You gave me a right start there! If I didn’t know you, this would be unlawful trespassing!”
“It was open, so I went in.”
“That’s for patients who need in on a no-consultation day! There’s a bell on the door, isn’t there!? And wait, what about your date?”
“I went. Though we just had a look at the scenery from the viewing platform.”
“That’s it? Good grief, the hell are you doing? It’s just good matters to properly escort a lady home after a date.”
“No, there was something I needed to apologize to you about”
Takeru picked up the ward rabbit and showed the underside that was usually in contact with the desk.
“? Something wrong with my rabbit?”
“You see a round scratch here, right?”
Takeru traced the cut on its underside with a finger. A smooth rubbing sound came with it.
“I messed with it a bit before handing it to you. These ward rabbits, all the USB connection does is light up the eyes, right? That’s why, they’re empty inside, and there’s quite a bit of space to store other accessories. For example.”
Takeru purposely inserted a pause.
“The memory for a program to browse the data of the computer it’s connected to.”
Sawako’s complexion changed.
As if he had set foot into a life-threatening secret.
“A majority of your emails were just with medical institutions, but on the days Gaimoon appeared, you were exchanging frequent messages with Mia, weren’t you. Like the bus jacking, and the hotel fire.”
“… What are you talking about?”
“Regulating Gaimoon’s enhanced physique, transmitting data on the outbreak of alters, more than anything, the modification surgery performed on Omou Mia. On the day of the bus jack, the wireless jamming that happened as if to support Gaimoon. All these pieces point to there being a large organization behind Gaimoon. Perhaps you thought you had stolen a march on me, but I was well aware of your identity.”
Gradually, the emotion disappeared from Takeru’s voice.
The tick of the coocoo clock hung in the examination room resounded frightfully in her ear.
“That call back there was from you, wasn’t it? Mizumachi Sawako, Gaimoon’s little collaborator?”
“… When I even went as far as to change the way I speak, looks like I was too soft.”
After ruffling up her hair, Sawako took a cigarette from the box in her pocket and lit it.
“… From when did you notice me?”
“Mia stops by here after Teiko FC practice every week. Even for a physical checkup, you usually wouldn’t go once a week, right? If it was to maintain Gaimoon’s special physical makeup, she would need to periodically depend on a medical institution. I connected two and two easily enough. How about you, how was I figured out?”
“… On the day of the bus jacking, the question the kaijin asked Mia. ‘What do you think of a house mouse with intelligence’? That a question only someone who knew the book Mia borrowed on that very same day could ask, right? The only one who could do that would be the librarian who lent it to her, meaning you.”
“I see. I guess that question did make it too easy to whittle down.”
“Hmph, that’s the part of you I can’t stand. Though Mia doesn’t doubt you in the slightest.”
“Omou-san is too honest for her own good. It looks like she hasn’t even noticed Lord Helvenom’s back yet.”
“That’s because she defeated him herself. I’m sure she just doesn’t want to believe. Much less to say you’re that Lord Helvenom? She can’t even imagine it.”
“What about the organization you’re connected to? – Does the Foundation know about this?”
This time, Sawako opened her eyes in surprise.
“That’s a shocker… you’ve grasped that much…?”
“Just the name,” Takeru said coldly.
“MO unknown, an organization shrouded in mystery. They’re the ones who granted Mia the power of Gaimoon. Cooperating with the former Gaimoon, Omou Mia’s father, to become a deterrent against Leviathan, whose reach was expanding at the time.”
Takeru placed the ward rabbit on the desk.
“How much do you know about the Foundation? Why do they assist in that girl’s Gaimoon activity?”
“… Did you honestly think I’d answer that?”
“If you don’t answer, I’ll leak Mizumachi Sawako’s connection to Gaimoon to the alters all over Tsukimori.”
Her eyes turned grim. But Takeru calmly accepted those eyes filled with a quiet anger.
“To the alters, Gaimoon is a target of hatred. If I expose the name of one collaborating with her, I’m sure they’ll have quite a festival. They’re thirsting for blood. They’re thirsting for victory. It isn’t difficult to imagine what will happen.”
“… You know we’re in the same boat. The moment you pull that trigger, I’ll immediately inform the Foundation you’re the Second Lord Helvenom.”
“If you do that, I’m sure a war will start, dragging the whole town in its midst. Will justice win, or will evil? That’s the most perfect situation for this town, don’t you think?”
Sawako and Takeru exchanged a glare. They continued pointing the gun points neither could see.
The sort that if the trigger was pulled, Tsukimori would be hammered into hell, such lethal guns.
Takeru had made his resolve long ago. His hands had long since been sullied in blood.
He wouldn’t hesitate even if he was up against Sawako.
After a while of silence, Sawako suddenly opened her mouth.
“… How idiotic. Let’s put this behind us, how about it. No need to play a meaningless hand.”
“Meaningless? What are you talking about, Sawa-chan—”
“The reason you become the Second Lord Helvenom was to protect Mia, right?”
Takeru concentrated to maintain a steady breath. Straining to not show his unrest on the surface.
“… What’s that? You must be joking.”
“For example, that hotel fire.”
She said as if interrogating him.
“At a glance, it might seem like an incident aimed at Gaimoon, but I wonder what the real goal was? Perhaps it was to plant a fear of kaijin into that victim high school student? She and Mia were at odds. That’s why instead of an ‘evil to defeat’ you needed Omou Mia to recognize her as a ‘weakling to protect’.”
“… I don’t really see what you mean.”
“It was all to make sure that Meteor Seminar incident didn’t happen again. Am I right?”
A chill raced down Takeru’s spine. Ever since he witnessed it three years ago, the nightmare he could never escape. The burning building, the piling corpses, the crimson Gaimoon that stood there, the hero’s bloodstained fists—
“… The perpetrator of that incident was the Second Lord Helvenom. I killed them by my hand.”
“It’s pointless to pretend. The Foundation figured it out long ago. It’s because it happened that we put restraints on the girl in the first place.”
“You didn’t know? Those belts Gaimoon wears, they’re not for defense. They’re there to contain her if her powers run rampant. You should be well aware. Her powers of justice are something that should be restrained.”
Sawako plunged her shortened cigarette into a portable ashtray.
“In the Meteor Seminar, the one who killed the victims, those lecturers and students, wasn’t you.”
— Rather than revenge, see, I just don’t want to abandon people who are facing the same things as me. I want to be the power to wipe away that sort of sadness… just as someone did for me.
“The hero of justice Gaimoon—Omou Mia killed those eight people.”
A cold sweat flowed down Takeru’s nape.
The memories of a nightmare came back.
The blood clinging to the walls, corpses with their heads caved in, the suffocating stench of blood.
“… When a kaijin transforms, they each have a personal transformation ritual. The Foundation transplanted Mia with a ganglion capable of producing alter cells, and gave her a power capable of opposing kaijin. And as a psychological brake to change completely into Gaimoon, the imbued in her a certain mindset. Meaning, ‘React to malice directed against another’.”
Sawako took a medical record file from her desk.
Written in English, it likely detailed a vast amount of information pertaining to Mia.
“Kaijin, you see, they have a nature that places a psychological pressure on humans. That’s why humans hold an innate psychological fear towards them, and recognize them as ‘evil’. The reason the Foundation gave Gaimoon that mindset was to direct her power against the Kaijin. To make sure she wouldn’t turn that power back against them, they stationed her as a deterrence against Leviathan, who had for a long time inflicted fear upon the people… but then came a problem they had never expected. The Second Gaimoon defeated the First Lord Helvenom, and Leviathan was dissolved.”
Forget deterrent, Gaimoon’s strength completely changed the power balance of Tsukimori.
“How should I put it, like if in a newly serialized battle manga, they suddenly beat the last boss and greet the final chapter? Of course, if that’s all it was, it wouldn’t be a problem. A hero who lost the evil to defeat need only return to her everyday life. Both me and Mia herself prayed for that conclusion.”
But Leviathan’s fall formed a sort of power vacuum in Tsukimori.
What fills the vacant position of evil is always a new evil.
“… It was after Leviathan was defeated. The frequency she went out as Gaimoon decreased, and Mia made a friend in high school. That friend attended the Meteor Seminar in question, but that prep school with the highest rate of advancement to a famous college had a certain problem…”
“Centered around the students and lecturers, drug trade and prostitution mediation to minors.”
The one who answered was Takeru.
“The eight who were killed were the central members of the group. Am I wrong?”
“You really do know everything…”
Sawako shook her head impressed.
“Yes, that’s right. And Mia’s friend was being made to run errands for the group. She never said anything to Mia, it looks like Mia suspected something on her own. That girls’ always did have a good instinct when it came to those things, right? It looks like she investigated and learned what was happening at the prep school. And that day, the incident occurred…”
Grimacing her face as if enduring something, Sawako said.
“Her friend was trying to leave the group, she was trying to inform the police, but her plan got out. It was a so-called sanction. She was left all but dead. And as luck would have it, Mia happened to be present.”
The scene that day was one Takeru hadn’t forgotten for a day of his life.
It was the day he first saw his childhood friend as the ‘Hero of Justice’.
“Gaimoon is originally supposed to be a power to oppose kaijin. That was something Mia understood, and I doubt she intended to use it. But the malice of humans, and the form of her cowering friend in her eyes, Mia’s trigger was removed.”
He had prepared for the day that was soon to come.
Knowing of Leviathan’s fall and knowing of his childhood friend’s identity and the risk, Takeru intended to stop it all without Mia noticing.
“And Mia became Gaimoon—”
But he didn’t make it.
By the time Takeru arrived at the scene, everything was over.
“She killed the humans of an ‘evil’ group.”
Sawako sounded as if she was restraining something.
The repulsiveness of the truth contained, the tragedy and pain.
“… Mia has no memories of the incident. It seems she couldn’t even control it herself. With a fearsome face of evil right before her eyes, be it human or kaijin, she swung the hammer of justice. She automatically reacts to malice and annihilates it, as a machine to execute justice. That is the current Gaimoon, Omou Mia.”
What was the definition of evil? That was something that changed with time and status.
That’s why Gaimoon, Omou Mia would never fight for the sake of some definite ideology.
Gaimon was the ‘white moonbeam that illuminated justice’. She moved for the sobs of the weak. She could never forgive the ‘evil’ threatening someone’s heart. Indiscriminate of human or kaijin, she lowered impartial judgement.
“… Boil it down, and each and every human is pretty much trash. For each face of ‘evil’ we’ve got to kick someone down, we’ve got a ‘righteous’ face to love someone. The ‘absolute’ evil justice is supposed to defeat doesn’t exist anywhere in the world. That’s why you became it.”
Sawako’s eyes gazed at Takeru with pity. As if she had seen through everything.
“You became the absolute evil of this town, Lord Helvenom. To protect Omou Mia who has no choice but to live as a hero of justice. To quell Gaimoon’s rampage, to become the absolute enemy.”
Takeru tried to deny it and quit.
Sawako had watched him and Mia practically their entire lives. There was no use in playing it off.
“…. Why were you at the scene that day? In the first place, how did you obtain Lord Helvenom’s—”
“Did you honestly think I’d tell you?”
Sawako still knew nothing about the origin of his own power. In that case, he should use this card to negotiate. Why was Sawako in the Foundation? What were they scheming, how much did they know?
As he was thinking over his hand, it happened.
“We haven’t found a way to return Mia to normal yet.”
Sawako interrupted as if to get a drop on his question.
“A mindset that’s been implanted isn’t so easy to lift. It’s deeply tied to Mia’s body. Any misplaced treatment, and in the worst case scenario, there’s a possibility Omou Mia’s personality will collapse. That’s why I’m cooperating with the Foundation as I search for a means to revert her.”
“… You’re not a member?”
“Strictly speaking, no. I guess you could say I’ve received a request to act as Gaimoon’s moderator. That’s why I’m sorry, I don’t know too much about the Foundation.”
“… Any proof you’re not lying?”
“Trust me is all I can say… and I can’t leak any information to you.”
“That’s wishful thinking.”
“In that case, when you learned my identity, why didn’t you attack at once? You only moved because of my threat today. Even if they’re someone who knows your secret, you’re unable to kill. You’re far too kind to call yourself evil.”
“If that was supposed to be a provocation, you’d better keep it at that.”
“You saw her phone, didn’t you? Then naturally, you must know her pin number.”
Takeru recalled the matter at Tsukimori Tower and tiredly shook her head.
“She really is an idiot, that girl. The hell’s she trying to do, setting my birthday.”
“That’s just how much she treasures you. Just as much as you treasure her.”
“… I don’t get your point.”
“You’re playing it off again?”
“You’re acting like our patron again? You and I are enemies. I’m Gaimoon’s enemy. Omou Mia’s enemy. I have to become her enemy.”
The only one who knew everything there was to know about Mia was Takeru.
The only one who could save the current Mia was Takeru.
“The only reason the townspeople accept a hero is because the ones she fights are the monsters called alters. If the point of her spear shifts to humans, next the hero will become the monster. That’s why someone has to be the monster. Someone has to be the monster for the hero to exterminate.”
“That doesn’t mean it has to be you.”
“I’m the only one. I’m the only one there is. I couldn’t stop her. On that day, I knew and yet I couldn’t stop her…”
The past six years hadn’t been anything short.
Takeru had learned, experienced far too many things.
Meeting his grandmother, the former Lord Helvenom, the ACM System given to him, Omou Mia’s return and Gaimoon’s triumphant return, the devastated Calamity Co. Leviathan.
With Takeru and Mia, far too much had changed.
“I knew, I did. I knew everything. That Mia returned three years ago, that she defeated Leviathan and Lord Helvenom as Gaimoon, the risk in Gaimoon’s body of going berserk, I knew it all. But I didn’t make it in time…”
“It isn’t your fault.”
“But I, I alone could stop her. That hasn’t changed. I’m the only one there. If in the end, someone’s got to be a sacrifice, it might as well be–”
Takeru’s cheek was suddenly struck.
In his stagger, he almost collided with the desk, but he was held up by her grasp on his lapels.
“What I’m angry about, Takeru, is the fact you’ve abandoned your own happiness from the start. You might be trying to save Mia with self-sacrifice, but do you want me to tell you what we call people like that? They’re smug self-righteous, self-satisfied bastards!”
Sawako’s angry cry smacked strongly into his body.
He tried to take the reigns on his consciousness. He tried to kill his heart.
But before he could grip the reigns, the words thrust from his mouth.
“… Then what should I have done? What choice could I have made to make everything right? I mean, Mia lost the ability to end up happy long ago.”
His thoughts flowed in after the fact.
As if the dam gates were open. Over these six years, his sealed sins flooded back to him.
“Then why, why does it have to be Mia? She’s just an old crybaby, a weakling, not a hero or anything, just a girl you could find anywhere, and yet something like Gaimoon was shoved onto her. Ally of justice? Then where’s her ally… where do you see Omou Mia’s ally?”
Sawako quietly awaited his words.
As if to accept all the sins he confessed. His words didn’t stop. The confession didn’t stop.
“I’m scared… once before, I clashed with Mia as Lord Helvenom… so if she talks to me, sooner or later, I might be found out… worse than that, she might recall all the memories she’s sealed away… that’s why I’m scared of… anyways, I’m scared!”
So Takeru avoided Mia.
He feared he might become the trigger for all the secrets to come out.
“And yet… she always comes for me… the day of the entrance ceremony, she happily sprinted over to me… our relationship’s already changed…”
Truth be told, he wanted to smile back. He wanted to rejoice at their reunion.
But Takeru had already changed. He ended up changing.
The right to be happy was already gone. For both Takeru and Mia.
“… You’re an idiot, you know that.”
Softly, she enveloped him in a warm embrace.
Strongly holding him tight, Sawako whispered in his ear.
“… She’s got us, hasn’t she? Me and you, we’ll protect Mia together.”
“I’m the same as you. I want to save Mia. Not as a hero, I want her to live as a normal girl. Our wishes are the same.”
She gently pat his head.
Whenever he lost a match with Teiko FC, he remembered she would often pat him like this. Her somewhat-crude kindness hadn’t changed at all.
“I don’t want you to become Mia’s enemy. Now and here on, I want you two always smiling. Even if it’s just a sweet dream.”
And Sawako spoke.
“… Even so, if you’re going to continue as Lord Helvenom, join hands with me.”
At that proposal far too unexpected, Takeru was lost for words. Sawako put power into her arms.
“… Since the Meteor Seminar incident, there have been a number of close calls. With Leviathan gone, the kaijin burrowed their way underground. Every soul on the verge of losing their fear, gradually, the spear point of Gaimoon’s justice has begun to shift. But the state of affairs have begun to change from the hotel arson.”
The seed of malice Takeru had set.
It would reliably transmit fear through the town, causing them to recognize alters as ‘evil’.
“Right now, she shows few symptoms of going berserk. She’s only reacting to the unseeable ‘evil’ lurking within kaijin. Meaning you. The Second Lord Helvenom.”
“… Was that supposed to be some conciliation?
“We’re both got dirt on one another. I trust you. No matter what evil you become, no matter what monster Mia becomes, I’ll always be your ally.”
“… You really are soft, Sawa-chan.”
“Well why not. No one has to be a sacrifice. With a stable status quo, you guys just have to live out a kind everyday life. I’m sure that’s what you and Mia want. You’re able to choose a life like that. Try thinking back, the time you spend with Mia today. Didn’t you find it comfortable, if even in the slightest?”
Takeru reflected on the time he spent at Tsukimori Tower.
A delightful laughing Mia, a sulking Mia, a Mia proudly talking about her dream.
That time he felt so sacred he might expose the past self he sealed away.
Taker’s feelings. Taker’s desires. Takeru’s true wish.
Takeru tried to respond.
“What I really want–”
The next instant, the examination room door was suddenly smashed in.
Perhaps reflexively, Sawako thrust Takeru away, turning to the shadow that came in.
Clashing with the intruding shadow, Sawako crashed into the shelf, scattering the various tools in one of its drawers. A pair of surgical scissors skidded across the floor.
Sawako was held onto the ground. A hand sprouting sharp talons pressed against her slender neck.
The alter that mounted her body. Enlarged ears, fangs growing from its mouth. Perhaps because it wasn’t a complete transformation, the young girl’s real face peeked out of the parts covered by external organs.
Sakurai Kanon, alter name Ecole.
Why was she here? No, more importantly—how much had she heard?
“You… you… helped Gaimoon all the way… because of you… Freiger-san… teacher… everyone…!”
Ecole, Kanon’s eyes were bloodshot. Takeru had only met her enough times to count. If he had to say, her introverted side was strong, yet now she directed such a strong rage.
Takeru immediately rushed over.
“… you’re going to stop me, Lord Helvenom?”
As if paralyzed, Takeru couldn’t move. Kanon didn’t even look his way.
“… You’re Lord Helvenom, aren’t you. This person is our enemy, isn’t she… what is your goal… instead of your comrades, you’ll take this person’s side? Just what were we to you!?”
“… How much did you hear?”
“… I heard enough. At Tsukimori Tower, this person said Lord Helvenom’s name… I followed closely and reached this place…”
So she coincidently heard it in alter form. Ecole’s hearing ability was a cut above the rest. Even if the target was out of sight, by constantly checking their pulse, it was possible for her to give pursuit.
Heard enough. No, that had to be an understatement. She had quite likely heard every last piece of it.
Sawako painfully writhed. Takeru cautiously chose his words.
“What about the other members? Did you tell anyone?”
“… Yes, of course. At this very moment, we have this building surrounded.”
Takeru peered into her face as he spoke.
“That’s a lie.”
Kanon blinked in surprise.
Her reaction turned his suspicion to conviction.
Kanon’s nature wasn’t suited for negotiations. She hadn’t informed anyone of this matter.
“Remove your hands. You’re not cut out for murder. You’re not even thinking to kill..”
“Don’t mock me…!”
Kanon cried out her mind.
“I… we aren’t evil…! We don’t just exist to be defeated by Gaimoon…! Was all of that lies!? About changing alter society… about bringing us victory…!?”
Kanon gazed straight at Takeru. Her hands strangling Sawako loosened ever so slightly.
Spotting the opportunity, Sawako produced a syringe from her pocket.
The needle of the syringe she gripped stabbed into Kanon’s external organ-coated arm.
Suddenly, Kanon opened her mouth half-way, her entire body convulsed. The crystals fell in tatters from her skin. Her alter cells experienced necrosis as the external organs crumbled away.
“Breakdown of external organs through a dose of dilute apoptonitro, you used this method not too long ago. It’s not well known, but the Foundation’s already proven the effects on the average kaijin…”
“After Leviathan collapsed, just how many kaijin do you think were taken in? Thanks to that, research on kaijin has progressed at an unprecedented rate, truly.”
For an instant, Takeru doubted his ears. As she stood, Sawako looked down on Kanon with cold eyes he didn’t know. Discarding the empty syringe, she opened a locked drawer.
The inside was lined with new syringes to use.
“… Sawa-chan, what are you trying to do?”
“Injecting apoptonitro directly into the alter ganglia. By doing so, this kaijin’s corpse will be erased. No trace of evidence will remain.”
Once again, Sawako reverted to her expression teeming with affection and smiled at him.
“It’s fine, there’s no need to trouble your mind over it. I mean, this is a kaijin. You don’t have to worry. That’s right, don’t worry about anything.”
A paralysis came over Takeru’s body again.
Sawako’s actions weren’t mistaken. Sakurai Kanon, Ecole had learned too much of his secret. If she wasn’t disposed of, Takeru wouldn’t be able to maintain his plan. In the first place, if he could join hands with Sawako like this, there wasn’t even any need to fixate on Leviathan. He could join Sawako and search for a way to return Mia to normal. That was the optimal solution. How it should be.
Kanon leaked a chipped voice. At first, Takeru thought it was directed at him.
But that was wrong.
Her tear-filled eyes were glaring at Sawako.
“… When you said you would protect that person, you were lying. That’s what your heart said…”
“What’s that, was that an attempt to plead for your life?”
Sawako sneered, but Takeru did have a hunch.
The alter Ecole’s abnormal sense of hearing.
If through her ability, she could listen to one’s heartbeat and distinguish truth and lie—
“… Sawa-chan, you really want to return Mia to normal, don’t you?”
“Wait, Takeru, even you’re doubting me?”
Sawako gave a slightly troubled laugh as she answered.
Like an adult answering the nonsensical question of a child.
“Of course, I said it, didn’t I? what I want is your happiness, that’s all there is.”
“You really don’t have any leads? On how to return Mia to normal? If you used the expansive research on alters you just mentioned, or…”
“The biological characteristics of the surgery conducted on Gaimoon are fundamentally different from that of other kaijin. Unfortunately, it’s not going to lead us to resolve Mia’s problem.”
Sawako’s words didn’t contradict. Takeru desperately tried to believe them. His instincts screamed out to doubt her. The Mizumachi Sawako he knew. A private clinician loved by the town’s locals, she liked football, and coached Teiko FC. Someone both Mia and Takeru knew well, an irreplaceable person.
But was that really all she was?
Just as Mia had Gaimoon, and Takeru had Lord Helvenom’s mask. A person can only speak from their subjective view. No matter the person, good and evil coexist in their heart.
What if Sawako’s relation with the Foundation was different from what Takeru imagined? What if Sawako never intended to return Omou Mia from the start?
Sawako with a syringe in hand. Kanon’s eyes pleading for help. A feeble kaijin.
The optimal action, the optimal choice, the optimal thought.
Takeru looked at Kanon. Kanon powerlessly shook her head, frantically moving her mouth.
“Don’t believe her… that person’s words are lies… nothing but lies…”
Kanon’s words that didn’t amount to a voice.
Noticing that, Sawako’s eyebrow twitched.
With an unsightly warped face, she spoke in a subdued murmur.
“Give it a rest already, damn kaijin… you all just have to shut up and be research samples… you’re fated to be destroyed by Gaimoon, after all…”
It was a truly nonchalant whisper from Sawako.
That’s precisely why Takeru knew it as her true feelings.
Okina Takeru’s wish, Okina Takeru’s goal, the objective Okina Takeru aimed for.
— Know this, Okina Takeru.
The scissors on the ground caught the light.
Someone whispered in the voice of a corpse. The black skull that wasn’t supposed to be there. The lord of alters, Lord Helvenom. The Alchemuls within him spoke out.
—You will lose, and lose, and continue to lose.
For that is your
Catching Takeru’s mutter, Sawako turned his way. In that momentary gap, Takeru stood, and with flowing movements, jumped at her bosom.
His feelings and senses had been cut off.
All time had stopped.
The sound of his own fate switching tracks echoed in his ear.
“—Whether your words are true or false, I have no way of telling.”
“What you thought when you assisted the Foundation, what you’re scheming to do with Mia, Gaimoon, truth be told, I have no idea… but I have no doubt in my mind that your actions are evil. The very evil Gaimoon exists to defeat.”
“Wro, I, m not ev,”
“Mia’s justice doesn’t discriminate between native or alter. She’ll fight for anyone shedding tears… that’s why, someday, Mia’s justice will kill you, Sawa-chan… Mizumachi Sawako. She will react to your malice, ignoring the lives of alters, thinking of them as nothing but research samples. That’s why I have no other option. I cannot let Mia sully her hands any further. Not with your blood.”
“Wr, wrong, I, just, wan, for, you…”
“Let me teach you one last thing, Mizumachi Sawako. What I wish for is not a status quo. I have only one desire, to free Omou Mia from Gaimoon. For that sake, I will fight to the end. I’ll never forgive anyone who gets in my way. I am Gaimoon’s one and only enemy, the Alchemuls who will destroy this illusion of a hero…”
The scissors in his hand had pierced deep into Sawako’s chest.
Her clothes, the floor was dyed in red. The sensation of fresh blood on his hands. Piercing through flesh and organs, the sensation of stealing life. The blood pooling on the linoleum floor.
Like a marionette whose strings had been cut, Sawako’s body collapsed over.
Her mouth slightly open, a tear leaked from the corner of her eye. As if to condemn Takeru’s betrayal. But that face could no longer string together words.
Nor scream at a match, or be nosy, or direct warm affection.
“… Lord Helvenom.”
At first, he couldn’t tell who said the word. Clad in her partially-destroyed external organs, Kanon barely managed to stand. She had recovered to a certain degree, at least enough to speak.
“You should be able to tell now. There is no falsehood in my words.”
Takeru naturally answered in the tone of Lord Helvenom.
Not letting one feel any spirit, the voice of a corpse.
“Victory over Gaimoon. That is what I desire. Is that answer enough reason to follow me?”
“… N-no, I can tell that you’re not lying. But…”
Kanon hesitated as she looked between Takeru before her and Sawako’s chest
“Why win over Gaimoon… I mean, Gaimoon’s identity… is someone dear to you, right…”
“… It’s because she’s so dear. I’m sorry, but we don’t have time for a long talk.”
As he said that, Takeru held out his bloodstained hand to her. In a daze, Kanon eventually took it.
“If you can move, I want you to help me a bit.”
“Help…? Umm, what do you plan on doing…?”
Takeru silently looked over the husk lying on the ground.
What was once Sawako, a wordless husk. The shell of a lost life.
There was no turning back now.
He had made his choice. Then he had to act on it.
‘— A declaration of war to my beloved hero.’
Mia was just about to eat dinner at home when she received the mail from Sawako.
‘Urgent. I have something important to discuss. Come to the clinic immediately.’
Mia looked over it with doubt.
Today wasn’t the regular checkup. Mia had called a number of times to give a report on the date, but the mail didn’t touch up on the matter at all.
Of course, without thinking too deep into it, she could have just happened to forget, it could be taken like that. The apartment Mia lived in alone was close to Sawako’s residence. A distance a five-minute walk could cover.
As a gift, she stuffed some of her handmade stew in a lunch box and went out.
Today’s stew was her pride and joy. Sawako who couldn’t do housework would once again eat it as an appetizer for her drink. But today, she intended to make Sawako sit in on a boatload of complaints. Today’s complaints about Takeru. Whatever the case, she wanted to share this discontentment and fast.
How could he just leave there? She didn’t get any message from him afterward either.
“… When it was so fun.”
Perhaps it wasn’t for Takeru? The anxiety within her gradually grew in size.
‘It’ll all work out, I could tell when I talked to him the other day, he’s properly looking out for you.’
Sawako would always cheer her up with that grand tone of hers.
‘It’ll definitely go well with you and Takeru. I’m going to guarantee it. So have some confidence, and have at him, Tsukimori City’s Hero.’
Three years ago, when she returned to town, the one who first greeted her with an appearance that hadn’t changed in the slightest was Sawako. With a request from the people who granted her Gaimoon’s power, her father’s acquaintances—the Foundation, she remembered them being called—she took up a job to be Gaimoon’s collaborator.
To Mia, Sawako was her mentor, her older sister, her best friend, and an irreplaceable existence.
With her, she could talk about anything. Omou Mia’s troubles, her pains as Gaimoon. That’s why, without reservation, Mia could show her true face.
Arriving at the clinic, Mia looked up at the two-story building.
The lights weren’t on in the second-floor portion that served as her residence. As far as she could remember, Sawako didn’t have much of a disposition to go out at night.
She felt a strange buzz in her chest.
Nervous, she reached for the doorknob. The clinic was still supposed to be unlocked at this time. In case of emergency, it was made so she could deal with patients even on non-consultation days.
“Sawa-chaaan, it’s mee, are you heeere?”
Mia said as she opened the door.
From beyond the door she felt an off-sensation, as if something was trying to pull her in. Following that, the scent of alcohol pricked her nose.
the moment it was open, the waiting room lobby went up in a blaze.
The crimson flames violently swept across the cloth lain along the ground.
A thread had been connected to the door, fastened to a cylindrical lighter affixed to the floor. As the door opened, the lain out alcohol-soaked cloth was evidently made to ignite.
But with the blazing waiting room before her, Mia’s line of sight was fixed.
A shadow dangling from the waiting room ceiling. With a rope hanging it by the neck, the corpse’s limbs slumped down as if they had lost all living vigor, it was undoubtedly Mizumachi Sawako herself.
But apart from Sawako’s chest, Mia’s eyes also darted to the wall of the room. Written in magic marker over the entire wall, the message teeming with malice.
“Ah… a… a… aah…”
Flashback to a distant memory.
Six years ago, her blood-soaked mother collapsed when she got home.
Three years ago, the black skull that stood in the blazing hallway.
“AAAH, AAAA, AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!”
Mia’s scream echoed throughout the entire house.
The declaration from the devil in her eyes.
Judgement to the apostle of Justice.
Cower, bear witness.
For I have returned.
Calamity Co. Leviathan Leader Lord Helvenom