The first morning of training camp.
Without being awoken by anything in particular, I naturally opened my eyes.
“… So training camp starts today.”
Our ComClub made use of summer break to go on a three-night, four-day training camp. But just before we took off, Orino-san, Kikyouin-san and Kurisu-chan couldn’t come due to urgent business, so it was only Kagurai-senpai and I, the two of us.
Thinking about it calmly, with a majority dropping out, it would be normal to postpone or perhaps cancel the training camp, but I have no idea why it came to this.
“Good morning, Kagoshima.”
As if she had aimed for it… almost as if she had a perfect grasp of the exact time I’d open my eyes, Kagurai-senpai entered without knocking.
“Good morning. You could at least knock, Kagurai-senpai.”
I gave a cynical morning greeting.
“As promised, I’ll tell you everything.”
Kagurai-senpai ignored me and spoke with a serious face. Clad in a tense air, she grasped the small low-table I’d pushed to the side to lay out the futon with both hands.
Silently, she held the low-table high above her head, building up ample centrifugal force, and towards the window looking out at the sea… she tossed it.
As I exclaimed, the low-table followed the law of inertia and collided with the window. Raising an exuberant din, the glass shattered to pieces. The glass fragments and table abided by universal gravitation, falling outside of the guesthouse.
“W-what are you doing, Kagurai-senpai!? Is it stress!? Did the stress get to you!? Longing for Yutaka Ozaki!? Admiring Hoshi Ittetsu!?”
I closed in and yelled at her, but she stayed calm as ever. Far too cool for me to even imagine her as a person who committed a crime.
“Follow me, Kagoshima.”
While I was on the verge of panic, she pulled me by the hand and led me out. She slid the door closed behind us. And opened it again.
“Have a look.”
“No, quit taking things so carefree, and… eh?”
A moment ago, I had been driven to raise an undignified scream, but this time I couldn’t find it in me to do even that, I was at a loss for words. The scene that unfolded beyond the opened doorway was more than abnormal enough to steal my words away.
“You see it all the time in anime and manga.”
To the side of my confusion, Kagurai-senpai flowingly linked her words.
“A somewhat violent retort unleashes in a gag scene, the furniture is destroyed, or the classroom window shatters, a gargantuan lump might form on a person’s head, they might spout a nose bleed, but in the next scene as if nothing had happened at all, it all returns to normal.”
That’s a presentation only permissible because of a fictional world.
A presentation impossible in reality.
“Would it be easier to understand with games? In RPGs, the hero can enter a villager’s house and go around breaking all the pots and barrels, right? The objects stay destroyed as long as the hero is in the house, but once they step out and enter again, the objects have restored as if they had never been smashed.”
Though the items inside them aren’t made to regenerate, she added on.
That’s right. This scene presently expanding before me truly was that game concept.
Once the screen was closed and opened again, it had all returned to normal.
The window glass as pretty as ever, the low-table sat meekly in a corner of the room.
In the moment I took off my eyes, it had all been restored to its original state.
“Come so far, I finally understand. The same thing happened on the third time. You might not remember it, but in the third loop, I kicked down the screen to this room. We’re going to loop anyways, so what does it matter if I break it, I thought.”
“But that broken screen was back as it was before twenty-four came around. I let it slide back then, but come so far, I finally understand. Wherever the five of us aren’t watching, autonomous repairs are taking place. ‘Here’, if you break what isn’t meant to be broken, it will automatically be repaired, it seems.”
I didn’t understand a thing. I couldn’t follow the situation in the slightest.
But Kagurai-senpai ignored me and spoke.
“This is a virtual world.”
“… A virtual world?”
“It’s a little different from the B3 World. It’s not online. A ‘closed world’ created for the sole sake of shutting us in.”
And there, the serious expression she kept to that point crumbled away, she showed a bright smile.
“Now then, Kagoshima. It’s our long-awaited training camp. Let’s play to our hearts’ content!”
“Eeh!? W-wait a tic! Suddenly showing me that, and saying it’s a virtual world… what’s more, loop and third time, what are you talking about?”
“I’ll tell you by and by. But first, how about we enjoy the training camp? The first day of our camp together?”
Kagurai-senpai seemed to have enough composure to spare. She was engendering an atmosphere as if everything was over.
“Alright. Let’s start with a swim. I’ll change into a swimsuit, so stay where you are.”
No matter what I said, she abandoned me and returned to her own room. Along the way, “Ahh, that’s right,” she turned in recollection.
“It’s possible my resolve might dull before I get to it, so I’ll start by saying it proper—Kagoshima.”
Her face turning a little red, she seemed to be having just a little difficulty getting the words out.
“I love you.”
We started at the beach.
“…Kagurai-senpai, if she’s just standing there without saying anything, she really is beautiful.”
“That’s the first thing you say when you see my game swimsuit…”
“Hah! I-I’m sorry! My thoughts ended up leaking!”
“Oy, what does humanity call this feeling born in one’s chest that doesn’t fall under any spectrum of human emotion?”
“Umm, well if you start by unclenching your fist, I’m sure the world will be just a little more peaceful.”
“… Hmph. If that’s what you’re going to say, I’ll shut my mouth. I’ll be as quiet as a silent heroine.”
“Ah, please don’t sulk.”
Next, we ate lunch at a nearby restaurant.
“Kagoshima, tell me what sort of food you like.”
“Mnn, well I generally like anything that enters my mouth.”
“Then what do you hate?”
“Mnn, well I generally like anything that enters my mouth.”
“… I doubt there’s any man in the world less worth cooking for.”
“Come to think of it, Kagurai-senpai, can you cook?”
“No way, no how.”
“That’s actually refreshing.”
The meal was followed by a walk on the coast.
“Does your name… Akira have some origin story to it?”
“No, I hear my dad got caught up in a burst of inspiration and tacked it on without any forethought. Don’t you think it’s kinda badass to get the name Akira from ‘give up’? was his mindset, apparently.”
“… That’s quite a father you’ve got there.”
“On my fifteenth birthday, he came to me in tears saying, ‘I’m really sorry…’ so I don’t pay it any mind anymore.”
“On the contrary, isn’t that even harsher!?”
When night came, the two of us wore yukatas, and set off some fireworks.
“Are you sure about this? The plan was to use the fireworks on the night of the last day.”
“It’s fine. To me, this is something like the last day. Live a little.”
“Owah! Hey, don’t point fireworks as people!”
“Wahaha. Kagoshima’s got cold feet… mn? U-uwah! W-what’s happening!?”
“Kagurai-senpai! That’s one of the ones you’re not supposed to hold!”
“S-save me, Kagoshimaaa!”
“Don’t point it this way!”
And like that, the two of us enjoyed our two-person training camp to the fullest.
It was almost as if we were lovers.
By the time we lit the sparklers to finish off the firework show, I had just about received the end of her explanation.
“Once you know what’s happening, it’s simple.”
Dropping her gaze to the sparkler in her hand, Kagurai-senpai continued her explanation. She was wearing a white yukata decorated by blue violets in bloom. That form that gave off a vibrant, cool impression made her feel far more sensual than usual.
The yukata we were wearing were ones Kagurai-senpai had prepared. In this virtual world, if one felt like it, they could draft up garments at will, it seems.
“This world was never set in a loop. The five of us dragged into a virtual world were merely experiencing the same day again and again.”
“So rather than a loop, it was save and load.”
“You got it. It was only natural that I was unable to dive into the B3 World. I was already digitized, so there’s no way I ever could.”
“… No, but I still find it hard to believe we’re in a digital world.”
I said as I looked around. A black sea as if it had taken in the darkness of the sky, the sandy beach that changed shape each time the waves pushed up against it. The full moon floating in the stars. The feel of the wind on my skin. The scent of salt. The faint light of the sparklers and the smell of gunpowder.
These were all the happenings of a virtual world.
“Your brain is just directly picking it up instead of going through sensory organs. The world a human imagines is the world recognized by their brain. In our era, we’ve roughly unraveled all the mechanisms of the brain. Once it became possible to manipulate the brain, creating a world not in the slightest bit different from reality was simple.”
The reason Kagurai-senpai maintained her memories was because she was someone from the future, it seems. All those from her era would have nanomachines injected into their bodies to manage their physical condition; diving into the B3 World made use of those nanomachines as well, it seems.
Those nanomachines revolted against this closed world.
“Then since we’re not time travelers… how did Orino-san, Kikyouin-san, Kurisu-chan and I come to this virtual world?”
“Even without nanomachines, if you have the right equipment, it’s possible to dive into a virtual world. At present, your bodies in reality should be snoring loudly with a special patch stuck to your heads.”
Like the headgear you often find in SF works, perhaps?
“Umm… so to summarize, when the first day of training camp ended, the five of us were sent into a virtual world and made to repeat the first day over and over again? But there are loads of people apart from us here.”
“If I had to say, they’re NPCs. Their speech merely follows a program.”
“But they don’t say the same thing if you keep talking to them.”
“The technology’s completely different from the games of this era. Don’t group them together. I mean to say that imitations of the humans we came in contact with on the first day of camp made an appearance. If you talked to them a few hours, I’m sure a defect would come out, but the probability of that level of interaction is infinitely low.”
Sure enough, I did spot people here and there, but I didn’t talk to all of them- two or three at most- and we only exchanged a few words.
“That would also explain how Hihihiko was able to impersonate the owner. It’s not that he took over the owner’s personality. He was simply controlling the owner’s NPC. I finally understand what he meant when he said this was an exception.”
This Shakujii Hihihiko fellow, in the midst of observing Kagurai-senpai, saw that we had entered a virtual world on this training camp, and slipped in himself… Kagurai-senpai surmised.
Her explanation wrapped up, I asked. I had no choice but to ask. It would normally be the first thing I’d talk to her about, but it was the topic I’d been avoiding all the way.
“Who did this to us?”
Between us, our two sparklers dropped their last sparks.
Kagurai-senpai said quietly. On her mouth was a slightly-self-abasing smile. From her air, I had a vague idea already, it wasn’t that surprising.
“The culprit was me.”
The protagonist this time is Kagurai Monyumi.
And the antagonist is also Kagurai Monyumi.
“Now then. Where should I start… Kagoshima. Do you remember how I take care of all the Computer Club’s activities by myself?”
“As part of those activities, I produced an artificial intelligence.”
“Its name was ‘AMLO’. To grant its owners wishes before it had been asked, the ideal helper program. Even if you don’t set the alarm every morning, to surmise the appropriate waking hour from your schedule and get you up. To tell you when the release date for the manga you’re collecting is close. It was that sort of maid-like program.”
Though it’s the second time I’m telling you this, Kagurai-senpai laughed. Naturally, I didn’t remember it.
“But… the artificial intelligence I produced was unexpectedly proficient and unexpectedly selfish, it seems. AMLO read my deeper psyche, and granted my desires when I never even thought to ask.”
Which means the real culprit would be that artificial intelligence.
Though with her strong sense of responsibility, it did seem Kagurai-senpai was sure it was herself.
“And what was your desire?”
“I presume it’s the wish I thought up on the first night of training camp. Broadly speaking, there were two..”
As she said that, Kagurai-senpai stood and began walking across the sand. I followed along.
“The first was, ‘If only this time would continue forever’. That one is simple. And that wish was the one that produced this looping situation.”
If only this time would continue forever, eh
I was thinking something similar.
“How ironic for the result to be a loop.”
“In essence, AMLO’s pretty much run amuck. I’m sure that part’s rather arbitrary.”
“And what was the other one?”
When I pushed her on, Kagurai-senpai answered in a small voice.
“… That one relates to why someone other than us is always absent with each loop.”
“Hmhmm. And what sort of wish was it?”
“It was ’………… lone……’”
“~~! ‘I want to go to the beach alone with Kagoshima’!”
Kagurai-senpai cried out with a bright-red face. I was taken aback.
“… Umm, no why would you make that wish?”
“I-I told you, didn’t I… that I… l-love you…”
My face grew hotter. Both our faces red, we averted our eyes.
No, what’s with this air. It’s so embarrassing, I think I’ll die. Surely feeling even more embarrassed than me, Kagurai-senpai rapidly began walking ahead on her own.
“You get it now, don’t you! Each and every time, a different member is absent because AMLO deciphered that wish, and used it to influence this world!”
She rapidly shot out the words.
“The reason we weren’t alone in one go, the reason the numbers go down with each new loop, is because AMLO took into consideration the contradiction between these two wishes, I’m sure!”
The contradiction between them.
To be together with everyone forever. To be alone with the person you love.
“Ah, god, I’ll just explain the rest at once!”
Not daring to look my way, Kagurai-senpai walked down the beach as she shouted out. I chased after her back as I listened to her story.
The artificial intelligence AMLO manipulated Gakuta-kun’s body to stick the patches on us, apparently. Gakuta-kun was currently connected to her computer for repairs. Rummaging through the various pieces of equipment Kagurai-senpai had brought for body repairs, it pieced together a device to let us dive into the virtual world.
… But I’m sure the sight of Gakuta-kun piecing together machinery in the dead of the night was quite a surreal one indeed.
“It can’t be helped that Hihihiko called me out. This time was completely my error. Just desserts with myself as the chef, using alts to flame my own post…”
Tired of her fast walk, Kagurai-senpai stopped her feet and gazed at the sky. Thanks to that, I finally caught up to her side.
“… I was lonely.”
A faint voice that might be stolen away by the night wind.
“You might not remember, but on the very first, the first night of training camp before the loop began, you said this to me. ‘It’s not like graduation means a lifetime parting. We have email and twitter’.”
“But you’re wrong Kagoshima… I’ll, I’ll have to return someday.”
The time traveler returns to her time.
It was an exceedingly obvious fact.
“And once that happens, I’ll never be able to come to this era again. I won’t be able to see any of you again… I can’t call, I can’t email. All forms of exchange are prohibited.”
“Wha… is that how it works…… you can’t come for a vacation or something?”
On my question, Kagurai-senpai shook her head to and fro. Her long hair matched the movements of her neck, swaying along with her.
“Once the determined period is over, you cannot return to a time period you’ve been dispatched to again. That’s what’s been decided.”
“To make sure something like this doesn’t happen, right?”
Kagurai-senpai gave a self-tortured laugh.
Meaning, to make sure they didn’t develop more attachment than necessary for the time they were dispatched to.
“… Orino and Kikyouin won’t be a problem. I hear Kurisu’s going to return someday, but her regulations aren’t as strict. She said she’d be able to pay a visit to this world around three times a year… so it’s just me… you know.”
She gazed at me with her pupils shaking with sorrow.
“I’m the only one who’ll never see you again. That fact made me excessively vexed, miserable, irritated—and lonely……”
The artificial intelligence deciphered those strong feelings.
I couldn’t say anything. Before her heartrending profile, my words wouldn’t come out.
“Lately, by the time I notice it, I’m always thinking about you. When I went to choose a swimsuit for the training camp, I was wondering what sort of swimsuit you might like…”
“I kept fantasizing about what would happen if you assaulted me, and ended up buying a box of condoms…”
“The truth is, I didn’t take the name AMLO from the Gundam pilot. It means Akira Monyumi LOve…”
“Aren’t you being a bit too forward!?”
And that naming sense is painful!
No, I know it might be rude to say, but…!
“There’s no helping it! I mean, I love you!”
Eating a super straight refutation, I was hard-pressed for an answer. Kagurai-senpai was also soon taken aback, her face growing even redder as she hung her head.
No seriously, what is this?
It’s so awkward, I can’t get serious.
“… So when did you notice?”
“Wha!? M-my feelings for you!?”
“No! I mean the truth!”
“Oh… what, so you’re talking about that.”
Kagurai-senpai breathed a relieved sigh.
“I noticed the truth… even I don’t know when. You could call the poem your childhood friend gave me an opportunity if you wanted to… but the truth is, I might have noticed a long, long time before that.”
The forty-fifth time’s me was entrusted a tanka from Kai, apparently.
What could be called the keyword… a single poem.
… But for his trigger to be a poem, Kai’s as cool as ever. My triggers were, ‘Widow’ and ‘Orino-san’s jugs’, nothing but that stuff…
“I ran away from that thought… I averted my eyes. Perhaps I was denying it somewhere in my heart, that I had fallen in love with a human of this era. So it took more than a month and a half to notice this shoddy reality.”
It took me that long to notice I loved you.
Kagurai-senpai’s face reddened as she kept coming out with things that made me embarrassed to listen to.
… And wait, she named the freaking thing Akiramonyumilove, and only noticed her affection during training camp… a maiden’s heart truly is complex.
“Was it for I fell, asleep whilst yearning for her, that she did stop by? Had I known it was a dream, I would not have woken up.”
Kagurai-senpai’s gaze flowed to the full moon in the night sky, she serenely recited the poem.
“Simply put, ‘I thought of you as I fell asleep, so you showed up in my dreams. Once I knew it was all a dream, I wished I never woke up.’ Something to that effect. Expressing the pains of love, Ono no Komachis love song.”
“I got the feeling it severely and cynically described my current predicament.”
Sure enough, you could say that tanka was a perfect fit for the current Kagurai-senpai.
Whose mind raced towards her loved one as she drifted to sleep, a single young girl.
In this virtual world that would never end.
It had surpassed ready wit… into just a spoiler.
“Now then. I’ve said plenty of what I wanted to.”
With a breath, Kagurai-senpai held out her hand. A pale-blue panel manifested underneath it.
“Don’t be surprised by that much. I told you this is a virtual world. As long as I’m aware of that, I’m more than capable of exhibiting my own powers.”
She operated the panel with accustomed hands. The blue panels expanded further and further around Kagurai-senpai, with circular radar-like screens and bar graphs popping up as well.
Amazing. How super SF.
As I gazed, just a little moved, Kagurai-senpai continued manipulating the panel at a speed my eyes couldn’t stop on.
Al of a sudden—a static noise raced across the space. The scenery greatly warped, Nngggggg, the grating sound of glass just before it shatters pierced into my ears.
“W-what are you doing?”
“If I explained the process, I doubt you’d understand it, so to put in absurdly simple terms, I’m luring out the creator of this world of dreams.”
While she said that, her hands didn’t stop moving. The noise sounding out gradually increased in density, what’s more, it was getting louder.
“You’ve made your descent. That is the Creator of this world, AMLO’s core. If I defeat her, we’ll be able to escape from this space.”
“So that’s… Akiramonyumilove.”
“Don’t call it that!”
I was hit.
AMLO took on human form. It stood on the water’s surface like that was the natural thing to do. Dark as a whole, I could only make it out by silhouette, but that was…
“… Doesn’t she resemble you, Kagurai-senpai?”
“It seems she’s using me as the model.”
Boop, Kagurai-senpai pushed strongly against a single button.
The next instant, her body was enveloped in a white light. The light faded away, her garments had changed to resemble a medieval knight. There were four diamond-shaped wings on her back, her hand gripped a blue sword.
“Quit acting so surprised over everything.”
She said tiredly, shifting her gaze to the water’s surface. The black shadow taking on Kagurai-senpai’s shape silently moved its hand. In that hand, a sword of exactly the same design as Kagurai-senpai’s appeared. Though its color was a uniform black.
“As her birth mother, destroying that one is my duty.”
Kagurai-senpai’s eyes were no longer those of a maiden in love.
The eyes of a warrior.
Brandishing her near-future design sword, she lowered her stance.
“Once you know it’s a dream, you have to wake up.”
The next instant, she had kicked the ground, charging at AMLO with explosive leg-strength. The shadow moved to match her.
Blue and black warrior collided.
Sword mingled with sword, the dull sound ringing out the signal of the war’s onset.
With a blank look, my mouth idiotically hung open, I watched the battle that unfolded.
No, if I said watched, it would be a mistake.
To put it bluntly, the two of them were moving so fast, I couldn’t see anything. They raced left and right through space at an outrageous speed, my eyes couldn’t keep up. What’s more, with the night lowering my eyesight, their colorations of blue and black made for the worst combination.
… I can’t depict this battle at all.
I could barely manage to pick up the sound alone, so if you want me to do my best and describe it,
It went bang, and then swish, boom and then fwwwish, wwwsssh, kkkkkn, ddrrrrrrr, kaboom, something like that.
… How old am I?
The point is, it was that level of amazing battle. No matter how I focused my eyes, the most I could do was pick up the sparks born of the impact of attack and defense.
At times, I could see the two of them, the moment they halted to change direction, but every time I caught sight of them, the weapons they held had changed, and I had no idea what was going on.
Can that sword shift into different weapons?
After the battle of which I could only pick up lights and sounds continued a while—
Of the two combatants, the blue one was sent flying my way. She landed… no, collided with the beach, grandly scattering its sand. I hurriedly raced over to her.
“A-are you alright!?”
“… Yeah, I’m fine. I let my guard down a bit.”
With a strong nod, she charged at the enemy once more, going into another high-speed battle.
But given a bit more time, she was blown towards the beach again.
I raced over again and called out.
“Are you alright?”
“… I let my guard down.”
She charged at the enemy again. A while later, she was back.
“I just let my guard down!”
She charged (et cetera.)
“Are you losing?”
It may be somewhat rude, but I went right out with it.
“A moment ago, you were completely in an ‘all that’s left is to beat her’ mood. You said something cool about being her birth-parent, and acted as if you had some to spare.”
“…… I just noticed something terrible.”
Half-buried in the sand, Kagurai-senpai spoke awkwardly with her eyes averted from me.
“AMLO was stored on my computer. In the computer where I filed all my combat data… that’s why, how should I put it…”
“… It learned your combat patterns?”
A stiff nod of the head. ‘Twas somewhat cute.
“None of my techniques are getting through…”
“S-so what are you going to do…?”
“What am I going to do…”
Wait a second. Hold it right there.
“So that AMLO thing holds exactly the same power as you? It truly is your shadow… how are we supposed to overcome an enemy equal in all regards…”
“No, we’re not equal.”
“What… ah, I see, you’re right. There’s no way you could be equal! A copy cannot triumph over the original…”
Once I had said that much, I noticed.
The fact that Kagurai-senpai was making an extraordinarily troubled face.
“… I usually fight as a combo with Gakuta. So that’s what’s recorded in all my combat data. AMLO boasts the combat power of me plus Gakuta. In contrast, I left Gakuta home this time. Even worse… he’s offline.”
“… You mean,”
“I’m the complete underdog. I have almost no chance of victory…”
A great fountain of sweat poured down Kagurai-senpai’s face. For her to even break into a cold sweat, this virtual world is really well made; I digress.
Aren’t we really screwed here?
At the end of the end, there’s nothing to be done.
“I-in that case, you have to start growing now, Kagurai-senpai!”
“How’s that supposed to work!?”
“In shonen manga, when the type of enemy that takes your data appears, they generally mature and work it out somehow! Please go make the enemy think, ‘The bastard’s growing stronger in the midst of combat…’!”
“If it ain’t gonna happen, it ain’t gonna happen.”
“Then don’t you have a technique you definitely can’t use or something? Those sorts of moves that they definitely can’t use, but you know they’re going to end up using in the end. A technique you definitely can’t use just as much as you won’t push a button that says you definitely can’t push it? Don’t you have a Balse sort of move!?”
“Like hell I have something that convenient!”
As we held a merry ruckus, I suddenly felt something was wrong.
Why wasn’t the enemy attacking?
It’s not like she was the sort of Super Sentai monster that would kindly wait for us to finish… as the thought struck me, I turned my head to the sea.
I immediately grasped the reason.
“————. ———. ————.” AMLO was storing up energy.
She shifted the shape of her black sword into a cannon, pointing the muzzle towards us. Even my eyes could comprehend that energy had begun to amass in the barrel.
Kagurai-senpai’s face went pale beside me.
“Among the many shapes my sword, Lill Sordia can take, it’s the form that boasts the greatest lethality… this is bad, if that fires–”
In the middle of her line, it fired.
As expected of an AI. It didn’t even try to read the mood.
An extra-large laser, perhaps two meters across, was emitted. The surge of pitch-black energy assailed us. Knowing the terror of this Lost Cannon weapon, Kagurai-senpai was slow to respond. Precisely because it was her own technique, she was able to imagine its destructive power, making her a moment behind.
That’s why… I was the faster one.
The moment it understood a weapon was being pointed at Kagurai-senpai, my body moved on reflex. I covered the girl collapsed on the beach, using my whole body to envelop hers.
My entire being became a shield to protect her.
I frantically contained a struggling Kagurai-senpai.
No, but I wonder what’s going to happen here.
Does Kagurai-senpai have come convenient item that’ll restore me no matter how my body breaks? Or could it be that if I die here, my body in real life will get out unharmed?
Well, it seems more likely that if I die here, my mind will crumble in reality as well.
But as a man, I doubt I had any other option.
The black flash mercilessly passed through us.
Strangely, there was no pain.
I recalled the time I went to buy games with Kagurai-senpai.
When a fire broke out at that building in front of the station.
Kagurai-senpai desperately tried to resolve the incident, but I was desperate all the same.
… To be frank, all my efforts could be called running in circles, rather, I was completely getting in the way of any progress. Even so, back then, I knew I wanted to protect Kagurai-senpai.
Just as I did now.
“That’s right, Kagoshima.”
Enveloped in that black light, I heard a voice.
“You always tried to protect her. There were times where you failed, and times you missed the mark, but… you were always trying to protect her.”
The voice came from behind me, in the direction of the enemy. It was there that I finally noticed.
The enemy’s attack definitely passed us, but that really was all it did.
Split in two at the center of the beam, it passed by both our flanks, like Moses’ parting of the red sea.
Someone standing imposingly before us, with just a single swing of the sword, had bisected the massive beam and protected us.
A rending fighting cry and that someone’s sword flashed into a shield, dispersing the flash in its entirety. And that individual turned around to look at us.
A black mantle that concealed their body. Hair that just reached their shoulders.
A mask with a sharp design.
“T-the masked man!?”
Kagurai-senpai cried out. This man was the masked man I supposedly met on the third loop.
“Kagurai Monyumi. As you are now, you won’t be able to defeat her. So just sit tight and wait with Kagoshima.”
The mask man said, his form suddenly vanishing. The enemy soon disappeared in succession.
It did seem they had entered a high-speed battle.
“You’re kidding me!”
Kagurai-senpai stood, glaring into the emptiness. Able to eyeball the unperceivably fast exchange, she made a face as if she couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
“Who in god’s name… is that masked man?”
“Eh? Didn’t you say the masked man’s identity was Shakujii Hihihiko-san?”
“That’s what I thought. But Hihihiko doesn’t fight like that. And… the weapon he’s holding is…”
From my glance at it a moment ago, the masked man was holding a straight sword with exactly the same design as Kagurai-senpai’s.
“… Why does he have Lill Sordia?”
“Your Lill Sordia isn’t mass-produced?”
“That’s a memento from Gakuta. There can’t be two of them in the world, and only Gakuta and I should be able to handle it…!”
Yet as we were speaking, the battle already seemed to be nearing its hasty conclusion.
“Lill Sordia—mode change—Category Zero—Sword of Sin.”
It took a while to notice the abnormality.
Outside of my attention, swords had been positioned all over. The sea, the beach, the rocks, the houses, even the air. Would it be more accurate to say they had been pierced into space itself? Those countless blades glimmering dully under the light of the moon were practically like the stars in the night sky.
Japanese sword, rapier, shamshir, bastard sword, shortsword… and so forth, of all times and places, of scattered designs, sizes and eras, the swords buried up the area.
“This technique is…” Beside me, Kagurai-senpai grimaced. “Gakuta’s technique… I can’t make use of it yet, it boasts an exceedingly high level of difficulty, the strongest secret technique…”
The speed the swords appeared at accelerated.
At that moment, AMLO appeared over the sea. No, while it looked like she had just appeared, if I had to be more precise, because she had stopped, I had gained the ability to see her.
Even I could tell her stagnation was the perfect opportunity.
From nowhere in particular, I heard a declaration of victory.
The countless swords embedded in space all disappeared. In moments, the enemy over the sea exploded with a roaring rumble.
… Once again, I couldn’t see anything. Kagurai-senpai was making an astonished face, so I could tell something amazing must have happened.
Presumably the countless swords set in space all fired off at once, or in some order, unfolding into a consecutive stream of piercing shots at a super-high-speed pace.
I know I shouldn’t say it, but it wasn’t an enjoyable battle to watch at all.
Through the rising white smoke, the masked man naturally walked over the ocean towards us. He walked with composure.
“… Who are you?”
Kagurai-senpai readied her sword and stood on guard.
“I’m you, Monyumi.”
Once the masked man had come close, he answered so with a collected voice.
“… I didn’t ask to be answered in riddle.”
“It’s not a riddle. I mean what I say, I say what I mean. Rather, notice my voice already.”
Right. The masked man I met on the third loop, as in the ‘man’ part of a title should have been a man. And yet, this whole while, the masked man was speaking in the voice of a woman.
A voice I’d heard somewhere before.
“Ah, but it must be that. Apparently, it’s hard for humans to recognize their own voice. I guess that’s why the past me didn’t notice. And Kagoshima didn’t notice because, well, you know who we’re dealing with.”
As she said that, the masked man easily pulled off her helmet.
Seeing her face, I was at a loss for words. I was experienced shocking development after shocking development today, but this impact topped them all.
Once the mask came off—Kagurai Monyumi appeared.
I ended up comparing the Kagurai-senpai before me’s face to the one beside me. The one before my eyes was Kagurai-senpai herself.
If I had to raise a difference, her hairstyle was all I could notice.
In contrast to the Kagurai-senpai with me, whose hair went to her waist, the formerly-masked Kagurai-senpai’s went to her shoulders.
“Don’t tell me you’re…”
“That’s right, past me. I am a Kagurai Monyumi who came from just a little further in the future.”
A dumbfounded Kagurai-senpai, and a care-free Kagurai-senpai.
… How misleading. Let’s go with Kagurai-senpai (Present) and Kagurai-senpai (Future).
“To clean up after my own mistakes, I came all the way from the future. It is impossible for the current you to defeat AMLO. Then you simply have to beat it after you’ve grown stronger.”
Kagurai-senpai (Future) spoke more light-hearted than anything else.
So that’s why the masked man could use a secret technique Kagurai-senpai (Present) couldn’t use. No, but still, I can’t conceal my surprise.
To think the masked man would be Kagurai-senpai of all people…
It looks like this time truly was Kagurai Monyumi’s story from start to finish.
“… I see. There’s a mountain of things I want to ask, but you’re not going to answer any of them. Are you, future me.”
As she said that, Kagurai-senpai (Present) changed from her knight outfit to her violet yukata.
“As expected of past me. You’re quick on the uptake. Well, don’t think too hard about it. You’ll be in my shoes before long.”
“Hmm. Then I should start striving towards it.”
The two Kagurai-senpais conversed.
What a surreal scene.
“Still, Kagoshima…” Kagurai-senpai (Present) took a glance at me.
“You mistook future me as a man…”
“Eh? N-no! I have no recollection of that! So the fault doesn’t lie with me, but with third loop’s me!”
“Haha. Don’t condemn Kagoshima for it, past me. It’s only natural that Kagoshima mistook me for a man. I was wearing a mask, and I went out of my way to put out a man’s voice. Ahem, ahem, like this.”
Said Kagurai-senpai (Future) in a low voice. In a virtual world, it seems you can freely change voice as well. This really is a world with a high level of freedom.
“If it was before he spotted my back, I could’ve changed my whole appearance too.”
That moment I spotted her on the coastal crags, Kagurai-senpai (Future) hurriedly stuck on a mask and changed her voice, apparently. After that, she perfectly concealed herself, observing us as she waited for the enemy to appear.
“Which would mean future Kagurai-senpai only appeared on the third time.”
“No, that’s not all. Kagoshima, we’ve met once more.”
Kagurai-senpai (present)’s face flushed a bit as she spoke with a complacent smile.
“What’s there to hide, the one who took a bath with Kagoshima on the thirteenth loop was me!”
Now normally, “What!? The Kagurai-senpai from back there was actually a Kagurai-senpai from the future!?” I might have shouted in surprise. But as I don’t maintain my memories, “I took a bath with Kagurai-senpai!?” was the real question, and “The hell you doin’, future me!?” Kagurai-senpai (Present) screamed.
“I had my hair wrapped in a towel, so it looks like he didn’t notice. It looked fun, so I just went with the flow and kept deceiving him.”
“For reals!? Eh, wait a second, I don’t remember that at all… uwahh, why don’t I remember, dammit…”
“When you’re just little old me, what are you doing, future me!? The hell are you showing off my body for!? No, it’s your body too, I get it, but…!”
“Ha Ha Ha.”
“W-wait a second. Is it possible for a man and woman to enter the same bath, and that be all that happens…? My surging teenage libido was able to stand before Kagurai-senpai’s naked body without doing anything…?”
“–! Oy! H-how far did you go, future meeee!?”
“Ha Ha Ha Ha.”
Looking over my and Kagurai-senpai (Present)’s pandemonium, Kagurai-senpai (Future) laughed happily to herself. Judging by her reaction, and my cowardly nature, I’m sure nothing happened between us.
… Nothing happened, right?
I trust in you, thirteenth me.
“Fret not, past me. You’ll know eventually.”
On those words of jest, Kagurai-senpai (Present) breathed out a deep sigh, “Eventually, huh… hey, future me. When are you, anyway?” she asked lightly.
She was likely wondering, ‘When will I be able to use the secret move,’ not meaning too much when she asked the question. Like confirming at what level you’ll learn the skill you want to use, a truly light question.
“When, huh… well let’s see.”
But Kagurai-senpai (Future)’s expression darkened. Her eyes shifted to me, and for just a moment, she made a fleeting smile. Before long, it shifted to a mischievous grin.
“I’m the Kagurai Monyumi from after Kagoshima achieves the harem end.”
She completely played it off with a joke.
“… What’s up with that? Well, if you don’t want to answer, so be it.”
Kagurai-senpai (Present) seemed fed-up, but Kagurai-senpai (Future)’s suggestive smile didn’t crumble. In the following silence, the distant night sky bent out of shape.
“Oh, so it started to crumble.”
Starting with the night sky, a bending and creaking were born in items here and there.
The world of dreams that had lost its creator was beginning to crumble.
“Then I’ll be disappearing a step ahead.”
Kagurai-senpai (Future)’s body started to fade from the feet. The ankles, the knees, she slowly disappeared as if being eroded away.
When she had lost a majority of her lower body, she looked at me.
“Kagoshima. If I felt like it, I could have prevented all of you from being sealed in this virtual world. But I didn’t. Do you know what I’m trying to say?”
Having come from the future, she could have taken precautions to prevent the incident itself.
The reason she purposely overlooked its outbreak.
She didn’t even have to say it. The way Kagurai-senpai (Present) beside me ashamedly turned her face the other way was more proof than anything.
“And past me. You’re finally alone together. If there’s something you want to say, you’d better say it.”
And the girl who came from the not-so-distant future disappeared.
In the world that had started to crumble, only Kagurai-senpai (Present) and I remained.
“… Good grief. She says what she wants and disappears… what a selfish person.”
Now that it was just the two of us, I saw it as the right time to ask.
What I’d been putting off this entire time.
“When I wake up from this world, am I going to forget everything?”
“…… Yes, you will.”
Kagurai-senpai quietly nodded.
Just as I expected, it looks like the fiftieth me… the final me won’t maintain his memories either.
That Kagurai-senpai was a time traveler, that she fought unknown to the world at large.
And that she told me she loved me.
I would… forget it all.
“… Can’t we do something about that?”
When I pleaded in a pitiful voice, Kagurai-senpai burst into laughter.
Hers was a discerning smile.
“Kagoshima. You’re a dense idiot, but you’re kind with a strong sense of justice. That’s why if you ever notice our identities, I’m sure your heart will be terribly hurt.”
Our. I had a general idea what she was implying.
Now that I had begun to notice, I had a general idea.
“Every time Orino leaves from stomach pain, every time Kikyouin says something about ghosts and goes off, every time Kurisu mentions magic and disappears, and every time I suddenly fall asleep, your face will go pale and you’ll worry from the bottom of your heart.”
“That’s what I—fear the most. If you end up noticing, you won’t be able to smile so innocently anymore. This time, when I revealed I was a time traveler to you, you started making a fretful face the whole time. It’s not like you at all.”
That’s why, Kagoshima, Kagurai-senpai said with gentle eyes.
“You really don’t have to notice.”
“I fell in love with a man who laughed like an idiot without knowing a thing.”
I couldn’t say a word. It’s not like I accepted what Kagurai-senpai was saying. This relationship was surely mistaken. Without knowing a single thing about the other person, not sharing a single worry, doing nothing but smiling and laughing, perhaps I was an outrageously cruel existence.
A great many people would surely say it’s wrong.
But she told me that was fine.
The world proceeded towards its destruction. Apart from the sandy beach where we stood, a majority of the space had disappeared. Wherever the scenery had crumbled, a black void of emptiness remained.
“A world of dreams, huh…”
Gazing at the unrealistic scene, Kagurai-senpai quietly spoke.
“This virtual world truly was a world of dreams, but… come to think of it, my time in this era is but another dream as well. I’m a person who never should have been here.”
“Please, don’t say something so sad.”
“But it’s true. I’ll have to wake up someday. I’ll have to go back someday. A dream is, only a dream.”
“What is it?”
“Even if it happened in a dream, sadness is sadness, and happiness is happiness.”
In the end.
No one can say what’s reality and illusion.
“You’re right. I learned that detestably well this time around. Thanks to that, I’ve undone the threads.”
“I’m saying I’m ready to be rejected by you.”
Kagurai-senpai said it especially lightly.
“What, you’ll go out with me?”
“I’m joking. Don’t make that troubled face. My bad, that was in bad taste.”
She lightly apologized and gazed into the distance.
“You and I can’t be together. We live in different times, nothing we can do about it.”
As if she had accepted it all, her gentle voice resounded out.
“Kagurai Monyumi was never a capture target for Kagoshima Akira. That’s all there is to it.”
Your life doesn’t have a Monyumi ending.
Even to this point, Kagurai-senpai said something Kagurai-senpai-esque.
“But the fact I fell in love with you is not a lie. Even if it was a love that would never bear fruit, I shall call this feeling my first love.”
“… Um, you’re not embarrassed to say that?”
“Fu fu fu. I’ve gradually stopped caring. Want me to call you darling.”
“Oh knock it off, honey.”
And we both exchanged a laugh.
When I was soon going to forget everything, the atmosphere didn’t turn dark.
Kagurai-senpai was laughing, so I had to laugh myself.
She had accepted we would have to part someday, yet even so, she laughed.
“I can’t be the same lonely girl forever. I’ll use this broken heart to grow. I’m sure the future me cut her hair as a sign of her resolve.”
“… Ah, I see.”
I didn’t notice at all. Cutting one’s hair from lost love does feel a bit old-fashioned, but Kagurai-senpai does seem like the sort.
“But in that case, Kagoshima, whose route are you going to hop on board?”
“Don’t ask me.”
“You’d better watch out, Kagoshima. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wanted to go to the beach alone with you.”
“You think so?”
“Yeah, I’m positive.”
Yeaah, I wonder.
Whose route I’m going to follow in the future. There’s no Monyumi Ending, she said so herself, but–
Wait a tic.
According to Kagurai-senpai, once she finishes her mission, she won’t be able to go to a time period she’s been dispatched to again. But then—how did Kagurai-senpai (Future) come to see us in this era?
Was this time alone an exception? It’s also possible that Kagurai-senpai (Future) was a Kagurai Monyumi from when her mission in this time wasn’t over yet… there might even be a loophole.
The harem end Kagurai-senpai (Future) brought up in jest.
A harem end is supposed to be the conclusion where everyone’s happy. And yet–
Our footing was finally starting to disappear; I was seriously such things when Kagurai-senpai lightly called over.
“Oy, Kagoshima. Give me your hand. If you’re not holding my hand, you’ll be left behind in this space.”
“Nn, e-eeh!? Why didn’t you say that earlier!?”
I frantically held out my hand.
“Because I lied.”
Kagurai-senpai gave my hand a strong jerk forward.
And—she kissed me.
She went right ahead and stole my lips. Plundered them. It was the sort of violent, forceful kiss that would be cool if a wild kind of guy did it. Though our positions were reversed.
My first kiss. A sweet impact raced from my lips to my brain. A terrifying impact boasting fearsome destructive power, and all the important-sounding somethings I had been considering to that point had made off somewhere.
After a slow five seconds went by, our lips separated.
To a dazed me, Kagurai-senpai sadistically laughed.
“Hahaha. You should see the look on your face, Kagoshima.”
“No, I mean, I mean… you’re red too, Kagurai-senpai.”
“Mrk. A-am I…”
“… That was my first.”
“It was mine too.”
“……… But, huh? This is a virtual world, and I’m going to forget all about it so… can I really call this my first?”
“You don’t really have to count it. Rather, you’ll forget, so you have no way of counting it.”
“You’re right, but,”
“But I’m going to count it.”
Kagurai-senpai plainly declared.
“My first kiss was with you. You can give me that much, can’t you?”
There was no way I could refute it. I quietly nodded.
Our bodies had begun growing lighter from the feet up.
This midsummer dream was finally greeting its end.
The moment the dream ended—
She showed me an extraordinary smile.
“I love you, Kagoshima.”