“Don’t forget, Akira-kun.”
Ten years ago.
In Gentle Breeze Park, seven-year-old me, in the middle of his training to protect the world as a hero of justice met a lady in a strange suit.
The lady who suddenly appeared spoke to me about all sorts of things.
About training, about family, about the future, about myself.
About heroes of justice.
I left my body to the passion that came from my youth and tried a lively proposal. My rejection and tears that came as a result, come so far, it was now a good memory… no, just some black history, maybe.
That chance meeting—was something special to me.
“There are no heroes of justice in the world. If you ever see someone who looks the part, please don’t notice for them. Become a man of large caliber who can write off all abnormalities as your imagination.”
That was the curse the lady cast on me.
The reason I gave up on becoming a hero of justice.
While her face and figure were hazy, the many words I exchanged with her, in the deepest parts of my heart still remained like a lynchpin. What was that lady doing these days?
Was she living happily with that man she said she liked?
The next day, I awoke to the morning light streaming in from the window.
It had been several months since I last saw that old dream.
I was looking right at the lady’s face whenever I dreamed, but once I opened my eyes like this, I suddenly couldn’t remember it. All I could recall were her strange suit and huge breasts.
“… What terribly short-term memory if I do say so myself.”
Sluggishly, I raised my body and checked where I was. I was on my own bed.
My consciousness gradually awakened.
After I saw Orino-san off yesterday, I didn’t feel up to cleaning alone; I was just a little bit sleepy thanks to the alcohol, so after draping blankets over the members asleep in the living room, I immediately fell asleep myself.
But it’s not half bad, waking up to the morning light like this. I’m always waking to the electric sound of an alarm, so the natural feeling of awakening like this is quite comfortable—
Wait a second. As I recall, wasn’t I supposed to wake up at five today to get everyone else up… I do recall setting an alarm before I fell asleep, but the fact I’m waking to natural light means…
I timidly confirmed the time on the alarm clock and found myself speechless.
The needles had reached six thirty.
“… O-oh god!”
I leaped off from the bed and dressed myself on the super express. This is bad. When it comes to six thirty, that’s the time I always wake up.
Even if I got everyone up now, whether we’d make it for the opening ceremony or not is… what do I do? As it is, the Computer Club members all played hooky on the exams, so our reputation at school isn’t good…
When I practically tumbled down the stairs,
“Ah. Good morning. Kagoshima-senpai.”
There was Kurisu-chan. In her hand was the tableware we used at yesterday’s party.
“M-morning… huh? You’re already up…?”
“Yes. Orino-senpai came over.”
“Orino-san… I see.”
So in the end, I was saved by her.
As I was feeling pathetic, Kurisu-chan raised her head in recollection.
“I’m sorry about yesterday. I kinda fell asleep before I knew it…”
“I don’t mind that one, but… don’t tell me you don’t remember yesterday?”
“Umm, my memory sort of gets hazy along the way…”
“… I see. Yeah, it’s for the best.”
And with that Kurisu-chan headed for the kitchen to wash off the tableware.
When I stepped into the living room, there were Kagurai-senpai, Kikyouin-san, and Tama-chan, the three of them. They were all working hard, wiping down the table, cleaning up the room decorations, an taking care of the party mess.
“Oh. Brat. Think you can just wake up all carefree at this hour?”
Noticing me, Gakuta-kun asserted himself in a thorny tone—meaning Kagurai-senpai said it.
“You’re late, Kagoshima. We’re pretty much done cleaning up.”
“So it seems.”
Nodding to Kagurai-senpai’s words, I looked over the living room. As if yesterday’s mad ruckus was a lie. It had returned to the usual Kagoshima house living room. It looked like everyone had done their best while I was asleep.
“… I’m sorry. Sleeping in on my own.”
“Don’t mind it. I should be apologizing for dozing off yesterday. Well, I don’t remember much after I took a drink.”
Looks like she doesn’t remember either. I tried asking Kikyouin-san nearby.
“Kikyouin-san, do you remember yesterday?”
“uh? Ah, no, I’m also, totally, a bit hazy…”
Looks like everyone’s the type that forgets when they’re drunk.
… Yeah. In that case, let’s just leave it be.
No need to go out of my way digging up dirt.
“We remember. Boy, yesterday was a masterpiece. To think Yuzuki would—mffmfmm.”
As she nonchalantly tried to stimulate a landmine, Tama-chan’s mouth was hurriedly covered. Why is this kid even stronger with alcohol than her big sister? Is she really an elementary schooler?
“Hey, isn’t it about a good time? I’ve got to stop by home after this, so I’ve gotta get goin’.”
When Kikyouin-san said so, Kagurai-senpai nodded.
“You’re right. Mnn, but there’s a bit left to clean up…”
“I’ll do the rest. I did oversleep after all, please let me do that much.”
Ninety percent of it was already done, so I doubted the rest would be a problem for me alone. The others accepted my proposal, hurriedly preparing to return.
If they left now, well, I’m sure they’ll just barely make it to the ceremony.
“… Huh? Come to think of it, where’s Orino-san?”
“Went to take out the trash. She should be returnin’ around now?”
After Kikyouin-san curtly answered my question, the entrance door opened with a click.
Is this one of those speak of the devil moments? It seemed Orino-san had returned.
The living room door slid open, and she appeared.
Wearing the female uniform of Adatara High School, her glossy black hair swaying as she walked towards me.
“We cut it real close with the trash. I made it just as the garbage truck came.”
As she said that with a bitter smile, Kagurai-senpai sent over some grateful words.
“Your services are appreciated, Orino. We’re going to get going, but what about you?”
“I’m going to head to school from here. Unlike everyone else, I have my uniform, after all.”
“… Eh? Then Orino-senpai, you plan on c-commuting with Kagoshima-senpai?”
Dropping by the living room after she’d finished washing up, Kurisu-chan opened her eyes in shock. With Kurisu-chan pointing that out, she frantically waved a hand.
“U-umm, well it looks like that’s- coincidentally- how it turns out.”
“Hmhmm. I see.”
Kikyouin-san said in a mischievous voice.
“No wonder you stopped by so early in the morning. Helpin’ out the cleanin’ and wakin’ us up was the excuse…”
“Kikyouin-san!? Y-you’re wrong! I-I don’t particularly…”
Bashfully intertwining her fingers, she turned down a reddened face. There, Kagurai-senpai approached with a vexed expression,
“Damn, to think to think she’d steal a march like this… aaah, we never should’ve tried a surprise party.”
She said in a sulking tone.
“Orino-senpai, that’s unfair! If that’s how it’s going to be, I’ll… ah, but I don’t have my uniform so… Mrr…”
“W-wait, what are you all talking about!? I really wasn’t aiming for it! It was all just a coincidence, and as thanks for the party, at the very least, I wanted to help out the cleaning so…”
And she looked at me, pleading for help.
“Hey, Kagoshima-kun, you say something too.”
She told me.
I—couldn’t say a thing.
My head felt like it would burst in shock and confusion.
“… Kagoshima-kun? What’s wrong?”
Her expression turned doubtful as she peered into my face.
“I don’t even know where to start—”
I honestly voiced out the question on my mind.
“What are you doing, Yomiga-san?”
I said to her—Yomiga Eri-san.
An Orino-san-like face, Orino-san-like expression and gestures.
In an Orino-san-like voice, she even said the sort of things Orino-san might say.
She wore Orino-san’s uniform, moving how Orino-san might.
Yomiga Eri pretended to be Orino-san as thoroughly as humanly possible.
“… Huh? Umm—”
Yomiga-san touched a hand to her chin, a troubled look on her face.
It was a very Orino-san-ish gesture.
“W-what are you saying, Kagoshima-kun..? Y-Yomiga-san? Who’s that?”
“No, that would be you, right? What are you saying should be my line. Rather, what happened to your hair? Did you dye it?”
“… Kagoshima-kun? Are you still half-asleep?”
“I’m fully awake. Ah, don’t tell me, you swapped out with Orino-san to surprise everyone? Ah, in that case, I’m sorry for noticing. I didn’t even know you and Orino-san were acquainted, see.”
As we continued on an unmeshing conversation like that, the other members reached one after the next.
“H-hey, Kagoshima… what are you talking about? This is Orino, right? No matter how you look at her, its Orino.”
Kagurai-senpai paranoiacally posed the question.
“Oh not at all. This girl is called Yomiga Eri-san, she’s my childhood friend’s friend. Well, she looks really similar to Orino-san, and I can’t blame you if you get them mixed up.”
“… You bein’ serious? If it’s a joke, I ain’t laughin’.”
Kikyouin-san glared at me. Her eyes shook in suspicious and anxiety.
“It’s not about being similar, that’s Orino, isn’t it…! And wait, the presence I’m sensin’ belongs to Orino… right, Tamane-sama?”
She sought confirmation from Tama-chan beside her.
“Yeah, Yuzuki’s right on that one. We just strained ourself to examine for real, but there’s no doubt this presence belongs to that girl called Orino.”
Bringing about an air unthinkable of a little girl, Tama-chan stated definitively.
“Gakuta, how about it.”
Kagurai-senpai spoke out to Gakuta-kun in her pocket. In that instant, a mechanical light dwelled in the dolls eyes. Bzzt, clk, a strange electronic sound resounded.
“——— Scan Complete. Height, weight, retina, fingerprint voice print… identity matched with 99.999% confidence. The system doesn’t have a 100%, so it’s essentially the same thing. Everything from A to Z says Orino Shiori. Can’t be anyone else.”
“I see. That eliminates the possibility of a twin or doppelganger.”
Kagurai-senpai, Kikyouin-san, Kurisu-chan. The three of them looked at me with eyes fully exposing their skepticism. I couldn’t quite feel at home under those criticizing looks.
Huh? This is strange.
Why hasn’t anyone… noticed?
“H-hey, Yomiga-san. Hurry and tell them. They’re starting to think I’m speaking nonsense…”
I hurriedly sought out her lifeboat, but for some reason, she continued to act like Orino-san.
Orino Shiori was… being impersonated.
“But you are the one who’s not making any sense, Kagoshima-kun. Seriously, how long are you going to run with that? I’m going to get angry soon.”
Yomiga-san’s expression turned sullen.
At this timing, in this situation, it was indeed the sort of expression Orino would make, and indeed the words she would say.
“No, no, Yomiga-san. I already figured it out, so let’s just pull back the curtains. You’ve already fooled them plenty. If you don’t do it now, the opportunity will slip by.”
“A-and I’m asking who this Yomiga-san is…?”
“And I’m saying Yomiga-san is you. Ah, whatever, where’s Orino-san? Is she waiting to pop out somewhere? Orino-saaan! You can come out now!”
“O-Orino is me! Hey, Kagoshima-kun!”
It was a pleading voice. With a face about to cry, she strongly tugged at my arm…
But, I went on. It was simply an obvious fact.
“You’re Yomiga-san. Not Orino-san.”
The next instant, Yomiga-san’s expression vanished.
From her face, her whole body, all sorts of emotion chipped away. Only her slight moving lips indifferently emitted the words.
“It does seem—any further is futile.”
The atmosphere surrounding her took a drastic change.
Like a coin that had been flipped over, a sudden inversion.
Inorganic, emotionless, an expressionless face like a doll.
Truly a Yomiga-san-esque expression.
This was Yomiga Eri’s true form after giving up on playing Orino Shiori.
At the sudden confession, everyone apart from Yomiga-san and I stiffened up. But without taking heed of anyone else, Yomiga-san spoke to me.
“You surprised me—Kagoshima Akira. I thought I had completely pulled off the act, but what part tipped you off?”
“What part, well–”
Sure enough, they were more similar than I could comprehend.
More similar than twins or doppelgangers.
More than similar, the word identical was accurate, and I do think their existences overlapped in such a way that I’d accept it if I was told she was an Orino Shiori from another world.
“— I mean, you’re completely different.”
Said I. It was my honest impression.
Yomiga-san remained silent a while but eventually muttered in a quiet voice.
“He’s a man who doesn’t understand anything— but what’s truly important, that alone he understands.”
Those words were ones I had heard from Oshiri-chan a little while ago, Orino-san’s words.
Orino-san’s evaluation of me.
“So that’s how it is. In the end, that’s the sort of existence you are.”
“… Did you hear that from Orino-san? Or from Oshiri-chan?”
“I have perfectly traced her memory. No, I hold joint ownership, or perhaps they’ve been synchronized, phrasing it like that would be more accurate.”
“T-trace? Y-yeah. Tracing isn’t good. When manga artists and illustrators trace these days, I think it’s a serious problem.”
“Not just the memories. Her expression, gestures, tone… in every regard, I perfectly played Orino Shiori. Appearance goes without saying. From the start, this body was to accomplish this role…”
“Yeah. I think you really were just like her. Yomiga-san, I never expected it, but you’ve got the makings of a great actress.”
After repeating a conversation that had missed the mark at some point, the other members who’d been fixed as if frozen in time started moving.
Taking distance, stepping back from Yomiga-san, they gathered around me.
“State your identity!”
Kagurai-senpai shouted, her hostility on full display. But her profile exuded feelings of unease and fear. I hurriedly came in to help the girl out.
“K-Kagurai-senpai, how about we calm down a bit? I said it before, but this girl’s called Yomiga-san, and she’s an Orino-san lookalike—”
“Lookalike…? Quit with the jokes, whelp.”
Tama-chan interrupted my words in a frighteningly low voice. It was rare for the kid who clad herself in an air like a youkai who’d lived for centuries, a somewhat frightened voice.
“… We know a number of techniques to impersonate another, but this is not something so cheap… it is like a nightmare. Even now, we cannot believe this lass is not Orino Shiori.”
“——— Scan Complete. The result… no change. Hey now… this system even sees through clones… who the hell is this girl…”
“Who… are you!? What is your relation to Orino-senpai!?”
They were all glaring at Yomiga-san. As if looking upon some unknown monster, a combination of fear and wariness surfaced over their faces.
The air in the room suddenly stiffened. Within a painful silence, as if it didn’t bother her in the slightest, Yomiga-san calmly opened her mouth.
“I am not anyone. If I had to say—I am the ‘Cage of Death Remnant’s inferior copy. An imitation—at the same time, an existence bearing the role of her replacement.”
Indifferently, she carried on in a cold tone.
“Upon the Cage of Death Remnant’s absence from the world, I am to take her place and live as Orino Shiori. For the world to keep turning with nothing amiss, I am to fulfill the life of Orino Shiori—that is my final role, and my greatest role……”
Yomiga-san cut her words there; she directed her glass ball-like eyes at me.
“So this is the ‘ability to see through to the true nature of things’ that master mentioned—Kagoshima Akira. It is your fault that the very reason for my existence has disappeared.”
“Eh? You risked the very reason for your existence on swapping with Orino to surprise us? Well, umm… sorry for that. I didn’t mean to.”
“The reason I was born—is now ruined.”
While it came in a level voice fitting of her, even so, the voice ran with a faint hint of loneliness, so I kinda felt like my chest had been squeezed.
“… Kagoshima! Get over here!”
Right after, Kagurai-senpai pulled my arm and hid me behind herself. At the same time, Kikyouin-san and Tama-chan, Kurisu-chan stood before Yomiga-san.
A formation had been set up with myself at the center. If I had to put it in shogi terms, I was at the king position, and everyone else had gathered as the encirclement.
Everyone had thought to protect me.
In the Kagoshima House morning living room.
With Yomiga-san still like a doll.
For some reason, everyone had entered battle mode.
And—there was me, not understanding the situation.
I wouldn’t call it a Mexican standoff, but whatever the case, a strange triangular relationship had been formed.
Unable to bear this stiff atmosphere, I asked.
Everything she’d been saying for a while now had been incomprehensible, and while I couldn’t understand why everyone else had to get so serious, that didn’t really matter. Even if it didn’t matter, it was a secondary issue. There shouldn’t be a problem with me letting it slide. But there was just one thing that bothered me to no end. Something I couldn’t let slide.
“Where is Orino-san?”
Said I. That was all I wanted to ask.
As long as I knew that, the rest really didn’t matter. Whether it was a surprise, or long lost twins, or clones, or doppelgangers, as long as Orino-san would come out, I could send it all off with a laugh.
Flipping it over.
If Orino-san wasn’t there—there was nothing for me to laugh about.
“Hey, Yomiga-san. Where is Orino-san? She’s hiding somewhere, isn’t she? If you give her a call, she’ll come out, won’t she?”
“… Hey. Where’s Orino-san?”
“No seriously. Just tell me, just say something.”
“Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey… answer me.”
Yomiga-san didn’t say a thing.
Silently, she put a hand into her uniform pocket, took out a strangely shaped device, and touched it to her ear. Was it a cell phone? It was a model I’d never seen before.
“— Utsurohara Gouichirou. Change of plans. You may put off the organization’s destruction to a later date. Please make your way here.”
Her heatless eyes were directed at me.
“Start by—getting rid of Kagoshima Akira.”
Getting rid of.
At the turbulent word, the atmosphere of the other members changed. A strong light burned in their eyes as they directed looks of hostility at her.
But Yomiga-san continued her call with her unintonated voice.
“—Yes. You do not need to worry about being seen. Just in case, we have already cleared everyone out of the area. Of course, there might be a few unrelated people around, but it is nothing for you to worry about. No matter who you kill or what you break, we will take care of it on our end.”
And so, said Yomiga-san.
“Don’t worry about cleaning up or keeping low—go mad to your heart’s content.”
The moment those words had finished—truly in the very next moment.
Right beside us as we confronted Yomiga-san.
A large window that covered an entire wall, giving an uninterrupted view of the Kagoshima House yard.
The window glass let off a shattering sound as it cracked in its entirety.
There was no time to turn my head. With just a narrow glance to the side, the first thing that entered my eyes was the car’s license plate.
A truck to be more exact.
What’s more, the truck was, as they say, pimped out. So many decorations on the lights and bumpers there couldn’t be any more, it was a design that asserted its own individuality quite vehemently.
That pimped out semi—suddenly crashed in from the window. As we faced forward, suddenly a new vector infiltrated perpendicularly.
There wasn’t anyone in the driver’s seat.
That took out the possibility of drunk driving or falling asleep at the wheel.
Rather, to start with, the truck wasn’t riding along the ground. It floated around a meter above it, coming straight at us as if to pierce in diagonally down.
So rather than charging, maybe saying it was falling would be more accurate?
I just ended up giving an extremely lengthy description of a single instant, but is this what they call, you know, that? The revolving lantern thing?
When a human is cornered into a critical scenario, the processing speed of their brain accelerates to several tens the norm, and you’re able to see the scenery in slow motion; this present situation is exactly that.
The glass fragments that continued to flutter through the air reflected the morning sunbeams. Colliding with each and every fragment, the semi slowly approached.
What should I call this?
Like being punched by Gold Experience’s initial abilities? Or perhaps Szayelaporro Granz tasting the superhuman drug?
Anyways… everything was slow.
Naturally, my movements included.
I have to move, I thought, but it was almost as if my body wouldn’t move for me.
The pimped out semi-truck, cruelly slowly ran us down.
◇ ◇ ◇
“— Throwing a semi-truck with brute force, is it?”
In the space where the dust cloud rose, Yomiga Eri levelly spoke. Even gazing over the completely-destroyed scenery, her expression showed no change.
“As always, that Utsurohara Gouichirou’s methods have no elegance. Reckless, just brute forcing it. Perhaps I should have given some more precise instruction—that being the case, seeing how I didn’t take any damage at this distance, perhaps I could say that man did look out for me in his own way.”
After analyzing the damage her body incurred as someone else’s business, Yomiga looked over the surroundings.
The Kagoshima House Living Room no longer retained its original form.
The walls, the pillars, the furniture, it had all been destroyed. Because the ceiling had collapsed, the bed and bookshelves on the second floor had fallen to the first.
The truck that caused the destruction’s gasoline ignited on impact, blowing it up right after it made its destructive way through the living room.
The blast wave dispersed flames, burning through the Kagoshima House—no, what had once belonged to the Kagoshima House with a fearsome momentum.
The flames burned brilliantly, raising a deep black smoke. The miserable scene surrounding her spoke wonders of the destructive power a single bullet fired by a certain single psychic could inflict.
Albeit, the semi was far too massive, boasting far too fierce destructive power to call a bullet.
“There being no driver was— A coincidence, I surmise. There is no way that man would show such consideration to a civilian.”
Yomiga said as she fixed her eyes on a certain point.
In the room where everything had become a complete mess, as if a hole had been opened right up, a circular space had been formed.
It was the space the truck had passed through a few dozen seconds prior. Yet the damage it took was so little it could be called completely unscathed.
The flooring and carpet were just as they were, forget rubble, not a single fragment of glass had fallen there.
Seconds ago—it hadn’t changed at all from before the truck collided.
Gradually as the dust settled, an arrogant laugh resounded.
“Whatever half-wit did this, they must be taking us for a fool. Did you think you could do anything to the fair-faced gold pelted nine-tailed fox—Tamamo no Mae’s only daughter with an attack of that level.”
On the head of the young girl using words unbefitting her appearance, were fox ears. From her rear, nine gold, glimmering tails had sprouted, swaying languidly in the air.
The strongest demon fox in history—Tamamo no Mae.
The fox who strongly inherited her blood—Tamane.
The sealing collar the Kikyouin House imposed on her even now existed on her neck. But from the happening at the start of spring, the collar had lost its effect.
Therefore, Tamane was at present able to make use of her own abilities without any limit.
Of course, if it came to light the collar had been destroyed, the Kikyouin House wouldn’t stay silent.
For that sake, Tamane cooperated with Kikyouin Yuzuki, getting around to craftily, craftily use her abilities on occasion but—now, Tamane had released all the power of nine tails.
To defend against an attack far so sudden, she had no other choice.
“Yuzuki, are you hurt?”
“No, no problems to report.”
At Tamane’s call, Kikyouin Yuzuki answered.
Her form was no longer the casual-clothed one from a few dozen seconds ago.
With a characteristic white and red coloring, the garments of an onmyouji. Her right-hand fingers clenched a single barrier charm.
What defended against the truck collision was Tamane’s power. But the after-effects—the wind, and the rubble had been blocked by Kikyouin Yuzuki’s barrier.
By Kikyouin and Tamane’s combination, a coordinated defense.
It was possible precisely because the two had fought side by side, a maneuver that didn’t even need words, let along eye contact.
Around the barrier, even now fire burned. But right after, the blazing fire all condensed on a single point.
To the hand of a single young girl—it was drawn in.
“《Fire Lord’s Garden》”
The girl’s name was Kurisu Crimson Kuria.
Creastia Crimson Cridende Christopher Kurisu.
Much like Kikyouin, Kurisu’s form was no longer clad in the casual clothes of a moment ago. Over the garments constructed through magic, she wore the white robe she inherited from her mother. In her hand was a staff around as tall as she was.
“—Recognize, seize, absorb…”
The gathered flames were converted into her own magical energy. At the same time, the surrounding inferno was extinguished in its entirety, the black smoke burying up the space disappearing along with it.
To protect her comrades from the flames, and to power up herself.
Kurisu’s 《Fire Lord’s Garden》 was an offense and defense packed into one.
“Kagurai-senpai, is Kagoshima-senpai alright!?”
When she had finished affixing the incantation, Kurisu turned back and pleaded to Kagurai Monyumi.
“He’s fine! He’s lost consciousness, but it’s nothing serious!”
Kagurai-senpai was bent at the knees, cradling Kagoshima Akira up. Both Kurisu and Kikyouin made anxious faces at the phrase ‘lost consciousness’.
“L-lost consciousness… i-is he alright!?”
“… You’ve got to be kidding me. That was supposed to be a perfect defense, so why…”
Kagurai looked extremely reluctant to say the rest.
“The moment the truck bashed in, he went and tripped on his own, hit his head on the floor, and knocked himself out…”
Inadvertently thrown into the vanguard positions, Kikyouin, Tamane and Kurisu’s faces turned dubious all at once.
“Gya hahah. Ya don’t have to look at him like that.”
Gakuta raised his voice form Kagurai’s pocket.
“For argument’s sake, it looks like the idiot was trying to protect you lot.”
The stuffed animal’s eyes were directed at the lone young boy, soundly asleep.
“The moment of impact, the brat tried to get between you lot and the truck. Tried to be a shield and all that… good grief. Even if he did that, you’d all just be blown away together.”
His words caused everyone there to make a tired face.
There was no way to put it other than meaningless efforts. Even if Kagoshima Akira managed to stick up his body for them, to be blunt, there was no merit.
Rather, any out of place movements, and he would be a hindrance.
“Well, in the end, he panicked and took a tumble on his own, so he’s beyond help. Gyahahahah.”
Gakuta gave a grand laugh, and lured in, the female camp had some small laughs of their own.
They weren’t of scorn or ridicule.
Those were gentle wry smiles.
How like Kagoshima Akira, they had all thought.
He was a man who would always repeat actions misdirected or off the mark, but those numerous peculiar actions would always be for someone’s sake.
That’s why it was like him.
… Including knocking himself out shrewdly making it so he wasn’t troubling anyone.
“—It does look like he is uninjured.”
When the unaccented level voice resounded, the oh-so-slightly slackened air tensed up all at once.
Onmyouji, Kikyouin Yuzuki. Her partner, the great youkai Tamane.
Magician, Kurisu Crimson Kuria.
Cyber soldier, Kagurai Monyumi. Her brother, Kagurai Gakuta.
The five immediately returned to their battle-ready positions, their minds concentrated on Yomiga Eri. At the single girl who, no matter how they looked they could only see Orino Shiori.
“While Kagoshima Akira took just a little damage, that isn’t enough to call an injury. An appropriate defense to a sudden surprise attack—splendid.”
Words of praise spoken all too coldly. Her tone was far too indifferent, it could neither be taken as commendation or sarcasm. As a result of analyzing the situation, the opponent had taken adequate measures, so she merely pointed it out.
Such a business-like air drifted around Yomiga Eri’s praise.
“Hah. You’re creepier every time we look at you, woman.”
“… Her form’s Orino top to bottom, but that tone and personality… what do you call it, character? In that regard, she’s someone else entirely. I don’t know if you’re a replica or alternative or whatever, but could you give an explanation that’s just a tad easier to follow?”
Tamane and Kikyouin said belligerently as they took a step forward. Behind them, Kurisu, and even further back, Kagurai and Kagoshima waited. To protect the powerless Kagoshima, and Kagurai who couldn’t use her power in reality, this formation was only natural.
“If you’re not going to answer, no one’s forcing you.”
Holding Kagoshima tight, Kagurai voiced the words strongly.
“In that case—we’ll simply recognize you as an enemy.”
Keeping her silence, Yomiga touched the phone to her ear again.
“Utsurohara Gouichirou—your disorderly surprise attack has ended in a failure. Kagoshima Akira still lives.”
The moment she heard the statement, Kagurai’s expression turned grim.
She reaffirmed the ‘getting rid of Kagoshima’ she heard right before the sudden attack was neither a joke nor a lie. And—at the same time, this was also the moment they had all recognized Yomiga Eri as an enemy.
A definite enemy they could by no means overlook.
While each member took on a posture with no opening to exploit, Yomiga meanwhile showed no action. She maintained a neutral upright stance.
She made it look like she had no intent to attack on her own. Was she going to wait for this Utsurohara comrade of hers? In that case, should they initiate?
It happened as their thoughts turned to such things. Right beside them—a woman in glasses suddenly appeared.
As if she had teleported, she suddenly materialized in the air.
At this sudden visitor, their eyes opened in surprise.
But seeing the near-future design of the suit the woman wore, they immediately noticed she was associated with Orino Shiori. That explained the movement they could only think of as supernatural powers.
“Kagoshima Akira… and, the rest are Orino’s friends from school, eh.”
The woman in glasses muttered, gazing over the group.
Her brow was stained in sweat, her breathing was shallow and short. Parts of her suit were damaged, with the gashes and traces of blows standing out. Her entire body hinted of traces of battle.
“The name’s Kugayama and… ah, no, who I am doesn’t matter. Anyways, we don’t have time.”
The woman in glasses—Kugayama said as her gaze turned to the unconscious Kagoshima.
“I’ll get to the point. Hand over that man.”
Came a rough voice to the sudden happening.
Holding up Kagoshima, Kagurai answered her.
“D-don’t be stupid! You suddenly pop in, say that, and expect us to just hand him over!?”
“Don’t be alarmed. For argument’s sake, I’m on your side. I’m telling you to hand him over for his safety.”
“I’ve heard a bit about you people from Orino. Don’t know the specifics, but anyways, you’re those sorts of people, right?”
Kugayama looked over the group in turn.
Kurisu and Kikyouin in their outfits disconnected from reality, Tamane with her ears and tail, the autonomously driven Gakuta—gazing over the girls who clearly didn’t seem to be civilians,
“Very soon, the worst possible man will get here. I don’t really get it, but he’s after Kagoshima. Masaki’s desperately holding him back for now, but he won’t hold out long.”
She said as her sharp eyes glared at Yomiga.
“I was wondering why Utsurohara suddenly went on a rampage, but this time, getting rid of Kagoshima Akira…? Good grief, my head’s going to burst. The hell’s going through your head? Orino lookalike…”
“Kugayama Momoe—I could grasp over the phone Utsurohara was in combat with someone, but to think his opponent would be that Masaki Souhei. I heard the organization’s annihilation was almost over, but it looks like you’re still alive and well.”
Yomiga ignored her foe’s question, giving her own objective view.
Kugayama clicked her tongue, returning her eyes to Kagoshima once more.
“I’ve got a debt to him, for what it’s worth. Seeing him die’ll make it harder to sleep at night. Anyhow, just hand him over. I won’t do him ill.”
Kugayama reached a hand towards Kagoshima, urging them on with pressing eyes. Kagurai thought for a moment, but,
“… Got it, he’s yours.”
In the end, entrusted Kagoshima to her.
A situation where Kagoshima was the target, and Kugayama’s teleport ability.
Layering the two facts and some consideration led to the decision the first course of action should be to evacuate Kagoshima from this spot.
After lightly shouldering Kagoshima,
“… You guys better get going soon too.”
Kugayama said, and immediately vanished. The girls without saying, even Yomiga simply watched it happened. With her need to hold Kagoshima gone, Kagurai stood and faced Yomiga. In a cynical tone, she asked.
“Yomiga Eri, was it? You don’t have to chase Kagoshima?”
“If I try to give chase, you’ll stop me. Please do not ask something so obvious.”
Yomiga answered curtly. Kagoshima’s flight at the hands of an intruder should have been an unforeseen turnabout from her side as well, yet even so her expression didn’t change.
“—So what do we do?”
Standing at the forefront, Tamane with her eyes affixed forward called out to those behind her.
“Listen to the glasses woman and flee? Or torment this doll woman until she coughs up information? We don’t mind either way, but if we had to say, we’d prefer the later.”
Baring her developed canines, she made a ferocious smile. Her voice brimmed full with her belligerent nature, and her confidence as a great yokai.
“—Utsurohara. Can you hear me?”
After a while of silent thought, Yomiga took out the phone again.
“The situation has changed. There is no further need for you to come to the Kagoshima House. Kagoshima Akira has been taken off somewhere by Kugayama Momoe, who you let get away—no, I am not being cynical. I did not expect a perfect job from you to begin with.”
A mechanical tone, a doll expression.
While it wasn’t as blatant as Tamane, even so, everyone present directed a hostility similar to bloodlust at her. Regardless, her pace didn’t crumble.
She marched to the beat of her own drum to such an extent it could be called unnatural.
Like a set alarm clock going off at the same time every morning—like she was simply there to fulfill her own role, she indifferently conducted business.
At such a defenseless bearing, Kagurai felt a hint of irritation.
It was only inevitable. When they were attempting to face her, to confront her as an enemy, Yomiga didn’t seem to feel like answering in kind.
Perhaps it was a little different from considering them a waste of effort, but it came with the tired futility of arguing with a prerecorded message.
Still—the next instant, that futility faded
“Utsurohara—please chase after Kagoshima Akira. The five here—Kagurai Monyumi. Kagurai Gakuta. Kikyouin Yuzuki. Tamane. Kurisu Crimson Kurise—I shall get rid of them.”
It had finally come.
Yomiga Eri would finally confront them.
The air shifted in the blink of an eye.
The aura surrounding Yomiga Eri changed into something else entirely.
Once unreliable and ambiguous, she could now be perceived more vividly. Her overwhelming sense of presence forcefully caused the girls to embrace fear. Even Tamane who had been making an arrogant smile only seconds before, let the last remnants of her leisure fade away.
Their expressions tightened, their minds concentrated to the utmost limit.
These actions were far closer to an instinct than a reaction. Like the eager barks of a puppy confronted with a ravenous beast, they were an action that gave the impression of the fear of the weak.
A tension that didn’t give time to breathe ruled the area.
The five of them had experienced countless life or death battles.
While the variety and battlefields differed, each member was an individual who had risked their life with no exaggeration.
Still—no, precisely because it was so.
The girls cowered at the ‘something’ before their eyes. The more confidence they built up surmounting many a battlefield, so too did their fear of the unknown grow stronger.
That being the case, more so, the fact they were capable of cowering there was worthy of admiration. In the case a civilian was here—for example, a civilian like Kagoshima Akira, the pressure Yomiga Eri emitted alone might cause them to swoon.
It was precisely because these girls had fought for the world that they were narrowly able to confront the ‘something’ before them.
Just barely, they had the qualifications to confront her.
“I did not have any plans to move, but—no if I have lost the role of a replacement, I have no other course of action. I cannot leave such dirty work to my master.”
Within that stinging atmosphere, Kagurai bit onto the word.
“You’re saying there’s someone issuing you orders…? Are they the ringleader? It’s all under their orders? Both impersonating Orino and getting rid of Kagoshima?”
Where every aspect of the situation was ambiguous, she could only forcefully link fragments of information to set up a rough hypothesis.
From Kagurai’s point of view, she planned to say it for something to grasp onto.
Not through wishful thinking, but through hopeless thought.
In this circumstance that might make her abandon thought entirely, the result of her even-so strong-willed thoughts was a supposition she never wished to reach.
Yet still, Kagurai’s words brought a definite change to Yomiga.
“—These are not master’s orders. It is my own voluntary action. If possible, I wouldn’t want my master to have to resort to violence. Getting down to the base issue, I do not want him to have to give me orders—even if it’s indirectly, I do not wish for him to dirty his hands.”
She said as she cast down her eyes.
“If he does that—he’ll be hurt again.”
The doll-like girl put out a human face.
“That man… is a kind person. He’s kinder than anyone.”
Sudden as they came, Kagurai and the others failed to comprehend Yomiga’s words.
But the feelings she oozed alone came across. Those shaking emotions served to somewhat mitigate the pressure locking their bodies in place.
“That’s why—by my own hand, I’ll bury you.”
Right after, the faintly warping air compressed to its original—no, passed its original state.
Yomiga opened her eyes.
What were there were inorganic eyes of glass. Losing every last remnant of humanity, inhuman eyes they were.
Yomiga took a step forward.
She hadn’t even blinked when the long-haul truck collided, and now for the first time, she showed definitive movement.
The action—heightened Kagurai’s vigilance and concentration to the very limit.
Not knowing the enemy she fought, of the reason.
Even so, her fundamental fear as a living being urged her on.
Her instincts cried out.
To escape from this ‘something,’ there was no choice but to put up a frantic resistance.
Without that resistance— death.
Kikyouin Yuzuki moved.
Biting her own thumb, she composed a blood spell on a charm she produced from her bosom.
In red characters, she wrote out the ceremony of possession. A curse to let an unhuman entity possess her own flesh.
The one Kikyouin attempted to summon in her—the partner she could trust more than anyone: Tamane.
The fair-faced, gold pelted nine-tailed fox’s lone daughter.
Having inherited powers rivaling a god, the sole nine-tailed fox of the modern era.
Once the blood letters composed on the charm let off a dubious light, Tamane’s form began to vanish as if melting away into Kikyouin’s body.
Right after, her mouth raised a scream. As if man and beast had been added and divided by two, a scream that wasn’t so gentle on the ears.
Fox ears sprouted from her gold hair, their hue as if the color had drained out, as tails clad in a divine light grew from her rear.
Gradually, the number of tails increased.
One, two, three, four.
Each time, Kikyouin’s body would squirm, she raised a voice that was neither a war cry nor a scream.
‘Oy, Yuzuki, are you alright!?’
From inside her head, the soul of the assimilated Tamane cried out.
‘As we thought, this curse really is pushing it! Don’t increase the tails any further.’
The yokai power so vast it might leap from her body at any moment, desperately she contained it with her own spiritual energy as she thought.
(That’s… no good. If I don’t give it my all, I’ll never defeat this one…)
Four. Five. Six. Seven.
‘You fool! Planning to throw your life away!?’
(… Haha. No way in ‘ell. So please lend me all you’ve got. Tamane-sama. If it’s the two of us, just maybe we’ll survive this.)
“Kikyouin style forbidden art…”
The fox-like ears moved, the fox-like tails quivered, Kikyouin spoke.
“The ritual of man and fox.”
This spell was birthed by the Kikyouin house in an attempt to control the fair-faced gold pelted nine tailed fox. Of course, there wasn’t a single precedent of it succeeding, as all who tried the ritual were killed by Tamane’s mother without exception.
At that very moment, Kikyouin Yuzuki succeeded in a forbidden ritual no one in the past had ever accomplished. While her talents were a contributing factor, the largest reason was Tamane’s power.
It was precisely because Tamane was asserting her all to control the power from the inside that Kikyouin could stand without losing her ego.
It was a success only for Kikyouin Yuzuki, who had reconciled with the fox.
However, even so, to Kikyouin’s body, that far-too-vast youkai power was nothing but a poison.
(It’s fine… if I manage to expel all this power that’ll overflow at any minute.)
Exhaling through the gaps in her sharp fangs, Kikyouin cried out.
Several hundred years ago—
Tamamo no Mae was blessed by the god of lightning—the Heavenly Lord of Universal Transformation Whose Voice of Thunder Resonates from the Origin of the Nine Heavens with the lightning of destruction.
This lightning far too powerful was hard to control even with Tamane’s power, and it was impossible to limit its scope. Just activating it once would turn an entire town to ash.
But in this state—in this state combining human and yokai, it was just barely possible to control the lightning.
It was possible to concentrate that geography-changing heavenly retribution on a single point.
“《Nine Thunder Play》!”
Kagurai Monyumi moved.
“Dive In Realworld Code KAGURAI Boost Access.”
The combat of Kagurai Monyumi had all taken place within the B3 World. Due to that, when compared to the other three girls, her combat prowess clearly fell short.
While she was trained in martial arts to an extent, even so, in the real world she was close to powerless.
Regardless of the fearsome power she held in the B3 World, it was close to meaningless in this one.
(The image. Treasure the image.)
She—attempted to completely grasp this world.
The B3 World was an electronic virtual space. Humans of the future like Kagurai would inject their consciousness into it to operate within that space.
Meaning, it was like infiltrating a different world with one’s soul.
In that case.
If she were to inject her soul from this world into this world—
Her brother spoke up from inside her pocket.
“… Whatever happens ain’t on me.”
“Don’t talk to me, you’ll throw off my calculations… you start concentrating already.”
“Good grief… in theory, you should be able to manifest it in this world for 0.27 seconds. Just in theory, mind you!”
Kagurai repeated calculations. There was no time to check over them. Even putting together her and Gakuta’s brain, she would have to calculate every aspect of a world that changed with each passing instant, no matter how much time she had, it would never be enough.
(Make the boundary between the B3 World and reality as fuzzy as possible…)
What she was to do now, if one had to say, was an underhanded trick.
Like fooling a computer.
The principle was identical to an out-of-body experience.
Her own existence—she would input it into this world as a numerical equation. Fool the world, and make ambiguous the rules under limited circumstance.
(Everything in this world is a probability. If you can calculate it in its entirety, then probabilistically, I can materialize in this world…!)
With a flop, her body collapsed.
Kagurai Monyumi’s body, without any defensive reflexes, collapsed on the ground.
An instant faster than that, a translucent something leapt from that body.
“… It worked!”
Her transparent, unstable existence called out. Its form was identical to the one she usually took on during combat in the B3 World.
“No time! We’re settling this at once.”
The existence answered to the twitching bear ears. The diamond-shaped wings growing from her back spread out like a peacock, to show that existence off to the new world.
“Lill Swordia—Mode Change—Category Zero.”
The blue sword she held in her right hand underwent a mechanical change, transfiguring into countless blades.
A transformation as if it had preserved conservation of mass in reverse. The unthinkable countless swords born of a single blade filled the space.
A memento of Kagurai Gakuta, Lill Swordia.
There wasn’t another in the world, the one and only sword of its type. A blade inputted with the data of weapons from all times and all places, it was programmed to be able to change shape into any possible weapon.
What she was about to do was a technique that drew out Lill Swordia’s weapon manifestation ability to its absolute maximum.
The strongest secret move worked out by Kagurai Gakuta.
“《Sword of Sin》!”
“—Darkness deep beyond end, gently envelop the merciless light—”
Her words were incomprehensible to anyone there besides Kurisu.
Because her chant, the words of the world Kurisu had lived—the planet Welnoss, the east coast of the Claure Continent, the country of Lughstoria—they were not.
Even if a resident of Lughstoria were here, unless they were a master magician, they would quite likely not be able to understand her words.
The spell in its entirety was spoken in ancient tongue.
In the Claure Continent, far before the humans breathed their first breath, it was the language used by the dragons.
A spell incantation in ancient tongue was far quicker than a normal chant, and the output of the magics born from it would drastically increase.
“—Darkness and light. Day and night. God and the devil. Oh, let it all return to the chaos of origin—”
But as ancient language incantations were more deeply, more closely tied to the planet, the burden on the practitioner was disproportionately greater than a normal spell in a language made for man.
This was an obsolete technique no one of the modern era wanted to use.
Not to mention.
The technique Kurisu was using now was in itself a spell called a forbidden curse, and if she were to layer an ancient tongue incantation on top of that—it was a foolish act one could only see as suicide.
Reciting the incantation, Kurisu instructed herself.
(It’ll be fine. When I used it against Griel-kun the other day, the aftereffects were lighter than expected. So even if I pair it with ancient language, I’m sure…)
The spell she was about to chant was a spell that served as her mother’s trump card. She had acquired it not too long ago and lost her magic for a week as compensation.
However, that spell was one Allua, sung of as the ‘Flower Beyond Reach’ had only ever used enough times to count on a hand. It went without saying, she never once paired it with an ancient incantation. Allua never even thought to test that.
This trump card was what had brought her victory against the Devil’s Child, Griestark D’Ifa Licuio Soel, but naturally, she hadn’t tried ancient tongue then.
Because a normal incantation would suffice. Its normal output concealed enough damaging potential to push back the Devil’s child.
“—Further, further, further still—”
In Kurisu’s body, the planet’s power—mana converged. It was a common sight whenever she used magic, but today was clearly different from usual.
An abnormal amount of mana gathered at her. It was such a power that even Kurisu herself who had activated the spell felt fear towards.
Still—she wouldn’t stop it.
(… Mama, papa, grandma…)
As if to pray, she mouthed the final verse.
Three different attacks, each with all their user’s might. With their unexaggeratedly life-risking hidden techniques before her eyes, Yomiga Eri showed no change.
Indifferently to the end, she answered.
“Splendid attacks. In regards to an unknown enemy, hammering them down with all your might from the first move isn’t a bad hand to play.”
Like that, she continued to objectively evaluate her enemy.
As always, she maintained her expressionlessness, but she wasn’t particularly making a poker face. Neither was she concealing her emotions. Her emotions were by no means difficult to exhibit.
The result of her honestly displaying whatever emotion was born in her heart simply turned out as a doll-like expressionless. Never once had she ever attempted to maintain her own lack of expression. Therefore, in the rare chance her heart was moved, she would all too easily leak her true thoughts.
For example, the words World of Death and Cage of Death Remnant would bring large ripples to her heart. But anything else, like hitting at a frozen lake, wouldn’t cause anything to sway.
To put things simply—it took a lot to stir her heart.
But that was all there was to it.
And right now, Yomiga Eri was expressionless.
Meaning, the moment three top-class attacks were directed at her—this was not one of those ‘a lot’s. Yomiga quietly held out her hand.
Without a hint of panic, an elegant motion.
With lips very reminiscent of Orino Shiori, she spun out her words.