The Zashiki Warashi of Intellectual Village - novelonlinefull.com
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…What is going on?
Below the clear winter sky and surrounded by the smell of gasoline and smoke, I desperately used my aching head to think while clinging to the side of a crushed police car.
I was in Ichigaya.
I was familiar with the landmarks, such as the fishing hole in front of the train station and the branch of a certain TV station, but the most important thing there was the Ministry of Defense facility. The large military antenna tower was visible from anywhere in the area.
A small parade had been scheduled for today. Some newly arrived amba.s.sador was obsessed with the military yet dulled by peace, so he apparently liked to visit military facilities in different countries like a history buff visiting historical sites.
There had apparently been a fair bit of argument over whether the JSDF or the police should be in charge of his protection, but everyone had been quite carefree on the scene. Of course, the only people taking part in the parade were members of the bodyguard division and others who had cleared a strict background check. Plus, the parade was following a prearranged course, so they only had to patrol roads that just so happened to all look the same.
The least important group there was the 0-X Office that specialized in Youkai-related cases. That Office was filled with civilian middle school girls like Mystery Freak Hishigami Enbi and Hachikawa Tomoe. They couldn't exactly drive a car and I couldn't recruit civilians for this anyway.
And that's why I, Uchimaku Hayabusa, was the only member of the 0-X Office on the job.
That was all it was.
I should have only been there for two or three hours.
It happened suddenly.
Another group of vehicles charged into the intersection that should have been blocked off.
If it had been an armed group, this would have been a major incident.
But it turned out to be even more of a pain in the a.s.s.
"Dammit. Why did a bunch of JSDF trucks painted in jungle colors crash into us!?"
"They're not trying to get back at us for taking the bodyguard job from them, are they? And what's that? A girl!?"
As we hid in the same car together, Sotobori Gaku, the heavy tank of the organized crime division, shouted hysterically.
We were surrounded by a mixture of crushed police and JSDF vehicles.
As everyone aimed their guns at each other from extremely close range, a single conspicuous figure stood in the center.
It was not the amba.s.sador.
It was the girl that Sotobori had mentioned.
She looked like a white witch.
The girl was around eighteen. She has long, rough white hair and an ankle-length outfit that looked like a simplified dress. She had leather belts around her wrists and ankles, short chains, and…softball-sized iron b.a.l.l.s?
We were all confused, but the girl gently raised both hands like a conductor and spoke loudly between the two groups.
"You seem quite fixated on me, but isn't this a dangerous situation!? You will trigger an international incident, JSDF!!"
She was answered by the speaker on the roof of one of the military trucks.
The person speaking was a woman who would have looked more at home in an executive secretary's luxury suit than in camouflage.
"Did you think we would end our pursuit for safety's sake if you fled into the parade? Or did you think you would trigger a conflict over jurisdiction with the police? We don't care about any of that! Not if it means letting you escape here, Hishigami Ama!!"
My heart leapt in my chest.
Hishi…gami? Hishigami!? She's a Hishigami Woman just like Mystery Freak Enbi and the even worse Mai!?
The white-haired girl remained carefree.
"A ma.s.s shooting by a rogue JSDF unit? I can't wait to see the papers tomorrow! No, this would probably warrant a special report. Anyway, are you that worried about staying on the Hishigami Men's good side? I mean, you are the Hishigami Group's biggest customer and I should probably be rubbing my hands together in antic.i.p.ation of your future business with us, but it still saddens me that you would ignore the everyday people to do a company's dirty work!"
"This has nothing to do with Hishigami!"
"That doesn't matter. And sorry, but I can't let myself be captured here. Especially by someone involved with the Men. So I think I'll make a bit of a mess of things here. Specifically…I'll get some help from a police officer who'll actually fight for the common man!"
I exchanged a shocked look with Sotobori.
"Hey, this ain't good. I don't know what's going on, but she's coming this-…gwoh!?"
What!? What just happened!?
The white witch should still have been a long way off, but the next thing I knew, white cloth was fluttering before my eyes and that heavy tank with some rank I'd forgotten in judo had been tossed aside and dazed.
And this was when we were holding our guns!
"Stop it, stop it, stop it."
It was as easy as taking candy from a baby.
I was on the receiving and not even I could tell what had happened. She easily took the gun from my hands and put my arm in a joint lock behind me with a single hand. She can move like this with those iron b.a.l.l.s on her legs!? Dammit!
She pressed up against my back, presumably to use me as a shield.
I felt something soft on my back and her sweet breath reached my ear.
"If all you can do is fire at paper targets underground with earplugs in, then go have some fun in Guam. This doesn't suit you, detective."
"Dammit. Are you a Hishigami more like Mai than like Enbi!?"
"Oh, you know our name? And it didn't fill you with fear. I find that 'hope' very interesting."
The police and the JSDF both focused their guns in this direction.
Hishigami Ama smiled as she used me as a shield and pressed my gun against my back.
"Stop it. You have me completely surrounded, so firing will only lead to friendly fire. You belong to different organizations, but you're both working toward the peace of this country, right? That sad ending wouldn't suit you!"
"Gh! It's your fault it's turning out that way!"
"Pipe down, detective. Just so you know, this is meant to help all of you."
"You have until the count of ten," said the JSDF official.
"They're ready to do this. And! Do you really think I'd let go of my hostage in such a juicy situation!?"
"He is a public servant. It is his duty to sacrifice himself for social stability."
"Do all of you have issues!? You all stand out so much the VIP amba.s.sador is fading into the background!"
"I know what you mean. And I have no time to play along with their bluff." Hishigami Ama whispered to me. "My true pursuers will be here soon."
It happened a moment later.
It was like a meteor strike.
With an explosive sound, a nearby police car was crushed before violently exploding. The same happened to a JSDF truck soon thereafter. The JSDF official quickly tried to retreat, but she was knocked out by the blast.
But what in the world was happening?
I looked up into the sky as Hishigami Ama twisted my arm and something blotted out the sun.
There were a few objects in the blue sky.
"Didn't you know? A tornado can throw building materials with lengths of a few thousand meters right up into the air. And of course, what goes up must come down. With plenty of help from gravitational acceleration, a single pac.h.i.n.ko ball can be deadly. So get down."
More and more heavy sounds rang out.
Each time, I felt a squeeze at my heart.
I could see something like a muddy gray pillar moving between the buildings in the distant sky. Don't tell me that's a tornado?
"The legend of a Tengu's fan was probably used to artificially create a tornado. I'm guessing this was s.h.i.tsu's doing. She says she destroys education, but she uses the legend of Ushiwakamaru."
It was all too fragile.
Both the police and the JSDF had been using the vehicles as shields. So now that those shields were being crushed one after another, there was nothing they could do. Unable to maintain any form of leadership, they could only scatter in every direction.
"I always tell her not to do that since it isn't all that accurate. …Now, detective, what will you do?"
"A few other Hishigami Women are after me. Your poor colleagues will be in danger if I don't leave here. You don't want to let me go, but that just means you have to go with me."
"And more importantly, wasn't your job here to protect that amba.s.sador from wherever? Based on your behavior, you're not part of the bodyguard division, but that doesn't mean you want to abandon your duty, does it?"
I had no choice. Sotobori was still in a daze, I had no idea where the amba.s.sador had ended up, and she had me in an armlock.
"Fine. Let's go with that."
"I will praise you for the quick decision, Detective Uchimaku. But you need to pay closer attention."
"Ah! That's my police badge!"
The white witch let go of my arm and tossed me my badge and gun.
I was shocked.
I had a.s.sumed she would keep the gun for herself.
"Are you sure?"
"You can't kill me with that. You can't use it to kill the other Hishigami Women either."
Ama's white head shook.
A moment later, I heard an incredible explosion and a fist-sized hole appeared in the police car door.
"What…is it now!? Sniper fire!? Is it the JSDF!?"
"The sound didn't clue you in? They wouldn't use an antique like the 1941. One of the others is here already. More importantly, you need to run. Follow me. Unless you plan to take on an anti-tank rifle with that revolver."
Everything about this was a complete mess.
The tornado was still going strong and now a large sniper rifle was firing at us. We were being pursued by two different a.s.sa.s.sins.
I could only run through the chaos while making sure I didn't lose sight of Hishigami Ama's back. She had iron b.a.l.l.s attached to her ankles, but I couldn't catch up. My legs nearly froze up from the occasional sounds of destruction pursuing us, but stopping was not going to improve the situation. A police car wouldn't block a bullet like that. It would blow a hole in both the car and me.
"Hah hah! Can you believe this, Detective Uchimaku!? We're being shot at with a gigantic rifle that blew holes in tanks seventy years ago! Can't you feel the history!?"
"Shut up, you freak! What the h.e.l.l is that!?"
"Yuu who Destroys Systems. As you can see, she's a brawny combat type that's obsessed with weird old Soviet weapons. s.h.i.tsu does some more general damage and Yuu finishes us off. That's their impudent idea of teamwork."
The dark smoke from the exploding vehicles may have worked in our favor.
We left the destroyed vehicles and arrived at a police car that was somehow still in a workable state.
I grabbed the driver's side door, but only received a solid sensation. Oh, d.a.m.n. They actually bothered to lock it!
I slammed my elbow into the window, but it didn't even crack.
"It's bulletproof!? Curse the parade specifications. My elbow's tingling!!"
"We don't have time to mess around. Yuu will shoot us. So excuse me a moment."
She had said I needed to pay closer attention.
Even so, I couldn't help but stare in shock when she smoothly removed my tie.
What happened next was an even greater shock.
She stabbed with it.
Ama swung the tie and stabbed it into the gap next to the car door. Then she pulled it straight down and I heard the internal latch breaking.
You're kidding, right?
She smashed it…like with an axe?
The white witch then popped open the door.
"You can have this back. What's that curious look for? A single hair is enough to kill a tiger, right? And a tie is far better than a hair."
"No, wait. How much of an expert are-…!?"
"We can talk later. Or do you want to get hit by that 1941? C'mon, get in, get in!"
Before I could say anything more, she kicked me into the driver's seat. Then she climbed in.
And sat right on my lap.
"Are you just messing with me!?"
"I don't have time to circle around to the pa.s.senger seat. We need to drive off like this."
"I don't recall any laws against driving while sitting in a man's lap."
I don't even care anymore…
When I just about stopped caring what happened, Ama used her bare hand to smash the ignition below the steering wheel.
"This should be fun. I've always wanted to hold a steering wheel."
"I care again! You mean you don't even have a license!?"
But if we stuck around for too long, we would be hit by that Hishigami Yuu person's 1941.
We really did end up driving off in a bizarre Nininbaori style.
…Driving on public roads like this has got to be a yellow light for my life as a detective.
"Okay, let me introduce myself, Favorite-kun. I'm Ama, Hishigami Ama. I'm 18, I'm female, and I have no education history. I've never been to a school. Yeah, that goes against my duty as a citizen. People call me 'Ama who Destroys Hope'. Whether you're an individual or a group, bring it on. Nice to meet you."
"You keep changing what you call me, but I'm Uchimaku Hayabusa. And that introduction doesn't explain anything! What is going on!?"
On the roof of a building near Ichigaya's Ministry of Defense facility, a woman in a bikini top and skinny pants lay face-down on the thick military coat laid out below her. She sounded exasperated as she spoke into a cellphone.
She was Hishigami Yuu.
"Oh, dear. Oh, dear. This might be bad. The target is active. I repeat, the target is active."
She was not sunbathing out of season.
She calmly held a 1941, an anti-tank rifle around two meters long.
She was answered by the innocent voice of a ten-year-old girl.
"Were you really trying to hit her?"
"Of course I was. Why would I hold back? But this is Ama we're talking about. It's hard to aim for her with the way she staggers around!"
"What about the Nopperabou included in the sniping unit? If you use its power to enchant your opponent, can't you make any opponent stand stock still for two seconds?"
"No, no. Didn't I just say this is Ama? She'd use it against me."
"Hmm. Then you should have shot that detective in the leg so she had to carry him around."
"If I did that with this 1941, it'd be like shooting a red water balloon. And…"
"…I don't really like shooting that kind of hot-blooded guy."
She heard a giggle from over the phone.
The beautiful woman in a bikini top quickly stood up.
"H-hey! I'm talking about the kind noise!"
"That's fine. But we can't let Ama-chan escape. You need to continue the pursuit, Yuu-chan."
"Okay, but I can't pursue someone in a car. Jumping from building to building as a shortcut can only take me so far."
"Don't worry about that. A few of the others are on the move to keep them in place. Like Rou-chan, and Arawa-chan, and Raku-chan…"
"That's just playing dirty."
"And since I don't want anyone accusing me of being all talk, I'll be heading out too."
"W-well… Ah ha ha. I-is this really worth having you head out there? I need to give this my all!"
"I'm heading out because I'm worried the rest of you aren't going to be enough. See you there. Vee."
"Ah, wait!? …She hung up."
With that surprised comment, the beautiful woman scratched her head.
She grabbed the military coat she had been lying on and draped it over her shoulders.
" 'Yume who Destroys Ethics' is seriously going to make an appearance? Is this the end for Tokyo?"
I used the surviving police car to take Hishigami Ama away from the scene of confusion in order to protect the amba.s.sador and my colleagues, but another problem soon showed itself.
I slammed on the brakes.
The next intersection was filled with people. It was like accidentally driving toward a scramble crossing, but the light was green for cars. As I stared in confusion at the one or two hundred people crammed into the intersection, the "answer" slammed into the windshield.
It was not that the commotion we were leaving had caused a panic.
They were glittering gold…coins?
I had never seen coins that color or size.
"Those are Olympic gold medals. Each one is worth a little less than ten thousand yen. I believe they're worth more than they should be for their gold content."
Ama a.n.a.lyzed the golden hail and gave the horrifying answer from my lap.
When I looked out again, I could see them pouring down like a light rain. A single bolt could be deadly if it fell from a building rooftop, but everyone was spreading their arms to catch these. Pa.s.sersby were fighting over the gold medals scattered across the ground.
And Hishigami Ama kept her lips moving as she sat in my lap.
"That means this must be 'Rou who Destroys Finances'. Using a mere million yen to clog up one of Tokyo's arteries and cause more than five billion yen in economic losses is exactly her way of doing things. …And I bet these are the 'leaf coins' that Tanuki and Foxes like so much. Truly awful."
"Wait a second. Don't tell me the other roads will be blocked too…"
"I see no reason why they wouldn't be. It's time to get out. If we stay here, Soviet-obsessed Yuu will start shooting at us again. Luckily, there's a crowd we can slip into."
I didn't try to argue.
We opened the driver's side door which we had never properly closed and rushed out. We weaved through the crowd and between the cars as we walked.
"What do we do now? If cars are out, then the train? Where's the ZR!?"
"Wait. The platform area is pretty noisy."
"What is it now!? There's trouble there too!?"
"It sounds like that doping-lover Raku. 'Raku who Destroys Health'. I don't want to get anywhere near there. She tends to go a little nuts with the camellia that symbolizes both long life and approaching death. Who knows what she can cause just by placing a single meaningful flower on the platform."
Ama's annoyed voice did not stop there.
"By the way, Raku specializes in disguises and disturbance tactics, so be careful. …After all, she's an indoor type who never really exercises, yet she has less than 3% body fat. Just by adding padding in her clothing, she can give herself whatever body type she wants."
"Th-then what about the subway!?"
I quickly changed direction toward the stairway down from the sidewalk.
But a moment later, my sense of time was blown away.
Something waited for us below those stairs.
I felt like my entire soul would be taken away.
According to a semi-serious science paper, humans could not relax when faced with things on an unfamiliar scale. For example, people might want a dessert so large they could never eat it all or to watch a swimsuit model video on a gigantic home theater screen, but if they actually came across those things, their mind was unable to keep up and they felt fear.
It was like facing a giant swarm of wriggling insects or standing in front of a giant salivating mouth.
Some kind of sweet aroma wafted out from the giant maw that was the subway entrance.
But the quant.i.ty and density were simply too great.
I could not bear it.
I lowered my head, bent my body, and found myself vomiting on the sidewalk.
"Hm, hm, hm. Hm, hm, hm. Hm, hm, hm, hm, hm☆"
I heard an innocent girl's voice.
But my vision was blurred by tears and I couldn't see anything.
Who was it?
Who was there?
" 'Yume who Destroys Ethics.' She's probably used a Gaki or a Hidarugami to create a s.p.a.ce of desire so thick it might as well be on the verge of a dust explosion. Drop a single bread crumb and people will start fighting over it. When a Gaki tries to eat something, it burns before their eyes and yet they continue to seek after more food. That means this is probably based on light, perhaps from the victims' smartphone and cellphone screens. …This time, the intense desire she created is probably hunger. Anyway, their phones are flashing in a way that induces that desire. And she really plays dirty since she alone remains unharmed within that h.e.l.lish scene."
Ama rubbed my back as she explained.
Even that white witch said this was "playing dirty".
"The subway is out too. C'mon, stand up. If you don't, Yume will consume you."
"Wait a second… Ugh. We can't just leave those people down in the subway…"
"For the most part, Yume won't kill. After all, death will free them from their desires. Although whether heaven or h.e.l.l waits them in the afterlife is up to their own values. Of course, some of them will probably get carried away by the extreme situation and happily decide to fulfill all of their desires."
She practically had to drag me away as we started running again.
How many more Hishigami Women were there around here?
I shook my confused head and asked a question while gasping for breath.
"Can we really…escape?"
"I can only think of one way."
"We walk," smoothly answered Hishigami Ama. "It sounds surprising, but it's true. Tokyo is full of security cameras these days and they can apparently track their target from their walking pattern and the color palette of their face even if they can't get a straight-on shot of the face, but that means you can trick them if you know what matters. Plus, Rou and Raku have created a flood of normal people to stop the cars and support the sniper. So we just need to focus on how we walk, keep our heads down to cast a shadow on them, and try not to stand out. Just stick with the fleeing crowd and we can escape this h.e.l.l."
I had no idea if we had safely escaped or if our pursuers were simply letting us go free for the time being, but Hishigami Ama went over some kind of checklist and then sighed in relief.
"Looks like we made it just fine."
"…Oh, is that so?"
"That means their next step will be to search through anywhere I might try to stay."
"Where is your home?"
"I don't have one. And we couldn't go there even if I did. They'll be watching your home too, Favorite-kun."
"Then what about a hotel or inn?"
"They'd find us if they checked the guest register or the security cameras. 'Arawa who Destroys Birth' is a cyber war expert, so that monster can break into defense industry production lines and intentionally create countless defective products. Searching out a specific person would be a piece of cake for her."
"The defense industry…wait a second."
"I'm serious. She places the power of a Youkai called a Nurikabe into the server she's using, so you could call her an expert at stopping the flow of information. Instead of infiltrating the target server herself, she cuts off their security and firewall to lock up and neutralize their system. Only the most bizarre of defense systems can even start to defend against it. And government offices are always several steps behind in technology, so they don't stand a chance."
"Then what do we do? Internet cafes and the like have cameras and you'd stand out too much if you tried to live in a cardboard box below a bridge."
I wasn't going to say that no young women lived on the streets, but it was true that they were an overwhelmingly small percentage of the homeless.
"I have an idea. There's one place that allows fake names on the guest register, avoids using security cameras due to the nature of the business, and is even reasonably priced."
"What is it? Where is this convenient place?"
I was dubious such a place existed, but Hishigami Ama replied with a mischievous look in her eyes.
"They're everywhere, aren't they? I'm talking about love hotels."
It was early afternoon.
I really didn't want to mention where I was.
"Oh, the bed's pretty normal. How boring. I was hoping to see one of those rotating ones."
"But the shower room's wall is entirely made of gla.s.s. How refreshing. You can see everything."
My mouth formed a small triangle as I watched the excited white witch's back.
This was necessary to protect ourselves.
Oh, but still!!
I considered contacting Enbi or Tsumada Mio from the 0-X Office to tell them I was okay and to ask what had happened to Sotobori and the others. Most of all, I wanted some backup…but I couldn't. My life would be over if I called a group of civilian middle school girls to a place like this!!
"Sorry, but let me take a shower first. To be honest, I worked up quite a sweat running away from the JSDF and I'm worried about all that smoke I was running through. So now that there's a shower right here, I just can't restrain myself. What do you know, I'm more girly than I thought."
"Wait! Didn't you just say the wall is made of gla.s.s!?"
"Watch or look the other way; the choice is yours. I just can't wait any longer."
She really did start stripping off her dress-like outfit, so I quickly turned 180 degrees around.
But I didn't hear the door opening and closing or the water running.
Then she embraced me from behind.
Slender arms wrapped around my neck and a soft sensation reached my back while the breath on my ear sent a tingle down my spine.
"Wait! What are you-…!?"
"You sure are careless taking your eyes off of a Hishigami Woman."
While most likely naked, Ama gently bit at my earlobe and then continued speaking.
"Of course, my judgment of that changes entirely depending on whether it's a sign of carelessness or trust, so I'll wait to make that judgment until later. Good luck, young man, my heart is right 'here'."
I could hear her pulse as she whispered to me and then the ma.s.s of warmth left my back. This time she really did open and close the gla.s.s door to the shower room. The wall must have been quite thin because the sound of the water was not m.u.f.fled at all.
Were all the Hishigami Women exhibitionists and very open about s.e.x?
It may have been that they didn't know how to have a normal relationship, so they wanted to force a connection with the people they didn't want to be separated from. I could see occasional hints of that with Enbi too.
Unnecessary physical contact.
It was like the inability to see the invisible bonds left them uneasy, so they wanted something physical.
How did Hishigami Ama see me?
What category was she going to file me under?
"Sorry about the wait."
The water stopped running and I heard the door opening and closing. a.s.suming I could finally rest easy, I turned around and found Ama with wet hair and only wearing a towel.
"Bff!? What are you doing!?"
"Sorry, sorry. I forgot about needing a change of clothes. There was a mini-laundromat with the vending machines out front, right? Can you stop by there before taking your shower? I'm really sorry about this."
It seemed to really be an honest mistake.
There was no use crying over spilt milk and I did understand not wanting to put on sweaty clothes after taking a bath.
But for now, I wanted information.
There was a lot I wanted to ask about again.
"I have some questions."
"What, are you going to tie me to a chair and pretend to torture me? I do think there was rope for that sort of thing in the closet. There was also a leather outfit with belts to adjust the size if you're into that Western-style stuff."
"C'mon, don't fall silent like that. Okay, I get it! I'll take this seriously, so stop pulling out that rope!"
Hishigami Ama sighed and let her b.u.t.t sink down into the bed.
"So what do you want to know?"
"Everything. From the beginning."
The white witch scratched at her wet hair.
"You can believe me or not, but don't start voicing your disbelief after everything I say. You can ask all your questions after I'm done. Is that okay?"
"As long as you'll tell me what's going on."
"Then let me start with the basic a.s.sumptions here. The JSDF was pursuing me. They haven't even received a request for a public security operation, so they're doing so illegally. And I couldn't let them capture me. That's why I ran into the middle of that parade. I wanted to take advantage of the confusion."
"But this is really about a clash between the Hishigami Women, right? Or are you saying they're helping the JSDF?"
"This all started elsewhere. There's another reason why 'we' are trying to kill each other."
She crossed her legs while sitting on the bed.
"By the way, how much do you know about the Hishigami family, Favorite-kun?"
"They're j.a.pan's largest corporate group and one of the largest in the world. But they're also Enbi's family."
Ama smiled a little.
It was the reaction of an adult who was asked if Santa Claus really existed.
"What do you know about the Hishigami Men and Hishigami Women?"
"Only a bit I've heard here and there. I don't know the details."
"I have to start from there? What a pain. I'm impressed you get along so well with Enbi and Mai when you know so little. No, maybe they can relax more because you don't know much."
The white witch continued while using a hand to fan her towel-covered chest.
"The Hishigami Men are a sign of static gathering. In the terms of the normal world, they perfectly fit the image of the old zaibatsu-style corporation known as the Hishigami Group. As long as it falls within the bounds of normal, average, and reasonable, they will ally with it to spread their connections and create a giant organization. From our point of view, they're monsters who have gone insane in a 'normal' way."
"The Hishigami Women tend to be referred to in a more dangerous way."
"You should know why if you've seen Mai and Enbi."
Ama laughed and crossed her legs again.
"The Hishigami Women are a sign of active parting. In other words, we create cracks in the giant organization and lead the clogged-up system to destruction. So to people who live peaceful lives thanks to that giant's protection, we can easily look like the seeds of disaster."
"But we aren't good or evil. During times of chaos, the Hishigami Men gather people together into a giant system. During times of decline, the Hishigami Women destroy the rotten system to air it all out. That's all it is. Of course, the Hishigami Men aren't exactly going to like that," said Ama. "The Hishigami Women's traits, such as destroying hope or destroying finances, make sense in that context. What is needed to break apart a giant organization that stretches across all industries and employs over 200 thousand people? The Women of this age have sniffed out our own answers and mastered them. In a different age, such as when the Men's system was the samurai clans of the Warring States period, the Women would have taken a different form. Perhaps we would have destroyed blacksmithing, salt panning, or annual taxes."
Basically, they were experts who dragged down the entire Hishigami Group, division by division.
What would happen if someone like that was sent in to deal with an incident caused by an individual?
If this was true, it would explain why they were so extraordinary.
"Raku who Destroys Health and Arawa who Destroys Birth, huh?"
"Those apply pretty obvious damage to a corporation, especially when 'birth' includes 'production'. Ones like Yume who Destroys Ethics and s.h.i.tsu who Destroys Education are a little less obvious, but their effect is huge when it reaches the surface. Those affect the skill-level and morals of the workers, after all. And the problem is far more deeply-rooted than having foreign objects mixed into the production line."
Yume who Destroys Ethics.
"What? Did the idea of destroying ethics make you think of something dirty?"
"N-no! Not really…"
"She isn't that nice. She'll do whatever it takes to destroy corporate ethics and morals, but it can be so inefficient."
"I get the idea behind the Hishigami Women. Setting aside whether it's really possible, I get the concept. So let's get back to my first question. Why were you running from the JSDF at Ichigaya and why are the other Hishigami Women after you?"
"Yes, I suppose that's enough background information."
Ama toyed with her wet hair.
"Simply put, the Hishigami Men and Hishigami Women are constantly at odds. And a group led by Hishigami Yume is on the verge of a certain breakthrough."
"A method of overthrowing the Hishigami Men and thus eliminating the old zaibatsu-style corporate group that supports this country. You could say it will drive 150 million people to bankruptcy in an economic collapse greater than the bubble bursting."
I was speechless.
The bath towel witch giggled when she saw my mouth moving wordlessly.
"But I want to protest this. If that new age arrives, the Hishigami Women will naturally destroy everything. To air everything out, you see. But it isn't time for that yet. The Hishigami Group is still necessary. Forcing its destruction would be like prying open a b.u.t.terfly's chrysalis. Yume and the others are leaving the proper path of the Hishigami Women."
"How certain of this are you? Do they really have a way of dragging down the Hishigami Group!?"
"Not yet. But they will if they aren't stopped."
"How!? I'll admit you have extraordinary power, but you're just individuals, right? I can't imagine there's a way to defeat a giant corporation that's planted its roots all around the world!"
"Hm, you need to think about Hishigami more as a family for this. You need to keep it simple, so set aside the national and world economy for the time being. If you just focus on the conflict between the Hishigami Men and Hishigami Women, it's simple."
I still looked puzzled, so Hishigami Ama sighed.
"Listen. I'll dumb this down for you. The pieces on the game board only come in two colors: Hishigami Men and Hishigami Women. So what do you need to mess with if you're going to destroy the very foundation of the board game?"
"Just tell me the answer."
"What an impatient man. …It's simple: just mix together the Men and Women pieces."
At that very moment, a soft knock came to the door.
I tensed and focused on the handgun in my pocket, but Hishigami Ama cheerfully stepped down from the bed.
"It's fine. She's on our side."
She unlocked and opened the door in nothing but a towel to reveal a woman with long hair. The s.e.xy woman wore the kind of hakama worn by female students and university graduates during the Meiji period. I could see some resemblance to Mai and Enbi, but she looked far gentler.
She carried a large box elegantly wrapped in cloth. I guessed it was a large lunchbox.
I wondered if it was a late lunch, but the digital display on the bedside stereo said it was already evening and nearly night. It was hard to tell without a window, but we had apparently been speaking for quite a while.
"Honestly, why aren't you wearing any clothes? Oh, dear. You have a gentleman with you!? Then that towel is truly inappropriate!"
Ama introduced the gentle woman who covered her mouth with a hand to express shock.
"She's a Hishigami Woman just like me. She's 'Kuji who Destroys Trust'."
"She used to be a Hishigami Man, but she had a s.e.x change done and has forcefully joined our ranks."
I spat out the contents of my mouth and Ama seemed to enjoy my reaction.
"Are you familiar with the Youkai known as a Mermaid? How they're depicted in j.a.panese legends changed quite a bit as time pa.s.sed. At first, they were a lot like a giant salamander, but they eventually became a fish with a human head. And by the end of the Edo period, they had become the familiar image of a beautiful girl with a fish tail for a lower body. She incorporated that change into her surgery. Of course, if it can turn a giant salamander into a beautiful girl, it can do just about anything. …And if it was originally a giant salamander, there had to be less noticeable changes to the lower body in addition to the obvious ones on the upper body."
Meanwhile, Hishigami Kuji started blushing.
"I can't believe you, I can't believe you. Why would you out me like that in front of a gentleman who isn't prepared to accept it like normal? And about my lower body too!? I can't believe you, I can't believe you, I can't believe you!!"
It looked like she was comically hitting her sister with her clenched fists, but I could hear dull crushing and breaking sounds coming from Ama. Did she have something hidden in the sleeves of that j.a.panese clothing? Was it like hitting someone with a bag full of bottles and cans? Or like a morning star!?
"U-ugh. Can you forgive me yet, Kuji? I haven't actually altered my body like Mai, so I'll die like normal if you keep hitting me like that… Although being killed by an ally does seem like a Hishigami Woman way to die."
"Ah!? I'm so very sorry. How could I behave so inappropriately in front of a gentleman!?"
Someone nearly died in their noncompliant little skit, but they seemed to have gotten back on track.
"What was it you were about to say before? It was something about mixing up the Hishigami Men and the Hishigami Women. What does that have to do with Hishigami Yume's plan?"
"We have living proof right here you can go from the Men to Women."
Hakama-wearing Kuji puffed out her cheeks and Ama held her hands out to stop her. She looked fairly desperate to stop her.
"So couldn't it go the other way? In other words, change from a Hishigami Woman into a Hishigami Man."
"If that worked, they could freely enter the Hishigami Group and contaminate it from within. And if they even managed to obtain the ability to form static gatherings, it would give birth to an unprecedented sort of Hishigami. This wouldn't be a single-generation mutation either. They could eternally create more of themselves to stably increase the numbers of Hishigami Women. This threat goes beyond 'Ama who Destroys Hope' or 'Yume who Destroys Ethics'. In the worst case, it could create the worst possible Hishigami Woman who surpa.s.ses even Enbi or Ou. In fact, it might not even be contained to a single individual."
It didn't sound real.
It wasn't grounded.
But what if it was possible?
What would happen to Tokyo if a hundred or a thousand versions of Hishigami Ama or Hishigami Yume attacked as a group?
If they snuck into a corporation of 200 thousand and began sabotaging it, would it stand any chance of recovering?
"We have to stop Yume's group no matter what," concluded Hishigami Ama. "And that means protecting Kuji who would act as their sample. I'm the only one that knew where she was, but the foolish Ministry of Defense went in for the attack. I couldn't let this fall apart from such a simple mistake. …Now, let's get to the real problem. The JSDF is too hardheaded to be any use. And from the look of things, the police can't restrain the other Hishigami Women. What's left? An American base or a submarine? But the CIA scares me for a different reason. So where are we supposed to set our goal?"
The attack had ended in failure.
The sun was setting and night had arrived. After losing their target's trail, they gave up on directly tracking her and shifted to the next phase.
"What a pain. Six Hishigami Women were hunting her and we still failed? Just how much of a monster is Ama?"
That complaint came from Yuu, the beautiful woman in a bikini top, skinny pants, and a military coat. She was in public, but she made no attempt to hide her giant anti-tank rifle known as a 1941. When she was that open about it, pa.s.sersby convinced themselves it must be a toy or for a movie shoot. She had lived her life this far using that ridiculous logic.
Hishigami Raku, a woman with short hair and sickly pale skin, cut in.
"A-are you sure…it wasn't a case of…too many cooks…spoiling the broth?"
"Oh? That's rich coming from one of the ones who tripped me up. You all were supposed to stop her while I shot her. And who was it that let the target escape the hunting grounds?"
Hishigami Rou, a beautiful woman in a black dress, gave an exasperated sigh.
"Hounds and beaters have limited stamina and focus. A hunter and team that fails to take the best shot is a limit on the hunting ground, don't you think?"
"Oh, oh. You wanna settle this in a back alley or something?"
The Hishigami Women quickly started b.u.t.ting heads, but that was just their nature. The Hishigami Women were a sign of active parting, so they were ill suited for working as a group.
There was only one thing just barely holding them together:
"C'mon, get along, all of you☆ Let's take a photo together to celebrate making up. I have a selfie stick, so gather around."
"No selfie stick is that heavy. That's gotta be a special police bato-…owww!?"
The innocent girl of about ten overpowered the adult women and forced them inside the frame.
She was Hishigami Yume.
She was Yume who Destroys Ethics.
Simply put, she used conversations, the atmosphere, and sudden events to destroy the "moral" that the Hishigami Women were ill suited for working as a group. That just barely linked them together in an awkward network and maintained some temporary cooperation.
"Say cheese! Vee vee!"
"Whenever you step in front of the camera, you just have to give an upturned look and either suck your thumb or give a peace sign… That's just painful."
They continued causing a commotion as they returned to their base.
They had a few hideouts in reserve, but this time they used a church located inside a high-rise building.
There they found a girl in a nun's habit with cloth cut out to expose her navel.
She was Hishigami Taga.
She was Taga who Destroys Faith.
"Based on that weird smell, I take it I don't want to take a peek in the back."
Yuu sounded annoyed as she rested her anti-tank rifle on her shoulder and the nun giggled in an awfully provocative way.
"There's no need to be so nervous. An older man of character may have been lying on his back all day babbling like a baby, but he hasn't been harmed. Feel free to take a look if you want an excellent example of what happens when someone who lives a life of celibacy finally breaks free of his bonds."
"Yeah, I'd rather not."
Yuu still sounded annoyed and she grabbed Yume's collar when the little girl tilted her head curiously.
"Oh, too bad. Munch, munch."
The nun nonchalantly carried a bucket-like container between both hands (and her chest).
This immediately grabbed the attention of elementary school aged Yume.
"By the way, what are you eating? Oh, it's popcorn!"
"Heh heh heh. These are the snacks Arawa-san made and left here for us. Do the rest of you want any?"
But Yuu and Rou seemed reluctant.
"Those are made from that genetically modified stuff, aren't they? I prefer natural ingredients."
"And what fruits and vegetables did she have mixed together this time? Last time it was cuc.u.mbers growing in a bunch like bananas."
The adults were disgusted, but Yume began stuffing her mouth with the popcorn the nun held.
"Keh. You people sound like virginity-obsessed idol otaku. Are breast implants and liposuction really that wrong!? Punsuka pun!!"
"Yume, you need quite a bit of reeducation later on. And with how twisted you are, we'll have to redo it boot camp style."
Yume covered her face and began to cry in a blatantly fake way, but the others ignored it. A girl who cried wolf tended to create uncaring surroundings.
The nun slowly tilted her head.
"More importantly, I don't see Ama-san with you."
"We screwed up. Arawa-chan is checking over the security camera network, but she says it probably won't help."
"I went all out, so I was hoping to resupply. I called s.h.i.tsu, so I hope that's okay."
"Geh!? You know we're like water and oil!"
Taga frantically waved her hands around in her modified nun's habit, but it was too late.
The church's door opened and a s.e.xy teacher in gla.s.ses walked in. Her outfit looked like a suit with a tight skirt at first, but it was actually quite unusual. The gloves were a part of the jacket that left her cleavage well-exposed and what looked like a tight skirt was actually the bottom of a camisole. And for a finishing touch, she wore fishnet stockings.
These were the very first words out of her mouth:
"Illicit s.e.xual relations nun, step out back for a moment. I need to teach you how to behave like a lady even if I have to beat it into you."
"Nooooo thank you! This is my territory, so save the all-important act for when you're in your rotten school!"
The nun stuck out her tongue and Yume soothed her while asking a question.
"Which school are you at now? The one in Daikanyama?"
"That one is gone now."
"Then is it the one in the south Aoyama residential district?"
"That one is gone too."
"Just how many schools are you going to destroy? Honestly…"
Hishigami Taga sounded exasperated and the tall teacher crouched down on the floor.
A dark and heavy aura surrounded her.
"They're all such good children and all I'm doing is hoping for their success and happiness. So why does it always end in such unfortunate accidents…?"
"Accidents? You arm them, hole up in the school, and lead them to ma.s.s suicide."
"But they're all so cute I can't help but pour my heart and soul into their special afterschool lessons. And the idealistic nonsense in the textbooks is as distasteful as food additives, so I just want to give them an early peak of the real world."
"Yes, but that's not much good when they end up giving up on the world and reaching for weapons," said Rou as she sighed in her black dress.
"Anyway." Hishigami Yume changed the subject. "s.h.i.tsu-chan, do you have what you were asked to bring?"
Still curled up on the floor, the teacher pointed toward the door with her thumb.
They all looked outside and saw container boxes filling the trunk of a flashy sports car.
Weapon-loving Yuu licked her lips.
"Good, good. Now I won't have to worry about ammo."
"I'm amazed that made it through the checkpoints," commented Rou.
"Your position in society is important. Like a teacher or a civil servant! I can pa.s.s through most anywhere without issue since I wear this nun's habit."
"Heh heh. I can do that too! Vee, vee!" exclaimed Yume. "Although I do get policemen, teachers, and other adults mistaking me for a lost child and approaching me for no reason."
"Anyway," said Taga. "What are we going to do about Ama-san? You already said Arawa-san the cyber war expert is unlikely to find her."
"That just means we need to check the lodging facilities with few or no cameras." Yume sounded carefree. "Tokyo is a Peeping Tom's paradise with a million security cameras, so the areas not monitored are the exception. That means we just need to check the areas within walking distance of Ichigaya. …How about we start with a radius of five kilometers? Even Ama-chan can only do so much while dragging around that detective."
"Yeah, odds are she's hiding in one of those, but aren't there a ton of those, um, well, love hotels?" Yuu mumbled a little and scratched her cheek. "And Ama will definitely have used a fake name, so where do we start looking?"
Rou answered in her black dress.
"Arawa will be able to get her hands on those lists full of fake names, right?"
"Love hotels have peak hours and different rental plans. For example, you can rest there from evening to night or spend the night until morning." Rou winked. "But not many people will arrive in midday, choose an overnight plan right away, and hide out there for so long. That will narrow things down some, won't it?"
The situation was on the move.
In an intentionally cutesy act, small Yume placed her hands on her cheeks and fidgeted as she spoke.
"My first time at a love hotel? Oh, I'm so excited☆"
It was late at night and we were taking a nap to recover our stamina as much as possible.
I don't know what caused it, but Hishigami Ama and Hishigami Kuji stirred and then sat up at the same moment.
I was confused over on the two-person sofa I had somehow managed to fit on.
"What? What is it?"
Hakama-wearing Kuji leapt at me like a carnivorous beast and knocked me and the sofa back onto the floor.
A moment later, I saw something past Kuji's shoulder.
There was a fist-sized hole in the hotel wall.
At first, I had no idea what that could mean, but realization slowly crept in.
Hishigami Yuu's anti-tank rifle!?
What would have happened if Kuji hadn't knocked me back!?
"Nn… I know you're trying to thank me, but please stop breathing into my chest like that."
And it did not end with just the one shot.
More and more holes appeared at even intervals along the wall. Ma.s.ses of lead larger than my thumb were flying through the room. The rate of fire was not as great as a machinegun, but the force of each shot was so extreme that my legs froze up. I could not move properly. I had my handgun in my pocket, but it would be no better than a protective charm. I could only crawl along and pray that the storm of destruction pa.s.sed.
But this was not a natural disaster.
It was an intentional act with an objective and a goal.
So this was not going to end if all I did was pray. Ama spoke while similarly down on the floor.
"The purpose of the 1941 has changed. She's holding us in place while the other members reach their positions. I want to take action before they achieve checkmate!"
"Understood. Let's go through the floor."
They readily decided on a course of action, so I ended up just watching.
A moment later, we broke through the hotel room floor as they had said we would.
I couldn't even imagine what exactly Ama and Kuji had done.
As far as I could see, they had only lightly pressed their fists against the floor.
At any rate, we were all dragged down to the next floor.
"Eh? Ehhh? What? Ehh? What is going on!?"
A couple who had been enjoying themselves was panicking in the bed, but we did not have time to explain.
Yuu was still targeting us in the floor above.
Meanwhile, Kuji kicked down the door to the hallway. The three of us made our way to the emergency stairs. As usual, Ama was faster than me despite the iron b.a.l.l.s.
I heard the sound of breaking metal.
A bent elevator door was thrown out into the hallway to block our way. And then someone slowly stepped out. She had short hair and wore a short modified kimono.
"Arata who Destroys Tradition!?"
"Yesterday's standard won't work tomorrow. And the same can be said of your lives!!"
As the girl named Arata shouted, something flew from her sleeve. A metal pipe extended like a stage magician's wand and the bottom was attached to a small gas cylinder.
"Go to h.e.l.l, you morons! Die at the low, low price of fifteen thousand yen for parts!! That's the laughable value you've managed to build up over your entire lives! Gwa ha ha ha ha!!"
Hakama-wearing Kuji took one look at the mysterious metal pipe the girl held like a bazooka, and…
She kicked down a nearby door and all three of us dove inside.
But an ear-splitting explosive sound still a.s.saulted us. The ma.s.s of sound exploded in my head and I couldn't even stand up straight. I felt the same urge to vomit as having the back of my head hit with a bat. It was a very dangerous feeling!
Hishigami Ama shouted something from nearby and grabbed my arm, but I couldn't tell what she was saying.
I shook my spinning head and thought about the weapon that had done this.
Was it a directional shockwave cannon?
The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department had considered adopting those as a nonlethal suppression device. It used the explosion of a standard gas cylinder and created a continuous explosive roar by pa.s.sing that through a tube with special grooves carved into it. The resultant ma.s.s of sound could neutralize a violent criminal from as far away as fifty meters.
This girl wore a kimono yet she used futuristic weapons. Even that gamer Zashiki Warashi flirting with my nephew back in the Intellectual Village would have been shocked to see that!
"A sound————kai. Is…boosting…with a Yamabiko!?"
"Arata's…more than just————. Stand up!"
My ears had finally recovered.
Hakama-wearing Kuji gently shook her hand.
"What do we do? If Arata contacts Yuu, the anti-tank rifle will start targeting this floor."
"Then we just have to escape before we're killed."
One of them grabbed my hand again.
Of all things, Ama and Kuji ran right into the wall on the side the bullets had come from before.
Their tackle broke through the outer wall and I was pulled out with them whether I liked it or not.
In other words, all three of us were falling.
I saw a flash of light in the night and a sharp wind pa.s.sed right by me. A few seconds slower and I would have lost my head or my heart.
I felt the biting wind of the midwinter night.
We were about three stories up.
We pa.s.sed right over the sidewalk and fell on top of the long and narrow container of a truck driving below.
Without Ama and Kuji's help, I probably would have broken at least my ankles.
"We can rest easy for the time being…"
In the light of the streetlights we pa.s.sed by, hakama-wearing Kuji looked at the scenery behind us and confirmed we were leaving the love hotel.
Ama was carefree.
She sat on the container, grabbed the chest of her dress-like outfit, and fanned herself with it. She let the night wind inside her clothing as she spoke.
"By the way, do you know anyone you could call for backup? Someone at the Hishigami level would be nice."
"Don't joke. Thanks to that crazy b.a.s.t.a.r.d Mishima, my 0-X Office is nothing but civilian middle school girls. How could I call them to a battlefield like this!?"
"Are those your princ.i.p.als?"
"So what if they are?"
We glared at each for a bit, but this alone I could not back down on.
Those girls were my allies, but not my fighting force.
I didn't want to define them that way.
Meanwhile, the truck continued to drive.
Something wasn't right.
I started to think that when the truck below our feet left the main road and drove toward the entrance to the highway.
"Hey, are we going to stick around for a long distance drive? The driver might be listening to the late night radio enka as he heads as far north as Hokkaido or as far south as Okinawa."
"That's a good point. How about we jump off when it briefly stops at the intercha-…kyah!?"
I heard the unmanned ETC gate break. Hakama-wearing Kuji cowered down and the truck arrived on the highway. In fact, the engine was revving up even higher. The dark night was more rapidly interrupted by the evenly-s.p.a.ced streetlights.
Ama clicked her tongue as her white hair fluttered in the violent wind.
"This truck is bad news."
"In what way!?"
"It wasn't coincidentally driving by at just the right time. The Hishigami Women timed it to catch us!"
It was likely driving at more than 120 kph. Even the highway felt dangerous at this speed. The truck was a moving cage now. As long as it maintained this speed, we could not jump off to escape.
"Do the civilian driving recorders and speed violation checkers not matter? Have they never heard of being careful?"
"I want to believe that Arawa is helping out with her cyber war skills. …If they really are doing nothing, I'll skin them and make a rug out of them."
I heard a creaking sound.
It came from the driver's compartment. Like a monster from a horror movie, someone crawled out of the window and onto the roof where they hung on with both hands and feet.
"Yume who Destroys Ethics…!!"
"Ee hee hee. Hee hee hee hee. Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha!!"
It was a girl of about ten. This meant she had been the one driving the truck all this time and it meant the driver had let go of the steering wheel to climb onto the roof. The extreme moral hazard made me feel faint, but I could not just give up on reality.
That monster had locked onto us.
What happened to the truck was only the beginning. The climax of our lives was about to start.
"You're so mean, Ama-chan, Kuji-chan. Why are you making us go to all this trouble?"
She pulled out a…smartphone selfie stick? No, it was so heavy it was more like a special police baton.
Her small hands attached a ma.s.s of metal to the joint at the end.
It was now more or less a construction site sledgehammer.
"But it's over now. You two will at least let me have the time of my life first, won't you?"
Hishigami Ama responded by reaching for her own head. She pulled out a single long white hair.
She had said before that a single hair was enough to kill a tiger.
"I won't let this go your way," she announced. "I am Ama who Destroys Hope. Anyone who thinks they're nice and safe in a sanctuary or safe zone is within range for me."
"And another thing." The small girl glanced over at hakama-wearing Kuji. "Ama-chan is one thing, but why you too, Kuji-chan?"
The answer came with a gentle smile.
And with a shake of her unnaturally heavy sleeves.
"I am Kuji who Destroys Trust."
"Ohhh, I see."
"And we aren't actually at the kind of disadvantage you seem to think we are. Yume, you're more suited to working in groups than alone. Are you mocking us by trying to take us on two against one?"
"Who ever said I was doing this alone?"
For an instant, I thought some other Hishigami Women were hiding in the truck's container.
But I was wrong.
The threat came from outside the trailer.
It was shaped something like a "V" or a boomerang.
It was tiny and lightweight military aircraft that removed all the safety features from the manned variety.
My eyes widened in shock.
"A UAV!? What air base did you take that from!?"
"Nee hee hee. You can thank Arawa-chan's cyber war skills for this one. According to her, these military variants have grown in number ever since crop management drones became plentiful in Intellectual Villages."
I didn't know the details, but it was definitely loaded with missiles meant for ground attacks.
And there was more than one.
Since this was not a human opponent, I pulled out my handgun without thinking, but then I froze up.
More than ten of the UAVs gathered around from various directions.
If they all attacked at once, there was no escape.
And they were not just leaving this to the machines. The phantasmagoric Hishigami Woman named Hishigami Yume had announced she would weave through the gaps in the downpour of bombs to attack!
"You have to be kidding… And you'll be caught in the blast too!"
I spoke up in a daze, but Yume only gave a "nee hee☆" of laughter and pointed at her own flat chest.
"I'm Yume who Destroys Ethics. When you're all comfortably protected by your myth of safety, you're actually allllll on my field."
d.a.m.n, is she the type that delights in being attacked!? Happily offering yourself up as the detonator for a moral hazard is not normal!
"That does not change what we must do." Hishigami Ama thinly smiled with the long hair in hand. "We have already reached checkmate. Don't think you can overturn that now."
"That's my line. The most troublesome turn of events for us was you getting captured by the JSDF and being secured below Ichigaya. Don't forget that you were playing into our hands from the moment you continued running around out here."
No signal was needed.
That also meant there was no time to stop them.
Hishigami Ama and Hishigami Kuji.
Hishigami Yume and Hishigami Arawa's UAVs.
The two sides were going to clash with overwhelming force!!
In that instant, my mind went blank and I couldn't make any logical calculations.
I simply didn't like it.
It was true Hishigami Yume was the root cause of all this. There was no room for taking extenuating circ.u.mstances into consideration there. She would silence Hishigami Ama, investigate Hishigami Kuji's body, and take advantage of the structure of the Hishigami Men and Hishigami Women to overthrow the Hishigami Group and drown j.a.pan in debt through economic collapse. We had to stop that no matter what.
But I didn't like the structure of this battle.
Hishigami Yume may have thought she was satisfied as she walked her own path and lived a life of happiness without anything to complain about.
But her eyes looked like chipped and rusty blades.
I kind of felt like I was seeing an image of what Enbi would have become if she had grown up without opening up to anyone. I didn't like seeing that.
I didn't want to be on the side throwing stones at her.
"Are you insane, Favorite-kun!? Dammit!!"
The shouting voices reached me after a delay.
I was frantic. I could not allow Hishigami Yume to live a life where she would clash with her enemies and even have her own allies view her as disposable.
It was nothing more than that.
So I intervened. I ran forward and tackled Hishigami Yume's skinny waist.
It was all over immediately afterwards.
The UAVs fired a great number of air-to-surface missiles. I was unable to control my own body and fell right off the truck container. And Hishigami Yume, that rusted girl of about ten, was still in my arms.
We were in a world of death running at 120 kph.
Was this the end?
I had desperately put my life on the line, but was that going to completely backfire?
I did my best to surround Yume's body and prayed I would act as a cushion. We would probably both be torn to pieces the instant we landed, but I didn't want to give up without doing anything.
Why mind went blank.
My brain was fried.
My memories lost continuity, my sense of pain vanished, and time stretched out infinitely.
How long did I keep doing that?
I may have shouted something along the way because the inside of my throat felt like it had torn apart.
But that was all.
No part of my body seemed to have broken. My flesh hadn't been torn to shreds as if someone had taken a grater to it. I was simply sitting on the shoulder of the highway with the small girl in my arms.
She was safe too.
It was weird for me to feel relief at that fact, but I didn't want to think it was wrong.
The truck had driven away.
What had happened with the downpour of missiles?
I was pretty sure there had been an explosion, but I saw no wreck