Part 50: Rescue QuestPart 50 - Rescue Quest
"You can hear me, right-o?"
"Yeah... I can hear you, Seira-tan."
"Look, let's put an end to this game."
"I know that Nanamicchi is your precious little sister.... but I'm sure it's already too late."
"It, it can't be....!"
"It.... can't be...."
"C'mon, if you got your arm cut off, normally you'd die from losing too much blood. Things might be different if we were in a game, but...."
"Why.... why Nanami...."
"You know.... it's got to be Game Over by now, I'm positive of it."
"If you don't give up the game fast, a lot more people are gonna die."
"But.... but Seira-tan, even you battle bad guys...."
"--I'm from an anime~"
"I have to save her.... I....."
I'd taken Seira-tan with me as a protective charm.
Under ordinary circumstances, I'd never ever carry a figure around with me. If nothing else, there was the danger that it'd get damaged. As an otaku, breaking one of my darling wives was my number one taboo.
But I could no longer afford to maintain that policy of mine. For now, I wanted moral support.
I took one last peek down at Seira-tan, whose face stuck out from inside my pocket. By doing so, I somehow succeeded in fighting back my seeping tears.
Somebody collided with me from behind, and I staggered.
When I looked over, a thuggish man was giving me a disagreeable stare. But he didn't complain to me and soon disappeared into the crowd.
I surveyed the area.
The Shibuya scramble crossing.
I felt like I would suffocate just from waiting for the light to change. Front, back, right, left: people were everywhere.
And all of them were raising their voices as one great mass, as if they were cheering on teams at a soccer match.
People resembling reporters faced the cameras and spoke heatedly about something or other.
Were they holding some kind of event on a day like this, at a time like this?
How inappropriate, considering that 100+ people had died. Wouldn't they consider taking things more seriously? On top of that, the media had joined them in their uproar.
Man, Japan was done with.
Not that it mattered much to me.
"O-Front," the building designated by "Shogun," was located right by the pedestrian scramble. Tatsuya, Sutaba and other stores could be found in it.
Since it was possible that the police still wrongly thought of me as being the New-Gen perp, I couldn't report it to them, either.
While I thought about doing such things, the time "Shogun" had set kept approaching, and worry for Nanami started to drive me up the wall, and so I couldn't stop myself from coming here, Seira-tan in hand.
But its interior, too, was quite packed. I didn't even have the room to get fed up with this.
The only things my head had been filled with were prayers for Nanami's well-being.
I took the escalator to the upper floors.
I could look down on the scramble crossing through the Sutaba's windows. There was an astonishing number of people there, after all.
Furthermore, all of them were waving or bobbing up, making little jumps, and countless black heads undulated.
Each time the escalator carried me to a higher floor, my heartbeat grew more ferocious.
When I took out my cell phone to see the time, it was a minute past the promised time of 9:00.
I didn't know how to climb to the roof from there, but as I wandered around, careful not to catch anyone's attention, I soon found a back staircase.
I succeeded in reaching the roof at once without receiving anyone's censure.
I closed my front buttons to prevent Seira-tan from coming flying out.
"Y, you're very welcome...."
I was a little relieved to hear Seira-tan's voice in my head. If Seira-tan were with me..... I, I wouldn't be scared....
I desperately attempted to convince myself of it.
Even so, it was dark. The only illumination came from the back of the neon "O-Front" sign.
SFX: The voice sounds peculiar....
When someone called to me out of the blue, my heartbeat, which had just started to slow down a little, began banging again.
I looked around, but it was too dim to tell where he had spoken from.
SFX: Squeak, squeak
This time I deliberately focused my gaze on the other side of the darkness. There I found the shining, albeit backlit, wheels of his wheelchair.
SFX: Shogun doesn't sound normal. He's using a voice modulator of some kind. It sounds similar to his usual tone, but with artificial inflections added.
He voiced my name in a friendly way. The uncanniness of it made me have goosebumps.
I didn't want to talk to "Shogun." He frightened me.... I wanted to run away from here immediately....
"Shall we run, then?"
"At this rate, you're gonna get killed, Takkii."
"You're incredibly brave. You came here alone, just as you should."
"Let me thank you for that."
Hey, this "Shogun" was strange.
"A voice" [Pitch-shifted down, sounds androgynous.]
"Is no more than vibrations in the air." ['Normal' pitch.]
"How it sounds to you depends on the conditions in place." [Pitch-shifted up, with extra reverb.]
"Isn't it so?" ['Normal'.]
Was he using a machine or something? Did he want to conceal his identity by hiding his voice? But why now?
Besides, I didn't understand what he was saying....
"He's trying to confuse you!"
"You mustn't let down your guard. You mustn't believe anyone's words--!"
Y, yeah, Seira-tan's right about this.
I clenched Seira-tan's body through my clothes.
"Wh, wh, w, w, where is..... Na, Nanami...."
It seemed like fear would make my heart leapt from my mouth. Even so, I frantically forced my voice out.
....I'd thought scenes like this occurred only on TV or in games.
"BS! He cut her hand off, remember?"
"Even if she's alive, she'll die from blood loss soon, so there's no big difference."
Nanami's sulky face rose at the back of my mind.
She'd been insolent. Frankly, she'd been a pain.
Despite that, I was so grief-stricken. Sad enough that tears could come out.
"Why..... did you kill her.... so cruel...."
"Do you think she's dead?"
"I mean, even if the cell phone and the bracelet are hers, the hand itself could be someone else's."
"I'm telling you, you mustn't believe him!"
"The living Nanami-chan."
Quest. "Shogun" used that word again.
Did he want me to get into it like I was playing a game?
But.... but, in reality, I'm no hero....
His voice abruptly went as cold as a blade.
It was pathetic of me to cower in fear of an old man, but....
He was abnormal.... after all.... He was the true New-Gen criminal.....
"So I'd like you to see things through in a way that doesn't disappoint me."
"I'm sure you can do it."
"Wh, why.... why.... me....!?"
"It doesn't have to be.... so, someone like me.... it shouldn't have to be me....!"
"It has to be you."
"Wh, wh, why!?"
"Don't get the wrong idea, Takkii."
"When he says 'chosen,' he means you've been chosen as his next victim."
Recalling the wretched fate of the victims in the sequence of New-Gen incidents, I shivered.
"You saved Kishimoto Ayase at school."
Or else, he was the culprit, and he'd used mind control to make her commit suicide....
"Shogun" knew about the power I was supposed to possess....
At the time, no one on the spot had wondered about the flowerbed.
Only Sena had recognized it for what it was. And Sena had said this to me:
Because I possessed that power or whatnot.
If I claimed I didn't have any power, he might let me slip away....
"I, I don't.... have any.... power like that...."
"You don't have any sort of power, Takkii. You're an otaku creep. You don't have in you the stuff that heroes are made of. You're a harmless wannabe hikikomori who does nothing but fap to me. Right-o?"
It was self-centered and juvenile to think I had a unique ability.
Sena and Ayase had told me all kinds of things, and I'd totally begun to buy into it.
But for starters, they were obviously kind of mental.
I'd have to be off my rocker to unquestioningly swallow the words of a mental patient.
Even Rimi had said, "Isn't that itself a delusion?"
"Won't you explain it to me in more detail?"
"D, d'you have proof th, that I did it!?"
"Ma, making a flowerbed materialize out of nowhere, there's no, no way I could--"
"Everyone else said the flowerbed had been there from the start."
"But you alone say the flowerbed hadn't been there at first. You acknowledge it yourself."
More importantly, who the hell was "Shogun"....? When he implied that "the other students and teachers had said so," it couldn't mean he had spoken to them himself, could it?
"I, I don't have any power.... E, even I do, don't know how I did it...."
"Don't let him mislead you."
"Takkii, do you really think you've got some kind of gift?"
"That's something straight from the world of anime."
"You're in reality, you know?"
"Can you prove that the thing about the flowerbed and Ayasecchi dividing in two were real?"
"Did you touch Ayasecchi after she divided?"
I hadn't touched her....
"It might've been just an illusion."
"Back then, the police and Yuacchi were chasing you, and you were losing your head."
Then what about the flowerbed....?
"The same thing."
"The flowerbed was 'there from the start.'"
"When you went there, looking for Rimicchi, your head hurt so bad, you were dizzy."
"You clearly confirmed that 'a flowerbed was there' by the time Ayasecchi fell, didn't you?"
"The fact that not a single person had any doubts about the flowerbed's 'materialization'"
"Means, if you turn it on its head, they didn't find it suspicious because 'it was there from the start,' right-o?"
"It's just that you were mistaken."
"You mustn't let his words mislead you!"
"The flowerbed was there from the start...."
I repeated what Seira-tan had said.
"It, it was a delusion in my mind."
"A, after all, everyone said the flowerbed had been there, di, didn't they...."
"It wasn't some power or, or anything incomprehensible like that...."
"I just as, assumed wrong.... that's all...."
"I, I don't.... wanna die....."
"I, I don't know..... don't kill me...."
"You ought to be more aware of your own genius-level power."
"That latent ability of yours is beyond amazing."
"You could even change the world."
I wanna go home.... I want to go shut myself up in my base and marathon ESO endlessly.
I want to look at Seira-tan figures until I can't stop grinning, and I want to keep watching Burachu over and over.
Even though that was all I desired....
"Takkii, hurry up and run away...."
"I'll always be with you."
"I'm your only ally."
"So let's go home. Cut your ties to the third dimension and live on, doing only fun things."
"First, I'd like you to go to a place from which you have a clear view of the scramble crossing below."
"We've gotta escape. At this rate, he really will kill you...."
"Didn't you hear me?"
His tone was soft, but his voice had an incredibly chilly quality to it.
A voice so fine-tuned that it seemed to take the energy I needed to resist him and rip it out by the roots.
My legs trembled, and I couldn't walk. I hugged myself.
I'd even lost the ability to judge whether or not I should heed what he was saying.
"You can't listen to me?"
"She's gotta be dead already. You'll just die in vain if you keep at it for her sake...."
"L, le, let me.... hear.... Nanami's voice...."
I struggled to squeeze out a cracking voice. But "Shogun" instantly brushed aside my plea.
Didn't want to think Nanami had died.... I didn't want to imagine a dead Nanami. I was scared that once I pictured her, it'd become real....
Resigning myself, I did as "Shogun" had said and began walking for a better view of the scramble crossing.
The area at my feet was dark, and I'd trip if I didn't proceed with caution.
The side of the roof closest to the pedestrian scramble had a transparent acrylic plate jutting up on like a wall. It was roughly three stories high.
As I neared that wall, I came to hear a roar from the crossing below me.
A single female voice particularly caught my ear, but apparently it was coming from the jumbotron mounted on a neighboring building.
Wiping cold sweat off my forehead, I examined the wall in a rush, moving only my eyes.
One place did have a hole in it, large enough for a single person to pass through while standing. It was shaped unnaturally, as though it had been smashed. It's broken state was evidently the result of human hands.
There was nothing beyond the hole, of course. A sheer cliff straight down to the concrete, eight stories below.
What.... did he just say....?
"Shall I tell you again?"
"I want you to lean through the hole and wave your hand at the people below."
"See! He wants to kill you!"
My breath caught. Was this.... how he had made five people jump off....
It was as Seira-tan had said, after all....
I had no other option but to die as well. I had to jump from here.
"I, I don't wanna...."
"Obey, and you'll die."
What was I supposed to do....
I thought about taking the best possible course of action, but delusions of "the worst-case scenario" for all kinds of potential patterns churned around and around in my head, and I couldn't get my brain working properly.
Nanami's voice echoed in my panicked ears.
It was my fault.... Nanami had absolutely nothing to do with it, yet "Shogun" had abducted her and cut her arm off because of me....
I'm sorry, Nanami.... I'm sorry....
I wiped my tears. But still more overflowed even so, and I wiped them again.
SFX: The crowd assembled below breaks into wild applause!
The vast herd had gathered in the plaza. And the media.
The ones who had gathered for some event that was preparing to begin at just the same time--
Which brought the jumbotron on the building next door into view, and without any room for doubt, the thing projected there was--
Reflected on the jumbotron screen, my face was sloppy with tears, and I had my mouth half-open like a dumbass. On top of that, my back was hunched.
At first I thought it was a hallucination.
Next, I had chills, thinking it was a recording of me that had been secretly filmed somewhere.
Going further, I began to suspect a film "Shogun" had taken of my thoughts was being played back there.
The cheers have died down, but the crowd is still worked up.
The live video running on the jumbotron even came with sensationalistic taglines.
A ribbon of explanatory text scrolled along the bottom of the screen.
"A miraculous esper boy introduced to us by the world-class psychic,Yuri Brightman. His urgent live performance!"
"Can he scry the identity of the New-Gen perp!?"
When I read it, I understood at last.
The media crews and rubberneckers gathered at the scramble crossing were all watching.... me....
Do you all understand what kind of day it's been?
An earthquake occurred, man. Magnitude 5. Over a hundred people died.
Positive, Negative or Neutral?