Part 80: Family ReunionPart 80 - Family Reunion
SFX: There's something faintly at the edge of hearing, but too muffled to make out.
When I came to, there were thick clouds overhead. At some point, day had dawned.
But I couldn't see a blue sky anywhere. It seemed dispiriting. An oppressive sky.
Far away rang the noisy sirens of a number of ambulances and fire trucks.
The shapes of helicopters circling high in the air came flying into my field of sight. There were an awful lot of them swooping around, almost like a swarm of flies.
My head throbbed. Like road construction was being carried out inside my skull. It was a more severe pain than what I'd felt during the previous earthquake.
I attempted to recall what had happened immediately before my memories died out. The whiteness of the sky. The words "Shogun" had shouted, "the Third Melt."
SFX: Now the sounds are clear. Screaming, panicked voices, helicopters flying overhead and the wailing of ambulances.
It was similar to the imagined spectacles of "Y2K" that had been all the rage about a decade ago. Shibuya had collapsed.
Traffic lights, roadside trees, a number of buildings: all lay fallen. The famous jumbotron monitors around the pedestrian scramble were cracked and silent.
The roof over the stairs descending to the subway had caved in, burying the entrance. The Yamanote Line's overhead railway had come crashing down, and the rails on the tracks had snapped.
People who didn't so much as twitch. People who moaned agonizingly. People who screamed "Help!" at the top of their lungs.
People covered in dust, who crawled around with their entire bodies pure white. People who held those lying unmoving and wept.
The smell of blood. And a smell like something burning.
And the smell of dust hovered in the air. Somewhere distant, several plumes of black smoke rose like signal fires.
This was the might of Noah II....
I had chills. There was nothing to separate it from a weapon of mass destruction. I finally had a real sense of why "Shogun" had been so desperate to stop it.
Speaking of which, what had become of "Shogun"....?
Coming back to myself, I looked around. A twisted wheelchair had toppled over close beside me. Next to it lay his small body.
Hastily dashing over, I pulled him up in my arms.
"Hey! Hey, hang in there!"
He didn't react when I called to him. I couldn't hear his inner voice, either.
I put my ear close by his mouth. He was breathing, albeit faintly.
But he wasn't conscious. I tried lightly swatting him in the face and such, but he wouldn't wake up.
"Noah II.... where is it....?"
Without knowing that, I couldn't so much as go to rescue Rimi and Nanami.
I should've asked "Shogun" beforehand.
Clicking my tongue in irritation, I took my cell phone out of my pocket.
But it was out of power, and it remained unresponsive no matter how much I fiddled with it. It wouldn't do me any good.
Was there anyone besides "Shogun" who seemed likely to know.... Think about it.... You've got to think....
You don't have time to dawdle.
While you falter like this, that Norose guy might kill the captive Rimi on a whim....!
"The most special among you is"
Sena's father. One of the initial members of Project Noah. His whereabouts were currently unknown.
I'd never met him. No, we might've had a near miss.
According to Kozu-pii, he appeared here and there in Shibuya, looking like a homeless person.
"....There's nothing for it but to find him."
I picked up Shogun's startlingly light body, carrying him on my back, and began cautiously walking through the ruins.
SFX: Judging from the background and sounds (crumbling debris, heavy wind, electric sparks), we're somewhere near where Momose and the others are (or were).
I didn't have the stamina to walk around Shibuya carrying him--especially not with the roads so jagged and uneven.
Anyhow, there were no prior instances of me having gotten any proper exercise. Since sitting in front of my PC was my daily routine.
I thought I ought to take "Shogun" to the hospital, but with Shibuya in this state, I doubted I'd be able to call up an ambulance.
It wore me out just to climb the slight rise of Dougen Hill. I ran out of breath, and huge amounts of sweat came pouring out all over me.
Wiping the sweat off my forehead, I paused to collect my breathing.
SFX: Suddenly, the air is filled with the musical tones of a certain prophetesses song...
Then someone's faint voice came into my hearing.
It was very lonely, but by no means on the brink of despair. A singing voice that comforted me as I listened to it.
I had heard this singing voice before.
At the time, it had come from atop a concert stage. In the midst of excessive lighting that stimulated my sight, and deafening sounds that seemed to shake the tight-closed space itself, I had heard her.
But now. In the middle of the road, absent any human presence. In the midst of this fallen city governed by death, I heard her.
Laying "Shogun" down where I stood, I surveyed the area. But in terms of human forms, all I could see were a number of corpses lying prone.
Doing my best not to look at them, I searched for Ayase. Where on earth had I heard her singing from?
In front of me was a caved-in street. A huge hole opened its jaws there. If I remembered right, the subway ran beneath this road.
While thinking to myself that it couldn't be, I tentatively looked down from the edge of the hole. It was about five meters deep. A vast amount of small debris had piled up inside.
Ayase lay fallen there.
"It isn't only me."
"There are three others. Including your sister."
Why was she here? Wasn't she supposed to have been captured by that man called Norose?
Repressing my bodily pain, I got up and tried shouting, but no answer came.
When I looked around, in addition to Ayase, I saw a stout woman lying prostrate on her stomach. She wasn't moving, but she didn't seem to have any external injuries, so she'd probably just lost consciousness....
I spotted neither Nanami nor the remaining person. It was possible they'd been buried alive.
I had to do something fast....!
I took a glance up at the hole. Dust flew around, enough to send me into a coughing fit. Beyond it was a circular cut-out of the sky.
I pulled my Di-Sword out of invisible space.
I gazed only at her eyes.
--That was enough.
"We're going to have a delusion."
"The debris on top of your leg isn't one big piece. There's a lot of it, but the individual pieces are tiny."
"It isn't heavy. You can easily pull out your leg--"
"We can save the other two as well--"
Ayase and I. If we two Gigalomaniacs achieved shared recognition of that delusion.
"It was due to the guidance of Gladioul. Your coming here."
I blinked and warily raised my face.
Once we moved some of it out of the way, Ayase could withdraw her leg. I certainly hadn't dreamed it would go this well.
"I heard your song, Ayase. It led me here...."
"I see..... I'm glad I kept singing."
Had our delusion failed? Or else, was Nanami already.... I grew anxious.
I heard a voice. When I looked in the direction it had come from, I discovered a hand extending from the ruins.
I seized that hand--its slender fingers--and peeked in through the ensuing gap.
A tunnel-like crevice. Buried alive at the bottom of it was a familiar-looking, glasses-wearing girl.
It seemed like a long while had passed since the last time I'd seen Yua.
"Um.... for some reason, all of a sudden.... this crack appeared...."
"I couldn't move at all until a second ago, but...."
She said apologetically, averting her eyes from me.
"Hold on tight....!"
I gripped Yua's hand tighter. And pulled as hard as I could, in hopes of dragging her out through the crevice.
Ayase helped as well. When the two of us pulled at Yua's hand with all our strength, she escaped the wreckage rather speedily.
"Th, thank you.... so mu.... cough...."
All her body was covered with dust. Bits of concrete were stuck to her long hair.
But Yua didn't seem to be injured, either.
That left only Nanami....
Considering the fact that Yua had been able to work herself free, my delusion must have taken effect well. If so, it should be possible to rescue Nanami from a crevice or something, like Yua.
As expected, while I looked around in a number of wreckage heaps, I saw Nanami's face in one of the cracks there.
I called to her, but Nanami didn't react. She appeared to be unconscious.
The form of the Nanami who had turned to particles yesterday, and dissolved before my eyes, flitted across the back of my brain.
--No, this Nanami had to be the real Nanami.
I took the plunge and grabbed Nanami's shoulder--her blouse. I succeeded in distinctly touching her. Her warmth was there.
I pulled her out with all my strength, in the same manner as I'd done with Yua.
Unlike Ayase and Yua, Nanami wore bloodied clothes. Her arm in particular was pure red.
For the time being, I laid her on her back and checked her breathing. It sounded painful, but she let out slight exhalations.
At this point, I was most worried about the condition of her blood-drenched right hand. When I tried to hold it, to examine it, my own hand passed through it.
....A delusionary hand?
Nanami's right hand really had been....
Groans spilled forth from Nanami's mouth. Her dust-coated face. When I softly brushed her on the cheek, Nanami's eyelids slitted open.
Her line of sight wandered for a bit before her eyes took hold of me.
That instant, Nanami's expression crumpled, contorting. Great big tears overflowed from her. She clutched hard at my hand with her left hand.
She murmured it as if to cling to me. But I shook my head a little as I answered.
Nishijou Nanami sensed it.
Her brother's words served as the trigger, heralding in Nanami's heart the sensation that she had two brothers.
Not, "It seemed like she had two."
"She had two."
She had flashbacks to the faces of her two brothers.
One was pathetic-seeming. One was all wrinkly.
On the other hand, she was positive she had only one sibling.
Her memories and what she recognized. They weren't matching up.
What had been reality? What had been an illusion?
Unknowing, she became frightened, and as she tried to make the inside of her head go blank,
Suddenly, she heard her own voice, coming to her like tiny ripples on water.
The scent of disinfectants pricked at her nose. In front of her was a plain-looking door.
Nanami was holding its handle. And without her will having any bearing on it,
"I'm always telling you to eat properly. If you don't, you won't get better, you know?"
"Ah, is it cause there's some green peas in there?"
"You're not a little kid, so how about you stop being so picky--?"
"We, well, I don't like green peas either, so I can understand why you'd want to leave them, but...."
"If you don't eat right, she's gonna get mad at me. That scaaary head nurse--"
"I'm sorry for all the times I lashed out at you before now."
"It's so weird for you to apologize."
"You don't need to push yourself for my sake any longer."
"What're you saying?"
"I have to go into hiding."
"Don't have to come here anymore."
The fact that she had a real brother.
The fact that she had poured her heart into nursing her severely ill older brother for years. The fact that she'd gone on straining herself, thinking she had to hang in there and be dependable, to take care of him.
Up until this very moment, for a whole year and a half, all those things had completely slipped out of her memory.
Those memories were made to never have been there in the first place.
Her mother had requested that she go check on how he was doing periodically, and once in a while, on the way home from school, she'd stop by his room--
She'd made herself think it was a perfectly ordinary custom of theirs, a continuation of the past, and that she did it because they were family.
She hadn't experienced any doubts whatsoever.
He was lying on the road. He was breathing, but he wasn't conscious.
As always, he was wrinkly, and small, and all dried up, and looked very feeble. This was the brother Nanami had always known, from long ago.
"I only ever complained to you.... I complained, but...."
She spilled tears as she clung to her brother's diminuitive, numb body.
"I never ever, not even once, thought I wanted to forget about you...."
"You're selfish.... you're too selfish...."
A sound like the scraping of metal came from her brother's clothing. Something went slipping out of his breast pocket.
A cheapish bangle with a pattern of snow crystals.
Bewildered, she stared at her true brother's face. But his wrinkle-covered eyes remained shut.
Nanami picked the bracelet up with her left hand. It felt familiar to the touch.
The first present she had ever received from her "brother." It was her treasure.
He was walking away. He was leaving this place. Nanami understood that intuitively.
She became forlorn at the thought that maybe he meant to leave without saying anything to her.
"Go to him."
Knitting her eyebrows, Nanami took a quick glance around.
"Just now, a voice...."
It was the voice of the brother in her memory. A voice reaching her heart from he who should have been unconscious.
Nanami didn't know if it was a voice her brother had emitted, or else merely an auditory hallucination. But even then--
She said to her brother, lying prone.
For days, she'd been pinned up to a eerie objet d'art, in a pitch-black room, forced to experience horrific suffering.
She had no idea how many times she'd thought of dying.
Her right hand especially; the powerful pain in it had continued incessantly, like there was a huge flea stuffed in her bone, gnawing it down.
The sensation that she didn't have a hand and the hallucination that she did mixed and collided, almost driving her crazy.
She was exhausted both mentally and physically.
If she let her guard down, she'd crouch right where she stood and be rendered unable to take another step forward.
Which was why Nanami had to fight desperately to keep stretching out her hand.
She wanted to halt her brother so much, to the point of putting in such an effort.
Once she just barely managed to squeeze out her voice, he noticed. He stopped and turned back in her direction.
She'd succeeded in stopping him, but Nanami was torn about how to address him.
The reality that this person wasn't her brother. The conviction that this person was her brother.
Those two feelings became hopelessly entangled, and she couldn't put her emotions in order on a moment's notice.
She felt like this bangle's existence tied the two of them together.
She was fine with that being the sole answer. Her confusion soon vanished.
Struggling to keep herself from crying, Nanami smiled with all her might.
"....Ah, eh, thanks, Nanami."
She'd gone unconscious. Her face was as white as a sheet. Her breathing, too, sounded painful.
Said the plump woman who had introduced herself as Momose, looking over into Nanami's face and speaking gravely. Next, she turned her eyes on "Shogun."
"Same goes for the boy sleeping over there."
"Take care of the two of them...."
"There's someone I have to look for...."
Noah II's location.
I'd tried asking Nanami, but she told me she wasn't sure where she'd been held captive.
The only thing I could do was search for the person called Hatano, after all.
If you were to rephrase it as Noah II--
"Yeah. That's right."
Ayase's expression went tight.
"I'll go with you."
"You don't need to."
Even after I told her so, Ayase shook her head in refusal.
"All seven must gather."
"Ayase, and Yua, I'd like you to look for someone called Hatano."
"Because he knows.... where Noah II is."
"Even if we're not acting in tandem, I know everything that all of you observe."
"So for now, let's split up and look for him."
For the moment, I thought it was the best possible strategy. We had to hurry.
There was no guaranteeing our safety if another earthquake took place.
Ayase said, though she lowered her eyes regrettably.
"Norose Genichi is the one who's been controlling everything from behind the scenes."
"So that's how it is...."
"Then leave your sister and the others to me."
Momose-san thrust out her chest. And nodded as though to encourage me.
"However, don't go overboard."
"And I have a single request to make of you."
I "knew" that he'd died. Shot to death by his partner. Because I'd unconsciously witnessed the moment when it happened.
I was about to convey this to Momose-san. But--
"Good grief. I wonder where he's loitering around at a time like this."
"Well, maybe, unexpectedly enough, he's helping out the wounded."
Since Momose-san said such things. I found myself unable to tell her.
"Anyway, thanks in advance."
But I couldn't think of how else to answer her.
Yua, head lowered, spoke in a voice as weak as a fly's rasping.
I'd noticed that she had been peeping timidly at me for a while now, looking as if she were about to say something.
"....I'm sorry I suspected you."
"The things I said must've hurt you...."
The lenses of her glasses, considerably soiled with dust. Behind them, her eyes were surely wet with tears.
"I don't think you'll forgive me even if I apologize...."
"But please let me apologize anyway."
"The Seira-tan figures in my base...."
"If you'd like to, will you take them for me?"
It had been a shock when she deceived me, but now I understood her circumstances.
Which was why if I said something like "I forgive you," I'd start to see myself, conversely, as being presumptuous.
I'd thought Yua was my enemy all along. I didn't possess the right to have her lower her head to me, or to forgive her.
"Um, is it really okay....?"
"I want you to have them."
At last it returned to Yua, a gentle smile like the one she'd worn when we met for the first time.
I nodded at her words.