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The Novel- Chapter Four
Shounen Ou ("The Boy King") by Enokido Youji, Hasegawa Shin-ya
commercial use of these translations is prohibited
TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: The name "Shi-Ma" literally means "Demon of Death".
Ryuugen appears to enjoy having his life in danger. Mikoto begins to find this attitude appealing. But Mikoto's third enemy is on its way. Can Mikoto, as good as naked, possibly win?
Chapter Four: Nearly Identical
The spacious dining hall was filled with the youthful voices of many young students. Mikoto had placed his order at the counter, received his lunch tray and sat at an empty table. He soon became aware of Karin sitting in seat a short distance away. She was having what appeared to be the typical after-meal tea with several of her female classmates. She didn't appear to have noticed Mikoto, and had a small, uncharacteristic smile on her face as she chatted with the girls and spooned herself some desert.
Karin hadn't shown herself at breakfast - this was his first glimpse of her since last night. The sight of her bathed in the broad daylight let in through the large windows made Mikoto wonder if he really had held her in his arms last night, had really pressed his lips to hers. He wondered if the whole thing had just been some twilight dream.
"Getting pretty friendly with the target, aren't we," came Fluttery's voice from the ring around Mikoto's neck. "Wasn't it your policy not to make friends?"
After confirming that noone was sitting near him, Mikoto responded in a small voice, "What are you, jealous, partner?"
"I'm an artificially constructed intellect. I'm not fortunate enough to have emotions like friendship or jealousy."
"Cool and collected. I like that. Just don't forget yourself and go berserk like you did a day ago, okay?"
"I heard everything at breakfast today. I'm concerned that getting too friendly with the target will make it difficult to carry out orders."
As always, Ryuugen's political background had been impossible to grasp. But although it was just the two of them at breakfast with Karin gone, his loquaciousness had made Mikoto laugh numerous times. Mikoto couldn't deny that, like Fluttery said, he had begun to develop more than a merely professional interest in Ryuugen. Of course, Mikoto knew that behind the bright facade Ryuugen was plotting something or other that he wasn't letting on. Still, Ryuugen seemed to be enjoying his circumstances from the bottom of his heart, including the fact that someone was out for his life. Mikoto had begun to find that ease somehow attractive. Still...
"I'll be fine," Mikoto answered. Just fine. Mikoto was confident that he could carry out his orders when they arrived, even if they were to kill Ryuugen. He'd felt that way all along, and was sure he'd go on feeling that way.
Mikoto briefly thought back to all the jobs he'd done in the past.
That night he'd killed the solitary mathematician in his office. The beautiful widow he'd killed on her gigantic yacht. And the time on that remote planet...
There was nothing that made this time any different.
"By the way, what's this 'FL Family' thing? She got pissed when you called her that."
"Her real name is Kareena FL. The FL Family is a conglomerate large enough to threaten even the Empire's canal building enterprises."
"What got you interested in them?"
"Of course, since you were getting close to her, I figured it'd be useful to you."
With a small beep, Fluttery closed the transmission. Mikoto was vaguely troubled, something he'd felt before on occasion. When he used "direct control mode", he could wield the paragrine as an extension of his own limbs as a weapon. But Fluttery, as an autonomous intellect, was in charge of database access and other volitional functions. It was conceivable, for example, that Fluttery had just deliberately kept information from Mikoto. Of course, Mikoto and his subordinate Fluttery weren't able to access everything in the kingdom's central database. It was impossible to access beyond the sphere of information the kingdom had vetted. That wasn't a problem.
The problem was the possibility of Fluttery of his own "accord" deciding to keep information from his master. And Mikoto knew that his unease at this prospect had an emotional dimension as well. Somehow, Mikoto felt a sense of friendship and a fear of betrayal towards Fluttery, who was supposedly only a tool with a semi-intellect.
This is preposterous, he thought. Fluttery's just a machine... What? As he set his lukewarm cup down on his tray, Mikoto caught sight of a male student he knew standing at the entrance of the dining hall. It was K-suke from the student council. K-suke looked around the cafeteria, noticed Mikoto, and beckoned for him to come.
Karin finally noticed Mikoto as he stood up and began leaving the cafeteria. In the same moment, she noticed A-ko's passionate gaze following him.
"I wonder where Mikoto lives. I know he's not in the dorms."
"He's staying at the lunarium, on Ryuugen's invitation."
"Hmmmm", A-ko responded, and gave Karin a sidelong glance.
"I bet it's fate that he found U-ta's body. It feels like he's my prince."
"You're really his captive, aren't you?"
"What's that supposed to mean? I'll have you know he _is_ my prince. You have His Highness, don't you?"
"Ryuugen is..." Karin said, with a trace of loneliness, "He isn't a 'prince' or anything like that. He's a boy king."
"Watch your step," K-suke said. Mikoto knew that these stairs led to the underground athletic courts. He was descending them, at K-suke's lead. The lights had been turned out partway down, and he had no choice but to follow the handrail. It seemed K-suke was trying to make Mikoto nervous. "This way." At the end of the stairs, he could finally see a door with light seeping through. "Go in, don't be bashful," K-suke said as he opened the door. "Apart from year-end events, noone uses this place. It's for our private use."
The courts were quite large, big enough to permit four simultaneous basketball games. The ceiling was also high. Bluish lights lit the ceiling with a cold glow, and the A/C kept the air almost cold. A table and chairs, seemingly out of place, had been arranged at one side of the courts. Around ten students were gathered here, all apparently members of the student council. One of them was female, with curly hair. All of them, including her, had sabers girt at their hips.
Mikoto, without a trace of fear, walked over to the table. "Do you all dislike the summer sun? Why do you gather all the way down here?"
"Underground is the best place for a nice quiet chat. And no worries about strange birds either."
"Indeed." Mikoto glanced around, satisfied as to this rationale. He bet that K-suke still bore a scar from Fluttery's attack.
"Oh, pardon me for not offering a chair to our visitor." Two students approached Mikoto from behind and seized both his arms. Since we've brought you all the way down here, I'll ask you to remove that stiff uniform and make yourself comfortable."
"I'd prefer to avoid such an uncouth display in front of a lady if possible."
"Hey, she'll enjoy it. Sorry, but we can't be careless where you're concerned." At a signal from K-suke, the curly-haired girl reached out to Mikoto and began undoing his shirt buttons one by one, a thin smile on her face. Mikoto offered no resistance and let her do as she wanted. She undid his belt too and deftly removed his pants. Reduced to his underwear, he was told to sit in a chair.
"There's nothing in his uniform," the girl reported.
"Aren't you going to check inside my underwear?" Mikoto asked in a daring tone.
"Don't get so stiff. You'll lose your friends if you don't remember to smile."
"No worries there," Mikoto said. "I don't have any friends anyway."
"What an unlucky guy," K-suke said, and laid a finger on the ring around Mikoto's neck. But apparently thinking it to be just a necklace, he left it alone.
"Come to think of it, I hear you all carried me back to my room when I suffered that attack of 'anemia' the other day. Sorry for putting you to trouble."
"We, the student council, work towards peace and order within the school. We just did what was right. Besides," K-suke said with a thin smile, "we took good care of you while you were out. We enjoyed ourselves quite a bit. Unfortunately, we were interrupted by a member of the Board of Trustees."
"Isn't that a bit extreme handling for me now that I'm a student here?" That "board member" was probably the "Earth-Man". Evidently he was using the Student Council under his authority, while keeping the fact that Mikoto was an agent hidden.
"There wouldn't be a problem if you were a normal student," K-suke responded. "Yesterday, another body was found. And, just like the previous incident, we've placed you at the scene again."
"The one who discovered it was Karin, or rather," Mikoto corrected with a small smile, "her dog."
"Why did His Majesty invite you to his mansion?"
"Am I obligated to answer private questions?"
The girl standing next to Mikoto dealt him a solid slap across the face with her palm, no expression on her face. Her hand went back, and forth again, but Mikoto bore it in silence.
"It's in your best interest not to joke around too much. I neglected to mention it, but the female student who was found was her twin sister."
Mikoto vividly remembered the face of the fallen girl in the forest yesterday. He turned to look again at the curly-haired girl who had just slapped him. "I can't see much resemblance."
"That's to be expected," K-suke said. "They were playing the 'game'." Upon inspection, she wore the requisite nameplate on her breast.
"Even if you become someone else, isn't a twin still a twin?"
"We're the ones asking questions here. Why are you now living in the mansion?"
"I'm not there because I want to be."
"I imagine not. It's not a mansion one can get into by wanting to. What we want to know is why His Majesty is treating someone like you specially. We understand you managed to shoot that snake on stage with a gun. But just saving Karin wouldn't be enough to make His Majesty go that far for you."
Mikoto told K-suke that he'd never touched a gun in his life, but K-suke wasn't having it. Seeing the curly-haired girl's hand raised again to strike him, Mikoto protested, "Don't hit me for every little thing, okay? And what do you mean 'just because I saved Karin'? She's his fiancee."
"Despite appearances, His Majesty is an emotionless man. I know that well. He treats Karin well enough, but he certainly doesn't love her. He merely uses her for his own ends!"
Struck by the vehemence of K-suke's words, Mikoto asked, "Are you in love with her or something?" Now visibly irritated, K-suke glared back at Mikoto.
At that time, Ryuugen was walking down an underground passage, far below the subterranean courts where Mikoto was. It was the utter bottom of the school. The walls were naked concrete, and amidst the deep gloom the faint sound of moving air could be heard. Ryuugen's footsteps resounded in the unnaturally cold space. At length, he stopped before a large door and knocked on it. The door opened, revealing the face of the Earth-Man.
"I've been waiting." Ryuugen nodded and entered.
"I want you to participate in a match", K-suke told Mikoto.
"It's faster than all this chatting. I want to know more about you. If you win, you're free to walk out of here. But if you lose, you have to do what we tell you."
"What you tell me?"
"You start working for us."
"And who am I to duel?"
"Me, of course. I warn you, don't expect any help to reach you down here," K-suke said with an unpleasant smile. "Don't worry. I'll be holding back."
"And my weapon?"
"We don't need any bloodshed. Unarmed is fine. Hey, we'll call it if one of us goes down or gets slapped in the face." Mikoto thought for a moment and then nodded. There didn't seem to be anything to gain by refusing. Clearly K-suke's goal was to beat Mikoto down in front of his companions. He seemed to think his pride was repeatedly hurt.
K-suke removed the sword at his waist and handed it to a boy nearby. "We've got to make this fair." But just that was hardly enough to make things fair. K-suke still had his uniform on, but Mikoto had nothing but his underwear. His shoes had been removed too, leaving him barefoot. K-suke had removed his saber because it would be in the way in unarmed combat, and as a precaution against any chance of Mikoto grabbing it. Nevertheless, Mikoto had no complaints. Agents always fought on others' terms.
The two squared off. The rest of the Student Council gathered around them.
K-suke gauged his range and dropped into a natural crouch, right leg extended straight behind him. It was a textbook forward-crouch stance. He exuded nothing but confidence and flawless focus.
Facing him, Mikoto also drew back one leg into what ostensibly looked like a cats-paw stance, but an amateurish one at best. With a yelled kiai, K-suke closed the distance and aimed a solid thrust at Mikoto's solar plexus. He was only as fast, however, as a schoolboy attempting to show off martial arts in a formal match. Mikoto had been trained to kill by the Institute since he was little. He avoided the thrust by a razor's width, and in the next instant aimed a lightning knife-hand blow at K-suke's neck.
The boy who just a few seconds ago had resembled a cornered rabbit, had in an instant metamorphosed into a dispassionate combat machine. With a wordless groan, K-suke fell to the floor. The boys around, trembling, ran over to their leader. The curly haired girl stared at Mikoto, eyes wide with shock.
Mikoto doubted they'd let him leave now that he'd won. Had he lost, his opponent would likely have been satisfied by gaining face. And had he given him face, it was possible that K-suke really did mean to let him onto the Student Council. But from the moment he had accepted the challenge, Mikoto had planned on winning.
Mikoto habitually made compromises in human relationships, but not in fighting, which was his lifestyle itself. This was why he had had to win this battle, in which victory or defeat didn't matter, at all costs. Mikoto knew this well. Someone who lost a fight on purpose even once was a loser in reality. Not the defeat he saw in someone's eyes after they had fought their best and lost, but an undefined inner defeat which the loser would harbor evermore in their heart.
"...Don't let him escape," K-suke hoarsely ordered his subordinates. As expected, it seemed he had no intention of keeping his promise. Several of the boys drew their sabers and surrounded Mikoto. Mikoto stood still, expressionless. Breathing heavily, K-suke got to his feet unaided. He glared furiously at Mikoto. "Lock him in the storage room."
The boys led him over to the storage room, situated to the side of the courts. At sword point and with no other choice, he entered its narrow concrete confines. The metal door began to close with a grating noise. It stopped just before closing entirely, and through the crack K-suke looked at Mikoto's face as he said, "Keeping the peace on campus is our job. You're imprisoned for the time being."
"Do you have that right?"
K-suke gave a victorious smile. "Yeah, I do. I've got friends on the Board of Directors, friends who 'appreciate' my power and my talent. I'm holding you captive on my authority. Close it." As the door closed, he heard the sound of a lock. He was enclosed in the narrow darkness of the equipment room.
You're the one in prison, Mikoto whispered within his heart.
At the end of the underground passage was the entrance to a large room, at the center of which was "the apparatus". Ryuugen and the Earth-Man stood side by side, gazing at it.
"This place is more miserable than I expected," Ryuugen said while peering at the apparatus.
"Actually, looking at it from behind like this is strictly forbidden," the Earth-Man replied sycophantically. "But because of your urging, I've taken the liberty of displaying it to you, as it were, by way of introduction. Of course, keeping it a secret from my nation of Frimaire. But why does Karin-sama dislike the apparatus so much? It's quite troublesome."
"Is that why you attacked her?"
"Not in the slightest. As I've told you before, that accident was caused by an escaped snake. Such good fortune that the calamity was averted before it fell."
"You really love your job, don't you? You seem like you deserve a promotion."
"Yes, I'm someone who should be valued more highly even at the innermost levels of my country. My loyalty to my king runs deep. Far more so than that young brat Central sent our way."
"So, you too are a captive..."
"What are you talking about?"
"Well, what are your demands?"
The Earth-Man feigned a charitable smile. "The galactic balance that Frimaire, Nivose, and your Federation have maintained for a hundred years is about to collapse. We in Frimaire are steadily exerting our influence to bring that order down. If you leave the Federation and defect to our country, all our worries will be over."
"It's not your king expanding his power, it's this despicable device, isn't it?"
"This device is the embodiment of our king's, Frimaire's king's power."
"Karin doesn't hate this device politically, she hates it emotionally. She said it smell of a monster, a far bigger one than she's ever felt before."
"As I would expect of the FL Family lineage. She is correct. This device was built because of a contract between our king and Shi-Ma, one of those thirteen Archdemons."
"Archdemons, huh," Ryuugen said, laughing. "Come to think of it, the intelligence report said that the existence of exactly thirteen spiritual parasite lifeforms had just been confirmed. We've been calling them I.B.'s."
"You seem to be a man of judgment equal to your reputation. I trust you wouldn't base political judgment on personal taste like an undiscerning girl."
"I guess noone can live with only the things they like," Ryuugen said with a small smile. "Everyone has to live with the whole world."
Time to blow this joint, I think.
"You've got a good grasp of the layout of this underground building, right," Mikoto said to the ring around his chest. "Try not to let anyone see us."
"That was my intention," Fluttery replied. "I think the best time for that would be night."
"I'd prefer to do that too, but I'm getting pretty bored being locked away in this sequestered room." Roughly an hour had passed since his imprisonment. "There may be some kind of guard on the other side of the door. Be careful," Mikoto said.
"Do they have some kind of weapons?"
"No, I mean be careful not to hurt them."
"No guarantees of that. If you're concerned, please assume direct control of me."
"...Very well." Mikoto took the ring that K-suke and the others had thought was just a necklace off from around his neck, and fastened it around his head. It no longer resembled a piece of golden jewelry, and as he fastened it around his head Mikoto's ring returned to its original form. All Mikoto needed do was to use his training to withstand the dizziness accompanying gaining double visions and auditory senses, to make the cybernetic bird that was the supreme secret weapon of F kingdom be his alternate body.
The view of the schoolbuildings from above opened before him, from the paragrine's current altitude. Mikoto rapidly lowered its viewpoint, maneuvering it inside the building through an open stairwell window. This time, the bird blew right through the dark stairway Mikoto had descended before using its infrared sensors. Having arrived in the silent courts, the paragrine exploited the high ceiling to circle overhead. Utilizing Odd Craft, it focused its bodily magnetic field into an intense beam of force, aimed at the lock of the equipment room door. Fluttery's mass was like a cannon round as it blew the lock open.
Mikoto, who had been standing a safe distance away, took the ring off his head and returned it to its necklace form. From the ring came a small beep as the paragrine returned once more to autonomous mode, controlled by Fluttery's AI.
Magnificent, it told him.
Mikoto opened the door to find that K-suke and the others were long gone. They had left no lookout either. Perhaps they had felt certain he couldn't escape. Mikoto's uniform was still sitting on the chair. As long as I have total control of this paragrine as my weapon, nobody can beat me.
With a combatant's pride in his heart and his uniform back on, Mikoto left the courts.
to be continued next issue
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