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The Novel- Chapter Nine
Shounen Ou ("The Boy King") by Enokido Youji, Hasegawa Shin-ya
commercial use of these translations is prohibited
To save Karin, Mikoto and Ryuugen journey together underground. However, Ryuugen puts Mikoto in danger, and events accelerate toward their shocking conclusion...
Chapter Nine: The Man in the White Mask
The two boys descended shoulder-to-shoulder into the black depths of Hades. The steeply slanted underground tunnel was lit faintly by electric bulbs, and the walls were bare concrete. A sloping pathway to the center of the earth. The sound of blowing air could be heard in the distance. This certainly seemed to be the path to the Other Shore.
"Thanks for saving me back there," Ryuugen said. "I nearly got bitten by that dangerous snake." However, Ryuugen didn't seem particularly perturbed that his life had been a paper's thickness away from being over. Even had those poisonous fangs gotten him, he'd probably have gone on smiling as he died. That was Mikoto's impression.
"Is our target," Mikoto asked, "down here?"
"It's the 'Becoming a Stranger' apparatus, right?"
"Very astute. That's right. It's a device for amplifying the power of the Shi-Ma who create this magical space."
"The true identity of those dogs. One of the so-called Archdemons. And because of that apparatus it's powered up a lot. A difficult opponent." Yet, as Ryuugen spoke he seemed to be in an peculiarly good mood. He appeared to be enjoying the situation.
"Aren't you afraid of dying?" Of course not, Ryuugen said with a low chuckle. "Those who come in contact with the reality of death know that fear. But there aren't many who know the true terror of death. People are by necessity accustomed to losing consciousness and regaining it every day when they sleep. That's why they even haves hopes about what will happen to them when they die."
"So, you're saying that sleeping alleviates our fear about death?"
"Correct. However, sleep and death are two different things. Death is a point of permanent loss of consciousness - and very few people can endure the terror of confronting such a thing."
"I couldn't really say without actually confronting the reality of the kind of death you're talking about.... But, even if one can't escape death, one may be able to conquer the fear of death through training."
"True. At least, the fear of your own death...," Ryuugen said. The two were thinking about the same girl, and Mikoto was immersed in his emotions. He was supposed to be someone whose death noone would mourn. He had come to this school as an Agent bent on assassination. But here he was, trying to save a girl who had stabbed him, cooperating with the target he was supposed to kill and on his way down to the dominion of the Shi-Ma in the Underworld. Mikoto now intended to save Karin no matter what.
Just moments earlier, Mikoto had met Karin in the mansion. He had ventured as far as her room, and as though instructed in advance, the steward opened the door in silence. Karin was sitting up in bed, clothed in a nightgown. "You came all this way check on me?" the girl said drily. Her face was positively emaciated. Her hair was a mess and there were large black marks beneath those large eyes, but that fragile appearance perversely enhanced her beauty.
"Yeah, despite you hating me." So saying, Mikoto took the laser knife that Ryuugen had given him out of his pocket. He pressed the switch, and a short but extremely sharp blade formed. Of course, Mikoto had been thoroughly trained on the use of both knives and guns as an Agent.
"Are you going to kill me?"
"There's no way I can kill you. Ryuugen knows there's no way I can kill you, which is why he went out and left me on the loose. Humiliating as it is, he's entirely right."
"If the monster's power keeps rising like this, my life's over anyway. Maybe that's why he left me alone like this."
"Are you--," Mikoto said, struggling to contain his anger. "You can't... you can't be serious?!"
Karin opened her large eyes and gazed at Mikoto, and murmured, How kind you you are. "Why don't you kill me?"
"No reason." Occasionally a speck of dust floating lightly in the room would touch the blade of the laser, burning in a burst of light.
Reason, Karin laughed lightly. "Well then, what did you come here for?"
Mikoto switched off the laser knife and returned it to his pocket. And asked, "Why was it? If you were going to kill me, you should have had plenty of other chances. Why'd you stab me then?"
"I was the one who ordered K-suke to imprison you in the underground basketball courts. Not that I planned to kill you from the start. I figured the likes of you was no match for Ryuugen anyway.
"..." The likes of me, huh?
"But if you did have enough power to really kill him, I couldn't let it slide. So I decided to be on the safe side and test your power. And boy was I surprised at that bird's strength. I monitored the whole thing. You understand, right? A person with a weapon like that and out to get Ryuugen was living under the same roof. I figured I had to do something, but the chance never presented itself. For some reason, Ryuugen really likes you and said not to kill you. I even got mad at him and got into a fight."
Within his heart, Mikoto let out a long sigh. He was the cause of Karin's breaking the glass and quarreling with Ryuugen that morning. A quarrel about Karin wanting to kill him and Ryuugen stopping her. But Mikoto, who had started falling for her, had innocently misinterpreted it as a sign of a schism between them. ".... Thank you for telling me the truth."
Karin slipped a pale bare foot out from under the blankets and pointed it at Mikoto, and held out her hand. "And this time, I won't stab you," she said with a smile.
"Do whatever you want," Mikoto replied, and the two shared a quiet, dry kiss. After the short kiss, Mikoto made as to leave the room.
"Where are you going?" Karin asked.
"I'm going to settle the score. Oh yeah, but I'd like you to tell me one more thing. Why didn't Ryuugen kill me, and instead leave me free?"
"I'd like to know the same thing. Every time I asked him why he likes you, he just smiles and says it's because of a 'stupid gamble'. What's this score you're going to settle?"
"I'm going to kill him, and make you mine."
And Mikoto had ran off after Ryuugen towards the library.
The two boys reached the end of the passage. It was closed off with a heavy steel door. Scenting danger, the two rapidly hid behind a thick pillar. Within Ryuugen's formerly empty grasp, Andrea abruptly manifested. No matter how many times he saw it, Mikoto couldn't help but disbelieve his eyes. He wanted to see the gun's power with his own eyes again, but he suddenly remembered Karin's words, and lightly tapped the ring fastened around his head with his finger. "I'll take care of this. It seems like there's some sort of system that attacks any intruders in the area of the door."
He had already assumed direct control, and Fluttery the paragrine, the Frimaire military bird of prey that had become his second body, accelerated into the air with an explosive burst of its biomagnetic propulsion.
There's no way the likes of you can beat Ryuugen - that's what Karin had said.
The vicinity of the door was protected with an electrically-based antipersonell attack device, but the cybernetic bird broke through it with narry a scratch, becoming a cannon round to smash open the door. With a loud explosion, the door's form was altered, twisted and crushed to make an entrance. The paragrine flew through the air, and in the next instant accelerated vertically and tore through the ceiling with its bill. It ripped free a mass of electrical cord and destroyed the control circuits, returning to land on Mikoto's shoulder with several strands of its quarry's innards still in its mouth. Mikoto was satisfied. Sensors, destructive power, controllability, all was in the green. I don't care if I'm facing an armored division. I'll wipe them all out.
"I see, I guess I don't get a turn," Ryuugen murmured in apparent appreciation. "I wonder if that bird is more capable than I know."
"Of course," Mikoto answered in elation. "After we destroy the apparatus, shall we duel? I won't lose if I use this direct control mode."
"You've already betrayed Frimaire. What meaning is there in fighting me?"
"Within the Institute, all you have to do to make it through is end up with things according to orders. I'm the only falconer who can use the paragrine - they can't throw me away that easily."
"So, you really are enslaved too." Ryuugen's expression grew somewhat displeased.
"You may be conceited about using your machine to be your country's top agent. And you may pride yourself on how many people you've murdered with your own hands. But you're just a pawn who did it all 'because you were told to'. Is there even anybody you've actually killed under your own volition?"
Mikoto was a bit cowed by Ryuugen’s unusually violent tone. However, Ryuugen seemed disinclined to debate any further, and approached the door. Upon inspection, the other side of the door the paragrine had destroyed was pitch black. And –
"That's..." Mikoto was astounded. Out of the darkness floated the image of a girl, stark naked, emblazoned with the "Shi-Ma markings". The girl smiled provocatively at them, and began to display signs of burning lust. Despite the unreality, it was a beautiful sight. But Mikoto was instinctively afraid of that darkness. It had the overwhelming feeling of terror that comes from places like mine fields. A place that was dangerous, a place like unto danger itself.
"...Who is that?"
"My 'true enemy'. The king of monsters, who governs Death. Yes, that's Shi-Ma. Can you get close to her?"
"What's with that "eye"?"
"You mean those blue eyes of hers?"
"No, that giant 'eye' above her head that's staring at me."
"That," said Ryuugen, "is something I cannot see."
"Can't see it? But it's right there." Mikoto inadvertently looked up. The giant "eye" floated above the girl's head. And it stared in his direction. It was something even more unnatural than the monsters. And as he felt himself becoming captivated by the strength of its gaze -- Ryuugen gave him an overwhelmingly strong shove to the back, knocking him across the threshold of the door.
...What? As the terror of being thrust into this unfamiliar darkness assailed his every limb, Mikoto hastily attempted to retreat. However, when he turned around he discovered something very strange - the entrance he had just passed through was gone, and nothing but more darkness extended before him. Before he realized it, Mikoto had become surrounded on all sides by the dark. The image of the girl had disappeared too. The world consisted of nothing but darkness, and the giant "eye" looking at Mikoto. His consciousness began to rapidly phase out, as though falling into the depths of sleep. Oh no...
Mikoto attempted to resist, but his body had already grown faint, as though it were melting into the darkness. He thought he heard the barking of dogs from somewhere behind him....
When he came to, he was sitting on a swaying bench. Mikoto became aware of a fierce pain in the wound in his back. Apparently the pain-killers had worn off. And with his awakening, he was abruptly struck by a dual set of sensations. His ring was fastened around his head, still in direct control mode. And his paragrine was sitting where it belonged on his shoulder. The bird waited emotionlessly for orders.
From the swaying and the sound of hoofs, Mikoto figured he was in a horse- drawn carriage. It seemed he was being buffeted around in some kind of carriage that ran through the depths of the earth. The scenery outside was nearly pitch-black, and the landscape flew by extremely fast. Mikoto was the only one on the bench. But Mikoto still felt like he was "being watched". Somewhere, that "eye" was still gazing at him. He couldn't see it, but he felt it clearly. It was still around somewhere, watching him. I've gotta fight it. Within Mikoto, fighting spirit flared.
For an Agent, losing consciousness in a fight was tantamount to dying, a shameful show of disgrace. Moreover, he hadn't been killed yet. And when one's opponent controlled whether you lived or died, being left alive was a far more abhorrent state than death itself. Not just because of pride, but because of far more real dangers. This enemy, who could have killed him but didn't, was attempting to take him somewhere even worse. He couldn't afford to lose. But where was this enemy? He still clearly felt the presence of the eye, watching him from somewhere. Where was it? Go! Mikoto sent the paragrine out the window of the coach. He was going to acquire his enemy using its sensors. Truly, "an eye for an eye".
The paragrine flew alongside the coach, gaining a bit of altitude. However, even through its IR sensors, Mikoto could see nothing in the darkness of this subterranean space that resembled scenery. The underground area Mikoto was in certainly seemed to be in a state of confusion. But then Mikoto noticed a man sitting in the driver's station. This coach had a driver, controlling the horses with a whip. The paragrine accelerated and circled around in front to get a good look at the driver's face. The man was wearing a white mask. That's...!
Mikoto recognized that masked man. He remembered that white mask. It was the man who who had recommended that Mikoto start training to use the paragrine at the Institution, long ago. The man who had said, You just might be able to do it, and given him the ring. It could be said that Mikoto becoming the user of the paragrine was thanks to him. The man who had discovered Mikoto's talent. It seemed he wasn't one of the staff of the Institute, but Mikoto had been aware that he was high ranking even among the country's elite. Who was he, come to think of it? All the teachers in the Institute had seemingly respected and obeyed him. But why was that man now driving this mysterious coach? Where was he taking Mikoto, and for what purpose?
All I know is that he's the enemy, Mikoto thought. And his intuition told him that the "eye" that was looking at him was really this man. He was the one gazing at Mikoto now, or rather, had been gazing at him all along. Mikoto saw the white masked man glance at the paragrine and sneer. It was clearly a sneer directed at Mikoto.
Without question. He's my real enemy. So Mikoto thought, but for some reason didn't give the paragrine the order to attack. He thought back to Ryuugen's words. You're just a pawn who did it all 'because you were told to' Yes, it's true that until now, he had never killed anybody except as part of his job. He had lacked the concept of issuing the order to kill because of his own bloodlust, just as Ryuugen had pointed out. All he'd held in his hands was a soldier's rationale, not even pride as a warrior. The carriage continued to go ever faster. The "eye" was still watching him. However, he began to think that its gaze was actually warm.
He sensed placid, warm, peaceful waves attempting to enfold him. The eye would protect him. Maybe he should turn over all his worries to the eye, maybe he should leave everything to that eye at the center of the world, to that comfortable gaze. That eye acknowledges me. It acknowledges me, and takes me to where I belong. A peaceful, comfortable place. Coming closer and closer...
No! Mikoto screamed the single word of denial within his heart. Within his mind an image of that girl floated. Karin. If he didn't win this fight, she would die. So Mikoto had to win, no matter what. He couldn't let himself be carried off like this. He had to fight. But Mikoto simply couldn't bring himself to issue the paragrine the order to kill the man. It was like he had been mind controlled. Come to think of it, the paragrine's developers had been under the masked man's command. Perhaps a block was in place so that the paragrine, controlled by brainwaves, could not be commanded to attack him. In either case, whether because of Mikoto himself or because of the paragrine, he was currently as good as defenseless. But was he really powerless under the circumstances? Was there really no longer a way to save Karin? No, thought Mikoto. He could always jump off the carriage. He was probably better off trying to run from his enemy and from the eye than letting himself be taken away. As the thought crossed his mind and his hand touched the door handle –
"Doing okay there?" He heard a staticy voice, all too happy for the circumstances. It belonged to Ryuugen. Without thinking, Mikoto looked around for him, but of course he was nowhere to be seen within the cramped coach. "I'm over here. I'm talking to you through that ring you're wearing. I tweaked it a bit, while you were out after Karin stabbed you. Well, figuring out the frequency was easy, but making it capable of alternate-dimensional transmission took a lot of skill."
"What do you think you're doing?" Mikoto complained. "Weren't you trying to save her? Thanks to you, I'm now closed in on all sides and about to jump out of some totally unidentifiable coach."
"I'll give you a weapon," Ryuugen said. "Just take out the thing you've got in your pocket." Pocket? Mikoto slipped his hand into his pocket. There he found that laser knife. But of course, something like a knife was of no use under the circumstances. "All I've got is the knife."
"When you came to the mansion, I'm the one who searched through your luggage."
"What're you talking about at a time like this?"
"I felt rather bad, but I just couldn't resist looking through your personal effects. But I didn't find what I was looking for there."
"What you were looking for?""Whether you can be saved now or not is my 'stupid gamble'. If you die, I lose. But I believe you'll win. Let's save Karin together." With that, the transmission unilaterally ended. Mikoto took the laser knife out of his pocket and gazed at it. A powerful, but short-bladed optical tool. He simply couldn't see how it could amount to any sort of weapon under the circumstances. But thinking back to Ryuugen's words, a single "thought" flashed into Mikoto's mind. It started as just a hypothesis, but soon changed into a virtual certainty. It couldn't be...
The notion was positively absurd. Perhaps the word "expectation" was more accurate than "notion". But Mikoto within his heart that he had hit upon the truth. The reason he had been so taken by this boy named Ryuugen. What he had been truly seeking. That 'paragrine' bird is a truly well-made weapon, Ryuugen had said. And, well-made in a certain sense. Whether this "notion" was true or not, it was clear that Ryuugen had had the same thought as Mikoto. Indeed, that was a "stupid gamble".
Mikoto called the paragrine back into the coach. And lightly touching the ring around his head, he disengaged direct-control mode. Of course, Fluttery the autonomous control AI reawakened. However, before Fluttery reawakened, Mikoto pressed the paragrine's head down onto the bench with his left hand. And... With his right hand, he switched on the laser knife. The cybernetic bird gazed as the laser's light.
"So," Fluttery said calmly. "You figured it out, didn't you?" The serenity of the voice told him his notion was correct. It came as a surprise.
"So you knew, didn't you?"
"Well, 'that' was why I was created."
"....." The paragrine looked up at Mikoto's face. "It may just sound like an excuse, but working with you was still, how should I put it, fun.""Mastering how to use you was my pride and joy. I thought I was who I was because I could use you.... I liked you too." With the laser knife, Mikoto sliced the paragrine's back open. The cybernetic bird entered cellular sclerosis mode and offered no resistance to the knife. Mikoto reached his hand through the incision and worked it into the cavity containing the internal organs. With his fingertips, he encountered some sort of steel phallus. So, he had been right.
When he withdrew his bloodstained hand, it held a gun.
It was "Mikoto's Andrea."
to be continued next issue
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