The Novel- Chapter Six
Shounen Ou ("The Boy King") by Enokido Youji, Hasegawa Shin-ya
commercial use of these translations is prohibited
A third body is discovered, along with a skulking striped dog. It appears the deaths of the students are somehow connected to the "Becoming a Stranger Game." Is there any connection between the convoluted circumstances and Mikoto's job?
Chapter Six: Laser Knife
For once, it was raining. Which was odd, considering the sky was clear. It was a quiet, silver rain on a summer morning. The hues of the trees in the area all seemed darker, more vivid. As always, Mikoto walked to school in the morning, an umbrella of waterproof paper in hand. As he trod the gravel path stretching across the mountainside, he smiled slightly at the irony of his "attending school".
He had posed as a student as part of his current job, as a way to get close to the boy named Ryuugen without attracting attention. He was supposed to spend a short season as an unobtrusive transfer student, and "act" as soon as his orders arrived. He had, of course, planned on avoiding things like direct verbal contact with the target as much as possible, like always. But in fact, on the day before matriculation he not only directly contacted the target, he had his cover blown and ultimately ended up moving into the target's mansion. All of which had resulted in his going to school becoming a temporary retreat, whose purpose was allowing him to remain close to the target. For some reason, that boy Ryuugen had a talent for turning the cruelty of life into farce. Mikoto knew quite well that he was being toyed with.
"Yet another corpse has been discovered. The students are gathering in the plaza." It was Fluttery's voice, coming from the ring around his neck.
Got it, Mikoto answered.
As Fluttery had told him, a throng of students were already gathered in the plaza. Umbrellas of various colors were gathered near the flowerbed. There was still time before class began, so most of the students evidently hadn't come to school yet, but all those who had appeared to be present.
Mikoto found a male classmate of his, and feigning ignorance said, "'Morning. What's up?" "Someone else died. This time it's one of the Student Council members." He looked over to see the body laid out on the wooden bench by the flowerbed. It was a face Mikoto recognized. The female student who had stripped him yesterday. The girl was sitting on the bench, eyes closed and clothing thoroughly drenched in the rain and sticking to her skin. Her face looked like chilled glass, and her curled hair resembled a bedewed clump of foliage. "She's getting so soaked," the boy said, "but I guess she doesn't have to worry about catching cold."
"The cause of death?" Mikoto asked.
"Dunno, she was just found a little while ago. Hey, wasn't it her twin sister who died last time?" So it was. In fact, this was the third corpse Mikoto had seen. Something upleasant was overshadowing this school, and Mikoto didn't like it one bit. The possibility it was totally unrelated to his current mission was nil.
"Err, aren't you..." the male student said, "His Majesty's friend Mikoto-kun?" "Just call me Mikoto." Evidently the others already saw him as Ryuugen's friend. But it was true he had just eaten breakfast with Ryuugen. Perhaps the word "friend" wasn't entirely unapt. Which would mean I'll be killing my friend.
As far as he could tell, there were no marks on the rain-soaked body. That matched the other bodies found so far. And, as he had expected, he spotted her ID plate fallen to the ground close to the bench. It appeared to have been stepped upon, and was dirty and broken. It was proof positive that this was the scene of another of the serial killings. Clearly, there was some connection between the killings at this school and the "Becoming a Stranger Game".
The rain had subtly changed to mist, and the meager sunlight shining through the clouds chanced upon the garden to make it a sun shower. That's when Mikoto saw it. The girl's shadow, which fell into the flowerbed, was being eaten by something "animal-like".
What? It resembled a dog or a wolf. No, perhaps the term "hyena" was a better term for the thing he saw devouring the dead girl's shadow. However, it's body was made of translucent shadow. A creature of animate shadow. And in the pattern of the shadows he could even make out its markings.
Its body was that a large dog, but it bore vivid zebra stripes all over. A striped dog. It raised its head as though sensing Mikoto's gaze, almost like a naughty child caught red-handed and ready to run away, and in the next instant vanished. Mikoto subconsciously squinted his eyes and stared harder at the flowerbed, but there was no trace of any such creature having been there. Just as he was wondering if his eyes had been playing tricks on him, the boy from before whispered, "Did you just see some kind of dog...?"
Mikoto glanced at the boy's face, but his head was tilted as though he didn't believe what he had just seen either. A look around confirmed that noone else appeared to have seen it, just Mikoto and the boy next to him.
Nonchalantly making his way away from the crowd, Mikoto spoke softly to his ring. "Were you monitoring the scene?"
"Yes," Fluttery replied.
"Did you see the animal in the flowerbed?" "Animal? What are you talking about? I can confirm the presence of several species of insects..."
"No, never mind." It appeared the creature didn't show up on electronic sensors. But what the heck _was_ it? "I wonder if it was one of those 'monsters' Karin was talking about..."
"I didn't see anything," Fluttery said. "Are you sure you're alright? Could it be that the sweet smell of the girls' body beginning to decompose affected you?"
"What are you talking about?"
"A human's senses are susceptible to all sorts of hallucinations. Indeed, humans' intellectual faculties might as well be called hallucination processing centers. There are plenty of examples of how hypnotism or suggestion can be used to cause people to see things that aren't really there."
"Suggestion," Mikoto said. "It couldn't be. Who would have-?"
"If, for instance, the keyword was "monster", mightn't it have been Karin? Who, by the way, is over there in the hall."
Peering up from under his umbrella, Mikoto caught sight of Karin and K-suke together in the hall that connected to the upper story. It appeared that they had been observing the commotion over the corpse from afar, and were now discussing something together. Or rather, arguing.
"Let's listen to what they're talking about," Fluttery said. The sound pilfered by Fluttery's auditory pickups from the two began to emanate from the ring around Mikoto's neck.
So, you don't even like being with me, came K-suke's voice. "It's got nothing to do with you. I can smell that dog from here, and it's making me sick."
"Dog? Things like that don't exist."
"Look, just let go of my hand."
"His Majesty's deceiving you!"
"Even if that were true, as long as he exists in the real world like this, I'll never be free. And there's no way you can beat him either. That's all there is to it." Mikoto saw her pull free of K-suke's hand and walk away.
"So, she said 'dog' too," Fluttery said suspiciously.
"And as long as he was here, she could never be free."
"Taking possession of a woman of the FL Family costs a pretty penny or two. Everyone who knows about them desires them. I don't know how Ryuugen got his hands on her, but she doesn't seem to be enjoying that repression much."
"...How would you know?"
More and more students arrived on campus and congregated around the bench. With a final look at the unfortunate girl's face, Mikoto left the scene. The rain continued intermittently all day, but the night was clear and starry. All the same, there were flashes of lighting to be seen in the far-off clouds.
In his room, Mikoto lay as usual with the lights out gazing out the window. The moon, looking slightly thinner than yesterday, shown through the treetops. Its pallor recalled to Mikoto's mind the dead girl's face from this morning. And he thought, I've scarcely been here a week. Having three students die in that short a time was abnormal no matter how you sliced it. Mikoto's instincts told him that this was no ordinary serial killer at work at this school. That dog-like thing he'd seen. Probably, the deaths of the students were nothing more than the tip of the iceberg for whatever was at work here. Someone was behind it all.
The slain students… In actuality, Mikoto had killed around that many boys and girls with his own hands. Having been trained as a killer, he liked to think that he was accustomed to the notion of death. However, he had never personally wished for the death of another. His assasinations had always been part of a mission. And never had the victims been someone whose death he would mourn...or so he thought. However, he couldn't help but wonder what would happen to Karin when he carried out this mission and assasinated Ryuugen.
Karin. The image of her with K-suke had floated around the back of his mind all day today. Along with the contents of the discussion he'd eavesdropped on.
"Even if that were true, as long as he exists in the real world like this, I'll never be free. And there's no way you can beat him either. That's all there is to it..."
He hadn't seen Karin at dinner tonight either. Dinner alone with Ryuugen was not boring, as Ryuugen was a very good conversationalist. However, every opportunity Ryuugen had tried to inquired about Mikoto's upbringing with a peculiarly avid interest.
As always, Ryuugen had proven very difficult to grasp. Mikoto knew that he had deepened relationships with Ryuugen and Karin more than necessary. Could it be was jealous of them after all? That was absurd. Just meaningless emotion. Romance should be none of his concern, Mikoto thought.
From the theoretical foundations to details of practice, agents were trained in the methods of romance and taught to deal with it as an algorithm. That's right. There could be no room for love. I'm an agent.
"I'm an artifically constructed intellect. I'm not fortunate enough to have emotions like friendship or jealousy." That's what Fluttery had claimed, but despite his artificialness he had been emotional enough when he had gone berserk.
Mikoto smiled bitterly.
Just then, a knock on the door shattered the silence. "Who's there?" No response. But whoever it was knocked again and attempted to turn the door knob. But the knob wouldn't turn. Mikoto knew that locking the door was meaningless, but ever since Karin's last visit he'd started locking it anyway. For an agent, gray areas where distinctions of friend or foe were impossible were a great danger; Karin was someone he had to be on guard against. However, he heard yet another knock at the door.
He felt himself becoming slightly more aroused, and not just out of caution.
After a pause, he heard Karin's voice say, Won't you open the door? It was as appealing as when she had sung. But Mikoto said nothing, and finally the sound of footsteps receded from the door.
Mikoto lay atop his bed without a wink of sleep until morning.
He heard some kind of commotion downstairs, accompanied by the sound of something breaking. A glance at the clock told him it was still well before breakfast time. He got dressed anyway and was headed downstairs when he encountered Karin, running out of the dining room. No tears were flowing, but she looked like she was crying anyway. She stopped in surprise upon seeing Mikoto's face, but then walked passed him down the hall without a word. He found Ryuugen sitting alone in the dining room, drinking tea. Its sweet fragrance reached Mikoto's nose. And the window glass had been smashed; Karin, who he'd just met, was probably to blame.
"Good morning," Mikoto said as he took a seat opposite Ryuugen. "Such a nice fragrance."
"It's scented with bergamot and silver needle leaves from my homeland." Ryuugen poured Mikoto a cupful from the pot and offered it to him.
"She looked like she was crying."
"That girl absolutely never cries. She's not the kind of girl who cries."
Mikoto looked at the broken window glass. "Her handiwork?"
"Sort of. But I wouldn't worry about it. The glass people are coming this afternoon to repair it."
"What do you think about her?"
"'What', in what sense?"
"Is she important to you?" What a dumb thing to be saying, Mikoto thought.
Characteristically, Ryuugen laughed loudly. "What a fascinating thing for an agent bent on assasination to say." This was apparently not a criticism, but an expression of how much Ryuugen was enjoying the situation. With no retort handy, Mikoto took a sip of hot flavored tea.
"Speaking of which, I met the Earth-Man a little while ago," Ryuugen said. "His devotion to his country pales in comparison to yours."
Mikoto continued listening calmly, although he was inwardly speechless. Why would a target have commerce with one of our contact people? This was a farce beyond Mikoto's imagination. Not only that, although Ryuugen had told Mikoto before that he wouldn't let him steal Karin from him, hearing Ryuugen mention something concrete like the Earth-Man's name made him feel like the rug had just been pulled from under him.
"He's skilled in his own way. That kind of man certainly has his uses," Ryuugen said. "But lamentably, it seems he can't control paragrines like you can."
Mikoto was surprised anew. He'd said "paragrine". He knew the codeword. But what surprised Mikoto even more than that is how Ryuugen had apparently been quite content to chat with the Earth-Man despite his attempt on Karin's life. Although he had no basis for it, he had figured that even if Ryuugen cared little for his own life he wouldn't suffer someone to make an attempt on Karin's.
"Why do you think the Earth-Man can't control a paragrine?"
"He doesn't have a goal."
"He does have his loyalty though."
"That's not enough," Ryuugen said, "to control a machine imbued with intelligence. The goal I'm talking about is the goal people have for living as people."
"So, what sort of thing is this goal of living as people? For instance, what on earth is your goal? Why did you come to this school, and why did you invite me to this mansion?"
"Hmph. They ordered you to kill me, and they didn't tell you anything?"
"I haven't received my orders yet."
"I believe the official order should arrive sometime today," Ryuugen said offhandedly. Of course, that order would be the order to kill him. "A stupid gamble," Ryuugen said. "That's what I came to this school for. It wasn't what I came here for at first, but it's now become a job that's absolutely essential to my goals in life."
"A stupid gamble? What are you talking about?"
"It wouldn't be a gamble," Ryuugen laughed, "if I showed you my cards."
Several hours later, the order to assasinate Ryuugen reached Mikoto, just as Ryuugen had predicted. Fluttery had told him during a break between lectures. "Unless countermanded, you are to kill him within three days."
"I see." As long as he was here, she could never be free. Mikoto suddenly remembered Karin's words. "Can I really beat him?"
"I've set my regeneration systems to maximum," Fluttery said. "Even if he hits me with that gun, I'll recover instantly. According to the calculations, if you can buy me 0.2 seconds, he's ours."
At that moment, A-ko came over. With a small beep, Fluttery terminated the communication. "I couldn't find His Majesty today," A-ko said. "Isn't he here today?"
"Dunno. Maybe he's still at the pool swimming." As he answered, Mikoto was struck by how cute this girl A-ko seemed today. No, that wasn't right. She'd always been cute.
"Karin has collapsed", she informed him.
"Anyway, you'll do. Please go see her in the medical room."
"Got it, thanks", Mikoto answered. Although he knew it sounded cliche, he told her she was somehow cute today. However, she smiled slightly sadly and vanished into one of the classrooms.
"I heard her friends carried her here..." Mikoto said. The so-called medical room had more medical equipment in it than a small hospital. A young male attendant was busy writing something on a chart.
"Oh, that girl from a while ago. She's sleeping right there. It's probably anemia."
Behind the hanging white curtains were a row of hospital beds. The one farthest in the corner contained a still young-looking middle school girl, and Karin was in the bed next to it. Mikoto wondered if she was still asleep, but as he approached her large eyes opened. "You came all this way to see me?"
"Despite being told you hate me, yeah."
Karin smiled slightly. She tried to raise her torso into a sitting position, but with a grimace of pain slumped back into the bed. Mikoto panicked and attempted to catch her, but ended up in an enbrace with her instead. And Karin made no move to remove her arms from around him.
The middle-school boy in the neighboring bed whistled softly, and the young doctor shrugged his shoulders at the two of them.
"That girl named A-ko told me you'd collapsed."
"A-ko likes you," Karin told him. "She said she'd make you into her own personal prince in place of U-ta."
"Isn't that a little sudden for someone who's still in mourning?"
"Well now," Karin said while gazing at Mikoto with those huge eyes. "It's only natural to find something new when the old one breaks. Crying about it won't help anything."
"It looks like Ryuugen wasn't kidding when he said you never cry." She said nothing. "Why were you fighting with him this morning?" Mikoto asked.
"I ran out of love for him," she replied.
At that moment, the attendant coughed, either intentionally or by coincidence. As much as to say, cut it out already.
I'll come to you tonight, Karin whispered softly.
As he expected, the knock on his door came shortly before dawn. Come in, Mikoto said. He hadn't locked his door this night. Despite having received the order to act, he had spent the whole day thinking of Karin. He knew he was being stupid, but he could no longer deny the truth. Her large eyes. Her wavy hair. Her musical voice. And the memory of their lips joining. The door opened.
Once again, Karin was only draped in a shirt. He could see her skin, whiter than that of the rain-drenched corpse from this morning. She said nothing as she entered the room, and sat on the bed and extended her hand to Mikoto, pulling him close. He remembered her fragrance, and lacked any further power to resist it.
"That was one of those monsters you were talking about, wasn't it?" Mikoto said. "I saw something that was like the shadow of a dog this morning."
"Yes." Her moist lips sought his. The two naturally embraced, once again pressing their lips together. And in the next instant -
The girl took the laser knife she'd hidden from Mikoto, and stabbed him in the back.
to be continued next issue
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