The next day, Sunday noon, by the front door of the Tenryo family's home.
The interphone sounded on time, and Taiga opened the door.
"Good day to you, Taiga-kun."
With a modest red cardigan on top, Haya wore a neat long skirt that covered her up to her ankles. She bowed with a meek smile.
"Although we don't have much time today, I'll do my best to raise Taiga-kun's performance... hey, what's up with that expression of yours."
"Sorry. Hearing your polite tone puts me in a bad mood..."
"You looking for a fight?"
After Taiga's extremely rude words, her mask of 'well-brought up lady' immediately disappeared, her true domineering young lady's expression appeared instead. Her personality switch's speed was as terrifyingly fast as ever.
"It's been a while since I met you in that mode. I thought my hearing had gone wrong."
"You really are a rude guy... I did it just in case because you have a little sister. The more people know about it, the harder it is to silence them in case of an emergency."
Well it's been already half-noticed... but he preferred not to say it. He heard no hesitation in her voice as she said these dangerous words. Taiga invited Haya inside.
"If it's Fuyuki then she's in her room. Well, she probably won't come out so you don't have to worry."
He told her the day before about the study session and she's been acting sullen since then.
After what happened by the beach, he couldn't face her squarely or try to calm her down; he stalled it for too long and the actual day of the study session came.
"Fine then. There's no time, let's start at once. Your room should be fine."
"Nn? Isn't living room with a lot of space better?"
"Don't be stupid. It'll be no good if your little sister comes in the meantime."
"That's only for you..."
Since there was nothing in particular he wanted to hide, Taiga took her to his room obediently.
As they walked down the corridor, Haya looked around as if she's seen something unusual.
"Hmm, that's a pretty nice house. Must have been just as expensive."
"Enough to blow away our savings. And here we are, my room."
Just as Haya said, the room was too neat for something people lived in. What caught her eye was the table in the middle and the Japanese sword that was hung on the wall.
Not only weren't there many things there. Everything seem neatly prepared, and the sword seemed ready to be drawn at anytime——that's the impression she had. She wondered just what kind of life the boy has been living up until this moment.
"I don't bring in many things, and I have no hobbies."
"And that sword? Isn't collecting fake swords also a hobby?"
"Ah—... that's the only thing I enjoy, something like that."
Were he to say that it's the real thing, she might have been excited about it. Although he wanted to see the look on her face as he told her that, he couldn't bring himself to do it.
"Come out Iora."
The terminal lit up and Iora was projected into the air. She's been wearing glasses with black rims she once had on before and hit one of her hands with the pointing stick she held in the other.
〈"Today's strict teaching session. Prepare yourself dammit."〉
"Iora's also in the teacher role today?"
"She's strangely motivated today. It's not really a problem either. So... ah——?"
It happened when she tried to sit down on the floor.
He saw her stagger and as she started falling down, Taiga immediately reacted and caught her.
"Hey, you all right?"
"I'm just a little dizzy. No need to worry... geez, for me to fall down after just one all-nighter..."
〈"Master, so you were tired because of yesterday after all...?"〉
"I'm okay so don't make that face. Come on Taiga, how long are you going to support me."
"Brother—, I brought something to drink. I'm ente..ri...ng..."
As Taiga tried to move away from Haya, at that very moment the door has been opened wide with a lot of force.
Fuyuki appeared with cups on top of a tray, she slowly lowered her gaze. There, Taiga was gently (from Fuyuki's perspective) embracing Haya.
"F-Fuyuki... t-this is, um.. an accident."
Taiga broke into cold sweat as he made an excuse, Fuyuki looked down with a lovely and yet spine-chilling smile. Then she put the cups aside from the tray and——
"Wwwhhhhaaaaaaatttttt are you doooooooooooingggg you idioot Brotherrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!"
With a loud *dang* sound the tray has been smashed into his head.
By the way, Haya has fled into the corner of the room when the tray was swung up. She suddenly collapsed before, but her escape was quick.
"Seriously... I decided to check on you after all. Even though there's Little Sister nearby, you bring another woman to your room, moreover you're all over each other you shitty Brother...!"
She continued to hit Taiga with the tray time after time even after he fell on the floor. It was just a tray so it didn't hurt that much, but a loud sound rang out in his head every time he was hit. After she satisfied her urge to beat him up, Fuyuki corrected her posture and turned around to Haya. She made an obvious fake smile.
"It's been a while, Kiritou Haya-san. We haven't met since the Reaper incident have we?"
"Yes indeed. I have been in your care back then."
Haya instantly put on her façade and smiled softly. They both smiled but it didn't reach their eyes... that probably wasn't just his imagination.
"President must be too busy to teach Brother today, are you not preparing for exams as well? You can go back if you like? Little Sister will be the one teaching instead."
"Thank you for your consideration. But he's my junior who is in the same specialized subject course, also... it might sound rude, but Imouto-san seems somewhat unreliable."
Although she was told 'go home' by Fuyuki in a roundabout way, Haya's eyebrows didn't even twitch and the graceful mask remained on her face. Even so, it seemed like she was waging her a war, maybe she decided to take her on.
"...they are too alike."
He murmured it absent-mindedly, causing the line of sight of the two to pierce through him.
"Can you not say something that rude? Don't compare me with someone so intimidating and black hearted, it's vexing."
"You are being rude as well miss... but I agree with some content of what you said. I don't like people who cling to their family members like this."
"Is that so. What a coincidence."
The girls showed each other a radiant smile, but Taiga who was watching from the side broke into a cold sweat.
It was rare for Fuyuki to show hostility openly (the case from day before must have fueled it), but for the façade-mode Haya it was also very rare. Normally she would have laughed it off to deceive the other party.
Just as he thought about that, he saw Iora beckoning him from the edge of his field of view. Taiga focused on listening to her while trying not to catch the other two's attention.
〈"Are these two on bad terms dammit? I have no memory of them being acquainted at all."〉
"They must be incompatible. Look, they're somewhat alike."
〈"I see, so this is what they call an aversion to their own damn kind."〉
Their appearance was alike as well (the long Japanese-style black hair). I wonder why does that atmosphere feel similar——Taiga thought.
"Taiga-kun, since there is no time to waste let's start immediately. Ah, Imouto-san please return to your room, you will interfere with studying."
"Is that so. Then I shall go back when I finish drinking this coffee, it would be a waste to let it cool down after taking an effort to bring it here."
For some reason Fuyuki brought three cups of coffee, she said that and took one cup of coffee in her hands and sat down next to Taiga,.
The way Haya looked at Fuyuki as if seeming to relay that she was being a nuisance, she sighed and turned towards Taiga once again.
"Let's focus on avoiding failing and focus on the weak subjects. First is modern languages."
〈"Let's go super strict today."〉
And like this with one person getting in the way which wasn't in the plan, the 'anti-failure study session of Tenryo Taiga's' began.
〈"...getting fucking wasted on the very first problem. That's surprising."〉
"Shouldn't you start over from elementary school?"
He started to feel insecure at the very beginning.
The faint sound of a mechanical pencil moving filled the quiet room.
Although he hesitated sometimes, Taiga somehow managed to fill the answer sheet. Just when he managed to fill the blanks, Iora let out a voice.
〈"Pinponpanpoon. Time's up dammit."〉
"...haa, that was close〜. I managed to solve it all somehow."
"You barely made it. That was a simulated test, you won't have time to double-check your answers like this, it's no good."
"Don't say nonsense, there's just not enough time."
Although Fuyuki who was sitting by his side admonished him, even though he did his best to answer it all. Before he noticed she went back to her normal way of speaking. The fact he was able to complete it was all thanks to Haya who proposed a study session.
Iora scanned the answer sheet and converted it into electronic data, then she called out towards Haya who was breathing quietly in her sleep as she leaned against the wall.
〈"Master, it's finished. Master!"〉
Haya opened her eyes in languid manner.
The book she was reading fell to the floor, its pages bent, she didn't realize it. Her tone went back to her usual one, but she must have been half asleep.
"...I'll go wash my face. Iora stay here and score it."
She stood up while saying that and left the room with a wobbly gait.
〈"Is she in a state horrible enough to make her forget Fuyuki is here damn it? She went back to her original self."〉
"You and your tone of voice is turning weirder and weirder."
Taiga stood up and stretched his stiff body.
As he looked outside, it seemed like the sky was covered with thick grey clouds and light rain started to fall.
"The weather has collapsed..."
"According to the forecast it's supposed to rain intensely in the evening."
The modern weather forecast system is supposed to have an accuracy rate of 99%. The deviation from that number is close to zero.
"...speaking of which, it's the first time that AI over there has showed itself to me isn't it?"
〈"Yes. AI・Iolite, please call me Iora."〉
"Iora, is it. Hmm, you've wonderful emotional expressions. They don't seem to be fake. Is it fine to tinker with your mental structure a little?"
〈"Don't you dare."〉
As the two who met for the first time chatted, Taiga drank his coffee and rested his head.
Suddenly Fuyuki joined them to teach him as well, and he was tired by her and Haya continuously intimidating each other.
But it was worth it. I managed to answer the test somehow.
He wouldn't get too high a score, but it should be enough to avoid failing. At this rate the exams that start tomorrow won't be a problem to him.
The scoring was over, and they were reviewing it for about thirty minutes.
However, Haya who should have gone just to wash her face hasn't come back yet. She was way late.
"...I'll go take a look."
Following Taiga, Fuyuki and Iora left the room as well.
"That person was being unsteady for a while not. Maybe she fell down somewhere."
"Don't say such things."
His feet stopped when he was in front of washroom.
In the living room that has come into their field of vision, there was a sofa and the person they were looking for was on top of it.
She must have lost to sleepiness in the middle of her trip to washroom, she was sleeping while using a cushion as replacement for a pillow.
Not caring about her appearances, her clothes were all wrinkled and her hair curled up weirdly.
"Why is this person proudly indulging in her sleep while in someone else's home. Doesn't she know how to restrain herself?"
Fuyuki raised an appalled voice.
Certainly, that would be okay if it were her lover's home, but since it was a home into which she stormed in forcibly to teach him, he could not help but let out a tired sigh.
"Ah——w-well I guess. Look, she must be really tired."
"Why are you saying acting so gentle towards her. This is Little Sisters and Brother's house isn't it? Let's slap her awake immediately... no, let's throw her outside in this state. The cleaning drones will take her for garbage and throw her away."
It didn't sound like a joke at all and it was scary. Just how much did she hate Haya.
However, despite the fact that Fuyuki's proposal was rejected, they couldn't leave her as she was at the moment. Taiga tried to wake her up, but Iora went in between them.
〈"Please wait a moment. Can you allow her to sleep like this for a while?"〉
〈"Master's been busy with work until right before she came here and didn't sleep a wink. If she goes back to Kiritou, no one knows what kind of damn work she will be given. I want her to rest properly."〉
As she said that, Iora stared at Haya with a caring expression.
That look of hers, worrying about someone important to her, didn't look like something artificial, but like one of a real 'human'.
"Even if you say that, we have no obligation to let her sleep... Brother? What are you doing?"
"It's better if she sleeps on the bed rather than the sofa. Fuyuki, open the bedroom's door."
"Are you serious?"
"I've been in her care for many things, also having Kiritou's princess owe us is not bad."
He made up a decent reason.
But the truth was that he didn't want her to leave tired like that. Just like he was comforted by Rui, he wanted to let Haya rest as well.
Taiga was surprised by how light Haya was as he raised her up and carefully carried her to the bedroom, while making sure he doesn't drop her. Fortunately, she was sleeping like a log and didn't wake up.
〈"That's helluva large bed. You two must be enjoying yourself on it every day?"〉
"Your evolution is really turning way too weird."
He was amazed by Iora who said a joke with a straight face, he laid Haya down on the bed and left the room. Right before leaving the room Iora turned around——
〈"...good night Master. I wish you good dreams."〉
She murmured with a voice harbouring emotions unlike a virtual personality.
...ah, this is a dream.
A lucid dream——a dream in which she was aware that she was watching a dream.
Although they said one could change the contents of the dream according to one's will, this was a memory of the past. A sight she was unable to reproduce, something that was lost.
In the middle of the illusion stood a single girl.
She had bluish-black hair carelessly tied in the back, she wore a white coat on top of a black jersey. Although she had refined features her clothes were a mess.
"———, ——, ————."
She was saying something in her memory, but it was barely audible through static. Aoko's mouth distorted proudly as she placed a pure white mannequin beside her.
...yeah. That's when the virtual body had been completed.
A memory of Iora's development's early days.
First of all they prepared a virtual body to place a virtual personality in, it was the scene during which Aoko enthusiastically showed it to her. She could remember her boastful look and her proud laughter.
Now that I think of it, she prepared a pointlessly high performance body...
It had high virtual durability and modification capacity as well as enormous calculation capacity, even if one looked around the entire world they wouldn't find such a high-performance virtual body——that's what she declared.
Speaking of which, it was at that time. The appearance of the virtual body was decided single-handedly by Aoko who used her own physical information.
She wanted to use my face didn't she.
She was saying things like 'Haya's face looks popular sort' or 'my own eyes look too sharp' and so on, she was just too ashamed to use her own face.
That's why she put on a lock on the body modifications to prevent Aoko from changing it.
Although Aoko could've hacked it easily if she wanted to.
Since she didn't do it, she wasn't all that much against it——that's what Haya thought. Although it was impossible to ascertain it now that she has died cause of illness.
——Ah, I'm waking up.
Her consciousness was rapidly returning.
I want it to continue——but her wishes weren't fulfilled, the dream continued to lose its colours and become monochromatic.
...I want to see more.
Until the moment she completely woke up, she thought of the friend she will never meet again.
"Hmmhmm... I see. I-chan's interpretation is really unique. It helps a lot since it's different from Little Sister's idea."
〈"Ehhen, there's more to come."〉
After Taiga came back to living room, he saw Fuyuki and Iora talk happily.
Putting Iora's lack of hesitation aside, it was surprising for Fuyuki who has an intense fear of strangers to become friends with someone in such a short period of time. Well, Iora was not a human though.
It was around seven o'clock in the evening, large raindrops were falling from the sky as a storm was raging in the pitch-black sky. It was easy to tell how intense it was just by looking as the rain hitting the windows.
According to the forecast it's supposed to cease tomorrow morning but... looks like morning practice will be impossible.
Just as he thought that, the bedroom's door behind him opened loudly.
With hair so black it seemed like they were painted with a lacquer and dressed like a young lady heading to a resort. Haya emerged while looking like that——or should have, however...
"Uaaa〜...my head's so heavy..."
Her voice sounded nothing like one of a young lady.
Although he wanted to ask her why did she act so wildly, but the look in her eyes told him she was really drowsy.
The figure which trailed unsteadily and looked ready to fall down at any moment wasn't Fuyuki's, but without doubt one of Kiritou Haya's.
So to say, it was beyond the level of someone suffering from a hangover.
"H-Haya? What's with you?"
"Shadap, movway... gonna was my face..."
While moving in front of the shocked siblings, Haya continued to move while bumping into the walls and furniture. When her figure was no longer visible from behind, Fuyuki murmured.
"...who's the idiot who called that thing 'ladylike yamato nadeshiko'."
〈"Master is always like that after waking up you know?"〉
To think she could change into a proper and lovely yamato nadeshiko from that. They could only admire her in earnest.
〈"That's the face she only shows after having proper sleep. It seems like she was able to rest dammit."〉
"It's unthinkable for someone to get proper sleep in someone else's house."
While Iora had a faint smile on her face, Fuyuki responded strictly.
A few minutes later Haya came back refreshed and neat. With that said though, it was just to an extent where her pupils no longer looked like that of a dead fish, she couldn't be called a yamato nadeshiko as she was.
"Wait, that's my water——she's not listening."
Haya opened the refrigerator without any hesitation and all at once she drank the mineral water that was inside. After that she threw away the emptied bottle and spoke with half-opened eyes.
""It's not all you can drink!!""
She was acting too arrogantly, she heard the siblings retorted unconsciously. But Haya gestured at them not to mind it, or rather she proudly puffed her chest saying 'you guys are weird'.
"What, it's nothing expensive. You should be honoured that it was used for my sake."
She said something despicable and irrational. Both Taiga and Fuyuki were stunned.
〈"Her thinking being very simple and her having a foul mouth are another characteristic she has after waking up. ...Master. Master. Get a hold of yourself."〉
"Ah? What is it Iora?"
〈"Fuyuki is looking. Is it fine not to put on your façade?"〉
"It's a pain in the ass so I'll pass."
Ignoring what she's been doing up until that moment Haya shed off her mask. The fact that her thinking process was simple after waking up must have been true.
"It seems like I've slept for a while. Taiga's results should be fine at this rate... I should have some time to spare for myself now."
She glanced at the results of simulated test and fixed her hair and clothes with her hand. Then she made an elegant bow that made them fascinated involuntarily and flashed a refined smile.
"Now then you two, thank you very much for today. If you leak anything you've seen or heard today, I'll use both physical and psychological means to shut you up, thank you very much?"
""Go home already!"
What was refined was only her appearance.
"I'll do so even if you don't tell me that. Let's go Iora."
〈"Yes sir. Now then Taiga, Fuyuki, until the next opportunity comes——"〉
Just when one person and one identity were about to go home.
All the lights disappeared without warning and the room was shrouded in the darkness.
A power outage——all lights were lost, and the only thing that could be seen was Iora who shone with phosphorescent light. As they looked outside, it was not only their room but the whole city that was covered in darkness.
"It seems like not only this place lost power. The power plant must have been hit by heavy rain."
"It's not something that can be taken down so easily. This must happened from the management——from our side. The power control system must've went down in the headquarters."
New City's electricity management was done by a large-scale structure. It seemed like a problem has appeared in there.
"...it must be part of the problem from before. Geez, what is Kiritou doing. How can they allow such a massive power outage."
"Can you not say that while facing me? I'm not involved in this matter at all... but this is really bad. There's nothing we can do without electricity when it's this late."
In the meantime the emergency power supply was activated, but the lights that were lit were fairly dim.
"...well, that's how it turned out."
〈"This room is consuming too much power. Fuyuki, you over-customized it."〉
"Uh... it can't be helped. I didn't think it would turn out like this."
In modern times everything was controlled by a network, the power consumption of every household was enormous. The emergency power supply wasn't enough to supply an entire apartment with electricity. Moreover, Tenryo household was consuming more than a normal household, together with the power it's security has fallen as well.
The situation outside was similar, the street lights and signal machines weren't working.
They were probably working while using redundant power that was left over from the supplying management's structure. Moreover there was heavy rain.
The natural light source namely moonlight was blocked by clouds, the visibility outside was the worst.
〈"Master, can we go back like this?"〉
"...I'd prefer not to if it's possible. Both public transport and taxis won't be coursing like this, and I would get completely soaked if I walked."
From the Tenryo family's house to the Kiritou group's headquarters there was about fifteen minutes walk. It wasn't a long distance to walk but the wind was quite strong. She didn't want to do it if possible.
Then, Iora came up with something and clapped her hands.
〈"Then how about we stay here today?"〉
She said something strange.
〈"If you go back you will be asked to deal with the damn power outage anyway. Instead you can spend the night in this house and concentrate on tomorrow's test."〉
"Wait I-chan, what kind of selfish thing are your spouting. I won't allow such a thing."
Fuyuki drew closer to Iora in a hurry. Seeing the two like that Haya started thinking in silence.
〈"Is there a problem?"〉
"A huge one! Not even a friend, just an acquaintance suddenly staying over is no good!"
〈"But you've already lent us your bed? It's no different than that?"〉
"Unfortunately there is a huge difference! Listen, to begin with this house is a place for Brother and Little Sister to love each other without restraints——"
〈"...ah, I apologize Fuyuki. I finished my business, I'll disconnect for a while."〉
"Haa?! Wait, I-chan?!"
Iora melted into the nothingness in order to escape from Fuyuki's persistence.
On the other hand, Haya lowered her face and grumbled.
"...indeed, there's that way as well. Even if I manage to go back while dripping wet, they'll work me to death. I wanted to rest properly today and I think nothing of bothering this guy..."
"No, you actually should."
Although she was saying that in low voice, her face was high enough to allow them to hear it.
"...that's decided. I'll be bothering you today. You have no right of veto, take care of me, Taiga♪."
As she said that, she made a maddeningly nice smile.
"You're not sleeping?"
It was three o'clock in the night.
A windstorm and heavy rain rattled outside the window, a quiet voice reached his ear. Taiga who was looking at the ceiling in silence tilted his neck and looked towards the owner of the voice.
On the edge of the absurdly big king-sized bed——about a meter away from him was Haya, she was staring at him.
"...let me apologize first. If you can't sleep because of me, I'm sorry."
He shook his head to protest against her suggestive words, Fuyuki who was hugging his arm moved closer.
Her sweet smell and the unique feel of a soft body strengthened, making his body temperature to increase by itself.
I'm completely done for aren't I, honestly...
Because of what happened by the sea, his rationality has been blown away completely.
Although he had been sleeping with her for a month, it's not that he couldn't suppress it just because she was beside him. He couldn't get any sleep the night before either. That's why he was honestly thankful for the third party that had appeared.
"What about you? Not going to sleep yet?"
"That's because I slept a little bit before. Also... as expected, this situation makes me nervous."
This situation——in other words the three of them sleeping on the same bed, was indeed delicate. Rather than unusual, it was something that normally wouldn't happen.
——At first Taiga wanted to sleep on the sofa alone.
However Fuyuki said 'me too', and they couldn't drive Haya away from the bed since she was a guest. In the end, they all lay down next to each other in the bed and decided to sleep like that.
"...liar. Someone who's nervous wouldn't sleep while dressed like that."
Instead of wearing pyjamas, the only thing Haya wore was a male shirt.
Since the size didn't match her, there was a huge opening that exposed her collarbone and the moderately big twin hills also glimpsed from it. She wasn't wearing any underwear beneath and everything appeared from beneath because the shirt was slightly too short.
Honestly, it was poison for his eyes.
"This? It can't be helped, this is the only thing I could use."
"There were a lot of other things there. Why did you use this of all things."
"Because this was the best thing to sleep in. Also... you like it better like this, don't you?"
Haya showed him a mean, tempting smile and raised a hem of the shirt.
Although he immediately averted his eyes, he caught a glimpse of aqua-blue fabric.
"To turn red with a single piece of cloth. How unseemly."
"...you should learn some modesty."
"Ara, isn't that something you should tell your sister?"
He looked at Fuyuki's chilly appearance, as she clung to his arm.
Certainly, because it exposed a lot, or rather it exposed her underwear completely, Fuyuki's negligée was more erotic.
However, the way Haya was dressed was erotic in a different way.
"...oh, that's right. There's something I want to pass to you."
In order to change the topic, he removed a program from his terminal and passed it to Haya.
She received it and immediately opened a window to glimpse at information inside, she looked up at Taiga with a skeptical look in her eyes.
"What's this? This is an attack-configured program. I have no use for it do I?"
"As if I'd want you to. This is a new program that's very popular in Kiritou Management's structure 《Aries》——It was made by 《Angel》."
The moment she heard the last word, Haya's eyes turned serious at once. It seemed like she was also aware of its existence.
"How did you get this?"
"I got it from an acquaintance who's looking into it for me."
Taiga received it from Leon when she was bathing.
It seemed he must've struggled hard to get it since he said "Just three times won't be enough for this!" and requested an additional reward; since he managed to get it in a single day, Taiga agreed to increase it.
And in response to their voices, Fuyuki leaked out a sweet whisper and rubbed her face on him.
In response to Fuyuki's 'I won't give him to you' gesture, an indescribable expression appeared on Haya's face.
"...you get along well."
"Well, that's obvious. The only family we have is each other."
It was a lie. To be exact they no longer were just a family.
But Haya wasn't deceived, she looked down and murmured.
"...getting along well doesn't happen just because you're family. Even if you are directly blood related."
She felt melancholic and put on a sad smile.
The only family member of hers that Taiga knew about was her father. And the words 'directly blood related'——he understood them to a painful degree.
"...I'm going to sleep. I'll wake up early in the morning and analyse this, you too make sure to rest properly."
Haya said that and turned her back to Taiga. She must've been fast asleep for good since she started to breathe deeply in her sleep about ten seconds later.
"...I said already that I can't sleep."
Taiga closed his eyes forcibly. Even if he can't sleep, he needed to rest his head in order to prepare for tomorrow. However, his determination has been overcome in a matter of seconds.
A quiet electronic sound could be heard over the sound of wind and rain, and he saw faint light through his half-closed eyelids. At the same time, a pale phosphorescent light appeared on the edge of his field of vision.
There, was Iora who disappeared in the middle of the conversation with Fuyuki. Now that he thought about it, he hasn't seen her since then and wondered why did she come back now.
"Iora, heey Iora."
She didn't respond to his calls, she continued to stare at empty space with unfocused eyes. It was as if her soul was missing.
When Taiga anxiously reached out to her, her eyes finally captured him.
〈"...ah, so it's Taiga dammit. What is it?"〉
"That's my line. Earlier you suddenly disappeared, now you suddenly come back. What were you doing?"
〈"Where did I go..."〉
She tilted her neck as if saying 'I don't remember'.
Iora disappeared eight hours earlier during the power outage so he asked that... but did she really not remember anything?
〈"So that's how it was darn it. I disappeared..."〉
She muttered and after twisting her body in the air skilfully, she sat down on top of Taiga's chest. Although there was no weight since she was a projected image, he felt an illusion of being ticklish.
Seeing dark emotions on her face, Taiga gently asked.
"What is it? You have an expression of anxiety on your face?"
〈"Anxiety... so Iora feels anxiety?"〉
"No, don't ask me. That's just how it looked to me."
It was his intuition. There was no basis for that.
But it seemed like Iora felt something in his words, and while her line of sight was wandering around, she started talking.
〈"...I'm worried about something."〉
Seeing her serious expression Taiga listened quietly. She opened and closed her mouth as if looking for words to say, and asked him a question before long.
〈"What would you do if you were troubling someone important to you?"〉
"...another weird question from you."
He glanced at Haya who was sleeping beside him. The 'important person' must have been her.
But with that said, since the question was quite vague, he couldn't find a clean answer to it. He pondered about it for a moment, and answered it after applying the situation to himself.
"I guess... I would try to do something about it myself."
That's the kind of person Tenryo Taiga was. Were he to be the cause, he would definitely solve it by himself.
〈"Is that so... so that's the only thing that can be done."〉
As Taiga answered, Iora put on a resigned expression. Seeing her like that, Taiga added more while quietly whispering.
"But taking all of it... and shouldering it all would make anyone collapse."
He smiled seeing Iora dumbfounded and continued.
"It doesn't mean it'll definitely fail. But people have their limits. It's unreasonable to do it all alone. Someone like me never noticed such a thing."
Without anyone whom he could rely on, carving his path by himself was an obvious course of action to him——that's how he was a month ago.
But he was different now.
He reunited with Fuyuki, met Rui and Shio and understood that relying on someone else can be strength as well, as well as how precious a thing it was to support each other. He was also told that it's okay to be spoiled.
That's why he could tell it straight.
"Your Master won't break down that easily, it's fine to trouble her to a certain extent. But if you're still anxious then I'll promise you. I'll do something about it."
"Is this answer good enough?"
Iora gently put both of her hands on her chest, as if locking away something important to her in there.
〈"——Yes. It's all right now."〉
While saying that, a faint smile bloomed on her face.
〈"I'm relieved with this. Even if something happens Taiga will deal with it."〉
"Hey wait, you gonna leave it all to me?"
〈"Can't I dammit?"〉
As she curiously tilted her neck and stared at him, Taiga let out a small sigh and answered.
"It can't be helped if I you can't do it. But do your best to make sure you won't fail."
〈"Understood. I'll continue my futile resistance."〉
"Futile resistance... oh well, see you tomorrow."
〈"Yes. See you tomorrow."〉
Taiga closed his eyes, and his consciousness was buried in darkness.
Iora looked down at him, and went back to Haya's terminal soon after that.
〈"...I'm at a peace of mind. No matter what happens, Taiga will stop me."〉
Quiet, very quiet words that didn't reach anyone's ear have been drowned in the sound of falling rain and wind.
Four days later, the last day of midterms.
"——Yes, time's up. Put down your writing utensils."
Together with the chime's sound, the class suddenly turned noisy.
The students began to talk here and there. It was the recoil of the stressful four days, his 'schedule after this' was already determined, and Taiga fell down on the desk worn out.
He looked up at Rui and Fuyuki who finished and were getting ready to stand up and leave.
"You seem really exhausted〜, you okay?"
"Not at all..."
"How pathetic. It's been only four days. Rather than that, did you manage not to fail?"
"I don't think I will... probably."
He couldn't affirm how the last one, modern language went. There were more questions than on the mock test and it was quite hard. That could lead to a drastic change in his score. In the end, he could only wait for the results to come.
"The results will come in a week, right?"
"Yes. They will come together with all the other subjects. Brother can continue worrying up until then."
"...how about you two?"
"What a dumb question. It's already decided that I'll get a perfect score on all subjects."
"Rui-san got about nine out of ten right〜"
Taiga could only sing praises for them in his mind. It was strange to feel inferior because he was surrounded by honour students.
When everyone left the classroom, Rui clapped her hands.
"Then let's all go and play! Where should we go?"
"Hmm. Let's try some leisure facilities for once——"
"Ah, sorry. I've got something to do now, go ahead without me."
He was to go and help out immediately after the tests are over, Taiga received an email from Haya in the morning telling him to come to the teacher's building on the first day.
"...is that so. Then I'll go together with Rucchan the two of us."
Openly frustrated, Fuyuki saw him off and Taiga left the classroom. Although he felt a little bit guilty, it was better if he distanced himself from Fuyuki for the time being.
And the few hours starting from that moment were truly hellish.
First, he joined Haya and headed to the teacher's building while carrying precision equipment which was scheduled for use for the day; after that, he was taken to the Student Council Room which was located near the third year's Cyber Department building. There, he did a different job together with other Student Council officers; he continued to process and fill a huge amount of data together with Haya.
The time passed as he continued to earnestly hit the keys of a virtual keyboard——
By the time it was over, outside was already dark.
Taiga was exhausted after five hours of continuous work and he sprawled out on the borrowed desk. The other members already went back, and the only ones left in the student council room was him and Haya.
"So the student council has an absurd amount of work like this... you're doing well not to die from overworking yourselves."
"Everyone's an elite in here. This much is still fine."
Since there was no one else there, Haya returned to her normal self.
She quickly confirmed the data prepared by Taiga and closed the terminal; she stood up with momentum and lightly stretched.
"Now then, let's go back for today. There's a long weekend starting tomorrow; let's continue next week."
The two finished and locked the door behind them and headed towards the linear station together.
Aside from the Sports Department who were practicing until late, no one from the Cyber Department, which was a genuine cultural-type department, cared enough to stay; the two walked through a dim avenue.
"There's not many linears coursing at this time. All students other than those living in dorms have already went back."
Since Kiritou Academy was looking for students from all over the country, it had proper dormitories.
The student dormitories were lined up in the north, they were flooded by the freshmen who applied every year. By the way, Taiga and Fuyuki also considered entering dormitories at first since it was easy on their money but it was rejected because Fuyuki said "we won't be able to live together!".
"Speaking of which, what happened to Iora? I haven't seen her today."
"Ahh, she's became quiet after returning from your home. She no longer comes out. I wonder what kind of weird knowledge is she stocking now..."
Her eyes showed that she was quite troubled by that. Certainly, she has been quite humorous recently.
"No matter what form it is, aren't you pleased that she's growing? Wasn't that why you made Iora?"
"Yes but—...ever since the Reaper incident I couldn't honestly rejoice over it."
Previously, Iora was overtaken by a mysterious military consciousness extraction program 《Jail》 ——and transformed into what Taiga and the others called——the Grim Reaper. That incident triggered her rapid emotional development.
"...speaking of which, did you find out anything about the 《Reaper》?"
"Nothing. I found 《Jail》's code inside of Iora, but it was restricted so it couldn't be hacked from outside. I didn't find even a single lead... oh, that's right. Look, this."
Haya passed him a document with data.
"These are the results I got after analyzing the attack-configured program from before. I also added some information I found about 《Angel》 in there."
Taiga looked over the document's content.
The summary 'An unwanted program has been embedded into the attack-configured program, judging from from the analysis results the possibility of it being the 《Zygote》 you told me about is high' was marked.
"...《Zygote》. So that's what was built in."
The parasitic program that infects a virtual body and creates a jet black knight with it's data. It infected Shio's virtual body two weeks ago and made them suffer.
"It's a very advanced program. Infecting a virtual body and creating another one from its data isn't something even multiple programmers working in parallel can do."
"Fuyuki said the same thing. She said the creator must be as good as she was, if not better."
Haya was one of the senior programmers in the Kiritou company, and quite outstanding among them.
Even she couldn't understand half of the 《Zygote》's configuration. The creator was a programmer in a class of his own.
"If I were to believe your testimony and Saionji-san's, 《Angel》 was using Master Code. He must have gotten them either by hacking or it must be one of authorized people, it's impossible to judge that now."
As she said that, a single girl came to her mind.
An extraordinary programmer who perhaps surpassed even Fuyuki and someone who was involved with Kiritou——there was only one person like that.
But that was impossible. It couldn't be. Since she was already——
She shook her head lightly and rejected the the worst scenario she could imagine.
"I have reported it to the company already but... honestly, I don't think they will do anything now. They have their hands full with bugs at the moment and won't listen to them even if I say 'I don't get it myself but do something about it'."
There wasn't enough information about it to make such a large company move.
Even so, the timing of problems appearing overlapped, making him anxious. That could also have been 《Angel》's doing——that's what he suspected.
"Also, Haya. Is there a possibility the Reaper incident and Angel are related?"
Haya closed her eyes in order to analyse the possibility.
That possibility came to her mind two weeks earlier when she became aware of Angel's existence. Were Angel to be one of Kiritou researchers there was a possibility they could access Iora and the timing would match. It was almost not possible for these incidents to be not related.
"...fifty-fifty, I would say."
She squeezed that out after a while, she wasn't confident despite thinking about it for a while.
"50%, that low? I have a feeling there definitely is a relation."
"I also feel like that's how it is. But no matter how I think about it, I can't tell what's 《Angel》's purpose is."
They got on a linear and sat opposite to each other. They were about ten minutes away from the New City's central station. The train was quietly running in the night, and the conversation continued.
"There's a possibility the criminal did it without purpose, but that would be too far-fetched. Especially tampering with Iora would be too risky, and we don't know why would he embed 《Jail》 into Iora. There isn't enough information to judge it."
They didn't have enough data on 《Angel》.
In Cyber World, both voice and physique could be changed and if Master Code were used, it couldn't be traced. They couldn't determine it in a situation like this.
Soon after, the linear arrived at the station and the two of them went out through the ticket gate.
Haya was going to Kiritou headquarters which was in the opposite direction from Taiga's house. It was where they parted. After they entered the crowded station, Haya put on a mask of a young lady once again.
"Now then, Taiga-kun. See you on Monday."
"Is it fine for me to not do anything tomorrow?"
"I don't have any time to spare tomorrow. We're supposed to work on the problems that recently appeared starting from tomorrow. Although it's a three-day weekend, there's no time for me to rest."
Were it to be her real self she would have sighed, but she only had a meek smile that didn't disturb her façade. That kind of business-like face looked to me like a stiff mask.
"...hey, is there anything I could help you with?"
Before he noticed, he already spontaneously said these words. Surprised by what she heard, Haya turned around. She closed on to him, leaned towards him and whispered.
"What? You want to work?"
"I just would feel guilty if you were to fall down like you did before. You seem unable to manage your own physical condition."
"Ara, so you're a guy who can spout such reckless stuff with cold blood."
She laughed merrily at him, but that wasn't something she had a right to say.
At the very least he didn't want her to overdo it in the long run; that would be very risky in a lot of ways.
"Help me huh... certainly there's lots of simple tasks you could help me with. But unless the source is dealt with, the amount of work will continue to increase."
"Can't you do something about it?"
"The countermeasure team was formed, but unfortunately there's nothing that would hint at the solution of the problem. Were Aoko to be still alive, it would have been cleaned up all at once..."
〈"——Then what about Fuyuki."〉
Suddenly, Iora appeared between the two without any warning.
"...that was a really sudden of you to come out. Why would Fuyuki-san's name appear here?"
〈"Fuyuki possesses a considerable amount of programming skills. If it's her, it can be solved."〉
"...certainly that girl's skills are great. It might not be as good as Aoko's, but it's far beyond mine..."
In response to Iora's proposal, Haya placed a hand on her chin and continued to think. Taiga had a premonition it would turn troublesome, but he gave up and looked into the sky.
"Yup, it's decided. The date will be... the day after tomorrow should be fine. Take Fuyuki-san and come to Kiritou headquarters. Just as you wished, I'll let you help me with work."
And like this, the sibling's visit to Kiritou's headquarters was decided.
"Now then, this much should be enough."
Inside a room that was wrapped in a pale light, a quiet whisper echoed.
The 《Angel》 closed a window it has been tampering with and looked at a huge sphere that had about ten metres in diameter and floated in the middle of the room.
"Kiritou Group's headquarter's structure, the main server... as expected, it's big."
It couldn't be entered without a special passkey, the very core of Kiritou Group. In the cyberspace that managed all the systems stood 《Angel》.
"But since they have their hands full dealing with trouble all over the place, I was able to slip in easily. It was worth it going out of my way to cause that power outage."
Because of the power outage happening, rather than switching to another computing power source, Kiritou's headquarters were swamped with a huge amount of complaints. A vast flood of information paralyzed the line temporarily and even if a handful of foreign matter slipped in, no one noticed anything.
Thanks to that it was able to move freely as well as prepare Tenryo Fuyuki's 《Prison》. All preparations were done, all that was left was to start it.
Suddenly, it felt a discomfort in it's right arm.
Electricity ran through its arm nerves, and the arm dropped down losing all its strength.
"...seems like there's still some resistance. I thought the ego has been already smashed but... that's an unexpected tenacity."
The 《Angel》 said "Waste of effort" and grabbed its right wrist. A faint spark appeared, and the control over the right arm came back.
"...with this, it'll be all over. I won't let anyone get in the way."
Two days left until the plan is executed.
After displaying boiling hot hatred, the 《Angel》 disappeared from the main server.
Notes and References
- ↑ To be exact it refers to 'all you can eat' type restaurants