Chapter 4 - Banquet of The Dead

Part 1

"...where is this place?"

Seeing reality skewed from what it should be, Fuyuki raised a puzzled voice.

In front of her was spread an empty and white space. The perspective deviation came from that one colour that was spread in every direction.

That's weird. Did I mistype the coordinates?

She properly set the login coordinates according to the ones she has been given in a mail from Haya. The electronic barrier was released according to the plan, she should have penetrated the server room. However, no matter how she looked at it, it was a different location from the one she wanted to enter.

She couldn't think of anything else other than mistyping coordinates.

I was too happy and became careless.

Normally Fuyuki would never made such a mistake. But because she was spending her sweet time earlier her head was all mushy and simmering. It must have been because of the afterglow after that.

She tried to get herself into shape by slapping her both cheeks. Even if it was a request from someone she didn't like, once she accepts it she would finish it properly. Her pride is on the line when it came to completing it——despite that, the smile on her face wouldn't disappear.

...after we go back let's do it again. Until then I need bear it.

She reminded herself to stay in focus.

What would that female fox say were she to fail. After imagining that scene her thinking gradually changed.

In any case, she needs to enter the server room first. She needed to log out and check it once again——the moment she tried starting the logout process a red crystal stuck into the window and forcibly stopped the process.

"How cold. Even though I went through so much trouble to invite you, you're going back already?"

Hearing a voice sound from behind at the same time, Fuyuki turned around to look towards the source.

"Well, I won't let you go."

How long has it been there. Five metres away from her stood a virtual body clad in a white robe. She couldn't forget it, the cursed enemy who used Shio before.

"...why are you here 《Angel》."

"Didn't I tell you just now? I invited you here."

Invited——she repeated that word thinking about the meaning. It was obvious that this wasn't the server room. And if the coordinates she typed in were correct, there was one possibility to consider.

"...you've hacked the Arclight and rewritten the coordinates Little Sister entered haven't you."

"Correct. It's a great help that you understood it this fast."

What's up with the 'correct'. That's crazy.

She started swearing in her mind.

Hacking an Arclight. Rather than whether it was possible or impossible, the difficulty level was immeasurably high. It was on a level that would make it hard even for Fuyuki. Furthermore, judging by the fact she was unable to log out, there must have been a barrier spread around the space.

But no matter how much she thought, she couldn't find the reason for what was happening.

"What's your purpose. You haven't come here to chat, have you?"

"Chatting huh. That might have been nice."

Angel's easy going attitude was undisturbed. And since it didn't show any gestures at all, it made it seem like it really didn't come just to talk. That appearance further deepened her suspicions.

There was no way it had no purpose. To rewrite the coordinates the moment Fuyuki was about to dive would be impossible unless it was watching her movements. For it to go that far to confine her, there had to be a reason——

...locked... in?

It was different from that. Completely different.

It was not that it didn't have a purpose, it has achieved it already. Trapping Tenryo Fuyuki in this space, that was 《Angel》's purpose. In other words——to stall her!

"...!!"

"I won't let you."

Something was happening on the other side. Brother was in danger——she immediately determined herself and attempted to break through the barrier but the window was destroyed by a red crystal thrown by Angel.

"It would be troublesome were you to get out. Sorry, but I'll have you play with me in this 《Prison》 I prepared."

"...you're not the 《Angel》 himself are you. You're an autonomously operating program right?"

"Hee. You've already seen through it... you are dangerous after all."

Fuyuki managed to see through the identity of Angel who was in front of her.

A program planted with the routine thinking of its author, a program acting according to its author's personality. It must've been prepared in order to stall Fuyuki. It looked like 《Angel》 was preparing something really dangerous.

"I'll say it only once. If you don't want to be scrapped disappear at once."

"That's something I can't agree with. If you want to go to where Tenryo Taiga is——try eliminating me with all your strength first!"

Fuyuki and 《Angel》 opened windows at the same time, blue and red crystals clashed.

Part 2

"——It's been a while, Haya. Looks like you remember me, I'm glad."

"——Aoko!"

Haya spoke the name of the girl who no longer existed.

She couldn't be alive. She died from an illness a year ago without a doubt. Haya gave her a proper burial. There was no way the girl in front of her was 'Asumi Aoko'.

But Haya was convinced with just a glance. The person in front of her was Asumi Aoko.

"......why."

"'Why are you alive' is a pointless question so stop that would you? As you already know, the person called Asumi Aoko is already dead. That's the reality which won't change."

Dumbfounded,

Haya stared at 《Angel》——Asumi Aoko who informed her with a smile.

It was no different from when she was alive, a beautiful smile.

But for some reason, her smile which should have felt nostalgic caused her to feel mysterious fear.

"Making such a face when facing your best friend, that makes even me hurt."

"...you must be joking. If you're the Aoko I know, then you won't be shaken by this much. Rather, you would rather be enjoying the sight of me being taken aback."

"Undoubtedly."

Aoko let out a happy laughter. Haya looked vigilantly at her female friend and asked.

"——What are you?"

"...that way of speaking, looks like you have an idea... well that's obvious. You were at my side as I did my research."

"............"

Indeed, Haya knew already.

A way for someone who died to remain in this world, Asumi Aoko knew more about it than anyone else.

That's why that possibility appeared in her head before. It appeared, but she didn't think about it much. I'll never use it——that's what she promised her.

"Aoko... you, do you know what have you done?! You crossed the line that should've never been crossed! That's——"

"I know. Even I know that this is wrong."

She cut in the middle of Haya speaking, showing her determination.

"But this is what I have chosen. The Kiritou, I will destroy this silly little world. I'll do anything to accomplish that."

"...destroy the Kiritou? What are you——"

"You might be confused, but I have no time for idle talk. It's about time I started."

Along with that declaration, she made a dry sound by snapping her fingers. It was a signal.

 

【"Total System Control of Structure 《Kiritou Headquarters Building》 Complete."】

【"Firewall disabled. Limited connection with different structures re-established."】

【"Transferring virus program 《Zygote》, starting virtual bodies elimination."】

 

Together with that voice, the walls, the floor, and the doors started shaking.

Vibrations were emitted from all directions of the thirty-fourth floor and spread to the entire structure in a blink of an eye, producing countless black holes. It was also happening to the room Taiga and Haya were currently in, the black stains appeared to the left and right of Aoko and started to slowly expand.

"What did you do?!"

"Whaat, I just thought of turning this place into a little hell. You'll know soon enough... rather than that, Tenryo Taiga. You've been glaring at me for a while now, got anything to say."

Aoko looked towards Taiga.

For a while now he was unable to understand what was happening——but there was only one thing he had to confirm.

"Angel, no, Asumi Aoko was it. What have you done with Iora?"

"Iora? Oh, the virtual personality that was in this body. She was swallowed by me and disappeared. She's been resisting until the very end but it was a waste of effort."

"...I see."

In Taiga's mind the conversation he had with Iora at night was revived.

Maybe she was able to feel Aoko's presence. That's why she said something like 'were something to happen'.

"I need to keep my promise."

Taiga took a step ahead and loudly stretched himself.

"H-hey Taiga?!"

"Haya, we'll talk later. We need to stop her before it's too late."

He instructed the still-confused Haya.

He was already convinced.

The sixth sense that allowed him to avoid death thousands, tens of thousands times told him——this girl has stepped into a wrong road. If he doesn't stop her, it'll be irreparable.

As Taiga looked straight ahead at her, Aoko laughed fearlessly.

"Stop me? Unfortunately, it's impossible for you guys. Elysion is my home ground. The only risk factor which was Tenryo Fuyuki has been rendered powerless. You have no way of stopping me."

"...you bitch. What did you do to her?"

"I confined her for a while. What, I don't intend to harm her. I'll release her when it's over."

Hearing Fuyuki's name Taiga released murderous intent from his entire body.

But even in front of intent an ordinary person wouldn't be able to stand, Angel still smiled relaxedly.

"Scary scary. You're too scary... I need to call a bodyguard."

*tap*, Aoko lightly hit the floor with her foot.

The black stain on the floor took a three-dimensional shape and started to expand. Taiga has seen that before, he lowered his body in order to protect Haya.

As expected, it changed into a jet-black knight——《Zygote》. Moreover, there were two of them. They were already enhanced by several stages.

"This thing again..."

"Nostalgic isn't it? I have reviewed what happened during the case with Karasuba Shio, a low fighting capability won't stop you. That's why I allowed them to grow beforehand. Oh, even if you destroy it no one will get hurt because of it so you don't have to worry... well, that's if you can destroy them!"

With her voice as a signal the 《Zygote》 began their assault with a powerful charge.

Taiga reflexively put a hand on his hip, but there were no weapon there.

"...!! Damn!"

He immediately switched to barehanded techniques and sent the black knight flying.

He forgot. It wasn't 《Aries》 but the Kiritou Headquarters' structure. Attack-configured programs were made specifically for 《Aries》 so he couldn't use it.

The black knight was blown away and hit the wall with a strong impact. But despite having power that should be enough to crush the armour, it didn't even have a scratch and rose up instantly.

"Get back Taiga! The enemy is a virus, without an attack-configured program you won't damage it!"

"Even so, there's nowhere to run!"

Taiga responded to her while avoiding slashes from the two enemies. The doorway was on the other side, behind the black knights. It was impossible for them to pass.

Although he concentrated on avoiding, it was a small room that didn't give him much room to do so. Together with Haya they were gradually cornered against a wall.

"...now then, excuse me but I'll be leaving."

Aoko silently watched as the two were gradually cornered and opened a window, her body has gradually disappeared. She was using 《Transition》 to move somewhere. Haya immediately broke out and started to run towards her.

"Wait! Aoko!"

"Idiot don't go in front!"

Haya didn't look around at all, she tried to run in a straight line to Aoko. The black knight wouldn't miss such a defenceless target, a large hatchet was swung at her head.

"Hey——you retard!"

Taiga managed to push her down in the nick of time, the hatchet passed through empty space. Haya still tried to reach out desperately.

"Aoko! Aoko——!!"

"I'm going to the top floor. If you there is something, come up there and tell me there."

Aoko left behind these words with a cold look in her eyes before she dispersed like fog and disappeared. Haya's outstretched arms fell down powerlessly.

But it was not the time to immerse in sentiments. Her body was nearly bisected by a huge hatchet, Taiga embraced Haya and jumped back at full power making distance from the knights.

"——!! What are you doing Taiga, we need to chase after Aoko!"

"Don't be so reckless."

Although Haya pulled his collar and commanded him, doing what she said would be too reckless.

There was no opening between the two Zygotes. They didn't allow him to rest by attacking in turns, chasing after Aoko would be unreasonable like this. They were cornered little by little.

Fuck, at this rate we'll be done for...!

He picked up Haya to carry her, leaving her behind was out of question. Were he to break through——he needed to risk a little.

Without any hesitation Taiga lowered his hips and flung her into the air.

"Wha——!!"

He ignored Haya who raised a complaint while in mid-air and momentarily closed the distance that separated him and the black knights.

While the Zygotes were distracted by the defenceless Haya for a moment Taiga delivered a blow with his fists to the belly of one of them, he took a half a step further after that and pounded the knight into the ground. After that he turned his body while maintaining the momentum and while dodging a slash at the same time he delivered a roundhouse kick to the second knight's neck.

The two black knights were blown away. Taiga immediately started to run and gently caught the falling Haya.

"...that's quite an outrageous way of doing things."

"Emergency measures. Let's hurry up and go!'

He didn't destroy them, the black knights will chase after him soon enough. The two hurried towards the exit of the room——and seeing the sight spread out in front of them they were at a loss for words.

"..................what's... this."

——— I just thought of turning this place into a little hell. ———

Aoko's words were the truth.

If there were anything that could be called hell, then it would be this scene. The walls were stained with vivid red, blood-like colour.

About ten Zygotes were lined up in the hallway, under their feet there were numerous researchers thrown as if they were garbage.

The large hatchet that rose up from the researcher's body was clad in blood-like a aura.

——《Jail》. The military program allowing to capture the mental structure, which was the human soul.

It has caused more than a dozen of people including Rui to fall into a coma before, it was something that Aoko originally researched and developed. It wasn't weird for her to have it. However——the spectacle of several hundred people falling to it was way too unrealistic.

"...tell me this is a joke..."

In response to Haya's groan, the dozen of black knights have turned their gaze towards the two. Moreover, the two that fell down earlier got up and were behind them.

They had no way out. Fortunately, Taiga knew how to resist them.

He closed his eyes to calm his mind and took the pale Haya's hand.

"Let's escape for now."

"W-where to! Every floor must be flooded with these guys!"

"A place we can hide in. Aren't you living in here?"

He put some strength in the hand that grasped her wrist and stared in her eyes that seemed to lose her will to resist; relaying 'calm down' with his line of sight. Haya let out a sigh.

"...in the back of third floor there's a secret room I made when I was a child. We can hide in there."

Even though she tried to act calmly, her body was lightly trembling. She was still in high school, it was hard for her to resist panicking while facing such a hell.

"All right. Let's go there. The transfer circle... can't be used can it."

Were he to be the invader, the first thing he would do is to seal their mobility. Since Aoko took control of this place and was able to use 《Transition》, that meant they had no choice but to move on her own two feet.

If I remember well, there were stairs. Looks like we need to use them.

He dug in his memory and envisioned a map in his head. Since it was a considerable distance and they had to pass through an open area, they had no choice but to break through forcibly.

"Sorry Haya, but bear with it for a while."

"Eh? ...kyaa!!?"

Taiga encompassed Haya's waist with his left arm and strongly embraced her. Strength easily left her body and she left it to him, taking a posture where she burried her face in his neck.

"H-hey?! What are you doing at a time like——!"

"I'm going to run at full speed. Cling to me as if your life depends on it."

Ignoring Haya's protests Taiga quietly lowered his hip.

The moment a hatchet was swung at them from behind, Taiga burst out at top speed.

Haya was surprised by the sudden acceleration and involuntarily she held onto him with both of her arms with all her strength. Taiga dodged the Zygotes' attacks with as little movements as possible and continued to run through the hallway!

"W-wait Taiga! This is harder than expect——"

"Shut up, you'll bite your tongue!"

Although Haya complained about the speed that made her feel like she'll be shaken off, but he ignored it all.

Were they to drop the speed even a little they would be caught. If a black knight equipped with 《Jail》 hit them with its hatchet, it would be a fatal wound.

He paid attention to what happened both in front and in the back.

Since he didn't defeat the 《Zygotes》 they of course chased after them, Since they were enhanced by several stages their physical abilities were rivaling that of Taiga's. He had to predict their attacks, otherwise they would be struck down.

He sprinted down the hallway at an incredible speed. However, the enemy wasn't a disorderly mob. Reinforcements used the stairs and come from both above and below. With that they could no longer use the stairs.

"Tch...!"

There was no time to hesitate. Taiga prepared himself.

"Haya! We'll be going down to the third floor all at once, close your eyes!"

"Wa-wait a second! You can't mean——"

He released the hand supporting Haya just for a moment and kicked off the floor with all his strength.

There was a single Zygote in front of them. Taiga released a blow with his fist to its belly and jumped on top of it.

After hanging in the air for a moment their momentum was lost and the 2 people + 1 virus started falling and accelerating; drawn to the ground by gravity!

"KYAAAAAAAAAAA!"

Because of the deafening scream Taiga's eardrums were shaken as he was in contact with the source, but he couldn't afford to concern himself with it.

Need to concentrate on my vision... If I miss the timing it'll be all over.

The scenery he was seeing flowed at high speed. He kicked off his foothold right before reaching the third floor jumping into the hallway.

Immediately after he rolled on the ground, he heard a sound of something crashing into the bottom.

"...good, success."

"What success! I thought I'd die!"

Haya hit Taiga with her right hand, a loud sound of a slap rang out.

Certainly, a free fall from the thirty-fourth floor was a scary thing even in the virtual world.

"Stop complaining, we escaped unscathed. Rather than that, let's hurry and hide. They'll come down to chase us."

"...fine, this way."

Guided by Haya, Taiga ran through the corridor filled with a huge amount of virtual bodies on the ground.

Part 3

It happened during the winter six years ago.

The two girls still haven't known each others names, it was the second day after the fateful encounter.

In a hotel located in a certain remote city the twelve year old Kiritou Haya was lazing around.

"...what am I doing, really."

She's been rolling around on a bed for nearly an hour, and then she suddenly muttered.

Were she to be asked why was she doing that, she would answer 'because I have free time', but she still could use this time for something productive.

"...even so, what should I do?"

For now she stood up and stared at her blank schedule.

She had nothing she could call a hobby, after her everyday lessons she just went to rest. In other words, she had nothing to do. After such a lifestyle continued for two days in a row, Haya let out a long sigh.

Haya was accompanying her father.

The reason she had arrived at this city could be described with those words. Also, the reason she remained in the city even after the party was over, was also her father.

Staying in here for two days because of work problems is fine, but there's no reason for me to stay as well is there.

She complained in her mind only. There was no way she would ever act in such a manner openly——in her short twelve-year long life she had already remembered the rules of acting in society.

And thus, the girl with too much time hid the fact that she was bored.

Oh right, I wonder what happened with the thief from yesterday.

On top of the desk beside the bed lied and shined her favourite bracelet. The metal part was a little dirty, reminding her that what happened the day before wasn't a dream.

——Speaking of how it concluded, Haya let the thief girl go in the end.

She thought that the hungry girl was quite miserable and she herself didn't want to be questioned by the police. Were that to happen her and father would need to leave the party venue, it might have damaged Kiritou's good name. There were only disadvantages to it.

"Let's take a stroll."

The surface and her inner self——in her heart a need to vent her anger accumulated, Haya changed into appropriate plain clothes and left to go to the unfamiliar town.

 

Thank you very much. We look forward to your next visit——a 100% textbook bussiness smile and line has seen her off after she left the Namisagi brand's retail store.

Yeah... Namisagi's Arclight technology is amazing after all... it may take ten years if not more to catch up...

She spent two hours checking out plenty of new products that were on sale today but in the end she wasn't able to, for the store clerks she was an ultimately annoying (even though she was a kid) type of customer. Though, she herself wasn't bothered by it at all.

What currently occupied Haya's thoughts was the clear difference in the technology level between Kiritou and Namisagi.

...in the end, this is the only thing for me.

She hated herself for thinking about the company despite being alone.

Even though she went out for a change of pace, and yet she couldn't get away from thinking like a 'Kiritou's young lady'.

No matter where she goes, she can't escape——that's what she was reminded of.

"...let's stop this. It's depressing."

The words that came out involuntarily out of her mouth dissolved in the cold air. Her sigh dyed the air white and disappeared soon enough, she displayed her 'real self' where no one could see her.

Even as she strolled her mind didn't clear up. Just when she thought of that and decided to go back to the hotel, something caught her attention and she stopped her feet.

"That girl, the one from yesterday...?"

She was clad in a dirty parka, and even though her head was hidden by a hood, the distinctive bluish-black hair could be seen. It was definitely the thief girl she met last night. She was hiding in a back alley.

What is she doing?

Her curiosity was piqued and Haya stood still for a while observing her.

There was movement after five minutes passed. The moment a security drone tried to pass by the girl, she moved.

"———!"

The girl expanded a window and operated it at high speed. The street-lights around suddenly started to glow strongly and emergency buzzers sounded all over. The passer-bys' attention was drawn to them and away from the drone.

Aiming for that moment, the girl jumped out quickly and got in close contact with the drone. She momentarily rewrote the internal information in it and disappeared in the back alley.

"That's..."

Haya examined the internal information of the drone that ceased its functions.

As expected, its behavioural pattern was changed by administrator privileges, it was set to 'stop' before reaching a 'certain place' where it was at time.

This, it was done by the girl from before wasn't it. Hacking into an administrator account in such a short time...

And the abnormal functions of the lights and buzzers before. That was also her doing.

But to hack into those in such a short time, moreover only by using the terminal's output meant her skills were on a different level.

I want to confirm it——such an idea came to her mind. She was very interested why would someone who has such skills do such a thing.

If I go to these coordinates then probably——

Haya expanded a map and proceeded with fast steps.

Fortunately because there was good security in this town, there were no problems. She walked for about ten minutes until she reached a run-down bar.

"...it should be here."

The coordinates that have been removed from the patrol drone's route were no doubt here.

Haya went up the dimly lit stairs and put a hand on the rusted doorknob. Suddenly a shadow appeared in her field of view.

"——Drop dead you damn intruder!"

"Wha..."

The door has been wide opened and the girl who seemed to wait on the other side attacked her. She had a thin wooden bar in her hands.

Danger——as soon as she thought that, Haya grabbed the girl's arm reflexively.

"...eh?"

"Fu——hyah!"

The moment the girl shouted, her small body danced in the air. Haya quickly entwined her with her legs and softly dropped her on the floor, she clamped down on her arm.

It was the grappling technique commonly called 'roark armbar', the girl started screaming.

"IT hurtsSSSSSsss?!! time out! Ouch ouch, I said it hurts didn't I?!"

"Of course it does. It's supposed to hurt. Rather than that! What are you thinking suddenly trying to hit me!"

"That's because you entered my house without permission!"

"...your house? What, you live here?"

"That's right!"

While still holding onto her arm strongly, Haya looked around the store.

Although the décor looked old, the counter and chairs as well as the tableware seemed like they were used recently, a feeling of life was there.

"...not only trespassing and stealing, but also illegal occupation. That's a three-hit combo."

"Shut up, it has nothing to do with you! Hurry up and let go of my hand you bobhead!"

"Annoying. Ah, I see. So you don't need this arm. Hmm."

"GyaaaaaaAAAAAAAAaaaAAa!!"

The arm made an ominous sound, and her screams resounded in the deserted bar.

 

"...Asumi Aoko, twelve years old."

When she asked about her name, the girl replied reluctantly.

Most likely because she was held down for three minutes, but the girl fell down on the counter looking tired——looking down on Asumi Aoko, Haya let out a small sigh. Why was she that interested in this girl.

Asumi Aoko was in a nutshell 'a girl who ran away from home'.

The years earlier she ran away from her adoptive parents' house and was living in this ran-down bar ever since then.

Of course she didn't go to school, and a minor without a guarantor couldn't rent a room.

Even so, she manages to survive somehow. She went outside to obtain food on every third day——that's when she sneaked in to the party venue——that's what she told her.

"...so, why did you steal my bracelet? You need money?"

"Ugh... that was an accident. The moment I rammed into you it was accidentally caught in my clothes. Even I have my pride, I wouldn't do something shameful like pickpocketing."

Stealing food was shameful as well, Haya thought, but she ignored that for the time being. Rather, she was interested in this girl who lived alone despite being the same age as she was.

"I know what happened yesterday. But how are you living your life? It doesn't seem like there's a bed here."

"There's both tap water and electricity in here as well as a shower. It's enough to survive."

Aoko no longer had any strength to resist and obediently responded.

It was just as she said, there was electricity in the store. But why was she using a run-down bar as her lifeline. Just when she thought of that something came to her mind, earlier, she witnessed the hacking skills of the girl.

"It can't be, did you hack into the management company——?"

"............I-I had no choice but to do it if I wanted to live, that was an emergency."

"I see, so unauthorized access added to the list."

The number of charges increased again. But since she didn't intend on taking her to the police station, counting them was pointless.

"Anyway, who are you? You were at that venue, so I imagine you must be a considerable Ojou-sama."

"Ah, I haven't introduced myself have I. Kiritou Haya, same as you twelve years old."

"Kiritou...?"

Recognizing her last name, Aoko stood up and rummaged in the machinery piled up in the corner of the store. As Haya moved closer, she saw all of it was dirty, broken or in a bad state.

"That's a lot of machinery, where did you get it?'

"This? I stole it from discarded products——I'm just reusing them. I secretly borrowed the rest from the drones in the city."

"...you hacked into drones for that?"

So that was her real purpose. Haya was amazed.

"Oh, there it is. This is from Kiritou."

"Uwaa, you brought out something really old."

Aoko pulled out a small card-type machine. It was a product made ten years ago when Kiritou initially began to rise. Haya reflected its information on the terminal, and was surprised with its performance. The specs were completely different from original. It wasn't the same as the one developed by Kiritou.

"...could it be that you remodelled it?"

"Nn? Ahh, speaking of which I tampered with it after I picked it up... about two years ago."

Although that's what Aoko said, it was not a modification on the level of 'tampering a little'. Haya was horrified by the fact that a twelve year old girl who didn't go to school could do such a thing.

"...I see, in other words a genius."

"That's right. Even though I say it about myself, I am a genius."

"That's boasting a lot."

"It's the truth so it can't be helped. Nevertheless, there are various elements I'm missing, but I'm still better than an inferior human like you."

"Fine, I get it. I haven't made you scream enough yet."

"Eh, no, you're wro————GYAHHHHHHHH! My arm, i-it'll pop offfff!"

And before she noticed, Haya started to play with the girl called Aoko.

A young lady who lived in a sparkling world and the runaway girl who had trouble finding food every day. The two who had nothing that resembled each other and had completely different circumstances surrounding them felt comfortable when they were together.

"Now then, I'm going home... see you tomorrow."

"...sure, see you tomorrow."

That day, the two promised to meet again the other day for the first time in their lives.

Part 4

"Ga———"

A hatchet pierced the chest of one of the executives and he fell to the ground. A pale sphere of light left his body——the mental structure fell out and was absorbed into the girl's palm.

"...I have seized all the functions of this structure and disposed of completely, the thousands of employees. All that's left is you, Kiritou Kouya."

"............"

The headquarters building's structure, the thirty-fifth and the top floor, the executive board's meeting room. It was where the executives of the Kiritou Group were talking about the benefits and the fate of the company, it was all dominated by a single girl now.

All the executives who were vigorously discussing up until the last moment now were lying on the floor, the only one surviving was the man sitting in the top seat. Among this gruesome sight, four 《Zygotes》 were slowly taking steps towards him.

"You... Asumi Aoko... why are you here..."

"Why? What a stupid question. Do I have to explain the reasons to you one by one?"

Kouya who was sitting in a chair didn't move, no, he couldn't move.

On both of his sides were black knights who poised their hatchets making him unable to move. He could imagine that were he tp move he would share the fate of the executives who lied on the floor.

"I have only one objective. You should know what it is."

Aoko glared at the unmoving Kouya and spat out coldly.

She had only one objective.

There is no way Kiritou Kouya, the man who erased the girl called Asumi Aoko from this world wouldn't know it.

"...revenge, is it."

"Correct. But it isn't limited just to you."

While saying that, she took a hatchet from one of black knights and aimed it at his neck.

"——Yeah. This is revenge. I will destroy you, and this castle you created without leaving a single piece of it. Just for that I've been clinging to this unsightly life of mine."

She broke her promise, confined ten thousand people, sacrificed her only friend, and used the dream they made together so that she could stand there.

Even though she knew just how sinful she was, she didn't stop. She couldn't stop.

"...what do you intend."

"You can't do anything even if I tell you that. Shut up and rot away."

She slowly lowered the hatchet.

"The hell you wished for... you can finally see it."

The hatchet was swung casually, Kouya didn't even scream as it cut into his neck.

And after being signalled, thousands of windows were deployed around Aoko producing a huge program in conjunction.

"Logic Bomb 《Indra》 Generation Sequence——Start."

According to Aoko's order, the mental structures of the ten thousand people robbed by 《Jail》 converged at one point. As the lights gradually started to give off a strong light, the ceiling and the floor started to disappeared and turning to dust.

"Just a little more... a little more and it'll be all over..."

Asumi Aoko stood there quietly and waited for the final demise to come.

Part 5

"...have you calmed down?"

"Yeah. Thanks."

Although Haya's complexion hasn't returned to normal yet, it was much better now. Taiga exhaled with relief.

It was the third floor of the headquarters' structure, a small room that had about eight tatami of space and a hidden door.

Haya said "When I was small I made it by hollowing out a portion of structure, something like a secret base.", it seemed like Aoko didn't know about this room.

Now then... what do we do now.

Taiga thought of what to do next.

Although they didn't know about this room, it was a matter of time until they tear it down and find them. Although he confirmed the stage of other levels while falling, there seemed to be a large amount of 《Zygotes》 on every floor. And their total number was——honestly, he didn't want to think about it.

I don't know what's Asumi Aoko's objective, but being here is dangerous. I'm worried about Fuyuki, we need to hurry and log out.

—— I'm going to the top floor. If there is something, come up there and tell me there.

That's what Aoko said. Although that line seemed like an invitation, but unless they do something about her they won't be able to log out. There was no other choice.

...first we need to ensure a way to fight.

Between this place and the top floor there were countless 《Zygotes》, they had no choice but to break through.

Of course, breaking through with his bare hands was out of the question. Were he to be surrounded it would be the end of the line.

Unexpectedly the room, no, the entire structure started to shake violently. Taiga and Haya lost their balance.

"What?!"

The moment Taiga looked up, he saw electromagnetic waves run through the structure, the walls became transparent and he saw the sky far above them through it.

In there was a giant sphere of light shining above them and growing. Seeing the empty sphere in the sky, Haya shouted.

"《Indra》...?!! Aoko, you want to destroy Kiritou that much?!"

Just by seeing the fear and shock on Haya's face Taiga was able to assess the risk.

Taiga himself as well instinctively guessed——it would put everything to an end equally. Whether it were people or objects, once they were swallowed by that they would turn into dust.

"What's that?"

"...know anything about Logic Bomb?"

"No, haven't heard of it."

"It's a type of a cyber weapon. A program which overloads the operation area and causes errors that destroy it. 《Indra》 is the worst among programs of that type. It's a genocidal weapon specializing in the destruction of large-scale structures."

"...that's some dangerous wording."

It was something he would never hear in normal everyday life. But as he looked at the sphere of light he didn't feel any discomfort.

"The one who made it, was it Asumi Aoko?"

"Yeah. Aoko said so herself, that this is an inhumane program that shouldn't have been created."

"Inhumane?"

"The problem is not the fact that it destroys a large-scaled structure... it's the material 《Indra》 is composed of."

Haya sat down on the bed and expanded a window.

It was Kiritou headquarters' structure floor plan, on it there were red and white dot marks. While there were countless red dots on it, the only two white dots were on the third floor.

"...looks like all the employees have been taken down."

"That's... the response of virtual bodies is it."

Judging from the number and location the two white dots was Taiga and Haya. And the red dots must've been Kiritou employee's beaten by the black knights. The 《Jail》 installed on them must have sucked out their mental structure——

"...wait."

The dots connected.

Inhumane. The worst program. He heard earlier that a mental structure was a mass of data impossible to analyse. After connecting all the information he had, there was only one answer.

"It can't be... the material《Indra》 uses is——human souls?"

"To be exact, a large amount of mental structures."

Haya emotionlessly corrected Taiga's words.

When he assumed that, the current situation all made sense. A large amount of employees has been called to the headquarters structure today to deal with the appearing troubles, and they all needed to be hunted down as fast as possible. For that, 《Zygotes》 were used and to complete it they were equipped with——《Jail》.

"If 《Indra》 was triggered, then all the people inside of the structure will die due to the excess load applied to their brains. Kiritou will literally disappear without a trace."

"How long will it take until it's completed?"

"I don't know the details, but it won't take long."

So there was no time to lose.

Then, Haya grasped Taiga's arm slowly and forced a window open. She took out the complex attack-configured program 《Heavenly Sword》 and the costume he was using in 《Aries》.

"What are you intending to do?"

"You're going to stop Aoko aren't you? I'm modifying 《Heavenly Sword》 so that it can be used in here. Wait a moment."

She said that and without waiting for his reply she started to change the program. The percentage on the window said 1%, indicating modification completion status. It went up to 2% soon enough.

"...I'm going as well."

Haya said it quietly, there were no hesitation in her eyes.

"Can you do it?"

Taiga stared into her eyes with anticipation.

He could see it in Asumi Aoko's eyes, she wasn't someone who would let herself be persuaded. She had to be forcefully stopped. In other words——annihilate her.

"No matter the reason, I can't allow her to do such a thing. I need to stop that idiot."

I'll go no matter what. She made such a response which indicated she had a strong determination. Taiga frowned.

"Even so, I can't go up while carrying you."

"That's all right. I've thought it over properly."

There was a possibility of Haya getting attacked by Zygotes if she were to be left behind anyway. Them staying together would ensure she was safe.

"...just tell me one thing. What exactly is the current Asumi Aoko? Why is she using Iora's virtual body?"

"...well, I guess you have the right to know."

She prompted Taiga to sit down and looked up at the ceiling with a distant look in her eyes.

"Let's start... from when Aoko first came to Kiritou."

Part 6

——Both Kiritou Haya and Asumi Aoko were lonely.

The girl who was born to a blessed household and was forced to become a 'lady', and the girl who was born into a poor environment and was forced to become an adult.

Starting with a chance encounter and short but intense days. For the first time ever since they were born the girls found a 'friend' with whom they could openly speak with.

——My body is tainted. That was Asumi Aoko's favourite phrase.

She was separated from her parents when they died and taken to her relatives. It wasn't common, but it wasn't a rare story either.

But what was unfortunate for her, was the fact that her foster family was badly distorted.

For Asumi Aoko whose every day was hell, Elysion was an utopia.

It wasn't an illusion nor a myth, a perfect world existed which spread out majestically in front of her eyes. Denying the ugly reality, it was a place like a dream where she could change anything as she wanted to.

Then one day, she ran away from the hell.

While struggling to survive, she surrounded herself with the things she loved. And——she met with Haya, which made her even happier.

That's when Kiritou Kouya appeared in front of her. He knew of Haya's suspicious actions and had his secretary investigate it in secret.

I want to hire you——that's what Kouya said after witnessing Aoko's talent.

Although Kiritou was called one of the four major corporations, they paled in comparison to the other three.

The yet-emerging company didn't have a brand, nor research and development that has been ongoing for many years. What Kiritou Kouya wanted was a genius who could overturn the absolute factor, time.

Asumi Aoko accepted the invitation and became a researcher at Kiritou.

Aoko's existence was top secret and only a few of the executives knew of her, since Haya was at a similar age to her she has been appointed as her watchdog.

Then one day, two years after she came to Kiritou.

Haya was working in her laboratory like usual, and Aoko also entered it by using 《Transition》 like she always did. She seemed to have an excited expression on her face.

"Haya! Look, I found something great!"

"...Aoko, I say it every time. Can you stop releasing my room's security without permission? It's bad for my heart."

"Then make security I can't break through. Though, that would be impossible"

"Was that supposed to be sarcastic..."

That kind of chat was already familiar to them.

Haya put her work on hold and sighed.

Even though it was almost summer, Aoko was wearing clothes that covered everything up to her wrists and ankles as well as a white coat on top of it. Haya recalled the reason she hid her skin, and entered a melancholic mood.

"...so, what did you find?"

"Oh. Look, this. I look around the company data and stumbled upon it."

What was projected in the air was an artificially-beautiful girl.

Her smiling expression had no emotions, felt dead as if it was a noh mask. Her eyes were closed as if she was asleep.

"...AI?"

It was a prototype version from a few generations ago, a really old AI. Haya looked in Aoko's eyes amazed.

"So what's so unusual about it?"

"It's the first time I've seen one, though I've knew of them before."

"Ah—...now that you say it."

AI was something 'convenient to have' back then, but in the end the results were not worth the development funds. Of course, Kiritou didn't involve themselves with these.

" An AI is just a doll that mechanically follows instructions programmed into them. What made you interested in it?"

"Indeed it is as you say, she's a doll right now. She's unable to think for herself nor act by her own discretion."

Aoko continued to lay out words one after another as if to persuade her. Although it was infuriating, Haya encouraged her to continue.

"With what has been installed into her she's only able of making basic responses, her thinking circuitry is extremely primitive. Thinking of the past, dreaming of the future, it's incomparable to a human brain which is constantly thinking. And the most important thing——are the emotions."

"...aren't you ashamed of using that dramatic tone of voice?"

"Stop laughing at me. Anyway, when I saw her I thought that were an AI to have emotions, it would be no different from humans."

"That's probably pointless. There's nothing to obtain from that."

Haya rejected her words all at once.

AIs have their own role, if they were given something as uncertain as feelings it was unknown what kind of effect it would cause. Were a machine to forget its duties, it would overturn everything that was known.

But Aoko wasn't bothered with her words and just shrugged in a grand manner.

"Ha〜ya〜. You're getting a bit too stained with the corporation's point of view. You should think about things in a more free manner."

"Is it something a corporation-dedicated researcher should say?"

"Those are two different things. As always, you're horrible at switching between public and private matters... listen and consider this. Aren't AIs a significant existence for people?"

"Well, in general they are."

"In other words its something that is necessary for an owner's daily life. Then why not develop a relationship between them similar to friendship?"

"...friendship eh."

She tried to imagine it for a moment.

Her lonely life and meeting of Kiritou Haya and meeting with Aoko, and now an AI staying together with them. Sharing the fun days and the fights with each other——

"How enviable."

She suddenly returned to earth and blocked her mouth in a hurry, Aoko heard it clearly. She made a nasty grin and——

 

"Then how about we try making one?"

 

She said such a thing.

"...ha? What?"

"How dull. I said that me and you should make an AI that has emotions. You think it's nice as well don't you?"

"Well I thought so for a bit but... you got your own research too don't you. Moreover, I don't think you'll get a permit for developing an AI."

"Hmm. Then if I get the permission will you cooperate?"

"Only if you do. But that's absolutely impossible."

Haya answered appropriately, with this the topic was closed.

However, a few days later just as she declared, Aoko has obtained permission from Kiritou Kouya.

And the two undertook the task of developing an AI that had emotions.

With Asumi Aoko as the lead developer, it was a small project with only two people in it. And its name used characters from the project leader's name and was called thus——《Iolite》.[1]

Part 7

Gradually the modification rate for 《Heavenly Sword》 was nearing 100%.

As Haya stopped talking, a question appeared in Taiga's head.

"How did Asumi Aoko obtain Kiritou Kouya's permission? He isn't someone who could be persuaded so easily."

He could tell just by looking at his face. Kouya wasn't a person who'd listen to people. There had to be something behind this.

"Yeah. I've learned about it later, but it seemed like he turned it down once. But since she wanted to do AI research she proposed to him a trade."

"Trade?"

"...I've told you before. Profit is most important for us. Kiritou will do anything as long as it profits."

"Yeah. And then she dabbled in the development of military programs——that's what it means."

"Yes."

Asumi Aoko proposed an exchange. After being told this much, he realized its contents.

She took a step into the worst research of 《Jail》 and 《Indra》 in order to obtain some freedom.

"From now on it's the main issue. Aoko and I began the research on AI in earnest. Virtual personality, in other words a mental structure created artificially. But something like that couldn't be simply created by human hands."

They could only create a superficial personality configuration. But the soul underlying it, its life, creating a will which would output emotions from the scratch was stepping into God's realm.

"We had gave up on creating it from a scratch. What had caught our attention was the study of Hologhosts which was actively carried out all over the world."

"Hologhosts? Haven't heard of them."

"It's a quite famous research. It can be called an end point theme for the cyber era. Discarding the unwanted real body and living eternally after becoming a pure soul. In a nutshell, a study of immortality."

——Immortality.

In all eras and places it was silently talked about, a dream everyone had at least once.

Everyone who has obtained everything, they could have said in the end 'I don't want to die', a primitive desire.

One of the Hologhost's concept's of affixing the mental structure to virtual was helpful in building the AI. And from discovering something already existing and applying it our study had began. Even though we started with a bright concept... Aoko has found it."

It was supposed to be impossible.

From the day Elysion was born, countless researchers aimed for it and were equally frustrated by their failures. But by chance, or maybe because of God's mischief——Asumi Aoko arrived at the sanctuary no one could follow her into.

"By burning out the brain through excessive load and completely cutting the connection with the body the mental structure could affixed to the virtual world... she found such a method."

"In other words, a method to become a Hologhost."

"That's the kind of thing it is in a nutshell."

Even Asumi Aoko didn't expect that. However her extraordinary talent changed impossible into possible despite her not wanting it.

"Aoko created Iora by using the knowledge she gained in that research. But after consulting with me we promised not to reveal anything about the research on Hologhost and keep it secret. It wasn't something not worth consulting. And yet..."

"Asumi Aoko used it."

Asumi Aoko died by burning out her brain, and became a Hologhost living in the virtual world. She entered Iora's body and continued to hide in it.

"...the reason she used Iora's body can be inferred. Hologhosts cannot move without a virtual body and there is no other body as suitable as that one. After all, Aoko was the one who designed it, the adaptation rate must have been considerably higher."

After finishing her story, Haya spat out the air in a sigh.

Taiga summarized the information in his head.

Currently Asumi Aoko was activating the program which was to destroy the entire structure – Logic Bomb 《Indra》 using the mental structure of all the employees as material. If it's triggered it's all GAME OVER, everyone dies.

"Is there a method to stop 《Indra》?"

"There is no way to stop the sequence until its complete. Aoko is now a Hologhost, her mental structure will disappear together with her virtual body's elimination. That should stop it."

Elimination, the moment she said that Haya's expression shook for an instant. Her disturbance disappeared soon enough and a sense of mission 'it's something that has to be done' dwelled in her. The danger that light posed couldn't be overlooked.

"...all right, it's done."

The moment Haya murmured that a high pitched sound rang out, a nodachi appeared in front of Taiga all at once. The moment he grasped it his body was clad in light and he changed into the outfit he wore in 《Aries》, a white long coat.

"Now then, let's go."

"...yeah."

Taiga stared at Haya's emotionless back, and chased after her.

Part 8

"Haa... haa..."

"Your breathing has roughened considerably. It's about time your processing speed decreased."

"No way. ...let's go!"

Just as she cried out a dozen of crystals appeared and were released at 《Angel》 in unison.

Each and every one of them was a powerful attack-configured program capable of destroying it. Before the literally deadly arrows, Angel swayed its hand. An exactly same number of sinister red crystals appeared behind it and intercepted the blue crystals. The pure white space was dyed in two colours, red and blue.

"...being able to develop such a number of programs in just a moment. If we considered just the processing speed you might be above me. Looks like it was a correct course of action to deal with you like this."

As Fuyuki's breathing turned rough because of excessive calculations, Angel made a relaxed smile.

They have exchanged about fifty attacks already. Assuming every time they used about twenty programs, after a simple calculation it would add up to a thousand——it was impossible for a program to withstand such a load no matter how good it was.

"You... are you borrowing a calculation space from somewhere outside?"

Fuyuki was confident about that question, Angel laughed faintly, saying it's 'correct'.

"If it were my real self then maybe, but this program can't stop you. My calculation space is currently directly connected to the Kiritou's main server. It's a huge server capable of managing multiple large-scaled structures. No matter how fast your processing speed is, it's impossible for you to break through it."

In other words, it meant that to destroy Angel she would need enough strength to destroy the entire Kiritou server.

An ant and an elephant... that wouldn't be enough to describe it.

She couldn't win.

No matter how good at processing data and calculation a human was, they couldn't compete with a server which could maintain a vast world's heaven and earth. It was an overwhelming difference, the measures she used made no difference.

"Certainly, Little Sister can't do anything alone."

Nevertheless, Fuyuki build another attack-configured program.

"...you don't know when to give up."

Angel let out a tired sigh and began interception. It was nearly three times the number of the crystals released before, but that level of attack could be easily intercepted if Angel had the backup of the main server.

From the overwhelming raw power difference, a small opportunity to catch the enemy off guard appeared.

That's why. When she hid a very very small program in the shadow of the large amount of crystals. Angel overlooked it.

As red and blue crystals clashed releasing a flurry of sparks, the barrier blocking off the structure was distorted for just a moment.

The tiny program was shot out through that distortion and used 《Transition》 to enter another structure beyond the barrier.

Part 9

"Ahh, Shio-chan. If you don't stir it faster that's going to be burnt you know?"

"Eh? A-awawa?!"

A fragrant smell drifted in café 《Paradise》 which was empty despite it being a holiday.

Shio was standing in the kitchen behind the counter with a pair of chopsticks in her hand and stirred eggs in a hurry as they started to rapidly solidify. Her movements couldn't be called 'good' even if it was to be blatant flattery. Rui was racking her brain.

"Hmm. What can I do to teach you?"

"I'm sorry for bothering you..."

"No, the one who said she'll practice with you is Rui-san. For now let's throw away these scorched scrambled eggs, Rui-san will tell you how to do it now."

As Rui picked the frying pan while saying that, a small electronic sound came from the terminal.

"Mail——it's from Fuyuki. It says...eh?"

"What happened Rui-chan?"

Rui put on a disturbed expression the moment she opened the window, concerned by something. Shio stopped her hands that were working and moved closer. Rui turned the window so that she could see the contents as well——

 

"...please lend me your strength, it says."

 

Seeing unknown coordinates marked in there, the two tilted their necks puzzled.

Notes and References

  1. Now, a quick explanation: Asumi Aoko is written as 阿菫青子. The two middle kanji's were taken (bolded) 阿菫青子 and (character for stone) was added making up 菫青石 – which refers to Iolite (the gem). This is the first time Iolite was written in kanji.

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