Ageha rapped on the door to Rin’s apartment.
“Who is it?” asked Rin. Her voice came from inside.
“It’s me. It’s an emergency.”
After hearing Ageha’s voice, Rin quickly unlocked and opened the door.
“What happened!? Are you okay!?” asked Rin as soon as she saw his appearance.
He had retrieved his coat after his duel with Arashi. Though the shoulder was torn, it was still better than his tattered sweater.
“I’m fine. I just had a run-in with an acquaintance.”
“But your clothes are ripped! Are you hurt?”
Ageha used his knuckle to sharply knock on his exposed shoulder, producing a clanking noise.
“I’m not that frail. More importantly, where’s Kai?”
“She’s in my bedroom. Actually-”
Without letting her finish, Ageha marched to Rin’s bedroom. He had never been in there before but knew where it was.
Sorry about this.
There was simply no time for etiquette. It had been confirmed that he was being targeted by the enemy. His acquaintances would likely be placed under surveillance as well. He had to take Kaika and go into hiding until Kazuki had been eliminated.
He briskly opened the door and saw Kaika sitting on the bed. Rin followed him inside.
“Get up. We need to go. My identity has been compromised,” he said.
Kaika did not move, much less reply.
“What are you doing? Hurry!”
He looked at her closely and noticed her abnormality. The animated girl he knew was nowhere to be seen. The Kaika before him looked like an empty husk. Her eyes were unfocused, and her usually puffed out chest was tucked in. Her head and shoulders were slumped. The tips of her twintails sprawled lifelessly on the bed. Not a shred of her dignity and vibrance remained.
“What happened?” asked Ageha worriedly.
Kaika gave no response. He looked towards Rin.
“I have no idea. She received a call earlier and then started acting like this. She won’t even look at me when I talk to her.”
Ageha moved closer to Kaika and knelt down to match her height.
“What happened?” he asked again. His face bared his concern for her.
As if his expression woke her from her stupor, she finally focused on him. She slowly parted her lips.
“Acute Massive Pulmonary Embolism.” Her face was as blank as her butler’s.
“What did you say?” he asked with a puzzled look.
“Blood clots blocked the arteries in her lungs. Gen said it was an absurdly improbable complication in her specific case. The clots usually form in the legs, apparently.”
Ageha’s heart gradually sank as he slowly connected the dots.
Kaika continued, “He was on a house call when it happened. It was too late when he found her.”
Her explanation was clear and concise, but her words belied her current appearance. This incongruence was probably due to a form of escape that she was currently undergoing.
Ageha had already guessed what the conclusion of her explanation was. He desperately tried to deny it by convincing himself that Kaika was lying, but his rationality betrayed him. He knew there was no point in telling such a ridiculous lie. Kaika would have manipulated him more elegantly.
She was telling the truth.
“This isn’t the time for jokes,” said Ageha, his voice cracking.
Don’t say it.
Ageha knew that death was something commonplace. Very few perished in a dramatic way like Kureha. Illness, old age, and accidents took far more lives than murder. Saya’s death was simply another boring example of that fact. In this world, luck trumped justice.
It happened again.
This is reality.
I haven’t given her my answer yet.
But she died.
He accepted Saya’s death.
And his world shattered.
Everything around him broke apart like glass. Regret assailed him. He should have answered her earlier, but that possibility had evaporated.
He lost his desire for anything. Even vengeance had lost meaning. After overcoming one tragedy after another throughout his life, he finally decided to call it quits.
He could not even tell if he was standing or lying down. All he could see were fragments of his broken reality slowly falling all around him. Each of them contained a memory of Saya.
One of them showed a scene from when they had hardly known each other. He had found Kaika’s blame towards Saya unfair and had intervened.
“Thanks for defending me earlier.”
He gazed at another shard.
“I had not thought of that! A good one, Chou!”
Her odd humour had charmed him when they had been deciding on his codename.
“You can look forward to your arm pillow when you wake up.”
She had not fulfilled her promise. At least he had managed to hold her in his arms when she had asked for an arm pillow herself.
“Please do not involve me for I do not have anything to say about whatever it is that Kureha-Ojousama said that definitely does not affect me in any way because no matter what I will not be negatively affected since I do not care about who loves anyone in view of the fact that I do not love anyone.”
The memory of when he had confirmed her feelings for him sparkled on another fragment.
“Kureha-Ojousama, I have finally managed to drag your pigheaded Oniisama here.”
He recalled how much he had been saved by her when he had fallen to despair before.
“You will do whatever I say? Is that a promise?”
I failed you.
I loved you.
It was over.
Like Kaika, Ageha’s eyes glazed over. His breathing had stopped, and he did not care if it never started again. Rin looked at him, her face warped by agony, as he stood there frozen ever since hearing Kaika’s declaration.
He did not even see Rin because he was trapped in his cloister of anguish. His memories of Saya continued to fall and melt into the ground. Outside of his broken shell of reality was only darkness. As the glowing fragments decreased in number, his surroundings gradually lost light. He was gradually swallowed up by the creeping shadows. He saw nothing, felt nothing, was nothing.
However, before he completely succumbed to despair, one last shard floated down and hovered in front of him.
“Please take care of Kai-Ojousama for me.”
His dead heart beat.
His pulse slowly picked up speed.
It was not over yet.
I need to fulfill my last promise to her.
Kaika was now in despair. He was not allowed to join her.
He grabbed the last floating shard and stabbed it into his heart. It was his time limit, his life sentence. He was forced to live until Kaika was safe.
His senses returned along with his mental clarity. His goal was set, and his method was decided. He had not recovered. He had simply reset himself to the state before Saya’s demise. It was not salvation but merely a delay for his inevitable doom.
His shattering world froze. Destruction could wait. He had more important things to do.
First, I need to snap Kai out of it.
“Get ready to leave,” he said.
Kaika looked at him with an eyebrow slightly raised and did not reply. Tonight was the most quiet she had ever been in front of him.
“Didn’t you hear me?”
“That’s my line,” she said as if she had lost interest. “It’s over. I’ve lost.”
“Not yet. We’re still alive. First we need to find a safe place to hide.”
“What for? Saya’s gone, and your identity was leaked. I have no one else I can trust. It’s only a matter of time before Kazuki finds and kills us. Why delay the inevitable?”
Her pathetic words angered Ageha. Did Saya really wholeheartedly devote herself to someone so small? He grabbed Kaika by the collar of her pajamas, lifted her up into the air, and glared into her eyes.
Rin tried to stop him, but his grip was immovable for a normal person like her.
“Disgusting. I pity Saya and myself for ever being your subordinates.” His features mirrored the revulsion in his voice.
“…What did you say?” Anger flitted across her face.
Good, your pride is still intact.
“Someone who let Kureha and Saya die in vain deserves to be called that. Have you looked at yourself in the mirror? You’d say the same thing to yourself.” He tossed her onto the bed.
Kaika lifted herself up and glared at him. “How dare you!?” she shouted. Her dead eyes lit up with flaring anger.
“How dare I? That’s rich coming from someone who just abandoned her authority over me.”
“When did I ever do that!?” Her eyebrows and nose furrowed together as her face glowed red in fury.
“The moment you gave up.”
He was absolutely right. The rational Kaika would be unable to deny it, and she did not. Instead, she attacked him like an emotional, illogical child.
“I know that! I know all that!!! But what do you want me to do!?” she screamed at him as she pounded his torso with her fists. “I want revenge as much as you do! I want to win! But I have no more cards to play!!!”
Her knuckles started bleeding. She had been hitting the equivalent of a steel wall, so it was expected that her uncalloused skin would crack open.
“You still have me!” he shouted.
She paused for a moment but then continued her attack.
“That’s not enough! We barely had a chance with Saya, but now she’s gone!”
Ageha grimaced upon hearing the horrible truth replayed. Probably realizing the futility of punching his cybernetic body, Kaika targeted his face and climbed his body to reach it.
“I’m nothing but a powerless girl now!” She managed to crawl up his body by gripping his coat. She then grabbed onto his neck, pulled herself up, and wrapped her legs around his torso like a child.
With their faces lined up, she pulled back her fist to gather energy for a punch.
“No, you’re not. You’re still the unreasonable prodigy Saya loved, and I’m still your unbeatable warrior.”
Kaika stopped moving and looked at him wordlessly. Ageha’s face contorted in sadness.
“Please, Kai. I promised her. Let me protect you.” He finally confessed his true motivation.
Kaika’s face lost all expression. She remained silent while hanging onto Ageha’s neck. After a few moments, tears started gushing out of her eyes.
“…Ageha…” she said while sobbing.
“She’s gone…” Her crying increased in volume.
“Saya’s gone..!” Kaika wailed. Forgetting all dignity, she shamelessly embraced Ageha’s head while screaming over and over.
“I know,” he said again.
He embraced her in return, taking over the weight her thin limbs had been carrying while hanging onto him.
Tears ran down Rin’s face as she watched them. Kaika continued to cry for what seemed like an eternity. She eventually settled down after fatigue overcame her exhausted body.
Ageha prepared Kaika’s belongings while Rin treated the wounds on her hands.
“Thank you. Not just for this.” Kaika raised her bandaged hand. “It was… you were warm,” she said with a sad smile.
“…You’re welcome anytime.” Rin looked as if she was parting with family.
Kaika had somehow recovered her usual form. It was probably an act, but Ageha thought that was better than the alternative. He himself had not changed much from the beginning, at least on the outside. Between the three of them, anxiety was most obvious in Rin’s demeanor.
You really are a good person.
Before Ageha and Kaika left the apartment, Rin approached the young man.
“Where will you go?” she asked.
“The less you know, the safer you are. I know I don’t need to repeat this, but please don’t tell anyone about us.”
Rin nodded obediently.
“You can count on me,” she said with greater determination than ever before.
“I’m sorry for everything.”
“No, I chose to help you. This is my own responsibility.”
Ageha was worried that his ties with Rin might put her in harm’s way. However, he also knew that as long as Rin’s knowledge of his other persona was kept secret, there was little risk of Kazuki going after a mere co-worker. Rumors about them having a closer relationship were just rumors, after all.
“Thanks, Rin. We have to go.”
“This won’t be goodbye, right?”
Rin appeared to be dreading the answer to her own question, so Ageha lied.
“Of course.” He smiled confidently.
Rin smiled in return. She trusted him completely.
Guilt knocked on the gates of his heart, but they did not budge. His heart would remain locked until he had carried out his final task. The fact that he had again lost part of his humanity came to mind, but he dismissed it as if it meant nothing.
“Hurry up,” said Kaika, her arms akimbo. “We have work to do.”
“That’s more like it.”
With a pout, Kaika blushed slightly and said, “Stop acting so high and mighty. I’m the boss in this relationship.”
“Understood, Kai-Ojousama.” He smiled wryly.
The resurrected devil, followed by her unbreakable death scythe, stepped out of her safe haven.
I can’t believe it’s only been two days.
Ageha had not come to work for exactly that long. Rin had known he would disappear but did not expect his absence to affect her so much.
I hope they’re doing okay.
It was not only Ageha she was worried about. She had grown attached to Kaika in the time they had been together. Kaika was arrogant and demanding but also adorable and wise. Even excluding those, she practically breathed charisma.
I hope she can sleep well even on her own.
Maybe Ageha can sleep next to her.
A pang of jealousy pricked her heart.
What am I thinking!?
She immediately scolded herself for thinking negatively about someone she cared for. With numerous worries weighing her down, she sighed.
“Something troubling you?” asked Yuuji.
“Wha!?” shouted Rin.
“Whoa, I didn’t mean to surprise you. I knocked several times, but no one answered.”
Rin straightened up from her slouch. Yuuji was standing across the table in Sapore’s break room.
“Sorry, I was spacing out,” she said.
“No, I’m the one who should apologize.”
They looked at each other and chuckled. However, the smile on Rin’s face quickly faded. She was so emotionally burdened that she could not hide it.
“…Did something happen?” asked Yuuji with a look of concern.
“No, it’s nothing important.”
“The look on your face doesn’t agree with you.”
Rin could not reply. Even she knew that her thespian talents were not mature enough to hide her current distress.
Yuuji sat down on a chair to her left. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.” He then looked at her seriously and continued, “Actually scratch that. Please tell me.”
Rin was surprised at his forceful request. Pressuring someone to tell you their troubles was unheard of, at least for her. Her astonishment showed on her face.
“Sorry, that came out wrong,” said Yuuji as he scratched his head. “It’s just… I want to help you, and I can’t do that if I don’t know anything.”
“Like I said, I’m fine. You don’t have to worry about me. You’re swamped enough with Ageha taking time off, right?”
Rin felt a prick in her heart. She did not want to lie to Yuuji, and technically she had not, but keeping things from him still evoked guilt.
“It’s not just me. The entire cucina is struggling. It makes one realize just how amazing he is.”
“Don’t let him hear you say that. His chef hat might not fit anymore if you do.” She chuckled.
“Did something happen between you?”
“You’re really persistent about this.” She faked irritation. She knew Yuuji only had good intentions but wanted him to stop prying.
His lips curled into a frown as he looked down. “…I don’t want to stand on the sidelines again.”
“Again..? What do you mean?”
Rin was truly curious, but she also intended to deflect Yuuji’s interrogation with her inquiry.
“It’s nothing interesting.”
“Said the guy who wouldn’t quit probing.”
“…Sounds fair. Give and take, okay?”
“I didn’t say that,” said Rin with a mischievous smile.
“That’s cheating. Well, whatever. I guess you should at least know why I can’t let this go.” Yuuji stared at his clasped hands, which rested on the table. “I have- …had two best friends. They had become a couple but eventually split up. She fell into depression after the breakup but wouldn’t open up to me about it.”
Rin realized that Yuuji probably saw his friend in her.
Yuuji unclasped his hands and stared at his open palms. “I tried my best. No, I could’ve done much more to reach out to her… But I didn’t. She committed suicide three years ago.”
Rin gasped at Yuuji’s revelation.
“Yuuji, I’m sorry, I didn’t-”
“No, there’s nothing to apologize for… It seems I was only trying to soothe my regrets. I’m the one who should be saying sorry.” Melancholy marred his expression.
Rin could not reply to his confession.
Yuuji faced Rin and bowed his head slightly. “Forget what I said earlier. Now that I’ve put it into words, I can see how selfish my request is. Sorry.”
Guilt gripped Rin’s heart. She had hurt Yuuji. After hearing his story, she understood why he had been so pushy about trying to help her. She had been experiencing the same debilitating helplessness for two days now. While weeding out compromising information, Rin decided to share some of her burdens with the young man.
“It’s got nothing to do with Ageha,” she said.
Yuuji quickly straightened up and gazed intently into her eyes, as if to communicate how much he appreciated her trust.
“A friend of mine was staying over at my place recently. But a few days ago, her sister died in the hospital because of a surgery complication.” Rin took a deep breath. “She just closed up completely, and I couldn’t do anything to help her. She returned home soon after that, so I lost my chance.” She forced a pitiful grin. “I guess I have no right to complain after shutting you out just now.”
Yuuji shook his head wordlessly. He appeared to have understood her feelings.
“I just feel so helpless. How did you get over it?” she asked.
“I didn’t. I even pried into your affairs because I can’t let go. I’m no better than before.”
They both sighed.
“Okay, so now we’re both sad,” said Rin.
“You gotta admit it’s a hilarious conclusion.” Yuuji made a wry smile.
Rin started giggling. It slowly escalated into laughter. Yuuji, hooked in, followed suit.
“I guess it’s a waste of time worrying about it if there’s no solution!” said Rin as she stretched her arms and back.
“Sounds about right.”
“No, thank you.”
“Saionji’s dead, Nikaidou-san,” Yuuji’s voice came from a mobile receiver.
“Is that certain?” asked Kazuki, his expression growing serious. He firmly pressed the receiver onto his ear, as if to prevent any words from spilling out.
“Pretty much. It was heavily implied by Rin Natsume.”
“Yes. Like I told you before, I heard Ageha talk to her about having ARMS and being a bodyguard. She was involved from the start. We should’ve just tortured the information out of her.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You’re not the one that has to clean up the mess. I’d rather move with solid information. So, what did she say?”
“Seems your sister stayed with her for a while. She told me that Kaika’s sister died due to surgery complications a few days ago and that the girl fell into depression.”
“That’s consistent with the report I got from one of my mercenaries. Saionji probably succumbed to her wounds. Where’s my sister now?”
“Unfortunately, it seems she left Natsume’s place. I could go check if you want.”
“Do that. And while you’re at it, get any more information out of Natsume through more direct means.”
Yuuji chuckled. “Understood.”
“Good job, Jin. To be honest, I didn’t expect much from a con-man, but I guess every trade has its master.”
“I humbly accept your praise. I was lucky that my short culinary career became so useful in this job.”
“Are you sure you don’t want any compensation? You’ll be able to play around for several years, you know?”
“That’s very generous of you, but I’m not doing this specific job for money.”
“You do have quite a history with Shikimi. It’s actually how I found you.”
“Really? I thought it was my infamous reputation that caught your eye.”
“No one has ever heard of you.”
“Well, sorry about that.”
“No, that was a compliment. A popular swindler is like a popular spy. It’s the height of idiocy.”
“Looks like my news is well received. I’ve never been offered money and praise by the same person before.”
“Is Saionji really that important?”
“There’s no need for you to know that.”
“Whoops, forget I said anything. No reason to step on a dragon’s tail.”
“I’m glad you catch on so quickly. I’m looking forward to your accomplishments, even after this mission.”
Kazuki ended the call and leaned back in his ergonomic office chair.
A satisfied smile naturally spread on his face. He pressed a button on his desk terminal and said, “Akane.”
“Yes, Nikaidou-sama?” asked a female voice coming from a speaker.
“Bring me a bottle of champagne.”
“How many glasses should I bring?”
He had suspected that Saya was either heavily injured or dead because she had suddenly disappeared. She had not attended any of the recent board meetings, and none of his surveillance had reported any sign of her ever since her encounter with his recently employed mercenary. Jin’s information had confirmed his suspicion.
Kaika is now isolated.
It was fact. Kaika had almost no one left to turn to. He also knew a possible weakness of Ageha, her last remaining ally.
He pondered how to make use of that woman. She had to have some sort of significance to Ageha, considering how he had left Kaika in her care. That had required a lot of trust, and trust required rapport. Rapport, in turn, birthed affection and attachment.
His secretary knocked on the door and entered his office after receiving his permission. She placed a chilled bottle of sparkling wine and a champagne flute on his table.
“Did something good happen?” asked Akane. She was wearing a white long sleeved shirt inside a black suit. Her shapely hips were emphasized by her tight black pencil skirt that reached just above her knees. While her tied-up hair and black-rimmed spectacles gave her a mature appeal, she did not look like she was already in her mid-thirties.
“Yes, I received some good news.”
“Congratulations, Nikaidou-sama.” She smiled as if she sincerely wished for his success.
“Would you like a glass?”
“I could not possibly..!” she said with a light blush.
“Don’t worry about formalities. I’m in the mood for some company.”
“But I am still on duty…”
“Then from this moment, you’re off the clock. Go fetch another glass.”
She still seemed hesitant at first, but that vanished after she took a deep breath. She smiled brightly and said, “Understood.” After bowing once, Akane left the office with a spring in her step.
Kazuki chose to have his first celebratory drink before she returned. Though she was an excellent secretary, she had not been involved in this specific plan. It was not that he did not trust her. He simply made it a habit to never give too much power and information to one person. Balancing the delegation of responsibilities had always been his forte.
Not caring about any spillage, he opened the champagne bottle and poured the contents into the flute. He raised his glass to no one but himself and took a sip.
The taste of wine could vary for many reasons, and one of them was the drinker’s mood.
Depending on what information Jin could squeeze out of Rin, she could be used as a hostage or a bargaining chip. At the very least, he needed a way to kill Ageha. It would be easier to kill Kaika first, but Kazuki opted for entertainment now that his victory had been decided.
Dance for me, sister.