Hariyama-san, Center Of The World / Hariyama-san, Center of the World Volume 1 Chapter 4 part 2

Hariyama-san, Center of the World 1
Hariyama-san, Center of the Miracles (Genre: “Medley”)


A warehouse under the jurisdiction of the Amida-gumi
“Is this really the right warehouse?”
In response to the man’s uneasy query, the woman beside him answered immediately. “…Yes, there’s no mistaking it.”
Night had long ago fallen here on the outskirts of Tokorozawa.  Unlike the town, which was filled with light and the clamor of people, this road was only sparsely lined with streetlamps and was completely enveloped in darkness and silence.
Within that darkness, several people were lined up in front of a building with a man at their center.  Save for this man, all were female, and each and every one of them had a distinctly non-Japanese face.  If one were to ask which country they were from, even that was not evident from their faces; it would be most accurate to say they were faces with no nationality.
“Damn… why do we have to sneak around like common thieves!?  The person truly at fault here is… No, that little girl can’t even be called a person, and she’s living without a care in the world!”
“Please calm down.”
However, their conversation was unmistakably in Japanese, and the phrases the man spoke with an irritated expression were unmistakably those of a Japanese.
The man somehow calmed down, thanks to the women who seemed to be his subordinates.  However, he spat out without bothering to hide his usual sullen expression, “We don’t have records in this country!  We’ve even gone so far as working in illegal pubs just to survive!  Those young hoodlums worked us to the bone!”
“…Though we were the ones who did all the work.”
Ignoring the woman’s calm rebuttal, the man quietly turned to face the warehouse.
“…Anyway, this is the right place?”
“No, we haven’t been able to confirm it.  However, we have concluded that those hooligans hid all of our precious tools within this warehouse. …In addition, we checked the landfill proximate to the Amida-gumi territory, but they are not something that could be discarded there.  They are not of a substance that can be incinerated, so there is no need to worry that they have been disposed of in that manner.”
“I see… At any rate, we must recover our ‘staffs’ at any cost.  Even if they were cut clean in two, they should not have lost their abilities as catalysts of magical power.”
Magical power.
The man suddenly spoke those words far removed from reality, blurting out something that transcended the ordinary world and veered into the absurd.
The context itself was normal enough, but he continued to expand on those words, about something that did not exist anywhere on Earth.
“Those staffs are absolutely essential to return to…  ∮ … Б£‡∗ … our homeland.”
A lone young man picked up his cell phone as he observed the strange group from afar.
His face and demeanor were still that of a boy, and his bleached hair was covered by a knit cap.  A skateboard was leaning against the wall beside him.  Wearing an indecipherable smile, he opened his mouth.
“Chief~ Chief~ Those guys went into the Amida-gumi’s warehouse.”
There was a momentary silence – and then a low voice came from the other end of the line.
“…Got it.  I thought they were suspicious, but they’re with the Amida-gumi, huh. …They kinda remind me of the brat who blew up the office, so I figured maybe…”
“Hey.  If the Amida-gumi’s picking up guys from weird countries, maybe they’re, uh, what’s the word?  Spies?  They’re spies, right?  S’what you call ‘em, right?  Anyway, maybe that’s what they are. …But, Chief.  Did a weird brat seriously jump through the window and blow up the office with bombs?  Seriously?  She wasn’t just pretending with a gas line break or something?”
The youth cackled as he spoke, and the man, his boss, replied on the phone. “If you weren’t such a talented little shit, you’d be sinking in Tama Lake for that comment just now. …Anyway, let’s get serious.  Grab ‘em the second they step out of that warehouse.”
“Got it. …Hup.”
With a complete lack of seriousness, the skateboarder man hung up and turned around, smiling brightly. “Okay, time to get to work.  We won’t be killing them, but I’m still looking forward to hearing what they’re gonna squeal.”
Behind him, a number of youths were lined up in the alleyway as if hiding.  One of them had a skateboard in one hand, like the young man who had been on the phone, while his other hand toyed with a long-handled folding knife.
The knife-wielding boy cracked his neck and muttered in a slightly dissatisfied voice, “It’s ‘cause we didn’t finish off that Ginjima last time, huh?”
“Yeah.  That was my bad.  Sorry, sorry.”
The young man on the phone, who appeared only a little older than the knife-wielding boy, withdrew a black object from his pocket and, smiling, began to reminisce.
“I should’ve… shot him right through the head.”
“If they’re not in this warehouse, that leaves no choice but that mansion…”
“Though I want to avoid that at all costs…”
The ones conversing uneasily as they trespassed into the warehouse were the “land of magic”’s warden and his female subordinates.
After their clash with the Amida-gumi, they had lost the staffs that acted as catalysts to allow them to perform magic, not to mention their magic itself, and they were even unable to return to their own world.  If they didn’t return, other government officials might have realized something was wrong, but if they themselves didn’t use magic, the others would not be able to pinpoint their exact location.  Back then, they had sensed Number 893’s magical power and had rushed to come here, leaving only the name of the country of “Japan” in the official documents – and so their precise coordinates would not be known to those in the other world.
Considering it rationally, it was an unthinkable blunder on the part of the government officials.  However, crimes almost never occurred and most problems were solved by magic.  It was only natural that they were lacking that sense of caution.
In the end, they of unknown nationality were rounded up by one of the touts in town and ended up working at one of the foreigner pubs, but–
They withstood it for several weeks.
Using the information they had steadily gathered about the Amida-gumi, they finally snuck into this warehouse.
“There… There they are!”
They couldn’t simply turn on the lights and instead spent a few minutes searching with flashlights.  After a short time, one of the women called out, surprising even herself.
They hadn’t thought they would find what they sought so quickly within the unusually complex warehouse.  The black suit-clad “warden” cried out, his voice a mix of surprise and joy.
When he rushed over, the guardswoman pulled out a jute bag that had been carelessly tossed atop a shelf.  The warden shone his flashlight into the bag.  The “staffs” they used really were contained within, but they were still cleaved in two.
“Okay… Well?  How are they?  Can they amplify magic?”
At the warden’s words, the guardswoman held the staff for a while, concentrating, but…
“It’s no use… In this state, it can’t even amplify half as much as usual.  Spatial translocation is impossible.  However, it is possible that it will repair itself, given enough time.”
The warden looked slightly dejected at his subordinate’s slow confession.  However, he shook his head and decided to look on the bright side. “…I see.  But this is good enough for now.  We’re fortunate enough that they may repair themselves.  All right… on to our next order of business.  Isn’t there anything we can use as criminal evidence?  If we find anything, we’ll tip off the police as retaliation against that man and Number 893.”
He thought up a rather petty revenge, perhaps because he had not grown used to living in the human world.
“I still don’t know much about this country’s laws, but it’s probably enough if it comes out they have some kind of drugs or too many weapons…”
With that in mind, he cast his gaze over their surroundings and realized there was an axe left atop one of the other shelves. “An axe, huh… There’s nothing else it can be but a lethal weapon.”
As he looked at the axe, which had a short blade but a long handle–
He opened his mouth to summon the guardswomen searching elsewhere in the warehouse, but–
In the next instant, before the man could call out, a sharp scream echoed through the building.
“…W-What’s wrong!?”
Startled, the warden and the other guardswomen ran toward the source of the scream.  The warehouse contained many shelves laid out in a complicated fashion and the scream came from the very back.  They opened a door hidden behind the shelves.  Before them was one of the guardswomen, who had sunk to the floor, unable to stand.
“What is it…?”
At the sound of the warden’s voice, the guardswoman, her teeth chattering, squeezed out her words, her gaze never leaving what lay beyond the door. “Uh, um, behind the shelves… I found a hidden door!  A-And then, I thought maybe this was the place, so I opened the door and—!”
Without waiting to hear the end of her explanation, the warden shone his flashlight on what lay beyond the door.
And what he saw was–
The figure of a human tied to a chair, agony carved into every inch of his body.
“W-Who… is this?”
“I-I don’t know!”
The person was so covered in wounds that one couldn’t tell at first glance if he was male or female, but it could be deduced from his build that he was male.  What was most unusual was that thick chains were wrapped around his body, tied to what seemed to be water pipes that ran through the room, shelves, and stakes driven into the floor.  There were also huge burn scars running from his head down his back, and deep wounds from a blade were left on his shoulders and his legs.  The bleeding looked to be forcibly stopped with bandages, and gangrene was beginning to set in his injuries.  In addition, there were wounds across his body that seemed to be from some kind of torture device.  In the darkness, he could be mistaken for a zombie.
“A-Anyway, murder is a felony in this country.  We found evidence of a much bigger crime than I expected…”
Before, the warden had told Number 893 they would “burn the Amida-gumi to death” to torment her, but even though this was a different world, he actually didn’t have the courage, resolve, or motivation to commit murder.  He could be infinitely cruel to the praying mantis and the girl born of magic, but he balked when it came to humans.  It was in his nature.  In the end, he was on the “side of the law” in the land of magic, and when something like this was brought before him, he was more than a little shaken.
And then, as if to top off the situation–
“Ugh… Ahh, ugh, uhh, ahh…” A faint moan emerged from the mouth of the corpselike man.
“W-Warden!  H-H-He’s still alive!?”
Even though abnormal events kept unfolding one after another, and even though the warden was surprised that the thing in front of him was not a corpse, deep within his heart, he felt relieved.
‘Is he a debtor or something kidnapped by the Amida-gumi?  Or an investigator who infiltrated their group, or maybe someone from an enemy organization?’
In any case, if he was an enemy of the Amida-gumi, he might be of use to them if they healed him or he might provide information.  With that in mind, the warden held out the jute bag to his subordinate guardswomen and issued an order.
“Good timing… How well are these broken staffs able to amplify magical power?  We’ll try casting healing magic on this man. …Let’s try having four of us each hold one staff fragment and combine our magic.  We may be able to output approximately the original power of one staff.”
However… there was something they did not consider.
The possibility that the man in front of them was even more dangerous than the Amida-gumi or Number 893.
To them, the Amida-gumi were law-breaking evildoers.  They believed healing and releasing the Amida-gumi’s enemy would be to their advantage only because they were from the “land of magic”, where crimes were few to begin with.
In any case, using a power foreign to this world, the warden and his companions healed the body of the man still bound by chains, who was beyond the ability of modern medicine to treat.
And then—
The man silently opened his eyes.
The serial killer who had once plunged the city into terror opened his eyes.
Along with a greater madness than ever before, fed by the pain and fear imposed on him during his punishment by the Amida-gumi.
Along with a healed, abnormally strong body, forged by the melding together of warped magical power—
“Got it?  Pin ‘em down as soon as the door opens.  There are four women and one man.  It’ll be easy, huh?”
Laughing lightly, the young man with the gun gave orders to the youths who stood around the entrance to the warehouse.  The boy with the knife continued to spin it around expressionlessly, but the other youths surrounded the entrance with no wasted movements, quieted down, and listened to what was going on inside the building.  At first glance, they appeared to be behaving normally, but the atmosphere around them clearly differed from that of respectable people, and their eyes gleamed as if in anticipation of bloodshed.
And thus they would again complete their job without any mercy or hesitation.  Someone might end up dying in the end, but their orders were not to kill, just to capture the five, and so there was no need for guilt.
As the gun-wielding youth looked at his subordinates, he was convinced that they would be able to complete this job without any problems.
However – at that moment, his conviction was destroyed by a thunderous roar.
At first he thought it was a siren or something, but it was undoubtedly a human voice.  It was a shout that did not contain anger, sadness, or fear.
An unnatural shriek resounded from within the warehouse, someone screaming emotionlessly at the top of his lungs, so loudly it could be heard dozens of feet away.
“What was that!?”
The shrieks became disjointed as they drew closer to the entrance of the warehouse and ceased completely several meters away, enveloping them in a brief silence.  It was no longer a situation in which they could afford to relax.  The young man withdrew his gun from his pocket and prepared himself to fire shots into the warehouse at any moment.  The knife boy also lightly gripped the knife he had been toying with and halted a little ways away from the rest of the group, as if observing the situation.
However, their goal had not changed.  They just had to capture the people who emerged from the entrance by any means necessary.  The youths held their breaths as the tension mounted and concentrated all of their senses on the door, the only exit to the warehouse.
And then – “he” leapt out, as if to ridicule them.  Not from the door – but from the adjacent wall, smashing through it from inside the warehouse.
Before the youths could adjust their stances, “he” who had leapt out from inside swung his arms wildly.  In the next moment, red liquid splattered against the wall, painting it with an expanse of red dots.
“Aaaaaaaah!?” One of the youths who had surrounded the entrance screamed.  His sleeves were rolled up; there was blood gushing uncontrollably from one of his arms.
“He” did not flinch at the spurt of blood; rather, it was as if the sight of blood only spurred him on, and “he” swung his arms even faster.  At the same moment, another youth screamed, and a new pattern of dots was painted across the wall.
The youths with the gun and the knife, watching from a slight distance, were able to calmly analyze the appearance of the man who had jumped out of the warehouse.  He was clad in tattered rags and was not of large build.  They couldn’t make out his face through the darkness of the night and his wild movements, but they knew what he held in his hand.
It was an axe with a long handle, such as could be bought at a home improvement center.  A strong person would wield it with both hands for outdoor activities, but the man in front of them was using it as a weapon against them.
They didn’t know why such a person had come out from inside the warehouse.  He was clearly different from the people who had entered, and they couldn’t assume that he had been using the warehouse.
What was certain was that the shriek from before had come from this man.
And that at this rate, their panicked subordinates would be completely annihilated.
The young man with the gun and the boy with the knife reached this conclusion at the same time and immediately took action, so as to complete the job assigned to them.
The boy stepped up beside the axe man, weaving through a momentary opening, and gouged the man’s side with his knife while his arms were raised overhead.  The axe man’s movements stopped for a second, and without missing a beat, the young man fired off several shots from where he stood a short distance away.
There was no time to attach a silencer, and the loud bangs of gunfire echoed into the night sky.  Several bullets embedded themselves in the axe man’s back; each time a red hole was drilled into him, his body shuddered, the axe still held aloft.
Still, the man did not fall.  They thought he would scream just as he had before, when—
He glared at the young man with the gun and the boy with the knife as if memorizing their faces and disappeared into the night with startling vigor, moving with a speed that surpassed human limits.  In addition to the way he had previously broken through the wall, the young man with the gun was so dumbfounded at the man’s physical prowess that he even forgot to give chase.  The knife boy checked on the youths who had been cut by the axe, but it seemed none had died instantly.  He glanced at the youth with the gun, as if to ask whether they should call an ambulance or treat them themselves, but—
As he twirled his gun, the corners of the young man’s mouth were more twisted than before – he was smiling.
“Well, ain’t this fun?”
It was unclear they were really brothers or whether it was an honorary title.  In any case, the young man with the gun smiled at the knife boy who addressed him as an older brother, as if truly enjoying himself.
“Listen up.  We were just passing by here.  But one of those Amida-gumi bastards jumped out of their warehouse – suddenly started swinging an axe around, cut down our friends, and ran off.  Even though we didn’t do anything.”
The boy held his silence, perhaps understanding what the young man was saying, and once again began to spin the knife in his hand.
“We’ve got an excuse for Chief and Boss.  An’ just like that, we’ve got the perfect setup to get revenge on the Amida-gumi… on Ginjima, right? …The guys in the group can do what they want with that.  Yeah, and that axe guy… Well, just leave him for now.”
Tokorozawa, a certain back alley
‘I sense it.  Close, close, really close by.  A little, just a little more.
‘Great god Nambaja.’
‘After I left the island… I saw it on the news.  Hikarijima… To think such a thing would happen on Hikarijima… They said everyone’s disappeared, but they’ve just been kidnapped, right?  Isn’t that right?  Great god Nambaja.
‘Letmuj’s demons are here in this city.  We will clash at night.  I – and the seeds of darkness that have taken root in the world.
‘Please.  Please give me strength.  Please give me the strength to save the world… everyone on the island, and my mother and father.
‘No, just one person is enough… Even if it’s just Shouma… please give me the power to save him.
‘…I know I’m asking something incredibly greedy.  I’m prioritizing the safety of one person over world peace.  But… but!  Oh, please, forgive me one selfish act, just this once.  Great god Nambaja.’
As she soliloquized, the girl – Maya Isojima – ran through the night.  However, to the girl, her soliloquy was a full-fledged conversation with the great god Nambaja.  But to anyone else, the god named Nambaja was nothing but complete and utter nonsense.
The first time she heard the god’s voice, she had already begun to realize that something abnormal was happening within her.  It was on that night she wrote a letter to a boy, her childhood friend… Shouma, to whom she had not confessed her feelings.
The moment she had heard the god’s voice, she truly awakened.  Just as if everything that had happened to her up to now had been a dream, she had felt that “saving the world was her duty,” mingled with a sense of doubt; it was carved into her heart just as if it had been her destiny from even before the moment of her birth.
Along with imaginary memories of her past life.
And now the god’s voice was echoing within her mind, just as it had back then.
“Take hold of your blade of light.  Cleave through and purify the magic of Letmuj, the darkness that leads people astray and obscures the light, in every age that has passed and every age to come.”
The decree was quite roundabout and difficult to understand, but Maya understood perfectly what it was that she was meant to do.
She sensed the presence of darkness close by.
She would use every last ounce of her strength to repel the darkness waiting in these alleys.
‘Even if it costs me my life.’
At about the same time as she confirmed her resolve, she was able to determine the exact location of the darkness.  If she turned at the next corner, she would find herself in an alley containing no signs of life.  The buildings on either side might have been factories or might have been something else.  There was no way anyone other than herself would be walking around here.
‘Shouma… I have to save Shouma…’
As the god’s voice resounded in her head and brought back the “memories of her past life”, Maya’s memories of living on the island and the memories of all her experiences had immediately been locked away in a corner of her mind.  Even so, she could still clearly remember the face of the boy she had gotten along with in her childhood.
The boy who had risked his own life to save her when she had been attacked by a stray dog.
Maya had become a hero who would save the world.  If Maya was the world’s hero, then her own hero was none other than Shouma.
‘Shouma… Please, give me strength—’
She rounded the corner, imagining his face – and there, her punishment awaited.
The god Nambaja brought divine punishment upon her, who had dared to ask some other being to grant her power.  Whether it was by design or sheer coincidence, no one would ever know.
When she turned the corner, what she saw straight ahead, in the alley illuminated by streetlamps, was—
Blood sprayed out under the streetlamps.
Several kilometers away from the heart of the city, in a back alley halfway between the woods and the residential areas, Shouma Zakojima smashed in a man’s head with an iron pipe.
The first blow was a direct hit right above his eyes, and as the body bent back and turned over, he delivered the next blow to the back of the head facing him.
After that was easy.  Shouma struck the other man’s temple with the folded end of the iron pipe as he lay collapsed on the ground.  He didn’t give him time to shield his head with his hands or crouch facedown.  Of course, it seemed he had already sustained a concussion from the first blow: the “hero” was no longer moving.  Even so, Shouma continued to swing the iron pipe.
And over
And over
And over
And over and over andoverandoverandover
He swung down the iron pipe rhythmically.  Each time a dull thump rang out, red liquid splattered across the rusted silver surface, until it was no longer recognizable as an iron pipe.
Finally the thumping sounds became squishing sounds, and the “hero”, who had collapsed face-up, stopped breathing.  Once he was completely sure that his opponent was dead, Shouma let the iron pipe hang lifelessly toward the ground.
As he stood under the streetlamps, covered in the back spatter of blood, Shouma silently looked down at the body and pondered.
What would he do with the corpse?  Should he hide it?
‘It doesn’t need to stay hidden until morning.’
The boy mulled over the same questions as always as he slowly ran his eyes across the body.
‘It’s fine as long as it isn’t found overnight.’
The boy considered such strange things and reached out, thinking of carrying the body to the woods nearby.
In that instant, Shouma heard footsteps behind him.  They were a little ways away, but the moment the footsteps stopped, he heard someone breathing hard.  They had most likely run here and stopped the moment they turned the corner.
‘Who is it?  A civilian?  No, there shouldn’t be anyone jogging here at this time of night.’
He tried to figure out the other person’s identity without turning around.  Normally he would be able to feel the aura of Hikarijima, but right now the corpse at his feet still clogged the air with the scent of Hikarijima and he couldn’t tell for sure.  If they were a normal person, he should just run away without showing his face, right?  But if they were a new “hero” – then he had to finish them off right here and now.
The moment he decided he had to wait for them to react, the intruder yelled so quickly there was really no need to wait.  It was the speech of a hero, loud and majestic.
“…Hold it right there!  Evil demon of Letmuj!  In the name of Nambaja, tonight you shall return to the void from whence you came!”
‘? !?
‘? …!? ??!!?!??!?!???!?!??!??!?!!?!??!??!
In a single instant, his heart was thrown into confusion.  He stood still as if time had frozen.
First the voice had assaulted his ears.  Then the word Nambaja, which he couldn’t forget even if he wanted to, had reached his eardrums.  And then – it had shown clear hostility towards him, but the moment he heard that voice, everything else ceased to affect him.
It really took just a moment.
Tears spilled from his eyes before he even understood what was going on in his own heart.  His vision immediately blurred, reflecting the twinkle twinkle twinkle of the streetlamps, and his world filled with dazzling light.
The next thing he knew, the iron pipe had fallen to the ground with a clatter.  His sole weapon left his hand, rolling to a stop against the head of the “hero” he had just killed a moment ago.
But he no longer cared about any of that.
Or that his childhood friend had slandered him and called him a demon.
Or even that the girl might kill him after this.
He turned around.
Slowly, slowly, so as not to break this moment, even if it was nothing but a dream.
Silently, the boy turned and looked at the girl – Maya Isojima – with tears streaming down his face.
“Finally…. We finally meet, Maya.”
When she saw the face illuminated by the streetlamps, Maya froze for a moment.
The voice that called her name was familiar, an unforgettable reverberation.  And the face that had given voice to those words – it was a face damp with tears, the face of the “hero” that she had been imagining not long ago.
In the next moment, her heart accelerated.
Maybe, if this had been Hikarijima—
The girl would have rushed over to him, tears streaming down her own face, and said with her very best smile, “I’m home.”
Maybe, if she did not sense the evil aura emanating from his body—
She would have confessed her feelings for him frankly.
Maybe, if there had not been a bloody corpse lying at his feet—
She would have held his hand tightly.  So that she would feel the warmth of a human.  So that she would feel with her own hands the proof that Shouma was alive and well.
Only the reality laid out before her pierced through and shattered the girl’s heart.
Her voice was shaky.  The girl realized that her whole body was trembling, not just her voice.  She was completely unable to accept the reality she was presented with.
However, the girl was not even given the time to hesitate.
[Destroy him.]
As if to forcibly coerce the confused girl, the “god” telepathically instructed her in an emotionless voice.  Firmly, firmly, more forcefully than ever before.  At the same time, she felt the dark aura from Shouma’s body grow even more pronounced.  It was as if it was responding to the god’s voice echoing within her heart alone.
[Destroy him and the world will be freed from darkness.]
‘Wait, please wait, Great God Nambaja.  What… What is the meaning of this!?’
However, the voice only repeated the same words and made no response to her question.
‘Maybe the boy in front of me is an imposter.’
Just now, she had been imagining Shouma’s face.  Maybe the demon had read her mind and assumed that form to appear before her.  Even as she hoped that was it, Maya was completely puzzled by the tears running down his cheeks.
Was he under a spell?  In that case, would she be able to break it?  Maybe Shouma, who had been spirited away from the island, was just being manipulated?
Maya formulated several possibilities and courses of action, but she was forgetting an important fact.  No, it might have been more accurate to say she had completely rejected the idea.
‘If he… If Shouma really is a demon.
‘If Shouma was the one who kidnapped everyone on the island.’
She once again found herself unable to consider the explanation that should have been the first to come to mind.
[Now, cleave through and purify the earth sullied by the avatar of darkness and bring light to the world.]
But the god’s voice bore down upon her heart even more strongly, as if to scold her.
[Bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light—]
It was no longer anything but noise.  The noise echoed through her whole body to destroy her heart, which doubted the god’s words.
As if noticing her distress, the thing in front of her which had taken Shouma’s form wiped at his tears with both hands and quietly began to speak. “…Oh, finally… You’ve finally come, Maya.”
The voice she had wanted to hear.  The smile she had wanted to see.  All of it was right in front of her, but instead, it terrified and bemused her.
“The fruit knife you’re holding… Is that your holy sword, Maya?” The boy took a step closer to her as he murmured in a quiet voice.
The aura he emanated and the confusion within her escalated, and Maya jumped back without thinking. “Don’t… Don’t come any closer!”
“You… W-Who are you?  You look like Shouma, but… you’re not Shouma!  Because, when I left the island, I didn’t feel such an evil aura from Shouma…!  And… And Shouma would never kill anyone!”
Rather than making the logical conclusion from the situation before her, Maya’s voice as she spoke was laden with her own hopes.  As if to fashion them into the truth, and – praying that the real Shouma was still safe.
“You’ve taken Shouma’s form and intend to kill me, right…?  How… Just how many humans have you killed with that same trick…!?  …You killed that man there the same way, didn’t you!?  By changing into someone important to him… like the way you look to me now!”
Faced with his childhood friend who spouted words even she could not have believed, Shouma smiled quietly.  And then he withdrew an envelope from his pocket and held it out toward her.
The envelope was familiar to her.  But she had completely forgotten about the existence of the envelope until just now.  Just before she had heard the god’s voice, she had written out her feelings in a letter to Shouma and placed it inside that envelope.
Why did I forget about it until now?  Why did I even write those things to begin with?  I questioned the great god Nambaja.  Even though Nambaja has always watched over and protected us, even in our past lives.
‘But what I wrote in that letter… My feelings toward Shouma haven’t changed…’
Though she once again affirmed the feelings she harbored toward her childhood friend, she felt a chill run through her at the fact that the letter was held by the evil before her.
The thought crossed her mind: it couldn’t be.  What if the evil in front of her really was Shouma, in the flesh?
“…You know, I… read this letter.” As if reading her mind, the boy slowly began to speak.  His eyes were filled with something akin to regret, or perhaps it was pity for Maya.
“But… sorry.  It was already too late when I read it… So I wasn’t able to carry out your request, Maya.”
Not understanding what he meant, Maya recalled the details of what she had written in the letter.  The moment a certain line came to mind, a sudden anxiety welled up within her.
And the evil slowly spoke up, as if to give life to that anxiety. “Maya, your father and mother are already—”
“Stop!  Are you—are you still trying to confuse me!?  Where… where is the real Shouma!?”
“…I am the real Shouma.  But… I’ve become the evil you’re talking about. …No, maybe I should say I was made into it.  By… that Hikarijima.”
Maya didn’t drop her guard at the evil’s strange words, instead holding the small knife at the ready.  But she was unable to bring herself to charge toward the wide-open evil and instead continued to listen to him speak with a serious expression.
But that calmness came to an end with his next words.
“Ever since… the old man… Ever since I killed your father, Maya.”
The corpse at his feet lent an inarguable reality to that absurd word.  Maya’s body froze up for just an instant, and then, her eyes blank, she opened her mouth.
“…You’re lying.”
‘No.  No no no.  There’s no way this is Shouma!  It can’t be Shouma!  This guy – everything he says is a lie!’
“I’m not lying.  I killed your father, Maya.  And I’m the real… no, it doesn’t matter if I’m a fake.  It’s not really related to this.  And, your mother… she’s probably… dead too–”
Lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies
[Bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light]
Lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies
[Light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light]
Lies [light] lies [light] lies [light] lies [light] lies [light] lies [light] lies [light] [light] lies [light] lies [light] lies [light] lies [light] lies [light] lies [light] lies
The god’s warped voice fell into sync with her own heart and twisted her disarrayed thoughts in one particular direction.
However, it did nothing but return her to her previous goal.
Maya raised her voice, which was incredibly weak compared to the other hero’s – and pointed the knife in her hand and charged straight forward.
The “demon” made no attempt to avoid it, spreading his arms wide and awaiting her arrival.  But Maya’s eyes were already shut tight as she charged and she could no longer see the figure of her old friend.
Just when it seemed the short blade would be plunged into his chest, the demon murmured with a gentle smile:
“Ah… so this… will end it.”
However… those words were swallowed up by a moan from behind him.
In the next instant, the demon sensed the weak aura behind him.  It was not a hero.  Shouma could not sense the aura of a hero.  But it was an aura distinct from that of a human.  When he’d left Hikarijima, the strange “power” he’d sensed in this town… A sharp, heavy power, similar to the one that had made him come to this town, flared up behind him.
The moment he spoke, the demon was swept sideways and sent flying.
Hearing the sound of the attack, Maya opened her eyes without thinking–
Shouma’s figure, which had been standing before her up until now, had vanished – and in his place, she saw a ghastly man who looked nothing like Shouma, facing her and raising an axe high into the air.
‘Oh, good.’
As she looked at the line of silver heading towards her, Maya only smiled vacantly.
‘I knew it… That just now was only a fake Shouma.’
Carried forward by momentum, the girl was unable to stop.  And as if the body struck by the axe was his own–
The boy’s scream and the spurt of blood from the girl’s body simultaneously whirled through the back alley.
A certain place in Tokorozawa, Amida-gumi residence
The axe man had fled.
Upon receiving that report, Ginjima had mobilized the members of the Amida-gumi in pursuit of the axe man.
“Damn… the hell is this?”
Ginjima mulled over what they would do now as he stood on standby in the Amida-gumi mansion on the outskirts of Tokorozawa.
‘We really should’ve ended it fast…’
The axe man had concealed himself in Shibazato’s home and gone after his life.  Shibazato and the others had caught him, and after that they had punished him “just a little bit” in one of their warehouses and looked into his background a bit.  But when Ginjima had met him, he did not have the mental capacity to talk straight, whether he’d been that way from the beginning or if it was the result of experiencing such pain and fear.
There was the possibility that he was one of the Marubatsu-gumi’s men, but what came to mind was the demonic serial killer that had been stirring up the town lately.  He fit the criterion of carrying an axe, and more importantly, if he was a hitman, there would be no sense in him hiding underneath the bed.
But if he really was the serial killer – on top of doing as he pleased on their turf, he’d gone so far as to lift a hand against one of their group.  In any case, they couldn’t just let him go or hand him over to the police.
To begin with, when Ginjima had arrived, Shibazato and the others had inflicted unreasonable “restraints” on him, far beyond simple self-defense.  If they’d handed him over to the police, it wouldn’t have been clear who the wrong-doer was.  It would’ve been a different story if they’d had concrete evidence that the man was a serial killer.
In any case, they took Ginjima’s stance: “…The leader hasn’t got much time left, so I wanna keep this bloody matter away from him.” They kept him confined and took a wait-and-see approach for the time being, but to think he still had the strength to escape.  Gangrene was setting into his legs; they’d thought he wouldn’t even be able to walk.
‘This’s turned into a huge pain in the ass.’
As he pondered over their current situation, Ginjima regretted not putting an end to the axe man immediately.  He had hesitated to outright kill him not just because of their leader, but also because he was trying to go straight and selfishly didn’t want to dirty his own hands.
Every time he wanted to kill, the face of a certain girl came to mind.
It was not the face of his fiancée, the daughter of their leader.  She had long ago stepped into this world and was prepared to kill or be killed.
Rather, the one he thought of was the girl for whom he had decided to go straight.  The one who had fallen from the sky and called herself a “magical girl” – it was the face of the glasses-wearing girl who was now his daughter.
“…Ah, damn.  So in the end it turned out like this, huh…”
It wasn’t only that he’d been set loose.  In the end, it was possible that his daughter would be exposed to danger.  She’d gone over to play at a friend’s house; worried, he’d given them a call, and that friend’s parent would drive her back to the mansion.
In any case, relieved that his daughter was safe, Ginjima mulled over the current situation.
Upon learning that gunshots had been heard, some of the gang members had hastened to the warehouse, only to find it already surrounded by police, with countless men being taken away by ambulance.
Long ago, it would’ve been trouble had the police investigated that warehouse, but now that the group’s finances were in decline, all of those things should have been disposed of.
But it would be slightly troublesome if the police discovered the bloodstains in that hidden room.  They used to get in a lot of trouble like this, but with their current lack of power, hushing it up would be a pain.  For now, the man who was acting as that warehouse’s temporary owner told the police, “The warehouse hasn’t been used much recently, but it seems like some suspicious guys move in and out of it at night.”
In truth, it was no secret that that warehouse was under the control of the Amida-gumi, but it was also true that they hadn’t used it recently.  They’d even thought about renting it out to pull in a bit more money.
‘Who’s been there lately who wasn’t guarding or torturing or looking after the axe man… Oh, maybe when we tossed in those land of magic guys’ staffs?’
That day, after he’d cut through all the staffs and driven the enemy away, they were unsure whether to burn or throw away those tools from the “land of magic”, so for now, they’d tossed them in the warehouse.
But the police weren’t fools either.  It would be impossible to pin everything on imaginary delinquents trespassing in the warehouse.
The phone in his pocket rang as he thought up ways to dodge the question of the hidden room.
“Hey, Boss.”
The voice coming through the phone was that of a young group member.  It sounded like the skinhead.
“Masa?  What is it?”
“From what I hear, when the police got here, there were five people of unknown ethnicity leaving the warehouse who panicked and ran off.  Apparently they didn’t look Japanese at all…”
“…Five people?  And foreigners… There’s a lot of kinds, you know, like Arabs and Chinese.”
“Uhh, but it seems like they were Caucasians.  But their hair and eye color and stuff were weird.”
A certain group surfaced in Ginjima’s mind at Masa’s words.  To confirm it, he turned toward the receiver, and wearing a serious expression, he uttered a single order.
“The crime scene investigators with the police… Get them to check if the jute bag on the very last shelf on the left side is gone.”
“Looks like it’ll be hard to work with them… We’ll manage somehow.  So what’s in the bag?”
“…Staffs like Summer’s ‘Piriolim’. …Well, if the cops ask, just tell ‘em they’re toys Sis really loved as a kid.”
With that said, he hung up and waited impatiently for the reports of the group members scattered across the city to search for the axe man.
However, he didn’t have long to wait.  The moment he placed the phone on the desk, the ringtone went off.
It was a different person: the phone number was that of the crew cut man, one of their high-ranking members.
When he pushed the “call” button and heard the other man’s tense voice, Ginjima braced himself and listened closely to what he had to say.
“This is Shibazato.”
“What is it?”
“…Right now I’m in one of the back alleys near the cemetery… I heard a weird scream, so I got excited and rushed in… and found them.”
“That axe bastard!?”
Ginjima was prepared to hear some good news, but the answer he received could not have been any worse.
“No, there’s no one here but the victims.”
“What…?  Victims?”
“A kid and a salaryman.  The kid’s a girl, and… how do I say it.  I dunno if they were meeting secretly in this alley or something, but the guy’s face is beaten to a pulp.  He’s dead.  The girl’s shoulder’s cut open… but it doesn’t look very deep.”
Upon hearing those words, Ginjima’s grip tightened on the phone.
He deduced that innocent people had become casualties, but even so, Ginjima kept his mouth shut and did not lose his cool.  It was not just because his moral compass was not that strong, but also that he realized with a growing sense of guilt that the situation was only getting worse.
Ginjima kept listening to his subordinate’s report to confirm the details, and Shibazato continued in an even tenser voice.
“…There was another kid, a boy, but he… he went chasing after the axe man and disappeared.”
“Huh?  What do you mean?”
“No… I don’t really get it, but when we reached the alley where we heard the scream, that axe bastard and the kid were fighting… When I ran up, the axe bastard ran away really damn fast… He was so fast I couldn’t believe he was even human.  But I was sure I mangled the tendons in his legs…”
Shibazato spoke without even trying to hide his frustration, but soon enough his tone reverted and he resumed speaking.
“So when that kid saw me, he yelled, ‘Please, call an ambulance for her…!’ and went chasing off after the axe bastard. ‘Course, two other guys with me went after him, but… putting aside the brat, dunno if they can catch up with the axe bastard… We’ve got one other guy still here.”
“…I see.  Got it… Call an ambulance from a pay phone.  Don’t use your cell.  It’s the worst possible timing for them to find out the Amida-gumi were first on the scene…”
“Was there a pay phone around here?”
“If there isn’t, drive them to a hospital and get lost before anyone notices you.”
He stopped just short of saying “leave them there”, but that was Ginjima’s… or rather, the group’s kindness showing through.  On the one hand, Shibazato felt disgusted; this was why their group was in decline.  But he remembered his much younger sister, smiled brightly, and responded with just a single word: “Yes.”
Ginjima thought as he hung up the phone.  What in the world was happening around them?
To begin with, the axe man shouldn’t even have been able to move.  And yet his movements were now better than before, to the point that he could be called “superhuman”.
What was this all about?  To begin with, who had set the axe man free?  They’d said a number of youngsters were taken away by ambulance, but why had they been by the warehouse so late at night?
As all the information swirled about in his mind, Ginjima worried over the group of men and women who had seemed to be foreigners.  If they really were the people from the land of magic from before, then it was possible that Summer would also become involved in this incident.
His fists clenched tighter and tighter as he recalled the face of his absent daughter.
And within his solid fists, stronger than anyone’s, he felt his own powerlessness.
Just before she woke up from the pain of her wound, Maya had a dream.
What she had seen just before she lost consciousness became a dream and repeated within her mind.
After she had been cut by the axe-wielding demon and pain ran through her whole body – a human figure had leapt at the demon who had cut her.
That figure’s yell reached her ears. “Maya.” It had called her name.
She knew that the voice was unmistakably Shouma’s.
It was the same voice as the demon that had assumed Shouma’s name and form.  However, she felt that this was truly Shouma’s voice.
It was because Shouma had been fighting.  He had been fighting desperately with a discarded pole against a larger opponent, one wielding an axe many, many times more lethal than her own holy sword.
It actually wasn’t discarded, but an iron pipe he had prepared, but the truth had been distorted in her dream and was recorded in her memories as reality.  Most of it was faithful to reality, which only engraved that lie even deeper upon her heart.
‘Oh. It’s the same.
‘It’s the same as when I was attacked by that dog.  Shouma… Shouma saved me.
‘Shouma really is… my hero.’
The moment she thought that, her faded consciousness was brought back to reality by the pain running through her whole body.  For a while she didn’t know what had happened, but she seemed to be sitting in some sort of seat, still gripping the knife in her hand.  Her eyes picked up the interior of a car she’d never seen before.
…No, to be more precise, Maya remembered.  She had been brought to this car before she completely lost consciousness.  When she looked outside, she found they were on the premises of a mansion somewhere.  When she noticed that, she began to recall exactly what had happened in her dream and in reality.
‘After I was cut, they took me to this car…’
Just when her consciousness returned, she heard the voices of two men having a conversation outside.
“Hey, wait, Shibazato.  What were you thinking, bringing her here?  Huh?”
“Nothing we could do about it, Boss.  The bitch held a knife to her own neck, was going on and on about the hospital and the police being full of enemies… She was yelling that she’d rather kill herself than get killed by the demon at the hospital, so we didn’t really…”
‘That’s right.  I was hurt and the man with the crew cut came and saved me… But he was saying he’d take me to the hospital… No, no.  The hospital and the police have already fallen under the influence of Letmuj’s monsters.  So I absolutely can’t go there.’
It seemed she had displayed a deep suspicion of the medical and public facilities.  Of course, if the police had known she was from Hikarijima, things would take a completely different turn and she would be relentlessly questioned.  It would be the same at the hospital.  On top of that, she could well imagine what would happen if she told them, “I must swiftly dispatch of Letmuj’s demons on the Great God Nambaja’s orders.”
Now that she had completely returned to her senses, she noticed something unsettling by her feet.  She remembered that the floor of the car had seemed abnormally high, and when she looked down, she found the body of a man kneeling by her feet.
At the sight of the lifeless hunk of flesh, she started to scream, but she immediately remembered that it was her own fault he had been taken along.
At the same time, she could hear the argument continuing from right beside the car.  Rather than calling it an argument, it seemed more like a reprimand and a lot of excuses in reply.
“…Even if she made you do it, why’d you have to bring the corpse along!?  The police will be here soon, you know!?”
“That’s what I thought too!  But that bitch was saying things like ‘He might still be alive’ and ‘We can’t just abandon one of Letmuj’s holy warriors…’”
“Huh?  What’s a holy warrior…”
“No, well, I thought it was stupid too… but then I remembered Nacchan.”
The crewcut man was making awkward excuses to the dreadful man with the long scar running across his face.  However, the moment the crewcut man uttered the word “Nacchan,” the dreadfulness of that scarred face relaxed for an instant.
As she wondered why that was, Maya concentrated on the collapsed body at her feet.  Right, even if he was dead, it was possible that his soul would return and grant him life through the divine grace of the Great God Nambaja.
The inconvenient god continued to transmit their voice into her mind.  And yet, with not a shred of spite toward that god, only faith, she decided to pray for the resurrection of the man before her.
But the moment she looked at the man’s body again, preparing to offer up a prayer–
“Anyway, the problem is how we get rid of it now.  Let’s take the knife from the kid and get her to the hospital—”
“No… noooooo!”
At about the same time as Ginjima regained his composure and muttered, a scream came from within the car.
Wondering what had happened, they opened the back door of the car – and there was the girl, looking down with her hand covering her mouth, shaking.
Was she screaming at the body?  That was what Ginjima thought for a moment, but when he looked at the corpse, he realized that didn’t seem to be the case.
A clear change was coming over the body, which shouldn’t have been moving at all.
The corpse crammed between the seats looked unnaturally dark.  No, to be more specific, the clothes were the same, but it looked like some sort of shadow was dyeing the exposed skin.
Even as Ginjima watched, the shadow swiftly spread across the man’s skin–
In the next instant, it was as if a faint particle of light had shot into the air.  The body, swallowed by shadows and completely smooth, was unable to bear its own weight and crumbled.  To Ginjima, it was as if the man’s body was smashed into small pieces: the dancing particles scattered and disappeared like fireworks, dissolving into the air.
Left behind were only the clothes, shoes, and wristwatch the man had been wearing.  The silver lump rolling near where his head had been was most likely a tooth filling.
Most unsettling was that the blood plastered thick across his clothes, the proof that he had existed, had completely vanished.
“…What happened?”
Ginjima murmured as if to himself and knitted his eyebrows, but the girl sitting in the back seat seemed to be in shock.
“What… happened?  Is this… also part of Letmuj’s magic!?”
The girl trembled violently as she muttered such strange words.  She was probably around sixteen years old.
Ginjima hesitated, unsure whether he should speak to her – but with perfect timing, the cell phone in his pocket rang.
He considered ignoring it, but he decided the matter of the axe man was more important right now, and he walked a little ways away from the car and pushed the call button.
“This is bad, Boss.”
“…? What is it?”
The voice he heard through the phone receiver was that of the skinhead, Masa.  Ginjima thought it would be information about the jute bag, but his voice was laced with unusually strong anxiety.
“The axe bastard cut down some pretty young guys, right?”
“Yeah… did they die?”
If someone died, the situation would become even more serious; Ginjima guessed that was what Masa was referring to when he said it was “bad”.  But the “badness” of which Masa spoke was completely different from what Ginjima imagined.
“Seems like they were guys from the Marubatsu-gumi.”
At that moment, he felt a sharp pain from the stab wound in his back and the gunshot wound in his stomach.
As Ginjima digested those words, he gave several orders and hung up the phone.
“…This’s gotten dangerous.”
He didn’t know why people from the Marubatsu-gumi had been hanging around that warehouse.  It wasn’t particularly special, and if they were planning to put down wiretaps or commit arson, or even go so far as to plant bombs, that warehouse was not at all worth it.
But that no longer mattered.
That the “thing” inside the Amida-gumi’s warehouse had injured members of the Marubatsu-gumi was an unshakeable truth.
Ginjima had been injured, and combined with the mysterious gas explosion had occurred at the Marubatsu-gumi’s office, their dispute had turned into a ceasefire.  But their hostility hadn’t waned; rather, it was more like they were looking for an opportunity—
This incident would definitely become the spark that started the conflict.  Even if the opportunity was created by the axe man, who had no connection to the Amida-gumi.  For the Marubatsu-gumi, a collection of youths closer to a gang than yakuza, something like this was enough to declare revenge.
If they did, he would undoubtedly become their first target.  The hitmen who had failed to kill him before might come after him again to regain their honor.
Ginjima’s eyes narrowed as he imagined those around him getting caught up in it.  The Apparition was not in the least afraid of those after his own life, but when he thought about the possibility of his fiancée and daughter getting involved, a chill ran down his spine.
Several minutes later, the sound of a car engine met Ginjima’s ears as he pondered on what he should do.
Was it a patrol car or an attack by the Marubatsu-gumi?
But there was no way the Marubatsu-gumi were that reckless.  It was too early for the police to be here, and a little while ago he’d gotten a call from a detective they knew—
As he thought about such things, a single RV stopped before the gate that created a gap in the tall fence.
Just when Ginjima thought the car looked familiar—
“Ginjima-san!  I’m back!”
The moment Ginjima heard that unendingly bright voice, a girl jumped out in front of him.  There was a long, thin bag slung across her back, like the kind a baseball player might keep a bat in, and the face behind her glasses was smiling innocently.
Even though he was in such a state that he couldn’t honestly be happy, Ginjima greeted the girl – Summer Ginjima – with a relieved expression.
When Ginjima glanced toward the car, a man had gotten out from the driver’s seat and was unloading Summer’s bicycle from the back of the car.
On the man’s shoulder rode a doll-like praying mantis about the size of a puppy, murmuring thanks as he hung his head obsequiously.
“Oh, I’m sorry.  I’m so very sorry.  You came all the way here to drop us off!  But that Summer-chan isn’t even helping you with her bike.  Honestly!”
“Hahaha, I don’t mind at all.  I was the one who put it in, too.”
The man chatted casually with a creature that was clearly not of this world.  When Ginjima saw him, he took Summer’s hand and walked forward with a serious expression.
“Ah… Master Hariyama.”
At Ginjima’s surprisingly meek words, the man leisurely turned around.
“Hey, Ginjima-san.  Sorry we’re late…”
The glasses-wearing man had the kind of face that no one would hate or even resent.  Logically, that made it an inoffensive face, features without the slightest hint of disagreeableness.
Even when he looked at Ginjima, who had a frightening face befitting one who did not live an honest life, there was not a shred of fear or timidity on his own face, which bore no notable features besides the glasses.
Ginjima owed his life to this man, and he was also the father of one of Summer’s classmates after she began attending school last week.  That being said, Ginjima was still trying to avoid contact with upstanding people, and though he couldn’t forget his debt, this was not a man he went out of his way to interact with.
However – Ginjima bowed his head deeply to this man.
He was about to force an honest man to get involved in their world.  No, it wasn’t just because he would become involved.  It was a bow of apology for fearing that he would become involved and still forcing his selfishness as a parent onto him.
Hariyama-san stared blankly at him, surprised at suddenly being bowed to, and Ginjima began speaking in a way he would normally never let anyone else hear.
“…I know it’s impudent for a yakuza like me to ask something of an honest man like you… But, but, Hariyama-san, will you please do me a favor?”
“What is it?”
Hariyama-san’s expression grew a little more serious at the other’s unusual behavior.  Ginjima gave Summer, who was standing next to him, a push on the back in his direction.
“…It doesn’t matter how many days.  Will you… please look after Summer for me?”
“Huh?  What?  What?”
Summer’s eyes went wide at this sudden development.  When she saw Ginjima’s solemn expression, she smiled brightly, as if she’d cheered up. “Is this about that ‘pervert’ you were on the phone about?  It’s okay!  I can use magic and Tis is always with me!”
“But I’m an arthropod only about as big as a puppy and I don’t even have any venom.  You shouldn’t expect too much from me.” The large praying mantis clearly objected as he flew from Hariyama-san’s shoulder to atop Summer’s head.
Ginjima shook his head, smiling slightly at the girl and the bug. “Nah, to be honest, the police might be coming here soon to check things out… Hey, look, you got into school by forging your papers with magic… but you don’t have any official records yet, right?”
“Ehhh!?  Ginjima-san, did they catch us!?”
“That’s not it.  Don’t worry about it.”
After that, Ginjima convinced Summer without saying a word about the Marubatsu-gumi.  The other person concerned, Hariyama-san, was putting the already-unloaded bicycle back into the car.
“…Sorry.  I’m in your debt.  I’ll do something about the food expenses later…”
“No, no, don’t worry about it.  Summer used to live with us, after all.”
“…Even though she blew up your house after half a day.”
“Ahaha.” As Hariyama-san laughed at Tis’s retort, he opened the door to the passenger’s seat, where Summer would ride.
But then Hariyama-san’s eyes fell on the car stopped a short distance away.
“…Ginjima-san, who’s that girl?”
Ginjima turned around and witnessed the girl trying to climb out of the group’s car, while Shibazato tried with all his might to push her back in.
“…Well, she got caught up in one of our fights and we brought her here.  For some reason she kicked up a fuss, saying not to bring her to the hospital…”
Upon seeing the girl involved in the dispute, Summer wore a troubled expression, seemingly lost in thought – and then she suddenly turned to Ginjima and raised her voice.
“Ginjima-san!  I’ll take her with me!  See, I might be able to heal her a little!”
“Silly, what’re you talking about?”
“I’ve been learning healing magic, you know!?  I still can’t cure sicknesses or do anything too hard… But if it’s a wound, I can heal it a bit!”
She had nearly lost Ginjima before because she hadn’t studied healing magic, and so she had begun to learn the basics by watching the land of magic’s classes through a homemade compact mirror.  The construction of scrying magic required unusually complex techniques; on top of that, scrying through the barrier between worlds was something that could only be done by high-level mages in the land of magic.  Though that posed no trouble to Summer, she was a complete amateur in healing and health-restoring magicks.
Until just a few weeks ago, that is.
Thanks to Summer, who had gained knowledge and techniques at a startling rate, the wounds in Ginjima’s back and stomach healed with unbelievable speed.
However, Ginjima was not the type of man who believed everything could be solved with magic.
“That’s not the issue.  Don’t drag Master Hariyama any further into—”
“Don’t mind me!”
Ginjima let out a deep sigh at Hariyama-san, who had responded with a bright smile.  Summer had probably thought Hariyama-san would say that and so spoken in a louder voice than necessary.
She was still just a kid but she was already plotting like that.  Ginjima tried to glare subtly at her, but he realized her eyes were more serious than usual and could not bring himself to say anything more.
On the other hand, the situation had reached a head; the girl pulled out a fruit knife at Shibazato.
“P-Please go away!  Sorry, but I… I have to go!”
“Hey now… what’re you gonna do with that toy?  A civilian shouldn’t be waving around a blade like that.”
Shibazato let out a tired sigh at the girl, who looked to be a little younger than his sister.
Seeing Ginjima approach behind him, the girl spoke, wearing a desperate expression. “Please stop!  I can’t go to the hospital or the police… They’re already being controlled!”
Without flinching at her strange behavior or the blade of her knife, Ginjima drew closer to the tense girl – and extended his right hand in a momentary opening.
“I got it.  Let’s just get this away from you for now.”
The next thing she knew, the knife had already disappeared from her hand.
She remembered feeling a light shock, but at that point, Ginjima was already holding the knife.
“Kids shouldn’t be playing with blades.”
He remembered saying something similar before.  Ginjima took the dumbfounded girl by the arm and pulled her toward Hariyama-san’s car.
“Sorry.  Take this girl to the hospital if it looks like she’s in danger.  We’ll definitely find some way to thank you for this…!”
Ginjima bowed his head deeply, but Hariyama-san spoke of his own desires in a small voice.
“Thanks, huh… Then will you let our son take Summer-chan as his bride?”
“That’s a bit… I can’t sell off my daughter to pay her parent’s debt.”
“Haha, I’m just kidding.”
It was the kind of joke that could make someone extremely uncomfortable, but Hariyama-san’s gentle expression and behavior completely negated that possibility.
Seeing their exchange and possibly judging that this Hariyama-san was not dangerous, the girl whose knife had been stolen reluctantly got in the car.
Summer closed the passenger’s side door and moved to get into the back seat with the girl.  The praying mantis riding her head asked her a question.
“…Hey.  You were looking at that girl really seriously… What’s up?”
“Mm.  Well, she… She kind of has a mysterious feel to her…”
Summer answered haltingly, perhaps because she hadn’t yet put her own thoughts in order.
“It’s sort of like people from the land of magic, and sort of not… Umm, it’s different from this planet’s people… I feel a power like my own!”
And so – perhaps to escape from the police – they headed towards Hariyama-san’s home.
However, Hariyama-san hadn’t realized.  Neither had Summer, or Maya, or even Tis, who was attuned to danger.
That they were being tailed by a single motorbike a safe distance away.
Or that the driver was having a disturbing conversation with someone through the wireless communicator built into his helmet.
“Got it – we’ll go after ‘em too.  Keep a close eye on them.  We’ll sink you in Tamako Lake if you take your eyes off ‘em.”
The young man with the red knit cap spun his pistol gleefully as he communicated with the bike that tailed the RV. He was toying with the lethal weapon with no regard for whether or not the safety was on, like a careless amateur.
Beside him, the boy with the blue knit cap was looking at the blade of his knife with a languid expression.  It was difficult to tell if he was gazing at its sharp gleam or at his own reflection in the blade.
The group led by the strange duo had lost several people at the warehouse a little while ago – but now, a group several times that size was gathering elsewhere.
The gang of strange youths was split up into several vans and was moving on the orders of the two wearing knit caps.
Ginjima, the bitter enemy of the Amida-gumi.
It was all to snare the “bait” they would use to lure him – just that.
“But Bro.  Is that kid really Ginjima’s daughter?”
“Yeah, well.  Doesn’t matter.  All that’s important is that he cares about her…”
As the red knit cap smiled and muttered, he remembered what had happened several weeks ago.
In that moment, when he had pointed his gun with its silencer, the glasses-wearing girl had stood in front of his target – but in an extremely strange turn of events, his target had moved around the girl again and shielded her instead.
“…Though we didn’t think he’d live… But we can look on the bright side.  There’s a chance we can have a lot more fun.”
“Yeah, maybe.  But there’s also the darker side: there’s a chance we might get the tables turned on us.  Ginjima got revenge on all the Marubatsu-gumi guys even when he was hospitalized, remember?  Dunno if we can win even with this many people…”
“Just the bright side is fine.  Hey, go back to school and make a bright side club or something.” [1]
Completely ignoring his follower’s warning, the red knit cap stowed the revolver in his pocket and gave the driver’s seat a kick from where he sat in the back of the van.
“Hey, get going.”
The subordinate wordlessly started the vehicle and the van slowly set off into the night.
Before the van began shaking, the blue knit cap folded his knife and repeated himself. “Can we beat him if we take him head-on? … Look, I thought I stabbed him in the vitals.  But he’s perfectly fine now, somehow. I kinda feel like we can’t win if we take him head-on.”
“Ah, dammit, just shut your fucking trap already.”
Though his words showed clear irritation, the blue knit cap spoke with the same unchanging smile.
“That’s why we’re gonna do this head-on, fair and square – by grabbing that kid.”
After Hariyama-san had proceeded about 100 meters from the Amida residence, their RV passed by several patrol cars.
The vehicles were most likely headed to the Amida-gumi, but they made no move to stop the RV, which was clearly not one of the group’s cars, and they silently continued along the night road without turning on the sirens.
As he scoped out the situation, the praying mantis in the front seat called out to his partner in the back.
“We just missed them… Geez, Summer-chan, if you get caught by the police, you’re just going to blow up the jail with a bomb again!”
“Ooh… I already feel bad for what I did back then…”
Summer sat in seiza in the back seat as she hung her head, looking dejected.  She drew the flower-patterned “magic wand Piriolim (according to Summer)” from the bat case on her back.
“… … …!”
Her expression immediately tightened and a pale light ran across the surface of the staff from where she gripped it.  The lines of light that reached the tip of the staff each wriggled like the vines of a plant and stretched out toward the injured girl.
For a moment, the girl, Maya Isojima, was taken aback at the sight, but she did not sense any hostility from the waves of light that reached out to her.  She closed her eyes quietly and allowed all of it to flow into her.
Rather, to her, the light felt something like the voice of the god that spoke to her… Or, perhaps, it felt like something nostalgic she knew from long ago…
The gentle power touched the mouth of her wound.  At that moment, the pain began to disappear from her body.
While she was still surprised, the wound was quickly beginning to close, and the heat and sensations that had disappeared began to spread throughout her body once again.
“What… is…”
‘Could this girl be another one of the holy warriors!?’
Maya considered that, but the god’s voice didn’t tell her anything.  Instead it only repeated the mission it had entrusted to her, just as it always had.
And while she was checking the god’s voice, Maya realized that the pain had completely disappeared from her body.
“My wound…?”
There was a bit of a scar, but the pain and the blood flow had stopped.  Seeing this, Maya asked the girl in front of her with a mystified expression, “You… who are you…?”
“Ehehe… the magical girl of love and courage and hope and desires, hailing from Saitama, the land of color and so on, the psychic Summer-chan!”
At Summer’s confident introduction, an exasperated voice came from the front seat.
“It’s different from before, it’s long, it’s uncool, it doesn’t flow well, I don’t know where you’re getting this ‘psychic’ stuff from, and to begin with, the ‘Saitama, the land of color’ before the ‘so on’ doesn’t even have anything to do with your name.”
“…Then Summer-chan of the summer of Tokorozawa?”
“No no no, that’s wrong in all sorts of ways!  And there are too many ‘ofs’ there!  And you keep adding ‘chan’ to it and that makes it even longer than the place!”
“Then, the girl from super awesome Tokorozawa…”
“Why are you making the place longer!?”
As she listened to the praying mantis continue to make reasonable objections – Maya’s whole body gave a start and her eyes widened.
“The toy praying mantis… talks?”
“How rude!  I’m not a toy!  I’m Tis!  I’m an ultra rare critically endangered species, probably the only one on Earth!  The Washington Convention would be really surprised to see me!”
Hariyama-san continued to smile brightly, even as he thought that they would be more likely to impose strict restraints on him.
Maya looked at the reflection of the driver in the mirror and fell quiet again – and then raised her voice entreatingly.
“P… please stop!”
“All right, all right.”
Hariyama-san answered readily, pulling over to the shoulder of the road and switching on his hazard lights.  The car’s side lamps turned on at the same time, preparing to stop safely, and the vehicle gradually decelerated.
Maya hadn’t expected him to agree so easily, and she returned her bewildered gaze to the face reflected in the mirror.  He only continued to smile as sweetly as ever, but he suddenly addressed Maya.
“I don’t mind if you get off, but what do you plan to do?”
“I… I must defeat Letmuj’s demons as soon as possible in order to save this world!”
“I came from the Ancient Millennium Continent and the great god Nambaja bestowed power upon me.  And–”
She looked confused, but she was still able to say that much without hesitation.  It was because she had repeated those words countless times before, and the god’s voice resounding in her mind supported her.
Maya continued speaking for over two minutes.  Even so, she still hadn’t said enough about her mission, but she ran out of breath and stopped talking for a moment.  That was how enthusiastically and fervently she spoke.
However – the first answer she received was a straightforward response from the praying mantis.
“Ack!?  I thought you were a pretty calm girl, but you’re just like Summer-chan!?”
“Eh… the same… S-So you really are one of Nambaja’s too!?”
At their slightly out-of-sync conversations, Summer stared blankly at the faces of the person and the animal.
“If you’re one of the warriors too, help me defeat that demon…!”
Maya tried to open the door as she spoke, but the door suddenly locked.
The car had been stopping, but now it sped up, and at some point, the hazard light had turned off.
She asked Hariyama-san cautiously, and he answered, his expression the same as always, “Well, you know, it just worried me a bit.”
As he allowed the car to travel slightly below the speed limit, Hariyama-san asked a question of the girl whose name they still did not know.
“That injury… Did you perhaps get it from that Let-something’s demon?”
Maya cast her eyes down and sat in silence for a while, which Hariyama-san took as affirmation.
After several moments of silence, the driver spoke again, his voice unchanged.
“…I’d like to hear a bit more of your story before you leave the car.”
“…There’s no time…!”
“Do you have a plan?”
Maya raised her head automatically and realized that, at some point, the driver’s smile had become serious.  It wasn’t a thoughtless smile, but the kind of smile used to comfort someone.
“The same thing will happen again if you just rush in… If you’re not careful, you might die this time.  He should have defeated you before, but you stand in his way again. …If he really is a demon, shouldn’t you carefully plan out how to finish him off?”
“So don’t you think it’s better to come up with a plan before you go?  I’m just a humble designer; I don’t have a grand goal like you, or magic powers like Summer-chan, or strength like Ginjima-san.  The most I can do is talk to you.  But… I might be able to help you out, give you some ideas, by talking, and there’s a chance you could convince Summer-chan to lend you her magic powers.”
Maya’s breath caught involuntarily at Hariyama-san’s words, the words of a normal person.
Now that she thought about it, she’d talked about this countless times before, but this was the first time someone had responded to her seriously.
‘No.  I can’t get my hopes up.’
She had received insincere replies countless times up till now.  Everyone had pretended to listen to her seriously, but then she’d realized they were trying to take her to the hospital or the police.  But when she remembered they were commoners who could not hear the great god Nambaja’s voice, she couldn’t help but feel that it was only natural.
‘Even so, being betrayed… hurts.’
“You’re saying that, but… you don’t really believe me, do you?  If you’re just going along with my story, I’ll—”
“Hmmm.  Well, there is a part of me that doesn’t really care either way.  But to tell the truth, I don’t think it’s that weird.”
The driver of unknown age slowly began to tell Maya about himself.
“…A long time ago, an acquaintance of mine got abducted by aliens right in front of me. …And after that, he suddenly returned and started bragging that he’d saved the world.  And then… a world-famous phantom thief came to steal from me, and a very cute girl fell from the sky into my room.”
At the last part, Summer averted her eyes, looking embarrassed.  Without noticing the behavior of the girl beside her, Maya opened her mouth, a bit petulant. “Are you messing with me?”
“So you don’t believe me… Yeah, well, hm.  It makes things a bit difficult if we can’t even talk to each other properly.”
Maya looked at the driver’s face in the mirror as he laughed a bit sadly and was assailed by unavoidable feelings of guilt.
At some point, their positions had been reversed.  Even though she felt he had dodged her question, she began to speak of her plan in order to change the topic.
“Before… my childhood friend, Shouma, came to save me.  So Shouma should be in this city too. …Huh?  But in the beginning, the demon took his form… But the evil aura… Huh? …What?  I’m sorry, it looks like I’m a bit confused.”
When she had been saved from the axe-wielding demon, where had the evil aura been coming from?
She couldn’t remember it clearly.  In her dream, Shouma had definitely been her hero.  But – in reality, had she been able to feel an aura from the axe-wielding man?
‘Back then, there was a really loud noise… The aura… came from… next to him?’
She was remembering something she shouldn’t have.  No.  She mustn’t remember.
But in the next moment, the god’s voice began to echo in her mind once again.  Destroy the enemy.  Fill the world with light.  Just as if it was telling her not to stray, no matter what the reality was.
And just when the god’s voice was about to become noise again–
The voice of the normal person immediately restored her thoughts to normal.
“…Shouma Zakojima-kun?”
Tokorozawa, a certain parking lot
Some distance away from the cemetery was a parking lot for a large superstore.
In a corner, leaning against the fence separating a grove of trees from the parking lot, the mysterious man holding an axe took a deep breath.
In his head, which no longer contained any traces of sanity, he mulled over what had happened to his body.
As he was subjected to pain and pain and more pain, he experienced the fear he had inflicted upon others for the first time.  He couldn’t understand how he had found himself in that situation.  And it no longer mattered.
Now what he felt was – an overwhelming sense of freedom!
His whole body was brimming with power.  Perhaps it was compensation for the long suffering he had endured.
When he’d tried swinging his axe, those strong-looking men had fallen surprisingly easily before him.
Even hiding under the bed and massacring under the cover of darkness didn’t compare to the pleasant sensation running through his whole body.  To force their surrender with his overwhelming power.  That was what had brought him pleasure thus far.
But even though his heart was satiated – his body still hungered.
He didn’t have the first clue what had happened to his body.  But at those young men’s screams, his body had felt only hunger.
However, when he had cut the girl who gave off a mysterious feel, his hunger was satiated for just an instant.  Hers was an existence like his own – the girl had an aura as if she was moving under a power different from that of humans.  He did not understand the reason or the truth behind it, but his instincts understood disgustingly well.
She was not “prey” meant only to satisfy his own twisted desires–
She was “fodder” meant to satiate him, an existence that differed subtly from humans.
And so, the mysterious man began to walk.
One step, and then another, toward the scent of that premium fodder – gradually increasing his pace.
He had already abandoned his sense of reason, focusing on his instinctual hunger.
He could feel instinctively where his fodder was to be found.  And that knowledge was accompanied by joy.
Very near his fodder – he could feel the presence of another fodder, several dozen times stronger.
Within Hariyama-san’s RV
“…So, I just don’t… know anymore.  Has Shouma… really… become a demon…”
First she had given her own name; then she had sighed and told the whole story, from everything that had happened today up to how she had gotten here.  When Maya had just about finished explaining all that had happened, she sagged back into her seat, exhausted.
Hariyama-san kept his silence as he listened; Summer watched her excitedly.  As for Tis, he curled up atop the passenger seat, his expression saying that he was glad they had chosen to listen.
She hadn’t expected any sympathy, so Maya did not feel uncomfortable at the silence within the car.  However… there was just one thing Maya hadn’t told them.
She didn’t tell them what she had seen just a little while ago, at the yakuza mansion.
The demon… the corpse of the man who had been killed by the demon in Shouma’s form, inside the car… had disappeared under her feet, leaving behind not a single trace… that repulsive sight.
All humans feared that which they did not understand.  Maya couldn’t understand the mystery of the corpse’s disappearance; she had tried asking Nambaja within her heart, but the god’s voice would say nothing on the matter.
No, that wasn’t all.
Today, ever since she had met the demon that had taken Shouma’s form – or perhaps the real Shouma – the god’s voice had failed to give her any concrete orders pertaining to her mission, other than to destroy the enemy.  This was surely because there was nothing else she should do until she finished her mission.
As she tried to convince herself of that, Hariyama-san, who until now had been quiet, opened his mouth.
“Ahh… Umm, it’s a bit late, but I’ll introduce myself.  I’m Hariyama.  This girl is Summer-chan, and this praying mantis is Tis-kun.”
Maya thought his words were rather far from the topic at hand, but she nodded obediently and committed their names to memory.  As he looked at her reflection in the mirror, Hariyama-san continued to speak as he drove.
“So… what do you plan to do?”
“What to do…”
“If you meant Shouma-kun.  You’re not just going to try to stab him without any explanation, are you?”
Before, she had been worked up into a frenzy when he said he had killed her father.
But it was the same now.  If his words had been truth, she was not sure she would be able to control herself.
“If… my father really was… No, if the real Shouma killed my father…”
“Whether it’s true or not, it can’t hurt to make sure of it first, right?”
“From what you said… He didn’t show any hostility toward you.  Of course, he might have been trying to deceive you, Isojima-san.  Or he might not have been.  In other words, it’s impossible to know.  If he really has become a demon, or if a demon has taken his form, why would he tell you about your father… If he was being controlled by a demon, it would have been easier for him if he pretended he held your father hostage.”
Gripping the steering wheel, Hariyama-san laid out his thoughts carefully.  As she listened to his words, she felt herself calm down somewhat.  She faced Hariyama-san as he continued to sort out his thoughts and asked directly about Shouma for the first time.
“Is it true… Does Shouma really live next door to you, Hariyama-san…?”
“Yeah.  He’s a polite, well-behaved boy.  But he seems kind of lonely.  On the day he arrived… he said something about having some kind of side job…”
As if considering her feelings, Hariyama-san answered most of her questions before she asked them.
“I see…”
It seemed Shouma had returned to living a normal life.  If he had been in this town from before she arrived, there was no chance that her heart had been read and a demon had simply chosen to take Shouma’s form.
Seeing the complicated expression Maya wore, Hariyama-san spoke in a gentle voice.
“Well, we’ll reach my home in just a little while.  You can take your time and think there–”
Hariyama-san stopped mid-sentence and quickly began to decelerate.  Summer lost her balance and pitched forward, and Tis toppled from atop the passenger seat to the floor of the car.
However, Maya knew why Hariyama-san had applied the brakes.
‘I can feel it.  I can feel the presence of evil, a villain cloaked in Letmuj’s darkness.’
She’d known it was approaching them, but–
‘I didn’t think it would ambush us in the middle of the road.’
There were few cars around.  If he had been there for a long time, he would have been run over by another car, or there was a good chance he would have caused a commotion.  In other words, just as she could sense his evil aura, he could also sense her presence.
The RV ground to a halt, and in front of it stood Shouma, holding an iron pipe.
Shouma stood in front of the car as if to force it to stop, but when he saw the face of the driver, he looked a little surprised.  It seemed to be true that he lived next door to Hariyama-san.
Maya noticed this and put her hand on the handle of the car door.
“Wha… Isn’t it dangerous to get out in front of someone with an iron pipe!?”
Panicked, Tis tried to stop her, but Summer answered in her place.
“It’s all right, Tis.”
“I’ll get out with her.”
“That’s going too far!  Hey, just, wait, if he really is a demon, your magic might not work either, you know!?  Then what will…”
Summer was happy at the praying mantis’s concern for her, but she answered proudly and with confidence.
“It’s all right!  Because we’re under the protection of the great god Nambaja!”
The moment he heard those words, Tis remembered Summer’s unfortunate disposition and screamed.
“She’s been influenced—!?”
“That surprised me… I didn’t think you’d be in Hariyama-san’s car—”
The boy murmured gently as Maya and a girl with a large praying mantis on her head got out of the car.  His gaze was clear and unclouded, and he watched Maya with a mix of emotions in his eyes.
He was prepared for “something”.  Most likely it would be the loss of life.  However, it was still unknown whether it would be his life or Maya’s that was stolen.
“…!?  Huh, your wound… Oh, so the only thing that was cut was your clothes, right?  So then the blood was just my imagination…”
He didn’t know about Summer’s magic, and he honestly thought he had misinterpreted what he had witnessed before.
His expression was so relieved he looked like he was about to cry.  Shouma spoke quietly. “Who’s that girl?”
He looked at Summer standing beside Maya, and the girl called out as she began to move.
“The summoner working for the great god Nambaja, Namu Namu Summer-chan… transform!”
Her body was wrapped in light just as she uttered those nonsensical words.
In the next instant, it was as if she immediately transformed.  The normal children’s clothes she had been wearing had changed completely; she was now clad in a pink costume resembling that of an anime character.
Shouma’s eyes widened slightly at the miraculously quick clothing change and the mysterious flash of light.
“…From that yell, I thought you were someone from Hikarijima, but… What was that?  How did you change clothes?”
Along with the mysterious spectacle, Shouma could also feel a certain aura from the girl.  He wore an absentminded expression as he slowly asked the two in front of him, “It’s true that I can feel an aura from you, but… of what?  It’s a bit different from other heroes… And that praying mantis on top of your head, is it real?  Hey… what’s going on, Maya?”
Faced with Shouma, who seemed to be otherwise occupied, Maya continued to keep her silence.
It wasn’t that she was holding back her anger or searching for the right thing to say.  The god’s voice was running wild within her heart, and it was all she could do to keep it in check.
[Bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bringlight bringlight bringlight bringlightbringlightlightlightlightlight]
The noise ate into her mind, trying to change her feelings for Shouma into murderous intent.  It was not trying to move her heart with clever words.  The raging voice pounded at her relentlessly and overwhelmingly, as if first trying to destroy her heart.
She squeezed the word out somehow, and with that beginning, she concentrated on listening to Shouma’s voice.
It was not necessarily a rebellion against her mission as a hero.  It was just – she wanted to know the truth.  She just wanted to prepare herself. …Prepare to work for her god, or perhaps–
“Ahh… I really am glad you’re okay, Maya… So this time, please, finish…”
She heard Shouma’s voice.  The god’s voice echoed even more intensely within her, urging her to erase his voice.
But she would not lose.
“Tell me… the truth…”
“What happened on Hikarijima!?  What happened to you, Shouma!?  Why… Why did you kill Dad… What happened to Mom!?  Please, if you don’t tell me… I can’t kill you or be killed by you, Shouma…!”
Shouma fell silent and averted his gaze as she pled, tears streaming down her face.  Seeing that, Maya begged him again.
“Tell me… It’s not fair if you’re the only one who’s prepared… Let me be prepared too…!  For me to kill you… Or for me to be killed by you… Let me prepare myself… If you want to know my answer, ask me the question!”
Shouma fell into even deeper silence in response to her yell, but—
“Maya… is the island’s curse on you weakening?”
“For you to ask me something like that… to try to talk to me… that was inconceivable for any of the other heroes.  Maybe its influence is weakening because of the strange power of the girl next to you… No, I’d be really happy if it was because of your love for me,” he murmured self-deprecatingly, and quietly dropped the iron pipe.
Clang.  The dry, metallic sound echoed, and at the same time, his eyes misted over with tears.
“Will you hear me out… and believe me?  Maya…”
And so, the boy told them everything.
The truth of Hikarijima, which only he knew.
The terrifying things that had happened on the island that day, and how… Maya’s father had died.
Everything, everything, without sparing a single detail.
“That… can’t be…”
After she had heard all he had to say, she slowly sank to her knees on the shoulder of the road.
The voice echoing within her heart was all a twisted delusion caused by the island.  And their ancestors – no, even their own bodies – were but parts of the grotesque body called Hikarijima.
And – she could not accept that Shouma had killed people, no matter what his reasons.  Or that her father and mother were dead…
“You’re lying… For you to have killed the islanders in this town… Because, even if you did kill that many of them… Where did you hide the bodies?  If you just killed, and killed, and killed… R-Right, there’s also… If a lot of people died on Hikarijima, where did their bodies go!?  On the news they said there wasn’t even a single drop of blood left on the island…”
It was a fundamental question.
Even if a corpse had become impossible to identify, in present-day Japan, there was no way a slasher who killed people one after another could roam free without being caught.  To begin with, he would have a hard time just finding a place to hide the bodies, and she didn’t think he had a way to transport them there.
But Maya already had some idea of the answer.
However, it was not something she could readily admit.
‘The body before… If he was also someone from Hikarijima…’
The children of the sacrifices, born as parts of the island, its hands and feet.
If they all awakened as “heroes” but died and did not fulfill their purpose… As far as the island was concerned, it was a waste to continue to expend power to hold together the form of a corpse.
Maya realized that her line of reasoning was correct, even as she became sickened at her own thoughts.
“And that’s why… That’s why, Maya.”
As if to deal the final blow, Shouma spread his arms wide and said something that she found utterly unbelievable.
“Please… kill me.”
For a moment, the air around her grew colder at those sudden words from her beloved.
“What?  What’re you talking about, Shouma?”
“If you kill me, everything will end for sure.  You’ll – you’ll go back to normal, Maya.  You’ll be the hero who killed me, the demon.  The island will bestow its blessing on you too.”
“That’s… But that’s…”
If she was her normal self… If she was the person she had been before she had awoken as a hero, she would have yelled at Shouma for being an idiot and slapped him across the face.  But her heart was torn between the “god’s voice” and the “truth” of which Shouma spoke, and those words stabbed deep into her heart like knives.
But in the next instant, Shouma withdrew a real knife from the pocket of his pants.
Maya tensed up, not a trace of the holy warrior’s heart left inside her, as he faced her andheld the knife to his own throat.
Not long ago Maya had done the same thing when faced with a member of the Amida-gumi, but her breath caught at the sight and she thought her heart would stop.
The difference was that Ginjima was not there.  There was no one present who could steal away the knife.  Summer might have been able to do something with her magic, but Maya only knew of her ability to heal.
Maya froze.  Shouma’s eyes as he looked at her were filled with sadness, apology, and… tenderness.
“Ah… I’d hoped you were going to be fanatical about this.  If you won’t kill me, Maya… I’ll end it all myself.”
“!? W-Why…!?”
“I think… you’ll probably be freed.  If I… the person Hikarijima has decided is the incarnation of evil… if I die, everything, everything will end!  This ridiculous heroic legend will be over!”
His voice grew stronger as he made that declaration.  He gazed into Maya’s eyes for the last time, gripped the knife firmly, and slowly, slowly opened his mouth.
“There’s one last… Just let me say one last thing. …Maya… I… love…”
“That’s… not quite right, is it?”
That voice suddenly invaded Shouma and Maya’s world.
At some point, Hariyama-san had climbed out of the car.  He called out from next to Summer, who was uneasily watching the situation unfold.
Interrupted by the man whose presence he had forgotten, Shouma answered in a dark voice, “This is none of your business, Hariyama-san.”
“Hahaha, well.  I am a bit bothered you’d say that…”
After giving Shouma his usual smile, Hariyama-san spoke again, his expression a little more serious.
“Then whose business is it?”
“Just by killing residents of your island, you’ve forced Isojima-san to make this her business.  At the very least, that’s how it looks right now…”
His voice was not particularly forceful, nor did his words carry great importance.
However, his quiet voice, so at odds with the atmosphere, came as a sharp shock to Shouma and Maya exactly because he was an outsider.
“You’re right, it’s none of my business.  But… it’s because it’s got nothing to do with me that I can give you an objective opinion.  So for now, Shouma-kun, as a member of your neighborhood association, I’m going to take advantage of our relationship and speak my mind.”
“What… It’s too late for you to be telling me to treasure my life, you know…?”
In response to Shouma’s irritated words, Hariyama-san began to speak, slowly, steadily–
“From what you tell us, Hikarijima… was summoned by a mage a long time ago, right?  To grant a wish.  But once the darkness is banished, Hikarijima’s duty will be over.  If that’s what the island decides – and if the island decides to return to its old world—”
Hariyama-san did not say anything more.
Imagining the rest, Shouma and Maya froze completely.  They had realized the cruel truth.
If the island judged that its duty had been carried out – the hero called “Maya Isojima” would no longer be necessary.  The darkness would only need to be banished once.  If the island then judged that it had fulfilled the terms of the summoning contract–
“I’ll… disappear?”
“There’s no way!”
Shouma yelled without thinking.  He didn’t have any proof.  In fact, it was the exact opposite: it was an attempt to wholeheartedly reject the truth.  His yell just now convinced no one.
Hariyama-san continued to speak, slowly, steadily, as if to drive the point home.
“That over-practical, no-good god decided a gentle boy like you was the incarnation of evil… What else did you expect from it?”
Those words dealt the final blow.  The knife slid limply from Shouma’s hand.
“Umm… Well, sorry, I might’ve gone too far, but you shouldn’t worry about it.  You’re both still young.”
Hariyama-san returned to the driver’s seat, flashing his usual smile and speaking to Maya and Shouma, who stood frozen on the side of the road.
“Anyway, both of you should come to my place.  Rest well tonight and–”
But the rest of Hariyama-san’s sentence was drowned out by the sound of many car engines.
They were on an unexciting stretch of road, far from the train station and away from the main streets.  It was rare to see three cars at once at this time of day, and Hariyama-san wore a puzzled expression as he looked at them—
He’d thought the large vans would pass them by, but all three stopped, surrounding Hariyama-san’s RV.
“What’s this?”
As if to replace Hariyama-san, who retreated back to the driver’s seat with a troubled expression, six or seven people got out of each van… in total, about twenty of them disembarked.
At first glance, it looked as if none of them carried anything in their hands, but they wore extendable batons, knives, or thick chains at their waists.  It only took a single glance to determine that they were not honest people – but when she saw the last two who came out of the vans, a boy with a blue knit cap and a young man with a red knit cap, Summer raised her voice, changing the atmosphere in just a single moment.
“Ah… ah… Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”
At her scream, the praying mantis atop her head protested as he looked around, “Hey… S-Summer-chan!?  What’s gotten into you?”
“Those people… Those people are the ones who stabbed and shot Ginjima-san…!”
“Huh? …Wha!?  You’re right!”
The delinquents who’d gotten out of the vans halted for a moment at the sight of the praying mantis, which moved inexplicably like something out of a comedy routine.  They glanced at each other, searching for some explanation for the phenomenon before them, but naturally, there was no clear answer to be found.
But the red knit cap yawned, watching Summer and Tis, and muttered in a languid voice, “Hey hey, little Miss, cut it out with the ventriloquism… kay?”
“Bro, that’s not ventriloquism no matter how you look at it.  Doesn’t look like a toy either.”
“Huhh?  Then it’s that thing.  It’s a parrot in the shape of a praying mantis, right?  See, it’s the same color as a parrot too.”
“…Well, let’s go with that.”
The blue knit cap let out a resigned sigh at his elder, and still looking at Tis confusedly, he and his subordinates began to circle Summer, Shouma, and Maya.
“Huh?  Huh?”
The red knit cap drew a revolver from his pocket as he walked up to Shouma, who didn’t understand what was happening.
“…!?  A gun…!?”
It was the first time Shouma had seen a real gun since the one the policeman had been shooting on Hikarijima.
The gunshots from that time echoed through his head, and that hellish day resurfaced in his memories.
However, he could not sense a shred of a hero’s aura from the red knit cap in front of him.  Rather, he felt just like a normal person.
But… right now, to Shouma, the delinquent holding a gun was many times more terrifying than the heroes.
To begin with, it was clear from their actions that they did not mean well, and he knew nothing at all about who they were or what they wanted.
In front of the confused “heroes”, the “normal hitman” spoke in an utterly laid-back fashion.
“Gooooood evening!”
When the red knit cap reached Shouma and Maya, he beamed like a self-confident child as he continued to spin his revolver around and around.  They were overcome by anxiety every time the muzzle pointed in their direction, but they silently continued to listen to his words.
“Well well well well, wellllll, we’re really lucky.  To think you would stop the car and wait for us on an empty road like this.  We’re so lucky.”
Maya forced herself out of the shock she had received earlier, mustered all her courage, and spoke to the red knit cap, who was clearly fooling around. “W-Who are you…?”
It was a simple question.  The answer was equally simple.
“We’re just some passing delinquents… yeah?”
As he gave a respectful greeting, the red knit cap shoved his face right into Maya’s where she knelt.
“Hey, Sis, didn’t you leave the Amida-gumi’s place a little while ago?  Okaaaay, you don’t have to go into the details.  I get it, I totally get it.  So in other words, you’re a pretty good woman, Sis.  We’re changing plans to grab both you and the brat, okay?”
“Hey, Bro, she ain’t got nothing to do with…”
“She saw, didn’t she?  Our faces?  That’s bad, ain’t it?  So we’ve got no choice but to grab her, right?  Well, s’what we planned from the start, so we didn’t cover our faces when we came…”
The more he spoke, the more he ascertained the hopelessness of their situation. The red knit cap moved even closer to Maya’s face, twisting his upper body into a strange pose.
Just when it seemed he would kiss her, he extended his tongue seductively toward her eye.  The sheer boldness of running his tongue across her face made the degenerate action seem all the more perverted.
“St…Stop, you bastard!”
Just when it seemed his tongue would touch her eyelid, Shouma quickly broke free from the gun’s curse and moved to hit the man in front of him.
He swung his fist in his opponent’s blind spot, but… the red knit cap just managed to avoid the punch and counter, thrusting the muzzle of the shining black revolver at Shouma’s brow.
“Whoa, that was a good move.  Pretty good, really.  That move might’ve knocked me flat if I was just an amateur. …But too bad.  I might look like an amateur with a gun, but… When it comes to killing, I’m no amateur…”
“No… Shouma!”
He thrust his other hand toward Maya when she panicked and tried to jump up.
At some point, a small revolver had also appeared in that hand, and its oppressive terror was thrust between Maya’s eyes.
“Too!  Bad!  For!  You! ☆”
Even now, the man spoke as if he was joking around.  He swung his head with exaggerated movements and gave Shouma a slick laugh.
“We’ve got no business with the man. …So, uh, well.  To sum up your fate in one short and simple word: die.”
The moment he saw the man’s finger move on the trigger, Shouma prepared himself for death.  In that instant, he prayed to God.  As he remembered Hikarijima’s shrine, of all things – even if he died, please, please don’t erase Maya’s life.
But… the red knit cap did not pull the trigger.  That was because a familiar roar reached his ears.
For a moment, he thought it was the sound of an engine passing on the road next to them–
The same noise resounded again, this time closer than before.
The noise came from deep within the woods at the side of the road, approaching them with unbelievable speed—
OOoo oaaaa a ao oooa oo AoA ooAa OAA OOA a OA   oooooAAAAA a aaaO aa    OOOOa aOa ooooo      aaaaaaaoa—
Tokorozawa, along a certain road
“That was close.”
The black-suited warden spoke to the guards who had fled with him.
They held broken pieces of “staffs” in their hands and the blood had drained completely from the guards’ faces.
“U-Unbelievable… To think something so terrifying would occur…!”
The moment they had poured healing magic into the man in the warehouse – he had let out a frightening roar and begun to tear off the chains with terrible energy, his eyes completely devoid of sanity.
Sensing danger, the warden had immediately commanded his subordinates to use magic that concealed their forms and presences.
He didn’t know how effectively they would be able to hide with broken staffs, but the strange man had fled outside without seeming to notice them, perhaps because suppression was a simple form of magic.
The man who sprang out of the warehouse had grasped an axe on one of the shelves – and smashed down the wall of the warehouse, repeating his terrible roar.
He had fled immediately afterward, so they did not know what became of him.
As for themselves, they had already scored a great victory in the successful recovery of their staffs.
“For now, let’s cast the magic to hide our presences again.  There’s a chance he might sense us.”
The warden spoke in an annoyed tone to the puzzled guardswomen.
“Didn’t you see him look back at us with terrifying vigor when you cast magic on him?  …I don’t know if it’s some kind of imprinting, but… His body was restored when your magic ran wild, and it’s no longer… His body has gained a composition similar to that of our own. …No, perhaps I should say he’s become sensitized to our magic. …He sensed our presence.”
“B-But… in that case, isn’t it strange that he didn’t come after us?”
“…You all are slow.  There’s someone in this town with a ‘magical aura’ far stronger than our own, isn’t there?”
The warden was covered in cold sweat as he spoke, and the guardswomen also felt a chill run down their backs as they recalled a certain existence.  An experimental “lump of magic” who had driven them into this situation.
“That strange person is most likely…”
As if to distract from their fear, the warden spoke the name of that existence in a cynical tone.
“…hunting for his prey, Number 893.”
‘This is bad!  I have to help them…!’
Summer was also surrounded by the delinquents, but they seemed nervous and did not want to approach, perhaps intimidated by the praying mantis atop her head swinging his scythes with a buzzing noise.
She took that opening to brandish her staff, intending to rescue Maya and Shouma, but–
Just when she was about to yell the incantation, an ominous scream stopped her in her tracks.
“!?  Wh-What, whaaat was that!?”
It was a terrible voice.
It was an oppressive scream, laden with the malice of a thousand curses, and just hearing it made one feel as if one’s life was being taken.  And – the source of that roar really was after her life.
As the fodder that would sustain his power – the strange man instinctively sniffed out the magical soul known as Summer.
The roar stopped; just when the people present thought silence had fallen, a black shadow swooped down atop one of the vans as if to break the stillness.
They all turned upon hearing the dull clunk of impact.
“Wha… The hell’s with him…?”
The delinquents who hadn’t been at the warehouse previously stared at the strange man who had suddenly stepped atop their car.
It wasn’t that he was particularly huge, and it wasn’t that he was sprouting bat wings atop his back or sharp fangs.  However, that man was clearly abnormal, and the eyes of all present were fixed on him.
There was no trace of sanity in his large eyes, which were widened to their greatest extent; the axe in his right hand alone told them everything about him.
“That bastard…!?  How the hell’d he find us!?” The red knit cap spat out, his revolvers still aimed at Shouma and Maya.  He seemed to believe the man they had wounded earlier had come seeking revenge – but the axe man in question was not even looking at the red knit cap.  Furthermore, the wound had completely healed.
Everyone but the two wearing knit caps was on the verge of fleeing and had taken their eyes off Summer and Tis.  If he had been “just any man with an axe,” they might not have hesitated to do their job – but they knew the man in front of them was not just dangerous, nor on the level of a drug addict.
He looked human, but he was not.  There was no way he could be human.  As that spine-tingling impression swept over them, the axe man roared once again.
As the chilling scream resounded in the ears of those who heard it – Nambaja’s holy warrior fell even deeper into confusion.  No, putting it together with Shouma’s story, perhaps it would be more accurate to say she was returning to her senses.
She could still feel the “evil” emanating from Shouma beside her – Shouma, who had just now tried to protect her.
…Then why… Then why…!?
The man wearing the red knit cap who made her want to throw up and the strange man with the axe who instilled absolute terror – she could not sense the slightest trace of evil aura from them.
It seemed what Nambaja considered to be “evil” was completely unrelated to her own sense of values.
‘Then what is it that [bring light] that god [bring light] [bring light] values [bring light] [to the world] [sweep away] [darkness] [destroy] [destroy] [destroy] [destroy]–’
As if refusing to overlook her slight suspicion, the god’s words stirred up her heart.  Little by little, the noise grew sharper until she could feel nothing but the pain in her head, as if it was clawing at her brain.
And the one the noise kept telling her to kill was–
She was to exterminate the boy who from the very beginning had prepared to throw himself away to protect her, though she was after his life.
The roar rang out a third time, and in the opening provided when the red knit cap focused all of his attention on the axe man – Shouma picked up the iron pipe that had fallen to the ground beside him.  The young man had turned only his neck to look at the axe man; without hesitation, Shouma swung the weapon in his hands at the back of the man’s head.
A dull thud rang out, and the red knit cap shuddered violently.  The shock of being hit made him pull the triggers, and the guns in each hand let out surprisingly small bangs.  The bullets brushed past Shouma and Maya, rebounded off the asphalt, and were swallowed by the darkness of the night.
The force of the impact had swung the red knit cap around so that he was no longer facing Shouma and Maya.  He tried to turn around and fire again, but he noticed the axeman, who had turned around energetically at the gunshots a second ago, and instinctively guarded against him.  On the other hand, Shouma stood up, completely ignoring the axe man, and kicked the red knit cap in the back with all his strength.
The red knit cap was thrown off-balance by the initial hit; it was extremely simple for Shouma’s kick to make him lose his footing, and he collapsed face-down on the ground.
And when the red knit cap got up and turned around – Shouma and Maya were nowhere to be seen, disappearing into the shadows of the cars.
Uninterested in the red knit cap’s blunder, the strange man with the axe had his gaze focused on the girl surrounded by the delinquents.  He stared at the girl who was his fodder to satiate his own deranged inclinations, and to obtain the “power” preserving his body.  The moment he stopped roaring, he kicked off from the roof of the van.
His jumping ability was inhuman.  He jumped about as high as he was tall and then fell straight down, a distance that included the additional height of the van.
He swung the axe with both hands on instinct, just as he had many, many times in the past – what was to him an extremely natural action – swinging it straight down at the crown of the girl’s head, where the praying mantis rode.
When Summer lost sight of the jumping axe man and looked up, the man’s body was already right in front of her – and the moment she noticed and tried to scream, she was forcefully drawn back.
The next instant, the axe crashed into the asphalt with a terrible sound.  Summer was pulled backwards so strongly Tis lost his balance and toppled onto the road.
When she realized she had narrowly escaped death, Summer’s terror passed.  The instincts of the girl who was born as a magical being temporarily numbed themselves and kept her emotions at bay.
That was when she heard the voice behind her – the voice of the boy who had pulled her away and saved her.
“Stay back.”
For a moment, Summer thought it was Shouma who had saved her and turned around, but—
“…It’ll be bad if we let you kill the hostage.”
The one standing there was the boy with the blue knit cap.
“T-Thanks, Mister with the knife… Eh, wait, but you’re the one who stabbed Ginjima-san…”
As her confusion mounted, Summer’s heart was thrown into disarray – but mad with rage at having his prey snatched away, the axe man decided to clear the area of all who would stand in his way.  He faced the blue knit cap boy and drew back his right hand holding the weapon until it was level with his back, as if to swing.
When the spring of his body was fully coiled – multiple red holes were drilled into that body.
The blue knit cap understood the situation in an instant, and without turning around, he asked his elder behind him.
“Bro… Are you okay?  What happened to those two?”
It was an innocent question, but his elder seemed a bit different from usual.
“…Just forget it.”
Even as the blue knit cap spoke doubtfully, neither took their eyes off the axe man.
No, they didn’t even have the freedom to take their eyes off him.
The blood stopped flowing from the bullet holes that traced a perfect line down his body – and now, his eyes more furious than before, the axe man let out a roar.
Giiiiiii gii gi AAAAaaaaa gi GiooooooOOOooooooooOOooo
Humans are careless; upon hearing that scream, quite different from anything else on this planet, the delinquents took another step back, but…
“…Gii gii gii gii… Gigigigigigigigigigigigigigigigigigigi, you’re really pissing me off.”
The red knit cap gave a weak smile, his eyes also filled with rage, and whispered as if making excuses to himself.
“Enough already.  I’m sick of this.  I’m fucking sick and tired of it and it hurts and I’m embarrassed…”
He smiled and smiled as he funneled his madness into his trigger finger.
“This is a fucking pain, so I’m just gonna kill everyone here.”
The red knit cap cracked his neck as he spoke.  He glared deliberately at everyone present, even those unrelated to the axe man, who was rendered immobile by pain.  The sleek revolver instilled in the delinquents a different kind of fear than that of the axe man and they grew tense, realizing they were caught between a rock and a hard place.
Only the boy with the blue knit cap sighed and continued to watch calmly – and the red knit cap noticed something about the place where he had been standing earlier.
The car lights reflected off a dark red spot on the asphalt, which continued to spread underneath one of the vans.
When he realized it was blood from when a bullet had grazed the boy or girl earlier, the rage in his eyes remained unchanged, but the corners of his mouth pulled up, amused, amused.
“Wellll then… Who should I kill fiiiirst…?”
As anger roiled ominously within him, the red knit cap aimlessly fired a shot at the sky.
The shot was surprisingly muffled due to the silencer, but it worked well enough as a sign to set everything in motion.
At the same time as the dry sound, the axe man vigorously bounded forward, swinging his blade at the boorish men who were getting in the way of his meal.  In response, the youths he faced also began to move, driven forward by their leaders, who had put aside their fear of the axe man… more so by the fear of the Marubatsu-gumi behind them.  Half-desperate, they sprung at the serial killer before them.
However, it was as if being shot had had no effect on him; the crazed man swung his axe with no less vigor than before.  Though they skillfully avoided the axe, they were sent flying by that inhuman strength – such a sight repeated over and over.  Over and over and over.  Just like watching a TV on fast-forward… It was a funny and strange sight.
In the middle of the sudden confusion and tumult – Summer could only stand and watch, confused.
Not knowing what to do, unable to find the companions she was supposed to help–
For the first time in a long while, the magical girl keenly felt her own powerlessness.
“Eee, eeek, a-at this rate, Summer-chan will be killed!  Or those weird guys will kidnap her or sell her off in Southeast Asia somewhere!”
The situation had devolved into complete chaos.  A single insect fled to Hariyama-san’s car.  Tis flew in from the door to the back seat and spoke to Hariyama-san, his eyes full of pleading.
“Ha-Ha-Hariyama-san, you’re an adult, right!?  You can do something, right!?”
As Tis begged him for help, Hariyama-san huddled in the driver’s seat and surveyed the scene outside, his expression troubled.
“Well… I said this before, but I’m just a normal person.  I can’t do anything that great.”
“But then what was that about aliens!?”
“Well… I’ve had some strange experiences, but scary things really scare me.  No, really.”
Hariyama-san said such pathetic things; Tis was about to yell at him for being a coward, but–
“But you know, Tis-kun?  There are things that only normal people can do at times like these.”
As Shouma and Maya hid in the shadow of one of the delinquents’ vehicles, they peered out at the situation unfolding on the side of the road.
Strangely enough, no cars had come through after these three vans.  The wide road was completely deserted.
The fabric of Shouma’s clothes around his arm was flapping loosely, perhaps because the bullet had lightly grazed him earlier, and red liquid was flowing beneath them.
Flustered, Maya was about to speak to him – but before she could, Shouma was the one who spoke forcefully.
“Somehow… We have to save that girl… Dammit, is Hariyama-san still okay?”
Even though he was the one injured, he still wanted to save the others.  Not just his neighbor Hariyama-san, but even the girl he had just met today.
“I’ll make some kind of opening.  Maya, take that girl and run to Hariyama-san’s car.”
“But that’s…!  I can’t do that!  Come with us, Shouma…!”
Those words spilled from her lips without hesitation.
Perhaps there was no longer any conflict within her.  She had already chosen not to kill Shouma, and her heart would not be swayed.
[Kill kill kill, fulfill your purpose in life your purpose in life your purpose in life kill kill kill kill kill]
As if overreacting to her choice, the god’s voice was no longer making any attempts to sound like a god.
The deity’s half-threats echoed within her heart, though it felt as if her eardrums would give out before her heart did.  However, it was suspicious that the deity’s voice passed through her ears to reach her heart.
Her feelings had already made their decision; now only her sense of reason hesitated to accept Shouma.  To be precise, it hesitated not to accept Shouma, but to betray the voice of the god.  It hadn’t been with her very long, but the voice had been firmly assimilated into her.  What would happen when she completely rejected it…?  Before, she hadn’t even been able to doubt her status as a “holy warrior”.  Memories of her past life were thoroughly impressed into her brain: she could clearly recall receiving the blessing of Nambaja and the smiles of the people of the Ancient Millennium Continent whom she had saved.
‘That’s all… a hallucination made up by the island…!’
She didn’t want to believe it.  At the same time, she wanted to believe Shouma’s words.  Maya was torn between conflicting emotions, but unfortunately, the situation they were caught in would not allow her time to reflect and come to an answer.
As Maya’s heart wavered, Shouma was pondering ways to escape this situation.
The axe man’s angry cries rang out on the other side of the van, over and over, and the cries of the delinquents echoed as if to interrupt him.  The boy with the folding knife issued his calm orders and the world on the other side of the car transformed into a scene from Hell.  That was the kind of nightmare that was unfolding.
However, the madness did not extend here.  Regardless of whether any sanity remained within the axe man, the delinquents moved with human reason, fleeing out of a human sense of self-preservation or attempting to kill the man.
As the pure, meaningless killing intent washed over Maya and himself, Shouma felt both anger and anxiety toward the man from earlier.
Was the man with the red knit cap trying to kill the axe man?
Curious, he poked his head out, wanting to check the actions of the man who had brought despair upon them earlier–
And despair was standing right there.
Soundlessly and without any warning – the next thing he knew, the muzzle of a revolver filled his vision.
“Okay then.  You made a fool of me, didncha?  You ready to pay for it?  Even if you aren’t, well, I’m gonna kill you anyway.”
The eyes of the man pointing a gun at Shouma and Maya were filled with an anger that hadn’t been there earlier.  It wasn’t aimless killing intent like before.  The red knit cap’s body was brimming with murderous intent born of definite hatred.
“Whoa… don’t think something so stupid like another car’s gonna pass by and you’ll tell them what’s up.  We left ‘road closed’ signs right in the middle of the street.  It’ll take at least ten minutes for someone to realize something’s up and tip off the police, you know?”
One of their guys was listening in on the police radio just in case, but there was no way they could receive communications in the midst of this chaos.  Maybe the police were headed this way even now, but the red knit cap no longer cared.
“…Seems like you can keep running for ten seconds on the adrenaline, even if you get shot in the heart.  Wanna try running to the hospital?”
As those words full of malice and killing intent spilled from his lips, which were twisted into a smile, the red knit cap quietly took aim.
Not at Shouma – but at the girl huddled beside him.
“While carrying your precious girlfriend.”
The gunshot ringing out and Shouma throwing himself to the side… they happened at approximately the same time.
Maya had stiffened, realizing the revolver was pointing at her, and in the next instant – fresh blood trickled down her face.
Shouma had jumped in front of her to cover her and his shoulder burst like it had been gouged open.  It seemed the bullet had only grazed him again, but whether that was a success or not… In any case, after the bullet skimmed through Maya’s hair, it crashed into the asphalt and was completely smashed.
Shouma’s body gave a tremendous shake, and yet he did not fall.  He still stood before the revolver to protect Maya, glaring strongly, strongly at the red knit cap before him.
However – in the next instant, their despair grew ever deeper.
The red knit cap seemed to want to keep provoking Shouma, but his eyes suddenly narrowed and his gaze focused on something behind them.
At the same time, Maya noticed breathing behind her in a way that inexplicably disturbed her.  She could hear the yells of the delinquents: “He jumped!” “Damn, he’s on the other side!” “…!  Bro’s over there!” “Hurry and go around!” from the other side of the van.  The owners of those voices would soon appear on this side.
She immediately realized that they would be captured by the delinquents.  And – that there was probably something behind her.  However, all that mattered to Maya right now was that Shouma had protected her and gotten shot.
“Shou… ma… Shouma!”
Finally getting a grasp on the situation, she screamed, but…
As if to drown out her yell, the noise started again–
There was no need to understand the exact contents of the noise that resounded within her.
The god’s voice… only continued to repeat: this was her chance to kill Shouma, who had been protecting her.  It did not speak a word about the red knit cap.
Even though there was such evil, such darkness, right before her eyes.
Even now, the god thought of nothing but killing Shouma.
As if to say – that was just the way of the world.
‘In that case, I don’t want to be a holy warrior…!  I don’t want to be one of the heroes who save the world!’
The moment the girl yelled that within her heart–
“I… wanted… to be a hero.”
With his back turned to her, Shouma murmured as if reading her mind.
Of course, it was just her imagination, but Shouma was repeating those words to himself.  To pump himself up to protect the people he cared about.
“I thought about it over and over and over.  After I left Hikarijima, I kept thinking that heroes weren’t real.  But… I couldn’t throw away the idea of a hero.  I couldn’t bring myself to hate them.”
As Shouma spoke, Maya felt the breathing of the person behind her change.  The shadow cast along the ground by the streetlamps was lifting the silhouette of an axe high up.
On the other hand, the red knit cap was glaring at the delinquents, who had stopped moving.
“I just, I, I just… wanted to be like the heroes in games and manga…”
Perhaps Shouma finally saw the shadow of the axe – on the final word, he turned around and ran as fast as he could toward the axe man.
“…I just wanted to look good in front of Maya.”
But – Maya saw it.
Just when Shouma moved, the red knit cap grinned and pointed the gun at his back.
The god’s voice… Hikarijima knew instantly how she would act.  The shrieking noise no longer formed words, shaking her brain tissues as if to control her body, but–
‘Shut up.  Great god.’
Maya forcibly shook off the noise, the strength of her determination running through her every nerve.  She forced herself to move, and just as Shouma had done for her before, she threw herself in front of the revolver, using her own body to shield him.
On the other hand, Shouma had also become Maya’s shield as he attempted to intercept the axe man who was trying to kill Maya.
As they each shielded the other, they were certain they would die.
Just when it seemed their courage would turn out to be nothing but a meaningless farce–
They were saved the god Nambaja very last possible moment.
Or to be more precise – by the attack of the magical girl who had come to think of herself as one of Nambaja’s warriors.
The shockwave from her magic wand took the shape of two great serpents, which lunged forward violently and sent the axe man and red knit cap flying.
Caught off-guard by the sudden attack, the two fell some ways away from Shouma and Maya.
“…Ah, ahh… ah…”
“…What just happened…”
She had instinctively acted to help Shouma and Maya – but when she heard the delinquents around her talking, Summer was seized by unspeakable fear and anxiety.
Though she’d blown up the Marubatsugumi’s office with bombs before, this was the first time she was fighting against enemies with such clear killing intent, or against so many people who displayed such animosity.
‘I’m scared.’
Everything she had not noticed before now stood out clearly in Summer’s vision.  The eyes of the axe man, who viewed her with twisted killing intent.  The two brothers with knit caps, who were glaring as if their sharp looks could kill. And the delinquents, who were looking at her mixed curiosity, agitation, and fear after her use of “magic”.  It seemed Shouma and Maya didn’t understand what had happened and weren’t looking at Summer yet, but how would they see her in the end?
Completely terrified of all these things, the heart of the impressionable girl was dazed.
‘I’m scared… I’m so scared…’
Complete terror welled up within her and the girl’s body slowly stiffened.  When the axe man would inevitably swoop down on her, she wouldn’t be able to use magic to repel him again.
The great god Nambaja, whom Summer had abruptly come to idolize, did not offer her any help or even try to speak to her.
And then – the moment the axe man slowly lifted his arm–
The voice of a savior she held to be greater than any god resounded loudly, so loudly, through the darkness.
Inside the RV
Let’s go back in time a little.
Tis tilted his head to the side, mystified at Hariyama-san’s strange words.
“Something only normal people can do…?”
“Well, not really ‘only’.  But it’s not something heroes really do.”
Though he looked troubled, his words completely lacked a sense of danger or hopelessness.  Hariyama-san slowly began to speak to Tis.
“That’s right… just let someone know.  The most we can do is let someone know as bystanders.”
“Let them know the situation… by giving them a call.”
As he muttered that, he removed a cell phone from his pocket… and the words “Call in progress” glowed brightly in the darkness of the driver’s seat.
“For example, to a yakuza acquaintance who entrusted me with his daughter…”
The voice cut through the dark of the night, along with Summer’s hesitation.
A car was approaching, accompanied by the loud roar of an engine.  It drifted past the vehicles, right to the edge of the group of people – but before the car fully stopped, the door opened and a man leapt out, clutching a long, cylindrical object in his hand.
His face was well-known among the delinquents, and the moment they saw the long sword wound running across his face, a tremor passed through them, despite their overwhelming advantage in numbers.
“Ginjima…” the blue knit cap muttered.  He was the only one who remained calm, but not an ounce of relaxation was to be seen in his expression.
The man in question slipped into Summer’s line of sight and stood before her, looking back at the delinquents – and asked her one thing.
“Are you all right?”
“Ginjima-san…!  Yeah!  I’m fine!  But Maya and that boy are…”
Relieved that Summer had completely returned to normal, Ginjima turned his gaze to the situation before him.
He couldn’t see Hariyama-san and Tis, but the high school girl and a boy he had never seen before were standing back-to-back, on guard.  The boy’s shoulder and arm were wounded; it seemed he had been grazed by bullets.  The axe man had raised his axe, presumably ready to swing it down at someone.
But more important than any of that – wasn’t the boy with the red knit cap the one who had shot him?
They had showed themselves before Summer, not him.  Ginjima immediately understood the reason, and without a yell of hatred or an angry look in his eyes, the feelings within him funneled into his throat, slowly forming words packed with emotion.
And his calm tome beat at the eardrums of the delinquents and the axe man.
“You all… Ya ready t’ cross the Sanzu River still alive, huh?” [2]
There was a strong power behind Ginjima’s words.
The meaning of his words, his voice, his bearing – all combined into an overwhelming force that struck at the delinquents.
It was not fear.  They were not struck by the same fear as that instilled in them by the red knit cap and axe man.
After all, fear was nothing more than an emotion, but unyielding power resided within Ginjima’s words.  The strength of his spirit was evident, many, many times stronger than that of the god’s voice resounding within Maya’s heart.
His words not only caused the delinquents to wither completely, but even the supposedly completely crazed axe man stopped in his tracks, the raised axe held frozen in midair.  Or perhaps he instinctively sensed the threat to his life in Ginjima’s voice.
Ginjima’s gaze pierced the enemies before him, vengeful like an apparition, and he spoke majestically as he readied the nagadosu in his hand.
“…I shook off the cops’ questions to come here… I’m gonna finish this before the patrol cars get here.”
“You bastards… standing here in front of me… Don’t think I’ll go easy on you.”
What followed was terrible.
The word “overwhelming” must have been coined for such moments.
The people who each carried a weapon and were accustomed to fights, those who fought on equal footing with the axe man, and even the axe man himself, who possessed strength far surpassing that of a human – none of them were a match for Ginjima.
Ginjima slipped past the enemies’ guard with the bare minimum of movements, and without even drawing his nagadosu, he defeated all of them with the sheath.  One would think he would easily fall when fighting with his sword still sheathed, but Ginjima hit the delinquents’ jaws, throats, solar plexus, and other tender spots with the point of the sheath with superb accuracy.
Though he had told them not to hope for much, Ginjima was still soft enough to hold back – but his power was so overwhelming that that softness did not hinder him.
As for the red knit cap holding the gun – those watching could well have imagined that Ginjima was simply flicking away the bullets, but in reality, Ginjima did not allow him to even pull the trigger.
The red knit cap intended to shoot Ginjima in the abdomen from behind – but in the next instant, Ginjima’s arm twisted behind his back so forcefully it seemed his shoulder would be dislocated, and the nagadosu smashed heavily against the hand holding the gun.
He felt the bones in his hand being pulverized and instinctively dropped the gun.  No, on the contrary, the back of his hand was swelling abnormally – he could not even hope to clench his hand the way it was now.  That was how strong the attack had been.
Ginjima looked ruthlessly down at the red knit cap as he clutched his hand and moaned.
“…That’s enough for today.  I really wanna kill all of you, but… your friends got taken out by that guy in our warehouse, so I’ll let you go today.”
“What… did you… say…?”
In response to Ginjima’s compassionate mutter, the red knit cap was humiliated, his pride trampled.  Not only had he failed to kill Ginjima, but the man he had shot was talking about “letting them go,” as if mocking them.
From the red knit cap’s skewed perspective, there was no greater insult.  All reason fled his mind.
As he yelled furiously, his other hand retrieved the gun and pointed it at Ginjima, but–
In the next instant, he felt a sharp chill at his throat, and his seething emotions were forced to cool down.
When he looked, his younger brother was standing next to him, calmly watching the situation with the same expressionless face as always.
“…Let’s go, Bro.  At this rate we’re just gonna get ourselves killed.”
The red knit cap who had a knife at his throat listened to his brother and immediately regained his composure, glaring at Ginjima even as they retreated to the vans.  The delinquents who could move tossed their injured into the vans – and without any parting words, their vans exceeded the speed limit by about thirty kilometers per hour and disappeared as if fleeing into the night.  Though in truth, it really wasn’t much different from running away.
Ginjima did not waste time following them.  That was because he knew that anything more would just drag out the situation– and because someone else, the biggest problem, was still here.
Ginjima looked behind him – and the axe man, who until now had not moved a muscle, was just placing his hands on the ground and trying to stand.
‘Should I end this? …But how can I beat this guy?’
No matter how many times he was cut down, his wounds would heal immediately and he would stand again.  Ginjima pondered how to take on that monster that looked human.  Most likely he would stop if his throat was cut, but naturally, he was hesitant to do that in front of Summer.
‘But he’s not the kinda enemy where I can afford to say that…’
Ginjima’s arms stopped moving for a moment, and he moved to protect Summer again.
“It’s okay, Summer.  I’ve got this, so you just stand back… No, go to Hariyama-san’s car.”
He was worried about her – but oddly enough, Summer objected.
“No… Ginjima-san.”
She smiled at Ginjima’s confused expression and raised her magic staff up high.
“You came for me, Ginjima-san – so now I’m at my best, right?”
And Summer turned her gaze to the monstrous axe man, who had been cut to shreds by Ginjima and yet was still able to stand.
The axe man’s eyes glittered with mixed fear and anger toward Ginjima, and the same twisted killing intent as before was directed at her.  Just a little while ago, that gaze had been so frightening as to make her cower in fear – but now, she would not back down even if she was afraid.
‘There’s someone who will spoil me later.  Someone who will always listen to what I have to say.’
“So… I can do my best now!  Ginjima-san!”
In the next instant, a light like that of a camera strobe shone on the tip of Summer’s wand – and then the collected light kicked up a wind that blew around them.  As if weaving through the wind, the band of light shot towards the axe man’s body.
OH, OH, oh, oh, OH, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, OH, OH, OH, oh, oh, oh, oh, OH, OH, OH, oh
The moment the light touched him, the axe man let out a roar, not understanding what was happening to him.  No sooner did the roar grow duller as if slowed down than the light suddenly vanished… and the body and shadow and shape of the axe man disappeared along with it.  It was as if he had melted into the darkness of the night along with the light.
“Just now… that was Summer-chan’s power?”
It was a frightening display of power.  Shouma and Maya definitely sensed a rush of strength that far surpassed that of the god’s voice or the will of the island.
As the night once again fell silent, Shouma remembered having felt something similar before.
He suddenly realized.
That on that day – he was drawn to this town by this girl’s magical power.
And that they had been saved just now at the hands of the girl who had led him here.
“Hey, Summer… that man just now, where’d you send him?”
If he’d been sent off to another town somewhere, the townspeople there would be in danger.  He thought Summer knew as much, but even so, Ginjima was concerned about the axe man’s whereabouts and asked just to be sure.
Then Summer gave him an innocent, childish smile – and spoke words that were greatly at odds with her smile.
“To Hell! Ginjima-san!”
The place absorbed the magical power of its residents and stole away all their vitality.  It gave them the minimum energy needed to live, sucking away their magical power and leaving them without even the will to escape.  It was where the “criminals” of the land of magic were sent – the place where Summer was originally supposed to have gone.
“I don’t really know why, but I felt the same power as mine coming from his body… so I thought maybe I should send him there.”
“There’s a Hell in the land of magic?”
Peering outside from within the car, Hariyama-san asked Tis with fascination, who had at some point moved to sit on his shoulder.  Maybe Tis was happy that he was being asked to share his knowledge, or maybe it was in reaction to his tension melting away – he puffed out his chest needlessly and responded smoothly.
“Yeah.  Apparently it’s a place where it’s really easy for magical power to leak out into this world… It’s always been that way, but ever since a mountain disappeared about three hundred years ago, the way it sucks up power has steadily gotten fiercer.”
Hariyama-san’s expression grew even more puzzled when he asked, and Tis slowly continued his reply.
And unfortunately, the full implications of that reply would not be understood by anyone except Shouma and Maya outside.
“They say it was probably ‘summoned’ to this world. …Though I don’t have the slightest idea why anyone would summon a mountain of all things, seriously.”
The Hariyama household, garden
Shouma and Maya sat next to each other on a wooden bench that constructed by Hariyama-san himself, looking up at the night sky.
After that, Summer had said, “If we don’t hurry and leave, the officials from the land of magic will find us when they come to investigate!” They had all panicked and piled into the cars, and they had ended up coming to Hariyama-san’s home.
“For now, we should come up with a good excuse and have a doctor take a look at you.  If you want, I’ll introduce you to an underground doctor. …It would be bad if there was a bullet still stuck in you.”
After Summer had healed Shouma’s wounds, Ginjima had given his thanks and said as much – but Maya heard him as if from a strange place very far away.
It was just – she could hear sounds extremely clearly.  How many days and weeks had it been since her mind had been so quiet?
She could no longer hear the god’s voice.
Maya had been completely freed – and had noticed the change within herself.
Her body was radiating some sort of heat, like a kind of aura.  In the beginning, she had been afraid her body would crumble as she came to reject the “island”, but that soon changed to relief.
That was because she realized: the aura coming from her body was exactly the same as the “evil” she felt from Shouma.
“Yeah.  I noticed.”
“I’m sorry… It’s because of me… You’ll be hunted down too now.”
“That’s fine.  I’m… sorry too.  For everything.”
They were finally able to speak normally.  The moment she thought that from the bottom of her heart – the other feelings she had been suppressing up until now boiled over, and Maya trembled slightly.
“S-Sorry.  Shouma.  I thought I was calm, but… I know thinking about it won’t solve anything, but… but…”
She began trembling more violently and tears began pricking at the corners of her eyes.
“But… I’m scared… I’m… I’m not human… I’m some kind of artificial creature…!  And I’ve been thrown away by the ‘island’ that created me… I… really… don’t know if I can keep living…”
Shouma did not know how to answer, and so he said nothing for a while.  But at some point after she had finished changing into normal clothes, Summer had come to stand beside them and listen, and she answered with a bright smile in Shouma’s place.
“It’s okay, Maya!”
“Even if your body was made with magic, if you live a good life, you’ll definitely be happy, right?”
“You don’t know how I feel.” Maya was about to say, but it was immature to say such a thing to a child younger than her.  Her heart still clouded, Maya gave Summer a bitter smile, but–
The girl continued in a loud voice without a hint of inferiority or hesitation.
“Because I’m the same way!”
Maya tried to ask what she meant, but at that point, Summer had already run off towards the porch, where she struck up a lively conversation with a boy who seemed to be related to Hariyama-san.
Maya didn’t understand Summer’s meaning, and she and Shouma gazed at Summer’s back, puzzled – when suddenly an apologetic voice came from near her feet.
“Hello, um, would you be the young lady who’s the holy warrior?”
She looked down, surprised at the voice from under her, and there was a green praying mantis that looked like a stuffed animal.
“Ahh.  Though I guess it’s not really any of my business.  Well, it just doesn’t sit right with me that Summer would say something that worrying with no explanation, you know?”
And so the meddlesome praying mantis began to speak.
Of the reason behind the creation of the girl know as Summer – and the life she had led until now.
Of the story of the girl who continued to walk a thinner, more unstable rope than Maya did.
As they watched the praying mantis fly toward Summer after saying his part, Maya looked thoughtful for quite a while… but she felt Shouma’s gaze from next to her, and with that impetus, her expression hardened and she murmured.
“…Summer-chan’s really strong.  So much stronger than me…”
“…Don’t you mean… stronger than ‘us’?”
 Shouma smiled bitterly at his own cynical words, and Maya gently returned his smile.
‘I couldn’t become a holy warrior – but I might still be able to become a hero.’
She didn’t need the title of a hero when all she had done was be chosen by a god.
It was just – all she wanted was just to have enough courage to keep living by Shouma’s side.  As long as I can be Shouma’s hero, that’s enough for me.
It wasn’t that she didn’t hold any ill feelings.  Even if he had his reasons, the fact remained that Shouma had killed her father.  Fortunately she did not hate him for it – but resentment still lingered in the depths of her heart.
And – even if he knew they had come to kill him, it was also fact that he… that Shouma had killed his fellow islanders.  Fortunately, it seemed their classmates and other acquaintances hadn’t been among them.  She was relieved at that, and angry at herself for feeling relieved, but still, resentment was slowly growing within Maya’s heart.
But for now, she wanted the courage to accept those facts and the feelings stirring within her.  And the one giving her that courage was unquestionably Shouma himself.
In the midst of their relationship, like a match pump without hope or future, the boy and the girl quietly gazed at each other. [3]
“…What will you do now?”
Shouma asked with a troubled smile, and with a troubled smile of her own, Maya responded–
“…I don’t know yet.  For now, I just want to talk with you, Shouma… that’s all.”
“…I… will keep fighting against that annoying Hikarijima.”
–“Keep fighting against the island.” Those extraordinary words were terribly strange, and Shouma remembered how Maya had once looked.  On that day, when everything had ended and everything had begun.
“‘We’ will, right?”
When Shouma saw his childhood friend smile as she said that, like a puppet whose strings had been cut—
Perhaps Shouma had reached the limits of his strength.  As she supported his body, which had fallen to lean against her – the girl who was once a hero smiled wryly at her own cowardice.
She didn’t think she yet possessed the courage to embrace the person she loved.
Tokorozawa suburbs, Hariyama residence
After everything was over, Hariyama-san changed into his nightclothes and reached for the diary on his desk, as if he was doing nothing particularly extraordinary.
Hariyama-san opened the red cover of the book, grabbed a pen, and began to write down the events of today.
After he spent a while reminiscing on all that had occurred – the indolent man wrote only the same two sentences as always.
“–Today was the same as always.
“May we all be happy and healthy tomorrow too.”
The veritable mountain of other events he should have written about was instead stored in his memory.  Hariyama-san wrote only about today’s peaceful results and his hopes for tomorrow, then slowly closed his diary.
Then, to replenish his energy, he climbed into the futon next to his already-sleeping wife and promptly closed his eyes.
Because tomorrow would bring another day much the same as today.


[1] Terrible pun.  The word they’re actually throwing around is “positive”, written “pojitibu”; in this line, the red knit writes the last “bu” with the kanji for “club”, so it’s pretty literally a positivity club.
[2] Sanzu River: Buddhist equivalent of the River Styx.  Also worth noting that Ginjima’s speech gets really rough here and slips into gangster drawl, way more exaggerated than anyone else ever uses.  I can’t write gangsters.
[3] Apparently the phrase “match pump” is one of those terms made up in Japan but written in English.  It refers to causing a problem (starting a fire with a match) and then going to great effort to solve it (dousing it with a water pump), either unknowingly or knowing full well that you’re causing trouble.  That said, I’m not really sure how the metaphor applies here.

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