Chapter 4: The Battlefield as a Front.
When I woke up, Asuha was already gone. I did vaguely recall hearing her run out and slamming the door as I drifted into consciousness, so perhaps she really was by my side the whole time.
Once I was fully awake, I smelled the sweet and savory aroma of a recently cooked pot of stew coming from the kitchen. Naturally, I made my way there and helped myself to some.
I felt great. It could have been from the fact that she helped me sleep better than I ever did before, or that her stew was so good and refreshing. In any case, I was even ready for another day at work.
My first course of action was to report everything to Asagao. The moment I walked into our usual meeting room, I immediately raised my hand and stated I had something to report, beating even Urushibara who was always the first to start.
“I can’t tell you where I got the information from, but I finally understand what Natsume’s been up to.”
I didn’t exactly sound trustworthy, and to them it could very well seem like I was making stuff up, but I told them everything that I had picked up on yesterday. I told them why Natsume was transferring people out instead of just firing them and her grand plan of creating a world where everyone would be treated as equals.
I spoke as objectively as possible like any good reporter.
“Sounds like something she would do,” Asagao murmured to herself, turning to me. “Thanks for this. If we can understand their true motives, then we can better plan for our side of things.”
I nodded in response. However, Renge and Urushibara didn’t seem to get what I said.
“What was that, Chigusa?” snapped Urushibara. “Can you not mutter as much? The information you told us was all over the place, and don’t even get me started on your report. Can you at least give us a summary? With a clearer voice this time?”
Don’t blame me just because you suck at listening comprehension…
Maybe blaming people was all that he could do. I did a mental shrug and carried on.
“A summary, you say?” I said. “Basically, Natsume wants us all to be in the military one way or another.”
“Ah, she wants to do that? I see, I never really thought of that, but isn’t that pretty much impossible to pull off?” Urushibara said with a chuckle.
Renge seemed to agree with him as well. Surprisingly, the two understood the absurdity of what Natsume was going for.
“If that really is what she wants, though,” said Renge. “I think it’s great…”
Renge cut herself off once she realized she was praising the enemy, but Asagao just laughed.
“Ever since she was little, she always wanted to bring everyone together,” sneered Asagao. “Even if she became the boss of a bunch of thugs like she is now, after hearing that, she will always be an idiot.”
Asagao seemed vindictive after hearing what I had to say— I guess she expected more after wondering why Natsume kept burdening her with transfers all this time.
“And what kind of reasoning is that?” she continued, clenching her fists angrily. “All pretentiousness aside, isn’t she just too scared to fire her own people? If she can’t even do that, then she has no business being a leader! She really is an idiot! A naive idiot!”
Maybe I should tell her to stop calling Natsume an idiot… It really makes her sound childish and immature.
“Hmmph. I bet all she can do is just keep saying that family nonsense…”
I guess that’s what I could expect from childhood friends, since they really do suit each other well.
“Hey, at least she’s not like her sister,” said Urushibara. “At the very least, she has good intentions, and she seems to be looking out for the little guys.”
It was pretty ironic to hear Urushibara say that, seeing that he certainly did not look for the little guys like me.
“Yeah, I agree,” nodded Renge. “Natsume is really nice to me too…”
Renge smiled. She could have gone on and on about Natsume, but decided to stop there.
“Asagao, shouldn’t you have a nice long talk with Natsume, now?” Urushibara chimed in.
Asagao shrugged in return. “Easier said than done. Besides, if we could actually discuss stuff, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in now,” she said. She sighed and gloomily stared out the window— perhaps she was thinking of the past. “We already understand each other, but since we don’t see eye to eye on things, there’s nothing we can do…”
She sounded like she didn’t want to admit what she said was true. In fact, she sounded exactly like how Natsume sounded last night. Both spoke nostalgically with even a hint of regret in their voices.
“We just can’t…” finished Asagao.
It was hard to tell whether Asagao blamed herself or Natsume for her current predicament, as it seemed to have been a bit of both. The two were both afraid of taking a step towards each other, resulting in a great divide between them.
However, she quickly caught herself feeling down, so she changed up her expression and cheerfully said, “In any case, we just got to keep going for it! Kasumi, if you have some free time, help Renge out too please.”
“I don’t have any free time, though…” I whispered under my breath. “You of all people should know how much I have on my plate…”
I had been working for her long enough that I knew what she asked for was more of an order rather than a request. That’s just how she was.
“Why can’t you help out too?” I snapped back to her.
Asagao smugly swung her hair back. “I have very important lessons to do. I will be way too far behind if I take even a day out of my schedule.”
“You’re on quite the high horse, aren’t you…” I muttered.
Well, things were supposed to be like this. She was the idol, after all.
With that, I suddenly found myself wheeling a cart full of gifts. Asagao made it sound like Renge needed my help, but right now I was nothing more than a pack mule. On the other hand, Renge was carrying her own personal bag.
“Your bag looks pretty heavy…” I said. “Wanna put it in the cart?”
“Nah, I’m good!” she replied with a smile. “Thanks for helping me out, though!”
“Well, work is work.”
I didn’t consider myself doing her a favor since those weren’t my thing, but Renge just laughed.
“Work, huh? Kasumi, you must love work so much. I mean, that’s all you talk about…”
“What? Hell no, work can go screw itself.”
Renge was confused by my words. “Then… why do you work?”
“So I can actually retire,” I replied. It was a bit embarrassing to say that, so I decided to shoot her a question of my own. “You work pretty hard too, right? Why? Do you like it?”
“Me?” Renge was caught off guard with my question. “Well, I guess I want to find happiness… I think?”
I found her answer so ridiculous it actually rendered me speechless for a few moments. “You won’t find happiness working here, that’s for sure.”
“I mean… sure, I won’t deny that… but… maybe I just like being with you all!”
“Yeah, but you’re still working… you’re better off somewhere else other than this hellhole.”
“Sure, that’s your opinion, but I told you I like working! I always love doing my best!”
Renge essentially went against everything I stood for, and she was even smiling while doing it.
“I mean…” her voice trailed off. “I like people who work hard too,” she said timidly.
In my opinion, words were nothing but tools. There was a clear difference between whether these tools were useful or not depending on how they were being used. Things like vocabulary, tones, or even pronunciations all had an effect on how effective the tools were.
Renge was one of the best when it came to lobbying for us— precisely because she could use these tools well. That was why when she said that, I didn’t really think there was any particularly deep meanings or purpose to her words, so I just brushed it off. In my mind, she was just saying things.
“I guess I don’t hate it completely,” I said. “It is fun being with you.”
Renge’s eyes widened as she blushed a bit. “Me? Why?”
“Well, people like you, which makes negotiations go that much faster. And I love it when things move along like that.”
“Oh…” said Renge. “But really? People actually like me?”
She really didn’t seem to believe what I said. “T-That’s not true!” she continued, waving her hands around frantically. “That can’t be true at all!”
It sure was. I don’t know anyone more beloved than you.
Renge continued to deny it as she shook her head, despite the fact that I hadn’t said anything else. “There’s no way people like me at all… I mean, I got kicked out of the military! Right?”
She laughed nervously.
“You didn’t get kicked out— you got transferred,” I said. “Besides, Natsume’s nice enough to not kick anyone out, right?“
“Yeah, she’s kind to me, even though I’m so useless…” she replied shyly.
It was hard to tell whether or not she was serious, even though she looked a bit depressed saying that. For all I knew she could just be messing with me… I guess there’s just not a whole lot I can do about that.
“Isn’t it good enough to be useful working in the manufacturing branch?” I said. I gave up trying to read her, so I just said what came to my mind. “Everyone, from the higher ups to your coworkers, all like you anyway.”
“I mean… Y-Yeah, that makes me happy…” she replied with a touch of embarrassment, but that didn’t stop her from walking up close to me. “But what do you think, Kasumi? Do you like me?”
I could feel her warm breath, and her usual sweet fragrance tickled my nose a bit. Even though I wasn’t making eye contact with her, I knew she was very close to me.
“It sure looks that way to other people, doesn’t it? I replied, unable to even turn in her general direction. “I think…”
That just made Renge more persistent. This time, she pulled on my arm. “Who cares about what others think… I just want to know what you think… please?”
Her voice shot through the air and gently coaxed its way right into me. This really wasn’t a question I wanted to answer, but her voice was so persuasive I almost felt compelled to do so. She was like a siren urging me on.
I instinctively felt the need to get away from her, so I hurried on into the building.
The atmosphere inside the trade building was tense. There were multiple high profile trade members already sitting down across from us, and they weren’t looking too pleasant. Surely the upbeat attitude they had during the fruits party was long gone by now.
Our appointment was set up through Renge’s old friends from the military that had transferred here, so it wasn’t like we randomly barged in or anything, but it sure looked like we did.
Renge took out a large thermos from the bag she had been carrying and poured out a few cups of her tea.
“Here, help yourselves,” she said, addressing them. “This is something we created recently.”
“O-Oh, thanks,” they replied. They seemed a little hesitant to take it at first, but tensions seemed to lower once they took their first sip. It wasn’t long before they began some small talk with her— talking mostly about tea in general. They threw around words like “organic” and “natural,” but since I wasn’t too familiar with tea, I couldn’t follow the conversation at all.
One of the members chuckled, so the conversation must have been heading in the right direction. I trusted that this was all part of Renge’s plan where they were eased into our actual topics through her tea and small talk.
“So, about the thing we came here for…”
“Y-Yes, go on ahead…” one of them said, but it was clear that they were uncomfortable with proceeding.
“If you stand with us, we’ll… umm…” her voice trailed off. Renge was certainly more shy than usual, and it didn’t take a genius to understand why she was like that. The image of being absolutely powerless against the military must have been on everyone’s minds, and there was always the possibility that Natsume had already started pressuring them personally.
“If I may, maybe we shouldn’t change the system that worked so far…” interrupted the head of the trade branch. “The military is far too important for us as a whole.”
“O-Oh… Is that how you all feel?” Renge said gloomily.
“Ah, no, not like that,” he said, backpedaling. “I was just playing the devil’s advocate… We’re still deliberating ourselves, so hopefully with this meeting we can decide on what to do.”
It was the biggest non-answer ever. I supposed all he was concerned about was aligning with the winning side when everything was over.
If that was the case, then Renge needed a miracle to get them fully on our side. I started to speak, but Renge spoke out before I had a chance to say anything.
“But still, that’s the whole point we are doing this,” she said. “Haven’t we had enough? If we don’t act now, who knows if we would ever get another chance…”
Renge’s voice got quieter and quieter as she spoke, which just made them listen more intently. Her shoulders trembled and she was fighting off tears, but she still looked straight into their eyes.
“Please lend me your power,” she finished with a single tear rolling down her cheek.
The members were all rendered speechless. The looked at each other confused, unaware of what to do. It was no longer a negotiation— it probably never was, as it was more like an emotional plea that they couldn’t turn down.
And that’s exactly where we made our move.
“Tsurube has great hopes for the trade branch, so please take that into consideration,” I said with a bow. I took all the presents I had wheeled in earlier and laid them out on the table.
The manager nodded. “I-I see. I can’t see why not, so we’ll—”
“Really? So you’ll help us out?” interrupted Renge.
“Sure… I mean, we will still tread carefully.”
I wasn’t sure if it was Renge’s tears or the presents that had pushed him to our side, but it really didn’t matter to me since our work here was done. We both bowed respectfully, shook hands with the crew, and left the building in silence. It wasn’t until we were outside that Renge finally let out a big sigh of relief.
“Nice work back there,” I said.
Renge facepalmed with both her hands. “T-Thanks. Even now I still feel embarrassed, though…”
I couldn’t help but chuckle hearing that. “Don’t be like that,” I said sincerely. “We got exactly what we came here for because of that.”
I didn’t usually compliment people genuinely like that, but this time I really meant it.
“I guess so,” Renge said with a smile. “Thanks, I appreciate you saying that. I got through because of you.”
I shrugged to keep my composure. “Alright,” I said, trying to change the topic. “Let’s head on back.”
“Sorry! I’m about to meet up with some of my old friends… Do you want to come to, Kasumi?”
“Maybe next time. Tell them I said hi.”
I actually didn’t want to go, so I used my nifty “maybe next time” phrase to dodge her invitation. Not even Renge could pull me from that.
“O-Oh… Alright then,” she replied. “I’ll be sure to let you know next time!”
She hoisted up her bag and waved me goodbye before heading back to the city. There was no doubt in my mind that she was going to show them the tea she was so proud of. In any case, I started to roll the now empty cart back to the office.
There wasn’t any time to waste. It was time to do overtime.
Renge continued to lobby behind the scenes just as Asagao continued with her idol work. She didn’t perform in just one location, either. We had a portable stage that we could bring to essentially anywhere in the city and use that to hold performances.
Of course, the military continued to thwart our efforts. However, every time they came, Urushibara and his fellow wizards would bravely stall for time as Asagao snuck her way out. This kind of “guerrilla warfare” only brought Asagao and Natsume further and further apart until they were on completely opposite sides of the political spectrum.
As a result, Chiba was split into two sides: one under Asagao, and one under Natsume. Natsume’s side became the conservative party, and they made it clear that safety was the number one priority for the city. On the other hand, Asagao combined with the other branches to form the revolutionists. As their name suggested, they wanted to bring change to Chiba.
As with all elections, the two parties ran their own negative smear campaigns against the other. For example, on Natsume’s side they pushed the narrative that if Asagao was elected, Chiba would be unable to defend itself from anything, while on Asagao’s side they insisted that a government under Natsume would mean a life of being exploited by power hungry dictators.
The two parties continued to viciously attack each other until even the students were getting tired of their politics. However, just when things were about to get out of hand if it hadn’t already, it was soon time for their first debate.
Things were tense in the debate room right off the bat. Despite that, I wasn’t particularly nervous as I sipped Renge’s tea in our preparation room beforehand. She had ramped up production of her newly developed tea just in time to give it to everyone who came to watch. Asagao had also ordered us to distribute other refreshments and even some of her goods. It was nothing more than a shameless attempt to garner cheap support from the crowd.
On the other hand, the military did no such thing.
“Umm… I have a dream,” Renge said, reading off of a manuscript with a shaky voice. We were going through everything we could until the very last minute. “For Chiba, by Chiba…”
“No!” Urushibara shouted. “You need to speak with more emotion! Don’t be so monotone! You need to be able to leave an impact and believe in the power of your words! Repeat after me! FOR CHIBA! BY CHIBA! CHIBAAA!”
“R-Repeat after me…”
“You don’t say that! Starting from FOR CHIBA! I want to hear your passion and emotion! Right now I can’t even hear you, so speak louder!”
Urushibara went crazy trying to show her the same passion he had, causing him to sweat uncontrollably. This only got Renge even more flustered.
Unlike those two, Asagao was also calmly sipping some tea on the sofa.
“Asagao, you sure are really relaxed right now,” I said, taking a seat next to her.
“Is that how it looks to you? I am pretty nervous, you know.”
She smiled as she gave a nod indicating her hands. I took a look and indeed, they were trembling a bit.
“Right? I’m just acting all calm and stuff but I’m freaking out in the inside.”
“Well, that’s natural. I mean, it could be worse. Remember the first time you got on stage? You were practically crying,” I said with a chuckle.
“Hey now, I’d like to see you try…”
“But you managed to do it. You didn’t do it well, but you did it.”
“I can’t tell if that’s a compliment or not…” pouted Asagao. She swung her face away, and in the process her front bangs fell back onto her forehead. Through her scattered bangs I could see that she was still eyeing me from the side. “But…” she whispered. “Because of that performance… no, even before that, because of all of us, I was able to get to where I am today. That’s why, it’s going to be alright. You have my gratitude, Kasumi.”
Asagao blushed and reached out her hand for a handshake. It was slender and pale, almost as if all the color had been drained from it, but I reached out as well and shook it. I knew her hand was far from weak.
“This all came from your hard work, you know. I’m only here as a producer.”
“You’re absolutely right on that. It takes a lot to be an idol,” she said, giving me a cheeky little grin. She smiled differently than she would in front of an audience, but it was just as passionate.
If she could put out that kind of smile backstage, I couldn’t imagine what she was capable of doing in front of an audience. She was on her way to becoming the best idol that had ever existed.
“Asagao! Let’s do your hair and makeup!” shouted Urushibara.
We quickly finished up our handshake and I peeked inside the dresser room. Renge was already inside styling her hair and making sure her smile went along with her lipstick. She sprayed some perfume around her as well.
Since she was the first speaker of the debate, I guess she had to be the first one to get ready.
“Alright, time to go. See you later.”
“Take care,” I replied.
Asagao waved me goodbye and made her way to the dressing room.
There was a control room that handled the acoustics and displays in the back of the assembly hall where the debate took place. The two sides each approved of one person to oversee it for the sake of fairness, and on Asagao’s side that person happened to be me.
Once I opened the door into the dimmed room, Asuha was already inside looking at me with her phone in her hands. She probably heard my footsteps coming in, but she was still surprised to see that it was me.
“H-Hey,” she called out.
“What are you doing here? Helping Natsume out?”
“Yeah, I think so…” she said without an ounce of emotion before quickly turning back to her phone.
She was probably here because Natsume didn’t want any funny business happening, though it seemed like she had no idea on what to do. Well, I guess it was our job to make sure everything went smoothly, so it’s not like we had to do anything special.
I took a seat in the sofa up front where I could see most of the action. Once I did, Asuha came over as well and lied down next to me. It really did feel like we were right at home.
In time the staff came running up which marked the start of the debate. Fireworks accompanied the rock music that came blasting on, and the spotlights turned on just in time to shine on the confetti and balloons being shot out. At last, the announcer officially declared that the debate had begun.
The first introductory speech belonged to our group. I said speech, but it was more like an opportunity for us to hype up the crowd in our favor. It didn’t seem like there was any need to, however, since the crowd was already applauding before anyone had stepped onto the podium. Asagao had chosen Renge to do this, so it was her who walked up first.
Renge walked with confidence and style— it was hard to believe she was on the verge of breaking down earlier. That confidence bled into cloud, making them cheer harder with each step she took. I couldn’t help but notice her jet black hair once again with her pure white skin.
She waved her hand out to thank the crowd for being so supportive before walking up to the podium. Once there, she took a dramatic pause to ensure that everyone was completely focused on her before speaking.
“I have a dream…” she started to say without once looking at her notes or the teleprompter. She was completely focused on the audience. “That one day, people will not be defined merely by the branch they were in, but rather who they were as a person. A day where the barrier between branches was broken down, and the shackles that binded them lifted.”
Renge spoke like how she had walked, with confidence. She loudly projected her voice all throughout the room, and the nervousness she had during rehearsals earlier had been completely wiped away. Her voice was soothing and relaxing, enough to instantly draw anyone in.
However, Renge suddenly took a pause in the middle of her speech and silently hung her head down in sadness. It was so unexpected that the audience started murmuring among themselves in an effort to find out what was going on. That seemed to be the signal she was waiting for, as she suddenly shouted her next words.
“But! That dream… That dream I have… Is about to be taken from us!”
The overhead lights dimmed just as she said that and the projector started to blast a video. The video showed some slightly intoxicated students eating fruits and drinking from champagne glasses.
Upon seeing that, I instantly ran up to the operator table and said, “Stop that video.”
The operator shook his head. “Umm… I’m afraid I can’t do that… I was asked to play this, and you know I was hesitant about doing it, but they really insisted on it… I have no choice, man.”
“Yes you do. Stop it.”
I forcefully took over the controls and tried to do it myself.
“H-Hey, what are you doing?!?”
The video switched to the next scene where it showed footage of the forbidden alcohol being made and it being handed as a gift to some other branches.
As you all can see, Tsurube Asagao made alcohol that was explicitly banned by the Administration Bureau, and used that as bribes to further her agenda.
Renge’s voice turned emotionless when she started to coldheartedly accuse Asagao of multiple crimes. As a result, a commotion brewed in the audience.
My first priority was to cut the video and the microphone, but to do that I had to get the operator out of the way. I tried to push him completely off the table, but someone came in and grabbed me on the shoulder.
“I’m afraid you can’t do that, Chigusa, he said. “Just stay still and don’t move a muscle.”
“Who are you?”
“We used to be coworkers… I transferred out too, so I guess we are now fellow transfers.”
He was a fairly big guy, big enough that I couldn’t just simply brush him off, but I tried to anyway. As I was doing so, I heard an even louder commotion coming from the stage.
Do you have something to say, Tsurube Asagao?
I turned just in time to see a bunch of students forcibly dragging Asagao and Urushibara onto the podium. The two were clearly confused out of their minds. Right now, I was just as confused as they were.
“Renge… W-What, why…? What’s going on… why are you… Please stop…” Asagao said in shock, wiping her tears away. She was close enough for the mic to pick up on what she said, blasting her voice throughout the venue.
On the other hand, the mic wasn’t close enough to hear what Urushibara was saying, but it was evident that he was shouting and fighting his way out. I noticed that anything Asagao related around the two were smashed to bits, and even the audience was starting to turn on them.
As I just stood there dumbfounded, I felt the guy behind me tighten his grip on my shoulder.
“You’re part of them too, right?” he said. “Come with me.”
“Wait a second!” shouted Asuha as she jumped up from the couch and went to stop him.
I wondered if the commotion here was finally loud enough to wake her up. In any case, I suddenly felt something cold press against the back of my head. It didn’t take a genius to know what that was.
Seeing this, Asuha stopped right in her tracks and shot him a dirty look. “I thought weapons were banned in here,” she said, raising both her hands in defeat.
“Oh really? My apologies, then,” he replied. He motioned at us to move out with his gun still pointed at me. “Chigusa Asuha, you also need to come as well.”
I had no choice but to oblige, so I went with him all the way down to the main floor. At this point, the audience had completely turned against Asagao. Words couldn’t describe the hatred they had towards her, but their rage could certainly be felt.
However, there was but one person who went against the grain. “Shut up, everyone!” she yelled angrily. “Have you been deceiving us the whole time, Renge? Seriously, what the fuck are you thinking? I’ll hear your excuses later, so let them go!”
In a fit of rage, Natsume barged onto the stage. Once she got a closer look at Asagao, who was now in handcuffs, she ran to her aid.
Renge immediately got in her way. “Natsume, your hands are also dirty in all this,” she said. “I’m disappointed in you.”
“What the hell are you saying? What do you know??!?”
“These past few months, you forcibly relocated a good portion of the students from the military,” Renge called out to her. “Why is that?”
“Huh? What does that have to do with…” Natsume’s voice trailed off when she saw a bunch of students line up in front of her.
I felt I had seen some of them before.
“You wanted to secretly take over the other branches from the inside, didn’t you?” Renge said as she walked in front of all those people. She turned back to them with a smile. “Isn’t that right, you guys?”
“No I didn’t! I just wanted us to get along better… to break down the barriers between the branches.”
“Oh spare me your lies. You knew the election was coming up, so you ‘transferred’ some of your guys over to secure your victory, right? There’s no better way of strengthening your influence on others.”
Renge and Natsume continued their back and forth without getting anywhere. Natsume vehemently denied every accusation Renge threw her way, but Renge wouldn’t hear any of it. From her tone, I got the feeling that Renge didn’t even care about the truth. Natsume could have been completely right and Renge still wouldn’t budge. She was just cold heartedly brushing her off.
The audience wasn’t any better. Like Renge, they weren’t interested in finding out whether Natsume was actually lying or not. They were just out for blood.
It wasn’t like they were acting unusually. In the face of corruption, people naturally gravitated away from those accused of it. With that, even the strongest could be taken down in the name of ethics and morals.
Natsume clenched her fist. “I told you, I want everyone to get along,” she said depressingly. “We’re all a family…”
“That’s what you think, huh,” said Renge. “But no one else thinks like you… In fact, no one else ever did.”
She marched towards Natsume and whispered something in her ear. Immediately, Natsume shot a frustrated look at Asagao. She then nodded and walked off the stage with Renge.
“Natsume, you’re very kind… and arrogant,” she said, gently massaging Natsume’s shoulders. “So this time, I’ll be kind to you.”
She said that and had Natsume taken away before returning back to the stage.
“I have a dream,” she said, continuing her speech. “That one day, everyone could choose their leaders through their own free will. And my dream shall not die today.”
It was clear what she wanted. After all, she just ousted two of the leading candidates in the election, leaving only her left standing on the podium. Her saying “free will” was nothing but a farce. She wanted it all for herself.
A strange sight then began to unfold before my very eyes. Her plea initially resulted in a few hand claps, but in the blink of an eye, those few claps turned into a thunderous applause with endless cheers on the side. The audience had to have been completely mesmerized by her speech in order for her to get that much support that quickly.
Even though it was happening right in front of me, it didn’t make sense. Her speech was neither motivating nor powerful, and it wasn’t even well spoken. It would be hard to imagine a crowd being hyped up for that, much less a crowd so devoted to her as they were right now.
Yet it did happen, which brings me to only one conclusion— her [World]. The [World] that she saw slowly seeped its way into reality, turning fiction into fact through phenomenons that should never have been possible in the first place.
But with the existence of [Worlds], that sort of thing happened right in front of me.
We were taken into the closest thing Chiba had to a prison and were even forced into white straightjackets. I was in my own cell, with Asuha in the one across from me.
It wasn’t long before I heard Renge walking in. I knew it was her because I had been with her long enough to know what her footsteps sounded like. I motioned to Asuha to stay alert before crawling up to the edge of the cell.
As I had expected, Renge came strolling in soon after. She walked up and bent down to my level, causing her skirt to spread out across the ground.
“You’ll have to forgive me for that,” she said, smiling right in my face with a cute little head twirl.
At least she didn’t straight out say, “We’re still cool, right?” so I could at least appreciate that. I smiled bitterly before saying, “Do you need anything from me? Sorry, I really don’t feel like talking in this state.”
Renge stood up with a smug smile and walked to Asuha’s cell. She crouched down a bit to stare at her right in the face, just like she did with me. However, unlike me Asuha was also tied to a chair, so Renge didn’t have to bend too far down.
“You’re a very strong candidate for future elections, so I want you to help me out. Agree to that, and I’ll let you out.”
Asuha stared back without so much saying a word.
That silence seemed to trigger Renge, but she giggled to cover it up. Perhaps she wasn’t used to being ignored like that.
“Umm… Do you hate me right now?”
“Maybe, maybe not,” Asuha replied, clearly irritated at having to even speak to her. “I never cared about you enough to know.”
Suddenly, Asuha’s eyes narrowed. “But seeing you all up in my face like that really pisses me off.”
If Asuha wasn’t confined to her chair, I would imagine she would leap out at the bar like a caged circus beast. Even her eyes were threatening and bloodthirsty, though Renge remained unfazed.
“I see, so that was it,” she said. “You’ll have to believe me when I say I didn’t mean to come off like that, but that’s what ticks you off, huh…”
Renge giggled and fidgeted with her hair before continuing. “You know Kasumi, you really should have fallen for me first, but you were unexpectedly stubborn. I thought it would be easy, I mean, did you not find my clumsiness cute? Or even all the embarrassing things I said? And not even my cute outfits?”
She walked back and leaned in on my cell, gently touching my cheek. She was so close her head was pushing up against the metal bars, but with my straitjacket it was physically hard for me to move away.
“Hey, doesn’t your heart just go crazy when you smell the sweet, sugary scent of a woman’s perfume?” she said, speaking directly into my ear.
I could feel her warm breath once again against my face as she spoke. I looked straight into her enchanting eyes, and from my peripheral vision I could see that her black hair seemed to spread out and trap me in like the night sky. Her words, as alluring as they were, went directly into my head and my mind went wild as a result.
My body trembled similar to how it did from the side affects of trying to control my [World]. Shivers went up and down from my spine to my head.
“I guess you really don’t need to bring your [World] out for guys,” I said. “But your [World] affects both guys and girls, right?”
Renge’s eyes widened with joy. “Exactly! I told you before, remember?”
She did say something along the lines that things seem to like her when she brought out her [World], but at that time I thought it was limited to plants only. Looking back at it now, everyone always seemed to like her, not to mention the phenomenon that just occurred back at the debate.
“What a frightening power… you’re basically brainwashing people,” I said. “So why did you end up in the manufacturing branch?”
It wasn’t like I thought she was better suited for the military with that power. No, with that power, she could have taken over the military entirely.
“It’s not as good a power as you think,” she replied with a cold smile, “so I got transferred. It’s not guaranteed that people will follow my orders, especially if the orders were way out of line. I just rearrange some things in their minds to try to make it happen.”
Renge had a bitter look on her face when she said that. If her [World] wasn’t as strong as I thought, then perhaps she found something in the manufacturing branch to strengthen its power enough to affect humans.
“I see, so you were finding out ways to make it more effective here…” I said. “I thought you didn’t know medicine at all, though.”
Renge chuckled. “Herbs aren’t medicine, so technically its true.”
There were plenty of drugs and hallucinogens that could be grown naturally. She could have used marijuana, shrooms, or even different types of herbs to put her victims into a high that could then be abused by her [World].
There was no way of telling how much of them Asagao and I had ingested on a daily basis, or even how much the audience had during the debate. It was certainly a frightening thought.
“Speaking of which,” said Renge, deep in thought. “Why doesn’t it work on you? It’s working fine for everyone else…”
“You don’t know anything, don’t you?” interrupted Asuha. “Of course it won’t work on him.”
Renge turned to Asuha. She had no idea what Asuha was trying to say.
“Why do you think my brother’s so weak?” boasted Asuha. She spoke in a braggart tone meant to get on her nerves.
“What does that have to do with anything? Tell me now, since you brought it up,” demanded Renge.
She was a bit irritated, seeing that she ordered Asuha around as if she was royalty. I guess she might as well be with her [World].
“It’s nothing much…” I said. “My body has a habit of preventing [Worlds] from affecting my mind. Of course it includes mine, but also other [Worlds] as well… including yours. That’s why I’m still me.”
I ran my mouth off before Renge had a chance to do anything to Asuha.
“Wow,” she said amazed. “Then you’re actually as strong as Asuha?”
“I wish I was. I have no idea how to utilize this perk, so I can’t really do anything else with it. Pretty useless, huh.”
“That’s not true!” said Renge. She sounded like she was comforting me after my own self-deprecating statements. You’re plenty useful, like being Asuha’s precious brother, and… hmm… As I thought, I really can’t let you go.”
She took out a pistol and pointed it straight at me.
Asuha’s eyes narrowed. “What? You trying to threaten us? Take him hostage?”
“Well, what else can I do?” said Renge. “Since he’s not affected by my [World].”
“Don’t…” pleaded Asuha. Her face turned pale with a combination of fear and anger. “What’s wrong with you?”
Renge sighed and turned back to me. “What’s wrong with me…? What’s wrong with this world? Everyone’s always fighting… and because of my [World], I lost the place where I belonged, but without it no one’s ever going to like me! That’s why I can’t let—”
Before Renge could finish up her sentence, a strange cracking noise drowned her voice out. It was odd enough that she frantically tried to look around for what caused it until she suddenly stopped in her tracks.
Asuha had her head down right in front of her, but a faint white light started to surge through her body. That light caused her straitjacket to rapidly heat up and cool down, greatly reducing its binding strength. Even the chair, floor, and walls around her started to crack from her power.
“Sorry, but I have to say this now,” said Asuha. The light that enveloped her bursted into blue flames that went wild around her. “I’m going to kill you.”
“If you kill me, it’ll be the end of Chiba. I caused this, so I’m the only one who can fix it. If Chiba falls, so will the other cities, and soon the world with it…” Renge said softly. The cracks on the wall brought in the wind which gently blew on her hair, but she didn’t react to it at all.
Instead, a slight chuckle could be heard from the flames. “Hey, did you hear that? She’s hilarious,” laughed Asuha. Having burned off her straitjacket, she emerged from the flames completely naked with bits of light scattered around her.
“Yeah, she really is,” I replied.
We didn’t have to say anything else, as even Renge had to have known what was coming. Even so, Asuha and I couldn’t help but say the same thing.
“We really don’t care about this world.”
Before falling into the cold sleep, I saw nothing but a flame in my dreams.
“Don’t cry,” it seemed to say. “Everything’s going to be alright.”
My voice drowned out and my body drifted away, but even though I couldn’t hear or even see it, I could feel its warmth.
It wasn’t long before the flame started to fade away into the coldness, and me along with it.
“Even if I were to succumb to the cold,” I thought, “let me at least bring the warmth back to this flame.”
At that moment, the coldness took over, and the world came to a standstill as space and time froze over.
Within that, I longed for the flame. I wanted to let it know I was here, but I didn’t know how to put it into words— I was never good at that sort of thing.
And that’s how my [World] came to be. It was there to remind me of the flame and to warm it up back again. No matter how vague my memories may become, my [World] was there to bring me the warmth that the flame once brought to me. It was there to keep the flame burning for eternity.
As long as I had that flame, as long as I had him, I didn’t need anything else. He was the only thing that mattered to me.
That’s why I can say this with confidence:
I really don’t care about this world.