Chapter 5: Hime.
“Nice, that’s everything for now!” Aoi said to herself, taking a long needed stretch break after sitting in front of the computer for a while.
She was in the student council room finishing up her monthly report for the South Kanto’s Administration Bureau. While Kanagawa’s student council had the best fighters, only Aoi could do the paperwork properly, so it wasn’t a surprise to see all the work handed down to her.
“I guess Shinomiya would be good at this stuff too…”
This time she scratched her face. Even so, there’s no denying Shino’s strength on the battlefield. Her [World] was so powerful it would be a waste to have her do the mundane office work.
She sighed and turned off the computer. She took a moment to organize all the paperwork before leaving the room, but she happened to stumble upon two familiar faces in the hall outside.
“Oh hey, Otonashi and Sajihara.”
“What’s up Aoi!”
They waved at her.
“What’s that you’re holding?” asked Ginko.
“Oh this? This is just a report for the Bureau. I have some business with them too, so I thought I’d deliver this myself.”
Hearing this, the two simultaneously cleared their throats.
“Sorry,” said Ginko, while Zakuro continued for her.
“We make you do so much work Aoi while we just chill around…”
“No, no, it’s all good,” reassured Aoi, but her body said otherwise. She looked really sleepy and had sweat dripping down her cheek. “I can do this myself.”
The two took a moment to appreciate her hard work before speaking up. This time, Zakuro faced her panda and continued.
“Besides why are you still using paper can’t you just send everything by email or something?”
“I-I guess, but I figured I’d do this the proper way. I’m not much of an electronics person…”
Ginko tapped Zakuro on the shoulder. “Zakuro, you forgot that she’s pretty good friends with some of the Bureau people.”
“Ah right I forgot about that you see I’m not too good with them you see they act like we know each other and always face us when they talk to us.”
Aoi chuckled. “Well, that’s normal human behavior…” she said.
Zakuro was the abnormal one here, having never even looked at Aoi during this whole conversation.
“They’re good people,” she continued. “and they’re always so kind to us. So how about it, you two? Apparently they just got some new tea so its their treat!”
“So the business there you had was for some tea?” Ginko asked.
“N-No, that’s not all of it of course… I still have to report…”
Ginko laughed and nodded her head. “I wasn’t saying that was a bad thing, you know. You’ve worked so hard today so I think this is well deserved.”
“You’re too kind…”
“Ah! In any case, did you come from the student council room?”
“Yeah I did, why?”
“Was Maihime there?”
“No, I was alone…”
Both Ginko and Zakuro shuddered without saying anything back.
“Umm, is there a problem?”
“Well I haven’t seen her since yesterday,” replied Ginko. “I even checked her room and she wasn’t there.”
Zakuro continued for her. “Yesterday I heard she was at the workshop but after that I have no clue where she went perhaps she finally finished that weapon and delivered it to Shino but when I went to her room as well she wasn’t there…”
“Oh really? Where was she?”
“I don’t know I haven’t seen her as well.”
“So in essence,” said Aoi deep in thought. “The two are out somewhere, right?”
The two hadn’t even thought of that possibility until Aoi brought it up. As expected, they were not pleased at all.
“So you’re saying… Shino kidnapped her?!?!?” shouted Ginko.
“How did you come to that conclusion? Even if they were together, maybe they just went out or something like that.”
But Zakuro was hearing none of it. “N-N-No way Aoi we are in a grave situation here how dare she sneak behind our backs to meet with Maihime secretly!”
“Exactly!” agreed Ginko. “She could even be convincing Maihime to repay her with her body right now…”
“Wow excellent thought Ginko I never would have thought of that but it sounds so plausible.”
“Calm down you two. Shinomiya’s a girl, right? You guys worry too much…”
“What are you saying Aoi you should never let your guard down.”
“Zakuro’s right! Maihime’s purity is at risk!”
For some reason, right after Ginko said that she and Zakuro immediately turned around and started to look for something.
“What’s going on?” Aoi asked. She didn’t notice whatever they had noticed.
“No it’s just that I felt someone tap my shoulder,” said Zakuro.
“But there’s no one here… What’s—” Ginko words trailed off as both her and Zakuro’s body went limp and their heads suddenly dropped unconscious.
“H-Hey Otonashi, Sajihara? What’s wrong? Hey!” Aoi said in a panic, trying to shake them awake to no avail.
She suddenly felt someone grab her shoulder and turned around to find out who it was, but couldn’t find anyone as well. She felt like she had just been touched by a spirit.
“That was…” and then it hit her. Invisibility. Unconsciousness. Yes, she had an idea of what was going on.
But it was too late. Her vision blacked out and soon she felt nothing.
Shino was rolled up in pain groaning her brains out. She had the worst headache she’s ever had in her life— she felt like her head going to explode any moment. Sure she’s had headaches before, but nothing ever this bad.
It had to be Maihime who caused all of this. Not from her directly, but she knew that the headache only came up every time she thought of or talked about her. In fact, the pain she felt now started right when she was about to slice Maihime’s throat during their fight and showed no signs of stopping anytime soon. It was as if Shino’s body itself was telling her not to kill Maihime.
After a few labored breaths, she collapsed against a very dusty wall, getting dust everywhere on her body.
She didn’t go back to the city yet, instead opting to stay in the outskirts next to some broken down building. Her headache was so severe she had no choice but to run away and hide around the area, which didn’t turn out too bad for her. Maihime could have arrested her right then and there if she had run straight back to the city,.
No, that wasn’t true— Maihime wasn’t like that. She knew she couldn’t be too optimistic as an infiltrator, but she was certain of that fact. She just didn’t know why even through all the data she had collected on her. Her trust in Maihime was based on something else… something akin to them being lifelong friends.
As she was trying to think about what to do, a small girl’s voice suddenly appeared and said something right in her head.
I’m really scared if you aren’t by my side…
“Who… was that? What’s going on?” she asked herself. Things were spiraling out of control for her.
The girl she saw didn’t seem familiar at all… No… now that Shino thought of it, she saw her in the picture she found at Maihime’s place.
“Tenkawa… and I?”
She seemed to have recalled something, but knew there were no memories to recall. What was going on? She felt sick to her stomach.
There has to be something.
Shino closed her eyes and really thought back. Because of the effects of the cold sleep, for her the war only started ten years ago, even for other people it was closer to thirty. There was no way she could remember everything that happened before then.
The things she could remember clearly were her family and Hotaru. She didn’t tell anyone yet, but Hotaru and her were really close friends even before they became coworkers. Shino remembered that they always played together since they lived pretty close to each other.
Shino and Hotaru were always together even when the [Unknowns] came and they had to enter into their cold sleeps. Hotaru was scared because she was assigned a different facility, but Shino said everything was fine and comforted—
Wait a second. That’s odd… Shino and Hotaru couldn’t have been in different facilities. Shino knew that for sure because they were talking to each other next to their capsules right before they each went to sleep. Besides, that very facility experienced a cave in that destroyed half of the facility sometime during their cold sleep, so when Shino woke up she was already in a hospital bed. Holding her hand next to her was Hotaru who had woken up before her.
I remember now.
At that time, in the darkest of darknesses, Shino felt a soft hand bring her back to reality. Her thoughts became more comprehensible and her vision became clearer until she saw a crying Hotaru in front of her.
(Oh thank goodness… I didn’t know what I’d do if you didn’t wake up…)
(Where… am I?)
(I don’t know either, but apparently we’re in a medical center in a place called the Bureau?)
(Who are you?)
(What are you saying? I’m Hotaru! You’re my friend, remember?)
Shino recalled the conversation she had with her after she had just woken up. Her memories were hazy back then because of the unfortunate accident, but it was then that Shino remembered everything about her friend Hotaru.
Then it hit her. Her head which had been racing at a thousand miles per hour just now suddenly cooled down as she arrived at one possible conclusion. It wasn’t a pretty one, but nothing else could explain all the haziness she had in her memories.
“No way…” murmured Shino. This was the last thing she wanted to be true, because it meant that her life up to this point was a lie with no taking back what she had lost.
She sighed and used the wall to help her stand back up. Now wasn’t the time to get emotional. If there was one thing to take from all her training at the Bureau, it was to keep pushing onward. She had to confirm for herself, even if the truth invalidated the past few years of her life.
She took her newly received katana and stumbled her way forward.
Hotaru was sitting with another girl in a cafe’s open terrace inside the city.
“So Shino’s no good, huh?” she said.
“Looks that way. She had the chance to end it but missed on purpose,” the girl replied.
The girl was Hotaru’s “friend,” made true thanks to her [World]. Hotaru always said her “friends” were necessary to help Shino, but there were no telling how many “friends” she had made throughout all her undercover missions.
To lower suspicion by making everything seem more natural, Hotaru carefully deactivated and reactivated her [World] within her “friends.” By doing so, she could observe the whole city without even moving a single muscle.
She had told Shino that her [World] erased the memories of those under its influence, but that was just a small portion of her powers. Revealing everything to Shino would mean telling her all her weak points. She had to keep some things secret even if she was her partner.
“Okay…” replied Hotaru, taking a sip of her orange juice. She was not looking too pleased.
She had anticipated something going down between Maihime and Shino so she sent the girl out to scout, though she wasn’t pleased with the results.
“I guess I knew this would happen,” she continued with a sigh. “As I thought, this is no fun!”
She slammed the table in frustration. Shino couldn’t pull the trigger even with all the work she put into it. She was beyond pissed.
“Whatever. Where’s Maihime now?”
“She went back to the city to rest up for a bit, though she did head out soon after.”
“Out? To the same place?”
“No, this time she’s heading to the seaside park next to the ocean.”
Hotaru’s eyes narrowed. “Oh really? That park? What a coincidence… or was it? Well isn’t this just great…” she said with a smirk. “Alright thanks for all the info.”
She got up and walked away, making sure to touch the girl’s hand before leaving and saying, “Release.”
Saying the word “Release” was important because it served as a chant for her to disperse her [World]. That, along with a physical touch, was enough to undo its effects. It might have been a good idea to keep her pawns a little bit longer, but she preferred to release and erase the memories of those who had just reported vital information for her as soon as possible. Even though her “friends” very rarely leaked information, she couldn’t be too sure it wouldn’t happen here.
Besides, there was a certain “capacity” that she didn’t want to use recklessly.
“See ya around,” she said.
But suddenly, the girl said, “Wait. When should I report the next batch of information?”
The girl’s comment made her stop straight in her tracks. For some reason she was still in Hotaru’s [World], so Hotaru looked down on her hand as she opened and closed it for a few times. She knew she had certainly touched her, but her [World] still lingered within…
Her plan to look cool while leaving backfired spectacularly, leaving her a little embarrassed. She coughed to hide it and once again went to touch her, though this time she went for the head.
It seemed like it succeeded this time, since the girl’s body immediately shook and her head went blank. Hotaru took a good look around her before leaving for real this time.
Maihime stared blankly out into the ocean as she heard the constant sound of the waves crashing against the shore. She was in the outskirts of the city in what used to be a park without another soul in sight.
No one liked to come here because the area was too desolate and too close to the gate where [Unknowns] came out from, but Maihime liked to sneak here when she felt like it. Sometimes she came when she was sad, and sometimes she came when she was happy. Regardless of how she felt, she had the urge to just stare out into the ocean from time to time.
On the other hand, she didn’t come here to be alone— she had her room for that. No, she always waited for Rindou Hotaru so the two of them could be alone together. After all, this was the very place they went to right before their respective cold sleeps.
Hotaru had never appeared anymore after that, yet that didn’t faze Maihime at all. Even if the world had changed for the worse, listening to the nostalgic sounds of the ocean and the beautiful view of the horizon made her feel as if Hotaru was right next to her.
“Hotaru…” Maihime whispered. She wondered how long it had been since that clash with Shino that went nowhere.
She rubbed the side of her stomach to quell the pain taken from Shino’s attacks. She had already gone into the city to heal up, but there were still stains of blood on her clothes. Even though the wound would heal if she rested for a night in her recovery mode, for now this was sufficient.
As she had suspected, Shino was strong. Of course, the weapon she was using was 100% Magisteel compared to the 60% she was using before, so that alone might have made her stronger than ever.
Even so, Maihime felt Shino had become much stronger even if she wasn’t wielding that blade. She was quick in reacting to her every move, efficient in her movement, and most importantly, she knew how to use her [World] to the best of her abilities. No matter how she saw it, Shino was the strongest of the strongest.
If Shino hadn’t hesitated when she dealt that blow to her, or if Shino didn’t miss her throat… Maihime wouldn’t be alive right now. She couldn’t help thinking about a bunch of what-ifs, even if she knew it was bad to do so.
“Shino…” she whispered as she rubbed her face. She could still feel Shino’s warm tears drip down her face even if her tears had long dried out by now. She didn’t know why Shino was crying, but seeing her cry close up pulled on her heartstrings. Was Shino crying because she didn’t want to kill her? Or was she just frustrated that she missed her chance? It could also very well be another reason. Regardless, she was emotional about it.
Maihime had told Shino that she needed her. Shino was strong enough that with her on the battlefield, Maihime could feel more at ease.
But Shino’s strength wasn’t the reason why Maihime said she needed her— Maihime needed her emotionally. When Shino cried, Maihime was also crying inside. Being away from Shino like this was frustrating and sad, and she hated the fact there was a divide between them right now.
“What should I have done, Hotaru?” she said, hugging her own legs.
Nobody but the waves in the ocean answered her call.
Suddenly, a shadowy figure appeared over her, which was weird because she didn’t notice anyone else in the park. She instinctively looked up to see a girl standing above her.
“It’s been a while, hasn’t it Mai~hime?” the girl said.
Maihime’s eyes widened. Hearing someone call her name that way was a blast from the past. The girl even said, “it’s been a while,” so she had to be someone who knew her from a ways back.
She rubbed her eyes and got a good look at the girl. She had a slender frame and was wearing the usual Kanagawa school uniform. The ponytail she tied behind her head swayed gently with the wind.
“Who… are you?” asked Maihime.
“I’m… Hotaru,” she said with a weird laugh. She put her hand on her chest. “I’m Rindou Hotaru.”
“Hotaru!?!?!?” Maihime leaned towards her. Surely enough, that girl had the same hairstyle as what Hotaru used to have, and even the way she stood was similar to how she used to stand. She was very similar to how Maihime remembered Hotaru to be.
Yet she knew this girl wasn’t Hotaru. Hotaru never referred to her as “Maihime” in the first place. She just didn’t feel like Hotaru. While Maihime didn’t know what Hotaru looked like right now, she felt she wouldn’t look like the girl in front of her.
“You… aren’t Hotaru, right? Maybe you two just share the same name? But I only know one Hotaru…”
“You really can’t tell?” the girl said with a confused look.
Maihime didn’t react too positively to that.
“It has been ten years, so I can’t be too surprised. Ten years for us, but 29 years for the world, huh…”
“29 years?” said Maihime. That was when she first entered the cold sleep… She thought for a few more moments before coming up with something. “Oh! You’re Mari! Mari, right?!”
She was Itou Marika, Maihime’s long lost friend before the cold sleep— the very same girl who was in the picture with Hotaru and Maihime. Maihime didn’t recognize her at first because she had changed quite a bit, but she could tell now that she knew who she was.
Maihime excitedly jumped up and turned to her. “Mari! Thank goodness you’re safe! If you’re wearing that uniform it means you’re in Kanagawa now? Why didn’t you tell me?”
Marika bitterly smiled back without saying anything, which caught Maihime off guard. But she soon remembered something else and continued.
“Oh yeah! You were in the same shelter as Hotaru, right? Is she here too?!?”
Marika frowned. “After all this time… you still really like her, huh?” she asked sullenly.
“Well… yeah I do. Speaking of which, why did you say you were Hotaru? You even styled you hair the way she used to do.
“Do you really want to know?” Marika asked, her lips slowly twisting into a wicked smile. She reached up to Maihime’s face as if she was going to stroke it.
But before she could touch her, Maihime immediately bent backwards to dodge a cone shaped yoyo object that whizzed by her head. She bent back so far her hand touched the ground, so she followed it up with a backflip to create some distance between her and Marika.
“Wow, you even dodged it close up, huh…” said Marika. “City heads really aren’t for show, aren’t they?”
Maihime glared back at her. She could make out faint wires that extended from Marika’s right sleeve to her wrist.
“Why you ask?” She flipped her hand around which brought the yoyo back to her. “Why did I do that? I wanted to kill you, no? I mean, I didn’t really think that could kill you, but you seemed to have your guard down so I might as well go for it.”
Marika spoke like that was no big deal, like killing Maihime was just another day at the office. Her tone even made it sound like she was playing around, but Maihime felt a chill down her spine when she said it.
“This can’t be… you’re lying!”
“Stop kidding yourself. If I said I was lying, would you believe me? Actually, you probably would, so here: I’m lying! Why would I want to kill you?”
She opened her arms for an embrace, still maintaining that wicked smile on her face. Maihime, however, wasn’t have any of it. She was naive, but not naive enough to believe her words. Besides, she felt a huge sense of dread from her right now.
She did look like Marika, but she just didn’t feel like her. The girl in front of her was not the same Marika she knew from her childhood.
“What happened to you, Mari?”
Upon hearing that, Marika’s instantly got rid of her smile.
“What are you talking about? Are you saying that I’ve changed? You really are so dumb,” replied Marika. “I’m sorry to say, but I’ve always been like this. Even before the war, even before we went into our cold sleep, even before we saw our first [Unknown]… I’ve always hated hated you.”
“Mari…?” Maihime couldn’t even comprehend what she had just said.
“You’re always in my way. Always so damn irritating! You’re always by Hotaru’s side, always wanting to be with her, always treating her so nicely… If you weren’t here, I’d be Hotaru’s only friend!’
“Am I wrong? Hotaru’s mine, so why is she with you all the time? It doesn’t make sense! Hotaru wants to be with me, but with you in the picture nothing can go as we want!”
At this point Marika was pretty much ignoring everything Maihime was saying. Her eyes were clouded with hatred and she had so much resentment towards her she couldn’t think straight. It was as if the very essence of hatred itself was slowly dragging her into insanity, taking Maihime along with her.
Suddenly, her face loosened up into a more relaxing state. “Whatever. It doesn’t matter anyway, since I’m Hotaru now.”
“Yes I am. I’m nice, I’m strong, and I’m amazing, so I’m Hotaru. See this hair? It suits me pretty well, doesn’t it? It was tough getting my fuzzy hair all straightened out like this, but it’s worth it in the end!” she said as she curled her hair with her finger. “I mean, you can’t be Hotaru with ugly looking hair. I wish I was taller too… Oh well, that comes with time.”
She spoke all cutesy, but Maihime still got the chills listening to her. She felt Marika wasn’t even human. Even though they were speaking the same language, she had no idea what Marika was talking about— not one bit.
Marika pointed a finger at her and said, “That’s why I’ll say the words Hotaru couldn’t say to you back then. You’re annoying. Don’t talk to us ever again.”
Maihime didn’t respond, not because she was still trying to see if the girl in front of her was Hotaru or not, but because she had never been hated this much before in her life. Being the target of this much animosity made her freeze up.
“Now, all I need is for you to disappear,” she said, stroking her chin. “So please die. You had Hotaru all your life, and now your turn is over. It’s my turn now.”
Once again, Maihime didn’t say a word back. She clenched her fists, knowing that even if she said something back, their conversation would go nowhere. Even though both her and Shino had vowed to kill her, the circumstances were much different this time around.
She backed off even more and pulled out her sword “Eris” that she had hidden away inside her overcoat. It reflected the full might of the sun once it was completely out, sending beams of light in all directions around her.
Maihime narrowed her eyes and pointed her sword at Marika. She really didn’t want to do this, but the situation was getting so out of control she had to say something.
“Mari. Enough with the jokes… I am the head of this city. If this goes on any longer, I’m going to take this seriously.”
Marika initially frowned upon hearing that, but soon went back to her usual twisted grin.
“You weren’t taking it seriously before? You really are too nice… it makes me want to vomit. Just die already, you whore.”
“Okay then. What a shame,” said Maihime. She took a deep breath and changed her mentality. The girl in front of her was no longer the friend she knew from before. She was an assassin trying to take her out. “Still, you really think you can kill me for real? I’m strong. That last attack you did was weak. Maybe if you were on par with Shino…”
Marika laughed. “You’re not wrong. You were the top fighter in Kanto for god knows how long. But hey, aren’t you underestimating me too much?”
She waved both her hands upwards as if she was conducting a symphony. “Didn’t we all promise to defeat the evil demon lord?” she shouted out right after.
Immediately, Maihime felt the presence of someone coming up from behind her, so she turned around and lashed out with her sword to defend herself. She felt the heaviness of the attacker’s blade the moment their swords clashed, and it was so heavy shivers ran down her arm.
Who was the attacker? Maihime took one look at her and couldn’t believe her eyes. In front of her was none other than one of the Four Divine Pillars, Otonashi Zakuro. She didn’t want to believe it was really her, but there no mistaking her baggy eyes, her panda hoodie, and her two long braids. It didn’t help to see that she was holding her signature scythe with the little panda attachment, either.
“Zakuro… why?” shouted Maihime, but she didn’t have the luxury of waiting for an answer. In the next instant she sensed someone trying to kill her from below and saw Ginko running up with her right arm fully equipped with her claws. Luckily, she was able to use her foot to stop the attack, and with that momentum she jumped away to her left.
“Ginko, you too? Why??” she shouted in despair.
“What are you talking about its natural we help our friends right?” replied Zakuro.
“Yeah, exactly. Can you please die for our friend Hotaru’s sake, Maihime?” Ginko added on. She laughed with hollow eyes with Zakuro doing the same soon after.
Maihime couldn’t believe her ears.
Marika laughed hysterically. “What do you think? It’s wonderful, isn’t it? These two are my friends now. They’re willing to do anything for me, you know?”
Maihime realized what was going on with that. Zakuro and Ginko wouldn’t betray her like that, so they were probably influenced by Marika’s [World]. She got a quick glance at both their faces to confirm her suspicions before biting down on teeth in rage.
There was no way she could ever hurt those two, and she didn’t even want to kill Marika no matter how much Marika wanted to kill her. Her only option was to hold back and somehow restrain her, and—
“You’re probably thinking to knock me unconscious or something,” Marika interrupted with a laugh. “If it’s you, it’ll probably work too. But hey, I’m not gonna let that happen. I had some good people tell me what to do, you see…”
Marika snapped her fingers and instantly their surroundings warped mysteriously until a huge group of about a hundred students appeared around them.
“What is this…?” Maihime stood in awe. The students that just appeared out of nowhere were all wearing the same Kanagawa school uniform as she was, but they each had their own specialized weapon. Marika had somehow managed to control all of them as they all glared at Maihime in disgust.
Maihime wondered how they could just appear like that without her noticing. Well, she did know a girl who could could make things invisible…
“Sup Maihime,” Kurisu said as she too appeared out of nowhere. She then flashed a bunch of specialized throwing stars for Maihime to see after walking up next to Marika. “You’re cute as always…”
She hadn’t changed at all appearance-wise with her blonde hair and her mole under her lip, so Maihime recognized her instantly.
“Kurisu!” shouted Maihime. Of course, she didn’t forget one bit the crimes Kurisu had against the city. Speaking of which, she should have been locked up in their detention facility, but Marika probably broke her out.
Marika confirmed her suspicions. “When the [Unknowns] attacked back then,” she said, gently stroking Kurisu’s chin, “This girl here tried to kidnap you, didn’t she? But even though you had the strength to beat down every one of her goons, you still managed to get yourself captured, just so you could save the city from all those bombs. Aren’t you so badass… Oh look here, I’m Maihime! I’ll protect everyone!” she said sarcastically, throwing out her arms as an exaggeration. “You’ve always been like that. Always willing to sacrifice yourself. Always wanting to play the hero, even though you’re such an idiot. I can’t believe anyone actually likes you… and I seriously can’t understand why Hotaru says good things about you. Thinking about that actually makes me want to vomit.”
Maihime glared back silently. She was triggered and she knew it, especially since all this came from an old friend. However, she understood the importance of controlling her emotions. If there was a time to do such a thing, it would be now. She carefully looked around to try to find a way to get out of this situation.
“Well, whatever,” continued Marika. It was unclear whether she noticed Maihime plotting her way out. “It’s because you’re like that that I can take you down here and now. So, how’re you gonna do it? If you hold back too much, you’ll die~”
Once again, Maihime didn’t say a single word.
“Wait, wait, this might not be enough. No worries, I have this too!” said Marika, snapping her fingers. Immediately, a single bespectacled girl step forward from the crowd and came to her side.
Maihime gasped. “Aoi!” she shouted.
Indeed it was her. It seemed like Marika had the whole city under her control, which explained the smug look she had when Maihime reacted that way.
“Hey Aoi, please,” she said, gently touching her on the shoulder.
“Absolutely.” nodded Aoi. She took out a specialized knife and pressed it against her own neck.
“What are you doing Aoi!?!”
Aoi smiled. “It’s fine… She’s my friend. It’s only natural I do something like this.”
Her smile was so out of place Maihime got shivers down her spine. “Stop it! Friends don’t do that to each other!”
“Shut up. Can you stop butting in?” said Marika. She swung her hand downward as a signal to everyone else to get ready for battle. Even Zakuro and Ginko were ready to fight Maihime to the death.
Maihime gripped her sword even tighter. She knew the best course of action was to get as far away from everybody as possible and throw out a nonfatal shockwave that could immobilize them.
As she was about to move, Aoi pushed the knife harder against the throat. This time, the knife cut through the thin first layer of her skin and she began to bleed from the neck.
“Aoi!” Maihime’s attention was diverted for a brief moment which gave the opening everyone needed to jump at her, restraining her arms and legs and throwing her onto the ground.
Maihime was strong enough that she could easily blast everyone away with her brute strength, but she couldn’t move as long as Aoi kept that knife pointed at herself.
Marika laughed even harder this time. “You’re so nice aren’t you! Yeah, if you let Aoi die here, what would Hotaru think?” she said, stroking her chin. “Well then, I wanna just get this over with. You know what? I got the perfect friends to take care of you. Kurisu, do it.”
Kurisu snapped her fingers once again to bring out her [World], and the air behind everyone then warped and warped until several giant grotesque things appeared above them.
“[Unknowns]!?!?!?!?” shouted Maihime. For the third time today she couldn’t believe her eyes.
There was no doubt about it. Each of those alien looking [Unknowns] were about three meters tall, and the very same ones that brought forth the great calamity in the first place.
Maihime couldn’t contain her emotions as she screamed, “Mari… Itou Marika. You bitch!”
Marika couldn’t contain herself seeing Maihime like that. She trembled in ecstasy at the thought of Maihime struggling before her.
“So, what do you think? Cute, aren’t they? I decided to make a few friends when they attacked last time, even if I can’t understand them at all. They still do anything I command them to do, so that doesn’t matter though! It wouldn’t be suspicious at all if you’re killed by one of these, right?”
She laughed hysterically while an [Unknown] walked up to Maihime as if on command. The students were well aware that it was coming through them, but none of them panicked at all. Instead, they just continued to stare at Maihime with their lifeless eyes as some of them made room for it to pass.
“What a turn of events. How many [Unknowns] have you killed? Hundreds? Thousands? Well, you’re about to be killed by a single one, and there’s nothing you can do about it!”
The [Unknown] got face to face to Maihime, opening its grotesque thing that was probably its head and revealing a big mouth.
“Ahahahaha!!!” interrupted Marika. “It feels so damn good being able to let everything out like this. This was what I needed all my life! This is the greatest day of my life! Alright, enough. Do it my friend.”
She dropped her hand for yet another signal. The [Unknown] understood her intentions even if it couldn’t understand her words, so it opened its mouth even wider and went to swallow Maihime whole.
Maihime’s lips trembled at the sight of the approaching [Unknown]. She was going to be eaten at this rate, but if she defended herself Marika would instantly make Aoi kill herself and possibly even more students after that. Maihime had to take that threat seriously because Marika clearly showed she wouldn’t hesitate to do such a thing. The whole city was her hostage.
Of course, Maihime did not want to die here. Even if there were so many more things she wanted to do in life, she would rather take her own life than let Aoi die.
The [Unknown] got closer and closer as her life flashed before her very eyes. She bit down hard on her teeth and tightened up her body to prepare herself for the inevitable. What felt like an eternity was just a few seconds as the [Unknown] went for the kill, until…
Before anyone realized what happened, its head was cut clean off.
Now headless, the [Unknown] collapsed dead onto the ground.
Maihime’s eyes widened because she had seen that move before. Even Marika couldn’t help but yell out in surprise as she trembled in fear.
The students holding Maihime down were also not left unscathed. In a flash they collapsed to the ground as well, albeit still with their heads intact. A single girl jumped over everyone else to where Maihime was immediately after, and even though she could move freely now, she was too fixated on that girl to do anything else.
Her hair was tied in a ponytail and she was wearing the usual white uniform, but more importantly, she was using the new black katana that she had just received from Maihime. While they may have just fought to the death hours before, this time they stood on the battlefield as allies.
“Shino… why?” said Marika, but that went unnoticed by Shino.
Instead, she turned to Maihime with the biggest smile she could muster and said, “I’m sorry I’m late… Hime.”
That smile… Those words… The way she called her… Maihime knew she had seen and heard all of this before. It didn’t take long for her to realize the girl in front of her was not just Shino, but also another girl she knew before.
Shino… no, Hotaru heard that and nodded.
Maihime had remnants of what Hotaru looked like back in the day, but because it had been ten years since they’ve last seen each other (twenty-nine if counting the cold sleep years), her memories of her were faint.
When she saw Shino for the first time she did see similarities between the two, but at the time Shino insisted she didn’t know Maihime at all. That, combined with the vastly different personalities, proved that she wasn’t Hotaru.
She wasn’t back then, but the girl here certainly was. The words she had said were all Maihime needed to hear to know.
“Oh my god…. Oh my god….” Maihime’s voice faded as she began to tear up. A decade of emotions that she had suppressed came welling up all at once. She was so surprised she couldn’t even stand properly anymore, instead opting to cling tightly to Hotaru for support.
“Hotaru!!!! Oh my god, Hotaru! I’ve been waiting for so long!! Because you know… our promise! I still remember!”
More and more tears continued to stream down her face and onto Hotaru’s uniform, but Hotaru was too busy patting her head and trying to calm her down to notice.
However, this beautiful moment was ruined by Marika screaming, “What the hell?!?” at the top of her lungs.
“How is this possible…” she continued shouting, “My [World]…”
Her lips were trembling to the point where she couldn’t even speak properly, and her knees got so weak she had to shuffle her feet to regain her composure.
“Your [World] is a real pain,” replied Hotaru, “but you were the one who released it for me, you know?”
A few hours earlier, Shino was lying hidden on a roof after returning back to the city. She was paying close attention to a cafe’s open terrace below, where Hotaru and a bunch of other girls were seated. From a distance it seemed like they were nonchalantly chatting about ordinary girl things, but Shino knew that wasn’t the case. She knew full well about the usefulness of Hotaru’s [World] on information gathering, so she knew that’s what the girls were doing.
Shino’s had her doubts ever since she had to force herself not to deliver the final blow to Maihime as well as the headaches she got from trying to remember her past. At least now she knew that those also stemmed from Hotaru’s [World].
At that moment, Hotaru finished talking and rose from her seat, prompting Shino to take action by bringing out her own [World]. She had some things she wanted to try but didn’t know if it would work. Regardless, she decided to just go for it because she had nothing to lose at this point.
She focused in on Hotaru’s hand and waited for the precise moment when she would touch the girl. With Shino’s [World] of being able to touch anything in her sight, she easily slid herself right in so that Hotaru was touching her as well.
As a result, Hotaru didn’t know she was actually touching Shino when she muttered the words, “Release.”
Instantly, Shino’s head went blank, followed by all her sealed memories being released at once. Fragments of her memories that she tried to piece together before became crystal clear again, and slowly but surely she began to remember who she really was.
First was her name.
“That’s right, my name is…”
She was Rindou Hotaru, and the girl who had claimed to be Hotaru’s name was Itou Marika, one of her childhood friends along with Maihime. The memories came gushing back into her head until she remembered the most important thing of all: Her promise with Maihime.
“Hime…. I remember everything about us… and even you too, Marika. Even if you had been hiding your true [World] from me all this time, I didn’t expect it to be this substantial. You completely changed my memories— and even changed me as a person… my personality, my thoughts… what a scary [World] to be a part of. But now that I understand everything, you were the who made our section chief Kanaya give the order to kill Hime, weren’t you?”
“Y-You’re wrong… No, you’re wrong!” Marika replied in a panic. She looked down on her hands as if they were stained with the blood of her crimes, realizing that things were spiraling out of control for her. “Shino… stop joking around, okay? It’s all their fault!”
“Marika.” coldly replied Hotaru, which made her almost cry.
“I did this for you…” she replied, her voice trembling. “Everything I do is for you… If Maihime wasn’t here, it’d just be the two of us!”
“So is that why you made me kill Hime?”
“Exactly! You understand me, right? Maihime’s the worst! Just when I received the power to get her away from you, this happens! Look at her not wanting to go inland because she’s waiting for you! You don’t even like Maihime!! You’re way better than that!”
“Mari…” Maihime didn’t know what else to say in her troubled state, but that went largely ignored by Marika.
“We still have time, Hotaru. Let’s kill her so we can finally be together, and you can finally tell me you like me in peace… Just like you’ve done with Maihime, right?”
“Marika.” said Hotaru once again, but this time she closed her eyes and took a deep breath before continuing. “I liked you. I will treasure the times we spent with Hime for the rest of my life.
“H-Hotaru…? What are you saying?”
She opened her eyes and stared straight at Marika. “But you aren’t the Marika I know. You took my memories for your own gain, and you certainly do not have the right to take Maihime’s life. Whoever you are right now, I. don’t. like. you.”
Hotaru’s words came down on Marika like lightning and froze her up until all hell broke loose.
“I… I….” she tried to speak, but could only make out a few sounds before crying her heart out.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!” she wailed out, holding her head in despair. Her scream caused all the students and [Unknowns] to lunge towards Hotaru and Maihime.
“Hime, get down.” Hotaru said calmly. She took out her katana and brought out her [World] to fight.
Ah, now I see...
She remembered why her [World] was the way it was. The only thing she had in her mind during the cold sleep was to reach out to Maihime and hold her. She never forgot her promise to her: that one day she would return back to her side.
With an efficient spin on her body, she managed to get everyone in her sight just as she swung her sword. Her one strike was so effective that all the students dropped to the ground after being hit by non lethal blows that ranged from the back of their neck to their stomachs. Seeing that they were being controlled, Hotaru held back by using the blunt side of her sword to ensure that no one died.
While that was enough to take out most of the people, the Divine Pillars and the [Unknowns] remained unfazed. Ginko and Zakuro dodged her attack with their speed, while the [Unknowns] just took the brunt of it with their high armor. Aoi and Kurisu on the other hand were hidden somewhere behind everyone, so Hotaru couldn’t reach them even if she wanted to.
Now it was time for their counterattack. Ginko, Zakuro, and the [Unknowns] rushed in at the same time, each with with their own frightening power. Hotaru didn’t have the strength to counter all of their attacks, but at the same time she would be killed if she took those attacks straight on.
“Hotaru!” This time it was Maihime who came to the rescue.
Without even so much a glance between the two, Hotaru knew exactly what Maihime was about to do, so she jumped towards the [Unknowns] and said, “Thanks,” as they passed by each other. Even now, her research on Maihime came in handy despite this time being allies and good friends.
“Leave them to me!” Maihime shouted back.
Hotaru brought out her [World] and sliced the [Unknown’s] heads clean off with a bright flash of light. At the same time, Maihime slammed her large sword down onto the ground and approached the two barehanded.
Zakuro turned invisible and went to go for Maihime’s blind spot, but it was Maihime who got to her first with her excellent footwork. She used some old-fashioned hand to hand technique to dance around her before slamming her open palm into Zakuro’s stomach. Maihime’s moves were so fast Zakuro had no idea what had happened as she collapsed onto the ground.
Before Maihime had time to pull back, Ginko rushed up from under her and went for Maihime’s head with her claws. However, Maihime pulled down even lower to the point where she was basically crawling on the ground and struck Ginko on the chin with her open palm like she did with Zakuro on her way up. As a result, she yelled out in pain and collapsed onto her back.
“Nice!” Maihime shouted, giving herself a fist bump.
Hotaru was blown away. Not only had Maihime fought them at the same time without her weapon, she managed to subdue them in only a few seconds whereas Hotaru had struggled against them individually.
Maihime was undoubtedly the strongest of the strongest. Hotaru could do nothing but smile in awe at her overwhelming power.
Yet the battle was far from over.
“Kurisu! Aoi!” Marika’s voice still trembled as she called out to them.
Kurisu took out six invisible throwing knives and threw them in Maihime and Hotaru’s general direction, while Aoi went to stab her own neck with the dagger.
“Hime,” Hotaru motioned calmly once again.
That was all it took for them to formulate a plan. Hotaru slammed her foot onto the ground and transferred that force to push Aoi’s dagger far away from her. At the same time, Maihime dashed to her sword and blew all the daggers back with just one gigantic swing.
“Huh?” said Kurisu. She couldn’t believe her eyes. While Hotaru would have a hard time blocking each knife, all Maihime had to do was create a shockwave big enough to knock them all away.
Hotaru wasn’t done with her foot just yet. Kurisu’s shocked reaction created an opening for Hotaru to get a good look at her, so with another stomp to the ground she kicked the back of Kurisu’s head. It was a hard kick— the force was enough to knock her out onto the ground.
At last, only Marika remained. Once she was defeated, perhaps everyone would return to normal. Hotaru realized this and made her way to Marika, sidestepping through the [Unknown’s] large corpses along the way.
“Hotaru, please…” Marika cried out to her in tears. She reached out both her hands as if she was planning to stop Hotaru with a hug.
But Hotaru remained unfazed.
“Forgive me, Marika,” Hotaru whispered back. Her blade glowed as she knocked her unconscious like she did to the others.
Soon after, Maihime ran up into her arms right after while repeatedly saying, “Hotaru…”
“That was perfect, Hime!”
Maihime was so overjoyed she couldn’t help but cry right into Hotaru once again as the two hugged. Even though Hotaru had heard Maihime’s voice so many times before, this time it felt different. This time was more… nostalgic. The girl in her arms wasn’t the terrible dictator that she had to kill, but rather just one whose had the weight of the city pressed down on her small shoulders.
Hotaru couldn’t imagine the struggles Maihime had to endure to get to this point, yet there was no doubt she managed to overcome everything that was thrown her way. That’s why Maihime was here… It had been a while, but the two were finally reunited.
Hotaru gently stroked the top of Maihime’s head while comforting her by saying, “Hime…”
But, that moment of serenity was broken when Hotaru noticed an [Unknown] stand up among Marika and the rest of the students.
“What the—!” she shouted. There was no way they could have missed it since Hotaru did double check all the bodies. This [Unknown] had to have been turned invisible by Kurisu as a backup in case things went south for them. Now that Marika’s [World] no longer influenced it, it reverted back to the human-killing monster it had always been known for.
“Marika! Hey Marika!” yelled Hotaru, but it was too late. The [Unknown] swooped up Marika with its mouth and made its way back to the ocean.
Hotaru focused in on the retreating [Unknown] so she got bring out her [World] for the final time and settle things once and for all. It didn’t take much time for her to cut it down, but the [Unknown] had gone far enough that under it was a long drop down into the ocean.
“Marika!” shouted Hotaru. She ran towards her without hesitation, though she wasn’t going to make it in time.
But somebody was. From the corner of her eye, she saw Maihime catch up and eventually overtake her as she made her way towards Marika with frightening speed, so fast that each step she took cracked the ground. For the last time today, Hotaru would be reminded why Maihime was the strongest fighter she had ever known.
“Marika!!” shouted Maihime. She jumped over the broken down fence on the cliff and caught Marika in the air, sending both of them spiraling down into the water.
Hotaru finally made it to the edge of the cliff, and immediately caught the two in her sight. With her [World] active, she was able to grab onto them before they fell down completely. They were heavy and her arms felt like giving up, especially since Hotaru was using her [World] as a proxy, but she couldn’t let go now. She used up all the strength she could muster with each pull and eventually managed to get them back onto the cliff.
“Are you alright, Hime?” she asked once they were all on the ground.
“I’m fine!” smiled Maihime, gently laying Marika on the ground. “Thanks! That was a bit scary for me….”
“Why did you do that? If I wasn’t there, you would have fell all the way down…”
Maihime slumped down. “Yeah, I’m sorry…”
“Why did you save her? Didn’t she try to kill you?”
“Well, weren’t you the one who cut that [Unknown] down?” Maihime said jokingly.
“I guess….” Hotaru couldn’t deny that. After all, she was the one who made the first move.
“Besides, I didn’t think I would die even if I dropped all the way down, and—”
“She’s our friend.”
“Yeah, you’re right, Hime,” she said, gently patting the top of her head.