Chapter 2 「Was she always this cute?」
After being warmly welcomed by the elves with the Hellzekter, I told my subordinates to alleviate the fatigue of the fight and I decided to return to my room alone.
My room in Weisskrone Castle has been prepared. But if I relax in my room, Zeragiel or Ulriel may come. If that happens, they won’t set me free until morning. I passed in front of the room and decided to leave the castle immediately.
The sun has gone down completely. With the red sunset sky, the forest cast a black silhouette.
I enter the forest and take off the Demon King Armor behind a giant tree. I, who took the form of Doumeguri Kakeru, decided to head to Yuugiri Forest, which I heard from Zeragiel.
I heard that the forest that was burned down in the battle with Orzelia had regenerated and a new town was built there. As the name suggests, it gets foggy in the evening, creating a fantastic atmosphere.
– Oh… is that the town?
The town, which used giant trees, filled the space. A huge tree with a diameter of more than 10 meters is hollowed out, and many shops are built in it. Its appearance with light escaping through the holes in the trunk resembled a building.
Furthermore, using the branches extending from the trunks as a footing, a corridor connecting the trees is laid. Not only that, the buildings were built as if stacking on top. It was a huge and fancy aerial town made with trees.
Surprisingly, Asagiri was standing at the entrance of the town.
– Asagiri, why are you in a place like this?
– I thought he’s going to come soon, right?
Having said that, she took out a piece of paper from her breast pocket.
– Oh right, take this. It’s their room allocation.
– Oh… thank you.
She’s well prepared, huh. Somehow it looks like she saw through me.
– That big tree in front of us is where we are staying at. The rooms in that tree look like that of a hotel.
– Thank you again. I ate something, but I haven’t taken a rest yet. I’ll be moving after taking a short rest.
– You’re going to talk with Akira-kun, right?
– Yeah, I’m going to do that, but I’ll probably talk about everyone else again.
The mastermind behind the accident in which we were imprisoned in Exodia Exodus.
His real identity, the top suspect is… Takizawa Ryuuji.
– It would be the best if we could get an idea before we headed to heaven.
– … But isn’t it dangerous?
– I’ll be careful.
Raising my hand lightly, I headed to the hotel in the giant tree towering in front of me.
+ + +
For the time being, I also had a room allocated for me. When I went there, the inside of the room had an elegant and calm atmosphere typical of the elves. Lying on the bed, I sigh deeply.
I ordered Adra and Satanachia to prepare for the invasion of heaven. If we start tomorrow, we’ll probably be departing three days later…?
Until then, I’ll take a look at the 2A Guild and look for the suspicious guy.
It’s ironic that I’ve been careful not to be suspicious until now, but now I doubt the 2A Guild with the exception of Asagiri.
Now, who will make the first move?
As I was worrying about that, I heard a knock.
He made it first!?
I mean, who? If it’s not Asagiri, then only Ichinomiya would come.
The ones I’ve been involved with have been big shots from the start, huh. Even granting that, I noticed that they often came here.
I opened the door while feeling nervous.
– Ah, it, it has been a while… right?
It was Busujima Meg.
I wasn’t expecting her, so I froze, without being able to reply. Busujima then smiled, looking troubled.
– U-u〜hm, I saw Doumeguri walking a while ago, so I thought of coming to reach you. T-to check on you? Kind of?
While fidgeting her hands in a slightly suspicious manner, she makes her gaze wander about. Sometimes she glances at my face and her face reddens a little.
– Y-yeah… I was helping clean up the what was left by the Demon King Army.
– Is, is that so?
– Yeah…. That’s right….
We stare at each other without talking.
What should I do? I mean, what did she come for?
– U-umm, can I… come in?
– Eh? Oh. Sure.
I open the door wide and show her in. However, since I have no couch, I got her to sit on the bed. While I’m standing.
– You’re not going to sit down, Doumeguri?
– No, I’m fine.
– But it will be hard to talk….
I thought won’t it be difficult to talk sitting side by side?, but I think that arguing back and forth like this is silly. I sit next to Busujima.
– So… what did you come for?
When I asked him that, she suddenly rattled on as if being provoked.
– Wha… don’t phrase it like that! Especially when I was worried about you!
– Phrase it like that, you say? I just asked──eh? You were worried about me?
Her face turning bright red, Busujima folded her arms. I unconsciously had my eyes drawn towards the cleavage raised up and brought near me.
– I mean… thank you.
– Eh? Y-yup… well… ah! I heard what happened to Shikiba and everyone else from Asagiri-san.
Is that so. So Asagiri told you, huh.
– I mean… I can’t believe it. To think that all of them, who did silly things with us in the classroom, would kill each other like that… it sounds like a lie, like it would never happen.
– I think so too.
It’s shocking, even if one hears about it indirectly. It’s no wonder she can’t believe it all of a sudden. It might be better to say she doesn’t want to believe it.
– Doumeguri… you also had it difficult, right?
Eh? No way, to hear such caring words from Busujima.
– Ah, no… that’s not the case. Everyone had it difficult. Has Busujima been okay since then?
When I asked back tentatively, Busujima’s face became bright as if it had bloomed.
– M-me? Yup. I’ve been more comfortable since I came here, I’d say? It’s peaceful. I mean, I was just talking about what to do while Doumeguri was fighting.
She shrugged her shoulders with an apologetic face during the second half of her words.
How to say it… she sure changes her facial expression constantly.
– There’s no need to worry about that.
– W-will you give me a minute? There’s… something I have to tell Doumeguri….
– To me?
Was she also keeping a secret? What will it be related to? I think it’s impossible, but does she have a connection with the mastermind…?
Suddenly a sense of crisis springs up in my chest. Did she come to me early to shut my mouth? I can’t call for help in this situation.
The smile disappeared from Busujima’s face. I can’t read her emotions or thoughts from her eyes looking straight at me.
– I’m sorry!
She bowed her head vigorously.
As she raised her face, Busujima stared at me with a slightly crying face.
– I’ve said a lot of things to you, like making fun of you. I’m really sorry. I apologize. Like this!
Making a sound, she puts her palms together and closes her eyes as if making a supplication.
– H-hey. Why are you doing this all of a sudden?
Busujima raises her face. I see uneasiness and a bit of fear in her face.
– Doumeguri has done a lot of things that we didn’t know about, right?
– … A lot of things?
– I heard from Akira and Asagiri-san. You became the hated one in order to bring everyone together, but you were exploring this world alone. Doumeguri took care of all the difficult things… you saved Asagiri, as well as what happened with Orzelia and Shikiba this time….
…Oh, that’s what she means.
I was relieved because she didn’t realize my true identity.
Based on Busujima’s words, Asagiri seems to have replaced the time when I was acting as Hellshaft with Doumeguri, a nice touch.
Honestly, she doesn’t need to make a plea like this, but is it too late for that?
– I did nothing special. I just happened to be in that position.
– That’s not true! You were amazing! It would have been impossible for me!
Erm, being flattered by Busujima like this had me terribly uncomfortable. And… because she’s blushing and staring at me with moist eyes, I feel like I’ll end up misunderstanding something. Let’s leave the conversation here for today.
– Actually, I have to talk with Ichinomiya in a few minutes. I’m sorry, but…
– Oh! I understand. My apologies!
Busujima stood up as if jumping up.
– That’s right, you have to discuss what to do next, right? I won’t take your time!
– I’m not saying that you’re in the way. There’s something I have to take care of… I should be the one saying sorry. Even though you came all the way here.
When I more or less say that I’m taking her into consideration, Busujima wore a very happy smile.
– No. I came here all of a sudden… but I’m glad I could talk to you.
Her facial expression was so cute that my chest bounced with excitement.
– Alright… see you.
Busujima left the room, leaving her farewell and a sweet scent behind.
… Was Busujima so cute?
+ + +
Now that I told Busujima that, I had to go to Ichinomiya’s room.
I leave my room and check the room allocation Asagiri gave me. Apparently, Ichinomiya’s room is at the very top.
How do I start the conversation…?
As I think so, I climb up the spiral staircase that looked like it was made of ivy.
– Oh, if it isn’t Doumeguri. You finally arrived, huh?
There was a small rest space at the end of the stairs. There are a few couches there, and Ougiya, Leonhardt and Yamada are sitting there.
… Do I listen to what they have to say before Ichinomiya?
– Yeah. The ship took a long while. I just arrived.
I sat down on an empty couch. Somehow it takes the form of sitting in a circle.
– So, is that story about Shikiba and the others true!?
Leonhardt leaned forward, wearing the same anime character T- shirt. Similarly, Ougiya and Yamada are holding their breaths and waiting for my reply.
– Yeah, it’s true. Of course, I cannot give confirmation of the corpses, but… Shikiba even built a gravesite.
Ougiya leaned against the back of the sofa as if collapsing, and covered his eyes with his hands.
– It’s a scary story, isn’t it?
Yamada’s impression was normal. However, it was a fact that no one could deny.
– Yeah… why did such a thing happen?
– You heard it from Asagiri, but they were so suspicious of everyone that they thought that they would be killed. So they killed before being killed. Having only that thought on their minds, they killed each other.
– Good grief. They’re idiots….
With a bitter face, Ougiya muttered, feeling irritated.
– But we can’t revive anymore. If we make a mistake, we might follow the same fate as them.
– Yooo! We’re going to protect ourselves!?
– That’s right… we have to be careful.
– Are you stupid?
Ougiya reclined with a face of disgust.
– Why are we the same as them? We’ve been together for almost two years now, right? A whole year of friendship makes a difference.
Ougiya stared into the air, he seemed to talk to someone who wasn’t there.
– Generally, it’s impossible not to believe your friends. In a world like this, the only ones you can trust are your friends. So I don’t get it.
Leonhardt muttered as if speaking to himself with a befuddled expression.
– … Is, that so? I see, that’s the case. Surely.
The nuance was as natural as a native, not the usual strange foreigner intonation.
Come to think of it, has Leonhardt spoken Japanese fluently before?
– Hey, you were able to speak Japanese normally, huh.
– Eh? Oh… you got me.
On a closer look, I saw the cool side of Leonhardt.
No way, is this guy──?
– Huuh!? What the hell is wrong with you!?
Ougiya grabbed Leonhard’s shoulder with a truly surprised face.
Leonhardt closed one eye and put out his tongue. Because he’s handsome, his gesture is bound to be strange.
– I wondered if weird, foreign characters would take it… After all, it’s a staple in anime and games, right? But if I lose my focus for a moment, my true colors will be revealed.
– What the hell!? Reality isn’t a world of anime and games, is it!?
The one who questioned Ougiya sharply was, unexpectedly, Yamada.
– No, we are in a game world. Look, Asagiri-san said it earlier. As expected, we’re in a game world.
Being retorted by “Yamada the Ordinary” is quite the humiliation.
– Sh-shut your trap! What I want to say is!! That it’s not the case!!
In contrast to Ougiya, who was excited, Leonhardt ducked his head as if to say “Come on, man” and acted like a foreigner.
– No, because there’s only one foreigner in the class. Look, my language is broken, isn’t it?
I nodded involuntarily.
– Certainly. And, in fact, speaking Japanese fluently is the punch line.
– Aaaaaaaaaaaa! Shut up! I forgot what we were talking about!
– We were talking about Ougiya being a great guy.
– Yeah──ah? What are you talking about so suddenly?
He stared at me with a blank look.
– I thought so. Well, you’re a little stupid though.
– Shut up! Leave me alone!
Whoops. I went and said it.
– Sorry. I got a little carried away and went too far.
– Huh? Why are you apologizing for?
– Because… you got angry?
– Ah, it was momentum, alright? We’re just fooling around. We’ve gone through many life-endangering situations too, haven’t we? It’s not an insult that one can’t do nothing about it. If I cared about every little thing, we wouldn’t be friends.
I see, are these his feelings regarding his friends?
He’s wary of outsiders, but once he recognizes them as friends, he puts all his confidence on them.
It doesn’t look like that, but it is.
In a sense, I envy him.
– … That sounds true. We are friends. It’s weird to pay too much attention to it.
Enticed by Ougiya who laughed in a good mood, I also smiled.
Despite saying that, I doubt everyone.
How good would it be to be like Ougiya?
Leonhardt and Yamada retort at Ougiya who laughs loudly.
Leonhardt… how is that you can actually speak Japanese normally? I’ve always thought so, but that was the case. But it’s no more than that. The reason he speaks in a strange and broken Japanese seems to be them. However, there’s another point of concern.
When we were living in the cathedral of Orzelia, I watched an intimidating video in the theater.
At that time, when I left the theater, Asagiri was there, so I thought it was Asagiri’s doing. However, there was another person who could have projected that video. That person is Leonhardt.
He knew how to operate the screening and went home on the way, but I didn’t confirm that he really went home. After that, he could have gone to the projection room and replace it with the threatening video.
But I have no proofs. Besides, if the mastermind was Takizawa Ryuuji, who was in charge of development, it may be easier for him to intervene in the system. If so, wasn’t it possible to operate the projection room without necessarily being there?
Thinking so, being in the theater isn’t a deciding factor.
In that case…,
── Yamada Yoshimune.
On second thought, he’s a mysterious man.
Everything about him is average. He doesn’t stand out and has no presence.
Is he the perfect existence for the mastermind to conceal himself?
For some reason, I often forget his name. I ended up suspecting him, thinking “Is it due to an effect that deceives our perception?”
Blending into the 2A Guild as a background character, he observes all of its members cunningly, and coldly decides what to do to make us suffer the most?
What if the exact opposite of the usual Yamada is hidden in his featureless appearance? I kept thinking about that while chatting with the three of them.
+ + +
When the conversation reached a pause, I headed to Ichinomiya’s room.
I was worried about how to start the conversation, but in the end, I broke the ice like this.
– Why don’t we go drinking?
– Sounds good. Let’s go.
Then we went out to the bar.
It’s an elf town, so the bar is quiet and elegant. It has an adult bar vibe, so I feel a little timid.
A beautiful elf Onee-san guided us to our seats, and we ordered Arzheim beer for the time being. The drinks that were immediately brought were filled with a bubbling, golden liquid. After making a toast, we poured the local beer into our throats.
– ──So, what do you want to talk about?
Ichinomiya, who said that, seems to be prepared somehow. That’s why I decided to ask boldly and straightforwardly.
– I want to know the relationship between Takizawa Ryuuji, this game world, and First Palace, the company run by your father.
Without look so surprised, Ichinomiya smiled bitterly.
– Ririko told you, huh.
– … Yeah.
– I ask you just in case, but is Takizawa the man who changed jobs from HELLZDOMAIN to our company…?
– You don’t know him?
– Only by his name. But I heard from my father that he had poached the developers of the next-gen VR system.
Ichinomiya laughed with a feeling of self-mockery.
– That’s right. I knew about him from the beginning. I don’t know why he became like this, but I had a rough idea. At the end of the day, I was fooling everyone.
– … But you had no choice.
– I thank you for saying that… but it’s true.
– I think saying nothing was the right thing to do. If you had revealed that, no one might have trusted you. The leaderless 2A Guild would be a chaotic crowd. Eventually, they would meet the same fate as Shikiba and the others.
However, Ichinomiya was grim-faced.
– That doesn’t convince me… but I was responsible. I had the responsibility to bring everyone back to our world safely.
– This has always been on my mind, but why do you feel responsible? Are you directly involved in something?
– Are you kidding? However, I’m definitely related to the man named Takizawa that trapped us here. That being the case, my father and I are involved. I thought I had to solve the scandal caused by the people in our company.
– What tells you that Takizawa is involved?
– Something that happened a week before that educational field trip. The development chief went missing.
– By development chief you mean Takizawa?
– That’s right. And all the servers for development. It’s a small scale, but it has the same function as the server used by HELLZDOMAIN in Exodia Exodus. Moreover, all development documents and data were disposed of.
Stop right there, that’s….
– Used? By Ichinomiya’s father’s company?
– I guess. It seems that he used our company’s resources and money to create a fake HELLZDOMAIN system and hacking tools.
– Hacking!? Why things like….
– I don’t know the details. However, his excuse was that it was necessary for security testing.
If so, it’s natural to think that… Takizawa was developing a means to hijack HELLZDOMAIN’s system. And used it to break into their system. After logging us into Exodia Exodus, he logged in himself.
Then added information about his avatar to our consciousness data so that we don’t find it strange. By pretending to be part of Class 2-A, he became a member of the 2A Guild and observed us from a close distance.
I’m sure it was Takizawa who applied the patch Santa──X.
He cornered us and laughed at us, seeing us closely.
Shikiba and company were given harsher conditions and killed each other.
– An employee broke into a rival company’s server and caused trouble, resulting in the death of many people. Not only that, all the tools and hardware used for that belong to our company──if it gets known….
They’ll be socially over.
That’s why Ichinomiya was fixated on returning alive with everyone, without anyone resulting dead. But in reality, more than half of the people have already died.
– There was another problem.
– That is?
Ichinomiya chugged the beer. I empty the glass to follow his lead. Then Ichinomiya immediately ordered a refilling.
– I’ve known her for a long time. We were taken to each other’s parties and met face to face since we were kids. She’s like a childhood friend. So I know the tragedy that happened to Ririko. When this incident occurred, I first suspected Ririko. She must have be related to this, I thought.
– Did you believe that this incident was aimed at Asagiri rather than she being related to it?
After taking a sip of the new beer that was brought, he answered, 「Yes」.
– But I couldn’t say that either. If I had talked about Ririko, everyone would have rightly thought 『It’s your fault, Asagiri』.
– … I can see that.
– That’s why I kept my mouth shut about that too. And the first thing I thought about was to create a community in this world and spend time without stirring up big trouble. Of course, we made an effort to escape on our own through Hell’s Gate, but that’s not the highest priority. They should be working to rescue us in the outside world as well. Rather, it was important to spend time without fighting until then.
– Certainly. As long as you are alive, you may be saved….
This is probably what Ichinomiya knows. I pondered on something after hearing his story so far, but I should hide the true facts about Asagiri and me to Ichinomiya. And, as the leader of the 2A Guild, he’ll take care of everyone.
That’s the highest probability of survival.
– Doumeguri, after hearing this story, what will you do?
– Oh well… for starters, I’ll say nothing about the story between you and Asagiri to the others. If I say something, things will get really complicated. And I’m trying to find a clue to escape.
– A clue to escape?
– Yeah. Actually, I also kept something a secret from everyone.
– What would that be?
– I was a part-time developer at HELLZDOMAIN.
Ichinomiya solidified with his mouth open.
– I say that, but I’m at the end of the end, you know? I created data parts and the like.
– Well… even so, I was surprised. To think a coincidence like this exists….
– I may be such a low part-timer, but I understand this world better than the rest. That’s why I try moving around
– I see… so you’ve been moving alone for a long time… then with everyone──
I turned my palm towards Ichinomiya and stopped his words.
– Giving all types of excuses will be a pain, don’t you agree? Basically, the strategy will be what you mentioned earlier. Give top priority to survival and wait for help. That’s the best. So, don’t follow my movements. It’s safer to be here. And without you, there will be no one to put the others together.
– But if you die, it will be over, no? Doumeguri’s level is….
– I know, that’s why I’ll take Asagiri along.
– I thought it would be difficult for you to meet each other.
He kept his mouth shut for a while and thought about it, but eventually, he nodded.
– Got it. But instead, there’s something I’d like to ask.
– What is the relationship between Doumeguri and Ririko?
I unconsciously spat the beer I was drinking. Ichinomiya looks at me, who was choking, as if he was surprised.
– You don’t have to get that flustered, alright?
– T-that’s not it… it was too sudden.
– So? What’s the truth?
– No, I mean….
This doesn’t look good! This kind of conversation is beyond my area of expertise!
– The, atmosphere, was getting great… but, the distance between us increased again….
– I see. So that’s why both of you are having an adventure travel alone… I really get it.
– N-no! That’s not it! It’s not like that, it’s for the sake of everyone….
Dammit. He has the nerve to grin.
– What about you, Ichinomiya?
– Me? I’m not thinking about that right now.
– You don’t have an interest in Shizukuishi?
This time Ichinomiya choked.
– … Why Shizukuishi-san?
– You keep an eye on her, somehow.
Ichinomiya drinks the remaining beer in one go and puts down the glass, making a sound.
– To tell you the truth… well, I’m attracted to her.
– As a matter of fact, I don’t want to say this, but why Shizukuishi-san again? She’s definitely smart, beautiful, steel-minded, but she’s a cheeky girl whose heart is dressed in fur, and she’s a misfit, right? As for you, the good stuff has next to no value, yet they keep gathering.
*TN: His words include terms and stuff I can’t really tell what they mean, so bear with me this ugly, partly literal translation.
– She… well, I certainly liked her for a while. But now, rather than liking her… I admire her. I envy her.
– What do you… envy?
It was a question from the bottom of my heart. Looking at my face, Ichinomiya wore a bitter smile.
– Her freedom. Shizukuishi believes only in her own values. She doesn’t care about the recognition of others, and she doesn’t look at the complexion of others. She has no relationship with others, no social bonds, nothing. Shaking off everything, she plunges forward on the path she believes in. She lives as she wants, doing the things she likes.
– Certainly, when you put it like that, it may be the case….
– One can’t do that without having great confidence in oneself. I don’t want to live like Shizukuishi-san, and I wouldn’t be able to do it. I carry stuff on my back, and I want to cherish my parents, friends, and various relationships. But somewhere… I wonder how good it would be if I could live like Shizukuishi-san. Maybe.
– Is that so…?
Even when I listened to Ichinomiya’s passionate speech, I couldn’t understand the feeling of falling in love with Shizukuishi. However, when it came to her way of life, I realized I agreed with him a little.