best chapter in the book. 8|b
The next chapter is the last and is relatively short. The rest of the book will hopefully be done within a week.
April 12 Iwato Apartments Rooftop
“...You’re late. I got tired of waiting.”
Touko-san ran her fingers through her hair, which was soaked and heavy with rain.
As she did, a single pearl-like droplet of water slid smoothly down her forehead. When it finally approached the side of her lips, Touko-san licked it up with the slender red tip of her tongue.
A chill ran down my back. I felt like a frog being watched by a snake.
When I looked, there was a boy gagged, blindfolded, and bound head and foot, cowering beside Touko-san and wearing a frightened expression. He could not have been much older than ten. A middle-schooler; no, perhaps even one of the older elementary-schoolers.
Noticing the direction of my gaze, Touko-san said, “That’s right, this is Futodama.” Still smiling, she poked the boy’s buttocks with the toes of her high heels. The boy’s whole body jerked stiffly as if ice had been forced down his back.
“He’s still just a child!”
“If a child makes a mistake, isn’t it an adult’s job to fix it?”
Touko-san’s lips twisted in a scornful smile, and she slowly drew a gun from the inside of her dripping wet jacket. Then, unimpressed, she pointed the gun at the boy.
“...Yes, I think so too. But there should be no need to kill him!”
“Are you saying I should feel sorry for him because he’s a child?”
“No, it has nothing to do with whether he’s a child or an adult.”
“Oh, what a coincidence. I think so too. The weight of his sins has nothing to do with whether he’s a child or an adult.”
“That is not what I’m saying!”
“I’ll say this: it’s just coincidence that Futodama is a child. The result would be the same if he were an adult. The main reason is because he is Futodama. He joined the ‘Five Togakushi Judges’ of his own free will.”
“No! It’s not that! Please stop acting like it’s only natural for him to die because he’s a member of the ‘Five Togakushi Judges’! What I’m saying is that there is no good reason to kill someone, no matter who they may be!”
Every inch of my body was quickly becoming drenched by the chilly rain. However, I did not feel the cold at all. Rather, my whole body felt as though it were on fire.
“...Please. Touko-san, do not sully your beautiful hands any further.”
“...Impossible. It’s too late. My hands are already stained permanently and won’t ever be clean again.”
Touko-san laughed a little.
“After all, I’ve already stolen ‘four people’s lives’ with these hands, you know?”
“...By four people, you speak of Alex Brown, Osamu Haida, Shirou Konno, and – Kyouhei Hioka, correct?”
“...Right, as expected. You figured out exactly what happened with Kyouhei.”
“Weren’t you the one who gave me the hint and propelled me forward?”
“Oh no, you’re embarrassing me. You’ve seen right through me.”
Touko-san gave a self-deprecating smile.
“The meeting between you and Kyouhei Hioka when he was on the verge of death explained one of the mysteries.”
“Hmm…” Touko-san’s eyes narrowed in interest and she recrossed her legs.
“The murder methods used in the cases of Alex Brown, known as Tajikarao, and Osamu Haida, known as Omoikane, can be explained by your position as the lead investigator and Kushinada-Hime’s ability ‘Precognition’. However, I find only the case of Shirou Konno, known as Sarutahiko, to be incomprehensible.”
“...Huh? Naoto, even if you say it’s incomprehensible, you know Touko shot Shirou in the head right in front of our eyes, right? Then what the hell is incomprehensible?”
Next to me, Sousei-san raised his voice, saying that in itself was incomprehensible.
“Shirou Konno gave absolutely no response no matter what method we used in the Midnight Site’s Reverse Chat. I find it impossible to understand why he acted in such a conspicuous way as taking a hostage and barricading himself on the roof. He was so much an intellectual that he served as student council president and he was so cautious that he took great care not to speak with Miyuki Midorikawa, known as Uzume, at school. At that time, he was clearly acting rashly.”
“...That’s true,” Sousei-san muttered.
“When we saw Shirou Konno on the roof, he seemed to me to have been mentally cornered. At the very least, he was not the intellectual, cautious person I had imagined until then. What I deduced from that was that someone had cornered him. And then, when he was cornered, he came out onto center stage, just as that person anticipated.”
Again,Touko-san was gazing at me happily like a teacher watching over her student, just as she had when we were standing before the gate.
“From the fact that Shirou Konno repeatedly called out Kagu-tsuchi’s name, it’s clear that the person who cornered him was Kagu-tsuchi. The problem is how. What method did Kagu-tsuchi use to corner Shirou Konno? Neither we, nor the police, nor anyone was able to contact Shirou Konno. There had to be a direct method of communication to exert mental pressure on him. In other words, I believe Kagu-tsuchi had to have a way of communicating with Shirou Konno.”
“...Doesn’t it have something to do with Kyouhei Hioka and Touko meeting right before he died?”
I nodded at Sousei-san’s words as I stared at Touko-san.
“Sousei-san, it’s already clear from your ‘Past Reading’ that Kyouhei Hioka died on the fourth floor of Iwato Apartments, correct?”
“Yeah,” Sousei-san answered.
“In that case, where is Kyouhei Hioka’s body now?”
“...Huh? Where?” Sousei-san spoke hysterically.
“If my logic is correct, Kyouhei Hioka should be resting somewhere within these apartments. Isn’t that right? Touko-san?”
When I asked, Touko-san smiled a little and responded to my question with a question. “...Your reasoning?”
“There are two reasons. One is that it is not simple for you, a woman, to move the body of Kyouhei Hioka, a man. The other is that this is the place Kyouhei Hioka chose to die, and I believe you would respect his wishes.”
As usual, Touko-san wore a satisfied expression. Somehow, it did not seem to be a bluff or anything of the sort. It was as if she was truly overjoyed at divulging her secrets to me.
“It is obvious that Touko-san, who dealt with the body, would also control Kyouhei Hioka’s possessions. And among those possessions should have been ‘the cell phone Kyouhei Hioka stole from Miyuki Midorikawa’. I believe that cell phone was the method of communication with Shirou Konno. At the same time, Kagu-tsuchi’s posts were undoubtedly left on the forums with that cell phone.”
Immediately after, Touko-san drew something green from her pocket and tossed it on the floor. When I looked, it was a gaudy green cell phone decorated with rhinestones. Most likely, it was Miyuki Midorikawa’s cell phone.
“Perfect. Naoto. That was magnificent.”
In the next moment, Touko-san clapped her hands, still grasping the gun.
“It’s just as you deduced, Naoto. I made Kagu-tsuchi’s posts on this phone. Shirou Konno’s mail address was on there too. With that address, I repeatedly sent him messages with nothing but ‘No matter where you hide, I’ll surely find and kill you.’”
Touko-san stated in a bored tone.
“It’s true that Shirou Konno was an intellectual and cautious person, but since he hid himself so quickly, he also had to be nervous and cowardly. I figured he would slip up sooner or later if he was cornered. It was just as I expected. But I might’ve pushed him too far. I really didn’t think he’d take a hostage and barricade himself on the roof.”
Touko-san snorted scornfully.
“...Touko-san, you are a frightening person.”
I felt only fear at the accuracy of her predictive abilities, as exhibited until now in her role as a detective. On top of that, she could see ten minutes into the future with her Persona’s ability, and so it was only natural that she could anticipate everyone’s actions, including my own.
“You two did everything just as I expected. Like Naoto guessed, I gave you a little hint and you reached me. I’ve been waiting for you to come with the right answer. And now, the two of you are here.”
Touko-san’s perfectly clear eyes proved that her words were no mere bluff.
“I don’t care what anyone thinks of me. I’ve come this far, living the way I believe in. So I don’t care if everyone despises me and curses me and resents me forever as a traitor and a murderer. And that’s because I know that’s the only way I can live… But even though I’m this uncharming, somehow it seems like even I have a bit of a cute side.”
Touko-san smiled wryly. Her face with that slightly embarrassed smile was so innocent that it did not at all look like that of someone who had killed four people.
“I don’t want much. Just a little is fine. Naoto, I wanted you to know the truth, why I made these kinds of choices. You’re free to think what you want of me now that you know. I don’t know when to quit, and maybe I just wanted to leave some proof that I existed in this world, no matter how small.”
These were her true feelings. In truth, that Tohru Momochi, known as Futodama, had not yet been killed may have been because she wanted us to witness the completion of her work.
“And so you requested that I join the investigation and partnered me with Sousei-san?”
Most likely, when he was on the verge of death, Kyouhei Hioka had felt the same way as Touko-san did now. In his dying moments, he just wanted Touko-san to understand. He wanted her to remember.
“...Like we discussed before, you and Sousei might’ve had some compatibility as fellow Persona users, but the main reason was because I’m fond of you two, you know? So I chose to entrust my dying message to the two of you.”
Touko-san smiled mischievously. I was not smiling at all. I understood.
–In the next moment, Touko-san extended her arm holding the gun in our direction. At the same time, a gunshot rang out and a bullet bounced on the concrete. Gunpowder smoke rose from the muzzle.
“–Sousei, it’s bad manners to move around when people are talking. Behave yourself for a bit longer, please.”
Touko-san’s sharp gaze was directed at Sousei-san, who was huddled low to the ground. “...Che.” I thought he had been quiet for a while, and it seemed he had been waiting for an opening to subdue Touko-san.
“D-Don’t screw with me! Touko!”
Then Sousei-san stomped the concrete floor stubbornly with one foot.
“I get it! You plan to ‘die here’! Right now, you look the same as ‘Yuuri’ did the last time I saw her! This being your ‘dying moment’... I’m absolutely fucking against that!”
I felt the same way as Sousei-san. Just like Kyouhei Hioka, Touko-san thought of making this apartment building full of memories her final stage.
“...Right, right, I should warn you two. Don’t make the mistake of getting too close to me. Do you know what this black box is that I’m sitting on?”
Saying that, Touko-san rapped the black wooden box with her fingertips.
“You know, this is the ‘time bomb’ Kyouhei brought from the station.”
It was written in the database entry on Kyouhei Hioka. Along with a gun and bullets, Kyouhei Hioka had taken a bomb that had been seized as evidence from a bomb maniac’s house and kept at the station for safekeeping.
“Originally it was set by Kyouhei, and it’s not my specialty so I don’t really know the details, but from looking inside the box, I get the feeling it’s just a simple bomb with an in-line detonator.”
Touko-san slid to the side of her seat and lifted the top of the box, letting us see inside.
“I was involved too, so I know the crazy guy who made these bombs wasn’t just touched in the head, but also a sore loser. There are a lot of dummy wires in here.”
Red, blue, yellow, and green colorful cords were crowded together inside the box.
“Even if I knew about this stuff, it would take too much luck to disable the bomb’s timer. It can’t be stopped once it’s started the countdown. In other words, what I’m trying to say is – no one can stop me now!”
“It can’t be! Touko-san, you can’t mean that!”
“By the way, it seems this bomb – has got enough power to obliterate these rundown apartments, you know?”
Right. She meant to end everything in this apartment building full of memories, the place where Kyouhei Hioka slept. And she meant to take Futodama with her.
“It’s mission complete if I kill the last of the ‘Five Togakushi Judges’. Then all I have to do is hit the detonation switch, look back on my disgusting life as the timer counts down, and it’ll all end while I’m laughing at what a stupid woman I was.”
Even though she only had a gun and bomb, there was nothing we could do, and in addition, she could see the future. She would have predicted our actions. In reality, we, the police, and the members of the “Five Togakushi Judges” – everyone had acted as she expected up until now.
Was there anything we could do? Was there really no helping it? It felt as if I would be crushed by my feeling of unease. At that time, wanting to rely on someone, I glanced unthinkingly to the side.
When I did, the person next to me was restlessly looking around the roof with a sharp glint in his eye. Somehow, it seemed he had again been looking for an opening in which to secure Touko-san.
Right now, seeing his unyielding attitude, I felt that he was more reliable than anyone.
“...This concerns your criminal motive, but Touko-san, you told me your serial murders of the ‘Five Togakushi Judges’ were not to carry on Kyouhei Hioka’s will.”
My partner had not yet given up. And so it would be rude of me not to call upon every last ounce of my strength.
“You said it wasn’t because you wanted revenge against the people who drove Kyouhei Hioka crazy. In that case, I believe it’s likely that you are consigning the ‘Five Togakushi Judges’ to oblivion through your will alone, Touko-san.”
I had no goal in mind. I most definitely did not have a plan. On the other hand, I could not allow myself to stop. For now, I had no choice but to struggle as much as I could. That was all I could do as a detective.
“The hint was in your past conversation with Kyouhei Hioka from six years ago. The conversation concerning your past. The past where your parents were killed by a criminal. The merciless attitude toward criminals you’ve shown a few times before. Touko-san, don’t you completely loathe more than just the ‘Five Togakushi Judges’, but all those who are complicit in crimes? In that case, though you’ve taken over Kyouhei Hioka’s murder plans, you could tell me that you are not carrying on his will, correct?”
Touko-san looked up at the cloudy sky.
“...I hate talking about the past. It only brings back bad memories. So the only ones I’ve told about my past are Kyouhei and Yuuri. And those two are gone now.”
Touko-san stared closely at the dark, heavy clouds, as if peering through them.
“It’s not a nice story. Do you still want to hear it?”
“...Yes. I want to know more about you.” I nodded firmly.
“We won’t get it if you don’t tell us!” Sousei-san declared curtly.
“...Thanks.” Touko-san laughed a little.
“–I was a first-year in middle school. When my family went out on a bus trip, our bus was hijacked. The culprit was a young man in his early twenties. I’ve already forgotten what the hijacker’s goal was and what he asked for. I’m sure it must’ve been something worthless. Anyway, I clearly remember the man was a piece of trash who wasn’t right in the head.”
In my mind’s eye, I saw Touko-san as a young girl.
“The man had a long carving knife in his hand. The first person he stabbed with that blade was my father, a police officer. My father tried to subdue the man but messed up. The next sacrifice was my mother, who screamed when she saw my father collapsed on the ground, covered in blood. And then the tour guide, and the conductor, and the regular customers. The man killed passengers one after another like a man-eating tiger with a taste for human blood.”
Touko-san’s figure was terribly vivid in the gently falling rain as she spoke steadily, her face expressionless.
“At the time, all I could do was cower trembling in my seat, unable to say a thing. I was terrified. But I didn’t get what was happening. Why did this have to happen to my family when we only went out on a trip? Why did my parents have to be killed when they hadn’t done anything wrong? It felt like my brain would explode at how impossible it all was.”
The middle-school girl had experienced the irrationality of having her parents stabbed to death for no reason right in front of her eyes. I thought there could be nothing crueler.
“And then finally the man made me his target. But I was saved by the driver’s quick thinking. The driver swerved quickly, and the man lost his balance and I was just barely saved. Of course, the man was infuriated and killed the driver. I was a kid, but even I knew what would happen to a bus if the driver died. When the bus started drifting, the man lost his balance, fell over, hit the back of his head hard against the floor, and lost consciousness. Us surviving passengers were happy when he passed out. But the bus would crash at that rate and we might die along with the crazy man. That was when I spaced out, sat down in the blood-covered driver’s seat, and held on tight to the steering wheel. Of course, there was no way a middle-schooler like me would know how to drive. I just felt like we would definitely die if no one did anything. Just that feeling made me move.”
Touko-san spread her arms wide.
“As you can see, I’m still alive. In the end, the bus stopped safely, the hijacker was arrested by police who rushed to the scene, and everyone applauded me as a heroic middle-schooler.”
Touko-san’s mouth twisted and she cast down her eyes.
“That time, I was saved by Kushidana-Hime. That’s right. I saw ‘a future where I will be saved’. In that life-or-death situation, pushed to my limits, I wished I wouldn’t die from the bottom of my heart. Like an idiot, I really thought I might be saved if I could see the future. And then my Persona awakened. Of course, it wasn’t ten minutes ahead like it is now; I’d just awakened, so I could only see ten seconds into the future. But it was enough to see the bus stopping.”
Touko-san looked between Sousei-san and me.
“The Persona abilities you two received are a result of what you strongly wished for in your hearts, right?”
True, I had strongly wished for the power to support someone when it had seemed that I would be killed by Sousei-san when he went berserk. Undoubtedly, Sousei-san had also strongly wished for the power to see the past.
“...By the way, what do you think happened to the hijacker who was arrested after that?”
In the next moment, Touko-san’s expressionless gaze turned so cold I could feel the chill in the air.
“The man pleaded insanity and was judged not guilty.”
It was by no means an uncommon occurrence. If abnormal results were detected in a psychiatric examination, the criminal was not held legally accountable at the time of the crime and was sent to a psychiatric institution. In the case of a severe disability, they would be isolated and receive medical treatment. And then the criminal would live out the remainder of his life in the institution.
It could be said that this was a typical outcome, but the victims surely felt conflicted.
Touko-san’s mouth twisted into a wry smile.
“It’s like a joke, right? Something that ridiculous? Is it really okay for something this weird to happen? The dissatisfaction I felt when I heard the news… I can’t put it into words. I wasn’t angry or sad or mourning, just detached. That was when I was convinced. Crimes were absurd. The criminals who committed those absurd crimes couldn’t be judged with common sense at all.”
However, her eyes were not smiling.
“I joined the police because I wanted to use the law as a front to exterminate criminals. Even today I try to mercilessly crack down on the criminals I come across.”
I believed there was no reason for Touko-san to lie now that we had come this far. In addition, it was not as if I could not understand what she was saying.
“That’s why it’s not surprising for me to kill the ‘Five Togakushi Judges’ like this, right? It’s nothing more than my life’s work, you know?”
People like Touko-san who had had tragic life experiences in the past sometimes held twisted values like those she spoke of. I could hardly say it was impossible.
“...I don’t believe you.”
However, I knew her, and so there was an unerasable sense of unease within me.
“At the very least, the Touko Aoi I know is an amazing detective! Even if you harbor such thoughts within you, surely you are aware of the duty a detective must carry out!”
“Yeah, I think so too. Everyone knows Touko’s got no mercy for criminals. I think there’s definitely something wrong this time, but everything before that totally made sense.”
At my words, Sousei-san immediately agreed. Right. If it was someone who knew Touko Aoi well, they could not possibly accept what she was currently saying.
Touko-san was silent and did not respond. She wore an uncomfortable expression. From that, I reached a single conclusion.
“...Touko-san, wasn’t it the case that Kyouhei Hioka was something like a ‘brake’ to you?”
I remembered Kyouhei Hioka’s words from when they had been living together. He had desperately tried to persuade her. He had strongly admonished her that her way of thinking was incorrect. These were words he had uttered after hearing of Touko-san’s tragic past and her opposition to criminals, just like ours right now.
In other words, Touko-san had been able to cultivate the image of an unflappable detective because she had had a safety device named Kyouhei Hioka.
“...I’m not denying it. It’s pretty clear if you look at me now that Kyouhei’s gone. I don’t want to admit it, but I acted like a decent person because Kyouhei was a brake.”
Touko-san’s eyes narrowed and she smiled weakly. Perhaps she was envisioning Kyouhei Hioka in days gone by.
“...Touko-san, please let me ask you one more thing–”
I seized upon this as the critical moment.
“–Why did you kill Kyouhei Hioka?”
I inquired forcefully.
“We know from the past conversation that he himself wanted it to be so. Nevertheless, why did you have to bear that painful, heavy responsibility?”
Touko-san’s expression gave away even less than it had before.
“...It’s not like the thought of just watching over Kyouhei as he died didn’t cross my mind.”
“One reason is because that was what he wanted, like you said, Naoto. Another is that I couldn’t forgive him. I absolutely couldn’t forgive him for getting himself killed by a criminal. If I couldn’t save his life, I thought I would end it with my own hands. That’s all.”
The events at the main gate, after she had shot and killed Shirou Konno. I remembered how Touko-san had ordered us in an unusually rude tone.
“Even so! Why!? You knew exactly what would happen to you if you lost your brake, Kyouhei Hioka!”
Why had I not been by her side? Why had I not been able to stop Touko-san?
Even if I regretted it, there was still nothing I could have done. We walked separate paths in life. Even so, I found it frustrating. If I had been by her side, perhaps I would have been able to listen to what she had to say.
After she seemed to hesitate for a moment:
“...That’s why. Kyouhei was in the way of me being Kagu-tsuchi.”
Touko-san murmured emotionlessly.
“There was no point in just taking care of him when he was already dying. For me to become Kagu-tsuchi, it was necessary for me to sever the chains Kyouhei had on me with my own hands.”
When Touko-san spoke of “becoming Kagu-tsuchi”, she meant “becoming a demon”. A “murderous demon”, at that.
“Why!? Kyouhei Hioka did not wish for you to become Kagu-tsuchi! Touko-san, Kyouhei Hioka did not mean for you to take over his revenge!”
“...That’s right. I was the one who wanted to be Kagu-tsuchi. Kyouhei wasn’t the kind of person who would want that from me. I know that better than anyone even without you telling me, Naoto. And–”
In the next moment, Touko-san furrowed her brow and bit her lower lip, as if in pain.
“–I also know better than anyone that I was the one responsible for killing him.”
“Y-You were responsible? What do you mean…?”
Naturally, I was at a loss for words. I could not even begin to guess her meaning.
It was an incident full of malice. It was a tragic series of misfortunes with no one to blame. Nonetheless, if I had to pinpoint the one responsible, all of those involved were responsible to some extent.
It was true that Touko-san had dealt the finishing blow. However, I did not think that Touko-san was as responsible as she claimed for the events leading up to Kyouhei Hioka’s death. To the contrary, I remembered that she had earlier gone so far as to warn Kyouhei Hioka, ‘Please stop being foolish.’ If I thought about it, it was possible that she would feel responsible for not being able to stop him, but was that really the case?
Touko-san let out a great sigh. Her breath contained a slight tremble.
“...Like you’d expect, even I shook when I pointed the gun at Kyouhei. But only for a short time until I pulled the trigger. After I fired, it was like my blood froze over. My body and my heart grew cold, and I no longer felt sad or lonely or anything.”
Touko-san gave a bewitching smile that sent a shiver down my spine.
“...Since I overcame Kyouhei, I could go back to being my former self. But when I was killing those ‘Five Togakushi Judges’, my heart didn’t ache at all. I had stopped being human. Back then, when I crossed the line and killed Kyouhei, I became a demon.”
Wearing a resolute expression that said she had accepted her imminent death, Touko-san said:
“All right, that’s enough. We’ve gone over everything I wanted to talk about. Naoto, Sousei, I’m happy I could meet you at the end. Take care of yourselves, you two.”
I realized that she still carried her “hidden feelings” deep within her heart.
In that moment, Touko-san tightly clutched the pendant at her chest. “Answer me, Kushinada-Hime!” Her Persona manifested behind her, graceful like a celestial maiden.
“W-Wait! I’m not yet done speaking!”
I cried out desperately, but Touko-san’s hand did not stop. She stubbornly pressed the bomb’s activation switch with the bottom of the gun’s magazine.
In the next moment, red digital numbers appeared on the front of the black box. The numbers displayed read [10:00]. Immediately the countdown began: [09:59].
“–It’s just as you see. You’ve got just under ten minutes. The two of you don’t need to die. You should be able to get far away in ten minutes. Leave these apartments now.”
The rain had started falling harder and thunder was roaring in the faraway sky without my noticing.
“By the way, the two of you remember the ability of my Kushinada-Hime, right?”
When Touko-san mentioned it, I understood the meaning behind the time limit placed on the bomb.
“...You can see ten minutes into the future – so what kind of future do you see ten minutes from now, Touko-san…?”
Touko-san spread out her hands.
“Nothing. I don’t see anything. It’s the first time this has happened.”
What did this mean? I wore a dubious expression.
“...Why don’t I see anything in the future? Most likely, that’s because ten minutes from now – I’m no longer alive. By the way, my foresight is never wrong. No matter what you do, you can’t save me. Give up and get out of here!”
Her voice said she had abandoned reality. In this desperate situation, I was as unable to move as if I had been struck.
“What’re you doing just standing around!? Naoto! I’ll go!”
In the next moment, Sousei-san had started running toward Touko-san. Touko-san immediately lifted the gun.
“I’ll shoot! Stop, Sousei!”
“If you’re gonna shoot me, just do it! Sorry, I’m a robot! I’m not as weak as a human! One or two shots mean nothing to me!”
He would risk himself for this opportunity. Sousei-san was prepared to be shot if it meant stopping Touko-san.
“...Who said I’ll shoot you, Sousei?”
“S-Sousei-san, wait! Stop!”
Right then, I shouted loudly. That was because the one Touko-san leisurely pointed the gun’s muzzle at was not Sousei-san, but Futodama.
“Dammit! Why’re you stopping me!?”
Brought to an abrupt halt, Sousei-san glared at me and yelled.
“Are you saying it’s okay if Touko dies!?”
“Of course not! But Futodama is a hostage! Look closely!”
“Like I care! It’s the brat’s own damn fault if he dies! It’s reaping what he fucking sowed! Anyway, at this rate Touko and the brat will both die when the bomb goes off! So I’m not gonna hesitate to choose Touko’s life!”
Sousei-san’s claim was correct. Honestly, I thought the same thing.
“Or else what! Are you just gonna leave the fucking building like Touko said!? Then I really am gonna break off my partnership with you! I’ll manage just fine on my own! You know! I’m not gonna let someone important to me die right in front of me again!”
Sousei-san’s bitter yell reached up to the cloudy sky. At the same time, it pierced through my heart.
“...Sousei-san, please give me just a little more time. I still have questions for Touko-san.”
Touko-san’s eyes were closed, as if she was focusing on the sound of the falling rain. Her confident behavior spoke of her unshakeable conviction that we could not overturn the current situation.
“‘Just a little’! Don’t you get it, Naoto? The time bomb’s countdown keeps going while we’re fucking chatting like this!”
Sousei-san’s voice was full of impatience.
“And also! Touko said it before! Taking apart the bomb is fucking impossible! Once the countdown starts, no one can stop the explosion! So we all we can do is grab Touko and leave the building while there’s still time!”
“Sousei-san, please! Give me time!”
Most likely, we could not solve this with brute force. We would not reach Touko-san. In that case, our only remaining method was to stop her walking the path of destruction through her own choice. To do that, Sousei-san and I would have to put our all into conveying our feelings to her.
“...Please. Trust me. We will definitely stop Touko-san.”
I looked steadily at Sousei-san.
“...Not fair… That ‘trust me’ bullshit. Like you have any right to say that! After you fucking betrayed me!”
Speaking rudely, Sousei-san dropped heavily to a seat on the concrete floor. Then he sat cross-legged and crossed his arms violently.
“Oi! Naoto! Make damn well sure you stop Touko! If you betray me this time, I’ll make you pay!”
If I was unable to persuade her this time, he could do nothing to me. Knowing that, Sousei-san entrusted his life to me. I nodded at Sousei-san and turned to face Touko-san.
“...We have resolved ourselves. Will we persuade you here? Or will we meet our demise with the building? It’s one or the other.”
In the next moment, Touko-san stood up and yelled, her voice shaking.
“Don’t be so stupid! No matter what you do, you can’t change the future! I don’t want to drag you two into this!”
It seemed Touko-san had not anticipated that we would possibly remain when presented with such a desperate situation.
“Don’t say such selfish things! Weren’t you the one who summoned us here? And now you are telling us to go back. There is no way we would simply agree and withdraw. You’re stuck with us for a while longer!”
And then something else happened I did not anticipate.
“Naoto! Sousei! Listen to me! Please! I’m begging you, leave this place immediately!”
Touko-san was agitated. It seemed she had been telling the truth when she said she was fond of us. Touko-san wore an unusually desperate expression that said she really did not want to let us die.
I was honestly happy to learn that truth, but unfortunately, I had no time to savor my joy. When I looked at the digital display on the front of the bomb, it read [08:37]. It was already approaching eight minutes.
“Please tell me. Touko-san, what is this ‘responsibility’ you speak of? Are you saying you did something to Kyouhei Hioka?”
I spoke quickly, aware of the time remaining.
“...Not just Kyouhei. Now that it’s like this, I feel responsible for you and Sousei too.”
Touko-san covered her face with one hand and shook her head.
“...That’s how it is, right? You guys are in danger now just because you met me! You’ve met with misfortune just from having to do with a woman like me!”
I could not believe my ears.
“...Please, wait a moment. Touko-san, are you saying you feel responsible for those who have anything to do with you?”
“...Yeah, that’s right.”
Touko-san nodded a little. Her expression was completely serious.
I was astonished. What kind of life must one have led to honestly believe that, as Touko-san did?
“No! You’re wrong! There’s no need for you to feel responsible for such a thing! In fact, I do not want you to feel responsible. When it comes down to it, I am the one responsible for staying here. It’s the same for you, right, Sousei-san?”
“Well, yeah! My thoughts and actions and everything aren’t anyone else’s but mine! Even if I’m wrong or mess up, no way I’ll do something lame like blame it on someone else!”
“It was the same for Kyouhei Hioka, six years ago! And when he was on the verge of death! Touko-san, not once did he blame the fact that he met you! Just the opposite! Just before he died, he said if he was reborn, one more time, with you–”
“–Stop! Naoto! Don’t say any more!”
Touko-san’s loud voice like a scream drowned out my yell.
“Don’t lie to yourself! He still loved you! Kyouhei Hioka loved you up until the moment he died! And Touko-san, you loved him too!”
“No! Don’t talk as if you know! You don’t know anything about us, Naoto!”
Touko-san’s wet, heavy hair swung wildly.
“Then what about the ‘pendant’ you wear around your neck, Touko-san!? That’s the birthstone pendant Kyouhei Hioka gave you six years ago for your birthday, isn’t it?”
Touko-san gripped the crystal of the pendant chain as if in reaction to my words.
“You take great care of the pendant you received from Kyouhei Hioka even after you parted ways. It’s proof that you still love him even now!”
Touko-san was silent as she clutched the pendant.
“...Touko-san. Trying to bear everything on your own is a mistake.”
I was stating what Tsuge-san had told me.
“Touko-san, if you had just said you wanted his help, Kyouhei Hioka would have gladly protected you. Living while relying on others is not something unacceptable. Even something too heavy for you to handle alone sometimes becomes bearable with two people. Touko-san, you should have trusted and relied on the people around you more.”
Honestly, who was I to talk? Until recently, the same could often be said to me. It was just that I had fortunately experienced some events in Inaba, met irreplaceable people I could call my friends, and spent irreplaceable time with them, and so I had been able to change. I had come to a realization.
Two was better than one, and many was better than two. Humans could become stronger just by having several people precious to them.
Touko-san’s shoulders were trembling slightly. In the next moment, her dry laughter echoed across the roof.
“You don’t get it! You don’t get it at all, Naoto! You can only think that way because you’re a completely honest person! Being able to depend on someone is just wishful thinking for a broken woman like me!”
Touko-san’s expression distorted painfully.
“...My parents died, but the bus hijacker is alive. That absurdity broke me. People have a twisted sense of value. Yuuri and Kyouhei and Tsuge-san. I was only able to miraculously keep myself from running wild because of the righteous people around me. Right. The truth is, I was always on the edge. Whenever I slapped handcuffs on a criminal, whenever I prepped my gun to threaten criminals, every time, I thought of throwing logic out the door and just blowing out their shit-filled brains…”
“...Touko-san, could that be the reason you left Kyouhei Hioka’s side?”
Why had the two parted ways when they were mutually attracted to each other? I had found that strange, and now I was finally able to comprehend it.
“...That’s right. I was scared. I thought someday I would go wild and make Kyouhei unhappy. It’s already bad enough imagining your lover turning into a murderer!”
Touko-san smiled self-deprecatingly.
“...But in the end I made him unhappy anyway. You guys got involved too, so you get it, right? Kyouhei Hioka, the model detective overflowing with a sense of justice, shouldn’t have dirtied his hands with murder! It’s impossible! But that impossible thing actually happened!”
“...T-Touko-san, you can’t possibly be saying that Kyouhei Hioka committed murder because of your influence?”
“Can you think of any other reason? That’s the only possibility! I planted those crazy thoughts in him!”
The sound of falling rain had grown stronger. Droplets of rain danced atop the concrete like popcorn popping.
“I didn’t tell Kyouhei to stop being foolish out of a sense of conscience or morality. I’m broken, and from the very beginning I didn’t care what happened to the ‘Five Togakushi Judges’. I just thought that I didn’t want to let an honest person like him walk the same path as a broken person like me. I thought I didn’t want to make him any unhappier because of me.”
Touko-san was dripping wet, and it looked to me as if her whole body was crying.
“...Just before he died, Kyouhei called me saying he’d messed up. You know. To tell the truth, I was happy. Not just because he chose me in his dying moments, but because he was only able to kill one person. If you think about it, would you believe Kyouhei, who excelled even among detectives, would be shot by a civilian like Shirou Konno?”
I remembered the words “too soft” had appeared in the conversation held during his dying moments. Most likely, in the end, he had been unable to completely become a demon. The reason Kyouhei Hioka had not said a word when he had killed Miyuki Midorikawa may have been because he could not rid himself of his guilty conscience.
“Kyouhei wasn’t completely broken. That’s a slight comfort to me.”
At last, I clearly understood the responsibility that Touko-san spoke of.
“In the end, I decided to carry on Kyouhei’s work and consign all members of the ‘Five Togakushi Judges’ to oblivion. But like I said before, I originally thought all criminals should be eliminated, so I feel just a little guilty for making Kyouhei unhappy…”
Touko-san bent over a little and gripped the pendant at her chest all the more tightly.
“...You’re right. I still love Kyouhei even now. But. No matter what, I couldn’t let that love be fulfilled. But Kyouhei died just because he loved a broken woman like me.”
Touko-san sent a fleeting glance at the digital display on the bomb. The numbers [06:25] blinked red.
“...There’s no time. Go. I’ve told you everything. There’s nothing left to talk about.”
Touko-san ordered quietly. She once again dropped to a seat on the black box and closed her eyes. Only the digital beeping of the countdown and the systematic sound of the rain echoed across the rooftop.
I searched the past conversations within my memory and gathered the most appropriate words to say to her now. After that, I slowly let out a single large sigh and began to speak.
“‘There’s no way I’m not just gonna sit back and watch you fall, Touko.’”
In the next moment, Touko-san’s closed eyes opened and her expression changed to one of surprise. There was no need for me to explain to her whose line it was.
“...Naoto, stop it.”
“‘I definitely won’t let you do anything that ridiculous as long as I live.’”
“Didn’t you hear me tell you to stop!?”
“‘If you try, I’ll risk my own life to stop you.’”
Touko-san gazed at me in anguish. The pendant at her chest shook as if connected to the wavering of her heart.
“No! I won’t stop until you understand, Touko-san!”
I expressed my true feelings to her.
“Touko-san, if you say you need a brake! Then I’ll be your brake! I’ll say it again! Don’t try to bear everything by yourself! You are definitely not alone!”
If this was to be my last chance, I would express to her all of what I felt so that I would have no regrets.
“Kyouhei Hioka is no longer here. Yuuri-san isn’t here either. But Tsuge-san is still here! Sousei-san is here! And of course, I as well!”
Touko-san’s whole body was shivering slightly as if frozen. In the next moment, she collapsed to her knees on the concrete.
“...Please. Stop it. Don’t speak so kindly to me anymore. Don’t let me hope for anything. Don’t make me think I want to live–”
“That’s impossible. Touko-san, weren’t you telling me ‘Help me’ from the beginning?”
Touko-san’s eyes narrowed at my words. In addition, not just her, but Sousei-san also wore a strange expression. “...Huh? Really?”
“I thought it was strange ever since I realized Touko-san was Kagu-tsuchi. When I was putting together a timeline of the incidents connected to the murders, I calculated that Miyuki Midorikawa and then Kyouhei Hioka died a short while before Touko-san submitted the investigation request to me.”
Their puzzlement was understandable. She had not told me directly, and in the end it was only my interpretation.
“If you think about it, normally the request to me as a detective would only be to the detriment of Touko-san’s plan, correct? Moreover, it was not the idea of the police, but Touko-san’s own wish, so it becomes increasingly more difficult to understand.”
I slowly began walking toward Touko-san.
“That was when I realized. In the end, wasn’t it a message from Touko-san saying ‘I want you to stop me’?”
I went down to my knees in front of Touko-san. I tightly gripped her wet, chilly hands and told her, gazing straight into her eyes:
“I apologize for the wait. My name is Naoto Shirogane, detective – and I’ve come to save you, Touko Aoi-san.”
I smiled sweetly and continued.
“...Even if you say that no longer holds, I’ll refuse to accept it. Touko-san, I am still inferior to you in just about everything, but even so, I don’t think I’ll lose to you in terms of stubbornness.”
The one who picked up from there was that person.
“Too bad, Touko, just give up. Naoto’s stubbornness is ingrained in her, you know? As her partner, my great self can vouch for how damn stubborn she always is.”
For a short while, Touko-san’s gaze wandered between Sousei-san and me, but finally she hung her head and grumbled in a hoarse voice, “...Right.
“...I lose. It’s my loss.”
Was she soaked by the rain? Or by her tears? In any case, Touko-san’s face was twisted and disheveled.
“...I lose if I’m happy… But I was glad… When you told me you would save me, I was really glad...”
But Touko-san’s expression was extremely bright and happy. That was why I was so happy I could cry. However, I had no time to savor the moment.
“We did it, Naoto! But still! We don’t have time to relax!”
Sousei-san came running toward us as he raised his voice. When he mentioned it, I looked at the numbers on the bomb. The remaining time was [04:58], less than five minutes.
“Oi oi, what do we do? Toss the bomb outside the building?”
Sousei-san circled the black box.
“Damn! No good! We can’t pick it up or anything! The bomb’s secured to the concrete! Fuck! Can we make it in four minutes? If we run as fast as we can…”
Then Touko-san spoke in a weak voice.
“...Huh? You’re talking like that again! Touko!”
“That’s not it. I’m saying it’s physically impossible. The bomb isn’t just secured to the concrete but also set up in a way that prevents our escape – it’s secured to my body.”
I followed Touko-san’s gaze. A cord was tied between her ankle and the bomb. In truth, Touko-san had not moved one step away from the bomb.
“Wait a sec! I’ll just tear something like that off! Don’t underestimate a robot’s power!”
“Sousei. Weren’t you listening to me? It’s impossible. Aren’t you forgetting who the perpetrator was who lured you to this place?”
“...Oi oi. Are you serious? Gimme a break.”
“It’s impossible even if you try. There’s no way I would fail to set up counter-measures against your abilities as a robot, Sousei. ...This cord is woven with diamond fibers. It’s very tough. You definitely can’t break it without an electric cutter.”
To think that her skills would work against us at a time like this. It was terribly ironic.
“Leave me and escape, you two. If you want to take Futodama with you, do what you want.”
Futodama had lost consciousness, possibly due to fear. Sousei-san was more than capable of carrying just one boy and running.
“...Thank you. I’m truly grateful to the two of you. Thanks to you, I was able to have a happy dream in the end. Now I can join Kyouhei and Yuuri without regrets.”
Touko-san revealed earnestly.
“Sousei-san, I have a request for you!”
There was no time to worry. The clock was ticking down even as we spoke.
“Take Futodama and escape right now!”
“What’re you gonna do, Naoto!?”
“I will stay here and stop the bomb!”
“Naoto!” “Idiot!” Touko-san and Sousei-san yelled at the same time.
“There is no other way to stop Touko-san!”
“Then I’m staying here!”
“You can’t! We cannot involve Futodama! If the last of the ‘Five Togakushi Judges’ dies, our efforts will have been in vain!”
I met Sousei-san’s eyes and entreated him with all my heart.
“Please! Trust me!”
Sousei-san looked distressed and mussed up his hair with both hands.
“Ahh! Geez! Damn! Do you think I’ll do whatever you fucking say if you tell me to trust you!?”
In the next moment, Sousei-san lifted the boy lying beside the bomb as lightly as if he were a picking up a ragdoll. He began to run to the edge of the roof with all his strength, just as if he were a rugby player.
As I watched Sousei-san run like the wind, I suddenly realized. At some point, the rain had stopped.
“Naoto, you fucking idiooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooot!”
Unbelievably, Sousei-san kicked down the rusted fence with one foot and leapt from the roof into the gray sky. Several seconds later, a crashing noise reminiscent of an automobile accident resounded from a few floors below.
The roof of a five-story building was almost twenty meters above the ground. Even if Sousei-san was a robot, I had to wonder if he was unhurt.
“...You two have turned into an amazing team in such a short time.”
Touko-san was gazing into the empty air where Sousei-san had vanished as if dazzled. It was a gaze full of the affection that she had shown us many times before.
Just like Sousei-san had seen his mother Yuuri-san in Touko-san, Touko-san had also come to feel for and watch over Sousei-san, her best friend’s orphan, as if he were her own child.
I dropped to a sitting position from where I had been crouching and turned my gaze to the bomb.
In truth, I felt the urge to run up to the edge of the roof and peer down to confirm that Sousei-san was uninjured. However, I chose to trust that he was fine, just as he trusted me.
“...Hey, Naoto. Forget about me and run. It’s only natural I should die. You don’t need to worry about what happens to me.”
I ignored Touko-san’s attempt to persuade me and opened the lid of the guitar amp. Just as when I had first seen it, the inside was that of a simple bomb. However, there were numerous dummy leads, and I hesitated, completely unable to tell which to cut to halt the detonator.
“So this is the so-called ‘wire dilemma’...”
I muttered to myself. The person who made the bomb may have been rather fond of movies. “Red or blue, which lead should I cut?” That sort of situation happened countless times in old Hollywood films. Though of course, I had never even imagined I myself would encounter such circumstances in reality.
“N-Naoto! Listen to me! I said it before, it’s absolutely impossible! The chances of stopping this bomb without expert knowledge are just about zero!”
I felt sorry that I had chosen to ignore her, but I was not in the mood to be persuaded by Touko-san. That was because I did not have the option to run. Nevertheless, it was also true that I could not find a method to break through this dangerous situation.
I deliberated as I gazed steadily at the inside of the bomb’s box. I called upon every ounce of the knowledge I had accumulated until now in my work as a detective and searched for a ray of hope.
However, all that came to me was a sense of impatience, and no ideas presented themselves.
I checked the digital display. [03:59]. The remaining time was finally approaching three minutes. Unless I leapt down like Sousei-san, it was already unlikely that I would escape.
“...You really are a stupid girl.”
Touko-san expelled a huge cloud of air from her lungs. She sighed as if waving a white flag.
“–The bomb maniac called this time bomb ‘Colorful’.”
“Hm? What’s wrong? You’re suddenly cooperative.”
“Don’t give me that. Naoto. You didn’t give me a choice in this situation. Those dirty tactics will serve you well in the future.”
When I feigned ignorance, Touko-san responded in a disgusted tone.
“Thank you. Then we can’t let this be the end, for the sake of my future as well.”
The corners of my mouth lifted, and Touko-san gave a slight snort in response. I was being a little malicious without regard to appearances.
To put it simply, I was “threatening Touko-san by using myself as a hostage”.
If she were alone, Touko-san would not hesitate in accepting death, but she absolutely did not want to involve me, so in the end, she would surely cooperate. That was what I had believed.
“I’ll explain. The origin of the nickname ‘Colorful’ is because there are eleven leads of eleven colors in total inside the bomb. Red, blue, purple, green, gray, brown, navy, pink, yellow, black, white. Don’t mess this part up. To disable the timer, the one who set the bomb picked one of the leads as the last one to leave. Got it? I’ll say it again. You can’t just cut any one of the leads to disable the timer. You have to leave only the one wire you absolutely shouldn’t cut and cut the other ten.”
“...In other words, it’s necessary to get ten correct in succession…”
The extremely high degree of difficulty had me at a loss for words.
“That’s why I said it’s impossible. It’s all over. No matter how good your luck is, not just one or two, but ten in a row is nothing short of impossible…”
I felt my heart sink at the words, heavy as lead, that Touko-san revealed.
No matter how I stared, it was only a waste of time. I grasped the leads in my fingertips and checked the colors and materials. However, all I obtained was a new despair: without the tools, we would be completely unable to cut the leads.
“...If there’s a chance, it’s with the one who set the bomb, who knows which one to leave.”
My fingertips stopped moving completely. I noticed a bit of unease in Touko-san’s words.
It was at that moment. I heard a noisy sound downstairs like something crashing.
I strained my ears. There was a sound like metal and concrete colliding and a sound like the engine of a motorbike. The sounds steadily grew closer and finally echoed from the staircase.
“Sousei Kurogami! Has arrived!”
In the next moment, the front wheel of a red bike leapt out from the entrance to the stairs like the forelegs of a neighing horse.
Sheets of water flew from the bike’s tires. He changed to human form and skidded to a stop in front of Touko-san and me.
Seeing Sousei-san’s body covered with scratches, I understood the source of the crashing noises. He was not just scratched, as if he had been moving about quite recklessly, but there were dents here and there on his body and one part where his inner mechanisms were visible.
I gazed steadily at Sousei-san and thought of complaining.
“I-I’ll say it now! I made sure to leave that brat somewhere far away from the apartments! Anyway, I came back ‘cause I wanted to, so you can’t complain!”
Sousei-san rambled on and on as if making excuses.
I checked the digital display. [03:38]. I calculated roughly one minute and ten seconds before Sousei-san had come back. He had not hesitated at all to return.
“You’re late. I grew tired of waiting.”
“Y-You! I came back full speed full throttle!”
“You two really are a good team.”
It was an extreme situation, but having an amiable exchange with amiable people felt nice. I was determined once again.
“–Let’s all live and go back together.”
The two of them nodded firmly at my words.
“So did you figure out a way, Naoto?”
“Yes. We will follow the established method of disabling the detonator.”
“You can’t mean relying on luck?”
“No. I really don’t think even God would be so kind as to give us ten in a row.”
Touko-san’s words had contained a hint.
“If we make use of Touko-san’s ‘Precognition’, we can choose the leads we should cut.”
“That’s impossible. My ability looks ten minutes into the future, remember?”
Touko-san was perplexed.
“We can’t count on my Persona now that there’s less than ten minutes before the explosion. I don’t want to upset you, but I’ve been trying to look into the future for a while, and every time I don’t see anything… I can’t do anything at such a crucial time. This is the worst…”
Wordlessly, I moved behind Touko-san. “–Give me power, Amatsu-Mikaboshi.” I called forth my own Persona.
“It’s all right. Don’t worry. We can surely change the future. Even if it’s a future you couldn’t change alone, Touko-san–”
In the next moment, I strongly squeezed Touko-san’s drenched shoulders.
“–If we join hands, we can surely change it. No, not change. We will decide our future with our own power.”
I sent a glance at Sousei-san.
“Sousei-san, come here! With your strength, we should be able to sever the leads even without the right tools. Please sever the ones Touko-san indicates.”
“...Eh? Me? But I don’t see anything.”
“Are you forgetting my Persona’s ability?”
“...Huh? Naoto, isn’t your ability ‘powering up other people’s Personas’?”
“Naoto’s ability would be helpful if we wanted to see far into the future. But right now there’s no point in powering up my ‘Precognition’ and seeing more than ten minutes into the future.”
I faced the two of them and shook my head.
“You’re both mistaken. Please remember my ability. Amatsu-Mikaboshi’s ability is ‘Ability Tune’. It is not the power to ‘strengthen’ others’ Personas, but to ‘tune’ them.”
It was slightly strange to see the expressions of sudden realization spring up on both their faces.
“That’s right. Tuning can strengthen someone’s power – but it can also weaken it.”
“...I see. You’ll weaken the power of my ‘Precognition’ so I see the near future. Then we’ll sever the right leads?”
“Yes.” I nodded.
“Good job, Naoto. You figured all this out.”
“In any case, there’s no time. Now it’s a race against time.”
The numbers on the digital display read [02:35]. That was roughly 150 seconds. We were cutting ten leads, so that was about fifteen seconds per lead.
The real work began here.
I used my “Ability Tune” and tuned Touko-san’s “Precognition” from “ten minutes into the future” to “ten seconds into the future”.
Would Touko-san be able to see if the decision was right or wrong “ten seconds into the future”? If she could, that meant Touko-san existed in that future. In other words, the bomb had not exploded.
Sousei-san was the one who selected the leads. He would grip the lead he planned to sever, and if Touko-san gave the go ahead, he would act accordingly and actually sever the lead. If we succeeded at that ten times, our mission would be complete.
In the shortest scenario, we would first deduce which wire we should leave for last; conversely, the longest would be if it did not become clear which wire should be last until there were only two remaining.
For us, using our all power to reel in the futures, luck could not be completed excluded as a factor. I felt as if I was only now becoming aware of the vast concepts of life and fate.
There was another problem. What made me most uneasy was the stamina necessary to maintain our Personas.
It was necessary that Touko-san and I continually utilize our Personas while we disabled the time bomb’s detonator. To be honest, I had pushed myself too far before coming to the roof. Touko-san had been exposed to the rain for a long time and was completely chilled. Naturally, our physical stamina had been quite drained.
Nevertheless, this was a life or death situation. We would not be complaining. I steeled my expression with a conscious effort and prayed as I kept a close eye on other two’s exchange.
“...That one’s okay too.”
We hadn’t found it yet. There was still not much to worry about. Even if it came down to my hypothetical longest pattern, we would be cutting it close, but we would succeed in disabling the detonator. Yellow, pink, navy, and brown were not hits either, but the disarmament was proceeding smoothly.
–On the seventh lead.
“Green!” Even when Sousei-san shouted, there was no reply from Touko-san.
“A-Are you all right!?”
I had a bad feeling, and when I peered over Touko-san’s shoulder, her face was pale. She had one hand on her forehead and was taking ragged breaths.
“...Sorry. I’m fine. Just a little dizzy…”
As Touko-san continued taking deep breaths, she weakly raised one hand to me. No matter how I looked at her, she did not seem fine. But I was not one to talk. In truth, my consciousness was also beginning to grow dim.
“...Just a bit more. Do your best.”
It was frustrating that I could do no more than offer words of encouragement.
“...S-Sousei. Green is fine.”
Touko-san said painfully, just as if she were forcibly emptying the contents of her stomach. Though it could not be helped, after that our pace slowed substantially.
Next we somehow managed to clear gray and red. Unfortunately, we still had not found a hit. In other words, we seemed to be approaching the longest pattern. I did not want to admit it, but the situation had now changed, and I much loathed our misfortune.
And then, in an unforeseen development, when only two remained, blue and purple – Touko-san finally used up the last of her strength.
I thought she was swaying back and forth like a pendulum, and then she fell back against me. Touko-san’s breath was faint as she leaned against my chest. Of course, Kushinada-Hime vanished.
When Touko-san wrung out her words, that was perhaps the last ounce of her strength. Then she lost consciousness.
“Naoto! What do we do!? Just one more! Which one!? Which one do I cut!?”
Sousei-san urgently raised his voice, glaring at the leads. I sent a glance at the bomb’s digital display.
Only a little time remaining. There were two alternatives: blue and purple. The chances were one in two. Cruelly, if we made the wrong decision after coming this far, it would be the end of the line. In addition, if the countdown reached zero as we hesitated over the decision, it would be the end of the line. Right now, our luck had run dry.
I was tortured by impatience. My rational thinking had been mercilessly stolen away. My logic was not proceeding, as if I could not concentrate due to my physical exhaustion. However, time was passing whether I liked it or not.
“Naoto! Tell me! Which one!?”
I couldn’t think of anything. Even though I knew nothing would change just by standing and waiting.
–If everything was to end here, should we just leave the final lead to chance...?
Twenty seconds left. Sousei-san yelled. That yell strongly pierced my heart.
“Naoto! Naoto Shirogane! Detective! Naoto Shirogane! Let me hear your logic!”
–Yes, that’s right. I was a detective. I was Detective Naoto Shirogane. It was absolute nonsense for a detective like myself to choose to leave everything to chance as my final method. Detectives were supposed to believe in logical conclusions based on the accumulation of facts and deductive reasoning.
My thoughts whirled rapidly. I stared at Touko-san, who lay in my arms, eyes closed. Suddenly, my gaze was arrested by a “certain part” of Touko-san.
Touko-san had indeed said that the trap leads had been freely chosen by the one who set the bomb. Who was it that had set it? Touko-san had not stated who had taken this bomb from the station and set it in these apartments, but shouldn’t it have been Kyouhei Hioka?
When I deduced that, the answer naturally came to me.
“Sousei-san! Leave behind the color I am about to tell you!”
I yelled the name of the color with all my strength. When he heard my answer, Sousei-san wore a surprised expression for only a moment.
However, he immediately cried, “Leave it to me!” He grasped the end of the lead with both hands, and with a loud yell of “This’ll end it!”, Sousei-san tore it off in one movement. I caught my breath and stared at the bomb’s digital display.
In that moment, the numbers on the bomb’s digital display halted completely. I waited breathlessly for a few seconds, unsure if the bomb would actually explode.
After several seconds had passed, I finally realized that we had really succeeded in disabling the bomb. I expelled all the air from my lungs and collapsed on my back on the wet floor, still clutching Touko-san to my chest.
The cold of the concrete really felt good. The sky spread out before my eyes and blue peeked out between gaps in the clouds.
The blue of the sky as it cleared that felt as if it would hurt my eyes, the smell of the damp concrete that tickled my nostrils, and the gentle wind that caressed my flushed cheeks told me I was still alive.
April 11 Near Iwato Apartments
The area around Iwato Apartments was surrounded by police vehicles and wrapped in a heavy atmosphere. Touko-san had regained consciousness and informed her police department. “I am Kagu-tsuchi.”
Sousei-san and I exchanged words with Touko-san for a while before the police came. But we did not say much.
“...You two might get mad at me again, but I’m wondering if it’s really okay for me to be alive. Shouldn’t I have died? I’m still worrying about it.”
Touko-san murmured as she gazed at the scud clouds drifting across the sky.
She had murdered several people with her own hands. There were extenuating circumstances to consider, but they were not actions that would be forgiven. It was ironic: we had saved her life like this, but it was not impossible that she would fall under the executioner’s axe.
“...I believe you can atone for those sins exactly because you are alive. I apologize for the trite opinion.”
I could not think of any tactful words.
“...Just don’t forget this. You have us, Touko-san. We will await your return.”
And so I offered my own feelings.
“Yeah! I’ll be waiting for you to come back too, Touko. ‘Cause I’m a robot! Even if it’s ten or twenty years from now! Or if it’s a hundred years, I’ll wait as long as you want, you know?”
Sousei-san smiled roguishly.
“Er, I’m human, so I would appreciate it if you would come back a bit sooner if you are able. When that time comes, I will work diligently to make the most delicious ‘lukewarm coffee’ for you.”
Touko-san laughed happily at our words. “...Thanks. I’ll look forward to it.” She squeezed her eyes shut tightly. Her expression, brimming with a smile, looked as if she were reflecting on the joys of being alive.
Touko-san was handcuffed, and just before she was to enter the police cruiser, I called out, “Please wait.” I had remembered something I had forgotten to tell her.
“Touko-san, do you know? What kind of pendant that is?”
“...What kind? I was born in February, so it’s my birthstone, an amethyst ‘pendulum’, isn’t it?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
It was a so-called “pendulum pendant,” where the pendant on the chain was sharp and resembled a pendulum. I also knew of one other name for it.
“It’s also called a ‘dowsing pendulum’.”
Dowsing was a technique invented to find underground veins of precious metals by using a pendulum or stick.
“...In the end, this is nothing more than my hypothesis, but Kyouhei Hioka may have given you that pendant hoping that it would ‘guide you if you ever lost your way’.”
Touko-san shut her eyes tightly and wrapped both hands around her pendant.
“And one more thing. Why amethyst? It’s not just because it’s the February birthstone, but I believe it was also filled with Kyouhei Hioka’s feelings of wanting to be with you always. That is because–”
After she heard my reason, a single tear shone on Touko-san’s cheek. “What was Kyouhei thinking? Geez, that idiot. He’s always been so full of himself…”
It was just as if that tear – was a beautiful jewel, like the amethyst of the pendant.