Volume 3, Chapter 3 - Countdown
It was eight o'clock in the morning.
The thirty-third floor of Kiritou headquarters building, Haya's private room.
After managing to get proper sleep Haya opened her windows and a tremendous sound hit her.
It was loud enough to make her block her ears.
She curled up on the bed for a moment, and then finally got up.
However, her movements were 'a little bit faster than a zombie', her aspirations were in pieces at the moment.
"...ahh—...time is...need to wake up...eh..."
Her posture broke down after she got down from the bed, she strongly hit the floor with her head.
"........................I wish sun perished."
She spat out the curse towards the daylight, which became her daily routine, and headed to the washroom while staggering and smashing against the walls.
When she washed her face, combed her unruly hair and ate breakfast, it was already nine o'clock. She thought of her appointment as she changed into her usual suit.
I'll have to deal with failures first thing in the morning, probably will have to process bits and pieces. Since we don't know what's the cause, there's not much we can do... well, it can't be helped.
Responding to the blackout that happened last weekend, Kiritou formed a countermeasures team immediately which started to deal with problems that appeared in succession.
However, the results were poor. Because of that nearly all of the headquarters' staff planned holidays were called off.
Haya stood in the front door and took a deep breath.
——The moment I step out, I will enter my 'workplace'. That's what she engraved deep in her mind.
"...let's do my best for today."
It was arranged so that Tenryo Taiga would come at two o'clock in the afternoon. Until then, she needs to hurry and clean up the work, it was a pretty tight schedule.
Speaking of which, was he able to convince his little sister?
The other day, it was unknown whether Tenryo Fuyuki will be accompanying him. Although Haya wanted her to come even more so than she wanted Taiga to come, they had their circumstances as well. She didn't intend to insist on it.
That girl, she seems to hate me?. No way around it.
As she was going down the building on the elevator, she touched the terminal with her finger. Iora who was supposed to be projected from it——was not there.
Eh? She's not there?
She took a peek inside the terminal, but couldn't find the AI girl in there. Iora wasn't there last night already, but Haya didn't think she wouldn't be back yet. Although Haya wanted to check where she went, she had work to do, so she closed the terminal's window.
Well, she'll be back sooner or later.
Haya convinced herself and headed to the laboratory.
The same day, ten o'clock.
"And there... fuh."
A silver haired girl got out from an air-conditioned train and looked at the blue and sunny sky.
Shio let out a small voice and started dragging a carry-bag she wasn't accustomed to using, and headed to the ticket gate.
What she was wearing at the moment was an outfit she bought after consulting with Rui, a thin black business shirt and shorts. Rather than cute, it was a clothes coordination that could be described as cool.
Her stylish outfit coupled with her originally cool appearance attracted the stares of the passers-by, but she didn't notice it as she focused on carrying her luggage. Since it was a bag equipped with wheels, even the considerably weak Shio could move with it. But since it was filled to the point where it was overflowing and heavy, every time she moved with it, she felt a bodily pain. Shio took a breather after going through the ticket gate.
"Umm... they said they'll pick me up but..."
She looked around the entrance gate through which a violent stream of people leaving for the holidays poured in, searching for her three friends who should have come to pick her up. At the same time she looked at the scenery, in front of her was a brand new city.
"...it really is nice."
Words full of envy left her mouth.
The New City has been developed alongside the Kiritou Group, as the name suggested it was still new. If any extraordinary circumstances were to happen——there was no better city to move to.
It isn't supposed to be a refuge... but that's how it appears to be.
Karasuba wasn't a place for her.
She has been treated like a ghost, it would make no difference whether she was there or not. In order to leave that place, she came to New City.
Shio didn't know yet whether her choice was correct or not. There was both anxiety and hesitation in her mind.
"Ahh, there she is. Heey, Shio-chan!"
Although she was sentimental after arriving at an unknown place, her consciousness returned as a brisk voice sounded in the middle of the crowd. She noticed three people who were walking towards her.
...if I think about that, no wonder I'll be anxious.
She locked away her own hesitation and started pulling her luggage as she walked towards them.
Why has Shio come to New City——to explain the reason for that, we have to trace back in time a little.
Putting aside the results, Taiga has overcome the midterms safely yesterday, which was the first day of the three-day weekend. After that, the four of them went to subdue a powerful virus 《Crom Crouch》, and after a fierce battle, they won against it. A small uproar happened after that, it happened as they were sitting in the reserved seats in one of the establishments in central city.
"""You want to live alone?!"""
Their surprised voices overlapped.
"I-is it that weird?"
Shio who was drinking a bright red juice panicked seeing the reaction of the three.
Although for her it seemed like a small party and she wanted to chat a bit, what she told them out of the blue left them speechless. Of course, it was a natural reaction.
"...did Karasuba tell you to leave?"
"That's not it, I decided it for myself. I want to leave the house and live elsewhere. From now on, I want to look for a new way to live my life."
Among these words which were truth, there was also a lie.
She didn't have the determination. She just wanted to break through the status quo. Let aside a clear goal, she didn't even have any plans for the future.
Even so, she had to act——because she thought like that, she decided to do it despite hesitating.
"...is that so."
Fuyuki stared at Shio's eyes to check whether what's inside matches her words.
Certainly, for her to live with her family would be mentally stressing, so they agreed on her leaving the house. However, living alone was another thing.
Karasuba Shio was an Ojou-sama. Moreover it was as she had three signs protruding from her head that said 'sheltered girl'.
If she's left alone, she'll get exploited by someone.
I need to do something——Fuyuki was burning with sense of responsibility.
"If you haven't decided where you want to live, I recommend New City."
"That's what I intended to do at the beginning, since everyone lives there. But I couldn't find a vacant room..."
"Ah, that's possible. Since it's a cutting edge and advanced city, there's a lot of people looking for places to stay."
The apartment Tenryo siblings purchased on the top floor was vacant because of a coincidence.
Were it to suddenly turn unavailable, they too would have a hard time finding a room for them. The students flock to the Kiritou dormitories because of similar circumstances.
"Let me ask first, do you have money? It takes a lot to live alone."
"I have plenty. I wasn't always a shut-in."
"No, that's not something you should say while puffing your chest proudly."
"By the way, how much do you have?"
"Umm, this much?"
Shio displayed the data on her savings in a window. Fuyuki looked at the lump of numbers for a few seconds——
"...it seems like we'll have Shii-chan treat us a lot."
As if she saw something absurd, her pupils displayed shock.
Since she wasn't convinced, Fuyuki started tickling Shio's whole body. Rui who was next to Taiga whispered in secret.
"How much do you think it was?"
"I can't even imagine."
Since Fuyuki who has been earning money as she worked for Karasuba had such a reaction, it must have been a considerable amount. Fuyuki who has always been working hard, and (though it sounds bad) Shio who has always been a shut-in. It was clear how absurd a difference between the worlds they were born into was.
Finally Fuyuki stopped tickling Shio and returned to the two.
"I-I thought I'd die from laughing..."
"You reap what you sow."
A somewhat refreshed Fuyuki put a hand on her hip and said.
"...for the time being it seems like it's unreasonable to worry about financial issues. But Shii-chan is naive to think she can manage living alone."
"Naive... I don't want to be told that by Hime-chan."
Although what Shio said was correct, but there was also some truth in what Fuyuki said. Rui followed up with a question.
"Cleaning, laundry, cooking. You have to do it all alone right? Can you do that?"
"I investigated it... but I'm anxious."
"Then, let's put it to a test."
"Yes. Whether you're capable of living alone or not, we will perform an examination. If you pass, we won't say anything. But if it fails... Shii-chan will have to give up on living alone until you're capable enough."
The four met up safely and left the central station, first thing they did was to carry out Shio's check-in.
They were worried whether they could find accommodations for her, but since it was a three-day weekend they were able to rent a room in a business hotel without any problems.
In fact, Fuyuki and Taiga said "You can stay in our place for a few days" inviting her, but she refused. Instead, Shio said "I want to stay in a hotel".
After that, the three of them took Shio to many places in the New City. Time passed by very fast, and before long the sun reached its apex.
"Now then, feel free to go in."
"Y-yup. Sorry to intrude."
Somewhat tense, Shio took off her shoes and entered the apartment the Tenryo siblings were living in. Rui followed her while holding ingredients she took from 《Paradise》.
"So Onii-san and Hime-chan are living in here..."
Fuyuki and Rui put the ingredients in the refrigerator while Taiga prepared coffee. Shio looked around inside. She's never been outside of the Karasuba's premises, so for her to see someone else's home was something new.
Then, she opened one of the rooms curiously and peeked inside.
That's a huge bed... the bedroom? But why are there two pillows... c-can it be that they sleep together?!
She imagined the scene, and her cheeks started to feel hot.
Shio hurried back to the living room, Taiga has already finished pouring coffee and he shook his head seeing her flushed face.
"Did something happen?"
"Ah, no! It's nothing!"
In order to deceive him, she immediately sipped from the cup she received, but since there were no sugar nor milk inside, her face distorted from bitterness.
"What are you doing. Come on, drink this."
He passed her the café au lait he made for Fuyuki, she started to sip it. After Fuyuki and Rui came over, the four of them took a break.
Then, Taiga realized Shio's state was weird, she seemed uncomfortable.
Although at first glance it seemed as if she was relaxed as she sat on the sofa, occasionally she made an unnatural gesture with her leg. That movement was awkward too.
Rui also seemed to have noticed it, and she whispered to Taiga in secret.
"...does her leg hurt? Isn't it better if Rui-san made lunch?"
"Indeed. Can you do that?"
"Leave it to me. Fuyuki, I'll prepare lunch, can you help me?"
"Eh? We should be testing Shii-chan today——"
"Leave that for next time. Come on, let's go."
While saying that, Rui took Fuyuki's hand and pulled her to the kitchen. Taiga waited for the two to leave and asked quietly.
"...Shio. You, did you train today?"
As he pointed it out, she looked away.
She was too fatigued from just walking around for two hours. She must've exhausted herself before coming to New City. When he looked closely, he realized her upper arms and shoulders were trembling, it was probably muscle pain.
"I told you in the beginning. The purpose of it isn't to hurt the body, what's important is to continue training every day and increase the pace every day. First of all you need to increase your stamina."
"I'm sorry... because it was the first time meeting with Onii-san in the real world, I wanted to show you the results of my training..."
She lowered her head slightly and looked up at him from below, her face was pale.
It was unconscious but that gesture stirred the desire to protect in him, Taiga let out a small sigh and knelt in front of her.
"Shio, extend your leg. I'll give you a light massage."
"It'll be painful for you to walk like this. It should be better if your muscles relax."
He knew too well the discomforts of muscle pain. They couldn't be avoided when one trained their body and it could be painful for those not used to it.
Shio's line of sight was wandering around, it must have still hurt, she slowly held out her light leg to Taiga.
"I'll take off your socks."
He gently took them off.
Her snow white bare foot was revealed, Taiga wrapped it with both of his hands and pressured it with his fingertips.
A strange feeling ran through her every time his fingers pressed her feet, and she let out a quiet moan.
"It might be a little bit painful at first, but bear with it. It'll feel good soon enough."
She knew very well she misunderstood it. But because she imagined 'that' kind of act, she hung her head embarrassedly.
Taiga ignored what she said and continued to carefully rub the soles of her feet.
...Shio's feet are really beautiful.
Her skin was silky and smooth.
She must have never ran before. To a point he thought it was impossible, but her feet were incredibly soft. His fingers sank in with a light touch, he felt like wanting to touch it forever.
Naturally, with this massage his body started to heat up.
"Fua... a, kh..."
The pain has been gradually fading, and comfort replaced it.
Warmth spread around her body and the tiredness left her body as if she was soaking in a bathtub, she couldn't focus no longer and started daydreaming.
Ah... this posture...
She looked in front of her, Taiga was kneeling in front of her and he held her foot in his hands.
Somehow Onii-san... he holds it as if I was very fragile...
As she thought that, a feeling went down her spine.
Heat came from her back which melted her reason, and her breathing roughened. But the heat didn't subside.
Hime-chan is sleeping with Onii-san on that bed... they must be in close contact and hugging.
And a sight of the two, one overlapping the other was vividly portrayed in her mind.
——And the fact that a person who would do that kind of thing was servicing her as if she was very brittle, made her irresistibly thrilled.
Fuyuki and Rui who were in the kitchen couldn't see their figures. But what if they were to come back? Surely they would be jealous. They might get angry.
With such a racy situation, and because she was doing it in secret from her best friend, she heated up further.
She couldn't believe such a bewitching voice came out from her own mouth.
"...please, further up."
According to what Shio said, Taiga slid his fingers towards above her ankles. He carefully rubbed her delicate legs which seemed like they would break with too much force.
Unconsciously, Shio put the index finger of her light hand into her mouth.
She rummaged in her mouth aroused and mushy, she entwined her tongue around the finger to dissipate the heat.
In the middle of that conduct, 'what to do if Onii-san notices it', her mind was occupied with such a thought; were he to raise his head just a little bit, he would notice that she lost her cool and was unable to think properly.
My head's all mushymushy... it's turning weird...
She couldn't calm the feeling she had for the first time.
I don't care what happens next——just when she thought that, Taiga moved his fingers away. Shio immediately removed the finger from her mouth.
"W-what is it?"
"Hm? I'm finished with the right leg so I though I'd switch."
"Aa, i-is that so... that's good..."
Suddenly a voice came over from the kitchen, Shio felt as if her heart was going to jump out of her chest.
As she turned around in a hurry, she saw Fuyuki carry plates of sandwiches who gave them a questioning look.
"...what are you doing, you two."
"It seems like she has muscle pain in her legs so I gave her a light massage. Come on, hold out the other leg,"
"Uehh?! I-it's fine already!"
"No, there's no point unless I massage both legs——"
"It doesn't hurt any more! Thank you very much!"
As expected, she didn't have courage to continue this in front of Fuyuki, Shio put on her socks and hurried to the washroom. Fuyuki and Taiga looked at her back and tilted their neck with puzzled expressions at the same time.
Shio entered the washroom and repeatedly took big breaths.
Her shame appeared after all this time. Her heart rampaged as if it wanted to crack her ribs, and the face that was reflected in the mirror was red like an apple.
"W-why have I... such a thing..."
The more she tried to remember it, the more her body heated up. Even though she washed her face with cold water, the feeling of her brain melting didn't disappear.
——What was I thinking back then?
She wanted to snatch away her best friend's dear person. She got incredibly excited by such a perverted fantasy. Just by thinking about snatching away someone's precious thing, she couldn't suppress herself——just by imagining it, her heart started beating hard.
"Will he... give me another massage..."
Shio licked her finger and her face reddened further, she splashed it with cold water again after that.
After that, the four ate sandwiches prepared by Rui, and spent an hour while relaxing themselves in the Tenryo's home. After that, right before 2 p.m.——
"...it really is an absurdly big building."
What towered in front of Taiga, was a building that seemed big even among the multiple skyscrapers of the New City. The symbol of the city and made by a large company that has developed together with it.
——Kiritou Group's headquarters.
"They might be an emerging group, but they're one of the four major corporations. This is the least they need, otherwise they'd be a joke. Karasuba has several sites of this size."
Fuyuki who was right next to him as he looked up at the building responded. Judging from her tone of voice, she was feeling grumpy, she probably prepared her emotions for the meeting with the girl they were supposed to meet.
"...I didn't think you would come along. Don't you hate Haya?"
"I hate her. But I don't want you and that woman to stay alone together."
She said that she will go together with him after they finished eating lunch.
Although he half-given up after inviting her and getting refused multiple times, she seemed to have a change of mind.
"Since Little Sister has come let's finish it as fast as possible and go back. Both Rucchan and Shii-chan are waiting."
As she said so, she sounded a small bell that was attached to the tip of her sleeve. She changed before leaving home, the clothes she wore were completely different from the ones she had in the morning.
The refreshing sound came from the parka with black and red plaids. The bells were attached around the wrists on the long sleeves, the hood had a cat ears decoration attached. From between the twenty centimetres mini skirt and high knee-socks peeked the area called 'absolute territory'.
Overall, the coordination made her seem like a cat.
"It's the first time I see these clothes."
"This outfit has been chosen by Rucchan, does it suit me?"
Fuyuki made a twirl in order to show it off. Her figure was lovely and irresistible, so Taiga dodged the issue and averted his eyes.
"I-is it okay to wear that now? You should have left it for a more important occasion."
"No, it's fine to use them now. These are battle clothes after all."
As she stared at him, Taiga drew back a single step. That's when a mechanical sound of an alarm bell set in the terminal rang out. It was time.
"Yes. Let's quickly finish this up."
The two entered the huge building's first floor, and arrived at the entrance hall.
"——Too slow. You're late, Taiga."
A scolding voice came from the side. They checked the time on reflex, it was only about thirty seconds late from the promised time.
"...can't you overlook a one minute error?"
"Nope. Don't you know the phrase 'time is money'? A guy like you who makes me wait when I'm damn busy like this needs to be punished."
Haya was wearing a suit that as usual, didn't fit her. She got up from a sofa gaining a strong momentum.
There was no one else other than the three of them in the large entrance hall, besides them there were only service drones. Haya's tone was that of her real self. He wanted to protest against that unreasonable decision of hers, but before he could do that Fuyuki went in front.
"That's quite a bossy attitude from you to someone whom you asked for help, you female fox. At this rate, I might just do an U-turn and go back."
"Oh, you really came. Certainly I asked for you to come, but don't you think coming on time after accepting is an obvious thing to do?"
"Grrr... that wicked backchat of yours is getting on my nerves..."
Easily defeated, Fuyuki glared at Haya with chagrin on her face. However Haya completely ignored it and walked calmly towards the two.
"Since there's no time, let's hurry up and move. I'll explain everything in detail in my room, come."
Fuyuki and Taiga followed right behind her; rather than towards the high-speed elevator that was in the centre of the hall, they got on the cargo elevator that was on the hall's edge, behind the emergency evacuation doors.
"Why not use that elevator?"
"That's because you two are outsiders for the time being. In order not to make it troublesome later on, I chose a route where you won't get caught by security. Or maybe I should have ignored that?"
"...no, I'm thankful."
Fuyuki obediently showed her gratitude.
As someone who escaped from another of the four major companies 'Karasuba'm she didn't want to remain in any footage. That was also one of reasons she was reluctant to come to Kiritou headquarters.
After the elevator rode up to the thirty-third floor, they proceeded down the empty hallway. The entrance hall was the same, there were no signs of life.
"What about other employees?"
"They all log in to the headquarters' structure from their own laboratories. Normally a few dozen of them would be working in the real world, but currently they're too busy to do that because of the defects all over."
"This doesn't seem like the healthiest place to work in..."
"All cyber-related companies seem similar. Karasuba's staff also work inside the structure."
They arrived in her room while chatting.
Haya opened the lock with her terminal and they entered; she sat down on the sofa seemingly tired. Taiga and Fuyuki looked around the room curiously.
"...let me tell you something, checking out a lady's room is rude."
"No, I know that but... I didn't think there would be a private room like this in the headquarters building."
"I feel the same. A refrigerator by the bed, table, kitchen and tableware... there's even a uniform here."
"Well, that's because I live here."
She replied to Taiga's and Fuyuki's question as if it was troublesome.
"The last time I returned home was... six, seven years ago?"
"Seven years, weren't you an elementary-schooler back then?"
"Even if I went back, I would be alone; there's no difference."
The room indeed gave off a feeling that someone lived in it, she must have used it for a long time.
It was more spacious than an average apartment and at the thirty-third floor the view was first class. If one were to overlook the fact there's no partition between the kitchen and living room, one could live comfortably in it.
"What do you do about meals?"
"I cook for myself. I have ingredients delivered every day. Going shopping every day is a hassle... hey, it has nothing to do with this."
*bam*, she clapped her hands to get the attention of the siblings. She didn't call them here to chat.
"I'll tell you what you are going to do. Especially Fuyuki-san who will be acting alone, make sure you listen."
"Little Sister will be alone?"
"I want you to examine the main server miss. I don't know whether you're aware of it or not, but it's impossible to log in to the main server by using normal means."
"I know that much. On top of it having to be unlocked, one needs to log in to its coordinates directly."
The server machine was installed deep underground and couldn't be accessed physically, it couldn't be accessed from Elysion either. That's why, in order to access it, one had to release two layers of security.
There was a small scale structure that acted as a barrier for the main server. It could be released only from the Kiritou headquarters' structure.
And the second, was phasing into the server itself.
The small-scale structure that acted as its operation panel wasn't connected to the headquarters and couldn't be accessed normally. Even in Kiritou the amount of people who knew its coordinates was limited, it could be entered only by adding its coordinates as a default location in the Arclight.
With these two security methods, the main server has been completely shut out from the outside.
"I know the coordinates of the server. The problem is the electronic barrier, there is no choice but to release it directly from the security room.
"Can't you do it somehow with your privileges as the President's daughter?"
"It's not that easy. That's why I will sneak in and unlock it."
Hearing these disturbing words that suddenly appeared, the siblings' voices responded in sync.
"...what's with your expressions. You didn't think there was a legitimate way to allow outsiders to access the server, did you?"
"No, I thought you would do something about it with your privileges... rather, isn't that a crime?"
"That's if we get caught. There's no problem as long as we don't."
The siblings were amazed, hearing that logic of hers. Haya hung her head, made a dark smile and cursed.
"Just how much do you think I was inconvenienced by these defects... I could only sleep for thirty minutes yesterday and had to listen to that shitty old man's orders... I'm at my limit..."
It seemed like her thinking simplified as much as it could because of the frustration and fatigue.
In other words 'as long as she can solve it, she won't stop at anything'.
"...well, if I were to go back after coming this far it would be a waste of time and I would be troubled if the damage was spread to 《Aries》 any more than it already has. I'll do it."
"Is it fine?"
"Something like committing a crime never bothered me in the first place."
"...I guess you're right."
When he thought about it, it was certainly true that Fuyuki continued to hack in and access things without authorization on a daily basis, even Taiga did 'such a thing' before. It was too late to mind it.
"So. Haya, specifically what do we do?"
"Firstly, I will dive alone to allow Taiga to move freely. After that, I will go with you to the security room to release the lock. Fuyuki-san will log in to the server room when signalled by us and find the cause of the defects... something like that."
"So Little Sister has to stay on standby for a while."
"I'll send you the coordinates by mail when everything is ready. The headquarters can't tell what's happening in the server room so you can take your time."
"I'll finish it in an hour."
"Ohh, how reliable."
After telling them what their roles were, Haya confirmed the time on the terminal.
2:15 p.m.——If she wasn't wrong, the President should have a regular meeting with executives starting from 2:30 p.m.. Just in case, it would be best to trespass on the main server at that hour.
"All right, I'll go ahead first. Taiga will come in, in fifteen minutes."
There were three Arclights located in the corner of the room——two chair-type medium sized Arclights and one small headgear-type Arclight——she selected a medium-sized machine and immediately started the log-in process to enter the virtual world.
"...then I'll use this one."
Taiga picked up a small machine without hesitation. Then, he saw characters carved in on the medium-sized machine beside him.
AOKO ? ASUMI...? Asumi Aoko, that was the name of Haya's friend wasn't it.
He wondered why would there be three Arclights, but it seemed like one of the medium-sized ones belonged to Asumi Aoko. Since a medium-sized Arclight was hard to move, she must have been here very often.
Well, that doesn't matter.
Taiga cleared his thoughts and leaned on the sofa. A small-type Arclight didn't have anything to support the body so he needed to sit on something.
Five minutes later, Taiga closed his eyes and continued to wait for the specified time——that's when he felt a small weight on his knees.
When he opened his eyes he saw Fuyuki sitting on top of his knees and facing him.
"What is it?"
Despite feeling her soft buttocks and thighs, he gently asked under the guise of being calm.
She hesitated for a while, and soon after, she finally began to squeeze the words out.
"...Brother, what do you think about me?"
"What you say——"
"Recently, I think you've been avoiding your little sister... does it mean that because of what happened, you have come to hate her?"
His little sister's eyes started to overflow with tears.
She must have meant the incident at the sea, while Taiga avoided the topic and, as not to stay with her alone, he intentionally made it so there was someone else with them. However, it wasn't because he hated Fuyuki, but because he wouldn't be able to maintain his reason unless he did that. If anything, it was just the opposite from hating her.
But Fuyuki didn't think of it like that. No, it would be too much to ask for her to guess it.
As a result, she started thinking that she has been hated by him because she went out of control back then——a mass of negative emotions has pushed her in a negative direction.
...what am I doing, really.
He was ashamed of making assumptions on his own while in front of his anxious little sister.
That she would be beside him even if he acted firmly and didn't answer to her attempts to get closer——he forced such a convenient delusion on her. He should have known about her insecurity ever since the incident with Shio happened. Although she finally summoned courage and approached him, rather than them getting closer to each other, he had distanced himself from her.
She was more and more insecure, uneasy and anxious, but she still continued to stay beside him without running away.
It's my fault, isn't it.
Fuyuki honestly relayed her feelings to him.
That's why——he had to respond to them properly.
He tightly hugged his trembling little sister.
Her small body was soft and warm, a sweet scent spread from her glossy black hair making his heart beat rapidly. Taiga took Fuyuki's hand and put it on his chest.
"My heart, it's beating like mad, isn't it?"
"...yes. *thump* *thump*, it's on a rampage."
In order to feel his heartbeat better, Fuyuki placed her palm on his chest. And as the two were in an even closer contact, his heart started to pound adequately harder.
"...the reason for it to become like that, is you."
As she threw him a confused glance, Taiga felt a slight irritation.
Why does this little sister of his who's unusually sharp suddenly become slow when it comes to things like this——he stared straight into Fuyuki's eyes and declared.
"I told you already! That's how it turns out when I'm with you!"
Hearing Taiga's words, her expression froze.
And suddenly, large tears poured from her eyes. Taiga panicked because it was so sudden, he cradled her head and stroked it.
"W-what is it?"
"Uu....ah, that's... I'm so happy..."
She continued to cry like a child. She was so very happy she couldn't help it——directly hit by those emotions, she rested her head on his chest.
"Finally... my feelings reached Onii..."
Fuyuki grasped Taiga's head with both of her hands and turned his head towards her, and her face approached him.
There was no reason for him to refuse it.
Their lips touched lightly.
It happened only for a second at most. Fuyuki immediately moved her face away and stared at Taiga before she overlapped his lips with his once again. This time it was a passionate kiss during which they were taking turns to breathe.
They were engrossed in seeking each other out.
They didn't stop, they didn't even think of stopping.
Only wanting to convey the passion in their hearts to the other——they repeatedly kissed while thinking of that.
"Oniii... I lub you..."
There were five more minutes left until the time specified by Haya came, their lips didn't leave each other until then.
Meanwhile, Rui and Shio who parted from the Tenryo siblings were inside of a shop located in a corner of New City.
"Shio-chan, how about that table? The price is reasonable and the design is pretty nice?"
Shio put a hand on her chin and looked at the antique table Rui recommended from various angles. She couldn't tell if the price was good since she didn't know the market, but she thought that a wooden furniture wasn't bad.
"...yes. I think it's good."
"Okay, then I'll add it to the list—"
Rui took a photo of the table and its price, she also entered the name of shop into file. There were some goods already marked on the memo; after looking around the store they found the table, they left it.
"We've steadily decided on the potential furnishings."
"It's all thanks to Rui-chan's assistance, I wouldn't be able to choose it alone."
For her who had no knowledge whatsoever, the idea of 'choosing the furniture' didn't even appear in her mind. While she was grateful to Rui for mentioning it, she was also apologetic.
...I don't really need to decide on anything by myself, do I.
Even though she said she will live alone, she couldn't do anything on her own. Just because she wanted to run away from her family she troubled her friends——she hated herself for that.
"You've been making a difficult expression for a while now, are you worried about something?"
Rui asked her that when they sat down on a bench in the park to take a break. Shio touched her face and asked timidly.
"...so I made such an expression."
"Yup. If you want you can consult with Rui-san?"
She put on a friendly smile as she said that. Somewhat enveloped in that smile, Shio confessed what was troubling her.
"...I see. You don't know whether you made the right decision or not, you don't have confidence."
"In the end, I'm just running away again... I don't have any reason to live alone aside from wanting to distance myself from my family..."
That was what made her hesitate.
Despite wanting to take a step forward, her leg was clinging to the past, it was an emotion which resembled mud.
"——Then why don't you find a more positive reason."
Rui easily cut off the chains that were binding her.
"Running away, fleeing, those kinds of words cause negative image and feelings. What about... Shio-chan, you were looking for a house in New City, right?"
"Y-yes. Being together with everyone is fun after all..."
"Then just make that your reason. Whether its Fuyuki or Taiga, whoever. 'Wanting to be together with'. Isn't that a very positive thing?"
"Also, it's just Rui-san's selfish opinion, but I think running away is not such a bad thing. As long as you find something after running away, I think it's a great thing to do."
Running away is all right——Rui's words lodged themselves in Shio's chest.
It wasn't that her hesitation disappeared. Rui just showed her a different point of view. But that gave her the courage to take a step ahead.
"...thank you, Rui-chan."
"You're welcome. ——Well then! Now that you've decided it yourself, you need to overcome the test to convince Fuyuki. Let's go back and do special training!"
"Even if the test doesn't happen, you still need to get better at housework. Now, lezzgo?!"
The two girls started to make a commotion and disappeared in the crowd.
"...now then, with this the electronic barrier has been dealt with."
Inside of Elysion, in a corner of Kiritou headquarters' structure.
Haya managed to sneak into the security room and tamper with the settings there. She raised her head up, Taiga who was watching whether anyone was coming finally loosened his shoulders.
"Finally... it took a while."
"Well, it is a barrier protecting the server room. Releasing it is a complex process in itself. Rather, isn't it your fault for coming late? What were you doing?"
As Haya stared at him, Taiga unconsciously raised a hand to his lips. Because he was kissing like crazy with Fuyuki he forgot about the time, but he couldn't say that.
"...well, that's fine. Let's hurry and get out. Even if all the employees are busy, there's no guarantee that nobody will come."
Normally there would be employees in the security room, and even Haya wouldn't be able to move freely in there. But now that they were all pressured to deal with a huge number of bugs that appeared frequently, even the minimum amount of people assigned to it have been relocated. Thanks to that, they were able to sneak in.
"Even so... those clothes of yours, they seem weird no matter how many times I see them."
"Sorry about that. They don't suit me anyway."
Taiga grumbled disgruntled, he was wearing a black formal suit. Even though he had a neatly tied necktie, he didn't look like an employee.
"Ara, I didn't say they don't suit you? I'm just used to seeing you in school uniform. It just feels like it's overdoing it."
"So you're making fun of me after all."
"Could you stop pouting? I explained already why you need a suit."
Even if he was with Haya, he couldn't just walk around in the Kiritou Structure while wearing plain clothes.
And so, he used a suit's data to dress himself, he couldn't get used to this type of clothing. He felt restless and didn't want to wear them for too long.
"Lets go then. Until Imouto-san finished her work I'm going to have you work your ass off as well."
They contacted Fuyuki after taking down the barrier and sent her the server coordinates and left the security room at a brisk pace. Thanks to Taiga sensing people around, they were able to leave without bumping into anyone.
In order to return to the top, instead of using an elevator, they headed to a transfer circle (A point that allowed transferring. A huge stream of people appeared and disappeared from there able to transition indefinitely). They passed by dozens of staff in the meantime, it was full of people unlike the headquarters building in the real world. It seemed to be true that all the staff were logged into the structure.
By the way, since she was in front of people, Haya turned into her fa?ade-mode.
"Even though it was so quiet in the real world."
"That's because all the staff are logged in. The only thing in the real world that moves are the reception drones."
"And what about the people who are visiting?"
"They are being connected to the support that's in here. Logging out for every visitor would be a hassle."
"That's being lazy."
"All cyber-related companies are like that, you know? A researcher wouldn't log out every time someone wants to ask them a few questions."
"It's a miracle their physique doesn't break down... ah, I see. Medium-sized Arclights come with supporting functions don't they."
In addition to life support functions, medium-sized machines came with a few other ones as well.
Thanks to that people were able to stay logged in for a week. That said though, there were cases of people dying due to debilitation because of diving in cyber world for too long.
They arrived at the transfer point as they talked.
"...eh? Aren't we going back?"
"No, there's a limit to how much we can do in there. We're going to work in another room."
Although Taiga thought they will go back to the login point at the thirty-third floor, Haya set the transfer location to the thirty-fourth floor. Since there were thirty-five floors in total, it was one floor below the top.
"...oh, right. Iora, it's about time you came back. Come out."
Just before starting the transfer, Haya called out to the empty space behind her.
Responding to her voice, Iora appeared with a phosphorescent light and bowed. Seeing that gesture made Taiga feel somewhat uncomfortable.
〈"Is there anything, Master?"〉
"Don't 'is there anything' me. Why haven't you shown yourself up until now?"
〈"I was in a different structure."〉
"Geez... did I let you roam a bit too freely?"
Haya sighed and started the transfer circle, moving to a floor about sixty metres away was instantaneous in the virtual reality. It seemed like there weren't any labs on the floor they entered, there were almost no people in the hallway. As they looked, they could only see men and women in suits walk towards them from the front.
Then, Haya's movement stopped.
Seeing her suddenly stop, Taiga followed her line of sight. Rather than at the men and women in front, she looked at the man between them. Even Taiga knew that man.
The leader of the Kiritou Group, Haya's father.
He saw the photo of the school's founder, but the real thing had a really cold look in his eyes. The woman beside him must have been his secretary. They must have noticed them because the woman whispered to Kiritou Kouya.
Kouya looked up and his gaze met with Haya's.
"...so you still haven't disposed of that junk."
The one who spoke first was Kouya. He looked towards Iora who was floating above Haya's shoulder.
"I've told you before. You should dispose something as useless as an AI right away."
"...I apologize Father. I cannot obey that command."
With a voice as sharp and cold as ice, Haya responded quietly.
"You should also have understood the rarity of this AI ?Iolite. As long as it's kept in storage it will definitely be useful in the fut——"
"There is no need for that. There's nothing we can obtain from that AI."
He cut in in the middle of Haya's sentence as if it was not worth listening to. As Haya tried to refute, the secretary broke in between them.
"President, it's almost time for the regular meeting. Please hurry."
Kouya responded shortly and passed by Haya as if it was a waste of time to talk with her. He glanced at Taiga who stood behind for a moment, but soon after he lost interest and disappeared after entering the transfer circle.
The hallway turned silent once again.
Taiga couldn't find any words to say, and just stared at Haya silently. About ten seconds later, Haya formed a fist and hit the wall with all her strength, she made a small sigh.
"...let's go, Taiga-kun."
As she looked up, she had still the same meek smile. No, it wasn't the same at all.
Although she had the mask of a yamato nadeshiko on her face, recently he became able to peek through the mask at her 'true self'. But he couldn't even imagine what kind of emotions she felt at the moment.
A perfect daughter of the President——her current appearance was the embodiment of these words.
"The room in that corner. Please follow me."
He followed Haya whose emotionless smile disappeared and entered the room.
The room was silent, the only thing that sounded inside were electronic sounds as the data passed through.
The two continued to work wordlessly. It was an incredible amount of work for them to fix the data that was falling apart, they proceeded at high speed.
"...all right, with this it's done——"
"I'm done over here."
Taiga took a step towards her and passed the data to her, Haya let out a voice impressed.
"I already thought so earlier when you helped me out, but your dynamic vision and reflexes are outstanding. You're really suited to simple tasks like these."
"Is that... any good?"
Fifteen minutes after they started working, the room that was originally flooded with crystals was cleaned up. Although there were three of them (Iora didn't say anything and just continued to work in silence), he was wondering if there was any real meaning for him to tidy it up.
"...hey Taiga. You're living alone with your little sister, aren't you?"
Unexpectedly, Haya asked him such a thing. He didn't know what did she intend by asking such a question, but he responded and asked.
"That's right, what about it?"
"How are your relationships with your family?"
Hearing that answer, he finally understood what was her intent. It was caused by what happened earlier with Kiritou Kouya.
"Really, you. You shouldn't get too involved with the people you use.."
"Thank you for the concern. But you don't need to bother with it. So, how is it?"
"...they both died eight years ago."
Since there was nothing in particular to hide, he honestly answered.
"...is that so. I asked something bad."
"I don't really mind. It's something that happened when I was a kid. What about you? From what I saw, it doesn't seem like you're getting along too well."
"It's in a completely dimension from what you would call 'not getting along'."
Haya let out a sigh and turned to look towards the ceiling. Taiga had no idea how to call the emotions that were dwelling in her pupils.
"Although we're undoubtedly blood-related, I never thought of him as my father. He doesn't see me as his daughter either."
"...you hate each other a lot."
"If you put it in terms of love or hate, then you're without a doubt right. But that's not a proper representation. If I were to put it in words... our existences are incompatible, or something like that."
Personality, thinking, principles, objectives, behaviour——each and every one of these factors were different between Kiritou Haya and Kiritou Kouya, it was like heaven and earth. Or that's at least what Haya thought. Were she to be told that she's an adopted daughter, it would make more sense.
"She died soon after giving birth to me. That's why I never felt anything like being appreciated by the family. Honestly, I'm jealous of your and your little sister's relationship. For someone to believe another person so unconditionally is amazing."
When she spoke about his relationship with Fuyuki, his heart skipped a beat, but he immediately noticed it wasn't said in 'that' sense and was relieved. At the same time, he was shocked.
"You thought something like that? Can it be that you being on bad terms with Fuyuki is because..."
"You're half correct. The other half is just because I don't like her."
Kiritou Haya was always alone.
She didn't have any family beside her, in order to acquire proper education and to act with a lady's dignity, she spent every day being strictly tutored. She didn't make any friends even after entering the school. In this sense, she and Fuyuki might resemble each other. And yet——
"Imouto-san has you. You're tied by ties stronger than anything else in the world. I might be a little jealous of that... but since it's pathetic I don't want to admit it."
"...but even you had a best friend, haven't you?"
"That might be right but... even so, the grass is always greener on the other side."
Yeah, this girl was yearning for family——that's what Taiga thought. Precisely because it was an illusion which wouldn't come true, she couldn't help but embrace the unobtainable dream.
"...hey, what kind of person was Asumi Aoko?"
"What's with that sudden question?"
"I'm curious what kind of person would be friends with a someone as obstinate as you."
"...that's a really annoying way to say it... oh well. I'll tell you since we're taking a break anyway."
While saying that, Haya held out a single window.
It was the photo Taiga previously peeped on in the school's classroom. On it, there were two girls wearing the Kiritou Academy's uniforms. One of them was Haya, the other was a female student with long bluish-black hair.
"That's Aoko. She was the same age as me, a researcher that used to be a member of Kiritou."
"She looks just like Iora."
"It's the opposite, it's Iora who looks like Aoko."
The two on the photo were linking arms and laughing, there was a cherry tree behind them. He thought it must have been from the entrance ceremony.
"Even though you asked me what kind of person she was... I can't easily explain it. But there's one thing I can say for sure, she was a genius."
It was a word Taiga heard often. But since Haya already knew Fuyuki, the weight of her words was different.
"If you're saying that, then she must've been incredible."
"Yeah. At the very least I couldn't even reach the level of her feet. Although I said we were developing Iora together, she's been actually developed almost single-handedly by Aoko."
"I was responsible for things like debugging. Aoko was not good with things like that. You know the people who devote themselves completely to something, and yet they aren't interested at all in others. She was an exemplary representative of that kind, I had a hard time being with her."
"...but you look happy as you talk about it."
Although she complained about it, she couldn't hide a smile blooming on her face. It was different from how it was when she talked with Taiga and Fuyuki, those were sincere emotions.
"...well, there was lots of stuff happening but it was fun."
Her expression clouded over for a moment as she said 'lots of stuff', Taiga didn't miss it. It seemed like it wasn't just happy memories.
"Now then, let's go proceed to the next room."
Haya stood up as if signalling the end of the story.
And Taiga who thought he was finally done with helping out asked with a disgruntled voice.
"...there's still more?"
"Of course. At the very least, I'll have you help me out until Fuyuki-san finds the cause of the problem. Although she said she'll finish in an hour... well, my estimate is that she'll need at least three hours."
Not even twenty minutes have passed since they sent Fuyuki coordinates of the server room. Were she to finish it in three hours, the day would be already over.
I guess we'll have to give up on rejoining Rui and Shio.
Taiga opened a window with mail software. He wrote a mail addressed to Rui and Shio saying 'see you tomorrow' and——
With a sound of glass breaking, sending was cancelled. The text written in the window said 〈Sending failed〉.
He tried again but the result didn't change. The two words indicating failure to send were all that was displayed. Even when he changed the destination to Fuyuki there was no difference.
"...did it break?"
It might have been broken were it to be the real world, but this was the virtual world. There is no such thing as equipment 'breaking' in it.
"What is it Taiga?"
"No, I tried to send a mail but it didn't go through... sorry but can you send one for me?"
"It can't be helped——hey, I can't do it either. Maybe the line's crowded. Log out and try sending it from the real world."
He did as she said and activated the logout process.
The process for disconnecting the mental structure from the virtual world progressed——and with a sound of glass breaking, it was cancelled.
He muttered stunned by the fact that even that failed.
That moment, his intuition warned him.
He experienced such a situation once before. That was when he rushed to where Fuyuki and Shio were when they faced 《Angel》——
*shh*, his thinking cooled down.
It was different. That was nothing like the line being crowded. They couldn't contact the outside——knowing that fact, cold sweat started flowing down his back.
"Haya, can we transition to another structure from here?"
"A different structure? You can do it if you go to a transfer point that supports it."
"All right, let's go right now."
"Explanations later. Hurry up. If we don't hurry, it'll be too late——"
〈"——That's pointless. This place is already under my control. You won't escape that easily."〉
What sounded in his ears, was an unforgettable voice.
It was impossible. It couldn't be. The virtual body cloaked in white robes wasn't there, there was only a small AI clad in pale light——
〈"Preparations are complete... with this no one can stop me."〉
What entered Taiga's field of vision after he turned around was AI ?Iolite who had a smile unlike her on her face. Her appearance distorted and expanded, with her form intact she increased her size several times.
"I really can't get used to a small body. It's hard to move in it. Although this is a body I made, I should have thought more about the convenience of using it."
In an instant Iora increased in size and became as big as Taiga and Haya——the virtual body was usually covered with a white robe, 《Angel》 rotated its shoulder lightly.
...calm down. If you get upset you'll make it more convenient for the enemy.
As not to agitate the 'enemy', Taiga quickly confirmed the situation they were in.
The exit from the room was behind Angel, they needed to pass by him in order to get out.
As to not let Angel hear it, Taiga whispered to Haya... and noticed an abnormality.
"I'll make an opening. Use it to run outside——Haya?"
"...that... voice... no way... but... it can't be, she's supposed to be——"
It wasn't just her voice that was trembling. Her entire body was trembling as if she saw something that shouldn't exist; witnessed something that shouldn't have been.
Her appearance being the same was obvious, that's how Iora was. But that voice, that voice which made people think she was making fun of them was just like hers.
"...oh right. I haven't greeted you yet."
Seeing Haya like that, Angel made a faint smile.
"It's the second time we meet, Tenryo Taiga. And——it's been a while, Haya. Looks like you remember me, I'm glad."
Angel——no, the girl who was supposed to be dead. Asumi Aoko stood in front of the two with an innocent smile on her face.
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