Waga Hero no Tame no Alchemuls
By Ooizumi Takashi
Illustrated by Oguchi (But I’m not posting illustrations)
What might I do to blow away the moon?
The thought struck 'him' as he gazed up at the night sky, its moon hidden away by the clouds. The rooftop of the skyscraper where the wind rampaged was conspicuously cold. 'He' sat to the side of an unmanned helipad, gazing out over the town below him.
The night streets glittering in neon. The scenery across the visor of his full-face helmet was layered over with several channels of information.
'The graffitied symbol sighted today morning in Tsukimori City has been concluded to belong to the kaijin group, the group calls itself 'Calamity Co. Leviathan', and at present a special police force has been mobilized in pursuit of—' 'Is it true Lord Helvenom's back?' 'Those kaijin again? I call BS' 'Tsukimori City's screwed, for real. That place is one of the most secluded areas in Japan' 'Kaijin's a derogatory term, call them Alters' '← We've got a kaijin here' 'Can't even joke about it nowadays'
The net news, SNS, forums. Everything displayed on the visor was information transmitted by the people living in this town. The town 'he' had been born in, raised in. Tsukimori City in the Nasa Prefecture. Population one million two hundred thousand, a non-capital ordinance-designated city. The sort of suburb you could find in any region of Japan.
(TL: I'm not sure if there is an English term for this as it's a Japanese system, but it's a city that meets certain criteria that let it govern its own policies as if it were a prefectural capital (basically lets it decide its own state legislature) to a certain extent while being part of another prefecture. As far as I can tell, NASA is not actually a prefecture of Japan.)
But in this town was a fantasy, one for this town alone. Permitted only to Tsukimori, a fantasy of hopes and nightmares.
A loud landing sound from behind. 'He' didn't turn around. There was no such need.
"… I presume you're the one who called me."
The question came in a voice as clear as a flawless crystal. In place of a response, 'he' slowly stood. The wind fluttered up his coat, the color of crows' wings. Gazing into ambiguous emptiness, 'he' recalled.
— ACM System Activate.
All of a sudden, his spinal cord was pierced with a power like lightning.
A body like churned sweet almond, the surge of agitated neurons; from the thalamus and hippocampus, highly concentrated memories of fear surged through the body.
A young girl lying on the bed, three small demons, a white rabbit, a red skull, a burning building, corpses piling in heaps, a white rabbit, the mask's curse, the blood spreading across the linoleum floor, Alchemuls, a white rabbit.
Through the mask, those fearful memories changed to electronic signals, awakening the functions of the body suit under the coat. A titanium exoskeleton within the deploying suit. A swelling body beneath the coat.
To accompany that, the form of evil in the shape of the mask awakened. A form resembling a skull with the flesh and blood shaved away.
Enduring the welling nausea, 'he' opened his mouth.
"Have you ever wondered if we're a form of symbiosis?"
A hoarse voice departed those vocal cords.
Neither heat nor emotion could be felt. It was practically the voice of a corpse.
"Both me and you, we can't live on without someone to fight. Detesting one another, exchanging blows, we exist in this world through dependence on the other. Such is the true identity of our relation. Now what have you to say of such a fate?"
A breath of wind blew. After a momentary silence, the other quietly answered.
"I don't depend on you. We're far too different, me and you—that's why,"
The clouds slowly pass. Without the slightest sliver lost, the full moon peeked out its face.
"I'll end you here and now."
Hearing those words 'he' turned back, for the first time looking upon the face of the visitor. The visitor's form was like that of a white rabbit. The pure white that covered their whole body was glassy, like pottery, and it was impossible to distinguish whether it was skin or armor. The belt-shaped designs wrapped around its body here and there completely melded with the flesh. On its expressionless mask resided eyes the same gold as the full moon. Its two characteristic decorations could be nothing but rabbit ears.
The rabbit was the envoy of the moon.
This was the one he would blow away, the envoy of moonbeams that illuminated justice.
The black skull calls out.
"Good evening, Gaimoon. I've been waiting for you, my beloved hero of justice."
The white rabbit calls back.
"Good evening, Lord Helvenom. I've been searching for you, the source of evil I must defeat."
White justice and black evil.
Only in Tsukimori City were both permitted to exist, a fantasy of hope and nightmare.
It was yet unknown how the moon was to be blown away. But it had to be done. For the sake of all that had been lost. For the sake of all that would be lost in times to come.
"Now, won't you accompany me, Gaimoon? To the proper conclusion of good and evil."
Chapter 1: A Town with a Hero
If you asked what sort of town Tsukimori was, eighty percent of its residents would answer "An ordinary town".
Even if heroes and kaijin flashed by on the local news, they wouldn't find it strange in the slightest. The same went for the incidents that happened in the same down they lived, as long as it doesn't happen right beside them, it is difficult for one to grasp the reality of the situation. That's precisely why it was a normal town. A normal town with heroes and kaijin.
That was Tsukimori City.
"What do you think it takes to be a hero, Okinsenpai?"
On the question Okina Takeru raised his face from the screen of his smartphone.
The quiet library of Tsukimoto First High School. To the side of Takeru manning the counter as part of his job on library committee, his underclassman Tsuzuki Nozomi spin her pen needlessly skillfully.
"To be a hero?"
"I'm talking about the June special feature list. Remember, they said we were doing a feature on heroes. Everyone has to get their ideas together by the week's meeting, they said. Have you already thought up candidates?"
"Feature… candidate… ah, now that you mention it… I did hear about that."
"… Let me guess, senpai, you completely forgot."
Nozomi tiresomely shook her head.
The second-year Takeru, and the first year Nozomi, it was only the height of May. While only a month had passed since they came to know one another, it did seem his standing in Nozomi's head had been determined rather quickly. Naturally, it wasn't particularly high.
"This year's goal is 'one thousand new library users a month' isn't it? How are we going to get there if we don't get a grip? A goal you don't work towards isn't a goal but a delusion."
"And I think a goal that's impossible to accomplish is also a delusion."
Takeru looked over the lonesome afterschool library with only the regulars in sight.
"That publication recession's been dragging on a while, and a decrease in the reading population isn't a problem our efforts can do something about. We're at a level where we're screwed if some hero to save the publishing industry doesn't appear, wouldn't you say?"
"I've got no interest in waiting for a hero. And shouldn't a publication recession actually increase the visitors to a library? Ah, there really is no worth in talking to you… I was mulling over my selection, so I thought I should start by determining the concept…"
"You don't have to make it so complicated, we've already got one in this city. A hero of justice, I mean."
"Say what you want, but I've never actually seen them."
Nozomi readily wrote it off.
"I mean, kaijins are scary, but doesn't it sound a little impossible for there to be a human out there that can defeat the kaijin even the police have trouble with? Those stories have got to be blown up. And look, they said it was taken down already, right? That, umm, what was it again, that kaijin organization. They had the sort of name you'd find in an RPG…"
"That's it! Calamity Co. Leviathan!"
Refreshed at reaching an answer, Nozomi nodded to herself.
"That Leviathan's leader? Chief? Whatever was defeated, and the organization was collapsing, they were saying it on TV. In that case, I guess that hero's going to lose his part to play."
"You're a harsh one, Tsuzuki-san."
"I'm just being realistic."
Nozomi answered with a shrug of her shoulders.
"In the first place, hero is an image the other people arbitrarily forge up. It's simply a desire forced onto someone, and no joke to the one it's pushed onto, I'd wager. A hero is the symbol of another's aspiration, something like that. Oh, did I just say something clever? Hmhmm, then if I choose books based on that concept–"
As Nozomi was getting excited on her own, a softcover of 'Flowers for Algernon' was pushed across the counter.
"Can I borrow this?"
A female student with deep blue eyes peered at them.
Clear white skin, and that slender stature, lightly pigmented brown hair arranged at shoulder-height. Over her sky-blue short-sleeve short, a large sports bag was draped over one shoulder. The properly-fastened rouge-striped necktie moderately asserted this female student's proper discipline.
Nozomi opened her eyes wide, suddenly falling into a panic.
"M-my apologies. I'll process that right away! Umm, if you'd please hand over your library card."
A sidelong glance at Nozomi as he accepted the female student's card, Takeru started to get the stationaries in order. But, "Huh?" he noticed the confusion in Nozomi's voice.
"I'm sorry, senpai… the barcode isn't reading…"
"Ah… give me a second, Tsuzuki-san."
Takeru took out an emergency form to fill out by hand and held it out it to the girl alongside a pen. The female student's eyes flitted to him for a single glance.
She was on the verge of saying something to him, but before that, Takeru answered in a business-like tone.
"Please enter your name, your year, and your seat number. Is this the only book you'll be borrowing? We'll take care of the rest of the paperwork. Tsuzuki-san, try to see if the book's barcode reads."
After staring at Takeru a while, the female student resignedly accepted the pen and paper and began her entry. 2-E Omou Mia. The 2 and the E were crooked, but the name she was surely accustomed to writing came out handsomely in order.
"Sorry for taking up your time… return the book within two weeks, err, if you will…"
Omou Mia accepted the book from Nozomi and quietly left the library. After endlessly watching off the dignified bearing of her back, Nozomi took a deep breath, her tensions melting away. In that timeframe, Takeru manually imputed the data on the form and the book into the computer.
"I'm sorry for all the trouble… Okinsenpai…"
"… But why was Omou-senpai here?"
"She's been here for the past thirty minutes."
"Wh if you knew, you could've told me! I was completely caught off guard there! Whoah, I was totally freaking out…"
"Freaking out? Why?"
"I mean, it's Omou-senpai you know! Omou-senpai in the flesh!"
Nozomi's eyes sparkled as she made a declaration.
"Flawless reflexes, grades always at the top, she's pretty and cool, and despite that, surprisingly sociable… even in our class, there are plenty of Omou-senpai fans, you hear! Did you know? If you spot Omou-senpai at school, you'll be blessed with tremendous luck for the rest of the day."
"Why is she being treated as an object of worship…"
"Can you blame them? I mean, she's the Hero of Tsuki High, isn't she! There's never a lack of stories to tell about her. Like about saving a kitten that couldn't get down from a tree, or saving a child who was almost run over, I hear she caught a pickpocket the other day. Makes me think they really exist, those people with the specs of a 2d heroine. Rather, it's rare for Omou-senpai to come borrow a book after school. It didn't look like she was waiting for anyone either."
"Who knows, can't she have just wanted to borrow a book?"
"Still, that was nerve-wracking. It's that, you know. She's got this rock-solid aura, not relative, but absolute. Oh crap, I just gave birth to another clever phrase."
"What's this, Okinsenpai. Something on your mind?"
"Well let's see, Tsuzuki-san. Let me impart some wisdom on you too."
Takeru hit the enter key on the keyboard. With that, the loaning procedure on 'Flowers for Algernon' was complete, and with that he spoke.
"There is no such thing as an absolute reality, Tsuzuki-san."
"I'm sorry. Please don't rip of Kyougokudou with that triumphant look on your face."
The time came to go home, Takeru and Nozomi put the books in order and went their separate ways. When Nozomi was gone, Takeru pedaled his cross bike straight out the school gates. The gentle downhill led him down to the river embankment.
Teiko River. Running between Tsukimori and the town over, it was the city's boundary line.
After he had raced down the banks a distance, he began to hear the shouts of children from afar.
"There we go! Shunsuke, run for it, keep running! Chase the ball to the end!"
On the ground of the river embankment, the children wearing matching football uniforms ran about. This was the scene of the local boys and girls' football club, Teiko FC practicing.
On the bench by the grounds, The local specialty female coach raised a yell.
"Hey, hey, connect it with a pass! Run through the space, the space! Don't fear taking the change! I'm telling you to properly keep your eyes on your opponent's movements! You can't grasp victory if you don't use your head!"
A megaphone in one hand, a deep-blue pair of track pants beneath, and a number ten Barcelona uniform up top. A coaching style that hadn't changed in the slightest. Takeru brought the cross bike to a stop and walked over to the bench.
"You're still using that megaphone, Sawchan."
The coach gripping the megaphone, Mizumachi Sawako turned. Seeing Takeru's face, she gave a delighted grin. Her smile crossbred of heartiness and cheer was no different than it had ever been. Their friendly relation that let him interact with her almost as if she were family as well.
"Oh, Takeru. Good of you to come. You could at least wear your necktie properly. You'll never be popular like that."
"Yeah, yeah, here's what the doctor ordered."
Ignoring Sawako's words, Takeru took out a sack from his bag.
"A disk of the match from our generation. There's three years' worth on it. I separated it into chapters by match, you should just be able to play it on a computer."
"Thanks. Sorry you had to go to the trouble. Could've just mailed it over."
"It's fine. The training field's close enough."
"Mn? Wait a second, is there something else in 'ere?"
Sawako confirmed the item in the sac, before spurting out a laugh.
"Whoa, that's a blast from the past! A 'Ward Rabbit' from the rabbit shrine. What's up with that?"
"It was sleeping away in a drawer. You said you wanted something to decorate the examining room, so I thought it might work. Why don't you keep it on your desk or something?"
"Hmm, well why not. Okay, I'll happily put it up."
Takeru took a glance over the ground. Within the six by six intrasquad game, a single especially tall player was mixed in. Soft yet elegant body movements, a far-too-familiar jerseyed form.
"… Well then, I'll be taking my leave."
"Whoa there, stop. No need to rush through life, youngster."
Takeru's collar was grasped as he attempted to peddle away his bike. Rough as the action was, there was some warmth to be found in it as Sawako's hand brought him back.
"It's been a while, you could at least watch them practice. You've got that cool face on, but you're overcome with nostalgia inside, am I right?"
"I might not look like it, but I'm busy."
"Free enough to drop by. You're only gonna get busier here on. Hey, just take a seat, I tell 'ya."
Sawako pat against the spot beside her. Awkward as he felt, Takeru couldn't help but lower himself onto the bench. Perhaps growing old, the bench raised a slight creak.
"So how is it? Are you enjoying high school?"
"I think that the notion youth is to be enjoyed is an adult's arbitrary prejudice."
"Wow, what an unendearing response. It's because of all your sophism that you've got that old man look on your face."
"Please don't bring my face into this, it stings."
"I mean look."
All of a sudden, Sawako's hand stuck against Takeru's face. She pulled his lower eyelid with her index finger and pushed a finger around his Adam's apple.
"Not enough red, you sure you're not anemic? You can't fool the eyes of a doctor. And what are you tiring yourself out for?"
"… I just study. I do have exams next year to look forward to."
"You're no fun at all. You're a high school student, see, the heavens won't punish you if you have just a bit of romcom in your life."
"I haven't set up any flags, so that's probably not happening."
"Nah, you're just breaking them down. Just look at you now, so antsy to get away."
Sawako stated in a tone as if she had seen through it all.
Before Takeru could respond, he heard the light sound of a fumbled ball. Taking off into the air like a bullet, the ball eventually surmounted the court before bouncing on the ground. Just like that, as if it was being sucked towards him, it rolled right to Takeru's feet.
"Sorry! I kicked it too high…"
The taller player raced over. The item she wore was far too familiar, the sports jersey of Tsukimori First High School. After approaching, she noticed Takero and stopped.
Takeru quietly let out a sigh. He managed to struggle through at the library, but it didn't seem it would go like that this time. The girl in a sports jersey—Omou Mio stared at Takeru a while before muttering in surprise.
Crows' cries resounded through the river encampment sealed by the dusk. Th night time befell before long.
"Well then, you two take care. Mia, drop by our hospital later."
Parting with Sawako, who went off to see the children home half-way, Takeru pushed his cross bike along the riverside road. It was a path littered with gravel, and the tires bounded up and down.
"There we go, Take-chan."
Something cold was suddenly pushed against his cheek.
Mia walking beside him swung around an unopened PET bottle in one hand.
"You liked Aquarius, didn't you? We had some leftovers today."
"… I didn't ask for one."
"Don't worry about it, don't worry about it. Just be honest and accept the goodwill of another."
With Mia's insistence, he unsociably accepted the sports drink bottle. Mia pressed her lips against her own share.
She was acting quite different from the dignified air he spotted her wearing at school. The current Mia was slightly childish. The two walked a reasonable distance from one another, a faint citrus scent wafting from Mia's direction.
Omou Mia. A heroic existence admired by the students of Tsukimori First High.
The childhood friend Takeru reunited with when he entered high school.
"How many years has it been since we went home together like this?"
Mia spoke with a tone as if she had prepared that line beforehand.
Some tension could be seen in parts of her good-humored expression.
"I've been waiting for an opportunity to talk a long time… I never could quite find the chance to have a good long talk with you."
"Nothing we can do about it. We've both got a lot on our plates."
"… Yeah, right. Well, you're not wrong."
Mia peeked at Takeru's expression with fleeting glances. It was as if she was probing out the trick to turning the gears of a conversation whose oil had run out, whose parts had rusted long ago.
"… Are you always helping out? With Teiko FC's practice, I mean."
"Yeah! Just once a week, though."
When Takeru brought up a topic, Mia energetically responded.
"It seems they're in a pinch, short on people who're able to practice. That's right, why don't you join in too? I'm sure they'll welcome you."
"… Someone who quit halfway in can't just jump in and start acting like an old boy."
"Nothing to worry about. I quit halfway too, after all."
The light of a building came into sight at the end of the road. They would soon approach the national highway.
"Today, are you going to Sawchan's place after this."
"I am. The place I live right now is really close to Sawchan's hospital. I go there to make food, and this and that."
"… What about the old man?"
"Father… he's out overseas. Got himself a job as a freelance journalist, so he's flying all around. Don't know when he's coming back. You moved too, didn't you Take-chan?"
"Mom got a job transfer. I'm freeloading at a relative's place in the Meshie district."
"I see. So we're not neighbors at all anymore."
Mia nostalgically narrowed her eyes.
"I left this town six years ago… returned three later, saw you again after a long while at the Tsuki High entrance ceremony… there really has been a lot going on…"
"This is where the hard part starts. Don't forget your exams."
"… Ah, I see, you're right."
Perhaps finding something funny, Mia's face collapsed into a laugh. Her carefree laughing voice gently set Takeru's eardrums shaking.
"… Looks like we can talk normally after all. You ignored me back at the library, so I was sure you hated me now. Last year too, you know, I went to see you a few times, but you'd never look me in the eye."
"I wasn't trying to ignore you."
Takeru purposely emphasized.
"I dealt with you properly, Omou-san."
For a moment, Mia's face stiffened in unrest. She raced forward as it to shake it off, kicking one of the pebbles by the roadside. The pebble bounced against the ground, rolling away out of sight.
"… Snap, I thought it'd go farther than that."
Tahaha, Mia laughed as she turned towards him
With a manufactured smile, she gazed straight at Takeru.
"Ever since I returned, you've been calling me that the whooole time."
"… We're high schoolers now. We can't act the same forever."
"Is that why you're always avoiding me at school?"
A slight anger and disappointment wormed its way into her voice. Takeru answered with a level attitude.
"There's nothing that never changes. There are no absolutes in the world. Just because we're childhood friends, you don't have to force yourself to put up with someone, right?"
"You could just as well say you don't have to force yourself to avoid them."
Mia said with a strong resolve.
"… So you know, Take-chan, did you quit Teiko FC because of that incident?"
Takeru didn't answer. She layered on more words.
"… In that case, you're misdirected. I've already overcome that incident. There's no reason you have to fret over it."
"… I'm not fretting over anything."
Before she could finish the question, the ringtone of Mia's cellphone chirped out.
After confirming her phone, a sharp light gleamed in her eye.
"Sorry, I have urgent business to attend to. I'll be going ahead."
"… Yeah, I see."
"I'm really sorry… umm, see 'ya at school."
Leaving some hesitant words, she took off down the bank. Takeru listened to the sound of his childhood friend's footsteps fade as he gently set his bicycle in motion. When he reached the main road, finally coming out into a place with more people, the conversation of passersby entered his ears.
"Hey, is that Leviathan video for real?"
"Yeah, they're running it on the news right now. Hear there were shots exchanged with the police on the motorway."
Takeru stopped his cross bike once. He took out his smartphone and swiftly tapped the screen. A search of 'Leviathan Video' quickly brought up the footage in question. Uploaded thirty minutes ago. The views already crossed a hundred thousand.
The video was titled 'Calamity Co. Leviathan: Crime Declaration'. Displayed on the screen was an insignia of dragons coiling around a crescent moon.
That moon made of the sneer of a skull's teeth was strangled by two limbless dragons. After drawing a double helix, the dragons antagonistically turned heads to face one another.
With the pair of dragons fixed on the screen, a toneless program-synthesized voice droned on.
"This is a declaration of war. To you natives who scorn us Alters as kaijin. Now is the you shall remember our terror. We are Calamity Co. Leviathan, the hope of all Alters, and their strength."
There was something off about the speech dispatched in a low-bass tone, carrying with it a bottomless uncanniness.
"Natives. You will know our sadness, you will know our anger. You are to free our brethren sealed in the marine prison by today at midnight. In the case you do not accept our demands, know that the hostages lives are forfeit. I repeat, this is a declaration of war–"
Tucking away his smartphone, Takeru put the pet bottle to his lips for the first time. A penetrating cold spread across his mouth. After spending some time looking up at the waning moon in the sky, he forcefully kicked off his boke. As if the gears that had been still a long while were now spinning full throttle.
The incident began an hour prior, Kagari District on the west side of Tsukimori, at the bus stop in front of the post office. The stop was serviced by the public bus managed by the district, a yellow vehicle on the smaller side, with a bonnet rare for a bus.
At that time, the ones lined up for it were middle schoolers, parents, children, elementary schoolers, the local regulars. In the bus that eventually arrived, the only prior passenger was a single woman in the front seat.
The other passengers naturally took up the unoccupied back. The bus departed as per usual. As usual, the minds of the passengers didn't stop to focus on the outside scenery. The first ones to notice the incident were the elementary schoolers.
"Are we not taking the road in front of the station today?"
"Huh? You're right."
With those words as the trigger, the other passengers also noticed they were running a different route than usual. What should have been the next stop was growing further and further away.
"Umm, excuse me. You took the wrong road."
It happened when a housewife raised her voice; the buss suddenly picked up speed.
Receiving that unforeseen inertia, the passengers shrieked and clung onto the windows and the seats in front.
"What is this, what is this!?"
"Hey, that's dangerous!"
"I'm scared, mama!"
While the passengers fell into a panic, the driver wouldn't turn to them.
"Everyone, I ask you to keep quiet."
The female passenger sitting in the front suddenly opened her mouth.
The young woman who pulled her had over her eyes and wore headphones stood up. It was hard to determine her age. She was dressed in a plain hoodie that emphasized the bulges of her chest, alongside faded denim.
"You'll be keeping us company a short while…"
The woman pulled out her headphones. The next instant, her body changed.
Before the very eyes, her body was enveloped in a new set of cells. A peculiar biological tissue covered her, clothes and all, changing her form to something else entirely.
Enlarged ears, fangs growing from her mouth, arms furnished with a wing-like membrane. A grotesque humanoid body closely resembling a bat, that form was undoubtedly–
"We are no kaijin. We are Alters."
There the passengers noticed. The arms of the driver gripping the handles were uniformly covered in bizarre scales. The passengers' faces twitched in fear. The elementary schoolers kept crying until they came down in hiccups.
The form of an alter could summon reasonless fear among the people, and even under normal circumstances, a majority of people were unable to bear it. An elementary school boy with a stiff face hid his hands behind him. He opened his smartphone to inform people of this situation.
The bat alter's ears twitched. The boy was abruptly assailed by a shrill, metallic ringing in his ears.
Having lost his sense of balance, the high school boy dropped his smartphone and collapsed into his seat. At this point, the passengers couldn't even cry out.
"It's futile, I have a 'visual' on all of you…"
Able to pick up a wide register, the bat alter's ears could perceive the world through sound. What's more, by emitting 'ultrasonic bullets,' condensed ultrasonic waves of two hundred thousand hertz, she was capable of knocking out an opponent's semicircular canals. Those highly adaptable abilities exhibited a tremendous might at a site that ran side by side with violence.
"Now then, welcome to the thrilling Tsukimori bus tour of hell, humans! I, the new hire Lemeo-sama, will be serving as your driver for this fine evening!"
The driver informed them in an idiotically cheery voice. He let his grotesque chameleon-like tongue swing back and forth.
"Please kick back and enjoy the ride. But do take care, we can't guarantee you'll survive it!"
Twenty minutes after the onset of the bus jack, the crime declaration was uploaded online and the special police force at Tsukimori Police HQ was immediately mobilized.
Forty minutes from the onset.
Investigation headquarters contacted local branches to construct barricades to stop a small bus. Traffic was regulated, multiple patrol cars blocked the path, a unit of officers with duralumin shields formed a line on standby. Ahead of the small buss that continued its rampage, a Harley raced as if leading the way.
A full-face helmet, and a black leather riding suit. The rider's face was as of yet unconfirmed.
"Attention cyclist, pull over at once. This is a warning. If you do not comply, we will fire. I repeat, we will fire."
But as if to mock them, the Harley ignored the warnings of the riot squad. There was no second warning. In exchange, their bullets opened holes in the riding suit.
The Rider's stance didn't crumble, let along crumble, their body swayed ominously.
"Ka ka ka!! How impertinent, humans! Is that all you can do!!"
The rider tossed his helmet aside. What appeared was the blazing red head of a tiger—a tiger alter. A scar-ridden countenance that had surmounted many a battle, his left eye was covered by an eye patch. With the shields of the squadron right before him, his motorcycle didn't drop speed.
The tiger alter's chest visibly swelled up.
"You'll be opening up the way!"
Leaning out, the tiger alter bared his teeth as if to roar. What came out instead of sound was a red-hot flame. The combustible bodily fluids that scattered along with the flames stuck onto the shields, starting a blaze all at once. The barricade and patrol cars exploded, burnt up.
The small bus and Harley passed down the forcefully wrenched-open road.
An hour after the incident broke out.
The small bus and Harley advanced onto Tsukimori Beltway. Having only just been constructed, there were plenty of unopened segments and few users. For that sake, nothing was left to obstruct the alters' charge.
Hostilities exchanged between alter and police were caught on the footage of news helicopters, broadcast on local channels across Tsukimori city. Voice of criticism quickly rushed into investigation headquarters as a large anxiety spread across the people of Tsukimori.
The town had begun to shake at the crimes of the alter.
'Strategy relay, this is bus team. Currently driving down Tsukimori Kodaira. Estimated ten minutes to destination at Arisu Tunnel.'
"This is Arachne. Understood. I've finished cleaning up on my side."
Answering across the intercom was an alter similar in appearance to a spider. While she boasted tender, womanly limbs, her entire body was enveloped in what looked like the carapace of an arthropod. Three pairs of jointed legs sprouted from her back, and her visage was covered in the giant head of a spider.
The spider alter loitered in a room of a certain building. In her red compound eyes, she looked down at the police snipers she had just taken down. While the plan had been for them to shoot out the small bus, she had them bound in the threads she excreted.
"How are the rest of you holding up?"
"This is Ikaruga. Fair weather all around, police car seized."
Driving a patrol car, the alter with a form like a squid answered.
With the damp tentacles growing from his jaw, he gripped the steering wheel. There were other cars driving around him, yet none of them noticed the squid alter. Shifting the coloring of his body exterior, he took on the form of a police officer. There was no one who could see through the elaborate hologram he produced by altering tens of thousands of pigment cells.
One after the next, the police strategy orders raced into the wireless radio loaded on the car.
"The order of command's in chaos. If anything happens, I'll contact you. That's all. Anyone else?"
"Yep, yep, this is Hurtle! Hurtle and Murtle doing just fine!"
The boisterous cries came from a cat alter standing on the roof.
A height around middle school, and an entire body covered in a soft coat of fur, a long tail growing from the waist, matching claws on both her hands and feet, triangular ears sprouting from its head, and whiskers that sprouted straight out from her cheeks. Her blue and red heterochromia gleamed alluringly.
"For now, we're still keeping watch over the designated point. Let me switch over to Murtle."
To the side of the cat alter answering the intercom, another cat with identical features peered through a set of binoculars. Her hands gripped a rifle. Right below their eyes, they could see a strip of the beltway where traffic came to an end. The cat alter poised with a rifle indifferently answered the intercom.
"… This is Murtle. No helicopters in sight, no obstacles. Keep straight ahea—"
The cat alter Murtle suddenly cut her words. From Tsukimori Beltway, she shifted her gaze to the opposite building. The cat alter beside her, Hurtle's whiskers twitched.
The change in the air current the twin alter picked up, that was the warning.
Murtle spoke in a tense voice.
"Rabbit confirmed… I repeat… Rabbit confirmed… most likely enroute from the highway… everyone, stay on alert."
The bat alter, Ecole swallowed her breath at the report from the communication device in one ear. Codename Rabbit. The threat they anticipated from the start, and yet the worst possible obstacle. Before long, it would be upon them.
"Don't lose your nerve, Ecole."
The alter gripping the wheel, Lemeo obstinately answered. The enlarged eyes on his scale-covered face took a round to take in the surroundings.
"Even that thing can't catch up to a bus speeding this fast. In the million to one change it catches up, we've got three people, don't worry about it. We've even got old Freiger."
"I know, but…"
The tiger alter racing in front of the bus, Freiger delightfully bared his fangs. Freiger had formerly been an executive of the now-late alter organization Leviathan. Unlike Ecole and Lemeo who slipped into human society to live, he was used to rough waters.
As he drove, Lemeo reached his tongue towards the bottle of mineral water he kept beside him. Skillfully manipulating his giant tongue, he opened the lid of the bottle and poured water into his throat with that very same motion.
"Whatever the case, as long as we enter Arisu Tunnel, it's our game. All that's left is to meet up with Ikarugsan, and abduct this lot. Even the rabbit won't be able to pursue us."
"Abduct… what do you plan on doing to us…"
Clutching her young child, a mother showed a cowering face.
Lemeo gave a cynical laugh but no answer.
Ecole killed her heart and drew closer to the back
"Please keep quiet. That is, if you want to guarantee your safety."
The mother glared at her with eyes of loathing, but didn't open her mouth any further.
They hadn't actually received any orders to kill. Their leader Arachne was moving so as not to put out casualties. This was nothing more than pressure to put on the hostages. There was little to be gained in actually laying hands on them. Or so it was supposed to be.
The small bus passed under a sign. One hundred meters to Arisu Tunnel.
"… Lemeo-san, sharp curve ahead. Drive safe."
"Yeah, got it."
The bus's speed gradually dropped to make the bend. Across the soundproofed rail on the side of the road, a number of commercial buildings protruded out side by side.
A portion of the full moon's ominous glimmer was interrupted by brick.
What a beautiful moon, Ecole thought something out of place as she lent an eye to the night sky, when she noticed a silhouette standing on a building roof. In the next moment, the figure had leaped off.
Ecole leaked a voice. With light feet that ignored the laws of gravity, the figure landed on the road, standing right in front of the bus to block its way.
The headlights lit up its form.
An unclouded pure white body. Who long protrusions swaying atop its head, an expressionless white mask, pure white belt-shaped protectors equipped here and there that seemed to disappear into the flesh. A form almost like a white rabbit
A young child among the hostages realized its identity and called out. The name of 'Tsukimori's Hero of Justice'—
The Rabbit—Gaimoon raised one leg overhead.
The next moment, a sharp impact jolted the buss. Lemeo lurched forward, Excole's stance crumbled. The hostages leaked tome shrieks. Cracks ran down the bus windshield.
A single kick let loose from Gaimoon. Just a single kick had pierced through the bonnet, damaging the engine beneath it beyond repair.
Having lost its driving force, the bus glided with inertia, but Gaimoon didn't withdraw a step.
Weight eight thousand kilograms, speed sixty kilometers, it caught that momentum with only one leg. Gaimoon kept pressing against the bus. Letting off a great volume of steam, when it had eventually lost its forward force, the bus completely stopped in its tracks. It would be impossible to drive again.
From behind Gaimoon a Harley engine sounded off like a beast's roar.
"I wanted to see yooou, Gaimoooooon!!"
Ignoring codenames, Freiger called his foe's name with anger and resentment.
Recovering to her feet, Ecole confirmed the situation. The cowering hostages were in a terribly agitated state. Yet that wasn't in a sense of terror as it had been a moment ago.
Gaimoon had come. That fact had become their hope.
"This is bus team! Rabbit encountered on the bend before Arisu Tunnel! Bus heavily damaged, any further driving impossible! Awaiting orders!"
'This is Arachne, understood! I'll send Ikaruga, Hurtle and Murtle your way. I'll also hurry there, but you'll have to hold out until then.'
Arachne answered calmly, but her voice was tense. Without a moment's display, Freiger screamed across the wireless.
'Lemeo! Don't lift a finger! This one is my prey!'
"… Settle down, I can hear you just fine, old man."
On his motorcycle, Freiger took in another deep breath, expanding his chest. In his body blazed a flame to turn Gaimoon to ash.
Gaimoon extracted its leg from the bonnet, peeking at Freiger approaching it from behind. One beat later. A low-poised Freiger spat up scorching hot flames.
Gaimoon leapt aside to avoid it.
Expecting that, Freiger took off with his Harley. The black bike charged straight at the hero with the speed of a hawk; But Gaimoon touched both its hands to the ground, forcefully pushing its body towards Freiger. A powerful drop kick exploded into Freiger's chest.
His eyes spun, but here stood a seasoned veteran. Right before he took on the attack, he leapt back and broke away from his bike. The Harley that had lost its rider toppled sideways and collided with the damaged bonnet. After rolling to land, Freiger swiftly stood, as Gaimoon once again landed softly with both feet from a kicking position.
Both competitors had returned to combat stances, barely any time lost. Freiger emitted his second burst of flames without a moment's delay.
This time unable to dodge, Gaimoon's white body blazed up all at once. To add to that Freiger readied his claws.
Don't give it time to recover. He was about to unleash a coordinated consecutive strike.
But the next instant—
A flash like a bolt of lightning was emitted from Gaimoon's body.
"… The hell's that?"
Lemeo muttered in a daze. Ecole couldn't tell what had happened either. The flames that had burned so strongly were extinguished in an instant. Gaimoon appeared from within the fading fire, not a single scratch on its pure white body. Facing it head on, Freiger opened his eyes in shock.
That became the opening. By the time he collected himself, Gaimoon had plunged into his bosom.
Ecole's scream didn't reach. Gaimoon went right into a low kick on Freiger's right thigh, and as his footing crumbled and he fell face up, the hero hammered a straight fist aimed right at his stomach.
No longer able to breathe, Freiger raised a groan, after which he felt limp and unmoving.
The seasoned alter was no match at all, he was taken out instantly.
"… This is bus team Lemeo. Old Freiger was done in. Hurry with those reinforcements. How much longer?"
No response. Only a noise like crashing waves reverberated.
"… Oy, you're listening, right? Someone respond. Hey, do you read!"
No matter how Lemeo screamed, there was no response from his comrades.
Despair, Ecole had never before felt the meaning of the word to such an extent.
Lemeo finally gave up and gazed out at Gaimoon.
The news helicopter's light lit up the hero, and the collapsed Freiger.
"… No choice."
When she thought Lemeo had muttered something, his grotesque tongue suddenly reached out. What the tongue grasped was a young child from the hostages.
"Stop! I'm begging you! Not the child! Anyone, take me instead!"
The mother let out a half-crazed cry. Ecole tried to stop him as well, but Lemeo took no heed. His tongue still wrapped around the child's neck, he dragged him close. The child simply silently curled up. With the hostage put in sight, Gaimoon quietly stood on the spot. Any wrong moves and what would happen? Both sides reached an understanding on that point.
Now in such a situation, how did Tsukimori's Hero of Justice plan to move?
At that moment, Ecole's ears picked up a faint mutter. Like a pure crystal, a transparently ringing voice.
"—What it takes to be a hero, that is…"
Ecole raised a blank face.
The voice's owner, Gaimoon readied its hand in a chop position as it muttered. As if it was instructing itself.
"To never give up, no matter the times. To never abandon someone crying."
Gaimoon lowered its right-hand chop right where it stood. In the next instant, a bullet hole bored through the windshield glass.
Lemeo was sent flying back. The tongue binding went loose, freeing the child.
A thumb-size sphere rolled down the buss floor. It must have held a considerable heat, as smoke rose from it. Seeing that, Ecole finally noticed that sphere had been the means used to attack Lemeo.
Lemeo groaned but showed no signs of rising. While his body convulsed that never made it as far as a movement.
Unable to hold out any longer, the windshield glass finally crumbled away. As the outside air rushed in, Gaimoon plunged into the vehicle.
The hostage child delightedly rushed over to Gaimoon. Gaimoon gently stroked his head, its eyes flashing at Ecole without a second lost.
Ecole withdrew to the back, desperately steadying her breath. Lemeo was done in. Freiger was done in. She could hear the rotor of a helicopter outside. That was no news helicopter. That one was a police copter. The police force they were supposed to have taken care off were gathering in drovers. At this point, her group was completely surrounded. No place to run.
Ecole promptly fired an ultrasonic bullet.
Not even Gaimoon should be able to detect ultrasonic soundwaves, she thought. Without a moment's delay, Gaimoon lifted its left hand in front of its face. A blink, and a circular organ generated on its left forearm. That shield made of biological tissue dispersed the mass of sound in its entirety.
"… No way."
Ecole absentmindedly muttered. What was that shield? In the first place, was Gaimoon able to perceive her attack? Just what sort of power lay hidden in this monster?
"… Come in, this is Ecole. Someone, please respond, come in…"
Practically begging, Ecole continued to call into her transmitter.
Gaimoon slowly walked towards her.
Hero of justice?
Wrong. What was before her eyes was- to alter- a nightmare.
"Please… someone… someone respond…!"
As she cried out, Ecole did nothing but pray. I don't want to die, I don't want to die, I don't want to die!
- Someone, save me.
A clicking noise entered Ecole's transmission. Someone had intruded into the wireless channel.
'Dear Alters, I ask of you. A life in hell, a peaceful death. Which would you choose?'
An unfamiliar voice. The noise mixed in rendered its nature unclear.
But it was lacking in intonation to an uncanny extent, the heatless voice set her heart astir.
It was as if she was being called to from the depths of hell.
'If you choose to live through hell, then move as I tell you. I will grant you escape from this situation. I have the power.'
Who the voice belonged to? That didn't matter.
Whoever it was, they told Ecole they had the answer she was seeking.
That alone was enough.
"I don't care if it's hell. Please save me."
The other party immediately issued the orders. But on those joke-like contents, Ecole didn't know how she should respond. Gaimoon only a step away. No time left to hesitate.
Ecole made her resolve.
'First, ask what it thinks about a house mouse with intelligence.'
"… What do you think about a house mouse with intelligence?"
Ecole asked with hesitation. After it left her mouth, she grew ashamed of what she was doing in such a situation. But in the next moment, that changed to shock. Gaimoon's step suddenly stopped. As if it was flustered.
'When your enemy shows an opening, fire your ultrasonic at the water. Aim for the water behind Gaimoon.'
What Ecole spotted was Leo's water bottle.
The PET bottle remained in the driver seat drink holster, around half of its contents remaining. Its location was perfectly right behind Gaimoon.
Ecole aimed at the water, and fired off a shot. Gaimoon's reaction was just barely too late. She hadn't been aiming at the hero in the first place, so the ultrasonic waves passed by and collided with the water. On the boundary between air and water, the ultrasonic waves perfectly reflected. The lump of identical sound that reflected back slipped its way under Gaimoon's notice and collided.
The sudden attack got Gaimoon to its knees. It had lost its sense of equilibrium, it seems.
With the first ever sight of the hero on their knees, Ecole couldn't hide her even greater shock.
'Gaimoon will only be down for a brief moment. In that time, press the switch for the smokescreen your group loaded onto the bus. Wake up your comrade and withdraw. Your ride will be there shortly.'
With no delay, Ecole pressed the switch embedded in her wireless radio. Right after, a pink smock spouted into the inside and outside of the bus.
The hostages raised shrieks. She could hear angry roars fly from the police outside. Of course, that had nothing to do with Ecole. She could 'see' the world through sound.
Paying no regard to the smokescreen, Ecole proceeded down the carriage.
"Lemeo-san, snap to it! We're pulling out!"
"… W-what the hell's going on?"
The numbness had largely subsided, Lemeo barely managed to stand his body. Ecole held his shoulder up and proceeded out the bus through a broken window.
"Freiger-san, where's Freiger-san!?"
Enveloped in pink mist, Freiger unsteadily stood. Wounds ran all across his body. Despite his condition, the man wouldn't step down.
"You lot go ahead. I'll fight Gaimoon to the end…"
"That's… you can't! The mission has failed, we're retreating…!"
"Shut it! For us first generation, the fight is our life! Just shut up and let me turn this place to ash!"
Ecole couldn't say anything to his imposing bearing. At that time, a patrol car raced towards them. While Ecole stood on guard a moment, seeing the tentacle reaching out from the window, she opened her eyes wide.
"Hey, need a lift?"
Learning her comrades were safe, Ecole leaked a breath of relief. Disguised as a policeman, Ikaruga responded in his usual lighthearted way.
"We can talk later. We're taking off before the cops notice. Freiger, you…"
The fake policeman looked at a tattered Freiger and narrowed his eyes. There, Freiger gave a gentle smile unbefitting of his form.
"Tell the twin midgets and Doc Moel's girl. You had to leave me behind."
"… That so. Then you two, get in."
Ecole issued a protest at Ikaruga's far-too easy acceptance, but noticing the approaching police squadrons, she shut her mouth. Freiger wouldn't turn their way any longer. There was the back of a warrior proceeding to the ground where he died.
"… Is that the good fight you've been looking for, Freiger?"
Ikaruga muttered in a low voice. Confirming Ecole and Lemeo had boarded the back seats, he immediately took off. A life in hell, or a gentle death. Unaware of what death lay ahead, the patrol car raced down the road obscured by smoke.
"Gaimoon… Hey, Gaimoon…"
Shaken back and forth, Gaimoon's hazy vision gradually began to focus. The child it had saved, alongside his mother, peered at it with worried faces.
"Are you okay? Does it hurt?"
Gaimoon shook its head, it informed them it was fine to the best of its abilities.
The smoke was already beginning to clear. It seemed the Alter had escaped.
Rising, Gaimoon confirmed the state of the hostages. None of them had suffered any major injuries.
"—You're Gaimoon, I presume."
Heavy steps surrounded the bus. The light illuminating the hero, police officers clad in body armor pointed their guns.
"You're under arrest. The laws of Japan have no provisions that recognize a 'Hero of Justice'."
Surrounded by gun barrels, Gaimoon quietly raised its hands. The other hurried officers passed by its side to take charge of the hostages.
"Gaimoon saved me! He's not a bad person!"
"It will be alright, young boy. Now come with me."
With the hostages all led away, Gaimoon lowered its shoulders for the time being. Soon its mind turned to how it would escape this situation, and it was then. Every sensation in its body informed it of an evil presence. Gaimoon suddenly leapt and pushed down the remaining police officer pointing his gun. The cop had no time to take action before flames flooded into the bus interior.
With no delay, Gaimoon punched a fist into the fire. A pale blue electric current raced over the surface of its body, and like a parlor trick, the three-thousand-degree Celsius flames died away.
"I see, so it's an electric extinguisher…"
In no time, in place of the smoke, crimson hellfire had taken in the area around the bus. The flames to his back, a one-eyed tiger alter roared.
"The ions and soot particles in the flame react to an electric field. I guess it's possible in theory, but… ka ka ka, I thought controlling fire was my patented property, you've got one up on me there…"
The tiger alter bared his fangs, forming a ferocious smile.
The flames prevented the other officers from getting close. The officer it had pushed away watched over the state of affairs with a tense face.
"I'll take on the alter. Officer, you confirm everyone's safety."
After a moment of thought, the officer gave a heavy nod.
"… I'm counting on you."
Gaimoon leapt out of the bus' front and landed on the road. Shaking away the flames assailing the bus with the electricity from its body, it walked towards the tiger alter.
"I've known Gaimoon for ages. He's been our enemy for a long, long time."
The tiger alter produced a thick cigar from the pocket of his mostly burnt-up jacket.
The tip of the cigar he bit lighted up on its own.
"That's why I can call bullshit when I see it… The old Gaimoon was a vindictive, troublesome bastard… but at the very least, he wasn't a monster like you. Three years ago, that day when you showed yourself before us, you weren't the Gaimoon we had fought to that point."
The tiger Alter blew out smoke. And grabbing his eyepatch, he tossed it into the flame.
The eyeball had been crushed, the lasting scar of single stroke running vertical came exposed.
"Answer me, who are you? Three years ago, who was it that crushed my left eye, crushed Leviathan, and defeated that person?"
After Gaimoon left a space, it suddenly pointed high its finger high up to the moon hanging over the night sky.
"—When your heart is touched by sorrow, the white moonbeams shall light out justice."
Disregarding the taken aback tiger, Gaimoon took on a stance reminiscent of Chinese martial arts. Alongside a dance as if to encourage itself, it dispatched its battle cry.
"Here stands the natural enemy of evil, Gaimoon!"
An exaggerated introduction straight out of a kabuki play.
The tiger alter's mouth twitched, before he finally raised a grand laugh.
"Ka ka ka! I see, I see! You're Gaimoon, nothing more, nothing less! Then I might as well name myself too…"
The tiger's smile changed to a malicious countenance of rage.
One of the original Alter siblings. Captain of Calamity Co. Leviathan's third specialized unit, Freiger! With this life Lord Helvenom blessed me with on the line, I'll rip the skin from your bones! Here I go! Com Plete Com Buuuustioooooon!!"
Alongside the tiger—Alter Freiger's bellow, a blaze swept over to burn life and soul. Condensing his own heat, Freiger had discarded rationality and all else, melting the road's asphalt away as he charged.
Gaimoon grandly drew back its right leg. Pale sparks raced down it. Enhanced flesh contracted as powers condensed.
Freiger unleashed the wave at her.
towards the wild beast, its fangs bared, the hair on its body standing on end, Gaimoon released the concentrated power. A tornado-like roundhouse kick with the left leg as the ais. A gale picked up with the hero at the center. The flames went out in an instant, even the surrounding officers blown back. With all the force of the kick hammered into his neck, Freiger was slammed down sideways, colliding with the protective wall.
"L… Lord Helvenom…"
Freiger's flames died. Crevices suddenly spread along the tiger's visage. Freiger stared at his own rapidly collapsing form with a look of despair.
"… Your Alter cells are experiencing necrosis. Right now, your external organs have begun a rapid breakdown."
Gaimoon said as it walked over to Freiger.
It hadn't taken his life. But Freiger's life as a alter would soon die out.
"Very soon, you'll lose your ability to transform."
The external organs formed from Alter cells were called the very essence of a alter, after all.
"… Kill me. Who the hell'd want to show the world their burnt-out cinders."
"There's something I need to ask you."
Gaimoon quietly asked.
"Was Lord Helvenom really defeated?"
"… What are you talking about? Three years ago, with your very own hands, you…"
Freiger cut his words along the way. A blaze of madness ignited in the eyes of a dying tiger.
"I see… I see, I see, so that's what it is…"
As if in a convulsing fit, Freiger continued to laugh. With each laugh, his crystalizing skin crumbled away. Even so, Freiger's outburst wouldn't stop.
"So that rumor was true…! The black Helvenom… you met him in the flesh…!"
"Lord Helvenom is supposed to be a red skull. Answer me, Freiger! What do you mean by black."
Gaimoon's mind flashed back to the scene of a memory halfway between dream and reality. A burnt building, the many people collapsing, the flowing blood, the black skull that stood.
"Are you listening, native trash! Your nightmare isn't over yet! Leviathan still lives! Soon a storm will be blowing in this town! You'd better prepare yourself, Gaimoon!"
As he said that, Freiger shoved some sort of capsule into his mouth.
When Gaimoon tried to stop him, he had already swallowed.
"… We don't forgive, we don't forget, quiver and wait for us to come."
His expression in ecstasy, Freiger boomed in a brain-jolting voice.
"Long live lord Helvenom! Glory to Leviathan!!"
His body raised a pillar of flame as it burst.
Jumping back and avoiding by a hair's breadth, Gaimoon silently looked at the exploding flames. The officers hastily assumed their positions. It did seem after message spread of Freiger's suicide, and the alters' retreat, they had determined Gaimoon as their next target.
Gaimoon shook off their advances and jumped off the road. Like the wind, the hero's figure disappeared into the Tsukimori City night.
The patrol car Ecole rode arrived at a port in Tsukimori City.
Infiltrating that area where the containers brought in by tankers were put on display, the car came to a stop where there were no people around.
From his police disguise, Ikaruga reverted to his original alter form. The tentacles extending from his head in the shape of a squid comfortably writhed.
"That was harsh. It's a real bother to keep up a disguise you know. At my age, this old man is beat. Good work out there, you two."
In the back seats, concealed under the blankets, Ecole and Lemeo finally popped out their faces.
"… Are Tsumigi-san and the others gathering here too?"
"Young lady. It's not Tsumigi, its Arachne. Using human names in this form is a big no-no."
"Ah, I-I'm sorry."
Each alter possessed two names, one for native form, one for alter.
Ecole had formed a connection with the alter community around four years prior. She hadn't yet become fully accustomed to alter culture. Watching her curl up, Ikaruga answered her prior question.
"If we're to believe that one's words. A map here should have been sent to everyone's terminal. Oh I'm glad they're well prepared."
"… Is it true? When you said someone jammed our transmission?"
"Yeah, the transmission channel we used was cut off by someone. Thanks to that, everyone was left by their lonesome self. When I thought it was hopeless, someone called out from a different channel, and here we."
"Is it alright to think of the voice that let us escape as an ally?"
"We're safe for now, so I'd hope so."
Ikaruga said with a shrug of his shoulders.
"Even so, I'm getting a feeling he's even stronger than when the leader was taken out three years ago, that Gaimoon…"
Even before they began scheming this plan, he informed them of the threat that was Gaimoon. They weren't making light of the hero. They were supposed to have made countermeasures. But they had all fallen apart on Gaimoon's arrival.
Ecole had no cards to play from the start.
Something tapped against the door of the patrol car.
An alter with a spider's head, Arachne. Ecole hurriedly opened the door.
"Ikarugsan, Ecole, Lemeo… good, you're safe…"
"Arachne-san… umm, but Freiger-san was…"
On the verge of saying it, Ecole noticed Hurtle and Murtle, the twin cat alters behind Arachne. The two hung their heads sobbing.
"… They already know. Just leave them be for now. Freiger was like a father to them."
"Whatever the case, that's everyone."
Stepping down from the car, Lemeo and Ikaruga warily took a look around. Ecole also strained her ears, but all she could hear was the beat of her comrades, no other human presences to speak of.
Arachne also kept up her guard as she answered.
"I've spread my threads around, if anyone was here I'd know. Does the fact that they aren't mean they didn't intend to show themselves from the start?"
"I'm fine with anything, long as it's not a trap. Well, it irks me we went on a fool's errand…"
Right, at the moment the air around everyone relaxed,
A dreadful pressure came down on them.
Ecole hurt as if her throat was being strangled, she fell to her knees on the spot.
She couldn't let out her voice, her understanding wasn't able to catch up to whatever was happening. A seething fear whose reason remained oblivious to her.
It was practically as if some stranger was churning up her brain cells, forcefully bringing just an emotion of fear to mind. She couldn't go against it, she had no means to fight back.
The others held their chests, letting out pained groans. The sole member who hadn't fallen to their knees, Ikaruga, stood with his body convulsing.
"What's that supposed to mean, this pressure… don't tell me, that person's…!"
"That's right, it's Terreur."
Ecole was a loss for words.
When up a moment ago, she hadn't felt the slightest presence.
At that very instant, sure enough, someone's presence was approaching them.
She couldn't feel a pulse. What resounded was an emotionless voice—if she had to equate it to something, the sound of a corpse. Unseen, the voice's owner carried on.
"If you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes back. I am that abyss. Good alters, you have no possible means of going against me."
"What sort of… drivel are you…!"
Lemeo tried to threaten him, but his tongue wouldn't work. Ecole was the same, the pressure came down on her, keeping her down. Ikaruga alone put up resistance to it. He wasn't the usual light-hearted Ikaruga, he was panicking. His eyes were darting around.
"Why can you use Terreur… just who are you…!"
Terreur. Upon hearing that word, what surfaced in Ecole's head was a certain mythos.
The dear teacher who once explained to her how she could live as an alter had taught her, the legend of this town. Passed from alter to alter, the Alchemuls Mythos.
── The Kaijin given life in this world were weak and divided,
lives that would fall with each swipe of the blade.
In order to live, they needed unity ──
The footsteps approach.
They're heavy, dead footsteps that crush all underfoot.
Enduring the suffocating air, Ecole looks up at their owner.
── So the Alters gathered.
Under the skull possessed of battle and death.
Under the skull who would rule all through fear ──
The first thing to enter her eyes was a jet-black skull, all the flesh and blood stripped away. A full-face helmet in the shape of a skull. As of to curse the living, a malign shape perfuse with nihility. A coat the color of crows' wings fluttered, that form could belong to no other but a god of death. If fear itself had to take shape, then there was no doubt it would take on such a form.
Ecole knew. She knew the name of this skull
── The name of his skull is Lord Helvenom.
Ruler of the spiraling twin dragons who swallow the moon.
Controlling the grotesque and the dead, the absolute evil for the Alters ──
Lord Helvenom. In the alters' mythos, the symbol of fear and rule. But this one was just a little different from what she had heard. Lord Helvenom was supposed to be a red skull.
"It is a pleasure to meet you, ladies and gentlemen. I am the Second Lord Helvenom who has inherited the will of the first."
A black skill—the second Lord Helvenom stood aloof, lightly waving both hands. Alongside his hand movements like the conductor of an orchestra, Ecole and the others' bodies suddenly felt lighter. Her comrades violently coughing as they repeatedly forced air down their throats, as of yet, were still unable to move.
"… I remember," the one who said it was Arachne.
"Three years ago, when the first Lord Helvenom was defeated, the rumor did go around… that Lord Helvenom had a successor, what's more, that person fought with Gaimoon, and returned alive…"
"Hey now, what are you talking about? Never heard it in my li—"
"… It was during the Meteor Seminar fire incident in the Koheru district."
Lemeo's words were interrupted by Ikaruga.
"I fire broke out in a building where a prep school was being held. Eight dead, they were all kids and teachers from the school. From the terrible states of the bodies, there were suspicions of alter involvement."
Ecole also remembered. The victims were the same age as her, so it left an impression.
"… There was another strange rumor about that incident. Talks that there were two supposed alters fighting at the scene of the crime. One was a red one that looked like a rabbit."
"A red rabbit, is it…?"
"That would presumably be Gaimoon. The color was just the fire. And the other, the one who fought evenly with Gaimoon. As I recall, it was definitely a black skull."
Someone swallowed their spit.
Out of curiosity, Hurtle timidly asked.
"You killed? Eight? You?"
In place of a response, Lord Helvenom turned his coat. The black skull buried into the shadows. The footsteps grew distant. Like a spirit returning to the bowels of hell.
"Hey! Wait! We're not done talking here!"
"… A week from now, I'll appear before you again. My new brethren…"
The corpse voice echoed.
As if even forgetting wasn't permitted, the voice continued to reverberate in their heads.
"You've made the choice. Now resist your predetermined fate of ruin. To defeat the moon of justice, the time has come to awaken the twin dragons once more…"
Altogether, the voice ceased to be. The presence of that Lord Helvenom was no longer around. Along with the others, Ecole's heart pounded as she stood.
The lingering smell of fear persisted like a curse.
"New brethren… awaken the twin dragons…"
Repeating the second Lord Helvenom's words, for some reason, Arachne's face rose in surprise.
"Don't tell me, he means…"
"Yeah, what crazy talk…"
Ikaruga filled with a cold anger as he spoke.
"He's reforming Calamity Co. Leviathan, I'd reckon…"
"Yeah, yeah, it's fine. You don't have to worry. Didn't bang anything too important. Thank you for all the support."
Gaimoon sat along on the water tower of a building.
"… I know, I do think I pushed it a bit. But I couldn't think of anything else… it's been a while since I had to go up against three opponents. I never thought I'd fall to a surprise attack."
The other party over the transmission teased Gaimoon over the fight. The full details of the battle had been preserved beginning to end on the news camera.
"It's not like I let my guard down. The alter suddenly asked a strange question. She asked me about this book I just happened to borrow, see. Did I tell you about it? That book father recommended to me."
Gaimoon took out the sports bag kept to one side.
From inside the bag, it pulled out a single paperback.
'Flowers for Algernon', stuck with the seal of Tsukimori First High. The story of a young man and mouse who gained super intelligence through brain surgery.
"Thanks to that, I let them get away… and again, I couldn't stop an alter from dying…"
It's not your fault. The speaker on the phone consoled.
As long as an ally of justice fights, there are lives you'll have protected. By proud.
"… Yeah, thank you. I'll drop by later. Well then, see ya."
Gaimoon hung up, and looking up at the moon, she removed her mask.
The crystalized exterior organs crumbled, riding the wind as they fell away.
'What does it take to be a hero?'
She recalled the conversation that had entered her ear that evening. The dialogue between her childhood friend, and an underclassman girl.
"For instance, I see it like this."
She said, holding her fist straight out.
"A hero is someone who 'absolutely' never gives up, no matter how harsh the situation is! If I said that, would he tell me there are no absolutes again? Take-chan…"
She—Omou Mia said, and spat out a large breath.
"… But you know, no matter what, I'm not going to give up. On Take-chan, or on Gaimoon. The peace of this city the previous Gaimoon entrusted to me."
Holding Gaimoon's mask in her arms, she looked up at the moon.
No matter how the town changed, Tsukimori City's night sky hadn't changed.
From back when she could speak so freely with Takeru. Not in the slightest.
"They're all delayed from traffic regulation. What shall we do, Chiyo-sama? Should we take a detour?"
"We're fine where we are. As long as you drive safe, I care not."
"Yes, very well."
The woman in Japanese clothing sitting in the driver's seat, Fuwa Akemi pressed down on the accelerator. Regardless of her clothing, her handling was light. The station wagon quietly ran down Tsukimori City's national highway.
Sitting in the backseat, 'he' directed his eyes out the window.
When such a ruckus had broken out in the same city, the town he could see from here hadn't changed at all.
"… Freiger was a fool. To think he still had some apoptonitro on him. There's no need to zealously cling to the rules of a dissolved organization."
The woman in a wheelchair in the back, Akutsu Chiyo said in an uninflected voice.
And she went on.
"So how was it? The feeling of using Terreur on an alter for the first time?"
'He' gazed at the jet-black mask in his hands. The inactive mask had no expression. No matter what technology produced it, as long as a human didn't equip it, the mask couldn't exhibit any power.
"… It worked on the second gen, but Ikaruga resisted. It looks like my Terreur isn't complete enough to use on the first generation of alters."
"One who grants fear must first learn his own fear. If you really do intend to rule every alter, then you'd better start by taming your own fears. Get it in your head already."
"Like you did as the first gen?"
"Who are you calling the first? All that's left here is an empty husk that got her recompense."
Chiyo said with white eyes that didn't reflect the slightest light.
"Evil shall always be judged by the hand of justice, just as I was in the battle three years ago. Yet you still insist you're going to do it?"
"Of course. That's why I obtained the power of Lord Helvenom in the first place. I thought you knew that a long time ago, grandma."
"Hmph. All I knew was that I had a foolish grandson."
And there, 'he' suddenly remembered something and asked.
"… Hey, grandma. What do you think it takes to be a hero?"
"Is that some sort of psychological test?"
"Nah, just a question."
"Heroes are vile tumors born of the times. What else could they possibly be? Do you have a different take on it?"
"This is just a probably, but I think they're people who keep winning."
"Right. They fight, and fight, and fight, and pile up victories. That why a hero needs someone to fight. They need an evil to slay."
"… And is that the reason you're dragging every alter and this town into your fight?"
Fed up as she was, Chiyo spoke in a voice with no sadness.
"I'm sure you'll become an evil greater than me. As the successor of Alchemuls—Takeru."
'He'—Okina Takeru gazed at Helvenom's mask.
Feared, revered by all Alters, the word 'absolute' that couldn't even be tacked onto the concept of god.
It is impossible for any phenomenon in the world to be absolute. If there was, it could only ever exist in the human mind. That's why Takeru would have to become it.
In order to save Omou Mia who lived hidden by the mask of justice.
He would need to become the 'evil' that opposed the hero.
"Now, Mia, let us begin," Takeru said.
"The good fight of justice and evil."
Chapter 2: The Natural Enemy of Evil
Mia had always been one to cry.
When sad, when angry, when happy, Mia was always crying.
That's why Takeru would often find himself on the road home with Mia's teary face.
"… How long are you going to keep crying, Mia?"
"… Yeah… hic…"
"Don't cry just because you got teased. That lot finds it funny, that's why they do it."
"I know… but…"
Each time Mia hiccupped, her ribbon-bound braid swayed. Takeru rubbed his nose as he purposefully wrung out his voice.
"Nothing to worry about. They don't even know how to punch. Just you watch, next time they mess with you, I'll go and beat…"
"Y-you can't do that, it'll hurt!"
All of a sudden, Mia drew close to him. A surprised Takeru retreated two, three steps back.
"If you make them hurt, then you'll start hurting too! You can't do that! Absolutely not!"
"I don't really hurt…"
"Anyways, I say it's no good, so no!"
When she was such a crybaby, from time to time, Mia could become surprisingly stubborn. At those times, no matter what Takeru said, Mia wouldn't hear a word of it. In the end, Takeru had no choice but to answer this.
"… Fine, I get it. Just get away, you're too close."
"That's a promise! Lie and I won't let you eat maman's galette!"
"And you call yourself human?"
"Take-chan, you're making a scary face!"
She was in tears again. Finally feeling troubled over how to soothe her, "Oh, that's right," a certain thought struck Takeru's head.
"Mia, go join Teiko FC."
"You want me to play football?"
"No way, no way no way no way, not happening!"
"It's fine, you can do it. You've got blood from the same country as Zidane in your veins."
"Not every Frenchman can play football! Add to that it's diluted by half!"
While Mia refuted it with all her might, this was one point Takeru wouldn't back down on.
"Sawchan's making a ruckus over how there are no female members. She'll welcome you."
"… But I'm already slow in tag… and… playing football with kids I don't know…"
"I'll be with you, so you don't have to worry about that."
Intentionally speeding up, he called out to Mia.
"If you play football, you'll make some friends, and you can become strong. So let's do it, this football thing."
Mia's voice suddenly sprung up.
"Isn't it obvious?" Takeru answered. "I'm sure you'll get even stronger than Gaimoon."
"I see… getting strong with Take-chan…"
Eventually, the two arrived at Mia's house; a single-family home on the older side, where her father apparently lived when he was a kid. The blond haired woman standing by the mail box noticed the two and waved her hand.
"Ah, welcome back Take-chan, Mia."
"I'm home, maman!"
Mia quickly raced off and embraced the woman. Her mother, a Frenchwoman gave a bright smile as she rubbed Mia's head.
"I see you're home today with a smile, Mia. That's wonderful."
"Yeah! I promised you!"
"You were bawling your eyes out not a moment ago."
Embracing Mia who was tearing up again in protest, maman smiled over at Takeru.
"Then I'm sure it's thanks to you that she's back on her feet."
"… I didn't really do anything…"
Mia strongly took after maman's f eatures. Given ten, twenty years, would Mia look like that as well? The form of an adult Mia was something Takeru couldn't even bring himself to imagine.
Takeru loved her kind maman.
Her voice as warm as the spring, the somewhat burnt galettes she would treat him to, her smile like the sun.
"Take-chan, I appreciate you doing this every time. I'm counting on you to look after Mia."
To maman's words, Takeru gave a curt nod, when Mia sent him a grin. Why don't you just smile like that at school, Taaekru would often wonder, but when he thought about how he was the only one who knew Mia's smile, he felt just a little triumphant.
"Bye-bye Take-chan. See you tomorrow!"
— See you tomorrow.
"Omou-san seriously pisses me off."
"Eh? What's this? Suddenly laying down a diss?"
"I mean, listen to this. This morning, I was just playing with a first year a bit, see, when, 'What do you think you're doing here?' she went and picked a fight. What's up with that? She misunderstood so hard it was the funniest thing ever."
"You're bullying that kid too hard. It'll be a real pain if you poke at Omou, you know? She doesn't read the mood."
"Meh, you make me sound like a villainess, I'm just doing it for everyone's sake. I mean, a kid whose very existence is gross. For the school's sake and everyone in it, aren't we all better off if they go truant already? Sacrifice one for everyone's sake. See, I do no wrong."
"No, no, you're totally speaking like a villain—"
Lunch break at the cafeteria.
Listening to the conversations of sporadically laughing female students, Takeru slurped at his udon alone. At those voices that one would hear whether they wanted to or not, there were some who made openly displeased faces, but no one made a public protest.
Stay as uninvolved as possible with the events outside of the community you belong to. This was one of the tacit rules anyone living a student life would quickly acquire.
Once Takeru finished his udon, he stood from his seat.
His eyes flickered. He couldn't remove the washed-out feeling that had been in his head since yesterday. Leaving the cafeteria, he walked down the passage that connected to the main school building.
Just a night since the bus jacking incident, and Tsukimori First High was continuing in an exceedingly normal daily life mode. As long as crisis didn't happen in true proximity, it's difficult to actually feel the danger.
In this school, only two were involved with that case.
Okina Takeru and another.
As he passed down the hall, the vending machine stationed to the side entered his eyes. Recalling a slight thirst, he tried inserting a hundred yen coin into the coin slot, when there came the sensation of something colliding with his head. A paper airplane folded out of a school printout.
He turned in the firection it flew from, The landing of the school's emergency staircase entered his eyes, but he couldn't spot anyone. Takeru spread out the paper airplane sheed.
'I demand coffee milk.'
A crude touch unchanging from elementary school. Carefully folding up the spread paper, he tucked it into his breast pocket, gave up on the vending machine, and returned to his original route. A paper airplane stuck into his head again.
This one was a test answer sheet.
'Have you forgotten your debt from yesterday's drink?'
A math test, ninety-two points. Come to think of it, she was a science major, he recalled a little late. Carefully folding up the answer sheet, he tucked it into his pants pocket, walking off for yet another time.
Or so he made it look before catching the third airplane flaying at him in midair.
The third was an advertisement leaflet.
'I'm sorry, I got in over my head. I'll give you a Fried Sato-chan, so please.'
It was written largely in thick magic marker.
Fried Sato-chan, thinly sliced bread crusts deep fried and sprinkled in sugar, a long selling item at joint-stock company Satou Pan. What other choice did he have? Takeru returned to the vending machine, purchased a coffee milk and black vinegar drink, and made for the emergency stairwell.
He could have just ignored her, but with what happened yesterday, he was better off probing for some information.
Arriving at the third-floor landing, he called out to the lord of the paper airplanes.
"That Aquarius was something you just arbitrarily shoved on me."
"You must be joking. I said it was goodwill, I never said it was my treat."
Crouching down and concealing herself, Mia gave a mischievous laugh. The other individual involved with the incident, Gaimoon, Omou Mia. In her hands was an open bag of Fried Sato-chan, and a paperback open half-way. The 'Flowers for Algernon' she had borrowed yesterday.
Takeru set down the coffee milk and snatched a Fried Sato-chan. The crisp fried bread crumbs easily crumbled as the sweetness of sugar spread amply across his mouth. It was the sort of snack that made one crave coffee or tea.
"I'm not running a café."
"No need to worry, I'm properly preserving the standards of a public space. No, I'm just playing a little game of hide and seek here…"
"Hide and seek?"
"There's going to be a ball-game tournament among the sports teams soon… quite a few places are trying to pull me in, and they're making quite a racket…"
"Why is it already a competition…"
Surprisingly, the students of this school all bit on well when it came to these events. Each time one was held, for better or worse, Mia would gather attention.
"Did yesterday's business go well?"
"Ah, yeah. There was just something I had to deliver to Sawchan no matter what. How about you? Did you go straight home after that?"
"Yeah, straight home. I watched the Hare Talk variety show."
"… Ah, that was yesterday? I missed it."
Too caught up in whether she was managing to deceive him, she didn't even think to doubt Takeru's story. If he cut the conversation unnaturally, there was a fear she might suspect something. That's why Takeru carried on a surface-level conversation.
"Why don't you quit eating alone out here? You'll make the fans of 'Tsuki High's Hero' cry."
"Hey, s-stop it with that name. I can't say I'm a fan of it…"
"My junior said it with respect. You should frankly accept the respect of others."
"… No, but, see, I'm making a lot of enemies."
Mia gave a troubled laugh.
Takeru took a sip of black vinegar drink before speaking.
"Like Midorikawa from the class over?"
Mia suddenly went quiet, pinching a Fried Sato-chan, and taking a swig of coffee milk as if to force it down her throat.
"They were gossiping about you back there. Aren't you sticking your head too far where it doesn't belong? Keep it up like that, and the Hero will be taking a fall in no time."
"… But the first year was crying."
Mia indifferently said.
"They said they couldn't stand the way she laughed. 'Everyone's putting up with your voice, so you'd better put up with some punishment. Now we're even'. What's that supposed to mean? Do they think human pain can be compared in quantity?"
"… That's just about how it works. Leave them be. It's just a whim. Once the novelty's gone, they'll lose interest."
"Then will the pain in her heart disappear given that time?"
For some reason, Mia's fingertip glided, tracing out her chest. Perhaps it was unconscious, she didn't seem to take notice. Her eyes weren't here, they were gazing at something far away.
"Call my nosy or whatever, but I'm not giving up, I can't leave them be."
"That's an ideal. But lip service justice hurts those around you too."
The lunch broadcast music played. The symbol and characteristic rhythm of the base, inviting in a sense of nostalgia, the cleverly inserted interlude. It was Ben E. King's Stand by Me.
Mia's words stopped partway. The look in her eyes turned grim.
"… Ah, I'm sorry. Just feeling a little lightheaded? Feeling dizzy when I'm sitting down, that's not good."
"If you're feeling nauseous, want me to take you to the infirmary?"
"I'm fine, I'm fine. It's nothing big, really."
"… I see."
Even so, Takeru stayed until Mia called down. He drank his black vinegar until it was empty. Perhaps a calmed Mia felt awkward, as she continuously crunched down on her Fried Sato-chan to play it off.
Takeru took out the printout and answer sheet-turned paper airplane from his pocket and returned them to her.
"I've got to get going. With this, we're all even, right?"
"Nope. You've still got fifty yen."
"You're going to collect the difference between a bottle and paper carton…"
"I am. In order to pay back this debt, you're going to have to talk to me again."
"Can't you make do with someone else? You've got plenty of friends."
"But the only one who knows me, past included is you, Take-chan."
"That's why I told you yesterday, we're not the same any—"
"Maman's grave. You still visit every year, don't you?"
Takeru's words got stuck in his throat on the way out. Mia stared right back at him.
"The people at the temple said it. Every year, a boy comes to offer flowers. That's you, isn't it? That's why I—"
The final bell of lunch break rung. Takeru folded up the black vinegar pack and turned his back to Mia.
"Don't read and eat at the same time. Aunty in heaven will scold you."
He heard Mia swallow a breath. But leaving her behind as she was about to say something, Takeru walked off. There is nothing absolute in the world. Everything flows and changes in shape.
Across Takeru's brain flashed the face of Mia's mother from the old days.
— I'm counting on you to look after Mia.
"… Of course I will, aunty."
The one taking the fall wasn't going to be Mia.
A single Lord Helvenom was plenty.
A musty theater around the Kagari District shopping street.
A single young woman stood petrified before the entrance where the 'Kagari Odeon' sign was hung.
Trailing black hair and white headphones.
Wearing the uniform of the prestigious missionary school Saint George's Girls Academy, the scarf over her abundantly swelled chest swayed. Her headphones played Debussy's Clair de Lune.
"Oh, Kanon, did you just get here?"
The girl—Alter Ecole's native form, Sakurai Kanon turned around.
A woman in frameless glasses, whose intellectual eyes were perpetually lifted in rage. A sleeveless blouse and black pants made for a smooth fit on the tall college student.
Togumo Tsumugi, native form of the alter Arachne.
"I'm sorry, Tsumugi-san. Last period dragged on a bit…"
"Ah, with that person as your homeroom teacher, there's nothing you can do about it. As an alumni, I really can't make a ruckus. How's school? Any problems since then?"
"… No, nothing particular."
Their daily lives hadn't changed. It was impossible to say if anything had shifted from before the incident to after. Tsumugi and Canon pushed open the theater doors, side by side.
"Hey. Tsumugi, Sakurai."
Greeting them from the lobby sofa was a man in a shaved-side pompadour, an unfurled weekly publication in his hands. Tsumigi gazed head on, into the Alter Lemeo, Kamero Reo's sanpaku eyes.
"How rare. To think you're the one who's on time. Where are the others?"
"The twins are engrossing themselves in the flick. Old Ikaruga's going to be late, apparently. Good grief, why are those first generation gramps always so carefree…"
"Yeah, yeah. Start complaining about the generation gap, and it's never going to end."
As Kamero loathsomely uttered the words, Tsumugi tiresomely lowered her shoulders.
"From their point of view, the next gen that lives, mixed in with humans must look like a feeble bunch. They're folks who live their lives 'For the good fight,' after all."
"The good fight…"
That was the motto passed down through Calamity Co. Leviathan.
What Ikaruga had said to Freiger on their parting. It wasn't as if Kanon had clearly experienced the meaning of those words yet, but there was still something she understood. The bus jacking the other day was certainly not a 'good fight' to her or her group.
"Even so, is there even any film here? I was sure this was a meeting point, a theater in name a lone."
"I hear the latest projectors can even play blue ray, according to the twins, old Freiger prepared it…"
"… Ah, so he was actually managing it, for argument's sake. An official dummy corporation? I'm sure there are plenty of these facilities left around Tsukimori…"
Kagari Odeon. At a glance, it seemed no more than an old theater, but in actuality, it had once been a meeting facility of Leviathan. Three days prior, a notification came to the SNS they shared and used.
◆Lord Helvenom: Three days from now, 16:00, I await you at Kagari Odeon. Togumo Tsumigi, Kamero Reo, Sakurai Kanon, Nekomiya Hatoko, Nekomiya Matoko, Iga Ruka. I look forward to seeing your true faces.
A message from the second Lord Helvenom.
He went out of his way to call them by their human names. To an alter, knowing their identity as a native was akin to ruling them socially. Therefore, at the end of their discussion, with t he agreement of all members, they decided to answer the summons.
Tsumugi took a glance around the lobby.
"At present, have there been any visitors apart from us?"
"… None. Couldn't be. I've been here watching the whole time."
Kamero answered nervously. Perhaps the encounter from that day still clung to his mind, as he spoke without conviction.
"… Hey, just in case, wouldn't it be better if we used our alter forms? There's no need to go out of our way following his orders and exposing our faces."
"To not give him any space to take advantage of us, we're better off following orders for now. Even if we come in alter, if he uses Terreur, we've got no hopes of winning."
Kanon checked her wristwatch. The dial pointed out fifteen fifty.
"Um, is it about time for us to get Hatoko-chan…? It's almost time."
"… Yeah, you're right. Could you do that, Kanon?"
With a nod, Cannon opened the door tot eh audience seats—and froze on the spot. On the screen, an extreme closeup of a strange old woman leapt towards her.
"You know, I think we need to put on a more horrific production in our operations now and then. This sort of bang! Whoosh sort of thing! What's your take on it, Matoko!"
"Hatoko, there's a paper difference between fear and laughter… a production of the strange might end up a gag…"
The twins eating popcorn in sailor uniforms took up seats as they pleased, making a merry ruckus. The native forms of alters Hurtle and Murtle, Nekomiya Hatoko and Nekomiya Matoko. The one with pigtails was Hurtle/Hatoko, while the ponytailed one was Murtle/Matoko.
The disputing twins looked back to notice a frozen Kanon.
"Oh, Kanonee-chan! Yoohoo! Want to watch Hags of the Dead with us!? Wait, what's gotten you so pale?"
"… No, it's nothing."
Kanon removed her face from the screen as she answered.
With sleepy eyes, Matoko looked between the screen and Kanon a few times, before hitting her hands together as if something had clicked.
"Don't tell me… you're no good with scares?"
"T-Tyat's not true at all!"
In her fluster, her tongue wouldn't move as she wanted it. She was trying her best to maintain her dignity as their elder, but the BGM of her heard, and the footage had her half in tears.
"Yeah, yeah. Flaunting Kanon's cowardice and the screening ends here. It's about time."
Entering in behind, Tsumigi clapped her hands together. Hatoko displeasedly tapered her lips.
"Eh! That's going too far! This is where it gets interesting!"
"Right now, more than the movie's conclusion, it's our here to come."
It was there Kanon noticed. The anxious looks in Hatoko and Matoko's eyes. They were scared, the both of them. They cowered, not knowing the identity of the one who would inform them of their future. "… I-it'll be fine," Kanon said in as bright as she could muster.
"That second generation helped us out the other day, I don't think he'll treat us too poorly. That's why… I'm sure it'll work out!"
Hatoko and Matoko stood an raced over to Kanon.
She gently embraced the two. Even if they were alters, the way their hearts worked was no different from that of a human. Supposedly.
"… Alright, then let's get to cutting the footage already."
Observing the state of affairs, Makero turned towards the projector room, and it was then. The footage was abruptly interrupted.
Everyone tried to cry out. But they couldn't.
What they had gotten a taste of the other day, the 'pressure' of fear bound Kanon and the others. Tormented by a strangling sensation, she took a glance at her own wristwatch. The clock needle pointed perfectly at six.
"I see you've gathered, my good alters."
A corpse voice resounded through the hall.
A single shadow stood still before the silver screen lit up in white reel-less projector light.
The jet-black skull—the second Lord Helvenom.
Helvenom standing on the alter quietly lifted up his hands.
Just as before, the air suddenly became lighter. They could talk. But as if paralyzed, no one tried a move. Kamero's mouth warped in anger as he spoke.
"Just give it a rest already… black skull… with that time and this time, pulling out your bag of tricks…! In the first place, old Ikaruga ain't here yet!"
"I have no business with someone who's not here. I simply came to ask your will."
"Will, will, eh…"
Her mind still taken by fear, Tsumugi firmly turned towards Lord Helvenom and spoke.
"Would that have anything to do with the reformation of Leviathan?"
Lord Helvenom had no immediate answer, so she added on further questions.
"What it comes to Lord Helvenom, he's got to be the leader of Calamity Co. Leviathan. If you proclaim yourself the second gen, I get why you'd aim to bring it back together. But why would that make you come into contact with us? There are plenty of other, larger alter groups out there."
After Leviathan dissolved, the alters each formed their own factions and burrowed underground. While their scales never reached what Leviathan once boasted, their activities continued under the surface.
Tsumugi's group was a puny power that couldn't even be counted among their ranks. Try as she may, she couldn't understand why Lord Helvenom would get in contact with them.
"… The alters these days are extraordinarily feeble and divided."
Lord Helvenom began to say.
"To start with, alters were born half a century ago… they began as synthetic life born from genetic engineering. While they usually spend their lives in human form, by anamnesis of nerves, they change into alter forms clad in exterior organs composed of alter cells. Those external organs chided as 'living character costumes' carry an aberrant power unthinkable of the natural world, and as a result, the people feared alters as a threat. But precisely because Alters are a minority, they required unity. Calamity Co. Leviathan was the product of that."
The black skull recited the nightmaric history dwelling in this town.
The log of the nightmare known as the alters.
"To the alters, Leviathan was their law and their fear. But the times are always changing. To prevent itself from being exterminated by evolving justice, Leviathan must take in new blood once more to evolve. It is for that reason that I chose you."
What came to Kanon's mind as she repeated those words was the form of the white rabbit. The hero of justice, Gaimoon. That power was certainly worthy of the name, evolving justice.
Kamero squinted his sanpaku eyes.
"Hey now, are you being sarcastic? We just lost to that evolving justice of yours…? So why've we got to be this new blood of Leviathan…!?"
"That is because in this town that lost Leviathan, you are the sole alters who have shown the will to fight."
"Will to fight?"
Kanon repeated again, and Lord Helvenom leisurely nodded.
"The objective of the bus jack the other day was revenge for the alter Doc Moel who was killed by police, am I right?"
This time, everyone swallowed a breath. With her father's name brought up, Tsumuji's expression turned contrarily level.
"To think you'd already dug into father… even the police shouldn't know about that…"
"His identity in native form was Togumo Noumu, professor of philosophy at Tsukimori City University. You were originally students of the 'stranger class' he would hold for alters. He was killed by police two years ago. There were suspicions of him being an executive of Leviathan. Your plea to release the alters in custody was to get in a blow on the police force who killed your dear teacher."
"… Those were false charges. Father cut his relations with Leviathan a long time ago. And it wasn't revenge either."
Tsumugi answered with a shake of her head.
"Ever since Leviathan dissolved, the alter hunts have worsened. There's no force we can depend on, and unrelated alters are being taken in one after the next where people can't see. So we stood. To become the trigger that breaks down the present state of alters… to make this town know of our existence, our anger… but the result—"
"It was futile."
Lord Helvenom mercilessly declared. Tsumugi's face tensed up, she kept silent.
A vein surfaced on Kamero's forehead, but he didn't try to refute it.
"After putting in such effort, even losing a comrade, in the end, nothing changed. This town doesn't even think of alters as evil. A troublesome bunch that's reported on the news now and again, that's the extent of their recognition. The people of this town don't even discriminate against alters."
Kanon bit into her lip. She knew. No matter how they stamped their feet, this reality wouldn't change. There were no means to overturn it.
"If you have the will to rebel, the possibility exists."
At that word unbefitting the embodiment of absolute evil, those concerned showed confusion.
"Three years ago, Leviathan was defeated by Gaimoon. The first Lord Helvenom was lost, the alters lost their fangs to fight. No matter what fearsome physical abilities one might possess, no matter what regeneration powers they boast, a power unbacked by will holds no meaning. To oppose an evolving justice, a continually changing will is necessary. The will to oppose reality is necessary. In that incident, you showed such a will, there could be no greater qualification. You have the right to be the new Leviathan. If you come with me, we shall cut open a future of new possibilities."
"And would that possibility…" Matoko timidly asked, "Involve defeating Gaimoon?"
Lord Helvenom responded without a second of hesitation.
Matoko and Hatoko's nostrils swelled.
A new Leviathan led by the second Helvenom. Kanon still couldn't imagine what sort of thing that would be; yet the black skulls words were filled with a dark temptation. A premonition that the present state could be changed. The sensation their deeds were affirmed.
Everyone's heart had been swayed. The form of a future they had yet to see, the choice of a possibility thrust out before them—
"Hey, hey, to start without me, now that's just mean, Fakevenom-san."
A scornful voice returned Kanon to her senses. Something was twined around Lord Helvenom's wrist. A thick rope-like tentacle.
"What's wrong? You were caught quite anticlimactically, kid. That person, the first would never let me get this close."
Standing up from a front row seat, a mirage-like shadow. The pigment on his body's surface that let him meld in with the surrounding environment increased in definitiveness. Kanon knew only one alter with such an ability.
"Ikarugsan… when did you…"
"The next gen's too honest for their own good. This is where you get a jump on them, and then it's easy picking."
Exposing an alter form similar to a squid, Ikaruga used his tentacles to bind Lord Helvenom on the platform.
"You got me by surprise last time, but I've always had a long rebellious streak. To oppose that person's Terreur, I built up a level of resistance. That's how it is, so the likes of your sham-Terreur isn't gonna work."
Kanon moved to stop Ikaruga, but she couldn't move from where she was. Tsumugi and Kamero, Hatoko and Matoko swallowed their saliva as they watched over the situation.
With his arms restrained, Lord Helvenom showed not the slightest unrest.
"Very well. Then I'll show you."
The empty skull issued a proclamation.
"Carrying on Lord Helvenom's will, the form of my violence…"
The second Lord Helvenom, Takeru maintained rational thought.
From the start, he didn't feel pain. The multiple chips embedded throughout his brain—two in the cerebral cortex, one in the amygdala, one in the thalamus—worked in conjunction with his mask, leading him into a sort of trance.
That's why, with a level head, he confirmed the letters displayed on his visor.
'ACM-SYSTEM TERREUR MODE ON'
His Terreur was operating normally after all.
As Ikaruga said, it simply wasn't working on him. Terreur had originally been the first generation Helvenom's special power as an alter. Using the user's own image of fear, their voice and actions would work on the opponent's subconscious; it was a form of hypnosis that spread fear like a contagion. The Terreur Takeru could use now was no more than a false reproduction of the original's power through mechanical means.
What's more, while this Terreur was active, he would constantly have to face up with his own trauma. The more he wanted to rule another, the more his own heart would rot. If he wanted to grant fear unto others, he really would have to tame his own fear.
Being the first alters, the first generation served and fought under Lord Helvenom.
The younger, next generation lived in society, between the threshold of native and alter.
While they were alters all the same, the thought process of the first and next generation were completely different. Perhaps there was another reason in that tangent as to why his Terreur wouldn't work.
Takeru was different from the alters before his eyes. He had no alter cells, he was only human. A suit and a mask, only through the grace of the system that operated with them could he begin to act as Lord Helvenom.
Therefore, the current Takeru only had a single means to control the first generation—he would have to make them submit through direct violence. He called up a function in his head.
'Mars Impacter Active'
The cover of the wrist wrapped by the tentacle instantly retracted, the weapon stored in the inner suit spouted out, and each hand clenched down on the grips.
Ikaruga chimed out a skillfull whistle.
"Now that's cooooool. Those are some thick tonfas. They look perfect to give a kid for Christmas."
Now answering, Takeru readied the black tonfas—mars impacters in his hands.
Proper name Mars Impacter-HV02.
Fitted with electromagnetic accelerators, they were high-tech tonfas; the 'form of violence' held by the second Helvenom Takeru.
'Inner muscle output max. Restrict to arm parts.'
In accordance with Takeru's thoughts, the artificial muscle set under the suit rapidly expanded. Takeru mustered all his might, crossing both his arms in front of his head. The tentacle restraints were easily torn off.
A tepid transparent liquid scattered across the platform.
"Hmm, your power's not too shabby, but…"
A new layer of information overlapped Taker's vision through the visor. The automatically recorded fluctuations in the surrounding air. His sight shifted from visible light to infrared.
What he confirmed by sight was a mass with heat—a single transparent tentacle was encroaching upon him.
Takeru pushed the switch on the grip in his hand.
With the grip as the central axis, his right mars impacter ferociously went into a high-speed rotation. It became a black shield, its spin repelling the tentacle.
But Ikaruga wasn't the least bit flustered.
"You really should watch out for my bodily fluids, fake."
In the fluids that scattered, a green liquid was mixed in. The moment that stuck to Takeru's suit. It raised a sound and began bubbling up. The surface of the titanium alloy suit was mildly corroded.
Strong acidic bodily fluids. If he carelessly crushed tentacles, he wouldn't get out unscathed.
Hs abruptly changed his plan. The aim wasn't the tentacles—
"So naturally, you go for the main body, right?"
His squid-mimicking head produced countless tentacles, and readied them. Their tips splid open. He pointed the muzzles of his acid spraying guns.
"Approach, and you'll be soaked. You'll find that strange mask and suit will quickly find a place in the dumpster. Now what do you do? How will you go at it, Fakevenom!?"
Takeru halted his approaching feet. Takeru on the platform, and Ikaruga in the audience seat, there was approximately five meters between them.
Takeru took a slight step with his left foot. As long as the tentacles were there, it was certainly dangerous to approach. In that case, he simply didn't have to. As he stepped forward, he wound up his left shoulder blade.
Only a slight motion was visible to the eye. Ikaruga's eyes failed to detect the preparation. So undetected, he squeezed out power like a bolt in a crossbow—
And forcefully released the spring in his shoulder.
Along with his reinforced muscle, his left fist thrust out like an arrow. The tip of its gripped tonfa sharply set out. At the same time, Takeru pulled the trigger on the grip.
The kinetic energy from the thrust was compressed by the internal engine, changing into a condensed shockwave. The created shockwave became a bullet and was emitted from the tip of the tonfa.
By the time he realized what was happening, Ikaruga's body was already flying back.
Takeru braced himself for the impact with his augmented legs. The recoil did send his body back somewhat, but hurriedly recovering his stance, he moved on to his next action.
Takeru leapt down from the platform.
The calling karuga rolled to land. His damage was light. As he tried to stand, before his eyes, Takeru thrust out his weapon.
But he didn't land a finishing blow. The muzzles of Ikaruga's tentacles were already directed at his mask.
A while of silence descended over the two glaring parties.
"Message from the first."
Takeru was the one to break it.
"… Bloody lifelong rebel. You could at least pay a visit now and again, apparently."
Ikaruga's eyes twitched in response. For a while, he gazed at Takeru appraisingly.
"Looks like it's true you're carrying on from the first…"
His head, his tentacles gradually crumbled. With the dispelling of a transformation, the external organs formed from alter cells would calcify and crumble. From within, the sunken-eyed face of a middle-aged man appeared.
"Are you serious? Do you seriously plan to bring Gaimoon down?"
"… Of course. " Takeru austerely nodded. "I was certain you'd be longing for one too, a fight to burn your life away. I shall produce the place to use your life. If that's not enough to satisfy you, then kill me anytime."
Ikaruga—Iga Ruka gave a cynical laugh and shook his head.
"… Fine. I'm not expecting anything but… well, I'll at least confirm your intentions with my own eyes. No idea what they plan on doing."
Tsumugi answered immediately.
"At this rate, we won't be able to continue our activity. It's heartening to move alongside you, Second Lord Helvenom."
"Me too, me too! If we're blowing Gaimoon away, I'm super for it!"
Energetically raising her hand was Hatoko. Beside her, Matoko nervously raised her own.
"… I'm with her."
"Good grief, each and every one of you, are you sane…"
"Huh? Reo, you're against it?"
"… Fine! I'll go! Nothing I can do about it, I'll follow along!"
Kamero scratched his head before turning to Kanon.
"What about you, Sakurai? You've still got school, right?"
"Huh? Ah, you're right…"
After reservedly looking Takeru way a while, Kanon cautiously spun her words.
"I still don't really know you yet… what you're doing either, but…"
Kanon asked as if she'd made some resolve.
"Will you really show us? A new future for alters? Will we really be able to defeat Gaimoon?"
Takeru slowly nodded.
Not a single soul suspected what his true goal could be. What he was truly attempting to accomplish.
"I'll swear it, alters with a future ahead. I shall grant you victory."
By no means had Takeru become Lord Helvenom for the sake of the Alters' future.
"When Leviathan is revived, the people shall remember their fear of the alters they've forgotten. We shall change the alter society with our hands."
It was all to become the enemy of the city's hero Gaimoon.
"We'll teach Gaimoon. We are by no means an evil. Our justice shall roar through this town, through the entire world."
For the sake of Omou Mia who had no choice but to live as a hero of justice. That was why Takeru needed them. Alters who hadn't yet lost their will to revell. The power to move as the symbol of evil, Leviathan's arms and legs was an absolute necessity.
Takeru would drag the alters through hell for the sake of such ego.
With no means of knowing Takeru's intent, Kanon eventually gave a satisfied nod.
"Understood. I'll fight too. I'll join your new Leviathan."
"… I have heard your decision."
The die had been cast. There was no turning back.
Takeru hid his face and sin behind a mask and majesticallt addressed them.
"Then allow me to give you your next mission…"
Omou Mia never missed out on her usual training.
Six years since she was granted the power of Gaimoon, at this point, her training was already incorporated as a portion of her everyday life.
Even if that included abdominal strengthening exercises while hanging upside-down from the edge of a roof of a ten-story building.
"295… 296… 297… 298…"
Training gear over her body, her legs latched onto the roof's ledge.
No lifeline. If her mind wavered the slightest bit, an immediate thirty-meter dive to the ground. Mia carried out sich life-threatening traning all quite indifferently.
"299… three hundred!"
With the same momentum she strained her abs with, she rose up.
Mia looked at the sky, she stretched up high.
The clear Sunday sun put her in a good mood.
As she stretched, she prayed earnestly that the hero of justice wouldn't have a role today.
'The time a hero is needed is the time evil runs rampant in society.'
The previous Gaimoon, Mia's father had told her.
'That's why the Hero must do their best to lose the reason for their existence. That is the natural way a hero should be.'
"… To work to not exist, huh."
She wasn't particularly fixated on the meaning of a hero. To start with, this was a power she obtained through various forms of happenstance. Of course it would be better if there wasn't a situation where the hero had to set out.
Three years since she returned to Tsukimori City.
After colliding with Calamity Co. Leviathan, the pace she set out as Gaimoon gradually fell. From the year's onset, she would have perhaps one, if any, chances to turn into Gaimoon a month.
She felt it had been quite a while since she held full-blown combat with an Alter as she had the week before.
In the end, that alter group was simply followers taking after Calamity Co. Leviathan in name alone, and the general consensus was that their activities were mostly dying out as well.
The threat of alters, the reason for a hero's existence were certainly on the verge of disappearing from this city.
That was definitely a very good thing, she thought.
Now that she had defeated Lord Helvenom and Leviathan, Gaimoon had finished its role.
When that happened, she would be able to return to being a normal high schooler.
At times, Mia grew anxious. Pushing a single finger into her chest, she tried tracing it out. The marks of a surgery she had undergone to heal the wounds from that incident, and to equip her with the power to fight.
Now barely any trace of it remained, but at what spot, and how had the wound come to be? Even now, Mia could remember it all too clearly.
The power she gained and the past she experienced were all irreversible. She couldn't turn back.
A younger form crossed her mind.
Her reunion with Takeru came a year ago, the day of Tsukimori First High's entrance ceremony. After scanning the billboard that listed out class assignments, Mia had discovered a nostalgic name among them.
The name of a childhood friend that had never once left her heart. Mia immediately raced off. She spotted Okina Takeru in the designated class. He had grown more mature than she remembered him, his physique was toned, he had gotten around to wear glasses. But.
— H-hey, I see you're holding up, Take-chan!
Her pitch a little high, Mia greeted him. She elieved they'd be able to talk just like the old days. But Takeru in the classroom took just a glance at Mia, and responded cold and to the point.
— Ah, it's been a while. Omou-san.
It really was cold. His attitude spoke that didn't feel anything strongly or anything at all.
As if their old relation didn't hold any meaning.
No matter how many times she tried talking to him after that, she was always avoided. In the end, Mia spent a year unable to close the distance with Takeru.
If she told him she was Gaimoon, how would Takeru react?
If it were the old Takeru, the Takeru who would protect her from bullying, then shocked as he was, perhaps he would believe her. But was it alright to expect the same from the current Takeru?
— I've changed. It happens, we all change.
"Has Take-chan really changed?"
After saying that, Mia gave a sigh.
"… Have I changed too?"
Mia still believed there were parts of him that hadn't changed. She believed she could regain the relation they had back then. Yet still, it frightened her. To interact with Takeru and witness the parts of him that had changed. More than anything, the very thought she might find herself disappointed in him.
No, realistically speaking, she was already disappointed in the current Takeru.
The past Takeru would never overlook Midorikawa's bullying.
When the one who once protected Mia from bullies was Takeru himself.
—. It's not just you. Lip service justice hurts those around you too.
It's not just lip service. There's no way anything good will come out of overlooking Midorikawa's actions. From minor hatred, it's all too easy for people to direct malice towards other.
That was something society pardoned as inevitable. Subjected to malice, the wounded soul is labeled, reaping what they sowed. A great many people failed to realize just how fearsome that label was in itself.
Mia had no choice but to take the side of people subjected to malice.
That was her mission as one carrying on the name of Gaimoon, and her oblication. That's why she had to fight. Now that the evils of alters were fading from town, she would need to fight the malice lurking in—
Mia held her temple. A piercing sharp headache. Mia produced a bag of pills from her bag on the roof. She swallowed one. It would take a bit of time before its components took effect. For now, she took some deep breaths and tried to calm her heart as best she could.
These headaches had carried on for a while. They weren't too frequent at first, but lately, their outbreaks were gradually growing in frequency. Perhaps she was better off pulling out for today.
When Mia was about to stop her training and leave, the smart phone in her bag rang a special tone.
A special sound, it's meaning was 'Emergency Dispatch'.
The hesitation, the headache from moments ago disappeared from Mia's consciousness.
Mia confirmed the situation and site from the email and she produced equipment from her sports bag. Pure white armored protectors. Elbows, knees, gloves, belts to wrap around various parts, and dedicated boots. No matter the time, Mia would always carry these protectors on her person.
While there were numerous parts, they were all designed to be put on smoothly. Mia finished changing without neglecting a single piece.
She slowly took a deep breath. Gripping both her fists, she firmly pressed her upper arms to her body. And with a voice heavy in resolve, she proclaimed.
She pulled both fists to her hips and took on a grand pose of fighting spirit.
This was all the transformation ritual to reach Gaimoon.
In the surgery six years ago, Mia's body was transplanted with an alter ganglion.
With her actions as the key, the alter cells generated from that ganglion enveloped her body at a fiersome pace. An instantly hardening body surface, throbbing, strengthened muscles, and finally, she equipped the mask.
The mask that symbolized Tsukimori's justice.
"… Gaimoon go."
The transformation completed, Mia—Gaimoon hopped off the roof and sped towards the scene.
Those walking down the road noticed the hero and looked up at the buildings. From building to building, Gaimoon hopped. The justice fantasy permitted to Tsukimori alone sped through the city.
Eventually, Gaimoon arrived at the roof of a certain building.
Cater-cornered from the street, the nine-story building of a high-class business hotel was enveloped in black smoke. The rubberneckers crowded, as the fire brigade desperately continued worked to quell the problem. At present, the flame's momentum showed no signs of dying down.
Across the transmitter in her mask, Gaimoon's cooperator informed her of the state of affairs.
The evacuation was mostly complete, but the safety of the ninth floor's guests had yet to be confirmed. The fire was intense, and the state was such that fire brigade were unable to break in.
Electric extinguishing was good for brushing away flames around her, but it wasn't suited for a large-scale blaze.
That being the case, she was capable of assisting people stuck within it.
Time was off the essence. Gaimoon took some distance. In order to save whoever might be left behind, she leapt over the municipal roads, and transferred onto the burning hotel.
"Hey, it's Gaimoon!"
Receiving looks from the onlookers who noticed the situation, Gaimoon broke a window to roll into the ninth floor letting off black smoke.
She tumbled into a hall laid out in red carpet. The place was filled with smoke, blocking off her vision. As her mask was equipped with ventilation functionality, there was no harm to her, but having no visuals was somewhat troublesome.
First, she would need to locate those in need of help.
"Someone! Is anyone there!"
Someone's voice resounded from the depths of the passage.
Gaimoon put a hand to the wall, racing along it in the direction she heard the voice.
"I came to save you! Where are you right now!?"
Her hand on the wall hung over a doorknob. From a half-open door, Gaimoon plunged inside.
For some reason, the room's floor was unsparingly submerged in water.
It was filled with smoke and she couldn't see the whole picture, but the room's arrangement was considerably vast. It was likely a suite. Gaimoon took a wary look around.
Turning to a muffled voice, Gaimoon saw the young girl and stopped in her tracks.
The young girl in undergarments—Midorikawa's limbs were bound and fastened to a chair.
Her bare feet were submerged in the water buildup on the floor, her mouth was covered with a towel. Most likely intended as a mouth gag. The eye mask covering her face had gone sloppy with tears, sweat, and snot.
The surprise was only momentary, Gaimoon immediately moved to save her.
The next instant, she perceived the true abnormality. Holding her left hand to the ceiling, she deployed her biological shield on her forearm. A rippling impact caused the shield to shake. An Ultrasonic Bullet. One week prior, Gaimoon had tasted an identical attack.
Something raced across the ceiling. A squirming shadow obscured in black smoke.
"… The kaijin from that bus jack. Are you here for me?"
"It's not kaijin, it's alter, Gaimoon. You're our enemy, after all."
The indifferent matter-of-factly voice of an enemy. Even if she couldn't see them, she could grasp their general location through their voice and presence.
As with the last fight, she could use her lightning nail—electrifying alter cells hardened to the level of metal, using the electricity in her arm to accelerate and discharge it as a biological bullet—to take out the enemy.
"You can't use them, can you? Any electric moves, with the state of the room."
Gaimoon didn't answer.
A room soaked with water. A bound hostage. If she let off any discharges, there was a danger she would electrocute her.
"You're not one to abandon hostages. So what will you do? In this smoke, do you think the hostage's body will hold up forever?"
The hostage had begun to cough. The mouthgag was a blessing, and she got off without inhaling too much smoke, there was no doubt she needed to get her out with no times to lose.
"In that case,"
Gaimoon bent her knees and took on a low stance.
"I just have to get her out fast."
Her goal wasn't subjugating an alter, she was here to save the human before her eyes.
Kicking the floor, Gaimoon took off like a leopard.
The room was perfectly at the end of the hotel. If she pierced through the wall before her, hostage in hand, she'd be able to make it outside. A height of nine floors would be no problem at all.
The moment she touched Midorikawa bound to the chair, a piercing shriek entered her ears.
Unlike before, the enemy's ultrasonic waves spread thin and wide across the room.
Right after, the air-rending sound of multiple discharges.
Gaimoon sensed the presence. The existence of arrows fired simultaneously from different directions.
She immediately turned, lowering a chop on the approaching arrows. One, two, three iron arrows rolled across the floor. But the final arrow was for Midorikawa. Her chop wouldn't make it in time.
Gaimoon covered for the girl and took the final arrow to the back. As her rigid skin obstructed it, she suffered no serious wounds.
Just like that, Gaimoon lifted Midorikawa up and kicked away the wall.
A dive from the hotel's ninth floor. She was falling towards the hotel parking lot. Where a number of cars and trucks were lined up, she caught sight of an ambulance and fire engine.
Perhaps from shock, Midorikawa had fainted.
As she fell, she measured out the distance to the ground. Gaimoon boasted dynamic vision great enough to see through a bullet, at the very last moment, she turned her body, Midorikawa and all. Killing the impact with the same fundamentals of a cat, she tried to land on the ground.
But the moment before her landing, Gaimoon noticed.
A stopped truck took off, in an attempt to run her over the moment she landed.
In the driver's seat, she could see the Chameleon alter who was there in the bus.
She wouldn't make it in time to dodge. At this rage, she would be rammed with Midorikawa.
Crying out, Gaimoon tossed the girl towards a nearby rescuer. The surprised paramedic barely managed to catch Midorikawa, and the moment after she saw that off.
The truck collided.
Sent airborn, Gaimoon was slammed straight into a wall. But the truck's advance didn't stop there. Taking Gaimoon along, it broke through the first floor of the hotel.
This wasn't an impact she couldn't endure. But the damage resounded through her body.
A sensation different from usual. Her body was hot as if it was blazing up.
Panicking at an unforeseen situation, Gaimoon recalled the iron arrow stuck into her back.
If the arrow head had been laid with some sort of poison…
But she had never heard of any poison that functioned on alter cells.
Those thoughts of hers were immediately sent flying by the storm of black smoke.
An airtight room where cinders of a flame remained. The fresh air sent in with the truck's infiltration. By the time she understood, it was all too late.
The smoldering cinders gained new air, once again explosively blazing up—the backdraft effect.
An electronic extinguish wouldn't make it in time.
All at once, a blazing hellfire swallowed up Gaimoon's defenseless body.
At the same time.
Okina Takeru—the second Lord Helvenom received a transmission from his comrades.
'This is Ecole, as expected, the Rabbit took the hostage and fell towards the ground. One of the crossbow bolts got her in the back. I've confirmed her collision with the truck.'
'Cough, hac… Lemeo here. Plan worked. Rammed the rabbit and thrust 'im into the first floor. 'n wait, you never told me it was going to explode! Thanks to that, the driver's seat is a mess—’
"Situation understood. Ecole, withdraw from the scene. Lemeo, immediately after filming the Rabbit, withdraw. Report in when you can."
To the side of Lord Helvenom as he cut his transmission, Ikargua blew a whistle.
"You're not bad. I never thought to use Apoptonitro like that. With the past Leviathan, to force down traitors and such, we kept some around, but…"
Originally, when an alter affiliated with Leviathan was on the brink of death, to prevent their own biological data from being leaked, it was a self-destructing medicinal compound to dispose of the corpse.
When the effects of Apoptonitro made it into the body, it would work on the Alter Ganglion to bring about an explosive effect. But just by applying it directly to the alter cells, it was possible to inflict damage.
Even if it didn't reach the level of a fatal wound, right around now, Gaimoon must be feeling it.
The pain of her own body crumbling apart.
"Even so, your MO's just a bit too roundabout, perhaps? Starting a fire in a place like that to lure the hero out."
"I've already told you the objective of this mission, have I not?"
"What I'm trying to say is, why did you properly let everyone apart from the hostage evacuate? Does it really matter, what happens to a human or two?"
At Ikaruga's discontent words, Arachne gave an approving nod. It seemed she held the same question.
"The new Leviathan has no intent to put out unnecessary sacrifices. Humans react quite sensitively to human deaths. If you kill them recklessly, in the end, they'll come to thoroughly hunt us down. I'm sure you all understand the terror of natives at a time like that. For now, we're not at a stage where we need needlessly stimulate them."
"… Needlessly stimulate, eh."
Ikaruga shrugged his shoulders as he sent a look in a certain direction.
"Then should I think of 'this' as a necessary sacrifice?"
A man wearing nothing but boxer briefs frantically shook his head. He was bound to the same sort of chair as Midorikawa, who'd been confined to the hotel.
At present, Lord Helvenom and the others were in an abandoned building near the hotel. He had taken along Ikaruga and Arachne to hold the man here.
Lord Helvenom held out his hand. He touched his fingers wrapped in titanium ally to the cowering man's chin.
"This isn't a sacrifice. It's a piece. For us to rule Tsukimori City."
"Stop… I'm begging you… just end it…! What are you saying I did to deserve this!?"
"Do I really have to spell it out?"
"The analysis is over."
Arachne held up the man's smartphone connected by USB to her laptop PC.
"His contact book, the emails he's exchanged, pictures, Googla account, the whole shebang. If you're a manager, shouldn't you be a little more careful with the private cellphone you carry around? In this day and age, even high school students are more security-conscious."
"Y-you better be ready, you lot… d-doing something, like this, in the end, you k-kaijin only exist to be defeated by Gaimoon—"
"Perhaps, but you'll be judged for your crimes well before that."
Lord Helvenom thrust a transparent zip lock before him.
At the light in the container, the fine white powder in the bag glistened as it caught the light.
"You bring a minor to the hotel, and enjoy her with drugs procured overseas? It's not like this is your first offense, am I right?"
"Yes, it just keeps pouring out from the extracted emails. Contact with other girls, and also… what complete and utter scum."
Arachne must really have not wanted to finish that sentence. She spat out the words.
Oh my, Ikaruga continued in an amused laugh.
"You really went and did it, man. You can't do that, leaving evidence like that on your work phone. It's because you're like that, that the big bad alters are going to take you in and suck you to the bone. Do you get it? Stupid native?"
"S… shave… shave m-m…"
"You want to be saved? Then I'll give you a choice."
The man's chattering teeth continued to ring out. Only an empty black skull reflected back in his eyes.
"Obey our will and show sincerity, or oppose. Choose whichever you like."
"S… sincerity… what do I…!"
"Oh, that's simple."
Lord Helvenom took a slight turn towards Arachne.
With a nod, Arachne pinched up a document file in her long jointed legs and held it out before the man.
"Sign the contract. It will guarantee your safety. We are the second party, you are the first."
"Guarantee… wait…" looking over the contents of the contract, the man gasped. "'Prioritizing them in any and all business, the first party will abide by the second party's demands,' wait… you're telling me to become a slave!"
"Is something strange? Your prolonged life is guaranteed."
The man swallowed his breath.
"Publicly a trading company, but your identity was the front to a Yakuza group. You've done well extending your reach these past few years. With Leviathan dissolved, did you think you could do whatever they wanted in Tsukimori?"
"D-don't think you'll get off unscathed… when this gets out… the people I have backing me…"
"They won't move."
Lord Helvenom stated clearly.
"Why do you think the crime syndicates never laid a hand on this city until recently? It's because they were well aware of the risk of dealing face to face with alters. From their point of view, there are any number of people who could take your place. There's no way they would undergo that risk to save you. That's the sort of city Tsukimori is."
The man's face turned pale. He broke into shivers.
"You'll be making up for the sins you committed in this town.. We're the ones handing down judgment. The death of your freedom, or the death of your existence, choose whichever one you like."
The man now understood. Just who held a grip on his fate.
— There wasn't even a need to use Terreur.
Under Lord Helvenom's mask, Takeru spat out a breath.
His tension, his sweat, it was all hidden away. Neither Ikaruga nor Arachne noticed either. He was perfectly playing the part of an evil commander.
At this point, he knew the mission's completion was a matter of time, and it was then.
'… This is Murtle. Helvenom… san… can you hear me?'
The radio in his mask suddenly took his attention off the man.
A transmission from Murtle, who was supposed to be a backup member this time.
Why was she calling at this time? Takeru thought dubiously as Murtle answered wirelessly.
'I'm with Hurtle right now… we're going in to exterminate Gaimoon…'
Around that time, Ecole was alone, preparing to escape from the room Gaimoon and Midorikawa had left.
She collected the crossbows that went off in response to her ultrasonic waves. After getting rid of the other evidence, she was about to withdraw, at Hurtle's boice from the radio, she hurriedly halted herself.
'Your orders were to keep on standby.'
'But you told us… you would give us the means to defeat Gaimoon… so…'
'I made a promise, you know, with Hurtle and the others. We were going to crush that guy–'
In Murtle's place, Hurtle answered.
'Isn't this the perfect change? It's totally impossible to not do it, right?'
'The objective of this plan was not to subjugate Gaimoon. Any further gains are unnecessary. Promptly retreat.'
There were two objectives to this mission.
First was the anti-Gaimoon combat Ecole and the others tested out.
This was to drive the hero into a corner and film the sight of his defeat. In order to shake up Gaimoon's victory legend that had become conclusive in last time's bus jacking, they moved under Lord Hlevenom's plan.
But in actuality, that plan was nothing more than a small part to achieving a larger objective. The greater objective was to secure the sponsor Leviathan needed if it ever wanted to operate.
For that sake, they threatened the president of a yakuza front company spreading drugs through Tsukimori City, to extort their funds and capital. Their attack on Gaimoon was additionally to buy time and prevent their true objective from coming to light
'When the weekend comes, the president always brings girls to the same hotel. If you want to take aim, that's the chance.'
Lord Helvenom told them, the day everyone gathered at the theater.
'After Leviathan was lost, natives underestimated the threat of alters, advancing out to fill in the void left on the map of influence. This plan is a restraint on those avaricious humans, and a warning. To teach them our Leviathan is still active in the truest sense.'
As things stood, Lord Helvenom's plan was proceeding smoothly to a scary extent.
After attacking the site of the girl and president who came to the hotel, and knocking them out with her ultrasonic bullets, the president was abducted by Arachne, while the girl was bound by Exole.
At the same time, she submerged the suite in water, and prepared multiple crossbows laden with apoptonitro. The crossbows were set up beforehand to detect and go off in response to her ultrasonic waves.
With only one wall leading out, Gaimoon's movements were restricted, and in order to aim at Gaimoon once he clasted through the wall, Lemeo remained alert with the truck. The doors to the room they'd crash into were firmly sealed in advance so the fire brigade couldn't get close. This was to bring about the backdraft effect that would set Gaimoon ablaze.
It was all as planned. All that remained was to measure a retreat, or so it was supposed to be.
'Why are we retreating…'
Murtle said. The bashful one of the twins wrung out her voice.
'Just a little more, and we can avenge uncle, mama… I don't understand why we have to pull back…! When Gaimoon is our enemy…!'
At that bitter cry, Ecole swallowed her breath.
The twins' parents, originally executives of Leviathan, were defeated by Gaimoon ten years prior. And having lost their parents, the one who took in and raised the orphans was Freiger. When it came to hatred for Gaimoon, theirs ran deeper than any of the other members.
Murtle trembled as she spoke.
'We got our share of apoptonitro from uncle… enough to take out Gaimoon, heaps of it… when I saw the live footage, I could tell…! We're already in the room…! We're going to do it…!'
Ecole hurriedly opened the tablet terminal in her hands, and connected to the SNS among her comrades.
Just in case, Lemeo's video camera was streamed live in the chat to store as a backup.
Eventutally, the terminal's screen projected the footage.
Within the room where the flame blazed, a collapsed shadow. A burnt-black Gaimoon.
With necrosis breaking down in his alter cells, Gaimoon had lost a large majority of his superhuman powers.
Did he still draw breath? At times his hands moved.
Standing by Gaimoon's side, the odd-eyed cat alter Hurtle.
In her hand, she gripped a large dagger. Presumably like the crossbows Ecole prepared, the blade was slathered with an aqueous solution of apoptonitro.
The Hurtle on screen brought the transceiver to her face and spoke.
'Just one arrow and he can't move anymore. IF we hurt him more, he'll lose the ability to transform, right? It's the perfect chance, you've got to take what you get.'
'I'm for it.'
Lemeo's voice forced its way in.
'If we don't attack now, then when? I haven't the slightest idea why you'd stop Hurtle or Murtle.'
'Now, not, just calm down, young'uns. How about you just listen to Blackvenom-san here?'
As if he was amusing himself with the situation, Ikaruga wedged his way in.
'I do think there's some sense to the little cat lady's words. But nothing you can do, that's just how the world works. The soldiers have got to listen to the commander with a black scheme in his heart.'
Pretending to persuade them, Ikaruga indirectly jeered at Lord Helvenom.
But his opinion was also representative of the other members.
Sure enough, they failed to see the reason Lord Helvenom would hesitate over a fallen Gaimoon.
there should be no mistake this was a chance.
On the screen, Hurtle stood still with dagger in hand. She awaited Lord Helvenom's answer.
Whatever the case, they couldn't stay in that room for long. Even with the strong body boasted by an alter, if exposed to a fire for extended periods, the damage would accumulate.
With everyone awaiting an answer, Lord Helvenom concisely responded.
'Retreat at once. This is an order.'
The next instant came Hurtles detestful answer.
She lowered her dagger at Gaimoon on the brink of death. The dagger's tip attempted to pierce into Gaimoon's body. Skinning the armor plating, the blade set with poison would shortly scratch Gaimoon's skin—
'I told you, Gaimoon is an endlessly evolving justice.'
It was hard to say Lord Helvenom's words reached. The movement of Hurtle's dagger stopped along the way.
'—The greater adversity he faces, the stronger he becomes.'
Gaimoon gripped the blade in his pure white hand.
Ecole couldn't tell what had happened.
Gaimoon's burnt skin crumbled in tatters.
As if it had been regenerated of new cells, beautiful white skin glistened.
On the screen, Hurtle desperately tried to shove the dagger in. If the apoptonitro was effective, then soon her hand gripping the blade would crumble away.
But his body emitting a sublime glimmer, Gaimoon's body wouldn't collapse.
'Well I'll be damned, looks like he built a resistance…'
With Murtle parroting the word, Ikaruga explained.
'Even if you're hit with a dose of apoptonitro, it's not like every single cell dies. It's possible that a small portion of them with a natural resistance will remain. Right now, perhaps Gaimoon's body has regenerated based on those few surviving alter cells? Well, in short.'
Gaimoon on the screen stood. As if he hadn't suffered any damage from the start.
'Apoptonitro won't work on Gaimoon again…'
Hurtle continued her resistance.
But as if to smash it, Gaimoon put power into his grip of the dagger.
It was bent, the dagger's blade hit the ground.
'…… ight… t… stice.'
Gaimoon suddenly pointed his finger towards the heavens.
A discontinuous voice accompanied the move.
—When your heart is touched by sorrow, the white moonbeams shall light out justice.
'— Here stands the natural enemy of evil, Gaimoon'
At Gaimoon's battle cry, a fright raced through Ecole.
Hurtle on the screen slumped down as if her will to fight had broken.
Across the radio, Arachne cried out.
'Lemeo! Hurtle! Murtle! Hurry and get out of there! Now!'
'… I know… I get it, but…!'
Lemeo sounded panicked.
Gaimoon's expressionless eyes gave off a fiery light. Even Ecole watching from the screen of her tablet could feel the overwhelming pressure. It was something very similar to Lord Helvenom's Terreur.
At this rate, Lemeo and the others would be done in—
'Ecole, can you hear me?'
The call from the radio caused her body to jerk up.
Lord Helvenom's voice. She immediately responded.
"Yes! This is Ecole, I can hear you!"
'I'm speaking to your transceiver alone. I'm counting on your assistance with the escape.'
Was she supposed to get to the first floor to evacuate them?
But once again, Lord Helvenom's orders were out of left field.
'A human on the ground, it can be anyone. If possible, knock multiple people out with your ultrasonic bullets.'
"… Eh? Knock them out?"
'That's right. Whatever the case, cause a ruckus. It's to save Lemeo's team.'
Gaimoon on the screen took on a fighting pose. He prepared for war. The situation was three on one, but in the previous battle, she had learned numbers weren't an absolute advantage.
No time to hesitate.
Ecole peeked her face out the window. The people on the ground hadn't noticed her yet.
Stifling the conflicted thoughts in her head, she scattered her ultrasound bullets.
Two women among the onlookers fell to the ground. Those around them raised screams. A number of them pointed in her direction, and eventually, all the people down there had noticed Ecole's existence.
Bathed in screams and angry shouts, Ecole looked down over the people. Wrong, this was to save her comrades. She was just knocking them out, she wasn't doing any harm.
Her thoughts desperately racing, Ecole got around to seeing her own actions as something terrible.
The hotel building shook as someone broke through the wall.
It was Gaimoon.
The shield on his arm spread wide, he blocked an ultrasonic bullet.
The peoples' cries took a complete turn to cheers.
Ecole stared over the sight in a daze.
'—All members, evacuate at once.'
Replying to Lord Helvenom's orders, Ecole tried to turn around. There she notices.
Her eyes met with Gaimoon's. With no visible emotion, a look of justice shined at her, as if to condemn her for her sins.
Ecole immediately pulled her head in. Now that Gaimoon's attention was diverted, Leo's team could pull out without issue.
The plan was complete. Without a moment to lose, Ecole escaped from the spot.
Ten minutes after Ecole withdrew from the scene of the fire.
They finally established contact with Lemeo.
'This is Lemeo. All units successfully withdrawn… now returning to base…'
"… Understood. Be wary of pursuit."
After cutting the transmission, Lord Helvenom gazed at the contract.
The contract with the president's signature and blood seal pressed in. For their name, they apportioned the name of a dummy corporation the ex-Leviathan once used.
With that, even legally, the president couldn't escape Leviathan's malign hand.
His freedom lost, even after the restraints were undone, the present remained dazed out like an empty husk.
"For now I guess we can say the first mission was a success."
Ikaruga stated with a grin. Lord Helvenom faintly shook his head.
"It's still all to come. This is nothing more than a beginning."
To become the Alchemuls of Tsukimori, he would first have to eliminate the parasites building a nest in the city.
The evil Gaimoon needed to defeat was Leviathan, Lord Helvenom alone.
By no means could it ever become anyone else.
For Gaimoon, Omou Mia's own sake too.
The man injected by Arachne fell into a lethargy. While they prepared the president for transport to deliver him home, Ikaruga quietly whispered into Lord Helvenom's ear.
"Still, Blackvenom-san, I see you're quite knowledgeable about Gaomoon."
Lord Helvenom's movements stopped.
The black eyes of a squid concealing Ikaruga's face gazed at him ready for action.
"What are you trying to say?"
A fearsome pressure let off by Lord Helvenom. Seperated from them, Arachne's body winced, but Ikaruga simply shrugged his shoulders.
"I'd love to see it someday. Just what sort of face you're making under the mask."
Lord Helvenom ignored his transparent provocation.
He thought back to the memory of back then.
A building enveloped in flames, the great many husks collapsing, confronting the red Gaimoon.
The memory of sin sleeping in Takeru's depths.
These hands had been sullied in evil and blood long ago.
And still, it wasn't enough.
To reach the absolute evil, even more blood was needed—
Based on witness reports of the crime scene, the fire at the hotel was investigated as an arson perpetrated by alters. Around the same time, the burnt form of what was presumably Gaimoon dit a round around the internet, causing a bit of a ruckus. 'Hero of Justice, Finally defeated!?' With such sensational hit pieces diffusing, rumors unrelated to either truth or lie begin to circulate.
They say the truth is, Leviathan still lives on.
They say the truth is, they were pulling all the strings behind the arson in Tsukimori.
Rumor called upon rumor, secretly propagating through town. While the rumor was gaining legs of its own, in a news follow-up report on the fire there was a small column on the identity of Midorikawa saved by Gaimoon.
Of course, there was no one out there who would find meaning in that insignificant fact.