§060 The Orb Transport is Life-Threatening


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In a hotel room somewhere in Shinjuku, a man received an encrypted message and passed it on to his leader. The leader scanned the message’s contents, and said to the gathered men, “It looks like the disposal unit was annihilated inside the dungeon.”

“The guys from the V Bureau? Unbelievable.”

“I agree with that opinion, but it’s possible that the other side had an advantage in terms of powerful explorers.”

The leader lightly knocked on the table once, causing all noise inside the room to instantly disappear.

“With that said, the baton has now been passed on to us.”

They were black ops (illegal secret service agents) secretly dispatched by Russia’s SVR, however, they went by the simple name 『Bulwark』.

“There are countless routes the targets could use to head to Ichigaya.” The leader spread a map of Tokyo on the table. “It’d be no problem if we could get them to use a car,” he said, pointing at the two streets with the JDA in-between. “It’d be a sure thing that they would eventually use either the 302th (Yasukuni Street) or the 405th (Sotobori Street).”

“But that’d be right in front of the Ministry of Defense, no?”

“The ones who get dispatched when there’s a large car accident are the police. No need to worry about them.”

“Roger.”

“Trains would pose a bigger challenge.” The leader pointed at Shinjuku Station. “The routes usable from Shinjuku are the Chuo Line running on the surface, and the Toei Subway-Shinjuku Line. It’d also be possible for them to use the Namboku Line and the Chuo Line, after getting to Yotsuya Station on the Marunouchi Line.”

“Tokyo’s train map is totally crazy. Why are there so many lines running next to each other?” Another man asked while looking at the many lines.

“I think it’d be fastest to blow it up.”

In the case of a subway, making it cave-in would probably be the safest approach to confine the targets.

“We have no clearance for a direct attack against mass transportation systems.”

“If we actually carried it out, it’d simply give accident a different kind of meaning. That would likely make Japan take it seriously.” The leader said, and then explained the operation’s details, instructing each team on their position.

“Team 1 is going to shadow the targets from their office while continuously reporting back.”

“Team 2 is going to cause the car accident.”

“Team 3 is on standby with me, as backup.”

The respective team leaders nodded.

“In case they take the subway, go for it at a spot where you can finish them off. Since the distance between the stations is short, you’ll probably be able to escape from anywhere.”

“In case of a surface train, the point of attack will be here.” The leader pointed at a place between Yotsuya and Ichigaya where the Subu and Chuo Line were crossing next to the Sotobori Park General Ground Tennis Court. 1

“Luckily, blinds have been set up on both sides of the railway at this section, so we’ll strike here.”

“This is our equipment.”

Walking through Tokyo while carrying assault rifles would be against the law. The leader placed pistols and ammunition on the table.

“P320?”

The SIG P320 was a handgun adopted as the successor to the Beretta M9 in the US, with plenty of accessories available. Even Russia’s army had units using SIG products, but the P320 hadn’t been adopted yet.

“It’s nothing we could play off as fakes. Besides, the guns are equipped with silencers and subsonic bullets.”

The silencer is likely just for insurance. If used, the shots will be too loud to hide, and the silencing effect in a place bustling with people is also negligible.

“In short, you’re saying it doesn’t matter if we eliminate the targets?”

Although it was inside a dungeon, the other party took on the V Bureau with a mere two people, and won. Even we won’t be able to take them down with a half-baked attempt, I expect.

“If possible, I’d like to finish things by just stealing the orb, but──” The leader said with a cruel smile on his lips, “──it’s normal for the unexpected to happen on-site.”

 

◇◇◇◇◇◇◇◇

 

On the appointed day of the orb delivery, we’re heading to the Yoyogi-Hachiman Station.

“Senpai, wouldn’t it be better to use a car?”

“I wonder. It’s one thing if you assume that a large-scale terror attack might take place, but don’t you feel that using mass transportation along with a lot of other people would be safer otherwise?” While answering her, I took out a real-looking box from a coin-operated locker we had prepared in advance as a dummy, and put it into my bag.

If someone is watching, it should look like the place for the handover is here. Then we get on the next train. Odakyu is a residential area all the way until Shinjuku, and a place where people would spot a commotion in no time. In the first place, I think it’d be unreasonable to set up any large-scaled traps on a railroad within one week of the announcement. All the more since they wouldn’t know whether we’d board at Odakyu.

“Which reminds me, it looks like Ms. Naruse publicized the information about the mansion right away.”

“True. Although, didn’t she fully cut out the scenes where we appeared?”

“I was the one who edited it~”

“Oh, really?”

It’s no wonder that the parts with us appearing were properly cut out. I mean, if they had outsourced it or something similar, we’d be exposed at the editing stage.

“It was volunteer work, ahem!”

“Good work then.”

I persisted in turning down a JDA escort. Replacing the bodyguards is the oldest trick in the book, and the JDA escorts would just become a hindrance during an escape, at which time we would entrust things to my stats and Arthur’s. The DAD and Mr. Tanaka’s friends might be watching from somewhere though…

“What are we going to do after reaching Shinjuku? Usually we’d use the Sobu or Shinjuku Line, but in this situation…”

“The Sobu Line is easier for transferring, so we’ll use that one. We’ll be close to our destination once we get through the ticket gates.”

“Eeh…? That’s your reasoning?”

“You don’t wanna take a long walk through the Shinjuku Station, do you? It’s full of foreigners. Besides, subways don’t have any escape routes.”

The underground is friggin’ dangerous. We’d be buried alive if they just went all-in by blowing up the whole place. If we get pincered from the front and rear, there won’t be any side roads, limiting our options to run away. Moreover, since the visibility is bad underground, it’s likely easier to start something compared to when we use the train services on the surface. Well, I don’t think they’ll go as far as bombing a train station, but for some reason I have more peace of mind staying above the ground.

 

◇◇◇◇◇◇◇◇

 

A man wearing something like a business suit, and a woman in casual dress, were sitting one train car behind the one with Yoshimura’s group.

“Man, now we’ve got to follow around a huge gigolo, good gracious.”

“I don’t think anything is going to happen at this point. But forget that, you look pretty stylish there.”

Usually Joshua wore clothes that were simple, albeit ones that had a sense of freshness, were casual, and possessed an odd looseness, as was characteristic of people with plenty of leeway. But, today he somehow felt like wearing a tightly fitting business suit which had its charm as well.

“I heard that foreigners in suits wouldn’t stand out in Shinjuku, okay?”

“Who did you hear that from? I thought that the everday wearing of suits was limited to a small part in the west.”

They, who had conspicuously tall figures, hadn’t been trained in skills like shadowing in the first place. Holding the book 『For Whom the Bell Tolls』 2 – probably with the intent to use it as part of their camouflage – caused the man in the business suit to stand out all the more. And besides that, the kind of men who usually wore such clothes didn’t generally read books on the train.

“The story of a man, who died in the line of duty for the sake of stopping a military operation from taking place, while knowing that his own mission bore no meaning, truly fits us to a tee, doesn’t it?” Joshua bragged.

Natalie nonchalantly surveyed their surroundings while answering with a joke, “Well, it sure sounds like you also let many women go you shouldn’t have.” 3

“Aren’t the surrounding Asians a bit shady as well?”

“It looks like some guy called Tanaka is also watching our targets, so aren’t they people working with him?”

“They might be Chinese.”

“I can’t really tell Chinese and Japanese apart by their outward appearance after all…You lived in Japan during your childhood, didn’t you?”

“I wouldn’t be so troubled now if that was all it took to tell them apart.”

“Isn’t that how it works?”

“Can you distinguish Americans and Englishmen?”

“Of course.”

“Really?”

“If I hear them speak.”

“Even I’d be capable of that much,” Natalie barked back at him.

Several minutes later, the train had entered Shinjuku Station.

 

◇◇◇◇◇◇◇◇

 

Passing through the ticket barrier at Odakyu, and going up to the platform of the Sobu Line, we calmly walk forward while aiming for the fourth car from the back.

“There’s a quartet of foreigners two cars behind us, I think.”

“We’re in Shinjuku right now? There’ll be many of them around here.”

“They don’t have the typical excitement of tourists. They’ve been walking at our pace without even trying to secure open seats. Well, take a look.”

Having walked slowly on purpose, we jump on the fourth car from behind just as the train is about to depart. Of course, something like the door closing with the train departing right away only happens in movies.

There’s no way that the station attendant monitoring the platform would overlook such a situation at Shinjuku Station. The doors, which had been about to close, open up once more, and then close again in no time.

“I wonder whether the people behind us transferred?”

“You really shouldn’t underestimate the number of people taking the train in Shinjuku. Even though it might be Sunday, moving within the train is rather impossible, I think.”

I won’t say that the train is crammed full, but the train is crowded enough that there’s not enough space to walk around.

“Besides, you see, I’m pretty sure this train will run into an accident before Yotsuya.”

“How would you know?”

“It’s because the folks behind us have been using their cell phones. Also──”

Yesterday I checked today’s route on the street view. From the point of view of stealing something by attacking someone on a train, that is. And that’s where I noticed. On the track between Shinjuku and Ichigaya on the Sobu Line there’s only one place where the train becomes difficult to see from the surroundings, as both of the track’s sides are hidden by trees.

“If they’re going to attack us, it’ll be around Sotobori Park.”

That’s the place where the Sobu and Chuo Line cross.

The train starts to move slowly.

“Is Simon’s team possibly following us today as well?”

“Going by his state before, it wouldn’t be weird for DAD staff to lurk around somewhere, but…Simon’s team is working as an escort for the receiving side, aren’t they?”

Well, it’s never a good idea to count on something unreliable during times like now.

 

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“It looks like they’ve noticed our movements.”

“In that case, it seems like it’ll be impossible──”

As the man was about to answer, the train shook sharply, and a man, who had held onto the strap next to the speaker, leaned against him.

『Ah, sorry』

While answering with his eyes to the man, who addressed him in Japanese, that it was no problem, the man continued, “──to get close to them inside the train at this rate.”

“At the next station we’re going to cram ourselves on the same car in preparation for the scheduled action point.”

“Roger.”

 

◇◇◇◇◇◇◇◇

 

Around the time when the train begins to run parallel to the Metropolitan Expressway Route No.4 Shinjuku Line, an announcement informs us of the arrival in Sendagaya.

“Next station~ Sendagaya~, Sendagaya~”

“Miyoshi, get ready to get off.”

“Huh?”

“At Yoyogi their group got into the same car. It looks like they plan to pincer us in this car before reaching the aforementioned point.”

As the announcement in the car comes to an end, the train gradually slows down.

“Now listen, we’ll go down the stairs and turn right in a dash after getting through the ticket barrier. Once we do, we’ll be at the Excelsior Caffé. Then, we’ll turn right immediately after passing it, and rush under the tracks.”

“D-Dash, you say? I’m really not proud to say it, but I’m not overly confident in my stamina…”

Come to think of it, this girl’s VIT was 9, wasn’t it?

“It’s completely impossible for you to ride a hellhound, right?”

“Well yeah, that’s definitely a no.”

The instant the train stops and the doors open, we jump out, running down the stairs in front of us. At the moment when we hold up our PASMOs, allowing us to get through the ticket barrier, Miyoshi throws in the towel.

“S-Senpai! A-Any more is impossible!”

Hearing that, I quickly grab Miyoshi, carrying her under an arm like luggage while relying on my stats, and run past the Excelsior Caffé. It should be fine as long as the train passengers on the other side of the glass don’t take any pictures. Otherwise it’d very likely look like I was caught red-handed during an abduction if things go badly.

“Y-You meanie! Isn’t this the time when you’d hold me in a princess carry!?”

“Shut it, or you’ll bite your tongue!”

“Nguguuh!”

When I turn to the right, I’m directly in front of the girder bridge of the Chuo-Sobu Line’s Hachiman-Mae Station. Luckily there aren’t any people under the tracks here, so there’s no need to fear being photographed.

The <Detect Life> skill is useless within a crowd of people if you haven’t marked any targets. And even if this skill could distinguish between individuals, you wouldn’t be able to tell apart friend and foe. That’s why I had planned from the very start to head to a place where the skill would work.

On the right side of the exit of the Hachiman-Mae girder bridge lay the Shinjuku Gyoen Park. However, that place is surrounded by an iron fence with a height of nearly two meters that sits on top of a stone wall with a height of three to four meters.

I run up the stone wall while carrying Miyoshi. The stone wall mostly consists of perfectly arranged mortared brick, and continues for a while, but the wall right after exiting the bridge tunnel appears more rugged, with a fieldstone-like style. With my current stats, it’s no problem to run up the wall with Miyoshi in tow, as long as I don’t slip on moss. So, I do. Placing my feet on the steel frame painted with yellow and black stripes in alternation, referred to as height restriction bars, I leap over the iron fence in one go, and plunge into the forest of the Gyoen Park.

“S-Senpai, are you some kind of action star!?”

“It’s just an advantage bestowed upon me by my stats. Anyway, no matter how well trained those soldiers might be, with this they shouldn’t be able to follow us easily.”

The Sendagaya Station is adjoining the Shinjuku Gyoen Park; currently there’s no means of exiting it towards the Gyoen Park. If they try to chase after us, they should have no choice but to run in the opposite direction we’re headed after passing through the ticket barrier, jump over the two meter tall iron fence on top of a hill coming up a ways ahead, or enter normally through the Sendagaya Gate that is even further away.

The Sendagaya Gate is too far away. Normally they’d probably have no choice but to go with the second alternative, but the place where they could jump over the fence would be a forest at the edge of the cherry tree park inside Gyoen. It’s not a place tourists would enter. Hence, anyone entering that place is going to require special attention.

“You’re definitely amazing, but I feel like Gyoen would want us to pay the entry fee…” Miyoshi retorts calmly after having apparently settled down a bit.

“Ughh…”

No doubt about it. It’s 200 Yen. We’ll just let them waive it with the justification of an emergency measure.

“Besides, we also need a ticket at the time of leaving, you know?”

“Seriously!?”

“Mmh.” Miyoshi grunts with her arms folded while being carried by me.

“It looks like being a star was too heavy a burden for you after all, senpai. Even if a star is what it is…”

“What’re you talking about?”

“Since it was such a flashy action, a roller coastar would be the perfect description.”

Are you playing passenger here, or what!?

“No, look, make it at least meistar or something like that.”

“If you keep complaining about this and that, a disastar will catch up with you, right?”

That’d suck. Eh, wait, all this talk about star here and star there has made me hungry for oystar.

“I guess it can’t be helped. Let’s simply leave it at pretending that it was barely safe.”

The appearance of her repeatedly nodding with her arms folded while being carried under my arms is totally hilarious.

“Though, what’s with you talking down to me?” I smile bitterly while heading north.

In any case, I suppose I’ve got no choice but to jump over the fence on the left side of the Okido Gate. The area close to the parking lot is full of guardsmen, but if it’s the left side, I should be able to avoid them somehow by leaping over quickly, I think.

While making such plans, I exit at the lower pond. There we run into a crowd of people holding cameras…what the fuck? I put down Miyoshi in a hurry.

“The lower pond is a famous maple spot, and right now is the best season for them.”

Damn it! What shitty luck!

Over there, a huge maple tree with a beautiful coloring is reflected on the pond’s surface. It almost looks as if it’d be faster to look for people not holding a camera, seeing how the tripods are bunched up alongside the pathway.

At that moment I see responses in an area with no people on the other side of the Cherry Tree Park.

“As expected, someone’s been pursuing us.”

“Aww, what a thrill~!”

“You sure are carefree, girl. Are your watchdogs properly guarding us?”

“Drudwyn is in your shadow, senpai. Cavall and Aethelm are in my shadow. Glessic is watching our office.”

There’s one in my shadow as well? Please doggies, it’d be fantastic if you could prevent any sniping. If it comes to such a level of attack, we’ve got no choice but to rely on you guys, so work for your share of luxury treats.

At that moment I hear quiet, dry pangs pangs from the direction where our pursuers showed up.

“Senpai, that just now──”

We look at each other.

“──totally sounded like gunshots.”

Firing guns at a place full of people? If it’s a group that doesn’t get the concept of TPO at all, this whole thing goes way beyond being thrilling. But, what did they shoot at?

We start to move in silence. Passing the rose beds, we escape in the direction of the Okido Gate. Soon a big greenhouse comes in sight on the left.

“It appears they are holding a European Orchid Exhibition.”

『30th Shinjuku Gyoen European Orchid Exhibition』 is written on a banner hanging at the big greenhouse Miyoshi is pointing at. It seems today’s the last day of the exhibition. So that’s why the greenhouse is so crowded! What bad timing. Well, here’s hoping no one is looking in the back of the greenhouse (wishful thinking). I feel like we’ll be seen through the glass though…

Geez, for everyone to have a means to take pictures; what a troublesome era.

I take a quick peek, our pursuers in the back are still in the middle of the thickets at the outer area of the Cherry Tree Park. They’re not going to move?

“Oh well, no other choice, I guess.”

“Please wait!” Miyoshi stops me as I make up my resolve to force our way through, and walks towards the Okido Gate in calm confidence.

“Excuuuse me. It seems like we’ve thrown our tickets away by mistake, or maybe we lost them. Would it still be okay for us to leave?” Miyoshi asks with a friendly smile.

“Hmm? Oh well. Be more careful next time, okay?”

“Yes, of course. Thank you very much. The maples were very beautiful, so we’ll come back here soon.”

“Okay, thanks for your patronage.”

The old man at the reception lets us pass with a smile that totally looks like that of a good-natured old grandpa. What a tightly-knit community.

“That was really amazing, you know?”

“It’s something else when entering, but we’re talking about leaving here. Senpai, you’re about the only idiot who would force his way through a place teeming with guardsmen.”

“Uuughh!”

“I wonder what the group following us is going to do?” Miyoshi says with a worried look.

It looks like they haven’t moved from their spot yet.

 

◇◇◇◇◇◇◇◇

———— End of Part 1 ————

 

“Jus-, Just a moment!”

Joshua forced the train door back open, following the men, who jumped off moments ago, together with Natalie.

“Where are we!?”

“Sendagaya!”

“Yeah okay, and that’s where?”

“You saw the map during the briefing, no!? It’s at the southern edge of Gyoen!”

Just when the two turned right towards the railroad bridge, they spotted the men sprinting around ten meters ahead of them. And then, at the exit of the tunnel under the bridge, the legs of a different man carrying something──

“Vanished!?”

From their current location, the exit on the other side of the tunnel was no more than a narrowed space, not really all that visible from this distance, but it looked like someone had been there before suddenly disappearing.

“Look at the guys chasing. I’m pretty sure he climbed up over there.”

“In an instant?”

“You’d be capable of that as well, right?”

Being told so, Joshua looked at the sign with 3.3 m written on it. It very likely meant that the height was 3.3 meters.

“Well, now that you mention it, probably.”

They lowered their speed to watch the men, who had begun to climb the cliff, while hiding at a street corner.

“Highly trained, I’d say.” Joshua commented as he watched the men smoothly climbing the wall, although simply jumping up the wall seemed to be too much for them.

“Openly chasing them up to this point must mean that they belong to our northern friends, right?”

After confirming that the men had scaled the wall, the two followed them at an astounding speed, and jumped up to the height limit bar at the bridge tunnel’s exit. In one fluid motion, they also crossed Gyoen’s fence.

The four men, who tried to chase after D-Powers, looked back wondering who might have suddenly appeared behind them, and immediately took action to remove the threat. The two in front quickly drew their guns, firing.

Joshua and Natalie avoided the bullets by hiding behind a tree in the instant they grasped the bullet’s trajectory.

“Come on, you gotta be jokin’. Those fuckers really just shot at us!?”

“They sure are quite brave to pull this off in Japan.”

Calmly shooting around in a society where several hundred policemen would get mobilized over a single gunshot clearly shows that they’re used to battlefields, or rather, not used to Japan…

With the two behind backing them up, the two in front moved so as to circle around the tree with their guns up. They had likely judged that their opponents were unarmed, seeing how there had been no counterattack.

“Josh, don’t kill them just because they’re a pain, ok?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

That’s the last thing I wanna be told by a former DEA, he thought. Stuck between getting killed by a drug cartel out of revenge after having one’s identity exposed and the lack of eyewitness testimony for a jury while still undercover, it was a matter of course for that organization to assassinate its targets rather than arresting them.

Seeing the two in front coming around, Natalie acted swiftly. Formerly belonging to the DEA’s FAST, she was an expert at close-quarters combat to begin with. She jumped out of cover at an unbelievable speed, while staying clear of line-of-fire, knocked down her opponent’s gun, and shoved the heel of her palm against his chin. All while preventing the men in the back from getting a clear shot, using the man she was fighting as cover.

Joshua was even faster than her, thanks to his stats. When Natalie was about to knock down the first man’s gun, he swept the second man’s feet immediately after stabbing him with a small knife, driving the back of his head into the ground.

Just like that, the two knocked out the two men in the back, and then dragged the bodies of the four men into the shade of a tree.

Watching Natalie silently search the men’s belongings, Joshua said, “Just give it a rest, there’s no way you’re going to find something, is there? Should you find something that could point to their identity, it’ll be fake anyway.”

“Maybe. Their guns are SIG P320s. Just like the ones deployed by the US.”

Once she had disarmed and bound them with quick movements, she approached a man sitting on a promenade bench along the Cherry Tree Park, and put the weapons down next to the bench while saying, 『We can leave the rest to you, right?』, in Japanese. Only to immediately chase after Yoshimura and Miyoshi without waiting for a reply.

“Hey, was that really okay?”

“Obviously. I mean, it’s pretty clear that he belongs to that Tanaka guy’s team.”

Those guys had also gotten off at Sendagaya. However, there had been no sign of them following behind Natalie and Joshua.

In that case, they must have entered Gyoen through another entry, or sent another unit. Besides, no matter how quiet the battle might have been, the promenade is still just around the corner. It’s impossible not to have noticed the strange atmosphere. In the first place, there were two gunshots. It’s unthinkable for a man who is nonchalantly sitting on a nearby bench to be an ordinary citizen.

“So, what are you going to do if it was someone completely unrelated to all this?”

“He will definitely contact the police. And that’s got nothing to do with us.”

The common-sense man in their team, Joshua, was surprised by Natalie’s actions, but accepting that it couldn’t be helped anymore, he continued chasing after her.

 

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“So, what are we going to do from here on, senpai? Are we going to exit at Yotsuya on the Marunouchi Line? Or are we going to keep heading north on the Shinjuku Line?”

“We’ll cross Shinjuku’s District 1 intersection, and pick up a taxi along Gaien-Nishi Street or Shinjuku Street.”

A reasonable number of taxis are parked in the area around Okido Gate’s exit, but we can’t say with certainty that our opponents haven’t set up a trap by waiting for customers there. That’s why I’ve decided to go with the option of picking up one of the taxis driving around Shinjuku’s District 1 intersection. Preparing for such an erratic action on a moment’s notice shouldn’t be possible.

“Got it.” With those words, Miyoshi runs across the intersection, and catches a taxi without a moment’s delay.

It’s one of those JPNTAXIs, the ones with sliding doors. There’s lots of bad reviews about them, like the opening and closing of the sliding doors being slow resulting in clients being pressured on streets with high traffic, the windows being tightly locked, and so on. On the other hand, they’re quite comfortable due to their big interiors.

“Please exit to Yasukuni Street, and drive us all the way to the JDA’s Ichigaya Head Office.”

“As you wish, customer.”

Once I tell the driver our destination, the car begins to move as if gliding across the street, uneventfully advancing north along Gaien-Nishi Street, turning right at Tomihisacho-Nishi’s crossing, and entering Yasukuni Street.

 

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“Hey, look at that!”

The two men who had been driving a car coming from Yotsuya confirmed that their targets were just about to get into a taxi. And yet the signal of the pursuit team was still being transmitted from deep in Gyoen. Since the car was luckily waiting at the traffic light of the Shinjuku’s District 1 intersection, the man in the passenger seat quickly got out of the car, and ran towards Gyoen to check the situation.

The driver suddenly made a U-Turn the instant the light turned green, and began following the taxi with their targets to make sure of their route, earning himself a symphony of honks from the surrounding cars.

 

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“Hey Natalie, the guy who just passed us…” When Joshua called out to Natalie, concerned about the man who had just run past them outside Okido Gate, he heard faint screeching from the crossing, and watched how a car forced a U-Turn. “Fuck! This day is way too busy!”

The two started to run, and jumped into a nearby taxi.

 

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“What was that?”

“It looks like Team 1 was restrained.” The man, who had gone to check the situation inside Gyoen, saw several agent-type men contacting some place, and his four comrades lying on the ground.

“Restrained? You mean, they weren’t able to suicide?”

“All of them are unconscious.”

Unconscious? Knocking one of our teams out without killing a single one of them? Have they used gas, despite being in the center of a city?

“So, what about the targets?”

“They appear to be heading north by car on the 319th.”

“Roger. We’ll leave the rest to Team 2.”

If this were a war zone, we’d take more drastic measures, but our hands are tied here. Our only remaining move will be an attack after a fake accident.

“So, does it look like you can steal the object from the other side with your current lineup?”

“If we’ve got appropriate gear, and assuming the collateral damage would be acceptable even if it turned into a massacre. Otherwise it’ll be impossible with what we have on hand.”

“Got it. Then continue the surveillance. If you see an opportunity…go for it.”

“You’re going to leave the timing to me?”

“If you’re confident in your success, I’ll let it be your call.”

“Roger.”

The leader cut the call, and turned his feet towards the JDA, with his mind made up to use his final trump card. According to the information, the orb’s existence would be guaranteed as long as they killed one of the two targets. The man shrugged his shoulders, as if accepting that it was inevitable, and summoned the members on standby in the Hotel Grand Hill Ichigaya.

 

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“We’ve completed the first stage, I’d say?” Miyoshi breathes out deeply while watching the scenery pass by through the taxi’s window.

“True. Once we enter Yasukuni Street, I think it’ll be difficult for them to make any big moves, but…” While saying so, I’ve become very worried.

“What is it?”

“Well you see, no matter which route we take, our destination remains the same, right?”

“Obviously.”

“Wouldn’t they lie in wait near the JDA then, in case we’d manage to shake them off?”

“Eehh? It’s right in front of the Ministry of Defense, you know?”

Just then we pass the front gate of the Ministry of Defense, right at the moment when the taxi drives past the sign saying that Sotobori Road is 300 m ahead, I see a big semi speed up, driving down the opposite, middle lane of the road which gently curves to the left. Not wanting to take any chances, I signal Miyoshi with my eyes.

Suddenly, in the instant Miyoshi sees my signal, the trailer veers off to the right as if having lost control after a blow-out. In no time the whole thing topples over with a roaring crash, while the trailer part maintains its inertia and slides our way. Swinging around due to centrifugal force, it fully blocks the three eastbound traffic lanes. There’s no escape, with the right side having cars in the opposite lane, and the left closed off by a fence and boundary wall. Our driver panics, trying to step on the brakes.

“Don’t stop! Keep going straight!” Shouting so, I have Drudwyn step on the accelerator from the shadows.

The taxi suddenly picks up speed, and plunges towards the container without the driver having any time to react and throw the wheel around.

“Eehh!? Noooo!” The driver screams, closing his eyes.

“Cavall!”

Upon Miyoshi’s shout, Cavall jumps out of the shadow of the sliding container, which is on the verge of crashing into us, prepared to deliver a blow against the container with his shoulders. The container runs into Cavall, gets repelled, dances through the air, leaving just enough space for one taxi to pass through underneath, and crashes back down on the road immediately afterwards. If this was a movie, the triple action of this scene would definitely be played in slow motion.

 

 

 

The container, which causes loud squishing sounds, mows down the municipal bus stop in front of the Ministry of Defense while rolling over, keeps sliding along the road, and finally comes to a stop close to the ministry’s main gate.

“W-We’re alive?” The driver babbles with a stupefied look.

We whisper to each other so that he won’t hear.

“Nice one, Miyoshi.”

“Afterwards, magic crystals, okay?”

“Ugh, no choice, I guess.” I answer with a sidelong glance at the driver.

Our car, which has kept moving due to inertia and the creep phenomenon, comes to a halt just before the Hotel Grand Hill Ichigaya.

Usually it’s forbidden to cross the street here, but as there’s a major accident behind us, no cars are following us anyway.

“You can keep the change.”

Telling the driver that we’re going to get off, we pay with a 10,000 Yen bill, quickly exit the car, and cross the street. The JDA is literally in front of our nose.

 

◇◇◇◇◇◇◇◇

 

A man, wearing inconspicuous clothes under his camouflage cover, took out a roughly 120 cm long rifle from his bag on the roof of the building next to the hotel opposite of the JDA. A SR-25M. It was a sniper rifle used by the US marines. Its MOA (Minutes of Angle) was 0.75. In short, it roughly spread by 2 cm per 90 meters.

The man thought to himself that it’d have been perfect if he had a T-5000 (a Russian Bolt Action rifle), but because the plan this time was to abandon the rifle and escape, something out-of-the ordinary had been prepared for him.

But then again, it didn’t feel all that bad when I tested it out yesterday.

The JDA building had long eaves at the entrance, and there weren’t any good sniping points on the other side of the river.

As for the hotel’s rooftop they had designated at first, he’d need to lean out too far, since the angle was too steep, and he’d be in plain sight from the windows of the JDA building because the hotel was smaller than the JDA building. The rooftop of the DNP Ichigayasanaicho Building would be a fairly good spot, but with its distance being 300 meters, and as the fireline would pass between other buildings, he’d have only one, momentary chance. The sniper was confident enough to hit the target over such distance on plain ground, but as it’d be a shot passing a street flanked by a river with buildings on both sides, he wanted to avoid any coincidences when taking the target’s movements into his calculations.

In the end, after examining several buildings close to the hotel, he chose this one where he had access to the roof.

The distance to the target was approximately 100 m. Usually it’d be a shot he could pull off with his eyes closed ─ at that thought, a huge trailer rushed past in front of his scope.

It looks like my customers have arrived.

The instant he saw the semi roll over on the street, drawing a gentle curve to the right, the man knitted his eyebrows.

Team 2 is clearly overdoing it.

The JDA building in front of him is taller than this one. Hence, the number of observers, who’d peek out through the windows if a big accident took place on the street below, would increase. No matter how camouflaged he might be, it’d be better to draw as little attention as possible. Fortunately, everyone was looking in the direction of the crash site, opposite of him.

But then again, maybe I won’t get a turn this time, he wondered when he watched the trailer sliding, completely blocking the road.

At that moment, the trailer floated up unnaturally. Seeing the car, which his targets apparently used, passing beneath undamaged, the man completely switched his attitude.

 

◇◇◇◇◇◇◇◇

 

“Senpai, the accident just now…” Miyoshi falters to continue while looking back at me with a somewhat pale face as we head towards the entrance at a quick pace.

“I spoke about it at the JDA the other day, didn’t I?”

“About what?”

“Look, about not being able to guarantee the safety of the orbs entrusted to us, if you or I died.”

“Ah, now that you mention it, there was a bluff like that…wait, don’t tell me!”

“It’s just my assumption.”

Assuming that information got leaked, it wouldn’t be odd for others to reach the conclusion that they’d just need to kill one of us to get rid of any orbs in the worst case, if they don’t manage to steal them.

“Senpai, we’re in Japan right now, aren’t we?”

“Well, the semi rolling over might be a coincidence, and all of it might be us being delusional, but…”

…it’s a fact that someone was chasing us at Gyoen, and I think it’s rather weird for a semi to drive along Yasukuni Street at such a convenient time. Just where had they planned to transport its load? They’d have ended up right in the middle of Shinjuku if they had followed the street, and if they drove on even further, they’d end up in Hachioji and Otsuki. Wouldn’t a semi be headed in the direction of Kawasaki or Yokohama?

Just then, police cars and ambulances drove past, leaving a dopplered trail of sirens in their wake. While admiring the Japanese emergency cars for their quick response, I’m about to turn in the direction of the JDA’s entrance when it suddenly happens.

 

◇◇◇◇◇◇◇◇

 

The face of a woman was shown in the center of the cross-haired reticle within the scope’s fourfold magnification. He had heard that the man would be okay as well, but the sniper liked to watch beautiful faces burst open.

A downward shot, tailwind, and a simple movement of walking forward. With all conditions met, making it impossible to miss, the man squeezed the trigger.

 

◇◇◇◇◇◇◇◇

 

As soon as a black sphere of around 5 cm came into existence in front of Miyoshi’s head alongside a faint pang, it immediately disappeared. It was the black hole I had previously seen on the tenth floor.

“Wait, that just now…”

No way, she got sniped at?

Normally we should have immediately run for cover, but not having received any such training, we look towards the roof of the building from where the bullet seems to have originated.

“Aethelm!” The instant Miyoshi yells, Aethelm has probably materialized in the shadow of the sniper, like a bullet of darkness.

 

 

◇◇◇◇◇◇◇◇

 

It was a sure-hit shot. And yet, the face in the reticle only looked surprised, but otherwise she remained completely unhurt. Not to mention that there wasn’t a single sign to be seen in the scope that the bullet had impacted anywhere.

“!?”

Just where the hell has the bullet gone? The distance is a mere 100 m. Even if the scope is misaligned, it’s impossible for the scope to be so off that I wouldn’t see the bullet’s impact.

Even while confused, the man placed his finger on the trigger, trying to accomplish his mission. He prepared to use up all of his remaining bullets. However, he never was able to carry out that intention. At the same time as blackness formed in front of his eyes, his consciousness was engulfed by darkness.

 

◇◇◇◇◇◇◇◇

 

No second shot comes our way as we stand still without even trying to run away. The sniper has either given up after that one shot, or suffered the same fate through Aethelm as the guy who tried to trespass into our office.

“Miyoshi, you okay?”

“No way, for me to truly get sniped at…I totally experienced something amazing there.” Miyoshi answers rather dispassionately.

In response, I squeeze out my voice while rolling my eyes, “Now listen…”

“Arthur’s bragging to leave all of it to them wasn’t just for show. But then again, it doesn’t really feel like I got sniped at either. I didn’t see the bullet, and there was just a sound,” she laughs.

If I remember correctly, it happens exceedingly often that people quickly flee the scene after someone collapses even when watching foreign movies of random shooting incidents. Having said that, I doubt that it changes the fact that it’s traumatic. I gently put my arm around Miyoshi’s shoulder, as we head into the JDA’s lobby.

 

 


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Translation Notes:

  1. Use the Park’s name for Google Maps if you want to know about the precise area mentioned here. There’s a map at the end of the book but it contains spoilers.
  2. A book by Ernest Hemingway
  3. This joke, and the line before refer to the contents of the book. You can look it up if you haven’t read it. I can only recommend this book of Hemingway, it’s written rather well.

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