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Chapter 4 – Efforts
The redevelopment area was the place which historically became the stage of the . A big incident unparalleled in all of Asterisk history. At that time, the whole area was completely blockaded; the Star Hunter Guards Captain, Helga Lindvall, who was active during the incident, was the one who lowered the curtain. Regretfully, the damage was serious and the formation of the restoration budget progressed slowly after the incident was resolved and liabilities investigated. In the meantime, the delinquent students who centered on Le Wolfe Black Institute occupied the area as their headquarters. When it came to repeat skirmishes with the Hunter Guards, the dropout students of each academy and criminals outside the city also began to gather. Before long, it became the fine underworld that it is today.
However, it was not as if the whole area of the redevelopment area was a hotbed of criminals; The RotlichtEntertainment district, which was located on the outer edge of the district, was relatively calm and safe, and as long if one was not to enter into a slum, they would not be in too much danger.
In addition, some buildings were at risk of collapse so nobody approached them; such abandoned buildings were scattered all over the place.
Claudia believed that the criminal was probably using one such abandoned building as a hideout.
“It looks like it isn’t here, either…”
Kirin muttered with a grim face, while looking at a map displayed in the space window.
Red dots were blinking here and there on the map, and all those dots seemed to represent the ramshackle abandoned buildings. It was the data which had been sent by Claudia; it seemed there were times when she had to find this kind of abandoned building before and the ones who misappropriated them.
Of course, there was no doubt that the map helped, but there were still too many for just the two of them to search. Moreover, Le Wolfe possessed the only detailed data of the redevelopment area and that did not seem to be all; Saya had no sense of direction, therefore they could not search separately.
That said, if the criminal who kidnapped Flora was really a secret agent of Le Wolfe, facing him alone would be dangerous, so this might be for the better.
“…Anyway, we can do nothing but eliminate them one by one.”
Although Saya, who walked beside Kirin, had her usual expression, impatience could be faintly felt in her words.
“You’re right. Well then the next is… Uwah!”
While starting to walk after nodding to Saya’s words, an acute pain ran through Kirin’s right leg.
It was the part she injured during the battle against Ardi.
“…Overdoing is strictly prohibited.”
“N, No…! This much is nothing after all!”
Though she had unintentionally crouched down, Kirin made a forced smile and stood up at once.
Part of it was her injury, but as expected, after going through such a fierce battle, her body did not move as she wanted. She did not have enough Prana, and if anything, she wanted to avoid fighting as much as possible. Although Saya did not show it on her face, it was probably the same for her as well.
That said, if two women walked in the redevelopment area, there were guys who would pick a fight with them. Because there were not too many persistent fellows up until now, they somehow managed but the present time was still 6:00 p.m. and they did not know what would happen after the night fell.
If they knew that their opponents were Sasamiya Saya and Toudou Kirin of Seidokan, they would probably not do something like picking a fight with them so readily ー after all, they were in the top four of this Phoenix ー but as Claudia suggested, both girls put on hats to hide their eyes and changed into plain clothes to avoid standing out as much as possible. Unless one were to take a closer look, they would not be able to tell who they were.
“Hmm… It’s Ayato.”
There, Saya received a call on her portable terminal.
『"Saya, Kirin-chan, how is your situation?"』
“…Sorry. There are still no leads.”
『"I see… Yes, understood. But, don’t overdo it, okay? Kirin-chan’s leg is in a pretty bad state, too"』
“I-It isn’t true…! I’m all right!”
To Ayato’s comment that made it seem as if he was watching the present situation, Kirin hurriedly shook her head.
Even though she believed he was wrong about the situation, she was happy that Ayato was worried about her.
“By the way, if you are contacting us like this… it means that your match is already over?”
『"Yeah, because of your help, we are going to the final. Thank you."』
At those words, Saya and Kirin looked at each other and smiled.
『"We will also prepare to depart immediately , so can you send us the data?"』
She sent the map data with marks on the parts where they had checked.
“Senpais, you have the final match tomorrow, so please don’t overdo it too much.”
『"Hahaha, it’s all right. Well then, later again."』
Immediately after replying, he cut the communication.
With Ayato and Julis joining in, it would become a lot easier. However, finding Flora within the time would still be quite difficult. There were still many places they had yet to search.
“…Let’s go, Kirin.”
Catching to Saya, who started to walk, Kirin greatly nodded.
Anyway, it would be no use to over think it. As Saya said just now, they could do nothing but steadily eliminate the likely places.
“But, I’m glad that the Senpais safely won and advanced to the final.”
“It’s only natural if it’s Ayato.”
In Saya’s response, a slight proudness could be detected.
“Next is the final at last, huh…”
“However, I think that even for Ayato, it will be tough to win against those guys without Ser-Versta.”
Kirin and Saya knew more than anyone else the strength of the opponents Ayato and Julis would fight in the finals. What’s more, with their rapid learning speed, Ardi and Rimsi, who would show up in the final, would probably become much tougher than at the semifinal.
Then, Saya’s feet suddenly stopped.
When she turned around, Saya looked down as she stood still.
And in a small, trembling voice, called Kirin’s nameー
“ーIt’s frustrating, eh.”
Said Saya, finishing her statement.
Just then, the frustration which Kirin was also confining in her chest burned up.
While clenching her fists, her voice was shaking just like Saya’s, and she managed only that short answer.
Just like that, the two girls were standing motionless and silent.
Before too much time had passed Saya rubbed her eyes, raised her head and said,
“Let's go. Right now, there are still things we can do.”
As Kirin nodded while chewing her lips, she followed after Saya who began to run.
- ψ -
“ーIt looks like there is still no progress.”
“Yes, I have heard it.”
When Kirin turned around, Saya looked down as she stood still.
To Ayato’s comment, Julis, who was leaned against the wall of the waiting room, curtly answered.
After the semifinal, Ayato returned to the waiting room and contacted Saya first, but as he expected, it looked like they haven't yet found anything that could be a clue.
By the way, they had skipped the winner interview as usual. They had no time for that; they were bound to ask questions about Ser-Versta anyway. They could not imprudently answer or respond to that, since they couldn't think of a good excuse, either.
“Well, in that case, it can’t be helped. We should head out as well.”
Said Julis who could no longer contain herself (sit still).
Ayato checked the time.
Since tomorrow’s final was around noon, Ayato and Julis only had a little less than 18 hours remaining. Because they were not allowed to withdraw, at least Ayato and Julis must, by any means possible, come back by that time.
No, after considering the various examinations before the match, if they did not come back to the hall at least a few hours before, they would not have enough time. For that reason, they had a little bit less time remaining.
A sound of a light knock suddenly resounded.
“Hi. Congratulations on your qualification to the final… eh?”
Eishiro who entered through an alternate entrance looked at Ayato’s and Julis’ faces with surprise.
“What? Isn’t that quite a somber mood for the people who were able to advance to the finals safely?
“E-Errr… There are some circumstances, you see.”
Although Ayato spoke ambiguously, Eishiro seemed to have guessed the situation to some extent with that alone.
“Hmm… Well, I won’t really force you to tell me, but if I can be a help to you, I will cooperate.”
At these words, Ayato and Julis looked at each other.
They did not want to involve more people who weren’t involved, but it was true that they wanted help.
Though Julis seemed to hesitate a little, she gave a small nod before long.
“Yabuki, before that, I would like to confirm, but…”
“I know. I won’t make an article without permission.”
Eishiro replied while and slowly waved his hands.
“So, what happened?”
As Ayato concisely explained the situation, Eishiro contemplated with a serious expression.
It was the first time that he saw Eishiro with an expression like that.
“I see… As the president guessed, there’s no doubt that Dirk Eberwein is the mastermind.”
“Do you know a lot about the GrimalkinBlack Cat Institute?”
At that question, Eishiro slowly shook his head.
“No. About that, even among the Espionage Organizations of each academy, their confidentiality is the highest. For example, speaking of the most extreme, the Nine Offspring of the Dragon of World Dragon is first, and it is said that Benetnash of Queen Veil has gathered the experts of information control. However conversely speaking, it means that such a reputation is actually known well enough for it to be ranked at least, right? There is no such information about the GrimalkinBlack Cat Institute.”
Since the well-informed Eishiro went as far as to say that about it, it was probably quite something.
“That being the case, if possible, they are people whom I don’t want to get involved with… But, Circumstances are circumstances; well, it can’t be helped. I’m well-informed about the redevelopment area; if it’s just searching for the place where that child is, then I will help you.”
“Of course, that’ll be enough.”
“Yes, if you find even the place, you should just leave the fighting to us. I would rather have you uninvolved in the fight.”
Added Julis with a dark smile.
In that smile was the force which could truly turn a criminal into charcoal.
“I’m thankful for that… is what I would like to say, but for a frail ordinary student like me, I just want a little more insurance.”
As Eishiro muttered so, he took out his portable terminal and began to search something.
“Um, that person’s number is… Eh? I remember having registered it…”
“I don’t understand somehow, but time is precious now. If it is likely to take time, we will go ahead.”
Even with Julis urging him like that, Eishiro shrugged his shoulders as he smiled wryly.
“All right. Well, I’ll see what I can do on my side, but don’t expect too much.”
Ayato who was watching that exchange suddenly came up with an idea.
“ーI see. Julis, I also want to contact another line just a little.”
“Another line, you say?”
Julis suspiciously frowned.
After immediately understanding his intentions, she put a hand on her waist and displayed a complicated expression.
“I don’t mind, but… I think that asking will be useless.”
“I think that it will be tough, but we may get information which could end up being a hint. For the time being, I will ask to see what they would say.”
After replying, Ayato took out his portable terminal like Eishiro did.
- ψ -
The appointed meeting place was a gloomy coffee shop in the outskirts of the commercial area.
As he sat on a back seat alongside a wall as they were told, a voice low of a woman calmly sounded from behind.
“ーSo, you came. Ah, don’t turn around.”
In compliance to the owner of the voice ー Irene Urzaiz, he expressed his thanks while continuing to face forward.
“Understood… But it would have been fine even if you didn’t come all the way here.”
“Are you a fool? We can’t possibly talk about such a thing via electronic communications. Think about my position, as well, geez.”
She said with an astonished voice.
“Well, it’s fine. So, I will say from the start. You won’t hear anything from me.”
Though regrettable, it was the answer Ayato expected to some extent.
He thought that if it was Irene, who was well informed about Le Wolfe’s circumstances, she might know something about this matter, but the fact that Irene was under Dirk’s control even now had not changed. He was aware that she was not in position to cooperate at a moment’s notice.
“Don’t misunderstand. It isn’t as if I was forbidden to speak by that bastard Dirk. It’s rather the opposite.”
“First of all, this matter is certainly Dirk’s doing. It’s probably right to also assume that the GrimalkinBlack Cat Institute is involved. But such a thing, even you realized immediately, right? Then, after following that train of thought, it’s likely to think that you will contact me, who am your only go-between at Le Wolfe. Leaving aside the fact of whether or not I will cooperate, that is.”
Since that was true, Ayato gave a small nod.
“Did you really think that, that didn’t already come to that conclusion?”
Now that she mentioned it, it was certainly so.
There was no way that that young man who excelled at schemes and strategy would not be able to realize such a simple thing.
“Nevertheless, I didn’t receive any notification. In other words, that guy knows that the amount of information I hold would be of no use.”
Irene continued with a somewhat frustrated tone.
“In the first place, as I said before, we, Dirk’s protégés, and the GrimalkinBlack Cat Institute are completely different organizations. For my part, I also possess information about the ‘cats’ at least to some extent, but even that isn’t something reliable.”
There was a strong persuasive power in Irene’s words.
Because Irene was in close contact with Dirk, she probably knew his ability well.
In the end, it meant there was no other method except for searching on foot.
Just to have understood it, it could be considered as better than nothing.
“Understood. Thank you, you really helped us.”
Irene stopped Ayato who was about to leave his seat.
“It’s true that I have no information. But, if you’re all right with a guess, I can tell it.”
“It’s to the bitter end just a guess. There is no evidence. Still, is it all right?”
Right now, they wanted a clue even if it was not a big one.
“You have narrowed down to the abandoned buildings of the redevelopment area and were searching there, right?”
“Ah, yes. We are searching around the places which Claudia picked up… What about it?”
“If you think normally about it, it’s probably correct. We also use those places for missions, and actually, I’ve also heard that the ‘cats’ use it for hideout. But ー I thought that it was a delicate place when it comes to kidnapping.”
“What do you mean?”
As Irene breathed a big sigh, she continued her words.
“Even when they use a building there as their base, they normally move out in a short time. It isn’t a place they can use for a long time.”
“Ah, because there is danger of collapse or something like that?”
Certainly, it would not feel good to be all the time in an abandoned building which could collapse at any time.
“If it was only for that, I think they would just have to reinforce it. The first reason is the Hunter Guards.”
Irene snorted in a low sound with her back.
“Those guys aren’t idiots. Since they know that place has become the hangout of criminals, they periodically patrol. Of course, it isn’t as if they tightly tour the whole area, but there are a lot of people among them with detection ability. That place isn’t fit for a crime like kidnapping where one has to hide himself in the same place for a certain period of time.”
Come to think of it, he had heard that since Dante and Strega with detection ability were required when forming a team in police organization and military, and that they were treated quite well.
“It isn’t as if there is no method to deceive detection abilities, but it will require time and effort. Since it’s basic for ‘cat’ to execute their missions in solo, whether or not they will be careful up to there, I don’t know…”
“In other words, you think that it isn’t an abandoned building that the criminal lies hidden in.”
“ーI just say that there is also that possibility.”
Irene had carefully chosen her words.
“Then, in case you’re right… Where on earth would they hide?”
“I don’t know. However, for you the most troublesome area is probably the RotlichtEntertainment district.”
The RotlichtEntertainment district.
That place which was located in outer edge part of the redevelopment area seemed to be a place which had some interesting activities. Though that said, he had only heard it from others and had not yet set foot there.
“If it's the abandoned buildings, you would be able to go around searching as you please, but in the RotlichtEntertainment district, the shops crowd together regardless of legal or illegal. You guys can’t willfully break in there, can you?”
“That’s right… but in that case, that means there is another conspirator who is sheltering them, right? But didn’t you say a while ago, the ‘cats’ basically move alone…?”
“Of course, for those guys, the one thing they mustn’t do is let the connection to the academy be revealed. They definitely wouldn’t use Le Wolfe’s name or Dirk’s intermediary. However, as long as money is paid, they would be quite willing to do so. Otherwise ー there’s also the option of brute force.”
“But… even so if you ask me which it is, it’s correct that using a suitable abandoned building is rather safe. However it is, in the end, a guess after all.”
Even so, what Irene said makes sense.
Though they didn't have enough help, the RotlichtEntertainment district should also be put in the search range.
“Thank you. I will take what you say into consideration.”
As Ayato said so, this time for sure he left his seat.
“Do your best. And one more thingー”
At the moment she went past Ayato, Irene suddenly placed something on the table.
“That’s a present from Priscilla.”
After receiving the small packet, Ayato left the shop.
When he checked the contents after walking for a while, he found a light meal in which sandwiched cheese, dry-cured ham, vegetables and the like was contained.
“This is helpful…”
Since he would probably not have time to leisurely take a meal from now on, he was frankly thankful for this present.
He would have to thank Priscilla for it later.
“Well for the time being, I should discuss this with Julis…”
If they also had to take the possibility of RotlichtEntertainment district in consideration, it might be necessary to reconsider the distribution of people.
Ayato took out his portable terminal and called Julis’ number.
- ψ -
“By the way, Master, although I’m really grateful; I would, by all means, like to ask something ー is that all right?”
Allekant Academy, Ernesta’s laboratory; in the basement of the academy's research building.
While a machine of automatic control moved around restlessly, Ardi who was laid in the center talked with a somewhat serious tone.
“Hmm? It’s really rare for you to ask something, Ardi.”
Ernesta who was tapping away on multiple optical keyboards in the control room, which was separated by reinforced hard glass, responded while continuing to type.
“Though I say that, I have my hands full with Rimsi now, so wait just a little.”
Rimsi was lying down next to Ardi, and Ernesta was fully focused on her repair for the moment. After all compared to Ardi, Rimsi’s damage was much more considerable. Especially since her left arm was almost in a totally destroyed state, and it had to be completely replaced.
Since Ruinsharif itself was Camilla’s charge, she was left with its repair; but Camilla should also be busy with the adjustment of spare parts, sometime around now, in her laboratory.
As for Ardi, the damage was by no means negligible. At first glance, one thought that there was only the scratch on the outer layer armor, but upon closer inspection, one understood that the scratch was much deeper than they had thought.
The two’s armor was a special steel that was one of the new high-tech materials, which the SonnetDark Lady Faction collected. It was the essence of the Meteoric Engineering. Originally, one should not even be able to scratch it with just a Nihontou, but that showed how truly frightening Toudou Kirin’s ability was.
“I must finish your repairs by tomorrow’s finals. As expected even I will have to pull an all-nighter tonight.”
“No, no, I do not mean to cause Master trouble. I was wondering whether it would be possible for you to leave this sword cut carved on my face.”
At these words, Ernesta’s hands stopped.
“Provided that the internal repairs are completed, I don’t really mind…”
The sword cut on the head had damaged some sensors, but since it would be finished with component replacements only, the repair was relatively easy.
“But, I will have you let me put reinforcement inside.”
“Very well then.”
Ardi nodded in satisfaction.
“So, why did you expressly think of wanting to leave the scratch?”
“ーIt is as proof of this fight, of course.”
“Hou, meaning it’s a decoration of victory?”
“Hmm, no, it is not such an outrageous thing…”
After pondering a little, Ardi slowly continued.
“I learned various things through this battle. What I saw in that match exposed my imperfection, this was not simple learning of data, but what humans calls ー right, growth! I take pride in the fact that I obtained a definite growth! I want to leave a proof of that!”
Ernesta reflexively muttered.
One sought perfection because of his imperfection. But there is no perfect existence in this world. Therefore, one could never stop evolving.
Ardi and Rimsi were, in the end, only experimental types, but it might be said that Ernesta had already approached the complete form of the autonomous type puppets which was, ultimately, her ideal.
“Then Master, I also have one request.”
Rimsi who was lying down silently until then said in a calm voice.
“Oh, even Rimsi! Fine, fine, you can say anything. Mother is in a good mood now, so I will listen to you as much as possible.”
“Then, though presumptuous, I shall speak. On the occasion of the limit control transfer to Ardi, I have no problem with the separation of equipment, but…”
“Yes. And then, and then?”
“You can reduce the amount the amount of external armor separation a little more, but it would help even if you could only partially adjust it. ーSince it’s embarrassing.”
Rimsi indifferently said with her usual cold expression which did not changed at all.
But, when looking closely, a color of shyness was slightly noticeable on her face.
Certainly, Rimsi’s appearance after she transferred all her external armor to Ardi, from a human’s perspective, was almost near stark nakedness.
However, since there was a technical problem with that, she could not fulfill Rimsi’s request immediately.
“Errr… I will take proper measures.”
It looked like the nuance was transmitted; Rimsi nodded as she resigned herself.
Unlike Ardi, Rimsi was a puppet made with a consciousness nearer to that of a human’s. Originally, it should have been the case even in terms of emotional expression, but as the experiment had turned out, that was richer in case of Ardi.
(As expected this is because of that thing…)
Still, asking for such a request should be regarded as good growth.
“…This also is thanks to Sasamiya Saya-chan and Toudou Kirin-chan.”
As expected, it seemed that fighting with formidable enemy is something which can make people grow.
Preferably, she also wanted it to be like that during the final, butー
“I wonder how it will be.”
Ernesta remembered the ill-humored face of the and deeply sighed.
Jump up↑ If you have not figured it out Rotlicht is German for Red Light anyone of you know what that implies
Jump up↑ she refers to herself, meaning she’s Ardi’s and Rimsi’s mother ー creator
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