Sunday, August 4, 2097 AD.
The newest island belonging to the Izu Archipelago was attacked by a foreign armed group.
The island's name was "Miyakijima".
According to the official statement, the armed group that attacked the island was allegedly a mixed group consisting of a USNA navy unit, deceived by a Soviet agent and dispatched by a fake order, plus a saboteur squad formed by the efforts of agents from the NSU right on the territory of the USNA.
Even if it were true, the fact remains that the ships and soldiers belonging to the USNA navy attacked Japanese territory. If this situation goes on as it is, the USNA's reputation, will worsen its relations with not only Japan — the evaluation of the USNA by the international community will also deteriorate to "an untrustworthy nation that treacherously launches surprise attacks on its allies".
First of all, the USNA officially dispatched a high ranking official, the Secretary of Defense, to Japan in order to control this situation… More precisely that was the case, at least officially.
Certainly, reconciliation with the Japanese government was one of the purposes of Secretary of Defense Liam Spencer's visit to Japan, but in truth, that was hardly his main objective. For that matter, it was not Spencer, who had a leading role during this visit to Japan.
Five days after the incident. While the USNA Secretary of Defense and the Prime Minister of Japan were creating a harmonious atmosphere in front of the press, the talks between true protagonists had begun unnoticed behind that main stage.
Friday, August 9th. Early this morning, Tatsuya returned to Tokyo from Miyakijima for the first time in twenty days in order to answer the invitation of the USNA Secretary of Defense's assistant, Jeffrey James.
Two days ago, Tatsuya received a letter from the White House through Lina. To put it better, it was an offer of reconciliation to Tatsuya. At worst, it was an attempt to pull Tatsuya onto the USNA's side and use him.
Tatsuya accepted the USNA's offer. Whether they mean well or not, the implications are still the same. Friendly relationships are of more use. It was the same on Tatsuya's side. Irrespective of Japan's foreign policy, Tatsuya has hit the Great Asian Union and the New Soviet Union with a serious blow, so it's natural to be seen as hostile. If he can build a friendly relationship with the USNA, even if they have an ulterior motive, to him it's a big win.
Tatsuya wrote the reply of acceptance on the spot when he received the letter and had Lina deliver his answer yesterday, on the morning of August 8th. Also, yesterday evening, he received a phone call from Lina saying, "The Secretary of Defense's aid wants to meet with you tomorrow."
As a meeting place, Jeffrey James appointed his room in the same hotel, where the delegation of the Secretary of Defense was staying. It's a fairly high grade room, though not as luxurious as the suite used by the Secretary himself. This reception indicated the substantial status of Jeffrey James.
The [area] outside and inside this room was tightly strengthened by guards with/of combat professionals, who looked like former or active members of Special Forces, and each of them was clearly a veteran in their field. However, Tatsuya showed no fear and entered the room while being welcomed to do so.
At that time, no body check was performed. Tatsuya wasn't the only one with confidence. He didn't know whether this was a sign of their confidence in their fighting power or confidence against his position.
"Nice to meet you, my name is Jeffrey James. Please call me JJ. You don't need to use "Mr.""
JJ, or Jeffrey James, who invited Tatsuya, welcomed him with a very friendly attitude. Tatsuya didn't feel intimidated despite the fact that he was two meters tall, had wide shoulders, and a thick chest.
"I'm Shiba Tatsuya. I'm fine with only Tatsuya. Needless to say, neither "san", "sama", or "dono" is necessary."
This kind of familiarity wasn't something that Tatsuya preferred. However, in this situation, Tatsuya returned the self-introduction in the same style as the opponent.
"Okay, Tatsuya. Thank you for your willingness to accept this invitation on such short notice."
"It's only natural for me to visit because otherwise it would take precious time away from the Secretary of Defense's aide. It's not a big distance either."
The expression of JJ subtly changed. Specifically, his right eyebrow went up and down slightly. However, JJ did not let Tatsuya read what kind of feeling it reflected. It looks like he's thirty years old at best, but maybe he's actually older. Or is his appearance much older than his actual age?
"I'm sorry for the inconvenience. Tatsuya, do you have any requests for a drink?"
"Then I'll have coffee, black."
This time, a clear surprised expression passed JJ's face. Wasn't the attitude of making a request without reservation against the stereotypical image of Japanese people? Or was it the daringness that showed that he wasn't worried about his drink being spiked?
Although it wasn't what Tatsuya intended, the short time that JJ spent to regain his thoughts also worked for Tatsuya. Coffee for two people arrived, and the conversation resumed in a flat atmosphere where neither party had the initiative.
"Now, Tatsuya. Let's get into the main subject."
"JJ, my intentions were stated in the reply that I sent through Miss Shields. Was there anything that was unclear?"
At the invitation of JJ, Tatsuya returned with a light jab.
"No, thank you for your willingness to agree with this offer. To be honest, it was more than we expected."
JJ responded to Tatsuya's lines with a lower profile than expected. If such an attitude was taken, Tatsuya couldn't say anything careless.
Tatsuya was even more cautious and carefully selected his next words.
"I don't want to antagonize your country. I think this is the individual responsibility of Edward Clark."
"…Is that what you think of the Dione plan?"
Tatsuya and JJ watch each other in silence for about 3 seconds.
"That's good. It was worth coming to Japan just to find out that there was no serious misunderstanding of our question."
JJ naturally exhaled.
"For me, it was worth it to know that the USNA didn't have any hostility towards me."
Tatsuya responded with a ceremonial smile.
"We hope to strengthen our friendship with you."
Tatsuya urged JJ to continue with his eyes.
"Tatsuya… Would you mind coming to America?"
It is impossible to think of such a suggestion. Tatsuya did not expect that he would make such a bold offer.
Tatsuya asks back without hiding his surprise.
"We will provide the best research environment. And use your wisdom for the nations who love freedom and democracy."
Contrary to what he had just said, JJ's tone was not bland.
"You aren't saying that it's for the sake of humanity, are you?"
Tatsuya asked JJ, who was giving an impassioned speech, in an amused voice.
"You didn't like it?"
JJ replied with an uneasy tone. Even though his tone was uneasy, his face had a wide smile.
"No, I think it's good that your purpose is clear."
Tatsuya answered JJ's question with a similar look. And at the same time, they erased their smiles and turned their gaze toward each other. Among them, empathy and disgust were born at the same time.
"I am sorry to say that I cannot leave Japan until the project on Miyakijima is complete."
"That's right. That's a shame. For that reason, I'm afraid there's no way."
JJ withdrew quickly after Tatsuya declined.
"So what about the alternative? Would you accept the dispatch of an engineer?"
An alternative was immediately presented. Given the speed, it seemed that this request was the intended one.
"Do you want to send me an engineer? For a training program?"
"Yes. I was wondering if you could provide stellar reactor technology, so I would like to learn not only through data but also hands-on experience."
Tatsuya did not give an immediate answer because he thought that the acceptance of the engineer could be used to infiltrate an operative.
"Okay. I can't decide on my own, but I'll try to make adjustments in that direction."
However, he immediately reconsidered and decided that it would be meaningless to keep out the technicians because the media was allowed interviews.
"Thank you very much. If you make any decisions, please let me know at this address."
Saying so, JJ presented a business card-sized piece of paper with a long string and color code printed on it.
Tatsuya read the string and understood that it was a highly encrypted virtual private line. This was no ordinary network. Probably only open to limited agents of the Department of Defense.
"Is that okay?"
Tatsuya unintentionally asked JJ.
"What is it?"
But when asked back, he realized that it was a meaningless question.
"No, I understand."
"I look forward to a positive reply."
After this, Tatsuya talked with JJ for about five minutes and left his room.
The discussion between Tatsuya and Jeffrey James ended at 10 am. Tatsuya left the hotel used by the Secretary of Defense and returned to his home in Chofu.
The house was being maintained by home automation while Tatsuya and company were away. However, when he came home, the expected dust for a vacant house was completely absent. It must have been because Miyuki and Minami, who came home ahead of him, did their best to clean up.
"Welcome home, Onii-sama."
Immediately after he opened the door of the room, Miyuki's voice greeted him.
Tatsuya made eye contact with Miyuki in order to respond, then lowered his gaze to remove his shoes. There he noticed that there were already three pairs of shoes resting on the entrance.
"Lina is coming?"
"Yes. Because it is almost time for lunch."
Up until this point, Miyuki answered with a serious expression,
"She already cleaned her room? That's pretty neat, coming from Lina."
Miyuki couldn't stand Tatsuya's lines and gave a small laugh.
"Onii-sama, you're not very good at listening to people."
"Yeah… so what is it really like?"
"Lunch is coming soon."
Tatsuya too, laughed a little as if he was caught.
"I'll help you later."
Miyuki added that he should follow along with a smile on his face.
After having lunch together with Miyuki, Minami, and Lina. The four of them headed to Yakumo Temple "Kyuuchouji".
The new four-seater air-car was parked in the temple's parking lot, and they climbed the stairs leading to the mountain gate.
There was no rough welcome today. Considering the purpose of Tatsuya's visit, Yakumo must have weighed the situation. From the precincts, a tingling sign could be heard.
Beyond the stairs, Yakumo was waiting on the other side of the mountain gate.
"Master, thank you very much for welcoming us."
Tatsuya bowed in a formal manner. He was truly thankful, not pretending at all.
"Don't worry, the barrier would have reacted even if I didn't come here."
However, when he heard Yakumo's words, Tatsuya blew away the magic without courtesy. His facial expression tightened rigidly. No, it may be more appropriate to describe "severely" than "rigidly" and "strengthened" rather than "tightened".
"Let's talk about the details inside."
Yakumo intercepted Tatsuya's lines and guided the four to the soubou, not the main hall.
Yakumo and the other four sat down on the cushions laid inside the room. Yakumo was in Goza, while Tatsuya, Miyuki, and Minami in Seiza. At first, Lina tried to sit properly, but after moving her hips, she opened her toes slightly outside so as not to stand out.
When everyone sat down, the windows were closed from the outside. Tatsuya still did not know whether a disciple closed it or it was due to a technique. Since there was no sign of people or magic, it may be a mechanical device contrary to the old-fashioned appearance of the building.
The room, which was almost airtight, became dark in spite of it still being noon. However, it was not hot and humid. Rather, there was a draft of cold air. It was strange for the current season. The possibility of using air conditioners without wind is not zero, but the four visitors felt that they were not being mechanically cooled.
Candles were lit all over the wall. Obviously, the ignition was the work of Yakumo's magic. The smell of perfume oil drifting in the twilight was different from what Tatsuya and Miyuki had previously experienced. It must be something that helps build the barrier, but Tatsuya felt that the barrier was a magical "field" keeping the inside in rather than keeping the outside out.
Yakumo's voice snapped Tatsuya out of his reverie. He had been distracted by the barrier.
"First of all, let me see. Sakurai Minami-kun, come forward."
At the prompt of Tatsuya, Minami, who was sitting on the right side of the group, headed for Yakumo. Waiting for Minami to settle down, Yakumo formed the hand seal. Tatsuya and the other two held their breath and stared at Minami and Yakumo.
The priests' quarters were filled with tension. Sweat ran down the forehead of Miyuki and Lina. Tatsuya kept his poker face, but his hands were tightly closed.
About five minutes passed in silence.
Yakumo stopped the hand seal and exhaled a little.
The tense air inside the room loosened a bit.
"In conclusion, I don't think there's any need to worry about it for the time being."
Yakumo announced in a tone with a lack of sense of crisis. If you're really worried, that's fine, but there's no issue with her "immediate" condition. Moreover, I do not understand the meaning of "time being". Is it okay to keep it as it is, or is it likely that it will worsen even if it is fine now?
The answers for both are so different that they can be called opposites.
Miyuki, Lina, and the concerned party, Minami silently looked back at Yakumo.
And only Tatsuya raised the question.
"Even if you didn't ask it, I would explain it properly."
Under the reproachful gaze of of Tatsuya and Miyuki, Yakumo smiled.
"It is the subdued parasite that holds Minami-kun's magic skill under control. By sinking the parasite that was sealed into the depths of the consciousness, you can say that it's barring the magic calculation area."
Tatsuya wondered whether such a thing is possible.
"Can you do it too?"
Yakumo responded by saying, "What are you saying?"
"The basic principle is the same as for "seal spheres". It does confine it, so it cannot move freely. The technique used on the parasites possessed by Minami-kun is more skillful."
"Sensei, aren't you worried about the seal breaking?"
Miyuki asked in a pleading tone.
"It's not just a seal… This parasite is in a state of being bound by the command "Do nothing, stay there. Don't move". Unlike the seal that forces it to confine itself by ignoring the demon's will, I think it's okay as long as the controlling subordination relationship continues.''
This answer was not for what Miyuki asked for.
"How long will this relationship last?"
There is magic that causes irreversible changes, but there is no magic that has a permanent effect. For example, Miyuki's "Cocytus" irreversibly inactivates the mind, but does not continue to force the frozen state.
"When the effect is about to expire, I think the caster will come to fix it."
"…Does that mean that it won't hold for much longer?"
Miyuki nervously asked.
"So Minoru will come after Minami?"
Before Yakumo answered Miyuki's question, Tatsuya asked another question.
"I think that's what he intends to do. Once the seal is released, the parasite will start eroding Minami-kun. If he planned to allow that to happen, he wouldn't have used such a troublesome technique from the start. Otherwise, wouldn't it be better for Kudou Minoru's purpose to disregard Minami-kun's will and fully make her a parasite.
"What is Minoru's purpose?"
Lina directed a question to nobody in particular. No one answered it.
Tatsuya and Miyuki knew that Minoru said "I just want to cure Minami's disease." At first they both believed it. However, now Tatsuya and Miyuki suspected that Minoru's true intentions were different.
And, in Miyuki's thoughts, she was afraid that was also "What Minami truly desired", and Tatsuya was afraid that Miyuki would be hurt when Minoru's true intentions were revealed.
After returning to their home in Chofu from Yakumo's Temple, Tatsuya and his companions, including Lina, were gathering together in the living room with a serious expression.
"Um, there is no problem in my daily life so far. So you don't have to worry about me…"
Perhaps she couldn't stand the heavy atmosphere, so Minami quietly broke the silence.
"…There isn't a magician in the Yotsuba family who is good at Non-Systematic magic?"
Ignoring Minami's words, Lina asked Tatsuya and Miyuki.
"That kind of magic is the speciality of the Tsukuba family, but if it's something that Sensei can't handle… I don't think even the head of the Tsukuba family nor Yuka, the next head, can manage to do something."
Miyuki weakly shook her head.
After the diagnosis, Tatsuya and the others naturally asked Yakumo whether he could remove the parasite inside Minami. However, Yakumo's answer was not good.
Yakumo is a magician who specializes in Ancient Magic. Unlike the "Traditionalists school"?who are only "traditionalists" in the name?, which Tatsuya confronted when he pursued Zhou Gongjin, he had inherited the real tradition as a practitioner.
Since ancient times, the most important mission of magic users was to protect the people from the demons and spirits. For that reason, Yakumo had mastered magics of a high level that defeats demons. Even then, Yakumo could not remove the parasite from Minami.
According to his words, the parasite inside Minami is sealed. No, is it more nuanced to say that "a parasite is sealed inside of Minami"? Yakumo explained that the parasite is sealed using Minami as a vessel, and the sealed parasite serves as a lid to suppress the activity of Minami's magic calculation area.
The procedure necessary to permanently remove the parasite is to remove the seal in Minami and then eradicate it, but at the release stage, there is a risk of erosion by the exposed parasite. Parasites are submerged in an area deep inside the mind, between the conscious and the unconscious, and if erosion starts, Minami's mind will inevitably suffer great damage, even if assimilation could be avoided.
In Yakumo's conclusion, the technique of submission rather than repulsion is necessary to take out the parasite. In other words, it is a technique to subdue and manipulate the parasite. I can only destroy parasites or seal them. Yakumo smiled bitterly as he said so.
"…Is there no choice but to find Minoru and dispel the technique?"
Neither Tatsuya, Miyuki, nor Lina had expected Minami's dismayed response.
"After all, is there only that?"
"But how will you find him? Aren't there no clues about Minoru's whereabouts? "
Miyuki nodded to Tatsuya's words, and Lina pointed out the problem.
She had no intention to be mean to Minami. On the contrary, she was really worried about Minami, so she could not stop herself from voicing what she was feeling anxious about.
"There are not many places where Minoru could escape to."
"What do you mean?"
Unable to understand what Tatsuya was trying to say, Lina asked with a big question mark above her head. Miyuki also couldn't hide her confusion.
Of course, Tatsuya did not waste time in this situation.
"No matter how good he is with magic, Minoru is still a second year high school boy. Because he was often ill, he had no opportunity to expand his personal connections outside of the school."
"But, Onii-sama. Didn't Minoru absorb the knowledge of Zhou Gongjin?"
Nodding for Miyuki's counterargument, Tatsuya continued, "That's why".
"I believe that the escape route that Minoru has chosen will be limited to what Zhou Gongjin knows."
Lina doesn't know much about Zhou Gongjin. Naturally, she recalled the question, "What kind of person is Zhou Gongjin, and under what circumstances did Minoru get that knowledge?" However, Lina, who presumed that it would be a complicated story if she asked about it, thought that there was no need for urgency. So she held back her curiosity and only asked Tatsuya for the conclusion.
"The Far East part of Asia and North America are places where Zhou Gongjin has connections."
"Isn't that too wide?"
Lina looked dumbfounded.
That was a good point, but Tatsuya didn't look like he was concerned by it.
"The criminal syndicate, No Head Dragon, who had been in Far East Asia two years ago, was crushed by the collaboration between the Japanese Police Forces and the Great Asian Union. In addition, I've heard that the route that was used as an escape route was in a ruined state due to being excessively exposed.''
"You don't think that East Asia is where he's escaped to, right?"
Tatsuya nodded toward Miyuki.
"Minami, tell me one thing."
Tatsuya looked at Minami, who had until then been ignored by Tatsuya and the others.
"Yes, what can I do?"
Minami didn't show any displeasure. Actually, he didn't remember her showing any signs of displeasure since she came back. She dutifully responded.
"Wasn't there a parasite companion with Minoru when you were taken out of Japan?"
This is the first time that Tatsuya questioned Minami about when she escaped. Up until now, even if Minami felt the urge to confess, Tatsuya and Miyuki evaded the topic. They didn't let Minami talk.
"Do you know who he really is? Just the name is fine."
"Minoru called him "Raymond"."
Minami replied promptly to Tatsuya's question, without pausing to remember.
"Was he a caucasian young man, fair-haired with blue eyes that is refined, but gives a childish impression?"
"That's right. Do you know who he is, Tatsuya-sama?"
"Onii-sama, that is…"
Without answering Miyuki and Minami, Tatsuya resumed the explanation.
"East Asia is no longer a candidate for his getaway. North America, especially California, is the region where Jiedo Heigu, the boss of Zhou Gong, was hiding until half a year ago. And now, it is certain that the American parasite will accompany Minoru, who fled the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as Minami has told me. I think the most likely hiding place for Minoru is the USNA West Coast.''
"I think it's still too wide… How can we find him?"
Lina, who knew the size of her home country, asked in a tone that didn't hide her insecurity of "is it really possible to find him?"
"I think it's too wide for an individual to search for. I also think it would be difficult to fully mobilize the information network of the Yotsuba family. But what about the USNA federal government? I think it's not impossible for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or the CIA counterterrorism center to find a parasite that has been smuggled into their area."
Lina frowned lightly at Tatsuya's answer to her question.
"It wouldn't be difficult if you motion the FBI's National Security Department."
Apparently Tatsuya's use of "not impossible" seems to have been an understatement for Lina.
"So? Ask Senator Curtis to "look for Minoru?" Or maybe I should request the secretarial office to ask the Secretary of Defense?"
Tatsuya grinned a bit to Lina's slightly helpful lines.
"The White House dispatched me. Let's ask for a task immediately."
What was ironic to Tatsuya is that in the USNA presidential office's letter to him said, "Lending Colonel Angelina Shields for free and indefinitely."
Lina left the USNA army and came to Japan. She will later be naturalized in Japan. In a sense, this is a "peaceful asylum" and it can be said that USNA had let a nationally certified Strategic-Class Magician escape. However, there's no way that you can accept such a blow to your honour. Therefore, the USNA government and the army received the resignation from Major Angie Sirius, but they did not allow Angelina Shields to retire. Lina decided to argue that Angie Sirius' true identity's rank, "Lieutenant Colonel" Angelina Shields was the result of her being put into a secret work mission in Japan.
And that secret mission is "surveillance and placation of Tatsuya Shiba, a Strategic-Class Magician," which appeared as "free of charge and unlimited loan".
Of course, Tatsuya wasn't able to reveal the underlying circumstances. The only thing that he had been told by the USNA government was the "grant/indefinite loan" part. The rest was just Tatsuya's reasoning. But right now, it didn't matter if his reasoning was right or wrong.
"Lina, ask the federal government to search for Minoru."
"Okay. Okay. I was lent to you, right?"
The fact that one of the people present who acted as a messenger was enough.
Waiting for the morning on the eastern coast of the United States, Lina dared to call Colonel Balance's Pentagon phone directly and didn't use any special code.
In a normal, non-encrypted call meant "for the military", Lina asked Balance to search for Minoru.
"Minoru. It looks like the federal government is starting to move."
It was still early in the morning on the west coast, but Minoru and Raymond were awake.
No, it would be better to say that they were still awake. It seems that the vampires of today have a routine of going to sleep in the morning and waking at dusk.
"The federal government? Not the army?"
Opening the window curtains on the second floor a little bit, Minoru, who was watching the city that had just begun to come to life, addressed Raymond's voice.
They didn't have to speak aloud, but parasites were not the only ones in their hideout. Rather, there were also human magicians. The main reason why they tried to talk with their voice was because it was inherently natural to both of them, but it was also to not raise unnecessary suspicion from the humans around them.
The two were in a corner near the harbor in Los Angeles. Minoru and Raymond were concealed at a hidden base of a radical organization made up of magicians.
"It was only the military that received the request, but I think the FBI and CIA will also move."
"Isn't the CIA in charge of foreign affairs"
Raymond shook his head with a smile to Minoru, whose head was tilted sideways.
"When dealing with terrorists, there is no distinction between domestic or international measures."
"So we are terrorists? Well… I guess that can't be helped."
Immediately before coming here, Minoru had wiped out one of the Federation bases. Although the USNA military believes that Tatsuya was responsible for the destruction of the Pearl and Hermes base, it was Minoru who killed all the remaining officers at the base. Looking back on this fact, there is no denying that he was a terrorist.
"Tatsuya requested the search. It was much faster than you predicted."
Minoru frowned at Raymond's point. It was not an expression of discomfort, but an expression that was worried about bad things unexpectedly happening.
"So what will you do? We've only been here for half a month, but with the FBI and the CIA, I think it's only a matter of time before they find out."
"I will go back to Japan."
Raymond's eyes widened at Minoru's answer.
"Isn't it dangerous? I'm sure that Tatsuya is waiting."
"I have to settle this."
There was a firm determination in the eyes of Minoru. Raymond understood that it was impossible to have a conversion without using telepathy.
"Then, I'll go too."
Instead of persuading, Raymond said so in a tone that lacked seriousness.
"What are you saying!? I have to go back to Japan because I need to do that. It's pretty early, but I intended to return home eventually."
Minoru changed his complexion and looked at Raymond with serious eyes.
"I have a reason to go back. Raymond, you don't have to risk it."
"Is it because of Minami's treatment?"
Raymond's light tone did not change.
"Didn't I say it? My desire is to see the story of you two until the end.
For that reason, I don't regret this life."