It had been a while since Yasuo had properly concentrated while studying.
Ever since Diana had come to his house, he had not been able to focus at all on his studies at school. Of course, the same was true for the prep school too. Today, however, even though thoughts related to Ante lande would occasionally flit through his head, he was able to immediately move his concentration back to his studies.
Even after getting a hint from Shouko, it wasn’t like Yasuo’s goals for his future became clear and concrete enough to make his father reconsider going to Ante Lande. Even if he was able to attain a clear goal, that would only be something along the lines of ‘studying harder than before’. Telling his father not to go to Ante Lande because he would study harder was completely illogical.
However, if he said something like “I will do my best to get into a university where I can pursue singing seriously, so please don’t go to Ante Lande”, from his father’s perspective, it would look like Yasuo was talking nonsense because neither his words not the context would make any sense. So he couldn’t tell his father about his feelings or his resolve at this stage.
What he needed now was not words. Instead, he needed to look at the various circumstances related to Ante Lande, and do his best to understand how they fit into his own life. Until now, Yasuo had used exams as an excuse to to convince himself that the problems of Ante Lande did not have any direct relation to his life.
He hadn’t looked at the problem directly. He hadn’t believed that it was true. To be honest, he still had some doubts regarding it somewhere in his heart.
However, his father, mother, and Diana were serious about it, and an incident had occurred in front of his eyes that made him understand why they were so serious. The three of them were facing the other world called Ante Lande seriously, and Yasuo decided that he would also join them in facing it seriously. Right now, that was what Yasuo had to do.
“Looks like Tatewaki-san isn’t around.”
Yasuo returned to the lounge space after completing his lesson, but he didn’t see Shouko anywhere.
He had wanted to express his thanks to her once again, but it looked like she still hadn’t come out of her booth. In any case, his mother was waiting for him today. As though the vague doubts in Yasuo’s mind had been banished during his lesson, Yasuo’s mind was now clear and he didn’t mistake what he needed to give higher priority to.
For now, he had to return home as quickly as possible so that he could prepare himself for his father’s return and the continuation of the discussion from the other day. Although they hadn’t exchanged contact information, they would meet again soon enough since they both went to the same prep school. Even if he waited for her here, she would probably have other plans and would not be able to spare much time to talk to him anyways.
For now, he could not afford to mistake whom he should be paying attention to.
“Looks like you’re back in the groove today, that’s good. Take care on your way home.”
“Yes, I’m fine now. Thank you.”
After paying a visit to Kobayashi, who was in charge of teaching him, he left the prep school. He looked around his surroundings once, but there was no sight of any strange shadows like the one that had blown away the front door of his house. After walking quickly to the parking lot near the prep school, he saw that the only car there was the one belonging to his family.
After he knocked on the window, his mother realized that he had arrived and unlocked the doors, and he got into the passenger seat.
“Welcome back. How was it?”
“Well, not bad.”
It was an exchange of words where both the question and the answer were not clear as to what they were talking about, but his mother nodded after looking like she had sensed something in him.
“Well, I hope that you’re not wrong.”
“I just managed to find my resolve, so don’t say stuff that will make me lose confidence. Otherwise I won’t feel like doing this anymore.”
“Don’t say something that makes you sound like a kid in elementary school. Well then, let’s go back home. Can you call home and tell them that we’ll be back soon? Also, I send Nodoka a message earlier to order pizza or something for dinner, but if there’s none left, we’ll have to buy something on the way back, so can you ask about that too?”
Yasuo took his Slimphone out of his pocket and put it to his ear after tapping on the phone number of his residence phone.
“Nobody’s answering the phone.”
He let the phone ring for a little while longer, but after a few seconds, the answering machine picked up and the automated message began to play. In the current day, the only people who called on the landline apart from relatives or his parents’ friends were people who were selling or soliciting something, so they always kept the answering machine on.
“Maybe she’s in the bath?”
Yasuo said that to suppress his bad premonition, and called the landline once more. Even if Nodoka wasn’t able to answer the phone because she was in the bath, she should be able to hear the phone ringing. In that case, she could ask Diana to bring the phone to her.
“Mom, she’s not picking up the phone.”
Madoka’s face stiffened and she went pale. It was no longer the time to be thinking about what to do for dinner.
“We’re leaving now! Fasten your seat belt properly!”
Without even waiting for Yasuo’s reply, Madoka started the engine and stepped on the gas. The frame of the car shook violently as it jumped forward, but Madoka ignored it and flew out of the parking lot at high speed.
After completing her lesson, Shouko returned to the lounge space and looked at the students who were leaving, but she couldn’t see Yasuo among them.
“Did he leave already?”
Even after waiting for a little longer after the students had left, Shouko still couldn’t find Yasuo, so she let out a small sigh and sat on a bench in the lounge, and then,
“…As I thought, I must have said too much~~~!!”
She leaned forward on the table while holding her head in her hands.
She had said too much. No matter how you looked at it, she had said too much.
“He must have been creeped out… I shouldn’t have gone that far, aaaah!”
When she found out that Yasuo had forgotten about her, her feelings had been half-angry and the other half was feeling that it couldn’t be helped. When she had been his classmate in middle school, she had been entirely different after all.
Her hair had been waist-length, and she had worn glasses. She would never talk in a loud voice when other people were around, and she always avoided eye contact while walking. Her casual clothes had all been girly designs, and that ‘girly’ design looked like it was from twenty years ago.
“But I couldn’t help it… anyone would want to say that… he had forgotten about everything… that’s just not right.”
That Shouko now had short hair, wore sporty clothes that made her look like she was about to go jogging, and said all kinds of things to her ex-classmate after not meeting him for almost three whole years, so he would definitely…
“…Besides, what’s with him not getting the hint after I said so much…!”
Shouko was resting her head on her arms on the desk, and nursing her injured feelings, when a loud sound came from outside the prep school, and Shouko jumped up in fright.
“W-What was that!?”
She rushed outside the prep school, just in time to see a car leave from the nearby parking lot at a reckless speed.
She only managed to get a quick look at the people inside, but for a second, she thought that she saw someone who looked like Yasuo sitting in the passenger seat.
She couldn’t tell who was driving it, but since the car looked like a regular family car, it might have been his mother or father.
As Shouko watched on in dumbfounded amazement, the car drove off while making a high-pitched squealing sound with its tires.
So someone from his house had come to pick him up. However, why did they have to go off at such a high speed?
Yasuo’s house shouldn’t be too far from here, he should be able to walk there easily. Would his parents really go so far as to pay for a parking spot to come pick him up?
“Well, each family has it’s own issues… Hmm?”
While looking at the tail lights of the car that she thought belonged to Yasuo’s family, she saw that they had stopped at a red light a little further away, and she saw something strange.
“W-What’s that? Exhaust gas?”
There was an strange black substance hanging on to the back of the car. It then began to grow larger, and soon became large enough to even obstruct the tail lamps.
She thought that the car had some engine trouble which was why something strange was coming out of the exhaust pipe, but,
The minute the signal turned green, she saw that the substance definitely had a mind of its own, as it seemed to leap upon the roof of the car that Yasuo was sitting in.
After that, the car sped off again while carrying that strange substance, but Shouko stood there for a while unable to believe what she had seen, blinked several times, and even used her eye drops.
“Was it… just my imagination?”
She felt like she had seen something strange because she got too excited after seeing Yasuo after a long time, and her brain was exhausted. After forcibly convincing herself that that’s what happened, Shouko thought that she should also be heading home, when she heard it.
From the direction in which the car had sped off, there was a sound that could only be called an explosion.
From the fact that several pedestrians stopped to look in that direction, it can be understood just how unexpected that sound was.
“Don’t tell me…”
Shouko began to run in that direction without thinking. That dangerous way of driving. That strange black substance. That was all she had seen, but then there was an explosion in the direction in which both of them had gone. That was more than enough reason to feel an unpleasant premonition.
Time seemed to have skipped ahead like when you doze off in bed after already having woken up once.
After realizing that he had fainted for the first time in his life, Yasuo looked around, and,
For some reason, he was in the sky.
“Ah, stop, don’t do that!”
The moment he heard his mother’s voice from above his head, Yasuo’s body was suddenly seized by gravity and he began to fall towards the ground.
However, almost instantly, he was again pulled up by some force that opposed gravity.
“W-W-What is this? It’s cold! Mom, don’t tell me…!!”
After being confused at this situation that he was experiencing for the first time, he craned his neck to look above, and saw his mother whose clothes looked strangely burnt. He understood that his mother was flying in the sky, and that she was carrying him along.
“Don’t struggle. If you fall, you’ll die.”
He already knew that.
The view he could see was smaller than when he had climbed up to the observation deck of the Tokyo Tower once in the past. However, it was pretty surprising that his mother, who was more than ten centimeters shorter than him, was flying in the sky while holding him in one arm.
Besides, they had been riding in a car until just a little while ago, so he didn’t understand at all why he had seemed to lose consciousness for a few seconds only to wake up in the sky where his ears were full of the sound of the wind.
“Maybe we were followed? We were attacked on the way, and the car exploded.”
“We were attacked on the way… Eh!?”
He found it hard to understand what his mother was saying because of the sound of the wind, but he didn’t need to clarify what had attacked them.
“It appeared on top of the bonnet all of a sudden, pierced through the engine and caused an explosion. I don’t think I hit any people, but the car ran into a utility pole and exploded, so I’m afraid of what will happen later on…”
Crashing your car into a utility pole and getting caught up in an explosion were also rare and scary experiences, but it looked like his mother was more worried about how to settle the issue with the authorities later on.
“D-Did you defeat the one that came after us? Was it the one from the other day…”
If they were attacked by a Shii, there was a good chance that it was the one that had destroyed the door of the Kenzaki house. However, his mother shook her head.
“I don’t know. It all happened so suddenly, and it was more important for me to avoid hitting someone else on the road.”
His mother shot an annoyed glance at her burned hair, and then turned around.
“I think I killed it, but I didn’t have the time to confirm its identity.”
Yasuo also looked back to see what his mother was looking at, but all he could see was the scenery of Tokorozawa. Yasuo shuddered at hearing the word ‘killed’ coming from his mother who was supposed to just be a housewife, but he understood that the situation was just that grave.
What’s more, he once again realized that his mother had a fighting ability high enough to repulse a surprise attack by an unknown monster.
“Yasuo, look at that.”
After looking forward again, he saw that they were headed in the direction of their home. Along the path which was lit by the meager light of street lights, there was one place that was obviously strange.
Just that place was completely dark, as though it was surrounded by a massive, black box.
Even though he had never looked upon the city from above, Yasuo instinctively realized that it was the area in which the Kenzaki house was located.
“We’re in a fix now. It’s just as I’d feared.”
His mother’s voice had more intensity and worry than he had ever heard before.
“The theory that wild monsters followed your father’s scent here is no longer valid.”
The perfectly-shaped box that looked like it was precisely built was not a natural phenomenon, no matter how you look at it.
“What… happened to the city?”
“I don’t know. So, I’m going to speed up a little. You were okay with rollercoasters, if I remember correctly.”
“Even if I wasn’t, I’d endure it in this kind of situation.”
“Okay then, this will be a little hard on your insides. Try not to throw up!”
As soon as she said that, the mother and son sped towards the ground from an impossible height, at an impossible speed and angle.
“I don’t know what might happen, so shield your eyes and head with your bag!”
Even before asking for the reason, Yasuo brought his bag up to shield his face, and tensed his body.
On the other side of the bag, a light as bright as the sun shone in his mother’s fist, and he heard the sound of something breaking into pieces.
“What… is this…”
Shouko dazedly stared at the car that was burning with a rumbling sound on the street.
“Stand back! Please stand back!”
The fire department was already on the scene and were trying to put out the fire, but the car was still giving off small bursts of flame. The police had also rushed to the scene, and were yelling for curious onlookers to keep back. One of the policemen appeared in front of Shouko as well.
“Don’t get too close! It’s still dangerous!”
“B-But, one of my friends was in there…!”
She hadn’t seen the license plate number, nor was she knowledgeable about cars. However, she could still tell that it was the same type of car that she had seen just a few minutes ago in front of the prep school, the one that she thought Yasuo had been riding in.
There was no doubt about it, it was the same car that she had seen earlier. Shouko was sure of that.
However, the policeman’s answer was unexpected.
“There’s nobody in the car! Now, please move away quickly!”
That was pretty strange in its own way. She looked around, but there was no sight of the passengers being tended to by medical personnel, and the paramedics who had rushed to the scene were standing around, staring at the flames from a distance while having nothing to do.
However, the front portion of the car had pierced deeply into the utility pole, and the frame of the car was also greatly distorted.
What’s more, the doors were still closed. Even though they had been in such a serious accident, and the car had even exploded and caught on fire, just how had the people inside managed to get out?
Shouko dazedly stood around while breathing in the offensive smell given off by the burning car, but…
She muttered in a weak voice and unsteadily walked away from that place.
All she had to go on was an unpleasant premonition.
Maybe Yasuo didn’t really have anything to do with the car that had crashed. It could be a car that was coincidentally of the same type, just happened to have an accident nearby. There was only one way to tell for sure.
She just had to visit Yasuo’s house.
It was pretty late to be visiting a friend, but she could just make up some random excuse.
She had known where Yasuo’s house was since the time when she was in middle school. He had probably forgotten all about it, but Yasuo was the one who had told her where it was.
Shouko had never been inside the house, but even so, she had never forgotten about that teenage boy who lived in that house.
“I’m just worried, just a little worried, that’s all…”
An unexpected reunion, and the multiple strange things about Yasuo which were not present in the past.
Shouko began to run off into the night while her breathing grew ragged.