Phantom Bullet Chapter 15
From the time she was being transported from the lone island «ISL Ragnarok» to the waiting area, Sinon kept looking at the rankings and the countdown till log out while trying to calm herself down.
Though the tournament was over, the situation with «Death Gun» wasn't. Death Gun's accomplice might still be near her in the real world. Kirito said that the police would be there soon, but his log out time would be the same as Sinon. Also, he would need to contact his associate, so it would take at least 10 minutes. During this time, Sinon could only protect herself.
First, she had to check if her own room was safe. Then, she had to get Shinkawa Kyouji to come over to her house. Though there was a chance that he would meet Death Gun, these people weren't using guns or knives as weapons, but syringes with poison—as that's Kirito's view—so they wouldn't randomly inject drugs into people who are awake. Of course, Sinon was ready to tell him to be careful.
The large countdown timer quickly flew by, and there were 10 seconds left till log out.
She looked at the large results screen one last time.
Sinon and Kirito, who won at the same time were glowing at the highest level. Even though her ultimate goal when playing GGO was to let her name appear there, unfortunately, the outcome this time would most likely not count. The situation was way too abnormal, so she would pin her hopes on the 4th tournament.
There was no 2nd place. The 3rd place was Death Gun's log in character name «Sterben». Sinon herself didn't know how the name should be read, but to the mantle guy, «Death Gun» should be his real name, so his log in name should be used to cover up his true identity.
The 4th place was «Yamikaze». Most of the people bet money on him as they felt that he would be the champion, so the official betting company should have earned a lot now. Starting from the 5th position, there were names that were more common, but after names like «Dyne» and «Xiahou Dun»—the ranking ended at 28.
The bottom most place showed the names of the two who disconnected, «Pale Rider» and «Garret».
As expected, there were 2 victims of Death Gun in this tournament. This meant that he had 2 accomplices. What kind of organization did those 3 people take part in a VRMMO, what kind of experience did they have that would cause them to take part in such a horrifying plot...
As the countdown timer went to zero, Sinon didn't feel the exhilaration of victory, but an abnormally cold chill.
A floating feeling descended on Shino, and as this feeling disappeared, she was already lying on her bed in her room in the real world.
No—it's possible that it wasn't just one person. She told herself not to immediately open her eyes or move about.
Shino didn't move at all but merely closed her eyes and started noticing her surroundings.
At this moment, there were some slight sounds that went into her ears. The first was her own breathing, and next, it was the heartbeat that was rather fast.
Bellowing down near the ceiling was the air-conditioner that was giving off warm air, and also, there was the humidifier that was letting out a buzzing sound. She could hear the sound of a vehicle running by from afar, and there was also a deep sound of a stereo woofer from a room in this apartment.
—But other than these sounds, there weren't any other strange sounds.
This time, Shino tried to take a deep breath softly. Her nose took in the particles of air, and there was just a little fragrance. Shino knew that it was the vanilla soap she placed above the storage box to act as air-freshener.
There wasn't anyone else in the room.
Even though she thought this way, Shino still couldn't open her eyes immediately. Maybe someone was watching her beside her bed—this fear remained in her heart.
No, even if it's not inside the room, he may be hiding in the kitchen or the bathroom...or the balcony...even in this small little suite, there were many places for a person to hide in if he or she wanted to. Also, there's a likelihood that he was hidden underneath the bed. No, I don't want to get up.
Right now, Kirito—Kirigaya Kazuto should have contacted the police through his associate, and she should be able to hear the sirens of the patrol cars. In that case, maybe it would be most safe not to move.
As Shino thought about this and got ready to close her eyes tight--
The old air-conditioner suddenly lowered its temperature, and the icy wind that was blown up floated on Shino's exposed thighs. A cold air covered her skin, making her feel itchy in the nose.
Shino herself probably resisted for 2 seconds. Then, her eyebrows and nose curled up, giving off a clear sneeze that disobeyed the owner's respiratory system. Shino froze, waiting for a reaction to this sneeze from a certain point in this room.
However, there was still no movement in the room.
Shino then stealthily opened her right eye.
Inside the dark room that had the lights turned off, the street lights from the gap in the curtains were the only ones that brought some light. Shino checked first to be sure that it could be seen from her eyes, and then slowly turned her head around bit by bit to check her room.
Anyway, there didn't seem to be anyone in her view. Even though she just sneezed, Shino carefully took off the AmuSphere on her head and put it beside the pillow. She used the strength of her abdomen to raise herself and looked around the entire room quickly.
—It looked like it wasn't any different from before she dived in.
Whether it was the mineral water on the table, the large sound box beside the table or the school bag that's left on the floor, nothing was moved at all.
Shino placed her hand on the mattress and then moved it alongside the bed. She gulped her saliva down and then poked her body out to look underneath the bed. It was obviously empty underneath.
She looked up, and checked through the curtains that the lead windows were locked up.
Then, she got off the bed barefooted, reached her neck out to take note of any movements in the kitchen. Speaking of which, that space which was only 3 mats big didn't look like it had any place to hide.
At this moment, Shino finally got up and subconsciously walked to the wall before pressing the switch. The room was immediately lit with white light, and even the corridor on the back of the kitchen lit up.
Looking closely, the lock on the door didn't look like it was touched before. Shino stood for a while before noticing that there weren't any strange sounds from the place behind a wall—the bathroom. In the end, there wasn't anything strange. Thus, she again tiptoed towards the kitchen.
The bathroom door was tightly shut, but wasn't locked, and there wasn't any light inside.
Shino grabbed onto the aluminium door handle with her right hand that's full of cold sweat.
She took a deep breath, held it, and pulled the bathroom door aside as her left hand turned on the lights.
Shino wordlessly inspected the bathroom for a while.
"Why am I scaring myself..."
She muttered. The rice-colored bathroom was obviously empty.
This time, Shino finally lowered her neck and the shoulders on both sides to relax her body. She turned halfway around and leaned her entire body on the wall before sitting down.
There wasn't anyone else in the room, and she couldn't see any evidence of other people who have entered.
Of course, there was a possibility that—the intruder who broke the old electronic lock was using the handphone to check the live telecast of GGO through the phone, and left after seeing that Death Gun was defeated.
If that was the case, the intruder may still be near this apartment. As she couldn't guarantee that he would not turn back, she had to hurry up, call Shinkawa Kyouji and invite him to her house. Shino felt this way, but just couldn't motivate herself.
She glanced at the kitchen timer that's placed on the fridge. It also functioned as a clock, and the numbers indicated on it showed that it was 10:07pm.
—It was a long three hours. The yogurt container that's in the trash bag in front of her was thrown in before she dived in, but it seemed to be a long time ago.
And her own heart seemed to feel that something has changed, but it didn't.
However, at least the anxiety that resided in her for a long time was gone. During this long time, perhaps her anxious feeling of only realizing that she had to get stronger was all wasted. She had to slowly work her way up.
Shino softly encouraged herself and got up before realizing that she was extremely thirsty. She went near the basin, used the cup to catch the water that flowed out from the tap and gulped it down.
And just when she was about to drink another cup—
DING DONG. The doorbell rang at this moment..
Shino tensed her body instinctively and then turned to look at the door. She suddenly had the thought that the person may open the door himself and couldn't breathe at all.
Thinking about it, maybe it was the police. She then turned to look at the clock, but the time since she logged out was less than 3 minutes, and it would be too fast.
Just when Shino was standing there, the doorbell rang again. Shino held her breath and stealthily went to the door.
It's better to chain the door up. Just when she thought that way, she timidly reached her left hand out, but just when she was about to touch the door chain—
"Asada-san, are you there? It's me, Asada-san!"
The electronic lock that had a speaker function gave the slightly sharp voice of a boy. Shino was rather familiar with this voice.
Shino herself immediately heaved a sigh of relief. She stepped on the slippers and brought her face near the door, and then looked outside the door for safety reasons. She saw a boy standing in the corridor, looking distorted because of the concave effect. That person was the friend she was ready to call to her house—the ex-classmate who invited Shino to play GGO, Shinkawa Kyouji.
Shino called the other person's name through the speaker, and then a somewhat hesitant voice came over.
"Well...I couldn't help but want to say congrats to you...I bought this from the convenience store, but it's just a little token of appreciation..."
After hearing these words, Shino again looked through the peephole. Kyouji outside was holding a small cake box.
"You, you're really quick..."
Shino couldn't help but question. Even after including the time for her to log out, it was only about 5 minutes ever since the tournament ended. Looking at things now, he probably didn't watch the telecast from his own house, but hung around at the park nearby and waited to buy the cake from the convenience store once it was decided before rushing here. His impulsive manner was really just like what the AGI-type Spiegel would do.
But this would remove the need to contact him herself. Shino exhaled and reached her hand out for the door.
"Hold on. I'm going to open the door."
She said as she lowered her head, and found that her upper body was still wearing a tank top and pair of shorts below that showed a lot of her thighs. The girl felt that this was somewhat revealing, but she still shrugged and opened the door.
After opening the door, the smiling Shinkawa Kyouji was standing at the door. He was wearing a pair of jeans below and a military coat with feathers on top. It looked thick, but just didn't look like it could resist the cold air outside.
Shino was trembling because of the cold air that came at her feet and started saying,
"Wah, it's cold. Hurry up and come in."
"U, un. Excuse me then."
Kyouji nodded his head, shrank his neck back and entered the corridor with the concrete floor. On seeing Shino, he narrowed his eyes as if his eyes hurt.
"Wha, what is it...hurry up and close the door, or else the room's going to get cold. Ah, remember to lock it."
Kyouji's eyes made Shino somewhat embarrassed, and she pretended to throw a tantrum to hide this feeling. She then turned around and walked towards the room. Behind her, the electronic sound of the door being locked could be heard. Shino returned to the 6 mat room, took the remote control on the table and adjusted the air temperature higher. The air conditioner bellowed in an exaggerated manner and breathed out warmer air that shook off the cold air in the room.
Shino quickly sat down on the bed, looked up, and found that Kyouji was standing at the door in a somewhat lost manner.
"Please take a seat. Ah...do you want a drink?"
"No need. There's no need for that."
"I'm tired now. There's nothing now if you really say so."
The girl said that jokingly, and Kyouji's face finally showed a smile. He placed the cake on the table next to the tea set and sat down on the cushion beside it.
"...I'm sorry for arriving so suddenly, Asada-san. But...as I said before, I really wanted to celebrate things with you fast."
He covered his knees like a kid and then looked up at Shino.
"Well...congratulations on becoming the BoB champion. Asada-san...Sinon was really amazing. You finally became the strongest gunman in GGO. But...I knew it. Asada-san would one day succeed. Because Asada-san had real strength like no others..."
Shino felt somewhat embarrassed, and thus, she shook her neck that shrank back.
"But there're two winners this time...and if you saw the live telecast, you should have seen that there were a lot of unnatural things that happened...maybe, the tournament will be declared as invalid..."
"Well...how should I put it..."
For a moment, Shino couldn't think of how to explain the «Death Gun» incident to the puzzled Kyouji. She didn't really know about the entire thing too, and couldn't continue on with the explanation. And—right now, even she started wondering that this may be like an illusion.
All these were merely caused by coincidence...? Could shooting someone in the virtual world really kill a player by poison in the real world? To be honest, Shino only saw Pale Rider being disconnected. If he and the other player who disconnected were really dead, it would mean that Death Gun's crimes were real, but Shino would have no definite proof until she had news that they died.
The police would come over in another 10 minutes, and then I should explain everything to Kyouji, right? Shino had this thought and changed the topic.
"Oh well...it's nothing. It's just that there was a strange player. But you were really quick. The tournament just ended 5 minutes ago."
"Ah, well...I came over near your house and used the handphone to watch the live feed so that I could immediately congratulate you..."
Kyouji hurriedly said this, and Shino smiled on seeing him like this.
"I had a feeling that it would be like that. It's cold outside. You'll catch a cold. Let me brew you some tea."
But Kyouji shook his head to stop Shino. His face gradually lost its smile, showing a nervous look. Shino could only blink.
"Wha, what is it?"
"I...saw the footage of the desert cave...on the telecast..."
Shino could guess from these words and Kyouji's expression what he didn't say out. Thinking about what happened back in the cave, Shino couldn't help but blush.
Shino forgot all about it—or rather, she deliberately forgot about it; but she was lying on Kirito's knees when he sat down at the wall, crying and screaming. Kyouji did see that footage. She could only say that she was too careless and caused things to end up like this.
Shino lowered her head in a sorry manner, but Kyouji continued on. She thought that he would ask her about her relationship with Kirito, but what he said next surprised Sinon.
"That guy...must have threatened you, right? You could only do that because he got something on you, right?"
Shino looked up in surprise.
Kyouji's eyes were giving off a strange light as he bent forward in a half-kneel position. A hoarse voice came from his irregular moving lips,
"You were threatened by him, and even sniped at the player he was fighting against...but you made that guy relax and then brought him down with you with a grenade, right? But...I don't think that's enough, Asada-san. I said it before...you must show him some attitude..."
Shino couldn't say anything, and then frantically thought of how to explain it.
"No...I wasn't threatened. I knew that it was too random in the tournament...but I nearly panicked when diving...and in this mess...I vented my anger on Kirito...that guy. Anyway, I said a lot of things too much."
Kyouji widened his eyes and silently listened to Shino.
"But...that guy infuriates me, but he felt...just like my mom. Because of that, I cried like a kid...it was really embarrassing, right?"
"...Asada-san...bu...but you did that because you relapsed, right? You...had no special feelings with that guy, right?"
"Asada-san, you said that you wanted me to wait for you, right?"
Kneeling down and bending forward, Kyouji looked extremely nervous.
"You said that before, right? If I wait, that you'll be mine, right? Tha...that's why I..."
"SAY IT! SAY THAT YOU HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THAT GUY. SAY THAT YOU HATE HIM!"
"Wha...what's with you...all of sudden..."
Shino did remember that she told Kyouji to 'wait for me' when they were at the park before the tournament.
However, the meaning was to 'wait until she finally shook off her demons'. And then she would become an ordinary girl once that day came.
"A...Asada-san, you're strong now that you became champion, so you won't relapse again. So you don't need that guy. I'll accompany you always. I'll...protect you forever."
Kyouji started muttering as if he was dreaming and stood up before swaying towards Shino and took a few steps—he then suddenly opened his arms and hugged Shino without holding back his strength.
Shino felt extremely tense as she was extremely shocked. The bones on her arms and abdomen started to ache, and the air in her lungs were squeezed out.
The impact and force caused Shino to gasp. However, Kyouji exerted even more force and pressed his weight on Shino like he wanted to get her onto the bed.
"Asada-san...I like you. I love you. My Asada-san...my Sinon."
Kyouji's hoarse and breaking voice didn't sound like a love confession, but like a curse.
Shino tried her best to use both hands to support her body on the bed. She then exerted strength on her legs and used her right shoulder to nudge Kyouji's chest away—
Though she could only give a hoarse voice, she finally managed to push Kyouji's body back, and took a large amount of breath like she was panting.
Kyouji himself tumbled onto the seat and fell backwards. He then ended up knocking into the teaset, and the box that had cake inside dropped and let out a little sound.
However, Kyouji himself didn't seem to notice it as he just continued to stare at Shino. The shocked expression on his face seemed to show that he wouldn't believe that Shino would reject him.
Those widened eyes soon lost their shine—and an empty voice came out of his trembling mouth,
"This won't do, Asada-san. You can't betray me. Only I can save Asada-san, so you can't look at other guys."
After saying that, he closed in on Shino.
Shino was still shocked as she could only mutter in a dazed manner.
It's true that she felt a dangerous impulse in Shinkawa's eyes when she invited him over for dinner and when she was hugged by him at the park. However, Shino felt that it couldn't be helped to a certain extent as he was a guy, and she couldn't imagine that kind and feeble Shinkawa to do something out of control.
However, to Shino, who's unable to move on the bed, Shinkawa who's looking down at her, had a mysterious glint in his eyes that she never saw before.
Don't tell me Shinkawa-kun's going to rape me...
The interrupted thoughts flashed through Shino's mind, and the fear went through her body in a way that surpassed the impact.
Though Shino was thinking in the right direction, it was of a completely different manner.
Kyouji opened his mouth slightly and let out a heavy breathing sound. He then reached his right hand into the military jacket and looked like he was holding something.
The right hand that he held out showed a rather strange object.
That thing was about 20cm long, made by translucent milky-white plastic.
The tip was tapered, and there was a cylinder about 3cm thick. At the back, there was a handle-like thing protruding out diagonally, and Kyouji's right hand was there. Also, his thumb was placed at the green button that's on the joint between the handle and the cylinder.
The tip of the round cylinder had a silver metal part on it, and what could be called a sharp tip had a little opening. Basically, it looked like a laser gun a kid was playing with, but it couldn't mask a certain function despite its simple look.
The right hand that was in Kyouji's hands trembled slightly, and then he placed the round cylinder carelessly on Shino's neck. That icy feeling made all the hairs on Shino's skin stand.
Shino barely managed to squeeze these words out from her stiff lips, but before she could finish, Kyouji said with a deep voice,
"Don't move, Asada-san. You can't scream too. This...is called a needleless syringe. It has a drug called «Succinylcholine». The muscles can't move once this is injected, and the heart will soon stop."
If her brain really had a mental protection shell, Shino's shell would have several layers punctured in today.
The cold air that came from behind her neck made Shino's limbs go cold. Shino realized that her limbs were starting to stiffen as she racked her brain to understand what Kyouji meant.
What that meant was that—Kyouji wanted to kill Shino. If she didn't listen to him, he would use that toy-like syringe in his hand and inject that really long English-name drug into Shino's body to stop her heart.
Thinking about this, another corner of Shino's mind was thinking and asking herself, Is this a joke? How can Shinkawa-kun do such a thing? But in fact, Shino's lips didn't move as they felt like a ton. And the cold hard metal cylinder was pressed at her neck—or more accurate—it was 5cm below her left ear. This cold feeling continued to deny the possibility that Kyouji was joking.
Shino couldn't see Kyouji's expression as she was facing the light, but still stared at his face blankly. His still tender-looking round face twitched its chin slightly, shooting out a voice without restraint.
"It's alright, Asada-san. You don't have to be scared. Soon...we'll be together as one. I want to offer all the feelings I had accumulated all~this while to you. I'll inject it gently into you...so you won't feel any pain at all. Don't worry, just leave everything to me."
Shino couldn't understand anything of what he said at all. It really sounded like Japanese, yet it sounded like a language from a certain country. Two words continued to ring in her ears.
This is called a needleless syringe, and it can stop your heart.
Syringe, heart. It felt like...she heard these words somewhere before.
In the desert under the night sky, inside the small cave, the boy who looked like a girl said this before. «Zekushiido» and «Usujio Tarako» may have had a certain drug injected into them that caused heart failure...but that seemed like something that happened in a distant dreamland.
In that case—tha—that means...
Shino's lips moved like they were numb, and then, she heard her own hoarse voice.
"That...that means...you...you're the other «Death Gun»?"
The syringe that was placed at the neck suddenly jerked. Kyouji gave an admiring smile like how he would when talking to Shino.
"...Heh, that's too amazing. As expected of Asada-san...you saw through the secret of «Death Gun». That's right. I'm the other «Death Gun». Even so, «Sterben» before this BoB was controlled by me. I'm really happy that you saw me shoot Zekushiido in the Gurokken bar. But, for today, I want to be active in the real world. I can't accept other guys touching Asada-san. Even if we were brothers."
This umpteenth shock caused Shino's body to tense up again.
Kyouji did mention before that he had an older brother, but he merely mentioned how this brother of his was always sick ever since young and always moved from home to hospital. He never said anything other than that, so Shino never asked.
"B...bro...brother? The one who joined the red guild in SAO...was...your brother?"
This time, it was Kyouji's turn to widen his eyes in shock.
"Wow, so you even knew about that. Shoichi nii-san said that much in the tournament? Maybe nii-san really admired Asada-san. But Asada-san, you can relax. I won't let anyone else touch you. Actually...I didn't intend to inject this into Asada-san. Nii-san may get angry...but because Asada-san, you said that you'll be mine in the park..."
Kyouji paused. The intoxicated smile on his face disappeared, and his expression went back to being blank.
"...But...Asada-san, and that guy, actually...you must have been tricked by him. I don't know what that guy said, but I'll chase him away immediately. I'll make you forget about him."
As the syringe was still held at Shino's neck, Kyouji used his left hand to grab Shino's right shoulder and pressed Shino down onto the bed like that. He then got up the bed and moved onto Shino's thighs. While doing that, he was still murmuring like he was daydreaming,
"...Don't worry, I won't let Asada-san be alone. I'll accompany you immediately after. We shall be reborn in GGO...no, in a more fantasy-like game, and then we'll become husband and wife and have a wonderful life. We'll have adventures...and then we'll have kids. That'll be great!"
Though Shino heard the nonsensical ramblings from Kyouji, that numb part of her thinking ability was still thinking—the police will be here soon, so I have to talk to him more.
"But...if you're not here as a partner, your brother will be troubled, right...an..and, I didn't get shot in the game. If I die, that Death Gun rumor you guys worked hard to build on will be doubted."
Shino continued to move her dry tongue as she said all that, and Kyouji moved the syringe in his right hand and pressed onto Shino's collarbone, revealing a stiff smile.
"Don't worry. There were three targets today, so nii-san brought another person also. That was another guild member of his during SAO. That person would soon take over my position, and...how can I put Asada-san in the same conversation as trash like Zekushiido and Usujio Tarako? Asada-san's not Death Gun's belonging, but mine. Once Asada-san goes off...I'll bring you to the endless abyss, and then I'll follow after. So, please wait for me halfway there."
Kyouji's left hand carefully moved up into Shino's abdomen inside the tank top timidly. He touched with his fingertips a few times before using his entire hand.
The fear and irritation made Shino get goosebumps, but she really wanted to talk on. If she moved or screamed, the seemingly gentle boy in front of her would definitely press the syringe. Unfortunately, Kyouji's voice and expression showed that he would definitely do this. Thus, Shino could only keep her cool and say,
"...We, well...you haven't used this syringe in the real world, right...? The...there's still time. You can start afresh. Don't think of dying...you still have the high-school equivalent of General Scholastic Ability Test? And there's still remedial classes, right? Don't you want to be a doctor...?"
"General Scholastic Ability Test...?"
Kyouji tilted his head like he heard that term for the first time. He repeated it a few times before finally going 'ahh...'. The left hand left Shino and reached inside the jacket.
He took out a thin piece of paper from his pocket.
"Do you want to take a look?"
He gave a self-mocking smile and handed the piece of paper over to Shino.
Shino was rather familiar with this paper that had certain numbers on them—that's the mock exam results slip. However, the scores and segments for each subject could be said to be so bad that nobody could believe it.
"It's funny, isn't it? To think that there's such a rating..."
"Bu...but, your parents..."
What Shino meant was that 'your parents would still let you play with the AmuSphere after seeing such scores', and Kyouji immediately understood what she wanted to say.
"Fufu, this sort of results slip...I can make it with a printer. Besides, I told my parents that I was wearing the AmuSphere for long-distance learning. They won't help me with GGO's monthly fees, but that small sum of money can be earned easily from the game...it should be easy to earn it, originally..."
The smile on Kyouji's face suddenly disappeared. He frowned, and the gritted teeth were exposed.
"...I had enough of this boring world. Whether it's my parents...those guys at school, they're all bastards. Once I become the strongest in GGO...I'm satisfied. At...at first, «Spiegel» was supposed to be the strongest player..."
Shino felt Kyouji's hand trembling from the syringe that's placed at her neck, and held her breath as she was worried that Kyouji would press it.
"But...Zekushiido, that scumbag...lying about how AGI-type are the strongest...that damned bastard caused Spiegel to be unable to even equip an M16...damn it...damn it..."
The anger in Kyouji's voice was so deep that nobody could tell that he was talking about the game.
"Now...I can't even earn my monthly connection fee...GGO's my everything...I gave up on everything in the real world..."
"...So that's why....that's why you killed Zekushiido...?"
Though she was thinking whether he killed him because of this reason, Shino still asked that. Kyouji blinked hard a few times and then showed a drunken smile.
"Yeah. To create the legend of «Death Gun» being the strongest in GGO...no, in all the VRMMOs, that guy would be the best sacrifice! Once I kill Zekushiido and Usujio Tarako, then Pale Rider and Garret who appeared in this tournament, no matter how foolish the other players are, they'll know that Death Gun really has the ability to kill. The strongest...I'm the strongest..."
Perhaps unable to restrain the excitement rising inside him, Kyouji's entire body started to tremble.
"...Now there's no need to waste time in such a boring world. Here...Asada-san. Let's evolve into the «next step»."
Shino desperately shook her head and pleaded to Kyouji.
"No. You...can still head back. You can still start afresh. Come along and surrender yourself with me..."
But Kyouji merely looked afar and shook his head.
"...There's nothing worth living for in the real world. Come, be one with me, Asada-san..."
That left hand started patting Shino's face as it accompanied his feeble voice, and his fingers went around Shino's hair.
Kyouji's fingertips were very dry. As the cracks on the fingers stroked Shino's soft skin near her ear, she could feel a slight pain. However, Kyouji looked like he didn't notice Shino's expression as he continued on like he was daydreaming,
"Asada-san...my Asada-san...I always liked you...ever since I...heard about Asada-san's situation...in school...I always..."
Shino hesitated for a bit before realizing what Kyouji was saying. But after thinking about it, she couldn't help but widen her eyes.
"I always liked you...always admired you..."
Shino muttered in her head 'no way', and then asked with a voice that was about to disappear,
"You...talked to me...because you knew about that incident...?"
Kyouji's left hand stroked Shino's face like he was comforting a kid and then nodded passionately.
"I think if there's a girl who once used a real gun to shoot and kill someone, you'll be the only one in all of Japan who had done that. That's really amazing. Didn't I say that Asada-san has real power? That's why I chose the «Type-54 handgun» to create the ultimate weapon of «Death Gun». Asada-san's the one I admired the most. I love you...I love you...I love you more than anyone else..."
"...How is that...possible..."
—To think that there's such an eccentric person.
Shino once thought that this boy was the only friend she could get along with other than her relatives. However—his mind was already in another world. Ever since the beginning, both of them had a huge gap between them that couldn't be measured.
Shino's heart finally sank into the abyss of despair. Her vision, hearing and all her sense lost their significance as the world gradually left her.
Shino lost all her strength in her body.
In her vision that lost focus, Kyouji's eyes above her were looming like black holes. Those eyes looked as if they were tunnels to the deep dark world—
They were the eyes of that guy.
That guy who was hiding in the shadows of the night streets, the window openings, «Death Gun»'s mask and all the darkness, looking for a chance, still came back in the end.
Shino's fingers immediately went cold. The feelings of her fingertips started to leave her body and consciousness, and her entire soul shrank.
In the deepest area of this shell called the human body, Shino who was trapped in the small and cramped darkness returned back to the time when she was a kid, all curled up. She didn't want to see or feel anything.
The 16 years she lived were so icy and cruel. It took the father she had never seen before, took her mother's heart, and even took away a part of Shino's soul with great malice.
The adults in this world who saw her would look interested as if they were looking at some strange animal and also had intense irritation in them. Kids at the same age however mocked her and humiliated her.
But this world itself didn't seem satisfied as it wanted to take Shino's life while she already had nothing. She really didn't want to admit that this was the one «truth» in this world.
However, this wasn't reality. These were just certain things that happened in this overlapping world. In these worlds, there should be «a world where nothing happened».
Not knowing Shinkawa Kyouji, not going through the post office incident, her father not having died in the traffic accident. A certain world should have an ordinary Asada Shino living a peaceful life. Shino curled in the darkness and gradually became a lifeless thing, but her soul kept pushing her to look for her smiling profile in the warm sun.
At this moment, Shino suddenly felt an urge to argue back at herself from the irony.
If she was unable to accept the cruel reality and escape into fantasy, wouldn't she be like Shinkawa Kyouji to some extent.
Bullied at school, being treated like that by his parents, the heavy pressure of exams...Shinkawa Kyouji gave up on these «realities» and went to the virtual world for redemption. Kyouji believed that if he could get the title of the 'strongest' in the virtual world, he would be able to cover over that weak him in the real world. But now that the wish vanished, he crashed too.
Like Kyouji, Shino yearned to be the strongest in the world called Gun Gale Online, and she felt that this goal would form some sort of inspiration, and she thought that she found a way to settle her own problems.
The icy cold hand that came from deep inside Shino's swamp of memories finally grabbed her and got ready to drag her into the dark abyss. However, she couldn't resist, and couldn't even open her eyes. Every effort was futile.
Shino could only think in an interrupted manner like water bubbles floating up from the riverbed, however, she suddenly remembered...
If it's that guy, what will he do?
That boy who was locked in the virtual prison for 2 years, took a few lives in it, should have lost important people in his long battle. He should have felt regret over it, right? He would definitely hate the virtual world that took lots of things, correct?
No, he wouldn't do that. No matter what sort of trials he faced, he wouldn't abandon the responsibility he had. It's because he was that sort of person that he was able to win in that battle of despair against Death Gun.
—You're really strong, Kirito.
Shino muttered deep inside the dark abyss.
—You finally managed to save me...but I betrayed your kind intents. I'm sorry...
Kirito said that he would get the police over once he logged out. She didn't know how much time elapsed since she logged out, but it looked like it was too late. It's unknown what sort of thoughts he would have if he knew that Shino was killed. This really made her worry...
Thinking about that, her thoughts started to create a chain reaction, and a certain worry lit the darkness in the girl's heart like a weak lamp.
Kirito---will it be over after that lightsaber warrior contacted his associate? Maybe he might even drive over to my apartment. But even in this case, it'll be too late. Once Kirito meets Shinkawa Kyouji in this room, Kyouji might do something. He might run away or stop struggling...or rather, will he attack Kirito with the syringe in his hand? From the way Kyouji showed his hatred against Kirito, it was likely that he would do that.
Maybe she was destined to die.
But—after thinking about how it would involve that boy—that would--
That would be a different case altogether.
...Even so, there's no other way.
The young Shino, who was lying in the midst of darkness, was all curled up and refused to receive any information through the eyes or ears. At this moment, the sniper girl with the desert-colored muffler, Sinon, knelt beside her, placed her hand on the slender shoulders and said softly,
...Up till now, we had only been looking out for ourselves, fighting for ourselves, so we couldn't hear Shinkawa's inner voice. But—it may be too late, but we should at least fight for others.
Shino opened her eyes slowly while she was sinking in the darkness. A white, slender yet strong hand reached out to her. Shino timidly grabbed that hand.
Sinon from the game smiled and helped Asada Shino out. She moved her pink lips and said clearly.
Come, let's go.
Both of them kicked the darkness and started moving up to the light at the water surface.
Shino blinked hard and again returned to the real world.
Kyouji was still holding the syringe in his right hand as he pressed it against Shino's neck, and his left hand was trying to take off Shino's tank top. However, he wasn't able to take it off with one hand, and showed an anxious expression. Soon after, he started tugging at the fabric that was about to be torn.
Shino pretended to be pulled by him and turned her body left. The tip of the syringe slid off from Shino's body and stabbed into the bed.
Shino immediately used this chance to grab the cylinder with her left hand, and then used her right palm to strongly press at Kyouji's lower jaw.
'Gu!', with a sound of impact, Kyouji went backwards, and the weight that was pressing down on Shino's body disappeared. She then used her right hand to push a few times and then tugged at the syringe with her left hand. If she didn't use this chance, her last hope will then vanish.
However, Kyouji was using his better hand to grab the handle, and Shino merely grabbed the slippery cylinder with her left hand, so Shino was in a disadvantage in this tug-of-war. Kyouji recovered and pulled his right hand back, making a strange sound as he swung his left hand.
His fist landed hard on Shino's right shoulder. As the syringe was plucked out from her left hand, Shino rolled back from the front edge of the bed. She hit the writing desk with her back, and one of the drawers slid out, dropped and scattered things all over the place.
Having been injured in the back, Shino was immediately unable to breathe and could only pant to get air. Kyouji was pressing his lower jaw on the bed, but he immediately lifted his head and looked at Shino.
His eyes were rounded, and the lips that were glowing with saliva were numb. From the way he was bleeding on the lips, it looked like he bit his own tongue. Soon after, he let out a hoarse voice,
He slowly shook his head, seemingly feeling disbelief.
"Wh, why must it be like this...? Asada-san only has me! I'm the only one who understands Asada-san! I've always been helping you...always been protecting you..."
On hearing his words, Shino recalled a few days ago. As she was on the way back from school, she was surrounded by Endo and the rest and was extorted, and Kyouji just happened to pass by and save her—
Looking at things now, it wasn't a coincidence.
It was likely that Kyouji tailed Shino every day after she left school until she entered her own house, and would log into GGO to wait for Shino to enter the game.
That could only be called madness. Shino seemed to realize a little that he had some dangerous aspect about him, but never noticed this terrifying nature of his at all. Was this the result of not being open with someone? Even in this situation, Shino still felt bitter inside.
Shino moved her stiff lips and said,
"...Everything's painful...but I still like this world. I guess I'll like it more in the future. So...I can't go with you."
As she said that, Shino got ready to get up. While supporting herself on the floor with the right hand, her fingertips felt something heavy and cold.
She immediately knew what it was. That was an object she always hid deep inside that drawer. It was the symbol of all her fears in the real world. It was the participation prize she had in the 2nd BoB tournament—the model gun «Procyon SL».
Shino fumbled with her fingers before grabbing it, and then slowly raised this heavy handgun at Kyouji.
The gun in her hand felt abnormally cold like ice. Shino's right hand immediately felt slowed, and the numbness crept up her arm.
She knew that this wasn't the cold freezing feeling in the real world. Even though she knew that it was a mental rejection, she couldn't stop this feeling from happening. That fear which couldn't be explained came out from deep inside her heart like black liquid.
The white wallpaper that was speck-clean seemed to shake like water, and the grey concrete cracks behind the wall started to appear in front of her. The wood-based floor faded in color and became a green flax carpet. The protruding windows became the counter too. As Shino recovered, she found out that she was standing in the middle of an old post office.
Kyouji's face that was being pointed at suddenly melted. His skin changed to a person with oily yellow skin, lots of wrinkles, and a set of yellow teeth in the dry mouth. The syringe in his right hand unknowingly became the old automatic handgun that was giving a dark glow—and the gun in Shino's hand became the same thing.
Predicting what would happen next, Shino sank into extreme panic. Her stomach felt like it was pushed up, and her muscles tensed up.
No, I don't want to look. I really want to throw aside this Blackstar in my hand and get away from here.
But if she ran away here, everything would be wasted. The things that were as important as her life would also disappear.
She was fighting her fear as Asada Shino when she relapsed, and she was fighting against many powerful foes as the sniper Sinon. Perhaps these experiences would never bring any outcome. But—
This so-called strength is the process of moving forward.
Shino gritted her teeth and cocked the gun with her thumb. The apparition that appeared in front of Shino disappeared with this hard and heavy sound.
Kyouji, who knelt on the bed, watched the Procyon SL that was pointed at him and backed away slightly. Perhaps feeling scared, he continued to blink.
He opened his mouth, and the hoarse voice then followed.
"...What do you want to do, Asada-san. Tha...that's just a model gun, right? Do you really think that that thing can stop me?"
Shino placed her left hand on the table, exerting strength into her lifeless legs to get up and answered Kyouji,
"You said it before. I have real power. You said it before that there aren't any other girls who used a handgun to shoot someone else before."
Kyouji's face turned as white as paper and tensed up, backing away.
"So this isn't a model gun any more. Once I press this trigger, I'll shoot a real bullet to kill you."
Shino pointed the handgun at Kyouji and then slowly moved to the kitchen.
"Yo...you want to...kill...me...?"
Kyouji muttered like he was daydreaming and slowly shook his head.
"Asada-san wants...to kill me...?"
"Yes. You'll be the only one going to that world."
"NO...NO...I DON'T WANT...TO BE ALONE...!!!"
Kyouji's eyes lost all signs of consciousness. He looked up at the space blankly and knelt down on the bed.
Seeing his right hand loosen up and the syringe nearly falling completely onto the bedsheet, Shino hesitated over whether she should use this chance to snatch that thing. However, if she agitated Kyouji, he may really lose his senses and attack. Thus, Shino continued to move slowly to the kitchen.
When her eyes couldn't see Kyouji, she immediately kicked the floor and ran to the door.
A mere 5m distance felt so far away. She tried her best not to let out any footsteps as she moved past the kitchen. As she ran to the corridor and stepped onto it...
The mat slid backwards, and Shino fell down. She swung her right hand to get balance, and the model gun flew out and landed in the basin, creating a loud sound.
Even though she didn't manage to fall, the left kneecap hit the floor, causing Shino to feel pain. However, she continued to try and reach her body out and use her right hand to grab the door handle.
However, the door wouldn't budge. At this moment, Shino noticed that the door was still locked and gritted her teeth while unlocking it.
CLAK. Just as the sound of the door unlocking reached Shino's fingers—
An icy hand held her right ankle hard.
Shino held her breath and looked back, and found that the distraught Kyouji was lying on the floor and grabbing her foot. She did not know where the syringe went.
Shino tried to shake him off and moved her foot about, and her hand went all the way, reaching out to try and pull the door open. However, her fingers did touch the door handle, but she didn't hold it. That's because Kyouji's amazing strength pulled her back.
Even after Kyouji pulled her to the kitchen for several centimeters, Shino still used her left hand to grab the step of the corridor to resist.
If she screamed here, her voice may reach outside. But just when Shino was about to scream out, her throat got stuck and couldn't take in air, causing only a hoarse voice.
Kyouji's strength could be said to be far more than usual. That skinny body of his which was only about as tall as Shino showed such arm power from nothing. Shino's left hand was finally pulled away from the step, and she was then pulled deep into the kitchen.
Kyouji's face immediately pressed down. Even though Shino held her right hand tight and got ready to push at his lower chin, Kyouji grabbed it with his left hand the moment she touched the skin. That wrist felt as tight as a tiger clamp, and a sharp pain exploded deep inside her brain.
After a while, Shino realized that the strange sound Kyouji was making was actually her name. Kyouji's face lost all focus and his mouth was giving off white foam as he slowly brought his mouth close in. The mouth he brought over was really big, showing two rows of teeth that looked like they were ready to rip Shino's skin away. Shino wanted to push him away with her left hand, but her left hand was soon grabbed by Kyouji's right hand.
Shino's hands were restrained, but she intended to wait for Kyouji to close in and bite his neck. Just when Shino's mouth was becoming tense for that moment—
A sudden gust of cold air blew past Shino's shoulders. Kyouji looked up behind Shino, and his eyes and mouth were open wide.
Just when Shino was thinking about what happened, a black whirlwind rushed in front of her from the door that was opened unknowingly—it should be someone, at least, as he used his knee to smash into Kyouji's face.
Dodo, with that sound, Shino could only look flabbergasted as she watched the mysterious intruder who rolled into the room with Kyouji.
Kyouji, who collapsed onto the floor, was bleeding from the nose and the mouth, and a young man she never met before was on him.
That person had slightly long black hair, and he was dressed in a similarly black rider suit. Shino thought that he could be another resident from the apartment, but once the guy—or boy turned around to shout, Shino immediately knew his true identity.
"HURRY UP AND GET AWAY, SINON! GET SOMEONE TO HELP!"
As she muttered blankly, Shino hurriedly got up. She knew she had to get away from this place as soon as possible, but her feet just wouldn't follow.
Finally, Shino grabbed the edge of the sink and finally managed to stand up. So he did personally come over from Ochinomizu. This meant that the police would be here soon. At that time, Shino forced herself to move her weak legs towards the entrance and ran a few steps—
Shino remembered something important.
Kyouji had a fatal weapon. She had to warn Kirito.
Just when she turned around and got ready to shout,
Kyouji, who was pressed down on the floor, completely lost his senses and let out a wild beast like howl. Kirito's body was then pushed aside, and both of them swapped places.
Kyouji's roar sounded like the echo from a large audio speaker, and the volume was so loud it nearly broke the eardrums of those near him.
"DON'T YOU GET NEAR MY ASADA-SAAANNNN!!!"
Kirito was ready to support his body, but Kyouji's left fist hit his face and let out a heavy impact sound. Kyouji then reached his right hand into the jacket pocket and took out that savage gun-shaped syringe.
Just when Shino shouted that...
"GOOOOO TOOOOOO HEEEEEEEELLLLLL!!!!!!!"
Kyouji roared out.
Byutsu~ The high pressure syringe stabbed into Kirito's chest, on the T-shirt that showed itself under the rider's jacket, and let out a soft, sharp yet clear sound.
What was terrifying was that the sound was really similar to the high-capability silencers installed on guns.
Of course, Shino only knew about the sound effects of the imaginary guns in Gun Gale Online, and in fact, she didn't know what the sound would be like if it was silenced in real life. However, to Shino, who was familiar with this sound, it meant that she should step up and face the threat. The moment she recovered, she found herself running forward.
She took a few steps, rushed past the kitchen and then subconsciously looked for the most effective weapon. Finally, she chose the stereo on the table, and grabbed the handle with her right hand.
This machine Shino used for a long time had quite some history, and it could be said to be abnormally big, about as large as modern wall-speakers. Shino used her waist to support this rectangular body that was less than 3kg and quickly swung it behind her—
And then used centrifuge force to hit the left side of Kyouji's face, which was showing a smile that looked like he lost it.
Shino almost didn't feel any shock or feeling when she struck him, but after Kyouji was sent flying away fast, his head hit the corner edge of the bedframe, letting out a heavy sound that still clearly remained in her ears.
After half a second, Kyouji, who was struck on both sides of the head, moaned as he collapsed onto the floor. His right hand was loosened, and the high pressure syringe rolled out.
Shino didn't know whether that thing could continuously inject drugs, but she still took it. Kyouji was already showing white eyes and moaning away. It seemed that he was unable to move for the time being.
Shino thought about using a belt or something to tie Kyouji's hands up, but before that, there was something more important for her to do. She then turned around...
She gave a soft cry and knelt down beside the boy.
This boy who was as tender looking as his character in the game recognized Shino and said with a hoarse voice,
"I've been had...to think...that he would have a syringe..."
"Where? Where were you stabbed?"
Throwing the syringe aside, Shino hurriedly undid Kirito's rider jacket zipper.
I have to call the hospital. But before that, I have to do immediate emergency first aid. But what should I do to clear the toxin from the chest—Shino's mind continued to be filled with random thoughts, and her fingers started trembling.
Under the jacket was a faded blue T-shirt, and what just landed straight on the heart was a worrying stain. She didn't know how much «piercing ability» the syringe had, but it shouldn't be something that could be blocked by a thin T-shirt.
"You can't die...you can't die like this!"
Shino wailed in a tiny voice as she rolled up the T-shirt from the jeans.
That flat stomach and chest of Kirito's were immediately exposed, and his skin was rather white for a guy. However, slightly right from the center of the chest, where the T-shirt stain was—there was something stuck on it.
Shino looked bewildered as she looked at that object.
It was a round object that was about 3cm thick. The silver round plate had a suction cap that was made from yellow rubber. Also, there was something on the edge of the round pad that looked like a socket, but there wasn't anything on it.
The metal circle was completely wet on the surface, and there was a thin fluid flowing down. That transparent fluid should be the fatal drug «Succinylcholine» that Kyouji said.
Shino hurriedly looked around the floor, and on finding the tissue paper box, she drew two out and then carefully wiped the fluid away. She brought her face a few centimeters away from Kirito's chest, and then thoroughly checked for any high-pressure fluid injected in near the mysterious pad.
No matter how she looked, Kirito's chest didn't look like it had any damage. The high pressure syringe seemed to have pierced through the T-shirt and hit the metal circle pad that was only a few centimeters wide, and the liquid that was injected was blocked by this hard object on the outside. She tried to place her hand on the pad, and immediately felt a strong and forceful heartbeat.
Shino blinked and moved her eyes up, seeing that Kirito's face was moaning and keeping his eyes closed.
"Hey...listen to me..."
"Uu...I can't make it...I can't breathe..."
"Hey, listen to me."
"...Damn it...I can't think of...any last words...at this moment..."
"What's this that's stuck on you?"
Kirito again widened his eyes, lowered his head and looked at his chest. He then frowned in surprise and used his right hand finger to touch the metal circle pad.
"...Don't tell me...the drug hit this place?"
"Seems that way...what's going on?"
"...Well...that should be the electrode of the ECG..."
"Wha...what? Why is there such a thing...is your heart bad...?"
"Not really...just a means to counter «Death Gun»...that, that's right, I was panicking so the cable snapped and there was still one on me..."
Kirito forcefully heaved a sigh and said softly,
"Really...I was nearly scared to death..."
Shino used both hands to grab Kirito on the collar and lifted him.
"—I WAS THE ONE WHO SHOULD BE SAYING THAT! I...I THOUGHT THAT YOU WERE DEAD THERE!!"
Perhaps after shouting, all her tension disappeared as Shino suddenly felt darkness in front of her eyes. She slowly shook her head and looked at Kyouji who collapsed slightly afar.
"Is...he still alive?"
As Kirito asked her, Shino timidly reached her hand out to hold Kyouji's limp right wrist. Luckily, his hand was giving a clear pulse. Shino had the thought of wanting to tie Kyouji up, but she really couldn't look straight at him now that his eyes were closed, and could only look away. Shino didn't want to think about Kyouji anymore. Even though she didn't have any anger or sadness in that, there was a severe emptiness in her.
Shino kneeled down and blankly stared at the high-pressure syringe that rolled onto the floor—she should call it the real «Death Gun». A few seconds later, she finally spoke up,
"Anyway...thanks for coming over to help..."
Kirito smiled like usual and then shook his head.
"Don't worry...I didn't really help much...and I was nearly late, so, sorry. Because Kiku...my associate didn't really understand my explanation...are you alright?"
Shino nodded her head.
At this moment, a fluid flowed out from her eyes.
Even though her mind was blank and couldn't think, the tears that flowed down the face continued to land on the floor.
Shino kept quiet, and tears just streamed out from her eyes. She knew that if she started talking, she would start crying.
And Kirito didn't do anything as well as he remained silent.
After a while, Shino noticed the police car siren that came from afar, but her tears didn't have any intention of stopping. The large tears silently rolled down, and she realized—that the emptiness in her chest came from the heavy loss.