Tokyo ESP Gaiden – London ESP Chapter 1

Tokyo ESP Gaiden – London ESP Chapter 1

'If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?'

Such expression seems to exist in this country. The date is now approaching halfway through March. In Japan, the warm sun would start shining around this period.

Inside a vehicle which heating does not function well, England is cold even in March. The clouds overhead are thin, but the sky looks as pale as a sick person.

We are currently riding in a vehicle. Crossing the Dover Strait and now treading on the land of England; what I obtain from all this is nothing more than exhaustion.

I shift my glance towards the side mirror. It seems that we are not being followed.

There, my gaze meets with my own. I have a slightly pallid complexion. My constant vigilance for pursuers must have taken its toll on my body.

I take a look at the driver beside me, Kuroi Kozuki. The word 'bored' seems to be plastered on her countenance as she drives. Unlike mine, however, her face looks bright.

Kozuki has been together with me for several months. She has pale skin, prominent nose, lightly-colored irises, and above all, her hair is a natural blonde. Although her name is Japanese, anyone can tell from her outward appearance that she is half Caucasian.

I think she is around three years younger than me, so she should be still fifteen years old. But, her age can be sensed only from her childish face. Her abundant breasts and thin waist can be perceived even with her clothes on. Furthermore, her Gothic Lolita attire makes her look similar to a french doll.

If she walks around the town, everyone would be captivated by her appearance. However, like a cute frog has its poison, the darkness of her past and disposition will make anyone regret making her acquaintance.

Noticing my gaze, Kozuki opens her mouth and asks.

"What is it, Minami?"

"...It's nothing."

She is referring to me; my name is Azuma Minami.

"Then, would you mind having a conversation with me?"

"I don't feel like it right now."

Kozuki's eyebrow twitches. She does that whenever she is annoyed.

"I'd believed that you would agree as a compromise for staring at my face..."

I avert my gaze from her and take out a magazine from the dashboard.

"I'm tired right now."

"Huuh?!"

Kozuki snatches the magazine away and throws it out of the driver window. Flapping like a clumsy bird, the magazine goes out of sight in the blink of an eye.

"You are the one who feels tired? Haven't you been daydreaming in the passenger's seat all the way here from Dover?! Are you aware of what I've been doing all this time? I've been driving! I am the one who has been driving the entire time you're daydreaming beside me!"

She expresses her anger along with various gestures as she drives. Her driving ability is the real deal. However, if I go along with her now, she will only tire me out.

This is something I understood right after we started acting together. Contrary to her refined manner of speech, Kozuki has a short temper. Her posh behavior will take a complete turn, making her actions erratic—as if one of her screws just leaped off.

"But, the reason we're able to take this vehicle through Belgium was all thanks to me."

Without my 'merit', it would have been impossible to cross borders. It is probable that we would not reach England, either. Kozuki is aware of this, no doubt.

I have managed to make her swallow her words. However, she betrays my expectation before long as she makes her rebuttal to regain her standing.

"Certainly, that was thanks to you. However, it was only a speck when compared to the entirety."

"The entirety?"

"All contributions, everything during our life as runaways."

The talk has turned troublesome. I let out an involuntary sigh, I'm tired.

"Do you understand now? One instance describes thousands. Know that I will turn furious every time you make light of me."

"I'm not making light of you. Aren't we having a proper conversation right now? What are you dissatisfied with?"

It seems that my remark hits a land mine; the proof being, she suddenly swerves the steer to the left with all her might. This is one of her antics when her screw leaps off.

The vehicle protrudes to the opposite lane, while the skidding tires produce hysterical noises. The car behind us makes a sudden brake in a panic, and the one even behind makes a swerve to avoid it. Mayhem spreads in the blink of an eye, at which Kozuki makes a broad smile.

"Serve you right."

Not heeding the angers released by complete strangers, her smiling face looks innocent, if not lovely. Temperamental and eccentric, I have been together with this person who has—speaking frankly—a social deficit disorder.

The police may have marked us for this incident. In the face of my repeated concern about potential pursuers, Kozuki talks with a bored tone in her voice.

"Aren't you being a little too nervous? Be more relaxed."

"You're asking the impossible."

"Sheesh, you'll die from stress one of these days."

"You're the source of that stress."

"Oh, you~"

"...We're not here to play around."

During our chat, our means of transport enters a residential area. The houses are lined up in rows with uniform brown roofs.

"We've arrived in London."

We arrived a bit too quickly—it was a bit of a letdown. Anyway, the roads become more complex and the scenery transforms even more. The number of pedestrians is increasing, while the towering buildings surrounding the city are like walls in a maze. And so, the nature of London is gradually revealed.

"Ah, look. We can see River Thames now."

Over the river, supported by the bridge piers are bridge towers, also known as the Tower Bridge.

And to the opposite of the bridge, I can see a stronghold-like structure. That must be the London Tower.

My interest in history comes from my parents being archaeologists. Being near the fortress that carries various anecdotes excites me a bit.

Crossing the bridge hides London Tower from my sight. What was I being excited for... despite my telling Kozuki we were not here to play around just earlier.

I cough lightly and ask her a question.

"Which part of London are we going to?"

"The East End. It is near White Chapel."

White Chapel, the one in the nineteenth century serial killer, 'Jack the Ripper'! I remember now, the East End, the area with the worst public order in London.

"This location is perfect for anyone on the run."

It is as Kozuki said, the more we advance, the worse the atmosphere becomes. There are litters everywhere. And even though it is still noon, I can see many people loitering around in front of stores and buildings.

The vehicle soon reaches a place with a row of tall structures.

"We have reached our destination block~"

"Block?"

"Apartment complex, I mean. Apartment complex in Japan is where the poor reside in, though."

The apartments here are about two times bigger compared to those in Japan. The place is wider, too. But, I feel cooped up; time seems to stop in London. Several ill-bred people are watching us cautiously—they are probably the residents here.

"Are we... hiding here this time?"

"There are a lot of people and various ethnic groups, and the police don't approach the place much. I tell you, there is no better location."

From a glance, even the age group is as wide. And having various ethnic groups means... hiding a tree within a forest, huh. I agree to her declaration.

"Oh, when hiding in this place, there are several rules to follow."

"Rules? You actually know something called 'rules'?"

"May I have a little of your attention here?"

Pouted the displeased Kozuki. When in Rome, do as Romans do. I should give her some respect and listen to what the native has to say here.

"First, you may not use your ESP. I suppose this one goes without saying."

"That rule applies anywhere, doesn't it? Why limit it to this place?"

Kozuki ignores me as she continues her speech.

"Second, do not cause problems. This includes noise, water leaks and the like. Live your days peacefully as a model resident would."

"Like I said, we've been sticking to those rules before we even got here."

"Third, do not poke your head into troubles. No matter the reason, no matter what happens, ignore it."

"You can actually shorten those rules to these three words, 'Don't stick out,' can't you?"

"Minami is a big idiot, after all. I can't help but to worry."

I have thought of a retort, but I will refrain from saying it out. It will be pointless, and it will only tire me out. She drives into an underground parking lot, numbered with '9' as marked on the wall. She then parks somewhere appropriately.

When I alight from the vehicle, I smell a horrible stench. The smell is like the mix of oil and fish. I am trying to find the source, but there does not seem to be anything nearby.

"What's this smell?"

"It smells pretty much the same anywhere around this area. If I must say, it is perhaps the smell of what clings to people who desire to live."

"What does that mean?"

Kozuki ignores my question and walks to leave the area. And so, I follow her in silence.

Our hiding place is on the highest floor. Speaking in detail, it is room number 1215 of East End's apartment number 9, which is located on its twelfth floor.

The front door is double-layered with a cage-like crime prevention gate. The door itself is colored with an eye-hurtingly frivolous pink.

"Welcome to my safehouse. Ah, please take off your shoes. Cleaning would be tedious, otherwise."

The place is more spacious than I thought. There are two doors abreast in the living room. She says that one leads to the bedroom, and the other is a storage room. The word 'apartment' gave me an impression of it being small and confined, but it appears that it is different in England. From the entrance passageway, there seems to be a closet and a bathroom if I walk to the opposite direction of the living room.

The living room is full with some kind of medieval-style furniture—which lets me understand about Kozuki's tastes. There are things ranging from a leather sofa to a huge liquid crystal TV.

"Albeit small, we also have a balcony."

Boasts Kozuki. Although, I am not interested in it at all, so I ignore her statement.

"Where do I sleep? There is only one bedroom. Should I sleep on that sofa?"

"Would you mind if you don't? This sofa is much more expensive than what you think."

"So, on the floor?"

"Of course not. The bed is king-sized, two people can sleep in it with space to spare."

She opens the bedroom door. The small room barely contains one giant bed. It is equipped with a canopy like those usually seen in a palace.

"We're sleeping in one bed?"

During our life on the run, there were times when we had to huddle together in the cold. However, we have deliberately chosen a place to stay. I cannot understand why we have to sleep in the same room. And actually, I cannot feel at ease when I sleep with someone else.

"Is there any problem?"

"Not really."

Still, this is her home. I can only abide if nothing else.

Is she feeling happy, finally back home after a long time? Kozuki looks festive. I had had a place to call home until two years ago. I would say that I was home when I opened the door, and 'he' would be inside, preparing dinner. That scene has become nothing but an illusion.

"Well, shall we bring in the luggage?"

We enter the room used for storage. Having the same size of the bedroom, it contains many and various items. An ancient sword, ancient-looking tattered books, dimly shining gold bars, there is also a cursing doll from Africa, maybe. It is placed facing towards the ceiling, looking full of resentment. Considering the amount of dust, all the things here must have been neglected after being dumped into this room.

I pick up a cane-like thing that is somehow leaning against the wall. I brush off the dust that is already looking like cotton, revealing what is actually a scepter decorated with emerald and gold. Furthermore, the grip is engraved with a crowned double-headed eagle! I almost dropped it from surprise. This is the coat of arms of Russia, of Ivan the Terrible!

"Hey, this... did you...?"

"Yes, these are all stolen goods. Each of them took some efforts for me to snatch, you know."

Said Kozuki with a puff of her bosom. Now that I think about it, she is from a [Thief's Lineage]. According to the person herself, stories of her family are passed down as legends in London.

"Oh, really? Why do you leave them like this then?"

"Stealing them was fun. But after I contemplate it, these are all things that I don't actually need. On the other hand, I do not want to discard the fruits of my efforts, so I decided to store them here for safekeeping."

Safekeeping? Did she mean 'neglect'? At the very least, this scepter does not deserve being covered with so much dust. This is a national treasure!

"By the way, the furniture in the living room is all stolen goods, too."

She declared such a dreadful fact without any hesitation. Now that she said it, each and every piece of the furniture seems to give the appearance of having been used for long, until a certain someone stole them. After I take a closer look at the balcony curtain, it is actually sewn with very detailed embroidery. It is possible that she stole this from a palace somewhere.

"It is essential to organize these for a bit."

Kozuki forcefully pushes the scattered articles towards the wall. I dare say there are other renowned historical relics in there. Hearing the clattering sounds produced from that violent act is truly horrifying in a way.

"Minami, would you mind helping me out a little?"

I timidly approach a cardboard on the floor. When I pick it up, I can hear the sounds of small items clattering inside. They are combs and ornate hairpins, lying in disarray. Judging from their appearance, they are quite old and made of precious materials like tortoiseshell and coral. Underneath them are coins from the era of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and oval coins of Tensho Oban... I do not want to see any more of this.

That said, I end up 'discovering' more treasures every time I move something. I have carried everything carefully to avoid scratches on the items as much as I can. But, Kozuki just drops things on top of them without any reservation. My efforts are in vain.

"We have cleared up a lot of space. Splendidly done."

Kozuki smiles, looking satisfied. I knew it, this girl is wrong in the head somewhere. She is a person who places a Spartan Shield above the mechanical doll made by the expert craftsman, Tamaya Shobei! An art practitioner would faint from this hellish sight.

"I believe this will be sufficient. Then, I shall bring the things in."

Kozuki holds her hand out towards an empty space. The air starts to inflate like a balloon, and a suitcase appears out of nowhere. I am distressed to imagine if she will place more items above the famous treasures. The new suitcases are appearing neatly in a row as Kozuki continues transferring the rest of the luggage without delay.

This is Kozuki's merit, the ESP of [Item Transfer]. The luggage that is being transferred one piece after another comes from the vehicle we rode. The scope of her power is quite large; she can retrieve anything she has touched once and she can send them to anywhere she has been to. She can send living things away, but she cannot retrieve them because 'living things move around', or so she once said.

And here comes the last one. It is not a suitcase like the ones before. Rather, a simple wooden crate makes its appearance in the storage room.

I check the wooden crate thoroughly for any damages. It is my mission to guard its content.

The "Ark" and the "Tablet". The origins of the 'shining fish'; an entity that holds the power to give 'merits', to transform people into 'ESP users'. I see no abnormalities with the crate.

"That should be everything."

I can finally feel relieved.

"I have anticipated this earlier, but this storage room has become so cramped."

"Of course. Unless you organize it more frequently..."

"I know! We don't really use this wooden crate all the time, do we?"

Kozuki is pointing at what contains the Ark.

"What are you saying?"

"Yup, we don't."

In the next instant, Kozuki touches the crate and uses her power to send it away. Unable to understand what just occurred, my head goes blank for a second.

There is Kozuki with her beaming smile. The wooden crate disappeared with the Ark in it. The piles of historical relics are stacked to the wall. The crate disappeared. And Kozuki is definitely smiling.

"What are you doing?!"

I myself am surprised by how loud I shouted.

"Eh?"

"What are you spacing around for?! Bring it back here now!!"

I seize her collar and violently swing her back and forth.

"H-hey, stop it! You're stretching my clothes!"

"Bring it back here or I'll keep doing this until they tear!"

"If that really happens, I'll beat you until your bile comes out!"

"Just get the Ark back here, now!!"

Kozuki's eyebrow twitches and she grabs my collar back.

"Listen here, London is my home. I know what I ought and ought not do."

"I don't care! Just.bring.the Ark.back.here!!"

"I sent it to a safe place. It is even safer and more agreeable than here."

"You don't have to! I'm the one who decides what to do, and you just need to obey me!"

"Huuh?! Of course I refuse!"

"Do it even if you don't want to!"

"I'm not doing it because I don't want to!"

I have lost my patience. I cast a glance towards the sword hanging at my flank. But during that instant, I see Kozuki making a grin at the edge of my vision. She is [Transferring] me away.

I see the world around me getting sucked into the air as a new scenery immediately spreads before my eyes.

My vision is filled with red. When I realize that it is actually the frame color of a double-decker bus, its distance to me is already too close that I can see the expression of the bus driver vividly. With haste, I teleport to the rooftop of a nearby building.

There are sounds of an emergency brake and people screaming. An uproar is forming below.

Coincidence or not, Kozuki has sent me to the front of a moving double-decker bus.

No, it must have been intentional. I understand from observing my surroundings; a huge SANYO light signboard, a plaza with the statue of Eros pivoted in the center of the rotary, a crowd of people, and cars in traffic.

I am at Piccadilly Circus, a tourist spot in London. Lots of buses and taxis are traversing back and forth here. So, if someone is [Transferred] right into the middle of the road, even an idiot knows what will happen.

To think that she would [Transfer] me to such a crowded place... I feel my heart boiling with anger as I sense Kozuki's malice. Anyway, I need to return and make her spill the whereabouts of the Ark.

It will not take long for me to return with my 'merit'. Like Kozuki, I also bear the power of [ESP]. My ability is teleportation—allowing me to move across a great distance in the blink of an eye. Those that I touch can be taken along regardless of its structure. Also, I can carry quite a large amount of weight without any particular restrictions.

However, I realize a grave matter before I can continue.

"Which way is to White Chapel?"

My teleportation is not a convenient power where I can reach any destination just by popping it up in my mind. I need to know things like the general position and direction beforehand. White Chapel, Piccadilly Circus; even if I remember the names of the places, I am pretty much clueless without knowing which part of London they are in, or how the locations relate to each other.

There are no buildings near the apartment that can be used as a landmark from here. I usually dash to a conspicuous-looking building whenever I lose my way, but this time there is none.

"Oh well, I better go down and find a map..."

Then I discover another problem—about my current state.

I am not wearing any footwear. It is a matter of course, since I had removed my shoes in Kozuki's house before she transferred me afterwards. Walking barefooted at such a place will definitely make me stand out.

The fact that I can realize such things means that I have calmed down to some extent. For now, I will try to remember the buildings that I have seen while I search for White Chapel.

We passed through Tower Bridge when we crossed the river, and... right, We passed by London Tower. In other words, if I can locate the London Tower, I will make it back somehow.

I remember its shape. It should be easy to spot a structure enclosed by ramparts. Although, when I look around my surroundings, I do not see anything like it.

"Okay..."

I put my consciousness into the sky above and unleash my ESP. If someone is looking at me right now, I must look as if I am turning into mist.

Light fills my vision. And during the next instant, I have dashed to London's airspace—one thousand and five hundred meters above ground. It takes one mere second for me to start falling head first.

Below me is the townscape of London with River Thames cleaving the city into north and south. Also, observing from a high-altitude like this makes me aware of how the streets converge in the heart of the city.

"It's near the Thames River, I think."

I run my vision along the areas around the river. I see a bridge soaring like a tower—the Tower Bridge. So, London Tower should be right nearby...

Found it, one building that is surrounded by ramparts. With my consciousness floating above London Tower, I dash.

I land at the peak of the tower and look at my surroundings. There, I notice a cluster of apartment-like buildings.

I will return to the room in one go from here and present her with a dropkick as soon as I reach the room. After cracking my fingers, I dash.

Dash is the expression I decide for when I use my ESP. Since the word [dash] means going somewhere in a hurry, I think it is perfect to describe the trait of my 'merit'.

Exiting a vortex of light, I return to Kozuki's room after being away for around five minutes. But, there is no one in there. Only one note is left on the table.

Dear Ms. Short-Tempered Idiot,

I am out shopping.

I may be returning home soon.

Although, there is a chance that I won't.

Please kill some time as you see fit.

Kozuki

She even attached a simple cat illustration after her signature. In silence, I crumple the paper into a ball and throw it away. Never mind then, I will make her reveal where the Ark is in our next meeting.

In the meantime, I will find a store to buy a map within the apartment complex and search for where Kozuki might be at.

Though, after walking for around thirty minutes, I give up on obtaining the map. I have wandered all the way to the center of the complex, but except for groceries, all other stores were closed.

What should I do now? Visit the city area for the map? But, if the sun sets when I obtain my map, will I be able to catch Kozuki then? This is her home base; without a geographical advantage, it is impossible for me to catch up to her.

Hate to admit, waiting in her room patiently is the wisest conclusion at this point.

It is good that I could return to Kozuki's room with teleportation. But, I should refrain from using my ability too much around the complex. For the sake of inputting the layout of this neighborhood, I decide to walk to the other side of the complex and back.

The back side of the apartment complex is desolate. The stench from a garbage dump nearby combined with the already existing fishy smell makes me feel queasy.

A moment later, I see a boy running into the dump. Afterwards, five people—the very definition of delinquents—appear in pursuit and rush into the dump, as well. Soon, I hear the voices of a dispute starting.

I can imagine what is going on. The boy who ran in first looked really scared. And the delinquents seemed to have fun chasing their prey.

They must be bullying him in the dump right now. There are thick sounds of flesh getting beaten, along with the owner's groans.

It would be bad if I get involved. But, when I decide to scram, the five-man group exit the dump while dragging their victim. And more importantly, they are now blocking my path as they resume their bullying.

The one getting bullied looks very young, maybe around ten years old. Compared to him, the delinquents are much bigger in size, about fourteen to fifteen years old. The boy is getting beaten without mercy.

I know the garbage dump is small and cramped... but I never thought that anyone would do such things where people come and go. This is not even a back alley.

Well, what do I do now? I can just ignore and forget about him. Nine out of ten, this is his fate. Maybe I should just go back to where I walked from. On the other hand, why do I have to give up my prior route because of some children?

I am standing still, thinking of my next action. Meanwhile, the boy has become battered from the kicks and punches. His nosebleed is splattered all over the floor.

One of the bullies that is wearing a red cap leaves the place, perhaps to look for something to be used as a weapon. And so, the path has become wide enough for me to go through. They are currently entranced with their bullying, so they should not notice if I walk pass them now.

Still getting hit, the boy cowers like a turtle, waiting for the violence to end. But, that is the wrong choice. Trembling and curling yourself up will not change anything. You will only be wrenched open with even greater strength. What awaits is even more gruesome violence.

"Bodishi..."

My feet stop involuntarily. The word seems to come from the boy on the receiving side of the bullying.

"Bodishi... Bodishi..."

He mutters the same word over and over again as if in delirium.

Bodishi—it means 'I am sorry' in Efrasian. This boy, he is from————I see the boy's back overlap with 'him' for an instant.

There was a time when 'he' got beaten up like this, too. He started a brawl with some delinquents that had insulted me during his middle school, and was utterly defeated. After having that transient daydream, my chest suddenly grows hot.

At the same time, someone shoves me, making me fall to my backside. Looking up, I see the boy that went to search for a weapon looking down at me while shouting something.

I brush the dirt off my clothes and get up without hurrying.

The red cap's companions stop what they were doing and surround me. It seems that they are currently throwing some abusive words. I look at the boy, and he looks me back with a frightened expression in his eyes.

"Your name?"

I asked the boy in Efrasian. Surprised and bewildered, he answers me with a soft voice, "Levan..."

I avert my gaze and deliver a punch to the throat of one approaching delinquent.

He holds his throat as he collapses, and I trample on him. That is when I see the faces of the delinquents for the first time. They look like Kozuki when she is annoyed. And about the rules that she made, I have stopped caring.

"We're breaking through."

I swing my leg towards the red cap's jaw with all my might.

Good day, my name is Kuroi Kozuki. I am a beautiful young girl born in the thief family lineage which has been existing in the history of England for five hundred years, the [Black Fist]. Yes, I am the Kuroi Kozuki.

At the present, I am enjoying a pleasant trip home from my shopping. London is brimming with excellent selections as always. Seizing one thing after another has filled me with much satisfaction.

The day has become quite late because of my numerous side trips. The sun has set completely by the time I arrive at the apartment. The temperature has dropped quite a bit, and my exhaled breath forms white haze. This piercing cold weather makes me crave for a stew. Such is my line of thinking as I hasten my pace.

I wonder if Minami is still angry? She is the type who bears a grudge, so I suppose she is super angry even now. Will she grumble to me again when I am home? She is really a handful, I heave a sigh.

When I exit the elevator, I am overcome with a malaise that I cannot seem to put into words. There are times when thieves are able to employ their intuitions. And so, we are able to sense if an undesirable occurrence has arisen.

There is no particular change in the passageway. I do not sense anyone nearby, and I see nothing that can serve as traps, either. I observe my surroundings covertly as I head towards my room. In the end, nothing happens.

Is it possible that I am just imagining it? Having a false alarm does not really please me. I open the door to my room and I spot Minami's footwear, along with a pair of tattered sneakers.

"Minami, are you in?"

After I called her from the passageway, Minami reveals herself from the living room while holding a piece of absorbent cotton. The sharp smell of antiseptic solution enters my nose.

"I'm borrowing your first aid kit."

Said Minami with the same expression as always. I can never tell what she is thinking under that visage.

"I don't mind, but did you hurt yourself?"

"No, not me."

"Hold on a second. What do you mean?"

"Well, nothing big."

My thief's intuition is blaring. I push Minami aside. In the living room, I find a young boy whom I do not know sitting on the sofa and wrapped with bandages.

"W-who are you?!"

I fling my bags and ask a question spontaneously.

"Ah, um... I-I, I..."

"He's Levan. It seems that he lives in the same block."

Minami answered the question I threw in the stead of the flustered boy. Levan? Lives in the same block?

"Why is he here, then?!"

"I brought him because he got hurt."

Answering with the same tone as ever, she resumes treating the boy.

"What in the world are you thinking?! Did you not hear what I said the first thing we arrived?!"

"I did, but you said nothing about not bringing anyone into this room."

"Please do not nitpick on the details!"

On the receiving end of my shout, Minami clicks her tongue as if she is fed up with something. No matter what I say to her will fall on deaf ears. I turn to face the Levan boy, instead.

"You!"

"Y-yes?!"

It appears that I can converse with him in English. I do not understand how Minami was able to communicate with him when she cannot speak English at all.

"I am aware of how impolite of me to say this, but I am troubled if you stay here. Would you please leave?"

Levan looks at us alternately. Nodding, he stands up. But Minami forcibly pushes him back to my sofa.

"I haven't finished treating him."

Aah, geez!

"All right. Then make it quick and chase him away when you're done."

"It's almost finished. What are you getting so angry for?"

"You know what? Do you want me to let you know just how thoughtless you are? This morning, you told me to be prudent in my actions or whatnot like you're some important person. Even if I pile my idiotic behavior one hundred times, what you are doing now is yet more idiotic!"

"So you're actually aware that you were being an idiot, I'm surprised."

This woman, I feel like punching her until she spews blood. I have known that she is only capable of providing rude remarks... but that was the worst answer I could ever imagine. Perhaps I should start filling her head with leads.

"See? All done."

"Then please chase him away right now!"

Minami speaks a few words to Levan, and he expresses his gratitude as he rises from his seat. The language they use to converse with; the sound and form are similar to Turkish. But, the boy does not look to be a native from there.

"Excuse me..."

Timidly, he starts speaking with me in English. I notice that he talks in a strange accent. Is he an immigrant, perhaps?

"Could you be not too angry to Minami? She rescued me from delinquents."

There goes my thief's intuition, again.

"You were rescued? What do you mean?"

I have put on a smile to keep him from being frightened of my inquiry. However, he steps away and stays quiet instead. What a useless brat.

"Minami?"

"What?"

I gently approach Minami, who is tidying up after her nursing.

"This boy told me that you had rescued him. Care to explain more?"

Her hand stops abruptly. She breathes out lightly and turns to face me.

"That's how the course of events leads up to."

"What course of events would that be?"

"First, that boy was being bullied by delinquents in the complex. Then, when I was passing through where they were at, I got involved."

"And why would you take the trouble trying to pass through them in the first place?"

"Who cares about that. Okay, so I got involved and I asked them to let me through."

"In English?"

"Japanese. I can't speak English."

Said Minami with no shame whatsoever. What is wrong with girl? Is she an alien or something?

"After that, they took action. So... well, I did it."

"Do you mean to say that you responded to their attack?"

"Responded... how do I say it... He pushed me, so I kicked him as a payback."

"Are you an idiot?!"

Just what in heavens... just what is wrong with this lass!! I have told her! I have expressly told her not to poke into troubles no matter what happens! I knew that she was an idiot, but this much is unimaginable!

How old is this little infant? This is not your first time having to house-sit, remember?

"Tell me that the other party is still alive!"

"Maybe. I didn't check it, so I'm not sure."

"If you're that slow and dim-witted, can you please think and behave like one?!"

Minami grows sullen, but she does not rebut me. In the end, she does have a feeling of guilt to a certain extent. However, my distress is not to be quelled this simply. The sense of freedom that I occasionally feel in London city has disappeared; not even its tiniest atom remains.

Judging from Levan's immigrant-like appearance, some delinquents must have been playing immigrant hunt with him, until they fell victim to Minami.

As a matter of fact, this block is under a gang's clout. The group employs kids as extremities to monitor the precinct, and assaulting those kids will result in...

At the same time, I hear the sound of the crime prevention gate being violently beaten. The grating, clanging sounds reverberate within the compartment.

"Here they are..."

I can guess the identity of our violent visitors easily—the gangsters.

"Listen to me, Minami. I will be the one to handle them. Do not speak until I give the signal. Do not fight them, either. Do you understand?"

"Signal? What kind?"

"When I say 'kill them', you can do whatever you want. However, absolutely do not do anything before then. All right?"

After seeing her nod, I head towards the entranceway. The situation has really turned troublesome.

Opening the door, I see a bunch of detestable gangsters standing neatly in a row along the corridor. One of them is tall, about two meters. He is clad with a catchy appearance because of the gold chain on his neck, on top of wearing sagging pants.

"Could you please quieten down a little bit? There should be an interphone at the front."

"Open it."

Having been told so, I open the crime prevention gate. It has become a little crooked because of their violent treatment.

The man that is wearing a pair of sunglasses with gilded rims pushes me aside and enters my residence without removing his muddy shoes. Then, he directs his companions to search the place. It appears that this person is the leader.

The subordinates are looking high and low—my storage room, bedroom, even the shower room—like they were hunting dogs.

"Mayhem! She's here! It's this one, right?"

It seems that Mayhem refers to the sunglasses man. 'Turmoil', what an exaggerating name to use for himself.

In the living room, Minami and Levan are now surrounded by the thugs. They are trying to intimidate the two by flaunting the guns that are tucked into their trousers.

"Call Moses here."

Following Mayhem's instruction, one boy is led here; he must be Moses. The face of the boy wearing a red cap is full of bandages. Also, his neck is wrapped with a cast.

"Is it her?"

He nods, and the gangsters draw their guns towards Minami. And so, I interpose myself between Mayhem and her without a moment's delay.

"Breaking into someone else's house and acting however you wish, without even telling the reason is a little disrespectful of you, don't you think?"

"Move. I have some business to settle with that woman. Who the hell are you anyway?"

"I am the owner of the place."

After I said that, Mayhem snorts a laughter through his nose, while the others start to laugh loudly.

"Alright, then. Can you step away, Miss Owner?"

"I cannot do that. You are intending to kill that girl, aren't you?"

"Who knows? She clobbered some of our guys here, so I guess she won't leave unharmed."

Mayhem grins and laughs. Gold teeth peek through the opening of his mouth in a coarse manner.

"The ones whom she hit were underlings at most, were they not? Even if you blame her for that..."

"Yes, they're underlings, but they're still one of us! There's no way we can keep silent after what she did. That laid-back bitch standing behind you has spat all over our Boss's face!"

It is your spit that is splattered all over my face, you son of a————Oops, that is unbecoming of me, I must stay calm. If I open hostilities towards these gangsters, I will become unable to live here. I shall not say goodbye to this place on my first day back in London.

"How about... an apology gift to your boss from yours truly? Let us forgive and forget about this matter with that."

"An apology?? There's no way a shitty girl like you can prepare a proper gift."

"Yes, actually. I will wrap a sufficient amount. I do have my share of wealth."

It is a peeve, but this is the most effortless method to solve the matter at hand. It should be fine if I hand over money from selling some loots from the storage room. Aah, geez! Why do I have to waste my money for this! Minami will definitely be given a piece of my mind later.

Mayhem looks around my room and releases another laugh.

"You gotta be kidding me. Why are you living in this block then?"

"How about yourself? You and your boss seem to have quite the influence. Yet, why do you live here?"

"Heh, I see. Alright, I'll believe you. I'll overlook the stuff about your bitch of a housemate in your respect as the place owner, but..."

"But?"

"Is that brat your housemate, too?"

Said Mayhem as he points towards Levan. Being pointed at, Levan turns visibly pale. I sympathize with him, but there is nothing I can do in his regard.

"No, that would be incorrect."

"Then you don't mind if we take him with us?"

"No, by all means."

One of the gangsters pulls him by his shirt violently. Not letting out a voice, his face alone turns as white as a sheet. Do not resent us, this is an inevitable outcome. At least, I shall honor you forever as our noble sacrifice.

Case closed——or so I thought in unison with Minami's brainless move. She unsheathes her Japanese sword from its scabbard and swings it onto the gangster's neck.

It takes a mere instant for the venue to transform into a field of battle. The gangsters are now holding both of us at their gunpoint.

"Oi! What's the meaning of this?!"

Shouted Mayhem. Of course he is surprised, even I, am surprised despite having been together with her for these several months.

"Hey! What are you doing?!"

"What did you say to that guy? Why are they taking Levan away?"

"In exchange for a sum of money and Levan, I negotiated that they would overlook both of us!"

"Tell him to take just the money and go home."

"Whatever happens to that brat is of no one's concern, is it?!"

"I'm the one to decide that!"

This goddamn stupid woman! Do I have to beat you until your gray matter spills out for you to understand?! You only need to think a little to know that making an enemy of gangsters is a poor idea!

"Oi, owner! What's going on?! You better not be playing around with us here!"

"Be quiet, you blockhead! I am still thinking about what kind of measure I should take now!"

Ah, now I have done it.

"What was that?! You bastard!!"

Mayhem reveals a ridiculously large, shining gold-plated Desert Eagle. How commendable of him, being able to get his hands on such article in England.

"Ohoho, I apologize for my banter, truly. I am going to provide twice the amount. So, would you mind overlooking that boy, as well?"

"The negotiation's been off the moment that woman took out her Samurai Sword. In the first place, I hate your obnoxiously elegant way to speak! That housemate, that brat, and you! You're all dying here!"

The worst. This is really the worst. I have taken the troubles to return home, only to reach such conclusion. I will no longer be able to live here when this ends. The room will be dirty with their blood and flesh and all the furniture will be ruined. Furthermore, the smell of gunpowder will stick to the curtain. After searching high and low, although my train of thought has strayed to the matter about the curtain... Everything! Everything is Minami's fault!

"Minami."

"What?"

"So many things are now in vain thanks to you."

"You're the one at fault for hiding the Ark."

"Let us talk about that later, for now..."

'Kill them'——is what I was about to say when a certain melodic incoming call ringtone resounds. Still pointing their weapons towards us, the gangsters timidly turn towards Mayhem.

Mayhem retrieves his mobile phone. Still holding his gun with his other hand, his expression changes into that of shock. Judging from the scolding tone that can be heard on occasions, the other party is unmistakably their boss. The way he stops himself from speaking whenever he opens his mouth makes him look almost like a carp.

His face has turned pale by the time the phone call is disconnected. I wonder where his vigor went. His shoulder droops like french fries that have been left for a while. He only says, "We're leaving," before taking his gang out of the room with him.

We, who are left in the room, can only glance at each other as we send them off.

"Did you do that?"

Minami remains quizzical as she asks me, but nothing immediately comes to mind. Did I do so many good deeds during the afternoon that their boss dropped a call at such a great timing in return? No, no, that is not it.

Once again, my thief's sixth sense notifies me of an impending danger. I recall one individual who is capable of achieving this feat.

Another ringtone is heard. The sound originates from what is inside the plastic shopping bag that I tossed earlier. Now that I think about it, I purchased two prepaid mobile phones for our contact purposes. But, the batteries should not have been inserted yet...

I timidly take the phone out of the plastic bag. It is ringing while still inside its airtight packaging. Am I currently inside a horror flick..?

After removing it from the packaging, I press the receive button and places the phone to my ear.

"[That was some trouble you caused.]"

"Eep!"

I stifled my shriek as I heard her voice. Night CrawlerQueen of the ThievesPiercer; she is the great thief that bears numerous titles. The owner of this voice is the present head of the Black Fist, my grandmother.

I want coffee. That is what strikes me when I see the translucent reddish-brown drink in front of me.

This is surreal. There is a cell phone on the table, with cups of black tea that seems to be positioned to surround it. The three of us are sitting with the phone set on speaker. But, there is no sound at all. Even so, Kozuki remains sitting up straight with her tense face.

"Ahem."

Kozuki coughs unnaturally. It is rare to see her nervous like this.

"Minami, there is no need to be reserved. Please, have a drink."

Her manner of speech is even more courteous than usual. I drink the tea, enough to dampen my throat.

"All right, where shall we start from?"

Kozuki gives a pleasant smile, though I have no idea who she is directing it to.

"Ah, now that I think about it, I have not introduced you. Grandmother, this quiet girl is Azuma Minami. Minami, the person on the other side of the phone is my grandmother."

"Just what have you been blabbering about?"

Kozuki has been acting weird after she picked up the call from this withheld number. She put the phone on the table so carefully before hurrying to prepare some tea. Levan and I could only be taken aback as we watched her.

She glares at me, telling me to introduce myself with her gaze. This is stupid. I face the phone and talks to it.

"It's Minami."

As expected, there is no answer. From what Kozuki said, the caller is her grandmother—the current head of Black Fist, Kuroi Beatrix.

"You sure the line's actually connected?"

I casually reach towards the phone, but Kozuki slaps my hand.

"Please do not act so foolishly!"

"Talking to a muted phone looks more stupid to me."

Meanwhile, Levan is looking at us with a confused expression.

"Also, you said that the gangsters pulled back because of something related to the one behind this call. In other words, someone is keeping watch of this place. Isn't this hideout unknown to anyone?"

"That is what I thought, too. But... well, it's my family. So I suppose she is not included in 'anyone'."

Stated Kozuki cheerfully. I really feel like kicking her ass right now.

"[It appears that my grandchild has always caused you trouble.]"

For the first time, I hear a voice from the phone. Her Japanese is flawless. Although, I can't tell her age or even her gender from the voice. Is she using a voice changer?

"Of course not, Grandmother. If I have to say, it should be me who has been caused trouble."

I click my tongue from hearing her trying to curry some favor. I pick up the black tea for another sip. In the end, I still dislike its bittersweet taste.

I do not like where this is going. How do I say it, I feel that my pace is being dictated by someone else. Kozuki trusts her grandmother. But to me, that person is nothing more than a stranger.

"Minami, won't you introduce that friend of yours, as well?"

Kozuki looks at Levan, who is sitting to her opposite. He looks anxious because he does not understand Japanese.

"It seems his name is Levan. He lives here, in Block 9."

"Oh yes, so you are called Levan. How do you do? Although, this is troubling~ This hideout is supposed to stay a secret~"

In contrast to her tone, her eyes are burning with rage.

"Like I said, I brought him here because he was injured."

"That is admirable of you, Minami. You broke your promise to me to rescue him. Your kindness truly knows no bounds."

"I'm not the one who started it. It's those kids that picked a fight with me."

"Knowing you, you should have been able to escape right then and there."

"There were too many of them."

"Why didn't you avoid getting involved with them in the first place?"

"I tried."

"You couldn't do it because this child was there. Am I wrong, Ms. Idiot?"

The gong has sounded. The chair where I was sitting on is hurled as I stand up and grab my sword. Kozuki has also prepared herself by leaping backwards and taking out a gun with her ESP.

"[Shouldn't you avoid showing your ESP to others?]"

Hearing that, Kozuki enters a panic. She removes the gun and returns to her seat. I knew it, she is looking at us from somewhere. The balcony curtain is closed tight. There must be a camera somewhere in the room.

"[It is useless to search for cameras. There is no such things from the start.]"

"Then how did you know?"

"[Who knows? The wisdom of an elderly, perhaps?]"

I start to hate the way this person speaks. She is exactly like Kozuki, and it does not change the fact that she is creepy. I really want to cut the call right now, but Kozuki will not let me off if I do that.

Beatrix continues her speech.

"[How was Kozuki in Tokyo? Was she a handful?"

I glance at Kozuki. She looks calm, but I can see her breaking a cold sweat on her forehead. I can feel a faint aura from her that is trying to prevent me from saying too much.

"We didn't act together in Tokyo, so I don't really know."

I was saying the truth. In the organization, we were separated into groups according to our powers, special traits, and so on. Kozuki and I were in different groups. And in the first place, I often acted independently. This fugitive life is actually our first time moving in one group.

"[I see...]"

She sounds somewhat disappointed.

"[Kozuki.]"

"Yesss!"

Suddenly getting her name called, Kozuki straightens her posture.

"[You should have contacted me when you're back in London. Or are you avoiding me on purpose?]"

"O-o-of course not, I would never have such intention. I was thinking of contacting you after things have settled down. It's the truth, right Minami?"

Don't ask me. How should I know?

"[Also, Kozuki. Tidy up your storage room properly. Its current state is outrageous.]"

"T-that... um..."

"[If you do not understand its value, do not nick it in the first place. How many times have I told you now?!]"

"Au..."

Beatrix's lecture continues, and Kozuki is hanging her head down meekly for once. Beatrix is right. I cannot believe that a sane person would actually treat historical relics sloppily. Kozuki really needs to reflect on her actions, but...

"I want you to keep your family matters for another time. What I want to hear right now is why you're doing all this."

She stops her lecture, and silence descends again. But, Kozuki hurriedly opens her mouth.

"G-grandmother, this girl is strange in the head... so please excuse her rude--"

"[Be quiet, you.]"

Kozuki closes her mouth, and it becomes silent once more. That is when I realize. Even when there is no one speaking, there should have been some noises during a phone call no matter how hard the other party tries to conceal it. But, there is no sound at all. It is as if she is speaking from within the darkness where not even a light particle can pass through...

"[Hm... Mina-chan, was it?]"

"It's Minami."

"[Whichever is fine. Perhaps you will not believe it, but I am quite well-known. While it is not my intention to boast, my name alone can influence the political world. Even among the elite bunch, it will be easier to find people indebted to me than those who are not. If I desire it, I can even make my words heard by the royalty.]"

"So what?"

"[I didn't expect you to be a thick-head. I am saying that I can report you to MI6 right here and now.]"

My face is boiling with anger. I wield my sword without thinking.

"I'll see you try...!"

"[What are you intending to do with that sword? Slicing the phone won't kill anyone, you know.]"

She is definitely looking at us from somewhere. Kozuki looks pale while still closing her mouth with both of her hands.

"Come out here!"

Instead of an answer, I hear a grating noise. I immediately recognize that it is the sound of a lighter. I have heard it many times when I was with 'Professor'. The image of Beatrix smoking a cigarette while chuckling to herself flickers in my mind.

She is mocking me. The anger within me is running about with nowhere vent it to. It's enough... I'll cut the phone right now! But just as I decide that...

"Hatchoo!"

What a way to break the tension. Levan sniffs to keep his nose from running. I have completely forgotten that he is still here.

"[My, my.]"

Beatrix's voice is mixed with snickers.

"Sorry for interrupting you, Minami."

After saying that to me in Efrasian, he apologizes to Kozuki and Beatrix through the phone in English. The latter replies while still laughing.

"[Haa, I've lost my drive. Well, I did manage to talk to my grandchild. I am hanging up.]"

"Wait!"

"[Don't worry. I am not going to report you.]"

Oh really? Not Kozuki, not this person, I cannot trust this household. As if seeing through my doubts, Beatrix continues.

"[We are... well, an unrivaled family, but we always uphold our rules. Among them, it is set that 'we will never betray one of our own'. Reporting you will lead to my grandchild being arrested as well. So it is all right for you to believe in my words.]"

I look at Kozuki, she gives me a nod.

"[I will be hanging up now. Kozuki, it is still cold, so warm yourself when you sleep. And Mina-chan.]"

"It's Minami."

"[You really are an interesting one.]"

A clattering sound; the call has been disconnected. Right after, Kozuki makes a grand sigh.

"Aah... that was so tiring."

Finally releasing her mouth, she rests her head on the table.

Levan blows his nose. He does not even realize how tense we were.

Putting my sword, I head towards the washbasin. My face and back are full of sweat just from speaking through the phone. By washing my feverish face with cold water, I calm my pounding nerves.

This city is Beatrix's backyard. No, it is something even more than that. As long as I am staying here, it is impossible for me to escape their grasp.

I have a bad feeling, I feel anxious. Somehow, I recall the fragrance of Professor's cigarette.