Chapter 15:

Vol. 2 ☆ Fragment 10: A Choice Between Heart and Justice ~「Cleaning Soldier」

Scarlet Finale! (Demo)


“This is the worst.” A tall boy with spiky hair sighed.

Just when he thought he could let his guard down, he was put in a really heavy position. He continued to glance at the clear night skies, wishing that he could simply fly away and disappear into the endless cape of stars.

Moving his sight down, the colorful garden was illuminated by gentle rays of moon-light. The chilly air and the sweet fragrance from all of the flowers made him feel as though he had ended up in a hidden wonderland.

And yet, two figures lied down over that garden. Despite only having met them today, he couldn’t deny the connection that he had made with them.

(No, Ryuusei. You have to think of this rationally.)

That’s right, this was a tough situation but that’s exactly why jumping to conclusions was a bad idea. He had to consider every single option, every single possibility. But where to start? Based off the information he had received from his boss, Caroline was dangerous. She had been standing right at the scene of crime when the destruction of a location that threatened to end with the lives of many people had taken place. That wasn’t a place anyone would just randomly stumble upon; the fact that she had made it out safely despite the dangerous conditions was also suspicious.

Then, could it have been a twin sister? Was she being threatened by the mastermind? No, that was naïve thinking. Come to think of it, Caroline and Eri had mentioned having companions along with them. Was one of them the “mastermind” that his boss mentioned? Or worse, was Eri just as dangerous? Was she involved with these people too? That was really hard to believe.

The only image Ryuusei had of Eri was that of a frail and energetic girl. Seeing her collapse and seeing her condition worsen while inside the underground location was something that was burned really deep into his memory. It could be that Eri just wasn’t aware of how dangerous Caroline and the others were, if that was the case then he had to make sure to protect Eri at all costs.

To protect Eri… from Caroline? It couldn’t click inside his mind at all.

Another image that still lingered fresh in his head was that of Caroline, crawling across the floor, glaring at her enemy with anger bursting out of her eyes. At that moment, she had given it her all to protect Eri until the very end. Was that a lie? Was Caroline only looking after herself at that moment?

The mere thought than that could have been nothing but an act scared him. The thought of humans being able to fake their emotions to that extent to manipulate others scared him. After all, people like that existed in the world, that was no surprise, but to be in the receiving end of that was simply terrifying.

Ryuusei didn’t like to lie to himself; he recognized just how fragile his heart was. He recognized how for just a moment, he was happy at the thought of making new friends. He recognized how he let himself get so easily attached to them. But even so, that made him feel pathetic. Clinging to people he just met just like that, clinging to the idea of making new connections, it made him feel desperate.

In the first place, wasn’t the reason he was conflicted all his fault? If this was that person in this situation, they’d be able to shake it off with little to no effort. Why couldn’t he simply learn to be like that?

The spiky haired boy then shook his head. This wasn’t the time to be putting himself down like that. He had to act. Of course, making a choice in a heartbeat wasn’t an option to him, so maybe it was better to concern himself with a different matter for the time being.

For starters… that’s right, where is this place? It’s not somewhere he had ever stepped foot on despite living in this city for years. From where he stood this looked like a garden with no way out except for going into the house just behind him. With most of the city being deserted, he was hardly able to notice all the tall buildings in the distance given how there was no one to turn on their lights. Well, the house being the only way out could work to his advantage, even if it made him feel trapped, that meant that Caroline wouldn’t be able to escape unless she went through there as well. And it’s not like Caroline knows Ryuusei is after her, so her guard will surely be down.

In contrast to the darkness of the city, the lights inside this house seemed to be on. Just who was living here? It wasn’t Raiko, was it?! No, no, don’t think of scary situations. If this was Raiko’s house it wouldn’t make sense for him to still be alive right now.

“Excuse me…” Ryuusei muttered as he stepped inside. He wished he could have said it a little louder, but he didn’t have enough courage.

The place was beyond silent, it was like stepping into a haunted house not knowing what was going to jump at you next. As he gave another step forward, Ryuusei had a really bad realization. He had entered the house wearing shoes. Unlike the traditions of his homeland, entering a residence in Glint City wearing shoes wasn’t a big deal; In fact, that was the norm. But here something was different; the entire floor was covered with a long and silky silver carpet. The carpet however looked so clean and shiny that he wouldn’t be surprised if even being able to look at it was somehow illegal. Well, he did work a part-time job at the police department; shouldn’t he be well aware if that was in the law? Not like he bothered memorizing all the laws anyway. All he could do now was to apologize a million times inside his head and pray he wouldn’t end in jail thanks to illegal carpet stepping.

Moving forward across the house, something else picked his interest. The carpet looked like something you’d find in the castle of a queen or a millionaire, yet, this house was incredibly small. He moved past a corridor that connected the garden with the living room, only to find a really old-looking sofa and one of those TVs that looked like a big square, did those still exist?

The more he looked around, the more he started to realize whose house this actually was. The biggest giveaway was all the decorations that hung around the walls. There were many golden ornaments in the shape of phoenixes, looking at them closely; it was as though they emitted a soft but radiant light around them. This wasn’t the first time he had seen something like this, and there was one single location in all of Glint City where you could find something similar: Luminous Phoenix. That was the name of the restaurant he had visited with Caroline and Eri. That restaurant was well known for providing a safe shelter for all of the citizens, although ironically enough that was the place that had led him to the most danger he’s experienced in his life.

There was no way this house could belong to anyone but the owners of that restaurant. At some point Ryuusei had even heard many rumors about how the radiant phoenixes could “make you feel better” by looking at them or how they looked like they could be symbols from old ancient cultures. Somehow that also made them look like they belonged in a museum instead.

If this was really the house of the Luminous Phoenix owners however, it made Ryuusei feel a little more reassured. It’s not like Ryuusei knew that much about them, in fact, his interactions with them went only as far as them standing on the other side of the counter to take his orders and provide with food or supplies. But they were still known as figures who worked hard to look after the citizens.

The one he had interacted with the most had been a maid with blonde hair. He knew there was a second owner, a green haired chef who imposed a strong aura around her. On second thought, meeting with the green haired girl sounded scary; hopefully this wasn’t her house but the maid’s instead.

Even though up until now everything had been dead silent, a soft noise finally reached Ryuusei’s ears. It was the sound of running water. The lights had been on, so there was a big chance that there was someone inside the house, at any rate, that running water was his best chance at encountering someone at last. Slowly, he started to walk towards the source of the noise. Once he finds someone, what should he do? What should he tell them? Even though the silence and isolation was getting to him, randomly approaching someone made him grow more and more nervous.

Since the house was small, it didn’t take Ryuusei long to walk across another corridor that linked to what seemed to be the area with the bedrooms- or at least that was his best guess after walking past two closed doors. Standing behind one final door, the sound of running water had become much louder.

(No Ryuusei. I will need to stop you right there. You know really well what kind of flag you are about to trigger here, you should know better than that.)

He crossed his arms and stopped before doing anything at all. He had read too many light novels to know how this scenario usually ended up like and he had no intention of becoming another generic protagonist.

But even though he knew that much… something was off.

Even though he could still hear the running water, everything else was dead silent.

Come to think of it, the underground location and Raiko themselves had been located just under the Luminous Phoenix restaurant. It was hard for Ryuusei to believe the owners would be keeping something so dangerous secret. What if… what if Raiko had now decided to get rid of them as well?

If so… this running water… this eerie silence. What if someone was drowning to death on the other side of the room? What if they were no longer able to ask for help? Sure, maybe that was just him being all too paranoiac after all he just experienced but… could he risk it? Could he really live with himself if someone is actually dying and he didn’t do a single thing to try and save them?

Of course not, of course he couldn’t risk it, of course he had to do something.

Holding his breath, the spiky haired boy slowly placed his hand on the handle of the door. For some reason, it was unlocked. This screamed “bad flag” to him all around. After opening the door as slowly as he could so that it wouldn’t make a sound, he gave one step inside the room which was clearly a bathroom.

It seemed like the sound of running water was coming from the other side of a silver curtain. Moreover, the entire floor of the bathroom was all wet. He couldn’t see a thing thanks to the curtain but the silence in the room remained. Was someone actually drowning on the other side? With so much water overflowing, the chance was very high now.

Ryuusei could feel his heart beating out of his chest as his fingers reaching for the curtain. He began to open it ever so slowly, praying that he wasn’t too late and wouldn’t find a lifeless corpse on the other side.

And then…

He crashed face first into the cold floor?!

The events that just took place may have been all too fast for the human eye to keep track of; of course, they were too fast for Ryuusei to even process what happened either.

How about we take a closer look in slow motion this time?

Of course, we might also need to flip the perspective around a little as well.

It had been a really long day for Elizabelle. The blonde maid had submerged herself into a bathtub in order to relax. Only her bare shoulders and her face were visible while most of her hair simply floated over the water. It seemed like she had used a bath bomb beforehand, as the water was all painted with different tones of pink. To think she lost the money that Noa worked so hard to obtain, no, the worst part was all the damage to the restaurant. She still couldn’t find an explanation behind what happened at all. What was such a place doing down there? Who were the people that she had found unconscious? And now she was stuck having to prepare dinner as well. There was no way that she could focus on anything without relieving some stress beforehand.

She let her body relax and closed her eyes. But maybe she relaxed a little too much. It was true that she was the one to let the water run in order to fill in the bathtub, but she completely forgot to turn it off and didn’t even realize water was slowly overflowing now.

It was at this moment that Ryuusei entered the room and approached the curtain.

Elizabelle’s eyes opened the moment she could hear the faintest noise that was created from Ryuusei’s fingers holding unto the curtain and starting to open it. She knew for a fact that there was no way Noa would be back already and there was no reason Noa would sneak up to her so silently.

So here is the action the maid took to get out of this situation: she jumped out of the water but moved so fast that she already had a towel wrapped around her body the second she did.

Then, she stepped on the wet floor, spun around so that she would be standing just behind Ryuusei, took hold of his arms, placed them in a lock behind his back, and then slammed him right against the floor.

“I finally did it! I caught a pervert, I knew this day would come!!”

“W-W-W-Wha-?! I’m not a pervert!!” Somehow that accusation hit Ryuusei harder than the pain all over his body.

“Yeah right! That argument won’t help in court!!”

“C-C-Court?!”

“Yeah! Well… that’s assuming my girlfriend doesn’t end your life for this.”

Elizabelle’s voice became softer in that last part as she was simply speaking her thoughts out loud. But that was enough to send chills down Ryuusei’s spine.

“N-No!! You got it all wrong!! The water kept running so I thought you were drowning!!”

“Running water? Are you imagining thing-” But that’s when it hit her. She was now able to hear the sound all too clear now. “…”

“…?”

“I messed up!!!!”

Ryuusei sighed in relief the moment the maid let go of him. She rushed towards the bathtub to turn off the water before it would begin to flood the entire house at this rate.

“See? This is now my evidence for the trial. I was being wrongfully accused!!”

Ryuusei stood up again and moved his arms around to try and confirm they were still attached to his body after how much that hurt.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!!”

The maid bowed in front of Ryuusei nonstop.

But that’s when something hit the two of them at the same time.

(Oh no.) Cold sweat rolled down Ryuusei’s forehead. This was exactly the flag he was trying to prevent.

He was standing right in front of a beautiful girl whose body was only covered by a towel. It’s not like he was trying to take a peek on purpose but his eyes were already staring at her bare legs… of course, not for long enough.

“I knew it you were a pervert!!”

“No!! I wasn’t really-!!”

This time Ryuusei was met with a flurry of non-stop slaps that left the maid’s palm marked all over his face until he collapsed.

“I’ll… I’ll tell my lawyer about this…”

“S-Sorry!!” At that point Elizabelle realized she might have gone a little too overboard.

In order to prevent any more charges to be added to her record, Elizabelle sent Ryuusei over to the living room while she went to change.

Now sitting on the old sofa, the spiky haired boy caressed his swollen cheeks. This really wasn’t his day at all. Or maybe he just had bad luck around blondes in general.

“Ehehe, sorry about that.”

Elizabelle walked into the living room. She had now changed into her usual maid attire of black color with golden linings and a golden phoenix decorating her apron. Her silky hair was still noticeably wet and with her ponytail undone, it fell over her shoulders.

“I accept your apology as long as there’s no more sudden violence.”

“Hm? As long as you don’t try to be a pervert again.”

“I wasn’t trying to!!”

“That’s what they all say.”

Elizabelle then stared at her wrist like someone looking at her watch. This motion came off as incredibly strange to Ryuusei since she wasn’t really wearing one.

“Uh-oh. It’s really late already.”

“So you were really looking at the time!?”

“Nevermind that.” She changed the subject immediately. “I need to you to tell me what happened but I also need to prepare dinner, otherwise both of our lives will be over tonight.”

“W…Why would they?”

“Do you want to tag along?”

“Don’t ignore my question!!”

Yep, Ryuusei was now convinced that a greater force in the universe made it so he would always have a hard time with blondes. Somehow, it didn’t seem like she was joking. It wasn’t the first time she mentioned someone being able to end his life either… was she talking about the other owner of the restaurant? Maybe it was better if he tagged along for his own sake right now.

“Um… can I ask something?”

“No, you aren’t getting dinner for free.”

“T-That’s not it! You asked me to tag along so you could prepare food, so why are we going outside and not towards the kitchen?”

“Ryuusei. Do you know why I always serve and clean the restaurant but never cook?”

“Why? And how do you know my name?”

“Because I can’t cook.”

“So then how-?!”

“Forget. Everything. You. Just. Heard.”

“F-Forget what?”

“Good!! And to answer your other question, a good waitress never forgets the names of her customers!!”

At this point Ryuusei was too scared to ask about the sheathed sword she carried by putting a belt around her waist. A lot of people in the city always gave her weird looks because of that since it’s something she wore in the restaurant as well. It was also true that they were going to walk into the city at night so it wasn’t bad to know she was prepared to face any kind of danger.

Once both stepped outside, Ryuusei was able to confirm that this was indeed a side of the city he had never visited. Unlike most of the tall buildings all over the place, this looked like a peaceful neighborhood with small houses; it was hard to believe that this was still part of Glint City.

The second most surprising thing to Ryuusei, as he started to follow the maid across the boardwalk, was that most of the houses had their lights on. You could even hear distant music from one of the houses or the noise of TV, this place wasn’t deserted at all. The only conclusion Ryuusei could draw is that these people were able to live safely here thanks to the tiny maid that currently accompanied him.

“So, can you please tell me what happened now?”

To tell the truth, Ryuusei was relieved to get everything off his chest and tell someone about all the events that took place after the earthquake. As they continued to walk across the chilly streets, Ryuusei had given her a detailed run down of all the events but of course, he still couldn’t bring himself to tell her about his duty to take care of Caroline.

“I see.” Elizabelle was trying to process everything and somehow this made it easier to connect a lot of the dots inside her thoughts. “Some of the noise from your confrontation with this Raiko did reach me but I wasn’t able to move past the door that led to the room where you were. Once I managed, I was only able to find the three of you passed out.”

Something about that didn’t click for Ryuusei. He was fully expecting the maid to say that she was the one who had taken care of Raiko somehow, but that wasn’t the case. If so, then what happened with Raiko? Their objective had been to take Eri away but they had clearly failed to do so. Was Raiko really taken care of, or was that someone Ryuusei still had to be wary about?

“Can I ask you one thing?” The blonde maid stared intently into Ryuusei’s eyes.

“What is it?”

“Did you… did you find any money while you were down there by any chance?! Please tell me you did!!”

“I don’t think we saw anything of the sort, I’m sorry.”

“How could this happen to me…” Elizabelle leaned into one of the electricity posts dramatically. “What have I done to deserve so much pain?!”

“Well the money was in the counter right? It probably fell into the rubble so it should still be there-”

“No! You don’t understand!! I already searched all of it!! ALL. OF. IT!! There was nothing!! Not even a single penny!!”

Given just how much this maid seems to care about that money, it was difficult for Ryuusei to doubt her word and it was likely that she did search as thorough as possible. At that moment, there wasn’t anyone else in the underground facility with them, so who could have taken that money? Somehow, thinking about that was a little nerve-wracking. Was there even more to that situation that Ryuusei knew nothing about?

Moving deeper into the neighborhood, Ryuusei followed the maid across some intersections. His mind was lost in thought as he stared at the grey landscape of electricity poles and cables illuminated by faint street lights.

A few minutes later they reached what looked like a small two story building. It had a tall rotating sign just outside that read “Luminous Mart.” The place however, looked as desolate as everything else in the city was.

“We are here!” The maid cheerfully hopped towards the main door.

“Isn’t this place closed already…?”

“That’s fine! This is just another little business that Noa and I run together!”

Just like that, the maid pulled out a key and opened the main door, letting both of them inside.

Once inside she reached for a light switch that promptly illuminated all of the shop. As it was for everything that related to the maid, this location was also decorated by many different golden phoenixes in different poses and sizes all across the walls.

Ryuusei was assaulted by the fragrance of fruits coming nearby as well as the smell of more food in the distance. Taking a quick glance at this place and ignoring the decorations, it looked like your regular convenience store.

“So this is how you are going to “prepare” dinner, huh.”

“I. Told. You. To. Forget.”

“F-Forget what?”

For a moment Ryuusei thought that it would be fun to mess with her but remembering the physical damage he took earlier and adding the fact that she’s carrying a sword now, maybe that wasn’t the best idea.

“Good! Feel free to take anything you want from here! As long as you pay for it.” She had spoken that last line in a serious and deep voice. It was so much that Ryuusei felt as though she was another person entirely.

“Sure sure. Either way I’m curious, what are you going to take from here?”

“Ehehe, the best food you can think of!!”

The spiky haired boy followed her deeper into the store. They continued to walk all the way to the end of one of the corridors with snacks of all kinds and into a corridor that seemed to have packaged food to heat up in the microwave. Elizabelle didn’t go for any of those already prepared meals however, she had something else in mind and it didn’t take long before she found it.

“There’s nothing better than these jelly-filled donuts!!”

“Aren’t those rice balls?!”

“Eh? Of course not! What are you talking about?”

“Look at this!” Ryuusei took one with his hand, shoving it right in front of the maid’s face. “You can’t look at this and seriously tell me you don’t think these are rice balls!!”

“W-What’s gotten into you?!”

“I come from the place where these are from and I won’t allow this slander of rice balls! Why would you even think these are anything else?!”

“B-But..! But!! That’s what they called them on this one animated show I was watching on TV!! Why would the show lie about how they call them on this side of the world?!”

“This is why you don’t watch the dub.” Ryuusei simply put his hand on her shoulder and shook his head.

“I don’t know what to believe in anymore.”

After filling a few grocery bags with rice balls (and properly leaving the money inside the cash register) the two finally left Luminous Mart. Elizabelle walked along while holding one bag on each hand. Ryuusei hugged his own bag very content; it was a really long time before he got to have his last meal.

But as he walked along, it him again. They were going back to the maid’s house where Caroline and Eri would be. It wasn’t a situation he could run away from forever. He would need to do something about it, but if possible he didn’t want to cause a commotion.

“Say.” But maybe, he could ask this person for her output on this situation. “About the Organization of Hope…”

“Ah, those guys.” Elizabelle sighed. “They are sure being a handful.”

“Haha, yeah.” Was it okay to just bring it up? Should he try to test the waters first? “How would you feel if someone tried to destroy one of their bases with everyone inside?”

“Hm?”

“I mean, sure they are being complicated but a lot of people would lose their lives if that happened.”

“Ryuusei, is your brother safe?”

“Brother?”

Huh? That was the one response he wasn’t anticipating at all. What was she talking about? As far as he remembers he’s always been an only child, maybe she was just confused? Maybe she was thinking about another similar costumer with a brother, yeah, that was probably it.

“By the look in your face it doesn’t seem like anything happened to him.” Elizabelle muttered under her breath.

As the two continued to walk along, Elizabelle came to a stop just under one of the street lights. The spiky haired boy turned around, looking at the maid who decided to give him a proper response.

“You asked how I would feel if someone were to take the lives of those in the organization. They are being a nuisance, so I personally wouldn’t mind.”

“Eh?”

“It’s not like I’m about to run there and do it myself, don’t worry. It’s just that if someone did, I can see why they would do it, it’s not something I would hold against anyone.”

“What are you saying? These are human lives we are talking about!!”

“So…?”

“So?! Do you really not care if a lot of people were to die?!”

“That’s a crude way to put it. We aren’t talking about regular people here. Have you forgotten that these are people trying to “purify” others? You know what they mean when they say that, don’t you?”

“That’s-”

“I do care about human lives. That’s why we look after this city, Noa and I. However, I won’t lose sleep over the lives of murderers, that’s all.”

That was a harsh blow to take. It’s not like Ryuusei didn’t understand her reasoning. It was true that other people in the city had lost their lives to members of the organization. It was true that it was their fault the city had collapsed like this but… he couldn’t accept it so easily. He couldn’t accept people losing their lives as something that could be written off like it doesn’t matter. Even if they are criminals, even if they are murderers, they should atone for it. But to lose their lives, it was too much.

So what should he do now? Arguing with her over this didn’t feel like it would take him anyway. Ryuusei didn’t really like confrontation. But it seemed like asking her for advice wasn’t going to do much for him. Then, should he just step back? Was this back to square one? It was the same as usual. It made him feel pathetic. Even when there was something so important for him, all he could do was to go along with it because he was too afraid to stand his ground.

“Y-Yeah, I see what you mean, sorry about that haha!”

Ryuusei continued walking, but after giving a few steps and standing in front of the next street light, he realized the maid was not following along.

He turned around, only to glance at the maid who continued to stare at him with a serious expression in her face.

“Ryuusei.” She finally spoke up. “You didn’t ask that for no reason at all, did you?”

“Eh? No I just…”

“You aren’t thinking of doing anything weird, are you?”

How should he answer to this? If he were to confront Caroline, there was no way that this maid wouldn’t find out or get involved at this rate. Even more so if he wanted to keep Eri safe. If it came down to it, he wanted someone to help him keep Eri safe. Deep inside, that’s the biggest reason why he asked, because he wasn’t confident he could do this alone. But now… it was clear that Elizabelle was unto him. Should he just lie, or should he come clean and explain the situation?

“Please listen to me.” But at the end of the day, lying isn’t something Ryuusei believed in either. “The person who tried to end all those lives, that dangerous person is at your house right now. I need to take them with me before they can harm anyone else.”

“Ryuusei.” And so, the light that illuminated the maid faded away. “I won’t allow you to touch Noa’s patients, even if you are also one of them.”

“But I-”

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I want to hurt you either. But maybe it’s better if you go back to sleep for a bit.”

Two figures stood in the middle of the night.

Elizabelle was able to get a clear glance of Ryuusei who was illuminated by the street light. He could see him staring back at her with worry and indecision written all over his face. That was the reason she had been able to read him from the very beginning, and that’s also why she had to do damage control before the situation could escalate into something worse.

Ryuusei on the other hand could only see a pair of menacing eyes of pink color that stared at him from within the darkness of the night. He could only see small glimpses of the maid as the light above her went on and off intermittently. Like this, he could see her placing her groceries on the floor, and next, he could see her drawing out her blade.

The spiky haired boy tried giving a step back as Elizabelle gave a step forward. All he could do was to shut his eyes tightly as the maid launched herself forward towards him while swinging her blade across the air.

The sound of steel clashing together resounded across the night while mixed with the sound of a roaring engine.

Ryuusei realized he was completely unharmed, but the reason why is something he would have never dreamed of.

“Made it right in time!!”

A tall girl with blonde hair who wore a red jacket stood before him. She had stopped Elizabelle’s strike with a blade of her own and despite facing a strong opponent; she gave Ryuusei thumbs up with her free hand.   

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