“I went to your apartment, but Lilie told me you weren’t home. I tried calling you, Mr. Sogabe, but there was no answer,” said Tokio.
“I was meeting with someone. I had the power off.”
“I’m sorry to bother you all of a sudden.”
“That’s okay. Hey, you’ve gotten pretty tall since the last time I saw you. How tall are you now?”
“About 178 centimetres, or 179.”
“Hey. You’re almost at 180. You’re starting to overtake me. Would you like some instant coffee?”
“Oh, please don’t trouble yourself.”
Ryuuji took two cups from the sink, poured in some coffee powder, then poured in the hot water.
Tokio sat down on the sofa in the reception area and curiously looked around the cluttered office.
Tokio Kuryuu was a seventeen year-old second-year high school student who met Ryuuji during the Immortal Dusk Incident three years prior. At that time he was still an immature junior high schooler.
His ambiance was very unusual in this meeting. You could say he had changed. It was not simply due to his change in height, but he seemed to be a grown-up with a change in attitude and poise that had been there before. However, his friendly was something that still remained and would likely never change.
“I was in the area for work. So I thought I’d drop by and quickly visit you, Mr. Sogabe,” said Tokio.
When he became a senior high school student, he began doing editorial work for a certain game magazine publisher.* A magazine editor was scouting the area and just happened to be present when the invincible Tokio was victorious at a fighting-game tournament sponsored by the local game-shop.
At first he worked as a strategy writer, and soon became involved in editing work that values social skills… or so Ryuuji heard from Lilie. This publisher was located only two stations from Ryuuji’s office.
“So? What can I do for you today?”
Ryuuji sat across from Tokio and placed his cup of coffee on the table.
“Ah, there’s something I want to discuss,” said Tokio.
“…Recently I’ve been having a dream. A dream about AIKA,” he added.
Ryuuji stopped as he was about to put the coffee cup to his lips.
“AIKA looks the way she always did. But, she has a very sad face. She tells me that “The World” is in danger and she wants me to protect it,” said Tokio as he stared at his cup.
AIKA is the name of a girl that put a stop to the Goddess Aura’s rampage during the Immortal Dusk Incident of 2020. An inhabitant of the digital world that had evolved from Artificially Intelligent Data Anomalies (AIDA). By restoring the memory of the brainwashed Aura, AIKA had a decisive role in solving the case. However, doing so caused the destruction of her own data, as immediately after she was swallowed up by a huge torrent of electrons and vanished.
“Do you think she may still be in ‘The World’? Something is happening in the unknown places. The events of three years ago are still going on, AIKA brought it to my attention, or something like that…,” he added.
Tokio looked at Ryuuji.
“Mr. Sogabe, you work on issues related to the Net, right? I think you know something about what’s happening in ‘The World.’”
“No, I have no idea,” answered Ryuuji.
“I see…” said Tokio as he cast his eyes down in frustration.
“I think it’s only right that you dream about AIKA. You both shared a special connection…,” said Ryuuji, choosing his words carefully.
“…To that extent, we experienced an event that left a strong impression. I’ve been having vivid dreams for years now. However, just because you can objectively analyze the content of dreams, that doesn’t mean that there has to be some sort of meaning or reason behind them. Sometimes dreams are just that, dreams,” said Ryuuji.
As he spoke, Ryuuji was seized by an odd sensation. While explaining in front of Tokio, Ryuuji got the momentary feeling as though he was persuading himself.
“Well, there’s no need to be concerned,” Ryuuji said.
“But, I also have dreams about Saika. And dreams about AIKA. I started having these dreams very recently,” said Tokio.
“Ah. That’s… perhaps… due to your feelings for her? Is it nice having the same dream? Hehehe.”
“No, that’s not it,” said Tokio hastily. His face turned red.
“Look. Last year, wasn’t there a strange rumour going around in ‘The World’? Around Christmas.”
Ryuuji also knew about it.
About half a year ago, certain rumours flowed around ‘The World.’ It is said that, on Christmas Day, during the first siege of ‘The World,’ participants were held captive and unable to logout from the game when it was released.
The matter had not been confirmed save for by those involved. It was a story that put to rest the so called occult story of “The World”, but Tokio, who had experienced the Immortal Dusk Incident, knew better than anyone that it was just as likely to be a mere occult story.
“I don’t like it…,” said Tokio.
“It’s strange how ‘The World’ was protected by AIKA, and I don’t like it,” he added.
Ryuuji sipped his coffee.
“The dreams I saw of Saika and me, they weren’t just dreams. So, AIKA must be safe and sound out there somewhere. If you want to help me…” he said quietly.
“I want to save AIKA. No matter what.”
He raised his head and looked at Ryuuji. These were not the eyes of a boy. They were the eyes of a man.
“Ah, I see,” said Ryuuji after a brief pause.
“Right now my hands are a little tied. I can’t promise you that I can actively investigate the matter, but I can put out an antenna. I’ll let you know if I find anything. Is that okay?”
“Thank you, Mr. Sogabe,” Tokio said softly.
Ryuuji lightly shook hands with Tokio, then, changing the tone of his voice, spoke.
“I remembered the most important thing.”
He went to his office desk and took the case envelope that had been pushed into the corner. It was the lonely telephone cards that Lilie had refused. He opened the envelope and the reliable police mascot looked up at Ryuuji. Ryuuji closed the envelope.
“I have a present for you. Here,” said Ryuuji as he returned to the sofa.
“What? For me?”
Tokio opened the envelope and looked inside. He sat quietly for a moment.
“Ummm, what are these?” said Tokio.
“You don’t say. Hmm, I remember seeing one once back in elementary school.”
He continued to murmur to himself as he looked at the cards. Then he looked up. He had a big grin on his face that caught Ryuuji off guard.
“Is it okay?” asked Tokio.
“It is alright for me to have this cool stuff?” he added.
“Well, of course,” said Ryuuji.
“Thank you so much! I really like this character design. I just want to poke and prod its cool, cute and superb lines. I can tell you have sharp modern tastes,” said Tokio.
“I’m glad you like it,” said Ryuuji.
“Oh right, right now I’m supposed to be going on a day trip to Hokane Onsen,” said Tokio in a carefree manner as he carefully folded the envelope.
“I’ll buy some candy for you. Is there anything you liked that you got Lilie? I’m surprised about what you got, so I’ll make sure she doesn’t come back with a pin or something,” added Tokio.
“Don’t worry about it. …You know, I’m happy to get something practical like a keychain or figurine. Just not health foods. A pot or a stamp seal or something. Or that thing that spreads your toes.”
“You’d want things like that? Really?”
Tokio took out a notebook and pencil and began to take notes.
“Or maybe a device that massages the back of my neck. That sort of stuff is good.”
“Back of the neck, massage, device.”
“Right, right,” said Ryuuji.
“I’m thinking of various things to try for when you have a hangover,” he added.
“That’s what you want it for?! I think I’m losing my hearing.”
“You didn’t hear me right. I don’t think I’ll be able to do research on Saika without it.”
“Ah, that’s right too. If I hear of it… I’ll buy it,” said Tokio, making a face.
“It’s the law,” said Ryuuji as he leaned forward.
“Now, you’re assuming that Saika will be nearby while travelling?” Ryuuji quipped.
“Well, it’s… that is…” said Tokio.
“That’s really very interesting. Yes, very interesting, isn’t it? It’s plenty interesting.”
Afterwards, Tokio returned home from the chat after thirty minutes. He said he was going to the station, it was a place to visit besides a place related to work.
Ryuuji leaned against the office door and saw Tokio Kuryuu off.
Tokio was a normal young man like any other, but in reality he was the owner of a special physical existence called a “Doubleware.” Fully adapted to the digital world, he had the ability to access it while still in the flesh. A valuable human resource that can practice the theory of Real Digitization. However, Jyotaro Amagi retired his AI copy Geist from his field of research and disappeared, then the technology that sent Tokio directly into the digital world was lost forever.
However, his true value did not lie in a place like that, thought Ryuuji. There is a place that reassures him there is somewhere for him. Saika Amagi was fraught with feelings of insecurity on the one hand and feelings of superiority on the other, was taken advantage of by Geist there, and caused the Immortal Dusk Incident as a result. Yet, this would not be a problem as long as she stayed around Tokio Kuryuu.
Ryuuji felt Kiyoteru Yodogawa’s mobile terminal from his top jacket pocket.
There was a problem, or rather, it was to come.