Accel World:Volume 1 Chapter 5
While hunching his shoulders dejectedly and trudgingly walking home on the evening sidewalk, Haruyuki kept repeating those two words in his mind.
‘Why did things turn out this way?’
‘Even though I only desired to be Kuroyukihime-senpai’s faithful pawn, why did I reply in such a quarrelsome manner in the end and rush out of the store to return home?’
‘Please, let me go back just 30 minutes in time!!’ Haruyuki keenly prayed for that, but it was impossible, even with Brain Burst that could nearly stop actual time.
But then, even if he could reload that scene like an adventure game, he felt that it would still be difficult to obediently agree to the theory that Chiyuri = <<Cyan Pile>>. Haruyuki just couldn’t believe that Chiyuri was a Burst Linker and moreover that she had hid it from him for such a long time was possible.
No—It wasn't that he didn't believe it, but that he didn't want to believe it.
Honestly speaking, there was no objective proof that substantiated this. Though it had been different when they were young, he hadn't had a long talk with Chiyuri for the past one or two years here. Even though not as much as Kuroyukihime, Chiyuri, as a girl, was also a plenty mysterious existence to Haruyuki.
Also, it could be said that there was proof that disproved that she was unable to keep something secret. Because, even though Haruyuki had begged her so much, Chiyuri had consulted about the matter of his being bullied with Takumu and hid that from him.
Come to think of it, before he could make such a dangerous request like Direct Connecting with her, he had to at least apologize for the matter of knocking down the sandwiches. And in order to apologize, he would first have to accept and swallow the fact that Chiyuri and Takumi had discussed this and that about him.
That could easily take one week. Rather, he didn’t want to think about it. He would rather not confirm it and leave the matter alone. But then, he would have no choice but to accept the Chiyuri = <<Cyan Pile>> theory.
‘What in the world do I want to do? What do I want to do with Taku, Chiyuri, and Kuroyukihime?’
While overloaded with thoughts that practically emitted burnt fumes from his head, Haruyuki passed through the entrance of his apartment building with heavy steps.
He briefly glanced at the time display in the corner of his vision. It was 5:30 PM.
Chiyuri would already be home, but Takumu should be still at school practicing in his Kendo Club. So, the two of them couldn’t be having a private chat together at one of their homes.
Inside the elevator lift, Haruyuki agonized within himself plenty until the warning alarm rang.
Then, he pressed the button for the 23rd floor where he lived.
After the lift had risen halfway, he pressed the button two floors below that.
"Oh my, Haru-chan, it’s been so long since I last saw you!!"
As Chiyuri’s mother cried out that out with a smiling face as soon as the door opened, but Haruyuki mumbled a 'long time no see' in response.
"Ah, you’ve grown taller, how old are you now, wait, that’s right, you're the same as age as Chiyu who is 13 years old, after all. Since you haven’t come over to play ever since entering middle school, oba-san* was so lonely, you can take it easy and stay here as long as you like today, okay? Please have supper here, since my daughter has been eating so little lately, all the food I’ve made has been in vain. That’s right, I thought of making Haru-chan’s favorite dish of curry today, I will be cooking a lot of helpings tonight so just help yourself, Chiyuri will also be happy, since she’s been displeased about not playing with Haru-chan recently.”
The seemingly endless chattering of Chiyuri’s mother was cut off by a sharp voice that sounded from inside the hallway.
Looking past Chiyuri’s mother, Haruyuki saw Chiyuri staring at them with an expression of raging fire as she stuck her head out from the living room.
"Please don’t talk about unnecessary stuff!!"
"Yes, yes, she’s at that rebellious age. Haru-chan, please relax and stay as long as you like."
Seeing off Chiyuri’s mama as she retired to the kitchen from a door in the middle of the hallway while waving her hand with a pleasant smile, Haruyuki once again put a stiff smile on his face.
Giving a long stare, Chiyuri moved her small chin in a manner that signaled “Are you coming in?”, and then disappeared back into the living room. Letting out a strained breath and taking off his shoes, Haruyuki mumbled quietly.
"Sorry to intrude..."
In the past—until the time of his third or fourth year of elementary school, he would had said “I’m back” instead. Back then he would play outside with Chiyuri and Takumu until it was dark, and he would always return to the Kurashima household first after becoming sweaty. He would take a bath, be treated to dinner and even watch the television before wearily returning to his empty home two floors above. To Haruyuki, who had been bullied at school even in those days, those evenings were the only times that seemed fun.
But that also ended two years ago.
That time, when Takumu confessed to Chiyuri, and she then consulted with Haruyuki about it.
Among the slippers on the rack next to the door frame, the ones with blue bear faces that Haruyuki had always used were still there. He put his feet into the faded slippers and timidly opened the door to the living room, but Chiyuri was nowhere to be seen within.
After running his sweaty palms on the trousers of his uniform, he passed through the house that he knew like the back of his hand and softly knocked on the door to Chiyuri’s room, which had been inside the most.
After a brief moment of silence, he heard the short reply. After taking a big gulp, Haruyuki turned the doorknob.
Since he had last visited it two years ago, Chiyuri’s room hadn’t changed much from his memories, having the same simple interior decoration as back then. Her desk and bed had a colour tone of black and white and her curtains were also a monochrome, very similar to Haruyuki's room.
But, there were also several changes. First, it had a somewhat excessively good smell. Second, there was also the clothes of Chiyuri, who was sitting on her bed with a sullen face.
Of course she wasn’t still in her uniform. However, Chiyuri, who had had only a tomboyish appearance during elementary school, was now dressed in a pink fluttering skirt with some kind of white fluffy sweater.
Well, after all...she did go on dates with Takumu... As Haruyuki thought that while stunned, he was hit by an unexpected first strike.
"I called you so many times yesterday."
Staring at her from below, Haruyuki let out a stupid response.
‘Yesterday—oh, right, that day had ended with me running away in front of Chiyuri and Takumu. Uhii, before that, I have to apologize for the earlier sandwich incident first.’
"Y-Yeah, that…it’s because I disconnected my Neuro Linker during all of yesterday…"
"Letting me send you a message should be fine. Because of that, I didn’t go to sleep until really late last night!"
As Haruyuki apologized to Chiyuri who was puffing out her cheeks, he murmured in his mind ‘Just as I thought, she couldn’t be’.
No matter how he thought about it, she just couldn’t be that. To think she could be the Burst Linker «Cyan Pile», and moreover a strong warrior of Level 4. And on top of that, a super-hacker that successfully could change the Brain Burst program that no one else could as well!
But, even if he said that, getting proof of that wasn’t easy. Like he declared to Kuroyukihime, the only method was to do a memory-range-search while Direct Connected together, but how could he ask such a thing in this situation?
Haruyuki quickly jumped at the idea that suddenly flashed through his mind.
Because it’s such a situation, couldn’t he ask it? It was inexcusable to Chiyuri, but—No, he wasn’t particularly tricking her. He would apologize sincerely, and at the same time check her memory a little while synced…
"Ah, ah, uuum, Ch-Ch-Chiyuri!"
Haruyuki cried that out as he intensely stumbled over his words, which was acted on his part.
"Wh...What is it?"
"That is...I-I’ve come to a-apologize about various things...like the sandwich incident, and the incident in front of the school gates. B-B-But, I’m not very good at talking with my mouth like this, so, umm...please D-D-D-Di-Direct Connect with me."
Chiyuri stared opened-mouth at Haruyuki’s face, which had sweat that certainly wasn’t part of an act sliding down it.
The angle of her plump eyebrows rose even more as she went from surprised to suspicious.
No good, this was just too abrupt, after all. As Haruyuki resolved himself to being yelled at, a strangely defiant look appeared on the face of his childhood friend. That—was the face that Chiyuri had always shown in the past when quarrelling with boys, which basically said “Just try it if you dare”.
"…Did you bring a cable?"
As shed suddenly asked that with a stiff voice, Haruyuki shook his head while thinking “Oh no”.
"Err…I-I didn't bring it."
"Fu~n. Just so you know, I don't have anything except this."
Bending her body forward and opening a case underneath her bed, what Chiyuri took out was a mere thirty centimeter off-white XSB cable.
"S-Short. Do you…always use that with Taku…?"
When he unconsciously asked that, she immediately started yelling at him.
"A-Are you an idiot!! Takkun carries a one-meter one. This is the cable for connecting to a PC that was attached when I bought my Neuro Linker!!"
Because the super-fast communication standard Xtra-Serial-Bus (XSB) required a high-grade cable that was securely shielded, the ones that attached as bonus equipment were always short. But even so, wasn’t thirty centimeters a bit too short? What a stingy manufacturer.
Effortlessly tossing the cat tail-like cable over to Haruyuki who was thinking about escaping, Chiyuri snorted lightly and rolled her small bad onto the bed.
"Do what you want."
Not knowing what to do with the cable in his hand that was like a burning wire, Haruyuki spoke nervously.
"U-Umm…if possible, err, could you please sit on a chair with your back facing me…?"
No response. Chiyuri didn’t seem to intend to move even an inch as she laid sprawled on the sheets.
Haruyuki quite seriously thought ‘Hmm, should I run and escape?’, but he had already done that in front of Kuroyukihime today. If he ran away again here, the situation would reach the point of being impossible to fix.
Having made up his mind, Haruyuki shuffled over to the bed that Chiyuri was lying on, and took off his slippers.
Slo~wly, he put one knee on the white-and-gray striped sheets.
The sturdy-seeming pipe frame of the bed protested with a creaking sound at the weight that was several times heavier than it was used to.
Once he had crawled forward on all fours until he was within seventy centimeters away from Chiyuri’s ride side, Haruyuki first placed the plug at one end of the cable into the outer connection port that was on the right side of his Neuro Linker in the back.
Then, he tilted his head at an unnatural angle and held out the plug at the other end while stretching it to its limits. However, the port of the closed-eyed and lying Chiyuri was still practically a light-year away from him.
‘Ugeeeh, oh no, I should have approached from the left instead. Should I draw back and approach again, no there isn’t that kind of psychological room left anymore, but even so it’s absolutely impossible for me to go to the other side by crossing over Chiyuri.’
Having fallen 90% into a panicked state, Haruyuki tilted just his upper body in a very precariously balanced posture and forcibly brought their necks closer to each other. A sweet smell like that of milk drifted from Chiyuri’s body, and his sense of balance became unsteady—
Immediately afterwards, his left knee slipped. Just before he pressed against Chiyuri’s slender body with his large build, his outstretched hand was just barely enough to stop his fall.
Nonetheless, the situation was on the brink of a crisis. With his left knee in the space between Chiyuri’s spread out legs and his left hand having landed right next to Chiyuri’s right cheek, his body was being supported in a dangerous position. Uoooaaaah, what’s with this situatioooooooon, as the needle of his panic meter swung into the red zone, Chiyuri’s eyes, which were only ten centimeters away from him, blinked open.
Haruyuki couldn't read the expression that was in her big light brown pupils. Of course, there was anger and irritation in them. But, that seemed to have less to do with Haruyuki’s current insolent conduct—somehow, it seemed like she had been biting back those feelings for quite a long time—
Unable to endure gazing at each other’s eyes any longer, Haruyuki moved his right hand and inserted the plug into Chiyuri’s neck. The Wired Connection warning that appeared hid Chiyuri’s face from view for a moment.
—The delay wasn’t more than a second, but even so Haruyuki somehow managed to reorganize his thoughts in that time.
Blinking several times, he turned his gaze away from Chiyuri’s eyes and fixed his focus around the slender collarbone that peeked out from the collar of her white sweater.
"Umm…I…came because I felt I didn’t apologize about the matter the other day."
The words, composed through thought-speaking, resounded through both their sense of hearing without stumbling, despite their awkwardness.
"Umm, about spoiling that boxed lunch you went to such trouble to make…I'm, really sorry."
Though he was apologizing for that seriously—
Haruyuki moved his right hand’s finger outside of Chiyuri's vision, and opened the storage icon.
In the window that opened and piled over half of the real Chiyuri’s face, there was a folder that displayed Chiyuri’s ID Name, next to a folder that displayed the physical memory range of her Neuro Linker.
At this point, it could be said that the possibility of Chiyuri = «Cyan Pile» was already exceedingly close to zero. Because if she were «Cyan Pile», Chiyuri should have already known that Haruyuki was «Silver Crow», an underling of Kuroyukihime, and therefore should have refused to Direct Connect with him.
Or—her intentionally laying down on the bed might be a ploy by Chiyuri to discourage Haruyuki from Direct Connecting with her. Right now, Chiyuri might be shocked and panicking in her heart.
While feeling ashamed of himself for suspecting the childhood friend he had known for ten years in that way, Haruyuki quietly moved the cursor over the physical memory folder of Chiyuri’s Neuro Linker.
"But…but, I was a bit shocked."
As if to overwrite his guilty feelings, such words gushed out from my thoughts.
"When I imagine Chiyu and Taku…discussing the matter of those guys, I’m unable to contain myself…I understand that you’re thinking about all those things for my sake…but I...."
-- —I just don’t want to be pitied by Chiyuri and Takumu. Exactly because we're friends—I want the distance between the three of us to remain the same at least.
Though it’s already too late.
Haruyuki put more strength into his finger, and clicked the folder.
At the same time as a differently colored and semi-transparent window suddenly opened, Chiyuri’s voice sounded in both his head and ears.
The clumsy Chiyuri seemed to be unable to do thought-speaking up until now. Right before Haruyuki’s eyes, her small lips moved and more words followed.
"I didn't tell Takkun anything. I couldn’t tell him. I promised to remain silent. Takkun only knew about the sandwich because, when I went to his kendo tournament the other day, I told him I would also make one for Haru next time."
Haruyuki unconsciously turned his gaze away from checking the window and met Chiyuri’s eyes. Her determined eyes suddenly softened, and her eyelashes turned as if yearning for the past in some way.
"…How many years has it been? Since Haru has talked about himself so much."
Avoiding eye contact with Haruyuki, who couldn’t say anything, Chiyuri continued murmuring.
"I also... I was also dishonest. And cowardly. Even though Haru…was going through so much pain for such a long, long time, I could only pretend not to see. Even though there were so many things I could have done if I really felt like it. I could have told the teachers, written a letter to the school board, or asked Takkun and he would have beaten them all up. But I couldn’t…I thought Haru would get angry at me and hate me…I was afraid that we couldn't be ‘us’ anymore."
Haruyuki held his breath as he watched a clear drop distinctly gather along the long eyelashes that bordered one of her eyelids. It was only two days ago that Chiyuri had cried as he knocked down her sandwiches, and even though they had both cried and made the other cry in the so many times they had quarrelled in the past, but he felt that the tears he saw now had a completely different hue from those times.
"But, Haru is also dishonest."
Squeezing her eyes closed, Chiyuri continued to speak with trembling lips.
"You said that it would never, never change. That we’d be the same friends. Two years ago…when I consulted with you about Takkun…Haru said that if I rejected him, Takkun wouldn’t play with us anymore. But, Haru promised that, even if me and Takkun went out together, you would always stay as our friend. I…I just felt that I didn’t want anything to change. I just wanted the three of us to always be together…"
——I also feel the same.
Haruyuki resisted vocalizing that thought at a dangerous moment.
But, as if she had heard him, Chiyuri opened her eyes and looked straight at Haru as drops scattered about.
"Yet…Why!? Why are you depending on that person now!? You told me to do nothing, yet why did you act like a servant and beg to that person!? You’re so unfair...It’s so frustrating, even though I always worried about you for so many years, that person…settled everything in just a single day…And then, she acted as if Haru…was an object that belonged to her…"
When the name of that person came out with unexpected timing, Haruyuki nearly forgot about checking Chiyuri’s memory and shook his head while trembling.
"Th…That’s not it, I didn’t beg her…Senpai just resolved the bullying because she’s the vice-president of the student council…"
"If that's the case, why does that person lead Haru around like you’re her pet!? Why did Haru act small behind that person as if you’re her underling!?"
"No…That’s not how it is!"
While shaking his head vehemently again, Haruyuki tasted the feeling of wanting to ask himself “What on earth do I want to do?”.
Before, he had stubbornly denied the claim that Chiyuri was «Cyan Pile» by Kuroyukihime, and this he was earnestly denying the accusations against Kuroyukihime by Chiyuri. The situation was similar to a jigsaw puzzle that had already been stirred around by a blender, and he couldn’t imagine where and how to put it back together.
Even as the tone of his voice fell, Haruyuki repeated it again.
"That’s not how it is. Because I don’t particularly…hate it…"
"But I hate it!!"
Just then, Chiyuri cried out with a voice that could even be heard from outside the room.
"Haru, you were always cold ever since we entered middle school. You wouldn’t go home with us at all, had an annoyed face when I talked to you at school, and you wouldn’t even come over to my house anymore. You weren’t like that in elementary school."
"That…couldn’t be helped, because you already had a bo…boyfriend."
"Haru was the one that told me to do so!! Haru said that, if I did that, me, Haru and Takkun could stay together just like always!! Was that a lie!?"
"It wasn’t a lie! It wasn’t a lie, but…we can’t stay as elementary students forever!!"
Clenching the sheets tightly on both sides of Chiyuri’s face, Haruyuki also shouted.
"In the past, I didn't care about it, about walking alongside you and Taku, about entering a hamburger restaurant together! But…it’s impossible anymore, it’s too tough! Taku keeps getting more and more handsome, and you also keep getting cu…cuter, but I, the one walking next to you both, is like this! Even when we’re in the same place, I feel like digging a hole and burying myself!!"
Until now, he hadn’t openly confessed his inferiority complex to Chiyuri—no, to anyone. He firmly believed that he’d regret it to the point of dying later, but Haruyuki couldn’t stop his thoughts no matter what.
If he tried to say the same thing with his mouth, he’d end up stuttering and be unable to get the words out. But right now, he was Direct Connected and using thought-speaking, so Haruyuki’s had become a torrent and were pouring into Chiyuri’s brain.
"You’re the same! Even though you walk with Taku while holding hands, you can’t do it with me! That shows that you yourself have chosen Taku! Whatever I say is just unrelated now!!"
From two centimeters below Haruyuki, Chiyuri’s eyes widened as she listened to his monologue in silence.
Then, a silk curtain of water appeared under her pale-colored eyes again.
Her face distorted and a whisper-like voice leaked out from her intensely trembling lips.
"…Do you really feel that way? Do you seriously believe that a person's value is decided just by their appearance? …Haru is always like that. You always act that way, criticizing scolding yourself. Why do you hate yourself like that? Why do you reproach yourself so much?"
"Hate myself…Of course I do."
Haru replied as if groaning.
"If I were anyone else, I would absolutely hate someone like this. Chubby, sweaty, servile…There’s not a single thing to like about me. I would hate…just being seen together with me."
"I know it. I know a lot of good points about Haru. I know so many I can’t count them all with the fingers of both my hands!"
Chiyuri continued while sobbing childishly like she did in the past.
"At snack time, you would always give me the bigger portion; when I lost the doll I hung on my school bag, you looked for it by yourself until late; whenever my Neuro Linker had problems with it, you would immediately fix it; you have so many good points that no one else has. It has nothing to do with your appearance. If…if that time two years ago, you had been the one to…"
Suddenly, after looking as if she was firmly swallowing something, Chiyuri smiled sadly.
"…I'm sorry, I shouldn’t say this. I…I just feared that Haru was not only distancing himself from the kids at school, but also from me and Takkun. I didn’t want you to be alone. I wanted you to feel that your two close friends were also here for you anytime. That’s why I did as Haru said."
Haruyuki, while feeling the inside of his throat tighten up intensely, somehow squeezed out his thoughts.
"…Don’t tell me, you did it for my sake…? So that me and Taku could still be friends…?"
"It's because Haru seems to have the most fun when playing with Takkun. And it was the most fun for me, watching you two like that. I just thought that I wanted only this time not to change. But…it’s impossible, there is nothing that doesn’t change, and a person’s heart doesn’t stop."
Chiyuri suddenly lifted both her hands and put them around Haruyuki’s large body, hugging him with all her strength.
She gave a tear-filled smiling face to the frozen Haruyuki from super-close distance.
"My hand can no longer reach Haru. To be honest, when I saw Haru and Kuroyukihime-san at the school gate, I thought…“Does that role perhaps belong to that person?”. That was frustrating to me, because I believed that I knew many times more about Haru than that person. But…if that person has the power to change Haru…—"
While right in the midst of a great whirlpool of confusion, Haruyuki could only listen to Chiyuri’s words. Sticking to him, Chiyuri’s body hadn’t changed at all since all those long, long years ago, it was still small and warm.
"…But, I’m begging you, please stop that kind of attitude. it's kind of hard to take in. You look like a follower. If that’s how it is, try to become her boyfriend. And surprise the students in school that way."
‘If I hugged Chiyuri tightly here and now, what would happen?’
It was only for a moment, but Haruyuki seriously considered that. Of course, his body didn’t actually move, but just the fingertip of his right hand betrayed his thoughts, trembling.
The holo-cursor, which moved in reaction to that movement, by chance hit the icon of the Application Install folder in the window that indicated the contents of the internal memory of Chiyuri’s Neuro Linker. After a brief delay, a new window silently opened.
While unconsciously the displayed application groups one by one with his gaze, Haruyuki likewise unconsciously murmured out loud with his natural voice. (Note: Voice-speak ends here.)
"Sorry...I'm sorry, Chiyu. Until now, I…didn’t consider that you were worried by something, or that you were suffering. That’s why I’m hopeless..."
"That’s right. I also worry, Takkun also has things that worry him, and even that person is probably like that too. Including "that person". Everyone is the same, no different from Haru."
Both Chiyuri’s voice and small hands were so warm that it seemed to soak into him.
Inside his mind, Haruyuki thought, ‘How could I? How could I think for an instant that she was hiding being a Burst Linker from me?’
In fact, he had understood with one look that the icon symbolized by a flaming letter B wasn’t in the Application folder. Just in case, he checked each installed program, but he couldn’t seem to find anything outwardly suspicious among the commercial mailers, media players and simple games.
Sure enough, Chiyuri wasn't «Cyan Pile».
While persuading himself of that, Haruyuki suddenly felt uneasy when he opened up the properties of some of the applications.
The programs weren’t the problem. That wasn’t it— just now, the response to the operation was subtly sluggish.
Rather than wirelessly communicating through the inexpensive home server, right now he was Direct Connected to Chiyuri’s Neuro Linker with a high-grade cable (moreover, a very short one), so there was no reason for lags that could be sensed in the response to occur.
If there was a lag, the only possible cause was that the communication bandwidth of Chiyuri’s Linker was mostly occupied by other circuits.
Becoming all the more suspicious of that, Haruyuki opened the network status window as well.
Chiyuri's Neuro Linker was currently connected to three networks, the Global Net, the Kurashima family’s Home Net, and the Direct Connection with Haruyuki. Among that, the only packet exchange that should have been happening right at this moment was with Haruyuki.
However, as he checked her network, Haruyuki nearly cried out. A massive packets was being sent to the Global Net. The local sender was an unidentified program that was installed under many layers of folders. The receiver on the global side was unknown. In other words, this was—
Someone had hacked Chiyuri’s Neuro Linker, and was secretly connecting to it from the outside. And that person was right at this instant stealing Chiyuri’s sight and hearing information.
While nearly shouting unconsciously, Haruyuki began to move his fingertip in order to erase the problematic application.
But he stopped himself just before he threw the icon he was dragging into the garbage can.
The person connecting right now had to be «Cyan Pile». Without a doubt, this guy hadn’t succeeded in altering Brain Burst, but rather he was using Chiyuri’s Neuro Linker as a step-point in order to allow himself to freely appear and disappear on the matching list.
In other words, if he could trace the packet’s destination, the true identity of «Cyan Pile» would also become clear. However, tracing without being sensed by the other side was difficult work. The only chance would most likely be while they were in battle. For that to happen, he would have to hide the fact that he had noticed the backdoor until that person next attacked.
Quietly letting out a breath, Haruyuki closed all the windows.
"…Thank you, Chiyu."
He murmured that and quietly separated their bodies.
Still crying a little, Chiyuri also slowly dropped her hands, smiled while nodding. As he returned an awkward smile, Haruyuki stretched out his left hand and removed the plug from Chiyuri’s Neuro Linker.