There Was No Secret Evil-Fighting Organization (srsly?!), So I Made One MYSELF!
Chapter 2: “I Retired Long Ago, But…”
Volume 5: † The Double Wings of Shade †
Hazama Sorashige was an old man — specifically, 75 years old — who was living by himself. He had retired from his position as department head at a major seed company long ago and was now enjoying his “second life” living in Omori Frontier Tower, a high-rise condominium in Ota City.
His wife had passed away four years prior. As his son and grandchild lived all the way over in Okinawa, he saw them pretty much only during the New Year’s.
Hazama-san’s appearance, at first glance, gave the impression of an old tree. It was unavoidable, as he was 75 years old, but every part of his body, including his face and stomach, was all wrinkly and covered with liver spots. As was common for his advanced age, he had tremors in his limbs (a symptom called “essential tremor”) and a dull sense of taste. However, old tree he might be, but a dead tree he was not. There were muscles underneath his wrinkled skin, his back was as straight as a rod, and his gait was steady and sure.
His slicked-back white hair was thick and lush, but that was because he had undergone hair transplantation. The sight of him slowly taking walks in his beige suit, walking stick in hand, seemed like the very model of an elderly gentleman.
There was nothing particular of note about his appearance or fashion. Generally, he seemed like a nice old man who’d make you think, “I want to be like him when I grow old.”
“Seem” being the operative word here.
When I actually looked into him, I learned that Hazama-san was actually an incredibly ostentatious person.
Living in a 2LDK property worth freaking ¥40 million in a high-rise condominium was almost entirely for show. There was just far too much space for one person living alone — he was even using one of the rooms as a garbage room.
In the places where guests could see, he had fancy decorative plants, a grand piano displayed in a prominent position, and a giant plasma screen TV mounted on the wall. He cleaned these areas fastidiously, but made almost zero effort everywhere else.
The same tendency could be observed for things other than his residence. He had a ¥20 million German import car that was normally just sitting in the garage gathering dust. But right before he went out to meet faraway friends, he would polish the car and purposely make minor scratches on the finish to make it look like he often drove it all around the place.
He had yet to visit Ama-no-Iwato, but he did hold gold membership at several expensive bars. He was also acquainted enough with quite a number of people famous enough to appear on TV that he could invite them out for a drink if they happened to bump into each other. In sharp contrast, he never drank a single drop inside his house. In fact, he didn’t even like alcohol. He was visiting the bars, once again, entirely for show.
The reason why he had such a toned body despite his age was because he had once lied to his grandson that he had earned several gold medals in track-and-field in the past and then, after much clutching of his head and writhing about in regret, went for actual training. Back when he retired, he had bought himself a lottery ticket that turned out to be a winner, but all ¥300 million of that jackpot had already been completely spent towards his various efforts in keeping up appearances. Consequently, the balance in his account was constantly scraping bottom. I had even seen him spend hours trudging home in the dead of night due to not having enough money to pay for a train ticket — that was, after he had ostentatiously stuffed a ¥10,000 bill into a donation box near the place he had been visiting.
Hazama-san would always show off first, then work his butt off trying to make up for those brags afterwards.
He was indeed an extremely vain old man, but this kind of person was surprisingly quite common.
I had seen a few similarly obsessive show-offs back when I was trying to get Amaterasu off the ground and was looking for an adjunct. And once again, I had observed a few more here and there during my past few days of combing through condominiums.
Predictably, some of those people had gone so far that they had fallen into debt and pestered their kin so much that they had been cut off from the family registry altogether. Compared to them, Hazama-san was actually part of the healthy sort, as he had no debts and was still on rather cordial terms with his family.
Because Hazama-san put effort into looking cool, he looked cool. Because he put on a good front, he left good impressions. Pretty self-obvious, but that was just how it was.
All humans try to make themselves look good. In elementary school, you have kids flaunting their cool pencil cases to friends. In middle school, you have teenagers with their sparkling new five-geared bicycles. In high school, you have girls obsessed with gathering brand name goods.
Hazama-san was simply on an extension of the very same line.
He was ostentatious, he would splurge without thinking of the consequences, and he would lie impulsively, but he knew not to cross the line with hurting people or taking on debts. Most likely in an effort to keep up with the latest topics, he casually checked out news articles regarding espers and purchased relevant magazines if a volume happened to catch his eye. He did not seem particularly passionate about superpowers, but neither did he seem to have any negative emotions towards it. And that was enough for me.
Considering his age, I was sure that he had seen enough to know how dangerous society could get and therefore would not go around showing off his superpower. Back when he won the lottery, he had also kept it within the confines of his closest relatives.
As such, his personality check got a pass from me. I determined that it should be fine giving Hazama-san a superpower.
So, without further ado, it was time to solicit him.
Hazama-san’s universarcomere had already Awakened a week ago, which meant that he could use it anytime he wanted. All I had to do was tell him “You actually have a superpower. Try using it,” and he should become aware of it.
If I then invited him to Amaterasu, he would leap at the opportunity. Well, I expected him to pretend to hem and haw for a bit, but in the end, he would definitely be in.
After all, this was the secret organization that had saved Tokyo multiple times and earned itself worldwide fame. There was no way he could resist an invitation to become a part of something so prestigious. This was hindsight speaking, but I sure was glad we had made such a name for ourselves.
That said, in light of his age, I was afraid that a solicitation encounter as exciting as what we’d arranged for Touka-chan and Shouta-kun might be bad for his heart, unnecessarily give him a scare, or otherwise put him off in some way. The safest route was to just meet him and talk to him in person.
This peaceful initiation could even serve as camouflage, as it might seem a bit contrived for every member of a secret organization to join under dramatic circumstances.
On a certain sultry summer night in July, I found myself standing before the door to Room 1301 of Omori Frontier Tower. The ground floor entrance had a card key lock that I couldn’t do anything about, so I had just flown straight into the 13th floor corridor using telekinesis.
I rubbed my face a bit to loosen it, set my sour look, then rang the intercom. I heard the sound of footsteps, and right after, the door was opened. Hazama-san had not even checked my face in the camera, but seeing as how only people with clearance could come into the building, there was a case to be made that he wasn’t being entirely careless.
Seeing how I wasn’t an acquaintance and did not look like a delivery person, Hazama-san blinked a few times, then kindly said, in his deep and slightly gravelly voice, “Hi there. Good evening. Excuse me, but do you have the wrong room?”
“No, I do not,” I replied, shaking my head. Then I proceeded to continue speaking while telekinetically referring to the cheat sheet I was keeping in my pocket. “This is the room. You are Hazama Sorashige, 75 years old, yes? You were born in Korimura, Okutama, and graduated as part of the 20th cohort of the Department of Agriculture in Mori University. You worked at Sanda Seeds Co., Ltd. until your retirement 15 years ago. You had a wife who passed away four years ago, and your son’s family is currently residing in Okinawa. The Dream Big Lotteries ticket you bought as a commemoration of your retirement turned out to be a winner, and you used part of the ¥300 million jackpot to purchase this apartment. You have a wide group of casual acquaintances with extravagant lifestyles who are convinced that you are living on plenty of real estate income, but you’re actually barely scraping by on pension money. Despite receiving only roughly ¥300,000 a month, you spend so much that your savings have been constantly scraping bottom for the past few years. And… you ate three pieces of takuan1 and umeboshi chazuke2 for lunch today.”
My intention had been to start off the negotiation by seizing the initiative through demonstrating that I had the upper hand in information. However, it didn’t seem to have much effect.
I had no idea what Hazama-san was thinking inside, but at the very least, there was no alarm on his face.
He sighed with a faint smile, then responded to me with an “I know what this is” look.
“I see, so that matter has finally caught up with me. You are an investigator, I presume?”
Uh, what? No.
What is “that matter” supposed to mean? You aren’t involved in jack shit. What, is acting like a big shot a spinal reflex for you?
To be clear, I thought Hazama-san’s reply was hilarious; so much so that my mask was at risk of slipping. I desperately wanted to play along to see where the conversation would go, but I was here with a purpose.
“No. I’ll be blunt. My business is related to superpowers.”
I used telekinesis to fetch brand-new dog tags from inside my chest pocket, then floated them before Hazama-san’s eyes in a way that he could see the Amaterasu mark clearly.
“Wh-?!… I see, so you’re with those people. Come on in. I thought you’d be showing up one of these days.”
There you go trying to act dignified while letting me in, but don’t think I missed that super weird noise you made, all right?
Hazama-san served me expensive-looking tea and snacks in his dining room, purposely angling the box of tea leaves and the packaging so that I could easily read the labels. He kept checking my expression as the smugness practically oozed from his own face. Well, I had a pleb’s face and I was in fact a pleb, and my outfit was just a T-shirt and jeans. He probably thought he could awe me by simply taking out expensive things.
Just saying, real aristocrats (ex. a certain duchess and grand duchess) don’t purposely show off the expensive things that they own, you know. Those people take them so much for granted that they treat a snack platter from a ¥100 shop pretty much the same way they would a box of imported high-class pastries.
I reached for the cookies and gulped down the tea without reservation while going through the cover story I had prepared.
“Hazama-san, you are on the verge of Awakening the superpower that’s sleeping within you. I believe you already know this, but ‘superpowers’ refers to supernatural abilities similar to Freezing Knight’s cryokinesis and Burning Girl’s pyrokinesis. And when someone’s superpower Awakens, they will become targeted by black, sludge-like monsters called World Shadows. Have you heard the rumors of the World Shadows? They are dangerous existences generated by the collective human desire for violence. They appear in places beyond human eyes and grow in strength by assaulting and feeding on anyone with superpowers, ranging from proper espers to the newly Awakened. The Super Water Sphere was a World Shadow that had grown powerful enough to threaten the entire city.”
“Indeed I have heard of them. This is common knowledge among my allies.”
Okay, enough with the weird interjections. Stop lying as naturally as you breathe.
“Hazama-san, if you are willing, we’d like to help train you to use your power at least to the point where you can protect yourself. That way, we don’t have to worry about you falling victim to them, and you might even help us in our fight against them. Again, if you’re willing, that is.”
From the other side of the ebony table I was sitting at, Hazama-san studied me closely, stroking his mustache with an aloof expression on his face. He looked extremely dignified.
If I didn’t already know his background, I just might have believed it if someone told me he was a retired politician. In fact, I did know his background, and I still found myself doubting what I knew. Though I was also right in the middle of trying to pull one over him, so we were even.
“Of course, we understand that it might be difficult for you to actively join us in battle. So I have two options for you.
One, you join our secret organization and, under my instruction, learn to use your superpower and help us fight against the World Shadows.
Two, I help excise your superpower source. In exchange for giving up your superpower, you’ll never be targeted by the World Shadows.
Either way, I’m going to need you to maintain confidentiality. Due to the existence of the World Shadows being tied to the unconscious mind of the entire human race, they just might gain superpowers of their own and get completely out of hand if the truth about them is to get out.”
Hazama-san opened his mouth, then closed it. He lowered his eyes to ponder for a while before finally speaking again.
“A question, if I may.”
“Are you Invisible Titan?”
“There are some who call me by that name.”
“Haha, what an affected way to put it.”
What the hell, he just laughed at me.
You’re the last person I want to hear that from, you freaking geezer! You want a knuckle sandwich, huh?! Don’t get full of yourself! I’ll throw open the chest drawer where you keep your elderly paper diapers! I really will!
“Does the Japanese government know anything about this?”
“No they don’t. Human fear excites the World Shadows and causes them to become much more violent. The only ones who know are a chosen few. It’s better that way.”
“Of course, of course.”
Oh wow, he’s really happy with the phrase “chosen few” that I slipped in there.
Despite being so easily pleased, Hazama-san did not let his emotions get to his head. He kept his wits about him and proceeded to ask me a few questions that were actually quite astute, such as whether superpowers would go berserk or not, how strong were the World Shadows, how frequently did they show up, how many and what kind of people were currently in Amaterasu, what we normally did, and the like.
I answered the questions I could and purposely glossed over a few with “I cannot answer that right now.”
After asking everything he wanted to ask, Hazama-san fell into thought again. As it turned out, a properly soundproofed room was really quiet when no one was talking. The sound of the wall clock alone was the only thing that punctuated the quiet of night.
I waited until the seconds hand made ten revolutions, but Hazama-san had yet to move or speak. I didn’t mind if he wanted to think over it longer and get back to me another day, but I’d prefer he told me that out right.
“Uh, I can come again. That said, we don’t have months. The sooner you decide, the better.”
“There’s no need for that, Titan-kun. I’m not sure how much I can do, but it’d be an honor joining you in your fight against the World Shadows. However, there is just one correction I’d like to make.”
Hazama-san stood up, extending his hand in an invitation for a handshake.
“You said that my superpower is on the verge of being Awakened, but that’s not true. It’s been sealed for certain reasons. The last time I used my superpower was on the hellish battlefield of Saigon… no, let’s not speak of this. I never thought I’d be tapping into that power once again.”
The hell is this guy saying.
“……According to our investigations, you’ve never left the country before.”
“There were no records, of course. Not public ones, anyways.”
If you want to go with the “old mover and shaker” setting so badly, then so be it. It rings a bit hollow to me because I know it’s just a front, but hey, this could turn out interesting too.
“I am an old soldier who went into retirement long ago, but I haven’t declined so far as to lose to mere youngsters. That being the case, I’m going to need to re-sharpen my abilities. Give me thr— no, give me a month. I’ll get back up to snuff during that time.”
“No problem. I’ll teach you how to train y—”
“There’s no need. I have my own way of doing things. Don’t worry about it.”
I exchanged a handshake with the extremely confident-looking Hazama-san, handed him the dog tag that would identify him as a member of Amaterasu, then left the building.
As I leaped off the 13th floor and enjoyed the feeling of the night breeze on my face, I used telekinetic clairvoyance to look back into the room. Hazama-san was leaning with his back against his door and slowly sliding to the ground, clutching his head and muttering to himself in consternation.
“Superpower…? How am I supposed to…? I haven’t the faintest idea what’s going on. I should have asked for two months at least… Ughhh…”
I knew it.
Well, fundamental training shouldn’t be that hard to figure out on his own. I don’t particularly mind if he really wants to put on airs and do this himself. Let’s wait and see for a week or so.
All I can say for now is, do your best, old man. Like, really do your best.
If you’re enjoying the series, please consider buying Volumes 1 and 2 in Japanese and English to support Kurodome-sensei and me!
All details in the Table of Contents page.