There Was No Secret Evil-Fighting Organization (srsly?!), So I Made One MYSELF!
Chapter 8: The Shocking Truth Hidden in Antarctica!
Volume 6: Assailant from the Future
The idea that the Artifact that would protect Sago Kinemitsu, the boss of Amaterasu, from succumbing to darkness and madness was hidden in a cave in Antarctica was something that we had finalized merely three days ago. Tsukuyomi was not going to be involved in the expedition this time, so there was no need to finish the site two months in advance to counter Chris’s psychometry. They would get time in the spotlight again before Rin-chan’s return to the future. Until then, they would remain backstage.
For a while now, in a stroke of pure coincidence, our magic castle had been parked above the South Pole, hidden behind its camouflage. This made traveling between the underground cave in Antarctica and Ama-no-Iwato much faster than it would be otherwise.
I take my hat off to Shige-jii. His ability is seriously far too convenient.
“We oughta retrieve that Artifact ASAP, right?” Shouta-kun grimaced while Ig healed the place where he had taken Oyabun’s punch. “Let’s go now, before Tsukuyomi gets in our way again. As they say, ‘in raiding and plundering be like fire’.”
You got the saying right, but this…isn’t exactly the situation to apply it. That aside, do you realize how exhausted you are? You probably can’t use your superpower anymore today, right? Shouta-kun without cryokinesis is like a lighter without lighter fluid.
“I’d love to help too, but it’s gonna be tough.” Rin-chan raised a hand weakly. “Do you mind me switching with Mom? You only really need one time user with you, yeah?”
After further discussion, it was decided that I would remain in Tokyo on standby in case Tsukuyomi attacked again, Shouta-kun would go home, and Rin-chan would rest and recuperate at the former Kaburagi estate. In exchange, Shige-jii, Mikage-chan, Touka-chan, and Shiori would be heading to Antarctica to explore the all-important cave. As Kuma-san was at risk of being attacked by World Shadows again tonight, he would remain with me in Tokyo, where Ig was close by.
Mikyou-chan and Touka-chan had very strict curfews, but we happened to know a suspicious old man who could spirit them away with his mysterious power.
Um, we promise to return your precious daughters to you unhar— Uh, they might get hurt a little, but they’ll get healing right away! They won’t even have scars! Our secret organization’s health plan provides instant and complete healing! We’ll even make sure that this doesn’t affect their studies too much tomorrow (aside from a little sleepiness)!
Shige-jii tore through the night streets in his sports car, kidnapped Mikyou-chan and Touka-chan, then stopped by the former Kaburagi estate to swap Rin-chan for Shiori. Touka-chan offered her shoulder to Rin-chan, but the latter turned her down and staggered inside on her own. Thirty minutes later, Shiori came out, fully kitted out in ice mountain climbing gear.
“Rin told me what happened,” Shiori said. “She’s resting now. I’m going in her place.”
Abruptly, Mikyou-chan asked coolly, “Before we go, there’s something I want to ask. Shiori-san, Rin-chan is your flesh-and-blood daughter, right? Why does she look so much like you even though you’ve had plastic surgery before?”
Why do you have to be so astute, Mikyou-chan?!
In works like manga and anime, parents and children share similar features as a matter of course. In reality, however, it’s pretty normal to see obvious differences. The fact that Rin-chan and Shiori looked as similar as they did was actually quite unnatural.
The younger girl stared with suspicion in her eyes. “The truth is… Rin-chan is your clone, isn’t she?”
Wait, that’s the conclusion you drew? It’s obviously wrong, but I shouldn’t be surprised to hear it from the girl who loves conspiracies. That said, clones are still created based on DNA, so a clone of Shiori would still have her original looks. When you get to high school, make sure you study up about DNA in Biology, okay?
“She said that she didn’t want anyone to know her real face, so she had a future member of Amaterasu change it for her. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but she knows things that I decided I would only ever tell my children, so I have no doubt she’s my daughter.”
Clearly, Mikyou-chan was not satisfied with Shiori’s answer. The entire time between getting kidnapped by Shige-jii to reaching the former Kaburagi estate, she had been stubbornly fending off Rin-chan’s insistent pleadings of “Call me ‘Rin-chan’!” The excitable personality that Shiori adopted when pretending to be Rin-chan and Mikyou-chan’s own dark, cynical personality was like oil and water.
Not long after, Shige-jii’s share ride reached Ama-no-Iwato. We had gear for snow mountain climbing in a storage room underground for cases like this, so everyone headed down and geared up.
Of course, the new battle suits offered a certain amount of cold resistance, but “a certain amount” was nowhere near enough for the temperatures in the South Pole. This time of the year, it was -30°C even during the day. Aside from Touka-chan, who had the ability to warm herself up, everyone would freeze to death. This was especially true of the rickety old man and the sickly teenage girl, both of whom would probably keel over if they got hit by a powerful gust of wind right in the face. In fact, I was worried about them running out of stamina simply by walking through the snow.
After seeing off the four people wearing outfits far too hot for Tokyo through the warp gate created by Shige-jii’s black mist, I got out some low-malt beer and snacks and sat back to enjoy myself like I always did. Or at least, I was about to, until I remembered that Kuma-san was still with me. I moved every muscle on my face to add a dash of worry to my usual expressionless look, but as expected, such a nuanced performance was beyond me.
“What’s the matter?” Kuma-san asked. “Do you have a stomachache?”
“Chichichichichi!” Ig added.
Ah, I ended up just making a funny face and worrying them instead. It’s been years, and my acting is still shit. I mean, I can pull off a bit if I practice, but unfortunately, we didn’t have that much time to prepare for this event.
Now, time to shift the focus away from my face to what’s actually important: the Antarctic expedition. The plan was for the group to retrieve the Artifact tonight, return to Tokyo tomorrow morning, have another fight with Tsukuyomi over the time machine at night, then Rin-chan would return to the future, thus ending the event. Now that the expedition team was in the Soul Pole, we were halfway through.
Our four intrepid explorers had left the magic castle in the sky and were descending with parachutes made by Mikyou-chan with her shadows. Unlike real parachutes, theirs could be erased after use, which made them extremely convenient. Shiori had given Mikyou-chan a quick lecture on the structure of parachutes and how they worked. Mikyou-chan’s handiwork wasn’t perfect, but there was nothing to worry about, as Shiori could always stop time and Shige-jii could always portal when in a pinch.
The main thing that we were worried about was the local scientists spotting or their equipment picking up on the group’s approach, but a blizzard powerful enough to jam equipment but still seem natural sprang up (well, I stirred it up) in the area. In the first place, this was a night landing, so chances of anyone seeing the landing were slim. So, problem solved.
Upon landing safely, the four set off, guided by GPS. After the first thirty steps, Mikyou-chan started staggering, so Shige-jii confidently offered her a piggyback ride and was now staggering in her place. She was small, sure, but she was still an entire human being and he was still an old man.
It’s not that far off. Hang in there.
Touka-chan, who was wearing lighter gear than the rest of the group and lighting the way from her position next to Shiori like a human torch, asked in a mystified voice, “Why is there an Artifact in the South Pole? Didn’t humans discover Antarctica in the 19th century? Did that expedition hide this Artifact? Or did espers discover this continent before the 19th century and didn’t tell the world?”
Shiori opened her mouth to answer, but Mikyou-chan abruptly lifted her hand, shouting, “Ah, I know the answer!” The momentum made Shige-jii stumble, but he managed to play it off by pretending he just happened to want to scoop some snow off the ground.
“There are hoomans living in the South Pole,” she continued in a conspiratorial tone. “Not humans, but hoomans, with two ‘o’s. Hoomans are a prehistoric race several meters to dozens of meters in height, and there are fifty to sixty of them. The American investigative team here found fossils of them dated 15 million years old — that’s the age when Antarctica was entirely isolated by ice. This is top secret classified information that has never been publicized. Pfft, and humans think they’re the first intelligent species on Earth. The arrogance. So, hoomans generally look like us humans, but they have tough white skin all over their bodies. There is fierce debate whether it’s actually their fur or if they’re wearing outfits that look like fur. Hoomans all live in large caves deep beneath bedrock and their greatest wish is to wipe out the entire race of humankind — there are eyewitness reports of scouts appearing on the surface every now and then. The fact that the Artifact we’re after is in a giant cave in the South Pole means it must have been made by them. They converse with each other through telepathy, so it makes sense that this is an Artifact that protects the user’s mind.”
“You…sure are knowledgeable.” Touka-chan kindly praised the younger girl.
Mikyou-chan rubbed her running nose and smirked, her eyes sparkling with pride. “Well, I read a lot. This is all clear as day to me.”
Shige-jii shook his head with an amused face as Shiori smiled without saying anything. Mikyou-chan’s narrative had a charm of its own and it would be boorish of us to trample it with the cover story we devised. Therefore, we decided to roll with it.
When the group reached the coordinates they were given, Mikyou-chan got off Shige-jii’s back and everyone instantaneously changed into their battle suits. Touka-chan cast heat resistance on the other three and raised the intensity of the fire around her body, proceeding to dig straight down through the thick ice sheet by melting her way through.
The Antarctic continent was covered by a layer of ice formed from one to two kilometers of snow. As such, walking on the snow at the surface was easy, but reaching the ground underneath was going to require digging at least a kilometer — putting things into perspective, the Tokyo Tower was 634 meters tall. Touka-chan might have turned herself into a heat-based drill, but it’d still take her quite a while to melt through so much ice. Consequently, even though we said the Artifact was in an underground cave, said cave was actually only around 400 meters down, halfway between the surface and the actual ground. Because I didn’t have much time to prepare, I had just made it a perfectly smooth ellipsis and skipped the details. This was beautiful in its own way, so it served. Just as Mikyou-chan said, this space was very possibly the work of the hoomans and their advanced digging technologies.
Eventually, the four fell through a hole in the ceiling, landing safely on a multilayer cushion that Mikyou-chan conjured with shadows. They looked around in wonder as the light from Touka-chan’s fire shone through the clear ice compacted over (supposedly) millenia, reflecting back like the dazzle of jewels.
“It’s so pretty…” Shiori breathed. “If this place really was made by someone, I feel like I can get along really well with them.”
“With hoomans?!” Mikyou-chan exclaimed.
“Human, yes,” Shiori nodded.
It’s hilarious how they sound like they’re on the same page but they’re not.
The last time Touka-chan was on an expedition searching for an Artifact — namely, the Ruins Event — she had suffered a lot at the hands of Tsukuyomi and mutated World Shadows. Now, she walked back and forth anxiously, examining everything and kicking the ground here and there as if checking how safe it was.
“Hazama-san, I’m afraid that I might bring the roof down on us if I fight in here. If anything comes up, can I leave most of the fighting to you? I’ll join in too if push comes to shove.”
Shige-jii nodded with resolution. “Of course. I’ll take care of everything.”
Problem was, Shige-jii would nod with resolution even when he was taking on requests that he did not have the ability to handle. As such, his word was not all that trustworthy. Touka-chan, who knew this, wavered between wanting to say something and swallowing her words back down until eventually she decided to take him at his word.
So, the group began exploring their surroundings. However, I’m repeating myself, but this was a last-minute job, so the cave was really just an elliptical cave. It wasn’t a maze, and there were no hidden entrances or secret rooms. In the middle was an ice coffin housing a silver necklace with a mysterious design that I’d bought at a jewelry store in India two days ago.
After carefully examining the large cave for nearly a whole hour, the four regrouped around the coffin.
Touka-chan was thoroughly convinced this was a trap. “There’s no way it’s this easy. When we grab the necklace, either a bunch of enemies will show up, or the ceiling will crumble.”
Mikyou-chan nodded. “I’ve seen it happen in movies before.”
“I’ve actually experienced it,” Touka-chan said.
Oh yeah, that was definitely an experience I don’t think she’ll forget anytime soon.
As the three girls tried to come up with a way to play it safe, Shige-jii nominated himself for the dangerous role of taking the necklace out, to no one’s surprise.
“Your legs are shaking,” Mikyou-chan pointed out. “You’re actually scared, aren’t you? Want me to do it instead?”
Unintentionally, her words of concern ended up spurring Shige-jii on.
He shook his head. “No. It’s just the cold getting to me because of my age. Let’s finish this quickly and head back already.” He then sent black mist through the ice and teleported the necklace out of the coffin and into his hand.
“……” Everyone froze, their senses on high alert.
However, nothing happened. Which was only natural, because I didn’t have time to prepare anything. And we already did the ruins crumbling thing last time. There were no traps or enemies this time. It might have felt like a bit of a let down, but today really was just a casual trip to the South Pole. Touka-chan and Mikyou-chan still had school the next day, so we didn’t want things to last too late.
The four warily returned to the spot underneath the vertical hole they had entered from, then Mikyou-chan created a hot air balloon that Touka-chan sent up using hot air.
I did wonder why they’d made the hole so big. So they’d planned this from the start. Smart.
The balloon emerged from the hole and rose all the way up to the magic castle, giving its passengers an unobstructed view of an breathtakingly beautiful aurora.
Suddenly, Mikyou-chan looked down and she froze. For a split second, a gap appeared in the snow flurry covering the ground, revealing several massive white humanoid shapes looking up at the balloon. However, when the wind subsided, the figures were nowhere to be seen.
Was it an illusion caused by the terrain? Or was it really…
And so the expedition came to an end, with a dash of mystery serving as the final touch. I reverted the humanoid figures that I’d built ad hoc to mere snow and began preparing cups of hot cocoa.
The four explorers stepped through the warp gate at the magic castle and returned to Ama-no-Iwato. When they climbed up the stairs and reached the bar, they found Kuma-san and me waiting.
“Welcome back,” I said.
“Welcome back,” Kuma-san echoed.
“Welcome back, Mom!” a third voice chirped.
Wait, a third voice?
I turned around and found Rin in one of the counter seats, sailor uniform and all.
I looked back at the returning group. Sure enough, Shiori was standing there in her winter gear.
I looked between the two one more time. Huh?! How is Rin-chan and Shiori both present at the same time?!
“Why’re you here, Rin? Didn’t I tell you to rest up at the mansion?” Shiori chided.
“Sorry, Mom.” Rin-chan looked down apologetically. “I couldn’t help coming because I was worried about you.”
Shiori softly stroked her hair. “Aww, honey. Guess it can’t be helped, then.”
No one else seemed to realize how impossible this scene was. What the hell is going on?! This can’t be happening! Is this a dimensional distortion? Are they clones?
I used telepathy to check the superpower source of the two. Shiori’s stoprotein pulsed mechanically like the hands of a clock, whereas Rin-chan’s beat with the slow rhythm of a swinging pendulum.
They…really are different people?
“Rin, you… You really are my daughter?”
“Huh? That’s what I said at the start.”
Everyone looked at me with confusion — I thought I picked up on mischievousness from Rin and Shiori — in their eyes.
I mean, you did. You did, but still! Oh my god, no wonder I thought she was cute! If she’s actually my daughter, then it only makes sense that she’s cute!
I beckoned Shiori behind the counter, and she came over without protest.
You better tell me what the hell is going on!!!
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.
Wow, such empty.