Chapter 9: Answers
That night, at the Auditore house…
"Buona sera, Athena," greeted the caller, a man with a voice uncannily resembling that of her foster father. "I trust you're all doing well?"
"Uncle Lorenzo?" she asked aloud, not that she needed to. Though he sounded like Piero himself, he was dead and buried. That being the case, there was only one other person it could have been.
"It's Minerva, Zio. Athena's out running errands, so I'm keeping house until she gets back."
"Capisco. Mi dispiace veramente, Minerva. How was your interview? Did you make it in?"
Minerva had suspected that her uncle had a hand in her surprisingly quick acceptance into Sakurami High School's guidance office, but it was only now that her suspicions had been confirmed. She wasn't resentful of her uncle's assistance, though. On the contrary, he'd done her a big favour, and she was grateful.
"Yes, I did, thank you. What is it you need?"
Lorenzo Auditore chuckled at his niece's words, unsurprised at her forwardness. While she definitely possessed her own unique sense of humour, Minerva was nevertheless more serious-minded than Athena, who by contrast possessed a sunny disposition that failed to hint at the lethality she was capable of. It reminded him of his own foster daughters, actually.
"D'you think you could prepare a spare room or two over there? I'll be over for a few nights."
"Ma certo, Zio. Will you have any company?" Minerva inquired, albeit more as a courtesy than any real curiosity; that her uncle had asked about the possible availability of more than one room had already answered her question. Strictly speaking, they weren't forbidden to have guests over, but caution had been ingrained into her from the very beginning, which was why she had to make sure.
"Demeter and Ceres, perhaps? Or will there be someone else?"
"Well, yes, they'll be coming," replied her uncle, albeit with just a hint of hesitation. "However, I'll have another guest coming with me."
"Capisco. Care to tell me who, Zio?"
Which he did.
"Grazie, Minerva. I'll see you all soon, alright?"
"Si, Zio. Ciao."
Ending the call, Minerva wondered briefly what Demeter and Ceres felt about this recent turn of events, of their father's impending marriage.
However much he had loved consorting with members of the opposite sex, Piero had always been cautious at the prospect of making long-term commitments, especially following an incident involving a woman who'd turned out to be an agent of the Templars. Quite understandably, that encounter left an indelible impression on their father, who utterly refused to talk about the incident, even up to the moment of his death. If Demeter and Ceres tolerated the woman their father was seeing, Minerva supposed she had earned at least some benefit of the doubt.
…Sayuri Mikage, eh?
Let's have a look at you, shall we?
Needless to say, Minerva resolved to run background checks of her own, just to be sure.
She had no desire to mistrust the judgment of her uncle, or of her cousins. But more importantly, she had no intention of taking any chances where her family was concerned.
As he woke up the next day, having punched out his alarm clock, Yukiteru Amano reflected on the recent developments his life had taken.
His uncle's death really did hit him hard, thought Yukiteru; he couldn't have denied it if he tried. After all, it was he who attempted to punish himself with self-inflicted insanity through overexposure to the bleeding effect, which would have been tantamount to or maybe even worse than death. Indeed, now that he saw clearly, he was grateful that his beloved sisters smacked some sense into him before he managed to succeed.
Indeed, more than half a year had passed since that tragedy in Sakurami Stadium, and time did have a way of healing wounds. During that time, Yukiteru had been going over the events, no longer to determine where he had gone wrong, but instead to decide on the best way to correct that wrong. However, it was only now that he was able to realize one very important thing.
Whoever was responsible most likely had access to vast amounts of manpower and resources.
That, and he definitely would have had a reason for employing such conspicuous methods.
I can't believe I didn't realize this sooner.
Granted, thought Yukiteru, it could have been argued that his uncle had been a marked man regardless. Not only was Piero descended from one of the most famous members of the Assassin Order, he had since gone on to become one of the Order's most celebrated and respected mentor figures, as well as a valuable and competent operative in his own right. It wasn't without reason that the Assassins as a whole exercised extreme caution with respect to their security measures, but someone like Piero would definitely have had a big, red bullseye painted on his back wherever he went.
On the other hand, there was something in both the timing and the method of choice that gave Yukiteru pause. For one thing, it would have been easier and more practical to just have someone assassinate him while he was going about his business, or to otherwise make him disappear. Admittedly, it still would have made quite a bit of noise, Piero having been known publicly as a ranking executive of a multinational company, but it would nevertheless have been much easier to sweep under the rug.
Instead, the method they chose was not only impractical, but… messy, to say the least.
They had to have known there was no way they could have kept the tragedy quiet; indeed, from the few times Yukiteru accessed the news in the immediate aftermath, the media made much of the destruction and the loss of life involved. The police would have gotten involved as well, and given that Sakurami had among the lowest crime rates nationwide, it was safe to say that they were very good at their job.
Last but not least, Sakurami Stadium was not only public property, but a project commissioned by no less than Mayor John Bacchus himself. Given the stellar track record the police had when it came to resolving petty crimes, it was but logical that the Mayor would have had them find out whoever it was-
But if that's the case, then-
A weird noise coming from his cellphone interrupted that train of thought. And when Yukiteru went to check it…
Pezzo di merda!
For the first time, Yukiteru Amano took an alternate route to his classroom, one that saw him scale walls, climb rooftops and drop down from ledges. It was rather dangerous, too, given that it would have given away his Assassin training to whoever was watching, but he didn't have a choice. It wasn't as if he could waltz through the front gate, either, on account of all the weapons he had concealed all over his person.
Objectively speaking, he was only lightly armed as far as Assassins went, having deigned to equip mere smoke bombs and poison darts in addition to his hidden blades. However, that Yukiteru was carrying weapons at all would have been enough to get him in trouble. Even if he now possessed the skills and experience of a Master Assassin, he was still a kid in high school, and kids in high school generally had no business running around with weapons of murder.
Unfortunately for him, though, the weapons themselves were very much a necessity, given what his Eden's Diary warned him of:
April 3 / 17:36 [Sakurami High School]
I get caught by the serial killer in a hallway and then stabbed in the heart. I'm dead.
Later, following their homeroom period, Yukiteru sat alone at his desk, Yuno having deigned to absent herself for today.
Unfortunately for him, though, his solitude wouldn't be for very long.
"So, Amano-kun, what's with the get-up?" asked Hinata Hino, his seatmate, the same girl who most of the class already respected as de facto class president. "You look like you're out to assassinate someone."
"Yeah, you look like some kind of ninja," this from the girl in front of Hinata: Mao Nonosaka, who Yukiteru could sense harboured hidden feelings for Hinata even as she called herself her best friend. "Mind telling us what you have in mind? We're your friends, you know."
...Damn, they're good.
Yukiteru wondered if Hinata and Mao had been watching him, or otherwise talking about him, given the disturbing accuracy of their observations. His choice of outfit, a long, hooded coat with lots of hidden pockets, wasn't exactly out of place in this day and age, nor were any of his weapons readily visible on him. His hidden blades, too, were concealed under his long sleeves, and there was a reason people called them 'hidden' in any case.
Luckily, he was saved by none other than his dear Minerva, who poked her head into the classroom. "Yuki-kun, can we talk for a bit? It's important."
Gratefully, Yukiteru stepped outside into the hallway, looking quizzically at his sister as she held a finger to her lips.
"Athena told me you came to school today fully decked out in your Assassin gear. Said you even brought some smoke bombs and poison darts with you. What's wrong?"
That Minerva spoke entirely in Italian wasn't lost to Yukiteru. He knew perfectly well how cautious his sister could be when needed, which made speaking in another language a good safeguard against eavesdroppers in an area where very few people spoke languages other than Japanese. He showed her the recent ominous entry in his Eden's Diary before he spoke, following her lead as he did so.
"Someone's after me, big sister," Yukiteru replied grimly in the same language, just as he locked his phone and stowed it back in his pocket. "He'll try and kill me here."
Minerva froze for a bit at that statement, but otherwise betrayed no emotion. Unlike Athena, who readily wore her emotions on her sleeve, she was much more stoic and reserved. Nevertheless, her voice radiated the warmth of an arctic wind when next she spoke.
"Don't worry, Yuki-kun, you won't die. I'll kill him the moment he tries."
Yukiteru was touched, though he supposed he shouldn't have been surprised. He loved both Athena and Minerva as though they were his actual older sisters, paying no heed to the fact that they weren't even human. And for their part, the two persocoms loved him dearly as well; he knew that what his sister had just said was not a threat, or an attempt at reassurance, but a promise.
Nevertheless, he had other ideas.
"...No, dear sister," Yukiteru said as he shook his head. "I need you to do something else for me."
"...I see. What do you have in mind?"
"I need you to keep everyone else safe," he explained as he closed his eyes and bowed his head, going over various strategies and tactics that just might be of use. "Make up some story, take them to the arcade or buy dinner for them, just get them out of here. I'll catch up with you guys later."
"If it's me he wants, I'll be happy to accommodate him," he added, in a tone that concealed the precarious mix of excitement, fear and anticipation he felt. "I'm not a normal kid in high school, big sister, you of all people should know that."
Minerva visibly hesitated. She knew perfectly well how that first kill had affected her beloved Yukiteru, on top of the already immense trauma brought on by Piero's death. For a time, not a night had passed by in the Auditore house where she didn't watch over him in his sleep, unable to do anything to assuage his nightmares. If possible, she never wanted for him to go through that kind of ordeal again.
At the same time, though, Yukiteru was clearly resolute. Neither uncertainty nor fear were anywhere to be found on his face, which counted for something. And, loathe though Minerva was to admit it, he was right: he wasn't a normal kid in high school. Normal kids in high school didn't normally know about a hundred different ways to kill people, after all.
Needless to say, if anyone could do this, it was him.
"...Alright, then. Good luck, Yuki-kun."
...Nevertheless, he was her beloved little brother, and she couldn't help but remind him of that.
"However, I'd like you to keep just one thing in mind."
Yukiteru looked up at his sister, puzzled.
"Yukiteru Amano, I order you to live!"
And as he accepted that order from his sister, bowing his head slightly with his right fist over his chest, Yukiteru Amano resolved in his heart that he would see it fulfilled at all costs.
April 3 / 17:36 [Sakurami High School]
I get caught by the serial killer in a hallway and then stabbed in the heart. I'm dead.
A few hours later, after his sister and his classmates had gone and he stood by himself in the hallway, Yukiteru took out his cellphone and had just one more look at his Eden's Diary. And just as he did so, he heard his other self speak familiar words, in an equally familiar voice from which he drew strength and determination.
Fate may command I die before all the answers are discovered. But an Assassin takes orders from no one.
The hour of truth drew ever near, and someone would not live past that hour.
However, thought Yukiteru as he pulled up his hood, oblivious to the noise that his cellphone emitted yet again, he'd already promised that that someone wouldn't be him.
And of course, a promise was a promise.