───The truth behind that image went like this.
“Give me a sec… But, why… Hey, youko, what did you do to this!?” Tomoe asked.
After acquiring the picture that made the mask’s silhouette clear, she questioned her best friend.
“W-Why is everyone always shocked when they see that pic? And what do you mean by what did I do to that? Ah, I get it, it’s because no one’s seen him before, that’s why everyone’s shocked,” Youko said.
She nodded her head in understanding, but that only served to irritate Tomoe because her attitude made it clear that she’d missed the mark.
As expected of someone from a careless lineage.
“That’s not it! Not it at all! But more importantly, how did you do this!?”
Tomoe wanted to point out her misunderstanding, but there was something else that more important right now.
Tomoe herself had used an analyzing software, but the most she was able to do was to clear up the mist a little. She couldn’t even make the silhouette any clearer.
“So this is really that mask!? This isn’t just something you made up, right!?” Tomoe said.
And yet this best friend of hers had succeeded in transforming that indistinct human form into this human clad in black.
Just how did she manage to do that? Tomoe was incredulous.
“Hey, that’s rude. This is legit! It’s true that the usual software won’t work, so I had to try over and over to get the image to clear up, though,” Youko said.
“How!?” Tomoe said.
Although Youko couldn’t understand why Tomoe was so shocked and excited, she explained nonetheless.
From how happy and proud she was, she must’ve put a lot of effort into this.
“The human-shaped mass of black that we’ve been seeing wasn’t as forthcoming as you think. This black silhouette, you see, made the scenery behind it look like that mist too, so I looked for footage of the same scene from the same angle, and used that as a reference, then I relied on pattern analysis to compare the borders of the mist with the reference and quantify just how the image ended up looking like that.”
Now that she mentioned it, the mask did feel a lot smaller than he appeared when they touched.
Perhaps that was a way to disguise his stature too, but she wasn’t able to realize that.
Regardless, Youko’s method may have been simple, but it consumed a lot of time.
“It was really hard, you know. Every pixel had a different pattern to it. It took me until morning to find the similarities and the regularity of the patterns, then I took the resulting patterns and applied them to the entire body. I couldn’t make out the colors, and all I had to work with was that rough silhouette, so when I tried to analyze the pattern of the whole body in detail, it turned out to such a hassle.”
“I can imagine, but I don’t think that’s something you should be mentioning.”
When she tried to imagine what her best friend was saying, she realized just how much patience it must’ve taken.
Even if someone did manage to think of such a method, just how many would actually put it into action?
And even then, it’s doubtful that there would be many who could produce this much result in just two nights.
Although it’s not so great an undertaking that one would need to rely on luck, imagination, and insight, two nights was just too little time.
“Yeah, it was really difficult,” Youko said.
She laughed and brushed it off with just that. In the end, perhaps she wasn’t all that different from her older brother.
She didn’t notice Tomoe looking at her like that, and continued.
“I was getting the hang of it, but there were simply too many, and this time I didn’t have the originals, so I had to figure out by myself what kind of image data would produce a picture with similar colors and processing. This too took me until morning, so I ended up pulling an all-nighter on the second day too. But thanks to that, I was able to make the image this clear. Unfortunately, I couldn’t analyze the area around the face. It might be because the visible mask was near it that this method didn’t work, so it just ended up as a black blob.”
While Youko was explaining, Tomoe sighed again as she was once again reminded how ridiculously time-consuming this method was.
Maybe this girl was just too obsessive or too focused, but whenever she became impassioned with something, she would lose sight of everything else.
Tomoe knew that part of her, but she was starting to get overwhelmed by how enthusiastic she was over this. In fact, this might’ve been a new record for her.
“Since when did you become a detective?… You’re way too free.”
“Actually, it’s partly because I couldn’t sleep, and partly because I’m bored out of my mind from being crammed in here.”
More sighs came in response, but despite the wry smile on her face, there was a look of accomplishment as well.
There was no saving her, Tomoe thought as she turned to the now clearer mask.
It was then that she realized something she’d overlooked because of her initial surprise.
“…Wait, is this guy unarmored? And unarmed too? No way. Even I was wearing a protector. And the Ootsu family were using shikis too, that’s why they were able to keep up. Just what did he do to become that strong—”
When she realized that the mask had been fighting unarmored this whole time, while displaying that much power, awe and fear struck her.
He had a terminal equipped, so he must’ve at least had the bare minimum support and barrier, but those weren’t enough to bridge the gap between an unarmored and an exoskeleton.
Exoskeletons were basically human-sized tanks.
To think that there would actually be a person who could fight against that with just his bare flesh—
“…Did you say something, Tomoe?”
“—Wait. There was one, wasn’t there? That’s right. If i think of it that way, everything makes sense…”
There was a boy that fought against an exoskeleton while carrying her.
The unique weapons that he used flashed through her mind and overlapped with those of the mask’s.
And when she thought of how similar they acted, everything overlapped perfectly.
Everything else connected him to the mask too.
Hence, the mask could only be Nakamura Shinichi.
“…There’s no way… But what if? If so, then he… No, this isn’t enough… Wait, there is, there is one more thing!”
Perhaps that was why she realized that
The only ones who used her sword were her and the mask. If he was barehanded, then his fingerprints would have surely been left on it.
There was also no need to expend much effort to confirm it since she had her foster with her.
If so, then there was just one problem left.
“Youko, have you shown this to anyone else?”
“U-Uhh… The student council president called first thing in the morning because he had a few things he had to confirm, and he happened to see it. For some reason, he was as shocked as you. I think a professional could come up with a better image, though…”
Although it would have been better if no one else had seen the picture, but this too would be useful in their negotiation.
Information and evidence pertaining to his identity, the person who analyzed it, and the other person who saw the evidence.
If she used those to negotiate with him, then she might just be able to get his help to become stronger, so that they won’t have to lose to people like those anymore.
With that resolve, Tomoe gave clear instructions to her best friend, and then ran out of the hospital—
“—And that’s the gist of it… Are you alright?”
How that image was analyzed, by whom, and who saw it… After Tomoe explained everything, the person behind the mask, Shinichi, collapsed.
“…Leave me alone,” Shinichi said.
As the depressed boy plopped down on the table with expressions of self-mockery and despair, from time to time, he would laugh hoarsely.
Not knowing whether to nod in understanding or curse, Youko scratched her cheeks as she watched her master mope.
──As expected of my master’s younger sister, the world she sees is completely different from normal people!
Something like that, or…
—How much more does that wench want to torture my master!!
Something like that.
She wasn’t sure which of those two she was supposed to feel, but either way, this was a problem that spoke volumes of their lineage, so a wry smile found its way on her lips.
Regardless, what was more pressing now was her master’s odd way of expressing his depression.
“It’s true that I messed up by forgetting about the fingerprints, so I’ll reflect on that, but I can’t believe that the mask that remained undefeated for centuries was seen through in just two nights! Moreover, it just had to be her who defeated it… Arghhh!!”
He may or may not have noticed them looking at him, but regardless, he held his head and shook it left and right as he let out an inarticulate groan.
But then again, although a foster was needed to figure out his identity, the method was exceedingly simple.
It wasn’t a rare technique too, so anyone could probably do so as long as they put the time and effort.
It just so happened that the one who thought up the method and executed it was his real younger sister.
The legendary mask that no one could analyze in Falandia, a world that was developed not in Science but in Magic, was defeated by sheer effort.
Shinichi didn’t know how to explain the complicated emotions that swirled within him.
Was it frustration? Was it pity? Was it anger? Was it regret?
The answered seemed to be all of the above, and yet at the same time, it seemed that those words alone couldn’t explain the whirlpool of emotions that he was experiencing right now.
It was such a strange feeling of defeat. He couldn’t praise his sister, but he couldn’t blame her either.
He had completely forgotten about his fingerprints too. Apparently, his commonsense had been messed up even worse than he’d expected, and his way of thinking was much more in line with that of Falandia’s.
But of course, that was only ‘relatively speaking’, and if the Falandians were to be asked whether he was normal in their eyes, they would surely say, ‘you’re crazy to us too!’
“…This guy. His personality is a total mess, one moment he’s like that, in the next moment, he’s like this. It’s almost enough to make me wonder if he’s really that mask even though the evidence points to him,” Ryou said.
There was no way for them to know the complicated feelings swirling within him, but even if they did, not a hint of the mask’s attitude could be seen on Shinichi as he groaned and moaned.
That wasn’t the face of that warrior that defeated the people controlling them, nor was it the examiner’s who took full advantage of them with a wicked smile, nor was it the commander’s who commanded the students with precision and led them to clinch first place.
And of course, neither was it the
“I know right. He was kind of cool back then too when he told them off…”