Ao no Kiseki Short Stories
Lloyd’s Chapter (Part 3)
As planned, the next morning Lloyd, Oscar, and Wendy began their investigation into the origins of the bullet. Their initial guesswork, however, was getting them nowhere. Out of ideas, they turned their attention to the cat Wendy got the bullet from. The cat, who Lloyd knew as “Mimi”, had thin gray hair, and seemed to pop up all over town. Lloyd thought that if they split up and searched the areas where the cat is spotted most frequently, there’s a chance they will be able to pinpoint the location it found the bullet.
Lloyd explained his idea to Wendy and Oscar while unfurling a map of Crossbell. As they didn’t have any better ideas, they agreed to his plan.
Lloyd, Oscar, and Wendy got to work.
Oscar mainly handled the gathering of eyewitness information on the cat. As Oscar has an outgoing personality and isn’t particularly shy about talking to strangers, this part of the investigation fit him perfectly. He approached all kinds of people regardless of age or gender, and as most people politely answered his questions, the process went smoothly.
The women in the Entertainment District ended up having a kind of maternal instinct activated upon being approached by a young boy like Oscar, and even went out of their way to help with the investigation by asking their colleagues about the cat.
The one problem area was the Downtown District. Famous as a gathering spot for gangs, even Oscar was hesitant to approach people there. Fortunately, because many of the women who work in the Entertainment District live downtown, they were more than willing to collect that information for him.
Lloyd color-coded the map based on the information collected by Oscar and Wendy. He colored the areas of the map from light to dark, with darker colors indicating a higher frequency of the cat being spotted. At first the darker spots seemed scattered about at random, but eventually a clear route emerged.
The route started in West Street where they all lived, then circumvented Central Square, and ended in the Harbor District.
“Judging from this… it was probably in the warehouse area in the Harbor District,” said Lloyd, while looking at the map. They were back in Wendy’s grandfather’s workshop.
Wendy and Oscar nodded.
“So, what now? Wanna go check it out today?!” Oscar asked excitedly.
“Hmm it’s pretty dark out, so we would need orbal flashlights. There is that kind you attach to your head, I think we have three of those…” said Wendy, who also looked raring to go. Lloyd, on the other hand, felt uneasy.
“It’s already late though. Even with those orbal flashlights finding something as small as a bullet in the dark would be next to impossible, and besides it would be too dangerous.”
Lloyd expected Wendy and Oscar to roll their eyes at his cautiousness, but they withdrew without a fight.
“Yeah… I guess you’re right.”
“Welp, we’ll have to look forward to it tomorrow!”
From Wendy and Oscar’s carefree tone you’d think they were planning a simple picnic or a treasure hunt.
Wendy and Oscar started talking about what they should bring tomorrow. Even Lloyd, standing to the side with a bitter smile, couldn’t help but feel excited.
Later that evening, after the majority of Crossbell had shut down for the night, two cheerful voices reverberated from the kitchen in Lloyd’s apartment.
“I’ve already put carrots in the curry, so the salad will be fine if you just add some lettuce,” said a girl a few years older than Lloyd as she passed him the lettuce. She had beautiful brown hair that waved slightly as it extended down past her shoulders. Even through her loose dress, it was clear that her chest was well-endowed.
“Lloyd? Chopping lettuce may seem simple, but you can’t afford to be careless. Also, while applying the salt and pepper remember to think of the smiling faces of the people you’ll be serving. Never forget that love is an essential ingredient in any meal!”
“I get it, I get it. You’ve told me that enough times already, Cecil.”
Lloyd complained, but he was smiling as he said it. The girl was Cecil Neues, a neighbor in their apartment complex, Bellheim. She was so close to Lloyd that she basically served as a surrogate older sister.
She has a regular habit of coming to his apartment and cooking, just like this. At first Lloyd was just a simple beneficiary, but over time he’s come to help with the cooking more and more, and by now he’s become a skilled assistant.
“By the way, how is Guy eating when he gets home at night? He’s not leaving any food on his plate, is he?”
“Have you ever known Guy to not finish his plate? If anything he’s always complaining that we don’t have more food.”
“Oh no, it’s not good to eat too much! Nutritional science says that it’s very important you watch the amount that you eat.”
Cecil was attending medical college with the goal of becoming a nurse. She’d been peppering this kind of medical knowledge into conversation more and more frequently.
“…But, it’s good to know he’s finishing his plate.”
Said Cecil with a soft, sweet smile. Her cheeks blushed slightly. When she smiles her already pretty face becomes dazzling. And girls tend to become more beautiful when they are in love.
A lump formed in Lloyd’s throat after seeing Cecil’s smile. Lloyd knew that Cecil had feelings only for Guy. Every time she spoke about Guy her face lit up in a way it never did otherwise. Guy, however, was completely oblivious to her feelings, and every time he made some totally off-the-mark comment, Lloyd felt something break within him.
So in order to stifle those feelings, Lloyd silently took out his frustration on the lettuce.
“Huh? Hey Lloyd, did you change where you keep the salad bowl?”
Cecil was peering into the shelf above the sink.
“Oh, we haven’t really been using it lately, so I put it on the top shelf…”
Lloyd fell silent. In order to see into the top shelf, Cecil had to jump slightly. Every time she jumped her sizeable chest jiggled. And at Lloyd’s height, her chest was right in front of his eyes.
Lloyd quickly averted his gaze. His ears blushed deep red.
At that moment, he heard the sound of the door opening accompanied by a familiar, yet unexpected voice.
“Oooh, curry for dinner! On the day I get to leave work early, no less. Today’s my lucky day!”
It was Guy, home significantly earlier than usual.
“Oh hello, Guy! What a surprise!”
“Hey, Cecil’s here! How’s it goin’?”
Guy peeked into the kitchen and raised a hand in greeting when he spotted Cecil.
“Guy, what are you doing home so early?”
“Hey, what kind of way is that to greet your brother who’s just come home from a long, exhausting day at work? How about starting with ‘welcome home.’”
Guy playfully scowled at Lloyd, encouraging a proper greeting out of him.
“Welcome home, Guy.”
At that Guy smiled broadly.
“What’s up Lloyd. Feels nice to be here at a reasonable hour for a change. Our team leader went to a meeting with some higher-ups, so I got to leave early.”
From the way he was talking about his job you’d think he was a simple store clerk rather than a police investigator, much less part of a special, handpicked team of only the most capable officers.
Guy set his jacket on a chair and plopped himself down into it.
Cecil handed Lloyd the salad bowl and said, “Add in the chopped lettuce please. After that open the canned tuna and sprinkle that on top. Ah, make sure to drain the tuna of oil first.” Then like a seasoned pro she turned on the stove and began to stir the curry.
“Maaaan, your curry really is the best. Hey, you know that mall that just opened? I had some curry there by some guy who’s supposedly one of the best chefs in the Empire, but it was nothin’ compared to yours.”
“Oh stop it, flattery won’t get you anywhere!” she said, with a hint of a smile that suggested that she appreciated it more than she let on.
“Hey, I’m just speakin’ facts!” Guy responded. He had been looking in Cecil’s direction, but his gaze suddenly dropped to the table. “Lloyd, what is…”
Crap! thought Lloyd. Before Cecil came over Lloyd had laid out their color-coded map of Crossbell on the table. Wendy and Oscar had placed their trust in Lloyd’s judgment, and in order to make sure he hadn’t missed anything, he had decided to check the map one more time. That’s what he was doing when Cecil arrived at the apartment.
Lloyd rushed over and hastily closed the map. If Guy found out about the bullet, he would surely take interest in it. Worst case, he would order him to turn it into the police. For that reason, he had to do whatever he could to prevent Guy from figuring out what they were doing.
“My bad, didn’t mean to leave that on the table.”
“Lloyd. What are you doing color-coding a map of Crossbell? Is this Sunday School homework? If that’s the case though, you’re marking some pretty strange locations…”
He only saw the map for a couple seconds, and he was able to discern that much?! Lloyd thought, stunned by Guy’s observational ability. It was taking all Lloyd had to stay cool.
“Yeah, it’s Sunday School homework. We’re supposed to color the map depending on the amount of trash there is in each area.”
“That’s some pretty weird homework. Hmm… you’d think Central Square would have a lot of trash given the amount of foot traffic there every day, right? But you hadn’t marked that area at all.”
Lloyd was at a loss for what to say. Then Guy clapped his hands together.
“Oh, I get it now! A little while ago, the sisters at Sunday School picked up some trash around Central Square on volunteer work. So they’re looking for new sites that might need a cleanup?”
“Y-yeah, exactly! It’s that kind of thing.”
Lloyd nodded his head profusely, responding perhaps too enthusiastically to Guy’s guess. Guy responded with a listless hmmm.
“Lloyd, can you please grab the curry plate and help me dish out the food?”
“Sorry Cecil, I have to clean this up first, I’ll be there in a sec!”
Lloyd grabbed the map and took it to his room. He then returned and grabbed the curry plate from the shelf. Guy sat alone, narrowing his eyes as Lloyd and Cecil dished out the curry.
At 10:00 the next morning, it was meeting time for Lloyd, Oscar, and Wendy.
“Sorry, sorry!” Oscar, arriving late, waved at Lloyd and Wendy who had been standing there waiting for him.
“I know, my bad. It took me a bit to pack.”
Wendy, who was the first to arrive, had been waiting for 30 minutes, and looked about as angry as she can be. Oscar shoved a paper bag into her hands.
“Here, take this.”
“What is it?” Wendy asked. She opened it and instantly burst into a wide smile. Lloyd peeked into the bag and let out a shout.
The package was filled with various pastries including Danishes, croissants, and even sandwiches.
“I stopped by Morges on West Street on the way to get some sandwiches. When the old man who runs the store saw me, he said ‘Are you going on a picnic? Take these too, on us’ and gave me all these for free.”
Oscar probably looked so excited that the old man mistakenly thought they were actually going on a picnic.
“That worked out, huh?” said Oscar as he grabbed a small milk bun and casually tossed it into his mouth.
“Hey not fair, don’t eat without us!” Wendy complained, then put her hand in the bag and fished out a pastry of her own.
“Guys, we can eat as we walk, let’s go,” said Lloyd, a little annoyed at the delay.
“Guys, we can eat as we walk, let’s go.”
“Okay!” replied Oscar and Wendy enthusiastically. Their mouths fit to burst with pastries, they took off toward the Harbor District. Lloyd shrugged his shoulders, and followed after them.
As they walked toward the Harbor District pastries in hand, a man was watching them intently from a distance. He looked to be in his late twenties. He had a slender build, and was casually dressed in chino pants and a turtleneck.
He looked very agile. Anyone with some knowledge of martial arts would be able to tell instantly that he had received a good amount of training. His most distinctive trait was his hair, which extended down to his waist and looked as elegant as any girl’s, lending him something of a mystical aura.
Watching them with a stern glare, he muttered a few words to himself. “…That’s them, alright.”
He then turned on the spot, and disappeared into the crowd of people behind him.
The Harbor District had been receiving drastic redevelopment in recent years.
It used to be a desolate area with nothing but warehouses, but over time more and more buildings had been springing up from the direction of the city, and a rumor had just begun to circulate that a massive tower was going to be built in the district.
However, the closer you got to the sea the less influence from that development could be seen, and by the pier it was still entirely warehouses.
Lloyd, Oscar, and Wendy were exploring that area, their eyes glued to the ground.
“Lloooooyd, you found anything yet?”
“…We haven’t even been here an hour yet, Oscar.”
Oscar’s endurance had already surpassed its limit. This kind of work has never been a strong suit of his. Wendy, on the other hand, excelled at throwing herself into these kinds of mundane tasks (though whether she had the talent for the task at hand was another matter). However, she was having a slight problem of constantly bashing her head into wooden crates and walls as a result of being too fixated on the ground.
Wasn’t it over here…
According to their eyewitness reports, this is definitely the area that cat should have been. A small amount of fishing is done at this dock, and lots of cats tend to gather here aiming to snag any fish dropped by the fishermen. Lloyd thought it was likely that the cat picked up the bullet on its way out of this area. But that was nothing more than an educated guess.
Lloyd was just about to suggest they take a break and look over the map again, when Wendy suddenly called out.
“…Hey, look at this, look at this!!!” Wendy rushed over to Lloyd and Oscar holding a torn piece of paper. It looked like low-quality paper primarily used as material for packaging.
“…Wendy, it’s a piece of paper,” aid Oscar. Wendy shoved it directly under his nose.
Oscar scrunched his nose and turned away, disgusted. Lloyd’s initial reaction was the same, but once he noticed that Wendy was dead serious, he timidly inched his nose forward.
“…! That’s it!”
“That’s the smell of gunpowder. We’ve gotta be close.”
The scrap of paper was laced with the scorched smell of gunpowder.
“Wendy, where did you find this?” Lloyd asked, turning serious. Wendy pointed toward a building that looked especially decrepit, even for the warehouse district.
“Uh… should we go check it out?” Oscar asked timidly.
“Of course! That’s what we came here for right!?” Wendy exclaimed, and began to walk toward the building.
“Hey Wendy, wait…!”
Ignoring Lloyd’s attempt to stop her, Wendy trotted forward until she reached the rear entrance of the warehouse.
“Wendy, I said wait!”
“What is it?! Don’t tell me you’re getting cold feet now?!”
When a target of Wendy’s interest is right in front of her eyes like this, she tended to throw all reason out the window. Lloyd understood this about her, but he felt like this time it was going to get them into serious trouble.
“There’s probably someone in there. It would be illegal trespassing.”
“But we haven’t seen a single person yet,” responded Wendy with a matter of fact tone.
“That’s true, but…”
Lloyd’s hesitation had put a damper on their enthusiasm. Oscar timidly pressed his ear against the door.
“…It’s dead silent in there.”
Wendy stepped forward and reached for the doorknob. Lloyd resigned himself to the fact he couldn’t stop them now that they’ve come this far.
“…Alright, fine. But as soon as we see or hear anything that seems dangerous, we leave immediately. Got it?”
Wendy and Oscar nodded. Wendy turned the doorknob as softly as she could so as not to make any noise, and opened the door.
The inside of the warehouse was almost pitch black, except for streams of light from the occasional window. They relied on that light to look around as best they could, but the warehouse seemed almost entirely empty aside from a small amount of packaging.
“Do you really think this is the right one?”
Oscar whispered. “I dunno” responded Wendy.
As they searched the warehouse, Lloyd began to sweat on the palms of his hands. Something was wrong here. The air felt thick. The smell bothered him as well. And above all, it was way too dark. It felt as if someone was going to creep out from the dark and grab them at any moment.
As Lloyd was fretting over whether or not they should leave, Wendy walked toward a nearby wooden crate and tried to open the lid. To prevent himself from shouting, Lloyd hurriedly rushed over to her.
“What are you doing?!”
“What do you mean, I’m checking this crate of course.”
“Wendy, grab that side, I’ll get this side.”
Wendy and Oscar grabbed opposite sides of lid and opened it before Lloyd had a chance to stop them.
“…What is this…”
At first Lloyd thought it was just a giant lump of black iron. But as his eyes adjusted to the dull light, he started to make out numerous thin, ominous looking objects —
The next instant Lloyd received a sharp pain on the back of his head. Before he knew what was happening he lost his balance and fell to the ground, where he saw Oscar and Wendy being held down by men in black clothing.