The rays of the noontime sun scorched the interior of the Demon Banishment Project room.
Narukawa, away from the Project for several days after having been called back by Chief Secretary Fujita, looked haggard as he approached the table where Nakajima and Feed sat arguing.
"Oh! You're finally back, Narukawa!" Feed stood and welcomed Narukawa, his arms wide as if to embrace him.
"While you've been away, we've nearly pinpointed where the demon was summoned. If you had come any later, it would have been too late. Nakajima was about to rush headlong into the demon's lair by himself, and I wouldn't have been able to stop him...."
As Feed spoke, Narukawa looked at Nakajima, a complex expression on his face.
"Could you tell me where that summoning point is?"
In response to Narukawa's question, Feed silently pointed to the monitor beside him. It displayed a map of Tokyo; a red light blinked profusely at its center.
"It's an area about two kilometers in diameter that overlaps Mikata City and Musashino City. Right at its center, there's a wooded area known as the Soga Forest."
"I see... Professor, Nakajima, I would like you to listen closely to what I have to report." Handing a file to the two, Narukawa's voice sounded unusually impatient as he began to speak.
"In the past week, nearly ten thousand people have vanished from Tokyo, and those are only the ones we've received notice of. Most of them are residents of Mitaka City, Musashino City, and Nerima Ward, but since yesterday there have been noticeable disappearances in Koganei City and Suginami Ward as well. Nakajima, when you were exploring those areas, did you notice anything out of the ordinary?"
"I did notice that there weren't a lot of people out, but since I was going out with Kerberos, I did so in the dead of night. I always assumed that was the reason I wasn't seeing anyone."
"Still, ten thousand people..." Struck by the sheer size of the number, Feed exchanged glances with Nakajima.
"There have been areas where as many as two thousand people have completely vanished."
"I'm surprised it hasn't been all over the news," said Nakajima.
"We've been doing everything we possibly can to keep it that way." Narukawa pulled a black-and-white photograph out of his pocket.
"Professor, you have probably heard about this. This is a photograph that was taken from America's Far East Spy Satellite."
At the photo’s center was an area that seemed to be wreathed in clouds. Feed groaned as he looked at it. "That’s almost the exact area we've pinpointed..."
"This photograph kind of looks double-exposed." As Nakajima said, the area’s center looked like there were two different landscapes superimposed over one another.
"I can't explain why it came out like this, but this is indeed the point known as the Soga Forest. We've already sent out several operatives from the station to investigate the area...."
"This is way out of their league," Feed spat as he shifted the photo in the light.
"Indeed, just as you say. Not a single one of them has come back. It would seem that as soon as they get close to the Soga Forest their radios and sensors just cut out."
"How does the government intend to proceed?"
"Well..." Narukawa looked away.
"Yesterday at the cabinet meeting they decided on a 'watch and wait' policy."
"What!?" Feed's white hair seemed to stand on end as he approached Narukawa. "I'll go and persuade Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujita myself. No, strike that--I want to talk to the Prime Minister directly. I see that unless I explain in detail the danger of demons, these stubborn politicians will never realize the gravity of the situation."
"Unfortunately that is impossible." Narukawa placed his hand gently on Feed's shoulder. "That wasn't the only decision the cabinet made. They ordered the New AI Project--in other words, this Demon Banishment Project--to be dismantled as of today."
For several moments, Feed stood silently, his mouth agape. He couldn't understand what Narukawa was saying. Or perhaps it would be better to say that he didn't want to understand. In response to the cynical smile on Nakajima's face, he admitted to himself just how bad the situation had gotten and started speaking furiously in a mishmash of English and Japanese blended together.
"Why the hell did he break his promise!? Just why did those politicians think I came all the way to Japan in the first place!? As arrogant as it may sound for me to say it, I came to save this country from being overrun by demons! They don't give me the tools or manpower I need, and now they shut down the project at such a crucial juncture--what are they thinking!? Nakajima, come with me to America. I'm sure my country will let you use whatever tools we need."
Smiling slightly at the enraged Feed, Nakajima looked around the tense, chaotic room. "Thank you, Professor. But I still have the responsibility to rescue Yumiko. I'm sure she was hurt far more than she should have been over what happened to my mother. I'm the only one who can save her."
"Wonderful. Do you Japanese ever operate out of any other motive besides duty?"
"...Perhaps love is a type of duty." Thinking his comment a bit corny, Nakajima hid his face as he turned on his heels and put his hand on the doorknob.
"I'll come with you." Narukawa's voice echoed behind Nakajima.
For an instant, Nakajima looked back skeptically at Narukawa's determined face.
"I'm still a member of this project," Narukawa responded bluntly, without adding what he was thinking. I still feel strangely connected to you somehow.
"Geez, you two are so impatient." At some point, Feed had taken a handgun out of the drawer of his steel desk.
"A Smith & Wesson? If anyone had known you had that, the Project would have been dismantled immediately," Narukawa said in surprise.
"Now that the Project is slated for termination anyway, there's no need to hold back. Besides, the ammunition in this gun is a little bit 'special.'" Sticking the magazine in his pocket, Feed smiled mischievously.
The elevator expelled the three men into the underground parking garage. Nakajima and Feed started to walk towards their car when Narukawa's arm shot out to stop them. As it did, Nakajima started looking around warily; he had sensed something as well.
"What's the matter?" Midway through his sentence, Feed was shoved aside suddenly by Narukawa. A bullet whizzed over Feed's head and buried itself in the concrete wall behind him, leaving a hole.
"Looks like it's the Special Forces from the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, but I can't believe they'd actually shoot..." A second shot sped by Narukawa's face.
Narukawa dove behind the Crown parked next to him, pulling the other two men with him. His hand already gripped a Walther PP Super.
"I am Narukawa from the Second Unit of Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office. Did you know that when you shot at me?"
In response to his question, a burst of bullets shattered the windshield of the Crown.
"I've got orders direct from the Chief. It's nothing personal."
"I know that voice--Saga, it's you, isn't it? Hear me out!" Narukawa started to stand, but Nakajima pulled him down. An instant later, dozens of bullets flew over their heads.
"We don't stand a chance against those full automatic Berettas. And there are at least five of them." Still, Narukawa didn't loosen his grip on the Walther.
"We're just wasting time fighting here!"
"There's no other way out!" Before Narukawa fully voiced his irritated reply, Nakajima had entered a command on his handheld computer.
"Kerberos, go get 'em. Try not to kill them."
The demonic beast that leapt from the liquid crystal display gave a great roar and bounded over the ground in the direction of the gunshots. Moments later, the underground parking lot was filled with cries of pain and splashes of blood.