This meeting room was a bit different—far more grey and perhaps meant for internal operations. It didn’t possess any of the attempts at warmth the visitor’s quarters had. Ryo sat across the table.

“So… Germany?”

“That’s the last I heard of him. He comes into regular contact with his sister, that’s for sure. She receives packages every month. I’ve spoken to her personally.”

“But… the charges against him were dropped! I even returned his consciousness! And yet, after all that, he disappeared. I wanted him to know he shouldn’t feel guilty, but I guess that wasn’t enough.”

said an agitated Ryo.

"“Don’t take it personally. He’s not running from criminal charges or anything like that. There’s something far more sinister at work here.”

“What do you mean?”

“Misaki, you’ve suffered plenty for the sins of those before you. I don’t want to involve you any more than I have to. The lengths to which you’ve gone to aid me today have been more than enough, and I thank you for that. But… this is really beyond even myself. All I can promise you is that once I have a stable case I’ll disclose the whole story to you, but as for right now, the best I can tell you is that your friend is alive.”

Ryo was upset, but calm. He had grown enough to know that Ryūji had already made his decision on exactly how much to tell him, so there was no point in interrogating him further.

“Right… you’re right.”

“This is my fight now, Ryo. You young people are responsible for making sense of the world in the aftermath of our mistakes. I’m just trying to make it as simple as possible for you.”

Sogabe sounded like an old man saying this to Ryo, despite being only barely a decade older than him. Still, in this digital age that was enough of a generational difference. Sogabe had known an analog world—Ryo had been a digital child from birth.

“Just promise me you’ll come back to see me when it’s all said and done.”

Ryūji nodded.

“Of course.”

They shook hands, and he left. When he looked up at the sky, he saw two birds flying side by side.

Ryūji felt confident for the first time in a long while. With the 13th Bansyoya File—Tarvos—in hand, he was now a worthy opponent for Mama, possessing a bargaining chip worth the world to them.

He walked down the street, the autumn leaves dancing around his feet.
Time for work.