80 – Change of Heart
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Sakura twirled around her pen, frowning as she stared at her laptop screen. Papers were littered all across the tabletop nearby, covered in notes. "...Just what kind of crazy technology did John give Rin to use?"

Like John said, he had sent over information for her to use to write the press release. The background information was fairly straightforward.

John Smith, a nationalized foreigner who returned after working abroad for a couple of decades. Born in America, extensive background in business and stock trading. On returning to Japan and taking a look at the idol industry, he wanted to create a way for those idols to follow their dreams while still being protected.

Thus, Project MirAIs, a virtual idol company with talents that could become proper idols, but given the anonymity of a virtual avatar.

If it was only that, it would be groundbreaking. No, it already was groundbreaking. After all, the idea of 'virtual idols' had never been properly received or explored.

Sure, there had been anime, games, and the like with them. And there were also some vocal software with an attached character that had a background of being a virtual idol.

But these were real.

Like with Rin, a real person stood behind the character, giving it life.

It was a perfect opportunity. The idols that were forced into retirement but wished to continue had a second chance. And those who had talent but lacked the appearance necessary to be a real idol could lend their talents to the virtual idol and soar together.

That concept alone was impressive. But what was even more impressive was the auxiliary support to run the streams.

Sakura glanced back at the notes she had taken from John's talk with her and the information he sent over.

"That guy... is he that confident that no one can replicate it? Or does he trust me and Rin that much?"

It was a complete explanation of the underlying principles behind how the stream setup worked. The math and science of it all was beyond her, something or another about lightwave resonance and predictive approximation through user synchronization, but the point of it all was that it was technology that had never been seen before.

Sakura was sure of it. There was VR and there was motion tracking software out there. With some proper modeling and rigging, other companies could create something similar in concept to Project MirAIs.

In fact, she was sure that there were groups scrambling to do just that at the moment and were only waiting to see John test the waters.

But even then...

"They can't do this."

Sakura pulled up Rin's last stream with Hana and played the video back.

A dimly lit warehouse with faint light coming in from the background. Fanart posters, hanging on the wall in the back to liven it up, fluttering like real paper. And then there was Hana herself, expressions as true to life as possible without crossing the uncanny valley. But not only that, a thin sheen of sweat from her exertion in dancing around, her clothes slightly wrinkled from her constant movement...

Sakura was familiar with the digital entertainment industry. She had written articles for console debuts extolling their latest features, video games praising the latest innovative features, and even the occasional review piece for computer parts like graphics cards.

So she could tell. The amount of effort that a team would require to make just ten minutes of a video like in Hana's stream would be a month long endeavor.

And here Rin was doing it every day for hours on end.

Sakura frowned and set down her pen. Glancing at her laptop screen, she skimmed her article one last time and then let out a sigh. "This is going to blow up."

When people realized that it wasn't just a fluke or publicity stunt and that Project MirAIs wasn't only here to stay, but here to grow...

Well. John could handle that when it happened. Knowing the guy, he'd probably pull off a crazy stunt to draw attention away from it.

Sakura yawned and then pulled out her phone to check the time. When she did, she blinked. "...It's already five?"

The day had rolled over before she realized it.

"...Let's not let my sweetie find out about this." Sakura muttered and stood up, walking over to make herself a cup of coffee.

After pouring water in the pot and turning on the coffee machine, Sakura leaned on the countertop and pulled out her phone to scroll through the news. A short break before going back to edit her article before sending it off.

And then she froze.

"What?"

A headline. Breaking news, all over the usual sites she used. And even on NHK's front page.

"Infamous yakuza leader Shin Seiryuu announces dissolution of the group and turns himself in...? And the Torabu Clan also announced a dissolution?"

Sakura shook her head. "No way. This... It's just headlines, right? Clickbait. It's gotta be."

A 'click' echoed. The coffee machine.

Sakura quickly poured herself a cup and took a swig.

It burned her tongue, causing her to yelp and set the cup back. But that also proved it.

"This... isn't a hallucination?"

Just to be sure, Sakura clicked on one of the articles on her feed. It was by Poppy Gloria. One of the more reputable sources for breaking news. A foreigner, but as a result one willing to write bluntly and without holding things back.

And the first thing she saw was a video of a man with a familiar face.

Sakura froze, feeling a tremor of fear and rage at seeing it. But then that was replaced with confusion.

It was Shin Seiryuu. That bastard that ruined her life, the one her naïve younger self thought was an angel instead of a demon.

She remembered him being invincible. Confident beyond belief and ruthless. A man who wouldn't be fazed even when facing death itself. Who *wasn't* fazed even when facing death, like when she aimed a gun at him and shot him point blank.

The sharp and ruthless face was the same. But the demeanor was completely different. An expression that Sakura would never have expected to appear on that man's face.

Guilt.

Sakura glanced at Rin's room.

Her daughter wouldn't be awake at this time right now. And even then, she wouldn't recognize him. So...

Sakura closed her eyes, took a deep breath... and then played the video.

-----AI|IA-----

[Play P5 OST - Regret]

The front of the Tokyo Police Station. Standing atop a podium, Shin Seiryuu, the infamous leader that ruled the criminal underworld with an iron fist, lowered his head, hiding his eyes beneath his scraggly black hair.

Silence.

There were police officers standing all around. Most were armed with the usual nonlethal baton and tasers, but there were a few with guns. Not only that, but a few armored cars could be seen in the background.

That showed just how serious the situation was.

But Shin wasn't affected. He simply stood there, as if waiting for a cue.

A man stepped forward. A middle-aged police officer with graying hair.

Takashi Kimura.

Officer Kimura's face was neutral as he stared at Shin, but the people who knew him could see the barely restrained fury and disgust in his eyes. Even so, he pulled out a clipboard and a pen before speaking up. "Officer Takashi Kimura, in response to the threat at the Eternal Tower in Kamurocho. Mister Seiryuu. You wished to convey a message?"

Finally, Shin raised his head. "Yes."

A gravelly voice. But unlike the usual tone, it was soft. Almost pained.

He looked up to the crowd and then stared into the camera. "My name is Shin Seiryuu. I am the leader of the criminal organization known as the Seiryuu Alliance. And I am the one who has kept the yakuza alive to this current day through my strength."

He clenched his fist and grit his teeth. "But most importantly... I am a monster!"

Murmurs echoed, but Shin continued speaking over them.

"For over twenty years, I have dyed my hands in blood. The amount of lives I have taken with my fists alone reach the hundreds. The number of lives I have ruined through my words and decisions reach millions... And among those include my wife and daughter."

He shook his head, faint tears streaming from his cheeks. "I know this. There is no salvation for me. My path has been severed completely and I have been forced to face my past. There is... no method that I can take to compensate for what I have done. However... I can at least pull out the weeds that I allowed to grow in the shadows."

Shin brushed his eyes, wiping away the tears. And then his expression changed, as if the vulnerable words earlier were just a lie. "Those who used my name as a tool to instill fear and exploit others. Those who hid behind my infamy to further your own goals. And those who indulged in debauchery while ruining the lives of innocent young men and women. I know who you are. And the one who changed my heart knows who you are."

He let out a feral grin and said, "As of this moment, the Seiryuu Alliance- No. The yakuza are no more. Shortly after my incarceration, my counterpart, Hanzo Torabu, will make a similar announcement for the Torabu Clan. Those who have been taking advantage of our presence... wash your necks and wait. The Golden Dragon will not allow such darkness within his domain."

This time, chaos broke out. Even the officers that had been aiming their guns at Shin broke their composure.

"The yakuza are no more?"

"What do you mean by the Golden Dragon?!"

"Are you going to name your compatriots?"

Shin's grin faded and he stared out at the camera with a somber expression. "I... know that I have committed atrocities I can never atone for. I know that I have ruined and taken countless lives. Done enough that the heavens would never grant me any favor. Even so, there are two requests that I must make. The first is to my eldest daughter."

He straightened and said, "I am proud of you. To face my madness all these years and grow into a fine woman as unwavering as a steel blade... It is a feat to be lauded. However... you are different from myself. Like your mother, you are soft. Too kind. Thus... Leave. Sever yourself from my path and do not look back. Live freely beneath the sun and enjoy life to its fullest. Now... for my second message."

Fatigue showed on Shin's face, and a haunted look crossed his eyes. "My flower. The one I ripped from the roots and forced to bear my seed. Do not hate your daughter. She was born from hate and despair, but she is innocent of this all. Neither my sins nor my actions should weigh on your judgment of her. So, please!" He lowered his head in a steep bow, slamming it on the podium. "Accept her as your own. I know that I am unqualified to ask this of you after all that I have done, but-!"

-----AI|IA-----

The video ended.

Sakura stared at the screen for a long time, emotions swirling in her chest.

But eventually, she let out a long sigh and said, "I already did that, you bastard. As if I would let the memory of you taint such my sweet daughter."

Even so...

"This is odd." Sakura muttered.

The timing was too sudden and convenient.

Not only that, but that bastard was someone who was unyielding down to the bones. Even if he was facing death itself, he would have never yielded. So...

"What happened?"

There were too many questions. Not only that, but didn't that bastard mention the Torabu Clan disbanding as well?

And all of this was a few days after the talk with John-

Sakura froze, her eyes turning wide. "Did... that guy do this?"

It was the only explanation. Furthermore, Shin had mentioned a 'Golden Dragon.'

And considering John's hair as well as the miracles he seemed to keep pulling out of the blue-

A faint buzz, followed by a soft chime.

Sakura flinched and glanced at her phone.

It was a text message. As for the sender...

"Speak of the devil and he shall appear, huh?"

It was John.

[Hey! You're probably asleep right now, but I just wanted to know if you were finished with the articles. I think it'd be best to release them sooner rather than later. I've got big plans in store, you know?]

Sakura giggled in disbelief. "This guy..." She tapped the notification and started typing a message.

She was tempted. She really wanted to ask if he was the one who did it. If he forced that bastard to change his mind for her and Rin.

But she didn't.

"Articles finished... Will send them off today... Should be out by tomorrow."

Rereading her message to make sure it was spelled right, Sakura sent it off.

And then she held her phone to her chest, sighing. "This guy... No wonder Sweetie has a crush on him."

Sakura definitely wasn't interested in John. He had already drawn the line, and she wasn't a homewrecker. Not only that, but another awkward and overly serious guy had long since taken residence in her heart.

Still, she could see John's charm.

"Pulling off miracles left and right and solving a woman's troubles so easily... John might be more dangerous than that bastard ever was."

At least that bastard had ulterior motives behind clearing away obstacles.

John though... That guy just did it because he thought it was the right thing to do.

Sakura smiled... And then she paused, a stray thought coming to mind. "I wonder what kind of woman managed to snag a guy like that?"

-----AI|IA-----

The Celestial Jade Palace, the Imperial Princess's private pagoda.

"Achoo!" Yue sniffled and brushed her nose with her sleeve, frowning.

"Mom!" Omega ran over, carrying a tray of medicinal herbs and teas. "Here! These should help!"

Yue smiled and waved her hand. "I'm fine, Omega. But..." She frowned and stared up at the sky. "How odd."

Omega looked up as well, scowling. "What is it? Did Father cause trouble again?"

"No. Rather..." She tilted her head, thinking. "I... might have found a kindred spirit?"

"Hm?"

Yue shook her head. "It's nothing. Now... Would you like to eat with me, my daughter? For some reason, I have been rather fond of the salty snacks your father left behind in his pantry, and I think you would enjoy it as well." She pulled out a small bag and said, "I believe these are something called Putei Tu chips?"

"..."

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