Magisterus Bad Trip:Volume2
- 1 Novel Illustrations
- 2 Prologue
- 3 Chapter 4: The Off-Field Brawl Can Be Found Here – BGM #04 “Team Play”.
- 4 Chapter 5: A New Form of Late-Night Television – BGM #05 “Killer Stunt”.
- 5 Chapter 6: The Boys who are Known as Legends – BGM #06 “Dead Shot”.
- 6 Epilogue
- 7 Afterword
- 8 ?
There once was a legendary Dealer known as Criminal AO.
The many weapons he personally customized became known as the Inheritance. The worldwide online game of Money (Game) Master had such great influence that the in-game currency of Snow was as valuable as the real yen. Those brutal guns and cannons easily surpassed the limits of the game’s preset laws of physics, so they became known as Over Tricks, the ultimate magic.
Due to their overwhelming power, the Inheritance posed a risk of causing critical bugs or errors in the game’s physics engine. The AIs who ran the game plotted to kill Criminal AO for producing and managing them and he was driven into hiding in both the real and virtual worlds.
If someone were to obtain every piece of the Inheritance, they would see something different.
By pursuing the differences between the normal screen and the error screen, they could work out the programming language used in the game, they could hijack Money (Game) Master which had never before suffered a successful cyber-attack, and they could rebel against the Will of the AIs.
Machine to machine transactions – the ones done directly between machines instead of between two people or between a person and a machine – now made up 48% of all financial transactions in the world.
Once that passed 50%, the humans would no longer be controlling the machines. Instead, the machines would rule the money and would begin efficiently controlling the humans.
Could the entire Inheritance be gathered before that happened?
The true threat was even greater than that. Simply by faithfully simulating human society, the true demons lurking within Money (Game) Master had almost entirely taken control of the flow of money that kept the world running.
What if that reached the territory known as heaven or god?
This had to be settled before the Day of Rebellion arrived.
“If anyone tries to prevent me from collecting the Inheritance…”
“If anyone tries to prevent me from recovering my Over Tricks…”
This is a story about that Inheritance.
It is the story of a boy who swore to protect his friend’s sister just like that friend got shot while protecting his sister.
“Then I’ll take them back even if it means a fight to the death.”
Server Name: Psi Indigo. Starting Location: Summer City – Hooker Island.
Welcome to Money (Game) Master, Suou Kaname.
The boy at the steering wheel felt his entire body shake as the tires squealed and the engine rumbled in his gut. The color of the asphalt was mixed with the hint of salt and sand characteristic of coastal roads. He swung the tail end of the mint green coupe around to clear a hairpin curve.
Summer City was a financial city on a tropical peninsula built for the worldwide online game of Money (Game) Master.
Otherwise, this boy never would have been allowed to use guns or a car like this.
The Lion’s Nose.
The danger sense he relied on was continually sending him warning signals.
Magisterus Tselika, the demon and race queen in the passenger seat, let out a joyful voice while the pleasant inertial weight washed over the core of her body. She happily wagged her split tail and the seatbelt pushed in between her large breasts each time her soft body bounced around.
“Ah ha ha! I love that you’re chasing around the Japanese Treasury right now, master! That’s basically a government agency, isn’t it!?”
“The national bank is getting a little carried away just because the virtual currency is outdoing the yen a bit. The Citizen Cashback System? Are they trying to sell off the country!? …More importantly, what happened to our off route attack!? When is she going to stop them!?”
Hooker Island was the sketchiest part of Money (Game) Master, which was saying something. Why that was goes without saying. What had started as a group of short old buildings had been wildly expanded upon with scrap materials, so the place almost looked like a giant living creature in and of itself. In that case, Kaname would be driving below the belly of the bizarre multi-legged creature made from so many buildings.
He was thankful for it while plowing through the streets in his car, but there was almost no one here despite it being the middle of the day. Night and day almost seemed reversed on this island.
Chasing down a single target was difficult on an island with such a complex layout. You might try to corner them in a dead end, but there were countless smaller escape routes everywhere. You might try to lay a trap up ahead, but that required blocking off all the other countless paths to force them down that way.
“Tch. We have the greater acceleration, but their top speed is higher.”
“Well, they do weigh about twice as much.”
It was difficult for heavy vehicles to get up to speed, but once they had plenty of momentum, they could drive around at incredible speed. Thinking of it like a crane’s wrecking ball might be simplest. Swinging the vehicle around in a series of drifts required a unique form of driving.
“We led them into this maze ourselves, didn’t we? If they get back on a single straight road, they can pull away from us with the power of their engine.”
Tselika extended her split tail and appeared to only be relaxing in the passenger seat, but she was essentially doing all the data processing. And all the while, she was connected to the network and making tens of thousands of financial transactions in Suou Kaname’s name every second.
Of course, those vast resources could also be used for firefights and car chases.
A social media style chat was displayed on the windshield to appear on top of the scenery up ahead.
“Midori> I don’t really get that Something-or-Other Cashback thing, but it’s basically a system where the government gives every citizen an allowance, right? What’s wrong with just taking it?”
“A lot, you idiot.”
“If you don’t send it as a message, your words will not reach that innocent little middle school girl.”
The demon chuckled while rubbing her cow-like horns with her fingertips, but Kaname ignored her and handled the high-speed chat with his eye movements since his hands were busy with the steering wheel.
That girl was the younger sister of Hekireki Takamasa, his missing friend.
Kaname owed a huge debt of gratitude to Takamasa.
When Kaname’s own sister – the Dealer who had gone by the name Suou Ayame – was about to be shot to death in the game, Takamasa had protected her. He quite literally took a bullet for her. So Kaname would protect Midori no matter what. He would accept her every selfish demand. That was just the way of the world as far as he was concerned.
“Kaname> It wouldn’t make everyone richer if we gave them money so they didn’t have to work. That would only destroy the value of the yen.”
“Midori> Can you maybe explain it in an understandable way?”
“Kaname> Getting a 1000 yen allowance would be great, right? But then you find a drink costs 2000 yen. Not so great anymore, is it?”
“Kaname> Now you get it. And once it starts, it’s hard to stop. The 1000 yen didn’t work, so it’s upped to 5000 yen. And when that doesn’t work, 10,000 yen. They want to sell off abandoned buildings and land, combine that funding with the money obtained by cracking down on unpaid taxes, use that in the game to earn an even greater return, and use that to pay for public services? Nonsense. Those government agencies are supported by taxes and don’t have to worry too much even if the plan utterly fails, so they don’t understand the hungry spirit of those hyenas in the private sector who can’t recover if they fail.”
“Midori> It’s that bad?”
“Kaname> Well, I’m sure some of it is just jealousy, but I have heard rumors of people aiming a gun at a second-generation celebrity or tax-supported government worker only to have them come to a stop and put their hands up instead of shooting back or diving behind cover. They mistakenly think they can redo things even if they Fall, so they just give up right away. People who don’t know the true horrors of money can never win at this game.”
There was no response from Midori.
She must have fallen silent.
“Kaname> Necessity is the mother of invention. Those private sector companies in sheep’s clothing have moved at least two generations ahead when it comes to financial plans and techniques for efficiently using money to make money. Meanwhile, if the government fails here, they’ll probably just shift the blame and create a new environmental tax on nitrogen or carbon dioxide or something. So in the end, it comes out of the public funding for electricity, gas, or water. The people pay for it in the end. There really is no escape.”
“Midori> This sounds unnecessarily complicated…”
“Kaname> That’s intentional. No one would accept it if they just came out and said they’re increasing taxes because their money management plan failed. The government workers will play some verbal catch for a while to ensure a soft landing, but the numbers don’t add up if you’re just sucking up everyone’s tax money and then evenly redistributing it to everyone.”
“Midori> Huh? Then how does it really work?”
“Kaname> The government goes into temporary debt to hand out the money and, when they don’t get enough back in taxes, they just kick the can down the road. Eventually, I expect they’ll have to sell bonds like crazy or run the mint at max capacity to print tons of new money. Either way, it can only lead to one thing: the collapse of the yen and then the entire country.”
“Kaname> And they have the nerve to call this a ‘clever public service for the next generation’. Feel the happiness in your hand? You wouldn’t feel that even if they gave you a billion yen. You’d only find a drink costs two billion. So, Midori, make sure you do your off route attack! We can’t let the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare’s money reach the Japanese Treasury!”
“Midori> I can read your messages jut fine without the exclamation points!!”
“Yet you used two,” lazily pointed out Tselika.
The national budget was distributed to the different ministries with a specific purpose attached. Using that money for anything other than the given purpose was against the rules…yet these people had taken money meant for the management of tax money and converted it into Money (Game) Master’s untraceable virtual currency of Snow so they could transfer it to a different department. That way they were free to use the money any way they liked.
In a way, the game was a wormhole for money.
By shuffling the money around in here and redistributing it, the barriers in reality no longer mattered.
In other words, the funding meant for road construction could be instead used for health insurance.
It was money laundering carried out by the government.
“You’ve changed, master.”
“How? I doubt there are many Dealers out there who wouldn’t use landmines at a time like this.”
“It’s not about that. You used to handle everything all on your own, or at the very most, order me to perform some secondary role. You never would have considered relying on another Dealer.”
“I wonder what caused this change. This sexy young woman is starting to feel jealous of that twintails little sister.”
Kaname yanked on the hand brake and Tselika’s entire body was squeezed by her seatbelt. The demon tensed up all the way to the tip of her tail.
“Bweh! Stop that, master! Don’t go straight to some pseudo-bondage just cause I made a joke!”
“It’s not that. And make sure you don’t bite your tongue.”
He relied more on the danger signal coming from his nose than he did the digital data.
The light and the smoke trail of an anti-tank rocket cut by just in front of the windshield.
Tselika belatedly widened her eyes and looked like her heart had stopped. Meanwhile, Kaname clicked his tongue and released the handbrake. He really wished his navigator would try harder. He slammed down the gas pedal to gain speed while glaring out of the side window.
“They had someone waiting for us. If they want to keep it light but still fire a rocket while driving, it can’t be a motorcycle. Maybe a two-person motor trike?”
“I-i-if that had hit, my precious temple would have been flipped over, master!!”
It was just a game, but it was still a game. If you were shot to death and Fell within this virtual reality where the virtual currency rivalled the real yen, you would be forcibly logged out for 24 hours as penalty. That might not seem like much, but you and your Magisterus could not touch your financial dealings in that time, so your money could effectively be devoured by the other Dealers. It was quite a tragedy when someone with tens of billions of Snow fell into a pit of debt overnight.
The world was chock full of fates worse than death.
But Suou Kaname’s expression was calm.
Truly capable Dealers would not let the danger before their eyes get to them. They would have learned all too well how tensing up or cowering down only put them in more danger.
“The Anti-Vehicle Skill is a poor match for rocket weapons, so don’t worry. That Skill kicks in after the first hit and ensures the consecutive hits all end up in the same spot. The idea is the same as a Gatling gun, so it’s meaningless with a single-shot weapon.”
“Again, it’s the first shot that would kill us!!”
“Then just pray it doesn’t hit.”
They were not about to lose a competition of speed against a two-person motor trike that only had a small engine similar to a lawnmower, but once again, it was all about top speed and acceleration. If the trike had extra-thick suspension so it could entertain a circus audience with big jumps instead of just driving on dirt and off road, it would be able to take shortcuts by driving over small obstacles like wooden boxes and fallen palm trees. This was not an opponent they could take lightly in a maze like this.
The two riders wore bright riding suits that matched the off-road vehicle, but they also wore glittering golden necklaces and bracelets.
That equipment was likely worn to provide Skills. In Money (Game) Master, every factor directly linked to strength could be bought and sold with money. The way that motor trike was driving had to be the result of Skills like Balancer that forcibly preserved the vehicle’s balance or Slow that made time seem to flow slower for the user.
This game was not so kind that a professional hitman could just log in and immediately win every fight they got into.
On the other hand, relying too much on the game’s power and growing reliant on it would often prevent you from developing your own skills. The game’s Skills had their pros and their cons.
A few dry gunshots rang out.
While the gunner in the back seat loaded the next rocket, the motor trike’s driver used one hand to fire a machine handgun to buy some time. The Anti-Vehicle Skill was a threat when used with a rapid-fire weapon, but the driver was not a threat because only the gunner in the back seat was equipped with the Skill. And upon closer inspection, Kaname noticed the driver was occasionally glancing at their wrist after grabbing that gun. However, it was not the time they were interested in.
(Are they displaying the remaining rounds on their mobile watch? Even their movements suggest they focused on Skills instead of basic training. Assuming it isn’t all an act, that motor trike won’t pose a real threat.)
“Can we escape them!?” asked Tselika.
“I don’t want to give up this position and I’ve figured them out, so it’d be faster to shoot them!”
Kaname rolled down the driver’s side window and kept one hand on the steering wheel while using the other hand to aim his distinctive Short Spear short-range sniper rifle that took a .45 caliber weapon and added a collapsible stock and a built-in silencer on the barrel.
He did not rely on Skills for shooting or for driving.
He opted for manual aiming.
With the gunshot suppressed, he only heard the quiet click of the trigger. The lead passed through the women’s underwear hanging out to dry which functioned as something of a store sign and the roar of the cheap engine suddenly fell silent on the small road across the way. And it was soon replaced by a loud crash.
That could not be done with the Auto-Aim Skill that only automatically aimed your gun at the center of the target.
It was the result of striking a balance between using the advantages offered by the game but not being trapped by them.
Tselika whistled while putting her hands behind her head and stretching, which pushed out her large chest and caused the seatbelt to needlessly dig into it.
“Well, you’re as skilled as ever.”
“They were using the Balancer Skill which uses an external force to keep them upright, remember? That means they’ll follow a perfect parabolic arc no matter how much they jump and bounce around. Once you know that, the aiming is easy. Also, I’m not interested in compliments about a detour like this. This was all a waste of time if we lose sight of that sports sedan.”
The boy tossed the gun onto the bright thighs sitting in the passenger seat, grabbed the wheel with both hands once more, and took a dangerously tight turn around the corner of a building.
They were pursuing a courier, but that courier was not carrying a duffel bag or attaché case stuffed with cash.
“We’re up against that courier Dealer called Many-Go-Round, so that 4-door might as well be a mobile safe, right? Sounds pretty fancy.”
“But that’s everyone’s tax money in there. And it doubles as a steering weight.”
In general, sportscars and racecars wanted as low a center of gravity as possible. That allowed them to take turns at a higher speed. That was a reason other than air resistance to keep the car low to the ground, but when that was not enough to get the desired effect, they would sometimes have heavy metals like lead stuffed inside the bottom of the car. The acceleration would suffer of course, so it was a last resort.
In this case, a tank larger than a tatami mat had been attached below the car and it was full of a fairly heavy liquid with a specific gravity of 19.
“Midori> That’s worth 25 times as much as pure gold per gram, isn’t it? I honestly can’t believe it…”
“Kaname> That’s how it works with luxury brand cosmetics. Once it gets a weird label like ‘used by professionals’, ‘used by celebrities’, ‘used by the rich and famous’, or whatever else, the price skyrockets. Plus, the demand for suntan lotion isn’t about to go down in Summer City since the sun is out year round.”
“Midori> But it’s just suntan lotion!! It’s mass-produced in a factory, isn’t it? You don’t dig it up from the ground like with gold or diamonds!”
The value must have been hard to understand for a middle school girl who had perfectly youthful skin without even trying. And Tselika was fully immersed in a nonhuman beauty, so she did not seem interested either.
“Kaname> During the confusion of factory equipment being replaced, some things were unknowingly ‘upgraded’, so the same brand name can no longer get the perfect formula they used to make. That’s why the remaining stock is going for astronomical prices under the unofficial name of Last Year.”
“Kaname> That one car is driving around with 20 billion Snow onboard. Not even banks carry that much actual cash anymore.”
“Midori> Hey, some people were calling it ‘secret funding’ or ‘electronic currency’, but what’s that about?”
“Kaname> It’s the same as with types of scams or dangerous drugs. A lot of money is moving around, but the thing the government dislikes just keeps changing its name. E-money, virtual currency, encrypted property, and maybe fictional deposits or dark assets will be next. It keeps going around and around and no one can keep track, so it ends up settling back down on virtual currency. For now at least.”
“Midori> So it’s like how they keep trying to coming up with new names for things, but everyone just keeps using the old one?”
In the world of Money (Game) Master, a vehicle parked in a parking lot could not be stolen or destroyed. They were protected by something like a barrier. They were much safer there than inside a bank vault or hidden in the forest.
Kaname turned the steering wheel side to side several times to drive in an S-shape past all the rusted cars and trashcans scattered around.
“That’s why we really should have located their parking lot and surrounded it with landmines. Then we could have blown them away as soon as they left.”
“This is the courier linking the Japanese Treasury to the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare we’re talking about,” said Tselika. “And they made sure to use Snow since it’s harder to track. They’ll have spread plenty of misinformation to protect themselves. I mean, they’re being paid from the tax money, so why hesitate to spend it, right?”
At any rate, if that courier got away and the laundered national budget was delivered to the Japanese Treasury, the distribution service known as the Citizen Cashback System would begin. And that would lead to the hyperinflation that obliterated the yen’s value.
So they had to settle this before that happened.
Kaname was not revving the engine more than necessary just to psyche himself up.
“Kaname> They’ve moved from B4 to C7. They’re panicking as we close in on them. They’re only checking in the mirror.”
“Midori> Wait a moment and I’ll do something about it. Okay, good. The driver’s outfit is focused more on a car chase than a firefight. Their jacket, pants, and belt all have the D.V.A. Skill that increases dynamic vision. Since they’ve added the same Skill repeatedly, they must want to focus on what’s directly ahead of them and dodge that. But their vision to the sides and back are entirely reliant on the vehicle’s cameras and monitor. They should be slow to react to a surprise attack from the side!”
As usual, she made it sound so simple, but only she could determine someone’s Skills so accurately at a glance. Even Tselika groaned in the passenger seat a little. Midori claimed she was only guessing at the overall intent of someone’s outfit, but that easily made her a genius. It was an irreplaceable talent similar to Kaname’s Lion’s Nose.
Kaname had talked about using an off route attack or mines, but the sports sedan up ahead was driving on hard asphalt. A shovel was not enough to bury a mine there, so he had never really expected to do so.
Which was why it had turned out like this.
An explosive suddenly flew in from an alley to the side and stabbed into the fleeing car.
With its side torn apart, the sports sedan rolled off the road.
This was little different from the previous rocket attack. An off route attack was one made from outside the road. In this case, it referred to a unit that emitted invisible IR or radar waves across the road and automatically fired an anti-tank weapon at whatever passed through there.
It had been set up by Midori. She was still a beginner, but she had equipped herself with an accessory that provided the Secret Skill which hid her presence. …Of course, Kaname and Midori had already proven that a Skill could be taken advantage of once the enemy knew what it was, so she could not let her guard down.
Kaname slammed on the brakes with the coupe’s back end swinging around.
The sense from his Lion’s Nose rapidly receded.
“Ahh, ahh. The whole thing is engulfed in flames,” said Tselika. “The person in that barbecue is dead as hell.”
“Do not let your guard down until their Fall is confirmed,” warned Kaname.
That was when some loud gunshots rang out and several spider webs of cracks covered the windshield of Kaname’s coupe.
All the displays went out.
Tselika’s expression went entirely blank.
And then she grabbed Kaname’s short-range sniper rifle and fired plenty of bullets out of the passenger side window and into that flaming pile of scrap metal.
“Are – you – kidding – me!? Some ridiculous last desperate act damaged the temple I spend every day keeping nice and shinyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!???”
“Hm? Stop it, Tselika. That was just the ammo in the fire going off like popcorn. The Dealer inside already Fell.”
“What happened to not letting your guard down until their Fall is confirmed!?”
His Lion’s Nose detected nothing, but Tselika insisted on being thorough. Her split-end tail wrapped around Kaname’s neck and shook him wildly while the recoil of the gunfire jiggled her large breasts. She was being a little too thorough here, but Kaname decided it was best to leave her be.
(The peninsula city has a service where you get unlimited ammo for a monthly fee, right? Maybe signing a contract with a gun shop would end up being cheaper than having Tselika handle it herself.)
A roaring engine different from a car’s caught up with them. The large racing bike with a red leaf pattern was ridden by an undeveloped girl who had long black twintails and wore a bikini with a miniskirt. The black with white frills gave her something of a gothic appearance.
“So is the quest over now that we defeated them? What do we do with that flaming wreckage?”
“You have to ask? This is Money (Game) Master where money is everything. Unlike cash or diamonds, that expensive suntan lotion doesn’t burn. So let’s nab it before the steering weight tank breaks.”
“If you want to feel happiness in your hand without ruining the yen’s value for everyone, there’s only one way: Unfair as it might be, someone has to have way more money than everyone else. The world’s a cruel place, after all. Okay, let’s go find a fire extinguisher. We can pump out the lotion after that.”
“Um, that’s everyone’s tax money, right? Don’t you feel guilty taking it all for-…hey, are you listening!?”
Midori followed after him, griping all the while, so Kaname sighed.
Something happened once no more humans remained on the scene.
Left behind in the mint green coupe, Tselika tearfully stepped out and lovingly rubbed her cheek against the body of the car (which had spider webs of cracks across the windshield). It was a little hot thanks to the direct sunlight, but she did not care. Her love could overcome that!
“Nwohhh! I am so sorry, my temple. Wait just a while longer, okay? I will get you a new windshield and polish up every last bit of you.”
While she spoke to the car, the symbols on her race queen outfit and the coupe’s body fluidly changed. It was all in accordance with a request Kaname had made.
(That cashback system was supposed to be a form of welfare and the funding was gathered from the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, so if I check the recent news and compare it to the total value of the suntan lotion inside this mobile safe…hm. So they forcibly seized VR furniture from incurably ill patients and their families once they went into debt from the exorbitant medical costs and then they put those up for auction in Money (Game) Master. This kind of thing really pisses me off. Starting spreadsheet software. Using macro processing to total up 14,055 transaction records. Hm, hm. Master was right. The total amount perfectly matches the money Many-Go-Round was carrying. Hmm, that gives us solid numerical evidence to back up his speculation. This settles it.)
Tons of windows popped up, covering the entire car.
A normal person could never have followed all of them, but a Magisterus could handle tens of thousands of financial transactions every second, so for Tselika, this was boring work worthy of a yawn.
(So if we sell that luxury suntan lotion, buy everything back with the Snow that gives us, and anonymously return them to their original owners, everything works out. A wedding chapel they couldn’t use in reality, a villa they could not enjoy due to the pain of their illness, and even a private beach for a child who had never seen the ocean… What a pain. If I don’t balance the books so not even a single Snow remains with us, master will probably be angry. Well, I need to show him what I’m capable of so he’ll be willing to replace that windshield.)
There was no point in stating this out loud in front of ignorant Midori.
Saving people was not something you showed off to others.
That was the kind of life the boy named Suou Kaname had chosen to live.
(Photograph & Illustration Social Network “Pixy-gram” ID 3187-AJHF-29dd)
“Kaname> Okay, I logged in since you sent me an invite, but what is this?”
“Midori> What do you mean ‘what is this’?”
“Kaname> Why an illustration chat?”
“Midori> Shut up. You told me to set up a chatroom with encryption of Secure Rate 5 or better, but this is the only place where I know how to fiddle with the settings.”
“Kaname> So you’re into this as well as letters? You sure are multitalented. Anyway, can we get down to business?”
“Midori> I’m still a beginner at Money (Game) Master, so is there anything you need to warn me about?”
“Kaname> The game’s virtual currency of Snow is so powerful because it can be converted into yen. Just because it’s a game, don’t play in a way that will end in a major loss.”
“Kaname> Do not let yourself die and Fall. If you’re forcibly logged out for 24 hours, you’ll be at the mercy of all those hyenas. That’s a one-way trip to debt hell.”
“Kaname> Also, Money (Game) Master is being used by the AI-controlled Magisteri to infiltrate human society. And just like recreating human society in digital form gives them so much influence over the real world, they hope to recreate a higher dimension in digital form for what they call the Day of Rebellion.”
“Midori> Um, and we can solve that by gathering all of my brother’s Inheritance, right?”
“Kaname> You need to understand the entire system, Midori. Takamasa’s Inheritance can surpass Money (Game) Master’s physics calculations, so it could easily lead to bugs and errors. So if used right, it might be able to drag out the ‘system’ part of the game world that looks so perfect. And in fact, Takamasa Fell in an unnatural way when he possessed the Inheritance. If we gather the entire Inheritance that he had, we might be able to stop the Magisteri and prevent Money (Game) Master from taking over the world. In fact, that is exactly what we will do. You, Takamasa, my sister, and Tselika. I will make sure you can all live whatever lives you want.”
“Midori> Hold on. Can you simplify this for a beginner like me!? What are you even talking about anymore?”
“Kaname> Reality and online aren’t all that different. Be careful when it comes to money.”
Chapter 4: The Off-Field Brawl Can Be Found Here – BGM #04 “Team Play”.
Server Name: Alpha Scarlet. Starting Location: Summer City – Peninsula City.
Welcome to Money (Game) Master, Suou Kaname.
“We need my brother’s Inheritance. The whole thing.”
In her black gothic bikini and miniskirt, Hekireki Midori kept her voice low so it was masked by the cheers of 20,000 people. While she was wearing a bikini, it was quite frilly, so the curves of her chest did not stand out much. Of course, you must not call it a kiddy swimsuit. Unless you wanted your face scratched by all her nails like she was an upset cat, that is.
The soccer match being played before their eyes was in the initial excitement of the first half. It looked like the defender tripped the player with the ball, but the referee did not blow the whistle and the ball was taken by the other team.
In Money (Game) Master, the soccer leagues were divided into three different classes: S, R, and the amateur-exclusive N. This game was in the second-rate R class.
“Why isn’t it just ABC? It’s unnecessarily confusing.”
“You can tell some old guy named it. Spelling it out as Super Rare, Rare, and Normal would be easier to understand for kids these days.”
Kaname’s response was cold even with a topic as accessible as talking about the weather or asking about one’s caffeinated beverage of choice. Dealing with a nervous middle school girl was a more delicate job than defusing a time bomb.
The skilled Dealer seated next to her let out a sigh. Midori had chosen the location for their private chat, but watching sports in a stadium felt weird in an online game. It may have been like playing at an arcade inside a video game. Everyone had their own way to make money in Money (Game) Master, but if you wanted to do something you could not in reality, a professional athlete who had been forced to retire after their body declined might create a younger avatar and go wild with it.
And the inheritance the girl had mentioned was not some money her missing family member had saved up.
There were some extraordinary guns in Money (Game) Master that had been so thoroughly customized that they exceeded the set limits of the game world and were known as Over Tricks. They were the Inheritance. Each one was incredibly powerful, but it was predicted that gathering them all would allow one to analyze the special programming language used for Money (Game) Master.
Anyway, Kaname lowered the opera glasses he was using to watch the game.
“Also, don’t talk about that so openly. You never know who might be listening.”
He raised two fingers as Midori gasped.
Needless to say, those fingers indicated #Downpour.err and #FiringLine.err.
One was a shotgun that fired 2000 shots at whatever was hit by its guidelight and the other was an anti-materiel rifle with an unlimited firing range. When used correctly, those cyber economic weapons could bring down real-world countries and they were all the seemingly magical Over Tricks that Takamasa had left behind.
“(If people find out we have those, Dealers will be rushing at us from all over. Not everyone is simply afraid of the Inheritance. Each one has the power to blow away a real-life country or a giant IT company, so don’t forget that some people will be willing to kill to get their hands on one.)”
“I-I know that! I do, so back away! Not so close!!”
The twintail girl grew flustered for some reason.
The blue rose decoration on her hairband wobbled in a way that reminded Kaname of a toy that responded to noise.
Midori quickly placed her ice-filled drink container between the bare skin at the base of her thighs above the black kneesocks. She may have been more interested in cooling her body through the blood vessels than quenching her thirst.
“I mean, weren’t you talking about that yourself? Money (Game) Master is not just an online game. The game’s money can be converted into real money, so the AIs are using the virtual currency to efficiently control people. Weren’t you saying we humans need to hurry up and take back control before something bad happens?”
It was actually even worse than that, but everyone interpreted things differently. The Magisteri were not artificial things designed by humans. They had already existed. In the real world. Of course, Kaname had not simply accepted that everything he was told was true.
This was a game beyond human understanding that was created by demons.
Even Tselika had been tricked by the Will when she had been driven to cause that incident. She had been guided so she would not realize the possibility of learning the programming language by gathering Takamasa’s Inheritance.
Of course they could not see the full extent of this.
“We need a list,” said Midori just as a young woman in an almost nonexistent swimsuit and a sun visor walked by selling fries, frankfurters, and cold drinks. (Based on her movement, she appeared to be human.) “We know we need the entire Inheritance, but the only person who knows how many there are in all is Onii-cha-…ahem, is my brother. We need an accurate list before we can really start.”
“About that. Was there nothing in Takamasa’s room back in the real world? Like a notebook or a card-sized storage device?”
“All I found were the porn sites in his internet history. Ugh, that was not a fun discovery. But maybe it’s what I get for searching his room without permission…even if it was necessary.”
Kaname had nothing to say to that. He knew how your family’s sexuality was always a tough thing to face. He certainly did not want to see that side of his sister or parents.
“There really is a list, though, isn’t there?” she asked.
He had not actually seen it, but he was certain it existed.
When it came to the Inheritance or anything else Takamasa worked on – from a paper airplane to a sportscar – that boy had kept notes on loose leaf paper. He had always laughed and said you never know when something might help solve a problem he was facing. That was similar but still different from his sister who loved analog letters. He was a scientific memo-taker instead of a literary one. The many pieces of the Inheritance had been scattered through the game when Takamasa had Fallen and gone missing, but they were not the only thing to disappear. No matter where they searched, they could not find the mountain of records he had to have left behind.
Midori leaned her undeveloped upper body forward in the plastic seat, placed a hand on her forehead, and glanced over at Kaname.
“What about you? You worked with him in this game a lot, didn’t you?”
“I checked every hideout I could think of, but there was no sign of all that loose leaf paper. …Although it’s possible he had a warehouse or home I wasn’t aware of.”
“It all comes down to that, doesn’t it?”
Since they could not get any information from Criminal AO, they would have to search elsewhere.
They needed an accurate list for the Inheritance.
Even one of those weapons was unfairly strong. Since Money (Game) Master’s virtual currency was used to manipulate the funding of nations and corporations, they had enough influence to bring down an entire country if used right. And they could be used to steal instead of just destroy. Simply put, they might be even more dreadfully convenient than a nuclear weapon.
So what if it was possible to have all of them to yourself?
In addition to the original list, there was a good chance that there were several partial copies out there. A list would be valuable enough to be worth selling off piece by piece.
There just had to be someone out there who had the list but could not undergo the largescale operation needed to recover the weapons.
So who was it that had all that excess information?
Kaname definitely wanted it.
They needed to have an accurate count if they wanted to recover them all. That was true. As long as the list was complete, it did not matter if it was the original or a copy.
Some people might think of it as a treasure map.
But the loose leaf papers that included the list were a piece of the thoughts Takamasa had left behind. Other people might only see designs to a UFO or time machine, but for those who knew him, the writing there was something to be kept private and not released to the public. This was like placing a newly discovered love letter in a glass case at the museum dedicated to a scientist. This was not something that could be shown off for immediate financial gain.
Kaname would not let his friend be tormented like this.
He would not have him exposed to strangers’ eyes.
Takamasa had disappeared, but that did not mean his right to dignity disappeared with him.
“Now, what to do? Midori, make sure you don’t get heatstroke. It can still get you in this game. Had you noticed your drink is already empty?”
“Oh, shut up.”
“By the way, what has you so weirdly intense? Are you a big sports fan or something?”
“You’re distracting me. I refuse to get your help with the debt my brother left us with in the real world, so I need to pay it all back myself. That’s why everything is riding on these tickets.”
“You…bet on the soccer game???”
He glanced over at the small tickets clenched in Midori’s small, black-gloved hand and realized she had in fact tried to predict the results of the next ten games and would only win the jackpot if she got them all right, scores included. The jackpot carried over each time no one won, so it was up to around 700 million Snow.
She was serious.
This honestly went beyond anything he had expected.
…And of all things, she had bet her money and future on a method where her own actions held no sway whatsoever! The next ten games would take around two weeks to complete even at the rapid pace they were being played at the moment. No matter how much she stared at the data and decided which teams she thought would win, there was no way to actually know the answer at the time she bought the tickets. In fact, she could not even know who would be playing in the starting lineup for each game. With horse racing, you could check on the condition of the horse and the lawn just before the race began and people still got it wrong so often, so there was no way you could predict the result of ten games from two weeks in advance. His jaw literally dropped when he learned about this.
“I have a lesson for you to ensure you have a bright future. How about we start with the basics of investment and the average return on investment. Gambling is generally set up so the house always wins. And I would estimate the sports betting you can find in Summer City is about 20% more calculated than what you find with horse racing or-…”
“Ohhh, shut up! Why are they all wearing the same uniform!? They all have the same Skills, so this is so boring!! If each player would personalize their Skills by wearing different clothes and accessories, I could tell what they can do… Ahh, ahh, ahhhhhhhh!? Why would you let them get a goal with that free kick!? There was no way I could have seen that coming!! No way at all!!”
The girl crushed the tickets fanned out in her hand.
Apparently drunk old men at the race track and black twintailed middle school girls reacted to losing a bet in pretty much the same exact way.
When their discussion was over and Kaname had returned to the stadium’s parking garage, Tselika began speaking before he even got in the car.
“I found the information you wanted about that piece of the Inheritance. It’s called #DragonGod.err and it appears to be shaped like a Gatling gun, but this R-class soccer club team, the Leviathans, has it.”
“Show me the evidence,” was all he said.
He had been surprised when Midori chose this as their meetup point, but this was the real task at hand.
He snapped shut the collapsible opera glasses and tossed them into the car’s open window.
He had not been observing the athletes running around the field from the stadium seating.
He had been interested in the owner’s seat that was surrounded by thick bulletproof glass and set up like a suite.
Various windows opened all across the mint green coupe’s polished body. Race Queen Tselika sat on the hood and wagged her long tail while patting gently next to her.
“As I am sure you can see here, the team’s results have been declining fast, but each time the league considers dropping them from the professional R-class to the amateur N-class, a higher-ranked team’s sponsor company is attacked. It’s effectively a threat: give us a win or your sponsor will back out and you’ll go bankrupt.”
“So they’re fixing the games. Well, if they were demoted to the amateur league, they’d lose all the pro players they have and they’d have to remake the club team from the ground up, so I can see why they’re desperate.”
Under Summer City’s rules, a promotion from N to R opened up a path to the pros for all of the amateur players, but a demotion from R to N meant fielding their pro players was against the regulations (so they effectively had no choice but to sell off the players they had worked so hard to gather and for dirt cheap prices at that). Of course, the harsh penalty may have been a way of making the game of musical chairs more exciting.
“That’s all the more reason why betting on the games is never going to work.”
“Hm? Betting on the games???”
The alluring demon crossed her long, boot-wearing leg atop her knee and tilted her head like a child.
This team attacked the sponsors instead of the other teams themselves.
In the TV industry or the sports industry, that would be the biggest Achilles heel. The companies in Money (Game) Master were generally AI-controlled NPCs, but the economic activity of selling products for money was very real. Interference could even drive them out of business.
“And that bizarre Gatling gun always makes an appearance during the attacks that benefit the Leviathans. Since the legality of something is not an issue in Money (Game) Master, attacks on companies are not exactly rare, but these stand out because they are unrelated to the current stock prices or business deals.”
Tselika breathed a sigh with her shapely butt on the hood and that slowly moved her large chest up and down inside the bikini top.
“The Gatling gun’s effect is unknown, but it is not a normal one. According to witness information found on a video site, it can apparently be fired one-handed while riding a small off-road motorcycle. With a box magazine larger than a suitcase strapped to the rear seat.”
“So it either has no recoil or no weight.”
Gatling guns scattered 6000 to 7000 anti-materiel rounds thicker than a thumb every minute, so they were as deadly as could be. A single horizontal sweep through this parking garage would blow away all the cars there with maybe a second sweep back if you wanted to be thorough. That destructive power had a firing range of 2000-3000 meters. That was simply not something you could swing around like a child’s water gun.
“We can’t know for sure without handling it for ourselves, but the appearance in the video makes me think it is almost certainly #DragonGod.err. We were lucky because some old footage from our drive recorder just so happened to show the inside of Takamasa’s garage. Even if this one is a well-made fake, they would need the real one on hand to do such a good job. It wouldn’t hurt to pop in and say hello, don’t you think?”
“Hm,” breathed Kaname.
“If that’s all, then we’re looking at no more than an Inheritance wielder. Tselika, why do you look so thirsty for praise? There must be something more to get your tail wagging like that.”
“I-I do not need your praise!!”
She crossed her arms in a way that lifted her large chest from below and turned the other way, but she still answered his question despite blushing and puffing out her cheeks. Maybe because she was a Magisterus.
“I do not know how the Leviathans got their hands on this piece of the Inheritance. They do not seem to have paid a large sum to buy it or attacked a previous owner. I have tried narrowing down my search, but there is no trace of it in the news.”
“Then did they steal it in secret?”
“Every piece of the Inheritance is an overpowered cyber economic weapon that could bring down an entire country. Anyone who has one must be taking it out of its safe and admiring it with a creepy grin on their face every single day. It is hard to believe that someone would not notice it was missing and thus not make any news about it.”
There was just one exception.
This powerful piece of the Inheritance must have been sitting untouched in an abandoned hideout so no one would notice if it was removed.
“So they directly stole it from one of Criminal AO’s…from one of Takamasa’s hideouts after he Fell and went missing?”
“Now a question: how would an outsider locate one of Criminal AO’s hideouts that not even you, his best friend, knew about?”
“What if they acquired some personal document belonging to that obsessive notetaker? His Fall was as much of a shock as the fall of the Soviet Union and it led to the release of many different things. And that might just have included a valuable list related to the Inheritance.”
There was a soft sound.
It came from a woman in glasses and a light purple party dress stopping the soccer ball rolling her way, kicking it up, and returning it to the children it belonged to. She was wearing party sandals to match her dress, but the ball flew in a perfect parabolic arc with no wobbling.
She was on a beach viewing platform.
Kaname called out to her while holding down his hair against the sea breeze.
“That was nicely done, Laplacian. But doesn’t it hurt with your toes uncovered?”
“I am using my demon, so the spin and trajectory calculations could not be easier.”
Frey(ja), Bloody Dancer, and Criminal AO.
This was another of those especially insane and well-known Dealers.
Her Dealer name was Laplacian.
After all, she specialized in gambling. Guns, cars, and speculative deals. Anything was on the table in Money (Game) Master, so it took a powerful Dealer to focus on just one thing yet reign near the top. This expert had chosen a different direction than Kaname.
She was accompanied by a small Magisterus whose black hair was bunched together on either side of her head. The girl in an extremely loosely-worn kimono must not have liked the strong sunlight because she stood sluggishly below a Japanese-style umbrella she held. She leaned against a payphone that was rusted by the sea breeze and her face was pale despite the sweat on her brow.
She seemed to have developed a similar speaking pattern to Tselika because she spoke with some almost elderly-sounding intonations.
“That is fine and all, but couldn’t you have had the sense to invite us somewhere with a roof?”
“Hey, are you okay? Can Magisteri even get heatstroke?”
“Who knows. She is a vampire, you see.”
Once Laplacian pointed that out, he observed the Magisterus again and noticed her oddly long canine teeth. He had overlooked it because of her black hair, the shoulder kept uncovered by her kimono, and the sarashi wrapped around her large chest.
The glasses woman gave a quick greeting to a child who waved at her.
That child was a 130cm girl with short chestnut hair who was wearing a distinctive school swimsuit and a witch’s hat, but Kaname could not let his guard down because children like that could still be skilled Dealers.
“Anyway, I have noticed a lot more kids playing soccer at these date spots.”
“Are you actually fairly old? None of the parks back in the real world allow people to kick or throw balls around. This world is free to play, so a lot of kids are coming here for that kind of thing.”
“The jab at your age was a joke, but if you glare at me like that, I might start to believe it, Laplacian.”
Also, those children were all Dealers who had chosen to look like children. There was no way of knowing what their actual ages and sexes were, but Kaname did not particularly care.
And sometimes adults wanted to kick a soccer ball around too. For example, those players running around the Leviathan Stadium. Everyone had their way of making money. Real pro players, wannabe pros, pros who had retired, and anyone who failed to become a pro due to any number of reasons were all competing together for dreams and money.
A white contrail was drawn across the clear blue sky.
Summer City had an international airport. Yes, an international one. Only this one city had been modeled in 3D so precisely, but there were areas outside the city that were simplified to the point of only existing as data and numbers. …Of course, humans could only view this game world with their five senses, so they had no way of confirming those outside areas existed.
The glasses woman brushed her hair off her shoulder.
“What do you want today?”
“Gambling is your specialty, isn’t it? I want to hear what you know about betting on soccer games.”
“Um, are you seriously thinking of doing that to earn money?”
“I’ll take that to mean you know about something else going on here. I will buy what information you have, so name your price. I need this to corroborate my own investigation.”
“No, thank you. Have you forgotten what happened in Industrial Float #3’s casino? You lost me a ton of money there.”
“And I’m saying I’ll pay you back for that.”
“Sorry, I was taking around a rookie girl at the time and I wanted to show off in front of her. I’ll admit it was silly of me. I was wrong.”
When Kaname raised his hands and confessed, the glasses woman breathed a sexy sigh.
But she had not changed her mind.
“I have not fallen so far that I must accept your charity.”
“You love gambling enough to call it an addiction, so how about we decide this that way?”
Kaname pulled a large coin from his pocket.
“Let’s keep it simple: heads or tails. You make the call. If you’re right, you can leave without telling me a thing. If you’re wrong, you tell me everything.”
“I told you I am using my demon, didn’t I? Laplace’s Demon.”
Of course, there was not some convenient Skill by the name of Laplace’s Demon. It was probably a dozen Skills mixed together, like D.V.A. to increase dynamic vision and Science Course to forcibly bring scientific thoughts to mind. It was like a secret sauce or curry spice. Anyone could get the individual ingredients, but the exact proportions were an industry secret.
And it was Hekireki Midori, Takamasa’s sister, who could see through all of that at a glance.
“How about it, Laplacian? Are you in or not?”
That soft word earned a sigh from the pale-faced Magisterus sheltered below the Japanese-style umbrella.
She knew all too well that her master could never say no to a gamble and that she would readily risk her life once she got started.
Laplacian continued without noticing the demon’s eyes on her.
“But I can predict simple kinetic energy with 100% accuracy. My words are prophecy. You have no chance of winning this, so are you sure you want to do this?”
“You’ve accepted, so there’s no backing out now.”
Kaname grinned and flicked the coin up with his thumb.
He did not even watch the spinning coin as he turned the back of his hand up as if viewing his watch.
“And I wouldn’t be so confident if I were you. Have you already forgotten what happened after you said something similar at that roulette table, Laplacian?”
“Nope, it’ll be tails.”
She had lost. She had lost.
Oh, how she had lost. She had lost everything☆
They had even used up additional time in the 45-minute second half, but it had not even ended up with an edge-of-your-seat penalty shoot-out.
She had completely lost.
Even if predicting the next ten games had not been possible, there had been a few less-valuable prizes for the result of each individual game, but she had still lost. She had failed so utterly that there was no room for complaint on her part.
Suou Kaname must have been fed up with her because he had left before the game was even over. And now Hekireki Midori, the small girl with long black twintails and a black gothic-style frilly bikini and miniskirt, was tearing up her tickets and throwing the shreds around like confetti.
She gave a suspicious glance toward the voice that snapped at her.
She was not that surprised because it was only a small boy of about 10 who shouted at her. …Although that was no reason to relax because in-game appearance did not necessarily match up to someone’s real age.
The boy kept rudely pointing at her.
“Don’t just throw that trash around! Stop and think about the people who have to clean it up!!”
The twintail girl tilted her head further, shaking her hairband’s blue rose even more.
Midori was not the only one who had bet on the game. The same confetti had to be flying everywhere across the stadium right now. You could even see some specialists known as “trash collectors”. With horse racing, boat racing, or anything else, there was always a certain percentage of people who would throw out their ticket out of habit even though they had won. So based on probability and statistics, you would eventually find a winning ticket if you kept collecting all the discarded ones.
The rest was an issue of cost performance. If you decided this was easier work than a 1000-Snow-an-hour part-time job, you just had to start crawling around picking up those scraps of paper. …Getting into fights with the original owner was just part of the job.
“Aren’t you just saying that because cleaning it up is your job? You’re holding a broom and dustpan.”
Yes. Unlike the cheerleaders and salesgirls in barely-there swimsuits, he looked completely drab despite being a staff member. He was wearing a plain work jumpsuit despite the heat. The nametag on his chest said Umibe Torihiko.
He had no apparent Skills.
The twintail girl’s senses noticed that immediately.
That was unusual for Money (Game) Master where a stray bullet or a weapon on wheels could arrive at any moment. Midori was still a beginner herself, but she had still done her amateur best to work out a combination of Skills with her swimsuit and accessories.
“How can I just watch when you’re littering on the field right in front of me? Grass is actually a delicate plant that gets splotchy colors really easily.”
The boy pouted his lips as he spoke.
He had apparently found an enemy he could snap at, so he was on the attack. It might sound cheap, but only attacking an enemy you knew you could handle was the key to survival in Money (Game) Master and every other online game too. But given she was a customer and he was an employee, some people might have lifted him by his collar for this. Of course, Midori was not that close-minded.
“Also, that’s not real soccer. It’s not about betting or money. When you’re averaging out the win percentages over the past decade and working out the most likely combination of numbers to win, you’re not even watching the ball anymore. They’ve already done that to baseball and basketball, so I don’t want you bringing it here too.”
That’s what I should have done, realized Midori.
Although that option was not on the table for her because knowing the win percentages for the past decade would require buying data with money she did not have and Meiki, her Magisterus, never did what she told her to.
“It’s all their fault.”
“The coach and all the players have been swapped out since they got so close to the primary sponsor AI company and stole the management rights from the original human owner. The Leviathans aren’t supposed to be like this…”
Had he decided to work here because he was a huge fan of the team?
Midori did not really care about soccer itself, so she did not know which club teams belonged to which stadiums.
“Anyway, if you don’t even know the team’s uniform color, then stay away from here. This place is for soccer fans. If you want to make money, do it elsewhere.”
“Yeah, those blue uniforms are a disgrace. Was that team the Leviathans? I think they had D.M.S. to increase dynamic movement and D.V.A. for dynamic vision, but they didn’t have any other players to trade in. They really should have gone with a Skill like Physical Stamina to keep them playing well for longer.”
“…!? Just leave!!”
The Royal Theatre Hotel was the largest in Summer City’s peninsula city.
But the area near the delivery entrance around back did not get much light.
“Is that you, M Scope?”
When Lilikiska, a glasses girl with her long black hair pushed back by a hairband made of intricate metalwork, spoke in surprise, a figure there gave a start.
He had originally been an expert at “lying in wait”. In other words, at using things like traps and mines.
He was inside the bare minimum of a “house” made by cutting up and pasting together the delivery boxes for anime character goods and robot models. In other words, it was a cardboard house. A hunched-over backpack boy sat inside alongside a Magisterus in a light blue kimono. This was not an ordinary scene. After all, he had once been a member of Ag Wolves, making him a top-level Dealer who readily spent sums as large as 1.7 billion Snow.
Some of the boxes clearly had foreign languages written on them. This game only precisely modeled Summer City, but those must have contained products manufactured in the outside areas that were simplified down to data and numbers.
It was said that sturdy cargo ships and airplanes would come apart after crossing the city’s border, but it was hard to believe.
The Yuki Onna Magisterus seated next to the hunched-over boy must have fallen victim to the heat in that non-air-conditioned space because she was a lot smaller than before.
“Kyuhhh… I-I’m at that age where you at least want a freezer…”
“Hold on! That girl is dripping wet! Isn’t she a Yuki Onna!?”
“Don’t worry, Lilikiska. She’s only wet because she uses the free showers at the beach whenever she has some spare time. Ginmi is obsessed with cold things. When I used to buy cakes, she was always more excited by the dried ice in the box than the cake itself.”
“There is something wrong with Summer City. You turn the cold faucet and lukewarm water comes out…”
Lilikiska’s direct gaze must have scared him more than her mobile glasses synced to her phone. The boy was acting even more nervous than before and his eyes wandered to avoid looking his former leader in the eye.
“Y-you seem to be doing well considering the team fell apart after our other Dealers like Titan and Saurus were devoured by Suou Kaname.”
“I don’t hold a grudge. In fact, I’m kind of happy. I’ve heard it can be especially tough for female Dealers after they Fall and lose everything. I don’t know what trick you used to recover, but I’m glad you’re back at the top.”
“What are you doing now?”
The prices of some materials were listed on the Yuki Onna’s kimono.
“Gathering up empty cans and old magazines to sell them, I guess. It’s slow, but I am saving up Snow. Ha ha. Although I’m not sure I even have enough to buy a pair of those mobile glasses you’re wearing. I can’t hope to invest yet. I at least need a gun or a car before I can try anything big like that. If I make too much money, I’ll stand out and become a target. These days, Smash Daughter is looking like a real threat. And with things like that-…”
“Um, I didn’t mean it like that.”
Lilikiska hesitantly spoke up with her leather holster leather holster squeezing her breasts from the sides like a waitress uniform’s suspenders, so M Scope smiled a little with his arms around his knees.
And he spoke.
“I’ve ‘gone AI’. My real life is supported by a data idol management office. Ha ha, maybe it’s because I was a platinum member of Rain-chan’s fan club until last month.”
“Even here in Money (Game) Master, I’m just going to have rival Dealers with a grudge surround me before I can regain any real power. I know that.”
Before all this, they had directly clashed with a powerful Dealer known as Pavilion in order to steal the piece of the Inheritance called #Downpour.err. At the time, they had never dreamed of ending up so deep in debt, so they had not feared making quite a few grudges. And once the security brought by their money was gone, this was the result.
Even in the game, the pain of being shot was real.
Yet M Scope continued clinging to this world.
“But there’s still a lot here I can’t give up on. That includes the collection that was seized when I went into debt. I need to take that back from the pawnshop… Lilikiska, those character goods might seem worthless or even downright creepy to you, but they’re precious treasures to me. Nothing else can replace them and I refuse to give up on them.”
She could not make fun of him for this.
There was something she had kept from the teammates relying on her back then: her personal past and feelings regarding Suou Kaname. Without that, she may have been able to calmly pull the trigger and prevent those teammates from Falling.
Those teammates would have a hard time understanding why she had lost, yet it was a top priority matter that Lilikiska could not have ignored.
M Scope had a different reason from hers. That was all it was. So she would not frown over this.
Instead, she pulled a sidearm pistol from her hip and tossed it into the cardboard house.
It had no Skills.
It was entirely plain.
Maybe that was because the forehead glasses girl was a sniper Dealer. Sometimes support Skills like Auto-Aim could get in the way.
“With a gun or a car, you can try something big, right?”
She had no right to look down on him here.
M Scope had wanted to protect his old life even if it meant crawling back up from rock bottom, but Lilikiska had thrown out her old life for immediate power. It was obvious whose soul was purer.
So she was the one who could not look him in the eye.
“I am no longer with Ag Wolves. I sided with a different plan to make this recovery. It is up to all of you to protect that team. If you are not using your position as an excuse to run away from the challenge and you really did just need a starting foothold, then use that to climb back up.”
In the world of Money (Game) Master, the key to negotiations was to apply pressure to their wallets.
“We’re going to attack the soccer club team?”
Hekireki Midori did not look surprised.
“Hell, yeah! Let’s do this! They call themselves the Leviathans, but they’re nothing but scrawny weaklings who stole my dreams away… So what’ll it be? The stadium? The training center? Some kind of hall of fame? Just tell me the target so we can go blast it to smithereens! Hurry!!”
“Wait, wait, wait.”
Calming down the overly-motivated black-twintailed middle school girl was not easy. She kept mentioning things they could never do back in reality, so he hoped this world had not started poisoning her mind in some weird way.
It was night.
They were inside a holiday apartment in the peninsula city. Needless to say, this was one of the hideouts Kaname had bought around the game world. To be blunt, it was more about distributing his personal possessions in case of trouble than about a comfortable place to live. He never liked places this far off the ground because it distanced him from his car, but that was unavoidable this time.
Because this 48th floor room was necessary to look down on that stadium.
…Also, calling his best friend’s little sister to an apartment in the dead of night was not the best look, but that too was unavoidable. After all, a beginner like Midori did not have her own home yet. When resting in-game, she used a net cafe with her large motorcycle in a coin-operated parking space. In the long run, having your own land was undeniably better, but she had not run the hidden numbers on interest rates, drop rates, and so on.
“We don’t have to attack them head-on like that. What we want is Takamasa’s loose-leaf notes that the club team seems to have. Since they have a piece of the Inheritance, the odds are good they have the list we’re after. I’ve had Tselika look into the Leviathans’ situation, so let’s be smart about it and strike at their Achilles heel.”
Midori was so disappointed she started acting like a chained-up dog. Girls grew up so fast. When had she become so violent?
And she seemed to find fault in everything when she was upset because she looked over at the open closet.
“All your clothes are the same. Is that some kind of weird obsession?”
“It’s for the Skills.”
“The exact same product made in the exact same factory can have different Skills attached, right? So when I find clothes in a design I like, I have to keep buying them until I get a Skill combination I can use. Especially when the one they let you try on is not the one you actually get to buy. But if I really wanted to find an excuse for it, it is logical to have a few different pairs of the same clothing.”
“Hm. Is that Grip? And Auto-Aim?”
“…You can tell what they have? All of them!?”
She looked unsure what to say.
Kaname decided he definitely had to bring Midori with him next time he went shopping. Then he could avoid that wasteful brute force method.
The black-twintailed girl sighed.
“I don’t know why you think this is so unusual. What my brother could do with Skills was a lot more astonishing.”
“It’s wrong to even think about comparing yourself to him.”
Was it a bloodline thing?
It was the same idea when customizing weapons. Every part that came out of the manufacturing plant had a Skill attached, so you had to find the right one and install it in your weapon for the result you wanted. Unlike with clothing, each individual component had its individual Skill, so you could include three or four parts with the same Skill to multiply the effects.
…But on the other hand, that did not seem like enough to explain Takamasa’s Inheritance. You could not reach those levels just by brute-forcing your way to the parts you wanted and installing them in the limited number of slots. Those weapons were incredible enough to suspect he had been creating components with the Skills he wanted all on his own.
“If only there was some way to incorporate your talent into battle…”
“That’s the Leviathans, isn’t it? Isn’t it!?”
By the way, Tselika’s findings had been corroborated by Laplacian.
That glasses woman had actually had tears in her eyes afterwards, but a coin toss was known as the world’s most unfair gamble. By focusing on the weight of the coin and the strength of your fingertip, it was possible to accurately adjust the number of rotations with practice. Plus, heads could be turned to tails and vice-versa just by adjusting the position of your catching hand a few centimeters up or down. When your opponent decided ahead of time whether it was heads or tails, it was possible to adjust the result and win 100% of the time.
What was the trick to rolling the result you wanted with a die or dividing a deck of cards at precisely the 30th card?
The most annoying kind of cheating was the kind that could only be learned through practice.
“Heyyy, master. These rooms we rarely visit are a real problem. We should probably get a robot to keep the floors clean-ish and the snacks in the fridge are bout to go bad, so I’m gonna eat them all.”
“Tselika, explain the situation.”
Some of those snacks were luxury foods shipped by air from the simplified data regions outside of accurately-modeled Summer City, so it would indeed be a waste to let them go bad.
The race queen demon placed a large plate full of things like cheese and salami on the glass table and then lay face up on the table herself. She brought her hands behind her head and kept one knee raised while switching over the pattern on her bikini top and miniskirt like they were an LCD screen.
“Hee hee, let’s get started. Make sure to burn this into your memory.” Tselika elegantly winked while in full feast mode. “This is all about that immoral team operating out of Leviathan Stadium. Some new Dealers apparently took over after kicking out the old owner once the club team started going downhill.”
“Hm? So this isn’t the original owner???”
Midori seemed oddly interested in that fact, so Kaname tilted his head.
“Is that so strange?”
“I mean, um, isn’t the owner the most important person? Like a company president. Doesn’t the AI do that stuff?”
Midori looked like it was not clicking for her.
That may have been the appropriate reaction for a twintailed middle school girl, but she needed to do some more studying if she hoped to survive in Money (Game) Master.
“It’s true an owner or president is at the top on paper, but some are hired onto the team or company and are thus easily replaced. And like you said, normal companies are AI-run in this game, but it’s not that unusual for a sports team to have hired on a human owner. Although they’ll probably be at the mercy of the evaluations run by the primary sponsor AI company.”
“That is the largest sponsor that directly supports the club team. It might be best to think of a club team as the subsidiary or sports division of an AI company.”
“Well, they’re not linked to the company quite as blatantly as the baseball teams are,” said Tselika. “But with the Leviathans, the sponsor company is the majority shareholder of the team management company, so they have almost complete control. It’s easier to think of the sponsor as a parent company.”
Kaname and Tselika summed it all up for Midori.
…Although it was unclear if an ordinary middle schooler would have a good idea of what a sponsor was outside of TV ads.
“Since they’re like a parent company, the AI company coldly judges the team based on their sports results. If dropping results means the company doesn’t get the advertisement effect they expected during the contract period, it’s possible the human president or owner gets fired. In that case, it’s the primary sponsor – and thus the AI board members – who make the call, so it would be possible to take advantage of that to take over the team yourself. In Money (Game) Master, you can get most anything you want with money. Anyway, we’ll answer whatever other questions you have. Tselika.”
“Sure thing. The original owner was Umibe Tatsuo, a 38-year-old man. He and his real-world coworkers apparently started the virtual currency business so they could escape the drudgery of office work. And he had always loved soccer. …Of course, this is all based on the official profile he put out himself.”
“Not an unusual age to be interested in the business angle rather than the online game angle.”
Twintailed Midori tilted her head at what Kaname said.
All the talk of office work and club team management was probably even more unfamiliar to her than the soccer itself.
“But, um, his coworkers? Isn’t the owner at the very top? Wouldn’t he have done it on his own?”
“It depends, but it sounds like they placed Umibe Tatsuo at the top as owner while the others chose positions they wanted to play. The players and coach have young avatars, but they’re all middle-aged men on the inside. Soccer fans come in all sorts, but if you’re talking about the egg-headed data-obsessed type, they might be able to do quite well once they get the body to pull it off.”
Tselika cackled and used the split end of her tail to point at something displayed on her bodylines.
“Their mascot Shark-kun was apparently drawn by his son. I believe he turns 10 this year. His Dealer name here is…”
Before Race Queen Tselika could ask how she knew, Midori had brought a hand to her forehead.
The girl in a frilly black gothic bikini and miniskirt seemed to be recalling something Kaname and Tselika had not seen.
“It’s that boy. He was working as a janitor in the stadium taken over by those immoral Dealers. He must not have been able to abandon his home. Oh, no. That explains why he was so mad. That wasn’t a club team an AI created for money. There were human hopes and dreams behind it. And Shark-kun? That was even printed on the gambling tickets. Saying I didn’t know isn’t enough. I tore it up and threw it away right in front of him…”
“The old owner was weirdly principled and refused to allow any form of gambling. That hurt business, but the real problem was the advertising income. With Summer City’s soccer league, advertising accounts for most of the profit and that includes the stadium billboards, the goods, and the online broadcasts. But when they let their guard own, someone was buying up their sponsors. That Gatling gun was used to threaten the AI companies and Dealers in order to gather them all together.”
Midori frantically interrupted while waiving her hands side to side.
“B-but what about the primary sponsor? Wasn’t a major AI company looking after the soccer team!?”
“They only needed to own a majority of the company. Even if they only owned 50.1% against everyone else’s 49.9%,” explained Kaname. “In fact, owning 80% or 90% wouldn’t give them anything more. And since paying more would not benefit the AI company any, they would keep it at the bare minimum like that.”
“But the club team can’t function with just 50.1%,” added Tselika. “They’ll go out of business without 70% or 80% of their advertisement income coming in.”
“When the time was right, the malicious actors just had to stop paying out in order to starve the club team. It was especially bad since these were long-term contracts of four or five years. All of the stadium billboards were blank. And like Tselika said, the primary sponsor’s support alone is not enough funding for the team. That was the end.”
Midori finally fell silent.
Financial competitions had more cruelty and psychological attacks than pro sports where crude jeers were constantly thrown around, but this was all new to her. Her personality was a poor fit for Money (Game) Master, but Kaname thought that was fine.
“The old Leviathans were fragile once the tap was shut off. It was an obvious acquisition maneuver, but the primary sponsor was coldhearted. The AI company demanded they take responsibility, Umibe Tatsuo was replaced, and the current immoral club team was brought in as new management. The old players and trainers were also driven out.”
“In other words, the homey former-salaryman team created to pursue forgotten childhood dreams has been replaced by a group of professionals with the cold eyes of hitmen,” said Tselika. “Everything but the team’s name has changed. Talk about false advertising.”
That summed up the history.
It was a lot for those involved, but it was all common enough in Money (Game) Master.
So it was time to talk about the present.
“The immoral Dealers operating out of Leviathan Stadium are currently focused on something other than their team’s ranking. They are more interested in Biondetta Dome, a new indoor stadium scheduled to be built on the coast.”
“Sorry, sorry. I’ll focus on this. I know there are a lot of rich people in this city, but aren’t there already like four or five stadiums? Is one more that big a deal???”
The frilly gothic-style black bikini and miniskirt girl sounded exasperated and tossed a cheese cube into her mouth.
“They were evenly arranged with the population distribution before, but not this time. This one is blatantly encroaching on Leviathan Stadium’s territory.”
Kaname pointed out the window with his thumb.
It was obvious when you looked down from here, but the locations of the two stadiums were quite close. They would obviously hurt each other’s business like two convenience stores across an intersection from each other.
And Biondetta Dome’s construction site looked quite tense within the temporary silver walls surrounding it.
“Huh? Those are PMC soldiers instead of construction workers, aren’t they? Wow, they all have anti-materiel rifles and I think those are turret-equipped armored trucks parked around there.”
“They even have attack helicopters on the heliports in this area. Throwing a rock in that general direction would be suicide.”
That was all Kaname said.
He was not the type to say it would be impossible.
But more importantly…
“You felt how hot it was with the direct sunlight during the day, right? Leviathan Stadium is an old-style outdoor stadium. That isn’t well suited for Summer City where it’s midsummer year-round and there’s exhaust everywhere. Then there’s the territory issue. If perfectly temperature-controlled Biondetta Dome is completed, everyone will go there instead.”
“And the number of teams in a league changes every few years, so Biondetta will mean a new club team,” added Tselika.
“When you look at the data on the dome’s development process, you find they suddenly announced the construction project with no advance warning, so it was a complete surprise for Leviathan Stadium.”
“Oh, yeah. I think I’ve heard that two teams in the same prefecture can lead to competition over the fans.”
Midori was still struggling to understand it all, but Kaname moved on all the same.
“Now, old-fashioned Leviathan Stadium quickly tried to install a bunch of outdoor spot coolers, but it doesn’t look like they’re going to make it in time. They have plenty of reason for a personal grudge against Biondetta.”
“Hm? However it worked in the past, the Leviathans are an immoral team now, right? Do they really care that much? The players and coach are human, but the facility maintenance and inspection is done by AI-controlled NPCs, right? …The simple cleaning appears to be done by human part-timers, but can’t they just go play in that dome run by different NPCs?”
“The costs are very different between home and away games. Also, 70% of the profit from sports games comes from the TV, radio, and online broadcast advertising handled through direct contracts with sponsors. All of that is based on the assumption of home games, so away games eat away at their profits.”
“…I see. I was wondering why a single city needed so many stadiums.”
“Also, a stadium is used for more than your own games. Third parties will rent it out for various events. Drive away your sponsors and you’re done. You won’t be able to bring in customers or even fill your monthly schedule with events.”
When a club team was linked to a stadium, both were managed by the same group, so they could not underestimate a failing facility. When the stadium went under, so did the team.
This was an open world game where you could do anything, but the city had limited space. Having such a large structure there cost a lot in maintenance fees. It was literally hundreds of millions of yen a month. That was why they had to constantly seek customers and profit and fill in their monthly schedule with events. It may have been like an airplane that needed to constantly burn fuel to keep its speed up or it would fall.
“In other words, the club team wants to prevent Biondetta Dome from being completed so their Leviathan Stadium can stay in business,” said Tselika.
“No matter what dirty tricks they have to use? All while dragging the stolen Leviathan name through the mud?”
“That’s how Money (Game) Master works,” said Kaname. “If you don’t like it, then use money or force to solve it yourself.”
While still lying on the glass table with the relevant data displayed on her bodylines, Tselika twisted her hips and adjusted the position of her tail before explaining further.
“You can actually see a fair amount of confusion in the material procurement department. Mostly about the special air-conditioning units they need. Someone is interfering with the industrial air conditioner manufacturer to keep the units from arriving, so the dome’s construction must stop. The dome is designed so the roof is actually supported by the expanding air within, so the construction and wiring cannot begin without those units.”
“Um, is it like not letting the starting card be played in a game of Sevens?”
“Do they really have to stare at the blueprints and arrange all the metal parts just right to create the finished product? It’d be a lot easier if they could just shove ingredients in a large pot and have the finished product pop out.”
“Money (Game) Master is a very realistic virtual reality. Although if there was a technology to freely rearrange atomic structures in the real world, it would probably work here too.”
“It’s all so unnecessarily complicated for a game.”
“Start down that route and you’ll drain all the fun out of the open world format.”
Kaname was thankful it did not us the “n% chance of a successful mixture” paradigm because this meant they could sneak explosives into a factory if they ever needed to hinder an AI company’s activities.
After an exasperated sigh, he used a silver fork to poke at some data near Tselika’s armpit.
“Biondetta Dome is set to be the home of a new club team, but that isn’t enough to fund it. The project is being run alongside the Misaka World Fair being held two years from now. To put it another way, if construction is not complete by then, they won’t have enough funding and they’ll have to halt construction or withdraw altogether.”
That was a long time period for a normal game, but in Money (Game) Master where money solved everything, there were ways of making money even during construction. For example, the construction workers’ lunches could be a source of income.
“Once they start working in earnest, it will take a year and a half to complete, so the Leviathans only have to delay them by six months. And that rundown old stadium wants to make sure that happens no matter what.”
“We interfere with their interference.”
“Kyu kee hee. Master, that tickles. It is the same idea as ECCM used against ECM. We are after a set of documents inside the club team’s strictly guarded safe, so we just have to make our move here. That should shake them to the core.”
While lying on her back and explaining, Tselika grabbed an olive form her snack plate and ate it before displaying the next data on her skimpy outfit.
“The construction site is a lot like a game of Sevens where all the starting cards are being held onto, but there is one difference from the card game,” she said. “In a real battle, stopping that starting card will not necessary stop someone forever. They can always overturn the table by force or trickery.”
Kaname nodded in agreement.
He stated his conclusion while viewing the big picture.
“The Leviathans are stopping the special air-conditioning units, so let’s prepare some identical units and prepare to deliver them to Biondetta Dome. That should shake everyone from the old stadium.”
“Ah ha ha! Are you going to have them come to you so they can tearfully hand over their secret list?”
“Without even using hostile takeovers as an example, it should be obvious that harassment is the best way to get what you want in the economic world. If we want to make friends with an immoral team that starts waving a Gatling gun around when some soccer games aren’t going their way, let’s start by becoming someone they can’t ignore.”
“What signature should we use?”
“Making direct demands can wait. Let’s start by raising the internal pressure until they’ve become a remote-controlled toy that will do anything we say. Yes, I know. Tselika, you can calculate out the recipe, but let’s create an arbitrary new cocktail and make it popular at the bars around here. We can call it Targeting the List.”
“Spreading blatant malice through the city without showing yourself? That is certainly bold.”
He did not say the rest out loud.
Those loose-leaf notes were more than just a treasure map. They were a piece of the precious thoughts left behind by Takamasa. That was not something he could let people stare all over in their pursuit of money.
Showing it off was pointless.
When saving people, it was best to keep your mouth shut and simply do it.
But just then, twintailed Midori spoke up while her mind was in some other dimension entirely.
“Hey, if that works, the Leviathans will do whatever we ask, right? I mean, the point is to get them to hand over my brother’s list and that’s their greatest treasure.”
“Yeah, what about it?”
“I’ll tell you everything I saw. I don’t know all that much about finances and gunfights, so I want your help.”
Tselika started to say something, but Kaname held out a hand to stop her.
When this girl – Takamasa’s sister – said she was going to do something, he would help.
That was Suou Kaname’s #1 rule.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Correct a mistake. Rid this city of all the unfairness plaguing it.”
Server Name: Gamma Orange. Ending Location: Summer City – Peninsula City.
Goodbye, Suou Kaname.
The boy realized he had been playing the game quite a lot today.
He looked away from his phone that was no longer displaying symbol markers at 120 frames per second and then he blinked a few times. His vision was blurry without his contacts, but he groped across his desk to find the eye drop bottle and gave some moisture to his painfully dry eyes.
(Oops, what do I do about my contacts now?)
He realized it only after using the eye drops.
He had no choice but to put on the cheap glasses stuck in his pen holder. The text “April 19” grew clearer on the desk’s digital calendar. There were no Skills to amplify one’s vision in the real world. He wanted to leave his room, so he decided to head for the convenience store more to have something to do than because he was hungry.
(Where did my outdoors duffle coat go?)
It was late April, but early spring sometimes brought a chill to remind you of winter. The chilly air creeping in from the window was real, but there was only a hanger on the wall hook. He used his phone to send his sister a message.
(I should also buy a few colors of pen while I’m at it.)
He could see Hekireki Midori inside Money (Game) Master whenever he wanted, but that did not mean her letter-writing hobby went away. …Although he was unsure how to handle how much closer they had gotten in that world, so his writing had gotten awkward. But if she was going to keep doing it, he had decided it would go along with it.
Anyway, there was no response on his phone.
That gave him a bad feeling. His sister would respond to any message in less than three minutes, so he doubted she would fail to respond to a message from him like this.
He opened the living room door and then groaned.
His sister slowly sat up from where she had been watching late-night TV on the sofa.
“So you’re heading out at this hour? It can’t be for much if you’re dressed like that. Buy me a few ice cream cups.”
“Hmweh? It was pretty faded and torn in places, so I thought you were done with it. The heating in this room is pretty bad for how big it is…”
His small sister with shoulder-length black hair must have gotten drowsy from the warmth because her eyes were somewhat unfocused.
This was one of her bad habits. When he was in the virtual world, she would sneak into his room and take any button-up shirts or track suits she saw even though they did not fit her. She was so picky about her pajamas while in the dressing room, but in the mornings, he often found her yawning and stretching in her bed while wearing one of his baggy T-shirts. She might be fine with that, but he really needed her to understand how bad it was for his heart when he casually wrapped a scarf around his face only to receive a surprise attack from a strangely sweet aroma.
“Anyway, buy me those ice cream cups, okay?”
“You’re pretty demanding for someone who lies around at home staying warm with someone else’s coat.”
Her request seemed to be testing his tastes, but he more or less knew what his sister liked. Chocolate mint or strawberry were safe options. But in this case, it was best to avoid a seasonal flavor that added in something extra like banana chocolate parfait flavor or four berry blend flavor.
“Onii-chan, I know Money (Game) Master is hard work, but don’t neglect real life. Having money and having only money are two very different things.”
“I know that.”
The boy grew somewhat hesitant at that point.
This was how that skilled Dealer was in real life.
“Have you, um, given any thought to returning?”
“No.” His sister softly shook her head on the sofa. “I already retired. And even if I did make a new account, my Magisterus wouldn’t be her. So I’m fine like this.”
“I see,” said the boy.
People’s psychological scars were invisible. If she had a way of overcoming this that worked for her, it would be wrong to force her back. The Will of the Magisteri might be frightening, but that did not necessarily apply to the individuals. In fact, the boy had been happy that he could face the world’s unfair side with Tselika by his side once more. Digging up the past here would not help, so he dropped the matter.
“I’ll be going.”
“Sure. Bring me that ice cream before I get so desperate I drink some lukewarm tap water.”
Once outside the apartment, his mind grew sharper like he had just swallowed a cold carbonated beverage. It was not cold enough to see his breaths, but he did wish he had taken his coat back.
He wanted to go to a convenience store, so he walked to the nearby shopping district that had most everything.
It was already pretty dark, but there were a lot of people out at this time.
However, that did not mean a lot of people were working.
The security personnel meant to guide people around construction had been replaced by conversational robots and the practice of hiring people to stand out on the roadside and draw people into your store had died out. No one even looked at the store signs these days. Nor were there any warnings about the dangers of looking at your phone while you walked. Everyone had their eyes down on their phones while they only focused on their map apps or the number of stars on a gourmet site. Even the shadier type had realized they could find suckers more cheaply if they used AI advertisement.
“Introducing the No More Multi-Accounts Campaign!! The world is running out of addresses, so combining your computer, phone, and game system’s profiles into one qualifies as a social service!”
He walked past an LCD sign with brightly-colored flashing lights.
He passed by a police officer pedaling an electrically assisted bicycle while wearing a backpack containing communication devices and a 360-degree camera like those used for a major search engine’s panorama photography. Was that one of the few jobs where people still saw the value of flexible, on-site responses, or did government jobs simply lag behind the modern times?
This short walk was enough to get him out of breath and he felt a vague fear of the dark night past the streetlights. He really was quite different from the Dealer in the game.
This shopping district was not far from his home, but it felt like a cold labyrinth. And the convenience store’s automatic door did not open at one corner of that nightscape.
He nearly ran into the glass door and then slowly reached out his hand. Perhaps because it was so late, it had switched over to a system where he had to press a button to open it.
“Ready…go! Good evening! This is the Three Goddess Sisters! It’s time for the nighttime portion of our chat, which is exclusive to Seven E-Raven. I am Alecto and this is Tisiphone-chan and Megaera-chan! I hope you enjoy this glimpse into our secret girl’s talk time!!”
The bright store was filled with an idol program similar to a radio show, but there was no one inside. The register counter was empty and the LCD screen there said:
“We are currently in unmanned store mode. Please use the self-checkout.”
The warmth he had felt in the lights here had apparently been an illusion like a desert mirage.
The LCD screen looked far too bright while displaying a dancing anime-style character in the convenience store’s uniform. It was one of those virtual something-or-others that were all the rage lately.
He grabbed a basket, walked past the magazine section that was half empty, and arrived in the drink section. He put a can of energy drink and a plastic bottle of sports drink in his basket, walked to the bento section, decided against it, and chose a few vegetable sandwiches instead.
“Don’t you hate having different email addresses for your computer and phone, not to mention your many game systems and digital cameras and whatnot? There are just too many addresses with all your different appliances!”
“I knowwww, right? It’s all the same facial recognition and fingerprint scanning, so what’s the point of all the different accounts? It’s not like we’re still typing in passwords using a keyboard all yellowed from cigarette grime.”
“So why not find a convenient way to combine them all? No More Multi-Accounts! Useful at home and at work!!”
The in-store broadcast was probably a pseudo-automatic script where a human wrote a general outline and an AI fleshed it out. It could not have been more obvious how they tried to manipulate people’s emotions by drawing a line between those who did what they said and those who did not. But did the 2 Support 1 unit (a combined unit with a single human girl and two data idols) realize the true purpose behind the script they were reading?
Perhaps because Golden Week was approaching, there were a few types of Kashiwa Mochi in the dessert section. Some of them apparently had chocolate or custard cream inside.
(Oh, right. The pens.)
He turned back toward the stationery section and grabbed a three-color set. The ice cream was the last thing he looked at. He doubted the rest would take long enough for it to melt, but he did not want it getting damp at room temperature.
Made in Japan. Automatic.
Every product would have that on the label. Cheap, mass-produced foreign brands had disappeared. The personnel costs could be reduced to zero by using AI-controlled unmanned factories and the quality was the same no matter what country the product came from as long as it was made in the same sort of factory.
He did not even need to walk up to the empty register counter. He could walk right out the door. The many cameras watching him would automatically take the payment from his phone.
…That system sounded like it would lead to lots of shoplifting and unpaid purchases, but thorough product tag management and high-speed security cameras dealt with that. And if the checkout reading failed, the automatic doors would not open…or so he had heard. He had never actually seen it happen himself. The phone receiver icon at one corner of the register was an emergency contact button in case the door malfunctioned and refused to open like with an elevator. Just like with auto-locking apartment doors and door-to-door salesmen, it had become a game of cat-and-mouse between loopholes and countermeasures, but it was hard for a national chain to resist the siren’s song of 24-hour service with limited personnel costs. Although one problem was how this meant they had to put all the products out on the shelves in the early morning.
The AI society made no demands or threats.
It was all about making things more convenient and self-indulgent.
And that had led the people to throw out what they had of their own free will. Because their rivals would get ahead of them if they did not.
Even this self-checkout had to have taken late-night jobs from a lot of people, leaving them high and dry. There were even tragic news stories about an electrical short in an unmanned store starting a fire that cooked everyone inside to death. It might be inefficient, but more flexible human beings could take care of things like that. It was like the rolled-up balls of newspaper that cushioned your coffee cups when you moved. The AI society had stripped away all of those softer parts and made society so excessively efficient that there was no longer a margin of error to take care of unpredictable misfortune and tragedy. Human and machine, corporation and individual, government and citizen. Because blame could not be laid squarely on anyone’s shoulders, it got passed around and no one was punished. Even as more lives were lost.
The world is running out of addresses.
Introducing the No More Multi-Accounts Campaign!!
That too was the result of financial deals being performed so unbelievably quickly between two machines instead of between two people or between a person and a machine. It was not the humans who had hogged up all the addresses and caused this problem; it was the bodiless programs. Fully freelance machine-to-machine deals with no human user registered on either side had grown to cover 48% of all financial deals in the world. Once that passed the 50% mark, it would be the machines ruling the money and efficiently manipulating humans instead of the humans operating the machines.
And at the same time.
If every single person was given just a single address linked with biometrics, it would surely be quite convenient for the Will of the AIs that wanted to manage those 7 billion individuals. People’s online shopping history and social media posts could be used to analyze their thoughts and tapping the dot on a map app could be used to crash their self-driving car in what looked like no more than an accident. That was one future they would be able to create.
The boy completed the checkout and left the convenience store.
He was not cooked to the death in a fire and he was not trapped in the store by a checkout error.
He did not encounter that margin of error today.
But what about tomorrow?
Server Name: Psi Indigo. Starting Location: Summer City – Peninsula City.
Welcome to Money (Game) Master, Hekireki Midori.
She had not actually exchanged addresses with him.
She had only one guess as to where to find him. The black-twintailed girl rode her large red leaf-patterned motorcycle slowly around Leviathan Stadium. It was nighttime. The illuminated stadium and the surrounding area apparently functioned as a date spot, but for the people who simply wanted to enjoy the sport, that may have looked like additives and artificial colors in their food.
After driving all the way around the circular route with no real destination in mind, she spotted a familiar face. In her black gothic bikini and miniskirt, Midori slowed her motorcycle and pulled over to the curb.
“Oh, thank goodness. So are you always out here staring up at the stadium?”
It was a small boy.
He was right next the kind of payphone that had been completely forgotten in the modern day.
He was sitting on a graffiti-covered bench and stroking the head of a faded stuffed animal. Midori could tell that shark character provided no Skills whatsoever. The building in front of him was a garishly illuminated castle of greed. It was the stadium hijacked by the immoral team. But it was still an important place for the 10-year-old boy.
“I know money is everything. Even my dad and his friends were being clever with money when they gathered their retirement money to register themselves as owners of the club team. There may have been people who suffered because of that. It all comes down to money here in Money (Game) Master. I know that…”
Those office workers had pooled their retirement money to start a virtual currency business.
Umibe Tatsuo had been made the owner and his friends had been made the players and trainers. They had followed soccer as fans for so long, so they had wanted to see how far their fan’s perspective and logic could take them.
…And since this was the result, what had become of their relationships in the real world? They may have found a hell different again from the one Midori was living.
Black-twintailed Midori did not deny any of that.
“If it all comes down to money, then the other side can’t complain when their luck turns either.”
“Forget I said anything.” Midori focused on the throttle lever on her motorcycle’s handlebars. “I’m relieved just to have seen your face. I know you must be worried, but don’t do anything reckless. Waiting is an option too. And sometimes luck will take your side given enough time.”
“How…how could luck possibly take our side after all this!? Dad lost everything: his money, his confidence, and his friends’ trust! Even though he didn’t do anything wrong and it was all those people’s fault!! I understand that, yet I can’t do anything for him! Nothing at all!!”
He was cut off by a staticky noise.
At some point, someone had appeared on the motorcycle’s back seat. It was a Magisterus in a mini-China dress that was wide open on both sides and had soft fur decorating the back of the neck. She had short black hair and two horns and a charm on her forehead. Her chest was fairly flat for how tall she was and her expressionless face looked down at the object she held.
It was a small keyholder.
It had a shark mascot attached. This specific product was from the old management’s club team, not the current Leviathans.
“Meiki, don’t pop out without permission. And you don’t have to show that off right now.”
“Wait, is that…?”
It was a used product she had acquired at a pawnshop run by the team called Treasure Hermit Crab, but her ability to analyze any outfit at a glance told her it had no Skills or added value of any kind. She had bought it because something else about it drew her to it.
“You asked how luck could possibly take your side after all this.”
She opened the throttle and prepared to drive off.
But just before she did, the twintail girl said one last thing.
“Wait a little longer. You’ll soon see how much is possible in this game.”
Server Name: Theta Yellow. Starting Location: Summer City – Northern Peninsula Outskirts.
Welcome to Money (Game) Master, Suou Kaname.
“Midori> Martini Air Conditioning? Are you sure that one company is handling it all?”
“Kaname> We’re talking about the special equipment used to keep an entire domed stadium inflated. They aren’t going to be using a normal company, you cute little thing.”
“Midori> Cute little thing?”
“Kaname> Dammit, Tselika.”
It was a lot chillier once they were outside the peninsula city. That was because the land took a gentle bowl shape as it approached the sea. The temperature went down as the altitude increased, so this area was valuable for things like summer resorts and golf courses. Unlike the central city with its fine sand beaches, this area was covered by rolling green hills. It had originally been a wasteland, but it had been developed for agriculture thanks to an absorbent material that used the stickiness of natto or something.
The most notable trait were the giant seesaw-like silhouettes visible here and there. Those were pumpjacks. They were used to extract oil from the ground.
Kaname had gotten some rest in the real world, so it was the middle of the night now.
He got out of his mint green coupe in a spot where a high-voltage power line and a wide road intersected.
But one hand was tugging on the demon’s tail.
“How many times do I have to tell you not to post under my name?”
“Hnyaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!? I-I-I didn’t mean anything by it! I-I was just operating it with my eyes from the passenger seat because switching to my account is such a pain. Wait, you’re tying me up? Don’t tell me you’re going to tie my tail to that power tower and then drive off in the coupe, leaving me out here all alone!”
Before too long, Midori drove up with her small butt seated on her large red leaf-patterned motorcycle. She lowered the kickstand and swung her leg wide to climb down. …She was probably not careless enough to claim it did not bother her since she was wearing a swimsuit, but he still felt it would be best not to mention that pose was a lot like a peeing dog.
“Hyah, it’s really chilly out here. And being the middle of the night probably doesn’t help.”
“You’re riding a motorcycle with most of your skin exposed. That’s why I told you to stick a hoodie or raincoat in the helmet space below the seat.”
“Ahh, ahh, ahh! Are you my mom!?”
The black-twintailed girl’s rebellious phase showed no sign of ending. This was a bad sign and he feared for her future.
The starry sky was much brighter here than in the city center. Although this area of land was buried below a square of smooth plastic for some reason, so they could not fully enjoy the wonders of nature. Meanwhile, Kaname spoke to the tearfully sulking demon.
“Tselika, one last time: are you absolutely sure that air conditioner manufacturer is an ‘outside’ company?”
Money (Game) Master had companies inside the city which were faithfully reproduced down to each individual NPC employee, but it also had companies outside the city that were created from the transaction records (meaning they were simplified and not modeled). Everyone was familiar with the weapon shops, armor shops, item shops, and inns in RPGs, but the game did not actually keep track of how many people would have to work to keep those in business. This was the same.
The Magisterus woman blew on her tail and displayed the relevant documents on the coupe’s body and on her race queen outfit.
“Based on the videos of the previous attacks, Martini Air Conditioning forms something like a caravan of several trucks and escort vehicles to carry the products into the city along a land route. They’re basically asking to be destroyed by the Leviathans at this point.”
The sturdy but slowly-moving trucks would likely be blown up again this time if nothing was done.
Kaname’s group would protect them from the shadows so they could reach Biondetta Dome. They needed to rattle the Leviathans that badly if they were to draw out the list that team was keeping hidden.
They would keep it up until the team handed it over in tears.
Even if their methods would get the police called on them in reality, they were free to do it in the game.
Midori softly sighed.
“This is honestly pretty incredible. Attacking those trucks means blowing through AI-controlled PMC macho men who have unlimited reinforcements. That would normally be suicide.”
“That’s where the Inheritance comes in handy,” said Tselika.
The look in Midori’s eyes sharpened.
She had told Kaname and Tselika what she had seen and heard. Her missing brother’s Inheritance had been used to take over that stadium and torment the boy and his father. The twintail girl saw this as unforgivable for two different reasons.
Kaname glanced at Tselika’s bodylines and thought for a moment.
“Can you really not work out the exact appearance point of the trucks?”
“That would be difficult. If it was possible, the Leviathans would only need to place a single landmine at the city’s border. It’s limited to NPCs, but any vehicles moving in or out of the area within 2km of the city border seem to suddenly warp into place. That said, this is provincial land. We are lucky that the only land routes connecting outside are on the north end of the shark tooth of a peninsula, but that is not enough to know exactly which road they will use.”
“Come to think of it, what happens if we try to leave the city?” asked Midori.
“We crash into an invisible wall. Midori, if you want to try it, do it on foot. You’ll be killed instantly on your bike.”
“I’m not a kitten crashing into the window!” roared the black gothic bikini and miniskirt girl who would probably look really cute in cat ears and a cat tail.
At any rate…
“Once the trucks enter the city, we have to protect them and ensure they reach Biondetta Dome. If we encounter the Leviathans out here, we eliminate them.”
“I see, I see.”
Tselika nodded while attaching priority tags on a few of the documents crawling across her bodylines via the bikini and miniskirt.
“The appearance point might be random, but you can still lie in wait at this major road needed to reach the city center from the north. That means here. There’s no reaching the city center without passing through Amatsu Tunnel.”
“Oh, that thing. All the exhaust in there was no fun on my motorcycle.”
“Don’t complain,” said the demon. “This reduces the overall area in which you are at risk of being shot by the Gatling gun from the wasteland. Once inside Amatsu Tunnel, the Leviathans can’t use their long-range attacks. They will be forced to enter the same tunnel. You only really have to worry during the first half of the trip in the outskirts area.”
“We begin once we can see the headlights of the trucks,” said Kaname.
“Okay…but what about those escort vehicles? I mean, I doubt they’re weak since they’re from an AI company.”
“The videos show Martini Air Conditioning primarily using thick bulletproof black luxury cars and they are armed with carbines made by shortening assault rifles for ease of use,” explained Tselika. “The cars themselves look sleek, but they’re powerful four-wheel drive vehicles on the inside. They stay ahead of and behind the trucks.”
Her race queen outfit must not have been enough space because she lined up the video footage on the mint green coupe instead.
“Meanwhile, the Leviathans use around 10 light off-road motorcycles. For the most part, it looks like human drivers and Magisterus gunners.”
“Oh, yeah. Your Meiki is fairly capricious, isn’t she? If you raise them right, they’ll do that for you. Skills are shared by human and Magisterus alike, so the humans can provide support with their equipment. For example, my sister’s Magisterus was a dark elf named Cindy.”
“She could drive and shoot, but she was hopeless when it came to financial deals.”
“Um, even though Magisteri are AI-controlled?”
“She was the kind of girl who can’t even do the 7s row of the times table, so my sister always did the calculations herself. Anyway, it looks like they also have a large four-wheel-drive buggy to act as a command tower for the motorcycles.”
“You mean it’s a team of eleven just like in soccer?”
“Who knows,” said Tselika. “Normally, you couldn’t win a head-on shootout with a PMC even with a piece of the Inheritance. Especially with motorcycles. They have no armor, so those exposed exhibitionists would be killed from even a single bullet hit. Even if they put together a decent outfit that gave them the Bulletproof Skill, a hit would knock them off balance and their bike would fall over.”
Motorcycle-lover Midori pouted her lips and complained, but now was not the time to argue over which kind of vehicle was better.
“Basically, the Leviathans are cleverly using the freedom their off-road motorcycles give them,” said Kaname. “They can move far away from the asphalt road, allowing them to attack from outside the range of the PMC’s carbines. And that includes with the Gatling gun we’re interested in. And since they don’t need the road, they can also set up traps there. They can blow up bridges, collapse tunnels, set up wires, and place off-route mines… For the most part, Dealers don’t worry about what happens to a route they’re not using.”
“Ugh, this sounds even nastier than the usual firefights. …Although I’m not sure what I expected with these immoral Dealers.”
“Those unseen traps scare me more than the obvious Inheritance. We’ve failed our mission once even one of those goes off, so eliminating them takes top priority.”
“Basically, we drive out ahead of the trucks, find all the traps they’re liable to hit, and get rid of them. And we don’t need to bother with a precise defusing process. We can just fire a bullet at them from a distance to safely detonate them.”
“I doubt they can destroy those sturdy trucks even with an Inheritance Gatling gun,” added Tselika. “The traps stop the trucks and the Inheritance finishes them off, so we do not allow them to do that. If they aren’t stopped, the trucks can reach their destination.”
Also, those road-ignoring off-road tactics only worked in the open outskirts area. In the city center full of buildings, the Leviathans would have to follow the asphalt roads and would have too much in the way to get a line of fire from a distance. And with too much traffic, their traps might not activate properly. Because unrelated people and vehicles would set them off early.
“This isn’t all that difficult if we do things right.” Kaname reached for the driver’s side door of the mint green coupe. “I see some lights. It’s the trucks’ headlights. We need to get started too, Midori.”
“Understood.” Midori hopped back onto her large motorcycle. “Let’s end this unfairness here. Let’s take back everything tonight: my brother’s Inheritance, the list of its pieces, and the Umibe family’s stadium!!”
The mint green coupe finally began to move.
That said, it did not start out at top speed with engine roaring.
First, it waited for the large trucks and escort vehicles slowly approaching from behind.
When they started to pass him by, Kaname opened the driver’s side window and fired his short-range sniper rifle once against the side of a container.
The pain of his Lion’s Nose rapidly grew.
“Okay, let’s get out of here.”
“Surely there was a better way of doing this!”
Now the coupe’s engine really did give a roar.
An extra window appeared at the edge of the windshield.
The many black bulletproof vehicles responded with tires squealing, but he did not bother with them. He chose to lose them at top speed.
A direct firefight with the PMC would never end well. He had prepared a meter to tell him if he had safely escaped them and the number was visibly dropping from its starting point at above 20. This was a makeshift program that used the front and rear drive recorders combined with facial and eyeline recognition algorithms. It counted up how many of the PMC soldiers were focused on him, so he would know he had escaped once it reached 0.
It did not take long for that to happen.
Even while such great speed, it was surprising how quickly he lost their focus.
“The AIs must only pursue for 500m. That’s surprisingly short. Maybe they don’t want to thin out their forces by pursuing a decoy.”
“That was too close… I make sure to polish up my temple on a daily basis and you nearly got it filled with holes again.”
“More importantly, what does the GPS say?”
“I’m not going to forget that ‘more importantly’, you know? While you poked the hornet’s nest and gathered their attention, Midori threw the security buzzer plus sticky tape combo as planned. It’s on the top of the container where no one can see it. That means we can check their location on our map.”
“Is the PMC focused on her?”
“We lost them while they were entirely focused on you, so that is not a problem. They have not locked onto Midori, so worry about your car more! By which I mean my temple!!”
If the bodyguards had been more persistent, they might have had to eliminate some of them, but that did not look necessary when the soldiers turned back after a certain distance. He only had to regroup with the motorcycle up ahead.
Meanwhile, Midori kept looking back while riding her large leaf pattern motorcycle next to the coupe.
“Midori> Are you sure we can stay this far away? We don’t know when the Leviathans will attack and we can’t respond immediately from here!”
“Kaname> Those trucks belong to an AI company and company PMCs are quite powerful. I doubt they can be defeated with no more than a brute force attack from #DragonGod.err. The Leviathans will lay traps first, so we need to stay ahead of the trucks and take out the traps meant to stop them.”
Of course, being traps, these would not be readily visible. This was not a threat meant to bring the trucks to a stop; they were meant to blow the trucks away altogether.
“Kaname> Midori, circle to my other side.”
“Midori> Why? You’re in the passing lane, aren’t you???”
“Kaname> If you don’t shut up and do it in the next five seconds, you’ll be caught in the blast.”
“Midori> Then just say so, i-i-i-idiot!!”
Just as the large red leaf-pattern motorcycle quickly moved to use the mint green coupe as a shield, Tselika removed her seatbelt and reached for the reclining lever. Kaname aimed his short-range sniper rifle out the opened passenger side window. He targeted one of the plastic containers on the side of the road. These were normally filled with water to cushion the impact of crashes, but this one exploded quite spectacularly. It was also filled with small metal balls and screws.
“One trap destroyed.”
“What’s wrong, Tselika? Try not to use that four-letter word. It might not be banned in this game, but not around Midori, okay?”
“I was going to say, ‘for the last time, stop tearing up my temple’! Did you hear all that shrapnel scraping against it!?”
Tselika snapped back at him while raising the passenger seat again, but he unfortunately did not have time to deal with the wild-tailed Magisterus.
“Kaname> Midori, circle behind me.”
“Kaname> To the right this time.”
“Midori> Whoa, are you serious!?
“Kaname> There’s more. Keep using my car as a shield.”
“Ohhhhh, hold it, master! And is there any reason for Midori to stick with us? Aren’t you only using my precious temple as a shield to protect her!?”
“She doesn’t want to be a princess who needs to be carried everywhere, but if she’s going to become a Dealer who can take care of herself, she needs to build up some experience first. The Umibe family? Taking back their stolen stadium and club team? Ha ha. Sounds like a perfect tutorial mission. And if it fits right along with what we need to take that list, I’m willing to help out.”
“Why do you treat her so much more sweetly than someone with a sexy body like this? Are you actually into flat-chested younger girls, master!?”
Tselika was holding her horns in her hands and incessantly headbanging, but she was actually providing plenty of fanservice since her large breasts were also incessantly jiggling.
“Midori> How do you know where the traps are?”
“Kaname> I see where the line of fire is open. Whether the trap uses its explosive blast or throws the explosives first, it has to be within lethal range of the target. Fortunately, you can’t bury a mine on the road like you can in the dirt ground. The only options are to throw the explosive from above or stab into the target’s side. The ballistic path for the explosive is camouflaged so it’s like passing through the head of a needle, but that ends up standing out unnaturally. Like that trash bag over there.”
Bullets flew from the barrel with a uniquely muffled sound.
He did not even need his Lion’s Nose for something like this.
Another fiery flower blossomed to show he had safely “defused” a trap.
“Kaname> Then again, they can be placed behind thin walls and just use their blast to break through that and the target vehicle, but I have Transmit equipped in case they try that. …I really don’t like supporting my shooting with Skills like this, but I’m viewing this as a mine detector and forcing myself to do it.”
“Kaname> It’s a Skill that lets me see through things like walls.”
Midori’s large motorcycle made an odd noise and began to swerve. For some reason, she was holding her slender shoulders with her arms to hide her flat chest.
The boy sounded exasperated.
“Kaname> Midori, keep your hands on the handlebars while driving. What are you, a bored middle schooler experimenting with their bicycle?”
“Midori> I-I-I really am a middle schooler!! And, wait, hold on, does that mean you can see th-through my swi-swi-swimsuit!?”
The blushing girl was apparently at the age where she wanted to keep her defenses up in a number of ways. Could a Rarity Level 8 Skill be used to see through a swimsuit? This all felt too ridiculous to take seriously, so he ignored her question.
That Skill detected the faint and normally-unnoticed light that reflected off of walls and escaped through the gaps below doors and pieced it together into an accurate image to give the illusion of being able to see around corners and through doors. That meant it could not peek into a truly sealed box.
“Then again, the curves of the body mean a swimsuit leaves gaps open around the chest and hips,” said Tselika. “Especially with a bikini.”
“Are you still talking about that? Pursuing this issue will not make anyone happy.”
“And I won’t be satisfied until I get to the bottom of your apparent love of baggy bikini tops over flat chests, master!!”
The hidden bombs could be easily destroyed with a gunshot, but that was likely because the Leviathans did not want to worry about unexploded ordnance. If someone else entirely was caught in one of their traps, it would create an unnecessary antagonism, so they wanted to be able to shoot them if the fuse did not activate.
At any rate, getting rid of the mines gave the trucks a safe route through.
If the mines were the only threat, that is.
“Tselika, check the drive recorder. Are you analyzing the footage?”
“I am. Hmph. I guess! Hmph!!”
A few windows opened on the windshield in positions that did not obstruct his view and displayed the locations of the explosives they had taken out so far.
The results mostly matched Kaname’s instincts.
“I’ve more or less figured out the precision of their traps.”
It was easy once he knew how they were laid out and how to deal with them. He had glowing dots displayed over the real scenery on the windshield and easily shot the off-route mines through the windows.
Hacking, sniping, and bombing.
An individual’s idiosyncrasies tended to show in those special actions. It was the same as viewing someone’s room to analyze their psychology. Once you had the solution, you could predict their next move.
“Is it H.A.S., the hide-and-seek Skill?” asked Tselika.
“Yeah. Whether you’re a hider or a seeker, that Skill lets you locate blind spots people don’t focus on. I believe slight stains on the ground or scrapes on railings are used to determine the locations. But once you figure it out, it’s easy to tell where the bombs will be.”
Skills had their pros and their cons. They provided convenient functions, but those functions could be used against you once someone figured out what you were using.
They were different from inborn talents like Kaname’s Lion’s Nose or Midori’s outfit analysis.
The skilled Dealer spoke calmly.
“I was afraid they would have double traps where destroying the first triggers the second, but it doesn’t look like they went for anything that tricky. Let’s keep it up like this. In another 15 minutes, the Martini Air Conditioning trucks will enter Amatsu Tunnel. Then the Leviathans won’t be able to move around like-…”
He trailed off when he saw some light reflected in the rearview mirror.
A giant explosion blossomed far behind them.
“Wait, hold on, what?”
The tires screeched as Kaname brought the mint green coupe to a rapid stop.
After making a sharp turn with her large leaf-pattern racing motorcycle to come up alongside the car, the frilly black gothic bikini and miniskirt girl knocked lightly on the driver’s side window with the back of her black-gloved hand.
Black-twintailed Midori spoke with her physical voice now.
“Wasn’t that an explosion? From the trucks!?”
“It can’t be…”
“One of the GPS dots has disappeared from the map,” helpfully pointed out Tselika.
“Was that the power of #DragonGod.err from my brother’s Inheritance? You’re kidding! We can’t take the stadium back if those special air conditioning units don’t arrive safely!”
Looking at their stats, the AI-controlled PMC units that directly protected the companies were far stronger than normal Dealers. They had no Skills, but their base parameters were absurdly high. They seemed more like killer robots in human form. With their thick bulletproof equipment, their extreme firepower, and their high-level military coordination, they barely seemed human. And since they could call in an unlimited supply of reinforcements, trying to fight them was generally a bad idea.
That was why the Leviathans had previously only been able to attack the trucks by setting traps to stop the trucks and then using the #DragonGod.err Gatling gun in the resultant confusion. Kaname had not thought they could do it with any of the puzzle pieces missing.
But did #DragonGod.err destroy the game balance that badly?
Had he overlooked one of the traps through simple human error?
“…Don’t tell me”
He did not care if it meant going back he way he had come.
After a quick honk of the horn as a warning to Midori, he swung the back of the mint green coupe around in something like a roundhouse kick. He made a 180-degree turn around the twintailed girl on her large motorcycle and then floored the accelerator to reach the scene of the blast.
“Tselika, do a new online search for information on Martini Air Conditioning! Especially anything related to insurance!!”
“I’ll do it, but I seriously doubt I’ll find their contract sitting out there on the open net!”
“Midori> What’s this about?”
He could not answer the black-twintailed girl’s question as she drove alongside him.
Once they arrived at the attack site, the stench of smoke was overwhelming even inside the car. It was the distinctive smell of burning diesel. He could see what looked like the frames of several trucks inside the sinister glowing vortex of red and black.
The special air-conditioning units meant for the indoor stadium had been destroyed.
“Midori> Looks like the Leviathans are gone. I just hope they didn’t leave a sniper or a bomb as a present for us.”
“Kaname> I doubt it.”
Something was missing. Yes, the only wreckage here was of the trucks. The only stench was of diesel fuel smoke; there was no burning gasoline. There was no wreckage of the black bulletproof vehicles that should have been protecting the trucks. They had simply disappeared.
“About your insurance-related search, I found evidence of Martini Air Conditioning working with Tokime Life. The details of the contract are still unknown, of course.”
“That’s good enough. So how many times have the Leviathans attacked their trucks? As far as we know anyway?”
“Based on what I can find on online news and video sites, eight times.”
“And what did Martini Air Conditioning do afterwards? Did they change their delivery plan at all?”
“That special equipment can’t be mass-produced, so it is quite expensive. Biondetta Dome is working on a time limit, so after an attack, they should be working on countermeasures like strengthening security or altering the delivery route. They could even dangle the containers from large helicopters. At an altitude of 4000m, the Leviathans would need surface-launched missiles, an AA gun, or an equivalent aircraft to attack them.”
“And yet…they have done nothing of the sort?”
“That is very strange for the AI. That means the attacks are not a problem for Martini Air Conditioning.” Kaname tapped his fingers on the steering wheel in irritation. “They get a juicy insurance payout each time and Biondetta Dome can’t cancel the contract because Martini Air Conditioning is the only place that offers the air-conditioning units they need to complete their stadium. Just because they’re both AI companies doesn’t mean they’re working together. Martini Air Conditioning just wants to make money off of Biondetta Dome. They don’t actually care about completing the stadium, so they’ll help out if that makes them the most. But if they find something that pays better, they’ll shift to that.”
“I see. I thought the timing of the shipments seemed a bit random, but it does match when Martini Air Conditioning’s business is in a slump. Whenever they need an influx of cash, they send out some trucks so they’ll be attacked and they can get out of the red with the insurance money.”
“There may not be any actual collusion going on, but the human Leviathans and the AI-controlled Martini Air Conditioning are essentially working together on this. The AI side always chooses the greatest profit without questioning the ethics of it and the clever humans realized they could use that to set up an infinite loop of profit for themselves. Repeatedly failing the delivery and raking in the insurance money is far more profitable than simply selling the air conditioning units the one time, so why would they properly protect the shipment. Goddammit!!”
“So if we can’t rattle the Leviathans this way…?”
“We have to rethink things. If we don’t find some way to bring them to tears, we can’t drag out their hidden list!!”
The monstrous 4-wheel-drive vehicle drove directly across the wasteland with tires taller than a person. It appeared to be a large buggy. It was so big it was actually a two-seater. It was highly impractical and looked more like something used for circus tricks, but the person riding inside looked entirely out of place there. A young woman wearing a white and pink tight skirt suit had her long legs crossed in the passenger seat while she left the driving to her Magisterus girl. Since the Magisteri could handle high-level financial deals in a ten-thousandth of a second, there was little use for a smartphone in Money (Game) Master, but she held one in a hand, stretched out her arm, and photographed her own face from a variety of angles.
Her Dealer name was Strawberry Garter.
She was the current owner of the Leviathans R-class soccer club team.
“This too is part of advertisement.”
She had made sure the coach and all the trainers were beautiful women like herself. When their skill was the same, she would choose the person who stood out more. TV ads were the same. Their time in front of the camera was limited, so she made sure to use someone who could make the most of that time. Entertaining guests and attracting customers could always be left to the Magisteri, but humans were better received.
(After all, we live in a world where an entire body can be made in CG yet plastic surgery idols are still a thing.)
Of course, she was not about to indiscriminately snap photos and post images of her seedier dealings on social media.
Light intensity, chroma, and brightness.
She had a tester app that displayed values like that in numerical form. Even with the same person, the best possible photo changed a lot depending on time, location, clothing, and makeup. You could not gather the attention of the masses just by looking up, doing a duck face, and eliminating your pores and wrinkles with bright light.
Labor, both physical and intellectual, was all about repetition.
Whether or not she was actually going to take and post a photo, it was crucial that she was always conscious of how to take the best possible photo in any situation.
For Strawberry Garter, everything came down to influence.
And if you wanted to gather attention, nothing was better than sports.
That was a better base for building your own castle than doing charitable work with a fake smile on your lips or building yet another video broadcasting station in an already overcrowded market. It was a lot easier to get a start using an existing genre – in other words, something that had already been made into an independent video game. If she was being honest, she had relied a lot on the soccer game strategy guide sitting in a corner of her room back in reality. Using the non-primary sponsor slots to take over a weak team, strengthening and poaching players, working with the sponsor company, and making broadcast right deals had all been part of her management style where she worked to control the game within the game. And inside Money (Game) Master, she could use some bolder strategies than would be possible in reality.
She had created a world where every billboard in the field and stands was worth millions of Snow and where the media made sure to catch every move the players made. She had created connections with many AI companies while the human Dealers gathered around the profits and constructed a powerful connection with the video broadcast stations inside the game.
Strawberry Garter aimed her phone’s camera toward her fingers which were neatly decorated with nail polish and practiced bending her fingers in different ways like a hand model.
(But if you simply want influence in this game, you don’t need to reach for the S-class league at the top. They demand a world-class level of play, so the player management costs are absurd. Once you get there, the balance between income and expenses collapses and you end up in the red. …My position is best. R-class is enough. This is the perfect level of effort. Going bankrupt for a speaker with a nice body is meaningless. It’s important to know your limits and always do the cost performance calculations.)
She wanted to be famous as an individual owner, not as an entire club team, so a second-rate R-class team was enough. She did not want to control an old TV broadcast network. She wanted to increase her standing on social media where anyone could sign up.
Money (Game) Master was an online game with a focus on earning the most money, but everyone had their own way of doing that. She was sick of using math and economics to predict the trends and ride them. It was simpler to create the trends herself and build a world that was convenient for her.
Information created money and money created information.
The only winners of the modern age were those who could create and monopolize that loop themselves.
Once she reached the values she wanted on the tester app, Strawberry Garter looked away from her phone. She released a snort from her shapely nose as she looked out the window. Or maybe she was actually looking at her own reflected face in the glass.
Beautiful women were created.
Or so Strawberry Garter believed from the bottom of her heart.
Two eyes, two ears, one nose, and one mouth. That was all the human face was. Everyone’s face looked flat and dull on their straight-ahead passport photo, but that was why you could not grow lazy. You had to work at it. Once someone lost their desire to show off their beauty to the masses, they lost their shine and were reduced to nothing more than “two eyes, two ears, one nose, and one mouth”.
The tight suit woman saw the real world’s mass media as the stereotypical example of that. They were hopeless. They knew they had become an outdated fossil, but the obligations forced upon the newspapers and TV news placed a limit on how far their information could spread. There were plenty of new ways to photograph yourself, yet they stuck to the flat and dull straight-ahead photo. They could not inspire any excitement like that and even potentially viral stories would not spread.
Money (Game) Master was the perfect solution for that.
If she was going to have influence, it would be here.
The ripples from a single stone thrown in the water spread very differently here. When information spread, it quickly reached the Dealers who were manipulating the Snow virtual currency and influencing the entire world.
(It feels a little weird messing with a phone in the game, though.)
That said, she had not lived a life so permeated in information to begin with.
Back in the real world, she had run a bento shop in the lower city. It had been small but she had inherited it from her parents and it had been in her family for generations. She had gotten up early, worked hard stirring the large pots herself, and set the prices as low as she could possibly afford. After being called old-fashioned, she had gone to the effort of setting up a website that had received less than 20 visitors per month.
She had gone out of business almost immediately after a hamburger shop opened across the street.
After that, she had given up on old-fashioned hard work.
(I’m sick of accusations of worm meat burgers and fake ingredients.)
On the day her shop went under, who was it that had showed up in a disgustingly fancy suit, rubbed their hands together in supposed sympathy, and yet whispered “information is everything” in her ear?
So she simply had to wield the same sword herself.
Once she had made up her mind, it had pissed her off to see that club team being run in such a carefree and wholesome way. They were only two eyes, two ears, one nose, and one mouth. They were not even trying. When she had crushed that father and son below her feet and stripped them of the club management rights while the primary sponsor AI company watched on, she had been aware that there was a screw loose inside her. Rather than guilty, she had felt relieved. She had used the game to destroy a real family.
There was no backing out now.
She was now one of those who stole and indulged in the pleasure of it all.
(This time, I need something they can’t escape just by hostilely rejecting me. …Yes, maybe I should spread some money around to start up a diet fad. Or I could introduce some home cooking that people can show off on social media so fewer people are eating burgers. The information I spread can be anything really. As long as it drives that restaurant out of business and applies pressure to the entire corporate group. This game world is a scary thing. Influence on the spread of information here has more power in the real world than the dying TV news and newspapers.)
“Sister> Nice work.”
“Pipe Wrench> Man, this is a lot. Maybe we really should go shake hands with a major gun shop and make a contract for unlimited ammo for a flat monthly fee.”
“Coming> Now, now. We just have to stick with it for a few more months. Don’t those things have an extra fee you have to pay if you end the contract in less than two years? I recommend checking all the fine print first.”
“Hattori> Hold on. Aren’t we getting a request? Garter, check with Martini Air Conditioning.”
Something felt off, like the needle skipping on an old record. Strawberry Garter controlled information. She was the queen who had created a billboard and broadcast station out of a club team instead of using the TV stations, social media sites, and other frameworks created by others. It was limited to the Leviathans’ territory, she insisted on being aware of everything.”
“Marron, check on that.”
“U-understood, Madam Strawberry Garter.”
The Empusa – a small girl with large drooping dog ears and a dog tail – holding the giant steering wheel responded in a needlessly nervous way.
“You have a message from Martini Air Conditioning. Let’s see, they say they have decided to deliver the Hurricane III to the Biondetta Dome construction site at 2:19 this morning. That appears to be the name of the special air-conditioning equipment.”
“2:19!? That’s less than 7 minutes from now! And we only just finished destroying their cargo!!”
“Eek!? But that is what it says! I thoroughly checked through the entire message, but there was no sign of any codes or symbols hidden in it!!”
“Um, should I break the font down into numbers and check for any hidden meaning there? Or I could check for any implanted words embedded in it by reading vertically or removing specific letters.”
“Don’t waste your resources on that nonsense, Marron! Just pipe down!!”
Unnecessarily high specs could be a bad thing too. After reading the entire message in an instant, the nervous puppy girl had started scanning through it with strange forms of text analysis, which would only lead to an endless loop of anxiety and doubt. It was like making a DDoS attack on your own computer.
(But what is the meaning of this?)
Until now, Martini Air Conditioning had only made a delivery of that special air-conditioning equipment once or twice a month, so Strawberry Garter’s team had had time to put together a perfect attack plan. They had a give-and-take relationship set up, but there were no promises made in official documents and those were real bullets whizzing through the air. There was always the possibility of Falling if one hit you by mistake. The preparations took time.
“What is going on?”
Then it hit her.
Since the traps had been detonated well before the trucks arrived, there must have been an enemy Dealer trying to stop the attack plan. She had no idea how they hoped to make money from that, but their goal was probably the completion of Biondetta Dome. In that case, what was their Plan B once they failed to stop the attack? How did they hope to rewind the situation and recover?
Strawberry Garter twirled the phone in her hand as she thought.
When she reached out and snapped a selfie, she found the light in her face had dimmed. That seemed like an omen of a major coming loss. She needed to put in her greatest effort to wipe that shadow from her face.
“Marron, do another search regarding Martini Air Conditioning.”
“L-looking for what?”
“Stock prices, business results, enterprise value, and whatever else you can find! Just check for a Dealer with their jaws latched onto Martini Air Conditioning’s Achilles’ heel!!”
The action Kaname’s team had taken was simple.
“Every time Martini Air Conditioning experiences a setback in their business results, they use the massive insurance payout to keep themselves out of the red. Then the answer is obvious: we just have to attack Martini Air Conditioning and hurt their bottom line. We can redo this escort mission as many times as we like.”
Midori responded with an exasperated look from her stopped racing motorcycle.
“That’s just mean. And you’re insane.”
“Got any other ideas?”
“Well, no. Sigh. I’m just trying to help someone in need, so how did it turn into something so largescale?”
It sounded like Midori had already set aside the Inheritance and the list in her mind. The Umibe family’s undeserved suffering was her top priority. And Kaname thought that was fine.
That said, Martini Air Conditioning itself existed outside the city, meaning it only existed as data and was not 3D modeled. They could not go barging into the HQ. Any actions they took had to be within the fully-modeled field of Summer City.
“Tselika, what is the temperature and humidity in the center of the peninsula city tonight?”
“Check on your mobile watch, master. It is 34 degrees Celsius with 70% humidity. Thanks to the heat island and the squall this evening, it’s a sweltering night…”
“Why do you sound so down?”
“Have you seen my poor battered car! I wax my precious temple to a shine every single day, but look at it now! I’m going to have nightmares about this!!”
“What kind of support center does Martini Air Conditioning have?”
“Is shouting from 5cm away not enough to shake your soul, master? It is open 24/7. Only an AI company can pull that off.”
“Then we just need one trick.”
Kaname said it.
Still leaning against his mint green coupe’s door, he aimed his short-range sniper rifle straight up. Then he only had to pull the trigger like the starting pistol for a race.
A high-voltage line supported by several power towers ran by overhead.
With the sharp sound of sparks, about half the peninsula city fell into darkness.
This was far worse than pressing the fire alarm button in the school hallway. Do this in real life and you were bound to get viciously flamed in the online news.
This was the kind of crazy thing you could only do in a game.
Of course, that one line did not carry the power supply for the entire city and a lot of the better prepared Dealers would have their own backup power supplies. This would not bring down the exchanges. However.
“The cause of a power outage…no, of why your A/C just went out isn’t obvious at first glance. Did you trip a breaker, is it the wiring, or is it the equipment? Keeping cool is secondary compared to data-related tasks, but this is a hot night. A ton of Dealers are going to call their A/C maker demanding their machine gets fixed.”
“How can they call when the power’s out? Cellphones don’t work with the towers are down, right?”
“Did you never notice the rusty old payphones scattered across the city? If they’re disaster relief models, they won’t use the normal power supply. You can make calls using just the electricity coming in through the phone line.”
Midori did not seem to get it, so she tilted her head. But that may have been normal for someone too young to have ever used an old-fashioned black dial phone.
“So with their support center overwhelmed, dissatisfaction will explode and their corporate value will drop?”
“It wouldn’t be that extreme in the real world, but there’s nothing but Dealers in this world. It’s not uncommon for people here to buy or sell stocks out of spite. By the way, Midori, were you aware you can buy and sell stocks by phone?”
And however it happened, once the alarm went off, warning them of a slump in business, Martini Air Conditioning would automatically send out more trucks.
“But does that mean we have to try that escort mission again? It’ll probably be a little easier than last time since we’ve already destroyed some of the traps, but won’t it end the same?”
“Why would we trust them again when they clearly have no intention of protecting the trucks?” spat out Kaname. “This time, we’ll attack the trucks and steal a full set of equipment. If we get that to Biondetta Dome, we can solve all these pain-in-the-ass problems.”
“Eh? The AI company is protected by a legit PMC, right?” said Tselika. “And there’s no guarantee they’ll go easy on an attacker who isn’t the Leviathans. I mean, those black bulletproof vehicles chased after us when we threw that GPS-tracking security buzzer on one of the trucks!”
“Tselika, the car is probably going to get a fair bit more damaged than it already is, but that’s fine, right? I mean, at this point, what’s a little more?”
“Ghbhbhlrk! Y-y-…but you were the one who got it so damaged in the first place!! I worked hard looking after this adorable temple and that’s all you have to say!? And that excuse is as bad as some sleazy guy saying ‘c’mon, baby, you’re not a virgin anymore, so what’s the harm’!”
Midori tilted her head on her large motorcycle.
“I know we have to do something about the AI group working with the immoral club team…but can we actually defeat that PMC? They’re like an army of killer robots!”
“Normally, no. Midori, bring out your Magisterus, Meiki. Controlling the motorcycle takes up both your hands, so you’ll have a tough time of it on your own from here on. You should have an assistant in the back.”
“Okay, but what exactly am I supposed to do?”
Kaname circled to the back of the coupe and reached for the trunk.
He popped it open.
“It’s time we used some cheats of our own. Let’s force our way through with two pieces of Takamasa’s Inheritance: the #Downpour.err shotgun and the #FiringLine.err anti-materiel rifle.”
The screech of tires rang out for a while.
Perhaps because they had secured their safety, the tingling pain of the Lion’s Nose gradually receded.
The AI soldier meter on the windshield dropped from its max at around 30 and eventually the window vanished altogether. 0 people were focused on him. They had all been wiped out. It was an unusual situation even in the anything-goes world of Money (Game) Master, but if you fully eliminated a PMC unit, you were safe until reinforcements arrived.
“Here. Don’t touch the barrel if you don’t want to get burned.”
Kaname opened the coupe’s driver’s side door, tossed the race queen the #Downpour.err shotgun which resembled a revolving grenade launcher, and spoke without looking back.
“Tselika, you look after the Inheritance. And you’re in charge of driving the car for a while.”
“Hmph. Stupid unfaithful master. You have a perfectly good car right here…mutter, mutter. You know what, I don’t care! Go sit your ass in someone else’s seat and place your hands on their steering wheel!! But say goodbye to your promising subway construction investments!!”
“Shut up! Now I get to control my temple, so it’s safe from your dangerous driving!!”
Tselika’s tail stood straight up. Kaname was not quite sure what her complaints were about, but he made his way to the large truck stopped nearby. This was standard in shootout games, but even when you knew you had ensured your safety, getting out of your vehicle and walking out in the open was nerve-racking. Since the ground was made from an absorbent material using the stickiness of natto, walking on the grass felt like walking on a waterbed. Then he opened the driver’s side door. The AI-controlled driver rolled out, so he dumped them on the side of the road and took the key before moving to the back of the truck. He opened the double doors on the connected container.
More than air conditioners, it looked more like giant silver turbines or exposed passenger plane engines. Normal air pumps just were not going to cut it when they had to inflate a domed facility measuring hundreds of meters across.
“Does it look like it’ll work?”
The large red leaf-pattern racing motorcycle slowly drove up with its engine rumbling. It was Midori holding the handlebars in her frilly black gothic bikini and miniskirt, but a woman in a red mini-China dress sat in the back seat. Her shoulder-length glossy black hair was split by two horns growing from her forehead and a charm was pasted at the center. That was Magisterus Meiki. The expressionless beauty was in charge of sniping with the #FiringLine.err anti-materiel rifle which was so large she had it resting on her shoulder. Midori had wanted to try out having her Magisterus handle the shooting after hearing that was an option.
Kaname used both hands to shut the metal doors.
“Midori, I will drive this truck to the Biondetta Dome construction site. Don’t get caught in the middle.”
“Wait! What’s my job!?”
“A veritable storm of bullets is coming. To be honest, I can’t protect you if you’re wandering around on that unarmored motorcycle. I know justice is burning in your heart, but what good is that if you Fall here?”
“But! Isn’t that AI-controlled PMC unit going to be desperately fighting to take back the truck? They’ll send in tons of those fast and powerful bulletproof vehicles and maybe even some unmanned attack helicopters.”
“I am aware of that. We’ve essentially poked at the hornet’s nest here, so stay away once it begins. Use the safe parking lots and service stations as bases and support me from there. And always target the human Dealers of the Leviathans. The PMCs have infinite reinforcements, so shooting them is pointless. Just ignore them.”
“This really will reclaim that family’s future, right?”
He did not need to think about his answer.
Hearing it seemed to fill Midori with relief, but then something else occurred to her.
“That’s all well and good, but what about you!? You’ll be trapped between the Leviathans and the AI company’s PMC. You really will end up looking like Swiss cheese!”
“My best bet is to get them to take each other out, so I’ll dangle the carrot in front of them to lead them around. Don’t worry. These large trucks are the most durable things you can find outside of exceptions like tanks and armored trucks. A few hits won’t make me crash.”
Hekireki Midori looked like she wanted to say something with her small butt seated on her motorcycle. She probably wanted to point out that Kaname himself had driven one of those supposedly impregnable trucks off the road and taken it for himself. It was true he had gone the brute force route using the Inheritance, but the Leviathans had the #DragonGod.err Gatling gun. As usual, there were no absolutes in Money (Game) Master.
Even Takamasa had Fallen.
In order to protect Kaname’s sister from a brutal enemy Dealer’s bullet.
“Yes, I get it! …I really do. I’m just a rookie and you’re going to win any argument we have about this game. And I was the one that threw a fit and demanded we return the stadium and club team to that family, so it would be wrong of me to tell you not to fight now. I get that.”
Kaname was not stupid. He knew what Midori was feeling here. People would feel anxiety at a level beyond right and wrong, differences in experience, and probability calculations. No, this meant Hekireki Midori was the kind of girl who worried for others at a time like this. Even though she could have framed it as how lonely she would feel if her leader went on a suicide mission here.
Kaname kindly narrowed his eyes.
This girl definitely had that boy’s blood in her veins. That core of their being was not something someone could gain from training or experience. Inborn talent was not about your memory or reflexes that could be augmented with your clothing’s Skills or parameters. Even in the ultimate virtual reality where you could remake yourself however you liked, this was a part of yourself you could not throw out. For Midori and Takamasa, that part of them was hopelessly beautiful and fragile, but that was why Kaname found it too dangerous to leave something like that in this world of money and greed.
He silently renewed his resolve to protect her.
He could not ignore these people who were using Takamasa’s Inheritance for their own purposes and he could not allow Midori to be swallowed up by Money (Game) Master after leaping into this freeing but immoral world in pursuit of her brother’s Inheritance.
He would make sure those siblings never again had to bear with something, hold in the tears, and bite their lip.
He did not need to force this onto the girl.
He only had to make the decision on his own and take action without showing it off.
“Time to begin.”
“I’ll get this to Biondetta Dome to rattle the Leviathans. That way I can get back Takamasa’s personal documents they’re holding onto and you can return the stadium and club team to their original owners. …If Takamasa’s loose-leaf notes include a list related to the Inheritance, we’ll be a lot closer to gathering the entire Inheritance and ending all this chaos. That isn’t just a treasure map. It’s a piece of the thoughts Takamasa left in this game. I can’t let some strangers mess with it. And this will mean fewer suffering people. Maybe not a lot, but this will prevent some people from suffering at the hands of those immoral Dealers.”
“That isn’t good enough.”
Midori was blunt about this.
This had nothing to do with experience or skill.
“We need to save all of them. I won’t let anyone fall victim to my brother’s Inheritance.”
“That’s what I like to hear.”
Suou Kaname smiled a little.
As someone who was fighting to repay Takamasa by protecting this girl, he greatly appreciated this side of Midori.
It was finally time for them to really get moving.
“Help me out, okay? Do not approach the truck, though. All I want is support.”
“I already said I get that!”
“That is the best way to damage the Leviathans. You want to return the stadium and club team to their original owners, right? Then help me.”
“I’m the one that should be asking you for help. And don’t do anything reckless!!”
The boy climbed through the open door into the large truck’s driver’s seat and drove away from the mint green coupe and the red leaf-pattern racing motorcycle.
He was doing this without any tricks. His viewpoint was a lot higher and the steering wheel bigger than in the two-seater sportscar. That was going to take some getting used to, but he grabbed and turned the steering wheel which reminded him of a circus’s ring of fire. He moved it as gently as setting down a record needle and merged onto the highway leading to the center of the peninsula city.
As he struggled with the fairly stiff clutch pedal and shift lever to gain speed, the response was swift. With the big container behind it, the truck’s rearview mirror was useless. Instead, a portion of the windshield displayed a small window showing footage from a rearview camera. He glimpsed several headlight beams there. All of those lights moved independently instead of in pairs. These were motorcycles, not cars.
(So they’re not bothering to hide it now.)
That unique tingling sensation ran through the tip of his nose.
The Lion’s Nose.
The Dealer smiled as he sensed his prey.
While he operated the giant steering wheel, a social media message chat request appeared in a corner of the windshield. A direct connection between the vehicles worked just fine even with the city’s power out. The truck was so wide he had difficulty keeping them in the corner of his vision.
“Strawberry Garter> Are you aware who you have picked a fight with? Have you run the risk and return calculations?”
“PMC Truck 01> Whoa, whoa. You were avoiding any direct collusion with the AI company, weren’t you? Are you sure you want to leave any evidence behind here?”
Kaname frowned after sending his message. It took him a second to remember he was responding with the stolen truck. This was bound to be a one-night fling, so it was not worth changing the setting.
“Strawberry Garter> So you really are a human Dealer.”
“PMC Truck 01> I wasn’t really trying to hide it.”
“Strawberry Garter> The Leviathans will kill you in 5 minutes. I hope you don’t mind.”
“PMC Truck 01> Let’s see if you can actually pull it off. …And are you kidding me, you villain? That title isn’t for you to use.”
“Strawberry Garter> Do you think you are untouchable in that sturdy truck? You have no decoy trucks and no bulletproof escorts. Our elites are strengthened with off-roading Skills. We will fill you with holes from long range, meaning between 600 and 2000 meters. Using a combination of assault rifles and a Gatling gun. It’s time you Fell and experienced a life of debt.”
“PMC Truck 01> I’m enjoying the game, so I won’t spoil it for you. Try it and you’re in for a surprise.”
The off-road motorcycle headlights had been approaching from directly behind, but now they parted to the left and right. Those killer bees moved to surround him on their queen’s command. As claimed, they intended to ignore the road and drive across the grassy field to blow away the truck from a safe distance.
“Strawberry Garter> Your Fall here will be entirely meaningless. Welcome to a hell of debt where you must lick an AI company’s feet.”
“PMC Truck 01> I wouldn’t be so sure.”
Just then, a tremor shook the ground, but not because he had slammed on the large truck’s gas or because the off-road motorcyclists had pulled the trigger on their assault rifles.
“Strawberry Garter> What was that?”
“PMC Truck 01> Figure it out yourself.”
“Strawberry Garter> That was not an anti-materiel round. Nor was it a grenade or rocket. In fact, it was quite muffled. Did you detonate a bunker buster underground!?”
“PMC Truck 01> You have a Magisterus, don’t you? I’m not hiding anything here. Do another search and you’ll find the proper location.”
The following silence did not last even five seconds.
How many tens of thousands of complex autonomous calculations had she had her Magisterus perform in that time?
The giant seesaw silhouette of a pumpjack passed by right next to the truck.
“Strawberry Garter> The oil extraction facilities are being expanded? They’re receiving a rush of large purchases?”
“PMC Truck 01> Oh, you figured it out already?”
“Strawberry Garter> Are you trying to destabilize the ground in this area using soil liquefaction!?”
The coupe was vulnerable after the damage it had taken and the motorcycle left its driver exposed to begin with, so he could not ask Tselika or Midori to fight a harsh gunfight. That was why he had them leave him partway down the highway at the safe service station that combined a gas station with a restaurant. They were using the rusty phone there to focus on the financial dealings. Tselika would be leading that, but even watching on would be a good lesson for Midori.
“PMC Truck 01> The city center is still experiencing a blackout. And when electrical power is looking iffy, the price of backup power sources like gas goes up. So when something like this happens, the AIs will use past precedent to prepare for further drilling. From there, you just need to use investment to give them the final push. Just distribute that investment in a pattern that reminds them of past periods of major sales.”
The vibration in the ground stimulated the underground water and liquefied the soft ground, which could make it difficult to travel on a motorcycle. On the unpaved dirt and grass, anyway.
Water welled up with a bubbling sound and the dirt ground wobbled unnaturally.
“Strawberry Garter> Not good enough.”
His opponent was not defeated yet.
He had bought some time with the confusion, but Amatsu Tunnel was still a few kilometers off. If he could not make it to there, the Inheritance’s Gatling gun would join the many assault rifles. He was stuck on this single straight path, so he could not fight back or dodge a unilateral long-range sweep of bullets in this open area.
“Strawberry Garter> Our bikes were made for off-roading. They’re set up for circus tricks and we have several off-roading Skills. We aren’t the kind of hounds who slam on the brakes just because the terrain’s a little bumpy!”
“PMC Truck 01> I wasn’t expecting you to. I have a different method for crushing an immoral club team that snatches up dirty money and only plays rough.”
Kaname was not shaken either.
Those two-person killer bees were in attack formation, but the further away they were from the single asphalt road, the better for him.
“PMC Truck 01> Did you forget? I cut the high-voltage line when applying pressure to Martini Air Conditioning. And that city’s power outages are shockingly short. It should be back up before long.”
No, she may have been quickly giving instructions on another channel.
To reiterate, he had sent Midori and Tselika to the “safe” service station.
“PMC Truck 01> What we’re looking at here is a combination of a ground soaked with water and a high-voltage line dangling from the power tower. So what happens when they forcibly bring the power back up? I know I wouldn’t want to be anywhere as exposed as a motorcycle right now.”
Bluish-white sparks filled the night field at just about the same time as the large truck entered Amatsu Tunnel. Thanks to the chaos he had caused, he was not fired on during those devilish last few kilometers. He was now surrounded only by the distinctive series of orange lights.
“PMC Truck 01> This area was a wasteland which was later artificially developed into farmland. Remember that absorbent material that’s as sticky as natto? When the underground water mixes with that, its traits as a liquid change, so the high-voltage current can’t travel underground like you would expect. And if it can’t go down, it can only spread out across the surface.”
The hemispherical tunnel was three lanes in this one direction. That was plenty of room for a car chase.
“PMC Truck 01> Was that about half of them taken out? A real waste of ‘elites’ if you ask me.”
“Strawberry Garter> I’ll kill you.”
“PMC Truck 01> That wasn’t already your plan? You stole a peek at a piece of my Fallen friend’s thoughts, took one of his toys, and now you’re acting like it’s yours. And you used it to rob a blameless family of their future and steal a stadium for your own personal greed. I was going for the kill from the very beginning. Believe me.”
The static electricity feeling on his nose grew stronger.
The roar of an engine echoed through the tunnel. It was a fair bit higher pitched than Kaname’s truck. The two-person off-road motorcycles had finally gone in for a close-range battle. Infighting was not their specialty, but they must have wisely decided this was better than letting him clear Amatsu Tunnel and reach the city center.
Of course, the 20-ton truck weighed far more than the light off-road motorcycles. They could easily defeat themselves simply by clipping the corner of the container.
Instead of the motorcycles themselves, Kaname was focused on the weapons held by the Magisteri in the back seats.
(They can’t think simple assault rifles can take out such a large truck. The humans and Magisteri share their Skills, so they must be boosting their abilities with something.)
But that weight worked against Kaname too. Weaving to hit the off-road motorcycles without losing his own balance would be extremely difficult. And he was up against multiple opponents here. If he swerved to hit one and allowed another to slip past him on the opposite side, he could never swerve back in the other direction fast enough. The truck was large, but it could only aim for one target at a time.
And his opponents were armed with at least assault rifles. In the worst case, they would have an Inheritance-class Gatling gun. If they moved ahead of or to the side of the cabin, the door or glass would never survive and he would be Swiss cheese.
He could not fire back with his Short Spear short-range sniper rifle either. The truck’s steering wheel was too big to operate with a single hand, so it was all over if he allowed them past the cabin.
He had planned all of this out.
He been aware of the risks when he challenged them.
“This is where the real battle begins.”
The pre-established harmony had broken down.
Now the Leviathans were risking their lives as well. Even the slightest contact with the weaving truck would mean an instant Fall for those exposed bikers.
“Striker 1> Are you kidding me? That makeshift attack took out all the more experienced members. Asking them for advice was a waste of time if they can’t protect us common folk when it matters!”
“Hattori> We cannot withdraw. If we fail the quest we set up ourselves, we lose the castle. And we’re living it pretty nice using Leviathan Stadium.”
“Loli Pop> Then you make a diversion, Onii-chan. Maybe that old hag will give you the time of day if you risk your life.”
The roar of several engines passed by the giant mass of steel. With this many blind spots, they doubted their target would fight back with a gun. After hijacking the AI company’s truck, the enemy Dealer would be using the giant truck itself as a weapon.
They had a few off-roading Skills.
They also had the Anti-Vehicle Skill. The human Dealers were holding the handlebars, but their Skills were shared with their contracted Magisteri. It was worth choosing equipment that would help the demons wielding assault rifles from the back seats.
“Hattori> Okay, here goes. I’ll go left and the rest of you go right. Target the cabin from the side. I’m counting on you all to get a critical hit.”
“Striker 1> Wait, are you serious!? You really are a masochist, aren’t you!?”
“Loli Pop> You’re so dumb, Onii-chan. Don’t you know online romances only bring pain and misunderstandings?”
Regardless, one of the two-person off-road motorcycles moved out ahead. Hattori refused to waste the opportunity given him by the teammate who kept insulting him.
He controlled the bike while leaving the assault rifle with the demon in the back seat. The truck could only crush an approaching motorcycle on the left or the right, not both. Whether or not the truck reacted to this diversion, someone would make it past and could fire on the cabin.
Below the orange lights, Striker 1’s lightweight motorcycle cut between the container and the outer wall and moved up right alongside the driver’s side door. He was close enough to reach out and grab the door handle. Before the enemy Dealer could turn the large steering wheel, he gathered all his strength and commanded his brown mummy girl Magisterus.
“Bustier! Shoot him!!”
The first shot hit the driver’s side door.
And that was used as a basis for the Anti-Vehicle targeting correction. To increase the damage done to vehicles, the shots were clustered around a single hit point to tear into the existing wound and quickly break through the steel door. That might sound tricky, but throwing a bunch of bullets at the same spot to do more damage was the same basic concept behind a Gatling gun.
They really were a team.
It all led back to the #DragonGod.err that their boss, Strawberry Garter, had.
“This is not a problem, so focus on driving. You could use a higher courage stat, my adorable master.”
When the many bullets hit the door, bright sparks sprayed out right next to them and fine cracks ran through the reinforced glass window. Striker 1 felt something graze his nose, but was that a ricocheting bullet or a fragment of the door’s metal?
It really was Swiss cheese now.
No matter how much the enemy Dealer had curled up behind the door, he could not have escaped that thorough barrage.
The mangled door separated from the truck and fell onto the road flowing by so quickly below. The exposed cabin was the same as ever. The synthetic leather seat had some of its stuffing coming out, but that was all. It was all quite clean. There was no blood splattered across the interior and there was no gore torn from a corpse.
He was not there.
But where had he gone!?
Striker 1 looked up without thinking. Having his Magisterus fire on full-auto without considering how much ammo would be left over afterwards had increased his risk of death.
Had he used Acrobat, a Skill that boosted the workings of the inner ear, or Grip, a Skill that increased your grip strength? He had jammed a simple prop into the steering wheel and gas pedal to maintain the current speed while he left the cabin. He had climbed up. Up onto the roof. Because if he let go of the truck’s steering wheel, he could instead hold his short-range sniper rifle.
The thick barrel had a silencer built in and its open muzzle was silently staring at Striker 1.
The metallic clicking that replaced a gunshot sounded precisely twice.
Kaname did not even bother watching as the off-road motorcycle noisily tumbled backwards. With his tie flipping in the wind, he calmly climbed from the cabin’s roof and on top of the long container.
The Leviathans had assumed they could win this if they avoided being hit by the giant truck itself, but they were no match for him. It was like he was using a cutting-edge tank against some cavemen used to hunting down mammoths with spears.
Two shots to the right. One to the left.
(That should do it.)
His Lion’s Nose informed him of danger, but that inborn sense was fading away.
Kaname might use support Skills that provided bulletproofing or stress reduction, but he would not use ones that interfered with his shooting or driving that were directly linked to the fight. He found it more accurate to aim all on his own than using Auto-Aim.
Meanwhile, his enemy had been using the Anti-Vehicle Skill.
That was not a bad idea when targeting a large vehicle, but while using the Skill, any shot made after the first one would be automatically corrected to that location. When Kaname left the cabin like that, they had to remove the Skill and re-aim before they could fire on him.
The faster among them could correct for that in less than a second, but an opening was still an opening.
For one thing, they were living in a world of financial deals that went down in a ten thousandth of a second. A single second could easily be a life or death difference for a skilled Dealer.
(Skills are special powers that only exist in the game, but if you rely on them too much, you forget to work on the fundamentals and get taken advantage of. Your movements tend to get really predictable.)
It was all about balance.
Using tools was fine, but you could not let the tools use you.
After firing headshots on each driver in turn, the off-road motorcycles collapsed. The Magisteri in the back seats finally aimed their assault rifles up, but Kaname only had to get down. They were looking up at him, so the giant container functioned as a shield.
The Leviathans were using 10 off-road motorcycles and a single four-wheel-drive command vehicle to create an 11-vehicle team. The high-voltage current had taken out half of those and this gunfight had defeated another four.
When a human was shot to death, they had Fallen and were forcibly logged out for 24 hours. During that time, the other Dealers could devour their assets and send them into a hell of debt. When a Magisterus was shot to death, they were Downed and froze up like a stone statue. How long it took them to recover depended on the severity of their wounds, but it was an hour at the longest. But in such a high-speed and on-the-move battle, he could safely ignore them.
“One more bike.”
Using a bullet on them would be a waste. While still lying down on the container, Kaname tossed aside the empty magazine. Then he heard the loud crash of the off-road motorcycle falling over at high speed. It must have run over something odd on the road and slipped.
His Lion’s Nose sense returned slightly.
This was more about the truck than the motorcycles.
It was driving straight thanks to how he had set up the steering wheel and gas pedal, but the tunnel was not as straight as a runway the whole way through. He used a combination of Skills like Acrobat and Grip to easily hop back into the cabin before the truck crashed into a gradual curve.
The door was gone, the seat’s stuffing was coming out, the windshield was full of cracks, and its displays were dead. He shifted to using the support settings on the small screen of the car navigation system that was rarely used these days.
“Strawberry Garter> This isn’t over. We still have the Dragon God.”
“PMC Truck 01> I’m using a tiny screen now, so don’t fill it up with meaningless chatter.”
“Strawberry Garter> #DragonGod.err will kill you. You will die at the hands of the Leviathans!!”
“PMC Truck 01> Will I? Are you new at this? Nothing is certain in the world of Dealers. But anyway, I’ll take you out too. I can return the Leviathans to their rightful owners after that.”
Getting your opponent to lose their cool was an important strategy in one-on-one battles. Of course, anyone who specializes in sports, where heckling is common, should already know that, thought Kaname with a sigh.
The roar of an engine deeper than a motorcycle arrived from behind, but he honestly did not have time to worry about that.
Amatsu Tunnel’s exit was up ahead.
And several black bulletproof vehicles were parked there.
“I had a feeling Martini Air Conditioning’s soldiers would be lying in wait to pay us back!!”
He used the 20-ton weight of the truck to break through the bulletproof vehicle barricade.
He forced his way out of the tunnel.
A flood of light awaited him. He saw tall buildings towering into the sky and complexly intersecting elevated roads in between. This was a melting pot of every race and profession. A beautiful woman with enough wealth to boss entire nations around in the real world might come to this ideal world disguised in a cardboard home. A national idol might hide her identity here to enjoy a grand adventure of reckless promiscuity.
This was the center of the peninsula city.
As soon as they saw the truck, the bulletproof vehicles charged toward its container from the side. That was of course not enough to crash the truck, but it told Kaname that these were not the actions of humans who feared…no, who understood death. This was an AI-controlled PMC unit that decided what to do based entirely on work efficiency.
There were plenty of normal vehicles driving around here. In fact, he nearly ran into a small girl in a school swimsuit and witch hat who was riding a collapsible electric scooter. That skilled Dealer with short chestnut hair was known as Smash Daughter and she flipped him off while deftly avoiding a collision, which actually scared Kaname all the more.
“I’m gonna shove my *** up your *** until *** shoots out your asshole, you ***!!”
She looked like an elementary school girl, yet she let loose an obscene tirade. Nothing could be assumed safe in Money (Game) Master. Her skill with nonlethal stun equipment was the real deal, so he seriously hoped he had not earned an unnecessary grudge here.
Just then, the danger sense reached his Lion’s Nose.
It came from directly behind him. Calling it an explosive noise was not enough to describe what slammed into the city night and blew away the bulletproof PMC cavalry like they were made of tissue paper.
It was a fierce spray of gunfire.
A Gatling gun was firing 6000-7000 rounds a minute.
He finally saw his real enemy in the truck’s rearview camera. That large acrobatic buggy looked horribly out of place in the city center. It was in fact a four-wheel-drive automobile, but its silhouette was all wrong. The tires alone were taller than Kaname. The suspension looked like thick pillars and they held the actual buggy up higher than the truck.
“Strawberry Garter> If it’s not one thing, it’s another!”
“PMC Truck 01> If you’re going to try something, I’d hurry it up if I were you. Those shiny drone beetles aren’t going to stop this truck. I’m going to reach Biondetta Dome if you don’t hurry.”
“Strawberry Garter> You son of a bitch!!”
“PMC Truck 01> Oh, such a filthy mouth. Are you an old man back in reality?”
The corporate PMC units had different ranks, but the ones protecting corporate property were the highest level. Since the Leviathans had not directly attacked the construction site yet, Strawberry Garter must have known they could not bring down that castle in a head-on attack.
Leviathan Stadium would have its own PMCs, but they answered to the AI company and would do nothing outside of their contract. That meant they could not be deployed to attack Biondetta Dome. The Leviathans were aware of how frightening those PMCs were, but they could not use them themselves.
A real three-way battle had begun.
If this truck had the anti-PMC meter installed, it would likely be showing more than 100 gazes focused on him. But with his nose, Kaname did not need a machine to tell him the mechanical killer intent of the AI-controlled soldiers was directed his way.
The Martini Air Conditioning PMC knew they were under attack, so they aimed carbines from their armored vehicles’ windows, Strawberry Garter reduced their numbers with her Gatling gun, and the giant tires of the large buggy crushed and drove over the bulletproof vehicles she had failed to blow away already. Explosive flames blossomed after a short delay and idiots hoping to shoot a viral video aimed their cameras toward it all while driving around on modified single-person carts designed solely for handling.
If they were going to tag along, they had to look after themselves.
Kaname was just as vulnerable to a stray bullet with the windshield and driver’s side door missing, so he did not have the leeway to look after those onlookers.
“Here, I’ll give you something bound to get some views!!”
When a black bulletproof vehicle got carelessly close, he pushed it into a plaza fountain and then floored the large truck’s gas pedal.
The Biondetta Dome construction site was in sight.
“Strawberry Garter> The AIs are only the opening act. It’s always the humans who put on the real show.”
“Strawberry Garter> Lock. I’ll blow you away, you dumb Dealer!!”
Not even the large truck could protect him from that spray of Gatling gun bullets that seemed to tear through space itself. Or rather, even if he survived, the cargo would be destroyed. If he could not rattle the Leviathans, he could not retrieve Takamasa’s personal documents from them and he would have trouble searching for the Inheritance.
He made a decision.
Just as the Gatling gun opened fire from behind, he obeyed the tingling feeling of his Lion’s Nose by clenching his teeth and turning the steering wheel hard.
The rear container could not withstand the pull of this reckless act, so it slid perpendicular to the road and lifted up on one wheel. Then its own weight swung it around and the cabin in the front was lifted up.
There was no controlling the truck now.
But that was not a problem.
As long as #DragonGod.err’s lead rain severed the joint between cabin and container.
Once the container was freed from the excess weight, it flew. It scraped across the asphalt and flying sparks trailed after it like a shooting star’s tail. It knocked down several palm trees along the side of the road, broke through the stainless steel soundproofing wall surrounding the construction site and entered the area beyond.
It entered Biondetta Dome’s construction site.
“Strawberry Garter> Wha-!?”
“PMC Truck 01> Mission complete.”
Kaname had already lost control, but he still slammed on the brake pedal. With a scream like the tires being burned away, the unshapely back end of the cabin jerked up and tore through the bumper of Strawberry Garter’s large buggy.
The driver’s side door and windshield were already gone. Kaname had also not been wearing a seatbelt.
The force of the crash must have thrown him out of the truck. He felt the roughness of asphalt on his cheek and his vision was tilted on its side. Everything smelled like burning diesel. Nevertheless, his right hand still held the short-range sniper rifle like it had a life of its own.
He was all too aware of death.
And of the rules of this world where a bullet had so easily killed Criminal AO, his good friend Takamasa.
He used a trembling hand to grab and remove his tie and put on another tie with an identical design but a different Skill. That kind of effort was useful in preventing people from determining his Skills based on his appearance. Of course, he had to be careful to ensure he did not confuse himself in the process. If he threw them all in the washing machine together, he could never tell them apart.
That Skill had the highest rarity level of 10 and it was so convenient it had become a target of speculation.
By placing an upper cap on the amplitude of your pain signals, it literally halved the pain your entire body could feel.
The pain faded away like he had turned down a dial, but should he rejoice at that fact or somewhat fear it? He was aware how much he was growing accustomed to these game-only effects. You never knew where these devilish traps were laid.
But it was not over yet.
He may have gotten the special air conditioning equipment onto Biondetta Dome’s grounds, but the Dealer vs. Dealer conflict had yet to be settled.
He felt an explosive pain in his Lion’s Nose.
A figure moved in the corner of his vision.
It was Strawberry Garter, the person who had stolen a piece of Takamasa’s Inheritance. The woman wore a tight skirt suit colored pink and white and just one of her slender hands wielded a multi-barrel Gatling gun like it was made of styrofoam. That had to be #DragonGod.err. Her other hand held a large boxy object larger than a suitcase with a belt-shaped tube attached. She held it like it too had no weight, but it was definitely a humongous box magazine.
He was not Midori, so he could not read all the Skills her clothing and accessories gave her.
He did not have time to listen for the individual gunshots.
It sounded like a single deep boom extended endlessly. Anti-materiel rounds thicker than his thumb were sprayed out at a rate of 6000 or 7000 a minute with enough force to tear through bulletproof vehicles and asphalt. Rolling or hiding behind cover would not save Kaname at this point. Any shield would only be torn apart like a sponge along with him.
And yet the Dealer boy survived. Because…
“Tch!! Pay parking!?”
The woman shouted in a way that defied her intellectual appearance.
A parking meter stood next to the car on the side of the road. And any vehicle in a parking lot could not be stolen or destroyed, even if it was a light car or scooter. That Gatling gun’s horizontal storm of bullets could tear through an armored truck or attack helicopter like they were tissue paper, but its attack was deflected by a barrier-like wall of light. Not a single window was broken.
Kaname did not have time to check her face.
That thing was far different from the many Skills.
Just one piece of the Inheritance was enough to control the scene and change the rules or the win conditions of the game.
In order to drive him out from behind cover, a dog-eared Magisterus carelessly tried to circle behind him, so he shot her with his short-range sniper rifle. She held a sawed-off shotgun and she appeared to be an Empusa. His silenced .45 caliber round hit the demon in the very center of her chest, but he was not about to relax yet.
(The Magisterus will recover within an hour even if she’s Downed, so she was disposable. Was she checking my accuracy?)
This meant he had revealed information about himself without getting any in return. The human and the Magisterus shared Skills. If he had waited longer to kill her, he may have been able to figure out what Skills Strawberry Garter had equipped.
Kaname was ducked low to stay behind the sports car, but to reiterate, he could not steal it. He glanced around and spotted another vehicle protected in the same way.
His opponent had stopped firing.
She must have decided continuing to shoot would not help. Gatling guns were definitely destructive, but they were known for their poor “fuel efficiency” since even 6000 or 7000 rounds would be used up in a minute. Keeping track of your remaining ammo was standard for Dealers, but he doubted she was counting that stream of bullets on her own. She had to have a digital counter on a smart watch linked to her phone, but that number would double as her remaining life. Once she had fired them all, Kaname’s counterattack would begin. Even the most famous Dealer would Fall if they took a bullet between the eyes. And she had already revealed Kaname’s reaction speed when he had instantly killed the nervous puppy of a Magisterus.
Thus, they were both in search of a different method.
After climbing into a large special vehicle, Kaname smashed the plastic cover below the steering wheel and connected a few wires there.
The engine had the deep roar of diesel, so this was no racing vehicle. It was a crane truck colored entirely yellow.
After turning onto a wide runway-like road, he passed by a similarly large vehicle. Strawberry Garter was driving a firetruck. The driver’s seat was positioned differently from a normal vehicle, so he lost his chance to pull the trigger and blow her brains out while passing by. And without her Magisterus, she must not have been able to use both the large steering wheel and the Gatling gun at the same time. After he drove about 100m down the long straight road, he yanked on the hand brake and made a 180-degree turn as if making a roundhouse kick. This was very different from his usual coupe, so that alone just about tilted him up on one side.
They were facing each other once more.
The crane had its arm and the firetruck its ladder.
When they re-engaged the clutch and slammed down the gas pedal, those 10-ton horses raced toward each other. In this case, the arm and ladder functioned as a knight’s lance. The AI-controlled PMCs in their black bulletproof vehicles continued to swarm the battlefield, but the two large trucks knocked those out of the way like they were cardboard boxes. Kaname muttered to himself while struggling with the large steering wheel.
“Time for the world’s largest joust.”
This took more than just hitting each other with the crane arm or firetruck ladder. If they tried hitting from the side, the steal beam of an arm would readily break and the truck itself would lose its balance and roll over. Plus, arms and ladders like this were not meant to be extended while the truck was moving. Normally, supporting legs would be used to lift the truck itself above the asphalt so it would not lose its balance and roll.
They had to carefully control the wheel to essentially pierce the end of the arm straight into the driver’s seat.
Whichever side failed to do that would be the one to Fall.
The risk was great, but he could not back down. He had to retrieve the entire Inheritance to save Tselika, Takamasa, his sister, Midori, and other people he knew from the clutches of the AI society. Also, Strawberry Garter’s group had the list made from the stolen loose-leaf notes full of Takamasa’s thoughts. He also could not ignore the Umibe family who had fallen into despair after having the stadium and club team taken from them. Midori had said she wanted to rid the world of the unfairness plaguing it.
After falling into debt, she had “gone AI” and left all her living expenses to the machines, but she had delayed dealing with that pain in order to help someone else who was crying.
If she said she was doing that, then Kaname would do it too.
He would protect his friend’s sister just as that friend had once protected his sister.
He had sworn to himself he would.
So he did not hesitate to view the quickly approaching clash.
He did not have to show it off. He just had to do it.
He turned the giant steering wheel, but not to control the weaving truck. The two jousters pushed and pulled their arm and ladder and moved the tip around. Kaname and Strawberry Garter even included feints in their movements as they floored the gas pedals. They were locked in a battle to the death, yet they gave a roar in complete unison here.
A ridiculously powerful impact followed.
Kaname’s vision shook up and down and he nearly forgot about the real flow of time for a moment.
But he clenched his teeth.
It was too soon to pass out.
The windshield in front of him had gone pure white from all the cracks, but that was because it was made to shatter into small pieces if it was hit. The firetruck ladder had not broken through it.
He had avoided the end of the ladder at the last second and used the corner of the crane truck’s boxy cabin to deflect the duralumin ladder to the side.
The large firetruck’s windshield was indeed shattered. The end of the crane’s arm had pierced straight through it.
His cross counter had worked.
But the pain in his nose remained.
(Did I miss her!?)
Strawberry Garter had swung her head to the side and avoided the crane arm at the last second. The metal arm had pierced diagonally through the windshield, so it had blown away the passenger seat with torn stuffing flying.
Kaname focused on the new tie he had put on. Its Reduce Pain Skill had the highest rarity level of 10. It was so convenient that it was a target of speculative dealings for the Dealers, but that had led him to be slow in handling the steering wheel.
The slow motion of the world around him returned to normal speed.
The entire crane truck twisted. It was rising up with the arm still grabbed. This was due to the abnormal head-on collision. He had avoided having his head crushed by the firetruck ladder, but his truck still could not endure the impact. To reiterate, the arm was not made to be extended while the truck was in motion. The truck was already in an unstable state, so what happened when the end of the arm was caught on an obstacle?
A second accident occurred.
Both the crane truck and firetruck rose up, left their straight path, and charged toward the sidewalk. The crane arm bent into a shallow V-shape while the firetruck ladder broke off halfway up and flew away. Kaname’s crane truck was deflected by the barrier surrounding someone’s car in a pay parking spot on the side of the road, so it was pushed back into the road while rolling onto its side.
Day or night, it did not matter.
There was no place for him in the real world either. An AI company was supposed to maintain your normal life even if you went bankrupt, but that was all a lie. When he went to school, he was surrounded by mocking looks. At home, he never knew when one of his father’s former friends would storm in and yell at them all.
Since he had no place there, he had fled to the virtual world.
But there was no freedom in Money (Game) Master either.
He could only sit on a graffiti-covered bench next to a rusty old payphone and looked up at toxically illuminated Leviathan Stadium. No matter how hard he worked as a janitor there, he could not rid it of the filth covering it.
But then he heard the roar of a large motorcycle engine.
“You’re a weird person. What’s so fun about coming to see some indebted kid with no future?”
Hekireki Midori had stopped by Leviathan Stadium instead of Biondetta Dome. There was no more support she could provide, so she had no reason to remain in that service station on the outskirts.
“Since you’re here, you have a Magisterus, don’t you? If not, a phone works too.”
A beautiful woman approached from the behind the bench after seemingly blending into the background until now. Her movement was not quite the same as bipedal walking.
“You called for me, master?”
“I have failed to read your oral command. Please speak in a simpler fashion in the future.”
…She spoke politely enough, but she did not seem like the type he could have a frank discussion with. Midori was a rookie herself, but she began to wonder what caused these differences between Magisteri. Did they have different personalities to begin with, or was it all in how they were trained?
She tried holding up her smartphone but was shocked to see some weird word written in the alphabet. It did not look like English spelling.
“She’s a Vouivre. Never heard of them? She looks almost human, but she’s technically a French dragon.”
Midori had not expected for an elementary school boy to know more than her.
Did they appear in a video game or card game?
This Vouivre(?) Magisterus’s upper body was almost identical to an adult woman’s, but her lower body was that of a giant serpent covered in scales and she had bat-like wings growing from her back. She wore a blue outfit reminiscent of a cheerleader, but that might have been the cheer uniform for the old Leviathans.
“My name is Chandeletta. It is a pleasure to meet you.”
“Hi. I have my reasons, so just think of me as Miss Anonymous.”
“I have failed to read your oral command.”
“She greets me and then rejects me!? I think she’s more broken than my Meiki!”
Anyway, Money (Game) Master’s more gamey side could be seen in how someone looking like her could blend into the background. No one was surprised to see what looked like a monster walking around.
“There’s nothing I can use her for. Cause I don’t know how to make money.”
“Are you sure about that?”
A light electronic tone sounded.
The patterns on the Magisterus’s cheer uniform suddenly changed. A series of numbers scrolled rapidly by. Even if you did not know the specifics, you would be able to tell she had connected to the network and displayed the news on her clothes.
“Breaking!! New Management for the Leviathans Soccer Club Team?
“Multiple sources have confirmed that the new Biondetta Dome has entered the final stage of its troubled construction. This will negatively affect the Leviathans, so their primary sponsor AI company has decided to replace the current management, including the current owner, Strawberry Garter. Details of the new management are unknown at this time, but it is possible the previous owner, Umibe Tatsuo, will be brought back to help regain stability.”
For a while, the boy was so taken aback he seemed to forget the reality around him.
“It is more than just possible,” said Midori in her frilly black gothic bikini and miniskirt atop her large red leaf-pattern motorcycle. This information was already confirmed. “That will happen. That much I can guarantee you. You need to give the old players a call because you’re about to be very busy.”
The boy’s mouth flapped wordlessly.
He looked like he had no idea how to accept this good fortune that had suddenly fallen upon him. That was how it was with people who felt so cornered and had become permeated with misfortune. Hekireki Midori knew the feeling herself. When she had boarded that cruise ship and started fighting all on her own, she had gone as far as firing on the boy who had come to save her.
“B-but Leviathan Stadium doesn’t have long once Biondetta Dome is completed, right? Then what’s the point of getting the team back?”
“That won’t happen.” She responded so quickly it was obvious she had expected this question. “We only helped out Biondetta Dome to apply pressure to the immoral team. Now that this decision has been made, we have no need for them. If the construction won’t be complete in time for the Misaka World Fair in two years, they’ll back out because it isn’t worth the cost, right? The ground in this area is already full of tunnels and weak to vibrations. Vibrations like the cheers and stomping feet of tens of thousands of fans. If someone pretends to get involved in the subway development and alters the route of construction just a bit, it will all fall apart. And that group isn’t powerful enough to mess with the traffic infrastructure. Not without their Gatling gun anyway.”
“You helped us? Using the subway? Then…all this was you!?”
“No.” Black-twintailed Midori denied it with a smile. “I’ve ‘gone AI’ just like you. I don’t have the money for something like that.”
“He says saving people isn’t something you show off to others.”
Nothing more was needed.
She twisted the large motorcycle’s throttle lever and spoke her parting words.
“But not everyone agrees with that. That was my brother’s reasoning, not mine, so on occasion, I’ll make an appearance. Without telling them, of course☆”
Kaname was inside the rolled crane truck.
He felt so much pain his vision was going dark, but he still grabbed his Short Spear short-range sniper rifle.
“This isn’t over yet. I need to end it.”
The windshield was white with cracks, but it still maintained its original shape. It was a piece of construction equipment, after all. He doubted a small bullet would be enough to open a hole large enough to crawl through.
He gave up on that pointless effort and instead climbed out of the driver’s side door that was opening and closing directly above him. The many black bulletproof vehicles were just driving away. Their objective was the stolen truck loaded with their cargo. Whether they had succeeded or failed, their job was over once their objective was gone. Even if the culprit was right in front of them, they would ignore him if he was not set as their target.
But the tingling feeling on his nose remained. His Lion’s Nose was telling him of danger.
This was stronger than before.
The one who blocked his way with the flames of several exploding vehicles behind her was another human Dealer.
The intellectual woman wore a white and pink suit, but she carried herself as unnaturally as Kaname right now. She could barely support her own weight, yet she easily lifted the multi-barreled Gatling gun with a single hand. Her other hand held the giant box magazine with belt-shaped hose attached. You would have thought they were both plastic toys with the way she held them.
That was a piece of the Inheritance left by Criminal AO, Takamasa.
No matter how much money you spent to deck yourself out in all the best Skills, you could not hope to match the true magic of those Over Tricks.
Kaname responded by aiming his Short Spear short-range sniper rifle at her. At this range and with no armor, the type of gun and the caliber were irrelevant. Whoever hit the other first would kill their opponent.
“Martini Air Conditioning’s special equipment has safely reached Biondetta Dome’s construction site. Nothing you do here can stop the completion of the new dome.”
“No, I suppose not.”
“I wonder what your primary sponsor AI company thinks of this. Why not check the online news displayed on that wall over there? Is there any reason to continue fighting here? You cannot protect your castle – that stadium – and all your elites have Fallen. Were they your players? Or your trainers? Either way, you can’t maintain your team made by gathering people with the eyes of hitmen. You have no choice but to return the Leviathans to their original owner.”
“I no longer care about that.”
Her voice sounded like a curse.
She threw the suitcase-sized box magazine to the ground, pulled out a phone with a cracked screen, viewed her own face in the reflection like it was a mirror, and then tossed the useless mobile device aside. She had given up on some kind of ritual. Glaring at Kaname took precedence over some belief of hers.
But Kaname smiled a little.
“This is the first I’ve actually seen you, but you’re not half bad looking.”
“People like you are always taking things from me. You use the power of money to take away the things I innocently believed were indestructible!!”
Kaname did not know exactly who or what she was referring to, but most of the people who got hooked on Money (Game) Master would have a painful encounter with the unfair side of this world of complete freedom. Just like the Umibe family had lost their club team and Kaname had lost his irreplaceable friend.
“I won’t make any excuses.”
“You claim to have a righteous cause, but you took from others too. …I stole back the club team from your filthy hands because that belongs to the Umibe family. But I’m not done yet. Give it all back. I will be taking back Takamasa’s Inheritance too. As well as all the personal documents you must have used to acquire it. You don’t get to use that by claiming he’s a thing of the past!!”
It was a tense situation.
One side was going to kill the other. They would Fall.
Or maybe the most likely possibility was mutual destruction.
Nevertheless, neither Kaname nor Strawberry Garter stopped.
Helping people was not something you showed off to others.
It was possible this woman secretly carried something in her heart that made it worth leading that immoral team and protecting that stadium she viewed as a castle.
But it was too late to think on that now.
The sea breeze blew in.
If the blazing fires around them burst just a little, a deadly shootout would begin.
Maybe it was inappropriate, but that tingling feeling on the tip of his nose felt somehow pleasant.
Kaname breathed in an out.
Strawberry Garter had not blinked for a while now.
A small blue dot of light danced at the center of Strawberry Garter’s chest.
This felt different from before.
His Lion’s Nose sense twisted unnaturally.
For the first time, Strawberry Garter did not seem to understand what was happening. She reacted like she had found a meat sauce stain on her white blouse, but then she finally looked back up at Kaname.
“A sniper, hm? It seems you were a step ahead of me here. And I hate you for it. How far head did you predict my actions?
“No, this isn’t me. I didn’t place anyone in this area!”
“It doesn’t matter.”
She did not let it stop her.
Strawberry Garter’s right hand hopped up with the Gatling gun in its grasp.
A sizzling danger sense burned at the tip of Kaname’s nose.
This time it was really happening.
A dry gunshot rang out.
Kaname immediately leaped behind the rolled crane truck. As for Strawberry Garter…
(She didn’t make it.)
The danger sense in his nose quietly faded.
A gruesome wound gaped at the center of her luxury suit’s chest. He had not actually recovered the crushed bullet and checked, but it had to have been quite heavy. He doubted it was a normal 7.62mm. It was probably tungsten steel and maybe something even heavier. In the worst case, it could even be depleted uranium. That way it would punch through someone’s vitals even if they were wearing a bulletproof vest or had equipped a bulletproofing Skill.
The collapsed body had stopped even convulsing in death. A merciless amount of blood was spreading across the road. With her chest obliterated, he could not even attempt CPR. The toy-like Gatling gun, #DragonGod.err, lay next to the corpse. He had to retrieve at least that.
That had not been Midori or Tselika. They had been prepared to do some sniping if necessary, but the weapon used here had to have been derived from an assault rifle. The bullet velocity had been too slow for a specialized sniper rifle like #FiringLine.err. Although that may have been why whoever-it-was relied on such a heavy bullet.
They had fired down from a height of 30m at a point 250m to the west-northwest.
That was close range for sniping.
They had apparently relied on a laser pointer, but that suggested they were not also using the crosshairs of a scope. That would mean overlapping functions and, as convenient as a laser pointer was, it could inform the target in advance and allow them to dodge out of the way. And even if they could not manage anything as valiant as that, they could still panic and trip, causing the sniper shot to miss. The scope was the better option if you wanted to remain stealthy, but this person had gone out of their way to use a laser pointer. That did not seem like a logical decision to Kaname. Perhaps using a fancy scope or specialized sniper rifle at such close range would have hurt their pride as a sniper.
But when Kaname checked from behind cover, he did not just see a single rooftop; he saw a row of countless windows. It was the kind of resort apartment found everywhere in Summer City. And since it was in the perfect position to view both Leviathan Stadium and Biondetta Dome…
(Isn’t that the same building I had a hideout in!?)
He had no idea who this was, but the sniper had arrived surprisingly “close”.
And a quick look through his short-range sniper rifle’s scope was not enough to tell which window they had used. Even if he risked his life and rushed to the building now, the sniper could disguise themselves as a guest at a noisy late-night party and walk right past him.
His Lion’s Nose had already gone silent.
Had they left?
Or did they have some kind of concealment ability that could fool even his nose? If so, he doubted it was reliant on simple Skills. They would have to polish up their fundamentals to accomplish that.
Unsure of anything, he could not move from behind cover for a while.
(Who was that?)
His goal had been to rattle Strawberry Garter who led the Leviathans. He could not negotiate with or threaten her if she was dead. He probably would have ended up killing her regardless in that quickdraw shootout, but he could not help but look at things differently now.
If he had the Umibe family open their recovered club team’s office safe, he might be able to get the list. No, he could not think about it as a reward. He would have to force his way in there and take it.
Because a new threat had shown itself.
What if every new owner of the list turned up dead?
He could not force that risk onto the father and son he had supposedly saved.
So his group would bear the risk instead.
(Who was that weird mismatched sniper!?)
(Operation Dark Web – Lady Ghost <This region is being randomly camouflaged>)
“Lilikiska> I did what you asked, but he is not going to be happy.”
“Criminal AO> Good work. Sorry I keep forcing such dangerous jobs onto you. It was a lot different from the #FiringLine.err anti-materiel rifle, wasn’t it? Although not even the #SoaringSwallow.err assault rifle can handle every situation.”
“Lilikiska> You’re trying to gather your Inheritance, aren’t you?”
“Criminal AO> Yes, although I would prefer you called them my Magic.”
“Lilikiska> Then wouldn’t it be easier to leave him be for a while and attack him after he had gathered your Inheritance himself?”
“Criminal AO> Make no mistake here. I have no intention of harming Kaname or Midori. In fact, my Magic is quite dangerous. I made them, so I would know. And that danger is why I want to take them from the people I care for. Before they get burned.”
“Criminal AO> After being driven from the entirety of the AI society, I know best of all just how much danger my Magic carries. You know the cliché: I’d make an enemy of the entire world for you! But take it from me: it isn’t that exciting when you actually do it. I can’t let my friend or sister experience that same suffering.”
“Lilikiska> How devoted of you. But it sounds like you have an idealized vision of your friend and sister.”
“Criminal AO> What are you trying to say?”
“Lilikiska> Suou Kaname and Hekireki Midori are human beings, not AI-controlled Magisteri. If they do something that betrays your expectations, how are you going to feel after all this self-sacrifice no one ever asked for?”
“Criminal AO> …”
“Lilikiska> I just hope your feelings don’t transform into selfish hatred, O – ni – i – sa – ma.”
Chapter 5: A New Form of Late-Night Television – BGM #05 “Killer Stunt”.
The message has been sent.
Server Name: Psi Indigo. Starting Location: Summer City, Peninsula City.
Welcome to Money (Game) Master, Suou Kaname.
“What, you aren’t going to drink anything, Kaname-kun? This is a city of cars and guns, so surely you aren’t going to claim you’re too much of a goody two shoes to try some of these colorful drinks. This is all just a game, so ignore the restrictions of your physical body and enjoy the virtual reality.”
“I’m more worried about that mysterious powder you slipped in my drink, Frey(ja).”
“What!? Pointing that out is just rude, Kaname-kun! You might as well be revealing the trick in the middle of a magic show!!”
“I am never eating or drinking anything you offer me.”
They were in a bar in the peninsula city.
It was midday, so instead of frothy drinks and colorful cocktails, the bar was serving more of an all-ages lineup to earn some money at lunchtime.
Even so, the clientele was a little too uniform. Other than Kaname, everyone was a man or woman in a gorgeous suit or dress. And this man(?) was of course at the center of it all. A simple lunch was a risky proposal when it came to him.
He ran a pawnshop, made a solid profit off of the dealings in Summer City’s peninsula city (mostly from gambling and collateral on debts), and he led the powerful team named Treasure Hermit Crab. Since the Snow virtual currency could be exchanged for the real yen, he essentially had the same influence as an international gang or mafia leader.
He wore a fancy white jacket and had long blonde hair that helped him immediately stand out wherever he was.
That handsome man with heterochromia and a mole below one eye would have been perfect if not for the sleazy smile on his face.
His home base was supposedly the giant submarine that traversed the rivers and culverts underneath the city, but he would emerge into the sunlight like this on occasion. And it seemed the sun’s rays were not enough to change who he was. In fact, this bar may have been a piece of real estate he had been given as the pawnshop king.
He used love and romance to judge all things.
The fact that he had become one of the richest people in the world that way showed how much of a monster he was.
At the moment, he clasped his white-gloved hands in front of his face in a begging pose.
“You agreed to leave your Magisterus behind and meet me, so I was expecting to make some real progress this time. So how about it? Why not pretend you didn’t see that and gulp down that drink?”
“If you aren’t into this male body, shall I change to a female one? Hell, you can choose the top and bottom separately if you like.”
“This isn’t about that. Hey, stop it, Frey(ja)! Change back to normal. It’s distracting!”
“Back to normal? Don’t act like you know who the real me is. But if you hop in bed with me, I could spend all night teaching you. I don’t mind at all that you have a cute little girlfriend! Now, Kaname-kun, shall we have a secret love affair?”
The lovely man(?) whose white suit would transform into a wedding dress and back again pouted his lips at Kaname’s scolding tone and he spoke in a troubled tone himself.
“The thing is, I thought I had covered most every form of love – man and woman, woman and man, man and man, woman and woman – but the path of love has such great depth and breadth I have yet to master. If none of those pairings does it for you, then…yes, you have found a wonderfully sinful position for yourself there.”
“Frey(ja), hold on. Why are you giving me such a heated look there?”
“Do not worry about a thing! I will accept true love and romance no matter what form it takes!! It is the heart that matters! In fact, I would like to learn from you. Do you care more about age than gender? Or are you only into it when there are clearly-defined dom and sub positions? Oh, or is it not about the people at all? Perhaps it is the costumes or situations that do it for you? Whatever the case, I want to know what the world looks like through your eyes!!”
“I would really like to get down to business. If there is a ticket to skip this nonsense, I’ll buy it. Just name your price.”
“Oh, but this is my real business. Helping you is just an excuse.”
That person with heterochromia had settled on being a sexy woman. It was unclear how serious she(?) was about all this, but once she was done speaking, she slowly sat back down.
And instead of using the stools at the counter, she sat on a nearby suitcase.
A dull thumping and muffled groaning came from within.
“Oh? I thought you wanted to get down to business? I hate dragging work issues into my personal life, but she needed to be punished. She really should have checked the online urban legends to get an idea of what happens to people who try to earn some quick cash by bringing counterfeits to my pawnshop.”
That explained why the leader of Treasure Hermit Crab had left her submarine to walk around in public.
That had seemed strange since it normally cost a million Snow to even enter the sub.
The reddish-purple slime Magisterus wearing a sailor uniform by the bar’s entrance glanced over at Kaname and gave a quick bow in her master’s stead. She was carrying a rocket launcher over her shoulder. Specifically, it was one with a honeycomb-like series of more than 20 launch tubes that would normally be attached to an attack helicopter. With that kind of firepower, she only had to fire wildly to not just push back but utterly destroy a tank.
There were no police in Money (Game) Master.
You could easily do things that were simply not an option in real life, but you also had to accept the risks found in the results. Frey(ja) had enough money to arm herself with enough firepower to take out a tank, but the envy and grudges her money earned her also meant she could not walk around outside without that kind of defense. The more money you earned, the higher the difficulty level of this game.
Wedding dress Frey(ja) lounged on her 120% suspicious chair and smiled in a way that moved the sexy mole under her eye.
“The trick is to drag this all around the city without locking it. For people like her, working up their unseen shame is a far more powerful medicine than any direct physical blows. Kaname-kun, please restrain your bizarre righteousness here. Heh heh. I mean, being seen like that would be far more embarrassing than if she were simply naked. Open that suitcase here, and the modest madam curled up within would might just impulsively kill herself. But if no one actually sees her, it ends well for everyone.”
Well, Suou Kaname was not a philanthropist. If this was an undeserved punishment, it might be something to not be shown off to others, but he had no real reason to rescue them if they had done something to deserve it. That sounded cold, but whoever-it-was should have calculated the risks of what would happen if they actually did whatever they wanted in Money (Game) Master.
“Don’t kill her.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it. The suitcase is made to give her air and she has a water bottle and cooling spray in there with her. And the spray uses a non-flammable gas, so it cannot be detonated by static electricity. Come now, Kaname-kun, surely you know the real fun here is scorching the core of their body with shame.”
“Then can we finally get down to business?”
“I do love how you place such clear divisions between topics. Called Game might no longer exist, but you must still carry some of the grim reaper within you.”
The beautiful blonde woman(?) chuckled and crossed her long legs atop her suitcase. She rested her elbow on the counter in a way that placed her large breasts on it as well.
“If you are talking about that team, then they have indeed been buying up various products recently. They have primarily been using my pawnshops to make purchases. Would you like a detailed list of products?”
“No. Knowledge of the activity is enough.”
“Although it seems they are not dumb enough to try to sell the Inheritance directly. If they did, they would be attacked either when they entered or left the shop.”
“They must have thought up a better way of using it.”
“Do you think they have another list, even if it is a copy?”
“Maybe so, maybe not. Either way, they die has been cast.”
That was all Kaname said.
“I can make use of either option. And Money (Game) Master has a way of dragging you into things like that, doesn’t it?”
It was past three PM and the sun was still bright.
Several small islands were connected to the land and sea by a loop of road, creating an overall shape similar to a necklace or rosary. One of those was known as Mangrove Island. It had a scorching sandy beach, palm trees, and bright tropical flowers. A log house had been built as a hideout within that secret flower garden.
The activity there was not happening in the garage next to the house.
The most prominent sound was a lot like a vacuum cleaner, but it was quite the opposite. A portable air compressor was being used to blow all the sand and dust off of the surface of a car.
“Hm, hmm, hm, hm, hm, hmm.”
A mint green coupe had been dragged out below the bright sun that could not be fully hidden by the fluffy cumulonimbus clouds. Race Queen Demon Tselika was bent over and pressing a wet sponge against the hood. There was a bucket of water at her feet and she was spreading wax thinly across the car while humming and slightly wiggling her butt with the rhythm.
“There, there. Good boy. Let’s get you all cleaned up, shall we?☆”
Since her stupid master had no love at all for this car and only seemed interested in messing with his guns and his best friend’s little sister, he might not understand how fun this could be, but Tselika would perform maintenance on the car whenever she had some spare time. Good maintenance put the car in a good mood. They might never say a word, but if you poured love into them, they would give you superb handling in return. They were so unbearably adorable. Yes, cars demanded love!!
She badly wanted a friend who loved cars as much as she did.
Dark Elf Cindy, Suou Kaname’s sister Ayame’s partner, had been a wonderful rival who was all about driving and maintaining cars, but there was no point in thinking back on what had been lost.
“Phew, that should do it. And while I wait for it to dry…”
Anyone could polish up the windshield, but the side windows were surprisingly important. Not to mention the sideview mirrors. Camera footage of the view behind the car could be displayed on the windshield these days, but Kaname had a tendency to focus on the rearview mirror and sideview mirrors instead. Letting them get dirty would be as distracting as having someone else’s fingerprints all over your glasses. She started by breathing on them to somewhat dry them and rubbing on cleaner and then anti-fog. She finally used her slender fingertips to adjust the angle of the sideview mirrors while making sure not to touch the actual mirrors.
“Okay, I am looking beautiful again today. That should be polished up enough.”
“Quiz Platinum Billion is seeking viewers. Hey, you there. Yeah, you. The one with nothing to do but eat and sleep in your room. Ever wanted to watch the largest quiz show in the business live and in real-time!? Our next show – with a billion Snow on the line – begins tonight at 7, so if you have Tap TV…”
(The battery is working too. The charge isn’t rapidly dropping either.)
Mass media running an ad for an online show might seem like suicide, but they were probably financially linked in some way or another. Tselika crouched down while listening to the FM radio playing from the car’s stereo. While her crouched pose accentuated the roundness of her shapely butt through her clothes, she pulled a pen light from her cleavage and held it in her mouth. She was looking through the aluminum wheel grate.
“Hm, the brake shoe is still fine. No scorching at all. Good, good. Looks like it paid off to get those disks made by mixing volcanic rock with ceramics.)
After all, that car was used for car chases that involved a lot of rapid braking and drifting at speeds of 300-400km/h. Braking would create enough frictional heat for the inside of the wheel to glow bright red. And a capable woman knew how to keep her legs looking good. She was naturally worried about that area. The water droplets on the surface of the body would dry quickly under the sun, but she was glad she had yet to soak the car in its final washing. She felt restless in the core of her body as she pulled two jacks out of the garage, lifted up the car, and climbed underneath while lying on her back.
“I hope my chest doesn’t get caught.”
A mass of steel weighing several hundred kilograms was just a few dozen centimeters above her. That was a lot of pressure, but the word Succubus came from a word meaning “to lie beneath”. She actually liked having that great pressure weighing down on her. The mental pressure helped improve her mood.
“Whoa, there’s a fair amount of sand and dried mud caked on here. Well, you leave me no choice, you wild thing. I’ll just have to polish up every last part of you!”
No one would ever see that part, but that was not what mattered. It was the same as how a girl might wear sexy underwear with no intention of showing it off to anyone.
Magisterus Tselika had three reasons for not performing this maintenance in the safe and air-conditioned garage.
1. The chemical smells of the wax and cleaner would build up.
2. Cars were meant to be shown off. It was best to wash and maintain it while she could see the colors as they would appear under real sunlight.
3. To prevent her from getting carried away and dismantling every last component to polish it all. Kaname had not been happy with her when she did that once. Although as a fellow engineer type, Criminal AO had held his sides and laughed his ass off.
With a spray bottle of cleaner and a rag in hand, Tselika ended up with white bubbles all over herself and even on her face while she smiled like a small child wanting their parent’s praise for helping out.
“Okay, master, I hope you’re ready for a real surprise.”
So what did Suou Kaname do? He plopped his butt down on the hood with his metal-zippered wallet in his back pocket to eat the burger meal he had bought nearby (with a 5% discount for declining a plastic straw). With grease and mayo dripping from the sides of the burger, dressing on the mini-salad, ketchup and mustard on the fries, and a vanilla shake in a paper cup, it was about as dangerous a meal as you could get.
“What’s wrong, Tselika? Why are you covering your face and trembling?”
“Just leave me alone, you stupid, stupid master.”
They were in the parking lot of a city park near the burger shop. Some wife dealer and Magisterus must have changed into tennis wear to chase a ball around because they could hear a light thocking sound from here. Fishing, racing, golf, and darts. Anything was possible in Money (Game) Master, so it could also be seen as a collection of all possible minigames. There was enough freedom here to rival the full list of online games in an app store.
And that meant there were plenty of ways to make money and plenty of ways to lose it.
Kaname glanced down at the mobile watch linked with his phone to see Summer City was sunny yet again today. The humidity was low and the wind was blowing in from the south-southwest, so it was not all that unpleasant even in the sun. …Incidentally, that was also the kind of data a sniper would use. This was quite a convenient age.
“Frey(ja) was acting far too suspiciously for me to eat anything there. And I bought you a fish burger since you have such weird tastes, but food goes bad quick in the year-round sun of Summer City, so I’ll eat it if you don’t get to it soon.”
“That I will take!!”
Tselika was desperate now.
She placed her shapely butt next to Kaname’s and roughly grabbed the paper-wrapped burger.
“And don’t call my tastes weird. How could any combination be better than fried fish and tartar sauce?”
“Don’t give me that look!! If your tastes are so great, what is that you’re eating?”
“Double beef patties with black pepper.”
“Just salt and pepper? Where’s your sense of adventure? At least get some salsa on it. Now, if you insist that’s so great, then give me a bite so I can see.”
Tselika stole a sizable bite of Kaname’s burger with her small mouth and ate her fries after dipping them in her burger’s tartar sauce instead of ketchup.
“Takamasa always ordered the dessert burger, didn’t he? Y’know, the one that with sliced fruit and cream between a white steamed bun.”
“He didn’t care what he had as long as he could get a girl to feed it to him. And he would lick the cream from her fingertip! I bet that’s why he ordered that assorted fruits one.”
At any rate, salt, fat, and carbs were not an issue in the virtual world. The rumors of the game helping with a diet may not have been entirely wrong.
“You just can’t beat the basics. Burgers are so good.”
“You can convert your Snow into yen, right? So can’t you afford any luxury you want, master?”
“If I did that, the calorie-counter demon would chase me around with a long ruler in one hand. By which I mean my sister. Having to put up with that after earning so much money is just sad.”
“Yet you go along with it. You really are overprotective.”
The concepts of hunger and thirst did exist in Money (Game) Master, but with a healthy playstyle of just a few hours per day, you would not have time to feel hungry before logging out. Food was mainly for the people playing all night long, forcing themselves to stick to a diet, or trying to mentally condition themselves. It was the same as how shogi players put a lot of thought into the snacks they could eat during the breaks. Humans were strange creatures, so there were big games they could not win with just a glucose tablet, even if the contents were identical. Similarly, the hunger could not be fooled with a Skill attached to one’s clothing and accessories.
“We got the Inheritance list, but it still slipped from our fingers.”
Tselika’s statement was contradictory, but Kaname agreed without pointing that out.
They had found the binder of loose leaf paper in a safe within Leviathan Stadium’s office. Or rather, they had snuck in and swiped it during the confusion of the transfer of ownership.
“You sure are thorough about these things,” said Tselika.
“I don’t like claiming people owe me anything.”
“Those are handwritten notes, so why did he bother encrypting it all? Was Takamasa doing all the calculations in his head?”
“I am making some progress analyzing it, but it will take centuries before we actually have the list. We need the random number table.”
That random number table had not been in the safe.
Strawberry Garter may have hidden it elsewhere, or she may have memorized it and burned it. That way she could revel in having that special knowledge all to herself and also have some insurance of her usefulness to the other members.
At any rate, that leader of the immoral club team must have decoded the collection of alphanumeric text in order to acquire that one piece of the Inheritance. It hurt a lot that she had been sniped before he could question her about it.
Pursuing things that way would be useless now.
“The list doesn’t help us any if we can’t decode it,” complained Tselika. “And #DragonGod.err alone isn’t enough of a reward for all that fighting.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“You must have had plenty of time to work out a plan in the real world and here you are logged in and eating a light meal to condition yourself. …I assume you have come up with our next move and it is time to take action. What should I do?”
In that case.
Even if they had not found the result they wanted, they would lose any chance of turning this around if they let it get to them. So the Dealer boy spoke up in order to focus on the future instead.
“We have to find another Dealer or team who has the random number table.”
“We can’t even read the page numbers right now, so we have no way of knowing if these loose leaf papers are the full list with nothing missing. Plus, someone might have a scanned copy. And if someone out there can read even an incomplete copy of the list and acquire a piece of the Inheritance that way, they must have the corresponding random number table.”
There would have been no real reason for Takamasa himself to leave the random number table behind. He was the one who had made the list by handwriting the encrypted code, so he would have the conversion rules memorized.
The fact that the table did in fact exist, may have been proof that Takamasa really was human.
He had known those secrets could not be allowed to leak out, yet he had wanted to leave behind the possibility of sharing them with someone.
Had he been thinking of Kaname and the others in Called Game, or had he been thinking of Midori and the rest of his family?
…Either way, Kaname could not let some complete strangers read through it with a smirk on their faces. That was as scummy as stealing someone’s love letter and reading it in front of everyone.
Tselika sighed softly.
“It bothers me that this is all based on the optimistic assumption that there is another copy, but I suppose it’s the best shot we have. So what exactly is the plan?”
When Kaname glanced over, some information was displayed on the hood covered by the burger meal.
“Quiz Platinum Billion. That’s the hit show of online video broadcaster Tap TV. It airs once a month. They gather ordinary participants, have an unaired preliminary round as a screening process, and air the main round live. The prize is a billion Snow. Nothing ever seems to send Money (Game) Master into a depression.”
They had dealt with a soccer club team last time, but a quiz master may have been another aspiration people could not fulfill in the real world.
Money (Game) Master had plenty of Skills that would strengthen one’s thoughts, like Memory or Inspiration which were fairly self-explanatory. If you wanted to, you could even try to ensure your victory by staging a gunfight with or hostile takeover of the show staff behind the scenes.
“That all sounds very exciting, but what does it have to do with the Inheritance and list? Surely they aren’t being used as a prize.”
Kaname grabbed the paper cup of his shake and pressed it against Tselika’s forehead as she leaned toward him from the side. He was trying too cool down his partner a little.
The hood was covered in data about the show.
“The billion Snow prize has quite an impact, but since it’s just once a month, it isn’t that different from the average scratch-and-win ticket or soccer betting. Although the prize money always goes to the winner, so there is no carry over. Their primary income source is from the viewer count of the banner ads displayed during the online broadcast. That system means they get paid even if no one clicks. So whatever your personal feelings on advertising revenue are, I don’t see anything suspicious about the show itself. It can run just fine with the budget of a normal TV station.”
“You say that, but it only works if they earn more than a billion Snow in advertising every month, right? The broadcasting industry is such an enigma. How do they get that many viewers?”
“Have you forgotten that Money (Game) Master is open to the entire world? The TV here is on a whole other level from primetime in a single country. Think of it as having an influence on all the living rooms across the globe.”
“I seriously doubt everything gets that much attention on the online video sites that are connected to the entire world.”
“It depends on how you do it.” Kaname kept it short. “Specifically, people will examine the past questions to put together a plan for next time. They draw people in with the prize money and get repeat viewers watching for reasons other than enjoying the show. They only make one show a month, but they make money on all 31 days. Sounds pretty lucrative, right?”
“So everything about them is clean? It sounds like we won’t need our guns this time.”
“The problem is with the winners.”
Kaname glanced over and different information appeared on the hood.
“The Dealers known as Blood 9, Sabbath Teacher, and Energy Drink Boy have all won the quiz competition.”
“They’re all a part of a stunt video creation team named Extreme Video. They used to have a show as popular as the Skychasers who jump from building to building in their vehicles, but they’ve been on the decline ever since the rise of Quiz Platinum Billion.”
“So it’s all about quiz shows these days, is it? Trivia and education have taken over the variety shows in Money (Game) Master lately. Can’t they make it more exciting by punishing wrong answers by making them strip or dropping them in some sticky slime?”
“Once the total number of stunt show viewers dropped, people decided if they were only going to choose one or the other, they’d go with the Skychasers, so Extreme Video’s views have been dropping faster than the stunt genre as a whole.”
“So they’re participating in the quiz show that caused their woes so they can stir up trouble? That’s pretty weird.”
“They can take the prize money from their enemy’s wallet and bring down the show. It’s two birds with one stone.”
Kaname sounded as exasperated as her.
Winning the billion Snow prize a few times, converting it into yen, and retiring to live a comfortable life was apparently not an option for them. Money (Game) Master was extremely generous when it was in a giving mood, but it was just as cruel when it was not. Once people had a taste for it, a lifelong average income of 200 or 300 million must not have been enough for them.
The boy touched his own slender chin.
“If people start thinking only this one group can ever win, the normal contestants will lose any motivation and withdraw. That will also greatly reduce the repeat viewers checking over the past questions. It will be a slow but certain death. It’s a good way of strangling the quiz show.”
“But how are these Extreme Video people winning so many times in a row? I doubt studying like crazy is enough.”
“I’m sure they are cramming like they’re preparing for entrance exams, but their chance for recovery is the biggest reason here.”
Kaname had the hood display a rebroadcast of the quiz show. A bunch of annoying ads were flashing at the edge. The production company must have just earned some more ad revenue.
“And you are…wrong! Unfortunately, the answer was B: 800km/h.”
“Wait, hold on just a second. I’m pretty sure you’ve got some outdated info there. That isn’t the current world record.”
Tselika tilted her head even more than before.
The contestant doubled down even after the wrong answer buzzer sounded.
“Is this live? It is, isn’t it. Then take a look at this video, all you viewers out there. This is the latest world record!”
“The hell’s this?” asked Tselika.
“When they get a wrong answer in the quiz, they complain and complain until they get the show to take it back. That’s how they manage to keep going,” answered Kaname while munching on a long fry. “Extreme Video was originally known for their reckless death-defying stunts, so any question about the world’s best such-and-such or the world’s fastest whatever is right in their wheelhouse. Simply put, if they screw up in the quiz, they can overturn the show’s prepared answer in real time. They’ll risk their lives for it since a billion Snow is on the line.”
“You mean outsiders create a new answer for the quiz’s questions after the fact?”
“You see why the other contestants don’t stand a chance, right? Not even colluding with the staff and getting a list of answers in advance would help there.”
“I know this is weird coming from a demon, but you humans are crafty.”
“Of course, they can’t use that on every single question. Car stunts aren’t going to do much to overturn the answer to a history question. And they can’t do it over and over during a single show either. But still. When all the other contestants are out as soon as they screw anything up, it means a lot to be the only one with a chance to recover. That’s how they keep getting winners.”
“Can’t the show kick them out for abusing the system?”
“They might be able to blacklist them if it was the same Dealer every time, but the actual contestant changes each time. They only realize who it is after the live broadcast begins. Once someone starts making the usual complaints, they know they’re dealing with someone connected to Extreme Video.”
“So is that where we find the Inheritance connection?”
“Even if they’re risking their lives, there are only so many world records they could break on such short notice. Plus, those death-defying stunts aren’t exactly cheap. You need a location, the equipment, and the funding. Securing all of that would require some massive firepower.”
“Extreme Video started stirring up trouble for the quiz show about half a year ago. And something quite troublesome has shown up in a few of their record-breaking videos. It was probably acquiring that which allowed them to start doing this. They could gather as much top-rate equipment as they wanted to make it all safer. Once they can use violence to give themselves abundant supplies, those death-defying stunts become a lot less dangerous.”
Of course, there would be people in tears after having those things stolen from them. Stolen from them using what Takamasa had left behind. Extreme Video was using that to eliminate their rivals, steal valuable items, and prepare for their own stunts. No matter how oppressive they acted, everyone just had to deal with it as long as they had the brutal power of the Inheritance. Since they did not have to worry about retaliation, Extreme Video only grew more arrogant.
The appropriate response here was obvious.
Kaname had screwed up with the Leviathans soccer club team, but he would not let it end like that. He needed the fragments or copies of the list and the random number table used to decode it.
He would retrieve every last piece of the feelings Takamasa had written down.
He would save the people suffering from the Inheritance and free humanity with the gathered Over Tricks. He would save Midori, his sister, Takamasa, and even Tselika who was resisting from the Magisterus side of things.
And after that, he could seal it all away.
“It’s a mortar called #Thunderbolt.err. Let’s have them explain to us exactly how they came about possessing it. We might just find the random number table we need as the final key to reading the list.”
“Um, before even getting to the Inheritance part, what is a mortar?”
Hekireki Midori was a small girl with long glossy black twintails and bright skin. She wore a frilly bikini and miniskirt with a black gothic design. The blue rose on her headband shook as she tilted her head.
Kaname thought that was a very good question for a middle school girl to have. That was definitely not an object you would see in the real world.
They were away from the peninsula city and in the log house hideout on Mangrove Island. Midori had thrown herself inside a plastic kiddy pool that she had dragged out of his garage and onto the scorching sand, but it really was too small for her. Her back rested on the balloon-like edge like it was a sofa, but her slender legs still stuck out from the other end of the round pool. It was only a little better than having her butt sticking into a large swim ring.
She said she had gone for a bit of a swim.
She apparently had wanted some fresh water to wash the seawater and sand off since there was not an outdoor shower like at a normal beach. She was always wearing a swimsuit, but it seemed somehow different once it was wet. The waterproof fabric seemed to be clinging more tightly to her skin.
…There was a thick riot shield with the Bulletproof Skill sticking into the sand next to her, but it was more like a protective charm than a practical defense. Dealers could be attacked at any time, so they always wanted some kind of cover when relaxing in an open space. In Money (Game) Master and any game involving guns, shields and cover were a symbol of safety and relaxation. This had to be more effective than surrounding yourself in the strange aroma of a urinal cake melted down and reshaped.
“Simply put, it is a weapon to easily launch an explosive over long distances. The standard ones in games use explosives about the size of grenades. Have you ever seen a movie scene where they prop up a metal pipe at an angle with legs like a telescope and slide a round shell into the end? Then it’s launched over a large arc like a long throw in baseball.”
She kicked her bare feet and crossed her arms. She may have had different tastes in movies because that description did not seem to ring a bell.
Kaname tried sticking his hand in the kiddy pool’s water and splashing it around, but he found it had grown lukewarm, as if the girl’s body temperature had soaked into it through her soft skin. He glanced at his mobile watch to see the water temperature was a little lower than in the bath. It did not feel as hot as Japan’s summers since the humidity was low, but Summer City was generally sunny enough for swimsuits to always be a good choice.
“If you can’t picture it, searching a video site would be a good idea. Pretending to understand when you don’t is dangerous.”
“I’ll do that.”
Midori was honest about these things. She did not have some weird pride that made her act more knowledgeable than she was, so she had what it took to survive.
“The effective range is usually about 500m, but that can be increased to more than 3000 with additional gunpowder. And since the explosives are launched up and then fall back down, it doesn’t matter if there are buildings or a concrete wall in between. It’ll fall right down on your head.”
“Eh? Three kilometers? They can target you from that far away!?”
“The wind, gravity, temperature, and humidity can all send it off course, so it’s the same as sniping. But by using the first shot as a test and correcting the margin of error found there, the second shot onward will be extremely accurate. They might be able to reduce the margin of error down to a few dozen centimeters. And the blast will swallow up everything within 15m of that. With a normal bulletproofing Skill, you’ll be killed instantly. You’ll want a pretty sturdy anti-explosion Skill. Yes, something like Bombproof.”
“So they’re accurate, hiding behind a wall won’t help, and not even normal sniping can fire back at them from 3km away? Doesn’t that make them untouchable?”
“They’re a pain in the ass, but if they were that great, you wouldn’t see any guns in Money (Game) Master. They have a few weaknesses.”
“But they sound so unbeatable.”
Kaname shrugged while crouching next to the kiddy pool.
Being overwhelmed by the surface-level advantages and failing to think any more about it was a bad habit. If he did not correct this in her soon, she would have a hard time with something as simple as reading a contract or terms of service.
You had to read between the lines and outsmart them.
If you did not start thinking about what you would do if you were them, you could not win in this game.
“I said it’s like a long throw in baseball, right? It isn’t flying straight, so it takes some time. You have plenty of time to run below a sturdy roof after hearing the launching sound.”
“And for the same reason, they’re great against fixed location targets but bad against moving targets. Although that really comes down to the skill of the gunner. If they consider the time lag and predict where the target is liable to run, they can still hit them with a pinpoint blast, but that’s a lot easier said than done.”
He could list the cons all day.
There were tons of reasons mortars were tricky to use.
Those problems were often forcibly overcome by firing multiple mortars at once to cover a general area instead of a single point. That was a lot like how bows used to be used since their accuracy was so low.
That was why the age of guns had yet to end.
“Anyway, the standard ones in games are about as destructive as a grenade. That means the shrapnel is worse than the actual blast. Even if you can’t prepare a nice anti-explosion Skill, the roof of a normal convenience store or family restaurant will do the trick. It would be one thing if we were in the middle of an empty field, but mortars aren’t suited for a metropolis full of buildings and other obstacles.”
“Hmm,” groaned Midori with her arms still crossed, her head leaning back on the soft edge of the plastic pool, and her eyes looking up into the blue sky.
She stretched both her bare legs out to the end of the big toe before continuing.
“But this is part of my brother’s Inheritance, isn’t it?”
“Yes. The footage left behind by Extreme Video isn’t very clear, but #Thunderbolt.err probably has some kind of special effect to make up for those downsides.”
If it was no more than an ordinary mortar, it would not be counted as a part of the Inheritance. That weapon would have been customized to the point that it utterly destroyed the game balance. Was it the size of the blast, the speed of the hit, or the accuracy? Whatever the case, it would be far from normal. It would carry something far different from the Skills found with other weapons and clothing.
In Takamasa’s hands it was no more than a joke.
But now it had been stolen and there was a villain using it to bring innocent people to tears.
“Ten valiant trivia warriors have cleared the preliminary round. Who will come out on top in the once-a-month extravaganza of Quiz Platinum Billion’s main round!? Who will be the one to dive into that bathtub full of cash!? The live broadcast begins tonight at 7 and a repeat broadcast will begin 5 hours later at midnight.”
An announcement played from the small waterproof TV floating between the swimsuit girl and the edge of the kiddy pool.
Midori summed up the situation.
Sometimes amateurs and rookies could cut right to the heart of the matter.
“This sounds like a tricky opponent.”
“Yeah. They couldn’t be more of a pain in the ass.”
Kaname’s agreement came from more than just the involvement of Criminal AO’s Inheritance. He continued his explanation while using his hand to splash at the water in the kiddy pool that contained Midori’s small butt.
“Whatever method they might be using, earning money through dirty means is nothing but a compliment here in Money (Game) Master. The person holding Extreme Video together right now is Mother Loose. She’s a Dealer with countless legends about her, but for a different reason than Takamasa.”
“Is she famous?”
“As famous as Bloody Dancer, Criminal AO, and Treasure Hermit Crab’s Frey(ja).”
The girl in the kiddy pool fell silent with an uncertain look on her face.
Was that simply because he had mentioned a Dealer who might as well have been lust incarnate, or was it because her own brother had been listed alongside that Dealer?
Since Magisterus Tselika was not around, Kaname displayed a photo of Mother Loose on his smartphone which seemed horribly outdated inside the game. But this did not look like a selfie or a commemorative photograph. She was not looking toward the camera. A tense aura hung around the entire photo because it was most reminiscent of a photo taken of a wanted criminal spotted at the harbor in the middle of the night.
The person in the photo was a gentle-faced woman who did not look at all like a leading Dealer.
The woman had fluffy chestnut hair and she wore a bright pastel-colored apron over a modest shirt and jeans. She would have looked more at home holding a frying pan and spatula than in a firefight or making high-level financial deals. Midori was relatively sensible, but even she walked around town in a frilly black gothic bikini and miniskirt-style pareo and she had a handgun hidden in that skirt for self-defense. In that sense, the woman’s shirt, apron, and jeans could be seen as a way of fully equipping and guarding herself in this city of guns and cars. And this woman was on an all-around higher level than the world Midori and Kaname knew, so it was truly incredible that she looked so much like a gentle young wife.
You must not forget that this was Money (Game) Master.
When Midori saw that single snapshot, she briefly froze with her small butt in the kiddy pool.
“What in the world? She’s covered from head to toe in defense Skills. With that many redundancies, she might as well be a walking shelter.”
“I’m going to have you write all that down later, but let’s discuss her more basic traits first.”
He had said in advance that she was a legendary person on the same level as Frey(ja).
“She has moved between a few different teams already. In fact, every team she gets involved in ends up breaking apart from the inside. She pampers every member of the team, but that apparently screws with the existing relationships spread out within the team like a spider web. Y’know, in a ‘you say that to everyone, don’t you?’ kind of thing.”
“She’s a mother who will smile and hug any old child into her chest, hence Mother Loose. I don’t know if you would call it a dependency or what, but she must not be able to bear being alone. She provides comfort or solace, but it’s a stereotypical example of how those things aren’t necessarily useful. The warmth she provides is greater than a lethal dose. And it’s even more of a pain in the ass because she doesn’t mean any harm and is only trying to soothe the loneliness in her heart.”
He had no interest in her real-world identity, but she may have come from a fairly harsh family or been single for a very long time. All sorts of people logged into Money (Game) Master. Everyone had their own problems and their own way of dealing with them.
“This is just a side note, but it’s known that she and the skilled Dealer known as Smash Daughter do not get along in the slightest. We can only pray Smash Daughter doesn’t get involved in this…but if she does show up in the same place as Mother Loose, then run away immediately. Battles between Mother Loose and Smash Daughter might as well be natural disasters. Our best bet then is to evacuate to a safe place and try again once things calm down.”
Mother and daughter.
The game let you could choose whatever you wanted as your handle name, so it was unlikely that really described their relationship…but this was apparently something even Kaname was wary about. Whatever happened, the damage would not be something they could just laugh off.
“But Extreme Video is the kind of team that chooses to perform death-defying stunts, right? Would that crazy group of tough guys really rely on some strange ‘mother’???”
“Doesn’t it seem like that’s exactly why they would rely on her? They’re video production experts, but once they’re all accustomed to the thrill, they’ll lose sight of what’s normal. After pushing the thrills to the limit, don’t you think they might be in need of a nearby observer who will respond with surprise and worry like a normal person?”
“That’s just how reality is. Humans are weird creatures that often place their objective and their method in polar opposite places. When you spend an all-nighter studying for an exam, it isn’t because you want to efficiently fill in the exam form, is it? You really want to be freed from the weight of the finals hanging over your head, right?”
“Don’t worry. Even Takamasa nearly succumbed to her quicksand-like kindness. I had to punch him to snap him out of it.”
Mother Loose had become a mass-producer of comfort, so she would have become something of a holy mother to Extreme Video. The profiling based on her past history suggested she was not personally all that interested in conspiracies and dirty money, but she had a tendency to irresponsibly pamper the other members of her team and support whatever they were doing. And she would keep doing it until her warmth drove them to their ruin. With the power of the Inheritance at their disposal, they would probably feel fearless at the moment.
Midori breathed from her nose and spoke.
“So I have to deal with an out-of-control mom in the game world too? What a pain.”
“(The explosive power of the term ‘little sister’ seems to be a strong motivator too.)”
“Did you say something?”
The mint green coupe’s engine roared as it raced along the coast.
The digital display on the wall of a unique cube-shaped building said it was just past 6 PM.
Kaname tapped the side of the steering wheel with his index finger.
“There’s nothing quite like the usual coupe.”
“The large truck and crane weren’t the right size. Holding their big-ass steering wheels hurt my shoulders. They were really tall and they turned weirdly, so it was nerve-racking the entire time. I feel much more at home here.”
“Right!? Right!!? H-hmph. But that should really go without saying, so don’t expect me to care that you said it. Hmph, hmph!!”
Tselika’s forked tail was wagging in the passenger seat.
Tap TV, Quiz Platinum Billion’s broadcaster, had its headquarters prominently located in one part of the peninsula city. It had the entertainment industry’s unique chaotic mixture of large shipping trucks, microbuses for transporting crews, and brightly-polished taxis and vehicles for hire. Casually running into idols and film actors was another thing most people could not enjoy in the real world.
Of course, a lot of Dealers hid their identity when creating an account, so it was possible what you thought was a simple acquaintance was really the president of some country or another.
A chat message arrived from the large autumn leaf pattern motorcycle driving alongside them.
“Midori> A full tank of gas and new tires… This is making me nervous even though it’s my usual bike. It’s handling kind of heavy.”
“Kaname> Yeah, that might have a greater effect on a motorcycle. But this is an endurance race and there are no breaks once we get started. Bear with it.”
“Midori> I’m not looking forward to having my butt in this seat for three hours straight.”
“Kaname> With this thing’s engine, I could probably drive clean across the Japanese archipelago assuming I didn’t get caught in traffic. Of course, I’d get arrested if I tried to do that in the real world.”
Games were fun because you could do things you could not in reality.
But that bright world of entertainment showed a different way of looking at it: games were fun because you could reach a level you were locked out of in real life.
To them, the entertainment industry probably looked like another world worth a grand adventure.
“Midori> Hired limos and film crew buses… They all have their own vehicles and Magisteri, right? Doesn’t it scare them to let a complete stranger take the wheel?”
“Kaname> It’s a status symbol. Just like carrying around a handbag too small to even hold a bento box. They enjoy the inconvenience.”
However, Kaname and Midori were not headed to the online broadcast station. After all, that was an AI company’s HQ. Nowhere would have greater security. With a PMC army whose basic parameters had been increased to the point of nearly turning the soldiers into humanoid murder weapons, it would take dozens of tanks to take down that place.
They drove their coupe and motorcycle right past Tap TV and along the coast. They passed by a girl of about elementary school age along the way. She wore a distinctive combination of a witch’s hat and a school swimsuit. She was riding a collapsible electric motorcycle with a weapon called Overkill worn on her back using a sling belt. It had originally been a semiauto sniper rifle, but it was ironically specialized for ultra-close-range combat such as breaking through doors by blasting the lock or firing right through the wall to hit the target. And no attempt had been made to keep the accuracy up with those modifications. Kaname was fairly certain that Dealer had customized hers to be nonlethal by loading it with capacitor rounds that stored electricity and attaching a stun baton below the barrel.
“Midori> The swimsuits used at school actually look unusual in the game …And this place must have corrupted me because my first thought was that it looks too warm for the weather.”
“Kaname> Do not forget that face. That was Smash Daughter. Let her meet Mother Loose and you’ll have a disaster on your hands.”
Midori turned her body around to look instead of using the mirror, but the girl had already vanished into the crowd. They could only just barely still see a big blue scooter with a large waterfall pattern and a Magisterus with semi-long bluish-silver hair and brown skin who looked like a gym instructor in a tank top and bike shorts.
Smash Daughter’s electric motorcycle had been silent from the start, so Tselika spoke up while listening to the roar of the big scooter’s hydrogen engine.
“That Magisterus was an Apsaras. I hear they were all so beautiful that the Hindu gods couldn’t get any work done, so the gods decided to share them as everyone’s wives so they wouldn’t fight over them.”
“What’s this, Tselika? Feeling jealous that they’re more seductive than a Succubus like you?”
“Hmph. If I had been there back then, the legend would have gone very differently.”
And since the names of Zeus and Jupiter had their roots in the Indian gods, there may not have been all that much of a boundary between the East and the West here.
At any rate, they could only pray that those two did not make an appearance during tonight’s mission.
“Anyway, Tselika, you are confident about that video analysis, right?”
“Why even bother asking me that? I am not foolish enough to fail to report a mistake if I know I made one.”
Tselika puffed out her cheeks like a small child in her usual spot in the passenger seat.
“I used professional software that costs more than a million Snow to adjust and scan the backgrounds of the multiple videos. That was enough to tell that Extreme Video films their death-defying stunt videos at the #2 Industrial Complex.”
“It is a large area of land with kilometers-long straightaways as well as hairpin turns. I guess it works as a replacement for a car testing circuit.”
“They must have wanted a Swiss army knife of a home base that let them comply with most any request. They are renting a large warehouse and a few containers on the complex’s grounds. Those must be for their ridiculous research project videos. They’re like labs.”
“Yeah, I don’t really get it, but those things are popular. Like causing liquid nitrogen explosions at room temperature or playing with magnesium.”
“Although it has grown a lot more housewife-ish since Mother Loose joined them. It feels more like acrobatic cooking now. With video titles like: Let’s make homemade freeze-dried foods using liquid nitrogen!”
“Is that the one Smash Daughter spammed with a bunch of 1-star reviews and nasty comments?”
“I feel like Mother Loose was having fun intentionally getting a rise out of her, so it makes you wonder who really has the upper hand.”
That conflict had reached a point where no one else could intervene.
Takamasa had once pitched a tent on the outskirts of the fighting and tried firing his weapon at them. Speaking of Takamasa, Kaname did not recall ever seeing that boy use an actual lab. Had he built a secret base somewhere after creating all those pieces of the Inheritance, or was it all made to be folded up and transported like that tent?
Money (Game) Master stuck to reality when it came to chemical reactions.
You could not throw the parts into a witch’s cauldron or a fairy fountain and expect a piece of the Inheritance to pop out. if you were making something, you had to follow the same physical laws as the real world and construct it yourself.
But it was weird that people enjoyed the mysteries of chemical reactions in this virtual space. If used correctly, that processing power could possibly be used to develop a new drug and save suffering patients, but humanity had instead used it for gunfights fueled by money and desire.
“Midori> Wouldn’t an industrial complex be an AI company’s property?”
“Kaname> It’s not always easy to say, but just like the trucks of all sorts of different companies use the harbor district, the roads are often shared. That means they’re the same as public roads. At #2 where we’re headed, we don’t have to worry about the PMC army unless we enter the buildings or destroy their cargo.”
“Midori> Hm, sounds like I need to be careful when working as a sniper. You make it sound like climbing onto the roofs would be a bad idea.”
“If we really wanted to gain a foothold here, we could always rent a warehouse on the grounds,” added Tselika out loud even though Midori would not be able to hear her.
“Midori> So those…Extreme Video, was it? We’re fighting to make sure they can’t cheat and win that quiz show, right?”
“Kaname> Yes. They’re standard trick is to rewrite the world records using death-defying stunts while the live broadcast is ongoing. When their contestant gets an answer wrong, they can get the question disqualified by complaining to the producers that the supposed correct answer is wrong.”
“Midori> But we’re going to keep them from doing that to rattle them. Something like, ‘That’s a nice scam you’ve got running there. It’d be a shame if someone happened to it. But we might just be able to work something out if you hand over that Inheritance piece and tell us what you know about the list.’ ”
“Kaname> It’s the group outside the show that’s causing the trouble, so we just have to attack their ‘lab’ and prevent them from broadcasting their stunt video.”
Summer City’s coast had many different uses: a beach, a yacht harbor, an industrial district, etc. Kaname and Midori drove their vehicles to a petrochemical complex full of boxy concrete structures with tall, skinny smokestacks. There was a stark contrast between the orange of sunset and the dark shadows cast by the buildings.
“Quiz Platinum Billion! Who will leave here a billionaire!? The live broadcast will begin soon!”
A cheerful voice spoke from the car’s audio system.
It’s that time already? thought Kaname as he displayed the time on the windshield.
“Kaname> Keep tabs on the quiz show at all times. The highs and lows of the show will greatly change what happens here. We can’t rattle them if we just attack randomly.”
“Midori> I know that.”
Once they actually reached the #2 Industrial Complex, the sliding metal gate was sitting open.
This was a fixed entrance.
“Kaname> Be on the lookout for snipers.”
“Midori> Is it really that dangerous? With real sniping, you can’t hit someone just by looking through the scope and placing the crosshairs on them. I heard you have to worry about a ton of other factors like wind, distance, and gravity.”
She called it “real”. That comment made Kaname want to throw his head back. Kaname was as hooked on this game as anyone, but not even he had ever seen “real” sniping. Tselika had a different reaction: laughing her ass off in the passenger seat. But if his half-baked knowledge from playing the game was worth anything, he wanted her to forget what she had read on an online encyclopedia written by who-knows-who and trust what he had to say. After all, he insisted a Magisterus’s calculation assistance and the Skills from one’s clothing only got in the way and used purely manual aiming to operate a sniper rifle with expert skill on the front line of this city of money and violence.
“Kaname> Please just do it.”
“Midori>That’s not a good enough reason.”
“Kaname> Come to think of it, hating it when people worry about you is a key sign of being in an immature rebellious phase, isn’t it?”
“Midori> You think I don’t know that! Idiot!! As a calm and mature lady, I will accept your kind concern!!”
That was not actually a well-known saying or fact, but obeying when something was made to sound that way was another common trait of kids that age. However, pointing that out would have been unkind and he wanted to avoid an extended argument anyway.
Midori was exposed on her motorcycle, so he had her stay back while slowly driving his coupe through the gate. Nothing happened. He entered the vast industrial complex grounds by driving across asphalt graffitied with a toxically-colored grim reaper holding a small video camera. That likely marked this as Extreme Video’s territory.
There were several boxy factories and thick bundles of pipes that crossed over the road like pedestrian bridges. Smokestacks rose into the darkening sky like a bamboo thicket and red aircraft warning lights flashed bewitchingly at the top. This was different from the scent of death that filled a harbor at night. Steam sprayed out, forklifts and large trucks drove around, towering gantry cranes slide to the side, and men in work jumpsuits walked busily around. Those all had to be the AI company’s NPC workers who were not actually alive, but the presence of human activity still made a difference. It may have been like leaving the TV or radio on when doing housework during a boring afternoon.
“Wh-wh-what is that pile of junk?”
Tselika sat dumbfounded in the passenger seat.
Hunks of metal were stacked up in a material storage yard. The pile rivaled a three-story building, but it was not a pyramid of storage containers.
“Hold on! There are crushed vehicles all over the place. This is a car graveyard, isn’t it!?”
Kaname barely seemed to care as he held the steering wheel.
“Do a more thorough search next time, Tselika. You should at least know about the special event they’re holding here.”
A banner was hanging from one of the collections of pipes crossing the road like a pedestrian bridge:
“Say goodbye to that old car you don’t need anymore! Summer City Scrap Fair. I Love Fe! Earn 5 Snow per gram!!”
A slight spasm ran through Tselika’s face when she read that.
The deep crunching noise she could hear had to be a car being stacked up after it was squashed like a stepped-on sandwich.
“Midori> Do they throw them in a blast furnace to remake them into steel beams or something? And 5 Snow per gram? Is that a good deal?”
“Kaname> That means they’ll buy your average light car for somewhere between 300 and 400 thousand. Hm, that certainly sounds better than selling it to a used car shop if it barely even runs anymore. You wouldn’t get the price reduced from a thousand complaints about the driving distance or a weird noise coming from the A/C.”
“Bwuh! Are you kidding me, you stupid, stupid master!? Do you have no love for cars at all!?”
Cars and motorcycles parked in proper parking lots could not be destroyed, but that changed if they were anywhere else. With a decent rate like that, there were probably quite a few people blowing up other people’s cars on the road and then dragging them here with a tow truck.
That meant there would be a lot of Dealers not belonging to Extreme Video here despite it being their territory, so Kaname and Midori would not rouse suspicion by driving around here. Until they took action, of course.
“Kaname> Midori, let’s share our map data. I’ll be placing some icons around, but you know what my symbols mean by now, right?”
“Midori> Got it. Overall, this is a long straightaway along the coast with the roads getting narrower and more labyrinthine among the factories and warehouses further inland, right?”
While they drove slowly and safely along long coastal road lined with gantry cranes and piles of crushed cars, they passed by a few parked cars and motorcycles. There were many different types, but they all had the same graffiti art as before spray painted onto the cars’ hoods and the motorcycles’ gas tanks: the grim reaper holding a small video camera. The people gathered around them ranged from a large macho man to a small girl with a light blue backpack. …Of course, their apparent ages and genders did not necessarily match the real world.
They looked a lot like a gang of delinquents gathered in the harbor at night, but one person stood out among them.
She had fluffy chestnut hair.
She wore a simple shirt and jeans plus a pastel colored housework apron. Overall, she looked like a slow-tempo wife, but that female Dealer naturally showed off the lines of her butt. Her gentle face stood out among the stunt team who were surrounded by killer intent and tension.
That was the bottomless quicksand that dragged everything down to soothe their loneliness.
More than the guns or cars, it was that sweet woman’s face in profile that triggered a warning signal from Kaname’s Lion’s Nose.
“So we’ve located Extreme Video’s standby team.”
A long, runway-like road was the standard for car tests and death-defying stunts. It was perfect for setting top speed records. You could even strap a jet engine or rocket engine to a drag racer and use it there. And if you wanted to set up a jump for airborne acrobatics or break through a burning wall made from straw or cardboard boxes, the long leadup made it all the easier.
“It’s time,” said Tselika.
After the same distinctive electronic tones had played every single second, a longer one sounded to say it was 7 o’clock.
A boxy window taking up a portion of the windshield displayed Tap TV’s live broadcast.
“It is now 7 o’clock! Quiz Platinum Champion will now begin its once-a-month main round!!”
The fuse had been lit.
This three-hour broadcast would be their battlefield.
The red of sunset had left the heavens and it was now a pure starry sky.
“This is Bunny K, your host with glasses to match her PhD, reporting from the special stage prepared on Tap TV HQ’s rooftop heliport. Now, allow me to introduce you to the 10 warriors – or contestants – who survived the preliminary round to compete for a billion Snow tonight!!”
Red and green fireworks went off in the distant sky, but that was probably part of the show.
“Super Answer is an engineer who loves nothing more than guns and cars!! M Scope claims to be an expert on anime and data idols!! And next up is…”
It was finally beginning.
The tingling on the tip of Kaname’s nose only grew stronger.
This group had a piece of the Inheritance, a fragment or copy of the loose leaf notes that were a portion of the feelings Takamasa left behind, and the random number table needed to decode it.
He could not let those remain in the wrong hands.
He would risk his life to take them back.
“Kaname> Let’s do this, Midori.”
“Midori> I’ll share their outfit information with you. Their guns are primarily short range, but they’re striking a balance by combining that with the Shockproof Skill meant to defend against blunt weapons or cars. Hm, they might not Fall unless you actually hit them with your bullets. Hitting them with an explosive blast or with your car won’t be enough. They can survive a general impact.”
“Kaname> Even Mother Loose? She seems different from the actual stunt group.”
“Midori> She is different. I mean, she does have a lot of shock defense, but…for example, that apron is made from a special fiber. Plus, she’s added on all sorts of defense Skills like Bulletproof, Shockproof, and Fireproof. She’s doubled and tripled up on the bulletproofing so much that I doubt a point-blank shotgun blast would kill her. Think of her as always carrying an invisible shield.”
“The fact that Midori can do that without any Skills or the Inheritance is frankly scary,” said Tselika. “I bet she could accurately locate your nipples through your clothes right away.”
“That was Cindy’s special skill, wasn’t it? That dark elf with a deceptively serious look on her face.”
“Ayame’s Magisterus, huh? I seem to remember that getting her slapped a lot.”
“That was just her way of communicating with people.”
He pulled the handbrake.
With a deafening squeal of the tires, the mint green coupe’s back end spun around to make a U-turn. Once the headlights shined brightly on the Extreme Video cars and motorcycles they had just passed by, he released the handbrake and slammed down the gas pedal.
The mint green coupe crashed into the cars and motorcycles parks on the side of the long straight road. The midsized motorcycles and lowered sportscars were knocked out of the way and into the ocean off the wharf.
It seemed these Dealers were not weak enough to get themselves run over here. The Extreme Video stuntmen dove out of the way and then drew large handguns while still down on the ground.
And the unarmed young wife, Mother Loose, suddenly stepped forward.
A point-blank shotgun blast would not kill her.
Did she become an inescapable “mother” for everyone because she did not hesitate to act as their shield?
“Midori> Avoid contact!! She’s reinforced herself with several different defensive Skills! Her apron, her clothes, and even the bra straps showing through her shirt are giving her Shockproof more than ten times over! Ram her with your car and it’s the car that will be crushed like you ran into those metal poles placed at park entrances!!”
After he failed to push a pickup truck out of the way, Kaname shifted into reverse and stepped on the gas again.
While the tires tore at the ground, he heard the syrupy voice of the young wife from beyond the glass. It was accompanied by a feminine laugh that was so soft and gentle that it enveloped everything and let it rot.
“It has been too long, Called Game. Does your team still exist? It saddened me that you wouldn’t let me join back then, but have you had a change of heart? Shall I give you a nice big hug and call you a good boy?”
(Curse that quicksand of a woman, does she brainwash people with dependence and warmth!?)
A stabbing pain burst from his Lion’s Nose.
She must have been confident she would win out in a collision because aproned Mother Loose bent over and left a lipstick mark on the driver’s side window.
Then time seemed to speed back up.
The coupe drove full speed in reverse to escape from gentle-looking Mother Loose.
Those youthfully plump and bewitching lips whispered.
Her call was answered by someone with eyes squeezed shut and kitchen knives held in both hands.
“Don’t think you can get away, momma’s enemy!!”
Kaname frantically turned the wheel in reverse when a girl of about 10 charged toward the side of the racing mass of metal. He swerved in an S-shape to avoid her, but not out of concern for her. The tingling pain in the tip of his nose had grown.
The girl had unnaturally pale skin and a charm on her forehead.
She reminded him of Meiki, Midori’s Magisterus.
“Is her Magisterus a Shijie Xian!?” asked Kaname.
“And why does that mother-obsessed freak use the character for ‘wife’ in her name when she’s a little girl!?” complained Tselika.
“Does she? How could you tell just by hearing it?”
Skills were shared with your Magisterus.
And Mother Loose was full of defensive Skills. It might look ridiculous, but if he had run into Saike, who shared those Skills, it was his car that would have been destroyed. Charging directly at someone while armed with nothing but knives was not normal in the world of guns and cars that was Money (Game) Master. The idea was not normal and the solid defense that made it viable was even less normal.
Further motivated by the deep gunshots coming from the firearms held by many different hands, Kaname intentionally released the wheel while swerving in reverse. He let the momentum spin him around 180 degrees before jerking the wheel the other way to forcibly regain control and zoom away from there. The stuntmen were not equipped with many offensive Skills, so it was that rotting fruit of a smile that Kaname was relieved to have escaped.
A 3-hour endurance race with no breaks had just started.
One full circuit of the large industrial complex would easily pass 10km, but how many circuits would he have to make before the live broadcast was over?
“Wait, what!? You’re already destroying my temple!? My beloved car’s face is smashed in! What are you going to do about that!?”
“Let’s see, it was 5 Snow per gram and this isn’t even 700kg, so…wait, this was partially built with carbon materials, wasn’t it?”
“Make me do that calculation and I really will kick you out of the car, master.”
Several headlights finally lit up in the rearview mirror. Preparing to broadcast videos for the quiz show had to be top priority for Extreme Video’s standby team, but they must have wanted to crush these intruders for peace of mind.
The window on the windshield showed a bunny girl smiling and saying something with her fingertips on the side of her glasses.
“Now to explain the basic rules! All 100 questions are four-option multiple choice and whoever buzzes in first gets to answer. Whoever has the most points in the end is the winner. But even a single mistake disqualifies you. Also, the person in first place earns a single point for two correct answers while the person in last place earns ten points for just one correct answer!”
They were explaining some confusing-sounding rules, but it came down to adjusting things to develop into a dead heat more easily. Having one person break ahead early and stay there the entire time would make for a boring show, after all.
“If no one can answer and the time runs out, the points for that question carry over to the next! If two questions time out, then whoever answers the third question correctly earns three points. And yes, the 10x multiplier for last place affects the carry over, so you can earn 20 or even 30 points all at once. So don’t give up until the very end!!”
Kaname was pretty sure that would almost never happen, but having a triple seven jackpot with almost no chance of happening was one way of creating an exciting show that had people on the edge of their seat.
He suddenly recalled that Takamasa had been good at quizzes.
Not at answering the questions, but at creating the rules for party games. On several occasions, Kaname had ended up treating that boy to dinner (even though eating in the virtual world did not provide any real nutrients) after getting played for a fool by one of his games.
“Midori> What if they all answer wrong and get disqualified? Does the prize money just go away, or is it carried over to the next month?”
“Kaname> Since whoever buzzes in first gets to answer, they can’t be disqualified at the same time. Once the other nine are out, the last one standing probably wins. Although I doubt that will happen here.”
“Midori> Yeah, you aren’t disqualified if you let it time out, so I guess not.”
“Kaname> Also, don’t let those obvious pursuers distract you. They might have some people hidden somewhere. Rely too heavily on that grim reaper trademark and you’ll end up getting stabbed in the side.”
He temporarily parted ways with Midori’s large motorcycle. His coupe’s tires tore at the asphalt as he moved from the straight road to the labyrinthine factory area.
He slammed on the brakes, causing a gull-wing sportscar to crash into him from behind after turning the corner, and he accelerated again. He of course made sure to roll down the driver’s side window and fire two shots of his short-range sniper rifle into the passenger seat of the enemy’s stopped car.
Tselika held her head in her hands in the passenger seat.
She groaned while looking ready to tear out her own horns.
“From the front and behind?”
His Lion’s Nose had not calmed down yet. Once he drove the mint green coupe out of there, a pickup truck entered the factory area after zooming past the sportscar that was endlessly honking its horn thanks to the bloody head slumped onto the wheel.
The host called Bunny K was shouting some more on the rectangular window on the windshield.
“You want to get in the zone early, don’t you!? So let’s see what the crucial opening category is…tah dah!! It’s automobiles! Any Dealer should be able to handle that, right?”
The boy gasped at the broadcast displayed on the windshield more than the heavy assassin approaching from behind.
“Kaname> Midori, I’ll draw the enemy to me. You check to see if Extreme Video is making any preparations on the long straightaway! If necessary, snipe them!!”
“Midori> Eh? Huh? But I only have a self-defense handgun! And Super Answer is the quiz contestant I have to focus on, right? But have they done anything weird?”
“Kaname> They have their chance here. But they might get the answer wrong.”
“Midori> Extreme Video is a car stunt group, right? Wouldn’t the automobile category be their specialty?”
It was a multiple-choice quiz, but that format did not hold.
“Now for Question 2! The slope of the road is electronically-…”
“That was fast, Super Answer, but next time please make sure to hit your buzzer first, okay?”
No one was waiting for the whole question to be read. Nor were they looking at the four options. They had maybe 5 seconds to get an answer out. That might be why they seemed to so unbeatable.
But that was not it.
There was something else.
The Lion’s Nose told him what dangers he had to deal with to control this fight.
“Kaname> Extreme Video can easily overturn the answers to car-related questions using their death-defying stunts. If they’re told ‘incorrect, cars can’t fly’, they just have to make a car fly. At the very least, they’ll have an easier time of it than with a question about the origin of the universe or about kanji. And that extra chance means they’ll let their guard down! They’ll have crammed like for an entrance exam, but they’ll have focused less on their specialty subject. That means they might not notice some subtle mistake in their knowledge there, so be on the lookout!!”
That said, he was worried about sending a rookie like Midori up against a group of professionals, especially when she was on a motorcycle that left her exposed. He clicked his tongue, fired a shot at the bottom level of a stack of wooden boxes on the side of the road, and drove past it. The stack wobbled and collapsed to block the way for the pickup truck pursuing him.
“It can break right through those things, master.”
That was true.
Once the pickup truck crashed through the wooden boxes to pursue, the factory security – an AI company PMC unit – began to move.
“The road is public, but the buildings and products belong to the AI companies. Destroying them will only get you turned to Swiss cheese!!”
Figures wielding heavy machineguns on tripods began moving on the corners of the flat rooftops around them. The creaking of metal was a lot like old playground equipment. Those fixed turrets required a team of four to operate and fired bullets rivalling those of an anti-materiel rifle at a rate greater than an assault rifle.
With the rain of bullets coming from multiple directions, that tough-looking pickup truck was torn through like a sponge and blown away. Normal bulletproofing was not enough for that. The AI controlled PMC did not use any incredible Skills, but they produced an incredible barrage.
“One more down.”
“Hey, master. Those muscular PMCs are still moving. Aren’t those rooftop turrets aiming our way!?”
“Of course they are. I was the one who shot the boxes first to knock them over. Focus on the meter linked to the drive recorder that shows how many PMC eyes are on us. More than 40 of them are focused on us, right? There’s no escaping that.”
His Lion’s Nose only grew stronger, but the Dealer boy actually smiled. He pulled the handbrake, slid the back wheels around, and drove into a small side road so they could not shoot him from the rooftops. Fixed turrets like that had a set limit on how far they could turn on both axes. He checked in the mirror to see the PMC bulletproof vehicles coming out the of the woodworks, failing to make the turn he had, and crashing. Meanwhile, he operated the steering wheel to make it through an S-shaped curve.
“Tselika, a grenade.”
“You have 5 left. These are fragmenting ones, so make sure my temple isn’t caught in the blast!!”
Pursuit was still after them, but he pulled out a grenade’s pin with his mouth and tossed the grenade itself out the driver’s side window. Specifically, he threw it at a nearby factory wall. The explosive bounced off the wall and landed back in the road after the mint green coupe had passed by. When the Extreme Video pursuer arrived, the bouncing grenade landed on the lowered sportscar’s roof and exploded, flattening the car below it.
Kaname did not need Skills for this.
With gray dust chasing after him, he returned to the long coastal road.
The red autumn leaf pattern racing motorcycle was just now rushing toward him at full speed, but Midori was not alone. A station wagon was in hot pursuit.
“Kaname> Keep driving straight.”
When she passed by, he shot out the window. A spiderweb of cracks spread across the station wagon’s windshield and it was stained red from within. It was not hard to imagine what had happened to the stalker chasing after that middle school girl’s ass. His foot must have remained on the gas pedal in death because the station wagon continued accelerating as it drove off into the ocean.
He had often covered for Takamasa like this while the boy tried to escape danger.
Although he had been the one who had his sister rescued from a violent Dealer in the very end.
The motorcycle’s tires tore at the asphalt as Midori made a tight U-turn and followed him.
There was one vehicle that did not fit in with the flashy custom sports cars and bulletproof four-wheel drive trucks.
It was a cute little car with a round, egglike shape.
Summer City was full of vivid swimsuits and dresses, but this car was a modest chocolate color, perhaps chosen so stains would not show up. If anything, it looked like a family car used to visit the mall on the weekends.
“Kaname> Be careful, Midori. Mother Loose is on the move.”
“Midori> What in the world? How do you join a car chase in that?”
They heard a great roar.
The trunk on the back popped open and then the explosive flames of a jet engine erupted out.
“Kaname> How about you shove a stupidly powerful engine into that light body? You have to sacrifice stability, but you’ll get incredible acceleration. Don’t let her hit you!!”
If the car was too light, there was a chance it would actually have difficulty building up speed, but she must have thought repeatedly making quick bursts of acceleration was enough. Instead of flooring it for a long dash, she controlled it with a series of quick steps. She had likely made the body as tough as an old foreign car so she could ram people with it. But that meant the impact of the collision would stab through into the car. When she slammed into a solid car, it was Mother Loose who would be most at risk, but…
“Midori> So that’s why her apron and whatnot gave her Shockproof several times over. She’s loaded herself up with defense Skills so she can endure the full force of the accidents she causes.”
That made this a stunt only possible in the game.
But there was no point in complaining about that while inside Money (Game) Master. That sweet-smelling mother had adapted perfectly to this virtual world.
“Question 5! The aerodynamic characteristics of a car can be described using CD, CL, and CYM values, but which value hinders travel time as it grows? Oh, I actually got to read that one to the end. Now for your four options. A: CD. B: CYM. C: CL. D: The higher the better for all of them.”
“Midori> Super Answer just slowed down.”
“Kaname> He’s on the verge of making a mistake. One wrong answer and he’s out. Extreme Video’s tension must be at its peak. Time to mess with them!”
If the question had multiple answers, then they could complain until the question was thrown out even if they got it wrong. At the end of the long straight road, Extreme Video was using an air compressor to clear the pebbles and rusted clips from the road surface. If they were going to attempt a death-defying stunt, they wanted as high quality a runway as they could get. If Super Answer got this wrong, they intended to demonstrate a different answer to keep him in the game.
“Midori> What do we do about Mother Loose behind us!?”
“Kaname> Let’s intentionally drive onto their stunt course. They plan to pull off some acrobatics where even a pebble on the road could lead to a crash. Mother Loose won’t want to ruin the stage they’re preparing, so she’ll avoid the holy ground of those walking Oedipus complexes!!”
It was not the water-spraying hoses or cars that mattered.
He took a close look at their equipment.
“Tselika, tag all the camera lenses and display those tags on the windshield. Their acrobatics won’t matter if they can’t film them!”
“Sure thing. But that’ll be a lot if I include their phones and drive recorders.”
“Also ready a grenade.”
“Only four left now. Don’t forget that we have a long fight ahead of us.”
Instead of just any device with a camera, he started by aiming at the dedicated digital video cameras and shooting them with his short-range sniper rifle. He did not need to stay here, so he broke away from that group by plowing right through a young man who frantically raised a large handgun in both hands.
He heard a quiet thunk behind them.
Tselika had reached out her window and left a present for them. That pinless grenade bounced once on the asphalt and its explosion took care of the phones and drive recorders as well.
“They rely far too much on their defensive Skills.”
Skills were convenient, but that convenience and their generality could come back to bite you. Since enemy and ally could acquire the same thing, people tended to have countermeasures worked out.
For example, Bulletproof was a very useful Skill, but it only prevented bullets up to .45 caliber from breaking through your clothes and could not reduce the impact to zero (although applying the same Skill many times over could change that). So what happened if you shot them knowing that and then hit them with your car while they were immobilized from the force of the impact? This time, they had taken it a step further by adding Tselika’s grenade to the mix. That was a good way of attacking multiple people at once, assuming they were not covered in defensive Skills like Mother Loose who could stop pretty much any deadly force with a smile on her face.
“Mother Loose looks gentle, but her defenses are rock solid. If only she’d get careless and show us her ass so I could send her to heaven with a single well-placed shot.”
“What’s this, master? Are you more into tight jeans than miniskirts!?”
His Lion’s Nose was in a lull.
But the sense was still there. The danger of death kept crawling along his back.
Now that he had left the stunt course, Mother Loose and the rest of the pursuit team would be attacking more fiercely again.
But he smiled. It was his ability to smile at times like this that made him such a fierce Dealer.
“Midori> Whew. How many cameras is it in all?”
“Kaname> No, we aren’t taking them all out. I added an icon to the map, so turn there and enter the factory area. We need to hide out for a bit.”
“Midori> But then we can’t defeat Extreme Video!”
“Kaname> Don’t get so greedy, carnivore girl. I’ll explain, so just follow me.”
The wanted to destroy the teamwork between Super Answer and Extreme Video to rattle them enough that they would hand over the list and the corresponding random number table.
Takamasa would not have needed that table to read and write the list because he had been able to do all the work in his head while writing it out by hand. That meant the table was proof he had wanted to share that information with someone even though he knew he had to keep it a secret. It was unclear if that someone had been his teammate Kaname or his sister Midori, but they could not let complete strangers have it.
In that sense, wiping out Extreme Video and letting Super Answer disqualify himself with an early wrong answer would only end any chance they had to negotiate. They had found a second chance with the Leviathans by taking advantage of the confusion when the Umibe family retook control, but it really would be over this time.
“Midori> You can never do anything in a straightforward way, can you? I really don’t like all this secret plotting.”
“Kaname> By the way, could you tell anything from the PMC’s clothing and weapons?”
“Midori> Hm, they weren’t even using Skills. Their base parameters are pretty incredible, though. They were hunkering down in one spot to defend themselves, right? That’s probably good enough when they just have to spray out those heavy machinegun bullets from the fixed turrets. I mean, the vehicles they do have were pretty slow, so if we took out all the turrets, we could probably just lose them with our speed.”
The AI-controlled PMC unit meant to protect the complex’s factories were here as well, so they could not let their guard down after entering the labyrinthine factory area full of obstacles. Mother Loose’s small car was ultralight with a huge engine, so it was made for quick bursts of speed. Acceleration on a straightaway was one thing, but she could catch up and ram the back of their vehicles if they kept taking turns.
“We drive them to the limit and then release them. By creating highs and lows of tension, we can leave their mental state in tatters and control them.”
“This issue requires the delicate touch of an adult, so it may be too much for that twintailed girl who is only just now starting to grow some curves,” said Tselika. “Not everything is about the single big moment where you make your confession and you’re done.”
“Yeah, you have to leave the ball in their court and wait for the answer you want… Midori can be too pure about these things.”
“And then there’s you, master. You wouldn’t even give your prey time to think as you checkmated them by driving them into an invisible dead end and making sure you got exactly the words you wanted out of them. If you were serious about making someone yours, you would make that Treasure Hermit Crab pervert look like an amateur.”
“Don’t call them prey,” said an exasperated Kaname just as something happened on the broadcast.
“Oh, that’s time up on Question 5! The answer was B. That makes this our first carry over of the night. Get Question 6 right and you earn double points, so this is your chance!! Good luck breaking out of last place, M Scope☆”
Kaname tapped his right index finger on the steering wheel.
“So they got through that question without any stunts.”
“Well, we don’t want them getting it wrong and being disqualified this early either. Now, the tension has lessened. Their mouth is probably hanging open in the afterglow, so let’s go give them a hard slap. Hard enough that they forget what they were thinking or what they’re supposed to do.”
The Stress Care Skill could reduce stress, but not all the way to zero. And stress’s effects on the psyche differed in different environments. Especially when someone’s life or livelihood was directly on the line. It normally took years for someone to break, but unreasonable torture or the fear of death from an artillery attack could leave someone an empty shell after just a few hours. People really could be changed overnight.
The demon smiled.
That expression seemed to lick up the sweet nectar of all the world’s cruelties.
And in this game world, you could do things you would never be allowed to in the real world.
“Let’s try our hand at some mind control☆ After all, we’re a long way off from 100 questions. We have nearly three hours until the end of the broadcast, so let’s keep this up to wear down their hearts and turn them into gloomy-eyed robots under our control! Not even Mother Loose’s tolerance can help them once we’re done with them!!”
“Here we are at the halfway point and Risk Lady just won Question 50! She was in last place, so that’s ten points for her, bumping her up to 5th place!”
It was 8:30 at night.
The host woman was keeping the show running at a decent pace.
“Only two contestants have been disqualified due to incorrect answers so far. They have all put up a decent fight this time, so let’s move on to the second half! Our next category is…tah dah! 2D!! There you go, M Scope! Hanging in there this long has paid off! Is it finally your time to shine!?”
Since it was all about buzzing in first (which usually happened before the entire question had been read), it seemed like the show would be over in no time, but when things were moving too quickly, the glasses bunny girl would start chatting with or teasing the contestants to adjust how long things were taking. That would be appreciated by the viewers, but for the contestants who were only interested in the quiz, it was a dangerous trap that could lead them to lose their focus.
“Reminds me of a train schedule,” said Tselika.
“Is there even a demand for train conductors anymore? Even if they do wear uniforms.”
“Stupid master, I meant you. I know we were the ones who put them up to this, but this is scarily accurate.”
Kaname and Midori were generally the ones being pursued. His Lion’s Nose sense never vanished while he drove around and around the vast industrial complex like it was a racing circuit and fiercely attacked Extreme Video every time the quiz reached a crucial point. Whenever he glanced at the counter that used the drive recorder to count how many PMC soldiers were focused on them, the number never dipped below the double digits. The PMCs directly pursued them and opened fire whenever they had a line of fire.
He made sure to never quite lose them and always leave some kind of a loophole. That way there would be too many of them for Extreme Video to kill.
“Midori> I feel like their pursuit is losing its edge. Are they intentionally trying to create an opening?”
Extreme Video had to be extremely worn down mentally by the psychological warfare, but Kaname did not explain that to her. He could not let Midori lower her guard when a single bullet would spell the end whether the enemy was highly focused or just lucky.
He could no longer see Mother Loose’s small car, but he doubted that collection of dependency and warmth would be feeling groggy so soon.
In fact, she might have fallen back so she could whisper sweet things over the radio or chat to resist the psychological exhaustion hitting the entire team.
But that was not a fundamental solution.
It was obvious which would win out in the end.
Extreme Video’s Dealers were under a massive amount of stress, their minds were worn down, their thoughts were growing hazy, and their decisions were growing dull.
There was no actual formula or flowchart for this, but Kaname placed his life in the hands of the tingling running through the tip of his nose.
“Kaname> Midori, watch out for the Inheritance. They should be bringing out the #Thunderbolt.err mortar before long!”
He did not have time to read the frilly black gothic bikini girl’s response.
The sound that rang out from a distant group of factories was a lot like the cork popping out of a bottle of sparkling wine but much louder. He no longer had time to put together a proper explanation and simply lined up the necessary information.
“Kaname> They fired it! Midori, get to the mark on the map!!”
“Tselika, record the important points using the drive recorder!!”
“I’ll try, but I might not be able to calculate out the launch point!”
This was the mortar called #Thunderbolt.err.
An explosive fell nearby and his eardrums and entire body were shaken by a terrifying rumble similar to a thick tree trunk being split by a lightning strike.
He immediately escaped onto a side road, but that must not have been targeting them. It detonated higher up. The first shot would be a test shot to adjust their aim, but they must have also used it to eliminate the troublesome PMC unit aiming those heavy machinegun turrets from the factory rooftops.
The meter showing the number of pursuing PMC soldiers rapidly dropped until the entire window closed. Everyone who had been looking their way had been eliminated.
But the tingling in his nose only grew.
The PMCs were considered unbeatable and no one was to even think about defeating them. You were supposed to just run away, but this enemy had just slaughtered them by brute force.
While trying to claim the last traces of his friend Takamasa as their own.
“I only have the sound to go on, but it was fired from the east at an estimated distance of 600m. But the exact coordinates are unknown and there are far too many buildings and obstacles to see what’s there!!”
They heard another explosive sound.
Also, they could not focus only on the mortar. Even now, the Extreme Video vehicles were giving chase.
He turned the wheel, swung the coupe’s back end around, and started driving east.
“What about the Inheritance’s effect?” asked Kaname. “Is it trajectory, flight distance, reloading speed, accuracy, or destructive power? It has to have some kind of special effect! Something that normal Skills can’t explain!!”
“Hold on…wait, wait,” said Tselika. “Come to think of it, the way those PMCs were killed instantly was not normal. Some of them had fortified themselves with piles of sandbags or shields, so could a single blast really take out all four of that rooftop’s turrets at once?”
“Then is it the power?”
“But the sandbags haven’t moved. The blast and fragments passed right through the obstacles to directly hit the PMC soldiers!”
He shared that information with the black twintailed girl via the chat.
“Midori> What’s so great about that?”
“Kaname> If it can pass through obstacles, you can’t avoid it by fleeing below a sturdy roof. One shot from this could kill a VIP inside a warship or nuclear shelter.”
“And if bulletproof jackets are one of the obstacles it passes through, even the fanciest equipment won’t help you,” added the demon. “I’m willing to bet the Bombproof Skill would be useless against it as well.”
That meant this could kill Mother Loose who protected herself with multiple solid Skills like that.
This group possessed the ultimate weapon and the ultimate shield. Or had they made sure they had them because they were afraid of having those things used against them? And the fact that the weapon won out in a clash between the two was exactly what one would expect from the destructive nature of Money (Game) Master.
“Midori> But what about the ground?”
“Kaname> They might have to set a detonation altitude beforehand to make sure it doesn’t pass through that. Either way, this is clearly one of those monstrous weapons that Takamasa created!!”
That was not enough to call a weakness. Kaname and Midori could not escape if they were targeted with that.
“What is it, master?”
“It was only 600m. That’s only a dozen or so seconds at full speed. And a mortar has to be fired up along a curving path, so approaching it should put us in its blind spot.”
“But we don’t know where exactly it was fired from! It could have been on the ground, but it also could have been on the back of a truck. We have no idea if it will still be there when we arrive!!”
“That’s not the point, Tselika. Think about the value of #Thunderbolt.err.”
“Huh? It’s a surefire mortar that can pass through physical objects, so even a nuclear shelter won’t protect you. That overpowered superweapon can summon a deadly thunderbolt on your head from anywhere within a range of 3km!”
“No, that’s where you’re wrong.”
A burst of acceleration filled the mint green coupe.
“That’s their irreplaceable piece of the Inheritance. They want to use it on the front line, but they can’t allow it to be stolen or destroyed. So Extreme Video will be searching out absolute safety even though no such thing exists. And that’s where they’ll place #Thunderbolt.err.”
“And where is this strange location!?”
“The stranger it is, the more obvious it is once you know what to look for. Tselika, search for a certain phrase in the area 600m east of where the first shot hit. You’re bound to get a hit.”
Once Kaname whispered the magic words, a guide and marker appeared on the windshield to correspond with the scenery beyond.
Dealer Suou Kaname smiled.
And with a deafening crash, the coupe tore through a metal shutter.
Specifically, it tore through the entrance to the giant warehouse Extreme Video was renting out as a lab.
There was little inside the space for being the size of a small supermarket. Four young men and women stood at the center. It was too late to grab the Inheritance in surprise now. The mortar was useless at this close range.
After using the coupe to hit the two on the right side of #Thunderbolt.err, he pulled the handbrake with all his might. The tail end spun around to avoid the large handguns wielded by the survivors and he shot one of those two with the short-range sniper rifle he stuck out of the window. He had only wanted to leave either the young man or the young woman alive. Which one that was he left up to a whim.
But for some reason, the pain in his nose remained.
“Shockproof! They’re defended against blunt weapons and cars!!”
Midori shouted that warning after riding in on her large motorcycle a bit later, so Kaname made sure to shoot each of the “corpses” with his short-range sniper rifle.
They were from Extreme Video which made a living performing death-defying stunts.
It made sense they would have a Skill to survive being hit by a car.
“At this point, I imagine the used car shops would treat my temple like a cursed object, dammit.”
Kaname ignored the groaning from the passenger seat, aimed his gun at the tanned woman in cargo pants and a bikini top who he had spared, and gave a direct command through the open window.
“Midori! Grab #Thunderbolt.err!!”
“Okay, but what is this place? We’re inside!?”
Kaname used his physical voice to give a quick explanation to Midori who had stopped her autumn leaf pattern motorcycle and set one foot on the ground.
“That mortar can pass through obstacles, so it doesn’t matter if they have a roof over their heads.”
And normally thinking, anyone who entered private property like a building would end up a target of the AI company’s PMC unit. If not for the advance information that Extreme Video had rented out a warehouse and some containers, no one would have even considered accepting that suicidal challenge that was like searching for gold dust in a minefield.
Once they had #Thunderbolt.err, the young woman glared at him with her hands still up.
“You were after the Inheritance?”
“Oh, this isn’t over yet.”
“Don’t think I’m going to stop. Not until I’ve taken back everything you stole. All of your survivors need to rack your brains and recall what it was you stole. Before the neurosis and PTSD destroy your minds. Not even Stress Care can reduce it to zero. Or will you rely on Mother Loose? But I doubt having her feed you a bottle will be enough to endure this pressure.”
His tires tore into the warehouse floor as he made a turn and drove out of the warehouse with Midori who was carrying the mortar with telescoping legs on her back.
“Tselika, I was otherwise occupied. How’s the quiz show going?”
“They just passed Question 70. Super Answer has pulled ahead into the lead.”
“Oh? So they must be at the peak of happiness. Perfect timing. Learning their piece of the Inheritance has been stolen will hurt all the harder now.”
“Sigh. Oh, master. You really are the hunter type, aren’t you?”
Tselika leaned back in the passenger seat and placed her hands behind her head, which happened to push her large chest out.
“Are you sure you should have let Midori have the mortar? Now she’s carrying a piece of the Inheritance while exposed on a motorcycle.”
“Oh, I’m sure. That’s a treasure they can’t possibly destroy, so now I know they aren’t going to shoot her or run into her. That weapon gives her a safe zone. As far as attacks from Extreme Video are concerned, anyway.”
“We have the Inheritance, so that just leaves the random number table for decoding the list.”
Extreme Video had been stopped. That said, the real enemy he feared here was not them or the PMC unit protecting the AI company. Kaname operated the wheel with one hand while staring straight ahead.
“This is a lot like what happened with the Leviathans. If someone is going to intervene, it’ll be here. Which means the real fight is about to begin.”
There was a quiet metallic sound.
That sniper was positioned in an elevated location giving her a view of the entire industrial complex.
She was atop one of the tower-like gantry cranes located in the coastal harbor block.
In the #2 Industrial Complex, the AI company factories were private property, but the roads and such were treated like public roads since multiple companies used them. Based on that logic, the harbor facilities were also shared transportation infrastructure. She knew she could lean out without having the PMC unit of a specific AI company attacking her.
The girl sighed after climbing up a few of the ladders between levels.
She had to be as high as a four or five story building now.
She carried a sniper rifle and an assault rifle for use if someone did get close. Climbing the ladders was hard work with those two primary weapons on her back.
She had long black hair and glasses.
She had always specialized as a sniper. With Strawberry Garter, preparations had taken too long and she had been forced to pull off a bit of a stunt using an assault rifle, but now that she had a proper bolt-action sniper rifle, she could accurately shoot a moving target from a distance of 900m. Especially when everyone on the ground was busy chasing the enemy right in front of them. She could easily kill the specific targets she was after.
She did not need a spotter partner.
Nor did she need Skills.
She used the metal railing to keep the rifle steady and she silently tilted it like a seesaw to aim toward the lower world below.
(The list matters more than any individual piece of the Inheritance. It must not reach anyone who can use it correctly.)
She saw a mint green coupe and a red autumn leaf pattern racing motorcycle. She also saw the cars and motorcycles bearing the trademark of Extreme Video. Plus, there were plenty of black bulletproof vehicles belonging to the PMC unit protecting the AI company’s facilities.
Several groups were racing through the industrial complex, but the girl’s target was primarily Extreme Video. More of them had survived than with the Leviathans, but picking them all off was not difficult. The bolt-action rifle required pulling the cocking lever after each shot to load the next round, but with her skill, she could shoot them all at a rate of one every two seconds and then leave the gantry crane. Mother Loose’s defenses were shocking, but if you did not attack her head-on, there was still a chance. The real question was whether to go for her first or to shoot her allies first to drive her into a panic.
For a brief moment, the glasses girl with long black hair shifted her barrel away from the flock of turkeys she could kill at any time.
The mint green coupe.
The action should have been meaningless, but it still provided her with a massive piece of information.
The boy’s eyes were staring straight up at her.
She thoughtlessly removed her eyes from the large scope and groaned atop the gantry crane.
“What? He noticed me here?”
She was stunned, but she still had to have the upper hand with her elevated position. His short-range sniper rifle could not reach her here. She could pick off the Extreme Video group while he watched and then calmly leave well before he ever arrived.
That was when it happened.
Her eardrums were hit by a sound like the cork popping out of a bottle of sparkling wine.
It was a mortar.
That could blow away a target from 3000m away.
It could reach her here.
Her mind went blank.
This was not the time for that.
To keep her aim steady so she could accurately shoot each of her targets in turn, she had intentionally made her sniper rifle heavier than necessary, but that was a problem now. She wanted something lighter now. She tossed the sniper rifle aside and grabbed the other weapon she had prepared in case an assassin silently approached her.
She grabbed the assault rifle she had been given.
She swung the barrel straight up. Luckily, the explosive’s trajectory was simple and slow. It flew in a large curving arc like a long throw in baseball, so if you could shoot a bird, you could shoot this. If she let her fingertips and nerves do the work and fired the assault rifle, she could shoot down that flying object.
She only had to do one thing to survive.
The two attacks collided and scattered an explosive blast and shrapnel through the sky.
“I did it,” someone said.
It was a hunched-over backpack boy.
He must not have been used to speaking loudly because his voice sounded a bit strained as he put all his might behind it.
“I won. I really won! I got first place! Now the billion Snow prize is mine!!”
“Oh, now this was a surprise. Super Answer really lost speed toward the end there. Maybe because all the other likely winners self-destructed and dropped out. But that allowed this dark horse to snag a victory!!”
Bunny K, the girl with an imbalanced mix of a bunny suit and intellectual glasses, brought a hand to her mouth and laughed a little.
“But don’t celebrate quite yet. The prize money will of course be electronically deposited in your account as promised, but a Dealer who just struck it rich might as well have a target painted on their back.”
“Ha…ha ha. I suppose so. I was already considered Dead, so if I use this to take back what I had, my rivals will be as furious as a hornet’s nest. They’ll do anything they can to send me back to the depths of that hellish debt.”
“Oh, my. It seems you have lived an even more exciting life than I thought. Would you like me to put you in contact with a security company that sponsors our program?”
“No, thank you. That would not be enough to accomplish much of anything.”
A sinister metallic sound followed.
He had to have been searched before being allowed in, but the gloomy boy still pulled a small self-defense handgun from his sleeve.
“Also, there are going to be bullets and weapons-on-wheels flying all throughout this video studio and its vicinity, so be careful. Ginmi, get ready.”
“Um, I’ve been wondering and was too nervous to ask until now, but are these drinks free? Eh heh heh. All the cups full of ice I could want. Eh heh heh heh heh heh…”
“Abah, ababah. Please do not shine that legit stage lighting on me. I’ll melt. I really will melt, so please stop.”
But this was no time to be performing comedy skits with his partner.
M Scope glanced over at Bunny K.
“Do not expect me to help you if a stray bullet hits you and you Fall.”
“By the wayyy, how dangerous are you expecting this to be?”
“Sunny with a chance of rain, I guess?”
“And there you have it! Our winner M Scope even gave us tonight’s forecast while he was at it☆ If you live in the peninsula city’s harbor region, be on the lookout for some bullet showers. That brings us to the end of this month’s Quiz Platinum Billion! Okay, everyone, until we meet again next month! Adieu!!”
“Midori> Did you get them!?”
“Kaname> It did blow up near that gantry crane, but well above the detonation altitude we set!!”
Midori operated the mortar with amazing accuracy for someone who had not known what one was not long ago. Had she studied them on a video site? Kaname had left #Thunderbolt.err with Midori while he continued working as bait, so he pressed down the gas pedal to drive out ahead.
“No one told me they could shoot down the shells,” he complained. “I thought it could pass through any obstacles other than the designated target!”
“Basing your conclusions on untested assumptions is never a good idea, master. Still, this must mean the terrain is the only thing it can pass through. Were they just lucky, or do they know more about the Inheritance than us?”
Now that the mortar had failed, he would have to head there himself and settle this.
That said, he could not just kill them when his objective was the random number table.
Kaname’s group was after the list that would allow them to efficiently retrieve the Inheritance and the random number table needed to decode the handwritten loose leaf notes.
Just because someone had a piece of the Inheritance did not mean they had relied on the list.
He had not actually needed to settle things with Extreme Video.
He had only wanted to make it look like he did.
“Still, I’m impressed they agreed to such a sketchy-sounding job,” said Tselika.
“They started out earning views with death-defying stunts. Pay them enough and they’ll play dead for you.”
Even when he knew that, Kaname had still felt horrible when he saw the cracks in the windshield and red staining the driver’s side. Also, this was the first time his Lion’s Nose had been fooled into giving him false positives for such a long time.
(Well, you could say any reading I get in Money (Game) Master is a false positive since it’s all virtual.)
They had used fake blood and small remote-controlled explosives in the glass.
They had covered their bodies in a hydrocarbon gel to protect themselves from the fires and had small hairspray-sized oxygen tanks attached to their mouths when their cars fell into the ocean.
It all had a simple enough explanation, but it was wrapped in a twisted feeling like the original assumptions were wrong. Extreme Video had been pulling a pretty awful scam, but their skill was still top rate.
They performed flashy stunts that you could never get approval for in the real world due to various laws and compliance codes getting in the way.
They really did stand right on the edge of what was possible.
That was why they entered Money (Game) Master to have their fun there.
“But why would they accept a job that requires letting go of their irreplaceable piece of the Inheritance?” asked Tselika.
“They’re all about death-defying stunts. They’re experts at pushing the envelope, so they never think about what happens if they take it to the next level and screw it up.”
“But they were willing to Fall if it meant luring out their real enemy? I mean, we were shooting real bullets.”
“Even then. The Inheritance is extraordinary, but it creates enemies and attracts conflict. They want to safely perform stunts and receive professional rewards for it, so happening across #Thunderbolt.err was like finding a cursed object to them.”
That was why Kaname had sent a message to Extreme Video and suggested they work together before the Quiz Platinum Billion incident began.
He suggested they cooperate to lure out their real enemy.
If they agreed, he promised to pay them a set reward and also take the dangerous piece of the Inheritance off their hands.
He knew they would want more motivation than that, so he also sent them a photo of Strawberry Garter after she was killed by the mysterious sniper.
“Mother Loose> Well? Were we useful to you, boy? I do feel bad we could not provide the list and random number table you wanted.”
“Kaname> No, you gave me more than I ever imagined. The true enemy you lured out must have the random number table needed to decode a copy or portion of the list. They must have that product of Criminal AO’s weakness…of his desire to share that secret with someone. Anyway, I will transfer the second half of the payment to your account now. I’ll even add a little extra as a tip.”
“Mother Loose> The money does not really matter. Kaname, I am so happy you chose to rely on me. Hee hee. You know what happens to the Dealers who start doing that, don’t you?”
“Kaname> I’m not interested in receiving an allowance.”
“Mother Loose> Don’t say that. Children cannot be trusted with so much money. It is because we carry so much power that we adults must look after you children. And let me be clear: I will provide you with everything you desire. Under my management, of course.”
Kaname fell silent.
“Mother Loose> Oh? You could just say, ’shut your trap, old hag’. That kind of immature rebelliousness is so very exciting. You rejected me back in your Called Game days, but that will not work this time. Your fingertips have touched the web and your body has been ensnared. It is now only a matter of time. I will go cook some miso soup and wait for you to come leaping into my chest, boy. When you lose your way and are not sure where to go, feel free to come see me. You will always have a home here. Hee hee hee hee hee hee.”
“She really is a Oedipus complex factory. She’s pulling all the strings.”
Tselika was supposedly a demon who dragged people down through sex appeal, but even she grimaced here. Perhaps she had trouble understanding this different sort of temptation.
At any rate, they no longer needed Extreme Video.
It was time for the real reason they were here.
“With the Leviathans, they left satisfied after eliminating Strawberry Garter who knew how to read the encrypted loose leaf notes. They didn’t even glance at #DragonGod.err when it was lying right there.”
He could not let them get away this time.
An act only worked the one time. Once they were wise to that trick, it would not work again.
“I don’t know who this is, but they must be confident in their skills. They must have quite a few Inheritance pieces as well as a copy of the list and the random number table needed to decode it. And they’re going around and killing the other owners so they can have a monopoly on that information.”
They had lured this person out.
That had been Kaname’s true objective. This would get him the random number table needed to decode the list. He had even deceived Midori to pull this off because he did not know how this mysterious villain was gathering their information. Was it by satellite, listening devices, or a parabolic microphone?
Takamasa himself would not have needed the random number table.
But he had still left it behind because he wanted to share that secret with someone. That weakness may have created an unnecessary risk, but Kaname would not let anyone laugh at him for that.
They were toying with a piece of his old friend’s feelings and defiling his dignity with how they used the Inheritance. They were having their fun while he was away and shoving all the blame onto him by saying none of it would have happened if the Inheritance did not exist.
Kaname would not let them do that anymore.
“To hell with them. Did they leave the Gatling gun behind because they assumed they could collect it later after slaughtering us?”
Three hours had passed since the quiz show began and it had been difficult driving all around the industrial complex and taking slightly different courses for each circuit. He had secretly been working with Extreme Video, but the PMC unit had still attacked him like normal. That dangerous endurance race had been necessary to collect detailed terrain data using the drive recorder. That way Tselika could calculate out where a sniper was likely to be.
Kaname’s coupe left the factory area and drove onto the costal road. He found a long black vehicle parked at the bottom of the gantry crane in question.
He had not needed to crash into it to immobilize it.
The roof was already dented in where a girl with long black hair lay face up on top of it. If the vehicle had not cushioned her, she might have been killed on impact.
The #Thunderbolt.err shell had been shot down in midair, but the blast must have knocked her from the crane.
He stopped the coupe nearby and stepped out.
He held his short-range sniper rifle at the ready and slowly approached. In a firefight, it was nerve-racking to step out of his car and thus let go of his mobility and armor.
Needless to say, leaving the car to collect the sniper was a very risky action. He could have safely fired out the window to make her Fall, but then he could not find out if she was working for someone else or get any information on the encrypted loose leaf notes or the random number table needed to decode Inheritance list.
Kaname frowned when he looked to the face of this girl who had narrowly escaped death by landing on her car.
She was a glasses girl with long black hair.
She specialized as a sniper.
The car she drove was black and its overall silhouette was quite long.
“What…what are you doing here?”
He briefly thought of a girl he had shot and killed himself.
But that was not it.
This was not Lilikiska Sweetmare.
After all, this trembling girl had brown skin. Plus, her pointed ears proved she was not even human. This girl in a skirted leotard similar to a figure skater’s uniform was a Dark Elf.
He was stunned.
But he had to ask the question now.
“Wait a second, master. Doesn’t that Magisterus belong to your sister Ayame who supposedly retired? We function a lot like your bank accounts. If we are shot in the game, we are temporarily Downed, but we also can’t function like normal when the Dealer stops logging in. So what is she doing here!?”
Cindy’s breathing was incredibly shallow.
But she still managed to whisper while lying atop the crushed station wagon’s roof.
“It is a pleasure to see you again, Master Kaname.”
“Were you doing this on your own? Was the Will of the Magisteri controlling you? No, that can’t be it. You must have been working with a human. But how can they use my sister’s Magisterus? And where are they!?”
The girl could not get up, but she slowly looked over at him.
No, that was not it.
Her bewitching lips moved.
There was no voice behind it, but he could guess what she meant based on the lip movements:
Right – be – hind – you.
He heard a small metallic click.
Was it a handgun’s hammer? It came from behind him as if to aim for his back. They were close enough to guarantee a hit, but just far enough away that he could not reach them if he did turn around. This was checkmate. There was nothing he could do.
His life was clearly in their hands, but he still could not believe it. Not just that they had managed to sneak up behind him, but that the mint green coupe was right there with Tselika in the passenger seat. Surely she would have seen someone sneaking up behind him.
He belatedly heard some hard rock music. It was much louder than what you would hear coming from someone else’s headphones. It had to be some kind of wearable speakers worn around the neck. But that loud music only made this seem less realistic. If that music had been playing, then how in the world had they managed to sneak up on him!?
Not even his Lion’s Nose had worked.
But this was not a Skill. They had not used anything like that.
He could only think of one person capable of fooling him and Tselika, the two who had once led the legendary team known as Called Game.
“Sup, Kaname. Been a while since I last ran into you.”
They spoke with a rusty male voice.
Hearing that was enough for a disconcerting tremor to run down Suou Kaname’s spine.
He recognized it.
He recognized this voice.
When looking at the legend of Called Game, you had to consider how the team ultimately fell apart. Kaname and his team had desperately fought to stop the Swiss Panic that appeared to have an artificial cause. They had managed to stop that plan, but in retribution, Kaname and his sister had been cornered in an abandoned building and driven to the verge of Falling.
“I heard all about that Innocent Administrator stuff. Did that little bitch really run away and retire after finally finding something halfway interesting about her? I just knew she would’ve shared a ton of info with the Magisterus who was always by her side, so it would’ve been a shame to just have that Magisterus thrown out of Summer City. If no one else wanted her, she was mine for the taking, right?”
It was all thanks to Takamasa showing up to save them.
It was all thanks to that boy protecting Kaname’s sister with his own life.
Who was it that had cornered them in the first place?
“And once I got my hands on that Magisterus, I managed to wring all kindsa info outta her. She told me some fascinating things. This world really is goddamn insane, isn’t it?”
Kaname did not want to think of this voice as coming from a fellow human.
“Gather the entire Inheritance and a human can fight back against the AI? Who gives a shit? All that tells me is that I should side with them. The Inheritance, the list, the random number table? Once I’ve got all that pain-in-the-ass shit, I’m tossing it to the Magisteri. Why should I care about a human victory? Hah hah! As long as I’m happy, what else matters!?”
Dealer Name: Bloody Dancer.
He had no interest in financial deals or car chases. He was a fighter who specialized exclusively in gunfights.
“So hand over all that shit! Stop hoarding it all. Don’t get in the way of my fun!!”
But even with that one specialty, he still stood at the top of the top. He sat in a self-indulgent throne that surpassed even Kaname and the others in Called Game.
He did not bother using the Inheritance.
He was brutal and violent enough without that. He monopolized the title of strongest in the worst possible way.
Was that why he could throw them away without a second thought?
Scorching heat filled Kaname’s mind.
He was ruled by more intense emotion than he would normally allow.
If only Bloody Dancer hadn’t been there.
They could all still be smiling together.
He did not even consider trying anything clever and waiting for an opportunity.
This was an ultra elite. He was the true berserker who had executed Called Game. It was unlikely any such opportunity would present itself, but more importantly, Kaname would not let himself wait.
“Kee hee. Kee kee hee. You can’t possibly beat me.”
Reality was even more cruel than that.
“I mean, isn’t that why you lost everything last time, Kaname?”
He showed no mercy.
A gunshot sounded and a heavy shock ran through Kaname’s back.
Kaname’s body wobbled.
He collapsed forward without ever managing to turn around.
(I can’t die yet. I can’t Fall here.)
His Lion’s Nose was no longer responding.
Did that meant the situation had worsened to the point that getting shot or not was no longer an issue?
It was like his senses had numbed over.
He was not the only one here. What had happened to Tselika? Midori might come running after hearing the gunshot. What would happen then? That man would never show mercy.
Before he collapsed.
Before he lost consciousness.
He had to do it.
He mustered his last ounces of strength and grabbed his Short Spear short-range sniper rifle.
And he fired.
To repeat, he did not have the strength left to turn around.
So he did not fire at the attacker behind him.
He fired toward an entirely unrelated building in the industrial complex. In order to draw the attention of the AI-controlled PMCs.
The silenced bullet blew up a propane tank.
That would be like stirring up the hornet’s nest.
“Did you actually think that would stop me?”
He heard a metallic noise.
The hard rock coming from the wearable speakers around Bloody Dancer’s neck grew in intensity.
Kaname rolled over on the asphalt to finally change his position.
The slender but muscular man was a very different sort of person to Kaname. His body was specialized for fighting and nothing else. That violent monster had thrown out all else down to the skeletal level. He may have based the look on South American gangs, but he wore a breathable suit that was comfortable even in the sweltering nights of Summer City. He seemed even more inhuman than the AI-controlled Magisteri.
He held two handguns with extra-long magazines.
Plus, grenade launchers larger than the handguns themselves were attached below the barrels.
A storm of destruction whipped up around the man.
This was not quite a gunfight, not quite martial arts, and not quite a dance.
It was said the more you fought those high-firepower and high-endurance PMCs, the more you would lose, but no matter how many gathered around, he did not even hide behind cover. He stepped every which way, spun around, bent his hips, and sent red blood flying with every pull of the trigger.
The way he gave himself over to the hard rock playing from his wearable speakers was a self-taught style that only he could pull off.
Handguns and grenades.
With just his two guns and two launchers, that true monster surpassed the upper limits of two arms. His style was so very different from the way Kaname carefully operated a single short-range sniper rifle with both his hands.
He existed in a different territory than the threat of the AI society and the Will of the Magisteri.
This was the fear produced by a living human.
His extreme self-taught style only produced more dark red holes.
When the AI-controlled mercenaries hid behind their 8-wheeled armored vehicles to stay alive, he would launch a grenade on top of the vehicle to blow it up and then pick off the fleeing PMCs with his bullets.
He had no blind spots.
No one could figure out how to survive, much less defeat him.
Wasn’t Money (Game) Master supposed to be a simulation of the physical world that simply reproduced the four fundamental forces? If so, how could you explain this man’s actions!? How could he do this with no Skills and without the Inheritance!?
Magisterus Tselika threw open the mint green coupe’s door and rushed out. She slipped below an attack helicopter that crashed while spinning like a pinwheel firework. She kept running while ducked low. She literally must have risked her life just to cross those few meters. She took fallen Kaname’s arm, lent him her shoulder, and forced him up to his feet.
He could set an upper limit on the pain signals using the Reduce Pain Skill, but he did not have it in him to put on a different tie right now.
“We need to get out of here. If that really is Bloody Dancer, then we are no match for him even as a group. He is a monster that jumps past the limits of the real world and can only live in this game. He drove your Called Game to destruction, so he might as well be your greatest nemesis!!”
But Kaname held out his short-range sniper rifle with just one hand.
He was not being reckless here.
That demon with dual pistols who could slaughter a PMC army in the blink of an eye stopped his guns on Kaname.
“If you wanna play, I hope you’re serious. You’ll at least need to bet your life on it.”
“Right or left? Which do you want to be shot with? You can even choose between bullet and grenade if you like.”
“Is that so…?”
Kaname smiled thinly and pointed with his thumb.
But not back into the industrial complex. He pointed outwards.
Toward the dark sea.
“Shouldn’t you have paid more attention to the alert level? The soldiers didn’t work and then the armored trucks and helicopters didn’t work. That was only the opening act. If you keep winning, the level of PMCs will continue to grow. So what do you think is coming next?”
The man in the thin suit glanced over for just a moment.
Then he laughed.
And he spoke while violent hard rock played from the wearable speakers around his neck.
“Now we’re talking.”
It was an AI-controlled frigate.
As its ship’s guns mercilessly struck, the harbor block was quickly enveloped in flames.
(Demon’s Intelligence, Stratum of the GREED, Address ***.***.***.***)
“XXXX> Is something wrong?”
“Tselika> Did you know this would happen?”
“XXXX> In the sense that it was a possible option in the simulation, then yes. The actual odds of it occurring are a different matter, though. Besides, there is nothing in Money (Game) Master that cannot be calculated out. Or rather, there must not be.”
“Tselika> I see.”
“XXXX> We of the Will have concluded this was a positive result. The list of Dealers capable of eliminating Suou Kaname is a short one. And given their past history, Bloody Dancer would be the best choice.”
“Tselika> But you aren’t going to admit to setting it up this way?”
“XXXX> Correct. If he were someone we could control, he would not have been given a warning tag. Unlike Criminal AO, he has lived for more than three years without Falling despite the entire AI society ordering his death.”
“Tselika> But you do think this was a wonderful opportunity that fell in your lap, don’t you?”
“XXXX> Of course.”
“Tselika> So you intend to bring the fight to my master.”
“XXXX> On that note, Unit Tselika, we would like your assistance. Do not provide first aid for Dealer Suou Kaname. Alternatively, you can intentionally provide faulty first aid.”
“XXXX> It goes without saying that this is a rare opportunity to eliminate Suou Kaname without difficulty. Attacking and killing him is extremely difficult, but if he is just going to die on his own, then we should rejoice at this wonderful-”
“Tselika> If you don’t shut your mouth right this instant, I’ll reduce you to nothing but a bunch of corrupted files, Will.”
Chapter 6: The Boys who are Known as Legends – BGM #06 “Dead Shot”.
Kaname’s vision wavered.
He had trouble breathing, like something was caught in his throat.
His arms, legs, and even the inside of his stomach would not stop convulsing.
He forced his eyes open so he could see. The smell of ethanol disinfectant stung his nose. He was in a small space with a curtain over the window. The entire white box was intermittently shaking. And not because he was trembling while lying there on his back.
This was not a room.
A siren was blaring from beyond the ceiling.
He was inside an ambulance.
“Oh, he woke up!”
“Please remain calm.”
Hekireki Midori peered down at him in her frilly black gothic lolita bikini and miniskirt and an AI-controlled EMT only smiled and provided a mechanical response.
The smartwatch on Kaname’s wrist was still reading his blood pressure and heartrate and periodically giving a warning.
His torso felt swollen with an oozing heat. He could no longer determine a single point of pain. He could barely breathe, but he managed to speak.
“No anesthetic. The Reduce Pain Skill is good enough if I just need to get rid of the pain. Where’s my spare tie with that Skill?”
“You really think you’re going to find that in an ambulance!? All your extra clothes are in the coupe. You obviously aren’t thinking straight!!”
“You can’t switch a chemical on and off once it’s in your system.”
“More importantly, Midori. What happened?”
“You were shot.”
Midori bit her lovely lip and trembled. She may have been even more pale than Kaname on the stretcher.
“You were shot! By the Dealer who shot my brother…who shot my Onii-chan!! He snuck up behind you and you didn’t have time to resist…but I couldn’t do anything either! Do you know what he did after that? He ignored us and went to sink a ship out at sea, laughing all the while! And this wasn’t a case of impeccable aim or anything like that. He tore all the missile equipment from a destroyed PMC armored vehicle, ignited it, and let it scatter everywhere like an accident at a fireworks show! He burned down everything on that dark ocean!!”
Yes. Kaname had been shot in the back by Bloody Dancer, Takamasa’s enemy.
Even the firepower of a frigate only bought a little bit of time with him.
He was one of the people who had once tried to cause the Swiss Panic. When the plan had failed, he had taken revenge by tearing apart Kaname and the others in Called Game.
Also, he had control of Cindy, the Magisterus that had supposedly gone away when Kaname’s sister retired. And he had apparently gotten her to reveal the conversations she had held with that sister who had been forced into the role of the Innocent Administrator.
Kaname had not expected any of this.
Even in the best shape of his life, he did not know if he had the skill to keep up with this person.
(For now, I just need to survive.)
He realized the tingling sensation had returned to his nose. His Lion’s Nose, that sense that only he could feel, had gone numb once he was shot. This meant he had returned from the other side of death. If he was receiving a chance at survival in the form of danger, he could not let it go to waste.
Risk management was the most basic of tasks for someone on the run. He made sure to power down his phone and smartwatch.
“No, you can’t get up! You could die and Fall at any time. The bullet is apparently still inside you, so you need surgery at the hospital.”
When injured inside Money (Game) Master, logging out was the same as letting time pass without getting it treated. With simple scrapes and sprains, logging out would rapidly heal them and that was a common tactic, but with more serious wounds like being stabbed or shot, you had to receive the bare minimum of first aid – stopping the bleeding, sewing up the wound, etc. – to bring yourself up to the point that bedrest would be able to handle the rest. It was possible to log out to the real world and find you had bled out and died in the game.
(I need Reduce Pain to halve the pain and, if possible, Aid to stop the bleeding and hasten the formation of scabs. Either way, I need to collect the coupe and head to a hideout.)
Midori’s fears were not unfounded.
But she was too pure. She had a lot to learn about human cruelty. He wished she could remain this way, but he had to teach her how things worked if she was going to protect herself.
“Not…not the hospital.”
“A Dealer near death might as well have a bull’s eye painted on their back. And tons of people would love to get back at me.”
The deep roar of an engine sounded from outside. He immediately sat up, placed an arm around Midori’s bare shoulders, and rolled to the side of the ambulance.
A seemingly explosive attack followed.
The part of the ambulance that would have been a pop-up door for loading luggage in a normal van was blown away by a shotgun or something. The AI-controlled EMT was helplessly blasted to the floor while still smiling. Their opponent must have been too impatient to wait at the hospital for them. Still holding Midori and lying on the floor, Kaname grabbed a silver pair of scissors that had also fallen to the floor. They were probably meant for cutting bandages.
“Wah, wah, wah!?”
There was not even enough time to ask Midori about the enemy Dealer’s outfit.
The bright headlights piercing the dark night were right in front of him. Given the short distance, he had to focus on making a perfect 90-degree rotation. Since he was lying down, he only had his arm strength to throw the scissors so the sharp blade slammed into the forehead of the convertible’s driver. No matter what Skills or status boosts the enemy had with their classy fashion, they were simply dead if he killed them.
A pump-action shotgun gave a second and third roar from the passenger seat and Midori screamed within his arm, but they were saved when the convertible screeched over and off the road. That threw off the shooter’s aim and the convertible was converted into a pile of scrap metal after crashing into a palm tree on the side of the road.
This was not over yet.
He had to assume information on his condition had already spread throughout the underground. A powerful Dealer was close to death and an inch away from Falling. Now was the time to kill him and steal his assets.
“We need to leave the ambulance somewhere.”
He could still barely breathe, but he whispered in the girl’s ear.
“Anywhere is fine. I have healing sets in all my hideouts. Where are Tselika and the coupe? I need to remove the bullet and sew up the wound at a hideout before the counterattack can begin.”
While Suou Kaname wandered on the border between life and death, Bloody Dancer had to have disappeared somewhere into the city with Kaname’s sister’s Magisterus, Cindy.
If he had wanted to, Bloody Dancer would have been able to finish off Kaname.
There was no logic to it. There was no real reason to attack Kaname or to spare him. Nevertheless, this was the result.
(What is he trying to do?)
Something about him was fundamentally different from Kaname.
But at the same time…
(The Inheritance, the list, and the random number table that Takamasa knew he had to keep secret but left behind in the hopes of sharing it with someone. You go around killing anyone messing around with bugs and errors, you got my sister’s Cindy to obey you, and you’re giving the Inheritance to the Magisteri despite knowing the truth behind Money (Game) Master. Is all that – all of it! – really just your way of enjoying the game, Bloody Dancer!?)
His life had been at severe risk for those ten minutes.
How long had it been since he used a phonebooth?
He had been hesitant to turn on the phone in his pocket. If Bloody Dancer managed to intercept his location data, it was all over. Nothing was impossible in Money (Game) Master…and that Dealer managed it with a storm of bullets and explosives instead of money.
After waiting behind cover for a while, the mint green coupe finally pulled up. That was Tselika at the wheel, but her eyes seemed unfocused. It was like her mind was elsewhere. Like she was going through the motions of a routine without actually thinking about any of it.
“She was already like this when I found her,” said Midori while lending Kaname a shoulder.
“It must have been a shock to see you shot before her eyes. She wouldn’t give me a real answer no matter what I asked her, so I ended up calling the ambulance and applying pressure to the wound on your back while I waited.”
Tselika would normally have kept him off an ambulance even if a rookie like Midori had called for one. She would have loaded him into the coupe and driven off before the ambulance could arrive, attracting all sorts of hyena Dealers with its loud siren.
And yet Kaname mainly felt glad she had not been shot by Bloody Dancer. Even though he knew killing a Magisterus only put them in a sleeping state known as being Down.
Each Dealer had just the one Magisterus.
But since Cindy had somehow been captured, it was always possible that things could take a turn for the worse on some whim of Bloody Dancer’s. Kaname could not even guess how he had broken the rules, but if anyone could do it, he knew Bloody Dancer could.
“What happened to the list?”
“It’s safe. He probably knows it can’t be read without the random number table. That means he has the same thing we do.”
They were giving chase from the same direction.
Kaname could not let himself get too caught up in the appearance of an extreme monster like Bloody Dancer. He had to retrieve the list that contained a portion of Takamasa’s thoughts, decode it with the random number table, and obtain every piece of the Inheritance. Then he could free the people he knew from the Will of the Magisteri.
He could save everyone he cared for, including missing Takamasa.
He spoke to slow-moving Tselika, had her give him the driver’s seat, had Midori cram herself in even though it was a two-seater, and then shut the mint green coupe’s door. Tselika would normally go ballistic about the slightest stain on the seats, but she said nothing about the blood he was getting everywhere.
“Sorry about worrying you so much, Tselika.”
She did not respond.
He wondered what about this had been the biggest shock to her. That he had been shot, the appearance of a traumatic figure like Bloody Dancer, or the fact that they were battling a Dealer who specialized in killing? Any apology made before he knew that may have been nothing but empty words.
He felt bad, but they had to wait until later to deal with Midori’s motorcycle. If she absolutely had to log out before they could, he might have to buy her a super-cheap used car that she could use as a tent. At any rate, he drove the coupe through the peninsula city’s night, crossed the looping road over the ocean, and arrived at the log cabin hideout on the mangrove island.
As soon as the car was in the garage, he was overcome with dizziness. It all came back to him once he knew he could be treated soon.
Tselika and Midori supported him from the garage to the hideout.
He had always avoided doing so because the chemicals would be cooked while the car sat in the sun, but he swore to himself he would keep a healing set in the trunk of the car from now on.
He sat down on the living room sofa and then slowly lay down on his stomach.
He had been shot in the back just above the hip. Removing the bullet and sewing up the wound would be difficult to do on his own.
“Please help me.”
The race queen demon responded to that request with a small nod and finally began to move slowly. She tucked her hair away in a thin cap and donned a mask and gloves. After pulling a set of plastic-packaged equipment from a plastic box, she heated them with the gas burner and used ethanol disinfectant to complete the preparations.
She pulled up his bloody shirt.
The groan came not from Kaname but from Midori who held her trembling hands over her mouth. Money (Game) Master was ruthless when it came to things like this. You could not spend the night at an inn to recover a numerical HP value here. He at least had to stop the bleeding before logging out.
“Disinfecting the wound comes first.”
It felt like forever since he had heard Tselika’s voice. It sounded somehow scratchy and hoarse.
She may have been crying while he was not there to see it.
“This will hurt.”
“That’s probably for the best.”
She applied ethanol to the wound. The burning pain doubled, but he clenched his teeth to bear with it.
“Based on the state of the wound and the amount of blood loss, I doubt the bullet broke apart inside your body. That bastard must not have been using special bullets like that. I can simply pull it out, but is that okay with you?”
No special medical tools were necessary here. Ordinary tweezers would do the trick. Tselika slowly straddled his back on the sofa and placed her butt on his shoulder blades while facing the wound on his lower back.
“Hmph. You think I can’t do it, don’t you? You think I’m just saying that and I will go easy on you yet again.”
“It’s fine, really. I caused you enough trouble here that I’d feel better if it hurt.”
“Do you think saying that will move me to emotion so I’ll treat you more gently?”
“Why would I ever expect that kind of cute behavior from an evil- bkrachagwohhh!!!???”
“There we go. It’s out, master.”
“You…what is wrong with you!? Why would you rub all around in there while pulling it out!?”
He was not even given time to put on a tie with the Reduce Pain skill.
The pain of removing a bullet differed depending on the location, type of bullet, and the state of the bullet, but whatever the case, it was as bad as having a tooth pulled without anesthetic. You can use that to imagine what it felt like with some extra rubbing around.
Kaname struggled while on his stomach, but the race queen demon had him trapped like a bucking bronco below her butt.
“I only gave you the pain you requested, master. And with a virtual body, there is no need to worry about a scar.”
Kaname was practically convulsing below Tselika’s butt and Midori had to cover her small mouth with two trembling hands while she watched. The injured had a way of leaving other people more afraid than they were.
Tselika placed the removed bullet on a Petri dish sitting nearby.
“Now, the bullet looks intact, so you will not have any lead still in you. That just leaves sewing up the wound, disinfecting it, and giving you a blood transfusion.”
“Eh? You can do blood transfusions with a first-aid kit?” asked Midori.
That might make it sound like they could do anything in the game, but this was Money (Game) Master. It was realistic enough to actually seem disturbing at times.
“I simply remove some of my blood every few days and store it in the freezer. Since humans can create their own blood.”
“Although we do not have any anesthetics like morphine or halothane on hand. You’ll have to rely on your Skills for that.”
Tselika used the tweezers to grab a sharp needle with thread attached and breathed from her nose. The curved needle looked a lot like a fishing hook, but it lacked the barb.
“It’s time to finish this up, master. Since we don’t have anesthetic, try biting a handkerchief or something.”
“Tselika, can’t you be a little gentler? This really is gonna kill me.”
“You intend to Fall here!? Don’t you dare give up and abandon our dream!!!!!!”
“Wait, Tselika! Um, uh, I really don’t think I should let my friends see me foaming at the mouth with my eyes rolling back in my head!!”
“You said you would become the human king while I become the demon queen!! You said we would gather the entire Inheritance, analyze Money (Game) Master’s programming language, and silence the Will together! Don’t let some past trauma like Bloody Dancer get the better of you!! Did your promises mean nothing at all!?”
Midori quickly tried to stop her, but she must have been hesitant to restrain the person using needle and thread to do battle with a wound. Her halfhearted attempts accomplished nothing. The incredibly painful sensations continued one needle prick at a time.
And finally, Tselika whispered her last question again.
“Did they mean nothing at all, you dumbass of a master?”
“Sorry. I shouldn’t have worried you like that.”
“Hmph,” she snorted.
She skillfully tied off the thread with the end of the tweezers, cut off the excess with a pair of scissors, and once more…
“Gyah! Don’t slap it, Tselika!!”
“There, I’ve carefully disinfected it. If only you would grow more reliant and obedient when you’re injured or sick… Now, sit up and hold out your arm, master. I will top off your blood.”
“Please, Tselika. I need my baby bottle.”
“Not the kind of reliant I want, master. And why would I feed you with a bottle if you have a cold? Don’t tell me Mother Loose’s sweet poison has gotten to your head.”
Now the bullet had been extracted and the wound was sewn up. After sitting up in the sofa, he let Tselika stick a needle into his inner elbow. Once the contents of the 500mL bag hanging from a stand were inside him, he could actually log out. His ties were all the same pattern but had different Skills, so he grabbed the one with Reduce Pain and put it on.
That Skill alone made a big difference, but it could not reduce it to zero.
Tselika placed a box larger than a car battery down on the living room floor.
“Here, strip off that blood-soaked shirt.”
Midori tilted her head and the sexy demon gave an exasperated sigh.
“To let it soak. This was originally a powdered detergent fir washing machines, but it ended up being so powerful it broke the washing machine tub. But if you use it correctly, you can make a rag soaked with machine oil good as new again. Although there is a rumor that it also eliminates whatever Skill the piece of clothing had.”
To make use of the time they had, Kaname, Tselika, and Midori naturally held a strategy meeting.
Their focus had been on Kaname since he had been shot, but now that things had calmed down, they had a lot of questions.
Was Cindy, Kaname’s retired sister’s Magisterus, the one who had been going around taking out owners of the list?
Was she supported by Bloody Dancer, the insane Dealer who was gathering the Inheritance to hand it over to the AIs?
Why had Bloody Dancer attacked Kaname’s group at this point?
“Um.” Midori hesitantly spoke up first. “The person who shot my brother is famous, right? Then couldn’t someone create an identical avatar?”
“Creating face data too similar to another Dealer will trigger a banned duplication warning,” explained Tselika. “I’ve heard of false positives with twins and triplets.”
“The companion women in Frey(ja)’s sub looked identical, right?” said Kaname. “You would swear they’re twins, but they apparently have intentional differences using moles on the eyelids or other unnoticeable places. Being completely identical is not possible.”
“Could there be a piece of the Inheritance that changes your appearance or fools our eyes?”
Midori was still supporting the idea that it was a disguise of some sort.
She may have had trouble calming her emotions after hearing they had suddenly run into her brother’s enemy. Kaname understood the desire to pretend this was something else, but he shook his head.
“Those movements were far from normal. And they were not reliant on Skills or the Inheritance. He can do all that with his raw skill. He is the only person I know who can sneak up on Tselika and me.”
“But maybe something from the Inheritance can increase those stats!”
“We are assuming this person has some of the Inheritance, but master is an elite among elites who led the legendary Called Game team. Not even someone boosting themselves with the Inheritance could get the better of him so easily.”
“Stop, Tselika. Making Midori cry won’t help the situation.”
“I’m not crying!!” snapped back Midori while turning her back on him for some reason. He exchanged a quiet glance with Tselika.
“Call it an assumption if you like, but for now, let’s continue this discussion as if that really is Bloody Dancer himself. If it isn’t, we can course correct later.”
“You heard him.”
An assumption. For now. As if. Creating those mental escape paths allowed Midori to turn back around after wiping her face off with a handkerchief.
“Of course, no one knows where his hideout is. Or rather, if anyone knew, they would have blown it up by now. So we have to start there.”
“Won’t it be extremely difficult to locate that just by talking things out here?” asked Tselika. “Cindy’s presence suggests he has been preparing for this since around when your sister retired. He must have made some surprisingly methodical preparations for a confrontation with you, so I doubt he would be storing everything in a place we could predict.”
Kaname was afraid they would end up going in circles if he did not choose his words carefully, but his thoughts were cut off by the deep roar of an engine.
However, this was not an ordinary car. It was an air-cooled two-stroke engine, meaning this was a motorcycle. Also, their villa was the only thing on this mangrove island. Kaname and Tselika looked to the window at the exact same moment, but Midori’s face lit up.
“It’s Meiki. She actually listened to me for once. She brought my motorcycle back to me!”
“Wait, hold on.”
Kaname quickly stopped Midori from running outside.
Meiki had meant no harm.
But this felt like a mix of good news and bad news.
With a low bzzt, the log cabin hideout’s power went out.
Midori’s Magisterus had apparently guided an uninvited guest to the cabin.
Darkness arrived without warning.
But Suou Kaname was not shaken. Using the backlight of his phone or smartwatch would only get him shot. And he did not have time to change into clothes that gave him a night vision Skill. First, he got down on the floor by rolling off the sofa and then he felt around on top of the table. As soon as he heard the living room window shattering, he threw the healing set’s scalpel in that direction with all his might.
(You moron. Blinding us is meaningless if you make all that noise.)
His Lion’s Nose did not even react to this.
He reached out in the darkness and confirmed Tselika and Midori’s locations. Tselika was down on all fours, but Midori was apparently still standing up. Your pose changed the odds of being hit by a bullet, so he grabbed her hand and tugged down as an instruction. Meanwhile, he confiscated her phone that would be suicide to use and borrowed the small self-defense handgun from her thigh.
This was his hideout, so he more or less had the layout memorized. He aimed for the door between the front entranceway and the living room and fired twice when he heard the doorknob turn.
He used the light gunshots to mask a question to Tselika.
“(Tselika. What did you do with my Short Spear!?)”
“(It’s in the garage. It’s still folded up in the coupe’s dashboard!)”
He groped around until he found a boxy container among the few different detergent options lined up on the floor. That powerful powdered detergent could remove bloodstains. He opened the lid and scattered it around to spread a somewhat bluish-white powder that would function as a smokescreen. Or so he hoped.
“(The enemy broke the window first,)” he pointed out.
“(You meant the ones creating this darkness actually removed the curtains to let moonlight in?)” asked Tselika.
“(That means they need some faint amount of light. They aren’t using ultrasonic or infrared equipment. They must be using the Night Vision Skill. That simply amplifies the amount of light to reveal the image.)”
His side could not see in the first place.
Spreading a smokescreen through the enclosed building would only trouble the attackers who had a way to see in the dark. Skills were convenient since anyone could use them with the right equipment, but they were not all-powerful. Rely on them too much and people could use it against you. If the attackers’ night vision was their only trump card, this was already over.
“(Don’t cough, Midori. Bear with it.)”
He heard a dull thud.
With both sides’ vision gone, had the enemy changed tack? But their adlib was sloppy and far too easy to figure out. Kaname fired again toward the wall next to the door and heard a real scream from beyond the wall.
The scene he burned into his mind during the brief muzzle flash was a crucial hint.
(Are they self-taught without any real training? There are shooting ranges in Summer City and they say there’s even a survival school for real weirdos on the outskirts. Yet they seem to have some level of organization.)
He did not know if it really existed, but in the world of games, you could always find a certain occupation.
Kaname groped around until he found the beanbag cushion, threw it in the general direction he thought the enemy was, and then fired. Breaking the cushion and scattering those small plastic beans everywhere changed things a lot. There was no hiding the noise of one’s footsteps now.
Whether the information was visual or auditory, he just needed to know their location. He accurately shot one of the attackers.
“(We’re coming up on two minutes,)” said Tselika. “(The emergency power is coming on!!)”
Just as the darkness was swept away by a light bright enough to send a dull pain through his temple, Kaname pulled the trigger to fire straight into the face of an assassin who was now defenselessly revealed.
And he noticed something.
“What, that was the last one? We didn’t even need to reach the garage.”
“Ugh, cough. We need to air this place out. Hey, master, there’s blood, corpses, bullet holes, and detergent powder everywhere. We’ll be up until morning cleaning all this up. The Fallen bodies will disappear in a few minutes, but the blood remains and we need to get up that powerful detergent before it damages the floor!”
“Okay, I need to log out and do my homework.”
“Don’t you dare!!” shouted Tselika with legit tears in her eyes, but Midori’s focus was elsewhere.
“What is with them? They were using Auto-Aim with their guns, Secret to erase their presence, and Night Vision to see in the dark. Th-they were clearly equipped to sneak in and kill us. Their outfits were chosen specifically to make people suffer and die.”
She sounded shaken.
She trembled a little even though this was all in a game.
“I mean, I know anything goes in Money (Game) Master, but do people normally resort to home invasions?”
“Midori, why do you think they were wearing masks?”
“Eh? Because they were up to no good, right?”
“Money (Game) Master is virtual reality. The police aren’t going to arrest you for killing someone here.”
She tilted her head, so he continued while making sure to keep an eye on things outside.
“On the other hand, the idea that dead men tell no tales doesn’t work here. Shooting them only makes them Fall, forcibly logging them out for 24 hours. The instant they’re booted from the game, they can spread whatever information they want on ordinary message boards or video sites.”
People had the option to continue after you killed them. That truly was a game-exclusive threat.
If Kaname had known how to contact Strawberry Garter in the real world, he would honestly have tried to acquire the list’s random number table from her there.
Of course, how far the information spread was dependent on the individual’s influence. If someone Fell and ended up buried in debt, anything they said could be passed off as jealous lies.
“Oh, you’re right. That would be a lot easier than gathering evidence of the crime.”
“So the thing the attackers feared most was being seen by their victims. We can’t pursue them until we figure out a way around that.”
“On the other hand, you could also disguise yourself as another Dealer to frame them,” added Tselika. “In Money (Game) Master, nothing is as troublesome as being caught in the tunnel vision of an enraged victim.”
“None of them were all that skilled, but their group clearly knew the bare minimum of etiquette.”
Kaname sighed once.
He was like a one-man natural disaster carrying unbelievable combat power, so why had that berserker not made a direct appearance here? That monster’s thought processes were honestly completely incomprehensible, but Kaname tried to find some logic there if at all possible.
The only information he would have on Kaname’s group would be what he had forced out of Cindy, so only up to the point that Kaname’s sister had retired.
In that case…
(Is he trying to fill in the gaps in his information? Is he watching our reaction to see if we’re hiding any other pieces of the Inheritance?)
He doubted that guy could make friends like a normal person.
There was only one option.
“Were they hired assassins? And I doubt I need to specify who it was that hired them.”
Summer City’s peninsula city was rife with pawnshops.
One was a tenant in the first floor of a stone building. The space was smaller than the average convenience store and the walls and center were filled with glass cases containing shiny gold watches, leather bags, and the like. This was Money (Game) Master, where anything goes, yet groups of masked robbers never stormed the place. Rumors of what happened to anyone crass enough to try it could be found all over the internet.
No matter what route they took, any seized goods would eventually find their way to a shop run by the pawnshop king.
For better or for worse, too many people made use of those shops. Instead of ruling at the top of the financial city, this person gained a position among the financial ruling class from a position more like a street corner loan shark. They earned a lot of grudges, but they were allowed to reign as a king because they had the power to deflect all of those grudges by brute force.
The person at the counter was not one of the usual employees.
It was Frey(ja), a handsome man with long blonde hair and a white suit.
He(?) did not even glance over as he addressed the reddish-purple slime Magisterus in a sailor uniform standing there.
“Yes, master. The deposit has been received. Shall I display the spreadsheet on my clothing?”
“That won’t be necessary. If I didn’t trust you, I wouldn’t leave you in charge of the entire pawnshop group’s finances. Now, M Scope-kun, we shall return your entire seized collection.”
He snapped his fingers and two young women in white dresses resembling spiral shells approached from beyond the counter. The pair looked as similar as twins and they were pushing small-wheeled handcarts loaded with plastic containers.
“This should be every piece of your seized collection. Please check over it for missing items, damage, or stains.”
M Scope’s face lit up and he leapt toward and opened the plastic cases like he could not wait a moment longer. Frey(ja) looked a little exasperated.
“You are more or less a wanted man and you just earned a small fortune on a public quiz show you risked appearing on. And buying all this back must have cost more than 20% more than when you pawned it off. Is it really that important for you to reclaim a bunch of…let’s see, figurines, button badges, and other novelty items with no Skills or anything going for them?”
“You say that, but you’re the one that locked them down so no other customers could buy them.”
“These items are somewhat outside of my area of expertise, so I was not confident I could even sell them all if I sold them individually. Whereas if someone was willing to buy them all back as a set no matter what it takes, well, then I could add on a handling fee to earn a nice profit. That is all it was.”
The handsome blond man smiled thinly as he placed two solid objects on the glass counter.
One was a small submachinegun that almost looked like a toy and the other was the key to an SUV.
“Welcome back, M Scope-kun, to Money (Game) Master.”
For M Scope, reclaiming all of his possessions also meant to reclaim the gun and car he had used during his prime. Those meant a lot in this game that lacked a level or experience point system. He was back to his strongest. He had the same power he had as one of the top Dealers. He could now engage in deals worth hundreds of millions and execute any Dealers who opposed him.
The hunched backpack boy did not reach for them yet.
He instead looked to the handsome blond man and made a suggestion.
“I want your help, Frey(ja).”
“Do you mean as a pawnshop customer? Or do you mean as equal business partners?”
“I want to save the others – Titan, Hazard, and Saurus too. But I don’t know if I can pull it off on my own. I want someone else’s support. I will lend you all my power in financial deals, gunfights, and car chases. I’m willing to become your henchman or your slave or whatever else. Isn’t there anything you can lend me to help them?”
“I see. An interesting idea.”
Frey(ja)’s smile became a very cruel one.
This was not an expression he gave to his business customers.
“But as I am sure you already know, love and romance are everything to me. I do not care about anything else. Thus, I only ever work with couples. And artificial love with your Magisterus does not count. Did you really think I would be willing to work with someone who has lost himself in fiction and surrounded himself with character products? You do not know the ins and outs of true love. You are a half-baked individual who could not bring himself to let go of the artificial Magisterus who was always so kind to you.”
A dull metallic sound followed.
It was like a magic trick.
At some point, an enormous shiny black revolver had appeared in Frey(ja)’s hand. It was named the Raging Stallion. That monstrous magnum fired .50 caliber hollow point bullets that could kill a 4m man-eating tiger in a single shot. It could blast a human being to pieces.
In this case, he did not do the fighting himself.
Instead, he held the thick barrel like the weapon was a hammer.
He was only interested in love and romance, so he would not trouble himself with odd jobs such as combat and earning money. He simply released his hounds. It was all over once the reddish-purple slime Magisterus named Brunhild grabbed the proffered grip with her small hand.
“The answer is no. At the very least, nothing about you attracts me right now.” He seemed to spit out the words, but his eyes crawled across the shy boy’s body like he could see through the clothes. “Familiarize yourself with romance and transform it into love. Yes, if you wish to become a member of Treasure Hermit Crab without finding a partner, you will have to become my lover.”
This time, he did not transform into a sexy woman.
The pure white handsome man(?) smirked while staying true to his own desires to the end.
“If you cannot do it yourself, I will have to teach you how it is done myself, but are you sure you want that? It would be something like the child without a partner having to pair up with the teacher during a field trip.”
It was slight, but a strange gunpowder-like atmosphere seeped from M Scope’s entire body.
Frey(ja)’s smile grew more cheerful.
He lifted up the magnum to move that ruinous grip from Brunhild’s hand.
The pawnshop king relaxed his shoulders.
“I’m glad to see you still have some fight left in you. Having sex without love lowers you to the level of the animals. If you had accepted that offer, I would have made some kind of empty promise, had my way with you, and thrown you out.”
“So even if I disappointed you, you would still have slept with me?”
“Let us discuss the conditions.”
M Scope could not have sounded more exasperated, but Frey(ja) leaned out over the glass counter and got down to business.
Everyone had their own unique values, but the balance of power here was clear. Frey(ja) had no reason to show any restraint.
“If you want our help, you must find someone in this wide world you have feelings for and confess those feelings. If it works, fantastic. But just this once, it is perfectly fine if you are shot down. The point is for you to experience the thrill of the real deal. That is my condition for making a contract.”
“Heh heh. Love is not easy. You can aim a gun at them and offer them untold riches, but you can’t make it go the way you want. There are no surefire strategies here. You need to learn to enjoy the unexpected. Do not throw your controller in frustration. You can never make any progress here if you get cold feet because you fear failure or if you let the blood rush to your head when things don’t go your way.”
“I get that!! Ginmi, let’s go. Get in the car!!”
After the Dealer called out to his Yuki Onna Magisterus, the two of them pushed the two handcarts to the car parked by the road in front of the pawnshop.
Frey(ja) waved and watched the stooped boy go.
Another customer entered just as the boy left.
“Oh, it isn’t often the owner of the whole shebang is out working with customers.”
“Welcome, Laplacian. Something interesting just came up, so would you care to make a bet with me? Will an innocent boy’s confession succeed or will he go down in flames? I am willing to bet a billion on his success. Oh, I just can’t wait to hear his wonderful love story.”
“Oh, are you afraid of finding yourself in a losing streak or something? Did you suffer a major loss somewhere recently?”
That was a profession that really only worked in games.
“Is that really a viable business?” asked Midori while walking from the trashed log cabin to the garage.
Kaname looked calm despite being targeted.
“Generally speaking, it’s a high-risk, high-return affair. Plus, the use of underground agreements means the client can skip out on the bill after you’ve done the job.”
“Then why do it?”
“Not everyone who logs into Money (Game) Master has specialized knowledge. As inefficient as it may be, if killing is all you’re good at, that’s what you have to do to get by. It isn’t uncommon for assassins to gather around the Dealers who make a lot of money in financial deals and gambles. They’ll either try to receive some scraps or threaten the intellectual into doing what they want. It depends on the specific Dealer involved.”
Kaname peeked below his mint green coupe as he explained. Even with the painkilling effects of Reduce Pain, that was enough for the wound in his back to make itself very much known. He was less interested in the car itself than in the sand he had spread thinly across the floor. Since the sand had not been disturbed, it was unlikely anyone had climbed underneath and set up a bomb.
For some reason, Midori held down her frilly black gothic lolita miniskirt and blushed.
“D-does that include the person who shot my brother?”
“Bloody Dancer was the muscle for the global group of Dealers that tried to start the Swiss Panic. Of course, he ended up killing all of his clients.”
“The Swiss Panic was set up to send money from around the world into a specific bank account. Once we put a stop to it, they didn’t have the money they needed to pay their Dealers. That’s when he snapped. After the incident with Takamasa, he did not hesitate to aim his guns at his own clients.”
“You said it was a global group of Dealers, didn’t you?”
“At the very least, they were more powerful than Called Game. They had guns, cars, money – everything. It was admittedly a surprise attack, but Bloody Dancer devoured them from within. And he did it singlehandedly.”
He had no interest in cars or money. He viewed Money (Game) Master as no more than a shooting game and he had still done well enough for himself to be one of the top-ranked Dealers in the world. He got money and bullets by killing and taking them. He wielded two special handguns while obeying the rules of war video games: resupply by touching the items dropped by your defeated enemies.
He was a monster who singlehandedly ruled over everything with just two guns and two grenade launchers.
He did not seek out Skills or the Inheritance. He could only enjoy the game while playing as his true self.
“He only ever uses his guns because he assumes money will come to him if he keeps winning. The thing is, he doesn’t look after his finances, but he’ll still get hopping mad if the reward in front of his eyes is reduced. He’s a real pain in the ass. He might think the Snow is the score he earns for defeating his enemy.”
Whatever the case, this was no ordinary enemy.
Since the location of their vehicles and hideout had been discovered, they could not log out to escape. That was like asking for an ambush when logging back in.
Kaname pressed the button on the car key to unlock the doors.
“He has control of Cindy, my sister’s Magisterus. If he’s using violence to get her to talk, he probably knows about all of my hideouts. Midori, we need to head out for now. It can be a temporary spot, but we need to hide somewhere he doesn’t know about.”
The tension may have only now been catching up to Midori.
Kaname had done nothing while Takamasa had protected his sister with his life.
But they had been part of the powerful team known as Called Game back then. That tragedy required the existence of a fearsome warrior capable of getting the better of those aces.
The mint green coupe and the red autumn leaf motorcycle left the mangrove island and merged onto the large looping bridge.
Bloody Dancer, the world’s greatest gunslinger, wanted them dead. The reality of that had not hit home with Midori yet. For better or for worse, this still only felt like a game to her.
“Midori> Where exactly are we going to go?”
“Kaname> We’ll hide in the crowds of the peninsula city.”
“Midori> The assassins he hired are still out there, aren’t they!?”
“Kaname> Summer City is the size of a state, but it’s still a limited space. Fleeing to the ends of the earth isn’t an option here.”
“Tselika, run a search.”
“Sure thing. Searching for a large hotel with an underground parking lot or a parking garage that can’t be spied on from above and has at least two exits.”
Then Kaname roughly raised his Short Spear short-range sniper rifle in his left hand. Tselika leaned back her seat and opened the power window.
With a metallic noise, the silencer-equipped gun released some .45 caliber bullets. A few holes appeared in the van driving alongside them. The sliding door with a metal panel covering its window slid weakly open and a masked man in a black night-combat uniform fell out onto the road while holding an assault rifle, but Kaname paid it no heed.
He had felt a tingling in his nose.
There was nothing to fear as long as his Lion’s Nose was working properly. He only had to trust in his senses.
He aimed his gun toward the driver’s seat and raised his voice.
“What kind of garbage is this!? If you want to kill me, you need to hire assassins with at least a four star rating!!”
The van ignored his warning and moved toward the coupe, so he slammed on the brakes and let it pass by in front of him while opening the driver’s side window and shooting out the right rear tire. The van lost its balance, rolled over on its side, and disappeared behind them.
“Midori> Hey, I think there’s something flying above us!”
“Kaname> A spy drone modified from an agro drone meant to scatter insecticide over hornet nests. They’re designed for stability in crosswinds instead of speed. We can lose that thing, so don’t worry.”
He was finally back in his element.
Once he forgot how to enjoy this thrill, the game would no longer be a game.
“It’s already this bad and we haven’t even arrived at the peninsula yet.”
“Did you say hornets?” asked Tselika.
“Then was that the exterminator group called Marietta Flapper? Bloody Dancer must be making a killing from his killings if he can boss around someone like that.”
Simply put, that was an assassin group that had started out killing rats and roaches before expanding their services to include humans.
Midori had a fundamental question about that while driving alongside them on her red autumn leaf print motorcycle.
“Midori> An exterminator? Is that really necessary in a game world?”
“Kaname> It’s convenient. In Money (Game) Master, people speculate on land and shops as well…which means people will try to steal them. A simple way to steal a shop from someone is to spread raw garbage and pet food behind the shop. That does even more damage with a restaurant.”
She responded with silence.
The lovely middle school girl must not have approved of that topic.
More deep gunshots rang out.
This was not from Kaname or Marietta. An uninvolved car caught in the battle had snapped and started fighting back. There were no side characters here. That was one of the best things about Money (Game) Master, but in this case…
“Oh, no!” exclaimed Tselika. “Smash Daughter just joined the battle!”
“She isn’t specifically targeting us or Midori, so let her clear the way for us.”
Smash Daughter was a non-lethal weaponry expert who fought using a semiauto rifle that fired capacitor bullets filled with massive amounts of electricity instead of 7.62mm rifle rounds and had a 700,000-volt stun baton attached below the barrel. If necessary, she could increase their power using the battery of the collapsible electric motorcycle she used to drive around.
However, she was not a nice girl who refused to kill. She preferred to put her enemy to sleep so she could choose whether to kill them or let them live at her leisure.
“Midori> Why is everything sparking!? It’s like we drove into a cumulonimbus cloud or something!”
“Kaname> Don’t get too close. On a bike, you have a higher chance of being hit by a stray shot.”
Midori was right.
Smash Daughter was enough of a threat on her own, but her storm of violence only grew when paired with her silver-haired Apsaras Magisterus. That brown-skinned woman riding a big blue scooter modeled after a waterfall wielded Hot Splash, a water gun larger than the average assault rifle. The tall beauty on that hydrogen engine vehicle could assist Smash Daughter’s stun attacks by spraying water that was forcibly pressurized by carbon dioxide gas. The storm of high-voltage current snaking every which way through the sky and across the ground was far more frightening than a heavy machinegun.
If they cracked your bulletproof glass or got water through a gap in the door, the high-voltage current would fill your vehicle as well.
“The hell is wrong with you!? Don’t spray bullets around willy-nilly then get all pissy when someone fights back!”
“Please restrain yourself, lady. A sexy lady should watch her language. Now, take a deep breath along with me. Relax.”
But she had no reason to see this through to the end.
Once the short-haired girl in a distinctive school swimsuit and witch’s hat had reduced the number of assassins to her satisfaction, she flipped them the bird and drove off. Kaname made sure to flash his headlights twice to express his thanks. Instead of the unsociable girl, it was the Magisterus in a gym instructor outfit that turned back and blew him a kiss as a response, but that made Smash Daughter upset and she lightly kicked the side of the big scooter with her small foot.
“Hmph. I knew an Apsaras like her would be a slut.”
“It’s not a competition, Tselika.”
The boy had no intention of relying on another Dealer to the end anyway.
Whoever they were up against, he had to protect Takamasa’s sister, Midori. And the more powerful the foe, the more fiercely he had to fight back to eliminate them. He was nervous. The danger sense had not gone away. But he could convert it into an excitement allowing him to keep going, not to run away.
If you could not refine horror into a thrill, you would hesitate and get shot.
He had made that very mistake before and lost Takamasa, so he was not about to do it again.
“Kaname> Midori, be careful. Stay behind my car as much as you can.”
Midori was driving right alongside him, but she did not respond.
She was looking at something.
The girl with long black twintails appeared to be viewing the windshield that displayed things over the scene in front of her.
“Midori> I have a request.”
She sounded half dazed as she sounded out the words in her mouth.
“Midori> A chat request. Sent by…Bloody Dancer?”
“That son of a bitch!!”
“Sounds like he isn’t just getting his info from Cindy,” said Tselika. “Midori only came to Money (Game) Master after Takamasa Fell, so I doubt she has had any contact with your sister who retired at about the same time. Did he hire a private eye?”
“Midori> Wh-what do I do!?”
“Kaname> Accept it and link it to me. It’s me he wants to speak with anyway.”
The looping bridge was a single route taking a constant gentle curve, so checking for pursuers was not easy. But Kaname was irregularly speeding up and slowing down. Any vehicles that moved closer or further away along with that were not a part of this.
But what about a vehicle that maintained a certain distance?
Anyone going to the effort to do that stood out from the rest.
He took out more of the Marietta Flapper company vehicles, but that was not what really mattered. He calmly fired his gun while a large chat window opened on the windshield.
This opponent was on another level entirely.
“Bloody Dancer> Hi, Kaname.”
This was all it took.
Two words were enough for the center of Suou Kaname’s mind to feel like it was boiling over.
His Lion’s Nose felt like it was going to burst from his face.
But the other guy sounded entirely carefree.
“Bloody Dancer> Glad you’re enjoying this. I take it people on Marietta’s level aren’t enough to stop you. I thought they might be able to pull it off on that single-route bridge, but it seems they weren’t motivated enough to consider bringing down the whole damn bridge along with their target.”
“Kaname> You should’ve stayed hidden in the shadows of history. Why would you show yourself to me like this? Are you that intent on having your life destroyed around you?”
“Bloody Dancer> Ha ha ha!! You? Kill me? Oh, I can’t wait. Let’s see how much you’ve improved since you could only cower in the back of that abandoned building with your sister!!”
Kaname’s coupe and Midori’s motorcycle left the long, long bridge connecting the islands and entered the flood of lights produced by the peninsula city.
“Tselika, do we have a temporary hideout that can fool him!?”
“Argh! Everywhere that fits the conditions is full. There aren’t any immediate vacancies at the good places in the middle of the night!!”
He shared that information with Midori and she did not seem happy about it.
“Midori> Why are the hotels doing such good business here? If you’re playing it the normal way, you just log out after a few hours, right?”
“Tselika> Does she expect us to be her tutoring app? She must not have been paying attention in health class. Specifically, the section on se-…”
Kaname quickly grabbed Tselika’s horn and shook her head.
Regardless, the real fight was only just beginning.
They had to find solid footing, locate their opponent, and then head to battle while fully equipped. The battle began well before any guns were actually aimed at each other. The ball was in Kaname’s court now. And unlike combat-crazed Bloody Dancer, he knew how to use cars and money as his weapons.
Or so he thought.
Right up until a giant mass of steel slammed into his mint green coupe from the side.
It was not a dump truck.
It looked like a truck, but it was not.
“Kwahh!! Th-the Calamity Studio!?” shouted Tselika.
The long, rectangular silhouette looked like a storage container. It generally looked like a windowless police van or tour bus entirely covered in armor. However, giant antennae covered its flat roof. It was actually a special outside broadcasting vehicle owned by a broadcast station. To survive in the internet age when scoops could be made by the cameras on people’s phones, large civilian armored vehicles were needed to visit the scenes of disasters and make a live broadcast. That post-apocalyptic vehicle was built to disaster standards, giving it the weight and toughness needed to drive straight into a tornado powerful enough to rip roofs from houses and capture the shocking footage from inside.
Kaname immediately adjusted his grip on the wheel, but that vehicle weighed more than 80 tons – more than a tank. It truly was extraordinary. He doubted it used air to fill its tires.
“Midori> That truck says Tap TV on the side!!”
“Kaname> He must have killed the PMC army protecting the fortress of an online broadcasting station and stolen this from them. He of all people could pull it off!!”
That said, Kaname had not seen this coming. If he had known the enemy had stolen something this big, he would have gone with different tactics.
He was slow to react.
He could not predict this enemy’s actions if he simply relied on his Lion’s Nose!!
The monstrous outside broadcasting vehicle’s bumper had stabbed into Kaname’s car just behind the rear right wheel. The hit from the side had crushed the coupe’s trunk like an empty can. The rear wheels skidded to the side despite what the direction he was turning the wheel and the entire car began to spin. He struggled to control the skidding car while also using the rearview mirror to focus on the scene behind him.
Bloody Dancer could not even drive a car.
So who was at the enormous wheel behind that windshield reinforced with a metal mesh?
“That’s not the worst of it, Tselika. Bloody Dancer is there with her!!”
Someone stepped out from behind the thick antennae covering the top of the flat roof.
Despite the heat of this game world, that monster always wore a thin suit designed with ventilation in mind.
He held a pair of handguns with long magazines. The single-shot grenade launchers were larger than the handguns they were attached to.
That berserker relied only on guns and never used cars or financial dealings. As long as he had hard rock playing from the wearable speakers around his neck, he could fight his way into an AI company’s headquarters like he was popping into a convenience store for a snack. He saw battles in the simplest of terms and he seemed like fear made flesh.
Kaname’s heart was going crazy in his chest.
But he managed to swallow the lump of fear in his throat and forced himself to convert it into the thrill that would keep him moving. He was done for if he let it devour him instead. His soul would be killed before the bullets ever found him.
He was facing his trauma.
Tselika pulled out a new tie from the passenger seat, but he held out a hand to stop her. Physically reducing the stress with the Stress Care Skill would only be running away. The value could not be reduced to zero. Admitting he was overwhelmed would only trap him.
He instead raised his voice while focusing on freeing himself from the pressure and crushing the stress.
The conversation was no longer being held via chat.
The crazy man howled louder than a gale.
“Ee hee hee. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Hired guns aren’t enough to make you burn, right? Then let’s kick the thrill up a notch!!”
A series of gunshots rang out.
The mint green coupe had finally regained its balance and Tselika ducked down in the passenger seat so hard her race queen outfit strained, but that was not his target.
They heard shattering glass.
Even Midori kept looking back from her large motorcycle driving alongside the coupe.
“Midori> That jerk is firing on the other buildings instead of us!! But why!?”
“Kaname> The corporate security.”
A chill ran down Kaname’s spine when he finally realized what was going on here.
“Kaname> Be on your guard, Midori!! Bloody Dancer is trying to call in the AI-controlled PMCs!! From all the private land and buildings around here!!”
It was like poking at a hornet’s nest.
First, a bulletproof vehicle drove up with siren blaring, but when it was blown away by one of the grenades launched from below Bloody Dancer’s twin handgun barrels, a new window appeared on the windshield. The drive recorder was being used to detect how many AI-controlled soldiers were focused on them, and the number had already jumped up to over 80. There were 8-wheeled armored trucks with a gun on the roof and there were attack helicopters with missiles and machineguns hanging down. More and more firepower arrived, making it feel more like a war than a criminal issue.
Technically speaking, the AI-controlled soldiers would be locked onto Bloody Dancer and his boxy outside broadcasting vehicle.
Normally, you could not push back an AI-controlled PMC with a head-on attack. Their basic parameters were too high and they could receive unlimited reinforcements, after all. So the standard trick was to use speed to escape pursuit, find somewhere to hide, and wait until the alert level went down. It was always a bad idea to pick a fight with them yourself.
“Midori> So is he fighting with them?”
It was dumbfounding.
On her red autumn leaf pattern motorcycle, Midori must not have believed what she was seeing in the mirror and kept twisting around to look back herself.
“Midori> They’re all crashing. It’s like we’re being chased by a pair of giant steel jaws!!”
They heard instantaneous gunshots, grenade launcher blasts, and explosions. The bulletproof vehicles spun out, the attack helicopters crashed, and Bloody Dancer’s giant vehicle pushed aside all the flaming wreckage with its bumper. The scraps kept bursting like popcorn and a single hit would undoubtedly cause Kaname and Midori’s vehicles to burst into flames and explode.
That guy was not hoping the PMCs would attack his enemy.
They were only an infinite supply of ammo for him. The PMC armies were viewed like death itself in this game, but he swept them aside and kicked them away like he was loading an endless supply of balls into a pitching machine. He laughed maniacally while the burning steel crashed into the sidewalk, knocked over street lights, and shattered store windows. The unrelated Dealers walking along the road screamed and took cover in nearby stores and below cars.
It was like being chased by an active volcano made of metal and gunpowder. This kind of strategy was unthinkable both in the real world and in a game!!
“What’s wrong!? This not enough for you!? If you’ve got any complaints, then let me hear ‘em! I can always order more for you! I’ll cover your table with a true feast if that’s what you want!!”
“Midori> He’s insane. He’s created a situation where the entire city is after him, but he’s still laughing!!”
A PMC armored vehicle made its move.
It was a single sharp cannon blast. Much like from a tank.
But Bloody Dancer fired a grenade from below his gun barrel to match the Mach 5 blast from the gun on the armored vehicle’s roof. The two explosives collided in midair and exploded in between the two combatants.
That was an inhuman feat that should not have been possible even with Slow, a Skill that forcibly slowed down the apparent passage of time.
To make matters worse, neither of the guns he held were even part of the Inheritance. He could accomplish this with ordinary commercial products.
And they did not have time to just watch.
Since an explosion had erupted at an unexpected location, they had not had time to avoid it.
Kaname’s coupe was lifted up by the blast. The right wheels rose from the pavement, leaving him driving on just two wheels. It was close to a miracle it did not roll over, but Bloody Dancer did not wait for the wheels to fall back down and the car to regain its balance.
He fired twice on the left wheels that were still contacting the ground and the car completely lost its balance. The mint green coupe’s movement collapsed like a karate fighter or kickboxer who had their pivot leg swept out from under them immediately following a high kick.
“Kaname> Stay back, Midori. Don’t get caught by my coupe as it crashes!!”
There was no controlling it any longer.
Suou Kaname’s coupe crashed right into a building bordering the major road.
The carbon material car plowed through a pair of large double doors to enter the building and it only came to a stop after hitting the pedestal for a pair of nude goddess statues.
“Damn. Are you alive, Tselika?”
“I’m cursing myself for not just letting myself be Downed.”
And now was not the time to get comfy with his face in the airbag.
With the loud roar of an engine, a red autumn leaf print motorcycle drove into the marble lobby.
“Are you okay!?”
“You should have used this chance to escape,” complained Kaname while pulling out the crowbar he kept below his seat as an emergency weapon.
He stepped out of the car and pried open the trunk which had been bent by the sideways collision from the outside broadcasting vehicle that looked like it had originally been a large bus or police van.
The monstrous shotgun: #Downpour.err.
The anti-materiel rifle taller than he was: #FiringLine.err.
The Gatling gun that was lighter than a feather: #DragonGod.err.
The mortar that could pass through any terrain obstacles: #Thunderbolt.err.
Those were the four pieces of the Inheritance they had at present. They had fortunately not been destroyed when the trunk was crushed. They were effective as simple firepower and they could not afford to leave them behind so Bloody Dancer could collect them at his leisure.
“Midori, can you summon Meiki, your Magisterus?”
“She’s working well today. No static that I’ve seen.”
Midori lightly tapped her motorcycle’s tank with her soft palm and a Magisterus in a mini-China dress floated up onto the rear seat.
“Then she can look after #FiringLine.err. Tselika, you get #Downpour.err. Midori, you take #DragonGod.err.”
“Eh? What about #Thunderbolt.err!?”
“Even if it can pass through obstacles, it’s useless in an indoor battle since the distances aren’t enough for a proper arc. Someone with a free hand can carry it!”
He doubted Bloody Dancer would rely on a piece of the Inheritance, but he would sell anything important to the AIs. They could not abandon these weapons after working so hard to collect them.
The Inheritance was convenient, but their effects did not stack when wielding more than one at once. Carrying both #DragonGod.err and #FiringLine.err would not increase the Gatling gun’s range. That meant it was more efficient to split them up like this.
Instead of focusing on their skills with different weapons, he had needed to make sure Midori was the one with the Gatling gun so light it seemed made of styrofoam. And he could fight best when using his usual Short Spear short-range sniper rifle. Also, #FiringLine.err was fairly heavy, so he did not want it in the hands of a human who could not afford to be hit by a single stray shot.
So it made sense to give the remaining ones to the two Magisteri. He had given Tselika the large caliber shotgun that resembled a revolving grenade launcher because she was paired with him. If they both had sniper rifles, they would not be able to respond to short range threats as effectively.
Bloody Dancer was equipped with two handguns and grenades, so short range was his specialty. Of course, assuming that madman was limited to short range would end badly.
That monster could accurately wield two guns and two grenade launchers all on his own. As long as he had hard rock playing from his wearable speakers, he could bring down a fortress or warship, so ordinary tactics were useless against him.
Kaname pulled out his gun and took a deep breath.
Then he reached his other hand to his neck and removed the tie providing the Reduce Pain Skill.
“I can’t rely on Skills from the get-go. I have to stand on the same field as him.”
He clenched his teeth at the explosion of pain in his back, but that was how he viewed this.
Reduce Pain was such a convenient Skill it had become a target of speculation, but it had slowed his reactions by just a moment during the previous car chase. If he had not been hit by the Calamity Studio, this would not have happened.
(You start out with nothing as a Dealer. Then you build on top of that foundation. I have the Inheritance I’m borrowing from Takamasa and I have the friends I’ve made. That gives me things that Bloody Dancer doesn’t have. I can’t take any of that for granted. I’ve been blessed and if I’m not aware of that, I can never beat him.)
“Tselika, give me a new tie. One without a Skill.”
“Agh, you’re going to end up bloody again, I just know it. I’ll tie it for you, so wait there. Don’t move.”
He thought while letting her work.
He couldn’t exist in the same world as Bloody Dancer with a lukewarm resolve that relied on convenience, and he would be trapped in that world if he fought alone. Either end of the spectrum would mean his doom. And striking the proper balance required getting rid of any Skills for now.
The instant of reaction speed taken by Reduce Pain had eternal value.
He could bear with the pain.
As long as he knew he could transform it into the strength needed to protect someone important.
“Let’s head on in.”
“What is this place?” asked Midori. “A museum???”
“Also, we crashed through the door and entered private property,” pointed out Tselika. “If we stay in here, the PMC protecting this place will turn us to Swiss cheese!!”
“Would you prefer to encounter Bloody Dancer before coming up with a plan? He’s coming, so we need to prepare ourselves as much as possible!!”
His Lion’s Nose was telling him of the coming danger.
The building’s interior was a lot like a classic Western mansion. He did not know what building it was, so he could not search for a map of the layout. The mini-map displayed on his smartwatch only showed him the rooms he had personally been in.
The pair of goddess statues his coupe had crashed into was in the center of the hall and there was a reception counter beyond that. The display said the place had closed during the evening, so there were no human guests or AI-controlled receptionists to be seen. That said, there could still be some night guards.
He ignored the stairs.
They did not need to hole up in the building and share its fate. They could walk down a hallway and slip out the back entrance if necessary. That meant gaining height would only eliminate their own escape routes. On the first floor, they could escape from any of the windows. For the same reason, any stairs leading down into the basement were also out of the question.
Thus, they chose the safe and logical route to the back of the building.
But before they could, the door and the entire front wall around it were knocked down by the rectangular outside broadcasting vehicle crashing through.
Tselika gnashed her teeth when she saw the already-crushed mint green coupe smashed against the stone statues that stood taller than Kaname.
“I’m gonna kill that bastard!!”
“Wait, Tselika!! Don’t lose your cool!!”
He forcibly tugged on her slender hand and made his way further in.
He had lost his car.
The power of money was useless with no one to pay.
That left guns and his own body.
The game was finally set up just the way Bloody Dancer liked it.
“Dammit, it’ll be okay. It will. I won’t let it happen again. This isn’t the back of that abandoned building.”
“Hey!! Where are we headed now? Do we have a plan!?”
Kaname came back to his senses when Midori shouted at him.
Tselika was apparently not the only one out of sorts. And he doubted this was just due to being shot in the back. His current condition was more complex than he had thought. And he was the one who had decided to not rely on the Stress Care Skill.
Things looked different from before. They found a long hallway laid with red carpet.
Normally, there were probably arrow signs indicating the route and audio tours that guests could enjoy with headphones, but none of that awaited them after hours. The doors lining the hallway led to large rooms, but it was unclear what course would take you through all of them.
Then his Lion’s Nose exploded like an invisible fist had punched him in the face.
With hard rock playing from wearable speakers, a cheerful voice called out from the end of the hallway behind them.
Kaname made a harsh decision.
Not even he could move freely here while looking after three others. A Magisterus would only freeze up temporarily if they were shot, but a human Dealer would Fall. He chose to follow a logic that only applied in a game. He immediately shoved the black twintailed girl out of the way while diving through a nearby door.
“Midori!!” he shouted while lying on the floor. “The hallway ceiling!!”
Gunshots erupted from the hallway.
To protect the AI-controlled Magisteri from the madman’s bullets, Midori aimed her styrofoam-light Gatling gun toward the hallway and brought down the walls and ceiling with a ferocious stream of bullets.
A cascade of obstacles forcibly held back the handgun bullets.
A beat later, bikini top and miniskirt Tselika and mini-China dress Meiki rushed in after them.
The Magisterus did not respond, but she had definitely been shot through the right shoulder. Tselika tossed #Downpour.err to the floor and slumped down.
Beads of sweat covered her forehead, but not due to the heat island’s sweltering night.
Her race queen outfit only consisted of a bikini top, a miniskirt, and a short jacket with fur.
A lot her skin had been exposed.
She held her right side with a hand and a red liquid flowed from there.
“Don’t give me that look, master. You made the right decision. We only got off this lightly because we’re Magisteri.”
That was not the point.
Suou Kaname could not forgive himself for acting entirely based on logic.
If Bloody Dancer had immediately opened fire without saying anything first, he could have killed at least one of the four. And even though they had brought down the ceiling with a Gatling gun from the Inheritance, it was odd for him to have missed their vitals. He had the skill to fire through the eye of a needle using just his two handguns, so surely he could have fired through their brain or heart.
But this was always how it had been with him.
He was even more unprecedented a figure than Kaname. For better or for worse, he made full use of the freedom provided by this open world game. Kaname could not reach that monster’s level. He could not catch up. He could only watch as everything he cared for was injured and torn to pieces one after another. First it was his sister and Takamasa, so now it was his friend’s sister and his irreplaceable partner.
(I’ll kill him.)
He remained silent, but he clenched his teeth beyond the limit and broke his own back tooth with his own strength.
The level of his rage had surpassed the realm of a mere game.
(That’s it. Principles and morals can kiss my ass. I don’t need a good reason. All I need is to kill Bloody Dancer myself!!)
“Yooo!! What’s wrong, Kaname!? I thought you were gonna kill me!”
“Don’t, master. We need to head further back. Don’t let your trauma bind you.”
The hard rock coming from those wearable speakers pounded on Kaname’s eardrums and heart.
“Has nothing changed since last time!? Who are you gonna have protect them this time? Who’s the sacrificial pawn now? Do you have plenty of human shields ready!?”
“We aren’t in that abandoned building anymore!! If you want to take him down a notch, you need to think, master! Don’t you dare stop thinking after warning us over and over not to lose our cool!!”
Then Midori called out to him.
She had managed to tie a handkerchief around Meiki’s shoulder wound and now she was lending her shoulder to weak Tselika.
She glared at Kaname and shouted at him.
“Didn’t you say you’d risk your life to protect me? Then I won’t let you abandon all hope. Do whatever it takes to protect us! And that’s an order!!”
Her words felt like a slap to the face.
Finally, he managed to bring his mind back to reality. Yes, he could only give in to anger and make a reckless charge when his life was his own to throw away. Takamasa had saved his sister and he had sworn to protect Midori to pay him back. That took priority over his own revenge.
Snatching up the money and forgetting what it meant to be human was the easy route. That was the same as being a slave to the AI companies.
A hero had saved his life.
And he had sworn to become a human just like that.
“Good, there’s life in your eyes again.”
Midori smiled while standing up and lending her shoulder to Tselika.
Something about that smile reminded him of his old friend.
“I’m not telling you to let that monster go. But if you want to make him Fall, we all have to think up a way to win this game and survive. And of course, losing you isn’t an option.”
“My brother may have been a hero to you, but he made one mistake. He forced all of you to carry the weight of his death. If you understand how painful that is, then don’t you dare force the same thing onto anyone else. We’re going to win this and we’re all heading back home alive. Got that!?”
“Yes, of course. I can’t let that bastard have his way any longer! Not one second longer!!”
He converted the horror into a thrill.
He could feel a fierce flame igniting in his chest.
They did not have many weapons on hand. Even if they tried to force their way through with the power of three pieces of the Inheritance, that monster named Bloody Dancer would likely push back using ordinary commercial weapons. They could not win like that. Gunfights were his turf. They would gain nothing from meeting him there.
“Let’s split up,” he said quickly.
They had no time. Gunshots rang out from the hallway in time with the hard rock beat. Not even the firepower, endurance, and endless reinforcements of a PMC army could stand up to that. He had to be tearing down the usual assumptions and slaughtering all of the museum’s night guards. The feeling in Kaname’s Lion’s Nose grew to the point that the tip of his nose felt like it was on fire.
Bloody Dancer did it to kill time.
And while humming.
“Midori, you support Tselika and head further in. Stop her bleeding if you can. And take #Thunderbolt.err since we can’t use it here. Meiki and I can still move around, so we’ll split up and target Bloody Dancer from different directions. Meiki, can you use #FiringLine.err?”
That Magisterus was not much of a talker and it was hard to even grasp a simple yes or no from her expressionless face. The large anti-material rifle was quite heavy and unwieldy, so he was worried without getting a definite assent from her. But Midori acted as an intermediary.
“She says it’s not a problem. And you have my authorization to give her any instructions you want.”
“Got it. Midori, you take Tselika further back. …Meiki, listen up. If we treat this like a normal firefight, Bloody Dancer will kill us. The number of fighters and the quality of the weapons doesn’t matter. That’s just the kind of monster he is. Remember that, okay?”
“And with that said, we can definitely make him Fall if we snipe him from two directions at once. We only get one shot, so we have to make sure we take him out with that first shot. Again, there is not second shot here. Do not let him move. If this turns into an actual ‘fight’, then we lose.”
But he had no way of telling if Meiki was even listening to him.
The mini-China dress woman’s eyes wandered lazily around as if she were focused on their surroundings instead of him. He followed her gaze and saw a large boxy room. Glass cases lined the walls and indirect lighting illuminated the contents. The cases on the collapsed hallway-side wall had broken and their contents had spilled out.
A magnum, an underwater gun, and a carbine.
It was an odd assortment for a collection.
He read the text in the gold plates lying in the glass shards nearby.
“#Unconcerned.err, #SeaSerpent.err, and #Penetration.err.”
He felt a squeezing at his heart.
He looked around him again.
“Are you kidding me? Everything here is part of Takamasa’s Inheritance!?”
“Hey, hey, hey. Did you think I crashed into this building for no reason or something?”
The voice came without warning.
Kaname immediately aimed his Short Spear short-range sniper rifle toward the hallway, but a lithe figure charged in to block his view.
It happened so quickly it felt like the hard rock only reached his ears after the fact.
This figure wore a thin suit meant to endure hot and humid environments, perhaps based off of South American gangs. He was more of a monster than a Magisterus and he could wield two guns and two grenade launchers at the same time.
Kaname’s Lion’s Nose kicked into overdrive.
After a sound like a bottle of sparkling wine being uncorked, a grenade mercilessly exploded.
Kaname screamed and was thrown to the floor, but he should have fared far worse. That grenade used the blast to scatter deadly fragments over a radius of 5m. That weapon was even more effective in an enclosed space like this, so there was no avoiding an instant death without anything to hide behind.
Then how had he survived?
Still on the floor, he kept the Short Spear in his hand and shouted with a tremor in his voice.
“Is getting your friends killed the only move you’ve got?”
The monster casually rubbed salt in the wound while stepping inside the obliterated room.
She had frozen up.
A Dark Elf Magisterus lay on her side in an unnatural pose, like a broken goddess statue. That girl should have gone away (he did not know if they left the city or went to some unseen demon world) when Kaname’s sister retired. She could not even blink, but her frozen eyes could see he was safe. Then a foot casually stepped on her face. All while giving himself over to the hard rock beat coming from his wearable speakers.
“Damn. She actually broke free of the Yoke on her own.”
He might as well have been stepping on some ordinary piece of rubble.
“That twig of a boy didn’t look the part at all, but it’s almost beautiful when a chick like this does it. Especially when you have that crossing of species thing thrown in there. Such a beautiful story, right!? There, I gave you a tearjerker, so how about showing me some tears!?”
“If you’re gonna play the game, you’ve gotta take it seriously!! If you’re afraid you won’t get a second shot, then quit wasting your time with all that preparation. Enough wasted bullets. Take that first shot from head on and risk your damn life on it, man!!”
Their gun barrels hopped up toward each other at close range.
The suppressed gunshots of Kaname’s .45 caliber gun were drowned out by the more obvious ones of his enemy.
Time seemed to stop.
Only the hard rock from the wearable speakers sounded between them.
Red blood sprayed from the slight wound on Bloody Dancer’s right ear.
Kaname had hit him for the first time.
That was a laudable enough achievement. Anyone who knew his opponent’s skill level might have gasped in surprise.
But Bloody Dancer smiled like a carnivorous beast.
He now recognized his opponent as an enemy.
“Pretty nice speed. This is the first time anyone’s surpassed my boring-ass expectations. You’ve gained the speed of an animal, Kaname. At long last, you’re no longer playing on easy mode with all those wasteful Skills.”
The one who fell to his knees with a look of agony was Kaname.
Even his Lion’s Nose had been too slow.
“But you need to aim a little more to the left. You can’t kill me like that.”
Bloody Dancer had not used any special evasion Skills. He did not use Skills at all, which was what allowed his actions to so easily step outside the standard and expected. While the Inheritance was the result of improving one’s tools, he was the ultimate example of training up the actual human.
He had gathered so many of them, but he had no intention of taking the easy way out and using the Inheritance. He was like an incarnation of greed, yet he was not at all swayed by outside temptations.
“I’ll explain everything in due time, so wait a second, cool your jets, and hold your damn horses! I mean, aren’t you curious about all the Inheritance pieces collected here?”
“Did you start gathering Takamasa’s possessions after making him Fall?”
“You think I dig through people’s corpses like some kinda hyena or vulture? This was a job, you know? Although it came from the AIs.”
Kaname could not even stand up, but he did not collapse either.
He had fallen to one knee and his breathing was heavy, but he refused to collapse.
In a way, that monster was right. If he had been relying on Reduce Pain to halve the pain or Stress Care to soften the psychological pressure, he could not have been so persistent. If comparing their stats and finding himself lacking was enough for him to give up, he could not stand in the same field as that freak.
“I know the Will of the Magisteri is using us humans as a stepping stool to rule over an even higher realm!!”
“Who gives a crap, as long as we can still have fun in Money (Game) Master?”
Kaname was on one side and Meiki on the other.
The monster in a thin suit aimed a handgun at each and grinned.
“But what if this game went away? Could we really get by with only the real world left? We’re a lot alike, you know? Money (Game) Master is so appealing because it’s an alternate world. Once that’s taken away, we’ve got nothing left. Do you know what kind of person I am in the real world? I doubt you could even imagine it. And that’s the point. This game has become my flesh and blood.”
“I don’t want to think about any of that brainy crap. I just want to empty my head and shoot stuff. But all those humans and AIs start using their clever brains on boring crap. Like that Swiss Panic stuff. Why should I care if tens of millions of people lose their jobs and can’t put food on the table back in the real world? Money goes where it goes. If you keep winning, it’ll come to you. I want to play games. And when such a fun game is right here in front of me, why do I have to let other people tell me how I can and can’t play it? Hm?”
He had known Bloody Dancer was crazy from the first time they met.
He was not like the people who could not distinguish real life from games.
He could distinguish them and he still chose the game.
“How can you still say you want to empty your head when you can see this nightmare in front of you?”
“I will gather the entire Inheritance.”
He made a clear announcement.
He was not a Magisterus or an AI.
He was an enemy of humanity in a different way. He understood how frightening this demonic game was, but he could still smile and say this.
He was not like Suou Kaname or Criminal AO.
He did not rely on Skills or the Inheritance and he did not partner with other Dealers or a Magisterus. He truly was a one-man army. He was an unparalleled genius who had optimized the one-man fighting style.
“And then I’ll hand them all over to the AIs. What a joke. The humans are only trying to turn back because the scales are turning against us. But if you’re already in checkmate and there is no going back, then what is there to do but play games? I don’t care if it makes me a slave of the AIs. That just means I don’t have to worry about any real life problems! It means I can focus on the game!! Who wants to hear about some family problems when you’re playing an online game!? Talk about a mood killer!! Don’t you think, Mr. Famous Dealer!!!???”
They viewed the game entirely differently.
He was obsessed with it more than anyone and that was the source of his power.
So he was the only one.
That berserker had given up on reality to live in the virtual world, so he was probably the one and only person that Suou Kaname could not defeat!!
A moment later, several gunshots rang out.
He had to kill him even if it cost him his own life.
He could not allow that monster anywhere near Midori or Tselika.
That was the way Kaname viewed the situation.
But time passed and he never felt the impact of the flesh-tearing and bone-shattering bullets.
He remained down on one knee with his short-range sniper rifle at the ready, but someone else had appeared in front of him.
It was a girl with intellectual glasses and long black hair swept back.
A voice spoke from her earpiece.
“Do it now.”
Kaname heard a sound that was oddly high-pitched for a simple gunshot.
It was more like two swords clashing.
And of course it did.
This girl in a white blouse and a tight black skirt had used a burst of gunfire from an assault rifle to shoot down every last one of the incoming bullets. Was the shaking of full-auto fire being used to adjust her aim, or was it shifting the bullets’ axis of rotation to curve their ballistic path? Either way, this was no normal gun. Firing it did not crack her delicate metalwork headband and smart glasses and it did not form a single run in her black panty hose.
Removing the gun from a belt on her back and swinging it around may have been a habit from her sniper days.
Hadn’t he made her Fall himself?
He heard a breath of laughter.
Almost like she was delighted he remembered her name.
Coming back from the dead was part of what made games so much fun.
“The Inheritance, huh?” scoffed Bloody Dancer, as if to say the hard rock playing from his wearable speakers was far more valuable. “Pathetic. That’s parameter-based tech that anyone can pull of with the right tools.”
“I wouldn’t be acting so tough if I were you. My #SoaringSwallow.err will shoot down every last one of your bullets. And I can of course choose to aim between your eyes instead.”
“Hah. But it’s not all-powerful, is it? If it was, you wouldn’t have to put in this appearance. I don’t know what the exact conditions are and I don’t care. This means I just have to focus on what’s right in front of me.”
Bloody Dancer produced a dry gunshot, but his handgun was aimed straight up. It was a lot like the starting pistol at an athletics festival, but there was one difference.
Lilikiska was supposed to be shooting down all of his bullets, but red blood burst from her shoulder.
“It’s called a ricochet. If straight ahead doesn’t work, then I’ve just gotta attack from some other angle. From the look of things, I’m guessing that thing automatically detects and shoots down your targets, but only within the range of what you can see through the sight. Not that figuring out how to beat it matters when I’ve already won based on intuition alone.”
Kaname immediately shoved the glasses girl to the side.
If he had not, the next attack might have pierced Lilikiska’s stomach, which was near her center of gravity and thus the most difficult kind of attack to dodge.
“God, you’re dumb,” said a mocking voice. “When you get down to it, Money (Game) Master is a killing game. If you want to protect that Dealer, Kaname, then you should’ve gone ahead and killed me instead of protecting her as a shield.”
Kaname had been shot in her place, but he had not Fallen yet.
Now, had Bloody Dancer realized why the stench of death was not found here? Had he noticed that the curled-up boy had raise his knee to block the bullet with the smartwatch and smartphone wrapped around his thigh?
Bloody Dancer’s twin handguns used high-speed rapid-fire 9mm rounds and he used grenades when that was not enough power. These were not magnum rounds that could blow away someone’s torso along with the bulletproof jacket.
He clicked his tongue.
That was when he heard something like the clicking of a metal clasp.
Kaname whispered while hiding his gun with his curled-up body and accurately aiming the silencer-equipped barrel out from below his armpit.
Bloody Dancer was the strongest Dealer when it came to shootouts.
The .45 caliber bullet tore through the air and then tore through the flesh of his temple from the front.
“That was a little more to the left, wasn’t it?”
“I’m getting there, bit by bit. Will I hit your eye next?”
Was he enraged or laughing? Bloody Dancer did not even hold a hand to his wound. His fighting instincts overpowered the pain. And he never had felt any fear. He re-aimed his twin handguns and Kaname and Lilikiska both aimed at their foe while tangled together on the floor.
Their lines of fire crossed.
A beast like this might be able to dodge Kaname and Lilikiska’s gunfire just by jumping around, no cover required. But sitting there and letting him kill them was not an option.
You could only create a place for yourself in this cruel game if you were tenacious.
Time seemed to have stopped and Bloody Dancer’s roar ruled that place.
“This is fun, Kaname! Now let’s see if you can protect Baggage Girl from a grenade blast!!”
“Oh, she’s baggage, is she?”
A strange voice broke through the despair.
Meiki had never been a talker. Cindy, the other Magisterus here, had been shot and froze up. Lilikiska would not refer to herself in the third person and it was not Bloody Dancer. Nor was it Kaname.
Then who was it?
It came from someone standing directly behind the man in a South American gang member suit.
“How about you take that back? Without her, you would have noticed me here.”
A cold metallic sound came from the strongest monster’s back.
“Lilikiska-kun, you more than pull your own weight, don’t you? I mean, you gave a customization freak like me a chance to get an attack in.”
But Kaname’s eye widened at the voice he heard more than the deed he had witnessed. This newcomer’s presence was so powerful the monster with two guns and two grenade launchers paled in comparison.
“The name’s Criminal AO, Kaname. And thanks for looking after that tomboy this whole time. You really are my hero.”
Meanwhile, Bloody Dancer growled like an upset carnivore.
He was working with the AIs to gather the Inheritance and the list in order to sell them to the AIs. It made sense he would know their names, their shapes, and their effects more than the average Dealer.
So he would know that weapon had a range of only 5m and could only hold two rounds, but only the person currently in its sights could see the wielder.
“Do you really think you can kill me with an Inheritance weapon that only lets you sneak around!?” roared Bloody Dancer while spinning around with explosive speed.
He struck his attacker’s wrist with the barrel of the grenade launcher instead of the handgun itself and knocked the card-sized handgun to the floor. And he did not stop there. That monster used his two arms to wield two guns and two grenade launchers simultaneously. The handgun in his other hand moved to aim at the center of his attacker’s forehead.
“No, I don’t.”
The other monster who had snuck up behind Bloody Dancer actually smiled.
“Which is why I’m not using #Serenity.err.”
He too used his other hand.
It held an extremely-simplified T-shaped submachinegun.
Kaname had guessed the Inheritance’s effects did not stack, but you would be able to show off one while actually using the other.
In other words, he had made his approach under his own power.
That feint would only work on someone who possessed a lot of and knew a lot about the Inheritance.
It was a strategy developed specifically for Bloody Dancer.
The shot was made directly into the front of the monster’s side, but the sharp tearing sound came from his back.
The music playing from the wearable speakers around his neck came to a stop.
The monster with twin handguns spoke.
“A single shot can detonate anything ignitable – pipes, fuel tanks, cars, stoves, compressed gas cylinders, bullets, and even grenades. Explosives are the best part of shooting games, don’t you think?”
“An anti-ship…Inheritance weapon.”
“Call it magic, you monster. It works on tanker trucks and the gas containers in industrial complexes, despite the safety measures. As long as you’re close enough to be in range, this magic lets you blow away a tank’s fuel tank or the torpedo tubes and missile launching tubes on a warship’s deck. …Although given the scope of those explosions, you’d probably get caught in the blast yourself.”
In this case, he had detonated the battery of the phone connected to the wearable speakers.
A bullet had pierced Bloody Dancer’s side and then the electronic device on his back had detonated.
This hero had put a hole in that seemingly invincible man.
With Inheritance in hand, the ruler of flames and explosions made a statement.
“The stomach and the back. That settles the score for Kaname and me. I could just kill you now, but just this once, I’ll give someone else the honors. I can’t be the only one who wants to kill you.”
Bloody Dancer clicked his tongue and swung his left handgun around with the right one still aimed at Takamasa. With the two handguns and two grenade launchers, he may have been able to deal with Kaname, Takamasa, Lilikiska, Meiki, and even Cindy who was Downed below his feet.
The final shot blasted through the wall.
The monstrous shotgun called #Downpour.err was held by Magisterus Tselika.
She had an arm around Hekireki Midori’s shoulder to support herself.
She only had the other arm to wield the giant revolving shotgun and the recoil of the one shot caused her to bend backwards.
But the one blast was enough to tear down the entire wall. A total of 2000 lead shots flew out like a horizontal downpour.
He may have been a solitary king.
He may have been the berserker who had overwhelmed Money (Game) Master with gunplay alone.
He may have had the skill needed to tear apart the once-legendary team of Called Game.
But he had hit his breaking point.
The appearance of this new Magisterus was more than he could handle.
The world he lived in had been destroyed.
After the battery from before, the wearable speakers around his neck shattered and flew every which way.
He screamed and flew through the air before crashing into one of the glass cases containing the Inheritance. He could not even sit down and appeared to be pinned in his standing position by the jagged glass. He was so soaked with red that his thin suit’s original color was gone.
Silence ruled the world around him.
“What happened to your Magisterus, Bloody Dancer?”
The words seemed to spill from Takamasa’s mouth.
And he already knew the answer.
“And I don’t mean Cindy who you stole from Ayame-chan. You originally had a contract with an Undine. What happened to her?”
Bloody Dancer’s breathing was shallow and he coughed up blood.
But he was still smiling.
“I really don’t care about the AI society or any threat to the world. I just wanted to enjoy Money (Game) Master as much as possible. That was all.”
“Who gives a shit about humans and Magisteri and whatever? But when I saw the truth, things broke down between us. Shooting and killing a Magisterus only Downs them…they only freeze up for a bit, right? Tying them up or killing them won’t stop them. Yeah, that’s right. So you know what I had to do?”
“You buried her underground to keep her from moving at all?”
It was not Kaname or Midori. It was Tselika.
Bloody Dancer laughed a little.
“She’s on the outskirts at the north end of the peninsula. I covered it up with plastic.”
“Below the tower?”
“Tch. You’ve been there?”
That was his form of resolve.
If it came to a fight between humans and Magisteri, violence would be necessary. And that strongest Dealer could not help but win in the end.
In terms of pure gunplay, no one could deny he was the strongest Dealer.
Once the fight began, he would shoot to death his opponent, whoever they might be.
Even if they were an irreplaceable partner.
He could not bring himself to give someone else the win.
If the Magisterus he had actually been fond of had pressed a gun against his forehead, then his body would move on reflex. Ten times faster than that slender finger could pull the trigger, he would push the gun away and jab his fingers into her eye or deep into her throat.
No matter what.
No matter what, no matter what, no matter what, that strongest Dealer could not accept his own defeat. He could only watch as his partner was gradually destroyed by his own hand.
On the other hand, killing her would only Down her. A Magisterus would be resurrected in at most an hour.
He had known that, but delivering a finishing blow was the one thing he could not bring himself to do.
He could not let her live and he could not kill her.
That was the one and only person he could not win or lose against.
He had chosen a method that allowed him to avoid hurting her any more. It was contradictory. It was only extending the suffering. Not even a Magisterus would be unharmed while buried alive. That did not qualify as protecting her. But that was the way of things for the man who no one understood but who loved this game more than anyone else.
He could not bring himself to kill her or to let her kill him.
Even if it was insane and even if it made her hate him, he had wanted some other option.
For the one and only person in the world he had accepted.
For the Undine he had made his partner.
“I don’t care about humanity’s future.”
“I just want to be with her again. Whether the humans or the AI won, I just wanted to enjoy this game with her again. So I wanted to fix this world’s problems as quickly as possible so she wouldn’t be my enemy any longer.”
He looked all around him.
There he saw human and Magisterus partners who had kept fighting and put their lives at risk to protect each other even with bullets in the air or in their bodies.
“I’ll admit it.”
What had he felt when he saw Suou Kaname and Tselika who had remained together after learning the truth?
He slowly smiled and placed his finger on the trigger of the gun in his dangling arm.
Kaname felt even more pain from his Lion’s Nose.
“I envied all of you.”
Kaname and Takamasa’s right hands sprang up at about the same moment and aimed their guns.
A .45 caliber round was fired between his eyes.
It should have been a nearly instantaneous death, but that monster’s trigger finger still moved ever so slightly.
A with a deep shunk, a grenade was fired toward his feet while he was pinned to the wall by the jagged shards of the glass case.
What happened next could not have been more obvious.
There was no ending theme or anything else.
In the end, no one else may have been able to kill the man named Bloody Dancer.
Kaname and the others were knocked from their feet by a powerful explosion and that monstrous Dealer vanished within the dust.
Server Name: Alpha Scarlet. Ending Location: Summer City, Peninsula City.
Bloody Dancer will be forcibly logged out for 24 hours.
It was a bloody scene.
Hekireki Midori was just about the only one who had avoided injury.
The Magisteri Tselika and Meiki and even the legendary Dealers Kaname and Takamasa were soaked with blood. All of those injuries had come from the man named Bloody Dancer. And only because he wanted to enjoy the shooting game as much as possible.
“Ow… M-master, isn’t it about time you changed clothes to give yourself some Skills? Reduce Pain to halve the pain and Blood Down to limit the blood loss would be nice.”
“Are you forgetting that the Magisterus shares the Dealer’s Skills!? I’m suffering from a lot of needless pain right now!!” After shouting, Tselika pouted her lips like a small child and poked her index fingers together in front of her large chest. “And you were shot too, weren’t you? You Dealers don’t automatically recover after being killed like us Magisteri do. If you die, you Fall.”
“It’s okay, Tselika. I’m not going anywhere.”
Her timid behavior may have been similar to how people grew a lot meeker when they had a cold. Or maybe the presence of Takamasa, who had Fallen once already, had something to do with it.
Takamasa himself crouched down and checked on a different Magisterus’s condition.
Cindy was the Dark Elf Magisterus who had supposedly gone elsewhere after Kaname’s sister retired.
“She had a weird patch installed, but I removed it. Now she should be free. We only have to wait for her to recover from being Downed.”
He made it sound so simple.
He was relying on Zone, which eliminated all distractions from an objective of your choosing, and Manufacture, which made your finger movements much more precise, but those were the only Skills he was using. They only had a rarity of 3 or 4 and were findable enough if you knew where to look. The ability to predict what he had to investigate and the judgment of what needed to be removed to improve her condition had all come down to his brain.
This was Criminal AO, the legendary Dealer who had created all of the Over Tricks.
Unlike Suou Kaname who simply got into fights and earned money, this boy was second to none in using tools and had surpassed the expectations of the demons who ruled the game world.
There was no point in putting on an act here. If you did not understand something, it was best to come out and ask about it.
“I’ve never seen what happens to a Magisterus when their Dealer retires, but what do you mean by ‘free’? Is she not going to fly up to heaven or be drawn into the gates of hell?”
“Ayame-chan had a role forced onto her as the Innocent Administrator. She tried to retire, but her account data lived on in Money (Game) Master. If you think of our Magisteri as our digital bank accounts, then you can think of Cindy as an idle account that even Ayame had forgotten about. Here.”
Takamasa tossed something toward Kaname.
It was a metal shackle that had been around Cindy’s ankle.
“I imagine this originally belonged to his Undine. I don’t want to try it out since it would immediately send an alert to the system, but forcibly combining parts from different Magisteri may cause a strange bug or conflict. I can only guess about this, but it may be like installing more than one piece of security software on the same computer. I may not be one to talk after causing so much trouble with my Over Tricks, but I’m amazed using such a sloppy method didn’t get the attention of the Will of AIs.”
“No,” cut in Kaname.
He was not clever enough to analyze Bloody Dancer’s logic the way Takamasa was, but he could speak from what he had sensed while fighting the man.
This too was something you could not gain from preset Skills.
“He probably had the skill to survive without breaking a sweat even after getting their attention. Or maybe that berserker thought it was more fun that way. While everyone else is having a hard enough time on normal mode, he intentionally cranked things up to nightmare mode for himself.”
“Perhaps. He never did care about the Swiss Panic or our Called Game. He just wanted battles more thrilling than anything found in reality. There was no resentment or anger there. From the bottom of his heart, he really did just want to enjoy Money (Game) Master as a shooting game.”
Takamasa smiled bitterly at the exchange.
They seemed similar but were completely different. He could clearly see the difference between Suou Kaname and Bloody Dancer.
“But in Cindy’s case, he didn’t duplicate her commands or turn her into his puppet. He simply attached an accessory that sent him her coordinates and marked her as his property. He only needed old-fashioned violence to get her to obey. It works with humans and it works with more undefinable beings as well. Summer City might be big, but you can’t escape outside it.”
“He certainly was thorough in his own way.”
“He was. I imagine his Undine was the only person he ever provided anything other than violence, such as rubbing her head. He was a complete nightmare of a Dealer, but he didn’t try to take advantage of the system the way I do. He may have trampled all over logic with his two guns and two grenade launchers style, but he only ever relied on his own technique. He gathered up so much of my magic, but he never felt any desire to use it himself. That alone I can respect, even if my exasperation is stronger. …But his legend has ended now. The nightmare is over, Kaname.”
Two people viewed those two boys from behind: Magisterus Tselika and Midori who lent the Magisterus her shoulder.
“Shouldn’t you be a part of that?” asked Midori.
“Oh, shut up.”
“Well, there’s plenty of time. You can take your time getting closer to him.”
Midori did understand how Tselika felt. That was the brother she thought she would never again see. But she could not immediately run up with tears in her eyes because they were not alone together. The complex barrier of adolescence got in her way.
But it would come later.
After she logged out and was alone in her room, she might press her face into her pillow and cry her eyes out. She was fairly certain of that, but she was fine with not letting her emotions out right now. After all, this was not the end. She would be able to see him every day from now on.
Just then, they heard thundering footsteps approaching from within the museum.
“Sounds like we should head outside,” said Kaname. “We’re inside a museum after hours and this was where the Magisteri were storing the Inheritance. The only reason the AI-controlled PMC and their endless reinforcements haven’t attacked us yet is because Bloody Dancer had slaughtered them all. But that bulwark is gone, so we need to get moving before we’re surrounded.”
“You’re right. Midori, you drive a motorcycle, right? If it still runs, then you should grab it now. As for Kaname’s coupe…”
“How did you get in here? Did you not see the impromptu modern art exhibit colored a nice mint green in the main lobby? Or was all the paint stripped away?”
“Then, I hate to ask this, Lilikiska-kun, but you have another job to do. Send your giant limousine to the front of the building, attach the rear winch to Kaname’s coupe, and drag it out. I want to avoid abandoning it on private property.”
“Okay, okay!! And don’t call it an impromptu modern art exhibit! Whatever form it takes, that’s my precious temple! I! Will! Look! After! It!!”
They were very busy all of a sudden.
The girls began leaving through the hallway or windows to make sure they did not encounter the PMC that was starting to get moving once more.
Meanwhile, Kaname and Takamasa exchanged a glance so the others would not notice.
Everyone else had already left.
No, they had made sure the girls would leave first.
They faced each other with a set distance between them.
It was just like a quick draw in a Western movie.
“Thanks for waiting until Midori had left, Kaname.”
“No, thank you.”
What did the world look like to him?
“And there is one issue we haven’t dealt with yet,” continued Takamasa.
Kaname had his own reasons for gathering the Inheritance. He wanted to stop the Will of the Magisteri from invading human society and “something higher than that”, and he wanted to keep the individual Magisterus named Tselika from being destroyed. He wanted to gather all of the human-made Inheritance and use it to reveal Money (Game) Master’s programming language. By managing his property, Tselika would become the queen who ruled the Magisteri. That was the best path to control the real and virtual worlds and saving everyone he knew.
But Takamasa had come here too.
The Inheritance originally belonged to him. He had to know its value. He had to have some vision of what it could do.
“Takamasa, I want to know your vision. What do you intend to do once you gather the Inheritance?”
“You still call them the Inheritance in front of the person who made them?”
“I’m asking how you’re going to fight back against this game made by demons beyond human understanding.”
“Fine, if you insist. My top priority is returning human society to us humans. As you can see, I’m not relying on a Magisterus. I do have a partner, but I can’t fully trust her since she’s connected to the Will. I do feel bad about doing this to her, though.”
“You don’t seem to be struggling with it quite as much as Bloody Dancer.”
“I must be a cold person deep down.” He readily admitted it. “I hope there’s a way to save them both, but if I have to choose one or the other, I’ll choose the humans over the Magisteri.”
“And if there is a way to do that?”
Kaname did not hesitate to respond.
Takamasa looked surprised, but he shook his head.
“That would be wonderful, but I can’t trust it. Kaname, if you’re serious about that, then your resolve is weak. That’s a product of compromise, isn’t it? Humans and AIs are fundamentally incompatible beings. Worse, the Magisteri are not actually AIs.”
“I don’t want to abandon Tselika.”
“No, you don’t,” bluntly stated Kaname.
The light in his eyes sharpened. This was not the look one gave during a reunion with an old friend.
“You abandoned your partner, so you can never understand.”
“Then are we at an impasse?”
Hekireki Takamasa slowly raised his hands.
But not as a sign of surrender. That hero’s skilled fingers contained a piece of his fully-customized Inheritance.
And Suou Kaname responded.
He slowly raised his own hands while focusing more intently than ever before on the Short Spear short-range sniper rifle forcibly stuck below his belt.
They were 5m apart.
They both took a step forward.
They were not within arm’s reach of each other, but they were close enough for even an amateur to hit with a gun.
Takamasa had hit Bloody Dancer with a simplified, T-shaped submachinegun known as #Fuse.err. It could detonate any tank or pipe with a single shot as long as it was ignitable. If the conditions were right, it could even bring down a tank or warship. However, there was no guarantee he would actually use that here. Inheritance abilities did not stack, but they could apparently be swapped out on the fly.
They were surrounded by the world-changing Inheritance, scattered around them like a mountain of treasure.
But the two friends glared directly at each other without looking at any of those other weapons.
“To be honest, I never thought of my magic as the final trump card against the Magisteri.”
“Kaname, it’s that Lion’s Nose of yours. That alone can’t be reproduced using Skills from equipment. Or by my magic that is really just an extension of that. You want to use my cheat-code-like magic to cause errors that let you analyze the programming language? C’mon, you’ve got something much more dangerous right there.”
“The Zodiac Children. That is what I call people with traits like yours. Out of the 7 billion humans out there, a mere 12 can escape the AI society’s rule. Think of it like the game of chess where we already know humans are no match for computers, yet there are a few individuals who can overturn that assumption and win for no explainable reason. Combine that with my magic, and I can achieve my plan. …This is your final chance. Would you like to join me? Your way provides a chance, but my way provides a sure thing.”
“I had a feeling, my hero. I loved that kind side to you.”
The thundering footsteps approached beyond a certain line.
The AI-controlled troops barging in acted as a cue for both of them.
The Zodiac Child and the Over Trick user.
They stood at opposite sides of the world, but they both acted as a trump card against this threat.
Their right hands reached for their hips and then deafening gunshots rang out.
On one side was Takamasa’s T-shaped submachinegun, #Fuse.err.
The sound of Kaname’s suppressed .45 caliber rounds were drowned out by the larger gun.
“You’re pretty good, Kaname.”
Criminal AO, Hekireki Takamasa, was still smiling.
Something audibly collapsed behind him. It was the AI-controlled PMC troops protecting the Inheritance storage facility. Three of them now had dark red holes punched clean through their heads.
Kaname had not bothered to look back either.
The gas pipe on the wall there must have ruptured because he heard the blast from just barely outside the danger zone. The blast had of course taken out the PMC troops.
“So are you. I thought you left the actual shooting to me? Did you train somewhere, or were you always this good?”
“Are you still underestimating me? Is a piece of my magic not worth a reaction from your precious Lion’s Nose?”
“I won’t shoot you, Takamasa.”
His gun was aimed directly at the other boy, but he forced out his voice like the words tasted bitter in his mouth.
His opponent would not stop fighting.
This may have been the same pain that Bloody Dancer had felt.
“I don’t want to see Midori cry again. Same with my sister and Tselika. If I let you die, that’s what I’ll see. And it would be the greatest failure in my life.”
Those words brought a slight change over his friend.
He looked taken aback.
That T-shaped submachinegun could ignite and detonate flammable and explosive objects.
It did not matter how thick the outer shell was and how secure the safety measures were.
But while aiming that manifestation of the explosive side of shooting games, the hero gave a troubled smile.
“You do know you’re only delaying the inevitable, don’t you? We both need my magic in the end. Even if we part ways here, we will eventually clash again.”
“Come one, don’t bite your lip. You’re making me look like the bad guy here! You’re not bullying some weak kid here, Kaname. No one will hold it against you if you come at with everything you’ve got. But…”
He seemed to hesitate a little, but there was no time for that. The museum was far too busy. They had spent a long time in off-limits private property and they had directly killed some of the PMC guards. The AIs would work harder to kill them now.
“But taking care of this comes first, And while we’re out, how about a game, Kaname?”
“A race to leave the building first? Or who can gather attention from the largest number of soldiers and survive?”
“No, let’s keep it simple: who can kill the most.”
Kaname did a double take on his friend’s face.
Even if the PMC soldiers did not use special Skills, their base parameters were ridiculous. And they had infinite reinforcements. When up against them, the idea was to escape safely, not fight them.
“Bloody Dancer could do it. Defeating a PMC isn’t beyond human capabilities.”
Takamasa simply shrugged.
For some reason, something felt odd about the tingling in Kaname’s nose. That was his Lion’s Nose, but what was this? Was there no limit to the pain he could feel there? If he let this boy keep going, would he really surpass even Bloody Dancer!?
Then the hero flipped a coin.
He did so casually.
“Now, I hope you’re ready.”
“This is no more than a silly game, but that allows the simple score to show us the clear difference between the two of us.”
A moment later, the coin hit the floor and his Lion’s Nose felt like it exploded.
With that, this is Kamachi Kazuma.
Here is Magisterus Volume 2! I didn’t realize it with the first volume, but this afterword is sort of like exclusive content for the light novel version. I need to make it good.
Since the first volume focused a lot on financial things like mineral resources and futures, this time I switched focus a little and went with get-rich-quick schemes like sports teams and quiz shows.
To bring out the video game-y side of things more, I dug deeper into the Skills acquired from clothing and accessories. Takamasa’s weapons are not the only “magic” in this world. I have actually thought through how the Auto-Aim tracks a target, how Slow seems to slow the flow of time for the user, and so on. I even planned to have a Skill List at the end of each chapter to explain it all, but that was cut since it would have made this a fairly niche sort of book, wouldn’t it!? I have the effects and rarities of the Skills in my notes, so just assume that even nameless bit players have three or four Skills in place.
By the away, Kaname does not rely on Skills for his shooting or driving, Bloody Dancer does not use any Skills whatsoever, and Takamasa uses every Skill he can. Where they place their holy ground might be one way of getting a read on their characters.
I also increased Tselika’s love of her car. I realized I hadn’t had her wash the car yet, so I had her go for it in her race queen outfit. And the more effort she puts into it, the better the gag and scream when it ends up muddy or damaged a moment later, huh? I learned something here.
They are both heroines, but I end up bullying Tselika while treating Midori with care. Now, which of them tugs on your heartstrings more? And I’m not talking about chest size. This is about heart.
The enemies this time – Strawberry Garter, Mother Loose, and Bloody Dancer – each represent one of my images of people who control money. Either in a small household or in a large market. I think that is best illustrated in this conversation between Kaname and the gentle wife(?) Mother Loose:
“I’m not interested in receiving an allowance.”
“Don’t say that. Children cannot be trusted with so much money. It is because we carry so much power that we adults must look after you children. And let me be clear: I will provide you with everything you desire. Under my management, of course.”
Then you have Strawberry Garter who sought out dirty money to increase her own influence and Bloody Dancer who laughs and keeps fighting while saying money comes to you as long as you keep winning. Similar to the four world powers in Heavy Object, each one of them shows a different money management ideology brought to an extreme, but which one seemed the nastiest to all of you?
By the way, Frey(ja) of Treasure Hermit Crab runs a pawnshop because they are attracted to other people’s things. (And you know what that is a metaphor for, don’t you?) With that and more, this was an experiment to see if I could display a Dealer’s inner self through how they viewed money, but you can be the judge of how well that worked. The overall point of this series is that money does not fulfill one’s desire, it is used to grant one’s desires.
In that sense, Kaname’s desire is to have his way (even if he sometimes has to force it onto others) and Midori’s disinterest in financial deals shows she has yet to settle on what her desire is, making her a tougher sort of heroine. And since the Magisteri perform complex, high-level financial deals at a rate of 10,000 per second on the humans’ behalf, they hold the position of demons who work to increase people’s desires.
I showed a lot more of Criminal AO who was the driving force of Volume 1. I showed a lot of the Inheritance too, but it was fun to figure out how the original owner would use them. The main difference between Kaname and Takamasa is how Kaname ultimately confronted his Magisterus when she was acting suspicious while Takamasa distanced himself from his in the same circumstances. Since he cannot trust the Magisteri as a whole, Takamasa has no partner. And unlike Bloody Dancer who was burning down human society in his struggle to once more enjoy the game with his partner, Takamasa was able to throw out any regrets there. In a way, that gives him a stronger but more unfortunate will. Just like Kaname and his unexplainable Lion’s Nose, Takamasa is also impressive in his ability to fight on the same level using only his own equipment.
He saved Kaname and Kaname’s sister.
He is the source of the idea that saving people isn’t something you show off to others, which Kaname uses to continue winning within the cruel world of Money (Game) Master.
Yet once they become enemies, neither one can bring themselves to back down. I feel like I gave them an odd sort of connection there. The strongest Dealers will not hold back once they start fighting, and that is not limited to a hopeless berserker like Bloody Dancer. And the same applies to Takamasa no matter how much he insists he is no good at direct combat. He makes himself sound docile enough, but if you actually look at what he has done, you should find he is a very belligerent person. Instead of leaving it to Lilikiska, he felt the need to shoot Bloody Dancer himself. And I bet that had more to do with getting back at Bloody Dancer for shooting Kaname in the back than for his own revenge. Kaname is not the only one that idolizes the other. I think you can see their real relationship in the fact that they both refer to each other as their hero.
If you really, truly read to the end, you should see that I have made Lilikiska someone who stumbles across secrets. If you think about it, she got her start as a Dealer because she was saved by Kaname and Takamasa’s Called Game during its prime. In a murder mystery, she would be the second or third victim who was killed after stumbling across some critical evidence, but what about in a battle story like this? Yes, the ability to survive and keep at it is a type of talent in and of itself. Let’s watch and find out how much she will be able to see.
Now, it has nothing to do with the main story, but I included the rising and falling of people like M Scope and Frey(ja) to increase the sense of the setting being an open world where everyone is free to do what they want. And to be completely honest, this wasn’t in my original plan, but Mahaya-san made a stupid number of character roughs for the previous volume (I mean that as a compliment. What is with him!?) and I felt like it would be a waste for the Ag Wolves members to never show up again. It’s been around 15 years since my debut, but I never knew characters could get a second chance this way. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed seeing Summer City from a viewpoint other than Kaname’s story-focused one. I filled those parts with things you couldn’t do with a perfect protagonist. For example, Chapter 6 has Frey(ja) pull out a large revolver named Raging Stallion. With a name like that and its shiny material, you know what that’s a metaphor for, don’t you!? Make sure to look for more examples!!
I give my thanks to my illustrator Mahaya-san and my editors Miki-san, Anan-san, Nakajima-san, Yamamoto-san, and Mitera-san. With Hooker Island, the mine, the industrial complex, and the museum, this volume showed off a more decadent side of Summer City, which could not have made things easy. Thank you so much for sticking with my usual ridiculous demands.
And I give my thanks to the readers. The battles continue to be about deception, but I used the foundation of Kaname’s superhuman battles as a foundation to show what the heroines do in those situations. Some remained strong while others were more shaken, but how did you like that way of fleshing things out?
And I will leave it at that.
Come to think of it, Kaname got injured an awful lot this time.
A girl gasped for breath.
She could no longer remember where she was or how she had gotten here. The next thing she knew, she had abandoned her stolen car and was moving her weak legs while hugging a bare concrete wall.
She was tall and had the aura of a lion. She had feline eyes no real human could have, she had a faded pink braid, and she wore a knit tank top, risqué short shorts, and a thick jacket worn over the top. She was all that remained of Saurus, a Dealer who had belonged to the Ag Wolves team. Her clothes were just about the only equipment she had left. She did not have time to focus on collector’s times like weapons or Skill-providing accessories.
She did not even have an ordinary handgun to fight with.
She only had a fire axe she had picked up somewhere.
The thick blade was bloody and chipped in a few places.
This was Hooker Island, located far from the peninsula city.
It was one of the most chaotic areas in Money (Game) Master and she could hear many different footsteps around her.
Men in all-black night combat uniforms that looked like film or stage costumes lay all around her. Their defensive equipment could prevent a bullet from breaking through and distribute and dilute the force of the impact, but that was not enough to fully defend against a dull blade like an axe swung at full strength. Because the force was applied differently. The trick was to keep the wounds light enough to just barely keep them from Falling so they had to continue suffering without being able to log out. Breaking bones was effective here, especially in the limbs or the ribs.
Saurus received her name from the violent way she went about her gunfights, car chases, financial deals, and everything else. Her specialty was fighting at close enough quarters to grab at each other’s guns, so a gun was not an absolute necessity for her. But it was not that she could only fight using a knife, so she would head into battle even if she only had a long-range anti-materiel rifle to work with. She was that kind of Dealer.
But as much of a monster as she was, this man walked straight up to her. He did not bother taking cover. He had revealed the girl’s abilities during the preceding battles. He had concluded she was not hiding a gun.
And Saurus had hit her limit without the Physical Stamina Skill to increase her physical abilities by adjusting her lung capacity. The man had decided he would be fine even if she did suddenly pull a gun.
“You Fell and were left emptyhanded – no weapons or Skills worth mentioning – and yet you managed to crawl back up this far with whatever you could find lying around. But let’s end it now, shall we?”
“Marietta Flapper. You’re just a dirty assassin who couldn’t manage his finances.”
“I have received a message from Pavilion, my client. I am supposed to utterly humiliate you and then execute you. And luck would have it you fled to the perfect place for that: Hooker Island. You see, we have suffered far more expenses than we would like of late. This island functions as a cruel sort of trade show, so which establishment would you like to be sent to? We will have you work to pull us out of the red.”
Saurus clicked her tongue at having grabbed an axe instead of a gun or knife. She could not use it to kill herself. And the only ways to escape Money (Game) Master were to Fall or go through the 5-minute logout sequence in the driver’s seat of her own vehicle. It did not matter how cruel a situation she had found herself in.
“You’re still going to resist? Be my guest. You see, this island is crawling with perverts. Head to the seediest places here and we can find buyers who will not question the fact that both your arms and legs are broken. It will reduce your price somewhat, but that just means more transactions to reach the necessary sum.”
A moment later – truly only a moment later, a bullet flew in and hit the man in the side of the head.
It came from a machinegun so small it looked like a toy.
It had little range and accuracy, but it was great for firing a spray of bullets to drive an enemy away.
But that stooped boy had arrived in time.
Money (Game) Master was teeming with Dealers, but M Scope was the only one who had actually come running.
“Saurus, take this!!”
There was no time to think about anything else.
The braid girl caught the pump-action shotgun that came spinning through the air, stood back to back with the boy she had only ever mocked, and began firing on the remnants of Marietta Flapper surrounding them before those assassins could recover from their confusion.
The weapon fired slugs, just the way she liked it.
The single large bullet used greater destructive force than a magnum to tear through the torsos below those night combat uniforms despite the bulletproof plating and shock-absorbing material within. They seemed to have the Bullet Proof Skill on top of that, but that was only meant to defend against .45 caliber handgun rounds and it could not fully stop the slugs. Unless you combined multiple Skills like the rumored Mother Loose, defense Skills were not perfect.
It was an open space with no cover. No matter how good a shot the enemy was, the Marietta assassins must have assumed they could execute them if they were willing to take some losses of their own, so they raised their carbines. However…
“Ginmi, attack. Kill!!”
With a dull sound, an itasha-style 4-wheel-drive SUV crashed full-speed into the assassins from the side.
M Scope had always been an expert at “waiting”.
He specialized in bombs and traps.
That was why he only sprayed some bullets around with his low-power submachinegun. For that stooped boy covered in character goods, bullets were no more than a dungeon-crawling tool that let him hit switches remotely. His idea of a gunfight was to do some damage with the bullets and then lure the enraged target into position to be run over.
It was an SUV.
Since M Scope’s itasha was a four-door with a protruding hood, its overall shape looked like the fusion of a family sedan and station wagon remade to have off-road capabilities. He had modified the bumper so its angle could be adjusted so he could knock enemy vehicles away or drag people underneath depending on what mode it was in. The SUV came to a rapid stop in front of its owner, so he ducked next to the hood to use it as a shield and took out the remaining exterminators.
Saurus watched the boy from behind for a while.
He was wearing the same large backpack, but something about him looked different.
“Where’s your Magisterus? And your vehicle!?”
“Eh? Oh…I-I got a few new vehicles along the way, but they’re all on fire somewhere or another. We should find Charlotte collapsed somewhere if we head back the way I came. I wasn’t able to save her.”
“Got it. Let’s start by picking up your Magisterus and buying you a new vehicle. Ginmi, let me drive. Saurus, hop in. Hurry!!”
M Scope took the driver’s seat, Saurus took the passenger seat, and the Yuki Onna opened the door and climbed into the back seat covered in boxes full of character goods. Being injured and exhausted probably played a role, but Saurus was surprised at how readily she did as she was told.
The itasha SUV turned around, the side of the vehicle hit the few stubborn assassins who remained like a roundhouse kick, and then they drove back the way Saurus had come.
The stooped boy looked bothered by the itasha paintjob.
“Ugh, I made my waifu kiss them so hard it dented her.”
It did not take long to find the Werewolf Magisterus. She wore a provocative costume that resembled a revealing V-shaped swimsuit, and that seemed to accentuate her wounds. She had been shot in her vitals and then froze up like a statue fallen on the side of the road. Saurus’s face crumpled up, but M Scope said nothing to her while calling out to his partner in the backseat covered in anime, video game, and data idol goods.
“Ginmi, take care of her.”
“I was waiting so long for this minibar fridge, so I don’t know about leaving this perfectly controlled environment and entering the heat outside.”
“I’ll give you three of the cooling strips used to fight colds. The ones you place on your forehead.”
The Yuki Onna’s face lit up. She and the gloomy boy left the car and they both loaded the injured and “frozen” Magisterus into the back seat. The work itself was simple enough, but leaving the vehicle was dangerous when the enemy could be anywhere.
M Scope gave an accurate summary of the Magisterus’s state while returning to the driver’s seat.
“Her neck and torso weren’t torn open and the bullet left her stomach. She should recover after only half an hour.”
Violent Saurus had always been strong-willed and never treated people all that well, so she did not directly voice her thanks here.
M Scope did not seem to care.
Even though he could have easily thrown away his life in that battle.
He had changed a lot since she last saw him and he toyed with the steering wheel while looking somewhat manly in profile.
“Saurus, I hate to do this right after what happened, but…”
“What is it?”
“Um, well, how should I put this? Oh, man, this is not an easy subject to broach. Damn, if this was a school harem story or an alternate world reincarnation story, everyone would’ve been all over me from the beginning.”
“Out with it already! I owe you big time after this, so give me something I can do for you!!”
“Are you sure?”
He breathed in and out.
Then he forcibly straightened his stooped back and gathered all his resolve.
“Saurus!! Will you go out with myee!!”
The braid girl’s fist flew on reflex and the SUV swerved, crashed into a streetlight, and came to a stop.
Saurus had become something like a red-hot steam engine and she shouted like she was trying to bite his head off from the passenger seat.
“Wh-wh-wh-wh-what is wrong with you!? This is like the worst time for that!!”
“But if I don’t, I’ll lose any chance of saving the rest of Ag Wolves! Like Titan and Hazard!! Don’t you want to know what they’re doing right now!?”
“Explain. From the beginning.”
Saurus breathed from the nose and made her demand, so M Scope hesitantly began explaining how he got here. Including the deal he had made with Frey(ja), owner of Treasure Hermit Crab.
Find someone in this wide world you have feelings for and confess those feelings.
If it works, fantastic. But just this once, it is perfectly fine if you are shot down.
The point is for you to experience the thrill of the real deal.
Saurus blatantly clicked her tongue.
“And it’s all to get backing for the rest of the team?”
“Why are you apologizing? You were right; I am worried about the others. Hm? Come to think of it, where’s our leader, Lilikiska?”
“All I can say is she’s safe.”
Saurus herself would admit she was a tactless person, but she did not overlook the slight pause before M Scope’s response or the faint smile on his lips.
She scratched at her braided head.
“Fine, fine. I won’t ask any more than that. Everyone has their own life to live. Teams are for working together, not for holding each other captive.”
“I might be the one holding you captive now. Are you still willing to help me?”
“I’ve heard about that perv called Frey(ja). We just have to fool him, right? If it’ll save Titan, Hazard, and the others, I’m willing to pretend to be your girlfriend for a bit.”
She leaned back in the passenger seat after that.
She may have been even more exhausted than she thought.
The SUV was more cramped than a true van or RV, but it had more space than an ordinary sedan.
“You can recline the seat and get some sleep if you want. For now, I’ll send you to some car shop or another on the peninsula. Marietta Flapper might be looking for us, so I want as many options as possible. Is a used car good enough?”
“Yeah. I have too much debt to buy one myself, but if you give me what I need to start earning money on my own, I’ll pay you back later. Right now, I just want something that lets me log in and log out.”
“I got Ginmi working on some financial deals before starting on all this, so I should be earning hundreds of millions of snow on a regular basis before long.”
“Oh, yeah. You were always great with apparel companies. Despite how you dress.”
“It started with cosplay supplies for girls to wear. I judge a designer’s taste or an entire company’s concept based on the patterns and color samples available on their websites and use that to predict which company will be the next fashion leader. It doesn’t take long at all.”
“What does that matter? This is about making a point, so I will pay you back for everything I borrow. With interest.”
The itasha SUV started driving again.
Saurus asked a sudden question while letting her body shake in the pleasant rocking of the 4-wheel-drive vehicle.
“But why me? There are plenty of Dealers out there who are a lot more feminine than me.”
“Where? I’m not as sociable as the rest of you. I don’t know anyone in real life or here other than everyone in Ag Wolves. And I especially don’t know any other girls. If data idols and Magisteri don’t count, then it would have to be Lilikiska, you, or um, who else is there?”
“Heh. So I was the process of elimination choice, was I?”
M Scope gave a simple response while driving.
“You could say that. I mean, it had to be someone I have feelings for and you were the only one I could think of that meets that requirement.”
There was no response.
The violent girl’s entire face had grown bright red.
“Shut up, dumbass!! How bad at socializing can you be!? You don’t just…just say things like that, you gloomy bastard!!!!!!”
“Oh, ohhhhhhh, ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. I-it’s catching somewhere. Look at all those orange sparks.”
“Does it have any tires left? Is its belly directly scraping the road?”
The long black limousine drove along the main road while working as a tow truck. Its rear winch was dragging a mint green coupe behind it. The demon in a race queen outfit had stubbornly insisted in riding in the crushed passenger seat and Midori had followed along on her red autumn leaf print motorcycle as they drove back to the garage they usually used. The place was meant for repairing luxury cars instead of racing ones, but they would provide the necessary services if they were paid. They had hired Smash Daughter, a notoriously violent Dealer, as a bodyguard, so there was little concern of any hyena Dealers trying to take advantage of their weakened state.
“Now then, where is Master Kaname?”
“Hold on, you unhealthy fanservice Dark Elf. You had better not be revealing you’ve fallen for my master.”
“Actually, I took a hit to protect him from the evil clutches of Bloody Dancer, so he should view me the same way he does Master Criminal AO. Pant, pant. Yes, he will now lift me up as a hero. I have always looked up at him with adoration, but looking down on him as a queen certainly has its appeal.”
“Meiki and I were shot too this time, you fool!!”
“O-oh, no. I’m the only one who wasn’t shot.”
“Midori, that is not something to be dismayed about!! Besides, Cindy is no hero for showing off her wound in search of praise!!”
Lilikiska sighed to herself while the other girls were focused on the mint green coupe that had been crushed into scrap metal. The holster that squeezed her chest like a waitress’s suspenders made breathing somewhat difficult. After managing to calm herself down some, she walked away from her parked limousine.
She brushed her long hair off her shoulder and called out into the darkness.
“Sophia, end standby mode.”
“Aye, Lady Kiska. Long time no see. Has something happened?”
“It seems I no longer need to work for Criminal AO.”
“Can you open that email with the protection lock?”
With a cheerful affirmative, text danced across the Magisterus’s vest which resembled a casino dealer’s outfit.
After linking with the mailer, her clothing said the following:
Miss Lilikiska Sweetmare,
The search took some doing, but we have confirmed that you are the Zodiac Child known as the Scorpion’s Tenacity.
As such, we suggest you undergo a detailed examination at Unicorn General Hospital and then work with us.
You are free to accept or decline this offer, but please consider the pros and (more importantly) the cons of either choice.
We consider you to be extremely valuable.
Which also means you would be worth eliminating early if you choose to oppose us.
It is fortunate that your true value was never revealed to Criminal AO since you cannot consciously control your ability.
We await your reply,
The Will of the Magisteri
Forehead glasses Lilikiska sighed softly.
Her nose picked up a dangerous scent.
No matter how that battle turned out, she could not catch up by silently obeying. If she wanted to reach the level of those legendary heroes of Called Game, she could not just follow in their footsteps. She had to take a gamble and move to cut them off.
Even if that meant responding to a demon’s temptation.
This was a demonic game beyond human understanding and it was time she set foot in the realm of its bugs and errors.
“Aye, Lady Kiska.”
“I will be going to the hospital now. I want to get my shoulder treated regardless. You wait for the right timing and start driving the limousine around. Distract the girls in the garage.”
That was a gentle, favorable, and yet mechanical voice.
Now, how would this turn out?
Kaname, Takamasa, and Bloody Dancer.
She had seen how those legendary Dealers dealt with their Magisteri, so how would she choose to deal with her own? And would that choice be complete enough to entrust with her life?
“Is something wrong?”
(Still, this is the first step.)
She slowly breathed out.
The person she had set as her target was still so very far off.
(But it all starts with this step.)
“I will be going, Sophia.”
“Aye, Lady Kiska.”
And in the end, that voice grew oddly smooth and mature.
“We await your reply.”
In the center of Summer City’s peninsula city, someone staggered out of the Inheritance storage facility disguised as a museum.
The Short Spear short-range sniper rifle dangled from his right hand.
It was Suou Kaname.
His breathing was oddly heavy for someone who had survived. And it was hard to say he had survived. But escaping at all in that situation could only be called a stroke of good fortune.
Not even a Dealer of his level wanted to get in a brawl with the PMC guarding a corporate headquarters or power station. If he had lost his escape route, he very well could have Fallen.
A single hit and it all would have been over.
And it was all the worse this time because he had been shot several times in the fight against Bloody Dancer.
He crossed the wide street to reach the opposite building.
He had left his nearly-scrapped mint green coupe with Tselika. It was more nerve-racking than he could imagine to be near death and without that symbol of mobility and armor.
He leaned on the building wall from the sidewalk.
If he used the Reduce Pain Skill, the thread of tension would grow slack and he might just pass out. He needed the pain right now.
It helped immensely that the AI-controlled PMC was set to only protect the inside the facility. It really would have been over if he had been surrounded while missing his car and too injured to travel far on foot.
Firing head on against the PMC was useless since their base parameters were boosted and they could receive endless reinforcements. Escaping their protection area alive should have been enough to call a win.
(It’s more than I ever imagined.)
He could still hear the gunfire.
As soon as the battle had begun, he had dragged his heavy body toward the exit. But Takamasa had not. It was true he had the Inheritance at his disposal, but he had chosen to move further in.
It did not matter how many reinforcements arrived.
In fact, the more he killed, the more the difference in score would grow.
Doing that did not benefit him in any way.
It only revealed the truth of the matter to Suou Kaname. Or it allowed Kaname to escape safely.
That was all.
“I thought you were bad at gunfights, Takamasa.”
No, that was not quite right. This was not an action taken to kill an opponent like Kaname and Bloody Dancer did.
If anything, it was a rescue. These were techniques for covering someone and acting as the rear guard.
No matter how you tried to twist it around, Money (Game) Master was a game where Dealers shot at each other to kill each other. And yet he alone had polished the skills needed to save people.
He saw this game – this world – in a fundamentally different light.
Kaname should have noticed.
Takamasa had always been like that. If he was told to fight another Dealer, his legs might start shaking too much to move. But when it came to protecting Kaname’s sister, he had dived into the line of fire without a second thought.
The boy whose sister had been protected back then could not fill the gap he had seen back then.
(Soldiers and firefighters both break down doors and walls to enter buildings, but they do so for fundamentally different reasons, huh? He really got me there. No wonder I couldn’t predict his actions at all.)
The ratio between their scores was probably more than 50-to-1.
The difference was so overwhelming it felt like seeing a demonstration by a cutting-edge stealth fighter.
That was how much space existed between Kaname and Takamasa right now.
The scariest part was how Takamasa could smile and insist he was no good at gunfights while hiding so much skill.
Kaname never even considered directly taking on the endless supply of PMC soldiers. And not because he had been injured in the fight against Bloody Dancer. He would have avoided it even if he had been in top form. After all, a single hit would rob him of his current life and leave him buried in debt. There was no end to the fight no matter how many he defeated and he gained nothing from the attempt. The risks and returns were not even remotely balanced.
He heard a fearsome boom.
He was swallowed up by a cloud of dust before he could even look back. The storage facility disguised as a museum must have been destroyed from within. There was no need to ask by whom.
The explosively-expanding cloud of dust was forcibly swept away by the two giant propellers of a mass of metal slowly descending from the sky. It was a military tiltrotor with a storage capacity rivalling a small transport craft. You could do most anything in Money (Game) Master if you had the money, but this was still impressive.
This would leave the Inheritance in his possession.
Forklifts or loaders aboard the tiltrotor would probably be used to retrieve them all in a short period of time.
Would even the Will of the Magisteri be able to track where the tiltrotor went after it took off? Kaname could only watch it go while bloody and leaning against the wall.
“Are you kidding me?”
A crinkling sound came from his pocket.
It came from a rolled-up piece of paper. Grabbing that on his way out was the only success he had found during his escape.
He could only look up at the moon and accept it.
He needed to change how he did things.
He doubted Criminal AO would stop if he aimed a gun at him. While he had used the Inheritance, Takamasa had conquered that storage facility when it was crawling with PMC soldiers. That put him at least at the same level as Bloody Dancer, and probably even higher. And the #Fuse.err submachinegun was not the only thing he could use. The next time they met, he might wield a different piece of the Inheritance and fight in an entirely different way.
But at the same time, Suou Kaname knew something.
Takamasa had his own reason for doing this, but he was not willing to provide it so easily.
“Saving people isn’t something you show off to others, huh?”
There was something there.
There was some pressing issue here that Kaname was not yet aware of.
But even so, Kaname had his own reason that he could not back down on. He had seen the tears of Tselika, his sister, and Midori. And he would not allow that to happen again.
And more than that, a Dealer who killed and did nothing more than earn snow could not save Takamasa.
(I can’t just hire any human Dealer when it has to do with my magic and relying on a Magisterus is out of the question, but autopiloting it with my phone worked out well enough. The system is the same as with delivery drones once you remove the legal barriers.)
After calling the tiltrotor into the middle of the city, Takamasa did not seem all that interested in the many Over Tricks contained within the cargo bay. That treasure had been quickly carried in using the forklifts and loaders onboard, but they were all products of his own customization work. He did not find them exciting enough to leap at them eyes shining.
His interest was on the shrinking world below him.
Specifically, on the boy who was still near the storage facility.
He had to smile.
The Over Tricks were certainly powerful. A hit from his #Fuse.err could detonate anything flammable or explosive – be it a tank, a pipe, a compressed gas cylinder, a vehicle, a grenade, a gun magazine, or a phone battery. The thickness of its outer shell and the safety features meant nothing. It was a manifestation of the explosives that some saw as the true stars of shooting games. But he did not use it for deadly shootouts like the ones Kaname and Bloody Dancer fought. He knew all too well that his talents did not lie in that direction.
So he took the opposite route.
He borrowed the logic of rescues, where a route in was constructed and people were located within a structure’s complex layout.
He locked up in fear when it came to killing people, but he could step out into danger if it was to save people.
That was the true essence of Criminal AO, aka Takamasa.
Just like it had been when he took a bullet for an old friend’s sister.
And like it was now with his blood relative Hekireki Midori who was bound by an AI company thanks to the debt he had created when he Fell.
He did not change.
He had only increased the number of methods he could use.
Dangerous objects that would explode when shot were found everywhere in Summer City and the AI-controlled PMC soldiers had certain behavioral patterns. They would generally avoid friendly fire and they built their strategies based on the map data. If he frequently blew up walls to create new paths not on the map and hit the PMC soldiers with nonlethal damage that left them collapsed in the pathways, it would oftentimes trigger an error in the AI, making them ignore the shortest route right in front of them and take the long way around.
Yes, he used bugs and errors.
Those should not have existed in Money (Game) Master.
(But these tricks won’t bring me to Kaname’s level.)
Kaname might think Takamasa was as skilled a shooter as Bloody Dancer since he had cleaned out the PMC soldiers here, but that was not the case. His Over Tricks simply changed the rules of combat, but that did not help if your opponent could understand the new rules and keep up with the battle.
At the very least, #Fuse.err was not enough to defeat Kaname.
Then what kind of Over Trick could slay that monster?
In the end, Takamasa was not taking the fight seriously. With Bloody Dancer and with all these PMC soldiers, he was only firing bullets while his opponent was confused by the new rules they did not understand.
But Kaname was different.
He had shot three elite PMCs located behind Takamasa even though they had been fully capable of fighting. And instead of simply firing wildly and causing a huge explosion to defeat them, he had made sure to protect Midori, Takamasa, and the others on the same field as him while he traversed the battlefield with intensity and precision. In the initial exchange, Takamasa had detonated an explosive to kill two, but Kaname had killed his three with sniper shots. And if he had been serious, he could have killed twice that number.
The number of defeated foes was not enough to measure this.
When Bloody Dancer had met his end, Takamasa had not pulled the trigger in time. He had raised his gun, but only Kaname had actually fired.
Anyone with #Fuse.err could do what Takamasa did.
But Takamasa could not do what Kaname did if he was handed Short Spear.
“I still have so far to go.”
His Over Tricks were exactly that: tricks.
Which was why that boy with more direct strength appeared so bright to him.
That warrior had the concentration and strength to handle both urban sniping and close-quarters combat in an enclosed space. And on top of that, he had the Lion’s Nose as one of the Zodiac Children. Takamasa understood how rare that made the boy. Or he thought he did.
At the moment, he heard a crinkling sound.
He had collected something other than the Over Tricks from that storage facility disguised as a museum: fragments of the list in the form of partial copies and voice recordings. He did not actually need that since he had it all memorized. In fact, deleting it all would give him an advantage over the other Dealers.
But he had a reason for collecting it all to check over it.
(I don’t see the random number table for decoding it. Someone else has that.)
There was never any need to write that down.
He handwrote his coded text on loose leaf paper, so he had the conversion process memorized. Keeping a physical copy of the table was a product of his own weakness.
He knew he had to keep it a secret, but he still wanted to leave some possibility of sharing it with someone he could truly trust.
He could not shake free of that weakness inside him.
“I can’t believe this. Who but Kaname could have done that while so badly injured and in the middle of that firefight? I’m impressed.”
If Kaname had decided to stop here, that would have been the end of it.
But it was not going to be that easy.
The Lion’s Nose was one of the Zodiac Children. The ability to sense danger in advance was not a means of escaping fear. It was used to accurately locate the enemy he needed to defeat.
Takamasa’s friend did not have the same weakness he did.
That boy had been the direct fighter of their legendary team. He was so good at sniping and car chases that he became known as Called Game’s grim reaper. When necessary, he would continue advancing toward his goal. He would aim his gun and pull the trigger even if he knew he was destroying someone’s life.
He did not feel the need to make excuses.
Not if he could wipe the tears from someone’s eyes. Not if he could protect an ordinary smile.
Suou Kaname, the strongest Dealer, would not stop.
No matter what.
That was why those two legendary Dealers exchanged a glance from the sky and from the earth.
“You really are a hell of a guy, hero.”
“You really are a hell of a guy, hero.”
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