Magisterus Bad Trip:Volume2 Chapter 5
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.”
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