Queen's Gate:Volume 1 Chapter 4

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Chapter 4: Tentacle God's Island[edit]

An egg-shaped aircraft descended slowly under the moonlight. The aircraft wasn't too big, just about 2 meters in diameter.

Its destination, a small island with no illumination. A lost island that didn't appear in any maps, either. It was the Tentacle God's Island: the headquarters of the Tentacle Group, those who had obtained the power of Irukinuf.

Without making a sound, the aircraft slipped through between the huge stone buildings buried in the jungle of tropical plants, then landed in front of the temple located in the center of the island.

An egg-shaped shadow stretched on the stone paving. Making a small vibrating buzz, a crack ran from the top to the bottom of the aircraft. When the crack reached the bottom, the aircraft broke with a snap, and a redheaded girl holding a jar and a spear-like metal bar made her appearance from within.

"Nyufufu, I safely made iit."[1]

The singing-like voice echoed through the temple illuminated by the moonlight. She was Lynn, the Irukinuf's Songstress that had fought at the Book Building of St. Label's Academy against Alice and the others.

Making a coy face like a cat[2], she stroked the surface of the aircraft with the tentacles that extended from her waist. Making a clacking sound, the aircraft quickly folded up into a size enough for it to fit in her pocket.

Using this portable ultra high-speed aircraft, Lynn was able to freely jump to any place around the world. No matter if she had to go to the Tentacle God's Island from Moscow, or from the island to St. Label's Academy, those kinds of travels around the globe were no trouble thanks to this aircraft.

"Nyufufuh."

Laughing contentedly, she looked up at the temple, and quietly inhaled a deep breath.

"Lord Tentacle Kiing? I retrieved Lord Irukinuf's treasure."

Being in the middle of the night as it was, the redhead's voice could be heard throughout the temple.

"The jar and the laance. Both of theem! Quite the achievemeent."

Lynn touted about the treasures she was holding, and ran up the stairs that extended towards the centre of the temple. In one go, she leapt into the central part, where 12 entasis pillars stood in a row.

"Nyufufufufu."

Feeling the gaze of many directed towards the treasures she held, Lynn's face broke into a superiority smug.

The Dorchester Pot and the Kushiro Spear. She had snatched both away from Alice and company, and right in front of their noses. There was no precedent of someone in the Tentacle Group bringing back 3 treasures from Irukinuf's fission in such a short time.[3]

The Tentacle King Swodar should now acknowledge her more than ever. Just thinking of the power she might receive in exchange for the treasures, Lynn lightly jiggled her chest as she walked.

"Nyafuh!?"

Suddenly, Lynn tripped, and as she almost fell down, the treasures rolled down from her hands.

"Aah!"

In a panic, Lynn extended her tentacles, trying to grab the treasures. But, beyond a certain point, the tentacles stopped as if they were being repelled.

"Tentacle... King?"

Lynn turned her gaze towards the throne, puzzled.

There was a distance of 10 meters from where she was standing now to the throne, the same position she was asked to remain at on the last audience.

In front of Lynn, the Tentacle King remained in silence, sitting on the temple's throne, not even bothering to look at the girl. On the contrary; he seemed to be indifferent even towards the treasures that rolled down before the throne.

So far, whenever someone managed to bring back treasures, they would carry out the actions to insert them into Irukinuf at once. But, neither the Tentacle King nor Irukinuf at his hand showed any intentions of doing that.

"Tentacle King, here are the treasuures. They're what we need to complete Lord Irukinuf's bodyy."

Lynn raised her voice deliberately. And yet, the Tentacle King didn't even open his eyelids.

"Tentacle King?"

She was shouting now. In order for her voice to get through, Lynn shouted with all her strength.

"Songstress. Whatever happened with inviting those guests?"

Blocking out Lynn's shouts, a throaty man's voice sounded from an entasis pillar, taking over for the Tentacle King.

"I won't let you say you forgot."

The Great Tentacle Leonidas, who took care of the island's defense, showed up from the darkness, flexing his strong pectorals.

"What "guests" are you talking abouut?"

Lynn feigned ignorance.

"It's high time you quit deceiving us, Songstress!"

Leonidas thrust the iron spear in his hand at Lynn's chest.

"Hiih!?"

Affected by Leonidas' outburst, Lynn let out a short shriek.

As if on cue, a bonfire was lit on each of the 12 big pillars, and the remaining of the 12 Apostles appeared.

Naturally, that didn't mean they all had assembled there. Several of the bodies looked transparent under the moonlight, and didn't they cast a shadow over the stone pavement either; they were stereoscopic images.

"The Songstress has the seed of rebellion in her!"

"The Songstress goes against the wishes of the Tentacle King!"

"She did bring the treasures, but even so, opposing the Tentacle King is a serious crime!"

"It's clear she tried to kill the Gate Opener using Hikita Bungoro, if I may be so bold to suggest!"

Lynn groaned softly before the pressure emanated by the tentacles of the 12 Apostles.

Being as they were the Apostles, they had power enough to intimidate underlings, no matter if those were stereoscopic images with no substance. If this was one who wasn't a follower of Irukinuf, wielding the same tentacles, they'd faint before that heavy pressure; people with a weak heart would probably even get a heart attack.

"Now, would you answer!"

Leonidas' eyes shone gold, filled with bloodlust.

"T-Thaat's..."

Lynn's knees shook in panic. Her face stiffened, her throat dried. Should she tell them, or should she deceive them?

An Irukinuf Priestess[4] was an existence that even surpassed the Tentacle King, an immortal figure united with Irukinuf. Lynn believed that she had the qualifications to become a priestess herself. That was the reason why she had been collecting treasures.

"Do you think we wouldn't be able to see through the ambitions of a lass like yourself?"

As if piercing through Lynn's chest, Leonidas' spearhead jolted her solar plexus.

"In the 2500 years I've been a follower of Irukinuf, I've seen my fair share of people of your ilk!"[5]

His spearhead bit into her. If he added a bit more strength, the iron spear would break through her chest and pierce her heart.

Lynn tightly closed her eyes in fear.

"Can you leave it at this? Sir Leonidas."[6]

That unexpected, timely help made Lynn's face shine brightly.

"Mh?"

A long and narrow tentacle twined around Leonidas' iron spear. For someone to stop the movements of one of the 12 Apostles, it could only be one amongst their midst, or the Tentacle King.

"Do you intend to interfere?"

"No, that is not my intention."

Yue Ying had been silently watching over the situation with the other Apostles and Lynn, but now took action and pulled back Leonidas' spear with the long tentacle that extended from her shoulder.

"The visitors the Tentacle King called for are approaching. I think we should give priority to welcoming those girls here, what do you think?"

Hearing Yue Ying's words, Leonidas looked up at the night sky.

One of the various benefits provided by the tentacles was a strengthening of the physical capabilities. If it was a Great Tentacle, their body entrusted with eight tentacles, it was no trouble to stare at the flapping wings of a mosquito flying under the moonlight.

And Leonidas' eyes noticed well enough the reverse cone-like object approaching the island. It was the mobile device Twister, one of the heritages the Baum house owned.

"Hmm... luck's on your side, Songstress."

"We'll leave it to you to meet the visitors, Sir Leonidas, so how about we order the Songstress to undergo punishment for a while?"

The 12 Apostles looked at each other. Yue Ying's proposal was reasonable, but should they be deciding how to treat the Songstress by themselves? At a loss, they turned their eyes to the Tentacle King, who was calmly watching them on his throne.

"King, your decision!"

Hearing the 12 Apostles' voice, a rainbow-colored eye slowly appeared from the tip of the staff in the Tentacle King's hands.

<I have seen it alllll.>

Irukinuf's voice reverberated inside the mind of all the followers present in the island.

"Your judgment!"

In one voice, the 12 Apostles asked for the Tentacle King's reply.

"We do agree she should receive a punishment. Thus, We respect Yue Ying's decision."

The Tentacle King finally replied to their request, his voice reverberating. The eyes of both the Tentacle King Swodar Nyarmain and Irukinuf stared at Lynn as if they intended to bore a hole through her.

The 12 Apostles waited with bated breath for the Tentacle King to continue.

"Spending the night in the Room of Meandering Beasts should be good."

The Tentacle King announced the Songstress' punishment in a tone devoid of emotion, only declaring the decision aloud.

"Hih!"

Hearing the name of the very punishment chamber that made the beings with tentacles feel like hell on earth, Lynn couldn't help but give a short whine.

"Cool down for a while, Songstress."

The moment the Tentacle King moved his finger, a huge hole appeared under Lynn's feet. Lynn's body floated in midair, becoming weightless.

"Eh?"

But it was just for an instant. Faster than a blink, Lynn was sucked into the hole.

Her destination, the Room of Meandering Beasts.

"Hyaaaaaaaaaah!"

All that remained from her were her screams from deep inside the hole.

"My Apostles. Go meet the two priestesses... Do treat them politely."

Both the Tentacle King and Irukinuf closed their eyes.

And so, 12 Apostles spread out soundlessly, in order to carry out the orders from the Tentacle King.


***


Altitude: 300,000 meters. The Vimana was flying under suborbital flight at a height similar to a man-made satellite. With this way of flying using the Earth's gravity, the Vimana could reach anywhere on Earth within an hour.

Alice and Hatter were at the gondola-shaped bridge installed in the Vimana's lower part. As a result of the free fall, the aircraft was in a weightless state, and so Alice's hair floated in an unnatural form.

"Caught up with them yet?"

Alice, sitting down on the commander's seat placed in the backward center of the bridge, called out to Hatter, sitting on the forward cockpit.

"We accurately pinpointed the Twister's location. We'll be able to overtake them 290 seconds from now."

Hatter answered Alice's question dispassionately, pointing at the luminous points on the screen, that displayed the Vimana's and the Twister's current positions, as a visual cue.

"Ookay, despite our late start, we caught up real quick."

"If you consider both ships' fuselage specs, you'll realize we're going over their maximum speed. Besides, since Lady Dorothy is on board, the Twister is prioritizing safety rather than speed."

Alice nodded at Hatter's remark. Unlike the Baum house and their esteemed Milady, Hatter and the others didn't adjust their speed even with Alice riding along. Alice was quite comfortable with such a professional, even if slightly cold, arrangement.

"Kishishishishi, that Mudhead intended to jump the gun on me; I'll have her realize things seldom go as one wishes."

With these words, Alice gazed at the screen in front of her. It displayed a red luminous point, their target, the Twister.

It overlapped with the reaction of the transmitters Alice had attached to Dorothy. All the presents Alice had given Dorothy, like uniform's cuff links and pendants, were fitted with transmitters without exception.

They were actually friends at school, but since she was a rival Treasure Hunter, Alice could show no openings.

Take advantage of the time of peace to make your preparations.

That was one of the teachings Alice's mother had left her.

"Say, Hatter, did you find anything new about the Gate?"

Alice asked, turning her eyes from the screen to Hatter.

"Yes. I found that the Gates can be broadly divided into 3 types of variations."

"3 types?"

"Gates that let you travel through space; Gates that let you travel through time; and, the existence called "Queen's Gate" that oversees them all. I still don't know all the details, only that most of the ones Lady Lewis discovered were the space-Gate type."

Hearing Hatter's words, something flared up in Alice's mind.

"Travel through space, you say? Would you be able to do that by keeping things in a different space without moving them...?"

Wasn't the multi-dimension storage system offered by Dorothy already complete? That would mean...

"There is a high chance the Baum house owns technology related to space Gates. However, what Lady Lewis seeked wasn't such an incomplete item. She was looking for the Queen's Gate, the all-purpose gate connected to all Gates, transcending space and time."

After Hatter addressed her doubts, Alice turned her sight back to the Vimana's control panel.

"I see. Then, did Mom have an educated guess of where the Queen's Gate could be?"

"Do you want to see the list?"

"Display it."

Hatter slightly moved her finger, and a list was projected in a screen floating in front of Alice.

"Lewis' List" could be called the crib notes of the Dodgson Foundation, the document that detailed all the records and traditions that existed on Earth and the investigations about the treasures' whereabouts.

Though Alice scanned the list with expectation, her expression soon lost its brightness.

"I already saw this the other day, at the mansion's underground."

Alice told Hatter with a sigh.

"The list concerning the Gates is the only thing we have left."

Hatter's words were deprived of emotion. Her words only informed of the truth, indifferently.

Oh well...

Alice swallowed up her frustration. They should be able to catch up with the Twister soon. The discussions regarding the list could be left for later.

Anticipating the moment the weightlessness would be cancelled, the girl checked the seatbelts on the commander's seat.

"When we get close, I'll leave in the Attack Device."


***


On board the Twister and its perfect inertial control, no unpleasant acceleration could be felt, regardless of what kind of speeds it reached or sharp turns it took.

Three silhouettes were inside the Twister's control room. The floor surface there consisted of a large screen panel.

"It's been a while since I was able to forestall Allie this much."

Looking at the image of the current situation projected under her eyes, Dorothy smiled, seemingly satisfied.

The giant Lumberjack, reminiscent of a silver armor, and the beast girl Löwe, moving her ears with a blip blop, both waited their turn behind Dorothy.

"Milady, please pay attention, we'll project the image of our survey of the whole island."

Following Scarecrow's voice, a monochromatic stereoscopic vision imitating the island's shape rose from under Dorothy.

"Though it's visible with the naked eye, that island has a strange camouflage that prevents it from being reflected through lens. That's why, even though I managed to create an image somehow through various means, there is no color; do forgive me."

"This is..."

Dorothy's breath was taken away.

The form of the island was too geometrical.

"Even if this is just me talking from the scan results, this would be a man-made island, that also floats over the sea. The entire island is composed of a huge stone arrangement, which made it gain buoyancy by some method I can't quite figure out."

"Somehow, it's like an amazing version of Nan Madol, right?"[7]

Nan Madol, a gigantic stone structure submerged by the Pohnpei Island's coast. The islands of Micronesia had countless structures of unknown origin. This was now the proof that an extinct megalithic civilization had indeed existed. Though all those others were genuine, compared to this under their eyes, those structures didn't go beyond mere rockwork.

"Perhaps, this might be the original."

Scarecrow's musings about history's mysteries were cut off by the emergency siren.

"What's that!?"

The moment Dorothy half-rose from the sofa, the video and lighting in the room were killed, and her body was hurled up into the air.

"Eh?"

Right after the unexpected gravity-free state registered in their minds, they noticed a large hole that had been suddenly created on the control room's wall.

The jet-black night sky was visible on the other side of the hole. The altitude of Twister's flight was currently 6000 meters. So, if a hole opened up...

Before she could even perish the thought, Dorothy's body was sucked out into the empty sky due to the difference in atmospheric pressure.[8]

At once, Twister's silhouette faded away in the distance.

"Hiiyaaaaaaaaah!"

Dorothy screamt, on a free-dive without a parachute.

With no time to lose, she spread her body to gain air resistance and reduce her fall velocity, but the change was but a drop in a bucket.

<Milady-!!>

Lumberjack didn't hesitate. Engaging the Air Booster on her back at full throttle, she chased after Dorothy.

"Lumberjack! Come! Hurryyy-!"

Dorothy shouted for Lumberjack, who was going towards her at a breakneck speed.

Free-diving from an altitude of 6000 meters, her body temperature was rapidly dropping. In a corner of her eye, she saw the Twister descend as its airframe bent from the attacks it was receiving.

"LET'S GO!"

In an instant, Löwe jumped at Lumberjack's leg, went around her shoulder, then used her as a scaffold to leap vigorously at Dorothy.

QG 01 img 00012.jpg

Diving head first, she went past Dorothy then turned around.

<Löwee! Milady!>

Lumberjack opened up her armored chest to catch Dorothy. The air resistance rapidly increased, and the difference in altitude between Dorothy and Lumberjack increased.

"TEIYAAH!!"

Löwe kicked Dorothy up to fill the gap between Lumberjack and the girl.

"Gyafuh!"

Due to the intense shock, the air in the blonde girl's lungs was expelled out.

Lumberjack, with her extended armored chest, spread both arms to hug Dorothy tightly.

"I LEAVE HER TO YOU NOW!"

As a result, Löwe's fall velocity accelerated further. She was at an altitude of around 3000 meters now. Generally, that'd be a height where one would get helplessly smashed against the ground, but if it was Löwe, the human beast, she should be able to make it just barely.

"I GO AHEAD."

Seeing Lumberjack catching up with Dorothy, Löwe gave a smile, and fell into the sea.

<Milaady, mid-air combination!>

Lumberjack called out to the almost fainting Dorothy, to make her keep her consciousness.

After being kicked by Löwe, Dorothy's falling speed became zero just for a moment, and aligned herself with Lumberjack, who nosedived at her with a momentum that made one think they'd crash against each other.

<Milaady!!>

Catching Dorothy in midair, Lumberjack closed the armor. Even if worse came to worst, she'd be safe there. Hugging Dorothy's body inside her, Lumberjack gave a sigh of relief as she activated a reverse thrust.

"What happened, Scarecrow!?"

Having completed the combination with Lumberjack, Dorothy asked Scarecrow through her communication device.

<We were attacked. I must do an emergency landing. Milady, be careful...>

An intense noise in the middle of the communication made it impossible to hear all the words, and then a dazzling light spread in the night sky.

With that flash of light reminiscent of a nuclear explosion, Lumberjack's sensors whited out. The feed from the outside stopped, her field of vision became now pure white, and her body stopped moving.

"Scarecrow!"

Dorothy shouted inside Lumberjack, who had stopped functioning. They'd soon crash into the sea. It didn't matter if Lumberjack was made of Roswell Metal, she wouldn't be able to absorb the whole shock.

Dorothy closed her eyes, clenched her teeth, and braced for the impact.


***


The dazzling light that changed the night sky into midday's disappeared, plunging the island back into silence.

"You're playing around too much, Rama."

The Tentacle King muttered under his breath, and turned his gaze from the night sky to the ground again.

Before his eyes, there was a young beauty wearing a Chinese dress. It was the Apostle Yue Ying, the woman tasked with adjusting the Gate.

"Since he's a Prince, he wants to show off with those techniques every once in a while."

Among the 12 Apostles, Rama was the leader, also called the oldest in the Tentacle Group.

As he had lived in the golden age of civilization before the modern one formed, he was one of the precious long-lived beings amongst their ranks.

"That ability of his, it's so difficult to use..."

The light bullet Rama had released was one kind of nuclear fusion. If he so wished, he could level a city on his own. Because it was too powerful, it was known amongst the Apostles as a power not to be used.

"Still, from all the attacks he could have used, that seemed to be one which would weaken them the most."

"He was being considerate as a Prince."

The Tentacle King was astonished at how skillfully he controlled a technique that could evaporate the whole island if misused.

"However, he's not supposed to injure our important Priestess."

"Sir Leonidas is on his way. Do not fret."

The Tentacle King calmly nodded at Yue Ying's words.

"Then, Yue Ying. You're to go underground, hurry and prepare the Gate. The "Gate Opener" shall arrive soon. The time to save the world from the crisis has finally come."

As he gave his commands, the Tentacle King stroked Irukinuf in his hand. After taking in the Jar and the Spear, Irukinuf was one step closer to its perfect body. Then it'd only need a Priestess to guard it.


***


"What is... that?"

Alice had well begun to prepare the attack device "White Rabbit" in the Vimana's lower hangar, when she saw the feed from outside and groaned involuntarily.

20% of the Twister had disappeared abruptly, and huge flashing lights were attacking it continuously.

The Twister's surface was coated with an unknown material: it wouldn't melt even at a temperature of 3000 degrees, and it was said to be able to withstand any and all shocks.

So, for an attack to damage it to that extent--

Alice stopped pondering about it, quickly got into the White Rabbit, and affixed her harness.

"Hatter, impact-resistant position, now!"

The shockwave reached not long after, the Vimana swinging around like a leaf fluttering in a storm.

If it was a normal aircraft, there was no way they could have avoided crashing. The Vimana made full of the inertial control system installed in various parts of its fuselage, and kept its horizontality automatically.

Although it didn't compare to the perfect inertial control of the Twister, that emphasized comfort on the rides, it was thanks to this system that Vimana had a mobile performance several orders of magnitude above that of a normal aircraft.

<Professor, are you okay?>

Hatter's voice sounded via the White Rabbit's communication device.

"I'm fine over here. What about the Twister?"

<It's descending onto the island, trying to control its attitude.>

"Can you identify the weapons that damaged the Twister?"

<The first attack on it was one that made substances disappear due to a micro black hole by using nuclear fusion. The second, according to our assessment, was pure nuclear fusion without residual radioactivity. The target was destroyed by a shockwave created by the pressure expansion and the high temperature."

Hatter casually asserted.

"Is such a thing even possible?"

<Though it's not possible with current technology, it's been confirmed that there were civilizations in the past that could. It's described in the Mahabharata and Ramayana of the ancient India, I can confirm signs of damage due to high heat at the ruins down below.>[9]

"In other words, there are people in that island who can use such weapons."

Alice got excited. Over there, there were enemies who were making full use of legendary prehistory civilization technology.

The Queen's Gate my mother pursued might also be there as well. And above all else, it's very likely that I'll find there Swodar Nyarmain, who was in contact with her, and is now involved with the Gate. It's a worthy challenge.

"Wait here with the Vimana. I'll make a sortie with the White Rabbit."

The 3 Queens had granted them permission to investigate the Twister's remains.

Without hesitation, Alice loaded all her available equipment into the White Rabbit. Namely, her inertial control system, the Angra Mainyu, the Aeshma and her whip. And it went without saying, she didn't forget spare protective solution, in case of an emergency. She stuffed all this equipment, along with her combat uniform, into the hyperspace storage system.

This system from the Baum Foundation, that reduced the weight of up to 200 kilograms to zero, had proved to be quite useful. Though she also wanted to bring 54 full sets of Trump soldiers if she could, unfortunately she had overused them lately and didn't have the time to refill them.

Her whole body now clad into a diver suit to protect her bodily functions of her whole body, Alice straddled the White Rabbit.

"Start the countdown."

For the strategy this time, the White Rabbit was equipped with a rocket booster and a controllable thruster. In its ultra high-speed setting, it could reach the island they could now see on the horizon in 3 minutes.

<Grumble, Profeshor, March Hare wants to go too, pyon>

March Hare wedged herself into the transmission. Yet, Alice had finished her preparations to leave with the Attack Device already.

"Denied!"

Alice rejected March Hare's request in a flash.

<Au~, why would you~>

"You're the trump card if push comes to shove! If you don't hear from me in 30 minutes, you head straight to my transmitter's location, no questions asked, understand?"

<Acknow-ledged, bunny->

"Hatter, start countdown! From five!"

<Roger. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0>

At the same time the countdown ended, the hangar's floor opened up, and the White Rabbit was released into the black void.

Alice expertly directed the White Rabbit's nose towards the island and switched the rocket booster on. With a deafening roar, it flew her towards the island like a white bullet.


***


The island was back in silence.

On one of its edges were the burly body of a great hero and a slender body of a young man with a darkish skin.

The features of the young man made him handsome, from his manners drifted a graceful elegance. The youth had an overwhelming presence about him different than the intimidating air from the great hero.

At their feet, there were two people who none of that imposing presence, that they had pulled up from the sea: a fainted reddish-brown haired girl, and a silvery giant who had stopped functioning. In other words, Dorothy's subordinates, Löwe and Lumberjack. Though they had fallen into the sea from an altitude of 600 m, they were somehow still alive.

"Did you see that, Leonidas?"

Asking so, the youth with dark skin brought back into his body the tentacles that extended from his shoulder. Once he fully retracted his tentacles, there was no way to tell he belonged to the Tentacle Group.

"I did see, Prince Rama."

After prying open the chest part of the giant, and pulling over his shoulders the defenseless, knocked out blonde girl with the exposed lower half, Leonidas looked beyond the sea.

The eyes of those two, watching under the moonlight, caught the figure of the aircraft flying around the island near the horizon.

"A Vimana... there are still some that can fly."

Rama muttered, overcome with nostalgia.

"Do we shoot it down?"

Leonidas asked Rama courteously. For Leonidas, who held the hierarchy in high regard, Rama was the one he respected after the Tentacle King; he wasn't considered the oldest in the Tentacle Group for nothing.

"Let's refrain from doing so."

Rama smiled graciously.

"It made Us get nostalgic, We can't bring ourselves to damage such a beautiful aircraft."[10]

The same man who had just shot down the Twister as it approached the island now shook his hands, that remained flickering after shooting light for the first time in a while, and put on the jacket he had tied to his waist.

"Besides... one should pay respect to those who live in the "Golden Age"."[11]

As Rama and Leonidas stared, a small light separated from the Vimana, and turned towards them.

"It appears they're coming from over there."

Leonidas stared intently at the luminous point. It approached low so as to graze the sea surface.

"We shall withdraw. Do as you see fit."

"Leave it to me."

Leonidas sank one knee into the ground and hang down his head.

"Take it easy. After all, they're the Tentacle King's guests."

Putting both hands into his pockets, Rama disappeared deep inside the jungle.


***


The White Rabbit Alice was riding on accelerated due to the rocket booster, at a super-low altitude close to the sea surface.

"Remaining flight time, 2 more minutes..."

To compensate for the explosive acceleration force, the rocket booster's combustion time was very short.

Though she usually utilized the ultra-small turbofan engine to maneuver during these times, she couldn't do so this time. The enemy's attack power being as abnormal as it was, she had to move quickly so as to not become a sitting duck.

"One more minute."

Looking at the counter, Alice reconfirmed the Twister's crash point on the map. The only thing remaining was using the free surface effect to gain some lifting power, and it'd be over.[12]

As she finally approached the island, Alice turned off the booster, operated the variable thrusters on the aircraft's lower half, and rose slightly at the same time she landed.

Jumping over the jungle covering the island, she approached the crash point.

Indeed, the reaction from the transmitter she had given Dorothy pointed to the same place. The shape of the Twister airship came into view from the other side of the mowed down trees.

"Uwaa, how awful."

As soon as she saw the fallen Twister through her night vision goggles, Alice let out a lamenting sigh.

The Twister, that used to have a reverse cone shape, had lost its lower part. On its hull, there was a large hole that looked as if it had been gnawed on.

"No thermal reaction from the cut-out surface, nor any residual radioactivity..."

Checking the information sent from the external sensors, Alice deployed the landing legs of the White Rabbit.

The exterior cowl with an almond-shaped form opened, and landing legs reminiscent of an ostrich firmly stepped on the ground.

By changing from Flight Mode to Walk Mode, not only she could save fuel, it also made it possible for her to travel through uneven places like that jungle.

According to the external sensors, the temperature of the Twister's fuselage wasn't very high. In that case, she didn't need to worry about a fire. She wouldn't be saying the same if it was the Vimana.

In the unlikely event her airship crashed, it had a working defense mechanism to eliminate a third party's invasion if repairs were possible, or to self-destruct if they weren't.

On the other hand, the Twister didn't feature such defense systems. It was designed in concordance with the Baum family's values, that considered the passenger's rescue higher priority than security protection.

Alice approached the Twister with that White Rabbit which had grown ostrich legs, and plunged its nose into the hole by its side.

"Now, I wonder if they're safe."

Alice jumped down from the device, looked round the area, and began navigating the Twister. She was relying on her memory from when she rode on it to Russia the other day, while also considering the transmitter's reaction.

"It seems this hole reaches up to the Control Room."

Alice climbed up the wall with the hole on it, and jumping inside, moved on towards the Control Room.

Heat source and acoustic reaction had been added to the vision support projected on the goggles. It was a measure against the Tentacle Group, who excelled at disappearing.

Alice advanced the noticeably tilted flight of darkness, her cheeks hardened in tension.

"Oh?"

She arrived at the Control Room without any disturbance in particular, which was a bit disappointing for Alice.

All functions had stopped working, so it was pitch-black inside the room,. The precious mobile heritage was no longer usable.

Since the Twister's shape ignored aerodynamics, the moment it lost its power, it should have crashed with no hopes of being controlled. In spite of it, the fact that the aircraft hadn't fallen upside down was because someone had guided it until the last minute.

"Nh?"

A mark projected on the goggles showed traces of survivors. After seeing the reaction, Alice saw a control panel that had fallen to the ground, and used her inertial control system to send it flying. From under it, a tall woman dressed in maid clothes appeared.

"I've made you wait, Scarecrow."

Alice smiled sweetly at the woman. The head maid of the Baum family, and Dorothy's reliable assistant, Scarecrow.

If Dorothy could be neck to neck with her, and even forestall her sometimes, was thanks to her support; Alice knew that much.

"Lady... A... lice...?"

Scarecrow looked up at Alice in the darkness, returning a stouthearted smile as she endured her injuries.

"Are you all right?"

"Somehow... you could say so..."

Scarecrow grimaced in pain as she tried to get up. It seemed her back and leg had gotten hurt when she got trapped under the control panel.

Alice made an expression of relief in the darkness, then turned the communication switch on.

"March Hare, your turn."

<Got it, meow-!>

"Come rescue the survivors from the fallen Twister. Scarecrow's in the control room. While you're at it, collect the parts that still seem usable and bring them with you."

Alice boldly declared she was to confiscate parts of the Twister, not minding that Scarecrow was listening.

"You don't mind?"

"It can't be helped."

Scarecrow turned a blind eye to Alice's actions with a wry smile.

"Still, our source of power, the Hyperborea Crystal, that's the only thing we'd like back."

Hyperborea, one of the prehistoric ancient civilizations, whose existence had been confirmed by the Treasure Hunters. The energy obtained from the crystal body bearing its name exceeded any power plant from the modern civilization. It was a product of Lost Technology impossible to generate in the present age.

"Did you hear me? If you did, come in your Attack Device while you barely graze the sea surface. Because, you might be intercepted if you fly too high."

<Under-stood, pyo-n!>

March Hare's high-pitched voice made her pull away the communication device from her ear, and then Alice switched it off.

"Regarding my debt from earlier in the day, this makes us even."

Lifting Scarecrow in her arms, Alice softly whispered to her ears.

After the fierce fighting with Hikita Bungoro, the one who had taken the trouble to help Alice, naked due to the Overboost's backfire, had been none other than Scarecrow.

"If possible, can I ask you for another favor?"

Scarecrow asked Alice with a coarse-like voice.

"We do things for each other all the time, so you don't need to make a big deal out of it."

Alice replied, not a bit embarrassed.

"So, what do you want me to do?"

"Please help our Milady. Only you can do it, Lady Alice."

"Come to think of it, where's the Mudhead? The reaction from the transmitter came from here."

"I'm terribly sorry. Since we left in a hurry to forestall you, Lady Alice, Milady changed clothes inside the plane as well. So that transmitter is picking up the uniform she took off here."

"So of all times, that gal chose now not to be wearing the transmitter? ...Wait, so you did know I gave the Mudhead a transmitter?"

"Yes. Thanks to it, in case something were to happen to us, you'd would come here to help, Lady Alice; that's what I was counting on."

"Aren't you shrewd. However, the all-important transmitter is useless now..."

As she said so, Alice's hands wandered towards her guns' grips.

"Even if you guys are silent, I know you're trying to bring me along with you!"

No sooner had Alice brought out her guns, she was already pulling the triggers.

Screams rose as the Muzzle Flash cleaved through the darkness.

Although invisible to Scarecrow, thanks to the acoustic reflection vision Alice could clearly see the figures of the Tentacle Ninjas approaching.

"As expected of their headquarters! They just won't quit!"

Cursing at them, Alice rushed out of the Control Room. If she kept fighting there, Scarecrow would get caught in it.

Alice pressed her bracelet's switch, and changed from her diving suit to her combat uniform.

This attire will be more convenient if I need to end up using Boost.

Since the transformation released a dazzling shine for a moment, it worked to make the Tentacle Ninjas momentarily blinded as well. The Treasure Hunter seized the opening, and jumped in to cut with her daggers their mouth tentacles, the weak point of those ninjas.

Guns for long range, daggers for close combat. Taking advantage of the features of the Angra Mainyu and Aeshma, Alice mowed down the group of Tentacle Ninjas as she danced.

Shooting and reloading as she ran, she drove deadly Needle Flechettes into them without hesitation, while they continued coming out in groups.

"I'm telling you, I have no mercy for evildoers!"

Alice jumped out of the Twister's recently-made large hole, and focused her awareness on her crossed guns. Her senses now extended to just beyond the tip of her daggers, essentially making the weapons into parts of her body. She was the image of victory.

"Now, I wonder if there's anyone who can beat me!?"

She made a defiant gesture with her right arm in front of her, holding the handgun at the ready, and the left arm drawn back.

The Tentacle Ninjas that surrounded the Twister raised their guard at once. Their number, roughly a hundred or more. Though it'd be a bit hard for her to fight them off, Alice felt like she couldn't lose.

Pushed back by the girl's vigor, the Tentacle Ninjas winced.

"Fighting won't be necessary."

A swordsman she wouldn't forget showed up then behind the restless Tentacle Ninjas.

"Or, do you wish for a rematch here?"

Hikita Bungoro. Alice's body stiffened, seeing once again the tentacle swordsman she had engaged in mortal combat earlier in the day.

"You sure popped up again fast."

"Considering how fast you got here, you all wasted no time giving chase either."

Hikita's expression softened as he stroke his chin.

"Come with me. The Tentacle King beckons."


***


The Undulating Beasts Chamber. That was a place of punishment only for the Tentacle Group, the cult having been keeping its matters under wraps for ages.

For those in the Tentacle Group, solitary confinement was no punishment, for they had Tentacle Communication, a way of communication by using the tentacles' vibration waves. As for nutrients, they could absorb those they needed for their bodily functions from the tentacles, in exchange for their waste.

As a result, a simple imprisoning wouldn't make those in the Tentacle Group feel isolated nor hungry. So, what kind of punishment should be given to those who break the cult's precepts? Irukinuf's worshippers did their best to come up with ideas, and worked out various punishments to raise their unity.

The heaviest punishment was tentacle amputation. The tentacles were a proof of being in the Tentacle Group, hence the number of tentacles cut off was equal to the number of sins committed. When one lost all the tentacles, they would lose the blessing from the Tentacle God, and fatigue and aging would rush back. If it was a person who had lived a hundred years, such amount worth of aging appeared at once; thus, it was said to be equal to the death penalty.

As penalty for those whose crime wasn't as grave, they would be confined to this imprisonment chamber, the Undulating Beasts Chamber. "Undulating Beasts" being the nickname this cult had for the UMA known as Mongolian Death Worm.[13]

Its presence confirmed by a Russian research team, it was a huge green caterpillar-type living being that had lived in the Gobi Desert around the Northern Mongolia at the beginning of the XIX century. Among connoisseurs, it's said that several hundred people have been killed by its poison so far, with unending eye-witnesses and victims.

The cult had captured this dangerous being, and had succeeded in taming it. Thus, the punishment called the "Undulating Beasts Chamber" consisted in being thrown into a room crowded with Mongolian Death Worms.

And so, Lynn found herself in a space just about four square meters wide, filled with giant carnivorous worms.

Ripping off her tattered red dress, the mouth-like organisms with a meat color reminiscent of viscera were repeating the eerie peristaltic moves typical of worms, seeking entrance to the valleys and mountains of the girl's body.

If it was a normal human, they'd have been eaten in an instant, but those who received the tentacles' blessing wouldn't die from just that. All which the Mongolian Death Worm damaged, the tentacles would repair. As a result, only pain remained in their body. An everlasting pain.

That was the kind of punishment the traitors to the Tentacle Group had to endure at the Undulating Beasts Room.

As they smeared their body fluids on her, the Mongolian Death Worms latched into Lynn's limbs, and ate her soft meat.

"Nh~~~!"

Lynn, her mouth shut, groaned with sharp pain. She couldn't afford to open her mouth. If she did, the Mongolian Death Worm would enter her body. Even if she wouldn't die from that either, she didn't want her body violated from the inside.

"Uuh... ugh..."

Occasionally, Lynn's body writhed in intense shock. After all, the hunting method the Mongolian Death Worms used to get food was stunning the prey with the electric shocks they released from their tail.

As her limbs were trampled on by the huge earthworms, Lynn kept a calm mind, and waited for the time she'd be released. Were she to faint, that'd mean surrendering her body to that worm. She wanted to avoid that at all costs.

As if answering Lynn's expectations, footsteps approached. Stepping hard on the stone pavement, someone stopped right above Lynn.

Clack...

One corner of the ceiling opened, making a heavy sound. As a ray of light spread within the jet-black room, the photophobic Mongolian Death Worms scattered right away.

"Haa... haa... haa..."

Released at last from the Undulating Beasts' assault, Lynn looked up at the ceiling. A man with a beard stood on the edge of the skylight.

"Oh, it seems you didn't faint."

The man looked down on Lynn with a crooked smile.

Rasputin. That had been the Apostle that had stood in her way when she had gone to offer the Salzburg Cube, along with Leonidas. Lynn glared at him, without bothering to hide the nakedness of her body, spilling out of her clothes torn by the worms.

"I'd appreciate you not looking at me with such scary eyes. This humble one did come to help you."

Saying so, Rasputin spread the clothes he held under his arm, enough for her to see them well. It was the same crimson dress Lynn liked to wear.

"Did the King forgive me, so I'm allowed ouut?"

Rasputin shook his head at Lynn's question.

"Then, whyy?"

"It's an order from an even greater being."

He merely replied that, throwing the new clothes down at Lynn.

"You were given a new mission. Change your clothes and get out, Judy."

"Eh, did you say "Judy"...!?"

Rasputin, who seemed to be rescuing her against the instructions from the Tentacle King, had just referred to her with the codename only one person used, her secret information provider "Daddy-Long-Legs." So, she reflexively studied his visage.

"By any chance, are you Daddyy?"

Rasputin avoided giving a clear answer to Lynn's question, smiling vaguely instead.


***


Guided by Hikita Bungoro, Alice reached the center of the island.

"This is as far as I am allowed to go."

Hikita's pace stopped before a huge pyramid and a temple comprised of stone pillars.

The traces of the megalith civilization scattered all over the world reached their peak there.

Such a combination of monoliths at the temple's foundation, a delicate sculpture of stone pillars running all the way back to ancient Rome, to say nothing of the Egypt and Mayan pyramids. Before the best of architectural technology long lost to the current world, Alice held an interested gaze.

"You're to proceed alone from here on," Hikita stepped back, showing Alice the way. Huge stairs spread in front of Alice.

Those stairs with a deep slope and the surrounding structure reminded one of the temples of Cambodia's Ang Kor temple or Latin America's Chichen Itza.[14] But then again, this one was huger and better kept. Proof that they weren't ruins, but remained used to that very day.

"Why can't you come too?"

"Only the 12 Apostles and those summoned by the Tentacle King may go up. I was told I was only to guide you here."

"Then, what if I turn heel and escape?"

"I would only stop you with all my might."

Seeing Hikita reaching for his sword's hilt, Alice shrugged; she already had a good grasp of his power.

"Just kidding. Nothing ventured... and all that."[15]

Alice outstretched both arms as in a theatrical gesture.

"You show no signs of wanting to settle our dispute one day."

"You'll have to excuse me, but I enjoy things other than fighting."

Alice turned her gaze from Hikita to the stairs.

"And... if there's no choice but to climb, climb I shall."

Preparing herself for the worst, Alice left Hikita behind, and started climbing the stairs.

Where have they carried these stones from? There's only sea around the island. According to the Vimana's scan results, this island's a floating island drifting on the ocean.

Why does it float? Surely there's a certain super-ancient technology at work here.

An island full of mysteries. If we could but solve one, our Dodgson Foundation would make a big leap forward.

As Alice kept pondering over that, she finished climbing the stairs. She had arrived at a large room where six pairs of entasis pillars, 12 in total to her left and right, stood in a row. Her gaze only set on the throne in front of her, she ignored the men and women who stood at the base of the pillars, and rudely stepped up.

Sitting on the throne was an elderly man with his lower half covered in clothes. Alice harbored no doubt regarding his identity.

That's the man from in the photo I saw at the Foundation's basement. Swodar Nyarmain.

Her eyes were glued to that man who had been deeply involved in her mother's search for the Gate.

"Long time no see, right... Gate Opener."

The man spoke to Alice with a nostalgia-laden voice.

"Huh?"

Alice stopped her march, confused.

This should be the first time I've met Swodar. Why is he greeting me like that?

"Too bad, but it's the first time we meet."

Alice stared at him with a deliberately provocative attitude.

"Oh, that's right."

Swodar smiled broadly, brushing aside Alice's provocation like an old man humoring his granddaughter.

"We've been looking forward to this day for thousands, or rather tens of thousands, of years. We'd appreciate if you could overlook that."

The king snapped his fingers.

From behind the lined-up pillars, a woman appeared carrying a tray on a side table, and she approached Alice's side.

"What are you up to?"

Alice's hand reached for her waist, with a pose as if she could take out her gun at any time. The distance between her and Swodar were 10 meters.

I won't miss with this kind of distance.

Then, Alice threw a glance to the tray. On top of it there were a variety of doughnuts, including those with chocolate coating.

"Gulp."

Unwillingly, her throat made a distinct sound.

Come to think about it, I haven't eaten properly since lunch.

As soon as she remembered her hunger, her stomach began to growl as well.

"Weren't these your favorite food?"

Seeing through Alice's feeling of hunger, Swodar gave a friendly smile.

"It's-It's not like I hate them, but... just why do you know about it!"

"You taught Us all about it yourself."

"Huh?"

What is this? I don't get it.

"Now, I'd like you to taste them. I hope they're to your taste."

The woman left the side table in front of Alice, bowed and disappeared behind a pillar.

"See here, do you really think I'll eat what an enemy brings me in this situation?"

"In that case, how about this?"

Swodar stretched his right arm towards Alice.

"!"

Alice brought out her guns right then and made a big leap backwards.

A tentacle extended a distance of 10 meters from Swodar's right arm, took a chocolate doughnut from the tray, and brought it back.

"Huh?"

In front of the puzzled Alice, Swodar brought the doughnut to his mouth and took a bite.

"Delicious."

Apparently, he intends to show me it's not poisoned.

"I have no idea what you mean about me allegedly telling you this is my favorite food... but still."

Alice resigned herself, and put the guns back into their holster.

"It'd be a waste not to eat these doughnuts."

Alice promptly took a doughnut in her hand and brought it to her mouth.

"Mmh!"

Delicious. The full flavor of the doughnut's dough, to say nothing of its deep-frying, makes the harmony of the bitter and sweet chocolate coating on top go beyond exquisite.

Despite her, she almost felt like exclaiming "Who made this doughnut!" and praising the chef, so tasty as it was...

However, why would he prepare this after making me come this far?

Unable to grasp Swodar's real intentions, Alice frowned.

"Hm. That face resembles that of the "Gate Toucher" so much."

"Who's that now?"[16]

"By which I mean, your mother."

"What!? So you know what happened to Mom!"

"Of course I do know."

"Tell me! I mean, spit it out!"[17]

Done eating doughnuts, Alice's hands returned once again to the guns at her waist.

The regenerative ability the tentacles had wasn't something she was used to. But, she had prepared a special warhead to deal with that. Even if he was the Tentacle King, their apparent leader, the moment he took one of those head on, he wouldn't be able to live to tell the tale.

My opponent's talking to me too familiarly, but I didn't come here to make friends. The moment he turns hostile, I'll just shoot and blow him up.

An air of tension could be felt between Alice and the Tentacle King.

"I would ask a question to Your Majesty the Tentacle King, Swodar Nyarmain."

Hearing a sudden voice from a pillar to the left helped take some tension off Alice. But still, she couldn't get careless, and remained in a fighting pose, ready to take action at any time.

"Do speak."

The Tentacle King turned his gaze from Alice to the lowest seat to his right.

"Even if this child is the "Gate Opener" your Majesty was waiting for, isn't it necessary to ascertain if she's fit to become our comrade?"

The bearded man, Rasputin, asked the Tentacle King, from his position at the base of the pillar.

"Ah--. I'm not willing to become your comrade."

Alice objected with a sigh. She had come this far to investigate her mother's whereabouts. Scarecrow had also asked of her to bring back Dorothy, who had gone ahead of her, but in any case, she had no intention of joining them.

"Hm. We'll think on how We should do that."

Disregarding Alice's protest, the Tentacle King asked Rasputin.

"Regarding that matter, I have an idea of my own."

"Hey--, listen to me properly!"

"We should undergo a Tentacle Initiation Tournament."[18]

"Tentacle Initiation Tournament?"

Alice felt something wrong with those unfamiliar words.

"That'd be splendid. In any event, We must check which one possesses the qualifications to become Irukinuf's Priestess."

"Wait a sec, don't go along with your talk while ignoring me-!"

Alice yelled, feeling as if it all had been settled between Rasputin and the Tentacle King.

Excuse me here, but you have been ignoring this side of the argument.

But the Tentacle King didn't seem to mind that, and raised the cane in his hand.

"To the Tentacle Initiation Tournament!"

"To the Tentacle Initiation Tournament!"

The Apostles responded to the Tentacle King's voice. As if reacting to it all, an earth tremor began, and the ground under Alice began to shake violently.

"Eh? An earthquake?"

The pillars and the floor slid aside, and changed the whole set into a three-dimensional puzzle. Alice looked on at its spectacular new look, as she tried to keep her balance without falling.

In no time at all, the shrine had changed its shape into an amphitheatre's, thirty meters in diameter. The throne of the Tentacle King, who had been in front of Alice, and the 12 pillars that had towered left and right, had expanded and were surrounding the arena. Alice's current position was in the middle of such an arena.

As an unpleasant feeling grew more and more inside Alice's chest, the arena kept changing. Except for the part she was standing on, the center of the arena sank about 50 cm, and seawater flowed in. The megalithic structure had quickly changed from a shrine arena into a pool arena.

Alice was astonished, wondering what kind of technology they were using for this.

If we could only analyze the mechanism by which they can rearrange these monoliths freely like a puzzle, we'd acquire a technology worth an enormous wealth.

"Apostles of Mine!"

Swodar's voice echoed.

"At long last has appeared someone indispensable for our long-cherished wish, a candidate with the qualifications to become an Irukinuf Priestess!"

A dazzling light that extended from the peak of the 12 pillars began illuminating Alice.

"The Gate Opener... and, the Trap Avoider!"

Half of the light that extended from the pillars slowly shifted its focus, and illuminated the person in front of Alice, at that arena turned into a pool.

Alice gazed in front of her, squinting under the spotlight. With her arms tied and a bar between her legs, the one standing there was Dorothy indeed.

"W... what's with that foolish appearance?"

The girl called the Gate Opener involuntarily spoke in a dignified way.

"W-What a masterpiece! Camera, I need a camera!"

As Alice held her sides with laughter, she used her goggles' shutter mode to take pictures of her friend's silly look.

"I-I'm not dressing this way because I want to!"

Dorothy raised her voice in protest.

There, there, what's important is that you're alive and well.

Deep inside Alice's heart, she gave a sigh of relief.

At this rate, taking her and escaping won't be that hard.

"We will now be holding the Tentacle Initiation Tournament, the ritual to determine which of the two is suitable to be a Priestess!"

The Tentacle King declared so aloud, ignoring the conversation between Alice and Dorothy.

"W-What's that?"

"Let Us explain for the Gate Opener's sake."

The Tentacle King held his staff high up. As if it was a living thing, tentacles extended noisily from it, and a rainbow-colored pupil appeared at the sphere located at its peak.

Gazing at that look full of intent, Alice involuntarily reached out for her guns. However...

"Kuh-!"

I can't move my body!

<You can't use your armssss>

A genderless voice sounded inside Alice's mind.

What? Telepathy?

<My name is Irukinuf. I own the lives of all who exist in this worldddd.>

It sure likes its fancy introductions.

The voice sounded as if answering to Alice's thoughts.

<We'll perform a ritual to ascertain if you're suitable to receive the proof of being one of my Apostlessss.>

A shining circular formation spread under Alice's feet, 90 cm in length, and a metal rod around 7 cm thick appeared.

What a technology!

Trying not to miss anything, Alice's red eyes stared at all that kept appearing.

That circular pattern, that way for substances to appear; both are consistent with what I saw in the Foundation's underground storage.

It was the very technology that had convinced her mother about the Gate.

<Now, fight using that stickkkk>

Using it? I can't move my body, though.

<You can use anything but your armssss>

With the voice sounded inside her mind, Alice turned her gaze to Dorothy opposite her.

Oh, I see. It's sandwiched between her thighs.

She understood how to use it in just an instant.

...Wait a minute. Why would I need to do something that foolish? This isn't a party gag, isn't there a more stylish method?

<If you don't compete, you'll only become a sacrificccce>

A shadow she couldn't quite recognize wriggled at the pool by her feet.

A sea snake?

"What's the matter, Gate Opener?"

The Tentacle King spoke to the perplexed Alice.

"If you become the winner, those people shall be freed."

The pool's stone wall slid out, and Lumberjack and Löwe came to light, restrained in a manner as if they were half-embedded into the wall.

Leaving aside that cowardly Lumberjack, to subdue even Löwe that way...

Alice was impressed at the combat ability they would have needed to do so.

"Allie, I beg of you, fight! For my underlings as well!"

Hearing Dorothy's sorrowful voice, Alice made a wry smile.

"Tentacle King, you must have misunderstood."

The mocking tone in her words was unmistakable.

"These two aren't my subordinates, so I have no duty to help them."

"What!"

Staring in wonder at her words, he leaned his body forward.

"How mean! Allie, I trusted you."

Dorothy's shoulders shook as tears poured from her eyes.

"But, you know. That Mudhead there in front of me, now she IS my friend."

Alice skillfully moved her legs, and sandwiched the stick floating in the air between her thighs.

"So you owe me for this, Dorothy."

Seeing her holding the stick, the Tentacle King nodded, satisfied, and sat back down on his throne.

"So, how should we fight?"

<You strike each other with the sticks, whoever drops her stick losessss>

The Tentacle King's staff stared at Alice.

By any chance, is that staff an actual living being?

<Indeed, I'm sure I did already introduce myselffff.>

Reading Alice's thoughts, Irukinuf answered.

Apparently, my thoughts are being leaked to it somehow.

<Reading the thoughts of you humans, that's simpler for me than breathingggg>

So, that means I can't pull a fast one on them.

Alice clicked her tongue, held the rod firmly with her thighs so as not to drop it, and carefully got down on the pool. She sunk up to her knees in cold water; a chill ran down her spine.

There was plenty of water resistance as well, she had a hard time just walking. Dorothy also did like Alice and got down into the pool. Since she was walking slouching her inner thighs to prevent the stick from falling, it looked as if she was holding in her wee. Alice thought it was really funny.

<Don't forget you look the sammmme.>

Shut up, you pervert.

The Gate Opener mentally abused Irukinuf, and slowly approached Dorothy, walking pigeon-toed.


***


After rescuing Scarecrow, the large-sized "Black Rabbit" Attack Device of March Hare's was now entering the Vimana flying around the island. Due to the rabbit homunculus' splendid control, she managed to land without the shock injuring Scarecrow in the least.

"Lady Scarecrow is to go the medical room. March Hare, remain on standby for now."

The Foundation staff on board the Vimana carried Scarecrow out of the Black Rabbit's rear seat, and put her on a stretcher.

<Mui~, March Hare wants to hurry and help Profeshor, pyon~!>

Hatter ignored March Hare's objection, even as it resounded all over the Black Rabbit's cockpit.

The instructions Alice had left still applied. The signal from the transmitter she carried hadn't stopped yet, and they hadn't detected the presence of the Tentacle Group -- though there was no doubt they had been involved with Dorothy -- plus, Alice was really close by. They couldn't afford to suffer the same fate as when the Twister had approached carelessly. They had to avoid the risk of losing the Vimana, an invaluable property of the Dodgson Foundation.

Hatter switched the aircraft to autopilot to ask Scarecrow about the situation back when the Twister was shot down, but it was at that moment when she noticed that a mail had arrived addressed to her.

The sender: the Red Queen.

"Once again...?"

Hatter muttered, opening the mail.

Apparently there were new instructions in it. After reading the contents displayed on the information screen on the cockpit's right side, Hatter nodded in silence.

After all, it did come from the Red Queen, one of the 3 Queens who were the high-rankers of the Foundation, so the order had higher priority than Alice's. The option of going against it or even harboring doubts about it didn't even exist for the homunculus.

"March Hare, replace the Attack Device's features with the Equipment B. As soon as that is over, rush there at Supersonic Speed."

<Ro-ger, I'll do my best-!>


***


"Kyauh!"

Every time the sticks came into contact, a mild electric shock flowed into the crotch parts of the girls holding them, and Dorothy screamt. Unlike Alice's underwear, made of a special material, Dorothy's abdomen was mostly covered by string.

No matter how mild the electric shock was, it flowed touching the most sensitive part of a girl, so she wouldn't be blamed if she decided she couldn't take it. Even so, she kept sandwiching the stick without letting go, maybe because the life of her subordinates was at stake, or maybe because she was a sore loser.

"Dorothy, are you ok?"

"I-I'm not okay at all!"

Dorothy shouted her complaint, her cheeks blushing.

"If-If don't prevent the sticks from hitting each other, I won't last here!"

Haa, haa, breathing heavily, Dorothy drew back to avoid Alice's stick. She had her knees underwater, and the footing was very bad. Additionally, if she let go for a moment, the stick would slip down from her thighs.

"Kuh!"

Alice wouldn't drop the stick either, so she bent her back, reinserted the stick between her thighs and pressed them tightly.

Talk about an awkward position, it's totally as if I want to pee.

"Hiaaaaaah!?"

Dorothy, who had taken a suitable distance and steadied her breath, suddenly screamt.

"What, is there something wrong?"

When she looked closely, she found a sea serpent-like animal had clung to Dorothy's thighs.

"Noo, it's so slimy...!"

Unlike Alice, who was covered up to her thighs with over-knee socks and waterproof boots, Dorothy was wearing nothing on her lower half except for her middle boots.

If it keeps clinging to her naked skin, she won't be able to take it.

"Eek! It spit something when I stepped on it! Noo, it's so slimyy!"

Dorothy twisted her body as she became close to tears. Every time her boots tried to stomp on that sea serpent-like creature and failed, the animal spat out a slimy gelatinous substance from its whole body to escape, and her footing worsened more and more.

"Bear with it for now, and stay still!"

Alice sidled up to Dorothy, intending to flick off the sea snake with her stick.

An electric shock will flow if the sticks touch, so while careful not to touch Dorothy's, I'll thrust towards the snake!

"Kyaunh!"

Dorothy let out a lovely scream.

"Ah, sorry."

Alice's stick had sunk into Dorothy's bottom, as the latter twisted her body in order to shake the sea snake coiled around her.

Even though she tried to back off in a hurry, since her footing had worsened she ended up having to move her body bit by bit, and a subtle vibration was sent to Dorothy's bottom.

"Anh!"

Dorothy wriggled, letting out a sensual voice.

"D-Don't make weird voices!"

"E-Even if you say that..."

Dorothy looked back, and in doing so, her stick hit Alice's with a bzz-.

"Fugyagyagyagya!"

Dorothy screamt as the electric shock ran through her crotch, and her body went into convulsions.

"D-Didn't I tell you not to move!"

Alice complained, bending backward as well due to the stimulus in her crotch. At least, a blessing in disguise was that the sea snake that had crawled up to around Dorothy's crotch was now escaping as a result of the shock.

In short, if we don't want those things clinging to us, we have to fight proactively. That goddamn pervert.

Alice cursed at the one gazing at her intently, wondering if there was a way to recover from the hopeless situation.

I'm doing this absurd fight with Dorothy as Irukinuf ordered, but I can't afford to keep idling forever. On the other hand, even if I came up with some strategy, it wouldn't be surprising if my thoughts leaked to Irukinuf.

No, wait. Giving up here isn't like me.

"By the way, Dorothy, can you hear that weird voice?"

The instant Dorothy's face was close, Alice daringly whispered in her ear. If it was only Alice who could hear Irukinuf's voice, there might be a breakthrough.

"Funyu~, what voiice~?"

Dorothy answered as she breathed out a harsh breath, her shoulders moving up and down.

It seemed Dorothy didn't hear it. In that case, I'll leave it to her.

"Dorothy, come up with a plan to get out of here."

"Eh? Even if you tell me that suddenly..."

Dorothy made a frowning face and started going "uh-huh" while thinking of something, while Alice gave a sidelong glance to Swodar on his throne and the staff he was holding, Irukinuf.

Did Irukinuf close its eyes while I wasn't looking?

She decided to try something, and put strength into her arm.

My hand is moving! Apparently, Irukinuf's telekinesis doesn't work if its eye isn't open.

Alice's eyes shone as she got hold of a clue for their counterattack.

<Profeshor, get down, pyon.>

Suddenly, she heard March Hare's voice from the radio.

Get down? Do you mean, "go down into the pool where these strange animals wriggle"? That silly rabbit doesn't seem to understand our situation here.

Alice turned around to shout that, but the nose of the March Hare's stealth black Attack Device "Black Rabbit" came into view at supersonic speed.

"!"

Alice's body reacted faster than her own mind. Pushing Dorothy down, they dived into the pool crowded with creatures releasing slimy body fluids.

One beat later, an explosion roared, and with the shock from the Black Rabbit's thrust, the pool's water scattered around.

Fortunately for them, the slimy humors of the mysterious animals acted as cushions, and protected them from the heat and the shockwave.

Dorothy isn't called the "Good Luck Fairy" for nothing.

The 12 Apostles and the Tentacle King, who had been watching attentively the way the contest developed, got their visibility temporarily interrupted by fog, created when the displaced water droplets evaporated after the direct hit from the shockwave.

"You idiot rabbit! Did you intend to blow us up too!?"

<Forgive me, or rather, "fivegive" me, pyon>[19]

As she answered over the radio, the bunny girl came out of the Black Rabbit with submachine guns akimbo. Countless blunt weapons protruded from her back, like the feathery, colorful wings a stage actress would wear at the opera. It could be seen at a glance that she was beyond motivated.

<I have a message from Hatter. There's a Gate in this basement! That is all, pyo-n.>

As she fired her submachine guns indiscriminately, March Hare rushed up toward Alice and Dorothy.

Judging from how the impacts from the stray bullets gouge these stone pillars, they must be high-speed explosion cartridges, designed for deadly blows.

"I get that already, so stop firing at random!"

<It's an order from the Red Queen, pyon. It said to overwhelm the Tentacle King and the 12 Apostles to keep them pinned in one place, pyon.>

QG 01 img 00013.jpg

To save herself the trouble of exchanging magazines, March Hare threw away the submachine guns and grabbed the grenade launcher she was carrying on her back.

"March Hare! I'll give you a new command!"

If she continues with that destructive behavior, the underground Gate might be destroyed.

"Rescue Dorothy's underlings!"

"Ro-ger, pyon>

Dorothy's face brightened up with a smile when she heard that order of her partner's.

"Thanks, Allie!"

"While you're at it, Dorothy, come along with me!"

Alice bitterly knocked down the stick she was holding with her thighs, and grabbed her Angra Mainyu and Aeshma.

I'll make them regret not taking away my weapons.

"What are you going to do?"

As soon as Alice cut Dorothy's ropes, the blonde grabbed the stick she had been holding. Now that she wasn't joined with Lumberjack, that would do for a temporary weapon.

"I'll catch that guy, and make him spill the beans about Mom."

Alice looked up at the Tentacle King.

The king sat down on his throne, closing his eyes as if he was enjoying that confusing situation.


***


The Tentacle Initiation Tournament had been interrupted by the sudden intruder.

Even the direct hit from that sonic boom, that would spell doom for normal people, was but a gentle breeze for the Apostles.

Though there were only six of them there, each one of them could surpass an army. It'd have been easy for them to defeat immediately the bunny girl who had suddenly stormed the place, yet not one of the Apostles made a move.

This was because the Tentacle King had issued an order in advance forbidding them from counterattacking. They could only wait and see.

After ordering the 12 Apostles like so, the King didn't even try to leave his throne.

"What on earth is he thinking?"

The Apostle Leonidas watched attentively the actions of Alice and the Tentacle King, as he deflected the rain of bullets with his iron spear.


***


"We have decided on the Priestess!"

The King's voice resounded through the arena, to the extent that it overshadowed the gunshots from March Hare.

Right then, he proclaimed aloud toward Alice and Dorothy, who had begun running to capture him:

"Priestess! Do accept it!"

Suddenly, he threw Irukinuf, the Tentacle God, with his right hand. The staff flew like a javelin, extended its feelers and clung to Dorothy.

"Dorothy?!"

Alice could only stare in wonder as the events unfolded.

"A... l... l... i... e..."

The tentacles clinging to Dorothy trampled over her entire body.

Just like a daydream, a scenery never seen before spread throughout Dorothy's field of view: a group of flying machines made from stone on the sky, an underground metropolis with an artificial sun.

A jet black tower rising towards the heavens.

What... is this?

<Memories from my worldddd...>

Replying to Dorothy's question, a voice sounded in her mind.

"You monster, let go of Dorothy!!"

I can hear Alice's screams. What just happened to me?

<You are now fused with meeee.>

Who is this?

<My name is Irukinuffff...>

"Release her, I said-!!"

Alice pointed her gun in her direction.

This is bad, she intends to shoot for real.

Just as Dorothy thought, Alice pulled the trigger.

The bullet is probably a special warhead, though it won't kill me, I'll surely faint. Ah, that will hurt.

Dorothy closed her eyes.

<Do not fret. Behold, your own powerrrr.>

Huh?

Opening her eyes, following the voice's advice, only made Dorothy puzzled.

Why, I can see the bullets.

As she was expecting, they were Blitz Bullets. Those were a special warhead that stopped the opponent's movements by giving a powerful electric shock at the same time of the impact, temporarily paralyzing the neural transmissions.

I don't want that to hit me.

When the thought occurred to her, one of the tentacles that had wrapped around Dorothy's body moved. It vibrated, and knocked the bullet down.

Amazing. With this, I could fight Alice even without Lumberjack.

<I will fulfill your wissssh>

A voice sounded, and her body went numb.

"Wha..."

Her body moved with a will of its own, and drew near Alice.

"Mudhead! You're being manipulated, aren't you!"

Hearing Alice's cries, Dorothy lost consciousness and fell into a sleep.


***


I know it's foolish. It's just, I never expected her body would get hijacked this much and this fast.

Alice pointed her gun's muzzle at Dorothy, and checked her condition.

Dorothy's eyes remained vacant, her gaze devoid of any will.

Her body was being manipulated by the tentacles extending from Irukinuf.

How can I peel it off her?

The Blitz Bullets had been easily knocked down.

If attacks from a long distance aren't really effective, that only leaves combat at close quarters.

From her fight against Hikita, she had realized that the tentacles' reaction speed was faster than bullets. The problem was whether the same could be said about the ones around Dorothy's body.

Will she have the same reaction ability as those guys, who grow their own tentacles? Can she only move as a puppet?

For the sake of research too, she wanted to bring it under control.[20]

Alice remembered how Dorothy's underlings had been trapped by the poolside.

Since it's come to this, they will be the key to victory.

"March Hare, were you able to release Lumberjack?"

If it was Lumberjack's armor, it could withstand the tentacles' attacks. With her as a shield, she could fire a bullet at point-blank range.

<I was, pyon.>

"Alright, good job! Have her assist me at once!"

If it was for saving their beloved Milady, Dorothy's subordinates would spare no effort.

<It's no good, pyon. It seems she's too scared to move, pyon~>

Lumberjack's a natural coward.

The giant only moved with confidence while merged with Dorothy, or when given clear instructions by Scarecrow. The current situation prevented either, but still, her Milady was involved in all this; Alice couldn't believe she'd be so much useless than she expected.

"Then, what about Löwe?"

If it was a matter of raw reaction speed, she was second only to Alice. They'd be able to do simultaneous attacks.

<March Hare here doesn't want to free her, pyon>

"Is this the right time for that-?!!"

Alice retorted with all her strength. Maybe she did have it engraved in her mind that she was the prey, or that March Hare's rabbit lineage recognized the beast-woman Löwe's lion lineage as a dangerous existence.

However, Alice really had wanted to bring her here.

"So I'm doing it alone after all, is it?"

Alice cocked her gun again, replaced the bullets in the magazine, and drew a deep breath.

I won't be using Blitz Bullets anymore.

This time, she would use Frozen Bullets, deadly bullets that reduced the molecules' motion speed, making them freeze and breaking the very molecular bonds.

If I fire that into Irukinuf, it won't be able to move, and it'll surely separate from Dorothy.

"You might get some frostbite from this, but try and endure."

Honestly feeling a bit guilty, Alice rushed towards Dorothy.

"Boost On!"

She proclaimed, her will to fight rising.

Alice's body chanced its shape into that of a battle goddess.

The gunfire sounds in the distance from March Hare's shots vanished, and her consciousness accelerated to match her movements.

Alice slipped into Dorothy's bosom in a fluid motion.

Her aim was the staff in her right arm.

She placed the muzzle against it and pulled the trigger.

The Frozen Bullets were fired.

Using the recoil from the explosive charge, she quickly sprung back from Dorothy's bosom.

"Did I do it?"

The freezing due to the Frozen Bullets spread and the tentacles around Dorothy's body stopped moving. No matter how weird a living being, it was one nonetheless; it couldn't avoid getting frozen.

"I guess this is checkmate."

Were she to hit it with a light shock now, it would shatter like glass. A smile appeared on Alice's lips, as a premonition of victory. However...

After Irukinuf received the direct hit of the bullet, it subtly vibrated its whole body, and the ice surrounding its surface began falling off.

So, the freezing didn't reach its core?

<It's checkmate for you, Gate Openerrrr.>

A voice sounded inside Alice's mind, and countless eyelids appeared on the tentacles extending from Dorothy's body.

"Dammit!"

Alice realized she had committed a fatal mistake. According to the "Creation Myth of Irukinuf/Arukinuf," Irukinuf was the herald of ice, regeneration and death.

Frozen Bullets would have no effect against someone who manipulated ice. She had forgotten about the information Hatter had painfully investigated about, and just when it counted the most.

The eyelids opened, and more than a hundred rainbow pupils gazed at Alice.

"Guh!"

This is its telekinesis power again.

It was the same technique Irukinuf had used to stop Alice's movements before at the Tentacle Initiation Tournament.

Is this the power of a god?

Alice regretted now having dismissed Irukinuf as just a parasite.

<You're a born leader. I could use someone like youuuu.>

Irukinuf's tentacles loomed towards Alice, who couldn't move a muscle.

Y-You coward!

She couldn't even speak that aloud. Alice cursed Irukinuf in her mind.

However, that wouldn't be stopping its next actions. Irukinuf's tentacles finally reached Alice's defenseless abdomen. Alice writhed at the cold touch.

"Ah..."

Alice gasped; she felt an unusual sensation from the protective solution covering her skin.

Her Boost was about to be forcibly released. It was the same feeling as when she came in contact with the Salzburg Cube, back at the Museum of the Soviet Army.

<That cube was one of the parts constituting my body. Therefore, is a matter of course that I have the power of cancelling your temporary appearancccce>

Alice felt her face growing flushed with embarrassment, as that feeling similar to wanting to urinate overcame her.

T-This is no good...

Irukinuf's tentacles raised Alice's body high in the air.

W-Wait a minute!

Alice's pleas were in vain, as Irukinuf's tentacles opened her legs wide, and made her take a posture like a child relieving herself.

"Y-You morooon-!!"

Alice screamt, and the Boost state was released, sprinkling a golden solution from her crotch.

QG 01 img 00014.jpg

It's no use. Mom always says it's only over when you give up, but I can't find any openings.

As regretful tears blurred Alice's sight:

"Do you need help?"

The Tentacle King unexpectedly uttered those words.


Translator's Notes and References[edit]

  1. Literally, "safety GET"
  2. This is written as "pursing her lips like a cat", I understand that to mean she was literally making ":3"
  3. "Fission" as in "splitting into parts", what supposedly happened to Irukinuf.
  4. Written as "Shrine Maiden", aka "miko".
  5. Uses "kisama", a very rude "you", here
  6. Uses "-dono", a polite and old "you", here.
  7. See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nan_Madol.
  8. Hm, even if it's a "large hole", despite what the author implies, I'm pretty sure "explosive decompression" doesn't work that way...
  9. Both are regarded as the two great Sanskrit epics, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahabharata and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramayana.
  10. Like the King, Rama uses the majestic plural.
  11. Furigana says "Krita Yuga", apparently the same thing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satya_Yuga.
  12. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_surface_effect.
  13. See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongolian_death_worm.
  14. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chichen_Itza.
  15. She's only saying half of the "Nothing ventured, nothing gained" idiom.
  16. Literally: "who, that", meant casually.
  17. The first part is supposed to sound humbler. Literally "teach me, I mean tell me".
  18. Written as "触入闘技", furigana "Nyokuda Patoorio", the first part doesn't really make much sense :p.
  19. This is a silly pun with "gomen-nasai" and "rokumen-nasai" ("go" and "roku" meaning 5 and 6)
  20. Uses a chess-like jargon, like "capturing that piece".