The Unexplored Summon Blood Sign:Volume1 Chapter1
Stage 01: I Don’t Do That Anymore
“Will you help my sister?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
(Stage 01 Open 04/14 23:10)
I Don’t Do That Anymore
“So anyway, we were talking about how you weren’t attracted to your little sister here because I wasn’t wearing a white school swimsuit, right?”
“No, we were not! We were just listening to something pretty important! Life or death levels of important!!”
“A fluorescent bikini just isn’t pure enough for you, is it? I understand. I was wrong and prideful to think you would just dig right in as long as it had stripes. I’ve learned my lesson.”
“So you’re just going to keep on with your insane logic? Doesn’t it seem wrong that reasonable people have a harder time living in this world? Hey? Are you listening!? How about you look me in the eye and either nod or shake your head!?”
Their location had changed.
That said, they were still inside the same apartment. Aika’s residence used both the top floor and the one below it with staircases and an atrium connecting them, so it had plenty of rooms and plenty of space.
The shrine maiden lying in the hallway had turned out to be alive.
They had just finished hearing what she had to say after she had finally woken up.
There were two reasons they had changed their location.
The first was the white liger that Aika used as a sofa. The shrine maiden was injured, so they had needed to move to another room lest the scent of blood carelessly worked up the animal’s bloodlust (not simple animalistic lust).
And the second…
“Guard of Honor… We’ve heard that name recently too.”
“ ‘We’? Do you mean Government, Aika?”
“Onii-chan, Government is the great ally of justice funded by sixty governments, religions, and giant corporations. Basically, it’s an occult version of a UN army. Of course we keep an eye on any dangerous groups.”
Swimsuit-wearing Aika waved her index finger around.
“Guard of Honor is a new organization gathering a bunch of strength in Illegal, that collection of 330 criminal groups which forms another of the three major powers.”
“Illegal… I had a feeling.”
Kyousuke looked over to the room’s door. Lu Niang Lan in her modified China dress was not here. She was hanging out with the white liger in the living room. She had complained about having to listen to any troubles involving Government, but that was because she was an equipment supplier for Illegal.
Incidentally, both Shiroyama Kyousuke and the blonde shrine maiden belonged to Freedom, a group of individual summoners with no hierarchy restricting them. The summoning industry was basically a three-way struggle between those groups.
“Come to think of it, beauty and the beast are alone together in there. Will she be fine without the owner? It would be a disaster if she were attacked.”
“Heh heh heh. The liger loves marbled beef with plenty of fat, so it would be great if it tore those lumps of fat right off her.”
“That would not be great. And if it came to a scuffle between those two, I’d be more worried about the white liger’s safety.”
So the only ones here were Shiroyama Kyousuke, Aika, and the bandaged shrine maiden girl. Her name seemed to be Meinokawa Higan.
She had long blonde hair and blue eyes. That was far removed from the standard image of a shrine maiden, but it gave her a pure and graceful image that was oddly appropriate for the Japanese holy outfit. The fact that it looked so perfect on her may have been proof that she had worn the outfit for many years.
Her story could be summed up as follows:
She had been attacked by a monster and had gotten separated from her twin sister. That sister was being pursued by the people controlling the monster, so she would be in danger if not found and protected soon.
“What do you think, Onii-chan?”
“It’s a mystery what that Guard of Honor organization was doing at the harbor, but they must not want anyone to know they were there. I would assume they’ll chase down and slaughter anyone who escaped.”
Higan had managed to reach a Government stronghold, but Renge would be the perfect target while wandering around outside. She had no organization to shield her and she could not use a summoning ceremony when separated from her vessel.
She would be killed the instant she was found. It was best to assume that worst case scenario.
Meinokawa Higan hesitantly opened her mouth.
“U-um, this is a…contact point for Government, right? That summoner told me this place is expensive but that I wouldn’t be abandoned…”
“You sign up for insurance in advance so you can use it when you need it. It sounds like your mistake was getting the funds you needed taken by a cheap and greedy middleman.”
Swimsuit girl Aika put her hands on her hips and snorted as she said that, so Shiroyama Kyousuke interrupted from the side.
“Hold on there. This happened because Government agitated some Freedom summoners into clashing with a new faction inside Illegal, so of course you and Government have to take responsibility here. Eh? Or are you only pure allies of justice because you refuse to admit to your mistakes?”
“Hmph. Government isn’t just a giant monolith. There are several factions inside it.”
“…There you have it. And you’re the one that acts like it’s one giant organization, too.”
“Onii-chan, are you the kind of brother who pokes at his little sister’s weak points until she cries? If I went around cleaning up after all the fools in Government, I’d never do anything else. I’m not interested in supporting some defeated soldiers. Besides, I already know you’ll take care of it.”
“What the hell was the comment you just slipped in there!?”
“Tah dah!! Shiroyama Kyousuke here is Freedom Award 902, the skilled summoner known as Alice (with) Rabbit! He’s also been called the Ace Destroyer, the Unexplored-Class Summoner, Loved by the White, Eternal Wearer of Material, the Hive Crusher, and many more. …In fact, it’s rude of you not to have notice the second you saw him, you rookie. If you twin sisters are from Freedom, then he’s your superior.”
“Stop it! Why are you making a sales pitch about me? Well, Aika!? Explain it to me in your own words!!”
He shook her by the shoulders when she simply smiled and averted her gaze, but not even that stopped the swimsuit girl’s sales pitch.
Meanwhile, naïve Meinokawa Higan’s eyes were sparkling with a pure light.
It was hardly surprising that her voice had grown a little shrill.
Government, Illegal, and Freedom had all made a contract with one of the three great Materials standing at the peak of either the low, middle, or high sounds. The summoners belonging to the group would be given awards by residents of the other side based on the outcomes of their actions. These awards were directly carved into their souls.
Generally, the more awards a summoner had won, the greater their skill.
Also, summoners believed in a certain legend: Award 1000.
When a summoner of the three groups reached that number, it was said the world they lived in would be reversed. This world and the other world would be swapped out and they would become a lifeform of the other side. Instead of summoning the gods, they would stand alongside the gods in the world of the gods and they would become the star of a new legend comparable to those of the other gods.
Award 902 was well within reach of that legend.
“You’re in the 900s!? S-someone that amazing will really help me save my sister? And for free!?”
“Did she just mix her own hopes in there!? Who ever said anything about for free!?”
“Oh…but I don’t have any of our money. My sister always carried the wallet, you see. So you’ll have to wait until we find my sister to be paid, and since she doesn’t know about any of this, you’ll have to renegotiate everything with her, and no one can beat her in an argument, and based on how you look, it just seemed to me that it would end up being for free.”
“That’s it. I’m going home and climbing in bed.”
“Wait, wait, wait! I-I apologize for telling the truth, so, u-um, wait just a little more!!”
“What, what? What is with you!? Do you like stabbing people with your words with that pure look in your eyes? It certainly looks like it!”
“You mustn’t let this shock you, Onii-chan. That’s the true form of the purity (heh) you’re always looking for. Besides, how is someone with no self-interest supposed to grasp the subtleties of others’ hearts?”
“Wh-whatever you might say, my sister really is in danger! B-b-back then…she might have been attacked by the Unexplored-class Lady of Purple Lightning.”
“If it’s a human up against a Material, won’t they be killed in an instant even against the weakest of them, not to mention an Unexplored-class?”
“She’s definitely still alive!!”
Meinokawa Higan nearly shouted to make that alone clear.
When the blonde shrine maiden continued, she seemed to be counting on her fingers.
“I don’t know where my sister is now, but sh-she can’t summon a Material without me as her vessel. There’s nothing she can do if Guard of Honor finds her. You know that a human can’t hope to fight back against even the weakest Material, don’t you!?”
“When I say I don’t care, I really mean it, but what do you think, Onii-chan?”
“I’d say she’ll last three days at the absolute most and she can’t leave the city.”
Shiroyama Kyousuke calmly and digitally calculated out the answer.
The swimsuit girl agreed with him.
“Things would be different if we had some proof that the Meinokawa sisters attacked Guard of Honor on Government’s request, but this was a greedy middleman who used the summoners of another group as sacrificial pawns. I’m sure they’ve covered their tracks and will feign ignorance.”
No one wanted to rush out and fight an unnecessary battle.
Aika viewed Government as a giant army. They were not a group of guerrillas or terrorists that was willing to destroy their own. That giant organization of winners would prioritize a reduction in their own losses over achieving their objective.
Even if they defeated one hundred thousand enemies, it would be recorded as a horrific defeat if a thousand of their own were lost in the process. They were so used to winning that their very way of thinking had been rewritten like that.
“B-but…” Meinokawa Higan paled. “Guard of Honor is far more powerful than we had heard and now we can’t even rely on that giant organization’s strength? Th-then who is going to save my sister? (Glance, glance)”
“Aika. There’s nothing pure about her at all!! She’s clearly trying to send me to my death for her own ends!!”
“The truly pure are those who don’t try to hide their desires, Onii-chan. Or maybe it’s the ones where you can’t tell whether they are or not. Hee hee hee.”
Holding back tears yet? Let’s go back over the situation.
The Meinokawa sisters were being pursued by Guard of Honor.
Renge was a summoner, but she could not use summoning ceremonies while separated from Higan, her vessel.
At this rate, Renge would be captured and killed by Guard of Honor before long.
The (self-styled) allies of justice of Government were not going to be much help and both Illegal and Freedom had no obligation to help in the first place.
The Meinokawa sisters belonged to Freedom, but Freedom was a group of five hundred “individual” summoners. They couldn’t ask for help from a colleague unless they knew each other personally.
However, Shiroyama Kyousuke was a summoner and Meinokawa Higan was a vessel.
Kyousuke was skilled enough to hold Freedom Award 902 and he had accomplished the Hive Crusher feat in which he destroyed an entire organization on his own.
The two of them were incomplete parts of a pair, so if they joined forces, there was still a chance of success.
“B-back then…” Meinokawa Higan spoke quietly while embracing her own bandaged shoulders. “Even when we were surrounded by Guard of Honor’s Materials, m-my sister tried to let me escape first and foremost. She never put it to words, but I could tell. She had to have had a few ways of letting herself alone escape to safety, but she let me escape instead.”
Kyousuke did not know Meinokawa Renge.
She was apparently a fellow Freedom member, but there was no information on those twin sisters in the prominent Awards. They also didn’t seem to have one of the nicknames that others began using to refer to people.
But the other sister, Higan, was here now.
That fact said something about the summoner named Meinokawa Renge.
“So this time I’ll save her. I want to save her! A vessel can’t summon Material on her own, but that changes when there’s also a summoner not bound by a contract. If you work with me, we actually have a way of reaching my sister where she’s suffering!!”
Kyousuke found himself wondering if he could do that.
Not in reference to his number of Awards on paper. And not in reference to his skill.
Was he the kind of summoner who could choose to protect his family by passing the ultimate decision to someone else in a hopeless situation with no right answer?
“Please,” said Higan through her trembling lips.
This was her final hope, a tiny light, a far-too-thin thread. It looked like a careless touch would cause it to snap, but she could not help but reach her hand out toward it using her voice.
“Please!! Work with me to help my sister!!”
Shiroyama Kyousuke sighed when he heard that one word in particular.
Swimsuit girl Aika shrugged next to him.
There was a reason he was known as Alice (with) Rabbit.
That boy had decided this would be his final job.
So what was the best choice here? What would he reach for with everything lined up in front of him?
What could he do with a girl crying in front of him after losing everything?
After giving it plenty of thought, he spoke.
“No, I don’t think so.”
Shiroyama Kyousuke walked through the streets alone after leaving Aika’s luxury apartment.
It was already past midnight, but this was the giant amusement park known as Toy Dream 35. Simply put, the concepts of “good morning” and “good night” did not exist here. Bright lights flashed on Ferris wheels and roller coaster tracks, projectors displayed countless images on building walls, fireworks were launched from the boats anchored out at sea, and laser art colored the night sky along with those fireworks.
“This is Sergeant Howard’s AR Survival Game! Don’t you want to take part in a shootout in a thermal power plant!? 100 toy chips to play. The line starts here!!”
“If you want to have some fun at the Royal Casino, follow the red rabbit’s instructions. Only 300 toy chips a game.”
“Gozaru, gozaru. I am the Gozaru Samurai!”
Everything from bunny girls suggestively showing off their bodylines to strange costumed characters were walking back and forth. It was impossible to tell who was a worker and who was a tourist.
However, Kyousuke’s location was odd.
It was something like a giant land bridge connecting two high-rise buildings. The structures were sometimes seen near train stations, but they seemed to fill every nook and cranny of this city.
Directly below was the dark seawater decorated by neon and laser art. There was no concept of “ground” here. The intelligently designed buildings stuck directly out of the ocean. The first and second floors were all covered in glass, creating a half-natural aquarium. Pirate ships and Japanese-style yakatabune moved freely through the giant canals that existed in place of roads.
Directly above were several more similar bridges. In this theme park city, you could look up and see the fireworks from almost anywhere.
While Shiroyama Kyousuke thought about that, he heard a jangling noise.
He turned around and saw a girl ringing a hand bell in a miniskirt Santa outfit even thought it was an April night.
“Jan, jan, jan! Congratulations on being the two millionth person to cross this bridge. Now, now, now. As a small prize, you will receive-… Oh, it’s Shiroyama-kun.”
“Huh? Is that you, Librarian-chan? A Santa girl in the early spring? Going on the attack, are we?”
“I’m your classmate, so try to remember my name. Oh, and this is a joint campaign with ‘The Santa Girl who Couldn’t Get Home’. It’s playing now, so head on over to the nearest movie theater. You can still make the late show.”
“…I didn’t want to know that.”
“Oh, and please don’t let the school know about this. I don’t want them to know I’m working part-time.”
Before even getting to the school rules, Japan’s laws forbade minors from working late at night, but this was Toy Dream 35. The division wasn’t as clear as a fenced-off foreign military base, but the rules were still different here.
Kyousuke accepted a box wrapped like something from a Christmas sales war, waved toward the student librarian who clasped her hands in front of her face in a “Please!” pose, and began walking once more.
But he soon came to another stop.
He turned around to find Meinokawa Higan standing there on the verge of tears in her shrine maiden outfit. She had her hands on her elbows and was gasping for breath.
“Pant, pant… W-wait. Please wait!”
“Do you need something?”
“I…I told you my sister’s in trouble, didn’t I? I’m a vessel and, um, you’re a summoner. If we update our contracts, we can work together and go help my sister. So…!!”
“But.” Kyousuke leaned against the giant bridge’s railing. “That’s what you want. I have no reason to risk my life here. Or are you saying you have a reason for me?”
Higan shouted within the crowd while grabbing the center of her shrine maiden outfit’s vermilion skirt.
“I’m wearing striped panties!!!!!!”
A mysterious sound effect followed her announcement.
A pirate ship in the canal below seemed to have fired a blank from its cannon.
Shiroyama Kyousuke did not understand in the slightest, so he asked an honest question.
“U-um… Do shrine maidens even wear underwear? Part-time ones aside, I thought the legit ones traditionally didn’t wear any.”
“Oh, um, going without is the standard, but today is special. I happened to overhear someone saying, ‘Onii-chan is a genius who will accept anything if it’s got stripes’. A-and that apartment just so happened to have a clothes dresser labelled ‘Ultimate Weapon’ that was full of striped things!!”
“……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….I’m not even sure where to begin on this one.”
Should he begin with the fact that she actually believed he would be willing to die if she showed him a striped pattern? Or maybe with the fact that she had stolen that striped object from someone else’s home?
In fact, he could even start with the fundamental fact that she was willing to put someone else’s panties on her bare skin like that.
He had heard on a variety show that the generally obedient and quiet girls would do the most unbelievable things when they felt cornered and finally exploded, and that was proving surprisingly accurate.
But despite straying from the proper path, Higan did seem to still have a shame meter (even if it was broken).
“K-khhh! You don’t believe me, do you? B-but I really am wearing them! I guess we can’t move on until I prove it to you. F-fine then. If it’s to save my sister, I-I-I-I-I-I-ow! I bit my tongue… I’m prepared to lift up this skirt right here! H-hnnn!!”
“Wait, wait, wait, wait just a damn second!! That’s where I need to start!!”
“Oh, White Queen who holds the greatest power of the Unexplored-class, give me the courage to bear the embarrassment needed to save my sister!!”
“If you have enough sense to find it embarrassing, then stop!! What do you think you’re doing out in public!? Hm? In fact, is a shrine maiden skirt really made to lift up like a normal one?”
“U-um, there’s a lot of varieties depending on the school and style used, so some are more like normal skirts and some are more like pants. I use what’s known as a lantern design, so it won’t be a problem.”
“That’s beside the point!! I’m trying to say that a young girl lifting her skirt in public is more than enough of a problem in and of itself! Honestly!!”
“Y-you mean you want to do it in a closed room? Tremble tremble.”
“Why are you looking at me like a terrified animal? You’re the one that started this and I’m the one trying to stop you.”
Higan tilted her head with her skirt pulled at the borderline level that could be titled, “Young Lady with a Long Skirt Playing in the Water”.
“Being in public or a closed room, um, makes no difference for us.”
“Well, that is true.”
As soon as Kyousuke replied, a hand bell rang behind him and the miniskirt Santa librarian spoke up.
“Congratulations on being the two millionth person! …Huh? Where did the prize go? Well, I have a spare, so it doesn’t matter.”
She was not just forgetful. That was the correct reaction.
“Anyway, you’re the two millionth person!! Oh, and this is a joint campaign with ‘The Santa Girl who Couldn’t Get Home’.”
Shiroyama Kyousuke tossed his “small prize” into the air and caught one-handed.
Whether summoner or vessel, anyone with a close connection to Materials would begin to have their presence fade after earning an Award of around 100. Or rather, they were removed from people’s minds. People could see them, but they would forget about them as soon as they left their field of vision. There was a simple reason that summoning ceremonies had not spread throughout the entire world and it wasn’t because some dark organization was suppressing the information. The human mind simply was not strong enough to directly accept the evidence of something so vast.
It affected their friends, their lovers, and their families.
It did not matter how well they knew someone.
“But even if you know they’ll forget about you a moment later, it wouldn’t feel right. I’m certainly not going to run around out here in the nude. That’s completely abandoning your humanity.”
“I-I thought your reaction was a little light… So even in a quick hypothetical, you want me to go that far!? Ah, ah…hyaaaahhh!? Y-you pervert!! Ah, ah, ah!!”
“Bhah!? B-before you squeeze your eyes shut and kick at me with your skirt still lifted, how about you work at figuring out that I gave that as an example of what isn’t acceptable!?”
Kyousuke’s throat was starting to hurt after all this yelling.
He himself never did anything too odd, but he was tragically surrounded by strange and eccentric people. He felt like a calm and mature actor taking a pie to the face on the stage of some intense comedy.
“I-I have to, um, save my sister no matter what!”
“Y-you already told me that. But- gwah.”
“I need your help to do that. I-I can’t stop here. We know that the world of summoners is harsh, but, um, w-we still decided to do our best there!”
Kyousuke frowned at that.
Something had seemed different in that one.
“I understand that you would want to save your sister, but are you still thinking of staying in this world after all this? You must have experienced even more awful things than I know about. I thought you’d wash your hands of this after saving your sister.”
“But…this is all we have.”
She did not seem to know what to do with the skirt she had gotten carried away and lifted. It wavered at the borderline and she looked away from him a little.
“Our shrine was taken away. Th-the debt just kept piling up and minors like us had no way of paying it back. At this rate, not only won’t we be able to get our home back, but our parents will be kicked out of the rehab facility.”
Kyousuke had noticed few ominous terms in that.
He knew asking more questions would lead to nothing good, but his tongue slipped.
“Can I ask how this all started?”
“Our parents’ gambling addiction.”
An especially cold night wind blew between the two of them.
All kinds of entertainment had been developed across national borders in the international revived cities that were popping up around the world. Casinos were quite common even in Toy Dream 35. That was just the age they lived in.
“Y-you’re a summoner too, so, um, surely you know that vessels never have happy backstories. Originally, only I was supposed to be used up to pay off the debt, but my sister punched the man who was buying me and made the contract with me instead. …That’s the kind of person she is. She’s always the first one to put herself in danger, but, um, sh-she doesn’t understand how fragile and delicate she is.”
Kyousuke thought a bit about that girl who was not here.
He had assumed that the fact that her twin sister, Meinokawa Higan, was alive summed up Renge’s value.
That had been both accurate and inaccurate.
Higan’s presence here was testament to more than just the events of this night. It was also testament to the fact that she had overcome a much longer and crueler path.
“I think it’s thanks to my sister that I can still, um, see the word ‘family’ as a warm thing. Without her, I would probably just view the word with a dark smile.”
It went beyond just her life. Her sister had also saved that gentler part of her.
“That’s why I want to save her.”
Her eyes looked like glasswork as they viewed what may have been reality and may have been her memories.
“I don’t want to just be saved. Sh-she needs help just as much as I do, so I’ll do anything. P-p-panties are nothing. I don’t even care if you tell me to rush back into that hell brought by Guard of Honor. I don’t want to lose my sister… I don’t want to lose my one and only sister!!”
She was probably telling the truth.
In his few interactions with her, he could tell she wasn’t skilled enough to keep a lie going this long.
If Meinokawa Higan was presented with the one and only way of saving her sister, she would likely jump at the chance, even if it meant losing her own life.
That may have been a beautiful thing.
But that was exactly why he had to say this.
“Then go die in vain. Just don’t drag anyone else down with you.”
Her expression clearly changed.
She looked a stake had been driven into her heart as he said even more.
“The summoning ceremony doesn’t work without both the summoner and the vessel. You’re so desperate to save your sister that you can’t think about this rationally. …Working with you would be useless. Not only will you lose your sister, you’ll lose the life she threw away her own life to protect.”
“Wh-what are you saying…?”
“I’m telling you to cool your head. You won’t gain anything by starting a fight you can’t win. Guard of Honor is supposed to be a powerful new organization with plenty of summoners skilled enough to summon the Divine-class. Do you have any concrete vision of a way to win? I may be Freedom Award 902 Alice (with) Rabbit Shiroyama Kyousuke, but I’m not someone who appears after you rub a magic lamp. This world isn’t so simple a place that things will just work themselves out once you speak your wish.”
“Oh, come on! Um, I-I know I’m not being rational here! B-but, um, I can’t help it. My family is in danger. If you really think I can cool my head and be rational here, then, um, you must be a cold-hearted demon or something!!”
She spoke strongly as if everything building up inside her was exploding out.
But Kyousuke gave a simple response to the shrill cry made a step in front of him.
“But you can’t win if you don’t.”
He sounded so definitive that Higan fell silent.
“If you can’t win, nothing you do can save your sister. Will one of you die or will both of you die? And if you include me, that’s three of us dying. If those are the only options available to you, I only have one piece of advice for you: do not head to that cruel battlefield.”
That was all he had to say.
He turned his back on her but then looked back as if he had just remembered something.
“If you are aware you don’t have the power to fight, then you should head right back to Aika’s apartment. I know you’ve been focused on your sister, but Guard of Honor will be after both the sisters who escaped. That girl likes to complain, but she won’t abandon someone who showed up seeking shelter. Living with a wild animal might seem tough, but you can safely hide there for the time being.”
“My final job is already complete. I saved your life.”
With that said, he walked into the crowd.
He had nothing more to say. He had already finished this discussion back in the apartment.
A frail girl’s voice reached his back from the distance.
“That isn’t what I meant when I asked for ‘help’!!”
He of course knew that.
Shiroyama Kyousuke’s “temporary home” was far less impressive than Aika’s luxury apartment, but it still may have been unusual for a normal high school boy.
It was not a house, an apartment, a dorm room, an inn, a hotel, a tent, or even a cardboard box shanty.
Then what was it?
It was one of the cruisers packed in on either side of the large canals. While it was a small boat, the cabin was larger than a student apartment and it even had a bedroom with a double bed, a simple kitchen, a bath, and a bathroom. It was not a bad place to live if one ignored how frightening stormy nights were and how annoying all the seagull droppings were.
Some people saved money by buying run-down boats without an engine, but Kyousuke’s was still able to cruise.
He stepped into the bedroom without turning on the lights, moved his smartphone from his pocket to the bedside table, and then hopped into the large bed.
When he shut his eyes, his mind turned to the nickname he had spoken a few times this night: Alice (with) Rabbit.
With a few exceptions, people did not give themselves their nickname. In Kyousuke’s case, it was even a humiliating name. Even so, he had used it. In order to get across the necessary information, he had chosen not to beat around the bush, but he started to wonder why he had gone that far.
He quickly found the answer.
“When you get down to it, do I just not want that girl to die?”
Nevertheless, the fact remained that there was nothing he could do. Pairing up with Meinokawa Higan would not be enough, but this remained true even when ignoring that. However, explaining that would have gotten him nowhere. If he could not do it, he could not do it. She only needed to understand that.
He looked over to the bedside table.
There was a picture frame there, but whose picture was inside it? He thought for a bit in the darkness and finally remembered.
Olivia Highland. That twelve-year-old girl with bright blonde hair had lent her body to him as a vessel to pay the investigation fee needed to search for the mother she had never known. They had worked together for a total of three weeks, but she was gone now. She had safely returned to the sunlit world.
Shiroyama Kyousuke would never let a vessel of his die.
What was the last thing she had said to him?
He remembered and then regretted it.
That was when his smartphone received a call. A gentle vibration sounded and the flashing backlight dimly illuminated the smile in the picture frame.
He grabbed the phone from the bed and saw it was from Aika.
“Onii-chan, are you having a passionate night?”
“What’s this? Do people pick random fights over the phone these days?”
“Hm. If your cruiser had become love nest, I was prepared to graduate from my shut-in ways and make a late-night attack with the liger, but if not, this probably isn’t good.”
Sensing something was wrong, he got up from the bed.
“Keep it short.”
“Meinokawa Higan hasn’t returned.”
A tingling feeling crawled along his spine.
That was the sensation of death.
“There are three possibilities: One, she was spending the night at your cruiser. Two, Guard of Honor found and captured her while she was wandering around outside. And three…”
“She got fed up with it all and went to search for her sister alone? Goddammit!!”
He cursed without meaning to.
As the middleman, Aika calmly spoke over the phone.
“You were thinking the rookie vessel named Meinokawa Higan could avoid any further danger if the summoner didn’t cooperate, but it looks like your plan failed.”
“Yeah. It would’ve taken three days at the most. If I could have tracked down the Government middleman who gave the Meinokawa sisters that job and found proof that they had been deceived, then responsibility would have fallen to that giant organization. After that, all of Government’s strength would have driven Guard of Honor from the harbor region and carefully searched for Meinokawa Renge. …That might have solved everything without that powerless girl having to face those dangerous Materials!!”
If a summoner and vessel joined forces, they could fight. That was simple enough, but there was still a problem there.
If a vessel already had a contract, they could still overwrite their contract to make a new one with a third party, but that only meant it was possible. The details of the system were not fully known. No one could say how much of a burden it would place on her.
“Onii-chan, I have something to tell you about Government.”
He had a bad feeling about this, but Aika’s voice reached his ears regardless.
“Government has no choice but to officially register Meinokawa Higan as an enemy. You know why, don’t you?”
“Government is the ally of justice funded by about sixty governments, religions, and multinational corporations. And our primary purpose is to appropriately manage the invisible asset that is the summoning ceremony. …She was only a part of Freedom before, but now that she has asked for Government’s protection, she is under our management. Running away for her personal convenience was a huge mistake. Anyone could misuse this ‘wandering asset’, so we need to freeze the account immediately. Even if it means ripping up the bankbook.”
Depositing money in a bank was a good thing. It helped increase the assets of good people and it was useful for monitoring and weakening the assets of bad people. But what if there was a large sum of money of unknown ownership that anyone could withdraw? Government would either manage it under their own trusted name or they would dispose of it.
(This is awful…)
Meinokawa Higan was already out of her league against Guard of Honor, but now Government was pursuing her too. It was like having both the wolf and the hunter pursuing Little Red Riding Hood.
Of course, this decision was not based in Aika’s personal feelings.
She had made this call because things had reached a point where she was no longer in control.
If she showed too much of her own discretion, Aika too could be labelled a “wandering asset”.
“Who has the Government sent?”
“A summoner/vessel pair with each of five Repliglass units.”
“The military? That’s not good.”
“Oh? Not the summoners?”
“You’re in Government, so you should know. If a unit focuses on fleeing, they can stop a chain and then either carpet bomb the area with freefall bombs dropped from high altitude bombers fifteen thousand meters up or fire from a cruiser out at sea beyond the horizon. If they destroy the terrain itself when you can’t even see them, there’s not much you can do. Normal firepower is the scariest thing of all. There’s a reason that’s the power that rules the world.”
“Umm, Onii-chan. This is a battle between summoners…”
“And dealing with another summoner is a lot easier. What’s the name of the strongest one?”
“Government Award 930, Golden Luxury. The president of Quad Motors, an American multinational corporation, is her father. In other words, she’s one source of our funding. She gets especially good results in complex terrain like urban areas or inside buildings. And the Material she prefers to summon is…”
She hesitated for a moment and Kyousuke realized why once she continued.
“The ‘White’ Queen who Wields the Sword of Unsullied Truth (iu – nu – fb – a – wuh – ei –kx – eu – pl – vjz). That’s one of the Unexplored-class beyond the Divine-class.”
That instantly blew away his previous mood.
Every summoner knew the name of the Queen. That Material was known as the strongest even among the Unexplored-class beyond the Regulation and Divine classes. Government, Illegal, and Freedom were in constant conflict, but ironically, all three had arrived at that exact same conclusion.
Being the strongest meant one’s victory was assured as soon as they summoned the Queen, but the conditions for summoning her were far too unique. It was rare for anyone to summon her in a true battle rather than a mock battle held on a vast experimental field.
However, this summoner supposedly specialized in summoning her.
This was not just a theory. In a battle of life or death, she was summoning that Material to take her enemy’s life.
He had Award 902, but that was only within Freedom and it could not be confused with the numbers within Government. Also, Kyousuke had not accepted a single job in half a year. He could not guarantee he had full use of his previous power, so he did not know if he could defeat this summoner even if he went all out.
As a side note, Award 930 was more powerful than the Aika and White Liger pair.
If this person really was capable of summoning the Queen, it was possible she would reach Award 1000.
“Do you know where Meinokawa Higan has gone?”
“If I did, I wouldn’t have called you.”
“Then where are Golden Luxury and the disciplinary units? If they’re ahead of us here, Meinokawa Higan is probably inside their dragnet.”
“…? You seem oddly motivated here, Onii-chan.”
“I never intended to just let them die. And a moment ago, I remembered something a little unpleasant.”
“They’re in R Block. They seem to be blocking the route to the harbor. But they’re in motion, so they must be searching. I’m guessing they know she’s in the area and are performing a thorough search.”
Kyousuke reached for his hoodie’s hood. He always kept an Incense Grenade on him. He placed it on the bedside table and pulled out the storage drawer below the bed. He had not worked for about half a year and had not really resupplied, but he had about three spare Incense Grenades.
They weighed around three hundred grams, so they felt a little heavier than a can of coffee in his hands.
(That’s four in all. Wiping them out in a Hive Crusher might not be possible, but I have a chance if I just get in and get out.)
“By the way, what was the unpleasant thing you remembered?”
“Olivia Highland. My previous vessel. You remember her, right?”
“Yes, I do… I do!! She’s that cruelest of girls who ignored me and clung to your arm with an innocent smile while muttering ‘Onii-chan’ in her sleep!! Ahhh, it’s pissing me off just remembering it!!”
“That doesn’t matter right now, but do you remember the last thing she said?”
Aika fell silent for a moment.
She must have remembered because she mimicked the girl’s voice:
“Yes, but I wasn’t scared. After all, I knew you’d always come to save me, Onii-chan. Alice’s rabbit is the friend of any girl that wanders into this world! So if you wish for my happiness, then I’ll make a wish too. I hope more and more vessels like me will meet you and be given happiness. Eh heh heh. I’ll ask the White Queen!!”
Kyousuke grimaced a little.
Alice (with) Rabbit was the name given to him by a girl who had once been Alice.
“That kind of traumatized me.”
“Well, after knowing you for only a few weeks, she couldn’t have known about your true worries.”
“But remembering that made me realize that Meinokawa Higan might be the same, even if I only just met her today and have no real connection to her. Or maybe I should say she’s a human being who wanted to be the same.”
“Can you no longer see her as just a name on a document?”
“I don’t remember ever treating her like that. Well, now that I’m looking at it this way, I guess there’s no point in forcing myself to hold back.”
“Hmm. Then I have something to tell you as the little sister that loves her big brother.”
After a short pause, she almost seemed to whisper the rest.
“Welcome home, Onii-chan. And now it’s time to head out again.”
With the central square at the center, Toy Dream 35 was divided up like a pizza to create twenty-six blocks labeled from A to Z. Each block had a unique concept and was named after the first letter of an English word describing that concept. However, it was not widely known what those words were, so even the residents tended not to know about any of the blocks outside the one they lived in.
Meinokawa Higan was hiding behind a flower bed.
She was in the courtyard of a perfectly normal looking school.
A new rectangular building had been constructed above the older L-shaped building and the courtyard was located at the center of that three-sided square.
More specifically, this was a high school in Toy Dream 35’s R Block. It was artificial land built over the ocean and the three hundred meter square of land was supported by about forty pillars. Giant bridges could be seen both above and below it, but that was the standard multilevel structure of this city.
The one open side of the three-sided square led to the edge of the float and the salty wind blew in despite the cliff-like difference in height.
The amusement park city never slept, but there were exceptions in places. The cold stillness of a school or hospital at night was gradually eroding the air here despite the year-round festive atmosphere.
She had no idea where her sister Renge might be.
She had simply been planning to start her search around the harbor area where they had parted ways and then to gradually widen her area of search in hopes of finding her sister or some hint that would lead to her.
(Wh-what are those?)
After leaving the block the Government middleman’s apartment had been in, she had entered the central square and then walked through R Block to reach the harbor area.
That was all she had wanted to do, but she had found herself unable to make it even halfway through R Block.
She had no interest in this school, but as she had continued making detours to avoid the strange attention she was receiving, she had found herself here. It was almost like she had been led to an open space where someone could go on a rampage.
(Are they summoners? Are they from Guard of Honor that’s after my sister? …No. Th-they seem different somehow. They’re different…but um, they’re still dangerous!!)
As soon as she heard quite a few mechanical sounds, something had dropped down to block her way forward.
They were human. Pitch black external armor covered their bodies and they had extra legs sweeping back behind their normal two. They dropped down as if it were nothing special. For humans equipped with grasshopper-like leg units, a difference of over ten meters may have been the same as climbing or descending a flight of stairs.
But that was not all.
Units that looked like a spider body added onto a human’s upper body were silently crawling along the school’s walls and the bottom of the giant bridge running overhead. Water strider units with four legs sticking out were skimming along the surface of the dark water flowing below the artificial schoolyard. Fifty or sixty of these bizarre humans were blocking her way.
They were Repliglass. In a divergence from older weapons, this armor had bones, muscle, and blood made from processed silicon cells. They were the invention of the century and they had twisted the current age itself to the point of creating a new division of the military beyond infantry or tanks: Pilot Soldiers.
But despite all that, they were not the stars of the show.
Surrounded by these bizarre shapes were the residents of a world Higan recognized: a summoner and a vessel. That equipment looked like it could win a war against aliens, but those soldiers were only the eyes and ears. They would find the target and the summoner and vessel would supply the finishing blow. That was the setup.
And there was more than the one pair.
From Meinokawa Higan’s position, she could see four such pairs hanging around waiting for a report to come in.
She doubted she had simply been caught in the middle of some other incident.
She did not know who they were, but she doubted they would help her in any way.
(If they’re blocking the way because they know I’ll pass through here, then, um, my sister must be up ahead.)
She clenched her teeth, calmed her racing pulse, and forced herself to think.
She could not fight.
She was a vessel, but without a summoner, she was only a girl.
Her death was assured the instant they found her.
(Then this is my chance. This is the way back to my sister. If I can get back to the harbor where we were separated, I can save her. So…!!)
It took a full thirty seconds for her thoughts to continue on toward an actual course of action.
In fact, even after thirty seconds, she could not find an answer.
She was simply frozen in place.
And once she realized she had done nothing at all, it dawned on her: she was afraid.
Her skinny body was assaulted by uncontrollable shaking.
She could not move. Not even a single step. She could not move forward or even back.
She knew just how powerless she was at the moment.
If a summoner and vessel found her and attacked her with a Material, her flesh-and-blood body would be smashed to bits. Even if it was the weakest Material, no resident of this world could defeat a resident of the other world. That rule was absolute.
And even if the Repliglass soldiers were only acting as the eyes and the ears, her life was not guaranteed if they found her either. A vessel could do nothing on her own. If they attacked her with normal guns, she would be turned to Swiss cheese. If they kicked her or tackled her with their giant bodies, her bones would be crushed.
She was weak.
She was hopelessly weak.
But that was not why she was afraid.
These “excuses” kept coming to mind.
She was afraid of how her heart was giving in to all those indulgences in preparation to give up on her beloved sister.
In a desperate attempt to bring back what little courage she had, she pictured the face of that family member who had risked her own life to protect her.
But every time she did, it was blotted out by even more excuses.
Renge’s smile, words, and scent were all lost in the blink of an eye.
(No!! I-I don’t want to lose her. I’m the only one that can save her. Even if it’s impossible, I’m the only one that can do it!! I know that. I know that, and yet…)
No matter how much she yelled in her heart, her physical body did not move a single step.
No words escaped her mouth.
She still could not move forward or back. She could only tremble in hiding in order to save herself.
It was hopelessly pathetic and hopelessly shameful, but she could not hide those thoughts.
She could not keep going.
She could not win.
She did not want to die.
She recalled the monsters she had seen at the harbor. They appeared vividly in her mind: Fafnir, Yamata-no-Orochi, and The Lady of “Purple Lightning” that Separates Good from Evil (iu – ao – eu – ei – kub – miq – a – ci – pl). As Divine and Unexplored classes, they had been special cases, but they were essentially the same. That was what happened when a human ran afoul of Materials. They could die even with the best of preparations, so it was obvious what would happen without those preparations.
Her true nature was showing itself now that she had been placed in this extreme situation, but even after seeing that, she could do nothing more than cower behind cover.
(White Queen, White Queen, White Queen! G-gr-grant me courage. Grant me the courage to save my sister even if it means sacrificing myself!!)
She prayed again and again to calm herself.
Each time, the exact opposite happened. Her mind was growing blank.
She could not stop trembling.
She could not stop it no matter what she did.
Just hiding here placed so much pressure on her that she thought she would pass out. She then realized that was because passing out would be a self-destructive yet easy way out for her.
Nothing could have been more shameful and nothing could have been more painful.
Her blank mind then recalled something pointless.
On that day, at the instant she had been separated from Renge, what had she asked for on that boat? When she had prayed to the White Queen in the same way and nothing had happened, what had her heart hoped for?
Something like a groan escaped her lips.
It was relying on others to the extreme. And even as she tried to escape the reality before her eyes, she could not let the Repliglass soldiers or the summoners hear her.
And as she gave her quiet plea, a human form slowly approached from behind.
Sensing their presence, she turned around in surprise, but…
As soon as she did, a hand covered her mouth and a great force pulled her once more behind the flower bed she had been hiding behind.
A familiar face appeared before her eyes.
It was Shiroyama Kyousuke who held a finger to his lips.
“Pwah. Wh-wha-what? Um, wh-why are you-…ow!?”
She was cut off by a light chop to the head.
“What do you think you’re doing here?” he whispered. “That harbor is Guard of Honor’s stronghold and it’s guarded by a ton of summoners. Whether you’re searching the surrounding area on the assumption your sister is still on the run or you’re searching the inside on the assumption she’s been captured, that’s too much ground to cover. How many warehouses are there and how big are they? Aren’t there over a thousand containers piled up around there? If you searched randomly through there on your own, not even a week or two would be enough. And Guard of Honor isn’t exactly going to sit there and let you search. Right?”
“Even if you have to go there, you need to have a specific target in mind that you can rush in to reach. Without that, you won’t be saving anyone.”
Kyousuke glanced out from behind the flower bed to check on the several figures throughout the courtyard and to check on the shortest route to the exit.
“Now, our current problem is the allies of justice. I can see four pairs from here and it doesn’t look like Golden Luxury is here. Maybe she’s inside one of those Hornets flying around.”
“Eh? Eh? You mean that high-level Government Award holder? S-so this really isn’t Guard of Honor?”
“They’re our enemy either way. If they love human wave attacks that use quantity over quality and they’ve sent out units wearing Repliglass designed from silicon DNA, then it has to be Government. …Not that it matters now. I can leave the low-priority explanations until later.” Kyousuke was speaking rapidly. “This is an unnecessary detour. If we’re going to find your sister, we need to get out of here safely. If you’ve had enough of those idealist fantasies and that heroic pessimism and you actually want to realistically save your sister, then help me here. A summoner can’t do anything on his own.”
“You…” Higan sounded taken aback. “You’ll help my sister?”
“That line is off limits. Don’t use it so carelessly.”
His voice grew unpleasantly cold there.
He pulled a small razor blade from the pocket of his sports brand track suit.
“We need to create a new contract as summoner and vessel. This will overwrite your previous contract, so you’ll lose your connection to your sister. Are you fine with that?”
“Create a contract? You mean we’re going to fight them? B-but…”
“Are you afraid?”
His blunt question caused her heart to leap in her chest. She felt like he had seen right through her.
But even at such close range, she saw no hint of disappointment on his face.
He smiled a little and spoke.
“A vessel needs talent, but a summoner doesn’t. Every summoner begins with the Original series and has to work up to more and more powerful Materials. You don’t get a convenient seed position from your bloodline, an item you inherited, or special training. Do you understand what I’m getting at?”
“Even the greatest expert has to start at the beginning and even the lowest rookie has a chance of using the strongest Material. All of the fear you just felt can become a powerful weapon if you use it. …So I’m not telling you not to be afraid. Our style is to feel that fear and then smile because you now have a new method to add to your repertoire.”
He was not just idealistically denying the existence of the darkness in her heart.
“Summoners have no limits on the Materials we can summon and those Materials can be swapped out any number of times, but that isn’t because we want so many weapons. We have a single path to our goal and all else – even the gods – are only stepping stones used to reach it. It’s both an all-purpose tool and the greatest blasphemy. In this cheating game of rock-paper-scissors, the optimum answer changes from person to person. Depending on the situation, the identity of the trump cards and the worthless cards can change entirely. So if you want to win, you have to find your own path. Even if that starts from fear.”
He accepted and even approved of her weak and fearful heart.
As soon as she heard that, the trembling of her body came to a stop.
She had learned this ugliness was not hers alone.
She had learned the boy in front of her had once felt this same fear and overcome it.
She had learned there was a way to overcome it.
They were only words. They were only sound waves vibrating the air. They took on a completely different form from the White Queen that people worshiped as the concentrated ideal of all things. This was a human sort of salvation that differed from that extreme sanctity that did not allow a single drop of corruption.
“Let’s get started.”
Kyousuke used the razor blade to make a shallow cut on his right hand’s index finger. When a bead of blood appeared there, he held it out toward Higan…or more accurately, her lips.
“I bind this covenant of blood in the name of The Spirit of Fluttering ‘Yellow’ Gills that Rules the Heavens (s – a – so – voz – tix – ei – yw – za), one of the Three which manage and guide the summoning ceremony. You are of human flesh with a proper heart and soul, yet from this moment onward, you shall be a limited vessel that can hold all things.”
Higan stared blankly at the fingertip and red blood held out toward her mouth. Each word forced open her heart and exposed the invisible connector needed to bind this new contract.
“You shall be a lord of emptiness that uses the power filling you to at times bend the laws of this world.”
An ominous sharpness entered the air. They could no longer hide because Government’s summoners would have already detected the change.
But it did not matter as long as they could complete the contract.
“So I shall prepare this vessel. I am a summoner, unable to leave the world of man, yet a symbol of haughty intellect that uses power from beyond the world of man to guide the world of man to the next age!!”
Meinokawa Higan licked the bloody finger, placed it between her lips, and took it into her mouth.
That was the beautiful and somewhat suggestive contract ceremony.
The single drop of blood used magical power to explosively rearrange her entire body. Her five senses were stirred up and her mind was briefly thrown into a psychedelically colorful world.
Shiroyama Kyousuke caught her slender body as she wobbled dizzily.
Her contract had been overwritten, so there was no need to hide any longer. He and his newly-acquired vessel girl stepped out below a bright streetlight.
He reached for his back and pulled something from behind his hoodie’s neck. It was a 180 cm rod made of Repliglass. It normally hid behind his back like a coiled snake, but it had returned to its normal shape and size.
It was a Blood-Sign, the symbol of a summoner.
As everyone’s focus turned his way, he spoke.
“Despite what I said, you don’t need to fear anything else tonight. You aren’t alone. And…”
She was not a pitiable girl who could only fearfully wait for death.
Nor was she a burden that had to be protected by some great strength.
This was how he saw her.
“Right now, you are the Alice with the Rabbit.”
That was Freedom Award 902.
In that moment, a fight began between the summoners who would leave behind countless legends.
- There are three major powers: Government, Illegal, and Freedom. They manage their summoners with their own Award systems. They have each made a contract with one of the three great Materials standing at the peak of either the low, middle, or high sounds and the Awards are directly carved into the souls of summoners as formless rewards from the residents of the other side.
- Guard of Honor is a new group gathering power in Illegal, but the details are unknown.
- When people involved with Materials, such as summoners and vessels, earn Award 100, they leave the awareness of normal people. They can speak with normal people as long as they are in their field of vision, but the people will forget about them as soon as they leave their field of vision.
- A summoner and a vessel form a pair by binding a contract. If both of them fully consent, then a new contract can be made. (This does not work under duress, while unconscious, while hypnotized, or under the influence of other forms of suggestion.) This overwrites the previous contract and no thought is given to the other member of the old pair. There are many mysteries about this system, so there is a possibility of unexpected side effects.
- Even the lowest rookie and the greatest expert must begin with the weakest Material, but in exchange, anyone has a chance of reaching the most powerful Material.
- The “White” Queen who Wields the Sword of Unsullied Truth (iu – nu – fb – a – wuh – ei –kx – eu – pl – vjz) is the most powerful even among the Unexplored-class, but the method of summoning her is so unique that she is rarely summoned outside of mock battles and ceremonies.
- The types of Awards and the conditions for earning them differ between the three powers. The more one earns, the more inhuman they become. Upon earning 1000, their affiliation between this world and the other world reverses, making them a resident of the other side while still alive.
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