The Unexplored Summon Blood Sign:Volume1 Opening2

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Opening X-02: Tense Beginning[edit]

(It’s beginning.)

(A battle between summoners. And at the worst possible time!!)

(Opening X-02 Open 04/14 22:25)

Tense Beginning


Let us move back in time a little.

Let us return to the instant that certain twin shrine maidens realized they had failed.

“Dammit!!”

International Revived City – Toy Dream 35. Former name: Natsumi. After letting a massive foreign corporation take care of its economic collapse, all of the city’s administrative authority had been handed over and it had been reborn as a giant profitable amusement park filled with the dreams of children and the hopes of adults. This new standard had spread beyond just America and Japan to reach every continent.

In the harbor on the coast, the never-ending expanse of the dark sea seemed to symbolize the night and death.

This was the entrance for the materials needed to support the amusement park that was an incarnation of mass consumption. Like a hole in the bright festival that was covered in decorative lights and fireworks, this one spot was ruled by darkness. And that darkness that counterbalanced the ever-consuming city was a battlefield for two girls.

Meinokawa Renge.

Meinokawa Higan.

They both had smooth skin and long, straight, and glossy hair. They both wore the scarlet hakama of a Shinto shrine maiden, but while Renge had the stereotypical black hair and pale skin of a shrine maiden, Higan had blonde hair and blue eyes that contradicted that stereotype.

And they also had different roles.

Renge was a summoner and Higan a vessel. Both were necessary for the summoning ceremony.

Renge muttered to herself as if growling like a beast.

“We screwed up. …Or was this what they were planning from the beginning? Either way, this is dangerous. Higan, don’t think about fighting! The job doesn’t matter anymore. We need to escape to safety!”

“R-Renge, um, what do you mean this is what they were planning?”

Despite her sister’s hesitant question, Renge did not have time to explain.

It was supposed to have been a simple job.

The ghost of a “white woman” was supposedly appearing in Toy Dream 35’s harbor. In the world of summoning ceremonies, that usually meant a gathering of power had been left wandering due to a few overlapping circumstances. Whether it was physical or a kind of data, it was common knowledge to summoners that the soul existed. And if some kind of conditions were thrown off, an error could occur and the soul of the dead would lose its destination. It would be stuck in this world like rainwater gathering in a drain clogged with leaves.

And in most cases, a summoner would not even need to fight. If they simply made their way to the location and prepared to summon something “not of this world”, the ghost would disappear on its own as if the clog had been removed. It was unknown whether it was simply a phenomenon being destroyed or if the soul really did go to heaven, but it did resolve the paranormal phenomenon. Compared to making use of all their secrets to ruthlessly battle other summoners, exterminating ghosts or monsters and sealing ancient texts were like odd jobs to earn some extra money. It was much like the bamboo hat-making side job of a ronin.

But this should not have happened.

The instant the clash began, all of the disposable summoners – including the Meinokawa sisters – thought the same thing: we failed.

(Like hell there was a “white woman”. This was actually a way of checking on their enemies. You could call it forced reconnaissance. I don’t know who’s behind this, but they’re trying to judge their true strength by seeing how many of us they can defeat. I should have suspected something when so many freelance summoners were gathered in one place!!)

The entire asphalt ground shook.

While hiding behind a giant warehouse, the sisters began to sweat when they realized what had caused the shaking. They could see the gantry cranes used to lower containers from cargo ships, but several objects twice their size were slowly moving through the harbor. Yellow and green light indicated the location of the monsters’ eyes in the darkness and the great height of those eyes was enough to fill the girls with fear.

And they were not optimistic enough to think these had been summoned by their allies.

“Renge, those are…Fafnir and um, uh, Yamata no Orochi…aren’t they?”

“Dammit. They’re summoning Divine-class Materials!?”

Monsters of such high purity and power did not simply appear on their own. Long ago, people had believed the gods could appear anywhere and at any time, but once it was all calculated out, the places and conditions for them to descend were so few it had left the religious leaders speechless. There was only one possibility here.

This was the work of summoners. Those monsters had undoubtedly been artificially called in with a summoning ceremony.

But these giant dragons did not swing their arms, try to bite, or spew flames or poison from their mouths.

They simply extended their bodies and collapsed forward.

It was a very simple attack, but that was exactly what made it so difficult to avoid. It was the same principle as a giant’s hand swatting at a fly. However, the result of this simple action was massive.

At the center of the blast, warehouses, piles of containers, and cranes flew up into the air. A wave several meters tall traveled through the thick asphalt ground like it was a liquid. But even if one saw that wall approaching, there was nothing they could do about it.

Renge and Higan were thrown into the air like a charging bull’s horns had jabbed them from below.

At the same time, the giant warehouse they had been hiding behind began to collapse because its entire foundation had been destroyed.

The sisters did not have time to worry about what had happened to the other freelance summoners who had been the target of that attack.

Renge’s back slammed into the ground and she grabbed and tugged on the shrine maiden outfit of Higan who was gasping and having trouble breathing. They had to move as far away from the collapsing warehouse as they could.

(I won’t let her die here.)

Renge clenched her teeth that tasted of iron and dragged Higan behind her.

(My sister means the world to me, so I won’t let some people I’ve never even seen crush her as some disposable pawn!! We will escape here. We will! I’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that!!)

“Higan! Stand up! Force yourself if you have to, but gather strength in your legs!”

If they crossed the fence three hundred meters ahead, they could escape the harbor. However, there was no cover along the way, so they would be out in the open. There were plenty of lights and they would be spotted right away if they approached carelessly, so they needed to find some other route or method.

“R-Re-Renge… Um, how many Incense Grenades do you have?”

“I have three left. I used too many at the beginning. You counted them with me before, remember? And they aren’t biscuits in your pocket, so there aren’t going to be more of them when you count them again.”[1]

“Th-then…”

Higan was still gasping for breath, perhaps because of all the fear and confusion filling her.

“We can only begin a battle three more times?”

“Look how many summoners they have on a high enough level to bring out Divine-classes. It doesn’t matter how many we had, it still wouldn’t be enough. I said not to think about fighting, remember? If we don’t focus on slipping past them, we’ll be cornered in no time.”

Each of them was a powerful soldier, but an overwhelming army was attacking them. Meanwhile, they were forced to lament their lack of ammunition. It was just like a hopeless scene from an old war movie. If they did not shift their goal from “defeating the enemy and winning” to “surviving”, nothing but a heroic death awaited them.

A low tremor filled the air once more.

The Meinokawa sisters held their breath and checked their surroundings, but fortunately, they had not been noticed by Fafnir, Yamata no Orochi, or the other giant dragons who towered more than a head above everything else. The monsters were slowly moving in a distant area, but that meant some of their allies were on the receiving end of that fierce attack.

Higan’s face grew pale and Renge heard her mutter something under her breath.

“(Oh, White Queen who guides us to victory in extraordinary battles, please reach out to this fragile human soul. I-I’ll eat the bell peppers I don’t like and I’ll do what my sister tells me, so…)”

That good luck charm was not uncommon in their business. The unsophisticated behavior of her sister reminded Renge of something.

She had vowed to do whatever it took to let her precious sister escape.

She bit her lip at what she had promised herself and only bit down harder as time passed.

“Summoners can speak with the gods in more ways than prayer. Let’s go, Higan.”

“Wh-where?”

“Back home, of course. And now you definitely have to overcome your dislike of bell peppers.”

With that answer, Renge lowered down to hide behind the wreckage of the warehouse and she began to move once more. She was already picturing the layout of the harbor. She had an idea of a safe exit, but it was a fair distance away: 1.3 kilometers. They would have to cut across almost the entire harbor. If they did so at random, they would be found almost instantly, but they could ensure their survival by advancing cautiously as if passing through the eye of a needle.

They moved in quick bursts as if leaping from pile of rubble to pile of rubble.

They avoided the light and did their best to blend into the shadows.

When a suspicious figure – most likely an enemy summoner – passed by within two meters of them, they desperately held their breaths and waited for them to leave.

With her throat stinging from the tension and a hand over her sister’s mouth, Renge slowly but surely approached the exit.

But then she heard some nearby rubble collapsing.

In the street lights, she could see large objects littering the ground here and there. One looked like a giant dinosaur egg, one like an adult who had collapsed and was futilely moving his arms and legs like a clockwork doll, one like a dead tree, one like a doll trying to start an invisible engine with its mouths hanging half open, one like ice cream fallen to the ground, and one like a woman sitting on the ground and muttering to herself.

These were the “losers”.

Summoners fought by calling in Materials which were beings not of this world. Those Materials had godlike power, but if they were defeated before your eyes, a shock on the level needed to kill a god would be carved into your heart. That was the despair of seeing the end of a legend or the end of the world. People were unable to make the obvious decision to fight it and they could do nothing more than stare blankly at the approaching wall of calamity.

They had not passed out.

They were conscious, but they could not move.

An old phrase referred to the mummy hunter becoming a mummy, but this may have been closer to becoming a zombie. They would slowly continue their meaningless actions and they would slowly obey anyone who gestured simple instructions to them. It was a disturbingly ironic fate for those who controlled such powerful beings.

Medically, it was much like the state that anyone fell into after a stun grenade’s intense flash and sound went off nearby. But while that state of not knowing if they were alive or dead lasted for only a dozen or so seconds, this complete lack of understanding lasted for over a day. There was no room for overcoming it with empty ideas like “fighting spirit” or “hard work”. The basic structure of the human mind simply could not endure it.

But that alone was not enough to kill them and sometimes they would be spared, but could they expect that kind of mercy from the enemy who was thoroughly mopping up every intruder in the harbor?

The enemy could kill them at any time and they would not resist or protest if someone pulled on their hand and led them into a blast furnace that boiled metal, so the victors were focusing on exterminating those that could still move.

The enemy would kill them when they happened across them or after all of the fighting was over. And it would be as easy as crushing a raw egg someone had left on the side of the road.

“(R-Renge…Renge! We need to help them before they’re found!!)”

“(We can’t, Higan! We can’t run around carrying people right now!!)”

The losers would follow anyone’s gestured instructions or anyone who tugged on their hands, so the sisters could guide them by tying a handkerchief to a stick and waving it. However, moving with so many people would stand out too much. They would practically be asking the enemy to kill them.

Higan almost rushed out without thinking, so Renge quickly moved to stop her.

However, something else happened first: a bloody hand reached out and weakly grabbed Higan’s shrine maiden hakama.

“Don’t… You will…end up just like them…”

It was a middle-aged man in a worn-out suit. There was no need to ask which side he was on. They had not noticed him yet because he had been hiding in the shadows and his legs had been crushed by the rubble of a collapsed warehouse.

“You lost too?”

“I quickly got rid of my Material so I didn’t end up like them, but that means I lost my protection too. I freed my mind, but I was caught in the rubble. My vessel is in there too.”

Higan looked up at the mountainous silhouette with despair in her eyes.

The middle-aged summoner gave a self-deprecating laugh.

“Guard of Honor.”

“What?”

“That’s what they call themselves. They’re willing to exterminate us to hide any information on them, so I think spreading that term is a way to get back at them. …Tell your client. I’m sure that name is just that important.”

“Guard of Honor?”

Renge frowned.

In its standard use, that term referred to special soldiers gathered for extravagant parades. However, they could be viewed both as the soldiers gathered for a ceremony and the soldiers who carried out a ceremony. When both summoners and vessels were using the name, it was difficult to say which meaning was being emphasized.

And they did not have time to sit around thinking about it.

A tremendous impact rang out in the distance.

It was the roar of a giant dragon using its body to crush someone.

Not only did another wave run through the broken ground around the center of the blast, but the few remaining buildings and the piles of rubble collapsed. The sisters were thrown into the air and began to choke as their backs hit the ground.

And once they recovered, that man was nowhere to be seen.

The giant maw of rubble had swallowed him up and all that remained was a dark red liquid dripping from the cracks.

This was reality.

The nightmare was not over yet and they were not just going to wake up.

“Cough, cough. Oh, White Queen, please watch over the path of this lost human soul.”

“Higan, we don’t have time to pray for every person who dies! Damn, they’re coming this way!!”

A moment later, something was thrown from behind cover and toward Higan. It was a cylindrical metal can the size of a hairspray bottle.

“An Incense Grenade!?”

Renge had no time to spare.

She too sprang out into the cold light just before the can exploded.

But unlike a normal grenade, no explosive blast or fragments tore into Higan. Instead, a transparent mist sprayed out over the area. The harbor air that smelled of oil quickly changed to the air next to a clear mountain stream.

At the same time, complex symbols of light were drawn on the road in the center of the blast and dim pale light filled the area. Even someone with little knowledge in the field would understand that this was a type of magic circle carefully calculated out using a system of occult techniques. It was known as an Artificial Sacred Ground.

It was also a cage.

This field was cut off from everything else to allow for large-scale and high-purity summoning ceremonies. Objects and normal people were ignored as the twenty meter square cage accurately enclosed only the summoner, the vessel, and the individual set as their target.

(It’s beginning.)

Meinokawa Renge accurately grasped the situation.

Something had changed. At some point, two people had appeared in the center of the blast. They were both white women wearing red and black riding suits. The one in black had a thick collar around her neck.

The collar was the same as the blindfold on Higan’s forehead and the bit around her neck. A vessel always wore symbols of bondage. That was to prevent a vengeful or evil spirit that had not been summoned from taking control of their mental state from the outside.

(A battle between summoners. And at the worst possible time!!)

Renge reached into her shrine maiden outfit’s pocket and scattered a bundle of Japanese paper through the air. They whirled through the air and quickly formed a hard stick about 180 centimeters long.

However, that was the most magic a single human could accomplish.

They could not shoot fire from their hands or fly through the sky on a broom. Producing a magic wand with no tricks up their sleeve was the limit.

And that was exactly why those fragile humans relied so heavily on the higher beings that possessed great power.

“Higan! Get ready!!”

As she shouted, the riding suit pair also moved. One of the glamourous beauties swung an arm horizontally and controlled sand to create a two meter rod.

(Uniquely Selfless?)

Renge frowned at the words carved into the side of the long rod.

(I’ve never heard that nickname before, but I doubt a rookie trying to make a name of herself would appear here. Is this a hidden player who doesn’t show up in the official awards!?)

Meinokawa Renge and Uniquely Selfless made gentle strokes with the long rods in their hands and the color red trailed after the moving tip like a car’s tail light.

The name changed depending on religion, but among professional summoners, this was simply known as the Blood-Sign.

Inside the Artificial Sacred Ground cut off by the Incense Grenade, something like a hologram appeared between the Meinokawa sisters and the riding suit pair. At first glance, the object looked like a die with colorful patterns on its sixty centimeter sides, but it was not.

It was a gathering of spheres of light that were as big as apples and as red as blood.

These were the crimson Petals that were divided between low, middle, high, and lowest sounds. All 216 Petals were gathered in what summoners called a Rose. These girls in Japanese clothing had little connection to it, but the Rose had its roots in a symbol of Western magic that used a rose emblem to conceal the secrets of summoning archangels.

The appearance of the Rose acted as a signal.

Three spheres of white light suddenly appeared near Renge and the beautiful woman known as Uniquely Selfless. These spheres of light were distinct from the previous ones and they were known as White Thorns. No one there questioned their appearance. They simply gathered strength in their right hand which held the long rod known as a Blood-Sign, supported it with two fingers of their extended left hand, used all their strength by transferring the rotation of their legs and hips to the rest of their body, and forcefully jabbed the tip into one of their White Thorns.

The Rose was struck from both sides and it scattered in every direction. The Petals emitting crimson light were sent every which way. Those spheres of light contained the elements of various sounds, divided between low, middle, and high. They bounced off the ground, walls, rubble, and edges of the Artificial Sacred Ground, but they passed right through the Meinokawa sisters and the riding suit beauties. That was because they were not actually physical objects.

There was no need to stop their movement.

Renge jabbed with her Blood-Sign and its tip almost seemed to be drawn in toward the second glowing White Thorn floating near her.

A change had come over the battlefield.

As soon as the box-shaped Rose had fallen apart, Spots had appeared across the space isolated by the Incense Grenade. They appeared on the ground, the walls, in the gaps between the rubble, and in midair. These fist-sized holes would cause something to “fall” into it no matter what direction it contacted it from and there were thirty-six in all. Renge looked around in search of them.

(Fourteen. Damn, so over half of them are hidden!!)

Meanwhile, one of the ricocheting crimson Petals contacted one of the many Spots and fell inside.

All of the Petals had a single letter of the alphabet carved into it in accordance with a certain set of rules. Even from a distance, a summoner could intuitively feel the “meaning” just from seeing the light.

The low sounds were b, c, d, f, g, h, and j.

The middle sounds were k, l, m, n, p, q, and r.

The high sounds were s, t, v, w, x, y, z.

The lowest sounds were a, i, u, e, and o.

The twenty-six letters of the alphabet had the five vowels removed as the lowest sounds and the remaining twenty-one were split into the three categories of low, middle, and high.

Renge had knocked the high sound “s” into a Spot.

This was where the battle truly began.

“It’s starting! Higan, keep strong!!”

“R-right. Got it. Um, I’ll do my best!”

Before Higan had finished speaking, the change began.

Summoners called in Materials, life forms that did not exist in this world, by having them possess the physical body of a vessel. Once the Material was temporarily fixed there, it could be used. That was a simple overview of the system.

With a sticky sound, Meinokawa Higan’s body and the shrine maiden outfit she wore both changed form. She became a three meter mass of sticky liquid with the unnaturally yellow coloration of some sodas. This form was thoroughly unpleasant, hideous, and blasphemous. Floating deep in the transparent slime was a smooth one-meter human form known as the Silhouette.

That was Meinokawa Higan.

She was the Silhouette used to hold the monster in this world. Everything else was a decoration and crushing that Silhouette would end it all in a single strike.

(The Original Yellow (s), costs one high sound. And the enemy chose…)

She heard a similar sound, but it was an unhealthily red mass that created a spiral next to the beauty known as Uniquely Selfless.

(A low sound? Damn!! At this rate, we’ll be taken out by the circular relationship!!)

Renge immediately switched over her thoughts.

Basically, if she hit the sound spheres into the Spots using her White Thorns, the number and arrangement of the sounds would transform the Material. Ignoring the lowest sounds, the low, middle, and high sounds had a circular relationship much like rock-paper-scissors. If they were at a disadvantage, they only needed to switch to a different range of sound or a different individual Material.

Of course, during a deadly battle, the enemy was not necessarily going to sit idly by and let that happen.

(Tch! She’s good. This goes beyond simple technique. She’s predicting everything I try to do!!)

Both Renge and the Guard of Honor assassin sent out White Thorns. Each time one struck a Petal of the different categories of sound, complex blood-red lines would be drawn through the air and the various sounds of the Petals landing in the Spots would reach their ears. Like someone randomly messing with piano keys or guitar strings, it created a primeval song of destruction that filled anyone who heard it with confusion. The intense dance of light and sound caused the bizarre Materials to change form again and again.

They became a stuffed animal holding a bloody axe, a giant stag beetle that’s legs and pincers had been torn off by a mischievous child and who had wheels and razor blades attached in their place, or a massive gear that could roll around on its own.

The White Thorns floating in the air were replenished at ten second intervals, so they could be fired off quite quickly if necessary.

Renge interpreted this as a way of carving out a name.

The supernatural was brought in by calling its name. Every part of the world had traditions about not using a god’s name in vain or using code words when speaking about fairies. That had been raised to the level of a ceremony when the Sigil of modern Western magic had created a charm for summoning angels by laying a thin sheet of paper over a special diagram of the alphabet and drawing lines to connect together the name of the angel to be summoned.

The modern summoning ceremony had taken that a step further.

This was not contained to one’s mind.

Nor did it leave it up the gods to decide if they would come.

It was a methodology to summon legendary beings into the real world with 100% certainty. The god was not assisting a human; the human was having the god obey him.

(Honestly, it’s like asking for divine punishment. We go beyond our own minds and physically draw out the Materials floating on “the other side” so we can directly use them!!)

Modern summoners used their White Thorns and the low, middle, high, and lowest Petals to freely control those non-standard monsters within the limited space of the Artificial Sacred Ground.

The trick was how to use the Blood-Sign and White Thorns that determined what happened.

No matter how advantageous a sound range you tried to give your Material, your disadvantage would never end as long as the enemy stayed one step ahead of you in transforming their own Material into the sound range that was your Material’s weakness.

Sometimes the enemy would accurately knock Petals into Spots and sometimes she would use her Petal to knock Renge’s Petal off of its course. The riding suit woman had more than one method and she fluidly switched between them.

And meanwhile…

“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!”

With a roar of anger, the giant monsters clashed over the summoners’ heads.

They no longer resembled the colorful slime from before. In fact, they were going through countless transformations in real time. They would become a giant wolf with a metal jaw, a giant serpent wrapped in flames, a giant fish that tore through the sky, or a queen bee with a human face. It never ended. Oftentimes, the next transformation would begin in just a few seconds, before the previous one was even complete.

It looked like two flows of never-ending transformations were crashing into each other.

The struggle between bizarre creatures gave the impression that whichever one’s evolution progressed further would win.

And while this happened, the minds of Meinokawa Higan and the summoned Material were in constant conflict.

<Gh…,kh!! I can’t…keep my aim straight!!>

By their very nature, vessels could not fully control the Material’s body. This was true even of the colorful slimes with a cost of only one.

The Materials themselves had certain desires that drove them: the desire to devour flesh, to suck blood, to crush everything in sight, or to smash everything after petrifying it.

The vessel could not stop those desires. All they could do was try to control the aim by choosing who those desires would be directed at.

With a single Material, it might have been easy to determine how they acted and work something out.

But things were different when the Material was changing every few seconds. If the vessel did not say focused, their mind could be tossed around and they would let loose indiscriminate destruction in their confusion.

BloodSign v01 053.jpg

<But I will do this. I’ll line up the cursor of my mind and…um…ride that wave through to the end! I won’t waste the Material – the opportunity – that my sister summoned!>

Currently, Meinokawa Higan’s physical body had taken the form of a squid large enough to crush a patrol boat in its grasp. Its name was DEC Tentacle (nu – o – re – a – btv – ag – y). Its yellow eyes glowed as it used the ten thick chains it had in place of tentacles to grab the enemy Material.

A great roar burst out.

A giant arm was growing from the ground like a tree. This was Guard of Honor’s Material named Tree Hand (tzf – qux – o – alc – a – ge) and it struggled against the chains binding it. Once it shook the chains loose, they crashed down from directly above Meinokawa Renge. They were as thick and heavy as the anchor that held a super-heavy tanker in place. That weight and speed alone would have made a strike powerful enough to slice a midsized truck in two.

<Renge!?>

(Stop shouting in my head. I have my protective circle, so I’ll be fine either way.)

Sure enough, Renge was unharmed as she stood within the asphalt dust.

Traditional summoning techniques involved two especially important circles. The most obvious was the summoning circle itself, but the protective circle that guarded the summoner was also important.

With modern summoning ceremonies, the top priority while using a Material’s power was to prevent the summoned monster from interfering with the ceremony. The circle’s effects could be divided into two major categories: stopping all external elements and preventing the summoner from collapsing mid-ceremony due to internal elements such as lifespan or illness. (i.e. in the unlikely event that the protective circle was pierced from outside, the summoner would not die. It could happen the instant the circle was released, though.) In either case, it was less like the monster was taking pity on the human and more like a computer’s emergency power supply. It simply let the summoner safely end the ceremony before they collapsed. Only the human controlling the monster’s existence as part of the ceremony would be protected and only so they could guide the ceremony to completion.

As such, a battle between summoners came down to the clash between the Materials they had summoned. They could swap out or strengthen their Materials, but they could not interfere any more than that and they could not directly kill the opposing summoner. For better or for worse, they could only continue to watch within the protective circle.

Yes.

As long as the Material continued to live and function, that is.

(Even so, this is bad. Really, really bad!!)

Renge clenched her teeth while hitting away her White Thorns with her Blood-Sign.

She could not relax just because she had the protective circle. It felt just as nerve-racking as diving down to the pitch-black depths of the sea in a small submarine made of thin glass. Materials were superior to humans by definition and a human alone could not avoid or defend against their attacks. In other words, the summoner’s death was unavoidable if the thin glass that was the protective circle broke. If another attack arrived after they had already lost and been put into the clockwork doll state of mind, they would undoubtedly be killed in a way more gruesome than being crushed by the water pressure of an ocean trench.

“…”

Renge shuddered as a vision of loss filled the back of her mind. She saw an attack powerful enough to kill the gods hitting her head-on and she saw herself and Higan curled up and trembling in the fetal position. Would the enemy crush them instantly or would they take advantage of the summoner and vessel’s nonresistant zombie-like state to lead them to some cruel public execution?

(There’s nothing I can do. No matter what I try, she cuts me off ahead of time!!)

She supposedly had an endless number of cards available and could continue in any direction, but no matter what, Uniquely Selfless was one step ahead of her. Rather than lying in wait, this enemy was actively matching her movements. It was like the woman could predict the future. It felt like playing rock-paper-scissors dozens of times and losing every single time. That situation continued on and on and Renge could no longer tell if it was a mere technique or if it was a subtle trick.

And that was exactly why she made a mistake she would never have made under normal circumstances.

By the time she realized what had happened, she had already used her last White Thorn.

(Oh, no! I’m out of ammo!?)

Those white spheres were automatically replenished with time and a maximum of seven could be held at a time, so she should never have run out if she had kept a proper pace.

But her confusion had caused her to lose sight of that pace. She had been too focused on switching out her Material.

The White Thorns were replenished at about one every ten seconds.

That was only one-sixth of a minute, but in that time, she could not affect the low, middle, high, or lowest sound Petals or switch out her Material.

And the fatal result arrived a moment later.

At that time, Higan had taken the form of DEC Tentacle, the giant squid with thick chains, and the Material’s chains were wrapped around the Tree Hand that resembled an arm growing from the ground like a giant tree.

The riding suit beauty then fired a White Thorn that knocked a new Petal into a Spot.

The target in the DEC Tentacle’s grasp changed form under the control of Uniquely Selfless. It became a five meter sphere that seemed to be made of balled-up barbed wire as thick as a human arm.

Its name was the Giant Hostile Eye (cuw – nu – o – qux – o – ag – du).

The red pupil in the center intently stared down its target. As soon as a faint light flashed in the center of the barbed wire ball, it expanded in every direction as if it had exploded.

That strike blasted away the ten chains and sent Higan’s giant body staggering backwards.

<Kyah!?>

The enemy’s sound range had shifted from middle to low.

Higan contained a high sound Material, so this was a fatally poor match.

The mass of barbed wire exploded and contracted again and again. Each time, it tore away at the giant squid body of Higan’s DEC Tentacle Material. It was all over if the cracks reached Higan’s soft Silhouette filling the center of the monster’s translucent belly. It was accepted practice that one could not win against your Material’s weakness no matter what. The proper course of action was to change the Material out for one with a different sound range, but Renge could not since she had run out of White Thorns.

It all came down to the circular relationship of the sound ranges. Unless there was a large difference in the cost levels of the two Materials, that relationship could not be overcome with brute force.

Ten seconds.

She only had to wait ten seconds.

More and more of the DEC Tentacle was torn away like wet paper or pieces of styrofoam and the scars of the damage were approaching Higan inside. The tentacle arms made of thick chains were torn off or blown away and a nearby streetlight was broken completely in two.

Renge clenched her teeth while listening to Higan’s screams directly reaching her mind.

(Has my stock of White Thorns still not replenished!? Higan is in danger!!)

Renge could only wait for that time to come, but she suddenly noticed something odd.

The riding suit beauty known as Uniquely Selfless was preparing to hit another of her White Thorns with her Blood-Sign.

(I was wrong.)

Renge gulped.

Guard of Honor already had the sound range her Material was weak to and that advantage would remain for the time being, so the woman had no reason to swap out her Material. That meant she had another reason to use that White Thorn.

(I misread what she was after!!)

Uniquely Selfless was not aiming for the low, middle, or high sounds.

She was aiming for the color white.

One of Renge’s White Thorns continued to slowly ricochet off the floor and walls even after she had run out. After a White Thorn was sent out, it would disappear on its own once it stopped moving. In other words, a summoner could only affect them with the initial hit of the Blood-Sign. But that also made them defenseless when they were moving. Unless a new White Thorn hit them to alter their path, the summoner could only watch them continue on.

(Taboo 3. If a White Thorn still in the field accidentally enters a Spot while the summoner has no White Thorns in stock, the summoner will be killed. They will lose control of the Material’s composition, it will be replaced by the Black Maw that Swallows All (nu – lp – eu – bf – zuh – ei – jkv – iu – a – xw) which is the worst of all the monsters, and it will devour the summoner.)

A chill filled Renge’s entire body as she recalled that standard and inviolable rule.

The enemy had never even truly focused on the clash between Materials.

She was planning to use the taboo of the Black Maw that Swallows All to directly kill the summoner.

(Not good! Not good!! How much longer? Five seconds? Three? Either way, I can’t do anything until my stock is replenished!! And if I’m killed, Higan won’t be able to use any of her power!!)

Uniquely Selfless gathered all her strength to jab with her Blood-Sign. The enemy’s white sphere of light shot forward like a bullet and the riding suit woman clearly intended for it to ricochet off the warehouse wall and then hit Renge’s old White Thorn into a Spot. Its course was aggravatingly accurate.

Renge had nothing to work with.

There was nothing she could do.

She had nothing in stock and if her White Thorn was knocked into the Spot now, she would be killed.

And so she did not rely on her own power.

“Higan!! Destroy the warehouse on the left! Hurry!!”

“!?”

The riding suit woman’s expression changed just a bit.

A moment later, the giant squid being torn apart by the exploding barbed wire collapsed on top of the warehouse to crush it. It destroyed the metal structure as easily as stepping on a paper box.

The enemy had tried to hit Renge’s White Thorn by ricocheting it off the warehouse wall.

With that wall completely gone, the White Thorn fired by Guard of Honor’s summoner strayed from its intended course.

(The enemy’s Material is the Giant Hostile Eye (cuw – nu – o – qux – o – ag – du). If you ignore the six lowest sound vowels, it’s made up of three low sounds, two middle sounds, and two high sounds. That puts it in the low sound range and lets me use that.)

The small bit of time that bought gave Renge a replenished White Thorn.

That single item appeared out of thin air.

She jabbed the tip of her Blood-Sign against the floating White Thorn to immediately fire it. But she had not panicked or not given this proper thought. This time, her attack was based in calm and accurate calculations.

She was targeting the White Thorn the enemy had fired.

This was her revenge.

The two White Thorns collided, their paths changed, and Uniquely Selfless’s one hit both a middle sound and a high sound Petal floating in the air. The two Petals were knocked into and absorbed by Spots.

That made three each of the low sounds, middle sounds, and high sounds.

“Taboo 1.”

When the riding suit beauty heard Renge speak, her face froze over.

She had likely remembered what Renge went on to announce as if reading the woman’s mind.

“A summoner must not gather an equal number of low, middle, and high sounds. If they do, their own Material will transform into the Black Maw that Swallows All and swallow them whole!!”

A sticky sound rang out and the barbed wire form of the enemy’s Giant Hostile Eye transformed into a vortex of pitch-black slime. It rose up like a snake and the very top of the tornado was absolutely filled with fangs.

There was no scream.

Before the woman could make a single noise, the Black Maw that Swallows All attacked from above and instantly devoured the puny human.

A disturbing sound filled the air as a life was lost.

And as if to prove it, the Black Maw that Swallows All transformed yet again. The unconscious vessel woman was thrown carelessly to the utterly broken ground.

But there was no salvation for her either. Upon the summoner’s death, the vessel in which the Black Maw that Swallows All resided had her mind shattered. The previous middle-aged freelance summoner could not have survived being swallowed up by the rubble either, so nothing was gained from this victory.

The piles of rubble would not be returned to normal and the lost lives would not be resurrected as if it had all been a joke.

All that remained was the simple fact that they had won and survived.

That was the world summoners lived in.

Renge then heard the muttering of Higan’s heart through their linked minds.

<Oh, White Queen, please watch over the path of this lost human soul.>

“We don’t have time for sentimentality. Higan, we’re going to make a run for it. We can’t afford to hide. We’ll have to use a chain to break through!!”

In a summoner battle using an Incense Grenade, the Artificial Sacred Ground would disappear on its own when either a conclusion was reached or ten minutes had passed.

However, immediately after defeating the opposing summoner, the summoner could freely move along with the Artificial Sacred Ground for about ninety seconds. Modern summoning ceremonies were a technique to summon the gods using battles, but the “residual heat” remaining after a target was defeated could be used to borrow the enemy’s existence to run the system without it being bound to their thoughts. If a new enemy was taken in for a battle before the ninety seconds ran out, the battle would begin with the current Material intact.

That was a major advantage.

The enemy would be forced to build up their Material from the weakest level, but Renge and Higan could begin with a much more powerful Material. If that lasted long enough, they could build up a Material much more complex and advanced than could be summoned in only ten minutes. Of course, the damage taken would carry over as well and losing the chain for even an instant meant losing it all and having to start from scratch again, but keeping it up would eventually bring the strongest levels within reach. Even the lowest of rookies would be rewarded for their effort if they kept it up.

Just as some giant fireworks were cheerfully launched on the coast opposite this harbor battlefield, the two sisters began running along the asphalt with Higan still transformed into the Material.

There was no point in hiding any longer.

“Higan, we’re going to break through!! The enemy will have to start with the first Materials, so we just have to crush them before they can build it up!!”

They defeated enemy after enemy after enemy after enemy.

While keeping the negative chain going, the two ran through the nighttime harbor.

They destroyed one enemy and then hunted down the next.

And as they did so, the Material residing within Higan continued to grow.

People lay collapsed along the route they had taken. Unlike with the Black Maw created by violating the taboos, defeating the Material via normal methods did not kill the summoner. They instead became clockwork dolls that repeated the same action over and over again due to the attack that killed the god they had summoned. The standard was to finish them off at that point, but it may have been lucky for both sides that they did not have time for that now.

Standard firearms were useless against both summoner and vessel and gathering together only allowed them to continue fighting in a chain. That was what made them so useful, but they were not almighty.

Guard of Honor responded appropriately.

<The human presences are disappearing. Renge, um, what is this?>

“They’re keeping their people away to break our chain. They’re planning to try again once the Artificial Sacred Ground disappears and you return to a normal human. But this is actually perfect for us!!”

Summoner and Material ran to their destination.

After about ninety seconds, the chain broke and the Artificial Sacred Ground vanished. Higan’s body transformed from being a strange monster and back into a lovely girl, which meant their built up power had been lost.

Higan swayed to the side in her shrine maiden outfit.

“…Kh…”

“Are you okay, Higan!?”

Chaining battles together was something like a secret trick and the burden of surpassing the ten minute restriction was placed on the vessel and it grew as time went on. She was fortunate to not have passed out.

And as soon as Renge lent her sister her shoulder, they were surrounded.

There were twenty people in all which meant ten summoner/vessel pairs. While able to control a powerful Material due to their chain was one thing, these numbers put them at an overwhelming disadvantage when they had to restart from the beginning.

Renge looked around and grimaced.

The shape and sizes of their Blood-Signs were all different, but there was one trait in common.

(They all have the name Uniquely Selfless? Dammit, that wasn’t an individual’s name?)

They were directly below the giant bridge connecting the reclaimed land of the harbor with the rest of the city. It was a multipurpose bridge with a road on top, a monorail track down below, and power lines and communication cables running through it. Renge did not remember what its name was.

Amid the great din coming from the bridge, a voice slipped smoothly into her ear. It belonged to one of the several Guard of Honor summoners with the name Uniquely Selfless.

“It’s over.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure.”

“Can you not see this?”

The summoner shook a small can. The object with a pin and safety lever on the top was an Incense Grenade. When it detonated, an Artificial Sacred Ground would open and the final battle would begin.

(Honestly, I can’t believe you can summon a god with a can. Whoever invented those things was insane.)

With that thought about that tool they used, Renge felt sweat pouring from her body within her shrine maiden outfit.

Meanwhile, Uniquely Selfless continued.

“With everyone we cornered here, we’ve asked who hired them. I’ll try it with you as well, but I’m honestly not expecting much since none of the answers have matched so far. It doesn’t matter what. Just give me an answer and I’ll kill you right away.”

“Hey,” said Renge while stepping forward to protect Higan. “Sorry, but we’ve got some extra Incense Grenades. Do you mind if we start this one? It doesn’t really matter who sets up the Artificial Sacred Ground, right?”

“What, do you like exposing your belly to the man-eating beast after losing all hope yet laughing as a living mannequin?”

The summoner sounded surprised and Renge’s eyelids twitched.

However, she managed to maintain her smile.

“One, simply using the Incense Grenade is meaningless. If it is not used while looking directly at the target individual, the Artificial Sacred Ground will not appear.”

A quiet high-pitched sound reached her ears.

She had pulled the Incense Grenade’s pin while holding the safety lever in place.

“Two, no matter where the summoner and vessel are when the Incense Grenade detonates, they will be automatically moved to the center of the created Artificial Sacred Ground.”

With that said, she forcefully threw the Incense Grenade.

However, she did not throw it to her feet or into the enemy formation.

“Three, the Artificial Sacred Ground will be constructed relative to the surface the Incense Grenade is touching when it detonates. This goes beyond the floor or the ground. If the Artificial Sacred Ground is created relative to the wall or ceiling, those inside can freely run around on the wall or ceiling!!”

She threw the can directly upwards and onto the bottom of the giant multipurpose bridge covering them.

More specifically, she threw it onto a car of the unmanned freight monorail racing along the track attached to the bottom of the bridge.

After a bursting sound, the Meinokawa sisters were thrown forcefully into the air as if invisible wires were connected to their bodies. The shock was enough to knock the breath out of them and cause an unpleasant sound in their necks, but it successfully brought them from the harbor and all the enemies there. They slammed into the bottom surface of the freight monorail that was racing along at nearly eighty kilometers-per-hour. The car had a super-deformed image of a lion painted on it as part of an advertisement and Renge had a feeling the thing’s face had dented a little.

“Gah!!”

“Kh… Higan, are you okay? At any rate, we need to get up. This Artificial Sacred Ground won’t last longer than ten minutes. Do you have anything to tie yourself on with? If you don’t, you’ll fall off as soon as the effects wear off.”

The twin sisters stood upside down on the bottom of the monorail like bats.

The harbor that had been such a place of terror was growing smaller by the moment.

Incidentally, just one of the summoners surrounding them would have been dragged along with them as the Artificial Sacred Ground moved with the monorail, but that was no different from being hit by a giant wall moving at eighty kilometers-per-hour. The summoner would not have had time to summon a Material, so their supernatural protective circle would not have functioned. They had most likely been turned to mincemeat.

At any rate, the sisters were finally safe.

Or so they thought.

A moment later, the giant bridge that was also used as a landmark broke completely in half.

For an instant, the two girls did not understand what had happened.

Their vision shook like crazy, but they still spotted a cruiser in the dark ocean directly below. A woman in a pink nurse uniform stood on its deck and she rested a long rod – a Blood-Sign – on her shoulder.

(A summoner!? She interfered!?)

At the same time, what had destroyed the bridge came into view. A small short-haired girl could be seen on the cruiser’s deck next to the summoner. She wore a dancer’s outfit whose purple cloth just barely covered the important parts of her body. Her exposed skin felt more sickly than seductive, but that may have been because she was sitting in a worn-out and rusty wheelchair. Her head was tilted and nothing resembling a will could be seen in the green eyes half-covered by her bangs. She then made a slight movement of her terribly skinny index finger.

That was all she did, but it was enough to slice apart the several hundred ton bridge.

A massive amount of seawater burst up like a giant wall and a space of several hundred meters was forcibly sliced through. The laser beam gathered any and all objects inside itself, compressed them like a black hole, and tore apart their bonds.

“That’s beyond Divine-class.”

The modern summoning ceremony using the Blood-Sign was a thoroughly simplified technique to summon and use a high-quality version of the fickle gods of legend.

Before, decades were spent carving away stone to build a temple, the movement of the stars was observed to calculate out the perfect timing, and living humans were even prepared as sacrifices, but even then it was up to the god whether they would show up or not. However, those days were over. With the vessel, the Incense Grenade, and the Blood-Sign, it was possible to invite in what was not human with perfect reliability.

The Regulation-class such as the DEC Tentacle that Renge and Higan had used or the Giant Hostile Eye were nothing more than manmade frameworks put together as stepping stones to reach the Divine class. Those true monsters could not be harmed with thermobaric warheads or laser bombardments and they could of course be used in battle, but that was merely a side-effect of being tools to reach the gods.

However, humanity had come to learn something else.

There was something beyond the Divine-class which they had assumed was the final destination of the world’s laws.

There was a territory hidden beyond that and a term had been coined for the secret residents who sat stagnant in that territory.

“The Unexplored-class.”

The Spirit of the Fluttering “Yellow” Gills that Rules the Heavens (s – a – so – voz – tix – ei – yw – za).

The “White” Queen who Wields the Sword of Unsullied Truth (iu – nu – fb – a – wuh – ei –kx – eu – pl – vjz)

And the one wielding its power against them now.

“The Lady of ‘Purple Lightning’ that Separates Good from Evil (iu – ao – eu – ei – kub – miq – a – ci – pl)!?”

As soon as Higan uttered the name, the freight monorails cars lost their connections and fell down into the ocean. The mascots painted on them continued to smile as they crashed into the cold ocean and began to sink. There was nothing Renge or Higan could do but fall along with the rubble.

They had failed.

That same thought entered Renge’s mind once more.

Even so, she desperately reached a hand out toward her sister who had been flung out into empty space.

“Higan!!”

But her wish was not granted.

She could not reach her sister and she was slammed into the surface of the dark, cold ocean.


——What had she been thinking then?

“Gah!?”

Unlike her sister Renge, Meinokawa Higan did not fall into the ocean. Inertia flung her body over the waterway and to the opposite bank.

A number of boats were moored along the bank and she seemed to have landed on one of those. She had trouble breathing and her mind blinked in and out of consciousness, but she thought to herself while unable to get up.

——What had she hoped for then?

(…ge…)

She could not form words or even cough. Her mind was on the verge of tearing apart, but she focused and gained some strength even if it was only in her mind.

As if representing the exact opposite of her mental state, great colorful rings of fireworks burst in the night sky. Their brightness and peacefulness seemed to coldly reject everything about Higan.

(Ren…ge…)

The enemy summoner had to have set up an Artificial Sacred Ground to summon the Lady of Purple Lightning from the Unexplored-class, but it had not captured the twin sisters.

However, Higan did not view that as good luck. That would not have happened without good reason.

The enemy had started by separating the summoner and vessel.

Renge’s fall into the ocean was dangerous. Artificial Sacred Grounds worked relative to one’s footing, so they did not work well in deep water. And neither of the girls could summon a Material alone. Pursuit would soon arrive to defeat them individually while they were defenseless. The man crushed by the rubble had given his own life to tell them the enemy was an organization named Guard of Honor and the enemy summoners would not allow anyone to leave with that information.

A small scraping sound proved her bad feeling true.

Guard of Honor had already surrounded the group of boats on the water. That meant Higan had been intentionally thrown right into their net.

How was just a summoner or just a vessel supposed to stand up to a Material that could not be harmed by bullets or explosives?

But despite the hopeless situation, the first thing on Higan’s mind was not her own predicament. Something more important filled her mind.

An enemy unit had been lying in wait for Higan, so what about her sister Renge? Had a group of frogmen been waiting in the ocean? Or would the Lady of Purple Lightning target her directly from the cruiser? Either way, her odds of victory were almost nonexistent. She would be unable to even set up a proper battle.

(O-oh, White Queen who…guides us to victory…in extraordinary…battles…)

She mouthed the good-luck charm she had repeated again and again since she was young. It had partially been a type of rote learning meant to familiarize her heart with the Materials which were literally not of this world, but she had also innocently believed it. She believed that if she called out and focused her heart enough, it would create some kind of connection.

(Please reach…this fragile…human soul.)

But no help was coming.

It simply could not happen.

Summoning ceremonies were a strict technique. The most useful parts of every ceremony around the world had had been re-unified to create them and they would make the gods (or that which lay beyond them) work for humans with 100% reliability. But when relying on a traditional appeal to a god, the odds of help were something known only by the gods.

And as her vision went dark, Meinokawa Higan lost sight of what she was praying to.

She just vaguely spoke the words.

“Help…”

She would lose her sister at this rate.

(Someone.)

She would lose the sister who shared her blood.

(Anyone. Just save my sister…)

She would literally be devoured.

“Help…”

No response was coming.

No help was coming.

And yet…

An instant later, she heard a series of loud metallic sounds.

Something fell to the boat’s deck. It was a man in a suit dark enough to blend into the night. As he lay sprawled out with both his strength and consciousness gone, he looked more like an abandoned doll than a human. She was surprised to find Guard of Honor had already made it that close, but the real shock was that the enemy summoner had been defeated.

Who had done it?

What had done it?

She desperately worked her mind that was still fading in and out, but she could not find an answer. However, as she tried to focus her blurry vision, she heard a certain sound.

It was the whoosh of something lighter than a bat tearing sharply through the air. She had heard the sound countless times before. It came from a Blood-Sign, the long rod that summoners used to hit the White Thorns. However, this was not the sound of someone jabbing with the tip. They were instead casually and lazily spinning it around.

(A Blood…Sign?)

Meinokawa Higan desperately tried to raise her head.

(But there’s…no Material here. There’s no summoning…ceremony. Then…did they use it to stab like a spear…and hit the man directly?)

But just as she forced herself, her vision filled with black and she could no longer tell who was there.

“Dammit. I never thought I’d hear that cursed word here.”

And so she simply listened to the boy’s words before relinquishing her consciousness.

“This’ll make a bit of a detour. The apple sherbet won’t melt, will it?”


Facts[edit]

  • When an Incense Grenade is used, an Artificial Sacred Ground is created. The summoning and all other supernatural phenomena can only occur within that space.
  • A summoner summons by carving out the “name” of the Material and having it possess their vessel.
  • Only the Blood-Sign can affect the White Thorns. The White Thorns, Petals, and Spots will pass through humans and Materials. The White Thorns disappear on their own once they stop. Three are supplied at the beginning and a maximum of seven can be held. One is replenished from thin air about every ten seconds.
  • The cost of the Material is determined by the number of Petals placed inside Spots and its sound range is determined by the number of small, middle, and high sounds included. The lowest sounds do not influence the sound range.
  • The Material contains the Silhouette which stores the vessel’s mind. If it is destroyed, the battle comes to an end.
  • During battle, the summoner enters a protective circle created with their Material’s power. The summoner is essentially invincible during the battle.
  • Taboo 1: An equal number of low, middle, and high sound Petals must not be placed in Spots and added to the Material’s stock.
  • Taboo 3: When a summoner has no stock of White Thorns, a White Thorn remaining in the field must not enter a Spot.
  • The White Thorns, Petals, and Spots are not affected by gravity. However, they are affected by their own sort of friction from the air.
  • An Incense Grenade will have no effect unless it is used while viewing the target with the naked eye. Also, an Artificial Sacred Ground can be placed on walls and ceilings. Once the Incense Grenade detonates, the summoner and vessel are pulled toward the center of the Artificial Sacred Ground.
  • An Artificial Sacred Ground has a fixed location, but it will move along with the summoner for ninety seconds after their enemy has been defeated. If contact is made with the next enemy in that time, a chain of battles can be achieved while continuing to use the same Material. However, this increases the vessel’s fatigue.
  • Materials are divided into three classes: Regulation, Divine, and Unexplored. The upper two classes cannot be summoned through normal means.


Notes[edit]

  1. A reference to the Japanese children’s song Fushigi na Pocket. Dino Lingo "Magical Pocket"
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