The Unexplored Summon Blood Sign:Volume4 Chapter2
Stage 02: There Will Certainly Be Consequences
“No, wait. This might actually be better. If it looks like we’re secret lovers…”
(“Now” Stage 02 Open 06/03 10:10)
(“Past” Stage 02 Open 06/02 22:10)
There Will Certainly Be Consequences
It was just past ten at night on June 2. As always, the darkness of D.R.O.K.’s night was swept away by the bright lights of the stages, but the remaining shadows functioned as useful blind spots.
Shiroyama Kyousuke and Himekawa Mika were moving through one of those blind spots.
However, walking directly to Pandemonium would have been difficult.
With microwave anti-personnel radars and invisible infrared searchlights, the 5km radius field at the center of the donut-shaped trade show became a thick barrier with no blind spots.
“Good thing this is a weapons trade show. There were plenty of oxygen tanks lying around.”
Kyousuke set a few heavy objects down on the grass.
He had bought the night vision binoculars at a business booth.
“Good, good. The six craters from yesterday’s aerial bombing are nice and connected. That gives us a direct line to Pandemonium five kilometers away.”
“I’m sure it’s better than the perfectly flat field, but is that really enough to hide us from the anti-personnel radar? Especially when they’ll have increased security?”
“Isn’t that why we dug up the underground water veins and waited more than half a day for the craters to flood?” Kyousuke answered her with a bitter smile. “The microwaves the radar uses are weak against water. Most of them will be reflected off the water’s surface and what does make it through will be severely weakened. It isn’t a good method for searching through water.”
“What about the infrared searchlights?”
“Do I even have to say it? Whether visible or invisible, light acts the same. Once it contacts the water’s surface, it will reflect or refract, so they won’t be able to pull off a proper search.”
They would have been found immediately on the surface, so their general plan was to approach through the dark water. That was the reason for the oxygen tanks.
“…I do have one question.”
“Wh-what is it?”
As Himekawa stuffed her clothes and brand-name shoulder bag inside a waterproof bag, a dry cracking sound came from her hand and she pulled it back.
“Oops, I need to be more careful. …I scraped my index fingernail on the metal zipper. Where’s the repair solution? The manicure quick-drying repair solution?”
“That doesn’t matter.”
Kyousuke ignored the chemical she used to hide the scrape on her nail in just as few seconds like it was instant glue.
He was not going to let her avoid explaining herself here.
“I told you to obtain a diving outfit, didn’t I? I let you handle it on your own so you could keep your privacy about your measurements and such…but why are you wearing a racing swimsuit? We’re still more than a month away from the pools opening.”
“Eh? B-but! I couldn’t think of a more functional swimsuit… I-it’s not like I chose a bikini or something! I’m not just messing around!!”
She could not bear to have him stare at her with his blank expression, so she started covering different parts of her body with her hands, twisting around, running her fingers down the white accent line, and reaching down to fix the navy blue swimsuit where it was riding up in her butt.
Incidentally, Kyousuke was wearing a diving wetsuit that covered him from neck to toe. It was meant for special operations rather than leisure, so when he compared her swimsuit to him, he wanted to mock and curse her. In fact, it would have been harder to find a skintight racing swimsuit at the weapons trade show, but her efforts had been entirely misguided.
“And the scrunchie. You don’t want that getting soaked, do you?”
He felt nothing but worry as the vessel pouted her lips, reached behind her head, and redid her hair with a rubber hairband while needlessly pushing out her shapely breasts.
That bad feeling grew when she put the oxygen tank on her back.
He heard a strange shout and then Himekawa nearly fell backwards. He quickly supported her from behind and she started flailing her slender limbs. She was acting like a new part-timer wearing a full-body mascot costume for the first time. It would have been a normal sight back in Toy Dream 35, but it was a problem here.
“Please don’t tell me…”
“Wh-what is it, Kyousuke-kun?”
“This doesn’t mean you don’t know how to keep your balance in the water, does it?”
“U-um, well, I might be able to manage if I have a float or a kickboard.”
Kyousuke covered his face with his hands. This was a diving mission and he was only discovering this now. And since she was not even certain in her ability with a float, most likely…
“Can you not swim?”
“I-I can too! Or at least float. I can float! You shouldn’t give adults that pitying look! I can even do the flutter kick and bring my head up to breathe! Well, if the instructor is holding my hands…”
“Or are you just entirely useless?”
“Don’t call an adult that!!”
When he saw Himekawa mindlessly reach down toward the whistle attached to her sin necklace, Kyousuke covered her mouth with all his might. She’s worse than useless!! he concluded in his heart.
It looked like taking care of her was his only option.
Specifically, he had to pass his arms below hers to essentially embrace her as they swam together.
“This is kind of embarrassing. This swimsuit leaves my back pretty bare…”
“Don’t worry. I can only feel the metal oxygen tank.”
“Perhaps I should thank you for not asking to do this from the front.”
“That’s a good way to have the other person grab onto you so you both drown.”
With that, he began his dive through the crater lakes while carrying his heavy burden. It was a surprisingly long swim. The unchanging scenery of the dark manmade lakes made it seem all the longer. On the way, Himekawa Mika squirmed inside her skintight navy blue racing swimsuit, but Kyousuke restrained her and maintained a set pace.
The craters differed in size, but they were ten meters at the deepest. They could not take the most direct route to Pandemonium, so their path zigzagged between the center points of the complexly overlapping circles. The distance they traveled was greater than five kilometers and they had to be very careful so they did not forget which direction to go at each turning point.
(I’m sure it’s partially due to using underground water veins, but the water is pretty cold. I can’t force her through too much more of this.)
He could pick up his speed to be considerate, but rushing this would only hurt them.
If they ended up swimming in circles, she really could die.
He maintained that form of callousness and they finally arrived at their destination.
Kyousuke stuck his head up from the edge of the crater and removed the oxygen tank’s mouthpiece. They were near the tentacle-like propulsion device of the colossal Repliglass mobile fortress.
He let Himekawa Mika climb up first, but since she seemed to be having trouble doing so under the power of her own arms, he pushed up on her butt and thighs to force her up. He then climbed up after her, but she wrapped her arms around him before he could remove the oxygen tank on his back.
“Ah, ahh, so cold…chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter.”
“Didn’t I tell you? Your lips are blue. C’mon, there are towels in that waterproof bag, right? Using that would be more constructive.”
A guy and a girl warming each other with their skin in a snowy mountain was not all that effective in reality. Wiping off the moisture with one towel and then rubbing yourself with another towel for the frictional heat was more immediately effective. She was older than him, but he felt like he was dealing with a child.
(Another way that she’s a lot like that woman…)
Himekawa Mika simply let him do what he wished as she lay sprawled out on the ground in her racing swimsuit. Not that he wanted her to scream sexual harassment and blast her whistle when he was trying to help her.
After confirming she had recovered to a certain extent, Kyousuke shoved a waterproof bag into her arms.
“C’mon, hurry up and change before the heat escapes. You’ll be better off in your usual suit.”
“Please don’t tell me you need help with that too.”
Kyousuke immediately turned his back, pulled his hoodie and track pants from his own waterproof bag, and began to change. The wetsuit and oxygen tank would be a needless burden, so he did not want to carry them around. He hooked the bag’s string on a part of the crater’s edge and let the bag itself sink into the water.
He turned back around to find Himekawa had only just finished putting on her underwear. She must not have been thinking straight because she next started swapping out the rubber hairband for her scrunchie.
“Hurry up! Am I going to have to help you out after all!?”
“Heh…eh heh heh… Apparently I’m really a poikilotherm…”
She must not have had the energy to scream, “Kyah! Pervert!”, so she clearly needed to be wound back up as a human being. Her weak smile was so pitiful that Kyousuke did end up helping her into her clothes. This time he really was treating her like a child.
And then it was finally time to face their present goal.
That giant black mobile fortress measured more than 800 meters
The entrance was blocked by a thick Repliglass door much like one found at a bank vault.
Himekawa Mika seemed to have recovered somewhat because she intentionally tore her new stockings and then tapped on the back of her hips near her tailbone.
“Shall I break it open?”
“No, even if it was weakened quite a bit by the ridiculous method they used, this armor still survived an explosion from the Unexplored-class Lady of Purple Lightning. Hm, more than the material being solid, they’ve applied a special treatment to the surface. Just like magic circles guide the power according to a set of rules, I think the pattern here redirects the paranormal burden and dilutes it into the planet. And it’s also grounded against curses. Now, can we really take that on directly with a Divine-class?”
“According to the information we acquired, the entrance uses multiple biometrics such as fingerprint, pulse, and iris. I don’t know the exact process, but it would probably be fastest to find someone involved in all this. And fortunately, anyone who loses in the Summoning Ceremony enters a mindless state and can be guided like a zombie. We might just be able to draw out the information we need.”
With that, Kyousuke glanced to the side.
Himekawa did the same and finally noticed something.
A man and a girl slowly walked out from behind one of the tentacles supporting the fortress.
“Are you pawns of Pandemonium…no, of the Deltaston family that has infiltrated all three major powers?”
“Maybe,” answered the pompadour man.
He wore a baggy T-shirt and pants and he held a Blood-Sign made from ski material with a swollen metallic part on the bottom end.
“But first you can call us Government Award 501, Perfect Game!!”
Kyousuke pulled his Repliglass Blood-Sign from his back while also sticking a hand in his pocket and grabbing a weighty object the size of a coffee can.
It was an Incense Grenade.
No matter which major power his opponent belonged to or how many Awards they had, he would go all out to crush them.
“Mika, let’s defeat them as quickly as we can. They were nice enough to bring us the fingerprint and iris we needed.”
“That’s Mika-san, you damn kid!”
Kyousuke ignored his vessel’s unfair comment, pulled the pin, and dropped the metal can at his feet. In the five seconds before it detonated, he finished observing the surrounding space and came up with around 45 different ways of finishing within 30 seconds no matter where the 36 Spots appeared.
He heard the sound of shattering glass.
Only 0.4 seconds after Kyousuke’s Artificial Sacred Ground appeared, that field was smashed to pieces.
There were no White Thorns, Petals, Rose, or Spots. And Kyousuke himself froze in place for a moment with his Blood-Sign raised.
A roaring wind slipped through that gap. The summoner known as Perfect Game approached from straight head. At some point, he had changed how he held his weapon. He held what had been the upper end and he used the metallic stabilizer as a weight. He spun his body like a tornado and the Blood-Sign made of glass fiber bent like a fishing rod. The blunt weapon had built up power like a spring and it approached like a morning star.
This called for a change of plans.
Kyousuke adjusted his grip to hold his Repliglass Blood-Sign like a staff and blocked the blow that would have landed on the side of his head.
The two summoners who used even the gods as stepping stones glared at each other from a distance of only a few dozen centimeters.
The mass of athletic muscle smiled fiercely.
“Did you think a Government 500-level would be an easy win?”
“You probably wouldn’t understand, Mr. All-Powerful Freedom 900-Level. It’s not that I know why I’m bound to win this. I’m carrying the great weight of knowing why I can’t afford to lose.”
A strange feeling ran down Kyousuke’s spine.
He obeyed that danger signal and focused on something in the corner of his vision: Perfect Game’s vessel. The small glasses girl had blonde hair and brown skin and she wore a black and orange Halloween witch’s hat, a sleeved cape, a bright orange camisole, and a combination of black hot pants and an ultra-miniskirt with a jagged bottom to cover her butt. She was not hiding behind anything or covering her face. She had been standing right in front of him from the beginning, so why had it taken until just now to recognize that girl with swimsuit tan lines?
“Incense Expert Ellie Slide!! Did you screw with my perception!?”
The girl grinned. It was a mocking grin.
She stuck out her tongue and a piercing wetly glittered upon it.
The Incense Grenades that set up an Artificial Sacred Ground differed between summoners and they were private information on the same level as fingerprints and irises. That made them impossible to mass-produce, so the summoner either had to mix their own or hire a specialist. Ellie Slide was one such specialist. At her level, she could probably use the composition of a personal Incense Grenade to mix up some incense that would negate it.
Ellie Slide dragged around an armor-breaking axe that beat down its enemies with its weight.
A closer look showed the axe’s handle was shaped like a smoking pipe and several small bottles were inserted into the back of the one-sided axe blade. It was likely made to efficiently spray out an incense vapor created with the same process as an electronic cigarette. And an axe that doubled as a pipe was an important ritual tool used when Native Americans tribes made decisions.
She controlled it with the flute-like keys on the silver handle and the trigger released a spray. The chocolate witch with the alluring swimsuit tan lines spoke while releasing a sweet aroma.
“Surely you know who I am and what I do, Alice’s Guide. Personal views of good and evil and the benefit or detriment to any major power will not stop me. I simply find a summoner I believe can reach Award 1000 and bind a contract with them. If they do not live up to my expectations, I simply discard them.”
Also, incense itself was burned during Western magical rituals to separate the area from the world and help the user enter a trance. An expert like her would be able to alter someone’s mind enough to erase the name of the person standing right in front of them.
Her fingers raced along the handle.
The caps of the small bottles inserted into the back of the blade were pushed in like cylinders and the liquid inside shined wetly.
“And you remember my own nickname, don’t you? Amplifier 500. …I am known in this field as a vessel who can increase the upper limits of my summoner by about 500 Awards. Now, a question. When Max Layard here introduced himself, what Award level did he say he was?”
“You heard her.” Max grinned. “Everyone has a reason they can’t afford to lose. Don’t just assume you’ve got a monopoly on that, Alice (with) Rabbit!!”
To avoid being pushed back by brute force, Kyousuke fell back himself.
Pompadour Max did not bother pursuing.
“But I’ll do whatever it takes to win! That’s why I’m known as Perfect Game!! Even a Freedom 900-level will be blown to bits if he’s hit by an Unexplored-class’s power without a protective circle. Here’s a taste of what D.R.O.K. has to offer!!!!!”
There was no sound.
There was only light. Kyousuke first glanced at the pattern racing across his body and then he looked across the entire dark field. He saw a magic circle several hundred meters across and a stealth bomber flew by while blending into the dark sky.
Himekawa Mika looked up in her tight skirt and then grew pale.
“A Government summon bombing!? In the demonstration, they summoned the Lady of Purple Lightning without a vessel so its power would sweep across a fixed area!!”
It was unclear how Max and Ellie of Perfect Game intended to escape the dome-shaped blast formed from raw power not filtered through a vessel’s body, but if the bombing was triggered now, Kyousuke and Himekawa would be hit by the destructive power of an unexplored-class.
“That’s Mika-san! And…kyah!?”
There was no countdown.
The attack arrived immediately.
The purple flash of light created a new crater 300 meters across.
Max Layard and Ellie Slide had created this situation, but it had been risky for them as well. Once before, Pandemonium had been accidentally hit by the bomber and survived. That massive structure resembled a giant coffin or a giant squid. It was possible to survive if they immediately sent the exorcism request to keep the bombing time to a minimum and sheltered behind one of the giant tentacles, but they were still bringing the fury of an Unexplored-class down on top of them without a protective circle. The more one knew about the Summoning Ceremony, the more mind-numbingly terrifying that was.
But Max laughed.
Even if he had to force it.
“Heh… That was an Unexplored-class, the Lady of Purple Lightning. I won’t even bother checking if you’re alive. You might be a legend, but no human body could survive-…”
He was not even given time to finish his sentence.
After a light sound of impact, the pompadour man looked down and saw the tip of a Repliglass Blood-Sign neatly buried in his solar plexus.
Just as he started choking, the tip shot up. Guided by the hands of the boy holding it, it powerfully collided with Max’s chin and knocked his head upwards.
“Bhahah!? Ah, goh! Wha-!?”
Max writhed on the ground, but his confusion was greater than the pain or suffering.
How had Shiroyama Kyousuke avoided utter annihilation?
Given his location, Max doubted the boy could have hidden behind one of Pandemonium’s tentacles. He should have been standing in the very center of the blast.
“Pandemonium didn’t survive the summon bombing because of how hard its armor is. Just like ultra-high temperature plasma, that blast is far beyond anything a wall that thick can handle. The surface was treated with a certain type of magic circle that redirected the Lady of Purple Lighting's power into the earth like an electrical ground.”
Kyousuke spun his Blood-Sign around and rested it on his shoulder.
“I understood the theory and I had the perfect reference material right in front of my eyes. All I had to do was analyze it and make it my own. Scraping out the shape on the ground with my foot was enough. …Of course, this only worked because the summon bombing technique is so wasteful that the blast is weakened a fair bit. If that had been properly summoned with the Blood-Sign method, not even a trace of us would remain.”
That was not as simple as he made it sound.
In fact, was it even possible for a human mind and limbs to pull it off? It was a lot like taking the pattern printed on a silicon wafer and reproducing the circuit by hand in the hopes of building the same processor.
It was impossible. It just could not be done.
This was not an issue of skill as a summoner. He lacked the necessary tools.
No scientist could research a pathogen without a microscope.
No doctor could save a patient without surgical tools.
Kyousuke was essentially saying he had seen the pathogen with the naked eye and opened the patient’s stomach with his fingers. Even at the 900-level, could someone really do something so inhuman?
There was one way.
There was a filter glass used to read magic circles more detailed than a high-density LSI. It was covered in an identical number of precise grooves that would interact with the grooves of the circle to draw out a unique pattern visible to the naked eye. There was an invention that stamped a random string of numbers or letters over the name or address of the letter’s recipient to hide that personal information, but this was more or less the opposite. Perhaps it was like taking a barcode that was not normally human readable and processing it so the information could be read with the naked eye.
But fewer than 20 filter glasses were said to exist in all of Government and they cost far more than the average electron microscope. They were a complex combination of lenses, prisms, and mirrors made from a great quantity of glass, crystal, and jewels, so the materials alone took up more space than a school building. If the design was stretched out to the point that it could be read with the naked eye, it was said it would make a full circuit of the earth.
So this had to be a bluff.
Max Layard forced himself to assume that, but…
Something fluttered in the wind.
It looked like a thin translucent film.
And Kyousuke held a hand mirror he had likely taken from his female vessel.
For old gramophones, the waveforms of voices were recorded by touching a needle against a disk covered in a thin layer of wax.
And the glass in a hand mirror would vibrate when someone spoke.
If he covered the hand mirror with a quick-drying manicure repair solution that acted much like instant glue and then spoke right into it, the amplitude might be carved into that thin film.
If Shiroyama Kyousuke had fully memorized a filter glass’s designs, which would be more detailed than a silicon wafer…
And if he could use the amplitude of his voice to perfectly output those designs…
What if he peeled the repair solution from the mirror and held it in front of his eyes like sunglasses?
“Ahhhhhhh!! You’re kidding…you’ve got to be kidding! That’s not possible! Are you saying you used your voice…just your voice against the mirror coated with repair solution to create an analysis filter glass!? But those are supposed to cost more than your average electron microscope!!”
It was sometimes said that a skilled craftsman’s fingers could surpass the limits of factory machinery.
But could he believe that now that he had seen it for himself?
Could he believe that this boy had used his voice to easily draw out a geometric pattern so complex that even Government had only been able to create 20 of them?
Kyousuke spat out his response.
“Compared to that Queen’s productivity, this is child’s play.”
They simply lived in different worlds. The enemy they were prepared to fight was entirely different.
And it went beyond that.
Even if he had finished the analysis with that superhuman finesse, when had he put together his own theory?
Where had he actually drawn it out?
Altogether, hadn’t he had less than 10 seconds to work with? In that miniscule amount of time, he had caught up to the theoretical defense system of Pandemonium’s armor which had taken who knows how many hours to design and cost who knows how much money to build. How advanced was his mind, his hands, and every last part of him?
“Th-th-th-…!! Th-th-th-that-th-th-that’s not a very nice joke, dammit!!”
“Can you explain which part of this you think is worth laughing about?”
With that cold comment, Kyousuke pulled the pin from an Incense Grenade and tossed it away. Before Max could prepare his Blood-Sign again, he looked over at his partner Ellie Slide who was still sitting on the ground. Instead of telling her it was time to fight, it was clearly a negative act of confirming that she could use her interfering incense to avoid the fight.
And the incense expert and vessel girl only sighed quietly.
Kyousuke gave the answer for her.
“Do you really think Ellie’s incense is still floating around after that blast?”
“…It might be time to find a new summoner.”
Even his own vessel gave an exasperated comment as she calmly pulled a new small bottle from her belt.
A moment later, the Artificial Sacred Ground expanded and Alice (with) Rabbit’s Blood-Sign gave a roar.
Defeating an opponent was simple when they had lost both their will to fight and their nerve.
In fact, it may not even qualify as a fight at that point.
After receiving the shock of seeing the god he worshiped slaughtered before his eyes, Max slowly wandered around like a zombie. As Kyousuke guided him with the tip of his Blood-Sign, the man unsteadily approached the side of Pandemonium’s thick entrance door and pulled out an authorization pad hidden there. After he released several locks, Kyousuke and Himekawa slipped inside.
“We’re inside now, but they had to have noticed that. An order was sent to the bomber and we fought inside an Artificial Sacred Ground. This clearly doesn’t qualify as covert anymore!!”
“That just means we need to change our plans. Either way, I never thought we could settle all of this in secret. It was only a matter of time.”
After all, the Repliglass structure was more than 800 meters across and even more if the “tentacles” were included. Two nuclear aircraft carriers would fit inside end to end, but unlike a ship, no thought had been given to a low center of gravity, fuel efficiency, or wave-making resistance. Its width and height had been expanded so much that it had become an unimaginably vast space.
Ships and airplanes tended to eliminate any unneeded volume, but Pandemonium seemed to be an exception. The corridors were needlessly wide and the rooms were all large. It was apparently a giant Box capable of supporting almost all of the bizarre summoning techniques demonstrated at D.R.O.K., so it had to be a largescale system.
And thus it had plenty of hiding places, so Kyousuke and Himekawa were not easily found even with search teams from Government, Illegal, and Freedom running around.
“Now that we’re inside, the rest is easy. We just have to get to the other side of the door leading to the central processor core where the 353 vessels are.”
“But how? You saw the diagram. Pandemonium’s sections are restricted at different levels, so moving between them won’t be easy. Plus, they’re on full alert and there are summoners everywhere. How are we supposed to travel safely through the facility now!?”
“That’s what makes it so easy.” Kyousuke pulled out the metal can of an Incense Grenade. “With that many summoners around, we just have to keep a Chain going while we safely break into the depths of the facility inside the protective circle. The greater the density of summoners, the easier it is to keep that Chain going. There are doors in the way? There are traps? Don’t you think we can break through all of that by summoning a high cost Material?”
Himekawa was overwhelmed by how simple he made it sound.
He was assuming he could defeat every last enemy even if there was 100 or 1000 of them, and even if that included anything from a Government Award 100 to a Freedom Award 900. But he was not being irrational or giving into wishful thinking. He had simply chosen that card as the optimal plan.
And then something like lightning dropped toward Himekawa Mika’s head.
The loud boom only sounded after a short delay.
Himekawa flinched back a half tempo later, but she was unharmed. The Blood-Sign made of ski material with a metal stabilizer had been blocked by Kyousuke’s Repliglass Blood-Sign.
It was a large man with a familiar black pompadour.
It was the summoner who should have been in a mindless state after being defeated with the Blood-Sign method.
But Max Layard showed no sign of that loss.
He made full use of his logic and intelligence for the very human purposes of winning through trickery.
“Another form of cheating with Ellie Slide’s incense, huh? I guess I should have expected that from an expert at strengthening summoners. How convenient is she!?”
As Kyousuke cursed, Max pulled a pineapple-shaped Incense Grenade from his pocket and threw it. Kyousuke could not immediately react after losing his balance protecting Himekawa, so he could only watch.
Wherever Ellie Slide was hiding, she was drawn in as the vessel when it detonated.
This time, Perfect Game had begun the battle.
And by the time Kyousuke had raised his Blood-Sign, some other summoners butted in from hiding. They sacrificed their White Thorns to enter someone else’s Artificial Sacred Ground even if it put them at a disadvantage.
Government Award 501, Perfect Game.
Illegal Award 808, Lionheart.
Freedom Award 897, Harem Collector 98.
Kyousuke smiled thinly as he viewed them as three coordinated enemies instead of individual summoners.
“I don’t want you complaining this isn’t fair. There’s no rule saying summoner battles have to be one-on-one, and none of us can afford to lose!!”
Perfect Game spat out that response, but Kyousuke actually liked that.
This man was willing to work toward his victory, try out any method available to him, and use his own strength to clear a path through any hierarchy or barrier a third party placed in front of him. This was the very strength of being human.
White Thorns were launched simultaneously from three directions and the boxy three-dimensional Rose shattered. The 216 fist-sized red balls of light known as Petals scattered in every direction.
The Blood-Sign method generally had a rock-paper-scissors structure.
So in a one-against-many situation, the multiple enemies could summon Materials from the high, middle, and low sound ranges to guarantee they had the individual’s weakness. It was rock-paper-scissors with no ties, so a group or organization had the upper hand.
However, multiple solid sounds followed.
Kyousuke had launched his White Thorn toward his enemy’s White Thorn instead of any of the Petals.
Who was it that shouted that?
That single shot ricocheted again and again as it knocked all three enemy summoners’ White Thorns off course. They knocked Petals into Spots, but not the intended ones. The Petals a summoner had acquired could generally be rearranged at will and used whenever they wanted, but the very first Material was a different matter. Or rather, it would be suicide to not immediately use it because their protective circle would not appear, their vessel would remain human, and they would be instantly killed by the very first attack.
All three of them began with the Original Green (k). Sound Range: Middle. Cost: 1.
They were shocked to see identical three meter gelatinous Materials.
Meanwhile, Kyousuke had the Armored Beast (dr – zx). Sound Range: High. Cost: 4. As the name suggested, it was a Regulation-class shaped like a ferocious lion made of golden Western armor.
Kyousuke had the higher cost and the superior sound range.
At this rate, his enemies’ superior numbers would barely matter.
He simply had to strike the weaker sound range to mow them all down like grass.
“But it’s kind of sad.”
Kyousuke spoke just before the clash.
He honestly respected the pompadour man who would accept any cowardly or cheap method because he could not afford to lose.
But he still spoke.
“And yet this is almost adorable compared to my stubborn but futile struggles against the Queen.”
Finally, the metal lion roared and mowed everything down with its violent fangs and claws.
“I suppose you wouldn’t know why we’re here, would you?”
And back to the next day in the present.
Max Layard and Ellie Slide of Perfect Game once more appeared in front of Pandemonium and threw a pineapple-shaped Incense Grenade in front of Shiroyama Kyousuke.
It detonated and an Artificial Sacred Ground appeared.
36 Spots appeared and a three-dimensional Rose made from 216 Petals appeared in the center. The battle between summoners was finally beginning.
“I know who you are…!!”
Except the White Queen’s blank expression ruined it all.
A deafening roar followed.
The pompadour man voiced his confusion just as he used all his strength to launch a White Thorn with his Blood-Sign.
The Rose had vanished.
Pure white claw marks had torn into space itself and nothing else remained.
And the White Queen had clearly transformed a portion of her dress.
She sounded incredibly bored.
Something like the upper body of a carnivorous dinosaur rose several dozen meters tall and attacked Max from above. Its jaws and fangs filled his vision. Without a protective circle, this would kill him instantly. No, even with one, this would have chewed him to pieces!!
Max Layard shouted and rolled out of the way, but that was not enough to stop the peak of the Unexplored-class.
He only survived because Kyousuke embraced the twintail girl from the side. Rather than stopping, the White Queen blushed and her aim veered off course. The green earth half a step to Max’s side was mercilessly devoured and the most basic structure of the world itself was torn away into pure whiteness.
“Goddammit! Boss!! To Pandemonium’s tentacle!!”
Panicked, Max reached toward his ear. But rather than an earpiece, an athlete’s webcam was attached there.
Or perhaps it was a unit for transmitting his location and asking for bombing support.
“The Queen might be protecting you, but you’ve got no protective circle. If we hit you with another Unexplored-class’s power…”
A bright light shined down and drew some optical art on the grassy field. This constructed a magic circle several hundred meters across and Pandemonium’s power was used to summon the Lady of Purple Lightning without a vessel so that her exposed power would expand in an explosion.
But the White Queen was unfazed.
In fact, it was difficult to imagine ever seeing her fazed.
Another portion of her dress transformed.
The elegantly decorative cloth made a rod shape. She held it like a baseball bat and swung it like a clever girl who chose to visit a batting cage on a date and made a show of her poor skills to get the boy to give her a hands-on lesson.
“Claaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaang! goes the bat.”
Something unbelievable happened.
The purple explosion twisted.
When the bat hit the dome, it was squished in like a rubber ball and the spreading Unexplored-class power was contained. It was allowed to escape away from the Queen, so it was blasted up toward a point in the blue sky. This had nothing to do with placing the exorcism circle on top of it. The fluffy white clouds were entirely blown away, the bomber itself was nearly vaporized, and the power was knocked outside the atmosphere. The Lady of Purple Lightning would have been acting like a strobe light at the center, so she had likely been carried away with it.
Once she finished swinging, the White Queen wiped her brow with the back of her hand as if she had worked up a sweat. At some point and for some reason, her changeable clothing had become a bikini that showed off her bright skin.
She looked back with a wink and a smile.
“What did you think, brother? That was a sneak peek at my summer break watermelon splitting skills☆”
She was making a mockery of the whole affair.
Meanwhile, Max Layard of Perfect Game was legitimately in tears.
His pompadour had grown as limp as damp paper.
“Wha-wha-but!? What!? Th-that was…that was supposed to be another Unexplored-class!!”
Kyousuke found himself staring off into the distance.
It seemed Max had never seen the real deal before. He would have lived a happy life if his ignorance had continued, so Kyousuke felt kind of bad giving him this dark blot in his life.
And he could not exactly rejoice at this situation.
He could already sense the distortion that the White (Bikini) Queen had set in place.
She held the bat in both hands and wiggled the tip around as if waiting for just the right timing.
“Hey, hey, heyyy!! Get in the way of this date with my brother and I’ll knock you all the way to Pluto. You’ll stab straight into that icy land, so when some obsessed astronomer spots you, there’ll be rumors about a frightening man-faced rock, you dimwit!!”
“Also, it seems my brother wants to get inside this garbage castle, so I’ll be destroying this rude gate that isn’t welcoming us properly. Take this☆”
An explosive sound slammed into the world.
The bat grew.
The slender swimsuit girl did not even move her hips when she swung the blunt weapon. It was a completely comical motion, but Pandemonium’s thick door split apart like styrofoam despite enduring a blast from the Lady of Purple Lightning. A fragment larger than a refrigerator nearly crushed Max and he seemed to have lost all will to fight. He grabbed Ellie Slide under his arm and made a run for it despite the personal items he was dropping along the way.
Kyousuke remained silent for a while, but the White Queen swung the white bat around in one hand while giving off a powerful “praise me” aura with a beaming smile on her face.
“Okay, brother. I opened the way for you. Shouldn’t you rub my head a little and hold your head high at how wonderful your girlfriend is?”
“…Yeah, that would be what you were after with this,” spat out Kyousuke with a hand on his forehead. “It’s true I’m more or less invincible right now. I can exterminate any summoner and destroy the thickest doors and cruelest traps with a single word. …But none of it is my power. Queen, you’re trying to make people hate me so much that I can’t remain safe without your power, aren’t you?”
The bat and bikini returned to her original dress and the silver twintail girl clapped her hands together in front of her chest.
And she spoke with a carefree smile on her face.
“What a silly thing to say, brother. I’m not trying to do anything. Every part of me – from every hair on my head to the very center of my soul – already belongs to you.”
Kyousuke shook his head.
What if the White Queen was his and he became a special being who had that power? There were countless summoners who mistakenly thought they could do that and it never worked out well for them. They assumed acquiring the Queen would make them almighty, happy, and victorious. If that was all they saw in it, they were almost guaranteed to fail before even meeting her.
It was a lot like being unable to live without air conditioning, online shopping, and GPS-linked map apps after starting to use them.
Convenience was a black hole that could twist the human heart.
Shiroyama Kyousuke told himself to never give in to temptation and to maintain himself. If he relied on that even once, it was all over.
“Brother, what are your plans now?”
The White Queen’s clothing wriggled around her.
And it changed form in the blink of an eye.
“Go, go, brother. Lovely☆”
“Why are you a cheerleader with pompoms in your hands?”
“To inspire you with courage, brother. Take a look at this physical beauty and all its healthy athleticism☆”
“Oh, you don’t like it? Would you be more inspired by something a little less healthy? Then how about a bunny girl, a nurse, a maid, a waitress, a naked apron, or a kunoichi?”
Her outfit really did change as she made each suggestion, so there was nothing he could say. Kyousuke was truly fed up with the presentation of transforming seduction, so he focused on his thoughts.
The answer was right in front of him.
If he entered the door the White Queen had destroyed, searched the place, and defeated any summoners who came running, he would learn everything he wanted to know.
But he felt a chill run down his spine.
He could not take the first step which should have been the easiest part.
If he crossed the border just a few meters ahead of him, he would be safely protected from this hellish battlefield. He could see no enemies in any direction and this would be his only chance. But if he crossed that border, he knew a laser bombardment would mercilessly blast him from outside the atmosphere.
A normal person would not have noticed and been blown away.
But Kyousuke could see beyond the blue sky.
(If I keep going, I’ll gather too much negative attention. It won’t just be the Deltaston family; the entire world will bare its fangs against me. That wouldn’t be a problem with the Queen on my side, but that would mean she had a situation where she’s my only hope. Giving into temptation here is too dangerous. I won’t be able to break my dependence on the Queen afterwards.)
Kyousuke breathed a heavy sigh.
“…I don’t need your help.”
He rejected her, but the silver twintail girl looked happy as she reverted to her original clothing. She may have been fine with anything so long as he was interacting with her.
Being with the White Queen is far too dangerous, he concluded anew. She did not even need to do anything special. This was D.R.O.K., an international trade show where tens of thousands of summoners and vessels had gathered. That meant everyone here knew her value. Simply walking around with her and keeping her to himself could easily create an explosion of any number of emotions: jealousy, envy, hatred, fear, etc. And if enough of that built up, it could even begin a riot that could only be stopped with the Queen’s power. Once that began, it might spread outside of D.R.O.K. An all-out war with the Deltaston family was one thing, but Kyousuke did not want to make an enemy of the entire world.
It pained him to turn away from the shortest path, but he changed how he looked at this.
“I’ll have to go at this from a different angle.”
The White Queen gave a meaningful wink and murmur (and just like a mysterious book of prophecy, trying to read deeper meaning into it was enough to fall into its trap) and Kyousuke crouched down. Max Layard of Perfect Game had dropped a few personal items. Kyousuke picked up the smartphone he found. He used a few special techniques to deactivate the fingerprint authorization and then glanced through the data. It was entirely for work use, so it was made to open doors just by holding it up to an IC reader and it hosted the webcam that supported the bomber.
He operated the touchscreen, compared the data with the current situation, and commented on what he found.
“This is weird. This is really weird.”
“What is it?”
Kyousuke ignored the bright white smile and thought to himself.
Then he decided on a plan.
“I can’t charge blindly into Pandemonium.”
“Hee hee hee, hee hee hee hee hee! Oh, brother, you’re so adorable. Why would you walk away from the conclusion when it’s right in front of you? Do you want to enjoy our date a little longer?”
That sounded like a cruel joke, but with the White Queen, she really might wipe out humanity over something so “trivial”.
He did not let her influence him and he focused on what he had to do.
A large entrance sat open before his eyes. It was Pandemonium’s entrance and it was the shortest route to the truth. But he used all his strength to shake free of that spider web of temptation. The Queen had freely opened that path for him, so there had to be a catch. And not just some vague idea. It would be dangerous to take action until he knew what exactly that catch was. No matter how rushed, impatient, and hurried he felt, he could not settle for the easy way out and he needed the strength to step back from that powerful attraction.
“I need to start my attack with someone who probably knows more about this than anyone else. That Perfect Game pair would have worked, but they’ve probably gone into hiding. And I can’t exactly search for them while dragging around the Queen who is more noticeable than the sun. I’ll have to check elsewhere.”
“So where exactly are you going, brother?”
The boy did not hesitate to answer his worst possible partner.
“The big boss who infiltrated the three major powers and set up this farce they call the Divine Right of Kings. I’m going straight for the head of the Deltaston family.”
Kyousuke’s top priority was to confirm the safety of Himekawa Mika and the rest of the 353 vessels in Pandemonium.
There was a decent chance that Himekawa was inside the White Queen, but that was only a theory and he had no proof.
He wanted more information to help fill in his missing memories and arrive at the truth.
To do that, he needed to directly attack someone from the Deltaston family that was running the Pandemonium project. Instead of starting at the center, he would part the forgetful waters of Lethe from the outer edges.
That was his plan.
“Oh, my. Brother, they’re selling fried bananas. You can fry bananas? But they’re fruit!”
Kyousuke tried to empty his mind as the White Queen clung to his arm and expressed interest in the food for sale. The summoners and vessels in the crowd grew needlessly noisy once more.
“Her Majesty!? Kh, but would it be best for her if I didn’t bother her now…!?”
“Gozaru, gozaru. …If the Queen stirred things up, maybe I could escape my current standstill…”
“I won’t bother her, but what if I stood right at the edge of her view? Sh-she’s looking at meeeeeeeee!!”
Kyousuke immediately tried to leave, but the Queen grinned and pinned him to the spot like an anchor. He struggled for a bit, but he finally concluded buying her some fried fruit in a paper package was more cost effective than cutting off his arm.
“Hm, hm. The texture is so different when it’s fried. Would you call this a snack or a kind of chips?”
“That’s a banana with vegetable oil, so it’s loaded with calories.”
“And it comes with vanilla ice cream, so you never get tired of it. It’s hot but cold! Look, brother, you try this new texture too. Say ‘ah’☆”
“And they give you so much of it… Why are you in such a good mood, anyway? Oh, is it because the banana flesh, the fried coating, and the vanilla ice cream are all white?”
“Hee hee. The White Queen loves bananas!!”
“I won’t stop you, but still…”
“U-um, brother? Isn’t that being a little cruel? I know I’m in an extra good mood because of this date, but don’t you have too many fantasies about how girls are supposed to be?”
That had nothing to do with this.
Kyousuke walked through the noisy crowd with the White Queen, but the silver twintail girl completely ignored them.
“Hee hee. Ee hee hee. I can’t believe I’m walking next to you like this, brother… I think I’m going to get greedy and stand on your right side. Hee hee. Your dominant hand is all mine! I am the center of your being!!”
No matter where he went, the White Queen was too conspicuous. And only an incense expert like Ellie Slide could prevent expert summoners and vessels from recognizing them to travel incognito. It was less than ideal for pursuing or being pursued by someone. It was like wrapping Christmas lights around your body and running around the mountains at night to hunt timid baby deer.
But there were people whose position would prevent them from fleeing.
For example, the head of the noble Deltaston family.
The greater the VIP the more meaning each and every one of their actions held. Someone that important would not be allowed to remove his fan from his face even if a hurricane was approaching. The juvenile concept of “being mocked” was mostly seen during the so-called “gang age”, but at his level, it was a major concern that could make a small crack in the dam and lead to a revolt.
“A top-class hotel with a casino, an opera house, and a pool salon? The cheapest rooms are the suites and the fanciest is the Excellently Royal Special Breezing-… What is with this name? It sounds like a coffee with lots of cream on top.”
“Whatever it is, it’s still just a collection of containers.”
Kyousuke looked up at the giant structure.
It was indeed a stack of boxy containers, but each one was larger than a school gym. And in some cases, the inner walls had been torn down to connect them together. They were not stacked evenly, so effort had been made to give it a modern art look.
“Officially, it’s a social gathering place where Government, Illegal, and Freedom can stay to make connections, but the Deltaston family is involved in all of it. I bet the one family has the entire place to themselves. …And they’re even running a musical based on the legend of the White Queen. I’m not sure if that’s having awful taste or just plain insane…”
“Brother, why not upgrade your room? If we’re going to be flirting, I want at least a king-sized bed. Oh, but having to share a single futon in a tiny room would be great too…”
“Is that all you ever think about?”
“Y-you have it all wrong!! It’s important to start by bringing our feelings together with a kiss!!”
The best way to defend against attacks, abductions, and assassinations was to hide your location, but a VIP could not do that. It would be a problem if people assumed they were hiding because they were scared. That was why the location of the palace or residence of a nation’s leader would be public knowledge. Locating them was easy and they were almost never allowed to flee. That made paying them a visit simple. …Assuming, that is, you had enough power to break through the thick walls.
“So how are you going to do this, brother? I will simply be following you around, so are you going with the standard plan of breaking through this flimsy paper box and dragging your target out of the rubble?”
“How is that the standard plan?”
“Oh, but if you go the front desk and tell them the peak of the Unexplored-class is kindly paying them a visit, they might roll out the red carpet and show us right in.”
“That’s exactly what would happen, so I’m not doing that.”
The White Queen worked just as well as a master key here. She could force anything through for him, but it would also explosively increase the negative attention he received. If the White Queen decided to leave for some reason, he would be destroyed by the hatred and jealousy of both the Deltaston family and the entire world, so he would be forced into a pathetic life of dependency on and servitude to the Queen.
So Kyousuke steeled his resolve and reminded himself not to include the Queen’s power in his calculations.
“Wherever it’s located, the structure of a hotel makes it easy to sneak in. This way, Queen.”
“Boo. Sneaking in the back way goes against my principles. Besides, I doubt even hiding on the dark side of the moon would mask my presence.”
“We don’t need to hide.”
She went along with his vaguely-described plan.
Kyousuke circled behind the hotel and boldly turned the emergency door’s knob. It was not locked, but opening it set off an alarm. However, he did not panic and the two of them slipped inside the closest linen room. They were inside a giant container, but the interior was made to hide that fact. Wallpaper and carpet covered the walls and floor and it looked just like a luxury hotel. Kyousuke saw a large washing machine, dryer, and pushcart along the wall. He borrowed a blank cream-colored cardkey he spotted along with the cleaning team’s personal items.
“Hotels have far more master keys than normal apartment buildings. It isn’t all that well known, but they go missing all the time. We can get in anywhere with this, so it seems pretty careless of them.”
“Hmm. But isn’t a stealth mission physically impossible with me tagging along? If we walk another 20m, the entire world will find out and we’ll be rushed by passionate worshipers and the paparazzi. Since I am not in an Artificial Sacred Ground, I show up on cameras and sensors, so this is the perfect chance to make some holy icons.”
“You don’t need to worry about that.”
As Kyousuke spoke, he grabbed a bath towel, a toolbox, and a roll of duct tape he found in the linen room.
The formally ringing alarm automatically stopped.
The White Queen watched in interest to see what he was doing and he immediately took her back out into the hallway. The silver twintail girl spoke like a navigator.
“I sense something at the door on the left 15 meters ahead. It’s going to open.”
That was exactly what happened.
Instead of a guest room, the door likely led to a break room or kitchenette for employees. The door opened outwards and someone started to stick their head out.
“Okay, brother. What are you going to-…wahyah!?”
The Queen’s voice was cut off by Kyousuke grabbing her silver twintail head and roughly tousling her hair all around. Not only did he mess up her hair, but he threw the bath towel at her.
With the toolbox and duct tape in hand, Kyousuke put on a deeper and gravelly voice. Instead of running or hiding from the maid-like cleaner woman, he actually approached her.
“We only have 20 minutes until rehearsal, so what do you mean you got lost!? You wanted to take a smoke to calm your nerves? I can’t believe what I’m hearing! You’re in your stage costume! You’ll ruin it with the yellow cigarette resin. You can’t let your guard down just because we have a spare. Who knows what other trouble we’ll run across before the performance!!”
The White Queen looked utterly bewildered and Kyousuke bowed toward the cleaning lady as they passed by.
“Sorry about all the noise. You know how things can be, so please forgive us! …C’mon, you bow too. We’ve set foot in a professional’s territory!! Now let’s get to the rehearsal! Honestly, the kid I’m dressed as is called Alice (with) Rabbit, right? I’m just the prop guy, so think how I must feel dressing up to help you practice. I had to skip lunch for this and I’m not even getting paid for it!!”
As he grabbed her slender arms and tugged her forward, the Queen’s cheeks grew red.
Kyousuke ignored it as he made his smartphone ring and pretended to answer it.
“What is it now!? …Oh, producer? Yes, I found that stubborn woman!! You need to chew her out too. We can’t have that legendary White Queen squatting behind the hotel smoking a cigarette!! She’s dressed like a world famous individual, so we’d get a flood of complaints if someone got a photo!! How would we explain that to our sponsors!?”
Kyousuke continued feigning chitchat as he and the Queen passed by the cleaning lady. Their abnormal outfits backed up their story and the phone created an invisible barrier that prevented her from asking any questions.
Kyousuke made his way to the employee elevator and the White Queen giggled with the bath towel over her head.
“I see. So being famous can come in handy sometimes. Isn’t – that – right – brother?”
“I’m not like you. You’re the one that’s standing out.”
“A-and, brother, can you tousle my hair again!?”
“Cling to me too much and it’ll mess with our supposed ‘roles’ of actress and prop guy. …No, wait. This might actually be better. If it looks like we’re secret lovers, she might accept why we were sneaking around out back.”
The White Queen started glowing, so Kyousuke frantically shoved her into the employee elevator.
They would normally need a cardkey to visit a special floor, but that was only for the guest elevators. For convenience’s sake, the employee one allowed anyone to visit any floor. …And needing a cardkey would not matter when all the employees had a master key in the first place.
“P-pat me, pat me!! Please pat my head some more, brother! …But some information will remain saying we were wandering around an off limits area. Once they realize the cardkey is missing, won’t we be the first people they suspect? Pat me, pat me! Come on, pat me, pat me!!”
“The door has closed, so we don’t need to keep up the act. …And how would they find us? They would go after the real musical group in the hotel’s opera house, wouldn’t they? And how would that lead them to us? By the time the Deltaston family’s bodyguard team begins searching some innocent stranger’s possessions, we’ll be done here.”
“Eh heh heh. So you’re willing to frame people as long as their name will be cleared in the end? You really are crazy in your own way, brother☆”
“You have no right whatsoever to call anyone crazy.”
This was not a high-rise structure made of reinforced concrete, so the elevator reached the floor they wanted in no time.
Much like Aika’s apartment, the space was the size of a school building and took up the entire floor. But by the time they reached the one and only entrance used by both the employee and guest elevators, Kyousuke could tell something was not right.
“…I knew it.”
“Knew what, brother?”
“Why wasn’t there a single bodyguard? This is the palace for the king who built this temporary city for tens of thousands of summoners and vessels!”
Kyousuke recalled Max Layard’s smartphone he had acquired before coming here.
It had contained a fair amount of information, but something else had caught his interest.
Perfect Game should have been closer than anyone to Government here and thus to the Deltaston family, but they had not received a single call or message that looked like it might have been about a job. Almost like the organization itself was not functioning. If Kyousuke’s memories were accurate, there had been a fair number of summoners and vessels inside Pandemonium, but there was not even an email about delivering food or living supplies.
That may have only been a small oddity.
It may not have been worth turning back when Pandemonium was right in front of his eyes and the truth was within reach.
But that was wrong.
Even that had required the strength to turn back.
Ignoring a slight problem in order to reach for a great prize was like ignoring the risk of losing control and grabbing the White Queen’s hand while assuming he could manage it without any proof that was the case. If he let those thoughts tempt him, he would be swallowed up before he knew it.
It was because he was faced with an amazing opportunity that he had to make extra certain he did not lose sight of himself.
And he had made it this far, even if it had required a boring detour.
He used the cleaning master key to open the door and stepped inside, but he only found a painful silence. He checked the living room that had a full home theater system, the kitchen that was far too large for only preparing drinks and snacks, a bath so large it looked more like a pool bar, and a bedroom with a king-sized canopy bed, an audio system to play sleep-inducing music, and an aroma oil set, but there was no sign of anyone.
There were a lot of personal possessions for a hotel room and there were so many pieces of artwork and antiques decorating the space that it was easy to forget it filled an entire floor. There was an ancient Greek sculpture, a model ship, an antique gramophone, and a shield on the wall with a crest that was probably the Deltaston family’s. The glittering red, white, and blue jewels somehow made it look cheap. As part of the Round Table, their personal possessions were all Western. They were probably all quite valuable, but none of them went well with each other. The room simply felt oppressive.
That was why he overlooked it at first.
Something was leaning against the wall, but he had mistaken it for one of the room’s ugly pieces of art, like a grandfather clock or an overly decorated music box.
When the silver twintail girl in a white dress gently guided his attention, that “something” slid down the wall. It hit the floor, flipped over, and told Kyousuke this was the worst case scenario here.
An elderly man in a luxurious gown lay there.
There was no light of intelligence in his eyes. Even as he lay on his side, he continued moving like someone walking with a cane.
This was the sign of a loser in the Summoning Ceremony.
The shock of seeing his god killed before his eyes had left him repeating the same action like a zombie in the original sense of the word. He would obey any gestured or spoken instructions and would even walk right off a cliff if guided to do so.
“So the Deltaston family’s emperor is wearing no clothes, hm?”
Naturally, he could not have ended up like this on his own.
If he had lost, then someone had to have won.
Based on the situation, Kyousuke doubted even 24 hours had passed since he had entered this state.
But some of his wounds were more severe than others and some had healed more than others. He may have received them when collapsing upon his defeat, but that meant he had fought multiple times over multiple days. Was he beat back down every time the state wore off?
“It started with him, but someone else hijacked the plan,” groaned Kyousuke.
Looking at the poor old man sent pain racing through the back of his mind. This was stimulating the scab on his memories.
This had started as a slight sense that something was off.
But he had been right to obey it.
If he had charged into Pandemonium without knowing anything, it almost certainly would have cost him his life. He would have held out his shield in the wrong direction and the downpour of arrows would have skewered him.
Simply put, he had needed to deal with this problem first.
“Who’s in control of Pandemonium!?”
The night was growing late.
After successfully infiltrating Pandemonium, Shiroyama Kyousuke and Himekawa Mika hid among the complex array of passageways and rooms.
They had intended to use the large density of summoners to defeat one after another while using the Chain state to maintain a powerful Material and break into the center where the processor core and its 353 vessels were. Their opponents always had to start at the Regulation-class with a cost of 1, so Kyousuke could defeat an entire group once he had built up a Divine or Unexplored-class. A true demon king would be sweeping away the scouts and foot soldiers.
After managing to summon the Unexplored-class “Ashen” Shrine Maiden who Invites Merciful and Dignified Death (em – ao – lev – ck – rol – ei – vb – yu – a – ps), their Chain broke and the original vessel returned. Needless to say, this was not due to a lack of skill on Kyousuke’s part.
“They intentionally had all the enemy summoners keep their distance to break our Chain.” The boy bluntly analyzed the situation. “I had assumed their coordination would be poor since they’re a mixture of Government, Illegal, and Freedom, but the Deltaston family must have more control than I thought.”
Kyousuke’s protective circle vanished and his vessel returned to being a bluish-black-haired ponytail woman in a navy blue tight skirt suit with torn stockings that showed off her bright skin. Himekawa glanced around and asked a question.
“Th-then what will they do next?”
“Don’t ask me.”
(They should already know they can’t beat me even if we’re all starting with Cost 1 Regulation-classes. And I doubt they’ll use the indiscriminate destruction of a Holy Key Woman to release an uncontrollable Divine-class inside Pandemonium. …If they’re being managed well, they’ll probably go for a little cannibalism. They’ll fight each other to build up an ace Material before attacking us again.)
Discussing that would only worry his partner, so he kept silent.
(That just means we have to do the same thing they did. After they reduce their numbers with the cannibalism, their Chain only lasts 90 seconds. If we can escape, the Material they sacrificed their own people for will be entirely wasted.)
Summoners used otherworldly beings that exceeded human understanding. Just because an opponent or situation seemed hopeless or too much to handle, they could not give into fear and stop thinking. They had to accept their weakness as a human and then use that to overcome it. That was the true essence of a summoner.
Kyousuke maintained a unique mental state that kept him relaxed enough to perform as best as possible while remaining tense.
“That’s Mika-san. What is it?”
“Don’t force yourself. I doubt you’ve fully recovered from the cold water earlier. Find something around here to warm yourself with.”
“It’s been a while since then and I was fighting while transforming into Materials.”
“I’m saying it's coming back.”
Kyousuke had not overlooked the unnatural trembling in the core of Himekawa Mika’s body.
Being a vessel mostly came down to an issue of inborn talent, but the ability to be a spiritual medium was not always a plus. If they did not bind their own mind with restraint-like accessories, they could easily erroneously and accidently summon evil or vengeful spirits.
That did not seem to have happened this time, but a less serious problem was showing itself.
Kyousuke was pretty sure it was a condition known as an Imaginary Flashback.
“Any frustrations or desires held just before transforming into a Material will return with twice the intensity when you transform back. Of course you’re going to be having trouble after such a chill.”
It was like having your forgotten sleepiness come rushing back once the effects of the energy drink wore off. All physical effects were negated while in Material form, but that did not mean the vessel’s physical body recovered.
“Mika, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Not only were you forced into a mental battle with an otherworldly monster, but you’re a Holy Key Woman which has to make it worse. It makes sense you would run into problems more often than a normal vessel.”
“It’s Mika-san! Uuh…so it’s an error? But it’s still embarrassing…”
They were not in a military control room full of strange gauges and they were not in an armory where a single match would trigger an explosion large enough to blow them all the way to the moon. It was a space larger than a school classroom with drink and bread vending machines along the wall and several tables in the center. The chairs could recline for taking naps in them and the armrests had folded blankets on them.
(10m x 20m x…)
It was obvious if you thought about it, but even a military facility was run by people and they would need normal living spaces to supply the basic necessities.
(17.04m? What a shame. It’s so close to being 1 x 2 x √3.)
Kyousuke thought on the spatial observations that any summoner picked up as a habit.
At any rate, they only needed 5 or 10 minutes. He had Himekawa sit in a chair with the back reclined and he somewhat forcibly placed a blanket over her. But then the woman in the navy blue tight skirt shivered.
“Uuh… When you warm up a cold body so quickly, um, the difference in temperature…affects the bladder.”
“I can turn the other way if you want.”
“No, I’m fine. I have my pride!”
As he poured hot water in a cup of instant noodles on the table, Himekawa spoke while curled up in the blanket.
“Kyousuke-kun, you said I look a lot like a woman you used to know, didn’t you?”
“What about it?”
“…I most likely knew the same person.”
She revealed that information with a faint smile.
Kyousuke looked surprised, so she continued.
“Or rather, I remade my entire life plan to be more like her. My physique, my clothing, my mannerisms, my educational history, my skills, and my definition of salvation… You may have felt bad when you couldn’t help but compare me to someone else, but being told I’m just like her actually saved me. It told me I hadn’t chosen the wrong path.”
“But she was part of Government.”
“I pursued Madam Professor after she disappeared. But the higher ups would not let me view her information while I was in Government, so I thought I might have more luck if I joined their enemies in Illegal.”
The truth of that was hidden in darkness.
And that was a deep darkness that got to the root of Shiroyama Kyousuke and the White Queen.
Those were not secrets an individual’s effort could reach. But Himekawa Mika did not view Kyousuke with hostility or mistrust. She only narrowed her eyes gently.
Oh, so that woman continued being herself even after she vanished.
And this boy inherited something from her.
Even if she is no longer here and we can only speak of her as someone from the past, she remained true to herself to the end and must not have felt any regret about her life.
That was what those eyes said.
“…She was a strange person.” Kyousuke suddenly found himself speaking. “For one thing, she was always terribly careless. She was almost always late, she would drink alcohol at work, she refused to eat any vegetables except for cabbage and radishes, and she lost interest so fast she couldn’t finish a movie, a novel, or even a manga. In her work, she would say the system was too coldhearted and that it lacked humanity, so she would write her own script into the blank spaces. Watching her made me seriously think that simply aging wasn’t enough to call someone an adult. I started wondering if we needed some kind of national exam like we do for driver’s licenses. She would make anyone and everyone mad, but strangely, everyone ended up laughing by the end. Even the coldhearted developers and fighters.”
Himekawa’s expression softened as she accepted the cup of noodles.
“Yeah…ha ha. I more or less know what you mean with all that.”
“And she often seemed entirely clueless. That Miniature Garden five hundred meters below the earth was a psychedelic egg where hidden knowledge and cutting-edge technology mixed, but even there, she taught us something incredibly strange.”
“What was it?”
“When you first see someone in the morning, give them a cheerful greeting.”
Kyousuke smiled faintly as he repeated the words of someone who was no longer with them.
“Isn’t that strange? But she really did teach us that. She threw out the Sewn Realm Summoning meant to monopolize the White Queen and the Fifteen Siblings Project meant to bring peace to all mankind, and she started with that. But I think that led straight to the most important thing. Just like we associate the stars in the chilly night sky to form constellations, I was able to see the slight bit of humanity hidden deep inside people dyed so deeply in the colors of coldhearted cruelty.”
It had been a small thing.
But it had been a necessary gear toward producing great meaning.
It had to be due to the accumulation of those miniscule but undoubtedly right things that had allowed Shiroyama Kyousuke to avoid drowning in the White Queen’s power and to continue fighting against that absolute temptation. He had been given the power to view the world head-on instead of from a cynical angle. And that obvious thing had given him the strength to reject the Queen’s overwhelming power even if every other summoner and vessel succumbed to it.
“If you have a unique background or objective, some irregular behavior is allowed. Society is accepting of eccentrics as long as they have a useful sort of genius. The little things can be overlooked in the face of the big things. …I’m certain it was thanks to those people that I didn’t use any of those outs. I’m not about to say I’m average for this world, but it’s because of the normal things they taught me that I can just barely avoid crossing the line.”
Without that, he would have succumbed.
He would have been swallowed up by the symbol of uniqueness that was the White Queen and he would have been irreparably distorted.
Or perhaps Shiroyama Kyousuke would have become a monster even greater than the Queen.
“Biondetta said our original families had betrayed us, sold us, and abandoned us. She said we had no friends in that cramped Miniature Garden, that all the adults were cruel, that the social structure was shallow, and that our sibling bonds were only artificial and thus untrustworthy.”
It was slight, but there was some bitterness in his voice.
“But there was more there if you pulled back the veils of suspicion and hatred and looked closely. Maybe it was like the Buddhist concept of Issui Shiken. The exact same lake seems to glitter with jewels to a Deva and seems filled with blood to a Preta; it’s all in your viewpoint. It’s true that the path the 15 of us walked may have been truly terrible and unlike anything a normal person experiences. Even my view of ‘normal’ may be terribly distorted. But that Miniature Garden contained more than just a perfect machine. Those were living and breathing humans. Everyone’s expression softened when Madam Professor was around. But she said that was something we all already had inside us. So no matter how coldhearted everyone acted, they had to have a warmth that would leak out as soon as they relaxed.”
Biondetta had been furious. She had said Kyousuke had been the only one of the 15 children not to break because he alone had received the Queen’s love.
But Kyousuke saw things differently.
He suspected Biondetta and the others had received too much exposure to the White Queen. Perhaps it was like a halo effect, but they had mistakenly decided each and every one of that powerful girl’s words held great meaning. When a national idol shook your hand in hers and smiled at you specifically, everything else seemed to vanish. The small kindness and favor of those closer to you were blown away. It had been just like that.
But what if they had not been trapped by that bright sun?
What if they had still recognized the shine of the stars twinkling in the night sky?
They might have seen an entirely different world.
Even if it had been an isolated space, that miniature garden had been large. It had taken 1000 people to keep it running. It was impossible to feel alone there as long as you looked to them.
Himekawa Mika narrowed her eyes a little as she drank the noodle soup and slurped up the noodles.
“But it wasn’t you that found that possibility.”
“Right. It was definitely thanks to those people. That wasn’t something some idiot who acts like a genius could do.”
Then Kyousuke quickly looked up.
He strained his ears and sensed a slight smell in the air.
“Mika, our break is over once you’re done eating. There was an odd change in the echoing footsteps of the summoners who have entered a Chain state, and I just detected the scent of an Incense Grenade.”
She pulled off her blanket and the two of them ran out of the break room and into the passageway. A young female summoner was just turning a corner further down the passageway.
She was accompanied by a Divine-class with a cost of 6 from the low sound range.
That giant bird from Indian mythology was Vishnu’s mount as well as the enemy of all snakes. This summoner could not have just summoned this Divine-class, so it was most likely the result of “cannibalism” in which she had fought her fellow summoners to use them as a stepping stone. If Kyousuke challenged her with the Cost 1 Regulation-class Original Series, he would be defeated instantly.
The summoner began running toward them. If they were caught in the 20m field around her, the Chain state would switch to a normal battle.
But Kyousuke only grabbed his vessel’s shoulders and stepped back a single step.
That was all.
The Artificial Sacred Ground that should have swallowed them up vanished like a switch had been thrown.
The Chain state only lasted 90 seconds.
The White Thorns were replenished every 10 seconds and a total of 7 could be held in stock, but he could still calculate his enemy’s remaining time by glancing at her stock. Someone taking part in that “cannibalism” would not think about continuing the battle after reaching the Material she wanted.
And as soon as her Artificial Sacred Ground vanished along with her protective circle and Material, Kyousuke pulled the pin from and threw an Incense Grenade.
This time, he was the master of the Artificial Sacred Ground.
He raised his Blood-Sign and grinned as he challenged her on equal terms.
The rest did not take long.
Pandemonium had “cannibalized” their own people, so they had used up a lot of their own summoners. And even when they sent all of their precious Divine-classes after him, they could not defeat Kyousuke. There was simple reason for this: when up against someone he knew he could beat, he let the battle stretch on as long as he could.
And during the few battles he fought, he hit plenty of Petals into the Spots and built up his Material as much as possible.
That ultimately gave him the Unexplored-class Lady of Purple Lightning which he used to mow down all of the Divine-classes who ignorantly challenged him as a group. The girl sat in a run-down wheelchair with her sickly pale skin exposed by some highly revealing purple clothing. Each time she pointed her index finger, a beam-like attack would reap every enemy at once.
“Whoa!? That’s the Lady of Purple Lightning. Did we fall for his bait!?”
“It’s no good. All the losers wandering around are in the way! Move them to the side!!”
“Ah, wait. Don’t look this way! Why meeee!?”
After some fighting, they seemed to decide this was not worth it and the summoners from the three major powers began to retreat. Even if Kyousuke’s Material had reached the Unexplored-class, it would still vanish once his Chain state ran out of time.
But Kyousuke did not bother pursuing. With the number of enemy summoners and vessels so greatly reduced, they could not “cannibalize” each other like before. As time passed, their situation would only grow worse.
And he had somewhere he needed to go.
He let the summoners flee and made his way to the Pandemonium’s central processing core. The Chain state ran out on the way and Himekawa Mika returned to her human form, but that did not matter. Now that they knew their “cannibalism” would not work, it would be some time before the Pandemonium summoners thought up another plan. And if there were any sporadic attacks on the way, he could defeat them like normal.
The passageway was filled with a strangely unnerving rumbling with the regularity of a pulse.
(A Repliglass heart reactor? An artery must be running by nearby. That means there must be something here that consumes a ton of energy.)
They met almost no resistance.
Their footsteps sounded loudly on a steel catwalk. The scene below the wire mesh at their feet made it easy to forget this was a limited space inside a fortress. They were more than 10 meters up and the area below was covered in strange transparent spheres. Each one was about the size of a balance ball, some kind of glowing orange core flashed at the center, and several thick black cables attached to the outside. Altogether, it looked like a clump of giant roe or a type of parallel processor.
“Let’s hurry, Kyousuke-kun.”
He focused ahead again and ran toward the final space.
Shiroyama Kyousuke stood in front of an especially thick door as if to a bank vault.
“This is the processing core according to the diagram. The vessels are waiting beyond here!”
Kyousuke traced his hand along the final door.
He could have broken through it with the firepower of an Unexplored-class, but his Chain had not lasted. He had to use something else.
“It uses a vacuum locking mechanism. Those use the surrounding air pressure to close the door.”
Fortunately, they had acquired detailed plans, so they had information on the door’s mechanism and design. And no matter how sturdy the door, it could not be made into a solid piece of metal without a single screw or welding point. It had to be made of multiple pieces, so it could be dismantled.
“But if we send air into the vacuum layer, the difference in pressure will return to zero. Then the door will open. We can do this. It’s simple. We need to remove a panel and apply heat at a spot that the sensors won’t notice… No matter how fancy the system, a rubber seal is the best way to make it airtight. If the heat reaches that and melts it, the air will flow through the gap and into the vacuum layer!”
His Repliglass Blood-Sign came in handy at times like this.
It could move like a living creature, so if he supported it a little, it could spin like a drill and catch paper or cloth on fire from friction. If he used the beak-like part on the silicon pellet insertion slot, it could even remove screws.
With a loud metallic noise, the door slowly opened outwards and Kyousuke stepped back so as not to be crushed. The sealed processing core ever so gradually came into view.
This was the turning point.
He had to take the 353 vessels with him to escape Pandemonium and he had to think about what to do after that. It would all be meaningless if the vessels were recaptured after he rescued them. It was possible this would require taking on the entire Deltaston family.
But that line of thinking proved naïve.
As the door opened wide, he found no one at all inside the vast space within.
(50 x 50 x…)
It was a giant die-like space with fifty meter sides. Each of the six surfaces was crammed full of geometric patterns with lines as fine as hair. Red, green, and yellow lights pulsed intermittently through them.
But that was all.
There were traces of something. Chairs sat in concentric circles like at an international conference. They had belts attached like at the dentist. If all of those were filled, it was possible that more than a hundred people could have fit inside. But they were empty. It was only a drearily empty space.
Where had his assumptions gone wrong?
Had the diagram been wrong or an intentional decoy?
Had everyone been moved elsewhere because Kyousuke and Himekawa’s plan had been discovered?
“I have one question.”
Kyousuke slowly turned around.
The ponytail woman in a dark, dark navy blue tight skirt suit had not said anything for a while.
He spoke to Himekawa Mika as the decorations indicating her various sins jangled from her neck.
“What is your true goal? Were there really 353 vessels here!?”
The Story of a Certain Summoner and Vessel 01
Incense Expert Ellie Slide did not subscribe to a view of good and evil.
In fact, she was a truly rootless person and she had no principles based on a specific region, culture, set of traditions, or religion. So she had no interest in the concepts of good and evil that were a part of that.
That was clear enough from how she dressed. She was a Western European witch, but she included Native American aspects such as an eagle feather, piercings across her body, a dreamcatcher, and an axe that doubled as a pipe. She came from a line of witches that had escaped persecution in Europe by crossing over to the New World and secretly taking up root there, but she possessed none of the hopes or grudges of her family.
The giant silver armor-breaking axe had an electronic cigarette device on the end.
The round dreamcatcher hanging from her neck was not a spider web that caught dreams. It mostly contained the symbol of the Rose at the base of the Summoning Ceremony.
Her stance could be seen in the name Amplifier 500 which meant she would thoroughly increase the skill of any summoner she contracted with. She did not follow any specific principles or beliefs and she did not worship any specific religion’s god as she traversed the world of the Summoning Ceremony. She was a rootless person through and through.
She had a single goal.
She did not care if they were from Government, Illegal, or Freedom, but she wanted to see the summoner she was paired with reach Award 1000.
She would use whatever she could to accomplish that.
That might mean justice, protection, and world peace.
That might mean evil deeds, cruelty, and the extermination of mankind.
Whatever the ignition was, she only needed a corresponding summoner who would be inspired by it. And true to her name as an amplifier, once she found that ignition, she would thoroughly fan the flames to amplify that mental state in the summoner.
“Pant, pant, pant, pant…!!”
As Ellie pulled a small bottle from her belt and calmly exchanged it for one on the back of her axe, a large black-haired man with a pompadour was soaked with sweat. He doubled over and desperately worked to suppress the tremor rising from the core of his being.
He had tearfully returned to the outer edge of the donut-shaped trade show. Tens of thousands of people filled the D.R.O.K. trade show, but not all of them could get a room at a luxury resort hotel. This area full of RVs and mobile homes may have been the seediest part of the makeshift city.
“Th-that scared the shit out of me… That’s the White Queen for you. I knew what to expect, but damn is she scary!! I ran into that kid in Toy Dream 35 a while back, but there’s something wrong with him if he can hang around that thing!!”
The pompadour man jumped into a beach chair sitting next to a barbecue set. The chair and its parasol toppled over, but he ignored that and sat with his back against the silver mobile home.
He then searched through his pocket and pulled out a small bottle of whisky in his shaking hand. He removed the waterproof paper that was rubber-banded to the side of the bottle and followed the folds to create a container almost too small to hold a single walnut. He poured the clear amber liquid inside and gulped it down. But this was not alcohol. It was kid’s stomachache syrup. He seemed to have enough respect left as a Government summoner to worry about what people around him thought. …At the same time, the practiced motions showed just how often he relied on this.
Not that it was surprising he was terrified.
However, Ellie Slide could not have him losing his nerve. The bottom of her sleeved cape shook as she searched for the necessary entry under good and evil. Then she produced a perfect reflection of it like a mirror.
“Then are you going to give up? That is indeed an option. The Deltaston family, Himekawa Mika, and the rest of the 353 vessels have no direct relation to your life. Abandoning them and walking a more aimless Government path would be much more constructive.”
“Perfect Game is not an almighty power that ensures you defeat any opponent. It refers to your ability to ultimately rework any result into a victory for yourself. So wouldn’t not fighting be one option? I have heard that both martial artists and chess players are selective about which opponents they will face.”
“Why not begin by deciding at which point you will withdraw. You tend to run straight in without a hint of strategizing, so I doubt you would even think about talking about a strategic retreat as a laughable excuse. So where do you draw the line? Where do you cut your losses and give up? You need to do the calculations and find your own ans-…”
“Okay, boss, let’s cook some buffalo meat on that barbecue set!”
“Yay! I want a hot sandwich.”
The exposed midriff girl raised both hands on reflex, so she cleared her throat.
Ellie Slide pouted her lips and poked her index fingers together in front of her chest.
“I-I was the one that supplied that endangered animal meat. It was my skill and achievements that created lush greenery in the middle of the desert, allowing their numbers to recover. So all of that farm buffalo meat should belong to me. So why am I the one begging you for some?”
“If you were in charge of it all, the buffalo would go extinct right after they’d finally recovered.”
“Are you saying I’m obsessed with meat!?”
“Let’s just say I’ve never seen you eating vegetables.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I eat potato chips and popcorn.”
“That goes beyond ridiculous!!”
They strayed off topic a bit, but that was not a problem.
No matter what happened here – even if he got angry and hit her – it was not a problem for Ellie Slide. As long as that inspired the summoner and gave them the drive they needed to earn further Awards, she would allow anything. If they wanted kindness, she would let them use her lap as a pillow. If they preferred the whip, she would swing a cowhide paddle down at them.
This was not Ellie’s own will.
Just like a fortuneteller, she would seek out the summoner’s distortion and reflect it back at them like a mirror. That was all she did.
Her focus was on seeing the moment the summoner reached Award 1000. The only other thing she cared about was her personal buffalo meat that grew in the artificial farm built in the middle of a desert.
But she did not need kindness or the whip this time.
Just as she had predicted, Max Layard clenched his teeth.
The pompadour man slowly exhaled while sitting on the ground with his back resting against the silver mobile home.
“I know I’m not skilled enough and that I’m out of my league here. I mean, we’re up against Freedom Award 903 and the White Queen herself. There’s no way a normal fight will get us anywhere.”
“Like hell I’ll give up. I’m not fighting because I think I’ll win. I’m fighting because I can’t afford to lose.”
Max wiped the unpleasant sweat from his forehead and faced forward.
The fighting spirit had not vanished from his eyes.
“So we’re in my territory now. Winning and losing don’t matter. No matter how cheap or silly it is, I just have to turn this into my victory in the end.”
The mirror had worked perfectly.
Incense Expert Ellie Slide did not subscribe to a view of good and evil.
She was nothing more than an amplifier.
If Max Layard had been an evil person, the amplified evil would have taken several lives. If he had been a good person, the amplified good would have saved several lives.
- Incense Expert Ellie Slide’s techniques allow her to create normal Incense Grenades, obstruct the production and expansion of a summoner’s Artificial Sacred Ground, and interfere with their recognition of her.
- When a summoner steps into an already established Artificial Sacred Ground, they must use up three White Thorns. The initial number is three, so they must survive unprotected for ten seconds before one is replenished and they can finally take part in the battle.
- In a one-against-many battle, a group of three or more has an overwhelming advantage. By summoning one of each sound range and surrounding their opponent, they are guaranteed to have that opponent’s weakness.
- The head of the Deltaston family had lost a Summoning Ceremony battle, turning him into something akin to a walking corpse. If he was instructed or guided into revealing various privileges or passwords, complete control of Pandemonium might have shifted to a third party.
- An Imaginary Flashback is a minor summoning error that affects vessels. Any frustration or desire they hold just before transforming into a Material will return with twice the intensity after transforming back.
- Kyousuke and Himekawa had an acquaintance in common.
- The 353 vessels imprisoned inside Pandemonium were nowhere to be found.
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