The Unexplored Summon Blood Sign:Volume6 Chapter3
Stage 03: Another Who Escaped Hell and Overcame Death
“So is 3A your bra si-…ow!!”
(Stage 03 Open 07/06 01:10)
Another Who Escaped Hell and Overcame Death
I am the summoner known as Freedom Award 903, Alice (with) Rabbit. I made a lot of mistakes and got into a lot of trouble, but that helped me get much better at what I do. I am nothing like I used to be, so it would take a lot to get to me.
Shiroyama Kyousuke felt something spark deep in his mind and all of his assumptions were blown away. He opened his mouth toward the ceiling, and released the overflowing disgust and hatred as a scream that felt like it would rend his throat asunder. He tried to fling his arms and legs wildly around like a child. No, all of his muscles and even his internal organs wriggled and convulsed like separate life forms and seemed to explode with motion as he tried to throw off and distance himself from the great evil clinging to his back.
But there was nothing he could do.
There were only two slender arms around him, but they easily robbed the puny human of all his freedom. In fact, the White Queen released occasional sweet voices as she accepted all the vibrations of his body and embraced him.
“Nn, hh, ha ha…☆ Further. Go further, brother. Release more of your animal side! Reach deep, deep, deep into your soul, find the urges your rational mind normally keeps sealed away, and reveal them before me. Don’t worry. No matter how ugly they might be, I will consume it down to the marrow and swallow every last drop. After all, this is Tanabata, the most romantic time of the year for two lovers to meet!!”
“Why…? I didn’t sense even a hint of your presence until now… Azalea hasn’t reached the Founder’s Gallery, no one has acquired the Natural History’s missing entries, and they haven’t made use of Renge or Higan. So it makes no sense for you to be heeeeeeeeeeeeere!”
“————. Mentioning 3 other girls in front of me? That’s quite the triple seven you hit there, brother. But I really want to make this work☆ I’ll overlook allllll of that, so you can indulge yourself as much as you want. Here, I’ll give you cheek rub, rub, ruuub☆”
Kyousuke thrashed about like he had a killer jellyfish’s tentacles wrapped around him, but that only delighted the Queen who was enjoying his resistance. In a way, the boy had genius talent when it came to bringing her joy.
“You’re so hardheaded, brother.”
The White Queen swayed her body in time to her beloved boy’s movements, gently bit his earlobe, and slipped a horrifically sweet poison into his ear. Yes, her words were a deadly poison.
“Don’t those facts only point to the possibility that I was summoned here by someone other than Bridesmaid?”
His movements stopped entirely.
If Sekurtiti had not been here, he might have shamefully wept right then and there, but he just barely kept his thoughts lashed to reality.
Hadn’t there been a mysterious summoner who had shown up outside of Bridesmaid’s plan?
(Claude…Magentarain. It can’t be…it can’t be!)
The person from his memories mixed together with the man who had used a child assassin and stolen the Diamond Master Key. He had definitely referred to the White Queen as someone to fear, so he had not deified her. But had that changed? Was the White Queen such a massive presence that she could break even that man’s powerful soul!?
The Queen’s skinny fingers moved.
She used her palms to rub along his chest and then her hands reached down toward his lower stomach. With no prior knowledge of the situation, he might have passed out from the superb sensation, but at the moment, this was such a great torture that he felt like he was going to vomit up magma. He truly could not stop the bizarre writhing of his stomach. She enjoyed the sensation of his entire body rejecting her and then her fingers grabbed something.
It was an apple-sized chest that resembled an antique music box.
It was the Golden Treasure Chest.
“I think it’s about time I joined the game too. Yes, I have no use for this item whatsoever, but if I have it, I know you’ll come chasing after me, brother. Isn’t that right?”
The White Queen naturally knew that Shiroyama Kyousuke was after the Founder’s Gallery. And that he was doing so to find a way to destroy her.
But she did not crush the chest in her grasp.
She took it from him for the sole purpose of having fun with him. She preserved it. She was not at all concerned about the one-in-a-million or one-in-a-billion chance it might contain.
Was love really this brutal? Did it really blind one to logic and efficiency?
“No matter how much you struggle, there’s no going back to how things were between us. You have to understand that.”
“Is that really so?”
She embraced him from behind, rubbed her cheek against his, blew a sweet breath on him, and asked the fundamental question.
“It’s true that you can never get along with me now. We have already passed that crossroads, so it would be incredibly difficult for our paths to merge once more. However…”
A spellbound, melting, and yet incredibly evil flower bloomed.
“If I send you plummeting down to the most transcendent depths imaginable so you mentally regress to a childlike state, won’t that revert time to before we passed that crossroads? True, you might forget how to speak and only babble like a baby, but, well, I’m confident I can love you just as much no matter what form you take. Kyah☆”
Shiroyama Kyousuke shuddered in fear.
This was not an obvious explosion of disgust like before. The fear chilling him to his core was silently washing in from another world.
It was this level of love that made her the White Queen.
And this was not some constant goal seen in all her previous actions. It had only just now occurred to her. She was just trying it out for now. If it worked, she would celebrate, but if it failed, she could just move on to the next thing. That was the extent of the thought she put into grabbing and toying with Shiroyama Kyousuke’s life or the entire world.
What did it matter if there was love behind it all?
What could it be called except for evil?
“Okay, brother. That’s all for tonight.”
The gentle warmth of a mother slipped away from his back and he could finally breathe again. He half crumpled to the ground and looked back just in time to see the White Queen lightly kiss the Golden Treasure Chest she held. The ecstasy and self-absorption he saw there reminded him of the dancer girl who had won over a king with her sensual dance and acquired the head of a saint.
“Also. Since I will be taking part in this game, I will be giving you a little something in return. It isn’t much, but please take it.”
All she did was casually snap her fingers.
Immediately, the entire zoo shook with a tremor so sinister it seemed to squeeze at his heart.
Unable to support themselves, Kyousuke and Sekurtiti fell to the floor and failed to see how the White Queen had left. The next thing they knew, she was simply gone. In fact, they had to wonder if it had all been a dream or illusion.
Kyousuke could not answer Sekurtiti and simply crawled slowly over to grab Azalea and Fractal. He picked them up and then started toward the exit from this underground floor.
He knew something was not right. The din he heard and the tremor reaching his skin did not match up. With the explosive sounds he was hearing, cracks should have been running through the ceiling and the entire zoo should have been crushed so flat it was only 3 mm thick.
And yet he seemed separated from all that like he was sitting in the living room watching a news report about a war halfway around the world.
He was being protected by the Queen. That fact burned at his heart.
It was all over.
He saw countless unmoving figures below the cold Milky Way.
Even if Azalea had been defeated, just how many assassins had remained in the zoo? Just how much damage could they have caused if they began to rampage with the Summoning Ceremony and Repliglass? Kyousuke and Sekurtiti had used incense to stop the Offering Team from killing themselves, but he doubted that would have destroyed all of them. Breaking his way out should have taken quite some doing.
He found absolute destruction. There was not even a scratch to the zoo’s ground. Infuriatingly enough, he found a definite pulse when he checked a few summoners collapsed nearby. The White Queen had instantly taken out all of the assassins in the zoo and she had intentionally let them all live. Needless to say, she had only done so because she knew that was what Kyousuke would want.
The difference in power was too great.
Her standards were so thoroughly broken that she did not hesitate to use that while truly only “playing a game”.
Kyousuke spoke as he blankly and somewhat furiously viewed the aftermath.
“Her time has begun…”
Dawn arrived and the gentle morning sun conquered the Milky Way.
With her long and wavy blonde hair spread out and wearing only a thin red negligee with a spritz of rose perfume, The Saint slowly sat up on an extra-large bed in a suite. She then worked her groggy mind to remember why she was in a luxury hotel.
She had heard what had happened at the zoo. With their position of absolute safety overturned and with Azalea Magentarain and many other members lost, she and their remaining forces had quickly left their hideout using the haunted house’s back door. Losers of the summoning ceremony could not keep a secret even if they were not tortured. Once their location was known, Government and Illegal would pour in with great numbers.
Needless to say, if it came to an all-out conflict, they could take on all three major powers stationed in Toy Dream 35. But they were only a bridesmaid for the pure white bride, so their great power was meant to add to her beauty.
It was out of the question for The Saint to protect herself with the treasures gathered for the Queen.
So she had chosen a swift retreat despite the difference in strength.
That was their unique way of thinking.
(Well, I’m sure there are some of our recruits who are afraid of revealing a personal weakness if they come into conflict with summoners from their old organizations.)
The Saint slowly got her mind working.
(And if the multiple organizations bring together their sources, they might reveal that we drove some of their groups to failure in order to recruit them.)
Even their personnel were gifts for the White Queen. They could not allow those celebratory gifts to be marred even slightly by any petty discord now.
Toy Dream 35 was a bankrupt regional city that was trying to recover as an amusement park. They needed to serve a great number of tourists, so there were plenty of lodging facilities. Staying at a suite under a fake name did not stand out here.
The reports from the scene had been fragmentary and inadequate, but she had heard that a pure white flash had been seen at the end. Did that mean someone had used the Summoning ceremony to carve out the name of the peak of the peak? Or…?
Whatever the case, Bridesmaid had lost everything: the Diamond Master Key, the Golden Treasure Chest, and the ancient map. They did not have a single one of the hints needed to reach the Founder’s Gallery. And Azalea could have best made use of the Gallery’s information, but she had been defeated and could not be contacted.
But the Founder’s Gallery was not the only way of approaching the White Queen. Perhaps she needed to focus on regrouping their remaining forces, give up on the Gallery, and work at another method.
(No, I can’t.)
But The Saint rejected that idea.
With anything else, it would not have mattered, but things were different when they had to do with the White Queen.
(Bridesmaid must not pull our hand back from Her Majesty and turn the other way.)
That dark and cold flame had yet to be extinguished.
Her ability to make this decision may have been a sign of her faith.
Meanwhile, a small boy of about 10 stirred in the same bed. The Saint’s movement had woken him.
The boy was simply known as the boy.
He was The Saint’s vessel, but he was not received coldly. For one thing, there was no clear master and servant between the two of them. But not because they both respected each other and gave them that privilege. There truly was “nothing” there.
“Oh, it’s morning… Should we do that then?”
Wearing only a thin red slip that gave off a rosy scent, The Saint reached for a coin on the bedside table. But this was not a tip for the room’s cleaner. Reaching toward the bedside table caused one of the slip’s shoulder straps to fall down her arm, but the woman who could be called a sensual holy woman or a pure witch did not mind.
The Saint flipped the coin with her thumb and placed it on the back of her hand.
They both peered down at it.
The change was dramatic.
The Saint rolled out of the large bed, got down on one knee, and bowed her head. Conversely, the boy slowly placed his feet on the floor and calmly stood up.
This was their daily ritual.
A flip of the coin determined everything. Heads and The Saint was master for the day; tails and the boy was. They would not resent whichever result they received.
“Good morning, master. Breakfast…would be difficult to prepare in a hotel. We can call room service for that, so I will prepare a bath for now.”
The boy waved a hand while toying with the egg-shaped GPS security buzzer he wore as a restraint for mental stability. With permission granted, The Saint crossed the wide room and entered the next room while wearing a slip that left her legs exposed all the way up to the base of her thighs.
The boy worked his sleepy mind to think on the situation.
In truth, the boy did not particularly care if The Saint was a holy woman, a witch, his master, or his servant. He only wanted to be with her, no matter what form it took. Or to put it another way, he had no interest in the past or future and he simply wanted the “present” to continue forever.
Ultimately, this perfectly ordinary boy did not even care about the White Queen. He just knew that failing to pursue her would lead that woman to leave him and would destroy the “present”, so he went along with it. He had a special kind of stagnant mentality that refused to think even a second into the future, but in a way, he may have had the strongest mind of all. Even in the face of that pure white, he was able to stay true to himself without being dyed by longing or hatred.
The Saint returned with her bright thighs still bared.
“I never realized that a large bathtub would have its own problems. It will probably take about 20 minutes to fill.”
“What would you like to do until then? You could always take just a shower first.”
He shook his head at that. If they had time to wait, there was something he wanted to get done in that time.
He pointed the summoner toward the window and they sat at the same table there. Spread out on the table were the fragmentary reports from the tragedy at the zoo early that morning.
The boy glanced through the reports as casually as someone reading through an English language newspaper with breakfast. The Saint seemed focused on where Shiroyama Kyousuke and Sekurtiti had gone, but the boy thought pursuing them would be a waste of time. Both enemy and ally had shown up at the zoo for the exchange. They would have covered their tracks when leaving, so there would be nothing to pursue.
“Here.” The boy tapped at one of the reports on the table. “The others couldn’t pick up everything they said, but a certain name shows up at a few points in what we have: Claude Magentarain. It seems odd that both Azalea and Shiroyama brought him up.”
“Are you suggesting one or both sides are sheltering that person? The Magentarain name is concerning, but Azalea is something of a heretic in her family.”
“That isn’t the important part.” The boy pointed at a spot on another page. “No one ever did see the Diamond Master Key that night. The report suggests that Shiroyama didn’t want to give it up, but then this doesn’t make any sense.”
“…That he temporarily handed over Sekurtiti?”
“Shiroyama’s response to the Offering Team is proof enough that he prioritizes human life, so it doesn’t make sense that he offered the ancient map before the key.”
“But wasn’t that his method of retrieving Meinokawa Higan?”
“…Has anyone proven that?”
Shiroyama Kyousuke had never once brought out the Diamond Master Key. What if that was not due to reluctance or as part of a plan? What if he had some pressing reason preventing him from doing so?
And if both Shiroyama and Azalea did not have the key, where was it now?
“Claude Magentarain. We need to look into him.”
This clearly ran counter to The Saint’s intent to directly pursue Shiroyama Kyousuke or Azalea, but she did not protest. That intent had been yesterday’s way of thinking and it no longer applied thanks to the coin toss.
“Hopefully, he’ll have the key. But even if he doesn’t, capturing him should force both Shiroyama and Azalea to act. He will make a good starting point.”
“Your discerning eye never ceases to amaze me. Losing Azalea and the Natural History’s missing entries is unfortunate, but that is not what Bridesmaid truly seeks. In order to more perfectly learn what Her Majesty likes and to become even better servants, let us continue our pursuit of the Founder’s Gallery. Oh, it would seem the bath is ready.”
After hearing a light beeping, the woman in the red slip lifted her butt from the chair. The boy watched her and also thought to himself.
The possible presence of the master key was only secondary to him. He was not actually interested in the White Queen, so he was equally disinterested in the Founder’s Gallery and the Natural History’s missing entries. His focus was on something else: Claude Magentarain.
That boy who loved the “present” could intuitively tell that man would bring about some kind of major change. Ignoring him could easily lead to losing that woman.
After preparing enough breakfast for everyone on the top floor of the luxury apartment where Aika lived, Biondetta sounded as exasperated as if she had been presented with a bed of nails.
She bent her hips, set plates down on the glass table, shook her tail, and showed off her thighs between the black knee socks and the risqué bottom of her Oiran-style mini-yukata.
“So after I went to so much trouble removing the other 23 possible locations for you, the Diamond Master Key has gone missing and the Golden Treasure Chest was stolen by the Queen? And retrieving the hostages was only a detour. Our goal wasn’t the tomb keepers or the twin shrine maidens; it was the Founder’s Gallery and the Natural History’s missing entries, wasn’t it? What are you even doing, you useless little brother?”
Biondetta even added a lineup of brown bottles full of antibiotics no one else wanted.
She may have been right.
If they were only after the Founder’s Gallery, then what he had done was indeed mostly a detour. He would not acquire the missing entries by rescuing someone. Government would have retrieved the passed-out members of Bridesmaid along with the traps Kyousuke had set up around the zoo, but he doubted they would provide any further hints. But as long as he went by the name Alice (with) Rabbit, he could not abandon a life about to be lost before his eyes. Especially when those lives would be lost due to a distortion caused by the White Queen.
And more importantly…
“C-can someone please explain to me what is going on with Claude Magentarain and the White Queen? What happened, why did it happen, and where did the Diamond Master Key and Golden Treasure Chest end up?”
“Oh? It isn’t often you don’t have a complete grasp of the situation, Onii-chan. Is this an especially tricky one?”
Even before the food had arrived, Aika had been sitting at the glass table and fidgeting in her swimsuit. She sat with her legs below her and her ankles angled out to either side, her hands were planted on the floor between her thighs, and her bikini butt was wiggling restlessly.
The breakfast Biondetta had made had as much oil and cream as carbonara and her huge sweet tooth led her to make truly devastating drinks and desserts, but Aika’s messed-up sleep schedule meant she was fully awake early in the morning and she put little concern for her health into her meals. The two of them seemed to be a good match here.
The only part of this Kyousuke could call a win was rescuing all of the hostages. The Diamond Master Key and the Golden Treasure Chest had been stolen, but he still had the ancient map. Renge, Higan, and Sekurtiti were safe and they had captured Azalea and Fractal.
It felt like the derailed last train had finally been brought back on track. They were already at the point where they could observe the White Queen without an Artificial Sacred Ground, but they could still get a new start on this. No one else could force them to action and they could continue at their own pace.
Speaking of Renge and Higan…
“H-hey, Onii-chan? Those shrine maiden sisters are wandering over toward the liger again, so do something about it.”
“Why are people’s souls so inexorably drawn toward warm fluffiness? Even in their mindless state, they may be affected by a desire to return to their starting point…that is, the womb.”
“I really doubt this is anything so profound. And Higan! Not that way!!”
The blonde shrine maiden was slowly crawling toward the strongest creature, so Kyousuke grabbed her by the hips and pointed her in a different direction like a toy train. The white liger herself looked a little frightened, like a wild animal coming across the light and noise of a smartphone for the first time, but that was not a good thing. A wild beast was at its strongest not when it was hunting but when it came across something irregular and felt the need to protect itself.
The twins would most likely be back to normal that afternoon.
Repeating the same action endlessly was the same as continually using up energy without any rest, so he wanted to feed them if possible. But…
“Tah dah! Today’s breakfast is cream pasta, which counts as noodles and stew at the same time. But I made sure to make it Hokkaido-style by adding in plenty of potatoes, carrots, and broccoli, so it should go down easy despite its full volume.”
“…None of that sounds like something I want to eat in the morning.”
“The secret to increasing the illusion of luxury is to add a square of butter on top☆”
“I really don’t think this is Hokkaido-style! Are you sure it isn’t just the potatoes and butter making you think that!?”
Kyousuke doubted this breakfast would go down easy anywhere except for at a judo training camp, but he could not refuse what he was served.
“What about you, Sekurtiti?”
“If you give me a small plate of it, I will make an attempt. It has a very fascinating aroma.”
Modified China Dress Lu Niang Lan had not said a word this entire time, but she only held her raised knees between her arms, collapsed onto her side, and wallowed in her melancholy. She did an impressive job of reminding him of a cicada shell.
“Heh. Eh heh heh. Showing off your cooking skills and winning everyone over through their stomachs used to be my job. She’s taken everything from me…”
“Lu-san. That doesn’t matter and you should probably get up. Your underwear is pretty much entirely exposed right now.”
“Ah!? W-what am I doing? Was I hoping to win Kyousuke-chan over that way just because I was losing sight of myself? I am the Perfect Dragon who killed Government Award 1000 barehanded. I need to have more confidence in myself.”
“What does a look at your panties matter? My client has gotten a nice look at my white and pink stripes, so it’s nothing to worry about.”
“Ohh!? She beat me to the punch there too!?”
The modified China dress truly started to sink into an invisible bog, so it looked like ignoring her for the time being would be the best option. Also, the temperature of Sekurtiti’s gaze had been dropping ever since the topic of panties came up, so he really wanted to change the subject.
“It’s not like you’re any match for the girl only wearing bandages and some decorative lace. She was wearing a yukata yesterday, but she’s reverted to this at some point.”
“Ahem. That was only a disguise meant to blend into the crowd so we could rescue the hostages. There was no real reason to continue wearing it. …More importantly, Shiroyama Kyousuke, do you really think a girl’s underwear is more than just a piece of cloth? Do you see more value in it than is evident at face value?”
“If you think that’s going to make you sound normal, I’ll have to seriously ask you if you really don’t see how wearing only bandages is perverted. And don’t think you can get out of this by calling it your uniform.”
Kyousuke’s expression was entirely serious, but Biondetta’s was entirely the opposite as she whispered to him from the side.
“By the way, I actually haven’t been wearing any underwear since I changed into the yukata.”
Not even Kyousuke could ignore that comment.
“W-wait… You mean even back then…or the other time when you were going a little crazy?”
“Neh heh☆ Then do you want to see for yourself?”
With a devilish look on her face, Biondetta gently grabbed the sides of her mini yukata’s hem and emphasized how close to the very base of her thighs it was.
The chaos continued as they ate breakfast.
Biondetta’s incredibly misguided selection turned out to be as terrible a choice as Kyousuke had expected, but the skill of her cooking was not bad. It would have been perfect if he was coming back to it after an exhausting day instead of waking up to it.
“Nhh! Cough, cough!!”
The brown bandage girl (with Y-shaped lace decoration) choked after eating just a little bit, but when Kyousuke tried to rub her back, she held out a hand to stop him. She seemed to be enjoying it, so this may have been her way to experience it. It was more like playing with fire than supplying nutrients.
The smell seemed to draw out the white liger’s hunger, but she ate a gigantic hunk of raw meat like normal. It looked wild, but this was because a pure carnivore’s digestive system was surprisingly delicate. Unlike omnivores like humans, carnivores were restricted to only meat.
“Scallops,” said Aika. “I don’t see any at all, but I can taste scallops in this…! So good..!!”
“Well done noticing the secret ingredient paste I added, little lady. After all, this is Hokkaido-style.”
“But it oddly doesn’t compete with the meaty flavor of the thick-cut bacon!?”
“That’s just how wonderful Hokkaido is. And if you eat it in such a hurry, you’ll get your cute cheeks and modest chest covered in the sticky white sauce. Or are you doing that on purpose?”
When Sekurtiti lightly scolded them with the golden tiara on her head, Biondetta worked with Sekurtiti to wipe off Aika’s mouth and chest.
Kyousuke started to think he should leave Biondetta here instead of in his cruiser. The seasonal Oiran mini-yukata demon was pulling off history’s greatest performance as a shut-in sitter.
“So, Kyousuke-chan, what are you going to do now?”
In the name of observing the enemy, Lu Niang Lan took a spoonful of the cream pasta soup (it was mostly a white stew) and tasted it with the tip of her tongue. She also cut to the heart of the matter. Her bad mood may have made her feel like being a little mean.
Kyousuke spun his fork around for no reason as he answered.
“Whatever we do, we’ll have to settle each thing in turn. Our main focus will of course be on Claude Magentarain. Since he isn’t connected to Azalea and Bridesmaid, we can probably throw out the theory that he’s made from some detailed humanoid Repliglass. In that case, we need to start making some guesses as to how the real Claude would have started working with the White Queen and pursuing the Founder’s Gallery. Nothing is as frightening as fighting someone whose actions you can’t explain.”
He could only come up with 2 possibilities.
Either Claude himself was seeking the Founder’s Gallery or he was trying to prevent Kyousuke from reaching it.
“If he is interfering because he’s afraid I’ll find a way to oppose the Queen, then I think the Diamond Master Key and the Golden Treasure Chest will have already been destroyed.”
“Munch, munch. You don’t look too concerned about that possibility, sir.”
“In that case, the Queen would have crushed the chest as soon as she took it from me at the zoo. Since she went out of her way to take it back with her, I doubt it has been destroyed for the time being.”
Knowing the White Queen, she very well might have been waiting to slowly crush it underfoot in front of him at a later date. And with both the chest and key, they could unlock the former. He had to be on the lookout for despair on the level of finally taking it back and finding it empty or finding the real data swapped out with something completely unrelated.
“But this also changes depending on the relationship between Claude and the Queen. If he’s purely a worshiper, he’ll do anything she asks. If he’s trying to use her for his own purposes, then he would have control of what they do. And in that case…”
“Then it would be more than just the Queen’s selfishness. Claude would have to have a reason to go after the key and chest.”
Sekurtiti soaked the tip of her fork in the white soup as she spoke. She did not seem to observe Aika using a spoon to scoop up as much as she wanted across the table.
Kyousuke fell silent for a moment.
He recalled what that man had said:
“The Natural History’s missing entries and the Queen’s territory beyond that are too much for you to handle. Leave this to a ghost from the past. If I feel like it, I’ll give you some of the leftover scraps. …You see, I too have business with her.”
The eyepatched man had definitely said that as he smiled and adroitly stole the Diamond Master Key.
“Is Claude after the Founder’s Gallery? He did mention the Natural History’s missing entries. But if so, what for…? To create a doll or artificial vessel like Azalea wanted?”
If Kyousuke was going to start somewhere, it had to be there.
Also, it did not sit right with him that Claude was seeking the Founder’s Gallery and yet already had the completed White Queen with him.
If he was trying to place the Queen’s soul inside an artificial vessel just like Azalea, then it was possible his was incomplete and could only be activated temporarily. And if he would be able to fill in the missing piece once he reached the Founder’s gallery, the White Queen would gain eternal stability in this world.
If that theory was correct, it would truly mean the end of the world.
Meanwhile, it did not particularly matter to Kyousuke if Claude was the first to discover the Founder’s Gallery. He could always tail them to the location. Of course, that would require him to defeat Claude before the man achieved his goal. It would be difficult to find a way to safely hand over the ancient map on Sekurtiti’s back, but if he could disguise it as a coincidence…yes, if he had a detailed analysis of the Lifelong Emblem on her back done at a hospital, and then intentionally let that data leak out, he could get it to Claude.
“Whether to defeat him or manipulate him, his location is what matters. I just hope we can find a way to locate him.” Kyousuke stopped spinning his fork around.
And he spoke.
“Lu-san. I’d like to purchase something fairly dangerous from your Illegal supply shop. Can you calculate out how much it’ll cost me?”
The one-armed man with a leather eyepatch over his right eye had his long blond hair slicked back and tied behind his head.
Claude Magentarain relaxed. He was in the nicest of all the sleeper trains that ran to and from Toy Dream 35. The train’s luxurious interior was designed in the European style and it remained stopped longer than it ran. Of its 15 cars, the back 5 were normal sleeper cars, the middle 5 were entertainment facilities such as a restaurant, a casino, and a theater, and the front 5 were each individual suites. Claude naturally had the prime spot of the first car. Of course, he would be the first one crushed like an empty can in an accident, so the luxury was reminiscent of the Sword of Damocles.
He looked in the mirror, poked at the eyepatch over his right eye, and shook his head which still ached dully.
I’ve changed too, he thought as he looked at his face in the mirror.
He had lost an eye at the Queen’s Miniature Garden and he had lost his dominant arm in his life after that. What had he gained in exchange? The flow of time had placed years on his soul whether he liked it or not.
(What a pain. Are my thoughts growing so poetic because of the alcohol I had yesterday?)
However, a real man did not rely on herbal medicines or energy drinks at a time like this.
A hardcore man’s morning began with a cup of whisky.
Someone who ordered a single malt on the rocks with a subdued look on his face was not much different from someone who forced himself to drink his coffee black. Intentionally mixing in some kind of impurity was the best way to draw out the quality of the primary ingredient. For example, a sprig of mint or some cigar smoke. That was enough to transform the drink in any number of ways. Only a child would take everything at face value. By the time you were old enough to enjoy alcohol, you had to be a big enough person to think about how to draw out the inner side of your partner.
“Huh? Where’d my Queen on the Ice ’12 go? Isn’t it usually right here? I don’t care how drunk I was; I seriously doubt I would misplace my drink bottles.”
“I threw them out. Every last one.”
The expressionless girl named 3A suddenly popped in from the side and Claude yelled at her at the top of his lungs. Her hair color was more ice than silver and her eyes were colder than perpetual snow. Her body was too tiny to call delicate, but she was actually 15, demonstrating how bizarre modern technology had become. Her dress had a long skirt and a blue ribbon on the chest. It was so thin that her slender silhouette showed through in the backlight, but that was a trick. It was only an optical effect meant to hide all the weapons hidden inside.
She was an assassin who had used special breathing methods and organ movements to intentionally disturb her hormonal balance and reject her secondary sex characteristics as a way to walk right up to her targets.
Claude shouted hysterically at the demonic sword that had been honed down so sharply that it looked like it would break in two.
“Threw them out? Wh-what do you think you’re doing!? Why would you do that!? Are you stupid!? Don’t you know the amount of Queen on the Ice produced was drastically limited due to a worker’s strike, the underground reserves were wiped out by a major cold wave, South America’s cheap Sol Diablo killed the company’s stock value, and it’s only sold at exorbitant prices by professional resellers on online auctions!?”
“The window was open, so I thought...why not?”
“You didn’t even use the trash can!? That’s just plain dangerous!! ”
“Also, that absurdly high price says nothing about the quality of the drink. Nothing at all.”
No one would have questioned the large and muscular man if he had claimed to be a professional pirate, but right now his shoulders drooped like a scolded child's would.
“…Everyone’s favorite dandy can’t work up any energy without his fuel.”
“I had a feeling you would say that. Drunk Man, here is a new bottle.”
Just by looking at her, 3A’s lovely silhouette seemed to show through her dress, but she now held a bottle of colorfully green liquid in her small hand and passed it to Claude, who frowned.
“What’s this? A liqueur? This scent…is it mint flavored? What do you mix it with?”
“You swish it in your mouth.”
“Bfhhh!! Cough, cough! This is mouthwash! I just chugged like half of it!!”
There were baseless rumors that said swallowing mouthwash or toothpaste would give you a trippy experience or that putting eye drops in an alcoholic beverage would put it on the level of a sleeping pill, but nothing like that happened here.
3A remained expressionless but formed a small triangle with her mouth as she put a Gozaru Samurai puppet on her right hand and made it talk.
“(You reek. Whatever’s coming back up from your stomach makes you smell like an alcoholic gutter. Can’t you take proper care of yourself? And why do I have to pay for it in the form of this stench? Do you want me to cut open your gut, pull out your stomach, and wash it out with a neutral detergent?)”
“I can hear that! I can hear everything you’re saying, young girl. And Gozaru wouldn’t speak in that chilling of a voice!! A-and being told I reek by a girl really hurts this dandy’s heart, you know? Heh. But if you want to show off your femininity, could you do it in the form of boobs?”
“So is 3A your bra si-…ow!!”
A heavy thud rang out. It was the windlass pike. The storage device was more like a solid vise than a fishing reel and it had fallen right onto Claude’s little toe.
“Are you stupid!? Don’t you know the difference between a joke and-…”
“Did that wake you up, you piece of shit? Enough that you don’t need to rely on a hair of the dog?”
3A looked coldly down on Claude as he held his toe and writhed around on the floor, but she was actually sadly dedicated to him. It might look like she was rebelling against her master’s orders, but deep down she was showing her concern for his health.
And that was the opposite of what Claude wanted.
After crushing a certain criminal organization, he had happened to pick up 3A who the organization had been keeping like a pet. She had essentially been a machine that did nothing more than swiftly kill whoever she was told to. Feeling responsible for her after picking her up, he had decided to look after the girl until she was independent enough to seek freedom even if it mean killing her temporary master. But at this rate, her dependence was only going to grow and she was even working against his initial goal.
(I really need to do something about this soon…)
Claude gave that topic some serious thought, but then 3A held down her dress’s skirt as she looked down at him.
“What do you think you’re doing with that serious expression on your face? Going for the low angle like that is the absolute worst…”
“Hold on just a second. You’re the one that set things up like this. And even if I did look up your skirt, all I’d see are a ton of blades and some cute little cotton- dobwah!?”
She kicked him in the back and the pirate began mimicking a shrimp.
3A ignored that and pulled out the key hanging at her dress’s chest on a thin chain.
“Are you sure you want me to hold onto this?”
“Gh, cough… Yes, yes. After all, it’s safest with you. I can’t exactly put it in the room’s safe. Even if someone doesn’t know its value in our industry, it still has a 30-carat diamond in it. Anyone could try to steal it.”
Claude pouted his lips as he answered, but then he got up and approached the nearby amber-colored closet.
In fact, he opened the double doors.
The back of the closet and the back of the opened doors were entirely covered in paper documents.
The paper came in a variety of types: from old papyrus and parchment to modern waterproof paper and high-resolution photosensitive paper. The small writing and diagrams filling the papers were not limited to any specific religion or mythology. They included Pygmalion, crystal skulls, sokushinbutsu, Joan of Arc’s heart, and organs pickled in salt. They were all legends from all over the world concerning the preservation of the human body or the creation of dolls.
The various rectangles of paper were gathered together into a single shape.
It almost looked like a human silhouette made from pixels.
“You’ve gathered most of it, haven’t you?”
“That just goes to show how surprisingly irresponsible the world is. And I honestly thought I’d be stopped somewhere before I had all of this together.”
It was still only the silhouette.
But some letters of the alphabet were placed over its head like an angel’s halo: iu – nu – fb – a – wuh – ei – kx – eu – pl – vjz.
That name had transformed history. It was the pure white descended upon a world of vibrant color. If you still could not tell what he was trying to do at this point, you had unfortunately failed to study up on the world’s laws.
One piece was blatantly missing. There was a large hole where the heart should be.
“Everything is here. They were right when they called the human body a miniature universe.”
“…Who are you calling miniature?”
“If you know that would refer to you, why would you-…no, never mind.”
Claude sadly retracted his opinion and poked at the missing heart of the silhouette on the wall.
His fingertip tapped on the chic wood.
“The Natural History’s missing entries, huh?”
“What do you plan to do with it once you complete it?”
Claude did not answer 3A’s question.
He instead closed the closet with both hands.
“Anyway, you take care of the key needed to reach the gallery. That’s the safest plan.”
“If you say so.”
“Well, I’ll admit I’m a little worried that your flat chest is somewhat lacking in the cushioning department. Gwa ha ha ha-…ow!! Wait, stop! Don’t climb on top of me and pin me down! There’s no ref here, so this only leads to an infinite hell!!”
The train was stopped and yet the sleeper car’s suspension began to creak, but then they were interrupted. However, it was not a righteous conductor growing suspicious of the man staying with a much younger girl who did not seem to be his daughter. For one thing, normal people could not perceive Claude while he was outside their field of vision. 3A was a different matter because she had been intentionally kept at a lower Award level (so she could kill summoners and vessels too).
The window and the entire wall around it were blown away and another summoner and vessel walked inside.
It was a nun in a graceful habit and a small boy. Unlike with Claude, the boy seemed to be leading the nun. Relationships between a summoner and a vessel came in all kinds. But in most of them, the two partners had some kind of distortion that only applied to them.
And there was no need to immediately jump to the occult just because this destruction could not be done by human hands. This was a sleeper train, but it was currently stopped and attaching an explosive to the outside wall would suffice.
They could also have set up enough to blow the entire car to smithereens, but they had gone out of their way to arrive as a summoner and vessel. Assuming they were not just dumb, that meant there was something inside the car they did not want blown up. For example, the silver key with a 30-carat diamond that hung from 3A’s neck and hid in her modest chest.
“Off you go.” Claude gently pushed the girl off of him. “That was faster than I expected.”
He sounded impressed. Only Shiroyama Kyousuke and those close to him would know that the Diamond Master Key had been stolen, but he doubted they would have let anyone else know that. It had to have been difficult to find Claude’s name in the fragmentary data and it could not have been easy tracking down his accurate location and putting together this attack plan given how many fake names and fake IDs he had used. And yet these two had done it in such a short time. Their speed was worth praising. It was a shame they would not be recognized for this anywhere.
The small boy waved his hand.
“Of course. The Founder’s Gallery is a stepping stone to allow us to better understand and better reach Her Majesty. So we have no reason whatsoever to stop. We will start by making a recovery here. We will have you tell us everything you know and give us everything you have.”
The nun spoke smoothly, bit her index finger with her canine tooth, and then brought her lips to it. When she pulled the finger away as if pulling something out, a single long and thick stick was pulled stickily out along with sweet saliva.
It was a Blood-Sign.
In a certain world, this was the same as throwing a glove at your opponent’s face.
“Hmm,” groaned Claude at length.
At some point, something like a shiny and varnished amber-colored baton had appeared in his hand. When he lightly swung it, it extended to nearly 2 meters in length. It was structured just like the special batons used by police, but due to the man’s pirate captain look, it may have reminded more people of the telescopes of an older age.
“Well, I suppose this is right in a way. Since someone like you showed up, the Natural History’s missing entries must be the real deal. If I obediently follow this thread, I bet I’ll find the ‘answer’. I can feel it waiting for me.”
And Claude was missing an arm. He could not hold a Blood-Sign accurately with just the one. He held the grip near the bottom while 3A held it between her index and middle fingers near the tip to help him aim.
It was just like a three-legged race.
But while demonstrating frighteningly smooth teamwork, Claude Magentarain sounded truly troubled.
“But, well, you look even dumber than I’d expected.”
They had moved to the used tool store run by the modified China dress beauty in C Block’s Chinatown.
“Was it hard getting here with the containers everywhere? Sorry the entire area reeks of fireworks.”
“If it wasn’t you saying that, I wouldn’t be so worried.”
“Oh, there’s nothing to worry about this time. This job is above board. It’s just that everywhere needs some fireworks right now. Fireworks these days are pretty amazing. They come in containers as a single module that turns back and forth like a fan while launching fireworks according to a program. They can easily launch 10,000 of them a minute.”
“Why does Chinatown love fireworks so much? Especially during the largescale lux restrictions in place for looking at the stars during Tanabata.”
“That’s because we all want to go a little nuts the instant Tanabata is over and the restrictions are removed.”
Lu Niang Lan of Illegal had brought them some information.
She leaned over the counter and waved a report held together with a metal clip.
“I didn’t find anything on Claude Magentarain, but a search for 3A did turn up something. That stands for All-Around Armament, right? Is this her?”
Claude Magentarain. Kyousuke and the others had visited C Block’s Chinatown to pick up the “product” they needed to lure out that unseen opponent.
And while they were there, the modified China dress beauty rested her elbows on the counter of her shop, squished her large chest against the counter, and explained what she had found.
“Of all the things you could’ve run across, it turns out she’s like a later model of me. The Perfect Dragon was only unintentionally created, but this project analyzed me from a variety of angles and attempted to stably mass-produce more of me. That’s the Illegal-sponsored 3A project. And this girl seems to be a successful product of that.”
With her glossy black hair and clear blue eyes, Lu Niang Lan was not pure Chinese, European, Indian, Latina or anything else. She was one candidate for the creation of a truly superior race by mixing bloodlines from every race around the globe. She was an excellent vessel and she also had the skill to slay a top rate summoner without using the Summoning Ceremony. And she had in fact killed Government Award 1000 barehanded.
Between the three major powers, Government and Illegal were the most directly opposed to each other and they faced 2 major problems. The first was whether or not they could freely use Repliglass and other cutting-edge equipment. The second was the number of vessels they had. Government was increasing their number of summoners using systematic military-style training, but they were chronically short on vessels who were reliant on a certain type of inborn talent. That was what kept Government from relying on pure numbers.
That said, Illegal did not have an abundant source of vessels either.
In that case, what would they search for? For one, they would try to secure as many vessels as they could. But at the same time, what if they found a way to reduce their opponent’s numbers without using their own summoners and vessels?
If they had a great number of the 3As, a standardized and mass-produced unit of Lu Niang Lans, that would become possible. They would begin a new age in which masters of ordinary martial arts could exterminate the occult.
Of course, that was only if the technique at the foundation of the plan was complete.
“They have their overall theory, but it seems like they haven’t had much success. They’ve just had this one girl who developed more than the rest.”
“If that’s the best they can do, then I’m sorry to say the project might not have a future.”
“Oh, is that so? You could tell that much?”
“If that girl had really reproduced what you can do, I would’ve died at that zoo. She couldn’t even land a surprise attack, so she clearly hasn’t reached your level.”
He was not being figurative or modest. If he was unable to use the Summoning Ceremony, then he would be helpless against that modified China dress beauty. That was one situation he never wanted to plan for.
“Still, I’m sure Illegal will continue with this. Even if they know it’s all a farce.” Lu Niang Lan flipped through the report she placed on the counter. “Being a worthless child in the underworld is always a tragic thing. A lot of people mistakenly think it’s a kind adult’s duty to give them value. They’ll probably continue working and failing. Maybe they’ll make a breakthrough and maybe they’ll finally realize they can never break through that wall.”
“I’m fine. My body was made entirely in the search of what was most logical. If Illegal is purely seeking power, there won’t be any room for more sleazy desires. They won’t keep people in animal cages like when I was in Government.”
Government Award 1000.
That tyrannical king had been nothing like Award 2799, Humanism, that Kyousuke had seen in the Queen’s Miniature Garden. He had been an incarnation of selfishness that had swallowed up the word “justice”. Just thinking about him made Kyousuke grimace. There was nothing positive there.
“…Let’s get back to 3A.”
“Right. Their stable mass-production project didn’t go as planned and the research group needed some extra funds, so they seem to have started renting out the relatively successful 3A in the name of field testing her. She was basically a mercenary. She did a fair bit of work, but she suddenly disappeared one day. Some other summoner crushed the organization she had been rented out to.”
“So was that Claude Magentarain?”
“The research group seemed to think she was buried below the rubble. They said she couldn’t be given any further commands without the Quartz Pendulum made from artificial crystal. And if 3A did start to regain a sense of self for some reason, I think we can all guess why that ‘miracle’ occurred.”
None of that conflicted with the Claude Magentarain Kyousuke knew. And that made it all the more confusing why he would be fixated on the Diamond Master Key and Golden Treasure Chest, be seeking the Founder’s Gallery, and be working with the White Queen in any form or fashion.
With that proper past and twisted present, Kyousuke could not get a firm grasp of who Claude was.
Had that oppressive charisma swallowed and remade Claude just as it had Azalea?
“If 3A is in Toy Dream 35, we should be able to search for her with a photo of her face. Unlike Claude himself, she isn’t a high Award summoner, so normal people can perceive and remember her. I recommend begging that shut-in girl to let you use her public agency.”
However, that was limited to the areas visible by cameras.
Modern analysis technology did not need a head-on shot. They could create a color palette for the area around the face and use the target’s gait to identify them, but if the target was aware of that in advance, there were countermeasures they could take. Even if they occasionally made a mistake, there would not be surveillance records for every moment of the day. It would be best to use that to narrow down the range of a search and then use something else as a finishing blow.
“Lu-san, do you have what I asked for?”
“This, right? Just to be clear, this was not easy to get ahold of. Ohh, I’m so glad I had a chance to reclaim my honor.”
The battle was over and the Artificial Sacred Ground had vanished.
Claude rested his retractable Blood-Sign on his shoulder and muttered to himself.
“Dammit. This is the problem with these religious cults. Win or lose, nothing good ever comes of it.”
The luxurious suite room had been entirely trashed. And not just the furniture and interior; the walls and ceiling had been blown away, turning it into an open-air car. Since there was no explaining this to the conductor, they would have to leave immediately. Being a high Award summoner who was quickly forgotten came in handy at times like this.
“What about the documents in the closet? It’s hard to even tell which scraps were the closet.”
“Not a problem.”
Claude casually shook his blond hair and tapped his pirate-like eyepatch with a fingertip. Almost like he was indicating his lost eye.
“I’ve got it all here.”
When Claude jumped out through a large hole in the wall that had split open like a burst can, there was no real disappointment on his face. He then spoke to 3A who followed him in her dress that let her silhouette show through (or that appeared to in order to hide all her weapons).
“What’s all that stuff you’re holding there?”
“Gozaru Samurai, Bubble-kun the Raccoon, and Onbu-chan the Monster Tanuki. It’s too bad there’s no sign of the Phantom Girl even here in Toy Dream 35.”
“Why are you taking that crap with-…ow! Idiot, not the shin! Don’t kick me in the shin!”
Claude hopped back a bit, but…
“W-well, I do have one thing to thank you for.”
“Since you threw out all the drink bottles on the shelf, I was able to give up this hideout without any real regret. Thank you very much.”
“If you could stop being so full of yourself, you might actually be a model citizen. Good medicine is hard to swallow, so should I break your nose? Or would going for the balls work better?”
“Heh. Don’t be silly. My big magnum is too much for a little girl like you to handle. Grabbing it with your tiny little hands wouldn’t accomplish anything. In fact, it’d probably toss you around. Hah hah!”
“If you don’t shut up right this instant, we’re going to find out how you like being kicked there.”
The two of them continued their discussion as they walked below the monorail track. Claude’s vessel, the bird of prey, was circling elegantly overhead.
“Where should we hide next?”
“Anywhere’s fine. Every Toy Dream city has plenty of hotels to serve all of the tourists. How about a luxury cruise ship with a pool? Unlike China, Japan’s Tanabata apparently has a lot of events linked to bathing. Oh, I’m sorry. I suppose a 15-year-old with a body of such modest proportions she has to use a name like 3A wouldn’t want to wear a swimsuit at a resort pool, would-…oof!?”
True to her warning, 3A kicked her master hard enough that he rose from the ground a few centimeters and then rolled along the ground. She then looked down at him like he was a dung beetle. Claude crouched down in the world’s most pathetic way and hopped up and down for a while.
“You…hold on…I’m trying to focus.”
“I wonder what would happen if I kicked you again.”
“So what were you saying had modest proportions?”
“Y-your diet has a modest proportion of sodium!! So your chest is quite healthy!!”
She must have not felt like dealing with his nonsense because she finally released Claude. He immediately started hopping again.
“You really hit my balls cleanly into the bunker. It’s artistic in a way! I’m having a hard time figuring out how to get them back on the green, dammit…”
3A ignored Claude’s shout of “What could be more important than this!?” and she looked overhead.
No, she looked at…
“Your partner is acting oddly.”
“3A, you’ve always been quite the sadistic perv-…no, I didn’t say anything. So what’s that about Ricky?”
Claude also looked in that direction.
And the eyepatch man saw…
The situation changed just before noon.
The black-haired shrine maiden suddenly sat up on the top floor of a luxury apartment.
Meinokawa Renge had no idea why she was here and she shuddered at the unfamiliar flavor she found in her mouth.
“Huh? What was I doing? What happened!? The date on the TV is different and what happened with Azale-…with all that???”
And before even checking on her disheveled clothing, she checked for her sister. She looked around the area in a panoramic view.
“~ ~ ~”
She did indeed see a blonde shrine maiden (with a flushed face) who had apparently woken up just like her, but her eyes immediately locked onto the gloomy hoodie bastard who was embracing her cute twin sister from behind.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing to my Higan!? This calls for the death penalty!!”
“No, Renge, you need to watch out! Um, behind you!!”
Confused, she turned around and saw a 5 meter beast there: the white liger☆
She got up and tried to scramble away, but she tripped quite spectacularly and made a perfect hole-in-one on Shiroyama Kyousuke and Meinokawa Higan. I see, she thought. So Higan woke up shortly before I did and followed the exact same path along this tricky 7th hole.
Kyousuke lay sprawled out with a twin sister in each arm, but he focused on his business and asked Aika a question.
“As your spiritual little sister, I’m starting to think I should reach for my bikini’s knots to emerge victorious in the battle over you, but fine. We had hits in A Block, Z Block, and P Block. I honestly think you should start with P Block since it was the most recent one, but…”
After receiving a photo of 3A from Lu Niang Lan of Illegal (in exchange for a large debt of gratitude), he had passed that on to Aika of Government (in exchange for looking after the shut-in) and she had searched for the girl using Toy Dream 35’s public crime prevention system. That had given them some general location information. She could not go around in a full-face helmet all the time and she would grow careless on occasion no matter how cautious she was.
But this was no more accurate than telling them which of the 26 blocks she had last been seen in.
In that case, they needed something more.
That was where the item bought from Lu Niang Lan came into play.
Claude Magentarain used an animal vessel. It was a giant bird of prey and its name was Ricky. They had no way of knowing how much he cared for the bird, but he would certainly be in trouble if he lost it in enemy territory. He was a summoner, so he could not use his power without a vessel.
That led to a simple answer: Edelchohilaris Disease.
Those parasites were fatal to birds of prey but had no effect on humans and their eggs had been scattered across P Block. That would ensure that Claude went running to the nearest animal hospital.
Kyousuke and Sekurtiti left Aika’s luxury apartment.
They made their way to one of the giant bridges crisscrossing between the buildings.
The Tomb Priestess was still dressed in her bandages, L-shaped transparent lace, and gold decorations, but she was also wearing her yukata since they had to take a train to P Block.
“I have heard of those. They’re called capsule toys.”
“I don’t think any kid would use that official name.”
“I-I heard they are a nightmarish trap that keeps you from ever quitting once you’ve started. Tremble tremble.”
“Maybe I should have a chat with that old man in a casual suit.”
This time, they were working with Biondetta and her white snake. Kyousuke was going to use everything available to him. He was willing to fight Claude two-against-one.
Drawing him out was one thing, but they still had no idea how powerful he was. And with the glimpses of the White Queen they were getting, it was unclear how much he could use her in an actual battle.
If possible, Kyousuke wanted to hit him with a quick attack before she showed up.
If he was alone, they could crush him two-against-one. If he had help, Biondetta could clear out the others while Kyousuke focused on Claude.
“Hee hee hee. But I see you didn’t go for three-against-one.”
“Oh, you mean those twins. They haven’t made any kind of contract with me and they won’t be at their best so soon after recovering from their defeat. Plus, Renge apparently had all of her organs taken out and put back in. I’m not foolish enough to use something with so many uncertain factors.”
“Yes, let’s go with that. Oh, Kyousuke-chan is growing up so fast.”
Kyousuke looked like he really wanted to say something, but the horned demon in an Oiran-style mini yukata only smiled and poked at his cheek with her skinny index finger.
The city was as peaceful as ever. For the Tanabata Fair, smiling families wearing yukatas and jinbei were crossing the giant bridges and using their light filtered smartphones to visit tourist locations.
Within all that, Sekurtiti sighed in exasperation.
Her eyes followed a stray cat out for a walk around its territory.
“It was very cruel of you to spread a plague through the pharaoh’s new resting place prepared by President Toydream.”
“I had to go this far to draw Claude out of hiding. …And if he’s connected to the White Queen, then this does not even approach cruel in comparison.”
If Claude had the White Queen, he might not need any other Material. But anyone could tell how dangerous it was to use that capricious queen as your primary fighting force. Any proper summoner would also want to keep a vessel handy.
“Edelchohilaris Disease is such a powerful avian illness that they planned to intentionally disseminate it to eliminate the risk of a dangerous infection carrier when there was an explosion in the population of scavenging vultures. But they couldn’t properly calculate out the influence on the environment, so the plan was shelved. And it’s a rare parasite in Japan, so not many animal hospitals keep the serum on hand. There’s only the one place in P Block.”
“So the streets are filled with eggs of a bug that causes a dangerous disease?”
“How many tens of thousands of varieties of germs with Latin names do you think are lurking in the parks everyone relaxes in? Not to mention all the intestinal bacteria in your gut. Looking into those details is a good way to inspire an obsession with cleanliness.”
“I just hope the tomb raiders are the only ones who will suffer from this plague. Like a curse brought by the pharaoh.”
It was a relatively large animal hospital known by the locals as the Menagerie Hospital. That name and its prosperity were likely due to the fact that it primarily served dangerous pets imported from overseas: ferocious beasts, venomous bugs, carnivorous fish, etc. It was a niche business that was highly skilled but served a limited demographic. The panda statue in front of the entrance seemed to be the mascot of an animal-related pharmaceutical company. Aika might have known more since she lived with that white liger.
Perhaps because it was an animal hospital, it did not have an emergency outpatient entrance like a normal hospital would. Kyousuke’s group set up their position in the bushes next to the parking lot, where they could see both the front gate and the emergency exit. Since she no longer had to worry about people’s eyes on her, Sekurtiti reached for her yukata’s obi as she crouched down next to Kyousuke.
“…So you really are going to take it off.”
The serious girl did not hesitate to reveal her bandages, Y-shaped lace cloth, and golden decorations and she tilted her head with the golden tiara on top, so reasonable Kyousuke breathed a depressed sigh.
On his other side, Biondetta was feeding pellets of food to the white snake that crawled out of her yukata’s chest.
“There they are. Hmm, and no sign of putting a sniper in place. Does he not want to let any weakness show in front of his men? No, he might just be a lone wolf.”
They did not have to wait long.
It was Claude Magentarain and 3A.
The large man with a missing arm and an eyepatch looked like a pirate captain. The girl in a dress had a unique coloring reminiscent of a snow spirit despite it being July. They were jogging across the parking lot. And while holding a large but limp bird of prey. Kyousuke smiled while hiding behind the bushes. This man was involved with the White Queen and he was seeking the Founder’s Gallery and the Natural History’s missing entries, but he seemed to still have enough of a heart to care for the family pet.
For a brief moment, a past experience threatened to ensnare Kyousuke’s soul.
But he shook it off. And he spoke with the cold heart of someone waiting in ambush.
“Let’s get started.”
The two summoners moved simultaneously. Kyousuke pulled an Incense Grenade from his pants pocket and Biondetta pulled one from between her legs in the mini-yukata. They both pulled the pin and threw it. The delay was between 3 and 5 seconds. Even if Claude noticed and tried to knock them away, one or the other would detonate before he could reach it.
But Claude reacted swiftly here. Before the two Incense Grenades could go off, he reached into his coat. He pulled out a gun that looked like an enlarged version of the flintlock guns used in the Age of Discovery. It was a single-shot grenade launcher and he did not hesitate to fire it at his own feet.
At first glance, the result might have seemed the same.
An Artificial Sacred Ground quickly formed and it contained Kyousuke, Biondetta, and Claude. But control of a mixed Artificial Sacred Ground belonged to the summoner whose Incense Grenade detonated first. So when their footing was destroyed and they fell, if Kyousuke landed on the ground and Claude on a pillar, the next Artificial Sacred Ground would appear in relation to Claude’s footing. That advantage could not be taken lightly.
Claude had likely understood the situation from the moment he had pulled the launcher’s trigger.
And no matter how much his bird of prey partner was suffering, it would be distanced from death while fighting as a Material. But only for that long.
Kyousuke had Sekurtiti stay by his side, Biondetta placed the white snake on the pavement after it slithered out from the chest of her Oiran-style yukata, and Claude released the weakened bird of prey into the air once more. The man used his surviving left hand to swing and open up his retractable Blood-Sign and he linked with 3A whose dress fluttered around her and displayed her slender silhouette. They held the Blood-Sign straight ahead in their three-legged race style.
“You interfered with us and didn’t hesitate to steal the key we needed for the hostage exchange, so did you really think we’d let you escape unharmed? Don’t screw with me, ghost. Just because things worked out in the end is no excuse. That was only how it turned out.”
“Oh? So you want the Natural History’s missing entries that badly? Well, I guess it is hard to fight the Queen’s pull.”
“You have no right to say that to me.”
Both sides had pulled out their Blood-Signs. They aimed the tips at the floating White Thorns and stared at the Rose made of 216 Petals that appeared at the midpoint between them.
“I don’t know what you hope to accomplish by taking advantage of the situation and gaining the Natural History’s missing entries. But if it has anything to do with the White Queen, I will do whatever it takes to crush you. I’m sure I don’t have to explain why to you of all people. You’re the one that saved me from that hell!!”
White lights passed through the air from 3 different directions.
With a solid sound, the three-dimensional Rose burst into countless Petals. Those scattering lights were hit into the randomly-placed Spots.
Sekurtiti’s voice ran directly in the back of Kyousuke’s mind.
Kyousuke had the Original Green (k). Sound Range: Middle. Cost: 1.
Biondetta had the Original Yellow (s). Sound Range: High. Cost: 1.
Their enemy Claude had the Original Green (k). Sound Range: Middle. Cost: 1.
They were all slime Materials. The very first selection was nearly random, but this was actually the ideal situation. In a 2-against-1 battle, the standard tactic was to have one person with the same rock-paper-scissors style Sound Range as the enemy and one person with the superior Sound Range.
(Hm? Why did you choose different ones? It would be best for both of you to attack with his weakness.)
“There’s a reason for this.”
If they both chose the superior Sound Range, there was a chance of the enemy overturning everything by summoning a Material with a Sound Range superior to both of them. And if one of them had the superior Sound Range and one had the inferior Sound Range, the enemy could focus on the inferior one, defeat them quickly, and make a comeback in the 1-on-1 battle that remained.
Thus, the standard was superior and equal.
That was the best combination. It gave them an advantage as things were and allowed them to maintain that advantage even if the enemy shifted to another Material. It was like Kyousuke acted as a shield with his identical Sound Range while Biondetta was the attacker with her superior Sound Range.
Then their White Thorns crossed paths as they built up their Materials.
Once they built up their momentum, there would be no stopping them. Claude would never find an advantage, so the pressure would bear down on him from above and crush him.
Or it should have worked that way.
Claude quickly launched several White Thorns. The white lights were fired using the three-legged-race assistance of 3A outside the protective circle, and they collided with Kyousuke and Biondetta’s White Thorns, knocking them astray. This was meant to destroy their teamwork.
However, that should have been suicide for Claude. In a 2-against-1 battle, his opponents had a total number of White Thorns twice as high as his. So if he used a single White Thorn to intercept each of theirs, he would run out first. Interfering was fine, but he would be helpless if he lost the tools he needed to build up his own Material.
And yet the situation did not tilt in either direction.
When Claude’s White Thorns collided with Kyousuke and Biondetta’s, they expelled all of their kinetic energy and came to a stop in midair. They should have disappeared then, but they remained in place.
“What is that!?”
“Biondetta, Claude’s Thorns are still moving. They’re just spinning rapidly in place!”
Kyousuke roared a warning, but 10 seconds had already passed. A new White Thorn appeared to replenish Claude’s emptied stock. He did not hesitate to fire it. The White Thorn hit the others and only Claude’s white lights bounced around the Artificial Sacred Ground and used their great numbers to steal away the Petals in no time. They were hit into the Spots.
Sekurtiti’s surprised voice rang in Kyousuke’s head.
(This is not looking good!)
When Kyousuke and Biondetta each launched a White Thorn, Claude caused a chain reaction with several to compete with their combined numbers.
Kyousuke had The Dead that Burns with a Curse (ov – ou – q – ye). Sound Range: High. Cost: 7.
Unable to maintain a human form any longer, this mass of flames burned with the curse it created itself and it constantly changed between 7 different colors. Whosoever was taken inside that mass producer of negative emotions would swell out from within until they burst.
Biondetta had the Jewel Flies that Draw out Dark Desire (iu – fc – ei – upm – np – sq). Sound Range: Middle. Cost: 13.
It was a storm of thousands and tens of thousands of flies, each of which was a beautiful and colorful jewel. That colorful monster’s light grasped and drew in its prey’s soul, brushing it aside would cover you with countless pathogens, and the victim was decorated with psychedelic mold.
Claude had the Long Red-Haired Journal that Drips with Hatred (ov – an – le – rx – n – a – b – er – ju). Sound Range: Middle. Cost: 15.
Taking the form of a giant floating book, the bizarre journal continually spat out long and sticky hair from between its pages. It was a predator that increased its page number by crushing its victims inside itself.
“Sorry, Sekurtiti. I’ll be putting a bit of a burden on you!”
(Do not worry. That is what it means to work together!)
Kyousuke’s focus on supporting Biondetta had worked against him, so he was in real trouble now. Even with the superior Sound Range, the enemy could overcome that by force when the Cost difference was at 10 or more.
They were fighting on a flat parking lot, so it was difficult to pull off any tricky tactics.
“This isn’t good. …Sir!”
Biondetta made an immediate decision. She had her Material smash the ground at their feet and they all fell straight down. When their footing was destroyed, a new Artificial Sacred Ground would open where they fell. Claude had been the one to use the Incense Grenade, so the new Artificial Sacred Ground would be in reference to where he landed, but it would still help to have a new set of Roses appear.
Toy Dream 35 was a city of tall buildings rising from the ocean. Their next footing was a transformer substation more than 20 meters below. They did not have to worry about physical injury thanks to the protective circles, but they still had to refocus their minds for the fall.
Sekurtiti’s voice exploded in Kyousuke’s mind. Their vision had spun around. Gravity had reversed. He glanced over and saw 3A holding the Blood-Sign in one hand and using her other hand to hold the windlass pike she used as a spear. The special steel made the spear into a nice spring and she had started her fall with it stabbed into the ground. And what did that accomplish?
There were giant swings that functioned as a variant on bungie jumping. Instead of falling straight down, you passed below the bridge like a swing and moved to the other side.
This was the same.
Claude was supported by 3A and the Blood-Sign, so he swung below the broken platform instead of falling. And that allowed him to “land” upside-down on the bottom of the parking lot.
“This isn’t over yet. You picked this fight, so don’t be showing your backs just yet.”
This was not at all the reset that Kyousuke and Biondetta had hoped for.
Tossed about by the rapid gravitational change, Kyousuke was unable to land on his feet and fell onto his back. Biondetta did the same, with her black knee socks and thighs fully visible below her mini-yukata. Before he could even get up, Kyousuke thrust out his Blood-Sign, hit a White Thorn, and just barely managed to break the new mass of Roses. He avoided the fatal Cost difference of 10.
(Is this a monorail?)
Sekurtiti was right.
Kyousuke had been busy subconsciously performing complex calculations to control his White Thorns, so it took him a moment to grasp the situation. They were not just on the bottom of the destroyed parking lot platform. It was a railroad. They had fallen onto the bottom of a cargo monorail loaded with containers and tanks. It had cartoony images of Orihime and Hikoboshi drawn on it for the Tanabata Fair.
In this upside-down world, it felt like they were standing on the roof of a train as the fight resumed. As the Materials grew stronger, larger, and more powerful, each of their attacks had more weight behind them.
The metal containers were easily torn apart and stray shots caused the cylindrical tanks behind them to explode. Gravity was only reversed for the summoners and Materials, so the steel shrapnel became a storm of razor-sharp guitar picks that poured into the ocean below.
(What about the driver!?)
“Don’t worry. This is a Toy Dream 35 freight train, so it’s probably self-driving.”
It was Claude who responded to Kyousuke’s comment.
“Tch. I was hoping the explosions would cause the train to stop. No, maybe the initial destruction of the parking lot severed the control signal cables. This is the problem with self-driving trains. Or maybe this has to do with summoners and Materials not showing up on cameras and sensors when an Incense Grenade is in effect.”
“The limit is 10 minutes, but you’re making this awfully attractive.”
Claude clicked his tongue just as the scenery changed. The sea and sky vanished. By the time Kyousuke realized they had entered a tunnel – no, a building – it was too late to do anything about it.
“The cargo terminal station? …Sir!”
Everything exploded before Biondetta could say anything.
Sekurtiti’s thoughts no longer formed words. First, the freight train lost control thanks to the exploding tanks, slammed into the terminal station, and was smashed to smithereens. Then chemicals and fire scattered in every direction, spreading the flames to the other freight trains waiting in the station. The conflagration spread in no time at all.
(Setting a fire in the pharaoh’s tomb!?)
The silver lining was that the trains were self-driving and thus unmanned.
And the scorching hell could not harm the summoners thanks to the protective circles or the vessels thanks to the Materials.
The Artificial Sacred Ground was established in relation to Claude, so Kyousuke and Biondetta had to pay careful attention to what their floor would be.
The container and tank cars weighing several tons each were blown away like paper boxes in the wind. They rolled across the station. To the summoners, even that was only a terrain effect that caused the White Thorns and Petals to bounce around wildly. The whirling flames created a mirage and blowing black smoke blinded them, but their task remained the same: move faster, more often, and stronger than their opponent.
The White Thorns that should have disappeared after being hit would instead remain in place thanks to their rapid spin, the next shot would be launched, and Claude would send a great number of Petals into the Spots all at once. The first thing Kyousuke and Biondetta had to do to combat this was to avoid any interference from Claude. No matter what anyone said, their superior numbers gave them an advantage. As long as the initial interference did not affect them, none of Claude’s unique tactics could fill that gap. They would eventually win.
Salvation and vengeance.
Their paths had split, but Kyousuke and Biondetta still worked in perfect unison. They did not act separately to surround Claude from multiple directions. Kyousuke bounced his White Thorns off of Biondetta’s and Biondetta bounced hers off of Kyousuke’s so their paths would slither around like a living creature. They continued to escape Claude’s lock as they grazed the Petals and knocked them into the Spots.
A question from Sekurtiti entered Kyousuke’s head.
(Hm? What is that?)
A change soon occurred.
Of course, Kyousuke, Biondetta, and Claude’s Materials were complexly changing every few seconds and the first two were slowly filling the gap by avoiding Claude’s interference, but this was a different change.
(Oh, that’s right.)
Sekurtiti’s words continued.
(She is part of the Summoning Ceremony battle, but she is outside the protective circle. Claude’s vessel is the bird of prey, not her. So…)
That small girl aimed his Blood-Sign in place of his missing right arm, but she did not receive the benefit of the protective circle. Containers and tanks were exploding within the freight terminal and the building was full of scorching flames and black smoke. True to her name, 3A was strengthened in some severe ways, but this was still too much for her to bear. She had seemed like a cold snow spirit, but now her face was covered in sweat, making her look like a hunk of ice melting on a grill.
“Nee hee☆ In that case…”
“No, Biondetta! Wait!!”
Her silver Blood-Sign doubled as a bold-action sniper rifle. Kyousuke quickly yelled at her when he saw her shifting her grip and center of gravity while launching a White Thorn.
“Claude, that girl isn’t going to last long. If you put down your Blood-Sign and let yourself be defeated, we can reach an agreement. We’re after the Founder’s Gallery and the White Queen. We don’t have anything against you!!”
The blond man’s one eye wandered a little.
But not enough to make that decision.
He once more squeezed the grip near the bottom of his Blood-Sign.
“You only have to do as much as you can, but give it your all. If you can’t go on, abandon me and get out of here. Even if I’m trapped in the Artificial Sacred Ground, I can destroy the ground to reset everything. Use some acrobatics to escape without setting foot on the ground below and then wait for a chance to counterattack.”
(Kh… Even after all this, we can’t stop them!?)
Shiroyama Kyousuke’s internal temperature did not rise from simple anger. Instead, it dropped to icy levels.
Claude had announced he would stay true to his methods and wear down the girl’s life for his own purposes. Or perhaps it was for the White Queen who held his soul and would not let go. In that case, Kyousuke would stay true to his methods too. He would save human lives. He would stop thinking about anything else.
(What are you going to do, Shiroyama Kyousuke!?)
He answered with a single word.
With an explosive noise, the floor between Kyousuke and Claude collapsed. But this time it was not to change their footing for a reset like when Biondetta had done it. The summoners and vessels were using the paranormal to fight, but the stage itself was part of the normal world and thus obeyed the proper laws of physics.
He wanted one thing: a lot of oxygen.
As that basic element arrived from outside, the indoor terminal’s flames were activated.
They gained explosive force.
Much like a backdraft, flames and shockwaves swept across the indoor space. But it was the oxygen that mattered most. Even if it had been invited in from outside, if it was all used as fuel, the problem would be an overall dearth of oxygen.
Kyousuke was fine, Biondetta was fine, and Claude was fine.
But what about 3A who did not have a protective circle?
“Not bad for someone who acts like he’s so well behaved!!”
“I prioritize human lives above all else. Nothing else matters. It doesn’t even matter if someone collapses here as long as they can be revived later.”
The snow spirit girl’s head wobbled.
She slowly shook her head.
No, she tried to shake it.
“I am…3A. I will…loyally fulfill…my chosen master’s…”
But she was outdone by her own momentum and her tiny body crumpled to the side. Her index and middle fingers left the tip of the Blood-Sign.
Claude Magentarain’s Blood-Sign lost control.
Only now did the eyepatch man remember something: the people who truly need help no longer have the strength to even voice the words “help me”.
Hadn’t it been the same when he had first met 3A? An old acquaintance had changed their name to Doctor S and was working behind the scenes, so he had stopped by to greet them, found they were not in the high-rise building they used as a base, and ran into this girl who had robotically attacked him.
He could have killed her if he had thrown an Incense Grenade and summoned a Material.
But he had not.
His hesitation had allowed the girl’s blade to stab deep into the right arm he used to protect his vitals and he had ultimately lost his dominant arm. But in that moment, he had seen something: 3A herself had been more shocked than anyone that he had not killed her and had instead let her injure him.
When she had asked a trembling question, hadn’t he given this answer?
“Of course I did. The people who truly need help no longer have the strength to even voice the words ‘help me’.”
The pain did not matter. The fear of losing his dominant hand had disappeared.
Why was it he had felt the need to tell her this first of all?
“I guess I’ll just have to save you. Even if you can’t put down that blade, I’ll make sure you can at least use it for something other than killing. Oh, it isn’t that hard. Thinking that’s all you can do ends up restricting your possibilities and binding you. You need to reach for things that don’t seem at all like your thing and you need to expand your horizons. For example…oh, I know. Why not start collecting stuffed animals or mascot characters? Try holding something other than a blade and you’ll find it feels pretty nice in your hand.”
Claude gave a self-deprecating smile as he lost the support for his Blood-Sign.
Even here, she still could not say “help me”. Had she been that intent on clenching her teeth and helping Claude win after giving up her killing blade? Even after he had told her to only do as much as she could and even after he had given her the option of abandoning him, vanishing into the shadows, and polishing her assassin’s blade as she waited for a chance to strike back and save him?
(That kid’s still gonna take a lot of work.)
And Shiroyama Kyousuke would not hesitate against someone who was careless with human lives, no matter their reasons.
Time began to move once more.
A White Thorn ricocheted complexly around.
A Divine-class was summoned. Sound Range: Low. Cost: 6. It was a 3-headed goddess from Greek mythology and the ancestor of all witches. That goddess ruled over the moon, the night, and the underworld. Most importantly, she gave power to women and granted them the strength to protect themselves. And she bared her fangs against the enemy summoner.
“Yes, this is the scene of the crash. I am here in front of P Block’s indoor freight monorail terminal. The monorail itself was unmanned and no one was hurt, but some of the smoke reached the adjacent passenger terminal, causing something of a commotion. It is still unknown how this largescale fire will affect the Tanabata Astronomical Observation Fair being held across Toy Dream 35, but they believe they can extinguish the fire by sunset.”
It sounded like a TV station reporter, but she did not hold a professional camera. She was probably a net reporter that used her smartphone to report on a video site. She would not be part of a reporter’s club or broadcast company, so she could only be described as a “self-styled” reporter.
Kyousuke’s group listened to her while opening the staff door and sneaking around to the back of the building. Once the protective circle reliant on the Material was gone, the summoners were normal humans who could be taken out by the fire and smoke, so nothing good would come of remaining at the scene of a fire.
They could not walk out the front entrance because they had caused the fire themselves and because they would stand out too much right now. After all, they were carrying a dazed one-armed eyepatch man (with a bird) and a snow spirit who had passed out from oxygen deprivation. Plus, they were accompanied by a girl who only wore bandages and a Y-shaped piece of lace now that she had stripped off her yukata. But the finishing blow was Biondetta who looked pure evil with the white snake wrapped around her. Not one of them was normal. They stood out far too much. Even if summoners and vessels would vanish from people’s minds once they were out of sight, they did not want to head outside when someone was waving a camera around and broadcasting it to the entire world.
The Oiran-style mini-yukata demon did not hesitate to reach for the unconscious girl’s flat chest.
“Oh, I found the Golden Master Key.”
She tossed Kyousuke the silver key with a 30-carat diamond in it. The boy caught it in one hand.
“The key and the ancient map. We’re finally back to where we started, but that means we can actually reach for the Natural History’s missing entries now.”
They felt like they had circumnavigated the globe. They stood in the exact same place, but it had taken an incredible amount of time to reach it. Azalea and Claude. Thanks to their interference, Kyousuke felt like he had gone to far too much effort. But now the path to the Founder’s Gallery and the Natural History’s missing entries was finally open.
But then Sekurtiti wrinkled her brow below her golden tiara.
“Only the key? What happened to the treasure chest?”
“Don’t ask me. This girl’s dress is full of blades, even if it doesn’t look like it. I’m betting the steel weighs more than her entire body. But there’s nothing like what you want. What about that man? Have you tried feeling around on him?”
“This is all I found.”
Kyousuke flicked something over to Biondetta: a micro memory card a quarter the size of a stamp.
“Where was it?”
“Below his eyepatch. The format doesn’t fit my smartphone. Decrypt it for me.”
Biondetta did as she was told. Kyousuke thought about all this as he watched her stick the micro memory card into a slot on her smartphone.
“What if it’s tougher to crack than you expect?”
“We can just ask him everything we want to know, including how to get in.”
That was a trivial issue. Once someone lost the Summoning Ceremony, they could not lie, so they could be directly asked for any hidden location, safe combination, or computer password you wanted. The one exception was something with a random element such as “I stuck it in a bottle and sent it out to sea, so I don’t know where it is now”, but Kyousuke doubted the man would do anything that would prevent himself from retrieving the hints when it related to the Founder’s Gallery or the Natural History’s missing entries.
And as he went over those logical thoughts, he suddenly came to a stop in the staff hallway.
“What is it, sir?”
He wanted to deny it.
But he could not stop a certain possibility from flashing through his mind.
Where had the Golden Treasure Chest gone? Hadn’t he felt this same way when dealing with Azalea? He had assumed Azalea and Claude were connected, but that had proved untrue. Could that be the case this time too? What would it mean if Claude and the White Queen were not connected here?
Hadn’t she even said it was about time she too joined the game too? And she had taken the Golden Treasure Chest so she could take part. If those two had been connected from the beginning, she would not have needed to do that. Kyousuke needed the Diamond Master Key either way, so the White Queen had not needed a new participation ticket.
It was also a mystery why Claude was seeking the Founder’s Gallery.
It had been hard to believe he was blinded by the White Queen when he shared that same past. Kyousuke had forced himself to accept that people could change so drastically.
But what if that was not the case?
He heard a light electronic beep.
Biondetta shook her smartphone. She had apparently decrypted the micro memory card found behind Claude’s eyepatch.
“As I expected, he was gathering information on techniques to preserve the human body and create dolls. Looks like he didn’t care if it was ancient or modern or what part of the world it came from.”
“But…wait. What is this?”
Pygmalion, crystal skulls, sokushinbutsu, Joan of Arc’s heart… He had indeed been gathering information on the techniques, but the added text suggested something else entirely.
“Risk of Spreading: D. Destroying the original will suffice.”
“Risk of Spreading: C. Copies have already spread. The magic cabal calling itself a publisher will need to be destroyed.”
“Risk of Spreading: A. Impossible to erase. I’ll have to spread mistaken traditions online to dilute it.”
“Um, was he going around erasing the information on the techniques he went to so much trouble to hunt down? But why? Did he want to have the Queen all to himself???”
“If not, then this is like the definitions file for security software. He made a copy of the source information so he could identify the dangerous information still out there. Once he had determined something had all been erased, he would destroy his eyepatch to truly erase that information from the world.”
Needless to say, the doll this information could create would be an artificial vessel. And if the Natural History’s missing entries were incorporated into the foundational structure, it would allow the White Queen’s soul to remain in this world indefinitely.
He would take that from humankind.
He would erase it from the world.
“Could it be…?”
“Did I have it backwards? Claude wasn’t fighting to summon the White Queen. Was he erasing any method of summoning her to indirectly prevent her from appearing here…no, to shut her out of this world?”
It was unknown if that Queen would give up on this world…no, on Shiroyama Kyousuke if her existing link to it were broken. She could twist the laws of the world as she saw fit, so it was entirely possible she could create completely new rules and definitions on the same level as the 3rd Summoning Ceremony discovered in 1999.
In fact, crushing the possibilities of the Summoning Ceremony could easily lead to throwing out any method or possibility of opposing the White Queen. It was dangerous, but it was still a double edged sword. Breaking it in order to not cut yourself would also rob you of the means to protect yourself.
What had this incident looked like to Claude Magentarain?
Azalea Magentarain and Shiroyama Kyousuke.
Two children with past connections to him had been fighting (and one side had even been willing to kill) over the Founder’s Gallery and the Natural History’s missing entries.
What if he had only been trying to confiscate that?
What if he had not been an enemy?
Kyousuke heard a footstep.
It came from directly behind him.
His heart seemed to shrink inside his chest. He recalled the fear of the White Queen’s arrival after Azalea’s defeat. And she had taken everything from him. But fear was the seed of action for a summoner. He needed to absorb it and rejoice in finding a new method. So he did not panic. Even if he found pure white evil when he turned around, he would find a way out of here. He would get through this.
He turned around with that in mind.
But what he found there was far too unexpected.
Biondetta and Sekurtiti may not have understood his surprise. After all, most people had only ever heard the legends and few had actually seen this individual.
Who was working with the White Queen?
This was the answer.
“How are…you alive?”
Kyousuke’s dazed comment had an entirely different nuance than when he had encountered Claude.
The other person approached.
The silhouette of a long Blood-Sign rested on his shoulder and a sensually beautiful woman stood by his side as a vessel.
A woman Kyousuke knew very well used to be the one standing there.
She had been kept in a large animal cage and treated like a mere object.
After the Queen’s Miniature Garden, this man had taken over Government and brought the entire organization together as a tyrannical king. As the strongest and cruelest summoner, he had transformed the meaning of the word “justice” to his own liking. He had traversed the three major powers, devoured countless Awards, and finally reached the 1000 Award barrier. But just before moving to the other side, that dream had supposedly been extinguished when a woman had stabbed him in the back.
And Shiroyama Kyousuke shouted his name.
“Elvast Toydream… The Thousand Eater!?”
That great evil responded by opening his mouth just once.
He did not say much.
“I will end this in 1 second.”
A woman sat at the counter of a used tool shop in C Block’s Chinatown.
Her alluring body was contained in a modified China dress and she had supposedly cast aside her life as a vessel.
Lu Niang Lan felt a mysterious shiver run down her spine.
- The White Queen stole the Golden Treasure Chest and left.
- The Saint is a holy woman and a witch who readily changes between master and servant. Meanwhile, her vessel boy does not want anything extreme and only wants to be with that woman.
- The Saint and the remnants of Bridesmaid were destroyed when they attacked Claude. That has at least eliminated any worshipers capable of activity inside Toy Dream 35.
- Claude was gathering items related to doll creation and human preservation, such as the Founder’s Gallery and the Natural History’s missing entries, because he wanted to fully sever the link between worlds and protect this world from anyone summoning an irregularity like the White Queen. That is why he worked to stop the deadly battle between Azalea and Kyousuke.
- The person who was actually working with the White Queen was Elvast Toydream. He was once the ruler of Government and he was supposed killed by Lu Niang Lan’s betrayal just after reaching Award 1000.
Notes and References
- Sokushinbutsu is the act of self mummification practiced by Buddhists monks.
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