The Unexplored Summon Blood Sign:Volume7 Chapter1
Stage 01: Original Joruri Method Artificial Vessel, Meinokawa Aoi
“I may have asked for excitement, but I didn’t expect you to ask me to strip not five minutes after we met.”
(Stage 01 Open 07/19 06:30)
Original Joruri Method Artificial Vessel, Meinokawa Aoi
It was July 19, Marine Day, at 6:30 AM.
The first day of summer break started in the worst possible way. With fireflies as the only light source and no artificial lights or convenience stores in evidence, searching for lodging at 1:30 in the morning had been a lost cause. And there had not been any blankets or other supplies for people stuck there overnight. The train’s windows had been broken and it had skipped several stations, but since summoners would be forgotten by normal people after leaving their field of vision, none of it would be considered a crime as long as they left after the battle. The people would fill in the missing memories for themselves and the train had continued on to get back to its proper schedule, so no one had remained here. The need to continue service even if this was the last train would have been felt more strongly than the presence of the summoners or Repliglass weapons.
As a result, Kyousuke had been forced to spend the night at the unmanned station which did not even have any benches. He had gotten down on the platform and used his knapsack as a pillow. However…
Something large and soft covered his face, obstructing his vision and breathing.
This station was not busy even during rush hour and he groped blindly to figure out what this was. And he soon found his answer. At some point, Biondetta had fallen asleep while holding his head in her arms. Her slender arms and giant breasts enveloped his head.
“Hey, Biondetta, breathing while asleep uses a different part of the nervous system, so you can’t fake it while conscious.”
“Tch. And I was hoping to laugh my ass off when you went for your defenseless big sister’s lips.”
The waitress demon finally released him from the soft headlock and smiled at him while still lying down.
“Good morning, sir. A proper breakfast will be difficult to prepare, but I can manage a continental.”
“Eh heh heh. Take a look at the seven tools of a contracted demon☆”
The waitress got up and pulled all sorts of kitchen tools from her travel bags. They seemed to be collapsible models meant for outdoor use, but a closer look showed none of them were commercial models. Steel panels and pipes had been cut up and arranged into a compact version of the precise tools of the trade she was used to handling.
But Kyousuke made a sleepy comment.
“This feels more like what a maid would do than a waitress…”
“Higiiii!? Y-you are a truly frightening client, pointing out exactly what I was worried you would notice!! Have some mercy!!”
Incidentally, a continental breakfast might sound like something impressive, but the term basically meant it had bread and milk. It might also come with a salad and scrambled eggs and the best you could hope for was some bacon or sausage. You could think of it as the breakfast served by a hotel’s room service or that some rich creep would enjoy along with an English newspaper.
In other words…
“I thought your bags seemed needlessly heavy, but do you have raw ingredients and a cooler in there?”
“Chemical cooling can preserve ice cream for three or four days without electricity. Use some military cushioning and…tah dah! These raw eggs are just fine.”
She proudly showed off a lot of camping equipment, but the fridge and raw ingredients had to be a lot heavier. She must have been picky about water because one of her bags had a water cooler bottle inside it. How many kilograms was that bottle alone?
“You really are needlessly picky… And you have all this but no cereal?”
“Are you planning to eat that every morning until the end of the world?”
Biondetta lined up the cooking equipment in front of her like a band’s drum set. While she got to work, Kyousuke pulled out his smartphone and began some light mental exercise. Just to be sure, he checked the TV tuner app and the online news sites, but there was no sign of an article about a train being attacked. Kyousuke and Biondetta could not always tell exactly how normal people filled in the gaps from their missing memories, but there did not seem to be anything to worry about this time.
“How many times did you wake up during the night?”
“Um, none that I remember.”
It sounded like a casual conversation held over the pleasant sound of eggs sizzling in the oiled frying pan, but these two were at Freedom’s 900 level. He looked up from the small screen as he continued.
“Then did Bridesmaid not attack again?”
“Since we didn’t sense any hostility, I can only assume so.”
Of course, he had previously been attacked in his sleep by Isabelle, the White Queen, and this demon just now, so that was no guarantee. If anything, Biondetta’s senses were sharper since she lived a life of conspiracies where so many people held a grudge against her.
“Okay, okay. All done.”
“Colorful as usual, I see.”
“The visual effect helps wake you up.”
The primary dish was two butter rolls. There was milk to drink and a plate held scrambled eggs with ketchup and two thick slices of bacon cooked until lightly scorched. For vegetables, they had corn and spinach cooked in butter. Bread, eggs, and vegetables. By deciding what to eat with the limited amount of bacon, the breakfast allowed for a fairly high level of customization.
“Red, yellow, and green… Oh? I happened to give it the colors of the Summoning Ceremony.”
“You didn’t do it on purpose? I assumed sneaking in some white with the milk was meant as a bit of harassment.”
“There aren’t many purely blue foods, so I had to use green instead. I don’t like forcing it by using artificial colors.”
“What about blueberries?”
“Ahh!? Right off the bat!?”
At any rate, they started eating.
If he let his guard down, Biondetta would have served him an ultra-high calorie breakfast along with a ridiculous drink that catered to her own extreme sweet tooth, but he seemed to have been lucky today. There was nothing surprising and it was honestly quite good.
“Now that we’ve eaten, what shall we do first?”
“Find a hotel.”
“Umm, the Meinokawa Shrine, the one and only key to defeating the White Queen, is right in front of us and things feel like they’re headed toward the climax thanks to the glimpses of the Bridesmaid soldiers that want to stop us…”
“And you want me to attempt the crucial negotiation with Meinokawa Aoi while carrying all this luggage and without changing into fresh clothes? I also want a shower. Since we can’t lay the groundwork in advance, 80% of the negotiation will come down to the first impression we leave. It doesn’t matter if the end of the world is only a day away; we need to be at least courteous enough to wash off all this sweat before visiting someone’s home, Biondetta.”
Meinokawa Renge, a shrine maiden with long black hair, moved a bamboo broom in front of a vermilion torii. Houbi Village was #53 on the Top 100 Sights on the Archipelago – New Edition. It was also known for its water, both hot and cold. That might make it sound like a busy place, but it was actually a village in decline. It made a decent amount of money from the leisure-seeking tourists visiting the ocean during the summer and the mountains during the winter, but that did not actually increase the population. The village was not protected by the government like an Italian world heritage site, but they could not build a large shopping mall when they were required to maintain the beautiful scenery. That meant the only lifeline for shopping was to use the internet to order things from outside the village. This had actually freed the declining shopping district from having to provide the infrastructure for people’s daily lives, so the shop managers had gone with their own personal interests instead of worrying about profit, creating an odd bit of activity there.
Ever since it was announced the village would die in another three years, they had done their best to hang on and that had lasted for more than twenty years by this point. That was how Renge saw the village.
The Meinokawa Shrine was more on the mountain side than the ocean side. Simply put, it was at the base of the mountains that approached the village. The area was filled with straight cedar trees that had been brought in as some kind of fad long ago, so every spring it became a dangerous area that earned the ire of all the nearby residents caught in the fierce storm of pollen.
When she heard the distant melody of the radio exercise music, she could tell it really was summer break.
“The stamp. Don’t forget the stamp, miss.”
“After we eat breakfast, let’s all meet up at Yuuta’s house!!”
“How can you focus on having fun when you haven’t finished your homework yet?”
The Meinokawa Shrine where Renge lived was only a small shrine that had been completely forgotten by the region (even by the damned offering thieves). A much larger shrine located right on the road had grown much more popular, so the people of the village would probably think of that one first. That was the one they gave offerings to at New Year’s and it was where the small children gathered for the radio exercise.
Renge felt a little sad at being overshadowed by it, but it did not damage her pride.
(Well, it would be selfish to feel too sad when we intentionally used it to hide our presence.)
The concept of goushi existed in Shinto.
That referred to a shrine that constructed more than one building to enshrine multiple gods. This would sometimes happen when the enshrined gods were quite similar or another shrine had declined to the point that it had to join with a larger shrine in the area.
The Meinokawa Shrine was one of those.
In other words, it was all one large shrine. Theirs was the true shrine and the giant shrine placed conspicuously out front was no more than a decoy.
The Meinokawa Shrine, which followed the Summoning Ceremony and enshrined their secret god, called itself a shrine out of custom, but it was technically not a religious facility that enshrined any of this nation’s myriad gods that were said to live in Takama-ga-Hara. They were registered as a religious organization, but the odds were high the normal people at the government office had completely forgotten about the registration document.
Even before the discovery of the Third Summoning Ceremony in 1999, this secret organization had used ancient traditions and folklore to predict the existence of beings beyond the gods and had trusted their instincts as they enshrined those beings despite there being no religious system or culture behind it.
Even when Shimabara was oppressed and the roadside Jizou were decapitated in the wave of anti-Buddhism, history was built up by those who maintained their purity in the face of that religious persecution on the surface. Since they had taken this form in the end, there was unlikely to be any greater form for them to take. Or so Meinokawa Renge believed.
(Not that I can celebrate the result when the secret god our ancestors worked so hard to protect is that white thing. Well, I’m not about to mock the belief in their hearts.)
No matter how it had begun, the Meinokawa Shrine remained to this day and Renge now held a bamboo broom there. That was a declining but solemn territory cut off from all worldly thoughts. It might look like a silly miniature garden from the outside, but Renge was thankful she could fill her lungs with that air. It was not simply passing all this down for generations that qualified as a miracle. The number of coincidences she had to thank for her very unique birth into this world was astronomical.
And as that black-haired shrine maiden enjoyed the refreshing morning, a sudden “change” appeared before her.
The scent of the exact same soap wafted from the flushed faces and wet hair of the extremely inappropriate and worldly pair of a pessimistic boy and a waitress demon.
It was Shiroyama Kyousuke and Biondetta.
They approached while looking like they had gotten into some kind of trouble while no one was looking…or rather, they were covered in the side effects of having shared a room and bathroom.
The sacred ground was destroyed!
“Finally, a familiar face. If Renge is here, this must be the Meinokawa Shrine.”
“Pant, pant. Sir, even if it’s early morning, it’s still midsummer. Heading out immediately after taking a hot shower was a mistake. The heat is trapped inside my clothes.”
Biondetta casually grabbed the chest of her waitress outfit and fanned herself with it.
Renge had not taken a bath, but her cheeks were the reddest ones there.
Her eyes spun in their sockets.
“Why!? This is a shrine! You’ll be cursed if you show up here after clearly taking a shower together and looking like you’ve cleared some major milestone!!!!!”
“Biondetta, what is she trying to say?”
“Pant, pant. I’m so overheated that my mind is refusing to work, so don’t expect much from me…”
When she saw Biondetta collapse down with her legs limply turned inwards (and while producing lots of heated breaths and sweet sweat), Renge’s confusion reached a critical point.
“Don’t think I can’t understand this! Girls can pick up on these subtle changes! My conclusion is the only way to explain why a young boy and girl smell like the same soap!! Awawawawawawah!!”
“Soap? Oh, the hotel’s.”
The supplied soap and shampoo would be the same whether they rented a single double room or double single rooms, so Kyousuke simply tilted his head to ask, “What’s your point?”
Meanwhile, the pure black-haired shrine maiden could not stop her imagination from running wild with her completely mistaken conclusion, but she lacked the experience needed to imagine the crucial details.
“I-I can’t let Higan see this! I can’t let Higan see what has become of this defiled strongest idiot!!”
“Rengeeee, did you just call for me?”
“Higiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!! S-stay away, Higaaaaan!!!!!”
There were many varieties of cicada, so the sounds of their cries changed depending on the time of day. They had not made much noise during the night and they seemed to make more of a jiii jiii than a miiin miiin during the morning.
There was no need to switch on the air conditioner. The wind blowing across the mossy garden and through the window screen was enough to stop their sweating. The refreshing Japanese building was protected by that water and air.
(Although the wood smells fairly new.)
Kyousuke and Biondetta sat on cushions in front of a tea table and glasses of barley tea were placed in front of them. Due to the ice in the tea, cold condensation covered the outside of the glasses.
“Now. Higan, do you know why Renge is collapsed on the tea table and refusing to move?”
“No. What are you doing, Renge?”
“Nothing,” was all she weakly said from the gap between her face and the table.
Meinokawa Higan was the shrine maiden said to be Renge’s twin sister. Their facial features were almost identical, but her long hair was blonde and her eyes were a transparent blue. And this was not due to dying her hair or wearing color contacts.
She was a Summoning Ceremony vessel.
As proof, she wore restraints that bound her own mind and prevented evil spirits from possessing her against her will. In her case, she wore a leather blindfold pushed up onto her forehead and a racehorse’s bit lowered around her neck.
“Well, as long as someone can get us in contact with her, it doesn’t really matter who.”
“Come to think of it, what brings you here, Shiroyama-san?”
“Are your parents here right now?”
“They left a note on the message board saying they were going to a neighborhood association meeting. Um, I think it’s a reminder that burglars will come to the village disguised as tourists.”
That was a very working class reason to miss someone, but then Biondetta narrowed her eyes.
“Huh? But we’re summoners and vessels, so if your entire family works on the front lines, wouldn’t they be completely forgotten by a gathering of normal people?”
Renge weakly waved a hand with her black hair spread out on the table like a dead jellyfish. She seemed to be saying to keep quiet about that especially in front of Higan who remained ignorant of it all.
…The greatest achievement of the Meinokawa Shrine was the construction of entirely artificial vessels using the Joruri Method and pairing them with the family’s skilled summoners for a stable supply of fighters.
It was a bit of a confusing concept, but if they specialized in “construction”, then it was possible some of them did not become summoners or vessels despite being so deeply involved with the Summoning Ceremony.
Although that meant the pairs like Renge and Higan would still be forgotten by normal people.
Renge finally raised her head.
“Well, pretty much everyone who lives around here is a Meinokawa. Even if the family name in front of the house changes, they’re still some kind of relative, so plenty of people remember you even after you fall into the world of the Summoning Ceremony.”
“That would explain how lively the village seemed for its supposedly declining population. There must be a large gap between the population remembered by the official records and the population forgotten by them.”
The Meinokawa Shrine had once been taken by a Queen-worshiping group called Guard of Honor due to the debt racked up the gambling addiction of the twins’ parents. So even if they were surrounded by relatives, there must have still been a line drawn between them.
Kyousuke thought for a bit.
“There are some aspects of the Meinokawa Shrine’s system I don’t understand, so could you explain something for me?”
“When trying to contact someone, would it be rude to go over your parents’ heads since they must be the current priests? Or can I get permission from shrine maidens like you? Is there a single, direct hotline, or are the lines drawn out in a network?”
“Who are you trying to contact?”
Kyousuke leaned in toward the black-haired summoner’s ear since she did not want Higan to know about the artificial beings. And he whispered to the girl who blushed at his unexpected approach.
(The very first Joruri Method. Meinokawa Aoi-san who is enshrined as your secret god.)”
The twins parted ways and Meinokawa Renge alone guided Shiroyama Kyousuke and Biondetta. Blonde Higan puffed her cheeks out like rice cakes, but due to the great secret she carried, Renge could not let her sister know about the details of the Joruri Method. So Renge gave Higan a long series of chores to keep her busy in the kitchen: “Cook some somen, chop up the pickled vegetables in the underground ice room, thaw some corn, rub some soy sauce on it, cook it, and then cheer on the high school baseball team on TV.”
Since she was known as the shrine’s secret god, she would not be in an obvious location.
The black-haired shrine maiden guided them to the back of the normal shrine building. She touched the altar wall and the entire wall spun around like something from a ninja mansion.
As soon as she did, the already cool air grew downright icy.
“…a limestone cave?”
Kyousuke and Biondetta carefully observed the large space that opened up before them.
It was surrounded by walls of a whitish mineral. Thanks to the many smooth bumps on the walls and the drops of water dripping down them, it felt like walking into the stomach of a giant creature.
“The upkeep of this place is a real pain thanks to all the moisture. The hidden door is airtight, but mold sneaks in through the smallest gaps,” explained Renge as she grabbed some traditional sandals. “Take these shoes. It’s slippery, so it can be pretty dangerous.”
Since they could visually observe the cave, it obviously had a light source. Just like at a construction site, there was scaffolding of steel panels and metal pipes as well as angled ladders instead of stairs. Halogen lights were strung up by thick cables. The low, droning rumble heard in the distance may have been due to a tunnel ventilator.
“We entered through a fancy hidden door, but there are actually entrances to the cave all over.” Her answer was simple. “One route leads to our enshrined god, but there are plenty of other routes too.”
“I see. …Secrecy can be both good and bad, can’t it?”
“Tell me about it. Our ancestors apparently located the sacred ground here without giving it much thought, but they must not have understood the full scope of this vast network of caves. They only later realized how many other entrances there are. Now there are all sorts of sections built up in here: for sightseeing, for crystal mining, and for storing food, buried treasure, or other supplies. And all the ‘discoverers’ believed they had found a different cave.” Renge smiled bitterly. “We might want to forbid them from using the caves, but normal people won’t remember what summoners tell them, so there’s no way to stop them. We apparently filled in the holes in the past, but since they couldn’t remember any of it, they just kept digging back up the same spot. We’ve ended up deciding it’s for the best if the inside ends up a giant labyrinth. And meanwhile, we’re trying to divert the underwater rivers to divide up the caves using the powerful moisture and rapid currents. Although we can’t get too aggressive since the crystals mined here are used for our shrine’s protective charms.”
Her explanation continued as they walked across the metal bridges running across a giant underground lake. It was probably set up so choosing the safer route would take you away from the enshrined god.
The Meinokawa family may have brought in the materials for this as well.
It seemed even religious occupations could be difficult.
“But with all this water in here, it’s kind of creepy to not see any bats, geckos, or other animals. I just hope that isn’t a sign of volcanic gases.”
“Oh, that’s one of the signs.”
“There are animals in the other tunnels. We haven’t put out anything to keep them away, but for some reason, none of them ever approach the route leading to our secret god. As if they’re showing respect for the sacred ground.”
They walked along the poor footing of the cave for about half an hour.
At the very back of a narrow tunnel, they found a thick steel door covered in gold leaf. The double door’s gold was not a gaudy decoration; it was meant to prevent rusting within all the moisture. The lock actually looked more valuable. It was a giant, bag-sized padlock that had likely been in use for centuries. But that kind of lock did not look like it could be opened from the inside. Looking at it that way, the door almost felt like it led to a cell. Instead of preventing thieves from getting in, it seemed to prevent some great evil from escaping.
“Where’s the key?”
“It was apparently lost a few generations back.” After nonchalantly admitting that, Renge grabbed the antique padlock with both hands. “So you have to grab it like this, twist it this way, and push up on the latch inside. Diagonally…like this!”
With a heavy clunk, the lock really did open.
It looked a lot like an old lady hitting the corner of an old TV to get it working again. One had to question why they even bothered with the lock anymore, but the padlock was so rusted at this point that it seemed doubtful the key would have fit inside even if they did find it. In a way, they may have created a family security lock that was immune to analog picking and digital cyber attacks.
“Beyond this door lies Meinokawa Aoi…our shrine’s god and, in a way, my ancestor,” said Renge concerning the very first Joruri Method. “Are you ready? There is an even greater reason why we can’t place her out front to gather visitors. She is a very…peculiar person, so prepare yourselves.”
With that warning, she opened the thick and golden door.
And beyond those double doors, they found…
It was either a stone temple designed to inspire awe or a stone crypt built to prevent its occupant from ever escaping. Either way, the space was shaped like a 20m die. And that geometry was instantly recognizable to any summoner or vessel.
(An Artificial Sacred Ground?)
Central American crystal skulls would apparently take centuries to complete if a spherical crystal were simply polished and worn down by human hands, but in that case, how much work had gone into creating this? The six faces had no seams and the surfaces were polished as smooth as human skin. It felt like a complex intertwining of the biological and the artificial, so it felt like being swallowed into the stomach of some giant creature.
Kyousuke had experienced something similar before.
(Sekurtiti’s Egyptian-style temple combined a micro universe and a macro universe in the same room.)
Did that prove that the Meinokawa Shrine had used their experience and intuition to subconsciously distort the world before the Third Summoning Ceremony was discovered in 1999 and thus before the actual logic and system behind it all was completed?
The sacred ground that had appeared in Toy Dream 35 had ruled all space around the silver-haired and brown-skinned Tomb Priestess.
Then what was at the center here?
There was a stone torii.
There were three small steps.
At the very center was a miniature shrine about the size of two vending machines.
None of it used a single screw or nail. In fact, there were no seams to suggest stone had been piled up. It was all perfectly smooth as if the water dripping from the ceiling had carved away at the great stones micron by micron.
And in the slight depths of the opened miniature shrine, a thin and slender form sat calmly with eyes closed.
She resembled that greatest white evil in every possible way.
This was history’s very first Joruri Project.
It was the Meinokawa Shrine’s secret god, made to resemble the White Queen.
Her outlines were entirely motionless as if time had stopped. Her chest did not rise and fall with breath and there was no sign of the minute but uncontrollable movement of her muscles.
Was this what it meant to be artificial?
Kyousuke had known what to expect, but he still felt a strange sensation crawling up from the tips of his fingers. He was being sucked in. This was what happened when he knew the answer in advance, so if he had been caught off guard by it, he might have immediately run over to snap her neck.
From her hair to her clothing, she was a perfect reproduction.
He could see here why the Joruri Method was able to produce such skilled vessels. In the end, they too had ended up bowing before the white and creating a container into which they could invite that being.
And at the same time, he understood why Azalea Magentarain and Guard of Honor had been so fixated on the Joruri Method.
…The Meinokawa family could freely assemble entirely artificial summoners and vessels, but they had not had much of an effect on the world of the Summoning Ceremony. But what if that was not a tragic case of unrecognized genius? What if they had already burned out? What if they had already completed their perfect masterpiece with this, their very first one? It was a lot like a mountain climber scaling Everest before any other mountain. That might make for an incredible record, but it would be a tragedy for the mountain climber themselves. They would be forced to wander forever in search of some new stimulation.
Silver twintails fell to waist level.
A wedding dress had been cut down to size and silver armor had been added here and there.
Her face and body allowed the cute and the seductive to coexist in a way impossible for humans.
Altogether, she was a sweet poison far too potent for humankind.
The only evidence that this was merely a lookalike was the thin layer of dust on her hair and eyelashes. Since the dust on the tip of her nose was not moving, she must have felt no need to breathe.
“Is this…?” Kyousuke gulped. “Is this Meinokawa Aoi…?”
As if to answer his question, something clearly filled the twintail girl seated in the miniature shrine. Rather than an external power, an internal power filled her and she began to move. Her eyelids were as dusty as an antique left forgotten in an old house, but now they trembled slightly as if she were stirring. Her eyes silently opened.
Those rosy lips had forgotten to breathe for so long, so what would they say first?
Everyone focused on that living legend as she finally moved.
With a heavy thud, her head, one arm, and one leg fell off.
Even Kyousuke widened his eyes at that, but there was no changing what had happened. After falling off on its own, the head bumped into the removed right forearm, but that was not enough to stop its momentum as it rolled down the short series of steps. It rolled right up to Kyousuke’s group and stopped with the face pointed straight up.
“Ho ho? You, the kafay worker. Those white and pink stripes do not seem to match the rest of your getup, so is there some deeper meaning there?”
Biondetta looked fairly shocked as she held her miniskirt down with a hand.
“And you, my successor. Just because you are a shrine maiden is no reason to go around without wearing any of those newfangled Western panteez.”
“Ooooops!? You piece of crap!! You junk heap!!”
Renge blushed and used her sandal-wearing foot to kick the world’s oldest whatever-it-was like it was a soccer ball.
The living(?) severed head bounced off the walls several times, but it did not seem to affect her mood.
“Mwa ha ha ha ha ha!! If you don’t like it, then curse your own poor judgment for setting foot in my sacred ground when I have so much free time on my hands. I haven’t had visitors in forever, so I’m not about to let you go so easily. I hope you’re ready to have so much fun tonight that you’ll feel the weariness down to the marrow of your bones. Not to mention that you’ve been getting lax about cleaning this place recently!!”
“W-we’ve had other issues to deal with!! Like our finances and our summoning jobs. And you’re the one that drives your caretakers away by messing with anyone who bothers to come here!”
“Those worldly troubles only sound like bragging to someone kept in a bird cage to intentionally distance her from such things. Harumph.”
Renge roughly grabbed the severed head at her feet, stomped up to the miniature shrine, attached the arm and leg to the body, and then docked the head at the top.
“Your visitors seem to have something important to discuss with you, so switch over to serious mode!!”
“You have some guts talking down to your ancestor like that. If you want to challenge me, come back once your chest and sense of respect have grown some.”
Before Kyousuke and Biondetta could sort through their thoughts, blushing Renge had ripped Aoi’s head from her shoulders once more.
“And who the hell do you think designed me like this!?”
“Well, you were probably given a more modest chest to match Higan. Isn’t that better than being built by someone with certain special proclivities, Renge?”
“Shut up! Don’t you dare place Higan on the chopping block, too!”
“Poo hoo hoo. I believe we were talking about washboards, not chopping blocks.”
“Sh-sh-sh-shut up! Bwah!!”
She rapidly inserted and pulled out the head over and over.
Kyousuke watched to see if treating the head more roughly than changing a lightbulb would have any effect, but that did not seem to be the case. The silver twintail beauty cracked her neck, stretched her arms upwards, and stretched her back like she had just gotten out of bed. Because she was modeled after the White Queen, this pushed forward her surprisingly large breasts.
“How can she move around just fine after that???”
“Back in the CRT TV era, there were apparently martial arts experts who could fix them with a karate chop, so maybe that’s the perfect shock therapy for some centuries-old junk.”
As Kyousuke and Biondetta whispered to each other, the black-haired shrine maiden shouted at the living legend while still blushing.
“C’mon, granny, those two seem to be caught in a whole lot of trouble, so listen to what they have to say! Isn’t that what a shrine god is for? Letting people ask things of you while giving you offerings!?”
“You don’t have to repeat yourself. I haven’t forgotten. And I’m the secret god, so it’s not like anyone shows up for New Year’s. Ahhh, I want more to do!! I get that the allure of the secret boss is lost if she doesn’t stay hidden, but I’m just soooooo bored!!”
Meinokawa Aoi cutely puffed out her cheeks and then clapped her hands in front of her large chest with the smile of a mischievous child.
“But anyway, this ‘trouble’ you speak of has caught my interest. That sounds interesting indeed. I will hear you out to stave off boredom. If it is enough to provide a break in this tedium, I might just help you out.”
The lookalike licked her lips as if she were viewing an extravagant feast.
In the end, this may have been what prayers really were.
The humans desperately made their way to the temple and begged the god to grant their wish, but the god was under no obligation to help them. In that case, the very first condition was to draw their interest. How justified or pitiable the human was may have only been one piece of the puzzle.
At the same time, Kyousuke felt like he had finally found a way to escape the confusion in his mind.
No matter how much she looked like her, the person in front of him here was not the White Queen.
The White Queen would never need to appraise the situation. As long as she could be with Shiroyama Kyousuke, she had found the greatest happiness and would ask for nothing else in the world.
The boy exhaled and faced the living legend once more.
“If you’re looking for history’s greatest way of killing some time, then you’re in luck. You can rest easy knowing this isn’t going to end up being disappointingly easy.”
“What is it? Are you planning on proving Fer-mah’s Last Theorem?”
“Wipe that smug look off your face, old lady,” said Biondetta. “Your information is a little out-of-date. Fermat’s Last Theorem was resolved at the end of the last century.”
“Eh? Seriously!? So how did it turn out!?”
“If you must know, you damn religious shut-in, Xn + Yn = Zn has no positive integer solutions when n is a natural number greater than 2.”
“I already knew the answer. The question was how to prove it…”
“Oh, that would be a pain to explain, so I’ll pass.”
“Yes, and that ‘pain’ is how Fer-mah caused the world so much trouble!”
No matter what anyone said, it certainly was a pain.
Aoi made her demand while placing her hands on the waitress girl’s shoulders and moving in close enough that their noses nearly touched (although their large breasts were already squished up against each other), but Biondetta looked the other way and refused to listen.
And this was no time to be explaining a problem that had been solved before Nostradamus’s prophesied end of the world.
“Hmm, so what is this problem that you claim is even more difficult than Fer-mah’s Last Theorem?”
Kyousuke’s answer was brief.
“At the very least, this mystery is more exciting.”
“Now, as I explained when I paid up front, you clean up the scene, Lu-san. The collection of violence known as Illegal is better at that than the world police of Government, right?”
“…That rabbit makes it sound so simple.”
The black-haired beauty in a modified China dress put her hands on her curvy hips, viewed “the scene”, and began to seriously wish she had not taken this job. Paying her the full sum up front had been a way of preventing her from backing out. But since she had already received the full sum from Kyousuke, she had to do it.
(Maybe I should make Kyousuke-chan give me a full-body massage later…)
She was in a humongous container yard in the harbor block of Toy Dream 35, a giant amusement park city that already jutted out from the coast and into the ocean. Since a foreign company had taken a regional city and entirely remade it into a Toy Dream city, it was almost entirely void of agricultural and industrial facilities. The entire city was focused on the amusement park service industry, so in order to return some of the wealth to the region and thus reduce friction there, the production was handled entirely by the satellite cities. That meant it contained far more containers than average.
…And that also allowed one to inconspicuously sneak something suspicious in.
The sun was beating down on them during summer break, but no boys and girls in swimsuits were going to gather at the harbor block. And the brighter the sun, the deeper the shadows cast by the piles of containers.
A girl’s voice that was as sweet as candy reached Lu from behind.
The girl wore the kind of cleaning clothes a real maid would wear, which was not all that unusual for a Toy Dream city. Even with several bodyguards in black, if Lu Niang Lan the Perfect Dragon had her back turned to the girl, then she had to be an Illegal protégée.
“What is it, Framboise?”
They did not use their real names on the scene. That was an inviolable rule in their world.
So they were known as Manager and Framboise.
“Um…so what is this? I had heard it was a cleaning job, so I had assumed it was a normal job of cleaning up blood stains and erasing bullet holes.”
In addition to the short maid with a blonde bob cut, a few other girls in the same uniform peered fearfully inside the container, but the modified China dress beauty was unsure how to respond.
Harbor container labs tended to be used for synthetic drugs and that was not about to surprise Illegal at this point, but this seemed to be something more. Something like a translucent jelly was splattered thickly across the inside of the small metal room and it was slowly dripping down from the ceiling.
However, it did not seem like the container had been carrying something sticky.
It was more like…
(The container’s surface itself grew corrupted…no, transformed? I can see the remnants of glass experiment equipment, but did they guide something by allowing it to consume them? Kind of like the sticks used for growing morning glory vines or the ablation that protects the shuttle from the atmosphere by allowing itself to melt away from the friction…)
“Well, if we trust the client, it’s best not to read too much into this. We have a request, so we only need to fulfill it. This is a biologically based. Clean it at Level 3.”
“Level 3? But that’s enough to clean up a decomposing corpse that’s been left alone for two weeks after death. Are rubber gloves really enough for this?”
“If this was truly dangerous, do you really think a VIP like me would have opened the container door without a gasmask or airtight suit?”
“If you say so,” said Framboise with a pout of her lips. She then snapped her fingers. “Meringue, Chocolat, Marmelade. Once you complete the final check on the cleaning level, prepare for battle like always. Let us once more show our appreciation for the wonderful inventions of long boots, rubber gloves, and aprons.”
“Forcing young girls to dress up as maids and handle filthy objects? What a sinful service.”
“I’ll pay you once you’re finished. What do you want to eat?”
Once the gears got moving, it did not take long.
The true maid girls stepped into the container using their long boots and they began sprinkling a strange powder around, waiting for the mysterious jelly-like substance to cool and harden into something like wax, scraping it up with metal spatulas, and stuffing it in thick bags. Professional cleaning was about changing the way you thought. It looked like a magic trick to the modified China dress beauty. It reminded her of how she had blades hidden all across her body.
“Yes, what is it, Manager?”
“…I can’t help but wonder what this is we’ve been asked to clean up.”
“Ah ha ha. I know, right? I don’t know what our shy client is so nervous about, but if it’s a corpse, it would be a lot easier if they just said so.”
“There we go.”
Meinokawa Aoi’s voice echoed within the stone temple or stone crypt. The lovely bell-like tone of her voice sounded out of place with her archaic accent, but that aside…
A rustling of clothing followed.
The Queen’s lookalike had circled behind the mysteriously-constructed miniature shrine and then just her slender arm appeared from behind the structure and dropped the Queen’s clothing to the floor.
“I may have asked for excitement, but I didn’t expect you to ask me to strip not five minutes after we met.”
“Well, a god is meant to grant the meaningless wishes of you humans. Here, will this do?”
When Meinokawa Aoi appeared from behind the miniature shrine, she had removed the skimpy wedding dress with silver armor attached. Instead, she wore the bright white kosode and red hakama of a shrine maiden. She wore thick boots on her feet.
Kyousuke sighed and poked his index finger at the side of his head.
“You really are shockingly sensitive. I of course mean it in a negative way, but that Queen might have become a part of you at this point.”
Aoi followed his instructions and undid her silver twintails. Once her flowing long hair spread out behind her back, she really did seem to have more in common with black-haired Meinokawa Renge than with the pure white strongest of the strongest at the peak of the Unexplored-class. Renge and Higan were seen as twin sisters, but when standing alongside the shrine maiden, Aoi also looked like Renge’s sister.
Meinokawa Aoi seemed a little bothered with how the shrine maiden clothing fit because she bent her arms and pressed her elbows against her sides.
…Which of course squeezed her surprisingly large breasts from either side.
“Mhhh… Traditional clothing is such a poor match for large breasts. It seems to catch or grab at them and it’s like something is missing. It doesn’t quite fit right!”
“Oh, is that so?”
“Will this really survive a Summoning Ceremony battle? I’m afraid they’ll pop right out if I move too much.”
“For one thing, you’re wearing it wrong,” sighed black-haired Renge. “Why are your shoulders exposed? You aren’t wearing the red undershirt like you’re supposed to, are you?”
“Don’t strip right here! You’re just making it worse!!”
“I always wear the same thing, so it’s easy to forget how these things are supposed to work.”
“But you shouldn’t have anything popping out even without the undershirt. I’ve done a lot of traveling and I’ve never had an accident like that, so don’t worry.”
“You have nothing that jiggles around, so I’m not sure your assurance means much, Renge.”
“I hope you’re aware that mocking my body is the same as mocking Higan’s, you scrap heap!!”
Kyousuke did not want to interrupt while she was blushing so brightly, but he had business to take care of.
“Um, can we get back on topic?’
“Of course!” announced Meinokawa Aoi while grabbing and lifting her two large masses with a somewhat dissatisfied look on her face. “I more or less understand. The star-ter pak already out there in the world is insufficient to defeat the White Queen, so you want to create a boos-ter pak that will provide the new rules you need.”
“Has someone been tossing trading cards in the offering box at the shrine out front?”
“But the existing vessels are only made to handle the star-ter cards, so something might go wrong if you shove your own boos-ter card inside one. So you want me to create a vessel designed to handle that boos-ter card. Hm, it’s a natural enough thought. …I suppose the most important part would be the heart…no, the blood.”
“Hold on! Wait! Um, as my ‘ancestor’, should you really agree to this? I mean, this means making an enemy of the White Queen!!”
“Well, I am honestly jealous of the fear she inspires in everyone.”
As Renge had pointed out, Meinokawa Aoi had no reason to directly fight the White Queen like Kyousuke and Biondetta did. Taking on an opponent so ridiculous that she could blow away the entire world with a single forehead flick provided an unbelievably high risk and nothing in return.
“I hate boredom.”
But the Joruri Method vessel who had given up on being a lookalike only grinned.
She also continued the jiggling to test the durability of her shrine maiden outfit.
“And the primary reason for my boredom is the fact that I was created as her lookalike. As long as she is the strongest, people will appreciate me as a mere decoration. But what if the White Queen were to die? Who would need a lookalike anymore? Wouldn’t I be able to walk the world as a true individual, bound by no one?”
She may have been similar to the Yellow Gills, one of the Unexplored-class Three, who utterly loathed the White Queen for restricting her freedom. But unlike the Yellow Gills, Meinokawa Aoi did not greedily seek victory. It was her desire to escape boredom with a life-risking thrill that made opposing the White Queen look so appealing.
(Her foundation is a lot like the Yellow Gills and her self-destructive desire is a lot like Biondetta… She tries to act like a funny eccentric, but it’s already obvious that this hedonist has a screw loose.)
“Are you thinking something rude by any chance, sir?”
“It’s getting harder and harder to know what you would find a compliment.”
Kyousuke sounded exasperated, but Biondetta narrowed her eyes a little.
“Oh, nothing. I was just thinking that you’ve changed, Kyousuke-chan.”
“That’s too abstract.”
“It used to be that you would never just come out and say there was something you didn’t know. Is this the result of transforming your weakness into strength? How cute.”
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s a lot like a Roman encountering the concept of zero after always counting from one on his fingers. Or maybe even coming across variables like X or Y. You’re willing to keep going when you come across something you don’t understand because you know it will help you solve even more complex calculations, right? I’ve always thought it was your tendency to solve all the equations placed before you that makes it so easy for that cruel white to predict exactly what you’ll do. It’s like you open every single email in your inbox from top to bottom, whether they have a virus in them or not.”
“That’s being rather harsh.”
“My apologies, sir. I will restrain myself in the future. As long as I am feeling nice, anyway.”
As the Freedom 900 levels held their conversation, so did the two shrine maidens.
Meinokawa Aoi spoke in a tone that suggested she had an overabundance of heat inside her artificial body.
“Yes, if you would break the chains of this stagnant peace, I would be willing to offer you my assistance, human. So in exchange, you help me. Free me from this restrictive position where everyone sees me as that Queen.”
He had been planning to help her in the first place. He had also been planning to finish off the White Queen. So he had no reason to refuse. In addition to her knowledge, he could use a vessel in order to fight since they had already seen signs of Bridesmaid.
But something still bothered him.
For the time being, he stamped an X on that odd feeling inside him and he gave his answer.
“As you wish.”
It could be a small blade, a pin, or their own canine tooth.
A summoner always had a certain “protective charm” on hand just in case. All it had to do was thinly slice the skin of their fingertip so a red drop of blood would well up.
Needless to say, this was a necessary process for binding a contract with a vessel.
“I bind this covenant of blood in the name of The Spirit of Fluttering ‘Yellow’ Gills that Rules the Heavens (s – a – so – v o z – t i x – e i – y w – z a), one of the Three which manage and guide the summoning ceremony. You are of human flesh with a proper heart and soul, yet from this moment onward, you shall be a limited vessel that can hold all things.”
Kyousuke used a thin razor blade.
The red drop on his index finger glittered like a jewel as he held it out toward Meinokawa Aoi.
“You shall be a lord of emptiness that uses the power filling you to at times bend the laws of this world.”
He touched her lips more than her tongue.
The red drop burst, soaked in, and spread through the girl’s mouth. As the rusty flavor permeated her tongue, more and more spiritual contact points opened within her body and created a powerful link between their souls.
The pure shrine god arched her back.
Her exposed skin grew flushed, beads of sweat poured from her artificial skin, and an unmistakably feminine scent filled the air.
“So I shall prepare this vessel. I am a summoner, unable to leave the world of man, yet a symbol of haughty intellect that uses power from beyond the world of man to guide the world of man to the next age!!”
It was all completed without delay.
But at the last moment, Kyousuke felt an indescribable sensation race along his spine.
“…Is something…pant…the matter…? Phew…”
He had just bound a contract with an entirely artificial vessel. That may have made it feel different from normal.
“Welcome, Meinokawa Aoi. You are now my vessel.”
“Of course. Hee hee hee. It’s been so long since I’ve actually fought. I’m itching to get started!”
By binding a contract in the name of the Yellow Gills, the member of the Three that symbolized Freedom, Kyousuke had acquired Meinokawa Aoi as a vessel.
On the guidance of the black-haired shrine maiden, they left the long cave and returned to the shrine building. The sky had already grown orange as evening fell. They had not meant to stand around talking for so long, but that solemn sacred ground must have messed with their sense of time.
“Nnnn. Experiencing things in real time feels so nice after so long.”
Meinokawa Aoi’s joints must still have felt off because she stretched her arms and her back, causing her long silver hair to flutter behind her. And that pushed out her surprisingly large breasts. She must have felt more distance between her body and mind because she was defenseless in a variety of ways.
“I would like to know everything I can about the Joruri Method. How far can I go with the official texts, and which barriers can I tear down with your advice on top of that? That will change the number and type of barriers standing between us and the vessel we need.”
“Wait. There is no need to hurry.”
Aoi waved a hand dismissively.
She may have also been bothered with the straight hair made by undoing her twintails because she swept it back off of her shoulder and placed her index finger on her temple.
“I swear on my name that I will provide the artificial vessel you desire. So allow me to enjoy the fresh air some more.”
“You seem to think I am wasting time. Well, you are exactly right!! I don’t care about humanity’s future or the fate of the world. Have you forgotten that I am only helping you in order to distract me from my boredom?”
Many temples and shrines were placed atop high mountains so they could look down upon the world below them, but some theorized that it was also a way of providing a sense of accomplishment for the visitors who made the difficult ascent to reach them. Basically, the high of mountain climbing or of a marathon was used to make the torii and Buddha statues look more divine. In the same way, Meinokawa Aoi may have been giving them a long lead up to the big boss to increase the ultimate sense of accomplishment.
“I don’t have time for this.”
“Say what you wish, but threatening me won’t accomplish anything. Don’t forget that you cannot twist my head like a faucet to produce knowledge on demand. But you can leave the fine-tuning of the blood to me. Hm, hm, hmm☆”
Kyousuke gave her a bitter look.
Biondetta leaned her alluring body up against him and gave him a secret smile.
“As we thought, this isn’t going to be easy, sir.”
“And why do you look so pleased about this? You know we’re in the same boat here, right?”
Regardless, Meinokawa Aoi held the key to it all, but she childishly said she was off to the candy shop and started to run outside, so they had to run after her. That said, losing her head was not a real problem for her, so she would at least be easier to protect than a normal person.
Incidentally, Blonde Higan was napping with her upper body collapsed on the tea table in front of the fan. Her shoulders were steadily and defenselessly rising and falling. Her sister had ordered a lot of somen and cooked sorghum, but it had been too much to eat alone, so she had likely eaten it with her parents. That allowed Renge to shout at the first Joruri Method who had left out the front door.
“Watch out for cars, don’t follow any strangers, and be very careful if you see any non-Meinokawa summoners and vessels!”
“What do you take me for!?”
“I’m either treating you as a child running an errand on her own or as a senile old woman wandering away from home, so which is it going to be?”
Hearing the girl’s harsh voice, the silver-haired shrine maiden trembled and hid behind Kyousuke’s back. Aoi saw no prestige in being “the original” of anything, so she could not stand being seen as an old lady.
She must have really been afraid because she did not seem to notice how much she was pressing two warm objects against the boy’s back.
“O-ohhh… Since you do not seem to have inherited my knowledge of how to treat a lady, I am somewhat worried about the evolutionary pattern of my successors.”
“Really? They transformed this utter failure into someone with a proper head on her shoulders, so I’d call that a succe-…”
“Do you want to see a grown woman cry, you brat!?”
That carried an implied threat, so Kyousuke fell silent.
She looked just like the White Queen, but he was unsure how to behave around her.
Kyousuke and Biondetta had followed her out here simply because they were worried about the passage of time while in that closed crypt. Just as Aoi had not been up-to-date on Fermat’s Last Theorem, it was possible they had failed to grasp the changing situation outside. Acquiring an artificial vessel using the Joruri Method was a major accomplishment. They could not have the White Queen or Bridesmaid interfering, so they had to confirm their safety before getting to work.
“Huh? I don’t remember that shrine maiden at the shrine.”
“Mwa ha ha! I am what they call sooper rayr, so you won’t see me all the time. You should count yourself lucky for running into me like this. By the way, what is all this racket about? Are you preparing for a festival?”
“Why doesn’t a shrine maiden know about the shrine’s festival? There’s something fishy about her!”
“Mwa ha ha ha ha ha!!”
The neighborhood kids did not hesitate to speak to her and the old people looked up in shock, stopped working, and quietly prayed to the silver-haired shrine maiden. They must have known about the Meinokawa Shrine enough to recognize Aoi.
Kyousuke watched Meinokawa Aoi’s back as she walked on ahead.
“…Something bothers me about this.”
“What is it, sir?”
They were traveling along the road from the Meinokawa Shrine to the idiosyncratic shopping district. The narrow farm road cut between the paddies that shined orange in the setting sun and Kyousuke viewed Aoi who remained a step ahead like a child.
Before long, they arrived at a small bridge crossing a clear stream that glittered in the orange light.
“Orahhh!! I was just thinking it was too damn hot, so what is this they’re doing? If you’re playing the water, how about I join you? I’ll jump right in!!”
“Wah! You can’t! It’s too shallow!!”
“What did I tell you!?”
It should have been obvious when the water was only at knee level on the small children, but Meinokawa Aoi jumped off the bridge while still wearing her shrine maiden outfit. After the painful-looking impact, she floated up to the of the water’s surface. Since she started laughing uproariously as soon as her face surfaced, they could only conclude that the Joruri Method was quite sturdy.
“Oh, that is quite the impressive water gun you have there.”
“It uses static electricity to bend the water, so it can hit you no matter where you run!”
“I-is that what they call hoh-ming!? That water gun has some nerve!”
“My smartphone lens uses facial recognition to pursue the target!!”
“Smart-fohn? Technology advances so quickly.”
That mass of mysticism sat on the river bottom with her clothing soaking wet and see-through. When she noticed the blasts of clear water gathering toward her inner thighs, not even Aoi could ignore it.
“That’s it, you impudent brats… A true warrior needs no tools. I can form a water gun by holding my hands together like this!”
“Wha-!? A long-forgotten firing method!? Bwah!”
“Mwa ha ha ha ha ha!!”
As Kyousuke peered down from the bridge railing, he noted that one’s method for a hand water gun could reveal where the user had learned it, just like with the subtle variations in rock-paper-scissors or tag. For Kyousuke, playing in the water reminded him of the indoor Pool of Tears that he, Biondetta, Shiroyama Kyoumi, and the others had used. At the children’s insistence, Aoi gave them a quick lecture and they divided into two teams. Whether she was satisfied after playing so much or she was searching for a more worthwhile rival, Meinokawa Aoi waved both hands up at the bridge, smiled, and shouted up at them.
“You come down here too! Hyah, river water is just so different!!”
He waved back to decline the offer. Their skulls were not solid enough to survive a collision with the rocks from this height.
“This just doesn’t seem right,” he said while looking down at her with a smile of peace itself. “No, it’s all progressing smoothly. So what is this? It’s like something is missing or like I can’t find the hurdle that should be there.”
“Aren’t you overthinking this?” asked Biondetta. “Besides, you certainly did your fair share of complaining when we were riding the trains to reach here.”
Kyousuke gestured down from the bridge, so Aoi reluctantly left the river with her bright skin color showing through her clothing.
“Miss, will you be going to the festival?”
“Of course. I always feel the need to get involved in anything that sounds like fun!”
They had of course not considered bringing a change of clothes for her. After leaving the kids playing in the river, Aoi seemed perfectly carefree while walking down the farm road. She grabbed the skirt-like bottom of her red hakama and wrung it out like a rag to squeeze the clear water onto the road. Once done with that, she grabbed the entire hakama with both hands and flapped it in the air. She did not seem to mind the bright skin showing through the white kosode or the soft thighs boldly bared below the raised hakama. Her leather boots sounded like rubber rain boots as she walked.
“I’m absolutely soaked. Well, it’s still quite hot even if it’s evening, so I should be dry by the time we reach the shopping district.”
“…I just hope you aren’t underestimating the drying time.”
“More importantly, is your wallet all right after jumping into the water like that?” inquired Biondetta.
“Mwa ha ha. Not to worry. My coin purse only has change inside! I’ve never had much use for paper bills!!”
“That’s not really something to brag about.”
As the silver-haired girl’s bright skin showed through the fabric of her shrine maiden outfit, Kyousuke bluntly tossed a large towel at her face.
“Direct your thanks to an old man who passed by. Although he might’ve forgotten all about it as soon as he looked the other way.”
“…What are you so worried about? My body is fake.”
“I’m worried regardless.”
When he said that, Aoi matched her pace to his and laughed a little.
“Oh, it’s nothing. Hee hee hee.”
Meinokawa Aoi moved right up next to him, so the waitress demon lightly cleared her throat.
“Ahem. Now, sir, as we were discussing…”
The farm road arrived alongside the beach, so they detected a powerful salty smell. The sea breeze blowing in from the distant ocean horizon did not seem good for growing rice, but the locals might have thought that applying some stress to the crops caused them to grow more strongly.
“Everything up to arriving in Houbi Village was correct. No matter how carefully we plan, there will always be an accident or two standing in our way. That’s why everything since that has been so strange. …What caused the change? Needless to say Bridesmaid did send in their summoners and Repliglass soldiers, but it’s all gone shockingly smoothly since then. But that smoothness doesn’t sit right with me. The only real hurdle is that Meinokawa Aoi wants to be satisfied before getting on with the plan. It may not look like it, but we’re trying to acquire a trump card for killing the White Queen. The entire religious world should be fighting back against us.”
“Hmm. Has the White Queen trampled on you so much that you get uneasy when things go too well? Or should I say she’s trained you so well that you’re about ready for her to give you your reward???”
Biondetta’s pointed tail decoration swished back and forth as she made a cruel joke to dig at his trauma, but Kyousuke ignored her. He directed his thoughts even further inward.
And he continued watching Aoi’s back as she walked a few steps ahead of him.
(Was I placed on some kind of rails at that point?)
He tried to drag something concrete out of the sludge deep in his mind that hid countless possibilities, much like the primordial soup. But it was not enough. He had too little information to determine the answer.
(But what is this about? What does Bridesmaid gain by calling us to this village?)
At that moment, he just about ran into Meinokawa Aoi’s back.
She had seen something and stopped.
All sound receded.
The cheerful voices vanished and silence fell over the area as if it had been cut off from the rest of the world.
Kyousuke placed his hands on Aoi’s slender shoulders to stop himself from bumping into her and then he looked to the cause of this.
It was a perfectly normal intersection between narrow coastal farm roads.
It was twilight and a crossroads.
Both the time and the place were said to invite oddities and someone stood there as if part of a ritual.
It was a girl holding the brim of her straw hat with both hands.
She wore a light pink rose decoration on her chest.
She was maybe 135cm tall.
The short girl’s long blonde hair was worn in two braids down her back and she wore a deep blue school swimsuit, a decorative collar that only covered her neck and shoulders, a ridiculously short pleated skirt, and a white floral print pareo. The brim of the large straw hat covered her eyes, but a strange prickling pain spread from Kyousuke’s forehead to the rest of his skin.
She wore a thick chain over one shoulder and diagonally down her torso.
What she wore at her side like a brand-name bag was actually a giant lock.
Needless to say, that was a symbol of restraint and bondage.
It was the defense mechanism used by vessels to bind their mind and protect themselves from evil and vengeful spirits.
“Counting just the paved ones, there are currently 7,010,891,750 roads on this planet. There are 120,970,672,894 crossroads between them. Now, what are the odds of two people walking down the road to happen across each other by chance?”
This was not good.
He could not afford to see this.
“But the two of us were still reunited, Onii-chan. Were you simply too naïve as you made your choices like a form of book fortunetelling? If your willpower had been just a little stronger, this might have been avoided.”
His instincts whispered those warnings. His experience raised the alarm. The problem was the location. If he had been anywhere in the wide world other than Houbi Village, he might have celebrated this reunion.
Yes, hadn’t Meinokawa Renge said any non-Meinokawa summoners and vessels would be highly suspicious? Given what Kyousuke’s group was attempting, the odds were quite good that they would be a member of the Queen-worshiping cult known as Bridesmaid.
So if he could think of no reason why he would see someone here, it did not matter who they were.
“Ha ha☆ Aren’t you glad I prayed to the White Queen, the strongest of the strongest, every single day, Onii-chan!?”
The girl lifted the brim of her straw hat to reveal the face below.
All the hair on Shiroyama Kyousuke’s body bristled.
He knew her.
She was one of the Alices he had once saved. And she was someone he had supposedly cut all ties with.
And even among those Alices, this one in particular reminded him of a small baby bird.
Her snowy white skin reminded him of a fairy.
Disbelief filled Shiroyama Kyousuke’s eyes as his trembling throat forced out her name.
Secret Document Concerning Kingdom F 01
That was the vessel girl who had been contracted with Shiroyama Kyousuke before he announced his retirement.
She was the first in line to the throne in an Eastern European kingdom generally known simply as F, but the kingdom itself had been overthrown, the monarchy had collapsed, and her life had been targeted. She had bound a contract with Shiroyama Kyousuke to confirm the disappearance of her mother, the kingdom’s final monarch.
She had behaved like a wounded beast at first, but through contact with Kyousuke, she had gradually regained her original innocent disposition. She had also had utter faith in the Unexplored-class, especially the White Queen and the Three, so even as she braved the battles of her collapsing kingdom alongside Kyousuke, she had frequently prayed to the White Queen.
On the outside, it had looked like inviting in too many foreign corporations had created an influx of foreign values which triggered a great backlash against the insular monarchy…or so the reports had said, but behind the scenes, the rebels had been plotting a secret scheme concerning the Summoning Ceremony. It was assumed they were plotting to steal the White Light Circle which was viewed as a royal treasure.
The details were unclear, but legend claimed that treasure could immediately summon the White Queen, so Kyousuke, Olivia, and several other summoners and vessels had fought an unseen war over it.
Later, it had been revealed that the royal treasure had actually referred to the people of Kingdom F.
It was said the White Queen would swing down the hammer of punishment when rebels appeared to tear apart that beautiful land of ice and snow.
The records of that battle’s result were lost and it is difficult to accurately follow what happened, but Kingdom F has regained its monarchy and there are unconfirmed reports of a mother and child seen embracing and weeping among the war-torn ruins.
There is one voice recording of the mercenary summoner who helped Olivia Highland reclaim the monarchy, so I will attach that to the end:
“…Do you really think you can pass that off as justice, Queen?”
- Good or evil, right or wrong, Meinokawa Aoi will listen to anyone’s request as long as it will stave off her boredom. She bound a contract as Kyousuke’s vessel because she thinks she will be freed from her position as a lookalike if the White Queen is destroyed.
- Meinokawa Aoi seems to have an idea how to acquire the artificial vessel needed to contain Kyousuke’s proposed Unexplored-class which can kill the Queen. But he must curry her favor to get any further.
- Kyousuke believes someone is intentionally allowing things to progress so smoothly.
- The Bridesmaid assassin who appeared before Kyousuke was Oliva Highland, one of the girls he once saved.
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