The Unexplored Summon Blood Sign:Volume8 Chapter1
Stage 01: Welcome to the Media Celebrity Life
“…What should we do, Onii-chan?”
“We break our way through and run away.”
(Stage 01 Open 08/04 09:00)
Welcome to the Media Celebrity Life
“This Chinese rice porridge is so good.”
“This abalone rice porridge is so good.”
The restaurants in C Block’s Chinatown were not yet open, but Shiroyama Kyousuke and Olivia Highland had still met someone there. While serving them a breakfast that looked simple but was actually a lot of trouble to make, Lu Niang Lan sighed in her red modified China dress.
She ran a secondhand store, so she had used an acquaintance’s supplies instead of her own.
She began speaking while finding the cicada cries to be far too loud already.
“Kyousuke-chan, you’ve been acting very wild lately. Is this a rebellious phase?”
“Lu-san, I had hoped to get this information out of you yesterday, but my entire schedule has been thrown off because you were collapsed in Aika’s bath.”
“Eh heh heh. Don’t you dare talk about that when you caused the wild global financial fluctuation people have started calling Black August. Do I need to give you a firsthand lesson in how my hidden weapons work? Eh heh heh heh heh…”
Lu Niang Lan hung her head and let out some endless dark laughter, but stocks and the like were none of Kyousuke’s concern. But as a capable young woman, she continued smoothly working at preparing the tea.
Kyousuke added some chopped pickled vegetables to accent the flavor of his fish stock rice porridge.
“I’ve already transferred the money to your account, so give me my money’s worth of information,” he said.
“Y’know, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the losses the entire organization has-…sigh, never mind. I guess I just have to work through my jobs one at a time. …Yes, chaos is an opportunity for my line of work. You can’t let this beat you, Lu Niang Lan. I can still ride this wave.”
With that, she pulled a small notepad from her cleavage.
Her shoulders were not quite at the same height, so she must have been crossing her long legs below the table. That was all it was, but it increased her relaxed allure. When taking a selfie, the slightest difference in angle could have a great effect on the impression people got from your face. Her behavior as an assassin had so permeated her body that she would make herself look nice without even meaning to.
“First of all, let’s talk about the Silver Resource War.”
“It’s an impressive-sounding name, but it doesn’t actually exist, does it?”
“There’s a reason it was given that kind of name. It’s a war that is ‘about to happen’ because a Euro lobbyist group has been pestering the US Congress about making it happen. So they couldn’t afford to give it a negative image.”
“The ‘resource war’ part doesn’t give it a negative image?”
“It didn’t have that name originally.” The modified China dress beauty breathed a sigh of exasperation and brushed her long black hair off of her cheek. “It began with the Global Sharing movement. Materials would be taken from resource countries and combined with the energy-efficient tech of developed countries to extract energy as efficiently as possible. It was the ultimate version of a win-win situation where everyone was happy.”
Olivia looked troubled by this.
“Am I behind the times? Because I’ve never heard of that.”
“You shouldn’t have. The instant it was announced at a press conference, it was criticized as a global colonization plan, so the name was erased from the White House’s website less than half a day later. They wanted to make sure no one ever heard of it again.”
“So did the government go crying to Toy Dream next?”
“It’s only been two weeks since the Queen was killed, so the world works fast, doesn’t it?”
A soft clunk rang out.
Lu Niang Lan had taken advantage of the table blocking their view to remove her shoes.
The modified China dress beauty breathed a relaxed and sweet breath.
“The Silver Resource War is a negative campaign name it was given during the online criticism. Silver refers to the perpetual snow in the beautiful mountains of Eastern Europe. But Toy Dream did not bother to get rid of that name. They knew that wouldn’t be possible, so they instead prominently worked it into their promotional video and twisted the already established name to mean something else.”
“You mean like how ‘incredible’ can be used to mean incredibly bad or incredibly good?”
“More or less. It’s kind of frightening. The Silver Resource War name was spread as a way to protest war, but when ignorant people look online now, it instead looks like all the search results for the term are people approving of war.”
And people had a weakness to the majority.
If “everyone” was saying something, it had to be true, right?
Everyone had been drawn in by some obvious numbers before, like the long line at a ramen shop or the top ranked item on a review site.
“Back up a moment,” said Kyousuke.
“This was simply announced by America and named online…so the war hasn’t actually happened, right?”
He frowned even as he said it.
This was where the biggest distortion was found.
“The East Europe Axis has been named as an obvious ‘enemy of America’ in all this, but no one actually knows what counties that label applies to. Basically, any country or region that America attacks will have that label slapped onto them, making them an incarnation of evil. That’s completely backwards. Even the witch hunts followed a more sensible procedure than this.”
“Well, normal people only have the police’s word to go on that the terrorist the police shot was really a terrorist.”
The beautiful woman serving them breakfast was a high-ranking member of Illegal who sought freedom outside the protection of a large country or religion and were constantly the target of unwarranted criticism. She was likely familiar with that sort of treatment as a normal part of her reality.
And while he thought about this, Kyousuke’s shoulders rose slightly.
Below the table, a soft sensation had wrapped around his right shin. He looked up to see a smile on Lu Niang Lan’s lips.
Where no one could see, she had started teasing him with the bottom of her feet with only black stockings on them. How could she even do that with the two feet meant for bipedal walking? It felt like having a giant tongue licking up his leg.
“Hee hee. Kyousuke-chan, there’s no need to give me that look.”
“Lu-san… If you hadn’t made us breakfast, I might have hit you for being this rude.”
“Eh heh heh heh heh. I like being in control, so it pisses me off when you start feeling sorry for me. Get too gloomy and I have to reclaim my spot on top☆”
“Hm? What are you two talking about?”
Olivia tilted her head while focused on scooping up Chinese rice porridge with her spoon.
The modified China dress beauty maintained her smile while resting her elbows on the table, refused to explain, and simply returned to the original topic.
“The excuse seems to be that they want to prevent the East Europe Axis from destroying the valuable crystalline underground resources with soil improvements being made by dumping in all sorts of chemical fertilizers made from the shells of an older war. Although the photos released online are clearly fake, so I don’t believe it for a second.”
Lu Niang Lan said nothing about the secret battle below the table and toyed with her long black hair with a calm expression on her face.
“The focus this time is on a silicon mine newly discovered in a giant Eastern European mountain range. Silicon is the base material of Repliglass, but the rare silicon found there contains impurities as rare as colored diamonds, so they can be used for things very different from the normal variety. This is not something that can be reproduced in the artificial minerals made in modern labs.”
“There are new types of Repliglass that can only be made with that rare silicon. Think of it as a modern version of the old conflicts over rare earths.”
Olivia had stopped moving ever since “a giant Eastern European mountain range” was mentioned.
Yes, her Kingdom F was located deep in the mountains of Eastern Europe.
The modified China dress beauty’s teasing below the table also briefly stopped. Kyousuke slowly sighed.
“So they’re fighting over the right to develop special new kinds of Repliglass?”
“Just to be clear, Kyousuke-chan, you opened the door to this.” The modified China dress beauty waved a hand. “During the execution of the Queen, it was revealed that Houbi Village’s Meinokawa Shrine has a lookalike of the White Queen, right? That is a fully artificial method of constantly summoning the Queen with no risk. In a way, that is the greatest hope of humanity according to groups like Azalea Magentarain’s Guard of Honor. For better or for worse.”
“And this is an unstable period when the White Queen’s defeat has become widely known. For those who wish to regain stability from the Queen’s presence, the internal pressure has grown to the breaking point. They would consider backing a war or two if it meant obtaining a perfect doll like that.”
“And before that…oh, honestly. Repliglass itself was originally developed in a failed attempt to create a Queen lookalike.”
“Oh, is that true? So to Quad Motors and the rest of the Americans, this might look like taking an incomplete product and completing it.”
It was not actually known if they would be able to create another Meinokawa Aoi, the world’s oldest Joruri Method, even if they did conquer those Eastern European mountains and combined those special crystals with Repliglass technology. Azalea was a skilled weapons designer and she was approaching that level by fusing old and new technology, but it was unknown if those in control of this incident could do the same.
Lu Niang Lan then seemed to remember something.
“Come to think of it, what happened to the real Meinokawa Aoi? And I don’t mean the replacement you met in Houbi Village.”
“Hm? You mean Granny Aoi? Isn’t she hanging around Onii-chan’s cruiser? She’s looking after the place while we’re out. She was jumping around on the Western bed since she isn’t used to them and she was getting a tan on the deck while fishing in the ocean.”
Olivia was exactly right.
Meinokawa Aoi was an artificial vessel and a perfect lookalike of the Queen. Kyousuke had predicted worshipers around the world would target her once her existence came to light, so he had made sure that did not happen. The best way to protect yourself was not to surround yourself in thick walls; it was to disappear without a trace.
Thus, the people thrown into chaos by the Queen’s execution could not touch Meinokawa Aoi.
That meant they would have to create a new one for themselves, but to reiterate, there was no guarantee they would succeed just because they tried.
However, some had taken action in the belief that they could do it.
That was the problem.
“You could do it better” were the words the devil whispered in the ears of kings throughout history. But when they lacked the skill to achieve that ideal, their actions would transform into oppression and slaughter.
“And that brings us back to why you’ve returned to Toy Dream 35, Kyousuke-chan. …This is what’s going on with the Toy Dream Company.”
Watching the two eat must have made her hungry because the modified China dress beauty’s slender fingertips grabbed some pickled vegetables and placed them on her alluring tongue.
“There has always been a powerful link between Europe and America, so they are eager to protect their close friends from the Silver Resource War in Eastern Europe. No, they hold a lot of sway over Toy Dream’s international revived cities, so perhaps it’s better to say they want to protect their enclaves in Eastern Europe.”
In Toy Dream 35, the regional finances had been left with a foreign company, so there was an extent to which Japanese law did not apply there. Critical groups called the cities financial and economic colonies or CIA relay bases.
“So no matter where in the world war breaks out, America can claim they were ‘directly’ involved and retaliate,” said Kyousuke. “They don’t even need the indirect excuse of protecting an ally.”
“The military does not start the slow process of deploying troops only once the US Congress gives approval. They are already in every part of the world. The Toy Dream cities are scattered around the world like an oversaturated convenience store chain, so they can leave made-in-America ‘products’ anywhere they want. The instant they have approval, they can begin the attack. Scary, isn’t…nwoh!?”
Olivia frowned at Lu Niang Lan’s strange cry.
The modified China dress beauty bent over a bit and trembled.
“K-Kyousuke-chan. When intercepting someone’s foot with your own, the polite thing to do is to remove your shoes.”
“Kicking someone when they’re trying to eat seems like the bigger problem to me.”
Kyousuke nonchalantly replied after presumably lightly stepping on her stockinged foot when she tried to once more wrap her long legs around his below the table.
She really did look half in tears, but she managed to slip her foot out from under his sneaker.
“B-but unlike Europe, Asia does not approve of this war deep in the mountains. No one knows what the East Europe Axis is and nothing seems real when it’s happening halfway around the globe, so a lot of influential people are skeptical of the war. That is bad news for those who want to start the war after bringing the entire world onto their side.”
“People used to brag about being able to tie a cherry stem in a knot with their tongue, but I think this is more exciting.”
“Huh? I think I missed something… Onii-chan, did you two just change the subject all of a sudden???”
The situation under the table was difficult to explain.
Since Lu Niang Lan was in fact the Perfect Dragon, her toes inside her black stockings had begun moving the instant he had been slightly distracted and they had untied Kyousuke’s shoelaces. And then she removed his sneaker in a smooth motion.
“Kyousuke-chan, I assume you have a feel for that balance of power since you returned here to Japan.”
Yes. If this was all about Eastern Europe, Kyousuke and Olivia would not be here.
They had a different reason for being here.
Olivia must have burnt her tongue on the rice porridge because she reached for her drink, but that was warm oolong tea which only made things worse. He patted her head to comfort her and then cut to the heart of the issue.
“I hear Toy Dream has sent a ship to this city.”
“And there’s the left foot too. Yes, the Missing Princess. …That name would probably make you-know-who hide under a blanket if she heard it. Anyway, the design is based on the world’s 4th largest cruise ship that can circumnavigate the globe. I believe it could hold 5000 people. That makes it even larger than Azalea’s ship. But Toy Dream placed an entire VFX production studio and broadcast station inside it. There’s an old story of an entire village being built in the middle of the desert to film a movie, right? This is kind of like taking that movie village, packing it into the shape of a ship, and letting it travel freely across the seven seas.”
If it also contained enough entertainment facilities for 5000 people, it would be even larger than a high-rise resort hotel floating in the ocean on its side. Even nuclear aircraft carriers were quite cramped on the inside. If they were designed to be roomy, their size would balloon out endlessly.
“They had a few reasons for turning their big moneymaker into a mobile base. For example, the simple fear of being attacked and the ability to visit the location that inspired each new film to produce the VFX while viewing live material. There are also rumors that they use it to send powerful broadcast signals into dictatorships where normal broadcast signals can’t reach.”
“Then I guess it must be strictly guarded.”
“They’ve brought it to Toy Dream 35 to show off just how open it is, so simply getting on the ship wouldn’t be difficult. Were they calling it a Cruise Fest? Anyway, they’re giving tours of the inside for a summer break campaign. With the way that’s going, I imagine this country’s TV stations will follow suit and turn themselves into makeshift theme parks. Of course, the festival is only on the surface and you won’t be able to get deep inside.”
Lu Niang Lan fell silent for a moment there.
And then her alluring lips resumed moving.
“The Toy Dream Company is an important part of the world economy as a whole, so an escort fleet joins the Missing Princess as it travels to different UN countries. But it seems our industry has recently started to focus on that.”
“You mean there might be summoners and vessels there?”
“Using our Illegal logic, sending troops to a rich residence would suggest connections to an underworld family or gang…but I’m not so sure when it comes to Toy Dream. I would normally doubt that ultra-powerful corporation has any links to the underworld, but this is an unstable time.”
This was an age of chaos where the people who were supported by a powerful attraction (even if that attraction had been a negative thing) had scattered once more.
To put it another way, this may not have happened if not for what Shiroyama Kyousuke had done.
If the White Queen still reigned as the strongest, this may have been resolved without issue.
Kyousuke and Lu Niang Lan fell silent for a while. Only Olivia continued innocently eating.
“So someone wants to start a war badly enough to create a fictional category known as the East Europe Axis and they are pushing Toy Dream to action,” said Kyousuke. “All so they can spread support of the war around the world and prevent anyone from speaking out against it.”
“If the vote in the US Congress passes, the most powerful player in the ‘surface’ world will take action. Once the gears of war begin to turn, no one can stop them. What I don’t know is how many professionals being manipulated by the White Queen or the Colorless Little Girl are involved or where they are involved.”
“What do you know about Toy Dream’s war promotion video?”
“It uses the same format of ultra-high-quality CG as their movie versions of children’s books and cartoons. You know those foreign 3D children’s movies that….move in a squishy way like clay? They combined those with a few actors and some live-action footage. The internal development codename was Blue Film.”
“Oh, Kyousuke-chan? You know what that term originally meant?”
Lu Niang Lan gave a bewitching laugh and placed her stockinged foot on top of his foot below the table. She then moved her toes as if tickling him. Meanwhile, Olivia Highland was confused by it all.
…Blue Film might sound cool, but the term actually referred to a cheap movie that used obscene content as a selling point.
“Hey, Onii-chan, what does that mean?”
“Yes, that’s a good question. But Kyousuke-chan knows everything, so I’m sure he’ll give you a nice, thorough explanation.”
“…Lu-san. Don’t blame me for what happens if you don’t stop this.”
“Oh? Are you still holding back because of my stockings? Or was that a declaration of war saying you’ll be tearing my stockings so you can see my bare legs?”
Kyousuke gave a troubled look and Lu Niang Lan smiled as a further secret battle was fought below the table.
Giving that name to a video meant to influence public opinion about a war hinted at just how Toy Dream viewed this agitation video. It clearly did not come from a desire for justice or patriotism.
“The official announcement for Blue Film says they plan to release a total of 4 episodes and the first episode was spread around the world using online video sites and satellite broadcasts yesterday,” explained Lu Niang Lan. “It depicted a silicon vein blackened by the chemical fertilizer made from old and unusable shells.”
“That has to be fake. And with all the VFX they’re using, there’s more than a 98% chance they just fabricated that along with everything else.”
“To understand that, you need a fair amount of film literacy and an unwavering heart even when faced with the majority numbers. …At 10 minutes an episode, the whole thing will be less than an hour. That is all it takes to complete the installation and tear down human history.” The modified China dress beauty traced her slender fingertip across her own lips. “The current public opinion is only 40% in favor of the war. But a major think tank’s predictions say the 2nd episode will bring it to 50%, and the 3rd to 60%. And once they have artificially brought the level of data to the point of supersaturation, the final 4th episode will decisively tilt the world toward approval of the war. Oh, but the episodes are broadcast in Asia early, so the actual limit might be sooner than that.”
“…I don’t care what the self-styled intellectuals have to say. What do your Illegal instincts tell you?”
“I’ve traveled all over the west and the east as an arms dealer and it feels plausible to me. Of course, I’m sure America will win in the end no matter what happens, but you can still make money supplying weapons to the losing side. In this case, that would mean a small country that will be declared a part of the East Europe Axis after the fact.” Lu Niang Lan calmly ignored all the rules of the world. “You can make business deals as long as you make sure to avoid a currency that is about to crash. You need to negotiate for gold, diamonds, or anything else that will retain its value even after the country collapses. And if you keep the scales between the two sides as evenly weighted as possible, the war will drag on and your market remains. Of course, just like with a bubble economy, how much you get involved is something like a game of chicken. If you stick with them to the bitter end, you’ll end up full of 5.5mm bullets stamped with that ‘made in America’ label.”
It was easy for a pacifist to shout from the safety of their living room, but if a criminal group had begun making the financial calculations, the threat posed by the Blue Film was likely very real.
It was not that war would break out if someone screwed up.
War would break out if things were left as is.
“The war promotion videos are treated as top secret, so they are produced on the Missing Princess and then transmitted from the large antenna tower on the ship itself. That would be the world’s largest online TV station: TD-ch, or the Toy Dream Channel. There are no third parties involved anywhere along the line, so it was apparently quite a shock for those in the old broadcast industry. The mass media is apparently trying to retaliate by finding some way to nab an internal leak, but you should assume there is essentially zero chance of any advance spoilers.”
“Nweh? But, Lu Onee-chan, doesn’t Toy Dream have a bunch of VFX studios besides the one on the ship?”
“I said the 1st episode has already been released, didn’t I? 7th generation Toy Dream films put more effort into the background than the characters. Instead of just making them ‘good enough’, they do such a thorough job that you could walk around them and enjoy some skateboarding or tennis if you put on some VR goggles. That is only possible with System Atlantis, the Missing Princess’s mainframe.”
“Atlantis? Oh, the one that sank into the ocean?”
“It’s meant to say they could construct an entire lost continent for a single film if they wanted to. Well, supercomputer names are always way too self-conscience. Hyahhh!?”
Olivia sat up from her seat when she heard that fairly serious scream, but the modified China dress beauty held out a hand to stop her while bent over and doing her best to resist something.
Kyousuke gave a triumphant snort.
During their secret battle below the table, Lu Niang Lan had gotten carried away and tried used her stockinged toes to remove Kyousuke’s socks, but she had banged her little toe against the table leg for a self-inflicted KO. Of course, the boy had lured her into doing it.
Even if she was the Perfect Dragon, she was still human, so the stun effect of a dresser corner worked on her. She pressed her large breasts against the top of the table, pointed the top of her head his way in something like a bow, and irregularly twitched as she did her best to get her voice out.
“I said not to blame me. Now pull yourself together.”
At any rate, none of this would end unless they did something about the Missing Princess.
Videos would be regularly released like the ringing of a cuckoo clock and the 10-minute episodes of the Blue Film would gradually guide public opinion to work up the entire world population. Once things had been heated up to the point that no one could stop the war, the US Congress would be free to hold their vote and begin the war. Shells and missiles would take flight just because people wanted a lookalike of the White Queen, wanted her by their side, and wanted to protect this unstable age.
Kyousuke had thought he would bring peace to the world if he defeated the White Queen, but the flames of war were only spreading.
His stomach was not full, but he breathed a heavy sigh.
He asked Lu Niang Lan a question now that she had recovered from the pain in her little toe and finally got up from the table.
“What is the estimated death count if the war does start?”
“Oh? I thought you were the expert at working out those things, Kyousuke-chan.”
This time, he blatantly clicked his tongue.
That summoner worked it out in his head without relying on a supercomputer.
“About 2.5 million within 48 hours of the war beginning. After 98 hours, it would reach 10 million when indirect damage is included. Kingdom F and the four counties around it would be swept up in the flames of war one after another.”
“Digital wars are scary things, aren’t they? That is far more people than human beings could kill on their own.”
Some helpless fools were about to begin an orgy of violence activated by the flip of a switch.
Lu Niang Lan winked and made a suggestion.
“What do you need?”
“Everything I might need to infiltrate and sabotage a ship with the assumption that there is a summoner organization onboard.”
The blazing sun shined on the Missing Princess, a nearly 450m cruise ship with floats attached to long arms on either side. When viewed from above, the arms would look like three long and narrow sticks lined up in parallel. The extra buoyancy would increase the water resistance and reduce fuel efficiency and it required a unique design for the gangway to disembark, but they stabilized the ship’s balance. Even if a submerged torpedo or an anti-ship missile skimming just above the surface blew a giant hole in the hull, the floats would prevent the ship from sinking.
The ship had five levels for a total height of more than 30 meters.
The higher the center of gravity, the worse the ship’s balance and the greater the risk of capsizing or sinking. That would be why they had floats on either side to increase stability, but that would normally not be an option since a ship’s diesel engine cost more than 7 million yen a day to run. At this size, it probably could not use the Panama Canal, so it would have to take a large detour when circumnavigating the globe. But there was a trick to that. First of all, this was not a normal ship.
“That thing has a nuclear engine. And while I’m sure they need all the power they can get to support a cutting-edge VFX studio that will spend 30 billion yen on a single film, they’re pretty brazenly breaking the Three Non-Nuclear Principles here.”
It was frightening, but history had proven that – West or East – nuclear weapon states did not view nuclear power as a threat. Even though that was not something that should be left up to an individual country’s sensibilities.
The foreign Toy Dream Company had bought the entire regional administration for the international revived city, so the normal laws did not apply. At times like this, they almost seemed to be gloating.
…The Missing Princess itself was famous, so simple diagrams could be found in plenty of pamphlets and guidebooks. Lu Niang Lan had dug a bit deeper and found the CAD data used to design it, but that only got them so far. The “authorized personnel only” zones were blanked out, so they would have to investigate those for themselves.
Everyone knew of it, but no one knew anything about the deeper areas. The Missing Princess’s mystique was similar to that of important facilities like the White House.
Kyousuke performed a final check of their equipment and spoke to his little partner.
“C’mon, Olivia. Let’s get started.”
After crouching down on the wharf and giving a glass pellet to a small sea anemone while pushing on the bottom of Kyousuke’s Repliglass Blood-Sign, the double blonde braid girl turned around. The Blood-Sign had apparently won the fight over the “bait”. Olivia immediately jumped toward Kyousuke and he retrieved the long stick from her. Phosphorous quickly coiled around and took the shape of a waitress’s tray.
Olivia was not dressed in her usual school swimsuit dress. She was wearing a skintight diving suit that showed off every curve of her juvenile bodylines.
“I’m a ninja, I’m a ninja. You’ve gotta be dressed like this for a stealth operation.”
“Okay, let’s destroy that weird video base and protect everyone in Kingdom F.”
Kyousuke was similarly dressed in all black and he sat on a vehicle that resembled a bike floating in the ocean. However, the entire thing was covered by a protective cover with a streamlined design that resembled a fighter jet’s canopy. Once Olivia had climbed in to sit in front of him, which meant in his arms, he pulled down the clear cover.
“This is a smuggling model that was designed for stealth, so it doesn’t have an air conditioner. Take frequent drinks from the water bottle I gave you to keep yourself hydrated.”
“I have cooling sheets on my armpits and inner thighs, so I’ll be fine. Uuh, in fact, I might be too cold…”
This might seem silly, but they would be exposed to the August sun in what amounted to a plastic greenhouse with no ventilation or cooling. And if they passed out in there, no one would come to rescue them.
Kyousuke felt bad keeping Olivia involved since the Queen execution incident, but he appreciated her skill at controlling Materials. In a different way than with Biondetta, he could work well with a partner who was familiar with how it all worked.
But the more someone carried with them, the greater the odds of losing them during the intense fighting.
He knew he had to cut his ties with her eventually.
“Hm? What is it, Onii-chan?”
Kyousuke and Olivia made their way out into the ocean in the kind of small submersible that was primarily used by Illegal to hand off valuable but illicit goods in the dark depths of the ocean. Even at the depth of a meter, being under the water meant a lot. The sun sparkling on the surface completely negated any security that relied on eyesight. It felt like the temperature had rapidly dropped, just like entering the shade of a tree.
And after traveling about 2 kilometers…
“Huh? Onii-chan, you’re turning off the engine?”
“Shh. When we pass by the escort ships, the flow of the tides is our friend.”
This kind of small submersible was used by the best of Illegal. Talk of stealth tended to focus on the EM used by radar, but diverting and absorbing the soundwaves of active sonar could also prevent detection.
But the same could not be said for passive sonar that simply gathered noises from the ocean. Avoiding any and all noise when sneaking in was the most basic of ideas that even a kindergartner would understand.
Luckily, the Missing Princess itself was a giant mass of noise thanks to its large form and the floats on the sides. Plus, the Cruise Fest was underway. The party event had loud music playing on the deck, a host was speaking into a microphone, and fireworks were going off. Once Kyousuke and Olivia made their way far enough inside the Missing Princess’s defenses, they had already won. The escort ships would have sampled the acoustic signature made by the Missing Princess’s propellers, but the other noises were too loud for that to be any use. They could restart the submersible’s engine and have it drowned out by the other noises.
They were also aided by the Missing Princess’s structure.
If they surfaced in the gap between the hull and one of the floats on the side, they could leave the submersible there without worrying about the escort ships spotting it.
The clear protective cover popped up and the August air actually felt cool. The hastily-prepared smuggling submersible was like a sauna inside. Kyousuke tied the submersible to the side of the float using a synthetic rope. Olivia asked a question while having trouble as the submersible rocked unsteadily.
“How do we get up on top? I’ve heard Japanese ninjas like toads. Do we attach suckers to our hands and feet and climb up the side???”
“I think you have the wrong idea about ninjas, westerner. Let’s do something simpler: humans can do just about anything with a rope.”
“Oh, I know about that! Japanese bondage is an art, isn’t it!?”
“…We’re busy now, but we need to have a talk later, Olivia.”
After tossing the rope straight up and tangling it around the ship’s railing, he climbed up while carrying the small girl on his back. It looked simple enough, but climbing a vertical rope was a dangerous technique that could kill even a professional soldier. There were plenty of simple but deadly mistakes that were not featured in movies. And you should not even think about climbing a curved slope that was steeper than vertical with no powered assistance unless you had participated in a special training program for mountain soldiers or an assault team.
On his back, Olivia placed her slender chin on his right shoulder, rubbed her cheek against his, and made an innocent comment.
“You’re like a spider… Is there not a Repliglass that can do this?”
“I’m sure there is, but we can’t carry around a bunch of tools that can only do one thing.”
While carrying all their equipment and an entire person (albeit a child), Kyousuke took only 15 seconds to climb more than 10 meters. He had combat-level climbing skills rather than sports-level. His speed was impressive, but it was also necessary. With the burden it placed on your arms and legs, you only wanted to climb for a short period of time. Even on a wall, you would search out small footholds and indentations where you could rest in between climbs. Even if the wall was large and vast, it could be heard to search out a route that moved from one rest point to another. Meanwhile, the smooth ship’s hull had no footholds and sloped outward toward them. There was no hope of taking a rest there. If he could not finish the climb and cross the railing in less than a minute, he would have had to abandon the idea.
They climbed up onto the side deck on the far starboard side.
A straight passageway continued on and on like a school hallway. Kyousuke untangled the rope from the railing and retrieved it and then he lowered the waterproof zipper on his black diving suit.
He removed that to reveal his usual hoodie and track pants.
He was not all that sweaty for spending time in the plastic greenhouse of the submersible. That would be thanks to the cooling sheets placed on his major blood vessels at his armpit, neck, and elsewhere, but not sweating when you should was actually a sign of danger. He could not trust this too much.
He peeled off the cooling sheets from below his clothes.
“Olivia, put the diving suit in this bag. The cooling sheets too.”
Olivia also began unzipping her skintight diving suit to reveal the short dress made from a school swimsuit and a floral pareo, but…
“Watata…hm? It’s caught on something?”
“It’s your swimsuit’s shoulder strap.”
The double blonde braid girl just about opened her swimsuit up from the neck in a tunnel shape that revealed everything below, so Kyousuke quickly stopped her.
Olivia did not seem to understand the danger, so she peeled the cooling sheets off of her soft inner thighs while he supported her.
“Onii-chan, where are we headed first?”
“Just remember the plan.”
That was all Kyousuke said as he reached for the round knob of one of the waterproof doors lining the wall like in a school hallway. He opened the steel door which had the gaps filled with a rubber seal and the two of them slipped inside.
It was a striking change of scenery.
They were reminded that the ship doubled as a VFX studio and a broadcast station.
It looked like a shiny Wall Street office seen in a foreign drama. There was a short gray carpet and white plastic walls. The rectangular panels lining the ceiling may have been LED lights.
Wearing little more than a swimsuit, Olivia pressed her legs together and held herself in her arms.
“Ohh, this can’t be good for my health… O-Onii-chan, it’s like a fridge in here…!”
“We need to eat a stamina-building meal today. Eat somen here and the summer heat would get to you.”
The overly-air-conditioned corridor was lined with numbered doors that had IC card readers for electronic locks. They looked like they led to corporate conference rooms, but this was where a normal cruise ship would have passenger cabins.
However, this was also a mass media facility.
“This door says Sean Bourdon and this one says Marilyn Javer! Th-those are movie stars…”
“These must be dressing rooms. They were originally just meant as a place to rest, but they’ve been expanded into something like a luxury hotel room.”
Kyousuke gave that blunt answer while they climbed the stairs. The ship was floating in the ocean, but the dressing rooms alone filled three floors up from the deck. There was enough space for more than 1300 actors. There was also an exit to a heliport on the roof for the popular actors that could not stay for long.
“Don’t forget that stopping the ridiculous war comes first. Besides, Olivia, you’re a princess, so you don’t need to feel nervous.”
“Hm? Hmm? I don’t follow, Onii-chan. Ah, someone’s coming!”
They passed by a large man in a navy blue guard uniform, but there was nothing suspicious about them now that they were onboard. That was why they had changed out of their diving suits which looked like full-body tights. Olivia cautiously hid behind Kyousuke’s back, but kids must have found the man intimidating all the time because he actually smiled gently and waved at her.
(Is he a normal Toy Dream employee? One problem here is that we can’t tell the normal people apart from the Illegal soldiers. I’ll have to make some guesses from how they carry themselves and any eye signals they make.)
They climbed another stairway to reach the third floor. The area had been full of blanks in the map they bought from Lu Niang Lan, but the number of columns, layout of lights, vents for the air conditioning and ducts, location of drains and faucets, communication cables, etc. all provided hints. They only had to work out the structure of the ship like restoring a corpse’s living appearance by adding clay to the skull.
“I guess this works,” said Kyousuke
“Works for what?”
They stopped in front of one dark gray door among many.
Of course, they would not have needed the submersible if they had made a reservation, but Kyousuke pulled a multi-tool from his hoodie’s pocket and easily opened the door’s electronic lock.
“Hm? How did you do that with normal tools, Onii-chan?”
“Just hurry inside.”
Kyousuke opened the door, urged Olivia in, and then slipped inside the cabin himself.
As soon as the small double blonde braid girl saw the large queen-sized bed, she dived onto it.
“Ohh. It’s bouncy. I’m bouncing. This bed is even better than the one in your room! Too bad Granny Aoi missed out on this.”
“You can’t really compare my cruiser with a luxury cruise ship. …But anyway.”
“Huh? Why are the bathroom’s walls made of glass?”
…Similarly, the entire cabin made no attempt to hide its purpose: the large bed had two pillows, the bathroom was fully visible from outside, the wallpaper and carpet were pink, the lighting was indirect, and there were an awful lot of tissue boxes available.
This was commonly known as a leisure room.
Kyousuke did not want to think too much about how it was used.
“Lu-san said some large equipment had been brought in for the video production, so I was guessing they would have reduced the number of people onboard to avoid being overburdened. But it seems this is why there are so many empty rooms…”
Yes, the diagram they had was incomplete!
“Ehh? But this room looks kind of fun. Ah ha ha! Look, look, all the walls around the bath are mirrors! And there are so many shampoo bottles!!”
“Olivia, I seriously doubt those are shampoo or conditioner, so don’t pump any of it into your hand.”
“Nweh? What are these rubber egg things? They’re soft…but I don’t think you could scrub your body with them. Wait…there’s a hole on the bottom?”
“Olivia, put that down.”
Exasperated, Kyousuke used the previous multi-tool to stick a knife blade into the wallpaper seam. He slid the knife straight down that line and removed a portion of the wall like it was a large panel.
He selected the necessary cable from the bundle running vertically through the wall and connected it to the mobile device in his bag.
“Good, good. I’ve got the signal. …As I expected, it’s coming from below.”
After turning all the knobs and pressing all the panel buttons in the unnecessarily glass-covered bathroom, Olivia grabbed several of the mystery eggs and juggled them as she stuck her head out.
“Hey, Onii-chan, isn’t that the main cable connecting the online broadcast equipment to the broadcast tower on the roof? If you cut that, won’t it stop them from releasing the videos needed to start the war?”
“I could, but they would just find another way to release them. I want to get into the studio where they’re producing the 2nd and 3rd episodes and destroy the System Atlantis computer being used to make the Blue Film videos. So Olivia.”
“Yes, yes. I have to change again, right?”
Olivia left the bathroom, dived onto the large bed, bounced, and rolled over toward him. There were a few large waterproof bags inside the main bag and Kyousuke pulled out one that contained clothing.
Once a summoner or vessel earned enough Awards, normal people would forget about them the instant they were out of sight.
But when moving through a limited space like this, there was always a risk of running across the same person and having their memories return. There would also be Illegal summoners and vessels here. When a purse-snatcher or mugger was fleeing through the streets, they would often turn a reversible jacket inside-out just after turning a corner to give themselves a different look and lose the police.
“Wait a second, Olivia. Why are you starting to change right here?”
“But, Onii-chan, it doesn’t matter where I do it in this room. The bathroom is surrounded by glass.”
“A-and if it’s you, I don’t mind if you watch…wahp!? Wait, what was that for, Onii-chan!?”
Olivia had a thin bedsheet thrown over her head like a Halloween ghost and Kyousuke quickly changed while she was struggling with it.
(The jumpsuit? No, not yet. The tuxedo would probably be best.)
He never wore anything like this in everyday life, but a tuxedo was a more informal version of dress clothing. It was only a replacement for a proper tailcoat. A bowtie tuxedo was actually even simpler than a school uniform’s blazer. By the time Olivia finally managed to get her head out from below Bedsheet Mountain, Kyousuke was already calmly putting on the black jacket.
“Ah! …I missed the best part. Onii-chan, are you a magical girl…?”
“If you have time for that nonsense, get to work. Here, keep that sheet around you like a teru teru bouzu and you can change without anyone seeing. Just like before swimming class.”
“Uuh. Why do I have to look so dumb while I change?”
Olivia puffed out her cheeks while looking like she was about to get her hair cut and she began rustling around below the sheet. The decorative collar and floral pareo fell to her feet one after another. The sheet was thin enough that her silhouette showed through in a rather risqué fashion.
Then the slender girl lifted up one foot to remove the swimsuit.
“(…Oh? I just had the best idea. If I pretend to trip and roll on out, I bet it would surprise Onii-chan. And I cling to him…)”
Sensing an ominous atmosphere, Kyousuke gave a warning, so Olivia pouted her small lips and let the dark blue swimsuit fall to her feet.
The double blonde braid girl pulled a light champagne-colored dress inside the sheet and rustled around inside some more.
“There, and…oh, really? I can’t get the zipper on the back…”
“Olivia, your body isn’t quite soft enough to be having trouble there.”
“This is none of your business.”
“Honestly, what do you normally do with a bra?”
“I said it’s none of your business!! Onii-chan, can you zip this up? The one on the back.”
She pulled the sheet up. She had already put on the light champagne-colored dress, but the back was not zipped up and it had nothing to support it. She used both hands to hold it to her flat chest and turned her white back toward him. The shape of her backbone and her shoulder blades were visible and her milky-white skin was tinged with pink.
“Is that any way to ask for a favor? I guess you really are a princess deep down.”
The zipper was as delicate as the silver chain of a necklace and Olivia’s back shuddered as she endured the ticklish sensation of it zipping up. She even squeezed her eyes shut and let out an odd voice.
“It’s nothing. (Your fingertip stroked up my spine, Onii-chan.) Cough, cough. Anyway, just get it over with.”
He finished zipping it up.
After making sure it was fastened, blushing Olivia fully removed the sheet. The skirt spread out below her knees using a pannier that worked much like an umbrella frame and she hopped up and down, perhaps to check on the fit of the chest which was decorated with fancy buttons.
“Good, good. I can jump around without it slipping or falling off. I’m ready to go!”
“Olivia, you changed from a swimsuit into a dress, but I didn’t see you grab any underwear. Make sure to put some panties on along with the gloves and stockings.”
“Tch. There goes my ‘trip over nothing’ plan…”
She reluctantly pulled some underwear out of the bag and put it on.
“It’s a shame we have to leave this room so soon. Oh, what’s this? It says ‘take one’. I should bring a souvenir back for Granny Aoi.”
She was like an old lady taking back the complimentary toothbrush or soap.
Kyousuke repacked the bare minimum of equipment in a small briefcase and left the large bag in the room. Having changed into dress clothes, Kyousuke and Olivia boldly reentered the ship corridor.
Because she was used to seeing them as a royal, Olivia did not even glance over at the maid pushing a cart full of cleaning supplies.
“Onii-chan, where are we going and how are we going to get there?”
“The signal itself was coming from below. The System Atlantis mainframe is probably in a windowless space at the very bottom of the ship below the waterline, but I just know we would run into a security gate if we took a direct route there. I don’t want to cause any trouble just yet, so let’s take a detour.”
“What kind of detour?”
“Let’s head up for now. The commercial area is full of restaurants and a mall, but they also make late night food for the staff. If we use the small elevator shaft for the food carts, we can reach the bottommost level without passing through the security gates.”
The commercial area was above the three stories of actor dressing rooms. After climbing more stairs, they found something like a fashionable shopping mall. Both sides of the long corridor were lined with jewelry stores, boutiques, and luxury restaurants, the area overhead was opened up into an atrium, and more small stores could be seen on the higher level. The signs suggested there was also a casino and gym. A clown in heavy makeup and a bunny girl were performing card tricks in the middle of the corridor to gather passersby’s attention.
“Oh, it’s Gozaru!”
Olivia gave an excited cry when she saw people dressed up as the Gozaru Samurai and a sheep surfer who was apparently popular in the southern hemisphere. This was a Toy Dream ship after all.
Including the dressing rooms, the entire structure was 5 stories above the deck. A normal designer would want to scream at the poor balance of the ship, but that was why it needed the floats attached to arms on either side.
Glittering light shined down from above the atrium.
It did not come from fluorescent or LED lights. It was sunlight after passing through a thick layer of water. Basically, there was a 200m pool on the roof and the bottom was made of reinforced glass.
Olivia gaped up at the strange visual of seeing young men and women swimming overhead in swimsuits.
“Wow… So this is the life of a Toy Dream star on the forefront of the global film industry. When you have that much money, you end up looking kind of silly.”
“Make sure you grow up to be a wonderful administrator with thrifty hobbies, Olivia. Kingdom F will thank you. …Hold on. Is that who I think it is?”
“What is it, Onii-chan?”
“No, it’s fine. Even if it is them, it shouldn’t cause any harm…I don’t think. But are they here for a job or for fun? Regardless, why have those useless twins changed into swimsuits?”
“Hm? Because it’s summer?”
They probably had no idea what they looked like here. Shiroyama Kyousuke stared grimly up at the black- and blonde-haired girls doing the breaststroke. They wore what was known as a halter-neck bikini which had the cloth wrap around the neck instead of using straps and they wore a pareo around the waist. The swimsuits were white and the pareos red, but was that to give them shrine maiden colors? Because the swimsuits were not very revealing, waitresses at a seaside restaurant might wear the same thing. That made it easy to forget these were swimsuits, so he felt like he was peeking up miniskirts of normal outfits.
Then Olivia lightly kicked his right shin.
“C’mon, Onii-chan. We have a job to do.”
“That’s…right. We were having a serious discussion here. So what came over me?”
However, this was not the time to get into an argument over the nature of the world.
“Let’s get down to business.”
“We’re using the food cart elevator shaft to reach the bottom level, right?”
“If every restaurant kitchen had a direct path, the ship would be full of holes, so it looks like they gather all the carts in one place and share the same elevator.”
“That’s for late night food, right? So it shouldn’t be in use while the sun is in the sky.”
“Normal room service runs all day long, so we need to make sure we aren’t crushed while moving through the shaft.”
“Oh, but this is such a wasted opportunity. I’m finally alone with you, so if only we could take our time window shopping.”
“Olivia, stay by my side.”
And just as they were saying that, Kyousuke sensed movement and breathing. A large group holding cellphones and mirrorless single lens cameras pushed in from an escalator to their side.
They were led by a tour guide who wore a tight skirt and waved a little flag. She used a megaphone that looked like a cross between a trumpet and a handgun to herd them around.
“Okay, we will now be taking a break while having a buffet-style get-together. You can join the party at any time, but you only have 10 minutes if you want to catch the greeting from Toy Dream President Michelange Toydream, so…”
They were quickly swallowed up by the crowd. Fighting against the current to reach the industrial elevator would only make them stand out.
They just barely failed to make it.
If Kyousuke had not needed to grab Olivia who was wandering around daydreaming, he could have escaped to the wall without being caught.
“Ah…ah ha ha. I guess we’ll just have to go with them. …Are you mad, Onii-chan?”
Kyousuke shut his eyes and breathed a heavy sigh before silently raising his index fingers on either side of his head. He was apparently upset enough to have horns growing from his head.
The tour group took the two of them to the very back of the ship.
There was a large space there. It had to be around 30m square. It was also made into an atrium to give it two floors’ worth of height. The walls and ceiling were unnaturally white. It looked extremely sterile, but not because it was a party hall. This was the cutting-edge of Toy Dream’s film VFX. Since the entire space was filled with a single color, it had to be the studio used to film the actors before everything else was added in.
The party hall was crammed full of people and Kyousuke frowned at the sensation below his feet.
“Ah, it’s an all-you-can-eat!!”
Olivia cried out excitedly and it was cute how she seemed to think it was called “all you can eat” instead of a buffet. A variety of foods was lined up along the wall and everyone was free to take what they wanted. Since Olivia wore the dress perfectly even at her age, Kyousuke had thought she would be used to fancy parties like this, but it may have been a rare experience when you were a kingdom’s princess. She would not be allowed to casually choose whatever food she wanted and pile it onto a plate herself without having a poison tester or anything like that.
Food was piled up in front of her like something from the Manchu Han Imperial Feast. That may have attracted a childish part of her because she forgot all about why they were here. She started panting with an imaginary puppy tail wagging full speed behind her.
“I want to do that! I want to do the all-you-can-eat! We’ve gotta do it to blend into the background, Onii-chan!”
“We can just follow the flow of people around the party hall and then leave.”
“Ehh? You don’t understand the maiden heart, Onii-chan.”
“I’m not a teenage girl, but I know this has nothing to do with being a maiden…”
To Kyousuke, this ship was a target of infiltration and a crime scene. Even if he seemed unbeatable, he wanted to avoid leaving any kind of trace behind, even teeth marks or some saliva.
“Oh, my. Is that Kyousuke and Via over there?”
They heard a female voice as sweet as honey cooked down until it was burned to the bottom of the pot. It was not that loud, but it pierced through the chatter oddly well. It was a gentle but forceful voice.
And double braided Olivia’s face lit up when she heard it.
In a normal home or town, this would not be very remarkable, but given her position, she could not just ignore this.
“Huh? It’s my mom.”
It was Kingdom F’s Queen Sinceria Highland.
Government Award 913, Noble Bride.
The unexpected appearance of this high-level vessel caused Kyousuke to press his fists against the sides of his head. With the index fingers sticking out a bit, of course.
A seemingly insignificant pebble was causing everything to derail.
He could not deny the sense that they were drifting further and further away from his plans.
The woman oozed attraction.
How attractive was she? There was a legendary story of the secret international meeting held by Government, Illegal, and Freedom in New York’s UN headquarters having to pause so a VIP from another country could have their secretary tell her to restrain her attraction before it hindered the proceedings.
To the ignorant people, she was the mysterious queen who smiled beyond a mystical veil.
To those in the know, she was an unbelievably beautiful head of state.
She had to have countless servants, but her waist-length wavy blonde hair had not been carefully woven or blow-dried, but that was probably a part of restraining her attraction while on official business. Although having nothing to adorn her may have actually caused her natural glow to shine through even more.
Was it supposed to look like snow or ice?
Or maybe glass or crystal?
Assisted by the shine of her hair and skin which seemed to emit their own light, she wore a long dress colored a refreshing blue reminiscent of mint ice cream. It left her shoulders bare, but it was not very revealing overall. Nevertheless, the proportions pushing the dress out from within seemed like the ultimate form of human beauty. She wore the crown of Kingdom F’s monarch, but it did not look remotely out of place. It was made of glass and an alloy that mixed iron with a few impurities. That design was apparently meant to represent the principle on which the kingdom was built: the glory of the royals must not place any pressure on the livelihoods of their subjects.
The glass jewels that represented the kingdom’s six regions were supported by the alloy that represented the kingdom’s strength.
In the end, it was not wearing platinum or giant diamonds that made someone shine. In fact, it was the people who were afraid what people would think who felt the need to artificially increase their value with gold and jewels. A truly beautiful woman would feel no such concern. That was why they could choose whatever they wanted without feeling any restrictions. And when someone who possessed that confidence and attraction wore it, even plastic could shine like the sun. The people who went the sour grapes route and tried to forcibly find a flaw would end up disgraced, so it was said her beauty was enough to silence even the critics.
If aliens were writing an encyclopedia entry on earthlings, they might use a photo of her. But that would technically be in error. Kingdom F’s Queen Sinceria Highland’s beauty had already partially left the realm of humanity.
Going through her facial features, skin, curvy proportions, etc. would leave you with too much to list, but her most unique feature was her ears.
They were thin and long like bamboo leaves and they extended outwards.
“Oh, my, my, my. I didn’t see you here earlier, so where did you come from? If you had told me you were here, we could have spent more time together.”
She was a character from a fairy tale.
Her dress was like something from a picture book, yet it looked right at home on her.
“Boo. You say that, but you’re always so busy, mom.”
“I had a good reason to leave you with a wet nurse, but that is an issue for another time. Getting together as a family really is best.”
That ruler of a kingdom pressed her hands together in front of her large breasts, a shining locket was hanging from her neck and half buried in her cleavage, her ears twitched, and she smiled gently at them. Looking at her now showed a strange aura that seemed to combine an adult allure with a childish innocence. That may have been why everyone let their guard down around her and were dragged down into that bottomless pit.
Kyousuke was accustomed to inhuman beauty, so he used that to stay in control of himself.
“The party still has another 30 minutes and everyone is waiting for the final greeting from President Toydream, but let’s enjoy this while we can.”
“Eh? It’s already ending? But I haven’t eaten anything yet!”
“Hee hee hee. To make sure you don’t gain any excess fat, avoid the fatty beef and pork or anything with too many carbs. Other than that, your mother won’t stop you. You finally got started on that figure skating program, so we have to let the Aurora Fairy do its job.”
When Shiroyama Kyousuke heard that, he silently stared at tiny Olivia.
That girl, who was lithe by any international standard, silently averted her gaze.
“D-do you need something, Onii-chan…?”
“You had trouble zipping up your dress and said it tickled, didn’t you? Olivia Highlaaaaaand???”
As the suspect dodged the persistent old police detective’s questioning, Sinceria placed a hand over her mouth and laughed.
When a vessel ended their contract, they would lose their memories like a normal person. They would return to a normal life until they came in contact with a summoner or vessel once more.
Sinceria had once left her daughter with a wet nurse and avoided seeing her in order to keep Olivia out of any trouble related to the Summoning Ceremony until absolutely necessary, but the White Queen worshipers of Bridesmaid had messed that up. Now she had no need to hide her love for her daughter.
At least there was one positive side to killing the Queen in Houbi Village.
That was how he had to view this.
“Anyway, Via, this is the Cruise Fest tour, so the events are divided up into short time blocks so no one stays in one place for too long. In exchange, they have a breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even teatime scheduled. This is a bit of a late breakfast, so let’s hope lunchtime works out better for us.”
The Highland family had produced female vessels for generations. Whenever a powerful summoner was found within their knights, they would bind a contract with them to ensure the maximum performance in defending the kingdom, even if that meant wasting a chance at reaching Award 1000. A lot was unknown about what changes and side effects occurred when a vessel bound new contracts over and over, but Queen Sinceria was the greatest example of that. (Perhaps even more so than Isabelle who had been forced to repeatedly bind contracts according to certain rules to artificially break her soul.) She had bound so many contracts that the structure of her body was gradually changing and she was obtaining an inhuman beauty.
Kyousuke breathed a heavy sigh and shaped his hand like a bowl to grab Olivia’s small head as she tried to rush toward the mountain of food.
“…What brings you to this event, Your Majesty?”
“There is no need to be so formal. If you marry Via, you will be a royal just like us, so feel free to treat me like your own mother. Hee hee hee. Yes, think of me as a beautiful, kind, and somewhat defenseless mother-in-law♪”
Kyousuke sighed again. He had been pivotal in ending Kingdom F’s civil war, so she may have wanted to bring him into their bloodline so they could call it a victory for the royal family, but like a true ruler, she was acting like it was already a done deal. She gave no thought to his circumstances…or rather, she saw it as the greatest possible promotion in life, so she saw no reason for him to decline. It was the same unbeatable joker played by Cinderella or Snow White to live happily ever after.
Kyousuke’s self-analysis told him he may have simply not known how to handle the strange tolerance of a somewhat careless adult woman.
…Because it reminded him of someone who had vanished at the Queen’s Miniature Garden.
Sinceria placed a slender hand on Kyousuke’s chest and leaned toward him while making sure not to get in the way of her daughter who was clinging to his side.
“(Yes, and if waiting until Via has grown is too much for you, her mother can play that role in the meantime. Yes, as a mother-in-law who is generally perfect but just can’t leave some things alone♪)”
“Hee hee hee. You can always use me as a sign of what Via’s future holds and be honest with your desires. The world of royalty is still rife with complex family trees and concubine systems in this day and age, so you can leave the standards of commoners behind. …Oh, no. This looks like trouble.”
As Olivia stared blankly, Sinceria stepped away from him like a pendulum swinging back. A moment later, the crowd parted and a new person stepped up. She looked a little older than Kyousuke, so about college aged. The beautiful woman had red hair that fell to her shoulder blades, thin-framed glasses, an athletically-fit build, and an intellectual atmosphere. …However, she wore a white blouse and longish wine red tight skirt with old-fashioned silver armor in places, so it all looked like a strange suite of armor.
The knight with a J-shaped metal staff at her hip had to be trained in etiquette since she was attending this diplomatic function, but she pointed straight at Kyousuke’s nose with an index finger covered in jointed metal.
“You again, foolish mercenary!? You may be the hero who ended our civil war, but stop milking that one good deed for all it is worth! Know some shame and your place, you fool!!”
“Now, now, Rachel. Keep this up, and this will turn into a new type of badger game. Even if normal people forget all about us, we are the representative of Kingdom F and we must keep up appearances.”
“…My queen, did you just confess that you were flirting with this nobody so blatantly that people would suspect it was a type of financial scam?”
Sinceria cleared her throat and faced the other way. Mother and daughter were much alike here.
Rachel Wormwood was the current summoner contracted with Sinceria. That meant she was Government Award 913 and held the position of the strongest of Kingdom F’s knights. Wormwood was an old poisonous plant that’s name could be found in the book of Revelation. As that name suggested, it was possible her family had not begun as knights. She may have come from a line of witches who had assisted the ancient knights who founded Kingdom F. That would explain how they had entered the world of the Summoning Ceremony.
Meanwhile, Sinceria was not going to remain quiet after what happened. While still facing the other way, she placed her index finger on her slender chin and her long ears twitched more than necessary.
“Hmm. But it seems Kyousuke has a contract with Via now, so I wish the two of you could be more friendly. You know, as the two summoners who protect members of the same royal family.”
“And I am saying that very contract is a sign of his insolence!! There is a second and third ranked member of our knights and they all swallowed their tears when giving up the opportunity for a contract. So how can this outsider waltz in and gain a royal contract with no effort whatsoever!? Hmph!!”
“But merit is everything for the knights, isn’t it? Rachel, you make it sound like you alone are safe, but if you don’t put in more of an effort than Kyousuke, I will choose him for my contract instead.”
Rachel’s slender shoulders jumped like a scolded child’s. Every single Kingdom F knight knew the severity and cruelty of that decision. Even the knight who had married the queen and had a child with her had been kicked out when he lost the position of the strongest. That was not to say there had been no love there. The locket at Sinceria’s chest contained a photo of that three-person family and she adored her daughter Olivia. But to protect their kingdom, she had to demand top performance from the person standing by her side. The final defense for their people had to be the very best, not just the second or third best. The queen was not so weak that she would allow her personal feelings to influence that system.
Many knights had torn apart that royal family and created a deep rift between them.
And Rachel was the latest part of that.
Whatever she thought in her heart of hearts, Sinceria had smiled and accepted this female knight. So she would surely accept the next knight just as readily. No matter what emotions roiled in her chest.
Kyousuke hung his head even more than Rachel and a dark shadow fell over his face.
“(Please stop doing that. I don’t like being used as a threat to motivate someone.)”
“(Hee hee hee. Rachel is cute and skilled, but I know from experience that they will grow rusty if they lack an obvious rival. Please help me keep Kingdom F’s strongest sword sharp.)”
…In other words, she did not dislike Rachel.
After straightforwardly training to build up her strength, Rachel had no need to feel bad about what had happened to her queen’s husband. The wife had followed the system and the husband had failed to maintain his position as the strongest. It would be insensitive for anyone else to interfere in an attempt to change that outcome.
In fact, Sinceria liked Rachel enough to drag her around on official and personal trips across the globe. That was why Sinceria wanted to protect this contract in any way she could. But without bending the strict rules. Rachel had taken the top spot among the knights, but Sinceria did not want her to stop there.
“Now, Your Majesty, we have gotten off topic, but would you be willing to tell me why you are-…?”
“Not so fast, mercenary. How dare you speak like that to my queen? Have you forgotten how very, very, very, very, very, very bitter we knights are that you keep going over our heads?”
Rachel spoke in a low voice and finally drew the staff from her hip.
The end extended like a special police baton.
The nearly 2m silver rod was a Blood-Sign for the Summoning Ceremony. The J-shaped end suggested it was based on a battle hook that was used to grab at an armored enemy knight’s neck or shoulders to knock them down or drag them off their horse. Choosing definite results over valueless decoration told Kyousuke this was the weapon of someone who had to protect their queen and did not see failure as an option. That was a perfect match for Rachel herself, so he quite liked the weapon choice.
But Sinceria sighed and gave a comment of her own.
“Oh, how disappointing.”
“Gh!? M-my queen, what was that sigh for?”
“What a disappointing knight. It could have been a sword or a spear, but you go for a battle hook? Weren’t those popular as a light weapon for revolting peasants who could not master the complex form of a halberd? Doesn’t that mean a rebellious ideology has influenced Kingdom F’s final shield into wielding a friend of the spade and the hoe? …It just seems so unrefined.”
“N-no. This has grown into a truly practical weapon!!”
“Uheh. You sound like one of those historians who have forgotten all about the romance and excitedly argue that a spiked metal ball on the end of a stick is more effective than a sword or spear against someone in full armor. It’s just so…sigh. Well, if that’s your preference, I won’t stop you. Tch. I’ve also heard that the White Queen was killed, so maybe the world really is ending…”
“D-dammit, this is all your fault, foolish mercenary!!”
Rachel panicked and completely ignored cause-and-effect in her accusation.
Her long J-shaped metal rod must not have been as obvious a weapon as a blade or gun because the normal people in the party hall only gave them curious looks. They may have thought it was a specialized tool used to open a manhole cover or to remove the simple awning over a café entrance.
And another trial awaited her.
“Hmm. If you don’t like Onii-chan going over your head, Rachel, then surely you’ll explain everything. So give a simple and thorough explanation! For Onii-chan!!”
Olivia smiled and used her two extra sentences to drive further knives into Rachel’s side, so the woman doubled over. Something must have broken when she did so because the battle hook visibly shrunk. The disappointing knight was trembling as she tried to bear with it, but then Sinceria gave a wicked smile and intentionally continued the attack. No, it may have been the merciful finishing blow to a servant writhing in pain on the battlefield. It was psychological euthanasia.
“My, my. That would save me a lot of effort♪ Rachel, you really are an excellent and faithful servant. So will you please do that? You will be speaking in our place, so make sure you avoid any filthy language that would damage the reputation of Kingdom F’s queen.”
“A mistake here would be an insult to the kingdom as a whole. That would require a greater punishment than when I tease you in bed, so keep that in mind.”
The mother seemed to have casually mentioned something shocking, but Kyousuke decided to take that secret with him to the grave. Quite a few of Japan’s Warring States commanders had participated in homosexual acts, but there was a theory that had less to do with preference and more to do with avoiding the risk of inheritance issues if mistakes were made in a casual relationship with the opposite sex. So could this queen be doing something similar…?
Rachel suppressed tears behind her intellectual glasses, bent her mouth into a lopsided frown, and glared at Kyousuke with all her might while her athletically-fit body trembled.
“…This is a request from my queen. It breaks my heart to do so, foolish-…”
“Allow me to provide a sincere and whole-hearted explanation!! Ask me whatever you like!!”
She straightened up and saluted.
Kyousuke felt somber, but…
“Then let me ask again. I would like to know what Kingdom F royalty is doing on this ship. Since you are also a summoner and a vessel…could it have to do with that side of things?”
The Toy Dream Company was doing some unnatural things and trying to spread videos that created an argument for war. The development codename was Blue Film.
Lu Niang Lan of Illegal had suggested this was a result of the chaos following the White Queen’s death and that professional summoners might appear along with the ship’s normal security.
“Is that extremely contradictory statement meant to test me? I see you are as insolent as ever. If it would not place a shadow on my queen’s countenance, I would purge you on the spot. In fact, it is a failure on my part that I cannot.”
She simply could not hide her true character. Rachel was already irritated and tapping her armored fingers against the battle hook she had returned to her hip.
“Hmph. Count yourself lucky as you listen, mongrel. If you are that ignorant, I will remind you. In addition to creating original children’s stories, Toy Dream has accumulated their massive fortune by making films out of their new interpretations of existing picture books and old stories. The royal palaces and silver mountains they have depicted were based on our picturesque Kingdom F. I am willing to praise their eye for aesthetics, but that is a problem in this case.”
“Oh, I get it…”
“The Blue Film they are creating to push for war is a laughable bluff about a mineral vein being blackened by chemical fertilizer created from old shells, but they have used elements of Kingdom F in its creation. It depicts a kingdom torn apart by civil war. Thinking of the heroes who lost their lives in that conflict is enough reason to feel resentful of that, but the Silver Resource War they are supporting will take place in Eastern Europe and they have set the stage for the flames to first fall on our Kingdom F. We will be placed in the nonsensical category of the East Europe Axis.” Rachel spat out the words. “Once war breaks out, we will take direct damage and also have an influx of refugees from the surrounding countries. Not only are they taking advantage of our old wounds, but they are also seeking further bloodshed. That is a clear insult to our kingdom. It is unclear how much Toy Dream is being manipulated here, but it is only natural for the queen who protects all our people to be concerned.”
Of course, the monarch could not immediately take action just because she was worried.
They carried the weight of an entire kingdom on their backs.
Kyousuke looked like he had figured it out.
“So has your kingdom’s intelligence agency already taken action? They have already gathered what intelligence they can and you are using your diplomatic privileges to fill in the leftover blanks? …You can slip right past normal guards since they’ll forget all about you and you can question anyone you want with the full authority of a head of state.”
“Wait. I must make a correction, mercenary. Our righteous and orderly Kingdom F has a proper order of knights, not a pack of filthy rats. What you refer to is not a public agency with a history and traditions born of a monarchy; it is more like a civilian think tank created by modern capitalism. Hmph. Learn something, you ignorant and pathetic nobody. It irritates me to no end that you would make such a careless misunderstanding in my queen’s presence.”
…Whatever the system, what they had to do was the same, but every country had their unique issues, like how Japan could not refer to their patrol boats and escort ships as “warships”. It would be crass to press the issue.
The modern knight placed a hand on her hip.
“We plan to meet directly with President Toydream and determine his true intentions, but since you are here, I can only assume you have your own foolish plan. Hmph. If you intend to sneak around like the mercenary you are, then I will share one piece of information with you.”
The knight breathed from her shapely nose and diligently did her duty despite how irritated she was. She pulled a notepad from behind her breastplate and showed him a photograph contained within.
“As a knight, I cannot publicly recognize my connection with you, so I cannot actually give this to you. Memorize the face here and now.”
“…That won’t be necessary.”
“Hmph. I should have known a mercenary would know some unsavory people.”
Rachel gave a snort of laughter and flicked her armored finger at the center of the photo.
“Illegal Award 999, War Criminal. This summoner stands at the top of one of the three major powers. And rumor has it that he is far in the lead when only looking at the number of people he has personally killed. He is the ultimate criminal. He has reached a level where an individual’s actions can be seen as a war.”
“I see. Looking at it that way, this summoner is the exact opposite of you, the king of not killing.”
He silently denied that.
No matter what nice excuses he might make, Shiroyama Kyousuke was probably history’s greatest killer when looking at the number of people he had indirectly killed. He had not forgotten everything that began with the Queen’s Miniature Garden.
Whether she realized that or not, Rachel stole a glance at his face.
“His profile says he adores the White Queen’s destructive power rather than her beauty or charisma, but who knows if that is true. Hmph. You have a bizarre history for a nobody, so I am guessing that look on your face means you have met him before.”
“…You could say that.”
That short answer held great meaning.
Kyousuke had supposedly taken out that summoner in a surprise attack five different times. But each time, the summoner had fallen from a dam, been swallowed up in a blazing abandoned factory, or otherwise caused even more damage than Kyousuke had expected and gone missing. Kyousuke had always lost track of him, so he had failed to force him to retire by taking an eye or an arm that were even more precious to a summoner than their life. And he had since been confirmed to have resumed his criminal activities all over the world. Kyousuke knew Lu Niang Lan had to be aware of it, but his view of the underworld was very different from that modified China dress beauty, so he could predict that she may have been silently accepting the other summoner’s actions.
Would he perform another vanishing act?
Or had the Queen’s death shaken him enough to fight to the very end?
Death always failed to fix War Criminal and Kyousuke would not change either.
“When he gets going, he’ll kill enemy and ally alike, so he cannot work as a group with Illegal as a whole. Mercenary, hmph, that is good news for you.”
That was what it meant for him to fight a war as an individual.
The top of Illegal did not wage war with a large army at his command. He himself was the phenomenon of war and he would bare his fangs against all forms of life within his reach. Once he got started, he would not discriminate between his own army and the enemy army. In a way, he was even more troublesome than Elvast Toydream, the former king of Government. There was still a possibility of War Criminal himself making an appearance, but since nothing he said could get Illegal as a whole to put in an effort, he could not really be taken at his word.
…This new generation of leaders left a bitter taste in Kyousuke’s mouth.
The leaders of the three major powers he had seen at the Queen’s Miniature Garden had been very different from the current ones.
Illegal Award 999, War Criminal.
That ruler of evil was always protected by as many bodyguards as a national president, but everyone knew they were essentially a suicide squad. He went through allies faster than anyone else. When that berserker awoke, it was every man for himself.
Illegal as a whole saw him as a thorn in their side and may have even hoped Kyousuke’s attempts against their leader would succeed. That would explain why there had been no major attempts to retaliate.
Rachel sounded exasperated, either toward Kyousuke or that moral failure.
“Well, because he is so well known, this could be a false report, but there have been scattered sightings of him. We do not know just how deeply this War Criminal is involved in all this. Hmph. But be careful if you face him here. It does not matter one whit to me if you two opposites clash, but do not forget that Princess Olivia, the future ruler of our kingdom, stands by your side. If you allow her to shed a single drop of blood, I will remove your head. Listen, I, Rachel Wormwood, will follow through on that threat, so keep that in mind. Prioritize the princess’s safety over your own silly principles. I am telling you to ensure her safety by killing when you have the chance to kill. Surely even a fool like you can understand that, right?”
Kyousuke did not nod or shake his head. He instead lost himself in thought.
He muttered under his breath to work through the information he had.
“…I see. If he is a gore lover who was attracted to the Queen’s violence above all, then he would find it difficult to accept her death or defeat. It’s like having an unbeatable monster that chases people around with an axe, but then it’s killed by a hail of gunfire. His options are to find a way to prove the White Queen’s superiority or to side with the Colorless Little Girl who killed her. It would make sense for War Criminal to have been shaken by this turning point.”
“That’s enough of that.”
With a gentle smile on her face, Sinceria clapped her hands together in front of her large chest.
The silver locket buried in her cleavage shined brightly.
“We have shared most of our information now, haven’t we? Kyousuke, I assume you know since you infiltrated the ship instead of blowing it up from outside, but there are a lot of unrelated tourists and crewmembers onboard. Keep that in mind when arriving at a solution to the problem.”
“…What kind of person do you think I am, Your Majesty?”
“Oh? I actually find it unusual for the Kyousuke I know to hold back against the enemy. During our civil war, you used the Summoning Ceremony to take out a guard unit’s laser railway gun and then used that to shoot down the Repliglass aerial aircraft carriers flying above the capital. And while ensuring they could all make an emergency landing, of course.”
“They may have fallen into enemy hands, but all of that was Kingdom F equipment! You were overlooked due to my queen’s kindness, but when counting the aircraft inside, each of those aerial aircraft carriers should have earned you a bill of 300 billion. And I am not talking about your yen here. I am talking about the euros trusted the world over! Oh, this foolish boy. Hmph. Whatever your principles might be, you take things too far!!”
Kyousuke could not stop coughing even though he did not have allergies.
That was a different issue from the one here, so Kyousuke had to do his best to change the subject.
“Anyway, Your Majesty. Kingdom F’s official name is the Flanguild Permanently Neutral Kingdom, is it not? You seem to, um, have an awfully large stockpile of weapons for a name like that.”
“Do not be silly. My queen has no need to defend herself here. Permanent neutrality does not mean that we will suicidally put up no resistance. It means we will not instigate an attack ourselves. If another country makes a military strike on our noble Kingdom F, we have not just the knights but also a universal conscription system for the rest of our citizens. Career soldiers who are always whining about money and people who refuse to fight to defend their country are not patriots.”
“Um, uh, it is nothing as strict as that,” said Sinceria. “As their queen, we have attempted to refuse, but they insist on protecting the kingdom and the royal family, so the universal conscription system is not actually written into law… And the Repliglass weaponry is not a product of our kingdom. Even after the eastern powers were broken apart by the Warsaw Pact as a NATO vanguard, America still wanted a deterrent against those eastern powers that wished to gain influence over the Western economies, so they pressured us to buy those weapons. No, it would be more accurate to say we are renting them. Possessing too many weapons causes the surrounding countries to view us as a threat, so it can be a pain to deal with. Honestly… And when Quad Motors sensed the approaching war, they stopped all maintenance and returned to their home country early, so none of them are functioning properly. They are entirely useless to us.”
“This always happens… This is why you can’t trust outsiders!! They are all such cowardly nobodies. Hmph. And that of course includes you, foolish mercenary!!”
“If we really are ‘nobodies’, should you really be getting so worked up over us?”
“Wait…you…why must you always catch me off guard and make a fool of me in front of my queen? Kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!”
Doing everything perfectly was not always a good thing. Kyousuke had apparently changed the subject too far.
The sexy blonde woman separated her hands in front of her large chest and held out her palms to soothe the overly-serious glasses knight.
“Calm down, Rachel. You did well, so stand back for now. Even if you are both summoners who protect the royal family, if you keep showing off how well you get along, you might trigger an explosion of royal jealousy.”
“Wha-…my queen! Please avoid making such careless statements in public. No one can read your mind, so such jokes will lead to misunderstandings!!”
“I was not talking about myself. Via is pouting her lips and looking more and more displeased.”
“Ugh, and her purity just makes this more of a pain to deal with…!! You are mistaken, princess!! I was merely fulfilling the task given to me by the head of state!! Not for a second have I felt any kind of affinity with this filthy mercenary!!!!!”
Rachel probably could not afford to make any more casual insults.
Olivia’s cheeks were puffing out like rice cakes.
“If you say so, Miss Friendly. But I don’t care. I’m taking Onii-chan to some dark place where you and mom can’t see us. And then I’ll make sure to gain an insurmountable lead. I can get as close to Onii-chan as I want there.”
“Oh, going with them sounds like a lot more fun. I’ll let Via handle all the pure parts of the relationship, but as her mother, I will make up for the parts she can’t do yet.”
The knight directed killer intent Kyousuke’s way before he could get a word in edgewise.
She was snapping her teeth together so hard he thought sparks would fly from her canines.
“…Foolish mercenary. I hope you are not going to take that seriously.”
“Can someone please rescue me from whatever is going on here?”
“Hmph. Fine, then. You might stand by her side, but do not forget that we live in a very different world from you. Honestly. This ship is enemy territory, so I cannot just ask you to end your contract with the princess, but why does it have to be this nobody of a mercenary of all people?”
“Sit. Stay. Onii-chan, Rachel is just showing off how friendly she is, so can we get going?”
“Your words hurt me, princess…!!”
The knight clenched her fists and worked to endure the humiliation, but Olivia seemed entirely oblivious as she linked arms with Kyousuke as if to show off.
And then something fell from the decorative buttons on her flat chest.
It was light and the floor was carpeted, so it did not make a noise. …It could be easy to forget given the circumstances, but they had snuck aboard and Kyousuke did not want to leave anything behind. Without thinking, he reached down to pick up the dropped item, but then he froze.
It was one of those rubber products that used their thinness as a selling point.
The entire atmosphere froze.
He seriously considered trying to hide it under his foot, but when he looked up, he found that both Sinceria and Rachel had seen it. There was no time to recover from this.
“What in the-…!? Foolish mercenary, is that…cough, cough!!!!”
Rachel started choking so badly Kyousuke began rubbing her back, but she simply glared at him.
“Foolish mercenary, allow me to ask again. Did you do this while aware what that item is for!?”
“Oh, my, my. Hee hee hee. Rachel, you take things too seriously… But I would like to hear this too. Yes, yes. I would like to hear Kyousuke himself explain it to us: what is that?”
“(No, wait. This is your time to shine, Kyousuke brain. Does the correct answer mean survival? Think carefully. What will a quick yes or no answer bring other than a pool of blood? I should base the odds of survival on that. So should I play dumb instead? Or I should I just remain silent…?)”
“Oh, my, my, my. So that’s what you’re going with? Hee hee. It seems Kyousuke the Expert is playing dumb so he can hear Rachel explain since she has already implied she knows the answer. He seems to want to see her blush and fidget while she explains the proper use of that item.”
“You damn queen! You’re using your knight as a shield to throw oil on the fire from a position of safety, aren’t you!?”
Meanwhile, Olivia did not seem to understand the gravity of the situation. She innocently picked up the dropped item.
“Oh, this is the toy from the leisure room Onii-chan took me to.”
That sounded like an excuse, but it was no excuse at all.
Every last word of it was the worst possible.
She likely did not understand how the terms “leisure room” and “toy” sounded when used together like that.
“Oh, my. Then it seems her mother won’t need to help out after all. That’s too bad, though. Even if this is probably better in the long run.”
Sinceria placed a hand over her mouth and smiled. She had to understand it had been a part of their infiltration mission, but she still poured plenty more oil on the fire.
And she did it all while feigning compassion.
“An ex post facto punishment might be unfair…”
And amid the multi-layer misunderstanding, the knight who protected Kingdom F gave one deep nod and made her announcement.
“But I believe I said I would remove your head if you allowed her to shed a single drop of blood.”
The relationship between summoner and vessel came in all forms, but for Government Award 913, Noble Bride, the summoner held the Blood-Sign and the vessel held the Incense Grenade. That avoided any situation where a Material was summoned without warning, causing a panic.
When the knight grabbed her long weapon and began swinging it around, Sinceria nonchalantly tripped her and nodded to Kyousuke who took Olivia and left the somewhat panicked party hall. Since the head of state stuck her tongue out and waved, Kyousuke felt some sympathy for the knight who had tripped quite spectacularly in public. He decided it might be best to send her a gift.
She could be a real pain in the ass, but that knight had done nothing wrong. There was something wrong when the world made a fool of someone so diligent. He had to make up for that.
In his dress clothes, Kyousuke grabbed a small briefcase from the cloakroom and returned to his search of the ship with Olivia in her dress.
“…This one could be tricky. Rye and corn cereal can have too strong a flavor for beginners. But rice is too plain, so it might not feel like she’s really eating anything. Granola, acai, chia seed, quinoa… Those wouldn’t work either. You need to be familiar with the fundamental spirit of cereal before you can appreciate those. Yes, it would be best to go back to the basics for a gift.”
“Onii-chan, what are you muttering about?”
“If I take six small packages and arrange them in a paulownia box to look like a luxury item… Eh heh heh. I hope Rachel likes it.”
Once they got started, it went quickly.
Kyousuke and Olivia returned to the commercial area full of restaurants and shops and they made their way to the small industrial elevator for the food carts.
“We’re finally back on track…”
“Onii-chan, you sound like you just aged a whole bunch.”
“And whose fault might that be?”
Much like a turntable parking garage for a multi-tenant building, they opened a vertically sliding door and climbed down the long shaft with a ladder. This allowed them to sneak into Toy Dream’s giant VFX studio on the bottom level without passing through the security gates.
“Honestly, if only we could have done this from the beginning.”
“Yeah, who would have thought we would run into my mom here? Maybe she gives off some kind of force that draws people to her.”
Kyousuke could not argue with the idea that powerful people and rulers had a unique attraction. It was not an issue of logic. It would always remain a mystery to the sociology professors who envied that inborn talent and desperately worked to analyze how it worked. It did exist. Because the White Queen had the power to distort both worlds and she waited far, far beyond those other people.
After creeping out from the elevator, they found yet another new atmosphere. It was dim because the lights were intentionally kept low. But why? This was a VFX studio where workers were constantly staring at screens, so would outside light reflect off the LCD monitors and would differences in brightness cause their eyes to adjust unnecessarily when they moved between the room and the hallway? Was it meant to avoid any discrepancies in how different staff members saw the colors?
Swordsmiths used heating and cooling in a battle against heat to refine the quality of the steel, so the slight disturbance in room temperature from opening and closing a door could ruin an entire sword. In cutting-edge VFX production, color and light may have reached that same level.
That said, not every artist and illustrator that specialized in coloring would necessarily be that picky.
But Toy Dream would invest 30 billion in a single movie, so they would apparently go that far when it came to choosing a single shade of color. Ordering room service instead of heading up themselves would be a way to limit the number of times they reset their senses outside this specialized environment. The strict security gates may have mostly been a way to keep out any unnecessary light.
Kyousuke carefully observed the dim corridor before returning to the food cart room and opening his briefcase’s latch.
“Olivia, it’s time to change. It looks like our personal clothing would blend in better than a work jumpsuit. Let’s return to normal.”
“Yes, yes. But won’t someone my age stand out no matter what I’m wearing?”
“I saw a girl of about 8 walking around with a cooling sheet on her forehead, so education and age aren’t what matter here. Still, it’s scary to think that was one of the top runners supporting films that cost 30 billion each…”
There was no partition here, so Kyousuke decided to change back to back, but once he removed his jacket, he realized Olivia was staring right at him. Amaterasu Kyousuke opted to retreat into the elevator shaft.
With the sun gone, Olivia spoke from beyond the metal door.
“Onii-chaaaan, I’ve learned my lesson, so come on out.”
“I haven’t heard any clothing rustling. I know you’re waiting for me in the nude, so just get changed already.”
After a while, she called out to him again.
“Onii-chaaaan, I’m all done.”
Kyousuke opened the cave entrance to find Olivia in her school swimsuit, decorative collar, floral pareo, and straw hat. She was adjusting the swimsuit where it was riding up on her small butt. She would betray him in obvious ways, but she was an obedient child who would quickly change when called out.
“Hand your other clothes here. I’ll put them in the briefcase.”
A small piece of cloth was suddenly dropped into his hand.
At about the size of a small steamed bun, it was a balled-up pair of panties.
“You’re the one that insisted I wear them back in the leisure room. This was your request, so you take care of it. Hee hee hee. They’re still warm, aren’t they?”
She had the look of a mischievous little devil.
He wanted to punch himself 30 seconds ago for thinking she was obedient. This may have been a sign that she had Sinceria’s blood in her veins. All expression vanished from his face as he shoved the dress, panties, and shoes in the briefcase.
The silence must have been overwhelming because Olivia pressed her legs together and fidgeted.
“Huh? It didn’t work?”
“It’s time you learned that not everyone will be swayed by someone’s charm. Even if you follow Sinceria’s example.”
He got back to work with that woman’s daughter.
They were inside the “authorized personnel only” area located past security, so they could not rely on the map they had bought ahead of time. This entire area was blank on the map, so they had to do the investigation work themselves.
Unlike the higher levels, the corridors took labyrinthine paths here, so the layout must have prioritized the location of equipment over convenience of movement. The walls were generally made of glass, so they could see into the offices. A single staff member would be staring at several monitors spread out in a fan shape, using a pen-shaped device while also using keyboard shortcuts, or putting on VR goggles and turning their head every which way. Kyousuke recalled that the backgrounds made using System Atlantis were high enough quality for someone to walk around inside them.
If Kyousuke and Olivia could see them, then they could see the two of them. Since no one sounded the alarm, either their casual clothes were working or the workers had lost all interest in the real world after working so many days in a row.
Olivia pointlessly clung to Kyousuke’s back to sneak around for no real reason.
“They’re eating something weird. It looks like birdseed… Is that some kind of celebrity food?”
“Tch. …They went for something more fancy without learning anything about standard cereal first?”
“I thought everyone who worked with videos would eat blueberries. To keep their eyes healthy.”
“Is it even true that they heal your eyesight?”
At the very least, they had never been popular among summoners who placed a lot of focus on their physical eyesight.
Then the double blonde braid girl seemed to shift her focus from the glass-encased booths to the corridor they were walking down.
“What are those? They don’t look like statues.”
“Industrial clay. I think these are clay models made using 3D machine tools. They make a physical test model to make sure the product of their data doesn’t have any mistakes. I’ve also heard that they make these when developing cars or Repliglass.”
Kyousuke answered while they passed by a clay aerial aircraft carrier sitting on a rectangular pedestal in the center of the corridor.
…This kind of equipment had gotten a lot cheaper with the spread of 3D printers that used plastic, but when the quality had to be on the level of a car development model, a single mass of clay would cost several million yen. This was apparently another part of the production where they spared no expense.
The crank-shaped passageway took several right angle turns. Kyousuke and Olivia were after the original data for the war promotion videos, so those areas that stuck out unnaturally were exactly what they wanted to find. They passed by the occasional genius who staggered down the hallway like a zombie, but Kyousuke eventually used his multi-tool’s knife to swiftly pry open a lock.
They found a room lined with what looked like refrigerator-sized tombstones.
The room was as mercilessly chilly as a supermarket’s vegetable section and Olivia more or less only wore a swimsuit, so she held her shoulders and shivered.
White breaths left her mouth as she spoke to Kyousuke’s back while he connected a cable to his mobile device and one of the machines.
“O-O-Onii-chan… Did you find what you wanted?”
“No, it looks like it isn’t here. But wait…could this mean…?”
He pulled the cable out and checked a few more rooms while Olivia trembled. One room had a large metal sphere with thick cords attached from every direction, one had a latticework shaped like a fancy cookie that had tons of small processors inside, and another had a box submerged in a chilled pool surrounded by reinforced glass. No two devices were the same, but Kyousuke’s expression remained clouded.
“O-ohhh. The fluctuating temperature is affecting my crotch… A-are you done yet, Onii-chan?”
“This is odd.”
Kyousuke’s comment made it clear this was going to take longer than expected.
And he gave no thought to Olivia’s personal crisis as she fidgeted beside him.
“Looking at the machine specs, there’s no way this has the processing power to support a 30 billion yen film. These have to be no more than terminals and relay points. It’s more like an online cloud service. Is System Atlantis not actually on the ship?”
“How much longer is this going to take? If I was in a large pool, I would probably secretly let my spine tremble and enjoy the feeling of release…”
“But what other location are they communicating with? If they have a direct hotline to eliminate the risk of the signal being intercepted…oh, so that’s it.”
Kyousuke reconsidered the situation, came up with a new theory, and got to work.
Meanwhile, Olivia waved a hand in the corner of his vision, gave up on him, and snuck out of the machine storeroom.
And after a while…
“Yes, that is what’s happening… Oh? Olivia, where did you get off to?”
“Sigh. So there’s one of those in the disaster relief bag. I might need to take drastic measures soon.”
They both had extremely serious expressions.
“This means the ship only carries the production staff and the screens needed to remotely control everything. System Atlantis itself is somewhere else. There are more computers here than a domestic company could ever hope to afford, but they’re all used to relay the signal from somewhere else.”
“Huh? But then why make the studio into a ship? Wasn’t that to keep the studio moving so the supercomputer isn’t fixed to one place? I don’t know if it’s in the jungle or the desert, but what’s the point of the ship when someone can just attack the main supercomputer?”
“Yes, that’s why they have a hotline set up, but the mainframe is still with the ship.”
Olivia looked puzzled and Kyousuke pointed straight down.
And he spoke.
“It’s in a submarine. They exchange data with it using a geomagnetic field coil that can maintain high interference even in the water.”
Olivia blinked silently for a while.
“The concept itself isn’t so rare. Anti-sub buoys can apparently detect one hiding down to about 1000 meters below the surface. They drop a giant coil into the ocean and use the disturbance in the earth’s own magnetic field to locate the submarine. As long as neither side emits any dangerous EM or sound waves, that can be modified to detect tiny magnetic disturbances just by typing on a keyboard wired up within the ship. It’s kind of like a modern form of telepathy.”
She did not react much to his explanation.
She may have been unable to keep up with something on so large a scale.
“I imagine they would have just put everything on the sub if it would have fit. Compared to a ship floating on the surface, a submarine below the surface has to be made more compact. …Well, technically they could build an extraordinarily large submarine, but once the sound of it parting the seawater passes a certain point, it might as well be announcing its location.”
That was why they had hidden the valuable System Atlantis in the ocean and then built a separate ship for the staff workplace and living space.
…If they ran into trouble, they could sacrifice the staff on the surface and sneak the mainframe away to safety.
Kyousuke took a slow breath.
“It’s lucky we used a small submersible to get onboard… Olivia, we have no more business on the ship. Let’s find a way to get to the nuclear sub below here. That’s where we’ll find the original data we want.”
Just then, a deep noise rang out and all the lights turned red. This alarm overruled the dimmed lighting meant to protect he staff members’ eyes.
Their infiltration may have been discovered…but Kyousuke could not think of any reason why.
“Olivia, what did you do while I wasn’t looking?”
“I-I-I-I-I didn’t do anything yet!! There was a portable toilet in the disaster relief bag, but I didn’t know how to open the package. I got distracted trying to open it and then I found I didn’t need it as badly anymore. See, I can jump and hop around just fine. So I didn’t do anything!!!!!”
Kyousuke did not know why she was arguing so insistently it made her red in the face, but someone must have noticed something out of place in the break room. Sensitive people would notice a single chair out of place at a long table or a slight movement of the salt shaker or sugar jar.
There were rules unique to infiltrating an indoor location, much like worrying about footprints or broken branches in the jungle. Simply put, leave no sign of your presence in enemy territory. That mostly meant not to touch anything unless you had to, but he must have failed to drive that point home with her.
He clicked his tongue, unhooked the cable, and lightly cracked his neck. It was time. If System Atlantis was not here, they had no further business on the ship.
Olivia had grown quite tearful and she asked a question in a barely audible voice.
“…What should we do, Onii-chan?”
“At this point, there are no safe and clever plans to rely on.”
Kyousuke let out a short breath and reached for his back.
He pulled out his Repliglass Blood-Sign called Phosphorous and lightly patted Olivia’s small head over her straw hat to comfort her.
“We break our way through and run away.”
As soon as they opened the door, they ran into a security guard in a navy blue uniform who ran around a corner in the corridor.
He may have thought no one would see as long as there was no window nearby because he held a handgun customized for full-auto.
(Tch! So are we finally seeing the Illegal soldiers who are using the ship’s uniforms!?)
But Kyousuke did not face him head on.
He adjusted the angle of the waterproof steel door just before the merciless rapid-fire attack began. A clay model worth millions of yen shattered atop its rectangular pedestal, but Kyousuke was not focused on the horizontal downpour of bullets. A door built to withstand powerful water pressure was enough to block those.
What mattered was the ridiculously loud gunshots.
That was the natural result of firing in a closed space. The guard was knocked out by the wall of noise he himself had created.
“Let’s go, Olivia.”
“How did you do that? Ricocheting?”
He had not done anything so dangerous. Summoners needed decent spatial senses to handle the White Thorns and Petals with their Blood-Sign. If he adjusted the locations and angles of objects with a focus on how and where the soundwaves would be reflected, he could focus the noise on a single point like gathering sunlight with a concave mirror. That transformed it into a powerful nonlethal weapon.
Whenever they ran across an enemy, he would open a nearby door, knock down the ceiling panels with his Blood-Sign, and otherwise interfere with the reflecting soundwaves.
Each time, the brawny guards would collapse to the floor with amusing ease. He would approach the enemy while their limbs trembled like a dying insect and he would kick their handgun far away before hurrying on.
When the pursuing enemy was using projectile weapons, they could not use the elevator shaft again. They would have nowhere to escape if the enemy fired down at them while they were climbing up the ladder in that narrow shaft. That meant they had to leave straight through a security gate. They really did have break through.
And the enemy seemed to have figured out his trick.
When he saw a guard wearing something like headphones over his ears and attaching a silencer thicker than the gun barrel itself, Kyousuke grabbed Olivia under his arm.
He ducked around a random corner to avoid the muffled gunfire, opened a nearby switchboard, and messed with a fuse. A high-voltage current leaked out, he heard a loud sparking sound around the corner, and the storm of gunfire ceased. This was a production studio using the massive power produced by a nuclear engine. The excess power alone was plenty destructive.
Even after seeing the fate of the guard who had taken the lead, the enemy would only hesitate for a few seconds.
This was not a permanent solution.
Still holding Olivia, Kyousuke kicked open a nearby door. The sign had called it a “multi-purpose conference room”, but it was really an entertainment room. A movie theater screen surrounded you with over-the-top audio and video while you pedaled an exercise bike to produce plenty of adrenaline and dopamine.
Kyousuke combated the gunfire by turning off the lights to give them the cover of darkness. Olivia did not sound all that nervous in his arm as she made a suggestion.
“Why not summon a Material and wipe them all out?”
“It is true those are Illegal, but they’re still just normal soldiers. They aren’t even Repliglass soldiers protected by thick armor. Doing that would kill them.”
Kyousuke answered her while using a different exit to run back out into the corridor.
In addition to that, this was a windowless space located below the water level. The biggest threat would be if the enemy lowered some thick emergency shutters to cut off all escape and then flooded the area with seawater. The assistance of a Material and the protective circle only lasted 10 minutes, so they had no real defense against that tactic. He wanted to escape above the water level before the enemy came up with that idea like they had figured out how to use headphones and silencers to deal with his soundwave counterattack, so he wanted to avoid anything that would keep them in one place.
When restricting himself to nonlethal methods, the enemy always held the initiative. While making sporadic counterattacks to reduce the number of guards, Kyousuke and Olivia were driven from place to place.
(I see. So this is where we’re headed.)
Kyousuke noticed something and actually let the enemy lure him in a certain direction.
He tackled open a thick soundproof door and found a large space with 30m sides. It was hard to tell with the red lighting, but the floor and wallpaper were pure white.
“The filming studio…”
They had reached the very back of the ship, so they were directly below that party hall.
The enemy was already waiting for them.
One was a sexy woman with short hair, a black leather jacket that left her navel exposed, and a tight skirt. Her outfit screamed “prison guard” so much it seemed somehow fake. The other was a little girl with wavy hair dyed purple. She wore a comical white and black striped prisoner outfit and had a ball and chain attached to her ankle. A criminal scent hung over them both, but that may have been because they were an Illegal duo.
The female prison guard puffed on a ridiculously-thick cigar and spun a tonfa in her hand. It extended into a Blood-Sign more than 150cm long.
Kyousuke knew of a high Award-earner that matched this description.
Illegal Award 887, Eisen Rosen.
Despite their flashy appearance, they must have been faithful to their job. After all, they had agreed to work as guards under Illegal Award 999’s direct command even though he would attack enemy and ally alike.
Only two simple words left the mouth holding the cigar.
She held a unique Incense Grenade made by sticking a rolled-up yellow journalism newspaper in the top of a small liquor bottle. She then used the tip of the thick cigar to light a blue flame in the wet paper.
And she threw it.
Before it could hit the floor and break, Kyousuke flicked a glass pellet from his finger and fired it like a bullet with a horizontal swing of his Blood-Sign. That was a piece of food for Phosphorous. The Artificial Sacred Ground would be established as soon as the bottle broke, so that seemed like a wasted action. The sound of shattering glass followed.
But it was not wasted.
Kyousuke’s pellet shot right past the airborne Molotov cocktail, ignored both the summoner and vessel, and broke through the wall there. No, it broke through the reinforced glass of the window embedded in the wall.
Once it hit the lever on the control panel there, a change occurred.
There were several loud crashing sounds overhead. The ceiling above separated this lower level area from the party hall above, but that split in two and transformed the two rooms into one giant space running vertically through the ship. Then a rumbling rose from below. The floor was really a fine wire mesh and there was a 30m propeller below that.
This was why Kyousuke had felt a creaking below his feet when he first stepped into the party hall.
An instantaneous blast of wind blew up from the floor.
Kyousuke and the others were freed from the bonds of gravity and flew straight up.
They flew more than 10 meters in no time.
The facility was built like a wind tunnel for testing the air resistance of cars or airplanes, except it was built vertically. It was actually a giant indoor skydiving facility that allowed them to film actors in midair scenes before adding in the high-quality VFX. To make the best use of the limited space on the ship, the single space could be divided up into multiple small studios or one large studio.
Of course, all of this also applied to the Molotov cocktail as it tried to fall to the floor.
As long as the small liquor bottle did not hit the ground and break, the Artificial Sacred Ground would not be established.
“You seem like the silent type, but shouldn’t you be more surprised than that?”
Luckily, the party above had already ended and the tables and dishes had been removed.
With indoor skydiving that used a powerful blast of wind from below, controlling air resistance was everything. You could ascend by spreading out your body to catch the wind and you could descend by folding up your body to reduce the resistance. By changing how you positioned your right and left arms and legs, you could intentionally put yourself in a tornado-like spin.
The lack of footholds was irrelevant.
While rapidly rotating, Kyousuke swung his Blood-Sign toward the side of the female prison guard’s head.
The summoner was still not used to this situation and had that weak point defenselessly exposed, but then a metal ball larger than a human head got in the way. Only after it deflected his attack did he realize what had happened. The girl in a striped prisoner’s uniform was flipped upside down and spinning like she was using capoeira. That had sent her ball and chain into Kyousuke’s Blood-Sign. Even after her defensive maneuver was complete, the girl with purple-dyed hair did not stop spinning. She was trying to break the palm-sized liquor bottle as it flew through the air.
“Oh, no you don’t!!”
Olivia then dropped down like a shooting star. Sinceria had said the girl was taking a program for figure skaters, so she may have had excellent balance and known how to spin quickly. And her small hands held a blunt weapon as effective as the metal ball. She was using the thick chain to swing down the bag-sized padlock she normally wore over her shoulder.
The prisoner uniform girl avoided a direct hit by deflecting it with the metal ball, but she could not fully negate the shock to her body.
While Kyousuke caught Olivia in midair, the other vessel had no such safety. The momentum of the deflection remained with her and she slammed back-first into a nearby wall.
It was a stereotypical failure with indoor skydiving and it could even mean a broken bone.
The female prison guard shouted what seemed to be a name, but the striped prisoner girl did not respond. She must have passed out because she stared straight up with dead eyes with her limbs sprawled out around her.
And there was only one fate for a summoner who had lost their vessel.
Kyousuke grabbed the small liquor bottle with a yellow journalism paper stuck inside.
“You can have this back.”
The enemy did not have time to prepare herself.
A corner of the palm-sized bottle was swung down toward the female prison guard’s head and she was knocked out with the sound of shattering glass.
With a bluish-white flame that lacked any heat at all, the Artificial Sacred Ground belatedly appeared, so Kyousuke and Olivia ignored the intense wind and were sucked to the closest wall. Each level of the studio apparently had a monitoring room. Kyousuke carried the summoner in one arm and let Olivia carry the vessel as he fired a Repliglass pellet toward the reinforced glass that was now below their feet. That hit the lever and stopped the wind.
“This will only last 90 seconds. Let’s retrieve those two and then escape from the studio.”
He broke through the reinforced glass with his Blood-Sign and jumped into the monitoring room. Then the Chain state ended and the Artificial Sacred Ground vanished. If they had remained in the studio, they would have fallen several dozen meters.
They were in the top level monitoring room, so they had luckily escaped the lowest level.
“Now we need to get to the submarine hidden below this ship, right?”
“Right. Once we collect the things we left in the leisure room, let’s head back to the submersible.”
Kyousuke confirmed Olivia’s understanding of the situation.
“That’s when the fun really begins.”
Between the Lines 1
The intercom rang.
Each day, Aika the shut-in girl had visitors besides Shiroyama Kyousuke or Lu Niang Lan. During the afternoon, she would receive a delivery from an online store. During the morning, a caretaker would arrive to look after the 5m white liger.
Aika’s luxury apartment kept enough frozen meat in stock to last the wild animal three days, but she still needed to resupply constantly.
Thanks to that, she could keep track of the passage of time quite well for a shut-in.
Despite being an apartment, there was a delivery entrance separate from the main entrance and a young woman in a work jumpsuit used that to push in a large hand truck like she was delivering the lactic acid product famous enough to support professional baseball teams.
“Good morning, Award 870.”
“This is today’s lot. I will carry away the waste boxes as usual.”
Yes, the white liger ate several dozen kilograms of meat each day and all that food meant she also needed to use the bathroom.
The jumpsuit woman casually looked over the ferocious beast like it was an afterthought.
“No eye discharge or bloodshot eyes, teeth and gums look fine, base of the ears are fine, claws are fine, fur and oils are fine. …Okay, everything checks out. She is still the picture of good health.”
“…I’m keeping an eye on her too, so you don’t have to worry…”
“Hee hee. You’ve gotten a lot better at brushing her teeth, Award 870. She is scheduled for some professional oral care to remove the tartar three days from now. The usual on-site checkup is scheduled for 2 months from now, but please contact us if anything is worrying you. We can provide stress care with aroma and temperature therapy or provide a full-body massage using shiatsu and low frequency vibration.”
The white liger may have been receiving better care than your average businessman. It apparently took a lot for a wild animal to live in the city. Fighting over rare services like reservations at fancy restaurants or the best seats at concerts was what the common folk did. True celebrities like Aika-chan would carve out a new life cycle wherever they saw the need.
After watching the jumpsuit woman leave, Aika pulled a club-like hunk of raw meat out of the 2m cubic container that had the same structure as a refrigerator. It was important to note that one side of the container had been replaced with a thick scratching board. In other words, this would only last one day at best.
“…Here you go, liger. Your lovely meat-on-the-bone has arrived…”
The wild animal had been curled up on the floor like a small sofa, but now she slowly got up. Unlike a poorly-trained dog, she did not immediately jump at the food.
The meat was still cold from the refrigerated container, so eating it now would make her sick. Aika piled several raw meat clubs on a party-sized platter and warmed them a bit in an extra-large oven separate from the one used for human food. In the meantime, the striped bikini girl poured some animal-safe milk into a baby bottle and pressed it against the white liger’s mouth to distract her. …Of course, that baby bottle was larger than a 2 liter bottle.
In the world of classy wild animals(?), there were apparently a lot that would demand meat from animals of their natural habitat, like gazelles or gnus, but the white liger that lived with Aika was a crossbreed of a white tiger and a lion, so she was an extraordinary carnivore that could not be found in nature. Aika did not worry about that too much and had chosen lean Australian beef after monitoring her partner’s responses to different meats. The white liger seemed to like that better than the fatty marbled kind.
The oven timer’s bell sounded and the white liger’s shoulders jumped. Her curious eyes darted back and forth between Aika’s face and the oven door. She may have been imprinted with a Pavlovian link between the timer sound and food. Aika removed the heated meat-on-the-bone from the oven and walked with the liger to the giant dining room.
The animal did not eat the food yet.
The white liger used all her strength to restrain herself until she was given permission.
Aika slowly lowered the large plate to the floor and then took three steps back.
“…Okay, eat up, liger…”
The liger took a leap and then produced a veritable explosion of chewing sounds. Those hunks of meat were thick enough to stop a small handgun bullet, but she crunched through the bone along with the meat. Even if the liger meant no harm, Aika would have been knocked away if she had carelessly approached.
Aika meanwhile took a jelly drink from the fridge.
She used the small butt inside her bikini bottom to push the fridge door shut and then used both hands to turn the plastic cap.
The striped bikini girl could not cook her own food, so her diet was best summed up as “luxurious but tragic”. Even when Lu Niang Lan made something for her, the recipe was generally designed for someone who exercised regularly, so it did not always give the shut-in girl a balanced diet. For that reason, she had gained a habit of using one meal a day to make up for the part of her diet she had missed out on. It was the same idea as giving the liger her vitamins and minerals through extra-large toy bones.
(They’re saying now is the time to eat more protein, but that doesn’t really apply to me since I don’t get any exercise other than rolling around on the yoga mat while watching the guide video.)
Aika sat directly on the table instead of in a chair, placed the top of the jelly drink in her mouth, and picked up a notebook-sized tablet from a stand on the table. She lived in a large apartment, so it would be a pain to have to walk to a specific location whenever she wanted to use the computer. Instead, she had computers and mobile devices all over the place and synced together so she could see the same data no matter which one she was using. She really was a wealthy shut-in.
The tablet’s screen displayed some plain text.
Kyousuke had told her she was free to be a shut-in if she wanted, but that was not an excuse for failing to keep up with her studies. She somewhat agreed with that, so one box in her schedule was labeled “study” even though every day was summer break for her.
No matter what gap your life had fallen into, no one liked being called dumb.
A general world map was drawn on the tablet screen and red dots appeared on that. They covered the entire world, regardless of country or region.
And the question was as follows:
“As part of a philanthropic policy, a large civilian corporation provides economic assistance in order to revive cities around the world that have declined due to financial bankruptcy, declining population, environmental troubles, or rising crime rates. What is the name of the corporation that is leading this policy? Hint: The international revived cities are given the corporation’s name!”
After a moment of silence, Aika removed her finger from the tablet’s screen.
She also removed the jelly drink from her mouth and breathed a quiet sigh. She only had to look at the name of Toy Dream 35 to know the answer. That giant corporation that provided dreams to children the world over was a source of great trauma for this girl, but the name returned to her no matter how much she tried to avoid it. That was now ubiquitous it was.
Her trembling fingertips typed in the necessary answer and then she closed the text app.
She returned the tablet to the table stand and finally reached for a different electronic device.
It was a character smartphone that Toy Dream had created by buying up a service provider and social media company.
…And this one was based on a heroine that should not exist, so it was probably the only one that still existed.
The phone used an app that was like a cross between an email and a chat service. It was known as Assort Message and it allowed you to attach one illustration or icon of a Toy Dream character to each message. The address book linked to that app had only a single group and a few different addresses registered within.
For a reason other than high-level security, the majority of the 7 billion people in the world would not even know this one address existed.
It was an email link for the members of a certain family that was envied by all.
It was a direct hotline that let one contact the personal mobile phone of the extremely busy president of Toy Dream without even going through a secretary.
Kyousuke and Olivia were making an external attack on the mobile base created from a cruise ship in an attempt to track down the truth of the Silver Resource War.
But there was another way.
Someone deep on the inside could make a direct attack on the president.
Aika toyed with the address book for a while and then heard a low growl.
Her partner, the white liger, poked her head above the table. The animal did not even need to climb up. With a 5m body, her head stuck above while sitting on the floor.
The white liger placed her chin on the tabletop and looked up at Aika where she sat on the table. The striped swimsuit girl giggled and placed her hand on the wild animal’s head.
“Do you want seconds, liger? There’s no helping you, is there?”
Aika lifted up her small butt and hopped down from the table, but she still held the character smartphone in her hand.
(It might be time I faced this war too.)
While walking to the refrigerated container that contained additional meat, the striped bikini girl placed her index finger on one part of the screen.
She gently touched one address.
She was a girl who had vanished from the human race’s memories.
She was the granddaughter of a certain family. And Aika Toydream quietly took action once more.
- Sinceria Highland has redone her contract more than anyone else in history. As a result, parts of her physical body have changed just like with Isabelle. But there is no sign of Sinceria’s soul breaking or personality changing. The exact conditions for these things are unknown.
- It was revealed that footage of Kingdom F’s civil war was used to produce the Blue Film that is meant to get the go ahead for the Silver Resource War. That is why Kingdom F’s queen and knight chose to interfere in the incident.
- Award 999, War Criminal, the top of Illegal, was mentioned in connection to the defense of the Missing Princess.
- The System Atlantis VFX production mainframe was not located on the Missing Princess.
- Kyousuke grabbed and broke his enemy’s Incense Grenade, but that counted as a belated detonation after being thrown by Eisen Rosen. An Incense Grenade’s mixture pattern is designed to match a specific summoner, so using someone else’s will not create an Artificial Sacred Ground.
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