The Unexplored Summon Blood Sign:Volume8 Chapter2

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Stage 02: The Treasure Chest is in the Frozen Undersea World

“If you’re insane, you creep me out. If you’re not, you’re scum.”

“Ha ha!! Just how highly do you view the ultimate grotesque creatures we call humans, Kyousuke-chan!?”

(Stage 02 Open 08/04 11:10)

The Treasure Chest is in the Frozen Undersea World

Part 1

Kyousuke kicked open the door to the leisure room.

The situation had changed.

“Olivia, we’re leaving!!”

“Eh? Ah? But I haven’t changed yet, Onii-chan!”

Kyousuke grabbed just one of the bag’s shoulder straps and grabbed Olivia’s slender hand before practically swinging them both around as he burst back out into the corridor. Changing clothes could help lose pursuit, but when the opponent had already spotted you, it was useless unless a few different requirements were met.

First, there had to be a crowd, like on the city streets or in a subway station. Second, you had to change quickly so the enemy did not catch you while you were changing.

Neither requirement was met here.

A few dry gunshots echoed through the straight corridor as they ran to the nearest staircase. There were now a few fingertip-sized holes in the bag, but it had apparently stopped the lead bullets. Kyousuke kicked down a nearby fire extinguisher to smash the jaw of a guard down the stairs and then ran past the large man as he writhed in pain.

(The ones immediately using guns are Illegal and the ones hesitating in confusion are normal guards. They’re wearing the same uniforms, but that’s how I can tell them apart!!)

He did the math in his head and set different levels of acceptable violence for the two categories. Although as Alice (with) Rabbit, killing was not an option for Shiroyama Kyousuke either way.

They needed to reach the starboard side where they had left their small submersible between the ship and the extra float attached by an arm. They could use that to escape into the ocean and lose their pursuers.

They first had to reach the deck level.

Kyousuke stopped at the connection between stairs and the corridor, pressed against the wall, and swung his Blood-Sign horizontally out when he heard footsteps approaching. He hit a guard with a lariat, knocking him over from the neck, and then kicked the groaning middle-aged man in the head to knock him out.

Once out in the corridor, a tremor ran through Kyousuke’s body.

“Onii-chan…?”

“…”

He slowly turned around without answering Olivia’s worried question.

A summoner and vessel pair was already at the end of the long, long corridor.

It was Illegal Award 749, Railroad Executioner.

Needless to say, they were a protégé of War Criminal who led one of the three major powers.

“Cheh. How many did he bring with him!?” shouted Olivia while puffing out her cheeks.

The humongous steel railroad rail may have played the role of a Blood-Sign. That rusted mass of metal rested on the shoulder of a large shirtless man who wore a black hood and had a single lens reflex camera with a bazooka-like lens around his neck. The vessel standing next to him was a young girl who looked like a Western doll. She wore a suit with a tight skirt for what may have been a train conductor motif. She flipped through what looked like a time schedule on a clipboard. The pair usually dispassionately followed their schedule to hunt down and kill anyone within Illegal who broke their ironclad rules or blood bonds. They rarely left Illegal and thus were not blessed with many opportunities to earn Awards, so it would be best to assume their actual skill was 200 Awards above what they had.

The threat here was not the rusty metal rail Blood-Sign or Garuda, Sleipnir and other divine beasts they could summon from the Divine-class.

An executioner always produced results.

They were not allowed to and could not afford to make the mistakes that a judge might.

More and more loud slamming sounds filled the corridor. All the doors lining both walls were kicked open and men in black uniforms different from the guards stepped out.

(So they’re not even hiding who they are anymore.)

And they were not about to take turns fighting one at a time.

Their aim was clear. The men in black would surround Kyousuke and Olivia within the straight corridor. If that defeated them, all was well, but if it did not, those men would risk their lives to hold them in place.

And afterwards…

“Thank you very much for taking our express train to hell. The doors will soon close, so please refrain from boarding now.”

The small girl in a suit spoke with a strangely flat voice.

She climbed up the large muscular masked man’s back like a squirrel and placed a jump rope around his thick neck. It was like a horse’s reins…no, she was using him like a train. After taking a seat on his shoulders, the small girl continued her announcements which acted like a cursed song that placed the man into a trance. As the large shirtless man listened, his muscles swelled out to two or three times their size as if from a strange new form of doping.

Shiroyama Kyousuke clicked his tongue.

And then the final line arrived.

“Now, let us depart.”

An explosive din shook the air.

The difference between enemy and ally no longer mattered. The long straight corridor was the track of a runaway train. The enemy had ordered those men in black to charge into the corridor, but they were still knocked down by the rusted metal rail as the mass of muscle mercilessly approached Kyousuke and Olivia. The enemy summoner and vessel only cared that their men stopped the target long enough that they could defeat them. Personnel loss was baked into the plan.

There was no dodging it in the straight corridor.

And even if they threw an Incense Grenade now, they would be run over before the 3 seconds to detonation had passed.

“Olivia, this way!!”

Kyousuke knocked out the nearest man in black by jabbing his Blood-Sign between his eyes.

He did not stick to the corridor. He pulled on Olivia’s hand and rushed into a room on the right. A moment later, the giant mass passed by in the corridor and a powerful gust of wind blew through. There was no way it would end there, so Kyousuke used the slight lag to run to the window. They were already on the deck level, so if they opened the window and climbed out, they would arrive on the starboard side deck.

Naturally, the protection of the air conditioning vanished once they were on the deck.

Perhaps because they were out at sea, the August sun felt terribly humid.

Illegal would not stay in one place. The more than 100 men in black and the summoner pair would soon use other rooms’ windows to reach the side deck. And that side deck was a long straightaway itself, so that would change nothing.

“Onii-chan. Where did we stop the submarine again!?”

“We’re almost there. Just another 40 meters!!”

Just then, someone smoothly stepped out from behind one of the columns that looked more decorative than functional.

It was Sinceria Highland and Rachel Wormwood.

Government Award 913, Noble Bride passed them by.

Part 2

They did not really say anything.

They crossed paths like it was to be expected and the women took the delaying role.

“My, my, my, my.”

Was it meant to look like snow or ice, glass or crystal? Sinceria whispered happily in a cool blue dress and with her long blonde hair blowing in the sea breeze. She pressed her hands together in front of her large chest and smiled.

Her restraint as a vessel was not the glass and alloy crown that symbolized her right to the throne. It was the locket which reminded her of the family she had lost.

“I was right to leave her with you, Kyousuke. Hee hee hee. Having a gentleman take your hand and escort you across the battlefield is not something most people get to experience♪”

“All he’s doing is wander around without a clue what he’s doing.”

Rachel loosely crossed her arms near her hips and snorted from her shapely nose. The armed glasses knight tapped a finger against the battle hook at her hip.

“Hmph. But it does seem he has kept his promise of not allowing the princess to shed a single drop of blood. I am willing to give him the lowest possible passing grade.”

“Hee hee hee.”

“What is it, my queen?”

“Oh, nothing. Hee hee hee♪ Rachel, your cute snorts always mean the same thing. Hm, hm. Mutter, mutter, mutter. Hee hee hee hee hee hee♪♪♪”

“If you have something to say, just come out and say it!!”

With a great quantity of footsteps, purposefully-generic men in black exited through multiple windows. They initially ignored Sinceria and Rachel so they could pursue Kyousuke and Olivia, but…

“Wait, you insults to our kingdom.”

Silver flashed.

It was the athletic body rather than the intellectual glasses that came to the forefront here.

All of a sudden, she had drawn the battle hook from her hip, extended it to nearly 2 meters, and used the J-shaped end to catch one of the men in black by the neck. A light pull forward knocked him to the floor like a poor criminal being dragged around by a rope attached to a horse.

Before caution could fill the air, the battle hook swung around like a baton some more. Sometimes it caught a man in black by the ankle, held him upside down, and dropped him to the deck. Other times, it grabbed a man in black by the belt and tossed him over the railing into the ocean.

The tension of the scene finally caught up to reality.

By the time the men in black recognized the new enemy, more than 10 of them had already been knocked out. The woman wore old-fashioned silver armor and a long wine-red tight skirt that seemed like it would restrict the movement of her legs. But even after achieving such incredible results, Rachel did not seem very excited. She simply tapped her shoulder with the battle hook and winked behind her glasses.

“Hmph. I don’t care what happens to that silly mercenary, but let’s not forget that a kingdom’s princess is traveling with him. It is time for a social studies lesson. I will give you a thorough first-hand lesson in exactly what happens to anyone who attempts barbaric acts in front of our princess for no good reason.”

“Hee hee hee. Tsundere, tsundere♪ Yes, yes. First Olivia and now Rachel. Kingdom F just keeps getting richer! I knew he was exactly what we needed. He may have refused once, but I absolutely must give Kyousuke a medal of national service.”

“Be quiet, my queen…!!!!!!”

What sounded like a shockwave rang out as the muscular masked man ignored the windows and broke right through the wall to reach the side deck. The Railroad Executioner summoner let out a steamy breath with his rusty metal rail Blood-Sign in hand. The small vessel girl slowly walked out after him while using a red pen to mark a document on her clipboard. Was the timetable her psychological restraint?

An oddly flat voice ruled that place.

Time and accuracy took precedence over all else.

“I must apologize to all passengers who are in a hurry, but our express train to hell is experiencing a delay. We will ascertain the cause and recover ASAP, so please wait inside the train for now.”

Her announcements acted as a cursed song. A trance that only applied to them must have given her complete control over his brain chemicals because energy was clearly raging within the large man’s body like a steam engine after more coal was shoveled in. His own bones began to creak under the strain of his trembling muscles.

Ascertain the cause and recover.

The men in black under their command did not hesitate to draw handguns.

And a dry sound rang out.

However…

“Too bad♪”

Sinceria held a hand in front of the knight’s face. That hand held a timer Incense Grenade that resembled a platinum pocket watch and it had a bullet embedded in it. It was clearly made from a cheap alloy, glass, and other inexpensive materials, but its value had been increased past the limit by royally appointed craftsmen. There was no need to turn the watch crown to set the dangerous hands because a 20m cubic Artificial Sacred Ground was already opening around it.

Everything up until now had just been the lead in to battle.

It was finally reaching the realm of summoners and vessels.

Sinceria Highland even licked her lips as the thrill of combat flushed her skin and released the seductively sweet poison she had been restraining all this time.

Her overly-long ears twitched and the locket at her chest twinkled.

“You need not hold back or show mercy. I will be your beautiful opponent. So bring it on♪”

“When my queen stands before you, it means you are facing our kingdom’s final line of defense. Foreign threats, if you have not brought the firepower and resolve needed to ruin an entire kingdom, then you will find yourself trampled!!”

Part 3

A few of the men in black continued pursuing Kyousuke and Olivia along the side deck. Sinceria and Rachel must not have been able to keep them all away, but they had done enough. Now that the human wave attack had thinned out, Kyousuke could use his Blood-Sign as a staff to knock down the enemy. More importantly, the frontline summoner, Railroad Executioner, was no longer after them.

“Olivia, jump in here!!”

“U-uwehhh! Looking down, this is really high-…hyahn!?”

They could not wait around, so Kyousuke picked up Olivia’s small body and immediately jumped over the railing. There was almost 10 meters to the ocean surface, which was about 3 floors.

They fell into the area of sea partitioned off by the ship itself and the additional float. Still holding Olivia, Kyousuke used just his feet to get his head above the surface. The heat island effect had thoroughly warmed the urban ocean, so it felt like sweaty skin and the clothing plastered to his skin felt as unpleasant as a crowded train.

“Pwah. Olivia, climb on there. Once we untie the rope, let’s take the submersible to the ocean floor.”

“…Onii-chan is princess carrying me… Wow…”

“Olivia.”

Had she hit her face when they landed in the water? Kyousuke’s brief shout dragged the double braid girl back to reality, so he pushed on her small butt to get her on top of the spindle-shaped submersible.

Still soaking wet, he untied the rope, raised the streamlined protective cover, and climbed inside with the girl. After closing the cover again, he aimed the nose down and parted the seawater.

The men in black must have noticed.

Several gunshots rang from the side deck above and the bullets piercing the ocean surface stabbed through the thick water like spears of white air bubbles.

“Onii-chan, what about the cooling sheets?”

“We don’t need them this time. In fact, they’d only leave us shivering in the cold.”

Regardless, they had won now that they were in the ocean. The enemy could not hit while forced to file blindly thanks to the bright sun reflecting off the surface.

As they dove deeper, the light faded like someone was twisting a dimmer switch. Yes, ocean water was not 100% transparent, so it would block the sun if a thick enough layer was in the way.

“?”

Just as the planet’s slight axial tilt altered the length of daylight time and thus created the seasons, things changed quickly once they lost the blessings of the sun.

“Onii-cha-…It’s kind of…eh? It’s really cold…?”

“We were dealing with a greenhouse effect before, but this is what happens when sunlight is removed from the equation. We aren’t directly in contact with the surface layer of seawater that has soaked up all the heat, so the change will be even faster for us than a diver.” Kyousuke hit a few buttons to turn on the lights. “I don’t see a nuclear sub anywhere… It looks like we might need to dive further than 100 meters.”

“Uuh, I’m soaked. Are you sure we shouldn’t have changed, Onii-chan?”

“We didn’t have time…as I already explained. And it’s August, so we aren’t going to catch cold.”

They voiced no concern for Sinceria and Rachel. They had already seen just how skilled those two were during Kingdom F’s civil war. A natural disaster or a crime would not be enough to kill them. That would take a war.

It would be one thing if Illegal Award 999, War Criminal, made an attack himself, but Kyousuke doubted his bodyguard forces could do anything.

And since the core of the Blue Film was in the nuclear submarine and not the cruise ship, the odds were extremely good that War Criminal himself was waiting at the bottom of the ocean.

“Won’t they notice us if we’re shining the lights like this?”

“Submarines put more focus on sound and magnetism than light, so often times normal lights will actually create a blind spot. Sound travels a lot faster than in the air.”

Just as Kyousuke said that, a large torpedo shot right by the submersible, leaving a trail of white bubbles in its wake.

The war had begun.

The crude steel tube had nothing like a propeller. It combined chemicals to propel itself with the power of air.

No proximity fuse had activated and it passed right by them, but it pulled in the nearby seawater, shaking the small submersible.

“Oniiiii-chaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan…?”

“That wasn’t because of the light. They probably detected the sound of us moving through the water. I can’t completely eliminate the noise even if I cut the engine.”

But Olivia should have thought more carefully about this.

If the enemy had a complete lock on them, they never could have avoided the torpedo. There had to be a reason why it had passed by the small submersible and exploded somewhere else entirely.

“A thermocline. …Ocean temperature is not fixed. The currents give it a marbled pattern. And sound travels differently through warm water and cold water. Soundwaves reflect weirdly on the border between layers, so sonar becomes useless. Whether it used soundwaves or a timer, they can’t hit us if the original location data was wrong.”

“Th-then can we safely descend…?”

“I’m not so sure. If they know there’s a thermocline, they can take countermeasures. More importantly, that shot stirred up the water, so it might have been temporarily mixed together like Italian dressing. This isn’t a repeatable method.”

As they continued down, Kyousuke guided the submersible toward a cliff-like shelf.

Three more torpedoes were fired, but none of them managed to hit. By intentionally reflecting their noise off of the rock wall, he could shift the apparent source of the noise.

“…Found it.”

They were in extreme danger where a single hit would tear their submersible to pieces, but Kyousuke did not bat an eye.

There was a large cigar shape lodged in the V-shaped gap between two rock shelfs. The small submersible’s lights illuminated a pitch black ship nearly 100m long. The ID number had been scraped off, but it was definitely a military product. It was a US Navy San Francisco-class nuclear submarine. Those had supposedly been decommissioned in accordance with the Strategic Arms Platform Reduction Treaty signed with Russia 3 years prior, but this one at least had apparently been secretly sold to a civilian buyer. Its combat ability may have been completely removed before being sold, but parts acquired via a different route could be used to repair that. Besides, simply selling a nuclear-powered sub was an unprecedented problem and in violation of the standards.

“Come to think of it, Onii-chan, didn’t the Ghost Ship Sebastian movie released this spring have a talking submarine for a main character? It was about a baby sub going an adventure through the seven seas in search of his mom.”

“Can that old man turn anything into a hit…?”

Meanwhile, the small submersible approached the nuclear sub waiting on the ocean floor. Using soundwaves to detect enemies was super effective in the water, but there was one surprising weakness: you could not detect something right up alongside you. That was of course because the noise made by your own great size would drown out the enemy reading.

“Now, let’s make our home visit.”

“Nweh? Onii-chan, how are we supposed to get onboard? If we open this protective cover, the water will come rushing in, won’t it?”

“This submersible Lu-san gave us is usually used by Illegal to make illicit deals in the dead of night. It has arms for grabbing packages in the dark ocean and it can dock with other ships. The other ship’s hatch format doesn’t matter here.”

The San Francisco-class was covered by a thick hull built to resist the immense water pressure and explosive blasts, but that hull was not made from a single smooth panel. In addition to the boarding hatch on the bridge where the normal periscope was, there was the ballast tank’s water intake, torpedo launch tubes on the front, and 12 vertical-launch mass drivers on the top. It had plenty of seams that acted as openings.

The sturdiest of them would of course be the boarding hatch.

Kyousuke checked the pressure sensor on the control column’s grip and tried moving the two arms.

“Good, good. That’s an Illegal smuggling submersible for you. It’s pretty sensitive to make sure they don’t damage the waterproof package. Hmm, so this is how you grab things.”

“Onii-chan, what are you going to do about all that rock in the way?”

“If there’s no accessible entrance, we’ll just have to make a new one.” Kyousuke looked entirely unconcerned. “If we make some noise, they’ll open up the hull themselves to begin the torpedo launch process. We’ll provide them something more than water to flood the tube. And once the tube is clogged, the torpedo will blow open a hole for us.”

Part 4

A violent explosive blast disconcertingly shook the giant steel submarine.

“It detonated in the tube! The 3rd launch tube has ruptured!!”

“Have we set up a seal? Prepare the pumps and filler material! This is a race against time, so just don’t let the water in!! And keep the sub balanced!!”

Seawater was of course the most frightening thing to a submarine crew. Damage from a torpedo or mine, scraping the hull on the rocks, getting a net or wire caught in the propeller, and so many other things could lead to drowning in seawater. While it did happen sometimes, it was rare for flames, smoke, or an explosive blast to directly kill them. They were working in an environment inhospitable to human life, so destroying the artificial environment they created for themselves would remind them they were on the ocean floor and their lives would be readily snuffed out. Returning their environment to normal would kill them. This was different from “unnaturally taking a life” by firing a bullet or shell at them on the surface.

However. The crew frowned when they brought filler material like metal beams and thick rubber sheets to fill the large hole in the torpedo launch tube.

There was indeed seawater flowing in, but not very much.

“What? Did the wreckage of the torpedo clog it up?”

The water was only trickling out like from a sewer pipe on a muddy river wall, so a young crewmember tried to peer inside the launch tube.

Immediately, Shiroyama Kyousuke shot out like it was a water slide and the heel of his shoe caught the defenseless crewmember on the bridge of the nose.

He then spun around his long and narrow Blood-Sign.

“And we’re in.”

“W-wah. Waaaaah!?”

Before the crew could actually do anything, Kyousuke used the Blood-Sign to strike the young crewmembers on the back of the neck, on the side of the head, or in the middle of the gut to quickly knock them out.

Olivia crawled out of the torpedo tube a little later.

“I’m soaking wet… Huh? Did it not attach properly?”

“Well, this wasn’t a proper hatch, so there was only so much it could do.”

Kyousuke and Olivia had attached the bottom of the small submersible to the hole in the torpedo tube using a large, remora-like suction cup and then they had moved the seat to open the bottom. By connecting the submersible to the submarine, they had been able to enter the latter through the damaged torpedo tube.

The torpedoes would have been fired by the defense unit sent by Illegal, but who had originally supplied the equipment? Had Toy Dream acquired the parts and gotten them back in working order, or had Illegal revived that functionality for this mission?

(Either way, the submarine’s very existence is a secret, so they don’t have to worry about anyone seeing what happens in here. We should assume we’ll run into some even nastier people onboard.)

BloodSign v08 175.jpg

“The fabric is clinging to me all over. Uuh, and I don’t like how it feels in the crotch.”

Olivia looked troubled and moved her fingers to the butt below her pareo to fix the swimsuit. When she did, a clear liquid left the base of her legs and flowed down her inner thighs.

The blonde double braid girl seemed to notice Kyousuke’s eyes on her because she blushed and began stammering.

“…Just so you know, Onii-chan, this is only seawater. It isn’t anything weird.”

“I know.”

“Huh? This is odd. I had heard Japanese swimsuits had this weird hole here so the water that gets in through the chest could get back out more easily. Is it really working?”

“You don’t have to stick your hand into that tunnel. More importantly, Olivia, help me tie all of them up.”

It was unclear how she decided what qualified as embarrassing, but Kyousuke tossed her some zip ties.

“Once their arms and legs are bound, we’ll remove them from this room.”

“Oh? Onii-chan, you know how to use these in addition to the Japanese-style rope?”

She was clearly mistaken about something there, but now was not the time to argue.

The hole had not been filled with filler material, so even at a trickle, the flooding was continuing. Kyousuke and Olivia bound the unconscious crewmembers’ hands behind their backs and tossed them into the corridor. After making sure there was no one left, they shut the steel door from outside and turned the round handle.

“Huh, so even submarines have air conditioning. I thought it would be sweltering and full of exhaust.”

“The San Francisco-class is nuclear-powered, so the turbine is always turning. Unlike the battery-powered subs, they can’t completely cut the power to go silent, so there’s no real reason to not use air conditioning.”

The room temperature was only lightly cooled, so it was actually more comfortable than the cruise ship above which had been like a supermarket’s vegetable section.

All of the submarine’s doors were watertight, so if they were all shut, any flooding could be contained to a single room. And that limited volume would not be enough to throw off the submarine’s balance and make it roll over.

There was only one thing to worry about: Once the torpedo loading room filled with water, they would lose their route back to the submersible waiting outside. They would either have to find another way to the surface or acquire some legitimate diving suits to travel through the flooded area.

“Still…”

After sealing the watertight door, Kyousuke glanced around the corridor again.

The San Francisco-class had been mass produced. Since multiple identical submarines had been built at the same shipyard, there were more opportunities to acquire an accurate layout diagram. But Toy Dream and then Illegal could have made any number of additions and modifications. They could not fully trust that diagram.

For one thing, the standard model would not have had this kind of interior.

The dark gray and unrefined corridor took many twists and turns. The walls and ceiling were absolutely covered in large pieces of paper. They depicted long silver hair worn in twintails and an outfit that looked like a white wedding dress cut down to size with silver armor added in places.

Needless to say, these were portraits of the White Queen.

All mechanical cameras and sensors ceased to work when an Incense Grenade detonated, so they were all hand-drawn. They stirred up odd emotions, like when seeing the police use professionally-made sketches of a wanted criminal even in the modern day.

The people who wanted to start the Silver Resource War were apparently after the deposit of special silicon in the giant mountains around Kingdom F because that silicon’s crystal structure miraculously contained just the right impurities in just the right amounts. And they had set up an unbelievable system where the countries and regions hit by the flames of war would be thrown into the large box labeled “East Europe Axis”.

They wanted to combine cutting-edge Repliglass tech with the ancient Joruri Method to create an artificial vessel capable of perpetually summoning the White Queen.

They wanted to create a powerful anchor to re-solidify the White Queen now that word of her being killed was shaking her absolute position.

So it was true they might need portraits of the White Queen from multiple angles as reference material for the doll.

But when Kyousuke felt a strange shiver down his spine, it was not because of all the images of the White Queen’s beautiful form filling this space.

“…What…is this?”

Olivia was also dumbfounded as her wet body shook.

The eyes had been torn out. Countless blade slashes ran across the mouth. A red pen had drawn Xs all over it…

Each and every one of the portraits had been destroyed.

Kyousuke held his Blood-Sign tight and Olivia clung to his waist from the side as they slowly walked further in. Then his shoes reached something like gravel. A volleyball-sized piece of marble lay at the corner between the corridor floor and wall. It took a moment to realize it was a statue’s decapitated head after the surface had been thoroughly carved down with a chisel.

This was more than just persistent. It was obsessive.

It was more than just hate. It was a backlash. The messy spiral of emotions ruling this space was like someone had gone around destroying the very things they had gathered out of love. The oxygen level would not have changed, but an eerie oppressiveness hit Kyousuke like an invisible wall.

This was the chaos brought on by the Queen’s death.

People were resorting to strange and destructive acts now that the foundation of their belief had been shattered.

There was an old urban legend that someone’s mentality could be deduced from the lineup in their bookcase or the layout of their room. That was more an issue of folklore than science, but Kyousuke could not help but rely on it here.

(Did those belong to Toy Dream…? No, then they would have arranged the light sources, temperature, and humidity when doing the sub’s interior. These must have been brought in by Illegal. They were not destroying something adorning the walls. They brought their collection here for the express purpose of destroying them and creating this scene.)

“Hmm, they sure were thorough. It looks like they don’t completely hate her.”

“Uwehh? It looks like they want to kill her to me…”

“They’re lashing out in hatred because the White Queen got herself killed, but they still have some hope deep in their hearts. Hope that it’s all a lie. That’s why they only have portraits of the White Queen. I don’t see any materials based on the Colorless Little Girl that killed her.”

They had brought along their precious items in order to destroy them here. If they simply hated her, they would not go to the effort of carrying the collection this far. They would not have taken it anywhere at all.

“Hmm? So which is it? Do they love the White Queen or hate her?”

“I think they’re trying to have it both ways. Just like someone trying to guess the murderer in a mystery novel, they can’t decide on a single person. By setting up a defensive line for every possibility, they can say they saw it coming no matter who it ends up being.”

Did they love or hate the White Queen?

Would they side with the White Queen or the Colorless Little Girl?

…The person who had made this scene could picture every possibility in their mind, but they could not decide on just one. So they were simply putting off making a decision while making it look like they were thinking about it. They told themselves there was no helping it because the answer had already been determined. They would tell themselves they were fine because they had seen it coming from the beginning. They might try to act all-knowing, but to someone a step removed, they had the dark eyes of someone who had lost all hope and they were simply floating aimlessly like a balloon in the wind.

And that made them hard to predict.

In the end, this was the kind of person who would smugly say things were going “according to their calculations” even if they tripped, hit their head on a pebble, and died. Shiroyama Kyousuke had to predict the actions of someone who did not know what they themselves would do. This could be far more trouble than dealing with the most meticulously planned crime.

“…”

“O-Onii-chan. The original data of that weird video is here, right? Let’s destroy System Atlantis and get out of here. I don’t want to stay here long and I don’t want to see the person who made this. This is an atmosphere we can’t – just can’t – bring to Kingdom F.”

“No.”

Kyousuke shook his head.

While not to the extent of a cruise ship or aircraft carrier, a submarine required a fair number of people to operate. And yet they had seen no sign of a crew since those in the original torpedo loading room.

Why was no one confronting them?

Who was keeping them away?

Those questions led Shiroyama Kyousuke to the following conclusion:

“Looks like it’s too late already.”

They heard solid footsteps.

Illegal Award 999, War Criminal.

He was the leader of one of three major powers that dealt in the Summoning Ceremony. He was the world’s greatest criminal who had taken an individual’s crimes so far that he had taken a step into the realm of war.

He matched the photo from before.

He looked the same as when Kyousuke had made those five soul-rending surprise attacks in the past.

He had lazily-combed, close-cropped hair and a completely average height.

He was a very generic boy in a rough baseball practice uniform that did not even have a team name on it.

In this case, it was wrong to find it anticlimactic.

War Criminal had already achieved many records, reigned at the top of Illegal, and was known both inside and outside Illegal for possessing the skill to take on Government Award 1000, the tyrannical Elvast Toydream.

So.

This meant the person who stood at the top of every last criminal organization was the Boy A who stood by anyone’s side. A shudder of terror was the correct response to that fact.

Boy A had the close-cropped hair of a baseball boy and wore black sunglasses as if they symbolized something.

There was no bridge at the nose, so they had a ruler-like shape and resembled a wicked blindfold.

“Hi, Kyousuke-chan. How’ve you been?”

“…”

“Ha ha ha! It’s your old friend, Irigaru Tarou. Now then, Kyousuke-chan. Are you wondering if I have a bunch of body doubles or if I’m a stunt expert?”

As the top of Illegal roared such an obviously fake name[1] that it could have been on a sample form at a bank or post office, Kyousuke kicked something with the heel of his shoe.

He kicked up a dropped handgun like he was juggling a soccer ball.

Shiroyama Kyousuke of all people did not hesitate to pull the trigger.

Multiple gunshots rang out and Olivia reacted more than War Criminal. She covered her ears and curled up. Some of the bullets flew straight and others ricocheted off the thick steel walls. The lead projectiles used multiple angles and time delays to essentially surround Boy A as they flew toward him.

Several dry sounds followed.

“Uuh…”

An obedient girl groaned in embarrassment.

The leader going by the name Irigaru Tarou had a girl of about the same age standing next to him. Her wavy, reddish-chestnut hair was simply tied back in two bunches that were not quite twintails and she wore no makeup. She had a decent body, but she was a book girl with a vanishing presence. But despite that impression, she wore a pure white bunny suit with a tailcoat-like vest.

No, there was one motif even stronger than the bunny ears and suggestive tights.

As she tearfully blushed and shrank down, a large flapping noise came from her back. The objects there looked as solid as hard plastic yet moved smoothly. If this model was based on an existing animal, then they may have been swan wings. However, they were dyed a dark red, so they were more reminiscent of a fallen angel. It was a depressing and profane coloring, like seeing a wedding dress colored blood red. And those wings had spread out like a large umbrella to block and knock back all of the bullets Kyousuke had fired. Her wavy, reddish-chestnut hair may have been tied back in two bunches in order to give those dark red swan wings space to move on her back. They must have been a collection of microlattices because they could spread out to a far greater size than their initial appearance suggested.

She held a fairly cheap-looking tote bag to her stomach with both hands. It may have been the prize for gathering the stickers from convenience store bread. Thanks to that, her arms pushed together her surprisingly large breasts.

“No! Stay…away!!”

Her shoulders shrank down and she squeezed her eyes shut, but that graceful behavior was belied by how the blood red swan wings swung out with such ferocious force.

“…”

Kyousuke wordlessly fired some more and watched as the oxidized-blood-colored wings spun around like a tornado.

Once the handgun was out of ammo, Kyousuke did not hesitate to throw it aside.

“You implanted Repliglass directly into your vessel’s skeleton? But once the Summoning Ceremony battle begins, no cameras or sensors can see us. And that includes your vessel as she operates that. Did you put her through the risk of rejection, infection, and mechanical malfunction just to protect yourself against surprise attack?”

“Don’t criticize me like that. I’ll cry? Repliglass is the symbol of Government, so it’s a sign of wealth for us and our inferior tech. Reputation is crucial for a criminal organization. I’m not interested in nuclear weapons or stealth fighters. I want something with such great value that it shows off that there’s nothing I can’t get my hands on. It seems weird to me too, but trust is of the utmost importance in the underworld. Ha ha!!” The generic Boy A laughed with his eyes hidden by the horizontal line of his ruler-like sunglasses. “And that’s not what matters here. You were testing to see if my aide would stop the bullets when you attacked with deadly force, weren’t you? No matter how excellent the lackey, they wouldn’t risk their life for a replaceable body double. Whiiiich meeeeans that’s convinced you, hasn’t it?”

It was not Kyousuke whose shoulders jumped up in shock. It was the fallen angel, who was trembling in embarrassment from the mismatched outfit she had been made to wear.

Kyousuke narrowed his eyes when he saw it.

“I see. I may have been looking at this wrong.”

“Ohh. Now you’re focused on her? Yeah, making these alterations to my childhood friend might’ve been a mistake. She was originally the kind of person who would come running to my room cause she couldn’t watch a rented horror movie on her own. That’s all changed after I messed with her a bit, though.”

“That girl is ultimately motivated by fear, not love, War Criminal. You yourself are a war that causes tremendous damage all around you, but the one surefire way to avoid that damage is to be the vessel by your side. You could think of it like the eye of the storm. …She might look obedient on the surface, but that’s sort of like Stockholm syndrome where a hostage is so desperate to read the criminal’s slightest emotions in order to protect themselves that they end up empathizing with them and developing a temporary affection for them. That reaction couldn’t be duplicated with a body double because your skill is needed for it to develop. So I’ll have to go with the stunt theory instead of the body doubles.”

The cowering girl’s trembling increased explosively.

“Uuuuh… Uuuuuuh!!”

She groaned like a shabby dog chained to a post. Her spiteful eyes told him not to reveal too much and not to take away the eye of the storm, but Boy A himself did not seem bothered by the accusation of false trust.

No.

He may have never really understood what trust was.

The close-cropped hair boy was not even looking in the vessel’s direction.

“Aren’t you gonna ask?”

“Ask what?”

“There are standard questions for times like this: Why did you do this? How much work did you put into making a Toy Dream non-executive director your pawn? Why do you want to use the Blue Film to start the Silver Resource War? Y’know, checking your answers.”

Kyousuke gave a short snort.

And he laughed.

“…Like you would have a good reason.

I’m offended you would say that.

The generic boy laughed in a tone that would rub anyone the wrong way and smiled behind the horizontal line of his sunglasses.

Then he spoke words that sounded like some kind of curse.

“An artificial vessel made of Repliglass. Well, I guess it would be more like overclocking than creating an anchor. Materials are temporarily summoned from another world and used here. So if they’re summoned wrong, they lose power, but the opposite is also possible. That’s what an artificial vessel made of special silicon will do. The White Queen was apparently killed while in her base state, so now we’ll use human tech to strengthen her. I guess it’s similar to the experiment run with Pandemonium.”

That Deltaston Family that led that project had been a special group that encompassed Government, Illegal, and Freedom. That would explain how information on the technique had reached Illegal.

The White Queen was not enough.

So they would use their clever human brains to elevate her to even greater heights.

…Had humanity made no progress since the Queen’s Miniature Garden? Or had the sense of danger faded and been reset, like with the memories of war?

Did this Boy A realize it or not?

Regardless, he continued speaking with a voice as heavy as coal tar.

“You’d normally figure this out, right? You’d normally be able to do this much, right? And if you can do it, you’d normally go ahead and actually do it, right? So I did it. That’s the only reason I had. There’s nothing majorly twisted about this. Just think about it normally and anyone could figure it out, right?

“…”

“Did you think this was the ramblings of a lunatic? Hey, Kyousuke-chan, you think too highly of the word ‘normal’. Who was it that sold out their neighbors with dark smiles on their faces during the witch hunts? Who was it that spread mistaken training methods without feeling a shred of responsibility? Who is it that’s still passionately supporting the income of the drug cartels? …The darkness of history doesn’t come from the serial killers and dictators with special minds. Drug lords can only do so much on their own. The people you really need to fear are the faceless Person As who can be found all over the world. Kyousuke-chan, you’re always being watched by the As you would never suspect. Those are the pieces of shit who will kill millions and then casually claim they’re the real victims.”

The White Queen was powerful, but she did not intentionally drive people insane.

It was the world and human race around her that grew twisted on their own.

However.

“The White Queen doesn’t matter.”

Boy A smiled coldly as the one who had destroyed all of the pictures of the Queen plastered across the walls and ceiling.

“Humanity is garbage whether she’s with us or not. We’ll just find another symbol, worship that, go nuts, and cause more damage. I worship the White Queen in the same way. It’s like finding a new waifu each season. Ha ha. If a Red Queen or Blue Queen took the title of the strongest, I bet I’d worship her without even questioning it.”

“…So that’s why you’re trying to have it both ways? So you can laugh and say it all went according to your calculations whether your overclocking works and you strengthen the White Queen or it doesn’t work and Colorless Little Girl worship covers the planet?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Even though we’re talking about how you live your life?”

“I simply wanted something that wouldn’t break. I wanted a support that wouldn’t be shaken even if it was hit with a war. I needed some solid rock to drive in the piton for my lifeline. That’s why I worshiped her. Not cause she was the White Queen. There was something stronger than me in the world, so I used that great being to support myself. She could’ve been red or blue for all I cared. It just so happened that the she was white, so I placed my faith in that. That’s all.”

It was strange, but even members of criminal organizations had religious faith.

For example, a gang hitman would wear a cross around their neck or have a tattoo of the Virgin Mary on their back. They lived lives of a formless anxiety telling them they would be punished in an unexpected way if they strayed from the path they had set for themselves.

“The basic plan is to incite Toy Dream into spreading the Blue Film that will bring about the Silver Resource War. And in the confusion, I can nab all the crystal resource needed to create the Queen lookalike for the perpetual summoning. Then my artificial vessel can overclock the failing Queen. …But the success of that overclocking doesn’t really matter. We just want to know what color stands at the top of the world. If strengthening the White Queen allows her to keep her spot at the top, that’s great. If that isn’t enough, then we’ll switch over to the Colorless Little Girl. We’re not fixated on a single thing here. We just want to know which is the winning side this season. We’ll worship them, use them up, and throw them out. That’s how normal humans work. ‘I’ve always been a fan.’ ‘I knew you would win.’ ‘I was rooting for you on my blog, telling everyone you were my team.’ It’s not so bad when it comes to mechanical businesses. The real horror comes from the normal, everyday humans who have no idea what they’re doing. They feel no responsibility at all when they choose or abandon someone. They’re grotesque creatures who will distort their own memories as long as it makes them feel good.

Olivia’s small hand grabbed Kyousuke’s wet hoodie. And she was not the only one feeling an indescribable tingle of fear. The vessel girl, who was forced to wear suggestive clothing and even had her body modified, was trembling in a different way now.

Sometimes it had been out of love and sometimes it had been out of hate.

Kyousuke had seen several people who were fixated on the White Queen.

Azalea Magentarain, Benikomichi Fuuki, Biondetta Shiroyama, Himekawa Mika, Akura Taisaku, Elvast Toydream…and more recently, Olivia Highland and Doctor S.

It had been obsessive, insane, and hopeless, but they had risked their lives and futures for the path they had started down.

But this was different.

Kyousuke spat out some words without rejecting the strange feeling.

“If you’re insane, you creep me out. If you’re not, you’re scum.”

“Ha ha!! Just how highly do you view the ultimate grotesque creatures we call humans, Kyousuke-chan!?”

War Criminal reached a hand out to the side.

His book girl of a vessel reached into the tote bag she held in front of her with both hands and she pulled out a hand grenade with a handle. The explosive looked like a maraca or a club with a fat end. She pulled the string on the bottom of the handle and threw it toward Kyousuke and Olivia.

There was not much space inside the submarine.

Swinging his Blood-Sign for a homerun would be difficult. Besides, if he eliminated the supernatural element and challenged them to a normal battle, he would be up against a vessel whose body had been modified. Those solid and dark-red swan wings had instantly knocked down every last bullet he had fired their way. It was hard to keep one’s distance in the complex layout of the submarine, so if that monster rushed toward him, he would be unable to avoid the rush of blows. Thus, it would be best to wait for the Incense Grenade to detonate and battle using the Summoning Ceremony.

Or so the enemy wanted him to think.

“Olivia!!”

“Nweh!?”

The small girl had started to wait, so Kyousuke grabbed and tugged on her hand while reaching for a nearby watertight door. The submarine’s doors were even thicker steel than the cruise ship’s. As soon as he opened it wide as a shield, the grenade exploded.

Yes.

It sent out a perfectly normal explosive blast along with anti-personnel fragments.

If they had waited for the Artificial Summoning Ceremony instead of using a shield, the wall of destruction would have hit their entire bodies within the narrow space. Olivia only wore some synthetic fabric fully soaked with seawater, so a single graze from a fragment would have taken out a large chunk of her flesh.

Meanwhile, the enemy must have done it in the off chance that he got a lucky shot. A careless voice reached them through the smoke.

“Tch. So you used your dirty mind to figure it out. I guess it takes one to know one. Nothing scarier than a normal human, huh?”

“Illegal…!!”

“Ha ha. That’s right. There’s nothing special about us. This is the honest malice that any human carries inside!!”

The name of his group told you exactly what he believed. After all, he was the evil leader who brought together all of the world’s criminal organizations. It had been wrong to expect him to play fair and square in the first place. Kyousuke dropped a hairspray-can-sized Incense Grenade at his feet behind the metal door shield to make the challenge himself.

“Oh, oh.”

The suggestive fallen angel staggered as soon as the Artificial Sacred Ground opened up. Now that the cameras and sensors no longer worked, the connection between her body and the machine had been severed. War Criminal had thoroughly modified his vessel partner’s body and he liked to play dirty…but that did not mean his skill was lacking.

The 20m cube had appeared.

But they barely had any room to move inside the submarine. The Summoning Ceremony was beginning at unprecedented close range.

“Goodbye, War. This time…this time I will bring an end to your slaughtering…!!”

“Ha ha!! A death match at close quarters? And stop putting on airs, cheater. You act like you alone are observing humanity from the outside!!”

Part 5

Multiple swishing sounds sliced through the air.

A 150cm Blood-Sign rapidly rotated in War Criminal’s right and left hands…but that was not all.

Those two sticks kept a third one airborne despite no one touching it.

The two sticks were in constant contact with the third one’s sides to catch at it and lift it up.

“A devil stick?”

Olivia expressed skepticism about that juggling action, but they did not have time to worry over every bit of their opponent’s trickery. While he used a juggler’s illusion to swap around the sticks until it was unclear which was the third, the clock was already ticking.

The 6 x 6 x 6 – for a total of 216 – red Petals had formed the three-dimensional cube of the Rose.

36 Spots had appeared in midair.

And as soon as they appeared, white lightning raced through the submarine. Both Kyousuke and Boy A launched their White Thorns with frightening speed. A single attack shattered the red cube, causing countless Petals to scatter across the narrow corridor and ricochet wildly.

Both vessels were transferred according to the acquired Petals.

Olivia was the Original Yellow (s). Cost: 1. Sound Range: High.

The fallen angel was the Original Yellow (s). Cost: 1. Sound Range: High.

They both became translucent yellow slime Materials.

<Onii-chan, we’re equally powerful…!>

“Then I just have to change that.”

The enemy would be thinking the same thing. Blood-Signs rotated in War Criminal’s hands and in the air before him.

The third one slipped through the first two and shot straight out when the time came to hit one of the fist-sized white balls of light.

<That was fast! But you only start with 3 White Thorns!!>

If the enemy acquired a large number of Petals quickly, Kyousuke would have no chance of winning. And that could be countered with a number of interference tactics like hitting their White Thorn with one of your own to knock it directly into a Spot or using a Petal to hit and take control of a Petal they had hit.

“!!”

But Kyousuke held back at the last second.

It was not a White Thorn that War Criminal’s Blood-Sign had launched. It was only a glove balled up to look like one. Kyousuke had only had a split second to make his decision and being lured into firing a White Thorn would have wasted a precious shot.

“Ha ha!! So you won’t screw up that easily, huh!?”

War Criminal was the head of Illegal, one of the three major powers. At Award 999, he had been able to take on Elvast Toydream, a different leader who had reached Government 1000. At the same time, he was an embodiment of the concept that a faceless neighbor could be war itself.

What did that mean?

Boy A hid his eyes behind the horizontal line of his ruler-like sunglasses and he gave no thought at all to playing by the rules in single combat. He relied on trickery through and through. He was dedicated to illusions. He invited his opponent to recklessness, lured them to self-destruction, and dragged them into a bog without giving them a chance to utilize their skill. It did not matter to him if the opponent before his eyes was higher ranked or a great army. By the time they noticed their misunderstanding, the tragic damage would have spread too far and no one could lower their raised fists.

It would become a hopeless war where the original cause no longer mattered.

You could call him a feint specialist, but as seen in professional soccer, luring someone with your gaze or footwork required excellent fundamental abilities. Feints were not the fangs of the weak. They were but one of the claws and horns of the strong.

What was the greatest form of cheating?

It was to hold the position of strongest through old-fashioned hard work and yet use all of that for cheap tricks. Just like excellent metal engraving skills could create the plates for counterfeit money, just like the forensics techniques used to track down criminals could make mafia revenge easier, and just like the acting skill to gain the trust of countless people could be used to scam people. Putting in hard work to make easy money sounded like an oxymoron and it felt like not obeying the rules even for those who did not obey the rules.

Kyousuke thought about it and clicked his tongue.

“…You really do live up to the name Illegal through and through, don’t you?”

“So you noticed, Kyousuke-chan? You might be scornfully drawing a line between the two of us, but you’re plenty evil if you ask us!!”

And since he had the fundamental abilities, he was plenty strong even when his feints did not succeed.

His attempt had failed, but he still had a solid chance.

He embodied the stability that anyone involved in crime desired, whether they acted alone or in a group.

More and more sounds of ricochets burst out as Kyousuke and Boy A knocked plenty of Petals into the Spots. The Materials also changed form, but neither side could gain much of a lead in the Regulation-class. The battlefield quickly ascended to the Divine-class.

Set.

Divine-class. Cost: 3. Sound Range: High.

An evil usurper god in Egyptian Mythology. The killer of the good god Osiris. A black god who ruled over thirst which symbolized death in the desert.

Loki.

Divine-class. Cost: 4. Sound Range: Middle.

A traitor from within the Aesir in Norse Mythology. A liar god who created many of the gods’ enemies, used his words to befuddle enemy and ally alike, and attacked Asgard with an evil army during the final battle of Ragnarok.

Prometheus.

Divine-class. Cost: 10. Sound Range: Middle.

The hero of civilization in Greek Mythology. A superficial being who stole fire, the secret of the gods, and gave it to man, which ultimately led to the misfortunes of Pandora’s Box reaching the entire human race.

(Tch. Did he stock up on Petals as much as he could and then suddenly drive up his Cost!?)

Was this sudden Cost difference another one of War Criminal’s feints?

All of the Divine-class Materials used by Boy A, whose eyes were covered by his ruler-like sunglasses, were people who had been on the gods’ side yet betrayed heaven or the gods. But those evil gods were also necessary evils whose betrayals had given shape to their respective mythologies and religions.

They were beings who would have remained hidden had it not been for the Blood-Sign method.

Was using them another form of Illegal’s blasphemy?

“Hh!!”

Kyousuke did not stick with a single god either. Again and again, he used his White Thorns to knock Petals into Spots to remake his Material.

Waltraute.

Divine-class. Cost: 9. Sound Range: High.

The fourth of the nine Valkyrie sisters in Norse Mythology. Her name meant courage on the battlefield. Only the eldest sister Brunhild did anything of note, but that was not an issue when using the Blood-Sign method. There was often a margin of error between the actual mythological hierarchy and their strength when summoned in the Summoning Ceremony which was ruled by letters and Sound Ranges. Perhaps it would be simpler to describe it as how easy it was to draw out their power. Using this method, Odin had a Cost of 4 and his beloved steed Sleipnir had a Cost of 8, so looking just at Cost, Sleipnir had double Odin’s score.

A Cost 9 warrior maiden and a Cost 10 hero of civilization.

The previous difference had been so great that Kyousuke and Olivia were still behind in the pure numbers, but they forced their way past that with the Sound Range compatibility.

The large man had a large chain attached and, when he roared, the flames that symbolized his great sin burst from all of his joints.

<Oh, no you don’t!!>

But the flames missed their target because the Valkyrie, who wielded a long cross spear and a diamond-shaped shield, vanished into thin air. The legends stated that Fourth Sister Waltraute had escaped detection by the gods to visit Eldest Sister Brunhild and tell her of a threat to the world.

The flames scattered in every direction, burning and discoloring the White Queen portraits covering the walls and floor, but Waltraute ran straight forward under Olivia’s control and slipped through the hellfire tsunami. The warrior maiden suddenly appeared in front of the large shirtless man and gathered strength in the cross spear held in her right hand.

“Stop, Olivia!! Don’t break through the outer wall!!”

<!>

Kyousuke heard the girl’s gasp directly in his mind.

She quickly sent out the diamond shield in her left hand like a hook in boxing and tried to break through Prometheus’s cheekbone as if with the point of a shovel. This was more than just grabbing the reins of the rampaging Material to guide it in the direction of the target. Only Olivia could control a Material so precisely that she could manipulate each finger independently.

BloodSign v08 203.jpg

With the frightful noise of a clash between heavy metal and divine bone, the fire thief’s great form spun through the air. The inner walls were built to withstand the tremendous water pressure in the event of a flood, but he broke right through one like he was a wrecking ball on a crane.

If Waltraute had made a right swing instead of a left swing, he would have broken through the outer wall and the seawater would have come rushing in. Since the protective circle would only last 10 minutes, that would have cost Kyousuke and the others their lives.

There was no need to wait until he got back up.

Waltraute swung her cross spear horizontally to whip up destruction like a ferocious beast’s claws through wet paper. But flames exploded from Prometheus’s body once more and the pressure forcibly altered the cross spear’s path.

The steel walls and doors swelled out unnaturally and orange sparks flew everywhere. The welds burst and the screws and bolts popped off and tore through the air like bullets.

A Material was not limited to a single form.

All the while, Kyousuke and Boy A were launching White Thorns with the ends of the Blood-Signs, but each time a wall broke down or a door burst off its hinges, the battlefield was widened from the cramped corridor. Those wounds looked like bites taken out of the metal, but even they changed the course of the ricocheting White Thorns and Petals. No real preparation was possible in this battle. They observed the real-time transformations of the battlefield while summoning more and more gods.

Kyousuke had a great white winged serpent from Aztec Mythology. Cost: 12. Sound Range: Low.

War Criminal had a demon of an unknown source that was later given the name Mephistopheles. Cost: 14. Sound Range: Middle.

(I’m behind in simple Cost and the rock-paper-scissors Sound Range…)

“You stepped on the landmine of recklessness, didn’t you?”

Boy A sneered while spinning his devil stick.

Destruction blew through.

The thick pipes and walls were torn apart.

If Olivia had not used her extremely precise control to lower the great serpent’s head to the floor, the horizontal swing of spread fingers would have sliced right through the Material. The great serpent aimed for the defenseless moment of motionlessness after the attack to sink its fangs into the demon’s flank. Kyousuke watched that, but something seemed off to him.

The head of Illegal had made an appearance here. War Criminal would generally only work to fulfill his own plans.

And yet there was no hesitation in Boy A’s destruction. Destroying the System Atlantis VFX production equipment along with the submarine’s interior would be two birds with one stone for Kyousuke and Olivia, but War Criminal should have been protecting that system.

(…Don’t tell me…)

But something unexpected happened a moment later.

Even War Criminal had to have been surprised by this.

<…i…ma…>

Kyousuke’s soul was shaken by an impatience that felt like bluish-white electric sparks gradually frying the brain cells in the depths of his mind.

He was currently engaging Award 999, leader of Illegal, in battle.

He had no mental resources to spare for anything else, but his attention was forcibly dragged away like an invisible fishing hook had lodged itself in his soul.

<Ni…sa…>

Something scratchy rang like static in his brain itself rather than his eardrums.

It was a being similar to but very different from the White Queen.

Not many people could make Shiroyama Kyousuke feel so much danger.

In that case…

There was only one possibility.

(But she already killed-…)

<Nii-sama.>

He did not have time to brace himself.

They were more than 200m below the ocean surface, but that coordinate was meaningless.

A young child’s hand suddenly broke through the submarine’s thick outer wall.

Part 6

“Oh.”

There was a creaking sound.

With his ruler-like sunglasses hiding his eyes, Boy A, aka War Criminal, sensed the abnormality with his killer’s instincts.

“Owwwwwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!???”

Then it shattered.

With the high-pitched sound of a glass container dropped on the floor, the Artificial Sacred Ground was destroyed with no regard for the 10-minute limit.

Kyousuke’s soul was hit by an impact that felt like a hammer to the center of his chest.

“Uh…bh…?”

He doubled over.

The protective circle, the Material, and every other mystical element had been erased. Even War Criminal had lost his grip on all three of his devil sticks. It was not just Kyousuke. Everyone fighting in the Artificial Sacred Ground shared this pain.

He heard the screams of the girls who had regained their human form.

(Not…good…!!)

He clenched his teeth and steadied his breathing while desperately holding onto his consciousness and working his mind.

A childish and soft-looking hand reached in from the outer wall before him.

The hand dropped straight down. The nuclear submarine’s hull was built to withstand incredible water pressure, but the hand tore a straight line through it like it was pudding or yogurt.

<Nii-sama is there.>

“…!!!???”

Then a white torrent burst from the wound in the wall like a high-pressure water cutter. The protective circles could deflect anything, but they were gone now. Kyousuke immediately rolled to the side to avoid the blade that was full of sharp metal fragments like shark teeth.

But it was not over yet.

If the submarine filled with seawater, no one would survive.

<Wait, Nii-sama.>

Another hand reached in through the vertically-opened wound. The two arms widened the wound like someone forcing open a closing train or elevator door. Even a pinhole brought the threat of sinking, but with a disconcerting creaking and cracking, the hole was widened to the point that a child could walk right through.

Unexplored-class. Cost: 21. Sound Range: None.

The Colorless Little Girl Dedicated to a Single Goal (aie – a – oio – ei – ueo – ioa – e – uai – ee).

The symbol of the Fourth Summoning Ceremony which had ended the Third Summoning Ceremony.

“Dammit, you’re falling apart…”

“Onii-cha-…”

Wet Olivia tried to tell him not to worry about it, but Kyousuke cut her off.

“I created you. I embedded you in the world. And all so I could kill the White Queen myself!! You were supposed to be the savior of this hopeless world, so why did you have to break like that!?”

<…>

There was no response.

She had succeeded in executing the Queen. And the fact that she succeeded without expecting to had been such a powerful psychological shock that the little girl had broken and there was no communicating with her any longer.

Perhaps it was like she had tried punching her father, who used his authority to force all sorts of unfair family rules onto her, and ended up bringing him to tears. Except for her it was with a god no, an absolute being greater than a god.

She looked like a girl of about 10.

Her long wavy hair formed cat-like points on the sides of her head and she had a tail on the back of her hips that moved like an independent creature. She wore something like a one-piece swimsuit, the countless blades and firearms surrounding her waist formed a dress-like silhouette, and the 12 thick books behind her were arranged in a circle that resembled a halo. She had no color to speak of, so the scene behind her showed through her smooth silhouette and a clione-like light flashed intermittently in the center of her chest.

Every one of her weapons was an ultimate divine item capable of killing the White Queen. They were not meant to be used on humans, but that assumption was meaningless now that she had gone berserk.

They were more than 200 meters below the ocean’s surface.

The Colorless Little Girl had entered from outside.

And yet there was not a drop of seawater on her clothes or her hair. She had deflected and reflected it all. No ordinary physical phenomena were allowed to touch her. She herself seemed to have become a sort of sacred ground.

“Why did you appear here…?”

Kyousuke voiced his anguish, but was he only confirming his own thoughts? Or was he letting out a problem he could not process himself?

“What are you using to travel between the two worlds, Colorless Little Girl!?”

Was there any logic to it?

Had someone made some largescale preparations to give freedom to the Colorless Little Girl just like the perpetual summoning of the White Queen?

Or was there nothing like that?

Did logic simply no longer apply to this being who had broken after killing the greatest of evils?

(No. I can’t give up.)

He clenched his teeth and resisted the temptation.

He used all his strength to resist giving up on understanding her and holing up in a convenient shell.

(There has to be something… I created her and embedded her. No one knows the Colorless Little Girl better than I do. So if I give up on figuring her out, she really will become a disaster beyond reach…!!)

Most likely, no one could understand what the Colorless Little Girl was thinking as she muttered the same things as a doll abandoned in a ruined building.

Her swishing tail slowly rose, but was that a sign of interest in something? He could not read the emotions behind her actions.

Was this a positive or negative interest?

<Nii-sama, Nii-sama.>

“Tch!!”

The loud click of the tongue came from War Criminal instead of Kyousuke.

He had seen motion from one of the weapons forming a long skirt silhouette: a simple speargun. The three-pronged harpoon on the end aimed directly at her target. Boy A was the leader of Illegal, placing him above every criminal organization in the world, but he was only a flesh-and-blood human when not inside an Artificial Sacred Ground.

The Colorless Little Girl did not even glance his way.

It was unclear whether she acted out of love or hate, but the trigger moved on its own all the same.

“…!!!???”

An explosive noise burst out.

It was the sound of the book girl, who was facing Olivia and who was soaked with sweat as she bore with the pain, striking the air with her dark-red swan wings. One of them weaved through the gaps in the broken inner walls and collided with short-haired Boy A. She left her own body exposed, but the cutting-edge Repliglass was simply not enough. With the sound of something being crushed, the three-pronged speargun broke through and tore off the one wing. It fell apart in midair and countless shards resembling glass or plastic scattered across the corridor.

(No. Did she intentionally place that in the attack’s way to slightly divert its path…?)

“Olivia!!”

The rising seawater caught at Kyousuke’s feet as he ran toward his vessel. That Kingdom F royal vessel could control Materials with great precision, but she was only a girl as soft as a kitten or chick without the blessing of an Incense Grenade.

He half dove over to grab at her torso and bring her to the floor. They both ended up in the seawater, but they did not have time to grimace at the unpleasant sensation. The broken ultimate weapon turned her head and the eyes peering out through the gaps in her bangs landed on that pair.

Kyousuke thought this was a good sign.

He could just barely see War Criminal out of the corner of his eye, but the Colorless Little Girl did not give him a chance to speak with him. Olivia threatened to slip from his grasp since her swimsuit had soaked up so much water, so he wrapped his arms around her slender body, picked her up, and passed through a nearby watertight door without looking aside.

Once he had shut the thick door and turned the round handle to seal it, pale-faced Olivia shouted from under his arm.

“What was that!? Wh-wh-what do we do, Onii-chan!?”

“We can relax as long as she’s fixated on me. If I run away, War Criminal and the rest won’t be killed instantly. Assuming Illegal doesn’t poke the hornet’s nest.”

“You need to think up a way for you to survive first! Y-you’re saying you’re going to keep her on your tail while you leave the submarine, aren’t you!?”

“More or less.”

“B-but what about System Atlantis? If we don’t destroy the computer on this submarine, we can’t stop the video supporting the Silver Resource War. My Kingdom F could be labeled part of the East Europe Axis so they can make their overclocking doll. Are you just going to let that Unexplored-class destroy it?”

“I don’t want to sacrifice any of the crew, so tearing the entire sub in two is not an option.”

“You aren’t saying we have to search through this maze of a submarine, are you?”

“About that…”

Loud footsteps sounded. They were in front of a sealed watertight door, so they were at a dead end. Crewmembers wielding shotguns appeared from around corners and stairways along the steel corridor.

They gave no warning before aiming the weapons at Kyousuke and Olivia.

Were they Illegal soldiers who had not been given vessels?

Kyousuke pulled on Olivia’s hand and ran inside a nearby cabin. Then he clicked his tongue. They were both soaked with seawater, so their wet footprints made it obvious where they were hidden.

A few gunshots rang out, the shot bounced around the corridor like pinballs, and then a young male voice gave a belated warning.

“Stop! Don’t leave that room! Stop, dammit!”

He had clearly forgotten his training and the commands were a mess. Sensing the impatience and fear in that, Kyousuke somewhat narrowed his eyes. It may have been naïve after being shot at so much, but he shouted back while holding Olivia under his arm.

“Stay away from the door if you don’t want to die! You’re up against an Unexplored-class, so she can slice through it like butter if she wants to!!”

He heard some gasps, but they did not shout back in anger or confusion.

A great cacophony of destruction followed. But not from the sealed door Kyousuke and Olivia had escaped through. It was a familiar noise. It was a scream from the submarine itself as the thick hull was torn like wet paper and high-pressure water poured in like a water cutter. And that directly hit the crew.

They had no hope of fighting back.

Instead, flat voices could be heard muttering.

“…”

“Oh…extraordinary…please…this…”

“…Sob. Oh, White Queen who guides us to victory in extraordinary battles, please reach out to this fragile human soul….uwehh…”

They had to be aware of the Queen’s death. And they had to know who had caused it.

So was clinging to that transcendent being the only way they could maintain any calm in their hearts?

An inescapable pressure bore down on them, just like a ritual preceding mass suicide.

“O-Onii-chan…”

“…”

Kyousuke carefully stuck his head out into the corridor to observe. The outer wall had been torn open in a few places and blade-like white torrents were bursting in. The crew lay collapsed on the ground after the masses of water struck them.

A small hand waved at him from the wall.

And then the hand pulled back.

Instead of breaking through the watertight door, she had used the hole in the hull to reenter the ocean and then created a new hole. The Colorless Little Girl had killed the White Queen, so the water pressure and lack of oxygen may have been meaningless to her.

While splashing through the thin film of water already covering the floor, Kyousuke carried Olivia through the corridor. The crewmembers lying face-up on the floor wore cellulose nanofiber bulletproof vests. That special material used plant fiber to provide strength five times greater than steel, but the center of each one was dented inwards by the ultra-high-pressure water.

“Uuh…”

They uttered scratchy groans.

They were still breathing, but not because they had been lucky. Good luck would never be enough when faced with the Colorless Little Girl who had executed the strongest of the strongest. A flesh-and-blood human could never escape an extraordinary Unexplored-class, so there had to be a reason behind this result.

The Colorless Little Girl was intentionally holding back.

Or rather, she was following Shiroyama Kyousuke’s methods.

“…Is she trying to save me? Is that what this is?

He recalled how that small hand had waved as if saying hi before pulling back into the territory of death. This was an oddly broken sort of obedience very different from the White Queen’s high pressure love.

“O-Onii-chan, I don’t think we have time to stop and think.”

Olivia sounded worried as she twisted her own drenched body and wrapped her arms around herself to squeeze the water from her swimsuit like she was wringing out a rag.

Seawater continued to pour inside and the submarine would be unable to surface if this continued. Forcibly moving it while its balance was off would only cause it to roll over. Their only choice would be to wait inside the giant metal coffin until their oxygen ran out. He had to view the Colorless Little Girl as an out-of-control weapon that intended to provide covering fire but instead shot her ally in the back.

“Hey. Get up. Hey!”

“Ghh.”

“Prepare the filler and pumps. If the Colorless Little Girl destroys the hull any further, there will be no saving the sub. You need to seal the holes and pump out the water before that happens. Hurry!!”

“…Why do I have to listen to you…?”

“I’ll draw her away. I’ll remove her from the submarine entirely. How’s that for a bargaining chip?”

The crewmember fell silent.

Was he surprised or could he not rid himself of his doubt?

“There’s a lot I don’t know about the Colorless Little Girl’s behavior, but she should be fixated on me. I want to leave the submarine before the damage spreads any further. This sub is a San Francisco-class sold off by the US Navy, right? I saw on our approach that its combat functionality has been restored, but what about the direct undersea launch mass drivers?”

“…”

“The San Francisco-class was mass-produced and I know the basic layout and specs, so don’t try to lie to me. I want the giant railgun that can launch shells into orbit from depths up to 2000 meters. Using supercavitation, the shell can break the sound barrier even within the ocean’s high resistance. A San Francisco-class should have 16 vertical launch platforms on the submarine’s upper surface. It will be too late to drive us out once the Colorless Little Girl breaks the sub in two. And a sub that doesn’t exist on paper can’t send out a distress signal. Even if some country notices the signal, they’ll ignore it out of fear of being dragged into an international incident. Once this thing becomes a metal coffin, your odds of survival are nil. Everyone is watching, so try to make a mature decision.”

“Th-…”

There was nothing he could do.

The young crewmember knew that, but he just about snapped back on reflex.

That was when the Colorless Little Girl’s soft and squishy hand broke through the thick hull once more. Olivia screamed and Kyousuke pulled her close. A blast of ultra-high-pressure water shot out like a giant’s sword and just barely missed the double blonde braid girl’s face before slicing right through a thick pipe on the wall.

Had it been the hostility and resistance to Shiroyama Kyousuke?

If that was all it took for the Colorless Little Girl to act, then this really was the worst. The trigger was far too loose.

The pale-faced crewmember trembled on the floor and raised both hands.

“Okay, okay! I’ll do what you say. Just get that monster out of here!!”

“The mass driver.”

“The diagram supplied to us by Toy Dream is not reliable! We only know what information we’ve seen for ourselves. Of the 16 platforms, only 8 have been revived. They take up space, so if all of them were revived, they wouldn’t have had enough space for new equipment!!”

“Ah,” said Olivia wildly. “That’s right, Onii-chan. System Atlantis is on this submarine, isn’t it? What do we do about that?”

“…”

“I’ll talk!!” shrilly replied the crewmember. “System Atlantis is not on this submarine. This is just another relay station.”

“Eh?”

“It’s only connected to a distant antenna buoy by fiber optic cable. That’s what makes contact with System Atlantis. It’s on a space station in orbit!!”

Olivia looked shocked, but Kyousuke looked like he had found the answer he had been looking for. He had been wondering why War Criminal had not seemed to care if the submarine was destroyed from within despite supposedly being here to protect it. He would never have done that if it contained equipment he could not afford to have destroyed. He would also have been more worried about damage to the equipment than the oxygen supply when the flooding began.

“A cruise ship, the deep sea…and now outer space…???” asked Olivia.

“But why wouldn’t they use the Missing Princess’s antenna tower to directly communicate with the satellite? Oh, I get it.”

“Space looks like it’s out of anyone’s reach, but it doesn’t actually provide that much of an advantage,” explained the crewmember. “A single ballistic missile fired from a silo could shoot it down and civilian companies are beginning to reach space these days. So they hid that System Atlantis was on the space station…on Toy Dream OP-01 and then placed the communication equipment on a submarine to erase it from the globe. Space and the deep sea. You can’t find those locations on a search engine’s satellite map. It was a form of double camouflage.”

“That’s perfect then. Let’s use the direct undersea launch mass driver to leave the submarine and make our way to Toy Dream OP-01.”

“Wait.”

“You still want to follow the rules? Well, I won’t stop you if you’d rather share this metal coffin with us.”

They had a plan.

Kyousuke grabbed a dropped shotgun from the wet floor and the young crewmember’s shoulders jumped. But Kyousuke only removed the shells and pressed the empty gun against the crewmember’s chest.

Seeing Kyousuke wink and raise his hands, Olivia raised her hands too.

“You can take the credit.”

“…”

“You’re free to draw your loaded sidearm if you want, but not even I can predict what the broken Colorless Little Girl will do. You saw how frightening seawater is just now, didn’t you? If you provoke her and her attack moves past the point of no return, you are responsible for the death of the 100 or more crewmembers.”

With that, Kyousuke and Olivia walked boldly through the submarine while being held up. The other crewmembers gave them curious looks but then raced past while carrying filler materials like thick rubber mats and steel beams. Needless to say, the young crewmember was holding a shotgun behind them, so it looked like they were being led away after been captured.

“Uuh.”

“Olivia, don’t lower your hands. You’ve been fidgeting your butt around a lot, but what are you doing?”

“It feels gross, Onii-chan. You wouldn’t understand since you’ve never worn a wet Japanese school swimsuit after it cools down. I-it’s clinging to me…”

If he needed to do that to understand, then he never would understand.

The direct undersea launch mass drivers had originally been a crucial component of the nuclear submarine as a strategic weapon, but their importance had dropped now that it had been modified into a communication ship. The equipment remained, but there was no reason to ever use it. Thus, the loading room for one of the vertical electromagnetic tubes was not even guarded.

Once inside the empty steel room, Kyousuke lowered his hands.

“The San Francisco-classes had multipurpose platforms. That means they can launch more than just normal explosives or ABC weapons. They can also launch containers loaded with supplies or actual troops. So we can have it carry us just fine.”

“Sigh. Is there a towel or something anywhere? I just…I just want to dry off!”

There were some rags, but they were all covered in machine oil.

Meanwhile, the crewmember who had guided them here spoke up nervously.

“You can do that if you want, but how are you going to fire it? Surely you aren’t going to have me take control of the strictly-guarded combat command all on my own.”

“I don’t need that much from you. I said it’s a multipurpose platform, didn’t I? Since they allegedly have peaceful uses, the San Francisco-class’s trigger is much lighter than most. It won’t be like a war movie where you have to read off a one-time-use launch code and then turn two keys at once.”

“Are you serious…?”

“Now do you understand what kind of place you’ve been working in? That’s the real reason a military reduction treaty was used to force these into early decommission. Bring over the explosion-resistant briefcase in the glass case on the wall. That’s the repair kit for reconnecting the severed wiring.”

“Wait, wait. What kind of magic are you going to use now?”

“After reattaching the wiring, there’s a special sequence you can do to reset the entire ship’s system. Then a single command from the briefcase’s test laptop can bypass combat command and fire the mass driver.”

The young crewmember blinked several times.

It seemed to take him a moment to grasp what Kyousuke had just said.

“I-isn’t this a multipurpose platform that can carry strategic weapons into orbit…?”

“Now do you see why Russia was so mad? Okay, let’s get started.”

Part 7

A giant javelin shot from one of the vertical electromagnetic tubes lining the submarine’s upper surface.

Part 8

Unbelievable pressure pushed down on the two of them.

It had been launched from within the ocean, but the 10m mass of metal easily moved well past the speed of sound on its way to the surface. Water generally had far greater resistance than air, but when using a special condition such as supercavitation, the water resistance could be drastically reduced, making supersonic movement quite possible.

After breaching the surface, the supercavitation cup separated from the tip of the shell. The shell below was designed to handle air resistance, so it maintained its momentum as it blasted through the white clouds.

Yes, unlike a normal rocket, there were no used-up boosters that separated from the bottom one at a time. With a mass driver, the initial velocity was everything and there was no additional acceleration. Instead, it reduced the frictional loss as much as possible by detaching different cups designed to match the ocean, the air at low altitude, and the air at high altitude.

When used as a weapon, the shell would be loaded with a cartridge carrying any number of explosives or an ABC weapon. Or it could fill itself with seawater to increase its weight and drop onto its target from ballistic flight to cheaply produce a mass weapon that rivalled a meteor or asteroid strike.

“Nheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!”

“Olivia, bear with it. It won’t even take five minutes to arrive.”

However.

A creaking sound rang in his eardrums.

Something was growing from the seam of the thick airlock. It was a swan wing dyed the red of oxygenated blood. Kyousuke held Olivia’s small body and clicked his tongue as the dark color dropped straight down. With solid flashes, more and more deadbolts were sliced through and then the thick door itself was thrown out into the empty air.

The person on the other side came as no surprise.

“War Criminal…!!”

“Come out and playyyyyyyy!! Kyousuke-chaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!!!!”

How had he caught up?

One of the book girl’s dark-red swan wings had been torn away, but the remaining wing was wrapped around the roaring Boy A. If they had simply been clinging to the shell while it flew at escape velocity, they would have been burned away by the air’s friction. The Repliglass wing must have used subtle movements to fully control the fluid motion so it was diverted away. Even so, the stench of scorched hair reached Kyousuke’s nose.

Meanwhile, Kyousuke and Olivia were doomed because they had lost the thick airlock meant to protect them. At this rate, they would be fried by the friction, especially when they entered thermosphere located higher even than the ionosphere. And even if they did survive that, only the vacuum of space awaited them.

They had no future like this.

What was the key to escaping this situation?

“…”

A dull sound rang out.

It was the sound of Kyousuke dropping an Incense Grenade (sans pin) from his hand. If he set up an Artificial Sacred Ground, the summoner could escape any form of death with the protective circle and the vessel could do the same with the tough body of the Material.

And thanks to the Colorless Little Girl’s interference, they had never finished their battle.

As the tremendous pressure bore down on him, Kyousuke drew the Blood-Sign from his back and spoke quietly.

“Let’s settle this already, you piece of shit.”

A moment later, the intense friction caused everything around them to glow orange.

Between the Lines 2

“Oh.”

Aika’s back dropped straight down in her Toy Dream 35 luxury apartment. The 5m white liger she used as a sofa had sensed a visitor before the doorbell even rang, so she flattened her ears and shrank down in fear. That gave Aika a pretty good guess as to who it was. It was daytime, but it was still too early for a package from an online store.

“Feels good to be back at my second home.”

“…It’s the stock prices hag monster…”

“I brought some almond jelly from a favorite restaurant of mine, but would you prefer I ate it all myself.”

Aika’s mood took a 180 as she raised her hands and cheered.

Lu Niang Lan, the modified China dress beauty, crossed the living room like she owned the place and made her way to the kitchen space. She was not Aika’s girlfriend and yet she knew where things were stored in the kitchen better than Aika since the girl could not cook.

“Hurry, hurry.”

“Hold on, hold on. This dessert isn’t going to taste very good on an empty stomach, is it? These things are best after a meal. I made sure to keep some rice stocked in your freezer, so just reheat that on the stove and…would some quick fried rice be best for midday? I don’t feel like washing all the dishes it would take for a soup or ankake.”

“…Yay! I want crab fried rice.”

“You don’t have anything that nice in your fridge. You’d get mad if I used the fish paste imitation stuff, right? But let’s see…if you want seafood, and shellfish in particular…oh, I just found some convenience store sakura shrimp snacks. Were these for a late night snack? Anyway, I’ll use those as the main ingredient. If I add some onion, green onion, garlic, shiitake, and a beaten egg, it should be good enough.”

“Isn’t that a lot of veggies? There were two different kinds of onion…”

“Heating the shrimp causes a variety of things to seep out of the shell. Its flavor would be overpowering, so you need this much to get the overall flavor and texture right.”

After putting an apron on over her modified China dress, Lu Niang Lan began cooking. She was a quick and precise cook. She avoided any unnecessary adlibbing and shook the heated wok while providing the exact right temperature and amounts with the precision of a clockwork doll.

…Aproned Lu Niang Lan had both her hands full and her back to a wild animal while giving off a mouthwatering aroma, but the 5m white liger only shrank down even further. The modified China dress beauty was only humming and fixing some lunch, but the liger’s animal instincts told her something. It was not that Lu Niang Lan did not have her guard down. She was dangerous even when she had her guard down. Trying to play with her from behind right now would probably only get the liger’s jaw broken by her heel. The strike would be even harder than a racehorse’s hind leg.

Lu Niang Lan herself was completely relaxed as she carried a tray back into the living room. The fried rice was piled up into a dome shape and one of the main sakura shrimps was placed on top. The tray also carried some jasmine tea and the almond jelly dessert. The modified China dress beauty supported the bottom of the tray with her five fingers and she lined the dishes up on the dining room table by bending her slender back. Each and every movement was graceful. The assassin’s habit of using her allure to create openings in a target had permeated her to the bone.

“Here you go.”

“…Hm? Doesn’t this smell a lot like garlic?”

“That would be because I used the flavored sakura shrimps you bought at the convenience store. These were left over from the ones you bought to fill your stomach while browsing the internet late at night. But, look, I made the jasmine tea on the stronger side to counteract it.”

“…If you say so. Anyway, what happened with your money?”

“So you’re actually interested in that?” The modified China dress beauty breathed an exasperated sigh while reaching behind her to undo the apron. “I’ve decided on a new strategy. If I try to protect my old financial foundation, I can’t stop the money from slipping from my fingers. Right now, the real money is in war! I’m going to start doing business with a focus on the Silver Resource War. I’m setting my sights on a dizzying world where I make deals involving chunks of pure gold as large as pieces of dry hardtack!!”

“…Isn’t Onii-chan involved in that? And you think you have any chance of predicting what’s going to happen…?”

Unlike a cooking show, Aika did not provide a lengthy description of the fried rice as she ate it.

But no matter how thankless Aika was, Lu Niang Lan knew she had won when the striped bikini girl’s spoon would not stop moving.

BloodSign v08 234.jpg

“Neh heh hehhhh☆”

“…What’s that for? And please stop poking my thighs with your toes below the table.”

“My, my. Your defenses are so much weaker than Kyousuke-chan’s.”

Lu Niang Lan moved her feet with enough finesse to test if she could untie the bows on either side of the girl’s striped bikini bottom.

“But if Kyousuke-chan is involved, then I can be pretty sure the war will be a dud in some way or another. And there are ways to use a bubble you know is going to burst. You work up people’s fear more and more and more and then you sell and sell and sell just before it bursts.”

The false idea that Halley’s Comet’s tail would rob the earth of its oxygen had once been widespread, so common “air” had massively increased in value and even the rubber tubes for bicycles had flown off the shelves. How many contracts could she get signed before the earth’s population recovered from this panic? That was what Lu Niang Lan was talking about. If she took a worthless wasteland at the ends of the earth and called it a final shelter, it would sell for the asking price. Once the dust had settled and peace had returned, they would be puzzled why their room was filled with boxes of hardtack or they would feel silly for beginning to construct a useless cold sleep facility, but that was none of her concern.

Striped Bikini Aika must have built up a resistance to that kind of fear-driven business from the infomercials that played after late-night anime because she only sighed in exasperation.

“I’ve received word that Illegal has been seen hanging around the ship creating the videos to support the Silver Resource War. Are you sure you want it to be a dud?”

“We’re from different sections.” The modified China dress beauty sounded cheerful as she showed off the unfair ability to maintain her elegance while chowing down on her food. “Illegal is a collection of groups with conflicting interests: gangs, yakuza, cartels, churches, mafias, secret cabals, and even satanists and witch covens. We sometimes work together when our interests align, but no one wants a vertical hierarchy with a pyramid structure. We focus more on old-fashioned ironclad rules and bonds of blood than on modern law, but those only apply to the ‘sisters and brothers’ within a single group.”

“Meaning?”

“It’s none of my concern who from Illegal is there, unless it’s someone I know and like. Even if the leader is toppled, the overall framework of Illegal won’t go away. If that was all it took to take us out, we wouldn’t have been Government’s nemesis for so long when you’re working so hard to wipe us out. It doesn’t matter what individuals or groups are crushed. It’s like a beehive. We can seal up the cells that aren’t usable anymore. We just have to keep hatching the eggs faster than that. …Oh, and Illegal doesn’t have a queen bee. In every age, the petty bourgeois who are unfairly rejected by justice will blossom as a great evil.”

Lu Niang Lan gave a bewitching laugh.

Yes, that modified China dress beauty was one of Illegal’s elites, but she had once been the vessel closer than anyone else to the top of Government.

But she felt no particular debt of gratitude to the major power that had accepted her afterwards.

The wicked woman was simply a wicked woman.

She would play the role that Illegal wished of her.

“In fact, our current leader…War Criminal, was it? I don’t like him much. I could sleep muuuuuch more soundly if Kyousuke-chan would just take him out, but he never seems to go quite far enough. No, perhaps he refuses to allow that action even if it is only meant as a smokescreen.

“…I’m glad I don’t have to mess with all that…”

“I’ve experienced both and I’d say Government is just as bad.”

That was when a light electronic beep sounded.

It came from a character smartphone sitting on the living room table.

“Oh? Checking the internet now? Doing that at the table is rude, you know?”

“…I don’t want to hear that from the woman whose toes are trying to mess with my bikini strings…”

“The press and social media just won’t shut up about the coming war. Whether they’re at school or the office, everyone is focused on the Blue Film supporting the war. The traffic is so concentrated that I would avoid making an online payment or downloading a video right now. You wouldn’t want an intermittent signal for that.”

“…Take the internet from a shut-in and what will she have left? Don’t worry. I’ve altered the packets so my signal wouldn’t be dropped even if a kaiju stomped out of the ocean…”

“I see. Are you using the scramble system for emergency services? How Government of you.”

With the fried rice spoon held in her mouth, the striped bikini girl grabbed the character smartphone and operated it with her fingertips.

She accessed the special Assort Message that let you insert a Toy Dream fairy tale character into your messages.

But the simple and unadorned message she had received ignored 99% of that functionality:

I do not know who this is, but you do not seem to be a member of the family. The only other people who would know this address are the high-level maintenance and inspection staff.

That does not leave many suspects.

I am currently running through the list, including those who have retired.

The amount of time it takes for you to name yourself will be taken into consideration when determining how lenient to be with you. And of course, if I discover you first, there will be no lenience.

I once visited the Guantanamo detention camp in the hopes of finding some material, but there was no making a fairy tale out of that.

-Michelange Toydream

The swimsuit girl breathed a soft sigh.

This message was in response to the Assort Message she had sent before. It had not been an anonymous message and she had used the name Aika Toydream, but as expected, that had not been enough.

Even when she included an illustration of the World’s Happiest Girl.

Even when he had to have seen that character he had poured so much love into designing.

She had known this would happen.

When she posted her thoughts about a late-night anime or video game on a message board or social media, she would receive no response whatsoever. Summoners and vessels who had earned a certain number of Awards would vanish from normal people’s minds unless they were directly in their line of sight. Thus, anything done over the internet would be ignored like they were “someone worthless”.

That was not a huge deal on a message board anyone could post on, but if that “someone” appeared on a home network where outsiders had been eliminated like germs in a sterilized room, it would be found suspicious.

That could not just be ignored.

But that did not matter here.

Aika somewhat narrowed her eyes, wiggled the handle of the spoon sticking out of her mouth, and finally wrote a reply:

I have already provided my name, but I doubt you will understand that. Nor does it matter at the moment.

You have gone too far.

Pull out of the Silver Resource War right this instant.

This is beyond the point to even be thinking about leniency.

She could send these Assort Messages all day and he would never take her words seriously. There would be no sudden miracle for the girl who had vanished from 7 billion people’s memories thanks to the heartless rules. And Aika was not hoping for that. She was merely scattering bait. She had intended to continue sending messages until he bit, but the reaction was swift.

Several soft electronic beeps sounded.

(High-level maintenance and inspection staff. In that case…)

“Hieroglyph, hm?”

“Nweh? Are you talking about security?”

She was receiving popups warning her of an attack attempting to trace the signal of her message. It was being stopped just before reaching her and Aika had used the computer to analyze the attack method to learn what she could about this opponent.

This was only the Toydream family’s home network, but the family’s discussions were a greater crucible for important ideas and business decisions than the mainframe in the US headquarters. It used more than a normal ISP contract or personal proxy server. A data management company had to be defending it as their top priority.

That same company was well-known for its unique encryption technology. The encryption’s strength may have been even greater than the official mobile device of a country’s president, but Aika had a few tricks up her sleeve.

First, she was a member of the Toydream family.

And second, she had the authority of Government, the world police who crossed national borders.

(Hieroglyph is a high-level data security company that specializes in government and corporate contracts. Oh, there it is. They’re already registered as one of Government’s subordinate organizations. Now, then. I’ve extracted the text report, so let’s get this done real quick.)

She could strip the Toydream family’s home network bare by attacking Hieroglyph, but Aika was not the kind of skilled hacker seen in movies. And she did not need to be to break through that high level data security company’s firewall.

She now reached for a notebook-sized tablet filled with thousands, if not tens of thousands, of addresses.

She only had to send a businesslike email somewhere else:

A request from Award 870, Hikikomori.

Top Priority.

The local network containing my list of secret operations as an intermediary is under cyber-attack. I am just barely stopping it, but I cannot guarantee how long that will last since the attack is by a group with specialized skills.

In the worst case, there could be a leak of names, addresses, and other dangerous information on summoners, vessels, and clients who support Government. If word gets out who ordered and who carried out which operations, they could be exposed to retaliatory attacks.

Respond to this threat immediately.

I believe the target is the high-level data security company Hieroglyph. This is an organized attack from within Government, but keep in mind the possibility of internal conflict within Government or a connection to another group like Illegal.

Please use the attached report to determine the specific target.

“…Okay.”

The one-sided attack from Hieroglyph was real. An expert would be able to see that when they read the alphanumeric report she had extracted as text data. From there, Government’s elites would use a thorough cyber-attack to strip Hieroglyph bare.

Hieroglyph was a first-class company that protected the US government and major corporations, but they were only a subordinate organization for Government as a whole. If the true elites got off their butts, the end result could not be more obvious.

She received word only four minutes later:

Operation complete. We will provide the master key to the target company’s entire intranet. Please use the designated method to perform a search for stolen data. Any names and other text data you input will not be saved in any form, so do not worry.

That completed the first phase.

America’s plans and Illegal’s plotting did not matter. She only wanted to know how President Toydream had become twisted into supporting the Silver Resource War.

And that piece of information awaited the girl inside that home network.

“Time to start the second phase…”

Facts

  • War Criminal was the neighbor found standing next to everyone, the common everyday Boy A. He is the polar opposite of Elvast who reigned as king of Government.
  • Enemy and ally can both summon the same Regulation-class, but that is not necessarily true for the Divine-class and above.
  • In the world of the Summoning Ceremony, the actual strength of the gods is less important than how much of that strength can be drawn out based on the Cost and Sound Range. Thus, you are not guaranteed to win if you summon the head god of a mythology or religion.
  • War Criminal plans to strengthen the White Queen by more efficiently drawing out her power through an artificial vessel. This is based on the technical information leaked from Pandemonium.
  • The Colorless Little Girl directly destroyed the Artificial Sacred Ground and forcibly interrupted a summoner battle. That suggests that a summoner who uses the Third Summoning Ceremony would be unable to complete a battle with and defeat her.
  • System Atlantis was not on the submarine either. Based on War Criminal’s behavior and the testimony of a crewmember, it was revealed to be on the Toy Dream OP-01 space station.
  • The Colorless Little Girl has grown attached to Shiroyama Kyousuke. It is impossible for him to control her, but she shows signs of trying to protect him in her own way. She is obedient, which differs from how the White Queen forces her love onto him. However, she has gone berserk and his safety is not guaranteed. The risk is so great that not even Kyousuke can predict her actions.


Notes

  1. Irigaru Tarou basically means Illegal Boy.
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