The Unexplored Summon Blood Sign:Volume9 Stage1
Stage 01: A World of Ruin Indulges in Chaos
“Are you ready now?”
(Stage 01 Open 08/21 09:00)
A World of Ruin Indulges in Chaos
Down with the Queen.
Most of the people populating this planet would have no idea what that phrase meant. Even so, it eerily began spreading on its own. People used it when they wanted to gather attention on a video sharing site. It appeared as a social media hashtag. It was the name of a famous artist’s song or the theme for their concert tour. It was given impressive renderings as spray-painted wall art. It even covered the placards and banners carried by the protestors filling the streets.
“Wow, they’re really running with that, aren’t they?”
On the top floor of a luxury apartment in Toy Dream 35, the swimsuit girl named Aika was being very unkind to the planet by keeping the air conditioning at 19 degrees despite the midsummer heat outside. She used her 5m white liger as a sofa while she commented on the commotion which had even more of a presence than the cicadas crying outside the windows.
The tablet she held was linked to a projector that displayed some footage over the entire ceiling. But the deep rumbling could not be explained by the audio and video of some online news.
These protests were not isolated to the screen.
If she opened the curtains, she would find thousands or even tens of thousands of people participating in protests – no, they were riots at this point – within Toy Dream 35.
On the video chat, the modified China dress beauty named Lu Niang Lan spoke with exasperation in her voice.
“None of them can even know who they mean by ‘the Queen’, but they’re still wasting their summer break on this. Those normal people have never even heard of the Blood-Sign Summoning Ceremony, so who do they think they’re mad at?”
“There is such a thing as anger without an outlet and anxiety without a cause.”
“Is that any reason to attack pawnshops and prize exchange shops? And a few Illegal front shops have been destroyed in the process! That’s a huge problem!!”
“Invisible anxieties take aim at the weakest points and eventually lead to financial exploitation. Just like the victims of the witch hunts who had all their assets seized.”
The white and green striped bikini girl kept a dry attitude at times like this. She could not function as a Government intermediary otherwise.
People tended to think scientism, realism, and atheism were relatively widespread in Japan, but remnants of older beliefs were actually quite common. Many common idioms and phrases originally referred to mythical creatures and the fortunetellers who stared at a crystal ball while performing a cold reading to draw out their customer’s worries had only been replaced by AI speakers and big data. Despite claiming to be skeptics of everything, they had carried over quite a lot by simply changing the box they put it in. Truth could be found in lies, but the opposite was also possible. This country’s darkness had not been illuminated enough for the mystical to have no hold on the people there.
Mythology and religion could shake them far deeper than they thought and without them even noticing. Normal people had no way of knowing about the opposition between the White Queen and the Colorless Little Girl, but the vague anxiety and fear had reached them. And because they did not know the identity of that internal pressure even as it passed its limit, they made bizarre actions as a way of protecting their own minds. Just like the popular question of what someone would do if they knew the world would end tomorrow.
But what about the real summoners and vessels who knew about the Blood-Sign System?
Did knowledge of the truth help them keep their cool?
The answer was no.
In fact, it may have been even worse.
As if to say there were some things you were better off not knowing.
“But is this any time to just watch it happen?” asked Lu Niang Lan. “Government is supposed to preserve order, so shouldn’t this be an even bigger problem for you?”
“To be honest, Government is an organization for protecting and punishing people. When the White Queen or Colorless Little Girl themselves are directly involved, it’s mostly outside of our control.”
“This is centered on him, isn’t it?”
“It is,” confirmed Aika while retying the side strap on her hip that had a habit of coming loose if she was not paying attention.
There would be no solution unless Shiroyama Kyousuke took action instead of rotting away in his cruiser.
“Would Kyousuke-chan even listen if someone said ‘help me’ right now? I mean, it’s really a miracle he never broke before this. The world was far too reliant on his good will.”
“Heh. Looks like this job is too much for the wet gunpowder that is some old lady’s seduction. If you want to trigger a response, you need to send in the cute little sister.”
“I’m going to let that one slide, but how does a year-round shut-in expect to go outside?”
With a grunt of effort, the swimsuit girl pulled out a stuffed doll with cartoonish proportions. The doll had unique twintails made by tying a braid into a loop on either side of its head, it only wore a striped bikini, and it was packed full of enough tech to walk upright in response to instructions from a tablet.
“I call it the Pretty Aika-chan Doll. You can even change its clothes. Now I can leave the apartment just fine as a shut-in, so Onii-chan will never again have to spend a night alone.”
“If this actually works, I will be seriously concerned about Kyousuke-chan’s future.”
It had begun as disbelief.
If he accused her of betraying him, would he be neglecting to consider her feelings? After all, he had never been given any kind of guarantee that Shigara Masami would unconditionally take his side.
Inside a cruiser moored at the yacht harbor at the bottom level of Toy Dream 35, Shiroyama Kyousuke lay motionless on his own double bed.
While so close to the water, the cries of the seagulls were louder than the cicada chorus. But a cacophony loud enough to forcibly mix everything up might have been better here.
A heavy gloom hung over the cruiser.
(Even at her level…)
He had seen a portion of Shigara Masami’s humanity and skill at the Queen’s Miniature Garden. If what he had later experienced through the Yellow Gills was true, then she was Freedom Award 3000, placing her far above Shiroyama Kyousuke’s Award 903 position.
Yes, and yet…
(Even a summoner at her level can be distorted like that? The White Queen’s powerful influence will even violate a mind on that level?)
Isn’t it for the best if there are no more victims? If you can reconcile your differences, isn’t it more productive to take advantage of this opportunity? The world should be filled with love and peace, so it’s obviously better to eliminate all conflict. Now, Kyousuke-kun, go make up with her and take the cutest and strongest White Queen for yourself. What could be better than that?☆
Was that really what the researcher was thinking?
“That can’t be right.”
Kyousuke could not go anywhere, so he simply groaned to himself.
Too many unwanted thoughts came to mind when he simply closed his eyes.
What about the tragedy at the Queen’s Miniature Garden? Or the civil war in Kingdom F? And he did not need to stick to the past. The White Queen was currently dragging so many people into this mess, including Meinokawa Renge and Higan.
“That can’t possibly be right.”
All’s well that ends well.
Could he really just brush it all off to have a happy ending? After everything that happened? She had done such horrific things. Could he really accept it just because Shigara Masami, one of the victims of the Queen’s Miniature Garden, had reappeared and said she did not mind? He had to stay true to himself and stand firm. The White Queen had caused half the world’s tragedies and Shiroyama Kyousuke was connected to the other half. He could not forget that. No matter who tried to offer him forgiveness.
The cocoon and the Colorless Little Girl were of secondary importance. The White Queen was the root cause of it all, so killing her would solve everything. He could not look away from that answer.
He could not seek a happy ending just for him and his friends.
He could not lose momentum, stop before reaching the finish line, and decide that was “close enough”.
A girl with long silver hair approached Kyousuke who was acting like his batteries had died. She looked just like the White Queen, but a close look would reveal some differences. For example, that white girl would never have worn a black bikini.
This was Meinokawa Aoi.
She was the Meinokawa Shrine’s secret object of worship and a Joruri Method vessel made to look just like the White Queen. She childishly pouted her lips and raised her voice louder than the cicadas.
“I don’t like this bait. I mean, I come from the mountains, so I’m used to small prawns and sliced wieners! I can’t bring myself to touch these wriggling ragworms and eunicids! Bait the hook for me, boy!!”
“Are you even listening? Oryah!!”
He heard a shout and then the blanket rose up at the foot of the bed. Bikini Aoi must have dived in headfirst like she was sticking her head into a tunnel. The area below the blanket was immediately filled with a warmth that could not be explained by Kyousuke’s body heat alone. No matter what she looked like, she was still an old lady on the inside, so she did not seem to have an issue with getting so close to a teenage boy.
“Hmm, sniff sniff. It smells strongly of boy in here.”
Aoi crawled ever upwards and ultimately stuck her head out from the blanket by Kyousuke’s face. And she raised her voice while looking him in the eye.
“Bwah! Anyway, do the bait! I can’t fish without new bait on the hook, so fix it, boy!!”
(Not even someone at Shigara Masami’s level could fight it.)
This was not enough to get a response from Kyousuke.
In fact, the more obvious a smile she gave him, the deeper he sank into his own thoughts.
He poked at the phone on the side table to check the time and found there were no missed calls. When a summoner or vessel had reached a certain Award level, they vanished from normal people’s memories and awareness when not in their direct line of sight. It was obvious, but that too was an issue of the rules. It was a part of the Blood-Sign rules, so there was no fighting it. That was just more proof of how easily people’s minds could be influenced.
And the White Queen stood at the peak of the Summoning Ceremony.
To repeat, people’s minds were easily influenced.
(Then what about everyone else? What’s the point of anything I’ve done? I saved them because they asked for help, but if their definition of happiness can be distorted by the white, then what do the words “help me” even mean???)
Zoning out turned out to be a bad idea.
While still lost in thought, old habits moved his body. Specifically, he placed a hand on Meinokawa Aoi’s silver-haired head and stroked it as if soothing a small child.
“W-wait, this is not what I asked for! The bait! I only wanted you to bait the hook! Ahh, yes. Right there. Gently massage my scalp…ah!? W-w-wait, no, I need to resist!!”
That was not enough to silence her, so Kyousuke picked Aoi up and carried her to the bath.
While he used shampoo to roughly work up a lather on her head, the world’s oldest Joruri Method finally realized what was going on.
“Hold it! I think I’ve figured this out! You don’t know who I am, do you!? Wake up! I might look the same, but I am not the White Queen!! You really do have a hard time separating love from hate, don’t you!? What a pain!!”
She may have been lucky her black bikini was a little trickier than average. Otherwise, he might have stripped off her clothes before placing her in the bath based on his autopilot programmed at the Miniature Garden. From beginning to end, Kyousuke never really looked at Aoi. He stared into the distance while washing the bubbles away with warm water from the showerhead. Then he left the shower room on his own and collapsed right back into the double bed. It all looked like someone mindlessly constructing boxes on a conveyer belt.
The Joruri Method looked a bit dissatisfied at not being given any conditioner or hair treatment, but she still left the bath and placed a towel over her head.
She looked down at the empty shell of a summoner and breathed an exasperated sigh.
“He has it really bad.”
It was a surprising blind spot.
“I never thought I would be able to work part-time at school.”
Braided and bespectacled Librarian-chan spoke her soul.
Ever-expanding cumulonimbus clouds floated in an otherwise clear blue sky.
Due to all the bushes and trees growing on the school grounds, the noisy cicadas were out in full force.
August was approaching its end, but summer break was not over yet. And lately, schools had begun opening themselves up to the public after school to provide communication opportunities outside of studying. As an extension of that, this was naturally the most popular part of the school during the summer.
The pool had been opened up.
“Yes, yes. That’s dangerous, so please stop it. Fwee, fwee, fwee, fwee!! Stop lining up the kickboards to try to run across the water! I said stop it!!”
Why was Librarian-chan sitting in the lifeguard seat blowing on a whistle when she was not all that good a swimmer herself? Because she was Librarian-chan. A close observation of the pool would show boys and girls in non-school swimsuits holding waterproof packages made of thick plastic. They were book covers designed for reading in the bath.
(I know it’s a campaign to increase the reading rate during midsummer, but I still don’t like bringing paper anywhere near the water.)
In her dark blue swimsuit, Librarian-chan grumbled in her heart. This was originally a library-led event, not a pool event. During summer break, the only thing the school library had going for it was the quiet and the air conditioning. But it was a cruel world out there and everything needed some way of drawing in users.
“Oh, Librarian-chan? Are you so straight-laced you wear the boring old school swimsuit at an event like this? Wow.”
“Oh, god. Why did I have to run into a classmate on the job!? This is hell!!”
“The customer is your god, so you’d damn well better treat me with care.”
The classmate was Rendou Akiya(♂). The odds of running into a classmate were likely higher than at a normal job since this one used a school facility. But that did not mean she had to like it. This classmate had his chestnut hair tied back and normally wore a girl’s uniform as a fashion statement, but today he wore a bright yellow two-piece swimsuit that used frilly cloth to subtly hide the shape of the chest and hips. And wasn’t that swimsuit the hot new product from Wet & Smith!?
“Also, a form-fitting school swimsuit really only works with a flat chest or giant tits. You can’t draw out the true charm of a school swimsuit with average proportions.”
“Well, you talk like a boy if nothing else.”
“Just look at the Student Council President! See how the threads holding on that ‘Benikomichi Fuuki’ nametag are straining and about to burst? Now that’s how you do a high schooler’s school swimsuit! Hell yeah!!”
“Wait, why is she forcing that excessively curvy body into a school swimsuit!? And that nametag is written in hiragana like it was written by an elementary school kid! That just makes it look indecent!!”
And speaking of nametags…
“Hey, Librarian-chan, what’s that on your swimsuit’s nametag? Some kind of nickname???”
“It’s my real name! Who would write ‘Librarian’ on here!?”
Librarian-chan sighed at that person whose bodylines somehow still looked feminine in a swimsuit.
“I really don’t want to pursue this too far, but which locker room did you use?”
“Do you take me for a fool, average girl? I only dress this way as a fashion statement, so I’m not going to use my appearance to shamelessly satisfy my love of peeping.”
Did this mean that someone who looked that pretty (she hated to admit it, but that guy looked more feminine than she did!!) had marched into the boy’s locker room, stripped off his clothes, and changed into that swimsuit? While battling this harsh reality in her school-approved swimsuit, Librarian-chan was worried that him using the boy’s locker room would cause just as much chaos as the opposite. And as the part-time lifeguard, it was her duty to preserve the peace of this small slice of the world.
“You can’t get in the pool without borrowing a book, so what do you want to read?”
“100 Simple Snacks Made With Pancake Mix.”
Just how high were his femininity points?
The readings were so high he was reaching the level of a young wife.
Fixing a bento out of necessity was one thing, but these snacks were an extra luxury. Not even a serious(?) girl like Librarian-chan went for handmade food. In an age when you could get decent coffee and donuts at any convenience store, why would anyone need to work with pancake mix? These thoughts were rapidly draining away the braided glasses girl’s femininity points, but she seemed oblivious of the severity of her situation.
“Well, take your time and relax. I hope this cookbook will come in handy for you. Yes, I hope the combination of sugar, flour, and lots and lots of femininity points will shatter the pride of girls all over the city. Gwa ha ha ha!”
“Y’know, we went to the same middle school, but do you have an older sister? This summer I met someone with the same family name as your nametag.”
“What!? Wait just a second! Are you making those snacks to hit on my sister? You have to be joking! I can’t imagine anything more awkward than the possibility of a family member and a classmate dating!!”
This was a very serious issue.
Librarian-chan frantically leaned out from the lifeguard seat in her school swimsuit, but she was unable to get to the bottom of the matter.
She was interrupted by a deep tremor. It came from awfully close by and was not at all something from a normal school life.
Toy Dream 35 was made up of countless skyscrapers rising from the ocean and countless giant bridges that connecting those buildings. This was a large midair garden about as wide as a train station plaza or a small park.
The August sun shined brightly.
White cumulonimbus clouds floated overhead.
But despite that cheerful scene, the world on the surface was endlessly gloomy.
“Where’s the commotion this time?”
“Right next to Club Resistance in R Block. Are you kidding me? That’s Illegal’s turf!!”
The modified China dress beauty named Lu Niang Lan shouted in annoyance to answer the transmission from shut-in girl Aika. Since she was sharing this information with Government, she likely intended to remove all equipment from this facility and abandon it now that this commotion had drawn too much attention. A criminal organization like Illegal worked best when hidden.
This facility had been built in the same block as so many schools in order to function as a “gateway club”. It found new recruits by getting the good students to stop by after school, give them a taste of the spoils of illicit activities, and have them drop out. The underworld could not function if the organizations were nothing but muscular mohawked men. That type would drop out on their own and every industry wanted the genius boys and genius girls who were at the top of their class.
But in this case, there was a more important issue.
“Club Resistance has lots of communication equipment which is officially for streaming online concerts. Summoners and vessels have difficulty with the internet since normal people forget about us when we aren’t in their line of sight, right? So nothing we post gets a response. Renting online videos which only requires interacting with another machine is fine, but orders from online stores that require people to pack them up and ship them out will be completely forgotten. That’s why we use intermediaries who have stayed at less than Award 100.”
“Ugh, as a veteran shut-in, I know exactly what you mean. Illegal might be the enemy, but you have my sympathy. What do we have left if you take our network from us?”
“Illegal’s dark web communication bases are convenient, but they double as archives due to all the data that naturally gathers there. Even gathering up all the temporary files would provide a lot of data. Especially when it comes to data sources related to the Summoning Ceremony and Materials.”
“This is another side effect of this age of chaos. Someone is probably demanding all the data we have on the White Queen and the Colorless Little Girl. Toh!!’
She stopped speaking, swished the bottom of her modified China dress around, placed a hand on the bridge railing, and immediately jumped out into empty air. She was about 150m above the ocean surface, but there was no need to calculate that out. Not all of the bridges were at the same height. They crossed over each other in a complex three-dimensional arrangement, so she had only jumped down onto one a level lower.
That placed her right in front of Club Resistance.
She did not take her time to land, prepare, and then attack the enemy.
She did it all in one flowing motion. She placed her legs on the shoulders of the man she was attacking, squeezed his neck, and then made a vertical half rotation. With a windmill-like movement, she slammed the top of his head against the asphalt floor.
The shaking sent cicadas flying from a nearby roadside tree.
She was now below a mist sprayer to provide some relief from the heat.
She did not bother introducing herself to the vessel girl who was unsure what to do now that her summoner had been taken out so quickly.
Without the Summoning Ceremony, the vessel was no more than a human.
The girl tried to pull a handgun from her hip like it was the natural thing to do.
But with her palms still pressed against the ground, the modified China dress beauty spun herself around like she was breakdancing. This time, she made a horizontal rotation. The vessel just barely managed to jump back to keep her slender legs out of reach and she pulled the trigger, but a dull impact hit the side of her head.
The artificial mist was swept several meters to the side.
Lu Niang Lan had used a Saryuda.
That was a binding tool made by attaching anchor-like clasps to the end of a metal chain. Instead of swinging it around to grab at a fleeing opponent’s clothing, she used it to extend the reach of her spinning kick.
It only took the one hit.
The blow from the side shifted the handgun’s aim, so the bullet blew a hole in the mist sprayer’s water pipe instead of Lu Niang Lan.
With a low watery gurgle, a puddle quickly formed.
The vessel girl collapsed to the side without as much as a scream. Lu Niang Lan sighed while returning the metal chain to her modified China dress so smoothly it looked like a snake moving on its own.
“Hey, you walking obscenity,” cut in Aika.
“My bodylines are a thing of beauty, so I have no problem showing them off.”
“Even when people can see the outlines of all the secret toys hidden under your clothes?”
“Oh, how indecent of me. And I call myself the Perfect Dragon?”
That woman primarily carried items that would violate the Swords and Firearms Control Law, so she finally started worrying about her silhouette and pinched and tugged at her modified China dress. By placing some air in between, she could hide what she was carrying within. She continued the effort while using her long leg to lightly kick the vessel’s head so she would face the other way. The girl would have drowned in the puddle otherwise.
Lu Niang Lan stopped at knocking them out.
She had a reason for not killing them right here and now.
She brushed up her bangs which looked even more charming while wet.
“I was worried we were leaking information from the dark web communication base, but I was wrong. It looks like this mess was entirely contained to Illegal even though we’re the ones who are supposed to be protecting Club Resistance.”
“Why were those scum interested in a nearby high school?”
“We were leeching off of a nearby public facility because we were afraid someone would notice the large server from the power consumption, but that didn’t work out so well.”
Neither did the enemy’s plan.
They were only after the data, but they did not cleverly make a cyber-attack from some remote location. Nor did they sneak in and swap out a ROM for one with their own malware on it. They had simply planned to blow open a wall, march into the facility, and directly steal a server blade or storage device. But they had been confused by the power leeching and decided to attack the school that had none of the data they wanted.
That just made it look like they were trying to cause as much damage and bloodshed as possible.
“Down with the Queen.”
Lu Niang Lan saw bloodshot eyes and heard a voice.
But it was hard to explain exactly who they belonged to. Several summoners raised their voices at once.
“Where is the Queeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeenn!!!???”
An affiliation with Government, Illegal, or Freedom no longer mattered. They were simply trying to escape the pressure created by the conflict between the White Queen and the Colorless Little Girl. So they were trying to kill one or the other. It was like the walls were closing in on them, so they felt the need to break through one of the walls to escape. And they were willing to do whatever it took to accomplish that. It was the same psychological pressure and desperation of someone who thought the world was ending tomorrow.
A three-way battle between factions was not an option here.
They would not even obey the rules of war.
Back when superstitions were spreading that the tail of Halley’s Comet would rob the earth of all its oxygen, people had apparently fought over rubber tire tubes in their desperation for air. During the oil shock when people believed the oil would dry up before long, products like gasoline, lamp oil, and even toilet paper had vanished from store shelves.
Unlike the normal people on the streets, summoners and vessels understood what the White Queen was. But that only brought more anxiety and fear. There were delusions one could only have when you had some but not all information on something.
How many people on the planet truly understood the White Queen?
Did anyone understand her more than Shiroyama Kyousuke, creator of the Colorless Little Girl?
That was why the professional summoners and vessels who thought they understood were actually the most dangerous. Just like the fools who saw something they should not have, their minds would break. Just like lunatics who mistakenly thought their minds were being influenced by invisible transmissions from space.
Those rioters approached as a single mass while smashing through everything in their way: a large bucket, a glass window, a car, and a planter. A frightened white cat bristled its fur, but they did not care it was a living creature in their path.
“Pipe down, all of you.”
Something large and white stole away a summoner from the side.
It was not a Material.
That 5m beast was a white liger who functioned as an animal vessel. Perhaps to provide instructions, the cartoonish Aika-chan doll rode on the creature’s back. The four-legged beast held her prey in her mouth lightly enough to keep him alive. She shook her head to swing him around before tossing the poor summoner off of the giant bridge.
The white cat mewed up at her, so the 5m white liger glanced down at it just once before moving on.
Real professionals would make the effort to maintain their sanity, so there was no need to sympathize with the summoners and vessels who had given up on that and joined the frenzy. They had failed to use their knowledge to erase their fear. Powerless normal people were one thing, but other professionals could be criticized for their insufficient effort. It was the same as Halley’s Comet, the oil shock, Nostradamus, the Mayan calendar, and the AI uprising. Amateurs could be forgiven, but the experts had to keep a cool head.
Because the qualifications of an expert gave them a greater influence and ability to cause harm.
“Since I’m from Government, I honestly couldn’t care less what happens to Illegal facilities and personnel, but there are quite a few schools in R Block. Government must uphold the principles of love and justice, so we can’t have anyone getting carried away and summoning a Material there.”
“How about you try saying that when you’re not releasing a 5m animal near those schools without a leash or collar, circus girl?”
The black-haired beauty gave that annoyed response while a bit bothered by how her China dress clung to her skin thanks to the mist sprayer and its broken pipe. Maybe doing things like this for everyone’s sake was just the Government way of thinking.
“Actually, aren’t there an awful lot of kids around here for summer break?” she asked.
“That high school was designated a wide-area evacuation point. If anything happens, the nearby residents will gather there.”
The modified China dress beauty held a hand to her cheek when she heard that.
“Just so you know, I’m not going to wave a little flag at the intersection to help all the kids find their way.”
“Liar. Everyone knows delinquents have a soft spot for lost children and kittens in the rain.”
Even during summer break, the schools in the area were not necessarily deserted.
Even the Original Series at Cost 1 would be too much for a normal person. Not even a gun or a metal door would protect you from them.
“The basic plan is to individually defeat the rogue summoner-vessel pairs before they can summon a Material.”
“What if we don’t manage it in time?” asked Aika. “The target will vanish from my video footage if they open an Artificial Sacred Ground.”
That was when they heard a reinforced concrete bridge creaking. But not because the number of gathered rioters had exceeded its weight limit.
It came from a different bridge a few dozen meters away.
A cubic area of the world had already been cut away and a scaly otherworldly being planted its four legs on that artificial land and opened its mighty jaws.
The Material itself could not leave the Artificial Sacred Ground, but the same did not apply to additional objects and projectiles like lightning or dragon breath.
(Illegal Award 908, Monster Freak!?)
“Stop giving Liger-chan any instructions and let her wild instincts take over.”
“Meanwhile, we need to gather their attention as best we can to distance them from the more populated areas!! Got that!?”
Lu Niang Lan did not have time to explain everything to Aika who could not see this.
She was only focused on the line of fire.
While drawing this opponent’s attention along a line that did not place the white cat or the children in danger, the modified China dress beauty and the white liger took evasive action at the exact same instant. A moment later, a beam of light burned up into Toy Dream 35’s sky, destroying an entire bridge on its way.
Meinokawa Aoi stopped curiously poking at the contents of a small bait box to make an odd noise.
Something quite large had fallen into the water very nearby.
The cruiser rocked below her. Not even an experienced and battle-hardened(?) granny like her could do anything about this. She did not even have time to find something to grab onto. The silver-haired bikini girl fell to the deck, supported herself on all fours, and then realized something: what had happened to the bait box? Her question was soon answered by the box flipping upside-down and dumping its squirming contents right on her head.
They were not quite earthworms.
The ragworm and eunicid festival had begun.
The nearby seagulls fled from her scream.
The aquatic wrigglers were far more horrifying than their terrestrial brethren. A sticky feeling crawled all over her body. Aoi initially tried to get them off of her like she was brushing dust off of her clothes, but that was not enough and she felt the stickiness reaching her chest and hips. She concluded that the frilly extra cloth around her chest was getting in the way. She could never be sure if there was anywhere left for them to hide, so she resorted to scorched-earth tactics. Even though she was outside, she reached for the bow on her back, stuck her thumb below the elastic on the side of her hip, and gave a pleasant tug like she was pulling the pin from two grenades. With the rustling of cloth, she exposed every last centimeter of her body like it was a form of carpet bombing.
An odd light shined down on her.
“A-ahhh. Such freedom! I have never felt more liberated!!”
But this was no time to tremble in liberated ecstasy while bathing in the piercing sunshine below the blue August sky. Chunks of reinforced concrete larger than the cruiser were still falling from overhead and, even if she had gotten all of those creepy-crawlies off of her body, they were still all over the deck. Simply put, she was afraid of stepping on them with her bare feet. She felt a crawling sensation on her feet, so that childish granny abandoned her responsibility to clean up and fled into the cabin.
“Wahhhh, boy!! I can’t face them on my own!! Can you check to see if any of the bait got in my hair!?”
Had she not learned her lesson last time?
Kyousuke was still out of it, so when he saw Aoi in the nude, he silently picked her up, carried her to the bath, washed her silver hair, and then dove right back into the double bed. He was not even conscious of what he was doing. It was the same as a worried housewife cooking a fried egg without realizing it. It had nothing to do with what he wanted or did not want to do. He was running on autopilot.
It was an extreme case of summer heat fatigue.
“But this is fine. I only wanted to make sure none of the ragworms or eunicids got in my hair, so that worked perfectly. (mutter, mutter).
As a granny, she may not have known how to respond when someone treated her like a little girl. No, Kyousuke may have been treating her more like a large dog.
Another dull splash sounded outside.
A piece of rubble must have fallen nearby.
“Hey, boy. It sounds like there’s trouble afoot.”
“Soooomeoooone needs help!”
She shouted that in his ear while reaching behind her back to retie the black bikini top to regain her safety(?), but he remained face down in the bed.
After all, what was he supposed to do?
He had supposedly killed the White Queen at Houbi Village, but the Colorless Little Girl had been damaged, creating a new threat and increasing the world’s chaos by making the world’s people seek their own ruin.
Even Shigara Masami at Freedom Award 3000 had been taken in by the White Queen’s influence. She had gone along with the idea that a happy ending was good enough. She had succumbed to that beauty, sealed away the truth, and fled to the illusion of happiness without actually solving the fundamental problem. So what hope did anyone else have? Was this the end for the human race? Would they not even fight or risk their lives? Would they be left smiling as long as the White Queen stamped them with a label saying “you are happy”?
His eyes lazily turned toward his phone.
No missed calls.
When a summoner or vessel reached a certain number of Awards, they were erased from the memories and awareness of normal people. It was a simple rule. But could people’s hearts and the bonds that tied them together really be influenced so easily by those rules? By the Blood-Sign rules where the White Queen reigned supreme?
What did “help me” matter?
What did “Alice (with) Rabbit” matter?
No matter how much he hunkered down to desperately endure it all while waiting for an opening in the shrapnel-filled gale, the people around him would quickly crumble and what little he had saved up would vanish. All his efforts would go to waste. So wouldn’t it be easier to give up? Wasn’t it silly to keep fighting? He looked like an idiot continuing to struggle all on his own. White could be turned to black and vice-versa. What the hell was that? How was he supposed to protect the righteousness of a world with no core of truth!?
He heard a nasal snort.
Black bikini Meinokawa Aoi put her hands on her hips, tugged on the side strap of her bikini bottom to produce a nice snapping sound, and looked down at him.
“Human, people need to take breaks from time to time. You might look like you are simply rotting away, but if you find it meaningful, then do as you wish.”
“But do not forget: No summoner fights alone. Whether they are the strongest or the weakest, a summoner must rely on others. Even the Materials cover each other’s weaknesses with the power of numbers. The only one who can truly wield their power as an individual is the White Queen you so detest. If you reject all others and assume you alone are special, that is when you will lose everything.”
She did not seem interested in spending too much time on this. With a swish of her long silver hair, Meinokawa Aoi left the cabin.
Kyousuke still did not move.
So any change had to come from outside.
A quiet buzzing came from the bedside table. When he realized it was his phone vibrating, Kyousuke reached out his hand while still lying face down. He caught the mobile device when its own vibration caused it to slide off the table. Just like when he had washed Aoi’s hair, his hand was moving automatically based on his memories.
Opening the screen revealed it was a group message on social media.
The commotion was coming from directly above, so probably near his school. This was only an automated message warning all of the students to stay indoors. They had no idea who was where during summer break, so they had simply sent it to everyone.
(Is that all?)
That did not mean there was anything left for him in that school life.
Summoners with a certain number of Awards vanished from normal people’s awareness. Even the classmates he greeted on a daily basis and studied with in the classroom would forget all about him once he left their line of sight. Online relationships were entirely out of the question. This message had only reached him because it was mechanically sent to everyone at the school, but he could never receive individual one-on-one messages. They would never think of sending him a message and, even if he sent them one, they would only tilt their head at it. From their point of view, some unknown person was contacting them like they were friends.
It all came down to the rules.
The rules of the Blood-Sign System that lifted up and glorified the White Queen.
That was just how it worked.
People’s minds could be easily swayed and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
So it should have been.
“Ren-Bow// Hey, have you still not finished the roll call? I kinda want to get out of here!!”
He was simply registered as a part of the group and no one from the class community would respond if he posted. But then something odd happened.
“Don’t Call Me Librarian// Wait. Just once more.”
“Ren-Bow// How many times have you done it now!?”
“Don’t Call Me Librarian// How do I put this? Don’t you feel like we’re forgetting someone?”
“Don’t Call Me Librarian// Like the count is coming up short…”
Instead of simply having his body respond to the outside world on autopilot, his mind actually started moving. The gears resumed turning. He consciously sat up in bed. Meanwhile, more speech bubble messages scrolled across the screen.
“I’m the Center// That’s definitely a worrying thought.”
“Himiko// Yes, it would be bad if anyone was trapped in the middle of this.”
“Future Guitarist// I’ll try contacting whoever it is using a different tool. Sorry if anyone gets duplicate messages.”
He assumed they were talking about some easily-forgettable classmate other than him, but that was not the case. Their roll call found a single member of the class missing. That meant everyone except Kyousuke was accounted for. But it would end there. They would not find this strange. Once he was outside their line of sight, they would forget all about him, so they would be satisfied with this and move on.
“Don’t Call Me Librarian// Once more! Just once more!!”
“Ren-Bow// Okay, fine! We’ll stick with it until everyone’s accounted for!!”
“……………………………………………………………………………………………………………What is this?”
It might seem like a tiny thing at first glance.
But it was not.
Librarian-chan, Rendou Akiya, and the rest of the classmates were fighting the absolute rule stating that summoners and vessels could not be perceived when outside their line of sight. Of course, there was no way they could do it. The rules were rules and they would be meaningless if they could be broken. But those students refused to give up on their hopeless task. They were continuing their efforts which would never be rewarded.
Their lives were at risk.
It was all over if they failed to escape in time.
But they were restraining their pounding hearts and staying put based on no more than a vague sense that “something isn’t right”. They were fighting the Blood-Sign System rules that lionized the White Queen. As if to protest the idea that nothing could be done about it.
The answer was obvious.
They were worried for the unknown person they were not sure was safe. They were worried for him.
A deafening alarm blared inside of Shiroyama Kyousuke.
Could he abandon this?
Could he declare this worthless?
Could he give up on people’s hearts and the bonds that tied them together?
Could he deny that strength?
Shigara Masami had been moved to emotion…no, had been tricked into thinking she had and the White Queen’s influence had reached her. She had given up on fighting to the bitter rend and she was trying to compromise with a half-assed happy ending. So what? Was that any reason to give up on the other 7 billion people out there? Was that worth criticizing Librarian-chan or Rendou Akiya over? Not a chance. What did Shigara Masami’s failure have to do with anyone else? To judge each and every one of them, he had to look to each and every one of them. Why had it taken him so long to realize something so obvious!?
The most important things were not necessarily found in an elite few.
In fact, viewing Shigara Masami as some special genius because she was Freedom Award 3000 was disturbingly similar to the thought process that led people to worship the White Queen as some twisted ruler. Right? Wasn’t that true? Hadn’t Shiroyama Kyousuke loathed the free pass people gave her violence because she was a special being and the way people viewed eccentrics as geniuses as long as they produced results?
Everyone had something.
Everyone had something they wanted to protect even if it meant bending the rules of the world.
His entirely ordinary classmates had proven it. Their attempts were doomed to fail, but they did not want to evacuate without Shiroyama Kyousuke who had shared a classroom with them.
They did not want to forget him.
They did not want to leave him behind.
What did being the strongest matter?
What good was logic?
How could he write off their actions as wasted effort!!!???
“I was wrong.”
Alice (with) Rabbit had stayed 5 or 10 steps ahead of the average person and defeated all sorts of fierce warriors with his absurd combat ability. But it was that very cleverness that kept him from avoiding this decision.
No one had a monopoly on human strength.
Everyone had it equally.
“I was dead wrong.”
His index finger moved across the 5-inch screen. He had learned here that there was work that required a strength very different from the deadly Summoning Ceremony battles. No one would be able to recognize it. They would mistake any message for something from a stranger who had somehow made it into the system. He knew that. He really did. But his response was as follows: so what?
Now was not the time to be rotting away in his own little world.
The boy gathered his resolve and tapped his finger on the screen.
He sent out his powerful words.
“Rabbit// I’m fine now, so don’t worry about me.”
While crouched down on the cruiser’s deck, cautiously picking up a ragworm, and returning it to the bait box, black bikini Meinokawa Aoi looked back. The vessel was trying to overcome her fear and solve the problem she had caused, but she grinned as soon as she saw his face.
“Stand up,” he said.
“You need to symbolize your return, do you? Fine, I will help.”
A dull sound of impact followed.
Shiroyama Kyousuke had punched his own cheek with a tightly clenched fist.
“Are you a masochist?” asked Aoi in amusement. “But I like it. You finally look like a man, boy.”
Swimsuit time was over for Aoi. It was now time to support him as a vessel. With the sound of cloth flapping in the air, the frilly black bikini girl grabbed a shrine maiden outfit and a white sarashi.
“Are you ready now?”
He wiped off his split lip and held the finger out toward Aoi. Needless to say, this was the ceremony a summoner and vessel used to form a contract.
He would not make this mistake again.
And he would challenge that white disaster as many times as it took.
“Sorry it took me so long. Let’s settle this immediately!!”
She did not summon a legendary dragon or spread her arms to fly around all on her own.
The White Queen sat on a bench in an international airport lobby just like anyone else. She was in the business class priority boarding zone, but it was summer break. The place was packed. A young brother and sister were loudly fighting over a robot toy right next to her on one of the many long benches.
She was not wearing her usual battle costume that looked like a wedding dress cut down to size with silver armor covering the important parts.
She only wore a casual summer dress with thin fabric. It was like she had had been forced to find a change of clothes after having water dumped over her head. Her chest, armpits, and bright thighs were all too risqué. The borrowed clothing was simply too short in a number of places. She wore narrow walking sandals on her feet. It was all white, so the selection may have been made with her tastes in mind.
She wore hair ties in her hair.
Those twintails were the one remnant of her former look.
She was lazily waiting her turn to board the business class of Flight NAL901. At first glance, it may have looked like the silver twintail girl had regained her common sense. At least compared to traveling by breaking through the stratosphere with no outside assistance or directly slicing through the dimension.
But something was fundamentally wrong here.
“Hi, hi, hiii!”
A waitress demon with long pink hair and a cow horn headdress called out to her. It was Biondetta. She boldly showed off a couple of passports in the middle of the public international airport lobby.
It was likely only meant to draw the eyes of the White Queen and Shigara Masami, but she bent over and accentuated her large breasts in a needlessly provocative way.
“This one’s yours, Shigara Masami. And this one’s yours, White Queen. These are pretty important in human society, so don’t lose them, okay?”
<Yes, they’re instant insurance for travelers.>
“Be careful. These can gather a lot of unwanted attention if they get out.”
That was why Biondetta had been holding on to them to handle the processing, but that was not what mattered here.
Biondetta Shiroyama had just handed them brand-new passports. And they were made with printing techniques possibly even more precise than the real ones.
They were not using the Blood-Sign System, so they could have their photos taken as long as they were not in an Artificial Sacred Ground. The White Queen found it odd to see a photo of herself.
But that was not the crux of the issue.
<What is it, Queen?>
“Um, isn’t this against the rules???”
<But we can’t reach Japan without a passport.>
That woman toying with the whistle around her neck provided the illusion of being a capable adult, but she was actually very devil-may-care. It pained the White Queen to remember that someone like that had managed to break her with a lecture. Think of it like being scolded for holding your chopsticks wrong by a drunk with a horse-racing newspaper in hand who was drinking beer at a restaurant in the middle of the day.
<Well, that sure took a while, didn’t it? I wanted to complete the digital investigation first so the trip wouldn’t be a waste of time, but I didn’t expect that to take more than two weeks.>
“Um, Queen? Why does Shigara Masami look so happy talking about all the tedious work she did?”
“Remember the bottles of Sbirnoff, Absolium, and vodka she was waving around earlier? They only allow small containers of liquid on the flight, so she started drinking it all to sulk. And now I believe it is catching up with her.”
As the resident of another world, the White Queen had no personal information to include on the passport. Everything from her nationality to her age was made up. The name appeared to be a simple anagram of iu – nu – fb – a – wuh – ei –kx – eu – pl – vjz. Perhaps out of respect for the Blood-Sign System which placed such importance on the meaning found in letters and names.
Biondetta also waved around her own passport.
“Anyway, it is a very moving experience to meet with you again.”
“You don’t hold a grudge?”
That question sounded simple, but it carried deep meaning.
The White Queen was the one who had torn apart Kyousuke and Biondetta as children. But what about Shigara Masami? No matter what she had thought deep, deep down, she had contacted those children while hiding her true identity and she had run the entire Miniature Garden as Freedom Award 3000.
Complex emotions surrounded the White Queen and Shigara Masami.
But even though Biondetta may have been justified in criticizing the two of them…
“Not really, no.” She placed a finger on her slender chin like a child who had forgotten what fear was. “Do I hate the White Queen? Yes, because I have the Queen’s hatred. But during the final stage of the Secret War, I was mostly just trying to escape and I never directly fought you. The person I had to fight in the very end was Alberto the Hatter. So I do have to wonder whether or not the image of the White Queen that it’s said I saw was really the whole picture.”
She made this point very clear.
“And you did not kill my little brother, Kyousuke-chan. Even though he must have directly confronted you, unlike me.”
“That is not some vague image; it is an undeniable result. So I will focus on that result. You may be twisted, foolish, awkward, and inept, but I know you will always do what Kyousuke-chan needs you to do. No matter how much you must suppress yourself or dirty your hands. Praying to you is silly and expecting anything in return is the height of folly, but when it comes to him, you will act without needing to hear anyone’s prayers or asking anything of anyone else. That is the one thing I can trust about you.”
The White Queen could not decide whether or not she could rely on this. She rubbed together the thighs visible below her thin casual dress.
Biondetta was just as unreliable as Kyousuke.
“And I also want to see what lies at Kyousuke-chan’s foundation,” added the waitress demon while scratching her cheek. “I signed a contract with him and fought alongside him, so I believe I’ve seen his enmity for you more than most. There’s something odd about that hostility. It feels so different from the thought processes that make him reach out a hand whenever he hears the words ‘help me’. …And wouldn’t it be sad if it turned out that had been implanted inside him by someone else?”
A precision-guided missile.
“I think this needs to be settled one way or another.” Biondetta sounded like she was spitting the words at someone not present. “But that needs to be done between you and him with no one else intervening. I don’t care what lofty ideals or grand plans are involved.”
If the ever-expanding cocoon and the power-gathering Colorless Little Girl were not stopped, the human race had no future.
And the only way to stop them was for the White Queen herself to change. She had to use her journey to understand what it means to be human to understand Shiroyama Kyousuke and overcome her issues with Shigara Masami.
The White Queen glanced out the window covering the entire wall, but she viewed something only she could see.
“The cocoon should reach 6km before long.”
A soft tone sounded.
Next, a gentle female announcer spoke, although it was hard to tell if it was live or a recording.
“Flight NAL901 will take off on schedule. Boarding will begin in less than an hour. Please do not forget any of your luggage as you board. First class and business class passengers should gather in the priority boarding zone and economy class passengers should gather in the general boarding zone B.”
That acted as a quiet starting pistol.
The White Queen slowly stood from the bench with her short casual dress fluttering dangerously at her thighs. Shigara Masami stood to her right and Biondetta to her left. Flanked by veterans of the Secret War, the silver-haired girl silently faced forward.
Some of the world’s data had been erased by some past action.
This was a journey to learn what it meant to be human.
This path would take her to Shiroyama Kyousuke’s mother and little sister.
“Let us see where it all began.”
Sinceria Report 02
Q. What do you think about Shiroyama Kyousuke?
“Hm? That’s a really broad question and I’m not sure what you’re getting at, but I’m gonna marry him.”
“As you can see, he must be swiftly cut down as the vile criminal who drove the princess to madness.”
This discussion was held on Kingdom F’s royal plane.
Olivia Highland had her blonde hair in double braids, wore a school swimsuit with a decorative collar and pareo, and was 100% serious when she said she would marry “Onii-chan” when she grew up. Rachel Wormwood was a knight in glasses who looked ready to kill someone right here and now. Olivia should have returned to being a normal person after ending her contract with Kyousuke, but here she was speaking normally with a summoner like Rachel and a vessel like Sinceria. Her memories and awareness returned when they were in her line of sight, so conversations like this could continue just fine.
Since it was their royal plane, they could bring anything aboard without going through strict anti-terrorism checks. And unlike your average charter flight, this plane was large enough to hold more than 3000 passengers, but it had been redesigned for no more than 10. In her blue dress, Sinceria sat on a sofa much more spacious than any first class seat and rolled around a tall glass of Château de Corail 1999 (mo) – it sounded fancy, but it was just sparkling wine easily bought from French online stores – that a maid had poured for her.
Sinceria knew when to show restraint. A lot of money had to be poured into the royal plane for safety reasons, but the drink was only a personal luxury. And she did not even have the excuse of serving it to a foreign diplomat in this case. So as long as it came from a vineyard with no risk of a poison being mixed in, it could come from anywhere.
And high prices at auction were not what gave a wine its flavor.
The true connoisseurs knew where to find treasures hidden quite close by. And they were not foolish enough to spread the word about their personal treasure. They did not want it to become a target of speculation or reselling, did they?
“No, not that. I am talking about the secret to Kyousuke’s strength. Or the source of his obsession if you would prefer.”
Sinceria would not make a fool of herself in front of her daughter just because she was a little buzzed. She only sipped at the faintly golden liquid as a way of loosening her tongue.
When Olivia begged for some wine too, their skilled maids poured her a nonalcoholic sparkling wine made at the exact same vineyard. It was really just a carbonated grape juice made by simply removing the skins, but the school swimsuit braid girl did not notice because the bottle and label looked so fancy.
“Onii-chan is my hero! He saves anyone who asks for help!!”
“He deserves countless deaths for going over the knights’ heads and stealing the princess’s heart, but…hmph. I do sense an insane sort of strength in his abnormal policy. But our kingdom and the world cannot run on feelings alone (mutter mutter) and he could always ask for some help (mutter mutter).”
“Rachel, are you after Onii-chan too? Should I see you as a rival???”
Sinceria smiled at Olivia who tried to act like an adult by grabbing an olive from the large plate of finger foods and tossing it into her mouth.
“Well, he did secretly save her life at least three times during the war. Via, had you heard this story? When she had collapsed from an arrow to the thigh, Kyousuke sucked out the poison and then princess-carried her to safety. He gave her the old kiss-kiss-hug☆”
Despite the critical shout of “My Queen!!”, Sinceria childishly stuck out her tongue with her milky skin and long ears somewhat flushed. She loved the ability to blame the alcohol for anything she said. And it felt right to go with a childish sparkling wine over a red or a white.
She munched on a kiddy cracker smeared with cream cheese and raisins while listening to her summoner speak.
“Anyway, Shiroyama Kyousuke never did like talking about his past. He likes looking after others and part of that makes him something of an explainer. He has no issue with holding conversations and he will dig right in to the private lives of his vessel. It isn’t that he does not like talking about himself, but he always changes the subject and redirects things back toward you when his past comes up.”
“Really, Rachel? Onii-chan didn’t hide anything from me. Like he told me he really loves cereal.”
“That was him changing the subject from-…ahem, ignore that, princess. Please do not glare at me like that. My heart cannot take it.”
Sinceria thought for a while as she spun her tall glass and made air bubbles dance through the liquid. When she opened her mouth, she was speaking more to her own reflection in the glass than anyone else there.
“Does Kyousuke have trouble facing his own past?”
(If so, what part of his past are we talking about?)
This fit with Azalea Magentarain’s theory that the key to it all could be found at Shiroyama Kyousuke’s roots. So was that the right place to investigate? The beautiful ruler of Kingdom F fell deeper into thought while Olivia and Rachel gave her curious looks.
The cocoon continued to grow and it was applying pressure to Kingdom F’s border. If the Colorless Little Girl was amassing power in response, the entire world was in danger. They could not afford to wait. They needed to solve the mystery of Shiroyama Kyousuke even if it was only to predict the White Queen’s actions.
Then the other two started whispering to each other.
“(S-surely I don’t have to add mother to my list of rivals, right? I don’t want to do that. There’s no way I can beat those boobs! And no matter who wins, the royal family is going to be super awkward. Will we have a closed-room suspense theatre in an Eastern European castle!?)”
“(Do not even suggest such a thing, princess! What a horrific thought!! If that insane cereal rabbit ever wears the crown of Kingdom F, I will stage a coup to overthrow him!!)”
“(Oh, so the criminal could be from outside the family? It couldn’t be sillier, but it isn’t very exciting if we don’t discuss every possibility. Although if you see it that way, won’t you end up doing that when I marry Onii-chan? Wow, Rachel, you’re going to have a rough life. When’s the movie coming out?)”
“(Gh, the queen and princess have both gone mad!! Does Kingdom F have no hope of a healthy future!?)”
- Aika is a shut-in and generally does not leave her apartment, but she can have the white liger move about on her own. Just like Lu Niang Lan, the liger is very useful until a Material has been summoned.
- The chaos spreading across the world has created some rogue elements among the summoners and vessels of the three major powers. With cries of “down with the Queen”, they are apparently searching for the Queen in order to kill her. But it is unknown whether they could actually do this if they did find her.
- Normal people like the Librarian and Rendou Akiya cannot remember Shiroyama Kyousuke when he is not in their field of vision. But that does not meant their efforts should be ignored.
- Shigara Masami and the White Queen have chosen to work with Biondetta to help them interact with and blend into human society. Biondetta seems to be using this journey to learn what it means to be human in order to root for her little brother and the White Queen’s love
- Shiroyama Kyousuke made a contract with Meinokawa Aoi.
- Stay strong and do not let the White Queen influence you. No one is interested in a love comedy.
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