Volume 1, Stage 02: The Rabbit is Alice’s Guide
“Yes, let’s get started.”
(Stage 02 Open 04/15 00:30)
The Rabbit is Alice’s Guide
Government Award 930, Golden Luxury.
Her real name was Azalea Magentarain. The girl seemed too delicate even for her young age of fourteen. She had smooth white skin, transparently blue eyes, and extremely long reddish blonde hair. Her ringlet curls were long enough to reach her waist.
She wore what looked like a business suit with a tight skirt, but it also had frills and lace in places. It was of course custom made. She would never be allowed to touch a premade product that could have been soaked with any number of strange chemicals.
She elegantly crossed her legs in the cargo space of a mid-sized vibration wing craft known as a Hornet.
A Hornet was an armored weapon meant for ground attacks and personnel transport in place of helicopters. It was fifteen meters long and it went without saying what its silicon shell was shaped to resemble. It was of course more than a hobby item. It used various deception weapons and its four rapidly vibrating wings created unique lifelike movements. It had achieved overwhelming results in tests, only being hit by one of fifty surface-to-air missiles and by zero of fifty air-to-air missiles.
Recently, Repliglass had been used for more than just military and construction purposes. A giant one hundred meter silicon core had been closed in a concrete box for a new type of power plant. It only consumed water and earth (or silicon waste like glass and silicone), so it was being touted as an environmentally friendly energy source. The lights decorating Toy Dream 35’s night came from the massive energy produced by that Repliglass core.
Inside that cutting-edge weapon, the girl held several colorful disks two centimeters thick and ten centimeters in diameter.
They were reels of silk ribbon.
“What do you think? If I want high speeds and am expecting a long match, then I think it would be best to shift the Blood-Sign’s center of gravity a little farther forward than normal and to make it a little thinner. I think #6 would be best.”
Her dignified voice resembled a Buddhist monk’s bell used to drive out impurities and its loveliness overwrote the surrounding atmosphere.
A single person was listening.
Due to its lifelike movements, the Hornet shook quite a bit, yet the old man in a suit stood perfectly straight.
He was her vessel and his name was Fractal Leskins.
Normally, vessels wore handcuffs, a collar, or other tools that bound them in order to avoid summoning something “unnecessary” beyond what their summoner ordered of them, but this old man wore nothing of the sort. Or rather, his suit itself was the symbol of the servitude binding him. It had grown that way over many long years.
“If you wish to suppress his movements with a series of swift attacks, I would suggest the thick, short, and heavy #5. Or if you would prefer to attack from outside his field of vision by avoiding obstacles with a spin, then what about #12?”
“No, if I’m going up against him, it’s going to be a frenetic battle from extreme close range. There will be no easy victory here. So don’t you think it would be best to take the time to build up the ideal form?”
“Ha ha. My aging eyes are no match for your discerning vision. Then I suppose #6 would be best.”
Azalea and Fractal could achieve a certain level of results in any environment, but they still had their preferences. They preferred a high speed battle in an urban environment. That was their territory.
The girl re-crossed her legs and did not even glance at the old man who respectfully lowered his head. This was nothing special. In Azalea Magentarain’s life, this was no different from drinking water or breathing oxygen. She did not think much of it, but she would be in trouble without it. That was who he was to her.
“Freedom Award 902, Alice (with) Rabbit, is it?”
“We only have a report from the men down below, so it could be a fake,” said Azalea while grabbing the pink reel labelled #6. “Still, it would be wise to be careful. And if it really is him, nothing could be better. It’s been so long since I had a satisfying battle.”
When using an Incense Grenade, summoners and vessels could not be seen by mechanical cameras and sensors. Precision GPS-guided bombs and cruise missiles could not be used for a surprise attack. That was why no unmanned devices were being used as the summoners’ eyes and ears. They were forced to rely on hearsay from their subordinates and they had to assume their target could vanish from the monitor at any moment.
However, Government’s infantry were not normal soldiers. They were all new summoners who had been late to acquire a vessel. A lot of them died before being promoted, but those that fought through a true battlefield without a vessel gained quite a bit of power. Those who knew fear and had conquered it were strong.
Tentatively deciding to trust the reports from those novices still going through their baptism of blood, Azalea brought the radio mic to her mouth.
She spoke to the Hornet’s pilot.
“What is the hold up? When are we going to reach the location in the report?”
“Our ETA is ten minutes from now.”
“Make it five. If you don’t, the five units in Block R will be wiped out.”
She switched off the radio without waiting for the response and she spoke to the old man next to her.
“What is the meaning of this? I personally designed this Hornet and its speed and mobility are its selling points. Is it malfunctioning?”
“I am sorry to say it, but I believe they are worried that shaking the craft too much could harm you.”
“Ridiculous,” spat out Azalea Magentarain.
The old man gently continued.
“Four groups of Government Elites from Award 501 to 780 were deployed. Don’t you think they have enough pride to fulfill their roles?”
“You say that, but you don’t actually think they can win, do you?”
Azalea and Fractal were not simply looking down on their subordinates. She had more going for her than being from a wealthy family and being a high Award summoner.
Quad Motors was the world’s greatest defense contractor that supplied cutting-edge weaponry for all four branches of the American military. These two were deeply involved in the core of that corporation. They did not design tanks using the knowhow of the automobile industry. They designed them as weapons from the ground up.
Most of her family had intentionally left themselves at around Award 50 so they would not vanish from normal society while also properly perceiving summoners. High Award summoners like Azalea were an extreme exception for her family.
On top of that, her family was not technically an American power. Quad Motors had ruled the defense industry in place of the big names of the domestic automobile and aviation industries who had lost the ability to compete, but they were in fact a Trojan Horse sent by the Round Table, a European alliance of nobility, because they were unwilling to let those “newcomers” of the New World hold the position of the world police.
They were a family of unrepatriated golden birds of prey who had sharply honed military knowledge, development skills, and financial knowhow yet possessed the iron will needed to cast aside their position of nobility to secure American citizenship as immigrants, infiltrate the field of national defense, acquire political power, and achieve their goal.
For that reason, their opinions were surprisingly cold yet accurate.
“Award 501, Perfect Game. Award 590, Tricky AAA. Award 719, Diabolos. Award 780, Bloodbath Rhapsody. …They’re all useless. Especially 501. Is that supposed to be a joke? He probably only has a perfect record because he only ever finishes off the losers that another summoner let live. Can’t he at least die here?”
“We will arrive in ten minutes, but the units deployed there will be wiped out. So what should we do?”
“Hand it over.”
The old man immediately complied with the girl’s brief instruction. That summed up just how long the two had known each other.
The butler held out a giant tube made of layered plastic. It was 130 centimeters long and the bottom surface was equipped with a cushion for the shoulder.
Azalea did not hesitate to rest it on her shoulder and Fractal forcefully slid open the cargo door on the Hornet’s side.
A chilly night wind struck the girl’s delicate body, but she did not even flinch. In fact, she gained a challenging look of fierce joy.
She stared at one point of the night scenery and spoke to the pilot over the radio.
“Sorry, but it looks like I will have to make up for everyone’s incompetence.”
The giant tube was in fact an 80mm grenade launcher.
And if a summoner was going to put all of her trust in a single projectile, it could only be one thing.
She rested the launcher on her shoulder and smoothly whispered under her breath.
“Oh, White Queen who guides us to victory in extraordinary battles, please save this fragile human soul.”
In the courtyard of the Block R high school that Shiroyama Kyousuke attended on weekdays, everything looked like death to Meinokawa Higan.
Repliglass weapons were partially or entirely modeled on insects and other animals. They were the armored weapons of a new age and they had drawn a clear line between themselves and all previously existing weapons. Regenerative medicine was used to create all-purpose silicon cells which could be rearranged to form any kind of muscle, bone, nerves, blood vessels, internal organs, or sensory organs. Simply put, anyone wearing that armor took on the role of an intelligent beast that did not exist anywhere on earth.
And those weapons were commanded by four summoner-vessel pairs. Their summoning ceremony could summon life forms not of this world on a limited basis, so they could ignore even the laws of physics and in some cases achieve results not even a great Repliglass army could. …Including incidents involving paranormal phenomena that traditional military might was helpless against.
And yet Meinokawa Higan heard a loud noise.
With his long Blood-Sign in hand, Shiroyama Kyousuke left her behind and took a large step toward the enemy.
The nearest summoner responded by throwing something like a can of coffee toward him. Needless to say, it was an Incense Grenade. At the same time, the Repliglass soldiers moved back. Once a battle between summoners began, normal bullets would be useless. Leaving the fight to the summoner was the standard tactic and that was how they distributed their duties here.
Finally, two summoners would wield the paranormal to fight.
But in that moment, Higan saw something unbelievable.
Freedom Award 902, Alice (with) Rabbit, held up his Blood-Sign like a baseball bat.
With a solid metallic clang, he swung the Blood-Sign and scored a homerun with the Incense Grenade. In just an instant, it vanished in the dark sea beyond the large high school campus.
While watching the grenade disappear, the summoner seemed to belatedly realize what that meant.
When an Incense Grenade detonated, the summoner and vessel who had used it were carried to the center of the Artificial Sacred Ground.
As if they were connected to a passenger jet by an elastic cord, the summoner and vessel became two stars in the night sky.
The boy ran further forward and spoke coolly.
“Award 501: defeated.”
The female summoner he turned to as his next target dropped an Incense Grenade at her feet. He could not hope for another homerun from this distance and he only had three to five seconds until it detonated.
But by that time, Shiroyama Kyousuke had already moved right up to his next target.
However, that target was not the female summoner.
He suddenly changed direction and moved right up to one of the bizarre Repliglass soldiers that had grasshopper-like legs added near the waist to help with jumping. The soldier was a sturdy armored weapon, but the carbine he held was a standard model. Kyousuke made a spear-like jab with the tip of his 180 cm stick to tear off the high-powered military light attached on the bottom.
At the same time, the counterattack began. The enemy selected the face out of the many vitals available and threw a frightening kick with its silicon leg. This rear leg held the strength needed to send the soldier himself flying ten to twenty meters or to crush a traditional armored truck like a steamed bun.
Shiroyama Kyousuke swung his upper body to avoid it by a hair’s breadth.
A few of his own hairs flew through the air.
His entire body was noticeably emitting extreme tension.
His cheeks twitched as he moved his Blood-Sign. Swinging it down like a hammer would not harm the pilot soldier contained inside the silicon muscles and armor, but he was not foolish enough to think he could destroy that armored weapon like that.
He was targeting something else.
The carbine in the bizarre weapon’s hand had been made as small as possible while completely ignoring the recoil of firing. The powerful military light that had been torn from the bottom used a honeycomb pattern of bright LEDs and it was meant to blind an opponent rather than provide illumination.
Kyousuke caught the rotating light on the tip of his Blood-Sign, pulled it back toward him, grabbed it, and switched it on.
“Oh, no…” muttered the female summoner preparing for battle with her Blood-Sign held up like a spear.
Incense Grenades are only effective when the target can be seen with the naked eye.
Despite the muffled explosion, no Artificial Sacred Ground appeared. The flashlight was as bright as a strobe light and it had blinded her. She could not summon a Material into her vessel like this.
That brief opening was all Kyousuke needed.
He threw aside the light and stuck a hand into his pocket. He pulled out a metal can as heavy as a can of hair spray: an Incense Grenade. He threw it to the side, but not to fight like normal. He was trying to break the female summoner’s nose with the three hundred gram mass.
Caught off guard, she was unable to evade or defend.
After a metallic sound of impact, the blow hit her square in the face and she collapsed onto her back.
The grim reaper whispered his next statement.
“Award 719: defeated.”
Finally, the surrounding Repliglass soldiers changed their way of thinking.
(The normal distribution of duties won’t work here. Leaving this to the summoners will only get us defeated!!)
They too would be his prey if they left this to the experts. Fortunately, this target had yet to use a summoning ceremony. Unless he activated the protective circle created from the Material’s power, he was no different from any other human. Normal bullets would fill him with holes like normal.
Their expected victory had crumbled before their eyes, they had restrained their confusion, they had swapped out their way of thinking, and they had begun to take action. All in all, it had taken four seconds.
Everyone there accurately aimed their guns and pulled the trigger.
Those battlefield soldiers recovered and reacted with extraordinary speed.
However, they had forgotten something.
The projectile used to break the summoner’s nose had not been a mere weight; it had been an Incense Grenade.
The slight explosion drowned out all else.
Gunfire rang from the Repliglass soldiers at almost the exact same moment as the Alice (with) Rabbit boy used his Blood-Sign to hit the white sphere - a White Thorn - in front of him.
The deluge of noise seemed to continue without end, but not even one of the bullets tore into Kyousuke’s body.
He and Higan had been automatically taken to the location of the detonating Incense Grenade.
The Repliglass soldiers quickly corrected their aim, but it was too late.
The Rose pieces floating in the air were knocked about, a middle sound Petal was accurately sucked into a Spot, and Higan’s body changed form with a sticky sound. She became a three meter mass of a translucent green sticky liquid. That Material contained the girl’s body at its center.
At the cost of one middle sound, it was one of the weakest Materials, the Original Green (k).
But even if it was one of the weakest, a Material was still a Material. A protective circle that eliminated all attacks was immediately constructed around the summoner and that defended against the countless bullets.
And of course, at the same time…
“Higan! Take out the Repliglass soldiers!! They don’t stand a chance now!!”
Higan moved with her body transformed into a giant sticky Material.
With the roar reminiscent of sandbags being hit by a barrage of blows, the soldiers were easily swept away. Higan freely controlled the seven hundred liters of her body. Despite being liquid, each strike was as flexible as the human fist yet filled with an impact rivalling a car accident. She understood that she was the one doing this, but she started to lose her awareness of that fact.
<I always thought summoning ceremonies were about who could summon the more powerful Material with the more effective sound range… This Original series only costs one sound, so, um, I thought it was just a starting point with no real use.>
She went on a rampage inside the Artificial Sacred Ground field where she could use her occult power to its fullest. As she accurately knocked the cutting-edge armored soldiers unconscious, she felt a strange feeling running through that body that was not hers.
<But I was wrong. He even knows, um, how to fight with the weakest Material. No, did this battle begin b-before even summoning the first Material!?>
Yes. That was right.
When Higan had been separated from Renge in that harbor region, Kyousuke had saved her from the Guard of Honor pursuers.
But he would not have had a vessel with him then. So how had he protected her from those members of a professional summoner’s organization?
<Th-this must be…the answer.>
He could get involved in the world of summoning ceremonies and yet return alive without summoning a single Material. He could return with at least a single person in his arms. And he did not have the muscular strength of some ferocious beast, he was not a kung fu master living deep in the mountains, and he was not using the world’s greatest prototype weapon that a stranger had given him.
Then again, he was not the same as Lu Niang Lan who was feared as the Perfect Dragon. He was not an expert in slaughtering veteran summoners using only his own body and hidden weapons instead of Materials.
But when in a bind, he knew enough about this small field to put together a workable strategy on the fly that would let him fight without a Material.
It could be written off as a series of adlibs, but he did not bring about the optimum result by gambling. He simply had enough useful experience to instantly search for the relevant information in any given situation. He may have been physically using his arms and legs, but his true weapon was his intellect as a summoner.
That had been enough to save a girl from that hellish harbor, so he would not lose here.
Shiroyama Kyousuke could gain the upper hand against Guard of Honor with a handicap, so there was no way he would lose when he had Meinokawa Higan as his vessel and could use his full power.
“Higan, focus on weight more than speed! Repliglass is a mass of silicon muscle fibers, so they won’t be able to move if you press down on them enough to snap them. You don’t even need to knock them out. Destroy the outer shell and they’ll be trapped in their own armor!!”
Shiroyama Kyousuke ran all across the Artificial Sacred Ground and Higan swung her giant Material body around based on his instructions. Repliglass soldiers were the main players of modern warfare and they were a symbol of fear for the guerillas and terrorists being wiped out around the world, but she easily swept them all away.
They were gone in no time at all. Things were progressing almost too smoothly.
She felt like she was watching an example video, so the victory did not feel like hers.
Two summoners remained. Someone with devastatingly slow reaction speed quickly raised their Blood-Sign and struck a White Thorn. To Higan, the movement was slow, like someone moving underwater.
And Kyousuke did not just sit idly by.
He took a powerful step forward and charged toward the enemy summoner. By this point, Higan had caught on that even that step had a meaning. If he had only been swinging around his Blood-Sign randomly, he would have been shot up by the Repliglass soldiers before the Incense Grenade could detonate. His movements also had the psychological effect of creating a gap and throwing off one’s timing.
If someone who could easily jump to either side instead charged straight toward the large truck driving their way, anyone watching would be briefly paralyzed with shock.
A baseball would sometimes slip between two infielders who could have easily caught it.
This was the same.
He seemed almost supernaturally skilled at binding the enemy’s body with a stimulus that they could not fight with their rational mind.
He took a short breath, shot forward like a bullet, and literally collided with the enemy summoner.
Both of them were guarded by the protective circles powered by their Materials, so they did not actually come into contact.
With a solid sound of impact, Kyousuke’s charge was obstructed at extreme close range. Both of their protective circles had decided allowing him in range would bring death.
“Kh…!? Wh-what…? You’re in the way…”
“You can’t see the world behind me, can you? And when we’re this close, you can’t swing your 180 cm Blood-Sign like you want to. Isn’t that right?”
A summoner could freely build up their Material by gaining an accurate understanding of the vast Artificial Sacred Ground and using their glowing White Thorns to knock the Petals of low, middle, high, and lowest sounds into the Spots. The pressure tactics that Shiroyama Kyousuke was using with his own body produced a simple yet devastating effect.
“B-but neither can…!”
The summoner trailed off as he finally noticed the sound of something whipping through the wind.
Kyousuke had reached both hands behind his back and spun his Blood-Sign like a baton.
With a top-class summoner’s spatial awareness, one did not always need to rely on sight. He could manipulate his Blood-Sign behind his back to accomplish the exceedingly precise summoning ceremony.
The tip struck a White Thorn with enough frightening speed to sense the absolute confidence behind it.
With several hard sounds of reflection, it collided with several Petals and knocked them into Spots. The crimson trails of light and the dance of a broken song filled that small world.
He did not even bother to check on the result.
The poor summoner looked up at something with a blank look in his eyes.
A giant Material towered behind Shiroyama Kyousuke. The giant squid monster had gold eyes and ten thick chains that could probably squeeze a tank. It was the DEC Tentacle (nu - o - re - a - btv - ag - y).
The summoner currently had a human-sized Material with green eyes known as the Sharp Mermaid (nal - cb a - pl), but the difference in cost was too great and the matchup between sound range could not have been worse.
It would be killed in a single blow.
The Silhouette at the mermaid’s core that contained the vessel’s mind would be destroyed.
Unpleasant sweat poured from the summoner’s body and the grim reaper’s quiet voice slipped into his ears.
“Award 780: defeated.”
The giant Hornet tore through the night sky that was filled with city lights.
The side cargo door was fully open and Azalea Magentarain had finally spotted her target with her “naked eye” through the optical sight of the 80mm grenade launcher on her shoulder.
He was a few kilometers away and he was only a tiny speck even through the multiple lenses.
“Freedom Award 902, Alice (with) Rabbit. Confirmed.”
A school had become a battlefield.
She had expected it, but not even disastrous was enough to describe the situation. The four summoner groups had already been defeated and the soldiers wearing Repliglass equipment supplied by Quad Motors had been wiped out. And they had all been incapacitated without spilling a single drop of blood.
The girl felt a little faint at the fact that the enemy had showed mercy. She could feel the noble blood stirring inside her delicate body.
“Alice (with) Rabbit… Even if they were grunts, he has the nerve to mock their resolve to die if necessary!?”
“Milady, everything is prepared. You may begin at any time.”
The elderly butler knew Azalea better than anyone and his words cooled her boiling head. No, perhaps it would be more accurate to say they lowered it from an intense burn to a calmer burn.
They did not particularly care who the master was and which one was in control.
The girl did not hesitate to pull the trigger on her company’s own device.
With the deep sound of incendiary gas bursting out, a large explosive flew accurately to the courtyard of a high school in Block R.
According to their rules, when an Incense Grenade detonated, the summoner and vessel who had used it were carried to the center of the Artificial Sacred Ground.
Shiroyama Kyousuke had sensed that presence.
It was a stinging tension and a dense premonition of death that nearly left one unable to control their body. Yet it contradictorily stirred up the combat instincts that wanted to give in to that feeling. He had detected this great presence not with his five senses, but with a sixth sense only held by those who had spent a long time on the battlefield.
That was why he ran across the courtyard at full speed.
He ran to the edge of the three hundred meter Artificial Sacred Ground and he immediately gave his instructions.
“Higan!! Destroy the ground! Hurry!!”
“Don’t question it!!”
The time loss may not have added up to a full second, but it was enough for Kyousuke to lose sight of his victory. The odds were dragged down to 50/50.
Finally, the DEC Tentacle’s thick chains swung down with tremendous force and smashed half the artificial ground - the courtyard that included one end of the square campus - like it was made of tofu.
They were currently in the chain state that began after defeating a target.
They had the special privilege of free movement during that time and they used it to fall straight down. This was Toy Dream 35, the giant amusement park city located over the ocean. The ground had been intentionally flooded and the transportation network had bene built up above using several layers of giant bridges.
So what was it that awaited them down below?
In the frustrating but short time needed for the arrival and detonation of the fired Incense Grenade, Azalea Magentarain saw the truth through the lenses of the optical sight.
“Below them is…a reverse bungee!? Honestly, this is the problem with entertainment for the masses!!”
A reverse bungee was the opposite of a bungee jump in that it launched people upwards. A seat was fixed at the center of a thick piece of rubber that was attached on either end to a metal pole. It might be simpler to think of it as a giant slingshot with a seatbelt attached. The sides of the metal poles were engraved with the high school’s name, so it may have actually been a school event. Anything was possible in this amusement park city.
Of course, it was blatantly obvious what would happen if it was used without the safety harness.
Azalea clenched her teeth as her Incense Grenade finally landed on the outer edge just short of the destroyed part of the ground. It immediately detonated.
The user of an Incense Grenade was automatically taken to the center of the created Artificial Sacred Ground. If she could arrive on the scene before her target left, she could deal with the rest herself.
As soon as the distant Incense Grenade detonated, Azalea Magentarain and Fractal Leskins of the Golden Luxury team were launched from the aircraft with tremendous force. Rather than fall, they sliced through the air. They ignored gravity and air resistance while slipping between buildings like precision guided missiles.
Their shaken vision finally stabilized, but Azalea’s brow wrinkled in displeasure.
Alice (with) Rabbit had been slightly faster.
He and his Material had fallen into the six-person party seat of the large reverse bungee. The DEC Tentacle’s great weight caused the entire device to bend and one of its ten chains slithered out like a living creature to smash the safety hook. The great force built up in the thick rubber was released and they were launched diagonally upward. To provide a greater thrill, they shot toward the ocean which contained height differences thanks to the giant bridges on the lowest level.
They were not captured by Azalea’s Artificial Sacred Ground.
At the same time, the giant squid Material was replaced by a girl in a shrine maiden outfit. Shiroyama Kyousuke had chosen to end his chain that could last up to ninety seconds, so their Artificial Sacred Ground vanished.
There was an obvious reason for that.
For only a brief instant, Alice (with) Rabbit and Golden Luxury passed by within a few centimeters of each other.
If he had let his Artificial Sacred Ground remain, Azalea would have been caught in his field and the battle would have continued. That was exactly what the girl wanted, but the boy refused.
Time seemed to stop and their eyes met.
There was a small but unmistakable smile in Shiroyama Kyousuke’s eyes. His goal was not to win this battle; it was to retrieve Meinokawa Higan and escape.
Such a powerful foe was within arm’s reach and yet the match would end before she could fight him.
However, this would not qualify as a draw. Given the situation, he was quitting while he was ahead.
How great was the humiliation and regret of being defeated without crossing swords even once?
The girl’s noble blood boiled over.
Their intersection came to an end.
The speed of time returned to normal. Azalea Magentarain and her elderly butler slipped down to land on the edge of the school’s smashed artificial ground while Shiroyama Kyousuke and Meinokawa Higan vanished into the dark sea far in the distance.
The girl’s Blood-Sign was made of wrapped pink ribbons and she slammed it down at her feet. Fractal Leskins gave a respectful bow and made a suggestion.
“We have the Water Striders on the ocean surface and the Bottlenose Dolphins inside the ocean. If you order them to search for…”
“It’s no use. Do you really think they would find anything?”
Azalea stared at the dark sea and spoke the words like she was spitting on the coward who had fled from her.
Having lost sight of her target, that golden bird of prey said one thing more.
“I know you’re wandering around the hunting grounds, wild rabbit. You had better entertain me next time.”
“Oh, dear. So that’s why you’re shivering from the cold,” said Lu Niang Lan of Illegal with a light of both exasperation and admiration in her blue eyes.
She stood behind the counter of a used goods store in the large Chinatown of Block C.
The store was dimly-lit, it smelled of sweet incense, and the walls and columns were red. It was so red that one had to wonder if buildings in China were really quite that red. That was hardly surprising given this Chinatown had not developed naturally. The entire Block had been constructed as a film set for the kung fu movies distributed by the Toy Dream Company. In other words, it was the unrealistic image of China that Westerners pictured in their heads.
Incidentally, those movies included one with a shirtless muscular protagonist chaining two shotguns together like nunchucks and swinging them around while shooting in every direction. That should give you a good idea of how unrealistic this Chinatown was.
Shiroyama Kyousuke and Meinokawa Higan were shivering with chilly water dripping from their hair.
After landing in the ocean near the school in Block R, they had boarded his cruiser home that he had secretly moored nearby. From there, they had used the canals to reach Block C. They had showered and changed clothes on the way, but that had not fully rid them of the chill that had soaked them to the bone.
They had come to this store for two reasons.
First, to stock up on equipment such as Incense Grenades. The contents of an Incense Grenade had to be delicately mixed for the specific summoner who would use it, so they could not use one stolen from an enemy. A summoner either made their own or relied on a specialist.
The second was to gather information.
“Your hair is wet, Kyousuke-chan, but why are your clothes the same as always?”
“I have several pairs of the same clothes.”
“And why is Higan-chan wearing a maid outfit? And a miniskirt one at that.”
“Because the only girl’s clothing I had were the ones you forced on me when you were drunk a while back! Why did you even give a guy a miniskirt maid outfit!?”
Even if the cruiser was equipped for daily life, it did not have a washing machine or dryer. They would use too much water and power. Her wet shrine maiden outfit was soaking in a tub of water, but they needed to visit a laundromat before long. Otherwise, it would stiffen up from the seawater.
However, that revelation led the beauty in a modified China dress to lean over the counter.
“That was the only girl’s clothing you had? Then! Does that mean what I think it means!?”
“Holy Shrine Maiden Higan-chan isn’t wearing anything under there!?”
“Tch!! I was doing my best not to think about that, so why did you have to be so blunt about it!?”
Anyone would have noticed at a glance, but Meinokawa Higan was blushing, holding down the maid outfit’s miniskirt with one hand, and fidgeting her legs. Someone who did not know the situation would have assumed she needed to use the restroom.
“(Oh, Wh-White Queen. Give me the noble heart needed to endure this extreme humili-hyah! I-I bit my tongue…!!)”
The sexy oriental beauty seemed to overflow with energy when she saw the shrine maiden muttering under her breath again.
“Th-this is some high level stuff. You’re this girl’s only chance at survival, but not only do you order her to wear a maid outfit, you don’t let her wear any underwear and then take her for a walk around Chinatown in the middle of the night. How high level can you get, Kyousuke-chan!?”
“Please stop smiling like that! Forcing her to wear my boxers would be pretty perverted too, wouldn’t it!? I-I had no choice! What else was I supposed to do!?”
Meinokawa Higan could not get a word in as the other two argued.
Was this really the Alice (with) Rabbit who had ruled that battlefield not long before?
The difference was so great that she was not sure how to approach him from now on and she began panicking a little.
Lu Niang Lan must have seen through that because she grinned and asked Higan a question.
“Are you worried because you can’t get a read on Kyousuke-chan’s character?”
“The answer is that everything you see there is a part of him. Show him your cleavage and he’ll grow flustered. Give him a teary upturned look and he’ll do most anything you say. Remember that because it’ll be on the test. And the clincher is ‘Help…”
“Please stop telling her more than she needs to know!!”
Kyousuke loudly and quickly cut her off.
The modified China dress woman worked at cooling herself down and spoke to Higan again.
“Anyway, Higan-chan, don’t worry. Based on what I’ve heard, there’s nothing to worry about for the moment.”
“Eh? Um, uh, what do you mean?”
“Now that you’ve teamed up with Kyousuke-chan, the two of you have been registered as the new Freedom Award 902, Alice (with) Rabbit. That means you’re no longer the kind of wandering asset that Government sees as a threat.”
“B-but, um, will they really accept it that easily?”
“Not normally, no. But while Illegal is legitimately their enemy, Government actually works with and hires summoners from Freedom. …They could eventually kill Alice (with) Rabbit, but it’s more efficient to tame you than to accept the many sacrifices it would take to defeat you. Government as a whole gains very little by forcing the two of you to fight. They’re also indebted to a certain someone☆”
“Anyway,” added Shiroyama Kyousuke as if to urge caution. “That’s really only wishful thinking, so don’t get too optimistic. That may be true of Government as a whole, but there’s still a decent chance Golden Luxury will attack as an individual. After all, we picked a fight with her, threw sand in her face, and ran off. …She’s got to be pissed right now.”
Higan let out a trembling groan.
That summoner was skilled enough for even Kyousuke to decide fleeing was the best plan. It scared her to have a monster like that know her name and face.
“A-and she specializes in the White Queen. That’s the White Queen, isn’t it?”
Her face had gone completely pale and Kyousuke sounded a little annoyed as he answered.
“Yes. It’s that queen you love so much. …And she doesn’t just pray to her. She wields her power as a deadly weapon.”
Higan’s face only grew paler.
The noble being ruling her mind would now bare her fangs as an enemy. Merely imagining that scene was probably enough to nearly faint, but that was the world of summoners.
“The Unexplored-class are beyond all of the Regulation and Divine-class Materials and she stands at the peak of even the Unexplored-class… W-we even worship her as, um, our shrine’s unofficial second god.”
“Well, she is the most popular.” Lu Niang Lan laughed while resting her elbow on the counter. “Even in this store, the White Queen sculptures and plates sell the best. Government, Illegal, and Freedom each have a contract with one of the Three to receive their Awards, but in truth, all of them think the White Queen is the strongest.”
“A-and we’ve made enemies of someone who summons her to fight?”
“In the world of summoning ceremonies, the lowest rookie and the most skilled expert have an equal chance of summoning any Material. You can’t measure someone’s strength based on what they can summon.”
Kyousuke and Lu Niang Lan were both carefree.
Could experience really change someone that much?
“But now it looks like you can focus on the main issue here. Based on what you’ve said, this new organization called Guard of Honor attacked you and your twin sister, separating the two of you. You want to meet up with your missing sister before she’s killed and the time limit would be…two days now that it’s past midnight. That was your original goal, right?”
“Lu-san… Um, I’d heard Guard of Honor is a dangerous new organization that’s been gathering a lot of strength in Illegal lately.”
“Hmm. But I’ve never heard of them.”
The altered China dress woman sounded indifferent. She felt no obligation just because she was also part of Illegal. The Russian mafia would feel no responsibility if a South American drug cocktail was being misused, so this was probably a similar way of looking at it. Illegal had their own issues to deal with.
“You twins got your information from Government, right? Can you really trust that? And…”
“If this is an unregistered group using the Illegal name without permission…don’t you think a legit Illegal member like me would be able to tell at a glance?”
Shiroyama Kyousuke could not believe his eyes.
This was due to a fifty-by-fifty centimeter cardboard box about fifteen centimeters tall. It was stuffed full of Incense Grenades just like an industrial box of drink cans.
“Lu-san, this is way too many. How am I supposed to carry all these!?”
“Divide the extras up between your cruiser and coin lockers. It’ll be a pain coming back here every time you run out, won’t it? More importantly, how about you replace your Blood-Sign’s tip? You don’t want to complain about poor maintenance if you’re attacked without warning.”
Lu Niang Lan messed with the laptop on the used goods store counter while recommending him all sorts of equipment. That included a short-bladed knife for handicraft work, fine waterproofed sandpaper, and instant glue.
Meinokawa Higan’s eyes opened wide when she saw it all. They all looked like tools for home carpentry or summer projects, so she could not imagine how they could help in a summoning ceremony that could reach even the ancient gods.
Kyousuke pulled his Blood-Sign from his back, placed the knife blade a few centimeters from the front, and pressed down with his body weight. After a dull popping sound, the entire tip came off.
A piece of wood as soft as cork rolled along the floor. They were generally made from valuable sacred trees, but something of that level could be grown in a greenhouse if one knew how.
“That Repliglass Blood-Sign…i-it’s for practice, n-not combat, right? Um, they use them in Government, don’t they?”
“I think it’s officially known as a Quad Motors Phosphorus. It’s for beginners, so it doesn’t have any outstanding features yet is still better than average overall. Adding my own customizations on top of it is the most effective method. Plus, a custom-made one using rare materials is a lot harder to replace if it gets damaged.”
Kyousuke answered her while carving off the bits of the tip still stuck to the Blood-Sign. Then he used the instant glue to attach a new piece of wood. He traced the blade across the side of the Blood-Sign to get rid of the glue that oozed out and the wood that stuck out too far.
Just seeing his practiced motions was enough to give Higan the general idea that he had been doing this for a long time.
Then Lu Niang Lan spoke up while operating the laptop.
“Oh, there we go, there we go. Found it. This looks fishy to me.”
“You found something, Lu-san?” asked Kyousuke while rounding off the surface of the newly-attached tip with the fine sandpaper.
The China dress beauty removed the laptop screen and held it out toward him. He took it and Higan peered in from the side.
“U-um, is this…an occult site?”
“It’s a collection of urban legends,” said Lu Niang Lan. “You can’t take these things too lightly.”
Higan did not seem to know how to respond and Kyousuke asked a question.
“Do you not use the internet much?”
“Well…my sister told me this is what, um, stole our god’s place in the world.”
Higan may not have been entirely wrong there.
“Isn’t it more accurate to say people assumed gods could appear in or descend to our world whenever they wanted, but it turned out the conditions and locations were quite limited?”
Shiroyama Kyousuke and his fellow summoners used an Incense Grenade to create an Artificial Sacred Ground before performing the summoning ceremony. That implied the existence of natural sacred grounds that did not require the “artificial” clarifier.
They could be unexplored regions like deep valleys or thick rainforests and they could be temples, sanctuaries, or cathedrals designed by human hands. It had to be more than someplace hidden from human eyes where people were forbidden to enter. They had to naturally fill people with a desire to stay out. Someone could easily peek inside one if they could, but they would never think to do so. People would decide they would be happier not knowing if the alternative was exploring somewhere like that. It was in those places the gods would appear.
“Well, the internet is certainly convenient, but being too convenient can be a problem,” said Lu Niang Lan. “You can easily search for satellite photos and you can freely explore 3D models of the pyramids. That’ll have really limited the number of beds the gods like so much.”
“Although if they’re really one of the mystical locations spoken of in our field, people will avoid digitizing them or viewing that data even if they have the technical capabilities,” said Kyousuke. “What really happened is we revealed just how few true sacred grounds there were in the first place.”
“There are a fair number of partial ones, but in those, the exit gets clogged up and it turns into a haunted spot. Although if monsters like the Kuchisake-Onna show up, that gives us more work to do.”
People no longer feared the darkness.
Or rather, they had forgotten the darkness existed.
That was a dry fact, but it meant they had no choice but to use whatever was available to them.
“Summoners and vessels aren’t perceived properly by normal people and you can even trick cameras and sensors in some situations,” said the modified China dress beauty. “But that will sometimes leave behind incomplete witness data.”
Shiroyama Kyousuke scrolled through the page and saw a list of various rumors.
There was supposedly a giant server for an online casino below the amusement park and anyone would be able to add in some malware if they located it. There was supposedly a human trafficking organization walking boldly through the crowds by mixing in with the official costumed characters. Like that, most of the rumors were the standard fare.
But he frowned when he saw one of them.
~The Carnivore Girl~
In an accident at Block Z’s zoo, a girl fell into the lion’s cage. She died and the lion was shot by the zookeeper, but she continues to wander this world in search of the person who pushed her in so she can feed them to the lion’s ghost.”
“Um, isn’t this talking about Aika? She generally holes up in her apartment, but she apparently goes out late at night to go for walks or bathe in the moonlight with that wild animal of hers.”
“I really wish she would stop calling herself a shut-in when she can go to the convenience store on her own. But you understand now, don’t you? Summoners and vessels aren’t properly perceived by normal people, but they can’t control how that perception shifts out of place. That’s why partial information like that will pop up from time to time.”
Lu Niang Lan tapped at one point on the screen and the text enlarged.
“But this is different. Someone’s been spreading information for damage control. And on a pretty large scale. This is on the level of the Cyber Force’s high-speed parallel servers.”
“??? Um, uh, wh-what do you mean?”
The modified China dress beauty smiled and answered Meinokawa Higan’s question.
“It means there’s a rumor containing some kind of dangerous truth that warrants this. Not that just anyone could tell by looking at this screen☆”
Lu Niang Lan belonged to Illegal, which was (according to Government Middleman Aika) a collection of criminal organizations. That was why she could acquire anything one might need. And that included the software or specialized groups needed to accurately analyze the “flow of data” on the internet that could not be fully grasped even by a company worth billions of yen that managed both the advertisement and search business.
“When Illegal is manipulating stock prices or dabbling in the kind of land speculation that doesn’t require any violence, then we’ll purposefully spread rumors online like this. But this one has nothing to do with us. And yet it has a very Illegal smell to it. Guard of Honor might be doing something while making it look like our doing.”
Shiroyama Kyousuke and Meinokawa Higan looked to the screen again and read the rumor in question.
~Terror of the Part-Time Empire~
Toy Dream 35 is a city of adults’ hopes and children’s dreams, but it is apparently putting a lot of effort into training its part-timers. If a part-timer treats a guest poorly and ruins the dream, their superiors will take them away. Recently, a black-haired girl in a shrine maiden outfit was seen being chased by men in work uniforms.”
“U-um, is this, um…”
Higan grew flustered and Kyousuke spoke for her.
“This is a city of costumes, so the shrine maiden outfit alone isn’t a sure thing. But since it matches your sister’s description, I think it’s worth pursuing.”
“By the way, this rumor has been blocked three times in just the past few hours. That is, from eleven at night to one in the morning. Where the ‘shrine maiden part-timer girl’ appears has been all over the place, though.”
“Wait. You mean…?”
“Yes, she’s being seen more often. Almost as if she’s purposefully making appearances.”
“Hm,” said Kyousuke as he stopped to think for a moment.
He did not know what route she was using, but Meinokawa Renge had apparently safely escaped the harbor area and was traveling between blocks. She should have been able to hide if she had a secret route like that, but she was purposefully showing herself from time to time.
If Guard of Honor was trying to block the information, then the information on her location was reaching them each time she appeared.
Why would she do something so dangerous?
After some thought, Kyousuke looked over at Higan who was staring at the laptop screen.
“Eh? Eh? Um, do you need something?”
“No,” was all he said.
Meinokawa Renge was putting herself in danger to draw Guard of Honor’s attention toward her and away from her sister Higan.
“Lu-san, I get that Meinokawa Renge is purposefully letting people see her, but is there a pattern to where and when she shows up? To put it more bluntly, where will she show up next?”
“Eight next morning in Block G.”
“Eh? Wait… Um, how do you know that?”
“Well, I’ll admit three data points is too little information to say for sure, but this city has twenty-six blocks from A to Z. If you convert the letters to number, compare them to her past appearances, and do a biiit of calculation, a simple pattern shows itself.”
“Material is summoned by spelling out the name with the Blood-Sign… I guess that is a summoner-esque dying message.”
Kyousuke tapped at the edge of the flat screen where the time and date were displayed.
“It would be difficult to get to the current point from here, so we’ll just have to wait until eight in the morning.”
“With that much time, the odds are good Guard of Honor will notice the pattern too.”
“U-um, uh, what does that mean?”
Higan was almost in tears and Kyousuke gave a simple answer.
“It’ll be a race to reach her first, like a game of beach flags.”
They had the necessary equipment and they had some information to base their next move on.
Just as Shiroyama Kyousuke prepared to leave the store, Lu Niang Lan called out to him while leaning on the counter.
“Oh, right. Kyousuke-chan, why not take a side arm with you?”
“I think I’d be better off without one. It seems I’m Alice (with) Rabbit, after all.”
With that quick response, he stepped out the door. Meinokawa Higan seemed puzzled by that exchange but started to follow Kyousuke while worrying about the short skirt of her maid outfit.
“That’s fine. Higan-chan, take this just in case. Don’t let Kyousuke-chan know, though.”
She placed a military knife with a twenty centimeter blade on the counter. It was the kind with a jagged back often seen in movies. However, the grip was strange. It did not hold the blade equally on both sides. One side was longer.
“That’s a trick knife that also works as a gun. It has two shots inside. When firing, align the tip with the center line of your target’s body and press the button on the grip. But assume you can’t hit from more than ten meters away. It’s essentially a replacement for a blade that’s fired by a spring.”
“Eh? Eh? Wait, um…!?”
Higan was confused. She belonged to the world of the insane fights to the death known as summoning ceremonies, but the term “gun” filled her with an entirely different sense of rejection. It was strange, but a part of her still saw herself as existing within this country’s laws.
Her mind subconsciously searched for an excuse to not take it.
“Um, uh, I thought normal weapons didn’t work on a summoner inside the Material’s protective circle.”
“That’s true. But let me tell you something that I’ve already accepted.”
“Long ago, I killed a summoner with this. At the time, they were Government Award 1000.”
That was enough to shock Higan.
Not only a summoner, but a Thousand Eater who held the greatest power of one of the three groups. Their affiliation would supposedly shift from this world to the other world and they would create new legends as a resident of the other side. Higan and her sister could never hope to defeat someone like that at their best, but this woman had killed them with nothing more than a modified handgun?
The modified China dress beauty laughed.
“To be blunt, I was forced to be their vessel. It was pretty awful. I really was living in a cage with a collar around my neck. I was sick of that life, so at the very, very end, I saw an opening, killed them, and ran off.”
Lu Niang Lan belonged to Illegal.
According to Government, that was a collection of criminal organizations.
“That’s why I don’t believe in the assumption that only summoners can kill summoners. You’ll find plenty of opportunities depending on the methods you’re using. I may be an exception known as the Perfect Dragon, but that isn’t something only I can do. It’s best to be on your guard.”
“Especially with high Award summoners like Kyousuke-kun, you’ll often find yourself relying on him no matter what. So you take that. You aren’t a customer or a guest anymore; you’re half of Alice (with) Rabbit. You need to compensate for the things he can’t do.”
The woman gave a thin smile.
Meinokawa Higan thought she had a point, but her hand still wandered hesitantly through the air.
“And there’s also the circumstances for tonight in particular. You might find yourself in need of some simple self-defense.”
“Kyousuke-chan lives alone in a cruiser, but where do you think you’re going to end up sleeping tonight? And with nothing underneath that miniskirt maid outfit, no less.”
Higan grabbed the trick knife so quickly she nearly set it off right there.
Toy Dream 35 was a metropolis bordering the ocean. Its nightscape encroached on the dark sea as well as the land. This was due to the many ships. The small ones were boats meant to transport personnel and equipment or cruisers used as villas. The large ones were tankers and luxury cruise ships that could circumnavigate the globe.
One of the ships was especially large.
It was the Princess Azalea.
It was said the capacity of a CD had been decided because it could hold the entirety of one of Beethoven’s symphonies, but something similar could be said about this cruise ship. The bridges of major port cities around the world - New York, Shanghai, Sydney, Copenhagen, Kobe, Singapore, etc. - had been modified so this ship could just barely pass through. It had begun operation ten years before to celebrate the high society debut of a single mysterious girl, but it was well known that even the water gates of the Panama Canal had been widened for the appearance of the ship.
That legend summed up the influence of the world-famous American defense contractor Quad Motors.
“Milady,” said the gentle voice of an old butler.
Azalea Magentarain sat next to a convenience store trashcan munching on Whitefish Night’s Fried Fish, a popular hot snack. With the exception of the character illustration on the cardboard packaging, there was no creativity whatsoever in the product. If the maids waiting back on the cruise ship had seen this, they might have fainted.
“If you are hungry, shouldn’t we return to the ship?”
“No, thanks. Everyone’s too strict there.”
She tossed the cardboard packaging in the plastic bag and pulled out a cheap spring roll instead.
“Seventy-eight yen each and made with entirely unknown ingredients. No lengthy menu and no bragging chef. Ahh, now this is the ultimate thrill. I could never eat something like this back home.”
“You are incorrigible, milady.”
“Just to make sure, you are going to keep this a secret, aren’t you? If my family found out about this, they’d punish me with a detailed medical examination that very day,” said Azalea as her small tongue licked up the grease on her thumb. “Any word on Freedom Award 902?”
“I apologize. We are putting in every possible effort to gather information, but…”
“Well, yelling at you isn’t going to make them appear.”
Even the old butler’s eyes sharpened when he saw Azalea’s slender hand reach for the plastic bottle of soda sitting directly on the ground, but Azalea was clearly enjoying that reaction as she gulped down the drink.
“Rather than chasing after them, we should chase after what they want. I received a report on Meinokawa Higan when she was brought under Government’s protection.”
“It seems Guard of Honor is also taking action concerning them…”
“Then this is business as usual. Either way, a summoner can’t reveal their true value without beginning a battle. As I defeat enemy after enemy after enemy after enemy after enemy, I’ll come across Alice (with) Rabbit eventually.”
She held the fizzing bottle up in front of her eyes and pictured an imaginary image inside the translucent liquid.
“Doesn’t that seem like the first worthwhile target in a while?”
She desired a powerful target, but she gave no real thought to the target itself.
There was something else that excited her.
“The peak of the Unexplored-class…the White Queen. It’s been so long since I came across a delicious target that won’t be crushed before I can summon her.”
Beyond the Regulation-class and Divine-class was the Unexplored-class.
A certain Material was said to be the most powerful of that class and thus her popularity approached the level of worship.
She was known as the White Queen.
As the summoners of Government, Illegal, and Freedom honed their skills to crush each other, they had ironically cast aside the Three at the peaks of the low, middle, and high sounds and instead named her the most powerful.
When it came down to it, a battle was not a one-on-one affair to Azalea.
It was a stage on which she alone would shine.
And the most wonderful performance of all was to dance with the beautiful White Queen.
That inhuman beauty would complete that one-night-only performance in a way that could never be captured by a painting or sculpture. That was Golden Luxury’s reason for existing in this world.
“Really, that is your biggest bad habit.”
“Call it the true essence of the summoning ceremony. It’s obvious why our combat-focused techniques can summon the gods and the Unexplored-class beyond them: combat is beautiful enough to draw them to us. Isn’t that right?”
That was why she spent so much money and used so many personnel and yet never left the conclusion to her subordinates. In a game of chess, she would have been the king, but she would charge right into the enemy lines.
It was all to stage the most beautiful battle.
No matter how much risk it entailed, she would choose to stand before an enemy powerful enough to rival her.
“I am truly, truly hoping you can last long enough for me to reach the White Queen, Alice (with) Rabbit.”
The next morning arrived.
“Why aren’t you sleeping? And after I let you have the bed, too.”
Shiroyama Kyousuke had tried to get what sleep he could by placing the kitchen table’s chairs next to each other. He asked his question while cracking his back, but Meinokawa Higan did not answer him.
She was filling her cupped hands with tap water and washing her face that still looked discouraged. On a cruiser, fresh water was fairly valuable. Basically, mineral water was pumped into a tank. Although there were reports saying Toy Dream 35’s tap water taken from a Repliglass bacteria pool was of higher quality than commercial water bottles.
“Next up is our ‘Trend Catcher!!’ section where we discuss cutting-edge technology and the latest products. Today, we will be discussing the Logical Cables everyone has been talking about lately. Have any of you ever had trouble with your electric cords getting all tangled up at home? But prepare to be amazed! These Logical Cables will untangle themselves even if they’re as tangled as an afro!!”
“But Tomcat-chan, aren’t these made from Repliglass!? That was originally a military product, so surely it has to be expensive. …Huh? It’s this cheap???”
(Honestly, that stuff is showing up everywhere these days.)
Kyousuke listened to the cat costume and the female announcer (he could not remember her nickname) on the TV as he poured cereal and milk into two large bowls and prepared a salad from the ingredients in the fridge.
“We have at most two more days. After eating this, let’s pursue that rumor about the ‘part-time girl’ that’s probably your sister.”
“R-right. We need to find her as soon as we can.”
Higan clenched her small fists.
“And you need rice and miso soup for a proper breakfast.”
“Yeah, well cereal and damp bread is all I’ve got.”
“B-but I didn’t expect a legendary summoner to, um, buy Tomcat-chan cereal.”
“This is Toy Dream 35. Everything from toilet paper to molester-repellent spray is branded with some kind of character or another. It’s harder to find something without an illustration on it.”
To add some more flavor, Kyousuke put a single scoop of plain yogurt in his bowl.
“Why are you so on edge? None of this is genetically modified if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Our shrine performs doll funerals, so I don’t really like seeing all these mass-produced character goods that just get thrown out. Nothing’s scarier than a smile buried in mud…”
While Higan preferred Japanese food, her empty stomach won out and she stuck a silver spoon into her large bowl of cereal.
Before taking the first bite, she muttered something under her breath.
“Oh, White Queen. Thank you for the happiness of having food at the table for another day.”
“You’re praying again?”
“I-I’m a shrine maiden, so of course I am. Didn’t I tell you the White Queen is our shrine’s unofficial second god?”
“I understand wanting to rely on her when she’s known as the strongest, but you should be focusing on the entire summoning ceremony system more than a single temporary Material.”
Higan took a bite of the cereal and then reached for the bottle of honey on the table.
“The name on this boat’s side is the White Queen.”
“And you have no idea how much I regret that. If I’d known how hard it is to change a boat’s name once it’s been registered, I never would have given it that name.”
Higan was puzzled by the way he seemed to spit out the words, but he changed the subject before she could find an answer.
“Oh, right. We need to do something about ‘that’ once you finish eating.”
“I’m talking about that.”
Kyousuke used his spoon to point toward the floor where the seawater-soaked shrine maiden outfit was soaking in a tub of water.
Toy Dream 35 was a giant amusement park filled with hopes and dreams, but it of course had the stores needed for daily life in addition to the souvenir shops and official fashion shops.
But Meinokawa Higan spoke up as soon as they entered the laundromat they found on the way to the nearest station.
“Oh, um, we can’t use this.”
She was looking at the synthetic detergent, not the washing machine.
“My sister said our outfits are dyed using the rubia plant, so u-using something like this will, um, wash the color out.”
“Then what kind of detergent can we use?”
“I think everything like this is off limits.”
Kyousuke held his head in his hands.
It was looking like they could not use the laundromat.
“So let me get this straight. To wash this thing, we have to use expensive dry cleaning? In this city that prices everything at hotel levels?”
“And with the special hand-washing option needed for a kimono or dress!?”
“It would be, um, m-meaningless otherwise.”
“That costs too much. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………I guess we’ll have to give up on that.”
Meinokawa Higan blankly tilted her head and he gave what might as well have been a death sentence to a girl who was still wearing a miniskirt maid outfit.
“On buying you some panties.”
Ten minutes later, Shiroyama Kyousuke held the receipt from the dry cleaners they had dropped the shrine maiden outfit off at as soon as it had opened.
He had also been hit over and over by Meinokawa Higan whose entire face was beet red.
“Wh-why!? Um, how could this have happened!?”
“One: I got some Incense Grenades and information at Lu-san’s place. That’s an Illegal business, so it isn’t cheap. Two: this is an amusement park city, so pretty much everything is expensive. Three: hand-washing traditional Japanese clothing requires an expert, so it’s super expensive!! Just to be clear, my savings are pretty much down to zero now. Zero! Once my fridge is empty, I’m going to have to catch some dinner with a fishing rod!”
“B-but I thought you were Freedom Award 902, Alice (with) Rabbit!!”
“I’ve been using up all of my savings without doing any work for about half a year now. Got a problem with that? Besides, before taking issue with my financial situation, how about you take a look in your own wallet!?”
“Uuh… B-but we had our shrine taken away because of our debt…”
“Um… Just out of curiosity, how did you and your sister even get to Toy Dream 35? Surely you have some spare clothes at the hotel or apartment you were staying at.”
“………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………We don’t have anything like that.”
“Don’t tell me you were living in a home of newspaper and cardboard… That’s just sad.”
“S-say a word more and, um, I might not be able to control myself.”
Nevertheless, they could not spend money they did not have and she could not wear panties she did not have.
She nearly accepted her fate, but then something occurred to her.
“Huh? There is a way!! Y-you can sell that cruiser!”
“Hell no!! Surely you don’t think I’m crazy enough to sell my home to buy some panties!”
And thus Meinokawa Higan was forced to continue her strategy of utter defenselessness.
“Once this is over, you should probably go running to Government or Illegal and accept a few small jobs. At this rate, you’ll be digging through the trash for food.”
“U-uuh… D-do you have to, um, verbally attack me like that?”
“Yes, I do! We’re supposed to be a pair, but I feel like one side isn’t exactly supporting the other much!”
It was 7:58 in front of Block G’s monorail station. The city’s ground had been intentionally submerged and all of the roads floated in the air like elevated highways or giant land bridges. The plaza in front of the monorail station was large enough for a basketball court, but it too was not solid land.
At this time, the people on the way to work or school were mixed in with the tourists who had gotten up early. But that area in front of peaceful Block G’s monorail station was also a delicate “powder keg” where multiple summoners were prepared to clash head-on.
“I-it’s about time…isn’t it?” asked Meinokawa Higan while holding down her maid outfit’s short skirt with both hands.
She was standing out more due to her fidgeting than her clothing, but Kyousuke held his tongue because he knew telling her that would not help.
“B-but how is, um, my sister moving around? I-I was found by Government right away.”
“She’s probably using the staff-only pathways,” calmly answered Kyousuke. “There are apparently tons of passageways spread out through the city like a spider web to quickly transport supplies, trash, and famous people who might cause a scene if they were in the public eye. Some are undersea tunnels, some run through the giant land bridges, and so on. I don’t know all the details myself, but it’s the hidden side of this land of dreams.”
But Renge had used those to survive until morning.
Although no one knew how long that would last.
“Assuming Guard of Honor isn’t filled with complete idiots, they’ll be hiding around here somewhere. …Your sister Renge and the people pursuing her are both here somewhere, so focus.”
The target was a human being and lives were on the line.
The ultimate game of beach flags would soon begin.
Meinokawa Renge had long black hair and smooth white skin, so no one could have looked more at home in a shrine maiden outfit. She was near the plaza in front of Block G’s monorail station, but she was actually on a different land bridge passing directly above that plaza. She was extremely close, but she would never cross paths with Kyousuke or Higan.
A weird costumed character that kept saying “gozaru” cheerfully passed her by.
She had an extremely simple reason for being here.
She was intentionally following a pattern to capture Guard of Honor’s attention. That would allow Higan at least to escape their information network.
(It scares me that my connection with her was severed, but I can’t go searching for her now. If I chase after her, I might lead Guard of Honor right to her. I can only trust that she’s alive and keep doing what I’m doing!!)
She would do anything for her sister.
Their opponent was skilled and this cheap attempt to remain on the run would not last forever, so she wanted to be of some use instead of dying a worthless death. She wanted to protect her family.
She had resolved herself to that, and yet…
(Why is Higan here!?)
Renge crouched behind the concrete railing to make sure she could not be seen from below.
This defeated the entire purpose of her acting as bait. Guard of Honor would soon close in on Renge, but Higan was here too.
(And why is she wearing a miniskirt maid outfit???)
That question only brought further questions.
(Plus, who is that boy standing next to her? Eh? Don’t tell me that’s…a new summoner!? Is that why her connection with me was severed? But a contract can’t be forced through threats or hypnotism, so, um…)
Those questions brought further confusion.
(Absolute consent is needed. But that means he could have deceived her like a host chatting up women in a host club… D-don’t tell me that bastard laid his hands on my cute little Higan!!)
She nearly forgot her situation as anger flared up inside her.
But then she heard the sound of creaking metal.
The wave of pedestrians naturally opened on either side to avoid “her”.
It was a young woman wearing a light pink nurse outfit. However, her fingernails were painted a venomous color and a single tuft of her long, loose hair was dyed deep red. Both were unhygienic things an actual nurse would never do.
However, the entire city of Toy Dream 35 was an amusement park, so a costume was not going to gather much attention. The attention was drawn by something else.
The sound of creaking metal continued.
One of her hands held an IV stand with wheels. The transparent tube led to a girl in a plain, long-sleeved navy blue sailor uniform. The skirt was long and the legs poking out were covered in black tights. But very few people would think of the words “delicate” or “slender” upon seeing her. The words in their mind would be far more frail, devastating, and hopeless. They would be similar to the thoughts of someone seeing an old tree that had started to rot from within.
The girl swayed unsteadily on her feet as if she did not even have the willpower to remain standing. If some third party followed the nursing instructions and supported her back while tugging gently on her hand, she would probably have followed them to the ends of the earth.
They were a summoner and vessel.
The summoner went by Guard of Honor’s shared name of Uniquely Selfless. She was the skilled summoner who had summoned the Unexplored-class Lady of “Purple Lightning” that Separates Good from Evil (iu - ao - eu - ei - kub - miq - a - ci - pl) on a cruiser at the harbor. …However, she had used up more than fifty vessels to reach this point.
The vessel’s head continued lolling unsteadily and she did not speak a word, but that was hardly surprising when the drug in the IV kept her mind muddy twenty-four hours a day. The nameless girl probably had no idea she was a vessel.
The effect was technically somewhat different, but it may have been similar to pharmaceutically recreating the hopeless trance that left someone only able to smile a little as the final calamity of defeat approached. But here, it continued indefinitely.
“Meinokawa Renge sighted☆ And if she’s been sighted, then I’m close enough to use this☆☆☆”
The Uniquely Selfless in the nurse uniform grinned and let her slender fingers crawl along her own thigh.
She pulled a metal can from her skirt.
It was an Incense Grenade.
Summoner Meinokawa Renge did not currently have the vessel needed to summon Material, so she would be killed by even the weakest Material at a cost of one.
The enemy summoner licked her lips that were covered in an excessive amount of lipstick and she pulled the IV needle from the girl’s arm. That was another sign of the coming battle. In her long life, the vessel only had any awareness during the few minutes of a battle. To that ignorant girl, that life may have seemed like a fragment of a psychedelic nightmare.
“Hee hee☆ Ahh, I knewwww it☆ This moment when I hold a human life in my hands☆☆☆ This is the moment of ultimate bliss☆ Ha ha ha☆ Ah ha☆ Ha ha☆☆ Ah ha ha ha☆ Ah ha☆☆☆ Ah ha☆☆ Ah ha ha☆ Ah ha ha ha☆☆☆☆ Ah ha☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆”
But then she heard a girl’s voice as clear as a bell slip into her ears from behind.
“Oh? If you really want to take your cruelty to the next level, you need to create some benefit to society so its value will be widely accepted, don’t you think? …For example, like this.”
A rumbling burst out.
It was over in less than fifteen seconds.
Shiroyama Kyousuke heard the whistling of something slicing through the air as it slowly rotated. The people in the plaza had started screaming and fleeing in confusion after an explosion directly above, but that quieter noise sounded oddly loud to his ears and heart.
Meinokawa Higan looked up without thinking.
At that exact moment, a woman in a nurse outfit fell from the giant land bridge crossing above the plaza.
A dull, soft sound followed.
Despite falling solidly onto her back, the woman forgot to choke and continued making a single action. She was not holding a Blood-Sign, but she slowly continued miming the act of striking something with one again and again.
Kyousuke took Higan’s hand and began to run.
He nearly leaped forward to hide below the land bridge running by overhead.
Higan looked like she was going to ask a question, so he covered her mouth with a hand and held his breath.
He heard a pure girl’s voice. In fact, it was so pure it sounded like it would kill germs.
The speaker was likely looking down at the plaza from above. And from the sound of her voice, she was speaking over a cellphone or radio.
“Yes, yes. I defeated them. It was Guard of Honor’s…well, it’s a little confusing since they’re all called Uniquely Selfless. Anyway, this is the eighth one. It’s so easy I’m having trouble holding back a yawn.”
(That voice. Government Award 930, Golden Luxury!?)
Shiroyama Kyousuke gulped with his hand still covering Meinokawa Higan’s mouth.
The timing could not have been worse.
Like the ally of justice Government was meant to be, they must have used their own information network to hunt down Guard of Honor. But the enemy of your enemy was not necessarily your friend. Kyousuke and Higan had already given Azalea Magentarain a reason to fight them.
Meinokawa Renge was nearby.
And Guard of Honor may have sent more than the one summoner.
If Golden Luxury noticed them while speaking on the phone, she would probably use a Material even in this crowd. Who could say how far the damage would spread.
“I’ll leave it to you to pick up the trash. How about putting her through a strength test to see how far you have to go before she tells you everything?”
Whatever the case, they could not afford to begin a battle here. Meeting up with Meinokawa Renge came first and then they needed to focus on safely leaving this place.
“Is this necessary? Of course it is. I am Government Award 930. Are you sure you haven’t misjudged my value?”
“(M-my sister was there…)”
In his arms, Maid Higan looked up at Kyousuke and pleaded quietly to him.
It was an earnest plea.
“(When I looked up before, I saw my sister there! We have to do something!!)”
“(Wait. …Something isn’t right.)”
Kyousuke felt a scorching sensation on the back of his neck as Azalea continued speaking overhead.
“You all have talent that rookies do not, but there is too much variation in that talent and not everyone is going to earn a passing grade. Don’t you think we need to weed the failures out at some point? With a large plan, even the smallest mistake could lead to it all falling apart.”
He had assumed Golden Luxury was speaking with a Government contact, but she was not.
“If they can keep me from catching up to them, we know other members of Government can’t catch up to them either. We are in the process of carrying out a delicate plan, so they need to be able to accomplish at least that much. Anyone caught by my network would be caught and tortured by other members of Government. You should thank me that they were only caught in this practice run. If this was a real fight to the death, those incompetent grunts would have been defeated, thrown in a dark room, and tortured for every detail of our plan.”
Azalea Magentarain was speaking with someone else entirely.
With a cellphone in hand, someone walked past the workers inspecting and restoring the destroyed harbor area. It did not matter that the area was open only to authorized personnel. By the time the workers tried to warn them, those normal people had already unnaturally forgotten this person even existed.
That did not matter to this person.
They had lost the concept of individuality even more than when they had gone by the name Uniquely Selfless.
However, this person spoke quietly.
“The organization has changed quite a bit since you arrived.”
“Oh? I have no interest in talk of hierarchy or the new and the old. We are equally Uniquely Selfless, after all.”
“I see. So I’m supposed to take consolation in the fact that you have changed as well? You are definitely not a queen.”
The person gave an emotionless laugh with no hint of enjoyment in their face.
“As you said, Guard of Honor needs to weed out the weaker elements that could trip up the organization as a whole. And a top member of Government, the world police who know quite well how official pursuit is carried out, would be perfect for that job. But you haven’t forgotten about pursuing the escapees, have you? That too is of utmost important.”
“Yes, yes. I have already restrained Meinokawa Renge. I had to be very careful to make sure I didn’t kill her in one blow, though.”
The summoners did not bother hiding their voices.
They and everything they said would be erased from the people’s memories before long anyway.
“Did you take me for the kind of fool that loses sight of her primary task while taking a detour? She’s lying handcuffed on the ground, so come collect her.”
From there, his expression grew more and more serious.
“(No, that isn’t it. …Doesn’t this mean Golden Luxury changed her nickname to Uniquely Selfless quite a while ago!?)”
The girl’s voice suddenly stabbed into his ears.
But this time it was clearly directed toward him.
“If we are willing to attack our own to secure our safety, did you really think we would let a wild rabbit like you escape, Freedom Award 902, Alice (with) Rabbit!?”
(Why would she throw away her current position to join Guard of Honor? No, I don’t have time to be questioning this now!!)
He clicked his tongue, released Higan from his arms, and spoke.
“We can’t hide any longer. Higan, are you prepared to work with me? We need to defeat Government Award 930…no, Guard of Honor’s Uniquely Selfless!!”
The blonde girl and her aged butler dropped down from the sky.
Shiroyama Kyousuke raced forward like a bullet in the instant they landed and absorbed the shock with their knees. He pulled the long Blood-Sign from his back, extended it, and thrust the tip toward the center of the girl’s neck that seemed more fragile than glass. This was the same as crushing someone’s throat with the flat tip of a wooden sword. The full-strength strike of the military Repliglass Blood-Sign was clearly a killing technique.
A dull sound burst out.
But the girl was unharmed. The butler had calmly stepped in front of Azalea and crossed his arms to block the Blood-Sign strike.
The old man spoke to his master without the slightest change to his expression.
“Yes, let’s get started.”
A solid sound followed those words. An Incense Grenade had fallen straight to Azalea’s feet and the pin remained in her hand.
Kyousuke grabbed the middle of the long Blood-Sign with both hands and used both ends to make repeated strikes from a variety of angles. He was trying to knock the Incense Grenade into the distance before it exploded, but the butler acted as a barrier and would not let any attack through. Also, Azalea poked her slender fingertip into the face of the collapsed nurse to guide her toward the boy. Before the slowly-moving figure could get in the way, Kyousuke swung the tip of his Blood-Sign near her nurse’s face to send that loser walking in a different direction. Fractal Leskins’s arms moved swiftly and nearly grabbed the Blood-Sign, so Kyousuke clicked his tongue and jumped back.
Only a few seconds had passed, but he had missed his final chance.
With a light bursting sound, an Artificial Sacred Ground explosively filled the area.
“We are both in the 900s.”
A pink ribbon wrapped in a large reel whipped through empty space and became a 150 cm rod. The girl known as a golden bird of prey grabbed the Blood-Sign from the air with one hand and gave a fierce smile.
“Truly high-quality fruits are most delicious when eaten without any kind of preparation, don’t you think? I have set this rare stage, so don’t try anything crass and let me enjoy this.”
The effect would only last ten minutes.
The gate to true hell had opened for one-sixth of an hour.
As soon as the two of them clashed, the giant land bridge directly above the plaza crumbled. The summoners had their protective circles, so mere rubble was not going to kill them. The dust was simply meant to block Kyousuke’s view and prevent him from using his Blood-Sign.
Meanwhile, Golden Luxury took action.
Her voice ruled the battlefield.
Like a Buddhist priest’s bell, the mere sound seemed to drive out evil.
It was a pure voice.
It was frightening.
Meinokawa Higan had become the Original Red (b), which cost one low sound. It was a three meter tall mass of red sticky liquid. The girl’s thoughts had nearly ground to a halt when she saw the reality that accompanied that adorable voice.
“Un, deux, trois.”
Azalea Magentarain’s actions were simple.
She merely used her Blood-Sign to launch all three of her initial white spheres of light known as White Thorns.
But she was very accurate. Almost too accurate.
“Un, deux, trois. Un, deux, trois. …Un, deux, trois.”
Looking just at their paths, they drew a large rectangle that spanned the Artificial Sacred Ground. The White Thorns she had launched returned accurately to herself. They came to a stop with a slight spin and her Blood-Sign would sharply strike them once more.
As a result…
<She’s…not using up her White Thorns!? She’s endlessly hitting the White Thorns that come back to, um, remain on the attack indefinitely without having to worry about her remaining stock!?>
As a vessel, Higan had become one with the Material that had both an inhumanly large body and a bizarrely artistic appearance, but her heart was filled with very human fear.
A dance of crimson light exploded in that tiny world along with a broken song that destroyed the psyche of all who heard it and that sounded like someone banging their hands on a piano’s keys. The dance and song continued endlessly without any kind of break.
White Thorns that came to a stop would naturally vanish.
But if they were hit by the Blood-Sign again within the three seconds before they vanished, they could be reused. Some summoners tried running around the large Artificial Sacred Ground to reach the White Thorn’s stopping point before it arrived.
<But th-that doesn’t always work. Th-they only go for the ones they think they can actually reach. But, um, th-this person is doing it with 100% accuracy!?>
Even as the number of White Thorns grew, her accuracy did not change.
All the while, her additional stock was being replenished every ten seconds.
The White Thorns did not just strike the walls and floor.
They also hit the Petals that carved out the names of Material with the low, middle, and high sounds as consonants and lowest sounds as vowels. Whenever the Petals collided with each other or fell into a Spot, they produced a crazed rhythm with their respective sounds, further escalating the broken song.
<With this…like this…w-we can never catch up by, um, hitting individual Petals into the Spots with individual White Thorns like normal! She’s way too fast!!>
Higan’s focus turned to her summoner partner.
It may have been a form of escapism to reject the dizzying fear before her eyes.
Needless to say, Shiroyama Kyousuke had not been sitting idly by as all this happened.
He was constantly making the quickest and shortest movements to hit the White Thorns and knock various Petals into the Spots. Sometimes he knocked two or three Petals in at once. As a vessel, Meinokawa Higan could only watch the summoner’s skill and she was truly impressed.
She became a giant umbrella with fangs covering the outer edge while the old butler became a goddess statue filled with murderous gimmicks. There was a great serpent made of several chains, an automaton created by sewing together human skin, an old tome covered in countless eyeballs, a gear with a giant smile plastered on the side, and a dinosaur not found in any encyclopedia. Both sides’ Materials were changing in the blink of an eye.
But they could not catch up.
Kyousuke was controlling a single White Thorn at a time, so he was not standing in the same realm of speed as Azalea who constantly controlled several White Thorns as if juggling them.
“Oh, dear. What seems to be the matter? Where has the supposedly imperturbable Alice (with) Rabbit gone?”
When it came down to it, the summoning ceremony was a battle between Materials.
Their strength was determined by the sound range and by the cost, aka the number of Petals hit into the Spots.
Both of those factors came down to how well the White Thorns were manipulated by the Blood-Sign.
If one was accurate yet took time to hit the Petals, they might be overwhelmed by pure numbers.
If one hit a lot of Petals but had poor aim, they might be outdone by accurate and efficient movements.
But how was one to face an opponent who had both strengths and cast aside both weaknesses?
Was there even a way of doing that?
There was a winged alligator, a giant face made of stone, a jellyfish giving off a putrid stench, and finally just a vague mass that was changing forms too quickly to see. It unleashed a barrage on Meinokawa Higan’s temporary form, a giant suit of armor, and she was torn into again and again. The Silhouette contained inside - the soft outline of her body - was just about to be exposed.
She could not even fight a defensive battle as she reflexively held up her arms to protect her face. Kyousuke used the most effective sound range to suppress the damage as much as possible, but the difference in cost had grown to more than ten. Normally, a hit or two would be enough to destroy her.
Nevertheless, Higan had yet to lose, and that was due to Kyousuke’s skill. When he saw Higan was just about to be defeated, he would bring her to her next Material form, providing her a new body. That way, he prevented the damage from severing Higan’s mind at the core.
It was forceful, but even with a liter package of blood, a blood transfusion could not be made without first harming the individual to shed their blood. Kyousuke was waiting until she had bled right up to the limit, providing a transfusion, waiting for her to bleed right up to the limit again, providing another transfusion, and repeating the process. He was only making sure she never lost a fatal amount of blood.
“Alice (with) Rabbit Shiroyama Kyousuke. …Since you threw the glove at me, I did some research on you.”
The girl smiled thinly while accurately controlling well over ten White Thorns with just the one Blood-Sign.
“Once you hear someone ask for ‘help’, you will end up saving everything and everyone, as if a switch has been thrown. You do not keep a single vessel and instead make a contract with someone you come across who possesses the necessary qualities before releasing them to the sunny side of the world. …The flaw in your insistence on saving everyone you lay eyes on is not that your results do not live up to that ideal. In fact, the problem is that you are too perfect, isn’t it?”
“Yes, that’s right, isn’t it? Saving everything is really no different from someone who cannot clean up their room or throw anything away. So when you try to save the world, you end up saving more than necessary and end up with piles of chaos around you. Even if each individual element is desirable, as a whole, it does nothing but harm, doesn’t it?”
“You seem to know about me, but I barely know anything about you.”
They clashed at close range.
The two summoners pressed their protective circles together while glaring sharply at each other.
“You’re Government Award 930 and the daughter of Quad Motors’s president. What possible complaint could you have with the public side or the hidden side of that? I can’t imagine why you would throw all of that away to join Guard of Honor!!”
“Oh, dear. Are you serious? Do you really think the ‘normal’ way of looking at things has any bearing on our world?”
Azalea giggled, but accurately called countless White Thorns back to her.
“My position on the public stage? The number of dollar bills I own? What value does any of that have when we are immediately forgotten by earth’s entire population? If I want something, I can grab it from the store. If I don’t like someone, I can kill them in public. I can ‘normally’ accomplish those things. …And in the same way, no one will care even if I do take things from them,” said Azalea. “More importantly, is there any real meaning in summoner Awards? You’ve reached 902 in Freedom, so you should understand that.”
“Reaching Award 1000 reverses your affiliation between this world and the other world, so you will begin writing a new legend on the other side? Hah! Not likely! Some morons who might as well be amateurs will carelessly say they’re so close once they reach the 900s, but you know that isn’t going to happen, don’t you? The Awards grow much harder to earn when there are so few left. That unimaginable difficulty makes me wonder if it was intentionally made to be impossible in order to create an upper limit for summoners. But if I change sides in hopes of earning Awards, I’d be treated as a traitor in this cramped field. You’re left blocked on all sides, yet they still tell you to simply earn the rest of the Awards.”
“I knew Government Award 1000. Although they were killed by a certain woman before making the reversal from this world and the other world.”
“Those are only the cheaters who know how to erase all the secrets and rumors about them as they walk freely between the three major powers. In the end, the human rulers and the Three have rigged the system so only those they approve of becoming a god can reach 1000, don’t you think?”
“That person’s brutal strength was nothing as soft as that,” muttered Kyousuke under his breath.
Azalea continued with a muddy look in her eyes.
“Why does the rose symbol used for summoning use the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet instead of the standard twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet? Why is the symbolism consistent between the Rose, Petals, and White Thorns, yet the Spot is not? The logic and rules must have been constructed for someone’s convenience. There must have been someone who benefited from it. It’s wrong to think you can reach 1000 and cross that line just by following their rules.”
Even as she spat out these words, Azalea showed no sign of regret.
It was as if she truly had cast aside her position as Golden Luxury, Government’s ace.
“And on top of all that, there is no objective way to confirm where the Thousand Eaters actually end up. Is the other side really an otherworldly heaven? Are they even going to the other side? We have no idea, so it’s only natural to be hesitant to jump right in, don’t you think?”
Shiroyama Kyousuke had a bad feeling about this.
There was something decidedly bad about what Azalea was going to say.
“That is why we have searched for a more definite and simpler method of confirming that for all to see.”
She let out a soft giggle.
“So we have searched for a way of remaining eternally with the gods without relying on anything as uncertain as going to the other side.”
Azalea Magentarain clearly stated her conclusion.
“Yes. We were searching for the method used in the miracle that you alone once successfully created.”
A dull sound rang out.
It was the sound of Kyousuke gripping his primary weapon as a summoner so tightly it nearly broke.
“Hee hee. Ah ha ha ha ha ha!! Do I detect a disturbance in your strokes? We do not have your level of genius, but we have gathered the techniques we need to reach that former genius. So we no longer need a genius. Knowing that it is indeed possible by human hands is more than enough, don’t you think?”
Even as her temporary body was incessantly torn into, Meinokawa Higan forgot her pain.
A greater question was rising within her.
<She is…no, um, you two are t-talking about a world I’m not familiar with. Wh-what are you two talking about?>
“You understand nothing.”
Supposedly imperturbable Kyousuke spoke so fiercely it sounded like he was spitting out blood.
His eyes were not focused on the present world. He was shaken in that world Higan was unfamiliar with.
“There is no paradise or joy beyond ‘there’. That only leads to bottomless despair!!”
“Ha ha. That’s fine☆ We too wish to stand on the kind stage that lets us speak such superhuman phrases!!”
The movements of Azalea’s White Thorns grew even more skillful.
Her Material changed form again and again as it attacked Meinokawa Higan.
They could not win like this.
Kyousuke directly faced that dizzying reality and also quickly searched for a way to win.
(Uniquely Selfless…the former Golden Luxury specializes in ricocheting a set number of White Thorns back toward herself to remove the quantity limit without using them up.)
“You need to summon one hundred Regulation-class to summon a Divine-class and you need to summon fifty Divine-class to summon an Unexplored-class. Honestly, doesn’t that system seem so very annoying? Your average summoner is defeated before I can reach the Unexplored-class.”
(She uses the floor, walls, streetlights, vending machines, and anything else inside the Artificial Sacred Ground. She also often uses the boundaries of the Artificial Sacred Ground itself.)
“That is why I have high hopes for you.”
(Not all of the Materials she uses are all that large. Although I don’t know if that’s due to her personal tastes or because she doesn’t want to destroy the terrain if she can avoid it.)
“With your level of endurance, you might just last long enough for me to reach the peak of the Unexplored-class, the ‘White’ Queen who Wields the Sword of Unsullied Truth (iu - nu - fb - a - wuh - ei -kx - eu - pl - vjz)!!”
Kyousuke ignored her nonsense and sucked in a quick breath while using his Blood-Sign.
The fighting spirit in his eyes grew sharper.
“In that case, can you use ‘this’?”
One level above, the shrine maiden girl named Meinokawa Renge groaned on the edge of the destroyed land bridge running above the plaza.
With a click, the handcuffs unlocked behind her back.
Unlike the locks on front doors or safes, handcuff locks were generally quite simplified. If one was used to it, they could open it with a hairpin.
“Did they really think they didn’t have to worry about me if they put these on me?” spat out Renge as she rubbed her freed wrists. “Do they watch too many movies?”
The work had taken a few minutes, but even that felt like too much.
Her one and only sister was literally having her life worn away nearby.
That was the family member Renge had tried to save even if it meant throwing away her own life.
(Dammit… They’ve been fighting a completely defensive battle for a while now.)
Renge clenched her teeth as she watched from above.
The boy paired with Higan was far from weak. In fact, he was easily a few levels more skilled a summoner than Renge. He was using the Petals up at tremendous speed. New Roses were appearing and breaking apart into Petals quite frequently. Out of the 216 Petals of a Rose, there were seven each of the consonants. If all of a consonant or all of a vowel was used up, a new Rose would appear. Renge knew that rule, but she rarely saw it in action outside of a long match created by using several chains in a row.
But even then, he could not catch up to his opponent. The girl with reddish blonde ringlet curls used an unlimited strategy with unbelievable speed. Her Material grew stronger without end, so even if Higan was far from weak, she looked weak as she was torn to shreds. Her monstrous body was frequently broken apart to the extent that Higan’s soft Silhouette could be glimpsed inside.
And on top of that…
(This is bad. Their opponent is going to reach the Divine-class soon. If that happens, the sound range won’t matter. Higan and the ground around her will be smashed to pieces!!)
Renge had heard what that girl said.
That curly-haired girl was apparently fixated on the Unexplored-class “White” Queen who Wields the Sword of Unsullied Truth. With that in mind, Renge noticed something interesting when she looked across the entire Artificial Sacred Ground.
(There are two ways of summoning an Unexplored-class. The first is to summon one hundred Regulation-classes and then fifty Divine-classes to prepare the environment needed to carve out the name of the Unexplored-class.)
That was difficult to pull off. The Artificial Sacred Ground created by an Incense Grenade only lasted about ten minutes. While hitting multiple Petals at once and constantly building up a new Material every two or three seconds, it would take over seven minutes. While it was doable in a mock battle, it was not easily achieved in a real battle where the summoner had to see through the enemy’s actions and put their life on the line.
(The other is to carve out the name in order without a single letter out of place.)
That one was not easy either. The acquired Petals could not be rearranged to make the name. From beginning to end, not a single letter could be wasted and not a single letter could be replaced. Naturally, if the enemy noticed the attempt to summon an Unexplored-class and attempted to interfere, it was all over.
(She’s so fixated on the “White” Queen who Wields the Sword of Unsullied Truth that she’s preparing multiple methods of summoning her. She’s working at the one hundred Regulation-classes and fifty Divine-classes, but she’s also secretly preparing other patterns around the Artificial Sacred Ground so she can hit all the Petals into the Spot in order with just a slight hit from a White Thorn.)
She was setting up those rows of dominoes here and there. And no matter whose fingertip poked at them, the tiles would fall just the same.
The dominoes were not complete yet. She was simply placing the parts here and there as a side project. But if a few of those incomplete pieces were linked together, she would have the conditions needed for the summoning. Then a single White Thorn would link it all together.
(Once a century, a lucky chance comes along. It scares me that she’s skilled enough to create that kind of chance herself, but she isn’t the only one who can use it.)
Renge thought this provided a chance at victory.
The Guard of Honor summoner baring her fangs toward Higan would soon surpass the Regulation-class and reach the Divine-class. But if the much more powerful White Queen was summoned first, the difference in skill would no longer matter.
(Anyone can summon her now. With the materials she’s set up as insurance, even I would be able to reach that peak of the Unexplored-class.)
She could tear victory from their enemy’s grasp.
But what did she need to do that?
“Begin remote resonance, begin organ synchronization, receiving life signals from organs, synchronization complete.”
This was not originally Meinokawa Renge’s ability.
She justified it to herself because this was an emergency, but she still apologized to her sister in her heart.
“Foreign reaction detected in body linked by pseudo-resonance, viewing contract, deleting and overwriting one portion…”
A quiet creaking sound came from Renge’s chest.
It was a series of ever-so-slight sounds like thin, thin wires being gradually pulled on from both ends.
“You might think you’re quite the summoner after claiming my sister for yourself.”
After the sound of rustling leaves, she held a Blood-Sign made of countless gathered charms.
A summoner could not use the summoning ceremony without a vessel.
“Don’t underestimate sisterly boooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooonds!!”
At that moment, Shiroyama Kyousuke was aiming for a Petal using a White Thorn, but then he was overcome by the feeling of something being pulled from the center of his body. He had an abundance of experience as a summoner, but not even he had felt this before.
Something was escaping him and being stolen from him.
All of his White Thorns vanished and he lost his connection to Higan who had invited the Material inside herself.
Azalea Magentarain seemed to have noticed the change as she accurately controlled her Blood-Sign. But the look on her small face was not of confusion or triumph. It was irritation that her grand stage had been ruined.
Someone jumped down from the destroyed land bridge.
The shrine maiden holding a Blood-Sign was Higan’s sister Renge. When Kyousuke saw the many White Thorns floating around her, he finally grasped what was going on.
(She stole my contract between summoner and vessel!? That shouldn’t be possible. Did their blood connection as twins affect it somehow!?)
Having stolen his rights as summoner, Meinokawa Renge sharply struck a White Thorn with her Blood-Sign. As he watched the white light cut across the Artificial Sacred Ground like a shooting star, Kyousuke felt a chill run down his spine.
This was leading to the peak of the Unexplored-class.
This would summon the “White” Queen who Wields the Sword of Unsullied Truth (iu - nu - fb - a - wuh - ei -kx - eu - pl - vjz).
“The summoning ceremony is a technique to evenly summon any Material. It doesn’t matter if you’re the lowest rookie or the greatest veteran!! Even if you were the one to set this up, that Unexplored-class is mine as long as I knock it into the Spot!!”
The conditions were set in place.
A moment later, a tremendous pure white light blew out from Meinokawa Higan.
It was a cocoon of birth.
The intensely bright vortex stabbed into one’s retinas even with both arms covering the face, but it suddenly vanished. Instead, countless small feathers that glowed like an angel’s scattered about like a blizzard of flower petals.
A lovely girl stood in the center of it all.
Even with twintails, her beautiful silver hair reached her waist. She had black jewel-like eyes that seemed to see through everything. Her pure white clothing resembled a wedding dress, but it was far too revealing for that. A bright light from behind would probably have been enough for every line of her body to show through. Some parts of the outfit glittered with a silver light, but they were unlikely to be crass armor that directly blocked blades or arrows. For one thing, nothing could hope to harm that glowing and glittering skin of hers.
She had no weapons.
In the many legends, that clothing would transform to match the current situation and would form billions or even trillions of weapons to slaughter her enemy. However, it was hard to say those weapons were the whole of her power. When speaking of pure destructive power, her two slender arms were the greatest of all.
She was the ultimate Material that stood at the peak of the Unexplored-class which lay beyond the Regulation-class and Divine-class.
She was the ‘White’ Queen who Wields the Sword of Unsullied Truth.
Her very presence did not allow even a drop of impurity.
She was an incarnation of benevolence, a symbol of sanctity, and a personification of radiance.
(We can win…)
Meinokawa Renge held her Blood-Sign tight.
(We can win like this!! No matter how accurately and quickly she uses her Blood-Sign and even if she can freely summon Divine or Unexplored-classes, there’s nothing to be afraid of. The White Queen is the best of the best, so the battle is pretty much over once she’s been successfully summoned. Now no one can hurt Higan!!)
She was confident of her victory.
The distinctions between rookie and expert or individual and organization did not matter. When it came down to it, a battle between summoners was settled by what they could summon.
But a moment later, she saw something unbelievable.
The sight was such a shock that she could not help but speak aloud.
Government Award 930, Golden Luxury, was now Guard of Honor’s Uniquely Selfless. That girl with red-tinged blonde ringlet curls released the Material serving her. Then she and the vessel who had returned to being an old man got down on one knee and bowed their heads.
Time briefly seemed to stop.
The broken song of the summoning ceremony came to an end and absolute silence enveloped them.
Renge almost forgot they were in the midst of a deadly battle.
Those two had wished to see this great existence, even if it cost them their lives. It was an audience with a great lord.
“Oh, Your Majesty… Please forgive us for not preparing more for this audience.”
“We of Guard of Honor are doing everything in our ability to quickly construct a suitable audience chamber. That such a vulgar individual was able to summon you is but one sign of that. Please wait a while longer before we can truly invite you in from the other side.”
They almost looked like knights kneeling before their queen.
This was not at all how one acted around the Materials that were treated like tools without wills of their own.
“Oh, no… Oh, no!! Release your Material at once. Summoning that…that thing in front of me is a terrible mistake!!”
The boy who had been with Higan was shouting something, but Renge was not listening.
The pure white queen gently smiled. Like a solid bud blooming into a lovely flower after being exposed to the breath of spring, just seeing the smile filled one’s heart with happiness.
But destruction soon followed.
The old man in a suit was kicked away like a ball and the blonde girl had her bowed head stomped down to the ground.
The dull sound seemed to arrive only after a short delay.
This was of course not caused by the speed of sound.
Renge’s mind had hesitated to comprehend the truth before her eyes.
As Renge watched in a daze, the White Queen raised her arms and bent a little backwards. As she did, her alluring bodylines moved seductively. It was the action of a student stretching after the boring principal’s speech was finally over. Material was supposed to be an inhuman monster that could use power beyond human comprehension in the isolated Artificial Sacred Ground, but her action completely overturned that idea.
Then her pure eyes stopped on Shiroyama Kyousuke.
She ignored the girl groaning below her foot, put on a venomously refreshing smile, and greeted him.
“Long time no see, brother. Have you been doing well since I last saw you?”
She had the enchanting voice to match her sexy body, but when she called him “brother”, the tone of a little girl was mixed in. It was imbalanced and inhuman, so it brought chaos to the heart of whoever heard it.
Kyousuke blatantly clenched his teeth.
Renge could not believe anything happening before her eyes. Not that a violent Material was speaking just like a human and not that the two of them knew each other.
That was why she voiced her confusion.
“Eh? Wait…what are you saying?”
That was a mistake.
“Hm? Who the hell do you think you are, butting in between brother and me!!???”
Sounds of snapping and breaking came from all around Renge.
Even as she coughed up an impressive amount of blood, she had no idea what had happened to her. She had been hit by a tremendous amount of pressure, as if thrown from a safe submarine into the deep sea at a depth of several thousand meters.
“Did you think you were safe with the protective circle blocking all external and internal obstructions? Stop acting like that’s your doing! That power comes from us, the Materials!! All I have to do is alter the orientation of the circle a bit…and tah dah! Get it now?”
“Ah ha ha!! Look at that ugly mug thanks to the pressure crushing you evenly from every direction☆ A robber with a stocking over their head would probably look better. Nowww, let’s see. If I squeeze you a little more, what color of organs will come out of that mouth…”
“I said stop it!!!!”
Shiroyama Kyousuke shouted from the bottom of his gut and the White Queen released Renge almost amusingly easily.
Kyousuke watched the shrine maiden collapse to the ground with a sticky sound, but…
“Ahh☆ When you give me such powerful orders, it reminds me of old times, brother. Such a thrill. But there is a limit to what I will let you get away with. For example…looking at other girls in my presence.”
There was a flowing difference in temperature in her words. They were human yet unstable. It made one think she could be lovingly rubbing her pet’s head one moment and crushing that head in her fist a moment later.
Shiroyama Kyousuke had thought he could help the Meinokawa sisters if he defeated Azalea Magentarain and did something about Guard of Honor.
But this changed everything.
The White Queen had laid her eyes on the Meinokawa sisters. And when they were with Shiroyama Kyousuke. That alone raised the difficulty of his original task beyond even world domination.
That was just how difficult it was to oppose her and to protect someone from her.
“Was Guard of Honor an organization made to summon you?”
“Who knows. I am quite popular, so I receive requests from all over the world. Do you really think I pay attention to why any particular person summoned me?”
In truth, it had actually been Meinokawa Renge and not Guard of Honor that had summoned the White Queen, but she did not seem to care in the slightest. She had kicked or stomped on Azalea and the old man and she had reversed the protective circle’s power to crush Renge.
The order likely had no real meaning.
Even if the other side had done the summoning, she would likely have tormented them all the same.
“I am aware of a collection of desires to acquire me using the Control method as a more definite method than instantly summoning me with a Blood-Sign and Incense Grenade, but I don’t know the details. After all, I’m not interested in anything other than you, brother☆”
That was a twisted desire held by some summoners.
The modern summoning ceremony was simple and had few risks. Anyone could feely grasp a Blood-Sign and any rookie could summon the most powerful Material, even if it was limited to ten minutes.
But that meant the gods who were reliable allies one day could stand in one’s way as the greatest demon the next day.
“However, it would seem their techniques are far from reaching your own, brother.”
“The initial job the Meinokawa sisters received included a ghost story about a white woman appearing at the harbor filled with Guard of Honor. I had assumed that was a dummy job, but now…”
“Are you even listening? Why the hell would you bring up other girls in the middle of our date? …But, but. I love you for being so utterly clueless, so I’ll forgive you! That seems to have been another me from a failed experiment.”
They were afraid of her.
They could not allow others to use her.
And that was why they wanted a deeper bond. Even if it was an illusion, they wanted to think that the most powerful, most beautiful, and most frightening of the monsters belonged to them alone. They wanted the peace of mind that would bring.
Instead of shuffling the deck of cards and evenly dealing them out to enemy and ally alike after each game, they would cut out the dealer and keep their own deck for themselves. They would work at it, set it up, and line it all up to obtain assured victory.
They wanted to eliminate the complicated system and simplify it. They only needed to summon from that one deck. As long as that was the ultimate trump card, they did not need anything else.
“Besides, it seems less like they want to rule over me and more like they want to be my chosen servants. That way I will prioritize them over others. It’s such a submissive way of thinking. Now. Is that really what these goddess-serving priests or queen-serving guards of honor want? Or are they simply trying to distract me from their true desire to place a collar around my neck and drag me around?”
“It’s completely insane…”
That was why they wanted that Control method.
They would place a hook in the mouth of a fish and release it into the ocean so they could reel in the fishing rod only when they wished to appreciate their catch. They would provide that limited freedom and bask in the sense of superiority it gave them. They wanted to believe that was the right thing to do.
From the moment they referred to what they summoned as mere “Materials”, it was obvious what hopes and desires guided how summoners treated them.
“Well, they tested out a lot of other ideas too. There was that…Repliglass is it? Even that was an experimental product originally meant to provide an artificial and permanent body for me in place of a vessel. Although as you can see, it was a failure☆”
“I can’t believe this…”
Kyousuke looked down to his own Blood-Sign.
That artificial serpent that controlled the gods was a bundle of silicon muscle. Was the greatest weapon that he relied on nothing more than a failed body for the Queen?
“But these days, Repliglass is used not just for military purposes but in power plants and water purification plants. Just how fast are this world’s distortions accelerating?”
The White Queen lightly clapped her hands together in front of her face.
“It’s the same idea as what you built so long ago, brother. It’s just that Guard of Honor is nowhere near your level, so I seem to recall it being ugly and overly large. …Honestly, the original one was a cute little toy that would fit in a household shrine…yes, like the size of a bottle ship. So why has it spread enough to cover two-sevenths of the world’s continents with this city in the center?”
Kyousuke felt a chilly fingertip running down his spine.
It did not matter to her, but that was why there was no extra layer to her words. She only spoke the truth.
“What are you all planning to do in this world?” he asked. “Wait. Don’t tell me you’re already working toward the worst possible answer!”
“Ah ha ha. I’m glad to see your proper instincts are finally coming back to you. Yes, that’s right. You need to be thinking on at least that level if you’re going to talk about me. From Toy Dream 01 to Toy Dream 40, which is currently under construction, each of the cities used a different method. It was Toy Dream 35 here that produced the greatest results. The rest of the plans were ended and all of that power and technology was concentrated here.”
The Queen’s tone was plain. Toy Dream 35 had succeeded in producing the summoning technique to control the White Queen, but that likely had little to do with Guard of Honor’s methods.
It was because a certain boy lived in that city.
The Queen had chosen to appear at that location like she was popping in for a visit on a whim.
“But it doesn’t matter to me what they might say. Guard of Honor may have been deceived, but as I already said, I am not at all interested in anyone besides you, brother. To be blunt, I wouldn’t care in the slightest if this puny city and the nation or continent around it sank into an ocean of blood.” The White Queen smiled. “But anyways, I was a liiiiittle hopeful since I thought going along with this would reunite me with you eventually. I’m glad that wish came true☆”
This was the true nature of the White Queen.
If Kyousuke, who she respectfully referred to as her “brother”, would pay attention to her, she was willing to trigger a war or natural disaster. If he would rub her head, she was willing to start killing every single human being one at a time to see how many hundreds of millions she had to kill before he would do so. That was the type of girl she was.
“Then that’s enough. You got what you wanted! There’s no reason to destroy anything else!!”
“That is fine by me, but won’t Guard of Honor continue on with this? Besides, they are the ones that want to order me to selfishly wield my power once they can control me.”
“Then stop them!! If they’ll listen to you, then tell them to stop!!”
“I’d rather not☆ Doesn’t that destructive turn of events sound like so much more fun? I think I can just let Guard of Honor do what they want.”
“You really…aren’t planning anything?”
“Then what do you think I’m planning?” she asked with the ultimate smile. “Do you think I’m sending all sorts of enemies after you to finally raise you to Award 1000 so you’ll be sent to the other side where we can be together forever? Do you think I’m going to exterminate mankind and Material alike to create a new world for just the two of us? Do you think I want to stay in this world and try making a contract with you as your vessel? Or do you think I’m trying to visit you enough that you start empathizing with me so I can seduce you with this captivating body and spend those ten short minutes doing things I would rather not speak aloud with you? Yes, what exactly do I plan to do?”
“You decided it was no use thinking about and gave up, didn’t you? We have a winner! Do you really think I would put together some grand plot and make detailed preparations? That is the mentality of the weak who are afraid of losing and cannot stand back up if they do lose. I am meaninglessly strong and simply achieve victory, so do you really think I would think like that? No matter what kind of hell I am swallowed up by, I will never want to do anything more than flirt with you, brother.”
“Brother. I believe I already said there is a limit to what I will let you get away with. If you refer to me like a stranger, it makes me want to kill you, you know? When calling to me, do it like you used to, in that manly yet adorable voice.”
The Queen gave a soft yet somehow insane smile.
“Yes. Alice (with) Rabbit, the cute little rabbit that respectfully welcomed the white ruler visiting from another world. Just like that oozingly sweet honeymoon when we become one inside that frame you provided me.”
There once was an innocent boy.
That boy would help anyone asking for help.
“Passing between worlds is truly inconvenient.”
“As I stand at the very peak, calling for me is not easy. That would place a great burden on you, brother.”
“I simply wish to remain by your side like this, brother.”
That boy was too talented to realize there was a difference between the ideal and reality.
And thus he succeeded without hitting any major setbacks.
It was a device shaped like a small wooden box.
He had fully investigated the existing summoning ceremony using the Blood-Sign and Incense Grenade and he had built this different method, this new approach.
“I don’t think you should just have to obey the summoner’s orders just because you’re a Material.”
“I want to hear so much more of what you have to say. I want to hear your thoughts in their purest form.”
“After all, we’re comrades who place our lives in each other’s hands.”
And he succeeded in it all.
He lost nothing and was not asked to sacrifice anything in exchange.
Alice was a visitor from a different world and the rabbit was the guide who lived in this world.
“It’s no longer restricted to ten minutes or to a battle. You can really summon me whenever and however you like.”
“Ah ha ha. Now I can go play with you whenever I want! I can give you anything I want!!”
And the boy came to regret his actions. He learned why they had been contained within the Blood-Sign’s ten minute restriction.
The system had seemed inconvenient at first, but there had been a reason for it all.
He had been faced with the greatest hell imaginable.
*The Silhouette that acts as the Material’s weak point changes size and is stored in different places depending on the specific Material.
*Guard of Honor was not simply a new force within Illegal.
*Summoners can control even the gods of legend, but some worship the Unexplored-class that lies beyond the Divine-class. Guard of Honor is an organization created to praise and serve the “White” Queen who Wields the Sword of Unsullied Truth who is most popular of them all.
*Summoning one hundred Regulation-classes earns the right to summon a Divine-class and summoning fifty Divine-classes earns the right to summon an Unexplored-class.
*The Unexplored-class can also be summoned by perfectly hitting the specific Petals into the Spots in order.
*The Petals knocked into the Spots can be freely rearranged. Also, acquired petals can be cast aside without being used. Once a Material is summoned, the unused Petals are automatically discarded.
*When the number of Petals in the Artificial Sacred Ground grows low - specifically, when all seven of one of the low, middle, or high sound consonants is used up or when all of one of the vowels is used up - a new Rose appears.
*Meinokawa Renge used some unknown method to steal the contract with Meinokawa Higan away from Shiroyama Kyousuke.
*The White Queen has no interest in Guard of Honor’s actions, but she is fine with anything if it means Kyousuke will pay attention to her.
*Shiroyama Kyousuke and the White Queen know each other and were once lovers. …Although the way she refers to him is a little strange.
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