Mitou Shoukan://Blood-Sign - Volume 2 - Chapter 2
Stage 02: Summoners Fight in the Shadows Behind Strange Phenomena
’’Would it be a violation of your style to ask why?’’
’’This is to keep you from telling anyone what you just now realized. I can't say any more than that.’’
(Stage 02 Open 04/30 19:30)
Summoners Fight in the Shadows Behind Strange Phenomena
Yomikiri Newspaper, 10/22/20XX Edition.
Newspaper clipping of an editorial.
A young life has been lost. Her name was Umie Shouko-chan and she was an eleven year old girl living in Natsumi City. She was attacked by a man on the way back from school and was stabbed nineteen times in the head by a grass sickle.
How can people grow so violent?
The murderer...yes, the paperwork has yet to be completed as his address, occupation, and other identifying information are still unknown, so a name has yet to be revealed in the papers even though an arrest was definitely made. The man was apparently shouting nonsense such as, ’’They protect the children, they protect the women, they protect the sick, and they protect the old, but who's going to protect me?’’ That large man had undergone genetic tuning by an underground doctor in order to leave behind no records, so it must have been strange indeed to see him throwing a tantrum.
When did people grow so very weak?
Why couldn't he see that as his chance to be a protector?
Taking a life is the most unreasonable act there is. Even if it is taken in a fight over lifeboats and even if there is legal justification, I doubt the people of this world will ever approve of taking someone's life. If you are willing to take a life to save a life, you must be taught the weight of a life as the guilt weighs on your conscience.
And in cases like this, it will not be rewarded.
Let us at least pray for her happiness in death. And let us pray that heaven really does exist.
Whatever result the human courts reach, that man will never go there. If heaven really does exist, it must be an ideal place where Shouko-chan will be surrounded by nothing but warmth and kindness.
Although that may be nothing more than a selfish wish of us adults who could not make this world into heaven.
It was a rainy night.
Countless giant bridges crisscrossed through the air, as if weaving their way through the gaps in the giant buildings. The rain never seemed to end, but the light from projectors reflected off of those raindrops. In addition to the normal decorative lights, giant mascots danced through the night sky. If one leaned over the railing and looked down to the dark sea at the lowest level, they would find it filled with dancing light, as if glow-in-the-dark paint had been dumped into the water.
This was the Rainy Screen campaign.
It was supposed to be a special event to keep guests coming to the amusement park, but to the residents who had to live with it for days on end, the colorful lights and deluge of noise from directional speakers had grown into a horrible nuisance.
According to the clock of light projected on a film of water flowing down a building wall, it was 7:30 PM.
That was when Librarian-chan should have arrived at her ’’risky job’’, but she had not made it due to some trouble.
However, she did not have to worry about her boss being angry with her.
She looked incredibly confused as she held the umbrella and held a cellphone to her ear.
’’U-um, like I said, I'm telling you I'm going to be late...’’
’’I'm not sure what to tell you. Recruit #1077B? ...I've checked several times now and I can't find that file.’’
’’Boss! I worked there last week too.’’
’’Yes, yes. If you're trying to claim I messed up so you can work without any paperwork or an interview, it's not going to work. Adult society isn't that simple.’’
When her boss hung up on her, she stared at the small screen in a daze.
’’Didn't I tell you?’’ asked Kyousuke with a sigh. ’’You have to be in their field of vision.’’
’’...I can't believe this.’’
’’If you want, you can try someone from our class, your family, or the police. Try calling whoever you want. I guarantee you not one of them will take you seriously. It's like you've been forgotten by the entire world.’’
Librarian-chan rubbed her thumb across the phone's buttons.
She hesitated for a bit, but she did not try any of the speed dial numbers.
The boss she had only known for a week had been enough of a shock.
Her heart may have been rejecting the fear of being forgotten and left behind by someone she knew far better than that.
’’But the information hasn't been completely erased or anything. Once you're directly in their field of vision, they'll remember it all for as long as you're there.’’
’’Are you finally ready to hear about the summoning ceremony?’’
Kyousuke doubted any normal person would be able to accept a description of summoners and vessels if it was just suddenly thrown at them.
The fastest method was to actually summon a Material, but that required a one-on-one battle. That is, it was easy to do, but it would mean a fight to death.
On the other hand, safely and surely demonstrating that paranormal world was quite difficult. It was said that you did not even take your first real step into the world of summoning until you could smoothly explain it all.
’’Anyway, you don't have to worry about your job, so I think it would make sense to focus on your sister. Or should I call her the Rainy Girl?’’
’’You can do something about my sister?’’
’’As long as we can catch her. We control the beings that lurk beyond the gods, so there's no way we could lose to a human ghost.’’
Librarian-chan's face looked pale and thoughtful as it reflected the countless lights in the rain. It almost looked like she herself had become a ghost, left behind by the flow of time.
’’Your condition is only temporary, so don't worry about it.’’
’’Eh? I can go back...to normal?’’
’’Once this is over, you just have to end your contract with me. Not counting extreme outliers like Lu-san who earned more than 100 Awards as a vessel alone, the supernatural is generally reliant on the summoner. The vessel becomes a normal person again once the contract is gone.’’
That meant Kyousuke could not return to normal.
Once they lost sight of him, even a friends or lover would completely forget about him. And that would never change.
And once he died and was buried, no one could ever see him again.
The fact that he had died - no, that he had lived - would be sealed away behind the lid of forgetfulness.
’’If you just want to return to normal, we could do it right away. But that would leave your sister's issue unresolved. You might not know what I mean by the summoning ceremony, but you've at least sensed that there's a 'strange power' at work here, right? Separating you from your sister without that would be quite difficult. Can you believe me about that?’’
’’It's true I can't rely on a knife or a gun when my sister's like that. But I don't know of any staffs that shoot out fire when you swing them. ...This is the only mysterious power I know about.’’
She seemed to be speaking to herself more than to Kyousuke.
Stepping past the ’’common sense’’ that bordered on science worship was more painful than one would expect.
But it was probably not due to Kyousuke's way with words that she had been able to do so.
It was due to how cornered she was already feeling.
This had not been her first time to encounter the Rainy Girl, so she had already tried everything she could and discovered first-hand just how fragile ’’common sense’’ could be.
So she had stepped past it.
She had let go of the world she had been born to and she had plunged into this world.
’’Where should we start?’’
’’Well.’’ Kyousuke spoke in his usual tone of voice while holding an umbrella. ’’How about we start by binding your body?’’
Librarian-chan fell silent for a bit.
Then she smiled brightly.
Lastly, an impressive sound burst out into the city night.
A girl's wholehearted slap contained a special power!!
’’You're the worst!! You really are the worst!! Shiroyama-kun, did you think you could take advantage of my situation to do whatever you wanted with me!?’’
’’N-no, wait. Let me explain...’’
’’Explain what!? The details of your special 'proclivities'!?’’
With umbrella and school bag in hand, Librarian-chan tightly held her own body, blushed bright red, and snapped back at him.
Kyousuke was a little overwhelmed at being branded a pervert.
’’I-in the world of the summoning ceremony, a summoner fights alongside a vessel. You're that vessel right now, Librarian-chan. But there's a risk of you summoning vengeful or evil spirits and other things beyond my instructions.’’
Librarian-chan could not have understood even half of what Kyousuke was talking about.
However, the mention of vengeful or evil spirits was enough for her expression to cloud over.
’’We need a safety to prevent that. ...It can be anything really, as long as it's a symbol that solidifies your heart. Collars and handcuffs are the most obvious, but it can also be something closely related to your everyday life. There has to be something you use to restrain your actions or desires, right? Like a scale or your skirt's zipper.’’
’’Why are your examples focused on my weight and measurements?’’
’’Because those are pretty common for girl vessels. For example, some use a push up bra, bra pads, or-...gweh!?'
As soon as Kyousuke made his insensitive comment, Librarian-chan acted on behalf of every worrying maiden on the planet by slamming her school bag into his face.
’’Sigh. In other words, it can be anything I wear that keeps me focused? I have no idea if it will work, but I suppose it's worth trying, just like a protective charm or something.’’
’’Uuh... I made sure to explain everything properly, so why do you have to treat me like this?’’
’’In that case, hmm. This might work for me.’’
Librarian-chan showed Kyousuke her right wrist.
She wore a very, very small wristwatch that's face was only the size of her little finger's nail.
’’I always wear it when I head out, so it's the first thing that came to mind when it comes to switching my tension on and off.’’
’’Then that would be best. Do you have any emotional attachment to it?’’
’’It cost a fair bit, but not really.’’
’’Then let's stop by a clock shop. I want to modify it a little.’’
’’By adding in a magic charm or something?’’
’’No, I'll just swap out the strap. I want to add in the symbolism of the summoner modifying it and giving it to you. That will make sure it works.’’
To get the work done, they left the usual path and looked around for the necessary store.
They first tried a brand-name shop that sold all the best clock maker brands, but they gave up when they saw all the zeros on the price tags. They next tried a repair shop run by an old man and had the watch's strap replaced with one made from a thin silver chain.
’’That completes our preparations. I doubt it will be a problem since you always wear it anyway, but make sure you don't forget to keep that on. Got that?’’
Librarian-chan rubbed her wrist to check the feel of the new strap.
’’But what exactly do we do now? Stay up every night waiting for my sister to show up?’’
’’We're going to bring the fight to the Rainy Girl. I don't know how much truth there is to the rumors, but I recommend changing into clothes you can wear out on a rainy night.’’
’’Even though everyone will forget about me?’’
’’They'll remember if you happen to run into them. And wouldn't it be best to avoid playing a game of tag with a police officer?’’
Just once, Kyousuke checked the surrounding area on his smartphone's map.
’’We're a bit far from my cruiser, so I'll go grab a change of clothes from a storage locker near here. You head back to your home and change into some casual clothes. Try to make it as adult-looking as possible to match the situation.’’
With that said, Kyousuke started to leave, but Librarian-chan tugged on his arm.
’’Wait,’’ she said in a weak voice. ’’Don't leave me.’’
’’Summoners and vessels are both 'removed from the norm', so we won't forget each other even if we can't see each other.’’
’’That doesn't matter.’’ She bit her lip once and finally continued her confession. ’’I'm scared to be alone 'here'. Please stay with me.’’
They dealt with Kyousuke's errand first.
He picked up a chance of clothes from a storage locker near the monorail station and he changed from his uniform and into his usual hoodie.
They then stopped by a student apartment in M Block.
It seemed to be Librarian-chan's home.
It was located on the 27th floor of an ultra-high rise building towering up from the city. But with the large bridges on either side every five or ten stories, it felt more like being on the second or third floor.
The room was a stereotypical one-room apartment.
That meant she must not have been living with her family.
’’Where are your parents?’’
’’They live somewhere else. ...It's like time stopped for them after my sister died. It was like being surrounded by the awkward silence of an elevator twenty-four hours a day. I just couldn't stand it, so I used high school as a chance to leave.’’
Librarian-chan turned on the lights and grabbed the air conditioner's remote as she spoke.
’’My mom and dad are kind and there isn't any real problem with them. In fact, I think they're more loving than in a normal family, even including the amount they give for allowance. But I couldn't stand it. It was like I was getting everything that should have gone to my sister. They were probably telling me to be happy enough for my sister too, but it was a complicated feeling for me.’’
That may have been why she talked about working part-time so often.
She did not want to rely on what should have gone to her sister, so she had decided to live off of money she earned herself.
Kyousuke glanced over at the table.
A few hard cover books sat there. At school, she had claimed to have only bought two or three books and to borrow the rest from her parents. That suggested their relationship was not entirely cut off and she visited them from time to time.
It was a complicated relationship, but she must not have felt completely cut off from them.
At the very least, she did not want to lose her connection to them. That was obvious from the fear she had felt when faced with the fact that summoners and vessels were so easily forgotten.
Some people who were dissatisfied with their life would actually rejoice when they heard that.
’’Do you have a picture of your sister?’’
As she selected her clothing from the closet, Librarian-chan replied with a self-deprecating smile on her lips.
She walked to the changing room with the clothes in her arms.
’’I haven't been able to face her since that day. That's why she's so angry. That's what I realized when rumors of the Rainy Girl first started showing up on the internet around Japan. I knew people must be seeing her everywhere because she was searching for me with a look of pure rage on her face.’’
She disappeared beyond the frosted glass door.
He could tell she was removing her clothing from the movements of her silhouette.
’’What kind of person was she?’’
’’I'm not really sure,’’ replied a muffled voice in the changing room. ’’To be honest, I can't really remember her anymore. And I don't just mean I'm too scared to remember. Because of how her body ended up, her coffin was empty during the funeral. ...That's all I can remember now. I should have so many memories: when we went to the beach, when we went to festivals, when we stayed up late into the night together, and so on. But there's just a blank spot there where her face should be. Just that blank emptiness seen through the coffin's window.’’
Kyousuke narrowed his eyes a little.
(If she knew how the Rainy Girl acted in life and where she generally went, we might have been able to get ahead of her, but this doesn't sound very hopeful.)
’’I see. Then that's fine.’’
’’You're so kind. After the incident, I was surrounded by people asking all sorts of questions.’’
The Rainy Girl herself could be annihilated with a single Incense Grenade.
It was hard to say if that was truly the best choice, but that was what Librarian-chan wanted.
’’Sorry about the wait,’’ she said after sliding open the frosted glass door.
She wore a tight black shirt, a beige culotte skirt, and thick black tights. Overall, the outfit had a chocolate coloration and it was fairly adult-looking, just as he had requested. Like this, she would not immediately be taken into protective custody.
’’I'm ready to head out now, so where are we headed?’’
’’I want to start by gathering some information.’’
’’On my sister?’’
’’That and anything else related to the current situation. The ghost phenomenon can be explained with the larger rules of the summoning ceremony. So if a ghost is showing up under unnatural circumstances, the odds are good the rules of the summoning ceremony are being used in some unnatural circumstances. ...That means I want to see what that 'industry' is up to right now.’’
He was not going to get anything out of Librarian-chan, the closest information source to the Rainy Girl herself, so he had to come up with another plan. That was one reason behind his suggestion.
He pulled out his smartphone as he continued.
’’Aika and Lu-san. It looks like I'll have to buy some information from the usual sources. ...Although being too indebted to those two could seriously be a matter of life or death.’’
He complained as he used his index finger to send a text message to Aika's apartment. It said he had accepted a new job, he had bound a contract with a vessel, and he was on his way to buy some information.
And there was one more thing.
’’Yes. I should probably look into that as well.’’
’’Ghosts do occur naturally, but since they're explained by the summoning ceremony, it's also possible for a summoner to intentionally cause one. The Rainy Girl herself is definitely your sister, but it bothers me that she started appearing so suddenly. It sounds like the rumors have spread throughout Japan and even to places like Guam and New York, but if we assume it truly started here in Toy Dream 35, it's worth seeing if a nearby summoner maybe had something to do with this.’’
He did not wait for a reply to his message. He had just about turned into Aika's caretaker, so he had a spare key. Also, that true shut-in and that top-class assassin had no concept of day and night.
’’Let's get going. Knowing Aika, she'll welcome us as long as we stop by a convenience store and buy her some limited edition chips or something.’’
’’Come to think of it, I haven't had anything to eat since I skipped work. Can we buy something on the way?’’
They discussed their plans as they left the one-room apartment.
It was still raining outside, but that did not mean the streets were not crowded with pedestrians.
The Rainy Screen may not have been a useless endeavor after all.
The police's anti-juvenile crime team was probably beginning their patrol at this time, but they could still see a few boys and girls wearing the same school uniforms walking across the bridges.
’’Huh? Isn't that the student council president?’’
’’Over there in that crowd.’’
Librarian-chan pointed over, but Kyousuke could not see any specific person among all the colorful umbrellas.
As he searched, something bumped into his shoulder.
’’Hm? What is it, boy? Isn't it a little late for someone with no club activities and no job?’’
It was Benikomichi Fuuki.
Their umbrellas audibly pressed against each other.
’’And what are you doing here, Senpai?’’
’’I'm only now heading home, you coldhearted boy. As usual, I had to waste the entire day working things out between those spoiled student council members. Honestly, if you had acted as my human shield, I wouldn't have been dragged back to that boring student council room.’’
’’If you're going to complain, can you at least not ignore the laws of this world as you do so?’’
’’And after all that, there was some trouble just before leaving. Oh, you probably wouldn't know, but every speaker in the school was blasting static. We had to go around checking them all and we never did figure out what caused it. Sadly, it was about as wasted as wasted effort can be.’’
Librarian-chan's shoulders shook at the student council president's exasperated and exhausted comment.
The supernatural phenomenon in her head was now an objective fact and not just a vision she had seen.
That simple fact seemed to peel back the thin layer of common sense from her mind. It seemed like she would have blood oozing from her heart before long.
Benikomichi Fuuki seemed oblivious and continued casually chatting.
’’Thanks to that, I suddenly realized it had gotten this late. I won't miss tonight's drama since I can set my digital recorder with my smartphone, but I might have screamed if I couldn't do that.’’
’’I see,’’ said Kyousuke just to have something to say.
However, the president seemed unwilling to say goodbye and leave.
She pressed her umbrella further in against his and gave him an upturned look.
’’B-by the way, Shiroyama Boy, I have a request.’’
’’What is it?’’
When Kyousuke asked, she used the hand not holding her umbrella to fidget with her long hair by her ear.
’’This might ruin your image of an upperclassman, but I've never actually walked out in public this late before. I've heard rumors that the type of guest at Toy Dream 35 completely changes when all the neon turns on, so I'd really rather not walk around alone at night if I can avoid it...’’
’’You can't, Shiroyama-kun!! You promised you'd help me, didn't you!?’’
’’Oh, what's this? You're a popular guy, Shiroyama Boy. But I'm not going to give in so easily.’’
’’Wait, wait, stop pulling on my arms! And I dropped my umbrella! I'm getting soaked!’’
An outside observer might have been jealous, but the girls were acting out of fear. That meant they did not hold back. Pain raced through his shoulders and he was legitimately concerned his arms would pull right out of the sockets.
And then, with no warning, all sound instantly vanished.
The crowd walking every which way around them was still there and the rain providing constant noise had not vanished.
It was a psychological issue.
As a great number of people crossed the bridge, he heard a sound within the parade of so many lights. He heard it as clearly as a pebble thrown into a cave.
It was a footstep.
’’What is it, Shiroyama Boy?’’
He did not have time to answer. He looked back and saw a short boy standing about fifteen meters away.
The boy was at most twelve. He wore a black shirt and bike shorts as well as a fluorescent yellow helmet and similarly colored elbow and knee protectors. They looked like kids rollerblading gear and the coloration was reminiscent of a hornet's abdomen.
His eyes did not contain the bright and innocent look one would expect at his age.
The darkness lurking in his eye sockets was that of someone who lived in a world of killing.
He spoke to Kyousuke.
Immediately afterwards, he pulled something from his back. It resembled a three-sectioned staff, a nunchaku-like weapon of three connected rods, but when the internal wire tightened, it was remade into a long rod.
It was a Blood-Sign.
This was clearly a summoner.
Benikomichi Fuuki knew nothing at all about the summoning ceremony, but even she must have noticed the odd aura surrounding the boy. Or perhaps without the summoning ceremony as a mental ’’excuse’’ or ’’point of compromise’’, her mind worked uselessly and failed to process it.
’’Do you...know him?’’
The desire for any answer at all may have been why she asked that.
But Kyousuke did not look back her way.
He did not want to take his eyes off of this opponent.
’’Are you an Illegal assassin? I saw your disgusting handiwork at the international airport.’’
’’Even if you don't know why, surely you know where this is headed. A killer was sent out to kill, and here I am to do just that.’’
If this assassin was from their industry, he would not have been sent out for something unrelated to the summoning ceremony.
But at the same time, it would not be a continuation of the airport occupation surrounding that attache case. Thanks to Lu Niang Lan, Kyousuke had been taken out of that fight partway through. It had all ended just how Illegal had wanted, so he doubted they would do anything to him now.
He also could not imagine it was related to the issue Alice (with) Rabbit was working on. He had only just bound his contract with Librarian-chan, so that would not have any connection to that industry.
With one exception.
Namely, the Rainy Girl who was connected to Librarian-chan and could be explained within the rules of the summoning ceremony.
(We're investigating the Rainy Girl, we stopped by Librarian-chan's apartment, and we're taking this route to Aika's apartment. Where did he pick up on that information?)
After some thought, he easily found the answer.
Their communications had been intercepted.
However, the problem would not be with Kyousuke's smartphone or Aika's computer. A professional would focus on the flow of information more than the average person. More importantly, there was a simpler and more realistic answer.
(Had he already set something up in the Librarian-chan's apartment and the surrounding cellphone towers? That way he could have stolen my message inside the relay hardware. ...That would mean he's been monitoring anyone connected to the Rainy Girl for a while.)
But that was all he knew.
Illegal was a collection of about 330 criminal organizations.
This assassin belonged to that group and he would supply professional violence for anyone who paid an appropriate sum, so why would he be fixated on a ghost like the Rainy Girl? Kyousuke had no way of figuring that out.
The only path to revealing the answer was to fight.
’’Would it be a violation of your style to ask why?’’
’’This is to keep you from telling anyone what you just now realized. I can't say any more than that.’’
Just as he gave his answer, the wall of the building behind the small assassin exploded and crumbled.
Pieces of concrete larger than bricks poured down. They collided with the glass of a monorail passing by nearby and the monorail rapidly braked, creating a row of orange sparks and a screeching noise. Quite a few umbrellas were broken and people screamed as they fled in every direction. They were all driven by the identical desire to escape as quickly as possible, but they pulled at each other's legs as they tried to push forward.
Kyousuke immediately reached behind himself to pull out the Repliglass Blood-Sign coiled there.
But a hand tugged on his arm.
It was Benikomichi Fuuki's as her face grew pale with fear.
’’Wh-what was that!? Did that boy do that? B-but...ah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah! The police...we need to get down...um, we need to do something...!’’
Meanwhile, the assassin lifted the corners of his mouth in a smile and raised his Blood-Sign.
He moved the tip from Kyousuke's face and aimed it at Benikomichi Fuuki instead.
As soon as he saw that, Kyousuke swept the nearby president's feet out from under her to knock her to the ground. At the same time, he took a step forward and pulled an Incense Grenade from his hoodie.
Only after completing the series of actions did his mind realize why he had taken them.
Yes, why did he need an Incense Grenade?
To set up an Artificial Sacred Ground.
What did it mean if an Artificial Sacred Ground had yet to be set up?
The environment was not yet prepared for summoning a Material.
Then where was the assassin boy's vessel? It was true that building's wall had crumbled, but had a Material really done that?
It happened a moment later.
Suddenly, a dull impact struck him from behind.
He looked over his shoulder and saw a large pair of sewing scissors stabbed into the center of his back.
He looked up at who held them down at their hip with both hands.
It was Student Council President Benikomichi Fuuki.
An unpleasant scraping sound was audible even from outside his body.
The glasses and braid girl that Shiroyama Kyousuke called Librarian-chan did not understand what had happened before her eyes.
Based on what Kyousuke had said, the short boy standing in their way was a summoner.
And that boy had something to do with the building wall being blown away.
But who was the student council president if she was assisting the summoner?
If she was his helper, did that make her a vessel, just like the girl?
That seemed like the most sensible answer, but then some things did not add up.
Benikomichi Fuuki was a high school's student council president.
If, like Kyousuke and the girl now, she was forgotten as soon as she stepped outside one's field of vision, a discrepancy would crop up somewhere, but nothing had seemed off before.
But at the same time, Kyousuke was also easily forgotten. So even if a normal person was helping the enemy summoner, they would forget about their target. That would prevent a planned attack.
So when it came down to it, what was Benikomichi Fuuki?
Was she a vessel or a normal person?
’’So...that's it,’’ said Kyousuke with the scissors still stabbed deep into his back. ’’As long as you...follow the necessary procedure, a summoner and vessel's contract can be reworked at will. And any pair awards are generally managed by the summoner.’’
He was answered by a breath of laughter.
Benikomichi Fuuki looked overjoyed as she practically leaned up against Kyousuke's back.
’’That's right, Shiroyama Boy. Just cancel the contract and the vessel becomes a normal human once more. And then people won't forget about you.’’
’’Were you...repeatedly binding and releasing the contract...at intervals of five or ten minutes?’’
’’What if we were?’’
’’Rebinding the contract is possible, but no one knows exactly how it works or how safe it is. Who knows what kind of side effects will show up later on...’’
’’Still, it allowed us to safely defeat Freedom Award 903, Alice (with) Rabbit. Don't you think that will extend our lives a lot, lot longer than any eventual side effects could counteract?’’
Kyousuke took a shallow, shallow breath.
’’If that was the plan, then I've got bad news.’’
His voice was low.
A moment later, a cloud of doubt appeared on Benikomichi Fuuki's face as she held the sewing scissors.
With a dull sensation, intense pressure reached the blade buried in his body. Push or pull, they would not budge. Not even a single millimeter. It felt like they were caught in a gap inside a giant boulder.
’’What!? This can't possibly all be human muscle!!’’
’’Of course it isn't.’’
A tremendous force hit the scissors and they were knocked from the president's hands. As they flew up into the air, the back of Kyousuke's hoodie split vertically. The sewing scissors spun through the air, over the bridge's railing, and down into the sea. The torn hoodie fluttered in the wind.
Only then did Benikomichi Fuuki catch on.
She had not stabbed Kyousuke's back.
’’It was a Repliglass Blood-Sign!?’’
’’Sorry, but it's usually coiled up on my back. You could shoot me from behind with a handgun and it wouldn't kill me.’’
’’You'd caught on from the start and intentionally lured me in? No, it couldn't be that simple!!’’
’’No, I'm not about to claim I'd figured everything out. I had my doubts, but I still tried to protect you. You tricked me just fine.’’
Kyousuke did not try to show off.
He did not need to.
’’But my body moved on its own while my mind was hesitating. I was probably searching out every possibility at some deep, subconscious level. For example, wasn't it odd for you to appear just before this happened?’’
Even as he spoke, Kyousuke was taking his next action.
His elbow shot back and mercilessly struck the president in the gut.
Her se*y body doubled over as she gasped for breath. This time, he sent his Blood-Sign back to fill in the slight gap created between them. The tip flew like a bullet to knock her unconscious.
She had trouble breathing, but the president still managed a shout.
That was the magic word.
As soon as she said it, Kyousuke's aim was thrown off.
Benikomichi Fuuki had nearly been clinging to him, but her presence suddenly vanished. However, she did not seem to have any special physical abilities like Lu Niang Lan. And a normal high school girl should not have been able to avoid Kyousuke's attack.
Then what had made it possible?
The answer was simple.
The assassin summoner named Hayato really had thrown an Incense Grenade this time.
In addition to setting up an Artificial Sacred Ground, it automatically called the summoner and vessel over to the point of detonation.
Kyousuke clicked his tongue and rotated the Blood-Sign in his hand to immediately shift from a martial arts stance to a summoning ceremony one.
The two enemies were leaning up against one another.
The summoner was the assassin named Hayato and the vessel was Student Council President Benikomichi Fuuki.
The three-dimensional Rose created from the 216 Petals was already floating between Kyousuke and Hayato. The initial three White Thorns floated in front of them.
’’This is perfect. Librarian-chan! It's time I showed you just what we can do in the summoning ceremony. You can learn how to be a vessel while we fight!!’’
’’Eh, eh!? We're going to fight her? Really!? What do you mean fight!? But, um, that's the student council president...!’’
’’I don't know why, but they've decided they can't let us investigate the Rainy Girl any further and are here to stop us. There's some information there they want to keep hidden even if it means killing someone. If we don't break through this, we can't reach the truth. So let's go, Librarian-chan!!’’
They were surrounded by the solid sounds of hard objects striking each other.
The Rose was a three-dimensional shape made from the 216 Petals. Kyousuke and Hayato simultaneously launched White Thorns as if to crush the Rose from either side. The White Thorns left a laser beam-like trail behind and instantly smashed the Rose to pieces. The low sound, middle sound, high sound, and lowest sound Petals scattered in every direction and bounced wildly around on all the obstacles: the ground, the streetlights, the edges of the Artificial Sacred Ground, etc.
As soon as the Rose was smashed, countless holes known as Spots opened around the Artificial Sacred Ground.
They were dark, fist-sized holes opened in space itself. They looked like miniature black holes and the ricocheting Petals were sucked into them.
As they fell into the Spots, they were added to a summoner's stock.
They both cried out as the vessel girls changed form.
Librarian-chan's silhouette spiraled around and she became a giant mass of sticky yellow liquid three meters tall that weighed seven hundred kilograms. It had a cost of one high sound. Known as the Original Yellow (s), it was one of the most basic Materials.
Meanwhile, Benikomichi Fuuki became a similar mass of sticky green liquid. It had a cost of one middle sound and it was known as the Original Green (k).
Everything could grow infinitely from there.
Depending on how things developed, this could lead to the divine or even Unexplored-class. It was frightening to think of, but even the White Queen, strongest of the strong, was no exception.
(In the three-way stalemate of sound range, I have the advantage. If he's skilled enough to easily reach the divine-class, it might be best to finish this before he can build up his Material too much. If I can continue predicting what he'll do next, I can keep my sound range advantage and crush him with that!!)
With that in mind, Kyousuke thought of a few different Materials and the evolutionary tree that branched out from them. He instantly grasped the locations of all the Petals and Spots scattered throughout the Artificial Sacred Ground and accurately calculated out what rails his White Thorns would follow after he hit them.
’’Yes, I know that, Fuuki-san.’’
Hayato muttered to himself as he held a mental conversation with the president.
’’You are my mistress. As always, you just do what you want. I'll make sure it all works out.’’
A moment later, the battle began.
However, it did not start with the yellow and green goo clashing at the midpoint between each other.
The Original Green that Benikomichi Fuuki had become mercilessly smashed the giant bridge.
Kyousuke and Librarian-chan immediately sank down.
Gravity was pulling them.
Their footing crumbled, but as a summoner, Shiroyama Kyousuke immediately saw what they were after.
’’Ha ha. That's right!!’’
The summoning ceremony contained the following rules:
The Artificial Sacred Ground is set up once an Incense Grenade is used.
The Artificial Sacred Ground is set up relative to the ’’contact surface’’ when the Incense Grenade detonates.
Thus, it can be set up relative to a wall or ceiling rather than the floor or ground. In that case, the summoners and Materials will ignore gravity and stick to the wall or ceiling.
But what happened if the Artificial Sacred Ground's ’’contact surface’’ was destroyed?
The answer was simple:
The Artificial Sacred Ground will be reconstructed based on the next ’’contact surface’’ stepped on by the summoner who set up the Artificial Sacred Ground.
If that is a wall or ceiling, the direction of the artificial gravity will change to match.
In that case, unlike when the Incense Grenade detonates, the opponent summoner and vessel will also be pulled toward the new gravitational direction.
As he fell, Assassin Boy Hayato forced his feet onto the building wall as if stomping onto it.
A moment later, the direction of Kyousuke and the Original Yellow's fall greatly changed.
They fell toward the building wall.
Unable to land properly, they collided with the wall.
’’Librarian-chan, abandon your human senses! Right now, not even a sword or bullet could hurt you!!’’
<What, what!? What is this!? What is happening to me? Why am I surrounded in this sticky stuff...? No, is this my body!? What is going on!?>
Her problem was a much more fundamental one.
Even if she liked fairy tales, it was not so easy to accept the real thing so suddenly.
Meanwhile, the situation was already underway. The many Petals floating around the old Artificial Sacred Ground poured down into the new one as if they had been struck by a giant hand. They bounced around wildly even without any interference from a Blood-Sign and White Thorn.
Hayato targeted them and accurately launched his White Thorn.
Before Kyousuke could get up and pursue this new turn of events, Benikomichi Fuuki's Original Green smashed the building well as well.
He did not even have time to regain his balance.
Each time they fell, collided, and created a new surface, the Material would destroy the new ’’contact surface’’ after only a few seconds. Each time, Kyousuke, Librarian-chan, and the many Petals were pulled around with the moving Artificial Sacred Ground. It felt like being attached to an invisible chain and flailed around as a human morning star.
The Material's body was incredibly tough and the summoner was surrounded by a protective circle, so this was not enough to kill them.
But being swung around so constantly cost Kyousuke any chance to aim and launch a White Thorn.
The simplest shot in the summoning ceremony was to place a straight line between the White Thorn, the Petal, and the Spot and then to hit the center of the White Thorn with the Blood-Sign for a shot with no spin.
That way, the Petal would only travel in a straight line.
Even a rookie could easily build up their Material like that, but it was completely unusable in this situation.
Each time the Artificial Sacred Ground changed, all of the Petals were pulled with it and began bouncing around wildly. Unlike a stopped Petal, a moving Petal would deviate from the direction in which the White Thorn hit it. That required taking two vectors into consideration when launching the White Thorn.
And that was while the artificial gravity constantly moved to the walls or ceiling to swing the summoner around.
Whether or not they knew in advance where the stage would move created an unavoidable gap in reaction speed. And that lag led to a definite difference in Material development.
They spread destruction for that reason alone.
They destroyed the city, the scenery, people's homes, and the places of rest for complete strangers.
Again and again, they could be heard landing on new surfaces.
At the moment, Kyousuke and the others were inside a giant office. Thick columns were lined up horizontally like log bridges and they each landed on different ones.
Petals no one had touched fell into Spots on their own and fruitlessly vanished.
Countless steel desks and wheeled chairs were lined up vertically.
The bottom of the valley below them was a group of shattered windows.
Their Materials had changed again and again as time passed.
Kyousuke's was the Greedy Demon-Devouring Spider (nu - wm - ei - lvz - fc - o - zi).
Cost: 14. Sound Range: High.
It was a brutal, three meter spider colored red and black. Rather than spinning a web for an indirect attack, it directly attacked its prey and injected digestive fluids with its fangs to melt the enemy Material from within.
Hayato's was the Ugly and Pitiful Insect Swollen with Tragedy that Eats into the Void (lu - ei - map - ab - ou - od - nu - mel - o - yi).
Cost: 21. Sound Range: Middle.
It looked like a caterpillar larger than a car. Each time that incarnation of hunger wriggled and greedily moved its mouth, it ate into the scenery like it was biting into a leaf.
<N-now I'm mad.>
Librarian-chan's voice reached the back of Kyousuke's mind.
Her tone was distorted and she still seemed confused, but she must have seen something she simply could not accept.
<Now that I think about it, she didn't hesitate to stab someone in the back and now they're making a mess of the city for their own convenience... Do they think anything goes if no one gets mad and everyone forgets about them? I can't just ignore someone who would probably kill someone with that flimsy reasoning!!>
The core of that cry may have overlapped with her family issue.
The dead monster that had become the Rainy Girl had once been her sister.
After having her family so unfairly taken from her, she could not overlook that same sort of unfairness here. And that emotion brought enough anger to overpower the confusion and fear of becoming one with an incomprehensible monster.
<What do I have to do? Shiroyama-kun, tell me what I need to do to defeat them!!>
’’Just maintain that spirit. Hold the reins of the Material's mind and imagine you're pointing its targeting cursor directly at your opponent! Then the monster will attack that opponent on its own!!’’
In the artificial gravity control strategy, one repeatedly destroyed the Artificial Sacred Ground's ’’footing’’ and frequently moved between the walls and the ceiling.
Assassin Summoner Hayato was using that strategy as a means of obstructing his opponent's growth rather than building up his own Material.
Figuring out the trick did not give his opponent a solution.
First, using the Blood-Sign and White Thorns to build up a Material was as mentally taxing as sniping. When the artificial gravity's direction was constantly changing and the summoner was being swung around every which way, there was no way they could focus.
Second, all of the Petals moved to new locations each time the Artificial Sacred Ground changed. Hitting moving Petals into the Spots was far more difficult than with stopped Petals.
Plus, the Artificial Sacred Ground's footing was always established relative to the summoner who had started the battle.
Even if Kyousuke destroyed their footing, the next Artificial Sacred Ground would still be established relative to the surface Hayato stood on, so he could not copy his enemy's technique.
That meant Hayato always knew whether the next footing would be on the floor, the wall, or the ceiling.
The summoner and Petals moved in relation to him, so he could begin his calculations before making his move.
Hayato could prepare and focus while Kyousuke had to react after being swung around and that recovery time created a slight lag. As that accumulated, it affected his skill with the Blood-Sign. The gap in Material development speed grew to dangerous levels.
But even in this situation, Kyousuke kept fighting back against the assassin.
He continually switched to the sound range that allowed him to make up for the growing gap in cost.
But even that would not last forever.
Once the cost gap grew to 10, the difference in sound range could be overpowered with brute strength.
(The current cost gap is averaging to about 5. I'm always out ahead and he can't turn this around now.)
Sometimes on the office's round columns, sometimes on the windows, sometimes on the underside of a giant bridge between buildings, and sometimes on the side of high rise buildings, Hayato moved from footing to footing while swinging around the Alice (with) Rabbit pair. The lines of red Petals chased after them like a group of tail lights.
Each move left the area wrapped in serious damage, but he did not care about that.
The assassins did not sneak through the shadows to do their work.
When a crime occurred, people grew angry. Wars created even longer and more powerful chains of hatred. But could people feel anger when faced with a natural disaster that utterly surpassed human understanding?
The answer was no.
When the destruction was on too great a scale, people were robbed of the normal emotions. By using beings of another world to kill, they had already entered that realm. So once Hayato and Benikomichi Fuuki used the summoning ceremony, there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and no way of dodging the issue. As if showing off that otherworldly majesty, they would wield its fury until their objective was complete.
So any who stood before them would be crushed by those jaws.
Even if it was Freedom Award 903, Alice (with) Rabbit.
Hayato expressed some slight confusion as he used Benikomichi Fuuki's power to break horizontally through three high rise building's worth of windows and land on the side of the rail to a roller coaster that was going unused due to the rainy weather.
He had yet to defeat Shiroyama Kyousuke's Material.
He had yet to pass a cost gap of 10.
(How is he catching up...!?)
Kyousuke had the Wind-Consuming and Obstacle-Crushing Horse (va - ei - lvz - km - ei - ox - cec - uy).
Cost: 18. Sound Range: High.
As its name suggested, it was a rampaging horse as large as a train car. Its method of attack was simple: it simply charged straight ahead and leveled anything in its path.
Hayato had the Pitiable Doll Covered in Spikes of Hatred (jok - bf - ei - md - a - xov - wuz - r - mel - oq).
Cost: 22. Sound Range: Middle.
It was a life-sized doll fully bound by chains and with countless metal spikes stabbing into it. The monster used the power of blood to fire out the spikes so it could take as many people as possible along with it to the grave.
(Why is the cost gap shrinking?)
Kyousuke had the Man-Eating Stuffed Animal Swollen with Innocent Darkness (mul - o - iu - ou - dhc - weq - ei - lvz - a - icg).
Cost: 23. Sound Range: Low.
A giant shredded stuffed animal had reddish darkness rather than cotton bursting from the ripped cloth. Instead of biting or tearing, it swallowed its target into its belly and contaminated them.
Hayato had the Scorching Killer Smile in a Vortex of Purple Electricity (kub - miq - a - sx - wzb - mu - ou - vew - l - a - zfc).
Cost: 24. Sound Range: High.
A neon bluish-purple light appeared directly in space itself and formed a giant smile over ten meters across. Anyone who touched it or even carelessly approached would be fried.
It was gradual, but the gap between their Materials' costs was closing. Plus, Kyousuke was always maintaining the sound range that gave him an advantage over Hayato.
At this rate, Hayato would be the one having trouble.
(Will he catch up? No, could he even pass me? But I'm the one creating our footing, so he should be playing catch up.)
Even now, the world seemed to be spinning around and around as their footing moved to new walls, floors, and ceilings. Each time they moved to a building, bridge, attraction rail, or pillar, all of the preconditions crumbled away.
Before even thinking about landing, it should have been difficult to make any sense of one's shaken vision. And yet...
Kyousuke raised his Blood-Sign and spoke as if he had read Hayato's mind.
And he landed on the new footing almost more nimbly than Hayato, the supposed master of this place.
’’It's just like the long jump or the high jump. The athletes don't start preparing for their landing only after making their jump. They determine how to position their body before the jump and even before the approach run. They only start moving after deciding on their target.’’
’’You don't mean...’’
’’Your breathing, the movement of your eyes, the tension in your muscles, the adjustments to your balance... All the information I needed was right there in your body. All I had to do was read that and I knew when and where the next footing would be.’’
In a world turned 90 degrees on its side, Kyousuke and Hayato landed on streetlight and a traffic light poles.
’’And the calculations for the moving Petals are simple too. ...I just have to think of it from a starting point of 45 degrees. If I hit a moving Petal at a right angle with a White Thorn moving at the exact same speed, the Petal will continue at a diagonal angle of 45 degrees. That's an easier calculation than determining the position of the sun with the hands of your watch.’’
That was nonsense.
It was nothing more than a theoretical value. If he did not perfectly hit the center of the Petal or if either one had even a slight spin to it, the Petal would veer off course.
But Kyousuke had actually done it.
He had the power needed to do so.
But Hayato could not accept it.
(That just means he's intercepting my behavior patterns to predict our footing and the movement of the Petals. Even if he could catch up like that, he couldn't pass me.)
The assassin boy looked down at his own feet.
He finally grasped something as he stared at the traffic light pole that had become something like a log bridge.
(Is this like shogi or chess? I get to choose our next footing, but my choices aren't unlimited. I have to create the Artificial Sacred Ground relative to where I next place my feet, so I can't use any location I can't reach on the first step.)
(The summoner's location, the cost and sound range of the Materials, and the terrain conditions... If you could accurately analyze all that, you could create a tree diagram of the possible courses we could take. Then this wouldn't be the same as a highly random game of rock paper scissors. So...did he...see through all of that?)
’’Is something the matter?’’
Hayato heard a voice.
He heard the voice of a summoner who had likely predicted their next footing before the assassin boy himself had.
’’Did you figure something out this late in the game?’’
At that point, he had already lost most of his advantage.
Kyousuke had the Shark King that Swims through the Ocean of the Void in a Vortex of Purple Electricity (kub - miq - sx - lu - a - hf - ei - tok - enl - a - vjz).
Cost: 25. Sound Range: Middle.
A man-eating shark the size of a semi truck swam freely through the air. Each time its razor-sharp teeth bit down, bluish-white sparks flew and the target was thoroughly shredded with extreme temperatures exceeding those of an arc welder.
Hayato had the Sharp Shockwave Wings that Blow Away All that Oppose Them (du - vo - a - cuw - bf - ei - zix - nal - me - a - qi - a - fd).
Cost: 26. Sound Range: Low.
A giant bizarre bird had eight wings arranged in a circle like propellers. When it flapped those wings, shockwaves scattered through the entire surrounding area and the shockwaves focused in on a single point to crush the enemy like light gathered by a concave mirror.
The cost gap was almost entirely gone.
Hayato had the disadvantage as far as the sound range was concerned.
Given the situation, he would soon be caught up and surpassed on the cost front as well. It was just like a cup filled so full the surface tension was at its limit. Once the collapse began, there was no going back. It would all be over.
More than nine minutes had already passed.
An Artificial Sacred Ground created by an Incense Grenade lasted around ten minutes on average. There were only a few dozen seconds left, but even that felt like an eternity. Each and every second seemed to stretch out infinitely with a sense of death and defeat.
’’Did you think this was all I had?’’
’’If you've got another trick up your sleeve, I'd hurry it up. You don't have much time left.’’
’’That's exactly what I'll do.’’
With those words, the Material that Benikomichi Fuuki had fused with dropped down and violently broke the traffic light pole Hayato stood on.
The footing was lost, so the Artificial Sacred Ground sought its next surface.
That was the same as before, but something was different.
Kyousuke's eyebrows moved a little.
At first, he may not have been able to predict what Hayato was doing.
That was hardly surprising.
A moment later, the Material took a U-turn and struck Hayato's airborne body from below.
The summoner was contained inside the protective circle, so he was not crushed.
Hayato shot upwards like a ball hit by a metal bat. As he did, he placed his feet on one of the streetlights that were evenly spaced along a vertical line.
He was about five hundred meters away.
(Since the Material hit me, I was moving far faster than a human's falling speed. So what happens now that I created a new Artificial Sacred Ground?)
The answer was readily apparent.
(You'll be forcibly accelerated when the wall of the new Artificial Sacred Ground slams into you. This goes far beyond a trampoline. You'll be thrown like you stepped onto a catapult.)
This was his secret technique.
It was his vertical launching tactic.
After a short delay, Kyousuke caught up to Hayato
And the many Petals came with him.
Kyousuke had not just fallen upwards. He had been thrown nearly to the top of the new Artificial Sacred Ground like he had been stuffed into a cannon and fired.
Unlike Hayato, Kyousuke had no footing.
That was a simple but crucial difference.
Even if he was a summoner who controlled Materials from another world and wielded their paranormal power, it was still based in the physical actions of using the Blood-Sign. The ability to plant one's feet on the ground and use their body's full strength made all the difference. Using all the muscles in the body and rotating the hips to throw a ball was far more powerful and accurate than only using the strength of the hands. This was the same.
Hayato raised his Blood-Sign as if targeting Kyousuke up in the air. He thrust the tip forward.
There was still a risk of Kyousuke catching up or surpassing him, but that was only a possibility. As things were, Hayato still had the upper hand. So he would end the current trend. He would nip that possibility in the bud before Kyousuke actually caught up.
His opponent would be unable to build up his Material properly while tossed up to the top of the Artificial Sacred Ground and while the footing changed yet again.
The damage would build up during that time.
Hayato's Material could completely crush Kyousuke's in its jaws.
’’Let's end this, Freedom. This is an assassin's job.’’
But then a change came over Shiroyama Kyousuke after being blasted up into the sky. He quickly twisted around and rotated like a gymnast. It was not at all the same as pathetically flailing his limbs around. He must have been helping his own body's spin because there was a clear ’’axis’’ to it.
Even now, he maintained his stability.
For an instant, his gaze pierced Hayato.
Tension ran through the assassin boy's body as he stood on the streetlight pole.
Sweat covered the palm holding his Blood-Sign.
(He's still fighting even now? He plans to accurately launch his White Thorns!?)
Deafening sounds crossed paths like nearby lightning strikes.
They were Kyousuke and Hayato. They both used their Blood-Signs to powerfully launch a White Thorn.
Would Kyousuke catch up or would Hayato pull out ahead?
That question went unanswered.
The Artificial Sacred Ground suddenly vanished.
Ten minutes had passed. The time was up.
Their bizarrely shaped Materials returned to being lovely girls. At the same time, gravity returned to the proper direction.
Hayato and Benikomichi Fuuki slid down and landed on a giant bridge.
But Kyousuke and his vessel had moved out past the bridge, so they fell down between the high-rise buildings. They would likely slip past the countless crisscrossing bridges and reach the ocean at the very bottom.
Benikomichi Fuuki spoke as she placed her hands on the railing and peered down into the dark ocean far below.
’’So we failed to finish him off.’’
’’Should we pursue them, mistress?’’
’’No, we've used up the advantage of a surprise attack. If we're going to kill him, we need to plan everything out from scratch. We aren't looking for a fair fight. An assassin searches for a surefire way to kill their target.’’
A girl's high-pitched scream burst out.
Kyousuke spread out his arms and legs like a skydiver to increase his air resistance and moved horizontally to avoid the many levels of bridges. A single hit would mean instant death. However, Librarian-chan fell right past him in a tailspin.
She had not kept her balance.
At this rate, she would hit one of the bridges.
When he saw that, Kyousuke made a change of plans.
He brought his arms and legs together to make a single line out of his body. This lowered air resistance as much as possible and boosted the speed of his fall. Aware of the risk, he dove head-first toward the earth in an attempt to catch up to Librarian-chan.
He grabbed her arm.
He swung his arms and legs to spin them around.
The two of them passed just twenty centimeters from the railing of a bridge and continued plummeting toward the water below.
The dark ocean surface approached.
The water parted and Kyousuke heard the ear-splitting roar of a splash taller than he was.
He immediately started for the surface, but then he saw Librarian-chan floating like seaweed.
Hitting the water had knocked her unconscious.
He grabbed her again and swam toward the surface.
Once his head finally broke the surface, he filled his lungs with oxygen.
Her groans changed to intense coughing as she came to.
’’Cough, cough, cough!! Wh-what in the world is going on...?’’
’’We lost them for the time being, but we can't relax just yet. Let's use some building or another to get back up and lose them for real. If they keep attacking, it'll just wear us down.’’
’’An assassin from our industry. That much seems certain.’’
’’What does someone so dangerous have to do with my sister's ghost?’’
’’I don't know. But that interference has changed the situation somewhat.’’
’’At any rate, we need to find a safe route and get to Aika's apartment. We need as much information as we can get.’’
But first, they were soaking wet.
It had been raining on and on in and around Toy Dream 35, so a fair number of people were wet after forgetting their umbrella or having it stolen while they were inside a store. The problem was how they smelled of seawater. On top of that, Shiroyama Kyousuke's hoodie had been torn in the battle. Even if they would be forgotten soon enough, it meant the end of his humanity if he stopped caring if he gathered an embarrassing sort of attention.
As an adolescent high school boy, he could not allow himself to shamelessly walk around the city while defenselessly exposed and soaking wet.
’’Phew. It's times like these when these storage lockers really come in handy.’’
’’Um, Shiroyama-kun. Why do you have so many identical hoodies and pants?’’
’’Oh, this isn't an obsession or anything. These are the most common models from this company. So if another summoner happens to see me on the job, I don't have to worry as much about them identifying me by my clothing. ...Although it's a relatively small industry, so it isn't a huge help.’’
’’But what about a change of clothes for me?’’
’’Do you really think I own girl's clothing?’’
When he answered her question with a question of his own, she grabbed his ear and dragged him to a nearby laundromat.
She then made a demand while in her soaking wet clothing.
’’Shiroyama-kun, take off your hoodie and hand it over.’’
’’Now you're essentially mugging me!?’’
’’I have to wash and dry these clothes! That will take about an hour altogether, so are you telling me to stand around naked that entire time!? So just take that off already!! C'mon, strip!!’’
’’Stop, wait! Mhh, mhh!’’
Before Kyousuke could protest too much, Librarian-chan stole his hoodie.
The summoner held his body and trembled while she made yet another demand.
’’Okay, Shiroyama-kun. Turn around 180 degrees and don't you turn back around until I say you can.’’
’’I'm cold... I'm going to catch cold like this...’’
’’A girl is about to strip with nothing to hide behind! You're supposed to be blushing!!’’
He waited as instructed and heard a wet sound behind him. The wet clothing must have clung to her skin because he heard occasional breaths of struggle.
After he heard one of the washing machines along the wall running, Librarian-chan made an announcement.
’’You can turn around now.’’
He did so and saw Librarian-chan wearing his hoodie. He could see her white thighs almost all the way up to the base, more than one washing machine was running, and one of them was set to the stockings and underwear mode, so she apparently truly was naked except for the hoodie.
When she sat on the bench next to topless Kyousuke, the scene gained a somehow criminal feel and it was incredibly awkward. But even if summoners could not be punished by the usual rules, he disciplined himself with his own policies!
Librarian-chan sat there like a substitute athlete warming the bench and she watched her clothing spinning beyond the transparent lid.
She had undone her braid, so her hair was wavy and wet. She had also removed her glasses, so she looked quite different from normal. It only made her look more refined.
’’Shiroyama-kun, are you always doing things like this?’’
’’N-no. I have to admit I don't often have my clothes stolen by my vessel.’’
Librarian-chan faced the washing machines and swung her white feet.
’’Are you always, um, how should I put it? Causing trouble like that?’’
She may have been reluctant to use the word ’’fight’’ in reference to reality.
’’Did it scare you to become one with the Material?’’
’’It did, but more importantly...’’
She briefly hesitated to continue.
’’I think it really freaked me out that everyone would forget about me. I mean, if they can forget about me, that means the world can get on just fine without me. ...It's almost like I'm looking at a world where I died and am no longer a part of it.’’
She may have seen it that way due to her sister.
The Rainy Girl.
’’Does it not scare you, Shiroyama-kun?’’
’’I'm used to it.’’
’’Do you ever want to return to the way things were before?’’
’’I'm still going to school just fine 'like this'.’’
He was Freedom Award 903.
Once someone reached 1000, they would become one of the gods rather than a part of mankind and they would become the protagonist of a new legend as a resident of the other side.
But there was no point in bringing that up here.
Librarian-chan only wanted to do something about her sister and Kyousuke was not driven by such an obvious desire.
This was smaller than that.
It was the story of two people who were willing to risk their lives for something like this.
’’It's only been a day, but that seems so far away now. Shiroyama-kun, do you never get bored looking at the textbooks? I get the feeling you could look at it all and decide it's worthless to you. And you would actually mean it, unlike the people who use it as an excuse.’’
’’No, not really.’’
On this alone, Kyousuke did not hesitate even a second to answer.
’’I'm just some brat who hasn't even lived two full decades, so what do I know about the world? I still trust that I at least have enough sense left to remember that.’’
Or perhaps it was the world that he wanted to trust in.
Was the miniature garden of the school a symbol of that?
Since he would be forgotten as soon as anyone looked away, he could never pass a real entrance exam and get into the school. Even if he scored a perfect 100, no one would remember it. Since he was still attending high school, he had to have used some kind of special method and that alone showed just how attached to the school he was.
Librarian-chan squeezed the sleeves of the hoodie in her hands and smiled a little as she spoke.
’’I'm glad you aren't a robotic kind of person.’’
’’Humans aren't that strong. You learn that all too well when you've been a summoner for long enough.’’
For example, Aika had been so badly hurt when everyone forgot about her that she had given up on holding any hope in the outside world.
For example, Lu Niang Lan's life had been dragged around by her great skill and she could no longer escape Illegal.
For every one of them, life was a struggle.
The more superior any of them looked from the outside, the more twisted they truly were.
’’The president was pretty incredible too...’’ said Librarian-chan.
That girl had stabbed someone in the back with sewing scissors and accepted in a monster as a vessel.
Not even Kyousuke knew where Benikomichi Fuuki's true nature lay. She might have been like that from the moment she was born or there may have been a major turning point in her life. But Librarian-chan seemed to think it was taking a step into this industry that had done it.
’’Was it not a shock to you, Shiroyama-kun? You seemed to get along pretty well at school.’’
’’It at least looked that way.’’
Librarian-chan actually looked surprised by Kyousuke's response.
But that may have had less to do with his relationship with the girl and more to do with his inability to judge how close he was to other people.
Finally, he answered her question.
’’It was a surprise, I suppose.’’
’’If it was a shock, then it means you did get along.’’
’’Does it not upset you?’’
’’I do wonder what I'll do starting tomorrow. When I realize I might not be able to talk with her at school like that anymore, I guess it does make me a little sad.’’
’’Oh, so you like your pretty friend, do you?’’
Librarian-chan then laughed a little.
She seemed to have remembered her comment about being glad he was not robotic.
’’But in that case, don't you want to save her? I mean, my sister takes top priority, but, um, I could still help with that.’’
Kyousuke narrowed his eyes a little.
’’No, I can't do that.’’
’’I still haven't saved you after you asked me to. Sorry, but I can't make a promise that amounts to abandoning someone.’’
As he spoke, Kyousuke looked Librarian-chan right in the eye.
When the girl blushed and averted her gaze a bit, Kyousuke interpreted it incorrectly.
’’Did that make you think I'm robotic?’’
’’Eh? No, it wasn't that... But it's hard to explain...’’
’’Don't worry. As I said before, the uniqueness of the summoning ceremony is dependent on the summoner. Save for exceptional cases like Lu-san, you just have to cancel your contract with me once the job is complete. Then people will stop forgetting you and you won't be susceptible to possession by vengeful and evil spirits. So you can just think of this like an overseas trip.’’
She could return to normal.
Her expression briefly lit up at that, but then she realized something.
’’Hey, in that case...what will you do?’’
’’I'm still trying to figure that out.’’
’’Onii-chan. How many times do I have to tell you this is a shut-in girl's final stronghold?’’
’’Why and for what possible reason are you thoughtlessly bringing yet another girl here!? It doesn't make any sense!!’’
It was just before ten at night.
They had run across that summoner assassin at around 7:30. After the ten minute battle, they had spent about an hour at the laundromat and then come here, so that meant they had taken a very careful and roundabout route.
That showed just how cautious Kyousuke was about their enemies.
Librarian-chan's clothing had made a full recovery in the washer and dryer and Kyousuke had his hoodie back, so he was back to normal aside from the faint scent of soap on his hoodie.
’’Oh, this is the new Korokke-chan they were selling at the convenience store. It's a special for the Rainy Screen campaign and it has Western wasabi powder on it.’’
’’Hm. That I'll take. I still refuse to accept my Onii-chan's thoughtless behavior, though!!’’
As she complained, Aika opened up the paper bag used to shake up the wasabi powder-covered fried food.
’’Um, Kyousuke-chan,’’ cut in Lu Niang Lan. ’’Something greasy probably isn't best, so did you buy a normal meal too?’’
’’We bought and ate sautéed pork and grilled vegetable sandwiches on the way. More importantly, I have something to ask you, Lu-san.’’
’’How about you look after that girl? She looks really jumpy and isn't showing any sign of joining in the conversation.’’
When the Modified China Dress Beauty pointed that out, Kyousuke looked behind him.
The always cheerful Librarian-chan had become incredibly quiet ever since entering the large living room. She was wearing her idea of adult-looking clothes after drying them at the laundromat. She uncomfortably fidgeted with her braided hair, but it was not that she was feeling shy around the strange people here.
The real reason was obvious.
It had to be the ’’sofa’’ that Swimsuit Girl Aika was leaning against.
Anyone would grow nervous when faced with five meter beast.
’’U-um, Shiroyama-kun? That's a pet, isn't it? It isn't going to get up and roar, is it?’’
’’Don't ask me. But knowing Aika, I doubt it's been trained properly. And I'm not too confident a white liger can even be tamed in the first place.’’
’’Then why are you all so calm!?’’
’’Shh! Shouting or turning your back on it is dangerous!’’
Meanwhile, Aika, its owner, was leaning up against the beast in a completely defenseless outfit while chowing down on junk food that had to be stimulating the animal's stomach with its smell. It was unclear what was safe and what was dangerous.
’’And if you feel unsafe, you can always hide behind Lu-san. If the beast goes on a rampage, she can deal with it barehanded.’’
’’Umm, that's scary enough on its own. Is she a hermit who lives deep in the mountains or something?’’
Librarian-chan's voice was shaking.
But since that young woman had the skill to take out any summoner with nothing but her bare hands and hidden weapons, it may have been right to worry about her more than the white liger.
’’So Kyousuke-chan, what did you want to ask me?’’
’’It's about the Illegal assassin that showed up at the end of everything at the airport before,’’ said Kyousuke. ’’He attacked us earlier, so do you know anything about him?’’
’’Oh, him.’’ Lu Niang Lan seemed hesitant. ’’I decided to look into him since he pissed me off...but I couldn't find any Illegal records on him.’’
’’What does that mean?’’
’’Since he showed up there, his actions had to have been a plus for Illegal, but he may have been a summoner with no connection to us, a Freedom summoner that Illegal hired through an intermediary, or...’’
’’A secret weapon who Illegal keeps hidden?’’
The information had dried up right off the bat.
That was fine if they never saw him again after that one battle, but the odds of that were low. So it was best if they could gather some information on his habits, special traits, and weaknesses, but...
’’By the way, Kyousuke-chan, how skilled was this unknown?’’
’’He was more of a pain than he was powerful. We used the full ten minutes, but we never even made it out of the Regulation-class and to the divine-class.’’
’’An interference type, huh? That does sound like a pain.’’ Lu Niang Lan smiled and waved a hand dismissively. ’’Then, Kyousuke-chan, besides his technique as a summoner, did you sense anything about his principles...or rather, did he seem to follow any inviolable rules?’’
Librarian-chan looked confused, so the Modified China Dress Beauty raised her index finger and explained.
’’In Illegal, we don't bother obeying the existing laws and treaties. We don't gain anything by obeying them since we specifically exist as an organization not protected by the government. In that case, what do we obey? That would be the inviolable rules of our team or the bonds of blood of our family.’’
’’Stop trying to make yourself sound good when you're just a group of perverted criminals who kidnap, confine, and assassinate people.’’
’’From your perspective in Government, maybe. But in Illegal, it's all based on our own rules which are meant to maintain order. In other words, it's the same as what you call an investigation, an arrest, an arraignment, a trial, and a punishment. And it's obvious what wins out when the existing laws clash with our inviolable rules.’’
That was why Government and Illegal simply could not get along.
The people of the heavens above controlled the international laws while looking down on everyone. The people of the earth below corrupted the masses from within to expand their own share.
Freedom joined neither side but helped both, so they basically had extraterritoriality like Nagasaki's Dejima. Of course, they did not just obey them. If either one went too far, they were prepared to retaliate with an intense war. In a way, they were the individual summoners who fought alone against an international coalition force or an international mafia. That was (the original meaning of) Freedom.
’’Those inviolable rules and bonds of blood aren't unified within Illegal. If the summoner who attacked you really was from Illegal, knowing his principles could help narrow it down to the specific team or family.’’
Kyousuke shrugged at Lu Niang Lan's suggestion.
’’Unfortunately, I don't know that much. All I know is he has pride in his work as an assassin, he'll speak with his target but not empathize with them, he's willing to use tricks or deceit to take out his target, and he's fixated on the Rainy Girl.’’
Librarian-chan hesitantly cut in there.
’’I asked this before, but how is that assassin connected with us? The Rainy Girl is just a rumor to most people, right? And from what you've said, ghosts aren't very significant to summoners.’’
’’Didn't I already tell you that unknown wasn't in any of Illegal's records? Don't ask me for help here.’’
’’Oh, right. It might be a fake name, but what about someone named Benikomichi Fuuki? She's our student council president but also the vessel for that assassin...Hayato I think she called him.’’
’’Benikomichi, hm? Give me a second. I'll shoot some Illegal people an email and ask them to gather some information.’’
Lu Niang Lan operated her smartphone with her index finger as she spoke.
She seemed entirely carefree.
Aika must have thought the half-eaten korokke tasted too bland because she put it back in the paper bag and shook it around.
’’To be blunt, maybe that assassin is the one behind the murder the ghost is based on. Maybe he's afraid of you approaching the truth as you pursue the ghost.’’
Librarian-chan immediately rejected the idea.
She had a simple reason.
’’The murderer was caught almost immediately. He was a crazy man. My parents told me not to watch the news, but I still remember it. Was it called genetic tuning? He was apparently like a mass of muscles that completely ignored the usual skeletal structure. That boy was only about twelve, so I doubt he was behind some murder in the past.’’
Kyousuke agreed with that assessment.
’’I disagree with the idea that a small child can't kill, but, well, I agree he wasn't behind the murder.’’
’’We aren't quite sure who he is and he might not even be with Illegal, but I'm pretty sure he's still an assassin. He wasn't the type to kill for his own sake. And based on what I've heard of your family, Librarian-chan, I doubt it would have been worth hiring a professional assassin to attack a child. Of course, that would change if your parents were politicians or executives of an international corporation.’’
’’But then this makes no sense, does it?’’ said Lu Niang Lan. ’’We know this unknown is standing in your way. And we know he is skilled enough to instantly resolve that airport occupation by stably and reliably summoning a divine-class without relying on beginner's luck. I wonder why he's challenging you to a fight.’’
’’Maybe he was lying at some point or we made a mistake at some point,’’ said Kyousuke. ’’The Rainy Girl, a murder from the past, an Illegal summoner, and a professional assassin... One of our premises is off and that's why the gears don't seem to fit together. But they must fit together. We're holding something worth sending in that assassin. So what exactly is it we're not seeing here?’’
Aika and Lu Niang Lan exchanged a glance.
As outsiders, they readily gave objective opinions.
’’Is it possible the Rainy Girl doesn't actually have anything to do with that past murder?’’
’’That was definitely my sister.’’
’’Could the unknown be an amateur assassin who's only claiming to be a professional?’’
’’With that skill and pride? I doubt it.’’
Their suggestions were not serious. They were simply cutting away the blatantly needless fat.
And finally, just the core remained.
’’Maybe the crux of the issue isn't the Rainy Girl,’’ muttered Kyousuke.
’’Wait a minute. What do you mean? All of this weird stuff started when I started seeing that ghost.’’
’’But that premise might be wrong.’’ Kyousuke chose his words carefully. ’’I'm not suggesting the Rainy Girl isn't real. I saw her with you, after all. ...But is she really a naturally appearing ghost? Ghosts can be explained with the rules of the summoning ceremony. And if they can be explained with them, they can also be reproduced with them. Which means...’’
’’Oh, I get it,’’ said Lu Niang Lan as she placed a hand on her forehead.
Librarian-chan still didn't seem to understand, so Kyousuke stated his conclusion.
’’In other words, there might be a completely different plan at work here. And as a side effect, it just so happened to cause the Rainy Girl to appear. That would mean the ghost isn't at the center of all this. It's just that we might discover the truth behind it and whatever it's connected to.’’
And if they pursued the cause of the Rainy Girl, they would run into the assassins' plan. Afraid they would discover what was going on, the assassins had acted first.
Since they had already been monitoring Librarian-chan's home or the surrounding cellphone towers, the assassins had to be aware that the Rainy Girl was their Achilles' heel.
They had not annihilated her with an Incense Grenade, so they may have had a reason to keep her around or her appearances were too random to reliably run across her.
’’But...’’ Librarian-chan started to reject the idea on reflex, but then she had second thoughts. ’’The rumors of the Rainy Girl only started spreading over the internet after I entered high school. At the very least, my sister's ghost wasn't seen when I was in elementary and middle school.’’
’’If she started appearing recently, it might be best to assume something happened recently to cause it.’’
’’Hmm...’’ muttered Aika while licking off her greasy fingers.
She then grabbed the notebook-sized tablet from the glass table. The entire ceiling functioned as a giant projection screen.
It showed a simple map of Toy Dream 35.
Red, yellow, green, and blue colored bars appeared on the edge of the map. It looked a lot like the rain map shown on the weather forecast.
’’What is this, Aika?’’
’’Packet Atmosphere. It's a type of information system built by Government. Simply put, it visualizes the distribution of rumors.’’
’’Can you make that more detailed but simpler?’’
’’Don't underestimate the expressiveness of a shut-in. With the cooperation of a major mobile SNS, we can run automatic searches of when and where different keywords were typed in and then it can be displayed on the map according to time. Surely you can understand that.’’
For example, research had shown that areas with an explosive increase in searches for ’’the flu’’ really did have an outbreak of the flu. Necessity was the mother of invention and people wanted to search when they had the search box right in front of their eyes.
What Aika was using had narrowed that down to more of a pinpoint. When she entered a search term, the devices that had made corresponding blog entries or SNS posts would be listed up and the device locations would be displayed on the map.
’’Let's try searching for 'house fire'. And look.’’
Colors were added to the map of Toy Dream 35. Blue and green dots were scattered around, but the dots were noticeably clustered around a few spots. And they had warning colors of red and yellow.
’’Most likely, there are actual houses on fire in those areas.’’
’’This system throws the concepts of personal information and privacy out the window,’’ commented Lu Niang Lan. ’’But what else would you expect from the governments and corporations of Government?’’
’’SNSs are used by people who want to show off. Plus, this just scrapes all that text with a program, so we're not actually reading what their blogs say.’’
’’Wait, Aika. I'm pretty sure you've crossed a line when you start displaying their location without permission.’’
’’Onii-chan, are you the kind of Onii-chan that uses logic to trample on the cooperation of a benevolent soul? Anyway, we can use this to find exactly how far the rumors of the Rainy Girl have spread.’’
After Aika narrowed the results down to Toy Dream 35 and entered the search term they actually cared about, the results appeared almost instantly.
Just like on a weather forecast, they could fast-forward through time to see the clusters of red, yellow, green, and blue dots crawling along like living creatures.
The SNS's first hit for the Rainy Girl was about a month before. As Librarian-chan had suggested it was at the start of April when the school year had begun.
Dots sporadically appeared and disappeared from there, but there were places where they occasionally grew like crazy as if people had suddenly remembered it.
’’R Block, April 15, 10 PM. S Block, April 17, 2 AM. D Block, April 23, 1:30 PM...’’
’’Are these red places where my sister's ghost was seen?’’
’’That's just when the witnesses posted about it on the SNS, so she might have also appeared where no one saw it.’’
’’Come to think of it, these aren't where I saw her...’’
Librarian-chan looked up at the map on the ceiling with a troubled look on her face.
Kyousuke spoke to Aika.
’’Do you know what happened at these times? Did a ghost story TV drama air, was a sound truck with a message about demons driving around, or was a costume parade underway? It could be anything. I just want something that matches all of these appearance times.’’
’’Government's got you covered.’’
Aika minimized the Packet Atmosphere window and opened a different application. A bunch of text scrolled quickly by and finally some human-readable text started appearing.
’’I've detected a few patterns that match the noise problem.’’
’’Like what? It could be a lot of things: people, vehicles, buildings, etc.’’
’’It seems to be a building... Look.’’
Aika gave the answer.
’’Here it is. It fits the operation records for the Toshima Industries 3rd Toy Factory on the outskirts of Toy Dream 35.’’
’’Isn't that the factory that makes the character goods that Toy Dream 35 sells?’’ asked a skeptical Librarian-chan.
The Toy Dream Company's international revived city project bought up rural cities that had fallen into bankruptcy and remade them into giant amusement parks, but that of course did not entirely eliminate the unease and backlash from the local residents. To erase that sort of impression, the amusement park city contained almost no manufacturing facilities. From food to industrial products, it was almost entirely reliant on the nearby cities. That way they shared the wealth with the local residents instead of monopolizing it.
’’The Rainy Girl rumors perfectly match the time they spent testing a new production line. Most likely, that's had some kind of effect.’’
’’A factory testing a new line on rainy nights...’’ muttered Kyousuke, but that was not enough to reach an answer.
’’But they aren't going to all this effort just to summon my sister to scare me...right? And if they were trying to get the ghost to kill me, a simple knife seems like a better method.’’
’’We'll just have to look into this and figure out whether she's their objective or just a side effect.’’
Of course, things were likely to change if they actually snuck into the toy factory on the outskirts of the city.
It had likely been turned into Hayato and Benikomichi Fuuki's hideout.
’’My name, my name. ...And what is it?’’
’’You asked me to protect you from the Rainy Girl. If that's all you want, we might not need to investigate this factory. It might be enough to just wait for the Rainy Girl to appear and annihilate her.’’
’’But...we're up against assassins, right? And they came to kill us because we were becoming a problem. Can we really step down from the stage now?’’
’’Based on the situation surrounding the attack, they were monitoring your home or the surrounding area. Since they hadn't done anything before, it might mean they won't actually kill you. If you weren't going to approach the truth, they were going to leave you alone.’’
’’So with that in mind, let me ask again: what do you want to do? I don't mind if you make that decision.’’
’’Is that even a question?’’
Librarian-chan did not hesitate to answer.
Even though she had likely reached an instinctual understanding of their opponent's skill.
’’I'm still scared of my sister. I really think she's trying to kill me. But this isn't right. That factory might be summoning her, right? Even if we defeat her, she might appear again as long as that factory's still running. I can't allow that kind of pain. What do they think a human being is? Even if she's dead, she's still a human being. Do they really need someone to explain to them that the dead have rights too!?’’
’’What do you want to do?’’
’’I want to destroy that factory. But I need power to do that. Shiroyama-kun, lend me a hand. I'm sure that will solve all of this.’’
Unlike before, she did not just ask for ’’help’’.
Instead of hoping someone else would do something, she wanted a helping hand to do something herself.
Kyousuke smiled a little.
And he answered.
’’Then let's go with that.’’
He spoke clearly as if to motivate himself.
’’I don't know who we're up against, but this means war.’’
Investigation Records of a Certain Pair of Twins 02
When people fall asleep on the last train or on a train that begins deadheading, they go missing and never return. But for some reason, the fact that people are vanishing never ends up in the news.
The rumor had branched off into a number of forms, so some had a less frightening conclusion: a reunion with a forgotten first love, the return of a runaway pet, or the discovery of a lost treasure. But those derivations had spread outside Japan to places like Guam, so they had even less credibility.
It was already almost midnight.
Even so, Meinokawa Renge could not find her ’’sister’’ Higan.
Her confused mind went back over everything that had happened.
The monorail had come to a stop at one of Toy Dream 35's switchyards. She had checked through every nook and cranny of every car and managed to pry open the doors even though the power was off, but she had not found her ’’sister’’ anywhere in the darkness.
The switchyard was large, but it was all indoors. There were no windows, so she had no idea if it was underground or a giant box dangling in midair.
A few possibilities had come to mind.
It was possible Higan had gotten off at another station while Renge slept.
It was possible Higan had woken up first at the switchyard and gone on alone.
It was possible it was Renge who had disappeared and not Higan.
’’My phone...isn't any help.’’
She checked the cheap cellphone's screen, but it had no bars for some reason. Her notebook-sized tablet also had no signal.
As she checked around the switchyard, she found wet footprints on the concrete ground. They looked like the footprints from the geta she wore, but she did not think she had run across her own footprints after wandering around too much. These footprints continuing further on were likely Higan's.
(Although I don't know if this was Higan herself or someone who stole her shoes.)
Even if it was a trap, it was definitely information leading to the next hint.
Renge gulped and slowly followed the wet footprints.
As she did, she noticed something odd about the scenery.
This was definitely a switchyard, but there was no sign of the maintenance equipment moving. There was not even a scent of machine oil and everything was covered in clear plastic as if being preserved as a crime scene.
Confused, she continued on, but then the hint came to an end.
The footprints led outside. And beyond the stainless steel door was the rain that seemed to be oozing from the night sky. The wet footprints vanished once they reached the wet roadway.
Renge violently cursed and ran outside despite the rain. She searched around the door for some other hint, but she could not find any clue to her ’’sister's’’ location. Panic grew inside her, but she did find something strange.
The city was entirely silent.
When she had visited before, the place had been filled with decorative lights twenty four hours a day, but not a single light bulb was on now. She also heard no passing cars and no talking people. There was no trash on the road and the entire place seemed entirely unlived in.
(Wh-what? What is going on here?)
To be blunt, this phenomenon was stranger than a national TV station's power going out. This was a city of sightseeing, so the economy had a 100% chance of collapsing if they could not maintain a certain number of tourists.
Renge looked around in shock and found something else.
The billboard on a building wall was covered in a clear plastic sheet and duct tape just like the switchyard maintenance equipment. She looked to the text on the billboard through the raindrops on the plastic.
’’Let's give Toy Dream 35 a lovely name! In this new campaign, it's your ideas that will name the city!!’’
’’What...is this?’’ muttered Renge.
Toy Dream 35 was Toy Dream 35. She had never heard of it having another name.
Some clearly odd things were mixed into the familiar city.
While unrealistically thinking it looked like a half-made city, she looked up and found something else that was odd.
A large retro flip clock was attached to a building wall. But the arrangement of numbers on the glow-in-the-dark display was clearly wrong. The date it showed was a few decades into the future.
The amount of deterioration and filth on a single building completely changed from floor to floor.
Each of the roadside trees had grown drastically different amounts.
The scenery was a complete mess, as if someone had torn up several different photos and cobbled them together.
Renge thought for a bit and then looked down at the notebook-sized tablet that was acting as a light source. She looked for any rumors that sounded related to this.
She used her fingertip to slide from one article to another.
Then she found a rumor that fit the current situation.
A writer for a town information magazine had gathered several ghost stories he had heard about in Toy Dream 35.
’’I started to drift off on the train and suddenly woke up to find I was the only one onboard. I was too scared to see if anyone was in the driver's compartment up front. As I trembled in fear, I blinked and suddenly found myself back on the train full of other passengers. I thought I had just woken up from a dream, but what if I have been wandering through a dream ever since? Or...?’’
Another was an excerpt from ’’Strange Reports from the Official Records’’, a popular collection of tidbits that ran in a weekly magazine.
’’As the planner viewed the scene, he complained into his cellphone: 'Your huge-ass sign is in the way, so no one can see our advertisement from the station.' When the construction workers checked the plans back in their office, they all tilted their heads. There shouldn't have been a giant sign there, so what was this guy seeing?’’
Where had Meinokawa Higan gone?
That was not the appropriate question.
’’Where am I right now?’’
This was an empty city.
All the lights were out in a place where the lights should never have gone out.
Strange things which should not have been found in the real Toy Dream 35 were mixed into the scenery.
What proof did she have that she was really in Toy Dream 35?