Mitou Shoukan://Blood-Sign - Volume 2 - Chapter 4
Stage 04: Even If It Isn't Right
’’Some might say this is absolutely wrong and some might say it's a grand farce.’’
’’But!! This has to be what everyone really wanted to do!!’’
(Stage 04 Open 05/01 01:07)
Even If It Isn't Right
From an undated voice recorder file:
My dad's method must have been wrong.
By providing death and eliminating people, he worked to remove the dangerous elements and thus improve the world. But if he missed even a single person, he could no longer maintain the ’’proper history’’. That single point would spread to the whole and the distortion of ’’history’’ would never end.
That is why you can't build peace on a foundation of death.
Even if you do build that peace, it will not last.
We corrected that method.
Instead of accepting death, we will utterly reject it. By creating a world without death, people will lose the very reason for their conflict. Most human conflict is based on an unfulfilled need. And topping that list is the preservation of their own life.
The creation of a world without death will likely create a fair bit of chaos, but the people will soon realize they have no more reason to fight.
Luckily, we have all the tools needed to accomplish this. All that remains is to do it.
There is some fear of unwanted phenomena occurring as a side effect of creating a planet-wide Artificial Sacred Ground and placing all of mankind inside protective circles, but establishing the world without death comes first.
Once that is complete and all conflict has left the human world, I will finally have the right to inherit everything my dad left behind.
Killer Intent Antenna.
That is when I will inherit those two names.
Then again, they might have lost all meaning by the time we have a world without death. In that case, they will only be a legacy I inherit from my father.
She was a vessel for the previous generation as well, but she alone may still have value in the world without death.
’’Oh, goddammit!!’’ shouted the modified China dress beauty named Lu Niang Lan.
She was in Aika's apartment and they must have reached a break in the rain because she could not see any out the window. However, she could not see the starry sky either. Was that due to the thick rainclouds or Toy Dream 35's Rainy Screen campaign?
The white liger must not have liked the moisture because she looked a little upset as she gave a large, large yawn.
Meanwhile, Shut-In Aika was more cheerful than she had been during the day (although it was hard to tell just by looking at her). She was busy leaning against the ferocious beast while watching a late-night variety show and posting complaints on a message board in real time. But as a summoner who was forgotten when not seen with the naked eye, no one would respond to any of her posts. Her information could not reach anyone without some help from someone below Award 100 who would not be forgotten by normal society. Even if she bought something online, the order would be forgotten if she did not use one of those people.
Lu Niang Lan switched her phone to speakerphone and called someone with the results of her investigation still on the screen.
She was calling Shiroyama Kyousuke.
’’I found it, I found it. Hayato was a dead end and the incense registration list didn't turn up anything, but I finally got a hit with the vessel named Benikomichi Fuuki. She's registered as one of the vessels paired with a summoner called Illegal Award 910, Telomere's End.’’
’’One of...the vessels?’’
’’Telomere's End kept several vessel 'candidates' on hand. He would bind and cancel contracts over short periods of time to choose the right vessel for the job like a set of golf clubs. Benikomichi Fuuki was one of those. She's been active since she was nine years old.’’
She had been able to stand on the public stage as a high school student council president and blend into human society without anyone forgetting her because she had repeatedly cancelled and renewed her contract like that.
It may have been that history of risky usage that allowed her to do that without fearing the unknown side effects.
It was not that her body had built up a resistance to it. Her mind had.
’’So the person trying to create this world without death is that Telomere's End guy?’’
’’No, Telomere's End is already dead,’’ dryly answered the modified China dress beauty. ’’After his death, his vessel candidates scattered. Some returned to normal lives and some bound new contracts with other summoners. In the end, none of the vessels stayed with Telomere's End. ...Except for one, that is.’’
’’And that was senpai...Benikomichi Fuuki? But she has a contract with a summoner other than Telomere's End, doesn't she?’’
’’What if that summoner was a memento of Telomere's End?’’
’’Telomere's End had brought together a small organization as a member of Illegal. And Illegal families focus on bonds of blood. It might sound odd for criminal organizations to care about familial love, but it's far deeper and stronger than people think. You could call it an idiosyncrasy of Illegal. ...Even if Telomere's End himself didn't want it, that would have had some effect.’’
Yasuzumi Hayato was his heir from a physical and genetic perspective.
Benikomichi Fuuki was his heir from a psychological and technical perspective.
They were trying to follow in the footsteps of Telomere's End by joining forces. That was the identity of Shiroyama Kyousuke's enemy.
’’Our Awards are mainly dependent on the summoner rather than the vessel. That's why I'm not Government Award 1000 and why your enemy is on par with Telomere's End and yet has not inherited his name or Awards. A child does not inherit his parent's Awards just because he is using the same vessel.’’
’’That would explain why someone so skilled isn't in any of the records.’’ Kyousuke sounded annoyed. ’’And from what I've heard, I don't think the summoner is in charge here. It's probably senpai...the vessel who has seen both father and son who is leading the pair. She has given the son some special education to help him learn his father's techniques.’’
’’That's an unusual arrangement. When I was a vessel, I wore a collar and was kept in a cage.’’
’’I'm not sure how I should respond to that.’’
’’Feel free to get all flustered while you imagine it,’’ readily answered Lu Niang Lan. ’’I don't mind if it's you.’’
That was something she had already dealt with.
Dealt with by personally killing the summoner behind it, that is.
’’As the name Telomere's End suggests, he was an assassin and he apparently really thought he could bring about peace if he killed everyone standing in its way. But based on what you've said, Kyousuke-chan, it sounds like his son is heading in the opposite direction.’’
’’When the one-man leader died, it may have cast a shadow over his ideals. That's why they decided to take the other way. If they succeed, they've succeeded. And if they fail, it proves that his father was right all along.’’
’’By the way...there's one thing I need to tell you about and then apologize for.’’
’’ 'Just one'? That's not a very nice thing to say!! ...Ahem. Remember when you helped me retrieve that attache case at A Block's international airport?’’
’’Yeah. The one carrying a plan to defeat a certain country, right?’’
’’Right. ...The thing is, that plan was a lot like this.’’
’’The method of destroying their assumed enemy nation was just like this deathless world. But instead of creating an indefinite state of immortality, the plan was to only create a temporarily deathless world. Once the nation's system had collapsed, they would switch off the deathless part.’’
It was simple enough to describe, but what it meant was truly nasty.
The targets themselves would thoroughly destroy the ’’kind system’’ that was necessary to preserve their normal lives and then their immortality would suddenly be snatched away from them. What would happen then? They would no longer have the clothing, food, shelter, currency, electricity, gas, water, and everything else provided by that ’’kind system’’, but a world of normal death would suddenly return.
Without what was needed to live, they would of course be unable to live.
Even if that meant one or two hundred million people, there would be no exceptions.
They would have destroyed themselves and driven themselves to death.
It would be mass suicide on a grand scale.
That ’’peaceful solution’’ was really a horribly cruel way of destroying a nation without firing a single bullet.
’’So that's why Yasuzumi Hayato and Benikomichi Fuuki showed up at that international airport. Had someone intercepted their plan and built it into their own plan or were they trying to prevent a coincidentally similar plan from getting out? Either way, they needed to steal that no matter what. That's why they showed up and pretended to be our allies.’’
’’I'm glad I didn't trust them,’’ commented Kyousuke.
’’I know what you mean. It's looking like those so-called Black Wings that occupied the airport may have actually been soldiers from the old Telomere's End days. In that case, simply stealing the case during the first wave would have worked, but if that failed, they just had to slaughter their own soldiers to earn our trust and begin a summoning ceremony from close range.’’
Lu Niang Lan traversed the world of the summoning ceremony with nothing more than her bare hands and hidden weapons, but not even she could escape the basic rules. Once she was closed in an Artificial Sacred Ground and her target was contained within a protective circle, none of her attacks would get through.
They might have been in trouble had that second wave tricked them.
’’It's the same method they used when blowing up the factory with their soldiers inside...’’
’’For advocating a world without death, they sure are quick to take people's lives, enemy or ally. They'll probably be the first to 'starve' if their plan does succeed.’’
’’By the way, what are the three major powers doing?’’
’’They'll probably take action soon. A world without death sounds nice, but it will only bring harm to everyone. ...However, these people planned for your interference from the beginning, so they'll have put together their timetable on the assumption they were going to blow up their HQ. Their next move will be checkmate, so shouldn't we assume this will all be over by the time those large organizations get going?’’
’’In that case, we'll have to do this on our own.’’
’’Do you have any idea where their ignition will take place?’’
’’Yeah. There's only one place it could be.’’
Yasuzumi Hayato, the memento of a summoner known as Telomere's End, looked up into the night sky during a brief break in the rain.
’’Do you think they'll be here?’’
’’I'm sure they will,’’ replied Benikomichi Fuuki, his vessel.
She had viewed Telomere's End's techniques from closer than anyone and had thoroughly trained this novice summoner in their true essence. She had not demanded it, but her training had been harsh enough that he had naturally started to call her ’’mistress’’.
’’First, they know I went through a special process and protected my social status to remain 'here'. Second, they may have seen the Rainy Girl appear at the factory as well as 'here'. There are small changes occurring around the world, but the Rainy Girl's most noticeable actions are concentrated on this city. With those two facts, it should be obvious that the ghost has been appearing near crucial parts of our plan to leave behind some kind of message. He isn't stupid enough to overlook that.’’
’’He should have died in the explosion.’’
’’That would have been best, of course. And it is logically correct. But didn't I teach you that you will occasionally run across apparent violations of probability - that is, miraculous despair - in actual combat?’’
They stood in Toy Dream 35's R Block.
They were on the roof of the high school were Benikomichi Fuuki served as student council president.
As soon as Shiroyama Kyousuke knew she was his enemy, he would wonder why she had gone to the effort of canceling and renewing her contract as a vessel just to preserve her social standing here.
Unless he sentimentally concluded she had wanted to enjoy her peaceful high school life, he would have predicted that she was modifying the high school as a cornerstone of her plan.
’’How is the weather map looking?’’ asked Benikomichi Fuuki.
’’I'm only using a civilian service, but it looks good. The effects are starting to show themselves. The rainclouds are taking a shape that completely ignores the arrangement of wind and atmospheric pressure. The Northern Hemisphere itself is clearly transforming into a giant pattern.’’
’’In other words, that will give away where the center is. And if it's that obvious with a civilian service, everyone in the world will know. This creates a third concern. We have two options: complete the ignition before any pursuers arrive...’’
She heard a creaking noise.
It was the sound of a steel door opening and closing.
Two more people stepped out onto the late night rooftop.
’’Or mow everything down to buy the time we need. Right, Shiroyama Boy?’’
The two summoner pairs faced each other.
Shiroyama Kyousuke and the Librarian.
Yasuzumi Hayato and the Student Council President.
They were beginning the final battle over the deathless world a ghost had revealed.
When Kyousuke arrived on the roof, his opponents were standing in the rainy night without an umbrella.
They were a little more than twenty meters away.
The summoner known as Alice (with) Rabbit did not ask his opponents why they were doing this and he did not try to talk them out of it. He would stop them no matter what their reason was and he would use any means necessary to do so. His silence was a sign of that resolve.
But he did recall some small things:
The student council president who had apologized for making him take part in the useless crime prevention training.
The girl who had innocently stolen the pork from his bowl in the cafeteria.
Benikomichi Fuuki who had helped him study to fend off boredom after school.
The memories rose to the surface.
But then he sealed them away as if to part ways with those peaceful days. Instead, he made a demand.
This was an issue of definitions.
He had been speaking to Yasuzumi Hayato, but the summoner said nothing and looked over to his vessel.
Benikomichi Fuuki answered on her own without checking with the summoner behind her.
’’We are Illegal Award 910, Telomere's End.’’
Shiroyama Kyousuke narrowed his eyes ever-so-slightly.
That quick exchange had revealed the general outline of some things: the balance of power between his two enemies, this plan led by the vessel, what supported the vessel's heart, and what desire had led them in this direction.
So to sum it all up, Kyousuke spoke a simple phrase with Librarian-chan to his side.
’’There's no saving you.’’
A moment later, an Incense Grenade burst at Hayato's feet.
An Artificial Sacred Ground expanded from there.
The summoning battle had begun.
The Rose made up of 216 Petals appeared. Kyousuke pulled a serpentine Blood-Sign from his back and Hayato pulled a three-sectioned staff of a Blood-Sign from his back. They both became long sticks. They forcefully sent out one of the White Thorns that had appeared. Both White Thorns pierced the Rose at about the same time and it broke into scattering Petals. Countless Spots appeared within the Artificial Sacred Ground and the Petals were absorbed by them.
Librarian-chan and Benikomichi Fuuki's bodies transformed as if spiraling around.
Kyousuke had the Original Green (k). Cost: 1. Sound Range: Middle.
Hayato had the Original Red (b). Cost: 1. Sound Range: Low.
They were both three meter, seven hundred kilogram masses of goo and the only difference was the color, but Kyousuke had the upper hand in the sound range.
But Hayato did not quickly build up his Material to change to a different sound range.
As Kyousuke continued to aim for the Petals floating in the air, the assassin gave a yell.
’’Fuuki-san!! Destroy the roo-...’’
’’Like we'll let you!! Librarian-chan!!’’
Kyousuke loudly cut him off.
<Understood. I just have to stop her, right!?>
A dull sound rang out. As Benikomichi Fuuki tried to smash the concrete below them in her Original Red form, Librarian-chan used her own Original Green body as a shield.
Kyousuke had the upper hand in the sound range, so she could take a few hits without worrying about a fatal blow.
In the blank moment created by the failed attempt to destroy their footing, Kyousuke used his Blood-Sign to forcefully hit a White Thorn.
He moved onto the next step.
By gaining an advantage in sound range and cost, he could crush his opponent before they even left the weakest Cost 1 range.
But Hayato gave a shout even though he had to know that.
’’Did you think you could get in our way forever!?’’
The red goo took the form of a giant fist and repeatedly attacked the rooftop.
<Gh... She's fast! But her monster should be about the same as mine!!>
Librarian-chan moved quickly, but she could not help but let a few hits through which sent disconcerting cracks through the concrete. The limit arrived in no time. With a dull breaking sound, Kyousuke's entire vision dropped down as if he had fallen into an enormous pitfall.
He knew what Yasuzumi Hayato had to be thinking.
They would fall into a classroom or hallway. Either way, it was a limited indoor field that would allow him to fight while switching from one foothold to another. By using the floor, the walls, the ceiling, the blackboards, the desks, and the lockers, he could switch between footholds every few seconds to send the artificial gravity every which way and toss Shiroyama Kyousuke around. He could overwhelm his opponent by building up his own Material without giving his opponent a chance to use his Blood-Sign.
But Kyousuke did not just sit idly by.
With a tremendous sound, he pressed his feet against the crumbling rooftop and charged forward like a bullet.
His target was Yasuzumi Hayato himself.
Their protective circles collided, creating an almost metallic clang. The two summoners were distanced from anything that would bring death, so this would of course not defeat him.
But Yasuzumi Hayato's body still floated up somewhat.
’’Librarian-chan!! Hit me!!’’
<Okay! And my name!!>
The response was swift.
An otherworldly monster mercilessly beat Shiroyama Kyousuke's protective circle from behind. This provided far more power than before, so it almost looked like the physics experiment using metal balls hanging from strings.
All of the monster's kinetic energy was transferred from Kyousuke to Hayato.
Kyousuke's position remained almost unchanged while Hayato shot horizontally when he had been falling straight down before.
He was thrown far from his expected landing point. Instead of the classroom directly below, he was thrown to a long hallway.
A new Artificial Sacred Ground appeared and the remaining Petals were swept over to it.
It must have felt like intentionally jumping into a pitfall only to find there was a second pitfall at the bottom. Hayato frantically corrected the position of his legs, but that slowed him down and worked against his plan.
Meanwhile, Kyousuke was using his Blood-Sign. He used his White Thorns to accurately target the Petals bouncing freely around the limited miniature world.
His Material was already the Ramming Fish (n h - c b).
Cost: 4. Sound Range: Low. It was a giant fish that swam freely through the dark night and had a single sword-like horn.
Yasuzumi Hayato must have sensed that sticking with the weakest Original Red would be dangerous, so he finally started hitting out his own White Thorns.
The student council president transformed from the red goo into a man-eating flower that crawled around with tentacle-like roots. Unsurprisingly, she smashed the hallway floor.
Their footing vanished once more.
Hayato set his sights on the inside of the outer wall. The new artificial gravity would swing Shiroyama Kyousuke around by 360 degrees. But then Hayato saw something unbelievable.
Before the artificial gravity had even changed, the soles of Kyousuke's shoes were already planted on the wall.
He was running along the wall.
Using the same principle that kept water in a bucket as it is was swung around, it was possible to walk two or three steps on a vertical wall with enough of a starting run and centrifugal force. But that was only if one was prepared to fall back down and possibly break an arm if they messed up the landing.
However, Kyousuke did not need to worry about landing.
After all, the footing had already been destroyed and Hayato was on the move. The enemy assassin could not stop now.
Before Shiroyama Kyousuke's body could be dragged back down by gravity, the new footing was set.
That meant he did not fall.
The battle continued on this new footing.
Meanwhile, even if Hayato had set this up, he still had to use his knees as springs to cancel the momentum of his own weight. He was delayed a bit when compared to Kyousuke who had been attached to the wall before it even became the new footing.
Hayato should have been the one swinging his opponent around, but his own plan was beginning to strangle him.
’’What? You don't have anything else up your sleeve?’’
Shiroyama Kyousuke simply smiled as he precisely held up his Blood-Sign.
He seemed to be proving again who the master of this field was.
Benikomichi Fuuki felt a strange emotion rising from within her heart.
She had transformed into the Feasting Flower (l v z - j). All Materials were filled with violent and belligerent thoughts, but this was something else.
Yasuzumi Hayato, her partner and summoner, stood on the hallway wall as he fought Shiroyama Kyousuke.
As Fuuki received his support in her man-eating flower form, she clashed with Kyousuke's Material, a giant single-horned fish.
To be blunt, things were not going well.
They had supposedly inputted the optimal values and made the optimal calculations, but they had not received the optimal answer.
Hayato's side had set all of this up, but for some reason Kyousuke's side always seemed to have the upper hand.
It felt like handing their spare ammunition to the enemy and being shot by those very bullets.
The emotion rising from within the transformed girl was joy.
She gave no thought to the fact that her thoughts might be reaching her partner.
<Oh, this is bad. This is really, really bad. My bad habits are coming back... How many years has it been since I wanted to have some fun on a job?>
As Yasuzumi Hayato stood vertically in the hallway, he gave her a quick confused glance.
Yes, she was rejoicing as they were being cornered.
She was delighting in the existence of someone who could push them to the limit like this.
It felt like remembering the distant past.
It was like finding the same atmosphere as when she had joined hands with a veteran assassin and lived a life of constantly being pushed to the limit.
<I keep talking about surpassing him and abandoning him, but all I'm really doing is chasing after Telomere's End's shadow. I still yearn for those days. A memento is no more valuable than a memento. Ahh, is that what it all meant?>
She had taken on the unnecessary risk of side effects to hide that she was a vessel and thus avoid unnecessary battles with other summoners, but there had been no real reason to become student council president. She could have lived the life of an inconspicuous and obedient student.
Had she done so regardless because she had wanted to try walking a path besides that of the dead summoner's teachings?
She had lived up to everyone's expectations, stood before everyone, and aimed for something beyond them all.
But it had not been enough.
No matter how much she succeeded as a human, that summoner's shadow never vanished. The traces of that man had become a part of the girl named Benikomichi Fuuki.
To the point that she was willing to use his ’’memento’’ of a son to immerse herself in those memories.
Kyousuke had said there was no saving her.
He must have seen through it all in that quick exchange.
And Yasuzumi Hayato had likely seen it too.
As the man-eating flower's fangs clashed with the giant fish's horn, Benikomichi Fuuki mocked it all.
<Even if he knows the truth, I've taught him to continue favoring me regardless. Oh, I get it now. Finding it boring when everything goes just the way you want is the ultimate form of selfishness.>
The vessel's feelings were not directed toward the summoner.
To her, there was only one person superior to her.
In fact, she felt fonder of the formidable foe who had reminded her of those days.
<Every word coming from Hayato's mouth is my own and every word coming from my mouth is that man's. Hayato knows that, but he still does as I say. Not as a puppet or a clown, but as an assassin who outputs violence according to the requested job. But it's too bad, Hayato. I wasn't looking for a teacher's pet that develops according to schedule. I was betting on the possibility of you destroying the framework of pre-established harmony.>
Yasuzumi Hayato was considered a failure after scoring a perfect 100, so there was no reward for him here. And Benikomichi Fuuki was an extraordinarily cruel girl for forcing that onto him so readily.
Blood and knowledge.
Genes and techniques.
The assassin summoner boy was trapped between both of those, but he had created a place for himself in the slight gap between and he called out a girl's name from the bottom of his gut. He awaited instructions like a machine.
But the poor boy was cut off. He seemed to realize something that frightened him. His mouth...no, his entire body came to a stop.
The summoner looked to his feet.
He stood on the school's outer wall, so the entire surface was made of glass. There was no need to have the Material break it. If he stomped his foot, he could break it himself. And that transparent footing led to a never-ending expanse. There was nothing horizontal of here. If this broke, he would seriously continue falling for hundreds of meters...no, perhaps even for kilometers.
His life would not be in danger as long as the protective circle lasted, but since he could not predict what high-rise building would become his next footing, that would not improve his situation. Doing that would mean throwing out all his calculations and gambling with his life and future. No plan could be more foolish.
<No, Hayato! Don't stop! That isn't what Telomere's End would do! Step onto the ceiling or floor. You can recover from-...>
Benikomichi Fuuki shouted at him as if pushing a doll forward.
The Material ignored the summoner and started on its next attack.
But before it could...
A voice even colder than the assassin's reached their ears.
The Devouring Wings. Cost: 5. Sound Range: Middle. The monster that reacted to Kyousuke's words was not so much a bird as it was a giant stingray and it had rows of human teeth.
It happened in an instant.
The monster did not hesitate to break the glass earth below their feet.
Fuuki and Hayato were both overcome by the falling sensation that felt like a weight in the stomach. Dumbfounded, they looked to the enemy summoner. Had he made a desperate gamble because he had no chance of winning? That (from Hayato's perspective) optimistic idea came to mind, but he would soon realize he was wrong.
There was no surprise on Kyousuke's face.
<I knew it... He already knows the battlefield perfectly, even the locations of the buildings a thousand meters from here. This is just like being brought back to that golden age, Shiroyama Boy!!>
This was the territory of the true Telomere's End.
Yasuzumi Hayato was nothing but his memento, so he could never reach this point.
The summoner could no longer speak.
But he did have a direct mental link to the vessel he fought alongside.
<Tch. Prepare to land, Hayato!!>
Benikomichi Fuuki realized what the assassin intended to do, so she collided with Hayato from the side as a burning metal ball of a Material. That bent his fall by a right angle, so he flew like an artillery shell and stabbed into the outer wall of the gym built next to the school.
He had avoided the thousand meter fall and set the gym's outer wall as their new footing.
Shiroyama Kyousuke followed, as if being dragged over by the wall of the newly created Artificial Sacred Ground. So did the group of red Petals. Kyousuke landed on the gym wall with the force of a meteor.
With a great roar, the protective circle around him mercilessly broke through the wall.
Hayato and everyone else were thrown horizontally into the dark gym. They landed on the opposite wall and the Petals rained down like a red meteor shower.
As a burning metal ball, Fuuki clicked her tongue at Hayato's wide-eyed look.
<An assassin must remain composed at all times!! Even if this place is destroyed, even if you're sent flying horizontally through the night sky again, even if you have no idea where your next footing will be, and even if you slip between the buildings and fly outside the city altogether, an assassin needs to keep a fearless smile on his face!!>
But Hayato had good reason to be concerned.
The Artificial Sacred Ground only lasted for ten minutes, so he would not be thrown beyond the solar system. But it was obvious what would happen to a flesh-and-blood human if the effects wore off during a horizontal fall.
Fuuki knew that, but she still worked to motivate him.
<Don't stop, Hayato! Remember the rules of the family. This is just like a crack in a dam. If an assassin hesitates, it will all fall apart from there!!>
And Shiroyama Kyousuke did not hesitate.
When he heard that, Yasuzumi Hayato ran full speed along the gym wall. He ran toward the floor. At the same time, he instructed Benikomichi Fuuki to drop down from ’’above’’ to destroy their footing.
<So you choose survival over killing. But I guess there's no helping that!!>
The burning metal ball crashed down and achieved the desired destruction.
Hayato had arrived at the right angle connection between wall and floor and he stepped onto the floor the instant the footing crumbled.
He had finally escaped the hopeless threat of being thrown out into empty air, so he breathed a small sigh of relief.
Kyousuke lightly spun his Blood-Sign around.
His previous method would no longer work, but Alice (with) Rabbit did not look concerned.
’’This is a large floor with no walls or ceilings in reach. ...You can no longer use that artificial gravity tactic you love so much.’’
’’And if you can't use your interference tactics, this comes down to pure skill as a summoner. You are no longer much of a threat. If all we're doing is hitting our White Thorns, I have the upper hand. Or am I wrong?>
<The more passive measures we took, the less freedom we had. He was riling us up to create this situation from the beginning.>
Yasuzumi Hayato raised his Blood-Sign and looked around the dark gym.
There were large holes on both side walls and the ceiling was too far away. The polished wooden floor was the only surface. There really was nothing he could do. There was nothing left with which to create his next footing.
<It's not over yet. Tell him, Hayato.>
’’Hah. Have you forgotten, Alice (with) Rabbit?’’
’’This isn't a normal school. It's a midair float supported by dozens of pillars! And that means!! There's plenty of free space down below!!’’
<That's right. That's how an assassin acts!!>
With those words, the burning metal ball that Benikomichi Fuuki had become dropped down from above.
It was a lot like a lightning strike.
The world split. It went beyond the waxed wooden floor breaking. The foundation of the building and the entire artificial surface of the midair float split, broke, scattered, and crumbled.
Below them was a drop of twenty to thirty meters, several large bridges, and the many thick pillars that supported the midair float. The Rainy Screen that projected images onto the falling raindrops was mainly meant to be viewed from indoors, so there were not many people outside, especially on these bridges with their view of the night sky blocked by the midair float. There was no sign of anyone on those bridges.
They could use any of those and land on any of them.
They had recovered.
Hayato could continue at his own pace now. He would make a complete comeback. It would all be over when he landed on his next footing.
But what happened next betrayed his expectations.
It happened as soon as Shiroyama Kyousuke said that.
The Spear that Pursues Fresh Blood (bih - ei - dp - tq). Cost: 9. Sound Range: Low. A flying spear over five meters long moved in the span of a breath.
With a deafening noise, the Material stabbed through the bridge Hayato was trying to land on. The bridge broke in two and Hayato nearly lost his balance in midair after preparing his legs like springs. And Kyousuke's Material did not stop there. It smashed through bridge after bridge.
With all of his possible footholds gone, Hayato was sucked into the deep darkness beyond.
<Oh, no!! Don't tell me...!!>
The sound of the splitting water stabbed into Yasuzumi Hayato's ears.
The ocean surface was not recognized as the Artificial Sacred Ground's next footing.
Without the Artificial Sacred Ground, the Petals were not dragged to him and there was nothing around him.
The assassin was simply shocked at first, but then he realized where the next footing would be. If he continued to sink...
<It will be the ocean bottom located who knows how many dozens of meters down below!?>
Fuuki could see the two summoners sinking.
The protective circles kept them safe from all external and internal forms of death during the ceremony, so none of the seawater made it inside those circles.
However, that also meant their arms and legs could not reach the water. That in turn meant they could not swim and thus they could only continue to sink. Also, the protective circle apparently did not function like a float despite the air inside them.
They could reach the water with their long Blood-Signs, but it would be difficult to lift a human's weight to the surface like that.
And on top of that, Shiroyama Kyousuke mercilessly dropped down on Yasuzumi Hayato while they were both contained within protective circles. This did no damage, but Kyousuke's weight could not be ignored.
Both their weights together invited them to the cold and dark ocean depths.
When Fuuki prepared to help, Kyousuke's Material glared at her.
She had the inferior cost.
Not only would she be held back, but she could easily be defeated.
’’Do you...do you have any idea what you've done, Alice (with) Rabbit!?’’
’’Yes, I believe the ocean here is about thirty meters deep. That won't be a problem while the protective circles are active, but after the ten minute time limit, the water pressure will rush in at us. ...Things might be different if you slowly dove down like a normal diver, but even thirty meters is enough to knock you out from shock if it arrives as suddenly as throwing a switch.’’
And if Hayato passed out in the water, it was obvious what fate awaited him.
He would lose the right to struggle and would drown without putting up a fight.
’’But...then...the same thing will happen to you!!’’
’’Or...do you have a way out? No, there isn't one. You don't have an oxygen tank on you. And even if you did, that wouldn't help with the water pressure squeezing at your blood vessels and organs. Then...!?’’
’’You tossed me around a lot with that artificial gravity.’’
Kyousuke showed no sign of fear as he sunk toward the ocean bottom like he had been thrown off the pier at night with a concrete block in his arms.
’’That was probably around 4 or 4.5 Gs. A roller coaster can recreate that, so the protective circle won't cut it off. But if you combine that with a special way of breathing, you can adjust the oxygen level in your blood without visiting a specialized hyperbaric chamber.’’
’’Unlike you, I've already prepared for a high pressure environment. ...Do I really need to tell you anything more?’’
Yasuzumi Hayato swung his Blood-Sign like crazy to hit his White Thorns, but his hands came to a stop. But this was not just because he was not used to fighting underwater.
When he destroyed his footing and set up a new Artificial Sacred Ground, the Spots would appear based on that new Artificial Sacred Ground.
That meant the Spots would not appear until that new Artificial Sacred Ground had been set. Nor would the remaining Petals slide this way. In other words, he could not interfere with his Material even with the White Thorns he had.
There was nothing he could do.
Benikomichi Fuuki was still trying to grasp, crush, and kill Kyousuke's Material. The giant spear was fighting the burning metal ball, but Kyousuke's had the upper hand in pure cost and in the sound range. Plus, Fuuki never had a chance without him constantly moving from footing to footing to throw off their opponent's pace.
No help was coming.
He could not float back up to the surface.
The chain of death was attached to Yasuzumi Hayato's feet and it dragged him down to the watery depths thirty meters below.
Then the new Artificial Sacred Ground appeared and the artificial gravity chained him here.
As if to prove his life was bound here, the petals rained down from above and the new Spots opened wide.
With that, Yasuzumi Hayato's chances of victory were extinguished.
If he lost, his protective circle would vanish, the water pressure would crush him, and he would lose consciousness. Even if he won, how far could he reach in just ninety seconds? At A Block's international airport, he had used the divine-class Leviathan to drag a submarine high overhead, but that was because he had had room to send the Material below the target.
Plus, the protective circle would repel the summoner (meaning the Material could only contact him for an instant), so the Material could not interfere with the summoner's body for very long. To put it simply, it was very difficult for the Material to grab the summoner in a giant hand, place him on its back, and carry him around. It differed on a case-by-case basis, but the summoner tended to slip away like an eel or wet bar of soap.
In the end, Hayato could not use that method unless he could swim up under his own power to create some space below him. Unlike with the school building, he would need to build up his Material quite a bit to smash ten meters of the hard bedrock, but it was unlikely he could reach that point after focusing so much on interference tactics.
But then the assassin's heart leaped in his chest.
The directionless voice that reached his head or chest breathed new life into him.
<Hayato, that isn't a problem. We remain assassins until the world without death is complete. When weighing survival against killing, you must be the sort of person who chooses the latter.>
Strength returned to his hands as he held the Blood-Sign.
Fuuki could tell even from a distance.
<So hurry up and build up our Material. For Telomere's End's victory!!>
Did Fuuki really understand what had caused it?
On the ocean bottom far below, Hayato let go of his Blood-Sign and blankly stared upward.
They were only a few dozen seconds away from the time limit.
But that would be enough time for Kyousuke's Material to wear down and kill the burning metal ball Fuuki had become.
She felt fear.
But even greater was the joy of battle that filled the student council president's mind.
Was it the lack of this that kept Hayato from reaching that golden age? Was it the presence of this that kept Fuuki from forgetting that golden age?
Yes, she could not forget it.
<Ahh, ahh. I've lost this one.>
Fuuki smiled at that fact, as a ferocious form charged toward her.
What was the true desire swirling deep inside her heart?
<This proves it! Telomere's End truly was the greatest summoner!! No matter who tries to surpass him and no matter who tries to get rid of him, no one can drag that unique summoner down from his throne!!>
But even if Fuuki had betrayed Hayato, she could not have simply stabbed him in the back.
She had needed to put everything into the planning and execution yet have it foiled by some other summoner. That had been the only way to establish an official ranking that included Telomere's End.
That had been the only way to prove his superiority.
<An ally needed to be defeated and an enemy had to defeat him. Honestly, you were the most useful summoner I could have hoped for.>
Her thoughts were only linked to Yasuzumi Hayato, so they would not reach Shiroyama Kyousuke.
But she did not care.
Benikomichi Fuuki shouted her thoughts as the innocently cruel girl who was Telomere's End's vessel.
<So I'm thankful, Alice (with) Rabbit. In a way, you saved me by being such a formidable foe!!>
She had not cared about the memento.
The world without death had not mattered.
There was just one thing that girl had wanted: placing that man's deeds in an eternal hall of fame and protecting that ultimate record to ensure no one could trample on it.
She had simply wanted to prove that Telomere's End's methods had been correct and that any other methods would only bring pain.
Even if it was his relative or son, she could not allow anyone to disturb that sanctuary.
Even if it was meant to challenge him.
She had achieved her goal.
The vessel named Benikomichi Fuuki thought of the summoner she had once stood beside.
She pictured the face of that man who had been too distant to call it love but too close to call it respect.
<Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!>
The time limit became entirely moot.
The giant spear pierced through the burning metal ball. And with the Material's defeat, the protective circle on the ocean bottom burst.
Benikomichi Fuuki and Yasuzumi Hayato.
That moment determined their defeat.
Even though Kyousuke had prepared himself for a high pressure environment, there was only so much he could do on the fly. However, he could not float while inside the protective circle. As soon as the battle ended, he discarded the Chain time, returning Librarian-chan to her human form and removing the circle that prevented him from swimming. His vision immediately shook.
He just barely remained conscious.
That was the most his safety measure had bought him.
He clenched his teeth and grabbed the arm of the assassin floating at the bottom of the ocean. The boy did not put up any kind of resistance. When a summoner or vessel lost, they entered a state of mental shock similar to seeing the god they worshipped slaughtered before their eyes and that state would continue for more than twenty-four hours. They became puppets that did anything they were told, but he would definitely drown if left like this.
Kyousuke swam toward the surface.
Librarian-chan was a slender girl again and she was already swimming up as well. He had instructed her to keep the fight on the upper edge of the Artificial Sacred Ground. More accurately, he had told her to keep the lower position so she could drive Student Council President Benikomichi Fuuki ever higher and keep her at the ceiling of the Artificial Sacred Ground.
Artificial Sacred Grounds were twenty meter cubes by default, so at a depth of thirty meters, the top would be about ten meters deep. That was shallow enough to keep the water pressure from crushing her.
Librarian-chan grabbed Benikomichi Fuuki's arm because the girl was still suffering from the water pressure (and had become a zombie in the original sense of the word after the shock of losing).
Kyousuke swam after them, but a dull pain ran through his head. He felt nauseous, like a magnified version of carsickness.
(Dammit... I have a light case of decompression sickness...)
A rapid change from low to high pressure was a problem, but the opposite was also a problem. The nitrogen in the blood would form bubbles that could cause headaches, nausea, internal bleeding, etc. The symptoms were known as decompression sickness or the bends.
However, he could not stay underwater forever.
He clenched his teeth and forced down the urge to vomit as he stuck his head out from the water.
If he had been about twenty meters deeper, the symptoms would have been more severe and may have killed him.
’’Wait, Shiroyama-kun, what is that!? Your eyes are all bloodshot and they're shedding bloody tears...’’
’’I'm lucky that's all it is. More importantly, let's find somewhere to get out of the water. We can't float forever with this baggage weighing us down. And it'll probably get more troublesome once they come to.’’
To make sure the dazed summoner and vessel did not drown, Kyousuke and Librarian-chan placed them on their backs and supported them from below as they swam. They felt like otters, but they finally arrived at one of the pillars holding up the high school's midair float and climbed up using the staircase wrapping around it like ivy.
Librarian-chan looked up while carrying the student council president on her back.
’’W-we really messed up our school, didn't we?’’
’’Maybe we should be glad you've calmed down enough to be worried about that,’’ spat out Kyousuke.
That summoner and vessel pair had their origins in the summoner known as Telomere's End.
They had planned to create a world without death.
That had all been stopped now that no one remained to complete the final ignition. The world built on the hatred and acceptance of human death would not be destroyed overnight.
It was all over.
For the time being, anyway.
The school building's roof had collapsed, the gym had been smashed flat, and the midair float supporting them had broken apart and fallen into the sea. The collapse had reached the school building which was shaped like three sides of a square, so around half of the building had been lost.
Most of what remained was the empty schoolyard.
When they arrived at the partially-collapsed schoolyard, Kyousuke and Librarian-chan set down the assassins who were now dazed dolls. Kyousuke confiscated their Blood-Sign and Incense Grenades before tying their hands behind their backs.
Once they were bound, he pulled out his smartphone.
’’Aika, how is the weather map looking?’’
’’The unnatural currents that ignore the wind direction and pressure changes are beginning to fall apart. At this rate, their 'circle' will be gone in a half hour or so.’’
’’Is there anything else we need to destroy?’’
’’Government personnel were sent to that factory in the name of an inspection. Based on the documents they found in the rubble, the special materials in the atmosphere will not last long-term without the ignition, so they will break apart on their own.’’
In that case, time would solve the rest.
Kyousuke said goodbye and hung up.
<Yahoo☆ My - dear - brother.>
A harsh look came over his eyes when a girl's voice cut in.
He looked over and saw a new figure on the crumbling schoolyard. The Queen with silver twintails and a white dress seemed enveloped by pale glowing particles. That peak of the Unexplored-class was known as the strongest of the strong. She smiled as she used the Rainy Screen to appear in the extended rain and used directional speakers to speak.
’’Why are you here?’’
<Why? To say goodbye since I will soon be leaving for a while.>
The White Queen pointed up toward the night sky from which the rain fell.
<My body is being stored on an abandoned civilian space station, but that too will fail now that the summoner behind the plan was defeated. Once that falls apart, my mind must return to my body.>
’’That's really the only reason?’’
<Brother, are you trying to tempt me into doing something more?>
The world without death had been stopped and the mysterious things caused by the masterminds would be gone by the following day.
But then someone else came to Librarian-chan's mind.
She could never remember what that person looked like no matter how hard she tried.
They should have been closer to her than anyone.
The rainy image of the Queen briefly blurred.
Rubber rain boots could be heard on the wet ground.
A small girl hid her face behind a broken umbrella and her raincoat was dyed red.
The Rainy Girl did not reply to Librarian-chan's trembling voice.
No, it was just that she did not speak out loud. Her small lips may have been moving below the umbrella, but her posture kept the broken umbrella in the way and Librarian-chan could not follow those movements.
She too would disappear.
A paranormal system had twisted causality and allowed the impossible to appear, but that would collapse with time. Once that happened, the Rainy Girl could no longer appear. The same was true of the White Queen who was supported by the Rainy Screen. Once the rain let up, they would return to their proper places. No one could stop it. Even if they tried to stop it by force, it would create a great distortion just like Yasuzumi Hayato and Benikomichi Fuuki had.
For a while, Librarian-chan and the Rainy Girl faced each other.
Only Librarian-chan knew what thoughts filled her heart then.
No matter what anyone said, that was her sister. At the same time, no matter what explanation she was given, she could not rid herself of the deep-rooted fear she felt.
Even so, she finally spoke.
’’This is...for the best.’’
She was not just talking about now. Her voice seemed to restart the time that had been stalled ever since a certain tragedy had thrown a certain family into despair.
’’I mean, it would be wrong to leave you wandering in the rain forever. It isn't right for everyone to treat you like a strange monster. So we need to end this here. I don't know if there's an afterlife or if we're reborn, but there must be some place you're meant to go. So...’’
The Alice (with) Rabbit boy briefly thought of a certain pair of twins.
But there were as many different endings as there were people. Without saying another word, Kyousuke handed Librarian-chan a single Incense Grenade. He then held her small hand in his own. He aimed it toward the target while it was in the vessel's hand.
This was not the kind of distortion that Hayato and Benikomichi Fuuki had created. This would create a true Artificial Sacred Ground. The clog would be removed and the ghost that was unnaturally caught here would be swept away to ’’somewhere else’’.
It was a tool to assist a wandering soul.
Librarian-chan had said this was for the best, but her face crumpled up and she fell silent when she felt the actual weight in her hand. But the summoner had concluded she would regret it later if she just let it happen and had Kyousuke do it for her.
The Rainy Girl said nothing.
The broken umbrella spun around with its bearer in the center. Unlike her thorough silence, the small movement seemed to reveal a slight will. And that will relaxed the tense atmosphere.
This would end it.
More accurately, it would accept that this life had already ended.
The rain let up just a little. A break might open in the clouds and the rain might stop entirely. If that happened, the Rainy Girl would disappear. She might never appear again.
So Librarian-chan decided to place her finger through the pin along with Kyousuke's finger, pull it out, and see it through to the end.
However, something interfered.
She heard an odd sound.
No, it may have been a voice.
The terribly distorted voice seemed to be coming from a broken audio system, so she could not tell what it was saying.
But at the very least, it was not coming from the Rainy Girl. That ghost could not produce her own voice as a sound.
However, it was not Shiroyama Kyousuke, Librarian-chan, or the White Queen either.
Then who was it?
Something happened as soon as they all turned toward the sound.
’’Ohhhhh, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!! Notice us alreadyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!’’
There was an explosive sound much like bluish-white sparks scattering.
Static ran through the White Queen's image.
The raindrops that should have all fallen in the same direction had their paths bent in every direction by the noise.
And with that explosion, the producer of the voice appeared as if through a split in space itself.
It was a pair of twin shrine maidens with long blonde and black hair.
Kyousuke spoke in confusion.
’’Meinokawa Renge and Higan?’’
’’Ohh... So we finally made it to this side. I don't know what layer we were on, but when our presence is observed strongly enough by the people of any of those worlds, we're pulled toward them. It's scary how those fields overlap.’’
’’Eek!? W-wait a second. Is that the, um, White Queen smiling over there?’’
Librarian-chan could not keep up and her mouth flapped open and closed.
’’What are these layers you're talking about? A-and where did you come from?’’
’’Hm? Who are you? Well, that doesn't matter.
The black-haired shrine maiden, Renge, casually ignored Librarian-chan's questions.
’’We were investigating some mysterious disappearances in Toy Dream 35 and - while I'm not sure this is the best way to put it - we fell victim to it ourselves. Well, it was something like that girl with the umbrella over there.’’
When their presence was observed strongly enough by the people of any of those worlds, they were pulled toward them.
Nothing Meinokawa Renge mentioned seemed to fit with the assumptions Kyousuke and Librarian-chan were working from. After all, the ’’girl with the umbrella’’ she had mentioned was Librarian-chan's ghost who had been killed years before.
What if it was those assumptions that were wrong?
’’W-wait! What do you mean mysterious disappearances? That isn't what happened to my sister. If she had just gone missing, there would have been some hope left!! She really was killed, there was no hope at all, and that's why she's appearing to me as a ghost now!!’’
’’Did she look like a ghost to you because she was suddenly appearance and disappearing? But that's just a normal girl. And she isn't causing this. We don't understand it all ourselves, but we do know something since we 'lost our way' too. ...The issue is with the world, not the people. I thought Higan was a ghost at first too.’’
This was not over.
They did not understand it all.
If the Meinokawa Sisters had appeared out of thin air, there had to be a reason for it. Those living girls had mysteriously disappeared somewhere and had now returned. That much made sense, but the Rainy Girl was different. She had to be different. After all, she had already died several years before.
<Hee hee. Ahh, ahh. And I was only a step away from making you mine, brother.>
Only the White Queen was laughing.
And she had more to say.
<So the secret's out. Yes, the Rainy Girl is actually alive.>
Shiroyama Kyousuke felt like the blood was boiling in his head.
The current situation and the basic assumptions vanished from his mind and he tried to grab at the illusion in the rain.
<Ahn, brother. If you really do want to touch me, then build a brand new system yourself.>
The Queen gave him the look of a playful kitten.
<Besides, using the Summoning Ceremony's definition, a ghost is like a puddle of power that has nowhere to escape due to a clog, right? That soul was lost several years ago, so even if a clog forms in the present, the water is not going to rise back up from the drain. Your logic there didn't even make sense, brother.>
’’Then what was this...? No, wait. Don't tell me...!!’’
<Yes, if you recalculate it all with the assumption that the Rainy Girl is alive, you of all people should be able to find the correct answer, brother.>
’’So you knew from the beginning...?’’
<Knew what? That you had a chance to change everything, but you were going to throw it all away during the final countdown?>
There was blatant enjoyment in the White Queen's voice.
Kyousuke knew he could not reach her, but he still yelled at her.
’’You knew and you kept giving me unneeded hints to distract me!! You knew every moment I spent on stopping that world without death was wasting the time limit of another girl's life! What's going to happen to this girl who is unnaturally living here? What happens once time runs out!? Is what I'm thinking accurate!? If it is...!!’’
<Oh, come on.>
The Queen placed a hand on her cheek with a smile reminiscent of thick gum syrup.
<As Alice (with) Rabbit, you go on and on about saving the world and protecting mankind, so if you unwittingly abandoned a girl you still could have saved and threw her back to the murderer...why, that would break you, wouldn't it? And I could use that to make you mine, don't you think?>
’’What...are you...?’’ Librarian-chan spoke up as the rain hit her tearful face. Then her voice rose to a confused shout. ’’What are you talking about!? I mean, my sister was...I mean, she had to have been killed way back then!! Even now she's covered in blood! What could you call that if not a ghost!? How can all of you say she's alive...!?’’
The White Queen giggled at her confusion.
She had maintained her lovely smile even when idolized by Guard of Honor and when used by the heirs of Telomere's End. Her boiling point lay elsewhere. She could accept any impoliteness as long as it did not involve Kyousuke.
All of a sudden, she held some ice cream.
<Please don't get so worked up over the existence or absence of truth. For example, where do you think ’’this’’ is?>
<Answer me. Hurry.>
The core of her voice was powerful enough to shut down any resistance, but it also had the strength to invite dependence.
Librarian-chan gasped and forced out her voice.
’’Where is it...? Aren't you holding-...?’’
Before she could finish speaking, the White Queen took a step to the side.
The ice cream left her hand and floated in midair. Not only that, it was quite far away. The two images displayed in the rain had simply overlapped and the ice cream image had been displayed much larger in the distance.
<That is the best human senses can do. That was a simple example using distance, but it could just as easily be the past and the future, cause and effect, confirmation and denial, here and there, coincidence and inevitability, or my brother's world and my world. Do you see the value of the two sides now? The simplest thing can cause them to twist, waver, fade, and mix together.>
<Oh, dear. Did anyone else ever prove to you that your understanding was absolute? For example, you might think my brother's world does the summoning and my world is summoned. ...But who ever said that? Perhaps it is all of you who are being summoned by something. If someone messes with it just a little, perhaps normally impossible times, places, and situations could appear. Yes, just like a file you threw into the trash can reappear on your desktop if a powerful enough search is used. Or like a file that should be there can vanish for some reason.>
Librarian-chan's mouth flapped wordlessly.
The Meinokawa Sisters did not interrupt either.
But not because they were flabbergasted by what the White Queen had said. They were overwhelmed on a more fundamental level. It was like coming across an alien that spoke Japanese.
<Besides, it's wrong to think a puny human can see the entirety of the world. All of you have scattered, individual intelligences that are satisfied looking at just the surface of the world and searching only through what you understand. Did you really think you could reject the words of someone who has swallowed up and conquered another entire world? What you saw here was the invisible being displayed due to some kind of bug or error. The deleted file returned. It's the same as a monster like me crossing worlds to have some fun. Why can't you understand something so simple?>
<You have only lived for about a decade and a half, so it's laughable to think you can speak about the standards and common understanding of this world. Your words are as valuable as the morning dew on a leaf. I can crush them with a single word of my own. Of course, that changes entirely if you use your time more efficiently like my brother☆>
Librarian-chan looked over to Kyosuuke as if asking for help.
She may have wanted him to say this was all the Queen's insanity.
But Kyousuke could not give her the ’’common sense’’ she wanted.
’’As the heirs of Telomere's End spread their thin layer of incense across the globe, the laws of this world were gradually distorted. And probably without them even noticing. Can you picture that much?’’
’’Y-yes. But how does that mean my sister is alive?’’
’’I'm getting to that,’’ spat out Kyousuke as he agonized over the situation himself. ’’Say you have a window in front of you. If you color the window red, you would see a red scene when you looked through it. ...But just looking at the red window, you can't tell which side of the window was painted. In other words, the concept of 'sides' goes away.’’
<Yes. And you would think you could tell by touching the window, right? But that's wrong. Are you looking at the window from Viewpoint A or from Viewpoint B? Which side is 'outside' and which side is 'inside'? Which side are you standing on? Which side are you looking at it from? You no longer know.>
’’If Toy Dream 35 is the 'red window', then was the entire world being dragged into it?’’
<The wide-range universal incense fogged up the window and that single distortion overturned the concept of ’’sides’’.>
The White Queen's outline blurred.
Then gray static filled her Rainy Screen image. It looked like a swarm of small bugs was crawling across her. She remained a twintail girl, but one's impression of her could transform into anything like with a Rorschach test.
<Thus there is little value in categories and divisions. There are no ’’sides’’. There is no past or future, no close or far, no cause or effect, no confirmation or denial, no here or there, no coincidence or inevitability, and no my brother's world or my world. All of those walls have collapsed from a single trick in this mixed environment. The premises and causality are no longer necessary. Everything before your eyes can only be called 'reality'. So of course...>
’’If she exists, breaths, walks, and speaks like a person...and she has been defined as something other than a ghost, then the Rainy Girl here is alive. We have to view her as alive...’’
Kyousuke tightly clenched his back teeth.
He was ashamed that his own miscalculation had brought him a step away from being won over by the White Queen.
’’If we save her here, she will live. If we kill her here, she will die. The rules couldn't be simpler, right?’’
<Yes. And that's what makes it so interesting.>
’’But why the Rainy Girl? If she was called back because she's missing and was lost, then shouldn't the age of the dinosaurs show up too?’’
<Well, I have heard rumors of people running across old lovers, dead pets, and lost treasures. Most likely, the act of someone observing it is of little importance. It wasn't because Person A's wish was granted that their lover appeared. It was because Person B and Person C wanted to know about Person A's first love. Those trivial wishes of others search for answers over an insignificant range and those things have been thinly gathered across at least the Northern Hemisphere. And those lost things reappear like a file being restored from the trash. Don't you think that explains the current situation?>
’’I could calculate it out that far. But that isn't a reason.’’
<What about the fact that this was all put together by the heirs of Telomere's End?>
The White Queen had become a mass of gray static that almost made Kyousuke feel like he was facing himself and she answered him as if rewarding him.
<By the way, brother, do you know why the original Telomere's End died? ...It was apparently suicide. Just once in his life, he failed to kill someone who deserved death. As a result, an innocent life was lost, so he took responsibility with his own life.>
<Yes, the person who deserved death was the Rainy Girl's murderer. Even if Yasuzumi Hayato and Benikomichi Fuuki were not directly involved, they were influenced by Telomere's End. ...It is possible they were entirely unaware of it as they built their plan, but even so...>
’’A subconscious bias entered the fine-tuning of their ceremony?’’ blankly muttered Kyousuke. ’’And that twisted causality enough that it altered the murder that led to all of this?’’
The world without death itself had been an ideology born of a desire to escape an unbearable reality. And what reality would have felt most unbearable to them...no, to the original Telomere's End? That line of thinking naturally led to the answer.
They had wished to reject a certain girl's death.
Even if it meant using a giant Artificial Sacred Ground to twist causality and vaguely erase the concept of ’’sides’’.
’’And I was about to confirm that death... Ahh, ahh. The Rainy Girl was what Librarian-chan told me about in the very beginning! But I got distracted and rushed into the unrelated matters of Killer Intent Antenna, Telomere's End, and the world without death!! And all the while, the Rainy Girl's time was running out!!’’
<Oh, but there is no reason to let that get to you. I was the one that laid out the trail of breadcrumbs leading you in that direction. ...If I hadn't, you would have easily saved the Rainy Girl as a quick detour and then gotten back on track. And that would have been far too boring.>
Librarian-chan spoke up with a tremor in her voice.
She was trying to reject that the Rainy Girl, her sister, was alive, but not because she did not want to accept it.
She suspected that some great malice was hidden behind it all. She suspected that something would ruin it all.
’’My sister is all bloody and broken! If she's still alive, she wouldn't look like that!’’
The Queen gave a malicious smile as a bloody-smelling ’’illusion’’ oozed from the gray static.
<That has nothing whatsoever to do with anything. Besides, she only looks like that because you are viewing her through a mental filter. The Meinokawa Sisters had no prior knowledge of the situation, so how do you think she looked to them?>
The twin sisters were afraid of the sandstorm-like White Queen, but they also seemed confused by the topic at hand.
Yes, they had simply called the Rainy Girl a ’’girl’’. Whether she was a ghost or not, that was not how someone would describe a girl who had been stabbed in the head nineteen times by a grass sickle. She had to look different to the Meinokawa Sisters than she did to Kyousuke and Librarian-chan.
And if she looked different...
If she was really just a normal little girl...
’’What's...going to happen...?’’
Librarian-chan hesitantly spoke up.
She could tell from the ominous conversation that this would be more than just a reunion.
It would mean abandoning the Rainy Girl and throwing her back to the murderer. Those words stabbed into Librarian-chan's chest.
’’What's going to happen to my sister!?’’
<My - dear - brother.>
’’The Rainy Girl was a murder victim, but in this place where everything is mixed together, why would we 'only' meet the victim?’’
<Yes. ’’He’’ is coming.>
The White Queen cheerfully answered.
<Just like the Rainy Girl, someone else irresponsibility searched for him out of curiosity. As if to say this ending is inevitable, that man with the grass sickle will appear before her.>
’’You're kidding, right? ...Right!? My sister is still standing! She's here and she's alive in some form! We might be able to change something, but you're saying we can't do anything as she's killed again!? Th-that's...that's too much. No, wait. It'll be all right. We defeated a paranormal-controlling summoner and an assassin! A normal murderer doesn't stand a chance against us, right!? Tell me I'm right!!’’
<Yes. The calculations are already complete. I believe it will happen in a few dozen more seconds. Now, brother, can you make it in time?>
The White Queen said ’’and’’ as she snapped her fingers in her rain-projected image.
The mass of static instantly vanished and only the beautiful Queen remained in perfect clarity.
<What is she really? Has she arrived from the past, has she been reborn, or is this a detailed emulation? None of that matters. The special conditions that created the red-painted window will vanish along with the deathless world. But before that can happen, the invited element will be destroyed by a different element. A certain girl's death will be confirmed and everything gathered here will scatter to its original locations. It is no different than counting to ten to create a new timeline inside a world of frozen time, and it is just like how a warp meant to cross great distances can be expressed as having tunnel-like depth. The Northern Hemisphere is both the Rainy Girl's afterlife and the living world that confirms her death. ...In - other - words, this is the final crossroads, brother.>
<You have two options.>
In the image, the White Queen, raised her arms like a set of scales and turned her palms toward the rainy sky.
<First, do what is right and overlook the murderer. Distorting the laws of the world and altering that definite ending would be wrong and what is wrong is bad, so abandoning this girl to her proper death would be an act of good.>
The monster among monsters giggled as she whispered to him.
<Second, do what is kind and defeat the murderer. Twisting the world is fine by you and you don't care if that destroys everything people have built up in the proper way. To save the one person before you, you will twist the causality of seven billion people. That means saying you don't care what happens to everyone else as long as you can save that one.>
He had the worst possible solution in his hands.
If the White Queen and the Meinokawa Sisters were telling the truth, then this was indeed a crossroads. When the Rainy Girl had been killed, her death had influenced the original world. In the same way, intercepting the murderer and preventing him from killing her might change something.
He was not just viewing a news story from the past.
Nothing was certain in this world and he stood here as an active participant.
But should he really change that?
But was it right to not change it?
Librarian-chan's voice shook.
She had been prepared to say goodbye, but that was only when there was no other option. Now that she knew her sister was about to be killed and would become a ghost again, could she really abandon her? Could she watch the tragic scene of the girl being stabbed nineteen times in the head?
The answer was obvious.
And so she raised her voice.
’’If there's a way to save her and a way that she might not have to die, then I want to try it! Shiroyama-kun, tell me what to do!! Tell me how to save my sister!!’’
The broken umbrella spun around.
The tattered edge of the fabric failed to cover the bottom of the girl's face, giving a view of the small lips.
No voice left them.
Even so, what they said was clear.
’’I don't need help.’’
’’...!? Why not!?’’
Librarian-chan tearfully shouted back, but the Rainy Girl mouthed more words.
It was a definitive rejection.
’’I don't want to destroy your world.’’
This was no longer a spooky ghost.
It was nothing more than a girl who had pursued this incident from beginning to end and seen her sister's part in it all.
The long rain looked like it would let up at any moment.
The Rainy Girl's body faded.
If she vanished now, they would lose their one and only opportunity.
Even if they grabbed her hand and tried to shelter her, she herself would vanish, so there was nothing they could do. And could Kyousuke, Librarian-chan, and the others really find her if they ran around the city? Wouldn't the murderer find her faster since he would appear for the sole purpose of killing her?
In other words, her fate was sealed.
It felt like waking from a long, long dream.
When she came to, the girl was alone. Her little sister who had grown bigger than her was gone, the boy and the two girls were gone, and the very, very scary white girl was gone.
She was still in Toy Dream 35.
At first, she thought she had returned to the past...no, to her original world, but she soon realized that was not the case. The city around her looked a lot like it, but the paint and signs were completely different. And when the girl had been killed, the city's grand opening had been approaching and the power had been off. She had snuck in, thinking it was like a secret base, but then she had run into that monster. It was because the city had been like a brand-new model house that no one had come to save her no matter how much she screamed.
This was still the distorted world, her sister's world.
But the location itself was the scene of her murder. Because people around the world had taken a mild interest in the ghost known as the Rainy Girl...no, in the depressing crime from the past, the incident had been ’’searched for’’. And that had summoned her here. And the most appropriate place was the spot at which she had been killed.
Furthermore, if the people had subconsciously, involuntarily, and irresponsibly searched for and brought her back like restoring a deleted virus, what if that applied to the murderer as well as the victim?
Just as the Rainy Girl had been summoned here, that murderer would also arrive here.
The end was nigh. The deathless world at the foundation had crumbled away and this mysterious space was supported by the bugs and errors that world had created as side effects, so this too would be broken. Yet oddly enough, the girl's outline was clearer than ever before. It was like a cruel joke. It was like she was being displayed more fully now so she could experience the pain, fear, and destruction of her murder all the more vividly. The world returned her sense of pain so it could torture her and it returned her throat so it could hear her scream. That was the extent of the malice she felt here.
Still holding her umbrella and with raindrops still falling on her raincoat and rain boots, the girl simply looked up.
That strange person stood there without wearing any kind of rain gear. Even after taking into account her child's point of view, he was clearly abnormally huge. His muscles bulged out with complete disregard for his skeletal structure, so he had likely undergone the genetic tuning that had been all over the news for a while. Injecting banned drugs from outside the body was against the rules, but if they were produced inside the body, nothing could be done. At the very least, it was not banned under the existing rulebook. This was the result of undergoing the one-way ticket of organ surgery for that reason. In the end, that simple loophole had been filled by an updated rulebook and those people and their superhuman strength had been driven from the world of sports.
A grass sickle blade glistened wetly. The weapon looked out of place in his baseball glove-sized hand. He may have wanted to seem like a civilized human being by using a weapon. Or perhaps he had decided beating her to death with his fists would be like leaving behind a calling card.
The words he muttered below his breath did not reach the girl's ears. More than the quiet volume, the intonation was bizarre and made it sound like a strange incantation.
The girl more or less knew what would happen next.
She remembered how her grown little sister had seen her and described her in that ’’living dream’’.
I'm going to die here.
I'm going to die without returning to the world I came from.
Only the fact of her death would return to that world.
That could not be changed now. And that was not a bad thing. No matter how it happened, it would be odd for her to survive here. What was odd was wrong and what was wrong was bad. It was right for her to be murdered here. What was right was just and what was just came from a good heart.
Thus, goodness had abandoned the girl.
Thus, justice had left her to her death.
’’Yes,’’ she muttered.
The man shouted something and shoved the girl.
She collapsed backwards and he leaned over her while raising the grass sickle. She could tell from his eyes that he was taking aim at her face or head.
She would die here.
That weapon would be swung down nineteen times and she would be so thoroughly killed that she would no longer have a real face or head.
She knew that, but some words spilled from her mouth as a dark look filled her eyes.
’’This was...for the best.’’
For a brief time, she had seen her sister all grown up in that intersecting world.
With a smile on her face, her sister had lived in a fairy tale of a place and had found people she could rely on.
The girl could not destroy that.
So she chose what was right and spoke those words to herself while staring up at the deadly weapon.
A great noise interrupted.
It was a tightly clenched fist.
As the man leaned over her and prepared to swing down the grass sickle, the fist dug into his cheek with enough force to break the bone. The blow had someone's full body weight behind it and it knocked the man off of the girl. He then rolled along the wet ground.
The girl recognized the newcomer.
A boy had thrown the fist. He was the one who had stood beside her mature, grown little sister.
It was Shiroyama Kyousuke.
But he should not have been ’’here’’.
As the girl forced out a scratchy voice, Kyousuke crouched down and reached into her raincoat pocket.
He pulled out a smartphone.
’’I'd appreciate it if you wait until later to bring up the privacy issues. As soon as I noticed the White Queen's malice, I switched the GPS on and snuck it into your pocket. After all, I had no way of knowing when or where you would disappear and reappear. I wanted to increase the odds of finding you as much as possible. I was worried the disappearance and reappearance would mess with the electronics, so I'm glad I could pick up its location.’’
’’No, not that! I'm supposed to be-...I have to be killed here...!!’’
At that point, Kyousuke ended their conversation and turned his back on the girl.
He used his body as a shield.
He of course did so because the man he had punched away was squirming. He would get up again at this rate. The entire world seemed to be saying it was right for the girl to die and no amount of opposition would change that.
That meant Kyousuke's actions here were wrong.
Or they should have been.
While keeping the girl protectively behind him, the boy spoke without looking back.
’’Why do you think I'm doing this? The calculations to reach the relevant answer shouldn't be that complex.’’
’’But!!’’ The girl shouted a rejection of what was happening to her. ’’But I can't survive here! Pulling away the foundation just for me is wrong! It's right to let me die here and we have to do what's right! There's no room for me in this world!! None at all!!’’
’’Everyone changes the world. It's just that most people don't realize they're doing it.’’
’’But!! Not everyone can bring the dead back to life! Everyone calls that cheating!!’’
’’If so, have you ever thought about why people think it's wrong?’’ Kyousuke spoke with his back to her. ’’You're using an irregular method to save someone whose death has already been determined. That seems wrong because the effects of the change will spread throughout the world and change everything, which will reject everyone else's honest efforts. It would erase everyone else's bright happiness and smiles for your own convenience.’’
The girl shouted until her throat was dry.
She had seen her grown little sister in that world where everything intersected. Her sister had been smiling and a happy world had surrounded her. The girl had felt lonely when she found no place for her in that world and it had saddened her that everyone feared her when all she did was stand there, but even that small girl knew she must not destroy that.
’’Then why are you destroying your own world!?’’
’’I'm not necessary destroying it,’’ he immediately answered. ’’Just think about it like this: What if altering it won't take away anyone's happiness, won't rob anyone of their smile, and will actually benefit everyone? ...What crime is there in that? And if it isn't a crime and it won't produce any evil, then there's no reason not to save the dying person. There's nothing wrong with saving you here.’’
’’This is our last chance.’’
Alice (with) Rabbit seemed to thrust his words before the girl.
He faced the murderer who was trying to ’’reboot’’ his mind, but he was clearly speaking to the girl.
’’In that distant world you saw, Librarian-chan was smiling, wasn't she? She was happy enough and satisfied enough with her life, wasn't she? But what if? Don't you think adding you into the mix would create an even more wonderful world that removed the 'enough'?’’
’’Besides,’’ spat out Kyousuke. ’’What even is the 'proper world'.’’
’’That's the world where I'm killed!! All of it was built on top of that!!’’
’’Was it really?’’
Kyousuke calmly replied to the girl's cries of true desperation.
’’Does the White Queen's evil really stop there? She was intentionally lying. In order to break me.’’
’’Before being pulled back to her world, the Rainy Girl will be killed by the murderer in this chaotic world. Thus, her death will remain unchanged and everything will revert to normal despite any irregularities. That's what she led me to believe, but it's completely wrong. The place and the murderer might be the same, but you weren't supposed to arrive in this chaotic city. If you're killed 'here', then that murder technically won't happen. That means whether I save you or abandon you, the world will still be changed.’’
In other words, her death would be meaningless.
Weighing her life against seven billion other lives was a complete falsehood and that one lie would take away an irreplaceable life. It was the ultimate evil.
’’The White Queen knew that, but she still tried to have me choose it. She wanted to see me 'do the right thing' by abandoning a girl I could have saved only to discover the world changed regardless. She wanted to crush me with the fact that I had chosen to let you die when I could have saved you even if it was 'the wrong thing to do'! And by so thoroughly defiling the name of Alice (with) Rabbit, she would have broken me and obtained a convenient dress-up doll to play with!! Are you going to say doing what she says and dying would really protect the 'proper world'!?’’
The girl was dumbfounded.
What did this mean? The girl herself had been prepared to offer up her life to protect her grown little sister, but had that resolve been trampled underfoot by that pure white smile?
The girl's small body trembled at that bottomless malice.
However, it was not over yet. This would not end in despair.
Not as along as that boy possessed the will to fight the Queen's evil.
’’So let me say it again. It doesn't matter how trivial a difference it is. Now that the murderer and victim have met in a situation where they shouldn't have met, the world will change. It has to change...no, we have to change it. And if the risk is the same, it all comes down to our decision. If it can only change for the better or for the worse, we have to change it for the better. What do you want? Do you want a world with a few more smiles around a girl whose life was spared, or do you want a world where that girl's death was assumed and a family falls into darkness as planned. Which do you want to be 'the right thing to do'?’’
She had thought the world's justice had rejected her.
She had given up, assuming the world's goodness had abandoned her.
The girl hesitantly spoke up.
’’I don't just have to wait for what's right? I can really stand on the side I've chosen?’’
’’How about I rephrase this to make it a little more unfair? If the circumstances of the murder are changed just a little, the investigation back in your world might change. And if he escapes, he might kill even more people after you. ...So this isn't about doing something or doing nothing. Just letting this play out has its own risks.’’
’’A time bomb is about to explode and we're the only ones nearby. The police and the military won't make it in time. In that case, I think we have the right to make the ultimate decision. Do we sit there and wait for it to explode, or do we try to disarm it despite the danger? I say we risk our lives, tremble in fear, and choose one of the colorful cables to cut. Choosing the best option available seems like 'the right thing to do' to me.’’
’’ 'Save my sister's world.' ...Who said that? If there's going to be risk either way, it can't be wrong to work toward reducing that risk as much as possible, toward reducing the tragedy as much as possible, and toward increasing the number of smiles as much as possible. Is what I'm saying really that strange?’’
The girl looked back and forth between Shiroyama Kyousuke's back and the man squirming on the ground.
For a while, she was unable to speak.
She reflected on Kyousuke's words and faced what she had seen.
There had been no place for her in that scene.
However, that did not mean she had not been needed.
Her little sister had pursued the secret of the Rainy Girl and had grown angry when someone was trying to toy with that existence. When she had learned that the Rainy Girl would be killed by the murderer whether she remained here or returned to her original world, she had clung to the summoner boy and tearfully begged him to save her.
Having no place there after so much time had passed was not the same as being rejected from the very beginning.
They had wanted to accept her if it had been possible.
But that gruesome murder had torn it all apart.
If that was all...
If it was just some gear out of place...
If she could have been there too...
(I want to...stand.)
Something changed in the girl's chest.
The gears that had been jammed for so very long were slowly beginning to turn once more.
(I want to stand there...and smile with my sister again...)
So she looked up.
She faced that utterly depressing ’’reality’’.
There was no such thing as a ’’proper’’ world. The weight bearing down on her had been a false illusion. The only thing standing in her way was the creepy murderer. Not even offering up her life would fix this and it would only fulfill a few people's dark desires.
The invisible path forward was not something someone else prepared for you.
It was something you made and walked down yourself.
In that case...
If Shiroyama Kyousuke's answer was correct...
If she could choose that...
’’Then no. I don't want to die.’’
She finally said it, as if peeling the pure feelings from her stubborn soul.
’’I want to go to festivals, I want to get first place at the athletic festival, I want to have fun at an amusement park, and I want to go around Toy Dream 35 with my sister once it's finished! I want to go to middle school, I want to go to high school, and I want to grow up! I want to fall in love, I want to learn all sorts of things at school, and I want to show my sister how amazing her big sister is!! I want to be proud of myself! I want to face forward!! I want to see the future!! I want to walk my own path and become something someone can look up to!!’’
What the girl really thought was released into the world.
She gathered all her strength and shouted to the summoner who could overturn it all.
’’So...hic, so please! H-help...help meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!’’
That voice should never have reached anyone.
That hope had been snuffed out. That scream had been sealed away.
But that boy heard it.
And to prove that simple fact, Shiroyama Kyousuke looked back to the girl just once.
The summoner known as Alice (with) Rabbit pulled his Blood-Sign from the back of his hoodie and accepted her request with a fierce smile.
’’As you wish.’’
At the same time, a roar finally reached them.
Their opponent had finished ’’rebooting’’.
Instead of just squirming on the wet road, he rose up with the grass sickle in hand.
Kyousuke's Blood-Sign produced a whistling sound as it spun around.
The girl's little sister was not here.
The boy could not use his mysterious power.
If by some coincidence or in some kind of bad joke that blade stabbed deep into his body, Kyousuke would die. That large man's muscles swelled out to an unnatural extent, so if he swung his powerful arms with no concern for the damage to his own body, he could probably break through a car door. But as the boy stood protectively in front of the girl, he spoke to his opponent.
’’You're a lucky man.’’
He aimed the tip of the Blood-Sign toward him.
’’After all, you won't become a murderer today. Your arms and legs might get a little messed up, but you'll be able to rethink your entire life. A pretty good deal, don't you think?’’
He received a yell in response.
The man ran forward with the deadly blade at the ready, so Shiroyama Kyousuke also stepped forward.
It would end here.
The very, very end was truly beginning.
In that instant, Shiroyama Kyousuke determined the location of his opponent's center of gravity from his build, determined the range of motion of the man's arms and legs, and accurately calculated out where he could strike to knock him out in a single blow. At the same time, he was thinking about something entirely unrelated to his victory.
(I need to at least take out his knee so the girl can definitely escape. I need to make sure he can never get back up. I can only interfere while they're in this place that was summoned based on people's ’’searches’’. Once it's all over, she has to step back into the world where she belongs. If she can't reach safety on her own, this will all be meaningless.)
He coolly analyzed the situation and stood up while just barely remaining within the limitations of Alice (with) Rabbit.
(It's true some people might think this is wrong. They might laugh and call it a farce soaked in opportunism. Even if I cheat like this, it might not be enough to shake all of mankind and it might only slightly expand the circle of smiles surrounding a single family.)
The grass sickle approached from overhead.
Kyousuke swung his body to the side to dodge the deadly blade and stared calmly at the man who tried to tackle him.
(Some might say this is absolutely wrong and some might say it's a grand farce.)
He gathered strength in all his body's muscles as if drawing a bowstring and he took aim with the tip of his Blood-Sign.
He targeted the man's right leg. His kneecap. He stared at it with almost ruthless accuracy so he could smash it with a single strike.
Time seemed to stop.
And in that moment, Shiroyama Kyousuke shouted from the bottom of his gut, as if releasing all his pent up anger.
’’But!! This has to be what everyone really wanted to do!!’’
He released the Blood-Sign like a bullet.
A tremendous roar burst out.
The knee shattered. This time, the man collapsed with a scream and writhed in pain. He was now no longer a monster or a murderer and the tip of the Blood-Sign jabbed into his gut. It was like the final sword strike to finish off the writhing dragon after a fatal blow from a spear. The man was truly knocked out.
The world would now change.
Kyousuke could never accept the idea that the girl's gruesome murder was ’’right’’.
Not as long as he possessed these perfectly normal feelings.