Mitou Shoukan://Blood-Sign - Volume 3 - Chapter 4
Stage 04: Revenge and the Plan for Perfect Vessels
’’This is the very best part, so kindly shut the hell up☆’’
(Stage 04 Open 05/23 19:00)
Revenge and the Plan for Perfect Vessels
Let us review the specs.
The Stingray was a large Repliglass sea transport vessel 35 meters long and 43 meters wide. Its overall silhouette was similar to a stingray or like a boomerang-shaped stealth bomber with a long tail attached. Despite its size, it could travel across the ocean surface at 200 kph. The world's largest air cushion ship was a 50 meter amphibious assault ship, but this could hold an even larger load.
The Blue Whale was even bigger. It was a Repliglass submarine 70 meters long. It did not have the same speed, but it was a rare model that brought together great size and silent movement. There were many varieties: for combat, for transportation, for underwater data management, etc. Its overall silhouette goes without saying. As a side note, some environmental protection groups seemed to hate that a strategic missile weapons platform had been given that name.
’’And with that out of the way...’’
The coordinator woman who wore a military uniform spoke with her back to a whiteboard in the large conference room of A Block's international airport.
’’First, Miss Maria Heartocean and the Anthill classified server will be placed on the Stingray. It will be guided to the ocean surface directly below this airport which is supported in the air by several pillars, so that should not be difficult. Of course, our information says Liar Cat's Blood-Sign can be used as a sniper rifle, so we cannot let our guard down. Miss Heartocean will be wearing a small Repliglass VIP protection suit known as a Water Bear and we will surround her with riot shields.’’
A map and cross section of the airport were projected on the whiteboard and some arrows were added. In addition to the simple route to the Stingray, a few possible sniping points had apparently been located.
’’We must keep in mind that the Stingray must get away from Toy Dream 35 with Miss Heartocean onboard. That might sound easy at 200 kph, but that is not how it works. With its size and all of Toy Dream 35's pillars, do not assume it can move freely through the ocean. It will be taking a very indirect route. If Liar Cat attacks with the Summoning Ceremony, it will likely be here. ...Simply put, they will jump onboard.’’
Now a map of Toy Dream 35 and the surrounding ocean appeared.
There were a few different options for the Stingray's route, but they all looked as indirect as the coordinator had said.
’’The Blue Whale submarine will be waiting sixty kilometers out at sea. If the Stingray arrives here, Miss Heartocean and the server can be transferred over. This is the final challenge. While it isn't impossible, it is unlikely a summoner can attack the Blue Whale when it is deep under the ocean. You can effectively think of this as the goal.’’
The coordinator paused there, did not sit down, and looked to Shiroyama Kyousuke who was leaning against the far wall. Government's Repliglass soldiers and summoners also focused on him.
’’Now, then. All of that is nothing more than a flimsy excuse to draw out Miss Heartocean. This will come down to a battle between 900 level summoners. Several Anthills and their bases have already been destroyed, so Liar Cat's skill far exceeds what our defenses were designed for. What we can muster now could easily just get in your way. This is of course dependent on the situation, but can we generally leave the fighting to you?’’
The Government personnel did not protest Kyousuke's blunt reply.
Freedom was a gathering of around five hundred individual summoners. They were all mighty warriors with no hierarchy and barely any friendly relationships. Nevertheless, they could stand on the same level as the world police of Government and the criminal organizations of Illegal. In other words, it was widely understood that they were seemingly legendary people who could singlehandedly hold their own against entire groups and could push back an international coalition if all five hundred gathered together.
The only ones who ever snapped back at Kyousuke were high officials who knew nothing of the frontline or high officials who had never seen a Freedom member with a high level of Awards.
’’And with that in mind, I would like to ask something. The battle will most likely occur on the Stingray's deck, so is there any problem with that?’’
’’Not at all. We won't be thrown off while the Artificial Sacred Ground is active and its size should be adequate for whatever kind of fight we end up having. It should be perfect for settling this once and for all.’’
’’Are you confident in your skill?’’
’’If I was going to lose to that Cheshire Cat, I wouldn't be standing here right now.’’
’’Good. Then let's get started!’’
The coordinator woman clapped her hands twice. Like a switch had been thrown, the people gathered in the conference room left to prepare for battle and take their positions.
The military uniform girl named Isabelle followed Kyousuke out and asked a question as they strayed from the general flow of people.
’’Nuuun (deadpan). I would super-sized like to know where we're going.’’
’’I would like to take a detour before taking our position.’’
The two of them walked between an elf and an alarm clock costume on their way to the maintenance hatch leading below the midair international airport. The door opened like a submarine hatch and a glance through it showed they were already on an elevated floor. More than one hundred pillars were lined up to support them several dozen meters up. The airport float itself was 250 meters up, but the many shopping buildings extended straight down like icicles. This was like the rooftop of a normal building.
Far below that, a giant stingray silhouette floated in the dark ocean. It was the Repliglass Stingray.
’’What do you think?’’
’’If I was making the attack, I would stop the Stingray right away. Wouldn't the simplest method be pouring a ton of rubble down on it from above? And this is...’’
Kyousuke leaned down through the maintenance hatch as he spoke.
This was an upside down rooftop and the underside was not a flat surface. Just as the underside of a metal bridge was reinforced by a framework of steel beams, a steel framework was built up like a jungle gym. It must have doubled as a means of maintaining the wiring and plumbing because skinny walkways and stairs were set up like a theatre catwalk.
’’You wouldn't even need to use a Material. A single bomb and you can send down as solid a shutter as you need.’’
’’That isn't good. If they're going to bring down an entire building, we're super-sized not up to the task. We'd never find the bomb.’’
’’They won't go that far. And I'm not just being optimistic;it would be too inefficient. Demolishing an entire building would require dozens if not more than a hundred bombs precisely placed at key structural points and then they would all have to be detonated at once. Even with a group of specialists, it's a precision job that takes more than a week. To be blunt, it would be unnecessary work and the odds of failure are pretty high. If all they have to do is stop the Stingray, stripping off and dropping the top of the roof would be enough.’’
’’Then will the Liar Cat pair be coming here?’’
’’First, we need to see if there's a bomb already set up. If not, we can lie in wait at least until the Stingray below leaves.’’
That was their first step.
And the lack of an attack was not a cause for celebration.
Beyondetta and Murasame Kuina of Liar Cat would definitely show up.
Kyousuke and Isabelle had to fight and defeat them somewhere, so they needed to take up the most useful position for that.
’’Oh, Maria's coming out,’’ said Isabelle in her red hat.
Several bodyguards with transparent shields surrounded a single figure in the Repliglass Water Bear that resembled a lumpy human caterpillar. They used the ’’upside down rooftop’’ of another building to reach the emergency stairs along one of the giant pillars supporting the international airport.
Kyousuke slowly exhaled and looked around.
As far as he could see, the demon with the folded Blood-Sign that doubled as a sniper rifle was not present. And in that self-defense Repliglass suit, Maria Heartocean would not die from a 7.62mm rifle bullet.
’’They're bringing out something else. Fidget fidget (deadpan).’’
’’Is that the Anthill server?’’
Several Repliglass soldiers left along a different pillar. They were units with grasshopper-like back legs. They carried a metal cube like movers. It was likely the classified server that weighed more than a ton.
That was the cornerstone of the project that had smashed Isabelle's soul and ruined her life.
And it had done it so thoroughly that she could not even judge how sad that was.
What did it look like for her to see it carried to safety like this?
Kyousuke watched Maria and the server as they were carried to the Stingray using different emergency staircases.
He glanced around, searched for presences, and read his enemy's algorithm.
And then he muttered to himself.
’’What is? They seem to be making quick progress. Whoosh (deadpan).’’
’’That's what's odd. If I was making the attack, I wouldn't wait for my opponent to complete their preparations. Even if this wasn't where I planned to settle things, I'd still use a bomb or rocket to hinder them right at the beginning. Even if they want to pursue their target to savor their revenge, it would stimulate their sadistic desires more if they broke one of their target's legs first.’’
’’...Hm? If you were making the attack?’’
’’Well, I don't often run across someone I hate that much. ...I think the 'color white' would be the only exception.’’
At any rate, Maria and the server had arrived at the Stingray floating in the ocean. This would be the easiest time for an attack, but there was no sign of Beyondetta or Murasame Kuina.
Were they hesitating to attack because the bodyguards were on the highest alert? Nonsense. Liar Cat had broken right through the main entrance of fully-equipped Anthill bases.
Had they not figured out where Maria was hiding or how she would escape? Nonsense. They had acquired all the information on the Anthills using Lu Niang Lan and Aika. Beyondetta would be able to read ahead on the algorithm to know what they would do at normal times, during emergencies, and after Kyousuke's interference.
And yet they had not shown up.
Kyousuke spent a few seconds wondering what that meant.
’’Don't tell me...’’
Isabelle looked puzzled and Kyousuke grabbed the back of her collar.
He immediately jumped from the catwalk-like walkway.
They were several dozen meters up. Falling on the Stingray's deck (which was larger than a tennis court) would mean instant death. Falling into the ocean would knock them out and they could drown.
But instead of dropping straight down, Kyousuke made quick hops between different surfaces: from pillar to pillar, from emergency staircase railing to railing, from maintenance crane shaft to the heavy hook dangling from the end of the wire, etc. In less than twenty seconds, they descended the height of ten flights of stairs and landed on the Stingray's deck.
He let go of Isabelle and approached Maria Heartocean just as she was being loaded inside the Stingray. No, he approached the Water Bear she wore.
He asked a question as he walked over.
’’What is the meaning of this?’’
’’What are you-...?’’
It was the surrounding Repliglass soldiers who attempted to reply.
After holding out a hand to silence them, Kyousuke grabbed the Water Bear's hand and forcefully twisted it. Like an aikido throw, it spun around and its back slammed against the deck.
Before the bodyguards could panic, he let out a cold voice.
’’Show me your face.’’
’’Did you think you'd be safe if you were inside that Water Bear? I know plenty of ways to take that thing apart.’’
With the sound of a soda being opened, the neck and torso split in two and opened.
’’Happy Walpurgis,’’ muttered Kyousuke.
It was not the Maria Heartocean who he knew so well that appeared.
Instead of a woman who looked like a school doctor, he saw a muscular soldier. The bodyguards must not have been informed because they were taken aback and froze in place.
’’I'm guessing the server is a fake too.’’
’’These were my orders. I don't know what he's thinking, but I can't disobey my commanding officer.’’
The body double raised her hands and argued her case.
This was why Beyondetta and Murasame Kuina of Liar Cat had not attacked.
’’I even told him increasing the number of targets would shift the enemy's aim and make them harder to predict...’’
Kyousuke gestured to a nearby Repliglass soldier. That solider must have contacted the Stingray's bridge because he finally replied.
’’Another large reading was detected nearby. Until now, a secret code had interfered and caused it to disappear from our radar. It's the same size as this one, so another Stingray was likely sent in. Miss Heartocean and the server may be there.’’
’’And Liar Cat didn't show up here. They read this all perfectly, including this irregularity. ...In fact, it may have been Beyondetta that set this up.’’
’’Wait a second. Then...?’’
’’Don't worry about it. This wasn't your mistake. The problems are all in your commander's head,’’ spat out Kyousuke. ’’Where is the other Stingray?’’
’’Not far. Between two and three thousand meters.’’
’’Then hurry. All hell will already have broken loose out there.’’
What had happened was simple.
Miyama Gouta had happened. He was the military officer from Government who was in charge of security at the Anthill Project using a portion of A Block's international airport. He was also the man who had argued with Shiroyama Kyousuke during the planning stages of the evacuation operation and gotten his nose smashed against a door.
At first, he had been furious.
But not because a little boy had slighted him, not because a Freedom member knew about Government's internal situation, and not because he had been shamed in front of Maria Heartocean.
He did not care about loyalty to the organization, the success of the mission, or fulfillment of his duty.
There was only one thing he wanted.
He only wanted a seat on Noah's Ark along with the other Anthill VIPs.
Then someone had called his private cellphone.
Only his wife and son should have known that number, but the voice he heard belonged to a complete stranger.
’’Nice to meet you. I am Beyondetta Shiroyama, aka Freedom Award 920, Liar Cat. I have some very valuable information for you, my enemy. Could I have a moment of your time?’’
His mind had gone blank.
But before he could say anything more, it was over.
Someone had grabbed his shoulders from behind. He was supposedly alone in his office, but he was turned around and his back was slammed against the top of a nearby table.
While he was lying on his back and unable to breath, a waitress demon shook her tail decoration and leaned her seductively lithe body over him as if to climb on top of him.
Hadn't Shiroyama Kyousuke said that someone else could do this if he could? And that those who killed were better at it than those who defended?
Feeling like a frog being stared down by a snake, Miyama dropped his phone. He could not move a single finger and Beyondetta's voice seemed to sneak into his ear from close range.
’’How about we discuss something that will benefit both of us?’’
’’What are you-...? I would never work with the likes of you!’’
’’Are you sure?’’ The demon smiled. ’’Let's say the two of us go all out trying to kill each other. I might be killed by Government as a whole...but you will undoubtedly die along the way. No matter where you run or hide and even if you are moved to a moon base or nuclear shelter, I will make sure of it. I believe I have already proven my skill.’’
’’So this is not about choosing whether you live or die. At this rate, you will cough up blood and die either way. It does not matter whether or not the operation succeeds. Unless, that is, you cheat and bend the rules.’’
She placed her smooth fingertip on Miyama Gouta's left hand.
Specifically, on the simple ring he wore on the ring finger.
’’Returning to your normal home like normal and seeing the normal smiles on your family's faces. Is there any greater happiness in the world?’’
’’What...are you...?’’ muttered the military officer in a scratchy voice.
He had not noticed the change to the scales in his mind. His survival here and the safety of his family were two different issues, but he began to conflate the two.
And that view reduced the guilt toward breaking his professional ethics.
A desire to board Noah's Ark was the only thing on his mind.
’’What do you want me to do...?’’
’’Prepare a body double.’’
It was a simple suggestion.
’’I will sink Government's bodyguard team and you can use that time to escape with the Anthill's classified information and VIPs. A good deal for both of us, don't you think?’’
’’How does that benefit you as an assassin?’’
’’We only need to show some results. Cutting through Government's defense system and humiliating the supposed world police is more than enough. All we want is something we can point to as a business card. Whether or not the VIP actually dies is not as important.’’
’’As I said, this isn't about whether I do it or not.’’ The demon giggled. ’’No matter what you choose, that Stingray is going down. The only question is whether you are onboard it or not. You can refuse if you like. You can even follow protocol and report this. But don't forget that doing so is the same thing as throwing out your ticket onto the ark☆’’
The military officer knew that the conflict between Government, Illegal, and Freedom was not the three-way stalemate it appeared to be.
Even when it looked like a hopeless head-on clash, things would be arranged in secret and the results would be predetermined like a fixed game.
Sometimes it was for territory and sometimes it was for a summoner's Awards.
He had heard of those things, so this just meant he had seen it for himself this time.
Or so he thought.
Or perhaps he just wanted to think that.
Miyama Gouta paled and groaned aboard the combat bridge of the real Stingray.
The lights had already turned to the red warning color and the monitors showed yellow and red damage across the craft.
Powerful shocks shook the craft and the lights occasionally flickered disconcertingly despite how many ways the power system was supposed to be backed up.
Who could accept that just two people could cause this much damage?
The military official cursed his own actions.
Why had he believed this was a secret deal between Government and Freedom?
Why had he conveniently accepted that an oral promise with no records would be upheld?
The enemy only did what benefited her.
No matter how nice the suggestion sounded, there had to be some advantage for the enemy hidden there.
He heard a voice that sounded far too calm for the hopeless situation.
It was Maria Heartocean, the researcher for the Anthill Project. The body of her Repliglass Water Bear split apart and she removed the head like it was a costume.
’’What are we going to do about this? It's a complete mess. Is this the end of the road for me?’’
He seriously considered giving up on everything, firing a single bullet, and stealing the Water Bear to ensure his own safety.
But he stopped himself.
That would only be destroying himself. There was a more effective way of boarding Noah's Ark.
’’This way! Hurry! Escaping the Stingray is the only way to protect you!!’’
He grabbed the Water Bear's hand and Maria sighed while covering herself with the Repliglass again.
They left the central combat bridge, ran down the hall, and heard gunfire and several footsteps.
A horribly heavy tremor and several screams and shouts followed.
’’What are we going to do?’’
’’Kh... The Stingray is equipped with a small Repliglass VTOL craft. If we can board that...’’
A dull sound shot past a corridor corner and slammed into the wall.
It was a badly destroyed combat Repliglass soldier.
And then the waitress demon poked her head out from around the corner. She may have been injured when boarding the Stingray because she had blood all over her. A fierce smile appeared on her lips.
An Artificial Sacred Ground was in effect.
It was in the ninety second Chain state. If they were caught in that, they would die. Miyama Gouta knew that even though he generally did not directly fight with the Summoning Ceremony.
He turned 180 degrees and ran down the hallway on the pretext of protecting Maria.
’’Sound Range: High. Cost: 1. The Original Yellow (s). Why do you think I've continued using the weakest Original series when I could build it up further?’’ Beyondetta's singsong voice loudly reached him from behind. ’’Be - cause! We couldn't savor the taste of revenge if it ended too quickly. It would be boring to end it instantly with a bullet to the head or with a divine- or Unexplored-class attack to the Stingray. I'm keeping our destructive power down at the perfect level to thoroughly enjoy this☆’’
Weakest or not, a Material was a Material.
It was a monster from another world. Not even a squadron of tanks or fighters could damage it.
Several combat Repliglass soldiers ran past Miyama and Maria to face the monster.
’’We'll buy you some time!!’’
’’Hurry up and get Miss Heartocean to safet-...’’
A great noise cut them off.
The series of destructive noise just about drove all sense of reality from Miyama's mind. He could not bring himself to look back. He could only imagine a giant mouth was approaching while chewing through everything in its path.
’’What happened to those summoners we've been wasting so much money on!?’’
’’You mean the 700 level ones? They've already taken their money and jumped into the sea!! We have to do this ourselves!’’
’’Seriously? Goddammit! Are you serious!? ...Gabgh!?’’
’’Hee hee hee hee hee hee.’’
He desperately continued running with sweat covering his face.
He was willing to sacrifice his men, deceive his allies, and use his superiors as a shield as long as it meant his survival.
That was the only thing on his mind.
He finally reached the cargo space.
The large space contained an avian Repliglass craft that reached fifteen meters across when its folded wings were spread out. The aerial Repliglass craft was known as a Seagull and it was meant for naval combat. He practically snapped at the men who approached from a different exit.
’’Do you have the server!?’’
’’Get it loaded on! Hurry up and load it!!’’
After barking his order, Miyama Gouta operated the control panel next to him. The ceiling opened with a low rumble. At the same time, the entire floor slowly rose like a theatre contraption. The entire storage space was raised to the deck so the Seagull could be launched.
But their opponent did not wait for that to finish.
With a loud crash, one of the doors was broken through and a thoroughly destroyed Repliglass soldier rolled out. As the rising floor began to cover up the doorway, the summoner and her Material calmly stepped in through the closing gap.
The Chain state had ended.
But a new Artificial Sacred Ground enveloped everything.
Despair threatened to crush Miyama Gouta's mind.
The vengeful demon named Beyondetta smiled with her Blood-Sign resting on her shoulder.
’’My client has been waiting on an empty stomach, so please let her enjoy the flavor of this perfectly aged meat.’’
Shiroyama Kyousuke spoke from the deck of a Stingray racing at 200 kph across the ocean and between the pillars and buildings.
The smoke showed up more than the silhouette. Instead of catching up to the identical craft, their Stingray approached the other one by entering the same intersection on its left.
’’What do you plan to do?’’ asked one of the Repliglass soldiers.
’’Just crash into it. We'll handle the rest.’’
They could hear things whizzing by overhead. There was a lot on the lowest level of the city. Wires and crane hooks were dangling down from the bottoms of the countless giant bridges, parks, and schools.
Their frequency was growing.
The Stingray accelerated further.
And then the two came into contact as if crashing at the intersection.
A frightening impact threw Shiroyama Kyousuke and Isabelle from the deck.
Without the superhuman muscular strength and leg strength of the Repliglass, they were powerless. After being thrown like an artillery shell, Kyousuke held Isabelle in his arms to protect her and curled up his body.
They flew from one Stingray to the other.
They struck the deck and bounced a few times, but Kyousuke managed to stop his body while preventing the intense impact from causing too much damage.
They were on the flat surface of a stingray measuring several dozen meters across.
Inside the Artificial Sacred Ground, a waitress demon smiled while being served by a three meter mass of yellow slime.
Trapped in that cage were collapsed Repliglass soldiers, a Water Bear that likely contained Maria Heartocean, the Repliglass Seagull with folded wings, a large square box that likely contained the server abandoned next to the escape craft, and Miyama Gouta who had likely pulled the trigger on all of this.
’’E-eek! H-help...help me...!!’’
For just a moment, Kyousuke mechanically narrowed his eyes at those words, but...
’’I'll pay you!! I'll give you a seat on the ark too!! So fight! Hurry up and fight! Isn't that what you live for, you worthless hired hand from Freedom!?’’
Kyousuke started to open his mouth, but before he could, Isabelle stood up next to him.
With no notable expression on her face, the girl in a red military uniform pressed her thumb against her throat. She noticed the thick and meaningless scent of blood hanging in the air.
And then she pulled her thumb sideways.
’’Just super-sized die already.’’
And she made an announcement as if to judge the culprit who had created this situation.
’’Once you've died, I'll save you.’’
Immediately after that contradictory suggestion, a tremor ran through the Stingray and Beyondetta's Artificial Sacred Ground entered its Chain state. That also signaled the end of Miyama Gouta's consciousness.
Normally, Kyousuke would have run into his opponent's Artificial Sacred Ground to begin a new battle with no risk, but the waitress demon snapped her fingers and erased her own Artificial Sacred Ground.
The Original Yellow also vanished, revealing Murasame Kuina instead.
’’...What are you doing?’’
’’My goal is assisting my client's revenge, not pure destruction. And my client wishes to speak with your vessel. Think of this as a form of mental care to help her revenge run smoothly.’’
Beyondetta respectfully bowed and stepped to the side to give her client control of the scene.
That client, Murasame Kuina, faced Isabelle.
No, in this case...
’’Sayuri, why did you come here?’’
’’My name is Isabelle and I came here to stop you.’’
’’...! I don't know an Isabelle! You have no idea how ridiculous, cruel, hollow, painful, and heartbreaking it is to hear you use that name!! It's seeing you like this that makes me want to at least hunt down the people who did this to you and send them to hell!!’’
Hearing that, Isabelle slowly shook her head.
’’You don't understand.’’
’’This is not who you are.’’
’’You can't even remember your own name and you think you can talk about who I am!?’’
’’You still don't get it?’’
Isabelle looked troubled.
It was a sorrowful look.
It was the look of someone who could not bring themselves to say they were too busy to attend the birthday party their friend was so excited about.
And this was not just an issue of emotions or ideals. It was the look of someone who was reluctant to make some decisive statement, but knew they had to say it.
’’Think back. What device did this all start with?’’
’’What? Why would you bring up those things we used as a diversion?’’
’’You still don't get it?’’
Isabelle repeated her question.
And before the bare midriff girl could feel a tremor down her spine, the answer was released into the world.
’’You were made into the protagonist by that demon's Girl's Backdoor.’’
Murasame Kuina, that girl of vengeance, came to a complete stop as her thoughts ground to a halt.
’’It's true you may have had a small-sized desire for revenge in the beginning.’’
So Isabelle did not stop speaking.
’’For one thing, once I became a vessel, my very existence would have been erased from your mind. If Beyondetta hadn't contacted you, you may not have ever remembered.’’
No one else stopped her.
’’However, a desire for revenge alone is not the same thing as acting on it.’’
She spoke the cruel truth.
’’But what if Beyondetta read what you wanted and manipulated your actions? What if she used an invisible hand to send you on a path you would have never dared to take normally?’’
She simply presented it to the girl.
’’You were only taking revenge due to the Girl's Backdoor's manipulation. You merely misinterpreted it as your own actions. A single summoner has been putting on a play this entire time.’’
At first, Murasame Kuina had been manipulated from without.
Because she was acting based on the deepest thoughts in her heart, she had assumed those actions were based in her own will.
But in truth, Kuina's desires had never left the realm of thought and the actions were created by a third party manipulating her body.
During a long, long life, anyone might feel the desire to punch or kill someone at some point.
But very few could and would actually go through with it.
At the very least, Murasame Kuina had not been one of those people.
But someone else had smiled and been very careful to make sure she never noticed that.
Kuina forced out the words like they were caught in her throat.
More than a rebuttal, she was trying to throw back something she refused to believe.
’’I mean, you gain nothing from telling me that supposed 'truth' here! But to protect Government, you probably would lie about it in order to disturb us and throw off our teamwork! So!!’’
’’It would probably be faster if I demonstrated our stance here.’’
With that casual comment, Kyousuke grabbed a nearby lever.
It was used to secure any wheeled containers to the deck while the Stingray moved at 200 kph.
He did not hesitate to pull the lever.
With a loud thunk, something was removed. A container slid across the deck. No one could stop it as it plunged into the ocean.
That was the Anthill server.
It had contained the important data crucial for the continuation of the project.
’’The request I received from Isabelle was to free Murasame Kuina from her unnecessary revenge. No more, no less. What Government wants doesn't matter. The Anthills? Those disgusting things are better off destroyed. We were only selling ourselves to Government because it helped us accomplish our goal.’’
’’That means we have no reason to lie to you to protect Government.’’ The military uniform girl stared straight at Murasame Kuina. ’’From the very beginning, we were super-sized fighting to save you from that demon.’’
Finally, Murasame Kuina turned toward Beyondetta like a broken doll.
The waitress demon simply smiled.
’’What...is the meaning of this?’’
She asked the obvious question.
’’Hey, you! Is Sayuri telling the truth about-...!?’’
Even with the truth revealed, Beyondetta did not bat an eye and maintained her perfect salesman's smile.
And at some point, her thin waitress's glove had melted away as if from a great heat.
Her white fingertips were briefly visible, but they soon turned black.
But not because they had been burned and scorched.
The skin of her left hand peeled away on its own, revealing the leather glove below. Was the sticky-sounding glove fused with the real, skinless palm further below?
Nevertheless, Beyondetta formed a handgun and aimed the index finger barrel at her client.
And the demon spoke with a smile.
’’This is the very best part, so kindly shut the hell up☆’’
That was all it took for Murasame Kuina's entire body to go stiff and then go limp.
The light vanished from her eyes and all human expression vanished from her face.
She looked like a doll controlled by thin threads and with its limbs trapped in countless bear traps.
The tree-style flowchart had arrived at an unexpected situation and switched to a different line.
It was all an act and it was all restricted.
Beyondetta had only wanted to borrow someone else's revenge to satisfy her own sadistic desires. By approaching someone with a kind smile, gently fanning the flames of their vengeful desires, and providing them the means and opportunity to fulfill them, she gained an excuse for all sorts of violence.
And this was the perfect and ultimate shortcut.
She manipulated people to their destruction in order to fulfill her own desires. She truly was a demon.
She claimed she was simply obeying her client, but she was actually enjoying the greatest front row seat.
’’From the very beginning...’’
At first, Kyousuke and Isabelle had known Kuina had sworn revenge for her friend and begun acting on it, but they had not known who had invited her to take revenge. But no matter who stood by her side, they had guessed there was a decent risk of this possibility.
It came down to Girl's Backdoor.
What if there was no distinction between the controller and the controlled? It was not a straight line or a pyramid. This was controlling someone else while hoping they became the perfect master. There was a Mobius-like twistthat blurred the distinction between master and servant.
’’You had planned for this. This was not just one of many possibilities. Murasame Kuina learning the truth was built in as an unavoidable step no matter what happened. It was necessary if you were to pit Kuina and Isabelle against each other.’’
’’Well, of course.’’ Beyondetta laughed just like the Queen she had once seen. ’’Her desire for revenge has a safety built in. I want her to burn down the entire world, but she has so many conditions about what she refuses to do.But if I have her destroy the very source of those limitations, I figure nothing will be able to stop her revenge.’’
In other words, Murasame Kuina would kill Isabelle - who she most wanted to protect - in the pursuit of her revenge.
Beyondetta would dirty Kuina's hands by forcing her to kill the girl.
That had been the ultimate joy in her mind as she had built the Girl's Backdoor devices. That had been the thought in her mind as she smiled next to her client from the earliest stages of their plan.
She would gorge herself on the feast before her eyes, shove all the blame onto the girl, and then swallow up even the girl she had used as a scapegoat.
Kyousuke pulled his Blood-Sign from his back.
’’You are completely insane.’’
’’Completely insane? This? Nothing more than this!? We have felt the Queen's insanity in person, so you must know this is no more than a trivial little prank!!’’
’’I'm super-sized pissed right now. Bulge bulge (deadpan).’’
’’I don't mind at all. I will bring my client's revenge further than she ever imagined. I don't mind if the sight of the horrific results leaves my client in tears and drives her to suicide. All that matters is that I enjoy myself.’’
With that, Beyondetta spread her feet to shoulder width.
She shook her tail and an Incense Grenade clunked down from her miniskirt.
’’And with Girl's Backdoor, our summoner-vessel combination is, in a way, greater than any other. The combat routines I have given my client are second to none. Now, let me enjoy this, you damn rabbit. You are likely the most satisfying meal for this revenge!!’’
With that yell, the grenade detonated and an Artificial Sacred Ground covered their surroundings.
In that instant, Murasame Kuina felt an explosion of the intense pain that she had been programmed to ’’forget’’.
The red threads and hands that were only visible to the attacker and victim - the controller and the controlled - tore into her arms, legs, and torso like bear traps. Her body accurately followed a programmed flowchart and tree-style command list.
As her body moved, she vaguely looked out at the world.
What had she been doing all this time?
She may have been commanded not to question it. Even so, why had she never questioned it even once?
Over the course of a lifetime, one might hate someone enough to kill them.
But why had that led her to actually kill them?
Why had she been so willing to use the Girl's Backdoor that any teenage girl should have loathed?
It was almost like she had not been moving her own body. Hadn't it been more like someone else had grabbed her arms and legs and moved them to fulfill that desire?
And it had led here.
To Isabelle...no, to Kawamo Sayuri.
This revenge had been for her. It was a way of getting back at the people who had hurt her. So why did Kuina have to confront her like this?
She was only able to think for herself now because Beyondetta had made sure she could.
The equation had been thoroughly rearranged to show her this despair.
(Taking my own desire beyond what I had imagined...leads to killing Sayuri?)
She wanted to shake her head, but she could not.
She had never said that, but Beyondetta's actions were being made into the girl's intentions. All of the limits they had crossed so far were being blamed on Kuina as necessary sacrifices.
Meanwhile, the summoner trapped in the Artificial Sacred Ground and the blonde girl next to him said something else.
’’To hell with that.’’
’’Yes, I know that this Murasame Kuina person doesn't want this! Not even a small-sized bit!!’’
Those words shattered the waitress demon's whispers.
Her friend, someone she had supposedly been separated from on ideological grounds, had more to say.
’’So help my friend! Save her from that demon!!’’
’’My answer is of course, as you wish. I'm sick of Beyondetta's little play.’’
The battle was beginning.
Murasame Kuina could do nothing because she was still being controlled. She could only draw out all of her awful strength as that smiling demon commanded.
But even if she was forbidden to move a single eye, that girl's soul was surely crying.
The twenty meter Artificial Sacred Ground was set up.
The three-dimensional Rose made up of 216 Petals appeared at the midpoint between the two summoner pairs.
As the glowing White Thorns appeared in the empty air, Kyousuke and Beyondetta jabbed their Blood-Signs into them.
The Rose was smashed and 36 dark, fist-sized Spots appeared in the empty air.
The scattering Petals ricocheted around and a few of them fell into the Spots.
The two girls changed form on the rapidly-moving Stingray's deck.
Kyousuke had the Original Yellow (s). Sound Range: High. Cost: 1.
Beyondetta had the Original Red (b). Sound Range: Low. Cost: 1.
(I have the upper hand in the sound range, but that does not matter.)
When she had the upper hand, Beyondetta only had to ’’wait’’. Victory would come to her on its own.
That meant Kyousuke had to take action. After he used a White Thorn to knock the desired Petal into a Spot to change his Material's sound range, the waitress demon made her next move.
She followed suit and she mimicked him with stalker-like precision.
If he chose the middle sound range, she too chose middle.
If he chose low, she too chose low.
Kyousuke made feints, double feints, and every trick he could find, but Beyondetta only had to follow suit after ’’seeing it for herself’’. By taking the same sound range with a constant +1 in cost and always summoning her Material after him, she always had the newer and stronger one.
It was like repeatedly comparing benchmarks with a computer from the same company, the same brand, and the same line but one generation older.
(This is enough. If this is a game of chicken, then I have a distance handicap. He can't wait until I'm right up on the edge before slamming on the brakes. If he tries that, he'll drive right off the cliff.)
Of course, Kyousuke would have noticed this was the ’’first cage’’.
But that knowledge did not allow him to ignore it. Even if this was only bait or a diversion, he would still lose if the Silhouette at his Material's core was destroyed.
So he could not reach past it.
He could only wait for her to finish.
Shiroyama Kyousuke must have lost his temper because he charged toward her like a bullet.
Was he starting a close-quarters exchange like last time?
There was no point in a fistfight between summoners when they had their protective circles. But they could hit, deflect, and push at the Blood-Sign that stuck out and that could throw off the accuracy of their opponent's shots.
Beyondetta could not help but laugh.
They glared at each other from less than a meter away, sometimes attacking each other's Blood-Signs with staff or spear techniques and sometimes finding a chance to launch a White Thorn. All the while, the waitress demon spoke.
’’You are correct to take away my resources, but if you lose the same amount of resources in the process, my advantage remains. Thus, you cannot escape this cage☆’’
A White Thorn that had seemed to fly way off the mark made a sharp curve in midair and collided with the target Petal. Instead of hitting the center, she had intentionally put a major spin on the ball.
’’And you still do not know my true power.’’
A high-pitched sound filled the air.
’’I am only restricting myself to this speed so I can match your speed and follow your lead. If I release my spare resources, I can do this.’’
Beyondetta's Blood-Sign briefly bent in two.
And she touched the sniper trigger.
With a loud bang, a 7.62mm rifle bullet was released from the center point.
It could not reach the summoner inside his protective circle.
However, she had not targeted his Blood-Sign either.
Beyondetta scored a direct hit on something beyond Kyousuke: the clashing monsters.
’’There are some exceptions, but the Materials summoned using the Blood-Sign system - especially the Regulation-class - are generally quite dumb.’’
She reconnected her Blood-Sign and smiled.
At this point, Kyousuke had the SSC for Puppet #2000 (yi - a - ns - ou - wh - ia - iu - seb - e - hig - o - sd - c - li - dr - oq). Sound range: Low. Cost: 30.
It was a giant western suit of armor with countless red strings wrapped around it and it turned their way after the hit from the rifle bullet.
’’Whether it's a peashooter or whatever else, they will set their sights on whatever attacked them. So it isn't hard to manipulate the enemy.’’
An explosive sound reached their ears.
Beyondetta only had to take one step to the side.
The attack could easily have split open an aircraft carrier flight deck like it was a can. A row of violent steel spikes missed their target and fiercely struck Shiroyama Kyousuke who was supposed to be its master.
He was not killed thanks to the protective circle, but the great strength sent him and the circle flying like a pinwheel.
He was not injured and he felt no impact or pain.
But his position had shifted.
And that widened the gap.
’’Shut up, you damn rabbit. I can control my allies with Girl's Backdoor and my enemies with my sniper shots, so I can dance across the board with everything under my control. Do you really think a lone summoner can stop me?’’
Kyousuke had not even broken out of the first cage formed by her ’’same sound range with cost +1’’ strategy.
Now she formed the second cage by indirectly interfering with his Material using her rifle bullets. The wider the gap grew and the more freedom she gained, the more resources she could spare to end it all.
She would complete the third cage.
That greatest and worst arrangement of dominos would sweep everything away and swallow it all up when it all came tumbling down.
(I need to reach the divine-class using the high sound range and with a cost of 10. I need that dog-headed god that gained a new name and power after mixing the Ancient Egyptian god of judgment with Hermes of Greece.)
Inside the ten meter cube of the Artificial Sacred Ground, most of the White Thorns and Petals were moving near the deck of the high-speed Stingray. No, Beyondetta had set it up that way.
The only exceptions were near the corners, walls, and ceiling of the giant cube. Clusters of three or four Petals had gathered there.
And there were more than one or two such clusters.
They were spread out like a spider web or like a jellyfish or sea anemone's antennae drifting in wait of prey.
The countless clusters were complete and they surrounded the poor summoner.
’’Farewell, my barrier.’’
She sent out the signal to surpass Shiroyama Kyousuke who was still stuck in the Regulation-class.
This was the sweet flavor of revenge.
This was the moment when she turned the tables on a target who was confident he would never die. And not as a coincidence. This was the joy of tearing down their strength, their reputation, and their happiness thanks to her careful planning.
This was the pleasure of strapping a giant rocket engine to a scooter one third its size just to show up a braggart driving around in their Italian luxury car.
Beyondetta felt a strange tremor run down her spine.
’’You could not reach me. Like this, you are not even worth calling a damn rabbit. You knew about this cage, but you were not skilled enough to interfere. You deserve to be crushed by overwhelming quantity and speed!!’’
She held her Blood-Sign vertically, aimed straight down, and launched a White Thorn. It collided with the deck at her feet, bounced off, and used its intense spin to fly in a sharp curve.
Sink into despair.
Fall to your knees and sob.
And at the same moment...
’’Oh, I wouldn't be so sure of that.’’
Shiroyama Kyousuke left every last pattern Beyondetta had imagined. He was still calm. His face had not gone pale, his eyes were not wandering aimlessly, sweat did not cover his face, and the parts of his face had not gathered in the center like a dried plum.
It was meaningless like this.
Revenge was more than just destruction. The true essence of revenge was how much that destruction tore into the target's heart.
’’Let me tell you something very basic, Cheshire Cat. You might think that you have indirect control over both Materials and that you control every Petal on the field, but you're forgetting one basic fact. We're on top of a Government Stingray, so this is a giant away game for you. You are the avenger, so you should have assumed everything around you could turn against you.’’
Two ricochets. Three ricochets.
The White Thorn bounced off the walls of the Artificial Sacred Ground and accurately targeted the desired Petal. Kyousuke knew the fuse has been lit, but the problem before his eyes kept him too busy to interfere.
Or so Beyondetta had thought.
But if that was the case, why did Alice (with) Rabbit look so confident!?
’’You may have felt like a queen peering into the bug cage, but you were trapped in a larger bird cage all the while.’’
’’What are you talking about, you goddamn rabbit? This is already over! I have you in checkmate, so feel some despair!! I've taken your king, so don't just keep playing!! Tormenting you once you're a dead-eyed zombie would just be boring!!!!!’’
Five ricochets. Six ricochets.
Beyondetta's White Thorn slipped between the unwanted Petals on its way to the one that acted as a trigger. No one could stop it now. Once her Material reached the divine-class, it would obliterate Kyousuke's which could not leave the Regulation-class.
’’What I'm saying is...’’
Unbelievably, Kyousuke brought his Blood-Sign to a stop.
He snapped his fingers just as something shot by over his head.
’’That's my line.’’
It happened a moment later.
With a solid sound, Beyondetta's seemingly unstoppable White Thorn was struck from the side.
Kyousuke had not launched a White Thorn of his own.
Countless crane wires dangled down from the giant bridges or midair surfaces that supported parks, hospitals, schools, etc. As the Stingray moved at 200 kph, they were essentially a raging steel wind blowing by overhead. One of the J-shaped hooks had accurately struck Beyondetta's White Thorn.
’’Did you forget our field is constantly in motion? And this isn't a natural phenomenon. It's being controlled by Government, who you made into an enemy.’’
The single attack caused it all to fall apart.
’’The Petals and White Thorns will bounce when they hit the Artificial Sacred Ground's walls or another obstacle. Anything directly controlled by a human will, be it a thrown stone or a fired bullet, will pass through them, but that doesn't apply here. While the field's movement is controlled by a human will, the crane wire is simply hanging there.’’
The White Thorn was not the only thing knocked out of place.
A great number of crane wires of various sizes tore apart the Petals that had been accurately positioned for a domino effect. They scattered everywhere and ruined Beyondetta's beautifully completed diagram.
Or so it seemed.
But that was not the case.
’’And you did quite well.’’
A solid sound followed.
The shock had created a brief gap in which Beyondetta stopped moving. The first cage, created by the same sound range +1, crumbled away. Kyousuke used that opening to launch a White Thorn to a distant location.
He sent it toward the remains of Beyondetta's crumbled setup.
But he was not just hitting a few Petals into the Spots at random.
One of the clusters collapsed.
Those scattered Petals collided with other clusters.
Several clusters collapsed.
They spread out like a spider web and surrounded Beyondetta as a dance of red lines. All of the Petals shot toward the Spots.
Almost as if...
’’What...is this? I didn't plan this. I don't remember creating this domino effect!’’
The dominos had not been swept aside by a brutish hand.
They had shifted from Domino Structure A to Domino Structure B.
Had they been accurately swapped out for a completely different formation!?
’’Of course you don't. I was the one to guide it in this direction.’’
’’Did you think you had created that situation yourself and for your own victory? You were only creating the basis I needed for my victory. Like the worker bee that busily gathers honey, oblivious to the bear waiting to raid the hive.’’
He had been aiming for his from the beginning.
He had pretended to fall for her trap.
The data on the evacuation operation may have provided how many obstacles there were in Toy Dream 35, but the second Stingray's presence had been an outright rebellion against his plan. That data would never have told him what route it would be taking.
But that had not mattered.
He had perfectly put together the algorithm in this short time, he had perfectly predicted the route and speed they would use based on what he would do in their position, and he had even used Beyondetta who was at the 900s level.
He had been looking to this moment from the beginning.
Everything else had been how to manipulate things into arriving at this situation.
(Oh, no!! At this rate, he'll take my divine-class!!)
Beyondetta immediately read the arrangement of Petals inside the Artificial Sacred Ground and launched a new White Thorn. When it hit Kyousuke's Thorn, threw it off course, and prevented him from building up his Material, she could cut into the domino layout and steal its benefits for herself.
’’This isn't over yet, you damn rabbit!! I can use this to reach the divine-class too!! And then-...’’
She trailed off.
Shiroyama Kyousuke's expression remained unchanged.
It was just like when she had setup her dominos and achieved checkmate...no, thought she had achieved checkmate.
’’It can't be...’’
She realized something.
’’This was...exactly what you wanted me to do...?’’
The situation took a decisive turn before Shiroyama Kyousuke's eyes.
They continued fighting over the Petals and building up their Materials, but that would not last forever.
The undeniable result was eventually revealed to them.
Kyousuke had a divine-class of the middle sound range with a cost of 9. It was the Celtic god of hunting and ruler of the underworld. The fierce male god had a pair of animal horns as a symbol of life.
As for Beyondetta...
’’I didn't...reach it?’’
She had the King of Serpents with an Indestructible Body which Repeatedly Sheds Its Skin in Front of All Calamity (b f - h a t l - e i - v o - o u - d v - e I - b c - I u - j k v - a - j o k - l v - n i c - a - y x - v j z).
Sound Range: Low. Cost: 38.
’’I'm still in the Regulation-class... I didn't reach the divine-class...!?’’
Beyondetta's looked more powerful base on its physical appearance.
One was muscular, but only a two meter man. The other was a giant red snake that one had to look up at even when it was coiled up.
But that did not matter.
It would all be over with the swing of an arm.
There was an overwhelming power difference between the Regulation-class and the divine-class.
’’How did you end up like this?’’
The Celtic god took a step forward.
Shiroyama Kyousuke was already resting his Blood-Sign on his shoulder. He was implicitly saying he no longer needed it.
’’It's true the Fifteen Siblings Project was the worst. Everyone who took part received great talent in exchange for leaving the proper path in some way. But you're the only one that turned out like this, Cheshire Cat. ...How did you turn into the revenge-obsessed Liar Cat? What did you see in that Queen's Miniature Garden?’’
The red snake that formed a great mountain squirmed as if overpowered by that overwhelming presence.
Similarly, the demon named Beyondetta took a step back from Kyousuke's gaze.
’’...Because you were the only one...’’
She spoke in a daze.
It was unclear if her eyes were viewing at the present or the past.
’’We learned of the Queen's hatred, the Queen's ferocity, the Queen's allure, and the Queen's passion. Our original families betrayed us, sold us, and abandoned us. We had no friends in that cramped miniature garden, all of the adults were cruel, the social structure was shallow, and our sibling bonds were only artificial so we couldn't even trust in them...’’
Her fragmentary words would only make sense to someone who had shared that time with her.
’’But you were the only one who received real love. Even if it did come from that hideous and loathsome Queen!!’’
Shiroyama Kyousuke - Alice (with) Rabbit - narrowed his eyes slightly.
Every last person who had taken part...no, been forced to take part in the Fifteen Siblings Project had become a monster. A family is kind, a teacher is right, a friend is fun, and a lover is warm. They received none of those standard feelings. Their initial presets had been wrong, so they could not understand the concept of finding comfort in a family.
How could they have found happiness after being thrown out into the world to do as they pleased? How could they fit in when their ’’normal’’ was so very twisted from everyone else's ’’normal’’?
And why had Kyousuke alone not broken like the rest of them?
This must have been the answer Beyondetta had found.
Pandora's Box had contained all forms of calamity, but hope alone had remained inside it.
Was she saying that Shiroyama Kyousuke alone had received that hope?
That was why she had wanted to take revenge. She had wanted to take revenge, but the Queen's Miniature Garden had been destroyed, the adults were gone, and the White Queen was too powerful. Had she been going around destroying all of the nearby targets to soothe her heart and that had eventually led her back to Kyousuke?
This battle came down to one thing.
Had they accepted ’’that’’ as the one last thread of hope given to them?
Or had they rejected ’’that’’ as salt in the wound?
This was the story of two artificial siblings who had made the opposite decision.
And with all that in mind, Shiroyama Kyousuke spoke coldly as if to correct a mistake.
’’You're imagining all that.’’
He was answered with a great cry that was too halfhearted to call a roar or a scream.
The demon's insane fighting spirit had been reignited.
She knew she had no way of winning, but she raised her Blood-Sign regardless.
Shiroyama Kyousuke did not respond in kind.
<How sad,>said Isabelle.
’’You can say that again. The fifteen of us all received the Queen's fear and nothing more. The only difference was how we interpreted it, but how in the world did she mistake that for love?’’
<That is not even a small-sized bit what I meant.>
Kyousuke briefly had trouble figuring out what Isabelle meant.
At any rate, this was checkmate.
He only had to say one thing to his vessel and partner who had become a horned Celtic god.
’’Do it, Isabelle.’’
It took one attack.
With a disconcerting sound, the male horned god's hand tore apart the red snake. Hit by the shock of seeing their god slaughtered before their eyes, the summoner and vessel collapsed to the Stingray's deck.
- If you are prepared to pay an adequate penalty, it is possible to force your way into an Artificial Sacred Ground in which a battle is underway.
- Murasame Kuina's initial desire for revenge was real, but all of her actions were manipulated by Girl's Backdoor. That was the true reason for Isabelle's request to save her friend from that needless revenge.
- A Material will prioritize counterattacking whoever attacks it. It does not matter whether or not that attack did any damage. It is possible for the vessel's will to correct the targeting cursor, but the Material still takes an unnecessary action.
- The Petals and White Thorns are influenced by and bounce off of field objects. This is true even if those objects are in motion. But a thrown stone, a fired bullet, or anything else directly influenced by a human are an exception. Also, a human, an animal, or anything else with a soul does not count as a field object.
- Normally, people cannot move freely in and out of the Artificial Sacred Ground, but field objects have no such restriction. They can pass through the wall just like the losers after they pass out.
- Beyondetta actually wanted to take revenge on Shiroyama Kyousuke and the White Queen, but not even she noticed until she was truly cornered.
- Shiroyama Kyousuke insists that the love he alone supposedly received from the White Queen was in Beyondetta's imagination.