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Mitou Shoukan://Blood-Sign - Volume 5 - Chapter 1

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Stage 01: Named Summoners, the 15 Children

’’Biondetta, you hit #5 and #8 into the pocket too. This is a complete mess.’’

’’Call me Detta! And am I only here so everyone can bully me!?’’

(Stage 01 Open 09/17 07:00 ’’Before the War’’)

Named Summoners, the 15 Children

Part 1[edit]

Kyousuke was faced by an unbelievable reality.

’’I dyed my hair pink.’’

’’...’’

Biondetta's flowing hair had been blonde before, but she had suddenly taken a step into the realm of fantasy. And it was more than just her hair that had left reality. She had cow-like horns on her head and an arrow-shaped tail on her butt. It badly clashed with her chemical-colored surgical gown.

The 15 children's living space in the Miniature Garden's Inner Circle had a number of spaces used for socializing. Kyousuke frowned inside one of those which seemed larger than two school classrooms.

’’What in the world is this?’’

’’It's called preparation.’’ Biondetta tried to act like the big sister, but the innocence of her smile overshadowed it. ’’The Queen of Hearts - that is, Kyoumi - has some unexpected skills. Of all things, she says she can make clothes all on her own! She's going around taking requests right now. It won't be long until I can say goodbye to this skimpy thing covered in knots.’’

’’Hm? Aren't there tons of clothes in the walk-in closet?’’

’’...You want me to choose from there?’’

Despite being underground, the Miniature Garden was supplied well enough that they could play baseball or soccer if they wanted to. The stock of clothing was stacked up in giant piles. ...Yes, it was just like a giant warehouse at a port used for exporting goods.

But...

’’With all that surrounding me, I get dizzy. I don't want to get anywhere near that closet anytime soon. I really do feel like I'll get los-...I mean, get stranded while surrounded by all those piles of clothes.’’

’’So when you have too much choice, you end up unable to make a decision?’’

’’Hm?’’

’’Oh, nothing.’’

Kyousuke and the rest of the 15 were not restricted in their life cycle. They could get up when they wanted, eat what they wanted, and do what they wanted. There was no schedule like a school's class schedule or a prison's work schedule.

Nevertheless, most of them, including Kyousuke, were still wearing the surgical gowns they had been initially given. There were no windows and the concepts of morning and night meant little here, but they mostly functioned on a 24 hour schedule, got up at about the same time, and spoke with the others they got along with.

There was nothing rewarding or punishing them, so the adults were only manipulating them by having them enter that ’’framework’’ of their own free will.

This experiment was meant to turn the 15 of them into a single family.

Whether she had noticed that or not, Biondetta continued with an innocent smile.

’’Instead of trying on an endless number of combinations like I'm brute-forcing a password, Kyoumi says she can create the image I have in my head! You should go speak with her too.’’

’’I'm fine with anything as long as it's easy to move in...’’

It sounded like this would be the next trend, so Kyousuke made his decision a lot like checking the weather before deciding if he would hang the laundry out to dry.

Biondetta giggled in her short surgical gown.

’’Kyoumi would be upset if she heard you say that.’’

’’But won't it be a lot of work for her if everyone asks her?’’

’’Not at all. She likes doing it, so she'll be upset if you take the chance away from her.’’

Was that how it worked?

Kyousuke's eyes mechanically dilated as he discovered another correction to make in the future.

And then a floral scent tickled his nose. The next thing he knew, he felt something soft on his back. Someone seemed to have hugged him from behind. They wrapped their arms around his head, so he saw feminine arms passing over his shoulders and draping down to his chest.

He turned his head in her arms.

And what did he find?

The white clothing and silver twintails of a Queen with incredible pow-

A pink-haired girl with a welcoming smile that seemed to cover her entire face.

’’Oh, Kyoumi!’’

’’Heh heh. I made this before anything else.’’

When he called her name, the girl responded with a smile brimming with humanity.

She had somewhat drooping black eyebrows and a lively face. She looked nothing like a being spoken of in legends. She must have made a pattern from scratch, cut the cloth herself, taken apart clothing from the humongous closet, and incorporated pieces of those. She wore a luxurious wedding dress with pieces cut away and it glittered with plenty of red, green, and yellow plastic decorations dangling from it.

She was Shiroyama Kyoumi.

She was one of the 15 and her card was the Queen of Hearts.

She was about two sizes taller than Kyousuke and Biondetta and she would probably be in high school in the outside world. She had prepared an alternative outfit as part of her hobby, but it may have also been because she had not liked how the surgical gown had shown off her growing bodylines.

’’There are a lot of paintings and sculptures in the materials room near the Mock Battlefield, remember? I based it on those. What do you think? If I can reproduce this so well, you can be deadly sure I can answer any of your requests, right?’’

’’...’’

The ’’White’’ Queen who Wields the Sword of Unsullied Truth (iu - nu - fb - a - wuh - ei -kx - eu - pl - vjz).

The being that Kyousuke had carelessly caught a glimpse of during battle even though she could not be summoned intentionally.

Like a tornado, she could be seen by coincidence, but the details of how she appeared were not fully understood. Three of the truly powerful had joined together and arrived one thin layer away from the front line to deal with that ultimate threat. Only people at that level could see the threat lurking behind the radiant light. And Kyoumi was dressed up as that being.

’’Hmm? Your pulse is racing, you dirty little boy.’’

’’Kyoumi-san, you don't have to get so close.’’

’’Just call me Kyoumi. And I deadly mean it. Add the '-san' and I'll punish you like this☆’’

She started rubbing her cheek up against him.

Kyousuke was helpless and sighed quietly, but Biondetta seemed to notice.

’’What is it?’’

’’Well...we've been here for a while now, but it's always the same people that end up gathering together.’’

The 15 were still divided into a few groups and they frequently spoke with the others in their group, but they barely interacted with anyone outside it.

’’I was just wondering if this is what you would call a family.’’

’’Who knows. I mean, we were sold off. We don't have an example of an average and normal family.’’

There was no sarcasm or scorn in her voice. Biondetta truly sounded puzzled.

Kyousuke turned his head and only saw a troubled smile from Cosplay Kyoumi.

’’It's not like the other groups are all that different, though.’’

’’Oh, you went around taking requests, didn't you!?’’

Biondetta gave a beaming smile like that was a huge discovery. Unlike her or Kyousuke, Kyoumi made appearances in all of the groups.

But Kyoumi ended up settling down in this group. They had decided where she belonged and she would only ’’visit’’ the other groups.

’’Hey, Kyoumi. Do you think this structure is a success for the grownups?’’

’’Something might be happening soon. Something deadly.’’

The Queen of Hearts finally left Kyousuke's back as she said that.

Perhaps because he had dropped the ’’-san’’ as she asked.

’’After all, they said they would put us through trials and disasters to break down the barriers between us and turn us into a single family. Maybe they're checking where the gaps between us are while they adjust things to fill those in. They might be using a supercomputer or something.’’

It was like gathering everyone in a movie theater to have them all face the same direction and shed the standardized tears.

Or like taking each other's hands to board the lifeboat while escaping a sinking ship.

’’More importantly, I visit all of the groups, so I have a lot of information on all 15 of us. And if you ask me, Kyousuke, you're a flashing yellow light right now. You should be careful.’’

’’?’’

When he tilted his head a little, Shiroyama Kyoumi presented an extremely realistic problem despite her otherworldly outfit.

’’You're breeding some jealousy. Especially from that berserker, the Hatter. You need to be deadly careful.’’

Part 2[edit]

The Miniature Garden was quite large.

Each room tended to be the size of a school gym and they were arranged like a necklace of morning dew on a spider web. The main corridors connecting rooms were large enough for semi-trailer trucks to pass each other and even the secondary corridors were large enough for a normal car to drive around. Kyousuke and the others could use program-controlled electric carts if they wanted, but a lot of them chose to travel on foot.

There was a simple reason for this.

They could jog to build up their strength.

’’Hey, Rabbit Boy. If you're headed south, then join me.’’

’’...’’

Kyousuke did not bother matching his pace to the boy who arrived next to him.

They both maintained their high-speed pace, but Kyousuke did not reject the boy either and continued running as planned.

This was the Hatter, the leader of another group. That group had the most people in it. He was even older than the Queen of Hearts and, from Kyousuke's perspective, he looked almost like he belonged with the adults. He had messy blond hair, dark skin, and a strong body.

Instead of a surgical gown with pants like Kyousuke, he casually wore a white jacket without a necktie. And true to his assigned name, he had a small straw hat on his head. But that hat had a silverwork decoration wrapped around it, so it looked a lot like a crown.

He gave off a similar scent to that man from Illegal. Or perhaps it was the scent of a Central or South American criminal organization.

It was obvious from the way the fabric was used, but his outfit probably had not been made by Kyoumi. Everyone else had been daunted by the humongous closet, but he had looked through the tens of thousands of options and found the optimal combination on his own.

In other words, he had spontaneously left the rails set by the adults.

And Shiroyama Kyoumi had called him a berserker.

Even in Lewis Carroll's already absurd and nonsensical story, the Hatter on his card was known for being insane and broken.

’’If you're headed south, are you taking a class with someone? Like with Kuresawa?’’

’’With Shigara-san.’’

’’Madam Professor, huh? I doubt you'll get much out of that anytime soon...’’

’’But she seems to be the most normal. Both in the theories she presents and in her personality.’’

The Hatter laughed scornfully.

They were conversing while running at an above average pace, but neither of them seemed at all out of breath.

’’That's a good one.’’

He was the madman.

He had been given the role deemed nonsensical even in a children's story full of absurdities.

’’But, Kyousuke, you're probably the only specimen who finds any solace in the fact that someone's the 'most normal'.’’

’’...’’

’’Does Biondetta look normal to you? Or for someone else near you, what about Kyoumi? Don't make me laugh. They're warped in their own ways. Not that I'm one to talk when I'm the craziest of us all. For one thing, it isn't normal to be taken to this Miniature Garden. We were invited here to the far end of the world, so there had to be some reason we were selected. That's how it works. So,’’ continued the Hatter. ’’I'm curious about you. If we were going to rank the 15 of us, Humpty Dumpty and the Jabberwock might end up higher than you. But I'm still curious. My nose for combat ignores my crazy brain and I can't stop myself from talking. Shiroyama Kyousuke, the strangest and least normal one here is you, the one who looks the most normal. After all...’’

He arrived at a certain conclusion.

’’You were still the most normal when we had our first experience with the Summoning Ceremony and made our contract with the Three.’’

They stopped moving.

Their high-speed pace came to a sudden end because the Hatter held a long spear-like stick out horizontally to block Kyousuke's path.

It was a Blood-Sign.

That crystallization of human knowledge could freely summon otherworldly beings and even used the gods in heaven as a stepping stone to reach even greater heights.

Their shapes and materials varied, but the Hatter's started as a single silver coin. At some point, more and more coins stacked on top of the one in his hand until it had transformed into a long and heavy metal rod.

’’You'd normally be afraid when something like this is suddenly handed to you. And when you learn that gods exist so nearby and that our damned human hands can control the laws of heaven.’’

This boy did not judge people based on their size or age.

That madman judged all threats equally if he deemed them to be insane.

’’You'd normally tremble in fear when you learn you'll be cut off from normal society and will be forgotten by normal people once you leave their field of vision. It isn't that I really want to head outside or that I want go around working to help people in society. But even if it's only a hypothetical, it's hard to accept that someone else took away the option to live a normal life.’’

Had there been any meaning in him drawing the Hatter card?

Was he someone who measured the size of people's heads and gave form to something to contain them?

’’It would make sense to tear at your hair and writhe on the floor. It was only the very first step and we were already at that level. And yet you've somehow managed to maintain yourself. That's because you weren't normal in the first place. What I'm saying is...you're weird. It's weird that you can stay normal while you accept this decidedly abnormal environment. In fact, did you even bind a contract there?’’

The hatter quietly stared at him.

His eyes may have contained madness, but they were steady.

Strangely, his eyes seemed more focused on reality than anyone else's.

’’Who exactly are you?’’

’’...’’

’’Why are you here? You're the most normal and the most deeply involved, so it doesn't feel like you were 'brought' here.’’

That was when a quiet metallic sound reached them.

Instead of from ahead, behind, left, or right, it came from directly above. It came from the tall, tall Great Ceiling. Something was tangled around the steel beams from which the countless halogen lights hung. It was a dark shadow. It was an octopus-like dark blue night combat uniform with a gas mask. In addition to the two legs, mechanical tentacles extended from the waist and wrapped around the steel beams.

The figure stood upside down and motionlessly readied a carbine with a grenade launcher equipped on the bottom.

The adults had said they would not interfere with the 15's life.

But that had been retracted thanks to the threat approaching Kyousuke's throat.

Faced with that inhuman accuracy, the Hatter sighed and put away the silver coin Blood-Sign. The coins fell away, but not a single one was heard hitting the floor. They all vanished into empty air.

’’The guards, huh?’’

They relied on guns, but since they could perceive Kyousuke and the others, they likely had Awards. Since they were not focused on summoning, they may have stopped below 100 to maintain a compromise with the real world.

’’They have to know the superiority of guns isn't gonna cut it.’’

But the Hatter had not fallen back because he feared the bullets.

He had more to say as he left.

’’I think there was meaning in the cards we chose at the beginning. You could call it fate.’’

’’...And what did you see in the Hatter?’’

’’First, that I'm unexplainably insane. And second, that I'm obsessed with crowns.’’

The madman laughed and poked at his temple.

’’And I'm not talking about this straw hat thing. Taking on bulletproof armor and bullets won't get you anywhere. The expenses will just keep piling up and you won't have anything to show for it. If you head into the mountains with a nice polished hunting rifle, you don't just want shoot some crows and rats, right?’’

’’...’’

’’I want to fight someone with a larger crown on their name. Now that would be worth stuffing and mounting on the wall. Shiroyama Kyousuke, you're probably the master of this mountain. And the crown on your head isn't anything as cheap as 'strongest' or 'invincible' is it?’’

The Hatter turned down another road.

Sensing the threat had passed, the gas mask figure up above moved his or her tentacles to leave.

Left all alone, Kyousuke stared in the direction the madman had gone.

The way that boy spoke, no one would believe anything he said. And he seemed to enjoy that, so he showed no sign of changing.

But how much of the truth had he seen in Kyousuke?

Had he seen through to the foundation of the Fifteen Siblings Project? Or had he seen through the next thin layer and to what lay even deeper?

Part 3[edit]

’’You really like to make things exciting, don't you?’’

Shigara Masami sighed on her stool with her long black hair held in a ponytail by a scrunchie and while wearing a dark blue tight skirt suit and a lab coat.

In addition to the living space for the developers and guards, the Outer Circle contained several research facilities of various sizes. They all took different approaches toward making the 15 into a single family.

Madam Professor of Government used a space much like a hospital examination room.

It contained a stool, a steel desk, and a simple examination table. There was a light box for viewing X-rays on the wall and a computer and flat-screen monitor on the desk. The desk also had a small bottle of sunflower seeds, so she may have been keeping some sort of pet. Or did she eat them herself? It was hard to tell.

This was likely a form of roleplaying.

The Fifteen Siblings Project was structured like a family, but the adults had each constructed their own independent worlds: a school, a corporation, an army, a prison, a passenger plane, a cooking classroom, a workshop, a fitness gym, and a hospital. They all had their own unique color, but anything worked as long as it formed a hierarchy or a society with a host.

However, this was not actually an examination room. There would be a bunch of frightening machines beyond the white cloth partition behind Shigara Masami.

’’Any risks to your safety or peace are reported to us. So things are tense enough for someone to pull out their Blood-Sign? ...You do understand that continuing in that way would lead to an appearance from the gods of legend or something even greater, don't you? We manage all the Incense Grenades, but they aren't entirely impossible to make on one's own. Especially for kids like you who aren't exactly normal.’’

’’I didn't do it.’’

’’Well, they say rain hardens the ground and conflict is a form of communication. And you wouldn't be much of a family if you never fought.’’

She whispered that last comment to herself.

She also toyed with the stethoscope (which was probably a prop for her roleplaying) resting on her large chest and she glanced over at the flat-screen monitor on the desk.

It displayed a colorful line graph that changed in real time, but it did not seem to be an EKG or stock prices.

There were 15 lines in all.

That matched the number of siblings.

’’This is a Relective Graph. ...Of course, it's just one of the indicators we use.’’

It measured their heartrate and brainwaves to create a general approximation of them as a person.

So the closer the lines came together, the less distance there was between them as people. And they would eventually converge enough to call them a family.

There were about three main branches and Kyousuke was part of one of those.

The Hatter was wandering all alone near the very top of the graph.

It was looking difficult for them all to converge into a single main river. And even if they did, there was little data suggesting that would actually prove they were a family. The researchers had simply taken statistical data from thousands or tens of thousands of volunteer families and the majority of those sample families had converged to that extent.

(Plus, summoners and vessels disappear from all cameras and sensors while inside an Artificial Sacred Ground, so this allows them to notice right away if we try to use the Summoning ceremony in secret.)

That said, Kyousuke and the others had simply been told to ’’become a family’’, so it was nice having some visible numbers to set as a goal.

The lab coat beauty intentionally changed the mood while crossing her legs.

’’Okay, we don't want to waste any time, so let's get to 'studying', Kyousuke-kun. Thank you for choosing my basic theory again.’’

To reiterate, Kyousuke and the rest of the 15 were generally free to do as they wished and they were not forced to follow anything like a school schedule or a prison work schedule.

They were free to choose if they would take lessons from the adults and which one they would choose as a teacher. Some stuck to a single individual, some stayed away from them and studied alone, and others wandered from one to another in search of one that suited them.

They were free to do as they wished, but they naturally aimed for the top.

Why? There was a simple reason.

No one wanted to be branded incompetent and mocked as an idiot. There were two ways to avoid that: trip up everyone else or outdo everyone else. For the time being, the 15 were tending toward the latter.

She placed the negative to some data in the light box meant for viewing X-rays.

’’Okay, pay attention here. The framework of a 'family' can mean many different things, but there are a few theories as to how we define a family. Simply using blood relationships is a tad unrealistic. After all, human beings are not skilled enough to perform a blood test just by looking at someone.’’

’’But the closer someone's genetics, the more similar their facial features will be. Isn't it defined as people who look a lot like you?’’

’’In that case, you can never grow any closer to your wife or your step sister.’’

’’So a family is defined by something that happens in life, not by your birth? Like the imprinting of a chick?’’

’’This would be a lot easier if it was that simple. I think the life cycle - especially what you eat - is important.’’

’’So you've gone back to the basics of building a nest?’’

’’People's scent is influenced by what they eat. If you live in the same house and pick up the same cycle, you will naturally smell a lot alike. And one of the most well-known signs of future family troubles is when someone stops showing up for meals. That shift in the cycle alters their scent, so the two of them will stop viewing each other as part of the same group. If a large enough gap forms, they might as well be strangers.’’

’’That would explain why a new member can join a family, but isn't it a little forceful? By that logic, someone who 'leaves' to live on their own or to marry into another family would no longer be seen as part of the family.’’

’’Oh? It isn't unusual for distance to grow between family members when one begins a new life. When that family member returns for the Bon festival or New Year's, don't people find them to be 'nostalgic'? Although I will admit that genetically similar people will emit similar hormones, so they gain a similar scent more easily when eating the same food.’’

’’But wouldn't that mean you temporarily lose the ability to recognize your family when you have a cold or allergies?’’

’’In all seriousness, I think the tendency of people to act rudely while sick may be key to this. Oh, if only we could investigate the corpses of the medieval nobility whose bloodline morality completely collapsed. There's a chance that attempted poisonings and rampant venereal disease had dulled their senses...’’

’’I really think you're going a bit far to suggest stuffing some balled up tissues in your nose will break down the bonds of family.’’

’’Ah! You're using that example to make fun of me, aren't you!?’’

The adult woman started pouting, but stuffing tissues in her nose was unfortunately not going to fix it.

This was the theory held by Shigara Masami, one of the developers who managed the Miniature Garden.

It was but one of dozens, if not hundreds, of theories.

Learning about these things would not help them in society, nor would it lead to any special qualifications or skills. But if the 15 absorbed these, they would be able to share in the values of this Miniature Garden. It was like a guidebook with a valuable coupon in the back. Learning it came with a variety of privileges and enriched their lives. They would no longer carelessly stumble.

At a college-prep school, the students were taught the importance of educational history. At a technical school, they were taught the value of unique skills and qualifications. The upperclassman/underclassman hierarchy and the relationship between classes and years were all built on that basis. Just as a dumb upperclassman would not be viewed with respect at a college-prep school, an egghead upperclassman would be left behind at a sports school. There might be another path for them, but that possibility was rejected. Once they strayed from the path set up by the school, they might consider themselves a dropout and even consider suicide.

’’But why bring the Blood-Signs and Summoning Ceremony into this?’’

’’That would be more about a form of proof and testing than it is the thesis. Not only are Materials a threat to a pure family, they will crush the established theories even when they have been gathered into a system of religious morals. Can a small moral overcome a large one? No, even if it can, it would not bring us all together once it was spread through the world.’’

’’You've mentioned this before,’’ cut in Kyousuke in his surgical gown and pants. He spoke slowly as if speaking to a small child. ’’Do you have any evidence suggesting you can safely control that once you summon it?’’

Shigara Masami maintained her smile.

Ignoring someone's seniority was a simple way of igniting their anger, but this ponytail beauty was not bothered.

’’If that is all it takes to crush this, then it is meaningless. If that is all it takes to crush this, it is not worth continuing. Even if we are talking about a tornado we have only received sporadic glimpses of...even if we are talking about the White.’’

It was the perfect answer.

But as Kyousuke faced her, that perfection seemed to grow brittle.

Not that he was one to talk.

’’Now, Kyousuke-kun, did you understand everything I told you?’’

’’I suppose.’’

’’Then can you repeat it back to me verbatim, starting from the very first word'?’’

Those piercing words were the polar opposite of her smile.

That request might normally have elicited shock or a gasp, but Kyousuke was different.

’’Starting from, 'You really like to make things exciting, don't you'? Or from, 'Okay, we don't want to waste any time, so let's get to ’’studying’’, Kyousuke-kun'?’’

Shigara Masami laughed.

Shiroyama Kyousuke rattled off her own words with machine-like accuracy...

Part 4[edit]

’’The rankings have been updated,’’ said Shiroyama Kyoumi the Queen of Hearts with her somewhat drooping black eyebrows.

Kyousuke, Biondetta, and Kyoumi were in one of the party rooms of the Miniature Garden's Inner Circle. The room was equipped for indoor leisure activities such as darts and billiards. The billiards table was too large, so Kyousuke and Biondetta would stand on a stool when they held the cue. They had to focus on balancing, so they ended up developing a unique style of play. And Biondetta was leaning over with her cue while wearing her short surgical gown, so it was dangerous in another way for her.

At any rate, Kyoumi must not have liked how Kyousuke and Biondetta were too focused on the billiards table to respond, so she moved the ranking board from the large karaoke-style screen to the LCD screen that formed the top surface of the billiards table.

Biondetta had been skillfully lowering her hips and holding her cue while standing on the stool, so she immediately gave a tearful shout.

’’Ah! My guide line disappeared!!’’

’’The. Rankings. Have. Been. Updated.’’

Kyoumi did not care. Their positions were already settling into place. The 15 were divided into a few groups and individuals were separated into castes within the groups. Shigara Masami and the others were probably frustrated as they monitored it all.

’’Besides, it's deadly boring if you just hit the ball along a monitor-controlled line. You're only moving your hands the way you're told.’’

’’It's not supposed to be fun!! This is training. It's defrag work meant to fine-tune my conditioning, so I have to hit the balls along a preset optimal path. Oh, honestly! Watch me avoid #5 and #8 while hitting #4. If I can bounce the cue off the sides twice...’’

After a loud sound, Kyousuke sighed.

’’Biondetta, you hit #5 and #8 into the pocket too. This is a complete mess.’’

’’Call me Detta! And am I only here so everyone can bully me!?’’

What kind of training was that?

Kyousuke rubbed chalk on the tip of his cue and faced the billiards table.

1st: Shiroyama Shizuku the Jabberwock.

2nd: Alberto S. divinesmith the Hatter.

3rd: Claudia Shiroyama the Humpty Dumpty.

4th: Shiroyama Cain the Dodo.

...

...

...

’’The top ranks really don't change much. The top three switch around to a deadly extent, but none of them falls into the lower ranks.’’

’’I don't like it,’’ said pink-haired Biondetta as she balanced on the stool and pouted her lips. ’’We do just as good as them in pure wins, so why don't we ever get a top score!?’’

’’The Summoning ceremony isn't a tool for fighting;it's a technique to summon the gods. So there are a number of methods: taking the shortest course to the Material you want or making a swift recovery after some interference.’’

’’Then why even compete in the first place? If they just want accuracy, we could hit the White Thorns into targets drawn on the wall!’’

’’That's because the Summoning Ceremony is based on the one-on-one ritual battles performed for a god.’’

Biondetta let Kyoumi rub her head, so it did not look like she was going to move from that spot anytime soon. It was quickly becoming apparent that she made a stubborn show of her pride while actually being very easily swayed.

There were two simple reasons for their focus on this direct ranking system.

First, they wanted a simple method of measuring themselves, just like at a college-prep school or a sports school. If they had a basis with which to judge their status, they could more easily judge their distance from others.

And second, there were enough Blood-Signs and Incense Grenades to go around, but...

’’Ahh, ahh. I guess that top 3 group really is going to hog the vessels,’’ sighed Biondetta while looking to Kyoumi...no, to her costume. ’’If they have the vessels all to themselves, will they be the first to summon that White Queen who only shows up by accident?’’

If they did that, someone might praise them.

She would never admit to it, but Biondetta's tone made it clear what it was she yearned for.

’’...’’

There were not enough vessels.

The adults had only prepared 3 vessels for the group of 15.

They remained in the Mock Battlefield and would renew their contract with whoever showed up for a mock battle. But once the top 3 spots were fixed in place, the adults would probably give up on the rest and focus on those 3.

That was an ominous thought in this closed Miniature Garden.

Those 3 would have exclusive use of the Materials which were immune to blades and bullets. It would create the ultimate privileged class. Or it would be just like the ancient religious leaders who coopted the glory of god to further their own corruption. With no way out of this environment, they could not even imagine how much would be taken from the lower ranked group.

(Maybe that would count as success.)

Instead of a cheerful family, it would be structured around a powerful central pillar, but that was still a form of family. The Miniature Garden's ultimate objective was to remove all seeds of conflict from the human race, so as long as they achieved that result, the process might not matter so much.

And just as Kyousuke considered that, an extraordinary force shook the entire giant structure located 500 meters underground.

The indoor lights had been stable enough to provide the illusion of uniform lighting, but now it blinked irregularly. Was it one of the impact buffering structures, or had things simply exceeded the limits of the design? Either way, the ground rocked like a boat in the waves and they heard disconcerting creaking sounds from overhead.

’’Kyah!?’’

Biondetta wobbled and nearly fell from the stool. From the other side of the billiards table, Kyousuke held out a cue longer than he was tall and stuck it below her armpit to support her.

’’Thank you, but I'd rather you didn't poke at a fragile maiden with a stick like she's something dirty.’’

’’I couldn't reach.’’

For some reason, Biondetta glared at him even after he had saved her.

Relationships were hard. Following the formulae did not guarantee everyone would reach the same answer.

’’That was close by, wasn't it?’’

Shiroyama Kyoumi the Queen of Hearts hesitantly glanced over toward the party room's entrance. There must have been a poor connection somewhere because the lamp on the wall was flashing intermittently.

Some time had passed since the explosion, but the room's roof continued to creak. It felt like the air had grown heavier and an invisible hand was pushing down on their heads. No matter how large the space looked, they were reminded of the thick rock they were trapped below.

And they quickly received an answer.

The shaking had sent the billiards balls rolling all across the table, but the ranking board displayed there had changed.

Biondetta and Kyoumi exchanged a glance.

’’The Jabberwock fell from #1?’’

’’And Humpty Dumpty moved up from #3. Is that what that was...?’’

They gulped and started to leave the room...no, to visit the source of the vibration. Instead of a positive curiosity, they were driven by a negative anxiety that would only grow until they saw what had happened.

Kyousuke made sure the billiards board had saved the positions of the balls just before the incident and then followed the girls.

Their living spaces were located in the Inner Circle of the Miniature Garden's spider web like structure. That was close to the central Mock Battlefield.

And as they approached, it was obvious something was wrong. The smooth white walls had small cracks in them and the internal wiring must have been damaged because a few of the lights were out on the Great Ceiling. The level of damage grew the closer they got to the center. Some of the internal wall panels had collapsed and some doors creaked after being knocked out of place.

’’Watch out.’’

’’Gyubh!?’’

Kyousuke grabbed the neck of Biondetta's surgical gown from behind just before a giant halogen light fell from the Great Ceiling. The basketball-sized mass just barely missed her, but when the pink haired demon turned around, her face was red, she tearfully trembled, and she bit her lip.

’’〰〰〰!’’

She tried to say something, but she was interrupted.

A few boxy medical carts - something like indoor ambulances - passed them from behind. Help must have been needed for some reason. The insides of the vehicles must not have been enough because guards wearing black clung to the roof and sides as well.

Gray dust wafted out from the Mock Battlefield's explosion-resistant gate.

While the medical carts rushed in, someone fell out from behind a curtain that looked like dirty cotton candy. It was just like someone who had been wandering through the scorching desert for days and then got caught in a sandstorm right before reaching an oasis. They collapsed while showing no sign of speed or intent.

’’Ah,’’ said Shiroyama Kyoumi without thinking.

Who was Shiroyama Shizuku the Jabberwock?

She was one of the superior ones who was never shaken from her spot in the top 3 on the ranking board. She specialized in the divine-class of Materials like Yamata no Orochi, Nidhogg, or the Hydra. She did not stick to any one Sound Range or mythology. Instead, she was known for summoning violent dragons. That strong preference led her to play around from time to time, yet she had the skill needed to never drop in the rankings. She never allowed herself to use the lower Regulation-class or the higher Unexplored-class. She always stuck to the divine-class and used that specialty to manipulate and torment her opponent. She had been a symbol of the wickedness found in the power of mythological beings.

And yet that tyrant of the divine world...

’’Ah, ahh, ahhhhhhhhh...’’

She had lost the right to stand on two feet and could not even crawl on all fours.

She pressed her cheek to the floor like she had a rag on her face.

Her mouth hung limply open and sticky drool flowed out.

Her bangs covered her eyes which had lost the light of rational thought.

Her core as a human being and her dignity as an individual with a soul had been stolen away and she simply repeated the same action like a windup doll that had fallen on its side.

’’...The loser...’’

Biondetta groaned that term with the look of someone who had seen a king dragged down from the throne by the commoners.

When someone lost a battle between summoners, they received a shock equivalent to seeing their god killed before their eyes. They became unable to resist what anyone said and would not hesitate to walk off a cliff if someone gestured toward it.

And the guards' response was simple.

’’Leave the summoner. She doesn't matter!’’

’’We need to do something about the vessel...’’

’’Hurry up and dig her out of from the collapsed wall!! She really will die!!’’

There was nothing Kyousuke, Biondetta, or Kyoumi could do.

The two girls continued forward, but Kyousuke came to a stop. The most he could do was move the former ruler to the side so she would not be in the middle of the wide passageway.

One of the passing adults, a ponytail beauty, finally came to a stop.

It was Madam Professor Shigara Masami.

She removed her lab coat and placed it over Shiroyama Shizuku, but she also shook her head and spoke to Kyousuke.

’’You shouldn't see any more of this. ...This is straying from the main point of the Miniature Garden.’’

’’But Biondetta and Kyoumi went in there.’’

The boy could only shake his head as well.

He left the Jabberwock with Shigara Masami and continued on to find out what was going on.

The guards were rushing all around near the entrance to the Mock Battlefield, but none of them stopped him. They either were too busy to cordon off the place or they were sticking to the basic rule of not interfering with the 15's life cycle whenever possible.

It should have been a circular space larger than a school gym.

The red and white chess board floor had been peeled up, the walls had crumbled and collapsed, and the guards were struggling with a pile of rubble using a piece of heavy machinery resembling a carnivorous dinosaur.

Someone had done this.

The threat took physical form and reigned supreme beyond the clearing cloud of dust.

It was Claudia Shiroyama, aka Humpty Dumpty.

She was likely the same age as Shiroyama Kyoumi, so she would have been a high school girl in the outside world. But her entire body was contained within a roundly swollen space suit colored white with pink lines, so her build, age, and even se* were not apparent from outside. But her Blood-Sign was the exact opposite of that symbol of cutting-edge science. It was made by chopping up old texts on parchment and rearranging them into a stick.

And that summoner who mixed old with new had a Material by her side.

Biondetta had arrived a bit before Kyousuke and she had fallen to a seated position by the wall. She was trembling with her thighs pressed together inside her surgical gown that was only tied on the side. Just barely avoiding wetting herself seemed to be the most she could manage. Droopy eyebrowed Kyoumi always acted like their guardian, but she could do nothing more than place a hand on Biondetta's shoulder. She had managed to remain standing, but her eyes were opened wide and she did not seem able to move.

There was a simple reason.

’’The Unexplored-class,’’ gulped Kyoumi. ’’The beings that exist even beyond the gods of legend...’’

But was she even speaking of her own free will? It almost looked like it was being forced out of her by an external power.

’’This isn't a fixed match following a routine or a prearranged ritual battle. A summoner can actually summon those deadly things in a real battle where you never know what's going to happen!?’’

It was the ’’Ashen’’ Shrine Maiden who Invites Merciful and Dignified Death (e m - a o - l e v - c k - r o l - e i - v b - y u - a - p s).

She was a contradictory being that possessed soft, feminine curves while being as hard as the sculptures found in Greek ruins. She looked like a long-haired beautiful women in a shrine maiden outfit, but she had been thoroughly petrified until she reached an ashen hue void of all color and warmth. It could be her claws, her fangs, the light of her eyes, her hair, her scream, or her scent. From every possible range, she could send out deadly poisons and curses that would provide no pain and would not harm the body, but that would simply steal the soul from its container of flesh. She was the ultimate ruler of life who surpassed any grim reaper. She was an embodiment of heartwarming blasphemies such as euthanasia and the eternal preservation of a corpse.

’’Why is there an Unexplored-class here?’’

But that was not the crux of the problem.

Shiroyama Kyousuke got straight to the point.

’’In a Summoning Ceremony battle, the Artificial Sacred Ground vanishes and the Materials go back to being the vessels 90 seconds after the battle ends. It took 5 minutes to arrive after that loud rumbling. So why?’’

’’Hmm...?’’

The voice was muffled by the white spacesuit with pink lines, so its se* was hard to make out.

But the negative emotion came through loud and clear.

’’That's obviously because it'd be boring if it had ended there.’’

’’...’’

’’I had just built up a great chain and was going for a major technique, but then she suddenly collapsed. I wasn't done and I had more to do, so I had to figure out what to do about the chain I was building up.’’

’’So you intentionally repeated it, didn't you?’’

’’Right.’’

’’The loser can't disobey any order. So each time she collapsed, you told her to stand up and fight again! And you knew she couldn't think straight after losing!!’’

’’Until 45 seconds ago anyway. Just having her stand there isn't great. She's too weak. It took 34 times before I could finally get my divine-class up to the Unexplored-class. And I rushed it too much and screwed up, so I wandered into this gray dead-end.’’

The spacesuit spun her parchment Blood-Sign around as she cheerfully explained herself.

And she used it to point at the Queen of Hearts...no, at the costume that Kyoumi wore.

’’I was really hoping to go for that White One who may or may not actually be summonable.’’

She had done all that yet still failed.

The time limit must have arrived because the petrified shrine maiden returned to being the original vessel. It was a woman in her early 20's with a silver bob cut. Her entire body was tightly bound by black leather belts and other restraints to ensure evil and vengeful spirits did not hijack her body. On top of it all, she had a metal ring around her head at the forehead. The inner edge was covered in metal plugs, so it may have been based on a crown of thorns. It seemed strange and extreme even if it was used to tune her. That may have been a sign of the burden placed on the vessels to repeatedly bind contracts with the 15 children.

Humpty Dumpty did not seem to care.

She had mentioned a ’’gray dead-end’’, so she simply saw starting over from the beginning as the fastest route to what she wanted.

Yes.

Starting over.

’’Now.’’

Claudia tapped at her temple through the spacesuit's protective shade.

She was probably smiling.

’’I'd like to start Round 2 while I'm still in the right mindset and before the engine cools. Yes, yes. I feel like I can reach that White One right now. I can see the chain leading me there. I can see the path to building that mountain. So how about you give me the chance to do that, siblings?’’

’’...’’

Kyousuke glared at her and the spacesuit moved her parchment Blood-Sign to the side.

She pointed to a pile of rubble.

’’I don't care who, but someone bind a contract with the one buried under there. Her bones might have broken and her organs might have been crushed, but none of that should matter once she turns into a Material inside the Artificial Sacred Ground. As long as I have a summoner and a vessel to fight, I'll give you the privilege of being the foundation to my success.’’

’’...And if we refuse?’’

’’I'll crush you and find someone else to use.’’

Shigara Masami had said this strayed from the main point of the Miniature Garden, and she was right. The project was meant to bring the 15 together as a single family, but at some point, they had been swallowed up by their power in the Summoning Ceremony and by the ranking board.

And it all revolved around the word ’’white’’.

Kyousuke glanced to the side. The threat of the Summoning Ceremony using Incense Grenades and Blood-Signs was truly astounding, but it only worked if a certain process was followed. If those conditions were removed, the Artificial Sacred Ground would fail to establish and they could escape. But could he do that while bringing along Biondetta, who had fallen to the ground, and Kyoumi, who was frozen in place? And even if they escaped for now, would they ever find peace in this gigantic but closed space? They would eventually be cornered. It was only a matter of sooner or later.

And more importantly, wasn't striking back and defeating her the more ’’surefire’’ method?

His right hand subconsciously started to move.

He was aware he had begun to seek the power to fight in the form of a Blood-Sign.

And then...

’’Oh? That's perfect then. Come have some fun with this madman here.’’

His thoughts were cut off by the sound of a small metal can being thrown.

It was an Incense Grenade with the pin pulled. Someone had stepped forward when they all should have fallen back.

Once it detonated, a 20 meter cube was cut off from the world and the summoner and vessel were sucked to the center. Who had stood before top-ranked Humpty Dumpy?

It was the Hatter.

Alberto S. divinesmith.

He lazily wore a suit and a small straw hat, and the spacesuit scoffed when she saw him.

’’Do you understand your position here, sacrifice?’’

’’Have you never read the Lewis Carroll story our names are from? It's a kid's book, so you don't even need to be knowledgeable or educated to be familiar with it.’’

It was a giant coffin and not a person who stood by the Hatter's side.

When he rapped the back of his brown hand on it, the double doors of the coffin opened to reveal the many plugs inside.

It looked like a torture device skewering every part of the girl in thin pajamas inside.

It was the world's most well-known torture device, but no original actually existed. Its name alone had become something of a legend as it spread fear all on its own.

It was the iron maiden.

’’Humpty Dumpy had a great fall. And he couldn't be put together again.’’

That was their cue.

The black-haired girl slipped out of the torture device and the Hatter did not did not hesitate to charge full-speed toward the dead-end of death.

Part 5[edit]

To get straight to the point, the battle was over in an instant.

The 60cm three-dimensional Rose made up of 216 red Petals appeared at the midpoint between Alberto the Hatter and Claudia the Humpty Dumpty. 36 fist-sized Spots appeared throughout the Artificial Sacred Ground. By hitting their own White Thorns with the tip of their Blood-Sign to knock the Petals into the Spots, they acquired the letters needed to spell out the names of the gods. While focusing on the three-way stalemate of the low, middle, and high Sound Ranges and on the Cost that referred to the number of letters, their summoned Materials constantly changed form in order to hold the advantage.

Or that was how it should have worked.

It fell apart from the very first assumptions.

It happened right after their first White Thorns struck the cubic Rose and sent the red Petals scattering in every direction.

’’Wha-...ah!?’’

It was Biondetta who cried out while watching from the floor.

As soon as Claudia Shiroyama twisted her parchment Blood-Sign's grip in a half rotation, a smokescreen spread from the bottom with fierce intensity. And it was not just normal smoke. It must have had a polarization to it because the color of the light changed as it passed through the smoke.

It turned red.

It was the exact same color as the Petals rapidly bouncing around.

’’They vanished...’’ Kyoumi sounded dazed. ’’The Petals vanished into the background...!?’’

The trick itself was simple. Sample problem sets for entrance exams would sometimes place red cellophane over the sheet to hide the answers written in red, but this was the same. If only red light was allowed through, red things became invisible. That was all it was, but it was tremendously effective. If you did not know where anything was, your White Thorns were entirely useless.

(But I doubt that's all.)

Claudia Shiroyama always wore a white spacesuit with pink lines. With its protective shade meant to block out harmful cosmic rays, she could select a specific wavelength of light to view. That meant she alone could see the position of the Petals in that red world.

Summoners and Materials inside an Artificial Sacred Ground did not show up on mechanical cameras or sensors, but there was an exception: binoculars, telescopes, and other analog optical devices one peered through with the naked eye.

’’Didn't I tell you?’’

This was how she had so soundly crushed the ferocious Jabberwock.

She had settled things before skill even came into the picture.

’’Do you understand your position here, sacrifice?’’

But Kyousuke had a comment of his own in his surgical gown and pants.

He did not hesitate to voice it.

’’How naïve.’’

With a series of impacts that sounded like a thunderclap, the Hatter swiftly knocked Petal after Petal into the Spots.

Humpty Dumpty had set up the trick, so it was likely her who sensed just how superhuman this feat was. She alone could see the world properly though her spacesuit's protective shade. But it did not seem to matter that the polarized smokescreen had created a world of red. One after another, White Thorns secured a Petal. With each collision, a primitive song of destruction played while the Hatter's stock grew. Humpty Dumpy had to have felt most clearly how thoroughly he was trampling her garden.

’’What...?’’ muttered Claudia in a daze. ’’What is going on!? Only I should be able to see the Petals in this world!!’’

’’It's not like you have to see them to know where they are. The world of the Summoning Ceremony only requires your eyes when throwing the Incense Grenade at the start,’’ readily explained the Hatter. ’’6 x 6 x 6. That's 216 in all. If you note where all of the letters are on the initial mass of Roses and compare the angle of the White Thorn hit with the layout of the terrain, you can tell exactly where all of them will bounce. You don't need to see them if you calculate it all out from the beginning.’’

’’...’’

It made sense at first.

But it was nearly an impossible contradiction when applied to the macro world of reality. It was like making an argument based on the fictional being known as Laplace's Demon. But he forced it through so that even rationality had to back off. He used his insane mind to control everything, so it was truly the logic of a madman.

Even in Lewis Carroll's already absurd and unreasonable fantasy, this blond boy's character had been deemed incomprehensible by the eternal girl.

Alberto S. divinesmith the Hatter smiled.

The joy on his face surpassed good and evil.

’’And shouldn't you get to work? My monster's already getting warmed up.’’

’’Ah.’’

The Serpent that Coils in a Spiral and Wholly Devours (g v - o u - j z - e u - a o - i u - e i - b f - l v z - y x).

Regulation-class. Sound Range: High. Cost: 21.

An already long snake had wrapped its own body like a spring or coil to transform into an even thicker and stronger serpent. At the same time, each of its shiny scales were created from collections of tiny snakes. On the macro level, it grew larger and larger. On the micro level, it grew smaller and smaller. It was like throwing the human mind into a world of infinite opposing mirrors, or like a supercomputer hanging up as it tried to simulate out every last one of the explosive number of possible moves in a game of go. It swallowed up the mind of any who saw it, so they froze in place and could not avoid the next attack. That threat guaranteed a critical hit.

’’You aren't worth a divine-class and the Unexplored-class is entirely out of the question.’’

The madman whispered to the poor spacesuit who had been hypnotized before she could even prepare.

’’Disappear down the gullet of the Regulation-class at the very bottom, you trash.’’

There was no avoiding the result.

The poor loser collapsed to the broken chess board floor of the Mock Battlefield, the Artificial Sacred Ground vanished without a chain beginning, and the Regulation-class regained the body of the girl it had started out as.

The Blood-Sign made from silver coins stacked up into a metal rod came apart, one coin at a time, but they could not be heard striking the floor. They all vanished into thin air.

The ranking board was updated and the new #1 was determined.

’’How boring.’’

He summed it up in two simple words.

But he was not referring to Humpty Dumpty where she lay on the floor.

He looked around the area where Biondetta and Kyoumi were watching him in shock, where the adults had stopped their rescue operation to stare, and where the adults in lab coats were supposedly in control. He had been referring to all of them.

And then he spoke.

He spoke to Kyousuke alone.

’’Looks like only you were able to keep up. As I thought, only you are different from the others. You're the most normal and yet the strangest. You're the polar opposite of me since I was insane from the beginning, but you're looking in the same direction as me.’’

’’...’’

’’Come with me, Kyousuke.’’ The Hatter winked and made an invitation. ’’You can choose when since the two other vessels are out of commission. But make sure you come with me. Fighting the Mock Turtle or the Knitting Sheep wouldn't help me at this point. It'd only be any fun with you.’’

’’And if I refuse?’’

’’That's fine.’’

That was the opposite response from Humpty Dumpty.

But...

’’If you do that, then live out the rest of your life feeling indebted. Bow your head low, smile like a fool, and keep your head down until you're in your grave. Shiroyama Kyoumi, Biondetta. Who do you think came to save you? Hm?’’

’’Ah.’’

That voice of realization came from Biondetta on the floor. She looked like she had just realized she had pushed someone into this.

Kyousuke slowly sighed.

He shook his head and made an honest confession.

’’I'm a sucker for that kind of thing.’’

’’Hah hah!! That's fine! Only you could decide so quickly to do something as twisted as trying to kill your savior in order to obey that savior's request! You really are the best. It's like the faces of our clocks are a mess of a marble pattern, but we still somehow manage to show up right at the arranged time.’’

He had said Kyousuke could choose when, but Kyousuke could not be optimistic about this.

It felt like surviving beyond the time his doctor said he had to live.

’’See ya, Kyousuke.’’

No one could guarantee how long his future would last.

It had already been determined that his life would be cut off by a cliff at some point.

’’I look forward to it.’’

He was Rank #1.

History's greatest madman winked and everyone's train switched over to the track leading to hell.

Part 6[edit]

Each of the adults in charge of the 15 children tried to interfere with their specimens using a unique social system as a basis.

It could be a school, a hospital, an army, a prison, etc.

The Hatter was inside what looked like a giant die.

It was a perfect cube with each side at precisely 15 meters. The walls, floor, and ceiling were all perfectly white and the lights shined in through a glass material, so the light fixtures were not directly visible. The door was made like a yosegi box, so not even the slightest crack remained when closed. It also had no knob for opening on the inside, so it would be easy to lose sight of the exit if one was not paying attention.

The highly unnatural scene worked to destroy the concepts of front and back, left and right, and even up and down.

It was like a studio set meant for composite video or like a room from an old mental hospital.

It was truly an exception among exceptions.

The Miniature Garden was meant to allow minds to grow in a social system. This place focused on that intent and yet swept it all away. It was a bizarre space created from the entirely unethical idea of wondering what happened when all that was taken away.

A brown-skinned boy stood in the center: Alberto S. divinesmith.

He held something under one arm like a helmet. It was a device befitting the Mad Hatter.

The voice of the adults reached him from somewhere...or rather, from the vibration of the entire space.

’’Now, let us begin, Alberto.’’

A simple headset would have been enough, but they went out of their way to carry the physical voice in from another distant room. It was known as a speaking tube. It used the same idea as a stethoscope and carried the vibrations of the voice through a metal tube.

’’Once you put on the Silk Hat, we will begin the experiment at our discretion. As usual, we will not be telling you when that is.’’

’’Sure.’’

It had a pearly glow like a thick alloy diving suit. It had the silhouette of a bowler hat, but it was actually a fancy blindfold meant to fully cover his head and cut off most of his senses.

The Silk Hat had a large glass lens on the front and an earhole on either side. Once he put it on, everything looked small and distant, like he was looking through a telescope backwards.

But that was not the point of the hat.

Springs and gears were used to periodically seal off his eyes and ears.

The ’’window’’ might open just once every three seconds, so the subject would need to desperately memorize the scene and then move based on the memories burned into their mind like a photograph.

Meanwhile, the hands of the clock continued moving in the real world.

The subject would correct their movements each time the window opened every three seconds, so it was a lot like artificially having their senses slowed by three seconds.

So what kind of experiment was this time shift being used for?

As soon as Alberto donned the fancy hat and sealed away his senses, a portion of each wall slid open and men armed with body armor and police batons stepped in. There were more than 20 of them. The collapsible batons were long enough and heavy enough to be even more dangerous than metal bats.

But Alberto did not even pull out his silver Blood-Sign.

With his head still entirely covered by the thick hat and only a single lens to see through, he held out his right hand and gently beckoned them forward with his index finger.

’’You're insanely polite about all this, dogs,’’ he spat out.

Immediately afterwards, the batons roared toward him from every direction at once.

But the Hatter twisted his body in a world three seconds delayed. He took a step. He rotated his hips to easily avoid the batons swinging toward him from every direction. No, he did more than that. He thrust out his hand and dropped his raised heel. In a series of dull sounds, the men supposedly protected by cutting-edge shock-absorbing materials were knocked unconscious one after another.

The Hatter could not see it all.

The lens allowing him to see and the metal tubes of the earholes were only opened by the springs and gears once every three seconds.

He only experienced equidistant points in time.

And yet he easily kept even a single blow from hitting him.

’’You just have to fill in the gaps of the limited footage.’’

It was like a sport to him.

No, the Hatter did not refer to this room as a ring or a stadium. He called it the Tablecloth. So to him, anything placed on top of it was not even an animal: it was no more than food.

’’I can see the movable range of their muscles and skeleton, where they'll move in the future based on their center of gravity, where they're looking, where their fingertips are, and what they're thinking based on the tension of their facial muscles. If you loosen a screw in your head and release those resources, you can steal time.’’

Was he focusing on that passage from Lewis Carroll or not?

In the original story, the Hatter had invited the eternal girl to a mad tea party that ignored the concept of time.

The adults sounded both impressed and exasperated as they spoke through the speaking tube.

’’Your brainwaves remain unchanged. ...You can break through so easily it almost seems silly to monitor them.’’

’’This is nothing compared to the Summoning Ceremony,’’ scoffed the madman.

He scoffed while casually wielding violence. His hands flew, his legs roared, and he devoured the food that showed confusion and fear through their thick body armor.

’’You have to calculate out everything: the locations of the Petals and Spots, the paths of your White Thorns, the traits of the Material you just summoned, simulations of what your enemy will summon 100 moves from now, the Cost and Sound Range you'll need to beat that, and everything else. It's all about calculations. If you're not insane, you'll never keep up.’’

A normal person would have their hands full simply memorizing all of the Materials.

So there was not even a faint hope of memorizing the thousands or tens of thousands of patterns required to know what led to what, what detours to make when one route was blocked, and what changes to make to match the enemy's Cost and Sound Range or the location of the Petals and Spots. Not to mention when it all had to be recalled with perfect accuracy while actually moving your body to match.

But he did it.

The Hatter calmly walked through a realm that would drive a normal person insane.

His presence swallowed up everything around him.

Certain mental states could spread to others, as if resonating with them.

It was a form of group psychology.

That may have been why the adults did not meet the Hatter directly.

Before long, he was the only one standing in the white space.

’’How boring. Hey, I can give you more time if you want. 5 second intervals? 10? That's probably a better delay for the world.’’

’’Hm,’’ said the voice as if considering it.

Then the four walls opened up once more to send in the preset assassins.

However, these were not protected by body armor.

The speaker was known for his cyberphobia, so they likely were not made of electronics. These men's flesh-and-blood bodies had clearly manmade bug wings, pincers, grasshopper-like back legs, and compound eye goggles equipped. The bizarre group surrounded the Hatter.

’’What if there was a single formula that could break through all of those complex calculations?’’

’’That Queen?’’ he spat out. ’’How boring.’’

But he was not denying the existence of such a convenient being.

He had more to say.

’’If something like that exists, she'll naturally fall into my grasp.’’

He would be first.

He would arrive before anyone else.

Everyone else had either failed before reaching that point or had failed after partially reaching it.

All alone, he calmly challenged that insane path.

Part 7[edit]

In his surgical gown and pants, Kyousuke walked to the Miniature Garden's Outer Circle which was ruled by the developers and guards. However, he was not there to visit anyone.

The trigger had been pulled by some extremely simple words.

’’I-I will protect you.’’

Biondetta Shiroyama.

That girl had struggled more than anyone yet fell into his trap more than anyone.

’’What does that Hatter matter? I'm your big sister!’’

(What am I doing?)

He was aware how far he was straying from his original objective, but his arms and legs continued to move with perfect accuracy. Perhaps because summoners and Materials vanished from cameras and sensors while inside an Artificial Sacred Ground, the Miniature Garden was equipped with surprisingly few digital security cameras. To make up for it, the doors tended to be equipped with artisan-made locks that could not be reproduced by machines, but that was not much of an obstacle for Kyousuke. Even when a single door had several different locks, his two hands and ten fingers swiftly unlocked it.

His destination was the lab run by the adults who were closely connected to Alberto S. divinesmith the Hatter. That madman's skill was undeniable, but he needed helpers to back him up. It would be fastest to start with someone strongly influenced by his techniques and words.

This was between Kyousuke and Alberto.

If Biondetta carelessly butted in, it was obvious she would be harmed.

So before that happened...

’’...’’

He sighed and released the final lock.

The vertical line of locks sealing the thick door had been in the double digits, but the work had not taken even 5 minutes.

A card hung on the knob like at a hotel: Do not disturb.

To translate that into the Miniature Garden's words: Any unauthorized intruders will be shot without warning.

’’...Like I care.’’

He cracked the door open and slipped inside.

It was very different from Shigara Masami's examination room. It was a lot more like a metalworking lab. It was crammed full of impressive equipment that did not seem like it could be used on the human body: a lathe, a press, and a variety of other large tools. Masks to keep dust out hung on the wall and an air conditioner with a special thick purification filter was equipped on the room's ceiling. They apparently really did metalwork in this sealed space. It was made under the assumption that it would be filled with metal particles that would gather in the lungs if inhaled.

There were two locked cabinets, but Kyousuke knew what he was looking for without even checking the documents on the glass shelves.

(A theory on distinguishing family from strangers based on how they walk, their mannerisms, and their behavior.)

In addition to facial recognition, research was being done to identify people in videos based on how they walked. Just the way someone stood and shifted their body weight was apparently as uniquely identifiable as their fingerprint or iris. The differences came from the inborn shape of the skeleton and muscles plus the learned traits of their environment. And that meant both were closely connected to their family.

Which meant...

(They're researching how to control all of your muscles according to certain values to trick people into thinking you're 'family'. Or to intentionally throw off that balance so someone will be treated like an outsider. Are they focused on metalwork because their ideas are reliant on the hardware like muscles and bones instead of the vague and formless familial bonds of the heart and emotions?)

He tried picturing the experiments. For days on end, he would have to watch the bewitching movements of artificial arms and legs fixed to a platform and say whether or not it had the familiarity of family. Or would he have to communicate through the medium of conflict with people who were equipped with those things? It was a psychedelic scene befitting that Hatter's helper.

But it was true this had given Alberto the ability to control his body with utmost accuracy. And his incredible spatial comprehension could be seen as a byproduct of the research to recognize family by sight.

(But...)

That alone was not enough for the Hatter to be so fixated on the Summoning Ceremony.

Something had to have led him to throw out the completion of the family in favor of the ranking board. Either to him directly or to someone around him.

’’...’’

Kyousuke approached the locked cabinets again.

He unlocked it so easily it looked like it was simply a knob shaped like a lock and he slid the glass cover aside.

One of the cabinets had a handheld radio. It was presumably to communicate with Alberto, but the diaphragm was surprisingly connected to an old-fashioned gramophone. The communication records were kept on the kind of wax cylinders that had been in use more than 200 years before. At this point, it felt less like a dislike of digital formats and more like full-blown cyberphobia.

And the other cabinet contained what initially looked like a file meant to hold a stamp collection. The rejection of digital formats continued. Each stamp-sized file appeared to be the negative of an old photo. A lot of data had been compressed onto them.

’’Microfilm...?’’

Instead of encrypting it, the contents were safe from prying eyes because no one could procure a device to view them in this day and age. It felt like being handed a VHS tape of a music clip rumored to show a ghost on the edge of the screen.

Kyousuke thought for a bit and then looked around the room full of machinery.

He reached for one of the dust masks on the wall.

’’I just have to make one.’’

With that said, he got to work.

He only used parts he found in abandoned-looking boxes, but he could ensure no one questioned their absence by starting a fire disguised as an electrical fire. There were already plenty of electrical problems after Humpty Dumpty and the Hatter had shaken the entire Miniature Garden.

He ended up with a device much like a toy microscope.

He placed the stamp-sized microfilm on the board, shined light on it from below, and peered through the lens. The standard compression rate was around 40x, so each stamp had the same information as a notebook page, each page of the file had an entire notebook's worth, each file had a bookcase's worth, and the entire cabinet would equal a full library.

That might sound impressive, but in a digital format, a micro memory chip a quarter the size of a stamp could hold an entire library and the entire thing could be searched for a keyword in less than 5 seconds.

Only the person who had recorded these and memorized the contents could instantly pull out the data they wanted. Once again, they used inconvenience as a shield. Someone who did not know what they were looking for would have to read through as much data as 10,000 technical books.

But Kyousuke did not care.

’’Now, then.’’

He started by consuming the contents of around 10 pieces of microfilm while speed-reading through each one in only a few seconds. He built up a profile of the interests and tendencies found there and constructed the thought patterns and decision criteria used by the person who had chosen to record what data where. And he did it to the point that he could tell what they would choose on reflex if suddenly asked to decide on a 4-digit code. Once he was done with that, he pulled one unmarked file in particular from those lined up on the shelves. He chose the file, page, and piece of microfilm that was the biggest secret and also the most frequently viewed.

After deducing that, he placed it in the microreader he had made.

He got it right on the first try.

’’What is this...?’’

Part 8[edit]

’’You've gone too far.’’

That was the first thing said by Shigara Masami, one of the adults, whose long black hair was held in a ponytail with a scrunchie. In a soundproofed reception room, she sat across a glass table from a man far too skinny for his thick work jumpsuit.

That man was a legend on the same level as Madam Professor.

He was known as Blasphemous Inspiration.

’’Akura-san, I know you know the Miniature Garden's purpose. In fact, it's strange that a hired-hand like me has to correct you. The White Queen might only appear by accident during the Summoning Ceremony and the conditions for her appearance might be as unexplained as the formation of a tornado, but she is only a stress test for the 15. She is a problem they must face to see if they will stay together as a family instead of breaking apart in the face of trials and disasters. So this is straying from that.’’

’’I have plenty of counterarguments, but let me hear everything you have to say first. I want to avoid having to repeat myself.’’

’’We don't have to achieve it.’’ The woman in a tight suit and lab coat toyed with the silver whistle hanging at her chest. ’’The White Queen is best left just out of reach. No matter how high people stack the stones, they can never reach out and grab the sun in heaven. But the attempt will lead them to build an incredibly tall tower. Isn't that where the Queen's purpose lies? We still can't predict what will happen to the comatose Jabberwock after her consecutive defeats. The same is true of the vessel Iris after being buried alive in rubble. And thanks to the battle with the Hatter, Humpty Dumpty herself is near the breaking point mentally.’’

’’...’’

’’What is the purpose of the Miniature Garden? If it is to destroy the stated intent of bringing about world peace and bringing mankind together, then shouldn't we cast aside that detour right this instant?’’

Shigara Masami never thought the Fifteen Siblings Project would succeed.

Whatever the plan was, it was the 15 children cut off from the world who were on the chopping block.

She only had to show the other adults that their theory could never be accomplished and then retrieve the children who were no longer needed. That way they could be given a second ’’proper’’ life instead of rotting away as the world left them behind or being crushed as the failed project collapsed around them. That had been her intention when she joined the project.

The system was coldhearted and lacked kindness, so she would give it some. She would become the component that did so.

So what was this?

Those ignorant children had been brought into the Summoning Ceremony and made into summoners who would be forgotten by normal people once outside their field of vision. Not to mention that they were being made to seek the uncontrollable White Queen and to attack each other in this closed space.

’’What is the main plan and what is a detour?’’

But she did not get through to the man named Akura Taisaku, aka Blasphemous Inspiration.

They simply viewed the world and approached the problem in two fundamentally different ways.

’’Everyone has their own outlook, but I think conflict is one form of communication. They do say rain hardens the ground, after all. And if they are too afraid of conflict to act on their desires, can we really call that a true family?’’

’’...’’

A clash of opinions sounded all well and good, but was that still true when it came down to family members wielding deadly weapons against each other?

’’Also.’’ Akura Taisaku chuckled at Shigara Masami who no longer even tried to hide her displeasure. ’’On a more fundamental level, I think our methodology concerning the White Queen is not wrong at all. I am not just saying this and I am not just pretending to understand the formation of a tornado. I truly intend to take control of the Unexplored-class's peak.’’

’’...Are you serious?’’

’’The Unexplored-class exceeds the gods of legend and that Queen reigns supreme above even them. She is the perfect symbol. Such a perfect symbol that she can bring together 6 or 7 billion people. So it is not wrong to use those 15 to find a way to control her. After all, the Miniature Garden exists to monitor those 15 for the good of all humanity.’’

’’It isn't possible... No, you mustn't do it!’’

’’Normally, no. But if you have a perfect foothold, you can climb a vertical wall. Have you peeked inside the Inner Circle's gallery?’’

That space was often visited by the Queen of Hearts of the 15. It was filled with paintings, sculptures, and other materials related to the White Queen her costume was based on.

But it made no sense to have that much material on the White Queen when she could not be recorded with cameras or sensors and had never been directly witnessed by anyone. Someone would have had to see the Queen, experienced her enough to record her in the medium of paint or stone, and possessed the skill to accurately include the Queen's symbolism.

Just one of those documents possessed as much information as the scriptures or sacred texts that ruled entire nations or continents.

Shigara Masami squeezed out a low voice.

’’You mean someone donated them? You had a patron?’’

’’It was a person known as the Colorful Museum. They are more interested in collecting out-of-place artifacts and holy relics than in battle, and that collection apparently extends to human beings as well. As long as the divine resides within them, even a human being is a relic.’’ The jumpsuit man chuckled as he gave his carefree answer. ’’They also wanted a large testing ground. After all, the pacifists keep too watchful an eye when it comes to the White Queen. Without a cover story like this, we would receive nothing but criticism once the research began.’’

’’That's crazy! Are you saying you didn't just hijack this project for your own purposes...!?’’

’’Well, you see...’’

Akura Taisaku tapped his fingers on the top of the glass table.

He was drawing attention to Shigara Masami's that she had placed there.

’’I am sick of letting these things rule humanity. I want to take action before they entirely cover the world. I just about jumped for joy when I first learned that summoners and vessels inside an Artificial Sacred Ground vanish from all cameras and sensors, but that is still not enough. Man must grow even stronger. Before these things cover the world and we become mere hunks of flesh that only pretend to think.’’

’’...’’

’’15 is not enough. Extracting useful data from their pretend family won't be enough. It will provide us with a large fortune, but these things will cover the world before we can bring the benefits back to humanity. I will do anything to prevent that. I will dirty my hands in any way. After all, this facility was made to consume those 15 in order to save humanity from the ruin we have long seen coming.’’

As soon as he finished speaking, the entire Miniature Garden shook.

It was like a duplicate of the last time. As an unpleasant feeling built in Shigara Masami's chest, the madman in a jumpsuit finished his rant.

’’Alberto the Hatter is my greatest masterpiece. So he will reach the peak of the peak. This Miniature Garden only needs to be an egg waiting to hatch.’’

’’Even though you know you will be swallowed by the cracks when the shell is broken?’’

Akura tilted his head at that.

And Blasphemous Inspiration answered.

’’Is that supposed to be a problem?’’

Part 9[edit]

Kyousuke read through the document printed on microfilm.

It was more than just a definite method of summoning the White Queen who was the secret among secrets and who only appeared by accident while towering above them all like a tornado. This was a method to sew her to this world and freely control her.

He clenched his back teeth, but he could not stop the words from escaping.

’’This is riddled with holes.’’

It was impossible. It would never work. It did make sense from a purely theoretical standpoint, but could you actually create a black hole just because you could define what one was? Could you cause the big bang just because you could generally imagine what the big bang theory stated? That was the extent of what he found here. None of it was wrong, but it was far from being a practical blueprint. If they set to work following this, they would at best produce a puff of smoke and nothing more and at worst lose their lives in a random explosion.

These were the greatest minds the world had to offer?

These were the people closest to the White Queen?

Kyousuke once more wondered if the Miniature Garden was really necessary. Was it really worth killing the Queen here? Was it really the right environment to wage a hidden final war while dragging Biondetta, Kyoumi, and the others into it? If the truly powerful had not gotten involved, mightn't they have been attracted to the Queen while being unable to leave the rails of the normal world? Mightn't they have been frustrated but still lived a proper life?

But as soon as he wondered that, a tremor reached him.

’’...’’

It was just like with Humpty Dumpy or the Hatter. It was probably coming from the central Mock Battlefield where someone was holding a mock Summoning Ceremony battle. No, since the safety features of the ground were not working, he should probably view this as an actual battle even if it was intended as a game.

The room had two cabinets.

The one not storing the microfilm stored lots of wax cylinders and an old gramophone. The gramophone's wax cylinder began to turn on its own and the attached handheld radio began picking up a voice.

’’The 15 have begun an unexpected battle in the Mock Battlefield! Please send a team in! Specifically, it's Alberto the Hatter and Biondetta the Cheshire Cat. Were you aware of this or not!? Can we really just watch this!? Their ranks are clearly too far apart! Someone really will die this time!!’’

He clicked his tongue without thinking.

(It's too soon!!)

What had happened was obvious: Biondetta had said she would protect him.

Would he grab his practice Blood-Sign and rush to the Mock Battlefield now? No, he would be too late. The Hatter was not a summoner who used clever tricks like Humpty Dumpty's smokescreen. Each of his specs was simply too high. It would not even take a few minutes for this to end, so calling in an electric cart and rushing there would not be fast enough.

And there were currently three vessels in the Miniature Garden.

One of those was still lying in a bed in the medical room after she was paired with the Jabberwock and received a fierce attack from Humpty Dumpty. The other two would be in use by the Hatter and Biondetta.

That meant Kyousuke had no way of wielding his power as a summoner even if he did arrive in time.

He could not save Biondetta.

Meanwhile, the worst possible report arrived through the radio attached to the gramophone.

’’This is an emergency request! Please give us permission to seal off the emergency gate to the Mock Battlefield!! The Hatter has reached the Unexplored-class, but he hasn't stopped gathering Petals. He's aiming even higher. A portion of the wall was destroyed last time, so who can say how far it'll spread this time!!’’ The Hatter was aiming even higher than the Unexplored-class.

Normally thinking, there was nothing higher than that.

But if the framework of normality was removed, only one answer came to mind.

’’He's probably going for the White Queen!! He really is reaching for it! It really will appear before our eyes! We have to seal this off before he summons that!!’’

’’...’’

Kyousuke tried to remain calm.

But it was no use.

If the report he heard was true, then Biondetta would die. This had nothing to do with the rules of the Summoning Ceremony. Think about it theoretically. If the peak of the peak had the power she was rumored to have, the safety of the protective circle was no longer a guarantee. Even if he threw out every preconception and let his imagination spread its wings beyond every limit, this would still surpass the limits of his imagination. Predicting what was coming and locking yourself in a small room was meaningless when the massive tornado blew away the entire house.

There was nothing he could do.

Even if he could calculate out the coming tragedy, he could see no way of breaking free.

He would not arrive in time.

Once the White Queen appeared, the Material and Biondetta herself would be destroyed.

’’No.’’

Then he raised his head.

He looked to the microfilm still held in the microreader he had made.

It was true it was all over if the White Queen was summoned by the Hatter. She was the strongest of the strongest and it was said she would settle any battle the instant she arrived, so there would be no chance at all of Biondetta making a comeback. Biondetta would be unilaterally defeated.

But there was another hint there.

Yes.

If the White Queen was summoned by the Hatter.

’’No.’’

He once more looked around the room in his surgical gown and pants.

He viewed the machinery and considered the incomplete methodology contained in the stamp-sized microfilm.

He thought.

There might still be something he could do.

’’...No.’’

It might be a small thing in the face of a greater disaster.

It might all be a farce and it might be better to focus on the plan to kill the White Queen. Either way, the Miniature Garden would become hell once the Queen was sewn to this world with the Sewn Realm Summoning and the war began. Biondetta's death would only be a matter of sooner or later, so it might have been wrong to risk the overall plan for something so small.

He knew that.

But even so, Shiroyama Kyousuke could not bring himself to crush that small bud of possibility.

(I'll make sure I make it in time.)

That small monster rapidly turned the gears in his head.

All so he could reach a certain answer.

(If I can save Biondetta while also not interfering with the plan to kill the Queen, then this detour shouldn't matter!!)

Part 10[edit]

Hidden beyond a thin layer, the truly powerful sat in their dark room with flat-screen monitors covering one wall.

Quiet laughter could be heard from the summoner in charge of Government, the gothic lolita kimono girl named Humanism who had reached the quadruple digits in her Awards.

’’We too were hoping for this.’’

She spoke while watching the disaster in the Mock battlefield.

While watching the ugliness of the adults.

And while watching the young boy who could not remain heartless.

’’We were hoping this would all end in failure despite all this preparation. We were hoping nothing would come of this even after gathering together everyone in the world with a dangerous mentality similar to the White Queen. That would mean this world was even more immature than we thought and thus no one will reach the Queen. That would prove just how safe an age we live in.’’

The man who lazily wore a luxury suit clicked his tongue.

He was the head of Illegal and also Award 0, Open Bluff.

’’Ridiculous... So you're pretending you aren't at fault because no one did what you wanted them to? If you had set things up right, you alone could have remained a 'good person' even after tragedy struck.’’

’’Yes. But sadly, that will not happen. The Queen will undoubtedly be summoned in the Miniature Garden.’’

The girl sighed.

And the ruler of justice continued coldheartedly.

’’After all, we provided a powerful re-igniter in case it ended in failure. ...Shiroyama Kyousuke, that is why we sent you into the Miniature Garden.’’

Part 11[edit]

The Mock Battlefield in the center of the Miniature Garden had become a hellish scene.

The number of people was irrelevant. If there were a million people, a million would die. If there were a billion, a billion would die.

Only two people stood on the red and white chess board floor.

Biondetta Shiroyama the Cheshire Cat and Alberto S. divinesmith the Hatter.

They had both bound a contract with one of the two vessels who were still usable.

The Hatter used the one surrounded by bonds shaped like an iron maiden.

The Cheshire Cat used the one that sat in a wheelchair that looked like a torture chair covered in thorns.

The two vessels would have changed in body and mind as they continually bound new contracts, so they had countless plugs attached to their bodies to forcibly restrict that reaction.

Those vessels were currently transformed into bizarre monsters.

Those monsters were known as Materials.

Biondetta had desperately held her practice Blood-Sign, accurately knocked her White Thorns into the Petals, and built her Material up to the divine-class. That had taken a fair amount of skill. For one thing, the divine-class literally were the gods of legend. These were the higher beings that were not even guaranteed to descend from heaven when an ancient emperor offered up his empire, held a grand festival, and sacrificed 1000 people. To summon and use one of those as an individual was the same as having the skill to single-handedly challenge an ancient emperor.

In this case, the divine-class was from the middle Sound Range with a Cost of 7. This virgin god was the protector of the ancient city of Rome who had appeared as a fully-armed maiden from the forehead of Jupiter.

But it was not enough.

Her opponent was simply too great.

The Hatter used his metal Blood-Sign formed from a stack of silver coins, but he was so cheerful he might have started humming if he had let his guard down. He was accompanied by an Unexplored-class. That being existed beyond even the gods.

She was the Lady of ’’Purple Lightning’’ that Separates Good from Evil (iu - ao - eu - ei - kub - miq - a - ci - pl).

A skinny girl with sickly pale skin sat in a rusty wheelchair. Purple cloth was wrapped around the important parts of her body and she raised just a single arm and fingertip.

That was enough for ’’death’’ to sweep out.

A purple beam of light cut the world diagonally and sliced through the goddess's shield like it was butter. It was a legendary item that bore the head of a petrifying monster woman, but it was destroyed with ease.

’’Kyaahhh!!’’

Biondetta desperately tried to restrain her voice while wearing a surgical gown only tied on the side, but it was useless and a shrill scream was forced from her.

She felt like her heart was being squeezed, but she still calmed her breathing and somehow managed to glare at her enemy.

She was scared. She was definitely scared.

If she did not face this, that scary thing would turn elsewhere.

It would turn toward Shiroyama Kyousuke, her ’’little brother’’.

So.

So!!

’’...How boring.’’

She was cut off by a coldhearted voice.

The Hatter looked to Biondetta with horribly, truly horribly, cold eyes. Anyone could tell he was a madman, but those eyes seemed to be peering directly into a great abyss no one else could see.

He was not simply viewing the locations of the Petals and White Thorns.

He viewed something much more fundamental and gave voice to his thoughts.

’’You're normal, but nothing more than that. You started and ended with the standard and you never took a step outside it. How cheap. It doesn't resonate at all. To be blunt, I feel like this was a waste of my time.’’

’’What...are you...?’’

’’I'm saying you lack madness. It's overwhelmingly lacking. We're using the gods as stepping stones. We're reaching for what lurks beyond them so we can control them. What greater blasphemy is there? How are we supposed to remain normal? Believing that sanity still has a place here is the most insane thing of all. But it's the most utterly boring kind of madness that doesn't lead to anything.’’

His words both praised and disparaged madness. They held more than one meaning at once.

The Hatter himself probably did not know what he truly meant.

No...

’’He's the only one.’’

Alberto pointed to another possibility.

And in so doing, he thoroughly rejected the dignity of the girl named Biondetta.

’’Shiroyama Kyousuke. He's the only one I can get along with. I can somehow tell he's standing in the same place as me.’’

’’!!’’

Biondetta moved on reflex.

She was no longer following detailed calculations to victory. She was simply displaying her willpower.

But it was no use.

No matter where she sent her White Thorns or what Sound Range of Petals she hit into the Spots, she could not close the gap with her opponent. The divine-class and the Unexplored-class were literally on a different level. Once the Hatter had arrived there before her, she should have lost immediately. And it was not her skill that had kept that from happening.

’’Do you really think you can catch up now?’’

Alberto was toying with her.

All so he could acquire all of the Petals he wanted and complete the name of a certain power.

’’I will reach for the White Queen, the peak of the peak. Instead of using an insane theory, I will bring the madness to this ordered reality. I will add a tornado, a disaster, to my party. Will you still bite at me then!? Will you, Kyousuke!?’’

The Hatter launched a White Thorn with the intensity of a lightning strike.

Biondetta did not have the time to spare to interfere.

She could only watch it fly. With a primitive song of destruction, the Hatter secured 21 Petals. And they were not random. From beginning to end, he accurately knocked them all into the Spots exactly in order.

It normally took 100 from the Regulation-class and 50 from the divine-class.

But this frightening method allowed one to directly summon a desired Unexplored-class Material while ignoring those conditions.

And that included the deepest depths of the Unexplored-class.

She might be summoned by accident, but an absolute method of intentionally summoning her during battle had yet to be found.

Unexplored-class. Sound Range: None. Cost: 21.

Due to the equal number of low, middle, and high sounds, this dangerous arrangement should have triggered the penalty known as the Black Maw.

But it was actually the true answer. It was one of the true names written in blood.

The ’’White’’ Queen who Wields the Sword of Unsullied Truth (iu - nu - fb - a - wuh - ei -kx - eu - pl - vjz).

The divine-class was the gods of legend and the Unexplored-class lurked beyond even that.

And this being stood at the peak of that peak.

Once she was summoned, it was all over.

She was an embodiment of absolute victory.

Biondetta had yet to leave the divine-class so her vision grew dark. Was she squeezing her eyes shut or was she fainting? She was too confused to tell.

And...

And...

And...

’’What...?’’

As time seemed to stretch out infinitely, she heard a confused voice.

In her short surgical gown, Biondetta belatedly realized that this was not just one moment extending without end. Time really was moving.

Nothing happened.

That Queen's wrath did not arrive.

Her darkening vision cleared up. Alberto S. divinesmith had completed the task perfectly, so he stared at the Lady of Purple Lightning with a look of utter bewilderment.

’’I completed it...’’

The Mad Hatter shouted at this utterly unreasonable result.

He seemed to be pleading with the strongest he had failed to reach.

’’So why aren't you answering me!? White Queen!!’’

Part 12[edit]

The answer was simple.

’’Your Sewn Realm Summoning is much like a method of sewing a summoned Material to this world and attaching a chain to its neck. Once the connection is made, it can be immediately summoned from the other world while skipping the normal procedure. Just like tossing a fish back into the pond with the hook still in its mouth.’’

These words had been spoken by the gothic lolita kimono girl known as Humanism before he had been sent to the Miniature Garden.

’’And while you have summoned it, that Material cannot leave of its own free will or be summoned by another summoner on the other side of the world. You can truly sew it to this world and keep it all for yourself. ...So if that theory is used to summon the White Queen, she will at least lose the option of escaping like a lizard breaking off its tail. That would be the first step toward truly killing her.’’

In other words...

So...

’’...’’

Kyousuke had blown life into the machinery while listening to the rapid succession of reports arriving through the handheld radio connected to the old gramophone. He mentally filled in the holes in the failed theory that the room's owner had desperately written down and he got to work. He gave form to a devilish tool never before seen and released it like a stain on the innocent world.

He had filled the holes and used that theory for a simple reason.

His own unique theory had been too high level. He could not have reproduced it using the materials on hand, so he had lowered the level to the methods of the room's owner.

Overall, it was a device the size of a basketball.

It had a square wooden frame as a base which supported a perfectly circular silver plate that represented a never-ending surface of water. The wooden frame contained a complex and detailed collection of gears structured much like a music box that would continue playing forever.

It was not known that this was based on the fairy's spring seen in the fantasies of picture books.

It was not understood that this had all started with the desire to make the Materials their equals instead of just weapons to be summoned.

He wondered how this had happened.

He was answered by his memory of the truly powerful's words.

’’If we can truly kill the Queen who rules both worlds through fear and chaos, your dream will also come true. All of the Materials being oppressed by her will be freed.’’

He inhaled and exhaled.

He made up his mind.

He reached for the crank on the side of the square wooden frame and turned it.

He breathed hopeless life into that perpetual motion machine.

And that skipped past the normal procedure.

The boy would finally meet that radiant white light.

The radio connected to the old gramophone gave a chaotic and confused report.

’’!? What...? He didn't miss, but the White Queen didn't appear. Does that mean she's really an inviolable being..?’’

’’The 10 minutes are up and the Artificial Sacred Ground is gone.’’

’’The Hatter and the Cheshire Cat are both alive. Are we still refusing to intervene!? If we're going to stop them, it has to be before they throw the next Incense Grenade!! Give us our orders!!’’

He had taken her for himself first.

So not even the Hatter's superhuman skill could summon the White Queen and she would be no threat to Biondetta.

It was the perfect result.

But this was no time to breathe a sigh of relief.

She was here.

Right in front of him.

The girl's flowing silver hair was bound into twintails. She was a head taller than Kyousuke and she showed off bodylines that went beyond stale terms like ’’alluring’’. Her clothing was pure white and splendidly arranged like a skimpier wedding dress with silver accessories added in places.

It was not an issue of what or how much.

From head to toe, every last part of this girl was formed from concentrated white light.

She surpassed the Regulation, divine, and Unexplored-classes to stand at the peak of the Unexplored-class. She was the strongest of the strongest and the one and only being allowed the throne. All of the Materials circumvented the laws of the world, but not even they could defeat this one.

Unexplored-class. Sound Range: None. Cost: 21.

The ’’White’’ Queen who Wields the Sword of Unsullied Truth (iu - nu - fb - a - wuh - ei -kx - eu - pl - vjz).

This core of disaster disturbed the balance of both worlds and brought endless chaos and tragedy.

She was the ultimate prize that stood before the studio set of the Miniature Garden, the farce of the Fifteen Siblings Project, the trigger of the Sewn Realm Summoning, and the gathering of the truly powerful who led the three major powers of Government, Illegal, and Freedom.

Killing the Queen was why Shiroyama Kyousuke was here.

He had no protective circle and no vessel by his side. He held no Blood-Sign or Incense Grenade. And even if he had all that, there was no guarantee he could break through. In fact, the difficulty level would not have been set so very high if an individual like Kyousuke could defeat her.

He understood that.

Sweat poured from his body.

Maintaining logical thought was the most he could manage.

’’...oth...er...’’

She opened her mouth.

Bewitching and alluring was not enough to describe it. Her beauty held such an overwhelming attraction that even an innocent baby or a wrinkled old man might be unable to restrain the urge in their heart when they saw her.

But she gave an innocent smile that belied that appearance. It was the kind of smile that matched a sound effect like ’’nyah☆’’. She had the look of a small child observing her surroundings in shock after visiting an amusement park for the first time.

’’Brother!’’

With a strangely soft sound, Shiroyama Kyousuke's vision went dark.

The girl a head taller than him had embraced him, so his head was buried in her chest.

It took even him several seconds to realize what had happened.

A Happy Memory from an Unknown Point on the Timeline 1[edit]

A pool.

’’...’’

Kyousuke stared at that overwhelming scene while wearing swim trunks.

The Miniature Garden's scale was as unbelievable as ever. There was a 50 meter pool in the center, the oppressive-looking Great ceiling towered far above, and the poolside was quite large. The space felt so very open despite the lack of windows, so it was easy to forget it was all underground.

The indoor pool was not divided into racing lanes or built in a wandering circuit like at an amusement facility.

It was round.

It was a mirror of water with a 50m diameter and the water was given an artificial current along the outer edge.

(It's all about optimization.)

Kyousuke analyzed it.

Creating a never-ending current made it the same as a tuna breeding farm. Tuna had to continue swimming forever or they would die, so they were allowed to swim forever inside their limited pens. In the same way, this allowed the children to swim for several dozen kilometers in this limited space.

It also created a more hygienic environment. By creating a gentle whirlpool, they only had to prepare filters on the edge of the pool to gather and filter out the impurities in the water. It was a similar idea to a cyclone vacuum cleaner.

(There's probably a trick to swimming along a gentle curve instead of in a straight line.)

’’Why are you staring out into space?’’

He heard a voice behind him.

It was Biondetta who had split up with him because the boys and girls used different locker rooms.

She wore a pink two-piece swimsuit that looked more like a one-piece split into two than it did a bikini.

’’Do you not like the water? Then that's all the more reason to do some warmup stretches. It's too late by the time you regret not doing it. Heh heh. Your big sister can help if you want. Because I'm your big sister!’’

’’Oh? Is that so?’’

’’E-explain to me what that lukewarm look is-...actually, never mind. I get the feeling hearing that would just break me...’’

Biondetta acted oddly while pressing her small butt to the wet poolside and spreading her slender legs to either side. She had a lithe body, so each time she reached her hands toward one of her feet, her upper body bent in a beautiful curve.

’’Kyousuke.’’

Cosplay Girl Kyoumi arrived a moment later. She was in an all-out leisure mood and wore a white one-piece swimsuit. Even now, she kept on her white twintail wig.

And she held...something under her arm. It looked like a pink curving body pillow. A flamingo face was drawn on the surface, but it may have actually been a more compact version of a banana boat.

Her other hand held a beach ball with a hedgehog drawn on it.

(The Queen of Hearts' game of croquet? The hedgehogs were the balls and the flamingoes were the rackets...)

But as Biondetta continued her stretches, she had her own impression.

’’That's obscene! The symbolism is!!’’

’’Shut up and quit reading too much into this, you perverted girl. Now, do you want the curved rod or the swollen ball?’’

For some reason, Biondetta started panicking when the beach ball was pushed into her face.

’’Did you have any trouble in the locker room? Those lockers are deadly tricky to get locked.’’

’’Oh, yeah. You have to push in when you turn the key, don't you?’’

’’Tch. So you knew. I was hoping you'd come crying to me so I could give you a hands on lesson. Oh, and in the girl's locker room of course.’’

’’...’’

’’Don't give me that look. We're family, aren't we? And at your age, it doesn't count anyway. It's too late to lament losing that privilege once it's gone! But anyway!!’’

Kyoumi laughed and threw the miniature banana boat into the giant circular pool. Only then did she remember the current, so she ran after the fleeing flamingo boat and jumped in without any kind of warmup.

Kyousuke had a thought as he watched the various parts of her skin bouncing around.

It was a simple question. If the Fifteen Siblings Project continued and their familial bonds grew, would they stop being bothered by ’’that sort of thing’’? Would they be able to take a bath together or sleep in the same bed? He was not so sure as he viewed Kyoumi's bodylines which were noticeably growing on a daily basis.

Then he turned toward Biondetta who was stretching her hands out along her legs.

He looked to that girl who had none of those curves whatsoever.

’’Well, it already doesn't bother me that much with Biondetta.’’

’’Why do I get the feeling you're thinking something incredibly rude?’’

Once she finished her stretches, Biondetta started toward the pool as if chasing after Kyoumi.

He could not imagine she was that stupid, but he warned her just in case.

’’Be careful.’’

’’What are you talking about? I'm the big sister, so I'll hold you by the hand and teach you to-...dbh!!’’

After jumping into the pool, she disappeared.

Kyousuke just about slapped his hand against his forehead.

It was a perfect chest-high depth for a high school girl like Kyoumi, but that meant it was a dangerous depth for Kyousuke or Biondetta. And thanks to the artificial endless swimming lane, it had a formidable current. There were no obvious waves like at the ocean, so it was more like falling into a rapid current where it was too deep to stand.

And if she panicked, it would be difficult for her to recover on her own.

Kyoumi seemed to have noticed, but her flamingo banana boat was a problem. She had no oar with which to fight the current, so she was having difficulty approaching Biondetta.

’’Oh, honestly.’’

With that mechanical comment, Kyousuke jumped in.

The water that slipped in through the slight gap between his lips was not fresh water. It had a hint of saltiness. It did not sting his tongue and was more like a sports drink.

(The Pool of Tears, huh?)

This was another symbol from Lewis Carroll.

Human cell fluid was different from both fresh and sea water. When combined with saline, they would probably be able to continue their water training without wearing themselves out.

Unlike an actual river, there were no bumps or rocks on the bottom to complicate the water's current. It was an entirely even flow, making it easy to ride the current. Kyousuke swiftly approached Biondetta as she struggled and he reached below her arms from behind and tried to drag her up to the surface.

But then something unexpected happened.

Her superb agility decided to make an appearance at the worst possible time, so she suddenly turned around and clung to him in desperate fear. She was too panicked to care that she was pressing her undeveloped body against him and wrapping both her arms and her legs around him.

It was a lot like she was clinging to a log, but this kept Kyousuke from moving. It was a stereotypical way for a rescuer to become a secondary casualty.

(She's only restricting my arms and my waist. At least I can still use my legs.)

It was a silly situation, but it was still a deadly one.

But Kyousuke mechanically grasped what was going on, used his legs to maintain his position, and managed to bring their heads above water.

’’Pwah! Aw, aw, aw, aw!!’’

’’Biondetta.’’

’’Uuuughhhh!!’’

’’Biondetta, don't worry. I won't let go, so can you at least remove your legs?’’

She did not respond.

In fact, she only clung to him even together.

She was apparently too panicked to listen rationally. If he could have used his hands, he would have tried stroking her head or back, but they were unfortunately restricted by her tight grasp.

Their hearts beat together in the water and they floated along treading water for a while until they finally came across Kyoumi on the banana boat. Instead of approaching them, she had stopped herself near the poolside to let them float to her.

’’Sorry, sorry. I panicked and took too long to respond. I'm deadly sorry. Yeah, I should have abandoned the boat and swam over like normal.’’

’’At least nothing happened.’’

’’That's all that matters. Then again, I've heard that Biondetta can hold her breath for 15 minutes, so I never thought it was that serious.’’

She casually announced that the upper limits of humanity had been shattered.

That meant Biondetta could keep up an intense infighting rush in boxing for 15 minutes or she could easily run at a sprint for 15 minutes straight. She was truly the master of anaerobic exercise.

But Kyoumi was interested in something else.

’’Anyway, Kyousuke,’’ she said while still clinging to the banana boat. ’’You know a very strange way of swimming.’’

’’?’’

’’Isn't that a military style? It was developed to remain afloat with just your legs so you can hold your equipment overhead and cross a river without getting it wet.’’

Kyousuke could not carelessly respond.

He could easily say the grownups had taught it to him, but if Kyoumi went around and found out that none of them knew this way of swimming, that explanation would fall apart.

There was a risk of her seeing through the thin layer to the Miniature Garden's true purpose: killing the Queen.

’’More importantly, can you deal with Biondetta? I don't have infinite stamina.’’

’’Oh, that's right. I'll let her onto my boat. C'mere, Biondetta. If the water's too deep to stand, then welcome to my boat.’’

Kyoumi grabbed her shoulders, but Biondetta refused to move.

Did she think her one safe spot was being taken from her?

No, she may have simply been unable to move at all.

She was pressed against Kyousuke with her chin on her shoulder, so he could hear the conflict escaping her lips as a whisper.

’’(Uuuh... I can't believe I'm holding this filthy boy between my legs, but I'm scared and my feet don't reach. It's embarrassing, but I can't let go. Ghhhhh!)’’

It would seem they had not built up enough artificial familial bonds to take a bath together.

Although that was actually a relief for Kyousuke.

’’This is amazing. It's like a shellfish stuck to a rock.’’

Kyoumi sounded half impressed and half exasperated up on the flamingo banana boat.

She stroked Biondetta's head, but it had little effect. The girl was still panicking.

’’Fine, then. I guess I'll resort to the deadly magic words.’’

’’?’’

Not even Kyousuke knew what she meant, so Kyoumi gave a mischievous smile.

’’C'mon, Biondetta. I know you're glad you have an excuse, but if you keep pressing that blatantly flat chest against him, he'll notice how hard your heart is pounding.’’

Kyousuke felt Biondetta's body temperature skyrocket.

Another emotion must have overpowered her fear because she frantically pushed at the boy's chest to shove him away.

’’Y-you have it all wrong! And I'm not fla-...gabh!!’’

’’Sigh...’’

’’Sigh...’’

It was the obvious result.

Kyousuke and Kyoumi sighed in unison as they watched Biondetta sink when her support vanished so quickly.

The two of them followed the current and resumed the rescue operation.

Facts[edit]

  • The Relective Graph measures familial bonds. When the 15 line graphs coincide, the project will be considered a success.
  • To protect Kyousuke, Biondetta stood up to the top ranked Hatter.
  • The Miniature Garden's research gained patrons and sponsors partway through and its nature began to greatly change.
  • Shigara Masami knew the Miniature Garden would fail, but if she did not go along with it to a certain extent, she thought the children would meet different tragedies while scattered around the world. She built herself into the system to provide some humanity.
  • Akura Taisaku, aka Blasphemous Inspiration, is an extreme cyberphobe, so he is trying to carry mankind to new heights based on faith and the occult before the world is filled with the internet and email. However, the summoning system he created is full of holes and unusable.
  • Kyousuke took the White Queen from Alberto and executed the Sewn Realm Summoning to rescue Biondetta.
  • And he achieved it. He summoned the White Queen to this world in her perfect form and sewed her there.
  • Upon being summoned, the White Queen immediately referred to Kyousuke as ’’brother’’.


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