A full week had gone by since the start of the Sacred Demon Cup. For yet another day, Hideo wrapped his body in the black suit provided to him by Obliterating Industries. While he was initially wishy-washy on how to tie a tie, now he could get it in one shot.
(What a refreshing morning.)
The person he saw in the mirror wasn’t his old stay-at-home syndrome stricken self. Every morning he woke up at the proper time and left with a proper goal in mind. He was a full-fledged member of society who looked after his appearance each day.
An employee, with a business card no less.
‘Iori Financing Black List Exterminator
Looking at it got him a little down. Even so, he put on his sunglasses, his mask as a debt collector.
“Now master, let’s get out there and round up some loans! … Is what Wilco would like to say, but…”
“…… But what?”
“It’s about time we lost our place at top contenders!”
While three consecutive wins on the first day put them ahead by a large margin, in this past week, a number of groups managed to catch up to them.
“If they pull ahead of us, our plan to continue to stand at the top as championship favorites will fall apart!”
“… You’re right.”
They would need to start taking the initiative soon. Rather, they had no other option. For the past week, they had worked hard at collecting debt to pay off their own five million tickets but… if that caused them to neglect the tournament, it would all be for nothing.
When he approached contestants with, “Return the money,” and they declined, the plan was to invite them in with, “Then if you can win against me, your debt will be written off”. If Hideo managed to win those matches, they’d get both the money and a new tally on their record, it was two birds and one stone.
Surprisingly enough, everyone so far quite obediently returned the money; he wasn’t getting the matches he had hoped for. It must have been thanks to the fact that not only was he a top contender working for that company of all places, he was also dressed up like a contract killer… the short of the matter, his threats were far too effective.
“Then today. We’ll be assertive.”
“Let’s issue some challenges!”
Right, they shared a nod and left the apartment. Minako next door with the truncheon at her hip was leaving her place at just the same time.
Yet as Hideo gave his greetings, she simply walked straight past him. A few steps away, she turned and took a sorrowful glance over Hideo’s black clothing.
“… I see you’re going out to threaten innocent people again.”
“Of course, I know you’ve been shouldered with an unreasonable debt. I know it’s not your fault. But you’re going around imposing that same pain on others. I didn’t think you were such a weak individual.”
And I was a fool for believing in such a man, she spoke as if to condemn herself. Her expression fit someone of her strong sense of justice.
‘The days of Edo have never left us. Grudges and pain always tie back to the weakness of the heart…’
His voice wasn’t even condemning. As if to pity a poor soul that had fallen into the endless suffering of hell. The two of them left without another word.
When they got to the apartment’s yard, the landlady was cleaning. This one had the same bright smiling face as ever.
“Do you have work today?”
“Is that syo? But that place is a bad company.”
“It’s good you managed to cheat a car, weapon and cyomputer out of them, but once you’ve finished your business, you should cut ties and fast.”
Was that how people were seeing him? The president definitely did acknowledge him and gave him a few things as a sign of that acceptance. It was a lie to say that didn’t make him happy. But from the eyes of those around him, he was a debt collector with no blood or tears to shed. Could it be he had actually lost more than he had gained? In which case, if the image he gave others stopped being that of a top contender… that would make him just a villainous prick?
He suddenly felt a chill. It was no good. Anything but those eyes. That alone was too much to bear. As it was, the mean glare in his eyes had others send him dubious looks, but if they started judging him by his character on top of that… he would have to live his life quietly in his room without meeting anyone ever again.
“Aaah!? It’s been a while since master looked this down…!”
“Is he really?”
With his lack of expression, only Wilco who was always with him could make out the niceties of his emotions.
There, a lone cheerful voice flew in.
A member of management, and moderator at the opening ceremony, Kirishima Lena. Instead of her casino dealer-like uniform, she was in casual clothes.
“Hey, Kirishima. Did you take a day off?”
“Yep, I’m on vacation! So I was in the area wondering how you guys were doing and came to take a look… but… who is this hunk of a man!!?”
Said Wilco. When Hideo raised his face, he could see the sparkling in Lena’s eyes even across his dark sunglasses. What’s more, of all things, those eyes were pointed at… himself.
“Kyaah!? Hideo, you’re so cool! How should I put it… you’re like a professional!”
Whatever sort of professional she meant aside, this meant the president’s design concept worked out. What a contrary reaction to Minako a moment ago. When one door closes, another door opens? No, one’s man’s trash is another man’s treasure…
“Hey, Hideo, are you free today?”
“I’m totally free all day… want to go play somewhere?”
“D-don’t tell me this is…!?”
Wilco lurched back in terror.
The Landlady’s cat ears twitched back and forth.
“Are you gyoing on a date?”
“No… Landlady. Why are you making it sound like master’s been challenged to a match?”
“Well in a sense, isn’t this the real time for him to shyow what he’s got?”
“S-sure enough! No, I mean! Master, we have to find a real match today! We don’t have the time to play around!!”
Lena cut in with a dismissive wave of her hand.
“You make it sound like such a big deal. We’ve already shared a drink together. How about we go out somewhere as friends? That’s all I meant. If your partner Wilco comes along, it wouldn’t be a date in the first place.”
In a sense, Hideo was relieved.
Upon seeing that, Wilco.
“… Master, you’re surprisingly simple. Wilco was sure she’d be able to see a whole new side of you.”
Hideo took a few steps away and whispered to Wilco who had followed behind.
“… Can’t deal with it.”
How much time had he gone without a girlfriend? Why that would be the same number of days months and years he had lived on this earth. Now a person as beautiful as Lena comes along? What? Date? Kukuku, what even is that…? He’d heard rumors here and there, but that didn’t have anything to do with his own life, did it? Hahaha…
“No… Master, you don’t have to deny yourself that far. If you’re going so far, then this is a good opportunity; it’s just one day, how about you have some fun with her… Wilco will be in the room surfing the net.”
“… We don’t have time. To play.”
He gave as an excuse. To be completely honest, he had absolutely no idea what to do if they were alone together. Rather than engaging in something so pointless and hopeless, it would be far more productive to devote his time to a match.
“Well, participants like you guys don’t really get days off like we do after all… mnn, but I’m here anyway, so I’d love to see another one of your matches. Aah, of course, I’m not forcing you to.”
“Sure enough… during his matches, even Wilco has to admit master looks kinda cool.”
“Meaning this is a chance to shyow off.”
(What exactly. Are they expecting. Out of me…)
Hideo feigned composure as he walked towards the parking lot behind the apartment. Before they got there, they were blocked by the silhouette of a shougi king piece or cockroach, a single incredible sports car.
“Whoah, it’s a Diablo.”
Remarked Wilco. The car’s scissor doors opened not outwards but up. The young man with silver-framed glasses peeking out had his canines flared in a vulgar smile just as when he had first met him.
“If it isn’t. The president.”
Hideo lowered his head at Takase, for what it was worth.
“Hey there, Hideo. I was passing by and came to see you, but looks like didn’t have to. You look psyched up to earn some dough today.”
Minako and Okamaru’s words stabbed into his chest again.
There was Lily sitting in the passenger’s seat. She was still dressed like a maid with mirrored glasses, but she was apparently even higher up than this president. Shadow Supreme Leader or something or another.
“Hideo, Wilco, are you working hard? How is the weapon treating you?”
Her words were shrouded in jest. Hideo lowered his eyes to the item she pointed out… the large black briefcase he carried around.
“… No. Not yet.”
He had never used it before. The president laughed.
“Kukukuh, I see, so you don’t even need it. As expected of the man I set my eyes on. Keep at it, Hideo. And Wilco.”
“Nihaha, just leave it to us! We’re going to issue a challenge this time too!”
“Ha ha hah, I see, I see! If you win, I’ll happily welcome you as executives! Break a leg.”
With eyes filled with expectations, the president gave a satisfied nod. From there, Lily turned to Lena and waved.
“Well then Kirishima, you do your best too!”
“Y-yeah, of course Suzu… I mean Lily!”
Were they acquainted? Well, they were staff member and participant. Hideo was acquainted with Lena and the Landlady himself. Hideo didn’t think too hard about it as he saw off the sports car that took off with a shrill shriek.
Phew… for some reason, the three of them sighed to no one in particular.
“Hmm, so you can drive manual.”
Lena in the passenger seat sounded impressed. Wilco peeked her head in from behind in agreement.
“Wilco was surprised about that one too.”
The place he was born and raised was the countryside, you needed a car if you wanted to get anywhere. That being the case, it was his parents who pushed him into driving school. He never had a chance to drive since he got to Tokyo, but unlike knowledge, it was surprisingly hard to shake off the techniques his body had picked up.
“… So. Where.”
“Umm, where are we going, Wilco?”
“Can’t we just go anywhere? Today we’re planning to hold some sort of match. Well, if you want to collect debt, we can go with that.”
But that was also quite troubling when you got down to the details. Contestants just peacefully walked by the sides of the roads. It felt a bit off to suddenly stop the car and call out to them.
If Lena had taken a day off, then couldn’t he find some participants if he took her to the arcade? Noon was coming around and he arbitrarily stopped by a nearby fast food restraint. While he was at it, he filled his car’s tank. He hadn’t gone around to the movie theater yet so… and so time passed by. In the end, they played the whole day away without spotting any debtors, and at the places where people went to play, the people who went there much preferred playing over issuing challenges. No matches began.
The sun set.
For once in a truly long time, Hideo felt he had played his share. This had never happened since he came to the capital. Once he had come to this city, it had never even occurred to him to go out to play. Minako said some harsh words when he left, but he got the feeling this was a nice refresher.
“Hey, what are we doing for dinner? If you’re up for it, there’s a shop I want to check out. I guess you would call him stubborn? Rumor says this heard-headed guy runs it, and it’s apparently delicious.”
“Is that. So.”
“Wilco doesn’t really care either way.”
Well of course. The electric virus only ate important files.
No matter, there was no reason to decline and Hideo sped the car in the direction Lena indicated. The restraint was technically in the shopping district, more specifically right on the boundary line with the industrial district. Wild Hannibal was its name. It seemed to be modeled after a saloon straight out of an old western, and like the name implied, it was a wild steakhouse. Certainly, setting the mood like this was an important part of elevating the flavor.
Hideo entered the store with the weapon case from the president he always carried around. As expected, there were cacti as tall as he was left around as decorative plants; as expected, the interior was lit with a hanging lamp; as expected, the waiter had his hair in a pompadour…
Was the waiter’s hairstyle supposed to be a part of this American wildness?
“Have you decided on your order?”
Rather than American, more like a Japanese delinquent. A blonde pompadour.
“Ahaha. Now this is an interesting place. It’s got my seal of approval.”
“Yes, thank you ma’am. I guess you could call it the owner’s fixation. That’s to that, we’re getting rave reviews.”
If he met him in town, he had the sort of appearance Hideo would never approach, but once he opened his mouth, he was well-spirited enough.
“Then I’ll go for this Route 66 Steak Set. With an extra serving of rice.”
“You’ve got a good eye on ya there, ma’am. That one uses the finest meat we got. And how about you, rocking brother?”
Was it the suit? Hideo didn’t remember fashioning his hair in any way like this man.
“Then this. Bikers Hamburger Set.”
“Not a bad one either, brother, that one there’s our most popular item on the menu. And what about you, little lady?”
“Wilco doesn’t need anything. She is already full.”
Just what did snack on and where when he wasn’t looking? Hideo grew a bit anxious. The waiter repeated their order before retreating to the back.
“I see. When they said hard-headed, they must’ve been talking about his fixation on the store’s layout. You gotta respect that way of life, I guess. How about you, Hideo, you got a fixation?”
When in the bath, he always washed up left foot first.
No, that was more of a habit than a fixation…
By the time he noticed it, Lena sitting right across from him was propping up her cheek with a hand, looking at him all smiles. For some reason or another, Hideo couldn’t look straight back at her.
“Nihihi… Master, Wilco’s going into the PC—”
Hideo reflexively grabbed Wilco’s shoulder, shaking his head side to side. She was also a girl, yet he felt completely fine when he was alone with Wilco.
“Odis Redding. You ever listened to him?”
“Master, she’s talking about the song that’s playing right now…”
(… Nope. Can’t deal with it…)
He would eventually burst. He was convinced of it. That’s why at times like these, it was useless to put on airs. That conviction could be taken as resignation, but Hideo accepted it wholeheartedly. He knew that was who he was. Compared to when he forced himself to put on airs confronting the president, he couldn’t even begin to imagine how much more refreshing this was.
Perhaps… if he exposed his true self back there, a new development may have opened a new path for him. He would never have received the black suit, so he wouldn’t be doing this with Lena… but in exchange, Minako wouldn’t have looked at him with disdain that morning.
At this point it was all said and done. How deep and difficult. To do anything. And in the end, Hideo didn’t say anything in particular. He couldn’t give an interesting or witty response to Lena’s questions.
While that was going on, the food came out. It would be classified as a large serving at a normal restaurant, a rather large steak and burger. Ample volume.
“… Now this is. Delicious.”
“The meat’s so soft! The sauce ain’t half bad either! Wilco, you don’t want any?”
Just like at the landlady’s welcome party, Wilco simply declined. Come to think of it, what would actually happen if she ate or drank? She’d probably get a bit of static at most, but he wouldn’t want her to short out.
“Yeah, I can see why this is a popular place, but…”
Lena raised her face and took a look around the shop.
Right. They were the only customers there. When they entered, there were no signs of anyone there before them, and none of any coming thereafter.
“Hey, waiter. Did something happen here?”
The young employee replied a little awkwardly.
“Y-yes. Truth be told… ah, no. It’s nothing. We get these days from time to time. Hehe…”
Clearly suspicious. Like he was desperately hiding a secret he wouldn’t dare let them know. And as the three exchanged a look with question marks over their heads, it happened.
The door to the shop was forcefully thrown open.
“Obliterating Industries Group! Coming through!”
“Today’s the day we’re kicking you out!”
The ones who appeared were men in full body tights and geometric-pattern masks… employees of the Obliterating Industries Group. Meaning, while they were in a different department, they were Hideo’s colleagues.
“Y-you bastards! Do you never learn!?”
The waiter shed cold sweat from the impending danger, yet his eyes brimmed with a strong hostility. In contrast, the full body tights raised up their fists and powered through.
“We’re on direct orders from the president, we can’t just back down!”
“Forget him, the shadow supreme leader called us out yesterday, she was terribly angry!”
“The president is one thing, but supreme leader is way too quick to resort to force! Our lives are on the line here!”
Was it this quarrel the waiter was trying to hide? In their full body tights hands were metal bats, iron piles, hammers and the like. They came fully armed.
“Now bring out the guy in charge!”
“I won’t let you make it to the owner! Hey, hold it ya pansies!”
Three on one, he couldn’t beat foes he could otherwise manage. The waiter was anticlimactically tossed aside as the full body tights rudely barged into the kitchen.
“Owner!? You’ve gotta run away, Owner!”
Even as the waiter was still screaming, it was a noisy din inside. The tempestuous sounds of pots and pans turning over, of plates and cups shattering. Rather than have a discussion, it seemed the plot was to use those weapons to make a mess of the store and kick them out whether they liked it or not.
What fate lies in store for this pitiful owner… that thought lasted for only a moment. With a pon, pon and pon, the ones ejected from the kitchen were the fullbody tights.
“T-too strong… guffph!”
“W-what a hardhead… goffph!”
Like that two of them collapsed powerlessly, but the remaining one noticed Hideo.
“Ah! Aren’t you the one the president personally scouted, that skilled…!”
Drat. When the foot was so good, it looked like he was going to be dragged into trouble.
“H-help us…! We can’t lift a finger against the owner here! When he’s a competitor, he said he had to open a shop here and he won’t pay the fees on the land we’re lending him. He’s long past the repayment period for the loan he took when he opened shop, but this brazen bloke keeps running his business without a care in the world!”
“Eeeh!? The owner was a participant!? Master, isn’t this?”
Hideo and Wilco exchanged a glance and nodded.
Instead of taking requests at the pub, or taking out monsters in the labyrinth… he opened a shop for a safe and stable source of revenue. Indeed, that was one way to fight.
Even if he ran out of luck the moment he borrowed from Obliterating Industries.
“What was that!? Don’t tell me you pretended to be a customer to get us by surprise!?”
The good-natured waiter was now frank with his hostility towards Hideo. The full body tight man spoke as if borrowing the dignity of a tiger.
“Wahaha, you’re over! This shop’s had its last day! This is a man the president acknowledged… why of course he is, he’s the top contender in this tournament!”
“Uuurgh…! I-I see! Meaning you’re the ones who took out our regulars, the Colonel and Rocky… you!”
What a small world they lived in. That old man certainly did have the body of someone who munched down on meat.
“I-I won’t forgive you…! Owner! Owwneeer!”
With the waiter’s do-or-die call, the man finally showed himself.
“Hey now, Johnny-boy… don’t you embarrass yourself in front of the customers…”
A low voice filled with dignity. Heavy footsteps.
“I heard the story from out back… if that’s how it is, I’ll have ta take you on personally…”
The silhouette that appeared from the depths of the kitchen caused the waiter (who was apparently called Johnny)’s face to shine. And the form he finally showed.
Wilco was shocked.
“… For real…?”
With a blank face, Lena dropped the knife and fork in her hands.
A thick and massive build like a character costume. Yet it was a solid, reddish-brown armor. Reddish-brown skin that matched it in hue. His body was as if it were made from fired pottery.
Johnny cried out.
“Owner…! No, Mr. Hannibal!!”
“Wait, he’s a freaking haniwa!!?”
And Wilco screamed too.
“Sturdy or hard-headed isn’t the problem, he’s rock solid!!”
“I-I see… no wonder they said he was inflexible… I know I’m not supposed to say it as an organizer, but this tournament is amazing…”
There was sweat on Lena’s brow.
He wore a riveted leather jacket and sunglasses for a street thug look… An especially hard-looking giant haniwa.
“The name’s… Hannibal.”
“I can’t even tell if his name’s a joke or not! And why is it Hannibal when he’s clearly domestic product!!?”
Wilco’s retorts didn’t move him at all. The clay sculpture stuck a cigarette into his mouth that was stuck open like an empty void. Johnny immediately lit it.
His form. But Hideo was moved beyond words, he quivered and shook, and finally managed out a voice.
Hannibal turned him away.
“You’ve got the wrong guy…”
“Wilco gets what you’re trying to say but! Master, no matter how you look at it, this can’t be him!! The prince didn’t look so malicious!! It’s rude to put them together!!”
“… But. Where is. Your horse?”
“If you’re looking for Jinbee.”
He cut off Hideo’s voice. And Hannibal’s smoke wavered sorrowfully.
“He returned to the sea…”
“… The sea… huh…”
It was no clear he had the wrong person. In which case, there was no need to hold back. Hideo picked up the large, black weapon case at his feet… that he still had yet to see the contents of.
“… Do you plan on. Paying back your debt?”
“Hm… Couldn’t pay it even if I wanted to… you’ve got some nerve saying that after tacking on all those unmanly black-market rates …”
His presence was something else. He gripped his boulder-like fist until it creaked.
“If you’re a man, get talking with these… your fists…”
“Don’t accept it!!”
Wilco’s fist came down before Hannibal’s.
“It’s impossible! No matter how you look at it, not with your fist, Master!!”
Sure enough. The owner had a reputation for being rock solid.
“You can use… whatever you want…”
Hannibal puffed out a long stream of smoke.
“My weapon is… this body. If you think you can take it, go ahead…”
“Heheheh… let me tell you, our owner’s ceramic body can brush off cannon shells… if you wanna give in, this is your chance!”
Johnny threatened with his disheveled pompadour. To Hideo who was classed as quiet in his student days, he was far more instinctually afraid of Johnny than the haniwa. But as Hideo had done many times before, he simply removed his sunglasses with slow gestures.
“W…oah…! What sharp eyes…!? H… Hannibal, this guy ain’t ordinary…!”
“You’re embarrassing us, Johnny… if you’ve lost your nerve, just sit there and watch…”
“N-no… I decided I’d follow you for life! Let me fight with you!”
What heated camaraderie, with this pair.
“Then does the basic rule work out? Ah, I’m Kirishima from the administrative committee. I can judge if you want.”
“I… don’t mind…”
Hannibal pressed the burnt out cigarette hard into the ashtray Johnny held out. Hideo confirmed once with Wilco. She gave a small nod.
“As long as it’s not a punching match!”
Indeed. As they discussed the morning, today was the day to do it. This was why they bustled about town all day. To hold on to their seat as top contenders, they had to win today.
With Hideo’s voice, Lena raised her hand high.
“Well then, Hannibal and Johnny pair, Hideo and Wilco, this match will commence under the basic rule!!”
It came out of nowhere. Hannibal swung down his giant mascot-costume-like fist incomparable to a human’s. Hideo instinctively stepped back to dodge its dangerous bulking mass. His foe was close behind him, giving chase with a barrage of consecutive punches.
“Hani! Ha! Hanifoo!”
While he had the sharp breath and rhythm of a boxer, each punch was considerably telegraphed As long as he properly concentrated, even Hideo was capable of avoiding them.
And when he was pressed back to the wall.
Hideo ducked down to evade. The haniwa’s fist pierced straight through the veneer boards that made up the restaurant wall.
He was an earthenware weapon. He was hard and heavy, his output was extraordinary. Be that as it may, he was heavy so when he swung, there was considerable time to the next strike. He was stiff, so his attacks weren’t flexible, his moves so monotonous even a shut-in could predict their trajectory and prepare for them.
(… I can fight.)
He had a vague conviction. His foe was not the omnipotent type like Ryuuta and Minako. This was a power type that faced challenges head on to a foolish extent. As long as he didn’t take one of those hits, he could do it. The problem was how to inflict damage on that solid body.
Ducking along the wall, Hideo escaped and ran with his back to Hannibal, he entrusted Wilco with the black case momentarily.
“Wait, master!? Isn’t this the time to use what’s inside!?”
But that company’s president handed it over saying it boasted extraordinary firepower. If that power was too strong, not limited to this instance, he might end up killing his challenger. Instant disqualification. In a sense, a suicidal action.
“… Borrowing this.”
Hideo took what looked like it would have the greatest output of the items the full body tights brought in, a wooden mallet with a long shaft.
“B… be careful…! That guy… is harder than he looks…!”
Hideo nodded to his colleague’s warning, turning back to the haniwa calmly coming towards him. His foe didn’t even seem to be taking his weapon into consideration. Sticking up his thick index finger, he beckoned Hideo forward.
“… Then I will.”
With his feeble physical strength, Hideo lightly staggered back as he raised the sledgehammer. Worst case scenario, the clay would shatter and he’d be disqualified. He shook off that illusion as he swung down!
Hideo tossed the handle portion onto the floor. The hammer heard snapped clean off with the headbutt Hannibal timed to match his blow.
He was half in a daze.
No damage whatsoever. Johnny did say he could brush off cannon shells. Then he had no means to inflict damage. In that case, did it really matter if his opponent’s attacks didn’t hit? Hideo would eventually run out of stamina, and Hannibal had the defensive power to block all attacks until that happened.
(… Was I too hasty?)
He could win. If he did not win, he would eventually lose!
“My knuckle… will hurt a bit…”
His surprise and his thoughts had halted him in place.
Thwop, it resounded through his body. His flank. A terribly heavy punch. Unable to raise a scream, Hideo’s body caved into an L shape as he was sent flying into the kitchen. He swept away all the various items on the kitchen table as he slid. The noises rocked him. He slammed down on the tile floor.
For a moment, the impact made him lose all his bearings.
But there was one thing he now understood. This was what it meant to fight. That impact, that shock, that pain, that fear. This was battle. A world he had stepped into with his own feet, one that should have had absolutely nothing to do with him.
“Master, are you alright!?”
The thought struck him but he immediately denied it. The moment he saw Wilco’s worried face, his sore-loser thought process was blown away. It wasn’t impossible, he could deal with it. That was what he had to think for now.
This wasn’t his personal problem. His partner was right here. If he was alone, he would have waved the white flag at that moment. But that wasn’t so anymore. He wasn’t the same man who mulled over how to die alone. The moment he lost, he would have to get on his hands and knees and apologize to Wilco for his incompetence.
But until the very moment his loss was decided—!
His mind whipped his numb body into shape, just barely letting him stand.
“M-master… are your wounds alright…!?”
Hideo used his sleeve to wipe away the red liquid slathered over his face. An ancient soldier’s robust silhouette stood at the kitchen entrance. Its shadow stretched long over the ground let Hideo see its true colors. That was nothing so half-baked as a haniwa. That was an evil spirit of old inhabiting its form.
He couldn’t sleep here. He could feel how much damage a punch had done. If he was kicked by those legs thick as pillars, if he was trampled on with that weight, his bones would shatter. That was it.
“… I’ll. Use it.”
Use what? That went without saying. Wilco hurriedly undid the lock on the case she had placed on the floor.
He would do what he could. No matter what came out. If it was a gun, he would shoot. A sword, he would string. A bomb… now that one was pushing it. And for the first time he opened the lid of the case. For the first time since he entered the tournament. His own weapon was in his hands.
“T-this can’t be… the man that president chose…?”
“But he was taken down that easily…”
“He’s a monster… that owner…!”
The full-body tights were losing their minds. Hideo was hiding himself in the shadows of the stacked cardboard boxes of ingredients in the back.
“Heh, did you get an eyeful of that!? That’s Mr. Hannibal! A top contender down in one punch… then I’ll take care of the little lady…!”
Hannibal personally interrupted him.
“A man… shouldn’t raise a hand against a woman…”
“B-but Mr. Hannibal… the judge lady hasn’t given a verdict yet…”
Lena nodded. Both members had not been rendered incapable of combat. There was more than enough possibility for the match to continue.
“More than anything, I can tell… that guy hasn’t given up yet… that’s how it is. Though I’ve got no clue what he’s doing lurking in the shadows…”
Setting foot in the kitchen, Hannibal’s hard feet clunked down with every step.
“Master! What are you doing!? Hurry! Hurry up!”
“A little longer…”
Hideo was desperately making some rattling sound trying to operate something, but he was a minute too late. Hannibal lifted his prided fist far stronger than any hammer to end it.
“If it’s come to this, Wilco will!!”
Of all things, Wilco went out as a shield. His heavy fist with ample inertia couldn’t be brought to a stop so easily.
A sound far too shrill for hitting against flesh. The abnormality caused him to take a step back.
It was a shield. No, he was hazy on whether he could call it that or not. A faint glimmer like magic, a transparent glass something had been deployed from Wilco’s hand.
“It was all or nothing but… now’s not the time! This shield isn’t perfect!”
“… It’s fine. This should do it.”
Hideo pulled at something with all his might, and in that instant.
With an abundance of white smoke, a piercing explosive noise resounded. And the moment after that. With one swoop, the mountain of piles ingredient boxes in front of Hideo was sliced through.
The edge Hideo held in both hands, too crude to be a sword. Too fine to be an axe. But among all the implements humanity had given way to, it could be called the completed form of the concept of splitting one into two.
The phenomenon of friction, the physical factor leading to bisection, carried out with overwhelming efficiency by an endless track of naked blades turning at ultra-high speeds, the strongest— power tool!!
Johnny cowered with the full-body tights. When Hideo was sent flying a moment ago, the whole tomatoes on the kitchen table had smashed into his head. On top of that, his expressionlessness didn’t give off the slightest sense of pain. A face dripping in red, and the cold eyes of a god of death.
The impression he gave others wasn’t that he was bleeding himself, it had to be the blood of his enemies. What’s more, the sheer destructive force in his hands was a dangerous weapon that one wouldn’t want carving into them in their worst nightmares.
To confirm the weapon on his hand, Hideo lightly pressed the accel trigger. Even with that before him, Hannibal.
“… I see. So that’s how you’ve been wringing out debtors from all over…”
Did not stand down.
“But that toy won’t be able to scratch my body…”
With the sound of a gong, Hannibal proudly hit against his own chest. But Hideo didn’t stand down. He couldn’t.
“Maybe not. But this is. All we’ve got.”
Hideo gripped the trigger. The shrill engine noises. The serrated blade raised a groan.
“Interesting… no matter what weapon I’ve faced, they’ve never cracked me… I’ll play your game!”
“Then. It’s a match.”
Hideo raised up the chainsaw.
And Haniwaru caught it with his tightly clenched fist.
A shrill sound that tore eardrums echoed.
A flashy show of sparks dispersed. The chainsaw engine cried out in pain at the load, the exhaust spouted out white smoke like a steam train.
“Kuh…! It’s not a normal… chainsaw…!”
The moment Hannibal said that, one of the full-body tights peering into the kitchen raised his voice in recollection.
“D-don’t tell me that’s…!”
Another tights asked.
“You know it?”
“Y-yeah… that’s a piece of work the president told the doctor to make as a joke…!”
“The doctor made it!?”
The other two full-body tights were terrified.
“The engine and all other metal portions use mithril silver, it’s a chainsaw defying common sense! With an outrageous production cost of more than ten million yen, it can even tear through an Iron Golem!”
“Wha… then is the chainsaw amazing for not breaking after grinding that much…!?”
“Or is the owner on another level for enduring it…!?”
The competition continued. Yet eventually, the change began to surface.
Hannibal raised his first uneasy voice. The fist didn’t lose to the chainsaw, but with the intense frictional heat, it was beginning to glow a dull red. Of course, as a ceramic piece, it was undoubtedly strong against heat, but if only a single point experienced rapid heating, a temperature difference formed with the rest of his body. He was beginning to war from thermal expansion. A ceramic’s characteristic ultra-rigid lack of malleability was turning on him.
Snap!! Hannibal’s fist finally snapped, the momentum carried the cracks right up to his elbow. The force sent his entire body flying, collapsing him onto his back.
“H-Hannibal! Mr. Hannibal, are you alright!? Hot!! Owowow, You’re burning!!”
Johnny who raced over tried to lift him up and got burned. A considerable heat had already spread from his fist to the rest of his body.
“Hm… I lost…”
“N-no way! Mr. Hannibal! I can still… tell me to go get them, Hannibal!”
With one arm lost, Hannibal slowly shook his head at Johnny.
“You’ve got no chance… you can’t just be patched up with Aron Alpha like me… at least treasure the body… your parents gave you…”
Johnny dejectedly hung his head, shedding a manly tear. Both members had lost the will to fight. Upon confirming that, Lena raised a hand.
“That’s the match! The winners are Hideo and Wilco!!”
“And wait, you can recover with Aron Alpha!?”
“I, see… Aron Alpha fits me better than Cemedine…”
That probably wasn’t what Wilco was asking.
“Once upon a time, whenever I broke, they’d put me back in the kiln and refire me…”
Hannibal muttered nostalgically. So he did have a time like that.
“As the wind blows, as the tides take you… I went with the flow and it took me all the way here… but this wasn’t where I belonged, is what it means… take the money, the deed, the win… take whatever you want…”
“… Then I’ll be taking. My win.”
On Hideo’s word, everyone turned to him astounded.
“Wha… what are you talking about, master!? No matter how you look at it, this is our quota! If we rob him blind, then with the scale of this shop, we should be able to pay back our debt in full!”
“Hmm… your little lady knows what she’s talking about. You can give it all the mercy you want, but… nothing’ll come outta this empty body of mine…”
But Hideo shook his head.
“… No. Master Hannibal, you fought me head-on. You had the time. You had. Far too much time. You could have removed the chainsaw. You could have hit me all you wanted. And yet. You kept at it. Until you were reduced. To that.”
“Give me a break.”
“This is just my stubbornness… is all… the craftsman of Yamato put their soul into making my body… so how far could it go… that’s all there is to it…”
He was proud of his own body. The resolve Hannibal showed him only hardened Hideo’s resolve. Surely he had taught him the true meaning of battle.
“Then this too. Is my stubbornness.”
Hideo put the chainsaw away in its case, he turned his back to the defeated.
“M-master… are you sure…?”
He didn’t care. When Minako was angry at him, he noticed he was on the verge of losing something important. If he deprived Hannibal of his store here, in exchange, he would lose something more.
“You were never. On our list. To begin with.”
While Wilco basked in lingering regret, Lena smiled and put a hand on her shoulder.
“Now isn’t he looking cool; your master?”
Hideo hurriedly put on his sunglasses.
When he looked back, the full-body tights were tangling their legs up running away. While Hannibal had lost, as long as he stayed here, the shop would be stable for a while longer.
“Phew… quite the softy… on this old man…”
And when he returned his eyes, Hannibal was standing to his feet.
“Word on the street’s that you’re working to pay off your own debt… sounds like something that rotten company would do…”
“… What of it?”
“We’ve spoken with our fists, I can tell… you’re not completely bad deep down… you’re just a… man following his own path…”
“Being rotten’s different from being bad…”
He took a puff of the cigarette Johnny lit for him.
“Go to the Industrial District… and try meeting with the president of Elize Industrial… if you want to quit that dead-end job of yours…”
Hideo gave a strong nod to those words of advice.
Despite the outcome, it was true this was a job he knew he couldn’t continue. He just had to make sure they didn’t see through the fact he was an overwhelming weakling. Looking at the matter of paying off his loan, it wasn’t like debt collecting was his only means.
“B-but Mr. Hannibal…! Aren’t the Shopping District’s Obliterating Industries and the Industrial District’s Elize Industrial… aren’t they bitter rivals!? If this brother marches his way in…!”
“Johnny-boy… It’s a man’s job to silently see them off… isn’t that right, Hideo…?”
Hannibal held out his left hand that was still intact.
“Thank you. Master Hannibal…”
And Hideo silently gripped bit back. Earthenware was wonderful at retaining heat. Hideo was immediately burned.
After returning to the Center District, the dropped Lena off in front of Centralle Building.
“Man, that was fun. It was a nice day off, thanks to you two. You’ve got my thanks!”
“Likewise. Sorry for. Dragging you into trouble at the end.”
Hideo said, but Lena didn’t look like she minded it.
“Nah, that was the good part! Keep up the good work in the tournament, okay!?”
“Have a good night.”
“Well then. See you. Later.”
Hideo set the car back on course to the residential district.
“So… Master. Are you going to cut ties with Obliterating Industries?”
“… I don’t know. Yet.”
That decision would have to come after he met with the president of Elize Industrial and saw what would come of it. If that one-track-minded Hannibal recommended them, they couldn’t be too bad.
“With this time’s match. We finally stand where we. Can fight.”
Offense and defense. He got the feeling they had reached a certain level in both fields. The chainsaw was one thing, but more than anything.
“I was surprised. When you blocked. Master Hannibal’s knuckles.”
“It was the heat of the moment. Wilco didn’t want it to end without her doing anything.”
Just like him, Wilco was in her own way. Perhaps it was a power that activated… precisely because she thought of him as her partner. In which case, that day’s victory was a bigger one than any before it.
“Structure-wise, it followed the same general principle of changing into maid clothes at the president’s place, and Wilco materializing in this world in the first place.”
With a light glow, that glass-like shield manifested on the palm of her hand.
“We might be able to look forward to even more applications later!”
A new hope, once again.
For yet another night, Lena read, gazed at, and sipped coffee to the reports detailing the means of the matches, the winners and losers of each match that had taken place.
The date was already changing. ‘Today’s Sacred Demon’ on cable TV was already broadcasting a digest of the very information in her hands, and once again, the announcer and commentary pair had broken into a harsh slapstick.
“Is something bothering you?”
The staff member who brought in the reports asked. He was young, more a boy than a man.
“Yeah. It’s about those two.”
“They haven’t had a match in a while. But… aren’t they just a fluke?”
The boy in the tuxedo spoke in a neutral voice.
“Rumor has it they ran for dear life from the Labyrinth and were picked up by Obliterating Industries or something… though it’s all hearsay. Meaning the golden plating is starting to fall off.”
Lena knew that. She had gone to confirm it as a way to kill time.
Fluke. Perhaps there was that. But… there was definitely a portion that wasn’t just dumb luck. And in today’s fourth match, they appeared plain to see.
(A magic barrier…)
It definitely seemed that way to her eyes. But even if that’s what it was, it was bizarre for one to take such a plainly visible form. It looked like her partner Hideo himself was also seeing it for the first time.
(Perhaps… more than Hideo, it’s Wilco who’s the key player?)
Lena took another mouthful of coffee.
To be blunt, Wilco’s identity was the most obscure of any of the over three thousand participants. An electronic virus that broke out of a PC. But in that case, inevitably, the background of Kawamura Hideo who had brought such an unknown entity to the competition was also subject to question.
Whatever the case… the two of them had won today.
The pair that had, with their three wins, been at the top for a week. Now some ten-odd pairs had matched them. A few more than thirty had two wins. At last more than a hundred had won once. One loss and that was it, everyone was acting cautiously, but they were gradually starting to move.
Within all of that, only one head. Only Hideo had managed to pick up a fourth win. They had definitely made it in some field, just concealing their names. There was no other explanation…
(…… Well, as long as the organizer is having fun…)
Lena stood and took a big stretch towards the window.
“Good work, you should retire for the day. I’m going to sleep.”
“Yes. Then pardon me.”
He took a courteous bow to Lena’s back and left the room with the plate that said ‘Tournament Director-General’.
Lena looked down. From the top floor of Centralle Building, at the tower’s height of one hundred floors from the surface, the entirety of the isolated city spread out before her eyes.