The cheers gushed forth like a surging tide.
Suzuran and Ryuuta rolled from their cover at precisely the same time. The moment they kicked the ground identical. The speed at which they locked on with their weapons a spitting image of one another.
Suzuran cried with absolutely no knowledge of how chess worked.
Ryuuta cried, knowing absolutely nothing about shogi.
The arms crossed, their gun barrels had each captured the other’s forehead. No matter how much experience he had piled up, no matter how accustomed Ryuuta was to battle, this wasn’t a distance he could dodge from. Meanwhile, no matter how high the defense of Suzuran’s garments were, his gun was pressed up against bare skin.
This was what it all came down to.
The cheers that shook the earth faded to silence like a dream. Whose gun would they hear first? Who would be the one to fall?
A brief exchange of eyes.
Words were unnecessary.
The moment each burst into a grin, that was the signal to pull the trigger—!!
“…… H-huh? The hell? It’s jammed!?”
Suzuran frantically fiddled with the lever of her M16. Ryuuta was similarly fiddling with his desert eagle as he cried out.
“Dumbass, yours is just out of bullets! Dammit, this ain’t no joke! How could my gun break down on me here…!?”
“What are you acting like the red pig for!? I was the one who pulled the trigger first!!”
“Pull the other one. You know I was waiting a bit to see if you had any last words! And wait, the hell’s a red pig!?”
“Shut it, I never wanted to be popular with a seedy girl like you in the first place. When all your masks jilted you, you really are one to speak!! And I just remembered but give me my money!!”
“Eeeeh? What are you talking about? I have nooo idea.”
As the two desperately operated their guns, engrossed in their verbal quarrel, both gun barrels suddenly discharged in unanticipated directions.
And this time was the sound of both parties out of bullets.
The moderator- Lena- peered at the dissatisfied faces of the spectators as she hastily dashed over to what was turning into quite the let-down. She held the mike up to her mouth.
‘Umm… so. What do we do in this case…?’
She blinked in surprise, turning the microphone towards the two of them.
“Well, let’s see…”
Ryuuta seemed quite concerned about the dampened air drifting around the stadium.
“A-at a time like this, you know. Gotta be that. Just follow the initial rules, restock our ammunition and get this thing back on track…”
The air didn’t improve. To be treated like this after they had been so excited, the dissatisfactions of the audience were on the verge of explosion. However, as was to be expected of the Sacred Demon Lord.
“We’ll have a fist fight!! One straight out of a Hollywood movie! That’s it!!”
Suzuran’s fervor didn’t take no for an answer. Her proposal of the most easy to understand settlement since the dawn of history brought the cheers back to the stadium.
“N-no, hey, wait Lily! I’m telling you, I can’t hit a g…!”
“Sacred Demon Lord Kick!!”
Ryuuta fell down prostrate on the spot.
“How about that! I modified the special anti-Meeko jumping rolling savate into my very own Sacred Demon Lord Kick!”
“D… don’t screw with me! There wasn’t any jumping or rolling, it was just a front kick!”
“All the unnecessary movements were removed to execute it faster♪.”
“Not what I was asking! You’re suddenly playing dirty.”
As he tried to rise, Suzuran stepped down on the side of his face from above. Her eyebrows raised, grinning from ear to ear, she was all too eager to crush him underfoot.
“And so, what was that you were saying, Little Ryuuta? Who’s chestless, a washboard, and impossible to distinguish front from back?”
“Wai…! I never went that far…!”
“Huuuh? Now isn’t that strange? I’m sure I’ve heard that somewhere before.”
She had definitely heard it, but that was more than five years ago on a mountain road, and there was too much blood rushing to her head to properly remember.
“Let judgment befall the demonborn who doth discriminate a woman on her chest!!”
“T-that’s a false charge! Total BS!”
Ryuuta cried, while cheers flew across the women in the audience singing praise of the Sacred Demon Lord, and the men who had a general idea of what was going on scrunched their shoulders at the end of a man who had incurred the wrath of this unreasonable girl. There was not a soul to chant an objection at the Lord’s wrath, not a voice of salvation for this pitiful sacrificial lamb.
“Hey, Ryuuta! It takes courage to apologize! How about we forget about those petty past disputes! Forget about some petty sum of money! Let us join hands once more and set course for a glimmering future!”
Grit! Grit! Grit!
“For God’s sake, how many times do you plan on kicking me with that stupidly lovely smile!? Ya can’t forget about a petty insult or a petty bit of coin, you really are a petty Sacred Demon Lord!”
Suzuran’s foot stopped. Ryuuta neglected to wipe the blood streaming from the corner of his mouth as he made his impassioned plea.
“That ain’t how the Sacred Demon Lord’s supposed to be, right!? Aren’t you supposed to possess a tolerant, welcoming heart!? That address you made when the final tournament kicked off, I felt that one down in my bones! Getting all the world’s races together, and standing them side by side without dispute isn’t something just anyone would think to do! No, forget think, you bloody went and did it, I thought you really were something special! Right everyone!?”
Yeah, that’s right, he’s got it, no shortage of approval from the spectators.
“Quit being so underhanded!!”
“We want to see you fighting strong, fair and square!!”
With each entrance of a new earnest word, the look in Ryuuta’s eyes grew stronger.
“… Ya get it? Right now, you’re not the Obliterating Industries Chairman Lily… You’re supposed to be Sacred Demon Lord Nagoyakawa Suzuran! That’s what everyone here thought when they cheered for you! Are you the sorta gal who’s gonna betray all their expectations!? Did working in an evil organization make you stop caring about something so vital!? Going at it like winning’s all that matters, now that’s what a petty small fry would do… am I wrong, Sacred Demon Lord Suzuran!? Nagoyakawa Suzuran!?”
The greatest cry Ryuuta could muster as he held himself back from spewing up blood, everyone who bore witness sent a warm round of app…
“Sacred Demon Lord Craaaash.”
The butt of Suzuran’s gun accelerated through freefall collided straight into Ryuuta’s face.
“Now I see it, Ryuuta Salinger. Not only my chest, you mean to call my very existence, the reason I was born petty. I can go and take that as an invite to fight, can’t I?”
“No… could you listen for a second…”
“I never intended to open a sports festival here, bucko. Did you read the rules? Take them in? It says it right there, ‘Anything goes’. I never said a single word against playing dirty. The Sacred Demon Lord’s just a single human herself. Before being Sacred Demon Lord, she’s the supreme leader of an evil organization, you following?”
“That one takes precedence!?”
Just like that, with a swing and a swing like she was hammering mochi with a mallet (though she was actually smacking down an M16).
“Now whose chest was petty again? It’ll be easier for you if you hurry and apologize. Well, if you don’t I get to enjoy myself just a little bit longer♪.”
“Wait a second! Wai…!”
Suzuran continued striking a fallen Ryuuta before kicking him again.
On side note, the Sacred Demon Lord’s unbridled rage was so fierce that upon witnessing it, Lena— who noticed something quite familiar about it— was creeped out and led to just a little bit of self-reflection.
Any remaining spectators cowered and shuddered at the Sacred Demon Lord’s rampage… more accurately, they were uniformly weirded out, and at a table prepared in one corner, Meeko and Elsia gazed over the two over a sip of green and black tea respectively.
Elsia sent an oblique glance to her own chest.
Her eyes casually shifted towards Meeko.
“What is the matter, young mistress?”
“… Is that preferential?”
“Oh, yes I see. You are still quite young. It is nothing to worry about.”
Meeko smiled and nonchalantly bit down on a rice cracker.
“I am not worried about it.”
Elsia took a bite of a cookie.
“I was just wondering if eating would make them grow.”
Crink, Meeko crunched down on the rice cracker.
“You’re still a growing girl, young mistress. Eat as much as you like.”
“Oh my. I could never match you in that regard.”
They each took a calm sip of tea at precisely the same time. A deep breath.
If any demon had been within a ten-meter radius of them, they would have surely fled over ten kilometers away as fast as their legs could take them.
“I’ve always thought so, but young mistress, you know not what it means to show restraint. This is why you will always be but a young mistress,”
“What a coincidence. I have always found distaste in your condescending tone. Is this what it means to grow old?”
And yet another sip of tea.
The very same instant she set her cup down, Meeko had called up a hundred Nozuchi from the earth and Elsia had brandished her hand to mow them down with her grimoire still resting on the table.
The appearance of the Nozuchi had destroyed around a third of the stadium, Elsia’s magic blew away another third.
‘Wait!? What!? What was that!? What just…!? Run! Everyone get out of heeeeeeeeeere!’!
The moderator woman started to clamor, not that it mattered to either of them. Just as one rarely pay heed to how many ants are marching around their feet in a grappling match… each and every one of those running from the bleachers amounted to little more to these two.
“I thought you had lived long enough, but you still need a smack on the buttocks to learn. Little girl.”
“A mere vassal to my mother? A joke of the elderly, I’m sure.”
A stream of mana violently burst forth from Elsia’s palm. Not a moment behind, Meeko lowered a slender, long hammer to strike against the beam and cancel it out. A peculiar rhythm was forming between their two offensives, and as a strong stream of water scatters in all directions, they only brought greater destruction to their surroundings…
After they had gone on an ample rampage for an hour.
“… And now I’m bored.”
Elsia said rather nonchalant and abruptly. Meeko was just about to raise her hammer again, and she blinked in surprise, frozen in that awkward position. She sighed, she lowered her hands, she stuck the hammer against the ground and leaned against it like a cane.
“… You truly are an esteemed one, young mistress. After all you’ve done here.”
What remained was a desert of ash so horrid it was a marvel that Center Building was intact.
“But… I am beginning to hunger myself.”
“If it’s a western restaurant, I’d gladly tag along.”
“I mind not. They’ll give chopsticks if you ask, will they not?”
Like a tornado that came without warning and disappeared in the blink of an eye. Such a natural disaster to the people subject to them.
Lena cautiously slipped her way out from a corner of the mountain of rubble.
‘Ahem… aheeem… aa, aaah. Testing, testing. Ahem. The microphone and speaker are miraculously working… is anyone still alive…?’
Half of the spectators just barely managed to get away. The other half were late to run and barely alive. Just like the microphone and speakers, there were miraculously no deaths. In the end, Elsia had held back as much as she could, calculating how her magic would bounce and refract, Meeko would have her Nozuchi appear in place of walls, covering them from the blasts and shockwaves… not that anyone noticed.
“Yes! I’m alive! Long live the Sacred Demon Lord!!”
With both her fists stuck into the air, Suzuran brushed aside the debris as she stood.
“It’s too early to declare your victory, I’m still…!”
What Ryuuta saw as he similarly lifted his body out of the rubble… was the end. The sidearm Suzuran had been concealing, the muzzle of a Beretta.
“Kirishima? The rules were never changed, were they? This match is to be settled solely with shock rounds.”
‘Yes… that’s right. Ryuuta Salinger did not acknowledge the shift to a punching match.’
“You heard her. Goodbye♪.”
Those exclamations came from here and there. The shock bullet burst into Ryuuta’s forehead.
‘And that’s the match!! The winner is the Suzuran-Meeko pair… however.’
Lena’s words hung lonesomely. There was naturally no one to listen to her. Only a gust of wind swept before the sunset. After lowering her mike, Lena scratched her head.
“… Hey Suzuran. What are we going to do about this… everyone’s looking forward to the finals, but this place won’t be fixed up in a day or two.”
“The stadium was finished in a week, wasn’t it? If we go and beg Elize, she’ll be able to fix it up in half the time I tell ya. It’s fine, totally fine!”
With this and that, President Elize received the request and dropped by Obliterating Industries within the day. She sat down at the discussion table, and before long cut in with these words.
“Stuuupid!! Stuuupid!! Stuuupid!! Don’t go bringing us your mismanagement, trash!! Die!!”
Upon learning of damages and casualties, Chairman Suzuran reaffirmed the severity of the matter and offered an earnest apology.
“Can’t you do something about that? I’m on my hands and knees here.”
“I wouldn’t care if you were twenty feet under the ground, fool!! I would’ve been blown away myself if I wasn’t careful!! Now how about you apologize for that and pay some compensation first, huh!!”
President Elize’s feet hammered against the bottom of the table as she repeated her threats. Suzuran was already lowering her head with the momentum of a grasshopper.
“Yes, yes, it’s exactly as you say. So, umm, would you be able to manage a week…”
“Hah!? What are you blathering after you sent half of my employees to the hospital you raging loon!? No way we have enough people to even get it done at all! A week, you’re outta your mind!! For now, pay all their medical bills and then some.”
“No, but, you know, right? Our Meeko may have had a little something to do with it, but there was also Ms. Elsia who has nothing to do with our company…”
“And wait, don’t go letting those walking nuclear bombs roam free!! Go tie a rope around their necks and throw them into the depths of the earth like depleted uranium!! If that’s what you want, I’ll dig as many holes as you need, eh!!”
Ngggh, Suzuran groaned.
“… I don’t think it’ll be so peachy if those two heard you say that.”
“Oh really? Then call them up and get them in here right this instant. I’ll tell them exactly what I’ve just said, and when your mansion gets erased off the map, I ain’t fixing it for you. Is that peachy enough for you?”
That would be quite troubling for Suzuran. She took a glance at Shouki who was keeping himself scarce behind the president.
“Urgh… Hasebe-senpai, how about you say something?”
“You’re right. Elize, let’s leave it at that.”
“Your president doesn’t need your opinion, part-timer. Stay out of it. Just die. This is a good chance, let me give you to Obliterating Industries, stupid.”
“No… umm, we’re not really hiring.”
Suzuran waved her hand left and right to decline the hard sell.
“I’ll fix your stadium if you take him.”
“We have a right to choose our personnel.”
“What a terrible company, right Shouki? You play buddy-buddy with them so long and they say they don’t need you. That’s human nature for you.”
“Err… can I just go already? Back home?”
Suzuran called out to the back of Shouki, who had turned away and curled into a ball.
“Didn’t you leave the house because you didn’t want Shouka calling you a NEET every day?”
“I’m beginning to think I’d be far better off as a house security guard that gets sent off to buy beer and horse racing papers every day.”
Clarica behind Suzuran forgot her role as a guard to give a tired yawn.
“You’ve got it rough, Mr. Shouki. Well, working’s not all there is to life. Something good will come someday.”
To the side of a teeth-gritting Shouki, Elize clapped her hands with a serious face.
“I’ve got it. I’ll trade you Shouki for that maid. Deal, and I’ll forget all the trifling things and take up the stadium job.”
“I’m not as cheap as Mr. Shouki you know. Three hundred thousand yen a month, no less.”
Clarica laughed with a self-satisfied look on her face. Shouki got even more down.
“… Twice my pay.”
“That’s cheap. Then I wouldn’t mind paying a million a month.”
Clarica immediately felt an attraction in Elize’s direction, her involuntary approach was only reeled in by Suzuran’s firm grasp on her arm.
“Though shalt not be led by the temptation of money.”
“Ms. Suzuran. Working isn’t all there is to life, but the world runs on money.”
Elize fully agreed. Her snaggletooth peeked out like an impish devil.
“That’s right, in the end, we’re talking about how much you plan on paying. I’m telling you to show some sincerity here, sincerity. Capeesh?”
She laughed on high and Suzuran had not the blade to fight back. It was the time for adult discussions to begin. When.
“Hey… did Ratzelica come by?”
VZ opened the door, crudely scratching her head as she took a wide look across the room.
“Huh? Kakko. Wasn’t Ratzelica… yes, if I recall, she was on front desk duty today.”
“Yeah, that’s right, but you know. She was on noon shift today, so she should be back by now. I promised to have dinner with her and Ripple-Rapple before the show, but she’s not picking up her phone.”
Completely hopeless, she shook her head. And just as she was about to close the door, this time Takase pushed past her on his way in.
“There’s something we need to talk about…”
Still slouched into the sofa, Elize rested her feet on the coffee table with a bang.
“You came at just the right time, Iori Takase. It looks like your chairman is an idiot, so I was thinking of calling you in.”
“Hmph, what were you expecting, Elize Mithrilite? Everyone knows the position of chairman is essentially an inept decoration. More importantly…”
“You’re terrible! Master, what are you saying when you’re just the president! And what do you mean more importantly!?”
As Suzuran tried to grasp at him, Takase held back her face with a fed-up hand.
“Yeah, yeah, just listen, you bloody stupid brick wall.”
“Aaaaah!? I just remembered!! I was getting this itching feeling it couldn’t have been Ryuuta, but now I’ve got it!! Master, you’re the source of all evil!! Listen to this, Elize! If it weren’t for this guy’s rash remarks, they wouldn’t be calling me dirty, I would have wrapped the match up just like that, and Meeko and Elsia wouldn’t have had the opportunity to fi—”
Thwap. Thud…. Thwap!!
“Owowowow…! What are you doing ma—”
“When I say listen you shut up and listen, you two-dimensional cutout with no discernable front or back no matter how old you get!! I’ll turn you into a continental-class ballistic Sacred Demon Lord Suzuran Missile and fire dammit!!”
Recalling the past she couldn’t wipe away and remembering what true abuse was, the high and mighty Sacred Demon Lord obediently sat back on the sofa.
“Two dimensional… two dimensional was going too far… even a brick wall isn’t necessarily completely flat…”
Sob. Sob. Sob.
Elize’s terribly irritated face didn’t change.
“… What. Was that all you had to say? Can I leave yet?”
“No, wait. You’re trustworthy, in a sense.”
Her brow furrowing at Takase’s meek voice, Elize tilted her head. He opened a laptop on the table, VZ, Clarica and Shouki also drew close, and Suzuran spoke as if she had finally woken up and regained herself.
“Isn’t that Wilco’s computer?”
“Kuku… that’s right. And here we have some documents Wilco left behind before she disappeared during the semi-finals. It’s a fun read. Go ahead.”
Save for a broadly grinning Takase, the faces formed a crowd to peer into the monitor. It didn’t take too long for their faces to turn serious.
Suzuran was the first to raise her face with a hazardous voice.
“Is this… true?”
“It’s the sort of crazy information you could blow away with a laugh, but… Wilco was the one who pulled it up. And I just managed to corroborate it with Angel Saber.”
Suzuran sounded quite impressed.
“Angel Saber…? I’m surprised they agreed to speak to you.”
“They didn’t need too much convincing. Once I told them all the information I’d be leaking, they started losing their minds. That was enough to prove it was true.”
Information that would never be leaked, could never be leaked, their security was supposed to be iron-clad and yet it had already been breached.
“So where’s Wilco?”
“She never returned.”
This time, everyone blankly raised their face.
“She told me to give that a read and disappeared into the screen. On the contrary, I’d like to ask… has anyone seen Wilco since noon?”
Takase pushed up his silver-rimmed glasses to look around, but no one came out with any new info.
“… Hm, that makes matters simple. She noticed something and charged in alone. And she made a mistake.”
Shouki’s eyes were now no different from his active days, he muttered in a low voice.
“The hunter became the hunted… is what it sounds like. She was searching for all these missing persons?”
“That sounds about right. Wilco was desperately searching for Mr. Hideo, after all.”
“But wait a second.”
Suzuran’s face half clouded in worry.
“That Archess of all people? You really think so?”
“Have you forgotten the warning we received, Suzuran?”
“It’s recorded right here. The warning that Alhazan was plotting something.”
“That’s why we properly exercised the adequate level of caution, but we reconciled over dinner and Meeko recognized it…”
“Don’t you think he met you under such circumstance to purposely give you that impression?”
Suzuran’s eyes widened in shock as Takase calmly corrected himself.
“Ah, I’m not saying you’re in the wrong. Being able to be friendly with anybody is your strong point. Your open-heartedness is the virtue that has you adored as both the Lord and Supreme Leader. It’s just…”
He cut his words a moment to emphasize the point.
“I’ve only heard the story second-hand. I don’t consider him in any way trustworthy.”
“Then in that case, if you try meeting him once…”
“Sorry, but that’s not the problem I’m talking about. From my warped point of view, it’s stranger not to connect Archess with the disappearances. How about you, Elize? You met him during Cross Flags, didn’t you?”
She had an exceedingly cold look on her face.
“There’s no concrete evidence he’s done something. In that case, what does it matter what I thought about him? Iori Takase.”
“You’re right. You do have a point, but it’s precisely because there’s no proof that we need to start from somewhere.”
“Let’s see. In that case… to keep it short, I can’t stand him.”
“I see. Looks like we agree for once.”
“Though he comes second to you in that regard..”
“How did it feel working for that company?”
Shouki had been tapering his lips at the atmosphere that completely ignored his existence without even calling him a damn brat.
“… Well, whatever. Let’s see. From my point of view…”
He looked up into empty space and gestured to bring his memory back. He immediately found his words.
“I got the same impression as Suzuran. I could only see him as a good-natured man. I heard he was a true demon so I thought he’d be more imposing… once I actually met him, I found myself disappointed.”
“You didn’t think anything after that?”
Elize’s abrupt question caught him by surprise.
“What do you mean after that?”
“That so. Well, you’re a good kid, so I guess it doesn’t matter.”
She left the words before sharpening her voice.
“I can’t stand him. When he has such a good-natured face, acting oh so gracefully, his schemes get along way too well. He’s the epitome of a real swindler.”
“If that’s your angle, then shouldn’t’ we just nab him and tie him up for the time being?”
Clarica’s words as she gazed longingly at her Mauser had Takase scratch his head.
“Well, in the end, that would be our fastest option, but…”
“Aaaah. Phone… oh, it’s Ratzelica!”
Not paying the slightest mind to the atmosphere, VZ moved over to a corner of the room. Her cheerful, laid-back conversation did its work on the tension.
“Eh, what’s up? Overtime? Food? Oh, I see, I see. Yep, got it. With everyone? … Not a boyfriend, I hope? Wanna die?”
Suzuran was taken aback.
“Yep, okay, okay. Yeah, yeah, then next time.”
“…… Huh? What’s wrong Kakko? I never thought you’d speak like that with Ratzelica. Did you get in a fight or something?”
VZ ruffled up her hair a bit.
“Nah, that was the culprit. Apparently Ratzelica’s been kidnapped.”
After a terribly loaded one second.
“When!?” “Where!?” “Who did it!?” “Their demands!?”
“… Now, look here. I’m not Shotoku Taishi you know? They didn’t say the place, they just told me to not do anything funny. They had quite a peculiar voice so, a voice changer?”
She said, despite already having changed into her black combat uniform.
“But anyway, I’m off to go make a little mincemeat.”
“Wait, Kakko, listen to me.”
Suzuran frantically grasped the edge of her mantle.
“You don’t even know where they are.”
“Nnnyy… I know, right? I guess I’m better off waiting for it.”
“Eh? For what?”
“They said they’d call again.”
“Do you think it… got through?”
‘Nihaha, it’ll be perfectly fine. That’s the most efficient way to use VZ.’
Hmm… a breath. Smoke folded Ratzelica’s phone in his cardboard box and tucked it away in his breast pocket. The liquid crystal display on the handheld console in his other hand displayed Wilco who was now completely a two-dimensional sprite, not even polygons anymore.
“I can’t believe it… are you really alive inside of this?”
‘Believe it or not, Wilco is Wilco.’
‘But you really saved her back there. Wilco doesn’t know too much about herself, but that one was dangerous.’
The entirety of Center’s system was physically shut down. Neither the phone lines nor electric lines were hooked up. There weren’t even any radio waves. That was her first time being isolated from the computer she used as her house, but it seemed that was a dangerous trick to pull.
While she had gathered enough energy to fire a rail cannon in Cross Flags, being isolated perhaps meant she lacked the first diode on the amplification circuit. She had suddenly lost her footing, she was thrown out into pitch-black space, it was as if she had lost all sense of balance. Forget producing energy, the senses she had to rely on had all become uncertain.
She was unable to enter the receptions monitor she was sure she had touched… what her fading field of vision captured at that moment were the handheld gaming systems Ratty secretly kept under the counter to kill time. On one hand, a Dual-Screen Lite with stylus, on the other a PlayStation Portable with 8GB memory.
A miracle on par with the tips of one’s toes brushing up against the top of the reef just as they were about to drown in the pitch black sea of the night.
8GB instantly obtained. She got the feeling there was some rather hardcore game data on it, but she cared not as she devoured it to secure some living space. After that, she nibbled at the last remaining fragments of data in this narrow two-dimensional space, leaving only a static-ridden shadow to pretend to be done in by Archess.
As a result of keeping herself scarce, Ratty was swiftly carried off somewhere… and the moment the lobby was empty, the one who picked up the Wilco-loaded console was Smoke.
‘What about you, Smoke? I was sure you’d returned to Mars by now.’
“Hm… That’s how it was supposed to be, but just when I was getting out, I got a report that the Gray had failed to return…”
They had formed a nonaggression treaty in regards to the earth. But now that the Gray from a distant star had gone missing, if any harm were to befall him, the intergalactic problem would break out once more. In order to rescue the Gray and take precautions, the Martian Army’s Special Forces Unit Fex House gave him a new mission! Now go forth, Gas Smoke! You must regain the peace of space…!
‘… Isn’t smoke already a gas…?’
“Yes… well I didn’t choose it…”
‘So you’ve been investigating alone this whole time?’
“That’s right. But unlike Gray, I’ve got to operate covertly as a member of Fex Hound…”
He generally couldn’t show himself in public. With the Gray still missing, if a member of the Martian army was found loitering around Earth that was supposed to be a designated non-intervention zone, unsavory suspicions would be inevitable.
‘Uhah… now you’ve found yourself in quite the predicament…’
“And when I don’t know who’s friend and who’s foe, I’ve got no clue who I can cooperate with.”
He had a point. Alhazan had gotten so far by scattering their members into every office. There was nothing lost in taking caution… in this instance, he turned to Wilco, who he was already acquainted with. Her being Hideo’s partner, on top of the clear fact she was opposed to them had Smoke hazard contact once more.
Rather than hazard, the game console he recovered to see if there was any valuable information just happened to contain Wilco for some reason, but that didn’t change the fact she was his first ally.
‘So do you know anything about Master?’
“Hm… I definitely witnessed him being taken away. On an all or nothing bet, I used my super-directional speaker to warn him to ‘Watch out’, but… he didn’t seem completely there at the moment.”
‘So they just took him?’
“That’s right. I saw him headed up on the elevator with that cat woman… with the size of this building, I could not trace his movements from there on out.”
‘You don’t happen to have a movement sensor or life-form sensor-like item on you, do you?’
“I do. I finally managed to find the floor the hostages were being kept the other day.”
Wilco flashed in delight, but Smoke’s voice carried his distress.
“However… neither Hideo nor my target Gray were anywhere to be seen…”
‘Eh…!? W-wait a second! What’s that supposed to…!’
They heard the door open.
Had she set the speakers too loud? The system was evidently back online now. The lights in the room with the sound of a switch. They couldn’t tell what was going on outside of the cardboard box, but they could at least hear the voices.
“Cat ears are pretty nice, you knyow…”
A wary, low, contained voice. There was no mistaking it.
(To think that sociable landlady… was our enemy.)
It was definitely an emergency situation, but when she attacked with Gabès and the others, Wilco felt deceived to her core. The words that came after.
“Well I didn’t hear anything… Michelle, you sure it wasn’t just a rat?”
Wilco had only been half in doubt, she was now at a loss for words. But was that really the case?
“It wasn’t a rat’s presence, I heard a proper voice. Like a girl’s voice leaking out of a cellphyone.”
It was definitely from a small-scale speaker, but that was covered by a cardboard box, what’s more, she made it out from outside the room. She had an incredible sense of hearing. Those triangular ears on top of her head really weren’t just for show.
Two sets of footsteps. Making in arbitrary directions as if searching for something.
“I heard about it from Zazi but you know, you sure you haven’t just been put on edge?”
“You think so? But I was almost killed back there. An attack like that is against the rules.”
“Hmm… but she died, didn’t she, Wilco. All because she teamed up with the likes of Kawamura Hideo… what about him, by the way? Is he dead yet?”
That settled it. Kirishima Lena was guilty.
Inside of Wilco, an indignation along with a worry for Hideo’s wellbeing.
“He’s still stubbornly clinging on. The others are probably covering for him. He wanted to die himself, so he could just drop dead already. Save us the effort.”
“Hmm. I see. Well whatever.”
After a few rounds around the room, the two came to a stop.
“Then do you want to gyo bully him with me next time?”
“Mn… it’s fine, just whatever. Papa got angry at me. Hurting him took a load off my shoulders, but I’m thinking I may have gone a little too far…”
“You think syo?”
“Getting serious against that guy. Isn’t that just like those folks that throw rocks at cardboard houses under the bridge? It was definitely embarrassing… I’m reflecting.”
If she was capable of movement, if Hideo was here and they were in perfect condition, Wilco would have liked to smash spears, swords, and beams into them this very instant. At the very least, she wanted to say something back.
But it was hopeless. Hideo was apparently confined in a place where it wouldn’t be strange if he died any day now. Then what would snapping here do for her? This wasn’t even comparable to the pain and humiliation he was suffering. Yet even now, he lived on.
This was the time to endure.
These two stupid Alhazan core members were boldly leaking all the information she needed. She was the one who should be laughing. Like a well-made modest bit of spyware, she simply had to be there, with no presence, gleaning off information. That was all she could do at the moment.
“Ailments of the heart are difficult. Syo anyway…”
So anyway what… Wilco strained her ear to hear more.
“… Why is there a satsuma mandarin box in the girls’ changing room?”
Smoke was clearly startled.
(W… what is the meaning of this…! Are you telling me a cardboard box isn’t really a magic marvel…!?)
(You were just way too oblivious about the label…!!)
Clitch, clatch, Lena’s footsteps drew close.
“…Mmmn. That’s not all. It’s right in front of Ratty’s locker when she was just captured today. You said a girl’s voice so I’m glad it’s not just a pervert, but…”
Wilco was shaking and shivering on screen. It was up to smoke. An agent skilled enough to carry out a covert mission on another planet alone, he didn’t show any fluster on his face… his nature as a warrior let him think more level-headedly the greater his crisis.
Preparing her claws without a moment’s delay, Michelle forcefully raised her leg…
“Shyow yourself already!!”
And kicked away the cardboard box.
Wilco closed her eyes tight.
“Hah… now I feel like an idiot. Shouting at someone who isn’t there…”
Lena’s exhausted voice. Soon followed by the sound of turning feet.
“It’s gotta be that, Michelle, you’re way too tense. In the first place, no one in the real world would ever infiltrate somewhere in a cardboard box. I could believe an invisibility field, but…”
“Nyah… you really think syo…? I’m losing a little confidence here.”
Her ears twitched back and forth.
“Now let’s hurry back to papa. There’s plenty of things to discuss, Lady Meeko and Elsia blew it all sky high…”
“That’s right. Seriously, nothing good ever comes of getting involved with Obliterating Industries… is this going to put the underground work behind schedule?”
“Yeah, looks like it. Could you go tell them?”
“Well about that, we’re shyort on hands today. Could you help out a bit…”
The electric lights flicked off, the footsteps grew distant.
A flash of lightning as the darkness was peeled away to reveal Smoke’s form. If the two had left only a second later, they might have noticed.
‘We’re saved… Smoke, what was that…’
“Fufufu… we picked up a hint from the mimicry used by earth’s octopi and developed this active camouflage. Its name is Octopathy Vision!”
“… It’s the latest technological development on Mars, Wilco.”
It seemed he was hoping for a bit of surprise and envy.
‘Eh? But earth has optic camouflage and stealth camouflage, and just recently octopus camouflage, well we’ve got this and that… not that it’s all been put to practical use.’
Not much of an impact. It wasn’t as if she actually witnessed it, she was being hidden by it.
Smoke rose with a bit of a lonely voice.
“But I guess it’s still a prototype… at this size, a minute’s just about its limit.”
Perhaps the traces of its use, a rectangular box fasten to Smoke’s belt was scattering small sparks as if it had short-circuited.
‘But thanks to that, we got the hint we needed!’
“Yeah. The whereabouts of those who aren’t in this building… we’ve finally unraveled the mystery…!”
Seventy-eight floors above ground. That was where they were sealed… and where Ratty was thrown into.
“I wanted to somehow pass Koushirou a message that we were alright, but they kept a tight watch when I was fixing the suit…”
Groaned a middle-aged man who looked like he would fit perfectly as the master of a café. Javan was his partner, and everyone apparently called him ‘Old Man’.
“Mr. Hannibal, you know, he’s a man among men… I think he’s too worried about us to move freely… if he was up to it, these folks’d be nothing to him. It’s all my fault… dammit, how pathetic…”
This one was Hannibal’s partner Johnny. A young man who once supported a magnificent blond pompadour. But now his dangling improperly-set hair seemed to be an expression of his dark mental state.
“It is more honor than I deserve for the young master to let these old bones weigh on his mind… when I imagine how such vulgar men oppress him, I can’t have a quiet sleep at night.”
An old butler with wide-open eyes and a hooked nose, Sandelmain, curled his hunched back even further.
“I can’t help but worry for milady, so young and unmarried. I can only hope she isn’t causing too much trouble for the people she’s being held with.”
Ash Branken was the partner of Akane, who was temporarily feared as the bombing witch. While he wore a rustic suit of armor, the expression under his helmet was surely worn from mental fatigue.
“I thought I could just leave through the front door and return to the office. This is why I hate savages. They don’t even consider that losing Remina’s singing voice is a loss for the world. Good grief.”
A businessman through and through, Taoka dressed in such a way he wouldn’t feel out of place at all in a Ginza Sushi bar tugged up his rose-tinted glasses. A single man gallantly entered the stage.
“It’s a conspiracy! It’s all a plot of the Residents of Son!!”
Ratty surprisedly exclaimed.
Said the Colonel’s loyal dog Rocky.
And then silence.
“He… heheh… you’re amazing, sister… the first one here who actually understands anything Kobayashi says…”
“Dear me, when you get to my age, the things the young people say are…”
Johnny gulped down his spit while Sandelmain watched over with warm eyes.
“Ah, no… for the time being, I’ve got a general grasp of the situation.”
She cleared her throat. The tournament consisted of partners who trusted one another. When both members were taken hostage, each side was too worried to make a move. Additionally, from what she could make out, the main fighting force of the pairs were for some reason sealed in the completely opposite direction, somewhere deep underground.
In other words, the only ones here were those they had determined weren’t much of a threat if left to their own devices.
They had an entire floor they could move freely in, they each had a private room to sleep, and they even had a space where they could converse like this. The problem was that both the elevator and emergency stairs had two-man guard teams posted twenty-four hours a day. Executives like Gabès would periodically check in on them.
(But… that’s right.)
They were the weaker links. That was precisely why security was lax. She had no idea what was going on underground, but if anyone wanted to escape… wouldn’t this be the weak link in the security as well?
Naturally if Archess, Zazi or Gabès… if they encountered any one of their executive-class members, that was undoubtedly enough to prove lethal to all of them together. To humans, that was just what it meant to encounter a demon specialized in combat ability.
But. As long as they could grasp the time they were all away… they had the numbers.
Ratty started off by asking their opinion on the matter. The Old Man, apparently the tentative leader gave a strong nod.
“Indeed. With these numbers, it’s natural to think so. Chatting around here isn’t going to change the fact we’re dragging down Koushirou and the others.”
To put it another way.
“On the off chance we fail… well, that’s another way to take the shackles off of Hannibal and the others. Right old man?”
Johnny’s words had him nod with a serious face.
Meaning. If they died, their deaths would let those below move without hesitation. What Johnny expressed were words of heroic resolve. And to Ratty’s surprise… there wasn’t a single voice who would object to it.
They call us pairs, but we’re pretty much unrelated strangers. My life is mine. There wasn’t a single person here who thought so.
Precisely because the rules made it so lives weren’t on the line, a bond they had never witnessed before had formed. But that was also the reason Alhazan knew they couldn’t betray one another. Rather than lament the irony, perhaps they were better off cursing their wiles.
“Heehee… I cannot keep causing trouble for the young master. Unlike the rest of you, I do not have long left to begin with.”
Unable to stand still, Ash placed a hand on Sandelmain’s shoulders. A bitter smile on his face, but a glimpse of a quiet flame in his eyes.
“Normally, I should also be one protecting milady’s wellbeing. Yet milady was led off, if I am the only one to return unharmed, it will be my eternal disgrace. This is a circumstance I must atone for even if it means my death.”
“You have me on board. In the industry, talents are golden geese more valuable than life. If we can rescue her, it’ll generate some buzz around her debut.”
Unsugarcoated words, but Taoka showed his dignity as a producer.
“That’s right. MMMR has always fought. No matter how terrifying of a prophecy, conspiracy, ancient civilization, formation of heavenly bodies…!”
It was difficult to take the last man and dog into consideration, but whatever the case, the sentiment was plenty. No, they had more than enough.
“Calm down, please just calm down everyone. I understand how you feel, but you can’t die here. Our victory should only become real once every pair has safely escaped.”
Perhaps it was inevitable from the flow of the conversation, but Ratty reeled them in as their ardor reached a point they might jump out at any instant. As it stood, Alhazan specialized in intellectual gambits. If they went against that with plan desperation, it was plain to see what would happen.
With a difficult face, the crease on the Old Man’s forehead sunk deeper.
“But… how do you figure? All we have right now is ourselves.”
“That’s the thing…”
Ratty collected her thoughts.
“Right… that’s the biggest problem. If at the very least we could coordinate with the people imprisoned below…”
“But there are no wireless devices here. If I had a few parts, I might be able to make one, but…”
Those reliable words from the man who developed the Javan Suit had Ratty hopefully digging through her pockets but… her hopes immediately changed to disappointment. She was on desk shift today. She had left her cellphone in the changing room locker. Well, even if she had it, it would just be confiscated.
The Old Man shook his head.
“… No, it’ll still be hard. This floor is close to three hundred meters above ground. Koushirou and the others are even further below that. It’s hard to think the radio waves will reach.”
She could see the nightscape dotted by stars out the window. But it was impossible to see this floor from the outside. The reinforced glass had a mirrored coating applied to it. That ruled out using a floodlight to send a Morse signal as well. No, even if they could do it, the range it would reach was too vast. There was a high possibility it would be seen by someone who reported to Alhazan. Even if they put their all into breaking the window, descending the cliff-like outer wall unnoticed was not a realistic goal.
Going off their investigation, there were no security cameras or listening devices on this floor, and perhaps this was why. They only needed to be deterrents against their partners, and there were guards on watch if they actually tried to escape. An executive would appear before they could get more than a few dozen floors down. In the end, the naked eye was rudimentary, but the most effective form of surveillance. Perhaps they realized any mechanical system could possibly be hacked to reveal their schemes.
With all they had on hand, an escape plot they were capable of… she couldn’t think of anything. The first step would have to be establishing contact with someone outside.
From nowhere in particular. She heard a pleasant laugh. After taking a nervous look around, she noticed it was coming from close to the ceiling. Everyone’s eyes gathered as…a pink game console slithered its way out of the lattice of the air conditioning duct.
“Ah, my PlayStation Pocket!?!?”
‘Not that. Ratty, please start by being surprised that Wilco is somehow alive and on screen. Also, it’s not pocket, it’s portable.’
Wilco calmly pointed out from the display.
“Ah, sorry, I’m always confusing it with the PocketStation… but I’m glad you’re alright…!”
But what was that tentacle-like something stuck to the edge of it? Could that even be called holding?
“!? Smoke!? Is that you, Smoke…!?”
Kobayashi stood with yet another indecipherable statement, but there was no response. Perhaps if Kobayashi was alone, but with the nature of his mission, he couldn’t show himself before an unspecified number of unknowns.
‘Aaah, well, anyway. I heard what’s going on. Wilco is going to return to Obliterating Industries and consult on how we can establish communications with Master underground.’
“!… Got it. I’m sure Suzuran and VZ are already suspicious that I didn’t come home. But they’re all unreasonable people, take very good care to inform them there are hostages…”
‘Yes of course. If there are any developments, Wilco will contact you over this PSP’s WLAN.’
Wilco shifted to the Centralle Building net circuit that had already been restored. Ratty preciously caught the game console the tentacle-like something tossed down. This unexpected support had quite suddenly reanimated the captured party.
All save for one.
Ratty desperately tried flipping on the power but by this point, not even the OS remained.