The following day. This was essentially their first day off in weeks… more than a month for those who came early. However, the couldn’t just aimlessly sit still. Once breakfast was over, Hideo lined up the maps he’d borrowed from the colonel the previous night over the simply-vast table.
What tipped him off was the tremors from yesterday afternoon. The earthquake that had apparently been caused by Meeko and Elsia.
“It would be a different story if it were. A normal earthquake. Originating from a change in the crust down here. But would a normal explosion on the surface really… reach the lowest floor where we are?”
The problem was the fact they were on the lowest floor. Not anywhere near the inside filling. They were pressed right up against the pie crust. As long as he didn’t know the scale of the conflict up top, he couldn’t be certain but… wasn’t there more than enough space to absorb the tremors?
Hideo had written letters over the lined up maps. For A to connect to A’, B to B’ and so forth.
“Wait… Darling, isn’t this…!”
The first one to raise their voice was Akane. Hideo nodded.
“It’s only a hypothesis. But I presume… this is what it means.”
Hideo’s alphabet lined up on the edge of the maps. Each end of the rivers the Colonel had drawn as noteworthy landmarks. He had connected their flow. He had joined completely random floors, the fourth floor to the twelfth, the twelfth to the twenty-ninth… the water on the fortieth floor went to the second; by putting the water currents together, it formed an irregular donut-like revolution with various parts branching off into the sixty-first floor known as Laramie Grotto. It streamed into the center and flowed out again.
Meaning, looking just at the stairs and elevators, one might think the labyrinth continued straight down, but perhaps that wasn’t the case.
It was originally supposed to be shallower, more vast… right, like a beehive. A single room of the honeycomb contained around ten floors stacked on top of one another. Once you reached the end of it, you were warped to the top floor of a different room…
“That’s presumably why, partway down the stairs. The format changes, every ten floors.”
And that let the labyrinth spread out horizontally under the city as a bundle of multiple cylinders. At that depth, wouldn’t a vibration from the surface get through?
“But… no, this is nonsense. In the first place, they’re maps I dragged up from the faint memory of my old head. Even before that, wouldn’t that make this like an Escher trompe l’oeil? Where is the water source…”
“Then Colonel. Where is the air we are currently breathing. Coming from? Why can you see the blue sky from the. Thirtieth floor?”
“I’ve got it…!”
Koushirou shouted out.
“Colonel, do you remember? Around the start, when I poured all the dirt that was getting in the way into the river, didn’t our drinking water get musty? That’s where our drinking water’s coming from so of course that would happen, you said so I stopped but… when the current’s so fast, the dirt I threw in at noon was still mixed in at night, didn’t you find that strange?”
Verrocchia chimed in.
“… I see, I did wonder about it as well. But if Hideo’s right, that would explain it.”
“Yeah, the dirt water that didn’t deposit within the day turned a circle around this lazy river… back to wherever we are on this ring.”
The vampire and sentai hero shared a nod. Wasn’t that a certain form of proof? No, if they devoted some time to it, this was a fact that could easily be proven or disproven.
“Colonel, in the world outside common sense you know of. I’ve seen gods, and demons, other worlds and magic… I simply can’t believe there are no warps.”
“… Fufu. No matter how much knowledge and experience, I guess you just can’t add up to a young’un’s flexibility.”
“In that case, how does the elevator work…?”
“Of course, that’s… something I was curious about. Too. So let’s go and check.”
It was the sole entrance and exit for better or worse. Hideo stood and left the room without any time to spare. The party followed behind.
“O-oh, we’re going out? Give me a minute, I’ll change into the Javan Suit…!”
Koushirou frantically stumbled his way out. The last one to stand, Hannibal stuck a Marlboro in his mouth, somewhat gleefully igniting the tip.
“He’s suddenly… got the eyes of a man… hey what do you see…?”
Verrocchia nodded right as he was about to cross the threshold. A cynical smile on his face.
“Indeed, right now, his blood would no doubt be a delicacy. He wouldn’t fall under my control no matter how many liters I sucked… good grief, these humans sure are incomprehensible lifeforms.”
This was the first time he’d returned ever since he was shoved down here with Minako. The elevator door surrounded by bedrock was shut tight with no buttons to operate it from this side. No sign of monsters for now. Remina was in the midst of singing a purification song just in case.
‘It has been a while since we came here but… what shall we do now?’
Hideo plainly declared.
“Hold on… now Darling. This is probably Orichalcum Alloy, you know? How are you going to do that?”
Ori… chalcum…? That brought back a bit of a trauma.
“You saw it at Elize’s mine, right? I’m sure the composition is different, but something like that.”
Over. End of story.
I see, he thought. Come to think of it, he did find it strange. No wonder it didn’t break when it was stationed in a den of powerful monsters. After leaving in such a passion, Hideo shed a drop of cold sweat. However.
The Gray arrived, his terminal pikopapopipaing at the door.
“If I fire my gun at full power, we might be able to manage.”
Akane was taken by surprise.
“Y… you can do that…!?”
“In exchange, my energy pack will be essentially empty. Therefore, I will no longer be able to assist with eliminating monsters.”
Everyone found their eyes wandering towards the Colonel.
“Well isn’t it fine? Unlike before, it looks like Hideo’s got some sort of plan. More so, how about we take it as a blessing you’ve still got enough energy left.”
It was immediately settled, but Remina who finished her song sounded wary.
“Umm. Are you sure the elevators contents… and everyone around it won’t just go boom?”
“Rest assured. I will be working on the substance composition from a micro to a macro level. Unique frequency check. Spin analysis… ecological pattern input check.”
The circuits of his high-performance toy-looking gun linked with the terminal on his wrist. Leaving Gray behind, the others parted from the door.
Minako abruptly spoke up.
“But… if we break this, what are we supposed to tell Alhazan.”
Ah, by the time everyone had opened their mouths, beaaaaam, the ray that shot out with an exceedingly easy-to-understand sound gave way to a perfectly circular hole.
“… Well, what’s done is done, they say.”
Said the Colonel in half a cold sweat. Akane shrugged her shoulders.
“Just tell them a new breed of super-high-class super-rare monster appeared and broke it. If I have time, I’ll arbitrarily fake it with some weaker materi…”
Akane fell silent as she looked into the hole.
“Wait, the hell…?”
Everyone was at a loss for words… only Hideo who had constructed the hypothesis calmly gazed at the scene. The contradiction born of thought, the message he wanted to pass to Wilco. This was the moment its integrity was put to the test.
The space inside the door had one counterweight. Along with the wire it hung from, there was some sort of cable stretching above it.
But that was all. There was nothing else.
There was solid ground at the bottom, indicating this was the last stop. But there were no walls. Not dark, but pure darkness. Only a weight and the ground for the elevator mechanism to align itself, the rest was a darkness that continued endlessly in every direction.
He ignored Minako’s cautionary words, stepping right in and looking up… but it was dark.
“I’m sorry. Does anyone. Have a light?”
“Give me a sec, let me turn on the helmet lamp.”
Javan stepped in after him and flipped on the switch. He stared up with a light like a search lamp.
“Now this is… something. What’s up with that? The doors… are floating in the air.”
In the pitch blackness along the wire that stretched up, they could see individual doors. With a faint motor sound, Javan zoomed in on the camera installed in the Javan Helmet.
“… Mn? It just becomes a normal elevator-shaft partway.”
While he said that, that was far, far into the distance. That was likely where Center Building began.
Switching out, stepping in, everyone looked at the scene. They saw the nostalgic surface world they needed to set out for. They didn’t have the means to reach it yet. But having a goal in sight was more than enough to revitalize them.
“There’s one more thing. I need to look into.”
He pointed Javan towards the mechanism stuck to the counterweight and the cable extending from it.
“This is… a tremendous discovery Hideo! It’s a transmitter!”
His helmet traced the cable up to where it joined. The colonel sounded out in rare excitement.
“Is that true!?”
“My sensors confirm so as well. It seems to be a relay device, they type that is generally used on this ☆.”
But there, Gray’s voice dropped in tone.
“Yeah. It’s got no power.”
“Dammit… it may share electricity with the elevator. Meaning we won’t be able to use it unless someone turns it on up top.”
But that solved a single mystery.
“Hideo, was this your objective…? This relay?”
“Yes. From yesterday’s conversation.”
Yesterday when Archess said the project would be finished up with explosives, Hideo had wondered how they would be detonated remotely… but this was the only possibility he could think of. It also explained how they left through the elevator after rationing when it couldn’t be opened from this side. As long as the elevator was operational, they could communicate wirelessly. Granted, he didn’t know if it was by a direct remote, or sending a signal for someone to operate it from above. There was a strict condition of it only being whenever someone from Alhazan was here, but it was possible to achieve contact.
He had been almost certain of it the moment Zazi took out his phone after the explosives talk… his belief had now changed to a substantiated fact.
‘I see… Sir Hideo, you were level-headed when it counted. All I could think of was my distaste for a youngster who would dare start texting at a time like that. Even more so after the news on Wilco.’
“Yes. I was so shocked about Wilco I didn’t have the space to think about it.”
……? Recalling the previous night from Okamaru’s words, something caught Hideo up.
A text addressed to Zazi. From the conversation, he was sure it was a text telling him to hurry it up… but in that case, why didn’t he open his folded phone? He could confirm the sender from the small screen on the back but not the contents. Was it to keep them from figuring out the secret of the relay… that was one way to explain it, but in that case, he should have kept his phone off from the start. It was hard to think he would make such a simple oversight.
If it was a text, he should have confirmed it. Considering the scale and importance of what they were doing, it could have been a vital message to their leader Archess.
But his phone vibrated…
… It vibrated? There was another function that could have gone off. An alarm.
Since they came down due to Michelle’s late return, did he set a time so he wouldn’t worry his other comrades…?
It made sense but something was off. Something felt out of place.
What could it be?
“… Look at that, now that you reminded him about Wilco, Darling’s getting all down again…”
“Eh? No, I didn’t really mean to… it’s because Okamaru said…”
‘But you said it too, Minako…’
Wrong. That’s right. Rather than the new problem he thought of… Verrocchia picked up his intent and changed topic.
“What shall we do, Hideo. If we can see up, shall I have a look?”
“… No. As it stands. Using this to get everyone out. Will be difficult.”
The doors floating in empty darkness. They likely led to different floors in the Labyrinth. But the current problem was securing the safety of the other hostages. It was pointless unless they managed to do that.
“However Hideo, in the end, isn’t it plain to see? The doors are in a straight line. Unfortunately, your circular river theory is…”
“No, Colonel. In that case. Why are the entrances lined up in this mysterious space? Not just a vertical shaft?”
The Colonel took a deep breath.
“So this is what you want to say. The labyrinth’s fundamental structure is as you laid out on the table… the crazy part is this dark elevator shaft.”
“Putting aside. Whether it’s crazy. Or whether those doors are warp holes… there’s no other way to explain it. Why else are the floors in Centeralle Building a normal elevator shaft? When only the underground portion is this deceptive darkness?”
The Colonel smiled bitterly, beaten down by his persistence. Simultaneously by the change in Hideo when he had been stricken badly enough to cling to death… a nostalgia for the youth that it sprouted from.
“I’ve got it, I’ve got it. Okay, Hideo. You’ve managed to deduce this far when we had no leads up to yesterday. How about we move forward along your theory.”
Akane raised her hand.
“Hey, Darling, Colonel. What do you want to do about this hole? If you want to close it, you’d better hurry up.”
“It looks like Mr. Gray performed molecular decomposition. Right now, I can still gather the particles drifting around and put it back together just as it was before.”
“In that case, before that. why don’t we alter the locking mechanism so it can be opened whenever we need it?”
“Now that’s a good idea! Give me a sec, let me scan it with the Javan Sensor.”
They were getting pretty into it. The thought suddenly struck him. The Gray’s ray gun he assumed worked on inexhaustible cosmic energy was actually supplied by an energy pack. In that case.
“… What powers the. Javan Suit?”
“Hot bloodedness and willpower!!”
A firmly thrust up thumb.
No, wait. That wasn’t as nonsensical as it seemed. Spirits did eat spiritual energy. If that sort of system was taken up under a scientific lens, maybe it would work out. It wasn’t like his common sense applied to this world anyway.
“Is there any way I can help out?”
“My apologies. I am unable to reach the device.”
“Oh how incompetent. Here, I’ll get you up.”
Watching over them sharing ideas and cooperating, Remina spoke rather charmed.
“How nice, to be young…”
Hannibal longingly let the smoke of his cigarette sway.
“You youngsters these days… they often say… but it’s always the young ones who make the times.”
They really were making a merry ruckus today. It somewhat reminded him of the night before the cultural festival.
“… But, in that case.”
Hideo thought once again.
“Remina, how old are you?”
Her face bloomed with the smile of Doctor Remina.
“What have you come down with today?”
He sternly shook his head to deny it. While that was going on.
A single chant from Akane. The door was revived looking as it always had. Yet now it could be operated from this side.
“Phew… that’s some nice handiwork if I do say so myself! But what a shame, I wanted to see the look on their faces when they saw it was broken!”
Akane offered a wink. This got her a not-too-unsatisfied nod from the Colonel.
“And telling tall tales to them would definitely be amusing but… we found something as interesting as a relay. It would be pretty troublesome if the monsters did in the device or the cable.”
“Yes. That’s where Wilco. Is coming from, after all.”
“Right, Wilco will…”
Minako was on the verge of nodding along.
“… Wait, say what!?”
Everyone stopped and stared.
Above ground, Obliterating Industries had imposed their full-scale door-to-door search as per schedule. The masks and the maids desperately searched out Wilco and Ratzelica who they would never possibly find. With how sociable and well-liked the two of them had been, the employees who hadn’t been told a word about the truth were considerably zealous in their ordeal.
From not the president’s but the chairman’s office, Wilco watched them from a camera on the street corner.
‘Uwah~… Wilco is feeling a little sorry for all this…’
“Oh don’t worry about it. They’re always slacking off, so now they’re finally earning their wages.”
Suzuran laughed like it wasn’t her problem. Just how was this company set up?
“So… How about it, Ripple-Rapple?”
“Well, just wait. It’s a city that ill-bred woman designed. Of course it’s going to be overly complicated and mysterious.”
What she’s heard so far was surprise after surprise. Their fields of expertise differed but this little girl apparently boasted an intellect rivaling that of the doctor. She had written out line upon line of formulae Wilco had never seen before across a number of whiteboards. Across the floor, papers of practice calculations based off of them were strewn all over the place.
‘The ill-bred woman who designed it… are you talking about heaven?’
“Always holier-than-though expressionless, impertinently calling herself an angel when she doesn’t even have wings. What the kids these days call… an attention hog.”
Wilco hadn’t heard any kids use that one lately, and she had to wonder if the expressionless little girl saying that wasn’t a bird of a feather… before she finished that thought, Ripple-Rapple’s free hand that wasn’t holding the felt pen summoned a metal bat.
“If you have something to say, say it clearly. My bat has no discrimination.”
The speed she wrote out her equations increased to demonstrate a terrible irritation.
‘Ahem, well. That’s…’
Just before she was about to mute her speakers.
‘Suzuran. Is her personality really that bad… this angel?’
“Yeaaah, but compared to Ripple-Rapple, she’s not that owwwwwww!?”
A straight shot with the tip of the pen hitting the bullseye.
“See, this is what I’m talking about! It’s always like this! No matter how you look at it, Mariacressel’s the more-grounded one! And wait, you’re sisters, so why don’t you get along a bit better!?”
“I must return that line right back to a certain someone and her own sister.”
Ripple-Rapple coldly stated as she popped off the cap to a new pen and began writing again. She didn’t seem angry, save for the atmosphere she gave off. She was truly expressionless.
“Even so, was the doctor for real? Umm… about the nesting?”
“It’s that woman we’re talking about, I could see her plotting out something so bizarre, queer, mysterious.”
This all started with the map Ryuuta brought in. At first they were scrutinizing it for clues on where Hideo and the others were being held and how they could be rescued from there… but as she took it all in, Wilco noticed something.
The maps were so detailed and complex it was difficult to notice with the naked eye. As Wilco processed it as data, she took it in under various categories. First, the passages. Then the treasure chests and trap-like objects. Finally, the ones that took up the least amount of space, the spring and ‘rivers’.
While the others were speaking, Wilco gazed at the map in her own way… and determined the flow of the rivers could be connected. All in a single revolution.
From there came the one they called in to cheat by drilling straight through the labyrinth, the drill specialist. Or perhaps drill fancier. The drill addict, the doctor.
According to him, the city’s underground was either a honeycomb structure with warps, or another world nested in what was already another world, one of these two possibilities. And at this very moment, Ripple-Rapple was in the midst of researching the nesting possibility.
If it were nested, it would be like a Russian nesting doll, a Matryoshka. Open one doll, and there’s another just a little smaller inside of it. Meaning inside of this city that existed in another world, perhaps there was a completely different world prepared for the Labyrinth.
Eventually, Ripple-Rapple’s hand smacked down the last dot.
Q. E. D.
The last period to end it all.
Thus it has been demonstrated.
She turned after a deep breath.
“… If the distances on Ryuuta’s map are accurate within ten meters, and the heights we have recorded for the floors are within two meters, then if we were to make a nested structure inside the isolated city, we only have the capacity for approximately fifty floors’ worth on this scale.”
“If you try to make it to Ryuuta’s specifications, there’s not enough space. Matryoshka will explode.”
“Matryoshka… who was that again? Sounds Russian to me.”
Ripple-Rapple’s expressionless eyes narrowed coldly. Ah, these people are a pain to deal with… thought Wilco as she ignored Suzuran and urged her on.
‘So you mean there’s a higher probability it’s a horizontal structure?’
A nod and a nod.
“Correct. The problem is…”
The problem was which floor the hostages were being kept under. And what part of this city that floor corresponded with.
But their hopes were greatly lifted. As long as it wasn’t a nested world, they would be able to commit the greatest taboo, to smash in the bedrock and reach the floor right from the surface.
“Is Wilco here?”
Takase barged in.
‘Wilco is right here.’
“They made a move. Have a look at EveryonePlaza.”
Wilco immediately accessed the page. She put it up on screen so Suzuran could see too.
“Eh? A post from Hideo?”
“Yes, one might think. Wilco, you’re on the case.”
The next thing he showed her was a memo detailing a number of web addresses.
‘… Haha, right on it.’
She immediately took in his intent. They were all relatively well-known message boards, they shared the contributor name ‘Hideo’, the message was the same… the submission time was right around the same time she got done in the day before.
That may have been the case for the dates listed on the display, but the access logs of each server all shared a time slot of late last night. If she jumped through the hoops of proxy to proxy, she would most likely end up in either the department store or Center.
‘Nihohoh! Nihohahahah! Far too ill-prepared to deceive an electronic spirit!’
“Umm, what do you mean? Logs and pixies and sambas… Wilco, don’t just keep it to yourself.”
‘Ratty’s a different story, but they’re trying to cover up Wilco’s disappearance with this.’
Back then, she had so obstinately demanded they free Hideo. The fact she was turning over every leaf to find Hideo was well known to both them and Obliterating Industries.
“Figures. If Wilco suddenly disappeared without leaving the confidential documents she nabbed from Angel Saber… and we found this message this morning.”
“Ah… I see. Of course we’d think Wilco ran off when she saw Hideo’s post.”
Rather than two mysterious disappearances, one was a fully-explained disappearance… that would lower their suspicions. Worst case scenario, they would be able to stretch it over to Ratty’s disappearance. Perhaps Wilco and Hideo had a hand in it, they might say.
Nod, nod, Ripple-Rapple nodded.
“But the schemer has finally drowned in his schemes.”
“Suzuran. Wilco is still fully alive, standing right here. But they forged a message. In order to conceal the fact they killed her. Meaning they are convinced Wilco has been killed.”
“Aah, I see…! They still think no one’s noticed their plot yet!”
Not knowing this side was already contriving to do something about the hostages.
“In that case, we’ll act like we were deceived, like Wilco went off searching for Hideo… yeah, let’s go with that.”
“But it would be unnatural if we noticed too soon, we can save that for the afternoon. More importantly… have you finished analyzing the labyrinth?”
Takase looked at the paper of calculations around his feet and shrugged. Suzuran nodded.
“Yes, for now it looks like it’s the honeycomb. Right?”
“Precisely. The rest depends on Ryuuta investigating the coordinates.”
“Hmm, so it’s smooth sailing…”
He was about to say when he noticed Wilco’s expression.
“What’s wrong, Wilco. Did you notice something new?”
‘Eh? Oh, no… the post itself may be fake, but I was wondering what the contents meant.’
‘I’ll be waiting in your old room.’
‘It feels a bit too stiff for a fabrication.’
“… It’s a fictional message, what does it matter what it means? Maybe they were trying to make it sound like some profound code between the two of you. It would be pretty troublesome if they specified an actual place and we went to search.”
He had a point. But your room?
Why had Alhazan chosen those words? The access logs were late into the night. More than enough time since she was defeated at the front desk. Were these words the result of thinking for half a day?
Time had passed. No, on the contrary… why didn’t they post it immediately?
Had they originally intended to play dumb… perhaps they heard something from Hideo during that time? In order to be thorough with their fabrication, did they interrogate Hideo for the sort of code Takase was talking about… perhaps they skillfully tricked him into saying these words himself?
Wilco shook her head on the monitor. Perhaps due to her desire to save him, she got the feeling she was being far too optimistic. Even if these were Hideo’s words, with how cautious Alhazan were, they would have surely rewritten it before posting.
But… this unnatural context. There was definitely some sort of reason for the unnatural space of time until the post. If the other side was certain she was dead. Going off of Archess’ personality, it was possible instead of covering it up, he confessed to Hideo straight up. And with that timid, apologetic face of his, he would ask this.
— Do you want to leave any words for her?
And if at that time Hideo believed she was alive, wouldn’t he put in a code? What if in a short enough time not to be suspected, he turned his mind gears full throttle and entrusted these words as his last ray of hope? If it was the Hideo with the cool glint in his eyes as he challenged matches… on the contrary, wasn’t it possible that Alhazan were the ones who were tricked, and they just wrote his message as-is?
They didn’t know what it meant. They found it suspicious. But Hideo himself said it. And they were sure the sole person who could decipher the message no longer existed in the world… in order to emphasize the profound message part Takase was talking about, could they have posted it as-is?
Even if that was the case. Then what meaning did Hideo put in the words? That was the biggest problem. What was he seeking? In no time at all, at a dizzying pace, Wilco was rummaging through cipher decryptors and miscellaneous sites about codes…
She was too immersed to listen, Suzuran let out a sigh.
“But… until the labyrinth investigation finishes, we won’t be able to make any moves. The finals aren’t starting until the stadium is fixed, after all.”
“You sure are taking it easy.” Said Ripple-Rapple. “If you want them to hurry, then get Elize some gifts.”
“No way, no how. As it is, she already ripped us off on the consolation money. If that’s the angle you’re going for, then throw some sugar cubes at her head for me. Those things are surprisingly painful.”
Ripple-Rapple slowly shook her head twice.
“Don’t play with… your food.”
“Very well, we’ll get the doctor to put together a sugar cube shooter. It won’t be a game, it’ll be ready for real combat.”
“That definitely sounds interesting master, but you’re getting off point. In that case, shouldn’t we…”
It was getting rather noisy outside so Wilco rounded the port and quietly slipped away.
While the tournament was reaching its finale, yesterday’s ruckus had created an outbreak of injuries so once again the Center front desk counter was desolate.
“… What can I do fyor you?”
Ryuuta Salinger, a famous regular to the labyrinth dropped by with Elize’s partner Hasebe Shouki, who had won his way to the finals. A strange pairing at that.
“We’re here to explore the labyrinth,” said Ryuuta. “I lost yesterday and I’ve got nothing better to do. I thought I’d try breaking the Colonel’s record before the tournament is up.”
Following on, Shouki stuck up his thumb.
“It’s the opposite here: since there’s gonna be some time to the finals, I’m reforging myself from the ground up. I just ran into him in town but it’s funny how these things work out…”
“Oh is that syo.”
Michelle handed out two forms from the counter.
“But what’s that you’ve got with you?”
She pointed at the conspicuously mecha backpack Shouki was shouldering.
“Mn? Oh, this is monster detector, apparently. Supposed to be perfect for searching out rare and strong monsters, at least that’s what that doctor from Iori’s place said.”
“Nyow that’s suspicious as hell.”
He smiled bitterly at her nonchalant words.
“Well that’s the thing… generally anything that guy makes is bloody suspicious but, well, I get to be a beta tester, and I am getting paid for it.”
Shouki said, filling in the form.
“Syounds hard, being a part-timer.”
“My thoughts exactly.”
Ryuuta laughed as he finished first and thrust back the form. Michelle sent him a dubious look.
“But it’s better than being unemployed, I’d say.”
“I’m a monster hunter. Self-employed. A freelancer, not a part-timer.”
Michelle accepted Shouki’s form. Both sheets shared the same estimated floors and time slots.
“Are you going down together?”
“I’m not as accustomed to this place as Ryuuta, I asked him to be my guide.”
“The harder monsters will be the former hero’s experience points, and I’m aiming to go far this time. This is one of those win-wins.”
“That syounds nice. Your forms are approved. Please take care.”
The two headed off for the elevator. Michelle was alone again in the lobby barely anyone ever dropped by.
“I couldn’t find any reason to stop them, was that alright?”
‘Yes. We had Linus look into it on our side, it doesn’t look like they have any signaling devices. It shouldn’t be a problem.’ Said Archess. ‘Well, no matter how suspicious they are, if we stopped them we’d be the suspicious ones… keep at it like that, treat them as per usual.’
The ruins of the old stadium, and the planned site of the new one. If it was any consolation, the foundation was still mostly standing and that was where Elize stood with the foremen in a safety helmet issuing commands to build a new bleacher where the rubble had been removed.
To her side, laughing heehee, a single doctor in a safety hat and lab coat.
“Heehee, how about it!? What do you think!? I thought this might happen so I developed this rotor combine galaxy, and its name is Inaho X!!”
Elize grit her teeth.
Inaho X roared across the desolate land on its caterpillar treads. Its appearance was similar to a rotary snow plow affixed with a massive aperture, a 12-row large-scale combine. However, if you brought it into a paddy field in harvest season, the items you’d get from its aperture would be rice, dirt, and straw, and if you drove it through a mountain of rubble, the contents of its exhaust were divided between powdered cement, sand, and steel. She had no idea how this worked.
“I hate to admit it, but it’s amazing! I want one! I expected no less of the man who drew up the blueprints for our blast furnace… Obliterating Industries is rotten to the core, but I’m forced to acknowledge you if no one else.”
“I know right! It’s true! Eeheeheeheeheeheeheee!! They just never seem to understand my greatness…”
The discrepancy between the successes and failures of his creations were too extreme for that to be understood. At that moment a line of laborers marched in so synchronized it was as if they were a regiment from the iron curtain.
“Hail president!! The scaffolding in A-Block is complete!”
“Oh… right… then hammer in the foundation. Steel-reinforce it. Safety first.”
“Sir yes sir! Hail president!!”
Raising their right hands high, they marched back off towards their stations.
“Those… were the ones brought to your hospital, weren’t they. What did you do to them?”
“No, Suzuran said we were in a hurry after all… heehee♪.”
“You better get them back to normal after this. Unlike your masks, our employees are normally decent people.”
That aside. Elize turned to the exaggerated mass of machinery sprouting an excessive number of antennas behind her.
“… What in the blazes is that?”
The doctor looked down and lowered his voice.
The worksite so boisterous, Elize could pick it up from the small voice that just barely entered her ears. She feigned composure as she dropped to a whisper gazing out over the worksite.
“Hmm, for measuring the structure of the underground…?”
“Even if there was a nested time-space, the child unit is a superior piece that could plot its coordinates in a higher dimension… if Ryuuta could make it to where the hostages are, we would have a straight shot for it.”
That location was still unknown. All they could do now was to confirm the labyrinth’s structure.
“You sure that child unit’s waves can reach from underground?”
“Heehee, I was thorough with this one. A pseudo isolated dimension is created between this parent unit at the child one, and the electromagnetic waves are sent through it… it should be impossible to intercept.”
“… You never cease to amaze me. How about you start research to actually help the human world. It’s not too late, you’ll be welcomed back as a god.”
“The current era of humans doesn’t need these OOPArts. Humanity’s shaken off the tricks of gods and magic, they’ve begun walking on their own two feet…”
“Right. And thanks to that, new spirits like Wilco and me have hell to pay. We can never be Gods anymore…”
The doctor grinned ear to ear.
“There’s plenty more you could be… personally, I find it way more fun to be here with the humans.”
“… That’s… you may be right. Compared to the Garden of Spirits…”
Elize suddenly sped up as she nonchalantly looked into the tent that was pitched for rest. She gently approached before violently slamming down the monitor of the laptop that was there.
‘How reckless… Elize, a computer is a piece of high-precision machinery and…’
“Don’t go showing yourself all willy-nilly when you’re supposed to be missing!”
“… So what do you need?”
Elize confirmed there was no one watching before she opened the screen again. With this and that, and such and such, Wilco explained the situation.
“… Waiting in your room? You mean in the computer?”
‘No, that’s not really feasible so Wilco has her doubts.’
“Well what do you think, doc?”
When Elize turned the talk towards him, he nodded.
“Well let’s see. Unless he’s a former intelligence operative or quite the cipher enthusiast, it’s pretty hard to believe he’d think up an encrypted message. All the more, if he had to form it during the unforeseen conversation you’re imagining, unless he had the mental power to solve several-dozen-digit arithmetic in an instant, it’s pretty impossible… and if he just thought it up on the spot, I’m pretty sure Alhazan could decipher it on the spot.”
So she wasn’t wrong about that part… Wilco nodded.
During the time Hideo was holed up in Tokyo, perhaps because he had way too much free time, he had a smattering of miscellaneous trivia from TV and magazines, but… it took him a bit of time just to calculate out his change while shopping. He had likely never touched an abacus in his life. More than a cipher enthusiast, he was just a game lover. Intelligence operative was out of the question. Then it wasn’t a code, she should take it as a sign.
‘Then should Wilco start thinking about the pure meaning of the words?’
“How about you try changing some of them out with a thesaurus to see if anything’s hidden? Look at it from different viewpoints… the human brain is bad at logical calculation, but it’s second to none at instantaneous ideas and concepts.”
She immediately began changing out words for parallels, cutting the sentence up in various places, indiscriminately attacking websites on the topic.
“But Wilco. Didn’t you say you could perform something like telepathy with him… ah, wait, if that was working, you’d have found him ages ago.”
Elize got a little through before correcting herself.
‘Right… if Wilco is by master’s side, and master thinks something he wants to get across, she can read it pretty clearly, but…’
They were too far apart. More than hearing him, perhaps it was more accurate to say she understood with her heart. At the very least, it would be difficult if he wasn’t in her field of vision.
‘Right now, Master is brimming with determination.’
“… I see. You really have gotten that jump back in your step.”
Elize matter-of-factly affirmed.
“I’m sure Hideo must have been terribly depressed up to that point. That’s why you weren’t in your best condition. But it’s different now, is what you’re saying?”
‘T-that’s right! What she always feels during the matches…!’
Furrowing her brow, Elize turned the dial on the side of the computer a few times to lower the volume.
‘This exciting, enthralling feeling of being alive! Master is surely motivated about something! He’s found some sort of hope!’
“And that’s why you thought this had to be a message from Hideo, even without any evidence. You think the words he entrusted you are Hideo’s hope.”
That was why she got the feeling she had to decipher it no matter what. Got the feeling, what an impossible way of thought for an electronic spirit, but she was different now. Her solid bond continued calling out with conviction.
“So what’s your room like?”
“You never showed Hideo your own room in the computer? Is there anything particularly special about its scenery?”
At that moment, she found one word that precisely fit in place. There was something that crossed her eyes. There was only one time she ever talked to him about her room in the PC.
Her old room. Old. Antiquated. Outdated. Obsolete.
— Her room rendered with old technology was wireframe.
When had she said that again? No, it didn’t matter when. By the time she reached that notion, her eyes caught sight of the wire of a crane used to lift raw material. Electricity could pass through a metal wire. Wouldn’t she be able to go there? Was that what he was thinking? I’ll wait for you in a place with wires? The place he was held was connected to the outside world through a wire…?
‘What do you think!? It’s an outrageous leap of logic, Wilco understands that, but…!’
Her thoughts were now locked in place, she didn’t want the compatibility of this notion severed. But it was one answer she reached. Perhaps as a single possibility.
“… There might be.”
‘Are you for real, doctor!?’
“It’s a possibility. It’s hard to believe a professionally trained adventurer of Ryuuta’s caliber would overlook a hidden door or flight of stairs.”
The one who created this city, more specifically its labyrinth was apparently an angel Suzuran begged. When it came to traps, there weren’t any sinister ones that would lead to instant death, and its hidden secrets weren’t downright spiteful; as long as you took care and searched patiently, they were sure to be found. Apart from monster strength, it was all at a moderate difficulty, or so Ryuuta testified.
Would its designer prepare a hidden room that could be misused for evil? That was even harder to believe.
Then where were they and how did they get there?
“If the machinery and periodic food stock you found from the department’s account book are being carried there periodically… I get the feeling anything apart from an elevator doesn’t seem realistic.”
“If you just mess with the panels a bit, you can get it to stop at a floor it doesn’t usually stop at.”
‘A floor in-between the increments of ten the elevator stops at…?’
“Let’s see… whether the place is a nested structure or a honeycomb, whatever it is, the elevator shaft can’t exist on a normal time-space. It’s possible that place alone is another world. If you open the door at an arbitrary height and set a transport circle on the surface of the shaft, well, you can make it let out anywhere you want.”
‘But, in that case… isn’t it possible they aren’t even underground?’
“Maybe, maybe not… heehee. But I think there’s a high possibility the wire you’re speaking of passes right next to where he’s being held.”
Elize urged her on further.
“Why don’t you go and have a look? If you stay in the electric cables, they’ve got no way of finding you.”
‘They might not find Wilco, but unless there’s some terminal to look out of, Wilco has no idea what’s what.’
Those circuits were like traveling through a dark tunnel. Like hopping on a subway line with absolutely no idea where it’s head. By arriving at the station and seeing its name printed out, only then would Wilco know where she was… and by looking at the computer and server address and domain, she could determine where she was in the real world.
With stations, it was possible to tell what track number and direction to go, to an extent… on the net, she could search up her destination, or designate an address… but this was an elevator cable they were talking about.
‘And wait, Wilco’s already searched Centralle Building but… eh?’
‘How many elevators did Center have again?’
The power lit up on one at that very moment.
As I recall… the doctor looked up and counted on his fingers.
“Only one for the Labyrinth, and four above ground… well, only tournament staff have any business in the upper office portion, so only two of the upper ones are operational. The remaining one is spare, and the last one is for emergencies.”
Of course. No wonder all the data servers she checked were an empty shell. The other side would never store any important data there out of fear of hacking.
That’s why she could never know unless she actually kept a good hard watch on their electrical control systems.
‘Did the emergency one always connect underground!?’
The doctor who only ever gave his strange laugh showed a perplexed face for the first time. That cinched it. There was some use in going.
She entered the current. With the light at the end of the tunnel, she could see the next station. Judging by the structure, this wasn’t a standard terminal, it had to be a wireless relay or something. Could she even exit out of there?
No, that was such a trivial problem. No more playing detective. She would go even if she had to create the circuit herself.
Down to where he was waiting…
Regardless of their findings, the basement group had little to occupy their time. The one who descended to their midst was Zazi on his patrol.
“Thought you might be bored, pops did. He said you can play all you want.”
He placed a large paper bag on the dining table. Board games, card games, block games and the like. Judging by the price tags still on them, they were quite likely from the department store’s toy aisle.
“Are you on duty today?”
Asked the Colonel. Zazi shrugged.
“I already told you. I have no duty, I’m just here whenever Michelle’s at the desk.”
Javan, Akane, and Remina promptly began fishing through the contents of the present to see if there was anything interesting.
“They’ll be bringing down rations later. Tell me now if you need anything special. I’m all ears.”
“… How long has Kirishima Lena been like that?”
The Colonel’s question must have come quite out of left field.
“What do you mean like that?”
“I heard a bit from Hideo, it was like she was possessed by something.”
“So that’s it… I thought the air was strange last night, so she went and did it, did she?”
“I was just thinking it was strange for that cautious Archess. Putting someone as unstable as her at an important post.”
Without changing his expression, without answering the Colonel, only Zazi’s eyes shifted to Hideo.
“You never learn, do you. Staying away from sis is best fer both of yer sakes. Am I wrong?”
The colonel was the one who asked but… well, they were fellow broken souls. Hideo was mildly interested.
“What was. The cause.”
“… Yer partner dies and now yer worrying about sis?”
“… I get it. Don’t glare at me like that.”
Zazi lightly raised both his hands.
That wasn’t Hideo’s intent, it was just the harsh glare he was born with… Zazi did seem to be self-conscious that his teasing words might enrage him. And, in the end, he was pretty bored too.
“But I’ve gotta say, I don’t know too much either. Short story, it’s family problems. According to Gabès at least.”
“Sis is younger than Gabès and older than me. She was from a time when human rights weren’t really a thing. You could say it lightly as family problems, but I’m sure it was pretty terrible. Once ‘pon a time, don’t know how long ago, I heard rumors that a demon child locked in the basement ran wild; killed their birth parents and a whole village while they were at it… maybe sis was the same, but in her case, I’m sure she just hid that impulse in her heart the whole time.”
“So you’re saying it’s just abuse?”
The Colonel sounded somewhat let-down. Zazi lightly smiled with his lifeless eyes.
“As expected of a military man, is the battlefield the only hell for you? It all depends on the degree you know. If someone believes they’re better off dead, then no matter how peaceful the world is, that’s hell.”
“But well, Gabès has gambled with life and death more times than you could count. No telling the things he’s seen, and he said she was found in the worst state of us all… ain’t that enough to drive someone insane? A human with clothes to wear, food to eat and a roof over his head can be driven to fill his school with lead, or attack random stranger on the street. Sis has got a far better grip on herself than them.”
Am I wrong? Zazi tilted his head.
Hideo… naturally nodded. This wasn’t an act. Without any particular thoughts, he sincerely nodded.
“… Now that’s a surprise. Don’t you detest her?”
“… Not particularly.”
Once again sincerely, he shook his head.
More than that, Zazi’s words rung terribly true to him. It’s hell as long as you think it’s hell. If you don’t want to go to school, school is hell. If you don’t want to go outside, outside is hell. If you’re no good at speaking to people, meeting people is hell… it somehow hit quite close to home.
And this lowest floor these men and woman would call hell… on the contrary, now that he had a change in thought, this wasn’t such a pessimistic place. There were monsters. There was no guarantee he’d be alive tomorrow. No telling when he’d die to a single plot of Alhazan.
But now that he was living sharing encouragement with his comrades… wasn’t he living far more human than he had been in that apartment without ever speaking to anyone?
One’s place is decided by one’s self.
While he had no way of knowing what she’d been through… from within her own hell, Lena saw her god called Archess reach out his hand. Being by his side was her utopia. Her god was an ideal to strive for, and any who threatened his reign… indeed. There was a terribly straightforward logic to her snapping.
Just as he felt indebted to Wilco for leading him out of that apartment. No, perhaps Lena felt an even greater compulsion to pay Archess back.
It was a little saddening. She was already an enemy now. Once they fought, he would have to crumple her god called Archess and destroy the utopia she believed in. Zazi seemed to interpret his thoughts differently when he saw him get himself down,
“Yer quite the softy, you know that. I’m surprised that demon eye bluff got through at all. You must be an amazing actor.”
“Well, maybe that’s why sis got just a little serious.”
She seriously punched him for being a softy? She seriously punched him for being an actor? As Hideo failed to understand his meaning, Zazi snorted.
“Kidding, kidding, don’t think too hard on it. Well I’ll be getting back.”
Just like the night before, he looked at the small screen on the back of his phone and turned. He left.
Only an uncanny silence was left behind.
When his footsteps had grown distant enough.
“… The terminal?”
On Hideo’s voice, the Gray who’d been fiddling with it shook his head.
“No, master Hideo. I failed to detect any relevant signals…”
“And the Javen. Suit?”
That one also shook his head and sighed.
“Nope… unfortunately, no aberrations like last time…”
Would she come… Asking for that in just a day was pushing it. OR perhaps those words weren’t enough. Maybe she didn’t notice his message. Or maybe… maybe he had just convinced himself otherwise and she was really—
Almost like he was breaking into a spasm. He closed his eyes and shook his head.
None of that. That alone was out of the question. If a spirit was an existence born of human will, he just had to keep believing strong enough to bring her back to life.
If he didn’t believe, then who would?
“… I’m going to have. A look.”
As he suddenly stood, Minako hurriedly called out.
“A look? Wait, Hideo!?”
‘It’s dangerous to go alone…!’
But Hideo bounded off regardless. How did that appear from a third party perspective? A romantic who couldn’t believe his partner’s death was throwing himself about in a fit of selfishness. He got in over his head, proclaiming something as lofty as prospects of victory. As a donut-shaped river. As Wilco appearing. It wouldn’t be strange if they thought he had gone completely insane by now.
Even so, as long as he believed.
If he didn’t move, would it all be a lie?
And Hideo’s sprint took him before the elevator again. He put a hand on the door and pushed it aside.
The same scenery as yesterday.
Spare for… a single point.
To the side of the counterweight he had seen that morning. A single computer dropped from who knows where. Almost like a sign… the same type and model as the laptop he picked up that day.
Like hell he would cry. He believed, after all.
Yes. There was no way he could mishear it.
Hideo gave a deep nod.
She jumped at him, she latched on tight. Hide’s two hands that had reached for the computer, his arms swiftly turned to embrace her.
“Master! You really were alright! That really was a message from you! You really did cooly trick and convince Alhazan…!”
As she worked herself up, he firmly stroked her head.
This was the greatest blessing of all.
When he was supposed to have thrown everything away. When he had lived his life empty and aimless. And yet, he never thought he would ever feel so delighted. More than anything… the fact Wilco was safe brought him more joy than anything else.
“… I’m glad you’re. Alright.”
“Nihah… nihahah. A virus isn’t exterminated in a day. A century or two still isn’t enough! The Super Pleasant-Type Heinous Infections Virus Will.CO21 is indestructible!! … o-owowowww.”
The arms embracing Wilco suddenly passed through thin air. She was back in the monitor by the time he noticed it.
‘Nihahah… truth be told, she’s been pretty badly banged up …’
So it really was quite a precarious situation.
“… Yeah. Don’t push. Yourself.”
Even so, seeing her energetic form was enough. When he turned to look back… everyone must have been half in doubt. Or perhaps it was an unexpected surprise to see a lead to their escape actually appear. They all stood gaping on the spot.
But this was reality.
“Wilco. What about everyone’s partners?”
‘Everyone’s safety has been confirmed. The location has already been pinned down, we can establish contact at any time!’
“How are things outside?”
‘Wilco has already gained the cooperation of Obliterating Industries and Elize Industrial! Once the labyrinth’s structure is analyzed, they can shift to a rescue operation!’
“You… really are amazing.”
‘Nihihi! Nihohoh! Nihohhahah!!’
His comrades finally returned to their senses to raise cheers to her exploits.
Now, this was where it all connected.
There was no longer any need to hesitate.