BATTLE 7: The Divide of the Gods

 

As representatives of Obliterating Industries, Hideo and Wilco had made a promise they would enter the Sacred Demon Grand Prix race.
Yet the road back was paved with Elize Industrial assassins with Minako at the lead.
“What are we going to do, master…?”
No place to escape in three sixty degrees. The several dozen blue-collar workers were all enemies as far as he could see. The only open path was up, to where the blue skies were colored by the lingering soot of the tall smokestacks.
Half-resigned, Hideo turned to Minako and put up a defense.
“… That is. A misunderstanding.”
“That’s right! Wilco definitely didn’t commit robbery and scamper home…!”
“Then I will gladly hear you out, but you will have to start by providing evidence.”
He had none. Nothing but evidence of their rampage remained at Elize Industrial. That wouldn’t prove the contrary on attempted burglary.
… The contrary? That’s right. Precisely because of her love for justice, her heart was set ablaze by crime, but she was an officer faithful to the law.
“Then on the contrary.”
Hideo quietly continued on.
“Do you have any evidence. We ran away on bad terms?”
“I don’t…”
He got her, or so Hideo’s hopes lasted a brief instant. Minako indicated the workers as she spoke.
“But I have gathered plenty of testimonies!”
(Bloody bureaucracy…)
That’s right, come to think of it, this was the woman who smacked him in the head the moment they met.
“But officer!”
Said Wilco.
“No matter how you look at it, this public lynching isn’t like you at all…!”
“Lynch? Please don’t insult me like that. As the officer I am, I’m simply here to arrest you.”
The heinous criminal of the virtual world looked on dejectedly.
“Arrest…”
“I said it before, but in this city with no police force, I have to be the law. And putting your charges against my law, I have determined your actions have warranted a severe penalty… however.”
When she had blazed like a raging inferno, Minako completely changed to utter admiration.
“Apparently the president of Elize Industrial and her partner, the hero, as lenient as they are… said they would forgive your violent outburst with a three-day-three-night lecture.”
(… Three days.)
That explained it. So they were adamant on preventing him from entering the Sacred Demon Grand Prix. They were contriving to kill or kidnap Elize just this morning… and it did seem the other side had chosen abduction on top of imprisonment as well.
What’s more, Hideo’s side was thoroughly evil. The other side was acting out virtuous souls who hated the sin, not the sinner. With this, Elize Industrial’s reputation was set to rise again. Elize Mithrilite. They had busted up her office building, and she didn’t plan to let them off for that.
(……)
Obliterating Industries conducted their evil head-on, out in the open. Meanwhile Elize Industrial moved their hands behind the scenes. Now which one was righteous?
(… No.)
There was no way either was right.
“Wait, officer, what do you mean by lecture?”
“In order to rehabilitate Hideo, I’m going to lecture him for three days and three nights in the interrogation room!”
Did an interrogation room not exist to interrogate? Where did they get one in the first place?
“But if you do that for three days, you won’t be able to participate in the Sacred Demon Grand Prix either…”
“Of course, I want to join in, but I owe you guys one for that time with Javan… so I! I shall force myself to swallow down my tears to get Hideo back on track as a decent human being!!”
Oh how splendid, how admirable, with just a slight hint that she was full of herself.
“Officer, you’re being tricked…”
The intense different in enthusiasm had Wilco falter back. She recalled the rankings from that morning, where Minako was definitely recorded as a high-level competitor with three wins under her belt. With her strong sense of justice and stable strength in battle, she had already gathered some attention. To abuse her personality, sealing their movements while simultaneously dragging Minako herself down with them….?
If that spirit had it all calculated out…
(……)
The young man called Hasebe Shouki seemed to have a sense of justice that didn’t fall short of Minako’s. Perhaps rather than a partner, he was also a mouthpiece being used.
Minako took out her handcuffs.
“Now Hideo, let’s eat some warm katsudon in the interrogation room! Once you’ve had three days-worth of katsudon, I’m sure you’ll be a man everyone looks up to…!”
“Wait, are you trying to kill him!? If he heats that stuff for three days, you’ll screw up his metabolism!”
He was already afflicted with shut-in syndrome. If he was overweight on top of that… it would be two-fold. He would be a shoo-in for the three great diseases of adulthood. Five-fold. That was as many layers as Houryuji Temple.
[TL: Three Great Diseases of Adulthood, Cancer, Heart Attack, Stroke]
(… This is.)
rap. It was just as Wilco said. He would die. He was a dead man walking.
(This is life. Or death…)
“Umm, incidently, officer.”
As Minako shuffled closer, Wilco continued blurting out whatever she could to distract her.
“You mentioned crimes, interrogation, and lectures, but you’re not a police detective, right? What did you used to…”
“Me? I’m part of the finance department, why do you ask?”
“Wait, isn’t that the section furthest from any crime!!?”
(……)
No. She didn’t get it. Wilco didn’t get it at all. The finance department. In exchange for being the department furthest from violent crime, they were one of the departments that worked closest with virtuous civilians, second only to the officers at the police box.
At that moment, Hideo recalled when he first got to the big city.
In a concrete jungle where he didn’t know left from right, the time when he dropped the wallet he could call his everything. When he had nothing but fears and misgivings, the finance department that gave him courage and handled him kindly and courteously. When the wallet was found shortly after, the finance department that said, ‘isn’t that great’, and rejoiced with him.
That was the moment he knew from his heart humans couldn’t live alone.
What was projected in Hideo’s eyes was no longer a normal policewoman. An angel in blue, who went by the name Kitaooji Minako…
“… Take me away. Offi—”
“Oh no you don’t!!”
He was getting the feeling Wilco was punching more than she was chopping these days.
One of the workers surrounding them reservedly cut in.
“Umm… officer. We have work to get to, could you keep it quick…”
“Oh, right, right. That’s right. Now, Hideo, come in quietly…”
Her fingers fat stronger than she looked grabbed Hideo’s arms. The handcuffs were put on, and it was at that moment.
“Could I trouble you for a moment?”
A calm woman’s voice had Minako turn by reflex.
“Why of course, are you lost? Or did you drop something?”
One of those conditioned reflexes.
(… Dog of the government…)
For some reason, the sort of words that might come from an underground organization crossed Hideo’s mind.
“I am looking for these two.”
She composedly shoved her way through the heavy encirclement. It was a beautiful woman, overflowing with more refinement than Hideo had ever seen before. Long, black hair as smooth as silk. An extravagant kimono of black cloth inlaid with silver and gold… on top of that, she was floating like Wilco.
The item she flashed was unmistakably the photo of him and Wilco that was taken when he joined the company.
“Mn? Oh, so there they are. Now come with me, you two.”
“No, umm… who are you?”
When Meeko asked, she smiled sweetly.
“I go by Meeko. Takase asked me to come.”
Takase? That president who even Lily referred to as master…?
Without the slightest care for the atmosphere, the woman who introduced herself as Meeko floated right up to them.
“I heard you might be targeted by some company or another. Therefore, I came to support you.”
Not a rival for nothing, the president had a firm grasp on Elize’s personality. Of course, not just a second, she was quite a bit too late.
Against these dozens of opponents, she stood alone. As expected, one of the workers,
“Lady, sorry but could you stay outta this…”
The stillness faded and he tried to grab Meeko’s shoulder. Before his hand could touch her kimono, she grasped him first. Her arm so slender, yet with pure strength alone, she lifted up a well-built factory worker and slammed him down.
The pitiful worker took a harsh blow to his back and showed the whites of his eyes.
“Lowly human. Do not touch me so casually, fool.”
Her sleepy, endearing eyes were now narrowed in terrible tedium.
With that alone. So genuine and overwhelming. A pure difference in power. Those bottomless eyes. A dread-inducing tone of one who didn’t see anyone on the same level.
By this point, more than her refinement, her bearing gave off a sense of absolute.
(……)
When he had met so many strange races and participants, there was something different about this woman. That wasn’t the case when she was just smiling. But now when she was lording over the crowd… he couldn’t express it, but there was something disconcerting. Not the sort of disconcertment that came with anger or disgust, the sort that came from anxiety. This woman before his eyes was simply, genuinely terrifying. He ended up seeing himself as far too minuscule and insignificant when he looked at her. He felt such a difference in existence.
Perhaps if they were confident participants it would be a different story, but the normal workers opened their eyes wide and took a uniform step back. Minako… must have felt the same as he did. Even so, she mustered up her courage.
“D… don’t tell me you’re also a member of that evil organization!? I’ve caught you red-handed for assault…!”
Strangely enough, as Minako took a stance with Okamaru, he didn’t so much as twitch in response.
“Hey! Okamaru!”
‘……’
Push or pull, not a single word.
“Hey, Okamaru!! What’s gotten into you!?”
‘… Minako. Give up. Do not even try it.’
There were glimpses of an unnatural reverence in his voice.
‘I was only born in Edo, I cannot call myself too knowledgeable. But this individual is either a celestial being… or otherwise… whatever the case, she is far beyond our means…’
Upon hearing that, Meeko’s displeased face finally crumbled away.
“You’re knowledgeable for your youth.”
Not to Minako. She spoke to the truncheon in her hands. She called the one who spoke of Edo and Black Ships young.
“… Uu. aa…”
What could that sound be, Hideo turned to find Wilco groaned. She looked like she was hurting somewhere, there was static noise intermittently running down her body.
“Wilco…”
“Ma… ster…”
At the end of that word, Wilco collapsed as if she had come down with a high fever.
“……”
What? What just happened?
“I shall take charge of these two, do you have any objections?”
There was no longer a soul who would cit into her words or her path.
(What exactly…)
Whatever the case, to make his exit, he hoisted Wilco’s body over his back. There was still a bit of lingering static. He was only learning this now, but Wilco’s body was light as if it were hollow.
“Hideo…”
he turned just once to Minako’s voice.
“… I have not done anything. I am ashamed of.”
That feeble defense was the most he could give.

 

 

“You saved us. Back there.”
“Fufu, well do not worry about it. Still… perhaps I lay it on too thick.”
They were en route to that doctor’s hospital that was an affiliate of Obliterating Industries. Meeko’s eyes were the sleepy ones she had first appeared with. While Wilco’s noise had disappeared by that point, she didn’t look like she was going to wake up just yet.
“Lay on… what?”
“That girl is a spirit, is she not? By the look of things, she is still a newborn.”
“So I’ve. Heard.”
“Aren’t you feeling a little sick as well?”
On her words, Hideo recalled the off feeling he felt before. No matter how he looked at her now, all that went through his mind was that she was a pretty person. Why had he been so afraid, come so far, he was peaceful to a peculiar extent.
“… What exactly.”
“Spirits don’t appear on t his side so often. That must be why my power effected her so… you should ask Hazuki for the specifics.”
He didn’t really get it.
“But to think someone like you would be a top contender.”
“… My thoughts. Exactly.”
Just a little, Meeko drew her face closer.
“You have absolutely no power, do you.”
She hit the mark, but he made sure not to show it.
“Fufu. Hide it all you want, but once you’ve lived long enough, you can generally tell. You are not someone who can live in a place like this. Then does that mean you lost your place on the world above?”
She didn’t particularly seem to be teasing him.
She spoke simple fact, like she was engaging in idle gossip. When he had managed to cheat a veteran on the Colonel’s level, he was seen through without making any particular misstep. She wasn’t just anybody. She didn’t have a gilded coating like he did, there really was something different about her existence.
Who could she be? If she was a competitor too… then her seeing through to the real Kawamura Hideo carried a terrible risk…
“Now then, os Hazuki around?”
While his anxieties were running deeper he had arrived at the hospital. She airily barged straight in. There was no one in the lobby. No patients waiting for an examination, no nurses running around. At the reception desk, that lab coat-wearing scraggly headed black-rim spectacled doctor was sitting himself.
… Which meant no one wanted to be treated by him, and no one wanted to work for him.
“Hazuki.”
The mad scientist actually seemed to have quite the trendy name.
“Oh if it isn’t Lady Meeko. How rare. What could you possibly need at my pla… Heee!?”
The moment he noticed Hideo, he surmounted the front desk with a triple twist and a half with a graceful landing. He was immediately right before his eyes.
“… Umm. Doc.”
“I get it!! I understand completely!! In the end, you were unable to return your debt, so you came over to me, right!? Right!? Riiiiiiigggghhht!! Heeeeeeeeee!!”
Four conical drills from the pockets of his lab coat. Did he always carry those around?
“One minute!! I’ll have one on in a minute!! How about I buy one minute of your life for one million tickets!! That’s all it’ll take.”

Bop.

Holding what looked like a croquette stick she didn’t have before, Meeko smacked the doctor in the back of the head.
“… Lady Meeko. That weapon is definitely not supposed to be used like this.”
“When see you acting like that, I end up sympathizing with your brother. More importantly, have a look at the girl.”
With the hand from which her weapon disappeared like a magic trick, she pointed at Wilco. He nodded.
“Oh, the spirit girl, is it… what’s wrong with her?”
“When I got just a little angry, it hit her.”
The Doctor scratched up his hair.
“… Your mana? Then it’s obvious she’s in shock… still, to collapse from that, she must have a terribly low resistance.”
Let’s have a look, he put his hand on the rim of his glasses. Every time he pressed the rivet that connected the hinge, the lens that was only inserted in one side seemed to display something different.
(……)
Could it be that was enough to scan and analyze her? Did technology get far enough to make it?
“Oh… I see, this is… she may be a spirit, but she’s a type I’ve never seen before. Alright, you, could you bring that girl to the lab? I’ll need to get a good look at her.”
“… I don’t mind, but. Doc.”
When he looked at this person, his anxieties transcended to insecurities.
“Eeheehee, don’t worry. Despite how I look, I know how to treat girls just fine…”
… Just girls?
“Doc. What about.”
“Maan, I haven’t had a job this big in a while! Eeheeheeheehee…!”
“Doc.”
Did you properly treat me…

 

 

The doctor’s laboratory.
That space underneath the hospital looked more like an operating room than a place for research. Be that as it may, it was far too crude to deal with human life. Rusted scalpels and scissors, there were medicine bottles where the labels had deteriorated scattered over the floor, and as his eyes followed the dark black stains on the tiles of the floor and walls, they ended up tracing all the way to the ceiling.
“Could you set her down on that bed?”
“… Umm. On second thought.”
Just as he was about to make a U-turn, Meeko tapped him on the shoulder.
“You need not worry. He may love to mess around, but he would not dare commit harm while I am here.”
“……”
Strangely, he didn’t feel like going against or doubting this woman.
As he was told, Hideo lay down Wilco’s light body. With his hands shoved deep in the pockets of his lab coat, the doctor looked down over her.
“It’s probably overdose.”
Judging by the flow of the conversation, Hideo tried taking a guess.
“… Of mana?”
“Heehee, that’s how it works. Normally, spirits are formed out of psions. In this world, magic particles… so-called mana exists everywhere in small amounts. As long as they went about life normally a newborn spirit would take in the mana drifting about the natural world and gradually develop a resistance to it… what about her?”
That was a difficult subject, but when it came to whether she could develop resistance, was there even enough time for her to do so? She did say she only managed to materialize when they first met.
“I see. Meaning it’s only been ten days since she appeared in this world. Yet she suddenly came to this city and was bathed in Lady Meeko’s magic point blank…”
He suddenly sunk into thought.
“You, have you heard anything else?”
(…..)
The day they met. He recalled their exchange in the Okutama mountains.
“She is a radion and a psion. An existence of superposition.”
“Hmm…? Come to think of it, I’m definitely getting an electric signal… which means she’s a completely new breed… one we’ve never had before.”
The doctor looked at Meeko’s body again, fiddling with the frame of his glasses.
“She said without a house like a PC she’s just a ghost. Without a medium like me. An electric virus.”
“Which means you’re the object representing her spiritual portion…”
In other words, his own body her house in the spiritual sense? Was that what it meant? A virus did make a home out of the organisms it infected, so he did get the feeling the logic checked out.
“She said. I was infected.”
“Heehee, a computer virus born of the net infected a human… how interesting. To equate it with a normal spirit, that means you’ve been possessed.”
Infected, possessed, both sounded just as dangerous.
But was he really going to help her? It was quite clear this doctor’s curiosity was getting the better of him but there was no one else to rely on. If he could understand what sort of thing Wilco was, it would be a huge benefit in fights to come. If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
Hideo spoke about whatever he knew about Wilco, her actions and speech. He tried showing the laptop.
“So this is her house…?”
When the doctor opened the screen.
‘Will.CO21 is reconstructing the system. Please wait.’
So she really was in trouble. But based on the please wait portion, she wasn’t dead. He breathed a sigh of relief.
“If we pull this off…”
The doctor plugged a cable into the PC and connected it to a desk terminal in the corner of the room. He analyzed it further.
According to him, Demons, ghosts and apparitions had been elucidated by science to a certain extent, but,
“A spirit is an existence born out of human will, born of ‘thought’. When numerous thoughts are attached to a certain target, they appear as a supernatural phenomenon with a sense of self… that’s what we generally call a spirit. But spirits with a complete physical body like this girl are pretty rare…”
They were overwhelmingly short in numbers. The sample size was so small, so to speak, that it was impossible to hold a study at all. Of course, from the point of view of Hideo, who had lived perfectly normally until he met her, this was all the continuation of a long, long dream.
“You. You said she can freely control how she manifests, right?”
“… She can hide. In the computer. I would put it like that.”
No, but she produced a shield the other day.
“Hmm… is that true…?”
With a new serious face, he lifted his head from the computer screen and spun in his chair.
“This girl just might be able to turn.”
Turn? She did change into maid clothing but what? Could she transform even more? If fitting with this crazy world, she could change into a dragon or something, that would be pretty reliable.
“Heehee, looks like he got the wrong idea.”
“… I’m pretty dim. On the subject.”
“Is that so? Well, she’s hiding incredible possibility, is what I’m trying to say.”
Possibility?
“She was originally born of the internet, wasn’t she? She was born of a world of existence and nonexistence. There’s an old saying that numbers control the universe, there isn’t an object or phenomenon in the world that can’t be expressed with numerical values. Numbers are the omnipotent concept birthed by humanity. You can simplify that to the extremes into what we call binary. The values of 0 and 1.”
(……)
This was bad. Perhaps he wouldn’t be able to follow. Meeko who said she’d be watching had fallen asleep still floating up and down in the air.
“You can hear Mozart’s Requiem from a speaker, and you can display Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa on a screen. No matter how masterful an entity is, it is possible to decompose it into 0 and 1 to convert it.”
(……)
“The current problem is if the binary sequence required to express is too long, it will require an immense amount of energy to process. If you want to simulate climate on a global scale, you’ll need a supercomputer as large as a gymnasium but… have a look at this.”
The monitor on the desk showed various scans of her. The X-Ray images and MRI diagnosis showed the same result. She had no internal organs, nothing but a uniform light-gray silhouette was projected. Her appearance was in shape alone. I see, thought Hideo. No wonder she didn’t have to eat or drink.
“Have you ever played a game with 3D polygons? If you put the camera at a strange angle, you can see the hollow insides of the character model, right? This girl’s body is close to that. Meaning…”
It was just a vague hint, but connecting it to the previous topic, he got the feeling he knew what the man was trying to say.
“… She does not have the energy to express complex bone structures or. Internal organs.”
“Heehee, now you’re getting it.”
Was that why she shield she produced had no color or unnecessary portions, its appearance was simply that of a glass pane?
“If you follow that argument to the logical conclusion, the world we live in can be expressed solely by the existence or nonexistence of elementary atoms. Though it takes far too much time and effort, and modern science hasn’t reached that point yet… if you take the position of every particle as a coordinate, it is certainly possible to express a solid body. As a matter of fact, it looks like that’s how her body is being formed…”
If you took a poster and looked at it under a magnifying glass, you would see a cluster of ink dots. If you made the shapes of a polygon smaller and smaller, you would eventually arrive at atomic dots.
“Precisely because she was born in a world of 0s and 1s, she is able to use 0s and 1s to manifest herself in the world. Heehee… do you know what that means? The one-dimensional vibrations of Requiem, and the two-dimensional array of the Mona Lisa have been more or less successfully deconstructed into 0 and 1. How about you raise the dimensions by one and think in three dimensions? If you can decompose a target and have her process it as data… this girl should be able to reproduce it.”
Hideo’s hair stood on end.
That meant. At the extreme.
“As long as Wilco has. Enough data and power… are you telling me…”
“That’s right, she should be able to manifest everything in the world! For everything is made of 0s and 1s! Alpha to Omega! This girl just might be able to become a God!!”

 

 

“Heehee, computer virus is an understatement. This girl is the model for a God—”
God. This Wilco could… become a god?
Hideo looked at the girl lying on the bed, his mind captured by peculiar sentiments. Swords, magic, and monsters were one thing… but now it was coming to God. Those rarely ever came out even in games. And this was a computer virus of all things. Sure, the girl herself said something about wanting to be the God of the Virtual World and so forth. But this doctor was talking about reality.
He lightly shook his head.
“… I doubt it.”
The doctor nodded to Hideo’s denial.
“Right. Well of course, as you said, this all comes with conditions. We’re only talking about if she has enough energy to rival omnipotent, and enough data to be called all-knowing.”
“However, Hideo, was it?”
Awake before he realized it, Meeko gazed into the distance as she informed him.
“The origins of spirits… and gods generally trace back to similar phenomena.”
She spoke as if she had seen it with her own eyes.
“I never thought I would see a spirit that could become a god in this day and age. In ancient days, they were born o human thoughts towards unreachable realms. The god in the heavens, the god of the earth, the god of the mountain, the god of the seas. Then what?”
(……)
She was right. While modern-day humans might not all experience it, they could understand. What was above the sky? What was under the earth? What was at the summit of the mountain? What was at the depths of the sea…?
In ancient times, they were places the people without science could only enter with their imaginations. They were places that brought both blessing and calamity. That’s why the people were convinced something had to be there… they feared, they revered.
“Those thoughts. Made Gods…”
Strictly speaking, they became energy. The thoughts of countless people came together, bringing about enormous amounts of power, great enough to form a god.
“Fufu. You’re sharp for a modern-day human.”
The doctor continued on.
“But in this day and age, humans have constructed a completely new unreachable realm with their own two hands… then what?”
It was clear. The world in the screen where Wilco lounged about as if space truly did exist there.
In reality, nothing more than a mass of electronic parts, but like paper and ink becomes a novel, to grant endless imagination to the people… electric signals of 0 an 1 projected their endless possibilities on screen. A realm one could see, but whose hand would never reach.
A digital world—
“I’m sure even with a knowledge of the mechanics, the thoughts of computer fans were strong enough to produce a virus that can talk and move. But what if that were in an age of belief, before science came around? The spirits of fire and water born in ancient times are no less than Gods in the modern era. They can’t show their form. By this point, they can only show a slight fragment of their power through summoning arts.”
Could such a thing really happen in reality? But if he brought that up… there was magic and monsters here. In this city. To be more precise, among the sort of people this tournament gathered, the world he could call this side, the common sense he needed to set as a basis was different.
God of Electronics didn’t really hit home, but God of the Earth and God of Fire were somewhat. No, more than anything… wasn’t Wilco’s very existence proof of that?
(… Wilco.)
He suddenly recalled her predicament.
“I get that part. But doc.”
“What is it?”
“In short. What happened. To Wilco?”
He was in danger of forgetting himself.
“Oh, that? She came down with overdose from a wave of Lady Meeko’s mana. For a normal spirit made up of only psions, they might get off with a little nausea, but as you saw, this girl’s body is so empty she’d fall from a slight breeze.”
He pointed at the desk monitor.
“So in the first place, she does not have the right foundation to endure those sorts of waves. What’s more, there’s electricity mixed in. She was hit with strong mana without being given the time to grow accustomed to it, so with electricity, psions and mana three different forces all interfering with each other, she came down in shock.”
He didn’t get it at all. But the point was she came down in shock… so she would probably be fine. When it came to Meeko, she was sound asleep again.
“But, I’d like to bring us back to those possibilities I was talking about.”
The explanation was so long he almost forgot about that.
“It looks like in the midst of that, this girl took in an immense amount of mana.”
“… What do you mean. Took in?”
“The psions would be her spiritual power portion. Electricity is just normal electricity, but as magic holds the power to manipulate it as well, you could say those two forces ended up combining.”
So according to him, she took in so much at once, she had to completely remake herself. She had reconstructed her constitution to be able to use mana. That did explain the message on her screen.
“Mana, you see, is an absurdly versatile concept. Depending on the vectors you give it, it’s an energy with innumerable varieties. If she manages to master it, you might be able to solve the power problem.”
Meaning the possibilities of a god. The path to it was open…
With a blip sound that had gone out of fashion, the message on the laptop changed.
‘Will.CO21 is restarting. Please wait.’
The computer hard disk began throwing itself in circles at an incredible pace. Clatter, clatter, enough to shake the main body…
“Wilco has returned!!”
Was she better now? Wilco jumped down from the bed as if nothing had happened at all.
“Nihaha.”
She laughed.
“Nihohoho! Nihohahahah!!”
She was laughing more than she ever had before.
“Now, now, master! As the fortunate slave chosen by history’s first digital God, offer up all your electricity and fiber optic cables! Worship your God!!
Seriously, why was the master the slave?
“… Listen to…”
“Wilco heard all of it! Rather, the heinous virus Wilco is generally on the run, so when she’s down from any major error, the PC is set to automatically gather information! She just took in all the data recorded on the internal microphone!”
How convenient. Was the one chasing her a vaccine? Well, it was helpful he didn’t have to repeat all that. It was quite impossible for him to give the Doctor and Meeko’s explanations a second time. For now, it was good she was well… or so he thought for a moment, but she was looking restless.
“Wilco.”
“…? Wilco is feeling a little uneasy around her…”
She held her abdomen.
“Doc.”
“Hmm~?”
He took another peek with his glasses.
“She has a stomach now.”
He and Wilco were both astonished.
“Heehee, but it’s just a stomach, nothing else.”
A second shocker.
“What is Wilco supposed to do!?”
“Want one?”
Waking up, Meeko seemed quite amused as she pulled a manjuu out of the sleeve of her Kimono. For some reason, Wilko stared at it fixedly.
“……”
She stared as if she was trying to endure an irresistible desire.

Nam.

“It’s delicious!?”
Hideo alone got the third shocker.
“This is…! It’s not as good as military secrets, but it’s just about as tasty as CGs that get you all hot and bothered!!”
As Meeko greedily scarfed it down, Meeko watched over with warm eyes.
Rather, military secrets and CGs, what exactly were the standards for the taste of date?
“… Doc. What is this?”
“She took in Lady Meeko’s mana, so maybe some of her attribute transferred over…”
Attribute? If it was fire or water, he was used to them in games but… what exactly was an eating attribute…
No, but still, she was originally a computer virus that ate date so… for the time being, she could eat in the real world as well.
“Yes, yes, this is nice… Even with only a stomach, it’s being digested without a trace left behind. Heehee, just like the digital world, do you think she’s reducing it all to 0s and 1s?”
The doctor laughed like he was observing a patient on the road to a steady recovery.
“Here, have a senbei too.”

Crunch. Crunch.

“It’s hard! Delicious!!”
“I have a snack called Tyrant Habenero too.”

Crackle. Crackle.

“Spicyyy!? Delicious!!”

……
(Well…)
As long as it was tasty, all’s well with the world. Just how many snacks did she have hidden in that sleeve? Meeko was an ever-growing mystery.
“Eeheeheeheehee. Now that that’s settled, yooou.”
“… What is it, doc?”
“Which would you prefer?”
In one hand a sheet of paper, in the other… an antenna?
“This is?”
“Eeheeheeheeheeh! Now, which do you want!?”
He looked at the paper. Wilco took a peek too.
“An invoice… hold on, Wilco fixed herself on her own!!”
“Heehee, how troubling… you should read the fine print!”
Consultation fee, fifty million tickets.
He just examined her. He didn’t even give her an IV.
“This is extortion! And wait, Wilco is part of Obliterating Industries! Aren’t we colleagues!?”
“They’re providing the building but personally, Takase’s just a friend… heehee, so how about it!!”
He held out the antenna. The sort of telescoping antenna one might find on a car or radio.
“… No.”
He kept it short. Hideo carefully chose his words and expressed exactly what he wanted to say.
“What signals. Am I supposed to be. Picking up?”
“Eeheeheeheeheeh, you think so!? I knew it, AM and FM aren’t enough for you! I thought this would happen and prepared this!!”
An antenna. Not for car or radio, one with plenty of horizontal bars like the ones sprouting from the tops of houses.
“UHF!! Of course, VHF is fine too!!”
“Umm, master… when it’s come to this point, Wilco kinda wants to see how that would work out too…”
The computer virus was on board. Radiowave man Hideo.
“No… no, I’m telling you. Doc.”
“Hee!? I-I see!! I’m sorry! How could I forget something so important!? You youths these days are all or digital, right!? Here’s that popular 1seg you neeeeeeed!”
“Let’s go with it, master! I’ll tell you as your radio wave-senpai, the reception is wonderful here!!”
He didn’t need that sort of senpai. He would rather not be grouped with an existence that went out on WLAN every day.
“I’ve got iiiiiittt!! What wonderful resolve!! Is it a parabola!? You want to be able to communicate with the will of the cosmos without a mystery circle, isn’t that right!? If we’re going that far, you’ll need a transmitter too…!!”
(……)
That was enough. He had looked out for him quite a bit, but it was time to have some direct talks with the president… Hideo thought as he turned his back, and it was right at that moment.
“MAASSSTTTEEEERR!!”
He turned in terror to Wilco’s serious voice. What stood before him… that very same legendary antenna.
“With this, Master will be three times faster…!?”
If an antenna was enough to increase performance, forget ten years, the duchy could have fought another twenty years.
(That…)
That…! Was he going to declare this was the Tem Ray Engine—!!
“This shouldn’t exist.”
With immense sorrow, Hideo lifted the antenna up from the doctor’s hand and smashed it on the ground with all his strength.

 

Once the matter was settled, the lab door was hurriedly thrown open.
“I heard Wilco collapsed…!”
The president, Iori Takase.
Meeko sent him a cheerful smile.
“A, it’s Takase. As you can see, I properly brought them back.”
“… Oh, I see you’re alright. Can you still enter the Sacred Demon Grand Prix?”
The computer virus responded with overflowing confidence.
“Yes, why of course! Wilco is doing so well she’ll eventually become a God, after all!”
“What? God?”
The details were conveyed to Takase in short.
“Hmph, how worthless. Nuts to your god. Monsters like Meeko aren’t born that eas”

Bop.

“Gyaaaaaaaaah…!?”
Meeko’s hammer that had taken out the Doctor as well sent Takase into his death throes. It was considerably painful, it seemed. And once again, this Meeko seemed to be higher up than the president.
“Who’s a monster, fool.”
“Heehee, well we’re talking about possibilities. Putting that aside, as far as I can see, she shouldn’t have any impairment to her normal life. I’m sure she can take part in the race.”
With the doctor’s endorsement, Takase unsteadily stood, cradling the back of his head.
“I… I see. That’s all well and good… but Hideo, Wilco. Honestly, you have my gratitude.”
The unexpected words heralded a blank look from Wilco.
“? About what?”
“The Sacred Demon Grand Prix. Head on brawls are one thing, but when it comes to racing, we don’t have any decent personnel on our side.”
If they didn’t have any on this side, were there any on the other?
“You met that damn brat, Hasebe Shouki, didn’t you?”
Former Hero. He did look strong, but Takase added onto that.
“His skills on a motorcycle are nothing to laugh at. What’s more, his partner’s the spirit of mithril; if they use mithril to pimp up their ride, they’ll undoubtedly have a light and sturdy machine on their hands. At the very least Superbike class, worst case MotoGP…”
(……)
“Ah… master, in car terms, that would be an F1-like machine. On good roads, over three hundred kilometers per hour, it’ll be a Highline battle.”
No. That was beyond him.
“So with that said, the other side will probably be coming on bike… what about you? You accepted the match without consulting me, so naturally, you must have some surefire plan…”
There, he let his raised silver-rimmed glasses glint.
“Indeed… you must have one, right?”
Hideo almost felt himself curling back from that menacing grin.
(……)
Crap. He never imagined he would be going up against such a foe.
“So how about it? If there’s anything you need, I’ll have it arranged. It’s too late for a full custom, but a market supercar might…”
his naturally earnest nature was his curse, Hideo had never driven a car over the speed limit. If he took part in the company car he was using at the moment, then reckless driving or crude tactics, meaning accidents and injury were out of his field. A car that was simply fast would be wasted on him…
“……”
From Hideo’s silence, Wilco’s experience informed her they were in a pinch.
“Ahem, well then president. One with as many electric controllers as possible… umm, Wilco will search it up…”
She brought over the laptop from the doctor’s desk.
“Right, right, get one of these.”
“… Hmm. Well that’s definitely sturdy… but a Ferrari or Porsche would be faster.”
“Wilco searched up the route to the checkpoints, and this is probably what you need to take the shortest possible route. The bottleneck is all the unpaved roads in the Forest District.”
“I see, as I recall, that place is…”
They seemed to be discussing something but… this was one time bluffs and skillful words would be completely ineffective. They were in need of actual speed. If he sprinted a hundred meters full speed, he was sure he’d surpass hyperventilation and come down with some actual sickness, and it wasn’t as if he could fly with magic.
“… You heard her, are you okay with that, Hideo?”
He wasn’t listening. He wasn’t too knowledgeable about cars. What to do…
“Oh, it’s fine! Perfectly fine! Wilco will be the one driving in the race!!”
Come so far, Hideo was surprised another time. Of course, Takase hadn’t expected that.
“Say what? But you… no, isn’t Hideo the one normally driving? Can you do it?”
“Nihahah! What are you talking about, president? Wilco here is an electronic spirit! From the Paris-Dakar to Le Mans, WRC to F1! In each and every race, the driving data for all the top racers sleeps on the net! All that’s left is for Wilco herself to trace it!!”
Takase hit his hands together.
“Ha ha hah! I see, I see, so that’s what the electric controllers are for! As expected of an electronic spirit, to think we could have a Schumacher and Mäkinen right here… Ku ku ku, we can do this! As I thought, hiring you two was the best choice I made since I founded this company! Don’t worry about the rest, we’ll take care of it!”
Picking up another strange word, Hideo muttered.
“We?”
Certainly, the race did say it wasn’t limited to Sacred Demon Cup participants.
“Half of our company employees will be taking part solely to obstruct the competition!!”
His sinister smile radiant as could be.
(… Incredible.)
Could it be the decision that anyone could participate was solely for this reason? Even if he was a scoundrel, when he was this thorough with it, Hideo had to respect him.
The heinous virus was also genuinely delighted.
“Hooray! As expected of the president!”
“Ha ha ha, well leave it to me. The remaining half will be lurking in the shadows to get in their way. That alone should be a considerable handicap! I can’t wait to see what happens! Kukuku, With this, it’s only a matter of time before our Obliterating Industries Group has a Mithril Manufacturing plant! Aaaah hah hah hah hah hah!!”
(……)
Wilco seemed to be confident, and the president was in high spirits. But… in that case, what exactly was he supposed to do in three days?
“Which means Hideo will inevitably be your backup, right? Do you need grenades? A heavy machine gun? An anti-tank rifle? Well, we have three days, I can prepare anything you need.”
… What a bother.

 

 

As a fired-up Takase led them out with a laugh, the doctor’s laboratory returned to its usual quiet.
“Lady Meeko, what do you think about him?”
“He is a normal person without any destiny. Or perhaps you have a different take?”
“Heehee. In the tournament, they were calling him a top contender from day one, so I was a bit curious. I did a little digging last time he was hospitalized.”
The doctor pulled a medical chart from the drawer on his desk.
“Hmm. Then you’re telling me he was from some famed house?”
“Perish the thought. You’re spot on the money. No destiny or karma, he’s completely mediocre. In physical abilities alone, he’s below the average for a man his age. He’s in terrible health. He was so malnourished I had to give him a market nutrient IV.”
Bobbing up and down, Meeko gave a tired laugh.
“… Is that so? Then a prospective God dragged along not a shrine maiden or a priest, but a normal human? It is a strange era we live in.”
“It just goes to show she was born in a new era. Incidentally… Lady Meeko, shouldn’t you be more worried about the tournament?”
“Hm? I have no interest in that. Suzuran is making it fine on her own. That child has no intention of relying on me. As long as she’s having fun, that is enough.”
She smiled before falling asleep a third time.
“If you want an afternoon nap, you could do it somewhere else…”

 

 

And three days later—
The day of the Sacred Demon Grand Prix came around.
In the Center Plaza where the opening ceremony was held, the great crowd that had gathered back then in the hopes of a turnabout—or perhaps a get-rich-quick scheme— had once again all gotten together.
Sine anyone could participate, it wasn’t just the pairs that had won and remained, among them the losers were mixed in in no small numbers. Hideo was relieved he couldn’t see the Colonel or Javan among them. He could picture the Colonel in some battle chopper and the hero of justice on some flying scooter.
(They’re heated.)
With so many people gathered, there were numerous stalls set up as well. There was even an audience. It was like in the midst of a festival, a new festival had broken out. There were relay helicopters in the sky.
Noon, the starting signal was close at hand. Bokes, cars, he couldn’t bother to count them. The exhaust smoke enshrouded the sky.
But there were those who chose otherwise. Those who excelled in speed or movement ability. They lorded over the rows of cars as worthless, with presences as if they were waiting for this moment.
Standing before the car Takase had prepared for them, Hideo and Wilco were overwhelmed by the sights.
“Even. So.”
“What is it, master?”
“Were there always. This many cars. In this city?”
He got the feeling he rarely saw them at all.
“Oh, I hear the president is running rentals.”
The signs in the audience booths and strung along the sides of the roads spelled out the name of the sponsor, Obliterating Industries. Well, a merchant should never overlook a chance for a quick buck.
“Man, just barely made it in time.”
He turned to a tired voice to find Ryuuta covered in bruises, with his partner Elsia as charming as ever.
“Hey, Hideo, you look like you’re doing good for yourself. Is that your car? Since you work at that company, I was expecting something amazing, but…”
Ryuuta alone seemed curious. Elsia as graceful as ever.
“This is one race where your demon eyes won’t work.”
“Nihahah, you can never know until you try!”
“Yes. That is true.”
Elsia easily accepted it. That could be taken as cold, but she wasn’t cynical in the slightest. In contrast, Ryuuta made no attempt to conceal his usual daringness.
“Well, by the look of it, you’ll be eating our dust.”
“… Then what are you. Driving?”
Ryuuta pointed his thumb behind him. He must have rented it too. It wasn’t at the level of a supercar, but it was a two-door convertible. A calculated choice, to a certain extent. With obstructions in mind, it would be easier to deal with them With a wide field of vision and a full shooting range.
“We’re not going to lose to a sedan. Just take care you don’t drop out.”
Ryuuta laughed and lightly tapped against his chest. He made his leave with Elsia.
“Elsia is one thing… but Ryuuta doesn’t seem very knowledgeable about cars either.”
(……)
As someone just as unknowledgeable, Hideo did think that theirs looked faster.
“Hideo.”
When he turned, it was Minako this time. It had been so awkward since then, he was taking care not to run into her at the apartment.
“So you’re participating after all. No matter what, you’re going to support that company?”
Obliterating Industries and Elize Industrial, the fortunes of each company hung in the balance. But more than that… their own futures hinged on this.
“Just to let you know, officer! Wilco and her master haven’t done any of the cowardly things you’re thinking…!”
“… Is that… so. I have done some thinking since then. And honestly, I’m lost. Was the Hideo who once risked his body to protect me the real one, or should I trust the words of Elize Industrial.”
As she hung her head, Hideo spoke up.
“Just one. Thing.”
“…? Yes?”
Of course, he wanted to defend himself. Now that they had met, there were plenty of things he wanted to say. Even if she was prone to misconceptions, her misunderstanding was far too terrible. But he belonged to an evil organization. He wasn’t completely innocent. So there was only one thing to say.
“We will. Win for our own sakes. As we have. As we will. And in this race. That’s all.”
“Hideo…”
“… If that. Goes against your. Justice.”
She couldn’t let Hideo carry those sincere words to the end. Her face had completely cleared up.
“Understood. Today, fair and square, let’s have a match… no that’s not it. Let’s both finish this race. And someday, maybe at the finals. I’ll be able to confirm your intentions… that’s what I believe.”
Like she had broken off some binding, Minako left with a smile. Her destination was a black and white… while it didn’t have a police light on top… a two-tone old-fashioned vehicle.
“The officer was kinda… strangely honest today?”
(……)
There are times words from the heart get through more than logic. This was surely one of those times.
Five minutes to start.
A small-built shadow rose to the platform, her brisk, lively voice came from the speakers.
“Welcome one and all! I’m sure quite a few of you haven’t seen me since opening ceremony, but I’m Kirishima Lena of the Administrative Committee! Once again, I’ll be serving as moderator on top of the real-time announcer for the progress of the race!!”
Applause, cheers.
(It’s Kirishima…)
Would she be cheering them on? Just a little? A slight hope. He ended up thinking back to the day they went to the restaurant.
No, this wasn’t getting here.
‘Now, there’s not long before the start! I’d like to give one last check over the rules but… it’s incredibly simple! After the starting signal, make for the shopping district, residential district, nature district and industrial district in that order, and after you’d passed through the checkpoint in each area, you just have to make it to the finish line in Center Plaza!1! That’s all! That’s all there is to it! We have no input on your means of transportation! Abilities, weapons, items, magic use, there are absolutely no restrictions! Meaning any and all sorts of interference are permitted in this race!!’
As always, Lena knew the right words and temp to get the peanut gallery heated up. Hideo’s eyes met with his own partner’s. They nodded in unison. Wilco got in the driver seat, Hideo the passenger seat.
They stared forward silently. Ahead of them a single point that went by the name of victory.
‘Now who will get the better of such a cruel survival race!? Who will get their hands on a hundred million tickets and an unprecedented number of stars!? The ball is about to get rolling on this huge event that could set the course of the entire Sacred Demon Cup!!’
Red signal. Three of them in a row.
Then two.
One.
All signals green!
‘Let the Sacred Demon Grand Prix Commence!!’

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BATTLE 6: Blinding White Tower

 

The night after the scuffle at Wild Hannibal went by, and Hideo was sound asleep in his apartment.
‘MAAASSTTTEEERR!!’
He woke to Wilco’s voice from the laptop PC. It was serious, by the sound of things. When he took a look, her pale face was stuck up right against the liquid crystal display.
‘They did us dirty!! We’ve lost the top spot!!’
“……”
When they confirmed the night before, they were definitely the top rank in wins. The one victory against Hannibal nudged them just a little ahead of the others. Meaning… in the time-space after they slept and before they woke up, someone must have won some matches. It couldn’t be too big of a gap.
“We’ll make up for it. Today.”
‘We can’t!!’
They couldn’t? That was a strange thing to hear from Wilco’s mouth. She was always far more positive than he was.
“Why?”
‘Have a look at this!’

Clack!

The window Wilco slapped up against the screen showed the rankings board from Center’s database. Both Ryuuta and Lily’s names were in the top ten, tied up with the pairs that had three wins. As Wilco said, their own pair was now in second place, ahead by a small margin with four wins.
And rank one was…
“……”

… Two hundred wins?

Hideo lightly shook up his half-asleep head.
“Wilco. Are you finally. Bugging out?”

BWUGH!!

Leaping out of the PC, Wilco used all her momentum to deliver a biting punch.
“How rude! Wilco is an electronic virus, and definitely not a bug! She does not bug out either!!”
Looks like that was quite an insult in the digital world. He would be careful from now on.
“Then.”
“This is official data I pulled straight from tournament HQ a minute ago! Today at one o’ five in the morning, a pair suddenly showed up with two hundred wins!!”
One loss and that was it. That was why everyone carefully won each match like treading on thin ice, the top competitors in around the same boat at three sins… but a sudden two hundred was just unreasonable.
There were over three thousand participants. Meaning just over one thousand five hundred pairs. If two hundred of these pairs dropped out. And, on closer inspection, around two hundred fifty-give or take- had lost normally, that would leave just over a thousand potential wins remaining.
(……)
Meaning looking at the remaining competitors alone, a third of this indefinite duration tournament had already gone by. If two hundred wins became the new benchmark… it would become quite the feeding frenzy. Wins didn’t transfer, and they didn’t stay in the game.
Even if they won against a pair that had won a hundred battles, the record of a hundred would simply disappear with the loser who had obtained it. All the victor would gain was the ‘one win’ against that pair.
It could be presumed that only one team at most would be able to bring themselves to match this one’s two hundred victories. Getting overtaken in numbers was one thing… but this was on a completely new level. They had taken the impact of top contender away so hard he couldn’t even argue with it.
“What are we going to do, master!?”
(… No.)
With such a flashy victory, the other participants wouldn’t stay silent. On the contrary as long as someone, anyone defeated this absurd pair, their ridiculous record would collapse…
(… I should watch and wait.)
Right before Hideo finished that thought, his phone plugged into its charger began to ring. It was a business phone, provided by the president of Obliterating Industries. He hadn’t told anyone his number, so the one calling was naturally…
‘Kawamura Hideo. Are you awake?’
“… President.”
That pair had surely caught his attention by now. Iori Takase continued as if he had measured out their unrest.
‘They pulled a fast one. Elize Industrial.’
The name of the company at odds with Obliterating Enterprises, he had heard it from Hannibal the night before. He took a closer look at the computer screen to find the names ‘Hasebe Shouki’ next to ‘Elize Mithrilite’ on the top line.
Elize. That was the name of the top competitor.
‘There isn’t even any need to look into how they held the match. With such a crazy win, it can only be bribery.’
Bribes? For the judge? Or the competitors? It couldn’t be the former. Judges were the sole law in this competition. Even if there was some injustice, if it was bias on the tournament’s side, they were sure to take some measures. That was an unnecessary worry. In which case…
‘At this rate, one of the advantages I get by keeping you around, your title as the top spot will disappear. Do you get what I’m trying to say?’
“… You want me. To win.”
‘Kukukuh… that’s right. I expected no less of you, Kawamura Hideo. I guess I planted those explosives for nothing.’
That went without saying… if they could win against this Hasebe-Elize pair with two hundred wins, their top standing would be rightfully theirs.
(But…)
Last night, Hannibal told them to drop by that company if they wanted to wash their hands of debt collecting.
“What do we do, master…?”
Elize Mithrilite. An enemy? An ally? Or perhaps…
(……)
There was no way around it. Whoever she was, he was going to drop by the industrial district today. Hideo made his resolve and whispered into the phone receiver.
“… Understood. I’m on it.”
‘Hold on, hold on, Hideo. No matter how skilled you are, their side is equipped with non-participant guards. Won’t that be a bit harsh?’
Non-participants. Meaning they had nothing to do with the tournament. They could kill and it wouldn’t be against the rules. Such was only natural for a company that could be called Obliterating Industries’ rival.
‘And so. I’ve already sent one of our firm’s fighting specialists to your apartment. Worse comes to worse, take care of them.’
“… Clarify.”
‘Of course, I mean that in the kill them sense. Oh, lose or die, it’s pretty much the same thing. A two-hundred-win record will disappear. You can take care of it personally, but in that instance, be careful with the coverup.’
“……”
‘I await your report. Kukukuh.’
Leaving a profound laugh that brought back memories of his flared canines, the call ended. Even if he said ‘take care of them’ so easily.
“Is this. A joke?”
“No… he’s probably being literal, Wilco thinks. The two companies do seem to have quite the terrible relationship and all…”
The doorbell chimed.
They were here. The Hitman.
Half in suspense, Hideo trudged his way to the front door. He unlatched the lock. When he opened the door.
“Are you Mr. Hideo? And that’s Ms. Wilco behind you?”
“That’s. Right.”
Wilco quietly whispered into his ear from behind.
“… The way Wilco sees it, you’re far more assassin-looking, Master. Is she really that strong?”
Wilco was right. The president said fighting specialist, so he had imagined someone more yakuza-ish, or at least robust like a Terminator.
“You’re?”
“Obliterating Industries specialist second division, Clarica. Nice ta meet’cha.”

 

 

They left the apartment. Clarica turned to them with a fed-up look on her face.
“Did that rotten president really say that? Killing’s strictly prohibited, shadow supreme leader’s orders.”
“In that case… what are we going to do?”
“Let’s kidnap one of them. Having a partner’s your ticket to participate, if one of them goes missing along the way, that’s grounds for disqualification.”
Clarica blurted out such dangerous sounding words with a healthy laugh.
“And I want the two of you to hop aboard this.”
Where Clarica pointed… in the parking lot behind the apartment, its entire design pretty much a straight line, a grim styled bright red high-class sedan was parked.
“Uhah, it’s a Volvo from back when they were sturdy…”
“If we’re gonna charge in, a dump truck or trailer may have been better. But that would make disposing of it a huge pain later. The paneling’s properly bulletproofed.”
She, for one, was quite indifferent about all this.
And in the back seat, Hideo’s eyes caught a number of boorish black silhouettes lying around. There was no mistaking the machine guns. Were those round things with pins possibly hand grenades?
(……)
Up to that point, he only had a vague sense of danger, but it was now suddenly clad with a full taste of reality.
They really were performing a raid.
They were heading through literal fire and flames. At a scale his own life had never reached before. What’s more, just the three of them.
“… My stomach. Is…”
“Don’t worry, I got’chu. I bought’cha you some breakfast. You’ll have to eat on the way.”
Like she couldn’t wait for a field trip, Clarica was terribly cheerful. She shoved Hideo into the car and handed him a rice ball from the convenience store.
“… Master, are you possibly trying to say your stomach is hurting?”
Hideo softly nodded to Wilco’s whisper.

 

 

The industrial district he was only now visiting for the first time stood like good old Yokkaichi City in the days of yore. Herds of buildings with tall smokestacks that could be made out as factories at a glance. The numerous warehouses that seemed to form a pair with them.
“We’re already in enemy territory, for what it’s worth. You can consider everyone in work clothes your enemy.”
Clarica said as she sent a belligerent smile to the roadside. Indeed, the eyes the laborer saved for Clarica’s maid uniform were harsh. Like Obliterating Industries had the shopping district under their thumb, the Industrial District was quite likely Elize Industrial’s turf.
“You said kidnap one of them but… which one?”
To Wilco’s question,
“Now that’s the real problem. Elize’s a spirit so it’ll be hard to take her in with normal restraints.”
“Then should we go for Hasebe Shouki?”
That one made her furrow her brow just as much.
“Well, you’re right about that. But Mr. Shouki’s crazy strong, you know.”
Hah? Wilco looked at her.
“Oh, we’re acquainted. That Mr. Shouki’s a former hero, after all…”
(……)
Hero? What was that supposed to mean? Wilco asked with that sort of face.
“Y… you mean he fought the demon lord…?”
“That one never actually happened, but he’s made it out of more bloody battles than you could imagine.”
Experienced or not… a hero?
“His sword and magic are top class for a human. If I had to equate it to a lens, while being applicable to both long and short distances, there’s no distortion when switching between the two. He’s a perfect all-rounder.”
Hero.
(……)
“… Umm. Master?”
I see… yes, I see. Hideo thought.
Meaning… he’s one of those.
That hero who gets gratitude from everyone no matter what he does. Who opens all the drawers in someone’s house, smashes their pots, and at the end of it all, arbitrarily makes out with everything that was inside yet, forget larceny, he’s not even tried for illegal breaking and entering, spending his days slaughtering monsters clearly weaker than himself under the just cause of earning experience looting their dead bodies of all their items and money all while calmly filling his party slots with all manner of beautiful girls! The sort who would calmly stay at an inn with them, that…!
(Hero, huh…)
A menacing aura built up around him.
“Master… why have the powers of the dark side tripled within you…!?”
“… I’m going. To win.”
“Whoah!?”
No. He had no choice but to win. This was an existence his kindred souls scorned as shut-ins and NEETs spent their lives admiring from across the screen. An existence only permitted because it was a game, who should be no means exist in reality. Erase. Eliminate. Delete. Just snatching him away wasn’t enough. Bury him. Bury him alive. One thousand meters below. Bury him so low he’ll never see the light of day.
“… Looks like that rotten president didn’t choose you for nothing. I can feel an unnecessarily amazing aura from you.”
“Ah… but in master’s case, these moments are unnecessarily short-lived…”
The car made it through the factories from a bygone era and turned. An orderly scene that looked like it would deal in modern precision machinery opened before them. Like silicon valley or Kameyama.
Covered in vast greens, with long, long fences around.
“This is the enemy home base… Elize Industrial. Are you ready?”
Clarica asked with a side glance while operating the submachine gun hung from her neck. Clack, the pull of a lever proved her preparations were in place.
That metallic sound returned Hideo to his senses.
Even if the hero was a hero… this was an era where machine guns existed. The fact this combat specialist had prepared one meant the other side had considerably defenses in store.
“W… well, Master, no matter what happens, they won’t just suddenly break into a firefight…”
While she was a mischievous soul in the digital world, Wilco had her apprehensions about gunfire in the real world. One wrong shot to the computer and her home was gone.
“If we talk our way through, the president might let us meet her.”
Wilco said, but… the place they were headed was a low and wide industrial office he could easily imagine the words Mitsubishi or Sumitomo on. Would the president of such a splendid company really meet them without an appointment?
(……)
The men standing at the ground gate station in berets looking very much like security guards were properly armed with machine guns. Like a military base or border security he’d seen on the news.
When they stopped in front of the sliding barrier, the men who closed in, like the laborers, didn’t make the best faces upon seeing Clarica’s uniform. They unhesitantly knocked up against the window glass with the muzzles of their guns.
A doubtful attitude of blatant hostility.
Clarica lowered her driver-side window.
“Hey, wassup. This is Obliterating Industries’ specialist second division, did someone order a hit ‘n run?”
She grinned wide and handed a metal ball over to the nearest guard.
“? … Grenade!?”
The moment he screamed that, Clarica immediately shifted gears into reverse and slammed the accelerator. In the distancing scenery ahead, the guards tossed aside the ball with the pin removed and made off in a mad dash.

……!!

“…”
The gate was blown off, station and all.
Was this the output of the real deal?
Rather than the sound, Hideo could only hear the vibrations. The blast wave was great enough to send static running down Wilco. Before the rubble had hit the ground, Clarica had already switched gear, her accelerator was on full throttle. The tires and engines screamed out as she rammed away the gate’s wreckage with the bumper, racing the ride into the premises.
The abnormality already had guards pouring out left and right. The light baps of lead pellets ricocheting sounded all over the car. With the wheel in one hand, her gun in the other, Clarica scattered bullets from the window she had left open.
“Wasn’t killing strictly prohibited!?”
“I’m using plastic bullets, they won’t penetrate!”
But the guards she shot seemed to be writhing on the ground in extreme pain. Clarica laughed out at the sight… and.
“Forward! Eyes ahead!!”
Wilco suddenly screamed out in tears. The car was making a straight line for the industrial office’s front door!!
“Not a problem!!”
She momentarily released the gas, changed gears, then floored the accelerator even harder.
(……)
What about the brake? Hideo’s thoughts lasted for only a moment before the car vigorously raced up a flight of stairs and jumped, smashing straight through a glass door and sending them flying into the building.
“Now, let’s get going, Mr. Hideo!”
A cheerfully-smiling Clarica handed him a heavy machine gun. When he looked at Wilco, she was already carrying the case with the chainsaw.
(You want me… to shoot.)
Now this was troubling.

 

 

Babang, the sound of an explosion rumbled all the way to the president’s office. A daaaaaaaazed out young girl in a blazer with unfocused eyes slooooooooooowly tilted her head.
“Make sure you follow… the proper safety procedures~…”
“You’re wrong, president! This isn’t a factory accident, it’s a raid! It’s Obliterating Industries!”
Her suited executives were losing their minds.
“That’s why I told you, president! They’re no different from a gang!”
“If only we paid their ‘protection fees’!”
“It was wrong for a proper company to conduct business in this lawless town…!”
The middle-aged adults were moving left and right, with little to show for it. The girl operated the remote in her hand.
“Please keep the room cool, Mr. Ghost.”
Boop. The air conditioner started spewing cold air.
“President!?”
“Calm down, just look at yourselves.”
The one who calmly spoke was a young man slouched in the sofa for receptions. In a room full of suits, he was the only one in jeans and a casual jacket. Black hair. With black eyes so straightforward it was as if they were an embodiment of his nature, he looked over the chief executives.
“Elize’s saying you’ve gotta cool your heads. How about you calm down?”
“But Shouki…!”
The man called Shouki reached his hand for the longsword beside him, a length which a normal person would have trouble just to swing around. He stood. The intermittent gunshots that had broken out after the explosion were gradually closing in.
“You lot’d better take cover. From here on is my territory.”
He unsheathed his sword, a uniform black from its blade to its hilt. The fearless smile on his face caused the others to swallow their breath. After exchanging a look, they turned to the president… the girl called Elize.
“You’ll need to use vacation days if you want paid leave~.”
That was a small price to pay for survival. With tangled feet, they scrambled out the office. The gunshots sounded again and again like firecrackers.
“… Good grief, they’re really making a show. This has got to be Takase… no, Clarica?”
“I have not heard about any such appointment~.”
“… No, it’s a raid, I tell you. What idiot books an appointment for that?”
Challenge letters aside.
Daaaaaaaaaaaze… her eyes that stayed open like they were left out to dry gazed into blank space. Just by those eyes, it was hard to determine if she was alive or not… no, perhaps that was an overstatement.
(Are all spirits like this…?)
Until not too long ago, Shouki possessed the time-honored title of hero. He was versed in what he called the ‘darkness’ of this world to a certain extent. He knew of magic and demons, angels, and even gods.
Yet all he knew about spirits was the fact they were called forth in summoning rituals. He was also vaguely aware that spells and magic circles were used to commune with spirits and bring about phenomena impossible for humans to accomplish alone.
“Please save me, room warming ghost~.”
Maybe the cooling was too effective, Elize pressed at the remote again.
“How~ Warm~.”
But this girl wasn’t a spirit Shouki had summoned. By the time he met her, she had proper form, and she was running this company called Elize industrial Enterprises. When they met, he could hardly believe she was a spirit at all.
Strangely, she had a nature like a mix-up of all sorts of loose odds and ends, and at times he had trouble establishing communication.
“But I never thought they’d make their move this quickly. You think two hundred wins was overdoing it?”
“Every problem has~ a~ solution~.”
The sound of guns had finally reached their floor.

 

 

Concealing herself in a corner of the corridor, Clarica swapped out the magazine on her machine gun.
“It’s kinda been way too easy… making me yawn…!”
“What about it!? What part!?”
Wilco was half-snapped. Inevitably. Their destination, the president’s office was just at the end of the corridor, but a makeshift barricade had been set up, and the resistance was intense. Each shot was returned with ten, the corner they hid behind was gradually being shaved away.
By the time he reached the fourth floor, Hideo’s sense of fear was pretty much numb. That was the least of his problems. The moment the bullet hell cut off, Clarica’s body spilled into the hallway as she took a sweep with her machine gun.
(… She’s. Kinda cool.)
The side of her grinning face gave him the leisure to even consider it.
A grand chorus of agony from her targets. The bullets were plastic, but they were still propelled with gunpowder and a proper shot could break bones and rupture internal organs. It was dubious whether they were any more humane than regular bullets.
Incidentally, Hideo was peppering support fire from behind her with the submachine gun she gave him, but he couldn’t seem to hit.
(……)
Well, all he really had to do was fire enough that she didn’t get angry at him for slouching. That was how it worked. Definitely. Not like he was hitting anything anyway.
“Wilco doesn’t plan on dying when we’re not even holding a match… oh Lord!?”
Clank, an item like a spray can rolled towards them. But like a pitcher performing a last second double play, Clarica snatched up the rolling grenade and calmly threw it back.

Snap!?

After an immense sound and flash, it was quiet beyond the barricade. Clarica watched carefully a while before she beckoned them towards where the guards were; all face down, hopefully unconscious.
“That’s why I’m saying, it’s too easy…”
She scratched her head, rather disappointed.
“But looking at their command chain, Wilco thinks they were properly trained…?”
“Maybe on the surface world that’s enough. But on our side, it’ll be harsh to survive with that.”
Clarica pulled a small silver wand from her waist and brandished it towards the barricade.
“Repulse!!”
The lockers, steel desks and chairs forming the barricade were sent flying apart like they had been hit with a sudden wind, transforming them into simple junk.
“……”
Hideo stood with Wilco, staring in amazement.
“I hear you’re pretty strong, aiming for the top of this tournament. Aren’t you pretty good with magic yourself?”
Her smile without a hint of doubt was blinding to look at.
“… Well. More or less.”
In shut-in language that translated to not at all. Wilco stared at Hideo, sobbing like she was looking at a pitiful soul.
“Now, it’s time to confront the president.”
“… If we’ve made this big of a show, don’t you think they’ve booked it by now?”
Wilco’s retort hit the mark.
“Ah. Well that’s… umm.”
“You didn’t even consider it!? You went on a rampage without a thought in your head!?”
Hideo restrained Wilco before she could snap at her. Clarica gave half a laugh, spinning her body towards the presidents’ office.
“Well, there’s no guarantee they’re gone.”
She stood before the heavy double doors with the plate that read president. She couldn’t tell how many, but she could definitely feel a presence. With the machine gun ready in one hand, she used the other to hold her silver want in a backhand grip and touch it against the door.
“Are you ready?”
The plan was likely to use that same magic from before the tear through the door and gain the upper hand. Hideo swallowed his spit, he firmed his grip on the machinegun… and nodded.
“Repulse!!”

Bang!

The door shot into the room, hinges and all. But. It broke before it got far. From the other side, a shadow advanced too fast for the eye to follow. A single young man.
“Mr. Shouki!?”

Gong!

With the body of a long, pitch black sword slammed against the crown of her head, Clarica fell flat on the spot.
“You overdid it, idiot.”
As he said that, his tired eyes turned. They shifted grimly to Hideo. At the same time, a swish, a light pull so faint it was even somewhat comforting.
By the time he noticed it, the machine gun that was definitely metal was completely bisected like it was made of bamboo. Without the time to be taken aback, Hideo reflexively tossed it down. The black point was thrust right at his throat. Straightforward eyes. And tone.
“Do you want to continue?”
(……)
That was impossible. But he did have to break out of this situation. The last name Clarica called out, and the irrational strength that took her out so easily. There was no doubt this man was the hero Hasebe Shouki.
Then there was a way.
As long as he was a participant, killing was out of the question. And if he really was the hero, he wouldn’t even consider such inhuman notions such as kidnapping and burying someone…
(……)
… Ah, so that’s why I can’t be a hero. He realized and got himself down.
“… Don’t. Misunderstand.”
“…? What do you mean?”
With a dubious Shouki before him, Hideo left a moment of silence. Remember. What was your original goal in coming here? Before the president told him to, Hannibal had told him the same.
“We are here. For peaceful. Negotiation.”
“Whop!”
Wilco’s chop came at a good angle. She was frantically pointing out the path they had come down.
“Wilco doesn’t think that’ll work after all we did to get here!!”
But that was all Clarica.
“Found a new friend~.”
“Oh noes, you caught me~… wait, who is this!?”
Before she knew it, there was a girl with daaaaazed out eyes wrapped around her arm.

 

 

She looked younger than Wilco, like a girl who had just entered middle school… but she was for some reason the president of Elize Industrial. Her slender build in a formal blazer somewhat gave the impression like she was all dolled up for a coming of age ceremony.
Be that as it may, her hair done up with a headband as if to show off her forehead was a bright silver close to white. Her slightly-blue silver eyes definitely gave off an inhuman mystique.
“Spirit~.”
Elize pointed at herself.
“Spirit~.”
She pointed at Wilco.
“Mr. Ghost~.”
She pointed at the air conditioner.
(… Meaning.)
She trying to say they were spirits in arms. No, ghost?
“Newest~ friend~.”
Still wrapped around Wilco’s arm, Elize dragged her into the president’s office. Shouki reluctantly sheathed his sword with a sigh.
“What do you mean newest, Elize.”
“She’s the newest spirit~ in the world~.”
Hideo followed while listening to their exchange.
“Sure enough, Wilco has been called an electronic spirit on the darknet but…”
“That’s wonderful~ She’s an electronic spirit~.”
“In that case…”
Wilco pointed at Elize. Then what sort of spirit was she?
“I am the spirit of mithril~.”
“Mithril… Wilco’s hears that a lot, but what exactly is it…?”
“Sacred silver! A divine metal~. For love peace and courage~, the mithril that smites evil~♪”
Elize said sweetly in song.
“Then Elize Mithrilite is…?”
“A name I arbitrarily gave myself~/”
“Well, Wilco can’t say she’s any better.”
A slight affinity seemed to be welling up between fellow spirits.
(……)
Come to think of it, he knew she was a computer virus, but he didn’t know the first thing about how she came to be. She herself didn’t seem to have a full grasp on her materialized self, after all.
“So I can do this~.”
Elize easily opened the case Wilco was holding. The chainsaw lightly floated in the air. And fell apart.
“W… what are you doing!? That’s Master’s only weapon!”
(……)
The full-body tights did say it was made of mithril.
Of the airily floating parts, only the metal portions gathered together, beautifully melting down like mercury into a single small elongated slab… an ingot that rested atop Elize’s hand.
Perhaps oddly, or perhaps this was the natural course. The color of pure mithril, unlike its original metal color, was far closer in hue to Elize’s silver-white hair. When she had shown them that much, the two could only stare blankly, no longer caring about weapons and so forth.
“Elize Industrial Enterprises is the world’s largest producer of mithril~.”
Contrary to her dead eyes without any clear focus, Elize strongly stuck up the index finger of her right hand.
“By spreading mithril through the world, I will rank up from spirit to god~.”
(……)
Then what? Did that mean Wilco would become a god by spreading pathogens through the world? No way.
“More importantly, Elize.”
It was Shouki who spoke.
“What are we going to do with these two?”
“I already heard from Mr. Hannibal~.”
Who would have guessed that brusque man had already passed the word. Hideo felt a heat in his chest, but he lacked the words to carry it.
“But you were just one step too late~. If you’re just troubled by debt, we would have resolved it if you came by last night~.”
“W… what do you mean?”
At Wilco’s words, Shouki leaked a laugh.
“Remedial action. From our company Elize Industrial to the people suffering under the debt of our rival Obliterating Industries… of course, you two were taken under their wing, so they would never have told you.”
(……)
Hannibal was also being harassed by debt collectors. Meaning he knew and was giving them the hint. If they had made here straight from his store yesterday… they would have received this remedial action? Wilco timidly cut into it.
“Isn’t there anything you can do about that…?”
“It’s a request from my newest friend, of course I’ll lend an ear~.”
Wilco put her hands together.
“We have a debt of five million tickets!”
Hideo took a cautious glance back. Clarica was still out cold. It was better off keeping the gap between the real him and the him who deceived Takase a secret.
The mithril spirit nodded.
“Very cheap~. Then let us hold a continuation of last night’s mini-tournament~.”
“What?”
Wilco furrowed her brow at the strange places this conversation was going. If it was a mini-tournament, then unlike the one-on-one matches they had conducted to that point, this was a means to win against an unspecified large number of people. Like a fishing contest, eating contest, the game of life… the list went on. Naturally, they had never participated in one before, but perhaps they would have taken part if they had come the night before.
“And how will we be holding the match..!?”
As Wilco swallowed her breath, Shouki’s smile gradually deepened.
“The match will be decided by ‘assets’. The side with the highest assets wins. To prove their superiority, the winner will provide the loser with enough tickets to pay off their current debt.”
“Wha… wha…!?”
Wilco couldn’t close up her mouth. Even more than her, Hideo was satisfied with that explanation.
(… I see.)
A rigged game.
Oddly, the words of his own president were spot on the money. Bribery taking the name of a match. Using her position as president, a means of match that granted perfect, certain victory.
Little over a week had gone by since the tournament began. It was around time competitors began to see the caliber of its top contenders, and the troubles that lay on the road to victory. Among the pairs that looked back on their own abilities and realized the narrowness of possibility, there were those who had fallen on their luck, fallen in debt with that company, and developed distaste towards their forceful means of debt collection.
(… They threw the match.)
Matches were built on the premise that both sides had to consent. They got their opponents to agree to a match that guaranteed certain loss. That was all there was to it. Two hundred pairs of participants desired loss of their own accord. But rather than losing with nothing but a life of debt collection ahead of them, they sold off the win to bid the tournament a clean farewell. The shrewdest loss possible…
(… No.)
As a loser himself, Hideo strongly denied it.
That was just empty idealism. In the end, they were made livestock of. His company had rounded them up, and these two had served them on the table. Remedial action? That was quite the deception. The only reason they got them to accept the challenge was because they could see where they stood.
Shouki spoke half-teasingly.
“If you really want to wash your hands of debt collecting, you won’t get a better offer.”
“Wai… master!?”
He contained Wilco’s fears with a hand.
“I can’t accept that challenge.”
“E-exactly!”
(……)
But this was the result of what Iori Takase. Of what Elize Mithrilite had built up on the way to the tournament. To win. To lose. If he had to say, this was the difference in life’s tally before the tournament began. He couldn’t speak for Wilco, but he himself. He was an overwhelming streak of losses. This was the difference.
He was brought to realize it time and again. He was a loser.
“… Hero.”
A daring smile full of self-confidence. That had to be something backed by the victories he stacked up as a hero.
“Oh, you heard from Clarica? Yeah, I’m not one anymore. But I am strong.”
Shouki lifted the guard of his black sword.
“In that case, want to try going at it under the basic rule? I wouldn’t mind.”
“Wilco is surprised you can say that after what you’ve done to master’s weapon!”
Wilco pointed at the ingot in Elize’s hands and the bits and pieces of plastic that remained… she went on as if suddenly realizing something.
“And wait… if you’re not in active service, what are you now?”
“Erk…”
Surprisingly, that question seemed to erase his self-confidence. Elize answered for him.
“He was an unemployed university grad~. Back when he was on duty, he was a good customer of our company’s mithril products, so I took him on part time~.”
“Could you stop spreading that already!?”
Beneath his sunglasses, Hideo quietly closed his eyes. And he spoke.
“A part-timer… huh.”

 

 

(……)
What a…
(Kuh…)
What a sense of superiority…!!
Even if he got in by chance and was trying to wash his hands of it… he was fully employed!! The person before his eyes was a part-timer!! Ah, lo and behold the social stigma!!
… Regardless of whether or not his own company was any better in that regard.
“M-master is letting off a strange aura…!?”
“Silence! What do you know!? I devoted almost all of my senior year at college to job hunting, and all five companies I interviewed with rejected me! What do you know!!? Yeah, that’s right, if it weren’t for this bloody recession, I’d be…!”

Crash!!

“!?”
Hideo had already kicked down the reception table.
(……)
How laughable.
Five companies. A mere five companies. No matter how he endeavored as a hero in that world over there. Once he got to the real world, that was it. How frail.
Hideo quietly removed his sunglasses. He glared straight at Shouki.
“To hell with college. You empty-headed academic. Don’t look down… on society.”
“Guh…!!”
“You’re just a puppet. Wearing your former glory as a hat. You hypocrite…”
“S… say that again!”
The smile disappeared from Shouki’s face, he must have struck a nerve.
Former hero, eh. He was probably the same type as the police officer Minako. A strong sense of justice, and therefore oversensitive to his own faults. Even more so when they were pointed out by someone he thought of as beneath him.
“Hero… you’ve got to be kidding me. It’s obvious that a company president has money. It’s obvious that a hero is strong.”
Meaning, Hideo took a breath.
“Your very existence in this tournament. Is cheating.”
Hideo himself knew that argument was pushing it, but he could tell the blood was getting to Shouki’s head.
“Bastard…!”
Seeing Hideo’s mode change, Wilco hopped right aboard. She had gotten used to it.
“In the first place, the assets are Elize’s power! The former hero/bum hasn’t done a thing!”
“I’m not a bum! I’m just underemployed!!”
“If you think that’s something to brag about, you’re living in the wrong era! Making yourself look cool saying you used to be the hero!? If swinging around a sword and threatening people with violence is all you’re good for, what does that make you!?”
“Urgh… if you’ll let me have my say…!”
In her daaaaaaaaze, Elize set the ghost something-something airconditioning to cool, flooding the room with cold air, but it didn’t seem to effect Shouki.
“What about you two…!”
He had no argument. Nothing worth listening to.
“Two hundred wins gained. Through cowardice is. Nothing more than cheap makeup. It will fall off someday.”
Shouki gripped his sword stronger.
“And. If it was so cheap… it’s worthless to us. I’m disappointed. I have. No business here.”
Hideo turned to leave, but Shouki immediately stood in front of him. He would lose nothing from letting them leave, but his history, his pride as a hero wouldn’t permit it.
“I’ve heard about you too, Kawamura Hideo! I don’t know about demon eyes or future sight but… do you think I’ll back down after you’ve said all that!?”
Hideo was up for the challenge… but then what? His opponent was an all-rounder. What’s more, the means he used against the Colonel wouldn’t work anymore. That one would wash off his own makeup.
It needed to be a method that showed off his own abilities to an extent. On top of giving him a winning chance. What he didn’t have in the first match, something he had obtained in this one week. What he could use in a match… computer. Cellphone. Car. Connections to Obliterating Industries. A chainsaw… not anymore.
When he wanted to wash his hands of them, in the end, it all tied back to that company. How ironic.
“Sacred Demon Grand Prix~.”
Elize abruptly blurted out. The words brought a grin to Shouki’s face.
“Oh… I see.”
“Why are you acting so satisfied on your own…?”
Shouki nodded once. His precarious penchant to lash out at them was gone.
“I’ll hear you out. If assets are no good, and battle’s a no go… then how about we have a match of speed?”
“Speed… grand prix… meaning you’re challenging us to some sort of race?”
“That’s right. Elize and Takase put up the announcement this morning. It was on TV, the homepage, the board at Center… you didn’t see it?”
For less than second, Wilco closed her eyes.
“Will.CO21 working… found. A joint event between Obliterating Industries and Elize Industrial? Open to all participants and non-participants…?”
Shouki seemed shocked as she suddenly spouted its contents.
“I-I see… electronic spirit. Yeah, that’s right. Meaning, even if you’re not in pairs, anyone can participate. Organizers, laborers, shopkeepers, anyone. You know how there’s a war waging between Elize Industrial and Obliterating Industries, right?”
He didn’t know it had gotten bad enough to be called a war.
“Both sides will enter their own participants in the race, and the losers will come under the umbrella of the winners.”
So it was like Mahjong between Yakuza.
(……)
Wait a second. Then what? If it was announced that morning, then the president knew full well when he sent them to erase Elize and Shouki? Was that why he wanted to take care of them? Even if Hideo was eliminated from the tournament, his company would reap all the benefits…?
(……)
He was dirty to the core… it had to be called a talent by this point.
“Kawamura Hideo. How about you represent Obliterating Industries? As long as you don’t drop out half-way, this race won’t count as a loss.”
Shouki said with a profound smile.
(… Meaning, on the contrary.)
If you drop out of the race, you lose. Not only the race, you’re disqualified from the Sacred Demon Cup. The moment his thoughts were about to go towards the risks, Wilco cried out.
“The grand prize is… a hundred million tickets!?”
(Now this is…)
That one was a surprise!
“Master, there’s more! Sacred Demon Cup participants who complete this race are recognized to have defeated pairs who dropped out, it will be added to the official record! These points will be distributed based on… the finer details aside! The point is! If we win, we get loads of money and wins!!”
I see. This was what it meant to have a high-stakes game. Those at the top will be able to further solidify their positions. Those at the bottom have a chance to turn it all around. There was no doubt this mini-tournament would have a considerable number of participants.
And the race would presumably become a huge scramble to crush one another. The more pairs that drop out, the more wins awarded at the finish line.
“Wilco. The rules?”
“Yes, the plaza in front of Centralle Building… where the opening ceremony was is the starting point! You have to reach checkpoints in each district in the designated order and make it back to Center Plaza! The race starts at noon, three days from now, the time limit is five hours, means of transportation, anything goes. On foot, car, flying magic, anything! Weapons, magic, and items free to use! Of course, obstructing participants during the race is completely permitted!!”
With each word Wilco grew more excited, the money was blinding her.
“At this point, it’s the Cannonball Run!!”
“That’s right. A Cannonball Run of the world of darkness. You can’t even compare the severity to the surface world… and of course, you accept, don’t you? Kawamura Hideo…!”
“……”
For a race this large in scale, it could be seen as a pregame to predict the grand winner of the championship. To Hideo who had to stick to his seat as top contender, there was no way he could decline.
Hideo quietly nodded before he said,
“… I accept.”

 

 

Shouki was to take charge of Clarica until she woke up.
Hideo and Wilco left through the broken-down gate. As he watched off their backs from the shadow of the blinds, he unknowingly burst into a smile.
“The rumors were true, those eyes of his aren’t normal. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this tense. I can’t wait to see what happens in three days!”
His hot-blooded spirits rode his fist as he smacked it into his palm. This tension was a long time coming. It had been so long since he could look forward to a fight with no holds barred. When all was said and done, he quit as a hero, but the surface world society was so boring. This was what he lived for. This patter of his heart was the proof he was alive.
“I wouldn’t count on that~.”
“……?”
This spirit’s speech and conduct was always a mystery, so it was only natural he could never tell what was going through her mind.
“I’m not going up against Obliterating Industries for show~.”
A swish and a swish, as she spread her arms wide, Elize’s unfocused eyes danced in delight.
(What? Did she lay some sort of trap in the tourney…?)
From the tournament’s very first match, those two had remained top contender. Takase may be a villain, but Shouki trusted his insight. He didn’t believe any small measure would be able to take them out…

 

 

Of course, the car they came in was confiscated, so they had to return on foot. They plodded step by step through the industrial district steeped in the scent of coke, machine oil, and metal.
“Master, in a sense, the real battle starts in three days! If we take the top spot, we’ll be swimming in wins! We’ll be out of debt! We might be able to take it easy for a while!”
For what it was worth, he did confirm it with the president but, if that’s how it is, then so be it, kukukuh… he sounded remarkably delighted with the idea, so that was one matter taken care of.
“And wait, we’ll be rich! Instead of a laptop, Wilco will live in the server she’s always dreamed of!!”
“Yeah.”
Right. He definitely did want to take it easy a while. His shut-in self had left the house far too often this past week. A normal stay-at-home patient would have died of overwork by now with this harsh… nay, heartlessly cruel schedule.
Three days. They would be better off refraining from other battles until then. To recharge their spirits, of course, but tripping up on a small matter before the main event was the worst thing that could happen. Naturally, the other participants would probably do the same.
As Hideo was cautiously gazing at his forecast of the future, Wilco abruptly pointed in the direction they were already going.
“Master, what do you think that crowd is for?”
Where Wilco was pointing. Right out of the industrial district, around where he could see the rows of shopping district buildings, laborers in work clothes had gathered by the side of the road. There was a familiar face among them. Characteristic blue clothes with a truncheon, it was Minako.
“The police woman’s with them. Looks interesti… eek!?”
It was an instant. The moment one of the crowd noticed, all the several dozen turned with eyes filled with hostility. They were surrounded in no time.
“W-what is this, officer!!?”
She drew her truncheon Okamaru, no questions asked.
“Hideo. I never thought… I never thought you’d be so dyed in evil!!”
“… What are you trying. To say?”
“Not only did you barge into Elize Industrial demanding they pay off your debt, out of fear for the hero- a wonderful man- you sacrificed one of your own comrades- a feeble woman- to make your escape!! And that brings us to this point!!”
“… Wilco now understands how terribly mistaken you are, but…”
But what to do now, Wilco rubbed the corner of her eyes. Around that time, Hideo heard a whisper from behind him. Low enough that Minako up front couldn’t’ hear, a pleasant murmur of a worker.
— Don’t think poorly of us. President’s orders.
(……)
I see, thought Hideo. So that’s what it means. Even if she was the spirit of sacred silver. Even if a hero was her partner… that spaced-out girl was competing with Iori Takase. Meaning she had to be just as manipulative as he was.
They had already turned down the invitation. Then this time, it would be the opposite of what they did that morning. Elize could fill in her lack of pieces by winning over people like Minako with lies. They were the spirit of sacred silver and the hero. Hideo’s side was an evil organization. Then normally, wouldn’t people unconditionally side with his opposition?
Now that Takase had accepted him as representative, if he disappeared, Elize Industrial won the Sacred Demon Grand Prix by default.
(… I see. It really is…)
It really is corrupt to its core, this town.
There were no judges. No challenges to a match.
The blue-collars had their tools. Minako held Okamaru at the ready. While Hideo was failing to find a card to play, the circle mercilessly closed in.

 

Posted in Battlefield Masurawo | Tagged | 3 Comments

BATTLE 5: Thus Spake the Fist

 

A full week had gone by since the start of the Sacred Demon Cup. For yet another day, Hideo wrapped his body in the black suit provided to him by Obliterating Industries. While he was initially wishy-washy on how to tie a tie, now he could get it in one shot.
(What a refreshing morning.)
The person he saw in the mirror wasn’t his old stay-at-home syndrome stricken self. Every morning he woke up at the proper time and left with a proper goal in mind. He was a full-fledged member of society who looked after his appearance each day.
An employee, with a business card no less.

‘Iori Financing Black List Exterminator

Kawamura Hideo’

(……)
Looking at it got him a little down. Even so, he put on his sunglasses, his mask as a debt collector.
“Now master, let’s get out there and round up some loans! … Is what Wilco would like to say, but…”
“…… But what?”
“It’s about time we lost our place at top contenders!”
While three consecutive wins on the first day put them ahead by a large margin, in this past week, a number of groups managed to catch up to them.
“If they pull ahead of us, our plan to continue to stand at the top as championship favorites will fall apart!”
“… You’re right.”
They would need to start taking the initiative soon. Rather, they had no other option. For the past week, they had worked hard at collecting debt to pay off their own five million tickets but… if that caused them to neglect the tournament, it would all be for nothing.
When he approached contestants with, “Return the money,” and they declined, the plan was to invite them in with, “Then if you can win against me, your debt will be written off”. If Hideo managed to win those matches, they’d get both the money and a new tally on their record, it was two birds and one stone.
Surprisingly enough, everyone so far quite obediently returned the money; he wasn’t getting the matches he had hoped for. It must have been thanks to the fact that not only was he a top contender working for that company of all places, he was also dressed up like a contract killer… the short of the matter, his threats were far too effective.
“Then today. We’ll be assertive.”
“Let’s issue some challenges!”
Right, they shared a nod and left the apartment. Minako next door with the truncheon at her hip was leaving her place at just the same time.
“Good. Morning.”
Yet as Hideo gave his greetings, she simply walked straight past him. A few steps away, she turned and took a sorrowful glance over Hideo’s black clothing.
“… I see you’re going out to threaten innocent people again.”
“… That’s.”
“Of course, I know you’ve been shouldered with an unreasonable debt. I know it’s not your fault. But you’re going around imposing that same pain on others. I didn’t think you were such a weak individual.”
And I was a fool for believing in such a man, she spoke as if to condemn herself. Her expression fit someone of her strong sense of justice.
Okamaru spoke.
‘The days of Edo have never left us. Grudges and pain always tie back to the weakness of the heart…’
His voice wasn’t even condemning. As if to pity a poor soul that had fallen into the endless suffering of hell. The two of them left without another word.
(……)
When they got to the apartment’s yard, the landlady was cleaning. This one had the same bright smiling face as ever.
“Do you have work today?”
“Yes.”
“Is that syo? But that place is a bad company.”
(……)
“It’s good you managed to cheat a car, weapon and cyomputer out of them, but once you’ve finished your business, you should cut ties and fast.”
Was that how people were seeing him? The president definitely did acknowledge him and gave him a few things as a sign of that acceptance. It was a lie to say that didn’t make him happy. But from the eyes of those around him, he was a debt collector with no blood or tears to shed. Could it be he had actually lost more than he had gained? In which case, if the image he gave others stopped being that of a top contender… that would make him just a villainous prick?
(……)
He suddenly felt a chill. It was no good. Anything but those eyes. That alone was too much to bear. As it was, the mean glare in his eyes had others send him dubious looks, but if they started judging him by his character on top of that… he would have to live his life quietly in his room without meeting anyone ever again.
“Aaah!? It’s been a while since master looked this down…!”
“Is he really?”
With his lack of expression, only Wilco who was always with him could make out the niceties of his emotions.
There, a lone cheerful voice flew in.
“Morning.”
A member of management, and moderator at the opening ceremony, Kirishima Lena. Instead of her casino dealer-like uniform, she was in casual clothes.
“Hey, Kirishima. Did you take a day off?”
“Yep, I’m on vacation! So I was in the area wondering how you guys were doing and came to take a look… but… who is this hunk of a man!!?”
“What?”
Said Wilco. When Hideo raised his face, he could see the sparkling in Lena’s eyes even across his dark sunglasses. What’s more, of all things, those eyes were pointed at… himself.
“Kyaah!? Hideo, you’re so cool! How should I put it… you’re like a professional!”
Whatever sort of professional she meant aside, this meant the president’s design concept worked out. What a contrary reaction to Minako a moment ago. When one door closes, another door opens? No, one’s man’s trash is another man’s treasure…
“Hey, Hideo, are you free today?”
(……)
“I’m totally free all day… want to go play somewhere?”
“D-don’t tell me this is…!?”
Wilco lurched back in terror.
“A date?”
The Landlady’s cat ears twitched back and forth.

 

 

“Are you gyoing on a date?”
“No… Landlady. Why are you making it sound like master’s been challenged to a match?”
Twitch, twitch.
“Well in a sense, isn’t this the real time for him to shyow what he’s got?”
“S-sure enough! No, I mean! Master, we have to find a real match today! We don’t have the time to play around!!”
Lena cut in with a dismissive wave of her hand.
“You make it sound like such a big deal. We’ve already shared a drink together. How about we go out somewhere as friends? That’s all I meant. If your partner Wilco comes along, it wouldn’t be a date in the first place.”
In a sense, Hideo was relieved.
Upon seeing that, Wilco.
“… Master, you’re surprisingly simple. Wilco was sure she’d be able to see a whole new side of you.”
Hideo took a few steps away and whispered to Wilco who had followed behind.
“… Can’t deal with it.”
How much time had he gone without a girlfriend? Why that would be the same number of days months and years he had lived on this earth. Now a person as beautiful as Lena comes along? What? Date? Kukuku, what even is that…? He’d heard rumors here and there, but that didn’t have anything to do with his own life, did it? Hahaha…
“No… Master, you don’t have to deny yourself that far. If you’re going so far, then this is a good opportunity; it’s just one day, how about you have some fun with her… Wilco will be in the room surfing the net.”
“… We don’t have time. To play.”
He gave as an excuse. To be completely honest, he had absolutely no idea what to do if they were alone together. Rather than engaging in something so pointless and hopeless, it would be far more productive to devote his time to a match.
“Well, participants like you guys don’t really get days off like we do after all… mnn, but I’m here anyway, so I’d love to see another one of your matches. Aah, of course, I’m not forcing you to.”
“Sure enough… during his matches, even Wilco has to admit master looks kinda cool.”
“Meaning this is a chance to shyow off.”
(What exactly. Are they expecting. Out of me…)
Hideo feigned composure as he walked towards the parking lot behind the apartment. Before they got there, they were blocked by the silhouette of a shougi king piece or cockroach, a single incredible sports car.
“Whoah, it’s a Diablo.”
Remarked Wilco. The car’s scissor doors opened not outwards but up. The young man with silver-framed glasses peeking out had his canines flared in a vulgar smile just as when he had first met him.
“If it isn’t. The president.”
Hideo lowered his head at Takase, for what it was worth.
“Hey there, Hideo. I was passing by and came to see you, but looks like didn’t have to. You look psyched up to earn some dough today.”
“……”
Minako and Okamaru’s words stabbed into his chest again.
There was Lily sitting in the passenger’s seat. She was still dressed like a maid with mirrored glasses, but she was apparently even higher up than this president. Shadow Supreme Leader or something or another.
“Hideo, Wilco, are you working hard? How is the weapon treating you?”
Her words were shrouded in jest. Hideo lowered his eyes to the item she pointed out… the large black briefcase he carried around.
“… No. Not yet.”
He had never used it before. The president laughed.
“Kukukuh, I see, so you don’t even need it. As expected of the man I set my eyes on. Keep at it, Hideo. And Wilco.”
“Nihaha, just leave it to us! We’re going to issue a challenge this time too!”
“Ha ha hah, I see, I see! If you win, I’ll happily welcome you as executives! Break a leg.”
With eyes filled with expectations, the president gave a satisfied nod. From there, Lily turned to Lena and waved.
“Well then Kirishima, you do your best too!”
“Y-yeah, of course Suzu… I mean Lily!”
Were they acquainted? Well, they were staff member and participant. Hideo was acquainted with Lena and the Landlady himself. Hideo didn’t think too hard about it as he saw off the sports car that took off with a shrill shriek.
Phew… for some reason, the three of them sighed to no one in particular.

 

 

“Hmm, so you can drive manual.”
Lena in the passenger seat sounded impressed. Wilco peeked her head in from behind in agreement.
“Wilco was surprised about that one too.”
The place he was born and raised was the countryside, you needed a car if you wanted to get anywhere. That being the case, it was his parents who pushed him into driving school. He never had a chance to drive since he got to Tokyo, but unlike knowledge, it was surprisingly hard to shake off the techniques his body had picked up.
“… So. Where.”
“Umm, where are we going, Wilco?”
“Can’t we just go anywhere? Today we’re planning to hold some sort of match. Well, if you want to collect debt, we can go with that.”
But that was also quite troubling when you got down to the details. Contestants just peacefully walked by the sides of the roads. It felt a bit off to suddenly stop the car and call out to them.
If Lena had taken a day off, then couldn’t he find some participants if he took her to the arcade? Noon was coming around and he arbitrarily stopped by a nearby fast food restraint. While he was at it, he filled his car’s tank. He hadn’t gone around to the movie theater yet so… and so time passed by. In the end, they played the whole day away without spotting any debtors, and at the places where people went to play, the people who went there much preferred playing over issuing challenges. No matches began.

 

The sun set.
For once in a truly long time, Hideo felt he had played his share. This had never happened since he came to the capital. Once he had come to this city, it had never even occurred to him to go out to play. Minako said some harsh words when he left, but he got the feeling this was a nice refresher.
“Hey, what are we doing for dinner? If you’re up for it, there’s a shop I want to check out. I guess you would call him stubborn? Rumor says this heard-headed guy runs it, and it’s apparently delicious.”
“Is that. So.”
“Wilco doesn’t really care either way.”
Well of course. The electric virus only ate important files.
No matter, there was no reason to decline and Hideo sped the car in the direction Lena indicated. The restraint was technically in the shopping district, more specifically right on the boundary line with the industrial district. Wild Hannibal was its name. It seemed to be modeled after a saloon straight out of an old western, and like the name implied,  it was a wild steakhouse. Certainly, setting the mood like this was an important part of elevating the flavor.
Hideo entered the store with the weapon case from the president he always carried around. As expected, there were cacti as tall as he was left around as decorative plants; as expected, the interior was lit with a hanging lamp; as expected, the waiter had his hair in a pompadour…
(……)
Was the waiter’s hairstyle supposed to be a part of this American wildness?
“Have you decided on your order?”
Rather than American, more like a Japanese delinquent. A blonde pompadour.
“Ahaha. Now this is an interesting place. It’s got my seal of approval.”
“Yes, thank you ma’am. I guess you could call it the owner’s fixation. That’s to that, we’re getting rave reviews.”
If he met him in town, he had the sort of appearance Hideo would never approach, but once he opened his mouth, he was well-spirited enough.
“Then I’ll go for this Route 66 Steak Set. With an extra serving of rice.”
“You’ve got a good eye on ya there, ma’am. That one uses the finest meat we got. And how about you, rocking brother?”
Was it the suit? Hideo didn’t remember fashioning his hair in any way like this man.
“Then this. Bikers Hamburger Set.”
“Not a bad one either, brother, that one there’s our most popular item on the menu. And what about you, little lady?”
“Wilco doesn’t need anything. She is already full.”
Just what did snack on and where when he wasn’t looking? Hideo grew a bit anxious. The waiter repeated their order before retreating to the back.
“I see. When they said hard-headed, they must’ve been talking about his fixation on the store’s layout. You gotta respect that way of life, I guess. How about you, Hideo, you got a fixation?”
(……)
When in the bath, he always washed up left foot first.
No, that was more of a habit than a fixation…
(……)
By the time he noticed it, Lena sitting right across from him was propping up her cheek with a hand, looking at him all smiles. For some reason or another, Hideo couldn’t look straight back at her.
“Nihihi… Master, Wilco’s going into the PC—”
Hideo reflexively grabbed Wilco’s shoulder, shaking his head side to side. She was also a girl, yet he felt completely fine when he was alone with Wilco.
“Odis Redding. You ever listened to him?”
…… What?
“Master, she’s talking about the song that’s playing right now…”
(… Nope. Can’t deal with it…)
He would eventually burst. He was convinced of it. That’s why at times like these, it was useless to put on airs. That conviction could be taken as resignation, but Hideo accepted it wholeheartedly. He knew that was who he was. Compared to when he forced himself to put on airs confronting the president, he couldn’t even begin to imagine how much more refreshing this was.
Perhaps… if he exposed his true self back there, a new development may have opened a new path for him. He would never have received the black suit, so he wouldn’t be doing this with Lena… but in exchange, Minako wouldn’t have looked at him with disdain that morning.
At this point it was all said and done. How deep and difficult. To do anything. And in the end, Hideo didn’t say anything in particular. He couldn’t give an interesting or witty response to Lena’s questions.
While that was going on, the food came out. It would be classified as a large serving at a normal restaurant, a rather large steak and burger. Ample volume.
“… Now this is. Delicious.”
“The meat’s so soft! The sauce ain’t half bad either! Wilco, you don’t want any?”
Just like at the landlady’s welcome party, Wilco simply declined. Come to think of it, what would actually happen if she ate or drank? She’d probably get a bit of static at most, but he wouldn’t want her to short out.
“Yeah, I can see why this is a popular place, but…”
Lena raised her face and took a look around the shop.
Right. They were the only customers there. When they entered, there were no signs of anyone there before them, and none of any coming thereafter.
“Hey, waiter. Did something happen here?”
The young employee replied a little awkwardly.
“Y-yes. Truth be told… ah, no. It’s nothing. We get these days from time to time. Hehe…”
Clearly suspicious. Like he was desperately hiding a secret he wouldn’t dare let them know. And as the three exchanged a look with question marks over their heads, it happened.
The door to the shop was forcefully thrown open.
“Obliterating Industries Group! Coming through!”
“Today’s the day we’re kicking you out!”
“Prepare yourself!”
The ones who appeared were men in full body tights and geometric-pattern masks… employees of the Obliterating Industries Group. Meaning, while they were in a different department, they were Hideo’s colleagues.

 

 

“Y-you bastards! Do you never learn!?”
The waiter shed cold sweat from the impending danger, yet his eyes brimmed with a strong hostility. In contrast, the full body tights raised up their fists and powered through.
“We’re on direct orders from the president, we can’t just back down!”
“Forget him, the shadow supreme leader called us out yesterday, she was terribly angry!”
“The president is one thing, but supreme leader is way too quick to resort to force! Our lives are on the line here!”
Was it this quarrel the waiter was trying to hide? In their full body tights hands were metal bats, iron piles, hammers and the like. They came fully armed.
“Now bring out the guy in charge!”
“I won’t let you make it to the owner! Hey, hold it ya pansies!”
Three on one, he couldn’t beat foes he could otherwise manage. The waiter was anticlimactically tossed aside as the full body tights rudely barged into the kitchen.
“Owner!? You’ve gotta run away, Owner!”
Even as the waiter was still screaming, it was a noisy din inside. The tempestuous sounds of pots and pans turning over, of plates and cups shattering. Rather than have a discussion, it seemed the plot was to use those weapons to make a mess of the store and kick them out whether they liked it or not.
What fate lies in store for this pitiful owner… that thought lasted for only a moment. With a pon, pon and pon, the ones ejected from the kitchen were the fullbody tights.
“T-too strong… guffph!”
“W-what a hardhead… goffph!”
Like that two of them collapsed powerlessly, but the remaining one noticed Hideo.
“Ah! Aren’t you the one the president personally scouted, that skilled…!”
(……)
Drat. When the foot was so good, it looked like he was going to be dragged into trouble.
“H-help us…! We can’t lift a finger against the owner here! When he’s a competitor, he said he had to open a shop here and he won’t pay the fees on the land we’re lending him. He’s long past the repayment period for the loan he took when he opened shop, but this brazen bloke keeps running his business without a care in the world!”
“Eeeh!? The owner was a participant!? Master, isn’t this?”
Hideo and wilco exchanged a glance and nodded.
Instead of taking requests at the pub, or taking out monsters in the labyrinth… he opened a shop for a safe and stable source of revenue. Indeed, that was one way to fight.
Even if he ran out of luck the moment he borrowed from Obliterating Industries.
“What was that!? Don’t tell me you pretended to be a customer to get us by surprise!?”
The good-natured waiter was now frank with his hostility towards Hideo. The full body tight man spoke as if borrowing the dignity of a tiger.
“Wahaha, you’re over! This shop’s had its last day! This is a man the president acknowledged… why of course he is, he’s the top contender in this tournament!”
“Uuurgh…! I-I see! Meaning you’re the ones who took out our regulars, the Colonel and Rocky… you!”
What a small world they lived in. That old man certainly did have the body of someone who munched down on meat.
“I-I won’t forgive you…! Owner! Owwneeer!”
With the waiter’s do-or-die call, the man finally showed himself.
“Hey now, Johnny-boy… don’t you embarrass yourself in front of the customers…”
“B-but owner…!”
A low voice filled with dignity. Heavy footsteps.
“I heard the story from out back… if that’s how it is, I’ll have ta take you on personally…”
“O-owner…!!”
The silhouette that appeared from the depths of the kitchen caused the waiter (who was apparently called Johnny)’s face to shine. And the form he finally showed.
“T-this is…!?”
Wilco was shocked.
“… For real…?”
With a blank face, Lena dropped the knife and fork in her hands.
A thick and massive build like a character costume. Yet it was a solid, reddish-brown armor. Reddish-brown skin that matched it in hue. His body was as if it were made from fired pottery.
Johnny cried out.
“Owner…! No, Mr. Hannibal!!”
“Wait, he’s a freaking haniwa!!?”
And Wilco screamed too.
“Sturdy or hard-headed isn’t the problem, he’s rock solid!!”
“I-I see… no wonder they said he was inflexible… I know I’m not supposed to say it as an organizer, but this tournament is amazing…”
There was sweat on Lena’s brow.
He wore a riveted leather jacket and sunglasses for a street thug look… An especially hard-looking giant haniwa.
“The name’s… Hannibal.”
“I can’t even tell if his name’s a joke or not! And why is it Hannibal when he’s clearly domestic product!!?”
Wilco’s retorts didn’t move him at all. The clay sculpture stuck a cigarette into his mouth that was stuck open like an empty void. Johnny immediately lit it.
His form. But Hideo was moved beyond words, he quivered and shook, and finally managed out a voice.
“P… prince…”
“Quit it.”
Hannibal turned him away.
“You’ve got the wrong guy…”
“Wilco gets what you’re trying to say but! Master, no matter how you look at it, this can’t be him!! The prince didn’t look so malicious!! It’s rude to put them together!!”
“… But. Where is. Your horse?”
“If you’re looking for Jinbee.”
He cut off Hideo’s voice. And Hannibal’s smoke wavered sorrowfully.
“He returned to the sea…”
“… The sea… huh…”
It was no clear he had the wrong person. In which case, there was no need to hold back. Hideo picked up the large, black weapon case at his feet… that he still had yet to see the contents of.
“… Do you plan on. Paying back your debt?”
“Hm… Couldn’t pay it even if I wanted to… you’ve got some nerve saying that after tacking on all those unmanly black-market rates …”
His presence was something else. He gripped his boulder-like fist until it creaked.
“If you’re a man, get talking with these… your fists…”
“I acc—”
“Don’t accept it!!”
Wilco’s fist came down before Hannibal’s.
“It’s impossible! No matter how you look at it, not with your fist, Master!!”
Sure enough. The owner had a reputation for being rock solid.
“You can use… whatever you want…”
Hannibal puffed out a long stream of smoke.
“My weapon is… this body. If you think you can take it, go ahead…”
“Heheheh… let me tell you, our owner’s ceramic body can brush off cannon shells… if you wanna give in, this is your chance!”
Johnny threatened with his disheveled pompadour. To Hideo who was classed as quiet in his student days, he was far more instinctually afraid of Johnny than the haniwa. But as Hideo had done many times before, he simply removed his sunglasses with slow gestures.
“W…oah…! What sharp eyes…!? H… Hannibal, this guy ain’t ordinary…!”
“You’re embarrassing us, Johnny… if you’ve lost your nerve, just sit there and watch…”
“N-no… I decided I’d follow you for life! Let me fight with you!”
What heated camaraderie, with this pair.
“Then does the basic rule work out? Ah, I’m Kirishima from the administrative committee. I can judge if you want.”
“I… don’t mind…”
Hannibal pressed the burnt out cigarette hard into the ashtray Johnny held out. Hideo confirmed once with Wilco. She gave a small nod.
“As long as it’s not a punching match!”
Indeed. As they discussed the morning, today was the day to do it. This was why they bustled about town all day. To hold on to their seat as top contenders, they had to win today.
“I accept.”
With Hideo’s voice, Lena raised her hand high.
“Well then, Hannibal and Johnny pair, Hideo and Wilco, this match will commence under the basic rule!!”

 

 

“Hani!!”
It came out of nowhere. Hannibal swung down his giant mascot-costume-like fist incomparable to a human’s. Hideo instinctively stepped back to dodge its dangerous bulking mass. His foe was close behind him, giving chase with a barrage of consecutive punches.
“Hani! Ha! Hanifoo!”
While he had the sharp breath and rhythm of a boxer, each punch was considerably telegraphed As long as he properly concentrated, even Hideo was capable of avoiding them.
And when he was pressed back to the wall.
“Hanihoh!!”
Hideo ducked down to evade. The haniwa’s fist pierced straight through the veneer boards that made up the restaurant wall.
(Meaning…)
He was an earthenware weapon. He was hard and heavy, his output was extraordinary. Be that as it may, he was heavy so when he swung, there was considerable time to the next strike. He was stiff, so his attacks weren’t flexible, his moves so monotonous even a shut-in could predict their trajectory and prepare for them.
(… I can fight.)
He had a vague conviction. His foe was not the omnipotent type like Ryuuta and Minako. This was a power type that faced challenges head on to a foolish extent. As long as he didn’t take one of those hits, he could do it. The problem was how to inflict damage on that solid body.
“Wilco.”
Ducking along the wall, Hideo escaped and ran with his back to Hannibal, he entrusted Wilco with the black case momentarily.
“Wait, master!? Isn’t this the time to use what’s inside!?”
But that company’s president handed it over saying it boasted extraordinary firepower. If that power was too strong, not limited to this instance, he might end up killing his challenger. Instant disqualification. In a sense, a suicidal action.
“… Borrowing this.”
Hideo took what looked like it would have the greatest output of the items the full body tights brought in, a wooden mallet with a long shaft.
“B… be careful…! That guy… is harder than he looks…!”
Hideo nodded to his colleague’s warning, turning back to the haniwa calmly coming towards him. His foe didn’t even seem to be taking his weapon into consideration. Sticking up his thick index finger, he beckoned Hideo forward.
“… C’mon.”
“… Then I will.”
With his feeble physical strength, Hideo lightly staggered back as he raised the sledgehammer. Worst case scenario, the clay would shatter and he’d be disqualified. He shook off that illusion as he swung down!
“Hanihaa!!”
Crack!!
“…”
Hideo tossed the handle portion onto the floor. The hammer heard snapped clean off with the headbutt Hannibal timed to match his blow.
He was half in a daze.
(……)
No damage whatsoever. Johnny did say he could brush off cannon shells. Then he had no means to inflict damage. In that case, did it really matter if his opponent’s attacks didn’t hit? Hideo would eventually run out of stamina, and Hannibal had the defensive power to block all attacks until that happened.
(… Was I too hasty?)
He could win. If he did not win, he would eventually lose!
“My knuckle… will hurt a bit…”
(Crap.)
His surprise and his thoughts had halted him in place.
“Hanihah!!”
Thwop, it resounded through his body. His flank. A terribly heavy punch. Unable to raise a scream, Hideo’s body caved into an L shape as he was sent flying into the kitchen. He swept away all the various items on the kitchen table as he slid. The noises rocked him. He slammed down on the tile floor.
“Guh…”
For a moment, the impact made him lose all his bearings.
“Master!?”
(……)
But there was one thing he now understood. This was what it meant to fight. That impact, that shock, that pain, that fear. This was battle. A world he had stepped into with his own feet, one that should have had absolutely nothing to do with him.
“Master, are you alright!?”
(Can’t d…)
The thought struck him but he immediately denied it. The moment he saw Wilco’s worried face, his sore loser thought process was blown away. It wasn’t impossible, he could deal with it. That was what he had to think for now.
This wasn’t his personal problem. His partner was right here. If he was alone, he would have waved the white flag at that moment. But that wasn’t so anymore. He wasn’t the same man who mulled over how to die alone. The moment he lost, he would have to get on his hands and knees and apologize to Wilco for his incompetence.
But until the very moment his loss was decided—!
“Kuh…”
His mind whipped his numb body into shape, just barely letting him stand.
“M-master… are your wounds alright…!?”
Hideo used his sleeve to wipe away the red liquid slathered over his face. An ancient soldier’s robust silhouette stood at the kitchen entrance. Its shadow stretched long over the ground let Hideo see its true colors. That was nothing so half-baked as a haniwa. That was an evil spirit of old inhabiting its form.
He couldn’t sleep here. He could feel how much damage a punch had done. If he was kicked by those legs thick as pillars, if he was trampled on with that weight, his bones would shatter. That was it.
“… I’ll. Use it.”
Use what? That went without saying. Wilco hurriedly undid the lock on the case she had placed on the floor.
He would do what he could. No matter what came out. If it was a gun, he would shoot. A sword, he would string. A bomb… now that one was pushing it. And for the first time he opened the lid of the case. For the first time since he entered the tournament. His own weapon was in his hands.

 

 

“T-this can’t be… the man that president chose…?”
“But he was taken down that easily…”
“He’s a monster… that owner…!”
The full-body tights were losing their minds. Hideo was hiding himself in the shadows of the stacked cardboard boxes of ingredients in the back.
“Heh, did you get an eyeful of that!? That’s Mr. Hannibal! A top contender down in one punch… then I’ll take care of the little lady…!”
Hannibal personally interrupted him.
“A man… shouldn’t raise a hand against a woman…”
“B-but Mr. Hannibal… the judge lady hasn’t given a verdict yet…”
Lena nodded. Both members had not been rendered incapable of combat. There was more than enough possibility for the match to continue.
“More than anything, I can tell… that guy hasn’t given up yet… that’s how it is. Though I’ve got no clue what he’s doing lurking in the shadows…”
Setting foot in the kitchen, Hannibal’s hard feet clunked down with every step.
“Master! What are you doing!? Hurry! Hurry up!”
“A little longer…”
Hideo was desperately making some rattling sound trying to operate something, but he was a minute too late. Hannibal lifted his prided fist far stronger than any hammer to end it.
“If it’s come to this, Wilco will!!”
(……)
Of all things, Wilco went out as a shield. His heavy fist with ample inertia couldn’t be brought to a stop so easily.

Tink!!

“…!?”
A sound far too shrill for hitting against flesh. The abnormality caused him to take a step back.
It was a shield. No, he was hazy on whether he could call it that or not. A faint glimmer like magic, a transparent glass something had been deployed from Wilco’s hand.
“Wilco. You’re…”
“It was all or nothing but… now’s not the time! This shield isn’t perfect!”
“… It’s fine. This should do it.”
Hideo pulled at something with all his might, and in that instant.

Kypaaaaaaaaaaaan!!

With an abundance of white smoke, a piercing explosive noise resounded. And the moment after that. With one swoop, the mountain of piles ingredient boxes in front of Hideo was sliced through.
The edge Hideo held in both hands, too crude to be a sword. Too fine to be an axe. But among all the implements humanity had given way to, it could be called the completed form of the concept of splitting one into two.
The phenomenon of friction, the physical factor leading to bisection, carried out with overwhelming efficiency by an endless track of naked blades turning at ultra-high speeds, the strongest— power tool!!
A chainsaw.
“S-scarrryyy!!”
Johnny cowered with the full-body tights. When Hideo was sent flying a moment ago, the whole tomatoes on the kitchen table had smashed into his head. On top of that, his expressionlessness didn’t give off the slightest sense of pain. A face dripping in red, and the cold eyes of a god of death.
The impression he gave others wasn’t that he was bleeding himself, it had to be the blood of his enemies. What’s more, the sheer destructive force in his hands was a dangerous weapon that one wouldn’t want carving into them in their worst nightmares.
“…”
To confirm the weapon on his hand, Hideo lightly pressed the accel trigger. Even with that before him, Hannibal.
“… I see. So that’s how you’ve been wringing out debtors from all over…”
Did not stand down.
“But that toy won’t be able to scratch my body…”
With the sound of a gong, Hannibal proudly hit against his own chest. But Hideo didn’t stand down. He couldn’t.
“Maybe not. But this is. All we’ve got.”
Hideo gripped the trigger. The shrill engine noises. The serrated blade raised a groan.
“Interesting… no matter what weapon I’ve faced, they’ve never cracked me… I’ll play your game!”
“Then. It’s a match.”
Hideo raised up the chainsaw.
“Hanihaaaaaaaaah!!”
And Haniwaru caught it with his tightly clenched fist.
Gggnnnnnggggggggggngnnnaaaaaaaaaaa!!
A shrill sound that tore eardrums echoed.
A flashy show of sparks dispersed. The chainsaw engine cried out in pain at the load, the exhaust spouted out white smoke like a steam train.
“Kuh…! It’s not a normal… chainsaw…!”
The moment Hannibal said that, one of the full-body tights peering into the kitchen raised his voice in recollection.
“D-don’t tell me that’s…!”
Another tights asked.
“You know it?”
“Y-yeah… that’s a piece of work the president told the doctor to make as a joke…!”
“The doctor made it!?”
The other two full-body tights were terrified.
“The engine and all other metal portions use mithril silver, it’s a chainsaw defying common sense! With an outrageous production cost of more than tens million yen, it can even tear through an Iron Golem!”
“Wha… then is the chainsaw amazing for not breaking after grinding that much…!?”
“Or is the owner on another level for enduring it…!?”
The competition continued. Yet eventually, the change began to surface.
“H-hani…!?”
Hannibal raised his first uneasy voice. The fist didn’t lose to the chainsaw, but with the intense frictional heat, it was beginning to glow a dull red. Of course, as a ceramic piece, it was undoubtedly strong against heat, but if only a single point experienced rapid heating, a temperature difference formed with the rest of his body. He was beginning to war from thermal expansion. A ceramic’s characteristic ultra rigid lack of malleability was turning on him.
“Haaaaaaaa…! Haniha…!!”
Snap!! Hannibal’s fist finally snapped, the momentum carried the cracks right up to his elbow. The force sent his entire body flying, collapsing him onto his back.
“H-Hannibal! Mr. Hannibal, are you alright!? Hot!! Owowow, You’re burning!!”
Johnny who raced over tried to lift him up and got burned. A considerable heat had already spread from his fist to the rest of his body.
“Hm… I lost…”
“N-no way! Mr. Hannibal! I can still… tell me to go get them, Hannibal!”
With one arm lost, Hannibal slowly shook his head at Johnny.
“You’ve got no chance… you can’t just be patched up with Aron Alpha like me… at least treasure the body… your parents gave you…”
“Ha… Hannibal…!”
Johnny dejectedly hung his head, shedding a manly tear. Both members had lost the will to fight. Upon confirming that, Lena raised a hand.
“That’s the match! The winners are Hideo and Wilco!!”

 

 

“And wait, you can recover with Aron Alpha!?”
“I, see… Aron Alpha fits me better than Cemedine…”
That probably wasn’t what Wilco was asking.
“Once upon a time, whenever I broke, they’d put me back in the kiln and refire me…”
Hannibal muttered nostalgically. So he did have a time like that.
“As the wind blows, as the tides take you… I went with the flow and it took me all the way here… but this wasn’t where I belonged, is what it means… take the money, the deed, the win… take whatever you want…”
“… Then I’ll be taking. My win.”
On Hideo’s word, everyone turned to him astounded.
“Wha… what are you talking about, master!? No matter how you look at it, this is our quota! If we rob him blind, then with the scale of this shop, we should be able to pay back our debt in full!”
“Hmm… your little lady knows what she’s talking about. You can give it all the mercy you want, but… nothing’ll come outta this empty body of mine…”
But Hideo shook his head.
“… No. Master Hannibal, you fought me head-on. You had the time. You had. Far too much time. You could have removed the chainsaw. You could have hit me all you wanted. And yet. You kept at it. Until you were reduced. To that.”
“Give me a break.”
Hannibal refuted.
“This is just my stubbornness… is all… the craftsman of Yamato put their soul into making my body… so how far could it go… that’s all there is to it…”
He was proud of his own body. The resolve Hannibal showed him only hardened Hideo’s resolve. Surely he had taught him the true meaning of battle.
“Then this too. Is my stubbornness.”
Hideo put the chainsaw away in its case, he turned his back to the defeated.
“M-master… are you sure…?”
He didn’t care. When Minako was angry at him, he noticed he was on the verge of losing something important. If he deprived Hannibal of his store here, in exchange, he would lose something more.
“You were never. On our list. To begin with.”
While Wilco basked in lingering regret, Lena smiled and put a hand on her shoulder.
“Now isn’t he looking cool; your master?”
(……)
Hideo hurriedly put on his sunglasses.
When he looked back, the full-body tights were tangling their legs up running away. While Hannibal had lost, as long as he stayed here, the shop would be stable for a while longer.
“Phew… quite the softy… on this old man…”
And when he returned his eyes, Hannibal was standing to his feet.
“Word on the street’s that you’re working to pay off your own debt… sounds like something that rotten company would do…”
“… What of it?”
“We’ve spoken with our fists, I can tell… you’re not completely bad deep down… you’re just a… man following his own path…”
(…..)
“Being rotten’s different from being bad…”
He took a puff of the cigarette Johnny lit for him.
“Go to the Industrial District… and try meeting with the president of Elize Industrial… if you want to quit that dead-end job of yours…”
Hideo gave a strong nod to those words of advice.
“M-master…”
Despite the outcome, it was true this was a job he knew he couldn’t continue. He just had to make sure they didn’t see through the fact he was an overwhelming weakling. Looking at the matter of paying off his loan, it wasn’t like debt collecting was his only means.
“B-but Mr. Hannibal…! Aren’t the Shopping District’s Obliterating Industries and the Industrial District’s Elize Industrial… aren’t they bitter rivals!? If this brother marches his way in…!”
“Johnny-boy… It’s a man’s job to silently see them off… isn’t that right, Hideo…?”
Hannibal held out his left hand that was still intact.
“Thank you. Master Hannibal…”
And Hideo silently gripped bit back. Earthenware was wonderful at retaining heat. Hideo was immediately burned.

 

After returning to the Center District, the dropped Lena off in front of Centralle Building.
“Man, that was fun. It was a nice day off, thanks to you two. You’ve got my thanks!”
“Likewise. Sorry for. Dragging you into trouble at the end.”
Hideo said, but Lena didn’t look like she minded it.
“Nah, that was the good part! Keep up the good work in the tournament, okay!?”
“Have a good night.”
“Well then. See you. Later.”
Hideo set the car back on course to the residential district.
“So… Master. Are you going to cut ties with Obliterating Industries?”
“… I don’t know. Yet.”
That decision would have to come after he met with the president of Elize Industrial and saw what would come of it. If that one-track-minded Hannibal recommended them, they couldn’t be too bad.
“With this time’s match. We finally stand where we. Can fight.”
Offense and defense. He got the feeling they had reached a certain level in both fields. The chainsaw was one thing, but more than anything.
“I was surprised. When you blocked. Master Hannibal’s knuckles.”
“It was the heat of the moment. Wilco didn’t want it to end without her doing anything.”
Just like him, Wilco was in her own way. Perhaps it was a power that activated… precisely because she thought of him as her partner. In which case, that day’s victory was a bigger one than any before it.
“Structure-wise, it followed the same general principle of changing into maid clothes at the president’s place, and Wilco materializing in this world in the first place.”
With a light glow, that glass-like shield manifested on the palm of her hand.
“We might be able to look forward to even more applications later!”
“Sounds. Reliable.”
A new hope, once again.

 

 

For yet another night, Lena read, gazed at, and sipped coffee to the reports detailing the means of the matches, the winners and losers of each match that had taken place.
The date was already changing. ‘Today’s Sacred Demon’ on cable TV was already broadcasting a digest of the very information in her hands, and once again, the announcer and commentary pair had broken into a harsh slapstick.
“Is something bothering you?”
The staff member who brought in the reports asked. He was young, more a boy than a man.
“Yeah. It’s about those two.”
“They haven’t had a match in a while. But… aren’t they just a fluke?”
The boy in the tuxedo spoke in a neutral voice.
“Rumor has it they ran for dear life from the Labyrinth and were picked up by Obliterating Industries or something… though it’s all hearsay. Meaning the golden plating is starting to fall off.”
Lena knew that. She had gone to confirm it as a way to kill time.
Fluke. Perhaps there was that. But… there was definitely a portion that wasn’t just dumb luck. And in today’s fourth match, they appeared plain to see.
(A magic barrier…)
It definitely seemed that way to her eyes. But even if that’s what it was, it was bizarre for one to take such a plainly visible form. It looked like her partner Hideo himself was also seeing it for the first time.
(Perhaps… more than Hideo, it’s Wilco who’s the key player?)
Lena took another mouthful of coffee.
To be blunt, Wilco’s identity was the most obscure of any of the over three thousand participants. An electronic virus that broke out of a PC. But in that case, inevitably, the background of Kawamura Hideo who had brought such an unknown entity to the competition was also subject to question.
Whatever the case… the two of them had won today.
The pair that had, with their three wins, been at the top for a week. Now some ten-odd pairs had matched them. A few more than thirty had two wins. At last more than a hundred had won once. One loss and that was it, everyone was acting cautiously, but they were gradually starting to move.
Within all of that, only one head. Only Hideo had managed to pick up a fourth win. They had definitely made it in some field, just concealing their names. There was no other explanation…
(…… Well, as long as the organizer is having fun…)
Lena stood and took a big stretch towards the window.
“Good work, you should retire for the day. I’m going to sleep.”
“Yes. Then pardon me.”
He took a courteous bow to Lena’s back and left the room with the plate that said ‘Tournament Director-General’.
Lena looked down. From the top floor of Centralle Building, at the tower’s height of one hundred floors from the surface, the entirety of the isolated city spread out before her eyes.

Posted in Battlefield Masurawo | Tagged | 4 Comments

BATTLE 4: Pitch Black Tower

An outrageous debt of three million tickets. If he didn’t want that, he would have to become a peerless (or so he was led to believe) modified human with three drills implanted in his body… such was the predicament Hideo faced, but he couldn’t lose sight of what was precious to him as a human being. In the first place, the day he was equipped with drills was the day he was disqualified from the competition. ‘Pairs must consist of one human and one sentient non-human’. If he became a cyborg or drillman… it was hard to say that counted as human any longer.
Parting with a worried Minako, Hideo and Wilco left the rip-off clinic labeled the Iori General Hospital behind them.
“We’re in trouble now, master…”
“Even so. They treated me, that’s a fact.”
Even if it was just one IV drip, in this city, the law (or lack thereof) sided with the hospital that treated him. If the hospital said it was a three million ticket IV, then it was three million tickets. He did feel they did not fulfill their obligation to explain beforehand, but this was not the Japanese society of reality.
(…… A debt, huh.)
That was the one thing he never thought he would shoulder. Otherwise, he would never think to commit suicide when he was troubled for food. That was now a pipe dream. Now that the responsibility was placed on him, to die here was just a selfish whim. A bother. If he borrowed it, he had to return it.
“Right after we got three consecutive victories… looks like it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, master…”
“Not much we. Can do.”
For argument’s sake, the doctor did hand over a flier, saying he would introduce them to a good financing company. Taking a loan was all they could do for the time being. He did make a fuss over how the surgery had to be paid for within the day.
Hideo made for the address on the flier. A nook of the shopping district. A shabby old corner like good old Shinjuku was where the loan company lay. Not that it had a sign out to say so.
“H… how should Wilco put this, for a multitenant building, it’s pretty grand…”
Wilo looked up at the first floor of the building. Location aside, it had a gorgeous entrance that could have belonged to some brand name or travel company. Once they were through the automatic door, a tidy travel-agency-like store interior and counter… that much was fine.
“What is it, customers?”
The one manning the counter was no pretty receptionist. Shapely face and silver-rimmed glasses, a young man. When he smiled, his canines were terribly conspicuous. He wore a black suit with no tie.
“I’ll give it to you straight, there are plenty of things out there more valuable than you. Money’s at the very top of the list. They often say you should use it systematically; in short, don’t lend what you don’t think you can take back. Collecting loans is time and effort.”
“… Umm, looks like we came to the wrong place.”
“Pardon. Us.”
The moment the two bowed and took a right U-turn.
“Kukuh. Where do you think you’re going?”
“That’s obvious! Wilco is going to go find a more upstanding financing company!”
“There aren’t any.”
Ku ku kuh, the man rung his throat.
“None… you’re saying this city only has black-market-lending!?”
“Oh, that’s not what I meant. I’m saying…”
He spread out his arms. As if to say this city belonged to him.
“I systematically crushed every other financing company in this city. If you need quick money, borrowing from us is your only option… Do you get it now, Kawamura Hideo and Wilco?”
“… Why. Do you know us?”
“Word came in from the Doctor at the hospital. Word on the street’s that you’re a top contender. You’ll be able to pay the three million tickets in full, won’t you?”
Still sitting in his seat in the counter, not from a safe but just some random drawer,

Thud!

He produced a large wad of tickets and slammed it down on the table.
“This is three million. You could spend half a day diving down to the labyrinth’s deepest depths, and spend another half day searching for an A Rank Iron Golem that may not even be there… and this is six times the reward you’d get for defeating it.”
(……)
When he put it that way, it sounded practically impossible to earn that amount. Of all else, Hideo had never seen a monster in his life. Was there any other route besides borrowing it…?
(But)
Wait. As long as it was a loan, he would still have to return it. The target would simply be shifting from the hospital to this man… what’s more, he said it. Don’t lend what you don’t think you can get back. And, money is more important than you.
“Kukuh. Did you get the memo? That’s right, I’ll need considerable collateral… but you have no need to worry about that right now.”
“…… Why?”
“I will lend you this money with the doctor’s right to make you a test subject as collateral. If I determine you can’t pay it back, I’ll hand you and that right straight over to the doctor. With a safe any easy ten percent interest every ten days. Simple enough.”
Forget safe, that interest rate was downright illegal in Japan. That hospital’s doctor and this man must have communicated white a bit. This treatment on top of the ubiquitous sentences containing ‘Sincere’ and ‘Safe’ on the flier. Did the doctor recommend this place without knowing the true state of affairs…?
“M… master…”
Taking a look at the flier alongside him, Wilco whispered.
“The hospital’s name…”
Hideo produced the invoice from his pocket.
(……)
‘Iori General Hospital’
The name of the finance company.
‘Iori Lending’
Iori.
“Kukukuh… you’re only noticing now?”
“Meaning you’re in cahoots!”
Wilco looked oh so reliable as she almost snapped at him.
“And. What if I am? Seventy-five percent of this city’s shopping district falls under the umbrella of the Obliterating Industries Group… meaning I t belongs to me.”
a business card came flying through the air.

‘Iori Obliterating Industries President and Obliterating Industries Group Supreme Commander

Iori Takase’

“That’s my name.”
(Iori. Takase…)
He looked like he was still in his twenties, yet this arrogant air. When he had the looks of a delicate man, the dread, the dignity that shined in the depths of his eyes.
“Seventy-five percent of the shopping district, isn’t that practically all of it!? What exactly is this company…!?”
Wilco was frozen in place. The man folding his arms over the counter… Iori Takase mockingly flashed his canines and laughed.
“An evil organization.”

 

 

“Aaaahh… another weirdo…”
Wilco feebly crumbled to tears.
(In hindsight…)
Just how much better off would they be if Javan appeared here and now? Just why did they have to win against Javan… come back Javan. Paying no heed to those thoughts, Takase continued the talk forward.
“Let’s say I put your name on our group’s blacklist. What do you think will happen? The shopping district will become practically unusable. Barred from restaurants. Unable to purchase arms or armor. For starters, it’ll be impossible to replenish your items. You’ll be kicked out of the supermarket you used last night as well. Do you get what that means?”
He knew that much about them.
(Meaning.)
They wouldn’t be able to eat. No matter how much they won, this tournament dragged on indefinitely until a victor was a decided… if they had to retire from hunger, that would bring about a scenario the organizers probably hadn’t even imagined.
“There’s still twenty-five percent left!”
Wilco bared her fangs indomitably but,
“By this point, the remaining twenty-five percent are pretty much stocking products through our supply lines… if I say there will be no new shipments starting tomorrow, they’ll easily fold.”
This city’s shopping district, it’s supply chain… not just seventy-five percent, didn’t he essentially have it under his complete control?
(…… This town is rotten to the core…)
At that moment, in the depths of the room they were in, from beyond the door labeled ‘Authorized Personnel Only’ they heard a furious ruckus.
“Don’t screw with me! I don’t got what I don’t got!”
A man’s yell and the slamming of a desk.
“You ever heard the phrase you can’t get blood out of a stone? What exactly does your company expect us to do?”
The voice of a woman turned completely defiant.
(……)
It did seem a pair in similar circumstance was arguing.
“Do you get we’re tournament participants? You get that, don’t you?”
“Now, now, it’ll be hell if you make us angry. I wouldn’t want to hurt you too much. But do you want your building blown sky high?”
Right. The participants of this tournament were supposed to be nothing but able people. President Takase turned to that direction with a look on his face like he was having a headache.
“… Master…”
Wilco whispered.
“If anything happens, we’re taking the chance to book it.”
“…… But.”
“They’re villains through and through. No matter how good of a person you are, there’s no need to bend to their whims”
Sure enough, this was a fully-self-aware criminal who himself proclaimed this was an evil organization. But would they properly be able to get away? If the building really did get blown off its foundation, wouldn’t they just be flattened with it?
“To scared to speak, eh!? Hey, hey whatcha gonna do about this, shorty!? Get out the president, then we’ll be talking!”
“I feel bad for her if you threaten her too much. Hey, could you call in your president? Little one?”
Hideo didn’t know why, but he got the feeling he heard the sound of someone snapping behind the door. Right after… a small girl’s voice.
“It’s on.”

Tink!! TinkTinkTink!! Tonk! Tonk! Tonk!

“Wha!? Gehah! Gfff!”
“Gyah! St! Sto! Eek!”

Skwsh!! Skwsh!! Skwsh!! PingPing!! KchkKchk!!

“……”
“……”
“……”
President included, the three of them were silent. Something happened inside there. That alone was for certain. Eventually, they could no longer hear the man’s rude voice or the woman’s arrogant one.
“S-save meeeeee!!”
“Eeeeeeeeeh!!”
A blood-soaked man and woman scrambled out of the off-limits door like it was a haunted house that took itself too seriously.
“Well… just wait.”
The one who appeared after them was a small girl, around five or six with bluish-black hair. She expressionlessly brandished a metal bad, delivering a hard blow to both of their heads at a speed impossible to follow with the naked eye.
“W… we won’t run, no more running…”
“We’ll give it back… the money… even if it takes our whole lives… the money… will be…”
Already unconscious, showing the whites of their eyes, the two groaned as if they were having a nightmare. Wilco and Hideo were seeing a nightmare of their own.
“Worked up a… good sweat.”
Hmm, good grief. The small child expressionlessly made a gesture of wiping her forehead.
“Ripple-Rapple. I’m dealing with a customer.”
The president Takase contained his temple like he was enduring a migraine. Apparently called Ripple-Rapple, the girl with the bizarrely long name noticed their company and nodded.
“Your piece of mind is our number one priority… Sincere, gentle… Iori Finance.”
A nod and a nod. She turned back to the room she just came out of.
“It’s black business. But that doesn’t stand for a ‘business of beating you black and blue’. Don’t worry.”
She swung her bat as she emphasized.
“And it’s a Mizuno. We are very careful with our equipment. Don’t worry.”
A nod and a nod. Looking down at the two participants at her feet, dyed red from the head down.
“Spilled a little ketchup. But… one hundred percent organic. Don’t worry.”
(…… Well it’s definitely organic.)
But if it was supposed to be tomato, why did it clearly smell like rust—?
Not a delinquent of any stripe, having never gotten into any real fights and having lived his life in complete peace, Hideo could not bring himself to believe the violence that just transpired before his eyes. The president dismissively waved his hand.
“That’s enough. More importantly, Ripple-Rapple, you went too far. What are you going to do if they die?”
“I am… not a participant. I won’t get disqualified… if I kill participants.”
She sternly nodded.
“Don’t worry.”
“M-m-m-m-m…Masssttteeeeeer!?”
If he could, Hideo would have cried out as well. While it wasn’t in his place, Takase screamed.
“How are we supposed to collect money if they die!? Forget about it, just go dump them at the doctor’s place!”
Still expressionless, but with monstrous strength one would never expect from her appearance, the girl dragged off an adult man and woman and left. The pitiful pair would likely be shoved into that hospital only to be burdened with new debt…
“… I’m sure you understand your situation by now. I’ll leave this three million with the doctor. You two are going to go earn your keep at the dungeon. I’m sure you don’t want to hear it from me, but that bat is ridiculously painful you know.”

 

 

Under a cloudy sky that darkened the height of the day, they set course for the Centralle Building. That skyscraper that loomed over them like a lone tower could be seen from anywhere in the city.
That was where the tournament’s management was situated, and where the Labyrinth lay beneath. Tickets, the city’s currency, could only be obtained through defeating the monsters haunting that labyrinth.
“Master, do you have any hopes you can defeat a monster?”
(……)
None. He didn’t say it, but there were none. In the first place, he didn’t know what sort of thing monsters were. All he knew was that they were surely far better than falling prey to that metal bat. What’s more, in any story or game, didn’t monsters exist for the essential purpose of being defeated?
(……)
And if the labyrinth was a place to take them out… but applying that same logic, what work would the black business put him up to if he failed…
As he maintained his silence and walked, Center was soon right before his eyes. He looked up to the countless glimmering windows like a mirrored surface. His feet pointed towards a large, glass, automatic door. It gave off a strange sleek, liberating feeling like the Tokyo government office or a major securities building.
He resolved himself and entered into a tidy vast lobby. The atrium extended a few floors up. But despite its width, the people were sparse, giving off a certain desolate inactivity.
“… Ah! It’s Hideo and Wilco!”
One of the few receptionists at the desk waved with an adorable smile.
“Hey, Master, it’s Ratty.”
“Hello.”
Hideo made in that direction, lowering her head. She had handled check-in at the hut in front of the venue, but now that the tournament had begun, she must have shifted over here. She was a kind person who gave them tickets as a free bonus… now they had a debt so large that bonus was simply drops in a bucket; what an ironic reunion this was.
“You’re amazing, you two. I heard all about it, three consecutive wins on the first day. You’re the talk of the town.”
Ratty fiddled with the console at her hands as she gazed at the screen.
“At present, there aren’t even any participants with two wins. Starting this morning, people have started coming out with at most one victory… so you two have an uncontested monopoly on the top.”
Ratty said with a smile. Was she genuinely impressed, or was she trying to lay down pressure? It must have been because of her job, but her voice was easy to pick up, and it carried for miles. The people passing by took suspicious glances their way. Especially the participants who had nothing to do with the staff, they began whispering and appraising.
To Hideo who was terrible with people evaluating him, it was terribly unsettling. One of the reasons he holed himself up so he wouldn’t meet anyone was because he was terrible with strangers looking at him with such eyes. Even if Ratty had no ill intent.
“So what are you here for today? It doesn’t look like you’re handing over a losing pair. Umm, if you want information on participants, you are free to look through the database on the second floor.”
Ratty pointed at the elevator. The participants coming and going were mainly there for that purpose. There was nothing lost in gathering intel.
“And if you have any questions about the tournament, we can answer them here. Have you already decided on your residence? Then if you register your address, we can connect you up with mail, delivery and phone service. Apart from that…”
In general, these were all tasks Wilco could easily carry out from her computer. Wilco interrupted without any particular interest in that explanation.
“We came to kill us some monsters!”
“Oh, you want to use the labyrinth? In that case, please fill out this form…”
Ratty held out a sheet of paper with a number of blanks, along with a ballpoint pen.
“It does not matter which, please fill in one of your names here. This floor achieved line indicates how deep you plan on going down. Estimated use is self-explanatory, how long you plan to spend in the Labyrinth.”
“It’s pretty detailed…”
Groaned Wilco. Ratty’s expression clouded over a bit.
“Yes. In the case you do not return by the reported time, you will be seen as stranded. In that case, a search party will be sent with this floor achieved mark as the criterion.”
Hideo felt a chill run down his spine.
“What do you mean. Stranded?”
“Stranded is stranded… You could be completely lost, you could be immobilized from a trap, you could get done in by monsters, those are the main ones. Lost and traps aside, a loss to monsters is still a loss… meaning you’ll be disqualified, so please take care. Of course, worst case scenario, you’re not just immobile, you’re dead.”
After entering his name, Hideo wrote first floor with no hesitation. Next, he wrung out all his courage and wrote one hour.
“… How to put it, as expected of master.”
Wilco muttered.
But the debt and the tournament were separate issues. He had to avoid the foolishness of pushing himself and losing for the sake of reimbursement. Accepting the form with all the necessary fields filled out, Ratty smiled.
“That sounds wonderful. I think it’s safest to see what you’re in for before going down further. The monsters in the shallow areas are weak, and the layout is pretty simple. There were quite a few participants who pushed themselves to outrageous depths and had to be rescued before the tournament began…”
IF it was before opening night, winning and losing didn’t mean anything yet. That was why they were able to aim at the deeper, stronger monsters in an attempt to get rich quick.
But now that it had begun, the risk was far too high.
“This pamphlet lists a rough estimate of the rewards you should expect for each monster.”
A small booklet like a game walkthrough that included data entry on each monster. This city was getting more and more perplexing.
“If you take out a monster, it doesn’t matter what, please just bring back part of its remains. That will serve as proof you eliminated it. Now let me guide you to the entrance of the labyrinth. Follow me.”
They tagged along behind Ratty as she left the counter, proceeding down the lobby to the door with the easy-to-understand metal plate labeling it ‘Labyrinth Entrance’. In the room beyond it, this time there were two doors. One led to a normal stairway. The other was an elevator that went down ten floors at a time, that let you get right to its depths, it seemed.
Wilco asked rather curiously.
“How far does it go down?”
“Colonel Redfield’s floor sixty-eight is the current record. So for now, it looks like it’s got at least that much.”
“Looks like…?”
“The organizers don’t have a complete grasp on how far it goes. Incidentally, we’ve managed to build the elevator down to the fiftieth floor so far, but the Colonel was really amazing, to be able to go down eighteen floors from there and make it back on his own merit.”
So aren’t you even more amazing, to be able to defeat such a person? Ratty’s eyes full of expectations were toxic to Hideo. He averted his eyes.
He did write down first floor, after all.
“Hey, Hideo. Fancy meeting you here.”
When he turned, there was Ryuuta in his field uniform, and the pretty girl Elsia hauling around her thick encyclopedia-like book in one hand.
“Three wins on the first day… by now you’re a genuine championship favorite. Looks like there was no mistaking my eyes. And now that you’ve got your stars, you’ve got the leeway to earn you some money?”
(No… definitely not.)
In fact, they were in a predicament where they had to earn it no matter what. Before Hideo could say anything… Elsia suddenly drew her face close enough to breathe on him
(……)
She was a beautiful woman. His heart was beating so fast his heart might jump out of his chest, but the woman who was peering into his eyes simply muttered sullenly to herself.
“Demon eyes… eh. Doesn’t look that way to me.”
And she left.
“Let’s save that fun for the end game, Elsia.”
If at that moment, he had been a drillman… how would they have reacted?
“By the way… Hideo. Have you ever heard the name Alzahan?”
(……)
“… I see. I thought you’d be knowledgeable about those parts of the world. No, if you don’t know, that’s for the best.”
Wilco held some interest in Ryuuta’s sudden question.
“Did they do something?”
“It’s fine, just forget about it. No biggy. Anyhow, I see you’re still hearing the explanation on the dungeon. If you’re not taking it down, could we get on first?”
Looking at the guide Ratty, what Ryuuta’s thumb pointed out wasn’t the stairs but the elevator. That demon box that would take them down tens of floors. There was no way Hideo would get on that death trap.
“I see, well c’ya. Tell me if you find a good spawn point. We’ll be around the fiftieth floor.”
“Fool. There’s no way they’d share that info with an enemy.”
Ryuuta and Elsia hopped onto the elevator and made off. Wilco, who was staring at them blankly, suddenly returned to her senses.
“Fiftieth floor…!?”
“Yes. Last night, I hear Ryuuta went to the fiftieth floor alone and made it back safe and sound.”
Said Ratty.
There was something different about him. As expected of the Colonel’s apprentice.
“Master, we can’t lose here!! We’re going to get down there and rake it in left and right!!”
Nod.
“It’s not just monsters, there are valuable items littered around. Keep a sharp eye out.”
In which case, they could be visited by good fortune on pure coincidence.
Three million tickets, he couldn’t give up.
Ratty opened the lock on the stairs leading to the dungeon.
(……)
Right, be optimistic. You have to be optimistic.
No matter where you are, no matter who you’re dealing with, you just have to keep winning. That was the rule of this city… the one and only mission bestowed upon someone who had only ever lost.
Hideo spoke in a whisper, but a strong whisper at that.
“Let’s go.”
His hand reached for the door.

 

 

When he opened the door, there was an outrageously large raindrop cake, like it had been made in a bucket, at his feet.
(… Is this an ite—?)
“Ah, it’s a slime.”

Thump!!

Before Ratty had finished speaking. Before Hideo could take his first step into the dungeon, he was sent flying by a body blow from the slime. He tumbled, his head smacked straight into the wall, and he was out like a light before he could even cry out.

 

 

Gabah!

Hideo jumped up.
(……)
He held his head at the terrible bump that had formed. When he looked around, he found not the apartment he holed himself on, nor the one the landlady managed. A sterile, cut-and-dried room. Meaning.
(……)
“Maaasssttteeerrr!!”
A rain of chops from a crying Wilco.
“You just barely fell unconscious in Centralle Building! Since you were outside the labyrinth, you avoided a loss!!”
And Hideo recalled why he was knocked out in the first place. A slime. Ratty definitely called it that.
(… Now happening.)
Hideo almost held his head from the sheer fear. A rainbow cake so large a child would have to hoist it up in two hands. Let’s say it was the volume of one bucket, around ten liters. Even if it was just water, that would put the weight at ten kilograms. That had sprung at him with full force. If he was smacked with a full bucket, then of course he’d be knocked off his feet.
(The Hero really is something.)
His level one was on a different magnitude, class, dimension from a level one shut-in…
“Master…!”
At the end of Wilco’s quivering finger. The uncanny doctor who laughed Heeheehee was waving an invoice. A separate two million tickets. Before he knew it, the sum total of his debt had blown up to five million.
“Heehee, want a ride?”
The doctor gestured towards a stretcher to carry patients but… there were belts to restrain its passenger, and each one of them was a terribly thick metal. Rather than a stretcher, it was a restraint to prevent a test subject from running away.
What’s more, behind the doctor were a number of suspicious individuals in black suits and geometric-pattered masks. It didn’t look like he had any hopes of running.
It suddenly struck him, and Hideo asked Wilco.
“Why. This hospital. Again?”
Otherwise, at the very least, he wouldn’t be getting any new debt.
“This doctor barged in with all the black suits! He said he was your presiding physician and forcefully dragged you off!!”
Meaning Wilco did not have the power to resist these large numbers. Her chop was her greatest offensive power.
(No.)
Now wasn’t the time to consider such things and escape from reality.
(… Well. Guess I’m a drillman…)
Hideo had half-given up, and at that moment.
“Are you really a top contender!?”
The young president kicked the door in, entering with an intense threatening aura.
“Takaseee, keep quiet in the hospital… heehee.”
“Silence. What is the meaning of this, Doctor? Isn’t he this tournament’s championship favorite? Didn’t he take down Angel Saber’s Colonel Redfield on the first day!? Do we have the wrong guy!?”
“No, it’s definitely him. Kirishima from management confirmed it…”
“Then why did he lose to a slime!?”
(……)
This was bad. This was an outrageously terrible state of affairs. Hideo felt a cold sweat down his back. He had sworn in the battle with Javan, his plan was to continue to act out the top contender. His weapons went by the names of fortune and momentum. And now they would be lowered to the level of mere chance.
(……)
If his real nature, the fact he boasted absolutely no combat capabilities came to light, in that instant… they would be sitting ducks. Sitting ducks for every single other competitor.
“… M-master…”
Wilco seemed worried about that as well. Even if she felt the impending crisis, she was making a conflicted face, unable to let it fully show.
Takase lifted up his silver-rimmed glasses and turned back towards them.
“… Don’t tell me you’re actually unbelievably weak?”
“That’s not true at all!”
Wilco immediately replied, but Takase mercilessly snapped back.
“In battles between participants, there are surely strengths and weaknesses… but against monsters, it’s another story altogether. In the first place, that place is a trial ground, a place that exists for competitors to confirm each other’s general strength.”
Meaning it was no exaggeration to say the floor achieved number indicated the participant’s level. Rather than those that ran back on the first floor, those that could get down to the fifth were overwhelmingly stronger. That was plainly obvious.
“And if you were struck down before you could even step into the first floor, how do you explain that? What’s more, I hear your application said you were only going for the first floor!”
“That’s…!”
Hideo held up his hand to cut Wilco off.
“Master…?”
“Then. On the contrary.”
Hideo turned to Takase as he spun his words. He couldn’t lose here of all places. Though even if he won, it wouldn’t be added to his official record, there was no way he could lose.
“Why do you think. We were able to win. Three times?”
“Hmm… must have been dumb luck. Third time’s the charm, they say. What happens twice will happen thrice.”
Not young for nothing, this president could be surmised to be quite the realist. A rationalist who spoke from conclusions. Then he could turn that around.
“That’s exactly… what we need them. To think.”
“… Oh?”
Cautiously but swiftly. Hideo chose his words. Even his dubious pauses began to hold an overwhelming meaning before his eyes that had been labeled demon eyes.
“My apologies but. President. We never even stopped. To consider. Our debt.”
“……”
Takase was level-headed. Not flying into a rage, he watched how things developed.
“As long as you are not a participant. Even if we kill you…”
He took a breath.
“It will not. Be a crime.”
“Ma… master…!?”
Not even Wilco could have foreseen him coming out with that. Hideo himself felt his spine grow cold with his own voice. But he couldn’t pull back. He had to win.
Takase laughed. Not in the mockery he had used to that point. This was a blatant intimidation tactic.
“Kukukuh… I see, so that’s your game. I thought you had some crazy eyes for your age but… you’re the first person to ever talk like that to my face.”
(He took the bait—)
In that instant, Hideo was convinced of his victory. At Takase’s expression as if to swallow him down. In other words, he was struggling not to be swallowed himself.
Yes, indeed. Hideo had no need to swallow anyone. Could he swallow me… he just had to make the other party think so.
“But I should tell you this, that girl wasn’t all the muscle my company has to offer. She was nothing but the tip of the iceberg. Are you sure you want to play this game?”
And the essential point was not getting swallowed.
This man had control of a sector of this city, where all the masters gathered. There was no doubt he had assembled strength greater than your average competitor. But now wasn’t the time to fear it.
“Hear me out. To the end.”
Hideo imparted those words with his hands raised, inviting in a dubious look.
“We won’t. Jump the Bill… on the contrary.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“We will pay in full. However. In a separate way.”
Takase sneered.
“Hmm, I see. You have done well in those matches so far. In the end, are you going to challenge me to a gambling match? In that case, you’re far too naïve.”
Hideo lightly shook his head. How idiotic… as if to say.
“I.”
He took a breath.
“Will collect the debts owed to your company.”

 

 

They were taken aback by that one. Both Takase, and Wilco beside him.
“Say what? Meaning… what is it?”
“Wh… why are you giving us even more work!?”
Hideo spoke to a trembling Wilco.
“We committed. One grave mistake.”
He stuck up his index finger. Despite his words, he didn’t’ seem particularly repentant. He indifferently, expressionlessly spoke.
“We were too hasty. For victory.”
“What do you mean?”
This time Takase finally seemed to be gaining interest.
“At the point we defeated the Colonel. We should have called it a day.”
The point came where Wilco and Takase exchanged a doubtful look. He pushed through.
“We showed. Too much strength. The way things are… not a single person. Will even consider issuing or accepting a challenge.”
Wilco hit her hands together.
“You’re right… when we were at the labyrinth reception desk, the other competitors were all on guard. Not a single soul showed the slightest will to challenge us!”
Right. No one so much as tried to approach.
“That’s why. I could only write the first floor. In the box. What’s more… if I just returned normally from the labyrinth. It would be pointless.”
But a loss in the labyrinth was still a loss.
“Such an unbelievable loss as… being knocked out at the entrance.”
Once that happened, the thought would finally occur to them. What Takase said a moment ago.
— Aren’t they actually weak? The most shocked was none other than Takase.
“You’ve got to be kidding it. You’re saying… you had it all planned out?”
“It was good luck there was a slime there. And I… where all the other competitors could see. Was apprehended by this hospital. This hospital managed by the Obliterating Industries Group.”
I hear he’s weak. And he’s even got a debt. If he’s weak enough for the group to tame him… those rumors would surely spread across the city in the blink of an eye.
“But what relation does that have with you collecting debt?”
“I need to plan for the future. If I keep winning from here, I’ll be back where I started… so.”
This was the only path he had left.
“I will use your company’s claims to issue challenges.”
“A-are you serious master!?”
As long as they obediently paid, he didn’t have to do anything. He could send a small margin of whatever he collected towards his own debt. If they refused to pay, he could issue a challenge saying their debts would be cleared if they won.
Snatch it from the root.
“Using the same logic. Even those who are on the run from your debt collection… will drop their guard around us.”
“…!”
Just because someone came with a challenge backed by debt, the participants had nothing to gain from it. That was why they ran. But what if their opponent was a competitor too? What’s more, if by winning they could gain the title of top contender? They would not only be free, they would gain fame in the process. In this tournament, the merits of that title could be unlimited depending on how it was used, or at least Hideo had a vague feeling.
Just as it would get him out of this predicament.
Takase leaned in.
“How much do you want?”
One raised index finger.
“Ten percent of whatever we collect. You will direct us to your heaviest debtors who are capable. Of paying.”
“What if you lose?”
“I will just lose my. Qualifications to participate. I’ll still… collect debt for you.”
“Wonderful.”
Takase exhaled a breath of wonder.
“You are the talent this company has… no, I have been looking for all these years! I welcome you as a regular employee of our main Obliterating Industries company! On top of the ten percent yield you mentioned, I will provide you with a monthly salary and bonuses!”
“… I accept.”
Kawamura Hideo. Employment found.

 

 

After various provisions, it ended up that Hideo and Wilco were to go to the Obliterating Industries main company. Aboard a noisy Benz so low to the ground it almost crawled along the dirt. Despite being president, he didn’t have a driver and Takase himself was gripping the wheel.
Hideo and Wilco sat in the back seat.
(……)
“What’s wrong, master? You don’t look too happy.”
“… In the end.”
Hideo whispered so very, very softly.
“Tricking people is all I’m good for.”
Just how much of his own ability had he exhibited upon coming to this city?
(No.)
He hadn’t exhibited anything. Because he never had any from the start. He was already a man of few words from the get-go. Just when he thought he’d gained the gift of gab out of necessity, the rest was just his lies getting through.
Wilco murmured so Takase couldn’t hear from the drivers’ seat.
“Wilco thinks people make enough misunderstandings about you as it is.”
“… But still.”
Even if it was to win. Say he actually won the tournament with that. Was there any real meaning to what he gained by continuing to trick people? And no lie lasted forever. The truth would come out one day. Even this time, he just managed to pull a fast one on this president. He had no plan. When he reached a wall that could only be breached with ability, that was as far as he would go.
And at that time, what would this president, would Javan, would the Colonel, would Ratty, would the Landlady, would Lena… what would they think of him?
(……)
His chest grew painful.
Until coming to this city, he had never won a single time in his life. But having won his way here… he was only noticing it now. Winning wasn’t everything.
The fact he had never realized something so stupidly simple… only cast shade on the life of loss he had walked to that point.
“Isn’t it fine as long as you win?”
Wilco declared. Still.
“… You think. So?”
“Far better than losing.”
She did have a point. He didn’t yet have the leisure to fixate on the quality of his victories. This was certainly an improvement from when he was pessimistically rotting away in his room.
(… But even so.)
When the patheticness of losing had seeped deep into his bones, he couldn’t just shake it off like Wilco. The axis within him. The foundation. Meaning his heart. Hideo noticed even that part of him was feeble. Weak enough to waver come so far.
“Wilco has to hand it to you for that turnabout back there. You may be cheating people, but when it gets to that level, it’s got to be a talent.”
That didn’t make him particularly happy.
“And… you may be deceiving them for now. But as long as you properly collect debt and win at the end, won’t it all become true?”
“……”
That sobered him up a little. He noticed he had yet another reason he couldn’t let himself lose. Even if it started out as a baseless lie, as long as he really did carry it out. He couldn’t call it a lie anymore. He would simply have made true to his word.
“… For a virus.”
She could be so human from time to time. Just before he could give thanks for clearing up his doubts,
“I searched up some counseling boards for similar worries and pulled out the most promising reply. Did that help out?”
Wilco nonchalantly told him. When Hideo looked at the computer on his lap, the wireless connection lamp was blinking
“……”
Takase took a glance back.
“What are you two whispering about?”
“It’s nothing. Are we at the company building yet? Forget the shopping district, we’re almost all the way through the residential district.”
“Yeah, we’re already there.”
Beyond the depths of the residential district with all the high-class residences, a place a little ways into the nature district. Like a private villa surrounded by a large sea of trees, a location of the highest class. What appeared in its midst was an old western mansion.
“Well, it’s one of those home offices. Ha ha hah.”
From how he could say that with no cynicism whatsoever, this young president wasn’t normal. He opened the iron gate with the click of a remote and arbitrarily parked the car by the front door. The sorts of maids that were at the supermarket soon came out in droves for a grand welcoming… or so Hideo got his hopes up, but no one came out to greet them.
No, there was one.
“Huh? You’re already back, master?”
A maid in her early twenties who was- for some reason- wearing mirrored on a cloudy day. Was she out cleaning the yard? There was a broom leaned against her shoulder.
“It’s not the regular time yet. Are you slacking again?”
“Wrong, Suzu…”
Takase was about to say before faltering for some reason. The maid was making a sullen face. It wasn’t anything too scary to look at, but Takase rephrased himself anyways.
“No, was it Maid S?”
“It’s Lily. I’m Lily now.”
The maid stuck up her thumb to point at herself. It seemed to be her name, but did those things really shift around so readily in this company?
“I see. Well, it doesn’t matter. This is work. We’re welcoming a wonderful talent to our firm’s financing division.”
“Hmm…”
The maid gazed over Hideo and Wilco with intrigue.
“Wait, Master!? Aren’t these two the championship favorites!?”
“That’s right.”
“Well isn’t that something…… eh? Don’t tell me you picked them up when they were disqualified?”
“Don’t be stupid. I’m a man of good faith.”
“There you go again. The full-body tights said they were going on strike again tomorrow.”
Erk, Takase shut his mouth. They caught a glimpse of quite the strange relationship between master and servant.
“… She’s quite the mysterious maid, master.”
When Hideo nodded, perhaps she had heard Wilco’s voice. Lily answered without a care in the world.
“Oh, me? If you’re wondering about my position,”
She handed over her business card.

‘Iori Obliterating Industries Chairman and Head Maid and Obliterating Industries Group Shadow Supreme Leader

Lily’

“C… chairman!?”
Wilco cried out.
“Meaning you’re higher up than the president!? And what is Shadow Supreme Leader supposed to mean!?”
(……)
Perhaps she was in a hurry, the portion that spelled out ‘Maid S’ was scribbled out with pen, with the word ‘Lily’ written in by hand. Both Hideo and Wilco had something to say about how she boldly put ‘Shadow Supreme Leader’ on her business card.
“Aaah, master… it’s nothing but weirdos…”
Probably, as long as they were in this city. Hideo thought but didn’t say.
“Hope we get along. The truth is…”
The maid pleasantly raised her lovable lips.
“… I’m a participant too.”
(……)
For some reason, Hideo felt a bottomless intensity from her smile.

 

 

Ten minutes after he was let into the mansion. Hideo entered the room where Wilco, Takase and Lily were waiting.
“Ooh…”
Came the voices of admiration.
As it turned out, Hideo was provided with a uniform. It wasn’t too formal, but it was the sort of black suit that could definitely be used for a formal gathering. A white button up and red necktie. So-called mourning clothes.
He hadn’t had to tie a tie since he came to the city, and that was a bit of a trial to figure out. Incidentally, he was wearing sunglasses on top of that.
Going by the president’s orders.
“Walk up slowly… that’s right. With your character, there’s no need for shoddy theatrics. Close in emotionlessly, slowly take off your sunglasses, and say, ‘Give me all your money’.”
(……)
He tried doing just that. One, two, three steps. Remove sunglasses.
“… Give me.”
“Oooooh!?”
It was a success before he even finished.
“Scary! You’re terrifying, master! More than a debt collector, you’re completely an assassin!!”
Wilco excitedly droned on.
“Hm, you’re exactly what I hoped for. No, even better. Kukukuh, how was that, Lily?”
Takase proclaimed in delight.
“Whoah… by this point, he wouldn’t feel out of place in the Kijima Alliance. But if he’s that good, don’t you think they’ll run away the moment he takes off the glasses? Maybe we should switch up the order of things…”
So and so. Such and such. There was no place for Hideo to enter, the three of them were arbitrarily growing heated. Was this that thing that had its moment of popularity, that so-called producer type game…
“While we’re at it, Young Wilco, how about you change into uniform as well?”
“By uniform, do you mean those maid clothes?”
Wilco pointed at Lily’s getup. Lily and Takase nodded.
“Well then…”
A wave of static nose raced up and down Wilco’s body. In the net instant, Wilco was in the same one-piece, apron and headdress as Lily.
“Like this?”
Nihihi, Wilco laughed. She must have developed a new skill. Quick change. But how would that prove useful… Hideo analyzed the situation relatively calmly. On the other hand,
“Wait a second!!”
Chimed Takase and Lily. Wilco reeled back in surprise.
“W-wait. What was that just now? How did you change!? Why was there static!? Floating or not, you’re no ordinary demon, are you!”
“Hey, are you perhaps an angel!? I saw something like that once before, or rather was forced to do it!”
“Umm. Wilco, you see…”
(……)
As Wilco pleaded to him, Hideo nodded. Lily was definitely a participant, but this wasn’t something he could hide given the circumstance.
The fact she was an electronic virus. That she lived in Hideo’s laptop and had infected him. She was a peculiar existence, a radion and psion… and such, she explained as far as she knew.
Takase and Lily were giving half a blank look.
“I’m pretty knowledgeable about this side but… it’s the first I’ve ever heard about an electronic spirit.”
“Right… I’m sure Meeko and Ripple-Rapple don’t know about her either. Even more so if she said she was born from a computer.”
The topic of conversation shifted even further away from Hideo.
“By the way… young Wilco. Are you able to operate within the computer?”
“Wilco can do any bad thing short of murder.”
Nihaha.
“Can you manage a database?”
Wilco seemed a little disappointed with that one. Generally speaking, she loves eating data. With a feast before their eyes, who in their right mind would enjoy a job of just lining them up on tables to rot.
There, Takase’s eye went to the notebook PC in Hideo’s hands.
“That’s a bit of an old model. Meaning… to you, it is a sort of bottleneck. Between ‘WindOS’ and ‘Mackle’ which would…”
“Wind! Get me wind!”
Her eyes glimmering at the developments she could see coming, Wilco energetically waved her hand.

 

Around thirty minutes from Takase’s call, a brand new computer of the latest model was delivered. Using the world’s thinnest, lightest magnesium alloy, kind on Hideo’s arms, strong against impact, the Sharps IT Company’s flagship model, the Murakumo X1.
“Yaaaay!! It’s moving time!!”
Before it was out of the wrapping, Wilco entered it even sooner than the operating system. Without any power source, the hard disk began groaning out like it had when Hideo first met her.
(……)
Come to think of it, Hideo had barely any recollection of charging the computer since he met her. She had to be supplying the power on her own. No, but still, when he picked her up, she made him turn it on while it was plugged in.
(……)
Wilco mentioned she was in safe mode at the time to escape the pursuit of an antivirus software. What’s more, she only got to enter the real world after that… could it be she was gradually growing and evolving?
‘Will.CO21 is busy infecting. Please wait.’
Like a well-trained receptionist, Wilco came on the screen in work mode.
“…”
(…)
Their dumbfounded faces, to Hideo who was long accustomed to it, was a sort of show.
‘Will.CO21 has been successfully installed… wait, this hard disk is crazy fast!! 886!!? What is this memory!!?’
The room on the screen wasn’t the cozy compact one he had seen before, it was like the suite room of a super-high-class hotel. Wilco was freely roaming around inside it.
‘A… at this point, shouldn’t I just infect the president and—’
Clap.
Hideo folded the PC shut.
‘Master, I’m just joking… winning the tournament is Wilco’s goal.’
With a light swish, Wilco’s form was painted into the real world. It did seem leaving the screen didn’t have much to do with whether the laptop was open or closed.
“Hey.”
Lily asked.
“Wilco, why do you want to win?”
“Wilco is going to become God!!”
“G-god…?”
“Y… you’re dreaming big…”
With the sheer size and momentum of her statement, both Lily and Takase were half impressed, half fed-up. Well, even if she said God, she was talking about the virtual world, she just wanted to crush antivirus companies and such.
“… And what about you?”
Lily turned the question to Hideo.
(……)
Saying it here wouldn’t amount to anything. Explaining what brought him here would be the same as divulging his own background.
“Hm. But to see someone so honestly grateful is a nice feeling indeed.”
Takase nodded to himself and turned to Hideo.
“Let me give you something too.”
“… You already. Gave clothes.”
“That doesn’t matter. You’re unarmed, right? Since you were the last person to enter the venue, I assume you had no time to prepare… am I right?”
He hit the mark. Of course, even if he did have a time extension, what exactly could a shut-in such as himself prepare…

Clunk.

“……”
The item the president so carelessly set on the table, raising a heavy sound, was a dull-colored pistol.
“Hooray! There’s finally a weapon in master’s hand!”
Hideo desperately contained his shacking as he slowly shook his head.
“… No. President.”
“Are you more accustomed to revolvers? If that’s not enough firepower… I can get an M249 here in no time.”
“… No. I’m saying.”
“What are you hesitating for!? It’s a weapon, a weapon at last! On top of collecting debt, we have to keep winning! If we are aiming for the top, shouldn’t we try and get every weapon and advantage we can!!?”
He understood that. He got it, but Hideo was fearful. He couldn’t use this one. This was a weapon that really could kill someone. The moment he pulled the trigger, a symbol of violence with no self-restraint. He hadn’t the slightest idea about human vitals. Even if he did know, he was unable to aim. If it were the Colonel or Ryuuta, surely they could use it disarm an opponent… performing feats so cool he yearned for them. But he was different. If he used it, worst case, there was a possibility he really would kill someone. If he did that, not only would he lose something precious as a human being, he would also be disqualified.
(No……)
Disqualification was just some petty idealism he was using as a front.
He was just scared.
It was unbearably terrifying for his weak self to lay hands on such overwhelming power. The item before his eyes was a line he definitely couldn’t cross. Worse than lying, his conscience overpowered his instinct to warn him.
But he… before these people, he had to be an expert in violence and killing. That was his comeuppance for tricking the man called Takase at the hospital. The tab he paid for his falsehoods…
“… Master.”
Lily told Takase. The words that followed dragged Hideo’s thoughts up from the bog.
“From what I’ve heard, Hideo is specialized in close combat.”
“Oh, I see. Then… a knife? A saber? A longsword? Axe, spear… there’s no end if you start listing them out.”
“That’s not it. It’s martial arts. To be blunt, I do not. Need. A weapon.”
“No, that’s… master!?”
Wilco isn’t going to let this chance slip by, she was about to cut in, when Lily interrupted. Wilco was left chastising Hideo with her eyes for not picking up what was before his eyes. The conversation… continued.
“… And I’m saying, master. How about that?”
At Lily’s words, Hideo and Wilco exchanged a look.
“That?”
“You had it made, didn’t you? As a joke.”
Takase hit his hands together at the realization.
“Oh, that!”
“That’s right. It was a joke anyway. Don’t you think it might be more useful in Hideo’s hands?”
I see, Takase nodded. After telling them to wait a minute, he left the room. Wilco cautiously muttered.
“W-what is it…?”
“Some. Thing. Nice.”
Lily put on a cutesy act and Takase was back.
“Here it is.”
What he lifted onto the table in place of the gun… as a rectangular, hard suitcase with no distinguishing features. Judging by its sleek, black finish and size, it could very well contain a violin.
“… I can’t play any instruments.”
“What are you talking about, Master!? Going off the size, it’s gotta be a rifle or something!”
(……)
He did hear some dangerous things about being an assassin. In that sense, this was a prop that brought out even more intensity. It was a plain briefcase, so if he carried it in his black uniform… at the very least, the moment he removed his sunglasses, anyone would think he had seven tools to kill inside of it. Like in an action movie, the act of pulling out a business card or cigar might make people hallucinate that he was taking out a pistol.
And he did look the part.
With this size. In this abnormal city where everyone was free to bring any sort of weapon, the illusion it gave wouldn’t stop at a revolved. It could be a bomb, a machine gun, maybe even a legendary weapon or item… The very gesture of opening it was a substantial declaration of intent, perhaps his enemy would surrender.
(… I see.)
“The contents are half a joke, but I think you’re the one most suited for it. Take it with you.”
“… Then I’ll. Gratefully. Accept.”
He swept it up. It was considerably heavy. It could probably be used as a blunt weapon. He could expect more destructive power than a laptop’s corner.
“Wait, Master!? You’re not even going to ask what’s inside?”
(……)
“Kukuh… so you’re confident you can use it no matter what it is. How promising, Kawamura Hideo. You’re right, there’s nothing to say. But in destructive power alone, you can’t even compare it to guns, swords, or magic. How you use it is all up to you.”
Hideo had no interest in the contents. Whether it was a gun or legendary weapon or magic item… he was completely confident he would not be able to use it. However, this case was useable. So he would take it.
“And don’t forget these.”
The table was furnished with a blacklist of debtors and the keys to a car. So he was saying walking around would take forever, just go round them up.
“I’ve got my hopes on you, Kawamura Hideo. Kukukuh…”
“Do your best, Hideo. Ah, on the Sacred Demon Cup too, of course.”
(……)
At the fearless smile Lily showed for only an instant… Hideo nodded.

Posted in Battlefield Masurawo | Tagged | 3 Comments

ANOTHER ROUND: The Fangs of Alzahan

 

Today’s Sacred Demon Cup.
Midnight, on the dot. After a bow, the girl in twin tails and fake glasses energetically waved her hand.
“Good evening everybody! You are watching the Obliterating Industry Group’s Sacred Demon Cable TV, and it’s time for ‘Today’s Sacred Demon Cup’! As always, your announcer is this girl right here! Everyone’s idol V ‘The Kakko’ Z!”
[TL: VZ is pronounced Vee Zetta.]
The small girl around five or six beside her nodded twice.
“And your commentator… Ripple Rapple. Idol she says… quite presumptuous.”
Prick.
“… Ummmm, what was that?”
“It’s nothing. Continue.”
“… Now it’s finally here! This Sacred Demon Cup has finally begun, hasn’t it! Those opening ceremony fireworks were a sight to behold! The food was delicious! The bingo prizes first rate!”
“Terribly… lively. Huge success.”
“Yeah, yeah, and now that twenty-four hours have passed since we began, the remaining participants number… one thousand five hundred and one? It’s barely gone down at all. They had to alter a few rules at the opening, but I’m sure everyone’s still keeping on their toes.”
“Spineless. Chickens. Just get to it… already.”
Ripple-Rapple struck the table impatiently.
“However, within all of that, there’s just one man of action! The biggest surprise was the last team to enter the venue, the Hideo-Wilco pair! Suddenly taking down the top contending Colonel-Rocky pair everyone had their eyes on!! Though the match was just a simple coin toss. Who’d of expected Hideo to overwhelm him start to finish!?”
“Outside of… expectations.”
“But bubbles sure are scary! Up and up, but who knows when they’ll po— s-shay what!? By our latest readings, the Hideo-Wilco pair achieved their third victory on only the first day!”
The announcer VZ excitedly read through the manuscript.
“Strong, strong! Way too strong! All participants should keep their attention on this deadly combo! Now, commenter Ripple-Rapple, what do you think is the secret to their strength!?”
“To be blunt… it’s pure dumb luck.”
The studio went silent in an instant.
“Hey… we can’t carry a show with that. When I went and got everyone all heated up. But, but you know, we’ve got reports of Hideo being an A-Class sniper and a master at kung fu, there’s even stories going around about him using Demon Eyes in his last match, what are your thoughts on that!?”
“Judging by his clothes, he’s just a NEET.”
The heavy air was beginning to settle all over the set.
“… I’m always saying it at our review sessions. Do you have any intention of bringing life to my program!!?”
“Honestly… no.”

Clack!

“The hell’s wrong with you!? Today’s the day you become a technical difficulty, prepare yourself!!”
“You’re on. My Mizuno is itching… to breathe fire.”

BashSwooshBashSwoosh!!

The late night program ‘Today’s Sacred Demon Cup’ was a super popular program that clocked in one hundred percent ratings five minutes after it began every night.

 

 

Around the time Hideo was being hospitalized.
“What?”
Leaving a different apartment complex than before, Ryuuta turned to Elsia beside him with the best frown he could muster.
“No way. Why must I stay the night in the likes of some dingy old apartment?”
After opening ceremony, the two had spent the entire day observing the city, wandering the residential district to search out a residence that would become their base in times to come. Yet the time the pair entered the venue was right before it opened up. Residential district properties were generally free, but first come, first serve. Meaning only cheap apartments were left.
Among those who arrived here far earlier, there were apparently some with possession over multiple rooms, multiple buildings on their own. They probably just needed multiple possible points of operation, and they were free to use them however they wanted. In this tournament where there was no telling what would happen, it was overwhelmingly better for there to be more possibilities than none.
Thanks to that, the latecomers had to taste such hardships. Ryuuta scratched up his hair, trying to persuade Elsia who, for the life of her, would never set course for another apartment.
“Well what can we do about it? The houses and mansions were the first to be taken, and the last high-rise complex just got filled up.”
“And I am wondering why your thoughts are stuck on that notion. If there are no mansions, then stay at a hotel.”
“……”
If there is no bread, then let them eat cake? The famous misattributed phrase clearly crossed Ryuuta’s mind.
“Now look here… in this place, the organizers offer normal residences for free. Why would we need to needlessly pay money to stay at a hotel?”
While it was hard to believe the participants would use them, even so, this city did have its hotels. Cheap little places like capsule hotels. And high-class ones that towered on the level of the Hilton, Westin, and Peninsula.
The former were aimed at people who had drunk too much and found it too much of a pain to return to the residential district. The latter were geared towards those who wanted a little bit of luxury from time to time, but they didn’t have anywhere close to the funds for that.
“Because I am high class.”
“……”
Ryuuta was dumbfounded. With her calm expression, Elsia turned to the side and began walking towards the tall high-class hotel that could be seen even from the residential district.
(Why did I have to make this woman my partner…?)
Dropping his shoulders, Ryuuta walked. The day was coming to an end.

 

 

Ryuuta Salinger had no family. He had gone on a voyage with them when he was almost too young to remember, only for the ship to sink. He alone was salvaged by the neighborhood pirates, and by the time he got to thinking about the world, he was using small firearms as his playthings.
There was a time the chief said it was monsters that sunk the ship. What’s that, how stupid, he had laughed it off at first; but thinking back on it now, perhaps that very event had been the trigger that brought him into this world.
When Ryuuta was twelve, a civil war broke out in the country the pirates used as a base. The pirates joined the anti-governmental forces as a volunteer army. That was the moment he would witness that mysterious power. He would later come to learn it was magic.
The one who told him… was the then-director of the special military force America had sent to intervene in the conflict with absolute secrecy. The unit was called Angel Saber, it was led by a Colonel George Redfield.
Apparently, the civil war was the work of the so-called demons taken in by the government. Naturally, the basis and traces weren’t divulged to the normal world. But to those who belonged to a deeper world… they understood the very fact Angel Saber went out as clear evidence.
Ryuuta came to learn. In this world, there was a deep place where the light didn’t reach, and there, apart from humans, there were those called demons and monsters.
The pirates who raised him, who he thought of as family were so easily cut down like weeds by a single demon. And Ryuuta was picked up again, by the Colonel this time. In order to rebel against the evils that had taken his family from him twice. In order to obtain the power, he begged the Colonel to take him under his wing…
“You’re thinking about the past again.”
“… Yeah.”
“I’m bored.”
“……”
This woman called Elsia was terribly cold. According to her, she was born to the royal bloodline of a country in some place called the demon world, and her mother was the last Demon Lord of the Demon Lord Era, Fier. She was the youngest child; she had two brothers, Elsif and Elsion above her.
The oldest, Elsif, was a child from when her mother was in the demon world, and just like their mother, he tried to invade earth, only to perish by the pure forces of the heavens, their Angel Knights. Up to a few years ago, Elsion led the demon organization Zephirum; he was quite famous for frequently bringing chaos to human society before the First Sacred Demon Lord appeared and dispatched him.
According to Elsia, those who were currently called demons were descendants of the demon world people Demon Lord Fier brought with her to invade the earth in the distant past… the descendants of true demons.
To borrow her words, demons were mongrels all mixed up out of true demon and human blood. From time to time, some demons would be looked down as mongrels for being of mixed blood, but the way Elsia saw it they were all like that. No matter how their abilities compared to their true demon ancestors.
That would make Elsia a genuine True Demon, but perhaps she found it a pain to explain it all every time. When asked, she usually just identified herself as a demon.
Of course, Ryuuta had no way to determine how much of that was true. All he knew was the fact she boasted such abilities he wouldn’t find it odd if it was true.
“There are a lot of them.”
“… Ah? Of what?”
Elsia pointed out the men in masks they passed by on the street from time to time. While they didn’t seem to be participants, they didn’t wear the armband to signify they were on the organizer side. Only their masks of geometric symbols gave them unity.
“Aye, come to think of it, they’re a lot of them in the shopping district.”
In contrast, the women were often seen in maid uniforms. Manning the registers at the shopping center and such.
“… Maybe they’re like the maids, and that’s the mark of some company.”
“Not that I care.”
You’re the one who brought it up. He wanted to say, but he knew nothing would come of bringing that up with this woman. Ryuuta avoided the wasted effort, firmly swallowing down his words.
A few minutes walk from there. As expected, Elsia’s destination wasn’t a capsule hotel, it was a dazzling, high-class building.
Having never entered such a place before, Ryuuta was lightly creeped out; but Elsia paraded in like that was where she belonged, her boots clicking with every step.

 

 

Even Elsia was at a loss for words.
“How can I help you?”
The hotelman politely lowering his head at the front desk simply had on a white tuxedo… but his face was covered in one of those geometric masks. Maids pushing trolleys came and went from the elevator.
“Hey. What exactly is that?”
Ryuuta decided to just point at his face straight up.
“Yes, if you are asking about this mask, it is our uniform.”
“Then what about the maids? I see them manning shops all over the place.”
“Yes. Female employees in apron dresses, male employees in masks, that is the uniform of our Obliterating Industries Group.”
Get the president out here.
“Wha… what’s up with that…?”
“Incidentally, at present, the Obliterating Industries group has seized control of seventy percent of the shopping district.”
So that was why these masks calmly mingled with the street traffic.
“It is the case with our hotel as well. Of course, we did find it most peculiar at first… but these do actually feel exquisite to wear for some reason, and a violent customer smacked me only a moment ago but… with this on, I did not feel a thing! There are plenty of benefits.”
(But are you alright with that design…?)
“And if you are evaluated as an excellent employee during annual review, get this, they’ll provide you with a set of full-body tights…”
“You have open rooms, don’t you?”
Elsia one-sidedly cut the conversation.
“Of course, almost every room at the moment is open for use.”
So in short, it was pretty much deserted.
“Good grief, so we’re really staying here… two singles.”
“Understood. Then please print your names here…”
As Ryuuta was about to take up a pen towards the paper on the counter… Elsia stared blankly and said this.
“Why are you taking two rooms? What a peculiar person?”
“Why, I mean, if it’s one room…”
Demons were already generally beautiful as it were. Among them, Elsia wasn’t a royal blood for nothing, she had a splendor that sent shivers down the spine.
Even if Ryuuta hadn’t known her for particularly long, it wasn’t like they were complete strangers.
(Hm… is that what it means? She should just be more honest.)
A chuckle inside, Ryuuta stared deep into Elsia’s eyes as she kept cool on the surface.
“I won’t be able to sleep tonight…?”
“I see. I don’t really get it.”
Elsia turned towards the hotel man.
“I’m taking the royal suite.”
“Very well.”
His elbow resting on the counter sliding sideways, Ryuta’s face smacked right into it.
“Hold the hell up, Elsia!! What are you thinking!? You’re not going to say you’re a princess so you can’t do with anything less than royal, right!?”
“I mean… I can’t help it?”
“By God, why are you making it sound like I hit the nail on the head!? You’re getting a single!!”
“Not in a million years.”
She sullenly turned to the side. The hotelman was amicably nodding.
“At the hotel I used to work at, these sorts of couples were…”
“You stay out of this!!”
The hotelman was thrust out. But Elsia remained sharply turned away.
“Aaaah! Good grief, fine, I get it, I get it! So how much is that room going to cost…”
Turning back, Elsia matter-of-factly declared.
“Fool. These sorts of rooms aren’t for customers who would worry about such a thing.”
You don’t even know that? Aaah, this is why the common rabble is… and so on and so forth. It wasn’t as if she actually said it, but she was making the fed-up face of someone who definitely would, given the chance.
“……”
Then they only dealt with clients who silently held out their card at checkout? He took a side glance at the hotelman.
“She is right, my dear sir. Don’t worry about the finer details, please just kick back and relax.”
With the pen and paper he held out. Elsia was already slickly writing her name.
“Aaaaahhh!? This is pissing me off! Now that it’s come to this, it’s all or nothing. I’m sleeping in that room too!”
“Why do I have to sleep in the same room as you? In that case, one more royal…”
“Got it! My bad! I had a little bit of malice!”
Elsia dubiously tilted her head. Ryuuta ruffled his hair into a mess.
“So…… hey, you, just between you and me.”
“Yes, what is it sir?”
“Right out, how much does it go for? This place’s royal suite?”
“Yes. If I were to spell it right out, it is only a mere five hundred thousand tickets a night. Nothing major for you to worry about.”
“Ha ha hah! What’s this? Only five hundred thousand?”
As Ryuuta raised his voice in a laugh, the hotelman amiably laughed along.
“Ha ha ha. Yes, I’m not sure I should be the one to say it but… with the class of our hotel, even if you look at it from an international perspective, it is quite a reasonable price.”
“Ha ha ha… umm.”
Ryuuta opened his wallet and looked at the tickets he had on hand. Forty thousand from the reception desk. Since Elsia marched into expensive places for lunch and dinner, less than twenty thousand left.
“… What are we going to do about this, eh, Elsia?”
“Why we just have to earn it.”
“Hah? In this city, there’s no way to earn money save for beating the monsters in the labyrinth! What’s more, if the monsters do you in, it’s instant disqualification… who the hell is going to go through such danger to earn five hundred thousand tickets a day!?”
Elsia silently pointed at Ryuuta.

 

 

“Bring out your highest paying monster!!”
“Pardon…? Oh… are you here to use the labyrinth…?”
The counter at Centralle Building.
I want to take a shower, was all she said before Elsia holed herself in the royal suite. When he tried to force the door open, So you want to die, she threw each syllable with the intent to kill.
His motivation was at an all-time high. In a different sense. With all his stress, it didn’t matter who, all that filled Ryuuta right now was the simple desire to beat the ever-loving crap out of something. Now that it had come to this, he’d rake in one million all at once and throw it in the face of that cold-blooded woman.
While he had never actually gone down before, he had dropped by midday so he knew how it worked. You just had to input the time you’d be down and your target floor on the form and submit the application.
“The elevator goes down to floor fifty, right?”
“Ah… yes, but monster strength is generally proportional to depth so…”
He ignored the warning from the receptionist lady. Floor fifty. From dusk to dawn. He practically pilfered the pamphlet that listed out each monster’s worth. Ryuuta parted from the counter and swiftly made his way to the very center of Centralle Building, the entrance to the labyrinth.
Before the tournament started, day or night, the elevator was so lively a long line would form, but that had completely cleared up after opening night. The risk of losing to monsters meaning disqualification was too great.
(… To think the demerits of entering the venue late would be this great.)
Ryuuta pressed the elevator button and clicked his tongue. Right beside it was a door that led to the stairs, but he had no business with shallow-level weaklings.
As Ryuuta watched the elevator’s floor number slowly decrease, another person arrived behind him.
“Good evening. Are you going down too?”
“Mn? Yeah.”
When he turned, with an M16 assault rifle hung from her shoulder, a single dangerous-looking maid.
“Wait. You… with those clothes, are you an employee of that something-something group?”
“Me? Nfufu. Something like that.”
She was a little over twenty. Her eyes hidden behind one-way-glass, her mouth gave an amused smile.
“Well ‘n you must have it hard. To be a part-time monster hunter on top of company work.”
“The elevator is here.”
Ping, the pleasant chime of its arrival. The girl got on behind Ryuuta, the door shut.
“… I’m a participant too.”
Without a second’s delay. Ryuuta’s hand reached for the holster at his hip as he swiftly turned towards her.
“What’s wrong?”
“… No.”
He was imagining things. She was simply holding out her two hands as if to say, I’m not going to do anything, a cheeky smirk plastered all over her face. He undid his stance. She lowered her hands.
“Come to think of it, are you alone too?”
“Yeah. You remember how the opening ceremony ran late yesterday? Well I fell asleep and woke up around evening you see. There was nothing much to do and I thought I should kill some time. What floor are you going to?”
The elevator wasn’t moving yet.
“Yeah… let’s see. I’ll start at fifty.”
“Oh, well that’s a coincidence.”
The maid pressed the fifth one of the buttons that went down in increments of ten. The sealed box immediately began its descent.
“Hey now… are you for real? That’s the lowest level this elevator goes to. I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but you don’t look like the sort who could…”
The woman turned only half towards him.
“Ryuuta Salinger. At sixteen, you were the youngest to ever enlist in the only anti-demon agency with direct ties to heaven, Angel Saber. You were mainly support for the Angel Knight Cloutier… Scott Christina Richmond. You were honorably discharged two years ago at the rank of second lieutenant. After that, you flew all over the world as a hunter specializing in monsters.”
(……!)
Even if he conceded the existence of Angel Saber and his own history while he was apart of it. It was abnormal for her to know of the existence of its main force, its angel knights. The confidentiality of that matter was extraordinary. Even in his own country of America, the only official with that knowledge was the president. On top of that, if she knew about the existence of heaven itself, then…
“What’s… your name?”
“Eeh? Are you hitting on me? Eheheh…”
She was quite the cheerful one.
“Wrong! I just wanted to know.”
“Oh really… then Maid S! Let’s go with that, fu fu fu.”
The maid folded her arms with a fearless laugh. He didn’t know what sort of stage name that was supposed to be, but was she really registered under that…
“You’re an S.”
“Yes. I’m S.”
“A maid, yet an S?”
“Why yes, I’m a maid.”
“I-I see… I guess there can be Ses among maids.”

Crack!!

“What are you trying to say, eh? Spit it out.”
“Gohah…! N-no, I’m saying… it’s nothing. That was my bad, I had a little malice. I’m begging you, quit clenching that fist.”
This maid had quite a nice punch. What’s more, a straight with no hesitation at someone she was meeting for the first time. Taking that into consideration… in a sense, perhaps S fit perfectly.
“Erk… it looks like that name is a jinx.”
But her mood took another turn. Jinx or not, she probably wasn’t the only one who thought so.
“That’s right. Then from now, you can call me Lily! Yep, that’s cute!”
“And… how did you come up with that?”
“Eh? Well, Lily of the Valley…♪”
Lily of the valley? Flowers had nothing to do with her occupation or personality.
“When you say Lily, only Marleen comes to mind, but…”
While Ryuuta was taken aback, the elevator arrived.
“But to think they have an elevator down to a place crawling with monsters. What if they destroy it?”
“No need to worry about that. I hear it’s made of Orichalcum something something, so even if a tank shoots, it’ll only dent.”
“This thing is orichalcum? Just how much money does this place burn through…”
All that aside, the fiftieth basement floor. When the door slid open, the thick air flooded in to put pressure on him. A depth liable to send him far further to hell.

 

 

“I see. I think I’ve got the gist of it.”
An endlessly crawling white hallway. Metal doors with switches. Falling ceilings, pitfalls. Cutting down the monsters that appeared from time to time, Ryuuta pressed on somewhat enjoying himself. When he’d gone some distance, he would stop to rest his feet and map the place out. The maid Lily followed behind.
“You’re pretty experienced.”
“This is my job, for what it’s worth.”
Ryuuta said as he measured out his present position relative to the elevator, carefully writing out the traps and the where monsters had the highest appearance rate in his notepad.
It was the same with his hunts, he could only work when he had a hunting ground. With monsters, these labyrinths were the most efficient hunting grounds. Then to see through the labyrinth’s structure and nature, if it was a manmade construct, the tendencies of its designer, getting a grip of it as if it were your own back yard was the most important task.
“And you’re strong.”
“Up to B Rank, it’ll be an easy win with my current equipment. A will be a bit harder… but, even so, it’s nothing I can’t handle.”
Monster taxonomy broadly categorized them into D, C, B and A, starting at the weakest. The organizers’ rewards were also based on that. One D Rank was a few hundred tickets, while A could range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. Naturally, monsters that were more difficult to defeat, and those with lower appearance rates had higher rewards. This time, for Elsia’s lodging fees and his pride as a hunter, his aim was Rank A.
Closing his notepad, Ryuuta gave a warning to Lily who was incessantly following him. They were just coincidentally on the same elevator, it wasn’t like they were a team or anything.
“I’ll just be upfront about it, I don’t plan on splitting any profits with you. If you want to earn something, go earn it yourself.”
“Yeah. Well at the moment, you see… money is secondary.”
Ryuuta began pressing forward. Lily followed behind.
“… I was trying to kindly tell you to get lost.”
“No, about that…? I kinda forgot how to get back. Ehehee…”
He was amazed.
“It’s because you keep going in circles.”
“I’m not going in circles, to get a grip on this labyrinth’s construction… ah, whatever. Then let me teach you something nice. Doesn’t matter left or right. Try keeping one hand on the wall and get walking. You’ll be out eventually.”
“Ah, you’re taking me for a fool, aren’t you?”
Rubbed the wrong way, Lily put a hand to her hip to emphasize her anger.
“How else am I supposed to put it?”
“Now it’s getting to me!”
“Ah, fine, fine… I’ll take you back, just don’t do anything that’ll slow me down.”
And in the end, there were two sets of footsteps after all. The monsters that appeared were mainly B Rank. A few thousand to ten thousand tickets in earning. Normally, he wouldn’t have to deal with each and everyone one, but if he ran now, there was a possibility he’d leave Lily behind.
So in the end, Ryuuta meticulously defeated every small fry as he moved on.
When a maid was equipped with an assault rifle, it was definitely surreal, but it didn’t look particularly strong. She said it was a coincidence, so maybe she intended to come down to this floor herself, but… she showed no signs of raising a hand in battle. Did that mean, in exchange for him leading her out, she was conceding all the spoils?
(… They do say even dust can pile into a mountain.)
The tenth B Rank. Aiming at the front legs of the King Lizard that clung to the ceiling breathing fire like a flamethrower, he unloaded his trusty desert eagle. The 44 Magnum bullets burst forth.
The king of lizards was defenseless as it came unstuck and fell. Closing the distance in an instant, Ryuuta stuck his katana into its white, scale-less underside. A vital. In place of the gunshot’s echoes, its death cries reverberated.
“Wow, you really are strong… you’re not just bulldozing with power, you’re properly finding their weak points and saving energy. Hey, what sort of person is your partner?”
“That’s… I don’t want to talk about it.”
If he opened his mouth now, nothing but resentment would come out. She was probably gazing out over the city nightscape, wine glass in one hand around now.
(Screw her!)
He kicked the king lizard corpse to take out some anger.
“Hah… even so, this place sure is vast. This is the fiftieth floor? You sure we didn’t wander into Daedalus’ place on Crete…”
“You don’t know? It apparently goes down a lot deeper. It’s just the elevator that stops on the fiftieth floor. Colonel Redfield said he spotted an A Rank on the sixtieth floor. An iron golem this big.”
Rily stretcher herself out, amply swinging her arms. Whatever the case, it was easy to imagine an iron golem being big enough to block off one of these passages.
“… I see. Then at least I won’t be bored.”
Scratching the back of his head, he was back on path.
Along the way were door switches made like puzzles and hidden passageways that needed two people to open. I see, he thought, he perceived a number of contraptions that took into consideration that participants were supposed to be working in pairs. Would it be uncouth to forcefully break down the walls and doors?
“We’re making steady progress. Don’t you think we make quite the nice team?”
“… Come to think of it, are you a demon or something?”
“No. I’m human.”
“Then no can do. I’m human too.”
It was the same with the True Demon Elsia, appearance-wise, there was barely any difference between human and demon. The only thing he could note was that, taking the average, Demons seemed to have finer looks.
Of course, their unbelievable toughness and special abilities completely surpassed humanity… but if he wasn’t going to take his chances testing that, it was quickest just to ask.
Not that he had any way of knowing who Lily’s partner was.
“So Ryuuta, why are you participating in this tournament?”
“Ah? Me?”
“Right. If you win and have the world in your hands, what do you plan on doing?”
The grand prize was the right to change the world. I see, thought Ryuuta, perhaps saying the world was in your hands wasn’t completely wrong.
“I’ve got no interest in the world. Now that I’ve entered, I’ve got to set my sights on the top… but I’ll be handing that prize over to my partner.”
“Hmmm.”
“… I’m chasing a certain man.”
Even more than his parents who died on that ship, he thought of the pirates who raised him as family. And they… there was the demon who tormented them, had the time of his life slaughtering every last one of them
“Do you know the name Archess? The head of the organization Alhazan.”
“Alhazan… A revolutionary military power mainly consisting of demons. Their leader is Archess Alluente. In contrast to how Zephirum wanted to establish rule with demons alone, Alzahan’s goal is to manipulate humans from the backstage, shaping the world in their image… they’re famous for apparently being behind the Camdania Kingdom’s civil war ten years back.”
So she knew after all, this woman. Even if it was famous, that was among people who lived in a certain depth… across the one-way glass, she seemed to be making the innocent face of a young girl.
“I am a survivor from a certain… militia Archess slaughtered during the civil war.”
“…… I see.”
Lily walking behind him let out the first cheerless voice he’d heard from her.
“And you’re saying Archess is participating in this tournament?”
“So I’ve heard. Under a false name of course, and I’m sure he’s changed his face… but I haven’t forgotten. He should have the mark of Alzahan on his left arm.”
Alzahan’s emblem was a venomous spider. One that had made a nest in the home of human society where no one was looking. Set a trap. Caught high officials in its web, kept them alive as it sucked out the nutrients, using all of their power until eventually they were an empty dead husk… it truly was the emblem that signified their MO.
“What will you do… if you find him?”
“I’ll kill him.”
When Ryuuta turned, Lily shrunk back at his bloodthirsty eyes.
“If you kill him… you’ll be disqualified.”
“… I know. Good grief, they sure put up some pain-in-the-ass rules. But you know, he killed my family. Yet the law can’t tie him down. Not even the heavens or God are out to punish him. Then what do I do? I just have to deliver judgment myself, right!?”
“……”
By the time he noticed it, Lily was sorrowfully hanging her head. Ryuuta finally came to his senses.
“… Don’t blame me. It’s your fault for asking your strange questions. I don’t even know why I’m telling you about all this…”
He derided himself and walked again. The air was getting heavy. Ryuuta changed the topic.
“So why are you participating?”
“Heh? What do you think that door is?”
Lily raced off towards a gate clearly higher-class than any of the ones they had come across before.
(So you’re ignoring me…)
Good grief, he followed along. A medieval Europe design that almost seemed to scream treasure. A border of gold inlay. An air that there was definitely something in the room.
“Umm, looks like it’s not locked. Alright, how about we open it right up.”
“Hold up you bloody amateur.”
Ryuuta grabbed Lily’s shoulder and yanked her back.
“W-what? I don’t think there are any traps…?”
“In places like these, the monster encounter rate shoots sky high. This is one of those ‘moments the screen changes’.”
“Eh? The screen…?”
“I don’t know why, but those who are really deep call it the ‘Grand Lighthouse Effect’ for some reason.”
“???”
Was the hunter jargon a little too hard for Lily? Whatever the case.
“I don’t feel any presences… but there is a high probability a monster will manifest and come at us the moment it opens. Keep on guard.”
“Y-yeah. Got it.”
As Ryuuta stood before the room, Lily retreated somewhat, the assault rifle at the ready.
“Here we go…!”
He kicked the door in.

 

 

The moment he stepped into the vast room, Pyoon! The sound of the wind being sliced.
“!?”
Ryuuta rolled to the side at a moment’s notice, but still a sharp pain ran down his cheek. Lukewarm blood followed shortly after. But the enemy wasn’t a monster.
A lean man. On his two arms, gauntlets each with three long metal claws. The second attack came just as he confirmed that. From his squatting state, Ryuuta took a back somersault; using his momentum, he immediately sent power into his arms as if to perform a handstand and shot himself back the moment those hands touched the ground.
“Kukuku… to dodge my attack, I see you reached this point with considerable skill.”

Tikatikatikatika!! Tikatikatikatika!!

The gunfire came from Lily. She was trying to put a check on the man, but he parried the bullets like they were nothing at all as he grinned.
“What are you trying to do!? Are you a participant!?”
“Indeed I am. Otherwise… do you think I’d be here using surprise attacks to have participants disqualified with unfortunate accidents?”
A loss in the dungeon was a loss. The judges had no say in that rule.
“No… what’s this? Now that I’ve got a good look at you, you’re Ryuuta Salinger, aren’t you? To think you’d be the first prey to stick to my web, I’m in luck.”
“……!? Why do you know my name?”
“Of course I’d know it. You’re the monster hunter persistently after our organization.”
What? Which meant…
“My name is Gabès. Or should I say… one of Alzahan’s executives.”
The man opened his collar to his burly, tight chest to show off the insignia carved into it. Sinister, the emblem of a spider setting its net.
“……!”
His mind flashed back. An old memory. Blood and gunpowder smoke. A memory from the hellfire that rose from the smell of burning flesh.
“………!”
He was there.
Back then, this man was to the side of the one who introduced himself as Archess. And back then as well, he so proudly showed off his emblem.
“There’s one thing I’ll get from your mouth… Alzahan! Is Archess participating in this competition!?”
“And what if he is? Are you going to go apologize for all the discourtesy you’ve paid to our organization? It’s too late for that. Archess has already placed a hit on your life. The contestants will go down, and you will die… that is two birds with one stone. I won’t let you get away.”
Clink, clink. The man rubbed the claws of his gauntlet together as if honing them.
“This is the end, Ryuuta Salinger.”
“You’re on! I’ll get all I need when I tear that mouth off your face!!”
Ryuuta drew his sword and cut in. His opponent was a demon. A member of Alzahan. With how he lay a trap here, he was a competent fighter.
While he exceeded him in reach and destructive power, the other side was lighter, with two weapons at that. The moment they met, he was overwhelmed and forced to retreat. While he avoided a fatal blow, he came out with cuts on his arms and thighs.
Lily couldn’t provide support in a complete close quarter match.
“Were you thinking of challenging Archess at your measly level!? What a laughingstock!”
“What is your goal!? What do you intend to do in this tournament!?”
“That’s simple… Archess will win and obtain the world. Although…”
Momentarily cutting his words short, the man took distance on his own, his shoulders shaking in excitement.
“… There is no point teaching such noble ideals to one set for death. This time, I’ll give the question. Why do you pursue us so persistently?”
“Because you bastards killed them. My family!”
Ryuuta rolled up his sleeves. The tattoo that proved the pirates recognized him as their family as well. A crest like a terribly simple good luck charm. But that was a bond that would never disappear.
“In the Camdania Civil War, you murdered every last one of them!”
“Oh? Now isn’t that strange… ordinarily, when we choose to kill, we make sure to leave no survivors.”
And there he smiled as if he had just remembered.
“Aah… I see, you! From back then! That brat from that dirt poor volunteer army!? The one crying the loudest among all those filthy wild dogs…!!”
The binding snapped on his heartstrings.
“You’re dead!!”
“!?”
He swung down with all his might, not the slightest thought given to defense. A portion of the claws Gabès crossed overhead chipped, while his own blade let off sparks as the blade cracked as well.
He had lost every shard of his rationality. These men had killed his family like they were disassembling a pack of dolls. They killed them as if they enjoyed watching them squirm.
“Kuh, a cur, all bark and no bite…!”
When he was the one who managed to close in, Ryuuta was shot back. A discharge of mana. A demon’s usual means. Even if you restrained their arms, there was little a human could do against this shapeless ability.
When the distance was created between them again, Lily yelled.
“Wait a second! You two keep going on about killing and killing, but if you do that, you’ll be disqualified!”
Gabès gaze swept to the side like he was glaring at a noisy fly.
“Who will confirm that?”
“Eh…”
“Now that you’ve heard, you’re dead too. The monsters will eat up every last trace of evidence… of course, I don’t give a damn even if I am disqualified. Until the moment Archess comes out on top, I’ll simply lay my web in this labyrinth, waiting for my foolish prey.”
Meaning, now that he was permitted into the venue, he didn’t even need his partner.
(… Calm down. Don’t lose your head.)
Lily’s voice and Gabès’ words let him regain it.
(How many times has the Colonel whooped me for that? Dammit, this is where you have to be cool…)
“I’ve let this go on too long. Ryuuta Salinger… I shall let you follow the same path as that family of yours. Be grateful.”
His claws still crossed, over his head. He jumped. A movement impossible for humans. His entire body went into an incredible spin as he advanced towards then like a drill.
“…!”
Enough force to turn the wall of the labyrinth to sand and burrow into it. His left upper arm was gouged out in the process. Dodging was the most he could manage. But if he met that head-on, he could already see the result.
“We’re retreating!”
“Eeh!? We’re running!?”
In the moment when Gabès was digging through the walls, Ryuuta grabbed Lily’s arm and sprinted off. Naturally, he didn’t truly intend to run. But he had to at least let Lily escape when he had dragged her into the mix. This already transcended the tournament, this was his own battle.
“I told you, you’re not getting away!”
“!? Get down!”
He relied on the sound to throw his body down. Right above them, the man who appeared by piercing through the wall came flying. And just like that, he sunk into the wall again.
The walls that made up the labyrinth had just about as much breadth as the passages. The fact he could freely move within them meant he had no need to distinguish between wall and passage. Simply, to conceal himself, staying in the wall gave him an overwhelming advantage!
“I-it’s kinda getting crazy in here…”
Ryuuta turned to Lily, sticking up his index finger to urge her to silence. They couldn’t’ see him. Then their enemy couldn’t see them either. He was currently relying on sound to predict his appearance. Then was the enemy the same?
(……)
How would he move? How could he proceed without being noticed?
(No… if I want to pin down his location…)
A slight tremor at his feet.
(Crap!?)
He was too focused on the walls. If he could move through walls, then the ceiling and floor connected to them were his territory as well. For now, he grabbed Lily’s arm and tossed her aside.
“Kyah!”
A clean hit, the claws that pierced from the floor to the ceiling took out his calf.
“Screw this! Thinking isn’t getting me anywhere, we’re going to run for it!!”
“What’s with that!? And you’re terribly injured…!”
“Better than dying! Just follow me!”
He ran, he ran. At times rolling along the floor, at times sticking to the ceiling, he made for the closest exit… the elevator.
“If we get up there, we can lodge a complaint! I’m sure the organizers will put up some countermeasures!”
“Y-yeah! You’re right…!? … Eh?”
He didn’t know if it would get through or not but… Ryuuta pointed at the weapon hanging at his waist, and silently sent her some hand signs.

 

 

The transmission of sound depends on the density of the medium. Better through liquid than gas. Better in solids than liquid. As he lurked in the wall, Gabès could hear every last detail of their conversation. To a noisy extent.
(Kukuku… that’s the spirit.)
Prey squirming in the nest was a spider’s finest entertainment. He already knew the two of them would make for the elevator. More so, Gabès was purposely driving them in that direction. He had failed on the first surprise attack. From the feeling he got when they crossed blades, Ryuuta was more skilled than anticipated.
In that case, his greatest fear would be having one of them run while he took on the other… luckily, his prey had run the two of them together. Not knowing they were racing straight towards the greatest trap.
The moment they entered the elevator was the end, there was no place left to run. In that narrow space with no exit, the two of them would be slaughtered. No witnesses. All he had to do was ride the elevator up himself… and report that the two of them were killed by monsters.
(What a soft tournament… but an interesting one at that.)
Just to surprise them, from time to time, Gabès would appear in front of them and disappear. As they neared the elevator, he could hear their breathes, their footsteps gain hope. The two of them were gradually learning to dodge his attacks… was likely what they were thinking. And they were under the misconception they could get away… not knowing he was purposely missing his attacks. There were even times he made it look like he missed to defeat the monsters blocking their path.
Eventually, they neared it. Voices of delight. The two footsteps stopped. The sound of a button pressed. The electric chime, the door sliding open, Gabès could hear everything.
We’re saved, those voices of relief. That rest… would now be changed to despair!
“Drop dead!!”
In that instant, Gabès pierced through the wall with all his might, showing his form before the still-open elevator.
“Go right ahead.”
Ryuuta laughed. They had anticipated him, the two of them jumped out of the elevator.

Clink!!

“Wha…!”
Hurtling in with no way of stopping his momentum, Gabès collided with the orichalcum alloy elevator wall. His blades couldn’t pierce through as they had the walls before; unable to bear his high-speed rotation, they raised sparks as they snapped off.
“You’re way too simple. There’s nowhere left to hide.”
“Wha… dammit!”

Tunk.

“……!!”
The tips of his claws tapped against a round metal lump. A hand grenade…!
“U-oooooooooooooh!!”
The tremendous contained explosion resounded through the labyrinth.

 

 

“Oww… my ears are still tingling!!”
“Huh!? What was that!?”
“I’m telling you! My ears are!!”
The two were left in such a state. Now then, what sort of ghastly state was the inside of the elevator left in… as expected of a demon, what’s more, an Alzahan executive. Not only his shape, he even maintained consciousness.
“C-curse… you…”
Ryuuta grabbed him by the hair, dragged him out, yanked up his lapels and slammed him into the labyrinth wall.
“Where is Archess!?”
“Fu… fufu… you think I’d… tell you…?”
“… Thought not.”
“More importantly… fufu, fu… what’s wrong? If you don’t kill me here, now… you’re going to have trouble down the line…?”
Heehee, Gabès laughed in the back of his throat. Killing a participant was a self-destructive act that meant for instant disqualification.
“……”
Ryuuta silently scorned Gabès’ vulgar smile, gritting his teeth.
“Soft… always too soft… you humans. If you want to survive, you should kill me without hesitation… yet you cling to such nonexistent illusions of justice and hope…”
I’ve had enough of you, Ryuuta threw him down as if to say. Gabès had suffered too much damage to stand, he dragged his body until he was sitting against the wall.
“Remember this… Ryuuta Salinger… it won’t end like this, next time… now enjoy life… while you still have the chance…”
“Ah? What’s that? Who said you had a next time?”
“…!?”

Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! Bang!!

“Gaf.. gah… aga…!”
“You demons sure are amazing. So much magnum to the stomach and you’re still not dead. But you can’t move now, can you?”
“!? Y-you… son of a…!?”
“Until next time, Gabès. There are a lot of monsters here. You’d better take care not to get eaten.”
The trail of Ryuuta’s blood that led right to this spot. And the scent of fresh blood Gabès was shedding now. A tremendous explosion. With menacing growls, the presences were beginning to gather.
“Wa-wait… wait for me…! Even I, in this state… wai…!”
Ryuuta hopped onto the elevator where Lily was waiting, offhandedly slapping the button for the ground floor. He grimaced at the pain in his wounds as he fell into a squat.
“You really… left him behind.”
“If I stuck around him any longer, I’d be the one murdering him… well, I’ve got no complaints with that… but say what you will.”
He performed first aid on his gashes as he spat up a strong front. Disinfectant. Hemostatic. Adhesive. Taping.
“No, I won’t say it. Truth be told, I heard there was such a boring competitor around and came to teach them a lesson.”
When Ryuuta looked up, of all things, Lily was giving an amused laugh.
“I despise those sorts.”
“… Who are you, anyways?”
Fufufu. Lily laughed.
“Once upon a time… though it wasn’t that long ago, there was an unfortunate girl who had to shoulder an immense debt from all over the place and… umm… skipping forward.”
“Already?”
“The girl who obtained the world decided to change how it worked just a little. And a very fun world it became. But it turned out everyone else didn’t really see it that way. Because you’re a demon, because you’re human, because you’re not human… with all those petty reasons, sad and boring, trifling things were still happening left and right.”
“……”
“So the girl decided she’d do her best to obtain the world again. This time she would gather the valiant warriors of all races from all over the world, and where everyone was watching… get it?”
Lily…
Lily of the Valley. Wasn’t there someone with a name like that…
“……! You’re…! No, don’t tell me, you’re…!?”
In regards to a terrified Ryuuta, Lily stuck up one finger in front of her lips.
A few years ago, he heard of how a single girl had obtained the world, leading an army of the gods of old. Not a soul in this world didn’t know of her, a living legend.
Her title was the Sacred Demon Lord. This tournament was the Sacred Demon Cup. In which case, did that mean the very person who opened this competition was standing right here? As a competitor, no less…?
The elevator climbed. It slowed down, it reached the ground level. Lily smiled as she turned and stepped off.
“Today was fun.”
A moment later, the anger welled up in Ryuuta’s chest.
That was none of his business. This woman didn’t know a thing. If he gave up on his mission here, would his dead family come back? She treated getting revenge for those pirates like a boring trifle!
“Well sorry! But no matter what you say, I’ll keep going after Archess! Until the day I kill him with these hands! If you want to stop me, just try it! Here, and now!!”
She didn’t turn back. With her back to Ryuuta, she gave a large wave of her hand.
“I hope you enjoy the Sacred Demon Cup!!”
She was the one most at ease. The maid with the assault rifle faded into the distance.
(Dammit…)
By the time he noticed it, the night was already opening to morning outside. Ryuuta trudged towards the Centralle Building receptions with hazy indignation.
“Welcome back. I see you’re injured, but should I call a doctor?”
“No need. Give me my money.”
“Yes. For what?”
There, he noticed for the first time.
“… Well about that. What exactly… can you exchange for money?”
“Eh? Why, monster gangs or scales, or corpses… in short, any proof you took out a monster.”
“…..”
He didn’t hear about any such system. Because he entered the labyrinth in a fit of rage, he didn’t hear any explanations. He didn’t bring anything back.
No?
“T-that’s right! Did a maid just come through!? She was down there with me!”
“Yes? Oh, if you’re asking about that person, she did properly turn them in.”
She collected the proof where he wasn’t looking. He was saved…!
“T-that’s it! Those were all monsters I defeated so…!”
“Eh? Is that true? But that woman cashed them all and left. She told me not to worry about whoever came after her…”
“Ah…”
He opened his mouth.
He blinked his eyes.
“That biiiiiiiiiitttttttttccccchhhhh!!”
After saying such high and mighty things, she secretly made off with his catch.

 

 

Tap, tap.
“Madame. Good morning. How did you sleep?”
As Elsia raised her body with half-asleep eyes, the hotelmen in masks entered the room in droves.
“As it turns out, dear guest. Your companion at the front desk just reported he was not able to prepare the lodging fee…”
“……”
Elsia was already nodding back off with a dazed-out look on her face.
“The royal suite is five hundred thousand tickets, the wine you ordered through room service last night was three hundred thousand tickets, using the shower was two hundred thousand tickets, using the bed was two hundred thousand tickets, on top of this and that and this and that, anyway, if you put it all together… your total comes to two million.”
“……”
She stared in a stupor.
“You cannot pay? Don’t tell me you cannot pay? In that case, we may have a problem on our hands.”
Fu fu fu, the hotel employees began to raise uncanny laughs.
“In that case, on top of offering you a gentle special low rate loan of fifty percent annual interest, you’ll have to work as the Obliterating Industry Group’s pack mule… oh, of course, if you do decline…”
Throwing off their suits, the masked hotel men now in full body tights began to gather. Like well-trained combatants, they surrounded Elsia’s bed.
“Sorry, but these are the methods of the Obliterating Industries group, the evil organization that rules the shopping district… don’t think poorly of us. Fu fu fu.”
“… I didn’t order room service.”
Rubbing her sleepy eyes, Elsia picked up the thick book by her pillow.
“Looks like this hotel is lacking in proper discipline.”
“Dear guest. Are you listen—”
“Are you participants?
“Hah?
“No? Then it doesn’t matter if you die… Page Two Seven Three.”

Crack!! –Thud!!

“……”
Elsia gently clapped the book shut. From the outside, it must have looked like the top floor of the hotel building exploded. One corner of it had completely collapsed with the ceiling now a blue sky. Below them the cityscape. The hotel employees sent flying were stuck fast to the floor and walls, twitching like frogs on the brink of death, just barely staying alive.
“Ee… e-eeeeee!? T-t-t-the full body tights that were supposed to be invincible…!!”
A hotelman still conscious quivered as his legs gave out on him and he fell back. Finally lowering her feet from the bed, Elsia offered a word.
“Get me a new room.”
“Y… yes!?”
“Can’t you tell by looking? This place is a mess. Get me a new room.”
“Ye… yeyes!! Right away!!”

 

 

Shortly after the explosion.
Elsia came down to the lobby, where Ryuuta was waiting for her.
“… Hey, hey, hey, hey. What did you do this time? If they demand repair money from us…”
“I don’t really get it,”
Elsia muttered.
“But they said it was all free.”
“… Say what?”
Another look and the hotelman following her like a servant had his head bowed strangely reverently.
“When I just cautioned them a bit for improper discipline.”
“… Don’t tell me that explosion from before…?”
“If you want to properly caution someone, you need Page Three Zero Six.”
Prick! The hotelman froze.
“But he learned his lesson before that.”
(You sure you didn’t just threaten him…?)
“This is a good hotel. I’ve taken a liking to it, so I’ve decided to live here.”
When he looked at the man behind her, he was violently shaking his head. He had clearly never heard anything about this. But the moment Elsia turned,
“Hahaaa! Thank you for your patronage! Well then, good luck out there, I’ll be waiting for your return from the bottom of my heart, Lady Elsia!!”
Hearing that, the coldblooded woman gave a rare satisfied smile.
“See? I really do think this is a nice hotel.”
(… Did I just hear him crying, or was that my imagination?)
Thanks to the mask, he couldn’t see any tears. Well, it all worked out. Her partner Ryuuta, while he only got a single, was allowed to live at the hotel for free.
And the tournament met its second day.
With whatever conviction each contestant held, the Sacred Demon Cup was finally gaining speed!

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BATTLE 3: Walpurgisfest

 

Hideo’s landlady had invited him to a get-together between the residents of his apartment complex. That being the case, the evening had already flown by. Breaking the seal on his lemon-scented soap, he took a light shower and got his appearance in order.
‘Why master, such consideration is unbecoming of a shut-in.’
(……)
He was the belief that food tasted best right off the bath, and that was his biggest reason. Not that he had to explain his every action.
“And what are. You doing?”
“Searching up and hacking Center’s database, this and that.”
When he took a look, there were a number of windows that fit the bill open on the laptop computer.
“Hacking is,”
One wrong step and there was a danger of their participation being revoked.
“Nihahah. Wilco won’t eat it, it’s fine. Maybe just a taste… wait, ah, what are you doing!?”

 

 

Lifting up the computer with Wilco still in it, Hideo hoisted her over to the management room.
‘Why does Wilco have to join in?’
According to her, a proud and proper electronic virus, she only ate important data. She didn’t need real food in the first place.
“It’s to get. To know people. Better.”
“So in short, you feel hopeless on your own.”
Wilco slipping out of the screen hit the nail on the head. He was hard-pressed for words. While he was initially soaring with the joy of getting invited… he was too timid to drop by himself.
Of course, he did also want to get in Wilco’s way so her hacking wasn’t exposed and they weren’t disqualified. Beyond just one thin door, the landlady, Minako… and one other person, it seemed. They were getting quite heated.
(……)
He was a shut-in. To Hideo, whenever someone saw him, they saw an ‘unneeded person’. Was it really alright for someone like him to intrude on such a happy-sounding stage? The moment this door opened, wouldn’t that lively mood be completely ruined?
From Hideo’s point of view, the door to the management room was now thicker than the Berlin Wall, the doorbell as intimidating as the switch to launch the nuclear warheads.
Kinkon♪
Wilco pressed it without hesitation.
“Master… if you just stand in front of the door with those eyes, you don’t have to be the policewoman to find you suspicious.”
(……)
“And wait! When they’re the ones who invited you, why do you have to read so deeply into it!?”
He was a shut-in. The type who couldn’t call out to the employees at a store. To add to that, he was fine with the mailman who just arbitrarily left packages, and was terrible with the deliveryman who asked for his signature.
What was he to do? No, he needed to get better.
“Yes, who is it?”
For some reason, it wasn’t the landlady who answered.
(She’s. Pretty.)
Short hair and a bright-colored suit, the air of a competent career woman. He thought he had seen her somewhere before, and Wilco was the first to point that out.
“Why is the chief executive here?”
Right.
(It’s Kirishima.)
The MC at the opening ceremony, Kirishima Lena. The slight red touch to her face likely indicated she already had some alcohol in her system.
“Oh, me? I’m friends with the landlady here. She’s got her hands a bit full, see.”
So it was because she was moderating back there… and this was her usual tone. It fit well with her boyish hairstyle.
“Well for now, come in, come in.”
She beckoned them forth.
“Then I’ll come right in.”
“Pardon. Me.”
A studio on the slightly-wider side. A rather large kotatsu in the center. On top of the kotatsu, the ingredients she had bought at the supermarket: grilled fish, boiled fish, a sashimi platter…
“Hideo, Wilco, make yourself at hyome. I’m finishing up the fried mackerel right nyow.”
The landlady she said had her hands full was bringing those crisply fried morsels over to the table with a tipsy red face. He wanted to say something about the ears on her head and the tail behind her hips, but decided against it.
“Thank you, thank you, then I’ll go right ahead.”
Energetically raising her glass, Minako in her police uniform. She was also pretty drunk already. Okamaru the truncheon wasn’t at her hip. He was probably even less prone to food and drink than Wilco. Did she leave him behind?
A cup came around to Hideo, Wilco politely declined one. As everyone surrounded the table, Lena who had acted as moderator before, took the lead.
“Ahem, well then! Looks like we’re all here, so to the opening of the Sacred Demon Cup, Hideo’s splendid two consecutive victories on the first day, and to get to know this apartment’s residents better…”
Cheers… she said. Hideo curiously picked up his cup that was still empty.
“I think we should start with three catch-up shots for Hideo!!”
“Yaaay!”
Completely oblivious to what was going on, Hideo noticed the gazes of the drunks gathered on him. Incidentally, while the super pleasant type Wilco didn’t drink, she got drunk off the atmosphere.
Three catchup shots… a vile Japanese custom of making those who come late down three glasses to let them catch up with those who were already drunk.
The substance gluggingly poured into a silent Hideo’s cup was a deep clear. Refined sake.
(……)
Hideo was visited by an unprecedented chill.
Truth be told, he had never drunken alcohol before. This wasn’t limited to Japanese sake. Be it beer, cocktails, or anything else, all so-called liquor. He had just been invited to a feast, he never anticipated it would be like this.
Of course, when hard-working adults gathered, this was inevitable. It was something normally learned in college clubs, or picked up at the company somehow or another but… a high school graduate. Failed to find employment. Holed himself in right after getting to the big city so he had no friends. Hideo was a perfect three-hit combo.
What’s more, he had only turned twenty not too long ago, and come so far, his naturally earnest nature was his plague. He had without any exception never drunk before.
“Just in case, Hideo, you’re not a minor, right?”
Asked Minako. The cop with good sense turned to Hideo as he nodded.
“Then you’ll be downing three of these. Drink or die. You’ll end up like this.”
The glass she clunked down in front of him… had a truncheon in with its alcohol.
(O… Okamaru…)
‘My, Hideo. This is quite exquisite Daiginjo.’
He had no idea what was going on anymore.
Lena stood and egged him on.
“Now, now, if the weapon’s drinking, then there’s no reason the humans shouldn’t!”
“Yay!”
“If the girls are drinking, there’s no reason why the boy shouldn’t!”
“Yay! Yay!!”
“And so, Hideo, how about you show us what you’ve got! There!!”
Then came the grand chorus of chug, chug. A huge uproar.
(……)
If he declined here, the backlash would instantly spoil the mood. You’re no fun. What a stiff. Hard to get along with. Hideo didn’t want his own image of himself to stick to these girls as well.
(…… But still.)
How about seeing it from the other side? If he could meet their expectations here and now… could he, could even he have a chance at being popular?
(This is. My big chance—)
Hideo fell into the common, simple thought process of youth. The one that sent countless college students to the hospital for acute alcohol poisoning every year… not that a high school graduate had any way of knowing.
Hideo downed the glass in one fell swoop.

 

 

When he stared at it closely, he could see the contents of the glass Okamaru was submerged in gradually draining. With a 1-sho bottle in one hand, he proudly filled it back to the top.
‘Oh, you have my thanks. If my body wasn’t like this, I’d gladly pour one back.’
He never expected a truncheon to serve him in the first place. Hideo made sure his own cup was at the same level…
“I know, right? Good grief young men these days are always so flippant. That’s why I, you see…”
“Well, isn’t it pretty much the same nyo matter where you gyo?”
“There are some at my station too, those sorts of…”
The three women apart from Wilco were sharing a nod over some common topic. Realizing what she’d said, Lena waved a hand.
“Ah, I’m not talking about you, okay Hideo?”
“She’s right, you nyow. Mr. Hideo, I’d say you’re the terribly grounded type.”
“Yes. I’ll at least admit Hideo’s got a strong spirit these kids these days are lacking.”
(……)
Hideo nabbed some sashimi with a mouthful of sake. Peeking in from the side, Wilco mentioned something like this.
“Even so, you sure are strong master. Want to try holding a drinking contest at the bar for the next game?”
“… Drinking what?”
He muttered.
“No, what… well beer, probably.”
What was this about beer?
more importantly, there was just one thing Hideo didn’t get at the moment.
The food was disappearing. When there had been so many fish dishes, more than half of it was gone. What’s more, for some reason, there was a used plate and chopsticks in front of him. A small soy sauce dipping dish that even had wasabi dissolved in, with sashimi oil floating on the surface.
But he didn’t remember eating.
that wasn’t all. His head was awfully dazed out, there was mist creeping in on his vision.
(Did I… catch a cold?)
He suddenly recalled the chills he got when he picked up Wilco’s computer. When Wilco came out, he thought it had to be a dream. And he remembered whenever he had a high fever from a cold, he would usually reach this dreamy state of mind.
(…… A dream, huh.)
Hideo finally attained enlightenment.

This was a dream.

In that case, food suddenly disappearing, and the fact he felt so full when he hadn’t eaten anything since yesterday, and a woman jumping out of a computer, and a giant city smack dab in the middle of the Okutama Mountains and a talking truncheon drinking sake, and the landlady’s twitching cat ears, and the fact that he of all people was for some reason surrounded by such cute girls… it all had a reasonable, logical explanation.
Namely, this was his own dream.
“Still, master, after drinking so much, your complexion hasn’t changed at all.”
“… Drinking what?”
“What, umm… master?”
Truth be told, by that point, Hideo was completely smashed. It was presumably due to the catch-up shots. His sense of taste had long since left him, the most he could cognize was that the red liquor bottle was wine, and the clear sake bottle was water. But his complexion didn’t change, and he was sitting silently with his usual look so no one could notice he was dead drunk. Hideo himself had no experience being drunk, so he had no way to diagnose himself.
No one could stop him now.
(Because this is. My dream.)
As it were, this world was a world his mind had produced for him alone. In that case.
(I see… I am…)
The inside of his head gradually grew merrier. To Hideo who had spent two-years-worth of depressing days alone, the upliftment brought by the chemical composition of alcohol rose sky high.
(I am… God.)
“King’s game!”
The girls raised another cheer of Yaaay! To Lena’s declaration.
The King’s game. As long as you have the momentum, a simple and most amusing game. Numbered lots are mixed in with just one with the word ‘King’ written on it, and all members draw at random.
Those who draw a number conceal what they’ve drawn… the person who pulls the king calls our orders based on the numbers. Naturally, these orders are as absolute as a dictator’s military rule, and the fact that no one knew what number the others had was the fun part (to drunks, at least).
By the time he noticed it, Hideo was holding a lot. When he had no recollection of drawing it. This had to be dream logic at its finest.
“I’m the King! Syo for nyow, I want person number 3 to cyome massage my shoulders.”
“Wilco’s already been done in!? She’s number three…”
Well, something like that. Number 3 had to drink number 2’s maliciously mixed cocktail, 1 and 4 had to do an improvised skit, the time went by considerably enjoyably. But while Hideo pulled lots each time, he never drew the King and was always outside of the ordered numbers. He simply started entranced at how Okamaru managed to drink.
Incidentally, as players keep drinking as the game goes on, the orders usually get more extreme with each round. This was the truly scary part.
“Yeeees! I’m the king! I did it!”
Lena assertively showed off her lot. This was the first time she got to be kind.
“It’s see, how should I put this. All your old kings were too soft. Way too soft. But I’m gonna be different. Tyranny! An iron fist! I’ll be the King they’ll call the old despot…!!”
It was the same when she was moderating, Lena seemed to be quite good at getting people fired up. No, perhaps that was precisely why she had the role of MC.
“Quit beating around the bush. Syay it already.”
“Urgh… I don’t want any more belly-dancing…”
“At least have master do something!”
Ku ku ku, Lena flashed a dark smile.
“Okay, here I go!”
The single clap’s worth of silence she gave to build tension, just like when she was moderating, she was outstandingly skillful. And what she was building up to—
“Why of course! Number 3 feel up number 4’s breasts!!”
“Woohoo! It’s adult time now! Time for good children to sleep! Unfortunately Wilco is number 2!”
“I’m also out. Nyumber 1.”
“Eh? Eh? Umm, I am number four… but that means…”
A menacing air filled the room…
With such intensity he might come out with “Your back is covered in soot”, Hideo tossed the number 3 lot onto the table.
[TL: Your back is covered in soot is a reference to Ryuu’s line from the Mahjong Manga Naki no Ryuu.]

 

 

“Wai… wawawawawait a second!! I mean, Hideo’s practically been out of the game this whole time! Why is it only now that…!?”
Minako hid her breasts from over her clothes. It was inevitable her face was red, not completely from the alcohol.
“As expected of Masteeeeer! To come out on top even here, you really have a perfect win streak!!”
“You’re amazing Mr. Hideo. Is this what it means to be at the top?”
(… I feel amazing.)
Drink a cocktail of pepper and Tabasco, put on a comedy skit, he got to ignore all those punishments he cared nothing for and pull the winning straw where it counted. Was such convenience really possible in reality?
(No… definitely not.)
Meaning this had to be a dream world. That made him the God that created this world. And to take that further, this tidy little policewoman before his eyes was.
(A lamb. To be offered. To God…)
“Whoo, I trusted that you’d have it, Hideo. Yeah, yeah, it would be no fun doing it between girls.”
Folding her arms and nodding delightfully to herself, Lena turned face to burst into laughter.
“Now Hideo. Grope them. Hold them tight! You know what to do! Approach them from below as lewdly as possible!!”
“I! I do not permit such improper conduct!! Okamaru!!”
‘The black ships… were a sight to behold.’
It was hopeless.
“Erk!? No, I wouldn’t mind just a little, but Hideo’s eyes and face are so dead serious, how should I put it…! Can’t you lighten up a bit!?”
“Ah, that’s asking too much of master.”
“Well I’m king, so Hideo’s going to be groping them whether he wants to or not.”
“The kying’s orders are absolute.”
Pitch black. Dark smiles in a row. They smiled darker the more misfortune they wrought to others.
(What sorrowful… lifeforms.)
“E-erk… I get it! I’m a woman! If Hideo wants it so badly, then go ahead!”
Minako wasn’t any less drunk than the others. He hadn’t said a word, but if she was that insistent, it would on the contrary be rude to decline. It would be the same as admitting she had no charm.
(This is. The will of the heavens. God’s…)
Lena’s cellphone picked that moment to ring.
“Eeh? Just when things are getting good? Tournament HQ?… Yes, this is Kirishima from the steering committee.’
Before long, her face changed.
“What’s with that…! Then in the worst case, we won’t even be able to hold the competition!?”
The air had taken a complete change from that of a party.

 

 

The moonlight poured down on a corner of the residential district.
“Hm… they got away. But so be it.”
“Tis a pity, sire. Shall we give chase?”
“You jest, Sandelmain. Our prey this fine evening is that Hideo and no other.”
The graceful youth let his thick curtain-like black mantle trail behind him as he haughtily turned on the spot.
“Very well.”
The one he called Sandelmain was a creepy old butler with a crooked back. His eyes were wide open over a hooked nose as he followed the man he fondly referred to as his master. Further behind them came two hundred of their loyal slaves.
“He stole the Colonel I was going to deal with first… I’m sure right around now, he misunderstands himself as a top contender, holding a toast in his misplaced ecstasy. Am I wrong, Sandelmain?”
The youth brushed aside his blond hair, sinisterly lifting his lops. The old man’s curled back curled even further as he lowered his balding head in a nod.
“Haha, I am sure it is just as you say.”
“He would never think such arrogant splendor would fall to ruin in less than a day.”
The youth’s lips now curled in joy. Peeking in from their corners, his pare of fangs as beautiful as white porcelain.
“And so… why don’t we witness his tears as reality strikes? What say you, Sandelmain! A fitting punishment for stealing the prey of Verrocchia Auchtos”
“Of course, of course, it is time for you, sire, to raise a toast with his blood. This old man’s withered eyes can see it now!”
The youth and old man walked without pause. To proceed to the battlefield without any impatience was the mark of the ruler. Two hundred faithful servants following their king.
A march of the army led by the King of the Night…!

 

 

“Are they gone… What do we do, Elsia?”
Ryuuta Salinger gazed at the scene from the roof of an apartment complex. A superb moon shined above them. The two hundred faces parading below were truly an army.
A beautiful woman called Elsia spoke in a listless mutter.
“A vampire. How vulgar.”
AT the head of the army was a blood-sucking fiend. Those he sucked from became his puppets. Everyone who became his puppet was still a competitor. What’s more, the effective range of his abilities didn’t just stop at just humans. Among those he led, half of them consisted of other races, mainly Demons. Meaning he took them in as pairs.
He manipulated two hundred lifeforms all at once. Even among vampires, he had to be considerably high ranking.
“Last night was opening ceremony so he watched and waited… When the participants were all apart and easy to target, he began moving the moment night struck… is my guess.”
Ryuuta clicked his tongue. Elsia didn’t even stop to think over his words, she looked up at the deep blue of the night sky.
“Or perhaps he just had a thirsting for blood. It is a fine moon, after all.”
“You understand how vampires feel?”
“I simply know the beauty of the moon. I am far nobler, after all.”
“Hehe, well look at you.”
Ryuuta jokingly shrugged his shoulders, but the situation was still severe. In the first place, that vampire was a shrewd one.
While every member of his army was a participant, it wasn’t as if they had lost yet. If they lost, they would have to receive the withdrawal paperwork, and they wouldn’t be able to participate in any matches. On the contrary, as long as they hadn’t lost, they remained as his easy pawns.
He knew what he was doing.
They had just fought him off, so they understood well. The vampire attacked them out of nowhere.
It was pointless unless he issued a challenge and won after the other party accepted. But he didn’t need any matches, he just had to suck blood. If they were his puppets, they were an extension of his power. He was free to use them in his own matches to give himself an advantage. After he’d won, all he wanted, he was free to personally hold matches with his puppets and have them lose.
“Should we let Hideo know?”
“Why?”
Elsia said. Ryuuta repeated it back.
“Why? Well…”
“You were the one who promised to meet them in the finals. From my point of view, I couldn’t wish for more if such a strong contender dropped out early.”
Her long hair swaying in the night wind, Elsia softly smiled.
“On the contrary. Even if your words are true… would an opponent who’d make it to the final round lose to the likes of that on the first day?”
Ryuuta lightly shrugged.
“The likes of that? You were on the run right next to me.”
“Because you ran. Even if every single one of those wretches challenged me under the basic rule, I would not lose. And neither would you.”
“… I see. Point taken.”
Ryura smiled, satisfied. Upon seeing that, Elsia smiled back.
“But it should be interesting to watch.”
“Hm. Sounds like a plan.”

 

 

“… And they’re headed in this direction this very moment. They’re probably after the top contender Hideo, is what I’d say.”
Closing her cellphone, Lena had completely sobered up. With the same tense face, Minako posed the question.
“Then that’s practically a rigged game!”
To be more precise, a power that allowed a rigged game.
“Can’t you regulate it from your side!?”
“That’s what common sense would say but… as long as it’s within the rules, the organizers can’t interfere. There’ll be no end to this competition if we have to keep changing the rules for a single competitor.”
There was no limit to whatever ability or weapon anyone could hold. That was the thrill of this tournament and also its essence. The extraordinarily low amount of rules were in order to facilitate that. It could be called nonsense to place restrictions.
Even as they spoke, they heard the footsteps. Droves of them, impossible for any normal participants in pairs of two, the orderly march of a trained army was closing in.
“What do we do, Master!?”
Hideo stared fixedly at his lightly open hands.
(Who dares hinder… the hand of God?)
“A dark side more powerful than ever before!? No, Wilco gets how you feel, master, but now’s not the time for…!”
Regardless of Wilco’s panic, Hideo spoke slowly and with certainty.
“… I will become. The God. Of the new world.”
“Maassssttteeeer!? There’s no Note anywhere!!”
Leaving behind a flustered Wilco, Hideo gallantly rose.
“I’ll judge the match♪.”
The landlady’s tail wagged as she followed along. Lena looked at the clock that showed eleven in shock.
“Don’t tell me, a miraculous three-win streak on the first day!? Alright, I’m getting my interview this time!”
And Lena left too.
“I cannot permit this unfairness as an officer of the law! We’re going to help out, Okamaru!!”
Silence…
“… Okamaru?”
Hideo’s seat. The cup that was supposed to contain Okamaru… had nothing but drink.

 

 

 

“… Sire.”
“I know, Sandelmain.”
He didn’t need the old butler telling him, he was the first one to feel the pressure. A strong presence. The army stopped in the roadway, a few meters from the apartment gate.
And ‘he’ appeared. He must have been drinking after all. With unsteady steps, he pushed open the cheap, creaking fence and stepped into the road to confront them.
The weapon in Hideo’s hand was a metal rod, around the size of a dagger, with a hooked portion around the arm guard. This was the first time Verrocchia had seen that sort of weapon, but from its shape, it was mainly a self-defense weapon that exhibited its full might when pit up against a blade.
And following along behind Hideo, a few young women. Verrocchia started sniggering out of nowhere.
“You’re really something. Not only ale, you had women wait on you in your wild merrymaking. I misjudged you, Kawamura Hid…”
‘Oh Minako, you are gripping me quite firmly tonight…’
“… Master Okamaru. Why are you here?”
‘Master…? Minako, you have finally come to pay me respect…!?’
“… I see, meaning. Finally. A weapon. In my hand.”
‘I am moved beyond words! Minako, for you, tonight I will be out for blood.’
Verrocchia couldn’t close his hung-open mouth.
(What… was that conversation!?)
“S… Sire. You mustn’t lose your mind. He must be versed in ventriloquism…!”
Though Sandelmain tried to give advice, that wasn’t enough to explain this phenomenon. The reason being, if it was ventriloquism, why wasn’t the conversation coherent? In the first place, if he wasn’t holding a doll, then who exactly was he trying to make speak? Who was this Minako person? What did he mean by finally a weapon? Wasn’t he the one who came out with it in his hands…!?
(No… no, calm down. It’s no issue, just a conversation…)
He was simply bewildered by a street performance done by those eyes that stabbed straight into his heart. More so, making him think so must have been his intent.
He was trying to mislead him, trying to take his thoughts off the match. Normally, when it came to battle, most schemed of just how to bend the other side with power, but this man had launched a preemptive strike on the mental front.
He was considerably accustomed to battle.
(So he’s… somewhat worthy to keep my company.)
Verrocchia collected himself.
“Kawamura Hideo. Foolish man convinced he is a top contender because he bested the Colonel, a mere mortal. Bear witness to those that ser—”

Thwack!!

The moment Verrocchia turned to his own army, he ate a severe blow to the side of his head.
“Sire!? Your wounds are light!”
“Kuh…!?”
“I ask you stop. Spewing nonsense.”
When Verrochia raised his face to the voice, there Hideo unsteadily stood.
“I am. No top contender. Far from it.”
“Silence…! Originally, I was supposed to defeat the colonel and stand where you are.”
“I am… God.”

b3-1

A gust of wind blew across them. Not a single soul could move at that outrageous statement. Of all else, his eyes were the epitome of serious. He made a straight face. He wasn’t joking in the slightest.
“… Are you sane…?”
In regards to that question, Hideo returned it straight back.
“You are the one challenging. God. Are you sane?”
The pressure came back within Verrocchia. This man wasn’t lying. Whether the word God was reality or not… at the very least, this man believed it to be so. Otherwise, would he be able to proclaim it so boldly?
In short, he had just that much confidence. Despite being a human, he had to hold some sort of special power rivaling that… and he was simply expressing it with the word God.
For the first time, Verrocchia tasted the true terror of this tournament. A pair of human and non-human. No telling who was hiding what power, the darkness of competition.
(Thinking back on it now, it has to be those eyes…?)
The one with the absolute confidence was supposed to be the one with one hundred times the manpower, the one leading an army of two hundred and yet… the moment he confronted him and saw those eyes, a waver had been born within his heart.
And Verrochia finally recalled the old legend passed down through his bloodline. That which gazed upon the future and saw into hearts, the inexhaustible blade that devoured from within.
“Bastard… don’t tell me you’re ‘Demon Eyes’…!?”
That’s right, he had already caught a glimpse of it. The battle with the colonel. Without cheating in that gamble, he won as if his own victory was already set in stone.
Then that had to be divination. Future sight. Truly a power that rivaled god!
(How could this be—!)
Verrocchia shuddered.
The man before him could see his own future. He presumably saw he would win and remain this night. Otherwise, who would willingly stand before these masses?
If he would be at a disadvantage, then the moment he foresaw they would appear, he would simply have to conceal himself… the fact that he didn’t meant…
(I’m the one who’s going to lose…!?)
Hideo made a cold proclamation.
“I’ll have you. Disappear. From my world.”
“……!”
With slow steps, Hideo made his way forward. Verrocchia gave the order.
“Go!”
The puppets who received his will charged forward. But in that moment, that instant, the weapon in Hideo’s hand expanded. His steps were so staggered, it looked like he was just wildly flailing it around, but the strikes from it were as heavy as if he were standing on firm soil.
“Kuh, I increased the numbers too much…!?”
With one or two puppets, he could freely control their arms, legs, fingers, even their eyes. But with so many bodies, he could only give broad orders. He couldn’t draw out the original strength of each individual puppet.
The fundamental basis of the thought to overwhelm him with numbers was mistaken. As a result, Hideo had struck down dozens in the blink of an eye.
Whenever it looked like he would collapse, he used that momentum to swing down. He would make it look like he was correcting his posture for a swipe to the right, the weapon it looked as if he carelessly tossed aside not only accurately struck his target’s vitals, it returned to his hand like it had a will of its own.
“If I may, sire…! I have heard there is a martial art from the orient that increases in versatility the more intoxicated its practitioner. His movements fit that to the T…!”
“What… meaning not only does he have the Demon Eyes, he is at his full strength now that he’s drunk…!? Then his dead drunk appearance was a trap to lure us in!?”
Or rather, a dead drunk Okamaru was having the time of his life striking things down and Hideo was just swinging him around, but these two didn’t even consider a weapon could have its own will.
(Still…)
Was he even drunk to begin with? Naturally, his legs were as unsteady as a plover. But under normal circumstance, when one was in such a drunken frenzy, their eyes, their focus will become unreliable…
Was he faking it? There was no hint of red to pick up from his face. But his skills were the real deal.
He was led along. Paranoia after paranoia.
(No, these are the Demon Eyes…!)
Even now, his eyes were being put to active use.
(This can’t be…)
A breach. He had to attack from a separate angle. For that sake, Verrocchia took a hard look at his situation. And.
(Hmm… how truly fearsome, the Demon Eyes.)
Verrocchia regained his composure. He chuckled.
There was never any need to cower. In the first place, the match hadn’t even begun yet. While there was a werecat with a judge’s armband behind Hideo, she hadn’t declared the start of the match.
Obviously. Neither side had issued a challenge yet.
And another thing. Something exceedingly simple once he had calmed down. His opponent wasn’t alone. Usually, that would mean a disadvantage, but not in this case. Even if Hideo himself was perfect. His partner could be an entirely separate story.
More so, that was his sole flaw.
(His partner was… that girl, as I recall.)
He picked out the young woman suspensefully watching over the developments, floating in the air in a white dress. And Verrocchia turned into mist. He took the form of a cold mist to erase his presence. He passed by Hideo right in front of him to regain his form behind the partner girl Wilco…!
“Wha—! What is this!?”
She thrashed but he didn’t let go. Her white nape right before him. He did feel a bizarre off-sensation but… so be it. With this, victory was his. Verrocchia laughed as he bared his fangs.
“Kawamura Hideo. I challenge you.”
“I accept.”
“Why are you accepting under this overwhelmingly disadvantageous situation!? The computer’s in the management room! Wilco can’t run away!!”
Wilco angrily chopped at the empty air in Hideo’s direction. It had all easily turned in his favor, yet Hideo still had his admiration. In this situation Hideo had no choice but to make a move. To decide it instantaneously with everything against him, he really was something.
“Both parties have agreed. This match will be judged under the Basic Rule.”
That was it. The basic rule.
To be determined incapable of combat. To be turned in to center. To proclaim defeat. He simply needed to achieve any one of those three conditions. With Wilco in his arms, Verrocchia chose without hesitation.
“Obediently admit your defeat, Kawamura Hideo.”
“It’s cowardly to take a hostage! I’ll put a stop to you!”
The woman in a uniform cried out, but it was little more than a mosquito’s whisper. Verrocchia flatly rejected her.
“My match is not with you.”
“Kuh…!”
“In the first place, I acted in accordance with every rule in place. Am I wrong?”
The werecat and the moderator who was at the opening ceremony nodded.
“Nyo illegal acts.”
“Yes, the organizer side raises no objections.”
The only ones with such mortified looks on their faces were the uniform woman and Wilco.
“… How. Foolish.”
Said Hideo. Verrocchia found the leisure to mock even that.
“Hmph. For a minute, I thought you had promise but… in the end, you are a human drowning in the ostentations of hypocrisy. Call it cowardly or whatever else you want.”
“… On such. Spongy ground. You think you’re. A match for me?”
Hideo walked over, teetering left and right.
“W… what?”
“No. That’s not… it. This is your ability.”
Left and right and left and right. But Hideo glared straight at him.
“Now this is… interesting.”
“I should be saying that! Are you really sane!? Can you listen to a word I’m saying!? Can you see where your own partner stands!?”
“Sire! Sire, this is his plaaaah!?”
Okamaru struck Sandelmain down.
‘The guitar samurai… I am not. Ku ku ku.’
“Okamaruuuuuuu!?”
For some reason, the woman in the uniform was wailing out.
“Curse you!! You not only oppress my retainer, you have room for such drivel…! You shall have my imperial wrath! Now learn it first hand, what it means to be a vampire! Have fun fighting to the death with your partner—!!”
Verrocchia’s two fangs stabbed deep into Wilco’s nape.
“KYAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!?”
A young girl’s shrill shriek. Coarse grains of noise raced up and down her form.
Noise?
“… Guh!? Gahah!!”
A terrible impact like the inside of his head had exploded cause Verrocchia to vomit all the blood he had sucked that day.
(What is it… what is with this woman’s blood…!? No, was that even blood… at all!?)
It was almost like he had sucked blood infected with some infectious disease, a terrible shock. No, it wasn’t anything so simple. Like he had sucked on a virus itself? Absurd! There was no way such a lifeform could exist. Then what the hell was this woman!?
On his knees, Verrocchia watched in terror as the girl he let go ran away. He wasn’t aware of any races apart from demons who had such clear human forms. But that was definitely bizarre. Right, something definitely felt off.
Normally, with lifeforms, no matter what hygiene maintained, they came with a smell. But that girl didn’t smell of anything at all. You could call her nothing more than a presence. It was precisely because Verrocchia had stood behind legions upon legions of humans that thinking back, that was the strangest of all.
When she was a woman of appropriate age with hair so long, she didn’t even smell of soap. Just what was she?
“Gwooh!?”
His attention was so taken with a fleeing Wilco, he collapsed from Hideo’s blow he had been completely unprepared for.
(Curses…!)
The damage was heavy. A light concussion. Additionally, thanks to whatever he had sucked from that girl, his body was numb like he had been injected with snake venom. He couldn’t turn into mist to run. If he pushed himself with this unfocused mind, he wouldn’t be able to regain his form again. But he had spit up his blood, the puppets were already regaining their freedom…!
Hideo spoke.
“Let’s say, for instance. A girl comes out. Of a computer… do you think that’s possible.”
“… Absurd. What are you talking about… there’s no way such a thing could happen in reality.”
“Exactly.”

Thwach!

Another blow.
“Gwooh!”
Hideo turned his weapon to Verrocchia like he was pointing his finger.
“There is no way. Vampires. Exist in reality.”
“No… but I!”

Thwach. Bam. Bam.

“So you. Are my dream.”

Bam. Bam. Bam.

“I am. God.”

Bang. Bang Bang.

“What a wonderful world…”
Hideo and Okamaru tenaciously kept thrashing a fainted Verrocchia like they were flogging the dead.
“The team of Verrochia and Sandelmain have byoth been deemed incapable of combat! The match is over!!”

 

 

Some distance away, on a roof belonging to who knows who. Ryuuta thought aloud with a satisfied smile.
“So not drunken fist, but drunken sword… I got to see something nice. Just as I thought, there’s no doubt Hideo is a master of martial arts.”
“But the bigger problem is the Demon Eyes.”
A glance to the side and Elsia seemed to be feeling an even greater sense of crisis than he was.
“If that’s true… then we really would have been better off if he lost tonight.”
“But there are all sorts of Demon Eyes, right? Like Medusa’s eyes of stone. An incubus’s temptation. I’m sure if he was up against a human woman… that vampire could easily charm them just by locking eyes. Those sorts of things are all over the world.”
“… You’re right. But if the Demon Eyes are too strong, they can exceed the domain of mankind.”
“And… there’s no telling who’s hiding how much ability, that’s the fun of the tournament…”
No conclusion was reached. It probably wouldn’t be until the day they really did confront one another. The two of them left. It was right after that, that the sake finally got to Hideo and had him collapse.

 

 

 

Gabah!

Hideo jumped up,
(……)
Holding his head to a terrible headache.
A cut-and-dried room. Not the apartment he holed himself in, nor the one the landlady managed. In the first place, he was on a bed. Neither had one of those. When he looked at the hand holding his head, there was something coiled around it… an IV drip.
(A hospital…)
Why? He thought but couldn’t remember anything.
(……)
Honestly, nothing was coming up. He remembered being invited to the landlady’s room. But beyond that. Beyond that… where had he been and what had he been doing until—a look at the clock—noon?
(…Cognitive impairment…)
Reaching a single conclusion, Hideo stood at the abyss of despair. There were as of yet no definitive treatment methods, therefore, this was an incurable ailment among ailments that required understanding and nursing from those around him.
(But I…)
He was alone. When his parents abandoned him, who would possibly look after him? Whether he wanted to hire a helper or enter a facility, he was someone so troubled for food he was about to choose suicide. He had no such money.
(… Goodbye. World.)
“Why are you wrapping the iv tube around your neck!!?”
A chop came down over his headache.
“…… Wilco.”
Another look, and there the laptop was. On a small table bedside table with wheels.
“As always, Wilco has no idea what you’re thinking… but master, we might just be able to pull this off! Three unprecedented wins on the first day of the tournament! We’re the only ones who got three! Rank one by a large margin, we’re now true top contenders!”
She was especially enthusiastic.
(……)
Hideo counted on his fingers. Colonel. Javan.
(……)
Recount as he might, he would always stop at two fingers. Meaning he only remembered winning twice.
“Who?”
“Coincidence happens twice! At three times, it’s already inevitable!”
“… Who was. The third?”
Wilco’s enthusiasm came to a halt. At that moment, the door to the sickroom was knocked by three women.
“Ah, I see you’re awake.”
“Whoah… looks like he’s angry at us after all.”
“It cannot be helped. We do bear some responsibility for forcing those catch-up shots on him…”
The reason the look in his eyes was thirty percent worse than usual wasn’t because he was angry; it was because his head hurt. In the first place, he couldn’t find anything to be angry about. He didn’t remember, after all.
“About what?”
Hah?
Came the girls.
“Umm… master, do you possibly not remember?”
He honestly nodded. There, Lena burst out in exaggerated surprise.
“Eeh!? You mean to say you forgot such a hot, fiery night with us!? Especially with you and Minako!?”
When her name was brought up, Minako refuted with a bright red face.
“Wait, Kirishima! Don’t say what could cause a misunder…!”
“You fyorced a reluctant lady to…”
“I-I was definitely reluctant but! You have to explain these things in order or else…!”
‘Sir Hideo, last night truly was a pleasant treat. It is good to trouble Minako like that, from time to time.’
(……)
The reluctant policewoman.
In her uniform.
With the cudgel.
Forcefully troubling her.
(… Thank you, world.)

Whop.

“IVs! Are not! Meant! For! The! Neck!!”
According to Wilco, after he downed Japanese sake like water in the landlady’s management room, he repeated some incomprehensible phrases like, “The world is wonderful, I am god” as he used the Okamaru he plundered from Minako and assaulted several dozen participants… and so forth. In the end, he was carried to the hospital for a severe case of alcohol poisoning.
(……)
Hideo shuddered in fear. At the terror of alcohol. When he was the sort who used placemats and magazines to peacefully drive bugs out of his room whenever possible… to think he would strike people.
(… What a terrifying story.)
“Heehee. Seeing how lively you are, I’ll assume you regained consciousness…”
A man in a lab coat walked in without knocking. Since this was a hospital, he was probably a doctor, but he boasted scraggly unkempt hair and a peculiar set of black-rimmed glasses with the lens only in on one side. An individual of peculiar style.
“Eeeheeheeh. You, I hear you got three wins just yesterday…! You’ve got promise you know.”
The doctor slowly closed in on Hideo.
“H-h-how about it!? This drill! I-I-I-I’m suuuure if it’s you, you’ll be able to master it…”
He showed off the metal, conical piece.
(… A weapon.)
He needed a weapon. Which meant this person… no, even if it was due to the alcohol, wasn’t there some greater reason he was carried to this hospital?
That moment of hesitation spelled the end.
“Those serious eyes! I see interest! You’re interested, I see! Heeheeheeh, as expected of the top contender! Five minutes! Five minutes is enough! In five minutes, I’ll change this out with your right hand!!”
He suddenly pulled out a scalpel. With red and black substances stuck to it, a scalpel with a dull sheen. By that point, Hideo understood. The moment he nodded, he would be saying goodbye to the right hand that had accompanied him through twenty years of life. Nothing so idiotic could ever happen in reality. But in this city that surpassed common sense, when he looked at this individual, for some reason he was certain of it.
While he was delighted this man of all people took the look in his eyes as serious, Hideo reluctantly shook his head.
“No. Not particularily.”
“I-I, I see!! The left hand!? So it’s the leeeft hand you want!?”
Hideo was a Japanese man who had a hard time saying no.
“… No. What I’m trying to say. Doc.”
“Heee…!?”
For some reason, the doctor staggered. As if using the recoil from that motion, he closed in right up to the tip of his nose.
“Heeeeeeeeeeeeeh!? I’ve got it!! That was my fault!! You wanted both hands! I see, so it’s both! You want it equipped to both hands, that’s what you want, right!? Yes, I have another!! Why of course, I do! Another drill right here! No, if you’re going that far, I’ll put one on top of your head too!! That makes three!! Just how gorgeous can you be!!? I feel like I can have a good surgery for once!! Eeheeheeheeeeeeeeeeeee!!”
“Whop. Whop. Whop.”
Unable to put up with this any longer, Wilco drove the doctor away with chops.
“Master, this hospital is bad news. We should get out fast.”
Wilco who liked playing along was drawing back. Minako and the others as well. When Hideo tried rising from the beat with no complaints, it wasn’t the doctor, but a sheet of paper that was thrust before him.
“I really don’t want to do this, but.. heehee.”
“… This is?”
“Why it’s an invoice of course!”
It made sense that going to a hospital cost money, but…
(… Ones. Tens. Hundreds. Thousands. Ten thousands…)
It still went up from there. In place of the silent Hideo, Wilco cried out.
“Th… th- three million tickets!? For just a night and an IV drip!? This is extortion, no matter how you look at it!!”
“Heehee, say what you want. When he got here, on top of alcohol poisoning, he was suffering from malnutrition, severe physical exhaustion, disturbed brain waves due to stress, the list goes on… after all.”
That was unexpected. He didn’t get any health checkups for the two years he holed up, so maybe he really was in bad shape.
“Even so, Center’s facilities are supposed to be free of charge!”
She pointed out the window at the lines of buildings that stood tall. But Lena awkwardly averted her eyes.
“No… the truth is, this place is just barely in the industrial district, see… meaning it’s not a public institution prepared by the organizers. Like the supermarket, you know, it’s a so-called outsourced private hospital. Just like the price of vegetables, the proprietor is free to decide the medical fees.”
Meaning the organizers couldn’t complain. They did their job, so there was no place to complain. It was simply that the one who received treatment was dissatisfied with the price…
“Between us and the participants that entered the venue early, this hospital is famous.”
According to the landlady, this place had a reputation for returning what you paid with superior skill. If he really could swap out limbs with drills, that spoke to just how fearsome his technological prowess really was.
“But it definitely wasn’t this bad before opening night. We didn’t knyow he hiked up the prices.”
Lena nodded to the landlady’s comment.
“Umm, then I have my job on the administrative committee.”
“I’ve gyot matches to judge.”
The two officials ran. If he had to take a guess, his poor condition was mostly his own fault (on top of the alcohol), and whatever the case they hurriedly brought him to the closest and finest hospital… and this was the result of everyone’s consideration.
“Eeheehee. If you want, I’ll buy the right to stick a drill on for one million tickets each… eeheeheeheeheeh! Let’s do that. That’s the best way that will make everyone happy!!”
(……)
He would stick on three. This doctor would be happy to obtain a test subject. He would be happy with three million written off. The only downside was that he would become a drill human.
(… But?)
That might be strong. This was the Sacred Demon Cup. In a tournament where winning was the only justice, to be strong was an absolute necessity.
“Ma… master…? What are you thinking, master!?”
(……)
“Now… what will you do? Heeheehee!”
Like his throat was spasming, the doctor’s laugh as ominous as his appearance quietly echoed.
An enormous debt. Or a drill.
There, Hideo was faced with the ultimate dilemma…

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