“Ahh, my shoulders sure are stiff. Breasts really do get in the way.”
“This old woman is provoking me with the standard golden word!!”
(Opening X-01 Open 04/14 23:00)
Now, imagine a high class 40-story apartment building. If you were to live there, where would you choose?
The top floor with a nice view?
——But I’d be afraid of a fire. And what if the elevator stopped due to a power outage?
Then somewhere near an emergency exit or staircase?
——Are you sure a robber or thief wouldn’t use the stairs to reach the apartment?
How about somewhere as close to the ground as possible?
——Any water trouble on the floors above would reach me.
In the end, there may not have been an optimum answer. Any positive came with plenty of negatives, so you would never be able to choose a room without preparing yourself to take on some negatives.
Shiroyama Kyousuke was a boy in an overly generic outfit one could find anywhere at any time of day. Namely, he wore a hooded sweatshirt and sports brand track pants. The room he entered was a top class apartment that took up two whole floors which had been opened into a single space. In fact, the roof had also been purchased with cash as an open-air park and home garden. Kyousuke was pretty sure the three-story space had some long name that took several dozen letters to spell out, but he did not remember what it was.
But as he did not live here, that was nothing to worry about.
He entered without using the intercom and the sound of the door opening and closing must have made its way inside because a girl’s voice called to him from the other end of a long hallway.
“Welcome home, bro.”
“This is not my home, we are not blood related, and we are not brother and sister. You should be saying ‘welcome’ or ‘I’m glad you made it’. And this is your home, so you need to learn how to pick up after yourself.”
After putting down the plastic bag and luggage he held in his right and left hands, Kyousuke moved toward the girl’s voice.
“I had a rough time out there. A road or bridge is out, so the traffic is in complete gridlock. And the monorail is stopped, so everywhere is crowded. …Not that any of that matters to a shut-in like you.”
The girl in question sat in a living room large enough to play tennis in.
But was she on a chair or a couch?
“Ahh! You got Tropical Jewelry’s full ruby apple sherbet! You complained so much on the phone, but you really did line up for it! I love you, bro. Now, now. I’ll pat your head in thanks, so hand over the offering.”
“I don’t need your love or your humiliating animal training.”
“Ahh! You even got the apple tea they only make thirty of at morning, noon, and night! H-how much of a reward are you after here? Do you want to join me in the bath today?”
“By the way, I’m kind of scared over here! And it mostly has to do with that tiger you’re sitting on!! I’m pretty sure that violates the Washington Convention!!’
The room’s owner was sitting on a giant tiger that was five meters long.
And this was not a couch made from its fur or a stuffed tiger shaped like a couch.
It was a living tiger lying sleepily on the ground and lazily waving its tail back and forth.
The girl puffed out her cheeks.
“Bro, this isn’t a tiger. It’s a white liger made from crossbreeding a lion and a white tiger. Its’ a super-rare species that costs at least 700 million yen a year to rent from the zoo.”
“I’m more worried about the curious look I’m getting from that monster that’s name sounds like some kind of secret weapon.”
“Roar, roar,” she said jokingly.
“Stop that! I might be a summoner, but a surprise attack will still kill me just fine!”
Incidentally, the girl herself was a short A-cup with her brown hair wrapped into thin braids that made large rings on either side of her head which… Oh, what a pain. One could just say she had a tricky sort of twin tail hairstyle. However, she had another even more obvious trait.
She wore a swimsuit.
Even in mid-April, she wore nothing but a neon green bikini. No, that explanation is lacking. She wore only a neon green and white striped bikini and stayed moderately warm with the comfortable heater that was the body heat of a carnivorous animal.
Shiroyama Kyousuke held back the girl who tried to grab at and devour the limited-production dessert and he passed her a disposable wet towel and fork from the plastic bag.
“Um, Aika. I’m not about to comment on what goes on in your mind. It’s a little late for that. But can’t you at least wear underwear and normal clothes in your everyday life?’
“Do you have a problem with this?”
“That’s the entire reason I brought it up! I will admit it makes laundry easier, though!”
“Clothes… Oh, so you’re lamenting that I’m not wearing knee socks, are you? Don’t worry!! I’ve already ordered twelve different colors from the internet! Now, choose your favorite variation.”
“Wearing nothing but knee socks does not count as being dressed!! Don’t use those Award 50 level people for things like that!! So what are you saying here? Do I have no choice but to get the help of an actual counselor at this point?”
“Stop being so shy. No guy doesn’t want a little sister in knee socks. And since I have so many, you can get carried away and eat two or three of them.”
“I’d really prefer you didn’t treat me like that liger you’re sitting on.”
The girl named Aika leaned forward from the white liger she was using as a couch and began to do battle with the snack made by carving out a raw apple and filling it with fruit and a liqueur sherbet.
“Silly bro. To be honest, the white liger’s fur is so oily that I can’t play around with it while wearing normal clothes.”
“And why did you give up on clothes for this animal?”
That may have been why Aika’s soft skin reflected the warm lights and looked oddly captivating. If she took a stroll through the savannah like that, she would probably not be attacked by a single other animal.
Now, since Aika the swimsuit beast girl was focused on the sherbet on the glass table, the chaos of the world finally began to settle down, but then another hand reached in from the side.
This hand belonged to a woman trying to swipe Shiroyama Kyousuke’s share of the apple.
She had long black hair that looked wet and she had transparently clear blue eyes. She wore a red China dress with a fair bit of extra fabric cut away and she looked like the sort of woman who would make a heavenly homeroom teacher or apartment manager.
“Out with it,” said Kyousuke. “What are you doing over there?”
“That little sister character sent me an email to brag that she had you lined up at Tropical Jewelry, so I thought I would ruin it for you by taking the leftovers before you could get them.”
“You had nothing but malice in your heart!?”
“That’s right. And I’m not a little sister character. I’m his actual little sister.”
“Keep quiet, Aika. You’ll only make this more confusing. And we aren’t blood related or any other kind of family. We’re complete strangers! And I’m supposed to be working on jobs, so why am I looking after you, the middleman, instead!?”
“Heh heh heh. I’m prepared to get a full bone marrow transplant so I can produce the exact same blood as you. In fact, I’ve already secretly taken a skin sample and am working with a tissue engineering specialist to put the plan in motion. I’m going to fulfill the dream and ideal held by every guy in the entire world by having the same blood in my veins but no genetic problems whatsoever! Eh heh heh heh heh heh.”
The short girl was spilling disturbing delusions from her mouth like a sticky biochemical mess regurgitated from a drain, so Kyousuke decided it was not worth replying. He simply prayed this would remain a mere delusion.
“We all know Aika is a crazy swimsuit girl, but you seem to have lost your modesty as well, Lu.”
While shrewdly skewering the apple dessert with a fork to accurately claim it for herself, Lu Niang Lan looked down at what she was wearing. In general, it was a red China dress, but a vertical area from the center of the chest to the navel had been removed. She further increased her seductive appearance with hair decorations, a garter belt, stockings, long gloves, and other Western lace decorations. With the opening in the center of the chest and the slits on the hips, the design made one wonder just how she wore underwear.
Well, that explanation got long. But simply remembering the conclusion is enough. That being, her outfit was filled out in all the right places.
“Just to be clear, this wasn’t my choice. It’s from…what was it? Tom Jost’s new film. Ahh, they all have people firing a pair of handguns at each other with kung fu mixed in, so they all blur together for me.”
“That’s the one that brought ‘Hey, is the protagonist a fried prawn this time?’ into the online slang lexicon,” added Aika.
“Right, that one. Anyway, they had me dress up as one of the characters for a special campaign in Chinatown. Of course, the movie itself was shot in C Block, so they didn’t even have to put together any sets for the event. And it’s human nature to want to capitalize off of it as much as possible, so stuntmen are doing periodic action shows in the streets and blanks are being fired day and night. It’s so noisy.”
The room contained a swimsuit girl who used a wild beast as a couch and a beauty who wore a modified China dress so beautifully that she outdid a movie’s leading actress.
The two stood out so much that aliens looking for samples of earthlings would probably spot them first, but they might not have been all that rare in this city.
Someone wearing a normal outfit like a hooded sweatshirt and sports brand track pants would be buried beneath the people in this city that seemed to be attending a never-ending costume party.
The TV had been left on and some voices could be heard coming from it.
“Last month, the city of Harukawa officially admitted to economic collapse, but the privately-owned Toy Dream Company just officially announced its intentions to fully support the city. This makes Harukawa the 40th revived city around the world.”
“So we’ve finally reached #40 since the revival of Detroit in the United States. It went by so quickly. Toy Dream’s ideology is to build giant amusement parks around the world to spread smiles and vitality and the bright news they bring has become a staple in these otherwise dark times.”
“On the other hand, some people are voicing their concern that a foreign corporation is taking control of regional governments. Some of the more extreme members of the opposition claim the cities are a source of money for the CIA and act as footholds for military activity as America continues to withdraw from its overseas bases.”
“That really was fast,” casually commented Lu Niang Lan in her modified China dress while crushing the frozen apple with her plastic fork. “It wasn’t all that long ago that this city was filled with excitement over Toy Dream 35, but they’re already up to 40. Of course, this will probably be overshadowed by #50.”
“Even as the internet-addicted little sister, I can’t keep up with the passage of time. In other words, I’ll forever be 14 years old. Bro, I love you.”
The triumphant look on Aika’s face made it clear she thought that was clever, but Shiroyama Kyousuke ignored her.
“Speaking of things progressing quickly, it’s a little strange that the three of us are all here together. Especially you two. Before, you had set aside your normal jobs of exterminating monsters and sealing ancient texts and were instead trying to kill each other with friendly smiles on your faces.”
“What are you talking about, silly bro? As Alice (with) Rabbit, you were doing more damage than either of us and with a completely nonchalant look on your face too.”
“No, no, no. Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Yes, that really was quite bad,” said Lu Niang Lan. “The stupid swimsuit girl was bad enough, but Kyousuke was something else entirely.”
“I don’t want to hear that from an old woman who’s past her prime but still gets by with hidden weapons and not a hint of the occult,” said Aika. “It probably took many long years to get that kind of skill.”
“Ahh, my shoulders sure are stiff. Breasts really do get in the way.”
“This old woman is provoking me with the standard golden word!! Liiiigerrrrr!!!!”
“Heh heh heh hah hah. That cute pet might be an excellent beast and an excellent vessel, but I’m confident I can destroy five of its vital points before you can snap your fingers. Please don’t underestimate the Perfect Dragon, okay? Being flat as a board is one thing, but it’s painful to look at a washboard whose ribs are poking out. Also, who are you calling an old woman?”
An aura of lightning exploded between the two of them, so Kyousuke considered sneaking away to safety. His apple sherbet had already been taken, a five meter beast was about to go on a rampage, and a boldly smiling young woman was claiming she could take out those five meters on her own, so staying seemed like an all-around bad idea.
“Not so fast, bro. And what kind of brother abandons his sister less than a second into the battle?”
“Aika, I already finished the errand you gave me, so I’d like to go home and get some sleep.”
The bikini girl snapped her fingers and her couch moved. It lightly bit the neck of his sweatshirt like a mother cat carrying its kitten and that was enough to quiet Kyousuke down.
With her couch gone, Aika sprawled her upper body across the glass table.
“That errand was of course just an excuse. Don’t forget that I have something important to discuss with you.”
“And what’s that?”
“You have the nickname Alice (with) Rabbit and yet for some crazy reason you say you’re washing your hands of the summoning business. What else would it be about, silly?”
“Dah dah, dah dah, dadalah dadadadadah♪”
“Wait, Kyousuke. Why are you humming intro music and pulling out a small convenience store cake?”
“To celebrate my graduation from the summoning business, of course.”
“But buying your own cake is just too sad!!” exclaimed Lu Niang Lan. “And that had better be a joke! In fact, if you are retiring, then I’ll take you for myself!!”
“He’s mine! And if he falls for anyone else, I’ll brand his face with the Aika symbol. That’ll be a constant reminder of who he belongs to!!”
“If I can get my hands on Alice (with) Rabbit through simple romance, don’t think I won’t go all out! You’ll see what happens when an adult woman switches back on the romance she banned herself from after realizing she was a stalker in the making. Does the water in your water bottle taste funny? That’s because it’s my leftover bathwater! Hah!!”
“Please stop!! You’re both creeping me out!!!”
Kyousuke, the boy with a dangerous nickname, gave a girly scream.
“Besides, I consulted both of you about this half a year ago. I’d reached the end of one incident and I had lost the vessel I use for summoning. It’d be more accurate to call it a graduation, though. Anyway, I said I would completely wash my hands of the summoning business if I didn’t come across a new vessel over the next half year.”
“Uuh… You did promise that, didn’t you?”
“Today is the end of that half year limit, but there isn’t a new vessel by my side. So that’s that. I may be called a summoner, but I can’t summon anything without a vessel, so there’s no point. And it’s not like I was driven by a goal like becoming the greatest summoner or exploring the possibilities of as-yet-unseen Materials.”
“That’s actually strange in itself. How did you manage reach such a high level when you’re so noncommittal and have no special motivation?”
“How should I know? I had no choice but to save someone every time I heard the cursed word. And next thing I knew, people were using that weird nickname. I didn’t do anything more than that.”
“That’s what makes you so exciting. …And it’s a huge help that you’ll come make your little sister’s food and wash her swimsuit every day when she uses that cursed word.”
“Actually, you need to start doing that on your own. I’m retiring, remember? So…”
Just as he started to continue, the white liger gently biting the neck of his sweatshirt let go and growled.
“Come to think of it, the liger’s been really agitated since you got here,” said Aika with a tilt of her head. “Bro, did you stop for fried chicken or pork buns on the way here?”
“Oh, I think I know what that’s about.”
With that, Kyousuke left the room.
The other two assumed he had gone to get something from the hall or entranceway, but another possibility soon entered the back of their minds.
What if he was casually making a run for it?
Aika and Lu Niang Lan frantically ran into the hallway, but they tripped over something and fell.
They then checked on what had tripped them.
Some large object lay in the center of the long, wide hallway.
It was covered with crudely applied bandages that were oozing blood and they soon recognized it as an unconscious shrine maiden.
Her limbs were sprawled out in what was not quite lying face up and not quite lying face down, but despite the painful-looking position, the shrine maiden did not move an inch. Her long hair was more blonde than brown and it was accented with what first appeared to be a leather hairband. However, a closer inspection showed it was a blindfold. Similarly, what looked like a necklace was actually a bit like the ones placed in a racehorse’s mouth.
“You called that thing a white liger, right? I thought the smell of blood might excite it, so I wasn’t sure what to do about this.”
“B-bro brought another girl to my hou- bgyhh!?”
“Who is this girl?”
The beauty in a modified China dress asked that question after physically nipping a commotion in the bud.
“I found her collapsed while out on Aika’s errand and she said “help”, so I guess you could say I couldn’t help myself.”
“Oh, I see.”
Lu Niang Lan’s response contained a complicated undertone. It was a mix of understanding and resignation. As she rubbed her index finger against her temple, Kyousuke concluded his explanation.
“I don’t want to leave anything undone, so this will be my final job as a summoner. I will protect the life and lifestyle of this girl who asked for help. I should be able to manage that without a vessel.”