“Feel despair, Shiroyama Kyousuke.”
“Even if you do learn the truth, you have not even a one in a million chance of defeating the White Queen.”
(Ending X-02 Open 05/23 19:30 Attention! “Reverse Count”)
A Demonstration of the White Queen’s True Character
It was 7:30 PM of the previous day.
Freedom Award 920, Liar Cat, aka Biondetta Shiroyama had just been defeated on the deck of the Repliglass Stingray.
With the defeat of that sole threat, the Stingray and its evacuation operation had no reason to continue. It was now stopped and rocking in the waves below Toy Dream 35’s high-rise buildings.
Several Repliglass soldier were putting out fires and rescuing people on the badly damaged deck. A great variety of tools were scattered about: fire hoses, stretchers, first aid kits, and firefighting axes for breaking through bent doors.
In the midst of all that, Maria Heartocean spoke cheerfully after removing her Water Bear.
“Looks like everything’s finally settling down.”
Her life had been targeted, her many Government bodyguards had been defeated, and Kyousuke had thrown her crucial server into the ocean, but she did not seem bothered by any of it.
“We saved your life and destroyed that classified information in exchange. I’m not sure that’s a fair trade, but I’m from selfish Freedom and I accepted the job from Isabelle, not you.”
He was not telling her to accept it.
He was only saying that any complaints would lead to round 2.
“Oh, I know that. You’re with Freedom and I’m with Government. Of course we have different principles. And I was well aware it would come back to bite me in some way if I tried to ask for help from a group of eccentrics who could easily destroy the world in their pursuit of personal freedom.”
“Also, this outcome wasn’t all that bad for me. …But you knew that, didn’t you?”
“You mean you didn’t want to continue the Anthill Project? For the supposed world police, I did think Government had agreed to an awful lot of plans that would end up sacrificing you. Did you want to be taken out by Biondetta’s revenge?”
“Well, it was never anything more than a way of drawing in funding for my soul research which has no end in sight.”
Maria gave a self-deprecating smile.
“I thought showing a theoretical possibility would be enough…but wouldn’t you know it? I underestimated the greed of the higher ups. The next thing I knew, the gigantic steel ball was rolling and I was too weak to stop it alone. I had started rolling the snowball down the hill, so it would’ve been silly to be crushed by it. I really was at my wit’s end.”
Maria Heartocean stopped speaking there.
Her eyes narrowed as she looked at a small girl in a military uniform who was working with the Government soldiers to wrap bandages around the arms and legs of the wounded.
“How am I supposed to apologize to those children?”
“You can spend the rest of your life on that question. At the very least, I say anyone who has a shot at a second chance in life should count themselves lucky.”
He seemed to be implying he had not been one of those people
The two of them fell silent for a while.
Finally, Maria spoke up again while toying with the bolo tie at her chest.
“Then instead of confessing my sins, can I tell you something? My sins are something only someone who can follow my research can understand.”
“What is it?”
“To start with, the higher ups were so fixated on the Anthills because they saw them as more than just a stable way of mass-producing vessels. They were interested in the ability to tune someone’s soul to increase their compatibility with a specific Unexplored-class. To the point that they can hold a one-on-one conversation just like a certain someone can.”
For a moment, pure white evil slipped into the back of Shiroyama Kyousuke’s mind, but…
“Oh, no, no. It isn’t that. It is true we used the remains of the Queen’s Miniature Garden to construct this project, but that wasn’t our aim this time. The Unexplored-class we were after wasn’t the White Queen.”
“Then what was it?”
“Government’s Protector as one of the Three,” said Maria.
That was a Material with an exceptional legend different from that of the White Queen.
“The ‘Red-Eyed’ Lady who Sees Through all Sin and Calamity (f a – a o – a b – e i – f j – c i b – b – d u – a – e i f).”
Maria tossed him something.
It looked like a smartphone, but it was not. It was likely a device built from scratch in a Government research facility rather than a commercial product.
“If you use that, you can hold a pseudo-conversation with the Red Lady kept in a stable state within the Box…Anyway, the mechanical prompt just wasn’t enough. The higher ups decided that a human mind and mouth are needed to process it.”
“Kept in a stable state within the Box…?”
It hit Kyousuke after he repeated her words.
He realized the true identity of the supposed server he had thrown into the sea.
“You don’t mean…!?”
“Well, after what you did, who can say how long it will last. The system might have already been destroyed, but I’ll give you the chance. You’re at a dead-end when it comes to the White Queen, aren’t you? Then it might not be a bad idea to rely on a superhuman mind. And luck would have it, the Three are well known for taking extremely good care of mankind.”
With that said, Maria waved and walked off.
Left alone, Kyousuke stared at the device in his hand for a while.
With that, he could reach a fragment of knowledge beyond human reach? He could contact a being with an “easy to grasp” intelligence who had become one of the Three because she actually wanted to protect a human organization?
Could he receive information on the White Queen’s identity, traits, and weaknesses from a nonhuman viewpoint?
He realized his fingers were trembling.
He had trouble controlling those fingers, but he managed to press the small button.
Light filled the screen.
The next thing he knew, something like a hologram appeared before his eyes.
The world had changed.
The Red Lady’s actual body looked like a pale girl of about eighteen. She wore red lacquered geta on her feet, so she may not have been as tall as she looked. She had endlessly long red hair and a maple pattern kimono that had no obi and was left fully open in the front. Inside that, she wore something like a one-piece swimsuit colored the same shade of red.
Two horns protruded sharply from her forehead.
Her red eyes provided the frightening impression that one glance would send all calamity your way…no, define all calamity around you. But those eyes were currently hidden behind smooth eyelids.
And in addition to her actual body, a set of frighteningly massive interlocking gears could be seen behind her. They glistened as if from lacquer and they were made of wood. They looked like giant tropical flowers and like a loom that weaved the threads of destiny and lifespan for all things. And red threads that looked like laser beams extended in every direction from the giant gears. A closer look showed that those red threads were actually her endlessly long hair. That seemed to show that she ruled over destiny itself.
Simply put, she was the “Red-Eyed” Lady who Sees Through all Sin and Calamity.
She was not on the White Queen’s level, but she was one of the Unexplored-class as well as one of the Three who did not hesitate to lend their power to humans.
Shiroyama Kyousuke gulped in front of this image that was easily larger than twenty meters, making it larger than the standard Artificial Sacred Ground.
He was unsure what to say.
A wrong choice here could negatively affect the battle with the White Queen that was surely coming. He had nothing to base that on, but he clearly understood it as true.
“…Can you hear me?”
The puny summoner finally made up his mind and spoke to the higher being.
“Can you hear what I’m saying, Red Lady?”
The girl in the half-worn kimono slowly turned her head.
The eyes that brought ruin remained closed.
<You are Shiroyama Kyousuke, aren’t you? You are one of ‘those children’ and the one loved by the White Queen. Yes, I have heard much about you even here.>
Kyousuke was not entirely sure what “here” meant.
Were the Materials not alone in the other world where they drifted? Did they have some form of community that allowed them to exchange information? How? For what purpose? Using what language? At what level of intelligence? Were there walls between the Regulation-, Divine-, and Unexplored-classes? His human logic was not enough to picture it.
“I didn’t become this way by choice.”
<Yes, that too I know.>
“So I want you to tell me something that can help me break free! Before the White Queen uses me as she sees fit and destroys me!!”
The Red Lady fell silent.
Maria had mentioned that the prompt was not enough. It was possible something was lacking in translating human language into the logic or equations of another world. But those fears proved unnecessary.
The Red Lady resumed speaking soon enough.
<Yes, it would seem that you still understand nothing. Nothing at all.>
<You intend to use the Summoning Ceremony – in other words, us – to defeat the White Queen. …You do not understand the fundamental contradiction in that intention.>
“What are you talking about…?”
Kyousuke shook his head like he had seen something unbelievable.
“I know the White Queen is the strongest. There’s no possible answer besides her there. But…but that’s no reason to give up, right!? Someone has to do something, right!? It can be a simultaneous attack from all of the Three or a saturation attack from all of the Unexplored-class! Please tell me, Red Lady! I don’t care how difficult it would be to pull off!! I’ll find a way to do it!! So…!!”
<That is not what I meant, Shiroyama Kyousuke.>
But the Red Lady did not answer his pleas.
She slowly shook her head.
It was like a parent speaking kindly to a stubborn child. It was like a parent correcting her child’s mistaken idea that pushing on the front of the car from the seat would move it forward.
<That is not what it means to fight the White Queen.>
<You…no, all children of man have made a fundamental misunderstanding. But I am unsure whether or not I should tell you. The answer is simple, but it would certainly shatter your soul if you learned it. That is how thoroughly it would overturn what is supporting your heart.>
Kyousuke felt faint.
He knew humans would give in to the White Queen. He understood that the Regulation- and Divine-classes would be too afraid to fight properly.
But was even the Unexplored-class a lost cause?
Was this the only answer he would get even from the Three at the top?
“How can you just give up…? Are you giving into her strength, Red Lady!? You must have an intelligence and rationality similar to a human’s. You must have a sense of ethics and responsibility. That’s why you approach the human world and give us the Awards!! So you must have noticed the White Queen’s evil! Don’t you understand how disgusting an act it would be to let her have her way!?”
<That is not what I meant.>
The Red Lady seemed to ooze sadness as she continued to shake her head.
<I am saying you are too pure, not too inexperienced. I too have seen more than enough of the White Queen’s atrocities. Yes, I understand and I am aware of your intense emotion. But…you are still wrong on a fundamental level. If you had a proper understanding, you would not view this like that. You would never think that you could defeat the White Queen based on anything we of the Three could teach you.>
<You should be able to understand how depressingly silly you are being once you see the absolute barrier between the children of man and the White Queen evident in this incident.>
This incident had begun with a mysterious transfer student and the Girl’s Backdoors. It had centered on the Anthill Project and a girl seeking revenge. And it had all been controlled by Biondetta who had remade it all to her liking and enjoyed her rampage.
But Shiroyama Kyousuke had supposedly ended it all.
What about that could be depressingly silly?
<With all the talk of the Anthills behind Isabelle’s secret and the Fifteen Siblings Project from your own past, did you perhaps forget about something?> asked the Red Lady. <Did you forget this was all about the Girl’s Backdoor? Are you sure you did not dismiss it as irrelevant partway through?>
<This is a story of souls.>
The Lady spoke clearly with her eyes closed.
<The Anthill Project intentionally destroyed and carved away at a human soul to shape it into the ideal vessel. The Fifteen Siblings Project gathered people from around the world and overwrote a portion of their souls to artificially create the bonds of family. …Now, the Girl’s Backdoor that Biondetta used was created from those ideas, but what logic do you think it used?>
“Wait a second.”
<There are a few different symbols of the bonds between a family, between a clan, or between souls. One of those is blood, but isn’t an equally important one…hair? Cultures collect hair in place of the remains or ashes of the deceased. In both the West and the East, an artificial bond of blood can be created by adding hair to a doll of straw or wax, creating the opening for a deadly curse.>
Shiroyama Kyousuke felt an unpleasant itching rising from his left wrist to his elbow.
But it was not on the skin. It was a strange sensation coming from much deeper in his body.
<Biondetta constructed her controller using certain hairs as a catalyst.>
The Lady was not mistaken.
It was said she could see through and even define all calamity, and her words were cruelly accurate.
<Every Unexplored-class has a feminine form. That is why the Girl’s Backdoor can only control the girls who meet those same conditions. That much is correct. But saying it works by the same logic as a vessel interfering with a Material’s mind is partially incorrect. The logic being used on the human body is the one that a different being uses to gain our obedience.>
The Red Lady spoke her conclusion with a look of true and utter sadness.
<The Girl’s Backdoor is a device that sends the White Queen’s hair into a puny human body to connect their soul to hers and borrow a portion of her authority. Simply put, it is used to become one with the Queen to borrow that authority. It obtains obedience through fear, just as she does with every Material from the Regulation-, Divine-, and Unexplored-classes.>
His mind was burned away by bright white sparks before breaking into a million pieces.
He was rotting.
He was being infected.
Kyousuke felt unbelievable despair at still having that thing – that left arm – still attached to his body.
<Even if it was to investigate it, why did you keep that Girl’s Backdoor on your hand so long? Shiroyama Kyousuke, Biondetta, Murasame Kuina… Why was everyone at the center of this incident wearing the same device?>
She was not mocking him.
It was the true pity in her voice that caused each word to tear into Kyousuke’s puny soul.
This was not a device that allowed the user to control someone.
Biondetta may have thought that was what she had created, but she had been dead wrong.
Was it a curse the White Queen could use to infect and manipulate those foolish summoners and vessels from within!?
<It was all in the palm of the Queen’s hand.>
Had Murasame Kuina, Biondetta, the many other users, and even Shiroyama Kyousuke himself been manipulated by her and turned into her playthings!!!???
<You were seriously mistaken if you thought you were choosing any of this of your own free will, not to mention controlling others. …Sadly, that is the truth of the human world.>
Kyousuke realized he was screaming.
He did not hesitate for an instant. He grabbed one of the tools from the Stingray’s deck. It was a firefighting axe. The dull blade was meant to break through bent doors to secure an exit, but he grabbed it in his right hand and immediately swung it down toward his own left arm…the arm wearing the Girl’s Backdoor.
A heavy thunk.
Dizzyingly intense pain.
And what did he get in return?
In that crimson world of the Red Lady.
Shiroyama Kyousuke finally grasped freedom.
As he clenched his teeth and his vision flashed in and out, he saw an unimaginable scene.
His severed left arm rolled along the deck and a thin silver hair crawled out of the dark red cut like a strange parasite.
And it used Kyousuke’s own blood to write a red message on the Stingray’s deck.
“Ahh, ahh. Just a little further and you would have been mine, brother.”
He stopped breathing.
Even his flashing vision froze over as the tiny, crammed-together writing dove into the depths of his mind.
“Whether I could rewrite your soul or not, if these hairs had reached your brain, brother, they could have bound your brain, mixed our thoughts together, and given us the perfect happy ending. Honestly, the world belongs to me, but it never does what I tell it to. But it is true that acquiring you so easily would have been boring, so in that way the world may have planned everything out for the best. Hee hee hee. Oh, but, brother. I love the brave resolve that led you to chop off your own arm the instant you knew the truth. It’s just so very like you and so very cute, but I do wish you would show more care for your own body. That’s your one and only body, brother. And while I can allow any torment if it comes from me, I honestly do not like it much when someone other than me hurts you. But I’m not going to deny your agency or dignity as an individual. Oh, then how about this? If you are ever going to harm your own body again – let’s say, gouging out an eye, pulling out a tooth, severing a limb, or digging out an organ – then consult me first and tell me about it in advance. Oh, dear. I think I’m being a little too lenient. Is this what they call being the perfect wife? But brother, make no mistake here. Even if I’m being kind, that doesn’t mean you can grow dependent on me. If I see any sign of that, I will punish you right away, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. Yes, and this would be a punishment from me, the strongest who rules above the Regulation-class, the Divine-class, and even the rest of the Unexplored-class. Hee hee hee. Brother, you might be the only thing in the world capable of maintaining your original form after a punishment from me. That would make it quite a rare experience. Yes, very rare. Oh, dear. Oh, dear. This isn’t good. You haven’t even done anything, but I’m starting to feel like punishing you just for fun. If you like, why not pull some kind of prank; it doesn’t matter what. Hee hee. Hee hee hee. Oh, that’s right. You just cut off your own arm without even trying to tell me. Honestly, brother. You actually predicted I would feel this way and set everything up for me? This level of mutual feelings can only be called love. Yes, let’s call it that, brother.”
Kyousuke was shocked speechless as he watched the left arm continue to creepily twitch and wriggle.
This was truly a glimpse of the Queen.
With Biondetta, he had only felt displeasure and disgust. He had not felt the White Queen’s insanity and fear that seemed to widen every pore on his body just from seeing it.
Now that he could sense it again, he understood.
The Queen was decisive. She was a one-and-only evil that no one could analyze, reproduce, or use. Even a single hair had done this. She broke the rules so badly that the effects and abilities of the Girl’s Backdoor no longer even mattered. He became painfully aware that, even at her worst, Biondetta had been “merely human”.
This surpassed all the limits. It shook free of the world’s upper capacity.
But that was all.
Kyousuke was facing his true enemy, but there was nothing he could do.
He had lost quite a lot of blood in exchange for his freedom and he collapsed into the red pool of his own making.
His fading consciousness saw the Red Lady’s sorrowful look.
And she spoke.
<Feel despair, Shiroyama Kyousuke.>
He clenched his teeth.
<Feel more and more and more despair… Try every possible method you can think of and have them all knocked back down by the White Queen… Once you have done that, return to me once more. If your heart has been built up by defeat to the point that I believe it will not be shattered by the truth of the world, I will correct your fundamental mistake. Although…>
He could only continue to listen.
Everything grew dark. As his consciousness vaguely floated about, he thought he saw the Lady’s tightly closed eyes silently open ever-so-slightly to form blade-like slits.
It was feared that the scarlet light of those eyes could see through and define all calamity.
<Even if you do learn the truth, you have not even a one in a million chance of defeating the White Queen.>
He could never accept that.
With that in mind, the boy’s mind was thrown into utter darkness.
To take a short rest, he seemed to shelter himself in a world that was the polar opposite of that frightening pure white.
It happened at an unknown time and in an unknown place.
“Wahhhhh. Brother, brother…”
A girl cried in an inhumanly white space. The twintailed girl wore a splendid dress that looked like a modified wedding dress and she was accompanied by a boy. But if anyone had seen her, they might have been confused why she was crying to him like he was her older brother. She was clearly taller than him and her body was clearly more developed. In fact, she had developed enough to warrant the word “alluring”.
But that apparent relationship may have been accurate.
The small boy frowned and spoke to her.
“What is it, ****?”
“Well, well you see…”
The twintailed girl sniffed and gestured around to make some kind of plea. But as the small boy listened, he breathed an almost exasperated sigh.
No, it was not just “almost” exasperated. It was a sigh of utter exasperation.
“Y’know, ****, that isn’t going to happen.”
“Really, really? You aren’t going anywhere, brother?”
The small boy looked up at the girl’s red and swollen eyes and nodded just once. He did not need to think about it at all. It was the carefree answer of someone confirming the obvious.