“But in that case…”
“Yes. When things are going too smoothly, something always intervenes.”
(Opening X-02 Open 07/19 00:33)
One-Way Ticket from Strongest to Hell, Unreserved Seat
They left Toy Dream 35 using the Ultraloop which used the power of permanent magnets to travel through a vacuum tunnel that looked a lot like an oil pipeline. Linear motor trains? What are those? When travelling 1150kph in a world where air resistance and rail friction resistance did not exist, travelling down the archipelago’s backbone to a regional city had been easy enough, but the problem had started with the connections after that.
“How many connections is this now, Biondetta?”
“I know you’re not that stupid, sir. It’s the 5th one☆ We saved a ton of time with the Ultraloop, so we should be able to arrive in just half a day.”
Midnight had already passed, so it was 12:33 AM of July 19.
After the school’s closing ceremony ended in the morning, they had supposedly left the cruiser he used as a home in the early afternoon with plenty of time to spare, but the next thing he knew, they were surrounded by the late night darkness. They had been making connection after connection between slow trains the entire time. For the first time in Kyousuke’s life, he had eaten station bentos thrice in one day: lunch, dinner, and late night snack. Once you were sick of the scenery, there was nothing else to do, but once you knew the pattern, there was nothing left to surprise you. Kyousuke had once only eaten supplements and gelatin drinks, so he understood that your ticket to life was nearly torn apart once you stopped receiving any stimulation from your food. So this was his conclusion: Ahh, I miss my cereal and milk…
And Kyousuke was not going to go easy on someone from the same miniature garden.
“You suck at navigation.”
“Oh, dear. But if we used your cruiser, it would have been a 14-hour trip of staring at the GPS sea chart and fighting the ship’s controls while it rocks in the waves. And a land route is a lot safer than using a passenger ship or airplane, isn’t it? This should be the easiest route for a variety of reasons.”
Biondetta explained all that while smiling and holding a travel bag in each hand. Kyousuke had stuffed everything he needed into the knapsack he wore over his right shoulder and he did not like how much luggage she had with her, but she had refused to say anything but “A beautiful big sister needs a wide variety of supplies☆”
“The final down-train of the Seiryu Line will be leaving soon. This will be the final train. If you need that train, make sure you do not miss it. I repeat…”
And this was truly their final connection.
That announcement could only be heard once a day and it was made in a long, drawn-out fashion.
This route passed through a tunnel in a precipitous mountain region and approached a fishing village on the coast. The 10-car slow train was nearly empty despite being the last train, so it was a mystery how it made any money. The only person inside was a very compact old lady returning home from who-knows-where.
Kyousuke breathed a small sigh as he sat in the kind of 4-person box seat never seen in a city train designed for the rush hour crowds. The relaxation effect of the train’s regular shaking could be good and bad. If that was all he had, the poisonous boredom would only accumulate inside him. Biondetta watched the boy as she sat in the seat across from him, crossed her legs despite her miniskirt, and giggled.
“Nothing. I was just noticing that you let your air of perfection slip when you’re alone with your big sister. Does that mean we’re still close enough for that?”
A wicked color seeped into her smile.
In the past, the Queen’s Hatred had taken root in her soul and it made an appearance here.
“Then just how deep is your bond with the one and only being who can get you to expose your true self without worrying about who might be watching? It makes me jealous, Kyousuke-chan.”
He could almost hear the cracks running through the solidified atmosphere.
If his gaze had produced pressure, he might have broken through the reflection of his face in the train window.
“…Let’s use this chance to review.”
He intentionally changed the subject.
If he did not distract himself somehow, static threatened to fill his vision from the outer edges.
“The White Queen can’t be defeated by normal means. Not even if we check through every last one of the Regulation-class, Divine-class, and Unexplored-class including the Three. And of course, challenging her without using the Summoning Ceremony or a Material is even more out of the question. That would simply be suicide.”
“But at the same time, the Regulation-class was artificially embedded in that world as a foothold for humans to reach the more obvious Divine-class and Unexplored-class. That means Materials can be created. Everything in the three-way stalemate between the low, middle, and high sound ranges may have succumbed to the White Queen, but there still aren’t any Materials that use the vowels of the lowest sound range. If we can create an Unexplored-class from that nonexistent sound range, we might be able to embed a new law in that world. And that will act as a rule letting us kill the White Queen.”
The last train finally began to move.
Everything continued as before. He had supposedly had enough of the slow trains and he was supposedly sick of their regular shaking, but it gradually soothed his irritable mood.
Biondetta pushed up on the window to open it, letting in a chilly wind that had not been poisoned by a heat island. It was a small thing, but it was a luxury not found in the air-conditioned city trains with unopenable windows or the Ultraloop that ran through a vacuum tunnel.
“But that is easier said than done, isn’t it? I mean, the Unexplored-class is made up of the very rules that govern the world of the gods. Humans creating and embedding a new one is the greatest form of arrogance.”
“Probably so,” he agreed. “I’m talking about something similar to messing with the entire system that divides the world’s gods into categories such as mother goddesses or destruction gods. And all so we can rearrange it for our own purposes.”
“Let’s not forget the vessel that must contain this Material and let it appear in this world.”
“That’s the biggest problem.”
As the train shook, the somewhat faded hanging banner for a regional bank swayed back and forth. It seemed to use a small child’s drawing of a cat and rabbit as its mascots. It had a different sort of warmth than something from a highly-calculated product of a professional designer working for a global corporation like Toy Dream.
“Most everything related to the Summoning Ceremony can be set up by us summoners. Ultimately, we can even create artificial Materials: Deus ex Machina, Frankenstein’s monster, Homunculus… But with vessels alone, it is highly reliant on innate talent. To be blunt, vessels require a talent we lack, so our Awards don’t matter. Gathering some summoners and thinking long and hard on it isn’t going to give us an answer.”
“And that’s why we took the Ultraloop and these slow trains all the way out here: To recruit someone the old-fashioned way.”
“If a normal vessel won’t cut it, we just have to ask an abnormal vessel,” stated Kyousuke.
And who was the oddest vessel he knew of?
“The Meinokawa Series. They have the Joruri Method which led to the creation of mankind’s only fully-artificial vessels. To get their help, we first have to speak with the world’s oldest and first successful product: Meinokawa Aoi.”
To sum it all up, that Aoi was apparently worshiped as the Meinokawa Shrine’s secret object of worship.
She had the same warmth and suppleness as a human, but she could survive as long as an ancient text or a Buddha statue. She was a strange being of a different sort from the Materials.
“If only you had been able to contact those twins.”
“That’s kind of our fault for going too far in Toy Dream 35 and stealing their summoner job from them. Especially when Freedom provides no real support as an organization.”
It was pitch black outside the window. There was no bright nightscape like there was in the city. It was said true darkness inspired fear, but everything had its good and bad sides. From the train, that darkness felt almost soft.
“So this…Meinokawa Aoi? Is she the ultimate vessel?”
“Maybe so. Maybe not. She’s manmade either way, so as long as she can reveal the Joruri Method to us, maybe we can embed the traits we need inside her and maybe we can create an entirely new one from the ground up.”
He recalled those twin shrine maidens.
Their level of freedom had been pretty ridiculous. Creating an artificial vessel was a historic feat in and of itself, but the Meinokawa Shrine had tried to remove the unwanted vessel talent from human Higan while also preparing Renge as an artificial summoner in case Higan did not work out. The pair had ended up the opposite of the intended arrangement.
The Joruri Method could create a vessel or a summoner.
If it was that adjustable, then it might be possible to design a vessel which could contain a never-before-seen Unexplored-class like Kyousuke and Biondetta wanted.
Still sitting in the 4-person box seat, Biondetta looked up at the ceiling and Kyousuke sighed quietly once more.
“But in that case…”
“Yes. When things are going too smoothly, something always intervenes.”
The windows shattered on either side of the nearly-deserted last train. Even if it was a slow train, it was still moving quite rapidly, so how had someone managed to land on the side and jump in? The assailants who entered in unison were a never-before-seen form of Repliglass, which used silicon stem cells. And yes, not even Kyousuke and Biondetta had seen this variety before.
Their overall silhouettes resembled heavily-armored humans, but the five wings on their backs stood out prominently. Kyousuke narrowed his eyes when he saw that back equipment that rotated like a helicopter. Those bizarre wings did not exist in the natural world.
Also, their extremely enlarged arms came apart like unfurling ribbons to form seven tentacles each.
“…Released Creation, huh?”
Whether a robot, an android, or a replicant, the primary purpose of manmade machines was to reproduce the structure of other living things. The greatest examples were the robots with humanoid bodies or computers with human thought processes which were seen in SF.
But just as tanks and cranes did not resemble any living creature and just like the giant robots in fictional stories were not even remotely practical, people’s imagination could sometimes surpass the limits of the natural world.
The same was true of Repliglass.
They had a variety of advantages, but the biggest was how difficult their movements were to predict. Using the traits of existing plants and animals gave you a treasure trove of data to work with, but it was also easy to imagine just how a mantis model, grasshopper model, or hornet model would move. A Released Creation did not have that. And in battle, calmly observing and putting together a new plan would require placing the chips of human lives on the table. When faced with bizarre, never-before-seen, and supersonic movements, waiting was the same as standing still while you were killed instantly.
Unless your brain had greater calculation power than a supercomputer like Kyousuke’s did.
Without any actual data to work with, he could only make general calculations, but with that much Repliglass muscle fiber bundled together into those tentacles, they could likely make jabs that surpassed Mach 2.5. He estimated them to be heavily-equipped models that weaponized their power and speed which could grab and crush their enemy with instantaneous speed rivalling a fighter jet’s top speed and could knock down every last bullet when a Gatling gun was fired at them head-on.
Once they stood on the same stage as you, the Repliglass had essentially already won, whether they wanted to restrain you or simply behead you. The end effect would be little different from having them move freely while time was frozen for you.
(They’re dangerous, but I guess they aren’t going to give us a chance to stop the train.)
But Kyousuke responded with a disinterested sigh.
“Biondetta. Up above.”
Despite her miniskirt, the waitress spread her feet wider than her shoulders while pulling out her silver Blood-Sign (which was also a bolt-action sniper rifle) and aiming it toward the ceiling as instructed. She then fired a powerful shot. The recoil caused her long hair to flutter and her large breasts to jiggle while she pulled the cocking lever to load the next round and fired again. Her miniskirt fluttered. She repeated the action a third, fourth, and fifth time…
Something flowed by outside the speeding train’s windows.
“I didn’t detect a hit. The sudden gunfire probably scared them, so they slipped off.”
The plan had been the same as a cheap stage magician. The Repliglass had been sent in as an obvious threat while the actual summoner and vessel would make their attack from the roof. The Artificial Sacred Ground established by an Incense Grenade was initially a 20m cube. As long as it was close enough, it would capture the target even through walls. …That said, it could not be established when the user could not see the target with the naked eye, so the summoner had probably been lying down on the roof and dangling upside-down to peer in through the window.
“Didn’t you say the boring slow train would be ‘safe’?”
“My apologies, sir. I forgot to preface that with ‘relatively’☆”
A tempo late, a wrinkled old voice cried out.
It came from the very compact old lady who had unfortunately been riding the same car.
“There’s nothing to worry about, young lady.”
Kyousuke said something to calm her down while he reached toward the back of his hoodie. He pulled out the Repliglass Blood-Sign named Phosphorus.
“You will forget all about this bad dream soon enough.”
As soon as he finished speaking, everything set in motion.
But the Repliglass weapons should have noticed that control of this place had already secretly shifted to the Freedom 900 levels.
Modern warfare compressors sliced through the air from multiple directions with enough intensity to break the sound barrier, but the greatest weapons of those Alphas – as Kyousuke dubbed them – were the seven pairs of tentacles and those failed to reach the summoners’ heads.
They had misread Shiroyama Kyousuke.
He took a step to the side so as not to get the old lady involved, but they should have noticed just how far he was planning ahead with that action.
A great crashing sound soon followed. The deadly stretching weapons grabbed at the heads and torsos of their supposed allies and the Repliglass weapons tore each other apart.
“You mechanically lock on using microwaves or infrared. At speeds surpassing Mach 2.5, the human pilots themselves can’t hope to visually follow the action from beginning to end.”
If a more cheerful color had seeped into Kyousuke’s soul, he might have hummed a tune.
As seen with a tightrope walker crossing between buildings, it was while relaxed that humans could draw out their greatest performance. You only hurt your chances if you let your muscles tense up from the nerves of brought on by great danger or a major challenge.
The summoner continued his one-way conversation while surrounded by a unique aura similar to “the zone” for a golf or shogi player and while constructing a world into which no one could enter.
“So I can intervene all I want during that ‘blank period’. I don’t have to face you head-on and stop you. If I give a slight push on your joints with the end of this stick to shift your movements just a little bit, those tentacles will end up going somewhere else entirely.”
However, this strategy should only work if he could accurately predict where those tentacles would go while moving with speed rivalling an afterburner and if he could reproduce precise movements akin to touching the side of a flying bullet with his finger.
Nothing could be more unreasonable than a subsonic object repeatedly controlling supersonic objects and guiding them to destroy each other.
But this was the proper form of a summoner.
A summoner was a puny human who controlled the higher Materials. You could not discuss their essence without mentioning the absurdity of a lower being exceeding a higher being.
The high-spec Alphas surrounded the slender and puny human and swung down their many tentacles and powerful arms in unison, but they suddenly found themselves turned to the side and destroying their fellow units.
The area sounded much like a scrap factory, the masses of special armor were tossed into the box seats and windows, and the entire car soon fell silent.
The only remaining noise came from the little old lady.
“Ah wah, ah wah wah, ah wah wah wah wah wah.”
“As I said before, you’ll forget about all of this.”
With that carefree comment, Kyousuke slammed the tip of his Blood-Sign into some reinforced glass embedded in the wall and pushed the large button there. It was labeled “Emergency Brake”, but no actual change occurred. Different trains had different systems, but this one likely sent an emergency signal to the driver’s compartment where the driver could manually activate the brake in stages. With so many hills and curves in the mountains, linking a publicly-accessible button with the actual emergency brakes would only increase the risk of derailing.
(But if there’s no response, then what’s happened up in the driver’s compartment?)
His smooth thoughts were cut off there.
The compact old lady’s words were not at all what he had expected.
“No, not that. I have no idea what is happening here, but my grandson went on up to the first car. He insisted on seeing the driver’s compartment!”
Kyousuke lightly snapped his fingers to call over his contracted demon.
“Biondetta, change of objective.”
“I don’t believe anyone said ‘help me’.”
“It’s only a matter of time.”
The cutting-edge weapons were lying on the ground as if sulking, so Kyousuke lightly pushed one over with his foot and quickly checked over it.
Repliglass initially brought Government, the world police, to mind, but he could not find a serial number anywhere on these ones. Instead of being filed off, they simply had never been given one. Also, he had never heard of Government using the freakish designs of the Released Creations. So instead of used models sold on the black market, these were new models made in secret. Not many groups had access to the unique technology to create silicon stem cells. That would be impossible for the entirety of Illegal which was in conflict with Government 24/7. And Freedom took neither side and had no interest in developing technology outside of the Summoning Ceremony.
The list of suspects was narrowed down even further by limiting it to those who would actively interfere with Kyousuke and Biondetta’s attempt to create a concrete method of defeating the White Queen.
“Bridesmaid, hm? Does this mean their level of tech has improved a fair bit, or does it mean they’ve completely lost control without Azalea to guide their Repliglass development?”
“Either way, they’ll do anything for the Queen.”
“But there might be more internal conflict without someone so charismatic at the top.”
“Anyway, the emergency brake and the control center’s ATS haven’t activated. Are they performing a cyber-attack at the same time?”
“If this was that largescale an operation, they could just derail the train. To me, it seems more natural to assume the driver had been replaced with someone else before it arrived at our stop.”
That made it self-evident what they had to do.
“Let’s secure the driver’s compartment and stop this train. The speed seems to be steady, but there are a lot of slopes and curves on this route. Without speeding up and down appropriately, it could easily derail.”
“Yes, sir. I leave the route and method up to you.”
Biondetta smiled obediently as the white snake slithered out from her cleavage. That was the animal vessel she was contracted with. Kyousuke, on the other hand, had no vessel. That meant he could not wield his true power as a summoner.
But he made a suggestion regardless.
“Biondetta, you make a conspicuous diversion by heading straight down through the cars. And if there are any other passengers, make sure to rescue them.”
“Oh, dear. And here I thought Alice (with) Rabbit would want to do the saving himself.”
“I’m not so dumb I can’t analyze who has the battle power here. You can use the Summoning Ceremony and your sniper rifle, so you have more freedom. I’ll go the back way.”
“And don’t forget our additional objective. Save that old lady’s grandson who went to the driver’s compartment and save all of the other passengers along the way.”
“Oh, and you can turn it into an emotional show if you want, but if you fail to save someone you could have saved, I will end our contract right then and there. The dramatic death of an innocent person isn’t going to make me swear vengeance anew against Bridesmaid or the White Queen.”
“Tch. How did you know?”
Biondetta stuck out her tongue a bit, rested her silver Blood-Sign – which was also a bolt-action sniper rifle – on her shoulder, and shook her decorative tail back and forth as she walked to the next car. Kyousuke watched the waitress leave and then returned his Blood-Sign to his back. He then leaned out a broken window and climbed up onto the speeding train’s roof with something like a pull-up or back hip circle.
Even with the one summoner eliminated by Biondetta’s gunfire, there were a few pairs still remaining on the roof. It was not easy fitting up there with the high-voltage line, pantograph, air conditioner motor, and other equipment in the way. If they could see him, then they could throw an Incense Grenade, but even without a vessel, Kyousuke had nothing to fear. He pulled the Blood-Sign from his back and whacked down the fist-sized objects thrown at him…sending them into the scenery rushing by.
A summoner and their vessel would be automatically carried to the point of their Incense Grenade’s detonation.
Kyousuke used that to take care of them.
“Ah, ahhhh, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!?”
Kyousuke casually waved goodbye while watching the fierce warriors pulled down as if by an invisible rubber band. He did not know how powerful they really were, but if they assumed their opponent would wait around for them to bring out that power, they were not cut out for actual combat. They may have originally been Government priests or shrine maidens who specialized in battle performances.
The deep and somewhat spaced-out gunfire of a bolt-action sniper rifle burst from directly below. Biondetta was firing out from the windows. She was probably targeting additional Alphas which were approaching using the high-speed rotation of those screw-like wings on their backs. Even if the rifle bullets could not pierce the silicon armor, the impact was enough for the five-winged machines to lose their balance and crash into the conifer trees.
(Even if they’ll forget all about it, Biondetta isn’t trying to hide anything. She’s got to be firing right in front of the passengers.)
Even that was not enough to shoot them all down, but…
They had five wings on their backs and seven pairs of tentacles, but they still stood on two legs. Just as an Alpha landed on the roof, Kyousuke stuck his Blood-Sign straight up to hold it against the stomach armor and delay its schedule by about 0.5 seconds.
It sounded like a temple bell ringing.
The train entered a dark tunnel and the edge of the semicircular tunnel entrance knocked the Repliglass weapon out of Kyousuke’s sight. It was built to sturdy military standards, so the pilot would not die.
Kyousuke listened to the sounds of destruction caused by Biondetta’s rampage inside the train while he dealt with the Repliglass weapons that had made it into the tunnel by knocking them into the high-voltage lines. Meanwhile, he continued along the speeding train’s roof.
(Well, cutting the power line won’t cause the train to stop right away. These days, they probably have an emergency control battery in case that happens. And having the power going out immediately activate the brakes would only increase the risk of derailing.)
Kyousuke and Biondetta did not stick to the same spot or route forward the entire time. Kyousuke would occasionally jump into the train through a window to kick a Repliglass weapon out the door on the opposite side and Biondetta would occasionally climb out a broken window, get down among the wheels below the floor, and fire her rifle at the summoners and vessels.
It was like an acrobatic act at a circus.
And the machos who boasted they were undefeated when it came to street fights felt their knees go to jelly on this unstable level filled with trapezes and tightropes. Just a slight nudge on their back was enough to knock them down.
“I miss the Tanabata when these things actually felt like a threat.”
“Humans know how to learn. We’re used to this kind of scheme thanks to Azalea.”
Inside and outside the train.
Kyousuke and Biondetta alternated between those two stages while casually exchanging words.
“By the way, there’s someone at the connection to the first car. Age: about 10. Sex: male. He is showing hostile intent. He may be on his way back from an amusement park because he’s holding a character wand in both hands and glaring at me. What should I do?”
“…Is he trying to protect the driver’s compartment from the suspicious group? As a sign of respect for the railroad boy’s courage, don’t harm him. Gently neutralize him.”
By the time the train left the tunnel, they had already arrived at the driver’s compartment in the very front of the first car.
Biondetta’s waitress-style miniskirt whirled around her as she kicked down the door and Kyousuke broke through the front windshield to get inside.
Because Kyousuke blocked his vision, Bridesmaid’s disguised driver reflexively tried to move back, so Biondetta swept his feet out from under him to knock him down despite her miniskirt.
“All done! With him out of the way, the train is clean, sir!!
“No, wait, Biondetta!!”
The demon of revenge looked puzzled, but the elderly man she had supposedly knocked down and caught in an arm lock was writhing unnaturally. And this movement showed no concern for the layout of his muscles or skeleton. It was almost like a pupa as the bug prepared to emerge.
They had concluded that Bridesmaid had sent in their own driver because he had acted to Bridesmaid’s benefit.
But what if that was wrong?
What if the driver was legitimate, but Bridesmaid had a way to make him act to their benefit?
The elderly man arched his back while lying face-down in the windswept driver’s compartment. It should not have been possible, but he looked Biondetta in the eye as she sat on top of him.
And something thick wriggled deep in his gaping mouth.
“Is that Repligla-…”
Just as Biondetta groaned that comment, something like a white spear shot out toward the depths of the vengeance demon’s beautiful throat. Even if she saw it coming, she could not defend against it with her arms and legs all being used to hold the elderly man’s joints in place.
Her mouth only remained unmolested because Kyousuke had reached his hand in from the side and caught the flexible white object.
“Now this is a known Government product… A Hairworm built to intelligence standards. It’s a prototype model developed to force captured criminals to perform sting operations without a plea bargain. That way they can crush drug cartels.”
“Those justice-addicted freaks in full-body tights are using parasites now!?”
“Those things are famous for controlling snails to get birds to eat them, but did you know they had been redesigned for use on humans?”
However, this felt a lot like a trap set with knowledge of Alice (with) Rabbit’s refusal to take even his enemy’s life. Without Biondetta there, Kyousuke would have restrained the driver and fallen victim to the Hairworm’s surprise attack. It was the same as placing an immobile injured soldier on top of a landmine to blow away the medic that came to rescue them.
Bridesmaid was a Queen-worshiping cult.
Just as Kyousuke and Biondetta had strayed from the proper path after contacting the White Queen, this group would not necessarily use normal tactics throughout the fight.
“Oh, sir? I didn’t realize you were enough of a train geek to know how to stop one.”
“Stopping them is easy,” Kyousuke casually replied. “But derailing them is even easier. There’s a chance that a crow placing a pebble on the rail could cause an accident and it would’ve been perfect if they could have piled up dirt in a dark tunnel to create a ramp on the track. Just use the train’s speed and weight to calculate out how far it’ll travel before it stops. By the time the headlights illuminate the obstacle, there’s no way the brakes will work in time.”
“That means killing us was not Bridesmaid’s objective.” Kyousuke breathed a weary sigh. “Would it sound nice if I called it reconnaissance? Anyway, they likely sent in disposable pawns to judge our strength.” And of course, a task was never complete at the reconnaissance and preliminary judgment stage.
If they were gathering data, they had to be planning a battle in which to use it.