Battlefield: Masurawo Chapter 12/
Battlefield: Masurawo Chapter 12
The apartment room where Hideo and Wilco lived. Breakfast time.
"Hideo, I tried making meat and potatoes today."
Wearing an ap.r.o.n over her usual uniform, Minako briskly lined the table with food.
"Sorry to. Trouble you."
"Oh no, please don't worry about it. You looked after me well in the Sacred Demon Grand Prix, it's the least I could do to thank you."
How many times had they carried out this exchange? He had declined, saying he felt bad, but she said she was practicing an important life skill or something. He didn't really get it, but if she enjoyed doing it, there was absolutely no demerit to him accepting her leftovers.
He hadn't eaten home cooking since he left his hometown. It tasted far more appetizing than plain white rice with dried plum or dried eggs and seaweed, giving off a sort of standard, ordinary feeling.
"Wilco wants an extra large serving."
"Yeah, yeah, I get it."
Minako gave a broad smile like she was watching over a mischievous little sister. The anti-police heinous felon of the virtual world was now an old tale. Wilco had initially been doubtful over Minako's change of heart, but now she recognized her cooking prowess and had taken quite a liking to her.
'A meal table is best surrounded by many.'
When he said something nice in a cheery voice, Okamaru who couldn't eat out of virtue of being a truncheon seemed a little lonely.
For now, they all shared an "Itadakimasu".
"My meat and potato stew had a reputation among my colleagues at the dorm."
"Hmmm. Well, it's only natural for a girl to be able to do this much."
Pilfering from Hideo's bowl with a self-satisfied look on her face, was Lena who had just arrived. It was hard to say whether her timing was good or not.
While she smiled, there was quite an intense mark rising on Minako's temple. Okamaru's cheery efforts were immediately ruined.
"Then Lena, if that's your take, you must be able to make quite the meat and potatoes yourself."
"Eh? Yes well, I rarely have the chance to make such plebian dishes. I'm better at pasta, I'd say. Say, Hideo, how about I make you the house pepperoncino next time around?"
"Ooh, so you're saying you can only boil and dress."
With a p.r.i.c.k. Swapping out with Minako, the same mark sprouted on Lena's temple.
"Didn't you know, Lena? In its homeland of Italy, pepperoncino is seen as just as simple and plebian as j.a.pan's eggs on rice, I hear."
She was grinning broadly from ear to ear.
'Minako… it is the first I have seen such a malicious smile.'
"O-o-of course I know that! But Hideo seems perfectly content eating this pot of meat and potatoes, so I thought he would prefer something a little homey, you get me!!"
"I know, right? Hideo is quite prudent, he'll be tactful and eat no matter what you might serve him, won't he?" While home cooking was home cooking, this was a house of unending quarrels, and he couldn't help but taste a cold edge to this flavor.
The two women showed no intentions of going home, in which case there was no way he could go with the usual of gaming all day, and he used shopping as an excuse to slip out. Lena said this was her day off and insisted she would tag along. Minako muttered something about surveillance on suspicions of illicit relations or something. Whatever the reasons, they made for the shopping district on foot.
"Now let's head for the supermarket, Hideo! I'll make whatever you want for dinner!"
When Minako hit her chest full of confidence.
"How about you go eat out with me again? I found this nice Italian place!"
Or so Lena grabbed his arm. No, this grappling was terribly troublesome, thought Hideo. I have no immunity. Please get me a vaccine.
"Unfortunately, Wilco is a virus. Not sure if this will replace anything, but do you want some ero games?"
The two women vigorously jumped back. When they had been at such odds, they were suddenly whispering all buddy-buddy.
Hey, listen to this, did you hear? Word on the street's that Hideo net door is playing those dubious little games. Oh, how scary, I hear these latest perv game are incredible. The Marquis de Sade had a ma.s.sive influence. Oh madam, don't you know? Lately, Baron Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's worldview has become more widely spread, situations where boys get amply bulled… and so forth.
"So Hideo likes to be bullied…"
"He did ask me to take him to the interrogation room to be tortured…" He had questioned it beforehand, but wasn't an interrogation room a room to be interrogated?
"No, no Master, you're off on a tangent. This is right time to get angry you know."
It was Wilco's fault for suddenly mentioning ero games. He had no part in it. Hideo ignored the two of them and trudged his way forward.
"W-we were just kidding, kidding! Right, Minako!?"
"Yes, that's right, Hideo! I fully believe in you!"
Despite what they said, they were still warily walking three steps behind. With this and that going on, they found themselves on the main street of the shopping district. Without consulting anyone in particular, Hideo made straight for his regular department store.
"Huh? Isn't this…"
Looking up at the building, Lena raised a perplexed voice. Specialty Store Mulholland. While it called itself a specialty shop, it was pretty much one of those our-story department stores you could find in front of any train station.
"Is something wrong, Lena? I come here quite often too."
"Eh? Oh, I see. Yes, truth be told, I shop here occasionally… I didn't know Hideo was a regular. I was sure he'd be more at home with the Obliterating Industries' properties."
A large majority of the shopping district was under Obliterating Industries' umbrella. But with his shut-in thought process, Hideo found it considerably difficult to set foot in those shops right after he'd resigned from working with them in just over a week.
"No one else is bothered by it…"
Wilco worrisomely whispered to him. Sure enough, he faced no problems at the video rental store with the Gray and Smoke. The full-body tights and maids were all candid, sociable people, and if he did go, they'd treat him well. It hurt his heart terribly whenever they threw in special discounts and bonuses for him. This was the petty heart of a shut-in.
Lately, he'd gotten to dragging his feet to the sole department store outside of their influence, where the prices were reasonable, and he could get his hands on mostly anything.
"You're too uptight, master. How about you try acting a little more shameless?"
Wilco gave a fed-up sigh. And just around the gla.s.s of the storefront.
"O… oh, look who we have here! If it isn't Hideo! And Wilco and even Lena!"
A familiar face, for what it was worth: the president of the store. Blonde hair, intellectual gla.s.ses, a well-tailored suit… was the norm, but today, he was wearing a happi coat with a placard in one hand and a headband firmly wrapped around his forehead. Like a solicitor at some pac.h.i.n.ko parlor.
"W… what are you doing? Why is the president personally…"
"Well about that, Wilco! Hear me out!"
His name was Barchess Mulholland. In the Obliterating Industries-dominated shopping district, combatting their overwhelming control with true safety, security, and pacifism as his motto, a partic.i.p.ant in the Sacred Demon Cup.
But according to him, a chat with the top of the other company and he finally had security fees and consolation money extorted out of him, his chariot of flames reduced to ash not long after it was set ablaze. Without the financial leisure to hire anyone part-time, the president had no choice but to solicit in what little free time he had.
"… That's terrible."
"But master, survival of the fittest is the principle of a free economy."
Minako chimed in with some resentment.
"That may be true, but if they threaten your life, it's just coercion!"
'Indeed. Yakuza who forget their honor and chivalry are no more than brutish brigands.'
Personally, having been taken in by the other side not too long ago, he couldn't offer much on the matter.
"Well, you get how it is, so please by all means do continue to use our services! If I lose your business, Hideo, that's the end of the rope for me! You're not going to leave me out to dry, are you!? Right!?"
Hideo wasn't going to take responsibility for anything that happened, but this store was already his favorite, so he had no problems.
"Then how about we all shop here today!"
Lena winked with her natural cheerfulness.
"There's a movie I wanted to see, and as I recall, this place has a lovely curry shop, so let's stop by for lunch. After that we can go around the boutiques, and I'll choose out some cool clothes for you! And then~, how about you return the favor, and choose the perfect undergarments for me~…?"
"Wha!? W-w-w-what nonsense are you spewing? I won't permit it! Lena, your motives are impure! Obscene!!" Well, rather than him having anything to do with it, the girls were just playing around with each others. This was how women would toy around with the innocent hearts of men; they were demons who found their reason for existence in the slight smiles they gave as they teased and secretly rejoiced in a pure boy's reactions.
"Well master, you're expressionless so I doubt that's the case but… did something happen to you in the past."
"No. Not particularily."
Well, his stock of cup noodles was running dry. He could buy some and go home.
"Thank you! Thank you! Please take your time, and enjoy your shopping! Four customers coming up!!"
"What sort of tout are you supposed to be, president…"
Wilco dejectedly muttered at his a.s.sertive cries. As expected, Okamaru looked quite lonely at not being included in the count.
"Still, I see you're pretty popular, Hideo. Very envious. Absolutely detestable."
He nudged him with an elbow. Closing in with each prod, like a real tout from a business district, he whispered quietly in his ear in a voice with no ill will.
"Our store is fully stocked with clothing for both the finest lady and gentleman. How about it? Underwear might be going too far, but why not give her a dress s.h.i.+rt or something of the sort?"
That was definitely appropriate as a present. Not expensive enough to make the reliever too mindful, and to a policewoman and staff member who were often in uniform, perhaps it was the perfect gift for the two of them.
"… Good going. President."
Not only answering a customer's needs, providing them fitting recommendations was an important factor of the service industry.
"Right? I know, right? Have them wear it over their bare skin… dress s.h.i.+rt? More like undressed s.h.i.+rt, badumtss♪."
Thop, he immediately ate a biting elbow blow.
"… Pops. This is why all our customers run away… howdy, I see you're here again, top contenders."
The one who said it was the one who was always by the president, his partner. Black denim top and bottom, a boy with guns on both sides of his hips and chest, four in total. His somewhat lethargic eyes and unambitious voice turned towards Hideo.
"Or did those Obliterating Industries folks put in a request to rob us dry?"
"Hey, Zazi! They're customers! Customers, you hear!? Watch how you speak!"
His flank prodded, gasping for air, the president pressed down on Zazi's head.
"No, I'm sorry, really sort, I'm always cautioning him on his words but, you know. That didn't ruin your mood, did it? I'm begging you, whatever you do, just please don't leave…"
"Hey now, using your tears again? Is that all you're good for, you lot?"
That tone was so disrespectful, Hideo couldn't tell who it was on voice alone. When he turned, there stood one Ryuuta Salinger. A disparaging manner of speech, contrary to his expression… his eyes were filled with fearsome wrath.
"Ah, why young Ryuuta… did you possibly come to shop too!? You're a real lifesaver."
The hand he held out for a handshake was sent flying forcefully enough to let off a sound.
"Don't touch me with those hands that slaughtered my family."
Barchess murmured, crestfallen. All the while, Ryuuta and Zazi exchanged blatant hostilities. The air was stretched thin, like either side might pull their prized weapon from their holster at any moment.
"Ah, sorry about that, Hideo. Did I surprise you? I asked you some time ago if you knew about Alzahan, right?"
That was, if he was remembering right, the second day of the tournament. The first floor lobby of Centralle Building. After that, he heard the same word from Elize's mouth in the Sacred Demon Grand Prix. From Lily's mouth after his treatment. And finally, at the bar, from Ratty… she quite clearly told him to 'take care'.
Ryuuta pointed him out with his thumb.
"That there is the head of Alzahan, Archess. In the civil war of the country where I was raised, he slaughtered five thousand soldiers with only twenty men. My family was among them. Yet now, come so far, he puts up a saintly face, using some absurd pseudonym like Barchess, crying his eyes out trying to play the victim."
Hideo soon lost the mental battle with the flames of purgatory blazing in his two eyes. Reeling from the tragedy thrust out right before him, he forgot the words he had to return. This wasn't by any means the air of lies or jests. No, it wasn't the sort of story where any could be warranted. With everything said about him… let some sorrow and a sliver of resignation ride his voice.
"… So we couldn't reach an understanding with my words at the banquet."
"They ain't gonna reach. The words of the a.s.sailant. Will never reach the victim."
Was this the hatred one saved for their family's murderer? Ryuuta spat out his words with a terrifying look to him.
"I'm warning you… you're better off not getting involved with that lot, Hideo. Remember everything that happened to you after Elize was tricked by him? I'm sure you understand, but I spotted you, so I just wanted to make sure. Sorry to intrude."
After a pat on Hideo's shoulder, Ryuuta high-handedly took his leave. As she opened a path for him, Lena swallowed her breath, turning to watch off his back.
"Umm… Mr. President. Was that…"
Minako timidly cut in, and with a feeble smile, Archess scratched his head.
"Yes, don't worry about it… is what I'd like to say, but that might be impossible here. It's just as Ryuuta says. There was a time when I did terrible things to a great many people with these hands."
From his timid yet sincere demeanor, Hideo couldn't imagine it being too dreadful. As the only one who had maintained her cool, Wilco spoke up.
"But… it sounds like there's more to the story…?"
"It's not an interesting story at all… but if you have time, would you like to hear it?"
And so they were led to a café in the corner of the restaurant area.
There they heard from Archess and Zazi a story they would never grow used to hearing having lived in the peace of j.a.pan, a story about a small kingdom called Camdania. A military overthrow of political power, the confrontation of the military regime with the royal faction who couldn't accept this forceful transfer of power.
The pirates Ryuuta regarded as his parents were on the royal faction as a brave and courageous militia. The Alazahan Party led by Archess on the side of the new government as hired mercenaries. Two sides clashed as if swallowed by the waves of time known as democratization… and the result was just as Ryuuta stated. An overwhelming one-sided victory from the twenty demons of Alzahan.
"That's what he was referring to. For we demons of Alzahan, siding with the military regime was the optimal method… to bring about the optimum conclusion. That is what I believe."
Said he. If they- beings who weren't even human- didn't destroy the royal faction's military bases and the five thousand troops occupying them, then men and women humans of all ages would have been enraptured in a b.l.o.o.d.y conflict spanning many long years.
'Even if that is the case… it is practically the Bos.h.i.+n War. The Nihonmatsu Youths and White Tiger Unit were a true tragedy.'
Okamaru let out a pained voice like he was thinking back on distant days. Surely because there was nothing good or bad about it. There was no one to hate, all that remained was pain. With no place to convert that suffering into rage, it was nothing but pain and sorrow.
On one side, those dreaming of a coming era. On the other, those loyal to their lord, supporting the peace the shogunate had brought for over two hundred years. Each fought for what they believed in, and fell in their own blood.
The same would have happened in Camdania. But the existence of demons and their one-sided game wouldn't allow it. Yet Alzahan was dealt a devastating blow by the anti-Demon organization of the United States, Angel Saber. Thus, Ryuuta came under the then-head of Angel Saber, Colonel Redfield. Archess and his men were chased away before they could receive their reward from the new government.
"… And that is what happened between Ryuuta and me. No rise, no climax, no payoff, I'm sorry it's such a gloomy tale…"
It was a story of a distant land. Hideo couldn't give his opinion on it; when he looked to Wilco,
"Umm, officially, it's being treated as a triumph of General Amzar's tactics but… there are definitely rumors of a mysterious mercenary brigade and US intervention in the underground."
Lately, Wilco was pulling up information with no actions required on her part. Just like a human drags up memories from their brain, it was like the vast sea of electrons was simply a part of her.
Noticing Minako and Lena looking down, maintaining their silence, Archess eagerly attempted to pep them up.
"B-but it's got nothing to do with any of you! Cheer up, and please enjoy your time shopping! Okay!? Okay!? No, the day your mood is ruined and you go home emptyhanded is the day I calculate my profits and hang myself…!"
An amazing person, Hideo thought. He would outright declare his brutal actions were just.
That's a lie, the impression struck him just as hard. He said it was inevitable, the flow of time. Yet he didn't seem to be resigned to it in the slightest. He didn't sound like he had given anything up. As if within that story, he was the one who had griefed the most, regretted, regretted, regretted, wondering if there had been some other way… as if he was still groping through it to find it. On the contrary, that was precisely why he had no choice but to believe what he did was the sole correct way. Precisely because he accepted his crimes, if he didn't convince himself so, perhaps he would be crushed by their weight.
He shouldered such sadness yet even now he lived so cheerful and optimistic. For Hideo, who got down at the most trivial of things, he honestly thought that was amazing. He could see a strength of heart he could come to admire.
"… In the end, he's just a brat who dragged his baggage into adulthood."
The one who appeared was a man in a black Pittsburgh Pirates cap, his black outfit showing up to his upper arm with an ap.r.o.n draped over that. This man was the master of Curry Café 'The Nile'. His tan skin and sharp eyes were quite exotic and manly.
"Stop that this instant, Gabès. Don't be so quick to disparage people. Especially not in front of the customers."
"But… Lord Archess."
The build of the master called Gabès wasn't normal. He was presumably a member of Alzahan… meaning someone who had walked the line between life and death with Archess.
"More importantly, curry, hurry and bring it out! Aren't you taking too long to serve!?"
"… If I may be upfront, the curry was done ages ago. You prattled on so long I couldn't find the right time to put it out."
"E… eh? Really!? No, you see, it didn't seem to be coming, so I had to make sure our guests were entertained…"
Gabès took a deep sigh. He set down naan after curry after naan after curry from the tray in his hands. By the time Hideo noticed, it was already noon. The fragrance of the spices exuberant before he even brought it to his mouth, perfectly coupled with the smell of well-burnt naan. His stomach felt empty, all of a sudden.
Zazi, who had been dazed out on the side the whole time offered a word to Gabès who was returning to the kitchen.
"… Hold on. Where's mine?"
"By the G.o.ds. You were actually a customer?"
"You expect me to chew on my fingers alone, in this situation? Read the d.a.m.n mood."
"Ah, Lord, both of, don't embarra.s.s yourself in front of the customers… Gabès, get something for Zazi…"
Archess held his head. The brown shoulders shrugged and made off for the kitchen.
"Hmm… rather than Indian, I'm getting more of an a.s.sa.s.sin feel from him…"
"Makes sense. I hear he was originally born as something of the sort."
Zazi shrugged at Wilco's words. He was clearly a gunman ho matter how you looked at him, and Gabès was apparently an a.s.sa.s.sin. Indeed, they could believably be mercenaries, a match for thousand, but…
"Now, now, everyone eat up before it gets cold! I know this might sound like naansense coming from the manager, but this naan is second to naan! Budumtss♪"
With the genuine naan about as large as a dust-cloth in his hands, Archess got an iron elbow from Zazi's fed-up face. Minako and Lena made half a smile, half a wry smile. As expected, this man alone didn't look like he had ever been such a tragic mercenary.
Around the time he had finished eating the authentic curry with only chicken, no unnecessary vegetables mixed in…
"Aaah, there you are. Hey Archess."
The story was candidly graced by the Don of Obliterating Industries, Lily.
"Oh, and Hideo and Wilco?"
Her smile at full force, she pranced all the way up to them.
"W… why Suzuran… h-huh? Was today the deadline for payments? It's not, right? It's not, right!?"
"It's fine, don't worry. We've roughly finalized the rules for that game, so I brought them over."
Or so, Lily handed a clear folder to Arhess. Zazi sent a teasing glance as he chewed his naan.
"… Well isn't that dangerous, Sacred Demon Lord. You came all the way here alone?"
A complete change, it was Lily who belligerently lifted the corners of her lips.
"Yep, here at least. Kakko and Clarica are in the theater, and Meeko and Ripple-Rapple are eating lunch in the shop one over… is that a problem?"
One click of the tongue, Zazi turned away. From what he could see, Gabès' eyes peeking in from the kitchen weren't too welcoming either. While Archess's posture was low, the att.i.tude he carried made it plainly clear the hostile relations.h.i.+p between the two organizations.
"Sacred… Demon Lord? Wait, what's this all about, Lily? I did more or less notice Suzuran was your real name, but…"
Sure enough, Hideo and Wilco nodded along. It was the first time they had heard the term, but Zazi uninterestedly explained.
"It's simple. This girl here is the current Sacred Demon Lord who holds the rights to govern the world. This is a tournament to decide her successor, so it's the Sacred Demon Cup. Long story short, she's the organizer of this tournament."
Shock and terror spread across Minako and Wilco's faces. Of course, neither Hideo nor Wilco knew how important that status might be. They had absolutely no clue how strong Lily was when she held that t.i.tle.
However, they had caught a glimpse. Obliterating Industries looked up to her as their lord. Her name was the banner under which Takase, Meeko, Ripple-Rapple, the Doctor, VZ, Clarica… all of whom had a screw or two loose, they couldn't be governed by ordinary methods and yet it was true they had all gathered under her- under Lily.
"I did think you were a ridiculously shady maid, but is that true!?"
"O… organizer… wait, does that mean you knew, Lena!?"
"Me? Y-yeah… more or less. I mean, Suzuran's the one who appointed me general manager of the tournament after all."
For some reason the one frantically taking blow after blow was Lily.
"E-eeeh!? Why are you two spilling the beans!? That shocking truth is supposed to be saved for the finals! Like babang! What, no way, you were, whoooooh!? Just like that! Do you realize what you've done to my plan!? My standing after concealing my ident.i.ty so far!?"
Naturally, that was none of their problem. Zazi let the spoon in his mouth move up and down as he spoke.
"… Yo, Sacred Demon Lord. How about you take this just a bit more seriously, eh? It's a tournament with the world on the line and all."
"I'm dead serious, I tell ya!"
The way she smacked the table to prove how serious she was didn't look very serious at all.
It was at that point that Arches had finished going through the papers; he raised his head and told Lily.
"… I guess it checks out. I have no objections to the details.…"
"I see, that's good. Then I'll go turn these in to Center."
"What rules? If it's for Center, does that mean it's a match?"
Wilco's keen interest had a dubious smile burst out beneath the mirrored gla.s.ses.
"Nnfufuu, are you curious? Why of course you'd be curious! You want to know what this is all about, don't you!?"
"Uwah… no, when you put it like that, not really…"
Hideo was overcome with the bad premonition he was going to be dragged into trouble.
"Truth be told, our group and Archess's people are going to have a direct showdown soon. If we win, his company becomes ours, employees and all. If Archess wins, he gets all his debts written off on top of a portion of our businesses… is how it goes. These are the rules for the mini-tournament."
Lily delightedly waved the paper in the air.
"Hah… a portion, about how much would it be?"
"Well, not Iori Finances, or any of our core groups, they'll be the businesses we forcefully bribed and took over in this city so… around half of the shopping district, I'd say?"
Enough to collapse the composition of the city.
"I-isn't that amazing, president!? Your authority will line up right next to Obliterating Industries!"
"Nah, ha ha hah… she says transfer, but I'm not blessed with the sort of business talent to manage them… if I do win, I do intend to set all of them free."
Archess gave off a modest, bashful laugh. After which Lena quietly took over.
"So this is in essence liberating the shopping district from Obliterating Industries. This is just my guess, but I think this'll be a tournament great enough to split this city in two. Suzuran, management did receive a rough draft, but both camps are completely free to prepare their lineup, right?"
"Yes, of course! I'm sure that way will make it more large-scale and fun!"
About that, Lena went on.
"Obliterating Industries side already has money and influence. But among the partic.i.p.ants… I'd rather not say this to your face, but there are plenty who don't think too kindly of your tyranny."
Archess stood. While he had been forcefully shouldered with a large sum of debt, he had stood as a banner.
(… I see.)
There he understood. As a business, placing so many of its undertakings on the scale wasn't like Obliterating Industries at all, it wasn't worth it, he thought… but perhaps that wasn't the case. This man Archess and Specialty Shop Mulholland were the hopes of the businesses who still opposed Obliterating Industries, a symbol to rally behind.
On the contrary, as long as they could conquer Archess, the other companies would lose the will to resist. The shopping district would finally come under the complete control of the Obliterating Industries group.
"But you really are a smooth player, Archess. I see you've already reached out to our top contender Hideo."
"Eh? Oh no, not at! I'm eating with Hideo and the others by pure coincidence and…"
Really? Lily's eyes turned to them from inside the mirrored gla.s.ses. The moment he sensed that, Hideo's thoughts began to turn.
"Of course, you're going to partic.i.p.ate, aren't you Hideo?"
Lily asked what he'd been antic.i.p.ating. All eyes converged towards him.
"… What is. The game?"
"A survival game!"
Giving her a blank look, Wilco made finger guns and asked.
"By survival game… do you mean those fights with airsoft guns and paintb.a.l.l.s?"
"Yep, that's the one!"
Lily handed over the rule sheet.
'Survival Game: Cross Flags'
① Rule Outline
Qualifications to Partic.i.p.ate: None. Anyone can partic.i.p.ate.
However, all players must join either the Obliterating Industries team or Alzahan Team. Players will start from the base of their selected team, they are clear the moment they reach the enemy team's base (Players who have cleared may not reenter the game). The team that manages to send the most players into the enemy base by the time limit is the victor.
Warning, in the case that a Sacred Demon Cup partic.i.p.ating player fails to reach the enemy base, that pair loses their qualifications to continue the tournament. How the win points obtained from this are distributed is solely up to the discretion of each team.
Generally anything goes. However, in regards to real guns, each partic.i.p.ant is personally responsible for purchasing and loading their gun with shock-head ammunition prepared ahead of time. If the player does not wish to go down this route, airsoft guns and shock BB pellets will be provided free of charge. The use of magic, magical items, swords and close combat is permitted as long as it does not cause fatal injury to the target.
③ Shock Heads and Shock BBs
Nonlethal rounds with mana sealed into them. They release a special heat-less explosive force upon impact and impart a magic impact on the target. As the output varies by size, it is believed that the shock of a standard gun will be able to overwhelm an enemy more easily than a 6mm BB pellet…
Capture the flag was an already-existing survival game with its rules spread far and wide. The point of the game was to steal a flag from enemy territory and bring it back to one's own… however, the name of this mini-tournament was Cross Flags. Meaning each and every individual player was a flag of victory, and victory was decided by who could hoist the most of them in enemy territory. Indeed, flags upon flags would be crossing the field in droves.
With its nature, not only player combat prowess and aim, it would undoubtedly require considerable tactics. For instance if everyone recklessly charged in, the enemy players would swarm to their empty base. That being the case, if they focused solely on defense, they wouldn't be able to earn the all-important points.
They would have to choose the right balance based on the situation and position their chips right. The most important point was how their war potential decreased the more players cleared, the more points earned, the greater the numerical inferiority.
Hideo asked Lily.
"… How many. Are partic.i.p.ating?"
"Mnnn, well, we have around four hundred at the moment. How about you, Archess?"
"Sadly nowhere near that, we don't even have a hundred."
"Ufufu, this is looking nice. A four-fold numerical advantage! Looks like it's going to be our complete victory."
Lily smiled wide…
"Oh I don't know about that, Suzuran."
Turning his face down, Archess pushed up his gla.s.ses.
"I've overturned a two-hundred-fifty-fold difference before."
That shadow was the first time Hideo saw the man called Archess's blade. It was a quiet one, not one to be violently drawn, a hidden shortsword. It would be impossible to test its power until the moment you were stabbed. A cold, drawn sword of intellect. .Conceit backed by achievement.
"So what are you going to do? Hideo, Wilco? If you partic.i.p.ate… not to take a page out of Suzuran's book, but it might be fun."
"Right, right, I'm sure we'll be getting more and more players. When the day comes, I doubt you'll play a larger-scale survival game in your life!"
Both sides purposely refrained from saying it. To come to their team. That they wanted him.
I see, he thought. This had already gone beyond the game. Equipment and personnel weren't regulated; to equate both sides to countries, each side made their military preparations and tried to reinforce themselves as much as possible for the day the war played out. This was the strategy phase. It was pretend-war in the truest sense.
This was the time the rules were being finalized, wasn't it also the time for diplomacy?
"… When will it. Be held?"
"Five days from now. So you don't have to decide immediately."
Lily said, her smile urging him to answer this instant. Quite honestly, Hideo could never really bring himself to hate her brazenness.
"But… well, is there really any need to think about it? Master?"
"… You're right."
Hideo's thoughts at the moment were in discord with Wilco's. It wasn't that there was no need to think. There was no time to think. Right now, he couldn't play the slow game, he had to take immediate action.
And presumably… this was the last chance he was going to get.
"… President Mulholland. Mr. Archess. Pardon me, but,"
"Eh? Oh no, don't worry about it. I'm well aware you get along well with her group, I won't hold it against you…"
"Please add us to your team."
It wasn't only Archess. Everyone's eyes were open wide in mute amazement. Some were undoubtedly wondering if they had misinterpreted some off-sound as words.
"… N-no… I don't… mind at all but… are you sure, Hideo…?"
He nodded. Now that was decided, Hideo immediately said he had 'Urgent business to attend to,' leaving tickets for the meal and leaving altogether. Wilco hurriedly chased behind him.
"… Oy… for real…"
A taken-aback Zazi summarized everyone's thoughts. Even in the depths of the kitchen, Gabès who'd been eavesdropping swallowed his breath.
"… Then I would like to join your side as well."
"Lily, I would like to remain close friends with you as an individual. But I do think Obliterating Industries' evil deeds in the shopping district have gone too far. I take this mini-tournament as a good opportunity to teach you that… and I'm sure that's what Hideo was thinking. I shall accompany his resolve."
"… I see. Yep, I got it. But we did promise, didn't we? Neither side will hold back!"
"Yes, of course! Looks like it's time to make true on that promise."
Suzuran exchanged a strong handshake with a confident-eyed Minako.
"Now that that's decided, Lena! Let's get back to shopping!"
"… Eh? W-why do I have to…?"
"That goes without saying! The two of us are going to make something delicious for Hideo to give him strength! Now, now!"
"Aah, Minako, wait, I'm not done with my curr…!"
Overflowing with motivation, Minako forcefully yanked away Lena by the arm.
And once informed of their parting, Lily… Suzuran's composure disappeared from her face, a cold sweat taking its place.
(Does that mean… I'm going to lose? Me…)
"Suzuran, what do you think of this?"
Archess's voice that had regained its cool returned her to her senses.
"I was sure he wouldn't get involved in this confrontation. But… he said he'd take part. On our side, which clearly has the disadvantage."
"Yes… I was surprised too. I mean, those two have already earned enough points to be chosen for the finals tournament without doing anything at all. They have no need to cross any dangerous bridges until then."
Management did announce the final tournament would take place once there were eight teams remaining but… matches must take place with agreement from both parties was the premise of this compet.i.tion. Then as long as they refused matches until they were one of those eight remaining teams, those two would naturally remain. The finals were to oversee the final battles of such capable compet.i.tors like them, after all. No one would complain about it.
Yet they went as far as to kick aside a safety cus.h.i.+on of over ninety to accept the match.
"… I wonder what he saw with his demon eyes of future sight. Is the future he sees a fate a great many can endeavor to change? Or is it an unchanging and absolute destiny?"
This was the rumor the compet.i.tors were whispering about as of late. With his future eyes, he only accepted matches he knew he would win… when those two accepted a match, it meant it was set in stone their opponent would lose. Whether it was fate or destiny.
But to Archess's question… without even stopping to think about fearing her future gave a small and sincere smile.
"There's no such thing as destiny in the world, Archess. Each and every one of us is just stuck rolling a s...o...b..ll called fate. It rolls and rolls, growing bigger and bigger… when we're too tired by its weight. When we give up, thinking we'll never be able to get to the top of the hill before our eyes, the excuse we use is destiny."
Archess's mouth loosened up as he found himself captivated.
"… Is that so… I expected no less, Suzuran. I think those words are very like you. I'll carve them into my heart. And that is precisely why I'm going to give my all."
The two of them parted once more with a smile.
Upon leaving the department store, Hideo took the east road without a second look.
"Master! Maa.s.stteeer!! Wait a second! No matter how you look at it, that president was at a disadvantage, so why…! I get it with your personality, you might have found him pitiful, but…!"
That was part of it. Archess was a rare man of character, so he did want to do something for him.
"But before helping people, isn't this a tournament where we should put ourselves first!? In the first place, We have absolutely no relation to whatever complications they are having! We already have more than enough wins, if we want to win, there's absolutely no problem to just ignoring…!"
Hideo firmly declared. The eyes he sent Wilco were the eyes that looked upon the victory beyond a great deal of adversity.
"That's precisely why. Precisely because. We need to win."
In such a large family of ruffians, Lily had earned herself the utmost favor and trust. Her partner was Meeko, who everyone respected.
If they wanted to win, those two were opponents they would have to clash with someday… Hideo picked up on it by instinct while he was working for Obliterating Industries. And today, that intuition had changed to conviction. She was the one who organized this tournament, on top of being the one who possessed the t.i.tle of Sacred Demon Lord at the present point… she was at the world's summit, so to speak. No wonder she couldn't lose. No matter how selfish she was, no wonder he couldn't hate her. And there was no way he could ever let such an opponent rise to the finals. She alone was beyond the level where naïve pipe dreams of someone else taking her out wouldn't work. She was someone he had to take down if he was going to win.
"… The ones who will stand on. Top are."
"Wilco and Hideo…!"
Right. Then they had to take her down. It was true he had various emotions clas.h.i.+ng on the matter, but he had arrived at this conclusion quite logically. There was one simple reason, they had to take out the tournament's strongest pair, Lily and Meeko!
"… T-then master, you're saying we have a chance in Cross Flags…?"
"Those rules are. An exception."
A clear exception. With so many taking part, this was different from those mini-tournaments were every Tom, d.i.c.k and Clancy aimed to be number one. This was an unprecedented team battle. In which case, the strength of each individual pair was averaged off by the density of the team. No matter how strong the enemy was, they could manage by exceeding their team power. When Lily had the tremendous backing of Obliterating Industries, this was his sole chance to a.s.semble aggregate powers on the same level to challenge her.
"But at the current stage, that all-important aggregate power is…!"
"We're taking care of it. Right now."
"It'll work itself out."
"If we want to make it more certain… we should win the war. Through diplomacy. We have to hurry."
"Diplomacy? You mean…"
A question mark floated over Wilco's head. At where Hideo's feet were headed, their destination.
"Eh? Isn't this…"
The point they had walked all the way to… he hadn't been through since the raid with Clarica, and now once again, they were standing right before Elize Mithrilite's Elize Industrial Enterprises.
"We'll get her."
No, that wasn't enough. Such soft resolve wouldn't take down the Sacred Demon Lord.
"… The entire industrial district on our side."
Headquarters of the Obliterating Industries group… rather, a plain room in a certain mansion.
"Hideo joined the other team…!?"
Upon hearing the details from Suzuran, oddly enough Ryuuta words overlapped with Iori Takase. It went without saying Ryuuta was partic.i.p.ating on Obliterating Industries' side.
While it was an anti-demon organization, he was a former soldier the colonel built up. For this mini-tournament, he had been invited to the mansion as a firearms advisor. While he was at it, Elsia was in another room, having a talk with Meeko over tea, but…
"That guy… after everything I told him…?"
Suzuran simply shrugged resignedly at his indignation.
"That's between you and Archess. It has nothing to do with Hideo."
"Well that's… right."
He immediately regained his composure. Back there, he had only intended to warn Hideo a bit… he never intended to say that much. But the moment his memories flooded back to him, he could no longer contain his emotions.
"And it didn't look like Archess was seriously trying to recruit Hideo to his side. More so, it was almost as if he thought it was obvious he would join our side."
"But… in that case, Suzuran. The situation isn't looking favorable."
A hand to his chin, Takase spoke in a voice of growing dread.
"The fact Kawamura Hideo willingly accepted this match. Means he knew he was going to win if he joined the other side… thanks to his future sight, don't you think?"
(The Demon Eyes of Future Sight…)
His easy win at the first match as if to show off that power. Followed up by three consecutive wins on the first day. The raid on Elize Industrial, his win at the Sacred Demon Grand Prix… and this time he was with Alzahan. If strength was all he had going for him, would he really make such flashy moves? It was almost as if there was someone leading him down his path.
It had to be future sight… or something equal to it. That man had to possess it.
"But… well, ain't that just how it goes?"
"What do you mean, Ryuuta Salinger? You're making it sound like it's not your problem. Are these the words of someone who promised to slash in the finals?"
"Oh, there are rumors here and there about fate and destiny, but it's fate that's gonna bring him up against me."
A fearless laugh from Ryuuta.
"I don't know what sort of destiny he's shouldering, but my fate is mine alone. Ain't no one else to do anything about it. Am I wrong?"
Both Suzuran and Takase seemed quite ready to accept that.
"Kukukuh… I see, that's exactly right. I see why the demon lord daughter picked you as a partner."
Delightedly showing off his canines, Takase pushed up his gla.s.ses. Suzuran nodded along.
"That's right. Truth be told, I'm quite confident I can change my own fate."
"Thought so. Otherwise, you'd never have become Sacred Demon Lord."
Now then, now that that was decided… Takase spoke.
"It all comes down to how we're going to win in Cross Flags. We're perfect on funding, personnel and strategy, but the other side has Archess, an actual military commander."
"Gotta agree with you there, president. Even battle-hardened demons can't just charge into five thousand and come out unharmed. At the very least, we should be wary of guerilla tactics."
"But there's no telling what he'll come out with until the game starts. In that case, all we can do now is set up even greater preparations."
Hmm, Ryuuta and Takase looked at Suzuran together.
"Do you have a plan?"
"… Yeah. It might cut down our funding a bit, but we should get Elize on our side. As long as Elize Industrial is on our side, we'll never be matched in numbers."
… That sounded more like brute-forcing it than strategy. Takase discontently scoffed.
"Hmph. Rejected, back to the drawing board. I'd rather dump my money into the sewers than dish it out to that impudent little girl."
"Ah, master, you're being all stubborn again. We don't really need to get her on our side, as long as we can prevent her from aiding the opposition…"
"Oh, is that it? Then that's simple enough."
Ryuuta said, and the others looked at him surprised.
"Elize herself was being tricked by Alzahan all the way up to the Grand Prix. I hear the commanding officers of her private army were all mercenaries aiding the royal faction in Camdania."
"Eh? Is that true?"
"Yeah. Point being, Elize has no obligation to ally with Alzahan. On top of that, she has even more wins than Hideo, her and Shouki. Then there's no real point in her partic.i.p.ating to begin with."
"I see… then that's that. You have a point. Then we'll send her a little something as rea.s.surance, and drop by to—"
It happened just before Suzuran could finish.
"Big news, big news! Suzuraaaaan!!"
The fax machine printout flapped wildly. The hand gripping it belonged to a twin-tailed fake-gla.s.ses-wearing demon VZ.
"What? Something wrong, Kakko? Why so panicky?"
"The entirety of Elize Industrial will be backing up Alzahan! They went as far as to send a challenge letter!" Their hairs stood on end. A cold sweat flowed down their backs. The first to come to, Ryuuta turned to Suzuran in a hurry.
"Oy, Lily! Don't tell me the reason Hideo left early was to…!?"
"Y… yeah, I see…!"
It was for this. To establish contact with the still-neutral Elize Industrial before they could pin her down…!
Ryuuta himself had just established that was impossible. The conditions wouldn't be overturned so easily. So how…!?
The three exchanged looks, but no one present had any way to know the answer. All that sprouted at the cores of their beings were the words future sight. An uncanny anxiety towards an incomprehensible ability.
Turning time back a bit.
Elize Industrial main branch, the president's office. The directors gathered beside the desks, the private soldiers in berets silently listened to what Hideo and Wilco had to say. And… once they had finished explaining Obliterating Industries' and Alzahan's confrontation, Elize was the first to open her mouth.
"Hmph, are you stupid? That's not happening."
She was as cold as expected. She had taken no more than a quick glance at the print out of the rules Wilco had reproduced on the company printer.
"One. Alzahan almost led me into becoming an evil spirit. Two, my troops here are men I saved from none other than Camdania. Three, neither Shouki nor I have any intent to hold any more matches until the finals. Capeesh?"
In the battle of a.s.sets where she shouldered debts to Obliterating Industries, in one night, they had left an insurmountable record of two hundred wins. To top that off, they placed highly in the Sacred Demon Grand Prix. With more than twice the wins of the 'top contenders' Hideo and Wilco, they were being referred to as the 'Tournament's Strongest'.
But Hideo got right to the point.
"It's your fault. For falling for it."
Elize's body twitched with her groan.
"What's more. If you did so knowing. You were dealing with someone. Who tried to kill your dear subordinates… you're even more to blame."
"Uu… uuuurgh! W-what's with you!? So G.o.d d.a.m.n b.l.o.o.d.y condescending! What could you ever understand!?"
"I know. Absolutely nothing. So I'm stating objective facts."
She was angrily swinging around her arms, but perhaps she understood it in her heart as she had no response to that. Folding his arms, leaning against the wall, Hasebe Shouki who'd been listening in laughed.
"… Right. Well, I'm on Hideo's side with that one."
"Hey, Shouki, even you!?"
"Calm down, Elize. But Hideo, you're just talking about Elize here. If you include me in the mix… as a partic.i.p.ant in the Sacred Demon Cup, there's no meaning to me partic.i.p.ating in this mini-tournament. If I partic.i.p.ate in that team battle so late in the game, the wins I'll pick up will be pretty insignificant. More than that."
His black eyes showed a strong will of justice. A hero's eyes shot through Hideo's own.
"We can't ignore our captain over here who actually lost comrades to him, can we?"
That alone was a sound argument he had no way of objecting to.
"I'm well aware this is the perfect opportunity to take out Suzuran and Meeko. But that's your problem. Me and Elize, we're confident we can take them in a head-on confrontation."
… It was time to change the angle of attack.
"Then you say. You'll close your eyes. To Obliterating Industries' tyranny?"
Shouki immediately, bitterly shook his head.
"I didn't say that. Of course I want to help out the people being tormented by Takase."
"H… how are you so sure about that!?"
"Ever since the tournament began. No… even before that. The hero was surely. The only one who could have. Stopped his atrocities."
He groaned just like Elize.
Hideo reaffirmed his suspicions. The foundation of Hasebe Shouki's self-confidence was the fact he was a hero. The absolute sense of justice that backed him. But thanks to that, he would always have to be just… and he was still a prisoner to that pressure.
If he had to choose who would stand at the finals between Lily and Shouki, he could firmly declare Shouki would be easier to deal with. Rather than Lily who could turn defiant saying, "Because I'm evil ☆" with no telling what she'd do next, this young man was far easier to read.
"Aah… Wilco can see it. The voices of ten million NEETs across the country gathering around master, the screams of their souls, meaning the dark side of the force is…"
Just because it was becoming a trend, he doubted there were that many of them. But it was true Hideo could hear the voices of his brethren coming to him like divine revelations. What hero? Strong, handsome, strong sense of justice, he must have been oh so popular in his high school days. That was why… he could hear them say.
What sort of ero game is this? This vile fiend who could raise flags just by existing. This nefarious wretch who dared defile the holy land, the 2D world by bringing it into reality.
Now crush him. You must crush him, Kawamura Hideo.
… Grind him into the dirt.
"You let him roam. If only you, earnestly, thought to do something… evil. Would never. Have engorged itself so."
"It's no exaggeration to say… Mr. Archess is cleaning up after your negligence… but you. Won't even try to save them, for the sole reason of. Protecting yourself. You watch from up high. Where is the justice. In that?"
Wicked rage residing in his eyes, Hideo stared at Shouki head-on.
"No, it's nowhere. Nowhere… at all."
"B-but you…! What do you know about me!? I just—"
"Naturally. I know well enough. That I was an idiot."
And Hideo spoke resignedly. He gently averted his eyes.
"In the end, a former hero. Is a former hero. Now simply indulging in peace. And indolence. A helpless b.u.m. I was an idiot for coming here, believing in a former hero. All buddy-buddy with an evil organization for being old friends. Sticking close. Always colluding."
"… N-no. H-hold on a sec, Hideo, no one said anything about collusion… hah!?"
When Shouki turned. The executives crammed in the presidential office were sending him cold eyes.
Hideo released a quiet sigh as he was convinced of his victory.
"I'm disappointed. Disappointed in a former hero who takes justice. As mere lip service."
"No… master… you don't have to sound like a teacher who's lost hope…"
Elize wasn't making the best face either.
"Hmm. What's this, Shouki? Sticking close and colluding? I thought you got along strangely well with them, but it looks like you're quite the shrewd conman. How about we get an earful of how deep this goes?"
"No, you're misunderstanding! Wrong! Believe in me! It really is just a misunderstanding! I've never…!"
Click, when Elize snapped her fingers, the pitiful former hero was taken off by her personal soldiers. Hideo had no clue where he was headed.
How easy, you fool. It's because you spoke of such naïve notions as justice that you got the rug pulled from beneath you. Now the hindrance was out of the way. Enjoy h.e.l.l, Hero! b.l.o.o.d.y hero! How impertinent for a hero!
"U… umm, master… seriously, what grudge do you have against him?"
Putting that aside.
"Well… while it's definitely not true, let's say I'm willing to write off the matter with Alzahan as my fault for being greedy. I am indebted to you for the fourth mining lot."
Elize sullenly said.
"That being the case, personally, rather than Alzahan, I'd much rather focus on getting Iori Takase on his knees and having him lick a shoe or two."
"That goes for me personally. As that idiot Shouki said, my troops are a separate story. Capeesh?"
The soldiers remained silent, their postures steadfast, yet they stood as an unforeseen obstacle before Hideo's eyes. Oddly, Archess' tale of Camdania was having its effects. Back then, Ryuuta said the voice of the a.s.sailant would never reach the victim… and no one in the world would be able to siphon off a victim's sorrow in its entirety.
Then this alone was a problem Hideo couldn't stick his mouth into.
"… It's a bit late for that, President. If you're worried about us, it's no problem at all."
Someone said like it was the most obvious thing in the world. None other than the man with the greatest presence and dignity among the troops gathered, the captain in his mid-forties.
"W-what are you lot talking about…"
"President, when you were negotiating with Alzahan, did you hear any one of us Camdania Survivors voice an objection?"
"That's… well, no…"
With Elize at a loss for words, he nodded.
"While I'd rather not say it, it's exceedingly natural for one's comrades to die on the battlefield."
As if to say, what sort of war would it be without that?
"And for comrades that survive to kill one another as enemies on the next battlefield. For enemies to fight again as allies isn't rare in the slightest. If you get captured by anger and hatred over every little thing, you'll just lose your focus on the mission and die."
The soldiers lined by him gave reliable smiles. The worlds they lived in were different. What they had cultivated, or perhaps what had come from their nerves wearing away deviated from Hideo's common sense.
"The ones who have that part completely numbed… those weirdoes are what you call mercenaries. In the first place, we're the lot that wage wars over something as petty as money. It's strange to hold resentment over some of us being killed."
Elize's expression spoke volumes. Perhaps he was exaggerating to give her a push on the back. But surely it wasn't all a lie. The place called the 'battlefield' they had lived through was such a peculiar world, after all.
"We do have a debt of grat.i.tude to this man for regaining the sanity of our G.o.ddess."
Elize could do nothing but make a somewhat conflicted, itchy face.
"Oh, though there is just one thing that's bothering us…"
"… W-what is it…?"
"Lately, Obliterating Industries have stopped attacking, and we're all pretty bored."
Hearing that, that's right, you got it, his men started laughing at once.
"That's all we have to say. The rest is up to your decision, president."
Phew, Elize took an exaggerated sigh.
"Yeah, yeah… I get it. G.o.d. After you said that much, there's no way we won't do it."
"Uhah! We did it, master!"
The only thing he felt like he had actually accomplished was bullying Shouki. Whatever the case, it looked like he had employed not only the skills, but the hearts of these veteran mercenaries.
It stood to reason. The Grand Prix and the mine, the result of Hideo moving forward striving to be just had born fruit… though the one himself didn't seem to realize that. He simply, deeply lowered his head.
"Thank you. Very much."
"H… hmph! Hmph! Stupid! Stupid!! Stuupid!!"
Elize repeated herself with a red face. What was this all about.
"So, you two! If you're going this far, you've gotta have some prospects, right!?"
"A large majority of Obliterating Industries' partic.i.p.ants. Are stand-in players."
In this team battle, the concentration of skill could be lowered as long as the commander had the abilities to compensate. The greatest merit to getting Elize on his side was to use his commander's abilities to a hundred percent… to obtain a unified unit who could faithfully carry out commands. In short, her greatest merit was her army.
"You heard him. What do you think, Reily?"
Elize handed over the rule sheet to the captain of her troops. The speed of his eyes as he chased the letters exceeded hers. The second page. Then the third… following on with a printout detailing the difference in war potential as far as he and Wilco were aware of.
While this would be stating the obvious, Hideo had no real war experience. He hadn't gone to military academy. He had made it here on strategy, more or less, but… what did a professional have to say about tactics? He nervously watched over him.
A while later, Reily raised his face.
"… I see, I understand why he came to you, President. Alzahan's camp have finally reached a standing where they can put up a decent fight. Even if the other side it mostly stand-ins… their executives are all beyond common sense. Each and every one of them could be treated as a single fortress."
Hideo found himself unknowingly nodding at his level-headed a.n.a.lysis. He had been resolved for it, but this was going to be harsh. Come to think of it, the first time he came here was when Clarica stormed in, taking the place down practically on her own.
"That being the case… it depends on your decision-making. If we put the entire company towards backing us up, we might be able to compensate for the disadvantage."
The words of her confidant had her suck in a deep breath.
"Got it, once I've decided to do it, I ain't going halfway! Head of planning!"
"Print out a copy of the rules, and start development of the appropriate equipment! You have five days to get from layout to ma.s.s production!!"
"Fi…!? Just five days!?"
"I'll let you use all our production lines however you want, just start bouncing ideas! Soldiers go to Archess's place and decide the base and defensive points by the end of the day! The civil engineering department's going to pull all the miners from our lots, and have them building trenches and bunkers by tomorrow! Likewise, construction, you're advancing the base from blueprints to construction, five days! Logistics, answer the demands of every department! Any questions!?" "Then get running, tras.h.!.+"
Everyone ordered raced off like they were tumbling out of the room. Switching out with them, one of the soldiers who took Shouki off returned.
"President. We've got Shouki quite worn down. It looks like he really doesn't know anything."
"Not my problem. Give him a bucket and have him stand in the hall."
Understood, he said and was off again.
"… anyway, master! Good going! It's starting to feel like we have a chance!" Honestly, he would have been satisfied if she just lent a few of her laborers as players. He didn't think he would actually get this far.
"Ah, that's right. Wilco, You're helping out. This is a good chance to temper you as a spirit."
The two of them were led to a certain warehouse with the strictest security on company property.
Smack dab in the middle of that vast storage, what looked like a dark metallic bathtub with a dull sheen. There were parts to be added to it on the surrounding workbenches, and what looked like mechanics at work.
"Nononono! Elize, is this possible…!"
"Right. I originally had it made as a show of our technology, but since we’ve got it anyway, why not throw it into combat. And so, Kawamura Hideo, I'll be borrowing Wilco."
… He could vaguely imagine what it could do. On the contrary, he grew anxious over whether something like that should really be made for practical use.
"But. What do you need. Wilco for?"
"I'll have her make parts we can't make due to lack of data with her binary power."
Wilco made a bit of a perplexed face.
"But Elize, you were so against it…"
"Yeah, but you'll never grow if you don't do a thing. The point is, you can do whatever you want as long as it doesn't place a burden o that man. Rather, that's how a spirit is supposed to be. You don't want to be bothering him forever, do you?"
Instead of sucking up power from the target she was possessing, she had to use the energy that naturally gathered to her. It did seem Elize was trying to drill the fundamentals into her.
"What we're going to do could be called training to take off your training wheels. I'll prepare the actual raw materials in a molecular state so… you're going to find data for the parts we can't make and form them like shaping clay. You should have the power to do that without his help."
"I-I see… understood! If that's how it is, Wilco will do her best!!"
"… What should I. Do?"
"If you're bored, why not play with Shouki? Ah, actually, I'm thirsty, go buy me a juice. Orange. The one with thirty percent real juice. Also a melon bread."
"Wilco wants a cola and yakisoba bread… wait, she's getting the feeling this is the first actual slave she's ever given! Uhah!!"
… That wasn't a slave, that was what the world referred to as a gopher, or perhaps a bullied child.
But Elize's consideration. Wilco who was trying to answer it. Their two hearts were all Hideo could hope for. So as not to impede the two hitting it off and discussing… Hideo left to do some shopping.
… And four days later. Obliterating Industries' presidential office, preparing for the Cross Flags the next day. As she looked at the partic.i.p.ant list of Alzahan's camp, Suzuran stifled her surprise.
"… This amazing, to think there would be so many."
Kawamura Hideo hadn't gone around recruiting them. The Demon Eyes of Future Sight sided with Archess. That alone had close to half of the Sacred Demon Cup partic.i.p.ants—losers included—arbitrarily hop aboard the winning horse. Their initial volunteers from the shopping district, adding on Elize's private army and laborers. The union between Elize Industrial and the Shopping District Liberation Alliance was now twenty times what it had started at, their numbers were now about to cross two thousand.
"So in the end, we're about equal."
She weighed the player list against her own army, yet the lone sight sigh let out was somewhat delighted. Obliterating Industries forces, their employees and half the compet.i.tors, numbered just over twenty-three hundred. They were equal, it wouldn't be strange no matter which side came on top. A neck and neck great match. She unknowingly leaked a smile of expectations.
In contrast, Takase's smile was bitter.
"Good grief… there really is nothing but finding enjoyment in your head."
"Of course, Master. This time, Meeko and Kakko and Ripple-Rapple are partic.i.p.ating. Even Elsia's our ally."
Once it started, it would be a clash of pure power. And before such pure tremendous power, a plan would hold little meaning at all. Suzuran boasted absolute trust in her comrades who had fought alongside her.
"I'll enjoy it as much as I can. And we will win…!"
"Uhh. It's finally over…"
While she said that, Wilco's face on the road back to the apartment from a four-day-long training period was quite cheerful. According to her, they had no choice but to use a number of subst.i.tute parts, but they managed to complete something that could withstand practical use.
"So. Truth of the matter. Did you level up?"
When Wilco brandished both her hands, there… a spear manifested. Properly colored. Rather, the design was quite similar to Elize's spears.
"It's not mithril, but Wilco can a.s.semble and deconstruct something on this level anytime! Incidentally, this is Electronic Armament Number Two, Longinus."
A strangely bootleg-ish name.
"Ahem, Wilco's Electric Armaments go all the way up to one hundred and eight… just kidding."
But that meant she could always prepare the right weapon for the situation. While Hideo himself wasn't versed in how to use them, she was a different story. Just like how she had imitated pro drivers at the race, she could do the same for sword fighters. In Cross Flags that compromised battle elements, and beyond that, it gave them a considerable advantage.
"Master, I hear you were doing your best at shooting training under that captain with the rest of them! We can do this!!"
With Wilco's encouraging words, Hideo looked at his palm.
His own hand that could barely split an egg when he first came to this city. The corner of the laptop had been their only weapon, and they had made it here. Before everyone saw through the bluffs that came with the look in his eyes, he had gotten some actual skills. Wilco who could only come and go from the computer had matured enough to freely produce weapons.
Surely in this one month… they had grown more than anyone in this city. By this point, they weren't top contenders in name alone. They were on the road to becoming existences deserving of victory. Then all that remained was to fight so as not to betray that growth!
They ran into Ryuuta as soon as they'd crossed into the residential district.
"Sorry for being so p.r.i.c.kly the other day."
Amicably smiling, he was his usual self. There was Elsia to his side.
"How about it? Can your eyes see tomorrow's outcome?"
They weren't demon eyes. But as he was now, Hideo could easily picture the scene. He believed he was the one who was going to win tomorrow. So he spoke. He wouldn't play it off with silence. He said it up-front.
"Tomorrow. We will win."
Elsia took two surprised blinks. After Ryuuta found himself a little overpowered by his intensity… he gave a small laugh.
"I'll have to sc.r.a.p our promise to meet at the finals but… nothing we can do about it. I send that line right back to you."
He gave Ryuuta's extended hand a strong grip back, and parted.
"Preparations are complete. Tomorrow, all judges will be posted on Cross Flags."
An androgynous voice. A delicate young boy who could be mistaken as a girl
"Yep. Good work, Linus. I just brewed some coffee, would you like to join me?"
Linus' position was that of a secretary to the chief executive of tournament management, Kiris.h.i.+ma Lena. One of the few people who came and went from the Director-General room, and the sole person who ever dropped by her personal room.
"No, I must refrain."
That so? Lena tilted the coffee cup from the saucer in her other hand.
"But… this is incredible. To think a mini-tournament would be held on a four-thousand player scale, no one could have seen it coming when this tournament was first planned."
"… It really is. Yep, really amazing. But if Hideo didn't join the mini-tournament… on Alzahan's side, I doubt it would've come to this."
Linus let a shadow cross his beautiful face.
"They say the Demon of Laplace who once governed destiny was slain by Heisenberg. Then is the future he sees… truly 'destiny'? Or is it possibly a 'fate' the will of a great many can change?"
Lena smiled her charming smile.
"I doubt it's anything so detailed. I just think… Hideo saw a future of himself winning the Sacred Demon Cup. The process doesn't matter, surely. Otherwise, there would be no point in partic.i.p.ating. If you could see from one to ten, and it all happened just like that… wouldn't it be boring?"
"That's… right. You do have a point."
While he put a hand on his chin and seemed to accept it, Linus fell into thought.
"… I would hope, that's the case."
"What's this, you're quite contrary today. Are you going to tell me he won his way here just on good luck?"
"… You're right."
After a tone that indicated his understanding.
"But whichever it is, a human heart is more indeterminate than a match. You shouldn't grow too attached to him."
"… I-I'm telling you, me and Hideo aren't like that! Right, right, it's Minako! As a woman, I can't lose to a woman with nothing going for her but the clothes on her back! Of course, it's not me, she's just got a strange sense of rivalry on her own and…!"
With her hastily and eagerly jumping from excuse to excuse, Linus shrugged his shoulders. It didn't look like words would get him anywhere.
"You're right. Let's leave it at that. Pardon my discourtesy."
Lena couldn't help but take his courteous words and bow as irony.
"Ah, whatever. I've got to moderate early tomorrow. I'm taking a shower and going to sleep."
She grumbled and left. After seeing her off, Linus turned. He opened the curtains to a sunset nearly-night sky opening out over a city, practically a detailed miniature from here.
Linus looked over it with a sliver of gloom in his eyes. The sun set.
By now tomorrow. Half would win, half would lose.
No. Regardless of what team won or lost, the rule was that any pair that didn't make it to the enemy base was disqualified. But if only a single team out of all of them made it, that would inevitably decide the victor of the entire tournament.
This was a decisive game where every top contender was partic.i.p.ating.
"Kawamura Hideo… For Lena's sake, and your own. Until then, I wish you luck…"
Obliterating Industries naturally set their base as the mansion on the boundary between the residential and nature districts. As a matter of course, Alzahan's camp was set as the grounds of Elize Industrial's main complex.
A half day from sunrise to sunset, the city would be drawn in its entirety into a clash of four thousand, the greatest war of the Sacred Demon Cup.
The gong was soon to sound—!!