It was evening, and in the dim hallway of the central auditorium, Raishin was trembling all over.
“Out of one thousand, two hundred and thirty six people, I placed one thousand, two hundred and thirty fifth…?”
Inside his clenched fist, was his so called test result.
Upon entering the academy, he had been rushed off to do a special test to gauge his academic ability. The examiner’s response to him had been chilly ever since the middle of the test, but seeing his ability reduced to simple numbers made it hard to bear.
“Please don’t feel so down.”
Yaya was consoling him with a gentle smile on her face.
“Yaya knows all about the hellish training that Raishin has gone through. Leaving aside written and oral examinations, there’s no way Raishin will lose in actual battle. Am I not right?”
However, Raishin became all the more depressed, hanging his head even further.
“… Sorry, Yaya.”
“Why are you apologising?”
“Here you are, one of the top class automata of the Karyuusai brand, easily worth as much as a battleship. And yet for your handler’s grades to be such a failure, I’m such a pathetic—“
“Don’t say that! All Yaya needs is to be together with Raishin…”
“How can I show my face to Shouko!?”
There was a weird sound as Yaya stiffened suddenly.
“Huh, Yaya? Why is do you seem upset — wait, hold on, at least tell me why!”
“Shouko, Shouko, Shouko… it’s always nothing but Shouko…!”
Yaya was half in tears as she throttled Raishin by his neck.
“At least now you know your place, Samurai Boy.”
Suddenly, a voice cut in from the side. Surprised, Yaya released her hold on Raishin, causing him to fall down.
Coughing violently, Raishin looked up to see a tall, beautiful woman standing in front of him.
Her red hair was swept up, and intelligence could be seen inside her blue eyes. She was wearing the uniform of the educational staff, and a pair of glasses had been hung from her chest.
Her cold beauty was familiar to him. She had been the test officer in charge of Raishin.
“I’m Professor Kimberly, in charge of Machine Physics. Unfortunately for the both of us, you’ve been assigned to me.”
“Where are my manners? It’s nice to meet you. I’m in your care then, Professor Kimberly.”
Raishin did his greeting quickly. Yaya, flustered, bowed in greeting as well.
Kimberly continued on without even giving a smile.
“I congratulate you on making the long trip from a tiny backwater village in the Far East, but your grades are the harsh reality. If you wish to graduate, I suggest getting those credits, even if it kills you. I especially recommend my lectures. You can get 6 credits in a normal year. Of course, that’s assuming an Oriental like you can even understand my lectures in the first place.”
“Isn’t that a little racist?”
“I’m a philanthropist. Whites, Blacks, Indians, Jews— they all equally bore me. The only measure of a man is in his knowledge. I hate idiots, and that’s all there is.”
“I find it hard to believe you can actually call yourself a philanthropist with a straight face.”
‘You’ll be staying in the Tortoise dormitory. It’s the place where all the students who can’t keep up with their classes go to, the worst of the worst. Swing by whenever you’re free, and secure a room for yourself — that’s all I wanted to say.”
“Wait a minute, Professor Kimberly. It might be a little soon, but there’s something I want to consult you on.”
“How do I get into the Night Party?”
Kimberly was already walking away, but at his question she unconsciously stopped.
“There’s no way you don’t know this, right? The only ones who qualify to enter the Night Party are those with the best grades, and even from amongst them, only the top hundred qualify. As you are now, you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum; so it’s useless to even talk about it.”
“Plus the Night Party is about to commence shortly, so there’s only one round of entry tests left— I guess it’s really hopeless then?”
Raishin gave a self-deprecating laugh as he mocked himself.
Kimberly gave a glance over in his direction.
“ … The Night Party isn’t some kind of elegant ball dance. It’s a place where Machinart clash, until there is only one person left standing. If you go at it with a half-assed attitude your life will be easily forfeit.”
“So all I have to do is be the last one standing, right?”
Kimberly looked surprised. Her eyes narrowing into slits, she looked at Raishin from head to toe like she was appraising his value.
“Why are you so fixated on the Night Party? Is graduating from here and getting the prestige this academy confers, leaving you ahead of others in life, not more than enough?”
“I made up my mind long ago. Since my goal was to become the Wiseman.”
“What do you desire? Riches? Fame? Knowledge? Power?”
“That question has no meaning. If you become the Wiseman, you’ll obtain all of the above.”
“That’s true. Being the Wiseman means that you’re not bounded by the International Charter on Magic Arts and the code of ethics that all mages must follow— in short, ‘nothing’s off limits’. You could read prohibited books, use forbidden arts, or even perform research on immortality or genetic modification. You would receive a reception on par with a general in any military army of any country in the world.”
“Heh, that was a rather lively talk.”
“… Your objective isn’t riches. It doesn’t look like you’re after fame either. You don’t seem smart enough to be seeking knowledge and wisdom. So, what then, are you after?”
Raishin didn’t answer. He just stared back at Kimberly, his eyes never wavering for even a second.
The silence grew unbearable. After a while,
“… Let me tell you the general consensus. The sole aim of the Night Party is to select the premier puppeteer of his generation. Truly, we live in such a thoroughly meritocratic world. Therefore, in the unlikely event that someone who has an entry qualification was to, say, be defeated in Machinart battle against someone who doesn’t have one—“
Like she was hinting at some sort of secret, Kimberly continued on in a low voice.
“I think there’s a need for the Night Party Executive Committee to change the way it selects its participants, don’t you?”
“… Thank you for your instruction.”
“Work hard. I look forward to see splendid results, Mr Second Last.”
Traces of a grin left on her face, Kimberly turned and vanished down the hallway.
“… For some reason, I think she’s a little scary.”
Yaya timidly offered her impression of the professor.
“Yeah… but I don’t think she’s a bad person.”
Although she had called Raishin an idiot, she hadn’t shot him down completely without listening to him speak. Concerning entry into the Night Party, she could have just told him that there was absolutely no way to enter; there was no need to discuss hypotheticals with him.
“On the contrary, I think she might be a fine woman.”
“Raishin… so you really do prefer older women…!”
Ignoring the now sobbing Yaya, he reflected over Kimberly’s words in his head.
He was second last. In order to place within the top hundred, he would have to surpass over a thousand people, the cream of the crop who were gathered from all over the world—or he would have to eliminate them.
(This probably isn’t something worth bragging about, but my knowledge is roughly on the same level as a novice, in terms of both puppetry and magic arts.)
The possibility of him using his grades to rally into contention was zero.
In that case…
Worrying about Raishin, who had sunk into silence, Yaya drew her face closer to his.
“Shall we discuss this with Shouko?”
“I’m not going to turn to the military for advice. There’s only one option for us anyway.”
Raishin laughed wryly. Even for him, it was a rather amusing way of doing things.
“We’ll have to take part in the Night Party. That’s the quickest way to killing him.”
“But how— have you thought of something?”
“Professor Kimberly said it. If I want an entry qualification, I have to become like Momotaro(1).”
“Are you going exchange millet dumplings with someone?(2)”
He shook his head. Pursing his lips tightly, Raishin announced his plan.
“I’m going to rob a bunch of demons.”
1: Momotaro is a Japanese folk tale. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Momotar%C5%8D