In the end, Alice paid for him. She had intended to pay for his portion from the start.
“…I’ve decided that today we will celebrate your transfer. You weren’t going to do anything important today, anyway.”
A cake was soon brought out, and Alice paid 10,000 JD for it. It was incredibly delicious, but something bothered Masaki.
There was another reason Masaki had taken up cooking as a hobby. Delicious meals are expensive. If he made it himself, he only had to pay for the cost of the materials.
Put plainly, Masaki was poor.
Afterwards, Alice said that she would show him various other places in the city, so he followed her. It was hard to decline since they’d already started.
Lunch break passed quickly. The sun had moved far to the west when Masaki was reminded that they were in the sky.
He was still aware that the floating city was in the sky, of course, but one of the amusement parks in the city featured an attraction where you could take a tour around the sky by boarding a floating gondola-style vehicle. A nearby sign identified it as the “Orbital Ferris Wheel”.
“Wow! Is… Is it free-floating!?”
“…Canaan is free-floating, too.”
“I guess it makes sense, then.”
The entire surface of the gondola was glass, so it seemed as if the bench was floating in the air. There were similar attractions that used optical illusions, but they couldn’t compare to rush of really flying.
The gondola didn’t sway at all when Masaki and Alice moved to look at the floating city through the glass window.
“…This is Canaan.”
When Masaki had seen it from the air train, the city had been obscured by clouds, which made it seem like an island floating in a sea of clouds.
However, since the gondola was floating at the same level as the city, the view made it clear that Canaan really was a floating city. The floating academy city was dyed a shade of orange by the setting sun.
The city’s foundation was shaped like a funnel. The accumulation of quadrilateral shapes, similar to large toy blocks, formed the surface. Huge buildings pierced the sky from the city’s surface. Many holograms displaying advertisements and other information were spread throughout the city.
Masaki could see thin circles, seemingly drawn in white thread, marking a transparent glass tube through which trains connected the city above to the land below.
A number of spheres emitting faint light flew around the floating city like satellites. They were covered with devices for weather, observation, defense, and other uses.
“…Since the whole of Canaan is large, it might look small from here, but the circumference of the foundation block is more than 1000 meters.”
“It’s that big!?”
“…As for those things, they all function to maintain Canaan’s environment. When one breaks down, it is taken to an underground facility to be repaired in a workshop. They also have substitutes for them in the city.”
“Oh, I see!”
“…This is general knowledge that’s taught at the academy.”
“…There’s a high-power bomb in the middle of the environmental maintenance equipment. The bomb is set to vaporise Canaan if the users of Dialect start to rebel.”
“Wh-what the hell!? Is that true!?”
“…Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. No one has actually checked whether the bomb exists or not.”
Masaki wasn’t optimistic enough to believe that it was a made-up story.
A chill ran down his spine.
Alice continued in her monotonous voice. “…You might be able to check it out – you’re a Level 7, after all. Your power can’t be measured, and it’s beyond the control of the supervisors… That’s why you’re free.”
“No. I’m not like that.”
“That’s right. You don’t seem like the type who’d stir up trouble… However, here in Canaan it’s possible for anyone who’s a Level 7 to live a luxurious life.”
“Is it possible for me to have tea in that excellent cafe every day?”
Masaki became depressed.
“That sort of life doesn’t fit me. I didn’t really feel any higher in society when I was told that I have a great power. I plan to get a part-time job that has nothing to do with my power.”
“…Aren’t your living costs paid by Canaan?”
“It’s not that. I’m not given much money for eating at restaurants or cafes.”
“My room’s not that great, either. When I toured the room I was given in a hologram, I noticed that the kitchen was small. There’s only one small electric gas burner. I won’t be able to cook with that.”
“Would you like to move?”
“What I want isn’t really a luxurious kitchen; two gas burners, a place to use a chopping board, and a microwave oven would be enough for me. I’m fine with old models, too.”
Isn’t a fridge necessary as well? I want to cultivate herbs on the balcony, too.
However, since the rent was about the same amount as in the heart of Tokyo, he couldn’t have that much.
Even a one-room cost 100,000 JD a month.
He didn’t know if he’d be able to keep up with the classes since he was transferring in the second year of high school. Having a part-time job with long hours would make it more difficult.
Masaki grumbled as his thoughts raced on.
In response, Alice reached toward him without looking. She pinched the right sleeve of his uniform between her fingers.
“…You’re a strange person.”
“Oh, sorry. It happens when I think about cooking.”
“…I thought a male Level 7 would be more violent, arrogant, and egotistical – a thoughtless person who would even mistake themselves for being the ruler of the world.”
“My level doesn’t feel right. Even if it did, though, I don’t think I would act like that. Anyway, aren’t levels like test results here?”
“…What sort of fool… Who told you such a thing?”
“Am I wrong?”
“In Canaan, levels are everything… One’s Dialect is equivalent to their entire worth.”
That was the exact opposite of what Shirley had said.
Power determines a person’s value. It was actually a possibility here.
“W-wait. Is it wrong for a Level 7 to think that they’re the ruler of the world or something?”
“Yes. I hate that kind of person.”
“And yet it’s not strange for Dialect to be the measure of a person’s worth?”
“I haven’t contradicted myself.”
“What do you mean?”
Alice tugged on Masaki’s sleeve, her eyes glaring at him coldly, and declared, “The king of this world is me. Those ignorant fools who’ve seen nary a glimpse of the top label anyone with a strong power as Level 7. While they might be strong, their misguided decision to think themselves my equals is a constant annoyance.”
Maybe she’s not as nice as I thought, Masaki thought. He had a feeling that he finally understood what Shirley meant. All the talk about high and low levels was ridiculous.
He heaved a sigh.
“I can’t let you carry on like this. You’re very smart, but your way of thinking is really twisted.”
She separated her left hand from Masaki’s sleeve. It seemed like it had disappeared right before his eyes. He didn’t know whether or not she could make things disappear with her powers.
“I want you to listen.”
Masaki grasped her left hand with his right. His grip was firm, but he made sure it wasn’t enough to hurt her.
Alice tried to shake him off. Failing this, she glared angrily at him.
“…Do you have a death wish?”
“I was prepared for a threat the moment I decided to say this. I want you to listen to me. You may have a twisted way of thinking, but I’m sure you’ll still listen to reason.”
“…Then start talking.”
She made many attempts to her hand from Masaki’s grasp with her free hand, but Masaki didn’t give her the opportunity to do so.
“I know how amazing your ability is – you saved my life with it, and for that I’m grateful. However, you shouldn’t think of yourself as a king. I’m not saying this as a Level 7 – in fact, I’m sure there was some kind of mistake in the evaluation.”
“…I don’t understand what you’re trying to say. I’m respected because I’m at the top. You’ll feel that way, too, since you’re also at the top.”
“Ah, but there’s no top and bottom.”
“You only say that because you don’t fully understand the value of levels in Canaan.”
“I won’t discriminate by levels – not even if I end up understanding more after this. I don’t want to become all alone like you.”
Alice looked dismayed. She tried to hide it by turning to look through the window.
“…Wh-what did you just say? I have a lot of friends.”
“Can a person who follows you out of fear be called a friend?”
Masaki felt like he was finally able to see her heart.
She started grinding her teeth in anger. Though it was a normal reaction for someone her age, it seemed childish for her.
Tears were welling up in the corners of her eyes when she turned to glare at him.
“…You’re bold… to say such a thing to me.”
“Do you plan to use your Dialect? You will end up losing two important things.”
“Hmph… Do you think that we’ll share the same fate if the gondola is broken? How foolish. Amongst my 666 fairies, 98 of them have the ability to fly.”
Indeed, if she used her ability to destroy the gondola, Masaki would fall from the height of 1000 meters, while Alice would be able to ride back on one of her fairies. It was a terrifying conversation, but he was prepared for it.
Masaki shook his head. “That’s not it. The thing you’ll have lost… it’s the chance to call me a friend.”
“…Huh?” Her mouth dropped open, just as Masaki expected.
“A friend. Are you wondering what kind of power I have that lets me speak so boldly to the king of the world? We’re friendly enough to have shared a cup of tea. That memory won’t fade away. At the very least, I think we can be friends, but I don’t know how you feel about it.”
Alice’s expression became cold, and her voice was like ice. “…Kusunoki Masaki, you insolent fool… I don’t give out free meals.”
“That’s what you focused on!? W-well, I’ll pay you back eventually…”
“…And? So I’d lose some insolent guy who’s my self-declared friend. What else?”
Though it was true, it still hurt Masaki to be called a “self-declared friend” so easily. However, he was confident in himself. He gathered himself and strengthened his composure.
“Fufufu… My crème brûlée. Unfortunately, you will never be able to taste it.”
Her gaze became suspicious – it was obvious she wasn’t expecting that response.
“Well, it’s really delicious. Really, really delicious.”
“…You’re going to beg for your life with pudding?”
“Eh? When did I start begging for my life!? Are you planning to execute me?”
“Of course.” Alice shifted her gaze.
Through the window, the place where they boarded the “Orbital Ferris Wheel” could be seen. A short distance away from there, the amusement park ended.
They saw two people standing at the approaching gate. Alice seemed to be deep in thought while Masaki continued to wait for a response.
Finally, she spoke up. “…If Masaki… thinks of me as his friend… ”
He was surprised that she had switched to using his first name.
The two stood close together in the gondola. Ever since he met her, Masaki had been fascinated by her beauty, and, being this close, he had begun to stare. Alice’s cold expression faded into a blush, which she tried to hide by turning away.
But despite her power, he managed to keep holding her hand.
“I-if I think…?”
She sighed, giving it more thought.
“…It’s nothing. Don’t look at me like that. It’s unpleasant.”
“Huh? I’m not giving you a weird look.”
“…How long do you plan to hold my hand?”
Masaki let go of her hand, flustered. It was not without reluctance that he broke the contact he had become used to so quickly.
Alice stared at her freed hand.
Her face masked her thoughts as usual.
“Without exception, I warn off all ignorant fools that confess to me by threatening to use ‘Wonder Carnival’ against them.”
“You could at least reject them normally.”
“…So, what should we do about this fool who held my hand?” She muttered so quietly that it was difficult for him to make out her words.
“Huh? What did you say?”
“…I’m talking about you… you’re a strange person. Masaki-kun, you’re the third person who called themself my friend.”
“Surprising, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. I thought I was the first person.”
“…The second person said the same thing. It’s rude. They completely deserve to die.”
Masaki could finally see a change of heart in the girl who lacked expressiveness. Maybe it was because she finally felt she could relax.
“…Masaki-kun, you’re looking for a part-time job, right?”
The sudden topic change was jarring. Maybe it had something to do with her.
“Most importantly, it shouldn’t clash with my classes. If it fits that criteria, I’m fine with it.”
“…Talking about the common things in the world isn’t one of my hobbies, but… I know about a very good job… it won’t hinder your classes, your grades will improve, and you’ll get special rewards.”
This was an opportunity that was too good to be true. It was almost exactly what he was looking for.
“Are there any necessary qualifications for it?”
“My referral is enough.”
“…There is only one vacancy.”
Masaki felt his enthusiasm drain away.
He knew that a reward that great would require hard work, but that wasn’t what bothered Masaki.
Once again, Alice’s words weighed heavily upon him.
“…If you don’t like it, you can resign whenever you like.”
“If I was accepted, I wouldn’t abandon it immediately… Does it involve doing something illegal?”
“It’s completely legal. In fact, it’s a job that a lot of people are grateful for.”
“That’s good, then. You’re certain you want to refer me?”
“…Your left hand.”
Masaki extended his left hand to meet Alice’s own outstretched left hand.
He touched her hand gently. It was soft and felt pleasantly cool to the touch.
She didn’t pull away.
It looked like she wasn’t sure whether she should go through with it. Her eyes stared into the distance.
“Is there a problem?”
“There isn’t a problem. That’s not possible. I’m fine. Definitely.”
“Are you sure?”
“…This is… the contract for the sake of the job. It’s merely a rule. Please repeat after me.”
Alice smoothly recited in English, “At this moment, a contract will be made. I accept this contract with you. We will share the results…”
She was speaking in her native language. Masaki repeated the words, although his English was shoddy.
A gust of wind blew through the gondola.
Alice’s golden hair started to rise gently. Her skirt, too, was lifted by the breeze. Masaki stood close enough to her that the edges of her skirt touched his legs.
A dazzling light spread from between the two joined hands.
Is it an optical illusion?
It was such a mysterious radiance that it didn’t seem likely.
A circle light flickered into existence around the pair, then expanded. Foreign words were drawn between the outer and inner lines of the ring.
It spread out to encircle the gondola as well.
The Ring Gear should have been a purely scientific product, but it seemed to have produced a magic circle.
“We share responsibility. We swear to help each other, each believing that…”
Masaki copied Alice’s words.
The brightness of the magic circle increased, almost becoming painfully bright.
“We are ‘Help Cat…’”
A high-pitched sound, not unlike a bell’s chime, pierced the inner parts of Masaki’s ears.
The light and the sound quickly faded.
Alice lowered her eyes to the Ring Gear on her left arm.
The crystal on her bracelet had become a clear blue.
“Wasn’t it purple this morning?”
“Yes… You have a good memory. It changed because we formed a contract.”
Masaki checked his own Ring Gear.
An identical blue crystal was stuck into the dent of the otherwise unadorned silver bangle.
“How did this get here?”
“…It’s proof of the contract between Breaker partners.”
“Huh!? Is this the job you were talking about before?”
“…You can leave class if there’s an emergency and receive supplementary lessons afterward if you want. You’ll get positive feedback in your report and just by being involved, you’ll be rewarded well. There are others that patrol to make sure that nobody abuses Dialect to break the rules. If someone does, then it’s our job to capture them, so a lot of people are thankful for it. This is exactly what you asked for.”
“Wait a minute, Clockheart-san. Didn’t I say that my Dialect doesn’t have practical applications?”
Alice gave a wicked smile.
“…It doesn’t matter if you use it or not. Since it’s necessary to capture the rule-breakers, you can use whatever method you like.”
Her smile disappeared as quickly as it had appeared, making Masaki doubt it was ever there.
“…If you don’t like it, you can back out… All you need to say is ‘Partner cancellation.’”
She said it like it was a trivial matter, but if Masaki rejected it now, it seemed like her feelings would be hurt.
So Masaki gave it some thought.
“I don’t what kind of plan you have by asking me, but… it’s like you said. Breaker’s work is really close to what I wanted. My Dialect is useless for this, but I’ll give it a go.”
“Is that… is that so? Since you’re my partner, I’ll tell you about the job, but that can wait until tomorrow.”
“Huh? Why not today?”
“…I’m tired, so I’ll go home. I want to have a shower as well…”
Her tension had disappeared.
It was a relief.
He felt like that wasn’t all.
Was she really tired?
Maybe she was feeling down?
It was hard to tell through her expressionless mask.
The speaker on the ceiling gave a washed-out announcement, letting the riders know they had almost arrived. The “Orbital Ferris Wheel” boarding platform was shaped like a tube.
It slowly came to a stop. The door opened immediately.
The cheerful female guide asked Masaki and Alice to disembark from the gondola. They moved quickly to let the next people in line get on.
Alice headed toward the exit of the amusement park. She turned her back to Masaki.
“…So I guess this is goodbye.”
He wondered if she meant that she was going to return soon, but it didn’t seem like that.
She then continued in a quiet voice. “…That’s what my second friend said. From there, she left… then I made a contract with another partner a while ago.”
“Another partner? Is that me?”
He had a feeling that he had gotten himself involved in something serious.
Had the connection between Alice and her friend been cut off when Masaki made a contract with her?
That was inexcusable.
“How did you get separated?”
“…It wasn’t my fault.”
“I didn’t say that it was your fault.”
He understood very well that she had a weird way of thinking, but he wasn’t going to jump to conclusions without hearing about the circumstances.
“…People are saying that the entirety of the damage from the incident this morning is my fault.”
“What? Isn’t it partially the fault of the guy who attacked me!?”
“…Since it irritated me, I lost my temper and invoked my Dialect at the Breaker headquarters.”
“That’s why we separated… it wasn’t my fault.”
He couldn’t form an opinion unless he knew a little more about it, but she seemed to have difficulty saying even that much.
“Can you give me a bit more detail?”
“…I refuse. I don’t want to remember.”
It seemed she was clinging to a memory of something that had changed.
Her manners weren’t good enough to be complimented.
Maybe the people that made friends with her all had that kind of personality – Masaki could only think of one person.
But he had to be sure.
“Then, can you tell me the name of your second friend?”
“You don’t have to tell me.”
After thinking about it, Alice turned around and spoke the name.
“… Sakurazaka Shirley.”