Asagao gently touched the plant with one hand and closed her eyes. She then touched the back of her neck. It was an odd pose, but perhaps this was her way of strengthening her visualization so her powers could flow smoothly onto the Qualidea Code.
“Speak to me,” she whispered as she sprayed the plant. As she did, the crystals shone brightly and colorfully, and the sparkling mist gently fell onto the plant. Its many leaves seemed to shiver as a result.
“Ah, I see,” said Asagao, smiling happily. “These children really love Renge, and they will respect her wishes!”
“What do you mean ‘these children’… that’s a bit scary, you know,” I muttered. A chill went up my spine. I mean, she was saying some weird stuff.
Asagao glared at me. “Can’t you tell? My <World> lets me talk to the plant!”
“Oh I see,” I said. So there were <Worlds> like that, huh? What an ideal power for the manufacturing branch. I could see why she was not suited for the military at all, then. After all, most <Worlds> in the military revolved around strong offensive or defensive powers.
“Thank goodness,” said Renge, relieved. She patted herself on the chest. “Looks like it was worth talking to them every day!”
“Well, the manufacturing branch can really put your <World> to good use, Renge,” said Asagao. “I really wish the process was faster so you can officially be a part of us.”
“What?” I asked. Suddenly, we were talking about Renge’s <World>. I looked at both of them closely.
“U-Umm.. my <World>, you see,” answered Renge. She was embarrassed and fidgeted with her hair a little bit. “Through my words, I get things to like me, I think? Like that plant… Something like that, you know? It’s like a lesser version of Asagao’s powers, or err…”
Woah… there were powers like that too? Even though we’ve been a sniper-spotter pair, I didn’t know about this at all. But now it all made sense. Asagao was able to converse with things, but Renge was only able to call out to them. Seeing that Renge could only talk but not hear, her <World> was indeed a step below Asagao’s. However, both were certainly suited for this branch.
“In other words, something along the lines of you talking to water to make it sparkle more? Or something like that?” I asked. I tried to see if I got a good grasp on what her <World> really was.
Renge looked troubled. “S-Sure. Something like that, right?”
“Not even close,” snapped Asagao. “What kind of pseudoscience is that? Sounds like something from a cult.”
“I mean, we are talking about people who could talk to plants,” I said. In any case, <Worlds> weren’t something that could be explained from the laws of physics alone. There could have been someone who saw a <World> where talking to water made it sparkle more, right? I was going to go on more about it, but Asagao looked angry, so I wisely shut my mouth.
But then, Renge started to talk. “Well, you know, I just give the fruits some ~get sweeter~ chants,” she said nodding. “Once I do that, they start working harder!”
“O-Ohh..” I murmured. Somehow this all sounded vaguely familiar, so I thought hard about where I would have heard something like that. “Ah!” I exclaimed as I finally remembered. “Kind of like those chants they do at the maid cafes right?”
Renge froze up. “Huh?” she asked softly.
“What are you talking about?” said Asagao as she drew back in disgust.
“It’s something that happened long ago when we still had maid cafes,” I tried to explain. “You know, the maids who would dress up all nicely and try to please the customers. When they served food, they would chant something like that and even do some poses to go along with it. It’s a real delightful moment, I’ve heard…”
What was I saying? I may have said all that, but honestly I didn’t understand why people did that sort of thing. I was literally just repeating what I read as a little kid. Why did our ancestors do such a thing?
Asagao looked disgusted at first, but suddenly clapped her hands together in satisfaction. “In other words, it’s some sort of entertainment niche to help generate more business revenue?”
“Well something like that I guess,” I said. “Not really, though… Hmmm, how do I explain this?”
“You can do it, Kasumi!” said Renge. “I trust in your explanations!”
She was very encouraging, but I really didn’t feel like explaining the concept of a maid cafe in detail. If I did do such a thing, Asagao would no doubt look at me in disgust.
Asagao was deep in thought. “I see, the entertainment industry sure did a lot of things, huh…” she muttered as she blew on the tea. She took a moment and then suddenly glanced at both me and Renge with a serious look. “Is it okay if I ask something?”
I knew what she was going to ask just from her tone alone— it was a tone I recognized. She was completely serious and sounded a bit shaky. Her voice was shaky not because of a lack of strength, but because she wasn’t trying to pretend to be someone she wasn’t.
“Does it have to do with the elections you were talking about earlier?” I asked. I knew her all too well.
Asagao twitched a little bit. “Yeah…” she replied as she stared intently at us. “ I haven’t told you yet, Renge, but I’m going to participate in the election.”
“E-lec-tion?” asked Renge. She thought about it for a second, then happily nodded in acknowledgement. “But isn’t Natsume the next city head?”
“She will be if there are no other candidates,” said Asagao. “However if there is another candidate, then the election would be forced to an actual vote.”
“Really??” asked Renge. “I thought they just decide the next city head among themselves.”
Asagao shrugged and smiled bitterly. “Well, this sort of thing is unprecedented… It’s never really been brought to a vote,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean the rules set long ago have been wiped clean.”
She took out a tablet and showed us something on the screen. On it was Chiba’s very own constitution. Of course, there was a section in it that explained how the next city head should be determined— through elections.
Strictly speaking, elections were something unique to Chiba and Chiba alone. The other cities used city-wide battle rankings to determine their heads and subheads. Occasionally, they were also determined by recommendations from their fellow peers. However, when the three cities were first formed, Chiba was the weakest in terms of military strength, so that’s probably why they chose a different way to select the leaders. Unfortunately, Chiba did pretty much end up doing the exact same thing as the other two cities. Our elections were really just there for show.
“The other cities just use their number one and number two fighters as the leaders,” continued Asagao. “Kanagawa’s had the same leader for almost 10 years now. It’s almost a dictatorship at that point, huh… Well it’s not like we’re much different from them anyway…”
Asagao was sure knowledgeable about the other cities, most likely because she often did business with them.
“If you say it that way, Chiba is surprisingly democratic,” I noted.
“Of course!” shouted Asagao triumphantly. “We aren’t muscleheads like those Kanagawa peeps, or those cocky idiots from Tokyo! We are free and democratic!”
“Is that so…” said Renge, confused.
“Well, it really stemmed from the olden days when we were mostly farmers,” I said. “We were prone to uprisings during that time, so the leaders really pushed for the idea of self-sacrifice.”
“O-Ohhh!” exclaimed Renge.
“…That’s why we have a different mentality out of all the cities.”
Renge nodded and lightly smiled. “I see…”
“You sure are knowledgeable about Chiba…” said Asagao. “What, you like Chiba that much?”
“You’re the last person I want to hear that from… There’s no way anyone can like Chiba more than you.”
Asagao turned away and blushed a bit. “I guess you can say that…”
“Definitely,” I said jokingly. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t try to be the city head without even being in the military, right?”
“Yeah…” sternly said Asagao. She didn’t realize I was just playing with her. “That’s why I’m going to be in charge and start changing this city from the inside. Especially for us.”
“For us?” asked Renge. She was a bit overwhelmed by Asagao’s seriousness.
“Us as in the non-military branches. We’re just as important!”
I’ve heard Asagao say this so many times before, but every time I’m dumbfounded by her determination. After all, the only person who could say this was her, I think. We were in an age where our worth was determined by our strength alone. To us, nothing else mattered other than fighting on the battlefield, so we wanted nothing but more power to fight. To change all this was certainly impossible to do.
Renge also thought the same way. Both of us couldn’t comprehend how Asagao could say such things and believe so much into it. Perhaps it was because we were originally from the military, but we viewed things much differently than Asagao. No matter how many times we were transferred, we always believed that since we were constantly fighting to survive, the military would no doubt always be the most important branch.
“Kasumi. In that battle you got points for your one kill, right?” she continued, interrupting my thoughts. “What would you have to do in here to obtain that same number of points?”
“It was an Ogre class, huh…” said Renge. She started whispering to herself as she counted. “One, two, three…”
I didn’t need to count to know the answer. After all, one kill was pretty much my average kill count when I fought in the past. “All in all, about half a month of work,” I replied, “which roughly translates to finding 10 new clients.”
“Wow…” said Renge as she turned pale. She was still in the midst of counting it all out.
“You see?” said Asagao as she shook her head. “This city… no, this world has its priorities all messed up. It’s not only this branch too. We should focus on other branches as well!”
“But we are in a war though…” said Renge. “Focusing on the military is only natural, right?”
“That is true,” answered Asagao calmly. “But battles aren’t won just from the soldiers alone. There’s so much support that goes on behind the scenes. Like, this manufacturing branch and the supply branch both work together to directly supply everything to them. Of course, the trade branch runs the city economically, and without it, we would lack funding for any sort of development. Even the engineers who designed everything, from the weapons to the houses, contributed greatly to this city. Besides, we’re not going to get our old glory back just from fighting…”
She wasn’t wrong. Right now, because of our powers, we were more than capable of taking down the <Unknowns>. If we were in the same situation as thirty years ago when we didn’t have our powers, it would be absolutely correct to focus everything on the military. But because of our <Worlds>, fighting and killing the <Unknowns> became an everyday routine for us. What we really needed was to rebuild what we had lost, and not spend all our time wiping out the <Unknowns>. Besides, it’s not like we knew how many of them were out there, anyway. We could be fighting for a very long time.
All in all, I could see why she was so upset about the current state of things. Renge nodded convincingly as well. It seemed like she was on board.
“Of course, it’s not like the military’s in the wrong,” said Asagao as she smiled lightly at us. She calmed down a bit. “But still, I want to change it, even if it’s just a little bit. I want a city where all of our work is fairly compensated…”
She spoke without hesitation, and her voice was as pure as can be. She then grabbed Renge’s hand and said, “That’s why, I want your help, Renge…”
Renge just looked at Asagao’s tender hands. “I’m not too quick at understanding things…” she said softly. “So if you win this election, you’ll be the city head?”
Renge looked up and just stared straight at her without saying a word.
“Like I’ve said before,” continued Asagao as she stared straight back at Renge, “the point system is heavily in favor of the military branch, so I want to change that. If I can get all the support from the non-military branches, I could almost have 90% of the votes.”
“Isn’t that too optimistic? It can’t be that easy,” I said. Even the most curious of people were afraid of change, and even more so when this sort of thing had never been done before. On top of that, we had been in war for far too long— the notion of the military reigning supreme had already been carved into our heads. To change this idea was definitely no easy task. Furthermore, there were definitely many powerful military leaders who enjoyed abusing their powers. A lot of influence and support was needed to even stand a chance against them.
“I know, I know. In the end, I may as well be dreaming,” she said reluctantly. “But I do have some good connections as the head of the branch, and plus, I could get even more support from other influential leaders. One way or another, I will have my support. I don’t care if I have to make some shady deals or even force them to support me.”
Well, I guess she was right. The manufacturing branch single-handedly handled all the food production for the three cities. As a result, she could threaten to cut down or even stop supplies to certain areas. With all this influence in hand, she could negotiate her support in the election. That being said, she didn’t do that because it could harbor animosity towards her and her branch.
Asagao’s greatest weapon in this election was no doubt her position as the head of the manufacturing branch. She had full control over which products were being developed and supplied. Many leaders and influential people knew that if she wanted to stop the supplies of certain products, the effects would be devastating for them.
“Well, it’s not like people’s lives can get any worse…” I said.
“So you do get it.”
“I mean, for me personally, I’ve had nothing but unpleasant experiences after being transferred from the military,” I said. As a soldier, I was allowed to laze around on the battlefield, but why did I have to work so hard in this branch?
“I guess so. But the real issue at hand is—”
“Campaigning, right?” I interrupted.
Asagao stared at me and blinked a few times. “Wow, I’m surprised. You’re pretty smart for someone who was from the military.”
“Thanks…” I said begrudgingly. How lowly did she think of me?
People’s low standard of living was actually a great advantage. Before the election, all she had to do was just campaign a bit and promise some good things for everyone. If she did that, then people would no doubt flock to her, given her status. For example, to get the boys’ vote, she could campaign to get more food for them. At Chiba’s current state, it really didn’t take much to influence the people.
“Yes, indeed. I could spread my ideas and obtain more allies through campaigning. With that, I’ll have a chance in this election,” said Asagao. She glanced at Renge and continued. “That’s why I need your help, Renge. I want you to be with me when I go to people and announce my candidacy. I also need you to be there when I do my campaign speeches.”
“C-Campaign speeches?” asked Renge.
“You know, speeches where you kind of lay out what you are going to do as the city head,” I said.
“Exactly,” said Asagao. “Originally, they were used to help get more voters. But, since the military branch pretty much decided the next leaders, they sort of became speeches about their policies instead. You could also say that those speeches are used to announce the subhead as well. Remember Natsume’s speech?”
“S-Subhead??” frantically exclaimed Renge. “You mean… you want to announce me as your subhead?!?”
Asagao bit her lip. “Well, we don’t know that for sure… There are a lot of things that need to be done first. But that’s about how much help I need from you!”
“Don’t try to lie… You know you want her as your subhead,” I thought. In any case, if Renge was subhead, that meant that Asagao had to win the election first. On the off chance that she did win, I’m sure that would be enough to convince Renge to do it.
“I see…” I said. “Renge’s not too bad a pick, I think.”
Renge laughed embarrassingly. “Y-You r-really think so?”
“Yeah,” I said, nodding. “The fact that you were originally from the military is a big plus too. That way, you both can appeal to all the branches— including the military one.”
“I see… But if it’s like that, I feel a bit used…” her voice trailed off. Her joyful demeanor earlier disappeared, and she looked at Asagao with unease.
Asagao stared straight back. “I won’t deny that I haven’t thought of that. Though, above all, I value your social skills. You’re also doing really well developing things with me… It makes you ideal for me, right?”
“O-Oh, if you put it that way, then o-okay, sure,” nodded Renge. “I don’t know if it’s doable for me though, but I’ll do my best!”
“Thanks…” said Asagao, breathing a sigh of relief. She grabbed onto Renge’s hand one more time and turned to me. “Also Kasumi, I need your skills to help get me the majority vote. You’re good at that kind of stuff, right?”
“Skills? I don’t have any skills like that…”
“Yeah you do,” she said firmly. “You always say what’s necessary to confuse and trick others. That shady way of talking… I like it, you know.”
“Shady, huh?” I said. I guess I couldn’t deny it.
“That’s why I got a few tricks up my sleeve,” continued Asagao, as she fidgeted around with the apple on her hand. It seemed this was her way of fighting.
“I see… I’ll hear you out for now. But this can’t be all the apples you have, can it?”
“Oh, there’s definitely more!” she shouted as she smiled with confidence. These apples were probably her greatest products to date. Just how many did she produce?
“Alright, then. I know you already know this, but I can’t just magically give you the majority,” I said. “Besides, I’m not even that good at dealing with others.”
Asagao stared blankly. “I guess so. I figured as much working with you here… But if we can work towards that goal…”
From the tone of her voice, it was obvious that she was indirectly asking whether I would help her or not.
“Well hold on, it’s not like I’m completely on board yet,” I said lightheartedly. I wasn’t good at smiling, but I somehow managed to squeeze one out.
Asagao straightened up and paused a bit. “Kasumi, I respect you a lot. But as long as you’re here, you’ll have a very hard time moving up the ranks. I’ll change that system so that we can have that opportunity, even in this branch. By doing so, we can even negotiate with moving inland and other stuff like that.”
“… You’re usually more convincing than that.” I said after a long pause. I took a quick look at her. This couldn’t have been all the things she wanted to say.
“What—” she paused halfway. She fidgeted her hair around and sighed deeply. “T-That’s why I really want you to help me out…” she said with a pout. Her normally sharp eyes grew wide, and her cheeks turned red as she looked up to me. Her words may not have been very convincing, but her face was. There was no way anyone could say no to that, including me.
“Alright, alright. I’ll do it.”
“Thanks…” she said softly. She breathed another sigh of relief and flashed a smile. “With this, I can win my battle…”
“Battle? You mean the battle against the <Unknowns>?” said Renge.
Asagao shook her head. “My enemies aren’t the <Unknowns>, but rather, the humans. This is a battle only I can do… I’ll win this, but not with guns. Figuring out exactly how people think and using that to our advantage… now that takes a different type of weapon.”
Her words sparked a memory within me. It was the girl… she also said things like that. I felt like maybe she had done something similar to me… perhaps she had broken me down mentally or something like that. Thanks to that though, I had a strong mental fortitude. For better or for worse, no matter how grim a situation got, I was able to just shrug it aside.
“You know, that’s not a bad way to see things,” I said after reminiscing for a while, “and definitely not the first time I’ve heard such a thing.”
Asagao was ecstatic to hear it. “I know, right? The real battles aren’t won through brute strength!”
There was some truth to her words, so I nodded in agreement.
“Time to show them what we’ve got!” she shouted. To me though, it sounded oddly similar to the shouts from the military…