Oumi Shuri was a competitor within Natural Selector and a kunoichi of the Kouga school. Her body had been modified to the point that she looked around ten years old despite actually being older than thirty. Various diseases existed that stopped one’s body from growing, so it was not an impossible thing to do. That alone would merely lead to her aging according to her years but with a small body. However, things like the Clostridium botulinum bacteria could be used to maintain the skin and preserve the look of a child on the surface.
She wore a showier outfit than usual for the official matches, but it was still not too different from her normal role. The cheerleader-like outfit and the school bag strapped on her back over one shoulder gave her an overall unnatural look. However, that out of place feeling worked to Oumi Shuri’s advantage given her role as the first one to appear on the scene.
In terms of stage magic, she was the misdirection.
She gathered everyone’s focus which created a blind spot. That safe area could then be used by her comrades to employ their own tricks. That was how they pulled off the miraculous-seeming ninja strategies that their enemies could not keep up with. This meant her role was an absolutely crucial cornerstone to it all. It was the core needed for success.
A showily dressed ninja seemed counterintuitive, but hers was an all important role that decided the fate of the entire team.
Of course, by showing up first and gathering all the attention, the enemy focused all their attacks on her.
The fact that she had survived such dangerous situations showed just how skilled Oumi Shuri truly was.
Unlike the other competitors, the foundation of Oumi Shuri and the Kouga’s strategies lay in working in teams, but what she wanted from Natural Selector was quite simple.
She wanted to achieve the ninja techniques that used true supernatural powers like the ones seen in movies or dramas.
She wanted to obtain the technical foundation for those.
Simply put, she (or rather, they) did not want the glory of being the champion of Natural Selector. They understood that they would not approach the supernatural simply by expanding on the realistic ninja techniques they already had. Their plan was to fight the other competitors, determine if their abilities would be of any use, and analyze any systems or information that they thought they could use. By only working behind the scenes no matter how far they entered the spotlight was how Oumi Shuri and the others had carried on the Kouga name to the 21st century.
Some of them believed it would be faster to infiltrate Japan’s Academy City to analyze supernatural powers, and a different faction of the Kouga had in fact already done so.
However, that would not work.
They would not give in to Academy City. They would not submit to them and ask for their leftovers. The Kouga ninja were global, so the concept of national boundaries meant nothing to them, but they were still more a part of Japan’s “darkness” than anything else. For that reason, Oumi Shuri and the others did not wish to get too close to Academy City.
That was why they were in Baggage City.
That was why they were in the Natural Selector tournament.
That was why they were approaching the Anti-Academy City Science Guardians.
Or so it should have been.
“Why is Baggage City being destroyed on the first day of the tournament?” muttered Oumi Shuri as she ran down a narrow and winding passageway.
She was in the underground area of Baggage City. As Baggage City was one of the snowiest areas in the world, its hot water heating facility was effectively the city’s lifeline. A network of underground hot water pipes connected to the various buildings in the city, and labyrinthine underground passageways had been built under the entire city to maintain those pipes.
Naturally, those passageways were off limits.
However, no one remained to stop her. She skillfully moved her hand that had been purposefully kept small and a silver sparkling blade spun around. It was a one-handed gardening trowel. After all, even the traditional kunai had its roots as a digging tool rather than a projectile.
(I doubt any of the other competitors are going to accept that the fight is over just because the official tournament may be over. They all had their reasons for coming here. As long as they can still use Baggage City to get what they want, the fight will continue even with the ring and rules shattered.)
Oumi Shuri thought as she hid her presence and checked her surroundings.
(This is just a difference between fighting in the ring and outside it. Even if the rulers are gone, our Natural Selector will continue. I should assume I will have to fight any other competitors I run across.)
Beyond that, there was one more thing she had to keep in mind.
Her natural enemy.
An enemy she absolutely had to keep in mind if she was to survive.
And ironically, this enemy was also an outsider but not a registered competitor in Natural Selector.
Baggage City and the Anti-Academy City Science Guardians in charge had been overwhelmingly crushed by an elite unit known as the Kiharas that Academy City, the embodiment of the science side, had sent.
That was bad enough on its own, but it seemed Baggage City had also had a secret weapon. She had overheard them use the term Gremlin, but she had no idea what it meant.
Oumi Shuri had come across this information in various ways such as listening in on their conversations during battle or from the Baggage City defensive units during their final moments. However, she could not believe any of what they were saying. She started to think they might be using some kind of code because she could not see how it could be literally true.
Irrational violence versus irrational violence.
Things had gone beyond merely getting involved with the supernatural. An overwhelming oppression squeezed at the hearts of all who were there.
Was this what she and her comrades were going to learn from?
Was it right to learn from something like that?
Would it not lead to the entire Kouga organization gaining more enemies in the end?
With those vague concerns, Oumi Shuri continued to run through the winding passageway in search of a safe spot from which to gather information.
As she ran, she could hear explosions and feel tremors coming from multiple directions.
She had no idea if Natural Selector would be able to continue, but that was no reason for her to end her mission. She would instead try to gather some hints from the opponent strong enough to bring down the entire tournament.
At a corner near the center of one of the tremors, Oumi Shuri pressed her back up against the wall.
Using a small microphone connected by cables in her clothes to a radio, she contacted the others working with her.
“Sakata, Asai, Yasu. Can you hear me? I have run across a ‘treasure’ in Area 32 of the East Block. However, I am unsure if I alone am enough to bring it back safely. In the name of backup, I would like others recording from different angles. Can you get in place in time?”
With a bit of static, familiar voices responded.
However, the emotion in the voices was not familiar.
“Shit. I can’t shake her!!”
“Wha—? You damn monster!!”
“I’m being over taken!!”
A high-pitched noise stabbed into Oumi’s ear. At first she thought it was static, but she was wrong. Something she could not identify was occurring on the other end of the transmission.
“Yeah, yeah… It makes me feel a bit awkward, but I guess I don’t have a choice…”
Oumi Shuri heard a delicate girl’s voice.
This voice she did not recognize. And it likely belonged to the one causing the chaos.
“I understand, Amata-ojichan. A Kihara would do something like this!!”
Loud noises of solid objects breaking and wet sounds like soft fruit being crushed continued for a bit after that.
It sounded as if a giant maw was eating a human.
“Shit,” cursed Oumi Shuri.
She tried to contact the other members again, but did not receive the reassuring responses she had hoped for. Those desperately asking for help and those on the verge of death were better than the alternative: most of them gave no response at all.
The situation had developed beyond human understanding.
Oumi Shuri felt it was best to assume the Kouga unit had been swallowed up by that situation and annihilated.
(I won’t die empty-handed.)
With her back still to the wall next to the corner, she turned her attention to the monstrous Kihara or Gremlin rampaging around that corner.
(I will bring back a “treasure”. I will free the Kouga from that feeling of being at our limit. I must face this threat in order to say farewell to our inability to keep up with this threat!!)
The for-show school bag on her back had a security buzzer on the shoulder strap. After checking that the camera in the small device was functioning, she focused on controlling her breathing.
She did not have to win.
She did not even have to fight.
To benefit the Kouga as a whole, she only had to peer in, record even a fragment of the knowledge there, and bring it back. Her purpose was not to show off her presence like a hero or a monster. She was acting so that the “treasure” could be used in the future.
With that in mind, she used all of her ability to blend into the background.
Oumi Shuri heard a rustling sound from behind her.
As she had her back to the hot water pipe maintenance passageway wall and was turning to peer around the corner, the noise came from an absolute blind spot. Also, it came from an area that cut off her path of retreat.
She immediately spun around. Only a few meters away was a man in a military uniform. It seemed the man had happened across her by chance. What had looked like lockers lining the wall had actually been openings to other narrow passageways.
Was he a Baggage City security guard? A Kihara? Or was he whatever Gremlins was? She had no idea who he was, but what she had to do remained the same.
(I have to take him out!!)
She focused on the gardening trowel-type kunai in her dominant hand, but the man took action quicker. He was already swinging down a blade that was more a machete than a knife.
She did not have time to take offensive action.
She might have been able to kill the man, but he would definitely kill her in the process.
That left only the option of avoiding the man’s first attack and then counterattacking. But…
(With the length of his legs and the length of his weapon, he has a range of three meters if he takes one step. I don’t have enough space to move back with that corner there!!)
Oumi Shuri clicked her tongue and reached for the cloth lunch bag hanging from the school bag. It was actually a spare equipment pouch and she grabbed the powerful light installed on the bottom. While stepping a bit backwards but not far enough to be out of range, she hit the switch and sent a flash of light at the wall directly behind her.
Immediately afterwards, the blade swung down from above.
The sound of slicing wind caused her pulse to quicken.
“Nice try, but you missed.”
The sharp tip of the blade had passed right by the end of Oumi Shuri’s nose, but her young eyes did not even blink. She had clearly known she was safe.
The man had misjudged the distance. She had made sure he would. The human eye could not accurately judge the distances of objects placed over a pure white background. The flash of bright light Oumi Shuri had sent behind her had reflected back and created a makeshift white screen.
Now that she had avoided the first attack, it was time for her counterattack.
Before the man could deliver a second attack, she rushed in close and stabbed the tip of her gardening trowel-type kunai in toward the man’s stomach.
Victory was surely hers.
However, the tip of the kunai never reached the man’s stomach.
It was blocked.
But not by the man in the military uniform.
It had been blocked by a user of the truly absurd supernatural powers that Oumi Shuri longed for.