There Was No Secret Evil-Fighting Organization (srsly?!), So I Made One MYSELF!
Chapter 11: Riddle Me These Ancient Ruins
Volume 4: The Newly-Built Ancient Ruins
The group finally made their way through the pirate caves and reached the ancient civilization area. Position-wise, this was in the sea south of Marineland. Underneath all the mud and bedrock was this giant space — roughly the size of three Tokyo Domes1— packed with gigantic structures with architectural styles that bore uncanny resemblance to ancient Mayan and Egyptian structures like Chichén Itzá and the pyramids of Giza.
The ceiling of this massive cavern was dotted with thick, icicle-like stalactites. The stone blocks of these ancient structures were colored with age and had parts missing, eroded away, and were plastered with remnants of seaweed carried along by the underground water current that flowed around the rim of the place.
Here, the air was filled with the smell of brine, a sharp and sudden contrast to the smell of mold in the previous area. As Touka-chan’s flames illuminated the space, revealing the ancient structures within, the startled bats and crabs retreated like the ocean tide.
According to certain theorists, these were the original structures that had inspired the Chichén Itzá and the pyramids of Giza.
“Daaaaamn, this is incredible…”
Miyama’s exclamation seemed to speak for the entire group as they all looked up at the ancient ruins in dumbfounded amazement.
That’s right, feast your eyes upon this masterpiece designed by Kaburagi-san, supervised by Baba, and created by yours truly! Be moved, be awed, and give us the praise we are due!
After gawking for a full minute, Shouta-kun returned to his senses first. Matching the moment he opened his mouth, Kaburagi-san gave me the GO sign.
I nodded, then used telekinesis to shake the place slightly and rub parts of the stone walls together. The ground shook and rumbles filled the air as stone heavily grated against stone.
Shouta-kun grabbed Touka-chan and warily scanned the ceiling for falling rocks, ready to cast an Eternal Guard Blizzard at any moment.
Right then, Kaburagi-san turned the comms back on, with the voice quality dialed down to “Low.”
“Can you hear me? Shouta-kun? Touka-chan?”
“Holy Fir— Comms are back! We hear you! We hear you!”
“Yes, we hear you. There was an earthquake just n—”
“There’s something I need to tell you about that.”
With the script open in one hand, Kaburagi-san read aloud from it in a voice that was the quintessential impression of “really flustered but trying hard to sound calm.”
I know she’d taken voice training lessons before, but I doubt going to school is enough to make anyone capable of doing this. Kaburagi-san really is amazing. She could definitely make a living as a voice actress if she wanted to.
“I’m really pushing the equipment beyond its limits to reach you two right now; it’s not going to last long. Think of this as our last transmission. I’ll only say it once, so you have to listen carefully. Ready?”
Seeing Kaburagi-san’s hand signal, I set my telekinetic sights on the rock shaped like a hand located in the temporarily cordoned off part of the Marineland Public Beach. I isolated the underground rock connected to that hand in the shape of a giant, then made it seem like the giant was struggling to get up from being under the sea.
Water burst into the sky and a huge wave rolled towards the beach as the 100-m-tall rock giant made its sudden appearance, plunging the swimsuit-clad tourists into absolute mayhem.
Half of them ran away screaming in a blind panic, but the other half merely dug out their smartphones and started filming.
Uh, second half, what are you doing? You know you’re supposed to run away, right? If this was a real monster awakening, all of you would be squashed like flies while you’re busy taking your stupid videos!
“The ruins have awakened an ancient shapeshifting esper whose duty is to eliminate all intruders. Sago-san is holding him back at the moment —”
Around this time, the rock giant was advancing towards the direction of the ruins. Right in the middle of Kaburagi-san’s sentence, however, it suddenly fell over as if it had just taken a punch. Let alone the ground — even the air quivered from the impact, with the reverberations reaching the deepest parts of the ruins.
The rock giant quickly got back up, then pretended to dodge and punch something invisible. In accompaniment with its punching motions, I generated smaller shockwaves, making it seem like the rock giant was in the middle of fighting with another giant (read: Invisible Titan).
Hmm, why does it feel like I’ve done something like that before?
Ohhh, right, playing with toys. I remember doing basically the same thing using figures of kaiju2 and robots back in kindergarten.
To all you tourists getting excited or pissing your pants or whatever, sorry, this is just me playing with really big action figures.
“Hurry ——— the Artifact ——— retrieve ——— escape quickly ———”
After conveying only the most important bits of information, Kaburagi-san turned the voice quality dial all the way back down again, played a clip of the sound of an electric circuit shorting out, then turned off the comms altogether.
Oh no! The communications equipment has broken down!
Those down in the ruins were now on a countdown timer. If they took their sweet time, the rock giant would reach the ruins and get them, or, if they were unlucky, the ruins could collapse from all the quakes even before the giant got there. After all the carefulness in the first half, it was now time to kick everything up to max throttle.
This was something that all children learned eventually, and that all adults knew full well: you almost never got to tackle a goal with all the conditions perfectly how you wanted.
Injuries. Exhaustion. Insufficient personnel. Sudden additional requests.
We humans had to continue pushing forward in spite of whatever problems and handicaps we were carrying.
That was why this time, we were applying a time limit and hurrying the participants without giving them proper time to rest. We didn’t want them to think that they could accomplish things taking however long they wanted. The point of this event was to explore these ruins and not necessarily to fully experience all of it, so we didn’t want them to stay too wary and just turtle up. An adventure carried out with too much caution would be safe, sure, but also boring.
Just as I was about to throw one last wrench in to get them even more alarmed, Chris, who had been slowly sneaking up on Shouta-kun and Touka-chan to eavesdrop on their communications, suddenly started and looked around.
“Hold on, what is, we evade, wait, we can’t, scattered, counterattack? We get caught, wait, what? …You’re kidding, right?”
“What’s wrong, Ninja? What’d you see?”
Miyama cast a worried eye at the wobbling stalactites on the ceiling every time another tremor ran through the place. Chris shook her head slowly.
“Sorry, there’s no way to evade this.”
Right after Chris spoke, I used telekinesis to pick up all four of them and threw them into the rapid currents flowing nearby, splitting them into girls and guys pairs.
This is a forced separation. Good luck.
◇ ◇ ◇
Touka-chan and Chris were carried along by the water to a room with a door decorated by a relief. One corner of the room had been eroded through by the current, and this was where the two had come in from.
The path back had collapsed after them and was no longer accessible. The door in front of them was a thick slab of stone measuring roughly 3 m in height that seemed rather impossible to push or pull. There was no obvious lever to operate it anywhere nearby.
However, there were five circular depressions on the door, and on the ground in front of it was a large number of rusty medals that seemed like the right size for going into those depressions.
As Touka-chan summoned a hot wind à la human dryer, Chris picked up a few of the medals and studied them closely. On each piece was an engraving of a different animal.
“I think I’ve seen something like this in a phone game or something before. You put the medals in and it opens, yeah? This, this, there, that, done!”
Chris stuffed random medals into the depressions in the door. I generated a small shockwave from the door that sent her flying through the air. Like hell it’d open with such half-assed effort.
“Oh no! What did you do just now?!”
“Aaaand when you get it wrong, you get punished. Mh-hm, I knew that.”
If you knew it, then why’d you fall for it, oi.
Chris accepted Touka-chan’s hand and got up, trying to look nonchalant. She panned around the room before continuing.
“I, for one, think that we should continue going forward into the ruins. Jumping into this water and trying to swim back is a bit, y’know…”
“Mm… I agree. Even if we do get back, that invisible hand might just throw us into the water again. That, or we might trigger these ruins’ defensive mechanism.”
“Defensive mechanism again? This place seems to have them everywhere.”
Chris shrugged her shoulders in the “yare, yare” pose3.
You say “again,” but if you and Miyama had just gone down the path normally like you were supposed to, I wouldn’t have had to interfere.
Finally deciding to do this properly, Chris began studying the relief on the door carefully, hoping to find hints of the engravings they needed. She discovered that the carvings seemed to be telling a story, like a picture scroll.
A horse is chased out of the ruins by a human. It meets a wolf, a wildcat, then a pigeon. Finally, it opens the door to Paradise, singing all the way.
That was the story.
Like an idiot, Chris straightaway went to look for the horse, human, wolf, wildcat, and pigeon medals and slotted them in. All she got for her troubles was another shockwave.
That’s the wrong answer. Think beyond the obvious.
“If I was the person designing this to keep intruders out…” Touka-chan murmured as she stared intently at the relief. “I wouldn’t make a path that intruders can get through. There’s no meaning in having a door if it could be opened by anyone who sees the relief and deduces the answer.”
It seems like she’s got it.
That’s right. A door that opens when someone answers the riddle correctly would be a failure of a security system. It would be as lax as someone keeping their login password on a post-it stuck at the edge of their monitor. Nobody in real life who actually cared about protecting their stuff would design such a door. This was the sort of thing that you’d only find in video games where the developers actually want the players to get through.
“So, what do you mean?”
Chris prompted Touka-chan to elaborate, not quite getting it herself. The other girl was happy to oblige, looking slightly proud for having figured it out.
“It’s a misdirection. Or a red herring, if you know the phrase. This door is fake; the real path should be somewhere else. We have to look for it.”
Bingo. Looks like Touka-chan has properly internalized the lessons from her past.
Chris read the flow in the air and found a small crack, which led her to a button hidden behind a rock. After she pressed it, the rock moved away, revealing the way forward. The two girls high-fived each other before proceeding inside.
Wonderful job. Despite falling for the trap a few times, the two of them worked together, solved the riddle, and got through the trial. I give them full points.
◇ ◇ ◇
On the other hand, we had the guys’ team. They had also been washed into a room that looked similar to where the girls had ended up — there was the door with the depressions and tons of medals scattered all over the floor.
However, the medals here were not engraved with animals, but with Alvu, the language from Baba’s home world. Matching this, the engravings on the door here were also in Alvu. As this was a language that was completely different from any other language here on Earth, deciphering it was an absolute impossibility.
Since the whole thing was fake anyways, there wasn’t much meaning to the relief. It was literally just a recipe for simmered potatoes.
This room was on the opposite side of the ruins from the girls’ room. If the two pairs headed for the deepest part — the place where the Artifact slept — they would all eventually be reunited.
The two guys took off their soaked clothing and wrung the water out before laying them out to dry on a few rock outcroppings. While wearing only their masks and underwear, they were diligently sorting through the medals into stacks.
Around the part where they started stripping, Kaburagi-san had started keeping her eyes shut and was only listening to the audio. And during this time, this team had already gotten the answer wrong and been blown away three times.
“All right, this is the last one. Looks like there are exactly five pieces of each kind.”
Miyama put down the last coin, shivering coldly. Shouta-kun, who had clad himself in cold air to activate his cold resistance, counted the number of stacks they had.
“62, 63, 64 — I have a really bad feeling about this — 68, 69, 70. There are 70 kinds in total.”
“There are five grooves to put these medals into. So that’s 70 to the power of 5?”
Miyama grabbed a stone to work out the math on the ground. When he saw the answer, he clutched his head — more accurately, the traffic cone that covered his head — in despair.
“That’s almost 1.7 billion variations. If we tested one variation each second, it’d still take us 53 years!”
“And that’s why I said doing it with brute force would be impossible. The letters on the door have got to be a hint. You think the answer would appear if we apply fire to it?”
“What are you even talking about?”
The two of them argued back and forth in a full-blown brainstorming session. They had fallen for the misdirection hook, line, and sinker.
Miyama had a pretty good head on his shoulders, and Shouta-kun had heard about the red herring thing from Touka-chan. I’d thought that they would get it after thinking about it for a bit.
“I read this thing about decoding stuff in a Sherlock Holmes story about how the most commonly used letter in English is ‘E.’ Maybe we should list out the letters and —”
“This ain’t English no matter which way you look at it!”
“……Good point! I guess fire’s the only answer after all. Lend me your lighter; all the ones I had on me broke.”
“Hey man, I don’t dislike your funny remarks, but how about leaving the fire for starters?”
“Leaving the Fire? You consider blasphemy a ‘for starters’ thing, huh. That’s a bit much, even for me.”
“Oh, fuck me, this guy’s lost his marbles…”
Their conversation was pretty entertaining, but the girls had already broken through their trap and were already going ahead. If the guys didn’t wrap things up soon and get a move on themselves, the time the two teams reach the final room would become out of sync.
We could adjust things to a certain degree from our end, but if this team took any longer, everything might already be over by the time they arrive.
“Yes? Have they put on their clothes yet?”
“Nope, they’re still in their undies. No, what I wanted to say is, I think it’s about time I interfered so that they get going. What do you think?”
Continuing the play-fight between Invisible Titan and the rock giant was actually kind of tiring. The shore that was serving as the stage for this battle between colossals was now cordoned off by police tape, behind which was a huge crowd of police vehicles, the press, and bystanders.
Just look at them; no sense of danger whatsoever. The police being here I understand, but press and bystanders, can’t you stand at least a bit further back? You know how hard it is trying to make this fight look real while ensuring that the shockwaves don’t reach you guys? Try being in my shoes!
Then again, it is our intention to help boost Marineland’s tourism economy with this display, so I can’t really be too hard on them.
The fact that the supernatural was a tourist draw had already been proven by Japan and Ireland. This also leads to a decline in public order, but that was something that could be avoided by analyzing the two prior case studies. Furthermore, Kaburagi-san had been using the past half a year to work her magic on the relevant institutions and set up a buffer so that Marineland would be able to handle the shock. As such, there was little cause for concern on this front.
Kaburagi-san opened her eyes a tiny bit to sneak a peek at the monitor, saw the as-yet closed door and Miyama’s worn-out flower-patterned underwear, then turned her face away.
“Yes, okay, that’s probably a good idea. Open up the path with an earthquake, please.”
“You got it.”
I made Invisible Titan grab the rock giant’s leg, spin it around a few times, and then slam it against the surface of the sea right above where the ruins were. A huge tremor shook the place, half destroying the door before the guys’ eyes.
This opening should be wide enough even for the fatty to slip through.
Miyama made a shitty attempt at whistling.
“Hell yeah. It just opened by itself without us doing anything.”
“You stopping to gape? The ruins might actually come down on our heads at this rate.”
“What’s with all these earthquakes in Marineland anyways?”
“That’s not it, stupid. Our Boss is fighting with the ruins’ guardian up there; that’s what’s causing all the tremors.”
“Seriously? Your Boss sounds pretty cool.”
The two hurried on, bickering the whole way. Only after they had gone quite a distance did they finally remember that they were still half-naked and retrace their steps.
Seriously, can you stop it with the delays?! You spent freaking ages at the trap, didn’t even solve it, and now you’re doubling back?! You guys get a failing grade!
◇ ◇ ◇
After that, the guys’ team wasted even more time getting caught on pretty much every trap on their way. Consequently, the girls reached the deepest room quite a bit ahead of them.
Fine, fine. I guess the guys can just arrive halfway through the final fight, then. Let’s keep things rolling.
That’s right. There was going to be a final fight.
The deepest room in the Marineland Ruins was a giant space supported by several stone pillars. Every square inch of this room, be it the ceiling, walls, and pillars, was covered with majestic and awe-inspiring engravings. We had ordered bits and pieces from pretty college girl artists looking for a quick gig all over the world, Kaburagi-san had rearranged everything, then I had done the engraving.
In the middle of the hall was a dais on top of thirteen steps, and on the dais was a golden throne occupied by a skeleton wearing a splendid black robe. There was a white medal floating in the air above the throne, surrounded in a half-transparent barrier. It couldn’t be more obvious that this was the Artifact. Whoever grabbed this and got out of here would be the winner.
From within the depths of her mask, Chris’s eyes glinted slyly upon seeing the Artifact. She shot a look at Touka-chan, who was simply looking up at the throne, her mouth half open.
Chris also looked at the throne, just in time to see the skeleton enveloped with black sludge and stand up.
The skeleton moving was hardly a cause for surprise — the other skeletons in these ruins had already been leaping, floating, and using all kinds of superpowers. Being able to move seemed like a given at this point.
What was cause for concern, however, was how the rocks and rubble on the ground were starting to move according to the motions it was making with its hands.
Both Chris and Touka-chan were extremely familiar with this superpower and what it was capable of.
“Wait, no, you gotta be shitting me, right?! This, this is just… Oh I get it now — this is the guy that threw us into the water, isn’t it?!”
“No, no, no, don’t run away, I can’t run away! Oh Buddha, give me your protection!”
Final battle, start.
The telekinetic final boss monster stepped forward and began its assault on the two cowering espers.
If you’re enjoying the series, please consider buying Volumes 1 and 2 in Japanese and English to support Kurodome-sensei and me!
All details in the Table of Contents page.