Apocalypse Witch:Volume1 Chapter2
A special G21 summit is being held here in London. The signs point toward the topic being countermeasures against the Threat that has shaken so many people’s lives, so there is reason to suspect the Problem Solvers have been summoned here for more than just summit security.
The Problem Solvers are very busy, but we have managed to get Miss Yukino Arakawa to spare some time to speak with us.
“I must apologize, but I cannot provide any of the gossip you are likely hoping for.”
Is there indeed a connection between the G21’s primary topic and the Problem Solver presence here?
“I am simply providing security for the summit, so I have not even been informed what that main topic is. Thus, I cannot answer that question.”
The five of you are like our guardian deities, but you are also a central pillar of global infrastructure. If conditions destabilize, would it hinder those services?
“There is nothing to worry about there. For one thing, I am not sure what you even mean by conditions destabilizing and what do we have to fear anyway? Everyone watching this footage continues to receive power to their homes and what greater symbol is there of a rock-solid system there? Everyone is under our protection. Do not forget how reassuring that is.”
So to be absolutely certain, you are saying the Threat is not approaching this city and there is no need to evacuate?
“That I can answer with a wholehearted yes. The appearance of the Threat can be predicted in advance, so if danger signs are detected, the information will be immediately released and evacuating all of you will take top priority. And even if a full evacuation is not possible, there is nothing to worry about while we are in the area. We will swiftly deal with the Threat and keep the damage to a minimum.”
But no information on your battles with the Threat has been released and some tabloids and online news sites have voiced concerns that your success rate at driving back the Threat is not as high as we are led to believe.
“Are you making intentionally provocative statements to see how we respond? Information on the Threat is not released because we do not want unnecessary fear and chaos to spread to safe regions. Also, our combat methods are meant for use against the Threat, so we do not want knowledge of them to spread and perhaps fall into the wrong hands. I imagine some of the people making a fuss about the information restrictions are more interested in us than in the Threat.”
Also, it has been noted that Miss Elicia is absent this time.
“No comment☆ Mystery is the spice of life. Plus, we are talking about me at the moment, are we not?”
A loud crash echoed through the RV.
Instead of switching off the TV, someone had thrown the remote and broke the LCD screen.
“Oh, dear. How thoughtless of me. Sorry if I made you jump. Hee hee hee.”
Student Council President Omotesandou Kyouka smiled in a way that showed she was not at all sorry about what she had done.
The weather forecast for the night had been way off.
Or rather, the weather forecast “during the solar eclipse”.
Utagai Karuta and Kyouka were alone in the RV. Amaashi Marika and Aine were out getting some food for them all. He doubted those two would screw anything up and they could probably force their way through any problems even if they did. Before the attack by the Problem Solvers, they had been Crystal Magicians preparing to battle the Threat that was indiscriminately erasing countries, regions, and cities around the world, so even with the bolstered security during the summit, the police would not be enough to restrain those two.
They were in London.
It would have been unbelievable before the introduction of Crystal Magic, but the new materials and technologies that had led to a ship as large as their school had also created passenger planes large enough for an RV to fit in the general cargo bay. Those colossal ferry planes were often compared to winged whales.
Of course, it was that large size that meant it took years to break them down by hand and led to the entire human race relying on Elicia’s dinosaur.
Those five were given free rein because no one wanted to question their comfortable lifestyle.
And Karuta had been the same right up until he had everything taken from him.
“So we’ve been living together for a week now. This is really dragging on, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I suppose.”
He was living with Marika, Kyouka, and Aine. This small space with no real partitions was filled with girls. He was focused on taking revenge on the world’s strongest, hiding the crystallized teachers and students in the tropical cave, and protecting them from the Problem Solvers, but without those exceedingly heavy topics, he would have been overwhelmed in a different way.
The Student Council President laughed quietly.
“Are you starting to see the real me through the cracks in the ideal vision you had of me? I just hope I haven’t disillusioned you.”
“I never really knew anything about you. You were too far beyond my reach.”
“My, my. I don’t like it when people build walls to separate us. I thought I had won the election with my promise to keep things casual and friendly with everyone.”
That might have worked in a normal school, but they had been learning Crystal Magic to fight the Threat which could entirely erase a metropolis of a million people overnight. The top of their hierarchy would be the future world’s strongest, so no one could just walk up and talk to them like it was nothing. Instead of being called a pervert and receiving a slap, the entire earth could be destroyed.
“Boo, boo,” said Kyouka while childishly puffing out her cheeks. “Ahh, ahh. I’d love to be friends with Karuta-kun and talk with him more, but how am I supposed to remove this imaginary wall between us?”
“What are you talking about now?”
“Perhaps we just need to get to know each other more intimately. Oh, I know. We could take a bath together.”
She laughed at the indescribable look on his face.
“I should hope so.”
“But I am feeling sweaty, so I’d like a shower. Karuta-kun, can you help me?”
“Wait, were you kidding or not!?”
That said, he had no choice but to help her here. The RV had been customized in a number of ways, but it was not entirely barrier free.
It was a high-grade vehicle with beds, a sofa, a stove, a fridge, a microwave, a washer, and a dryer, but the bath was not up to the standards a Japanese person was used to. To save space, it only had a shower contained in a stall no larger than a phonebooth. There was no actual tub.
After pushing her wheelchair over to the shower, it was time to get to work. He needed to place his hands on her back and behind her knees and lift her into the shower room. That princess style was not strictly necessary, but when he had lifted her over his shoulder like a sack of rice on the first day, she had refused to speak to him for about half a day. That was apparently also called bandit style.
“Heh heh. I got Karuta-kun to princess carry me.”
He tried to empty his mind so he did not focus on the softness and warmth in his hands or the scent of her hair while he gently placed her butt down on the small floor of the phonebooth-sized space. She was still wearing her uniform at this point, but he could not help her change. She was not like a certain idiot who was willing to sleep in the nude with only a single sheet covering her.
“Okay, Karuta-kun, bring me a change of clothes.”
“And if I scream, come rescue me. I will leave the door unlocked.”
“I really don’t think you can drown on the floor here.”
“Just do it.”
She shut the door that folded up to the side to save space. Digging through a girl’s possessions was embarrassing, but she had given him permission and she needed a change of clothes or she would be stuck in there naked.
(This one is her bag, right?)
Given the limited space of the RV, they each only had a single sports bag of personal possessions. Kyouka had a sexy and mature appearance, but her bag had a cute pastel color design.
The neatly underwear neatly folded up within came in a lot of surprisingly colorful varieties.
Clear your mind, clear your mind!! he told himself.
He moved aside the thick metal detachable disk drives at the top of the bag and reached for the items he needed.
(She wants something to sleep in, so that means a large dress shirt and underwear. Um, this should work. The top and bottom should have matching colors, right?)
“This is to sleep in, so I don’t need a bra.”
He jumped and looked back.
His upperclassman’s teasing voice reached him from the shower room.
“They’re big in a number of ways, so they make it hard to sleep in a number of ways.”
Her words were making him feel things in a number of ways, but the bigger problem was how the foldable door was sitting partially open. A hand stuck out from there and dropped a blazer, a blouse, a pleated skirt, and finally some stripped-off underwear.
“Wait, um, Omotesandou-san!?”
“I am about to take a shower. If I left them in here, they would get soaked.”
She was absolutely right, but she was also absolutely teasing him.
With some laughter a little too mature to call impish, her hand pulled back inside and the door pulled all the way shut. Finally, he heard the gentle sound of running water.
Utagai Karuta focused even harder on clearing his mind.
Ahh, ahh. That sexy Student Council President is in that phonebooth-sized shower room, her beautiful butt must be seated on the floor since she can’t stand up, and is she holding the shower hose in one hand to wash herself off? Is that warm water flowing down her hair and dripping down the contours of her body!? Is it, is it, is it!?
A minor big bang was occurring in his brain.
And then he heard her voice from beyond the foldable door.
“Hold on. Didn’t you promise to come save me if I screamed?”
“Yeah, but that was way too fake!!”
“Just get over-…hyahn!? (Thud!)”
“Huh? Omotesandou-san? What was that?”
“Bubble, bubble, bubble, gurgle, gurgle, gurgle.”
“Geh, are you for real!?”
She could not have stepped on the soap and slipped since she was seated, so had she sat her big butt on it and slipped that way? Talk about a miracle. He decided he wanted to be reborn as a bar of soap in the next life. However, life-threatening crises were not always some big dramatic thing. People could drown even in a puddle.
That was why he rushed over and reached for the shower room door.
“We’re back! We bought the brands of oil and powder you asked for. Everything’s a real mess with the collapse in the first-generation resource markets for iron and aluminum, though. And man, the food situation in England can only be described as yikes. I just about fainted checking out the supermarket.”
“It turns out London has a Japanese confection store. Their gold powder monaka was the best.”
The two girls returned with the best timing imaginable.
And the wet-haired, mischievous, and laughing girl curled up on the bathroom floor was not helping matters.
The resultant chemical reaction was more explosive than a thermobaric weapon.
The record for the world’s most dangerous mixture was broken on that day.
It was 2PM in London.
However, the mysterious solar eclipse meant it was as dark as midnight.
“Now, I would like to get down to business.”
“You need to apologize first! Apologize for everything!!”
“What are you so upset about!? And what am I even apologizing for!? What did I do wrong in that situation!?”
Curly twintails Marika had been collapsed on the sofa bed for a while, but now she threw her hands in the air and shouted back at him.
“Ughh, ahhhh! You need to apologize for having such bad karma!!”
“This is getting awfully dark awfully fast! Besides, that Student Council President set me up!”
This may have been a lot like their noisy days back at the Ocean Crystal Magic Academy. Karuta himself sensed something nostalgic in this storm he was caught in.
But things had changed.
They now had a sexy eye of the storm.
“Oh, how could you, Karuta-kun? After everything we did while they were gone, you’re trying to place all the blame on the girl?”
“Hey, don’t blush and place your hands on your cheeks like that. Was a thermobaric weapon not enough for you?”
Karuta asked this of the Student Council President who was wearing the dress shirt she used as pajamas. Crystal Girl Aine was standing expressionlessly in a corner of the RV, but she was simply awaiting further orders. She must not have understood the danger here because she silently tilted her head.
Karuta got straight to the point as coldly as a bank teller just before closing time.
“Okay, okay, that’s enough of that! Let’s get back on topic!!”
“(Oh, dear. Yet she’s the one who sleeps in the nude. How hypocritical of her.)”
However, the Student Council President was mature enough to keep those personal thoughts to herself as she got down to business.
“Our top priority target this time is Yukino Arakawa.”
She used the projector to cover the wall with photos taken from news sites or online articles.
“Unlike Elicia and her dinosaur, this woman did not directly board the ship. That makes it hard to say anything for certain, but she is almost certainly the one who sank the escort ships with the light spears. I saw her giving instructions from the open cargo door of their tiltrotor craft and, while it is unconfirmed, she is well-known for ‘bringing an eclipse’ wherever she goes. So she is likely in London right now. Of course, we do not know what the Threat itself is, so who knows how reliable any of this information is,” added the wet-haired Student Council President. “Every member of the Problem Solvers is a monster, but Yukino’s light spear is one I want to get rid of as early as possible. Both because of how destructive it is and because of its wide range. We should assume she controls everything within the range of that unnatural eclipse. That means there is no real safe zone on the surface of the earth. If she knows where you are, you are dead. The longer this fight drags on, the more information on us will become available, so I want to take care of her before she can narrow things down too far.”
Take care of.
Get rid of.
In other words, they were going to kill her just like they did Elicia.
This was very different from their classes where they had planned to face the Threat but had no concrete image of what that would entail.
Karuta was having trouble deciding if he could call that “growth” or not.
“But what even is that light spear?” he asked as if to distract himself from that issue.
Curly twintails Marika waved a hand dismissively while still puffing out her cheeks.
“Who knows, but it looked like laser beams from the sky.”
“I doubt she is using bombers because the attack came from much higher. I imagine she has something in satellite orbit, but I cannot say much more than that.” The Student Council President placed a finger on her lips. “Still, we do know the Problem Solvers were in charge of defending that space elevator that was thought to be useless junk, so what if there is a connection there?”
“You mean it might be solar power generators or interception satellites?”
“I have heard some rumors,” began Omotesandou Kyouka with a sigh. “It was never completed, but there was something known as the Sunny Side Up Project. It was said to be history’s largest planetary expansion project.”
“A fried egg?” asked strawberry blonde Marika while frowning on the sofa bed.
“Only fried on one side if you want to get technical,” responded Crystal Girl Aine while still tilting her head.
Kyouka sighed softly before continuing.
“The identity of the Threat is unknown, but it is known it does not leave the atmosphere. This plan intended to bring the ordinary citizenry outside the atmosphere and transform the blue planet into nothing more than farmlands and a cage for the Threat. The base of the elevator is supposed to be quite sturdy, so the combat personnel and the maintenance team for the unmanned farms would have been stationed underground there. There were blueprints showing a network of station houses surrounding the planet in a sphere one size bigger, so it was apparently more about expanding the surface of the planet instead of traveling out into space. Hence why it was known as a planetary expansion project.”
When looking at a cross-section, was the earth seen as the yolk and the outer shell seen as the white?
If you were going to slice it apart, a boiled egg or Scotch egg seemed more accurate, but whoever named it had probably let their personal egg preference dictate the choice.
“Its primary material was supposed to be a solid foam that is harder and more heat-resistant than steel and can also swell out to fill a large space with only a small amount of the original material. The presentation said the living space and the farming zone would be kept entirely separate so human-made contaminants would not find their way back into nature…but it was a little over the top even for an endeavor meant to support 5.5 billion people. The earth’s rotation differs between latitudes, so it seems like their network would fall apart if they did not find some way to match their relative speeds.”
The earth was already surrounded.
Sunny Side Up played two roles.
First, it allowed environmental adjustments on a global scale. By efficiently increasing the amount of natural land, there would be more food for the human population “temporarily” living in satellite orbit.
“So the light spears use their immense heat to stir up the air and create winds and rainclouds.”
And second, it would eliminate the Threat lurking on the surface.
“And at the same time, they are a weapon meant to literally shoot down the Threat?” asked Karuta.
He looked awed but also exasperated by the large scale of it all.
“Even if one shot is not enough, they must have thought they could wear the Threat down by continually firing from outside the atmosphere. Or maybe it was only meant to distract the Threat if it got too close to the farmlands. It is unclear how permanently it was meant to ‘eliminate’ the Threat.”
But it was more than enough when used against human beings.
Karuta and the others had learned all too well how powerful it was when it sunk those escort ships one after another.
“Since it has not been demolished, I imagine it is benefiting the world through its production facilities and power generation. Even without a largescale microwave or laser power transmission system, that remnant of an older age may still be in use to transfer the power.”
“The space elevator.”
“If it can carry a payload to the ‘outer shell’ for less than 1% the cost of using a rocket or shuttle, then it could be used to transfer batteries the size of cargo containers back and forth. That could provide just enough of a reason to not demolish that elevator. Yukino’s strength in the global business world is said to be in Eurasia, but everything from Europe to China is a little much, don’t you think? She would need some kind of product that can cover half the planet.”
It was meant to be a warning for the Threat and to save the entire world.
But who was it that had converted it into no more than a rusty old tower?
Did the blame lie with Crystal Magicians like Karuta whose methods turned out to be cheaper?
“The eclipse might not be the result of some massive object appearing overhead. It could be the sky was already covered and the holes of the ‘net’ close up when Yukino prepares for combat.” The Student Council President tapped her wheelchair’s armrest with a finger. “Of course, chemistry and physics are not enough to explain a system like this. Like I said, the earth’s gravity and rotation would tear it apart if they do not match the relative speed of the entire network, but constantly using thrusters to preserve that would drain all the energy they had hoped to generate. That means God-Worshiping Magic must play a role. I believe Yukino’s specialty is the Celtic light god Lugh. He is a war god also known as ‘the god of the long arm’. Yes, that would be perfect for energy production and projectile attacks.”
If the connection between the space elevator and the Problem Solvers was closer than officially recognized, then they might not have been pleased with the Crystal Magicians who rejoiced at the elevator’s failure. (Mostly because Crystal Magic only worked on the surface, so moving onto that “outer shell” would be a problem for them.)
But more than that, the Problem Solvers used the God-Worshipping Magic of the previous era instead of Crystal Magic. Had the rise of Crystal Blossoms looked like a threat to them?
(No, there are too many unanswered questions about them.)
“Anyway, that was very bold of you, Karuta-kun,” began Kyouka with a sigh. “One of the Problem Solvers is gone. The world might not want to accept it, but the other four will know. And then you send them an anonymous message.”
She operated the projector to display the message in question.
Marika spoke up in a mixture of exasperation and awe.
“ ‘One of you is gone now, but I happen to know where you can find someone even stronger than Elicia “Saurus” Luxverg. I would like to meet you for an interview, so what would be a convenient date?’ ” Once the curly twintails girl finished reading it aloud, she put on a mischievous smile. “You could take that as letter of responsibility, you know? You are aware of Elicia’s death despite it being covered up, you say you know where to find someone even stronger, and then you say you want to meet them.”
“But they can’t ignore it, can they?” bluntly asked Karuta. “They know Elicia is dead, but they won’t know who did it. They won’t want someone like that to slip away and disappear. It doesn’t matter to them if the author of the letter is that person or not. They just want to crush anyone it might be. And they just have to keep it up until the problem has stopped.”
Crystal Girl Aine kept her head tilted throughout and she spoke while her silver hair shook.
“So they will rush in despite knowing it is a trap?”
“It may be more accurate to say we’re getting them to set up a trap and wait for us,” spat out Karuta. “The Problem Solvers are international society’s most prized possessions, so they have to be held in reserve. We are pursuing them as much as they are pursuing us. We can’t let them go into hiding. Our top priority is Yukino Arakawa. That is the bare minimum here. We have to take her out first, but then we need to take out as many other Problem Solvers as we can while we’re at it. After all, we know they’ve all been summoned to London for the G21 summit.”
They would take out the Problem Solvers.
He could say it so easily, but only because they had already done it once with Elicia “Saurus” Luxverg. He knew they could be defeated. Proving that did wonders on the psychological front.
And with that in mind, he ran right into the problem he had been trying not to think about.
“Okay, then that’s our next target,” said Marika.
“Yukino Arakawa,” said Kyouka. “This sounds like a worthy challenge. I have no complaints about holding a fight to the death against her.”
Karuta could not immediately say the same.
A bitter feeling had been building up in his gut throughout the planning, but Aine spoke to him while standing in a corner of the RV.
“Do not worry, Sacri-sama.”
“No one will steal your kill this time. Let’s make sure we kill her ourselves.”
If she was not shaped like a cute girl, he might have punched her on reflex.
London was flooded with garbage and experiencing an eclipse.
The city managed an odd harmony between the asphalt roads and old-fashioned brick apartments, but piles of trash bags filled the sidewalks and even spilled out into the streets. Those piles were as tall as people. It might look like a boycott or strike by the sanitation workers, but it was not.
This was due to Elicia’s defeat.
While she had been in charge of garbage disposal, she did not actually deal with the household trash for 5.5 billion people. She had primarily dealt with breaking down large passenger planes and tankers, but with that role no longer being fulfilled, someone had to pick up the slack. Just as a small slowdown could lead to a long traffic jam, the pressure gradually spread and finally rose to the surface like this.
But no one was openly complaining about it.
They had bigger issues to worry about.
That city of fog was on high alert.
A curfew had not been put in place, but checkpoints had been set up while police cars and armored vehicles made irregular patrols. Helicopters equipped with floodlights were flying through the false night sky and patrol boats were navigating the rivers. The people who just wanted to grab a pint at their usual pub before staggering back home would sober up quick after being assaulted by a storm of police questioning.
A cheerful voice spoke from the disaster radio on the edge of a flower bed. It may have been left there by a homeless person driven away by the police.
“It seems the rising trend for Coronel Pharmaceutical stock is related to the global delays in garbage disposal.”
“Well, if unsanitary conditions lead to an outbreak of disease, sales of disinfectant and antibiotics are bound to rise. Also, Coronel has recently purchased a promising startup to enter the insecticide field, so they must expect a rise in the anti-fly and anti-roach markets as well.”
“Finding a way to benefit from anything is a human strength, isn’t it? Now, all the investors have already noted these things, so it is unlikely buying any shares at this point will amount to much. So what brand will be rising next? Could it be Gaia Agriculture who are receiving a flood of orders for home compost kits?”
“Stain Breweries might not be a bad guess. I bet a lot of people will want a drink after seeing the garbage flooding their city. Ha ha ha.”
In one such city, Karuta and Marika exchanged some quick words after stepping out of the RV.
“Okay, let’s do this as planned.”
They set off in different directions. Also, Marika was not flying. She ran along the ground because taking flight and gathering attention would be an excellent way of getting herself shot down by one of those enormous light spears.
London’s streetlights kept things plenty bright despite the eclipse, although things were far from cheerful given the high alert. That was probably thanks to Yukino Arakawa herself. She provided power for the world, which allowed the pre-existing power stations to supply electricity for government supercomputers and particle accelerators that were making good progress on developing new drugs for incurable diseases.
And yet she had killed so many people like they were garbage.
It would make true philanthropists cry.
Karuta avoided those streetlights that felt like symbols of condescending charity and walked down a dark and deserted sidewalk while lightly touching the modified military flashlight in his blazer pocket. He muttered something under his breath while confirming its presence.
The back of his blazer swelled out and the mysterious crystal girl named Aine emerged. She had silver hair, white clothing, a crystal sword, and a laser gun on the short end of the sword’s jitte-like branch. She gently held the weapon in her hand while quietly awaiting orders.
Karuta focused on the flower petals at his chest that would replenish themselves after scattering.
“You too, Aine. We’re heading different ways from here on.”
The pale girl’s cheeks puffed out a bit from within.
She may not have liked that idea.
“It’s about efficiency. I explained why this is the most effective plan, didn’t I?”
“Understood. Take care, Sacri-sama.”
“Do you really have to call me that?”
Neither of them sounded particularly happy with what the other said, but they still split up without any further words.
British food is bad.
Back at the Ocean Crystal Magic Academy, he had wondered if that commonly-held belief was really true, so he had snuck into the cafeteria kitchen and attempted a cooking experiment with the help of an exchange student from London. The result had been so-so and he had ended up with some indigestion, but since the exchange student himself had tilted his head when eating it, something of Karuta’s Japanese cooking may have wound up in those fish and chips. The truth of the matter remained a mystery to him.
That exchange student was no more.
Everyone there had been transformed into broken crystal statues.
He threw out his sentimentality and focused on the cold world of vengeance once more.
Their plan this time was simple.
“The Problem Solvers act as a kind of symbol, so they cannot leave their posts during the G21 summit. If they are seen running around, it will be reported as something being terribly wrong.”
A transmission that used no electricity reached his ears.
Student Council President Omotesandou Kyouka was speaking to him through the vibrations of his Crystal Blossom that was controlled by a printed circuit board smaller than a stamp.
“Yukino Arakawa is in the Palace of Westminster. That’s the national parliament building that is best known for its clocktower. It is nearly 10km from the RV as the bird flies. Sorry, but there was no getting any closer with all the checkpoints.”
“We’ll manage,” he replied. “Besides, it’s the light spears that worry me.”
“Really, isn’t a hit from that going to vaporize us no matter what?” cut in Marika. “And it moves at the speed of light, so you can’t dodge it after seeing it coming.”
“That is not necessarily true if you reach Regulation 3,” said the Student Council President in a joking way. “I don’t think we need to discuss Yukino’s God-Worshiping Magic. It is not worth thinking about. The average Crystal Blossom cannot stop something like that.”
“Then we just have to make sure she doesn’t fire it.”
“Well done, Karuta-kun. Yes, even if she has satellite weapons that can target any part of the world, how is she aiming them? She only ever fires on a single point. If we don’t let the impact of it all distract us, we might just be able to find a way through it.”
Karuta considered that point while staying in the shadows cast by the piles of trash taller than he was.
Targeting that school in the ocean would have been easy. Even the escort ships had been plenty large. Targeting by eye was simple enough on the empty ocean, but things would not be so simple in a labyrinthine metropolis like this.
Also, the Problem Solvers worked for the government and were seen to represent justice, so they would not have to rely on illegal things like bugs or spy cameras. They could use all of the official security measures to monitor the ordinary people.
“A lot of effort went into London’s counterterrorism infrastructure, so they have more than 5 million stationary security cameras, don’t they?” he asked.
“You can also add phones, intercoms, drive recorders, and countless other devices to the list,” added Kyouka. “The total number of lenses might be greater than 10 million.”
“Are you saying Yukino Arakawa is using that to aim?” asked Marika. “But…”
“That’s right, Marika. The data from that many cameras is far too much to manage with nothing but manpower. We just have to hope we aren’t caught by the program made to automatically detect suspicious people.”
That was why Karuta was intentionally choosing the shadows that were made all the deeper by the brightness of the streetlights.
London was a crime-prevention city with more than 5 million security cameras alone, but the plan felt accelerated and rushed. They must have had to acquire the requested number of cameras in a hurry and within a limited budget because each individual one was of poor quality. And cheap cameras had trouble with light contrast. When they automatically adjusted for the bright areas, the shadows would be entirely blotted out.
People could be identified with facial recognition, color charts, skeletal structure, and walking pattern these days, but none of that mattered when the original data was wiped out.
Also, the piles of trash bags rose up like walls in places not accounted for in the initial crime-prevention plan, so they would physically block the cameras’ view at times.
“But Yukino controls all the stuff in satellite orbit, doesn’t she?” asked Marika. “Can’t she look down at us from there?”
“She can, but satellite photos can’t use facial recognition as long as we don’t look up into the night sky,” said Karuta. “And we can intentionally alter our walking pattern. Night images end up grainy when the brightness is enhanced and thermo images only show the silhouette. That means she can tell someone is there, but not who.”
“Hee hee hee. Marika-san, London is a city of 8 million,” said Kyouka. “Include the tourists and commuters and that number passes 13 million. They might be on high alert, but there is no curfew in place and a lot of people are going to want to head out just to get videos or social media content. She can’t exactly vaporize someone just because they seem suspicious.”
“After all, London has more than 10 million lenses,” repeated Karuta.
There had been no witnesses other than her targets during the attack on the Ocean Crystal Magic Academy. It had essentially been the most wide-open closed room possible, so she had been allowed to use as much power as she liked.
But things were different here.
The Problem Solvers were the world’s strongest. That system and service that protected and glorified them would bind Yukino Arakawa here.
Karuta received a transmission from Aine while a dark flame burned in the pit of his stomach.
“These are all assumptions and you do not know anything for certain.”
It was possible she had some unknown surveillance system that had already revealed their location to her.
Or she might lose her cool and fire her light spears on the city of London.
After thinking for a moment and slowly letting out a breath, Utagai Karuta responded.
“That is why we split up before starting toward the Palace of Westminster.”
If one of them was arrested or reduced to ashes, another could reach Yukino.
Once they were close enough to her, her absurdly powerful attack would hit her as well, so she could no longer use it.
That was their plan.
That was their choice.
The more he thought about it, the dizzier he felt. He made a point of regulating his breathing while he passed a group of walking police officers and some police cars. Since all he had in his pocket was a flashlight, he was not in any danger if they did stop him, but he still did not want any information to reach Yukino at the top.
While he just barely slipped past both the mechanical lenses and the human eyes, a voice informed him that something was not right.
“Hold on a second. This is odd. What’s going on?”
He spoke up in confusion, but he noticed it too before long.
It reached his ears, or maybe his skin.
A strange tension filled him like a weak electric current coursing through the surface of his body. It was like a premonition of a coming explosion. The police must have received word of something via radio because they grew much more active.
“Hey, you there!!”
A deep voice called out to him and one of the police shined a flashlight on him.
He narrowed his eyes and covered his face with a hand to protect his eyes while the middle-aged officer jogged over.
An unpleasant pressure bore down on him and he gradually lost control of his pulse.
But the police officer let out a breath and said something he did not expect.
“Are you a resident? Or are you a traveler? Either way, you should find a building to get inside!”
“It’s starting,” said the police officer with tense sweat on his face. “A riot is starting.”
The Palace of Westminster was the national parliament building symbolized by its giant clocktower. It was blocked off by even more barricades and armored vehicles than the rest of London during the high alert.
An Asian woman with short black hair sat on the rooftop.
She wore a nun’s habit…expect the slits in the skirt were too risqué and she was not wearing a cross anywhere on her person. She was also holding a metal staff taller than she was. She had a tall but slender build and her closed eyes gave her a somehow calm air.
Her name was Yukino Arakawa.
She was the Problem Solver who used the optical bombing known as a light spear.
This job should have been a simple one.
The death of Elicia Luxverg, AKA Saurus, had been a painful blow. They had also learned that the assassin was here in London. But the city was on high alert, so if anyone did anything suspicious, the network of police would immediately restrain them and she could drop a light spear there. They would have no chance to dodge or defend before they were vaporized along with a few police officers.
If she received an alert or two, she could have dealt with this so easily!
“We demand all of the governments and the Problem Solvers release what information they have on the Threat!!”
“You have a duty to explain what happened to the missing countries, regions, and cities!!”
“How can we sleep knowing that could be us tomorrow!? I have a kid at home!!”
(Why must they all do this!?)
As that deluge of voices reached her like a distant rumbling, Yukino softly clenched her teeth behind her calm expression.
Her earphones played the voices of requests from police officers who did not properly understand the situation.
They were not asking for help from the power of the Problem Solvers.
“Problem Solvers, do not move from your current positions!”
“We must make sure the G21 summit comes to a close with the best possible security in place, so we lose if you move from your posts.”
“Don’t use tear gas! Bring out the water trucks! Bloody hell, why don’t any of the shops have their shutters down!?”
If her trap was not functioning, she was effectively in the jungle with a ferocious beast.
The safest option would be to leave this place and go into hiding, but the police would not let her. They insisted she stay put and get attacked.
She was seething inside, but then someone else contacted her.
It was a fellow Problem Solver.
“Kah kah kah. Don’t get so upset. And you call yourself one of the great Problem Solvers?”
“Besides, the police don’t know what’s going on. Not even that Elicia kicked the bucket. Of course they’re going to take a laxer view of things.”
“I am aware of that.”
“The media has a strong presence here and there are also a lot of amateur video obsessives who think they’re part of the media. Keep grimacing and you’ll lose all that pretentious vanity you love so much.”
Yukino thought for a moment.
The Problem Solvers preserved global order. If they were shaken, it would cause unnecessary chaos in countries and cities around the world. That was why their external image was so important, but that was also why they could not afford to be wounded in any noticeable way.
Even if it was only a scratch achieved through some kind of nightmarish beginner’s luck.
After completing the necessary calculations in her head, she slowly stood up from the roof.
“Then there is something I can do about it,” she said to her colleague. “I beseech thee, Lugh, Celtic God of Light.”
“Hold on, you aren’t doing that in London, are you? I know I’m not one to talk, but you can’t exactly ‘hold back’ with your weapon. You should let one of the others deal with this or it’ll just be a slaughter.”
“If necessary, I can have Anastasia take care of it.”
“Are you for real?” The person on the line sounded half shocked and half amused. “You really plan on crushing London, a city of 8 million? And in the middle of a G21 summit at that?”
The nun with large slits in her habit raised her staff as she responded.
She did not hesitate to give this answer.
Utagai Karuta was curled up on a corner of the sidewalk with his back to the road.
The police were no longer here. They had probably withdrawn to the barricade. The sidewalk and road were both filled with men and women. It was like a flood of human flesh. They carried makeshift torches made by wrapping bandages or old rags around metal bats and lighting them and they shouted angrily as they smashed the windshields of cars parked on the road and of store windows that did not have their shutters down.
(Elicia managed the world’s garbage disposal facilities, so her defeat has apparently drastically reduced the price of first-generation resources like iron and aluminum that used to be as valuable as gold or platinum. So did they lose their jobs or something?)
That was Karuta’s analysis, but he was wrong.
This is what they were shouting:
“How are we supposed to get over our fear when we don’t know what the Threat even is!?”
“The government is only keeping it a secret to spread fear and confusion so they can increase the defense budget. You’re making a mockery of our tax money!!”
“Release the information! The real information!! We have a right to know!!”
Youths were setting fire to the piles of trash bags and entering the buildings through broken windows. Cash registers were thrown out onto the streets and boxy ATMs were dragged out and pried open with crowbars. Sweat, perfume, smoke, rotting garbage, and what was that? Many different smells mixed together and raw anger blotted out all else.
Karuta contacted Marika and Kyouka in annoyance.
“They claim to want information on the Threat, but I think they’re mostly here for the looting or to blow off some steam. Maybe a tenth of the people here seem to be protesting out of legitimate outrage. I bet a lot of people had their savings go down the drain after Elicia’s defeat. Omotesandou-san, was there no sign of this coming!?”
“In hindsight, there was. The Problem Solvers will never announce that one of them was defeated, not even to the ordinary police officers. Because it would damage their reputation as the strongest. I thought security was oddly strict, but I guess there were some suspicious activities besides our own.”
“There are a ton of people here too,” said Marika. “I’m just thankful they still haven’t reached the point of dragging people out and beating them up.”
“Marika, you’re a girl, so watch yourself among all those rioters.”
“Oh, you’re worried about me? …Kyah!?”
“Just kidding. Ah ha ha!”
She was laughing innocently, but his heart had skipped a beat. He doubted any of these people would know they were responsible, but if they really had lost their savings due to the collapse in the iron and aluminum markets, then they might want to attack Karuta’s group for causing that. Sweat soaked his brow while his carefree curled twintails childhood friend whispered in a conspiratorial tone.
“But doesn’t this seem like the perfect opportunity? The rioters are taking out all the cameras with their bats and spray paint. With the usual surveillance network not working, we might be able to get close to the Palace of Westminster where that Problem Solver waits.”
“I doubt it will be that simple.”
Karuta was still concerned, so Marika argued her case.
“It would damage the G21’s reputation if they called off their international summit over some simple rioting, so they’ll stay there and so will the Problem Solvers guarding them. Yukino can’t escape right now. See, it’s the perfect opportunity.”
He too had considered it in a corner of his mind.
Could they take a shortcut while the police and the surveillance network were focused on the rioters? Or could they guide the rioters toward the Palace of Westminster? He was sick of this cheap idea of justice that was more of an excuse than anything. Almost everyone he knew had been crystallized and shattered before his eyes and his body seemed to burn with a desire for vengeance, so he found that kind of justice was more distasteful than wax food samples.
But could they really control it?
And what would happen if they could not?
“We have to do it,” said Student Council President Omotesandou Kyouka. “Our feelings about this are too strong to restrain just because we ran into some unexpected trouble, right?”
He slowly exhaled and stood up from his curled-up position. He was unsure if he should follow or fight the flow of rioters, but he decided to take a different route to the Palace of Westminster while the police were focused on those rioters. Of course, he was using them either way.
With that thought, he nonchalantly slipped off of the frenzied major road and into a small alleyway.
That was when it happened.
A light spear fell from the sky.
He had no idea what this meant.
It had hit on the next major road over, a mere 20m away from him.
It was more sudden than a lightning strike and brighter than a spotlight.
A cascade of people filled the sidewalks and street there and one section of them was mercilessly vaporized. Human bodies were instantly converted into a spray that splattered over the surrounding road, walls, and survivors, creating a living hell of intense heat and pain as if boiling water had been thrown around.
This attack had been powerful enough to split the school’s escort ships in two.
A diameter of ten meters was torn away and the twenty meters around that was covered in a scorching hell. The unbelievable heat melted the asphalt and the stone walls of the centuries-old buildings glowed red like an oven.
Screams erupted from all around.
The many garbage bags flew through the air like popping popcorn and the heat robbed them of their shape as bags before they hit the ground. Crushed candy boxes and toilet paper tubes burned as they spread out through the air. So many trailing light sources fell on the city like the burning arrows pouring down upon a besieged castle.
No one would have known what happened and would not have known where to run. It devolved into a panicked shoving match that caused a dominos-like chain reaction spreading out from the landing points.
Karuta dizzily pressed his back against the alley wall.
“What in the hell!?” he roared before his confused mind finally remembered how to feel pain.
His entire body was covered by an itching pain as if he were being pricked by thousands upon thousands of needles.
He looked down to see his clothing was unnaturally swelling out from within. He touched his face to find it felt oddly rough. Was that a problem with his cheeks or with his fingertips? Whatever the case, his entire body had been injured and the crystallization was healing him. This had broken right through his weakened preset barrier.
If something else hit him now, it was all over.
If his body parts were torn away along with the healing crystals, he would lose them forever.
He would lose any chance at recovering.
He lost control of his breathing at the thought.
And during that hellishly-long 30 seconds, it happened again.
The night was swept away.
The attack lasted ten full seconds, but it was further away this time. He could take a more objective view of how strange that light and heat was. It was like viewing the sun stretched out like a sugar sculpture.
“I saw it too!” said Marika with a fair bit of panic in her voice. “Yukino is using her light spears on London!! All to silence the rioters!!”
“The rioters are bringing down their defenses and preventing her from locating her real targets: us,” said Kyouka. “She must intend to annihilate them along with us if they insist on getting in her way.”
The crystal fragments fell from Karuta’s body with a dry cracking sound.
His limbs and face were fine.
They were all healed up.
“But how…how can she get away with this? This is the site of the G21 summit, so there’s a ton of reporters around! Not to mention the normal people can take videos with their phones and upload them! Is Yukino Arakawa committing social suicide for this!?”
“She may be playing the villain.” He was not sure what the Student Council President meant by that. “And since the Problem Solvers regularly battle the Threat, they can just say London was annihilated in an attack by the Threat. They can claim to have done their best to rescue the people of London but ultimately failed to save everyone.”
“But…but that’s absurd…”
“She can get away with it. Remember that no one knows what the Threat is or any details about the God Worshiping Magic used by the Problem Solvers. People are only aware of the end result: cities and countries erased overnight. So in the worst case, can’t they just lie about who was firing those light spears?”
He was truly speechless.
What did this mean? Did it not matter at all to Yukino Arakawa if there were witnesses of her committing mass murder? Could she escape all responsibility by calmly saying the Threat did it, she had nothing to do with it, and it was a shame what happened to London? How convenient a world did those strongests live in!?
“Sacri-sama, this could be an opportunity.”
“Yukino attacking the rioters is proof that she does not know where we are. That means we can safely approach the Palace of Westminster and catch her off guard.”
“Nothing else we do can stop her from firing those light spears. If your goal is to reduce the total number of deaths, then I recommend taking the shortest route to defeating Yukino.”
Even now, the world was intermittently switching between night and day.
The heat would last anywhere from a few seconds to a few dozen seconds, so how many lives were being lost each time?
He clenched his teeth so hard he thought they would break.
But he could not come up with anything cleverer than Aine’s cold answer.
He pressed his back against a wall near the alleyway entrance and scratched at his bangs with a hand. He started to turn away from the main road filled with screams of fear and anger.
But he stopped.
A lot of people had fallen in that pandemonium of light, heat, and shoving, so the survivors were desperately trying to remain in that category by crawling below or climbing over the others.
He saw someone there among the rioters who had been demanding information on the Threat be released.
A small girl was sitting on the ground with a handmade sign. She must have come here with a parent or older sibling.
Utagai Karuta had crossed those piles of shattered crystal statues. While the other students wearing the same uniform had fallen, he had pathetically crawled behind those statues to escape the dinosaur. This was not his first time doing this, so he should have been able to do it again no matter how painful it was.
Except he had seen the messy writing painted on that handmade sign: “Tell us what happened to my big brother and the others at Grimnoah!”
He slammed his forehead against the alleyway wall.
His barrier meant he felt almost no pain, but memories of the Ocean Crystal Magic Academy returned vividly to his mind.
He could taste the fish and chips he had made late at night in the kitchen with some help from an exchange student in order to learn if British food was as bad as they said.
He could not do it.
He had hit his limit.
“Aine. And Marika too. Change of plans.”
“Yes, Sacri-sama. What should I do?”
“You two take the shortest route to defeat Yukino Arakawa. Stop her from firing those light spears as soon as possible to keep the damage to a minimum.”
“I’ll do that, but what about you?” asked Marika.
He pulled the modified military flashlight from his blazer pocket and took a deep breath.
“I will draw her attention. Yukino has completely snapped, but if she knows where her target is, she won’t have a reason to indiscriminately attack the rioters. If I keep her focused on me, fewer of the ordinary people will die, so I’ll approach her in as noticeable a way as I can manage!”
“This isn’t a debate, Aine. Just do it!!”
That last command was not just directed at the others.
And there was one other thing he had to do before he got started.
He shouted from the entrance of the alleyway and the girl’s shoulders jumped. He did not care if he scared her and he did not need her trust, so he simply told her what she needed to do.
“Get inside immediately! Any sturdy building will do!!”
It looked more like she was running from him in fear than heeding his warning. She made sure to take the sign with her as she frantically stood up and ran toward a shop made of stone and metal.
She would be safer there than in the open outdoors.
But their fate still counted on what Karuta himself would do next.
He would not let them be targeted. No matter what.
He once more turned away from the main road and ran further into the back alley. However, he was not abandoning the people who had come here to protest. Quite the opposite. If he was going to draw the attacks toward himself, he needed to stay away from them. Getting them caught in the attack too would be meaningless.
Gathering Yukino Arakawa’s attention from a distance was easy.
She was using the city’s security network to search for her target’s location.
(I just have to start taking out every camera I come across!!)
He reached into one of the scattered garbage bags and pulled out a half-full drink bottle that’s contents had turned to sludge. Then he only had to splatter that across the lenses peering down at him. While he did that three or four times, he felt a great pressure bearing down on his stomach.
The oddity would be reported immediately and an area with the security down would likely be seen as dangerous.
Focus would shift from that horrific main road to this back alley.
(I’m just getting started!!)
In her nun’s habit given large slits in the sides, Yukino Arakawa smiled in amusement on the building rooftop.
Her smartphone’s screen displayed a warning.
Cameras in one area were being destroyed one after another. She doubted this was just the rioters doing it on a whim. The spread of the damage was too quick for that, so it felt a lot more like someone was specifically targeting her “eyes”.
(Could you not bear it any longer? In that case, killing some more civilians to rub it in your face might be amusing.)
She considered that detour, but decided to focus on her main target.
She raised the staff in her other hand and sent a command up to satellite orbit.
“Now, let’s brighten this dark screen with a light spear.”
A blinding light spear crashed down from the heavens.
Karuta had known there would only be a few seconds of lag between taking out the cameras in an area and Yukino finding it suspicion, so he took off running to put as much space between himself and that location as he could. Nevertheless, something like a blazing wind slammed into his body. He had escaped a direct hit, but the fearsome heat had expanded the air and formed an invisible wall.
The blow to his back shattered his barrier.
He rolled along the filthy alley.
Strange cracking sounds continued on and on as crystals covered most of his body. The thirty second countdown began. Another attack before then and it was all over. The healing process would be stopped, everything would be torn from his body, and he would die. That was plainly obvious to him.
He checked behind him from the ground and saw both walls of the alley were orange and melted. The piles of trash had become pillars of fire reminiscent of giant fir trees burning down in a forest fire. The alley surface had melted like a sugar sculpture and it had collapsed down to create a large hole. That may have connected to the sewer or the subway.
He slowly got to his feet.
He scattered crystal fragments across the ground as the healing completed.
He resumed running.
They had feared Yukino could search for them using thermo images taken by a satellite, but he was starting to think that was not a concern. The heat here was so high that the entire area would be blotted out with white. She could not use that to see if her target had survived.
(I only have to focus on the surface cameras.)
He clenched his teeth while taking out a few more security camera lenses with a drink or a spray can to draw the light spears toward him. He once more felt a sunburn-like pain in his skin.
The slight lag was working out for him, but the more cameras he took out, the more data she would have to predict his route. If her prediction was accurate enough and she fired where she expected him to be, he was done for. He would be vaporized before he could even feel the pain.
He was running around and barely avoiding death, but for some reason, there was a smile on his face.
He had no idea what it was he wanted to do, but he felt like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders for the first time in a while.
“Ha ha ha ha ha! Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!”
He had attended Ocean Crystal Magic Academy Grimnoah.
He had learned Crystal Magic that used a Crystal Blossom via a printed circuit board smaller than a stamp.
He had trained to combat the Threat that put the world in danger.
In the end, what had he really wanted to do?
He no longer had that right. His days at that school and the future he had envisioned for himself had been stolen by the Problem Solvers and his group had sullied it themselves when they used Crystal Magic against Elicia after she had already surrendered. But the remnants of that dream had remained there somewhere in his heart.
However, that thought was interrupted.
Even if he outsmarted them and protected the civilians, the great evil of the Problem Solvers was still out there. And one part of that evil, the demon named Yukino Arakawa, was making her next move.
The night sky shined bright.
He knew this had to be another light spear, but instead of cowering in fear like an animal, he used his rational mind to send himself running even a step further before it hit.
But something unexpected happened.
The light did not gather together.
The brightness in the night sky endlessly expanded instead of taking the form of a spear.
A chill ran down his spine.
It almost looked like a giant suspended ceiling of fiery heat dropping down to crush the city of London!
Blinding light erupted out.
It covered a diameter of more than 10km directed north from the center of London. The light and heat were so great it seemed to swallow up the entire city there.
Yukino Arakawa laughed on the rooftop just outside of its range.
Her short black hair blew in the night wind and she spoke with staff in hand.
Night turned to day. No, it was more like a video that turned out entirely white because the exposure was set wrong.
A sunburn-like pain covered Karuta’s entire body. And it did not end there. The pain increased endlessly. He knew he could not stay here, so he slipped below a car parked on the curb.
His fingers were moving oddly.
Pointy crystals stuck out from all over his body like distorted scales.
(What’s happening now!?)
The attack continued for more than thirty seconds before night returned. He clenched his teeth at the pain, waited for the healing to complete, and checked on things outside. After a thirty second interval, white light filled the world once more.
“Kyah!?” screamed Marika.
“We did not see this phenomenon before,” said Aine.
“But we can survive brief exposure to this,” he said. “Can she switch between a focused and wide-angle version? Or…”
The next attack came, but when he took a closer look, he realized the blinding light did not fill the entire space.
It was more like a polka dot pattern or a mesh.
Countless light spears were piercing the city of London at a set interval. There were tens, hundreds, or even thousands of them and the space between that mesh of attacks was roasted by the residual heat. It was like how a grill efficiently heated food.
“Is this a scattershot!? She doesn’t just have the one satellite weapon. How many weapons are staring down at the planet!?”
“Sacri-sama, the light spears appear to be firing on the same coordinates each time. She likely scanned London’s terrain and calculated the optimal layout for evenly cooking everything with the radiant heat.”
“Thousands of attacks she can fire simultaneously with the added bonus of roasting an entire city if she scans the terrain?” said Marika. “I see. I suppose you would need something like that to count as one of the world’s strongest.”
“But, Marika, as convenient as this is, it isn’t immediately effective. She must be waiting for me to screw up, which means she’s lost track of me.”
“Argh, maybe it would be easier to travel along the subway tracks.”
“Sacri-sama, this much damage is within acceptable bounds for me. I can continue as is.”
“Pretend it’s hurting you. You’ll stick out like a sore thumb otherwise.”
He crawled out from below the car in between shots.
He had not expected this at all back then, so it was pure luck that he had told that girl to escape indoors.
And he had learned something. The attacks and the pause between attacks both lasted about thirty seconds. Once he knew that, this scattershot mode was no threat. By running into a boxy smoking area or a building with its windows smashed by the rioters, he could take shelter while making his way toward the Palace of Westminster. When he ran across a rioter writhing on the ground, he did his best to shove them underneath a nearby car.
He gasped for breath and felt sweat unpleasantly soaking his body, but there was a thin smile on his face.
“I’m not afraid of you anymore, Yukino Arakawa.”
The hunter ran through the dark city of London which had been transformed into a fiery hell.
He was drawing ever closer to the Palace of Westminster where his prey awaited.
“I think you screwed this one up,” said another one of the Problem Solvers over the phone.
Yukino Arakawa calmly responded from atop the building rooftop.
“What makes you think that?”
“You had to destroy London? Sure, these things happen. But there’s a G21 summit being held here and some of the people in attendance will know about the God-Worshipping Magic we use. They’ll know who did this and you won’t be able to pass this off as the work of the Threat.”
“Hee hee. Don’t you worry.” She laughed and tapped the bottom of her staff against the rooftop below her feet. “Once I am done, I will raze this building as well. I just have to eradicate anyone who knows the truth of the Threat and the Problem Solvers, right?”
“We’re talking about multiple heads of state here.”
“Why would that matter? More importantly, have you managed to contact Anastasia? I cannot blame this all on the Threat without her approval.”
“Well, I’m willing to bet she’ll go along with this. She wouldn’t want the framework of the Problem Solvers to fall apart over something this stupid.”
“Is that so? In that case…”
“It looks like you were a little too slow.”
The voice speaking over her phone sounded disappointed.
Yukino felt a chill down her spine and attempted to analyze why that was, but it was too late.
She turned around to find a boy in a supposedly eradicated purple blazer standing on the same roof as her.
He said nothing.
His shoulders rose and fell as he caught his breath, he held a military flashlight that looked plenty heavy to use as a blunt weapon, and he slowly – very slowly – walked toward her.
Yukino Arakawa’s cheeks tensed somewhat.
Once he was this close, she could no longer use her light spears. They were so powerful she would destroy herself in the blast too.
This was checkmate.
Even if she did not like the result, the time for games had ended.
So with staff in hand, she spread her hands toward the approaching boy. Almost like she wanted to say they should abandon their plans for a picnic and head home early since it was raining.
She made a suggestion with a truly reluctant smile.
“Okay, I surrender. You win.”
She sounded like someone throwing their cards on the table because they ended up one card short of a winning hand.
She sounded like she was only going to lose a few stacks of chips.
“Let’s end this here. This is a fairly good deal for you too. I am one of the Problem Solvers, so I have a lot of pull with the world’s governments and I can get all of your past crimes wiped from the record. You’ll be pardoned! Yes, pardoned for everything! You can return to ordinary society without worrying about a thing! Wow, isn’t that incredible!? You can get off scot free, you lucky devil☆”
The boy did not respond.
He had not spoken a single word since arriving.
“And as a special bonus, we will stop pursuing you. I promise and swear it. I mean, you were looking for a way out after starting this and getting in way over your head, weren’t you? You were stuck on the path you had set for yourself. I mean, how long were you going to keep doing this revenge stuff? Did you really think you could keep getting away with it? It’s important to know when to quit while you’re ahead and the last train is about to leave as far as that is concerned. I have your ticket right here. I’m compromising quite a bit here, so you should really be thank-blwehhh!?”
Something exploded in her nose.
By the time she realized he had smashed the soft cartilage with a full swing of the military flashlight, she was already rolling along the rooftop.
The fiery pain caused her to let go of the staff and hold her face with both hands. She felt something sticky and a warm liquid dripped from between her fingers. An iron flavor spread through her mouth.
Her eyes opened as wide as they would go and she crawled on all fours while trying to figure out what was happening while her mind went blank with confusion.
Then scorching rage exploded in her mind.
“Y-y-you!? You hit a woman in the fa-gwelgh!!!!!!”
He did not speak a word.
Not a single one.
Instead, he swung down a second blow. This time to her jaw. Or was it her cheek? All she knew was that she felt a bone in her face breaking, her teeth no longer fit together right in her mouth, and her face’s skin felt unnaturally stretched. Now she really sensed danger. She knew she was in trouble. This boy had shut down all attempt at communication. He was not treating her like a fellow human being. He looked down on her with cold eyes like she was no more than an insect as he determined where to hit her next and then mercilessly swung down that heavy flashlight.
A storm of blows awaited her. She did not even have time to think about standing up. She curled up, protected her head with her hands, and simply endured it the best she could. Her anger at this unreasonable situation was ultimately overwritten by the fear of having her understanding of the world no longer apply. Her body was enveloped by a feeling closer to heat than pain as she incessantly repeated the same word in her heart.
Why, why, why?
It’s wrong to hit a woman in the face. And it’s definitely wrong to use a blunt weapon to do it.
All I did was unilaterally attack a useless school, slaughter all the teachers and students, and use my power as one of the Problem Solvers without bothering to listen to any of their screams or cries for mercy. That was a mere 700 people. Not that I actually counted. The escort ships? What, they count too??? Then that’s even more reason I can’t be blamed for missing one. Why does this have to happen to me just becomes one of them survived!?
“Ah, ahhhh, ahhhhhhhhhh.”
There was one thing here Yukino Arakawa did not realize.
And since she had never once lost – at least to another human being – that was hardly surprising.
The Problem Solvers always won crushing victories in any conflicts between humans. Her opponents had always grown utterly fed up with war, so when she brought up the possibility of a ceasefire or making peace, they would jump at the chance and accept even the worst terms. Yukino saw war as something she could switch off as easily as a lightbulb. She was always the one that decided when it ended.
But not this time.
This was entirely different.
This was a quagmire of a battle that would never end once it had begun. It would continue until one side or the other was dead and there was no room for compromise or negotiation.
She had never experienced this since victory was always assured for her.
And that had led her to push the snowball down the hill without realizing what it would mean.
Every last part of her mind was trapped in a vortex of pain she had never before experienced and in the fear that she might lose.
She was fundamentally different from this boy whose loss was all but guaranteed but would try to tear out his enemy’s windpipe with his teeth even if his arms and legs had all shattered.
She could keep moving, yet she stopped.
While battered, bruised, and curled up in the fetal position, all she did was tremble. The purple blazer boy grabbed her black hair and mercilessly yanked her head up. He looked her in the eye and crouched down to speak.
“Work with me. Tell me everything you know about the Problem Solvers, about why you attacked our school, and about the Threat!! I have no reason not to kill you, so if you don’t want to die, you’ll have to give me a reason yourself! Got that!?”
It was like a switch had been thrown.
Suddenly – truly suddenly – a lightbulb went off in Yukino Arakawa’s head.
This boy did not want to kill her. He was inspiring so much fear and dispensing so much violence and he had driven her a step away from death, yet he was acting like he had done nothing wrong. She could tell from the look in his eyes that he did not actually want to do this. He did not want to take revenge. He was using the Problem Solvers’ actions as an excuse to fight and playing the victim to take the next step guilt free.
Was she going to lose to this?
Was she going to let him use her to have his happily ever after?
Before she had even taking this fight seriously?
When she still had not just her teeth but her arms and legs too???
Something ignited deep in her gut.
She reached out a battered hand and grabbed her giant staff that was lying nearby. The blazer boy immediately tried to grab her wrist, but it was too late. And this was not a tool used to hit people.
“To hell with that. To hell with all of that, you garbage heap!! Don’t act so smug just because you briefly delayed getting fried! If you want to be blasted that badly, then today’s your lucky dayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!”
“Wait, you idiot! You’ll hit yourself too!”
“I don’t give a crap! Blowing myself up with my own attack is a hundred times better than losing to some asshole acting like he’s some blameless victim!!!!!!”
He tried to steal away the staff but gave up on that and collapsed away from her instead.
“I beseech thee, Lugh, Celtic God of Light!!”
While sprawled out on the rooftop, Yukino Arakawa saw a point of glittering light in the night sky.
And a moment later, a light spear capable of slicing through an escort ship vaporized its own wielder.
Pain exploded from his body like he had been sprayed with boiling water.
“Ah, ahhhhh, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!”
He could tell his body was covered with distorted crystals.
His weak barrier was no use at all. He rolled and writhed on the roof. He forced himself to think of the pain as a good thing since it meant he was still alive. This pain was caused by vaporized Yukino Arakawa. He had been burned by the steam that had been her flesh.
More than half his body was covered by pointy crystals.
He was hit by the stench of human flesh being cooked.
Yukino’s last form of resistance clung to him with a feeling like melted cheese. He desperately tried to tear it away, but his dominant hand’s elbow and shoulder would not move. They were completely locked by the crystals.
He could only wait until the preset effect had healed his full-body burns. An intense feeling of disgust caused the core of his body to stir like an active volcano, but forcing himself to move during the healing process would be like opening a chrysalis or cocoon from the outside. If he carelessly ruptured it, he might never return to normal again.
He moved just his left arm as much as he could to wipe off his face and body and rid himself of the source of the pain.
It felt like being bitten by the corpse of the person he thought he had killed.
After thirty seconds, the crystals that provided him new skin fell away.
“Pant, pant, gasp.”
He rolled over, tried to catch his breath, and rubbed his eyes.
It happened again.
They had died again. They had disappeared before his eyes. Yukino had chosen death herself instead of one of his partners dirtying their hands, but the death still stung in his heart.
At any rate, this was two down.
The danger of the light spear was gone too. The people of London no longer had to suffer and the city would not be wiped off the map to cover up the evidence.
A girl’s voice reached his ears while he thought about all that.
It belonged to Marika, his childhood friend with the curly twintails dyed strawberry blonde. She had activated her Crystal Blossom unit and descended onto the rooftop from the night sky.
“Were you trying to save her like last time?” she continued.
“Your decision to act as a diversion had nothing to do with revenge either. You were throwing away your own life to ‘go the other way’ and save the rioters who got caught in this mess, weren’t you?”
He gasped and looked up.
There were tears in Marika’s eyes as she bit her lip.
She threw aside her crystal rapier and gently got down on her knees.
She lay down on top of the boy while he lay collapsed on his back and she pressed her small face against his chest.
“No fair!! We said we were going to fight together to protect everyone, we said we were going to take revenge on the Problem Solvers for that, and we gathered everything we needed to do it! So why do you keep going back and forth on this? We thought for ourselves and figured out a way to hunt down the Problem Solvers, so why do you keep giving yourself an out as insurance? Don’t leave us behind like that… Don’t leave us behind here!!”
Still lying face up, he wrapped his arms around her back, held her close, and rubbed her head.
“I’m sorry, Marika.”
“You won’t leave me behind again? You won’t leave me all alone in this dark world?”
He slowly inhaled and exhaled before continuing.
“I’ll join you in hell.”
Not everyone was aware what exactly was happening there.
At a point four or five kilometers northeast of the Palace of Westminster, an eyepatch woman stood on a rooftop in the City district, a business region filled with modern buildings. She was a beautiful Western European woman, but she wore a brightly colored kimono.
(I lost the connection. Does that mean she really did get herself killed?)
“I beseech thee, Susanoo, Wakoku God of Violence.”
With that thought, she pulled three dice from her kimono’s sleeve and casually tossed them. The multiple upward-facing surfaces acted as a general guide as an enormous sword suddenly appeared out of thin air. It truly was more than 100km long. When standing upright, that absurd length was enough to reach the bottom of the thermosphere and to be mistaken for a space elevator. That massive weapon was far too much for a human to wield.
“Well, not that it matters.”
Four or five kilometers was just about to the horizon. Sending out some paper balloons equipped with cameras would be enough to expand her field of vision, but she could not rely on tricks like that with the giant sword taking up both her hands.
However, she knew the target had to be somewhere around the Palace of Westminster. And it did not really matter if that was not entirely accurate. If she made a vertical slash with this sword, it would blow away everything in the vicinity. Of course, that would also destroy all the buildings and take all the lives along the line to that point, including the G21 heads of state in the target building, but she did not care.
She had already agreed to do this.
Yukino Arakawa pissed her off, but that woman’s suggestions had always been clever.
“Sayonara, Yukino-chan. I’ll crush them along with your corpse!!” she shouted.
A blazing red trail similar to a shooting star and a contrail of disturbed air accompanied the absurdly long sword as she swung it down in both hands.
But something happened before she could complete its hemispherical course downwards.
A gunshot rang loud in her ears.
There was a gaping, volleyball-sized hole in the center of her chest.
The sword was supported by her magic power, so it vanished into thin air.
The eyepatch woman lost sight of when to die and slowly turned around while coughing up blood.
She heard a metallic squeaking.
A sexy girl with long black hair had arrived on the roof with her at some point. The girl sat in a wheelchair and held…was that a handgun??? But something was clearly out of the ordinary. Instead of the magazine being inserted into the bottom of the grip, it was inserted in front of the grip like with a submachinegun or assault rifle. Also, it was far too big. The magazine was the size of a thick metal detachable disk drive.
“Excuse me, lady, but I assume you are Jessie Marcus who controls South America? Oh, perhaps it was rude of me to skip all the formalities like that. How careless of me. But I do not need to explain why I am killing you, do I?”
Her voice was calm but also contained a hint of charm that seeped into you.
And it was mixed with a toxic intent to kill.
“This uses 12.7mm rounds. Those are generally used for heavy machineguns or anti-materiel rifles. Shrinking this down to a handgun size was not easy, but that lets me carry it wherever I like by hiding it on my lap.”
“Oh, you look surprised. Did you think a girl in a wheelchair couldn’t fire such a large bullet? It is true it might break my wrist to fire this one-handed. Or maybe it would flip the entire wheelchair over. But surely you must know the answer. Or did you do all that without knowing? I, Student Council President Omotesandou Kyouka, have already lost 58% of my body. I am like a dented-in doll that cannot maintain a human silhouette without supplementing my internal structure with my own Crystal Blossom.”
“After all, I had to do my duty as Student Council President after your rampage. I used my Crystal Magic to accelerate the time limit of the sleeping teachers and students by a rate of 10 thousand. All at the cost of a single body: my own. There is actually a good chance they will recover in less than a year.”
Then why had she not told Karuta and Marika that?
The answer was simple.
Whether it would take ten thousand years or a single month, a moment’s carelessness would reveal that cave’s location to the Problem Solvers and take away those teachers and students’ lives all the same.
Those five had to be killed to prevent that. So to preserve the other two’s burning desire for revenge, she had decided it was best not to tell them about the possibility of a more positive and hopeful future.
That was her plan.
Knowing might make them relax and trigger doom for them all, so she could wait until later to reveal that happy surprise.
“Firing such a large caliber gun in a wheelchair was something of a gamble, but I am willing to learn when it means a new way to kill you five. And I was bored stuck in this chair anyway.”
How had this happened?
The woman moved her mouth, but no words came out.
So the Student Council President continued giving the answers.
“The trick when setting up security cameras is to use as few as possible to eliminate all blind spots. The most common method is to place two cameras in opposite corners of the coverage area. When they are staring at each other, they each eliminate the blind spot below the other.”
So the Problem Solvers had done the same.
They placed the light spear in one corner of London and the giant sword in the opposite corner. Together, they could cover the entire district.
“Besides, the two of you are very similar. You both have surefire attacks with an extremely long range. Once you have our location, we are as good as dead. On the other hand, the motion is so large and the lag between attacks is so great that you do not want anyone approaching you. In that sense, it was not hard to realize the two of you would be covering for each other.”
They had held the Problem Solvers in place with that note that essentially claimed responsibility for the previous attack and announced another was coming. They had also decided to take out as many Problem Solvers as they could manage on the site of the G21 summit.
So Kyouka had known this would happen.
Just as they relaxed after defeating their primary target, another nightmarish attack would arrive.
So she had needed to take things a step further to save her partners.
But to put it another way, if the those two were positioned at opposite corners to cover for the other if anything went wrong, this was their biggest chance. They could easily work out where another of the Problem Solvers was hiding in London. And once something happened to Yukino Arakawa, the owner of the giant sword would be entirely focused on Yukino.
“To be honest, I don’t care what your name is, I don’t care what kind of person you are, and I don’t care what that giant sword of yours really is. I imagine it is uses weight-based magic that makes it feel light for you but heavy for your opponent, but, again, I really do not care. Only one thing matters to me: was that magic used to destroy our school?”
And that meant she would neglect to focus on everything except for Yukino.
It would create enough of an opening for a girl in a wheelchair to arrive this close.
“Are you familiar with the disgraceful idea that British cooking is bad?”
The Student Council President once more aimed her customized handgun at the eyepatch woman who still stubbornly refused to collapse.
She did not announce checkmate.
“People say their desserts are nothing but sugar and butter and their dinners are only flavored with salt and oil, but they are enjoying those things wrong. The food here is not made to be eaten on its own. The desserts are meant to be eaten with tea and the dinners are meant to be eaten with whisky or brandy.”
This was not over yet. She could keep going. The further she went, the more she could savor the flavor of revenge. Her entire body trembled at that fact.
“I thought there was no need to insist on revenge if it meant reducing my body to this. I thought I would stop at some point before straying as far as personally taking someone’s life. But really, this is the same as British cooking.”
She could preserve her pure desire for revenge even with the more hopeful estimation of when the teachers and students would recover.
That true exacter of revenge made a bold announcement with that extra-large gun in hand.
“It’s strange, really. My heart balks at the thought of killing, but when I eat it with some revenge on the side, it goes down oh so smoothly. Yes, I fear I could get hooked on this☆”
Another resolution was reached.
With no one to interrupt, she indulged in more and more and more revenge until she was practically drowning in it.
Between the Lines 2
Ocean Crystal Magic Academy Grimnoah.
Yukino Arakawa had a single thought about that.
“I think that old man has the wrong idea about this.”
All the world’s resources and assets had to be focused on the Problem Solvers if they were to combat the Threat, so they had developed a project to eliminate anything that would interrupt that. Whether it was a physical presence or an online one, once it grew large enough, people would naturally start to gather. So they had to crush those things.
That was the idea anyway, but…
“He wants us to give a speech at the opening ceremony of their Catastrophe event? For real? All he’s done is gather a bunch of needless talent, so their classes are entirely pointless.”
“But he is completely serious about this.”
The shadow cast at her feet changed form and spoke with a refined male voice.
That was Lugh, Celtic God of Light.
“Some people think an elite few geniuses will crack under the pressure of everyone’s lives bearing down on their shoulders and they have a tendency to bring mass-production systems into the military field. Of course, the problem is that his attempt to help you is only taking your position from you.”
“Are you saying that old man is a danger to us?”
“Perhaps. But to be honest, I’m jealous. Fighting on the side that is doomed to fail is a warrior’s honor. I know I shouldn’t say this when I’m the one lending you this power, but always standing on the side of certain victory causes you to fester.”
“We cannot afford to be picky.”
“Fair enough.” Her shadow calmly scratched its head. “But anyway, the idea of a magic academy is pretty nice even if we ignore the whole Crystal Magic thing. Again, I shouldn’t say this when I’m lending you this power, but God-Worshipping Magic is so powerful that you can’t really practice using it. If someone developed a way to efficiently teach it, I might be saved from seeing the unsightly result of people borrowing my power and losing control the very first time they use it.”
“You need not worry about that,” said Yukino in a voice much kinder than the people she knew would imagine from her. But she was not announcing that she would create such a magic education system. “I am the strongest working with you now, so as long as I stay with you, you do not need to think about what will happen with the next one.”
“Yeah, well, you say that, but…”
“Well, um, uh, man, I’m really not sure how to put this.”
“If you have something to say, then just come out and say it. You are a god, aren’t you? Then you do not need to hold back with a mere human.”
Yukino wore something like a nun’s habit with bold slits in the sides, but her religion was not the monotheistic one symbolized by the cross and a holy book.
She only folded her hands in prayer to the god who had taken her to a higher stage.
That was why she felt no hesitation at all when it came to wielding that tremendous power. It was the ultimate performance that showed the world that she was connected to a god who loved her.
Even if that performance meant burning away her own body.
It was the same as exchanging rings and going on a honeymoon.
Sometimes you wanted a physical symbol of it all.
“Wh-what are the others doing?” asked her shadow. “Like Jessie of the giant sword.”
“She is the same as ever. It is hard to tell if their compatibility was devastatingly bad or devastatingly good because she is still developing into a complete berserker with no apparent distinction between her and Susanoo. Of course, that might be one way of bringing yourselves together.”
“So she just wants to fight and doesn’t care why, huh? I’ll admit I see the appeal.”
“Lord Lugh, surely you are not showing an interest in another human woman.”
“Course not.” Her shadow wagged its finger. “Bloodthirsty fights to the death are a warriors’ honor, but that isn’t something you enjoy along with the woman you’ve fallen for. The one thing I couldn’t stand to do is push you toward certain death.”
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