Apocalypse Witch:Volume1 Chapter3
Yes, we are here in Rio de Janeiro.
As you can see, the city’s borders are blocked off by barricades and yellow tape so us normal folk are not allowed to see inside. Footage from helicopters or drones is not an option because the area has been declared a no-fly zone and civilian satellites have been forced to mask the data they release in accordance with the International Peaceful Usage of Space Treaty.
The details have not been announced as per the usual information restriction, but rumor has it the Threat did this.
Time and again this month, the Problem Solvers have been less than successful and people suspect this incident could have been entirely prevented if all five of those strongests had been deployed as usual, so public groups appear to be requesting the information be released.
Elicia “Saurus” Luxverg.
Yukino “Punish” Arakawa.
Jessie “Edge” Marcus.
Those three are known as the public face of the Problem Solvers while the other two have not left as much of an impression on us since they are more like secret weapons kept hidden from the public.
Some tabloids and online news sites have been suggesting there are not in fact five Problem Solvers and those three are it, but the truth will likely be difficult to find since not a single government is willing to say anything on the matter.
Meanwhile, the Threat remains an issue.
We can only pray that the Problem Solvers quickly recover from whatever is troubling them.
The LCD TV went silent in the middle of the news.
No one had hit the power button on the remote. Amaashi Marika, a girl with twintails dyed a bright strawberry blonde, had thrown the remote at the screen.
Student Council President Omotesandou Kyouka smiled softly.
“Oh, sorry. That just pissed me off way too much is all.”
Marika pouted her lips, but she did actually bow her head.
They had taken their RV out of England and to the fellow European nation of Germany. They had a simple reason for that: two of the Problem Solvers had been killed during the G21 summit. The country was bound to be locked down while a largescale search began. Britain was an island nation, so it could be locked down more tightly than other nations. Once the circle closed around them, there would be no escape.
But why had it not been locked down immediately? They could guess the higher ups decided not to explain to the normal police what had happened because they feared the chaos and panic if word of what happened got out.
Either way, they had needed to escape while they still could.
Marika glanced over at the dead TV.
“How long are we going to be able to watch TV like this?”
“Yes, defeating Yukino caused the Sunny Side Up network to break apart in earth’s gravity, didn’t it?” said Kyouka. “The system was not 100% reliant on that, but losing a major source puts pressure on everything else.”
“Yeah, I hear the houses that run on solar power are having the solar panels stolen from their roofs now. It might not be long before people start stealing car batteries.”
Yukino’s defeat had destabilized the world’s power supply. The governments that had been using her for general power were scrambling to get their old power stations running at full capacity again, but that would leave the government supercomputers and particle accelerators without power.
Those were used to develop new drugs for incurable diseases.
Or so it was claimed to secure the budget to keep them running.
If they stopped, it was sure to cause various problems.
Utagai Karuta blankly listened to them from the sofa while losing himself in thought. Their revenge had reduced the number of Problem Solvers, which in turn increased the fury of the Threat. Quite a few countries, regions, or cities had entirely disappeared overnight this month alone and many unrelated people had met an unfortunate end.
Everyone talked about it like they were blaming Karuta’s group.
It was almost like the Problem Solvers were intentionally holding back to increase the damage done so they could place the blame on them.
But Karuta also had another thought.
“Does the Threat even exist at all?”
That was a fundamental question.
He had started to wonder back in London. Yukino Arakawa had tried to escape responsibility for mass murder by shoving the blame onto the Threat. What if they had done that over and over in the past? The Threat might exist or it might not, but someone was clearly taking advantage of the situation.
The Threat was beginning to function as a means of manipulating public opinion through fear and confusion and as a veil to cover up inconvenient truths.
That thought painted the previous news report in a different light.
Search out the villains who are attacking the Problem Solvers. The world needs to come together and hunt them down.
If the Problem Solvers had really destroyed several cities just for that, then they had brought their villainy to a whole new level. But at the same time, he could not help but note that the people who had destroyed their giant ship of a school could easily pull it off.
Not only did they have the ability, but they also had the lack of scruples.
“Anyway.” The Student Council President clapped her hands together in front of her large chest. “The dinosaur, the light spear, and the giant sword. We’ve taken out half of the Problem Solvers now, but you could say the real challenge is yet to come. You know why that is, don’t you?”
Crystal Girl Aine shook her rainbow-glowing silver hair, fluttered her transparent white dress, and quietly tilted her head in a corner of the RV.
Karuta sighed and refocused his mind.
“Unlike those three, we have no records of the other two fighting. We’ve defeated all the ones we saw use their God-Worshiping Magic at our school.”
“Yes. Our experience and data allowed us to put together a detailed plan and that made all the difference. The Problem Solvers are the world’s strongest and now we will be forced to go in blind and adlib our way through it.”
“By the way, Sacri-sama, is it possible the Problem Solvers not seen at your school did not actually participate in that battle?”
Aine seemed to be speaking on behalf of Karuta’s reluctance to kill, but it was him who rejected the idea.
“We know the dinosaur was on the ship and the light spear and giant sword most likely attacked from outside, so that means there was at least one more of them there: the woman who laughed over the ship’s speakers. This is only a guess and we can’t rely on it too much, but if four of them were a part of it, it seems unlikely just the one sat it out.”
There was no real cloud on Marika or Kyouka’s faces.
It felt wrong to consider the possibility that one of the Problem Solvers was actually a good person. They could not imagine it even as a hypothetical.
“But to be honest, going in blind is not going to be easy,” spat out his curly twintails childhood friend with a bitter look on her face. “What kind of attack do they use, how powerful is it, what’s its range, how often can they use it, etc. And beyond that, without knowing their name or where they live, we can’t fight them or even approach them. An intuition-based game of concentration using all 5.5 billion people on the planet doesn’t sound very promising.”
“We do have something to go on there,” said the Student Council President as she smiled and pulled something from the chest of her blazer.
It was a card-sized electronic device.
“The light spear woman was obliterated, but the giant sword one remained a little more intact, so I swiped her phone. And I made sure to modify it so not even the owner would be able to track it. …And by ‘modify’, I mean I checked the device’s plans and drove a nail through the transmission chip.”
“Are you saying that might tell us the location of a Problem Solvers base or personal information on the other members?”
“It’s worth looking into, don’t you think?”
Note: the gold leaf is contained in a separate package. Sprinkle it on to enjoy the crunch!
“Is gold leaf actually crunchy?” groaned Utagai Karuta while reading the Japanese confection’s package.
A small plastic bag contained thin flakes that glittered gold. There was only about a pinch or two at the most. Instead of a single folded piece, it was even smaller than pieces of katsuobushi. It may have been more like a powder than a leaf.
They had bought this on the black market.
They had used that kind of sketchy store instead of a legit one because of the influence of the Problem Solvers’ defeat. The light spear had not been the only one to die in London that day.
The giant sword woman had as well.
The Student Council President had defeated the one who apparently controlled the world’s industrial side.
Simply put, that woman had run a giant all-purpose factory that could make anything if you sent her a request via email. For normal corporations, everything leading up to that email had mattered far more than the production infrastructure. In other words, the value of intellectual property like designs and plans had skyrocketed. They had started using analog microfilm as a countermeasure against hackers, that had led to the spread of business-oriented banks that specialized in safe-deposit boxes for that microfilm, and companies called for armored cars as readily as motorcycle couriers.
Then that entire system had collapsed overnight.
Corporations around the world had lost that all-purpose factory, but they could not prepare their own production infrastructure so quickly. They could not supply the products for the orders they were receiving. They all had to build their own factories in a hurry, but they needed money to pay for that. They were forced to sell off all sorts of things: their buildings, the designs of their products, and even human beings in the form of layoffs.
The chaos was unlikely to end soon.
The shelves of retail stores were empty and the foods and everyday items sold on the black market were going for exorbitant prices. It had reached the point where it was said you needed a knife or a handgun to even start haggling.
(But this won’t last forever.)
Karuta observed the situation with a somehow cold look in his eyes.
(Humans always find a way of bringing things back to normal. And I’m used to being hated by this point, so you can’t use them as hostages, Problem Solvers.)
Meanwhile, there was Crystal Girl Aine.
She must not have cared in the slightest about that human interplay of joy and sorrow because she was already leaning forward without considering the hem of her transparently white dress.
“H-hurry! Hurry up and sprinkle that crunchiness on the yokan and then give me permission to eat it! Pant, pant, ahh, woof, woof!!”
“This is looking more and more like some kind of dangerous withdrawal symptoms, so are you sure it’s safe to let you have this!?”
Her eyes were spinning and drool dripped from the corner of her mouth. She looked so frail that she would break if you held her too tightly, but that only made it look all the more inappropriate when she was staring so intently at the powdered contents of a small plastic bag. That mystery crystal girl did not rely on any god’s name to accurately calculate out the collision of the energy from the Original Crystal Embryo at the center of the earth and the supernatural forces pouring down from outer space, but at times like this, she made him look like the bad guy.
It was Student Council President Omotesandou Kyouka who smiled gently.
She held a small plate containing a mille-crepe that was not a convenience store product. Karuta did not know the name of the tea she had on the table either and he doubted he would remember it even if she told him.
“My, my. But if you refuse to give it to her now, I am pretty sure she would throw a tantrum that would cause the RV to burst open like a jack-in-the-box.”
“She’s asked for gold powder and gold leaf before, but that doesn’t really change the flavor, does it?” asked curly twintailed Marika.
That girl lay on the sofa bed with a bunch of cheap snacks piled around her. When the time had come for each of them to choose their own snacks, she alone had ignored the luxury items and gone for quantity over quality.
“It is not an issue of flavor and the nutrients required by the human body are irrelevant to me. I need gold, pure gold. By adding wiring thinner than hairs inside my silicon semiconductor body, I can expand to even greater heights!!”
“I don’t really get it, but it’s creeping me out.”
How had this happened?
It was going to take some time to analyze the smartphone they had swiped from the giant sword woman’s corpse, so they had nothing to discuss concerning the other Problem Solvers who never made media appearances. With nothing to do, they had decided to head out and buy some food.
So where had the money for that come from?
That too was simple.
“The Problem Solvers really are loaded, aren’t they?”
“Impressively so. Can you see now why all the powerful nations want to call themselves the guardians of the law despite how annoying that position is?”
Basically, they had stolen more than just the phone from the giant sword woman.
They had taken a life without leaving any room for argument, they had checked over the corpse and stolen everything of value, and they had bought some luxury items with that money to take a nice break. As reluctant as Karuta had been, he could not deny they really were living the lives of avengers at this point.
Slender Crystal Girl Aine was the most lacking in morals (since she was not human) and now she was all fired up. Was he imagining things or was her long silver hair stirring?
“Sacri-sama, how long are you going to tease me? If you don’t give it to me soon, I am going to enter a rebellious phase.”
“I don’t think that’s how you’re supposed to use a rebellious phase.”
“Can anyone really say they used their rebellious phase the way they were ‘supposed to’?” asked Kyouka
“Does that mean even our gentle Student Council President had a rebellious phase?” asked Marika, whose interest here was straying from the point a little.
Meanwhile, Karuta first removed the main yokan from the small wooden box and placed it on a small plate on the side table. Once that was on standby, he only had to open the small plastic bag and sprinkle on the gold leaf.
“Listen, Aine. I will sprinkle the gold leaf on like you want, but this yokan is for the two of us to share. Do not eat the whole thing yourself, okay? And I mean it! No matter what, do not eat the whole thing the instant I sprinkle this on!!”
“Woof, woof, woof!!”
“Not exactly inspiring confidence here!!”
Going without a snack while everyone else had one would be too psychologically taxing. He kept a cautious eye on Aine who was in a very untrustworthy spinny-eye mode while he grabbed the small bag of gold leaf in both hands. Gold leaf or not, this was little different from the packages of soy sauce or Worcester sauce that came with convenience store bentos. He slowly tore off the top edge using the score in the side.
“Oh, crap. I got some on my finger. I should have tapped on it to get it to settle in the bottom first.”
He just about wiped his finger off on the thigh of his pants, but a viselike grip grabbed his wrist first.
It was the gold-loving girl Aine.
“Wait, wait, wait, wait!! You’ll break it, you’ll break it, you’ll break it, you’ll break it!!!”
“And don’t just start sucking my finger like that! Stop it, Aine! I’ll do it right, okay!?”
“I han’t let it go hoo waste.”
His shouting accomplished nothing. He really did use his full strength to try and pull away, but this wrist was trapped more securely than in the base of a guillotine. Meanwhile, the boy’s fingertip was at the mercy of Aine’s surprisingly warm mouth. It felt like she was using her tongue to thoroughly clean off the bottom of the finger, the top of the nail, and even below the nail.
Seeing the enjoyment and love on her face as she consumed the gold leaf filled him with a weird feeling. She looked so much like a human, but this consumption of metal was an undeniable oddity. While it was true humans needed to consume iron and zinc, they would not start chomping on a screw or nail. Aine, on the other hand, probably would eat a pure gold screw or nail if she was given one.
It was unlikely that pale crystal girl would show any sign of rejection such as metal poisoning.
Meanwhile, the oddity of it all was accentuated by how her mannerisms were the same as a cute girl.
Something was shaken in his heart. The scene before him greatly worried him.
“Fwah… I will let you off the hook with just that, but pure gold is a valuable rare metal. If you do not treat it with the proper care, I will never forgive you even if you are my Sacri-sama.”
“You do know that would amount to a gentle form of suicide, don’t you?”
His wrist was finally freed from her viselike grip, but it sounded like he needed to be more careful from here on. In fact, he was a little worried that the Problem Solvers might throw pure gold caltrops on the ground in battle to distract her.
“But this stuff looks pretty tricky to use since its even thinner than katsuobushi. If I just sprinkle it on like normal, some of it would probably end up off of the plate.”
“Starting now, I will hold my breath until you have completed your objective,” announced Aine.
“You don’t have to do that. Besides, I just have to do it away from my face, you don't have to keep staring at me like that!!”
During that discussion, Utagai Karuta moved the small bag as close to the yokan as he could before sprinkling its contents.
However, a demon interrupted him.
“Mh. Oh, I got the rare planaria character! Hey, hey! Look, Karuta! These things can multiply endlessly if you keep cutting them apart! And finding one in your animal snacks is supposed to increase your monetary luck, so…ah…ah…”
He had a bad feeling about this.
And his bad feeling proved accurate.
A great wind blew in just as he was attempting such delicate work. The glittering gold leaf should have fallen straight onto the yokan, but it was all blasted in the wrong direction.
Specifically, all over the body of the boy who had been so carefully handling the bag.
Karuta began to sparkle all over, but it may have been more like a human disco ball than a scene shown in shoujo manga vision.
Now, a question.
What had happened to his fingertip when he got just a bit of gold leaf on it earlier?
“Wait! Stop, Aine! This is an ord-…”
A fairly serious hell of stickiness soon followed.
Just before the collision, Karuta tried to ignore the reality facing him by noting that the Student Council President cleverly grabbed her teacup from the side table and retreated.
Time continued to flow even during that disaster, so it was late at night before long.
Aine loved small spaces, so she had retired to the prototype spaceship shaped like a bamboo leaf (because it was creepy having her arms and legs stick out of Karuta’s body as she tossed and turned in her sleep) and strawberry blonde Marika went to sleep in her usual spot on the sofa bed (with only the one sheet covering her nudity yet again). She ended up tossing and turning a lot herself, so that sheet seemed worryingly inadequate.
The faint light of a laptop screen was the only thing illuminating the RV at the moment. A cable connected the device to a smartphone.
Student Council President Omotesandou Kyouka was staring at the computer screen in just a large dress shirt.
“Are you still not going to sleep?” asked Utagai Karuta from behind her.
“I have to look after these babies.”
She apparently meant the computer. That phrasing made him curious how she mentally categorized Crystal Girl Aine.
The screen had a few windows open, but they all had a ton of alphanumeric text scrolling quickly by. He could guess she was trying to break some kind of encryption, but he doubted human eyes were quick enough to follow what was going on. His weren’t, at least.
“C’mon, it won’t take that long to decrypt. Karuta-kun, you can go ahead and get to sleep.”
“If it won’t take that long, then I’ll stay up with you.”
“Oh, dear. Trapped by my own wording.”
She gave a bewitching smile and leaned her head a bit to the left. He did not realize what that meant at first, but when she traced her finger along the shoulder that’s smooth skin was left exposed by the baggy dress shirt, he finally realized what she was inviting him to do.
“I’d be too embarrassed.”
“It’s my thanks for staying up with me.”
He got the feeling she would not move on unless he went along with it. He endured the silence for a bit, but he finally gave in to the awkward elevator mood.
He placed his chin on the shoulder she had “opened” for him. They both viewed the screen as if he were rubbing his cheek against hers while embracing her from behind.
He could sense the heat of her soft cheek and the scent of her hair.
And while giving him all that, she also whispered to him.
“Once we know what is inside the giant sword woman’s phone, we should have a fair amount of information on the other Problem Solvers. Then we can finally get to work.”
“Karuta-kun, are you hoping the decryption fails?”
Since he was essentially embracing her from behind, she must have felt him jump ever so slightly. She may have also noticed his elevated heartrate.
If not for the need to protect the defenseless students and teachers, they may not have had to bare their fangs like animals.
If not for their revenge, the people in this RV might have been able to smile together in an ordinary classroom or clubroom.
Part of him definitely felt that way, but that part of him had made his childhood friend cry back in London.
She had asked him not to leave her – leave them – behind.
“Don’t worry,” said Omotesandou Kyouka. “I feel something similar.”
At first, he thought this was some kind of leading question, but then she revealed what she meant.
“Revenge, vengeance, making them pay. It is simple enough to say, but I thought we were bound to fail at some point or another. I thought our desire for revenge would waver at some point and that would allow it to be worn down, transformed, and faded. And that is almost certainly what would have happened if I had been thrown out into the world all on my own with nothing but this wheelchair to work with. In fact, I may not have been able to take the very first step. There is no way I could have attempted anything as impressive as eradicating the Problem Solvers who rule this world.”
“But it’s strange.” The Student Council President in just a dress shirt seemed to be smiling, but he was too close to see her expression clearly. “People I can call partners gathered around someone as weak as me and coincidence stacked on top of coincidence to allow us to survive this long. My desire for revenge never faded and I really am working toward eradicating the Problem Solvers. ‘In a time of need, we only need to work together.’ Hee hee. When I said that at the school assembly, I never imagined it would come to mean something like this. At the time, we had found a blanket and cooler stuffed into the empty space below the heliport and we were trying to figure out who had gone to the misguided effort of setting up such a perfect slacking-off spot with both shade and a nice breeze.”
Did that mean…
“Sorry,” said Karuta. “If we hadn’t run across you, you might not have been led astray like this.”
“Now you are just being overly self-conscious. Just like I could not have done anything on my own, I doubt the rest of you could have made it this far without me. You would have been defeated at some point or you would have failed to take the first step and stewed in your own hesitation. Don’t you think?”
“Also, I doubt we could have lived a normal life even if we never started down the path of revenge. Like I said, we would have stewed in our own hesitation. Especially me since I have plenty I can use as an excuse. I may have ended up living a life where I blamed these legs any time I failed or gave up on something and where I worked to inspire sympathy in everyone around me.”
Karuta had no right to decide which was the better path for her.
She had to live her own life.
That was all there was to it.
A change occurred on the laptop screen. The scrolling alphanumeric text came to a stop and a new window opened instead. It showed a human-readable list of files.
“And here we have another coincidence to add to the stack,” said the Student Council President in only a dress shirt. She sounded partially excited and partially disappointed. “Now we should find some clues and leads. It seems our path of revenge has not come to an end quite yet.”
The Problem Solvers were the world’s strongest. They were the one clear method of fighting back against the Threat that was shaking international society. That meant great fortune naturally gathered around them along with plenty of assets, property, and real estate.
Finding their hideout or base was not as simple as finding the house in a residential district they had taken out a loan to purchase. They had nearly 2000 properties registered in their names around the world.
Twintails Marika breathed an exasperated sigh in the RV.
“This isn’t going to narrow anything down at all.”
“In fact, it makes them feel like international businessmen who are so constantly moving around the world that they don’t even think of things in terms of having a home or nationality,” said Karuta. “It’s more like they simply borrow some space in a mansion or luxury apartment wherever they happen to be at the time.”
“But can you see any strange activity among all that?” asked Student Council President Omotesandou Kyouka while using the projector’s remote to display their list of data distributed as dots across a map. “It seems they have completely given up on guarding the space elevator and are flying around the world with their activities scheduled out to the second. Really, all five of them working together like for the elevator was a rarity and it looks like they generally work alone.”
“But they’re the center of the global infrastructure, right?” asked Marika. “Then can’t we lie in wait at those facilities?”
The Student Council President’s answer was simple.
“How many seats do you think they have in the five continents excluding Antarctica? They might each specialize in one continent, but their influence extends to the entire world. And each of those locations are so heavily guarded that making a careless approach would be enough to wear us down. And I am talking about the large armies of ‘ordinary people’ who gather around profit. Individuals like us who have no real backing can’t hope to stand up to something like that.”
“Ugh,” groaned Marika.
“Do not worry. There is a loophole. It looks like they have a tendency of returning to a specific location after completing a few jobs. It is not a stop on the way to their next destination and this is something they have done for a while and continue to do now.”
“Where is it?”
“Finland. The very country we are hiding in now.”
It was an Arctic world outside.
Looking through the frosted windows showed thick snow and a lake covered in ice. It was hard to believe they had been taking classes in a sweaty equatorial region not long ago.
“This is most likely their true hideout or base. Whenever something happens, they gather here and hold a secret discussion amongst themselves. They do not need to worry about the paparazzi, leaks to social media, or laser listening devices here, so this is where they reach a consensus. If they do not want anyone overhearing their conversation, I imagine they will hold it here. This is much more useful than that space elevator they have already abandoned.”
The five Problem Solvers had already been reduced to two. Having more than half of them killed was sure to have shaken even the world’s strongest. Their presence at the usual elevator would stand out too much. They wanted to escape the rush of government officials and media reporters so they could let out the feelings building in their guts and plan a comeback as soon as possible, so there was a good chance they would be here.
“If we happen across them here, we get what we want,” said Karuta. “And if they aren’t here, that’s convenient too. We know they visit here frequently, so we can set up a bomb or sabotage the gas line or something. Then we just have to watch from a distance and wait for someone to show up.”
“Also, I found some personal information on the remaining members. Only the smallest piece, though,” added the Student Council President. “The remaining two are named Susannia Evans and Anastasia Blast.”
“That’s all?” After waiting for more and receiving only silence, Marika voiced her disappointment. “Um, isn’t there something about the God-Worshiping Magic they use or records of their past battles?”
“I said it was only the smallest piece, didn’t I?” Kyouka did not sound any more pleased about it. “I get the feeling they knew the details of each other’s magic so well they did not bother keeping any records on it. Maybe it’s like how you don’t bother typing out your own phone number into your address book.”
“Th-then forget how they fight. What about their field of infrastructure? We might be able to figure something out about their magic from that.”
Marika dug in her heels because she wanted any information she could get, but the Student Council President sighed.
“Susannia controls largescale agriculture. She apparently helps establish food bases and holds back the spreading of the deserts. It is said her presence in the business world is felt strongest in Africa, but she is working to increase the greenery in all five continents save Antarctica. Since there is no guarantee she will be in Africa, it is fortunate that we could narrow things down to Finland. On the other hand, it is unclear what role exactly she plays in the largescale agriculture. Civilian satellites have only shown extremely large mechanized farms. Is she controlling the plants, controlling the machines, or controlling the moisture or weather?”
Karuta had heard of this too.
With uniform largescale farms covering most of the world’s grain-producing regions, individual regional brands were dying out. Specialized farms that produced things like French grapes, American beef, German potatoes, or Japanese rice worked to create the best possible version of their products through selective breeding and genetic modification and, once their flavor and nutrition reached acceptable levels, those genetics were incorporated into the grain-producing region farms that spread to the horizons in order to earn vast fortunes. It was sort of like a buried treasure tour where you were given a vague map of where to dig.
The food Karuta’s group ate every day was soaked with the sweat and tears of their friends’ killer.
And her flesh and blood were baring their fangs.
“Um, then what about Anastasia?” asked Marika.
Marika had been hoping for a more pleasant answer, but this was an even greater bombshell.
“Anastasia Blast is most strongly associated with North America and, unlike the other four, she is directly involved in managing the military infrastructure. But it is unclear what exactly that entails. Is she providing the necessary intelligence and firepower for the troops on the battlefield, is she transporting personnel or materiel, or is she developing or producing new weapons? In fact, what does it even mean to control the military on a global level? If she holds a central position that surpasses the interests of individual nations, then how does the world even function?”
None of this provided any answers.
Even intellectual Omotesandou Kyouka was reduced to questioning her own information.
Karuta summed it up for them.
“So in the end, we’re going in blind.”
“I did find photos of them.”
The Student Council President used the projector remote to display two photos on the wall.
The redheaded woman with a long braid was Susannia Evans.
The blonde woman with wavy hair was Anastasia Blast.
This part alone looked something like the resumes sent in to a modeling agency. Did they have natural good looks, had they spent a lot of money to that end, or was it both? And no matter how beautiful they were, they were undoubtedly two of the world’s strongest five.
These monsters were powerful enough to stand alongside the dinosaur, light spear, and giant sword women.
But it was fortunate to have photos.
At the very least, they would not foolishly attack the wrong person. They did not want to start a direct confrontation if they could help it, so it meant a lot that they could start fighting without having to call out to them and confirm their identity first.
On the other hand, that was all this gave them.
Even with extensive planning beforehand, they had only just barely won out in their previous battles. The tragedy on that sunken ship had hinted at what to do. But things were different now. They had no idea what Susannia and Anastasia could do.
When first seeing that dinosaur, Karuta had not known what to do and ended up crawling among the broken crystal statues. He had been unable to prevent the 700 students and teachers from being trapped in a nearly eternal sleep.
They were up against something on that same level here.
And they had to win the first time.
It would be just like that initial hell.
It would be a repeat of that nightmare.
They were essentially throwing themselves back into that colorful world of trauma they had never wanted to experience again.
“We have to survive this,” said Utagai Karuta.
They were avengers, so this was an odd thing to say. They were supposed to be the ones who snuck up and killed their opponents in their sleep.
But this was how he saw it.
“Aine, Marika, Omotesandou-san. It all comes down to this, so let’s pull through.”
Once he left the RV, the biting cold struck Utagai Karuta’s entire body.
His breaths were white and the snow crunched below his feet.
Instead of in a city, they were on a pure white mountain covered with conifer trees, so the road and the slope were nearly indistinguishable.
“It’s hard to believe that there’s this much snow during April,” said strawberry blonde Marika while breathing into her hands.
They knew where the Problem Solvers’ base was, but they could not exactly drive the RV right up to it. They had to walk from a few kilometers away. Kyouka’s wheelchair could not travel through the deep snow, so she was forced to remain in the RV. If Susannia or Anastasia’s magic was anything like the light spear, flying would be suicide. Drawing attention to themselves would get them shot down.
“But when you get down to it, what is even left?”
Karuta frowned at that odd phrasing, so his childhood friend explained while walking alongside him.
“They’re all the world’s strongest, so they must stand at the top of different categories, right? For example, a dinosaur inferior to Elicia’s would not have a spot in that group.” She thought for a moment. “The dinosaur, the light spears, and the giant sword. If you rule those out, what kind of ‘strongest’ is left? They were all so insane it’s easy to focus too much on the specific power and lose sight of what genre it belongs to.”
Karuta had not considered looking at it like that.
Those strongest five all had some kind of magic they had all accepted as the strongest in some way. After thinking some himself, he decided to list off whatever random ideas came to mind.
“What about mind control?”
“We definitely haven’t seen that one. Maybe they could choose a target and weaken them?”
“Or travel through time. Like go back to before their target was born and change history.”
“You’re getting pretty out there now. So how about creating parallel worlds?”
“A super-adaptive lifeform that keeps evolving from one second to the next would be pretty scary.”
They had been joking with each other at first, but a weight gradually built in their stomachs and they began talking less. If any of their guesses happened to be right, that was the enemy they would have to face. It was not the most enjoyable topic of discussion.
After walking a while, they spotted what looked like a log cabin next to a frozen lake.
If the information Student Council President Omotesandou Kyouka had found was accurate, that would be the Problem Solvers’ hideout. There were no other obvious buildings in the area.
The first three Problem Solvers had provided garbage disposal, power, and production, but they apparently knew how to use low-tech solutions as well. While so much of the global infrastructure was collapsing, this isolated log house seemed to be doing just fine.
It may have beewn similar to Karuta’s group in that RV that was not registered to any city or country.
Back at Ocean Crystal Magic Academy Grimnoah, he had brought a blanket, a music player, and a cooler into the space directly below the flat heliport to skip class and goof off. Marika had gotten after him for stuff like that, so it had primarily become a secret base he shared with Gekiha and Aine. He remembered the oddly liberating feeling of being cut off from the flow of time while everyone else was in class like they were supposed to be.
What had this log cabin been for those five?
How comfortable had they found that white villa cut off from the rest of the world?
“There’s a car parked next to it,” he quietly noted while viewing it from afar. “And the snow is piled up on the windshield. At least 3cm thick.”
“I picked up the recent weather data,” said Kyouka from back in the RV. “There have been a lot of on-and-off flurries recently, but not heavy snowfall. I doubt that car has been there for even a full day.”
Karuta and Marika exchanged a glance.
If that car did not belong to a maintenance company that made periodic visits to perform upkeep on the building, then they had already drawn one of the two cards they wanted. Was Susannia Evans or Anastasia Blast visiting? Or were they both here?
To be careful, they checked the license plate and sent that information back to Kyouka, but she did not have much luck with a search.
“No matches. I suppose that’s the Problem Solvers for you. They must have enough influence with the world’s governments to keep their information secret.”
The tension increased because this was clearly no normal car.
They still had no real answers as they were forced to charge blindly into likely death.
Crystal Girl Aine slipped out from Karuta’s back.
She silently tilted her head with her special crystal sword in hand.
“Sacri-sama, if you wish to acquire information to increase your odds of success, you could always send me in first.”
“No, I can’t. Did you forget that we’re catching the Problem Solvers by surprise? They’re only gathering here because it’s a safe hideout. If we make any kind of attack and they grow more cautious, they’ll never come back. Then they can hide anywhere in the world and we’ll be forced to search them out from among the full 5.5 billion population. That clearly isn’t going to work even if we have 100 years to work with. So…”
So what did that mean?
They had to end it with this first attack. They had to kill whoever it was with their own hands.
Was that what he wanted to say? Proudly and with head held high?
He felt like his curly twintails childhood friend was giving him an appraising look.
“Anyway, we have to go do this, don’t we?” she said.
“Yeah, we do.”
They cautiously walked toward the lakeside log cabin.
There was no one in the car. They circled the building, but they could not see inside because all the windows had the curtains shut. In addition to the car, they found some firewood and mortar materials haphazardly piled up.
But Marika pointed at one window.
“The window is fogged up and it looks like there’s smoke coming from the chimney. It’s warm inside.”
That would never happen with a deserted log cabin. This was like a more old-fashioned version of determining if anyone lived there by seeing if the power meter was turning.
So someone was there.
At least one member of the Problem Solvers was inside. A great pressure weighed on his stomach. Was that person watching them from the crack in the curtains even now? Was it possible they could slice right through the log wall to attack? Or was his group already caught in some kind of spell? All sorts of speculation swirled through his mind.
He shook his head.
That was like a toxin of his own creation. He would wear himself down before the fight even began.
“Let’s compare the fog on the windows. That should tell us which part of the cabin is warmest. If someone is here, that’s where they’ll be. Whether they’re using firewood in the fireplace or an air conditioner running on a generator, they won’t want to waste their fuel this deep in the mountains.”
“Yes, Sacri-sama. I can break through any window or door here.”
“That’s nice to know.” He smiled. “But if we’re doing this, let’s try to be cleverer about it. Everyone will be cautious of what they consider to be the possible entrances, so if we break through a wall, we might be able to catch them in a psychological blind spot.”
Marika activated her Crystal Blossom armor and worked with Crystal Girl Aine to blow through the outside wall.
They no longer needed to be careful about footprints and otherwise hide their presence. In fact, it all came down to what they could accomplish in this few seconds of confusion and uncertainty. The three of them stormed inside.
It was a large space that looked like a combined dining room and kitchen. Pieces of the wall and window were scattered across the wooden flooring, but it must have been a pristine space to begin with. A fire danced in the fireplace at the wall, but that was it. The TV and audio system were powered off and silence hung over the place like in a classroom at night. They did not see, hear, smell, or otherwise sense someone there.
“They aren’t here?”
“We just have to keep looking!”
They were up against one of the Problem Solvers. Every second counted, but splitting up here would be the height of folly. They stuck together while cautiously moving through the cabin. They threw open the many doors.
They found a bathroom with a bathtub, a large drying room for clothing wet with snow, and a food storage room piled high with cardboard boxes. There was no staircase and the flat log cabin did not have individual bedrooms. It was less like a villa for the wealthy and more like a nicer version of a mountain climber’s cabin. And despite their tension, there was no one there.
Marika kept her Crystal Blossom armor out and gently spun the rapier in her hand.
She also frowned.
“Did they notice us approaching and run off? There weren’t any footprints in the snow when we circled the cabin, but they might be able to fly like I can.”
“You think one of the Problem Solvers fled without firing a shot? I’ll admit it’s hard to say since we don’t know what kind of world’s strongest they are, but that’s hard to imagine.”
“But, Sacri-sama, there was a car parked out front and there is a fire in the fireplace. Plus, this cabin seems too primitive to be remotely controlled.”
There had clearly been someone here.
Yet it had not simply been a meeting for the Problem Solvers to reach a consensus.
So why was no one here now?
And why would they leave signs of their presence like the car and the fireplace?
He finally looked up and ran toward the closest window while ignoring his confused-looking childhood friend and the crystal girl. He threw open the curtain and checked outside.
There should have been a frozen lake out there.
But when he saw something else filling his vision instead, he reflexively swore.
Thick ice covered a lake with a gentle elliptical shape measuring 300 meters long, but that ice was broken through from below.
What emerged was a giant cannon that looked like a steel tower tilted on its side.
The diameter alone was 10 meters, so the barrel could fit a 20-ton dump truck inside. The length was impressive enough to cover the full length of the lake. It glared at the log house from so close that aerial footage of the scene would look more like a pool cue just before it struck the cue ball than like a projectile weapon aimed at point-blank range.
“Hee hee☆ I beseech thee, Persephone, Greek God of Death.”
A beautiful woman sneered with that cannon connected to her shoulder.
The fearsome shell it then fired could have reached the moon if fired at the correct angle, but it instead erased the log cabin from the face of the earth.
A fearsome tremor spread out in all directions, making it feel more like a tactical weapon that used shockwaves instead of an explosive blast. As that propagated outwards, it triggered avalanches on all the nearby mountains and the conifer trees pointing sharply up toward heaven were knocked to the ground.
The log cabin was truly eliminated in an instant.
The countless splinters blasted away by the explosion functioned as projectiles as they scattered all around while breaking the sound barrier. Even if the cannon’s aim had been somewhat off and even if the target had fled the cabin and dove into the snow, that sandstorm of wooden fangs would have turned them to mincemeat.
There had been no escape anywhere on the face of the earth there.
Which was why they had gone elsewhere.
“Kh!! Wh-what was that? That thing that burst from the lake, I mean!! Is that a military application of one of those mass drivers that use staged detonation acceleration!?”
They had gone up.
Twintailed Marika had blasted the roof with her Crystal Blossom’s laser beam and then escaped into the sky, so now she was shouting questions while soaked with a tense sweat and breathing heavily.
But oddly enough, Karuta’s heart had gone cold.
He worked his mind while clinging to her hips and dangling down.
This opponent had not hesitated to destroy their own secret base to achieve their objective. No matter what memories that cabin held for them, they had blown it away along with the attacking assassins.
There really was no common ground there.
Karuta recalled the secret base he had built below the giant ship’s heliport. The Student Council had found it while he was away, dismantled it, and confiscated the things he had left there. That had not taken his dorm room or classmates from him, but it had still saddened him. So much so that he had felt no desire to build a new one.
Then he opened his mouth.
This opponent’s blatant deadliness rid him of any guilt.
“This must be her genre of world’s strongest.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“This is the world’s strongest mechanized human. She’s a cyborg.”
He thrust the reality of the situation into Marika’s dryly smiling face.
This felt like it would be Anastasia who controlled the world’s militaries, but could he really just assume something like that?
Student Council President Omotesandou Kyouka had said Susannia was the monster who controlled the global agricultural infrastructure, but it was hard to tell what role she actually played. The civilian satellites only showed giant mechanized farms.
That meant this could be Susannia too.
“Did she lure us in so she could blow us up and ensure her own safety!?”
Crystal Girl Aine was not with them.
The boy clenched his teeth and looked down where not even the foundation of the cabin remained.
But he did not have time for sentimentality.
He heard a dull rumbling as the giant cannon changed its angle.
“Here it comes!!”
“Wait, really!? Okay, hold on tight!!”
The entire concept of sound vanished.
Their ears only felt some kind of compression.
While dragging around some dead weight, Marika flew in a complex figure eight to desperately avoid the back-to-back cannon blasts. This was not just an issue of weight or air resistance. The rapid changes of altitude brought changes in atmospheric pressure, the rapid movement brought inertia and air friction, they needed oxygen, and their body temperature could not fall too far. She was used to providing those protections for herself, but she had to provide them for Karuta as well this time since his weak barrier was not enough. That placed a greater burden on her.
“She doesn’t have cluster bombs, does she? That would be the worst! We’d have countless smaller explosives filling the air like fireworks!”
“We’ll be lucky if that’s all she has. We’re talking about a Problem Solver – one of the world’s strongest. She might not be entirely reliant on that one giant cannon!”
Just as Karuta gave that warning, they heard a sound like explosives splitting through a steel panel on the surface. A chill ran down their spines when they realized something had been purged, and then something stretched out its silver wings from above the frozen lake. The device installed on that person’s back ignited. They took flight with fearsome speed, almost like they had transformed themselves into a surface-to-air missile.
It was a tall woman with her red hair worn in a long braid.
She wore a skintight special combat outfit that resembled a black diving wetsuit, but various “components” must have torn through from within because her soft skin was showing all over her back and limbs like she was covered in torn stockings.
Karuta recognized her.
He had seen her photograph earlier.
This was different from a Crystal Blossom that was controlled using a printed circuit board smaller than a stamp and cables thinner than hairs. They had to begin a dogfight against a Problem Solver using four steel wings and several jet engines the size of a water bottles.
Crystal Blossoms used magic to ignore inertia and air resistance while flying, so they allowed for a dimension of flight not possible with fighter crafts. Simply put, they could make right angle turns at supersonic speeds with no risk whatsoever.
But this Problem Solver could apparently do the same with her older form of magic. Just how much had that beautiful silhouette been modified? A normal pilot would have blacked out from the blood not reaching their brain. In fact, they might have had all their blood vessels burst from the pressure, but she was flying through the biting chill without an oxygen mask or even goggles to cover her eyes. Any air force official or even UFO researcher who saw this would probably throw in the towel.
And no matter how cutting-edge the technology, the fundamentals were the same.
Unless they hoped to start some close-quarters combat using a sword or spear, head-on charges were rare during dogfights. The standard in aerial battles was to take up a position on your enemy’s tail while keeping them off your tail. Since Marika was the one being chased now, she constantly had to dodge redheaded Susannia Evans’s attacks. She could spin her rapier around and target behind her, but being on your opponent’s tail still gave you a tremendous advantage.
Both Susannia’s arms opened up from within.
The next thing they knew, both her arms were gone, something like the framework of a fan was spreading out, and that framework was revealed to be several cannons of various sizes. The volumes did not seem to match.
Beams of red light pierced the white sky either as tracer rounds or as a form of intimidation. And not just a few; it was like a shower. Marika somehow managed to dodge them by twisting around and spinning her body like a spring or coil, but that kept her from flying freely through the sky. Just like in a chess problem, every move she took was being gradually guided toward the position where she could be taken out.
“Shut up, you dead weight! Let me focus!!”
“Then could you manage if you dropped me?”
“~ ~ ~!! What did I say about not leaving me behind here!?”
That kindness may have been one reason she could not make any headway in this battle. Not only was she facing one of the Problem Solvers, someone she could not afford any kind of opening against, but she was attempting it while handicapped with this dead weight clinging to her slender waist. She had no chance like this. The two of them would be shot at some point and it would all be over.
Also, Susannia Evans’s transformation was not over yet. She must have grown impatient because she expanded even more weapons that were stored in her body. Her four wings grew to eight, the number of jet engines increased, and the area around her ribs stirred before several small supporting arms burst out like shrimp legs. Also, each of those arms was holding the grip of a Gatling gun made of several cannons or a laser beam cannon with exposed excitation rods.
Each new component further tore her wetsuit-like special combat outfit, but it no longer looked like a woman exposing her soft skin. This could only be described as a grotesque collection of machines.
“What the hell!?” Marika’s eyes bugged out as she flew around the sky, scattering shockwaves as she went. “Does that really obey the law of conservation of mass!? How do you fold all that up to fit inside that body!?”
Susannia had matched their speed while gradually taking an advantageous position, so they did not have a moment to lose.
After some thought, Karuta spoke up.
“Marika, we know we can’t escape, so do you think you could instead slow down to get us closer to her?”
“We’re 300 to 400 meters away already. That’s ‘right in front of her’ as far as dogfights are concerned. Even if I ‘returned’ the air resistance parameter to normal as a special maneuver for rapidly braking, getting within 50 to 100 meters of her is the best I could manage. And with how she’s been moving, I doubt even catching her by surprise will get her to overshoot us. But!! The closer we get, the harder it will be to dodge her attacks!”
“She’s using laser beams that move at the speed of light, so distance doesn’t really matter.”
“Surely you aren’t planning something suicidal like intentionally taking a hit to damage her with the Crystal Blossom fragments you scatter behind us.”
“This is nothing that heroic, but you’re in the ballpark.”
His casual response left her speechless.
He hesitated like a normal person more than the others did, but his ideas tended to be more out there than the others. And he made a suggestion while holding onto his childhood friend’s hips.
“We only have one shot at this. We can shatter her assumption that she’s safe if she’s on our tail.”
“What do you mean?”
“There is no safety here. Because we’re true avengers who are here to fight to the death.”
In that instant, Susannia Evans was closing in on her target using the many pieces of data and guidelines displayed in her biological vision, but she also wondered something beyond the tactical situation directly in front of her.
What had happened to that crystal girl from the reports?
It was obvious the enemy would prioritize the living over the nonliving. And if that girl had been abandoned when they escaped the log cabin, she would have been shattered along with the building.
But based on the fragments of information they had from the broadcast station and London, that was a Crystal Blossom that functioned entirely separately from its user.
It could be stored inside that user’s body.
So which was it?
Was the crystal girl there or not? And how would that influence this battle?
Just as she wondered that, the twintails girl altered how she flew. She rapidly braked to move in close to Susannia. If this was not some kind of tricky close-quarters combat using a sword or spear, then there was no real merit to getting closer. They may have been foolishly hoping she would overshoot them, but she was not about to fly past them and let them take up the offensive position on her tail.
But then something else happened.
Something burst from the back of the boy clinging to the twintails girl.
It was Aine, that deadly weapon with a delicate and slender body and pale skin.
The crystal girl took a very simple action.
She did not use her specially-shaped sword. Nor did she participate in the dogfight.
In that highspeed aerial world of dogfighting, she simply separated from her sacrifice boy. She was unleashed. She did not cling to anything, the fierce headwind pummeled her, and her silver hair spread out while reflecting a rainbow-colored light.
She was forcefully launched.
The slender girl flew backwards. Yes, she was slammed straight toward Susannia Evans who was on their tail.
Susannia frantically tried to dodge, but it was too late.
“You goddamn- agh!?”
She collided with a mass of a few dozen kilograms while moving at the speed of an artillery shell. That would normally have shattered both their bodies, but the crystal girl did not so much as crack. The shrill shattering sound that accompanied the impact was likely from the spatial vibration field of her preset barrier. She grabbed onto Susannia from the front. Her soft but cold arms and legs clung to Susannia like an octopus or squid’s tentacles or like a drowning child trapping the would-be rescuer who had jumped into the ocean or river to save them. And she squeezed with a tremendous viselike grip.
She chose bondage as a form of attack.
Susannia’s flight used magical power, but she could not altogether ignore the laws of physics like the brooms or Santa’s sleigh seen in storybooks. Her spread wings were forcibly folded back up and her bottle-sized jet engines were crushed, so she could no longer keep her body airborne.
“Wait, ah!? Dammit, you!!”
“Do not worry.” The cold girl rested her chin on Susannia’s shoulder and whispered in her ear with her legs still tangled around her. “I am not so fragile that I will shatter after a freefall drop from this height at this speed.”
“Persephone, do something!!”
Susannia’s face tensed as she sent a request inside herself to open all the shock-absorbing structures on the surface of her body. But that request was not answered. Aine’s tight hold on her body prevented the hatches from opening.
From there, they were a lot like a shooting star.
The two of them crashed into the snowy surface with their supersonic speed intact.
The result looked horrific.
A large portion of the white scenery had been torn away to reveal the contrasting dark soil below.
Marika viewed the 20m-radius crater from the sky and then slowly descended toward its center with the boy still clinging to her hips.
Crystal Girl Aine was waving to them from there.
Susannia Evans’s location was unclear. Or rather, she was scattered across everything. More than just torn apart, it looked like she had been reduced to shreds. And the mechanical components with a dull silver shine were scattered over an even wider area that passed beyond the crater. The disastrous scene looked like a passenger plane crash site and Marika gave an annoyed comment while having her Crystal Blossom armor and rapier withdraw.
“It really was like fourth-dimensional storage. This is more than just a multitool. You could probably build a pyramid with all of this stuff. How was it all contained inside the volume of a human body?”
“That was probably the magic she used. Anyway, that is Susannia Evans defeated. But what should we do now, Sacri-sama? If we are lucky, Anastasia Blast will be here too, but if not, we will have to start from scratch in searching for her.”
“Look, this is all iron, aluminum, and stainless steel. It’s all been refined from non-recycled first-generation resources,” pointed out Marika. “Back in their ‘age of peace’ before we started picking them off, that would have been a pile of treasure.”
“I am only interested in pure gold,” insisted Aine.
Karuta belatedly let out a slow breath while listening to their conversation.
He had killed someone. It had happened so quickly it still did not feel real.
He had not had any other options.
“She could fly and probably swim through the ocean too, but does she really travel the world like that?” asked Marika. “She was like their top secret weapon who kept away from the media, so I bet they would want to avoid letting anyone see her using her magic…or using those weapons, I guess.”
“What are you getting at?”
“She would use normal transportation as much as possible. That car next to the log cabin was bait and she blew it up with her first attack, but she might have had another car or a helicopter hidden somewhere further away. If we can find that, we might be able to find some information in there.”
Utagai Karuta thought to himself while listening.
They had defeated a Problem Solver. Susannia Evans had been scattered across the ground.
(But is this really over?)
He had no basis for his doubt. Everything had gone as well as could be hoped. It might as well have scored a perfect 100, but that was why it did not sit right with him. Things had been different with Susannia than with the other Problem Solvers. They had not glimpsed her magic at the Ocean Crystal Magic Academy and they had not had any advance information on how she fought. Careful planning had just barely been enough before, but now they had been forced to go in blind and adlib their way through the battle. It was like being thrown back into that nightmare world in Grimnoah. They had been helpless their first time against that dinosaur and those light spears. They had only managed to stand up to them after seeing that magic, analyzing it from multiple angles, and using a surprise attack.
Yet they had won so easily this time?
This was the world’s strongest who used mechanization God-Worshiping Magic and it was already over? It had not been easy by any means, but was she really weak enough to be fought off using some adlibbed plan like that? Could she really be called the world’s strongest like this?
There was a bigger question.
Was Susannia Evans’s God-Worshiping Magic really and truly about mechanization?
“That composite armor is made from carbon, aramid, and fluorine-treated steel panels. These fiber optic cables were probably used for signal transmission. No, maybe they were for the laser beams’ power transmission. But they use chloride glass? In that case…”
The girls watched in confusion as Karuta stepped out of the dark soil crater and began checking through the scattered junk.
“What’s with you? What’s so interesting about all that wreckage?”
“Are there some rare earths worth a lot of money? Ah!? Could you gather all the semiconductors in these devices and melt them down to obtain a fair amount of pure gold? (Tremble, tremble.)”
“No, something isn’t right,” he cut in. “It is true modern medicine can artificially connect severed muscles and nerves. Even organs can be replaced with mechanical devices to a certain extent. And it’s probably all a lot more lenient when you can use magic to help. But this wreckage scattered around here is still strange.”
“Yeah, anyone could tell this wouldn’t fit in that body.”
“I don’t mean that. I’m talking about the materials used.”
“Yes. The composite armor and artificial organs are all of the highest quality, but a human body would never accept these. The armor would lead to metal poisoning and the organs would be rejected by the body and necrosis could spread to the surrounding cells as well. There are a lot of medical devices made to be implanted in the body – artificial muscles, pacemakers, implants, etc. – but the materials used are chosen carefully. Yet I see none of that caution here. The things I see here would have been suicide for Susannia, so it doesn’t make sense.”
“Maybe for a normal person.” Marika did not quite seem to get what he was trying to say. “But doesn’t that just mean she has some magic to force her way through that?”
“Maybe, but that changes things.”
This was his main point.
“Let’s say Susannia Evans had some God-Worshiping Magic that let her modify her entire body, fill it with dangerous materials, and completely suppress any kind of rejection. That would mean her magic wasn’t about mechanization or becoming a cyborg.”
“Wait, you don’t mean…”
“Her God-Worshiping Magic was one that doesn’t let her die. Or maybe one that causes her body to recover from any and all wounds interior or exterior.”
He breathed in and out before making his final statement.
“What if Susannia Evans’s God-Worshipping Magic was for regeneration!?”
In hindsight, the mechanization idea had never made much sense.
Even if you used largescale agricultural machines to cultivate the desert and desalinate the seawater, that scorching land was not going to become fertile so easily. Even with a supply of freshwater, the soil had to be properly developed or it would not contain the necessary nutrients and minerals. So how had Susannia done that?
The answer was simple: she had sown some form of nutrients across the vast desert.
For example, she could have chopped up her own flesh and blood. And conveniently enough, she had called upon the name of Persephone, a deity who, along with her mother Demeter, was closely related to the spring crop and winter hunger.
What had been used to grow all the world’s produce? What was indirectly contained in the foods they had been eating all this time?
But they did not have time to suppress an urge to vomit.
A clump of snow slowly rose up behind surprised Marika.
“Aine!!” shouted the boy.
The crystal girl shoved the curly twintails childhood friend out of the way just before something swept diagonally through that space. It was a scorching blade similar to a gas burner. Aine could not dodge in time, so her slender left arm was severed at the elbow. The barrier formed by a spatial vibration field was no use. The arm spun through the air and fell to the snow. Either she had no liquid circulating her body or she “tightened” the end of the stump because there was no bleeding.
A redheaded woman emerged from the snow with what was more like strings than scraps of cloth draped over her. Was this the result and power of her regeneration? Her skin was tight and had an almost polished sheen to it and there was no sign of anything like a scar.
(This is after she was torn to pieces.)
Time seemed to have stopped, but Karuta still gulped.
(This is well beyond anything Crystal Magic can do. How far does her regeneration go!?)
After being shoved out of the way, Marika finally managed to send a command to the printed circuit board smaller than a stamp, reequip her Crystal Blossom armor, and grab her rapier. She and one-armed Aine attacked from two directions at once. She slashed with a blade made from lasers or masers created from the vibration and excitation of crystal.
Susannia’s movements were far from perfect, but that must have been why she chose to make herself a mechanized cyborg. And she had used her regeneration to entirely ignore the burden on her physical body.
She had lost her mechanical parts and was nearly stripped bare, so she only had just the one close-range burner sword to work with. That was not enough to fully defend against Marika and Aine who had become incarnations of Crystal Magic. She took a few solid blows from the slashing lines of light, so her neck and torso were sliced right through.
But that was not enough to stop her.
None of it mattered to the Problem Solver who could regenerate.
She immediately recovered and resumed fighting without even collapsing. No matter how much they sliced and diced her, she never stopped. It was enough to give the illusion that they were fighting a liquid rather than a solid.
When her one arm was dangling down only half-severed, she cut it the rest of the way off herself to trigger a regeneration from the base.
She would not stop. Karuta had no idea what they could do to win this. Could the world’s strongest of the Problem Solvers really bend the rules of the world this far?
(Is there some core part like her brain or heart? Is she supported by some other object like a magic circle or some ritual artifact? What are we supposed to destroy? What can we attack to end this!? Does her regeneration have none of the rules that Crystal Magic has to follow!?)
“What should we do!?” asked Marika. “Withdraw for now!?”
“The target currently only possesses a close-range weapon,” said Aine. “If we fly into the sky to bomb her from a distance, we should be able to unilaterally attack her.”
“We don’t know how much of the wreckage scattered around here she can still use! Don’t give her any freedom! We don’t stand a chance if she reconnects to her cyborg weapons. That trick we used in the dogfight won’t work again!!”
Opening up her own gut without anesthesia to stuff filthy machines inside while on the receiving end of a fierce aerial bombing would be entirely insane, but Susannia Evans could pull it off. If she could handle the pain, her regeneration would do the rest. She could survive even the most absurd forms of mechanization.
Karuta hated the fact the he could only watch since he had no special abilities himself.
“She’s almost like a planaria. No, she’s even worse!” said Marika. “We’re lucky the cuts don’t bubble out to create multiple copies of her, but she regenerates way too fast!!”
(Wait, a planaria?)
He was reminded of a cruel experiment shown on a TV science program.
And it was something that only worked with the incredible regenerative ability of a planaria.
“Aine, Marika. I want to try something, so aim for her arms!”
“We’ve chopped those off countless times already!!”
“Don’t cut them off like that. Slice through them lengthwise!!”
He was no longer talking about the woman like she was a human being, but Crystal Girl Aine mechanically complied.
She swung her crystal sword to slice between the middle and ring finger of braided Susannia Evans’s right arm and straight up to near the elbow. Instead of severing the arm, she opened it up in a floppy V-shape.
Susannia moved her other hand in response.
She intended to slice off her partially-damaged arm with the burner sword. She had done this before.
On his cry, Marika’s rapier pierced Susannia’s left hand to pin it in place.
“Kh, damn you!!”
For the first time.
Truly for the first time, the Problem Solver’s face twisted.
And a moment later, the regeneration began with a wet sound.
The split V-shape of her right arm did not reconnect. Instead, two right forearms grew out from her elbow.
“There’s a cruel experiment you can do using a planaria’s regenerative ability,” spat out Karuta. “If you partially damage them instead of fully severing their body, another body will emerge from the sliced portion. And it doesn’t just apply to the main body. Cut through the head, and it will grow two heads, brain included. Although I don’t know if that means your personality – or whatever you would call that mass of thoughts – is copied over or if it would be more like having two brains in the same body.”
The same thing was happening here.
Susannia’s regeneration was so absurdly good that they could take advantage of it.
Defeating her was not possible
Same for killing her.
But there was a way of ending the battle and keeping her from living her life even if they did not actually take her life.
“Marika, Aine.” The exacter of revenge made another cold statement. “Do not sever anything. It can be her arms, legs, torso, neck, or head, but just slice her up while keeping things attached like a kid trying to cut up some ingredients their first time cooking! That will transform her into no more than a hunk of flesh. Throw her soul into a prison of flesh where she can never, ever again move of her own free will!!”
A loud splashing sound echoed from the lake filled with thick broken ice.
Karuta, Marika, and Aine were watching the source of the sound.
Karuta spoke while viewing the spreading ripples.
“How’s your arm, Aine?”
“Fine, Sacri-sama. This is not a problem. I have collected the severed arm, so it will automatically reattach once I return to your body. I will have to look after the Crystal Blossom at your chest during that time, though.”
“Come to think of it, our armor does recover from any damage when we have it withdraw,” said Marika. “Although it does seem like we’re breaking the law of conservation of mass when we do it.”
Then this was not a problem.
Only one Problem Solver remained: Anastasia Blast. But those Problem Solvers were all the strongest of some field. He definitely wanted to be in top form before attempting that final battle.
Also, Aine had lost her arm after shoving Marika out of the way on his orders. He would have felt bad if the damage was permanent.
Then a transmission from Student Council President Omotesandou Kyouka arrived via their Crystal Blossoms.
“Karuta-kuuun, Marika-chaaan? All the bangs and booms seem to have stopped, so has everything ended safely?”
“Yes, only Anastasia remains now.”
“Then I hate to ask this of you now, but can you help me out?”
“The previous avalanche completely buried the RV, so I’m kind of trapped inside. Now, it is large enough to have plenty of oxygen and I have enough of food and water to last a while, but being buried alive is not exactly great from a mental health perspective.”
Karuta and Marika exchanged a glance.
Then they looked around them again. The road and the forest had vanished below the white, so judging distance had become incredibly difficult. It felt like everything had been buried and the entire terrain had changed.
“Where did we park the RV?” he asked.
“I thought you would remember! Was there no landmark or anything!? And how many degrees below zero is it out here? I really don’t want to be stranded outside!!”
One-armed Aine did not seem to feel any pain as she slowly tilted her head.
The three of them turned their back on the lake – on the secret base someone had built – and got to work digging the Student Council President and the RV out of the pure white.
They had no more interest in the lake.
Or in what had sunk into its depths.
Utagai Karuta felt a strange smile rising within him when he found himself more worried about the doll’s missing arm than in the clump of mortar stuffed with what had once been the human being named Susannia Evans.
Was that because this instance of revenge had not required an actual death?
Or was he getting used to it, growing corrupted, and crossing the point of no return?
Not even he knew the answer to that question.
Between the Lines 3
She wanted to change.
It could be a good person, a bad person, a rich person, a poor person, a popular person, or a hated person for all she cared.
She simply wanted to become someone other than who she was here and now.
That was all.
That was Susannia Evans’s one and only desire.
She had intentionally turned away from the colors she liked and made frequent and wild changes in her hair and fashion choices. She had even tried plastic surgery on several occasions. She had also attended seminars that claimed they would change your personality.
She had changed herself inside and out, but none of it had satisfied her.
There was a hole inside her she wanted to erase, but it had remained with her to the very end.
“I am sorry.”
Her shadow changed shape.
The tearful and gloomy woman it formed did nothing but apologized without end.
“I am sorry, I am so very sorry. And all because I needed your help.”
She was Persephone, Greek God of Death.
She had technically been the goddess of spring, but she had gained that new attribute after Hades, Ruler of the Underworld, had taken her away. After spending too long in the underworld while also possessing the breath of spring, she had gained the ultimate regeneration that surpassed even Crystal Magic.
It was the worst possible curse for Susannia who wanted nothing more than to change or be changed.
If she received plastic surgery or even burned or sliced up her face, it would always return to normal, so she could never ever escape being “herself”. No matter how hard she tried to distance herself from it, she would be dragged right back to it like she was wearing a collar with a rubber band attached.
She had felt resentment.
She had half cursed it.
But none of it had been directed at her constantly crying shadow. Persephone was a deity who had always been toyed with by fate, so Susannia’s anger was directed at the fate that continued to torment her so.
“Don’t worry. It doesn’t really matter.”
“…? What do you mean???”
“There is still hope. I actually have high hopes for that Crystal Magic and Grimnoah.”
“You mustn’t interact with the enemy. Building any kind of emotional attachment will only lead to suffering down the road.”
“I don’t mean it like that.” Susannia smiled a little. “It isn’t on my level, but Crystal Magic has an excellent healing and regeneration power, right? And there are hundreds of them. …The error rate might be higher for them, so they might happen across some environment or circumstances where the healing or regeneration doesn’t work. Wouldn’t that be some must-have data? Then I can be freed from this rubber band of regeneration and finally escape being ‘me’. Nee hee hee.”
“I am so sorry. What I most want is for you to stop hurting yourself. I am so sorry. And I am supposed to be the one supporting you.”
“Hey, it’s fine,” said the woman without even a pause. But instead of being dismissive, it sounded like this was something so obvious to her it did not require any time to think. “This difference in opinion only happened because you’re still worried for me after so long, and that does make me happy, you know? No matter what end result it might lead to.”
Susannia and Persephone observed the Ocean Crystal Magic Academy from the outside until they finally arrived at a certain conclusion.
With an excellent regenerative ability, removing foreign objects from the body became difficult.
Something as simple as preventing bleeding did not allow the toxins out of the body. The system meant to repair their body would run in vain until their stomach and blood vessels were properly cleaned out, so they would end up in a repeating loop of needless crystallizations across their body.
For Crystal Magicians, it was hard to tell how much of a substance would be helpful versus harmful, so they apparently had to be very careful when taking medicines.
But what if you took that in the opposite direction?
Susannia only had to drive a wedge into her own body. If she could fill her body with artificial objects, machines, and components to intentionally trigger metal poisoning and rejection, her loathsome regeneration would be unable to keep up. She would make it spin its wheels so much it could not handle larger changes such as plastic surgery.
Susannia smiled and bowed in prayer toward her shadow that was still sobbing.
And she addressed her nemeses who had also reminded her what it meant to be alive.
“Thank you so much, Grimnoah.”
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