Apocalypse Witch:Volume1 Chapter4

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Chapter 4[edit]

Part X[edit]

The public relations and state-run broadcasting networks of the world’s governments all remain silent, so the reporting from commercial broadcasters such as ourselves has become all the more crucial in bringing all of you the latest information.

We hope we can provide you with as much information as possible to eliminate your anxieties and fears while helping you view the world as it truly is.

First of all, there is still no news concerning the disappearance of the Problem Solvers. We have received no information or word related to them. We have decided that in itself is an important message of some kind.

Your memories of the chaos in London are probably still fresh, but the bits and pieces we have received from the local EMTs and medical examiners shows evidence that the chaos was part of an intentional attack on the Problem Solvers. The host nation of England and the rest of the G21 nations have not officially confirmed this, but it certainly sounds plausible. For example, couldn’t the silence of so many governments actually be loosening the restrictions on information and allowing previously unheard witness accounts to be heard on social media and elsewhere?

This also raises concerning questions about Miss Elicia Luxverg who has made no media appearances since her live interview broadcast across Southeast Asia.

Have they been injured in the fight against the Threat?

Are they being targeted by something other than the Threat?

Or is it both?

And if it is fellow humans attacking the Problem Solvers, what is their motive? The Problem Solvers can be seen as the foundation of the modern world. You could even call them the five pillars that support all of our lives. Why would someone want to take those away or destroy them?

In the past, we saw the occasional attempt to assist in the Threat’s destruction after linking it to religious motifs or passages from books of prophecy, but those were all one-off or short-term events and they never led to anything significant. After all, the Problem Solvers are the world’s strongest, so they have the strength to break through any plans built against them.

But perhaps that is not always the case.

We find this unidentified Individual X to be more frightening than the Threat. Whoever this is may be even stronger than the Problem Solvers. In other words, they are a truly uncontrollable monster. Perhaps one that surpasses even the Threat. As individuals, we would like to focus our attention on this Individual X. We will do our best to accurately grasp the danger at hand so that we do not trap you with needless confusion and speculation. Stay true to your usual self and do not be led astray by baseless rumors and fake news. That is the only way to deal real damage to Individual X.

Part 1[edit]

The flat-screen TV fell silent once more.

Crystal Girl Aine had thrown the remote at it to see how her reattached arm was doing.

“Hey! Aine!!”

“If it is broken, you do not mind if I dismantle it and extract the gold from the circuit boards, do you? That would be a much more efficient use for it.”

Aine showed no sign of guilt and instead made a strange suggestion while on the verge of drooling.

They had driven the RV from Northern Europe’s Finland to a rural Russian city to hide out. The news was more or less the same wherever they went. The only difference was the language being used.

Student Council President Omotesandou Kyouka sighed.

“It feels like we are finally at home with being the villains.”

“They keep telling everyone to remain calm, but the scripts they read are clearly trying to get everyone worked up. In fact, they’re treating us like some kind of cryptid. Not that being seen as a terrorist would be much better,” said strawberry blonde Amaashi Marika while pouting her lips.

The Threat did not matter here.

Whether it existed or not, the governments had definitely used information concerning it to stir up anxiety and confusion among the people and manipulate public opinion to their liking.

No one trusted Anastasia, the final Problem Solver any longer.

It was doubtful she would simply return to guarding the space elevator.

The heads of state had to be at a complete loss now that they could not contact her. They wanted to make a comment through the Problem Solvers. They could not stir up anxiety and confusion and they had lost their means of controlling public opinion. Now that the ordinary people had regained their calm, they had to be erupting with the appropriate emotions toward those heads of state who had sat around having the Problem Solvers handle everything. At this rate, a few governments might even collapse. If the timing matched well enough to appear simultaneous, coordination within international society could be lost.

Right now, the enemy before their eyes mattered more than the Threat that they had no information on.

But this was still chaos and some might lament that needless chaos. Entire cities or nations might oppose it.

Nevertheless, Utagai Karuta’s group could not stop now. With even one Problem Solver remaining, the tropical cave containing the 700 Crystal Magicians could be found and they could all be left unable to regenerate which seemed like a fate worse than death. Even if they could never speak with those 700 again and even if there was a seemingly infinite expanse of time separating them, they could not let any further danger reach Kazamuki Gekiha and the others. They had defeated four Problem Solvers, but they would still lose everything if they gave up now. They could not save anyone’s life if they did not see this revenge through to the end. Not even a single life.

“So what do we know about the last one?” asked Karuta while looking up from the sofa.

“Discussing Anastasia Blast requires discussing what we recovered from Susannia Evans.”

“Huh?” Curly twintails Marika tilted her head while playing rock-paper-scissors with Aine. “I don’t remember finding her car or snowmobile or something.”

“Oh, dear. Did you forget?” The Student Council President gave a bewitching smile while turning toward the girl helping the crystal girl test out her arm. “We managed to collect something very important indeed: the cyborg parts stuffed inside her gut. They were scattered all around that crater, weren’t they?”

“Oh.”

“With products that specialized, neither the hardware nor the software will be found for sale on the general market and only a select few places will be able to produce them from a technological standpoint. So they can lead us to a hideout that the Problem Solvers fully trusted. And investigating the data on the control circuit boards was enough to see some rather distinctive signs.”

Kyouka shut off the room’s lights and operated the projector’s remote.

A red mark appeared at one point on the world map she displayed on the wall.

In other words…

“Silicon Valley in the United States of America. After they reorganized to handle everything from social media to drone factories, the city’s scenery has changed to become something like a strange precision industry district. One good example is the precision electronic weapons plant owned by Smart Arms, one of the world’s largest international arms companies. That is the most suspicious place. The supply of power and now food has been destabilized, but that money drain continues to run with a staff of around ten thousand and without using the giant sword woman’s factory☆”

Karuta just about asked how she could act so unconcerned when they were the ones that caused it, but perhaps he was too soft since he had yet to actually kill anyone.

“I wonder if arms production was one thing the all-purpose factory would not do.”

“But, Omotesandou-san, that’s the place that supplied Susannia with her parts, so why would we find Anastasia there?” cautiously asked Karuta.

“There is no guarantee, of course,” agreed Kyouka in the darkness. “But what if the online flow of money proves the factory has maintained an unnatural level of security even after Susannia went missing? This is the downside of relying entirely on an outside PMC to avoid military oversight as much as possible. We know someone other than the original owner is hiding out there, and who is the most likely suspect?”

“I suppose another Problem Solver would have an easy time slipping right in there. Plus, Anastasia is in charge of the military infrastructure and her share of the global business is in North America. This would have been the perfect fit for her.”

“Yes, very well done, Karuta-kun. You get a gold star from me.”

Of course, this could always be a trap.

The flow of data could have been faked to draw out Karuta’s group. Just like how the log cabin in Finland had been used.

Marika frowned.

“Arms corporations do business with entire countries, right? If Anastasia is hiding out there, wouldn’t the head of the company report it? Y’know, to the US President or someone.”

“Someone may be weighing their options. After all, this is the last remaining Problem Solver and no fighting force is rarer. The company might want that last member to be indebted to them or the White House may secretly want Anastasia all to themselves.”

This talk of the US President and the White House had no real basis to it, of course. Karuta spoke up while making sure not to let cowardly speculation bind their actions.

“Also, Anastasia is in charge of the global military infrastructure. I don’t know what exactly she does, but her presence is key to the jigsaw puzzle made from the national borders on the world map. Any country would want to control her if they could.”

“There is no way to know where word of her presence is being stopped, but this factory is still fishy. Of course, that means it is also extremely dangerous.”

That said.

Even so.

“Nothing will change if we don’t go there, huh?”

“Even if it is bait or a diversion, we might find another hint based on who gave the order and through what channels.”

The Student Council President pressed a button on the projector remote to display a photo of Anastasia Blast.

She was a sexy woman with long, wavy blonde hair.

They of course wanted as much information on her as they could get before fighting her, but there was unfortunately nothing else to display here.

“Just like with Susannia, she does not make public appearances. We took out Elicia in a surprise attack while she was out on her own, but they were waiting as a group at the London summit and Susannia had set a trap in Finland to kill us. …And yet Anastasia did not make an appearance at either of those.”

“So she’s either very cautious or a coward.”

That was an odd thing to say about a Problem Solver, but some people were both cowardly and powerful. Those people would go nuts and use everything at their disposal to crush even a small honeybee approaching them. That panic could create an opening, but they also never let their guard down or compromised. If someone like that had the power of the world’s strongest, they could be even more dangerous than someone who calmly worked out the optimal solution to their problems.

And what if that person directly controlled the world’s military infrastructure?

“We’re going in blind against the strongest again,” bitterly stated Marika while playing with Aine.

They had initially thought Susannia Evans’s God-Worshiping Magic was about mechanization when it was really about regeneration. If a misreading like that led them to make a misstep here, they could be wiped out. It was only natural to want to avoid returning to such a nerve-racking situation.

“But we can’t come to a stop, can we?”

“No,” agreed Karuta with a shake of his head. “We have to end this here.”

Part 2[edit]

Silicon Valley, USA.

After hearing this was the world’s largest arms plant and that it had been kept separate from the giant sword woman’s all-purpose factory, Utagai Karuta had pictured an area covered in steel and concrete, toxic-colored smoke obscuring the sky, and the clanging of metal sounding around the clock, but the reality was much different.

The blue sky was refreshingly clear, green grass covered the ground, and a small bridge crossed a clear stream that glittered beautifully in the sunlight.

“A city of semiconductor factories needs clean water and air,” said Student Council President Omotesandou Kyouka while looking out the RV’s window. “Hundreds of thousands of people live in San Jose, but other parts of Silicon Valley only have around ten thousand people. I hear the areas along the highways connecting the cities tend to look like this.”

“I’ve also heard the deserts are shrinking even in America,” said Marika. “They’re all starting to fill in with green thanks to the desert agricultural plants connected to Susannia’s mechanization…or regeneration, I guess. And thanks to the insects and small animals, I imagine they won’t need a certain someone’s flesh anymore once things reach a certain point. This greenery restoration work has its downsides, doesn’t it? If those areas take in too much weed DNA, not even off-road cars would be able to get through.”

People were not going to starve for the time being.

The quality of the food might drop, but once the farmers stopped focusing solely on the profit gained by the perfect selectively bred or genetically altered crop, the food would reach an acceptable level once more.

On the other hand, there was nothing here except for giant boxy factories and truck stops. There were no commercial locations outside of gas stations, diners, and pay showers, so acquiring food did not look easy. It was so bad they had needed to stock up at a supermarket in a town on the way. Even that had been difficult since Susannia’s loss had left the supermarket shelves nearly empty. (Stock would not run out that quickly, so that was probably due to other people stocking up so they could hole up in their personal shelters.) Tourists would visit en route to other places, but no one would stay there for long. Their RV would stand out if it stuck around for too long. Silicon Valley was known for its precision machinery plants, but in the places with nothing, there really was nothing.

Strawberry blonde Marika gave a skeptical look toward the “excuse” that was applying new pressure to the already limited space in the RV.

“Will this camera and telescope really work as insurance?”

“Stargazing is the #1 reason why someone would visit a place with no famous tourist destinations and where finding as much as a gas station is difficult, right?” said Kyouka. “And if we need clean air and as few artificial lights as possible, our presence here sounds all the more plausible. If we call ourselves meteor hunters, then we even have an excuse for being in some remote area or private property.”

“Meteor hunters?”

“Hobbyists who collect fallen meteorites and sell them for cash.”

They had taken a few astronomical photos and stored them on flash memory in case someone questioned them further. Surprisingly, it was the Student Council President herself who got the most into it. She had seemed endlessly calm and composed to Karuta, but she may have had a more girly side to her that loved astrology and horoscopes.

How visible had the stars been back on the Ocean Crystal Magic Academy?

He found he could not really remember.

The sky had to have been full of stars in that tropical ocean so far away from human civilization, but the giant ship itself may have emitted too much light.

Could the Student Council President have spent every night back then peering into a telescope and sighing at the unsatisfactory results?

At any rate.

The odds were good Anastasia Blast was hiding inside that plant.

And if they were going to attack, they were going to do it by the book. The focus on security would be lowest just before dawn. Waiting until then had been agonizing because they could not move, but they had also been so nervous it was hard to sleep. They had also needed to adjust their own biorhythms to match the timing of the attack. They had finished dinner before sunset and gotten what sleep they could in the early evening to late night.

“Hey,” said Marika while lying on the sofa bed like usual. “What do we do once we’ve finished our revenge?”

“I doubt we can return to a normal life. Even if we were justified, we still traveled around the world killing people. That said, guarding the crystal statues in that cave would only draw attention to them. Once we’ve dealt with the Problem Solvers who will actively search it out, it would be best for Gekiha and the others to leave it be.”

Crystal Girl Aine responded without giving it much thought while standing in the corner of the RV like usual.

“I am your Crystal Blossom, so I assumed I would stay with you after this.”

“Yeah, and I’m your childhood friend, so staying with you might be for the best.”

They seemed to be settling on a conclusion without letting him voice his opinion.

And the Student Council President naturally joined in.

“Once this is all done, I suppose I will step down as Student Council President.” She gave a somewhat sad-looking smile. “And are you going to kick me out after all we have been through? Doesn’t that seem a little cold?”

“So we’ll all stay together, huh?” said Utagai Karuta.

One of Marika’s eyebrows shot up.

“What, you got a problem with that?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“?”

These four(?) had been the only ones to escape that giant ship with their lives. Those survivors had decided to use every ounce of strength they had to take revenge against the seemingly unbeatable Problem Solvers. That was all it had been in the beginning So while it might sound cold, they were only together by chance. If it had been someone else who had survived, the group holding this discussion now would have been different. That was all that held them together.

Yet the next thing they knew, they had developed much stronger bonds.

Karuta had not realized it until now, but it felt weird to think of them saying bye and going their separate ways once this was over.

“Where should we go once it’s over?” he asked.

Marika and Kyouka gave separate answers while arguing with each other.

“I’m sick of the garbage-filled cities. I’d like to take it easy on a tropical island.”

“Ehh? Don’t the Alps sound nice? There’s no better retreat! And it makes you sound fancy.”

“I’m gonna say no thanks to anything that requires dressing warmly. Besides, I like the beach better than the mountains.”

“Ugh, I take it you’re not shy about being seen in a swimsuit, huh?”

“I love swimsuits. Bring on the micro bikinis and slingshots, if you ask me. Nothing helps keep your body looking nice like showing it off.”

Marika began some bewitching laughter and the Student Council President glanced over at Karuta for some reason.

Meanwhile, Aine stated what she wanted.

“I do not mind where we go as long as I am with my Sacri-sama.”

“I mean, you don’t really have a choice but to be with me, do you?”

“I will be happy as long as I have enough pure gold to bathe in.”

“What, are we supposed to search out El Dorado? Your request has got to be the most difficult one.”

Their discussion had a laid-back atmosphere, but a part of Karuta’s mind thought it sounded like some far-off future.

It did not feel like something that could happen in less than a day’s time.

Speaking their dreams out loud did not make them feel any more real. It was not that he did not want these things to come true. Part of him really did think they sounded nice. But he could not shake the feeling that there was some thin transparent film separating him from them. Something told him things would not play out quite so conveniently.

In fact.

The options laid before him felt so weightless, flimsy, and unsatisfying that he had to watch himself lest he speak a truly impossible wish such as “I want to go back to our school”.

This was their final battle.

The battle against Anastasia Blast had been saved for last.

She was a Problem Solver, one of the world’s strongest.

They could not plan ahead or construct a detailed strategy and they were forced to go in blind, making this extremely dangerous.

Whether this was their first opponent or their last, it was all over if they died. They would lose everything.

No one knew how this would turn out.

But there was one thing he could say for certain: we don’t live in a kind enough world to give us that ideal ending.

“Once this is over, I just want to take some time to relax.”

“We can do that. We’ve just been way too busy lately.”

Part 3[edit]

The promised time had arrived.

It was better called early morning than late night. Karuta and Marika left the RV at 4:10 AM, which was just barely before dawn. They were in a truck stop for long-distance drivers. Those places were usually busy even late at night, but this early morning period was apparently an exception. Everyone had their seat reclined while they slept below a blanket with an empty stomach.

The sky was changing from dark blue to purple.

Just like in his memories of the Ocean Crystal Magic Academy, he found it difficult to imagine the arrangement of the stars as the darkness faded away.

Curly twintails Marika looked up and trembled a bit in the chilly air before speaking up in annoyance.

“I can tell why we chose this time. Of course, we’re headed to the weapon production plant of the world’s largest arms company that didn’t even get help from the giant sword woman, so I doubt the place is this quiet.”

“If we only knew Anastasia was there, we wouldn’t have to sneak around like this. This is going to be the final battle, so we might as well break in and end it quickly.”

Of course, that assumed this opponent was someone they could defeat that way.

As they walked out of the truck stop and toward the semiconductor plant, they received a transmission from Student Council President Omotesandou Kyouka who was waiting back at the RV.

“Karuta-kun. This is the world’s most secure factory, but do you remember how to get in?”

“It’s not really all that complicated.”

To keep out industrial spies and terrorists, the factory would have cameras and sensors set up inside and out. There were sure to be a thousand or even ten thousand in all.

But there was a way around that.

Simply put…

“Sensors are meaningless if they can’t sound the alarm after detecting an intruder,” he said.

“Yes, we only have to set things up so the alarm will sound around the clock and refuse to turn off,” said Kyouka. “Security will probably work hard to search the area at first, but they will gradually give up on that. Once they realize the sensors are malfunctioning, it will not take long for them to start yelling at the alarm to stop.”

“And no will notice us sneaking in when all the sensors are already sounding the alarm? Wow, that’s like the polar opposite of ninja action,” joked Marika while walking alongside him.

It might seem ridiculous, but there was no chance of sneaking in and covertly achieving their goal when they wanted to fight one of those Problem Solvers. Chaos would arrive sooner or later, so it all came down to deciding when that was.

The factory grounds were a 3km square and they included employee dorms since it existed in such an empty area, so it looked something like a small village. It was all locked down by a fence and gate, though. There were also a few large, boxy factory buildings and warehouses for temporary storage of products and materials.

On the way there, they spotted an unmanned transformer substation surrounded by a tall fence. Backup power would likely kick in if they destroyed that and it would require some very technical skills to bypass the switchover and cut power to the sensors.

But if they only wanted to cause a commotion, things were much easier.

“Marika, blast that thing,” said Karuta.

“Oh, so we’re finally getting started.”

After she said “Tezcatlipoca, power up”, the Crystal Blossom worn at her chest shattered and covered her arms and legs with translucent armor and wings. She swung her rapier to fire a laser beam from the unit inside the reversed guard that resembled a broken umbrella on a windy day. She sliced right through the fence and the boxy concrete building of the transformer substation.

Alarms began blaring from the sleeping factory and lights switched on with the brightness of a baseball night game.

Karuta gave a snort of laughter.

He had already experienced this while traveling through London while the city was on high alert. Bright lights seemed like they would help locate suspicious people, but the extreme contrast actually created blind spots in the shadows. It looked like they had little to worry about.

“Okay, we have to play the rest by ear.”

“This is getting exciting!”

Marika again used her laser beam to slice through the chain link fence to gain access to the factory grounds.

But something seemed off once they stepped inside.

“What?”

“Is something wrong?” asked the Student Council President.

“Um, we set off the alarms as planned, but there’s no one inside,” answered Marika. “There’s no sign of the security PMC or any workers who should be checking around after this extra-loud alarm clock woke them up.”

“…”

The alarms and bright lights most likely reacted automatically when the sensors detected something. They were overcome by an eerie feeling similar to arriving at school like normal but finding yourself alone there even as the bell rang to signal the start of class.

Then all the alarms went dead.

They had chosen a method that would make the alarms hard to shut off, yet everything went silent.

A young woman’s voice spoke from the emergency broadcast speakers set up around the area.

“No need to be so shy. The doors are unlocked and the PMC has been called off. Hurry on in. I really wanted to speak with you.”

“…”

“Whether you want to speak or not, you do need to meet with me, don’t you? You must be dying to kill me since I’m the last survivor. So hurry it up. I am waiting in the general reception lobby of Building A Floor 1.”

“(Hey, Karuta.)”

“(Yeah. We know there’s someone suspicious here, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be waiting there.)”

They stood back to back to keep an eye on their surroundings as they slowly made their way toward Building A.

Meanwhile, the young woman continued chatting from the speakers.

“Hey, Utagai Karuta. What are your thoughts on the Threat?”

“…”

“Oh, did I put you on your guard? It was not easy gathering information on you. I mean, checking the bodies wasn’t really an option when they all sank with the ship, so it was extremely difficult figuring out who we failed to kill. The report cards held by various governments and that fully separate Crystal Blossom you call Aine ended up being the keys there. A rare weapon can have its downsides in practice.”

This was more than just a unilateral broadcast.

She knew where they were and could see his wordless reaction.

“I don’t care what the Threat is at this point. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn you made it all up.”

“Ha ha. But that wouldn’t make any sense at all.”

It was her response that did not seem to make sense.

But he doubted she was lying at this point. She was not begging for her life, so she felt no need to worry how they felt about her. If she was going to silence them through death, she would not need to protect her image with them.

So what did that mean?

“The Threat does exist,” said the scratchy voice coming from the speaker. “It is hopelessly powerful, it is brutal with no room for negotiation, and not even the five of us working together could defeat it. It is known as a Metal-Derived Autonomous-Origin Higher Lifeform Combat Weapon, but who knows what that means. Whatever it is, it causes real damage and the world’s governments must not have been satisfied with how we were just barely restraining it. That is why they decided to develop and introduce new technologies such as your Crystal Blossoms.”

“Then why did you crush our school underfoot? Couldn’t we have all just gotten along?”

“Wasn’t fighting us enough to tell that we use entirely different formats?”

Her words seemed to decisively cast something aside.

“Your power is useful. It has in fact driven us to this point. But suddenly bringing a new weapon to the battlefield is certain to introduce confusion into the maintenance and utilization of all the weapons. We would trip each other up and fail to live up to our potential and that would cause the barely-contained equilibrium to collapse. We had restricted the damage to the occasional region or city, but from that moment on, the future of the 5.5 billion population would only grow darker and darker.”

“…”

“More power is not always a good thing. We suggested a future where the five of us continued to be updated until we could one day defeat the Threat. Everything beyond that would only hinder that future.”

“Are you kidding me? You slaughtered so many people just because they followed a different standard, yet you expect us to repent?”

“No.”

Did she resent Karuta’s group just like they did the Problem Solvers after their friends were killed?

“There is a punishment for every crime. Either I will kill you or you will kill me. But even if you defeat me, you will not escape this hell. Once you become the world’s strongest, the reality of the Threat will be thrust before you. No matter what happens, you will not find rest.”

Marika’s eyes wandered as she asked a question.

“Damn her. Is she really this insane? You killed so many people and you aren’t even talking in terms of good and evil? To hell with that! Do you not even realize what you did was wrong!?”

“We merely held different positions. And do you remember what we were tasked with protecting? You should have been able to see it from that giant ship.”

It was like a decorative piece of junk.

It was a skinny silhouette rising vertically from the horizon.

Karuta recalled what Kazamuki Gekiha had said while laughing.

“The space…elevator? What about it?”

“The world is reshaped by the victors. There was an age of mythology, there was an age of natural science, there was an age of majority rule, there was an age of God-Worshiping Magic, and now an age of Crystal Magic is arriving.”

“And you didn’t want that?”

“It all comes back to the different positions we held. We brought our magic to the table because we sensed that ordinary scientific technology would not be enough to construct a fortress against the Threat. The planetary expansion of Sunny Side Up was one option. But there were plenty of others. Elicia wanted to build a submarine city that perfectly recycled all of its waste, Yukino wanted the aforementioned planetary expansion, Jessie wanted to use largescale cold sleep to pseudo time travel tens of thousands of years into the future when the world’s environment would have recovered, and Susannia wanted to use special suits based on biological structures to endure the harsh environment. I too brought an option to the table like that. Although mine was rather bizarre. But more than that, it came down to whether or not we could construct a means of combating the Threat under own power. You could even say that was the requirement to join the Problem Solvers. Not all of it was necessary. As long as just one of us bore fruit, we would have a chance of defeating the Threat.”

“You don’t mean…”

“Yes, as you Crystal Magicians rose to prominence, you got in the way of those things. Your side effects – that is, the absurdly tall buildings and ridiculously large ships and aircraft – sucked the resources dry in the blink of an eye. No matter how bizarre a fortress civilization the five of us tried to create, your new technologies would get in the way. The planet would dry up and humanity would be wiped out before the Threat could do it. Nothing developed from Crystal Magic can defeat the Threat.”

How much of what she was saying could they believe? Karuta could not tell how much was true, but he knew something in there was not right. But as he focused on that camouflage story, he could not deny one thing. Whatever the specifics were, the birth of Crystal Magic was threatening to thoughtlessly destroy everything God-Worshiping Magic had built up.

It was not an issue of each individual power.

The rise of that new power was like an invisible hand attempting to drag God-Worshiping Magic from its throne.

Was that what the Problem Solvers had been fighting?

“For one thing, we never considered you Crystal Magicians yourselves to be good or evil,” continued the voice over the speaker. “The real issue was the Original Crystal Embryo. That gave humanity something we did not need. We could have continued combating the Threat with decent results, but that was getting in our way. Its thoughts and lifespan are unknown, but Crystal Magicians can only be found within humanity. Perhaps it hopes to wipe out the entire species and let a new green ecosystem spring forth over the course of tens of thousands of years. Perhaps it wishes to reorganize the pyramid so humans are no longer at the top.”

“…”

“Have you started to question it yourself now? Not even I know what will become of humanity if we abandon any new path and stick with what we have. Perhaps the resources and food will quickly run out and we will all die, or perhaps Crystal Magicians will find a new solution that not even the Original Crystal Embryo considered. But I do not like having the choice taken from us. Humanity must decide whether we do something or not. We do not need to cling to the skirt of that Original Crystal Embryo.”

They had nearly arrived at Building A.

Karuta and Marika gulped while the speaker continued.

“And this is not an issue of good or evil. It is about different positions. There was an age of mythology, an age of natural science, and an age of God-Worshiping Magic, and then Crystal Magicians were rising to the forefront. This is nothing complicated. The world is reshaped by the strongest. The strongest get to decide how the world works. In our attempt to work together and combat the Threat, we once got in someone’s way and led to the deaths of our predecessors and now others are similarly getting in our way. We remain the strongest until we are eliminated. When we are defeated is when the title of strongest is passed on. That is all it means to be strongest. It is a flimsy thing that leaves you so readily.”

“You…”

He shuddered.

He finally understood why she did not work with the other Problem Solvers. She wanted to combat the threat in every way she could and she wanted to use her full strength to achieve victory, but she did not think she would survive in the end. If other people’s lives were necessary to achieve victory, she would crush them and she would not hesitate even if her own name was on that list. She made no attempt to avoid the inevitable fall awaiting her. She would wait for it to reach her and she would crush it head-on once it did. She had survived this long that way. And she truly stood at the peak if she had managed to hold the title of the strongest with so little planning behind it.

“Simple, isn’t it? It might happen today or it might not. That is how we have lived our lives.”

They never arrived at the general reception lobby of Building A.

Something happened before they could.

The entire giant boxy factory was slashed diagonally from within.

Everything collapsed and so much dust filled the scene.

But that screen was sliced through and swept away so nothing remained.

Below the purple sky, a woman grinned at Karuta and Marika. She had long, wavy blonde hair and she wore a tight skirt military uniform with a yellow and black coloration that signified danger.

“I beseech thee, Anubis, Egyptian God of Judgment.”

This was Anastasia Blast.

She was the final Problem Solver and the undeniable world’s strongest.

She defined today’s justice, but she might not define tomorrow’s.

“So let us begin yet another day in our apocalyptic lives. There is no good or evil here. This is no more than a waking dream until I destroy someone or they destroy me. The shape of the world supported by the ‘strongest’ is no more than an illusion drifting in the gap between dreams.”

Part 4[edit]

There was no need to hold back at this point.

Utagai Karuta summoned Crystal Girl Aine from his back and shouted to Marika who had already equipped her Crystal Blossom armor and rapier.

“Aine, you move out ahead! Marika, you take flight!!”

He gave instructions using his physical voice instead of the Crystal Blossom vibrations and, while Anastasia was focused on them, he moved straight toward her.

He pulled his modified military flashlight from his blazer’s pocket, activated a blinding beam of light made by combining a laser pointer with the special lens used for printers, and silently shined it toward Anastasia’s face.

But.

“Do you know what magic is?”

She vanished.

He heard a distortion in the black-uniformed woman’s voice and suddenly she was standing right next to where the laser was shining.

“That term refers to all attempts to understand the world around you that are based on worshiping the divine or believing in a religion. Can an arrangement of cards explain the Tree of Life? Can a special calendar reveal the day of the world’s destruction? Can a certain series of dance steps summon the rain at any time? The specifics go by many different names, but the root principle is the same.”

“Kh!”

Karuta continued to aim his blinding laser from the ground while twintails Marika switched her rapier’s guard to its reversed firing mode and launched truly deadly lasers from the sky, but none of them hit. They were not allowed to hit. Even with the speed of light on their side, Anastasia kept “disappearing” and they could not get in a proper hit.

(What? Is she teleporting or something? Or is she reading our thoughts as we aim!?)

“It is a simple matter.” Anastasia remained standing still. I said magic is all attempts to understand the world around you, didn’t I? That means it also applies to any attempts to understand the Newtonian physics that allows you to tangibly experience invisible quantum physics.”

“What?”

“Simply put, I can dodge attacks made of light if I move faster than the speed of light. And light is constantly hitting my body. If I add my own strength to the light that is already pushing my body, it establishes the following equation: (The speed of light) + (My athletic ability) = (My current speed). If I can add just a little bit on top of the standard value for light, then of course I can surpass it.”

“What in the world are you talking about?”

That explanation was so absurd he suspected it was solely meant to confuse him.

It was such childish logic. No, even small children understood nothing could exceed the speed of light. Anastasia was producing such extreme results, yet the foundation of it was contradictory to an extreme. That creeped Karuta out to no end.

“And this is not limited to the speed of light. You saw the other Problem Solvers, did you not? Horoscopes and calendars? Your Crystal Magic may simply read the flow of power between heaven and earth, but did you really think that was enough to manage the world’s strongest power?”

“…”

The dinosaur, the light spear, the giant sword, and regeneration.

It was true those each felt like the strongest because they were from such different categories.

Any attempt to understand them had been abandoned by categorizing it all as God-Worshiping Magic.

He could not hope to understand them, yet there they were. That may have been what made them so frightening.

“There was an age of dinosaurs, an age of stone tools, an age of staffs and crystal balls, an age of guns and steam, and many others. I suppose the previous age was of electricity and petroleum. But we wiped it out. It was our ability to do that which established the age of God-Worshiping Magic and earned us the title of world’s strongest.” Anastasia laughed. “God-Worshiping Magic users are not brilliant geniuses or wise sages. In a way, we are the dumb ones. The power pouring down from space, the energy rising from the center of the earth, and the invisible mountains and valleys created by those things colliding are all irrelevant. While you stare at those occult weather maps, we create our own bomb cyclones. Because we can. …And once you reach that point, you reach a world where the speed of light is such a flimsy restriction.”

Her power felt like some kind of joke.

This was the definition of magic itself.

She was an incomprehensible monster in human form. Karuta felt his skin crawl while facing her, but then he realized a fundamental fact.

This was not over yet.

She could move faster than light. It felt like there was no hitting an enemy like that, but that was not true. That was simply how most people would view it since they thought of the speed of light as an absolute boundary.

After all…

(Anastasia’s childish form of evil does not think of…no, does not believe that light is the world’s fastest. She believes that plenty of things move faster than light.)

He gulped.

(So she knows how to conquer light, but she does not believe that is enough to bend the world to her will. It could be vibrations, or electrons, or wind, or fire. She believes that plenty of other ordinary things have the possibility of surpassing light. So, so, so…)

“Aine! Hit her directly!!”

(This only lets her dodge laser attacks since they use light, so another form of attack has a chance of hitting her!!)

A roar of wind came from a katana made from a translucent, crystal-like material. It had a jitte-like branch on the back of the blade and a special laser gun unit was attached there. Crystal Girl Aine’s clear white dress fluttered around her as she raced forward with weapon in hand.

There was less than 20m between them.

Her nonhuman legs could clear that distance in a single second.

But Anastasia laughed and took a step back.

That was all it took to kill Aine’s speed. She stopped. For some reason, she was running and running but could not reach the woman in a yellow and black uniform.

“I move back every time you move forward, thus you can never reach me.”

“Now you’re dragging out old Greek nonsense!?” shouted Marika from the sky while she charged in like a meteor with rapier in hand.

Anastasia could not use that method for an attack from above since she could not sink down into the ground. She could not bind the attack with the magic that let her ignore distance and speed, so Marika should have been able to reach her. However…

“The moon is pulling me toward it, so I can fly.”

“!!!???”

Anastasia disappeared.

Marika quickly pulled back her rapier, but then the weapon and her right arm’s armor were blown away. Even though she was using a barrier that (unlike Karuta’s) could deflect machinegun fire. The roar came a moment later. The twintail girl just barely avoided crashing and instead made an unsteady emergency landing.

Anastasia had passed through at a speed too fast to follow with the naked eye and her own right fist had been destroyed and her arm bones were sticking out at her elbow.

She stopped in midair, laughed, and kissed the back of her destroyed hand.

“I can kiss it and make it better.”

What happened next goes without saying.

There were no time limits or detailed rules like there were for Crystal Magic.

Sweat poured from Karuta’s body while he looked up from the ground thanks to the ordinary bonds of gravity.

Instead of tension or a fear of the unknown, seeing the true nature of magic filled him with disgust.

It was not that Anastasia did not know how things really worked.

She had said she could fly because “the moon is pulling me toward it”. That basis required knowledge of universal gravitation, but she still prioritized her own thoughts and believed in them without a shred of doubt. Because that was the age and the world they lived in. Was this her pride in claiming the title of strongest and remaking the world as she saw fit? Even if all the possibilities of every other parallel world would not allow this ridiculous conclusion, this world was different.

This was magic that distorted a world its user had truly never seen. It was a lot like drawing a map of the ends of the earth based on your imagination instead of actually going there.

(What do we do? What do we do!? This mixed up feeling from her is different from that dinosaur or light spear! It’s way worse! Is it even possible to come up with and follow a plan for someone like this? Can we really outdo the bomb cyclone itself simply by reading the weather map and following what it says? That just doesn’t sound realistic. She takes it so far I can’t see any way to outdo her!!)

“Sacri-sama.”

Aine jumped back toward him with her special katana in hand.

Marika waved from where she had landed a short distance away. She had taken a hit from Anastasia, but she could apparently keep fighting.

“Give me your instructions,” said Aine. “What should I do next?”

“Good question.”

That response came not from Karuta but from Anastasia in the sky overhead.

The yellow and black uniform woman smiled with the purple sky behind her.

“This is a taste of our apocalyptic everyday life. We are always destroying someone and we will be destroyed by someone someday. You started this, so let us end it. Are you out of options? What happened to your trump cards? Is it over already? Then it would seem today is not the day I die. I will hold onto the title of world’s strongest till at least tomorrow.”

Was this how it worked?

He did not know how many secrets and mysteries the world held. He had no way of checking to see which ones would blossom and cover the world if they were supported in the normal way. But their light faded so easily when up against something as baffling as this God-Worshiping Magic that was so mixed up and seemed entirely impervious to their every effort.

“All I did was recite a simple hex, focus my own actions on defense, and respond with the appropriate reactions to your attacks.”

They watched as floating Anastasia pulled something from the chest of her tight skirt military uniform.

The thick card set looked a lot like it could be for poker, but that was unlikely.

Or perhaps this was the original form of a card set.

“So now I will go on the offensive. Didn’t I say that magic refers to all attempts to understand the world around you? And that one of the prime examples is trying to explain the Tree of Life with tarot cards?”

The cards flew.

They followed some sort of rules to spread out like a shield in front of her.

“Technically, this is not how they are meant to be used, but I do promise you it will be entertaining.”

And.

And.

And.

“Enjoy my strongest.”

The ground broke apart and a giant form rose up behind Anastasia in the sky.

Part 5[edit]

Size-wise, it was like a giant mountain more than 100m tall.

Shape-wise, it had a bizarre silhouette resembling a bipedal dinosaur crossed with a grotesque deep sea fish.

It felt like a great symbol of ruin with how it repeatedly crumbled and re-solidified at its outlines and how it gave off a strangely sweet rotting smell.

Paralyzed.

Completely paralyzed.

Karuta and Marika were too overwhelmed by the yellow and black to move. Crystal Girl Aine silently tilted her head, but she would not act unless she was given instructions.

“There are many different forms of tarot divination. Reading the future is the most well-known, but they can also be used to determine your compatibility with another person, to organize your own feelings…or to seek out something in the past that has already been lost.” Anastasia spoke with the giant form behind her. That monster seemed to accept that thing as perfectly normal. “This was originally an attempt to recreate a lost lifestyle by using the 22 cards of the Major Arcana and the 56 cards of the Minor Arcana. In other words, to revive a ruined civilization. But strangely, when I dropped the fishing line into the depths, I ended up catching more than just the one I was after. The line must have been a little too strong because it appears I have fished up every last thing known as a lost civilization.

“What…are you talking about?”

“Yes, yes! This one caught even me by surprise, but now I can believe it. I had not acquired just the one specific lifestyle. Oh, no. I had fished up all of the civilizations that have vanished since the dawn of history. Altogether, that is a series of 1056 dooms and apocalypses.”

“……………………………………………………………………………………………………”

What the hell was that?

How were they supposed to defeat something as absurd as that?

The category of civilizations could not be measured with something as simple as countries or populations. Thanks to the spread of globalization in modern society, it was impossible to say how many civilizations there were. If this woman had over a thousand methods of destroying an entire civilization – be they a meteor, a flood, a virus, a war, or quieter options like depopulation or isolation – she might be able to destroy the entire world with just a small fraction of them.

“…”

Karuta was overwhelmed.

He was truly speechless.

Someone had said Anastasia Blast was in charge of the world’s military infrastructure.

Was this what that meant?

She could protect her allies and kill her enemies. She could alter the power balance. The military was nothing more than the means of using lives to control the rising and falling of civilizations.

She viewed the world before her on the level of civilizations, so she did not focus too much on each individual life. If she appeared before a hero or dictator powerful enough to single-handedly destroy an entire civilization, they would realize for the first time they were nothing more than a side character. Even the Demon Lord with the power to destroy humanity would be killed instantly by a flick of her fingers.

All civilizations would fall one day.

Even if globalization progressed to the point that the entire planet could be considered a single civilization, it would still fall apart eventually if viewed in the long, long term.

That explained why she rose above the interests of individual nations.

If she could do all this but was still considered an ace on active duty – in other words, she could not fully destroy the Threat and retire – it made sense why the entire world so feared the Threat.

(What do we do?)

Utagai Karuta’s eyes rolled in his head and sweat soaked his body as he searched for some kind of salvation. Marika tried to catch her breath while down on her knees and Crystal Girl Aine awaited orders at his side. Student Council President Omotesandou Kyouka was also waiting back at the RV. Who could he order to do what in order to overturn this ridiculous situation!?

(Gathering all the current civilizations won’t be enough to match the total number that have been destroyed in the past. So what about Aine? She’s made from a Crystal Blossom from head to toe, so she doesn’t count as part of humanity and she might be able to deal damage from outside this conflict between human civilizations. No, that wouldn’t work. I still form the foundation as the Crystal Magician, so she’s only a portion of my civilization. Not to mention that Crystal Magic as a whole was created by human hands. So it can’t defeat that collection of our predecessors’ knowledge!)

“Hold on. Is that an ‘oh, no’ I see on your face?” There was clear amusement in Anastasia’s voice. “But I hold every civilization that has been destroyed since the dawn of history, avenger. And that would include that lost time that was stolen before your eyes and that you desire above all else. I do not know where in here the 700 from your Ocean Crystal Magic Academy can be found, but since their small Crystal Blossom civilization was destroyed, it must be found here.”

“Kh.”

(Gekiha!!)

That boy was not dead.

It would take a long, long time, but he would recover eventually.

But what if he was trapped in that large framework of a destroyed civilization?

“Ha ha ha! But instead of hoping for a reunion, your thoughts jumped straight to ‘oh, no’. That is who you truly are. You say you are fighting to protect the dead? You claim this revenge is to prevent us from taking everything from you? If that were truly your priority, you would have seen this as an opportunity, just like those nobles who indulge in seances to meet their departed loved ones again.”

This was the last remaining world’s strongest.

This was the temptation of Anastasia who controlled the world’s military infrastructure…no, who controlled the entire field of doom.

“This is the true essence of my magic.”

She moved her right hand like she was holding an invisible brandy glass and the frighteningly large form began to swirl around.

By the time a deafening roar reached his ears, the collection of doom had compressed to the size of a softball and dropped into her hand. Then it crawled out to surround her entire body. Some of it covered her limbs and some spread across her spine to cover her with yellow and black armor.

It almost looked like an incomplete Crystal Blossom.

That giant monster of more than 1000 meters had been made from all the civilizations that had met their doom in the past, yet even it was only a material to be used.

The world’s strongest reigned supreme as an individual. She was not like Karuta who let the entirely separate crystal girl do the fighting.

“Now, it is time for the final act,” she said while giving off an even more intensely menacing aura.

Even an ordinary person could tell this was the most efficient way to use that. They could tell this would bring about the ferocious destruction of the world’s strongest far more than letting that 1000m monster run amok.

“All who cannot overcome the doom of a civilization shall be crushed by my wall of doom.”

A yellow and black explosion followed.

As soon as he realized that was Anastasia Blast charging forward, the decisive moment had already arrived.

Part 6[edit]

In that final moment, Utagai Karuta imagined a horribly faded vision of the past for some reason.

Marika was smiling by his side like usual and Student Council President Kyouka was there even though she had actually been a distant person who he had rarely ever met.

And.

And.

And.

He saw the classmate who had been lost and should not have been lost.

He saw Kazamuki Gekiha.

Part 7[edit]

It all came down to this.

Anastasia had become a yellow and black spear intent on piercing the earth, but then a puzzled look appeared on her face. The time did arrive, but it was far different from what she had expected.

There was someone in front of her.

“Aine.”

An ear-splitting clang rang out. The preset barrier meant nothing. The noise sounded like crystal colliding with crystal, but that meant it was a sound of collision and not destruction.

In other words, her attack had been stopped.

Crystal Girl Aine had moved in front of Karuta with her pure white outfit fluttering around her. She held her translucent modified katana in both hands. Instead of breaking or shattering, it had stopped yellow and black Anastasia Blast’s max speed charge from the sky.

“What!?”

“We came all this way carrying the weight of Grimnoah’s 700 people on our backs.”

An unpleasant straining sound could still be heard, but this was not over. She did not collapse. The target before Anastasia’s eyes would not die. Karuta gave a roar while the crystal girl protected him.

“You have every civilization that has ever been destroyed? You have 1056 kinds of doom? Who cares!? We can overcome that without even trying!! So what if you have an ice age, floods, eruptions, and even manmade atrocities and wars? That might have been too much in an age before those things had happened, but those rules no longer apply.”

They glared directly at each other.

As long as he realized something so simple, he could stand on the same level as that world’s strongest who held every kind of doom.

“Don’t underestimate Crystal Magic. Maybe no one else has ever been able to overcome that wall, but we’re different!!”

“Have you forgotten? Those destroyed civilizations include that school that taught Crystal Magic.”

“So you think you could crush us if you sent all five Problem Solvers after us? Even though we’ve already taken out four of you!?”

People grew stronger when they persistently worked toward a goal.

They could gain the power to overcome the kind of disaster that once would have been unavoidable doom for them.

“So we will overcome this! The doom of all past civilizations is no more than an obstacle we must surpass here!! We have to show you we’ve changed, that those older eras are a thing of the past, and that we’ve conquered those things so you can rest easy!!”

This had nothing to do with the occult high and low pressure systems.

It was not the same as using brute force to grapple with a monster who could create as many bomb cyclones as she liked.

They had to search out a way to control this magic user named Anastasia Blast who could be seen as the world’s strongest form of doom. It did not matter if these were cumulonimbus clouds or a bomb cyclone. People had used horoscope charts and calendars to learn the rules needed to bring disasters onto their side. They had learned to store water, farm the land, sail the seas, and so much more. They could not stop just because they did not understand something. They had to conquer it.

They had to attack Anastasia Blast and bind her with the rules governing her that not even she was aware of!!

Humans are not the dinosaurs who met their doom and were no more. We won’t just tremble in fear! No matter how pathetic, ugly, or lame it might be, we know how to learn from our mistakes and overcome them!! So we won’t let it end with our defeat. What you brought to that boat was undoubtedly doom, but that’s exactly why we have to keep going so it doesn’t end there!!

“Kh.”

They finally pushed back.

That childishly evil voice finally gasped.

We can learn from tragedy. The pain drives us to claim something even greater in return! The greater the doom you place before us, the stronger we will grow. From the moment you failed to kill us with your very first attack at that school, the small snowball had started rolling down the hill. You can try to stop it now, but we’ve already grown well past your expectations!! So much so that this isn’t going to end with the simple revenge we initially planned it as!!!!!!”

A cracking sound rang out, but not from Crystal Girl Aine. It came from Anastasia who was supposedly still charging forward.

“Yes, that’s right. I wanted to save everyone, even though I knew it wasn’t possible!” roared the boy. He roared straight at that absolute enemy known as a Problem Solver and one of the world’s strongest. “And not just Gekiha and the other crystallized students and teachers. I wanted to save Marika who was so excited by any glimmer of hope and by the thought of revenge. I wanted to protect the Student Council President’s smile!”

He had known revenge was the right thing to do, but something about it had not sat right with him.

He had felt oddly satisfied when he practically threw his life away to save the ordinary people participating in the protest in London.

If that was who he really was, then surely it had to be the driving force that had brought him so far against the Problem Solvers!!

“I wanted to tell them to stop dirtying their hands with revenge!! I wanted to tell them not to forget who they were back in that happy school!! So I took on as much of the burden as I could to prevent them from crossing the point of no return! That might sound like a ridiculous joke to those of you we were killing, but I risked my life for that!!!!!!”

The next thing he knew, sweat was soaking her face.

There was a smile plastered to her face as she spoke her mind.

“That may be true.”

But the world’s strongest was the world’s strongest to the end.

But that equation only applies to you; it does not apply to the entirely separate Crystal Blossom that has no civilization of its own.”

“!!!???”

The cracks rapidly shifted toward Aine’s translucent katana. They spread through her pale hands and arms like the propagation of pressure.

If she shattered, Karuta would be defenseless.

Then he could not avoid Anastasia’s attack, but he doubted Aine could push Anastasia back even if he gave the order now.

He breathed in and out.

What did he need to end this revenge?

He thought about it, arrived at a conclusion, and raised his voice.

“Return to me, Aine!!”

Both Anastasia and Aine looked taken aback.

Then Aine fell back. She slipped inside the boy’s stomach.

It was obvious what would happen once that wall, dam, and plug was removed.

The max speed charge was completed.

Anastasia’s arm, the yellow and black armor surrounding it, and the long claw-like thing extending from there pierced the boy’s side. The single attack was enough to break right through the spatial vibration field of his weak barrier. He doubled over and coughed up blood.

“Bh.”

And then Anastasia realized something.

The tactile feedback of the blow sent a strange tremor up her spine that her brain finally managed to verbalize.

(I missed…his vitals?)

Those were the words that came to mind, but her knowledge rejected it. She had attacked his vitals. She had followed the muscle memory that let her pull that off with her eyes closed. And yet Utagai Karuta had not died. There was still life in his eyes.

She heard a cracking sound.

She thought it might be crystals enveloping him to heal the wound she had just made…but it was not.

(No, did he intentionally harm himself to produce crystals in his body that lifted up his organs!? He forcibly rearranged his own insides!?)

“Gh, bh.”

Either Anastasia’s attack or the intense burden he put on himself caused him to cough up a large hunk of blood.

But he smiled.

The boy smiled fiercely.

He gathered his strength.

He grabbed onto Anastasia’s outstretched right arm with both hands and gave a command along with more blood.

“Come out, Aine!!!!!!”

Yes, as long as the Crystal Blossom was not active, the translucent armor would not take damage. As long as he was prepared to take the blow himself, he could preserve his trump card in a place of absolute safety.

So he had hidden his ultimate weapon inside his body.

He had hidden it and pulled it back out.

All so he could take Anastasia Blast’s head off in this moment.

“!!!???”

The world’s strongest’s eyes opened wide.

For probably the first time in her life, she looked like her throat had gone dry.

It was the same look the Problem Solvers had carved on the faces of everyone in that Ocean Crystal Magic Academy.

In other words, a look of fear and terror.

ApocalypseWitch v01 12.png

And.

And.

And.

In the few seconds of motionless forced upon her by punching through her target’s gut, the doubled-over boy’s back stirred.

His purple blazer pulled up.

The top half of a slender grim reaper with pale, pale skin popped out. She wielded a katana made of a cold, crystal-like substance and a short laser gun that branched off like a jitte. With her target within killing range, the crystal girl in white moved as accurately as a clockwork device.

There was no sound.

But the slash entered at the woman’s shoulder and cut diagonally down from there.

Part 8[edit]

Utagai Karuta felt woozy.

Not even he knew how he was still standing right now. An unbelievable amount of blood flowed from his side where the long claw slipped out. He should have been the one to die after losing so much blood.

But for some reason, the first to collapse was the woman in a yellow and black military uniform. He felt like he had no choice but to look down on her.

That was his duty as the victor.

“Karuta!!”

His childhood friend Marika frantically ran over. She and Crystal Girl Aine supported his unsteady body and he finally managed to let out a rusty-smelling breath. The wound must have been deep because the sound of spreading crystal had yet to stop.

A beautiful blonde woman was collapsed at his feet.

He could more or less tell that there was no saving her. Nor did she beg for her life.

Her yellow and black armor melted away.

He asked her a question as she lay collapsed on her back and slowly stopped moving with her face on its side.

“You could have twisted your wrist to widen the wound before pulling your hand out. That would have shattered the healing crystals and kept me from ever recovering. In other words, you could have killed me. Why didn’t you?”

Marika belatedly looked over at him in shock. If he had made a single mistake – no, if things had gone normally – he would not have made it. She seemed to finally realize the tightrope walk he had made.

On the other hand, Anastasia did not look his way.

She may have already gone blind.

“Didn’t I tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

“This is my apocalyptic everyday life. I am always destroying someone and I will be destroyed by someone someday. If that day is today, then I must give up the title of world’s strongest. I have no interest in taking you with me. I have become an ordinary woman and you have become the world’s strongest.”

“…”

“But be careful.” She continued with a thin smile directed at who knows where. “You will now find yourselves trapped in a life where you must combat the Threat as the world’s strongest. On the path of the strongest, fellow humans will constantly get in your way as they try to help or have decided they are your rival and you will find no allies outside of your immediate group. If you ever wish to bow out, then let your guard down for even a moment. You will be devoured in no time at all. Either by the Threat or by your fellow humans.”

Karuta, Aine, Marika, and Kyouka.

Those four would reign in place of the previous five.

They would be the four rulers of a new era.

Was that what this woman was saying?

“I’m not interested in being the strongest.”

“But there is no escaping it.”

“…”

“You will not be able to escape being the world’s strongest any more than we could.”

“What…”

The boy could not say if the Crystal Blossom’s healing would be enough or if this would count as a fatal blow and his entire body would be solidified. He desperately kept himself conscious in order to ask this question.

He wanted to know the answer.

“What were you Problem Solvers? Where did you start from?”

“Before being bound by the title of strongest, we were no more than an ordinary girl and her friends.”

Her words sounded like some kind of curse.

“And now I have relinquished the title. The world’s strongest form of violence is considered justified simply because it is the world’s strongest. So now that I have fallen, nothing will work to defend what I do or say. So let me say this one thing to you, the new strongest who so foolishly reached this point.”

Anastasia Blast gathered the last ounces of strength from the fading flame of her life to speak these final words.

“I am sorry about what happened at Grimnoah. We were scared.”

The last of the world’s strongest was gone.

After hearing her out, the tension inside Karuta finally snapped and his mind fell into darkness.

He thought he heard someone shouting in his ear, but he could no longer respond.

His revenge, the driving force supporting his soul, had reached its conclusion on that day – in that moment.

Between the Lines 4[edit]

“Crystal Blossoms?” the world’s strongest magician had once asked. “You think that could defeat us and become the next strongest?”

“Of course,” replied the old man who had been her sworn friend. “And once there are enough of them, the world’s distortion needs not be focused on individuals any longer. Crystal Magic will protect you five, so you can finally step down from the stage, Anastasia.”


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