Apocalypse Witch:Volume1 Prologue
“Incompetent,” said the demon. “Incompetent, incompetent, every last one of you is incompetent. Thus, Ocean Crystal Magic Academy Grimnoah shall be immediately shut down!!”
A digital alarm clock went off in a dark room.
Utagai Karuta reached out from the large bed, but his fingers found something else instead. It was a lot like reaching for the book you wanted at a bookstore and accidentally bumping into another customer’s hand.
He was puzzled as someone spoke up from the darkness.
“Why would you set it so early, you goody-goody. Have you started training on your own?”
He narrowed his eyes toward the familiar voice and could barely make out a feminine silhouette in the darkness.
This was his childhood friend of the same age. The girl’s long hair had been dyed a strawberry blonde and she wore it in curly twintails. She had a curvy figure for her short height. …Except something was not right. Would a clothed girl’s body lines really be quite this clearly defined in silhouette?
Utagai Karuta had a bad feeling about this, so he asked about it from the bed.
“Wait just a second, Marika.”
“Isn’t it a little late for that? We’ve shared baths and beds in the past, haven’t we? And while I’m not proud of it, you know what my room is like. I bought too many new swimsuits online, so it’s basically a warehouse with no room to walk around. This is hardly the first time I’ve snuck over here to get some help.”
“That is definitely a problem, but it isn’t what I’m getting at here. I’m talking about your state of dress.”
“Oh, this?” The sexy silhouette needlessly put its hands on its hips. “You know I can’t get to sleep unless I’m nude, right?”
It was such a shock he rolled right out of the large bed.
As his last form of resistance, he grabbed at the sheet with his toes while rolling to the floor and threw it into the air. The girl’s muffled protests reached him after it fell right over her head.
“Oh, fome on. Is the familiar sight of your childhood friend really that much of an eyesore?”
“No, if anything it’s the opp-…!!”
(Oh, no!! Prime numbers! Pi! Anything that will distract me! Oh, I know! I can review my Crystal Magic knowledge!)
He frantically tried to refocus himself, but a few different pieces of bad luck aligned here. He really should not have messed with those weird IoT appliance settings. The automatic curtains were set to open at exactly three minutes after the alarm went off to help him get up in the morning.
The human internal clock was closely linked to sunlight, so artificially increasing the amount of light was one method used by jetlag recovery programs.
However, the image that crashed into Utagai Karuta’s heart was not the lovely morning sunbeams; it was a nude twintails girl shining bright in those sunbeams.
Of course, her body was somewhat hidden since he had kicked the sheet into the air a moment before.
“Good morning, Karuta-kun. The weather is fantastic again today.”
“Bwah! M-Mari-Mari-Marika!! Can’t you…can’t you cover yourself up better than that!?”
“Why bother when I’m about to take a shower? Oh, you’re fine with me getting the first shower of the morning, right?”
“And as thanks for letting me go first, you can enjoy a wonderful shower surrounded by the lingering scent of a lovely maiden.”
(Awawawawawawawa! The human race cannot – boobs – directly control the weather, but by detecting meteorological phenomena such as high and low pressure and then “riding that current”, we can prevent natural disaster and ensure largescale agricultural success – boobies – Crystal Magic is used by electronically controlling a Crystal Blossom using a printed circuit board smaller than a stamp and sealing a god’s name inside – boobs and tits – to produce miraculous phenomena such as producing fire from the hand or flying through the sky, so – ah ha, ah ha ha, no, I can’t focus at all!!)
Karuta’s mind was exploding for more reasons than one and Amaashi Marika must have been satisfied with his panicked cries because she cackled and disappeared into the bathroom.
The boy started agonized over the running water he could hear coming from the other side of that wall, but while pacing restlessly back and forth, he stubbed his toe on a piece of plastic by the window.
It was shaped something like a bamboo leaf, but it was larger than he was while lying down. That item looked like a single-person board with a round cover on top was actually a prototype civilian spacecraft. (You could probably go on a small journey with it if you were launched from a space station outside the atmosphere, but you would almost certainly die of loneliness.) The barrier to entry for space development had lowered a lot recently, so you could find these things even at a “school” like this.
He sighed, crouched down, and lightly knocked on the surface of the spacecraft.
He heard a knock form the other side.
“Sorry about all the noise. Did it wake you?”
He heard another knock that seemed to be saying “don’t worry about it”.
Then he looked out the window that no longer had the curtain covering it.
The room had a large bed, a table, a microwave, and an electric water boiler, but there was no kitchen or dining room. The bathroom that twintailed Marika had entered was a prefab unit that included a bath and a toilet. Some people might think that sounds like a hotel room.
That was close, but not quite.
The view out the windows showed the ocean. And this was clearly not the ocean near Japan. It was the hot and emerald-sparkling ocean found near the equator. This room was on a giant ship. At 500m long, it was nearly twice the size of a nuclear aircraft carrier.
Something flew by directly outside the window.
It caused the thick reinforced glass to rattle as it passed by and, if his kinetic vision was at all accurate, it appeared to be a human. It was a high school girl of around his age who had armor covering her arms and legs, wings on her back, and equipment made of a translucent and angular material.
This might be a very odd sight from a global perspective.
But Utagai Karuta was one of them, so it was a lot more familiar than his childhood friend’s nudity.
“Ocean Crystal Magic Academy Grimnoah, huh?”
He once more thought about where he was standing and what force he belonged to.
He too was one of the magicians who wore a new generation Crystal Blossom at his chest.
“What, you didn’t take a shower? Gross.”
After simply washing off his face, Utagai Karuta chose not to respond to his childhood friend whose skin was flushed from her shower. He could not bring himself to admit he was worried what would happen to his blood pressure if he spent too long in a shower filled with such a girly scent.
They were wearing their uniforms for this “school”.
They both wore purple blazers, but that was not the best choice for a location so close to the equator. Some of the students jumped for joy at the more frequent opportunities for the female students to shower, but Karuta was not one of those. He simply hated all the sweat.
His one form of resistance was to wear a running shirt below his blazer instead of a dress shirt.
“You’re headed out for some training, aren’t you?”
“What about you, Marika?”
“The cafeteria stiiiill isn’t open, so I’ll go with you. The Catastrophe is coming up, but more than that, food tastes better when you’ve worked up an appetite.”
When the two left his room while chatting, a classmate named Kazamuki Gekiha poked his head out from the neighboring room.
Marika did not care at all if she was seen leaving Karuta’s room (with her hair wet from the shower), so she spoke to him with a puzzled look.
“What, are you training too? When did our class start actually putting in an effort?”
“Try to have a thought for the neighbors. Your couple’s comedy skits have been waking me up early every morning lately.”
“Sorry. But just to be clear, these are not ‘couple’s comedy skits’.”
Gekiha ended up joining them. It was too late to go back to sleep and he must not have wanted to waste the time. The loose fit of his uniform and his slouching pose gave him the quintessential delinquent look, but he never could have gotten into the Ocean Crystal Magic Academy if he was not smart.
“So where do you do your training?” asked Marika. “The gym? The pool?”
That question showed just how large this ship was.
The single ship contained enough living space, classrooms, labs, lecture halls, gyms, and indoor pools for the more than 700 students and faculty members onboard. It already sounded like magic without even getting to the Crystal Blossoms.
Crystal Magic could only be used by a select few, but its byproducts had scattered across the world. It was similar to the relationship between great firepower and ironworking. The many new materials and highly-efficient new techniques developed by Crystal Magic had most blessed the field of construction.
Simply put, buildings had grown taller, underground structures had expanded, and ships and planes had grown larger. The world’s scenery had been changed by what was added on top of the existing technologies.
“It doesn’t really matter where. Y’know, because my Crystal Blossom is a little weird.”
“You’ve got a point.”
“So I’ll go wherever you want to go. Where can you spread your wings the most?”
Once Utagai Karuta let the others choose, they knew exactly where they would train for the day.
They moved to the very back of that ship which was twice the size of a luxury cruise ship. The three of them arrived on the large flat heliport there.
Quite a few students had already gathered there, but they were not kicking around a ball or grappling each other on the heliport.
They were falling.
Falling from the edge of the heliport and toward the emerald-sparkling ocean.
“Tezcatlipoca, power up,” whispered curly twintailed Marika.
She wore something like a glass flower at her chest and it immediately began to move. The electrical signal emitted by a printed circuit board smaller than a stamp passed through cables thinner than hairs and the flower opened up. It blossomed. And then it shattered. The clear particles wrapped around her body and became cold armor that surrounded her arms and legs and extended in places to form blade-like wings.
The other notable feature was the rapier-shaped device made of what looked like translucent crystal. This was of course nothing as primitive as a device to slice through things with a honed blade. It would use ultra-rapid vibration and heat to obstruct the inter-electron activity that bound molecules together.
She did not need to worry about the flower petals. More were automatically supplied to make up for those that fell away.
“Thor, power up,” whispered Gekiha as well.
In his case, 10 large wings grew from his entire back.
His weapon was much less refined. It appeared to be made of the same delicate crystal as Marika’s, but it was designed as a cross between a chainsaw and Gatling gun that was longer than he was tall. His ability to easily swing it around in a single hand was another blessing of Crystal Magic.
Of course, not all Crystal Magic was the same. There was a large difference in the power one wielded depending on the deity being used. For example, these two could both produce a variety of phenomena that they wielded as weapons, but Marika’s Tezcatlipoca was based on light while Kazamuki Gekiha’s Thor was based on electricity.
Utagai Karuta breathed a soft sigh.
And he waved over at them with a smile.
They smiled back and then jumped from the edge of the heliport.
But there never was a splashing sound. Instead, there was a sound like a sharp whistle. He looked down to see the emerald sea split apart while the two of them freely skimmed just above its surface.
They moved faster than fighter jets and more delicately than figure skaters.
Legends said those forms could avoid 70 fully-locked-on missiles in a row and even shake free of a ship’s interception laser.
The flower at Karuta’s chest vibrated a bit while he remained back on the ship.
It quickly formed human voices.
They belonged to those two classmates who had gone on ahead of him.
“Whew! Okay, let’s start with some teamwork,” said Gekiha. “I’ll add markers for the slalom, so match my movements!!”
“I seriously doubt I’ll be on your team in battle, but, well, it’s just practice,” replied Marika.
“Man, those upperclassmen are something else, aren’t they?”
“Tch. They’re looking down on us again, aren’t they?”
Karuta also looked up toward the sky.
Crystal Magicians took a special kind of flower pollen into their bodies to “grow” that armor instead of “piloting” or “wearing” it. It was a lot more portable than the older staffs and card sets, and you could think of it like magical superconductors with nearly zero energy loss upon connection. The energy emitted by the Original Crystal Embryo said to exist at the center of the earth and the various powers pouring down from space would collide and create random “vortices of power” similar to occult high and low pressure fronts, but these monsters could access all sorts of supernatural phenomena by using their electrically-controlled Crystal Blossoms just like someone efficiently plowing their field or raising their sails to utilize the weather. Yes, it was just like the priests and priestesses of an older age who had performed sacred acts in accordance with a horoscope chart or calendar that showed everything from creation to destruction all so they coud obtain a power that brought people together to form a civilization.
But those rulers of the supernatural had a clear hierarchy among them.
Marika and Gekiha raced across the glittering ocean with ferocious speed, but there were a few silhouettes flying up above those classmates’ heads. They flapped their wings like angels or demons and they were likely Karuta’s upperclassmen. At the second year, they were known as Regulation 2.
It was like the difference between a small kart and a Formula 1 racer. Karuta and his classmates were only Regulation 1, so they had not even been given the right to fight alongside them in the school competition known as the Catastrophe.
Unless they used a special system known as Category Error.
“Kee hee hee,” laughed Marika. “Keep staring up like that and people will mistake you for a panty peeper.”
Karuta jumped and she continued the verbal attack while cackling.
“Don’t worry, even the students in the other years know my pathetic childhood friend isn’t going to try anything. Anyway, I don’t see any Regulation 3s.”
“You mean those dimensional travelers?”
“I doubt that part’s true. Although I wouldn’t put it past that Student Council President.”
Crystal Magicians did not use lift or jet thrusters to fly or to skim along the ocean’s surface.
Crystal Magic used an excitation vibration to shake the space and dimension itself and create an invisible sail that let them ride the great currents that formed those occult high and low pressure fronts. Still, the more physical resistance and footholds the better, so Regulation 1s were limited to the ocean while Regulation 2s could reach the sky.
So what about Regulation 3s?
Legend had it they could increase the excitation vibration to the point that they pushed the dimension past its limit and ruptured it. It was said they could pass through that dimensional rift and make the other side into their own territory as well. Simply put, they could perform dimensional leaps similar to warping or teleporting.
(Skimming across the water, flying through the sky, and dimensional travel. …Well, they should all be impossible, but that order does fit how hard it is to imagine them, I guess.)
There was a reason why they had taken this so far.
There was a logical and pressing reason why they needed to acquire such great power.
“Aim at the drones flying around free,” said Gekiha. “Let’s mark A00 through N99. I’ll drive them toward you and you finish them off. Let’s aim for 30 seconds. Or is that too much for you, Miss Marika!?”
“Ugh, really!? This is why I don’t want to be teamed up with a trigger-happy optical Gatling gun freak! Don’t hit those upperclassmen flying up there, okay!?”
“It’s not like it would kill them if I did. The spatial vibration field will protect them, plus they’re pretty much immortal even if I break through that barrier.”
Thanks to Crystal Magic, they could regenerate an arm or a leg if it was blown off. With anything other than a fatal blow, the damaged portion would be immediately crystallized and return to normal in about 30 seconds. …However, that opportunity was lost if the crystalized part was shattered by a further attack while it prepared to regenerate.
With a fatal blow, their entire body would be crystallized.
In that case, the regeneration period was unknown. Or rather, it depended on the level of injury. A slit throat might be fine after less than a year, but if their torso was bisected or their entire body was blown to bits, even a century would not be enough. And if part of their original body had been lost, then the time increased tenfold or even a hundredfold. It may have been like being placed in cold sleep while they slowly healed.
“Can I say something weird?” asked Karuta.
“That’s par for the course with you, so don’t worry about it,” said Gekiha. “So what is it?”
“I think even Crystal Magicians die when they’re fatally wounded. I mean, the healing of wounds and the regeneration of fatal wounds clearly use different modes. With regeneration, their clothing is solidified along with them. I guess it’s like the healing keeps their soul inside while the regeneration doesn’t.”
“You mean like those Egyptian mummies?” asked Marika. “They preserve the corpse because the resurrected soul will need it at their destination, right?”
“What does it matter?” added Gekiha. “Either way, you can still come back after being beheaded or having your heart shot through.”
Did that seem like a second chance to redo your life, or did it seem like a punishment that left you wandering the world in a state where you could never die?
Your interpretation probably came down to your personal beliefs.
Flight, a barrier, and regeneration.
Those were the “presets” shared by all Crystal Magicians. In other words, they were standard.
But they also had individual Skills based on the deity they wore like armor, so there was a lot offered in the deal.
“I do have the Gatling gun, but I’m mainly a close-quarters fighter using the chainsaw,” said Gekiha. “It’s just that I already had the rotation structure in there, so I figured I could put it to good use in other ways too.”
“Either way, it is severely lacking in style,” said Marika. “Also, isn’t the greatest advantage of your Thor the boomerang-like alterations to projectile trajectories? So why did you focus so much on close-quarters?”
Karuta watched from the heliport as those two had fun flying along the ocean.
“Do you think the Threat really exists?” he asked without thinking.
Kazamuki Gekiha clearly did not like the question.
“How should I know when we aren’t given any information on it? Is it human or a monster? Is it a plant or an animal? Is it a living thing or a machine? Is it micro or is it macro? We don’t know a damn thing. It could even be a legit god or demon for all we know.”
“But we do know cities are disappearing around the world,” said Marika. “And in some cases, entire small countries. They’re just gone without at trace, like someone used a giant eraser. That’s the one thing we do know.”
The great pressure felt like a soft hand pressing on the center of the stomach.
Cities and countries were disappearing around the world.
And it always happened overnight without anyone able to resist in the slightest.
Nothing at all had been announced regarding the cause and masking had been applied so not even civilian satellites could see what was going on, so disconcerting speculations continued to grow unabated.
What was this thing that had to be hidden from the world?
That was why this academy was built as a boat. And why it was surrounded by so many escort ships of various sizes. No fixed location functioned as a solid base anymore. Not a superpower’s metropolis, not a shelter deep underground, and not some secret garden at the ends of the earth.
It may not have been anything occult. It might turn out to be nothing more than an ordinary army made up of enemy soldiers. But with all information hidden, they were forced to skip straight past the cause and process and look only at the result. That was more than enough to make it a real nightmare.
“I hate how we’re asked to fight something without being told what it is,” complained Karuta.
“This giant school and the Catastrophe exist to make sure we’re ready when that surprise party arrives out of the blue one day,” said Marika.
The Catastrophe was divided up between Regulations, but it was still a major event that determined a clear hierarchy within the students of the Ocean Crystal Magic Academy. However, this was not a martial arts tournament where the students fought each other, a sports festival where their athleticism was measured, or final exams where their academic ability was put to the test.
The name said it all.
They were thrown into some great catastrophe.
“The rumors I’ve heard say they’ll do pretty much anything,” said Gekiha. “They might spread liquid helium high in the sky to create a bomb cyclone, or they might stuff a 1000m pit full of explosives to trigger an artificial volcanic eruption.”
“I’d take either of those over the one where you’re taken to a desert island only to have agar carrying a genetically-modified pathogen rain down on you from the sky,” said Marika.
“Um, I’ve heard you can wake up after the anesthetic wears off and find yourself in the middle of a military conflict somewhere in the world,” said Karuta.
Natural disasters, plagues, and wars.
The catastrophe could come in any form. There was no advance warning and they were free to work with or work against the other students they found with them.
There was only one win condition: overcoming the catastrophe the academy tasked them with and ending the problems it had caused.
The number of catastrophes they had safely overcome and how active a role they had played would be quantified and the entire student body would receive a final ranking at fixed intervals.
This was not useless “theories” that only worked on paper or in a ring. They had to improve themselves as Crystal Magicians such that they could respond to any and all dangers.
However, the possible catastrophes were so varied that this gave no real hint what they were being trained to face. In other words, what the Threat really was.
“Anyway, you were the one who invited me to train this morning. If you can obtain Skills just by staring up into the sky, knock yourself out, but if not, then how about you get going?”
He realized Marika was right. He had no rebuttal.
He placed a hand on his chest, traced his finger across the Crystal Blossom that looked like glasswork, and he whispered.
He whispered to the printed circuit board smaller than a stamp, to the cables thinner than hairs, and to the Crystal Blossom beyond them.
“Power up. …I’m counting on you, Aine.”
As soon as he did, his Crystal Blossom shattered. But not like it did for the other students. No translucent armor covered his arms and legs and no wings grew from his back.
His back swelled out and then something crawled out of his flesh.
It was a girl.
She looked like a lovely girl of about 13 or 14. She had long hair, her skin was more pale than white, and she wore a transparent-looking white dress decorated all over with glittering crystal.
He called her Aine, but he did not actually know if that was really the silver-haired girl’s name.
In fact, he did not know if she was really a living being with feelings of her own.
She held what looked like a drawn katana made of crystal. However, the back of the blade branched off like a jitte and a short laser gun unit was attached parallel to the blade.
The concept of “property” did not apply here.
The name Aine referred to everything from the girl’s heart to the sword.
“Unit ID Name: Aine – power up complete. What are your orders, Sacri-sama.”
“I really wish that was short for Sacred Master or something instead of Sacrifice…”
He brought a hand to his forehead.
Crystal Magic worked by sealing a divine name such as Zeus or Odin inside a printed circuit board smaller than a stamp to use the god’s legend and mythology to calculate out the horoscope chart or calendar needed to catch the supernatural winds. People could not manipulate earth’s atmosphere, but with a weather forecast, they could efficiently plow their fields and raise their sails. This was the same but used to wield miracles.
A slight mistake had been made.
In Utagai Karuta’s case, the Crystal Blossom had been activated before a divine name had been sealed inside, so the calculations had been made without anything to start with.
That had resulted in the creation of this unidentified crystal girl who did not rely on any known mythology.
He did not even know where the name Aine had come from.
The students who had been taking a break on the heliport looked up in slight surprise and focused on him. It was a little embarrassing, but they were interested in Aine and not him.
This was probably unique among all the students in the giant Ocean Crystal Magic Academy.
He had a fully separated Crystal Blossom.
“It’s pretty incredible,” said Gekiha. “Even if it’s hard to tell if it makes him a genius or a freak.”
“I’ll admit no one else can do that,” said Marika. “But it doesn’t give him any speed or defenses, so a single shot is enough to finish him off. I don’t see how it will help during the Catastrophe.”
“He could have her princess carry him around.”
“Ah ha ha! That would be perfect for that King of Wishy-Washiness.”
Their words were not as painful as the fact that they were not even wrong. Now, the trick to defeating Crystal Magicians during sparring was to aim for the gaps, so a Crystal Blossom like Aine could be seen as unbeatable since she moved all on her own. But that was useless when the entire school body already knew about it. They would simply focus their attacks on him. Of the preset abilities, the flight belonged to Aine, the regeneration belonged to Karuta, and they could both use the barrier, but there seemed to be some kind of conflict there because it was extremely weak. He could not deflect a single bullet the way things were.
Meanwhile, Aine silently tilted her head while waiting for a command.
“Aine, can you hear me?”
“Let’s do the usual test. I’ll vibrate the Blossom to send you my voice. Let’s see how long a distance I can stay in contact with you.”
This was a lot like mimicking a radio or tin can telephone, but he thought this had to be the most efficient method. As long as he was not defeated, she could not be broken by most any attack. It was like the difference between a bulletproof vehicle covered in thick armor and a box stuffed full of steel.
The boy sighed as he watched Aine hop off the edge of the heliport and toward the ocean. While dimensional leaps were too much for her, Aine actually could fly in the sky, but he felt it was best to show deference to their upperclassmen. (Marika and Gekiha may have been in a similar position there.) He himself had not done anything at all, so he sadly could not feel any pride in that accomplishment.
All he could do was stay in safe place and send messages to his crystal doll.
“Look, Karuta,” said Kazamuki Gekiha. “The sky is so clear today you can see that decorative junk in the distance.”
Drawn by his classmate’s comment, he looked to the horizon and saw something long and skinny rising up from it. He could not imagine how far it extended because it vanished into the blue sky.
“A space elevator, huh?”
He was pretty sure that giant structure had been developed in the name of carrying cargo into orbit more cheaply than with rockets or shuttles. It was still running, but it was deep in the red due to a number of reasons. Karuta and the others did not have much to do with the thing.
“To be honest, I’m relieved that project failed,” said Gekiha. “The Original Crystal Embryo is at the center of the earth and Crystal Magic uses the collision between the two powers here on the surface, so they say you can’t use it on a space station or a lunar base, right? Only 0.0002% of the population can use this, so it would be a huge waste if the modern age moved out into space and this ability was buried in the shadows of history.”
“The Original,” repeated Karuta. “We all use it, but no one actually knows what it is, do we? There are a ton of theories though, like that it’s a collection of knowledge embedded there by someone or that it’s the will of the planet.”
“That’s not our problem. Leave that to the theory group that never leaves their desks. Oh, and speaking of the elevator, had you heard some of the previous generation are visiting for an inspection? It’s those 5 known as the Problem Solvers.”
The Problem Solvers.
Those five were said to have successfully physically removed the Threat in combat.
And just as that name was mentioned, the blue sky was swallowed up by darkness as if a room’s lights had been shut off.
The other two fell silent.
Karuta was likely also staring up at the sky that had suddenly changed from the rising sun of early morning to the darkness of night.
“Is that their way of announcing their arrival?” asked Gekiha.
“One of those five can control solar or lunar eclipses, right?” said Marika. “I’ve heard eclipses keep happening wherever they go, but that is quite a performance.”
It was definitely impressive.
Karuta could only summon a crystal girl from his body, so he could never hope to accomplish this.
However, that did not necessarily mean that power would help win the Catastrophe that could be a natural disaster, a plague, or a war.
Not to mention in a fight against the unknown Threat.
“I get that they’re powerful, but it’s hard to say how impressive that is when you don’t know what the Threat is.”
“At the very last, they have to be more powerful than you, Mr. Pathetic,” said Marika.
The Problem Solvers.
Their ability in combat tended to get all the focus, but they were used for more than just fighting.
Their powerful magic could support an entire era.
That included everything from the world’s production facilities to things like garbage disposal.
Those monsters could run global-scale infrastructure all on their own.
They were known as monsters because of that energy that was too great to simply call “massive” and because of their influence on the world.
Karuta’s group had their hands full with just the fighting part, so these people were on more than just another level.
The world would grind to a halt without them.
The internet, convenience stores, and air conditioning did not simply exist. Someone was supporting all of those things on a daily basis. And those monsters were the ones supporting those everyday things for 5.5 billion people.
“North America, South America, Eurasia, Oceania, and Africa,” said Marika. “Whatever it says on paper, it’s those five who effectively hold it all together.”
“Yeah, just those five,” said Gekiha.
A mere five people kept the world economy going.
The hard work of the other 5.5 billion people did nothing more than transfer some bills from one of their wallets to another.
“I almost feel bad for those VIPs,” said Gekiha. “No one’s even focused on that elevator anymore. They gathered plenty of money in the name of carrying cargo more cheaply than with rockets or shuttles, but once they started running it, the fear of spreading debris led them to an indefinite ban on civilian use. In the end, it can only be used for public policy.”
“And I hear that public policy isn’t doing so hot either,” said Karuta. “Since the point is to carry the cargo cheaply, they get their funding reduced with each consecutive project. And since they can’t gather more clients, the price just keeps going down. It’s like marking down a million yen bag to ten thousand yen but not getting any more customers into your shop, so it’s pretty bad.”
“I hear the Problem Solvers are personally defending it because it’s a cornerstone of public policy, but is that really why?” asked Marika. “If the Problem Solvers traversed the planet in top form, no one would need armies anymore. Now that we have some actual cost-benefit data to work from, no one has any hopes for the field of space development, so it seems weird for them to keep protecting a portion of it. Kind of ironic that they’re being held back by a facility they can’t afford to get rid of. The adult world sounds like a real pain. Although maybe they’re letting some other people have some credit to avoid any silly resentment.”
“At any rate, this is what it means to be too blessed,” said Gekiha. “With those five, no one needs the political world, the business world, the military, or the government. If they wanted to, couldn’t they destroy it all? If all of them were sent out around the world all the time instead of sending them out one at a time every so often, I bet they might have been able to keep those cities, regions, and countries from disappearing.”
“But.” Utagai Karuta chose his words carefully. “Those Problem Solvers don’t use Crystal Blossoms like us. I hear they use the old-fashioned God-Worshiping Magic.”
“Isn’t that what makes it so impressive?” asked Marika.
“Yeah, it makes you wonder why they haven’t switched to Crystal Blossoms,” said Gekiha. “It’s scary that they can go into battle with the presets of flight, barriers, and regeneration. Well, maybe they aren’t part of the 0.0002% that can use them, but that just makes them all the more monstrous for standing at the top like that.”
Utagai Karuta sighed.
Crystal Blossoms. That cutting-edge magic technology controlled printed circuit boards smaller than stamps to produce various supernatural phenomena by catching the optimal currents produced by the occult high and low pressure fronts created by the collision between the energy emitted from the Original Crystal Embryo in the center of the earth and the various powers raining down from outer space.
But you could never reach the level of the Problem Solvers by mastering that path.
There were a lot of rumors about the Problem Solvers like that their attack power was so specialized that they could resolve any situation with a single attack, or that they could use a barrage as fearsome as an Aegis ship to shoot down every last grain of sand of whatever might oppose them, but the details were unknown. They were world-famous, yet so very little was known about them that it was kind of creepy.
If Karuta and his schoolmates were the ones reading the weather maps, then those five were the ones firing dry ice or thermobaric warheads into the sky to produce artificial rain.
The students here could not stand up to them no matter how hard they tried.
Plus, Karuta’s magic was not even the standard Crystal Magic that he already knew was no match for them. His had been twisted so badly it had become a fully independent girl the likes of which no had ever seen.
“Ah, eh, ee, uh, eh, oh, ah, oh.”
While he was thinking, Aine’s voice reached him remotely.
“Can you hear me, Sacri-sama?”
“Can you please call me something else? It’s creepy.”
They managed to kill a good amount of time training.
Once the cafeteria was open for breakfast, everyone naturally started wrapping things up without being told.
The training group arrived first, so it was not yet what you would call crowded. Karuta, Marika, Gekiha, and Aine managed to get one end of a table to themselves.
“Sacri-sama, I want that. The gold leaf castella.”
“Why do you always want to eat the most ridiculously expensive things?”
“If that is not an option, the gold powder yokan would be acceptable.”
“Okay, how about you try again after figuring out what my issue with the first option was?”
Aine silently tilted her head and her silver hair swayed while giving off a rainbow-colored shine similar to a disk.
“If you insist, I could always eat a gold bar directly.”
“The gold is the problem! And why do you even need to eat if you’re Crystal Magic!?”
“You have already asked that 72 times, but I will faithfully answer it yet again. My body is made of crystal – that is, a silicon semiconductor – so by taking in pure gold, I can expand my internal circuitry and obey more complex and higher-level requests. So you could say this is all meant for your benefit, Sacri-sama.”
“More complex? Like what?”
“Wait, why are you hanging your head and blushing with that complex expression!?”
Gekiha was clearly enjoying the show while chowing down on some toast with chocolate spread.
“You people are endless entertainment.”
“Hmph,” said Marika. “She was created from Karuta, so isn’t this just the ultimate one-man show? Hmph, hmph!!”
“I was including you in that ‘you people’.”
They continued discussing various topics from there.
They were teenagers, but their conversations tended to drift toward Crystal Magic.
“With crystals, converting the vibration into lasers or masers is the quickest way to a lot of firepower, don’t you think?” asked Marika.
“Wait, wait,” responded Gekiha. “Some of our upperclassmen have figured out how to use acoustic weapons.”
“You don’t just mean radar or sonar, do you?”
“I mean blasting things with pure sound. It’s like a fancy speaker cannon. Now, that’s not gonna kill us when we can negate the sonic boom of supersonic travel, but imagine getting hit by one of those head-on. It’s like a thick wall and it covers an entire surface. Wouldn’t that be an effective way to slow down enemies over a wide area?”
“And then blast them with lasers or masers? Now that would be the best.”
“Why do you like those shiny attacks so much?”
Meanwhile, a small hand tugged at Karuta’s sleeve.
It was Aine.
“Sacri-sama, if I am injected with argon ions or ions of a rare earth like yttrium, I could equip myself with a super thick laser. Woof, woof.”
“I hate to interrupt you when you look so proud of yourself, but which item on the cafeteria menu am I supposed to feed you for that?”
When he asked her that, she pulled her feet up onto the chair and wrapped her arms around her knees to curl up as small as possible. But not because she was hurt by his cold response. She simply did not like wide open areas. The civilian spacecraft shaped like a bamboo leaf in his room functioned as her bed.
So why did she have her own bed when she was usually contained within his body?
The answer was simple: she could not control herself as well while asleep, so when she rolled over or moved at all, her arm or leg would stick out of his stomach or back. And that was very creepy. The fact that most people with an out-of-body experience did so while asleep was perhaps no laughing matter.
“Sigh, I want to get inside you soon. (Squirm, squirm)”
“Can you find a better way of phrasing that?”
“Hey, I’m not one to kinkshame,” said Gekiha. “But the girl going inside the guy is taking things too far for me personally.”
Curly twintailed Marika looked baffled by this exchange and that was probably the normal reaction. Gekiha just had something of a dirty mind.
In the short free time they had until morning homeroom, Karuta visited the infirmary.
He did this every day, but not because he was ill or felt uncomfortable in class.
The giant ship’s infirmary had a bit of a unique design. The standard level was the same as normal schools: a simple examining table and a few beds divided up by curtains. The magic level was used to treat problems and side effects related to Crystal Blossoms and magic. And the isolation level was located even further in.
“Thanks for doing this so often. Just make sure you aren’t late for class.”
After receiving permission from the school doctor who wore a sweater and a tight skirt, he stepped into the isolation level to find a windowless space filled with a bluish light.
Large silhouettes lined the wall like the Greek sculpture section of an art museum.
These were all upperclassmen who had been transformed into clear crystal from head to toe.
They had been fatally wounded, so they had been fully crystalized as emergency treatment.
“Everyone wants to pretend this place doesn’t exist, so almost no one visits,” sighed the school doctor who had followed him in. “So I’m sure they are all delighted that you visit every day.”
It had happened for any number of reasons.
But not one of those reasons was valiantly battling the Threat.
What happened if there was trouble during a live fire exercise or the acrobatics at an air show? These victims of accidents had all been fatally wounded during classes or the Catastrophe, so the academy had retrieved them so they could wait for their resurrection.
“I’m not here out of kindness or anything,” Karuta said without thinking.
He came to a stop in front of a certain girl like he always did. She had glasses and a long braid. Several cracks ran through her just above the navel.
The time until regeneration differed depending on the severity of the injury.
The digital counter at her feet coldly counted down from nearly 550 years.
Even with cutting-edge Crystal Magic, resurrecting a single person from certain death was no easy task.
“I only come here to remind myself of the risk. The spatial vibration field and self-crystallization regeneration are not absolute. Death is our constant companion. …No one would be happy to know they’re being used as an example of what to avoid.”
“Even so.” The school doctor was undeterred. “The most painful thing for people is to be forgotten. To leave nothing behind and to not even act as a lesson for someone. So I do think they are happy you visit. Their life may not have gone as planned, but now they know it will at least be useful to someone.”
Just once more, Utagai Karuta looked up at the crystal girl standing on that pedestal.
Not even he knew what look was on his face.
Nevertheless, he spoke in a tone one would never use with a mere decoration.
“I’ll be going, Senpai.”
Utagai Karuta was not clever enough to say he had seen it coming, so he was a little surprised when he learned first period was being preempted.
“It’s those Problem Solvers,” said his awful friend. “They said they’re coming for an inspection and they asked to have the entire student body assembled. Really, they should’ve waited and made one hell of an entrance during the Catastrophe’s opening ceremony.”
He, Marika, and Gekiha joined the other students in leaving the classroom. Aine was not with them. She was in his stomach at the moment. And not in a grotesque way.
They arrived in a large space with a tall ceiling.
The wooden flooring was polished bright.
Plentiful lighting covered the ceiling.
Basketball goals were installed by the wall and something like a theatre stage was installed.
Any school would have a gym like this, but anyone would be surprised to hear this was contained inside a ship. Thick plastic sheets covered the entire floor and hundreds of folding chairs were neatly lined up, so it looked a lot like an entrance ceremony or graduation.
The boys and girls were separated, so they had to temporarily part ways with Marika whose curly twintails were dyed strawberry blonde.
“Damn, I hope the air conditioning isn’t broken when we’re on the freaking equator,” complained Gekiha. “That solar eclipse made for one hell of a hot night.”
“There are 600 students and 100 teachers. I doubt the gym was designed to hold that many people.”
“And now we have to listen to the headmaster drone on and on. Ugh, I hope that old geezer passes out from heatstroke first and foremost. It’s high time he felt the pain we’re all experiencing.”
Meanwhile, the ceremony began.
The first to show up was not the five Problem Solvers. Gekiha was right: it was the handsome gray-haired headmaster. He was very popular, he knew how to manage a business, he was excellent at political dealings, and most importantly, he was skilled with magic. It was rumored his penchant for hopelessly long speeches was the flaw god had given him to balance things out.
The elderly gentleman used the stage’s microphone to slowly read off a script that was not going to move anyone’s heart.
“Yes, all of you have been most diligent in your efforts, so we have prepared some further excitement for you. Excitement is an excellent thing and you could call it the seed of all learning. Of course, a seed is naught but a seed and can only grow once given proper soil, water, and sunlight. I am sure you are all clever enough to know what that means.”
Everyone was entirely relaxed.
He enjoyed talking and did not particularly care what other people thought about it. It was well known that he was not the type to yell at a student he noticed slacking off like an annoying guidance counselor might.
“So today, I thought we could let you hear a few words from the Problem Solvers, your five predecessors who have traveled the world while actually fighting the Threat. We have sown the seeds, but how those seeds will grow comes down to your decisions as you- bgwehhh!!!?”
No one understood what that sudden and disastrous end to the speech meant.
In that moment, Utagai Karuta was unable to speak a single word even though a human life had clearly just come to end before his eyes.
That life had been taken far too vividly to believe.
The elderly gentleman’s entire head flew from his shoulders and a cracking sound came from his body. His dignity as a Crystal Magician must have just barely won out because his body and clothing grew transparent and he solidified in something akin to cold sleep.
Karuta jumped in shock at the loud thud of the microphone falling to the stage next to the headless crystalized body. That was how far behind his senses and understanding were.
Most likely, something had been thrown.
It could have been a sword, a spear, an axe, or a staff, but he had not seen what it was.
But he did hear some footsteps. No more than footsteps.
A new figure stepped up onto the wing of the stage while everyone watched like wind-up dolls with broken springs. It was a woman. She was so androgynous that it took a moment to judge her gender, but it was a tall and slender woman with long white hair and wearing a pantsuit.
A very bad feeling enveloped Karuta’s entire body.
Without even a glance at the headless crystal statue lying at her feet, the woman kicked up the microphone and caught it in her hand. She brought it to her mouth and made an announcement.
That single word of complete rejection seemed to stab into them.
“Incompetent, incompetent, every last one of you is incompetent. Thus, Ocean Crystal Magic Academy Grimnoah shall be immediately shut down!!”
Finally and at long last, the boys and girls forcefully stood from their folding chairs. That alone produced a deluge of sound. A normal person might have fled without a second thought. Or they might have collapsed to the floor, unable to even flee. But this was the Ocean Crystal Magic Academy. They were the next-generation fighting force prepared to combat the Threat that indiscriminately annihilated countries, regions, and cities around the world. They were the frontline fighters with Crystal Blossoms at their chests, so they chose to stand up as a solid wall to protest being called incompetent.
Almost as if their injured pride mattered more to them than the death.
Kazamuki Gekiha stood up next to Karuta. Marika may have stood up with the girls. The gym had become a forest of people. A thick forest.
But even so.
Utagai Karuta alone could not stand up. He curled up while soaked with sweat and tried to hide within that forest.
The headmaster had been a handsome gray-haired gentleman. At first glance, it might look like he would be easily defeated in an arm wrestling match, but he actually had great magical talent and had the skill needed to establish this enormous Crystal Magic school. Yet he had been taken out so easily? No normal person could have done that!!
While curled up, Karuta desperately tugged on Gekiha’s pants to signal him to do the same.
His classmate gave him a puzzled look while holding his brutal crystal weapon that combined a chainsaw with a Gatling gun, so Karuta desperately shook his sweat-soaked face.
He told him no.
And a moment later…
That voice came from the speakers again.
“I am one of the Problem Solvers. You seriously do not understand our difference in power after seeing me for yourselves?”
Suddenly, the wall behind the white-haired woman broke through.
The floor shook below them.
No, the massive academy ship itself had tilted.
“I beseech thee, Vishnu, Indian God of Change.”
This was a divine power of transformation, but what in the world was it?
An enormous form moved up alongside her.
There were what looked like swords, like spears, like axes, and like staffs. And it was not limited to weapons. There were also shields and armor. There were what appeared to be rusted refrigerators and microwaves and crushed cars or containers. Even components like springs and gears were common.
No individual piece had any real meaning.
They all squashed together, gathered, and piled up to form something made of rusted metal. The monster waved a thick tail behind it, stood on two hind legs, had two forelegs folded up in front of its chest, and had a massive maw lined with razor-sharp fangs. It instantly broke through the top of the stage and grew large enough to graze the entire gym’s ceiling. It was…
“A dino…saur?” someone muttered.
It was not Karuta. In this worst case scenario, he did not want to do anything that would gather attention in a negative way. And that was why he was unable to stop Gekiha who was right next to him.
Something else happened before he could.
The woman calmly spoke into the microphone while facing so many crystal swords and cannons.
The roar was enough for everyone to flinch.
The unbelievably mass moved down from the stage.
The dozen or so trampled in the front row may have been the lucky ones.
The true horror came for those on the next rows.
The giant maw and fangs operated in just as gruesome a way as one would expect!!!!!!
“Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, owwwwwwwwwww!!”
“I can’t-…no. what? My leg…my leg!?”
It was more of a smashing than a tearing.
There were no colorful reds or blacks. With the sound of shattering crystal, the boys and girls’ limbs were torn from their bodies, their torsos were shredded, and their entire bodies were obliterated.
It tore them apart with a bite and then shook its head as it chewed. Their remains were not just scattered around; they poured down on the heads of the survivors.
They had Crystal Blossoms, they had Crystal Magic, they had translucent armor, they had a spatial vibration field that protected their entire body like an invisible wall, and they could recover from any non-fatal wound in 30 seconds, but the combination of all those things meant nothing.
The mass, density, violence, fear, and slaughter were on another level altogether.
The continuing cacophony did not at all sound like human bodies being broken.
Their power was supposedly used for peace and their energy was supposedly used to support global infrastructure.
Like hell it is, thought Karuta.
No matter how you tried to justify it, that was still the worst power humanity had ever produced. It was like a tempting demonic sword that regained its true shine through battle and bloodbaths.
Still curled up and desperately tugging on his best friend’s pants, Karuta realized Gekiha was looking at him while standing there in a daze. The boy had entirely forgotten to cry as he trembled, so Karuta used his eyes to beg him to get down while he still could. But Gekiha did not. He simply shook his head.
And he moved his lips: Sorry, that was stupid of me.
Karuta was not given time to say anything in response.
The boy’s torso was sliced apart in an instant. His armor and weapon shattered like mere glasswork. And his upper body was simply gone. Only the remaining lower body rapidly grew transparent and was thrown to the floor like a broken sculpture excavated from some ruins.
Utagai Karuta clenched his teeth and desperately suppressed his voice by covering his mouth with hands coated with glittering dust-like shards. Tears streamed down his face like the sealed scream was finding another outlet.
The light was reflected wildly by all the crystal fragments scattered one after another.
The geniuses wielding Crystal Magic produced translucent swords and staffs from empty air and fired lasers, masers, and acoustic weapons from them, but just like that woman had said, they were no more effective than toothpicks. They could not deliver a lethal blow to that enormous carnivorous dinosaur, but they did seem to rile it up. And they received shattering destruction in response. There was no stopping it. While Utagai Karuta trembled and curled up on the floor, more and more fine crystal powder poured down on him like diamond dust.
It was all so cold and unrealistic.
But he knew this was what remained of the flesh that had once formed human beings.
(The Problem Solvers are doing this!! But why!?)
He felt something stirring inside him. The Crystal Blossom at his chest was pleading him: let me out, use me, cut down the threat before you.
He understood, but he ignored it. Using his Crystal Magic and releasing Aine from him would be a sign. A suicidal sign of starting a reckless battle. He could not do that. He did not want to die here.
Crystal Magic was like reading the wind and raising your sails.
The energy from the Original Crystal Embryo at the center of the earth and the various powers raining down from outer space would interact and produce variation points similar to high and low pressure, and their power simply read where those were and used the invisible tailwinds to produce supernatural phenomena.
But the Problem Solvers were different. They were like artificial rain. They used giant bombs or dry ice to directly alter the atmospheric pressure, produce clouds, and mess with the weather. They called in a storm for their own convenience. Studying the weather map was no use against a monster like that. Forcing up your sails would only get your ship capsized.
“Pant, pant! Gasp!!”
(What about Marika!? What happened to her!?)
His entire vision seemed covered in white static. This was an abnormality different from anemia or hyperventilation. This went beyond simply winning or losing. He got down on all fours and crawled along the floor that felt rough to the touch in order to reach the area where his childhood friend would have been sitting.
The rows of chairs were pretty much gone.
He was instead surrounded by transparent crystal statues that distorted the scenery like smoked glass when enough were gathered together.
He hid among those many “corpses” to escape the dinosaur’s notice and he covered his ears to keep out the voices of those fleeing in a panic.
After a few minutes of struggle that felt like an eternity, someone grabbed the sweaty boy’s hand.
“Karuta! You survived!?”
“Marika!!” he shouted without caring what anyone thought.
She had been smart and not armed herself with her Crystal Blossom.
He clung to and embraced that childhood friend to confirm she really was alive. Her scent, her warmth, and the pulse coming from her chest were all real. This curly twintailed girl was not some hallucination his brain had cooked up to escape the reality around him.
“…! Gekiha was…”
“I’m sorry, I, Gekiha, right in front of me, couldn’t stop it!!”
He was crying.
But this was not over.
They had not woken from the nightmare. The only way out was to survive on their own.
“Let’s follow everyone else,” she said. “We have to reach the exit.”
That was their only option.
He glanced behind him, but the white-haired woman had not moved a step from the stage.
(How strong is she?)
And the two of them held hands even though they were using so many others as shields and so many other students in the same situation were being lost. They somehow managed to leave the gym like they were following a powerful current.
That was when it happened.
They had not woken from the first nightmare, but a second one had already arrived.
“What, you started already? I thought the plan was to wait until we were all there.”
Below the blatantly unnatural night sky of a solar eclipse, an eyepatch woman cackled. She was a Western European with blonde hair and white skin, yet she loosely wore a brightly colored kimono.
She was one of the Problem Solvers.
She was riding a high-speed motorboat for the rich that could reach 150km/h on the open water. It was far too close to the Ocean Crystal Magic Academy. It would normally have received a warning from the surrounding escort ships before getting anywhere near this close and been fired on by autocannons and anti-ship missiles if it did not obey.
But none of that happened.
Only an eerie silence surrounded it.
A voice spoke from the motorboat’s radio.
“You like to play games too much. Try to imagine what it’s like for those on the receiving end. It’s kinder to use more clever methods like this.”
“A kinder way to kill them?” mockingly asked the eyepatch woman while looking straight up into the sky.
A large tiltrotor craft was just passing by during the eclipse, but she may have been looking at something much, much higher.
“I beseech thee, Lugh, Celtic God of Light,” said the voice on the radio.
She was looking past the sky and out into space.
In other words, the network of orbital weapons that surrounded the entire planet in a sphere one size larger.
A blinding beam of light dropped straight down.
The unnatural darkness of the eclipse was blown away by this strange flash of white.
Sinister black smoke rose from all around.
Every last escort ship had lost its ability to continue fighting and was doing its best to even stay afloat. And then more and more thick beams dropped down on each of them in turn like pressing a giant stamp down on them. The gray ships were already melting like sugar sculptures, but now they were torn in two and doomed to sink.
“What part of that terrifying mess is supposed to be kinder?” asked the eyepatch woman.
“At the very least, they are killed instantly and painlessly,” said the voice on the radio. “Surely that is better than the fear of being devoured alive.”
“The ones being killed don’t exactly get an opinion, dumbass. And killing’s killing no matter how you try to pretty it up. Cut the excuses and actually face your sins, you phony nun.”
“Tch. Why do I have to listen to a holier-than-thou lecture from a pirate?”
The eyepatch woman stopped the motorboat’s engine. She lowered the anchor, took the thick, netsuke-like fastener attached to her kimono’s hip, attached it to a nearby railing, and rolled the three dice she pulled from her kimono’s sleeve.
There was no real meaning in it. The result was the same no matter what she rolled.
It was simply a guide. As long as one side of all three dice was accurately facing the night sky, that would determine the desired “direction”.
“I beseech thee, Susanoo, Wakoku God of Violence.”
Once she said that, something happened without any warning at all. Something floated up like shimmering heat. Not even she understood which of the thee dice it was centered on, but at this size, it hardly mattered. The object that rose straight up, towered well above the eyepatch woman, passed by the tiltrotor craft flying overhead, and easily split the clouds in the night sky was an absurdly large sword.
It was in fact more than 100km long.
Depending on the angle at which it was pulled out, it could easily destroy a city around it. Even with nothing but water as far as the eye could see, there was still a risk of it reaching land.
That was why she had to set up a guide for its angle.
Before the giant sword could wobble as gravity reclaimed it, the eyepatch woman swung her right hand to the side and easily grabbed its hilt. That part alone was longer than a mop, but it was blatantly out of balance with the rest.
But it did not matter. The kimono woman placed her empty left hand on the bottom of the hilt and there was no hint of effort on her face.
Anyone who saw this might have mistakenly wondered why there were two space elevators now.
After all, 100km was enough to reach the bottom of the thermosphere.
It was such an absurd mass.
And it would produce such an overwhelming slash.
“That should do it.”
Yet she easily swung it down as if drawing out a semicircle.
It grew red hot like a shooting star and the disturbed air trailed after it like a contrail.
It rushed down along the perfect path to bisect the giant ship of the Ocean Crystal Magic Academy!!
The ship was the size of a luxury cruise liner, but it tilted diagonally.
This had to be more than just some rough water.
Karuta and Marika were thrown into the corridor along with so many other students.
A crack ran through the long corridor in front of them and then the seemingly sturdy corridor broke apart. A gap of several meters was formed in no time, so there was no crossing it.
“Wah, ah, ah, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!?”
A few people fell into that gap.
Flight, a barrier, and regeneration.
Those were the preset abilities of Crystal Magicians, so they could generally fly. Even if they had not learned to do that yet, they could definitely race along the ocean surface.
So why did they sink into the surging ocean?
Because they were afraid to fly. They instinctually understood that standing out in front of those Problem Solvers meant death, so the sky was not an option yet they could not find any other solution. So they were swallowed up and drowned by the dead-end of their own thoughts.
The few dozen who had made it to the other side of the gap stared back at them. Karuta and Marika could only watch as that “wreckage” tilted like a seesaw and sank into the sea.
Those people had not chosen this.
They had wanted to live more than anyone, but that was exactly what had dragged them to a watery grave.
“What…?” Still confused, Karuta trembled and stared at the unbelievable scene. “What happened!? Isn’t this ship the mobile fortress meant to combat the Threat!? Isn’t this the temple created from the best of Crystal Magic technology!? How could it be broken in two with a single strike!?”
All that remained before them was the deadly ocean dyed black by the eclipse.
The ocean spread out in panorama and it was filled with blazing fires and billowing black smoke. Those were the escort ships meant to protect this ship. They had not been taken out with artillery or missiles. He did not know what materials those large escort ships were made from, but they had been twisted like melted sugar sculptures.
“Wh-what is that?” asked Marika as the clouds in the artificially dark sky were blown away.
A thick beam of light dropped down to finish off a gray escort ship desperately trying to stay afloat. It was broken in two, sunk into the ocean, and even triggered a steam explosion as it rapidly boiled the seawater around it.
This was different from that violent dinosaur made from gathered scraps.
But it was still the strongest.
It was from a different field, but this was undoubtedly one form of the strongest.
This was a truly unreachable opponent and confronting them should be avoided at all costs.
Even from a distance, the beam of light was so bright he thought it had scorched his eyes.
He grimaced and placed a hand on the wall before making a suggestion.
“Staying here isn’t going to do any good, so let’s get out of here!”
Karuta and Marika ran down the other way of the broken corridor and a young woman’s voice spoke mockingly from the speakers installed all over the ship.
“Ding dong ding dong! Is everyone dead yet? That’s all Crystal Magic was ever going to accomplish. Gya ha ha ha ha!!”
At this point, he doubted this was some weakling.
More of the Problem Solvers were lurking on the boat.
More monsters on the same level as that dinosaur and that light spear.
“Our energy must be efficiently redistributed to combat the great Threat. And you? Well, you’re basically a bunch of rich kids, right? And I think we can all see how useless your Crystal Magic is, so you’re all just wasting a bunch of energy. You’re the bottom rankers, so it can’t hurt to get rid of you, can it? Yes, it’s all for the greater good.”
“Dammit, dammit, dammit!!”
“Heh heh heh. Bwa ha ha ha ha!! God, you’re so stupid! A Crystal Magic Academy? You thought you were some precious little chosen ones? Not a chance!! Get a clue, morons! You’re supposed to use your heads before it turns out like this, you spoiled little brats!! You couldn’t tell you were dragging us all down by wasting so many resources on your meaningless school for meaningless junk magic!? Gya ha ha ha ha!!”
“Karuta, don’t let her get to you. They have no reason to tell the truth here.”
He knew that.
But more than that, he could not stand this atmosphere where the people using so much violence had an absolute advantage and could get away with anything.
He had never even considered winning.
And he did not know how long he could continue hoping to survive.
So how much would he compromise next time? How much would those Problem Solvers take from him? He could feel himself falling into the abyss, but he could not find a solution either. He could only take his childhood friend’s hand and continue running.
It was a pointless act.
It had been checkmate from the beginning.
For a second time, that 100km steel weapon was swung down to directly strike the half-destroyed ship.
The other side did not need to wander the ship in search of the tiny bugs inside. They only had to use an overwhelming mass to break the ship apart until it could no longer remain afloat. That would successfully slaughter everyone.
Some of their own people might be inside that ship.
But one of the strongest could endure an attack by another of the strongest. It did not matter if the ship sank. Only the swarming bugs would pathetically lose their lives.
Karuta and Marika were thrown into the air along with the splintering ship materials. Karuta could find nothing to grab onto as he sank into the filthy sea.
He swallowed lots of seawater as he somehow scrambled to the surface. He grabbed onto a wooden board floating nearby.
He managed to catch his breath, but then he paled.
She was gone.
That twintail girl who always cheered him up was nowhere to be found.
“Marika! Where are you, Marika!?”
Gekiha was dead. He did not know what had happened to his other classmates or his homeroom teacher. Given the situation, there was no chance all of them would make it out alive. In this insanity, death was the default. In this world, “lucky” meant having your emergency recovery crystal statue shattered and having to wait centuries or even millennia before you could wake up again. But Utagai Karuta still could not bring himself to believe that his childhood friend might be “gone”.
“No, dammit, wait, dammit, Marikaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!?”
His vision grew dark.
“Pant, pant. Oh, shut up. I’m still alive.”
She looked so small he feared he would lose sight of her due to some slight waves on the ocean surface, but she was still there.
His childhood friend was clinging to an empty plastic tank and speaking through pale lips.
“I’m fine. I still have both my legs. …Assuming they don’t take any more damage, that is.”
“Ahh, sob, ahhhhh. Wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!”
He could not stop it.
He wept like a child.
That was all. Karuta and Marika had survived, but that was all. They were surrounded by broken panels and the wreckage of furniture like a river immediately following a hurricane. And almost nothing was moving. There would have been other childhood friends like the two of them. There would have been friends who had just so happened to meet today. And there would have been people in closer relationships of the romantic variety.
But none of them were here.
There were no other survivors as far as the eye could see.
A large shadow passed by above their heads as they floated in that ocean of death. It was a military tiltrotor craft. Ropes hung down from it and some young adults were grabbing onto those. These were clearly not students or teachers. The white-haired woman with the dinosaur was among them.
That finally clued him in.
That was a military tiltrotor craft.
Those were the people who possessed the power to battle the Threat which normally put the world at risk and overpowered humanity. Those were the professional God-Worshipping Magic users.
They were the Problem Solvers.
The strongest five.
“You call yourselves representatives of justice?”
Utagai Karuta gnashed his teeth and raised his voice as if roaring toward the heavens.
“You call this justiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice!?”
His voice reached no one.
In the spring of Utagai Karuta’s 15th year, his glorious school life at the Crystal Magic Academy was cut short by tears of blood.
And that marked the beginning of a boy and a girl’s journey around the world in pursuit of vengeance.
Between the Lines 0
“Nothing beats cooking for yourself,” said Amaashi Marika/
This was before Ocean Crystal Magic Academy Grimnoah had sunk.
She was seated at a cafeteria table, but she had not ordered anything.
She was using chopsticks to nab the contents of a bento box while watching the other boys and girls going through their fierce lunchtime battle at the counter.
“Yes, I can’t help but think of the word bourgeoisie right now. Let them eat cake, indeed.”
“You have some nerve saying that while stealing from Karuta’s bento.”
“Sh-shut up. Don’t act like you didn’t swipe a meatball.”
“Argue all you want, but get away from my bento!”
Utagai Karuta’s complaints fell on deaf ears.
He did not make a bento every day, but he did from time to time. And his friends would find out even if he did not announce it. He could guess the smell gave it away, but there was nothing he could do about that.
“Anyway, did you hear what they revealed about the Catastrophe?”
“We’re in the same class, so it would be weird if I hadn’t,” said Marika. “It can be anything from a natural disaster to a plague or even a war. Basically, they throw us into some dangerous part of the world and tell us to survive, right?”
None of them liked the sound of that.
Karuta spoke up while making sure to eat his bacon-wrapped asparagus before it was stolen.
“Is Crystal Magic really that convenient?”
“Sacri-sama, if you are dissatisfied with my functionality, I recommend immediately supplying me with pure gold to expand said functionality.”
“I’d die of debt before I could use any of that convenient functionality. And why are you hiding below the table!?”
“Oh, it’s Aine-chan!” exclaimed Marika. “Here, I’ll give you an omelet.”
“Marika, feeding her from my bento doesn’t fill my stomach!”
They kept chatting throughout the lunch break.
“But I’m sure we’ll manage,” said Kazamuki Gekiha. He sounded confident. “Our upperclassmen have all overcome it, right? That just shows how much possibility there is in Crystal Magic. So we’ll be fine. We’re on the winning rails here, so we’ll get by as long as we aren’t derailed in some weird way.”
Was that true?
Maybe it was.
Karuta thought about it for a bit and then nodded.
How could they hope to keep going otherwise?
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