Apocalypse Witch:Volume2 Chapter2
There was no direct flight.
First, they took a flight from Osaka’s floating airport to Germany’s Frankfurt airport. From there, they flew to Northern Europe’s Reykjavik airport. That city might not sound familiar, but it was the capital of an entire country.
“I-I’m so tired.”
“Don’t collapse yet, Alice. We haven’t even reached the hotel.”
Utagai Karuta got after the girl (while nervous on the inside) and dragged his own luggage along.
Since the high school and middle school had been mixed together on the airplane, he had been forced into card game hell with Riho and Sanae the entire time, but he was not going to stick with them on the buses.
Someone else freaked out at that suggestion.
“Why waste such a golden opportunity, Utagai-kun!? Maybe you don’t realize how rare a treat that is since you have free access to the middle school, but you need to forget about us and accept this gift! Go to that 13-year-old paradise!!”
“Shut up, Hirosuke. Is that what you’re into? Hey, Yamanen, talk some sense into this-”
“Eh heh heh. Nothing quite like a female teacher. They’re so hot. Especially the innocent adulthood of a new teacher who’s just hatched from being a student teacher.”
“Is anyone around here normal?”
“Sacri-sama, waiting for orders is exhausting. Please give me some kind of command. I do not care what.”
“Karuta, you’re the weirdest one here.”
“Karuta, you’re the weirdest one here.”
The nervous, flaxen-haired teacher named Sophia Firenze was very unsure of herself, but Karuta was a high school student. He was pretty sure his adolescent heart would not survive being the only one in a bus full of middle schoolers.
“You did the right thing.”
For some reason, he received rare praise from Kiyosawa Hadome who wore his track suit even overseas. The man crossed his arms and stood there, not saying a word more, so Karuta was unsure how to respond.
He tilted his head while boarding one of the high school buses which drove them along a long, long bridge traveling north over the frozen ocean. Eventually, the resort they would be staying at came into view.
“I’m so glad my new swimsuit arrived in time,” said Marika with a smile while leaning forward from the seat behind him. “Sometimes it won’t arrive by the predicted date even when the site says it’s in stock.”
“Heh heh heh. Is that some red I see in your cheeks, Karuta-kun? I hope you’re ready to see just how much your childhood friend has grown.”
They were in the Arctic. The ice below this kilometers-long bridge was thick enough for polar bears to walk across it, but Marika was not being at all ironic.
Aine pressed her hands against the window after apparently spotting something outside. Karuta had taken the window seat, so she was leaning out over his lap.
“Sacri-sama, what is that?”
“A beach. And could you show some restraint? Your butt is wiggling in front of my face!!”
She entirely ignored the favor she was doing him because she was too interested in viewing something like bubbles outside.
Several translucent domes existed across the frozen ocean. The smaller ones had a radius of a few hundred meters and the larger ones had a radius of 2 or 3 kilometers. They were connected by countless clear tubes similar to an aquarium’s underwater tunnel.
Marika tilted her head while leaning against his headrest from behind.
“Which dome is ours again?”
“That’s what they call them. They say each dome is like a unique artificial world. Ours is the third biggest one.”
It was below freezing outside, but not so inside. The buses parked in front of the especially large C World dome before one by one passing through the double layer of gates into another world altogether.
Inside, they found a pleasant summer beach with a temperature of 28 degrees and humidity below 50%.
The girls who tended to hang out with Marika let out a cheer.
“Wow, that really is a pretty beach. It scores high enough that I might just grant it the privilege of lying out on that sand.”
“It’s like an extreme version of eating ice cream in a kotatsu,” whispered Marika while viewing the palm trees swaying in the artificial warm breeze.
“Wouldn’t making a hotpot with the air conditioning on full blast be a better analogy?”
Was Aine right about that? Either way, this definitely won the world record for the biggest waste of energy in the world. Karuta was pretty sure some book or another had made that official.
“I heard the bath is a hot spring,” he said. “Iceland is apparently a volcanic country.”
“Sigh. I want to go crawl in a small space,” said Aine.
“They apparently have a bath full of colloidal gold. Just like a radium hot spring, the weak radiation is supposed to be good for your health.”
“What!? Can I drink it by the tubful!?”
“You would only get a few sesame seeds’ worth if you drained the entire hot spring, weirdo.”
This was the world’s largest artificial beach.
It was known as the Crystal Beach.
The Arctic ice was rapidly melting thanks to global warming, so the Icelandic government had needed some sort of countermeasure. It had all begun when they took a lesson from snow crystals and worked to make the seawater freeze easier by constructing intentional impurities – aka, a certain type of artificial island – here and there in the icy ocean. Some had said it would be a waste to pour so much money into it without making use of the land, so they had started developing a largescale resort centered on a casino. It had since grown to include a luxury hotel, a shopping center, and more, with a giant translucent dome to surround the entire artificial beach.
It was hard for much of anything to survive in this extreme land, but development could continue without end as long as the cycle of money and greed got started.
The city had gotten started in much the same way as Las Vegas.
The buses pulled up in front of a 50-story luxury hotel (which fit inside the dome). When Karuta stepped out, he found piercing artificial sunlight awaiting him. That probably came from special infrared lights, which meant he was essentially having his skin lightly roasted by a giant oven. Although it was unclear if a day of sunbathing here would really give him a nice tan.
The new and nervous female teacher was already approaching him.
“U-um, uh, Utagai-sensei.”
“No! I am a student and I want to enjoy this trip!!”
“But I can’t possibly handle all of those powerful children, so will you please help me!?”
Hearing that, Marika smiled bitterly and waved him away. She dragged her suitcase over toward her girl’s group that included Matsuda Imi and Hashizaki Tayori to keep her distance from all that trouble. Aine simply tilted her head. She was waiting for orders, so she would not do anything on her own.
Was he really the only option?
After traveling overseas, he had to put on a school performance all on his own?
He was starting to tremble at this point, but he had always been the kind of person to do what was asked of him. Or you could say he lacked the courage to say no. He sighed and walked toward the middle school students. It took a lot out of him to maintain that public mode that lived up to people’s image of the strongest, an upperclassman, a veteran warrior, and a successful avenger, but he had no other choice right now.
He clapped his hands to gather the excited underclassmen’s attention. It almost felt like a ritual he used to switch modes.
“The teachers will get us all checked in, so once you receive your card key, carry your luggage to your room, and gather back in the 1st floor lobby. This Crystal Beach is the world’s largest airtight living space, so it is full of facilities that should be extremely useful when constructing a fortress city to defend against the Threat. This is all civilian tech, but there is still much we can learn from it, so keep your eyes open and take in as much as you can.”
“Ehh!? There’s a sparkling tropical beach right over there and you expect us to sit through another class in our uniforms, Senpai!? Don’t you want to see all us teenage girls in our swimsuits!?”
Tanned and silver-haired Riho immediately snapped back at him, but he could only shrug in response.
He was scared.
To be frank, if he was booed by all these girls here, he might end up reliving the moment in his nightmares, but he could not let it show that this bothered him at all.
He forced the feeling away and kept going.
“I don’t believe I mentioned what you should be wearing. But if you forgot to bring a swimsuit, then yes, you will probably have to head to the lobby in your uniform.”
Riho stared blankly at him, but Sanae clapped her hands together with a bright look on her face.
“He’s saying we can use that observation of the facilities here as an excuse to play around in our swimsuits.”
“You probably shouldn’t call it an excuse out loud. But hurry! There are a thousand of us in all, so the elevators are gonna be packed soon!!”
When Alice added that, Riho’s thoughts finally seemed to catch up. She frantically pushed her suitcase toward the elevators with both hands.
That settled things for now.
Once they all disappeared into the elevator hall, Karuta finally let out a long, long sigh. None of them meant any harm, but being exposed to all of their eyes at once was a living hell. That was just the one class, yet Student Council President Kyouka would address the entire student body. How could she do that with a smile? Was she just made of different stuff than him???
Sophia Firenze must have been delighted that she had avoided a breakdown of her class immediately after arriving because she bowed over and over with her semi-long flaxen hair swaying. Although that too was awkward for the boy who only wanted to be a student here.
A short distance away, he noticed Natalena Blast standing there silently without following the others.
He was curious about how she was standing there in her uniform and with her beret on her head.
And he had wanted some kind of reason to approach her anyway.
When he did, he grabbed the handle of her suitcase.
“I’ll carry that for you.”
“Y-you don’t have to do that.”
“Sacri-sama. Lonely kids do not know how to process kindness, so trying to help can actually hurt them and make them resent you. You must be on the lookout for hidden pride.”
“I am not lonely!! And I am not some child who does not understand kindness, so I will gladly accept your offer!!”
Natalena blushed and snapped back at Aine with tears in her eyes, but the crystal girl did not react. She was not even human, after all. Shouting at an ATM because you did not understand how it worked would change nothing about its politely-worded messages.
They had gotten a late start, so there was a long line waiting for the elevators.
When Karuta’s group joined the end of the line, his phone vibrated.
“Hirosuke> Whoa, whoa, whoa. Who’s that blonde cutie!? Aine-chan wasn’t enough for you!?”
“Yamanen> Wait, where’d that delectable teacher go!? How could you let her get away!?”
He immediately blocked them. Unaware of that interaction on his phone, Natalena looked up at him and pouted her lips.
“Have you ever seen the Threat? I mean, um, you did just give a speech about what would be useful in a fortress city.”
“I haven’t,” he readily admitted. Inside, he was surprised to find how dry his voice could sound. “But Anastasia said they do exist.”
“At that point…or rather, she was dedicated to the path of the strongest and gave no thought to the future, so I can’t imagine she was lying out of self-preservation or to trick us. We still don’t know what the Threat is, but cities, states, and countries are still disappearing. Even with the Problem Solvers gone. That means it was not all being faked by Anastasia and the other four.”
The Problem Solvers had been the worst, but if they had functioned as humanity’s defense against the Threat, then it was Karuta’s group that had destroyed that thick barrier and left nothing to replace it.
So now it was their turn.
Not even the God Worshiping Magic of the previous world’s strongest had managed to fully eliminate the Threat, so it was obvious that task would require significant power.
They had to thoroughly train these children before that clash occurred. They had to be able to protect their own lives with the strongest power.
Karuta’s group had failed to do that when they were new students on the first ship, but they had to make sure it happened this time.
“Of course,” said Natalena under her breath while looking away from him. Almost like she was squeezing a broken protective charm in her hand. “My sister wouldn’t lie. She was one of the Problem Solvers who risked their lives to protect everyone right up to the very end.”
They changed in their hotel rooms instead of a dedicated dressing room.
“Don’t we need to go, Sacri-sama? Hurry up. Why are you hiding in the bathroom?”
“I’d love to hurry, so would you please put some clothes on, Aine!! That’s an order!!”
Aine normally closed herself up in a civilian spaceship shaped like a board or bamboo leaf, so she had claimed below the bed as her space here. But that must not have been enough room to change. Karuta had changed into his swimsuit (while pressing his full weight against the bathroom door to desperately fight back against her) and they eventually managed to head out into the hotel hallway and onto an elevator with their beach sandals slapping on the floor. This was a tropical oceanside resort, so it was not considered bad manners to walk around in a swimsuit.
The air-conditioned elevator was made of glass, but Karuta’s eyes were on his partner’s outfit, not on the scenery visible through the glass.
“Aine, why are you wearing a school swimsuit on an overseas trip? And that white one at that.”
“I will again reiterate that wearing nothing at all would be most functional, but since you insisted I wear one, I went with this as it was Miss Marika’s recommendation.”
His blunt comment led the crystal girl to bow her head before ramming into him.
Those things on her head stabbed into him.
“Ow!? Wait, what are those two things on your head!? Are they hardened hair, or legit horns!?”
“Lady Kyouka also approved of this choice. Human tastes are a mystery to me, but she said it was the best possible choice. With a raised thumb.”
Karuta had to hold his head in his hands while driven into a corner of the elevator. Kyouka was definitely treating Aine like a toy.
“Well, as long as you don’t walk around naked.”
“Because it’s embarrassing.”
When they arrived in the 1st floor lobby, Yamane Deiri and Nekoumi Hirosuke ran away at full speed for some reason. Just as he wondered if he was finally experiencing the true loneliness of being the strongest, he heard someone speak to him in Japanese.
It was muscular Kiyosawa Hadome.
That was apparently who had scared off the other boys. He really had issues with that.
“The class you are looking after is supposed to belong to Firenze-sensei. I know she came to you, but try not to steal her job as teacher.”
He fell silent and Aine tilted her head in confusion.
“Um, Sacri-sama. Is school a place of romance for the teachers as well? I do suppose their opportunities for meeting potential partners are about as limited as on a desert island.”
“Not so loud, Aine. Shh!!”
“Silence, both of you. She is the niece of a professor who helped me earn the tuition money I needed, so I need to help her however I can.”
That made sense to Karuta.
He now understood why this teacher was so concerned about that nervous female teacher. While kids like him threw everything into the two boxes of friendship and love, the adult world was more complex.
“You might think you are helping her, but if she stops trying to improve, she will have trouble running a classroom. So please do not rob Firenze-sensei of her opportunity to learn.”
“Understood, Sensei. I will be more careful.”
Even a child like him knew he had to give an immediate and direct response to this.
Kiyosawa quietly clicked his tongue and looked away.
“Also, this is an important trip for you too. You shouldn’t have to waste your time because of an issue with the teachers.”
“If you’re this considerate, how in the world don’t you have a girlfriend?”
“What makes you so certain I’m single!?”
The man was really mad now, so Karuta had to make a run for it.
He and Aine split up and ran toward the midsummer beach.
“Well, that doesn’t sound like fun. But are you sure you should be here, Karuta-kun? Marika-san spent a very long time choosing her swimsuit, so she might not be happy if you ignore her.”
That comment and a laugh came from sexy Student Council President Omotesandou Kyouka.
Karuta was all sweaty. Splitting up with Aine had not been a smart move. The man had immediately locked onto him and attacked, so losing that mass of muscles had taken a lot of work. He realized now that sending Aine after the man to slow him down would have been the smart play.
“Ah, pant, gasp. So what are you doing there?”
“Artificial though this beach is, I would have trouble swimming with these legs. Still, I wanted to get into the beach spirit, you know?”
The upperclassman girl wore a black bikini and kicked her long legs like a child. The beach and palm trees below the powerful mechanically-created sunlight were pretty and all, but they two of them were not even close to the crashing waves. She was lying in a plastic kiddie pool with her legs sticking out since they did not fit. With her curvy figure, the kiddie pool and childish feet kicking created a guilty sort of imbalance.
But Karuta had not been asking about that.
“You didn’t answer my question. What are you doing there?”
She gave a different sort of smile with her index finger pressed against her lips.
The previous childish smile was now a bewitching smile with a maturity beyond her years.
“I’m intentionally doing this in secret, so why would I give the answer out loud? If you assume they will always appear in sunglasses and a black suit, you are sorely mistaken.”
So this was about that.
He could see why she had sent the other Student Council members away.
He knew she could not get them involved, but he secretly had trouble with the waves of jealousy the rest of the Student Council was sending his way.
Regardless, this topic meant he could change his mode as well.
Instead of the squeaky-clean public mode or the usual high school mode, he put on his mask of the true avenger who played dirty.
“You mean they’re here?”
“They’re like cockroaches. If you found a place in the world they aren’t, I would want to move there right away.”
That was enough to convince him. She had always been good with computers. He had wondered why she had a phone, a mobile router, and some other devices at the bottom of the water in her kiddie pool, but she was apparently busy gathering information. If they were everywhere, then she could steal their information no matter where she was. By placing that device there, she could use a quicksand app she had written to gather up the invisible signals flying through the air, decode them, and convert them into actual text and images.
Karuta’s group was facing a few different issues.
The most pressing was the chain of revenge being continued by Natalena Blast (almost certainly with the help of some sort of accomplice).
They also had to worry about the Threat and the global string-pullers who worked to profit even from the clash between the world’s strongest and the Threat.
Karuta was dealing with Anastasia’s sister, Natalena Blast.
But Kyouka apparently planned to do battle with a different part of the world.
He grabbed a carbonated drink in a can (which had become rare in Japan with the exception of energy drinks) from the pool water and took a sip while pretending to glance over at the seabirds flying through this enclosed sky.
“That’s in your hands, then.”
“Of course it is. So you go complete your job.” Omotesandou Kyouka placed a hand over her mouth and laughed. She turned in a different direction than him. “Young-looking Aine probably makes it easier for you, but it means a lot that you can infiltrate the middle school since even a single school year can feel like an impassable barrier. For now, try to keep their attention. Earning that girl’s trust would help everyone out.”
He glanced in the direction she was looking and then sighed.
That trio of girls was waving over at him in their swimsuits. The tanned and silver-haired girl hopping up and down in the center and waving with both hands was Riho.
He waved back and whispered too quietly for those three to hear.
“This isn’t easy, you know?”
“I imagine not.”
“I’m only a new student who arrived back in April. I can’t admit it to anyone else, but I only survived by pure luck. Who can say what happens if the Threat shows up here and now? But those girls innocently believe that I can protect them no matter what happens. Because I’m one of the world’s strongest Crystal Magicians.”
“Stop thinking of it as deceiving them. It’s a lot easier if you think of it as giving them hope.”
“They say Costa Rica alone has millions of different insects and other animals.”
“What are you talking about?”
Utagai Karuta frowned while the girls tugged on his hand and forcibly added him to their team, so tanned and silver-haired Riho laughed loud. She did not have any tan lines from a school swimsuit, so she must have had a full-body tan.
All this attention from a large group scared him.
But they were all ordinary people and he could remain relaxed here.
Or as relaxed as was possible while on a foreign beach with girls in their swimsuits. He saw only soft, healthy skin everywhere he looked. His soul would have been eaten away if he were not in his public mode. It was still plenty bad for his heart, though.
“Noah’s ark supposedly carried two of every animal, right? But how many would that be with just insects? That boat would’ve been crawling with bugs.”
That was not a pleasant mental image, but the swimsuit girl had a reason for saying this. A blue butterfly fluttered by in front of them and it landed on the hibiscus decorating Riho’s pink-colored drink. There were also hummingbirds coming to a stop in midair and quetzals with beautiful green feathers flying in the enclosed blue sky.
Needless to say, those animals were not native to the Arctic. The domes of the Crystal Beach could maintain this pleasant 28 degrees and less than 50% humidity even if nuclear war covered the entire world in a new ice age. Riho stepped back while opening her mouth wide and looking overhead.
“It’s just so incredible! Hot!?”
She gave a sudden hop, jiggling her small chest, because she had pressed her back against a large metal box. It was taller than she was, but it was not a vending machine. It contained one of the smoke exhaust buttons that were placed all around this enclosed dome.
Karuta sounded exasperated.
“This is supposed to be a tropical beach, so the sand and metal are going to be hot.”
“Why did they have to recreate that part of the experience!?”
Riho complained while Sanae pressed something against her back. It appeared to be a drink, but it was colorless. Was it that personal one she had made in cooking class where she only added a bit of salt to ordinary water?
Sanae tilted her head in a gentle way.
“If this system becomes more common, will they be able to create any environment anywhere in the world? Um, like underground, deep underwater, or at the top of Mt. Everest?”
“And outer space too.”
Alice apparently had more of an imagination than Sanae, but Karuta made sure to anchor them to reality as soon as possible.
“The tech isn’t that all-powerful. First of all, it uses a massive amount of energy. Supply that with ordinary petroleum and supplies will dry up in no time.”
“Wait, then how do these ones exist???”
“An obvious but good question, Riho.”
Her Crystal Blossom’s communication must not have been enough for her because Riho had two phones strapped to her thighs, so maybe he should have complimented her for facing the question herself instead of immediately searching for the answer.
“Iceland is one of the world’s most volcanic countries. It’s a treasure trove of hot springs and the heat of the endless magma bubbling up from underground spins the turbines.”
Karuta pointed toward the ground.
This was an artificial island, so he was actually pointing much further down than that.
“If you wanted to build a similar-sized facility underground or on the ocean floor, it would need to be at a location with plenty of geothermal energy to absorb. But at the same time, it would have to be in a safe zone that would not be caught in earthquakes or in volcanic blasts. Access to the energy doesn’t help you much if a large eruption wipes your city off the map like Pompeii or Saint-Pierre. Meeting both conditions is easier said than done. And outer space would be even harder.”
“Ehh? Yeah, there’s no magma up there, but wouldn’t sunlight provide endless energy?”
“The solar panels wear out, Alice. The sunlight in outer space is very powerful since it is not weakened by the atmosphere and various types of debris will wear down the surface of the panels like a sandstorm. A solar furnace that uses a bunch of mirrors to focus light on a single point, raising the temperature to around 3000 degrees, would be more realistic, but I doubt even that would work. And in a spaceship, you would have to worry about other resources than energy, like air, water, and food.”
“Hmm?” Alice placed a finger on her slender chin and stared up into the artificial blue sky. “Then wouldn’t the moon or Mars be good?”
Her imagination was harder to deter than he thought. There would be other bottlenecks for developing these facilities on other celestial bodies, but discussing that would be straying too far off topic.
“This is off the record, but you will probably be asked to submit a report on the final day of the trip. If you’re afraid you’ll get too caught up in playing on the beach to remember everything you’ve learned by then, I recommend using your phone to record everything that catches your attention. Take short videos instead of photos, record your own voice, and keep the location data for where you filmed it. That will make it a lot easier to bring it all together later on.”
“For real!? Those thoughtless teachers are going to force us to finish off our trip with schoolwork!?”
He nearly said “well, it is a school field trip”. This had given them an excuse to have lots of fun out here, so he felt like they should thank those theory-focused teachers.
“Um,” whispered Sanae while shrinking down. “Should you really have told us that?”
“I don’t see why not. It’s traditional for upperclassmen to teach their underclassmen what will be on the test. You might not interact with other years much in class, but clubs and committees are a different story, right?”
Of course, Karuta and Marika had been hit by the First Out Incident before they could experience any of that themselves. He honestly did want to experience that school life he never thought he would return to.
Riho put on a mischievous smile.
“Hehh heh heh.”
“I notice you made sure to tell just us in secret. I see what’s going on here, Senpai. We’re your favorites, huh?”
“I never said I was only telling you. I know if I let a few of you in on the secret, word will get out in no time.”
“Not happening. We’re keeping this to ourselves to make all this easier for us!”
She was like a selfish princess, but he could not help but laugh. He was actually fond of that way of thinking. You learned how the rules worked and then took advantage of them. That was exactly how he had managed to take on those monsters he never should have been able to defeat.
“Then how will you stop me from telling some of the others?”
“We just have to pin you here.”
Riho grinned and left her hibiscus-decorated drink with a nearby salesperson.
Then she grabbed a plastic ball she had bought cashless.
“Sanae, Alice! Surround him! We just have to play with him so much he’s too exhausted to say a thing!!”
The sunset had to be artificial.
Sunsets and sunrises worked different from normal in the Artic. At around June, they would experience the midnight sun where the sun never set throughout the night, but the beginnings of that effect should have been showing themselves now.
Also, all of the Crystal Beach’s facilities were covered by domes of varying size. They looked clear at first glance, but even the earth’s atmosphere bent the sunlight to create the blue of the midday sky and the orange of sunset. If the sunlight could be adjusted using electronic polarization technology, the sky of morning, noon, and twilight could all be reproduced. You could even program astronomical events that did not exist in nature.
Amaashi Marika’s strawberry blonde hair swayed as she killed time at a beachside open-air restaurant. It was a lot like a larger version of a gazebo since it had no walls on any sides to allow the wind through. She wore what looked like a racing swimsuit, except it had a large hole in the stomach area. Some might have thought it looked a lot like she was wearing only black belts.
Couples were common here, so not even Karuta wanted to approach her without Aine with him.
“Sorry. I got held up.”
“I could tell. I’ve been waiting here forever.”
Karuta apologized while sitting down at the next counter seat and she responded while boredly sipping at the straw in her bright green mixed juice made from melon, kiwi, and more.
“Hm? What’s wrong, Aine-chan? Not that you talk much normally.”
Aine was refusing to look Marika in the eye. The childhood friend tried to peer up at the crystal girl’s face from below, but she hid behind Karuta. Finally, she spoke up in a vanishingly quiet voice.
“Miss Marika, why are you showing off so much skin? Is it for venting heat or cutaneous respiration?”
“You’re wearing a swimsuit too, Aine-chan. Wait, why won’t you look at me either, Karuta?”
“Well, um, that…doesn’t leave much to the imagination when viewed from the side.”
“Of course it doesn’t. This is an overseas trip, so we’ve got to make the most of it. Oh? What’s this? Feeling a little overexcited about your childhood friend’s unexpected growth, Karuta-kun? Wah hah hah!”
Meanwhile, the crystal girl thought for a bit and asked a question.
“Are you saying I too am wearing something embarrassing?”
Karuta and Marika exchanged a glance.
This was odd. Aine of all people was feeling embarrassed? Karuta recalled that he himself had said being naked was embarrassing back on the elevator.
Was she learning?
That inhuman dummy had never shown any sign of doing that before, but was that an option now!?
A bright light pierced vertically through Utagai Karuta’s body. He could guide her down a path different from that overly open Marika and different from Kyouka who was willing to show some skin in order to tease the boy in front of her.
He grabbed Aine’s small hands and held them between his own.
“You don’t have to be like that nudist childhood friend or that mature devil of a Student Council President!! You can be an honest, modest, and above all sensible girl! Aine!!”
The shameless curly twintails girl smiled and whispered her own message to the crystal girl.
“Aine-chan, Aine-chan. Don’t let him trick you. Try sleeping in the nude once and I promise you you’ll never go back.”
“No, don’t you drag her into your world!! I have a responsibility to raise her right! She needs to be a proper lady with a sense of shame!!”
During the childhood friends’ strange discussion, Aine circled behind Karuta to use him as a shield against the overly exposed girl. Then she “stored” herself inside his back without a word.
“Oh, she ran away.”
“That’s far better than you giving her some weird habit of stripping. Anyway, let’s get down to business.”
Karuta ordered a soda and some fries.
“So how’d it go?” he asked.
“Did you expect anything to happen? Even the ocean is enclosed in this artificial beach, so it’s not like Hawaii or Guam where man-eating sharks can be lurking around.”
His childhood friend pointed at a small figure with her chin: Natalena Blast.
She rested her head in her hand.
“Are you sure you should have left her alone? She seemed pretty reliant on you. All she’s been doing all day is collecting shells and kicking at the waves. You could have at least sent Aine-chan in to tease her or something.”
“This was necessary.”
“You’re not very nice.”
That was not a very nice thing for her to say. When pushing didn’t work, wasn’t it the Japanese tradition to try pulling, based on the legend of Amaterasu?
“To make things very clear, I do not want that girl to die. No matter what. I don’t care if she can resent me as long as she’s alive.”
“But I also know that you and Omotesandou-san can only accept so much. I mean, she’s said herself she wants revenge against us, so it’s natural to not want that threat around. So I want to get her to open up as quickly as possible. I said no matter what, right? So I’ll do whatever it takes. Playing dirty is my specialty.”
“I am aware of that.” Marika re-crossed her legs in an irritated way. “Since staying by her side didn’t change anything, you’re trying to make her feel lonely so she’ll realize she needs you, right? And once that balloon is full to bursting, you’ll approach her again. Once a slight prod of a sharp needle can make it pop, you can keep the costs to a minimum.”
She made him sound like a con artist, but they had no real requirement to bring Natalena to their side.
If it was too much trouble, there was always Marika’s murder plan and Kyouka’s torture plan.
That might not tell them anything about the accomplice who had given the young girl information on Anastasia’s death and arranged a false identity she could use to take revenge, but they would at least eliminate the immediate assassin.
But he would not let that happen.
Maybe it was cheap and maybe it was a dirty job, but he was struggling to make a connection with Natalena.
He had said himself that she could resent him as long as she remained alive.
“You’re too soft.”
“No need to apologize. I’ve accepted that you’re just the kind of person who won’t kill for no reason. I mean, even back then you weren’t willing to harm anyone unrelated to our revenge and you even showed signs of trying to save the Problem Solvers.”
“Again, this isn’t criticism. I’m just confirming what I already know.” She took a sip through her straw and she asked what sounded like a pure question. “So tell me this: is it really possible to take the weapon away from someone intent on revenge? I mean, it sure as hell wasn’t possible when it was me. Same for Aine-chan and the President. Once we got started, you were the only one who was shaken at all.”
That may have been why she was asking.
She peered into his eyes as if hoping he could provide the answer since she could not figure it out herself. It was actually a very pure look.
“Well? You would be hard pressed to find more obvious villains than those five, but if they had used some kind of idealistic argument to get you to stop your inconvenient revenge, would you have agreed even though you had a legitimate reason for revenge?”
If he said no, it raised questions about the effectiveness of his efforts here and now.
But if he said yes, it raised questions about how they had seen their revenge through to the end and killed those five. If they could have given up, then none of it had needed to happen.
“That’s a tricky question.”
“I’ll give that answer 50 points.” Marika was blunt but smiling. “But that’s not a failing score. I would’ve punched you if you gave an immediate yes or no.”
“Youch!! Th-that stings!”
“Hmm, you might have a sunburn. I thought these were bright IR lights, but they must have UV in them too.”
“Whew. I never thought I’d get to soak in a hot spring after traveling all the way to Europe.”
That trio of girls could be heard beyond the wall. Karuta had heard the hotel had a large bath, but he had not expected it to be open air. Hot springs were found the world over, but this place may have imported the Japanese style.
It was night and Karuta was of course not in the women’s bath. He was on the ordinary walking path on the other side of the tall wall around it. Tomorrow, they would spend the morning on their field trip activities and the afternoon would be free time, so he was helping the nervous female teacher preview those field trip activities.
“Eh, eh heh heh. This is so much easier with you around, Utagai-san.”
“I get that what you call me changes when you get anxious, but I really don’t want a teacher being that formal with me. It makes me feel like I’ve become some permanent fixture in the school after being held back year after year.”
She bowed at 90 degrees and apologized, but that was exactly the kind of thing he wished she would stop doing. Wished a lot.
He recalled what that muscular track suit teacher had said. She was asking him for help, but if she stopped trying to improve, she would have trouble running a classroom. That was exactly right.
“It would probably be best to create a simple quiz and have them visit different facilities themselves, similar to a scavenger hunt. Turning the lesson into a game is the best way to hold their interest.”
“Th-thanks so much.”
“You would need to word the questions in a way that forces them to see the things for themselves to answer them and you need to warn them not to search on their phones. At our age, we’ll put a lot of effort into not having to put in much effort.”
“S-so should I have everyone shut off their phones?”
“You can tell if they turn them on by monitoring the GPS location transmitted by the phone, but…hm, they can shut off the GPS in the settings or for a specific app. For this, you should probably gather up everyone’s phones for the duration of the lesson, like they do in gym class. You would also need to send teachers to keep an eye on the sample phones at the stores and the rental ones at the hotel.”
“At the hotel?”
“Renting them out is a convenient service since they can translate, provide maps, call a taxi, make reservations at restaurants, provide walking times to tourist destinations and religious institutions, and even stream adult content. No one uses the pay-per-view on the room’s TV these days.”
Sophia Firenze blushed bright and did a spit take before he had finished his explanation.
That theory-focused teacher who spent all her time at a desk had quite a few weaknesses.
But had he always been this kind of person? He had surprised himself with that joke. Was it the age difference that let him act more openly? He knew he never could have said that with Marika or Kyouka. In fact, he was generally the one being teased by the girls his own age.
After parting ways with the teacher, he bought some plain soda water at a vending machine near the hotel. It was so hot he had a hard time believing this was an Arctic night, but that heat had left him thirsty. He had stuck to sweet drinks during the day, but he was starting to think he needed to watch his sugar intake.
He opened the bottle and took a sip before seeing a familiar face.
It was Natalena Blast.
She was not wearing her swimsuit anymore. However, she must not have been careless enough to wander outside in her pajamas, even if this was a relatively safe tourist location. She was wearing her purple blazer uniform, just like he was. But why was she walking toward him? He soon realized what must have led to this.
He could still hear those noisy middle school girls from beyond the wall.
If he could hear them, they may have been able to hear him.
She shook her head.
“Come over here anyway. If that muscular teacher on patrol sees you here, it won’t end well.”
She was drawn toward the light of the vending machine like a butterfly to a bright light. She stood next to him while he drank his soda water and she leaned against the vending machine. Since she had just left the bath, a sweet scent wafted from her nape.
“I’ve been thinking,” she said.
“I don’t think you’re a bad person.”
She sounded certain.
He just about smiled hearing it.
“I still count as a good person after killing 5 people?”
“A good person can be in a situation that requires killing 5 people. Isn’t that the story?”
But he had felt like he could not push that interpretation onto her.
She was Anastasia Blast’s sister.
She had a legitimate reason to seek revenge.
“I know you aren’t the kind of person who would give up on someone’s life if you didn’t have to. So if you did kill someone, you must have had a reason strong enough to warrant it.”
Both her small hands clutched tightly at her skirt as she forced out the words.
She seemed like such an awkward girl to him. This would be so much easier for her if she did not even consider his circumstances. She could have gone through with her revenge just fine if she just killed him because she had a reason to do so.
Just like his group had.
She really was not the type to do bad things. That put her in a lot of danger, but he was also honestly jealous.
“But…but I just can’t reconcile that with the sister I knew. It doesn’t fit! The Anastasia Blast I knew fought to protect everyone from the Threat! She was a strong person who dedicated her entire life to that!! She wasn’t the cruel mass murderer people are making her out to be in the news!!”
“So please tell me.”
Her lips formed the words “power up”.
He stepped away from the vending machine upon hearing a series of bending sounds.
She had activated her Crystal Magic armor while leaning back against the vending machine, so the sharp armor jutting back from her small body had torn the metal vending machine apart.
This was Anubis, God of Judgment.
The same god once used by a certain strongest.
“Show me who you were when you faced Anastasia Blast. Show me your anger, your fear, your joy, and your justice!! If I can see the look in your eyes then, I know I can understand. Because I’ll see my sister’s true face reflected in the crystal ball of your eyes!!”
He let out a soft sigh and tossed the half-empty bottle of soda water in the trashcan next to the vending machine.
With both hands free, the latest form of the world’s strongest whispered his answer.
“If you insist.”
He had a belligerent smile on his face.
It was the same smile he had hated more than anything when seeing it on someone else’s face.
Marika clicked her tongue while leaning against the other side of a palm tree about 400m away.
“If you insist? What is that idiot thinking?”
Voices would only reach around 150m outdoors, but that did not apply to Crystal Magicians. She had used a method similar to how sailors used to raise their collars to make sure they could hear their crewmates during a storm. And crystal armor allowed for a much higher level of audio collection.
However, her phone received a call with perfect timing.
She clicked her tongue before even covering the backlight with her hand and checking the screen.
“Now it’s you!? God, does everyone know exactly what I’m thinking!?”
“Bringing a mobile device along when you plan to kill someone is a no-no. So what’s this? Are you so starved for information your Crystal Blossom alone didn’t feel like enough?” The Student Council President laughed. “Also, don’t get all bent out of shape over this. Your actions are trivial to predict because you care about those on your side so much. Anyway, no sniping here, okay? Do that and Karuta-kun will cry.”
“See, that’s enough to stop you. That’s all I need to tell just how much you care about us.”
“Shut up.” Marika pouted her lips. “Noticed anything else?”
“You mean like that muscular teacher who’s still busy patrolling around outside, or those three middle school girls spying on this from the gazebo? I wonder what those three were doing out here. Were they going to invite Karuta-kun to do some fireworks but Natalena beat them to the punch?”
Marika looked up instead of toward any of the mentioned people. Only so many locations would give you a view of Karuta, Marika, the patrolling teacher, and those three girls. And sure enough, she saw someone using a hand mirror to peek out from an unnatural gap in the curtains.
“Room 2801. A corner room, huh? Based on the lighting, is that a bathroom?”
“Oh, you noticed?”
The President could not use much in the way of Crystal Magic and she used a wheelchair. If she really was up on the 28th floor, it seemed like she would have no way of stopping Marika from taking a sniper shot, but Marika decided it was best not to underestimate that girl. After all, she had taken out one of the Problem Solvers all on her own.
“But he’s at a disadvantage in a one-on-one fight. He doesn’t have any armor to wear since Aine fully separates from him. She only has to concentrate her fire on the soft flesh visible in front of her.”
“Yeah, about that.”
It was unusual for that black-hearted President to hesitate to speak.
But that was not what this was. Marika belatedly realized the girl was pausing for effect to further enjoy this.
“I really doubt he’s going to use Aine-chan here,” said Omotesandou Kyouka.
“Yes, Madam Guest. Miss Kyouka and I are taking turns washing each other’s backs.”
“Bfff!?” spat Marika.
Why had she just heard Aine’s emotionless voice over the phone? She had seemed embarrassed of her swimsuit during the day, but bathing with another girl must not have been an issue. However, that was not the real problem here.
“Wait!! You mean Karuta really is on his own!?”
“Yes, he is empty. Aine-chan is not within him, so he should have no way of fighting.”
After several heavy metallic sounds, two translucent ski-like units appeared out of thin air and attached to Natalena’s feet. They were not actually skis of course. Since she had chosen Anubis as her god for Crystal Magic, this had to be some related symbol.
That god was symbolized as a dog or jackal and his stories did indeed involve a long, rod-like tool.
Karuta could guess that was what these were, but he could not tell how they would be used to attack. Were they like the catapults used to fling large rocks that would bring down medieval castle walls?
(Anubis judged the souls of the dead and the result of that judgment was shown by the tilting of the scales.)
Was this how she began the process? She went out of her way to speak to the god whose name was sealed inside the small circuit board. Just like the former world’s strongest who had beseeched their gods to bring about miracles.
“You were the one and only god my sister relied on! So please give me the power needed to save her soul!!”
The calendar based on Anubis provided an understanding of the occult atmospheric pressure. The two skis suddenly opened up like fans on the front and back. This created a total of 16 crane arms or spider legs. Thin wires were rapidly ejected from the ends of those legs. At the ends of those wires were objects not quite like metal jaws and not quite like metal flowers. Due to seeing the arms like crane arms, Karuta saw them like grab buckets that used 8 movable parts to grab grains or coal from a cargo ship.
(They grab, lift up, and swing around.)
“I get it!!”
Just as the boy groaned that, the wires thrown in completely different directions began to move like they had a mind of their own. The grab buckets bit at and grabbed a giant rock, an electric cart for the walking path, and the crushed vending machine.
The grab buckets were only the size of golf balls, but they spread out to the size of a small dog’s jaws and bit into the surface of their target.
They grabbed everything that would function as a blunt weapon and swung them around.
Some were swung vertically like a meteor falling from the heavens.
Some were swung horizontally like an axe felling a large tree.
She seemed to have forgotten about her short skirt as she sometimes made a large roundhouse kick, sometimes kicked up high or dropped her heel back down, and sometimes placed her hands on the ground to smoothly cartwheel to the side. Each time, all that mass created a raging storm of motion.
It was too elegant to call martial arts, but too savage to call ballet.
“I’m not done yet!!” she roared as something odd happened.
She grabbed more things, but these clearly followed a different set of rules. A single grab bucket pulled out a cube of sand more perfectly formed than a shipping container and another lifted up all the water in a nearby fountain. The size of the buckets was irrelevant.
He had forgotten that this was magic.
(Yeah, this is what I should’ve expected from Anastasia’s sister!!)
This covered solids and liquids. He did not know how much more Natalena could do, but this was plenty on its own. Most likely, she could grab all of the moisture from the air to create 0% humidity that would sap his strength, or she could pull up a building at its foundation to topple the entire massive structure.
It did not matter if any individual attack was intercepted. Her strength was found in the near limitless supply of weapons she had. The only way to cut her off from her ammo was to throw her out into the vacuum of space.
Anubis was a god of judgment.
No matter how many of the dead were lined up before him, they were humans and he was a god. He would never compromise in his judgments due to their numbers. A single god could overpower countless numbers of the dead and force them to obey his rules. That was how it was meant to be.
“You still have a long way to go.”
“This is efficient, I’ll give you that, but maxing out efficiency isn’t how the strongest does things. The real world’s strongest is more wasteful and pours in resources on an absurd scale without even thinking about how much they’re using. They use such an insane amount that you don’t even know how to process what you’re seeing!!”
Karuta smiled and stuck a hand into his blazer uniform. He pulled out a thoroughly modified military flashlight. It was strong enough to use as a club, but that was not what mattered here.
The light had been replaced with a powerful laser emitter. With the amp on the back and the kind of diffusion lens used in laser printers, it could be made to send out a wedge of truly blinding light.
Pain in the eyes was a unique thing. It was not something you could suppress or ignore.
“Your scales are admittedly powerful.”
Having one of her eyes taken out temporarily must have thrown off the girl’s depth perception.
Karuta rolled to the side to dodge the boulder she dropped from above and the electric cart sweeping in horizontally was deflected upwards when it crashed into the boulder embedded in the sandy beach. The masses of sand and of water were similar. He just had to make sure his vision was not obscured by what remained after they burst like balloons.
“But whether you’re using a solid or a liquid, morning stars work by gathering up strength as you swing them around, so it takes some time before they actually hit. Giving me time to see them and think about them is a critical flaw. At the very least, Elicia, Yukino, and Anastasia had eliminated any such openings. Even if it meant burning through earth’s resources all on their own!!”
A quiet cracking sound followed.
Crystal Magic would heal any non-fatal wound in 30 seconds.
But that also meant it took 30 seconds for even the smallest injury. If they were attacked again in that time and the crystallized part was shattered, it would never recover.
So she could not use one of her eyes for 30 seconds now that the laser had injured it, causing it to crystallize. Not many people could shake free of the fear of permanently losing an eye in order to take immediate action.
The scales that resembled crane arms or spider legs began to squirm.
Natalena swung in several more flails while she performed flips and cartwheels. She grabbed a great mass of sand to create a landslide and she grabbed some water to swing around a highly pressurized liquid, but Karuta kept his cool. Natalena Blast lacked the curse-like intimidation that her sister Anastasia had demonstrated.
If you were only strong enough to cause external damage, you could not bind anyone.
In other words…
“You’ve lost your depth perception without that eye. Your attacks might be powerful, but they’re entirely meaningless when you can’t aim properly.”
Was that enough for it to all crumble away? Was non-strongest magic really that fragile?
“And Crystal Magic isn’t all powerful. I know that all too well since we so thoroughly lost to God Worshiping Magic that one time. Our magic is a flawed thing that can be defeated any number of ways if you know what you’re doing!!”
He did not hesitate to walk forward through the horizontal and vertical storm of blunt weapons. Her depth perception was shot, but that did not mean she could not see him. A single hit would crush him or bisect him, yet he showed no sign of fear.
How frightening did that make him to the small girl who only had this?
“Are you going to fly? Yeah, I suppose that would be your safest bet.”
By the time he spat out the words, she had already spread out her armor and flown straight up. Invisible sails caught the occult high and low pressure fronts. He could not use the flight Preset, so vertical distance was much safer for her than horizontal distance. And once she was up there, she could obliterate him with a unilateral aerial bombing.
She had much more freedom of motion in midair. She could rotate her body vertically or horizontally and build up plenty of centrifugal force in the blunt weapons.
But it was her and not Karuta who grimaced.
“You thought you could fly without depth perception?”
“And in this domed Crystal Beach no less. Crystal Magic flight has acceleration surpassing that of a fighter plane, so you’ll crash into the ceiling in less than a second at max speed.”
Crystal Magic had to be used very differently indoors and outdoors.
With the tall palm trees, taller buildings, and the C World dome itself, this Crystal Beach was full of obstacles. This was not the open sky where she could fly around as she pleased.
While she immediately applied the brakes and tried to come to a stop in midair, Karuta took just three steps to the side while looking up at her. A metal box the size of a vending machine stood unnaturally up from the sandy beach.
Those devices were unique to this place. They were only needed in this enclosed environment.
The label called it a “fire prevention emergency smoke exhaust device”.
He only had to slam down the added amp on the back of his flashlight.
The reinforced glass of the safety cover broke and he pressed the large button within. Immediately, a portion of the translucent ceiling opened and the pressure difference set the air in motion. Just like water drawn into a drain, an artificial blast of wind blew toward the ceiling.
Natalena spun around.
She had already been unstable while stopping so rapidly, so she was completely swept away by this unexpected gust.
“Here’s some advice for free.” Karuta was calm enough to tap the flashlight on his shoulder. “Your greatest attack is that makeshift morning star made using the wires and grab buckets, but you can still get tangled in those wires yourself.”
But she did not slam into the ground, crystallizing her entire body.
The many thin wires caught in the branches of the palm trees that decorated the sandy beach and her small body ended up suspended and swaying side to side like a bagworm. A normal human would have been squeezed to the point of tearing their body apart, but she had the blessings of Crystal Magic. She was protected by the translucent armor and the barrier-like spatial vibration field and any parts the wires did dig into were quickly crystallized for the regeneration process.
These wounds would heal.
Because she could use the latest form of magic.
Her shoulders shook while she swayed upside down in the air.
He had not been her superior in Crystal Magic. He had surpassed her on the more fundamental level of thoughts. And he still had the fighting power known as Aine on top of this.
He put his hands on his hips and looked up at the palm tree.
“So. How did you like our first sparring match?”
If no one died in a battle, it was not true combat. Just like mahjong and poker transformed into entirely different games when money was bet on them.
If he had lost, she might have killed him.
But there were tears of humiliation in Natalena’s eyes after being spared.
“Why didn’t you show me what you saw in my sister!?”
“Because this is what I saw,” he responded with a faint smile. “Anastasia was constantly fighting anyone who might become the next strongest. Day after day, she killed those challengers to keep her title as strongest, until that one day when she lost. Maybe the other four were different, but that was who she was.”
So to put it another way…
“That monster named Anastasia Blast wasn’t interested in anything other than being the strongest. She wasn’t even interested in fighting someone unless they might be the next strongest.”
“Are you saying she recognized your skill? Which is why she went all out and fought you!? Showing you a side of her I never saw!?”
“I have no way of proving it since I didn’t record it all or anything, but unlike Elicia and Yukino, I doubt she ever attacked anyone who did not qualify under her rules. No matter what. At the very least, she wasn’t a pathetic enough person to feel satisfied attacking the weak and defenseless.”
Of course, that was only the one-sided assessment of the person doing the attacking.
For Karuta’s group, who had everything taken from them out of the blue, the attack had seemed entirely random.
“Just like us, she only killed when it was necessary. And it isn’t necessary with you, Natalena. Not for me and not for her. So this is what I think she would have done if she was fighting you as you are now.”
The small girl bit her lip. Tears spilled from her eyes, but these were not fueled by humiliation.
Someone’s younger sister spoke quietly.
“This is…who my sister was? If people weren’t good enough for her, she made them feel this pathetic?”
“She was my family. Are you saying I knew nothing about my own sister?”
“That I can’t tell you.”
That was a non-answer, but it was the truth.
He awkwardly looked aside as he said more.
“But learning the truth won’t necessary make you feel better. That’s what it means to be human.”
He was in a lot of trouble.
Utagai Karuta was forced to take a seat on the hotel hallway floor of all places while being lectured.
“Now, now, Karuta-kun. You should know better than activating the fire alarm when there isn’t a fire. You’re supposed to outgrow that in elementary school☆”
Student Council President Omotesandou Kyouka’s calm knew no bounds, but he could not look her in the eye. That attractive adult girl(?) was wearing a short skirt while seated in a wheelchair while he was seated on the floor, so the hem was at exactly his eye level. It was such a dangerous situation he did not have it in him to chat. She had the impeccable etiquette of a perfect adult, yet she seemed to have the unreadable compound eyes of an insect. Also, he found she wore a cute yellow color. That was a surprise, but it also made an odd amount of sense to him. What exactly was yellow had to remain a secret. Throw any more fuel on the fire and she really would kill him.
He was actually appreciative of muscular Kiyosawa Hadome here. The fact that this had been left with the President instead of the teachers like him showed a calculating side of that capable teacher.
“Wow, I hear Senpai pressed that button! We all wish we could press it, but he just goes and does it. Is he a spirit of adventure made flesh!?”
“We’re in a foreign country and we don’t know the local laws, so wasn’t he afraid?”
“There’s a fine line between brave and dumb, and I’m not sure which side of it he’s on.”
Kyouka glanced back over her shoulder and all the cracked-open doors in the hallway slammed shut. But Karuta could guess information was still spreading like wildfire via Crystal Blossoms and social media.
The President sighed.
“So how did it go? You had Aine-chan end it instantly the first time and you did it without Aine-chan this time, so does this mean Natalena Blast isn’t much of a threat?”
If he said she was not, would Marika and Kyouka be less insistent about how to deal with her?
He considered that, but abandoned the idea. If they found out he was lying, the pendulum would swing back in the opposite direction hard.
“No. She hasn’t realized how to use it yet, but that is incredibly powerful.”
“At the very least, none of the Problem Solvers were this type of fighter. I doubt I, Aine, Marika, or you have anything like this either. It’s all so ill-defined, making it seem a lot like magic. That’s where its strength lies.”
“I see. I will keep that in mind.”
That was when he heard a creaking sound. And looked up at the ceiling.
“Was that the base isolation system? I guess they would have earthquake countermeasures in such a volcanic area.”
“Karuta-kun, don’t you dare use this an excuse to get up. There is a blizzard of -15 degrees outside, you know? Visibility is less than 10m and the maximum instantaneous wind speed is more than 40m/s. That’s at hurricane levels, so it isn’t too surprising to find some malfunctions in the C World dome structure.”
That was a scary thing to imagine. If a single crack formed in the translucent dome for some reason, the pleasant summer air would vanish and they would find themselves in a giant freezer. That would wipe out all the living things inside, including the humans.
Omotesandou Kyouka brushed back her hair in an exasperated way.
“What, did you think you didn’t play a role in that? You are the one who needlessly opened the smoke exhaust, which poses the largest latent risk. What was your plan if the automatic door froze open and refused to close again? Were we supposed to ball you up and shove you in the duct to keep the cold air out?”
“I’m sorry, Omotesandou-san!!”
The seeds of that silly discussion blossomed into toxic flowers the following morning.
It began at breakfast.
1000 people would not fit in a normal restaurant, so they had rented out an entire one-floor banquet hall.
The middle and high school naturally separated out into two distinct groups, but Karuta and the rest of the world’s strongest were also forced to sit at a table all their own. The Student Council Treasurer with the black bob cut and Secretary with her red hair worn in buns sat at a nearby table while giving Karuta a withering look of hatred, but Kyouka only smiled and stayed with his group.
The middle and high school students only mixed together when getting their food. Marika’s friend Imi used a finger and her eyes to send Karuta a warning as he passed by, so he looked over that way and saw…
“C’mon, all of you. You need to eat some vegetables.”
“Ehh? But this is a buffet where we can choose what we want to eat, Sensei.”
“And they have chicken strips! I’m gonna eat chicken strips until I pop!!”
Sanae, the black-haired bespectacled member of the usual trio of middle school girls, could not turn down the muscular track suit teacher’s high-pressure request and had her plate thoroughly customized. She had apparently been caught at the drink section while making her special drink by adding a pinch of salt to some water. She must have had trouble telling him no when she knew he meant well.
Karuta also overheard a conversation the food workers were holding. The ordinary guests who were not from Grimnoah were apparently all talking about catching glimpses of something outside the translucent dome.
And that something was looking in at them from the white blizzard outside.
“But no one can say what exactly it is,” said Marika with her strawberry blonde twintails swaying.
Karuta felt the large hotel’s buffet had a way of revealing people’s true nature. With a plate full of sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs, and corn cooked in butter, Marika was going for a very powerful meal. And she ate it all with white rice.
“And isn’t it -15 degrees out there? What ever happened to that talk of global warming thinning the ice? I bet a polar bear could hibernate out here just fine.”
“Marika-san, um, where are your vegetables?”
“Eh? Corn’s a vegetable.”
Marika sounded legitimately puzzled as she shot down Omotesandou Kyouka’s gentle change of subject. Kyouka’s plate was only vegetables and fish, so no carbs to be found. This was an all-you-can-eat buffet and she was only eating a single small plate’s worth of food for breakfast. The two of them had excellent figures, but they had apparently developed their breasts in very different ways.
Aine was only interested in pure gold, so she had nothing at all on her plate. In fact, she seemed more focused on the golden shine of the knives and forks, but she stopped gnawing on them when she realized they were brass and not gold-plated.
“Sacri-sama, they were saying it is something inhuman wandering around outside, weren’t they?”
“We can rule humans out pretty easily anyway. A stray dog has a better chance out there than we do. Dogs use their fur to keep out the cold when pulling those sleds.”
It did not seem to be a wild animal, but it was not humans who had forgotten the wild either.
That had led to speculation from those laypeople.
“But do you really think it could be that?” Marika frowned. “Do you really think the Threat could be what’s watching us from the blizzard?”
They all fell silent.
It would be simple enough to deny it, but no one knew what the real Threat was.
Karuta wanted to ask Sophia Firenze who had created a possible model of them, but unfortunately, he did not see her nearby at the moment. That was not too surprising when over 1000 students and teachers were filling this single large space. It was an even larger scale than the average party.
“I don’t know.” Omotesandou Kyouka sighed while poking at her seaweed salad with a fork. “But true or not, those rumors could lead to unnecessary panic. And they may only be linking those strange gazes with the Threat because they’re seeing the Crystal Magicians who are meant to combat the Threat.”
Needless to say, a riot inside could cause a fire or destroy the C World dome’s walls just as much as an attack from the outside could. If there were signs of it, they had to put a stop to it.
A girl hesitantly approached them.
It was Alice, the well-developed blonde ponytail girl from that trio.
“Have you seen Riho-chan? She was with us during the roll call before breakfast.”
She had probably intended to ask Karuta for help, but she was speaking a little more politely than usual. Marika and Kyouka must have seemed like more distant figures for a middle school girl.
“What, has she gone missing?” asked the boy with a frown.
“It’s a buffet, so I assumed she had gone to get some more food, but it’s been a while and she hasn’t come back.”
He could imagine that girl skipping class, but not a meal. This was a breakfast buffet at a luxury hotel, so it was unlikely she would try to sneak out in search of better food. Any of them could slip out if they tried, but she had no reason to. This did sound unusual.
He set down his knife and fork and stood from his chair.
He took a deep breath to secretly switch modes. He needed to be in public mode now.
“Where have you searched so far?”
“Nowhere really. Wait, are you saying this could be bad?”
“Aine,” he said to the pale-skinned crystal girl. They asked the receptionist at the banquet hall exit leading to the elevator hall since they would have the most information, but they only shook their head. They said they would have noticed any students walking out.
“Just to be safe, what special abilities does your Crystal Magic have? Could she have turned invisible or altered someone’s memory?”
“Riho-chan’s is Verdandi from Norse Mythology, so no, she can’t.”
“There are three of you and one of them uses Verdandi?”
“Ah ha ha. Bingo. I use Skuld and Sanae-chan uses Urd.”
The Crystal Blossom at Alice’s chest suddenly shattered and expanded into her armor. There was a lot of fabric fluttering in a risqué way. The translucent crystal formed armor and a miniskirt with feather-like decorations in places. It did make her look a lot like a Norse goddess. She did not seem to have a weapon, but the pointed parts of the skirt and feather decorations were apparently all sheathed short swords.
“Watch out behind you.”
“Oh, whoops. Sorry, did I hit you?”
She apologized to a middle school boy while storing the armor once more.
The name of the god sealed inside the Crystal Blossom’s small circuit board could not be changed, but apparently even that could lead to friendships. That did explain why they seemed downright inseparable.
Anyway, if the receptionist was to be believed, Riho had not left the buffet hall.
Before Karuta could turn his head, a shrill scream exploded.
By the time he turned around, Kiyosawa Hadome was already running alongside him.
They ran over to find Sophia Firenze fallen to a sitting position. The track suit teacher grabbed her shoulders to support her and she seemed entirely unaware of all the students focused on them. Her flaxen hair was plastered to her cheeks while she held her hands over her mouth and stared at something with her eyes as wide as could be.
Her gaze was fixated on the bathroom door.
Kiyosawa started to move in that direction, but then he seemed to notice Sophia’s weight. He had said she was the niece of a professor who helped him earn tuition money. He was clearly having trouble deciding whether he should leave her there and go check or stay here with her.
Karuta hesitated for a moment too, so he went with another option.
“Understood. Although I imagine you will be checking for yourself soon enough.”
With crystal sword in hand, Aine poked her head into the women’s bathroom and took a look around like she was peeking inside a shop she frequented. Then she turned back and emotionlessly beckoned him over.
“She is dead.”
She stated it so plainly he thought he had misheard her at first. The nervous teacher’s head slumped back at an unnatural angle, so Kiyosawa Hadome quickly propped up her body weight.
Meanwhile, Aine continued speaking in a mechanical way.
“Casualty report: One corpse was found with entire body crystallized. Based on the physical traits-”
“No…wait. What are you saying? That can’t be true!!”
Alice cut off the crystal girl with a shout. Sanae rushed over after hearing her friend’s voice, but Alice did not seem to notice.
She may have been afraid that letting someone put it to words would make it actually real.
But Aine did not even tilt her head.
“Based on the physical traits, this is almost certainly the individual we are searching for. The damage took the form of a large horizontal gash to the throat, but…”
She would not stop.
The way Aine spoke of it like an unexpected casualty during a mission may have helped reduce the shock, but it also did not treat a human life with the appropriate weight.
Alice grabbed Aine’s slender shoulders and shoved her out of the way of the bathroom door. She took a look inside and fell back onto her butt.
Just like she had run full speed into an invisible wall.
She had been rejected by that forbidden space and gained nothing from it. Despite her explosion of energy just now, her entire body went limp and her hands wandered slowly through the air. She more or less clung to Aine’s left thigh, but the crystal girl ignored her while continuing her mechanical report.
“But it does not appear to have been done with a simple horizontal cut. It looks like something applied force from both sides of her throat, like a pair of scissors. Also, I discovered this on the scene, so it is likely related.”
Aine held the tip of her sword out toward Karuta.
No, she held out the thing impaled there.
He asked about it without thinking. He had to ask.
“What is that?”
He heard a grinding or squealing noise.
Or was it a voice?
The thing looked something like a slipper-sized pill bug. Except this metal bug shined dully in the light and had large steel mandibles that were sharper than scissors. The tanned and silver-haired girl named Riho had crystallized, but her blood remained on the weapon. Those mandible blades shined a horrifically vivid red.
Was this a weapon?
Something flashed through Karuta’s mind.
What was it Anastasia Blast had called the Threat?
A Metal-Derived Autonomous-Origin Higher Lifeform Combat Weapon.
“Aine, kill that thing.”
“Kill it now!! Hurry!!”
She only tilted her head.
And it was too late.
The windows in this large space gave a view of an artificial summer beach.
But all that was rejected by a deafening sound of destruction.
Someone had broken through the outer perimeter of the C World dome and the blue ocean froze over in an instant.
Since this one was small enough to slip through ducts and water pipes, it had likely been a scout meant to perform reconnaissance and sabotage. It was exactly the same as how human special forces would send in a small camera to check on the interior of a building before entering it themselves. Had Riho stumbled upon it by chance, so it had silenced her?
The main unit was waiting somewhere else.
What was it they had heard talk of this morning?
Something was looking into the dome from the fierce blizzard outside.
And people wondered if it could be the Threat.
Whatever it was had finally arrived. By destroying the foundation of this temporarily livable environment, they had taken the best possible action toward eradicating all life here.
Most likely, this was something inhuman working to destroy all that was human.
Between the Lines 2
Age at Death: 13 (Born April 13). Sex: Female.
Height: 145 cm. Weight: 38kg. Measurements…is that really necessary?
The first casualty of Second Grimnoah. On Sacri-sama’s orders, I scanned the women’s bathroom attached to the 6th floor banquet hall. The above individual was found collapsed face down by the sinks near the bathroom entrance. She died of blood loss or suffocation after her throat was slit by a sharp blade. Some uncertainty remains concerning the cause and time of death because her entire body crystallized, preventing standard forensic medicine techniques. Based on observations of the wounded area, it appears her throat was forcibly slashed from both sides at once by a set of two blades, such as scissors or a bolt cutter. Based on the severity of the wound, it will likely take 56 years for her to recover.
To reiterate, the time of death can only be estimated. Security camera footage of the bathroom entrance will likely be useful there. There will be no footage of the attack itself since cameras are not installed inside for privacy reasons.
The Sub Category Regulation 1 students noticed Toudou Riho’s absence at around 8:20 AM. Their homeroom teacher discovered her and screamed at around 8:30 AM. Assuming no trickery involving body doubles and assuming the entire group is not lying, we can assume she was killed in the women’s bathroom during that time.
Toudou Riho was not collapsed with her head pointed toward the exit. There was also no sign of her trying to crawl away and escape. Thus, I expect she was killed nearly instantly.
There were also some cosmetic products scattered across the floor.
The only other notable observation was the lack of any apparent damage other than the actual fatal injury. There were no injuries on her arms suggesting she tried to defend herself. The same applies to the women’s bathroom. There were no signs of a struggle on the floor or walls. The sink mirror and the frosted glass window were undamaged.
A unit we are tentatively calling a Mini-Scout Threat was found on the floor as well. The blood on it makes it almost certain its metal mandibles were used to tear open Toudou Riho’s throat.
Based on the circumstances, she likely had her throat slit in a single attack, giving her no time to resist. She must have lost all strength and died before she could activate her Crystal Magic or even scream. It is unknown how the Mini-Scout Threat got in, but as it is the size of a slipper, it had many avenues of entrance, including the toilet pipes and the air duct in the ceiling.
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