Apocalypse Witch:Volume2 Chapter3
(Stay calm. You need to think.)
Utagai Karuta shut his eyes and breathed deep. A middle school girl was dead, the dome had broken, creating an icy hell, and the Threat covered every inch of things beyond the blizzard. The damage was definitely spreading, but…
(This isn’t a bunch of unrelated trouble rushing in from all directions. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Keep an open mind. This is all one connected problem!!)
He opened his eyes again and viewed the reality out the 6th-floor window.
They were in the C World dome, a sealed space with a radius of 2km. The west side had been broken through and something like a fierce white steam was pushing in from there. It was similar to the white breaths leaving people’s mouths in the midwinter. The difference in temperature between inside and out was rapidly freezing the moisture in the air.
Eyes were visible beyond that expanding white curtain.
They glowed red and there was more than just the one pair.
In fact, they did not always come as mere pairs. The sizes, shapes, numbers, and relative heights all differed. They eyes staring back at them were so numerous they looked like sinister stars in the sky. At such long range, it was hard to judge the scale of this swarm, but their “legs” crushed the large tour busses on the side of the road like tissue boxes.
That meant the creatures were larger than that. Harder and heavier, too.
With a great roar, an 8-story parking garage was torn from its foundation and knocked over.
Being on the 6th floor was no reason to feel safe. If one of those charged at the building, they would be crushed immediately. There were sounds of straining metal and scattering sparks, but were those due to the legs and hard carapaces rubbing together within the white fog? This was what it meant to have no ground to stand on. With all this going on, they had no idea where to even begin, Crystal Magic or not.
The banquet hall they were using for their buffet had large windows on the wall, giving a perfect view of the approaching hell. The asphalt road was torn up, the palm trees were snapped, and straining noises could be heard before the identity of this enemy could be seen. The exterior of the window froze over and the white frost obscured their view.
“Uh,” someone groaned.
It was not Karuta. One of the male students viewing the scene out the window – if you could call it that when nothing was reaching his mind – screamed and ran for the exit.
It was a familiar face: his classmate Yamane Deiri.
“You idiot! Sensei, please stop him!!”
Karuta shouted over, but the female teacher was still seated on the floor. Her mind had yet to start moving again after running across Riho’s death, but she did not seem to realize this left her defenseless.
Kiyosawa Hadome started to get up, but then he stopped. He had not noticed, but Sophia Firenze was clutching at his shirt like a small child.
Due to the chaos, the childish action was terribly strong.
Her fingers were clenched so tight they had grown white and they refused to budge. Kiyosawa looked Karuta in the eye and then shook his head with a tongue click. Not even an adult could free himself from that grip so easily.
“Aine! Don’t let this start a trend!!”
“You have not removed my nonlethal mode for Grimnoah residents. May I cut the target’s Achilles tendons?”
He ignored that question and instead grabbed a salt shaker from a table which he then tossed to Aine. She tilted her head before reversing her blade and swinging it like a baseball bat.
A clang rang out with the perfect speed and angle.
The shaker did not break, but it did tear through the air, crack fleeing Yamane Deiri in the back of the head, and cause him to trip forward. Karuta used that moment to drive his point home to everyone there, middle and high school alike.
(I’m sorry, Yamanen!! I’ll buy you a drink later!!)
“There are over 1000 people here, so trying to use the elevators and stairs like normal would clog everything up and we’d be stuck! Do you want to helplessly wait for death here!?”
The students who had started to get up from their seats froze in place when they heard that. Not many people would immediately agree to fight now that the Threat had shown up. But no one would stick with their escape plan if they knew it would mean being stuck here until they died a pointless death.
They had at most a few minutes and at worst half a minute until the clash began. If they did not come up with a plan by then, they would be attacked with nothing to show for it and the casualties would only grow.
Marika slipped away from Imi and Tayori to approach him and whisper in his ear.
“What exactly are we going to do? Hole up in here?”
Her breath was already visible in the cold.
The hotel’s central heating was still on and none of the windows had broken, but the indoor heating system was insufficient. Since the exterior of the windows had frosted over in a matter of moments, things had to be 10 or even 15 below freezing outside.
“That isn’t possible,” cut in the track suit teacher supporting Sophia. The cold may have been affecting him far more than the students in their uniforms. “We can’t stay here in this cold. And I don’t just mean the room temperature. The water pipes will freeze and the power circuits might malfunction depending on the type. If the switchboard goes out, the building’s power goes along with it!”
If they stayed here, they could not survive the cold. The necessary infrastructure would not last.
Besides, a fortress was not a defensive line. The defensive line had to be held in front of the fortress. There was no time for the preparations needed to hold off a large army, like setting up gun emplacements and laying a minefield.
So Karuta did not hesitate.
“We have to abandon the C World dome. The Crystal Beach has other domes, like A and B, so we can escape there and regroup. As long as we can keep the people safe, we can let the Threat rampage through the C World dome to analyze how they attack.”
He heard something heavy scraping along the floor.
Still sitting on the floor, Alice was looking up at him with Sanae supporting her shoulders. And she had her arms around the clear crystal that symbolized her dead friend.
That was what happened if they died.
No visual could have more vividly shown that.
“You said yourself there are 1000 of us. If we try to escape now, we’ll clog up the escape route and be stuck here!!”
“Normal people would, yes.”
Karuta had immediately stopped a male student from running across the floor to reach the elevators and stairs outside the banquet hall. If that set in as their best bet, it would create a meaningless struggle between the Crystal Magicians.
In other words…
“One of the Crystal Magic Presets is flight. As long as we coordinate things, you can all escape through all the windows on the walls.”
“With more ways out than just the stairs and elevators, there won’t be any congestion. Flight is technically only taught to Regulation 2s, but you’ve all been practicing it in secret, haven’t you? We had been at your level. Who here can’t fly!? That’s nothing to be embarrassed of, so just ask someone nearby for help and grab on tight!!”
That set them all in motion.
The windows in the banquet hall did not open, so a flood of people rushed toward the hallway. The tickets for survival had just gone on sale and they were all taking it very seriously. All in all, the high school students were generally grabbing the hands of a middle school student to help them fly. But both age groups were new at this. Given their ages, the middle schoolers may have had more room for growth, but the high schoolers had more guts.
In truth, Karuta did not know what the right answer was here. He was only in high school too. But he knew how important it was to provide options for fighting, hiding, and escape and he knew that he could never say out loud that he did not know what he was doing. If the world’s strongest had thrown in the towel, everyone would panic.
“Alice! Take Riho with you!!”
“We can’t leave her here. She was lucky to only have her throat slit, so you can see her again in a few decades. But not if she’s caught in all this and shattered!”
“I’m…aware of that!!”
The blonde girl clenched her teeth, wiped away the tears, and picked up the heavy crystal statue.
She likely wanted to argue with his definition of “lucky”, but she still flew out the window along with Sanae. Giving her an objective, whatever it might be, had given her the strength she needed to survive in the face of this crisis. For Karuta, his ugly revenge had played that role.
“I can’t fly. Neither can Omotesandou-san.”
“Then what shall I do?”
“You work with Marika, Aine. Yes, if you can, fly the waiters and cooks out of here. Omotesandou-san!!”
The President kept her confident smile even now.
Or had she decided now was not the time to let it slip?
“Oh? I could have escaped on my own.”
“When you have trouble getting out of your wheelchair on your own and need Aine’s help washing your back? C’mon, let’s go!!”
“Hee hee. I really wish the Student Council kids could show this kind of initiative. I had them escape ahead of me, so this can be our little secret. Otherwise, they would get all jealous of you again.”
“Is this really the time?”
“It is exactly the time. The normalcy of the standard rules is needed most after a casualty.”
Kyouka too called it a casualty.
Had she concluded that the military rules were the best format for rationally bringing order to human lives? Or she may have been more concerned than she let on that her heart was influenced by the shock of what happened. Just like motion sickness, there was no way to stop it once it started.
Karuta circled behind her, grabbed the wheelchair’s handles, and began running. He should not have been moving that quickly with someone in the wheelchair, but they had no time. Kyouka seemed to enjoy it like someone riding a makeshift thrill ride.
She grabbed the armrests tight and spoke up with enjoyment in her voice.
“This is the 6th floor, so is the elevator our next stop?”
“Do you want to get trapped inside? We’re using the stairs!!”
He snapped back at how she seemed to be testing him with that question.
He could already see his breath. The coldest he could imagine was 0 degrees Celsius, where puddles would freeze over, so it terrified him for the temperature to be dropping well below that. Even though this was not a snowy mountain in the winter. They were inside a well-maintained tourist hotel, even if all the hallway windows had been thrown open for their escape.
It looked like the dome had been broken through in more than one spot.
“They’re coming from this direction too?”
“You already knew we couldn’t stay here and defend ourselves, right? We have to abandon the C World dome.”
They had only been able to see out the one direction from the banquet hall, but the opened windows in the hallway showed another white curtain with many eyes lurking beyond it. The C World dome had been attacked at multiple points simultaneously, opening more and more holes.
Kyouka waved something toward him while he pushed her wheelchair toward the stairs.
It was a phone.
“The phones no longer have a signal.”
“You mean they destroyed the antenna tower or the undersea cable connecting back to the mainland?”
“Hard to say if they have that kind of intelligence, but this means calling for rescue is not an immediate option.”
The transmissions they could send with their Crystal Blossoms did not have infinite range, so they could not contact anyone on the other side of the planet.
On the other hand, this was Ocean Crystal Magic Academy Grimnoah’s field trip, so if they were still gone after the scheduled return date, the world would quickly take note. The world’s strongest would make for valuable allies, so nations around the world would send out their armies to get in their good graces.
“This trip was scheduled for all of Golden Week. We still have 5 days until our scheduled return date and I seriously doubt we can last that long out here.”
“Not to mention that I’m not sure what an army could really do about this even if they did notice we had not returned,” added Kyouka. “If this is the real Threat, then only the world’s strongest should be able to do anything about them.”
These were the source of the unnatural disappearances of cities, states, and countries in a single night.
They had finally shown themselves, but they would never have remained such a problem for so long if they could simply be bombed into oblivion by drones.
That was when a dull rumbling shook the entire hotel.
At first, Karuta cautiously glanced out the window, assuming the owners of those many eyes behind the white curtain had arrived at the hotel, but then the Crystal Blossom at his chest vibrated to produce a human voice.
This was apparently being broadcast to everyone and not sent to him in particular.
The speaker may have wanted to find some peace of mind in someone approving of his actions.
“This is Yamane. My Kagutsuchi bombing is working! Ha ha. Crystal Magic really is the world’s strongest. Ha ha ha ha ha!! I ain’t afraid of the Threat!”
But Karuta had to shout back at him.
They still had no idea what this opponent could do. The first time you saw an enemy, you had to escape to safety and let them reveal their hand. They could not predict what this enemy would do and they could not fly well inside the dome. Plus, Crystal Magic was not all-powerful against an unpredictable attack.
A moment later, Karuta’s retinas were fried by a lightning-like flash of light.
This was not just a laser beam.
As soon as something was launched from the ground, explosions scattered in every direction from a certain point in the air. The translucent dome had only been broken in a few defined points before, but now it was completely blown away. Shards rained down on the rapidly-freezing tourist city.
One space elevator method was to use a laser.
A powerful laser would be fired on the bottom of a container connected to a wire and the heat would cause a rapid expansion of the air that launched the container upwards.
This was a variation on that.
First, a small pellet made of some sort of heavy metal was launched into the air and then a powerful laser or electron beam was fired into that. And instead of directing the force in a single direction, the barrier of air was formed in all directions equally. The result was a spherical explosion. Enough energy to launch something into space was fully converted into lethal force. The destructive power had to be equal or greater to a thermobaric weapon.
The destruction was massive.
Karuta could not tell which flyer in the frigid sky was Yamane Deiri, but the several people there suddenly stalled and dropped like poorly-designed paper airplanes.
Their crystal armor shattered and arms and legs were torn from their bodies.
“They might not be dead yet.”
Karuta clenched his teeth hard, but the President calmly observed the scene outside the open window.
“If they make sure to make an emergency landing on a building rooftop instead of falling all the way to the road, they can survive this.”
That was exactly what happened.
A different voice arrived over their Crystal Blossoms.
“Th-the person called Yamane-senpai was hit! Um, it will take 30 seconds for his wounds to heal, so we need to buy him time to withdraw. Someone fly in formation with me!!”
“Be careful. Was that a glass laser?”
“This opened up the space overhead. I don’t know about the laser, but the pellet looked like a normal metal bullet, so won’t we be safe if we keep away from that!?”
(Is that Sanae and Alice? This can’t be an easy time for them. I’m impressed how well they’re holding together!!)
This was not over yet. Yes, as long as the wound was not fatal, a Crystal Magician would heal in 30 seconds. Losing an arm or a leg was not enough to give up on their survival. That did not count as a casualty.
And their enemy here finally broke through the white curtain hiding them.
They were finally revealed.
What even were they?
Solid eyes glowing red.
They were different in size and shape to the pill bug that had killed Riho in a surprise attack.
Enough so that it was unclear why they even bothered with the element of surprise.
They were like scorpions larger than dump trucks. Except instead of the pincers used to protect the head(?), they had something like 5-fingered human hands opening and closing. The grooves running along the palms flashed with a disconcertingly wet yellow light. They were brimming with massive energy.
The thick tail was shaped like an airbrush, so did that launch the pellets?
And did the palms fire the lasers that hit the pellets to cause the explosive expansion of air?
Except that was just one of the designs.
Carnivorous plants the size of cars were crawling at the scorpions’ feet, opening and closing coffins as mouths. The entire swarm of creatures was entirely covered by giant ants with revolvers instead of their six legs. Some were like giant squids with their head, belly, or whatever you called the main part covered with gaping mouths lined with teeth like dentures. Did they directly bite things, did they send out ultrasonic waves that created some kind of omnidirectional barrier, or did they snipe things with pressurized water? Karuta could not even hazard a guess.
They had never seen any of these monsters before.
Just like with the Problem Solvers, ignorance was a terrifying thing.
A dark mass was rippling in from beyond the broken dome. Instead of a single giant unit, this had to be a different swarm crawling over the Threat that had already arrived. The total number was impossible to guess.
To save their allies who had stayed in the buildings to avoid being swallowed by the swarm, the students continued making bombing runs from the air. Some were shot down by the omnidirectional explosions caused by the scorpions, but others made accurate strikes from 10m above their targets to slam an explosive blast and clear glass shards toward them.
Some of the Threat were broken by this and others were not.
When one of them was broken, the rest of the swarm would walk right over the unmoving mass of black metal, crush it, and devour it. The surviving cannons and armor would be cannibalized while the swarm marched onward with no drop in speed.
Yes. This was not about defeating them or not.
The Threat remained a threat even after they were defeated.
“What the hell?”
Utagai Karuta had done his best to remain calm and act the veteran in front of the middle school girls, but he was really a freshman who had only arrived at Grimnoah at the start of April and this was his first time seeing the Threat. With no one watching, the mask quickly slipped.
“What the hell is going on!?”
“They look more mechanical than biological to me. They also seem to be strong advocates of recycling. Humanity could stand to learn a thing or two from them.”
Only that unfathomable President could remain calm at a time like this.
The Threat could not be entirely destroyed unless the entire swarm was destroyed.
Even if they walked across a minefield and marched straight into a hail of machinegun fire, only the units out front would be destroyed and the rest would customize themselves based on the surviving parts of the fallen. A desperate resistance would only create more powerful monsters that would easily trample on humanity’s military bases.
(This is worse than I imagined.)
There was a full swarm of them and they cannibalized their dead.
He had not known how frightening an enemy could be when they had no sense of self-preservation.
This was entirely different from the Problem Solvers who they had only needed to kill even if it meant mutual destruction. The more these monsters were defeated, the more powerful they would grow. This would explain why the insane firepower of Anastasia’s group had not been enough to fully eliminate this.
There were hundreds, thousands…no, maybe more.
(We can’t push them back with strength! Their attack types and parameters are up to us. If we go at this wrong, we could end up creating the ultimate monster that no one can hope to defeat!)
“But if we don’t fight, we’ll just be killed. …Okay, you need to get out of there once you finish regenerating! Some of them might be able to fly for all we-!!”
Karuta’s throat grew bone dry when he heard what sounded like an electric shaver but much larger.
Some looked like giant octopuses with red and green lights attached to their round bodies and with their sucker-attached arms spinning in alternating directions. Some looked like flying fish with razor-sharp pectoral fins and a metallic sheen. They borrowed their shapes from actual plants and animals, but they used their parts in entirely different ways. Countless shapes left the swarm and invaded the sky with movements reminiscent of coaxial rotors or surface-to-air missiles.
(Already!? They customize themselves and evolve to match their needs way too fast!!)
“Ksshh. Y-you make it sound like we are recklessly trying to prove ourselves.”
Someone else’s voice cut in.
He recognized it.
“Everyone is trying to buy enough time for the ordinary people to escape. Um, uh, we think we might be able to distract the Threat from the ground by fighting back from up in the sky!”
Utagai Karuta fell silent for a moment.
Meanwhile, another transmission reached him.
“Listen, that blast might cover a massive area, but it’s only a shockwave. You can reduce the damage by hiding behind a building!”
“Wh-when hiding, make sure to look out for any of them that have fallen to the ground. You can stay out of view from the surface using the walls or ceilings at the top of a tall building.”
“The flying ones aren’t the most maneuverable things, so they can’t keep up with dogfighting alongside the buildings and end up crashing into the wall. I’ll show you what I mean, so you need to learn how to do this!!”
That was the teachers, Kiyosawa Hadome and Sophia Firenze. Their focus on theory left them without any combat experience, but they must have been hiding the trembling of their legs and putting on a courageous face to keep the students from panicking.
It was still possible to save them.
They could survive this and get back on their feet. They all believed it.
The Student Council President quietly clicked her tongue.
“They beat us to the punch. I know you, Karuta-kun, so I bet you were planning to leave the others and sabotage the boiler in the basement or something. That way the big explosion and subsequent fire would draw the Threat’s attention long enough for everyone to escape. No matter what you do, you refuse to get other people involved.”
The boy had no answer to that.
He only smiled and spoke under his breath.
“We’re all such idiots, aren’t we?”
But he liked what he was seeing. He enjoyed this recklessness. This seemed a far better use of Crystal Magic than flying around the world in secret to have revenge.
“Natalena, do the ordinary people have an evacuation route?”
She seemed to hesitate for a moment, but then she began her report. Had she decided now was not the time for revenge? Ironically, she may have been a lot like him. Neither one of them would get other people involved to accomplish their goal.
“According to a hotel worker I picked up along the way, the dome has a central heating facility used to keep the entire thing warm. Um, so in addition to the heaters in the individual buildings, there is another one for the dome as a whole. The central heating facilities for each dome are connected underground, so, um, well, that is apparently to ensure the dome can receive heat from another dome if its heater malfunctions.”
That was evidently insufficient when the entire dome had been blown away, though.
Still, they could make use of that.
“Once the heat supply extracted from the lava is cut off, it’s only a large tunnel. Um, if the workers, guests, and other ordinary people who can’t fly are guided through there to the adjacent B World dome, they should be safe from this army of the Threat!”
It was a decent idea. Far better than using any surface path. Marika, Natalena, and the rest may have been fighting primarily in the air to prevent the Threat from evolving into something that dug through the ground.
This of course required caution since it all went out the window if the Threat learned of the heat tunnels, but it was still better than flying around with ordinary people in their arms when they could be shot down at any time by the explosion produced from the heavy metal pellets and lasers. Unlike Crystal Magicians, normal people would die of blood loss if an arm or leg was blown off.
“Is there anything I can do?” asked Karuta.
“Do not head outside on the surface. And…”
Another explosive boom shook the entire 50-story hotel. Several beams of light shot down from the sky to pierce into the main road, primarily taking out the scorpion-like Threats that functioned as wide-range antiaircraft weapons using lasers and bullets. The person responsible zigzagged through the air to slice through some flying octopuses and flying fish with her rapier. She was handling the dogfighting in her spare time.
“Is that Amaashi Marika-senpai? She’s so powerful it’s probably best to just leave her be. What is with her? Um, she isn’t using the buildings as cover while approaching, so she’s staying exposed to their fire yet dodging those huge anti-air explosions while bombing them. I appreciate it though, since this is gradually bringing us closer to holding air superiority.”
“Oh, dear,” said Kyouka. “It looks like Marika-san’s berserker tendencies have been fully unleashed. Does she see herself as the adorable knight protecting you and Aine-chan?”
This was not entirely a good thing. Defeating the Threat here would only power up the next wave that would cannibalize their parts. That meant Threats other than the scorpions would have those pellets and lasers equipped. And those evolved versions would be even more powerful and precise.
The same could be said of the flying ones. The Threat had begun with coaxial rotors and missiles, but they would probably find that to be insufficient and soon begin devouring their crushed allies to evolve. That repeated optimization would continue on and on until they finally had the top speed and mobility needed to surpass Crystal Magic.
“Marika-san’s biggest flaw is how she gets so caught up in protecting things now that she forgets to consider what happens next.”
Either way, they needed a fundamental countermeasure here. For example, they could destroy the enemy so utterly no usable parts remained, or they could do something to prevent the scraps from being recovered. But what exactly that would be and whether it would actually be usable on the front line were entirely unknown.
“Anyway, um, if you can’t fly, you aren’t any help here,” said Natalena. “You need to take the President into the central heating tunnel!”
“Don’t push yourself too hard. You only have to buy us time, so we’ll prepare the evacuation route for you!”
When he ended the transmission, he found the President laughing for some reason.
“She’s such a good girl,” she said.
“We are the people who killed her sister, remember? If she really was prioritizing revenge above all else, she could have given us false information to isolate us so she could attack us in the confusion.”
Natalena was not that kind of person.
She was forcing the gears of revenge to turn right now, but they would stop once she found something more important along the way. She would set it aside and focus on what ever had to be done right now.
She could do that.
The title of good person definitely belonged with Natalena Blast. Karuta’s group had failed to do that. They had prioritized their revenge no matter what it would have meant for the rest of the world.
They had lacked the courage to come to a stop.
Because they had known they could not start up again once they did stop.
For the stairs, he spun the wheelchair around 180 degrees so he walked backwards to descend the stairs ahead of it. He could have run down the stairs while princess carrying her, but there was no guarantee they would find a spare wheelchair at the bottom. There were no windows in here. He did not want to see those things for a moment longer than necessary, but the lack of information still clutched at his heart.
This hotel was the tallest building in the C World dome, so it contained a large casino within it. It could even be called the center of the dome.
That meant the central heating facility was located below it.
After descending three floors underground, they found bare concrete walls very different from the luxurious interior of the hotel. The thick metal door was already open. Inside, they found machines like a large cargo ship’s engine crammed in tight and leaking white steam.
“It’s still a little warm in here.”
“That won’t last long. And watch out for the steam, Karuta-kun.”
“Head out into the -15-degree air while somewhat damp and you might have an entire ear fall off.”
He fell silent and went pale, so she laughed and said more.
“Don’t worry. Even if you ignore my kind advice, you still have your regeneration, right? Fourth degree frostbite is nothing to be afraid of☆”
Further in, they found another metal door.
That led to the heat tunnel.
They peeked inside and saw darkness gaping as wide as a highway tunnel. But instead of concrete, the floor, walls, and ceiling here were made of stainless steel.
They saw light in the distance, but not from stationary fluorescent lights. These light sources were moving around. Karuta tensed up, thinking they might be strange “eyes”, but they were not. A large group of people was using the backlights of their phones and other devices to light their way through the tunnel. The walls and ceiling were apparently reflecting the artificial lights.
“We caught up.”
“Given the state of things up above, this is more or less a miracle.”
He guessed they were about 400m away from the tourists and workers. They easily closed that distance even with him pushing the wheelchair, so the other group must have been slowed by their numbers. After all, that was everyone from the C World dome. As seen at Shinto shrines during New Year’s and in the city during Halloween, a large gathering of people took a long time to move.
Once Karuta and Kyouka arrived at the tail end of the group, a waitress, tour guide, supermarket worker, and convenience store worker still in their uniforms noticed them and kindly shined their flashlights over to light their way. The group had not collapsed to the point that they were willing to shove aside a schoolgirl in a wheelchair to get through faster.
(But what do we do now?)
(We’re up against overwhelming numbers here, so protecting one specific dome for 24 hours straight is honestly unrealistic. It’s all over as soon as they break a single hole in the dome, so the attackers have the clear advantage there. Also, where did the Threat even come from? Do they have a mothership or command tower? Either way, we need some way to go on the attack if we’re going to end this.)
“Karuta-kun, something isn’t right.”
Hearing that, he noticed a deep sound. It was not the tremors from the aerial battle fought by Marika, Natalena, and the others. This was more mechanical, like heavy gears moving. It was hard to tell in the crowd, but he could detect some angry yelling and shouting further up from here.
That sound had to be the door to the B World dome shutting.
“Wait!” he shouted. “We aren’t all inside yet!!”
“You’re from Grimnoah, aren’t you?”
A different sort of voice shouted back from beyond the crowd.
The male voice was full of the superiority rather than relief of someone who had already ensured their own safety.
“I’ve seen you on those online news sites. You’re Utagai Karuta and Omotesandou Kyouka. The representatives of justice who defeated the Problem Solvers to become the new world’s strongest!”
Karuta was taken aback when this complete stranger identified him.
And this stranger’s voice carried an emotion Karuta was not responsible for.
“Then this is none of our business. You just have to go do your jobs! Go save us! Go fight the Threat out there!!”
(This isn’t the time!)
Karuta clenched his teeth, but someone else had something to say as well.
“We’re normal people, so the Threat would have no reason to attack us.”
This place was ruled by the ominous elation of having outdone the world’s strongest. No, of having shoved them down to stand above them.
During disasters, it was said the EMTs and volunteers supposedly there to help would sometimes be intentionally stingy with their rescue supplies so they could laugh as they watched the victims suffer. The line between the rescuers and the rescued could turn the weak-willed into frightening tyrants.
“So this must be your fault. If you Crystal Magicians hadn’t shown up, the Threat never would have attacked the peaceful Crystal Beach!!”
Utagai Karuta thought his heart would stop.
That argument was of course nonsense.
It was unknown if the Threat was even intelligent enough to prioritize who they attacked and areas around the globe were attacked whether or not Karuta and the other Crystal Magicians were there. There was no causal relationship between the attack on Iceland’s Crystal Beach and Karuta’s school’s presence.
The correct answer was not what mattered here.
The atmosphere seemed to strain.
The tail end of the group had been cut off along with them like the lizard’s tail, so they turned dead eyes toward Karuta and Kyouka. The waitress, tour guide, supermarket worker, and convenience store worker who had kindly lighted their way before had changed their tune entirely. There was no way to know which was the real them since they would be isolated if they did not side with the group here. That much was obvious enough to see.
“What does that have to do with us?” Finally, one of the tourists got things started. “I’m not with these monsters!! Help me! I can’t use Crystal Magic! I’m not like them! I’m human like you!”
Karuta understood it was an emergency.
He understood you had to make some extreme decisions to survive.
Those words seemed to strip away all the kind feelings found in human beings. And that one woman was not alone. Voices of agreement spread like wildfire until the tunnel was inundated with criticism and jeers. If they were told they would be let in if they beat up Karuta and Kyouka, they would have mercilessly ganged up even on the girl in a wheelchair. They would have done it with dark smiles on their faces all while telling themselves they had done nothing wrong.
“I’m getting the feeling this won’t work,” said Omotesandou Kyouka with a tone of disinterest. But she was not talking about whether or not he and she would be let into the B World dome. The answer there was obvious enough already.
The heavy rumbling sound did not stop, despite the other normal people still out here.
“Wait, no! Why!?”
“Weren’t you listening!? We’re human too! You only need to shut them out!!”
“Wait, wait! I have a small child with me! Are you going to abandon a child!? Can’t you at least let me in!?”
Those on the other side did not care.
Only the C World people were assuming any kind of camaraderie while they forced ugly smiles on their faces and tried to be accepted. The B World people held those lives in their hands, but they only wanted to ensure their own safety by closing that door as quickly as possible.
The survivors who had made it through the door in time were already on the other side – they were B World people now. They showed no sign of attempting to stop the door from closing or even begging the door operator to stop. Because if they rocked the boat before that door was fully closed, they could always be thrown out of that safe zone. They had to be smiling thinly as they watched the suspension bridge cut away immediately after they safely made it across. Because they were safe, unlike the poor “others” stuck on the other side.
Utagai Karuta did not bother with this any longer.
He had something more important to do.
“Get away from the door.”
“What!? You dare order us around when it’s your fault we’re stuck here in the first place!?”
“That door has to way tons, so do you really want to be caught in it when it closes!? Hurry!!”
His words fell on deaf ears.
Were they going to continue trusting in the good will of humanity and let that thick metal door crush them?
The President must have already given up on them because she spoke without a moment’s hesitation.
“Okay, let’s head back. There’s nothing we can do here.”
“But if we leave them here-”
“How are we supposed to deal with the few dozen stuck on this side? I can’t use Crystal Magic and you left Aine-chan back there. If a group this large insists on being smashed into mincemeat, there’s nothing we can do to stop them. I’m sure they will continue trusting in the good will of humanity as they are crushed like bugs. Or do you want to rush in there and get crushed along with them?”
“Shut the hell up!” he shouted back without thinking. “Natalena left them in my care. She told me to get these people to safety while she fights the Threat!”
“Oh? I don’t recall her saying quite that much.”
“Maybe not in so many words, but you have to read between the lines! If she didn’t trust me, she wouldn’t have left these powerless people with me. Listen, I stole her sister from her. Yes, the Problem Solvers had to go, but Natalena doesn’t have to agree!! And now you want me to betray her good will too? I can’t keep doing this. How much more do we have to keep taking from that little girl!? Are you kidding me!!!???”
Omotesandou Kyouka only shrugged.
And she spoke.
“Then give it a try, but the door will be closed in 30 seconds.”
“Show me how cool you can be, Karuta-kun.”
Grabbing them by the shoulders and dragging them away one by one would be too slow. He looked around the tunnel and noticed a small but thick fire-resistant door on the wall. He opened it to find an AED bag. He pulled out the device and found a lithium ion battery far larger than the ones found in phones or handheld game systems. It was the size of an energy drink can. He used the unnecessary plastic casing to create a trumpet-like shape, used the metal clip on the inside to intentionally cause a short, and tossed the battery inside.
He could blow off his hand doing this, but he had the Crystal Magic regeneration.
“Cover your ears, Omotesandou-san!!”
He than aimed it toward the remaining people.
But aimed a bit upwards instead of straight on at them.
The sexy girl in the wheelchair covered her ears with her lithe hands just before the high-capacity battery burst with a deafening noise. The explosion’s shockwave was directed in a single direction, making it an acoustic weapon. But sound being what it was, it could be absorbed or reflected.
For example, the sound that flew above the crowd’s head could hit the wall with the door beyond them and make a U-turn right back to hit them head on.
Hit by the blast of sound, Karuta himself toppled backwards. As did the crowd trying to push their way toward the door. The solid group was knocked back toward him.
That settled things.
One group had made it to the other side of the door, and the other had not. A dull metal boom finally sounded. If he had been just 3 seconds later to act, the dozen or so nearest the door would have been crushed.
The President said something to him, but his ears were ringing too badly to hear it. As large a space as this was, using an acoustic weapon in an enclosed tunnel was tantamount to suicide.
Eventually, he could make out some of what Kyouka was saying with a smile.
Her words seemed designed to act like a knife to the heart.
“This isn’t going to be the happy ending you want.”
She was quickly proven right.
A young man slowly got to his feet after being knocked away in the nick of time. But his brow was wrinkled in a way Karuta had never seen before. Karuta was actually amazed that human facial muscles could do that and then the man began yelling.
“What the hell is wrong with you? I was almost there…I was so close to getting through!! Unlike you monsters, I was chosen! I was supposed to get through there!!”
He had not given up.
Even with that hope forever lost, he had not awoken from the dream.
It was like seeing an old man so obsessed with the horse races that he ended up glaring at the horse track’s ATM in the hopes that would somehow make it give him money that was no longer in his account and, when that did not happen, go running to a loan shark. The yelling and shouting actually inspired pity rather than anger.
“Leave immediately,” said a voice over a speaker installed in the tunnel.
That was probably meant to provide warnings to the inspection and maintenance crews.
There was no tremor in the voice.
Did that person think this was the C World dome group’s fault since the machine had closed the door automatically and they had been given plenty of warning? It was not that simple and they were sure to be overcome with regret down the road. They would forever have to live with the fact that they had left people to die. Especially when those people had been begging for help.
“Half an hour should be enough for you to return the way you came. You have that much time before we switch on the heater. To be clear, the dome’s central heating system produces a massive amount of heat. So turn back now unless you want to stick your head in a giant oven powered by the heat of lava!!”
Several people began to cry.
But eventually, someone realized something. And that realization quickly spread through them all.
Since the B World dome had abandoned them, these people stuck in the tunnel had to find someone else to rely on. And the only option was the Grimnoah Crystal Magicians they had been treating like garbage until now.
A uniformed waitress looked Karuta in the eye with a disturbing smile.
She apparently wanted him to forget everything that had happened a moment before.
The look on her face said she would do whatever it took to make that happen.
Her smile looked like an extremely detailed rubber mask that had been forcibly stretched to fit on her face. And she was not alone. They were all like that, even the young man who had been yelling at them.
In a way, the ability to lick at someone’s boots and become their slaves if that was the only way to survive may have been another form of human strength. But that was something Karuta’s group could never imagine doing since they had fought back against the Problem Solvers to the end, despite knowing those five were the world’s strongest.
“Karuta-kun, are you done here? Then let’s head back.”
Omotesandou Kyouka did not sound bothered at all.
When you truly gave up on someone, perhaps you did not even feel anger or hatred toward them.
“There’s nothing for us here. Not even human resources. If we are to band together and survive, we need to secure the necessities. We can work up a new plan centered on that.”
The boy squeezed the wheelchair’s handles tight.
He felt ashamed.
Did this qualify as living up to Natalena Blast’s trust in him?
Did it really?
He had saved their lives.
But that was all he had done.
The waitress, tour guide, and others would surely have nightmares about this day for the rest of their lives.
Nothing was more absurd and horrifying than when life bared its fangs against your idea of justice and pride.
He did not want to change who he was. He wanted to remain someone who could look Gekiha and the other crystallized people in the eye. It was that selfish desire that had led Karuta’s group to fight back against the former world’s strongests and annihilate them.
The Threat filled every part of that icy world, both the land and the sky, and they showed no sign of being driven back on either field.
(How far have they evolved?)
Karuta grimaced when he returned to the surface and viewed the battlefield, but he at least saw no obvious changes in the flying ones. The Crystal Magicians had the upper hand there. For now, anyway.
But Marika and the others appeared to have intentionally gathered on a single point while defending a location that did not actually matter to them. They were intentionally losing those battles and withdrawing bit by bit. The Threat must have had some level of intelligence because they would go to the effort of digging through the defended location after Marika and the others left. As if wondering what the Crystal Magicians were so intent on defending.
In truth, those were only the unmanned devices that produced the artificial waves of the now frozen beach.
“Yes, looks like this has evolved beyond a silly battle where both sides are simply comparing their specs.”
While the gradual withdrawal paid off, Karuta used his Crystal Blossom to contact Marika and the others. He made sure to use the hotel, theatre, and other tall buildings to stay out of view from the Threat as he regrouped with the others. He felt out of breath simply traveling along the asphalt.
This was already the Arctic.
It was so cold the palm trees and hibiscuses had frozen instead of withering. He did not want to think what happened to the colorful animals.
And amid it all…
Natalena Blast forgot all about the visible breaths escaping her mouth as she viewed not Karuta but the 20-ish people following after him. She had seen the hopeless looks in their eyes.
Her anger flared up.
Or maybe this was a pure emotion that could actually worry about others.
“What did you do to those people!? I thought you said you would get them to safety while we risked our lives fighting out here? How could you do this!?”
He could only weakly shake his head.
He had no answer for her.
That 12-year-old girl must not have realized that digging back up that issue was like a rusty knife to a festering wound for those ordinary people who had felt so powerless they had abandoned their goodness.
They must have felt blinded by the bright light of Natalena Blast’s eyes as she faced the Threat head-on out of no more than a desire to help others. They must have been crushed under the weight of the fact that they had chosen selfishness, that had backfired, and they had even failed to die.
“Kill me,” groaned a vanishingly quiet voice. It was the young man who had stubbornly yelled at Karuta earlier. “Use me as bait to fight the Threat or whatever. I can’t stand to go on like this.”
Karuta ignored that outright. They might not be happy, but he was not going to let them die now that he had saved them. Besides, people who jumped to suicidal that easily tended to be the type to change their tune quickly once their life was in immediate danger. And that was not Karuta judging someone he disliked; these people really had abandoned the Grimnoah students to win the B World dome’s favor and then been abandoned themselves. Someone who was willing to risk their life for something from the beginning would not have done that. Karuta really wished they would learn a lesson from this. His patience had been stretched dangerously thin.
Marika must have figured out what happened when she saw the boy’s exhausted face and saw the President whistling nonchalantly while inspecting her nails. She knew they had encountered some kind of malice, so the twintails girl put a hand on her hip and made a suggestion.
“We can carry those 20 with us. There are 1000 of us, after all. It isn’t efficient, but that’s what you want, isn’t it?”
Aine emotionlessly approached.
She still held her drawn sword in one hand, so he would prefer she not move too close, though.
“What exactly will we do now? The delaying tactics using decoy defensive locations will stop working before long. We need another objective.”
He had put off making a decision here. Kiyosawa Hadome and Sophia Firenze were watching him from a distance, but the adults apparently had no intention of butting in. For better or for worse, the lives of Grimnoah’s 1000 were in the hands of the world’s strongest. That included his classmates, the middle school underclassmen, the Student Council, and the teachers. The number was even greater when including all the ordinary people in all the other domes.
This was different from risking just their own lives to seek revenge.
The weight was bearing down on him, so he took a deep breath before speaking.
“Could we gather them all in one place and bomb them with all our firepower?”
“We’re already exhausted.”
Marika did not explain what she meant, but he caught the implication that an explanation would only bring despair. They might be able to destroy the small Threats individually, but they could not be entirely wiped out. And if even one survived, it would cannibalize the defeated ones to become an even more horrific Threat. After defeating the occasional Threat and finding it only inspired unwanted growth in their foe, Marika and Aine had thrown in the towel. That was why they had resorted to deceptive delaying tactics using decoy defensive positions.
They never would have used delaying tactics if they could win in a direct fight.
Those were the tactics of the losing side.
“First of all, we can’t stay here in this broken dome.”
C World dome was already an icy hell of -15 degrees.
Holing up in a surviving building and cranking up the heat would not be enough. All concrete structures were not made equal; some had better insulating structures than others. The ones inside the dome had been designed for a tropical environment, so they could not keep out the cold.
Not to mention the many Threats lurking in this space. Even if they managed to hide for the time begin, it would not last. They would be found and the battle would begin anew.
Needless to say, the Threat was powerful.
If they were going to fight, they had to go on the offensive.
They could not allow themselves to be caught by surprise while asleep or eating.
“But it also doesn’t look like the other domes will let us in. They expect us to fight the Threat for them. In fact, they even think the Threat is here for us, so it’s our responsibility.”
“Then what? We go outside?” asked Marika. “That’s a -15-degree blizzard, just like in here. Crystal Magic does give some protection against the cold since we have to fly around at high altitudes at Mach speeds, but we won’t last out there forever. I imagine we’ll reach our limit after a full day – 24 hours.”
Aine glanced over at the armed students hanging around a short distance away.
“Just so you know, some of them have suggested we attack another dome and occupy it. Since the B World dome abandoned us, that seems like the best candidate. There have been non-fatal casualties in the high school, such as Yamane Deiri and Matsuda Imi.”
“Stop them from doing that. It wouldn’t solve anything.”
Karuta immediately rejected that idea.
That plan was likely fueled by a desire to protect the middle school, not to run wild out of pent-up frustrations. Karuta understood the desire to look like a proper upperclassman, even if only to keep your own will from breaking.
“Whether you break in through the double-layer front gate or the dome’s exterior, an armed attack will only break the seal and create another -15-degree space. And even if you did manage to take control, that ends once the frustrated ordinary people riot. They do not need magic to blow a hole in the dome wall using a propane tank found behind a restaurant. They would choose to throw out hope themselves.”
“Wh-why would we have to go that far?” Natalena hesitantly spoke up. Her feelings must have been complicated, but she must have decided she could not stay stubbornly silent when everyone’s lives were on the line. “We can fly using Crystal Magic, right? So instead of staying here, um, why not fly across the ocean to escape to the Icelandic mainland?”
“We don’t know how many of the Threat are out there. In fact, it’s recklessly optimistic to assume what we see in here is all of them.” Marika winked with a hand on her hip. “What if they have those anti-air pellet cannon scorpions out in the ocean waiting? If they have the entire Crystal Beach surrounded, flying out there would only get us shot down.”
She had once fought a true dogfight with Susannia of the Problem Solvers, so her superhuman flying skills might be enough to find a spot to slip through the gaps of those wide-range explosions, but they could not force the middle and high school freshmen to do the same thing.
“What will it even accomplish for us to run away?” asked the crystal girl with a tilt of the head that sent her long silver hair swaying. “If humanity has no means of defeating the Threat better than Crystal Magic, then they will continue to pursue us even if we run, destroying any armies that try to stop them. If we escape to Iceland, wouldn’t it only turn Iceland into the next battlefield?”
Natalena was shocked into silence. That must have been a difficult fact to face.
That pure girl had yet to exact her revenge, so she could not let herself bring disaster to innocent people. If she did that, she would lose the right to feel righteous hatred toward her target of revenge.
And sending Marika alone into the storm of explosions to seek rescue would also be fairly meaningless. Any government she went to would demand that the Crystal Magicians do the fighting here.
But how had it worked in the past? They knew the Threat had eliminated cities, states, and countries around the world, but they did not know how that had eventually ended. Only that cities would suddenly disappear. They had never heard of the Threat staying somewhere and setting up a country for themselves, or them gradually expanding their territory of death. It was generally considered to be a series of random attacks where they suddenly appeared and just as suddenly disappeared, like a game of whack-a-mole.
If they stayed here to the end without a plan, they might figure that out firsthand.
Although they would join the dead, unable to pass that information on to anyone else.
The Threat would not spare them on a whim. The Threat’s past actions made it clear they would destroy everything when they made an appearance. Grimnoah’s students were already caught in the center of that unpleasant legend. If they did nothing, they would be killed just like those past examples.
So Karuta decided resistance was the only option.
“We still need to figure out how, but we’ll have to defeat the Threat here. What other choice do we have when running away won’t ensure our safety?”
“B-but we don’t stand a chance, do we?” asked Natalena.
“We know they can be defeated.”
Young Natalena may have found his confidence strange, but he had a reason for it.
“The Problem Solvers fought them off. They couldn’t fully eradicate them, but they still succeeded in saving individual cities.”
“They were as human as we are, so we should be able to do the same thing. At the very least, we proved we’re stronger than God Worshiping Magic on that day.”
Those five had been the worst of the worst and lowest of the low, but Anastasia would have felt no need to lie when she was willing to accept her death whenever it might come. When they had fought the Problem Solvers, they had doubted whether the Threat even existed, but they had to accept it now that they had seen it for themselves.
Those five had been the lowest of scum, but they had still fought to protect the world.
“We know there is a way, so we just have to find it. What we need is time to think, so we need to find that no matter what.”
They must have had a few different options at that point.
They could have remained in the destroyed living spaces of the C World dome, they could have left the dome altogether, or they could have attacked one of the surviving domes to steal their supplies and necessities.
But those were only options in the most abstract sense.
The nervous female teacher hunkered down and shivered as Karuta and the rest looked her way. She could apparently use Crystal Magic, but her focus was on theory. She could not bear the pressure of choice in actual combat.
Kiyosawa Hadome shook his head. He might be able to make the decision itself, but he was not confident that the 1000 students would obey since he inspired so much fear and unease in them. He had not been reincarnated in another world, so the people around him would not just unquestioningly accept everything he said as long as it was correct. Everyone had to bet their own life on their choices here and they would lose everything if they died.
That made this a job for their only Regulation 3 and their Student Council President: Omotesandou Kyouka.
“Don’t you dare say this is because I’m the closest to being old☆”
“No one was even considering that, so why bring it up at all? Putting your foot in your mouth?”
He looked away from the President with the gentle yet scary voice.
He hoped that would make her forget he said anything.
“Anyway, look at this.”
She readily spoke up as if grabbing an invisible card between her fingers and pulling it from the deck.
Her decision here could lead to a great many deaths among the Grimnoah students and the ordinary people. For that matter, it was entirely possible an absolute victory was not even an option here and sacrifices would be unavoidable no matter what they did. Yet she showed no hesitation. Their elected President chose a path for them all.
That was the usual way of things, which might sound simple enough, but it was like performing a tightrope walk between skyscrapers. You only had to stand on the edge of a deadly precipice to realize just how difficult it was.
“Surviving in the great outdoors seems like the best bet we have here.”
Karuta and the others crossed the shattered transparent exterior wall to exit the dome.
The actual temperature could not have changed much, but a chill crawled up from their feet.
They could tell they were now outside, where they were not guaranteed to survive.
Also, the Crystal Beach itself existed on a few artificial islands floating in the ocean. That artificial land had been constructed as an impurity to induce freezing and stop the thawing of the Arctic ice due to global warming. But that alone had been considered a waste of resources, so they had grown into a largescale resort centered around casinos and hotels.
The translucent domes and aquarium-like tunnels were not the entirety of the space.
If they could endure the -15-degree environment, there was plenty of white land there.
And once outside…
Utagai Karuta was digging through the snow. After everything that had happened, they were forced to labor in the cold.
The hellish President had put it this way:
“The frigid environment is effectively identical outside and inside the C World dome, but the limited space of the dome is overrun with the Threat and we only risk an all-out attack if we remain here and are discovered. If the temperature is 15 below freezing either way, it would be safest to put some distance between us and the dome.”
She had made it sound so simple, but she had put some thought into it.
“We also cannot attack the other domes. As Karuta-kun said, damaging the outer walls would let the -15-degree air inside, ruining the survivability of the domes. We have no choice but to fight the cold out here. But to put it another way, our options expand significantly as long as we can clear that -15-degree barrier. We would be able to focus on the fight and we would be able to go on the offensive next time.”
“Pant, pant, gasp. Goddammit.”
“Sacri-sama, you have stopped working. Swearing will not accomplish anything here.”
“Why do we have to make two of them, one for me and one for Aine? And I can’t boost my physical abilities with Crystal Magic armor like the others can!”
They had to deal with the cold somehow, but there was nothing but white snow out here.
Their only option was to make use of that snow.
“I never though my life would depend on playing in the snow like a child.”
“Have you never heard of igloos?” asked Kyouka. “These are homes built from snow bricks by the Inuit who live in Alaska.”
Her wheelchair was nearly useless with the snow jamming up the wheels, so Aine was busy building her igloo. The beautiful girl took the time to watch over the high school boys who had started a snowball fight despite the dire situation and the black bob cut girl from the Student Council who was chasing after them trying to get them to stop.
“The snow bricks have air packed within, giving the igloos the same insulative properties as a down jacket. A house made of solid bricks won’t do much good against the Threat anyway. No matter how much time we spend fortifying our defenses, they’ll be knocked down as easy as a house of straw, so isn’t it the perfect time for quick shelters that are easily built and easily abandoned? Igloos are apparently built as temporary winter homes.”
Their magic gave them a limit of 24 hours out in the cold, but they could reset that by getting rest somewhere warm. Similarly, when fighting the Problem Solvers, they had first acquired a cheap used RV instead of weapons or armor. If you were going to fight, you needed a safe home where you could take your time and think.
“Pant, easily built, gasp, my ass. If you’re, gasp, going to say that, how about you try it? Ugh.”
“How am I supposed to do that in this wheelchair? And why in the world do you think you’re building one for Aine too? She’ll obviously be sharing yours.”
“Wait, is that yours Aine is working on!!!???”
“Done!” said an innocent voice.
Karuta was sticky with sweat despite the blizzard and he looked back to see twintailed Marika already standing next to a completed single room home (making full use of her Crystal Magic armor). She had had enough time left over to find two large palm leaves carried here by the wind and place them on top so the igloo looked something like a snow rabbit.
“Is that good enough? I hope this will get me through the night.”
“The shape of the entrance is special. Adjust it to keep out the cold and it apparently gets fairly warm inside.”
Real igloos were apparently lined with fur to keep the heat in, but these used waterproof tarps instead. Acquiring enough of those for 1000 people might sound difficult, but this was not a natural part of the Arctic. They had apparently come across some kind of construction area, so they could dig through the thick snow to find all kinds of artificial objects.
Thus spoke the reliable President:
“There was an awful lot of empty space outside the dome for an artificial island, so it was simple enough to guess more was either under construction or had been abandoned mid-construction.”
Marika’s snow rabbit became a trendsetter. When the middle schoolers saw it, they began adding personal touches to their own igloos – giving them cat ears of snow or sticking in branches meant to be reindeer antlers. That was also helpful in a practical sense, because it helped them recognize their own igloo out of the otherwise indistinguishable dumpling-like lumps of snow. Although some got carried away, added too much snow, and crushed their own igloo.
The high schoolers had finally ended their snowball fight. Exercise was a good way of staying healthy and dealing with stress, but it was enough to horrify Karuta who had not even finished his own igloo.
“Man, where’d they get all that energy? You would think we were building snow sculptures for a winter festival or something.”
“How is this any different from ordinary homes? The color of the roof has no bearing on your life inside it, but that doesn’t stop people from being particular about those things,” said Marika. “And what’s with you? Have you still not finished your basic igloo?”
“I can’t keep this up. Please, Marika, can I spend the night at your place?”
“My home has no place for unromantic, self-serving guys. Get lost.”
Karuta caught himself before retorting that she had no problem slipping into his dorm room because her room was too full of online shopping packages.
Aine did not seem at all bothered by the cold of the blizzard.
“I have completed the igloo. What should I do now?”
“Well,” said Kyouka. “It’s a little plain as is, so I’d like something to make it stand out as much as Marika-san’s. Could you make two snowmen at the entrance? Something delightful, like the komainu at a shrine.”
“If you’re done, then help me! Actually, don’t steal control of Aine from me in the first place!!”
That President was full of unpleasant surprises. She had a way with words, like she was blessed with a natural ability to manipulate people. Since Aine only tilted her head in silence, she may have belatedly started questioning why she was performing this physical labor for someone other than her supposed master. He guessed that President would find a way to take advantage of the Three Laws of Robotics in approximately a microsecond.
At any rate, Karuta and Aine would be stuck out in the blizzard until his igloo was complete. Since the crystal girl would not do anything until ordered to, he grabbed at her.
Specifically, at those unidentified things on her head.
“Aine, why you were helping her doesn’t matter. Just help me now, okay?”
“Bwagh!? N-no bedroom activities where people can see us!!!!!!”
Her reaction was unbelievably weird.
“That…was a mistake. Oh, no.”
Aine would not bat an eye when she killed someone or had her arm sliced off, yet she just blushed red and shouted something on reflex. Karuta could only stare, but for some reason, the crystal girl only fidgeted uncomfortably and would not explain. Was it possible even she did not understand what that was about?
Then the President held a hand to her grinning mouth.
That was a bad sign. That elite girl was about to unleash some extremely unwelcome mischief.
“How could you do that, Karuta-kun? You do know an animal’s horns are a symbol of its reproductive capability, don’t you?”
“Bhkghd!!!??? Don’t drop bombshells like that with a smile on your face!!”
“I was only stating a simple fact. Now, wait until the two of you are alone to tend to those two things, okay?”
Come to think of it, hadn’t Aine started rubbing those against him when they were alone in the elevator? That was when he had called her weird for wearing that white school swimsuit. What had she meant by that???
“Once your phone has a signal again, I recommend looking up why moose antlers are so big.”
“Does that mean Aine is a quiet but really, uh, ‘horny’ girl!?” asked Marika. “And that’s why she has those two impressive things!?”
“Yes. And you wouldn’t want someone begging you for it in broad daylight, even if you were down for it, would you?”
“Can the both of you please stop making up definitions for who I really am...?”
Anyway, evening had arrived by the time Karuta and Aine finished digging out the snow to make their igloo. They had been attacked by the Threat in the morning and been on the run since, so they had spent almost an entire day out in the icy cold. Plus, they only had this temporary shelter that they would have to abandon immediately if the Threat attacked again.
“It all feels so fruitless.”
And it was not over yet. It could be hard to tell in the Arctic, but it was evening. They had not eaten anything since the hotel’s breakfast buffet that morning, so they were presented with an obvious problem.
“We need to find some food. Water we can get by melting snow with magic.”
“Dammit, can’t we solve all of this with Crystal Magic? There are plenty of harvest goddesses, right? Like Sif from Norse mythology, Kisshoten from Buddhism, or Demeter from Greek mythology. Let’s worship those powerful ladies to get some bread and rice popping out of thin air.”
“Hmm, all of that magic is used to boost your power by eating divine food, so overusing it would probably destroy your body from within. Karuta-kun, don’t come crying to me if you turn immortal and find you can’t cut your eternally-growing hair and nails.”
The President’s comment shut Karuta up. It sounded like they would have to figure something out on their own. Weren’t there any gods that would provide help but not too much help, like the Kasa Jizou? But in that case…
“We can’t go to the other domes for help and we can’t go fishing even with the ocean all around us.”
He sat down in front of his igloo and brought a hand to his forehead. He was in no mood to join Yamane Deiri and Nekoumi Hirosuke in their snowball fight. He wanted to get some rest. And what did he most want to eat in his freezing and exhausted state?
“I guess our only option is to sneak back into the C World dome and nab some food there.”
“Isn’t the Threat there?”
Marika was exactly right.
“We can’t send all 1000 of us in. We’ll need to focus on stealth instead of power. Omotesandou-san, can I select some people to go with me?”
“If you can look after them.”
That was the natural thing for a Student Council President to ask, but it was also the most difficult task. His twintailed childhood friend only shrugged. She must have known that was not the job for her. Karuta only knew he would be bringing Aine with him. Also, they needed to go a step further to solidify their position here.
He called out to someone, making them jump, but it was not a middle school or high school student.
It was one of the ordinary people he had brought here – probably a waitress.
“Wh-what do you want? Are you kicking us out to have fewer mouths to feed?”
Her tone had changed so much from earlier. How much did she fear him?
(Well, she did turn on the world’s strongest, so that isn’t too surprising.)
He only had to think back on Elicia, Yukino, and how many people had been lost in the First Out Incident. Plus, this woman was ignorant of magic.
She was dressed in extra layers since she did not have magic to protect her and Karuta let out a white sigh.
“Don’t give up hope that quickly. We’re risking our lives out here too, so if you won’t work to help us, we won’t help you.”
“But we treated you so badly, we had to get you to build our igloos, and we can’t do anything for you.”
“Then how about you pay us back to make up for that?” He made a casual suggestion. “Give me some information I don’t already have. If that can help everyone, then we’re even.”
He had her explain the structure of the artificial island and they walked the perimeter of the igloo area to check it out.
“Natalena, if you’re free, then help me out some. We need to get some food.”
“You too, Firenze-sensei. I want your help too. You use Vayu, right? Then let’s take a quick trip out to the front line that’s crawling with the Threat.”
“What!? But why? I only do theory! I never even considered the idea of fighting myself!!”
The nervous teacher’s shouts ridded Natalena of her complaints. She still pouted her lips, but she followed his instructions. Yes, seeing someone panicking more than you had a calming effect on people. It made them want to correct their own behavior.
Muscular Kiyosawa Hadome put his hands on his hips.
“What about me?”
“What god do you use again?”
“Horus. But a modified version that intentionally conflates Horus the Elder with Horus the Younger.”
“So Egyptian mythology’s sun god? And we also have that nuisance of a Kagutsuchi user named Yamane Deiri, so you two work together to provide heat for everyone. The high insulation of the igloos should be enough from a theoretical perspective, but it should still put everyone at ease to see some actual fire.”
The man quietly clicked his tongue, but he did not seem to mean anything by it and must have accepted that as a practical use of his abilities.
He could not drag his classmates into this – not Yamane Deiri, not Nekoumi Hirosuke, not Matsuda Imi, and not Hashizaki Tayori. They had been fighting as a group before, but things would be very different one-on-one. Just like listening as part of the student body was much less nerve-wracking than speaking to them alone. They might panic once they were face-to-face with the true Threat.
Kyouka held a hand to her mouth and laughed.
“Are you sure this is good enough?”
“I doubt I could look after any more than this.”
“We’re talking about food for 1000. Even a chocolate bar each will mean 10 attaché cases.”
“We’ll figure something out. Okay, members of the Student Council, I hate to ask this of you, but please take care of Omotesandou-san while we’re gone.”
“This is where she belongs in the first place.”
“This is where she belongs in the first place.”
The black bob cut girl and redheaded girl with buns frowned at him and refused to let go of the wheelchair’s handles. It looked like they would start fighting over her between themselves before long.
Karuta’s group left their secret base with the beautiful Student Council President seeing them off.
Instead of taking a straight shot toward the C World dome, they took an intentional detour. They had no idea what might give away their presence and they definitely could not use Crystal Magic to fly.
The female teacher grew tearful as she trudged through the snow.
“Ugh, are we really stuck with a 4-person party?” she asked. “Modern RPGs let you swap out party members at will, you know?”
“Eh? You look into that kind of thing for your theoretical work? Um, uh, is that because of the influence from Greek and Norse mythology?”
“Not really. I just like the feeling of gradual growth in those games. I prefer the slow and steady method.”
Natalena seemed surprised by that and the teacher bent over a bit. She may have been shrinking down out of embarrassment. Also, the girl had her Crystal Magic armor open. As long as she did not open up those scales of hers, she could apparently use them to silently slide along the ground.
(So she has to switch between modes for mobility and attacking? It’s a convenient power, but it has its flaws.)
Mentioning that would probably have started an argument and the Threat could notice that, so Karuta held his tongue.
Even from a distance, they could tell the C World dome had collapsed.
(I don’t see any of those flying ones in the air. Do they use more energy flying than staying on the ground?)
Of course, it was unclear if the concepts of exhaustion and waste even existed for the Threat.
The translucent dome had protected the interior from the elements, but it had almost entirely crumbled away, leaving the artificial beach and tourist town seemingly frozen in time by ice. There were still so many questions about what the Threat was doing. They were attached to the frozen asphalt and building walls, but they did not seem to be destroying anything or resupplying. They left a fair amount of space between themselves, but they were still gathered together. When patrolling their territory and scouting outside their territory, did they only use those slipper-sized bugs? They were not piled on top of each other or pushing past each other. They apparently did not step over their own kind when not in a hurry.
Natalena must have really not wanted to be spotted by the Threat because she crouched down despite already being hidden by a large boulder.
“What are they doing?”
“I dunno. They don’t seem to be searching out heat or consuming oil or electricity like you would expect of a machine.”
That said, snails could tear away the surface of a rock to eat that. The Threat’s biology was a mystery, so he doubted they would find an answer right away.
There were a lot of them, but they were all gathered around the main street. It looked like the dome had collapsed because they had wanted more ways in and did not care about defense. Karuta’s group sought out a position where the tall buildings alongside the main road blocked them from view and then they crossed the border formed by the broken dome.
It was the same inside as outside. Their feet still crunched through snow and large icicles hung from the frozen palm trees. The decorative fountains had frozen solid. The fountains’ underground water pipes may have ruptured.
“Sacri-sama. You said we are here for food, but where exactly are we supposed to find that?”
“The shopping center.”
They had to go for some place with enough stock for 1000 people.
With the various sizes of the Threat gathered on the main road, Karuta’s group used a smaller road running parallel to that. However, they could not let their guard down since they knew those slipper-sized scout and reconnaissance units also existed. Even if those could not fight, a single alarm sent out using firefly-like phosphorescence or pheromones would begin an all-out war.
The flying ones appeared to be stopped on the ground, but that did not mean all of them were. They made sure to stay below roofs as much as possible.
They made their way past a collapsed parking garage (presumably destroyed by the Threat) and approached a shopping facility larger than a school building. The Threat had destroyed the town at breakfast time, so it had been abandoned before opening for the day. The security shutter was still down over the entrance, but Aine’s sword sliced it away like a hot knife through butter.
The lights were off inside, so it would be dark at any time of day or night. The row of registers had signs written in multiple languages. This must have functioned as a duty-free shop for foreign tourists, not a neighborhood supermarket for locals.
“Bingo. We should find industrial cases full of food in here.”
“Sacri-sama, what exactly should we get?”
And just to make him feel better, something not from Susannia’s farms.
“Keep in mind that we can get as much water as we want by melting snow. A thousand people’s worth is a lot, so we want as much nutritional value for the weight as we can get. That rules out canned, bagged, and frozen foods. They already have their moisture, which adds a lot of weight.”
“C-can you really survive just eating freeze-dried stuff? But, um, uh, I guess our houses really are just a roof and walls to keep out the cold, so they don’t have kitchens. But still.”
“Then you take a look at the shelves yourself, Natalena.”
Karuta pointed at the perishable food section and she was dumbfounded by what she saw.
The drinks bottles had all burst from within and then frozen solid. The vegetables and fish were either covered in white frost or their surface had grown toxically discolored.
“You may have forgotten with your magic protecting you, but this is a frozen hell of -15 degrees. Have you never been told not to store drink bottles in the freezer?”
“With boxed, bagged, or canned foods, either the container will burst or the contents will go bad. The only edible things here would be the freeze-dried foods, the chocolate, and anything else that doesn’t need moisture.”
“Wh-what about the frozen foods? They’re already frozen.”
Sophia Firenze had a point.
But they ran into a different problem there.
“Sensei, chocolate bars are the gold standard for emergency food, but a bar each for 1000 people still comes out to 10 attaché cases. With freeze-dried blocks of miso soup, a meal is less than 10 grams, but you have to multiply that by 1000. We’re talking about 10 kg.”
She could get greedy if she liked, but they might not be able to escape safely if they were lugging a giant container with them. They would be helpless if the Threat spotted them mid-transit. Those flying ones could be going on irregular patrols for all they knew. If they were spotted, they would have to abandon the food they had worked so hard to gather.
And the danger did not end there.
Their residential district of igloos was hard to see from a distance since it blended into the white scenery. The layered snow had an insulating effect, so their body heat might be difficult to detect as well. But that was not a guarantee. If they were found, they would have to abandon all that and retreat. Having a bunch of food they had to lug around with them would not be ideal. And the more they would have to abandon, the more reluctant they would be to leave. If that made them slow to make a decision, they were much more likely to die.
They continued further into the dark shopping center while on the lookout for those small scout and reconnaissance Threats and they filled shopping carts with cardboard boxes of soup and risotto. A surprising amount was imported from Japan. The packaging had been remade in English, but a lot was the exact same products seen in Japanese convenience stores and supermarkets. It did not look like Susannia’s products either.
The 12-year-old blonde girl noticed the things they were taking from the shelves.
“Hm? Risotto? And curry rice too. I’m surprised how many vegetables you can get with this.”
“Well, rice is the standard grain to be rehydrated for eating. I’m surprised you didn’t know that, Natalena. Does that mean you actually cook for yourself a lot? As young as you are, I’m impressed.”
“Th-that is not impressive and what does age have to do with it!? That just means you’re lazy!!”
Karuta took offense at that since he would make his own lunches from time to time. He would prefer that label be applied to Marika, the combat-obsessed girl who would swipe things from his lunch when he let his guard down.
“Heh heh. I risked my life coming out here, so I deserve a special treat☆”
The flaxen-hair teacher grabbed an item not on their list. It too was a Japanese product, but this was a cup of instant noodles with a fairly high price tag due to a famous restaurant’s brand name on the package. If that was a treat she considered worth her life, he had to wonder about her usual diet.
Also, milk was too heavy as a liquid, but cereal like corn flakes had a good weight to nutrition ratio. They would have to eat them dry like cookies or crackers, but it was better than nothing. He could guess it would be spiritually taxing if freeze-dried foods were all they had.
“In that sense, instant coffee or tea might not be a bad choice.”
“But those have no nutritional value. If you need caffeine, there are plenty of more convenient products like gum and tablets.”
“It’s not about the caffeine.”
It was to maintain their mental health. And these only required adding hot water, just like the freeze-dried foods. Meanwhile, Aine tilted her head and asked a question while pushing a shopping cart with both hands.
“How are we going to return? If we are to safely escape the C World dome while it is crawling with the Threat, we should probably split into a transport team and a defense team.”
Natalena’s shoulders jumped. Yes, the more they brought back with them, the more it would restrict their movement. Greed would only increase their odds of death.
But Karuta smiled as he responded.
“No, there’s an easier way.”
He led them all to the back of the shopping center. That area normally held the processing space for meat and fish as well as the staff breakroom, but he could guess they would find something else here too.
After locating what he was looking for, he placed a hand on the floor and pulled up on the handle there.
That revealed a cylindrical pipe about as thick as a washing machine drum.
“Wh-what is that?”
“A water pipe, Sensei. The C World dome is an icy wasteland now, but it was an artificial tropical beach before. The flowers and trees couldn’t last unless they were constantly running sprinklers of desalinated seawater. The dome covered everything above, so they couldn’t hope for any rain.”
The non-Grimnoah people had informed him that each dome desalinated its own water and large water pipes were laid out between the domes so they could share that water if another dome’s water facility malfunctioned. It worked much like the central heating in that sense. That meant this pipe led outside of the broken C World dome. Their igloo zone was located between domes, so it was perfect for them.
Natalena frowned, perhaps because she had imagined the water pipe as something like an aquarium’s underwater tunnel.
“Are you, um, saying we are going to return through here?”
“It’s an interesting idea, but that thing is kilometers long. I’m pretty sure Sensei and I would hurt our backs trying that.”
“I-it’s too small for me too! How small do you think I am!?”
He called out to Aine and the emotionless girl brought a hot water dispenser out of an office. It was unclear if the place still had power, but the dispenser was built like a thermos and it still retained some heat. The fact that the container had not burst from within meant it still had liquid water inside.
Karuta opened the lid to check. There was no actual steam, but it had been a while since he saw actual water like that.
“Sensei, your Crystal Blossom contains the name of Vayu, right?”
“Western magic cabals use that name to refer to the element of wind or air and they symbolize it with a blue circle. But follow that back to its source, and it refers to a god of nature among the Hindu Devas – a wind god to be exact. He is said to be the guardian deity of the northwest direction and the father of Hanuman.”
While confirming all that with her, he poured the precious water into the pipe.
Then he let her take over.
“Okay, send some wind into the pipe, if you don’t mind. Make the strength about…yes, about 30m/s. At this temperature, that should be enough to freeze over the entire inside of the kilometers-long pipe.”
“Oh.” Natalena placed a hand over her mouth in slight surprise. “Senpai, is that what you’re doing?”
“Yes, an air conveyor. They’re normally meant to send light objects like letters or documents, though.”
In her tight skirt suit, Sophia Firenze held her hands out in front.
Karuta wondered when the translucent armor was going to appear, but then she started muttering something like a monotone prayer.
“An approximate intersection of 15 and 75. By the solar calendar, it is 05021630, but convert that into Samvatsara. I summon thee from the south and exorcise thee to the north-northwest. The word of power is ddefz. The string of letters has no meaning and is only a one-time pillar to support this contract.”
Karuta’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Um? What are you doing???”
“Constructing the proper syntax given our current coordinates, the current time and date, and from which direction the power will be coming. The sharing of secrets strengthens the contract and, um… the planetary arrangement most likely to have an effect? That’s going to be tricky. We’re in the Arctic, so the apparent rotation might not be what we expect.”
“D-don’t give me that look!! This is how Crystal Magic was originally performed. You just aren’t aware of it because you skip past it all by using those small circuit boards!!”
If they had wasted their time on such a lengthy ceremony in front of the Problem Solvers, they would have been dealt with in some cruel way while still alive. Or maybe those five would have held their sides and erupted in laughter while letting them complete their transformation sequence.
“Umm, Sensei? If you don’t hurry it up, all the water is going to freeze.”
“I know that!! List out the locations of the wandering stars based on the location of the sun and the moon. Use human wisdom to visualize the unseen lines of power created from the conflict between the energy raining down from space and the energy rising from the Original Crystal Embryo at the earth’s core! We are the managers of the arcane who borrow the power of the gods and predict every last cataclysm!!”
She waved her hands around as translucent armor decorated her. It had a different look when paired with that tight skirt suit instead of the blazer uniforms Karuta was used to seeing. And what was that weapon supposed to be? She carried a large circle on her back with small circular saws arranged at even intervals like it was a clockface. It looked something like the drums of the Japanese Raijin. Did she use it while on her back, or did she grab it and swing it around? At any rate, this was Vayu – a wind god in the East and a blue circle in the West.
“You look like an overgrown magical girl,” said Aine with a tilt of her head.
“Utagai-kun, what kind of cruel deep learning have you been giving that girl?”
“I’m sorry, but I honestly have no idea where that came from. Aine! There’s such a thing as being too honest.”
He found an unexpected landmine here. The topic of her age was apparently off limits.
Anyway, the nervous teacher removed the circle from her back, held it out in both hands, and activated some cutting-edge magic.
“All that precise and traditional setup and you end it like that!?”
Natalena trembled for some reason, but the gust of wind was sent racing down the pipe. The limited amount of drinking water froze evenly across every bit of the kilometers-long pipe, creating a layer of ice a few millimeters thick.
With their preparations complete, Karuta flicked the Crystal Blossom at his chest.
Those things could be used for more than creating unknown armor and transforming a teacher into a magical girl.
“Omotesandou-san, we’re all ready here. Are things ready on the receiving end?”
“They are. You froze the interior to reduce friction, right? We checked inside just to be sure and there were no slipper-sized Threats inside on this end, so there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. The pipe is clean.”
They packed the freeze-dried emergency food inside plastic containers they found behind the shopping center and dropped those into the pipe.
Sophia was nervous despite being the key to all this.
“A-are you sure this will work? Won’t the containers make a lot of noise sliding through there even with the interior of the pipe frozen?”
“That’s an industrial pipe meant to carry literal tons of water every minute. Water makes a lot of noise in pipes when it has enough air inside, but the place hasn’t received any noise complaints. I bet we could do karaoke in there and no one outside would hear a peep.”
Karuta did not actually have any data to back that up, but his seal of approval was apparently enough to put her at ease. She looked somehow relieved as she held her hands out.
It was like an artillery shell.
Or maybe a model linear motor train.
With a sound of scraping ice, the plastic container vanished into the pipe in the blink of an eye. From there, they repeated the process. Every time Omotesandou Kyouka called them at the other end to say they had retrieved the container, they would send the next one.
“C-couldn’t we have managed some heavier things with this method? Like the frozen foods?”
The teacher apparently still had some regrets.
She may have found a foreign version of some product she loved to eat back in Japan.
But Karuta could only shrug.
“Freeze-dried miso soup is the size of an eraser, but frozen foods are the size of a plate. That size and weight means we would need to send several containers through to secure 1000 servings.”
“And if we didn’t send back enough for everyone, people would feel cheated. It has to be 0 or 1000. Do you want to split Grimnoah in two before we even fight the Threat again?”
They were interested in nutritional value not because they wanted to live a healthy life but because they wanted to be in their top form when fighting the Threat. Tearing their group apart with unnecessary luxuries would defeat the purpose of all of this.
“So hand over those fancy instant noodles, Sensei. I’m confiscating them.”
“Y-you’re mean, Utagai-kun!!”
With her personal interest removed, she ended up sending the plastic containers through entirely mechanically. Once they reached a certain amount, they were done. Now they had to safely escape the C World dome themselves. And safely here meant for themselves and for the secret base. They could not lead the Threat back there.
“Karuta-kun, you scored a perfect 100 there. Good work,” said Kyouka over his Crystal Blossom.
“If you want to treat yourselves to anything, eat it there. Bringing it back here will only make everyone else feel cheated.”
He could not agree more, but he doubted any of them would want to eat hot food (and all the steam and smells that entailed) in this -15-degree hell where the Threat could spot them at any time. Doing so would be like asking the Threat to surround them and kill them at their leisure. Hunger was viewed as the representative biological urge, but it was influenced a surprising amount by one’s mental state.
“Um, Utagai-kun? About those instant noodles. Um.”
Well, one of them was a hopeless incarnation of hunger, but it would probably be best to have her break free of that. Natalena supposedly loathed Karuta, but not even she took the teacher’s side against him.
“Let’s head back.”
“Senpai, I thought you would be more mistrusting than this.”
The 12-year-old blonde girl provided a strange assessment of him.
He looked puzzled, so the self-proclaimed avenger pouted her lips.
“I mean, how long has the Threat occupied this place now? Who knows how intelligent they are, but wouldn’t they have had time to poison the food at random?”
A Metal-Derived Autonomous-Origin Higher Lifeform Combat Weapon.
Now that he had seen them for himself, they did not seem like a lifeform at all. If they ran on electricity, gas, or petroleum, they would not even need a livable environment. They would be able to keep on marching even if they were engulfed in poison gas or napalm. That was only an assumption, but it was true they had not hesitated to tear down the dome and destroy the summer environment when they attacked.
His thoughts turned in a different direction.
“That’s it. Why didn’t I think of that!?”
“(Ehh? Do we really have to mess with this???)”
“(Be quiet, Sensei. In fact, you should be using your Crystal Blossom to speak.)”
“(But we already did our job. I’m sick of all this danger, so let’s get home already!)”
Sophia Firenze made a comment very much like a civil servant, but had she forgotten there was no rest for them until they had eradicated the Threat here? Karuta really wished she would take a lesson from her muscular colleague.
They were peeking out from behind a building to view the main road. That pure white hell was covered in the bizarrely-shaped Threat protected by their inorganic black armor.
Some resembled sea creatures like octopuses and crabs, some resembled insects like ants or mantises, and some resembled carnivorous plants or hunks of mold. There was a lot of variety, but they all seemed to have been based off of existing plants and animals. They also had inorganic elements like a coffin mouth or revolver legs, but none of them appeared to have a base structure modeled after a tank or fighter craft.
Karuta pulled his head back behind cover.
“I was right. They cannibalize their own, but they do have some sense of camaraderie. At the very least, they don’t seem to eat their own until one has been damaged beyond repair.”
“Ugh. Um, uh, well, what does that matter?” asked young Natalena.
“I want to get a look at the broken remains,” he responded. “Specifically, I want to note what parts they make sure to cannibalize. If we know that, we can ‘poison’ those parts. Which could mean a bomb or a computer virus.”
The blonde girl let her voice out without thinking and quickly slapped her hands over her mouth.
He mimicked forming a fist.
“The Threat’s individual power is a problem, but it’s the way they cannibalize their own to customize themselves that makes them truly frightening. The more you defeat, the more they evolve. But what if we used that against them? Calling it ‘negative growth’ might be confusing, but if we feed them ‘poison’, we can stop that infinite customization.”
“We can eradicate the Threat. And the first step is investigating their remains. Did you see any already-eaten ones around?”
“Sacri-sama,” called Aine while pointing with the tip of her see-through sword. There was a lump of snow there. It was hard to tell at a distance, but it was probably taller than they were.
“Wouldn’t a Threat be buried below the snow there?” pointed out the crystal girl.
He thought his heart would stop. He and Natalena ended up in each other’s arms without meaning to and it took her a few seconds before she finally noticed and threw a small slap.
His throbbing cheek hurt, but the heat reminded him he was alive.
They carefully approached the lump of snow, Aine stabbed her sword tip in just a bit on his orders, and a white mass crumbled down to the ground.
Their eyes met a red glassy eyeball.
This must have been one of the scorpions that used pellets and lasers. It had been badly scorched, so it must have been caught in one of Marika’s laser bombings.
They were all rendered speechless.
Utagai Karuta could not guess what would allow him to define this clump of cold, hard armor as “alive”. At the very least, you could not check it for breath or a pulse. If it was only feigning death, they would be wiped out here.
They waited a while, but nothing happened.
But even that did not mean it had not sent out some wireless signal to call in the swarm.
“Sacri-sama.” Aine’s head remained tilted. “Standing here will not improve matters. It appears to have ceased functioning, so shouldn’t you begin your investigation?”
“How can you be so sure it’s ceased functioning?”
“The joints are frozen solid. Whether biological or mechanical, it will be unable to move.”
Sure enough, weapons could freeze too. In the wars of an older age, invading tanks had been stopped by the harsh winter cold and pilots of high-altitude spy planes had apparently feared stalling due to freezing. If this were functioning properly as a machine, it made sense to assume it would have acted to prevent this before it happened.
After brushing away the thick snow, they found it was even more badly damaged than they thought.
Marika’s aerial bombing was not enough to explain this. The thorax? Or abdomen? Whatever you called the scorpion-like collection of curved armor had burst from within like a balloon, its insides had spilled out, and more than half the legs and the hands it had in place of pincers had been torn off at the base. Same for the tail that made it look most scorpion-like. That would be due to the cannibalization. As mechanical as it was, this was still not a pleasant sight.
Natalena looked around nervously.
“Wh-what are we even looking for?”
“Anything that’s missing or incomplete. Like the weapons, the power system, the processor, and maybe the anti-shock system and armor too? We just need to know what they cannibalize first.”
Only after speaking did he realize he was looking at it as a machine rather than a living creature.
Did he simply not want to think of it as anything like him, or did he not like digging through the burst guts of a living creature, even if it was an enemy? That he could not say.
Anyway, the scorpion was larger than a dump truck. Even in its collapsed state, they had to look up at it. They ignored the surviving legs, grabbed at the parts that were jutting out like a burst can, and found they had to gradually climb up it to check inside.
While doing that, Karuta finally peeked into the torn wound.
That sounded simple, but how many humans had ever done it? The Problem Solvers had apparently sporadically fought and repelled the Threat, but had they ever looked inside one? Sophia had created a model based on information they sent her, but had that reproduced the inside as well?
“…………………………………………………………………………………………………What the hell?”
He froze in place, so Aine tilted her head with sword in hand.
However, he did not think he could answer right away.
His breathing was heavy, his heart felt tight, and static was encroaching on the corners of his vision.
What is that doing here?
That was the only thought on his mind. He wanted to deny it, but he had to accept it when it was right there in front of him. The idea that seeing is believing was not a welcome one at the moment.
Finally, the new world’s strongest managed to speak.
“Does the name Smart Arms ring a bell?”
Sophia and Natalena both frowned. Not recognizing it was the normal reaction, but the pale-skinned crystal girl answered without hesitation.
“That is a giant weapons company based in America’s Silicon Valley. They own the weapons plant that manufactured the special-order cyborg parts that created Susannia Evans, one of the Problem Solvers, and that was where Anastasia Blast went into hiding in the end.”
The gasp of course came from Natalena. Susannia was the main topic at hand, but she must have reacted to Anastasia’s name.
“W-wait. Um, why are you bringing up that weapons plant now!?”
“Because of what I see here.” Karuta responded with a look that said he did not want to accept this any more than she did. “The manufacturer’s name isn’t actually printed on the parts, but I saw the parts that Susannia scattered in that Northern European crater. These are identical. These must be unmanned weapons created by that company!!”
“Don’t you think we could make a bath like this?”
“Don’t get greedy. The igloo would collapse on top of you.”
Matsuda Imi and Hashizaki Tayori held a secret discussion while melting the snow with their magic. Girls like them saw a bath as a necessity on the same level as food and shelter, but it was looking like the most they could manage was wiping themselves down with a towel soaked in hot water. At any rate, Karuta’s group had left to find some food, so Amaashi Marika had some work to do while they were gone.
“I will be borrowing a few of them.”
“Of course. But make sure you keep an eye on them,” insisted the Student Council President in a way that hinted at more behind her smile.
Imi and Tayori noticed Marika then.
“Oh? What’s this? Headed out on an errand? Can we help?”
“You two continue researching ways to make a bath. That’s a life-or-death issue.”
“Then could you go find us something sturdier than an igloo made of snow? With a metal container or something, I bet we could make a girl’s bath for ourselves.”
Marika assumed they were mostly joking.
“Wait.” A gym(?) teacher interrupted her with arms crossed. She thought his name Kiyosawa Hadome. “Bring me with you. I can’t have you heading out without a teacher.”
“You let Karuta go.”
“He had Firenze-sensei with him. You never know what will happen, so having an adult with you gives you someone to take responsibility after a mistake.”
Marika sighed so no one would notice.
(Well, this isn’t part of the plan, but more people should help, I guess.)
“Good luck out there.”
The twintail girl left the igloo zone with a makeshift unit. Unlike Karuta, they were using Crystal Magic to fly at an extreme low altitude of less than a meter. If they could avoid crashing into the ground, this would eliminate any footprints.
“Um, Senpai, why are we the only ones with an extra job to do? Did we draw the short straw?”
Marika was accompanied by Sanae and Alice of the Sub Category’s Regulation 1. Karuta had focused a lot on them since that made it easier to manage the entire class.
(Although I bet the kids saw through that right away.)
She could not even sigh about it anymore.
She answered their question while flying to their destination.
“It was a random choice. We just needed some people. And it had to be people who can remain calm.”
They were out here as scouts, but their target was not the Threat that had attacked the Crystal Beach.
“We want to know how much damage was done to the Crystal Beach as a whole. Can you two split up and check the outside of the domes? Obviously, you can’t let the Threat spot you, but you also can’t cause any trouble with the ordinary people evacuated into those domes. We’re only here to gather information, so focus on stealth. Make sure none of the people in those domes can sneak a peek up your skirt while you fly by overhead, okay?”
“Sure thing,” they said lazily before splitting up and flying away.
Kiyosawa Hadome seemed unsure whether to focus on the middle schoolers or Marika, who he was now left alone with, but he ended up doing his own thing. He seemed to be checking the domes and clear tunnels he had been assigned while also searching out points that gave him as wide a view as possible. Marika immediately picked up on what he was doing since she was a skilled sniper.
He could not leave this in the hands of the students since they were angry with the ordinary people who had kicked them out of safety and they might want to destroy the domes to take those people down with them. His was a normal enough way of thinking, but this -15-degree weather tended to keep people from thinking in the normal way.
Marika checked over her assigned area. But as far as she could see, this area was peaceful, unlike the C World dome. There was not a scratch on the translucent domes and the artificial summer environment within remained intact. The rows of palm trees blowing in the wind and the colorful birds and butterflies were all very much alive. The supply of power and gas did not appear to have stopped.
Once the agreed-upon time arrived, Marika regrouped with Sanae, Alice, and the teacher.
“Nothing to report about the G World dome.”
“Same with L World.”
Kiyosawa Hadome started to say something, but Marika held out a hand to stop him.
The twintails girl put her other hand on her hip while floating in midair.
“Nothing caught your attention other than the dome?”
“No, not really.”
“I didn’t find anything either. The Threat wasn’t there and the lucky people inside didn’t seem to be rioting or anything.”
“Hm,” Marika nodded and then added something else too quiet to be heard. “I see.”
From a technical perspective, it may have been possible.
The bodies were made of metal. They were based on known plants and animals but with manmade objects like coffins and revolvers added in. No one could tell Susannia Evans was a cyborg at first glance, so human technology had reached a point where it could mimic biological creatures.
But was this really possible?
“The Threat was manmade?” asked a trembling Natalena Blast.
She had started using Crystal Magic for her revenge, but she must have felt guilty deceiving her classmates while taking her lessons. She clearly looked like she had touched on a horrific taboo.
“Then what was the point of any of this!? Not just me! My sister and the rest of the Problem Solvers worked so hard to protect the world!!”
For a moment, Utagai Karuta’s thoughts turned to the string pullers operating from the shadows of the world. If they could manipulate each successive generation of world’s strongest, wasn’t it possible they had set everything up themselves by inventing a convenient villain?
He thought for a while, but finally reached a conclusion.
“It just doesn’t fit. If all they cared about was starting wars for profit, they could have just made a human villain. They wouldn’t have needed anything on as large a scale as the Threat.”
“For now, let’s assume the Threat is real.”
He took a deep breath and then worked at bringing themselves back on course here.
Yes. He had seen a speculative clay model of the Threat in Grimnoah’s faculty room, so he should have considered this possibility earlier.
“But what we’re fighting here isn’t the real one. Someone other than us has investigated the Threat, so what if they created a decoy version that they could train against to more efficiently combat the Threat?”
In other words, these were not based on existing plants and animals.
They were made as a stand in for the real Threat.
“Smart Arms would have been a likely choice. Susannia and Anastasia trusted that company to the very end. It makes sense they would have sent remains and data back to Smart Arms whenever they defeated a Threat.”
But even if that were the case, it did not solve the immediate problem.
In other words…
A late sunset arrived.
They only had freeze-dried food and chocolate to eat, but having something to eat made all the difference. The students lined up to get some food and breathed a sigh of relief at having that “peace of mind” in hand.
The most popular item was the tea. They must have been more interested in comfort than nutrition.
“E-excuse me, but there is a reason why we use a porcelain pot.”
The waitress became very popular after revealing a trick to making it taste better. She was still awkward, but she gradually managed to smile. Karuta doubted she would talk about owing them anything anymore.
“Good work today, Natalena.”
“Please stop speaking to me, Senpai. Um, I will be heading back after drinking this rooibos tea, so- hot, hot, hot.”
She apparently had trouble with hot drinks. She held the cup between her hands and repeatedly tested it by sticking out her small tongue. But she also wanted to warm herself up, so she could not cool the cup in the snow.
“You do everything in the cutest way possible, don’t you?”
“Do you enjoy stabbing people in the back with a smile on your face? Hot.”
She apparently wanted to drive her point home and leave like a grownup avenger, but the cup’s heat made that impossible. She could not leave yet, so she ended up shrinking down and slowly sipping at the tea next to him.
Meanwhile, the high school girls seemed more interested in the plastic containers than the food those had carried. Imi and Tayori were whispering to each other.
“Will these work?”
“They totally will. You can fit in one if you keep your knees up, right? And I’ve heard of some true madwomen who used metal basins and stainless steel sinks as baths.”
Sanae was again drinking her special drink made by adding a pinch of salt to plain water. Karuta doubted it had any real flavor, but she seemed satisfied.
Meanwhile, he asked the Student Council President about something.
“If that is true, this is not going to be easy.”
Omotesandou Kyouka readily raised the white flag.
He had hoped for some help here, so that was a problem.
“Then we’re supposed to just sit around and wait!?”
“Grimnoah alone has 1000 possible targets. And Domes A and B have many times that many so-called civilians. Actually, is the person commanding the weapons even here at the Crystal Beach? Couldn’t they be safe and sound typing on a keyboard on the other side of the planet?”
“I won’t suggest anything as silly as the weapons gaining a mind of their own and deciding to wipe out the human race, but what if they were infected with a virus that altered their priority settings? Self-driving cars can be converted into deadly weapons by changing the gas and brake values linked to someone’s facial recognition data. Think of it like a land-based guided missile on tires.”
If they were only talking about possibilities, the wings of imagination could take them anywhere.
But they needed to figure out who was behind this and fast.
“Any ideas, Marika?”
“No. There’s no way of narrowing it down at this point.”
She responded as if to say that was not her job.
But something she said caught his attention.
“At this point?”
“I’m just saying the answer should become clear after a few more casualties. But you don’t want that, right?”
It was out of the question. But the President apparently had something to say about that.
“If someone is operating them, why didn’t they immediately attack this secret base? Did they simply lose sight of us? Or is it an inside job and they’re afraid of being caught in the Threat’s surprise attack?”
Either way, discussing this further did not sound like it would lead to any productive ideas.
Karuta sighed and started to leave, but…
“No warning everyone, okay?” said Kyouka from behind him. “Since you haven’t suggested it yet, I assume you already know the risk, but if you even hint we might have a spy among us, what little order we’ve managed here will collapse. Either Grimnoah will split apart or they’ll start to discuss attacking one of the surviving domes. Simply put, it will trigger a witch hunt.”
“I know that.”
This time, he did leave.
He heard footsteps crunching through the snow and turned to find Aine.
“What should I do?” she asked.
“I would like you to stand guard. At least for tonight.”
Grimnoah was a school, but its students were being trained to fight. They naturally had a rotation of guards set up already, but they were only looking for the large Threats that might attack from the outside. They were not considering a danger that might approach as a smiling and waving human. Karuta watched the students laughing together while eating their meager dinners. He hated being unable to warn them of the danger they were in.
What if the villain came from one of the other domes disguised as an evacuee?
What if the villain was secretly holding the controller among the Grimnoah students and teachers?
“I suggest you get some sleep to recover, Sacri-sama.”
“We all need to do that. And it isn’t all bad news. I think I’m right about being able to defeat the Threat – or whatever they are – by ‘poisoning’ them to stop their endless evolution. We are making progress. And someone other than me should be able to set up that ‘poisoning’.”
He was simply sick of it all.
The first Grimnoah had sunk, he had lost so many friends and acquaintances like Kazamuki Gekiha, and his life had been thrown off the rails. He never would have become the world’s strongest without that, but he would have been able to live an ordinary school life.
It had taken building a second ship, but he had regained that lost school life.
It was distorted some by his position as the world’s strongest and he had ended up in a position above even the adult teachers, but he had regained something he had thought was forever lost.
He could not abandon that so easily.
That included Yamane Deiri, Nekoumi Hirosuke, Matsuda Imi, Hashizaki Tayori, the underclassman like Sanae and Alice, and the Student Council Treasurer and Secretary. All the boys and girls gathered at Grimnoah were the people who Karuta’s shattered dream had resonated with. They had brought back his school life from the bottom of the ocean. They may not have been aware of it, but the boring classes and laughter of the Second Grimnoah had undoubtedly healed his damaged soul. Each one of them had grabbed one of the shattered pieces and brought it back together.
One of the igloos in the middle school section had no owner. Sanae and Alice had created it to contain Toudou Riho’s crystal statue. Those friends had held that statue tight and never let go during that fierce fighting. They had never given up to the end.
He could not let anything take that from them.
“I want to repay them. I’m not going to let anything take our world from us again.”
He did not return to his igloo even after he had finished eating.
Vision was poor with the darkness and the blowing snow.
“Miss Marika has received a visitor at her igloo. It appears to be Miss Kyouka.”
“Are they spending the night together? That’s what my yuri-loving heart likes to hear. But is she going to sleep in the nude like usual?”
The camp was pitch black at night since any lights would have given its position away.
But the boy still walked around the igloos.
All throughout the night.
He was fueled by the completely ordinary desire to not see anyone else die.
But the following morning, a corpse was discovered in one of the igloos.
An unseen attack had occurred in the night and they were left with a new casualty.
It was such a contrast.
The white igloo looked so adorable from outside. After Marika’s snow rabbit started a trend, the middle school students had decorated theirs as well. This one had two plastic buckets embedded above the entrance to make it look like a face with a gaping mouth.
Utagai Karuta was frozen in place.
It took a long while before he could move again.
The middle and high school students were watching from a short distance. Word must have already spread that something happened.
For once, the track suit teacher did not seem to know what to say.
He was having trouble looking Karuta in the eye.
“This is, um, not your fault. It was probably unavoidable.”
A metallic straining reached his ears.
A girl sat with her back pressed against the wall inside the adorable igloo. She looked like she was desperately trying to stay as far away from the entrance as possible. And she was frozen in place there. But not due to ice. She had received a mortal wound and crystallized.
The sound came from there.
Even though she was already dead and could not move a finger.
It technically came from her stomach. That was the worst part to look at. Since she was crystallized and thus translucent, he could see through that glittering armor. Three skinny bivalves as thick as two fingers were clearly visible embedded in her there. Unlike the actual creatures, these had jagged edges much like a beartrap and those continued to bite into the crystal. They were gnawing and gnawing.
The cause of death had been caught in the crystallization process and remained trapped in her body.
“Sacri-sama.” Aine was as blunt as always. “Mr. Kiyosawa Hadome is correct. I obeyed your orders last night, but I doubt my patrols meant much. We had no light in order to avoid detection and there was a blizzard, so the visibility was 10m at best. Meanwhile, there are more than 1000 igloos. And if Threats of this size were crawling through the snow, it would have been extremely difficult to detect them with the naked eye.”
“I know that,” he said weakly.
They had been unable to find a solution yesterday, so this had happened. He had known this could happen, but they were clearly a step behind their unseen opponent.
He slowly breathed in and out.
He had to accept this death, so he whispered a name as if part of a ritual.
It was the shy glasses girl with her hair tied back in two tails.
She may not have been the best when it came to Crystal Magic combat.
But had that really been a flaw deserving of this sort of death?
“We can’t leave her like this. We have to at provide the bare minimum of care before sending her to the Second Grimnoah. Will you help me?”
“If you order it.”
Kiyosawa Hadome was listening in and he started to say something but could not get out the words. He pulled back his half-outstretched arm, clenched his teeth, and looked away.
Karuta was not talking about placing a blanket over the crystallized girl or placing her in a special case.
He had asked for help from Aine, his greatest weapon.
“Wait, what are you going to do?”
Blonde Alice had been slumped down on the ground with her head in her hands, but she seemed to realize something here.
Her ponytail swayed as her tearstained face looked up at him.
He did not look back at her. He forced himself not to.
“She was your friend, so I recommend not watching this.”
“Sacri-sama. She is already fairly cracked there, so I expect it would be most efficient to send my blade in through her right side. Then I should be able to break Miss Sanae’s torso in two.”
Alice’s throat tensed.
Her friend was dead and she would never see her again, but that was not the end of it.
“Wait!! Please wait!!”
“The Threat is still trapped inside her.”
A bitter feeling filled the boy’s chest.
The girl tearfully grabbed at him, but he could not bear to look her in the eye now.
“We have to remove them before sending her to our ship. I’m sorry, but there is no other option here.”
“But…but Sanae-chan is still alive.”
She was not being delusional.
She was using the rules of Crystal Magic.
“It might take decades, but she’s still regenerating! But it isn’t perfect, so the bigger the wound, the longer it will take!! So…so if you break her in two, I don’t even want to think how long it will take!!!”
She never would see her friend again.
She could never laugh and speak with her again in her own lifetime.
And the finishing blow would come from a fellow human, not the Threat. In military terms, it would be a human-caused casualty. And it would be mercilessly carried out by the world’s strongest they were all relying on.
Utagai Karuta felt like the back of his mind was numbing over.
He felt like he had finally come to understand the meaning and the weight of the phrase “world’s strongest”.
(That’s what it means when the strongest gives up. If I throw in the towel, it means no one else can do it either. Or so they assume. Because that’s what the world has decided.)
Karuta weakly turned around and looked to the track suit teacher who had been listening to all this.
“Please keep Alice away from here. So she can’t interfere until the work is done.”
“What!? No, let go of me! Don’t you dare touch Sanae-chan! Stop!!!!!”
Was she half in a frenzy?
Karuta could not bear to watch, so he started to enter the igloo. Someone tossed him a hammer. He caught it in his dominant hand and looked over to see Marika sighing with a hand on her hip.
“You can leave this dirty work to me, you know?”
“No, I’ll do it.”
The Student Council’s bob cut girl normally hated him, but she drove all the other students away now. Had she decided now was not the time for jealousy, or had she felt pity after seeing the look on his face?
He shook his head while looking half a cadaver himself.
“This was my fault. There must have been more I could have done last night.”
He held out his other hand and the girl silently handed him a large flathead screwdriver. It was apparently meant as a chisel.
He faced the crystal statue once more.
That was Moriyama Sanae.
She was not a part of him like Aine. She was not a childhood friend like Marika. She had not fought alongside him in their quest for revenge like Kyouka.
Those words sounded so inadequate to him.
He was shocked by how little weight they seemed to hold.
“I really am sorry, Sanae. There’s nothing more I can do for you.”
One trembling hand placed the end of the flathead screwdriver against the crack running through the crystal statue’s hip and his other hand squeezed the hammer’s grip.
He bit his lip, yet did not move for a while.
He had killed the Problem Solvers who had been known as the world’s strongest.
But this girl was different.
She was not a target of revenge. She had done nothing deserving this violence.
But someone had to do it.
“Sacri-sama, please give me a command.”
He gulped and faced his own weakness. If he did not overcome this, he could never catch up to the enemy. He would remain in the palm of that unseen slaughterer and he would lose the kind world he had finally found.
It would happen again and again.
He had to stop that chain of events with his own hand.
He raised the hammer.
A splitting sound soon followed. No matter how much he hurt the crystallized girl, she would not shed a single drop of blood. Yet, he still tasted iron.
It came from his own lip.
Still biting his lip hard, he swung down the hammer. Since he was not using a proper chisel, the first blow bounced off. But he tried again and slammed the hammer against the back of the screwdriver. The second blow dug in, but he missed with the third and hit his own hand with the hammer. That actually relieved him. But he could not stop. He had to keep going. He hammered again and again, spreading the cracks further and further.
His vision blurred and he belatedly realized it was due to tears.
He was killing her.
It was the Threat that had actually ended Moriyama Sanae’s life, but he was killing her in a different way.
Then the damage passed a certain point.
With a horribly inorganic cracking sound, her top half and lower half finally broke apart. With nothing to support it, the upper half toppled over like the mascot at an abandoned amusement park.
He hit his own limit there.
He turned the other way, curled up, and vomited. He had just destroyed someone’s body.
The metallic noise finally ended. The predators may have been rejoicing at regaining their freedom. Were they actually thanking the foolish boy?
“Kill them,” he groaned. That hatred he thought he would never again feel came rushing back. “Kill every last one of those bastards, Aineeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!”
“Already on it.”
The piercing sounds were like music to his ears.
She used the tip of her sword to skewer all three Threats with bivalve-like armor and she did not remove them. The three remained there on the blade, unable to move, while she rested the sword on her shoulder again.
“What shall we do now, Sacri-sama?”
“What do you mean?”
“You have your answer, do you not?”
He felt like he was speaking with his own hesitant heart. He wiped his mouth off with the back of his hand as she asked that second question.
With that girl’s death, they had their answer.
“I will now explain the details of the mission.”
Student Council President Omotesandou Kyouka had sent a Crystal Blossom transmission to them all.
They would have to abandon their settlement the instant the Threat noticed it, but they also wanted to avoid having to move if possible. So instead of gathering the 1000 students in one place and holding a strategy meeting with a megaphone in hand, they more safely spoke into their Crystal Blossoms inside their individual igloos.
“Based on the material evidence Karuta-kun discovered and the theory he developed based on it, we will be ‘poisoning’ the Threat. Since the Threat tears off the usable parts of their own fallen to cannibalize them, they will only customize themselves more the more we defeat them. Instead, we will hide bombs or viruses in the wreckage to do damage from within once those parts are cannibalized.”
Someone would have to be entirely oblivious to the spreading rumors to have not heard that someone else had died. They had another casualty.
Nevertheless, Yamane Deiri, Nekoumi Hirosuke, Matsuda Imi, Hashizaki Tayori, and the Student Council’s black bob cut girl were fully focused on fighting the Threat, so they may have wanted to forget about that fear. Just like a giant meteor descending toward your city would make even a brutal robbery pale in comparison. They may have been standing up to the Threat as a way of averting their gaze.
It was important to remember these were all middle and high school students, even if they had been given Crystal Magic, the world’s strongest power.
“To act on this plan, we need the remains left by the Threat, so we will be splitting into three teams. The first is the Firepower Team that will work to destroy as many Threats as they can. Then the Delaying Team will hit the surviving Threats with a powerful bombardment to buy us even a few minutes. Lastly, we have the Engineering Team that will use that time to insert the poison in the defeated Threats. It does not actually matter if the Threat notices what we are doing. We only care about ending the negative spiral where they grow stronger the more we defeat them, so making them hesitant to cannibalize counts as a success even if the poison does no direct damage.”
They were heading to the deadly battlefield to fight.
Once in that special mental state, all their everyday troubles seemed to vanish.
Even though there was still violence on warships and theft and murder on the battlefield.
“In addition to those three primary teams, there will also be smaller sub-teams for transmission, transportation, healing, and backup circling the battlefield like satellites, so keep that in mind. The team divisions will prioritize teamwork, so it will be done by class. No hard feelings no matter what team you end up on, okay? We are all Grimnoah. We are all on the same side.”
Things were finally underway.
Rushing footsteps sounded all around them.
“Buck up, Karuta.”
“W-we just need to look at it as a chance to show off to the middle schoolers!!”
Karuta’s two classmates slapped him on shoulders or back as they passed by.
With Crystal Magic, they did not have to prepare their weapons and ammo before entering battle. They generally only had to shatter their Crystal Blossoms to activate their armor, but it was not that easy this time. After all, they were moving as a group of 1000. Simply splitting into teams and performing a roll call was on a larger scale than the average school’s athletics festival.
“I’ll be borrowing the entire Firepower Team. I wouldn’t dare send them to the front line otherwise.”
“You’re sounding more like a god of war all the time.”
“Isn’t that what it means to be the world’s strongest? I’ve gotta be waving the flag out front.”
“Then you handle that,” he said with a smile. “Anyway, about yesterday.”
“I already told you everything I know about that. I wasn’t hiding anything. See you.”
She waved and flew up into the air. The class of a few dozen that formed the Firepower Team followed after her.
Karuta let out a visible sigh and spoke to someone else.
“Is this really when you want to borrow my wisdom?” she began with a laugh. “To be blunt, I doubt any investigating we do will turn up anything about the circumstances of Sanae-san’s death. Visibility was so poor with the late-night blizzard that no one would have noticed if someone was sneaking around and the igloos don’t even have doors, meaning anyone could walk right in. If that was all we had to work with, it would have been the perfect crime.”
“But it wasn’t.”
“Correct. That death instead gave us the answer we needed, so it’s time to do your job. This entire poisoning mission is a bluff.”
Karuta was a Grimnoah student too.
He was one of the Four Living Gods, but that did not mean he could just sit idly by and watch things play out.
“Um,” someone hesitantly called out.
He looked back to find a 12-year-old girl standing there nervously. It was Natalena Blast.
“What are you going to do now? Um, because you don’t seem able to fly with Crystal Magic.”
“Worried about me?”
“Just kidding. I’m part of the Transmission Team providing logistical support. Crystal Blossom transmissions have a limited range, but they can cover much longer ranges if we leave someone in between to relay the signal.”
“You’re part of the Work Team, right? That detailed work on the front line is critical, so don’t screw it up.”
“It’s, um, weird having you worried about me.”
“But that’s how I really feel.”
An ominous atmosphere emanated from a short distance away. That girl was in turmoil as well. Her middle school classmates must have been hesitant to speak to her after what happened. And that let her lose control more and more.
“They are so dead.”
She was filled with resentment.
But not quite like Karuta’s group had been.
Blonde Alice would have been crushed by the sorrow if she did not have someone to hate, so she was adding fuel to the fire within her. Although her hatred of the Threat probably was real.
Her frenzy when he had broken the crystal statue had not seemed like an act.
“They are deader than dead. I’ll show them what a real threat is. I’ll make a pile of their corpses to prove who’s the strongest once and for all!!”
She had been placed on the Delaying Team that would keep the surviving Threats away to buy time for the sabotage of the defeated ones. It was a fruitless job but Karuta thought she might be perfect for it.
Flaxen-haired Sophia Firenze was holding a first-aid kit.
Crystal Magic could heal any non-fatal wounds in 30 seconds, but that did not mean they had no need for medical equipment. Sometimes stopping the bleeding would turn an otherwise fatal wound into a non-fatal one. So using both methods was more effective than one or the other. He guessed she was part of the Healing Team providing logistical support.
“Your focus was on theory, right?”
“Yes, entirely so. What am I even doing on the front line like this? I was supposed to create theories, try to reproduce them in the lab, and correct the theories based on the results.”
“I won’t go so far as to say reality is an awful place, but there are people who will accept something more readily when they can hold it in their hands. Especially among the elderly. So in addition to simulations, I would make models and pet robots. It was really a waste of time, but they wouldn’t fund us without those things.”
Karuta heard someone click their tongue.
Not even the imminent battle changed that muscular teacher named Kiyosawa Hadome.
But an unwavering spirit could be a reassuring thing.
“I really don’t like you,” he said to Karuta.
“Is that so?”
“But I’ll admit this isn’t a job for us. So go do what we theory-based teachers can’t.”
Karuta smiled a little. How much strength had it taken for that man to leave things in his hands here? He knew just how much that teacher cared for the students, after all.
Their preparations were nearly complete.
After leaving the teachers, he gave a quiet order.
The crystal girl poked her had out from within his uniform.
“It’s time. We need to get moving.”
Unlike the other teams, the Communication Team would not be gathered in a single spot. They had to spread out over as wide an area as possible to relay transmissions.
That was the perfect job if you wanted to hide and work on something else in secret.
He glanced over at the destroyed C World dome and saw the Threat must have noticed something was afoot. Snow blasted up into the air and countless red eyes glowed from beyond it. The visible range on the surface was less than 5km, so they had to be within striking range for some of their weapons. Karuta’s job was to relay transmissions, so he could easily tell where the Grimnoah students were located on the battlefield.
He slowly took a deep breath.
President Omotesandou Kyouka had called this poisoning mission a bluff.
That was exactly right. He flicked the Crystal Blossom on his chest.
“I’m ready when you are.”
“Get ready, Aine.”
That settled it.
The giant Threats stepped over their brethren to continue past the ones blocking the way. And while those surface-based ones struggled to move out ahead, countless flying ones filled the air like a sandstorm. Meanwhile, the Grimnoah students were putting a fair amount of distance between themselves to have enough room to fly freely.
After confirming everyone’s positions, Utagai Karuta pulled the final trigger.
Of his own free will.
“Okay, you two, shoot down Alice Majority.”
It must have been too sudden for her to react in time.
Laser sniping was hard enough to dodge at the best of times and she was simultaneously targeted from two different points, one on the ground and one in the air.
The lasers struck a flying angel with feather decorations adorning her armor and miniskirt made of translucent crystal.
The blonde ponytail girl had just enough time to notice something was wrong and twist around, but her barrier was still shattered and her translucent armor hit. She lost balance in midair and entered a tailspin.
She fell straight down.
Toward the ground.
Where the Threat had created a realm of death.
“Let’s go, Aine. We need to end this here.”
Karuta was on the Transmission Team.
He could sense the amount of Crystal Blossom transmissions spike all of a sudden. The other students were sending angry and frightened complaints to ask what had just happened, but the boy did not let it get to him. He simply walked to the crash site, accompanied by Crystal Girl Aine who obeyed his orders.
There, he found a new sight.
He saw black armor. He saw scorpions that had human-like hands and airbrush-like tails they used to cause massive midair explosions to bring down all flying objects. He saw giant squids with plenty of cheap denture-like mouths. He saw carnivorous plants with coffin jaws clacking shut. He saw abnormally large ants with handgun legs. All those bizarre creatures were gathered together and tearing at each other’s armor. These were all the Threat that killed humans and destroyed their civilization.
They had come to a stop.
It was like time had frozen so the crashed girl would not be caught in the middle of it all. The countless flying Threats – the giant octopuses that rotated their sucker-covered legs in alternate directions like coaxial rotors and the flying fish that were as pointy as a blade – had fallen to the ground when they stopped moving.
Just like a bizarre weather phenomenon where frogs or small fish fell from the sky. That was increasing the height of the black masses. There was no gap in the swarm of Threats, so approaching meant Karuta had to climb across the many legs like it was a jungle gym.
“Is that phone the controller, Alice?”
It was also possible she was using special sensors to monitor the Threat while using Crystal Magic for the actual interference with them, but even if the details were unclear, one thing here clearly stood out.
“That isn’t just a phone.”
The object in Alice’s hand was not her phone.
When he thought back to their swimsuits, he recalled that being the model used by Toudou Riho who had carried two phones with her.
“You’ve swapped out the circuit board within, making that one unique. Tell me. What is it for?”
Karuta had needed help for this one, so he had discussed it with the others before getting started.
He had spoken with Amaashi Marika and Omotesandou Kyouka.
That was the last of that trio of girls. The blonde ponytail one.
“Yes.” Karuta nodded. “There’s no point in investigating Casualty B, Moriyama Sanae. Any one of our 1000 people could have pulled that one off. I’d be the top suspect since I was out patrolling throughout the night and Aine’s testimony won’t help me since she agrees with anything I say. But this still gives us the answer when combined with Casualty A, Toudou Riho.”
The President smiled in apparent enjoyment.
He could not say if that smile was from the heart or not, though.
“Riho’s throat was slit from head on. A slipper-sized pill bug of a Threat was found on the floor, but that doesn’t add up. How did that thing slit her throat? There was more than a meter from the floor to her throat, so are we supposed to believe it hopped straight up like some kind of spring-loaded contraption? It’s nonsense.”
“Sacri-sama, couldn’t it have fallen from the duct in the ceiling?”
“There were no wounds on her arms. However it happened, anyone would try to protect their face from an attack they could see. Even rookies and people without any combat training whatsoever would do that.”
“Then did it sneak up behind her?”
“You already know the answer to that, don’t you? That pill bug only had its jaws. It had no arms. To circle around from behind and slit her throat, it would have to have used its many legs to crawl along her back or shoulder. There’s no way Riho wouldn’t notice that. So,” he said while pretending he was holding and pushing forward an electric shaver or something. “Someone must have held that pill bug and pressed it against Riho’s throat. That’s the only possible answer. There never was any other answer. And the lack of wounds to her hands means it was someone she trusted. She never imagined for a second she was going to be attacked.”
“Hm,” said Kyouka. “But what proof is there that person was Alice Majority? She was the one who came to us. If she did that, wouldn’t she have wanted to delay discovery of the body? And we could easily have asked the kids seated near the bathroom who had been in there.”
“She used the window,” replied Karuta. Normal people would never even consider that, but they were different. “That was only the 6th floor. Any Crystal Magician can fly, so it wouldn’t have been difficult for her to climb out through the hallway window, circle around the entire hotel, and arrive at the window to the girl’s bathroom. I’m the only exception there, what with Aine and all.”
“But if they chose a course that doesn’t show up on the cameras, couldn’t anyone have done that? It didn’t have to be Sanae-san or Alice-san.”
“Of course.” He shrugged. “But it couldn’t have been anyone else and I know you already know why. Riho was caught by surprise in an attack from dead ahead. Someone has to trust you an awful lot for you to slit their throat from dead ahead without giving them any time to try to stop you with their hands.”
“That was the girl’s bathroom, she would have immediately put her guard up around a boy or one of the adult teachers who are practically all-powerful in her school life. I was hesitant to go in there even when I knew it was an emergency. And Riho would have been suspicious of pretty much anyone – even another girl – if they climbed in through the 6th-floor window. There’s only one or two people she would let her guard down around in that situation.”
Utagai Karuta had seen it before. Back on the Grimnoah ship, he had seen Alice take a shortcut to the shower room window. That meant climbing in through windows was a habitual thing for that trio. It would not inspire any surprise. Yet if Karuta, Aine, Marika, or Kyouka had done it, it would have led to a flurry of screams. None of the other students – or teachers for that matter – could have done it.
It was not about the actual actions taken.
Only the other members of that trio had been close enough to Riho.
At the time, that logic had left them with two options, but then Alice had killed Sanae. Most likely, she had used a similar tactic: grabbing those small Threats in her hand and shoving them into the girl’s gut.
That death had left just one option.
The sole survivor was their answer. Marika sighed in a disinterested way.
“I had deduced that either Sanae or Alice must have killed Toudou Riho, so I put them through a little test. I have to admit, I didn’t expect to find they were both guilty.”
A little test.
Needless to say, she was referring to having those two investigate the damage to the other domes the day before.
“Oh, had you already checked over all the domes yourself?”
“Yes, and then I had them check over them again. There were plenty of oddities to report, but those girls both said they found nothing. A nice way to dodge the issue, really. If I had pointed out the oddities later on, they could always claim they had simply not noticed. A nice way, but still plenty suspicious.”
Marika had mentioned a teacher joining that inspection at the last second – Kiyosawa Hadome. She had suspected he had gone along to keep an eye on the other two and make sure they did not say anything foolish, but it turned out he had no ulterior motive at all.
He had honestly reported what he saw and even tried to help the other girls with their report.
If Marika had not held out a hand to stop him, he would likely have mentioned what they had “overlooked”. That would have allowed the girls to realize how unnatural their report sounded, giving them a chance to course correct.
“So what exactly did they fail to report?”
“There were Threat-like footprints and claw marks visible around the surviving domes and there was a lot of fruit hidden in the snow. The former is unnatural because it means the Threat was picking and choosing who and what to attack despite supposedly being indiscriminate. The latter was evidence of a secret supply base. They had plenty of food for themselves prepared in advance in case we made a mistake and ended up stuck in the blizzard without food. Fruit stays good when frozen and they could cook it with magic fire to eat it.”
The discoveries themselves had been less important than questioning why those girls would hide it.
They had not wanted the others to know the Threat could be controlled or that a supply base had been prepared in advance.
The day before, Marika had said there was no way of narrowing it down at that point and the answer would become clear after a few more casualties.
“We had two possibilities and one died, so that settles it.”
They could have tried to separate Sanae and Alice, but they had not known how those two were controlling the Threat. If they captured those two and had a large army called in on them, they would have been wiped out.
Marika’s solution was to defeat both of them, but if they both had a controller, then one could summon the Threat while the other was being killed.
Thus, she had been waiting for an opportunity to kill them both at the same time.
Yet that opportunity had never arrived.
“You can’t solve every problem with a sniper shot, Marika-san.” Kyouka laughed. Had she gone to Marika’s igloo last night to drive that point home? Although that did lead them to overlook the late-night murder.
“Marika, when did you first start to suspect them?” asked Karuta.
“The instant we found Toudou Riho’s corpse. I mean, their grief was way too by the book. If your closest friend dies, it would tear your heart to pieces. I would have expected them to grab the corpse and fly off with it never to return, or to start calling everyone a spy and bombing the hell out of them with their Crystal Magic.”
That opinion seemed heavily influenced by Marika’s unique values.
She was also implying that was how she would react if Karuta or Aine died.
She had mostly jumped to a conclusion and gotten lucky, but she had still reached the right answer far sooner than Karuta. He was astonished by this, but anyway.
“Do you agree with Karuta on how she did it?” asked Omotesandou Kyouka.
“It would be technically possible, but it seems unnecessarily complicated. Flying around the outer wall to reach the bathroom window is a lot of effort. Why did Alice Majority want to contact Toudou Riho in secret so badly? And how did the Threat become a part of all this?”
Those questions were side issues.
If they wanted to find out why she had killed her friends, they only had to bring her down and take their time getting it out of her in a dark room somewhere. So there was a bigger issue here.
“Even if the Threat here is only a decoy, we have to take out whatever method she is using to control them. And I would really prefer not to consider the possibility that the method can be spread to others.”
The battlefield had changed.
The frozen Threat swarm surrounded Karuta and Alice. A lot of them were as large as a bus or a small building, so there was plenty of cover. It was like a deep rocky area made of black metal.
Alice Majority could not talk her way out of this now that she had used her safety device. She would have a hard time arguing that someone else had stopped them at that very moment to frame her.
Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld.
Alice used Skuld, who was one of the goddesses of fate and also a Valkyrie who gathered the souls of the dead in preparation for the final battle.
Those three goddesses were said to water the world tree of Yggdrasill on a daily basis so it would not rot, but that meant it was in their power to let the world tree rot and trigger Ragnarok, which would bring destruction to all. So was this mechanical army controlled by a goddess supposed to be the dead soldiers known as the Einherjar?
“So what was that phone, anyway?”
Karuta was the first to speak.
His words set things in motion by placing the initiative in his hands.
“Was it really worth killing to get your hands on?”
“The false Threats don’t use encrypted communications.” Blonde Alice shook the phone in her hand. “I imagine it was to make them more like the real thing, but they’re like honeybees. They signal each other with visible movements of their legs or roots. But that can be interfered with. A powerful crosswind can mess with the movement of their raised leg and a whiteout prevents their red eyes from scanning the scene properly.”
“Meaning you can stop the Threat and guide them where you want?”
It would take Crystal Magic to pull that off as an individual. He knew Natalena and Sophia could manipulate the wind with their power. This power must cover a horrifyingly wide area and they had pulled it off even when enclosed in the C World dome.
But if that was the explanation, they would have no need for the (device disguised as a) phone.
“This is a satellite access communicator. When we built the circuit board based on the plans, it wouldn’t connect properly and we only got it to function after working together to attach and detach different components. So we could never make a second one even if we tried.”
Karuta was reminded of what Aine used for a bed – a prototype civilian spaceship resembling a bamboo leaf.
“Even students can build a small satellite. It isn’t that unusual. And to control the Threat with wind and light, we needed to track the weather, the distribution of the swarm, and the signals they were making with their bodies and legs.”
“So the communication interference wasn’t due to the blizzard, was it?”
“I doubt a commercial service without a specialized observation device could have accomplished much, but better safe than sorry. We had to cut off access to the various weather forecast services available through your phones.”
The many Threats surrounding them remained motionless. And not because something was interfering with the signals they made like a honeybee or fiddler crab. They viewed things with their red eyes and signaled to their own kind with their legs or roots. But when thick fog or a whiteout cut off all visual information, were they programmed to stop and think instead of moving blindly to send out signals?
But Karuta still had a more fundamental question here.
“You could do all that and all you did with it was kill?”
“That doesn’t matter.”
“What made you go to all that effort to kill Riho and Sanae?”
“You killed her!!!!!!”
He thought she meant Moriyama Sanae.
Because he had broken her crystal statue beyond recognition to get the small Threats out.
But Alice went on to speak an entirely different name.
“You killed Anastasia Blast!! I don’t care why you did it. Whatever she might have been doing behind the scene, she was our hero. She fought to keep the world safe!!”
That name again? thought Karuta.
Was killing the world’s strongest not enough to be entirely rid of them?
He did not know the exact situation Alice – no, those three – had found themselves in. Maybe they simply had heard of Anastasia’s exploits on TV or over the internet. Maybe they had been rescued from the real Threat in one of those cities on the verge of annihilation.
(Come to think of it.)
His thoughts turned toward that special drink Moriyama Sanae had always been drinking. A pinch of salt in water would not have any real flavor, so maybe it had some connection to her past. Did it help her relax? Or to put it another way, could she not relax without it? She may have found an action that reminded her of some past event. The other two may have had been hiding some unseen scar below their clothing or in their heart in a similar fashion.
Anastasia probably had not remembered them if she had ever known them at all, but her noble lifestyle had inspired some people to change and start working again.
Relatives were not the only ones who would grieve someone’s death.
Anastasia Blast’s death had carried great weight. Enough so to lead these girls to search the underside of the world for a weakness in Karuta’s group and ultimately happen across the decoy Threats there.
“So I don’t care what the strongests were doing in secret!! I only care that I can use this power to exact revenge on Grimnoah! Yes, that’s right. I killed them… We were all in it together!! To give you a taste of the defeat you so deserved after usurping the throne of the world’s strongest!!”
The taste of defeat?
Did this girl really think they had never tasted that before?
“I get why you’re out to get us four, but why did Riho and Sanae have to die?”
“They tried to back out.”
That short response told the whole story in abbreviated form.
“The plan was to ‘accidentally’ shoot you during the chaos of the attack, but Riho-chan didn’t trigger that attack when the time came. I snuck around back and asked her what was up, and she confessed she was scared. She said it was wrong to get so many other people caught in the attack, so she had gone into the bathroom to hide with the satellite access communicator! We needed that detailed data to control the Threat with our magic!”
Riho and Alice could not have allowed anyone else to get a look at that device’s screen. Was that why Alice had felt the need to cover her tracks by flying in through the window for a simple discussion?
“So what choice did I have? Riho-chan could chicken out if she wanted, but if she turned herself in and got us caught too, there goes the whole plan!!”
He could guess from this that those three girls could only access their small satellite with that one device.
It may have seemed like enough for them at the time, but that had caused problems down the road.
“Then what about Casualty B – Sanae?”
“She screwed up.”
Alice kept it short.
Maybe she had gotten used to it by the second time.
Or maybe after taking out Riho, she herself had gone off the rails without noticing it.
“She said she fell for a trick, so she was trembling in fear. I have no clue what she was talking about, but it was all over for both of us if she was caught. So again, I had no other choice.”
Marika had actually been monitoring Sanae and Alice both, but Alice must not have even noticed the trap she fell for.
“Still, I could have seen her in a few decades.”
Finally, she ground her teeth together.
He could see pure regret in her.
“But you shattered that hope along with her statue. What is it now? Centuries? Millennia? I can’t even apologize to her now!!”
Despite all this, they would not have come together for revenge like that unless they had already been bound by friendship.
But once they got started, it ended up like this. None of their hated foes were gone and those good friends had ended up killing each other. Alice had clearly attacked the wrong targets here.
“How could this have happened?”
He could not help but ask.
He felt blessed himself. After all, what if Marika had said she was scared and backed out when they had decided to kill the Problem Solvers? Or what if Kyouka’s identity had been discovered and the investigation would have reached them before long? What if he had ended up in a deadly battle against Aine who was practically one with him???
Weapons, money, and intelligence were not the most important things when seeking vengeance.
You needed trust.
It seemed ironic since those words seemed far removed from the bloody action of revenge, but it was the truth. Karuta had been fairly unsure if he could actually continue with his revenge back then. If Marika and Kyouka had not pulled him back in, he would probably have ended up like this as well.
“You were willing to rely on each other to accomplish something even if the rest of the world was against you, right? Weren’t you good enough friends to reveal those immoral feelings to each other!? Then!! Couldn’t you have figured something out!? Something other than what happened!!!???”
His desperate cry only put a dry smile on Alice Majority’s face.
It was already over.
The rift between the successful and the failure was too great. Kind words from the successful were only salt in the wound to the failure.
He knew that.
He had not wanted to be caught up in those girls’ revenge. If he had learned Marika or Kyouka’s lives were at risk, he would have stopped them no matter what it took. Even if the rest of the world thought him a coward and even if he could not forgive himself for what he had done. That much he knew for certain.
He knew that, but this still seemed like too much.
How could he tell that trio that they had failed in their revenge and lost everything because their friendship wasn’t strong enough? What hope was there? Was there nothing at all they had left!?
“This is revenge too, don’t you think?”
Alice looked like an empty shell of a person, but she still raised that phone. No, that original device made to look like one. That card of ruin received the weather and location data needed to control the Threat with magic. She could use her magic to interrupt the honeybee or fiddler crab style of signal and that would either stop or guide the Threat. For example, she could make them stumble by sending in a powerful crosswind when they lifted a leg.
There were a number of theories where the name Skuld came from. For example, “tax”, “future”, “debt”, or “obligation”.
This girl had hoped for success in the future no matter what it took, that had placed too great an obligation on the friends who had walked that path with her, she had violently taken a bloody debt from them, and here she stood now.
For the future.
But Alice Majority should have looked back to the past.
She should have looked deeper, instead of focusing on shallow vengeance. She should have reminded herself why she was friends with Riho and Sanae. She should have recalled what bonds had brought them so close together in the first place!!
“I failed to kill you. In fact, killing you would accomplish nothing. But you will lose everything again if I unleash the Threat here.”
“I was never looking for meaning in my revenge. Because if you decide it isn’t worth it, that’s when the fear creeps in.”
“You can utterly destroy the Crystal Beach, but I won’t bat an eye and I tell you it all had nothing to do with Grimnoah and I’ve lost nothing!! So don’t waste your time, Alice!! That doesn’t even qualify as revenge!!”
“Yeah, you would have to feign indifference, wouldn’t you? You can’t let me see the target means something to you.”
In that final moment, Alice Majority was definitely smiling.
Her face was a mess and it had to have been easier on her to have cried.
Her enemy had even robbed her of any hope that she could apologize some decades from now.
“But that won’t change what I do. Goodbye, Senpai.”
The instant she placed her finger on the touchscreen and her translucent armor spread out like wings, the magic was dispelled and time began to move once more. The girl had triggered Ragnarok. She had reactivated the Threat while surrounded by them herself. Marika’s laser sniper shot blew her brains out, but it was an instant too slow. A massive maw snapped shut on her crystallizing body, shattering it.
She was killed instantly.
The crystal statue was smashed to tiny pieces that glittered as they scattered around.
Something grazed Karuta’s cheek, leaving a sharp wound there. It must have been a piece of the broken device’s circuit board or LCD screen. He heard a cracking sound as crystal covered the surface of the wound.
All blood and tears vanished within that solid sound.
He clenched his teeth until he thought they would break and Aine moved out front with sword at the ready.
With a flash of that blade, a giant ant’s leg was severed with a diagonal cut before it could crush him and the ant itself toppled over. He had survived that, but the Threat was clearly locked onto him. These were now enemies rather than simple obstacles.
The ground and sky were filled once more by the fake but still loathsome Threat.
“Sacri-sama, please adapt. The situation has already changed.”
He could not afford to die here, so he shouted into his Crystal Blossom.
“I failed to persuade her! Omotesandou-san, let’s go with Plan B. The device was destroyed and we wouldn’t know how to use it anyway!”
“You mean we’re going with the ‘poisoning’ plan that started out as an act? Understood.”
The Threat could continue marching at them forever.
Even though they were fakes, a direct hit from them would still be deadly.
Utagai Karuta had been dragged into that endless battle, but he felt no fear.
He was not afraid of these attacks from emotionless machines.
He refused to let this be as painful as a clash between two people.
Between the Lines 3
Length of Battle: 44 Hours, 28 Minutes, 31 Seconds.
Dead: 34 (including Alice Majority). Injured: 705.
Total Number of Defeated Enemies: All 9989 of them.
We have successfully eliminated the decoy Threats created by Smart Arms.
Sacri-sama’s “poisoning” plan was effective.
As these are merely decoys, it is unknown how well this would work against the real ones, but it should be worth remembering as a possibility.
It is unknown where these practice Threats came from or how their number is replenished, but it seems likely they used the thick Arctic ice.
Crystal Beach built its heating infrastructure using the heat of submarine volcanoes, but they apparently perform periodic checks to ensure the sulfur dissolved in the seawater is not affecting how the ice freezes. We do not actually know what kind of probes they use, but these decoy Threats were almost certainly clinging to the underside of the thick ice here. I can guess they were leased to the Crystal Beach because their use as training tools was not enough to recoup the R&D costs. Alice used wind to mess with the signals they made with their legs or roots, but they may have been sending vibrations down to the other side of the thick ice.
With Alice’s defeat, the communication disruption vanished.
From a strategic perspective, the fight for Crystal Beach was a success.
The differing sizes of different Threat models make it hard to be exact, but the general loss ratio was 1-to-8 and I earned something of a high score myself. I would say this has proven the effectiveness of Crystal Magic. Hooray.
How was that, Sacri-sama?
I even learned my lesson after that time in the gym, so I have a handkerchief you can borrow.
Were any of my calculations incorrect?
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