Apocalypse Witch:Volume2 Prologue
Top News!! Ocean Crystal Magic Academy Grimnoah Releases 2nd Ship
Grimnoah has only recently gone public with the First Out Incident in which Anastasia Blast and her illegal armed group known as the Problem Solvers allegedly sunk the first ship, but with remarkable speed, a second academy ship, known as Second Grimnoah, has just held its launching ceremony at the Port of Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture.
Construction of a three-hull ship with a displacement of 140,000 tons would normally take between 3 and 5 years, but they say the secret behind this lightning-fast release was purchasing a luxury cruise ship with a completed frame and outfitting it in accordance with Grimnoah’s needs. The purchase seems to have gone smoothly and the seller, Yokokawa Mitsuaki, President and CEO of Nanakai Steamers, had the following to say: “I cannot reveal the actual amount, but I can say it was more than three times what I had expected. I could hardly turn them down after they made such a kind offer, and this is a chance for one of our ships to make its mark in human history. I hope the ship is cared for and loved for many years to come.”
Choosing a passenger ship rather than a warship was a necessity to secure the living and educational space needed for 1180 students and faculty. Also, military commentators have speculated that ordinary armor would not be worth the high maintenance costs since it is a poor defense against the nonchemical/nonphysical attacks known as magic.
Crystal Magic is expected to combat the Threat which has placed the entire world in danger, so its wielders must be made combat ready and mass-produced as soon as possible.
During the upcoming test cruise in the Pacific, data will be taken on the ship’s weight distribution and wave making resistance while its range of movement is gradually expanded. Surprisingly, 38 countries or regions have declared this day a new holiday to celebrate the maiden voyage of humanity’s new fortress. (From Weekly Observations Editorial Department – Electronic Edition)
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The reinforced windows rattled from a sonic boom.
Needless to say, some Crystal Magicians had passed above the giant ship in a flight formation. They wore translucent armor and used Crystal Magic to draw out their full magic power with zero energy loss – a feat traditional wands and crystal balls could not match. That made flight an easy enough action for most any student, although it was only taught in the second year, known as Regulation 2, so this was unofficial practice on their parts.
At the same time, a girl could be heard breathing heavily.
She was on the outer edge of a large gym with its wooden flooring polished using a special wax.
It was a sunny day in the late April to early May time of year, but the seasonal temperature was irrelevant in the fully air-conditioned gym. There was another reason she was scattering beads of sweat in that temperate space.
Amaashi Marika had changed into short-sleeved gym clothes and she was currently jogging laps around the gym. Her heavy breathing was the result of intentionally pushing her body to its limits. The curly twintails swaying at the sides of her head were dyed a strawberry blonde. Not much needed to be said about her above-average chest or the healthy legs (+kneesocks) extending from her red bloomers. Only that all the movement was making it hard not to stare. Perhaps teenage girls had a perpetual motion machine installed in their bodies.
Translucent armor covered her arms and legs and she held a rapier-style weapon in one hand.
However, those things only served to weigh her down with the muscle assistance switched off. She might as well have been running around wearing an extensive suit of armor.
Running under her own power might seem inefficient when she could use Crystal Magic to soar through the sky at Mach 2 or faster, but Crystal Magic presented a threat in indoor spaces not seen in the open sea or sky. For example, anyone could build a machine that flew at Mach 2, but they could not create a machine that could fly around a convenience store at that speed without bumping into any shelves. Crystal Magic required perfecting both of those things. And when no one knew the identity of the Threat driving humanity to extinction, simply moving fast was not good enough.
However. Someone else was maintaining an even greater pace while seemingly unbothered by it all: the crystal girl named Aine.
She currently wore the same sort of gym clothes as Marika, but she was not even human. She had been summoned in place of the translucent armor because a certain boy had accidentally activated his Crystal Blossom before sealing a god’s name within the printed circuit board smaller than a stamp. She was something shaped like a pale-skinned girl.
“Hey, wait up, Aine-chan! Pant, pant. Stop already!!”
“You cannot catch up even if I stopped here. I have already lapped you twice.”
“Pant, gasp. Wh-why aren’t you out of breath?”
“Probably because I am anatomically different from a human.”
“And why are you wearing gym clothes!?”
“No matter how much I reasonably explained that wearing nothing at all is the best way to reduce the weight and air resistance, Sacri-sama refused to give me permission for some unfathomable reason.”
Once she reached the end of her last lap, Utagai Karuta hit the button on a stopwatch while seated on the edge of the theatre stage. Unlike the girls, he was wearing his purple blazer uniform.
She had no trouble responding after running at length while keeping a pace the average human could not match during a sprint. Unlike Karuta’s childhood friend Marika, she was not out of breath, she was not sweating, and her face was not flushed. Her high specs were obvious at a glance, but Karuta did not look happy.
“No change, huh?”
“Would you have preferred it if I sweated some? Wipe wipe.”
Aine grabbed the chest of her gym shirt and mimicked wiping sweat from her face with it. That tugged the shirt up, revealing her adorable navel in the gap between the short-sleeved shirt and the red bloomers. She had not been born from a mother’s womb, so it was honestly a mystery why she even had a navel.
“If you don’t get tired, you won’t grow. You gain strength by pushing your muscles and then letting them rest. This makes it sound like you’re stuck at this level of strength forever. That might be fine for now, but what about later?”
“Need I again remind you that I am a collection of silicon semiconductors? If my specs are not to your satisfaction, you need only feed me pure gold to provide me with new circuits thinner than hairs.”
He had always brushed that off as a joke during the previous incident, but it was sounding less and less silly as time passed. Did she need gold bars in lieu of protein or something? That would give her a truly pay to win leveling up system.
“Also, if your level of exhaustion isn’t apparent to us, it’ll be like attempting a boss battle without knowing your ally’s HP level. We need to find a way to grasp your limits from the outside.”
Would a modified pedometer or mobile watch work there? That girl was going to empty out his wallet fast.
“Pant, gasp, pant.”
Marika leaned against the gym wall while looking ready to pass out. Even her curly twintails were drooping. She could gain the blessing of Crystal Magic if she simply activated it, but it only weighed her down with the muscle assistance switched off. And even with that assistance, it did not hurt to build up your own strength. Magic was like a type of technology, so a malfunction or failure was always an option.
Karuta did not have to think about any of this since his Crystal Magic acted independently of his body.
Then again, he had to protect himself while Aine was fighting, so it would not hurt for him to build up enough strength to run away.
“Now, Miss Marika clearly has enough sweat to be need wiping. If only I could fulfill Sacri-sama’s sweat fetish so perfectly.”
“Here: wipe, wipe.”
“Wait, Aine-chan! That’s your gym shir- mgbbfbhfh!?”
Aine grabbed the chest of her short-sleeved gym shirt and began wiping off Marika’s face. Aine did not sweat and thus the shirt was as clean as a handkerchief, but it still felt wrong. Also, Marika was taller than Aine, so this pulled the shirt up a dangerous extent. Her navel was the least of Karuta’s worries now that the bumps of her ribs were coming into view.
“Aine, hey, Aine! That’s indecent!! And why aren’t you wearing a bra!?”
Karuta cut in since he knew she would not stop until he did, but the crystal girl tilted her head.
“Are we only allowed to use specialized towels for this task? That seems unnecessary, but if that is the way of things.”
“Hey, Aine, what are you- gwahh!?”
Karuta let out a deep yell because Aine bent over and shoved her head toward him.
The slender girl’s arms and head embedded themselves in his stomach. She looked a lot like someone fishing through a secret treasure chest, or like someone ducking below the curtain hanging at the entrance of an izakaya. When she pulled back out again, she held a washed sports towel that smelled of fabric softener.
“Phew. This will be more acceptable, I hope?”
“A-Aine, you, but.”
“How much stuff have you shoved inside my body!?”
Aine was “stored” inside him, so she could freely move in and out, but did this mean anything she was holding would pass through him as well? This new revelation about this own body brought a crawling to his fingertips. This was more than just seeing a mass on the X-ray. He was afraid he was full of crumbs from chips and sweet rice crackers.
Meanwhile, Marika wiped off her cheeks and forehead with the proper sports towel.
“Karuta, why aren’t you exercising?”
“I’ve got that thing after this, remember? I don’t want to go there with wet hair, but there isn’t enough time to blow dry it.”
“Oh, right,” said Marika.
Yes. He was attending a meeting that seemed wholly out of place for someone who had recently been sneaking around the world while obsessed with committing murder in the name of revenge.
He shrugged lightly in a way that showed he knew he would not fit in there.
“They call it an interview, but it’s really just an initial greeting for that movie they’re making about us.”
“Karuta> Looks like I can’t make 1st period. I’ll need to copy your notes later.”
“Yamanen> It’s just a class, Karuta-chan. But you’d better buy us lunch for this.”
“Hirosuke> How about I just film the whole boring lecture? Should put you to sleep in a hurry.”
The corridor looked like a polished hallway in a newly-constructed school. That was not entirely wrong, but it seemed excessive on a ship where weight was directly tied to fuel consumption.
Karuta could tell Grimnoah was designed more as a school than a ship as he walked down the hallway while chatting with his classmates on his phone. Class was starting, but he was not on his way to the classroom.
He stuck his phone in his pocket and politely knocked on a door.
“Hello, thank you for coming.”
As a high schooler, he was not confident he managed to keep his face from tensing when he stepped inside a reception room lined with leather sofas. Those dark and shiny sofas were meant for more dignified sitters, like a principal or board chairman. A normal student should not have been hopping into one of them.
A project plan and a simple pamphlet sat on the glass table.
As well as multiple voice recorders.
“As you know, we at Bernard have recently acquired your film rights.”
The people leaning toward him from the opposite sofa were apparently Hollywood producers. The speaker did not start by handing him a business card like a Japanese businessman would do, but he did casually exchange social media contact information.
“Central and Bunny & Berry would not leave well enough alone, so we ended up paying 10 billion of your Japanese yen to land the deal. But we are guaranteed to make back four times that much. We wish to present your story as realistically as possible; no unnecessary embellishments. We want to know all about how you sought revenge by dealing with all 5 of the world’s former strongest.”
Karuta sighed without letting them notice.
Nothing was more embarrassing than hearing someone sing your praises. They had committed a raw criminal act, so it was not something to be glorified. He would have rejected the offer if not for his friend who had been so cruelly shattered during that initial attack.
That boy had always laughed about how they would one day inspire a movie about their heroic battle against the Threat. Karuta had been unable to turn down an offer so similar to what that friend had always wanted.
“Now, let’s start with a general overview of events. Grimnoah was…excuse me, the first ship was attacked during mid-April in what has become known as the First Out Incident. That was in the oceans of Southeast Asia, correct?”
He just about burst out laughing as he replied.
The First Out Incident? No one involved had called it that. Not on Karuta’s side and not on Anastasia’s side. That was only the name that a PR company had spread after the fact.
And that was only as bait to get people talking and stir up interest in the coming film.
“The first to attack was Elicia ‘Saurus’ Luxverg. She used the old-style of God Worshiping Magic to have Vishnu slaughter all 700 faculty and students on the ship.”
“No, I think her Avatar – that is, the dinosaur – only killed about 2/3 of them. Some of us escaped the gym, myself included.”
“And then Yukino ‘Punish’ Arakawa and Jessie ‘Edge’ Marcus attacked?”
“I know Susannia was onboard too since she messed with the broadcast equipment. I can’t say for sure about Anastasia, who used Anubis, though. Maybe she was onboard, maybe not.”
“Regardless, Elicia, Yukino, Jessie, Susannia, and Anastasia – the five known as the Problem Solvers – made themselves targets of your vengeance.”
From there, Karuta explained everything himself instead of the producer asking questions. He explained how they fished the broken crystal statues from the ocean and hid them in a cave in Southeast Asia, how they knew the Problem Solvers would try to silence those students and teachers who would recover after enough time, how they bought a cheap used RV to use as a mobile base, and how they had needed to track down and kill the Problem Solvers before the secret cave was discovered.
He should not have been discussing any of this in such a nice sofa.
These words were meant to be uttered in a police interrogation room or from the defendant’s seat in court.
But the producers were visibly excited and they clapped their glove-like hands together. Especially when he described Anastasia’s ridiculous magic and how his group had defeated her. They all had the looks of someone enjoying undiluted entertainment before anyone else had the chance.
“And now that you have defeated those strongest 5, you have become the strongest of a new era: the Four Living Gods!! Truly incredible! Someone has finally overthrown this garbage era where AI is used to score each individual’s possibilities!”
“Yes, I suppose.”
Utagai Karuta formed a flat smile.
These people only wanted to know what happened with the Problem Solvers, so there was no need to tell them about the man in black he had spoken with afterwards.
The world’s strongest were not just some strong people.
There were people propping them up and profiting off of them and those people would swap them out like a burnt-out lightbulb if need be. Even Anastasia’s group had been driven into a corner eventually.
Oblivious to all of that, the producers moved to conclude their meeting while breathing heavily with excitement.
“Magic really is special. And you can’t keep up just by increasing the scale with CG manpower. The real deal is so different on a more fundamental level! We could never have imagined what a real fight to the death is like!!”
“This will be a hit. We’re all going to be filthy rich!! When I feel the pores opening on the back of my neck like this, I can tell I have a hit on my hands. That sense has never failed me yet, so don’t you worry about a thing. We will put your heroic actions up on the silver screen. Your struggle will become a legend told for ages to come!!”
Utagai Karuta was still smiling, but only because it had frozen on his face.
He was trying to decide whether or not to punch that producer.
And no one else there was aware how dangerously far his mental scales had tilted in that direction.
That initial meeting had been mentally exhausting, but it was over.
Karuta wanted to see how things were going before heading back to his high school classroom, so he pulled out his phone.
“Hirosuke> Class is about to end, so why not just skip the whole thing?”
“Yamanen> That’s definitely the better deal.”
(With Crystal Magic, everything is up to you. You don’t want to discover you neglected your studies once you’re facing some true monster in real combat.)
What did they even think the point of the Second Grimnoah was?
He sighed and started back toward his classroom, but someone called out to him.
“What are you doing here!? Shouldn’t you be in class!?”
His shoulders jumped in the middle of the hallway.
But when he hesitantly looked back, he saw a male teacher giving him an awkward look.
“Tch. Oh, it’s you. The great hero.”
“S-sorry. I do have the school’s permission for this.”
The man with short black hair and a muscular build contained in a running shirt and track pants was the type to stand out in a crowd, so Karuta recognized him as a middle school teacher. A high school student like Karuta would not normally be around the middle school teachers, but he often went around to different classes giving advice since he was one of the few people with any combat experience. That had given him frequent opportunities to visit the middle school.
And aside from that, the man was bound to recognize him since, for better or for worse, he was one of the world’s strongest known as the Four Living Gods. Also, the Second Grimnoah had been completed so quickly because Crystal Magic stood at the top of world, not just in second or third place.
In other words, Grimnoah was a largescale aircraft carrier loaded with Crystal Magic defense ships meant to make efficient use of Karuta’s group of 4. Nothing the others did meant much of anything without the Four Living Gods there.
In that sense, the teachers were more like engineers than anything.
It was necessary, but they ended up as something very different from a hero or fierce commander.
Another reason the teachers seemed to hold a weaker position than a student like Karuta was the barrier between theory and practice. The theory types only ever dealt with equations on a desk while the practice types had the actual experience of the hellish battles leading from the First Out Incident to the defeat of the Problem Solvers and their God Worshiping Magic. It was plain as day which type the world at large would give more focus.
Elicia, Yukino, Jessie, Susannia, and Anastasia.
The Problem Solvers had overlooked those theory types because they had not been on the first ship. They had survived because the killers had been unaware they existed. Otherwise, they would have been hunted down before Karuta’s group had completed their revenge.
Of course, no matter how it had happened, Karuta’s group was delighted to find survivors who could assist them.
The male teacher waved a hand as if shooing the boy off like a dog.
“I get it, I get it. If you’re done, then head back to your classroom. Don’t set a bad example for the other students.”
A clear voice cut in.
The male teacher grimaced even further.
The person who rolled up in a wheelchair was Omotesandou Hyouka.
She was Ocean Crystal Magic Academy Grimnoah’s Student Council President and the only Regulation 3. Because all the others had died. They had brought in new students from all over the world after the incident with the Problem Solvers and before the second ship was completed, but that had not done anything about the number of upperclassmen. Even if they did let in 2nd and 3rd year high schoolers, those students would be unable to learn Crystal Magic in such a short time. Giving them false hope and then throwing them out into the real world would be cruel to an extreme. So whether the new students were admitted into the middle school or high school, they had to be first years who started from the absolute basics. The four survivors had discussed the matter and come up with that absolute rule.
She was a mature girl with long black hair and a curvy figure. After all, she was a third year in high school. Under Japanese law, 18 was no longer a minor. But the first thing anyone would notice was of course the wheelchair she sat in. She had not been born with a disability. That was one of the scars the previous fighting had left on her.
That also made her a thorn in the theory-based teachers’ sides.
She represented the students and she had survived the fight with those five even though it had left permanent damage.
She was technically only Student Council President for the high school, but she effectively ran Grimnoah as a whole. That prevented even those theory-based teachers from telling her to leave.
She softly tilted her head.
“Is something the matter?”
The male teacher openly clicked his tongue and then walked past Karuta.
“Sure, go tattle to her and create a nice comfy world for yourself, you damn brat.”
He whispered so only the boy could hear and then he left.
(You didn’t have to back down here, you know?)
Karuta honestly liked that sort of teacher. The man had been in the right and he did not change his stance even when the tide turned against him. It was right to get after a student out in the hall during class and he was absolutely correct that Karuta had to make sure he did not set a bad example for the other students. The teacher’s anger was misplaced since the interview with the film producers was an official offer, but he could not be blamed for it since he had no way of knowing that. Karuta was afraid of losing sight of his own basic morality if everyone started letting him do whatever he wanted just because he was “the world’s strongest”. In that sense, he was extremely grateful to have teachers like that one.
“Was that Kiyosawa Hadome-sensei?”
“You know all the middle school teachers’ names too?”
Karuta looked surprised, but the Student Council President did not react. Perhaps she did not consider that a noteworthy achievement.
“He’s a good person, isn’t he?” she said with a laugh.
“Yes, he definitely is.”
However, being a good person was not enough to survive. Not in this nonsensical world.
But why was the President here?
She had to be far busier than him.
“Sorry about today. I know it isn’t easy speaking with people from outside the school.”
“Yeah, but don’t worry about it, Omotesandou-san.”
“We’re getting a movie about us, are we? Ah ha ha. I really should be handling the interactions with the outside world, but I have so much else on my plate too.”
“I don’t mind. I’m one of the celebrated strongest too, so I need to figure out how to act like a representative of Grimnoah, no matter how tough it is for me. Not that all that support changes what we can actually do.”
Karuta had class, but he also did not feel right abandoning the President here. He also figured hearing Kyouka’s unfiltered opinion would be more useful than catching the last bit of class.
“Yamanen> Oh, that’s a million percent the right answer. Three cheers for having a hot president.”
He used his phone to apologize for the change of plans and got a baffling sort of praise for it.
He circled behind the wheelchair and grabbed the handles. Kyouka could do most anything on her own, but they had developed a habit of him providing a bit of support whenever they were together.
“Where to today?”
“I don’t have a destination in mind. I am inspecting the new ship to make sure it really is barrier free. I’ve mostly finished the high school, but I still have this half left.”
Life with a wheelchair did not sound like fun. This ship was 600m long and its three-hull design used a single deck to connect the port, starboard, and center sections. Simply visiting it all in a wheelchair was a lot of work.
“I need to check over what I can now. I don’t want to find out once we’re out at sea that an inconveniently placed bump keeps me from using the shower room.”
“Oh? Boy, are you so pure that was enough to get your imagination running wild?”
She had been in a habit of saying stuff like that during the previous incident as well. He always felt at a loss around her, but looking back, he could tell that had helped prevent him from being crushed under all the psychological pressure.
It was an enormous ship, but to reduce resistance in the waves, the left and right hulls grew narrower as they approached the water’s surface. The overall bow narrowed down to a point and the bow ends of the two parallel schools were angled much like a diagonally-cut piece of bamboo, so the ship actually looked slim. He spoke with Kyouka while they traveled down the interior corridors and visited the café, training room, and more.
“Speaking of interacting with the outside world, how are things going on social media?” he asked.
“Have you not opened up a public page because you don’t want to deal with anything more than direct messages with classmates? We have more friends than the president of a certain country I could mention. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re all on our side.”
“I had a feeling.”
“Tabloids these days will gather content online and publish it without any real checking. And the online news industry is even worse. They might call us the world’s strongest, but we’re officially still only high school students. More than half our online ‘friends’ are probably just waiting for us to get a big head from our one success and say the wrong thing.”
Her legs could not support her weight, but she could apparently still move them. She let him control the wheelchair while she kicked her legs like a small child.
“The celebratory mood hasn’t worn off yet, so we haven’t gotten anyone prominently attacking us. They know doing that will only get them swarmed by all our new fans. But once the heat dies down a bit, it’ll happen. Someone will ask us controversial questions related to race or religion and they’ll jump down our throats for our answer, even if we opt to say nothing. And when I say someone, I mean a lot of someones.”
“I will handle the aggro management, so don’t respond to anyone based on a gut reflex. Marika-san lets the blood rush to her head easily too, so keep an eye on her.”
“Her too? What are you implying?”
“Oh, dear. Did you not realize you were a hotblooded boy? You just don’t let it show most of the time.”
Kyouka laughed and then continued like she had just remembered something.
“Also, a lot more people will be trying to get at your login password, so be careful there too. Please tell me you didn’t use fingerprint or iris authentication.”
“Hm? I thought biometric authentication was safer.”
“With the attention we’re getting, who knows how many photos we’ve had taken. With modern resolutions, that’s a scary thought, so if you do use biometrics, make sure it’s something that can’t be seen externally. Like having an earphone measure the echo within your ear.”
This was sounding annoying already. She went on to describe exactly who to set up that strange new form of biometric authentication as well as the two-factor authentication. But at this complexity, he was afraid he would forget how to even reach the proper authentication screen. Yet when he started setting up the security questions just in case, the beautiful President really did get mad at him. So was so mad she really was calling him a pig and asking him if he wanted to die.
“If you really do fill that in with your favorite color and soccer team, then anyone can get in and change your password. Don’t forget that we live in an age where any old online store can use the accumulated data on you to display an ad customized to show a product you would want.”
“Sigh. Then should the backup just be a randomized alphanumeric password?”
“When quantum computers have proven themselves so good at performing random number calculations? Karuta-kun, you pig. Do you want to die?”
That was twice in one day.
An anger trigger was a sign of having found a weakness, so he felt like he had gotten to know that mysterious President a little more. The happiness that brought had to remain a secret though. He wanted to avoid an oversimplified interpretation where she assumed he loved having good looking girls berate him.
“Oh, no,” she said. “Now I’m worried about Marika-san.”
“She’s not like me. She’s a girl, even if she doesn’t always act like it.”
“That doesn’t solve anything,” said Kyouka in increasing exasperation.
They passed by a few students on their way. When those students moved to the edge of the hallway, it was not just out of politeness toward the girl in a wheelchair. The younger girls gave them looks of both respect and awe. They would never imagine he was currently being castigated over how he used his phone.
Yes, that trio of girls was even younger than a Regulation 1 like Karuta.
“Was it really a good idea to just go ahead and build a middle school too? The Sub Category, I mean. Keep forgetting to call it that.”
“The first ship only had the Main Category, but that didn’t work out very well, did it? Elicia’s dinosaur was enough to slaughter all 700 students and teachers. Sure, not all of them were directly killed by her, but we all had our spirits broken and we fled. We need to provide a more solid education at an earlier stage if they are to survive the harshness of combat.”
Nevertheless, they had still accepted a few hundred high school aged students to start at Regulation 1 in the Main Category.
“Seniority systems have long been decried as nonsense, but the barrier between school years is still a big deal for students. The Main Category students will be desperate to prove themselves when they have Sub Category students three years their junior nipping at their heels. Students with a goal in mind will improve. And unbelievably quickly. After all, pride is a more valuable currency than the yen or dollar for teenagers like us.”
Was the point to create a healthy competition that encouraged both sides to grow? Second Grimnoah was a three-hull ship with the three hulls connected by one deck, but the middle and high school buildings were separated out between the port and starboard sides. Physically separating the territory helped more vividly create an “us vs. them” mentality.
Karuta and Kyouka had been saying hello to so many younger boys and girls because they were inspecting the middle school side right now. Those students were either moving between classrooms or studying in the other classrooms. All of the teachers were the theory-focused types who could not manage actual combat since all the practice-focused teachers had been slaughtered. Gathering those theory-focused people had been a last-ditch method and it was causing issues here.
Yes. Karuta and Kyouka were skipping class to walk around the ship, but no teachers tried to stop them.
But Karuta did not feel like basking in that sense of privilege.
It felt more like people saw him as a monster and were keeping their distance.
“So now we’re the students with more experience than the teachers,” he said.
“They really don’t need to hold back with us. There’s still so much we need to learn. I sure don’t want to be undereducated when I’m thrown out there.”
The teachers had been overlooked during the previous incident since they were noncombatants, while Karuta’s group had actually fought with and defeated the Problem Solvers. Whatever their official titles were, the teachers felt guilty that those monstrous students had completed the task they should have completed.
So they were unsure how to approach Karuta’s group.
Instead of students, they were more often placed in the position of combat instructors.
“Do they think we can learn from teaching?”
The President smiled faintly. Karuta also felt more weight on his shoulders every time one of the new students asked him about something or relied on him for something. He could guess it was the same for Marika. It was like he was being pushed toward a mountain climbing trip without any time to prepare first. He was still in a T-shirt and shorts when deadly Mt. Everest awaited him. He could not escape the vague fear that he would be stuck up on that mountain the second something did not work out quite right.
Maybe the Problem Solvers had felt the same way when they were the world’s strongest.
Elicia Luxverg, Yukino Arakawa, Jessie Marcus, Susannia Evans, and Anastasia Blast.
Karuta’s group had killed all of them and taken their position as the strongest, so they were never allowed to claim any sympathy with those five.
“This is the last place,” said Omotesandou Kyouka.
They were at the very bottom of the central hull. The port and starboard hulls grew narrower as they approached the water, so only this central one truly functioned as the bottom of the ship. However, Karuta saw more to this place than that. It was not part of the middle or high school.
After opening a hatch as thick as a bank vault door, they found a vast space within. It may have been larger and taller than the gym where Aine and Marika had been jogging.
However, it felt as cramped as a train at rush hour. Steel racks were stacked up to the ceiling and they were packed as full as a library’s bookcases. Each one was covered with square doors. The upper levels were out of reach, so a mobile lift was needed for them. Although it might be faster for a proper Crystal Magician to fly up there themselves.
“Well, this is certainly a problem on the barrier free front.”
Still in her wheelchair, Kyouka unlocked a nearby door on the lowest level and slid out the rectangular slab of metal within.
A human made of transparent crystal lay on it.
That boy had been killed by the Problem Solvers and was waiting the centuries or even millennia needed to recover.
Karuta softly spoke his former classmate’s name.
That boy was not the only one. All of the doors in this vast space contained one of those cold victims. There were more than 700 of them. Their deaths, regrets, and tragedies were all carefully managed by alphanumeric codes. This was an archive dedicated to the foolish acts of the former world’s strongest.
“We need to live a life they would have been proud of.”
Karuta’s hands squeezed the wheelchair’s handles.
He would not let that happen again, not by the world’s strongest and not by the mysterious Threat.
He would create the strongest fortress that could withstand any bombardment so everyone could rest easy.
That was the conviction in Utagai Karuta’s heart.
After accompanying Omotesandou Kyouka to the recreation center, Karuta parted ways with the Student Council President. On his way to some vending machines instead of a proper café or cafeteria, he ran into two of his classmates: Yamane Deiri and Nekoumi Hirosuke.
“In that case, whoever loses a game of rock-paper-scissors buys the others a drink.”
“In what case, Yamanen?”
“Oh, shut up, Karuta. Rock, paper, scissors…ahh!? Even your luck is better than mine!?”
“Hey, you should have known Mr. Strongest was the king of luck. We’re talking about the guy whose Crystal Magic randomly gave him a little girl.”
“Don’t try to gloss over that you won too, Hirosuke!!”
The loser complained but still bought Karuta a can of corn potage.
“You choose your drinks like an old man.”
“Oh, right. Yamanen, let me copy your notes later.”
“I’m doing you a favor and I bought you a drink? Where did I go wrong?”
After discovering firsthand how unfair life could be, those awful friends left.
On his own again, Karuta reached for the pull tab. He found nothing was as cost effective as corn potage when it came to forcibly calming himself. Of course, it was essentially carbs cooked with a bunch of added sugar, so he knew Student Council President Omotesandou Kyouka despised the stuff.
He enjoyed his classes these days.
But he was afraid that warmth was overwriting something else for him.
Namely, his old, shattered friends like Kazamuki Gekiha.
But instead of a special concern for the world’s strongest, that may have been more the feeling of a child after transferring schools.
This was the Second Grimnoah.
It held more than a 1000 people when the middle school and high school were both counted. It may have been even more lively than the first one and the talent gathered there was rare and useful, but he was still plagued by anxiety.
The ship was like a crab shortly after molting.
There were a few people with a solid core, like that male teacher named Kiyosawa Hadome, but as talented as the people were, would the next disaster really wait long enough for them to learn to use those talents? Would they have time for their soft shell and claws to harden?
He wondered where the next disaster would come from. Would it be users of another form of magic jealously trying to claim the title of strongest? Would it be the mysterious Threat that would supposedly bring death to the entire human race? Or would it be the people lurking in the shadows of the world who had set up all those confrontations so they could profit from them?
He did not know who it would be, but he knew for certain that there would be a next time.
Whatever form it took, it was coming.
“U-um, uh, Senpai?”
After drinking the corn potage a bit, he realized he had forgotten to shake it before opening the pull tab, but he heard a voice that was even more attractive than the corn that must have built up at the bottom of the can.
He saw a short girl with wavy shoulder-length blonde hair.
She looked about the same age as Aine, or maybe even younger. Then again, it was hard to judge her age in those standard gym clothes. She was definitely far younger than him, so she was probably in the middle school. The three year gap between them really was a lot for children. She looked so young that he had to wonder if he looked that much younger to Kyouka when she looked at him.
The girl’s shoulders were tensed and she had drawn her loosely-clenched fists in toward her flat (or rather, nonexistent) chest. He had not done anything yet, but she was flustered as she started talking to him.
“You’re a boy and one of the world’s strongest, so that means you’re Utagai Karuta-senpai, right!? I, um, this is my first time with Crystal Magic, so, um, I’m not sure I have it set up right, and, um.”
“Relax. You can take it slow, so let’s do this one step at a time.”
Karuta was technically a new student who had only arrived at Grimnoah this spring. He did not feel like he was in any position to be teaching other people, but ever since defeating the Problem Solvers he had learned to put people’s minds at ease using meaningless poses.
And wait. What was that disturbing logic she had used? He was a boy and one of the world’s strongest, so he had to be Karuta?
Did that make him the world’s strongest boy?
But he had only run around with a flashlight, since Aine counted as a separate member of the four!
(Stay calm, stay calm!! Ghghghgghhgghgghghg!? Keep your public face on!)
“F-first, names are important for this, okay?”
“Um, yes, uh, I am Jane Ignition.”
“Ha ha. I guess your name is important too, but I meant the name of your god.”
With Crystal Magic, the name of a god was sealed within a printed circuit board smaller than a stamp. You chose one that felt right to you, whether that meant Zeus, Odin, Svarog, or Shiva. Your magic was built on a foundation of equations based on the occult calendars or horoscope charts of their mythology or religion. The occult power pouring down from outer space would collide with the energy radiating from the Original Crystal Embryo at the center of the earth. That created something similar to high and low pressure fronts that could be used as a tailwind when accurately predicted using your equations, thus creating the magic of a new age.
“Listen, Jane. First of all, you need to know that whatever god you decide on can’t be reset or changed later on. The system just isn’t set up for it.”
“But you don’t have to worry. If you viewed the list of gods from around the world and selected one without succumbing to any unnecessary preconceptions, you should have chosen the best possible option for yourself. That’s why choosing your god is the very first thing you do after arriving. You ran around that labyrinthine library to search one out, right? That’s because getting any help from someone else will only lead you in the wrong direction.”
There were cases of people failing because they were not free to choose based on their first impression. For example, Karuta here had not sealed any god’s name within his due to a “mistake”. He viewed himself as a good example of what not to do.
“Once you choose a god’s name, you’ll have to get along with them. You might be worried now, but once you learn more about that god, you might discover how brave, strong, friendly, or human they are, giving you a chance to get closer to them. Polytheistic gods in particular have a lot to discover since they aren’t bound by a requirement to always be right. They can be unfaithful, they can be a coward, they can get mad and go lock themselves up in a room, or they can lie.”
“O-oh. Is that how it works?”
“Now, Jane, what god’s name did you seal in yours?” he asked with a smile.
The girl in a short-sleeved gym shirt and red bloomers fidgeted, rubbing her risqué bare legs together, and averted her gaze before parting her lips as if to gently reveal a complex of hers.
“Anubis. The Egyptian god of judgment.”
Something about that bothered him. A lot.
He recognized that name. But not in the context of Crystal Magic. Hadn’t one of the strongests beseeched Anubis to wield his great power using God Worshiping Magic?
Basing anything on that alone would have been silly. With how well known the pyramids and the sphinx were, Egyptian mythology was used a lot in the occult. It was unsurprising for a student to choose Anubis out of all the many gods in the world.
But when he took a closer look, he noticed this girl’s white skin and wavy blonde hair were awfully similar to a certain woman. And this was not a case of mimicking the clothing and hairstyle of someone based on newspaper and internet articles. Didn’t there need to be an awful lot of genetic similarity for two faces to look so alike!?
(Could it be?)
“Oh, looks like that rang a bell for you.”
His heart leaped.
It ran wild within his ribcage and behind his sternum.
(Is she related to the strongest of the strongest!? To Anastasia Blast!?)
“Then you should know why I have come to Grimnoah. Yes, you are the one who killed my sister and stole the position of world’s strongest from her in the name of revenge!! So you have no right to complain if the same happens to you!!”
The girl reached a small hand toward the beautiful flower pinned to the chest of her gym shirt.
She signaled the beginning of a battle.
This was something he had not anticipated during the previous incident: a clash between two Crystal Magicians!!
“Power up, Anubis! You’re the god of judgment who fought alongside my sister!! So take the life of this loathsome sinn-”
“No, Aine!! Don’t kill her!!!!!!”
The young girl’s mouth fell open and she did not last even a full second.
The Crystal Blossom on her undeveloped chest did shatter, but it was not given time to take its form as translucent armor. Aine slipped out from Utagai Karuta’s stomach and had time to even faithfully flip her sword around to strike with the back of the blade.
With a dull thud, a horizontal sweep of the sword caught the girl in the nerves on the side of her neck and she flipped to the side. She just about ended up like someone who had failed a cartwheel and slammed back first into the floor, so he quickly reached out his hands to catch her. Which required ducking below the path of Aine’s sword as it continued on. He ended up with her supported solidly in his arms, princess carry style. Her arms and legs were sprawled out limply as she was now unconscious. Even with the barrier and regeneration of Crystal Magic, that was no way to treat a young girl, but if Aine had used the sharp side of the blade, the girl’s head would have been chopped clean off and rolled along the floor.
It was unclear what kind of attack it was for, but translucent units shaped something like long skis had started to float up in midair. However, they vanished again before they could attach themselves to her feet.
Aine kept a cautious but expressionless eye on the unconscious girl while ready to use the laser gun unit attached at the base of her sword like a jitte.
“Could you explain to my why you have instructed me to only use nonlethal methods against all Grimnoah residents, no matter who they might be? To be blunt, unnecessary restrictions in combat are a pain.”
He shook his head without actually answering her.
This had been his mistake. They had needed to bolster Grimnoah’s forces in a hurry, but that meant inviting 1000 people to the ship all at once. He should have considered the possibility of someone sneaking in for other reasons. And while the Problem Solvers had been a target of revenge for his group, it was true that they had been loved by people all around the world. Most of those people had changed their tune and decided to support the new strongests instead, but not everyone would be willing to accept that.
Someone had killed this girl’s beloved family member and stolen the title of strongest from her sister.
It must have been impossible for the grieving girl to grin and bear it when the rest of the world was celebrating.
Of course, Utagai Karuta was no saint. He was not so above worldly matters that he could offer up his life if someone said they were going to take it. He would never give up no matter what kind of monster appeared before him. And if that monster’s fangs would also reach Marika, Kyouka, or anyone else he knew, he would use whatever underhanded methods were necessary to eliminate the risk. He was prepared to do what it took.
But. On other hand.
“Then you should know why I have come to Grimnoah. Yes, you are the one who killed my sister and stole the position of world’s strongest from her in the name of revenge!!”
The small girl had tears in the corners of her eyes while she lay unconscious in her hated enemy’s arms.
She was doing this for her sister.
She had said so.
Had she known what Anastasia was really like? Or had even Anastasia found herself unable to speak of such things in the warm household she had been born into?
She had provided this young girl a safe upbringing by keeping her separated from the cold battlefield, but now the girl was going under a fake name and identity while wielding a blade in the name of vengeance.
Even if it meant relying on the same weapon used to kill her sister.
And she had engraved that flower on her chest with the name of Anubis, the god who her beloved sister had relied on to the very end.
As if praying to that fearsome god of judgment.
“So you have no right to complain if the same happens to you!!”
Her justice was too pure.
Enough so for Karuta to realize just how far into the sticky darkness he had sunk without noticing.
He still thought he had done the right thing. That revenge had been necessary. But his group had still derailed this girl’s life. If they had not done what they did, this girl would still be living in the warmth of her family.
Jane Ignition, or the girl using that name at the moment, had followed the same path Karuta’s group had. The person who had taken an irreplaceable family member from her was being praised on TV as the world’s strongest, no one at all would say they had done anything wrong, and she could not bring herself to let that continue. So would he kill her? Just because it put him in danger? That did not feel like her just deserts or karmic retribution. Wasn’t that the same logic the Problem Solvers had used to justify their destruction of the first Grimnoah!?
He refused to take the same path as them.
By saving this girl, he would prove that they were not slaves to the position of world’s strongest.
Aine presented him with an extremely grounded question.
With that cold blade still at the ready.
“What shall we do? I will do whatever you decide for me, but based on past combat data, I highly doubt Miss Marika or Miss Kyouka will allow an enemy like this to survive. In all likelihood, sticking to nonlethal methods is only delaying the inevitable.”
What would he do?
It was time for Utagai Karuta to make a decision about the avenger in his arms who seemed far too young at only 12 years old.
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