Apocalypse Witch:Volume3 Chapter1
The boomerang-shaped passenger plane, Flight JSL-710, landed at a floating general airport built off the coast of Osaka as an entrance to Kansai.
The usual passenger planes, businessmen waiting to board, and tourist groups were nowhere to be seen. From the moment the Four Living Gods disembarked, this changed from being a civilian international airport to a frontline marine base rented out to the world’s strongest fighting force.
“This is Osaka. This floating airport is about 30km by sea from the Port of Kobe.”
Amaashi Marika, a girl with her twintails hair dyed strawberry blonde, looked down at her waterproof map while descending to the runway with the many other students. That was more dangerous than walking around looking down at your phone.
“We’re lucky to have approached even this far unharmed. Hey, Karuta! You split them up into teams cause I’m no good at that. Ugh, I just want to get moving ASAP!”
“30km? Um, i-isn’t that too close? Can’t those lasers reach us here?”
That nervous comment came from Natlena Blast, a girl with short and wavy blonde hair. She had been the young avenger attempting to get back at them for her sister’s death, but now she was on their side.
She had never been the type to do anything wrong, but now that she had stopped forcing herself to be bad, she could no longer hide her adorable side. She was too pure to look at for Karuta, a truly bad person who had killed five people and received nothing but praise from the world at large.
He absentmindedly spoke to that underclassman who descended to the runway a step below him.
“You really are the puppy type, Natlena.”
“Mh, what is that supposed to mean? Um, there are other animals you could compare me to.”
“Huh? Why are you mad? I meant it as a compliment.”
“How stupid are you, Senpai? Only weirdos like being called a dog!”
He was pretty sure she was indeed the puppy type since she would bite at any rubber ball waved it in front of her small face, but there was no use arguing the point.
That aside, it might seem odd for a 12-year-old girl who could not drive a car or motorcycle to think of 30km as “close”, but Crystal Magic flight was superior to a fighter craft. With nothing in the way, 30km would take them less than a minute.
“We don’t have to worry about the Threat’s projectiles while on the surface because the horizon acts as a range limit. We haven’t heard anything about their lasers curving or bending in midair.”
Karuta was holding the handles of a wheelchair as he descended the stairs behind Natlena. He was turned backwards so he descended first to make sure Omotesandou Kyouka did not accidentally fall down the stairs. Out on the runway, they were already in their public mode.
They were outside. From now on, they had to assume that their every action would influence the 5.5 billion nervous people out there.
“Also, the grownups are really eager to do something, so they’re helping out. And unlike that reckless bombardment, their help will actually be useful this time.”
3, 2, 1, counted down Karuta.
Then an unnatural downpour fell down from the evening sky like a shower had been turned on.
Natlena held down her beret with both hands.
“Wah!! Wh-what is going on!?”
“Artificial rain. I believe it uses silver iodide. The weather was looking iffy already, but it’s safer when we can switch it on and off ourselves. This should weaken those lasers and also divert the course of the light much like a prism or filled fish tank. Of course, that’s all assuming the beams fired by the Threat really are physical light.”
Karuta, Marika, and the others used magic powered by occult high and low pressure fronts, so they knew supernatural powers did exist in the world and could be systemized into a form of technology. They still knew nothing about the real Threat, so it would be naïve to assume their enemy could not do something they themselves could do.
“And Marika, try to keep that map folded up. The airport itself is locked down, but modern devices can still see us from a rooftop or other elevated location past the bridge here. Not to mention how high quality satellite cameras are. The world might be in danger, but there will still be people who see that as an opportunity.”
“Oh, is that so? Since when are you so duty-focused, Karuta? And if that’s true, you should probably try to dress nicer for the cameras. Oh ho ho. Your appearance is a disgrace to the name of the Four Living Gods who are meant to put the people’s minds at ease.”
He gave her a look that said “but we’re all wearing the same uniforms”.
Natlena, their mascot of a middle school girl, looked up at him while fidgeting her small fingers.
“Um, Senpai, your tie is a bit crooked, so if you don’t mind, I could fix it for-”
“Stand back, flirting brat! You’re interrupting childhood friend quiz time! Why would you just give him the answer like that!? This is the problem with you newcomers that don’t know how the game is played!”
The two girls just about got into a fight in front of Karuta, but then Hashizaki Tayori, one of the girls in his class, reached over with an exasperated sigh. She quickly untied and retied his crooked tie with just the one hand.
“C’mon, try to look sharp, world’s strongest. You yourself said there are cameras watching us, right? Those paparazzi love nothing more than scandals of the romantic variety, so stop giving them fuel for the fire yourself.”
The cutting-edge magicians screamed “She stole my job!” and “Senpai!”, but no one was paying any attention to them anymore.
That gyaru-type was one of Marika’s friends, but Karuta himself had rarely interacted with her. A friend of a friend was just another term for a stranger, but Tayori winked at the confused boy.
“What, curious why I know how to handle guy’s ties? That conversation might be a little too grownup for you.”
Not only did she know how to tie one around someone else’s neck, but Karuta could not tie his own with just one hand. However, it seemed almost second nature to her. The capable girl waved as she walked off into the orange sun shower.
Matsuda Imi, the other girl always hanging out with Marika, held a hand to her mouth as she grinned.
“Did that inspire some indecent fantasies? Like a romance with an older man?”
“Ah hah hah! Don’t worry! Tayori’s just used to looking after her brothers. She has the gyaru look down, but she’s the caretaker type on the inside. She’s a veteran of the bargain hunting wars and she can sew and mend clothing with both speed and quality. But maybe that just makes her more of a catch? Oh, and Marika?”
“We can see through your blouse. Wow, that is a really plain bra. Did you grow careless?”
Marika screamed while soaked with the artificial rain and hid her large chest with her hands. Karuta blushed and looked away like normal, but the girls apparently did not see this as sexy. It was an unforgivable crime.
Matsuda Imi sighed as she continued.
“That’s about what I would wear while lazing around in the kotatsu shortly after New Year’s, but you’re not in your dorm room right now. At least tell me the top and bottom are matching colors.”
“But, um, Imi-sensei! I have a good reason for this. I didn’t have anything to wear after losing my suitcase in the confusion caused by those decoy Threats, so I was forced to tearfully buy something at the duty-free shop in the airport at Iceland!!”
“Wow, that is just sad. I’d want to crawl in a hole and die if I were you. You do realize that’s just as bad as being so busy you forgot to do laundry, running out of clean clothes, and rushing out to a 24-hour discount store to buy some underwear? Without any underwear on at the time? Peh heh heh☆”
“Well, what did you do, Imi? That duty-free shop had to be the only real opportunity for any of us. If you didn’t buy any underwear there, are you saying you’re a sweaty girl who hasn’t changed her underwear?”
“Huh? You never know what’s going to happen on an overseas trip, so you’re supposed to carry around a separate bag with spare underwear, menstrual products, deodorant, and a small bath and toothbrushing set. Oh, what’s this? Why are you hanging your head and trembling, Marika-chan? What, did this never occur to you? Bwa ha ha! You really need to up your girl power!!”
Trembling, Marika looked over in search of help, but for some reason both Kyouka and Natlena would not look her in the eye. The looks on their faces said they had overcome that feminine crisis with their own forms of ingenuity, so they could not assist her here. On that note, where had Kyouka gotten that swimsuit?
Also, Karuta could not at all keep up with this crazy girl’s talk. Anyone who said they wanted to spy on girls’ secrets was living in a fantasy world. Karuta was not confident he could maintain his own fantasies after learning the truth. Those fantasies were shattering before his eyes. Really, he just wanted them to stop openly talking about sweat and menstruation in front of him like this. Talk of lazing around in the kotatsu was too real! It was going to make the boys cry!!
Meanwhile, small Natlena was covering her small chest with one arm, hanging her head, and pouting her lips after being caught in the crossfire due to the misfortune of choosing the same color as Marika.
“Wh-what’s wrong with white?”
“Oh, it’s still perfectly fine for you. It suits you. In fact, I’m impressed you have a real wire bra instead of a sports bra. That’s pretty mature for an AA. Wa ha ha ha!!”
“Mine are an A!! Not an AA!!”
That unnecessary correction made Karuta blush all the more and Kyouka (whose size spoke for itself) smiled bitterly with her head resting in her hand.
If you were proud enough of what you were wearing, you apparently felt no need to hide it. Matsuda Imi (who had been looking down on her friend while wearing a kiddy striped bra herself) spread her arms at her sides to enter airplane mode as she chased after her gyaru friend who was on her way to the terminal.
It was hard to believe they were about to begin a major battle.
It felt more like a scene out of a peaceful school.
They were about to give their all toward reclaiming Second Grimnoah, but even that was only viewed as taking back what was rightfully theirs.
If the Crystal Magicians known as the world’s strongest were to fail here and lose their base, all human hope would crumble. In the worst case, the 5.5 billion could be gradually worn down into extinction without ever finding their next strongest.
And Karuta’s group had no guarantee they would return from this alive.
This was the real deal. Their opponent’s specs were unknown, but the coming battle could easily be even worse than the one against the decoys at the Crystal Beach.
The general assumption that you would survive did not apply in real battles. It was Karuta’s group’s job to put together a realistic plan of action that would make that assumption a reality. They could not rely on the adults either. If they did not do this themselves, their plan would fall apart and they would all be slaughtered. And yet…
(I know it’s better than being traumatized, but is our previous success making them overconfident?) “It’s better this way,” whispered Omotesandou Kyouka (who was wearing a surprisingly cute pastel color).
She was trying to encourage her fellow outcast.
“If they were feeling the real fear of battle, they would break before the fighting even began.”
The real Threat’s strength was unknown, but they did know one thing for sure at this stage.
They were about 30km away, but flying in and attacking the Port of Kobe from the air was not an option.
Thanks to the Sparkle’s lasers, they would all be shot down before arriving.
That was why they were using large tour buses to travel from Osaka to Hyogo, traveling north along a curving highway. A convoy of camouflaged military trucks would be too conspicuous, so it could gather the attention of the Threat and even the bored media.
Natlena Blast fidgeted nervously in the next seat over.
“A-are you sure this is a good idea, Senpai? It’s true the Threat might not notice us like this, but aren’t we using the city buildings as a shield!?”
“An evacuation order was put out quite a while ago and I doubt anyone will choose to ignore that with the Threat here. Word will be spreading that the city will be destroyed overnight.”
“Evacuate to where? Um, don’t the prefectures bordering Osaka Bay contain more than 10 million people?”
The blonde girl knew an awful lot about Japan for a US citizen. And things like this went more smoothly when following an existing process than when attempting something new and unprecedented. For example, Fukui had the highest concentration of nuclear power plants in Japan and Nara was a mountainous region famous for its hot springs, meaning it was also an active volcano. With several possible causes for concern, a largescale disaster response manual had been developed to cover the entire Kansai region.
In another seat, his classmates Yamane Deiri and Nekoumi Hirosuke were looking out the window.
“Noo! How did we visit Osaka without getting any of the local specialties!? I at least wanted to try some akashiyaki!”
“Farewell, Osaka, and hello, Kobe. What other part of Kansai is known for its beauty at night? Sapporo?”
“Senpai,” said Puppy Girl Natlena while dying to correct those two, but Karuta placed a hand on her shoulder from the next seat over to restrain her. She had to learn to not chase after every single ball that flew past her.
Karuta was getting a mild headache from his high school classmates who were exposing their idiocy a little too freely in front of the middle schooler, but he had to focus.
They did not drive down from the interchange to the ordinary roads. The Port of Kobe was right in front of them – he could already see its tall gantry cranes. The tour buses parked in a row at a nearby service station and Karuta stepped out into the sun shower. He detected the salty sea breeze mixed in with the rain. He flicked the Crystal Blossom on his chest and sent out a transmission to let everyone know what was happening.
He of course switched over to his public mode for this.
“We will continue as planned, but I cannot guarantee you that following your training will be enough to overcome this. We have all already experienced the cruelty of real combat. So let us protect Second Grimnoah, protect the Port of Kobe, and protect the world to show the bored media the pride of true veterans. Begin!!”
Several high-pitched sounds followed.
Around 100 middle and high school students had been gathered here. The boys and girls all shattered the Crystal Blossoms on their chests to cover themselves in translucent armor. They could not fly high in the sky thanks to those anti-air lasers, but they could still ignore the paths of the roads as they jumped straight down from the service area to the ordinary road below.
Natlena had already donned her armor, so she checked on the ski-like parts on her feet before looking back toward Karuta.
He alone could not wear amor like the other students. Nor could he fly.
“Um, uh, what about you?”
“Power up. Come on out, Aine.”
His Crystal Blossom shattered, his shirt pulled up, and a pale-skinned crystal girl crawled out from his stomach.
This was the irregularity he alone possessed.
Aine tilted her head while awaiting orders.
“What shall I do?”
“Well, first you can- wah!?”
Aine was puzzled by his shout.
The crystal girl had no center or core. Everything from the tip of her sword to her heart was an equal part of her and she had been wearing that white garment the first time she emerged.
But at the moment, it was raining.
In that downpour, well, the dress grew see-through. It clung to her fine skin, revealing the shape of her relatively uncurvy body. It was the white fabric’s fault!!
Aine herself did not bat an eye.
“Is something wrong, Sacri-sama?”
“Okay, I guess I have to make this an order. Listen, Aine, please hide your body. Immediately! It’s just that, um, are you unfamiliar with the concept of a bra!?”
The crystal girl silently lowered her gaze to check on her own disastrous state.
“But keeping my clothing constantly dry in this continuing rain is unrealistic and it would be highly inefficient to cover my body with my hands while I- byah!”
“You’re squeezing your eyes shut, blushing, trembling, and you even bit your tongue just now! I can tell you’re embarrassed too, so please stop pretending otherwise! There must be some solution to this!!”
Their field trip to the Icelandic Crystal Beach had not been a fun experience, but it had not been a total failure. For example, he had gotten Aine to feel embarrassment about her own nudity.
Another of his few victories there had been Natlena Blast, but she was now giving him a cold look.
“Senpai, um, why did you react so differently to her than to me?”
She was imagining things.
In fact, he also felt awkward looking at Natlena when she was so thoroughly soaked in the rain.
“Countermeasure: unknown. This particular problem must be put on hold.”
“Okay, fine. Then let’s get to work, Aine!”
After giving that command half in desperation, a pleasant slapping sound reached his ears.
Aine had swept him off his feet, flipped him around in midair, and grabbed him in a princess carry.
Then the crystal girl notices something.
“Oh, my hair covers it pretty well.”
“Don’t get careless, Aine. A hair bra is not generally accepted as covering up. That still counts as defenseless.”
Her movements remained precise as they discussed it. She did not hesitate to jump gently down to the hard asphalt 15m below the elevated service area with him in her arms.
It could be hard to tell with how easily she did it, but that was as tall as a school’s roof. It was a deadly height that was dangerous to jump from with or without a parachute. Natlena ended up watching it in a daze, but then she frantically activated her flight.
“Never fly for more than 5 seconds, Natlena. We’re already within lethal range of the Sparkle’s lasers, so it’s over the instant it notices you.” After that quick rebuke, Karuta left Aine’s arms and planted his feet on the rain-wet road. “And we’re less than 500m from the Port of Kobe. If you count the adjacent airport, the Port of Kobe covers 10km of the coast, but we have to start here. Let’s go, Natlena. Real or decoys, we need to take the Second Grimnoah back from the Threat.”
“R-right. Um, to take back humanity’s mobile base!”
He tried to keep it off his face.
But he was not at all confident he had succeeded.
He made all these valiant statements, but his real motives were much more personal. He was only interested in the dead dream of those lethally-wounded crystal statues, but working to rescue them had to be nothing but a nuisance to the rest of humanity. He doubted anyone would understand if he was honest about his motives. Not just the outsiders who knew nothing of Crystal Magic, but the other Grimnoah students and teachers too. If they knew, they would all tell him to get lost and they would abandon the fight. They would say the first ship’s problems were meaningless to their second ship. And they were right about that.
Was that his reason for not telling them? Was that really a valid justification?
(I don’t care if it’s wrong. I will save my friends even if it makes me a lying sack of shit!!)
Aine used her sword to slice through the tall fence and Karuta silently stepped into the Port of Kobe’s grounds.
It was finally beginning.
The world’s strongest magicians were about to contact the true and legitimate Threat.
Osaka’s floating general airport was located 30km to the south and Student Council President Omotesandou Kyouka was humming as she operated the equipment in the control tower there. The number of buttons and dials there reached the quadruple digits and even licensed professionals had trouble dealing with it all, but Kyouka managed it more casually than searching for videos on a phone or tablet.
“Will that actually tell you anything?” asked Marika in exasperation.
“A number of things. For example, that the stubborn coalition force is preparing a nuclear launch.”
Marika did a shocked double take, but Kyouka did not look back her way. She only waved a headset in one hand.
“Care to take a listen? They’re talking about filling a landing ship with armored trucks and spacesuits for those shut-ins, about their remaining supply of iodine chemical, and about how a big old missile would be too noticeable and get shot down by a laser so they want to drag a field gun near the city and fire a nuclear warhead into the Port of Kobe from close range. What ever happened to the three non-nuclear principles, I wonder? Besides, thinking nukes will solve all the world’s problems is such an old way of thinking. Maybe those military officials are still upset they never got to fire a single one during the Cold War, so they’re hoping to finally do so before they retire.”
“Wh-wh-what coalition force?”
“All the usual suspects – America, China, Russia, France, and the UK – but India and Australia have decided to join in the fun this time. That’s strange, though. Since when does Australia have nukes? Sigh, I suppose this means the Southern Hemisphere has finally entered the age of nuclear weapons.”
Marika’s mouth flapped wordlessly because Karuta and the others would be entering the Port of Kobe right about now.
The President laughed without even looking back.
“I am making some adjustments to ensure they don’t interfere, so there is nothing to worry about. You focus on your job, Marika-san.”
“Um, Miss President? I assume you’re aware of this, but…”
“That’s the smile of someone powerful hoping to receive something in return. But I don’t know what has you worried or what you’re hoping to get me to say. Not without you telling me first.”
Kyouka chose to remain silent.
She gave no answer and did not look back.
Eventually the President once more spoke without showing her honest side even to that fellow avenger.
“I won’t let the grownups have their way. The first ship may have been built for their purposes, but not the second one. We reclaimed that Crystal Magic academy for our own selfish reasons, so it will be us who settle things here. I will not allow the grownups to barge in and interfere when they don’t really care about any of this – it’s all just a job for them.”
“Fine, whatever works,” was all Marika said.
It was already known that the scope of what Marika would protect was extremely narrow. If something would help her protect what she cared about, she would go along with it no matter how dangerous it might be. Her stance was exceedingly simple in such things.
The curly twintails girl sighed too quietly for the President to hear.
(I almost wish she wasn’t someone I wanted to protect.)
Also, she did not have time to stand around in the airport control tower all day.
Karuta had gone to the front line and Kyouka had found something to do. And as always, Aine would put the boy’s orders first.
In the same way, Amaashi Marika had her own job to do.
She stretched out the equipment that had been supplied to her and gave it an extremely skeptical look.
“Can I really put this tight thing on by myself?”
“I have heard that the banned shark skin racing swimsuits required the help of someone else to put on. Eh heh heh. Marika, would you like some help getting changed?”
The Port of Kobe in Hyogo had received an evacuation order.
But some workers had remained because the fuel pipelines running through the port continued to transport 20 tons of flammable material every minute. The pipelines could not be shut down so quickly and the flammable materials had to be removed from the pipes or else damage to the pipes could trigger a largescale oil fire. The many safety checks built into the usual auto-controlled system were not going to finish in time, so workers in jumpsuits were relying on the old-fashioned methods. Their only option was to run all over the port and forcibly turn the giant metal wheels to complete the emergency shutdown.
One large man gasped for breath while pressing his back against a metal wheel taller than he was at the foot of a gantry crane.
(The oil refinery section’s sea berth was shut down. That just leaves the LNG storage section’s pipe that cuts through here.)
He stared at a notebook-sized tablet and operated it with trembling fingers.
A flat four-wheel drive vehicle began to move a short distance away. It was as long and wide as a large bus, but it was only about a meter tall. It was an automatic transport vehicle meant to carry containers around the port. Designate a location and it would carry a container there with a margin of error of only 2cm, so it could be used as a decoy or a shield.
He heard several deep metallic crashing sounds in a row.
A nearby stack of containers had collapsed. Worse, a young worker was caught below one of the rolling metal containers.
The large man stuck his head out from behind the metal wheel taller than an adult and his face immediately stiffened. He pressed his back against the wheel, squeezed his eyes shut, and clicked his tongue.
He felt a powerful pressure from directly above. From above the roof of the simple prefab three-story office/breakroom. Something was up there and staring down at the ground. It was like a thick and invisible wall that left less room for escape than the falling ceiling in some ancient ruins. It was not actually staring at the large man, though. If it had spotted him, he would be dead already. That thing was staring at the young man pinned below the container.
It was a monster.
A monster simply known as the Threat. He had never seen the Threat before and no one had told him that was indeed what this was, but the large man had known at a glance. What else could you call that thing?
The shape alone was something like a tadpole with legs.
But it was not.
Tadpoles were not so large they could easily step over a 20-ton truck.
Tadpoles could not knock over a pyramid of metal containers by tackling it.
Tadpoles would not form a group to block off all escape for the humans.
And tadpoles did not split apart their round body made of black metal to reveal a horrific array of crocodile-like teeth. Nor did they have plasma jets more terrifying than a welding torch crackling in their mouths.
It did not have an obviously fearsome appearance like a tiger or T-rex. Slaughter by an almost humorous-looking creature was a brand new sort of fear.
There was no dignity in death here.
Dying to that would feel as pathetic as being drugged and placed on the ground so you could not resist as pigs devoured you, starting from the extremities.
The large man felt entirely helpless.
The automatic transport vehicle he had hoped to use as a decoy or shield had been flipped over as a mere side effect of the collapsing containers.
During his brief glimpse earlier, the younger man had been shaking his head while crushed below the metal container. The younger man’s face had been pale with terror, but he had desperately pleaded the large man not to come out and try to rescue him.
He heard a noise.
That sound of strength gathering in metal somewhat reminded him of straining muscles. After an ominous silence similar to a bowstring being drawn, a heavy crash destroyed the prefab roof.
The legged tadpole had leaped from the roof toward its prey.
A dull sound soon followed.
The automatic transport vehicle had flown in from the side and knocked the airborne tadpole away.
Meanwhile, something was heard whizzing through the air. It was Natlena Blast’s legs. Her ski-like armor had fanned out and ultra-thin wires emerged from each piece.
Those were the scales of Anubis, Egyptian god of judgment.
With every roundhouse kick, side flip, and breakdance-like rotation of her body, the metal flowers at the end of the wires opened up and those grab buckets “grabbed” various obstacles. They grabbed them and swung them around. The 12-year-old girl wielded a storm of metal to make an additional fierce attack against the legged tadpole.
“Aine,” said a boy’s voice.
A much cleaner sound of destruction followed. It came from a sword. Several lines ran through the metal container pinning the younger man down so solidly, orange sparks flew, and the container fell apart. It happened so cleanly the rescued younger man was taken aback.
The boy who had commanded the pale-skinned crystal girl walked calmly up from a short distance away.
He walked toward the large man hiding behind the gantry crane’s metal wheel.
“You need to evacuate. More Grimnoah students are at the northern gate, so they will guide you out.”
The large man shrank down like a scolded child even as the rain hit him.
But not because of fear.
“I was in charge of keeping him safe. And yet…”
Utagai Karuta sighed.
Karuta too had failed to save people when the first ship met its doom. His pride had been left in tatters and he had felt like his entire being had been denied, but he had still clenched his teeth in the depths of incompetence and figured out how to crawl back up again.
But this man could redo things without needing to rely on revenge.
Revenge had been the only option for the boy, so he crouched down to match the seated man’s eye level.
“I just saved one life. There is no denying that.”
He peeled back the mask of his public mode. Or he made it look like he had.
“So you only have to save three lives over the rest of your life. You can easily outdo the world’s strongest that way. But to do that, you can’t let yourself die here. So get out of here. Hurry!!”
He slapped the man on the back to urge him on and the large man ran from the collapsed container yard while lending a shoulder to the injured younger man. He looked back several times to lower his head in thanks as he did so.
Aine approached with sword in hand and whispered too quietly for the men to hear.
“That math does not add up.”
“It doesn’t have to.”
A pyramid scheme did not have to be a bad thing. If someone saved three people, those three people saved three more each, and so on like that, it was bound to improve this shitty world more than all the efforts of a single world’s strongest.
Karuta brushed up his wet bangs in an irritated way and turned around.
He and Aine faced the battlefield. Visibility was poor with several of the container piles collapsed, but the scent of the sea was strong. They were not far from the Second Grimnoah academy ship now.
He flicked the Crystal Blossom on his chest and gave an order using its communication function.
“Send a few people to make sure the LNG pipeline is shut down!”
He heard several heavy clanging sounds.
Clear drops of water scattered from the short skirt of Natlena’s uniform while she used the wires on her legs to “grab” and swing around containers, trucks, water, and even the air itself. Rapid-fire attacks sounded good, but they also meant a single hit was not enough to finish off your enemy.
This was the real Threat.
As expected, they would not die so easily.
And if they could do the same thing the decoys at the Crystal Beach had done, then any that did die would only have their remains taken in by the others to create even more formidable monsters. Karuta was beyond being surprised by things not going as planned. After surviving two intense battles, he had learned that god was not going to grant you divine salvation no matter how much you pleaded for it. That was a lesson he would much rather not have learned.
He breathed in and out while gathering his resolve.
“We can’t leave this to Natlena alone. I’ll need your help here, Aine.”
“All that leadup is unnecessary. Simply give me my orders.”
Crystal Magic was known as the world’s strongest.
That remained true even when it took the form of a small girl.
First, Aine rushed in with her clear sword at the ready. Natlena’s lengthy battle against the legged tadpole was like playing round after round of Russian roulette, but she failed to realize her odds of death rose with each move she made.
Her survival one moment was no guarantee of her survival the next. Aine’s long silver hair scattered water droplets as she bought some slight time, so Karuta spoke into his Crystal Blossom while behind cover.
“If it bites you, you’ll be burned through. You need to fall back behind cover, Natlena!”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Senpai! I can still-!!”
“That tadpole isn’t the only one!! You’ll be surrounded!!”
He shouted back at her and pulled a modified military flashlight from his uniform. Blinding an enemy with its extra amps and powerful IR was effective against biological eyes and mechanical sensors.
(The problem is I’m not sure where those tadpoles’ “eyes” even are. Should I assume it’s the same as in a kid’s animal encyclopedia? Can I really entrust my life to a mere assumption?)
Another transmission cut in.
It came from his classmates Yamane Deiri and Nekoumi Hirosuke.
“Hey, Karuta, can we save her!? She’s moved out too far on her own. I’m not into skinny little bodies like that, but it’s scaring me seeing her do this!!”
“Hee hee hee. Now’s my chance to show off to a s-sexy middle school girl!”
Yamane was at the base of a container pile and Nekoumi was searching for a sniping point at the top.
The Crystal Magicians all had their own traits and specs and the tadpoles were gathering after hearing the commotion. Karuta rationally analyzed their fighting force in his head. Taking too optimistic a view could lead to things unraveling and people dying.
He could only ask them to do what they could actually do.
“Understood, Yamanen. You can tackle Nat- Jane Ignition-san if you need to, but get her away from the front line! Plea-”
His breath caught in his throat.
An unnatural green beam of light had blasted through the container yard after being fired toward the ground at a very shallow angle. It pierced through the foundation of a metal pyramid and melted the asphalt ground into an orange liquid.
Yamane Deiri had been using that pyramid as a shield, so his right arm was torn off at the shoulder.
Which was more frightening: the fact that the blast was powerful enough to break right through the Crystal Magic barrier, or the hippo-like Threat that was in the line of fire but shrugged off the blast?
(A laser!? Did it come from Second Grimnoah!?)
They were about 500m away.
The special three-hull cruise ship was visible from here and something stood on the roof of the middle school building located on one of the decks.
It was larger even than the metal containers.
It was a pitch black lion with a mane and with several long cylindrical containers swept backwards from either side of its neck. Those containers may have been vacuum tubes or capacitors. Impossibly, they also looked like a flying fish’s pectoral fins.
That was the Sparkle.
Those pectoral fins were spread out like wings, their tips glowed green, and a mysterious energy gradually gathered toward its throat. With its four legs planted firmly on the artificial footing, the lion opened its great maw.
Light the color of a neon sign filled the back of its throat.
It stared straight at Utagai Karuta.
He frantically spun around and dove toward the rain-slick road just as the stack of metal containers he had been using as a shield was pierced through. The few drops of scorching orange spray that hit him caused enough pain that he thought he might pass out. Was that what it felt like to be hit by a bullet? If that high-power laser had directly hit him, he would have been vaporized and killed instantly with no chance for regeneration.
The burned skin of his arm was rapidly covered by pointed crystals. The regeneration process had begun, but if even the slightest attack caused the wound to shatter, it would never heal again.
(The artificial rain isn’t working at all!! If we don’t shut that thing down soon, it’ll just keep firing on us. We need to think up a safe way of approaching Second Grimnoah!!)
That was when he heard something odd.
“Ah ha ha.”
It came from the classmate whose arm had been burned off, but this was not an attempt to look tough or the result of confusion. It was the perfectly ordinary laughter you might hear in the classroom.
He casually swung around his right arm covered in pointed crystal while the rain poured down on him.
“The thing tore my damn arm off!! Not bad, Threat. Wa ha ha ha ha! How bout I attach an electric drill or pile bunker!?”
Karuta felt an unpleasant sensation crawling up his spine.
Before the battle began, he had wondered if their previous success was making them overconfident.
(This isn’t right. This isn’t right at all, Yamanen!!)
He thought he could not feel any more fear than he already was, but while he clenched his teeth behind cover, Aine approached, tilted her head, and provided an even more horrifying opinion without bothering to fix the hair plastered to her cheek.
“They might be copying you.”
Karuta did not even notice as the 30 seconds passed, the crystal shattered, and his skin was as good as new.
“It was you at the Crystal Beach that showed them the optimized fighting style where you ignored all pain and fear and incorporated the destruction of your own body into your tactics. You proved those tactics to be effective while eliminating the decoy Threat, so is it really surprising that the other students who saw you fight that way would want to incorporate the world’s strongest’s tactics into their own tactical flowchart?”
He was truly speechless this time.
(I…I made Yamanen and the others like this???)
Still soaking wet, Aine glanced over at him before continuing.
“They taught themselves to do this from their own observations. You seem displeased with the result, but I do not see why the structure of their tactical flowcharts should bother you so much.”
“Of course it bothers me.”
He also realized that the world’s strongest Four Living Gods could not simply fight and win. How they won would set history in motion. What if they saved the world from a great crisis with a suicide attack? They might be perfectly satisfied as they died, but the people who survived would learn from that action. It would teach them that sacrificing their own lives was effective. They might have plenty of other options, but their admiration of those four would give them tunnel vision and they would continue making suicide attacks. It would lead to an age where everyone gave up on trying to win without sacrificing their own lives.
The invisible pressure of being the world’s strongest weighed down on him.
He shook his head before speaking.
“Getting Natlena to fall back comes first right now. Once she’s safe, we can search for a route to approach Second Grimnoah. Aine, any ideas?”
“Yes, about Miss Natlena.”
Aine pointed her crystal-like sword toward Natlena from a distance.
Technically, she was pointing it toward one of the metal containers Natlena was swinging around.
The crystal girl’s sword had a jitte-like branch where a short laser gun unit was attached. She used that projectile to burn through one of the grab bucket wires.
When Natlena suddenly lost her balance, her small body was pulled by the weight of the remaining containers and unmanned transportation vehicles, tossing her through the air. She looked a lot like a fish being pulled from the water by a fishing rod.
Her feet were lifted from the wet ground and she flew like a long throw in baseball. Karuta quickly spread his arms to catch the 12-year-old in a princess carry, but her momentum was too great and both of them flew backwards. They ended up rolling along in a tangle, but they ended up behind a large truck. That was their next cover.
“Sacri-sama.” Aine slipped below the truck to join them and gave an expressionless report. “The lion Threat tentatively known as the Sparkle remains on Second Grimnoah’s roof. We require a fundamental countermeasure for its anti-air lasers. If you have no plan at the moment, our only options are to temporarily withdraw or to force our way to the ship, losing lives all the while.”
“But since that Threat accurately intercepted more than 100 missiles at once, I am skeptical the latter option would even work. Plus, the Sparkle is not the only Threat, so the death rate would rise even further if those tadpole ones slowed us down. Shall we attempt it?”
They could already see it.
It was only 500m away. With the flight of the ordinary Crystal Magic that Natlena, Yamane Deiri, and the others could use, that distance would take less than a second at full speed.
That would mean demanding the students of the second ship sacrifice their lives for the dead first ship.
He squeezed Natlena in his arms to feel the body heat within her soaked uniform.
There was a definite life there.
They had already taken damage. Yamane Deiri’s right arm had been blown clean off by the Sparkle’s anti-air laser and he had only survived because the heat of the laser had instantly cauterized the wound, preventing any bleeding. In other words, it was only dumb luck. With a railgun or coilgun, he would have hemorrhaged blood and his full body would have crystallized.
Would it be the treasure ship that seemed within arm’s reach, or would it be the lives of his fellow students?
He had to choose.
He had to think back.
What kind of strongest had he wanted to be when he first arrived at Grimnoah that spring and his life had still been peaceful? If he lost sight of that, he would end up no different from Anastasia Blast and the rest of the Problem Solvers.
He heard the ominous sound of fire consuming oxygen.
It was far from here, but an attack must have hit a giant tank of crude oil or liquefied natural gas. The workers had been in a rush to shut down the giant pipeline to prevent a largescale conflagration, but that did not help when the actual tanks themselves were destroyed. He could see the orange flames and black smoke. The fire was not spreading inland. It was spreading out toward the ocean which should not have been able to burn.
“That is fortunate.”
He could not believe what Aine had just said, but she apparently did have a logical reason for it.
“If the fuel burns away, there is no risk of it vaporizing and blowing in toward the city. Extinguishing it before the point of leakage is fully shut off could actually lead to the city’s destruction, so be careful.”
The city was safe, but the flames and smoke were spreading into the deserted port and would likely arrive here before long.
There was no time, so Karuta shut his eyes and took a deep breath.
One of the Four Living Gods made up his mind.
He grabbed his underclassman’s shoulders and crouched to her eye level in the rain.
“Listen, Natlena. We’re going to reorganize our forces.”
The fight would not end just because the humans wanted it to. The Threat did not understand their circumstances.
“We will temporarily withdraw from the Port of Kobe and bring our data and firsthand experiences back to Omotesandou-san and the others. We can work out a countermeasure for the Sparkle’s anti-air lasers then. Allowing everyone to withdraw safely requires forming a rear guard unit, so will you fight with us?”
“B-but if the fire spreads across the ocean, um, it will reach our ship!”
“It isn’t a wooden sailing ship, so a fire on the ocean surface won’t get through its cutting-edge hull. Ship fires are mostly caused by internal equipment. It rarely ever happens from an external source.”
Natlena Blast forgot all about how soaked with rain she was as she opened her eyes wide, but he was not budging on this. The Threat’s anti-air lasers had greater specs than they had thought. They could not board Second Grimnoah by forcing their way through the storm of lasers.
(And the others like Yamanen are acting weird. I can only stand here and watch right now, but the way they’re acting, they’ll get themselves killed when they could have won!)
Or they would magically bomb the Threat without thinking of the consequences and end up sinking the academy ship. Light and flames could not be shot down with lasers, but it was unknown if plunging the Threat into the ocean would be enough to kill them. Plus, that would almost certainly shatter Gekiha and the rest of the crystallized people.
(Who do you care about more? Natlena’s group or Gekiha’s group?)
Utagai Karuta hated himself for even briefly weighing those two on the scales.
He could not get greedy.
He could not get fixated on winning. Survival was their top priority.
“Is that okay with you, Aine?”
“I do not mind, so do what you want to do. But while you can possibly fool the media on the ground, the military satellites are another story. Have you considered how the world’s strongest turning tail and running will influence society?”
“Yes. I was the one that got their hopes up, so they can place all the blame on me.”
“Senpai,” said Natlena in an accusatory way, but his mind was made up. Every move he made would influence the entire world. He had already seen that in his classmate Yamane Deiri.
He had to show them the sort of strongest he wanted to be.
Was Utagai Karuta’s idea of the strongest someone who would be broken by one measly loss?
“The real disaster would be if I got so afraid of some imagined accident that I got myself killed. If the strongest can’t lose, then their life has to be treated with the utmost care. We can just ignore all the international criticism on the TV news.”
“Understood,” said Aine. “If this is a rational choice made after serious thought, then I shall obey.”
On the roof 500m away, green light once more glowed from the capacitors spread out from the black lion’s neck like a flying fish’s pectoral fins. The energy gathered on a single point and filled its throat.
But the straight line of destruction unleashed by the Sparkle was not aimed at Karuta and the other Crystal Magicians. In the slight gap between the concrete wharf and the ship itself, the mooring ropes and anchor chain holding Second Grimnoah in place were severed.
Was even the Threat bothered by environmental pollution?
Second Grimnoah was now loose in the waves, so it slowly drifted away from the port.
Utagai Karuta clenched his teeth and forced out a command.
Was it thanks to his initial defeat against the wielders of God Worshiping Magic that he now had the strength to admit defeat as the world’s strongest?
“Nh, kh,” groaned a voice back on the floating general airport about 30km south of the frontline.
More specifically, it was inside a flight attendant locker room.
Amaashi Marika tried to suppress her voice, but she could still feel it escaping through her nose. She made one final effort while feeling her entire body squeezed tight from the outside.
“Yes, yes. There aren’t any teenage boys around to excite, so you can stop making all that noise. Look, all done.”
She had cleared the final barrier with the help of her more mature classmate Hashizaki Tayori. A special synthetic material less than a millimeter thick now covered her all the way up to her shoulders.
She blushed when she saw herself in the large mirror.
The skintight, waterproof, and heat insulating material covered her arms, legs, and torso equally, leaving only her head exposed. It was apparently a cutting-edge silent diving suit, but the shape of her breasts, butt, collarbones, and even navel showed through.
She twisted around to get a look at her back in the mirror.
“Yikes. I knew this would show off my figure, but not this much.”
“You always sleep in the nude, so why does this bother you so much? Anyway, if you’re done, then help me out.”
“Sure thing, Imi.”
Cutting-edge or not, Marika thought there was something wrong with a suit so tight you could not get it on by yourself. Matsuda Imi had managed to get it on her legs by herself, so Marika and Tayori stood on either side of her and worked together to tug the thin material up over the girl’s shoulders. It felt a lot like struggling with a thick rubber panel stuck to the ground.
“Ow, ow, ow, ow!!”
“Bear with it.”
“I…I think it’s kinda caught on my boobs! Ow! I-it’s rubbing!”
“You’re imagining it. It’s perfectly smooth on the inside.”
With a solid snap, Imi was dressed.
“So now the oxygen tanks and our luggage?” asked Tayori who had gotten into hers first.
“Ugh, will this thing really work? I feel like the crotch is going to rip as soon as I spread my legs a little.”
“If you’re worried, then why not test it out? Do some gymnastic stretches, Marika.”
That was a good point, so Marika cautiously moved her body while Tayori supported her. She knew it was designed to allow this kind of movement, but she was still scared since she found that hard to believe.
“First, lower your hips like normal.”
Tayori placed her hands on Marika’s shoulders while standing in front of her. The two of them bent their knees to lower their hips.
“Once your butt is on the floor, keep your knees bent and slowly spread your legs to the sides.”
“Nh, like this?”
“And with your legs still spread, I just have to flip you over and lift your butt up high. Tah dah! Now you’ve mastered that embarrassing pose they do in porn all the time!”
“Bffhhh!!!??? What is wrong with you, Tayori!?”
“It didn’t tear, did it?”
Marika blushed and struggled (while flipped upside down) and Tayori laughed while still holding the girl’s legs in place.
Meanwhile, Matsuda Imi was restlessly rubbing her thighs together.
“What, is it tighter than you expected and you’ve taken a liking to it? Y’know, like a bike seat?”
“It’s not that…ahh, I can’t take it. I’m so nervous it’s about to leak out on its own. Marika, Tayori, help me get this thing off! I need to use the restroom.”
“What a pain. We just got it on you!!”
Marika complained while stripping the teenage girl bare. Once she was naked again, Imi left the room, but this was actually a problem that fighter pilots and astronauts had yet to fully solve. The best solution was to avoid drinking very much fluids while on standby, just like a small child afraid of wetting the bed.
(It’s going to be cold in the water, so we need to look after our health on this mission.)
The other two sensitive teenage girls kept that thought on their minds as they awaited their friend’s return.
Marika grabbed some thick goggles and used her other hand to flick the Crystal Blossom on the chest of her suit.
“Okay, Omotesandou-san. We’re about to leave.”
“Understood. Once you’re in the ocean, avoid any communications other than short-range ones with your team. Long-distance communications are off limits both with your Crystal Blossom and your phone.”
“Do you really think the Threat can intercept those? Not even research lab quantum computers have been able to analyze how Crystal Blossom communications work. And the Threat might not even understand the concepts of encryption and transmissions.”
“The trick to survival is to always assume the worst when you aren’t confident about something. And do you remember the observation reports of a sea urchin Threat covered in moving rods that looked an awful lot like TV antennas? Plus…”
“This is more of a jinx than anything with real data to back it up, but they swear the manned high-altitude spy planes that don’t send out any signals last longer than the unmanned spy drones that are constantly sending signals back to their base. The Sparkle’s anti-air lasers supposedly fire more often with the latter. Of course, the altitude, speed, material, size, and shape are all different, so it’s hard to say if the signals are really what’s causing it.”
That meant the manned and unmanned ones were both shot down in the end. Even the professional soldiers had thrown in the towel without finding a workable strategy. The apocalypse had arrived at the Port of Kobe – most people were just not aware of it yet.
Kyouka continued like they were only having a casual chat.
“By the way, Karuta-kun and the others seem to be having a harder time than expected as they make their attack on the surface. He says they’re going to withdraw and bring back their raw data and experiences.”
“What is he doing?”
“We had a feeling this might happen, didn’t we? Which is why you need to do your part down there in the ocean. That is our real attack, after all.”
Imi returned naked and with a bashful smile, so it was time to get that annoyance of a skintight suit back on her.
“I bet that President says the same thing to everyone,” commented gyaru-ish Tayori while they worked at Imi’s suit.
“Really? She seems surprisingly naïve deep down to me.”
Tayori and Marika were of split opinions on this, but that was not a problem.
The three girls grabbed some metal tanks that felt heavy out of the water and placed them over their backs. They grabbed some waterproof bags before moving outside. Even with the special suits on, the rain still felt unpleasant. They walked across the flat megafloat to the straight-line edge.
Imi put on some large goggles and looked down toward the water.
“Wow, I didn’t realize we were so high up. Is that about three meters?”
“Less talking, more jumping.”
“Hey, don’t push on my butt, Tayori…gyaaahhh!?”
Imi was shoved off into the ocean by a hand on her butt (that had avoided the tank on her back) and then Marika and Tayori jumped into the water dyed orange by the light.
With their cutting-edge silent diving suits, they could ignore the water temperature and pressure and the slight bumps on the surface reduced the noise of their movement through the water as much as possible. Supposedly anyway. They had no way of knowing if any of that was really happening.
“Ugh, I hear a lot of bubbling when I breath out. Are you sure this thing’s working?”
“Quite complaining, Imi. We need to follow the fiber optic cable on the ocean floor to reach the Port of Kobe.”
“If only things were still going as planned. I really wish Karuta had actually done his job as a diversion and drawn their attention more.”
The girls spoke using the short-range communications of their Crystal Blossoms while they began to move just off the ocean floor. Since they could swim straight there and ignore the land route, it was about 30km north from the floating general airport to the Port of Kobe. That would eat away their stamina more than a full marathon if they swam like normal, so they would be too exhausted to fight once they arrived. That was why they needed to surround themselves in crystal armor and take advantage of the flight that provided.
Yes, they could use Crystal Magic underwater.
This was a nonstandard usage, though, so there were a few things they had to watch out for.
“Power up. …Imi, Tayori, don’t move too quickly. The water creates a lot of resistance, so you would only crush yourself with your own speed.”
“And with the goggles and mouthpiece on. I’m afraid of hurting my teeth by flying with this thing in my mouth.”
“The tank is dangerous too, but we still need it. If the wall of water causes our preset barrier to activate, all our luggage will be deflected away from us.”
However, the points of the crystal armor rendered the silent diving suits mostly useless as far as water resistance was concerned.
And of course, this required some level of caution. They were approaching the Metal-Derived Autonomous-Origin Higher Lifeform Combat Weapons commonly known as the Threat. No one knew if they were biological or mechanical. If they did not need oxygen or had gills, they would be able to move through the water just fine.
And in fact…
“Be careful,” said Marika while they advanced through the ocean.
There was a large mass up ahead. A hemispherical umbrella of black metal was floating in the seawater. Perhaps it was meant to look like a jellyfish. The 2m object was attached to the ocean floor with a thick chain and had long tentacles thinner than hairs flowing freely in the current. It looked more like a sea mine meant to obstruct travel through the ocean than it did a predator with a mind of its own.
That jellyfish Threat slowly wobbled side to side in the orange ocean, but it was not alone. When looking off into the distance, red lights could be seen slowly flashing like the lights on top of skyscrapers at night.
“Mines? They have red lights, but they don’t seem to have eyes.”
“How can you tell, Tayori?”
“If they could locate us with lenses, they would have surrounded us by now. Hey, Imi, can you think of any reason for the Threat to spare a human? And these real ones attacked Second Grimnoah for some reason. That suggests they know the value of Crystal Magic.”
The girls made sure to avoid touching the long tentacles as they swam past the black jellyfish along the ocean floor. Luckily, none of them suddenly opened a large mouth or exploded as they passed by.
“What do we call those?” asked Imi while looking back a few times. “Does the discoverer get to name them???”
“Don’t use your long-range communications to ask the President. The Threat would notice and surround us immediately.”
But Marika was not ready to celebrate having successfully avoided them.
“It isn’t just the Port of Kobe. The Threat has spread over a much wider area of ocean. How far has their contamination spread?”
“We can only pray they don’t already have the entire Japanese Archipelago surrounded.”
The fact that no one could laugh at Tayori’s melancholic statement showed just how bad the situation was.
For one thing, the Threat had supposedly come from the bottom of the ocean when they attacked Second Grimnoah, so the girls could not let their guard down.
They kept their speed low so as not to be crushed between their own speed and the water resistance as they followed the underwater fiber optic cable to the Port of Kobe. Even with the water resistance reducing their speed, it only took them 45 minutes to cover the 30km.
They saw a few oddities other than the jellyfish at the bottom of the bay.
Giant red flowers were blossoming on the ocean floor.
“What are those?” asked Imi. “Sea urchins? No, these look softer.”
“They might be sea anemones,” said Tayori.
The smaller ones had a diameter of 10m and the larger ones had a diameter of more than 100m. Countless tentacles were spread out in a circle, almost like a sunflower. The tentacles looked too soft to be made of metal as they expanded and contracted to envelop their fellow Threats that dropped down from the ocean.
(Why are they so jiggly? Are they a liquid despite being made of hard metal? No, maybe they’re a collection of small hard pieces, like a beanbag cushion.)
Most of the sea anemones were glowing red, but some were emitting a green light instead. Those ones were spreading their tentacle flowers wide and sending out the tadpole Threats contained within them. And those tadpoles were the size of a large truck.
Imi’s eyes widened behind her thick goggles.
“Their tentacles are stabbing into the other ones.”
The red light would then turn green.
That reminded Marika of something. Even if it was not accurate.
“Are they charging the others up???”
“They do seem to be throbbing in places. But that’s making an awful lot of noise for transporting a liquid. It may be some kind of solid, like a jelly or blocks of something. Whether you would call it fuel or food would depend on the exact mechanism they use, but I bet they are securing some kind of power source.”
Destroying those underwater gas stations may have dealt a blow to the Threat, but Marika stopped that line of thinking. The jellyfish and sea anemone Threats may not have had eyes and ears, but the ones on the surface would. Vision in the seawater was not great, but they would still be noticed if they moved too close. Plus, they had no data on how many of these gas stations existed in the ocean. If they were everywhere, then destroying just what they could see here would not be enough to stop the Threat as a whole.
They would be needlessly revealing their presence with no guarantee of any real effect.
In that case, it was not worth changing their plan for.
Marika shook her head to shake off the temptation.
“Let’s go, Imi, Tayori. That isn’t our target.”
They knew those red and green glowing sea anemone gas stations were carrying other Threats, so they made sure they did not run into any other Threats moving to and from the ocean’s surface as they swam upwards.
Their heads silently emerged from the orange surface of the ocean.
Imi lifted her goggles to her forehead and removed the oxygen tank’s mouthpiece from her mouth while salty-smelling water dripped from her bangs.
“We’re back, Second Grimnoah. My phone contract is still in my dorm room, so I can’t have you kicking me out. I’ve already forgotten the PIN I was given in case I had any trouble.”
A giant wall towered up before them.
The wall of laminated material had an angle of more than 90 degrees, so it was leaning out toward them. Needless to say, that was the hull of the Second Grimnoah academy ship’s special three hull structure.
Tayori stared into the distance instead of at their objective. There was some obvious black smoke there.
“The ship has drifted away from shore. The port is all the way over there.”
“There’s an oil fire on the ocean near the port, so we’re actually lucky it’s drifted away.”
Marika looked up from the water. They could not fly up on top of the ship since it had to be crawling with Threats of all shapes and sizes, but that was not what she was interested in.
“Where’s that laser one?”
“The Sparkle was up on the flat roof, so it shouldn’t be able to see us unless it intentionally looks out over the edge. And as an anti-air weapon, it’s probably more interested in what’s at a distance than at its own feet.”
The Threat would find them if they carelessly flew into the sky, so Marika put her mouthpiece back in and gestured downwards.
She added more with her Crystal Blossom’s short-range communications.
“We can move freely in the water, so let’s dive back down. They’ll have a harder time finding us there.”
“Eh? Is there even an entrance below the water level? Wouldn’t the ship sink with a hole there???”
“Imi, a ship of this size doesn’t move around with just the rudder and propeller on the back. It’s bound to have side thrusters.”
Side thrusters were propellers that pushed seawater out of holes on the sides of the ship. They were used when leaving port or to spin the ship like a turntable by sending water out of the front right side and the rear left side or vice versa.
The motionless propeller was twice as tall as Marika.
After using their oxygen tanks to swim into the tunnel, they entered the ship through a maintenance airlock that used a pressurized pump. It felt a lot like opening a manhole cover and crawling out onto the street.
“Pwah! That was…the worst!!”
Marika spat out her mouthpiece, pulled up her goggles, and shook her head.
The weight of the thick tank weighed down on her again now that the water’s support was gone.
She was also worried about her hair. It was even more soaked with salty seawater than she had expected.
She saw metal pipes, stairs, and strange machinery. There were of course no windows. The place looked more like a workshop than a school. Second Grimnoah looked very different belowdecks than abovedeck.
This was her school and the dorm where she lived, but she did not at all feel the relief of coming home. The pressure squeezing at her heart may have been even greater than in the blizzard at the Crystal Beach. This was an extreme battlefield crawling with the true Threat. They could not be spoken to and the war treaties did not apply. If they were cornered in a dead end and raised their hands to surrender, they would only be swarmed and slaughtered. The tension was on a much greater level.
Now, why had the girls taken such a great risk to sneak into enemy territory with just the three of them?
They had already mentioned the answer.
Marika brushed up her wet bangs and looked to the heavy ceiling.
“That anti-air laser one is on the roof, right? I just hope it hasn’t moved from there.”
“The Sparkle can’t see us in here.”
“Just to be sure, let’s climb up from within the school building. If we can just take out the Sparkle in a surprise attack, the others can fight their way here. We’ll have our school back in no time.”
Of course, this plan fell apart if the Threat found them before that surprise attack succeeded. They understood the power and accuracy of that green laser all too well. They wanted to approach from a blind spot and finish it off in a single attack, not allowing it any attacks of its own.
The middle school building was directly above them.
Gyaru-ish Tayori put a hand on her hip.
“Do we take the stairs like normal?”
“I’m betting they’re watching all the ordinary routes.”
They still did not know why the Threat had attacked Second Grimnoah and occupied it instead of sinking it, but they knew there were some Threats inside here.
Something large and round was slowly rolling near a distant bulkhead.
Imi immediately reached for her Crystal Blossom, so Marika quickly grabbed at her slender wrist and dragged her behind cover. Tayori slipped behind a different piece of machinery.
Marika held her friend in her arms while silently checking on whatever that was. It had a nearly spherical body with something like TV antennas sticking out in every direction. Each of those wriggled independently from the rest to push its body forward. It was maybe 2m tall if you counted out to the ends of the spines.
Was it…a slate pencil urchin?
Those lived among the tropical fish and coral reefs of the tropical seas, so Marika had often seen them on the first ship.
Of course, this only resembled one and behaved nothing like them.
The power of this Threat was unknown. Would it crush them with its giant body, would it shoot those spines like spears, or would it roast them with invisible EM waves? And even if they could defeat it, how many more Threats would rush in afterwards? They would gain nothing from trying to fight here.
“Gah. Marika, your boobs are too big.”
“How is that my fault?”
“What is that thing, anyway? One of the sea urchins they were talking about at the airport???” Imi tilted her head while not looking all that upset about drowning in her friend’s chest. “It’s pretty small compared to the tadpoles and that lion. And isn’t this the engine room – well, sub engine room. We’re right in the heart of their fortress.”
“Maybe the bigger ones simply can’t move around in the ship very well,” suggested Tayori.
Marika listened to those two while silently expanding her pointed crystal armor again.
But not to fight.
She could fly using Crystal Magic. She floated up from the floor using a thick pipe as a shield and slipped inside an emergency smoke vent near the ceiling. They did not need to follow the map or blueprint of the ship. And they did not have to worry about being shot down by the Sparkle’s high-power lasers while inside the ship.
“Wait, Marika, how did you fit inside there? My armor’s catching on the entrance.”
“Put your armor away. I know it’s a pain to power it up every time you need it, but just do it.”
This smoke vent was for emergencies, so it was rarely if ever used and thus nice and clean inside. Using this, they could easily reach the school building or dorm up above the deck.
“Argh, this suit is clinging to my skin. And the tank and goggles are in the way!”
Marika clicked her tongue at herself for only noticing that now, but she could not change inside the cramped smoke vent. After arriving in an area above the deck, she removed the metal grate on the ceiling and looked down into the hallway.
They were already in the middle school building. A tingling fear crawled up from her fingers now instead of when they had entered the ship. It was like being forced to stick your hand into a drain that was not just covered in sticky goop but coated with small unidentified bugs.
The school was awfully dark.
But not just because tons of Threats were covering the windows. Something like metal panels had been pasted onto the outside with some kind of adhesive. Those had apparently been taken from Second Grimnoah’s repair materials and deck-top equipment. The girls could hear claws scratching at the other side.
“Are they making nests? Do they have a bagworm type?”
(How lived-in this place looks makes it so much worse.)
That thought came to Marika’s mind as she hung upside down from the ceiling. Finding yourself in a strange forest at night would be a disaster, but finding yourself in a familiar hospital or amusement park at night would become a test of courage. This was the same.
The school looked entirely different now.
Marika gulped, but the fear remained below her throat.
Unlike a famous suicide spot, the darkness here could be swept away. She forced herself to focus on that fact. If they only got rid of the Threat, the usual Second Grimnoah would be back. She knew what was causing the problem, so she knew where to go. She would at least not be wasting her time.
The classroom windows were covered with scrap material too, so they were full of scratching noises from outside. Was the metal over the windows meant to give the Threats footholds, not to provide armor?
“Now’s our chance to get changed.”
“In there? In what world, Marika? Could you sleep soundly in a mortuary freezer just because it’s about the same size as a sleeping bag?”
Imi’s eyes widened in shock, but this was enemy territory – there was no such thing as a safe zone here. With that metal covering the windows and thus blocking the inside of the room from view, this was as close to safe as they were going to get. In fact, building a sturdy but conspicuous shelter would only draw attention and get them surrounded.
First, Marika dropped down from the ceiling into the hallway and then she supported Imi from below while the girl’s legs flailed.
Once inside the empty classroom, Marika silently lowered the oxygen tank from her back and pulled her usual school uniform from the waterproof bag she had been carrying. The silent diving suit was useful in the water, but it would only get in the way while trying to fight on the ship. And if the Threat was intelligent enough to notice unnatural drops of water on the floor and investigate, the wet diving suits would get them tracked. The three girls balled up their used suits and stuffed them in their bags before sticking the bags, oxygen tanks, and goggles in the cleaning supply lockers lined up by the wall.
They lacked the guts to use a loud dryer, but wiping down their wet hair with a towel helped a lot. Marika tied her uniform’s tie with practiced hand.
“Note where this empty classroom is. If we screw up and have to withdraw, we’ll need to retrieve our equipment.”
“I’d rather not think about that possibility.”
They were keeping their tone light to avoid being swallowed up by fear, but one of the girls remained silent.
Marika and Tayori looked over in confusion.
The girl did not respond even as they called her name.
She had not even finished changing. The salty water was dripping from her bangs and her short skirt remained haphazardly caught on her hips because she had not zipped it up as she stared at something. Whatever it was, it was not in the classroom. Her eyes were on the glimpse of the hallway visible through the not-quite-closed sliding door.
There was something there.
A slender hand beckoned at them through that gap in the door.
It eerily drew the attention of whoever that looked at it.
Imi started to stagger toward the classroom door with her underwear and soft skin still not fully covered. This was strange. Something was not right. Marika and Tayori grabbed at her shoulders to stop her, but they were dragged out of the classroom too.
Immediately, their eyes met those of a naked girl.
The younger girl’s long blue hair fluttered behind her despite the lack of wind. Her skin was so bright it was almost painful to look at, but something really was not right about this. The Threat had occupied this ship and Marika’s group should have been the only three who had snuck onboard.
Then whatever this was, it should not be categorized as human.
It may have been a lure like an anglerfish’s luminescent organ. In fact, the blue-haired girl lacked feet, just like a ghost. Instead of ankles, her legs extended down and attached to the hallway floor.
The thing that looked like a blue-haired girl never stopped smiling.
They did not have time to regret it.
The camouflage was removed from the walls, floor, and ceiling and sea anemone tentacles blossomed out in all directions. The many tentacles rushed in toward the prey that had been lured into the center of its territory.
Karuta had known they would have multiple plans for the one problem.
If he had not had an inkling that they had some form of insurance, he would not have been able to order a withdrawal so reluctantly but readily.
“You’ve lost contact?”
He was in the deserted airport control tower.
It had apparently been turned into the temporary Student Council Room, but with everyone else sent away, only President Omotesandou Kyouka was there.
This was a conversation between only the strongests.
Karuta had completed the withdrawal after confirming that the Threat was not attacking Kobe and was instead returning to the ocean where Second Grimnoah was drifting away.
It was already transitioning from evening to night.
Nevertheless, the ocean refused to take on an ominous black color. The floating general airport was about 30km from the Port of Kobe, but an orange light was still visible from beyond the horizon. That unnatural light came from the crude oil fire spreading out across the ocean.
President Omotesandou Kyouka responded to his question with a soft sigh.
And a confirmation.
“Since we saw those weird sea urchins covered in what look like TV antennas, I told them not to use their radios so the Threat couldn’t detect them, but the satellite still hasn’t detected the IR signal they were supposed to send into the night sky at set times. It is possible the black smoke from the fire is blocking their signal, but…”
Kyouka’s rule was to assume the worst when you did not know for certain.
Because that way you could survive.
“We have no idea if Marika-san and the two volunteers are still alive and we should not be optimistic about their chances.”
“That was our real plan, wasn’t it?”
“The point was for my diversion to reduce the risk for them, right!? I…I said we needed to look after the people we asked to cooperate with us, yet you…!!”
He had not ordered her to, but Aine interrupted while standing at his side.
Her expression remained blank.
“Criticizing Miss Kyouka will not improve the current situation. She is stuck providing logistical support, so she has no way of directly controlling what happens on the front line. On paper at least, her plan was a reasonable one. What actually happened on the battlefield is the responsibility of those fighting on the battlefield.”
That would mean Marika’s group on the underwater route since they had accepted that plan while fully aware of the risks and it meant Karuta’s group on the surface route since they had failed in their diversion and been forced to withdraw early.
Kyouka smiled thinly.
“You can be angrier with me if you like.”
“No, I’m sorry. My own weakness is partly to blame. It was wrong of me to shove all the blame onto you.”
When he clenched his teeth and lowered his head, Kyouka’s usual confident smile was replaced by a much more unusual look.
It was the troubled look of a lost child who had been left behind.
“Karuta-kun. One of your few faults is how overly polite you are.”
“It would be a lot easier on you if you chewed me out at times like this. Then you could make me the one and only villain who betrayed everyone’s expectations.”
The atmosphere between them had never been this heavy when they were pursuing the Problem Solvers or when they had been struggling to survive in the blizzard.
One of the four was missing. This was the first time that had happened.
The silence was broken by Aine. At times like this, they could always count on the crystal girl who could not read the room (because she was not actually human).
“Tell me what I should do next. My Sacri-sama has become entirely useless, so I feel like obeying him right now would only serve to shorten his life.”
“True,” sighed the President.
She seemed somber, but her instructions were precise. Although that did make it look like she was using her work to distract herself from emotions she was unsure how to process.
“Let’s put together a rescue operation for Marika-san’s group. Have we confirmed the Sparkle is shaped like a lion? Regardless, you’ll have to force your way past those anti-air lasers with it still around, but we can’t just ignore this.”
“This plan will lead to a lot of losses and it provides no guarantee of success. After all, it gives us nothing at all if Marika-san is already dead. So I suppose we’ll need a solid justification for it. Instead of keeping anyone from questioning it, we’ll want something that will keep them from backing out.”
We will now begin an underwater operation based on data received from Karuta-kun and Marika-san.
The dual attacks from the surface and underwater have revealed that the underwater route is the more difficult one. Marika-san’s group will have successfully arrived within Second Grimnoah by now.
The biggest problem we must overcome before recovering Second Grimnoah are the anti-air lasers from the lion-shaped Sparkle on the middle school’s roof.
That is why we are gathering volunteers to make a largescale attack along the underwater route. The team will be made up of the first 200 to volunteer. All other students will provide a diversion along the surface route.
We only had wishful thinking before, but now we have actual experience to tell us the anti-air lasers are not fired into the ocean. So you will actually be safer approaching the enemy along the underwater route than providing a diversion on the surface where you will be constantly targeted by the lasers until the operation is complete.
Once we have our 200 volunteers, the underwater operation will begin.
Think carefully about whether you want to fight on the surface route or the underwater route.
That is all.
Once the briefing held via their Crystal Blossom communications was complete, the entire airport was bustling with energy.
Yamane Deiri and Nekoumi Hirosuke were chatting in the large lobby.
“Hey, which one are you choosing?”
“Underwater, I think. I don’t like the idea of constantly dodging lasers with no end in sight.”
“Right? Underwater might be more dangerous, but it’s better to have some say over how it ends.”
“B-but they’re only taking 200 for that team. If we don’t hurry up, we’ll miss our chance.”
“Heh. And the missing students are girls from our class, so let show off by swooping in and saving them.”
The 12-year-old blonde girl named Natlena Blast looked up at Karuta while listening to that conversation and sipping at a can of hot milk she had bought from a vending machine.
“Wh-what will you do, Senpai? Hot – are you going to choose the underwater route, um, because you’re worried about Amaashi-senpai? Hot, hot.”
“Y-yeah, I guess you would. She is another one of the Four Living Gods, so of course you’re worried about her! I-I will volunteer too. It would be a problem for me too if you were defeated here. We still haven’t dealt with those string pullers who pushed my sister to do what she-”
She was cut off by a loud bang echoing through the lobby.
Utagai Karuta had slammed his fist against the nearby wall, so all the boys and girls walking through the lobby looked over to see what this was about.
“What is wrong with all of you?”
That was enough to surprise or even frighten them.
So why did none of them realize how strange the things they were saying were?
“Why aren’t any of you saying you don’t want to do this!? Listen, we’re talking about the real Threat here. This isn’t just the decoys from Iceland. After all that fighting, we still haven’t heard a single report of one being destroyed. They’re on another level entirely!! And even if we do defeat them, the others might devour the remains and grow into larger customized models. Doesn’t this scare you? This isn’t about duty. It isn’t about whether the surface route or underwater route is better. Aren’t you afraid to be fighting the real Threat!!!???”
This was Omotesandou Kyouka’s trickery.
She had only provided them with two options: the surface route and the underwater route. And then she had pointed out that the underwater route was safe from the lion’s anti-air lasers. By creating a limited number of spots for the underwater route and making it first come, first serve for volunteering, she had tricked them all into joining the attack on the Threats occupying Second Grimnoah.
She had told them the truth.
But she had not told them the whole truth.
What guarantee did they have that the lion-like Sparkle was the most frightening one out there? With that many Threats all over the ship, there might very well be an even stronger and less manageable Threat there. In fact, they had lost contact with Marika, Imi, and Tayori. They needed to assume those three had been attacked by some kind of predator, but Kyouka had not touched on that at all.
But he did not see the President as the only villain here.
He had feared this possibility before, but now he was certain of it.
The students of the second ship had grown numb to the fear. They were still drunk on their success at the Crystal Beach, so they were assuming that things would work out somehow this time too. So they did not question it. They did not bother reading between the lines and noticing the gaps in the information presented to them.
“Hey, Yamanen, what did you see at the Crystal Beach?”
“You have to ask? Sure, they were only decoys, but we kicked the Threat’s ass!”
“34 of us died in that one battle!! That was a miserable defeat for us!!!!!!”’
Karuta shouted louder than an alarm clock.
Had that woken them up?
But this was how they should have been viewing it all along. It was normally a huge deal when just one student at your school died. The school would try to keep the media away, send counselors running around, and deal with all sorts of problems ranging from protecting the students’ privacy to dealing with students who stopped coming to school.
So how could they take this in stride?
34 of them had died. More if Riho and Sanae were included. An entire class’s worth of students were dead due to command mistakes by Karuta and the rest of the Four Living Gods. If they could calmly analyze that and accept it as the unfortunate result of an unpredictable situation, then the entire school’s senses had clearly numbed over. To a devastating degree.
They should have been criticizing him, blaming him, and rejecting his humanity.
They were all handling it too well. It was creepy. How could they accept it just because there was a reasonable explanation?
“Even if we’re the strongest and even if we have the regeneration and barrier, we still die when the time comes. We’re only human.”
He repeated that obvious definition once more.
He criticized those boys and girls who only had the one life to live.
“So think this through!! There aren’t just two options in this world – there are options surrounding you in all 360 degrees! You don’t have to stick with the Four Living Gods no matter what. If you’re scared, then say so! No one’s going to blame you if you want to run away and hide!! Why are you acting like simple cogs in the machine, doing whatever you’re told!!!???”
He felt a powerful pressure that told him he was at odds with everyone else in the large lobby.
The world’s strongest’s public mode had collapsed.
“Just consider your options again before making a decision.”
Had his words gotten through to them?
He clenched his teeth before saying one last thing.
“Because this is your life.”
Utagai Karuta slowly let out a breath.
“Yeah. Sorry about that, Aine.”
The boy looked over with weary eyes as he sat on the floor.
He was at an airport boarding gate.
If his words had gotten through to the students, they would worry for their own lives. And even if they had not gotten through, his popularity would plummet because he failed to understand them. No more students would be willing to risk their lives on his instructions.
Believe him or not, the operation had already failed. He had ruined everything in the preparation phase, so Kyouka had to be extremely disappointed in him.
Which was exactly what he had wanted.
He had been sick of getting other people involved in his own issues.
He did not care if his feelings failed to get through to them and he did not care what happened to his social standing. Their own lives had to take top priority.
The word “strongest” could mean a number of things and he had chosen the card he wanted from that deck. So now he had to continue down this path. He could look back after he had accomplished something.
He would be alone from now on. He should have been alone from the beginning. His desire to take back Gekiha and the others from the first ship was his own personal thing.
(It’s the same for Marika.)
Everything tasted bitter in his mouth.
It was too late to feel regret now.
(I shouldn’t have assumed she would participate just because she’s one of the world’s strongest too. Stepping down should have been an option for her, but I took it from her!!)
He would save Amaashi Marika, so he would fight the real Threat.
But he could not drag the second ship’s students along with him for that.
“I threw out every advantage I had.” Self-deprecation filled his voice. “I lost their trust and cooperation, so this battle isn’t going to be easy.”
“That is fine.”
“Sorry. Our link means there’s no way you can back out of my selfish fight here.”
“If you desire something, then I will fight for- hm?”
The ever-calm Aine’s eyes widened a little.
He had shoved a perfectly ordinary piece of chocolate into her lovely lips and she munched on it.
“What is this?”
Securing basic necessities like food and shelter had been a challenge in the frigid cold of the Crystal Beach artificial resort, so he had started carrying around emergency food like that.
“This seems inefficient to me,” said Aine. “If you wish to expand my abilities, I strongly recommend giving me pure gold to ingest. Strongly recommend.”
“This isn’t about that.”
He smiled a little.
It was a genuine smile.
He tried to imagine the look on her face if he strongly ordered her to remain here. He then imagined the possibility of leaving her where it was safe so he could continue down the path of his selfish fight all on his own.
(That’s a meaningless fantasy.)
He shook his head.
That crystal girl tilting her head curiously there was an alternate form of Crystal Magic armor, so she was supported by the Crystal Magician, which meant Karuta. Even if they were separated, she would no longer function if he died.
(I will win this.)
Hence why they were linked.
Plus, there was only so much he could do on his own.
(I need to think about what I can do under the conditions I’ve decided on. The strongest will stumble if I let myself get distracted, so I need to keep running forward no matter how bad it gets.)
“We should get going soon. Aine, are you ready to go?”
“Yes. What is our primary objective?”
“Is it defeating the Threat, rescuing Miss Marika and the others from the second ship, or retrieving Sir Gekiha and the others from the first ship?”
“All of the above. That’s what it means to protect the world.”
He did not hesitate to answer as he got up from the cold floor. Night had fully fallen in the world visible outside the glass wall, but the oil fire was still burning ominously beyond the horizon.
He was on his way there.
How many of the real Threat were on that ship? Thousands? Even more? And he could not just slaughter them. Rescuing Marika, Gekiha, and the others increased the difficulty dozens of times over.
An ordinary attack would never work.
(So it’s time to become that real pain-in-the-ass who researches everything in detail to find a weak point.)
That thought put a smile on his face, but then…
He heard a voice.
A voice he had never expected to hear reached him from behind, causing his thoughts to briefly grind to a halt.
He slowly turned around to find Natlena Blast standing there. She must have been looking all over for him because she was out of breath and red in the face.
“Thank goodness you’re still in the airport. You seem logical at first, but, um, when it comes down to it, you’re really hard to predict.”
“Please let me help you.”
She was very upfront about what she wanted.
She looked like her breath was catching in her throat, but not because he had yelled at her earlier
One look in her eyes was enough to tell.
“I’ll be honest, I’m really scared. But because I’m scared, I want the help of the world’s strongest – of the Four Living Gods. So please don’t abandon us now. This might be simpler and easier for you if you leave us behind, but please think about how we’ll feel.”
“You can’t, Natlena! You’d just be letting us manipulate you!”
“But,” cut in the 12-year-old girl with the slight smile of someone trying to calm a frightened child. “I said I’m being honest, didn’t I? So let me lay it all out there. If Omotesandou Kyouka told me to fight for her, I wouldn’t be able to trust her. What she says is accurate, but accurate is all it is. There isn’t a person I can trust behind those words. …But it’s different with you. We wouldn’t follow just anyone with the title of world’s strongest. You’re the one that told us to consider our options again before making a decision. Because this is our life. So we’ve decided for ourselves who it is we want to follow. Are we just throwing all our problems on the world’s strongest so we don’t have to deal with them ourselves? Maybe. But we were the ones who considered our options and decided which of the Four Living Gods we felt we could trust the most.”
“I won’t regret this no matter how it ends, so please take me with you, Senpai. We finally ended the chain of revenge between the two of us, so you can’t just leave me now.”
The boy forced his lips together for quite a while before finally squeezing out some words.
“And if I say no?”
“Then I’ll follow you anyway. Because I couldn’t just let you be torn to pieces by the Threat after you so stubbornly insisted on worrying about us more than yourself.”
He actually laughed a bit at that one.
He felt like his cunning image was crumbling away and though he would start sobbing if he let his guard down, but he managed to avoid that.
“You can’t,” he said.
“Because one extra person wouldn’t change anything. I can’t just bring you to your death.”
“Then there’s nothing to worry about, Senpai. I said ‘we’ earlier, didn’t I?” She smiled. “Because I thought up this argument with the help of Yamane-senpai, Nekoumi-senpai, and, um, a lot of the others too.”
This time, Utagai Karuta stopped breathing altogether.
He had thought he had to protect her. He had thought the Four Living Gods were done for if he let her be killed for no reason. But Natlena Blast had surpassed him at some point.
“I’m not worthy to fight alongside the rest of you.”
That was not something to say in front of an underclassman.
He knew that, but the words spilled out all the same.
He bit his lip.
“I lied to you all so I could save my friends. We really should have abandoned Second Grimnoah to the Threat and built a Third Grimnoah, but I insisted on retaking the second one because of my friends from the first one crystalized on the lowest level. Even though they’re nothing but strangers you never even met. Dead strangers.”
“Why would that be a problem?”
She did not even hesitate to respond and she smiled at the shocked look on his face.
“All that tells us is that you never abandon your friends no matter what, right? And that you truly believed you could save your friends with our help. It meant you trusted us enough to leave them in our care. Why would we have a problem with that?”
“I’m glad the world’s strongest is someone with so much kindness in his heart. So I don’t want this age to end and I don’t want someone else to take over the title of strongest. Do you get what I’m saying now, Senpai?”
How much strength had it taken for her to say that? Even if they had reached an understanding, he would forever be the person who had killed Anastasia Blast, her sister and the former strongest. But she had still said she would accept it and that she was happy with this era.
“Those people mean so much to me.”
“I can tell.”
“But I don’t want to lose anyone else to rescue them. I don’t want to see that happen again.”
“I know that too, Senpai.”
He was asking for so much, but the small girl slapped her own small chest to accept the job.
“So let’s make it happen together. There is no first ship and second ship – we’re all Grimnoah together.”
“Sigh, so he rejected me, did he?”
President Omotesandou Kyouka smiled sadly in the control tower.
Was it Amaashi Marika who had identified that smile as the one she used when trying to get something from someone?
(This is for the best. Karuta-kun has a hotblooded streak that can get out of hand, so I can control everything better and get better results when he’s out there doing his thing than when we’re licking each other’s wounds as fellow villains.)
“Assuming I don’t die of loneliness first,” complained the President.
But how much of this had been an intentional attack? It almost felt like the Threat had gone after Second Grimnoah in order to tear apart the students of the first and second ship, if not tear apart the Four Living Gods as well.
Were they really that intelligent?
And even if they were, how had they gathered that much information on Grimnoah’s situation? Had they gotten it from Second Grimnoah’s computers and documents? Or…
While she was gloomily resting her upper body down on a control tower console and losing herself in thought (to distract herself with her work), the redheaded buns Secretary poked her head into the room.
“What is it?”
Kyouka straightened up and immediately put on a perfect smile, so the Secretary would not have noticed anything was amiss.
“I hate to interrupt you now, but you have a visitor from outside. I could kick them out since they don’t have an appointment. Shall I?”
The redheaded buns girl suggested they kick this person out before even mentioning who it was, but Kyouka could make a pretty good guess. She could only think of one option for a visitor right now.
“What country are they from?”
“She claims to be a representative of the coalition force, but she is actually a special envoy from the Indian military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. She herself is from their navy.”
(I was right. The human grownups have arrived.)
No official announcement had been made concerning Amaashi Marika’s disappearance, but 24-hour surveillance of the students leaving and arriving would be enough to have a general idea of who had and had not returned to the floating general airport. One of the world’s strongest had left and not returned, so word of the oddity would travel quickly.
Now was not the time to be worrying about what happened with Karuta.
The President silently refocused her mind.
She could be the villain here. She would fulfill her role as the President who protected everyone from Grimnoah.
(I kind of hate that I really can refocus my mind so easily. If only I was only fooling myself about that.)
“I’m curious. Let her through.”
The person the redheaded buns girl eventually showed in was a young woman with glasses. She had brown skin, long silver hair, and a look equal parts intelligent and attractive. If not for the white military uniform with a tight skirt, she would have been turning heads as she walked down the street.
She knew her looks were a weapon and she had intentionally honed them.
She was accustomed to having her appearance praised. She fully understood how every little movement of her fingers would make those around her feel and she made full use of that. The ring glittering on her left hand’s ring finger was probably a calculated act. But not to show off that she was married and thus should not be invited out to drink past 8 at night. Quite the opposite. The guilty feelings that ring would instill in people had been worked into her calculations.
Sensing a villain much like herself, Kyouka grinned and got the conversation started.
“A pleasure to meet you.”
“We already met at a party in New Delhi two years ago. You were still only a freshman in the first ship, but I recall the lack of freshmen-like naivete you displayed.”
Kyouka cleared her throat to distract from that initial misstep.
This woman was clearly the type to point out and correct people’s mistakes, not to kindly let them slide. She seemed to assume that she held the superior position and the other person would adapt to her way of doing things.
The brown woman smiled thinly in front of the girl with the title of world’s strongest.
“I am Letnahe Kurent. It is a pleasure to meet you again.”
“The pleasure is all mine.”
The President smoothly continued with the conversation.
Her “initial misstep” had of course been a boring little bluff on her part. She generally never forgot someone she had glimpsed even once. But she had also heard the name Letnahe from a different source.
That conversation played out in the back of her mind now.
She remembered what Natlena Blast, sister of the former strongest, had said at the end of the Crystal Beach incident.
(The person who came to me after I, um, learned that my sister had died was…)
“I hope we can get to know each other a little better than last time.”
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