Apocalypse Witch:Volume3 Chapter2

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Chapter 2[edit]

Part 1[edit]

“Okay.”

The sun had already set and the artificial rain was still pouring down.

Yamane Deiri muttered to himself while activating his pointed and translucent crystal armor.

He was at an altitude of about 100m.

He was not moving and standing perfectly upright, but anyone who had read an aircraft manual would know how difficult it was to come to a complete stop in midair. Airplanes, airships, hot-air balloons, gliders, helicopters, and even VTOL craft could not come to a “complete” stop.

This was truly magic.

Natlena Blast shouted up a warning from about half that height.

“Um, it’s dangerous up there. You need to descend some. Do you want to be shot down by the Sparkle!?”

“Hey, no fair!” cut in a voice over the radio. “If flying that high gets a middle school girl to worry over you, I’m going up there too!!”

“What is wrong with you!? And, um, didn’t we receive a report that using long-range communications would increase the frequency of anti-air lasers!?”

Natlena was not sure what to do about these boys. Water droplets were scattering from her blonde hair while she realized just how much Utagai Karuta must have worked to create a positive image of an older upperclassman when she was trying to take revenge on him.

“You say that,” said Yamane Deiri. “But I wouldn’t be much of a diversion if I wasn’t up here.”

“That’s true, but still.”

“Oh, crap! Here it comes!!”

With a flash of light similar to lightning striking nearby, a green beam capable of breaking through their Crystal Magic barriers shot up from the deadly black and orange horizon at a shallow angle.

That was an anti-air laser beam from the true Threat occupying Second Grimnoah.

It of course moved too quickly to do anything about once you saw it. By the time the girl blinked at the flash of light brighter than a welding torch, a straight-line afterimage had been burned into space itself.

It had apparently been aimed at Yamane Deiri who was flying up above the others, but he had rapidly flown downwards just beforehand. That drop had dodged the brutal laser flying at a diagonal angle.

“I knew it.”

Yamane grinned wildly while once more coming to a complete stop at the same altitude as before.

He only used his physical voice here. Either because Natlena was close enough to hear him or because he wanted to avoid drawing the Sparkle’s anti-air lasers toward his middle school underclassman.

(Do all grownups try to show off all the time? Like Karuta-senpai and Onee-chan.)

“Ah ha ha! It really does provide cover!!”

“Um?”

“Because the earth is round. Well, it’s technically not perfectly spherical since the gravitational differences distort it, but that isn’t what matters. Laser beams are made of light, right? Light travels in a straight line, so it can’t circle around the curve of the earth to attack. So I only have to move up and down a little to use the ground itself as cover. Just like peeping on the women’s bath from over the fence! Ha ha!”

He was using the earth itself as a shield. The distance to the horizon depended on the height from which you were looking. It was about 5km from the surface, but you could see a few dozen kilometers away from a broadcast tower’s viewing deck.

Yamane Deiri’s analogy could not have been worse, but his survival meant that method was effective.

But Natlena’s question was not about that.

“H-how did you predict when it would fire just now? It moves at the speed of light, so you can’t start dodging after you see it coming. And we can’t see over the horizon either, so you can’t base it on the Threat’s actions.”

“I felt a tingle.”

Natlena thought he must have been using a special fortunetelling effect of his Japanese god named Kagutsuchi, but apparently not. That rough upperclassman placed his index finger against his temple.

“You know how pressure changes can give you a headache? Like when you ride an elevator? I don’t think that laser is just a laser. Maybe it’s when it boosts the energy level and maybe it’s to protect against radiation, but it does something that gives me an invisible sign the laser is about to be fired.”

“Oh, no. If you’re only relying on wild instincts, it doesn’t do me any good!!”

While the normal person cried out in despair, Yamane shook the lawnmower-like weapon he held at his hip. That embodiment of fire acted as a rotating blade at close range, a flamethrower at mid range, and a launched flammable tank at long range.

“Crystal Magic is similar though, right? We use our magic by reading the invisible occult high and low pressure fronts, setting up our sails, and letting the wind carry us. So we know it exists. The question is how to perceive it. Maybe it gives you a headache, maybe an old wound aches, maybe you aren’t very hungry today, or maybe you feel really horny and turn into the carnivorous sort of girl. It’s different for everyone, so just accept the change, no matter how embarrassing it might be.”

“Wh-wh-why are you assuming my sensor would be something embarrassing!?”

Their role was not to directly attack Second Grimnoah about 30km away.

They were the decoys meant to draw the anti-air laser lion’s attention to keep Karuta and his team safe while they actually made their way to the ship.

“Hey, word of warning: your clothes are getting pretty see-through in this rain.”

“I’m bothered by the pitying look you’re giving me, but, um, I changed into some thick sports innerwear before heading out. It’s the same as a yoga tank top. Heh heh.”

“Oh, well, that’s no fun.”

“(Also, I made sure to put on bandaids below that. I actually thought this through.)”

“M-more details please!!” cut in the second boy over their communications, but she ignored him.

“Anyway, I’m glad,” said Yamane.

“Um, about what?”

“It was Karuta’s analysis saying the Sparkle’s laser didn’t bend, right? I was worried it might use the ionosphere or a mirage or something, so I’m glad he was right. Now we can act as decoys all we want without the city behind us getting blown away.”

“…”

“This is called an inland sea since it’s surrounded by Osaka, Hyogo, and Awaji Island. On a flat map, any position we could take would send the lasers toward land. So in that sense, we’re lucky that the lasers can escape into the night sky.”

She had thought he was being careless, but he had actually given this some thought.

It could be hard to tell since the initial trigger tended to be instinct rather than reason, but Yamane Deiri ultimately acted on (his own brand of) logic.

“Now Karuta-chan won’t have to worry so much.”

“I guess.”

“I’ve always thought that idiot overthinks everything. The real Threat is right there, so we can’t let anything distract us for a second if we want to survive. Being the world’s strongest doesn’t mean you have to take the brunt of the damage yourself to ensure everyone else comes back alive. He’s really starting to piss me off. Leaving us in reserve just because he’s the world’s strongest is pathetic. He should really take better care of himself!!”

Part 2[edit]

Utagai Karuta stood on the edge of the floating general airport’s artificial land. The dark ocean was only a step away. He was soaked from the artificial rain and he heard most of the diversion team’s transmissions coming from the Crystal Blossom at his chest.

“Ha ha! C’mon, don’t chicken out just cause your barriers don’t work!! We’re nowhere near the end here – we’ve gotta keep these anti-air lasers occupied for several more hours. If you don’t learn how to do it right early, you’ll burn through your stamina and have trouble keeping it up later!”

“Tch, we really are too far away for sniping. Maybe the oil fire is causing weird updrafts and messing with the heat distribution. A-anyway, let’s play a game of chicken. Whoever draws the laser in closest before dodging wins. Let’s show off our skills to the middle schoolers!”

“Wait, can you please take this seriously, you stupid upperclassmen!? Um, um, uh, what is that energy drink you’re chugging!? Isn’t that one triple concentrated!? Oh, god, why couldn’t you be more like Karuta-senpai!?”

“What? Since when do you use his given name, little kitten?”

“Bfff!? I-It doesn’t mean anything! You’re imagining things! Um, um, uh, stop asking questions and let it slide!!”

“…”

“Sacri-sama,” said a voice from behind Karuta.

“They’re still numb to the fear,” he said without turning around. “Our success taught them the wrong lesson.”

Sending out Crystal Blossom transmissions while flying through the night sky was risky in and of itself. Not even stealth fighters could avoid those green lasers and a single hit would vaporize Yamane or Natlena. And yet.

“Although they do appear to have calmed down some since they are no longer insisting on charging at Second Grimnoah with us.”

The boy shook his head while looking up into the rainy sky where the green beams of anti-air lasers kept flashing like lightning.

Karuta had tried to go save Marika, Gekiha, and the others even if it meant abandoning his post. He had nothing but thanks for Natlena for chasing after him and for his many other friends who had supported her. He was so happy it brought tears to his eyes, so he doubted he would ever forget it.

They had taught this filthy avenger that it could be meaningful to make a direct attack at times.

These emotions were delightful.

These emotions were wonderful.

These emotions felt really good.

“But we can’t let the emotion take control, Aine. That would be taking it too far.”

“If you say so.”

He could tell without looking back that the inhuman crystal girl was tilting her head with a blank expression.

She would not understand justice.

A single mistake would cost any one of his friends their life, so allowing emotion to cloud his judgment would only lead to endless regret.

He could not forget.

No matter how valiant and reliable a Crystal Magician Yamane Deiri might look like now, he had panicked and tried to flee the hotel when they first encountered the decoy Threats at the Crystal Beach. And when they had fought the decoy Threats in the C World dome, he had been so desperate to prove that Crystal Magic worked on the Threat that he had gotten himself nearly deadly injured.

Pretty words meant nothing to the force tasked with defending the world. The way Deiri had acted before was much more correct for a high schooler. Karuta could not misjudge the others’ limits. They were human beings, so they would feel fear and they had a limit. If he pushed them too far, they would fail.

(I’m forcing them to carry an endless burden here. I need to figure out how to ensure they don’t do anything reckless.)

The boy wielding artificial magic stood on the artificial float in the artificial rain and turned back toward Aine.

How could he repay his new friends? The answer was obvious: achieve his goal as quickly as possible to shorten how long they had to play the dangerous decoy role. That was the best way of keeping them alive.

He had to defeat the Sparkle and rescue Marika’s group.

“Time to go, Aine.”

“Yes.” The rain was pouring down on Aine too, but she stood tall without even brushing aside the wet hair plastered to her cheek. “How shall we do it this time? Shall I carry you on my back or in my arms?”

“Whichever way is easier for you.”

He answered half in exasperation, but then she gently nestled up against his chest.

Their faint warmth mixed together, but then her slender hand pushed on the center of his chest and he fell from the float and toward the dark ocean.

However, the loud splash never came.

Since contact with Marika’s group had been lost, they knew there was some kind of trap along the route those three had taken. So instead, Aine grabbed his body while falling with him and flew rapidly just above the dark sea.

She used the Crystal Magic preset of flight.

“This is the most stable method. What was it called again? Oh, right. A princess carry.”

“Oh, I see…”

The raindrops hurt as they hit his cheek. It felt like having pebbles thrown at him. That may have been a unique risk for him since his barrier was imperfect.

(It would be a pain if this triggered a regeneration.)

The regeneration would usually be enough to recover from a single instance of a powerful force as long it did not hit his vitals. It was a thinly-spread and lengthy barrage that presented problems. The regeneration would heal any wound in 30 seconds, but that also meant even the slightest scratch required 30 seconds away from harm because another hit would shatter the healing crystal and tear the wound open wider. And that would never return to normal. If they were slammed with something like a sandstorm, there would be no avoiding it and it could easily tear him apart.

“I have no means of attacking with you in my arms, so I would like for you to handle fighting back against the enemy. Is that acceptable, Sacri-sama?”

“Thanks for leaving me a chance to look cool, Aine!!”

Crystal Magicians ruled the sky with speed and mobility greater than a fighter craft, so 30km was nothing. They did not need a gyro or compass to determine the direction since they only had to fly toward the light.

The dark sky and sea were defiled in one direction by an orange glow that almost looked like a sunset. That was due to the oil fire where the crude oil had leaked out into the ocean. Second Grimnoah awaited them on that burning night sea.

The Threat took action before the giant ship even came into view.

Shapes similar to water striders the size of cars appeared to be sliding across the ocean surface made rough by the artificial rainstorm. The water striders clustered together to block Aine and Karuta’s path, so Karuta pulled a modified military flashlight from his uniform. It was as hard and heavy as a police baton, but he doubted he could smash through the real Threat with no more than a blunt weapon.

He switched it on and sent out a shower-like conical laser.

When the powerful IR hit its glass eyes(?), one of the water striders lost control. It failed to judge the distance from its neighbor and collided with it, producing a sound of bending metal.

There was no fear on Aine’s face.

She continued flying about 50cm above the water to weave in the gap between enemies.

They did not have time to celebrate their survival.

The ocean directly below glowed faintly green and that glow was catching up with them as they flew at supersonic speed.

“Aine, watch out!!”

“Did you think I was not already observing my surroundings?”

With the puny mass of carbon in her arms, the crystal girl swerved in an S-shape as a deterrent.

That was when a mass of green light burst through the ocean surface as it flew straight up. It was not alone. More and more colored pillars of water rose into the air like an inverted sweep of machinegun fire pursuing Aine and Karuta.

“A jellyfish!?” Karuta’s eyes widened. “What kind of tactics did that weapon evolve for!?”

“I have heard of landmines that are launched into the air, but that is unusual for a sea mine.”

They must have been attached to the ocean floor until now because something like broken chains trailed after them.

It was close – paper thin even – but Karuta and Aine’s reaction speed was slightly faster. The sea mines reacted by leaping into the air one after another, but those two were never hit from below.

However, they could not rejoice.

They heard a sound like an aluminum can being crushed below a car’s tire. One of the water striders trying to pursue from behind was hit from below by one of their own jellyfish mines, launching it into the air. The jellyfish must have been the more destructive of the two because the water strider’s legs were torn off and its black armor shattered and flew away while the whole thing twirled through the air.

Oh, no.

Karuta vision grew scattered.

He felt like he was going to hyperventilate and pass out if he did not consciously regulate his breathing.

He had only seen the decoy Threats from the Crystal Beach do it, but those training weapons would have been modeled after the real Threat’s structure and abilities.

That led to a single conclusion.

He did not want to admit it. He really, really did not want to, but if he refused to admit when things were taking a turn for the worse, he could not recover from that. He had to avoid sitting idly by and allowing the rolling snowball to grow out of control.

He bit his lip and forced his mind toward the view up ahead.

He focused on it.

The Threat grew by devouring their fallen brethren.

Oh, no!!”

There was no turning back the hands of the clock. Jellyfish tentacles thinner than hairs tangled around the wreckage in midair and the dome-like jellyfish moved up onto the water strider’s back. The countless tentacles tangled together to form thick legs to replace the ones that had been torn away.

The massive sea mine could now move freely across the surface of the water, so it began to pursue Karuta and Aine from behind. Aine expressionlessly swerved side to side at supersonic speed, but she could not escape the guided weapon. It gradually closed in on them.

“Sacri-sama.”

“It’s no use!! Is the jellyfish in control now? The IR isn’t affecting it, so it must not be using optical lenses! The jellyfish must locate its prey with ultrasound or microwaves!!”

“We will suffer critical damage if it catches up. Requesting an effective countermeasure.”

“I’m trying!!”

He twisted around in her princess carry to change targets.

The IR blinding worked fine on the unaltered water striders.

Aine used one of their thin legs as a landmark to perform a hairpin turn at more than four times the speed of a sports aircraft. Karuta focused on his modified military flashlight while she did so. On the way past the water strider, he shined the powerful IR on its lenses to trigger a malfunction.

The ordinary(?) water strider crashed into the approaching guided weapon, causing a large explosion. Instead of orange flames from normal powder or fuel, it was a bluish-white electric explosion similar to welding or lightning.

“What custom version are they making now!?”

“None, it would seem. Those two appear to have been utterly obliterated.”

And they could not afford to be preoccupied with an enemy they had already defeated. Aine was still flying faster than a fighter craft less than a meter above the ocean’s surface. And to reiterate, 30km was nothing to a Crystal Magician.

The ocean was no longer pitch black.

At some point, their surroundings had grown orange. They were out at sea, yet a crimson fire was burning all around them. That sticky light came from the oil fire started when the crude oil on the ocean’s surface had ignited. There were no stars to be seen. The view above reflected the orange light, so the black up there was smoke, not the dark night sky.

Aine would have charged straight on in if it was only her, but because she was carrying Karuta in her arms, she crossed the burning ocean by weaving through the gaps that had ended up with less crude oil.

She spoke with a voice even more coldly inhuman than a car navigation system.

“Visual confirmation of the Second Grimnoah academy ship.”

“Kh.”

“If we can see it, then we are in the optical weapon’s line of fire. Watch out for the anti-air lasers.”

He could see a faint glow up above the giant ship’s roof.

That green light was the capacitors extending back on either side of the lion that ruled the skies. Light was gathering within those parts that resembled a flying fish’s pectoral fins and the lion opened its jaws. The green light glared down at them from deep within its throat.

The fearsome attack tore through the air, but Aine did not flip around to try to escape it. She only shifted about 70cm to the right to avoid the brutal green laser with as little movement as possible before crashing through one of the ship’s more than a thousand windows.

The countless Threats of various sizes crawling along the ship’s exterior like armor were thrown away from where she hit.

Part 3[edit]

“Please compile all of your data related to this operation. And organize it so even I can understand it. Try to avoid hiding the truth below a deluge of data, will you?”

As soon as she was done with her greeting to Student Council President Omotesandou Kyouka, the silver-haired brown-skinned soldier named Letnahe Kurent made that rude demand.

And with that said, the messenger from the coalition force surrounding them out at sea promptly left the control tower.

Water poured down in a shower.

But this was not the artificial rain pounding on the reinforced glass from the outside. It came from the shower room installed in the airport’s personnel standby area.

“Japan has such terrible air and it’s so humid,” Letnahe had said. “So please let me do something about my sticky hair and skin before I have to use my head.”

That was her rationale.

(She forces her claims onto you without creating any chance for a conversation, she lets her own feelings dictate the schedule, and she even disses your country. …I imagine this is a stereotypical test to see if Grimnoah will obey the grownups’ rules or if we will give into anger and do our own thing.)

This special envoy had been sent by the coalition force.

She was from the Indian military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. Specifically, from the navy.

But no matter how much her titles complicated matters, Omotesandou Kyouka was never going to forget what Natlena Blast had said.

When the Problem Solvers had been destroyed and her sister Anastasia had died, someone had approached that 12-year-old girl and given her information she should not have had to set her up as an avenger.

And the name Natlena had given was…

(How far does it go?)

The President thought to herself while her long black hair fluttered behind her.

(Is the Indian military behind it? Is the coalition force behind it? Or is there some even higher organization that’s bossing the coalition force around? My first task is to determine the scale of the problem.)

“Now, then.”

Her wheelchair’s wheels creaked as she moved to the dressing and laundry room next to the shower room. The faintly sweet aroma may have been from the shampoo or conditioner being used in the shower room. The shower room must have been poorly sealed because it felt humid in the adjacent room. The President was of course not doing some laundry in this downtime. She was interested in the white uniform that Letnahe had removed and folded up.

The uniform and rank insignia were valuable sources of information. She could learn something from the stitching or fabric alone.

(Hm, this does appear to be a legitimate Indian Navy uniform. And her salute was accurate too. I doubt this is a costume meant to place the blame on the Indian military.)

It was a lot like a crossword puzzle. Each new piece of information acquired provided a hint to the next piece. But if you started on false assumptions, you would stray further and further from the truth.

The President continued her analysis like she was performing an autopsy or crime scene investigation.

(Her underwear is a New York brand…but not necessarily because she travels the world a lot. She may have just ordered it online. But this is still a surprise. The only bulletproofing she uses is thin special fibers – no plates at all. Was she more worried about looking good for the cameras than about getting shot while on the front line of a clash between the real Threat and the world’s strongest magicians? Or did she assume wearing a bulletproof jacket would not actually save her?)

Kyouka unfolded and searched through every item in the basket, but she could not find any ID, any firearms, or any communication devices such as a phone or tablet.

(Hm? But I thought she had something on her left wrist.)

“You aren’t going to find anything in there,” said the sensual silhouette in the frosted glass.

The President sighed.

“You’re the type to pack any valuables in a plastic bag to take them in the bath with you, are you?”

“A standard precaution.”

The ring she had been wearing was also nowhere to be found. That suggested she valued her privacy instead of just being a workaholic.

Kyouka gave up on this tactic, refolded the clothing, and returned it to the basket.

“You brought an axe with you?” she asked.

“Oh? You can tell without actually seeing it?”

“The shape of the leather case is fairly unique. The handle is too close to the end to be a collapsible shovel.”

“Carrying a weapon is convenient and I personally find this more useful than a survival knife. I left behind my gun out of respect for this country’s rules.”

Axes and knives also violated the country’s rules, but there was no point in telling that to a professional soldier. This and the shower were probably part of the test to see how far she could push the girl until she responded with anger.

Kyouka sighed.

ApocalypseWitch v03 08.jpg

“What message does the coalition have for us?”

The frosted glass door slid open.

The sweet-smelling steam grew thicker.

Letnahe stepped into the dressing room with a towel lazily wrapped around her. Her small plastic bag of valuables was held in her mouth by a string while she used both hands to quickly do up her wet hair.

Her brown left wrist wore a mobile watch that synced with a phone.

But it was too soon to assume she was righthanded. That kind of assumption could lead to a critical mistake at some crucial moment later on.

She was wearing her glasses, so she may have cautiously wanted to keep all her senses sharp even in the shower.

Once her wet hair was out of the way, the messenger grabbed the plastic bag in her hand to free up her mouth. Then she dropped a bombshell.

“Our coalition force has no intention of interfering in your mission here.”

“I highly doubt you came here just to tell us that.”

“But if we determine you are unable to continue your mission, we will take over. I assume you will understand the general situation if I tell you we are preparing a Pinaka III for use.”

“…”

That was an endless cruising nuclear torpedo deployed by the Indian Space Force that had been separated from the other three branches of their military.

Once it was launched into the ocean by a ship or submarine, the undetectable weapon would circle the earth as many times as needed. It was powered by the 30 low-orbit power generation satellites surrounding the earth, so it would surface just long enough to receive microwave power, allowing it to continue operating indefinitely. Of course, all 30 of the satellites surrounding the entire world would send down a charge every single time, so it was nearly impossible to search out the torpedo’s location based on the area of sea receiving the microwaves.

As long as it remained deep below the ocean surface, there was no fear of it being intercepted with anti-air lasers.

And after preparing a weapon as bizarre as that, no one was going to waste it by filling its warhead full of ordinary explosives. While messing with the radio in the control tower, Kyouka had learned that a landing craft out at sea was full of hazmat suits and chemical protection vehicles.

“The Pinaka III’s payload is extraordinarily large for a torpedo,” said Kyouka. “If I am not mistaken, filling it with as large a hydrogen bomb as would fit would reach 140 megatons. I recall the Indian Space Force putting together this ridiculous plan just so they could break the record set by the former Soviet Union. And the test detonation was done deep below the Pokhran desert.”

“You are a knowledgeable girl. But if a bomb that large were actually detonated on the surface, it would trigger a new ice age. To avoid that, it will only scatter 20 smaller nuclear warheads once arriving in the target area of sea. Each one will only be around 400 kilotons to ensure a minimal effect on the environment.”

“You’re sending in a strategic nuclear weapon that’s direct heat rays and blast would cover a radius of 14km and that’s radioactive contamination would cover the entirety of Japan and also thinly spread out across the entire planet’s stratosphere?”

“I said minimal, not zero.”

A Crystal Magician could recover from a powerful nuclear attack as long as they did not suffer an immediately lethal wound. Even if their skin blistered, their flesh tore from their bones, and their bones broke, they would return to normal in 30 seconds. So not even the direct shockwave and heat would necessarily mean immediate death.

But the real danger was the radioactive material known as fallout. Internal exposure was especially difficult to remove and it might repeatedly trigger the regeneration, preventing the Crystal Magician from moving. Crystal Magicians had to be careful with both poisons and medicines and radioactive materials were like an extreme version of that.

Letnahe brushed up her silver bangs that were dripping with water.

“Thus, we would like a copy of Grimnoah’s plan. That way we can monitor the situation and know exactly when your plan has failed so we can launch a weapon that is guaranteed to hit.”

(Karuta-kun began this counterattack on his own, so I have no way of knowing the details myself.)

“And if I refuse?”

“Then we will have to make our own determination.”

The President asked a daring question without revealing her ignorance of their plan, but Letnahe Kurent was not daunted. She might as well have been following a conversational flowchart she had set up in advance.

“We might end up launching the Pinaka III when you still have a chance of succeeding, but if that is what you would prefer.”

“I see.”

“This is in your best interest.”

Kyouka’s wheelchair creaked quietly, but not because she had backed away. The woman in only a towel had leaned forward and placed her hands on the armrests.

She leaned over the girl in order to take the initiative here.

“Preventing a misinformed decision on our part would eliminate some excess risk from your already risky mission. So I would like to know your general schedule along with an outline of your plan. Refusing puts your students, the Kansai region, and perhaps the entire Japanese Archipelago at risk of nuclear contamination.”

Omotesandou Kyouka gave a snort of laughter.

“What happened to respecting Japan’s rules?”

“I would prefer not to break this country’s three non-nuclear principles, so please help me avoid that by cooperating.”

“Don’t act like you aren’t itching to launch that thing.”

(Basically, she wants to take control of the world back from the children while also stealing our Crystal Magic tech that has become the world’s new image of the strongest. Our plan will of course use Crystal Magic, so you need to understand how it works to determine whether or not it would work.)

Humans played as dirty as ever even with the Threat preparing to attack them. Someone always stepped forward to use the situation to their advantage.

And if Kyouka went with the easy answer of “I will not give in to threats”, Letnahe and the coalition probably would launch the nuclear weapon. Their method of defeating the Threat was certainly a heroic thing and they probably felt like they could expose Crystal Magicians to any amount of violence because they were the world’s strongest. Just like a small child busy pretending to be a superhero would feel no guilt about hitting their father who was playing the villain.

To stand at the peak was to be an oddity.

No one would worry about whoever had been designated strongest. Just like no one had ever questioned how the Problem Solvers were made to fight the Threat back when they had been the strongest. And if someone did jump the gun and launch that nuclear torpedo early, the only ones injured in the blast would be Karuta and the others fighting on the front line.

Kyouka decided to correct the fundamental mistake here.

“You can take command if you want, but are you prepared to take responsibility as well?”

“We will have the legal basis for it soon enough. Our coalition is the will of the world itself.”

“Not what I meant,” whispered Kyouka in a voice that knew how to derive a sadistic pleasure from tormenting others with her words. “Your decision – or the coalition’s decision – is based on the assumption that you can defeat the real Threat with that nuclear weapon. But what if you use that nuke and spread radiation everywhere, but the Threat shrugs it off? You’d be in a real bind then, wouldn’t you?”

“…”

“Nuclear explosions are flashy, so you can’t exactly pretend it didn’t happen once it fails.”

Everyone knew Grimnoah did not have nuclear weapons and there was zero chance of some unrelated nuclear war starting right now.

The coalition force would be unable to pin responsibility for the nuclear explosion on anyone else.

“And if that happens, we will become more than just the world’s strongest. We would become victims as well, wouldn’t we? We could have defeated the Threat if we had been allowed to fight, but the grownups intervened and screwed it all up. Try telling people their city will be the next one to go because of that and I feel like you will have a hard time convincing the world to do much of anything you want. There would be riots around the world and you could never again leave your dark and musty shelters.”

In other words, the coalition’s attack had to be successful.

Nukes were the ultimate bargaining chip. They could force through most any demand. But if they fired one and it failed to defeat the Threat, they would lose everything. They would lose face, lose trust, and lose influence. Later historians would question their sanity.

“It’s all or nothing,” said Kyouka with a pause between each word. She smiled in a poisonous yet alluring way. “Do your higher ups really want to make such a risky gamble? You really think the top brass with more wealth and political power than they know what to do with would want that? Gambles are made by those who have no future if they lose. We aren’t talking about rich shoplifters who do it for the thrill – those grownups have their every desire fulfilled to the point of boredom, so I seriously doubt they would choose to take on such a risk now.”

“Well…”

The towel fell away.

Almost like Kyouka’s clever logic had stripped her bare.

But even with all her brown skin exposed, Letnahe did not remove her hands from the wheelchair’s armrests.

This was not enough for her to back down.

She carried an even greater weight as messenger. If she focused on her personal feelings and flinched here, people would doubt the power of the coalition’s will.

“All of that is based on the assumption that the nuclear attack would fail to defeat the Threat. We are merely exchanging empty arguments based on optimistic and pessimistic assumptions. Buying time like that will not cause the coalition to change its mind. I guarantee you that.”

“…”

“The Pinaka III will be launched if you do nothing. So put away those baseless fantasies and make a decision based on real data.”

“What if I told you I have real and very specific data backing up my claim?”

That smooth response caused Letnahe to gasp momentarily.

The talk of a nuclear attack had come as a surprise, so Kyouka would not have had time to put together a flowchart and practice this argument with a fellow student. So how had she managed to get the better of Letnahe Kurent’s perfect preparations?

The girl was like a spider tangling its prey in invisible threads.

“Needless to say, Crystal Magic is the world’s strongest combat technology. That is the age we live in, after all. Those strongest magicians are working together as they fight on the front line, yet we have not received a single report of anyone destroying a Threat. As far as I know, the only success was Karuta-kun causing two of them to destroy each other out at sea.”

“…”

“The real Threat is very different from the decoys. …If I am correct, this Threat would survive a nuclear attack. They are made to. How else could they be a true threat to humanity?”

Part 4[edit]

Karuta heard a sound like a clog being cleared from a pipe and then he realized it had come from his own throat. His vision was blurry and his head dizzy. It took him some time to recall why his entire body was wrapped in pain.

They had broken through the side of Second Grimnoah. He did not remember what had happened after they broke through the window and continued on at a shallow angle.

They appeared to be in the middle school building.

Since it had taken him some time to recover, his eyes had already adjusted to the dark.

This was not just a classroom. His nose detected the odd scent of chlorine and he heard the sound of water sloshing back and forth.

This was the indoor pool.

“Sacri-sama,” whispered the calm crystal girl while lifting up the boy who was lying limply on the poolside. She might as well have been speaking to a beach ball held against her flat chest. She was still drenched and he could feel her body heat through her soaked clothing. “We need to get moving. The Threat will notice soon.”

“Soon? What did you do???”

Why did they have any time at all? Those black lustrous things had been covering all of the exterior walls. He had assumed that was why it was so dark in the ship despite the oil fire, but…

“What is that? A wall?”

“Clinging to thin glass with their large metal forms would only break the glass. They must have learned from their mistakes.”

The glass wall was meant to let in plenty of sunlight, but it was now covered with metal panels, parasols, beach chairs, and more. It was all held in place with the ship’s repair parts and the adhesive for the deck equipment. The hole he and Aine had made on the way in was no longer visible.

Aine had used their speed and weight to force her way through the countless things crawling all over the outside of the ship. Some had looked like wharf roaches and others like tadpoles, but Karuta would have expected them to rush after them into the ship like a swarm of fire ants.

Aine lightly swung her crystal sword to scatter some clear drops of water from it.

“I have a laser sniping unit. We have no evidence it can do critical damage to the Threat, but it should work as effectively as your flashlight if used to blind them.”

He could faintly see his surroundings, so there had to be some light getting in through small cracks.

“So you just charged in without thinking it through, huh?” he sighed half in exasperation. “That wouldn’t have worked if they used ultrasound or microwave like that jellyfish from before. Then we would have been killed.”

“With so little data on the real Threat, every action we take must be based on some amount of speculation. And as an aside, I directed us toward a window covered in units with red glass-like lenses.”

That did not mean much. Those could easily have been nonfunctioning camouflage like the eye patterns on a moth’s wings.

But Karuta was more surprised by something else.

“An aside, huh? I didn’t expect to hear you defend your actions after being criticized for them.”

“…Uhh.”

“I get it. You saved my life, Aine, so quit scowling. I don’t want a sulking partner.”

“A logical analysis would suggest you are trying to provoke me, Sacri-sama.”

The crystal girl puffed out the cheeks on her expressionless face. Her hair and clothes were still soaked, so water continued to drip from her hair and the hem of her dress. She must have crashed into the pool to help slow down after bursting into the ship because her hair smelled of chlorine. She had learned to feel embarrassment when her skin was visible, but the way she would just set that problem aside when there was “no effective countermeasure available” was still pretty inhuman. It felt like a simple computer algorithm where she would follow the yes and no arrows to see if the current situation applied.

A healthy boy like Karuta had to sigh.

He walked along the poolside, checked inside the locker room, and borrowed a dry towel from one of the lockers. This was Second Grimnoah, so it had most everything a normal school would.

“Here, Aine. You need to be dried off. Whatever we do next, we can’t leave wet footprints behind, right?”

“Good point.”

“…Why are you raising your hands overhead like that?”

“I thought you said you wanted to do it.”

He could not believe her overly straightforward answer.

He had said “you need to be dried off”, but by who? He had not specified, and this was apparently how she had interpreted it.

And there was a more fundamental problem.

(Being seen is embarrassing, but being touched isn’t!?)

Her strange learned behavior had him confused, but there was no point in getting hung up on this. He started by drying her wet hair like she was a small child and then he squeezed his eyes shut and moved to her body while doing his best not to think about it. …Although he had a feeling the shut eyes only made the sensation on his fingers all the more vivid.

Then something occurred to him.

“Oh, right. If you stick a thick towel under your dress, no one can see through it no matter how wet-”

“…”

“Sorry, Aine. I don’t know why that upset you so much, but please don’t glare at me like that.”

He was truly beyond saving if the inhuman crystal girl thought he needed to be more tactful.

At any rate, Karuta could not waste time here playing with the crystal girl. Aine’s laser had dazzled the Threat’s sensory organs like a stun grenade, but she had not worked out an actual way of killing them. It was possible she could not kill the Threat even in this state. If the Threat recovered, they would be surrounded and killed.

(The real ones are incredible. They don’t just customize themselves endlessly when they get killed – they don’t even let it reach that point. You can’t even take them out in the first place.)

He had dreamed of getting back to Second Grimnoah.

Right now, it was a deadly labyrinth where Gekiha and his other friends from the first ship slept crystallized on the bottom level and where Marika’s group had gone missing. The familiar school was filled with the same powerful sense of death as a hospital late at night. Without Aine by his side, the dense darkness may have been enough to repel him.

He focused on the Crystal Blossom on his chest. It functioned as a communicator, but carelessly using it would put himself and Marika at risk. Those antenna-covered sea urchins or whatever were the biggest nuisance he had ever seen.

If they were found, they were dead.

He slowly poked his head out into the hallway from the locker room.

“We need to get moving, Aine. We shook their pursuit once, so I want to avoid letting them find us again.”

“Yes.”

“And we need to locate Marika’s group. Where did they get in, how were they pursued, and where did they escape to? I know it’s dark in here, but look for any sign of them. Use profiling techniques – read their mental state from the slightest scratches or stains. This ship is 600m long, but we should be able to find them if we gather enough actual data.”

“Well excuse me for having nothing but worthless speculation.”

“You really are sulking, aren’t you?”

He breathed an exasperated sigh as he and the crystal girl walked through the ship.

Now that he was paying attention, he could not help but notice how wrong this place felt. It was like thinking you were resting in an infirmary bed only to later realize it was an autopsy table equipped with belts to strap you down.

At night, a school became something else entirely.

The familiar artificial structure filled you with a dread different from a natural forest or cave.

A ghost would never appear on a truly desert island. With no one there, no one would die there, so no ghosts would end up there. Schools, hospitals, train stations, and other public facilities were more common settings for ghost stories than homes or sheds. That may have been because, when people found a normally crowded place to be entirely deserted, they would put their mind at ease by inventing a fictional being to fill the space left by the people that were normally there. The stories created that way could be creepy, but that was just how it was.

This, however, Karuta refused to let be “just how it was”. He would defeat the Threat and take back their usual school.

To do that, he needed cover to hide behind more than distance from the enemy. What wavelength they used was unknown, but since Aine’s laser had dazzled them, the Threats gathered on the outside of the ship had to use their vision to search out their prey.

Hide-and-seek would also work to prevent that.

When Karuta sensed a crawling in the air down the hall, he grabbed Aine’s slender shoulders and moved behind a rectangular pillar jutting out from the wall. Only Aine’s wet crystal sword was sticking out. She had apparently adjusted the angle for his use because he could use the refection on the blade like a mirror. That showed him a large form cutting across the end of the hallway. A round Threat resembling a slate pencil urchin was rolling along. Its many long spines resembled TV antennas, so that was probably the type Kyouka had mentioned that specialized in gathering data.

“Assuming Miss Marika is still alive, she must not have made a meaningless charge on the Threat or fled from the ship in fear,” whispered expressionless Aine while he still held her shoulders. “Drawing attention to herself while surrounded would only increase the risk of death. If she did not reach that conclusion on her own, she would be dead already.”

This was not about Aine knowing what Marika would do.

It was about that being the only option that did not lead to instant death.

And Aine’s harsh analysis continued.

“If holing up in here was Miss Marika’s only option for survival, then what remaining hope would she have? We do not even know if the real Threat eats food or consumes fuel. Too little is known to attempt to wait them out. So what else is there?”

“If she couldn’t do anything herself, would she hope for help to arrive?”

“Yes. And if she was desperate to survive, she would do everything she could to ensure that help found her. Thus, there is a good possibility she would have left intentional signs behind. Something that we would understand but the Threat would not.”

“I see,” said Karuta while flipping around the military flashlight in his hand.

Assuming Marika had made the right choice and was still alive, she would have gone through the following thought process.

First, attempting long-range communications – either via her Crystal Blossom or her phone – would be suicide while aboard the ship. It would only call the Threat to her.

If someone was to come rescue her, it would be one of the Four Living Gods, but it was unlikely to be Omotesandou Kyouka since she used a wheelchair and could not use magic.

That meant either Karuta or Aine, who would obey any of his orders. So Marika would have to think up a sign that only those two would recognize. After some thought, the boy switched on the flashlight. He had installed it with infrared to blind the enemy, so it did not produce an obvious beam of light.

Nevertheless, it did produce a change. A faint handprint appeared on the empty hallway wall as if in glow-in-the-dark paint. It was not alone. More of them formed a trail along the wall.

“Bingo. She slid her hand a bit when making them, so maybe that’s to tell us which way the trail leads.”

“Did she smash some used regeneration crystals into a powder and mix them with something? I have heard that synthetic emeralds will produce a red light when exposed to ultraviolet.”

They could ask Marika for the exact recipe once they caught up with her. As soon as a Threat left after peering down the hallway in search of anyone there, Karuta and Aine rushed out from behind the pillar.

“That was careless of Marika’s group. The Threat uses lasers too. Or at least that lion one on the roof does.”

“We do not know if the Sparkle really is modeled after a lion or that it is using an infrared wavelength laser. Try not to let such baseless assumptions lead you astray, Sacri-sama.”

“Tell me what I can do to fix this bad mood of yours, Aine. Do I need to give you a baby bottle or a rattle?”

“I am no more than a piece of Crystal Magic equipment, so do not expect a level of intelligence and sensitivity equal to a human like you. But for now, I would recommend shutting your mouth.”

They carefully walked down the hallway and climbed the stairs as they followed the handprints glowing in the light of his infrared laser. Karuta was scared. He was always focused on the available cover so he could hide the instant the Threat approached.

They turned around on the landing and climbed the next flight of stairs.

It was still dark, but something other than the handprints glittered as it reflected the light of his modified military flashlight’s infrared. That reflection of visible light should not have happened. The source was lying in the middle of the hallway. It was a little longer than a loaf of French bread.

“…”

Utagai Karuta said nothing.

He said nothing as he stared at it.

It was a right leg.

A girl’s slender right leg lay translucently crystalized after being torn off at the base of the thigh.

Part 5[edit]

“Heave ho, heave ho.”

Sophia Firenze, a teacher with long flaxen hair kept her voice low as she carried a large pot in both hands. She was wearing a tight skirt suit, but it had the fresh-on-the-job look of someone’s cheap first suit. She was like a puppy on two legs. She gave off an aura that inspired worry in everyone who saw her.

She was apparently preparing food for everyone.

They had the entire international airport to themselves, but she was dragging the cooking equipment out of one of the restaurants. By combining that restaurant equipment with the shelter’s outdoor equipment, she was remaking one corner of the airport into a campground cooking area. After all, there were more than 1000 students between the middle and high school. Using a whole restaurant kitchen might not be enough to cook for that many at once.

Kiyosawa Hadome, a muscular gym teacher in track pants and a tank top, called out to her.

“Firenze-sensei.”

“Oh, Kiyosawa-sensei!”

Sophia’s face lit up while still carrying the large pot.

During the battle at Crystal Beach the other day, they had been fighting against the lack of infrastructure for food and shelter. Sophia had learned a lot from that clash with the decoy Threats in an Arctic blizzard where tomorrow’s food was never guaranteed. For one, she had learned that wielding a weapon was not the only way to fight.

“At times like this, it’s best to cook a large quantity in a biiiig pot! The standard would be curry rice, right? Or would a hearty beef stew be better? Oh, but we could also skip the pot and grill the meat.”

“Each child’s condition is unique and the stress will affect them all differently too. You should probably have vegetable smoothies ready for the students with upset stomachs.”

“Oh, you’re right. That would fill them up and be decently nutritious! What a great idea!!”

Kiyosawa was generally feared by the students, but he always grew more polite when around Sophia. He knew it was a bad habit of his, but he could not stop himself.

He glanced over at the President moving by on her wheelchair a short distance away before providing more advice.

“It would also be helpful if you took down notes of the ingredients and cooking methods used when making something to feed a large group of students. You don’t want to find out later that you can’t remember what secret ingredient you added.”

After all, Grimnoah gathered people with rare talent from all around the world. It was not uncommon for students to have dietary restrictions due to allergies, religious reasons, or being a vegetarian.

Sophia seemed motivated, so he left the cooking to her. Maybe this outdated way of thinking made him an old-fashioned sort of gym teacher, but if those overly energetic brats could have the home cooking of a muscular male gym teacher or a young female teacher, he could guess which one they would choose.”

“Darjeeling, hm?”

Kiyosawa Hadome himself checked some of the tea leaves found among the cooking equipment and ingredients scattered about. Those tea leaves were so well-known and ubiquitous that it was hard to judge their quality, but as an international airport, the leaves inside the rectangular canister looked fairly high quality to him.

Tea was wonderful. You could drink it as is or you could use it to flavor a dessert. It was an elegant thing but also contained caffeine, so it could help boost morale a little on the battlefield. He found it more useful than coffee.

“Wow.” Sophia tilted her head. “You do that quick, Kiyosawa-sensei. Is this a specialty of yours?”

“I do live on my own. Although I will admit I gained these skills from a former classmate of mine who tended to boss everyone around when it came to cooking.” The muscular teacher sighed. “Also, if any students say they aren’t hungry, try recommending some stretches before giving them any digestive medicine. Hunger is a biological signal, so if you get your organs back on the proper cycle, you will feel it soon enough.”

“Eh? Even though everyone’s exhausted after fighting on the front line?”

“The muscles used for track, swimming, and martial arts are all different. You only focus on your lungs when exercising, so it is fairly common to forget all about your other organs while working so hard to move your arms and legs. Something as simple as changing the way you breathe can stimulate muscles you rarely use, so a single 10-minute yoga session can get your organs in order and really change how you feel.”

“I thought you would be a lot stricter about food.”

“If you aren’t on an extreme diet or trying to lose weight before a match, you can eat most anything in moderation.”

A tremor ran through the air.

Some boys and girls in crystal armor had gathered in the air just outside the airport’s large window as they prepared to head out to the front line. The students were quickly taking charge during this fight. Kiyosawa Hadome hated that, but there was nothing he could do to change that on his own. The local people had evacuated, but they still needed to protect the city from the Threat.

“This is all we can do for the students as they fly to a deadly battlefield without a single complaint,” he muttered to himself with the tea canister in hand. The look on his face was one he would never let the students see. “Don’t you die, brats.”

Part 6[edit]

Karuta groaned.

His throat moved against his will. The back of his mind was full of noise and he could not stop the scream that was threatening to explode in his chest.

His trembling hand was already moving, but not to cover his mouth.

It was moving toward his Crystal Blossom. His mind was focused on its communication function even though using it would mean death here.

“Sacri-sama.”

“Gh!?”

Aine kicked him in the back of the knees, his vision dropped straight down, and she pulled his head toward her flat chest while shoving him into a nearby classroom.

The heavy and damp sound coming from the hallway had to be one of the Threats. Aine pressed against the wall while sealing his mouth by holding his head to her flat chest while she also held the sword tight in her other hand.

It was all over if they were found.

But Aine’s pulse through her thin wet dress was as accurate as a grandfather clock’s pendulum. Her heartrate apparently did not rise due to tension. The sound out in the hallway was awfully sticky for black metal and it slowly moved toward them from the far end of the hallway.

Would they be safe in this empty classroom?

Of course not. The other side of the windows covered with metal panels were crawling with Threats shaped like wharf roaches and legged tadpoles. Those things produced a disturbing number of scratching sounds.

A crystalized girl’s leg had been on the floor in the hall.

There was no safe zone here. The normal assumptions had long since stopped applying.

They were isolated. Not only were none of their allies around, but they were about as surrounded by predators as it was possible to be. This was not a lonely isolation. It was the isolation of being behind enemy lines. Merely existing like this was enough to wear down the heart.

“I suggested they are not reliant on visual information, remember? As long as we keep the curtains closed, the windows will not be a problem. But we do not know how sturdy those metal panels are or if there are any gaps between them, so we must be on the lookout for any open space.”

However, Aine was worried about the hallway.

“We have less information on the hallway, so we cannot say how many methods they have to search us out or move around,” whispered the crystal girl. “The risk there is greater. The Threat may be scattering lubricant across the floor to assist their movement.”

“…”

“But leeches and slugs coat themselves in slime to prevent themselves from drying out in the air, so they generally actually want more friction with the ground in order to provide a more solid grip. …Sacri-sama?”

Karuta did not respond.

He could not stop trembling. Aine’s steady body heat did nothing to calm him. He was breathing heavily and a cold sweat poured from his body.

The crystal girl continued speaking with the boy’s head held to her flat chest.

“It appears the Threat in the hallway has gone elsewhere. There is no more danger as long as we do not provoke the ones outside the windows. Do not worry. None of them appear to have noticed us.”

No, that was not the source of his fear. His own life did not matter.

Something else was filling his mind.

He moved his trembling lips as he clung to the crystal girl’s chest.

“That was a girl’s leg.” He wanted to reject that fact, but he could find no way of doing so. “But whose? That’s obvious. There aren’t all that many Crystal Magicians on Second Grimnoah now that the Threat has taken over. So…so that had to be…”

“Sacri-sama.”

There’s not some rule that says Marika will always make it out okay. When people die, they really do just die. That’s the kind of shitty world we live in.”

“Sacri-sama.”

She repeated herself more strongly as if to cut him off.

“That was a human right leg. Based on the shape, it likely belonged to a girl.”

“Kh.”

“But on the other hand, we only found the leg there.”

“So?”

He looked up while still pathetically clinging to her.

Their lips were only a few centimeters apart as he squeezed out a desperate voice like a baby bird asking for food.

“The rest of the body might have been smashed to pieces by the jaws of a Threat the size of construction machinery.”

“That is not my point.”

Aine stroked the back of his head while holding him to her flat chest. She was a head shorter than him, but she looked like a mother soothing a small child.

“There was no sock, shoe, skirt, or underwear crystallized along with the leg, was there?”

“Oh.”

She was a part of him, but she had pointed out something he had failed to realize himself.

He had never known how much it could help to talk something out with someone else.

“Crystal Magic regeneration is generally made to heal wounds, but when the magician receives a fatal wound and their full body crystallizes, their clothing and other possessions are solidified along with them.”

“So…so that means Marika isn’t dead yet? That wasn’t the leg of a corpse – it was the regeneration working on a living person? Please, Aine, tell me I’m right about this!”

“It means whoever it was still lived when their leg was cut off. They could always have received a separate fatal wound afterwards.”

“…”

“Since her group has been attacked by the Threat, we should assume Miss Marika’s attempt to remain hidden has failed. We should assume they remain in an extremely dangerous position.”

Aine was as blunt as ever.

Maybe because she was not influenced by emotion and maybe because she had been born only for combat.

Karuta removed his face from her flat chest and looked up at the empty classroom’s ceiling.

“Pwah. You said they had been found by the Threat, but I don’t hear any fighting.”

“The situation is unknown, but the Threat may have a reason to capture them without killing them. Or the Threat disseminated a knockout gas to hinder their movements, but Miss Marika’s group escaped before it took effect and passed out in a blind spot of theirs.”

“We have no proof of that.”

“Of course not. The above two possibilities were biased toward your own hopes. Since there is no sign of combat, the most reasonable assumption is that the battle is already over.

That did not change what Karuta and Aine had to do. They could only search for his childhood friend using the handprints that glowed when exposed to a laser.

That was a signal from the past, not one arriving in real time. No matter how much hope they placed in it, it was always possible the person who had left it was already dead.

“…”

“Sacri-sama?”

Just then, Karuta came to a stop in the middle of the hallway. He stood completely still and stared at a single point even when Aine spoke to him.

The hallway was dark, but he could see a slender and faintly glowing hand sticking out from around the corner. When it noticed his gaze, it waved a few times as if beckoning him over and then pulled back around the corner.

“Sacri-sama.”

The boy swayed weakly side to side.

It was like a moth trap that used a moth’s tendency to gather around light, like a lure that convinced a fish to take a nibble, or like an attractant that led an ant to eat deadly food. A third party might never understand, but for the target, it was like being externally controlled by the pull of a lever.

The slender girl’s hand did not lure him in just the once.

When he turned the corner, he saw it around the next one. Or on the stairs. The hand sometimes extended from an unnatural location. On the stairs, it stuck straight down from the ceiling.

Even Karuta was vaguely aware that this was not a normal human.

But what did that change? He had to check and see what this wanted to show him.

It did not lead him to some special room.

It was an ordinary hallway in the middle school building. Just a long stretch of cold floor. He heard a quiet breath of laughter from the center of it.

A naked girl stood casually in the center of the hallway. She looked to be about 13 or 14. The Threat covered the ship’s exterior and the windows were covered by metal panels, so no one could tell what color this region of death had originally been. This girl seemed terribly out of place here, yet here she was. Her undeveloped and skinny body was faintly glowing and showed no sign of any sort of injury.

There was no wind, but her blue hair was fluttering as she beckoned to him.

She was smiling ever so gently.

At her feet…or where her feet would have been, her legs combined like a mermaid’s and tapered down to a single thin thread that attached to the floor. Something was scattered across the cold floor directly below her.

Utagai Karuta slowly lowered his gaze.

And he realized what this was trying to show him.

There were arms and there were legs.

They were connected to what looked like a torso.

But none of it had any color.

Because it was all made of translucent crystal.
There was no hint of a rusty smell at this sharp and cold scene of carnage that only looked like a piece of glassware had been smashed against the floor.
But when he looked to the smashed chest, ankles, and everything else…
He could see they were clothed.
It had all been crystalized at once. Which happened when a Crystal Magician died.
He could not tell at a glance how many bodies’ worth that was.
But it was clearly more than just one.

However, he did recognize one thing among the scattered remains.

Something round was lying there. It could perhaps be described as “small” at about the size of a melon. But when his everyday values gave meaning to that simple image and the unasked-for reality of the situation came rushing in at him, he felt sparks bursting in the back of his mind.

Utagai Karuta crumpled to the floor, picked up the translucent object, and screamed.

It was the head of a girl with one of the curly twintails broken off.

It was Amaashi Marika.

Part 7[edit]

South of Japan in the Pacific, 1000km from the Port of Kobe, gray shapes were floating on the blue. That was the coalition force’s joint fleet gathered to fight the Threat. The fleet was mostly composed of nuclear aircraft carriers with some cruisers and destroyers mixed in for good measure. There were of course plenty of submarines waiting below the water as well.

It was all technology designed to kill other people.

They had been left behind by the times as focus was placed on combating the Threat, so now all that precision machinery had nothing to do.

A male marshaller with swarthy skin and clear-cut facial features sat on the edge of an aircraft carrier flight deck larger than a schoolyard. He spoke up in annoyance while swinging a fishing rod.

“It’s ironic, really.”

“That we’re working alongside the US and China here?”

This many ships could gather anywhere in the world if they needed to.

He just about said as much, but the middle-aged marshaller held his tongue because there was no point in telling that to the female mechanic younger than his own kids. A mobile fleet sounded nice and all, but they could only travel so far in a single day without resupplying. A cruise circumnavigating the globe while stopping at plenty of ports to resupply would take around 70 to 80 days to complete its trip around the world.

Yet all these warships had gathered here so quickly.

The Threat had been noticed gathering on Second Grimnoah toward the end of Japan’s Golden Week holiday and all these ships were floating here at sea not too long afterwards. A fleet sent out from Chennai or San Francisco would not have arrived so quickly.

“Good grief.”

They were to work together as they fought the Threat. And they were to give what help they could to the cutting-edge magicians. It all sounded admirable enough, but this had clearly been secretly prepared in advance. The people could not trust each other.

(We were a little too well prepared for this.)

The middle-aged marshaller kept these thoughts to himself.

(Almost like they knew in advance where the damn Threat would attack.)

“No, that’s crazy talk.”

“What is, sir?”

The marshaller did not answer the STEM girl’s question.

“Get ready. The main dish is the Pinaka III to be launched from a nuclear sub, but that doesn’t mean our carrier has nothing to do. This will be our F/A Vajra stealth fighter’s first use in actual combat. If the Pinaka III fails to hit its target, one of those will approach while skimming just off the ocean surface and loaded with a small nuke. And all the radiation it’s giving off is guaranteed to cause malfunctions in its instruments. Even the smallest scratch while taking off could be deadly.”

“Do you think they really will choose to use nukes?”

“Don’t ask me. That’s for the higher ups to decide.”

“Hm? You don’t look happy about this.”

“The Pinaka III is a torpedo, but it’s classified as a Space Force weapon cause they control the generator satellites up above. We’re talking about some eggheads who sit in an air-conditioned office typing away at a keyboard all day. They’ve never seen a lick of combat and we’re supposed to trust them?”

“All of our nukes are being consolidated under the elites of the Space Force, aren’t they?”

“Yeah, those trump cards are in the hands of some scrawny guys who can’t even do ten pushups.”

The “higher ups” he mentioned was not a reference to the Grimnoah students fighting on the front line. He meant the higher ups who commanded the aircraft carrier. And if they said to do it, he and the others like him would have to input the nuclear launch codes.

(The economic center has moved to the Asian continent, so no one gives a crap about Japan anymore. What an age we live in.)

Japan had spent unthinkable amounts of funding in order to protect this American sea lane, but now the coalition fleet gathered there was going to launch a nuke at them. It really was ironic. The Japanese government was surely sending a flood of complaints, but those would never reach the higher ups here. The pieces on the board were not moved after a one-on-one discussion. Some low-level government official would be blocking all those complaints while stifling a yawn.

The young female mechanic held a hand over her eyes and stared at the horizon as if that would help her see past it.

“Is Letnahe okay?”

“Call her Lieutenant Colonel Kurent.”

“I really hope Let is okay. She might know the Japanese language and school system after studying abroad there, but isn’t she completely isolated while surrounded by the world’s strongest magicians? The negotiations can’t be easy and what if she can’t escape in time?”

“You don’t need to worry about that.” The dark-skinned marshaller sighed softly. “Lieutenant Colonel Kurent is top class when it comes to skill in the deadly arts. Even in a world with magicians in it. You called it negotiations, but it’s really a countdown until she gets pissed at Grimnoah.”

He felt a tug at his fishing rod.

He reeled it in to find a dark and glistening object nothing like any aquatic lifeform found in the natural world. No one could say how far the Threat had spread below the water. His young subordinate fell over in surprise and clung to him, but he checked to find it was only a boot.

The secrets of the world were not found that easily.

“Grimnoah just has to make one mistake and we’re launching that thing. And as a mechanic, you must know that completing a mission without even the slightest mistake is simply not possible.”

Part 8[edit]

(Ah.)

She held her breath.

She was curled up in the darkness holding her injured friend and soaked with sweat and with the slime or machine oil from that sea anemone thing.

The slightest movement would get them noticed and subsequently eaten. Which was why Amaashi Marika held her breath.

(Ah, ahhhh. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!???)

He was here.

Utagai Karuta of all people was here.

She could tell because she was peeking out from an empty classroom’s sliding door. That blue-haired girl was actually a sea anemone Threat that used high-level mimicry to perfectly blend in with its surroundings. This time, it was her childhood friend who had fallen for its trap.

The blue-haired girl was only a lure.

When it targeted you, you could not resist it, just like how an angler fish would cause a part of its body to glow to lure prey into its mouth. Your willpower was meaningless because that girl-shaped lure trapped humans on a mechanical or structural level.

Its effects were as absolute as those of a narcotic. The boy was kneeling in the empty hallway and pantomiming holding something in his arms. An inhuman Threat was right there in front of him, but he showed no sign of caution.

All because of that blue-haired girl.

(The Gestalt.)

That was the name Marika’s group had come up with for that Threat that showed its target hints of what they longed for. But this was not the primary thing they hoped for while influenced by optimism or their memories. No, this showed them their secondary hope after they compromised and prepared themselves for what could be. It told them not to hope for too much. It showed them a harsh “reality”. It read the unvarnished thoughts within its prey and displayed them for that prey.

For Marika’s group, it had targeted Matsuda Imi and she had indeed had her right leg bitten off at the base of the thigh. The thighbone was said to be the thickest and sturdiest bone in the human body, yet it had bitten through there in a single attack.

The attack had seemingly used electricity to tear right through her barrier and sever her leg.

When faced with that (image of a) naked girl with fluttering blue hair, you would forget all about your current situation and just stand there until you were swallowed whole by the giant sea anemone that made up all your surroundings in every direction. Marika and Tayori had worked hard to tear the tens of thousands of tentacles away from Imi, but that was not a fundamental solution.

Firepower was not enough to defeat it.

When it was camouflaged, it was indistinguishable from their surroundings and one of the three would be drawn in once the blue-haired girl appeared. Strength or weakness did not even come into it – they could not even begin an actual battle.

So they had waited and hoped for help to arrive.

They had their phones and Crystal Blossoms, but they had remained silent and desperately fought the icy loneliness that threatened to slowly crush them like the water pressure in the deep sea.

Better equipment could maybe change things. They could build a bomb with the tools aboard the ship and they could maybe redefine the entire battle by rigging that up with a sensor or remote detonator. They could maybe escape and prepare for a real battle. They could maybe find a way to do damage while never actually standing directly before it.

Yet the Gestalt had chosen Utagai Karuta as its next target after he arrived to help them. He had followed the invisible handprints that glowed when exposed to a laser. It had perfectly mimicked the very signs that Amaashi Marika had left for him in order to guide him along a complex path leading directly to the most dangerous point.

Marika’s stance was a simple one: she would protect what she wanted to protect. She was willing to sacrifice her own life for that and she did not care if she had to destroy the world in the process.

“Tayori.”

“No, Marika.”

“Take care of Imi. I have to save Karuta.”

“You can’t. Didn’t we decide it’s all over if we draw the Gestalt’s attention?”

The hallway was already growing red and distorted.

It looked a lot like a carnivorous plant covering a radius of several meters. The giant sea anemone had become something like a man-eating sunflower, but Karuta was so overwhelmed by emptiness and despair that he remained collapsed on his knees at the center of it. He could no longer avoid it from there.

The countless tentacles wriggled around him and a glowing light filled them from base to tip. Their bright blood-red coloration became a green even more vivid than a plant’s leaves.

They heard a sound like a mass of air bursting.

They had seen this underwater. The sea anemones changed color once they were charged with energy. And they could wield that offensively instead of just passing it to the other Threats as fuel.

There was not some rule that said Marika would always make it out okay.

But in the exact same way, there was not some rule that said Karuta would always make it out okay either.

If the path needed to survive was cut short by even a millimeter, anyone would have nowhere left to go and would die. That was true of the good, of the evil, of a great scientist who had made the discovery of the century, and of a sickly little sister. The value people had decided someone had did nothing at all to influence whether they lived or died.

That was now a mass of electrical energy.

If the tens of thousands of tentacles surrounded him, he would not just have a limb severed – he and his weaker barrier would be entirely obliterated. Just like the filament burning out in an old light bulb. There would be no room for a tear-jerking miracle.

(I need to give a reason.)

The back of her mind had numbed over, but the girl still clenched her teeth hard.

(I need to create a reason why Karuta can survive!!)

With the words “power up”, she drew a rapier-like device out of thin air.

And at the same time…

“Aine.”

Still motionless, still holding something imaginary, and still defenselessly exposed to the Threat that had destroyed cities, states, and countries, the boy whispered with his eyes not focused on reality.

Yes.

He spoke to Aine, the inhuman girl who had therefore not reacted to the lure meant to lead humans astray.

“Do what you think is best. Don’t wait for my permission.”

The crystal girl and the lure girl tilted their heads in unison.

A moment later, Aine’s katana sliced through the air and mercilessly severed (what looked like) the lure girl’s head.

Part 9[edit]

The fragrance of tea filled the airport control tower.

It had been made strong in the military fashion meant to keep you awake.

The kettle, ceramic pot, strainer, and hourglass might have looked like the tools for an ancient alchemy experiment to someone unfamiliar with tea, but Letnahe Kurent used them all with ease.

“Honey, has she gone to sleep yet? Eh? You made her pancakes before bed? That’s fine, but you need to be careful or you’ll make our son jealous. You know how he always gets upset when his big sister gets a treat and he doesn’t.”

The way she did it all while also speaking on her phone made her look like an expert.

Once the call was over, President Omotesandou Kyouka made a somewhat impressed comment.

“You know a lot about tea.”

“This tea is from my country. When it was grown on a plantation that’s practically in your own backyard, why wouldn’t you want to enjoy it more than anyone else?”

Letnahe poured a cup of hot tea and handed it to Kyouka.

Almost like she was testing the girl.

The silver-haired brown-skinned soldier seemed to smile a little after seeing Kyouka wait to drink any until after Letnahe drank out of a cup poured from the same pot.

Light glistened off of the ring and the face of the mobile watch on her left hand and wrist.

The President was interested in the watch.

“That’s an old model.”

“I happen to like this model.” Letnahe closed her eyes behind her glasses. “We can get back to our discussion once we’ve had time to rest. I need to calmly consider the information you have presented to me.”

“Yes.”

Kyouka bit off a small piece of a baked good she must have borrowed from one of the airport’s luxury shops. After detecting the scent of some artificial additives, she casually set it aside.

“About a nuclear attack on the Threat having the opposite effect, you mean?”

Part 10[edit]

Utagai Karuta came back to his senses.

He blinked once and his childhood friend’s head was no longer in his hands. Everything around him had lost color and had transformed into piles of black metal. The Threat was generally made of metal, but this destruction was horribly soft and disgusting. He did not know how it had achieved that flexibility. Maybe thin wires were woven into a net and maybe it had been filled with small pieces like a beanbag cushion.

He held a hand to the side of his head and grimaced.

(Were the colors being used to alter my state of mind? No, this was even harder to fight than that. Did they follow a chemical formula to create a human attractant?)

“Aine, I don’t want the other Threats to eat this, so can you destroy it more thoroughly?”

“I can, but it would produce a lot of light, sound, and heat. All of the Threats in the region would likely notice and rush in here.”

“Then we’ll have to go with the poisoning tactic. If we could find a bomb or some powerful acid…”

“K-Karuta?”

He heard a quiet voice from very close by.

He tensed up a bit, but Aine was still letting her sword dangle at her side.

“That is the real Miss Marika,” said the crystal girl. “Shall I attack her?”

Karuta sighed.

Marika still seemed to find the result of this battle hard to believe. She held her rapier device in her hand, her eyes were wide as could be, and she was trembling.

“How…how did you just kill the Gestalt?”

“Well, if either Aine or I was acting weird, I ordered her to let the unaffected one make the decisions. I made the command because I thought a human like me and a nonhuman like her might be seeing things differently here, but it didn’t do much good in that sense. And this isn’t perfect. If Aine suddenly wanted to take control, she could send out high-voltage electricity or knock-out gas and use my command to justify her ‘rebellion’.”

Gestalt was probably a tentative name for the blue-haired girl…no, for the sea anemone Threat. That was a reference to the term Gestaltzerfall, but it was not quite accurate to use just the first half like that. This may have been similar to how the spread of the term “domestic violence” had given the word “domestic” negative connotations for a lot of people.

“It can only manipulate human perceptions,” said Karuta. “So it can’t affect Aine. Or maybe the Threat only ever expected to have human enemies.”

Part 11[edit]

Letnahe Kurent was dumbfounded.

The bespectacled silver-haired, brown-skinned soldier forgot to even breath as she viewed the data displayed in the floating general airport’s control tower.

Her tea had gone cold.

“The Threat…”

She squeezed her trembling right hand in her left.

But she was not the type to look away from the reality before her eyes.

She located the most crucial piece of information and read it aloud.

“The Threat might have units capable of surviving a nuke?”

“We haven’t tested it, so we can’t say for sure.” The Student Council President looked entirely calm. “But with that sea urchin and lion, there are far more varieties here than we saw in the decoys at the Crystal Beach. They have more distinct roles. For example, there was a hippo-like Threat that is so specialized for defense it shrugged off a direct hit from the Sparkle’s laser at the Port of Kobe. Not to mention the lion-like Sparkle itself. Wielding that much energy means it must have some means of containing that much energy inside it. And I can only imagine there are tons more Threats we have yet to see.”

“B-but with the destructive power of the Pinaka III…!!”

“It won’t work. The Sparkle’s lasers have an instantaneous temperature that appears to exceed that of a nuclear reaction. Since we haven’t heard of any of them being properly destroyed, we can assume they do not just charge in with overwhelming numbers like the decoys did. They understand their individual roles and they monitor the situation so they can cover for each other’s weaknesses when need be. So they will likely do the same with a nuke.”

Kyouka spoke bluntly and clearly to ensure the soldier could understand even after her thoughts partially ground to a halt.

“And have you forgotten that the Threat will devour their own destroyed allies to endlessly customize themselves? That has been confirmed among the real ones with the water strider and jellyfish types seen earlier. Nukes are powerful, but they would leave behind a mixture of defeated Threats and surviving Threats. The amount of damage will differ depending on their individual strength, how close to the center of the blast they are, whether they are alone or gathered together, the terrain, and what kind of battle formation they take. The Threat is not a giant kaiju – it is a great army. If there is any discrepancy in the scope of the damage and even one survives, the hellish customization will begin. I would rather not imagine what would be born from that pile of rubble. What about you?”

“…”

“We can take advantage of their customization with the poisoning tactic that inserts a bomb or virus in the destroyed remains, but a nuke would leave so many remains behind that we would have a hard time ‘poisoning’ them all. The best way to do that is to make a pinpoint attack and prevent the remains from being taken back to the others. That requires swift movement and high firepower, but it also requires a check to make sure they really were destroyed and the nimbleness to ‘poison’ them at the same time. That means those of us wearing crystal armor are best suited for it. A nuke or any other wide-scale attack that spreads its power unevenly would only give them the chance to grow.”

“Y-you must be joking.”

Letnahe’s voice was trembling.

What emotion was burning in her heart: anger, impatience, or fear?

Whatever the case, she exploded once the tremor reached a certain point.

“You have to be joking!! You expect me to believe Crystal Magic is some convenient cure-all here? When you haven’t managed to defeat even one of them? If those kids fighting out there can’t do it, who are you saying can destroy them!?”

“I am a Main Category Regulation 3,” smoothly replied the President. “I doubt the dimensional leap ability would be enough on its own. Anyone who reaches their third year in our high school learns that technique, after all. No, it needs to be someone who assumes anything can happen in combat and prepares for the worst even after reaching that level. That may be something that no one can learn from a textbook, but the opportunity is there for everyone. The Four Living Gods are not the only ones to have seen hell, after all.”

“You can’t expect someone like that to just conveniently exist.”

“But they do. I’ve already found one.” Omotesandou Kyouka could see a single ray of hope. “There were VR goggles on the fancy plane we took on the way here.”

“?”

“That was convenient enough, so I played a sparring match against Karuta-kun. Using my parameters from when I was in my prime.”

Letnahe gasped. She was the one and only Regulation 3 in the world. In her prime, she had been a completed form of the strongest that was nowhere to be found anymore. But the true shock was yet to come.

“How do you think that turned out? Karuta-kun defeated me. Without using Aine-chan.

“How!?”

“He took advantage of a bug. He baited me into using my dimensional leap, causing my VR avatar to freeze. As soon as he noticed he could not summon Aine-chan in the VR, he realized there were things the simulator could not reproduce and put together a plan built around that. And then I couldn’t move.”

Silence followed.

The President grinned at the brown-skinned soldier whose mouth flapped wordlessly.

“Ah ha ha. That wouldn’t even occur to you normally, would it? You would look at Crystal Magic’s real abilities and try to plan a way to defeat me at the peak of my abilities. But not him. He viewed the conditions of the battle on a higher level. …When fighting the Threat, you can’t let your assumptions get the better of you. You can’t win using the standard processes. If you can’t look at things from a different angle, all your efforts are nothing more than running down a path leading straight to destruction. Just like your nuclear attack would only help the Threat grow.”

“…”

“It was the same with the Problem Solvers and with the decoy Threat. He has the ability to defeat powerful opponents he should not be able to defeat. And he is pulling it off again here.”

The only report of a destroyed Threat was the two that destroyed each other on the ocean. It had happened so quickly that he did not seem to realize how great a feat he had accomplished, but the President could see the hope presented there.

“Karuta-kun was the first to pull it off, but the possibility exists for everyone. Our students panicked when the decoy Threat attacked, but not so against the real ones here. What changed? I think it is because they can see their home here. When focused on a positive goal, people can think, put together a plan, and reach for it. Unlike the Threat that focuses on their negative deficiencies and tries to make up for those to grow stronger.”

She seemed to be criticizing the adults for using the nuclear Pinaka III as a joker meant to make up for their own deficiencies, but she also seemed to be expressing some sorrow about herself.

She stuck out her tongue as she added one more thing.

“But I’m their wicked big sister, so I doubt I can believe in the same dream they do.”

That boy was the only person with fully separate Crystal Magic.

He was a true abnormality who had succeeded in controlling a Crystal Blossom without relying on an existing god’s name. That extraordinary boy was struggling every day and worried if he could ever improve, yet he already stood in a position that Omotesandou Kyouka had failed to reach even after mastering “proper” Crystal Magic.

She never wanted to betray him.

Even as she hid that weaker side like a girl pining for the prince in a picture book.

What was she hoping to gain with this smile?

“If he has the true talent required to break free of Grimnoah’s ranking system and become a Category Error, then I know he can find an opening here.”

Between the Lines 1[edit]

This had to be some kind of joke.

Letnahe Kurent softly bit her lip.

She had left the control tower to help calm herself, but being alone only let the impatience grow. She seemed to be losing track of time more by the second, like she was trapped inside a room with no clock, but noticing the effect was not enough to stop it.

She was in a small smoking area to the side of the staff entrance. She was not a smoker, but she wanted to make that walled space into her territory. She could never calm her nerves otherwise.

“Phew.”

After reflexively letting out a heavy breath, she noticed how disturbed she really was.

The mobile watch synced with her phone was covered in red.

There was a nearby chair for taking breaks, but she ignored it. She sat directly on the floor in her tight skirt and followed a set process to slowly move her body.

She breathed in and out.

That was all, but breathing was the key to everything.

By consciously taking control of her muscles, blood flow, and organs one after another, she forcibly calmed her mind as well. At her level, it was as simple as turning an invisible knob.

She did not even need to look down at the mobile watch around her left wrist.

Her breathing, heartrate, blood pressure, and brainwaves had all returned to normal levels.

Then she began to think.

(There is a lot I don’t know. I especially need to rethink the effectiveness of a nuclear attack. Although this delay is alarming when we are supposed to be the ones managing the world by supporting the strongest.)

When attempting to manipulate several threads at once, you wanted as much information as possible. But that craving could also lead you astray.

At times like this, it was best to cut away all the outside noise and look inward. By looking to your center, you would not lose sight of what you most needed to accomplish.

Yes.

(But that isn’t what really matters to me.)

“******-kun,” she muttered while focused on her left hand.

She had uttered the one thing she never should have said on the frontline where both sides hunted each other’s lives.

Then she looked up all of a sudden. As if a small bug had just flown by in front of her.

This was a deadly scent only an expert could pick up on.

The floating general airport had been rented out as a frontline base, so only Grimnoah people should have been here. That meant the scent was directed toward the students and teachers.

If things were allowed to continue, death would reach them.

An error displayed on her mobile watch. The mechanical calculations could not keep up with the changes occurring within her. Her breathing, heartrate, blood pressure, and brainwaves had moved beyond those of an ordinary human. They had all grown placid, like a chilly subterranean lake.

A moment later, she swung an axe to the side to mercilessly slice at the empty air.

No, it was not empty air sliced by that axe that was less than 50cm including the handle.

Gray static ran through the emptiness and something appeared there. It was a 2-ton powered suit covered in so much composite armor and various sensors that it must have been difficult to fold down into a humanoid shape. It was a PS Sudarshana used by the Indian Navy Port Security Unit during shipboard searches. The thing surrounding its entire right arm looked a lot like the mandibles of a giant centipede or something similar. That was a piece from one of the decoy Threats in the reports.

The powered suits could not ordinally blend into their surroundings like that. And as examples like the chameleon and tree frog make clear, it was not surprising for the decoy Threat to have a camouflage ability since they incorporated biological structures into their mechanical forms. However, the navy did not use that kind of thing.

“The Indian Space Force.”

That safe weapon could make it look like the Threat’s doing if any important figure were to meet an unnatural demise.

She whispered while spinning her axe around after it was deflected by the thick armor.

“Was the idea to trip Grimnoah up so you could force the nuclear attack? You have guts going over the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who command every branch of the Indian military. Do you think you have special privileges for not belonging to the traditional three branches?”

“Have you grown confused, Lieutenant Colonel Kurent!?”

The voice came from the powered suit that had appeared from thin air. It had already stepped back after the initial attack.

“That parashu is only meant for revenge. You had the ability to pursue your true target and this silly camouflage would not have been enough to deceive you, so no one will believe you if you say mistook me for an enemy.”

“I could say the same thing. Our enemy is the Threat, not Grimnoah. It would be one thing if they were ‘accidentally’ caught in the nuclear attack we were regrettably forced to launch, but taking their lives in a direct attack sounds like the start of an international incident to me.”

“…”

“That is why I was sent in as a special envoy to peaceably acquire an outline of Grimnoah’s plan and time schedule. …It wasn’t the Indian Navy that decided to make an assault instead, was it?”

The Pinaka III was a special nuclear torpedo launched from a submarine.

But at the same time, the nuclear weapons were managed by the space force, not the army, navy, or air force. Needless to say, nuclear weapons were not operated independently. They relied on a global radar network.

That created a tug-of-war between the navy and space force.

Letnahe considered those two organizations as she spoke.

If she let herself sigh here, it would disturb her breathing, but she was not going to let something like this faze her.

“Did the Indian Space Force want to launch their Pinaka III so badly, they sent in an assassin squad…pardon me, a special forces unit? Or were you sent here by the intelligence division that’s been on edge ever since they realized the control tower was intercepting their transmissions? Either way, your equipment tells me you intended to blow up the control tower to destroy the equipment – and me I might add – in what looks like an accident. The control tower is full of largescale electronics with its radar and its server system. Mess with the wiring a little and you will have much more than an electrical fire on your hands. The machinery would burst and create arc discharges.”

No one answered her.

But not because they were upset with what she was saying. They were probably just not allowed to reveal classified information. Which made for an implicit confirmation.

“Lieutenant Colonel Kurent, we were told to avoid any unnecessary victims.”

“I imagine so.”

“So come with us. I cannot guarantee you an acquittal, but if you leave the scene, you will at least not be caught in the unfortunate accident. Unlike the Grimnoah students and teachers.”

Letnahe raised both hands with the axe still in one of them.

“They are necessary.”

“That is not for us to decide. Aren’t you no more than a messenger?”

She had already demonstrated her power, but the powered suit unit wearing cutting-edge PS Sudarshanas still seemed to think they were in control here. She only held an outdoor axe less than 50cm long while they had firearms as well as the decoy Threat weapons, so they would attack her from more than 10 directions before she could even ready her first attack. And each of their attacks could tear through the latest armored trucks like tissue paper. Or so they believed.

“I warned you,” she said.

“?”

Letnahe spun something around in her hands like a baton.

She had reached into her sleeve and pulled out a military flashlight just as thick as the axe’s handle. She connected the two with a twisting motion, extending the length of the axe’s handle.

“The parashu is an axe of vengeance given to us by Shiva, God of Destruction. It is a well-known item, but its size and shape differ between the different texts. That can be used to pull off magic such as this.”

“Lieutenant Colonel, it is true the length of the handle provides more centrifugal force, but I seriously doubt that is enough to break our armor.”

She did not bother responding to that.

With a casual horizontal swing of her arm, the powered suit’s head was mercilessly severed.

It froze up.

It must not have understood what had happened.

The powered suit stood motionless for a bit, but finally collapsed backwards with a loud crash.

The other powered suits rushed in toward the silver-haired, brown-skinned woman. Those monsters had decoy Threats equipped on their arms, yet they did not manage to spill a single drop of blood.

Their attacks were all blocked and deflected by a single puny axe.

The dark gray storm left a blurred afterimage behind. This was no normal movement. This was more than just Letnahe having superior athletic abilities. There was something seriously wrong with the axe’s path. While she swung it around in both hands, its path would bend unnaturally like it had been kicked by an invisible horse.

“This is thunder,” she explained while twirling the axe like a baton. “The parashu is an axe given to us by Shiva, god of destructive winds and lightning. Although I will admit using the roar of thunder to vibrate a piece of metal is an unorthodox application of that power.”

The attackers finally realized what was going on.

She was using magic. That was of course not the actual weapon given by the Indian god of destruction. The axe was only an axe and the flashlight was only a flashlight. Her form of magic was a technical system that produced supernatural phenomena by gathering certain symbols in a single magical tool so a supernatural power would flow through it.

“Then again, I am not using the vibration or shockwave to cut. The vibration is uneven, so I can create intentional deviations to unnaturally strike the entire axe from within.”

She was someone who had failed to reach the level of God Worshiping Magic or Crystal Magic.

She could not interfere with the occult pressure fronts. She could only produce a small change, similar to scooping up water in a ladle and sprinkling it around to cool things down.

That incomplete magician winked behind her glasses and stopped the thick blade meant to attack her.

“That allows me to move the axe’s blade as I like. If you don’t believe me, feel free to bring in a Gatling gun. I will knock down every last bullet from head on.”

“…”

“And by striking on the back of the blade to accelerate it, I can produce destructive power far greater than my arms ever could. Of course, taking it too far could always damage my shoulders.”

She did not give them time to ask any further questions.

She slayed the cutting-edge powered suits one after another with a combination of power, speed, and precision nimbler than a large knife and more powerful than a cannon. She deflected bullets fired from silenced weapons, accurately dismantled the fuses of explosives on the verge of detonation, and severed the centipede arms. If her attacks had not all been in the form of “cutting”, the entire airport might have exploded from within.

“But even this is not enough to make me the strongest. That is how the world of magic works. I heard the great God Worshiping Magic sword used by one of the former strongest was more convenient than this.”

She did not bat an eye.

“And I doubt I would be any match for the Crystal Magic students who can easily break the sound barrier. But while it isn’t #1, it still has its uses. And if you know something is useful, there is no need to try to make it the very best. War is a boring thing, isn’t it?”

She could not become the world’s strongest and she could not keep up in a battle against the Threat, but she was second to none when it came to tripping up fellow humans. Letnahe Kurent was a magician who had made a place for herself using that.

She was the grim reaper of a certain force.

She was the secret silencer that was sent in to correct a global plan when the people raised to the position of strongest took things too far and started to grow tyrannical.

She was the woman who wielded Shiva’s axe.

She was a monster who could use that weapon on the level of an army.

“…”

The last surviving powered suit looked down at himself instead of at Letnahe.

He was already covered in gouging lacerations.

“Why?”

“Because Grimnoah seems more useful than a perfectly ordinary assassination squad that does not officially exist within the Indian military. For now, anyway.”

“We might want different things, but we’re from the same military…yet you cut us down without a second thought.”

“What?”

She stared like a puzzled child at first. She really did tilt her head with the axe still in both hands.

“Oh, that.”

It took her a few seconds to realize what he meant, but then she gripped the axe tight once more.

“Did you not wonder why I kept specifying the Indian military? I wouldn’t talk about my own home as the Kurent home, would I? So why would I bother making the distinction here?”

“?”

“It’s simple,” she said. “I do not work for the nuclear state of India. I work for someone even higher than that.”

After one final desperate spray of gunfire, the final powered suit was bisected.

The secret unit had been eliminated without anyone ever knowing they existed.

The battle would not have made much noise, but she could not let her guard down. She wanted a janitorial cart to transport the multiple corpses and special detergent for the blood stains. Her axe and magic could turn them into mincemeat easily enough, but the mass media’s long-range lenses were watching outside. She calmly worked out what she needed to do as someone who worked behind the scenes.

No one could prove those soldiers existed, so she could never be charged with their deaths.

But after cutting down and eliminating that hostile force without allowing them a single scream, Letnahe Kurent pictured a certain girl in her mind: Omotesandou Kyouka.

(I have a secret, but I am in no position to reveal it to you.)

She looked down at her left hand and focused on a warm feeling other than her duty as a cold soldier.

“You owe me one.”


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