Clash of Hexennacht:Volume4 Chapter 9
Chapter 9: An Incompletely Seen Place
Face backwards and look ahead
In a place you wanted to visit at least once
With 50 to a division, the 12 divisions of European U.A.H. Magino Devices moved to the front line and formed the first line of defense.
The enemy was numerous. Considering the distance between the earth and the moon, the 500km range of the earth’s thermosphere was only a slight distance and margin. But if it was breached, the earth’s chances would be that much worse.
With that in mind, the Magino Devices on the front line were modified with a focus on rapid-fire and power. They focused on firing with close-range attacks as only a last resort, so they activated firing spells and cooling spells as they began their barrage toward the moon’s surface.
There was no boom at their altitude. The sound reverberated from the mountains far below. The witches felt the vibrations in their bodies as sound while they watched the first round of attacks reach its destination.
“They made it…!”
The shots hit. Small explosions of light appeared within the throng of enemies. Some raised their voices in celebration, but they had to start moving and firing soon thereafter. Sniper fire from the same location only made you a good target.
They all seemed to pass each other by as their Magino Devices received the spell circle instructions informing them of their next location. The movement and attitude control were handled by the Device’s management spells. The witches played their roles as a part of the interception system and simply sent their impacts toward the unseen opponents.
Or so it should have been.
“…They’re so close!?”
A few people voiced their confusion, but that was the truth. Their ether sensors had checked along the range connecting the earth to the moon, but the throng of enemies flowing along that path had rapidly picked up speed. No, this was…
“They’re swapping positions!” shouted a bookshelf witch from Italy. “They’re swapping themselves out with empty space just like swapping out two books!”
“Is there a point to that?”
“The swapping lets you ‘fill the gaps’ in addition to moving, so it speeds things up! There’s no way I could keep the mausoleum orderly otherwise! …This is the Black Witch’s library technique!”
This was not simple movement. Like climbing steps, any empty space would be filled with the Black Witch’s reinforcements, so what had looked like sparse dust became more like a thick river.
“Don’t let it get to you!” shouted the leader of the third wave. “If you can manage, focus on firing penetrative rounds! They’ve gathered together for us, so think of it as an easier target!”
The witch’s wings created some empty space.
And she was hit.
It happened in an instant.
With that first hit, 32 of 600 on the front line disappeared.
Of the enemy black dragons and black dolls, the former exhaled a breath. It seemed to act like black flames and it formed round bullet shapes of the same color.
Those bullets reached the witches.
The destruction was silent. A few of the Magino Devices failed to move in time, were hit by the counter shot, and vanished.
The firepower instantly shattered the entire Device and it all scattered as ether light.
But no one looked back. They knew the same would happen to their own Devices if they were hit.
It was a matter of sooner or later. If they were lucky, they would survive for now. And looking back would reduce that luck. That was a witch’s jinx. So they all faced forward and made gestures or threw pebbles to help maintain their luck.
“Fan out in vertical layers!”
The leader’s instruction was repeated by each group’s control spell circles. They coordinated with each other as they determined their individual destinations. The automatically-created formation was a three-dimensional parabola.
This would stop the enemy and concentrate fire on the enemy’s front tip.
Their formation was designed to allow them to scatter further in every direction, but they could not move and fire simultaneously. That was due to the design that raised their Magino Devices’ power.
It was destroy or be destroyed. The downpour of enemy fire arrived amid those two options.
The enemy’s volley arrived from the front of the river flowing with its replacement movement. Those black flame bullets devoured the witches.
They wore down the gunblades attempting to form a parabola in the sky, but…
“Formation 2 is in position!”
50 more Magino Devices had been on their way from the earth far below and they had caught up to the center of the parabolic formation where the bulk of the enemy fire was arriving. And they plugged themselves in like it was a power socket.
“Activate defense spell!”
Power clashed in the sky. The scattering ether light visible from the earth was mostly from defense barriers.
The enemy, which looked like a black cloud in the sky, contained quite a few explosions of light, but those impacts did not seem to be reducing the overall numbers much.
On the surface, Lisbeth received a report on the situation from a position with a decent view of the battle continuing in the sky. She was in the space between Shihouin Academy’s main gate plaza and the pier. The tent and partitions prepared there were their HQ.
On Hexennacht, the moon would be directly above the ocean off the coast of Kanagawa. But they could not set up their HQ there and, even if they would be able to see the enemy’s approach head-on from directly below the moon, their sense of distance would be poor and the danger of being hit by stray shells would increase.
Thus, they shifted the axis somewhat and chose Shihouin Academy.
They could not see the ocean off of Kanagawa from here, but the witch battle was fought in the sky. Lisbeth had chosen this location for their HQ because it increased their odds of survival and was a useful location for using spells and securing ether.
They were monitoring the distant midair battle in real time.
“The 1st thermosphere frontline group has engaged the enemy. 170 destroyed, 232 damaged to varying degrees! But 42% of the enemy’s front line has been destroyed!”
The “enemy’s front line” was only their own estimation. From the enemy’s perspective, it was probably only a few percentage points of the whole.
But, thought Lisbeth. We couldn’t even do this last time.
“So buy as much time as possible and keep the pressure on them! If we can scatter their drop positions using the earth’s rotation, we’ll have a chance to destroy them individually!”
“Make sure to thank those who were lost!”
The communications and staff officer witches looked up at that. Lisbeth felt their look of slight surprise was somehow rude, but…
“I only mean to use your thanks to purify your lost luck and turn it into good luck! Do not misunderstand!”
“Wah!” cried the witches as they looked back to the spell circle consoles, but their expression had changed.
“The enemy is continuing to descend! And from behind…”
Lisbeth knew what was coming. With the vanguard’s attack complete, the next group was coming. And with more than 50% of the vanguard remaining.
“A force more than twice the size is coming! The enemy’s 2nd and 3rd waves are incoming!”
Shouko locked up her house on the moon.
She tended to wear her school uniform when heading out. And now she wished she had bought some casual clothes in that “dream”.
The minions she had designed and the witches born of her imagination were fighting along the line connecting her to the earth…or rather to her home.
It was not even worth watching. Near the top of the moon’s dark sky, lights would be scattering on the way to the distant earth.
She was not using as powerful a technique as when she had reached her hand out toward earth, but her minions were approaching the earth with serpentine movements instead.
…The slower speed only applies more pressure.
Her experience from destroying the previous worlds told her that taking her time here would make things worse for them.
But if she quickly reached out her hand like she wanted to, she would be intercepted. She had thought only her sister could strike back at something like that, but there seemed to be a few others, so she was going to pass on that one.
She would do it the old-fashioned way. And she wanted to do it the easy way. So…
“If I take it slow, what will they do?”
“Yes, we do seem to be breaching the enemy’s first formation,” Amaze replied from her side. “We have the superior numbers, after all.”
She looked up to see a small light rising beyond the black river. Didn’t I see a light like this during a magnesium oxidation experiment a long time ago? she thought.
“I’m not so sure,” she said, aware of the slight expectation and great restraint inside her. “If they’re going to stop me, I want them to put up a real fight here.”
Horinouchi was aware of two sides of herself: the side that could not move and the side that was itching to move.
…They’re fighting such a large battle in the sky, but I can’t take part.
She needed to focus on securing her own ether, so she had to leave everything else to the others.
After all, her job was to fight the Black Witch. What would happen if she used her power and focus on anything else?
…The same thing that happened to my mother.
Her mother had not done anything wrong. She had simply been unprepared when the unexpected had occurred.
But even if she had been prepared…
“The front line has been breached!”
The front line, which included the additional Devices, was falling apart. The enemy had approached close enough that each individual one was distinguishable when using a telescope spell. They were finally breaking the equilibrium using their numbers.
Of course, the witches had predicted this would happen, so Lisbeth’s voice arrived over a communication spell circle.
“First formation…you have permission to charge.”
Finally, thought the first formation’s leader on the front line.
The 30km-radius parabolic formation was breaking, falling, and generally transforming into an upside-down dome shape. However…
“If you have taken only light damage, descend at full speed! Join those below! If you’ve taken more damage…focus on the center!”
The defense spell witches in the center wordlessly ascended at full speed.
What would happen if the center of the dome shape jutted outwards?
The formation gained a narrow point, like a closing umbrella. And…
“Vertically stack the front line!”
The defensive witches who accelerated out front began to line up vertically. There were not many of them, but…
“Fall back once your barrier drops below 50%! Use a rotation to maintain your barriers! …And then ascend!!”
That command was repeated again and again and again. Those many non-incantation responses sounded over the communications as the witches stabbed into the black river like a flat-tipped blade.
The very front focused only on defense. The following witches were meant to launch attacks forwards, but they launched their power elsewhere:
“Fire to the west!”
Shouko saw it from the moon.
The earthborn blade accelerated and plunged into the river, but it was unlikely to last even halfway through. The river’s density was simply too great. That made the enemy’s action a mere kamikaze attack and thus a complete waste.
“Oh, come on.”
This was not good. After all…
“I don’t even need my imagination here. It’s a foolish plan.”
“Think again, Shouko.”
Amaze seemed to see this differently, so she looked at it again.
She looked again at what the people born of her imagination were doing.
“They rotated their Magino Devices to the west and fired. Then they used the recoil to return their orientation to normal and also accelerate upwards. …That will slow them down, so they will form two levels and make sure there is never a lull in their attacks. Do you know what will happen then?”
“They’ll continue firing from the center to the west while among my reinforcements. But then the line from the center to the east can descend right past them, can’t it?”
“The enemy formation’s trajectory is angled diagonally, so it seems a third of them will descend straight down on the east.”
Shouko felt like Amaze was again asking if she understood, so she thought about what would happen. I can’t rush this, she told herself.
“Are the earth forces going to have a third intercept from straight ahead?”
Once she said it out loud, she realized what the light in the distant sky meant. That was not just the rapid-fire and destruction as the enemy attempted to stop her invasion.
“They’re using my minions’ explosions to split them into front and west lines, aren’t they!? If the explosions gather together too much, the western line would be thrown into chaos, so…they’re trying to shift two-thirds of the western line to the west of Japan, aren’t they!?”
“Yes. Our power cannot move the moon from above Japan now. It will move with the rotation of the earth. But the servants which have shifted from our power and are scattered throughout the air after entering the earth’s atmosphere will all flow westward. Meaning…”
“The enemy has cut our servants away from us, thus forcing us to let them handle it on their own. The witches who knew this would happen will be waiting along or near the belt surrounding the earth at the same latitude as Japan. …And we can see them! Right this instant!”
“Head Butler! The Japanese wild bird witches have sent us a rough estimate! …Approximately 88.88 million! And a third of them are currently breaking off starting from the front!”
Below the tent in Enoshima, the moon was almost directly overhead.
In the far distant sky, the battle was being fought in a region that could more or less be called outer space, so none of the sound reached them here. But the enemy’s approach grew narrower and the black river began to scatter into the western sky.
A few witches placed their hands on their chests or crossed themselves to send divine protection.
And the Head Maid checked what was written on her communication spell circle.
“Head Butler. …The Circular Hexennacht Intercept Band has fully activated.”
Koutarou expressed his praise for all of them instead of anyone in particular and he spoke into the spell circle by his hands.
“Milady. …This is not the same as ten years ago. The entire world is standing up in defiance!”
Horinouchi saw something from the bottom of the barrier that blossomed to accept the Black Witch.
She was worried about what was happening up above and she was worried about her surroundings, so she had ascended to an altitude of 20km. That much was safe.
When Koutarou called out to her, she looked to the east and the west of Japan from her altitude.
To the east, she saw the sea beyond Boso. To the west, she could see as far as the area past Osaka, but lights appeared along the line connecting the east to the west.
Those lights grew into a band about 100km wide that cut across Japan.
It was ether light that rose to a height of about 300m.
She knew it was made up of defense and strengthening divine protections.
Where the reinforcements were dropping after the U.A.H. witches scattered them in the sky, many facilities, starting with the shrines and temples, produced support barriers for the witches assigned to each region.
And that was not all.
A report from the Horinouchi family HQ said these same barriers were being activated along the same path far, far to the west: to China, the Middle East, Europe, America, and across the Pacific Ocean.
It was a global Great Wall-style interception network.
They had not been able to do this ten years ago, but they had it now. The band of light wrapped around the globe displayed by her hands. The blue light cut a ribbon-like line horizontally across Japan and the wires for ley line pressurization support were drawn out from regions to the north or south: Australia, Taiwan, India, Africa, Scandinavia, Canada, etc.
As soon as she hit that single key, it all manifested.
The long band of light racing across the ocean from the east completed its circuit in front of her.
The light hit and some of it sprayed upwards, but there was no sound. However, that established it all.
The European U.A.H. witches literally banded together and charged toward the eastern third of the black river which was still being torn apart.
“This is where the real battle begins.”
The first formation of witches saw it as they rose into the black sky.
They still could not see the whole of the earth below them, but beyond the falling black enemies, they saw a clear band of light extending east and west.
The leader’s Magino Device was mostly destroyed and she could no longer launch spells, but she nodded when she saw the results of their actions.
“That’s enough, everyone! Withdraw!”
She looked back only to find nothing there.
The witches following her had vanished. She knew what had happened. Not one of them would have fled.
…So they were lost.
With that, she faced forward. And she spoke within the river of enemies narrowing down on her from the left and right. She instructed her Magino Device to self-destruct and stood on its upper surface.
“Do you know what happened ten years ago? I was so afraid of you all that I ran away. …And I was supposed to be with the garrison. Afterwards, I said I hadn’t expected anything like that to show up and everyone agreed with me.”
“But I was part of the garrison!”
She began the self-destruct countdown. It began at a minute remaining, but she spun that down to ten seconds and smiled.
“So how about this, Black Witch!? Did you expect anything like this to show up!?”
With those words, her vision was stained with light.
Her Magino Device self-destructed and took the approaching minions out with it.
Lisbeth heard the report from the sky.
…So the splitting was a success.
The interception band had been established. They had made it for more than just defense. It also had the power to draw in targets through the ley lines as the earth rotated.
If the enemy scattered out as they descended, they would naturally end up over a wide area on the surface. So just like a jinx for ensuring a fruit landed in your hand, they had prepared a divine protection to ensure the enemies landed in the interception spots.
That said, they had needed to split up the flow of the enemy at the beginning. The “drawing in” divine protection was weak, so it would not work if the enemy dropped straight down.
Thus, dividing the enemy with the initial interception had been a crucial part of their strategy.
“And we pulled it off!”
Now they could fight so much more than ten years prior. They had lost approximately a third of their Magino Devices to accomplish it, but they could only assume that had been their best option. And…
“Ma’am! Troposphere Interception Formations 2 and 3 have been breached!”
“The enemy’s third wave has entered the stratosphere almost entirely unscathed!”
The enemy’s invasion was clearly picking up speed. In that case…
“Prepare for a surface battle. …Deploy the main force. Have each unit charge at the enemy from the north. Intercept them while trying to drop them into the ocean!”
“Our vanguard was split, but they have arrived near the surface,” said Amaze. “They have certainly improved their interception tactics.”
Shouko was aware how rough her sigh was.
She was impressed by what she saw happening.
A halo-like ring had been placed a bit above the surface of the earth. The river of her minions had been split in two and the thicker branch was being guided toward that ring.
…I don’t like this…
It felt like her black was staining the earth’s decor. But…
“Yes.” She nodded. “Yes. That’s right! This is how it has to be.”
There was no point in answering Amaze’s question. She was simply happy. Happy that the product of her imagination had surpassed her imagination. And…
“It’s great that it’s turned into something so pretty and amazing. So…”
So she summoned her own Magino Frame.
She would do this as the Black Witch, not as Kagami Shouko. Also…
“Let’s go, Amaze. …Let’s keep hope in our hearts as we head out and see what happens.”
“Head Butler! The enemy has accelerated!”
Koutarou heard the Head Maid’s voice. A large spell circle created a three-dimensional display in front of the tent and it showed their second formation falling apart and their third and fourth formations choosing to descend while wearing down the enemy before they suffered a similar fate. And on Lisbeth’s orders, the fifth unit on up began to prepare for a surface battle while the combined third and fourth formations attacked the enemy vanguard from either side.
…They still have so much momentum even after we divided them.
The descending third and fourth formations had just joined together in midair. They pursued the accelerating enemy vanguard and adopted a spiraling trajectory as they challenged the enemy to a close range battle.
The enemy had already arrived within 100km of the surface.
The witches high in the sky fired straight down at the enemy approaching the earth.
They all flew down headfirst while pursuing the enemy river. They and the enemy descended with seemingly unstoppable momentum, just like water flowing down a slope. But neither side was a liquid and each individual was either one of them or the enemy. So they all accelerated but circled around so they would not be targeted.
“Our Devices lose acceleration when they fire! You know what it means to target the vanguard, don’t you?”
“We won’t do anything as lame as let them destroy us just to eliminate them!”
There was only one thing to do: avoid the black dragons’ breath bullets and the black dolls’ close-range Demon Eye Cannons, and…
“Pick up speed so you can fly right past them even while firing. …Back home, I was said to be the fastest witch around!”
The Black Watch saw the enemy’s third and fourth formations join together.
They intended to interfere with her reinforcements which were gathering back together and accelerating.
…This I can imagine.
She had given a decent enough mission to the reinforcements which were essentially mindless.
They were like a river and they formed a “path” for her. Once they reached the surface, their “arrival” would be established and, from then on, nothing else would count as “arriving”.
Once it was all connected, it was all “the same place”. So…
“I think it’s my turn to surpass your imagination this time.”
With that, she gave a single order.
“Some excavation will be necessary before creating the path. You have made some good decisions thus far…but you didn’t think of this, did you?”
The witches were consumed by the enemy vanguard.
They accelerated at full power and then shifted that power to their cannons. They fired despite knowing this would fry their power system.
The blades at the end of the Magino Devices destroyed the black dragons and black dolls at the front.
There was one thing they had to watch out for: if they made close-range attacks, the black dragons and dolls could counterattack with the same.
The black dragons made a close-range counterattack by breathing black flames over a wide area. The black dolls did so with the short-range Demon Eye Cannon they fired from the giant eye on their torso.
But if they knew it was coming, they could handle it. The movement of the dragons’ heads telegraphed their attack and the dolls’ focused their eyes in the direction they would fire.
They marked the heads and eyes with the same symbol on their spell circles and used the direction of those symbols to determine their own route.
From there, they were at the mercy of what little power remained in their Magino Devices. After instantly using up all of their power by firing and accelerating, those Devices fell as wide-open targets. The enemy forming the new vanguard targeted them before they could recover.
“What are you looking at!?”
With that cry, more witches destroyed the vanguard once more. The first wave of witches saw that and chose to use their recovered power either to descend or return to the unit.
Not all of them could continue fighting. The individual witches only had so many Blessings. But three or four Magino Devices accelerated downward while targeting the enemies trying to stand on the vanguard.
They could already see the individual streets in the city down below. The witches with better eyesight could probably see the people moving through those streets.
“Damn, there’s no end to them…!” shouted one of the witches as she made her charge. “And we can already see the city below…!”
“What?” asked another witch who circled around next to the first. “Um, are you saying it’s pathetic to let them get this close to the people we’re supposed to be protecting!?”
“No, I’m saying the people down there can probably see us, too! I wanted to look cooler than this!”
“I suppose you would want that, wouldn’t you?”
The two of them attacked and destroyed the enemy simultaneously. An explosion erupted behind them, but…
That was their third charge, but the wind was different. They both looked back to see why.
“Stop the charge! …Withdraw! Take anti-explosion measures!”
As soon as that voice arrived over their spell circles, it happened. A black doll on the enemy’s new vanguard had not been looking down at them.
It was looking back toward the moon and the giant stream of its own kind.
“The Demon Eye Cannon!”
The attack triggered a chain reaction of explosions that destroyed the first several hundred of the reinforcements.
More and more massive explosions of light erupted.
Those two witches, along with the combined third and fourth formations, were blown every which way by the blast.
The Black Witch saw the explosion of light covering several hundred kilometers above the earth.
More than the explosion itself, the shockwave blew away the enemy witches.
“Excavation complete,” said the Black Witch.
The magnified view on her spell circle showed a large blank space had opened.
The witches would not arrive in time. The only ones who could continue on were her reinforcements which mindlessly advanced. They had been divided, but a third of them were headed for Japan. The remaining two-thirds would descend anywhere from Asia to Europe and even America.
“Now, then.” She said. “Let’s perform a test: is humanity’s imagination pointed more toward survival or destruction?”
The witch who had been the first formation’s leader realized she was opening her eyes.
Hadn’t she been caught in the same self-destruction used to take out the enemy? She had resigned herself to death.
But now she saw black dragons and dolls flowing from the moon and through the black sky. They appeared to be facing her and backing up, but that was probably not the case.
“Am I rapidly descending toward the earth?”
“Oh! You’re alive!”
She trembled when a voice spoke so near her ear.
She wondered what was going on, but she could see no one nearby. She only saw a few spell circles and an ether thread connected to her neck.
“Division Commander! I’m glad we managed to pull you away in time…!”
“My spider web follows fate, so distance is meaningless! It’s slow, though!”
Oh, I get it now, she thought. I didn’t quite die. And…
“Division Commander! You’ll be an underling once you’re down here! Witches who have used up their Blessings can only do things like guide people at crosswalks, after all!”
“We’ll be done here after we pull in another five people, including you! And then I’ll have to go deliver bentos for the first time in my life!”
“You were the last one we retrieved! Thank you for leading us without running away!”
While she fell and was pulled down, she thought about those words: This is where it truly begins.
She had made up for her past. That time from ten years ago was now over. From here on, each minute and second was a fight to reach the future. So…
“Come on. Make a counterattack…!”
Her wish was granted.
As she fell, a line of power passed by her side and pierced the sky directly above.
She knew who had to have fired that attack that tore through everything in the vicinity, regardless of its actual trajectory. That came from…
Horinouchi saw the power stab through the sky, tear apart the enemy vanguard, and pierce its center for a few thousand kilometers.
“Huh? And yet I’m only Rank 3. What’s up with that?”
“Hm, I wonder who’s in Rank 1 then,” said Horinouchi to play dumb.
But Hunter’s timing had been superb.
“Can you fire a second one?”
“It’s really hard to control the intersecting satellites for the counterattack.”
The fact that she did not say it was impossible was a lot like her, or perhaps a lot like America.
Regardless, the shell had split apart the black river approaching from the east, but…
Some horribly chilly air arrived from the moon. It was like an ether-carried “presence” that arrived before the actual heat or power. And that meant…
“Mitsuru, can you hear this?”
She knew what Lisbeth was going to say.
“The Black Witch has left the moon. …Her Magino Device has begun its descent.”
“Now, let’s go.”
The flow of the black army had been split. The initial division by the witches and the attack from the enemy’s elite had clearly defined the overall division.
One branch straight ahead and the other to the west. Once the ‘mold’ was set, the phase of the flow was fixed in place.
The Black Witch knew which of the two branches she should take with her Magino Device: straight ahead. Also…
“The vanguard’s numbers were reduced quite a bit, but some of them have reached the surface. What will you do?”
With that, she “swapped places” with the very front of her vanguard.
“I will do you all one favor.”
A school’s front gate lay before her eyes.
It belonged to Shihouin Academy. There, she saw the HQ of the organization built to fight her. That primarily meant European U.A.H in this case. Their leader was also there.
That leader woman had had both eyes ten years before, but the Black Witch remembered her.
She asked her a question from atop her Magino Device.
“How about this?”
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