Sorcery Hacker:Volume1 Phase1

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Phase 01: Fire Castle Town Flared[edit]

Part 1[edit]

Sky City Celedileka was divided into four exterior blocks with Light Castle Brightio in the center. No one was allowed in the center without authorization, so tourists could ignore it. When Ayato Criminaltrophy and Teleria Nereid Aquamarine first arrived in the city, they were only really aware of the castle towns.

Each of those towns had a unique form taken from one of the four elements.

Fire Castle Town Flared.

Water Castle Town Aquaria.

Wind Castle Town Silphine.

Earth Castle Town Grouviv.

Those two had arrived in the fire block.

SorceryHacker v01 BW01.png

“Phew… It’s so hot.”

After taking just one step – and no more than 5 steps even if you were being generous – outside of the temperature-controlled balloon bungalow, Teleria was already complaining. She wiped the sweat from her brow and looked around with a pool of sweat forming in the cleavage showing through her blazer and blouse which were still missing a button.

The scene she found was only possible thanks to the ubiquity of magic.

The town was red.

The buildings all had white stone walls and orange roofs. Were those Ninjas and Thieves jumping between the rooftops over there? As large a space as this was, land was still in short supply and all the buildings were packed in close together. Everything was illuminated by the colors of scorching heat. It was the middle of the day, yet the town was colored a burning red. Celedileka was positioned so high in the sky it was nearly in outer space and had no concept of evening, but this seemed to make up for that lack.

Something like giant vacuum tubes stood vertically up from the city in places. Those were probably the osmosis blast furnaces made of artificial crystal which concentrated the thick manaflows found at this high altitude and sealed the mana in tanks.

“What a shame,” said Ayato. “I thought this city was famous for the sun in the starry sky.”

“I don’t think there was anything they could do with this town of molten metal.”

“Now I wish I had taken a better look at the aurora. I bet that red thing is hovering above us right now.”

“It’s apparently seen as a symbol of disaster around here. They call it, um, the Demon Lord’s Bite.”

“The Demon Lord, huh? Nirvelphany was it?”

“I-I’m sure that’s just a story.”

That was from long, long ago. No one even knew what the Demon Lord had looked like anymore. No humans or even demons remembered the details of the story, so no one knew what had ultimately become of them either.

And these two had more pressing issues than some incident from the distant past.

Humans and six-legged sorcery taxis traveled along the roads, but there were also rivers of red and boiling metal. They were all filled with the melted mana-conducting silver that Fire Castle Town Flared was known for. This town specialized in industry, so the government supplied all the materials for free and the craftsmen had to produce high-quality products (everything from weapons to daily necessities) in exchange. The production of most all forms of sorcery device was concentrated here. That allowed small workshops with a craftsman’s spirit to thrive without having to worry about taking loans or going into debt.

A Traveling Salesman carrying a box larger than he was on his back was walking around near one burning river. The box was a refrigerator made of clear artificial crystal and filled with coolant. It contained ice-cold fruit juice and giant custards made from monster eggs. Teleria paled and held her mouth at the sight of the unusual dessert. There was also a salesman carrying around a bunch of metal pots and frying pans. The products looked fairly crudely made, but since a bearded Chef and an Alchemist girl were stroking their chins and appraising them, they must have had the precise construction needed for a professional kitchen or a lab.

Ayato took all their luggage and hailed a sorcery taxi that resembled a beetle.

“Search out an inn under the name Ayato Criminaltrophy. Carry our luggage and check in for us too.”

“Understood, sir.”

He tossed their luggage into the empty vehicle that did not even have a driver and shut the door. The six-legged sorcery taxi was immediately on its way to its destination.

Teleria spent the time finally managing to pin the chest of her blouse shut. The boy watched the sorcery taxi leave while stroking the crystal tarot cards in his blue blazer’s breast pocket and then the sword at his hip.

“Okay, let’s get started. It’s time to get some work done.”

“Ugh, I’m pretty sure we’ll be cooked to a boil before we arrive.”

Fire Castle Town Flared had boiling metal rivers running every which way, so the sorcery taxis were not the only way to get around.

A cheerful voice called out to them from one of those hellish rivers.

“Excuse me! I couldn’t help but notice how inappropriately you two are dressed to be spending time here in Flared. Either you want heat stroke, or you’re tourists, so how about a gondola ride to make a nice memory for your trip?”

“Do people normally wear swimsuits year-round here?”

“Did you not do a search on the tourism site? If you want to enjoy this town to its fullest, you at least need a water bottle with a spoonful of salt and fruit juice mixed in. As you can see, I’ve got a full cooler with me here.”

Ayato and Teleria exchanged a troubled look. They had heard it was hot here, but they had underestimated the extent. They boarded the small boat floating in the orange river, but it was partially so they could gather information.

The gondola itself appeared to be wood with layer after layer of varnish applied. So was the rudder. It looked like it should burn away the instant it touched the surface of this river, but there must have been some kind of magic at work. There did seem to be an enormous magic circle floating below the entire boat.

“Where to?”

“Industrial Materials Harbor Street in Flared 49.”

“That’s the weapons development street, right? You’re quite the geek.”

The Gondolier laughed, raised the revolver in his hand, and pressed the top of the barrel against his forehead.

With a “blam!!”, he fired the sorcery gun into the boat and the floating oar began moving like a witch’s broom. The oar read the current of the boiling metal river and guided the boat to their destination.

His gun was very different from Teleria’s which was full-auto yet restrained its gunshot with the suppressor built into the barrel so she could use high-speed but very precise magic. Sorcery guns came in a wide variety of types and calibers. The two biggest factors were the caliber, which determined how many letters and numbers could fit on the disintegrating lead bullet and how much pressurized mist mana could be released at once, and the firing mechanism, which determined whether you wanted to increase the precision of each and every shot of magic or if you wanted to produce a barrage of magic through rapid-fire. However, those decisions were mainly an issue for the people who used them in combat, so it was mostly ignored by the people who used sorcery guns as a household tool. The fact that the Gondolier did not need to tilt his head and stare at some notes while firing was enough to demonstrate his professionalism.

In fact, while a revolver might seem less convenient, it was useful when it came to avoiding accidental discharges. The number of bullets determined how much magic you could use and the reach of the gunshot noise determined the range of the magic, but that did not matter in a normal life.

“Have you heard about the Temple Moving Ceremony? Their headquarters were recently given approval by Sky City Celedileka as a whole. They always got along, but they weren’t considered an official state church before. Well, whatever they do, it’s bound to bring in a ton of tourists and that means more money for me. The Forturiana Church has my support!”

“Oh, is it some kind of festival or parade?” asked Teleria. “We chose a good time to visit then.”

Teleria looked around nervously in that small boat floating on the river of molten mana-conducting silver and she spoke up with the look of someone who had received a breath of fresh air, but Ayato frowned and muttered to himself while holding her shoulders to support her.

That’s just disgusting.

“Don’t say that. It’s all a show for tourists like you two. Normally, Light Castle Brightio is surrounded that thick, aurora-like barrier called the…oh, I forget the actual name, but during events open to the public, they let all the people inside. You really did choose a good time to visit.”

While the guys were talking, they were interrupted by something odd.

“Uhhh, uhhhh…”

She could not possibly have been seasick so soon after setting off, but Teleria looked quite dizzy. Ayato lightly held her to him so she would not lose her balance and a sweet aroma reached him from her sweat-soaked blonde hair. She was excessively afraid of the red metal found outside the gondola, so she clung to him and drank from a leather water bottle she took from the cooler.

The young male Gondolier laughed and spoke up.

“We aren’t going to flip over, so there’s nothing to be afraid of, miss.”

“She has trouble with fire, so try to be understanding.”

“Anyone that likes fire would have to be a freak of nature,” she complained.

She was not exactly wrong, but you could not forget that it was conquering fire and transforming it into their own power that allowed humanity to surpass the other animals.

“That’s fine and all, but will she be okay visiting that weapons development street? Did the guy choose the destination for the date this time? That place is full of fire and mana-conducting silver, so if she’s not into that kind of hobby, she might just scream.”

“Unfortunately, neither of us got to choose our destination today. It’s always the case we’re working on that designates the time and the place.”

“Oh? So you’re Forwards, are you? You must’ve struck it rich to come all the way here.”

“If we were rich, we would’ve found a better form of transportation.”

“You’ve got me there,” laughed the Gondolier.

Just then, a loud rumble and shockwave violently shook Flared.

All the glass rattled in the white-walled and orange-roofed buildings. The six- or seven-legged sorcery taxis moving through the streets came to a temporary stop when they sensed the danger. The traveling salesmen carrying fridges or metal products looked up into the sky to see what it was. Ripples ran through the scorching river, the gondola shook, and Teleria shrieked.

Thanks to that, Ayato’s face was truly buried in those two mounds and the Gondolier sounded exasperated.

“I know I shouldn’t be jealous of my customers, but I do wish that was me.”

“Wait, Ayato!!”

“Hgh, mgh, mgh.”

Ayato said something with a perfectly serious expression, but no one could understand him.

After extracting his face from that happy valley, the boy tried again.

“So it’s begun.”

“You’re trying to use that serious mood to get away with that one, aren’t you!? Well, I’m never forgetting you did that!!”

“Wait, are you trying to break a record here!? Did you come to this sky city in pursuit of that monster!?”

The Gondolier was so shocked because of the obvious “cause” visible even from here.

It was a giant flying dragon with crimson armor-like scales covering its entire body.

Had it broken through the Guardian Umbrella atmospheric shield that surrounded the city and gotten trapped inside once the shield self-regenerated?

Even from here, it could be seen attacking the harbor block on the outer edge of Flared. The hopeless ceiling was covered by a starry sky both day and night. If this was a normal village with no sorcery protection, a single blast of its dragon breath would have been enough to wipe it off the map.

The only reason that did not happen was because this was the Selected Kingdoms’ largest sky city.

An armored train raced along steel rails using the many legs that made it look like a centipede. That would be the reinforcements meant to drive back the crimson dragon. Attack magic taking the form of cannons was already being fired up from a short distance away from the scene, so the dragon was being pushed into the sky as it tried to grab at the city with its sharp claws.

They had stationary cannons and mobile cannons.

Also, instead of using simple shells, these could set up an extra-large barrier in midair as an “umbrella” to repel an enemy and the enemy’s attacks. Not even that giant dragon could crush the town so easily. In fact, it was the dragon that was being gradually worn down.

Ayato whistled and gave his impression.

“Man, they’re being wasteful.”

“Think of it like the fireworks shows that big hotels put on. And in fact, that does bring in a lot of people.”

“Even though a single stray shell could reduce them to mincemeat?”

“There are still a lot of people who want to watch. When you buy insurance with your tour package, the fine print apparently mentions that you can’t sue your guide even if you die due to an unfortunate accident.”

“That’s hardly funny with this going on.”

“People not understanding the danger around them just shows how peaceful our society is. A toast to Sky City Celedileka!”

At any rate.

The dragon was working hard to attack Fire Castle Town Flared, but the barrage was too intense and holding its location was the most it could manage. That meant it could not find an opening to attack. In that case, what was causing all the noise in the castle town?

The largest distortion was found here.

“Oh, hell. Really?” said the Gondolier. “It’s one of those airships again!”

“Oh? Does Forturiana like their dragon slaying stories?”

“That’s not what this is. They’ll find a more manageable evil for their ceremony. They can’t plan an event around it if they can’t control it.”

“Oh, would you look at that? They really are firing down from the sky.”

“Trapping a dragon between the shellfire coming from the sky city and the airship sounds cool enough, but just picture the line of fire there. The magic fired from the airship flies right into our city. That’s fine if every shot hits the dragon, but every time they miss, the stray shot rains down on us.”

“…”

“Of course, being killed by that is as unlikely as firing a warning shot straight up and having the magic fall right back onto your head. Also, if your house is destroyed, Brightio in the center there will pay you the full price your house is worth. And they are very generous with what they call full price, so it’s probably meant to keep you quiet about it. Rumor has it some people buy a cheap empty house like a lottery ticket and pray for some magic to fall right smack onto it.”

That would explain the lack of tension in the people on the streets despite the great spectacle in the starry yet sunny sky overhead. No one knew who had actually worked out the odds of being hit, but that announcement would make people assume it was nearly zero. Plus, they would get a nice payout if it did happen.

The Gondolier spoke cheerfully while watching the collapse of one of the giant osmosis blast furnaces made of clear artificial crystal.

“There have been a lot of monster attacks recently, but while driving that thing away can’t be easy, wouldn’t killing it be even harder?”

“Sorry, but our prey is not a monster. I’m not a fan of those gentlemanly fox hunts. Animal cruelty just isn’t my style.”

“Hm? Then what are you gonna do there???”

“That should be obvious. Human prey has always been other humans.”

They had arrived at their destination, so Ayato carried the dizzy blonde girl out of the gondola and flipped a middle silver[1] toward the Gondolier.

“That’s a bit much even if you’re including a tip.”

“I’m including hazard pay too. And this area is only going to get more dangerous, so I’d leave if I were you. Thanks for the ride.”

Part 2[edit]

Once the two of them had their feet back on the stone pavement, it was time to get to work.

They walked through a narrow alleyway instead of the larger road.

“Miss Teleria, I know you want to stay hydrated, but you will find yourself running for the bathroom soon if you chug down bottle after bottle of water.”

“Don’t speak that way to a pure maiden. Ugh, it’s just soooo hot.”

In this large city, the mist mana known as Intangible Mist was arranged into something like a long and narrow spider web using the tug of the magnets in the countless relay devices dotting the streets. That mist mana would pass right through people as long as they were not using a magical device, so even the light would pass right through them, making it invisible.

Also, connecting a household sorcery device to that mist mana gave you access to a variety of information services.

It was essentially wireless, but the midway infrastructure used stationary devices that were connected by lines of mana much like wires.

That was something a Sorcery Hacker had to always be aware of.

“Now, then.”

It was time to observe the visible world around him once again.

Instead of a tourist area, this was an industrial airport used to ship out various industrial products manufactured using mana-conducting silver. The street itself looked nice enough, but all the buildings here would be occupied by sorcery craftsmen. There were no barkers calling out to potential customers, gawdy posters, or other ways of gathering tourists here. Nor were there any Traveling Salesmen with clear refrigerators or metal products.

Ayato heard a howl and looked up to see a Wolf Girl in a dress crouched on a rooftop and releasing a call of rebellion into the heavens.

Past the evenly-arranged white walls and orange roofs was a large tower and something like a collection of fishing poles. That was apparently the crane that symbolized the industrial materials harbor. He was not interested in factory sightseeing, but a large landmark like that meant he would not lose his bearings.

Also, they were on the front line of the cannon fire here. The armored train equipped with as many legs as a centipede came to a stop on the rails and aimed its cannons toward the starry sky while the crimson dragon spread its gigantic wings to cover them all like a canopy.

There was of course more cannon fire coming from beyond the crimson dragon.

Like the Gondolier had said, the humans were firing on the dragon from an airship in addition to the sky city. The crimson dragon was sandwiched between the two directions of fire, but that meant any shots the airship missed would send high-level attack magic raining down on the city.

“This block has been designated a Type Three Danger Zone. Please shelter inside. I repeat…”

That voice came from the large street.

It was an unpleasantly mechanical female voice that repeated itself over and over. The source seemed to be moving. The people would be buried alive if the building they were sheltering inside was hit, but the warning must not have wanted to let people imagine that possibility.

Teleria was still somewhat dizzy, but she managed to recall their tense situation.

“Is that an independent sorcery device?”

“Shh.”

Ayato dragged his partner girl behind a wooden box. He had seen something larger than the taxi he had left with their luggage. He quietly observed a scorpion-like mass of mana-conducting silver. If the information he had been given in advance was accurate, that was one of Celedileka’s official Zootoxin Mk. IIIs. It appeared to be following a set patrol route while repeating its warning announcement, but the movement of its tail was odd. The official model was known to have a blind spot behind it, but this one was occasionally slamming the end of its tail into the ground behind it to eliminate that blind spot.

Just like the taxi, this kind of independent device created a small tornado inside itself like a powerful vacuum cleaner to trap the mist mana in that small space and continually receive the informational benefits of that mana. The Intangible Mist was laid out like a spider web along the lines connecting the relay devices, but by taking the mist mana inside, these devices could make decisions for themselves for a while without plugging into one of the terminals known as stations.

But that was useless if that was corrupted.

It’s already been hacked.

Ayato Criminaltrophy’s voice grew deeper.

If your defense weapons had been turned into a plaything for a sorcery criminal, you were out of luck.

“That means this really is their collection spot.”

“Ugh, which means…”

“That thing is acting like it’s on an official patrol, but if it detects us in this area, it’ll shoot us with instakill poison magic. That thing’s tail concentrates the power of its magic on a single point to break through any defenses, which is incredibly useful for status effects like poison or oxidation that spread throughout the body once they get into the enemy’s body tissue or body structure. If you don’t want to be stuffed or soaked in formaldehyde and sold off to some freak, then be very careful.”

They needed to pay careful attention to what route they took.

After waiting for the Zootoxin Mk. III to pass by, Ayato climbed up a white wall using the downspout to reach the building’s roof. Either way, he could not start fighting right away. If he was to use his weapon as a Sorcery Hacker, he had to make the proper preparations first.

(A chimney exhaust management system, a rain guidance pump, a bird-repelling weather vane, and a lightning rod… Yeah, that should work as the starting snowball.)

He worked his mind like he was recalling the day’s menu and drew the sword he used as a Linkage Plug.

Magic was found everywhere these days and devices that used it were just as ubiquitous. The rooftops of ordinary buildings were no exception. He took his 0.5 esoule[2] sword and stabbed it into the chimney rising straight up from the building.

When he pulled the trigger at the grip and pulled back, the blade detached and remained in the chimney.

A new blade compressed within the hilt popped out and he moved on to the boxy pump managing the gutters. Then the base of the lightning rod and the bird-repelling weather vane. He stabbed a blade into each of the sorcery devices that used magic in any way.

Once he was done, he pulled the crystal tarot cards from his blue blazer’s breast pocket and tossed them into the air. Those Linkage Monitors floated on their own, drew out various arcana images, and visualized the manaflow – in other words, the structure of the magic.

(I’ve hacked each of those household items. Starting from my Level 1 sword at the base, I hacked the Level 1 chimney, pump, lightning rod, and weather vane. I can combine them and have their processing space resonate. Then it’s a simple matter of addition and repeating the process until I reach the level I want. At Level 5, I can hijack anything up to Level 5. And at Level 10, up to Level 10.)

Modern magic was performed by extracting the mana found thinly in the air, pressure sealing it in containers, sending it along thin metal lines, and guiding it to a board made from the gems crystalized in the gemflows hidden underground. The work was almost entirely automated, but there was one fundamental rule: all magic had to be activated by someone. Sorcery guns were the most common form of ignition. While a home management system or that scorpion appeared to be moving on their own, they were actually being subconsciously controlled by someone. For a home device, it was linked to a resident who was controlling the lights and air-conditioning. For public devices like the scorpion, hundreds or thousands of government workers in a theatre-like space would combine their mindpower to control them all. The magic for that balloon bungalow they had taken here had technically been activated and controlled by the blonde girl. It was just that people were barely aware of it and it caused almost no exhaustion.

A Sorcery Hacker had to fool more than just the gemboard that was connected to the thin threads of mana mist gathered together by magnets.

The linking sensation was no longer even verbalized, but odd sensations would sometimes rise to the surface like waves and a hacker did not want someone to notice their presence based on having “a bad feeling”.

“Okay, I’m at Level 10. Now I can reach that damn scorpion walking around here.”

“Pant, gasp… P-please wait.”

He heard some oddly alluring breaths as Teleria finally managed to climb up onto the roof using the downspout.

“What are you doing up here? I was just about to jump down.”

“You mean I climbed up here for nothing!? You need to tell me these things! …Wait, huh? What the hell did you just say?”

“That I’m about to jump down.”

“Wait, no, this is a three-story building! Wait! Don’t drag me along with you!!”

He ignored her complaints, grabbed the slow blonde girl around the hips, and jumped down. And he landed right on top of the (already hacked) Zootoxin Mk. III making its patrol on the surface.

“Mugyuhh!”

“Ha ha ha. Miss Teleria, I appreciate the usual happy sensation. Scaring you is always worth it.”

“Don’t you dare pick up the juvenile habits of an elementary schooler picking on the girl he likes!!”

The scorpion must have detected the impact from above, but the toxic needle tail rising up and glaring at them was not actually a problem. That mana-conducting silver scorpion could only pursue its prey using the eyes on its face. Even with that armor-piercing toxic needle right in front of them, it could not attack them without seeing them with its crystal eyes.

And he had a logical reason for getting this close.

His Linkage Cable sword worked by stabbing into a device and interfering with the mist mana that was arranged in a long and thin string to transfer so much information. Hijacking control with that interference was known as Sorcery Hacking. You can think of it like having a long and thin string of mist or a ring of smoke and placing a net in its path. The Intangible Mist would pass through anything, so by having it pass through his device, he could create an external antenna for himself. Then he could extract the information dissolved into the mist and send in his own false information.

This underground technique was known as The Ring because it was similar to the relationship between a loop of gold and a jewel, but you could not actually stab your device just anywhere.

If his sword did not get into the wiring, it was meaningless, but a weapon would be entirely covered in thick armor, leaving him with no good access points.

He needed an exposed sorcery component not covered by the armor.

And the best option was…

(The eyeball lens. And I have to attack from a blind spot so the enemy Sorcery Hacker doesn’t catch on!)

He stabbed the blade into the scorpion’s head, pulled the trigger, and pulled the hilt away.

The mass of mana-conducting silver immediately started behaving differently.

The violent shaking of its unmanned movement came to a stop and it began walking with the smoothness of its shock-absorbing legs. The comfortable ride was quite a change from their previous tension.

“Miss Teleria, let us review the situation.”

“Whaaat?”

“Recently, Sky City Celedileka has fallen victim to frequent attacks from large monsters like dragons and griffins. Now, an advanced metropolis like this is probably a more likely target than some small village hidden in a remote area, so that is not that unusual on its own. Celedileka has been placing defense of the city as their top priority by firing with reckless abandon, but their thoughtless pincer attack means the airship shots damage the city below.”

“Um, and the problem isn’t the stray shots themselves, but the people using that as cover for their misdeeds, right?”

“Since warfighting shells are flying around instead of just gunfire, I supposed the crime would technically be looting during a military action.” Ayato readily made that dangerous comment. “And since one of the government’s Zootoxin Mk. IIIs was hacked, the culprit is a Sorcery Hacker like me. They use the damage from the shellfire as cover to achieve their goals. After all, even if they break open someone’s safe, that person will be repaid and then some by the government’s stray shot policy. The government is not going to examine the scene all that closely because anything they did find would only be showing off their own mistakes.”

They could of course see more Zootoxin Mk. IIIs walking around, but checking the internal memory of the one he had hacked showed him their cooperation pattern. That meant he knew the patrol routes for them all. If he used that while heading deeper in, he could avoid any unnecessary combat.

The Sorcery Hacker group running rampant in this damaged area of the city had prepared a toy like that in order to keep any witnesses out, so if anyone set foot in here without knowing the patrol routes and was caught by that mechanically-calculated net, they would probably be silenced by instakill poison magic.

“This is really the perfect situation for them. Destroyed buildings can be paid for, but lives aren’t so easy. That means the government will stubbornly refuse to admit to anyone dying or going missing after a hit from a stray shot. If there is any fear of that happening, the official documents will be rewritten to cover it up. It will say the person was mildly injured, received the proper treatment at a medical facility, and decided to leave the city with their juicy payment in hand.”

“So they’ve created a social security system where no one will notice if someone disappears.”

“Yes. Maybe the air of this castle town full of fire and blacksmithing has gotten to their heads. This is honestly more frightening than that dragon that can only use obvious violence.”

Ayato nodded quietly atop the doubly-hacked scorpion.

“Just as our client feared, this is a criminal paradise for human traffickers.”

Part 3[edit]

The law enforcement agencies like Government Security and the knights were paid from a city or state’s public funds, but there were also many jobs for individuals where a third party made a request and paid them a reward. There were the Bouncers who protected a specific location or person, there were the Ransackers who searched out a specific material such as a plant or animal, and there were the Forwards who would be sent to the scene of some brutal crime to resolve the issue.

“Now, then.”

The area under fire from the airship was quite large, but there were a few pieces of information they could use to narrow that down to a single point. The enemy Sorcery Hacker…no, the human traffickers were using the airship’s cannon fire to get the government to cover up the evidence of their crimes, so they would naturally choose the area receiving the most intense fire.

“I wonder if this will be written off as looting by a mob that formed during a military action.”

“Ugh. I bet that counts as a crime I’ve never even heard of before.”

Also, the patrol routes of the hacked Zootoxin Mk. IIIs had been subtly changed to protect the criminals. That meant Ayato and Teleria could find the criminal group if they made their way to the center of the circular off-limits zone being protected by those mana-conducting silver scorpions.

They approached that area while using the giant crane in the distance as a landmark to keep their bearings.

“This should be a good spot.”

They did not actually enter the collapsed house they found there.

They stopped their scorpion a short distance away and got down onto the stone pavement. The Zootoxin Mk. III’s great size was not suited for a stealthy infiltration. They had it use its many legs to climb up a wall and take a position on a building roof where it could overlook the surrounding area. Meanwhile, the boy and the girl peered out from behind a corner.

“Found them. Four of them have cheap magnum sorcery guns and one has a large bowgun that’s as customized as my sword. That must be his Linkage Cable.”

“Th-those are handguns?”

“Yeah, I’ll admit it can be hard to tell since they have shock-absorbing shoulder stocks and the guns themselves have been lengthened to make them look more like submachineguns.”

The purpose of those thick magnums was obvious. They must not have had the proper technology for manufacturing the cartridges filled with mist mana. You could not just compress a ton of mana inside to make a powerful round. Without the optimal balance, the mist would grow too dense and turn into liquid drops inside the cartridge. That was the stereotypical reason for the round to blow up in your face. To avoid that, they had simplified the structure and made the gun sturdier to prevent it from rupturing. It did not even look like they had used mana-conducting silver. Whether they had made those themselves or had gotten help from the black market, they looked a lot like poor-quality imitations made by melting down scrap metal. That said, the caliber itself was quite large and each shot would pack quite a punch. A large bullet meant intense recoil, but it also allowed you to draw a much more complex and colorful muzzle flash that would consume a lot more mist mana and produce much more powerful magic. And the louder gunshot would mean a longer range.

Meanwhile, the large bowgun was technically a Linkage Plug just like Ayato’s blade, so it was not even a sorcery gun that fired mist mana cartridges to use magic. It was made of brightly polished mana-conducting silver and it launched the antennae needed to take control of other sorcery devices by interfering with the circulation of mist mana flowing in very thin lines through that device. In other words, it was a Sorcery Hacker’s weapon.

There was an obvious difference in how much had been spent on the different weapons.

A top-level Sorcery Hacker must have been hired on with a lease contract to give a small-scale criminal group a boost.

And Ayato knew his prey’s name.

Although this was only a nickname the man went by in that shady business.

“The information from our client was correct. That’s Funny Snatch, a sorcery criminal who specializes in spiriting people away.”

“Th-they’re dragging someone out of the rubble.”

“Does that look like a rescue operation to you? No, that’s clearly their main dish for the day.”

The rough men were grabbing the arms of a skinny girl with brown skin. She was tall but slender, making her the opposite of Teleria, and she wore a leather vest and pants faded to a white color. However, there were large slits open on either side of her legs and they were sewn together by something like shoelaces. Her entire outfit seemed to be emphasizing just how slender she was. Perhaps to further emphasize the skinniness of her waist, she wore a thick leather belt style of Expansion Armor that floated around her bare midriff without touching her body. Her long straight silver hair had as beautiful a shine as the jewels in her earrings. Needless to say, she had the kind of beauty that a certain type of people would be searching for.

“Ow, let go of me, ow!!”

“Her manners could use some work, but we can always break her later on.”

“Ugh…”

“No, let’s leave that to the buyer. We might be able to find a pervert who enjoys doing that themselves. Let’s get her out of here.”

Ayato clicked his tongue while still hiding.

Teleria’s face had gone entirely pale.

“Th-they can just do that!? Are you saying the government has been covering up this kind of thing!?”

“Not so loud. …Defeating the four with the sorcery guns will be easy, but the problem is Funny Snatch with his bowgun and the Zootoxin Mk. IIIs he’s taken over. Attack them to carry out justice, and all the other ones patrolling this area will focus on you. Hacking them ourselves is the play here. Even if we went with a direct attack using your sorcery gun, their armor would just deflect it all.”

Plus, Teleria’s sorcery gun was constructed with safety in mind, so it used a rapid-fire barrage of smaller magic to prevent the enemy from making a counterattack. It was meant to knock back the target and keep doing damage until they had been worn down. It had little recoil and maintained its stability even with full-auto, but it did not have the best penetrative power and it could not trigger large explosions. An opponent with thick mana-conducting silver armor was a poor match for her.

“But if we don’t do something, she’ll be taken away.”

“I’m aware of that. I sent our scorpion up onto the roof, right? When a single hacker has taken control of nearly 20 Zootoxin Mk. IIIs, you can assume there was some kind of trick to it. This wide-range control probably means he has a transmission spot set up at an elevated location.”

“B-but doesn’t Sorcery Hacking have to start at Level 1?”

“That’s why he would have built up his Level bit by bit until he could target something bigger. Just like you can take 1+1, 2+2, and 3+3 to reach 12. If we can find the ‘bigger half’ of the equation and hijack it ourselves, all 20 of those pawns will be ours. And then we surround them with those to put a stop to this.”

Ayato had hacked a Zootoxin Mk. III himself, but he had not done it on his own. He had needed to get some help from the duct, weather vane, and other household items on that roof. If those were destroyed or rehacked by someone else, he would lose control of that scorpion.

The vulgar men must have read the stitching on the inside of the girl’s clothing.

“Let’s see, her name is…M-A-M-I-L-I-S C-O-S-T-E-R? Hah hah! Coster!? We actually got someone from the Coster family!? Well, you have our thanks, girl!!”

“?”

“Those sorcery devices guarding us right now were handmade by this family’s craftsman, after all. Bet they never imagined the devices they poured their heart and soul into would be used to spirit away their beloved granddaughter!!”

Ayato only had to do the same thing

Where had that man fired his bowgun to expand his processing space?

Finding it would not be difficult if he had their scorpion jump from rooftop to rooftop.

The complex movements of the floating Linkage Monitor crystal tarot cards gave him a report from the hacked scorpion.

“Found it. The bell tower in this same area, huh? It does have a lot of processing space for the time calculations, wide-range auditory transmission, and stress reduction acoustics. Abusing its processor core would give him plenty of power all at once.”

Of course, using one big device instead of distributing the source of your power made you more vulnerable to obstruction. Since there was no actual schedule for the airship attacks that the human traffickers were using for cover, there work location would change each day and they would have to adlib. That did not give them much time to prepare and Ayato could use that against them here.

“Okay, let’s get going. We can use the roofs to reach the bell tower. If we remove the bolt he fired and stab my sword in instead, I can hack all of the Zootoxin Mk. IIIs that are supposed to be protecting him.”

“Eh? Eh? You mean you’re going to leave that girl there?”

“We aren’t the cavalry that charges in with sorcery guns in hand. If we have a sure thing, I can’t think of any reason not to use it.”

But just as Ayato said that…

“Wait, what’s this?”

“Ow!!”

“I thought I sensed some magic. Look what she was hiding.”

“D-d-don’t pull on my ears!!”

The brown girl frantically raised her voice. When Ayato looked again, he saw her ears were unnaturally long and slender for a human’s. One of the men with a sorcery gun had grabbed and pulled at her jeweled earrings just for fun.

“Looks like she’s actually a Dark Elf. What are you doing living in a human city?”

“…”

“Is the entire family like this, or did they adopt you from somewhere? Well, either way, I bet this is why the Costers do everything the government says. They turned themselves into merchants of death to keep their cute little granddaughter from being kicked out.”

“Uuh.”

“So isn’t this for the best? With you gone, your family can break free of their bondage. They won’t have to make murder weapons anymore. Although there’s no washing their hands clean of the blood at this point! Gah hah hah hah!!”

He heard someone biting their lip.

It came from blonde Teleria watching this next to him.

“Grandma’s sorcery devices aren’t murder weapons.”

The dark elf girl squeezed out her voice.

Ayato was a Sorcery Hacker. He achieved his goals by infiltrating and hijacking the tools other people had worked so hard to create, so these were feelings he could never reach himself.

“She says she made them to protect everyone. She says they’re on patrol to stop crimes before they happen. She says she’s creating the power to fight bad guys without having to hurt anyone. So so!!”

“So – what?”

SorceryHacker v01 BW02.png

Her words rang hollow when those very devices had already been hacked.

But the she still spoke with the pride of the person who had created them.

“Grandma’s sorcery devices won’t obey the likes of you!! No matter what! They exist to fight people like you and that’s what they’ll do in the end!!!!!!”

Ayato Criminaltrophy sighed.

His plan was going well. He had located the core of the enemy Sorcery Hacker’s calculation space. If he used that to hijack all the other Zootoxin Mk. IIIs in the area, he could use those scorpions as his weapons. There was no need for him and Teleria to stand in front of the enemy. In fact, letting the enemy know your identity and location was a critical mistake for snipers and Sorcery Hackers alike. So the best option here was to remain hidden while hacking what he needed to end this safely and smartly. And he had made all the preparations necessary to do just that.

(Grandma’s sorcery devices aren’t murder weapons? She says she made them to protect everyone?)

But Ayato Criminaltrophy stepped out from behind cover.

He threw out all of his plans in order to pay respect to what that girl had said.

With his face and body exposed, that ill-natured Sorcery Hacker smiled and spoke.

“Well said, young lady.”

Part 4[edit]

Grandma, why do you make such dangerous tools?

Mamilis Coster lived while hiding her long ears and she had once asked that of the person who took her in. Her grandmother was a very kind person, but the work she did was not quite so kind. Mamilis knew her grandmother would sometimes receive visits from scary-looking people with smiles plastered on their faces.

It all frightened Dark Elf Mamilis Coster.

Not just the real weapons, but the wooden sticks and toy guns the small children on the streets would play with. Because she never knew when they would be turned her way simply because she had long ears. She hated how ubiquitous those deadly sorcery guns and sorcery devices were. It had pained her greatly to learn the grandmother she so respected made a living creating them.

And this was the response from that person who had reached out a helping hand to a dark elf with nowhere to go:

“I am creating machines that can protect everyone.”

No matter what excuses they tried to make, people carried weapons because they felt powerless.

They felt they needed a greater power in order to protect the things that mattered to them.

But nothing could have been more foolish.

Even if the spread of weapons was meant to protect people, their presence only caused neighbors to view each other with even greater suspicion. And then you needed an even more powerful weapon than those neighbors if you were to feel safe. That was the kind of society it created.

But the people in that labyrinth could not see through its walls. No matter how foolish it was, they could never see how silly they were being while in the midst of it all.

So…

“If I have someone else – something inhuman – do the exact same foolish thing, surely everyone will realize how silly it is to seek after weapons. Then they will understand how cruel it is to throw stones.”

That was what her beloved grandma had said while placing a wrinkled hand on the frightened girl’s head.

“And when the power to fight really is necessary, the people need not return to the brutality of the past. No matter how many stones are thrown at us, the machines I make will protect everyone. And you are no exception, Mamilis. Machines do not discriminate based on where you were born or the length of your ears. And once they see that impartial treatment, surely the people trapped in that labyrinth of their own making will see the error of their ways.”

That was the thought put into their creation.

“Grandma’s sorcery devices aren’t murder weapons.”

Her beloved grandma had worked so hard to make them.

“She says she made them to protect everyone. She says they’re on patrol to stop crimes before they happen. She says she’s creating the power to fight bad guys without having to hurt anyone. So so!!”

They could not be allowed to fall into the hands of filthy sorcery criminals.

And yet.

No matter how loud she yelled, those masses of mana-conducting silver did nothing. In the end, her grandma’s sorcery devices would only obey the instructions they were given. If they were under someone else’s control, they would become nothing but weapons that dispensed cruelty and slaughter.

“Grandma’s sorcery devices won’t obey the likes of you!! No matter what! They exist to fight people like you and that’s what they’ll do in the end!!!!!!”

So it was all meaningless.

This would accomplish nothing.

And yet something did happen. Someone spoke from somewhere out there.

“Well said, young lady.”

Part 5[edit]

Who was it that uttered a confused “huh?” in that moment?

Was it the human traffickers who thought they had complete control of the scene? Was it the enemy Sorcery Hacker known as Funny Snatch? Was it the Dark Elf girl who was about to have everything taken from her? Or was it Teleria Nereid Aquamarine who had been hiding behind cover until a moment ago?

They all watched as a boy walked out into the open and flicked one of the crystal tarot cards floating around him.

Break connection.

A moment later, an explosive boom erupted in the distance. It came from the distant bell tower. And the only other person there who seemed to realize what that meant was Funny Snatch, the Sorcery Hacker who was carrying a giant bowgun-style Linkage Plug.

“What did you do!?”

There may not been nothing righteous about the words of a Sorcery Hacker.

This may have been the arrogance of a criminal.

But there was something he had to say here.

Something he had to say in the presence of that girl who had been driven to the edge of the cliff.

“I won’t do anything as cheap as hack them myself. Young lady, I’ll show you what your grandma’s creations are really meant to do!!”

Ayato could have hijacked everything with this Linkage Plug sword, but he chose not to. By destroying the bell tower itself, he eliminated the human traffickers’ processing space and returned the hacked mana-conducting silver scorpions to their original controllers.

They reverted to what the girl’s grandma had made and what the girl had hoped for.

They were back in the government’s control, so what would those nearly 20 Zootoxin Mk. IIIs do if they spotted some suspicious people lurking in the attack site?

All hell broke loose.

“Wah, wah! Wahhhhh!?”

The rough men had initially calmly turned toward Ayato and pressed the stocks of their magnum-style sorcery guns against their shoulders to aim at him, but then the closest giant scorpion beat one of them to the ground with a large pincer. He did not even have time to widen his eyes in surprise before the enormous poison stinger tail moved. That directly-injected torrent of poison could knock out a man-eating tiger from a range of 400 esoule[3], so when it hit him from point-blank range, he began convulsing on the ground.

The other thugs pressed the top of their guns to their foreheads to engrave the memorized letters and numbers on the disintegrating lead bullet before aiming at their target. By passing through the fireworks-like muzzle flashes, the torrents of mist mana produced supernatural phenomena like flames and vacuum blades. Those two were Primary Burst and Tertiary Tornado respectively. Their magnum-like calibers were large enough to require a shoulder stock, so the magic using the large disintegrating lead bullets and the contained mist mana were all quite destructive…but that mana-conducting silver armor could not be harmed by the kind of magic a single person could produce. In a pure contest of power, it could not have been more obvious whether a flesh-and-blood human or a sorcery device would come out on top.

Colorless mana was given its traits by the four basic elements of fire, water, wind, and earth, but none of them was a match for the Zootoxin Mk. III.

The thick mana-conducting silver forcibly deflected it all and attacked the criminals head on.

While either crushing them below its legs or knocking them away with its powerful tail, three of the sorcery guns were broken and neutralized in no time.

“Ah, ahh! Ah, ah, ah!!”

The one remaining man held his cheap sorcery gun that had been cheaply customized to be larger than a submachinegun and tried to flee, but he was already surrounded. He could not escape onto any road or alley around them because the mana-conducting silver scorpions were blocking every path.

“D-dammit!! What the hell is going on!?”

Instead, the kidnapper reached for the brown girl. He likely assumed the dark elf would function as a hostage if her grandmother had built these things, but that was actually the worst decision he could have made. Hadn’t the girl said her grandma had built them to protect everyone?

They all took action to fulfill that top-priority objective.

A Zootoxin Mk. III moved in between the brown girl and the kidnapper to shield that innocent life. The man’s outstretched arm was deflected by thick armor, but before the fear could show there, a large pincer mercilessly slammed into his face.

“You…”

The girl had squeezed her eyes shut, but once the expected impact never arrived, she hesitantly opened her eyelids. When she saw the scene before her, she finally reached her fingers out toward that armor.

“You’ll…protect me???”

That went without saying.

She herself had explained why they had been built.

“But…”

“What is it, Miss Teleria? I don’t think I’ve ever looked cooler.”

“Wait, wait, wait. Is it just me or are those scorpions locking onto us now?”

“Of course they are. The Zootoxin Mk. IIIs have regained control and we look as much like a suspicious Sorcery Hacker group as those thugs do.”

“Y-you mean?”

“They will target all of us here. Plus, I am powerless outside of Sorcery Hacking. So a question: who needs to pull out their sorcery guns now?”

“What!? If you’re going to show off, then you need to clean up after yourself!”

But “I will not be accepting any complaints” was one of Ayato’s favorite phrases, so he gently whispered in the blonde girl’s ear.

“Miss Teleria.”

“Sigh, what is it?”

“I have no one else I can rely on. You are my only hope.”

He was 100% serious about this.

“Uh.” She was unsure what to say in response to this surprise attack. “O-okay, fine, fine, fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine!!”

(I’m pathetic! Oh, I’m so pathetic! Why do I always let him manipulate me like this!?)

She was more than half in tears as she drew full-auto handgun-style sorcery guns from her left and right holsters and finally aimed at the mana-conducting silver scorpions through the dot sights. But the human trafficking scum had already proven that using simplified magic was not enough to defeat those things in a firefight.

Even with the large-capacity disintegrating lead bullets and mist mana provided by the large caliber, they had been overpowered. Teleria instead gradually built up damage by rapid-firing small, low-recoil magic, so she could not hope to directly destroy an opponent like this.

That was why she had a different objective in mind. She pressed the slide of her guns against her forehead to engrave the necessary letters and numbers into the disintegrating lead bullets. She changed the structure of the magic.

“Secondary Ex Grow Up!”

The red dots of the laser guides pointed not to the Zootoxin Mk. IIIs themselves, but at the stone pavement below their feet. Then came the muffled sound of the rapid-fire gunfire passing through the built-in suppressor. She must have been using a really nice suppressor because the empty cartridges being ejected onto the ground were actually louder. The fading blue light gave its last shine as they hit the ground and they lost their color like withering flowers.

The water and healing had an immediate effect in the gaps between the stone pavement. With the sound of something hard straining under pressure, the flat stone pavement swelled up and a great quantity of roots and trunks burst out. Even when the land looked perfectly leveled, there would still be plants stubbornly growing there. Teleria had simply accelerated their growth.

It was like an explosion.

Even if they could not directly break the thick mana-conducting silver armor, the thick bark could keep them from moving. The “explosion” at the scorpions’ feet hit them like a trap door swinging up, their flat bodies were lifted into the air, and they were flipped over.

Needless to say, those mana-conducting silver scorpions were not designed to flip themselves back over without assistance.

And this was no time for Ayato to be hiding behind the blonde girl’s back and cheering her on.

There was another enemy.

The Sorcery Hacker known as Funny Snatch still had his giant bowgun-style Linkage Plug. The chewing sound coming from his mouth may have come from some kind of thin-sliced jerky. There were no textbooks in the world of Sorcery Hacking, so it was common for people to have constructed their own rules for maintaining focus.

“Chew. Looks like it’s time to scram. Chew, chew.”

“You really think I’m letting you get away? I doubt those meatheads could have constructed this criminal operation that ropes in the government to cover for you. No, the main dish our client is interested in is you.”

“Tch. Chew. You damn leashed Forward!!”

The air whirled around disconcertingly.

It was not that the Sorcery Hacker had done something new at this point. While hackers in movies might work wonders with minute movements of their fingers, there was only so much they could do in reality. A Sorcery Hacker’s skill all came down to how many cards they had prepared in advance and when they chose to play them.

So…

“If I had my payment in hand – chew, chew – I wouldn’t have had to mess with this.”

Laughter joined the chewing noise as the enemy Sorcery Hacker known as Funny Snatch aimed his giant bowgun toward the heavens.

No.

“I always work with a dual core, partially as insurance for times like this. Chew. One of those was the bell tower I was using to control the Zootoxin Mk. IIIs. I never mentioned the other, but I’m also resonating with an aerial guidance light to borrow its power. And that’s at about Level 25.”

“…”

“Chew, chew. Simply put, that leaves one full calculation base to work with, but I’m not gonna bother trying to retake control of those scorpions at this point. That’d be too inefficient since I’m linked with something much more interesting.”

Ayato slowly looked up at where the Linkage Cable bowgun was aimed.

He saw what was floating there.

“It’s really just a balloon bungalow. Chew. You can find those in any decently-sized city, but I’ve erased this one from the control system.”

“I see.”

“And what is currently attacking us from the sky? A crimson dragon. Chew, chew. Now, question two: if a pesky fly buzzes in front of its nose, what do you think it’ll do?”

The answer was simple.

A max-power dragon breath was guided by human hands to vaporize the giant crane landmark and accurately attack a specific point in Fire Castle Town Flared.

Part 6[edit]

All light and sound were blown away.

A direct hit from that war-level attack would sink even a military airship. No matter how hard the mana-conducting silver scorpions tried to defend their protection target, they would be melted along with the girl.

The buildings in the way and the sorcery shields were useless.

That attack had enough firepower to blast right through the entire sky city.

“Wha-?”

But the attack did not play out as planned.

It was Sorcery Hacker Funny Snatch who cried out at the cruel world around him.

“Ch-chew. Why? How could an attack like that not kill anyone!?”

“Ah, ahh?”

Teleria had nearly fallen over in shock, but Ayato had grabbed her in his arms at some point. And while Ayato should have been the #1 target, he made no attempt to run or hide.

He smiled and spoke.

“Diiid yooou forgeeeet? I borrowed one of the scorpions to destroy the bell tower, but they all returned to normal once the bell tower had been destroyed. Except for the one I had already hacked independently.

“Ah.”

“Primitive bullets can break through paper with ease, but when they make contact, their trajectory is bent ever so slightly. So if you combine hundreds of pieces of paper, you can actually stop a lead bullet. Of course, I wasn’t expecting anything like that here.”

In other words.

“I gave the rooftop scorpion a simple command: knock over all the tall objects standing up from the rooftops, be they chimneys, bell towers, or whatever else. The crimson dragon’s breath would punch through those diagonally-toppled obstacles, but that bent its trajectory just a little. And small margins of error can add up to something significant if there are enough of them. So, so, so.”

Chew. Are you saying you intentionally diverted the course of the dragon breath!?”

“Well, you people were using the airship cannons and that giant beast as cover for your human trafficking operation. You couldn’t afford to get hit yourself, so I knew you must have carefully studied its behavior patterns. That’s why I figured your last-ditch attempt would come down to that. That said, it wasn’t easy both diverting it out of the way and making sure it didn’t hit any of the other homes around here. Feel free to praise me for that one.”

Teleria knew it could not have been that easy.

For one thing, simply diverting the path of that high-power breath was superhuman enough. She could not even find the words to describe worrying about the unknown number of other people in the vicinity on top of that.

But he had done it.

Whether he was up against a giant criminal organization or the users of a corrupt government system, he would directly challenge anything that rubbed him the wrong way. That was how he had made his way through life bringing not-insignificant levels of chaos to various parts of the world but also protecting the occasional smile along the way. Yes, he was like a calamity given human form.

He was a Sorcery Hacker.

He was Ayato Criminaltrophy.

Funny Snatch’s mistake had been thinking he could hold back a calamity by brute force.

“Any risk I bring on myself is also placed on my partner who I care about more than the fate of the world, so did you really think I would make my move with anything less than a flawless plan?”

It was the way he said things like that with a straight face that caused the blonde girl’s body temperature to skyrocket without end in his arms.

“Now, then. How many balloon bungalows did you have to send past the dragon’s nose? If you had just the one piece of insurance, then do you have anything at all left to protect yourself?”

Funny Snatch belatedly looked around in shock.

“A Sorcery Hacker is in no position to talk about justice, so I’ll let them take over.”

Unsurprisingly, a double-digit number of mana-conducting silver scorpions surrounded the man.

The ill-mannered but idealistic boy snapped his fingers.

“Enjoy the justice they were designed to provide, you perverted criminal.”

Part 7[edit]

Settling everything while looking cool was great and all, but Ayato and Teleria were not sorcery technicians authorized by the Selected Kingdoms. No matter how skilled they were and no matter what their objective, a Sorcery Hacker was a Sorcery Hacker and there was only one thing they had to do after their job was complete.

Simply put…

“Run away!”

“Ah, ahh, ahhhhh!! Wait, wait, please wait!!”

A panicking Teleria followed after him.

They were leaving the Dark Elf girl behind, but if the Zootoxin Mk. IIIs had truly returned to the original functionality her grandmother had wanted, then they would never allow any harm to come to her. The beaten-up human traffickers and Sorcery Hacker Funny Snatch would likely be arrested by Fire Castle Town Flared’s knights. And if the criminals did wake up and try to escape, the scorpions might actually kill them.

Ayato did make sure to retrieve that large bowgun-style Linkage Plug that was a Sorcery Hacker’s primary tool.

But instead of robbing his enemy of a weapon, he was more interested in the data contained inside.

A gondola was still floating calmly in the boiling mana-conducting silver river.

The same Gondolier as before called out to them while apparently sensing no danger at all from the shells being fired in the starry sky like a fireworks festival.

“Oh? What’s the rush? Was that the wrong place to invite your girlfriend after all?”

“Nice hiding spot!”

He was not pulled over to their side of the river, so this required a bit of athletic ability. Teleria looked hesitant, so Ayato swept her feet out from under her to princess carry her.

“Kyah.”

“Hold onto the bowgun.”

She shrunk down inside that cradle.

Then he took a running start and leaped to the gondola floating in the red river.

“Gyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!”

The blonde girl screamed as they landed inside the boat.

The dragon must have given up under the heavy barrage from the humans because a brief moment of relative silence fell with only his beloved partner’s voice echoing around them.

A somewhat troubled cloud came over his face.

“From ‘kyah’ to ‘gyah’, huh? You shouldn’t force yourself, but it still saddens me to hear that kind of yell from a girl. Maybe I still need more training.”

“Ayato, were you aware my skirt has two layers and the outer long skirt is floating Expansion Armor?”

“?”

“That means I can control it with magic and use it to trap rude boys!”

The cloth around her waist wriggled like a living creature and swallowed up the Sorcery Hacker in a surprise attack.

Seeing the boy pathetically captured must have helped calm her down because Teleria put her hands on her hips.

“Use this time to reflect on what you did. Hmph.”

“Hgh, mgh.”

“No. I am not letting you out no matter how sad you sound.”

“Miss Teleria, was this supposed to be a punishment? Because all you have done is surround me with your scent.”

“!!!???”

Teleria blushed and started pummeling the makeshift bag from the outside so the Gondolier spoke up in exasperation.

“Flirt if you like, but could you at least tell me your destination?”

Ayato managed to extract his head from the warm and sweet-smelling skirt and instructed the man to take them to the inn their luggage had been taken to.

The scorpions were apparently still pursuing them, but those things specialized in smoothly moving along the ground or walls. The molten metal rivers must have been outside their jurisdiction because their pursuit came to a stop when the faint tracks on the ground – in other words, footprints that could not be seen with the naked eye – arrived at the edge of the river. Assuming their coordination with the giant killer bees that flew through the air or the great serpents that swam through the scorching rivers did not go smoothly, Ayato and Teleria had lost them.

Looking around cautiously would have only made him look suspicious, so Ayato ignored them and messed with the Linkage Cable bowgun instead.

The Gondolier seemed worried about Teleria who was looking pale from the heat and the rocking of the boat, but at the same time…

“What’s that, a souvenir? Probably not the gift most girls are looking for on a date.”

“I am aware.”

Ayato responded to the man’s on-the-job chatting while he checked over the bowgun and peered down the scope on the top. The lens was made of crystal, but it was made dark like sunglasses to block out light.

The giant dragon must have taken a break because there was little cannon fire in the starry sky as he peered up at it.

(I see. It’s based on a fortunetelling tool that views the sunspots.)

A giant form moved in to block his view, so he removed his eye from the scope. The gondola was moving along the orange river, so they had come across one of the osmosis blast furnaces that looked like a vacuum tube or giant tower of crystal.

Either way, it was now time to visualize the mana used for Sorcery Hacking.

“Now, let’s give this whole affair a better aftertaste.”

“What?”

Teleria looked confused as Ayato pulled out the crystal tarot cards he used as a Linkage Monitor.

“Let’s draw out the data inside here and identify everyone who bought the girls who have gone missing already. Once we have the list, we can submit it to Sky City Celedileka’s government. Then those macho knights with too much time on their hands can take care of the rest. I imagine they volunteered for the knights based on what they saw in the movies because they do love their rescue operations.”

And while they discussed that, something else arrived.

It truly came without warning. A woman touched one of the crystal tarot cards with her fingertip.

Ayato, Teleria, and the Gondolier had of course been the only people in the gondola rowing down the molten metal river. Given the width of the river, there was no way anyone else could board it now.

But it happened anyway.

That young woman really was there. She had long purple hair that looked like a condensed form of the night and her body’s alluring curves were evident even through her non-revealing clothing. She must have been proud of her job because she wore a classic maid uniform. She bent over alongside Ayato and indicated one of his cards with a slender fingertip.

She acted like her presence there was perfectly normal.

“Our client, huh? Don’t scare me like that!”

“Here.”

She ignored the complaint from this acquaintance and dropped a small but heavy leather bag into Ayato’s palm. It contained an assortment of gold[4]. Was that a lot for a day’s work, or was it too little for risking one’s life in battle? The answer to that depended a lot on the individual’s values.

This payment for their work had seemingly materialized out of the ether.

Then she poked at the crystal card once more.

“There is an oddity in the data. Check the list carefully.”

“?”

He operated the Linkage Monitor crystal cards as instructed and visualized the list from the manaflow. He converted it into something like a newspaper or textbook so it could be read with human eyes.

He soon realized what their client was saying.

“What the hell? That’s weird.”

“Urp, ugh. Wh-what is it? Oh, I couldn’t possibly read such small print and illustrations right now.”

To those who did not know how to use the cards, the complex arrangement of arcana images looked mystical and incomprehensible. Now that magic could be activated at the pull of a trigger, the people who simply wanted to use magic did not need to understand how everything worked thanks to the advancements made in the fields of gem and mana use.

That was why Ayato explained it for her.

“The human traffickers were generally targeting teenage girls like that Dark Elf, but there’s one old man in the list who clearly doesn’t fit the pattern.”

“Human traff-…eh? What were you two doing???”

The Gondolier looked shocked, but Ayato did not bother responding.

“Jorbe Alphoverin, a man of 65. Now, I can’t deny the possibility that someone with very peculiar tastes put in a request, but it sure sounds like there’s something else going on, right?”

“Hold on there.”

The Gondolier persistently cut in.

But this proved to be a good thing for Ayato and Teleria.

“Alphoverin? There’s only one family with that weird name. Isn’t Jorbe Alphoverin the urban design manager for Sky City Celedileka? There’s even a statue of him in the city square.”

“Urban…design?”

“Well, the actual sky city plan started so long ago no one even knows how many hundreds of combo-years ago it even was, but he’s definitely the one who took over the old design theory during this generation and successfully got things off the ground…literally. He manages everything from the basic floating principle to the individual mist mana wiring, so the newspapers have called him a multitool of a genius. Yeah, and I think he was involved in the city infrastructure and defense system as well. Y’know, that aurora-like unbreakable wall that protects Brightio Castle. The Free Audience…whatever it is. That’s apparently considered his crowning achievement.”

“…”

“Um, ugh, how should I put this?”

“Yes, I know. I have a really bad feeling about this.”

This meant someone out there had used the human traffickers as cover for abducting the sky city’s urban planning manager. It was unclear what information they wanted from him, but they could do most anything with the classified information Jorbe Alphoverin was bound to know. They could even find a way to bring down the Free Audience Restriction barrier protecting Light Castle Brightio. In fact, they might be able to cause Sky City Celedileka itself to come crashing down.

“The sky has grown cloudy,” said their calm-faced client as she looked up into the starry sky that was barely visible thanks to the orange-glowing river and the osmosis blast furnaces that towered up like giant vacuum tubes. “This is an ominous aurora. You erred in your final move, Sorcery Hacker.”

She whispered softly in his ear yet her voice squeezed tightly at his heart. Her voice seemed to manifest the unique fearsomeness of a beautiful woman.

And then it happened.

A beam of light just as powerful as the previous dragon breath was launched toward the ground from an elevated position.

“Wha-?”

Even Ayato Criminaltrophy was left speechless.

This unforeseen blast overturned the game board he had set up as a Sorcery Hacker.

The brutal beam appeared to have been launched from the top of one of the osmosis blast furnaces that stood up from this fiery town like great crystal towers. It passed by above their heads and accurately struck an area nearby.

That location was only 500 esoule[5] away.

It was the supposedly safe area where the dark elf and scorpions were waiting for the knights to arrive.

“What the hell was that!? What’s happening now!?”

He did not receive a response.

He suddenly realized the young woman in a classic maid uniform was gone. Something fluttered by in front of him and he saw a purple butterfly flying above the scorching river. That night butterfly was decorated with alluring lace and gems and was not found anywhere in nature.

A client was only a client. They were paying to have the job done, so they would not kindly provide assistance at times like this.

That meant he had to figure this out on his own.

That had been a sniper shot.

No, at that level, it was more like a cannon blast.

That extraordinary shot must have come from a large-caliber, long-range weapon that relied on an enormous disintegrating lead bullet and lots of mist mana. It was probably an anti-dragon rifle longer than a human was tall that had been thoroughly customized for use with unbelievably large bullets.

He had a decision to make: launch point or hit point?

Which would he investigate? He wanted to start gathering information to get as good a grasp of the changing situation before the traces disappeared. He did not even have time to wait for the gondola to approach the side of the river.

The Sorcery Hacker softly grabbed the blonde girl’s shoulders to support her since she was woozy from the heat.

“Oh, goddammit!!”

“Sir! Just two coppers[6] this time!?”

He had given him a middle silver[7] last time, so it averaged out to the standard rate when the (tourist-priced) drinks were included. Ayato ignored the man as he swept Teleria’s legs out from under her and jumped to the bank while princess carrying her.

“Wahyah!?”

“Miss Teleria, just keep hugging me and bear with it!!”

He was curious who the sniper was, but he needed to focus on what had happened where the blast had hit. That would determine whether or not their job had been a success or a failure.

He clenched his teeth as he ran.

“Goddamn them! What moron decided to sully our work like this!?”

“W-w-wait, wait! Put me down, put me down! I can walk!!”

Teleria was blushing and flailing her arms and legs, but when running full speed, this was honestly faster. He slipped between some panicked salesmen and ran right back the way they had come.

“Everyone is watching! We can do these embarrassing things when no one else is arou-…ah!? Why am I compromising on this?”

Of course, if the scorpions were still functioning, they would be pursuing those two. If they found them, they would attack. Returning to that area was nothing but a risk.

But he could not ignore this.

And when he arrived next to that collapsed house…

“Dammit.”

The smell of a rusty liquid was mixed with the stench of burned hair and flesh.

This was nothing like the smell of a kitchen while cooking some meat that had been drained of blood and prepared with salt and spices. This was the odor of unaltered lives being burned away and there was no comparison.

“I was right. That was meant to silence them!!”

He held his head in his hands.

A blast even more powerful than the dragon’s had been fired down from the top of one of those crystal towers that resembled vacuum tubes. The destruction had left a large hole in the floating ground, so a gust of wind blew in from below. The stone pavement and the ground below were heated to an orange glow along the edge of the hole and the high temperatures had transformed them into glass.

He did not want to think about what happened to Funny Snatch and the other human traffickers.

They had been annihilated.

There were not even any grotesque corpses to inspire normal terror. The only thing remaining of them was the smell of burning flesh lingering in the air. That was the stench of death. That odor told him they had not simply faked their death to make a getaway.

But aside from that…

“Oh, it looks like the Dark Elf girl is okay,” said Teleria. “She’s still breathing!!”

“…”

The many scorpions must have quickly moved to defend her. The brown girl with the long ears of a Dark Elf had her long straight hair spread out on the ground around her, but there was not a burn on her. However, Ayato did not consider that to be good luck. This was no coincidence; it was the result of the sniper’s skill. They had carefully calculated out the effects of the direct hit and the side effects on the surrounding area to take only the lives they intended to take.

“Who the hell was it?”

He doubted the average human could pull off that kind of magic.

Anyone could use magic with the pull of a trigger these days, but using magic that powerful could easily smash your body to pieces from the recoil alone. This seemed like a superhuman feat to him.

And…

“Huh?”

A large silhouette and the buzzing of wings arrived in the sunny and starry sky overhead.

Teleria had been crouched down to help up the unconscious dark elf, but she looked up to see what it was.

It was one of the sorcery devices used to protect Sky City Celedileka. That giant mass of mana-conducting silver was designed to resemble a killer bee and was packed full of homing rounds that used a wide variety of curses.

It spoke with a smooth female voice.

“Intruders detected. Locking on. Please swiftly disarm yourselves and surrender. You will not be given a second chance. The government security and proper knights of Celedileka will show no mercy to Sorcery Hackers who practice vigilante justice and even kill their targets, so if you show any sign of resistance, you will be immediately shot in accordance with Selected Kingdoms law.”

He could only click his tongue.

After all, fighting Funny Snatch’s group had come back to bite them.

It seemed too well played. Was this an adlibbed method of cutting off the lizard’s tail, or had this always been the plan to set them up? It had worked so perfectly he could not figure out which it was.

He did not know what idiot had done this, but they had been set up to take the blame for the sniper’s crimes.

“Wh-wh-what do we do!?”

“That should be obvious. Yeah, we need to get that girl medical care as soon as possible. Hold onto her and don’t drop her.”

He breathed out and gathered his resolve.

…Somewhere in this world, a hero with legendary blood might be battling an evil god, or the knights who defended their king’s honor may have been gathering together for some decisive battle.

But none of that had anything to do with this boy.

What good was relying on formless concepts like “protecting the world” or “making history”? He would rather keep his feet planted solidly on the ground, focus on the incidents occurring in the real world, and do everything he could to reach his hand out to someone he could save right then and there.

Something like that was happening here in Sky City Celedileka and it was showing signs of being connected to a much greater tragedy.

So.

They had been set up quite masterfully, but that was the fate of those who worked outside the law. He was quick to change gears.

Sorcery Hacker Ayato Criminaltrophy coolly explained his plan.

“It’s time to run away.”

Option 02: [Information Search] Basic Sorcery Hacking Knowledge[edit]

Sorcery Hacking is performed using an antenna device known as a Linkage Plug and a controller known as a Linkage Monitor.

Most sorcery tools will create their own wiring by compressing the Intangible Fog (i.e. the mana spread thinly throughout the air) and extending it into a thin spider web network using various relay devices and control theories. They can easily produce a variety of effects by passing that mana through a gemboard inlaid with the various gemstones crystalized from the underground gemflows, but a Sorcery Hacker will use a variety of methods to interfere with the long and narrow mist manaflows to cause malicious phenomena.

The illegal Linkage Plugs take many forms to suit their owner: swords, claws, darts, bows, forks, icepicks, etc. But unlike the general image people hold, they cannot hack just anything. Their design is focused on portability, so their individual processing power is not all that high.

They generally begin at Level 1.

In most cases, the Sorcery Hacker will start by attacking a simple sorcery tool located nearby, such as a streetlight or sprinkler, to resonate with its processing space and increase their Level to the point that they can target actual city infrastructure or military weapons.

What matters here is the risk of a Sorcery Hacker’s power continually doubling with each consecutive device they attack.

For example, if a Level 1 Linkage Plug hacks a Level 1 streetlight, it will reach Level 2. If the Level 2 Linkage Plug targets a Level 2 air-conditioning duct, it will reach Level 4. And so on.

Even if the objects themselves appear to be harmlessly left behind at the scene of the crime, do not let your guard down. If they remain hacked, they can still provide the Sorcery Hacker with great power.

These conditions mean that the traditional violence of numbers does not work on a Sorcery Hacker. It is possible for them to reach a resonance level of 100 or 1000, so we need to assume those sorcery criminals could acquire the power to single-handedly destroy a city-state if the conditions are right.

Also, control of a hacked sorcery tool or device can be reclaimed by removing the Linkage Plug and that will take its power away from the Sorcery Hacker. If they do manage to approach you, it is crucial that you stay calm, determine what devices have been hacked, and take back control.


Back to Phase 00 Return to Main Page Forward to Phase 02
  1. Approximately 5000 yen.
  2. Approximately 60 centimeters.
  3. Approximately, 480 meters.
  4. Approximately 200,000 yen.
  5. Approximately 600 meters.
  6. Approximately 2000 yen.
  7. Approximately 5000 yen.