Sorcery Hacker:Volume1 Phase2

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Status: Incomplete

13/17 parts completed

   

Phase 02: Wind Castle Town Silphine

Part 1

A look at the clock told them it was nighttime.

Starlight shined on Sky City Celedileka around the clock, but it still looked very different once the sun set.

Mana light orbs transformed mist mana into fire magic inside a vacuum crystal container, and mana light tubes coated the inside of a cylindrical crystal tube with phosphorescent moss spores and then sent mist mana through. The combination of the two conquered the night and made it look like the night sky had descended to the city.

Ayato looked overhead.

“They’re drowning out the starry sky again. The people here must really hate that red aurora.”

“Well, they did decide to call it the Demon Lord’s Bite.”

“Nirvelphany. You’re supposed to attach the start of the name to the end to create a loop, right?”

All cities erected statues of famous people with a connection to the city, but the statues here included famous members of the Forturiana Church, which may have been a result of how much they loathed Demon Lord Nirvelphany. That church had apparently had effective control of the city long before the Temple Moving Ceremony that would soon be officially held.

Ayato and Teleria were surrounded by appetizing smells and the lively noises of partying, but they could not enjoy any of it. They could no longer use the Fire Castle Town Flared inn they had reserved a room at. The flying killer bees had taken photos of their faces, so that room would have been broken into it and their luggage retrieved by Government Security or the knights.

“Ahh, ahh. If they have all our luggage…ahh!?”

Teleria Nereid Aquamarine must have remembered some kind of issue regarding that because she curled up and held her head in the dark.

“We were only renting the place, so we can find somewhere else to spend the night.”

“That’s not the issue! Our luggage! Do you have any idea how many changes of clothes I had in here?”

“You can just buy more clothes.”

“Oh, no! And my underwear was in there too, so who knows who is inspecting that right this very moment!! This is a crisis for my maiden heart!!!!!”

(That’s what this is about? Well, I seriously doubt an outsider could figure out how to break through that lock I set up. Still, this is pretty funny, so I’ll let her keep thinking that.)

…As you could tell from their petty argument, they had escaped any immediate threat to their lives. They were no longer being chased by those killer bees and scorpions made from mana-conducting silver.

They had Sorcery Hacking to thank for that.

Defeating those devices in a direct fight would have been quite difficult, but if they used the chaos of taking control of one and sending it against the others, they could create enough of an opening to escape.

He had also taken the human trafficking data extracted from the Linkage Plug bowgun and inputted it into a crashed killer bee. When Sky City Celedileka’s government retrieved and repaired it, they would receive the data. Then they would pay the buyers a visit with sorcery guns at the ready and rescue the girls who had disappeared. However…

“Are you kidding me!? Are they trying to steal our thunder!?”

“We’re talking about a Sorcery Hacker, remember? He probably thinks he’s some kind of noble outlaw displaying some twisted form of justice.”

“I’m willing to work through the night for this. Summon the knights and begin the human wave attack!!”

…Even someone as (according to him) cool as Ayato had to cover his face with his hands when he viewed the crystal tarot cards that moved on their own. He was leaning back against a dangerous advertisement poster saying a Curse Master’s services were available for hire.

“Every last one of them is an overzealous meathead. I work so hard to help them out and they still insist on igniting that flame in their heart.”

The mist mana known as Intangible Mist would generally pass through anything not related to magic and it was invisible since it even passed through light. A variety of information services were provided by the spider web of long, thin strings of mist mana spread around the city by all the relay devices installed much like the sprayers built around shelves of grapes or morning glory or like the sprinklers at the golf courses the nobles so enjoyed. That was convenient, but since it was made up of lines between two fixed points, the information could only be accessed from the devices at the starting and ending point. The technology was in a transitionary period where it was wireless but had the same restrictions as a wired technology.

There were exceptions like Ayato’s crystal tarot cards that exchanged information by picking up the spray that left those carefully controlled mist manaflows. Of course, making contact like that was illegal. The connection was also too weak for proper Sorcery Hacking, but when you knew how it worked, actually going to the fixed devices felt like way too much effort.

Mist mana could not be seen since it even passed through light.

That was why Ayato used the estimated the location of the manaflow between a food stall’s register and a relay device that resembled a pool or beach’s outdoor shower made from metal pipes. He calculated out the line it would take and stabbed his Linkage Cable sword into the road at a point in the middle. Since he could not hack a device this way, he could not increase his Level, but it did allow him to steal data.

And all this sneaking around was not happening in Fire Castle Town Flared where all the previous excitement had occurred. They had quickly moved to the lower levels of Wind Castle Town Silphine before they could be surrounded. The entire sky city would of course be on alert, but the intensity would be lower here.

He was not a legendary hero or a savior knight.

He was no more than a dirty and illegal Sorcery Hacker.

But some unknown person had picked a fight with him while advancing some kind of plan that would affect the city around him and the many people who lived there.

That left him with just one option.

He would reveal that enemy’s identity and destroy everything they were trying to do.

He was not interested in the line between good and evil. A fight between evil and evil was fine with him. But once he decided someone was his enemy, he would show no mercy or restraint. Whether they worked alone or as a group, he would utterly crush them.

“Wh-what do we do now?”

“We need to think carefully.”

After that short answer, Ayato realized that was not enough to put his partner girl at ease.

“So let’s see. The primary problem is that the mystery sniper used the human traffickers to abduct Jorbe Alphoverin, the urban design manager for Sky City Celedileka. He will almost certainly be tortured until he reveals all of his secrets. Simply put, the villain will know all of this city’s vulnerabilities. And I doubt this ends there. They have some big job in mind.”

“H-hyehh…”

“The next biggest issue is how that villain has forced us to take the blame for them silencing the human traffickers. If they do end up doing something big here, they might shove the blame for that onto us too. I will own up to the crimes I have committed, but I’m not going to sit here and take the blame for someone else’s crimes.”

He breathed in and out.

Ayato Criminaltrophy explained his style of Sorcery Hacking.

So we need to strike before that happens. I don’t know who it is, but let’s show them just who they’ve picked a fight with. That is our plan here. Do you understand now, Miss Teleria?”

“I-I can tell this isn’t going to have a peaceful resolution.”

“Good enough.”

In other words, they were both on the run and preparing for a fight. And in either case, the laxer security outside the fire town worked in their favor.

The flow of people was necessary to keep tourists happy and to keep the various industries running. If they set up strict checkpoints everywhere and stalled that flow, it would be a lot like Sky City Celedileka strangling itself.

And the loss of money was not just an issue for individuals. It affected cities and states as well.

But aside from that…

“So about that Dark Elf girl…um, who was she? I think they mentioned her name.”

“Mam…Mami…um, Mamilis? Yes, that was it. Mamilis Coster! She is from some craftsman family, right?”

“How is she doing?”

“Um, I did pull the trigger and shoot her with recovery magic, so she should be fine. Specifically, I used Secondary Ex Aid and Secondary Ex Icing. The manaflow circulating in her body has stabilized, so it would be best to let her sleep somewhere quiet for now.”

It was said the human body was 60% water. (Although they had not wrung a human out like a rag, so how exactly had they proven that figure?) Just like the Intangible Mist circulating through every part of the city as a web-like piece of city infrastructure, mana also circulated efficiently through living creatures.

That was Teleria Nereid Aquamarine’s specialty.

“About that. Her house was reduced to rubble and our inn is off limits to us.”

“Eh? Oh, come to think of it, what about her family!?”

“They’re probably fine. If she didn’t live alone, she would have been worried about her family first and foremost when those human traffickers pulled her from the wreckage. Her family is almost certainly doing just fine in some other part of this city.”

Ayato laid out all that speculation before continuing.

“We could always leave her with the knights, but given how badly they want results, they might ignore how it looks and interrogate her through the night. It would probably be best to keep her with us until the heat dies down.”

“Uheh. Won’t that add kidnapping to our list of crimes?”

“Leave her behind and it will be abandoning something-or-other instead. Which would you prefer?”

“…”

“Real incidents aren’t like some great war between the Hero and the Demon Lord. We aren’t some warriors with the official protection of the state; we do illegal jobs for money. If we don’t clean up after ourselves, it will only add more crimes to the list.”

Teleria massaged her temples with her fingers and fell silent. She had probably stopped trying to think about it. Of course, there were some problems without a simple answer.

That meant they had one urgent task.

“Let’s find somewhere to spend the night. That said, we’re wanted criminals, so they’re sure to be distributing posters bearing our image. We can’t use a normal inn.”

“Are you familiar with any underground inns that will accept wanted criminals? This is our first time in this city.”

“Searching the traveler blogs isn’t the only way. You can look for certain signs.”

Ayato said that and then breathed a heavy sigh.

Fortunately, they had plenty of money thanks to receiving their payment from their client woman, that purple butterfly who had a way of mysteriously appearing and disappearing. A classy resort would be one thing, but they could easily afford an underground inn.

Ayato glanced over at a Moneylender walking through the city night with several bodyguards in black and at a seedy-looking Flower Seller girl as he walked past.

“Not all of the runaways searching for a shady hideout have much funding on hand, so there will always be a pawnshop near those sketchy inns. And those pawnshops will specialize in buying stolen goods. If we look for signs like that, we’re sure to find one in a city as large as this.”

“Uhehh. Are you sure it will work that well?”

“Well, we could look for a brothel instead of a pawnshop, but I really shouldn’t tell that to a lovely teenage girl, should I?”

“You just did! I can’t believe you!!!!!”

Part 2

Back in Fire Castle Town Flared, the knights who maintained order in the city were walking through the night. They wore dark gray armor that was a combination of monster tendon and leather to increase various athletic abilities plus protectors of oxidized mana-conducting silver that were tempered to make it harder even if that reduced versatility. The area around their vitals was packed with soundproofing material since the range of magic was determined by the range of its gunshot noise. The armor was then colored to match the environmentally-destructive material known as asphalt that had been banned from use during the initial experiments at the Academy Towers, which had been erected by the combined royal families of the Selected Kingdoms that ruled an entire continent. That coloration was meant to symbolize their ability to slay the natural threat of demons along with the very scenery around them. Even without the large sorcery guns at their hips or backs, their very presence symbolized enough military might to overwhelm the ordinary people.

One person among them, Henrietta Split Destrius, stepped into an empty inn room. Her colleagues stopped searching the room to exchange a greeting with her.

She alone was different from the others. She had the same asphalt color, but her protector-based armor was not the latest version available. She intentionally wore an older model. That was less practical, but the design was popular with the people. Her head was exposed since she did not wear a helmet, her curved breastplate showed off her feminine bodylines, and she wore a short tight skirt around her hips. It may have been a modification of a ponytail, but her beautiful blonde hair was braided down to her hips. Combined with the armor she had chosen, she had the perfected beauty of a sculpture decorating a royal palace.

Below the moonlit starry sky, a young male colleague approached and spoke to her.

“Thank you for working so late, Striker Destrius.”

“Same to you, Soldier Shadelose.”

Their fixation on specific titles may have been a sign of the emphasis on social status and honor in their lives.

Sky City Celedileka currently had 160 heads of families given the title of knight, but since that was not enough for law enforcement or military action, Celedileka Government Security hired a set number of ordinary guards to bolster their numbers. Those guards could be promoted to knight if they performed well enough, so there was a path to that status beyond family inheritance.

Those adherents of chivalry stepped into the inn and arrived at the room in question.

“We have searched the room, but we did not find anything. The room was rented out using the suspect’s name, but a messenger was apparently used to check in and deliver the luggage. There is no sign that they ever touched the Media Summoner over there.”

The young man pointed his thumb toward the wall once they stepped in.

The clear sphere there remained silent. That sorcery tool was filled with a special liquid and thin metal leaf. By contacting the mist mana lines running through the city like a spider web, the metal leaf in the liquid would reflect the mana to produce light and the leaf itself would vibrate to produce sound. The combination of the two would produce the desired video or music. It functioned like existing televisions and radios and it could also perform simple data searches. Simply put, it was the bane of newspaper companies. There were also thin models meant for use as outdoor signs and boxy aquarium-like models, but the spherical ones were most popular. The cables and tubes connected to the sphere made it look like some kind of odd lab equipment, but rumors had it the size of your Media Summoner was a sign of your family’s wealth.

“The suspects are supposed to be a teenage boy and girl, so there is no way they wouldn’t have touched that even once if they were staying here.”

“I see.”

They had already checked the records, but Henrietta still reached out a hand to start up the crystal container and confirmed that there was nothing in the usage history. As she watched a religious ad (“Gain a healthy life through coexistence with magic – The Forturiana Church”), the young man said more.

“That is unfortunate. If we could have retrieved even a single hair, we could have used some kind of curse. Even if it didn’t affect them, we might have been able to detect their location through the path it took or where it was deflected. Have you heard the rumors of the Curse Master living on the lower levels of Silphine? She’s apparently some gloomy girl wearing nothing but a cape, but they say her power is the real deal.”

“Soldier Shadelose.”

“My apologies. That was a very unchivalrous thing to say, wasn’t it?”

“The Temple Moving Ceremony will take the form of a trial given to the Forturiana Church by the king. So I have heard there are Priests from other sects watching in secret and plotting to trip them up just before they become the official state church. So be careful about what you say.”

“Again, my apologies. How were things at the house collapse site?”

“Exactly as the initial reports said. Not a trace of them remained. The Zootoxin Mk. IIIs and the trained tracker dogs will likely find nothing. This fire town makes these things difficult.”

“Do you think they have already moved to a different town?”

“With the increased alert level, I doubt they would be stupid enough to try to board one of the flights leading out of the sky city. That means their most likely plan will be to cross the increased security lines of the fire town to move elsewhere and wait for the heat to die down before boarding one of those flights out of the city.”

“From here, that would mean wind or earth.”

“If we had found a dogeared guidebook or pamphlet, we would have had more to go on in our search, but I suppose it won’t be that easy.”

Henrietta lightly swung her long blonde braid as she looked to one corner of the room where some tightly locked travel bags sat. Four or five knights in armor colored like forbidden asphalt were crouched around them, but it was obvious at a glance they had yet to successfully unlock any of them.

“If it is absolutely necessary, we could always break the bags open.”

“No, those are important pieces of evidence, so treat them with care. Not everything is permissible in the name of law enforcement. When wielding our authority, we must never forget we are only borrowing it from the king.”

That beautiful Striker, who chose to wear the older style of armor that was more popular with the people, must not have expected much from anything other than the travel bags. As soon as she realized that too would turn up nothing, she turned around and left the room. She gave a light wave to the harmless lodgers who were opening the doors to their rooms to see what was going on, and Soldier Shadelose unnecessarily followed after her.

“Do you have an idea where the suspects have gone? Already?”

“There are no absolute right answers when tracking someone because the answer is affected by so many factors, such as their personality, their mood, their current funds on hand, and whether or not they have any help. Even the weather can change the answer, so your best bet is to try to put yourself in their shoes in the circumstances at hand.”

“I-I see.”

“This is an unchivalrous thought experiment, Soldier Shadelose, but if you were on the run from the law, where would you want to go to feel safe?”

“U-um, do you promise not to laugh at me for being a coward? In my case, I would probably head deep in the mountains far removed from human society or maybe a remote island nowhere near any major cities.”

“That would be an option, of course, but did you see the suspects’ travel bags? They have very urban tastes. Also, there was a focus on design without any real waterproofing. They are not the outdoorsy type, so they would likely find it safest to blend into the crowds of the city.”

“I see…”

Shadelose said that almost on reflex, but the look on his face said he did not actually see. He must have had trouble deciding whether that was a logical analysis or an example of “searcher’s instincts” that were borderline groundless assumptions.

After descending the stairs to the small reception lobby, Henrietta’s showy, old-style armor drew people’s eye and put them at ease in a way the armor covered in ugly, dark-gray protectors did not. The inn’s owner was worried about having the inn searched so suddenly, but their face lit up just like the other lodgers such as a Maid Trainee and a Bard.

She lightly clapped her hands to gather everyone’s attention and then spoke in a clear voice.

“Attention, everyone! If you recognize the boy on this poster, please contact us. The reward for arresting him is no higher than the reward for simply providing information, and he is an extremely dangerous individual who belongs to the evil side of the Light-Dark Duality, so please do not consider doing this yourself. Please allow us knights to keep the peace here in Fire Castle Town Flared and Sky City Celedileka as a whole!”

The people excitedly gathered around.

People handing out fliers on the street corner were despised, but things were different when she did it. Shadelose quickly pulled out the wanted posters and they were snatched away so quickly you would think they were blank checks.

“Nhh.”

Henrietta left the inn first since her role was complete and stretched her arms up over her head.

Finally, a frazzled-looking Shadelose stepped out.

“H-handing out wanted posters isn’t going to help at this point. I mean, the suspects never even set foot in this inn, right?”

“That is not what matters. We must ensure the people see the knights as a reliable presence, Soldier Shadelose. Have you heard of Liquid Flora, which is commonly known as the Holy Spring City?”

“Yes, that crime-ridden city-state that rapidly transformed into a slum recently.”

“There were a number of reasons for that, but the largest factor was how their management force was so talkative it became known that the criminal organizations would immediately learn of anyone who reported a crime to the authorities. If we are to keep the peace in this city, we need the people’s cooperation above all else. We must create an environment where everyone knows they can rest easy as long as the knights are on the case. Thus, it does not hurt to make unnecessary demonstrations of our work.”

Henrietta let out a slow breath and lightly traced her fingers across the large sorcery gun at her hip.

“In every age, the people are the greatest warning system. I will narrow my search to Wind Castle Town Silphine. How about you make similar performances and increase the entire area’s alert level to get the people on our side and rob the suspects of their freedom of movement?”

Just then, someone interrupted them.

They must have been tourists to be awake and out of the home at this hour, but a small boy and girl who appeared to be siblings waved her way.

“Miss Knight!” said the brother.

“No, she’s working,” warned the sister.

Henrietta made a point of choosing the older style but more popular armor that set her apart from the others, so she gave a gentle smile and waved back at the children before muttering something under her breath.

“There are no real knights anymore.”

Part 3

They had found their lodging for the night.

“Phew.”

Teleria, the blonde girl whose chest had grown quite a lot while her height had not, breathed a soft sigh.

There were not many rooms that fit their needs, so when they finally found the kind of underground inn they wanted, they were stuck with just the one room despite being a mixture of a young boy and two young girls. Plus, the room had just the one single bed. What had that inn’s owner, an old man who looked like he had killed at least three people before, thought as he handed them the key? If they all tried to use the bed, it would be more than just cramped; the slightest movement would probably send someone else tumbling off.

In the narrow, rundown hallway to their room, they had passed by a Bunny Girl practically overflowing with sex appeal and a Bounty Hunter who looked more criminal than any of his targets could possibly be. It pained Teleria to be in the same category as people like that.

Also, this inn was one of the ones next to a brothel rather than a pawnshop.

Everything felt so shady despite being so near the spherical theatre that floated in the air as Wind Castle Town Silphine’s primary landmark. That theatre felt like a perfect match for the moonlit starry sky above. On the other hand, this area of town seemed to be fine with anyone as long as they paid.

But her partner had had this to say with a completely straight face:

“Yes, well, I happen to like brothels more than pawnshops.”

That unbelievable response had earned him a slap, but they had no other choice at the moment. They had escaped the stricter security of Fire Castle Town Flared, but their wanted posters had to be all over the city. Defenselessly wandering the city at night would be a bad idea. Even buying a simple meal of bread made with cheap, third-rate wheat and fish of an unfamiliar species had been a risky endeavor.

Teleria jumped and looked back when she heard a deafening “thud!” and she found Ayato collapsed on the floor. It had happened the instant he had very thoroughly confirmed the room was safe. Today must have been full of far too many surprises even for that Sorcery Hacker.

“Ayato, please don’t fall asleep on the floor! You only just ate, so it’s bad for your health!!”

“Ugh, gweh…”

He must have been under a lot of tension while running around those dangerous areas with no direct weapons and working his mind and body so hard. Still face-down, he moved like an inchworm and pointed in a certain direction. The still-unconscious Dark Elf was sleeping on the one small bed. Even in his exhausted state, he apparently still had the bare minimum of a ladies first mentality.

The blonde girl just about tried to shake him awake, but then something occurred to her.

(Wait, if I let him sleep like this, then I know he won’t try to peep on me in the bath.)

She had never caught him doing that before, but he was a Sorcery Hacker who specialized in clandestine operations. Just because she had never caught him doing it did not mean he did not have some way of doing it that she could not detect. The difference between a spy and a stalker and the difference between a sniper and a peeping tom were paper thin.

Either way, there was a young boy and two young girls in this one small room. There was no privacy for a maiden like her, but fortunately, even this cheap inn had a bathroom for each room. That meant she could secure some alone time. Ayato and Mamilis were not at fault here, but she did not think it was wrong of her to want some space to herself.

(In all seriousness, though, how are the sleeping arrangements going to work tonight?)

She looked down at Ayato on the floor.

At times like this, he generally let Teleria have the bed while he slept on the couch, but now there were three of them in the one room. Plus, this was a cheap inn with almost no furniture. It only seemed to matter that it had walls to keep people from seeing inside. That was not enough. There was not even a couch, so where was she supposed to sleep?

Plus, the space was far too small for a young boy and two young girls. Unlike the balloon bungalow, there were not even any walls and doors to divide things up. If this was a lab rat cage with the sexes improperly separated, there would have been a lot of reproduction going on.

What was she supposed to do?

Seriously, what was she supposed to do?

(Well, it makes sense to let Mamilis have the bed since she’s injured, but that doesn’t tell me what to do. I can’t just wait and see what happens. I have to actively secure the best possible option for myself!)

For one thing, Ayato was a Sorcery Hacker whose sleep schedule was way out of whack. And he had a bad habit of losing himself in his Self-Maintenance work when he had any spare time, which would only cause trouble for everyone else nearby. The worst part was how he saw it as mental work entirely cut off from the outside world. But his mind and his body were much more connected than he thought!! When he was lying there in a daze was the most dangerous time. She had trouble telling whether he was asleep or at work. After what had happened in the balloon bungalow, she knew she could not let her guard down tonight. Whether it was a bed, a sofa, a table, or a desk, she had to find a surface up off the floor to sleep on.

However, her thoughts came to a stop when she started coming up with a concrete plan.

“Uh…”

That was when she heard a groan from the bed.

Part 4

Mamilis felt almost no fear at waking up in an unfamiliar place.

But perhaps she simply did not have time to feel it.

The truth was, she was still stuck in a dead end. She was still alive and free, but she no longer had a house to live in. She had lived on her own a little bit away from her family, which meant no one else would have been buried alive there, but losing her place of residence was a painful blow.

Anyone who lost their home due to a stray shot would be generously supported by the government.

Except it was less clear if that would still apply for a Dark Elf. If the investigation drew attention to her, they might even end up hunting her down. Her sorcery device craftsman of a grandmother had been maintaining a precarious balance so far, but it felt like this incident had entirely overturned the scales.

For the same reason, relying on her family in Fire Castle Town Flared would be dangerous. Then the stones thrown at her could end up falling on her family’s roof instead.

Her options here were limited.

(I need to think up a way to live on my own.)

She should have done so from the beginning, but she had never been able to come up with anything and ended up relying on her grandmother and the rest of the family. She had stayed in this sky city and continued to indulge in their kindness.

And then these Forwards had shown up to supply violence for monetary reward.

But they had saved her despite seeing her long ears. They were not the kind of people who threw stones at someone just for being a demon.

That felt like a message from heaven to her.

(I don’t care if I’m just an assistant at first. I need to observe them from up close and learn how they do things so I can gain the skills needed to get by on my own in the world. This has to be my one and only chance! I won’t get another opportunity to live a life without causing anyone any trouble…especially my family!!)

She had thought a life like that only existed in fairy tales. From the moment she was born, she had assumed she was bound by her species, bound by her birthplace, and unable to ever break free of those bonds.

But she had just seen people who calmly accomplished things no one would ever have expected.

They had so much to teach her about life, so they were like a coach to her.

(I’m taking advantage of this.)

The long silver-haired girl had no power of her own.

Not even the power to stay true to the things she swore to herself.

But that was why she had to do this.

She had to accept that she lacked that strength now and then consider what she had to do in the future.

(I will follow after them!! I will follow after my coaches no matter what!! No longer will I be helpless and held back by my ears! My life begins now!!)

“Nghh. If that’s what you want.”

“…”

But the Dark Elf’s resolve was cut off by an unexpected voice. Ayato was looking up at her from the floor of this rundown inn that did not even have a sofa.

“By the way, Miss Mamilis, can you sew? Our Miss Teleria is hopeless when it comes to needlework, so it would be extremely helpful if you could fill that gap.”

“Eh? Eh? Y-you’ll make such an important decision based on nothing but that?”

“Eh heh heh. Man, this is a pretty nice angle. I was a little disappointed to see you were wearing pants, but that skintight leather certainly has its charm.”

“P-please take this seriously.”

When Mamilis desperately resisted Ayato’s attempt to change the subject, Teleria breathed an exasperated sigh while leaning against the wall (from enough of a distance to be ready for a low angle attack).

“The more serious the people around him are, the more he feels a need to ruin that mood, so be careful. Now take this seriously, Ayato.”

“Open that bag over there.”

He pointed toward a corner of the room while still lying on the floor. It was a cheap leather sack filled with the items the boy and girl had cautiously purchased in the market while the Dark Elf girl was unconscious.

When Mamilis got out of the bed and checked inside it as told, she found a shotgun mixed in with the more ordinary items. It was a full-auto model with a drum magazine attached. It was of course a sorcery gun.

It was the blonde girl and not the Dark Elf who spat out the contents of her mouth.

“Bfhhh! Wh-what is that dangerous thing doing in there!?”

“Hm? The guy at the street stall was shouting that it was perfect for beginners, so I went ahead and bought it.”

“Th-that had to have happened before we came to this inn, right? We were risking our lives to buy even some simple food and you were making a detour for this!? I only took my eyes off you for a moment!!”

“Ha ha ha. To be honest, getting paid can make me generous. I am never going to use a sorcery gun again, but wielding an obvious weapon can function as a threat even if you don’t shoot it.”

“…Ayato.”

“Yes, trauma is a hell of a thing, isn’t it?”

Teleria’s face clouded over a bit, but Ayato’s expression was entirely unreadable.

“But he wasn’t wrong about this being good for beginners. It’s definitely a good gun if I’m not the one using it, plus it fits the current age. The structure of the individual magics might not be the best, but you just have to keep pulling the trigger to produce a dense barrage that will push back the enemy with pure numbers.”

Sorcery guns came in a variety of types, but shotguns had the special effect of self-replicating a specific type of magic and scattering it over a fan-shaped arc.

If that scattershot was repeated with full-auto, the magic barrage would quickly fill the entire space in front of the wielder.

The flaws were how quickly it wore out, the short range required for a decisive blow, and the inability for precision firing if the enemy took a hostage. That meant it left a lot to be desired when acting solo, but support from Teleria’s dual handguns could make up for those flaws.

“To be blunt, if you cover yourself with oxidized mana-conducting silver and carry one of these, you can force back most any below-average target just by charging straight at them. Although you’re never going to get any better if that’s all you do. If you pay attention to your remaining ammo and where you place your feet, you shouldn’t screw up too badly. If you want to be a Forward, then I recommend this as a starting point.”

“I-I see…”

Dark Elf Mamilis held the full-auto shotgun-style sorcery gun between her arms with a look that said she was unsure if he was serious or joking. She must have felt bad not using the bed after he let her have it, so she moved back there and sat on it. It was a very lower middle class thing for someone with her appearance.

“Forget about combat for a second. You’ve used sorcery guns in your everyday life before, right? Is there an element you excel at?”

“Um, fire?”

She responded as a question, but perhaps that was because she lived in Flared. Or maybe it was the influence of her grandmother who worked with mana-conducting silver at high temperatures.

“Then focus on making fire-related bullets. If you’re serious about this, I can eventually teach you the basics of shooting, loading the magazine, and dismantling the gun for maintenance.”

But that was where Ayato’s voice dropped in tone while his position on the floor gave him quite a view of Mamilis while she sat on the bed.

“There is one thing you need to learn first and foremost: the sorcery guns held by a Forward are not the same as the triggers used to light the kitchen stove. No matter how you try to pretty it up, you have chosen to wield a tool of killing to live your life. Whether or not you actually kill with it, you still sought out a power that was designed to kill.”

“…”

“But that doesn’t have to scare you. The knights patrolling the streets don’t carry guns at their hips in order to kill the ordinary people out there. The point is to use them as a threat to stop criminals without killing them. Do not look away because it scares you. You have to stare this one in the face. You must first understand just how frightening a thing they are and then you can figure out your own way of not straying from the path you want to take. If you do that, you’ll be fine and you will be able to wield the sorcery gun like an extension of yourself. Although I doubt I will ever be able to do that again.”

That was all he said.

“Agh, no, I can’t stand it. I need to go take a bath to refresh myself.”

“Coach, um, surely there’s more…”

“Don’t say you want to join me in the bath. You’ll make me blush.”

Ayato walked to the bathroom and there was nothing more the brown girl could do.

For a while, Dark Elf Mamilis’s eyes wandered uncertainly through the room.

Finally, she hesitantly asked the blonde girl a question.

“Um…how much of that did he actually mean?”

“If you really can’t tell, then your first task is to sort through all that information until you can.”

She got the feeling he meant every word of it.

Part 5

Teleria entered the bathroom once Ayato left it.

They had a lot of problems to deal with. The crimes that mysterious sniper had framed them for was the biggest one, but surviving this night in this cramped room was a smaller crisis for this blonde girl.

“Phew.”

At least she could take a bath. She never knew whether that would be an option from one day to the next, so she wanted to use any chance she had to get herself nice and clean.

Plus, her special circumstances meant she needed a completely private space if she was to take a bath.

She stood in front of the mirror in the bathroom which contained a bathtub embedded in the floor. She reached for her blue blazer and then the blouse with a popped-off button. Then she switched off the floating function of her princess dress Expansion Armor. After that came her leather holsters and wine-red miniskirt. Once she had unfastened those, she was down to her underwear and black tights.

“Now, then.”

She reached to the sides of her hips, slipped her thumbs below the tights, and paused for a moment. She intentionally tried not to think of this as anything special, but that actually caused her to move more stiffly, like a clockwork doll.

“I thought I was used to this,” she muttered below her breath as she pulled the black tights down all at once.

SorceryHacker v01 BW03.png

There was an immediate change.

The two slender legs entirely disappeared and the back half of a giant fish appeared instead.

This was known as a Mimic Option.

As soon as its effects were gone, her Mermaid body could no longer stand upright and she slumped to the floor.

The temperature was not hot enough to call a real bath, but the tub full of water still called to her.

(Hyah, I get really bloated after a full day of hiding it. I need a massage.)

This, she had not revealed to Ayato. That was why she always needed to find some alone time even on a long journey together.

Instead of entering the small tub, she sat on the edge and soaked just the fish part in the water while she thought. Having water made all the difference. As she gently massaged her lower body with her slender fingers, she felt like the day’s weariness was leaving her.

She did not know how the device worked, but that sorcery item allowed her to be accepted in human society without issue. Lamias, Echidnas, Harpies, Sirens, and any other species relatively similar to humans could wear a Mimic Option tailored to their needs in order to blend into human society.

It was this kind of magic effect that had hidden Dark Elf Mamilis Coster’s long ears. With just the ears, she did not have to disguise very much of herself, so those earrings she wore were probably tiny Mimic Options.

The leader of the various species who humans called “demons” had been known as the Demon Lord, but there were no accurate records remaining of how long ago it had been since they had officially disappeared. There were plenty of rumors – such as a human hero defeating them and sealing them in a small shrine, or the Demon Lord blowing themselves up in a failed sorcery experiment in the search of even greater power – but there was no concrete evidence for any of it.

Only the fact of the Demon Lord’s disappearance remained and that continued to bind Teleria and the other “demons”.

The demons had not been eradicated when their leader was lost, but they had been vulnerable without someone to lead them. Some had attempted to become a charismatic leader to replace the Demon Lord, but no matter how powerful they were, they had only made themselves a target for the humans. The giant dragon still hanging around Fire Castle Town Flared was a good example of that.

In the end, people like Teleria and Mamilis were forced to blend in.

They had to be careful not to be judged evil according to the Light-Dark Duality.

It was a cliché in fairy tales for the nonhuman to be forced to leave once their identity was revealed, but that was indeed how it worked for them. Once a demon was discovered despite their Mimic Option disguise, they had to make themselves scarce lest they be hunted down by the humans.

She felt bad for those who were not humanoid enough to blend in, so whenever she had heard that human hunters were narrowing in on them, she had made an effort to head there and give them a chance to escape. On the other hand, that was all she had been able to do. Demons like Teleria were always on the run and they had to live a life on a knife-edge to ensure their identity was never revealed. …All because they had been born the way they were.

She was no longer young enough to curse how she had been born.

These cruelties were the first thing one had to face after being born as a demon. They were pursued by the humans using the very magic that had supposedly been originally created by the Demon Lord and, if they did not overcome that cruelty, they would lose their life before even getting to start living.

(Someday.)

Teleria glanced over at the holsters and sorcery guns mixed in with her clothing on the floor.

Those were a product of human wisdom.

She should have been able to produce the supernatural with just her own body, but she would be killed on the hunting ground in no time without using something like that. It felt like a symbol of the heavy shackles binding her.

(Someday, we will create a world where I can relax out in the sun like this.)

Every time Mermaid Teleria saw her true form in the mirror, that absurd fantasy came to mind. She had no concrete vision of how she could change the current age in that way.

“Well, obviously the answer isn’t going to come to me that easily.”

She spoke half in self-deprecation and then looked away from her reflection in the mirror. She reached around to her back and started to unhook the pure bra that she still wore.

But that was when he showed up.

The bathroom door burst open without warning.

And a boy rolled in while wriggling along the floor.

“Wait, what!? I, but, huh!? The door was locked!”

Her mind went blank. She did not understand. He had burst into the bathroom and seen her Mermaid lower body, but why!? And Mermaid or not, having her bare lower body seen was a problem for her maiden heart!! All the information whirled dizzyingly through her head and her mind’s processing power overflowed well past its limits.

The door did not matter.

She should have escaped to a more elevated location.

Once Ayato Criminaltrophy rolled in, he did not stop at the floor and rolled right into the tub. Teleria happened to be seated on the edge of the tub like a Mermaid on the rocks in a painting, so he happened to stick his face right into the fish part soaking inside the tub while his arms wrapped around her bare hips. Was this the result when a god rolled the dice? How in the world had he ended up in this pose by coincidence!?

And while her dulled thoughts fell further and further behind, Ayato finally replied in a dazed voice. This was odd. His eyes did not grow focused even as the bathwater soaked him.

“Ugh, the lock? You reverse the right eye and the left eye and then…what was it???”

“Ah!? Don’t tell me the lock is broken so turning it doesn’t actually do anything!”

This was an underground and rundown inn, so would the management really bother fixing anything that was broken? The owner looked like he had killed three people and she could not imagine him rushing out to fix a problem a guest brought to him.

But still…

“I’m not sure what that one part meant, but I really want to die right about now! First, we fight that battle, then we get framed for some crimes, then I have to walk all over the city while carrying that Dark Elf, and now I have to deal with your Self-Maintenance too!?”

Teleria was not quite sure what that work entailed. Like with the placebo effect or seemingly superhuman feats of strength during emergencies, people were not always aware of their own body’s “weight”. And if that baseline value was off in their head, they could not move their body the way they wanted. So by lowering the level of his consciousness and learning the “true weight” of his body, he had an easier time moving his body precisely as he pictured it in his head. She was not sure if that was a Sorcery Hacker thing or something unique to Ayato. She only knew the damage it caused to her!!

He really should not have been moving around at all during this, and yet…

“Ahh.”

“(Okay, I’m just barely safe!! Well, my maiden heart certainly isn’t since he burst in while I was in the bath, but if he doesn’t remember any of it clearly, he shouldn’t learn I’m a Mermaid!!)”

It was his memories that created the vanity and fear that confused his view of his body’s “weight”. That was why he lowered the level of his consciousness. It may have been similar to how you would not fear fire if you lacked the memories of being burned by it.

She did not now how his mental activity was linked to his physical activity, but it seemed strange to roll along the floor like some kind of booby trap during his Self-Maintenance.

She could only make guesses based on what she had seen in the past, but he did not seem to remember much of what happened during this work because that was how he had defined the state. He was technically not asleep and would still be forming memories, but he had decided that these memories would leave as little of an impression on him as “what he had for dinner three days ago”, so he would not remember any of it once he raised his consciousness level and opened his eyes. She just had to hope it happened that way this time too!!

“Oh, I get it.”

“H-huh? That comment sounded kind of disappointed, but what are you talking about?”

“Nereid, huh?”

The blonde girl’s shoulders jumped in surprise in her pure bra (Defense: 2) and her fish lower body (Defense? None of that here!!).

(Eh? What? Eh? Why did he just bring up my middle name that comes from an ancient language!? Is he connecting that to the water species that leads back to the one female member of the Four Great Demons, or am I overthinking this!?)

“…”

“And now he isn’t saying anything!? Oh, but I’m too scared to ask him what he meant!!”

Teleria’s eyes were spinning in her head, but Ayato seemed entirely carefree. He went limp with his arms around the Mermaid’s slender waist and his cheek resting on the fish part. Moving had been the abnormality, so he must have actually fallen into his mental experiment now.

It almost looked like she was intimately letting him rest in her lap.

Or like the demon was being accepted by the human.

“…Honestly.”

For a while after that, Teleria Nereid Aquamarine gently narrowed her eyes. She started wondering for the first time why she had not come up with a fake name when she first met the boy.

After stroking her hand through his hair for a while, she sensed someone’s eyes on her and looked up.

The bathroom door was sitting wide open and a half a face with a long ear was sticking out from the side. The expressionless Dark Elf was spying on her.

“I’d tell you to get a room, but I guess you already did, Coaches. Although I am partially jealous, to be honest.”

“…!!!???”

Part 6

The following morning, the day’s newspaper popped out of the remote printer with a ding like it was a piece of toast. The frontpage story was about the public execution of an old man named Thomas, but if they had carefully scoured the entire paper, they would likely have found an article about themselves. Although it would have been smaller than the Forturiana Church advertisement telling people to consider the Light-Dark Duality whenever they were filled with doubt.

The cheap inn really only provided people with a box to stay in, so it of course did not provide breakfast.

“Ugh.”

Ayato cracked all his joints as he got up from the filthy floor. Forcing himself into Self-Maintenance the night before may have been a mistake. The results were never satisfactory when he did that. His body felt unnaturally heavy and a vague image of holding a giant fish in his arms was dancing around his head.

“A fish???”

But he knew trying to remember would not turn up anything, so he did not bother. More importantly, he realized how hungry he was as his body woke up.

“Morning, Miss Teleria.”

“Good morning to you too, sleepy head. Here, let me fix that bedhead.”

“Nhh.”

At times like this, he let his partner girl take over.

“So what is the plan for today?” she asked.

“First up, how about fish for breakfast? I’m really craving fish this morning for whatever reason. I’ve got this unstoppable desire for fish and I can’t figure out why.”

“Bfhhhhhh!!!???”

“?”

“Cough, cough! Ahem! W-well, fish is good!! Yes, it’s much healthier than other meats and the saltier things you usually eat!!”

“Why am I envisioning an hourglass? No, I’m associating a waist and navel with fish for some reason, but fish don’t have navels. What is wrong with me today???”

“You should probably just forget all about that!! Forcing yourself to do that sketchy Self-Maintenance work last night is probably causing all sorts of malfunctions in your mind!!”

Ayato was not the morning shower type, so he simply walked to the sink to fix his bleary eyes. He chose to trust Teleria’s taste when it came to his hair.

They had not eaten anything since last night, but Dark Elf Mamilis Coster was already at the sink brushing her teeth with the rough toothbrush band wrapped around her index finger. Since they were not out in public, her distinctive long ears were left exposed.

However, she was apparently not doing this because she was the type who liked that sticky feeling in her mouth first thing in the morning.

“Grandma told me to take care of my teeth. And since Elves do have long lives, life probably would be pretty hard if I lost my teeth in the first 100 or 200 years.”

“The faded leather vest and tight pants with slits in the sides gives you a pretty strong punk look, but you’re actually quite a grandma’s girl, aren’t you?”

“These are the only clothes I have to wear right now, Coach.”

“Hm? Coach?”

“Remember last night? You promised to teach me the basics of being a Forward, so you’re my coach.”

“I’m not really feeling it. I probably should have just told you to observe me and figure it out, but I guess I’ll do what I can.”

When she noticed where drowsy Ayato’s (rude) gaze was directed, she sighed and put her hands on the hips next to the thick leather belt Expansion Armor that floated around her like an astronomical orbit.

“This? I just want it to make my waist look skinnier than it really is.”

“???”

Optical illusion or not, Mamilis was tall and slender enough that she almost looked too skinny.

“Things can be trickier when you don’t have the usual curves,” she explained. “An hourglass figure would be so much simpler, wouldn’t it?”

“Hmm.” Ayato’s brain had still not quite engaged as he stared at Mamilis’s navel. “But your skinny body is pretty hot in its own way.”

“Bfh! You could just keep those thoughts to yourself…kyah!?”

Growing flustered proved a mistake.

She lost control of the Expansion Armor around her hips, so the leather belt loop came apart and then wrapped around Ayato as well. Then it reconnected and squeezed them both together.

“Miss Mamilis.”

“Agh! Wait, wait! I’ll calm down, I just need to calm down. Then I can slowly remove it.”

“Hm, you actually do have a fair amount of…how should I put it? Of happiness.”

“Mgyuh!? Coach, are you trying to get us permanently squished together or something!?”

That did not sound like all that bad an idea to Ayato, but the Dark Elf shut her eyes and desperately worked to cool herself down. Thanks to that, they did not end up with two mutilated corpses in the bathroom that morning.

“(I see. So this is Ayato Criminaltrophy. It’s true he doesn’t seem to have any discriminatory feelings, but I feel like he’s a little too indiscriminate in other ways.)”

“?”

The Dark Elf glared at him with the finger wrapped in the toothbrush band inside her mouth while she stepped aside to let him wash his face with cold water. He already had an androgynous face, so he did not need to shave. His chin remained smooth all on its own.

“Once we eat some fish, let’s pursue the case. We need to track down that sniper scum who framed us for those murders and then fled.”

“Why fish?”

“It’s like I’m really horny for fish this morning. Venison or pigeon isn’t going to cut it. Only fish will satisfy me.”

“TMI, Coach. At least it’s a healthy meal, I suppose.”

They decided to keep the room in the cheap inn, but they headed out into the early morning of Wind Castle Town Silphine. Mamilis hid her long ears with the Mimic Options shaped like jeweled earrings.

Sky City Celedileka’s four castle towns surrounding central Light Castle Brightio were each uniquely constructed to match their element of fire, water, wind, or earth. In Silphine’s case, that meant lots of high-rise buildings made of stone and glass. A height of 2000 esoule[1] was standard and the larger ones were as tall as 3000 esoule[2], so it felt like a small mountain range. The fact that the buildings were taller than the light castle in the center was apparently a topic of some debate.

The walkways connecting the ultra-high-rise structures gave the whole thing an uneven jungle gym appearance. Yet in some places, the height difference was less than 100 esoule[3].

The ordinary six-legged sorcery taxis were not enough to get around there. Even winged designs like a bee or dragonfly were inefficient.

That was why Wind Castle Town Silphine had constructed a bold form of transportation infrastructure.

“Wah, wah, wah!! Wait, my skirt, my skirt!”

“Not to worry, Miss Teleria. I can see up it just fine.”

“This isn’t supposed to be a special show for you! Your low angle view is the problem!!”

“I have already burned the image into my eyes. Besides, your defenses are perfect with that disappointing pair of black tights with 0% transparency. Now, let’s get going.”

“It’s not about whether you can actually see anything! My maiden heart can’t stand looking like a broken umbrella on a stormy day!!”

Ayato and Mamilis ignored the complaints and instead grabbed the blonde girl’s arms and dove out of the 149th floor window. Even that rundown underground inn had existed in some vertical space taken from the 149th and 150th floors. There was something seriously wrong with the interior maintenance and inspections in this town.

As soon as they leaped out into the empty air, an updraft caught them. The invisible wind was artificially colored by the bright flower petals floating in it. Artificial air currents were sent every which way and people, objects, and vehicles could be seen complexly intersecting through all that. …There was some gold[4] and silver[5] mixed in, so some Thieves who thought themselves chivalrous may have been throwing their loot from the rooftops to spread it among the masses. That would have been deadly from an ordinary tower.

The sun and the stars shined in the sky above.

Airships and balloons would ride the largescale manaflows in the upper atmosphere to travel across the continent, so that must have been the inspiration for all this. This town had converted it into the wind element instead of mana itself, but since people simply pulled the trigger to use magic and did not really understand how it worked, that form was easier for them to imagine. As far as they could see at the moment, no one was losing control in the wind and crashing despite not using any specialized machinery. This was a universal enough image to be found in children’s books everywhere.

The stores and restaurants seemed to have a clear division between inside and outside, perhaps because of the artificial winds. In addition to using the emergency stairs to enter the individual levels of the ultra-high-rise structures, there were a lot of shops using RVs modeled after six-legged rhinoceros beetles or dragonflies floating in midair or shops simply set up on the walkway roofs and building walls. Those seemed to be selling impractical accessories. In addition to Expansion Armor like Teleria and Mamilis wore, they also sold a lot of decorations made from monster wings and scales. They probably flapped or glowed when instructions were sent to them with a sorcery gun. They were really just costume tools. For how much the people here loathed the Demon Lord, they really seemed to like demon-themed accessories.

“…”

For a Dark Elf who had to live hiding her long ears, it must not have been fun to see those things sold for nothing more than idle amusement. That may have been part of the reason why her grandmother had chosen the Fire Castle Town. Blonde Teleria, meanwhile, was too busy blushing and feeling dizzy to focus on her surroundings.

“Nooo!! This is too much for my maiden heart!! Why am I the only one in a skirt!?”

“Miss Teleria, try to right yourself before lamenting. You should probably focus on the embarrassed comments only once you are no longer flipped 180 degrees upside down.”

“Gyahhh!!”

Ayato and Mamilis ascended while dragging the panicking girl with them. They were right next to the giant round indoor theatre that was the wind town’s greatest landmark. It was probably using the updrafts of the city infrastructure to stay afloat, but it was still stunning to see a 400 esoule[6] mass of stone and glass floating in defiance of gravity like that. …Of course, Sky City Celedileka as a whole was floating in the atmosphere’s manaflows.

The theatre was commonly known as the Continent Egg and Mamilis made a comment as they safely moved away from it.

“If you don’t want your skirt spreading out like that, you could always have Coach hold you around the hips.”

“Oh,” said Ayato.

“No, that is not the answer!” protested Teleria. “Where do you think you’re sticking your face!?”

Ball-shaped devices large enough to require both hands to hold were floating all throughout the air while regularly switching between a red or a green light. Those were the traffic lights for the wind town. Instead of telling people and vehicles when to stop, they forcibly changed the direction of the wind to carefully weave the air currents together such that no one collided with each other. That allowed a lot of traffic with no real congestion.

“That place there should work.”

“Hm? What???”

“Breakfast.”

They visited an open café on the wall of a high-rise building’s 155th floor. Just like the other shops around here, it was located at an end point of an air current, so you could enjoy a relaxing morning as long as you were not too worried about your hair.

He had avoided choosing one of the busier places since they did not have time to stand in line, but this did not seem like a bad place. A Sky Pirate girl in an eyepatch and miniskirt and a Fortuneteller with a thin veil covering her face appeared to be enjoying their breakfasts despite showing some concern about their skirts. This may have been a hidden treasure of a restaurant, or it may have been nothing special.

“But should I get white-flesh fish or red-flesh fish? What does the image in my mind tell me? When I peer deep inside myself, what kind of fish is it I want to devour?”

“Ahh, are you still doing the fish thing? A-and I don’t know how your Self-Maintenance works, but I feel like the type of desire here is heading in a more dangerous direction because you don’t know how to classify that memory.”

“(Hm, so she prefers having coach’s more standard bestial desires directed her way.)”

“Cough, cough! Just a quick warning, Miss Brown Skin! You really shouldn’t jump to strange conclusions about these things!!”

“Also, be careful when you pay the tip. If you don’t make sure the waiter has it in their grasp, the coin will be swallowed up by the whirling air currents and blown away.”

Ayato ended up choosing a white-flesh fish with cooked vegetables and pasta that he was recommended. The light-colored and nearly transparent sauce with a seafood base was apparently the selling point and it had a light flavor that was perfect for the morning. The culture here knew how to enjoy its seafood flavoring.

“Wait, why were they recommending fish here and not in the Water Castle Town?”

“For that matter, the entire place is a sky city.”

A crystal ball about the size of a fist sat at the center of the table. It was a portable Media Summoner that combined the functions of a television, a radio, and a data search. Teleria reached for the snowdome-like device to perform a search just as Ayato had the same idea, so his hand ended up on top of hers.

“Hyah!”

“Oops.”

The Dark Elf simply watched, wondering if this would take a bittersweet turn, but…

“Hm, interesting. Miss Teleria, I knew you had plenty of happiness contained in your bust, waist, and hip measurements, but it would seem the happiness is contained in every last part of your body.”

“A normal person would have let go by now!”

“I see. So this is my coach, Ayato Criminaltrophy.”

The Dark Elf muttered a comment like some kind of ancient sage while the brightly blushing blonde girl finally managed to brush off Ayato’s hand and distracted herself by touching the crystal container, operating the small metal leaf floating in the liquid, and performing a search with the Media Summoner.

“Ahem! Um, it seems there are some species of literal flying fish. This says they are raised by having them fly against artificial air currents to toughen them up.”

“I live in this city and I’ve never heard of that. I guess the fire and wind towns are more different than I thought.”

They got in a light argument over whether to have coffee or tea after their meal, but they did get some bread crumbs to soak up the rest of the sauce at the bottom of the pasta plate.

“That was actually really good. Could you figure out the recipe?”

“More or less. But I bet I could recreate it with cheaper ingredients.”

“You two? The lady at the register has a smile frozen on her face, so how about you wait until we leave the restaurant to discuss that?”

Now that their stomachs were filled, they could start on the actual investigation.

They caught a random updraft to reach the top of the high-rise building. The rooftops were at different heights and they functioned as rest parks known as Perches where all air currents were kept out. There were of course a lot of the mobile shops made from RVs there. For some reason, Blonde Teleria grew pale and held her mouth when she saw all the accessories made from monster wings and scales.

The area Ayato and Teleria had shopped the night before had been a rooftop on a lower level. Ayato glanced over at a Songstress who was gathering attention with her song in what may have doubled as both voice practice and conquering her stage fright.

“Let’s start by sharing our information.”

They wanted to learn the truth of what happened in Fire Castle Town Flared. They had managed to resolve the human trafficking incident without killing anyone, but then some unknown third party had intervened and now Ayato and Teleria were seen as vigilantes who had gone too far and killed the villains.

There was one other primary issue.

“That was probably meant to silence the human traffickers who knew about the abduction of Jorbe Alphoverin, the urban design manager for the sky city. Although it is a mystery what the criminal hopes to accomplish by learning how the system works.”

“I can’t imagine it’s anything good,” said Mamilis. “Not to mention that they’ve already chosen to kill people.”

“Ahh. But how are we supposed to investigate this?” asked Teleria. “We don’t know their name or what they look like.”

If that was enough information for them to successfully find the person from among the densely-packed population of the Selected Kingdoms’ largest sky city, then they might as well find a new job as fortunetellers.

But Ayato remained calm.

“We do have a hint.”

“Hweh?”

“The sorcery gun they used. With power like that, it must be an anti-dragon rifle longer than we are tall. And standard customizations aren’t enough to explain it. If a normal human used that, the recoil from converting the mist mana into magic would tear their body apart. That means this is not an ordinary product. If we search out where they acquired it, we should be able to reach the sniper as well.”

“Hmm.” The Dark Elf placed a hand on her chin. “That sounds reasonable, but doesn’t that make it less likely it will work? Whoever they think did it, the knights are sure to investigate the origin of the weapon used. Would the person behind this really be careless enough to leave such an obvious line of investigation open? If so, framing you two would be meaningless.”

“Actually, how would they investigate the weapon’s origin?”

Ayato reached into his blue blazer’s breast pocket like someone reaching for the newspaper that was remotely printed on the same reusable paper every day and he pulled out the ultra-thin crystal tarot cards of his Linkage Monitor.

The mist mana that exchanged all sorts of information ran throughout the city in thin, web-like lines, but it passed through all people and non-magical things and it was also invisible. That was why he predicted where a manaflow was based on the location of the relay devices shaped like outdoor showers made from metal pipes or from the streetlights that automatically changed their brightness between day and night. Then he stabbed his Linkage Plug sword into the ground in between to place the blade in the path of the mist manaflow and hack into it. He was spying on knight communications over the manaflow.

Portable wireless devices like Ayato’s crystal tarot cards were really just Sorcery Hacker toys that picked up on mist mana spray, so they were little different from the tools of a niche hobby and had no standards. A public agency in a well-maintained city would generally used a wired connection by clipping their device to the fixed connection points dotting the city like the stars in the sky.

“I have completed a list of sorcery gun shops. We are ready for the second human wave attack. What are our instructions?”

“Some unlicensed sellers work from street stalls, so be careful. There are loopholes everywhere.”

“I will finish this by lunchtime. That mobile trattoria has apparently received some top-rate wheat for the first time in forever, so I already know I’m getting some fried pasta today. Now, to work!!”

Ayato sighed as he gave up on listening in and cut the connection. He glanced over at a Chef in search of the best ingredients and a Dragon Knight whose skills were more like acrobatics than combat. The two of them were getting into a scuffle in a pet shop that looked more like a circus tent.

“Looks like they actually plan on searching every last shop that sells sorcery guns. The human race will be fossilized and dug up by the lifeforms of a future age before they find the criminal like that.”

“Eh? Eh?” Teleria was confused. “But the sniper was using a sorcery gun, right?”

“You don’t have to buy the completed product all at once. What about the metalworkers? If someone is skilled enough to cut down a mana-conducting silver pipe, carve the magic circle rifling inside, and process it to allow the mist mana explosion to pass through, they might be able to follow some plans and create their own special sorcery gun from the ground up.”

Of course, metalworkers came in all sorts of different types, so narrowing down a suspect from there would be difficult. But Ayato and Teleria happened to know someone with a connection to a specialist in that field.

Yes.

Hadn’t the scorpion-like Zootoxin Mk. IIIs from Flared been designed and manufactured by Mamilis Coster’s grandmother?

“Yes, grandma probably could make a sorcery gun, but I’m pretty sure she only accepts jobs from Government Security.”

Hearing that alone might make her sound like a government flunky, but that “grandma” worked in the large weapon development business. It would be unusual for anyone other than Government Security or the knights to buy from her.

“I wonder if stubborn craftsmen like that ever create some kind of guild that ordinary people aren’t aware of,” said Teleria. “Then the general guild contact point could deal with the first-time customers asking for flashy accessories, the taxes, the location costs, and all the other annoyances while the craftsmen can focus on development and manufacturing.”

“They do. The one my family belongs to is called the Silver Anvil.”

“Huh? But in that case…”

“Yes. Any sketchy jobs that sound awfully illegal will never reach the craftsmen in the guild. Any jobs that would hurt their reputation will be detected by the general contact point and rejected. Without that bare minimum of protection, there would be no point in joining the guild.” Ayato raised a finger. “On the other hand, a self-taught craftsman who is little better than a complete amateur could never produce a special sorcery gun that would requires professional skill. That leaves only one answer: someone who was once part of a guild but made some kind of mistake that got them kicked out and has to take illegal jobs to get by. It’s similar to how back-alley doctors get started. They maintain their skills, but their filter against sketchy jobs entirely vanishes.”

“Hmm,” groaned the Dark Elf while toying with her disguised ears. “Grandma doesn’t like talking behind her colleagues’ backs, so I only have the slightest of rumors to go on.”

“That’s good enough.”

“Once she did tell me not to end up like Alonso Bercouli. It kind of slipped out though, so it might not be much to go on.”

“Bingo. Let’s start our search there.”

“Eh? But, Coach, you have no guarantee this will lead to anything.”

“And that’s fine. Even if Alonso isn’t who we want, he should have exchanged contact information with other underground craftsmen. Wherever they were exiled to, people can’t survive on their own. Whether he did this job or not, we can at least find another hint there. This is like a game of concentration with one card already flipped over, so we might as well start with the name we know.”

They had an advantage over the government or the knights because they would not get in trouble for investigating someone based on the flimsiest of evidence. Forwards generally did not worry about their methods. They would still get paid as long as they achieved the desired result in the end. Of course, that was why a lot of people thought they were as criminal as the criminals they pursued. And since Sorcery Hacker hackers were proper(?) criminals as well, Ayato was not about to argue the point there.

“Now, we have some food in our stomachs, so let’s go stir up some trouble.”

Part 7

Knowing a name made all the difference.

You could not stop people from talking, so simply asking around could produce results even without needing tricks like specialized Sorcery Hacking.

Ayato pointed his thumb at Teleria who was standing next to him, ignorant of what was to come.

“This girl collects handcuffs for her ‘hobby’, but she lost the key to one set.”

“Bfff!? Wait!”

“We’ve heard there’s a craftsman named Alonso who can make another key, so do you know where we can find him?”

After those rough-looking young men guffawed and gave them the information they wanted, the blonde girl protested with her face bright red.

“(Couldn’t you have come up with a better story!?)”

“(Miss Teleria, we are not the knights. If you cannot flaunt your authority to get people to talk, you have to come up with an appropriate question that puts you on their level. And honestly, I feel like I was doing you a favor by not saying it was a key for your chastity belt.)”

“(Nhh! Nhhhh!!)”

She blushed even brighter and squeezed her tearful eyes shut while nearly scratching at his face with her nails, so he made sure to step back and ensure his safety.

The Dark Elf with long silver hair gave them a cold look.

“Coach, can’t the flirting wait until after we solve this problem?”

“You have a point.”

“It can wait forever!!”

At any rate, after gathering some information, they finally discovered where Alonso Bercouli’s hideout was located. It was in the lower levels of Wind Castle Town Silphine. After riding the artificial air currents to the ground, they found a stagnant darkness. The sunlight of the starry sky did not reach here. There was not actually a ceiling overhead, but there were so many high-rise buildings that one or another of them was always casting a shadow on the ground. The entire area was gloomy and did not seem like a place anyone would want to live. They had gone to the effort of creating a livable environment at an altitude of 30,000 esoule[7], so it almost felt like it took more effort to let things deteriorate this badly.

“Silphine AX, the bottom level trunk area.”

“It feels like it ended up a storage space because no one wanted to go here.”

“And then underground craftsmen started hiding out here, so it may have reverted to its roots.”

A young Curse Master in nothing but a cape and a tall Assassin, whose assault rifle was equipped with a trident bayonet, were walking around like pals, so it felt like they had stumbled on a post-apocalyptic world. …That combination sounded like a honey trap where the people who came looking for a curse after seeing the advertisement would be executed “for the good of the world”. The woman in an exotic dress featuring some large slits may have been a bloodthirsty Martial Artist searching for powerful foes.

Ayato’s group had struggled to find even that one cheap inn, so taking away living space to create storage space seemed like the pinnacle of luxury. If they had not been able to find a room, they might have ended up here.

It did not take them long to find the place they were looking for.

He had probably intended to hide it at first, but that had eventually become impossible. Scrap metal and wreckage had flooded out of the entrance on the surface. He must have been gathering sorcery tools like refrigerators and ovens so he could retrieve their gemboards.

“Miss Teleria, Miss Mamilis. Prepare your sorcery guns.”

“Eh? Okay.”

“Coach, won’t they go on alert if we step in with guns drawn?”

“You’re being naïve. Underground workers like this don’t go on alert because something happens; they’re on alert year-round.”

(A vacuum crystal, a mist mana streetlight, an auto-sorting trashcan, an air pollution sensor, a vending machine, a pay phone, and a public mousetrap. Yeah, that’s a good starting point.)

“W-wait, Ayato. Ayato! You don’t have a gun, so you shouldn’t move out ahead of us.”

“Don’t be silly. If anyone’s going to face that magic, it’s going to be me. I’m not going to demand a ladies first policy for that.”

Of course, if this was someone dangerous enough to shoot them without any warning and the two girls were taken out first, Ayato would be helpless to fight back, so his real reason for insisting on protecting them was to ensure they still had someone with a weapon.

He whispered something as if flipping a switch.

“Miss Teleria, Miss Mamilis. I have no one else I can rely on. …You are my only hope.”

“Ah, f-fine…”

“?”

Teleria blushed for some reason, but Mamilis just looked puzzled. That statement may not have been guaranteed to work on everyone.

“(Ahhh. How can he say things like that so easily? I swear he has talent as a tamer.)”

“(I’m pretty sure he has precisely none of that.)”

While the two girls whispered to each other, Ayato stabbed his Linkage Plug sword blades into different nearby sorcery devices to create the antennae needed to expand his processing space. He viewed the floating Linkage Monitor crystal tarot card displays to see he had reached Level 15. That was enough freedom to give his Sorcery Hacking actual lethality.

But the hard part was still to come.

“Mr. Alonso Bercouli? I have something to discuss with you.”

Instead of the entrance half-buried in junk, he used the metal shutter. It was sitting half open, so he slowly approached while calling out to the person inside.

The response was dramatic.

The fearsome lightning flash of sorcery gunfire blasted through the shutter while melting it.

This was a surprise attack.

But this also must have been unexpected for the man on the other side. That lightning would not normally have broken through the shutter. Ayato had immediately stabbed his sword into the wall of the building to take control of the shutter and lower it as a makeshift barrier.

This was the same as with the dragon breath from before.

The barrier in between somewhat diverted the ballistic path so it just barely missed him.

(What was that? Lightning!? Was it a strengthened version of Tertiary High Voltage!?)

“Tch!”

A hoarse tongue click came from inside.

When the initial attack failed, the man immediately switched gears to escape. These were the actions of someone with survival skills. But it was not enough. Ayato had already hacked into the building’s wiring to control the shutter, so why had the man not assumed that would apply to the other exits as well?

This was nothing as gentle as the back door locking itself.

(That entrance is Level 7. I can manage that!)

After waiting for the man to throw open the automatic door, Ayato remotely shut it again, and forcibly at that. It was a lot like a spring-loaded trap. The tongue clicker tumbled right back inside like he had been tackled through the door.

“Bwah!?”

“Miss Teleria, Miss Mamilis.”

Ayato spoke coldly as he stepped into the junk-filled building where a man lay on the floor.

“Aim your guns.”

“O-okay, okay!! I’ll talk!!”

He had already let go of his sorcery gun, but the elderly man still put his hands in the air while on the floor.

Teleria belatedly raised both her suppressor-equipped full-auto handguns and groaned as she glanced through her dot sight to view the sorcery gun lying on the floor.

“Uheh, a single-shot grenade launcher?”

“No, it’s a magnum with that caliber.”

Grenade launchers had the special effect of self-amplifying the power of the designated magic, so they would explosively spread destruction from the point of impact.

But the lightning bolt launched by this old man had pierced through the metal shutter to directly attack them. There had been no explosive expansion in every direction. That meant it was likely a monstrous magnum with a barrel thick enough for Teleria’s arm to fit inside. It would use a massive disintegrating lead bullet and lots of mist mana to create the penetrative power to punch through most anything.

“You pulled this out and aimed at my head the instant we showed up, so I assume you’re prepared for what comes next.”

“What can I do to get you to leave here? Tell me! Or do I have to leave to satisfy you!?”

The elderly man was already shouting in desperation and Ayato saw the Dark Elf grimace in response. She was a grandma’s girl and she probably had an idealized view of the elderly, so seeing someone like Alonso who was old but not exactly dignified may have been a sad sight for her. Like watching a baby bird rot in the egg instead of hatching.

She had to look away, but the grandma’s girl’s troubles were not over yet.

“What…is this? Eek! C-Coach!!”

“Miss Mamilis, you do not have to look if it pains you.”

The machinery she saw sitting in the dark had been a shock. The foot-pedaled lathe used a monster fang shaped like a crescent moon and the still was lined with the stomach of what appeared to be a phoenix.

It was all very efficient, but none of it was the mainstream style.

Mamilis’s grandmother probably had not used this kind of equipment. These were the replacements used by someone who fell to this level and could not acquire top-of-the-line equipment.

Seeing the guts of “fellow” demons made the Dark Elf feel faint, so Teleria supported her. Ayato glanced over at that and decided to settle this as quickly as possible.

“We are searching for the owner of an anti-dragon rifle with an estimated caliber of 0.01 esoule[8] or higher. It is a monster of a rifle with a focus on power and no thought given to recoil. Does that ring a bell?”

“…”

The old man’s eyes wandered in silence and Ayato glanced over to a corner of his garage. He saw a Media Summoner shaped like a boxy water tank that had some obvious modifications made to it.

“Should I tell Silver Anvil about this nice place you’ve found for yourself here? A guild isn’t going to be too happy with an underground craftsman ruining their reputation. It looks like you have a proxy filter set up on your mist mana connection terminal so your Media Summoner can’t be traced and you can work on shady jobs without worrying, but do you really think that’s going to fool the guild for long if they really start working to hunt you down?”

“If I tell you, she will be upset.”

“A group of human traffickers might have been killed by the handmade weapon you made from the ground up using a mana-conducting silver tube. Your client decided the best way to thank them for a job well done was to eliminate any possible trail leading back to them. Now, who do you think will be next? Who else could lead someone to them?”

“…”

“They seem to be fairly trigger happy. A lot more than you seem to believe. How faithful you are isn’t how this sniper decides what to do. If you want to survive this, I would recommend cooperating here.”

“Dammit,” cursed Alonso.

Then he shook his head.

“I really don’t know her name. She named herself more than once, but it was always a different name, so I doubt any of those are trustworthy.”

“Could you give us something to work with?”

“Critical Disaster. That’s the name of the anti-dragon rifle I made. I’ll give you the designs, so you can use those however you want.”

“Did the sniper get her ammo here too? With a fully handmade weapon that doesn’t conform to commercial standards, the cartridge caliber isn’t going to match.”

“Is that some kind of trick question? The ammo and cartridges all use mist mana. All you need is a packaging device to apply the impurity powder to the inside of the tube, inject the mist mana, and heat it to apply the film. A search on a Media Summoner is enough to learn all that.”

“She also completely ignores the recoil. When making precision shots with so much firepower, I doubt she’s just placing it on the back of one of those bugs and letting it do the shooting. She must be taking the recoil to the shoulder, so where is she getting the medicine or pain relievers to deal with that?”

“That’s outside my area of expertise.”

“Then we’re done with you. I think it’s time we went out into the public square and began loudly telling the knights that we discovered who owns Critical Disaster thanks to some info from Alonso Bercouli. Most people will have no idea what we mean, but the guilty owner herself will know. She’ll be here to kill you with the very sorcery gun you made for her. Our new plan is to lie in wait for her here.”

“Hey, how likely are you to succeed in that?”

“She outdid us last time, so it’s impossible to say what will happen this time.”

“Dammit!!” After loudly cursing, the elderly man breathed a heavy sigh. “I did once deliver a collection of brown bottles full of pain relief pills to her hideout. I can’t guarantee she’s still using the same place, but is that good enough? Now I have to start my life over yet again. I really do have to skip town now, so I hope you’re happy!!”

Part 8

“Striker Destrius!”

“I have heard, Soldier Shadelose. I believe we have found them.”

After building up a foundation in Wind Castle Town Silphine below the sunny and starry sky, Henrietta Split Destrius raised a hand with her blonde hair braided in a modification on a ponytail and while wearing the old style of armor that was popular with the people. She was currently at the spherical theatre that functioned as the wind town’s greatest landmark. She was at the top of that mass of stone and glass that measured 400 esoule[9] across and was commonly referred to as the Continent Egg. With the artificial air currents running every which way, you could cling directly to the walls in this town, but she still preferred to have some ground below her feet.

After approaching some tourists taking photos and questioning them as a performance not intended to produce any real results, the beautiful Striker began on the official report.

They had received an alert concerning a noisy sorcery gunfight in the wind town.

It took place in the unruly lowest levels. The occasional conflict there was nothing out of the ordinary, but something in this alert caught her attention.

A loud gunshot had been heard, but there had been no return fire from the enemy. But it had not seemed like a unilateral execution because there had been sounds of a struggle for a while after that.

In other words…

“Someone took control of a magic battle without using a sorcery gun.”

“Was it a Sorcery Hacker?”

The young man was correct, but Henrietta coldly narrowed her beautiful eyes. The more anger filled them, the icier they grew. This was a look only allowed of a frightening beautiful woman.

“I do not know what they are trying to accomplish here. Perhaps they are up to no good such as stealing from a wealthy merchant or destroying the city infrastructure, and perhaps they are attempting to do a good deed by revealing collusion among the royals and nobles or releasing the story of a silenced newspaper reporter.”

“Oh.”

The Soldier was too afraid to look her in the eye and he looked away just as a young Librarian woman in glasses (perhaps on the way to receive a book donation) and a Witch girl needlessly riding a broom passed by the giant landmark.

“But good or no good, we cannot leave this city in their hands. The only people free to wield such firepower in this giant floating city are us thanks to the peacekeeping authority granted us by the king. If we cannot show the people we can do our job, their trust in us will waver and the public order will quickly collapse. We must stop them before that happens.”

While they discussed that, someone else stepped up from the side. This person invaded their personal space in a very off-putting way, although it was unclear if this was done intentionally or not.

The man had a smooth bald head and fluffy facial hair that made it look like someone had gotten the ratio of head and chin wrong. Something like a thick tape was attached to his neck and shoulders. That was an amplification poultice made with a drug mixed by a priest. He was muscular, but not as the result of high-level combat and training. These were the meaninglessly large muscles of someone who frequented a healthy gym and used highly unhealthy drugs.

Nevertheless, the protectors he wore were the asphalt-colored combat armor officially issued by Light Castle Brightio. …Although that was part of the reason that Henrietta stubbornly continued to wear the old-model armor that was unnecessarily showy and revealing but also popular with the people.

“Hello, hello, Knight Henrietta.”

“I am Striker Destrius.”

“My bad, my bad. I was up all night and my mind isn’t working right. I’m having trouble remembering all those tricky rules. …Yawn.”

“I would have assumed a night owl like you would be used to this.”

“Let’s not assume things about people.”

The bald and bearded knight grinned with a weapon at his hip that was not borrowed from the king.

It was a war pick that altered the details and sturdiness of a mountaineering ice axe for use in combat. It was developed to break through a thick helmet made from oxidized mana-conducting silver and its use had been banned by every city-state for its cruelty, but his was not for use against people.

It was a Linkage Plug meant for Sorcery Hacking.

He also had three crystal dice clattering around in his hand.

“Whoever I was in the past, I am know a knight granted a coat of arms by the royal family. Just like you. Maybe don’t take a prejudiced view of your fellow knights, hm?”

“…”

This was why Henrietta made a point of calling herself a Striker.

This was not the first time Sky City Celedileka’s fighting force had been shorthanded, but they had recently announced a bold solution. The skilled Sorcery Hackers sitting in prison would be given court ranks and temporarily freed. Their crimes would be frozen as long as they fought for the city. The Soldiers like Shadelose, who had been given the position based on the excellent results of their more traditional work, were left behind while those former criminals were not only given a position in law enforcement but authority in the government as well.

There was no longer a distinction between the former criminals and the devout knights whose families had served the royal family for generations. Or rather, the traditional knights had grown to hate calling themselves knights and taken to calling themselves Strikers instead. If the king was going to change with the times, then they would change their title as well.

In other words, the knights of Sky City Celedileka were really nothing more than white hat hackers. Although the common folk and tourists had no way of knowing this.

“Now, Knight Gerlos.”

Henrietta had a reason for using that outdated title here, but the poultice-wearing thug named Dagregor Gerlos did not pick up on the thick sarcasm. Henrietta guessed that was an arbitrary fake name he had chosen for himself. He might not even have a real name. She heard those people liked to use names from cultures and civilizations outside the Static Continent when naming their avatars or whatever.

His armor looked more customized and bulgier than standard, so she guessed it had extra soundproofing material inside. He never wanted to be anywhere near the actual fighting, yet he was paranoid about getting hurt. His lack of military training could not have been more obvious.

Henrietta was absolutely disgusted by the man, but she did her best not to let it show on her face.

“What brings you to us at this busy time?”

“Oh, I just thought this investigation could use a breath of fresh air. I’ve been buried in work and bored out of my mind for days on end because of your old-fashioned methods. Let’s narrow in on them and settle this.”

“How exactly do you suggest we do this?”

“Now, now, now. Have you forgotten what our specialty is?” The hairy-chinned man named Dagregor gave a vulgar smile. “Going around asking questions is a waste of time. We know they’re in this area, right? And these are some good kids who haven’t started robbing people to fund their escape, so why even bother pursuing them when we can get them to come to us?”

“Again, how exactly do you suggest we do this?”

“Just look at this one step at a time. It started at Fire Castle Town Flared’s airport where they arrived in a balloon bungalow, right? Then let’s arrest the rental worker and torture them.”

He said it so readily.

He did not seem to care at all that he would be robbing someone of their future or that he would be using authority borrowed from the king to do so.

“Then we do the same at the sorcery taxi office, the market, the souvenir shops, the fruit shops, and anyone else who says they saw them. We arrest and torture everyone who came in contact with those brats. Once it becomes clear what’s happening, we’ve won. And if we run out of people, we can always start arresting people from unrelated shops and inns.”

“…”

“Really, it comes down to letting everyone know what happens if they cover for the suspects. You’re having trouble because you don’t have enough information, right? Then it’s time to tighten our grip until-…”

He was unable to finish his thought.

That was because Striker Henrietta Split Destrius took action before he could.

Her hand grabbed the thug’s jaw and lifted him up with her one slender arm.

For a brief moment, the beautiful woman threw out her lovely old-fashioned smile.

She squeezed so tight it looked like she was going to crush his neck and the poultice around it.

Her identity as a born fighter had revealed itself.

Do not say another word, you drugged-up twig.

“Ah…kah!?”

It all happened so suddenly Dagregor blinked in confusion, held his hands up to his jaw, and kicked his legs in the air, but he could not break free of Henrietta’s arm that seemed harder than steel. And since the thug still did not understand, the Striker, who had been taught to be a shield for the people, breathed an honest sigh.

“I can accept that thugs lower than rats were given the title of knights. It was the insufficient strength of our old-fashioned forces that led to that, so the blame for our decline falls squarely on our shoulders. So I am not going to protest the central Light Castle’s decision at this point. I will grant you the title of Knight. We can simply call ourselves Strikers.”

“Ah…ah!!”

“But it was our old-fashioned forces who created the unique atmosphere of this sky city. The bond of trust between the people and the nobles has existed since well before my birth and that forms a thick pillar that protects the peace here. Former criminal, do you really think there is room for you there? Well, do you? Do you!? Did you believe a thug who was only given his title a few combo-years ago could create a crack in the bond of trust that has existed for hundreds of combo-years? On whose authority, you fool!!”

Finally, Henrietta released her slender fingers from the jaw of the Sorcery Hacker who had been given a more socially acceptable title. Dagregor collapsed to the ground and fell into a coughing fit while glaring hatefully up at the blonde woman with a braided variant on a ponytail.

“I…I…I am a knight now…”

“Yes, that you are, Sir Knight. You are indeed a knight, which is why no one wants to use that title anymore. I see now that you are the perfect example of the kind of knight who has dragged that title through the mud.”

When he saw Henrietta stare in disgust at her hand which smelled more of the mystery poultice than of the Sorcery Hacker himself, Dagregor seemed to finally realize what she meant when she called him a knight. The thug’s face only grew redder and Henrietta spat out further words without trying to hide how much she despised him.

“But have you forgotten? Your crimes were frozen, not pardoned. The central Light Castle’s inspectors are always watching you. Once you are no longer deemed useful, your title will be stripped from you and you will be thrown back in prison. So should you really be wasting time here?”

“…!?”

“I have more influence than you think. Because of the trust I spent a very long time building up. If you don’t want me whispering some choice words in the ears of an inspector I know, then get back to your post. Listen, get out of my sight if you insist on taking shortcuts just like the Sorcery Hacker you are. And if you won’t leave, I will remove you myself. Got that, slave knight!?”

No one said another word.

Not Knight Dagregor down on the ground and not Soldier Shadelose who was listening to it all from the side.

If this was enough to scare him too bad to get up, he could never fight in a true battle where it was destroy or be destroyed. And whether or not they were a former criminal, Knights and Strikers were both only borrowing their authority from the king. That could always be taken from them, so they had to be improving themselves on a daily basis to live up to the king’s trust in them, yet this man was conceited enough to think he had it set for life. Did he really think the weight was ever lifted from your shoulders while serving the king?

Finally, a nearly sobbing voice spoke up.

It seemed to be lamenting the misfortune that had befallen him and only him.

“Why…why does this have to happen to me?”

She had just one answer for him.

And she spoke it almost like she was speaking to someone else who was not present.

Because you are a Sorcery Hacker, you thug.

Part 9

In the end, it took until the afternoon for them to find information on the hideout of the mystery sniper who used the anti-dragon rifle called Critical Disaster.

As usual, Teleria Nereid Aquamarine’s skirt was swelling out and Ayato was pulling that tearful blonde girl along as they rode an updraft in Wind Castle Town Silphine. They slipped below a giant walkway and used a food stall on the way to their destination since they did not have much time to spend on lunch. However, this one was a multi-legged microbus shaped like a crayfish, so unlike at breakfast, they did not have to worry about the wind while they ate.

“That thing really is a landmark. You can still see the Continent Egg from here. Only through the gaps between buildings, though.”

“Here, Ayato. Let me fix your hair.”

“Nhh.”

“Whew, what do they do in this town if it rains? I can only imagine it starts pouring on you from every direction.”

“I don’t think it rains here since Celedileka is located above the clouds. I haven’t seen any rain since we got here. Unless a truly powerful blizzard breaks through the Guardian Umbrella atmospheric shield, you probably don’t even need to check the forecast.”

For lunch, they ate a strange experimental dish of fried pasta made as flat as a rice cracker topped with a dip made by mashing up different vegetables and meats. Different noodle dishes could end up being very different depending on how the noodles were used.

“C-carbs and it’s fried?”

“?”

The blonde girl looked disheartened, but it tasted fine.

Ayato, who was generally a gentleman but not necessarily polite, reached for the remote-printed newspaper sitting on the counter.

“Hm, there really is a strong Forturiana influence here. Isn’t the story here that a saint defeated the Demon Lord instead of a hero? They sure are on good terms considering that Temple Moving Ceremony hasn’t been held yet.”

“Ayato.”

Teleria lightly scolded him while gesturing toward a young Priest woman sitting a short distance away whose shoulders shook. But her priest robe had a different design from the Forturiana one, so they continued the conversation.

“It’s like that everywhere on the sky city, but how are things on the surface continent, Coach?”

Yes, the silver-haired Dark Elf seemed interested in the topic.

“Their influence is around third or fourth there. They’re still a pretty powerful sect, though.”

“Sigh, yes. And it seems like they’re growing through the proliferation of magic,” said Teleria. “They claim to not be working with deadly weapons, but they do donate to sorcery gun research.”

“In the name of designing ‘everyday household tools’ of course. But is that really true?”

“?”

“Forturiana claims to help people with magic recoil disease and mana allergies, but I’ve never heard of anyone having either one. They’re a large group and everything they do stands out, but I bet they’re actually in the red.”

After they filled their stomachs while discussing that, they began planning for their attack on the extraordinary sniper.

“Given her firepower, any barrier that can be activated at the pull of a trigger would only be blown through, so we shouldn’t even think about defending against it,” explained Ayato. “If you don’t actually dodge it, you will lose your life.”

“Th-this is Mamilis’s first battle, so won’t this be a little too hard for her!?”

“Good point. You don’t have to participate in this deadly battle if you only want to learn how to be a Forward. Our goal is to ruin this sniper’s plan that seems like it will have a critical effect on Sky City Celedileka as a whole given the secret information received from the urban design manager, but we’re doing that to clear our names. However, Miss Mamilis, you do not need to do that. To be honest, I can’t think of any reason why you should force yourself to come with us.”

“I’m still going.”

“Then I won’t stop you.”

It was as easy as that. Whether to keep going or pull back was an important decision for a Forward who had no backup to call in. Most everyone was self-taught in this field, so the habits picked up early tended to stick around to the bitter end. Removing these hurdles from Mamilis’s path now would not necessarily be in her best interest. Even if that meant more risk in the short-term. That was how Ayato saw it.

Once the food stall microbus approached their destination, they ended their long conversation and left.

Teleria futilely tried to hold down her skirt while the updraft blew up at them.

“S-so what are we going to do!?”

“The same as always: we do it Sorcery Hacker style. In other words, we end this before they can even get started!”

Luckily, Wind Castle Town Silphine had sorcery device traffic lights floating everywhere to handle the many artificial air currents, so securing processing space was not difficult. Ayato drew his sword as he flew around and started stabbing into those ball-shaped devices to increase his power.

He removed the crystal tarot cards from his blue blazer’s breast pocket, so they floated along with him.

“Level 9. Not quite the resonance I want.”

Ayato, Teleria, and Mamilis circled behind a group of high-rise buildings and clung to the wall of one. They were at least 1000 esoule[10] from the ground, but that was fairly low down in this wind town.

“We need to be careful.”

They slipped in through a window, but this was not the dangerous sniper’s hideout. The artificial wind was convenient, but the silence provided by the barrier of stone and glass was still nice.

Ayato cut across an empty room with no furniture to speak of and no sign of being lived in. He moved from the back to the front window. After confirming the position, he nodded.

“Okay, the sniper’s hideout is on the other side of the road there.”

That was about 40 esoule[11] away. That was not close range even for a sniper, but the real problem was all the people, things, and vehicles moving every which way through that space. If they fired any magic now, they could easily hit the ordinary people at the accessory shops or mobile restaurants serving seafood pasta.

“What do we do?”

“I hacked a few traffic lights on the way here, so I can use those to keep people away when we make the shot.”

With that, Ayato stepped away from the window and slipped past Mamilis who had deactivated her Mimic Options to reveal her distinctive long ears. Those must have been restrictive because the Dark Elf seemed to free herself from them whenever she was outside of the public eye.

The empty room had no furniture, but the insides of the walls were not empty. After making some estimations from the locations of the pillars and ducts, he drew his Linkage Plug sword and faced the wall covered in simple wallpaper. When he stabbed the tip in and pulled it vertically down, the wall “opened” like he had removed a large panel.

Inside was a long vertical space and some pipes running in straight lines.

“This should work. There’s a restaurant above here, so they have a largescale fire system in case of emergency. I’ll resonate with its processing space. If it’s Level 5 that should be about right.”

“Hm? Hmm???”

“You two wait here. I’m going to borrow a ballista crane from a rooftop around here.”

While releasing a new blade from the ones compressed in the hilt, he returned to the back entrance.

“And Miss Teleria, you have trouble with fire magic, don’t you?”

“Why would you bring that up when you already know the answer? Uhh.”

“Then we will have to bet on Miss Mamilis’s debut battle. Prepare your full-auto shotgun.”

“???”

The Dark Elf’s mind went blank when she was suddenly selected for what seemed like a major role, but Ayato had more to tell her.

“First, I will tie a bundle of steel beams to the end of the ballista crane and send that crashing into the hideout being used by Critical Disaster’s owner. That should make her escape through a different window.”

“Coach, what is a ballista crane?”

“That.” Ayato pointed to the giant crossbow-like machine at the top of a building under construction. “These are ultra-high-rise buildings with wind blowing every which way, right? A normal crane would be useless. The walkways giving everything that uneven jungle gym look can apparently be raised like drawbridges, but that can only do so much. They use a ballista – a type of siege weapon – to launch a thick wire, the sorcery device wings on either side of the hook catch the wind, and it accurately weaves its way between the jungle gym arrangement here. They are modeled after bees, so they should be able come to a complete stop at the desired floor and even return to their original location without tangling everything up like you would if you simply reeled it back in. Of course, they’re still sending a wire out through this town where aerial movement is so common, so they still have to be careful.”

Mamilis’s face clouded over. Just because she loved her weapon designer of a grandmother apparently did not mean she unconditionally liked all sorcery devices. She also appeared unsure what kind of stance to take with the shotgun she held. He felt bad putting the Dark Elf through this kind of dilemma, but he preferred seeing this than seeing her innocently grab and accept the weapon without giving it any real thought.

“I’ll be stealing that from the construction site over there. As a diversion. If we know what route she’ll take, you can’t miss. Now, Miss Mamilis, I would like for you to end this with your magic. You do not have to worry about the window. Just prepare to take the shot while indoors and I will throw open the window when the timing is right.”

“Eh? But, Coach, will it really work that well my very first time???”

“You don’t have to hit. That’s a shotgun, after all. You just have to pull the trigger, so it’s no different from lighting the kitchen stove.”

Ayato specialized in Sorcery Hacking and did not use an obvious sorcery gun.

But despite that…

“If you prepare the magical spark, I can do the rest with the traffic lights. You may have forgotten, but that isn’t just ordinary wind blowing around here. It’s magically-created wind. If I keep that massive manaflow from being converted into wind and then concentrate it and send it into the road as a liquid spray, it will fuse with the magical fire you create and trigger a huge explosion. And this explosion will rival that dragon in Flared.”

Part 10

“…”

“Whew, the battle is finally over.”

That exchange was held in the microbus food stall shaped a lot like a crayfish that was riding the artificial air currents below the sunny and starry sky. The “battle” here was of course the lunchtime rush. Restaurant customers came in waves, so selecting a workplace based on the averaged-out amount of work listed on the help wanted ad would end badly.

These vehicle-based food stalls could start doing business fairly cheaply, but their mobility meant they could not install Media Summoners which had to connect to the mist mana arranged in a web-like pattern around the city. It was a wireless technology, but the requirement to place devices at the fixed starting and ending points of the mist mana lines left much to be desired. This place’s owner envied the restaurants that positioned themselves on the giant walkway rooftops. Without the television, radio, and data searching that the young people wanted, the baby-faced apprentice with a towel around his head only had the owner to focus on.

The youth placed a hand on his shoulder and spun that arm around while giving the older man a puzzled look.

“Is something wrong?”

“No.”

Once the lunchtime rush was over, it was time to check on their sales, but the unrefined owner was focused on a certain coin instead.

“Our selling point is how cheaply we can provide a satisfying meal, so it just seems unusual for someone to pay with a royal gold[12]

“Yeah, that is pretty weird. But they probably just wanted change. No one likes being directly asked to break a royal gold after all.”

“…”

“Why do you keep flipping it over? Do you think it might be counterfeit? Ha ha. We’re too dumb to tell if it’s real or not. We don’t have an eye for the Light-Dark Duality. Oh, or is it true you can tell by biting it?”

If it’s a real counterfeit coin, I imagine there would be no way to tell the difference.”

That did not seem to be what the owner was interested in.

“That trio didn’t look all that rich to me, but this coin isn’t particularly scraped up yet it doesn’t look like it was some great treasure of theirs either. Something about it rubs me wrong. It’s like seeing an old man sleeping under a bridge with a gold watch hanging from his pocket.”

“Um, so should we contact the authorities?”

“I’m not sure. I don’t want to get caught up in any trouble.”

The scales in his mind kept tipping back and forth.

And at times like this, a certain person came to mind.

“Yeah, we should contact her.”

“Probably, but I’m always worried she’s overworking herself with how many people go to her for help.”

Yes.

The people were the greatest warning system. Just like a certain Striker had worked so hard to ensure.

Part 11

After stabbing his sword into the ballista crane on the other rooftop, Ayato easily slipped between a shop that sold accessories made of monster wings and scales and a mobile restaurant that specialized in seafood pasta in order to return to the empty room from which they planned to make their attack.

That ridiculous sniper’s hideout was right in front of them.

A midair road filled with people, things, and vehicles sat between them and Teleria and Mamilis were observing things through the thick window that kept the powerful wind out. He placed his hands on Teleria’s shoulders from behind and pulled her toward him.

“Hyah!?”

“If you get too close to the window, she might notice you.”

“H-how can you do things like this so naturally? And if you really thought that would happen, you would seem more worried.”

“Have you seen her?”

“A few glimpses. Maybe she isn’t going anywhere today.”

Mamilis’s long ears poked out through her silver hair and she did not seem bothered by the other two’s flirting.

Ayato focused on the building across the street as well.

“So that’s the sniper in question, huh? Still…”

He could see a red figure at the window. She had long, flowing hair and a curvy body. She had the look of a determined woman and she wore a red leather outfit formed from a vest and a longish tight skirt with slits in the sides. She wore floating Expansion Armor like Teleria’s long skirt, but hers looked like giant bat wings. No, a closer look showed she also had what looked like horns and a thick tail.

That may have been about right for this wind town. Ayato knew how trying to be as inconspicuous as possible could make you stand out even more, but this woman clearly had confidence in her body given how much of her bodylines she was showing off.

Then the Sorcery Hacker frowned.

(That wing… No, it couldn’t be. Am I overthinking this?)

He could not see the anti-dragon rifle. She must not have kept it with her at all times.

“Have you seen anyone else there? Like roommates, visitors, and pizza deliverers?”

The two girls shook their heads.

He traced his fingers across his floating Linkage Monitor crystal tarot cards and approached the side of the window.

“Then let’s get started. Miss Mamilis, prepare your sorcery gun. Miss Teleria, you provide support if she screws it up.”

“Eh? Like I said, I’m not good at fire magic.”

“Not that way. This is her first time doing this, so if she loses control of the explosion, I would really appreciate it if you cast recovery magic on me before I’m roasted here by the window.”

“Eeeeeeek!”

The blonde girl sounded much more afraid than necessary and Ayato glanced over at her while making the final check.

“The plan is as follows: I will use the lights to keep people and vehicles away, I will fire the ballista crane at her hideout, I will open the window to clear a line of fire, Miss Mamilis will launch her fire magic once the sniper woman leaves her hideout, and I will send a liquified manaflow into that to trigger a massive explosion in her direction. That might sound like a lot, but I want to complete it all before I can count to five in my head.”

“O-okay.”

There must not have been any good end point for the air currents here because there were no shops or restaurants on the walls, so controlling the lights was enough to keep other people away from here.

“Do not confirm the previous step is complete before continuing to the next; we will essentially be doing everything at once. It will take time for the people to disappear after I control the lights and it will take time for the steel beams attached to the ballista crane’s hook to hit the hideout after it is fired, so I want to begin on the next step while those are still underway. Focus on the countdown in your head more than the things you see happening.”

“Got it, Coach.”

“Really, it’s like cooking. You can save a lot of time by chopping the vegetables while you wait for the pot to boil, right? Be more flexible and make sure you do your job.”

“Hmm.”

“Now, before we begin, I will provide you with the magic words, Miss Mamilis: You are my only hope.”

“Pretty sure that doesn’t work on me.”

“(You say that and your expression might be blank, but I can see your long ears twitching!!)”

She was sniping, but she did not have to stand right up at the window. Nor did she need to attach all sorts of accessories like a scope or bipod. The Dark Elf aimed the full-auto shotgun with drum magazine toward the closed window from the center of the room. Ayato glanced over at her while he placed a hand on the window frame and flicked one of his floating crystal tarot cards to change its position relative to the others.

All of the ball-shaped traffic lights floating outside changed their display.

“Phase 1.”

Ayato did not bother watching the result of that change as he manipulated his cards again. This time, the crane on top of another building swung around and the thick steel beams attached to the end of the thick wire took aim.

At that distance, there would be a slight time lag between the launch and the hit.

As long as the people, things, and vehicles left the air before then, it would all work out.

“Phase 2, Miss Mamilis.”

“…”

Just as the people vanished, the steel beams crashed into the opposite building wall.

Mamilis found herself staring at the skillful coordination that felt like something from a parade, but when Ayato called her name, she frantically looked through her full-auto shotgun’s sight again.

Something moved at the window as if forced out by that external stimulation.

It was a devil in red leather.

That very real threat had fired the devastating Critical Disaster on the city already.

She forcibly opened a large window and started to throw herself out into the empty air.

The Dark Elf was acting as a sniper, but she did not have to directly hit this target. Her role was to trigger a fire, just like a wife lighting the kitchen stove for some cooking.

So it was fortunate she did not have to look too closely at her target.

If she had seen someone with a humanoid form much like her own, her finger would likely have stopped there.

Ayato gave her the final push she needed.

He threw open the window and the wind from outside slammed into her face.

She seemed to pull the trigger more out of surprise than anything. A red muzzle flash colored the air and a torrent of mist mana burst through that while transforming into a supernatural phenomenon with real power behind it. A used shotgun shell, with the surface of the mist mana hardened by the impurity powder and the high temperature, lost its light as it was spat from the ejection port. The gunshot flew out the window after transforming into the crimson flames that Teleria had trouble with.

“Phase 3.”

That just left switching over control of the traffic lights to stop the artificial air current and sending out the highly concentrated manaflow as spray. Fire would not cause condensed mana like that to burn, but magic fire or water were a different matter. Liquefied mana inside bullet cartridges was dangerous because it could cause an explosion, but the degree of the interference was all in how you used it. If he used one of the manaflows supporting the city traffic infrastructure to create a blazing gust of wind, that orange dragon would swallow up their target.

Everything was going according to plan.

He only had to flick one of the ultra-thin crystal tarot cards floating in the air.

However.

The line Ayato Criminaltrophy was using to control it all was severed.

He could not use the traffic lights to control the manaflow that was normally used to create wind.

The arcana images vanished from the crystal tarot cards, so they became no more than transparent panels.

The spark launched by Mamilis Coster left the window, twisted around, and faded away in the air. However, the gunshot and magic must have drawn their opponent’s attention.

His eyes clearly met those of the red leather woman with false wings spread wide.

“It didn’t work!? Um, Coach, I…!!”

“It wasn’t your fault! Damn, did someone interfere with all the traffic lights that convert the wind!?”

The red leather sniper had initially tried to escape from the window, but now he wondered if she had detected their actions and fought back. In other words, he wondered if she too was a Sorcery Hacker.

But something was not right.

All three of them heard several sets of heavy metallic clanking take up positions outside the window and on the other side of the wall.

“Kyah!?”

Teleria was shocked by a disgusting sensation like metallic bugs were crawling all over that wall. She lost her balance, so Ayato took her arm and pulled her close.

“Is that the knights?”

“Sorcery Hacker! We would like a word with you concerning the incident in Fire Castle Town Flared!!”

(That’s an obvious diversion. They’ll be sending a strike team in from the back. If we let that voice scare us and try to escape out the back, we’ll be hit with a surprise attack.)

Someone must have called the knights on them and those knights had reset everything to retake control of the traffic lights without considering what Ayato’s group might be trying to do. That was why he had not been able to use the manaflow meant to transform Mamilis’s spark into a finishing blow.

Out the window and at the building across the way, the long-haired devil woman was stepping up onto the windowsill and throwing herself out into the air. Her thick tail swished side to side as if mocking him. Was that the long, narrow case for a fishing rod hanging from her shoulder? That item did not suit this wind town at all. What she was actually hiding inside went without saying. She was a sniper, after all.

“Wh-what do we do!?”

She was going to get away after all this.

Ayato was not going to hold back now. He whispered in tearful Teleria’s ear while still holding her close.

“I still have the ballista crane.”

The steel beams on the end of the giant crossbow’s wire crashed into their own building.

The knights out front were a diversion for the real attack in the rear.

That meant the knights had not planned for a bold escape through the front window. Simply eliminating the group on the outside wall would be enough to throw the scene into chaos. Ayato calmly analyzed the situation while glancing over to see Mamilis putting on her earrings to hide her distinctive long ears.

The heavy bundle slipped through the uneven jungle gym structure of this town and mercilessly blew away the wall.

The time of chaos was nigh.

Below the sunny and starry sky, the boy jumped out of the high-rise building’s window with Teleria in his right hand and Mamilis in his left.

“Wahh!?”

“Miss Teleria, scream if you like, but do not forget our objective here. We must pursue the sniper!!”

The foolish knights had reset all the traffic lights in this area, so all the air currents were even and indistinct. The effects of this branched out over a wider area, so the people, things, and vehicles that would normally never collide had to twist around under their own power to avoid danger.

And amid all that…

“Wow, she’s fast!!”

They pursued the demonic sniper who was switching from one air current to the next to escape, but they could not seem to catch up. She maintained a distance of about 50 esoule[13] ahead. This was not the result of her large decorative wings catching the wind. The answer was obvious once he observed that false-winged sniper as she took sharp turns with almost no time loss.

“I see.”

“Y-you see what!?”

“I would like to move quickly, so let go of your skirt for now. And it is not those decorative wings that are helping her here. She places her feet on the walls when making a turn. Instead of just floating, she is using that footing to control her flight. That seems to let her make sharper turns!”

Sometimes she used the building walls themselves and sometimes she used the signs or the roofs of the tent-shaped shops attached perpendicularly to the walls, but she used it all to move out ahead.

Of course, she was making contact with stationary objects while moving at high speed. When she seemingly stroked those surfaces with the high-heeled feet sticking out from her slit skirt, the slightest mistake in the force used could have broken or shattered her ankles. Just because he knew how it worked did not mean he could do it himself.

Also the sniper escaping ahead while flapping her Expansion Armor wings was not the only problem.

The Dark Elf looked back and raised her voice while continuing to ride the artificial currents.

“We’re being pursued too!! Coach, the knights are coming!!”

“!!”

He grabbed her shoulder and took a large right turn at the next intersection.

An intense barrage of magic arrived a moment later.

The white beams fired at them were “weathering”. They were probably Tertiary Ex Weathering from the wind element which excelled at status effects. Anything those hit would be broken apart at the microscopic level, have gaps opened within it, and be blown away like dust in the wind. This would affect living creatures and metal alike, so the knights must not have been thinking about taking them alive.

The knights were using semi-auto rifles that had once been retired from use and later brought back and improved once their accuracy and power in mid-range sniping was reassessed. They had the obvious power of a large caliber and they were convenient enough to produce certain results no matter who wielded them, so they were known for being strictly banned from sale to civilians.

However.

“Wait, you idiots! Run away!!”

Ayato shouted at them, but did those pursuing knights know what he was referring to?

The fearsome beam reminiscent of a dragon attack blew away that threat like it was nothing.

When Ayato’s group quickly turned the corner at the intersection, the weathering magic fired by the pursuing knights must have continued on toward the sniper with the Expansion Armor wings. That horned woman must have concluded she was under attack and returned fire. People were free to throw stones to knock down a hornet’s nest if they liked, but what if a hibernating bear’s den was located back behind there? That was what the knights had done.

(That power and that beam. I would recognize it anywhere.)

Ayato’s heart filled with an unpleasant certainty as he left the intersection and passed by a mobile shop shaped like a ladybug.

It was nothing short of a miracle that none of the shops and restaurants on the walls here had been blown away.

(That’s the anti-dragon rifle that started all this by sending Funny Snatch’s group to their graves in Flared. That settles it! She really is the person who framed us!!)

He was reminded just how absurdly powerful that thing was.

It was bright enough to blot out the sunny and starry sky.

The magic had been amplified so far he could not even hazard a guess at what it had originally been. There was no trace of its original form remaining. He was amazed by the power of the anti-dragon rifle hidden in the fishing rod case and by the skill of the red leather woman who could control that absurd level of recoil while moving at high speed with no footing to speak of.

“Wah, wah, wah!!”

“Calm down, Miss Teleria. Here, I will hold you tight to help.”

“~ ~ ~!!!???”

“Coach, I’m pretty sure that’s going to do the opposite. Although making her mind go blank so she freezes up might work out in the end.”

Now that the rookie Dark Elf had their dynamic figured out so well, the blushing and dizzy blonde girl had nowhere to turn.

“Miss Teleria, do try to speak in human language. Also, those knights were wearing dark gray armor. That is their combat armor made from oxidized mana-conducting silver protectors and large monster tendons and leather. It provides both a physical boosting effect and magical defense. The soundproofing at the weak points is not perfect, but it is guaranteed to keep them alive. They will not die so easily.”

“Monster…urp, uwehhhhhh.”

“?”

If the knights and the sniper woman would fight each other and slow each other down, that was fine with him. His group had left the shortest route and turned a corner to avoid the knights’ attacks, so they had start pursuing that absurdly-powerful sniper again.

The deafening sounds of gunfire told him where she was even with a tall building in the way. The knights knew they were straying from their original target, but they must not have been able to ignore such a powerful threat. Ayato, Teleria, and Mamilis turned a corner toward the source of the noise.

“Eeeek! It sounds like that one woman is winning out against the organized power of the knights.”

“That means she must be preparing for something that requires enough power to overpower the knights. She already used human traffickers to capture the city’s urban design manager, so what could she be planning?”

Was it due to their altitude or because they were approaching the center?

As soon as they turned the corner, a giant windmill’s blades came into view. Each blade was 35 esoule[14] long and the windmill used four of them to catch the artificial air currents needed to heavily rotate them. It likely compressed the mana spread thinly through the air as mist and sent it through an underground pipeline to help power central Light Castle Brightio. Teleria screamed, so he grabbed her arm and ducked below the blade that approached from above like a guillotine while continuing to gain ground on the brutal sniper.

The Dark Elf gulped while holding her full-auto shotgun in both hands.

“The sound disappeared, Coach.”

“We’re about to catch up. We’ll reach the next intersection at the same time!”

But tracking the red leather devil woman’s position was the most Ayato could manage, so he had to delay doing anything as a Sorcery Hacker. He had lost most of his resonating processing space when the knights reset the traffic lights, so all he had left was the fire system he had found inside the empty room’s wall. Also, that only let him operate that stationary ballista crane and the hook equipped with giant bee wings could only be fired so far. Wildly firing that wire would only get other people caught in the crossfire, so he had to assume that would not help.

(There are the machines that scatter the visualization flower petals, there are the light fixtures, and…argh, the stores on the walls are in the way!)

He had to use his Linkage Plug to build things up from scratch, so he needed Teleria or Mamilis to buy him some time with their magic. But that would mean using those girls as a shield by placing them in front of that sniper who wielded enough firepower to directly overpower the organized strength of the knights.

They only had one chance here.

(The air currents are controlled by low-level traffic lights. If I can stab my sword into one of those to control it, I can mess with the current and strength of the air current. Disturbing the current the sniper is using to slow her down is the only real option here!!)

One of those ball-shaped traffic lights floated at the center of the upcoming intersection.

He focused on the sword at his hip.

And the moment arrived.

They were 1500 esoule[15] up from the base of the city.

As two air currents intersected, the sniper used her Expansion Armor wings and tail in the wind and just barely shared the same space and time as Ayato’s group. Time seemed to slow to a crawl. They were close enough to smell each other’s hair, but there was nothing shared between their hearts.

“!!”

“!?”

Ayato drew his Linkage Cable sword to take control of the traffic light and locally control the air currents, but the woman with devilish horns swung around the anti-dragon rifle sorcery gun that was longer than she was tall and struck his blade, redirecting it. However, their close range worked against her, so the devil woman in red leather could not actually aim the enormous weapon at her target.

Neither one of them could accomplish what they wanted.

And time sped back up to normal.

The scenery flew by and the distance between them stretched out infinitely once more. He nearly crashed into one of the walkways creating the jungle gym look of this town, but he just barely managed to regain his balance at high speed.

“Again!! We need to cross that sniper’s route again before we lose sight of her!!”

Just as he shouted that, the sniper took action sooner than expected.

The fearsome beam of that anti-dragon rifle ignored the street made from artificial air currents and the row of towering buildings as it attacked. Yes, she used its destructive power to blast right through the building in between them.

(…!?)

This one caught him entirely by surprise.

Even Ayato felt like an icy hand was squeezing at his heart, but this was not aimed at him or at the ordinary people standing perpendicular on the wall. The wind blew in through the smashed wall, but the people in the stores were miraculously safe. That woman’s skill really was astounding. But what had she been shooting?

It was one of the ball-shaped sorcery devices floating in the air.

She had vaporized the traffic light that organized traffic by controlling the air currents for this area.

“Wha-?”

Ayato himself had tried to control that very device to slow down the sniper, but the woman with her Expansion Armor tail waving had chosen to destroy it instead of control it.

With the traffic light gone, the artificially-managed air current vanished.

Ayato’s group had been freely soaring through the sky as if swimming, but that movement suddenly changed.

They fell.

“Kyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh!?” screamed Teleria.

Ayato reached out a hand almost on reflex and pulled the blonde girl close.

An instinctual fear ran down his spine as he felt gravity clutching at his stomach, but they were not going to crash into the ground right away. Wind Castle Town Silphine had countless air currents intersecting like knit wool. They had lost one, but they just had to catch a ride on another one lower down.

But it was true they had lost that smooth control.

They were blasted in an entirely different direction like they had boarded the wrong train.

“Where’s that sniper!?” he shouted.

“It’s no use!” answered Mamilis. “I can’t see her anymore!!”

Changing “tracks” must have made Mamilis panic because she tried to reach for a nearby mobile shop modified from a longhorn beetle sorcery taxi, but Ayato quickly stopped her. He was not going to let her break or shatter a bone.

This result made everything feel dark and hopeless, but the devil woman in red leather had not literally disappeared. She was still in this wind town, so they could still pursue her.

Or so he thought.

However…

“What is that? Dammit!”

Ayato Criminaltrophy finally realized where the sniper had sent them.

They were being swept toward the many people and beetle-like sorcery vehicles clinging to the wall of a giant building.

Except all of these people carried large sorcery guns and wore identical asphalt-colored armor made from oxidized mana-conducting silver protectors and large monster leather and tendons.

“Really!? Straight to the knights’ local command post!?”

It was too late to complain now.

There was only one exit from that invisible slide made from a powerful air current, so Ayato’s group was forced to land on the wall right in the middle of the enemy formation.

Part 12

Henrietta Split Destrius had sensed an odd change to the “flow” of events. The Sorcery Hackers had supposedly been running from the peacekeeping knights, so she doubted they would charge right into the knights’ formation for no reason. Most likely, some third party had intentionally intervened. And that Striker with a blonde braid, dark gray protector armor, and a tight miniskirt was not careless enough to assume the enemy of their enemy was their friend.

But whatever their circumstances, these people here were undoubtedly sorcery criminals.

Also, it was highly likely they were a vigilante group that had fought some other criminals in the fire town and vaporized their opponents with high-power magic.

(This is wrong of me.)

The weight of the large sorcery gun at her hip felt comforting to Henrietta right now.

(I should not be finding comfort in a tool of killing. A Striker’s focus should be on compassion and decorum.)

Her father had been unable to die in battle.

With the world at peace, the royals and nobles had held parties on a daily or nightly basis, so their lives were taken by excessive alcohol and salty meat dishes instead of an enemy’s blade. Her father had been a simple and honest warrior, so he must not have been able to keep up with those machiavellian people who had nothing but soft fangs in their mouths. She had been unable to look at her father in those final days when the stress and lifestyle diseases had left him bedridden. He had passed away while deliriously insisting he wanted to die in battle and that he wanted to take a blade for someone.

She had been unable to grant him his wish.

But after succeeding him as a very young head of the family, Henrietta had chosen to carry their family’s honor by placing herself in the dangerous sorts of duties he had always aspired to.

The title of knight had been stolen by those filthy white hat hackers and she had instead taken the temporary title of Striker that did not have any history behind it, but that was fine with her.

What she had to do remained the same.

She had a body to use and an enemy to defeat, so if this would protect the people and the king’s honor, nothing would delight her more.

“Striker Destrius.”

“Stay focused, Solder Shadelose.”

She slowly exhaled while viewing her target.

“Just do this like we always do.”

Part 13

They had no time.

Even now, the sniper with devil wings was escaping further and further away.

“Sorcery Hacker.”

But Ayato felt things changing when a female voice sharply questioned him.

They were on a different set or rails now.

He wanted to pursue that red leather woman right away, but he could not ignore this either.

They were surrounded by a group of around ten wearing protector-based combat armor colored a dark gray, but the one beautiful woman wore some nicer-looking armor. Why had she chosen that technologically-inferior armor? She wore her long blonde hair in a single braid down to her hips, her hand slowly reached for the large sorcery gun worn at the side of her hip, and she appeared to be the one in charge here.

He heard some solid clanking sounds from directly behind him. The elites who had survived the fury of the anti-dragon rifle had caught up and landed on the wall of the building.

But he could not take his eyes off the person in front of him.

The pressure coming from that female knight with braided blonde hair was different from the rest. There was no warmup in combat. You could not hold anything in reserve for later. If he let his focus shift even slightly, he would be devoured immediately.

He could tell.

“Disarm yourselves and surrender at once. We will give you one chance here. We have no problem at all with shooting all three of you to end this.”

“Hm, you real knights are nothing like the ones in the storybooks.”

“Excuse me, I am Striker Henrietta Split Destrius. My court rank is viscount. Unlike you, I hold a position where I need not hide my appearance and name behind a handle name. It is a pleasure to meet you.”

“We clearly live in very different worlds because that just sounds suicidal to me.”

Ayato slowly raised his hands and observed his surroundings by moving just his eyes and keeping his head motionless. They were on the wall of the high-rise building. In addition to the asphalt-colored knights, there were also a few six-legged sorcery vehicles parked around them. He could Sorcery Hack those if he had a manaflow to work with, but…

(Even the cheapest vehicle is Level 8 while I only have 6 to work with. There’s nothing I can do right now. And those knights’ protector armor is more than twice that.)

Their levels were high and they blocked the way forward and back. Ayato had not stabbed his sword’s blades into various devices to build up his processing space, so he was stuck like this for now.

(Whatever the case, I need to get to a higher level. I can’t do anything without doing that.)

Clank, clank, CLINK. Ayato’s footsteps rang out as he slowly walked toward the group in front of him with his hands still in the air.

Henrietta drew the large sorcery gun from her hip.

It was based on a large-caliber bolt-action rifle, but it was a carbine with a collapsible metal stock attached to the back and a giant axe attached like a bayonet either as a formality or for military demonstrations. However, he could not quite figure out what it was for. It might have decent penetrative power and accuracy with a scope by using its long-range and large caliber, but then what was that axe for? It seemed overly decorative to him, much like that armor with a miniskirt.

“Do you intend to survive this?”

“I certainly don’t intend to surrender.”

With a rough noise, Henrietta pulled back the bolt-action cocking lever to load a round into the chamber.

“(Miss Mamilis.)”

Nevertheless, Ayato whispered in the Dark Elf’s ear with his hands still raised.

“(What magic do you have loaded at the moment?)”

“(The simplest one: Primary Blaze.)”

“(Then,)” he began. “(You are my only hope. Fire at the window directly below us.)”

The full-auto shotgun sorcery gun with a drum magazine attached produced a muzzle flash toward their feet and fire magic exploded out. The three of them immediately disappeared. They were standing on the side of a building and the wall they stood on had windows at set intervals. It went without saying what happened when Ayato, Teleria, and Mamilis stood on that thick glass and then shattered it.

The shotgun self-replicated the magic designated by the bullet itself and fanned it out from the barrel. The thick reinforced glass may have been designed to withstand the powerful winds and artificial air currents up here, but this was too much for it.

“Kyah!!”

The blonde girl’s scream echoed out. They had been standing where the air current pushed them against the wall, so they had slipped right inside the building. Gunshots rang out from the outside wall, but it was too late now.

Ayato reflexively tried to pull the blonde girl close when he heard her scream, but someone else responded faster. Rookie Mamilis grabbed Teleria’s hand and helped her up in his place.

“Oh?”

“Oh, no. If this student proves to be a little too capable and steals this role from me, that happy sensation will forever slip from my fingers!!”

“I’m not going anywhere, Ayato, so don’t look even more panicked about this than everything else that’s happened today!!”

The fading red shotgun shell finally fell into the building with a metallic clinking.

Ayato spun around to view their surroundings.

Teleria (while still held by the Dark Elf) pulled her dual handguns from their holsters, pressed the slides against her forehead, and used the power of her mind to transform the letters and numbers on the disintegrating lead bullets into something more combat-oriented.

There was a brightly-polished floor, decorative potted plants, and the giant crystal orb of a Media Summoner. A brand-new six-legged vehicle sat in the middle of the shop. This must have been a luxury shop shielded from the winds outside.

“A display store for sorcery vehicles?”

“Ugh, they’re like driven weapons…”

“Miss Mamilis, there is nothing to fear from that machine. And Miss Teleria, fire some warning shots toward the workers and customers, but do not hit anyone. Miss Mamilis, keep track of your remaining shots while firing toward the window!”

“Oh, honestly! Secondary Water Jet!!”

The blonde girl fired a straight line of pressurized water up at the ceiling using her twin handguns and the Dark Elf used the Primary Blaze fire magic to construct a giant wall of small explosions at the window through which they had entered.

The floor was soon littered with red shotgun shells covered with a hardened film of mist mana. The shells flashed like sparks as they fell.

They had sent the extra people away from here while buying time until the knights could break in. Ayato had to make his move during that time. He drew his Linkage Plug sword, stabbed it into the floor, and removed a perfectly-hidden square panel. Several pipes ran through the floor.

(The sprinkler control and the A/C equipment. That’s Level 5. I’ll take that processing space to start with.)

He stabbed his sword in, pulled the trigger, and detached the grip from the blade before replacing the floor panel.

This time, they would be fighting on a narrow field. He had some more processing space now, but that was gone if the knights found the blade and pulled it out. That meant it had to remain hidden.

The giant snowdome-like Media Summoner connected to a long and narrow path of mist mana on the wall was being used as an advertisement display for new vehicles. He reached behind that and stabbed a blade into it.

(The Media Summoner is Level 3. That gives me a total of 14. With that much resonance, I can take over that display sorcery vehicle or even a knight’s protector armor if I can get a blade into it!)

“Wah, wah! Ayato! I just heard hurried footsteps from over there. In the hallway!”

“Yeah, they would search for another way around with the window blocked by that barrage.”

“Hm? Then can I stop, Coach?”

“No, Miss Mamilis, you keep at it. Miss Teleria, fire on my signal. On the count of three!”

Heavily-equipped knights charged in through the same door the workers and customers had used to flee the warning shot. Ayato used that moment to use the sprinklers under his control to send an artificial downpour on them.

Their armored feet must have slipped in the pouring rain.

“Ahh, ah!!”

“Miss Teleria, the finishing blow.”

She did not need a laser guide or dot sight. The blonde girl pulled her twin handguns’ triggers toward the dark gray knights who had tripped quite spectacularly. Fire erupted from the muzzles and the disintegrating lead bullets created blue muzzle flashes as bright as fireworks. The mist mana spewed blue sparks in full-auto and the muffled sound of suppressed gunfire rang out as spears of pressurized water were created. More and more shots of Secondary Water Jet stabbed into the defenseless knights. Since their armor was made to be wearable, the soundproofing around the vitals was not perfect.

“Keep going! Freeze their soaked armor if you can!!”

“That would kill the people inside, so I’m not doing that!!”

A surprise attack was no more than a surprise attack, so this would not work again.

But Ayato still thought they could win.

“Lean out into the hallway and keep firing. Take out as many as you can right now.”

“U-uwehhhh!! Okay, fine!!”

The soaking-wet blonde girl did as told and released a spray of full-auto fire into the straight hallway outside the door.

She had soon created a small pile of empty cartridges covered in a film from the impurity powder and high temperature. The fading blue lights scattered at her feet and lost their color like withering flowers.

Their opponents here were experts at keeping the peace. A thoughtless spray of magic would not normally score a clean hit on them, but things were different here.

“Gyah!?”

“Dammit, what!? I can’t see it!!”

“It’s water magic, but it’s hard to see because it’s blending into the sprinkler water!!”

It was the same idea as being unable to read red writing in a red light. With the sprinklers sending down a shower of water, Teleria’s water attack magic blended into the background.

(We don’t have to defeat all of the knights. It takes one of them to treat another, so we just have to take out half of them. And we just want to run away, so we don’t have to defeat their big boss either. If we crush the underlings to trip them up, we can make our getaway!!)

He had built up a path to victory while outnumbered.

He chose not to confront them head-on because he recognized their skill. The more a Sorcery Hacker respected a formidable foe, the craftier a plan they would put together. If a clash could be avoided, nothing would be better. Direct combat was not the only way to fight. Whatever that blonde braided knight…no, that Striker thought, Ayato’s group’s win condition was escaping safely from this place.

Or so he thought.

However, the interior wall right next to him was suddenly smashed by brute force from the other side.

“Wha-?”

This assault operation entirely ignored the preexisting pathways.

The explosive destruction sent chunks of wall larger than his head flying like a scattershot. Teleria had been by the door to the hallway, but Mamilis was in the danger zone while holding the full-auto shotgun at her hip and firing toward the window from the center of the display area. He immediately grabbed the Dark Elf around her slender hips and knocked her to the floor.

“Mgyuh!!”

“Miss Mamilis, you really do have some ‘happiness’ despite your slender build.”

“Are you making a joke so I won’t worry about you, Coach? A piece of rubble just hit you in the back.”

He smiled and did not respond, but the blonde girl who did not know how to appreciate the little things in life interrupted them with a warning shot of water magic.

“C’mon, c’mon! Get up, get up!! This is serious!!”

“Yes, yes…ow.”

He slowed his breathing and tried to get up again.

The person who had destroyed the wall and now strolled in from the adjacent room was the blonde-braided Striker wearing the old model of tight skirt protector armor and carrying a bolt action carbine with an axe-like bayonet.

This was Henrietta Split Destrius.

A sniper rifle with a scope gave no advantage in an indoor battle like this, but she approached all the same.

“Nh!!”

Dark Elf Mamilis fired her full-auto magazine while still lying on her back after he pushed her down. It spat out a Primary Blaze blast along with the shotgun shell. The bright red muzzle flash spread out, the mist mana that pierced that produced explosion magic, and the many pieces of self-replicated fire magic fanned out to create a thick wall of explosions.

Yet it did not hit.

Magic’s range was equal to the reach of the gunshot sound, but this was not thanks to the partial soundproofing around the Striker’s vitals. A much larger system had prevented the magic from working.

A gust of wind blew in through the broken window and surrounded Henrietta’s slender body. The small tornado twisted and bent Mamilis’s lines of fire, sending them in the wrong direction. The walls and potted plants were caught by the explosions, but Henrietta remained unscathed. Shotgun shells the size of fingers were ejected to show the power being consumed and the last trace of their light scattered like sparks while their color faded like a withering flower.

“Sorcery Hacker, you are no more than a pest abusing but a portion of this city’s system.”

“Kh.”

“But we Strikers are the ones who built this city’s system. I hold the jackpot that allows me to draw out the city’s full power through the proper lines, so did you really think you could stand up to me with the power of a few chips you managed to swipe?”

Ayato did not bother listening to any more than that.

(I’m at Level 14. That display vehicle is 7!!)

He stabbed his Linkage Plug sword into the headlight of the six-legged sorcery vehicle sitting nearby and removed the grip from the blade. Then he started up the vehicle and had it drive right toward Henrietta.

While hearing the fearsome sound of impact, he grabbed the silver-haired Dark Elf’s slender arm and pulled her up from the floor. Then he ran to the hallway door where Teleria was.

But the threat was not gone.

With a deafening crash, the beetle-like sorcery vehicle meant to crash into the Striker at full speed was knocked aside.

She seemingly swept it aside with just the one hand.

Dark-skinned Mamilis gulped.

“What was that? I know she’s wearing combat armor made from oxidized mana-conducting silver and large monster tendons and leather, but that doesn’t strengthen her physical abilities!!”

“That wasn’t that wind defense using the city infrastructure either, was it!?” added Teleria.

There was only one other option.

Henrietta carried a carbine with an axe-like bayonet. However, she did not bother aiming at them. She had pointed the muzzle overhead and did not even look through the scope.

And she made a single shot.

“Buff: Primary Ex Massive.”

Based on the letters and numbers carved into the disintegrating lead bullet by her willpower, a muzzle flash burst out like a scarlet firework and her body explosively swelled out. The soles of her boots dug at the floor and she charged toward Ayato with fearsome speed.

(That sorcery weapon isn’t a projectile weapon meant to safely fire elemental magic from afar. It’s specialized for buffing her own physical abilities for a direct clash!!!???)

The power and accuracy of the sorcery gun itself did not matter.

She had never considered hitting her enemy with it.

“Hh!!”

Ayato pulled the Dark Elf in close and placed himself in front of the blonde girl while just barely managing to swing the trigger-equipped sword he used for Sorcery Hacking. Henrietta’s axe-like bayonet was not just a decorative formality or for military demonstrations. She used ultra-close-range tactics where that was her primary weapon and everything else was no more than accessories.

He could not hope to defeat a fully-equipped professional at point-blank range.

As soon as the blade and bayonet axe collided, his entire body lost balance to the side.

(Damn, and I could hack that sorcery gun if I could only stab it!!)

Henrietta spun around and made another strike with the axe blade from a completely different angle more than twenty times faster than the boy could recover. A hit from that would kill him instantly.

“(Secondary Rupture. Um, and then!!)”

Teleria was supposedly safe behind him, but instead of relying that, she pressed the slide of her handgun to her forehead, changed the type of magic being used, and pulled the trigger at extreme close range.

With the muffled sound of the suppressed gunfire, an ultra-pressurized line of water shot out, burst, and produced an explosion of water. Instead of hitting Henrietta, it was meant to launch Ayato and the other two through the door and into the hallway.

And that girl had two handguns.

She fired that water magic with one, but she had apparently used a variant of recovery magic with the other.

The Dark Elf spoke with her healthy skin soaking wet while the boy continued to hold her in one arm.

“That stings.”

“You should be thankful it only stings after being hit by a blast like that!!” insisted Teleria.

The knights who had yet to be defeated were waiting for them in the hallway, but Teleria’s water magic and Mamilis’s fire magic made short work of them (while those two were still collapsed on the floor). The floor was covered with empty cartridges with their red or blue light rapidly fading like withering flowers.

If they kept fighting blindly, they would end up cornered.

Ayato had to think.

“Outside!! This labyrinthine building is perfect for Henrietta’s close-range specialty!!”

They had a plan now.

They all ran for the emergency exit sign inside that hallway extending to the left and right.

The wall collapsed near the door where they had been lying on the floor a moment before, the dust cloud was torn apart, and Henrietta walked calmly out into the hallway with her intentionally outdated armor and her carbine equipped with an axe-like bayonet.

Ayato’s cheeks tensed as he clenched his teeth.

“I guess a real knight is a step above the rest!”

“A compliment like that only serves to irritate me coming from a Sorcery Hacker like you who does not even carry a sorcery gun. Even though I do know that is irrational.”

“I know it’s a weird thing to say when these two are using them, but I’ve sworn to never use one of those again.”

“Did you think setting up little rules for yourself places you on the side of good, sorcery criminal?”

She pulled back the bolt-action cocking lever, an empty cartridge was ejected while it lost its golden color and faded like a withering flower, a new round was loaded with the surface of its mist mana hardened like a thin film, and she once again ignored the scope to fire it up at an angle like a gun salute.

“Another buff: Primary Ex Massive.”

Again, Henrietta’s beautiful body seemed to explode out.

Running would not be enough to escape.

“Miss Teleria, the door!!”

“Secondary Water Jet!”

The blonde girl obeyed his instruction by placing the slide portion of her guns against her forehead, changing the magic, turning around, and firing spears of pressurized water using the laser guide and dot sight to accurately hit the doorknob of a metal door partway down the long hallway.

The door flew open and crashed into Henrietta. She plowed right through it, but the direction of her fierce tackle was changed. She strayed from her straight path, her protector armor crashed into the interior wall, and she passed by Ayato’s group while her scraping armor sent sparks flying.

“Miss Mamilis, rapid fire!!”

Like the amateur she was, she stuck with Primary Blaze. The full-auto shotgun sorcery gun produced small explosions that were self-replicated and spread all over, but the wind complexly swirling around Henrietta diverted them all away.

The colorful used shotgun shells were ejected all the same.

But that was fine.

The intense barrage of explosions completely destroyed the outside wall, giving them a view outside the building. Targeting a nearby wall meant Mamilis’s flames nearly blew back in and burned them, but that was actually a good thing. They now had a shortcut outside, so it no longer mattered that Henrietta was blocking the route to the emergency exit.

There was no reason to hesitate.

Before Henrietta could extract that half of her body from the inner wall, Ayato’s group jumped down from a height of more than 1000 esoule[16].

They were below the sunny and starry sky once more.

They rode an artificial air current pseudo-visualized by the flower petals in it and hurried away from there.

“This won’t be enough to lose her!” pointed out Teleria. “We need to figure out what to do!!”

“Based on our brief clash there, that Henrietta is on another level. On the other hand, the other knights weren’t all that impressive. A head-on clash might be dangerous, but if we plan things out, we can have them dancing in our palm.”

“Coach, would it break their spirit if we defeated that braided ponytail woman?”

“Right now, I don’t think she’s going to let us just run away!”

With an explosive sound, Henrietta crashed through the wall of that building and rode an air current just like them. Her blonde braid and miniskirt fluttered behind her as she pursued them at incredible speed. She must have been used to this because she looked right at home slipping between the giant walkways and mobile shops made from sorcery vehicles.

She was faster.

It was obvious why. It was the same as with the sniper from before. While Ayato’s group was avoiding the buildings and staying in the air, she was using her ridiculous strength to place her feet on a building wall and then kick off to accelerate herself whenever she had a chance. Doing so on the smooth vertical walls would be hard enough, but she also used the shops on those walls and the gaps between people. A normal person would have shattered their legs trying it, but she forcibly reduced the burden using the reinforcing function of the equipment supplied by the central Light Castle and the muscular-amplification magic she had created for herself.

It was gradual, but she was definitely closing the gap.

She would catch up if they did not come up with a plan and then those powerful arms would grab at their ankles and swing them around. Once that happened, it was all over.

“Wh-wh-wh-what do we do, what do we do, wait, huh, wait!?”

“We head northeast for now. Do not change direction. Also, Miss Teleria and Miss Mamilis, have you kept track of your remaining ammo? Do you have much left?”

“I’m fine there…”

“Coach, I am fine too. Also, directions like that don’t mean much in a sky city.”

When the two girls answered him, Ayato made up his mind.

“Miss Mamilis, that large sign on the wall.”

“Hm?”

“Miss Teleria, destroy that window washing gondola!!”

Fire and water magic erupted out and a storm of Primary Blaze and Secondary Water Jet tore through a heavy metal mass’s bolts or wires to drop it into the air current. The heavy wreckage of metal and a thin Media Summoner passed by directly behind them and flew straight toward Henrietta as she pursued them.

“Back in that shop, she did not stop the six-legged sorcery vehicle with her wind defense. I do not know exactly where the limit lies, but it must not be able to stop objects above a certain weight!”

Those masses would kill a normal person and they now blocked Henrietta’s path.

However…

“Uwehhhh!!”

Teleria could not be blamed for shouting in surprise. Henrietta never even considered dodging. She let her buffed body do the talking and deflected wreckage taller than she was with nothing but a swing of her fist.

“Th-that-that didn’t buy us any time at all!”

“Hm, there really are more of those big windmills the closer we get to the center. And there are fewer walkways. I also saw some of those windmills while we were pursuing that sniper.”

“Hellooo!?”

The large cross-shaped windmills had four blades which each measured 35 esoule[17] long. Ayato checked behind them while slipping between two windmills that were quite close together.

Henrietta really was a powerful enemy.

She grasped at the air currents more easily than Ayato’s group and avoided the windmills more accurately than them as she closed in on them.

“There aren’t any restaurants or mobile shops around. We must be almost to the Bright Castle in the center.”

“Eh? Coach, that means this is a dead end. There’s a thick aurora-like barrier called the Free Audience Restriction. It’s like a massive wall of energy.”

“Then let’s settle this before we run into that,” he said. “Miss Teleria, focus on the steel beams dangling from that ballista crane. Fire on my signal.”

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Option 03: Academic Thesis on the Ecosystem

Back to Phase 01 Return to Main Page Forward to Phase 03
  1. Approximately 2400 meters.
  2. Approximately 3600 meters.
  3. Approximately 120 meters.
  4. Approximately 10,000 yen per coin.
  5. Approximately 5000 yen per coin.
  6. Approximately 480 meters.
  7. Approximately 36,000 meters.
  8. Approximately 12.5 millimeters.
  9. Approximately 480 meters.
  10. Approximately 1200 meters.
  11. Approximately 48 meters.
  12. Approximately 10,000 yen per coin.
  13. Approximately 60 meters.
  14. Approximately 42 meters.
  15. Approximately 1800 meters.
  16. Approximately 1200 meters.
  17. Approximately 42 meters.