Sorcery Hacker:Volume2 Phase04

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Phase 04: Classified Information: Academy Towers[edit]

Part 1[edit]

The ship was destroyed and sank into the ocean.

Fleurelisia had far too much power for a being half dead from ship wreckage and shells. The Annihilator-class Predator Island was helpless with all its main cannons gone.

She honestly saved Ayato’s group there.

Even as a Sorcery Hacker, neutralizing the entire Predator Island singlehandedly would have been a challenge. Not to mention that damaging the ship was not guaranteed to deactivate the Crocodilia Mk. VIIs that protected the ship’s interior. If they had a chance to sink the whole ship at once, they had to take it.

They were forced to ride on the Water Lord’s back to return to Laguntreat. Straitlaced and inflexible Henrietta initially panicked and flatly rejected the idea, but Dark Elf Mamilis had smoothed things over as another demon. Besides, there was no guarantee the current would carry them back to land in an unpowered lifeboat and swimming back was out of the question.

“Uh,” groaned Teleria while resting her head on Ayato’s shoulder. He did not know what exactly it had been about, but after that explosion of emotion under the hot sun, she might very well faint now that the battle was over and she could relax.

Henrietta must not have been used to earthquakes or the rocking of boats after living so long in that sky city. She was pale in the face and her ponytail braid swayed side to side behind her as she stayed down on all fours.

“I-i-i-it’s shaking, it’s shaking, it’s shaking. B-but we never did get an explanation of what all that was about, did we?”

“It doesn’t matter. Not if Miss Teleria is not ready to tell us yet.”

That was Ayato’s only response as he viewed the island of Laguntreat up ahead.

Once back on the beach, the situation had changed.

They had revealed the locals’ misdeeds.

“Leonardo Halleys,” muttered the black-haired boy.

He did not speak loudly, but his voice contained a powerful tone of accusation.

He viewed the graceful older Mermaid who looked back at him, the Asrai working a food stand, and the Siren selling fruit. Now that the veneer of the gawdy tourist destination had been stripped away, the looks in their eyes could only be described as empty.

Meanwhile, the other human tourists were confused by this change.

Their response would be the correct one.

“Leonardo Halleys is the mastermind behind the attack on Fleurelisia and the driving force behind the purifying blood pool method. I saw a few different names on the plans for the Predator Island and its Media Summoners, but he’s famous enough to have the local train station named after him.”

He received no response.

The silence must have been creepy even to another demon because Dark Elf Mamilis edged closer to Ayato in slight fear. Henrietta was hurrying the repairs to her damaged armor.

“But that was such a big ship, Coach. Wouldn’t a whole bunch of people have worked on it?”

“The document approval process looked fairly complex. And Leonardo’s name appeared extremely infrequently for someone with the authorization of a manager. He is clearly the kind of person who only leaves a paper trail when absolutely necessary. I can understand wanting to preserve your own privacy, but very few people in a large organization could get away with that. He must be at the top.” Ayato summed things up for the others. “Once we get Miss Teleria somewhere safe to rest, we need to split up and start asking questions. Do you remember the location of our base in that forest cave?”

“Wait, dangerous individual,” cut in the Striker. “We are well on our way to solving our problems on this island and that cottage had an actual bed. And if we speak with the manager, they might share some medicine with us.”

“Have you forgotten already, Miss Henrietta? Our enemy is not the island’s mastermind. Leonardo Halleys is only the opening act.” Ayato sighed and continued. “We still do not know who stole away the ice coffin and hacked the Dextral Mk. IIs. Our true enemy is the Sorcery Hacker. They must be a skilled one too since we still have no information on them after all this. If we are going to let a defenseless girl get some rest, it is 100 times safer to place her in a survivalist environment devoid of sorcery devices than a fortress protected by hackable security.”

“…”

“But tracking down that Sorcery Hacker first requires dealing with the island’s mastermind, Leonardo Halleys. Not everyone here is innocent, but they will have all seen the Predator Island sink. Someone is bound to decide now is the time to abandon the figurative sinking ship that is their plan. We must ask around now, before they have time to get their story straight!”

Entering the tropical forest was meant to weaken their Sorcery Hacker enemy, but it would also greatly reduce Ayato’s effectiveness. After leaving unconscious Teleria with the Striker who specialized in direct combat, he and Mamilis went elsewhere.

“Now, then.”

After sending the girls off with their respective tasks, he walked off on his own. He was headed toward the forest, but not toward their cave base. The woman creeping through the empty darkness behind the food stands was a Rusalka. She was happily counting the gold[1] and silver[2] she found in the many wallets she had probably pickpocketed from the humans.

When viewed from a different angle, tourist destinations of a certain level of popularity were always full of outlaws looking for easy marks.

Ayato made use of that side of things here.

He stabbed his Linkage Plug sword into a nearby parasol.

(I still have the Predator Island’s processing space now that it’s sunk?)

Still, he could lose that at any time, so it was best not to rely on it too much. He needed as much processing space as he could get, so he had to use his Linkage Plug sword every chance he got.

He needed the power to fight as a Sorcery Hacker and the strength to harm people.

With that mindset, the bent metal tower jutting up from the forest looked like a wonderful target. That was the lightning cloud cannon that worked with the other cannons on nearby uninhabited islands to blow away any thick lightning clouds.

Yes.

Despite what he had told the others, he was not expecting their questioning to turn up anything. Using his ordinary logic, he would never have let a rookie like Mamilis work alone, no matter how short on time they were. In other words, he was starting on a task that would have put her at greater risk accompanying him.

He had needed a convenient excuse to act alone.

“Oh?”

“Hm? Is that you, Miss Florence?”

He heard a rustling of the underbrush nearby and an extremely small girl in a thin white dress stepped out. Her short blonde hair was blowing in the tropical breeze.

“Are the others not with you right now?”

“No, they had other business to attend to.”

Florence approached him with an elegant smile, but something was off about her. She had a wristwatch around her ankle, perhaps as a fashion statement, but she was limping somewhat, favoring the other leg.

“Are you hurt?”

“Ah ha ha. I sat on my leg weird doing some knitting this morning, so I’m still feeling some pins and needles. That will go away soon, so don’t worry about it.”

She was apparently well-versed in certain feminine pastimes for someone so young.

She must have found his impressed look embarrassing because she smiled bitterly and waved her little hand in front of his face.

“Everyone on the island helps out like that. And we don’t just knit with yarn. We also use grass and palm fiber. This isn’t a big city with sorcery factories to automate that work, after all. We have to knit our own hats, baskets, beach mats, beach chairs, and even fishing nets, which are a crucial lifeline here.”

Their technology was developing in a different direction from Ayato who was entirely focused on Sorcery Hacking. And both paths were equally valid.

Ayato was a fairly twisted person (and he was aware of that himself), but he felt honest respect for anyone who could do something he could not. In that sense, this little girl was worthy of his respect.

“By the way, Miss Florence, are you familiar with the name Leonardo Halleys?”

“Of course I am. When this island was known as a hospital, he redeveloped it into a luxury resort and renewed our image. He isn’t that well known to outsiders since he never held an official position like mayor or lord, but he’s something of a celebrity here. The train station is even named after him.”

“I see.”

“Among the humans, he is known as an adventurer…or so I had heard, but maybe that isn’t true anymore. He built the foundation of the Ransackers who specialize in seeking out plant or animal materials and he greatly increased the accuracy of the maps for everything south of the Static Continent. This part of the sea used to be greatly feared, but he changed all that.”

Forwards specialized in combat, Bouncers specialized in bodyguarding, and Ransackers specialized in acquisition.

Ayato was a Forward rather than a Ransacker, but knowing this person had laid the foundation for one of those three categories was still concerning.

“So he’s a human, is he? Why would someone like that work so hard to support this island’s demons?”

“Because he was lonely. Completing that map took an inordinate amount of time and he did not have time to worry about a family until it was done. I would guess he no longer thought of the Static Continent as home, so he decided to preserve his position here on the island.”

Had she said she did not know the man, Ayato would have parted ways with the girl in the sheer dress, but she had instead shown off how knowledgeable she was. And she was so good at it he could not find an opening to end the conversation.

Leonardo had arrogantly believed he could defeat Water Lord Fleurelisia with the Predator Island, but that also meant he had been in a position to reach that level of power. He knew how to acquire everything he needed in a concrete form. Those were the sharp senses of a Ransacker who would visit any risky location to acquire whatever item they were hired to retrieve.

Ayato could guess this would take more than sticking a blade to the old man’s throat while he sat in a leather chair. There was more to it. He sensed a great risk that would obliterate some young whippersnapper who thoughtlessly rushed in without even a sorcery gun.

(Hm? That little girl was awfully familiar with the island’s history. She almost sounded like she had seen it herself.)

He had some questions remaining, but he was not about to say he was an expert on the behavior of girls that age. She may have been relaying what she had heard as if it were her own experiences.

Florence stared up at him with the look of someone plotting mischief.

“See? Having a local with you is convenient. I can help out a lot.”

“I guess.”

He really wanted to deal with this on his own, but Florence was not going to let that happen. She was bound to follow him even if he ditched her. Putting a small child in danger was out of the question, but he could not knock her out with a chop to the back of the neck either.

If what she had said about Leonardo Halleys was accurate, that great man had started as a Ransacker and broke open this dangerous area of sea by creating accurate maps and sea charts.

The man’s actual skill was still an unknown, but he was clearly not as wonderful a person as the islanders thought. There was no defending his actions. He had claimed to be fighting for the island, but he was the one who had chosen to use the purifying blood pools and to kill the Water Lord.

The girl would sneak after him if he told her to leave now and he could not have her wandering around who-knows-where when he ran into an enemy. The best way to avoid having her hit by a stray shot was to have her by his side.

He brought a hand to his forehead as a sign of resignation and resumed walking.

“I will respect your freedom, but following me will not be a pleasant experience. Do not blame me if it traumatizes you.”

“Well, I certainly can’t leave you alone if things are that dire☆”

Florence smiled back at him, but he was still curious about her right leg.

“Are you sure you can do this? I will be walking for a while yet. And I mean on the sand and in the forest, not on a paved path.”

“Ah ha ha. Like I said, the pins and needles will be gone soon enough, so don’t worry about it.”

“If it is too much to bear just tell me. I will carry you.”

“Oh, dear. Maybe I should have pretended to need that.”

She continued to favor her left leg as she walked alongside him and pressed her soft cheek and short blonde hair against his arm.

“Where are we headed?” she asked.

“The Oceavita Water Therapy Institute.”

“Why do you think you will find him there?”

“This is a small island, so had you already heard of the warship called the Predator Island sinking? He was controlling it remotely.”

“My, my. But I doubt you could trace the signal back using the manaflows.”

“Look at it the other way around. What location on this island has a sorcery facility with enough processing power for that task and also allows him to erase any trace of having done so? With Sorcery Hacking, you could do it with the washing machines, water boilers, and such in the cottages, but checking over the household and leisure items on the beach and in the cottages showed no sign of anyone but me hacking them. That means the villain has gathered all his toys in one location to increase his level all at once. Where on the island could he do that? There are not many options. The next most likely is the lighting cloud cannon in the forest.”

“My.”

She was a strange girl. Even her surprise was expressed elegantly and a tempo late.

“What do you think will happen to Laguntreat?” she asked while limping across the white sand in the colorful forest.

“Whatever happens, happens. That’s all I can say. Emotions without an outlet will not cause an explosion. Someone has to gather them together and provide them with a target if they are to be abused as a frightening motivation.”

“…”

“They had indeed planned to replace Fleurelisia’s springs with purifying blood pools, but they had not actually done so. That means they were doing their best to hold off on that option, right? So we only have to eliminate whoever gave them reason to actually take action. That will end the current incident. I do hope we can eliminate all of the anxieties and fears that drove them in that direction, though.”

While following a sandy walking path that seemed to part the colorful flowers and the grass, Ayato and Florence approached a white marble building that stood out from everything else on the island.

But the situation did not wait for them to arrive.

He noticed something out of the ordinary much earlier than that.

“What is that?” “Shh, quiet!”

He heard the whispered voices of a young man and woman.

He pulled on young Florence’s hand to hide behind a nearby tree just in time to avoid being seen by a departing couple rapidly putting their swimsuits back on. They must have slipped away in search of some privacy in the middle of the day and found this location was less deserted than hoped.

Something was there.

The looks on their faces said they had spotted something unpleasant.

“What was that about?” asked Florence.

“I hear an odd noise.”

This was the tropical forest leading to the Oceavita Water Therapy Institute and he heard what sounded like something being washed in water beyond the underbrush here.

With each step he took, he felt more of an atmosphere that reminded him of when he was known as the Hexajinx. It was heavy and sticky, like his feet were sinking into a bloody bog. It was the first hints of this bad feeling that had made him send the others away from here.

“This is fine. Everything is fine.”

The quiet splashing was accompanied by a girl muttering to herself in a weak and flat voice. Ayato crouched down and reached for the Linkage Plug sword at his hip. It would not be much use in the forest without any sorcery devices to hack, but it was better than nothing.

“(I recognize that voice. Is it the Oceavita receptionist?)” whispered Florence while clinging to him and still favoring her left leg.

Ayato detected a rusty scent.

“(Miss Florence, you should wait here.)”

Without waiting for a response, he tightly grabbed her shoulder to show he meant it.

He left Florence there since she was a young child and because she was having difficulty with her right leg after her knitting. He could not expect her to take quick action on his command if something happened.

He parted the branches alone and saw what lay beyond.

With the leafy barrier removed, the receptionist’s voice grew much clearer.

“This is fine. I mean, this is Laguntreat. We’re known for our decursing springs, so…so this will turn out just fine no matter what has happened.”

She did not turn toward him. She was curled up by the water with her back to him. The wet washing sound continued as she repeatedly dunked something large and round in the pure water to wash it off like a raccoon.

But instead of food, this was a severed head.

An elderly man’s head danced unblinking in the cold water, seemingly having been chopped off with a sharp blade. There was no dignity there. She almost seemed to be playing with it like some kind of sick toy.

“My, my.”

“Miss Florence.”

“That is Leonardo.”

He tried to speak more strongly to the small girl when she limped over despite his warning, but the receptionist still did not respond to their presence.

“This is fine. Everything is fine. The power of the springs can cure him.”

Something had obviously happened, but she did not seem to be in any state to explain it for them. In fact, she might never again be. It was possible she had been spared as a way of punishing her with a fate worse than death.

By who?

That much was obvious.

By the mysterious Sorcery Hacker who had stolen away the ice coffin containing the shooter. Ayato had dug into the island’s secrets in his pursuit of them, so who else would want to cut away that lizard’s tail?

That man was a Ransacker who would visit any dangerous place to acquire the flower or animal someone wanted.

In fact, he had laid the very foundation for that job and even completed the maps and sea charts of the southern sea.

Yet here he was so blatantly dead. If the stories told on the island were true, what had the Sorcery Hacker hijacked to pull this one off?

It was also possible the stories relayed by Florence were not true, but to Ayato, that looked like the easy way out – a choice that would let him escape the great pressure he felt here.

If he went that way and let his guard down for no reason, he was certain his own head would soon leave his shoulders in the same way. He had no real basis for that belief, but he was confident all the same.

His method was to list out the possibilities in his head and assume the worst of them to be true.

So now he had to assume he was up against the kind of jaws capable of taking the life of a legendary man known for his survival skills.

“What should we do?” asked Florence.

“Does she look in any state to choose to flee like a rational person? Getting her to leave this place would probably take a lot of doing. We need to take this one step at a time and that means checking Oceavita first.”

“Sure.”

“One other thing, Miss Florence. The next time you ignore my warning, I will strike the back of your neck to knock you out. Is that clear?”

“Will you wake me back up with a kiss?”

“I am serious.”

“Oh, dear. You are seriously going to kiss me? I think I might blush.”

That small girl was an expert of throwing him off balance. That was unusual for him. And the fact that he was resorting to threats of violence showed he had already lost the battle.

The two of them continued on and arrived at the Oceavita Water Therapy Institute.

It was wrapped in silence.

Far more so than during his last visit. The silence was so painfully intense it increased the scent of death hanging over this area of forest. It was easy to forget this was a place for decursing and healing.

He opened the door.

Thick sheets reminiscent of ship’s sails were draped all over the lobby, perhaps as a makeshift solution to the damage caused by the Dextral Mk. IIs. Construction sorcery devices for carrying stone and for rolling up and wrapping the sheets were sitting out.

Ayato clicked his tongue.

He should have seen this coming, but he failed to cover Florence’s eyes.

The headless body of an old man in a fancy gentleman’s suit lay on the floor in the middle of the lobby. His clothes looked disturbed, so assuming the killer was not an extreme pervert, they had probably checked through his pockets for something after killing him.

“Leonardo,” said the small girl in a somehow sad and terribly mature voice.

There were no humans or demons in evidence, so the place felt like a creepy abandoned house where someone had dumped a corpse.

“…”

Ayato silently drew his Linkage Plug sword.

Florence shook her head as if to shake free of something, and…

“Has anything important already been taken away?”

“If it was that easy to find, they wouldn’t have had to check below the insole of his shoes.”

“Then was he not carrying whatever it was with him?”

“If the killer wasn’t certain he was, I doubt they would have gone to the effort of searching his corpse. It feels more like they had heard he carried whatever it was with him, but they couldn’t find it when they actually tried to find it.”

“Then where should we look?”

Ayato had already stabbed the tip of his sword into a certain point on the corpse.

The dress girl tilted her head.

“A vape?”

“I’m more interested in the disposable vapor cartridges you insert into that sorcery cigarette. What better place to hide something than among something you can carry a lot of without arousing suspicion? He just has to mark the special one with a scratch or something.”

Ayato extracted the information contained in that ordinary device.

After transferring the necessary data to the floating crystal tarot cards, he pulled the Linkage Plug sword from the smoking device’s cartridge, spun it around, and used its tip to grab at the thick sheet draped over a nearby wall. He covered the poor corpse with the sheet.

Florence gave the floating crystal tarot cards a curious look.

“Um, did you figure anything out or not?”

“I found a few names of accomplices. When he could not create a piece of technology needed for the purifying blood pools and for the Predator Island, he paid a Sorcery Hacker to steal it for him. In exchange, the Sorcery Hacker used the island’s hidden underground cavern as a safe home base for their sorcery crimes.”

“Hm?”

“I also found a log of him using a great many operators to control the Predator Island. So we know Leonardo was guilty and that another villain remains hidden in the shadows.”

However, this meant the other villain had been planting roots in this island for a quite a while now.

Ayato’s group had gotten involved in the class warfare business on that luxury sleeper train, an assassin wielding that devil’s revolver had appeared there, he had been hit by the curse, Teleria had just so happened to know a cold sleep spell that she used on him, they had decided to use Laguntreat’s decursing springs, Florence and Micha Angelos’s comments had led them to learn of the secret hidden below the island, they had ended up on the giant Annihilator-class Predator Island, and they had been caught in the attack on Fleurelisia, one of the Four Lords.

How many layers of coincidence was that?

Was it really possible to predict all of that in detail when setting up some master plan?

Or…

(Was this just one thread from a vast web of possibilities? Did they have roots planted in countless locations, so we would be caught in the web no matter what we did – even if we never even visited Laguntreat at all?)

He shook his head.

When your steps forward showed no results, it was best to come to a stop and reassess the situation instead of charging blindly onward. Building up speed with insufficient information would only lead to fantasies and conspiracy theories. For the moment, he had to focus on what he knew for a fact and use that to work out the big picture and which direction to head next.

Yes.

“The name,” muttered Ayato while flicking one of the floating crystal tarot cards.

The vape cartridge left by that dead man had contained the following name.

“Jennifer Evening.”

“?”

The answer only made Florence tilt her head, which was hardly surprising since information on Ayato’s former home rarely became public knowledge.

There was no escaping the smell of blood now.

“She was part of the Student Council Executive Committee at the Academy Towers, a sorcery educational institute run by the Static Continent’s Selected Kingdoms Combined Royal Family.”

She did not even manage her usual “my, my” this time.

Apparently even kids her age were aware that place was known as a den of geniuses and eccentrics.

But he was not done yet.

There was more to tell.

“Specifically, she is the Student Council Advisor. Making her one of the teachers.”

Part 2[edit]

Did everything have to link back there?

Even the final incident, in which Ayato had shot a friend and abandoned the Hexajinx name, had happened at the Academy Towers. He had suspected there was more to that case than met the eye and looked into it, but when he had never found anything conclusive, he had decided the pressure keeping the Academy Towers silent was coming from an external source.

Had he been naïve?

Had his initial investigation been insufficient?

Since the case had occurred there, maybe he should have just assumed anything further would be found in that location or organization.

But he had not expected the Student Council Executive Committee.

And a teacher at that.

The shooter with the devil’s revolver had mentioned the Academy Towers as well, but that may have been no more than a bluff.

However, this no longer felt like simple conflict between individuals or friction between factions. If the Student Council was involved, he had to assume this came from the Academy Towers as a whole.

But if so, why?

Ayato’s good friend had holed up in a school building and he had shot the other boy.

What further meaning could be found there?

In that space where the chilled air escaped through the holes lazily patched up with thick sheets, he turned his back on the construction equipment to think.

“Um.”

But while he was lost in thought…

“Um!”

He might not have survived if Florence had not been with him.

A sweeping horizontal attack flew by with the sound of scraping metal and he just barely moved his head out of the way in time. He had only managed to focus back on reality in time due to Florence’s voice. Otherwise, he would have been decapitated just like Leonardo.

He heard bewitching laughter and a sweet breath oozing with a toxic ripeness very different from Florence’s voice.

SorceryHacker v02 BW08.jpg

It was Jennifer Evening.

“Oh, what a shame.”

“You were hiding inside the construction equipment!?”

“If you had only continued to ponder the grand plan surrounding you, it would have been so easy to catch you off guard.”

The slicing attack had come from within one of the machines used to roll up the thick sheets. Had she been hiding within the empty space inside one of the rolls?

That representative of the teachers wore intellectual glasses contrasted by the wild state of the blonde hair spread out behind her. She controlled the top of the Student Council. She was a barrier of power that no child could hope to surpass. That woman in her mid-twenties licked her lips. Instead of a blue blazer like Ayato wore, she wore a tight skirt suit colored beige and chocolate brown. In her hand, she held the weapon that had supposedly fallen into the ocean from the roof of the train running along that never-ending stone bridge.

“The Queen Astaroth Revolver!?”

“You can’t help but notice that first, can you? I hate to admit it, but it is more well known.”

But Jennifer shook the weapon in her left hand to emphasize it instead. It was a skinny, rapier-style sword. Ayato was impressed she managed to use that to slice through that machinery from within, but then…

“Wait. What is that?”

“You don’t know? Really? What a shame. It really does deserve more respect. Especially after I went to the trouble of hacking it for my own purposes.”

There were a few ultra-secure systems that not even Ayato Criminaltrophy could hope to break.

For example, there was that unnatural night butterfly.

There were the two swords worn by that Minotaur who claimed to be a prince – the Butterfly Effector. Wielding those was proof one belonged to the bloodline of the Selected Kingdoms Combined Royal Family of the Static Continent and not even Ayato had been up to the task of breaking that lock.

Yes, they were supposed to be unhackable.

But what was that there that Jennifer Evening used to draw a circle in the air with a flip of her wrist?

“This is Fermiliquidio, the freezing blade. At only fifth in line to the throne, I suppose this is all you’re going to get.”

(She hacked it!!!???)

Hadn’t Striker Henrietta mentioned that the 5th prince favored Laguntreat and would secretly vacation there from time to time?

This woman had the Queen Astaroth Revolver and Fermiliquidio.

That explained it.

That explained how Leonardo Halleys, the greatest Ransacker of all time, had been eliminated so easily!!

Ayato did not have time to discuss the finer points of how exactly she had hacked Fermiliquidio. He knew Leonardo’s head really had been removed from his body, so he knew Jennifer could use that devil’s revolver and the 5th’s sword. His only option was to turn around and cover Florence’s small body.

When Jennifer swung the sword along a diagonal path, it produced an oddly light slicing sound.

A liquid appeared along the path of the sword, but who could have imagined it existed at less than 200 embers below freezing[3]?

It was like a sharp reef tearing through a ship’s hull.

It was a symbol of death.

Like a cruel crack opening in the air, that fearsome ultracold quantum fluid burst out toward Ayato.

Part 3[edit]

Ayato’s vision went dark.

He somehow managed to remain conscious and picked up Florence’s small body.

A direct hit from that would have killed him instantly.

He immediately stabbed his Linkage Plug sword into the machinery meant to repair the lobby wall and then actually chucked the machinery backwards. It was instantly frozen, but the distortion in the heat distribution caused a portion of the ultracold liquid to explode. It had taken a straight and stable course like water from a hose, but now it curved sharply.

Pain clutched at his heart, but it was too soon to breathe a sigh of relief. He could not rely on Florence’s limping pace, so he held her under an arm and ran for Oceavita’s exit.

“Take aim.”

He heard a voice from behind and frowned as he focused on that devil’s revolver, but…

“On second thought, this would be faster.”

With that casual comment, she once more released a torrent of liquid that refused to freeze even at 0 embers[4].

Ayato immediately jumped to the side in front of the exit. The door and wall no longer mattered. The ultracold stream missed him and instead froze the wall, which cracked and then shattered like an ephemeral crystal.

Now was not the time to let it entrance him.

He carried Florence outside while being very careful not to touch any of the frozen wreckage. He hacked the various sorcery devices in the area while fleeing into the tropical forest.

That bespectacled teacher was on another level.

The Queen Astaroth Revolver would kill its wielder with a curse if they failed to kill their target within 6 shots. If she had already hacked such a powerful sword, she should not have had to show off such a dangerous gun, but maybe he should have expected that kind of excessive power from someone connected to the Academy Towers.

“That’s right. You need to think, Ayato Criminaltrophy.”

He heard a very teacher-like comment coming from Oceavita behind him.

He flicked one of his crystal tarot cards just as she stepped out from the hole in the wall there.

The nail gun at her feet activated.

But she did not even glance down at it.

Several sharp nails shot out with the sound of compressed air, but their trajectory made no sense. They all veered off course.

(Did she rapidly cool the air to change the density? I can’t get a stable ballistic course like that!!)

It could be hard to imagine, but the air you breathed could be converted from a gas to a liquid or solid if cooled far enough. At the Academy Towers, that liquid air was further separated into oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and other elements for use in experiments.

That meant the density and traits of the air could be changed.

Since projectiles tore through the air to fly, they were greatly affected by the air’s density. Think of it like placing a thick water tank between the weapon and the target.

With a sinister shattering sound, the nail gun covered in white frost and then shattered without her so much as touching it. She was singlehandedly rejecting the tropical climate.

“Why do you think this revolver continues to appear before you? Do you really think you can escape it? There is no leaving the path set out for you.”

“…”

“Ah ha ha. Fermiliquidio really is a piece of junk. Maybe I should have been less modest and aimed higher. I might have had better luck if I had the Butterfly Effector at my disposal.”

Giving away their position would be a bad idea all around, but Florence almost casually spoke up from his arms.

“What happened to the continental prince that sword belongs to? Y’know, the 5th in line to the throne. I had heard he loved traveling and often came here in secret.”

“Don’t be silly, little girl. Wielding this is proof of one’s position in the line of succession, so this means I am 5th in line now. I’m a little embarrassed the number is so pathetically high, though.”

“(You’re the one that damaged my outer shell.)”

“I know what you are thinking, but I am honestly surprised it only affected your right side.

The conversation had taken an odd turn.

It felt like listening to a record when the needle skipped, so Ayato gave the girl in his arm a puzzled look.

“Miss Florence?”

But he did not have time to pursue that question at the moment.

The next attack came without hesitation. The ultracold stream branched irregularly each time it pierced a tree since that disturbed the heat distribution, but that also tore up the thick palm trees and mangroves from their roots. Despite the sun beating down on them, a salty stream instantly froze over.

If the 5th prince had a habit of sneaking away on his royal cruiser, then the royal guards and servants in the castle would not have always known where he was. That opened up the possibility that he had indeed gone missing in this southern sea.

“Are you sure you want to spend all your time focused on this second-rate sword that’s never winning first place in anything? You haven’t forgotten about this devil’s revolver here, have you?”

“Kh.”

Ayato clenched his teeth and tensed while carrying Florence.

As a category of sorcery gun, magnums forcibly amplified the power of the magic without taking recoil into consideration. And if that one did belong to the devil Ayato knew, it could be even more destructive than the Predator Island’s main cannons depending on what magic was used.

Jennifer was a magic specialist capable of easily taking over the Fermiliquidio.

She was no amateur.

Amplifying the magic that far was liable to tear her body to pieces with the recoil, but she might know some trick for suppressing that recoil.

Ayato finally understood why Micha Angelos had guided him to that train and this island even though it meant paying him twice back to back.

This woman was from the Academy Towers.

Now, Ayato was not one to talk since he was officially still a student there, but could one of the teachers really take things this far? This seemed excessive even for a den of freaks and obsessives. She had hacked a system involved in the royal line of succession, so this was more than the Combined Royal Family could control. This also introduced a risk of Micha herself being hacked, so it would be difficult for the dual-wielding Minotaur to solve this himself. It made sense that he was so desperate to get some help from a Sorcery Hacker.

(That poker face in a purple bikini can go straight to hell. She just put all our lives at risk again. If only I’d realized how desperate they were sooner. Then she couldn’t have said no to the sun oil.)

Ayato was very serious about that. He had risked his life each step of the way: the train, the shooter, the hermit crabs, the warship, the Four Lord, and now a prince’s sword and a devil’s revolver. A rough estimate said 40 gold[5] was nowhere near enough to cover it all. And since he also had to divide that sum four ways, he would probably have made more money working part-time at a souvenir shop.

(But how much processing space would you need to hack something equivalent to Micha Angelos? It would have to be 5000 or even 10,000. She might have established herself here on Laguntreat, but where did she get that many sorcery devices?)

“Wait, don’t tell me.”

“Oh, finally catching on? I really didn’t expect to be able to hide it after all this.”

Ayato gathered his thoughts while pushing Florence behind cover.

Jennifer Evening had used the island’s underground as a base.

And what had been stored down there?

(The Annihilator-class Predator Island. Is she using that as Sorcery Hacking boost server?)

However, not even that would be enough to reach quintuple digits. He could guess that warship was only somewhere between 4000 and 5000.

But he just had to think back to what had happened in the sky city. What had he done at the end there to strike back at the greedy high priest?

He had jabbed the end of his Linkage Plug into the forehead of Level 9999 Demon Lord Nirvelphany.

Or more accurately, into the local network embedded into her body via various parts. That acted as the antenna and safety device for accessing the Zodiac Bright Eater sorcery cannon floating in satellite orbit.

The control system built into a powerful demon’s body could be used to raise one’s level when hacked.

“The Predator Island’s main cannons…no, the wreckage of the broken ship function as a Linkage Plug, don’t they?”

“Yes, and I have your efforts to thank for stabbing it in there so deep.”

“Are you saying you used that to hack into Water Lord Fleurelisia!?”

And that is why that girl there is limping.

The girl jumped at that.

Jennifer did not bother explaining her strange comment.

“The warship provided 5000 and the Four Lord provided 5000 more. Well, I really only hacked the outer shell that protects the core, but I didn’t need the core to reach the level I needed. The local mastermind didn’t seem to understand her value, so I made sure to corrupt the entire island myself.”

“The ship wasn’t enough?”

“This is the 5th prince’s sword after all. Stealing her was easy enough, but she went into randomized hibernation. I couldn’t break the encryption and fully hack her without doubling my level using the Four Lord.”

Ayato dodged an explosive torrent and the palm tree he had been hiding behind was blown away.

Fleurelisia had sunk the warship, but were its sorcery systems, including the spirit engine, still running?

It was fortunate Fleurelisia herself had been damaged a fair bit by the splintered wood and artillery. If either the ship or the Four Lord had been unharmed, Ayato would have been exposed to several of these attacks simultaneously.

His time was finally up.

With the devil’s revolver, Fermiliquidio, and a Sorcery Hacking level of 10,000, Jennifer was untouchable on this island.

“Miss Florence.”

“Yes?”

“Be honest with me.”

“You mean about my right leg?”

“I can tell you are hiding something, but the reason does not really matter.”

The mysterious Florence actually looked taken aback.

But Ayato continued nonetheless.

“Your life comes first and everything else comes second. So tell me – how much can you move? Can you run like normal?”

“I can.”

He had no way of knowing if that was true or not and he did not have time to argue, so he had to trust her.

“Then on my signal, you run left while I run right. It might be worrying with seemingly nothing around, but if you keep going without looking back, you will find a cave. My friend is waiting there, so you have nothing to worry about. She has a truly powerful drive for justice, so if you ask for help, she is sure to protect you.”

“I don’t like that plan.”

“I do hate having to scare a young lady like you, but like I said: I really do not have it in me to accept any requests beyond your survival.”

“But.”

She started to argue, so he lightly flicked her bright right leg.

That seemed to send an unpleasant tingling through it.

“Nyah!?”

“Again, I will not ask what caused this, but you cannot possibly remain on the front line like that.”

“A-ahem! I can’t let my guard down around you for a second, can I?”

She must have been embarrassed she jumped like that since her face was bright red and she cleared her throat unnecessarily. Ayato smiled and continued.

“And once you do arrive at the cave, there is something I would ask of you. The situation could hardly be worse, but I would like for you to give me some small chance.”

“What can I do?”

He summed it up as simply as he could.

It was not that difficult a thing for her, but…

“But what will you do?” she asked.

“I will defeat that.”

Still crouched down in his blue blazer, Ayato pointed his thumb at the monster in the tight skirt.

“That rapier controls a quantum fluid that remains stable at -200 embers[6], but no matter how extraordinarily powerful it is, it is still technology being boosted with Sorcery Hacking. Unlike that Four Lord, Jennifer herself is not especially powerful.”

“…”

“Get ready. I will give you a count of three, so you focus on what you need to do. Three, two, one.”

Ayato used his Linkage Plug sword to rustle the underbrush and branches around him as he took off running.

He drew the predator’s attention while the little girl favored her left leg as she limped off into the forest in the other direction.

“Oh, such valiance.”

(You know I’m luring you away from her and you still follow me!?)

A horizontal geyser shot toward him. The attack was made in the opposite direction from limping Florence. Maybe Jennifer did not want to lose sight of him and maybe she had someone else who could search out Florence for her.

It did not really matter which.

As long as he could defeat that glasses teacher during this turn, that stolen sword could not take anyone’s lives.

“Ha ha. You’re wide open☆”

“!?”

She sniped at him with the ultracold quantum fluid.

He practically rolled along the sand to dive behind the overturned boats lined up in the forest for use in the river.

“Why bother dodging? You’re only drawing out the pain.”

“…”

“This forest has very few of the artificial devices you need to fight. Not that hacking a bunch of household appliances would help you when I’m at Level 10,000. Do you enjoy chess, foolish king? If you really have it in you to challenge a full set of pieces with only your king, then bring it on.”

Nothing he was doing here would save him.

Sorcery Hackers fought by hacking devices and resonating with the gathered processing space to increase their level and expand their options. His opponent had reached the quintuple digits, so hacking everything on the island would not be enough to fight back now.

He had no chance as long as he remained on the island of Laguntreat. And Jennifer was not going to let him leave the island to try again later. This isolated island was surrounded by the southern sea on all sides. He had no idea how far it was to the next closest island and that island would be uninhabited anyway.

So was it over?

Was he out of options?

Jennifer Evening was still only using her left hand. She had yet to even place her finger on the revolver’s trigger. What would happen if she killed Ayato here? Was there any guarantee that Teleria, Mamilis, Henrietta, Florence, and the other islanders would be safe? When she had so readily decapitated Leonardo Halleys, the influential old man who had been helping her?

He could not just sit idly by and watch.

He also had that previous promise to keep, so he had to focus on any chance he had, no matter how flimsy.

(Yes.)

He looked up while still hiding behind cover. He thought he had no chance on this isolated island, but was that really true? How had all this begun? What was the very first landmine he had stepped on at the bidding of that cruel intermediary Micha Angelos?

He looked up at the sun.

He was interested in its angle.

“Which direction is that uninhabited island?”

Part 4[edit]

Academy Towers Student Council Advisor Jennifer Evening squinted one eye unhappily behind her glasses.

Fermiliquidio was certainly powerful, but its aim was poor. A hit from that -200 ember[7] liquid would shatter a human like glass, along with any trees and stone walls nearby, but she had so far failed to kill that one boy running away from her.

She wished she had written out some correction parameters in advance.

“Now, then.”

With a swish of her long blonde hair, she focused on her right hand. The devil’s revolver held there would not betray her expectations, but she would actually have a harder time using it.

Just as Ayato could not use a sorcery gun and his Linkage Plug sword with equal proficiency, the skills to openly use magic and the skills to hijack it behind the scenes were separate things. It required very different kinds of mental and physical work. And just like pouring ice water into hot water, mixing the two would make both less effective.

(I should probably pursue him with Fermiliquidio and switch to the revolver once he is cornered.)

“Oh?”

She tilted her head a bit as she walked through the forest.

She saw a bright light, like she had reached the end of a tunnel.

Ayato had evidently left the forest to reach the crowded beach. And she knew a cunning Sorcery Hacker would not panic and start running around randomly without a plan in mind.

He was aiming for something with watchful eye.

Except for the tourists and Oceavita patients visiting the island, no one on Laguntreat was innocent. And based on Ayato Criminaltrophy’s past actions, it was simple enough to conclude he divided the world around him into two categories and would readily make use of those he categorized as evil.

Was he going to use the Mermaids as living shields while building up his level bit by bit with their everyday devices?

(Does he think he can combat my Level 10,000 that way?)

The teacher in the beige and chocolate tight skirt suit adjusted her grip on her gun and sword while licking her lips. She picked up her pace to a brisk walk and finally to a run.

She left the tropical forest and the view around her opened up.

She quickly concluded she had been mistaken.

This was a station.

She found the train station for the intercontinental ocean railroad.

This place did not fit in with the rest of the island. The large station building was more than 5 stories tall and built with a stone roof and metal columns. The tracks arriving from either side descended toward their respective platforms, giving it all a flattened V-shape. That was to be expected when the ocean railroad was built 50 esoule[8] up to allow large ships to pass below.

And.

Sure enough, this would provide many more sorcery devices than from stabbing his Linkage Plug into the parasols and coolers used by the Mermaids sunbathing on the beach.

Ayato looked back her way while still running toward the giant station building. He moved his Linkage Plug sword just enough to scoop up a tough construction sheet folded up on the beach. The large sheet spread out in the air, briefly blocking her view, but he once more grabbed the sheet, which was likely a recycled ship’s sail, and ran inside the building.

“Are you kidding me!?”

He was not within arm’s reach, so Jennifer immediately raised Fermiliquidio in her left hand, but she stopped herself.

A beautiful Rusalka, who probably saw the crowds here as perfect for pickpocketing, and an Undine girl, who was carrying a large paper bag, screamed when they saw the glittering blade. A rich human tourist threw some gold[9] on the sand and begged for their life, but Jennifer ignored it all and thought to herself.

Destroying him would be simple enough.

But if she did bring down the entire building on top of him, how hard would it be to dig out the corpse and confirm his identity? And would she ever actually believe he was dead if it happened where she could not see him? How long would it take her to prove he had not switched places with a complete stranger?

This was not an issue of whether or not Ayato would actually do that.

It was about Jennifer keeping her own excessive suspicions at bay.

She had already eliminated Leonardo Halleys and she doubted she could stay on Laguntreat for long with his backing gone. Sorcery Hackers worked best while still hidden, but she was sick of killing time in the cave she had found for herself here.

She wanted to get this all over with and return to the Academy Towers.

That was the natural conclusion for the powerful.

“Dammit!”

She clicked her tongue and ran into the station building to find a large lobby. However, the design seemed to ignore the regional climate. The glass ceiling let the afternoon sun shine through and the rapidly-rising temperature was held in check by blasting the sorcery air conditioning. The structure used a lot of metal columns, but the designer had not accounted for the tropical ocean. Rustproof paint was not enough to prevent damage from the sea breeze and metal would also expand, especially in a hot climate.

The round clock on the wall of the station created a stark contrast from the relaxed atmosphere of the island outside.

Jennifer caught sight of a thick material flapping out of the corner of her eye. It was that construction sheet. It was just outside the range of her glasses, so she could not make out the detailed shape, however.

“There are you are, Hexajinx!”

The glasses teacher took off running once more.

Unlike a commuter station in a big city, this station was fairly empty for its size. Perhaps because the island was a health resort. Only people headed home after a long vacation and nerds excited by the train itself would come here. A half-naked Selkie girl with her seal costume only pulled up to her hips was lying on a bench to take advantage of the human-made air conditioning. A boy with a silver halide camera in hand seemed to legit be here for the train. He entirely ignored the half-naked girl less than an esoule[10] from him.

Everyone here gaped at Jennifer’s weapons and then fled behind the columns or below the benches. Some demons were not near enough to either of those and simply crouched down on the floor.

Ayato’s blue blazer fluttered as he crossed the ticket gate and made his way to the platform.

(You fool. What good will all the miniscule devices here do you? You could hack every household appliance on the island and not even reach Level 1000, while I have 5000 from the sunk warship and another 5000 from Fleurelisia. I have an insurmountable lead here!)

“Out of ideas, problem child!?”

Just as she rushed onto the long and narrow platform, the boy made a move from right next to her. As if he had been pressed up against the wall next to the entrance, waiting for her.

“What?”

Only after making contact did she catch on.

This was not about the Sorcery Hacking battle or slicing at her with his Linkage Plug sword. She immediately swung her own sword and sent out some ultracold liquid, but he had thrown something transparent at her.

The fist-sized object was a snowdome-like Media Summoner, which caused the ultracold liquid to burst at close range. It was going to splatter down on her head at this rate.

“Gah!?”

She frantically jumped back and fell down onto her butt. She had tumbled right off the platform.

She was equipped with the Queen Astaroth Revolver and the Fermiliquidio, but even with those fearsome weapons, she was still a Sorcery Hacker who worked behind the scenes. She had not been trained like a knight or a guard. If she had been given time to count to three, Ayato would have been torn to pieces, but when it came down to a split second, Jennifer was the one defeated by a simple crystal ball.

She clenched her teeth at the ordinary pain and got to thinking.

(I’m impressed he had the guts to approach me!! Did he not consider the possibility of being frozen solid by the quantum fluid!?)

However, Jennifer Evening should have been focused on something else. There were not many, but there were people in the station. They were either returning home after completing their treatment or they were nerds who loved coming to see the trains themselves. But the intercontinental ocean railroad only ran once every few days.

So.

So.

So.

“Huh?”

That teacher turned from Ayato to view something else while still fallen on her rear on the track one level down from the platform.

A great mass was approaching.

A deafening whistle belatedly stabbed into her ears.

Part 5[edit]

The train had a fairly plain exterior compared to the sleeper train that Ayato’s group had taken.

It was probably a freight train.

The people who had come to the platform without knowing if it would stop or simply pass through may have been hoping for a shipment of some continental ingredients that could not be found on the tropical island. Like grains such as wheat.

“Kh.”

It would have been nice had that ended things, but Ayato doubted it would be that easy.

At the instant of impact, he twirled on the spot while holding the construction sheet he had picked up from the beach. He flapped the thick material at the air.

But not because he was afraid of getting some blood on him.

The edge of that sturdy waterproof cloth, which was recycled from a ship’s sail, caught on the lock holding shut the side door of a container car on the freight train rushing past the platform. That tugged on Ayato as well and the sudden force was like a powerful blow to the back.

(Agh, ah…ghhh!!)

But it could have been worse.

Movies and plays often had scenes of people jumping onto a speeding train from a bridge, but whether you hit the side wall or landed on the roof, a train was a train. Touching it would tear off your limb.

He had needed to wrap himself in something soft to distribute the force across his entire body.

If a giant grabbed you around the torso and chucked you with all their strength, would you prefer to hit a solid brick wall or a stretchy ship’s sail? It was the same principle here.

“I should count myself lucky if that didn’t damage any of my bones or organs.”

He clenched his teeth, grabbed the window frame, and climbed up. He could not count on his aching body’s stamina reserves lasting long, so he climbed to the roof all at once.

He heard a dull sound and looked up while on all fours to see the woman in the beige and chocolate suit walking back from the front of the train, despite the train supposedly hitting her head on. Her glasses were cracked and her clothing was torn in places. He could only guess she had produced that ultracold quantum fluid just before the train hit and let that burst at her feet from the temperature difference to launch her up onto the train. That stable quantum fluid was as cold as -200 embers[11], so it would explosively vaporize when placed in this tropical environment.

She had harmed herself to survive.

Even after nearly colliding with someone, the centipede-like train did not stop. Ayato hoped the ultracold temperature had not harmed the controls or safety devices in any way.

“Are you done yet?”

“…”

“You cannot defeat me with anything on the island, so this train from outside the island was your best bet. So just try it. Go around sticking that Linkage Plug into everything you like. Keep fighting and see how far that takes you.”

He did not have much choice in the matter.

He could not challenge Jennifer to a head-on fight when she held both the Fermiliquidio and the devil’s revolver, so he could only drag his aching body back along the train.

“Yes, you can start by resonating with the simple things – the lights, the balancers, the shock absorbers.”

He could not simply stab the sword into the roof below him. She was following along behind him, so she would pull out any Linkage Plug blades she could reach. So he went for the walls. When he saw an opening, he would lean out from the roof as if crawling and stab his sword in.

“And after building up a high enough level, you plan to aim for something larger.”

She understood perfectly.

Had she not just killed him yet because the train was too unsteady? If the wind blew in or the train shook unexpectedly when she was swinging Fermiliquidio, she would only end up destroying herself.

Her plan was to corner him at the end of the train.

“I wonder what’s in those freight containers. Ah ha ha! Seawater filters!? Well, lucky you!! You can build up your level quick with those!!”

He knew what she was doing, but he was already on the precipice.

He had arrived at the very back and had nowhere else to go. He would never survive if he dropped down to the track below.

She was grinning.

“So what level did you reach? Maybe 3000 using the entire freight train? But what good is that against my 10,000!?”

He stabbed his Linkage Plug sword into the roof below him.

A high-pitched blast pounded on his eardrums.

It was the train’s whistle.

The glasses teacher looked surprised at first, but then she held her sides and guffawed.

“Pff. Ah hah hah hah hah hah!!”

“…”

“Couldn’t you have at least slammed on the brakes to try and unbalance me!? Have you learned nothing about Sorcery Hacking since switching jobs?”

“What makes you so sure I haven’t?”

The blue blazer that symbolized his position as a pupil flapped wildly in the wind as he grabbed the hilt of his Linkage Plug sword.

“The Fermiliquidio is proof that someone is 5th in line to the throne and I’m sure you’re feeling awfully proud of yourself for hacking it, but you’re just tricking it into giving you authorization, aren’t you? If control is retaken through the proper route, you’ll be bitten by the very weapon you’re relying on.”

“And how do you expect to do that!? I will admit this intercontinental spirit train is large and its cargo of filters and such might bring your level up to around 3000, but I have 10,000! I have the devil’s revolver and the prince’s sword!! You can’t lay a finger on me!!”

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Ayato was still smiling. “This train is constantly on the move. And moving quite quickly along the ocean railroad, I might add. Level 5000? Level 10,000? That only applies back on the island, so what does it matter here?”

Jennifer frantically looked back at Laguntreat behind her, but it was already vanishing into the distance.

“Oh, no.”

Instead, she could see smaller dots of land moving toward them. Those would be the uninhabited islands. The bent metal tower sticking up from the vegetation of one would be what Teleria had called a lightning cloud cannon.

“You’ve proudly claimed to have stolen that from the 5th prince, but what happened to him after that, I wonder?”

“You think he’s still trying to reclaim it from somewhere? Nonsense!! He couldn’t have survived that much blood loss! Besides, do you have any idea how long its been since I set this plan in motion!?”

“Fermiliquidio manipulates an ultracold quantum fluid, which puts it on the level of Secondary Taboo Sleep, if not even higher. What if the sword put her master in cold sleep to preserve his life at the last moment?”

“…”

“Now, that’s probably much easier said than done, but that 5th prince is well-known for spending so much time messing with sorcery devices he never sets foot outside. He might not be on the level of a Sorcery Hacker, but he would understand the basic system behind it. Now, a question: what level would a royal cruiser be? He might be new at it, but with that as a starting point, he would be able to control all sorts of sorcery devices.”

“I sank that ship!!”

“Why would that matter? Hell, you’re using the Predator Island’s processing space right now and it’s sunk.”

The scales were tipping.

She could sense something major developing here.

“And the 5th prince enjoys clay target shooting. He wanted to find a hobby that got him outside more often, but he stubbornly refused to shoot live animals. …Now, maybe he is dead. Or maybe he’s frozen and asleep. But if he managed to set up a certain trick with the last of his strength, he just might have been able to do something like this.”

Ayato pointed over with his thumb.

Instead of turning that way, Jennifer Evening held the Fermiliquidio tight. She intended to end this before anything more could happen.

Which was why she failed to see it.

The lightning cloud cannon protruding from the uninhabited island’s forest slowly turned to aim toward something other than the sky. Its bent joint folded up even further to aim down at the ground.

There was no such thing as truly unmanned magic, but that giant sorcery device would function as long as someone’s mind was there to operate it, even if they were licking up every last drop of water to avoid dying of thirst and even if they were frozen in ice.

Ayato gave another blast of the train’s whistle.

He intentionally triggered the auto-attacking system.

“I’m counting on you.”

The actual projectile was an enormous hunk of ice.

It hit midway between Ayato and Jennifer, tearing up the roof, and embedding itself in the train.

That cannon was supposed to blow away thick lightning clouds, but this did not seem to be a malfunction.

Ayato had speculated the prince had remade it into an auto-sniping system that would act as a dying message upon detecting his attacker, but apparently not.

The 5th prince had instead adjusted its power.

“I see. He’s even more of an old softy than I’d heard.”

Had the triggering condition been detecting a Sorcery Hacker combating Jennifer? The ice shell launched in response to the hacked train’s whistle split open to reveal a device within and Ayato stabbed his Linkage Plug sword into that.

It was a complex sorcery key used to operate the royal cruiser.

When viewed as a single large system, hacking it would provide a level of…

“About 2500!!”

“!?”

The impact hit them both just as hard, but knowing it was coming meant a lot. Jennifer was knocked off balance and Ayato managed to rush toward her and strike with his Linkage Plug sword.

They had locked blades, but Jennifer laughed while holding her sword in just her left hand.

“So what? Adding 2500 to 3000 still won’t reach my level. 10,000 is literally an order of magnitude higher!!”

“…”

“Did you think this weapon was made so a momentary boost could overwhelm it? It’s time you were torn limb from limb by a torrent of -200 embers[12]!!”

“I wouldn’t be so sure.”

Part 6[edit]

The clock continued to tick off of the train as well.

The white dress girl called Florence kept her aching right leg moving while pulling on straitlaced Striker Henrietta’s hand.

Yes, she had been left with a job.

The boy fighting on that train had asked her to do something.

“This way, hurry!”

“W-wait just a moment. I am supposed to be watching over my friend while she sleeps.”

“I do appreciate that, but the Jennifer woman has left the island. No one here will harm that girl now, so this is more important!”

“Why would you appreciate that???”

They left the tropical forest and arrived on the white beach.

Water Lord Fleurelisia’s gargantuan body awaited them there. She had been peppered with pieces of the ship and the Predator Island’s shellfire had torn off an entire wing, so the beach was stained with her blood.

“Remove those.” The girl pointed. “I want you to remove the armor shards and wood splinters from that wound. I call them shards and splinters, but they’re bigger than you and I need your great strength to pull them out. So please, won’t you help this powerless girl?”

Henrietta saw the Four Lord as a target of fear, but the girl must have been a different story. Henrietta had heard about those horrific purifying blood pools on the warship, so if Florence respected the Four Lord as a guardian deity and wanted to heal her wound, Henrietta could view that as a way to help the girl.

But.

SorceryHacker v02 BW09.jpg

(Hm? Did I ever use my magic in front of her???)

“Maybe a Static Continent knight is not duty-bound to protect the residents of this distant island, but if you have any kindness in your heart, please save this life before it is lost!”

“Hmph.”

Henrietta did not like how that was phrased. It made her feel like she was being set up.

But she still drew the bolt-action carbine from her hip.

“Listen, girl. When you truly want help, you can skip all of that rationalization. Just ask for help.”

“Oh.”

“And I, Striker Destrius, will never shy away from danger when it will assist my king or the people. Where exactly I am in the world is but a minor detail. Or to put it another way, don’t worry about a thing.”

The blonde Striker raised her large sorcery gun toward the sky and loosed a roar as she pulled the trigger.

“Primary Ex Massive!!”

Part 7[edit]

The white torrent of ultracold quantum fluid was nowhere to be seen.

“What…what happened!?”

“Your biggest mistake was trying to do this all on your own. There are other people out there fighting just like I am here. And those small actions can link together.” Ayato gave her a rough smile while pouring strength into his Linkage Plug sword. “For example, if the Linkage Plug is removed from Fleurelisia, you lose that processing space. You can’t control the Fermiliquidio with just the Predator Island’s 5000. In fact, who do you think’s gonna win if it comes down to a 5000 vs. 5000 tug-of-war!?”

She was repelled.

Ayato held his sword two-handed and Jennifer held hers one-handed, so there was an unavoidable difference in strength. And he jabbed his Linkage Plug forward just as she staggered back.

He stabbed it into the prince’s sword she held.

“Oh, no.”

Several 0.1 esoule[13] knives fell from her thighs inside her tight skirt. Were those her Linkage Plugs? He could see what looked like a trigger on the grip, so they may have been rigged to launch the blade out with a spring.

“Now, then.”

But what about this time?

Jennifer’s trick had failed and Ayato had contacted the prince’s sword with his blade’s processing space greatly expanded.

“Can you maintain control?”

A low buzz came from Jennifer’s left hand, but not because the weapon was preparing to launch its quantum fluid.

In fact…

“Normal functioning of Fermiliquidio restored. Illegal access by unauthorized user detected. Executing emergency defensive procedures in accordance with the special laws regarding protection of the Selected Kingdoms Combined Royal Family.”

A stiff feminine voice came from it.

And…

“Ugh.”

A light slicing sound followed.

“Agh!?”

If Jennifer Evening had been even a moment slower to let go, the ring of quantum fluid emitted by the sword would have frozen her shoulder and severed her arm. Her suit split open a bit and something like a crystal pendulum fell out. That was her Linkage Monitor. Without that, she could not use her Sorcery Hacking.

The rapier stabbed into the freight train’s roof and a dragonfly landed on its pommel. That unnatural insect was made of pure white silk and silverwork.

Once Ayato blinked, it had become a little girl in a classic maid uniform whose silver hair was worn in gorgeous ringlet curls. The maid’s luxurious appearance clashed with her tiny stature and countless sorcery guns of various sizes emerged from her back.

“What is your name?” bluntly asked Ayato.

“Angela Messenger. Not that I have any obligation to answer questions from the likes of you.”

He could detect a combination of harshness and kindness in that one short response. Exactly the high quality he would expect from a royal maid. Maybe it was because they had a shared enemy and maybe she was thankful his plan had restored her to normal, but she seemed to have set the boy very low on her threat priority list despite him being as much of a Sorcery Hacker as Jennifer.

With blatant irritation on her face, Angela brushed off her maid uniform to remove the Linkage Plug blades like they were dry leaves.

Had she decided his Sorcery Hacking was more benevolent than Jennifer’s?

Perhaps the difference was his intent to eventually return control to her compared to Jennifer’s intent to keep the maid under her control forever.

Whatever the case, Angela’s top priority was Jennifer Evening.

That woman had stolen a proof of royalty, wielded its power without permission, caused needless conflict, and murdered someone on that island.

That guardian maid would very likely conclude that was worthy of the death penalty.

“Kh!!”

All of a sudden, Jennifer’s right hand hopped up while wielding that revolver that could rival a ship’s gun, but her trigger finger froze in place.

She might have been able to drive away the 5th’s guardian if she had used that devil’s revolver to its fullest. Angela was only herself and she could not use Fermiliquidio’s power. Now that the sword had left Jennifer’s control, that ultracold quantum fluid was no longer a factor, unless the prince – its rightful owner – were here. The number of guns spread out behind Angela was impressive, but the battle would remain in the realm of a sorcery gun shootout.

But Jennifer had already set Ayato Criminaltrophy as her initial target. She was done for if she used up all 6 shots and, even if she did destroy the ringlet curls maid with some shots remaining, Ayato would only have to run away and wait for her to waste the rest of her ammo.

Yes.

That teacher had hacked herself some weapons to give herself power beyond her actual skill. She was not a sorcery gun specialist like Teleria or Henrietta. Ayato himself knew how hard it was to master both skills at once. That large gun would be hard enough to use at the best of times and the roof of an unsteady freight train with lots of wind blowing through was far from being the best of times. With the fear of death thrown into the mix, a gun amateur like her would never be able to shoot straight.

In fact, she had not fired that sorcery gun even once this whole time.

If she had shot Ayato when their blades were locked earlier, she might have been able to kill him. But the fear had stopped her. If she fired that enormous revolver with just one hand, she might lose her balance atop the speeding train. And she feared the revolver’s curse as well.

“C’mon, do it.”

So Ayato provoked her.

He was injured and exhausted, but he still slowly shifted to a position that did not leave him and the silver ringlet curls maid both in Jennifer’s line of fire.

“With the Queen Astaroth Revolver, who wins is really a matter of chance, but it will let you fight well enough that it comes down to luck. I’ve used it, so I know.”

“Nonsense,” insisted the maid. “Must I prove you wrong with a personal demonstration of my ability?”

He ignored the maid’s mixture of positive and negative.

“If you’re worried about the ammo situation, then you can start with me. That lets you use all 6 shots for taking out the target you’ve set. Kill me in that time and you earn the right to reload. Then you’ll have another full set of 6 to challenge this dangerous maid. That sounds fair, don’t you think?”

“…!?”

She clenched her teeth so hard he could have sworn it was audible from where he was.

He was not exactly wrong, but it was not that simple. She had no idea if she could match that maid with 100% of her focus, so what would happen if she shifted her focus to deal with someone else? The battle would be over in the blink of an eye.

Defeating them both with three shots each was not possible, so Ayato’s logic should have been correct, but her physical body could not keep up with that.

“Maybe something happened in my past. Maybe I’ve made an enemy of the entire Student Council or even the Academy Towers as a whole. I don’t even know why that devil’s revolver is obsessed with me.”

He raised his Linkage Plug Sword which was no better than an ordinary metal pipe when not being used to hack something.

Ayato Criminaltrophy put on a vicious smile while viewing this from a different angle than when he was the Hexajinx.

“But this isn’t about you. You’re just a courier.”

She had held Level 10,000 processing power.

She had wielded the freezing blade of the Combined Royal Family.

She had wielded the devil’s revolver.

But when just one of the pieces collapsed, a dreadful domino effect was set in motion. The perfect scenario she had set up for herself was working to trap her now that she had lost her sword and had dropped her Linkage Monitor pendulum.

Ayato and Angela stepped to either side to approach poor Jennifer from both sides at once.

It really did not matter how many shots she had left.

Right now, she was at Level 0.

Jennifer Evening had never been skilled at direct combat, so she never stood a chance.

A single blow was all it took for her world to explode with a dull thud.


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  1. Approximately 10,000 yen per coin.
  2. Approximately 5000 yen per coin.
  3. Approximately -220 degrees Celsius.
  4. Approximately 0 degrees Celsius.
  5. Approximately 400,000 yen.
  6. Approximately -220 degrees Celsius
  7. Approximately -220 degrees Celsius.
  8. Approximately 60 meters.
  9. Approximately 10,000 yen per coin.
  10. Approximately 1.2 meters.
  11. Approximately -220 degrees Celsius.
  12. Approximately -220 degrees Celsius.
  13. Approximately 12 centimeters.