Ouka knew she couldn't persuade Mari.
The fact that her soul was seized meant that she was deprived of herself. The freedom of body and freedom of mind were completely different. Ouka too, was once deprived of bodily freedom, but was able to overcome it thanks to her strong soul, she thought.
But if one is deprived of the soul, there is no way for them to resist.
I wonder just how much time has passed, this is the first time I have to concentrate this much in battle.
How many humans were still alive in this city? Was the main force of the Heretic Alliance safe? Were Sage, Yuzuho and Kirigaya safe? She wondered.
Where is Saionji, Suginami and Lapis?
——A rainbow-colored pillar of light poured down from the sky and grazed Ouka's cheek. She flapped her wings and barely managed to avoid the attack. Also ahead of where she avoided to, there were pillars of light pouring down. She had no time to think of her comrades and would lose her life if she averted her attention even for a moment.
That was the kind of opponent she was fighting with.
——Concentrate, Ootori Ouka.
——The only thing you can do now, is to continue fighting.
——You have been entrusted with two lives.
——Your opponent's, and your own.
While avoiding the pillars of light she swung her right arm with abandon, releasing all 《Vampire》 stakes from her elbow.
Not to shoot her enemy down, but to block attacks.
By removing the stopper she was able to shoot the 《Earl's Fang》 from a large distance rather than close range. Unlike when she shot small stakes with the handgun form, she was unable to fire in succession after shooting a salvo. Five stakes made with magic power had chains attached to them and it was necessary to skilfully operate it with the elbow and then rewind the chain back to recover the stakes, but in exchange the power was equivalent to that of close range shots.
But if it misses, she'll fall into a predicament where she shows a big opening. Moreover, now that she didn't have Vlad's support, activating 《Earl's Fang》 took some time.
Seeing how Ouka didn't seem to intend on hitting Mari from a distance, it seemed like a really poor move.
It won't hit. The huge stake that was fired——has slipped by Nikaido Mari's side.
An exchange of attacks from a large distance was greatly unfavorable for Ouka. Without Vlad's support she was unable to easily release the opponent's protection barrier with the penetrating stake.
Even if she sniped from a distance, there was no way she could penetrate through multiple layers of a barrier. Meanwhile, Mari continued to pour the 《Aurora Rain》 from the sky as she maintained the barriers.
She had completely taken over the control over the battle.
While maintaining the barrier she poured down the 《Aurora Rain》, on top of that, there were more and more magic circles appearing around her. From Ouka's point of view, it looked as if she was going against a castle or a battleship. She was unable to get close, and it was also difficult to maintain distance because of the constantly-pouring 《Aurora Rain》.
It was the same tactics that are said to have been used by the ancient witches. Skilled witches would not move at all, instead performing all actions related to combat by using magic. Mari quietly floated on flight rings as she had her back turned to a building on the verge of collapse.
She casually extended her hand.
A change had started to occur as the number of magic circles deployed in the air had exceeded a hundred.
The hundred of magic circles were disassembled and rebuilt into one huge magic circle. A complex spell had activated as the magic circles synthesized and a sound similar to that of clashing metal had rang out.
It was the complete version of the strongest thermal-based attack the Aurora property had boasted of, the 《Aurora Gate》. Most likely, the firepower and the area of attack was several times larger than when Ouka saw it for the first time.
Were it to be released, Ouka would evaporate in an instant. She swung her left arm as if to say "I won't let you", and once again fired the 《Earl's Fang》 at Mari.
It didn't hit. The huge stake passed by Mari's side just like the first one and stabbed deep into the wall of the building behind her.
A huge gate has emerged behind Mari, a sound as if the atmosphere itself wailed had spread.
Ouka wouldn't let herself be beat just like that. While staring at the light concentrating in the gate she inhaled deeply and bracing herself she positioned her arms at the height of her waist.
The mechanisms at her elbows started to scatter sparks and creak soundly as she began to rewind the chains.
Flapping the spread wings she also pulled the chain herself. The wings flapped strongly enough to generate a small tornado.
And the moment 《Aurora Gate》 was about to be fired——the building behind Mari has cracked soundly and broke in the middle.
The 《Earl's Fangs》 Ouka fired have acted as hooks and pulled the building down.
Taken by surprise, Mari tried to avoid the falling building but it was too huge and the upper part of the building had crashed into the spherical protective barrier. Mari pierced through the concrete wall like a bullet.
The 《Aurora Gate》's aim has been displaced and it had passed over Ouka's head.
The magic in question was too rampant to be called just a flash and was beautiful enough for anyone to stare at it in admiration. A space-time distortion appeared several meters above Ouka caused by the magic power. The extreme auroral laser released from the gate had reached a hill far away and after grazing the top of it, it continued to stretch further.
Ouka drew the upper part of the building along with Mari, to herself.
While rewinding the chain she charged at Mari.
With both her arms occupied, she released an 《Earl's Fang》 from the mechanism on her knee. She had no time to build an operative procedure for penetration. Using the impact of the incoming building, she fired 《Earl's Fang》 and pierced through by force.
Ouka's fang collided with Mari's protective magic and easily broke through the defense. Even the Aurora magic was unable to block this attack. After passing through the barrier, the fang had grazed Mari's cheek and pierced into the building's wall.
When Ouka disconnected the chain, the two started to fall down together with the building. Mari was unable to escape. Ouka was unable to move. In the middle of fall Ouka reached out to Mari and caught her shoulders.
In the middle of the roar of the falling building, Ouka shouted towards Mari.
Even while feeling the huge building press down on them, Ouka continued to speak to her.
Mari didn't answer. Ouka could only continue to speak in this situation.
They approached the ground filled with red meat. Ouka clenched her teeth and kicked the building with all the strength she had in her body.
——Momentarily, the upper part of the building that was about to clash into the ground, was blown away.
A loud roar and a cloud of dust rose up to the sky. Scattered debris collided with other buildings causing a chain collapse. The rubble crushed into small pieces has fallen to the ground and was preyed on by the red meat, which acted like a starved beast.
Rainbow-colored flying rings shone in the dust.
Slowly and without making any sound, Nikaido Mari landed on the debris of the building which was sinking into the sea of meat.
On the verge of smashing onto the ground, Ouka smashed apart the entire upper part of the building. For her as she was now, in vampire form, destroying a building was as easy as taking a candy from a baby.
Mari stared at the smoke. From the looks of her, she seemed like a machine searching for something. She looked up from inside the smoke at the sky. There, a shadow with spread wings had descended on the debris of the building ahead.
The smoke had settled down. With meaty sounds in the background, under the cloudy sky, the crimson shadow stared at Mari.
Once again, Ouka spoke to her.
Even though she knew her words won't reach, she still said them.
"I'm alive. I promise that I will never die by your hand."
"I will not be killed by you. I won't let your conviction be tainted with my death."
Mari's conviction, that is – not to kill. No matter how evil the opponent is, she wouldn't kill them.
Ouka knew that this conviction of hers wasn't just talk.
Because life was important, no matter what kind of life it is.
If Ouka asked Mari whether she thinks so, Mari would probably laugh at her.
At one time, when they were living their normal life Mari said: "I don't kill because I hate killing. Lives aren't equal. There are lives that should be saved, and those that should be ended. It's certain that there are lives that should not exist.".
『"But I won't take those lives."』
It wasn't logical. But it didn't matter whether it was or not. She hated killing, so she didn't kill. This was the root of her conviction not to kill.
Ouka who stood on just the opposite side of such beliefs, thought it was something precious.
"Be at ease and smash everything you have at me."
That's why Ouka won't let herself be killed by Mari. She will continue fighting.
What she aimed at, was Mari running out of magic power. After spending so much magic power until now, Mari shouldn't have much remaining. If she runs out, her combat ability will be equal to none.
Until now Ouka avoided the big moves and this was the reason why. Mari should have consumed a large amount of magic power to cast the 《Aurora Gate》, so she must have few magic power remaining.
She will use the magic she obtained from Vlad's soul to save Mari. Ouka crossed her arms and closed her eyes. She could tell that at the same time, Mari expanded magic circles again.
Are you watching...?
Opening her eyes, Ouka flapped her wings and kicked off the building
Mari generated a black and silver magical swords.
Are you watching this... Vlad?
Swinging her arm, Ouka delivered a blow to Mari.
The magical swords in Mari's both hands were blocked by that blow.
Using the rebound from the blocking, Ouka jumped over Mari's head and moved behind her.
Am I as noble as you wanted me to be?
Instead of attacking, she tried restraining Mari from behind.
However, Mari released a wave of magic power from her body, blowing Ouka away.
Blown away, Ouka flapped her wings and charged at Mari again.
Watch over me from wherever you are, partner...!
She couldn't let Mari open up a distance between them. At short range Ouka could pierce through the barrier by pure force, but at distance she would be one-sidedly barraged with attacks. Avoidance is also easier when she's near her target. For as long as possible she had to continue approaching Mari and destroy her protective magic to use up her magic power.
——There was no other way!
Still turned with her back to Ouka, Mari twisted her waist and pointed her fingertips at Ouka as if aiming with a pistol.
Ouka opened her eyes wide in surprise and twisting her body, stopped her charge.
The 《Aurora Bullet》. Concentrated magic power moving at high speed had penetrated one of Ouka's wings.
Receiving an impact from the magic, Ouka fell while spinning. She couldn't allow herself to move away, so she immediately restored her wing and quickly rose back up to close the distance.
Mari wasn't good at close combat. Although she could use high-powered magic attacks, her reflexes and overall physical abilities weren't too high. If only Ouka could close the distance——
That moment, Mari's body was covered with a very thin layer of aurora light. Ouka, who tried to close the distance had immediately taken a defensive posture.
The moment she stopped in mid-air, a black sword was thrust centimeters away of her forehead.
She twisted her head, unable to find any other way to avoid it.
The sword had gouged Ouka's cheek and cut her hair. The moment she understood that Mari had cast a strengthening magic on her body, Mari twisted her body right in front of Ouka and used her left leg to deliver a kick. While using the 《Aurora Enchantment》 she smashed her left heel onto Ouka's head.
That move looked just like the roundhouse kicks Ouka specialized in.
Ouka's break shook, and forced herself to stay awake as her consciousness was fading to darkness, she received a follow-up blow from Mari. As she received the sword attack with her fang, she immediately caught herself bitterly regretting it.
There was no doubt that Mari was bad with close combat. Ouka knew she didn't like it.
——Yet she was fast. Her speed was abnormal. Even if her soul has been taken over, that's no reason for her to exercise more power than normal.
Body strengthening magic. And considering the reaction rate, her cerebral nerves were also strengthened. It was the same thing Haunted was doing to deal with Takeru's speed during battle.
Having eyes of a vampire, who are said to see through what normally can't be seen Ouka was able to somewhat follow his speed. However, Mari was just a human. Ouka knew the danger of brain-strengthening magic, and so did Mari, which was the reason she hadn't done that until now.
A small amount of blood started trickling from Mari's eyes and nose. It was difficult to tell from outside appearance, but her insides must have been a mess.
Both of them were already a mess.
...Same as usual.
Although she was in a predicament, Ouka smiled wryly as she battled with Mari.
Ever since the battle against EXE at the Critical Point, to following battle with Mother Goose and coping with Hyakki Yakou they had no time to rest. Mari who had once lost her limbs and suffered massive bleeding should have been far more worn out than Ouka.
And yet, her attacks were still fierce. Even if she used Mother Goose's magic power to heal herself up, it wasn't like she was completely cured. Good grief, she's way too talented as a magic user and knows her way around magic power consumption efficiency.
"Hey, do you remember?"
As the sword and fang met, Ouka started to quietly speak to Mari.
"Even now I recall the days when we just met for the first time."
Even though she knew no voice would reach Mari, she kept talking as they continued to combat.
"While both of us carried burden of our past, you were the complete opposite of me. You, who naively embraced the idea of "non-killing" and me, who judged evil with death, were completely incompatible."
In the middle of the exchange of blows Mari leaped backwards and created a magic circle, then immediately released an 《Aurora Bullet》 without any pre-charging.
Ouka who had predicted her actions avoided the bullet by diving low and returned to close combat.
"Our personalities are polar opposites as well. Your free-spiritedness annoyed me. Unlike me, you were honest, frank, and refined..."
Mari's onslaught did not stop, but Ouka continued.
Fangs made of magic power and magical swords scattered particles of magic power which drifted around them in the air.
"I hated you... really."
She said, feeling nostalgic about their past selves.
The sword raised up high had approached Ouka's head from above, and was received with fangs in Ouka's both hands.
"Ngh... But at the same time I envied you. You, whom I hated in my revenge... you..."
"You were just too dazzling...!"
Repelling the sword, Ouka brought her face to Mari's close enough for their noses to touch.
And grasped Mari's arms as she tried to slash her again.
"I envied you that you believed in yourself so straightforwardly! That you had the strength to smile at all times, no matter what was happening around us!"
She twisted Mari's strengthened arms by using force even beyond that.
All that Ouka forced out of herself, were parts of her she didn't want to admit existed.
"You reminded me just how little my troubles and suffering was...! Just by standing next to you I couldn't help but feel miserable...! It was all because I knew I couldn't be like you...!"
She, who was burdened with her past was unable to simply believe in herself like Mari did. Ouka's past was filled with darkness.
But, that's why——!
"But that's why I was able to bear with myself! Thanks to you I could remain being myself!"
Seeing Mari's back as she ran in front, she couldn't bear just walking forward.
The reason Ouka thought they're completely incompatible with Mari, lied in this.
It wasn't because she was a witch. Not because she was a rival in love either.
——I just don't want to lose to her.
There was no logic behind it, Mari just had something that made Ouka think so. Even though Ouka longed for it, she didn't want to chase after Mari's back. Her frustration continued to accumulate until she couldn't bear it. I just have to be myself, and polish myself. If I am to be envious of her, I should rather aim to become myself I can be proud of. Even if we acknowledge each other now, that one thing doesn't change.
Just earlier, she was saved by Mari twice.
As if she could stay quiet about this.
She had didn't say thanks. She didn't want to say them. Instead she would return thanks with actions.
The two who had the worst and the best compatibility at the same time, were indispensable existences to each other in order to improve themselves.
It wasn't hatred, but the resistance towards each other that sublimated into bonds, even while in conflict they continued to move forward.
——That is what it means to be worthy rivals!
"I'll have you——continue staying by my side from now on as well!"
Ouka roared right in front of Mari's face. As if to respond to that, Mari's hair rose up and magic power was concentrated between the two.
No magic circle had appeared. It was just a mass of magic power.
A Magic Bash——the moment she realized, Aurora magic power had exploded between them.
It had no power strong enough to wound them, but the impact was strong enough to blow Ouka away.
The two moved away from each other and faced off from a distance.
Mari closed her eyes and once again generated several magic circles.
She was trying to trigger the second 《Aurora Gate》. Ouka wasn't attacked with the 《Aurora Rain》 for restriction. Perhaps, Mari used that magic power for protective magic instead. The aurora barrier covering Mari wouldn't be so easily to pierce this time.
Ouka took a deep breath while in mid-air. Once 《Aurora Gate》 activated it's difficult to avoid it, and since Mari's speed was higher than during the Mock Battle Tournament, trying to avoid it was suicidal. However, trying to stop it before activation wasn't beneficial either. Cancelling her magic would only prolong the battle. Ouka too, was at disadvantage during an extended battle. Although Ouka's current supply of magic power was higher, Mari was superior when it comes to efficient usage of it. Prolonging it would be disadvantageous and tricks like earlier wouldn't work again.
In which case.
"I'll pierce head on."
She disassembled the mechanism on her right arm and rebuilt it.
Concentrating magic power, Ouka built a mechanism several times larger than she was.
It was the first time she made it this huge. Vlad was a Relic Eater that was lacking in defense, so there was no way for her to cope with attacks like this. She concentrated magic power on the enormous stake protruding from her elbow. Emitting red and black lightning the stake rotated violently growing red as if heated up. But it wasn't enough, not yet.
She had the operative procedure for 《Aurora Gate》 in her head. While the amount of magic power required for 《Earl's Fang》 was inferior to that of 《Aurora Gate》, the intrinsic performance allowing to pierce magic should fill that difference. The problems were the duration of the magic and whether Ouka would succeed reversing the operative procedure. Magic penetration was capable of piercing through protective barriers and Witch Hunter Form, so it could also dispel this magic.
But it wasn't so easy against attack magic. If protective and reinforcement magic are hit and penetrated, they are invalidated by destroying the operative procedure. But it was different for attack magic, especially for one so powerful as 《Aurora Gate》. It wasn't something that could be dispelled just by being hit.
It could be only penetrated. Furthermore, going against such amount of magic power she had to build a stake with considerable amount of durability.
If she's stingy with magic power in here, she'll be done with. Not upholding the promise was a definite no. That's why she put all the magic power she had into this blow, including all the magic power Vlad had left behind.
The condensed magic power changed color from deep red into deep crimson, then sublimated into the utmost limit of crimson color.
Redder than blood, more crimson than a flame, shining brighter than a sun.
A huge magic circle appeared behind the rotating stake.
She had no need for tricks. In order to improve the fang's quality she started its restoration and made it capable to of standing up to Mari's aurora.
At the same time Ouka finished her preparations, a gate appeared behind Mari. The gate, reminiscent of an entrance to another world was solemn, dazzling and overwhelming its spectators. It announced to the world that it is light, that is the strongest phenomenon in the world.
Ouka faced it with a tiny fang, as compared to the huge gate.
However, that fang's shine, the crimson color dwelling inside burned bright red.
Mari opened her closed eyes and protruded her open hands forward.
Ouka too, breathed in heavily and swung her right arm.
The one who released her magic first was Mari. The door of the gate opened and light overflowed from inside. It was said that in the distant past, this great magic has erased entire fleet with a single blow. 《Aurora Gate》 did indeed have the power to support that anecdote.
The extremely intensive light had swallowed Ouka completely. Inside, there was not a speck of darkness or sound, just light alone. A world that rejected any life and any substance.
Truly a hell——inside of which stood Ouka.
She rejected the rejection. She stood there while protruding the fang and inside the vortex of light that could be called nothing but a threat, she maintained her existence which seemed like it would be erased any time.
Only the part of the vortex that touched the fang had disappeared. However, the light was like a muddy stream, even though the fang was huge, it wasn't a defensive wall. The particles of light that weren't erased were eroding Ouka. Pieces of armor the particles touched had disappeared and Ouka's own body was assaulted. Even with a vampire body she was unable to maintain her existence in this world.
Therefore, she restored herself, restored again and again. Her turning-to-ash body was being recovered with the recovery ability peculiar to true ancestor vampires.
The restoration didn't make in time and she started being suppressed by light. Her appearance looked like that of a piece of ice inside of a flame. She was unable to scream or to feel pain. What she was allowed to was not the fear of being killed, but that of being erased.
——Clench your teeth. Open your eyes wide.
I can't let myself be erased. I must not let my body perish away before the fang breaks. Even if it's just bones left behind me, I'm not disappearing before the fang breaks.
Look forward. Push forward. Waiting ahead of this pierced light there's your future, Mari's future and your comrades' future.
The magic power ejecting from the shooting mechanism boosted her charge with the fang. She couldn't afford to use magic power on restoration of the wings. Only the fang and her own body were remaining.
The fang started to crack. Recovery was unable to catch up with Ouka's body restoration and she started turning to ash starting from her feet. A fearful soul whispered into her ears inviting her to comfort. Tapping weakly on her shoulder it suggested that being killed by her best friend is what she wanted.
Shut up, be silent. Ouka spat away. As if I'd lose. I will not disappear until I win this round and puff up my chest in front of Mari.
Forward. Move forward. You have resolved herself so many times until now.
Enough of this talk, just move on and pierce, Ootori Ouka!
Responding to Ouka's roar, the fang rotated. Penetrating the vortex of light she rushed straight ahead.
Then finally, she has overcome the light.
After breaking out of the vortex she struck the upper part of the gate with the fang. She had the operative procedure in her head. If she breaks down the gate, it will be impossible to maintain the magic and the magic power will diffuse.
Just as Ouka expected, the gate collapsed the moment the fang had struck it. The magical power building the 《Aurora Gate》 had scattered.
In tatters, she had the mechanism disappear and somehow reconstructed the wings. Flapping them, she took a deep breath. Were she a step late, her recovery wouldn't have kept up and she would have been erased.
Deploying a sword, Mari aimed for Ouka in mid-air and attacked.
But Ouka didn't move. It wasn't that she had no strength left to fight, she could continue fighting in close combat but was confident that the battle had already ended.
As the swung sword approached Ouka's forehead, the very moment it was about to hit - the 《Eclipse Blade》 crumbled away and scattered. And it was not because Ouka nullified it with her stake.
Mari had finally ran out of magic power.
As she swung down the crumbling sword, Mari closed her eyes as if falling asleep. The flying rings disappeared and as her fall started, she was held up in the air by Ouka.
But Ouka too, was covered with wounds. Her rebuilt wings hadn't enough strength left to support two people.
This is bad, the exhaustion is... beyond what I expected...!
Even if she tried to crash onto the roof of a sunken building, she was unable to correct their trajectory in time and they fell straight into the sea of meat.
Ouka embraced Mari as if to protect her and covered her with her wings.
That was all she could do now. Both of them were falling into the sea of demons. In the end, Ouka strongly hugged Mari.
——*thwump*, a strong impact hit her body.
Her arm was caught by something, it took her a few moments to realize their fall had stopped.
When she looked up, someone caught her arm from on top of a sinking building.
Who was it?
"Sorry, I'm late."
Ahh, it's you.
Somewhere deep in her heart she thought he would come.
But this guy, he's always, ALWAYS...
Ouka said along with a sigh and smiled lightly.
The reason Ikaruga immediately moved to check on Kiseki's body was because she predicted what Ootori Sougetsu intended to do. To confirm her condition, Ikaruga sent Nanomachines inside Kiseki's body and found out that Kiseki awakened despite the fact her brain was asleep and immediately moved to protect Usagi.
Using the Nanomachines, she converted her own body into that of a dark elf and while it was extremely simple, she was able to maintain a protective barrier.
Right now Hyakki Yakou was a weapon of mass destruction whose controls have been completely lost. Although Kiseki controlled the Hyakki Yakou before, there was no doubt that deep inside her heart she was limiting its activity.
Right now, Hyakki Yakou continuously attempted to kill Ikaruga. Like water that's sucked into a drain, the demon cells gathered in her location. What she could do, was only to endure and maintain the protective barrier.
Facing the overwhelming muddy stream of demons, it was nearly impossible for her to cast 《Calamity》 while maintaining the barrier. Blowing Hyakki Yakou away with anti-matter bomb would be the best, but although Ikaruga was a first-class scientist, her knowledge as a witch was very poor and she had no talent. She knew that the best herself, that's why she could only continue to endure like this.
Inside the spherical barrier Ikaruga continued to curl up. The barrier was destroyed and repaired, the repetition of it caused her a tremendous pain. It was necessary for her to maintain the barrier more efficiently, but Ikaruga hadn't the means to do so.
"Good grief... I feel envious of Nikaido's talent, damn it."
Scooping the sweat off her forehead, Ikaruga grumbled. She acquired a dark elf's body, excellent magic power and its amount, but with her consciousness remaining human she was unable to exercise that power well.
She had three more barriers remaining. If she expanded any more barriers to the inside, there would be no space left for their bodies inside it.
This was the limit, it would hold for about a minute longer.
"Me having a dark elf's body is... what a waste of resources."
Ikaruga smiled bitterly to Usagi.
Without giving an answer, Usagi has performed a check on her weapons. She no longer was like her past self where she acted timid or become completely paralyzed from fear, trembling.
She did all that was within her ability.
The maintenance of her favorite gun, "Rabbit Fang" and confirmation of remaining bullets.
She took out anti-magic bullets, aurora bullets, and from a military pouch she took out anti-matter bullet at which she stared with a squint.
The anti-matter bullet wasn't like an instant charm where a magic-absorbent material was used to absorb magic power. Since there was no material that could absorb this much magic power and that the magic was activated at the same time the bullets landed, Ikaruga fixed anti-matter inside using a magnetic field and covered that with an extremely thin layer of anti-magic material to confine it.
If by chance the warhead was to break, the magic would be activated. Considering that, it was necessary to fire this bullet using magic power instead of gunpowder.
Rabbit Fang had enough magic power charged in it.
It was possible to fire it.
Raising the anti-matter bullet up to her mouth, Usagi closed her eyes as if praying.
"Suginami, listen carefully to what I say now."
"Ahh... you don't have to tell me, I can somewhat tell what you want to do."
"It's fine, just listen to me."
With her eyes still closed, Usagi moved her face right next to Ikaruga's.
"To break free from this predicament there is no choice but to blow it all away with the anti-matter bullet. However, if I shoot at this distance we will get caught up in the explosion."
"...So you're saying... you want me to protect us before we get caught up in it?"
Ikaruga answered immediately and turned her pale face away.
She wasn't just screwing around. She couldn't do what was impossible for her to do.
When she said that, Usagi drew her face even closer.
Involuntarily, Ikaruga moved her face away.
Furrowing her eyebrows, Usagi spoke.
"I do not want to hear your complaints. You will do it even if it's impossible, I would be troubled otherwise."
Forcefully pushing the anti-matter bullet into the magazine for magical discharge, she continued.
"We cannot just wait until Kusanagi comes. If we wait, we will surely die."
As Usagi said this, one of the three remaining barriers broke.
Hyakki Yakou further pressed onto them.
"Do it, please. If you do not, we will die."
Resolve, nervousness, fear. Usagi felt none of it as she said that to Ikaruga. After going through countless battlefields, she was the one who was to deliver the decisive blow and that was the reason she could say this. It wasn't like she was used to this situation either, nor has grown immune to it.
All she did, was to state the facts.
Having a grasp on the situation, accepting it, and pulling the trigger to overturn the situation was the sniper's job.
"...To think the day would come when I would hear something like that from you, huh."
Ikaruga seemed to resign herself, grasped Usagi's shoulders and turning around her body she hugged Usagi from behind.
While sitting on the ground, she strongly embraced Usagi.
Usagi pullet the rifle's bolt, inserting the anti-matter bullet.
"It's all right. You made this magic, you made it and you can block it as well."
"You make it sound easy... I'm not Nikaido. It's troubling to get this much trust."
"Of course I will trust you. How many scenes of carnage do you think I have passed through together with you?"
Lifting up the barrel, Usagi set herself up.
Ikaruga drew her face close to Usagi's and closed her eyes in silence.
She had to concentrate now more than ever. She was given only an instant to open up the deployed protective barrier to allow Usagi to to fire at the incoming Hyakki Yakou before it approaches them. Afterwards, she had to remake a full-powered protection magic... no, as long as it blocked it, it mattered not what did she use. She had to use everything whether it's magic power or anything else that's dwelling inside her own body to block the 《Calamity》.
The timing was important. She couldn't do it before Usagi fires, and she couldn't be late or they would be caught in 《Calamity》 and be done for. She had to do it nearly simultaneously with the firing.
The second barrier broke and only one piece was remaining.
Usagi put her finger on the trigger.
"It might be our last moment, you're not satisfied with me being the one to hug you, right?"
"Of course. So make sure it is not our last moment."
"...Geez, you sure have grown strong. So uncute."
Ikaruga hugged Usagi more strongly.
Preparations are complete. That's what she tried to say by doing that.
Usagi started the countdown.
"Three... two... one..."
She put strength into the finger on the trigger. Ikaruga opened her eyes wide and concentrated all her nerves on invoking magic.
When Usagi's countdown chant reached Ikaruga's ears, she calmly released the last protective barrier.
Momentarily the Hyakki Yakou has started flowing in. But an instant before that, Usagi's finger squeezed the fateful trigger.
The bullet landed and the warhead was crushed. And the energy ancient alchemists were unable to produce had started to overflow. Although there were only few grams of the substance, it was not allowed to exist by the matter and had caused an explosion.
The moment the explosion bringing neither light nor darkness had spread, Ikaruga unleashed the nearly-infinite magic power inside her dark elf body to the outside.
Two impacts collided. During the moment destruction ran rampant, the surroundings have turned silent. The destruction had erased the sound. Inside the storm of destruction Ikaruga screamed as she embraced Usagi.
It was the first time she screamed like this. Even if she couldn't hear it as a sound, she could tell just how loud she was screaming through the trembling of her throat.
She didn't expect she would be longing to live so strongly. At first she tried to build protective magic, but was unable to maintain it and ended up just releasing the magic power that was inside her body. Thanks to the dark elf's magic power Ikaruga and Usagi were barely able to remain safe.
I'm not dying in a place like this...!
Ikaruga opened her eyes widely.
I still have plenty things I want to do...!
Memories passed through her head. Her farewell with Isuka, Kanaria's loss. Encounter with Takeru. Usagi and Ouka. The daily life with Mari. Reunion with Kanaria. Words of rejection. Gaining consciousness of her sins. The moment she was accepted as a mother for the first time. And the feeling she had when she held her daughter to her chest.
It was as if she was recalling her life before dying.
——Don't make it our last moment!
She felt like was hearing Usagi's voice.
"That's right——give me a break! I wasn't calling for memories! Right now I want the future!"
Ikaruga shook off the memories, seeking future rather than the past.
"This is just our beginning!"
She pushed back the destruction with magic power.
Using all of my existence I'll definitely block this.
This is what I can do now.
It's to protect your own life. Whether it's Nanomachines or a fantasy organism's cells, use whatever you can to survive.
Live and come back! Back to that place!
To that place I love!
We're all going back together!
Ikaruga's roar blew everything away. The 《Calamity》's destruction was scattered.
What remained behind was just the appearance of Ikaruga and Usagi cowering in the middle of cloud of ash.
Covered in ash, Usagi lifted her face and coughed violently.
They were alive. Ikaruga did it.
However, it was no time to feel safe. Thanks to the 《Calamity》 the Hyakki Yakou in the surroundings have disappeared temporarily, but soon enough started crawling up to them again.
Usagi quickly confirmed Ikaruga's safety.
"Suginami! Can you stand?!"
"Tough call... ignoring law of equivalent exchange's the selling point but... looks like adjustments... are necessary."
"I'll carry you! Make sure not to be shaken off!"
Putting the rifle's belt on her shoulder, Usagi placed Ikaruga on her back.
And she started to run while stomping heavily on the ground. It was because she normally handled the big gun with her abnormal strength running around different battlefields as a sniper that she could now run with Ikaruga on her back.
Of course, she wasn't fast enough to escape from the Hyakki Yakou tsunami.
"M-maybe I should go on a diet..."
"Stop saying things like that when your weight is not much different from mine!"
"No dieting for you... it'll be boring if your boobs shrink..."
"All breasts are is a problem when I run!"
"No... when I'm back... I'll lick all over your boobies——"
"Stop setting dumb death flags! I'll smash this flag of yours!"
As usual, Ikaruga joked even at times like this. No, it was more like she couldn't bear this without joking lightly. It could be said that this has already turned into way to for the 35th platoon's members to calm down.
If not for joking around, they wouldn't have survived this hopeless war until now.
Thanks to 《Calamity》's explosion the location had turned into an open space, the remnants of the buildings that remained and acted as obstacles have almost completely disappeared. A wave of Hyakki Yakou coming from beyond the range of explosion had come to assault them. Swirling sea of raging red meat closed on them without mercy.
Both from the front and the back.
Usagi leaped to the side and the waves clashed against one another and the red meat splashed around. To circumvent them, Usagi ran in a direction where she had an open path of escape.
She avoided the waves while on the verge of stumbling and despite knowing there was no safe place, she still struggled.
But before long, their road was cut off.
When they crossed a piece of rubble from a small building, they were surrounded by the sea of Hyakki Yakou.
"Lend me... a gun."
Usagi silently passed a handgun she had as a sub-weapon to Ikaruga.
She had no intention of killing herself. Ikaruga confirmed the number of bullets in the magazine and raised the gun.
Usagi also lowered the rifle from her shoulder and set it up.
The two loaded the bullets at the same time.
"Let's last even if a second longer."
"Yes, as long as we can!"
They had no intention of giving up. They didn't think it was pointless to struggle until getting this far.
Prolonging their survival even if a second longer, they restored their physical strength. When Ikaruga's stamina recovers she'll be able to turn into an elf again, allowing them to escape by flying or something similar.
Ikaruga herself had no intention of saying she can't do it.
We'll somehow manage. We'll do whatever has to be done to manage.
We'll definitely survive.
They challenged it while thinking so. Struggled with such resolve.
That was the the 35th Test Platoon's style.
As they squeezed the triggers, their guns spit fire. It was infinitely close to ineffective against the incoming Hyakki Yakou, but it wasn't in vain. As living beings, demon cells were frightened by it for a moment.
Since they were surrounded it was likely they would be attacked from behind. That's why the two stood back to back covering each other. The muddy stream of demons mocked it useless, but the two stared at it not giving up the will to fight.
What put an end to this battle, was of course a demon.
To be more precise, it was a boy with a soul of a demon.
"You did well, you two."
Along with an impact flame has spread all over. Usagi and Ikaruga were covered in flames, but the flames in question weren't hot at all.
Flames burned the muddy stream of demons and the demonic sea in liquid form had vaporized. Even the Hyakki Yakou which was called "unconfirmed" Ancient Property, it was unable to resist the god-slaying flames.
Transferred between the demon cells, the flames spread and burnt them out everywhere.
In an instant, the sea of demons surrounding Usagi and Ikaruga was erased.
And in front of the two, there was the usual figure's back.
Ouka carrying in Mari in the sky fired a stake, releasing his armor.
When the boy leaned the sword on his shoulder and turned around, Usagi and Ikaruga——
Before Takeru could apologize, they drew close and yelled at him.
"Umm..." Takeru bent backwards with shock on his face.
"Why are you doing this every SINGLE time?! Are you doing it on purpose?!"
"Kusanagi, play cool in moderation. I can understand you wanting to show off, but think of the situation. Could you STOP involving us with your poor hobby?"
Seeing the two act seriously angry, Takeru immediately started to protest.
"You guys are horrible! Why am I suspected of choosing the timing to save you?! I've had lots of trouble on my side too——"
"If you did not do this on purpose you would not appear with such timing at EVERY occasion!"
"I bet you go "now'll be good" or "it's about time" as you look from hiding, right? How petty, totally uncool."
"——This is a serious case of a false accusation! Why do I have to be told off as thanks for saving you!"
Takeru protested against the unreasonable accusation. As the three started arguing like usual, Ouka descended from the sky while staring at them appalled.
That's when Mari whom she held in both arms opened her eyes.
Being called by name, Ouka looked down on Mari.
"You woke up, that's great."
"I... why am I...?"
Mari tried to recall what was she doing, but feeling pain instead she put a hand on her own forehead.
"Don't try to recall if you don't remember. Takeru released the binding on your soul. You don't have to worry any more."
"Binding on my soul...?"
"When your magic power ran out, the binding was absorbed along with your magic power by the 《Ragnarøkkr Enchant》. It's better not to make any sudden movements until your phantom instrument is refilled with magic power."
Being calmed down like that, Mari quietly obeyed her.
"I see... I... Chairman did something to me and... heck, why am I being held in your arms...?"
As she was about to follow Ouka's instruction, Mari noticed in what condition she was.
"I don't have such hobbies though?!"
"...What are you talking about?"
"L-let me down, the only one who can touch my thighs is Takeru!"
Being lightly slapped all over by Mari, Ouka squinted and made an angry expression.
And just like that, she let go of her.
Letting out a "ngyah" scream Mari fell on her butt. She fixed her hat's positioning, rose up and started flailing her arms. Although Ouka was the one who dropped her, she was still surprised at how effortlessly Mari stood up.
"I-I told you not to move so suddenly. You might die if something goes wrong."
"Whhuuat?! Did you forget I saved you twice just earlier?! Damn ungrateful!"
- snap*. Ouka's eyebrows started to cramp up.
"Hoohh〜? I'm being called ungrateful by someone who doesn't even remember how I saved her?"
"HAa? When did you even save me? It was Takeru, wasn't it!"
"Wha... T-Takeruu——! Tell her, tell her just how much I struggled——"
"I don't remember so it doesn't count."
"Don't call me "you"! Call me "Mari-chan"!"
Just like the other three, the two started to fight.
When everyone gathers together, whatever situation it was, they returned back to being the original 35th platoon. Without anyone to stop them, this would continue without end. There was something critical missing in their heads, they couldn't tie the ends when it mattered. They really acted as usual.
While being chewed out by Usagi and Ikaruga, Takeru suddenly returned back to their situation in reality.
The warm feeling in the back of his chest was something a part of him felt would remain there forever.
And there was part of him that thought he didn't want to lose it.
This is my place. I won't go anywhere. I don't want to go anywhere. It's dear, so, so dear to me I can't bear it. Back in that room, sitting on the sofa, drinking tea Usagi prepared and eating sweets, bickering over how to earn points until the story derails, only to end the platoon activites without any results...
And on the next day too.
And the day after that, the usual, same happy daily life——
Takeru strongly grasped the handle of the sword at his waist, Lapis.
I won't cry any more. I'll cry once everything is over. Takeru decided not to talk everyone about his decision. He knew that if he did, they would all try to stop him.
There was no choice but to proceed while feeling the sense of guilt. He decided to shoulder that suffering.
He suppressed felt pain in his chest and a helpless longing for happiness. Were he to be alone he would surely be crushed by the suffering. If not for Lapis being with him, Takeru wouldn't move forward on this path.
Takeru tried to say his thanks to Lapis, but at that moment.
A demon's roar had come from the sky.
Everyone looked up to the sky while at loss for words.
The sky was covered with the giant demon tree. There was the sound of tsunami pushing towards them from afar. And it wasn't just the sea of meat pushing against them like before.
They took abnormal forms suitable for the name of Hyakki Yakou. Some of them had strong demon-like bodies, some wriggled like snakes, some grew feathers and were flying in the sky.
The rampage of Hyakki Yakou did not stop.
Takeru and others glared far into the sky.
On the trunk of the huge tree there was a white shadow. Besides it, there stood a girl with empty eyes. The shadow looked down on Takeru and others as if it was a God or something.
God's mouth drew an arc, and he spoke.
——What now, you worms.
It was without doubt a declaration of war.
A manifestation of unshakable will saying "I'll kill you".
When Takeru pulled off his sword, everyone in the 35th platoon lined up by his side. Mari too, while stumbling, had lined up with them.
"...For now, let's save Kiseki-chan. Takeru's 《Ragnarøkkr Enchant》 can set her free, right?"
Takeru put a hand on Mari's shoulder.
"Mari, you rest for a little."
"Stupid, does this look like a situation to rest in? Heck, there's nowhere to rest, even."
"Yeah. So I'm saying you should restore even a little of your magic power before supporting us. To put it simply, I'll have you force yourself hard."
Next, he gave orders to Usagi and Ikaruga.
"Usagi, you give long range support to me and Ouka. Try to catch up somehow."
"Suginami, can you turn into an elf again?"
"I will even if I can't."
"Protect Mari and Usagi."
After giving orders to them, last, Takeru looked towards Ouka.
"I'm not moving an inch away from you."
Before he could give an order, Ouka glared fiercely at him and spoke.
"Tell me when you're turning into a God Hunter form. Make that priority."
To protect Takeru's soul, Ouka intended to take charge of releasing the God Hunter form. Takeru did not tell her that before long that will no longer be necessary.
"I'll stay by your side and protect you."
He felt like he was betraying her, but he was fine with it for now.
Even if he breaks the promise, this will be the last time.
"...Yeah. Let's go together. Be careful of his rifle."
"Prioritizing God Hunter form release and avoiding I will make an opening. You snatch Kiseki away no matter what."
"Yeah, that's what I intend to do...!"
He exhaled and stopped moving.
This was the situation they were in. Injured, tired and without a safe place to allow injured comrades to escape to.
That's why they decided to fight together. It was the last battle. The last battle they challenged together.
They could not——afford to lose it!
"Antimagic Academy's 35th Test Platoon——"
Takeru raised his sword and was clad in an armor.
——The 35th platoon's last mission had began.