After Christmas in December, during the failure of Kusanagi Kiseki's convoy operation a section of the town was swallowed by Hyakki Yakou and suffered serious damage. The contaminated section was still closed, and only Inquisition officials as well as several Alchemist employees knew the situation inside.
The casualties were unknown, but without doubt about three thousand people were missing. Among them was Kiseki's brother, Kusanagi Takeru.
Responsible for Ouka who fainted, Ikaruga and Usagi avoided the waves of Hyakki Yakou and arrived at the partition walls. And when they were almost swallowed by the surging red meat, suddenly the meat activity has ceased. It has collapsed like ash, thanks to that, the platoon members somehow survived.
However, Ouka was restrained and taken into custody by Inquisition, Usagi and Ikaruga were examined while placed under house arrest in the Seelie ward.
They were set free a week after Takeru's disappearance.
And, two days after it was decided that the 35th Test Platoon would participate in the strategy against Pureblood Party.
Ouka and the others were in the north-east of the Grey City, in the tent of the seventh company's standby station on fifth line of defense.
Although the Grey City was unused because of its proximity to Sanctuary, it was now devastated even more than before. The collapse of buildings progressed, and gunshots echoed all over.
This place has already turned into a battlefield.
"Hit-and-run troop...is it?"
Ouka who has participated in the briefing was told what will be the role of the 35th Test Platoon in the strategy.
The commander was a man entrusted with the seventh company.
"That's right. You don't have to listen to my orders. You can move freely."
"I've heard that we will be under the command of the company's commander but... is there a meaning in having us as a hit-and-run troop?"
"Our goal is the enemy's destruction. With that as your goal, just act accordingly. However, make sure not to get out in front. You'll hinder the company."
"That's all from me."
The company's commander faced the document on the desk, and glared at Ouka only once before he left the tent. Left behind, Ouka looked at the white board on which the strategy's summary was written and spat out a deep sigh.
"...don't get in our way, is what he means huh."
In short, that's what the company commander meant.
Since it was the Chairman's orders he reluctantly included the 35th Test Platoon in, but it wasn't weird for him not to know what to do with them. And there was no reason for senior troops to accept the student troops sent to them by the Chairman.
They had no choice but show their ability to the seniors despite the handicap and get acknowledged by them.
The enemy's borderline invasion plan has already started, the Inquisition was caught off guard and they have occupied the Grey City.
However, starting from that point the movement of Inquisition was fast, as if expecting it the Spriggans sortied, and created a line of defense. They succeeded in preventing the invasion on the city and its facilities.
Although the inhabitants were evacuated, there was almost no damage to the city. Since the other borders weren't attacked, it seemed like the enemy's strategy had been limited to the Kantō region.
There wasn't much information about the enemy. When they tried to take prisoners, they would immediately commit suicide.
However, this abnormal situation didn't seem to inspire a sense of crisis.
There wasn't any formal announcement, but the world was already conscious of it.
That... the war has already begun.
——A magic bullet exploded in front of her, and Saionji Usagi instantly hid her body in the building's shadow.
Immediately after a solidified lump of magic hit the building, the debris fragments grazed her cheek, her body was covered by the rubble.
Her consciousness faded for a moment. She felt no pain in her body, but because of the roar and impact a severe ringing resounded in her ears.
《"——ji! Saionji! Are you okay?!"》
Usagi woke up when she heard Ouka's voice through the wireless and while struggling she crawled out from under the rubble. After poking out her head from inside, she took a deep breath and chocked as the dust entered her lungs.
"Geho... I-I'm all right."
"There was too many shields and I couldn't aim well, I moved too close... I will be careful thereafter."
《"After the bombardment just now the enemy has began to withdraw. If they move, Saionji, you cover the Spriggans. I'll continue wiping them out from the sky!"》
Usagi mustered her strength and wiped her face that turned white with her sleeves, after confirming the state of her rifle she aimed it forward.
And then, she was shocked.
On the road ahead colored with white, there was a number of red spots.
It were the remnants of the Spriggan troop whom they were covering. A mere mass of red meat was scattered making up reds spots on the road covered with white concrete dust. The spots were spread out all over the place, and the white world was dyed with red.
Seeing the lives be lost in front of her, Usagi's face cramped up, she hugged the gun and curled up.
"I-it's al...l right... I-I am n-no longer... weak...!! This much is nothing!"
Even as she attempted to inspire herself, her body wouldn't move and her vision was distorted because of tears.
Although she somehow managed to hold down the hyperventilation, she was unable to stand up anyhow.
"Why... I should have overcome it...!!"
Usagi chewed on her lower lip and closed her eyes tightly.
In this situation which compelled her to cry, Usagi quietly said the name of the one who saved her.
In Witch Hunter form, Ouka expanded the crimson mantle like wings and flew. She noticed that Usagi looked weird and landed on the roof of a decaying building.
"Saionji...? Are you injured?!"
Hearing her sobs through the wireless, Ouka swallowed a breath.
Usagi didn't reply. Ouka tried to move over to her to rescue, but a voice has reverberated in her eardrums.
《"Leave Usagi as she is. Try to look around and recover the troops if possible. You would only worsen her state."》
"What do you mean, Suginami. Saionji might be injured!"
《"Since you can't understand what I mean, it's a no. Eradicate the remaining enemy forces."》
When Ouka shouted into the wireless, Ikaruga spat out a sigh.
《"They still haven't contacted us, but the 4th Company and 5th platoon were almost destroyed by the sweep of magic bullets bombardment from a while ago. There probably won't be any bombardment on us. Headquarters' priority will be rebuilding the troops, right."》
Ouka gasped, fifth platoon was the troop Usagi was covering. It's a blessing in disguise that she survived the bombardment, the troop itself was destroyed.
With a large amount of deaths, Usagi must have been mortified.
It wasn't improbable. No matter in how much carnage was she involved in, the only real battle experience Usagi had was during the incident with Alchemist's fifth laboratory.
At that time both the enemy and allies were boarding the Dragoons, but this time there was a large number of flesh-and-blood soldiers in a confined space. It must be her first time to see that much death.
It's wouldn't be weird if she was frightened.
We should have worked together at the beginning. I was too impatient to be recognized by the veterans. I tried to use the maximum potential from each one of us but...
Although they could trust in her skills, Usagi didn't have the mental strength required for independent actions on the battlefield. Even for Ouka, it was the first time to battle under such circumstances.
She had even less experience as a captain. The test platoons were originally consisting of six people and Inquisition troops were consisting of ten. It was impossible to raise up to the veterans with just four people.
Even so, that's not an excuse for exposing the members' lives to risk.
If it was Kusanagi... I wonder if he would have done better.
She recalled the abilities of Takeru who was originally the captain.
Other than close combat his skills were horrible and he hardly could be called an excellent commander, but he did well supporting everyone mentally. The individual abilities of the platoon members were excellent, the most important thing to bring out their potential was not directing the combat but the cooperation and mental support.
If it was him, no matter what the situation was he would have encouraged Usagi.
How shameless... I'm embarrassed for saying that Kusanagi is disqualified as a captain.
I am the one disqualified, she thought dispirited.
It was at that time, a roar sounded in the street's vicinity and smoke raised up.
Ouka admonished herself for falling into melancholy, expanded her wings and set up her gun.
"Vlad, can you perform a search?"
《"I'm not a searching type... fhh, but do not belittle me. I can at least perceive the smell of blood."》
"Stop boasting! Hurry up and do it!"
《"Despite completing the contract thou still hath the foul mouth, have thou not..."》
Vlad grumbled complaints while performing a search operation.
Ouka's sense of smell picked up the scent of blood from the radius of one kilometer.
《"The smell of witch's blood is different. The magic that's mixed in their blood makes the flavor different. You can call it a shadow... of course, that is if enemy is bleeding."》
Just as she has been told to, she inhaled and the choking smell of blood stimulated her nose.
It was the proof of how much blood has flowed through the Grey City. Whether it's witches or inquisitors, death was overflowing.
Ouka separated the smell of the death and the living, then analyzed the quality of the living enemy's smell.
Among the enemies remaining in the vicinity, she sensed an alien scent.
It wasn't a witch holding a normal magic power.
《"They destroyed the troop and holding the point delayed us while they escape. They are prepared for suicide together with the inquisitors... something like that."》
While Vlad spoke of his guess into her ear, Ouka communicated with Ikaruga.
"Can you do reconnaissance with an UAV? I want to know the witch's exact position."
《"It's been destroyed long ago. It's something that came with provisions so it's performance was poor and it wouldn't fly too high, slow and useless."》
"That's not like you..."
《"We had only two days to sortie so spare me that. I wasn't even able to supply Usagi with weapons. I'm not working that fast."》
That's understandable, thought Ouka.
Even if she can use the supplies as she pleases, it's impossible for her to improve it in 2 days.
Ouka gave up on the reconnaissance and flew over the explosion site.
Immediately after she took off from the building's roof, a magic bullet has grazed her cheek from the side.
A witch riding a catalyst in the distance was aiming a sniper wand at her.
Ouka flew while swaying from side to side and aimed her gun's muzzle at the witch. Another shot, the moment magic bullet has grazed her head, Ouka changed her stake into one with specialized performance and released it. Although the trajectory was distorted since she was in flight, she has predicted the deviation of this degree.
The magic stake hit the flight catalyst and the witch was carried to the ground.
When she looked around, she saw the enemy's remnants gather in the direction the Ancient Wizard was struggling.
It was their final resistance. She felt they launched a suicide attack.
"Vlad! Is the enemy communicating with magic?!"
《"There is a barrier up. It's impossible to decipher the operative procedure."》
《"No point eavesdropping. And give up on requesting them to surrender. There's no need for mercy for folks who intend to die."》
Ouka herself knew that already.
However, she wondered why wouldn't they understand that it's meaningless to fight if the main force has already withdrew.
There being more sacrifices in this place was not beneficial for either side.
She grew impatient. Injecting magic power, Ouka shot down the witches that gathered at the center. The Spriggan personnel on the ground has started intercepting using anti-aircraft guns and the battle turned into a dogfight.
"What about him? Where is he and what is he doing?!"
Ouka shouted, asking Ikaruga.
《"Who knows. He turned off the wireless when the operation started. He's going off on his own. Just like you used to."》
When she was reminded of her old self, Ouka was unable to refute.
Another explosion has rose up. She dived down, following the enemy.
On the street with black market stalls lined up, a man in a red robe who had one eye crushed has roared. Sky blue magical circle rotated vigorously under his feet, and the magic was invoked. Two Spriggans standing in the stalls' shade shot towards the man, but were covered with a semi-transparent membrane. The Spriggans inside of the membrane were in dismay, and fired towards it. The bullets ricocheted on the inside and penetrated the Spriggans' bodies.
Their breath grew faint inside of the membrane, Spriggans tried to fight back with their handguns, but the Ancient Wizard opened his palm in anger, then made a fist with it, as if crushing something.
Immediately after, the membrane covering the two was compressed and the Spriggans inside of it have shrunk into a size of a golf ball all at once.
The moment magic was released, the membrane ruptured splattering pieces of meat and blood all around.
"The "Compression" property...!"
One of the Spriggans understood the situation peeking out from behind the building and tried to report the enemy's property to all the troops using the wireless.
However, at the next moment the membrane appeared on the building he was hiding behind.
The film compressed the building all at once. The building itself has been condensed and turned very small.
The Spriggan who lost his hiding place tried to escape from the spot, but it was in vain.
When the Ancient Wizard opened his fist, the compressed building burst out all at once because of the pressure.
The debris from the broken building have been blown away with momentum of a cannonball and destroyed all the obstacles around the Spriggan. As if exposed to bombing, the surroundings have turned into rubble.
Only one person survived the explosion in the place. It was a Spriggan who had blood flowing from his damaged armor.
The Ancient Wizard was looming towards him as he reached out seeking help.
"Haa... haa... where are your company's headquarters...!"
His breathing was rough, his eyes bloodshot, he asked the Spriggan.
"I asked where!"
"...I don't want...to...die..."
Seeing the Spriggan beg for help the Ancient Wizard clicked his tongue and mercilessly covered his body with the membrane, then crushed him.
Not even trying to wipe the blood that splashed into his face, he walked down the street.
There, landed Ouka clad in a crimson armor and mantle.
At the same time as she landed she aimed Vlad and confronted the enemy.
"Stop fighting at once! There's nothing either of us will achieve with this!"
"Don't you get it?! You are already surrounded by us! It's the matter of time until the remnants are overwhelmed! There's no point sacrificing any more lives is there!"
"............just now, did you say "no point"?"
As Ouka desperately tried to persuade him, the Ancient Wizard's body trembled in anger.
"Our struggle, our sorrow... how dare you say there's no point to our revenge!"
When the man's pupil was clouded with hatred, Ouka felt a chill.
She wasn't intimidated by his anger. Seeing the same thing in his eye, she felt as if she stared in the mirror.
"! Dispel the magical circle immediately! My Relic Eater can penetrate any magic! I won't miss at this distance!"
"I'm not afraid of a fake Magical Heritage! I'm perfectly fine with taking an EXE member with me! I'll prove to you that our struggle is not in vain!"
The sky blue magical circle rotated vigorously in response to his roar and turned humongous.
It was clear that he was trying to use some kind of large magic.
Ouka hesitated for a moment, but rather than aim Vlad's muzzle at his head she shot towards his feet.
Although the protective barrier was expanded, Vlad's stake blew away his foot.
The man's posture broke and he fell to the ground.
However, the magical circle didn't disappear. He endured the pain and continued to prepare the operative procedure.
No choice but to kill him...!
Even as she turned herself into a demon and directed the muzzle at him, her vision has blurred.
Don't be a coward Ootori Ouka! This is war. You've done worse things until now!
She scolded herself and placed a finger on the trigger.
That's when on top of the man who fell over a green shadow suddenly fell from the sky and grabbed the man.
The shadow grasped the man and raised him up, then turned its face with a bored expression at Ouka.
"Hesitating in front of the enemy? Ain't that different from what the EXE folks told me. You've turned soft, Ootori."
"Kirigaya... where were you until now."
"Why do I have to tell ya anything. You ain't my boss."
"...I'm the captain."
"Temporary one, right? Also, I ain't havin' no intention of entering the small fry platoon."
"By the Chairman's orders, you are under my command. I won't allow acting on your own."
Ignoring Ouka's words, Kirigaya Kyouya squeezed the man's head until a creaking sound came out.
The man raise a voice of agony feeling pain in his skull and the magical circle under his feet disappeared.
"Operative procedure is something you make up in your head right? Then makin' him feel some pain in his head should work."
In response to the man's screams, Kyouya laughed.
"There's no reason to kill that man now... it'll be fine just to restrain him."
As Ouka moved towards him trying to stop him desperately, Kyouya looked as if he didn't understand what is she talking about.
"...what's up with that reasoning? Those guys came at us prepared to make a suicide. They'd rather die in action rather than be imprisoned right."
"It's forbidden to kill the prisoners if not necessary. Hurry up and let him go."
"............ha. Fine then, there ya go."
With a blank look, Kyouya threw away the man by his head.
The man fell down on his knees. Ouka cancelled the Witch Hunt form and ran up to him, she immediately tried to capture him with the Gleipnir, that moment.
He had an instant charm that was prepared in advance.
"——I'll purify your bad blood!"
Ouka tried to aim for the man's hand in a hurry, but before she could do so Kyouya's shotgun, Nero has spouted flames. In front of her, the man turned into a blood splatter along with the gunshot. Ouka fell on her butt and looked up at Kyouya's face.
Kyouya put the gun on his shoulder and looked down at Ouka with appalled expression.
"...pitiful. Did you fall that much because of Kusanagi? Where did you, who was nicknamed Calamity go I wonder."
"...ridiculous. I was an idiot for having expectations."
Looking sideways towards her in contempt, Kyouya turned away while hitting his shoulder with the gun.
Ouka's pupils shook in chagrin and she looked up at the sky while taking a deep breath.
It was cloudless and blue. The unbalanced amount of gunshots raising up to the sky decreased to one every few minutes, and they were gone before long.
Just by looking at the veterans one could understand that it was Inquisition's victory. Throughout this fight Inquisition's front pushed slightly forward and occupied the venue with the black market. There was no doubt that they were driving the enemy away day after day.
However, right now the other side had a geographical advantage. The Border and Grey City isn't just the surface, but also the underground. They no longer used subways and underpasses, supply passageways and transportation made before the war. Not even Inquisition was able to get a grasp on that space that was left alone for a long time.
The surprise attacks from underground caused the Inquisition's side to suffer casualties nearing 100 soldiers. Initially the number of Inquisitors neared 5000, but it went down to 3000 members.
After few hours, the company's headquarters moved to the intermediate point between the Border and the Grey City. The Inquisition's camp was made in the vicinity of black market.
Ouka walked through the camp while holding a cardboard full of supplies. She heard a scream of an Inquisitor who was undergoing treatment in the aid tent and her gaze moved in its direction.
The inside of the tent was full of Inquisitors receiving treatment. The patients were bandaged and lied down on the bloodied beds, ones with relatively minor injuries were sitting on the ground. Since there wasn't enough Seelies the Spriggans were helping out with things like pressing the patients down and cutting bandages.
...I wonder when will the reinforcements come.
Although it's been just three days since they came here, not only they didn't raise up to the veterans, the situation has deteriorated.
She heard that the fifth line of defense was still all right. On the second, and the third lines of defense there were reports of Magical Dragoons... Einherjars attacking. They have been destroyed by the EXE members, but even the personnel with the latest models of Dragoons were not a match for them, or so she heard.
Ouka was horrified at the thought of the Einherjar attack in the state they were in at the moment.
The fifth line of defense had no EXE members. There were Relic Eater contractors, but after being absorbed by Mistilteinn, Vlad wasn't in the best shape and couldn't be relied on.
Speaking of the other contractor, it was Kirigaya Kyouya who had a trend of acting arbitrarily.
He was brought to responsibility for violating the instruction during the previous convoy operation, then demoted, disposed of and assigned to the 35th Test Platoon. It meant that his circumstances were exactly same as Ouka's when she first came to the 35th platoon.
I wonder if I was the same as he is now...
She recalled the time when she was relentlessly chasing down enemies. Back in these days she wouldn't let them surrender and immediately shot them. Right now, she changed her way of thinking and did her best to capture the enemy. Rather than because of ethics, it was because she obtained many things.
Killing, meant robbing herself of all the other choices. That's what she learned in the 35th platoon.
...it's troubling. Am I even fit to be the captain...?
On top of being unable to show off the members abilities on the battlefield unknown to her, a troublesome thug has been enlisted in the platoon.
Above all, the main problem was Takeru not being there.
Ouka too, felt as if there was a gaping hole in the center of her chest.
Noticing that she unconsciously spoke his name, Ouka closed her eyes and shook off the hesitation.
Right now I have to think only of surviving. Until Kusanagi comes back, I will protect this platoon.
Bracing herself, Ouka headed towards where her comrades were.
When the supplies arrived the situation calmed down.
The Inquisition has taken a step forward, but it was assumed that the enemy ahead of the fortifications was aiming to recapture it, fortunately, the enemy didn't come. Both sides must have been exhausted. It was unknown whether the other side was being resupplied or not, but the enemy side that was away from their home grounds was supposed to be in a predicament.
While under the hot shower, Usagi just hung her body down instead of washing herself. Because among the supplies there was a car with a shower, she used it with appreciation.
Usagi was ashamed of being terrified by the death of her allies. For her who held the role of a sniper, it was the first time she touched death from close range.
It was a failure on her part for thinking that she had already overcome it. Pathetic. Like this I will once again be a burden to the platoon. Of course, Usagi was aware that the death wasn't the only cause for what happened.
While hot droplets soaked her face, she dreamed of his back. It's been already a month since he last pat her head. She was so lonely she felt like crying.
Suddenly, a hand appeared from behind and grasped her chest.
"So it's a reversal to a bunny who'll die out of loneliness isn't it. Very well, I'll rub your boobs until you're all happy."
"Suginami! Think of other's feelings a litt——hiiaaaa! Where are you pinching?!"
While pressing her chest on Usagi's back, Ikaruga rubbed and pinched her chest, messing around with her until she was exhausted.
Usagi's cheeks were dyed red and she started leaking out a lovely voice, that's when Ikaruga closed her eyes and spoke into her ear.
"More or less, I can tell how you feel... no, I understand your feelings. You're lonely without Kusanagi, right?"
"Even if you try to act strong, in a situation like this it can't be helped right? I'm lonely as well."
Aside from the fact that she was massaging her chest, Ikaruga's voice was gentle.
"It's all right. He's definitely alive. I guarantee you that as the one who knows him the longest."
When Ikaruga stroked her wet hair, tears appeared in Usagi's eyes.
"But... you don't know that do you."
"I know. Nikaido is with him too, that man won't die alone somewhere separated from us and his little sister. He will definitely come back."
There was no anxiety in her voice.
"What we are supposed to do now, is survive until he comes back. Get a hold of yourself. If you die in a place like this, he will think it's his own fault. That's why, even if you are to crawl on the ground, survive."
Seeing Usagi nod, Ikaruga made a small smile.
"Well, we are not necessary to the company and were told that we can move as we want to, even if we don't participate in combat——"
"——That won't work."
A voice came from the side of the shower room in which Ikaruga and Usagi were in embrace.
The two could see Ouka who imperceptibly appeared and placed both of her arms on the wall on the height of her chest, taking a shower. "Tch." Ikaruga clicked her tongue in response.
"...there's a limit to being unable to read the mood."
"I don't want to be told that by someone who sexually harasses others on the battlefield... that's my personality. Forgive me."
"You're going to tell us to fulfill our responsibilities as Inquisitors after all this time? Despite all the disservice he did to Kusanagi's little sister, you intend to continue being Chairman's dog?"
In response to Ikaruga's words riddled with thorns, Ouka downcast her eyes sadly.
"I have no such intention. I know that there's no worth in swearing my allegiance to the Inquisition. However, we are being monitored and can't move as we please."
"...you're talking about Kirigaya aren't you."
"Yeah. He's supposed to be Kusanagi's acquaintance, Suginami, do you know any details about him?"
When Ouka asked, Ikaruga ran her fingers through her wet hair and spat out a sigh.
"We were in the same class since middle school. Same for Kusanagi. His personality... well, I'd like to say that he's mediocre who's only talk, but I guess he's the type who diligently piles up effort to raise up. He's been blinded by his effort and doesn't see his shortcomings, but he was quite outstanding."
"...so he changed after the mock battle tournament, huh."
"That was the crucial moment. At the very least, he wasn't hostile like that and didn't hurt others. He was getting on Kusanagi's case for no reason, but at first they got along pretty well, those two."
"Is that so...? I can't even imagine that."
Recalling how he was insulting Takeru during the mock battle tournament's second round, Ouka said.
"Kusanagi was an unfortunate genius who clung and strove with his swordsmanship. Kirigaya was a jack of all trades who tried to overcome the fact he was merely ordinary. For good or bad, both of them were reckless daredevils and understood each other. However, since Kusanagi's personality changed Kirigaya started to hate him one-sidedly. I guess he couldn't accept Kusanagi lowering his head to others. Well, still, it's not a reason to turn into someone who'd try to kill his little sister like that."
Seeing Ikaruga stare into the distance nostalgically, Ouka squinted and rinsed her hair.
"So, the enemy of the 15th platoon... is it."
"There's the case of Yoshimizu Akira, his childhood friend who wanted to become a Seelie. I wonder if it's true that he contracted with a Relic Eater and imparted its healing ability to her."
Ouka recalled Kyouya's vengeful eyes and turned off the shower faucet.
"I wonder if we can pull Kirigaya to our side..."
"...are you serious?"
Ikaruga opened her eyes wide in surprise and looked towards Ouka, who explained the idea with a hand on her chin.
"Since he's the monitor sent by the Chairman, if we appease him we should be able to move. If his purpose is the revenge, there's nothing in it for him to stay with the Chairman. Just like it was in my case."
"...Kirigaya's eyes are the same as mine were half a year ago."
Ouka was the same, obsessed with revenge and dedicating entirety of her life to it. The one to melt her frozen heart was Takeru. Since she was able to stop herself, she thought that there's no way Kyouya can't do it.
Usagi who was being hugged by Ikaruga shook her head to the sides energetically.
"That man killed Kiseki-san didn't he? If not for him we wouldn't have ended up like this...! Ootori, do you want such a person become our comrade?!"
What she said was correct. Ouka also thought the same.
But that doesn't solve anything.
"I didn't think of having him become our comrade, but it should possible for us to cooperate if our interests match."
Also, Ouka added.
"If Kusanagi was here, I think that's what he would do."
"...I don't believe it...!!"
Unable to deny Ouka's words, Usagi left the shower car. Ikaruga smiled wryly towards Ouka.
"Honestly, I'm against it as well. Nothing good will come out of getting along with such a runt."
"...I guess so."
"However, you are the captain now. I will follow your orders."
Ouka looked up in surprise hearing Ikaruga's words. Ikaruga shrugged and hung the bath towel on her neck.
"But make sure to at least solidify your strategies. Trends and countermeasures are the basics of teamwork. I'll tell you this, give up on trying to make me persuade him, that's impossible. Even if it's possible for me to destroy the human relationships, it's impossible for me to build them."
"Uuu... in that aspect I'm similar."
In the platoon, Ouka was the one with the worst communication skills and persuasion was a challenge for her.
"You're the one who brought it up, you do it. Think of a method to persuade him by yourself〜."
Ikaruga followed Usagi and also left the shower car. Taking their place was different personnel who was waiting their turn.
Changing her thinking to try and relax for the time being, Ouka began to wash her body. Since she didn't know when the shower car would come again, she decided to savor this precious luxury.
After all, Ouka too was a girl. She wanted her body to be clean at all times and was sensitive to body odor.
Especially ever since she entered the platoon.
She washed her arms, then sides, and when she started to rub the foam on her chest, suddenly——
"How nice... being young is nice... there's that firmness in the right places."
After Ikaruga and Usagi left the shower, a mysterious woman appeared inside and said such a thing with an envious expression. Surprised Ouka was taken aback.
She showed wariness to the woman who peeked into the shower and she has seen for the first time.
Black hair in short bob cut. Large eyes, the woman had young features.
Ouka wasn't acquainted with this woman at all. Who is she.
"W-what is it?!"
"Haa... they're big too. Your hair is beautiful, that perfection deserves jealousy. Dammit... were I a bit younger I might have been able to challenge it. Still, no matter how tough the men act, I think they all prefer big breasts... how deplorable."
Even as Ouka questioned, the woman just pouted and continued to repeat "Enviable" or "I'm so jealous". Then, she just turned forward and started to wash her body.
"Um... are you from the company? Did we meet somewhere before...?"
The woman didn't answer, just covered herself in foam, ignoring her.
What's up with this woman... on top of being over-familiar, there should be a limit to acting at her own pace.
No matter what she was told, Ouka couldn't help but think that. She decided to hurry up and wash herself, concentrating on the shower.
Then she noticed there was no one under the showers around her.
Being alone with this woman felt awkward.
Ouka wanted to leave the shower as early as possible.
"——Hey, what's your relationship with captain Kurogane?"
She was startled, suddenly asked something like that. The woman didn't look towards her and only soundly washed her body.
"...ha? Captain Kurogane? Why do you know such a... can it be that you're from EXE...?"
"Please answer the question, Ootori Ouka-san."
"Even if you ask for our relationship... I have been in his care during my time in EXE, or rather, he was my senior officer..."
After saying that much, Ouka realized that the woman has said her own name and tensed up.
"Don't worry, I'm not one of the Chairman's pawns. I just can't comprehend it. Why is that Mr. Sulky Face concerned about you if all you were his subordinate."
While saying something Ouka was unable to understand, the woman cast her a sidelong glance.
"I'm Oonogi Kanata. I took your place and entered the EXE, I was formerly a Banshee and now am a Dullahan."
"So you're from EXE after all... why here? Reinforcements for the 7th company?"
"I have been asked by the Captain to see how the 35th Test Platoon faring. Since he's flying around the battlefield, he's unable to visit himself and made me check on it instead."
Even if that sounded like the truth, Ouka wasn't convinced.
Kurogane Hayato was worried about the platoon's safety? Why?
"Even if you ask me why, I can't tell you since I wasn't told anything either. For me personally, rather than to check on the platoon, I wanted see what you looked like instead."
Being glared at, Ouka faltered.
"...I don't understand what you mean, the relation between me and captain Kurogane is between that of a former boss and subordinate. While he might cherish his comrades as their captain, there is no reason for him to dote on me now."
When she glared back in return, Kanata seemed to determine that she was not lying and has backed down.
"Well, fine then. That should be it for confirming whether you are safe or not."
"...you came here just for that?"
"No. I have been entrusted with a message I'm going to tell you now."
She said so and turned towards Ouka.
The reason there was no one in the shower was probably her using her authority as an EXE member.
Kanata lightly cleared her throat and spoke the message entrusted to her by Hayato.
"『"There's no longer any reason for Inquisition to hold you hostage in order to use Kusanagi Takeru. Shake off Kirigaya Kyouya and run away to the specified location. Run away from there. After that, do whatever you want."』"
"...or so he said."
Going as far as to imitate Hayato's voice, Kanata finished relaying the message.
By the way, it didn't sound like him at all.
"Umm... I don't understand at all. Please explain the circumstances. What does that mean?"
"『Run away』, it's all right as long as you understand that. Also, this. The memo with specified location. Now then, that's all."
Kanata raised her arm and while holding a bath towel she tried to leave.
Ouka tried to stop her in a hurry, but before that Kanata herself has stopped moving.
"It's fine if you don't involve yourself in combat any more than this... as an adult I do think so. As long as you survive, the conclusion will come one day. Whether Inquisition or Valhalla will win then is unknown, but you should hide until the world settles down."
"If you wish to protect your comrades, then even more so. Fighting is the job of adults."
After saying that, Kanata's figure disappeared.
Literally, she disappeared the moment Ouka blinked. Left behind, Ouka grasped her fist and downcast her eyes, thinking of what to do for her comrades as their captain.
Ouka left the shower car, her wet hair was exposed to the dry wind as she walked through the camp.
When she stopped on the square the distribution of food was carried out, the conversation of several Spriggans sitting around the fire entered her ear and she stopped her feet.
"Enemy is resisting strongly... but the forces we have now we should overwhelm them in mere five minutes."
"No, the Einherjars haven't appeared here yet and the Ancient Wizards are still further in the back. Just like that "Compression" property guy... if they come at us with all they have, it's over."
"The higher-ups won't give us any pretty reinforcements either. Just because they are afraid of the transfer magic is not a reason for that is it...! We're already getting used to this...!"
Ouka wiped her hair with the towel and listened to the Spriggans.
The anxiety was spreading throughout the company. It wasn't a good tendency. The motivation on the battlefield directly influenced the circumstances on the battlefield. When the three Spriggans were swearing, one person who was curled up holding a rifle spoke with a trembling voice.
"...I've heard a nasty rumor from the Banshee members. That the guys who were scouting the enemy territory at night were all wiped out..."
"? Entire squad being wiped out is nothing out of ordinary. Even more so if it was the Banshee troops."
"No, wait. I've heard that as well. Certainly, the guy who survived said something right...?"
When the two Spriggans said so puzzled, the man who was curling up held his gun more strongly.
"The place was in a plight that made you want to avert your eyes. The flesh and blood, terrible smell was drifting. The survivor said that they were attacked by the enemy ambush."
So what? The guys around him looked at him in wonder.
The enemy forces seemed to kill everyone indiscriminate whether they were friends or foes.
"Did they fell into confusion on the battlefield? That's quite a nasty story..."
"Wrong. That wasn't it, probably. The enemy appeared from underground there was no light in, every one of them was crying while having a big smile on their faces."
"No... I don't want to die... they said so while laughing and crying at the same time. Even as they were showered with bullets, they jumped forward like beasts. Their nails were peeled off, arms broken and they bit until their teeth were broken."
All the Spriggans who heard the story forgot to breathe.
"Both the enemies and allies died out, and the last person who survived stood in the center of the tragedy... he said that he saw a woman who looked like a ghost. The woman moved towards the survivor and whispered into his ear."
"...what did she...?"
When the guys around gasped at that question, the man with the gun raised his face and painfully spoke.
" "Laugh" "
Ouka realized something when she heard that story, and expressions disappeared from her face.
"The survivor told the story to the troop that rescue him while laughing, he bit his tongue and died. Just like the enemy, he went "noo" "I don't want to die" and so on..."
The man holding a gun finished the story while shuddering and bit his lower lip.
All the Inquisitors who listened to it spat out the breath and laughed to hide the fact they were scared.
"...t-there's lots of urban legends like that aren't there?"
"Rumors like that appear quite often on the battlefield."
They tried to change the topic quickly, but among them one person squinted with a meek expression.
"...I've heard about it before. Certainly, in the Inquisition's database there's a record of such a witch existing. A bizarre murderer who caused incidents regularly about ten years ago..."
Continuing, he spoke that murderer's name.
"Nicknamed Laugh Maker. The witch uses mind contamination magic and is specified as A-class danger... certainly, it was very similar to the situation that troop has encountered."
"Then that witch... wasn't caught yet?"
"No, she has been arrested once already... but has escaped from jail despite being put inside of an Iron Maiden. Afterwards, the Dullahan continued to chase after Laugh Maker——"
That's when Ouka grabbed the Spriggan's shoulder from behind.
Ouka grasped his collar and forced him to stand up to her height.
"——Tell me about that in detail."
"W-what's with you all of a sudden?!"
"Just tell me. Where did the squad encounter her? Speak."
"...aren't you from the test platoon that participated under the Chairman's orders? You bitch, how dare you act towards your superior——"
Immediately after he made a nasty expression, Ouka glared directly at his face. There was no anger in her eyes, only a flame that looked like flames of hell from which dead reached out.
The Spriggan who experienced carnage many times over the years saw that kind of eyes many times.
People who lost their comrades. A witch who did suicide bombing. People holding children and suffering in the Border.
They were eyes of people who lost something, pupils with commitment dwelling inside. Revenge. It was the determination to live only for one that reason.