The train arrived on the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line, and its turret slowly rotated out towards the sea. The grinding sounds of its gears and mechanisms echoed throughout the area. What lied on the other side was none other than the group of <Unknowns> that had appeared.
The battlefield itself was trembling. The ocean waves intensified, and the atmosphere tensed up. From above, the sky split violently apart, and even the clouds were twisting and turning. Unknowns started conjugate below, like heat rising from the ground, or like oil rising from water.
The light from the dwindling sunset refracted, and the resulting rainbow split far off into the distance. A dark light seemed to lurk right behind, accompanying it. Both lights illuminated the train interior thoroughly.
Strange things peered from the sky. They looked grotesque, almost monster-like, though they were neither animals nor plants. In fact, they looked more mechanical than biological. Their numerous limbs were indeed very animal-like, but they also looked like withered branches, devoid of any leaves. The limbs looked as if they had been hastily attached onto their bodies. Their metallic, armor-like skin glistened under the light. Even though their skin may have looked inorganic and cold, it gave off a sense of softness and warmth.
The monsters finished coming out of the gate. They gave off a hideous roar, as if they were laughing. It was unnerving to say the least. They were a disgrace, carved permanently into humanity’s everlasting memory, and the source of the humiliation felt by us all. They were the <Unknowns>, an abnormal lifeform that caused worldwide destruction. With humanity’s mortal enemy lined up right above them, the troops gave a bloodthirsty grin.
In front of the train, on the Aqua-Line, the military base Umihotaru stood tall. An alarm rang solemnly, and a bridge started to come out. This ever-changing base served as the deployment point for many of the troops and equipment. Of course, it also served as cover in the front lines.
“Alright you people, get in position!” heroically yelled Natsume into the microphone. She stood at the highest point in the base so that people could see her no matter where they stood. “It’s time to win once again! I don’t wanna see fear in any of your eyes, got it? Let’s go!!”
The turrets were manned and the artillery was ready to fire. The students prepared their weapons and charged forward. We were far behind them, towards the side of the Kisarazu base, but we were able to see what was going on clearly. No, actually it would be more accurate to say that we were only able to watch and see. There was nothing we could really do. We were in the front lines, but even so, we were still in the back. The real battlefield was about a kilometer north of Umihotaru, so it was close enough to see, but not close enough for them to attack us directly. In other words, we were still pretty much spectators. Well, I guess it was safe, and I could still see everything pretty clearly. Not a bad position to be in.
Renge leaned off the bridge and observed Natsume with her binoculars. She kept going, “Wow!” and was clearly fascinated by what Natsume was doing. Asagao held onto the back of her uniform tightly, afraid that Renge might fall into the water. Asuha, a few steps away from us, sat nonchalantly on the handrail. She didn’t pay any attention to us. Rather, she kept fidgeting with her pistols.
The pistols, huh…
“Natsume is so cool…” said Renge, amazed as she watched on.
In contrast, Asagao stood there with a cold expression. “Everyone’s following directions pretty well,” she added.
“I don’t think she gives any orders in actual combat,” answered Asuha as she kept fidgeting with her pistols. “Well, maybe she does, I don’t know. I do my own thing, so…”
Asagao was astonished. “Oh I see… Speaking of which, why is this girl not using honorifics? I’m an upperclassmen, right?”
“Tsurube-senpai?” asked Asuha.
Asagao was cold hearted as she sternly folded her arms. “Hmm, I don’t really like that either…”
Asuha frowned, looking annoyed. “Then, forehead Asagao it is!” she exclaimed.
“Hell no!” shouted Asagao. “Why do you have to add that unnecessarily? You wanna die?”
“Calm down, Asagao…” whispered Renge. Asagao looked like she was about to grab Asuha, but Renge grasped both hands around Asagao and stopped her. I’m sorry about this, forehead girl. Sorry about my sister… I really should have warned her not to do this kind of thing…
“Asuha, please don’t say that,” I said, trying to calm everyone down. “Asagao was probably bullied about this kind of thing when she was younger.”
“Exactly! Exactly that!” said Asagao. “Wait, how did you know that Chigusa?!?”
“I can guess that much, at least…” I replied. If I had known Asagao when we were both younger, I probably would have teased her about it too… All boys are like that, right? They always tease the girls they liked or something like that…
“You know I’m a Chigusa too…” muttered Asuha begrudgingly. She groaned.
“Ahh!! I’ve had it!” shouted an annoyed Asagao. “This is getting annoying. Then I’ll just say Kasumi instead…”
“Umm… What’s this all of a sudden…” I said, surprised to hear my name thrown in there. Asagao looked at me suspiciously.
“Huh? You are Kasumi, right?”
“I am… but calling me by my first name is a bit…”
“Well you do call me Asagao, don’t you?”
“True… No, it’s just that I’m not used to it… You know… It feels weird…”
“What kind of reason is that…”
Asagao was a bit drawn back. She clearly didn’t get my reasoning. I mean, I was probably just embarrassed, but showing embarrassment upfront is a little embarrassing itself. It was in bad taste though to suddenly call people, especially the self-conscious ones, by their first name. Sometimes it gets them all riled up as they tried to figure out if there was any particular reason for the change. After all, except for the times when people were joking, it’s hard to find out what they were trying to do. But, from time to time, there were people like that.
“Ah, me too! Call me Renge too!” interrupted Renge, raising her hand. She smiled cheerfully, almost going yes, yes! “Kasumi calls me Renge already!”
Well, Renge was great at communicating things unconsciously, so for the most part everyone knew what she was thinking. That’s why it was very easy for Renge to get along with everyone, including me, and that’s why she didn’t cause much misunderstanding or anything like that. I’m grateful for that, Renge.
…Wait a second, Asagao had always acted this way to everyone, I think. Is it confidence? Or determination? Or cockiness? It’s definitely cockiness, huh. I nodded in satisfaction as I made up my mind.
Asuha jumped off the guardrail soon after. “In any case, it’s fine to call me Asuha too.”
Asagao looked puzzled for a moment. “Sure, yeah,” she said as she rubbed her hand on her chin.
“I mean, I really don’t mind either way,” said Asuha. She leaned on the guardrail and stared out into the sea.
Just as I thought that she would watch the battle a bit more, she suddenly turned around and said, “Is it okay if I go? I wanna end this quickly so I can shower…” She acted detached to the whole situation, but looked restless fidgeting with her hair. It seemed she was really eager to join the battle. She was on track for a promotion too, so I’m sure she didn’t want to waste time protecting us.
“Sure,” I said, nodding. “Good luck.”
In response, Asuha silently pumped up her fist at me. “Take care of the rest,” she said quickly and prepared to head out.
But Renge soon called out to her, bewildered. “Umm… Uh… What should we…” her voice trailed off.
Asagao sternly interjected, “You… Natsume gave you an order, right?” Asuha frowned.
“Ah… It’s alright, isn’t it?” assured Renge. “We are pretty far from the battlefield.”
“Yeah,” I said as I agreed. “Plus, I’m here too.”
Asuha sighed upon hearing us both. “Huh? That’s hilarious,” she laughed. “You? I’m still way worried.”
“It’s not hilarious, not at all,” I said, picking up the nearby sniper rifle that I snatched from the equipment room earlier and showing it to her. “For real though, don’t worry about it.”
“Kasumi, I didn’t realize you had borrowed that,” said Renge, fascinated. “With you having that, I’m relieved!”
“…Relieved?” anxiously asked Asagao. She looked at me. Well, it’s no surprise that she would think this way. It’s impossible to expect people to trust the military capabilities of those transferred out of the military branch, after all.
“It’ll be okay! I trust Kasumi’s sniping,” assured Renge. She gave Asagao a thumbs up and a wink. “As long as it’s not anything too powerful, at least!”
“Don’t put too much pressure on me…” I said as I sighed.
“…Well, if Renge says so, then okay,” said Asagao, but she still looked uncertain. In any case, it’s unlikely that the <Unknowns> would attack here anyway, so she was just having some needless anxiety.
Asuha observed halfheartedly. She then walked up to Asagao and started poking her back. Asagao turned around only to be waved closer by her.
“Hold on, hold on.”
“What is it?”
“Uhh… Hold on, hold on…”
“Like I said, what is it…”
Asagao moved closer to Asuha. But then, Asuha ran up behind me and leaned in to whisper in my ear. Perhaps she did not want the other two girls to hear.
“You don’t have to push yourself so hard…” she whispered. Her voice still sounded cold, and her words were bluntly delivered.
But I could see the worry in her eyes… “You know that’s not happening,” I said as I smiled at her. Sometimes, people who trust in their abilities too much are the ones who suffered the most traumatic experiences on the battlefield. Not me, though, since I knew myself well. I didn’t even trust myself, let alone my abilities. After all, I was the one fired from the military branch. I was not a prodigy like my sister.
“Besides, have I ever pushed myself too hard?” I added.
“No, I guess not, huh.”
“You agreed too quickly, too quickly… Shouldn’t you say, ‘That’s not true!’ or something like that?”
“Nah, bro. You are like super weak,” she said with a straight face and motioned a no way. “It’s way impossible.”
“Stop looking so serious, please…” I thought.
Asuha turned away from me quickly. “Well, I guess it’ll be okay, since you said so…” she said softly as she walked up to the guard rail and jumped onto it. She then turned her head towards me and did a big smile. It was so innocent that it actually suited her age well. She looked like a young girl heading out from home.
“Well then, I’m off,” said Asuha as she pulled out both her handguns from underneath her skirt. She turned back to the <Unknowns>, and her eyes tensed up. The sunset glow lit up her red hair, and her eyes turned bloodthirsty. Her innocent smile earlier quickly turned into a violent grin.
She was not the only one who had changed. The world was changing all around her. In this very world, the manifestation of the unimaginable began to appear. The world she saw in her dreams, the world she could see now, and the <World> she possessed, all of them crept up into reality. Reality itself was turned upside down, and a new phenomenon was born: the <World>.
Asuha fired a shot towards the sea. Her bullet froze the spot solid, and she jumped onto the newly formed ice platform. One after another she continued to shoot and jump. Even the nearby ocean breeze was frozen as she kept freezing the waves. She used this method to run across the ocean.
A <World> that gave the ability to suspend motion: That was the <World> she possessed. Not only that, she was even able to move the molecules at will, albeit only for a short moment. In addition to being able to slow these molecules down, she was also able to speed them up, thus creating heat. In any case, the abilities of <Worlds> were things of that nature. <Worlds> defied common logic and went against the laws of physics. Our understanding of the world changed drastically due to these <Worlds>.
The adults that lived inland had put us students into defense cities. They probably wanted us to learn to cope with our newly obtained, but completely unexplainable powers. As a result, we continued our defense as we learned how to function as a society. Out of our love for humanity and desire to save the world, we continued to use our reality-defying powers to blindly go into battle every day. In my opinion, that in itself was absurd.
Mad. Crazy. Lunatic. I wondered if we were monsters as well. If we were, my sister would probably be one of the most ideal ones.
Asuha continued to jump across the ocean until she reached the rest of her troops. Still using the frozen waves as platforms, she started her slaughter. Blueish-white flashes of light filled the sky as she mercilessly incinerated the Unknowns. A red afterglow seemed to linger around her attacks. Renge and Asagao soon joined me in observing the battle.
Renge once again looked through her binoculars. “Asuha is amazing!” she exclaimed as she watched.
I nodded. “Yeah, of course!”
“Why are you acting so proud…” asked Asagao, disheartened. It’s obvious that I would be proud of my sister, though. In fact, what was she trying to imply?
“A-Asuha is just crushing them left and right,” continued Renge, clearly still in admiration. “She really is so amazing… To be able to defeat all that by herself… It’s beautiful…”
Well, it’s not like I didn’t understand her feelings.
The crimson sunset glow gave the blue ocean a deep scarlet color. In the midst of that, <Unknowns> were dropping like flies into the ocean, accompanied by blueish-white flashes of light. Gray ashes born from the red flames seemed to dance with the wind and waves. The whole scene was so surreal. In the midst of it, Asuha seemed a bit too far forward. Or maybe that was just how much more powerful she was compared to the rest of the troops. After all, her <World> was unmatched by others— including mine.
I set up the sniper rifle I had borrowed earlier and lied down in the appropriate prone position. “I’m gonna be ready just in case,” I said after.
“Ah, okay. I’ll back you up!” shouted Renge excitedly as she booted up her device and established a connection. She put in an earpiece and readjusted her binoculars, and then gave me a thumbs up; it seems things were done on her side. Renge’s fast preparation speed seemed to catch even Asagao’s attention. She looked interested as she watched us nimbly set things up.
“Umm… Asagao, what are you going to do?” asked Renge after noticing Asagao just watching us.
“I’m just gonna watch… I’m not in the military,” replied Asagao. “Besides, I didn’t even bring any equipment with me.” She waved her empty hands around to show that she indeed did not bring anything with her.
Strictly speaking, military equipment were things like Asuha’s handguns, or the rifle that I borrowed, but in a broader sense, anything that helped boost people’s <Worlds> were also considered. However, only people from the military carried this kind of equipment on a day to day basis. People from other branches only carried them around if it was required for them to do so. That’s why Asagao was completely unarmed at the moment.
“It’s okay to evacuate, you know,” I added. “We may be in the back, but we are still on the battlefield.”
“Then there should be no problems,” responded Asagao nonchalantly. She continued to stare at me. “I don’t want to be the only one running away.”
“I can’t stay calm with you watching…” I said. I wondered how long she would be watching me for…
She pouted, annoyed. “Renge’s watching you too, isn’t she.”
“It’s because I’m a spotter,” answered Renge as she raised her chest triumphantly.
Asagao had a blank look on her face. “Spotter?”
“I team up with a sniper, observe and analyze the surroundings, and gather coordinates,” explained Renge. “Then I calculate the measurements for the distance, angle, and alignment so the sniper can adjust them accordingly.”
“I see…” said Asagao. She actually looked a little interested as she continued to watch.
“Wanna try a little bit?”
“Uh… Umm… Sure, just a little…”
Renge took out her spare binoculars and handed them to Asagao. Even though Asagao was usually the more mature one, right now it was Renge who acted like the older one. Asagao hesitated, and then timidly took the binoculars from her. She grasped them tightly with both hands as if they were some valuable treasure and peered into them with excitement. She smiled happily.
“… Woah. Oh my god! Huh??? Ouch.. ? Ohhh… Whew! Amazing…” she said as she observed the battle. Her expressions were all over the place. Amazement, surprise, disgust, or contempt— she had it all. There were times when she would even gasp in admiration. Her smile was similar to that of a young girl deeply in love, but suddenly, her expression changed to absolute fear.
“Holy! Woah, it’s close!” screamed Asagao. “It’s real close! Oh my god!”
“Really?” asked Renge, and she took a look in her binoculars. “Oh wow, woooahhh, they are near! Kasumi! Your 5 o’ clock! One strayed off and is coming straight here! It’s close!”
I turned my rifle to the 5 o’ clock direction and looked into the scope. “Some more details would be nice…” I added softly.
The absolute maximum range on this rifle was 1500 meters. If I brought down the stray <Unknown> here, then there would be no need for us to fall even further back. Even if I missed the first shot, I could just adjust the aim and try again. As long as I killed it within three shots, it should be fine.
I carefully aimed my sights at the <Unknown> and lightly breathed out. After doing so, I focused on emptying my mind. I closed my eyes as my mind went blank. The sunset illuminated my eyelids red, so my vision turned completely red.
However, my <World> allowed me to hear the sound of all things. Because of that, I heard the ocean breeze, I heard the rough waves, I heard the gunshots, and I heard the seagulls frantically crying out. But most importantly of all, I heard a single disturbance in the air. A few hundred meters in front of me, the wind was unnaturally loud.
An echo started to reverberate within me. It started softly, but quickly intensified. Many other echoes of varying amplitudes soon followed, and my head was flooded as they piled up from within. These echoes continued to appear and merge together until they formed a single image in my head. Looking at it, the total length was about three meters. Ah, this type… I have killed this type of <Unknown> before. There should be no problems dealing with it, then. I continued to mentally search for the exact spot in the image where all the echoes converged to.
And at last, I finally found it.
As quietly as the snow falling in a snowy day, as gently as I would pat my sister on the head, I pulled the trigger.
“… Ogre class, Kill confirmed,” said Renge a few moments later. I took a deep breath upon hearing her.
“… It hit. Was that you, Kasumi?” asked Asagao, dumbfounded, as she turned to me.
Without thinking, I laughed nervously. “Well, it wasn’t too far out, so…”
“Amazing. Kasumi, I never knew you were this amazing…” continued Asagao with an unusually childish tone. In fact, she sounded like a child that had been impressed thoroughly. Her eyes were even sparkling with delight.
“Don’t look at me like that… It really was no big deal…” I wanted to say. But I ended up saying, “Nah, all the snipers could at least do this much. My kill count was one of the lowest among them… Actually, it probably was the lowest.”
I was not exaggerating. My military rank was the absolute bottom tier, so I was moved to the very back lines. Consequently, there weren’t many chances for me to have participated in battle. My job back then was just to pick off the <Unknowns> that had strayed away from the main group, similar to what I just did now. Of course, I was rewarded negligibly compared to those who fought in the front lines.
“Oh…” sighed Asagao.
“Yeah, yeah! Natsume, Asuha, and Kasumi are all amazing! Everyone’s amazing!” nodded Renge enthusiastically.
“Huh…” interrupted Asagao. “It didn’t seem like you did much as a spotter, though…”
Renge laughed nervously as she tried to dodge the question. “N-Not true! Normally I’d do more things… but there’s a lot of free time in a sniper pair… It’s not good, right? Teaming up with me only for me to just talk and talk… Ahahaha…”
Asagao gave her an apathetic look, but Renge adamantly continued on. “T-That’s why even with all my talking, the fact that Kasumi can still concentrate like that is amazing!”
“Ah, I can see why,” nodded Asagao. “Kasumi doesn’t really listen to people, huh?”
“No I’m listening alright. I just can’t help it… I’m bad at communicating…”
I truly was listening; I may have even been listening too much. My <World> filled my head with all sounds, including voices, to the point of abnormality. Thanks to that, when I was still a sniper pair with Renge, I was able to hear other sniper pairs talking shit about us… I guess that’s why I became good at ignoring people. There’s a clear difference between not being able to hear other people and just flat out ignoring them.
The two of them continued talking, but I tuned them out and looked into my scope one more time. There was no indication of any more <Unknowns> coming our way. Instead, I saw our elites slowly but surely kill off the rest of them. Like so many times before, I continued to lie prone on the ground and quietly listened as the rest of the <Unknowns> got dealt with. There were no more opportunities for me to pull the trigger.
… Every single time it was always the same thing. It was just business as usual.