Chapter 5: Despair That Creeps From the Horizon.
Ripples beyond the horizon warped the sky in mysterious ways, and ominous shadows from the ripples seemed to materialize into the real world. They were grotesque; their very presence seemed to make the sky itself shiver in fear.
Soon, the ripples would disperse as they slowly crept forward. They had both biological and mechanical features, their bodies had numerous limbs that awkwardly grew out, and their uneven teeth looked capable of crushing everything in their path. Their skin was coated with some inorganic substance, almost like a bug’s carapace or a knight’s dull armor.
However, they weren’t the only ones in the sky. Coming from the center of the shadow, little bizarre objects floated above the ocean. These humanoid things would soon get into formation, a sight that the students had witnessed all too often.
Their battle formation may have been very human-like, but one look at them was all it took to know that they weren’t from this planet. Their intentions, even their language, were completely unknown. In the eyes of the humans, they were just mysterious intruders.
About twenty-nine years ago, the existence of these monsters became fully known to everyone through the pain and suffering they caused in their trail of destruction. They were the monsters that caused the First Great Calamity, the <Unknowns>. Now, remnants of these <Unknowns> had appeared before their very eyes.
A thunderous roar from the center of their fleet shook the air around them. It would be a stretch to call it a voice, but the surrounding <Unknowns> roared out in response from somewhere within their bodies. It was their battle cry.
“How many enemies?” asked Aoi. With the alarm shrieking in the background, she scrambled into the central headquarters room. The room was actually located in the center of the city in a facility right under the school building. There were countless monitors lined up against the walls of the room, all displaying images taken from the watchtowers along the coast.
Of course, the monitors now displayed the remnants of despair that came from the horizon, the monsters that had destroyed the Earth once before, the <Unknowns>.
“Umm, we’re just confirming it now, but one Triton class, twenty Kraken class, and about… 2,000 ogre classes!” replied someone stationed at communications. Reports from all the watchtowers were coming in fast.
These numbers far exceeded the norm.
“Ughh… Two battalions worth, huh? They even brought in a Triton…” Aoi scowled. “Why now?” She stopped to take a look at the <Unknowns> on the monitor. They lacked the ability to reason, so understanding and communicating with each other was near impossible. “In any case, let’s calm down first. Send a message to the entire city: Have the students split into their respective troops and stations. I’m putting the city on lockdown.”
“I’ll have Sajihara and Otonashi’s troops, two and three, stationed in the front. The fourth troop, Nabariya’s, will serve as backup for the others. Just don’t go for the Triton class or any other large ones first. Take care of the fillers. Once the path to it is clear…”
Aoi stared at the huge <Unknown> that had taken up most of the monitor screen and continued. “We’ll have Hime-sama slice it in two.”
“Yes Ma’am!” replied everyone in the room. Now that they had solid orders, they didn’t look as lost.
As she watched everyone working from behind, Aoi scratched her face. She had commanded them just like how Maihime would, but as she expected, it just didn’t feel right to her. It was even weird for her to refer to Maihime as “Hime-sama”.
In any case, she guessed it was fine since her words seemed to have raised their morale. After all, they were going up against a very large <Unknown>. If she could just quell that fear even a little bit, then it was all good. Of course, Maihime could have done it far better than she ever could.
Suddenly, a student handling the monitors cried out. “Yaegaki!”
Aoi trembled a bit, but eventually turned to the student. “Have the <Unknowns> made a move?” she asked.
“No, that’s not it…” the student took another look at the monitor. “There’s been no response from Maihime…”
“Really?” Aoi’s eyes widened.
Ten minutes ago, the alarm startled the Divine Pillars as well. Unsurprisingly, they were “watching over” Maihime and Shino.
“Alarm…?” said Kurisu.
“What no way what kind of timing is this…”
“Ah, Hime-sama’s going back to the city,” continued Kurisu. “Let’s get back to our stations before they start wondering where we went.”
Ginko nodded. “She’s right. We should get back before Hime-sama does.”
“Alright Zaku and Gin, you two go ahead,” said Kurisu. “My troops are just backing everyone up, so I’m going to make sure Shino doesn’t do anything weird as much as I can. If they ask for me, cover me, okay?”
The two paused before nodding.
“Then I will go ahead first Kurisu.”
“Let me know how it goes after the battle.”
Zakuro and Ginko said their farewells and took off. Zakuro teleported to a marking she had inside the city, and Ginko used her superhuman strength to jump away. Kurisu, now left alone, slowly stared out into the horizon.
“Hmm… That shadow… and that alarm… perhaps it’s one of the large ones,” she said to herself. Her lips slowly turned up into a grin. “This could be the perfect time…”
She snapped her fingers to materialize her <World>. In an instant, she blended in with the air around her, rendering her invisible.
“That alarm… <Unknowns>?”
Back on the cliff, Shino and Maihime stopped dead in their tracks.
Shino narrowed his eyes and glared up into the sky. “It seems to be that way,” he said softly. It was faint, but he did notice that the horizon was a bit distorted.
Maihime clenched her teeth and fist in anger. She was angry at the fact that they were trespassing on this scenery she adored since she was just a child. In her mind, she wanted it to remain free of <Unknowns>forever.
“Let’s go, Shino,” she said as she quickly turned around, causing her skirt to briefly flutter in the air. “Let’s get ready to counter them before they come to shore.”
Shino hesitated a bit before following her back to the city. It was true that this was the perfect time to kill her, but not once did he forget his most import duty of all— to protect the country from the <Unknowns>. The fact that the Bureau wanted her dead meant that her existence was a detriment to the country. With that being said, there was no doubting her skill on the battlefield. If he were to kill her now, Kanagawa would be in big trouble.
That’s why there was no other choice. He decided that the best course of action was to… Shino stopped in his tracks. It was as if he was desperately trying to think of excuses not to kill her.
With his mind still in disarray, he went back into the city.
The city was in an uproar. The students, who just moments earlier were enjoying their day off, rushed to grab their weapons and headed to their respective posts around the city. As a result, with the alarm shrieking in the background, the sounds of footsteps, shouts, and even a bit of crying filled the air.
The city had become a war zone in an instant.
“Well, let’s part ways for now,” said Maihime. “Let’s meet after the battle, Shino.”
“Ah, sure,” he said. He left to join up with his troop.
However, before he could go very far, he heard someone shout, “Shino!”
Hotaru ran straight to him through the crowd. Perhaps she had waited for Maihime to leave before calling out to him.
“It’s become quite troublesome, huh?” she said. “What about, you know?”
“Not going to do it yet. If I kill her now, it’s going to affect the battle too much. We need her help against these <Unknowns> first.”
Hotaru frowned. “You’re a nice guy, aren’t you, Shino,” she said, sighing.
“Stop with the jokes.” He briefly averted his gaze away before suddenly remembering something important. Earlier, Maihime had mentioned Hotaru’s name, but he didn’t have a chance to question her about it. What was going on?
“… Hotaru,” he said after thinking about it for a few seconds.
“Well, Maihime… she said— ” his voice was suddenly drowned out by the nearby shouts.
“Huh? What’d you say?”
“Ah… nothing, I’ll tell you later. Let’s hurry,” he said, suddenly breaking into a sprint.
“W-Wait!” shouted Hotaru. In a panic, she chased after him.
After splitting up with Shino, Maihime headed to where her beloved specialized weapon, “Eris,” was held. She could have carried it with her earlier on the date, but she felt like it wasn’t very ladylike to do so.
At that moment, her cell phone rang, so she stopped and searched for it inside her bag. It was a call from headquarters… she fumbled with the screen a bit and answered it.
“Huh?” All of a sudden, the phone was forcibly ripped from her hands, and weirdly enough, it began floating in the air around her.
“What the?” she shouted. She jumped at the phone to try to grab it back. However, the floating phone was too quick for her as it nimbly maneuvered around her hands.
“Stop!” she shouted. She had to answer that call from headquarters, so she frantically chased around for it. It continued to float away, leading her to some deserted place. Finally, it spun around playfully for a moment before stopping completely in midair.
Suddenly, the area around the cellphone blurred, and a person appeared from thin air.
Maihime’s eyes widened. “Kurisu?!?!?”
“Hehehe, were you surprised?” she said. She playfully waved her phone around once again.
“I was. If you were there, then you should have said something,” replied Maihime. “Oh, the <Unknowns> are here! A lot of them… So can I have my phone back? I need to contact headquarters.”
Kurisu grinned. “Cellphone? This right?” She dropped the cellphone onto the ground and crushed it completely with her foot.
“Huh? What was that for, Kurisu?!?”
“Hehehe, I’m sorry, Hime-sama,” snickered Kurisu. “But if you contact them now, it’ll be a bit troublesome for me. I won’t have an opportunity like this ever again.”
Maihime didn’t know what she was talking about, and her face showed it. “What are you saying?” she asked softly.
Kurisu didn’t respond. Instead, she grinned even harder and snapped her fingers. As she did, ten students silently appeared right behind Maihime, each holding their own specialized weapon. Even worse, they were on guard, ready to strike at a moment’s notice. It seemed Maihime had walked straight into a trap.
“Who are these people?” she asked suspiciously.
Once again, Kurisu ignored her question. She peered at Maihime with her now crazy eyes while pulling her own hair upward. “Sorry, but I’m gonna have you chill here for a bit…”
“What do you mean? I have to help fight the <Unknowns>!”
“Didn’t you hear what I just said?” said Kurisu, shrugging her shoulders. “It’ll be troublesome if you interfere with that. If you defeat that many <Unknowns>, you’ll get even more points, right? And with that, who knows how many years you’ll stay at the top of all of Kanto?”
She rubbed her chin. “You’re strong, aren’t you?” she said, pointing at her. “Despite that, even with your disgusting amount of points, you still won’t graduate and go inland. Because of that, some… people are going to come to you, you know? Perhaps, people like… the forever number two of Kanto… the Tokyo city head?”
“W-What are you saying? We have to work together and protect this— ”
“No, that’s not it,” interrupted Kurisu. “Not everyone’s as innocent and straightforward as you, you know? Rank one doesn’t offer a lot… Isn’t it so much more appealing to go inland?”
Maihime couldn’t believe what she was hearing, but she understood the situation. “Just to be sure, are you serious right now?” she asked, glaring back at Kurisu.
“Yes, I’m serious,” she replied. “Ah, but don’t worry… The head of Tokyo also wants to protect this country. Though, once you’re gone, Kanagawa’s gonna be in quite the pinch, and Tokyo’s gonna swoop in and save the day. It’s perfect! With this, Kanagawa gets saved, and Tokyo gets some much needed points. It’s a win-win situation, isn’t it?”
Before Maihime could answer, a low male voice behind her said, “Nabariya. You’ve said too much.”
“If Hime-sama doesn’t know what’s going on, it’ll be bad,” replied Kurisu as she waved him off. “It’s more scary if she went all out without us talking to her first. If she did, we’d already be dead.”
The Tokyo students all gulped in anticipation once she said that.
Maihime gritted her teeth together in frustration. She didn’t understand all the complicated stuff, but she knew that the people around her, including the girl right in front of her, were putting the city at risk because of their own selfish reasons.
“So? You think I’m just going to do as you say?” snapped Maihime. “Or, you think you can hold me down here?”
“Absolutely not…” Kurisu grinned once again. “There’s no one in the world who can do that.”
Maihime angrily took a step forward, causing the Tokyo students to tremble in fear. Seeing this, Kurisu snapped her fingers one more time.
There was an explosion within the city, and a shockwave soon followed through, causing some birds to fly out in disarray.
“What the…?” Maihime instinctively looked towards the sound. She could see smoke rising between some buildings, and could hear a different kind of siren ringing in the distance. “Kurisu… what did you do?”
Kurisu laughed. “Well, I have lived here for quite a while, right? So that’s why I decided to leave some parting gifts…”
“KURISU!!!” shouted Maihime. She was so angry she had trouble holding her emotions in.
“Oh no… Don’t get so angry at me,” said Kurisu, playfully hugging herself. “If you make such a scary face, I might accidentally blow some more up, you know?”
Maihime got so angry she couldn’t speak. She just kept shooting daggers at her.
Kurisu, however, remained unfazed as she tried to hide her laughter. “That’s why… just do what I say, okay? Don’t worry, I won’t make you do anything bad. Just hurry up, graduate, and go inland so you won’t be in the rankings anymore. Of course, don’t tell anyone anything…”
She paused. “Or perhaps you can try and fight your way out here, but of course you’ll know what’s gonna happen to the city, don’t you?”
“Damn it!” Maihime cried out in vain. She angrily stomped her foot down, cracking the pavement underneath.
However, she couldn’t do anything rash with the entirety of Kangawa taken as a hostage, so she sighed and put up her hands. The students behind her didn’t believe it at first, but soon slowly inched up to her. Once they were right behind her, one of the students took out a handcuff from his front pocket and handcuffed her.
“Ah no, no,” said Kurisu as she walked up to them. “That’s not gonna do anything… Leave this to me.”
She gently rubbed her hand against Maihime’s cheek.
“Huh?” Maihime rubbed her eyes confusingly. Her vision began to fade away… Soon, her vision went completely white, as if she was in some sort of empty space with only Kurisu in front of her. “What… is this? Kurisu… this is your <World>?”
Kurisu giggled. “When did I ever say my <World> was to make things invisible? With this, you won’t be able to see anyone else… but me. Sorry, Hime-sama, but you are going to run away from the battlefield, okay?”
She finished with another deformed smile.
Having finally regrouped with the other students, Shino was waiting for further orders with his own small unit.
“Shino,” said Hotaru.
“What is it?”
The city now was even noisier than before, but it wasn’t from the energy and excitement of the students. No, right now, they were all scared to death. It was to be expected, however, since there had been an explosion just a few minutes earlier. Despite having been the only explosion so far, it was enough to make everyone anxious. Rumors of what may have happened already spread like wildfire, and many believed that the <Unknowns> had caused it.
“What’s going on here?” asked Shino. He narrowed his eyes trying to figure stuff out.
“Oh, Shinomiya,” said someone with a deep voice.
“Huh?” He turned around.
It was Sugiishi. “I feel much safer fighting with you,” he continued saying. “I saw that Ranked Battle… Man, you were scary, but I would have never imagined you to take down two of the Divine Pillars like that.”
“I just got lucky. But more importantly, what was that explosion?”
“That one, huh?” Sugiishi turned to where the explosion was in the distance. “It was in Block A. People are saying that Hime-sama’s dorm had smoke coming out of it. If it was an <Unknown> attack, then it’s weird that there hadn’t been any more explosions. At the same time, I doubt it’s a coincidence. Right now, they’re probably still trying to figure out what caused it. I mean, it’s not like Hime-sama messed up while cooking and blew the whole thing up or anything like that…”
“I see, but at this rate, the students are going to start losing their morale. What— ”
Before he could finish his sentence, Shino heard someone scream his name out.
Sugiishi looked around, chuckling. “Woah, what’s this? You got fans already? Why don’t you wave back, Shino? It’s important to keep up your… WOAH!”
[Aegis] suddenly jumped down from a nearby building onto Sugiishi’s head, pushing him face first into the ground.
“I finally found you, Shino!” she said.
“Sajihara?” Shino eyed her suspiciously. Soon after, he noticed a small shadow appear in front of him as well— it was [Silent].
“Don’t run away anymore please answer this where did Hime-sama go we know you were with her the entire day,” she said. This time she was grabbing the panda by its collar.
“Tenkawa… what do you mean?” replied Shino.
“Are you seriously saying this?” snapped Ginko. “You brought Hime-sama out, didn’t you? She’s not responding on her cell phone, and I can’t smell her, so what happened? We took our eyes off her for one second, and now she’s gone!”
Zakuro was just as annoyed as Ginko was. “Exactly you kidnapped her or something didn’t you after all that the clothes shop the café the downtown shopping and even brought home some of her homemade rice-balls I actually can’t forgive you for doing all that!”
“Yeah!” said Ginko. “You took advantage of her to even use her straw! I’m so damn jealous…! So jealous it hurts!”
Shino raised his eyebrows. “How did you two know that?”
“That’s not important!”
“Exactly don’t try to change the subject,” said Zakuro.
Shino felt like he wasn’t getting the whole picture, so he quietened up. Besides, there was something more important he had to ask.
“So what’s going on?” he asked. “Tenkawa hasn’t returned yet? It’s true I was with her earlier, but we went our separate ways after we got back to the city. I don’t know where she went after that.”
The two (or rather, Ginko and the panda) looked at each other for a split second before turning back to Shino.
“Then where is Hime-sama there’s absolute no way she would run away from battle,” said Zakuro, her lips trembling.
Ginko sighed and took out her cellphone from her front pocket. “Hey, this is Sajihara… Sorry I missed your call, I was busy looking for Hime-sama. So, have you found out where she is…?”
The voice from the cellphone was loud enough that everyone could hear it.
Please come to back to headquarters! It’s terrible! Tenkawa… was kidnapped!
Ginko gasped as she threw a dirty look at Shino, and Zakuro did the same with her panda.
“I knew it… It’s you, isn’t it? Shino!” screamed Ginko.
“You’ve gone and done it you monster now tell me what did you do to Hime-sama choose your next words very carefully.”
“As I’ve said, I— ”
From the line, Aoi suddenly cut him off. “Huh? Is that Shinomiya’s voice I hear?”
“Ah, don’t worry about it Aoi,” said Ginko, “I’ll take him in and— ”
“N-No!” interrupted Aoi once again. “Shinomiya isn’t the culprit… it’s someone else!”
“No way!” said Zakuro in disbelief. Both Ginko and her face went blank.
“In any case, just come! We need everyone’s help for this…”
“O-Okay, I’ll come at once,” said Ginko, taking one last look at Shino. “Sorry for suspecting you… seems you’re in the clear for now.”
“It’s no big deal.” Shino shook his head. “But… take me with you.”
“Huh?” Ginko raised her eyebrows. It was an odd request; Shino wasn’t the culprit, but he wasn’t anyone important, much less a member of headquarters.
Despite that, Shino had to go. He felt that if he went, he could get closer to understanding the reasoning behind Maihime’s assassination order, perhaps even from the other people currently targeting her as well.
“………” In the midst of all his thoughts, Shino shook his head no. The reason for going was simple… Shino had to be the one who killed her.
“What are you saying this is none of your— ”
“Actually,” interrupted Aoi through the phone. “Please have Shinomiya come too… We need everyone’s help in this, especially his. You two fought him directly, so you should already know his strength…”
“I guess so…” said Ginko. Both she and Zakuro quietened up. They didn’t seem to approve, but Aoi was not wrong, so they had no choice but to agree.
“Understood. Come with us, Shino.”
“Yeah,” he nodded, clenching his fist in resolve.
At that moment, Sugiishi, who was still trapped under Ginko’s feet, said, “Umm… I’m sorry for bothering you all… but can you move aside please?” He was clearly in pain.
“Ah, sorry.” Ginko casually scratched her head before eventually stepping off of his head.