Sundown was the time limit.
The siren that blared with the first glimpse of the sun signaled the start of a very long day.
The forces gathered in the city’s east and its west naturally anticipated participants to take one of three routes.
The first. Breaching the mountains and woodlands of the nature district to the north. The second, a path through the shopping district and town areas that occupied the south. And third, a straight march through center district where Centralle Building stood high.
Alhazan’s camp had Archess as the supreme commander. His first words in the command room, Elize Industrial’s main building presidential office.
“Well then, A team, B team, C team, please begin moving as planned.”
The teams didn’t have any specialization, each one contained around two hundred Elize Industrial laborers, with officials of the private army taking the lead. They each began an advance down the three anticipated paths.
Due to Cross Flag’s designated rules, both forces needed to have their competitors start at their own camps. That was why the start was a battle of speed. The following developments largely hinged on how advantageous of a position they could take.
Everyone on Alhazan’s side took off in dump cars and trucks Elize prepared to secure their strongholds. Prominent competitors like Hideo and Minako were on standby at the base as shortstops. The plan was to start by watching over the developments.
On the other hand, on Obliterating Industries’ camp. Suzuran’s first words.
“Alright, let’s begin! Ryuuta, Clarica, Master! I’m counting on you!!”
“Aight, let’s do this!”
Elsia sat in Ryuuta’s passenger’s seat.
“Piece of cake!”
While VZ was in Clarica’s.
“Leave it to me, Suzuran.”
And Meeko was next to Takase.
The three with the highest skill in driving, each one with the finest supercar set off at the same time as Alhazan’s side. At speeds more than twice that of the large, heavy trucks, in three directions as expected.
In regards to several hundred units moving on the opposing side, this independent action seemed far too unreliable. But that was merely taking numbers into consideration. As the captain of Elize Industrial’s forces, Reily stated, each and every one of them could be treated as a single fortress. This wasn’t a reckless charge. Obliterating Industries had set out to construct their strongholds.
A transmission from B-Team who closed in on Center Plaza.
‘This is B-Team, we’ve come into contact with the enemy.’
Reading the distances off of his map, Archess muttered.
“… That was fast. Their numbers…?”
One of the numerous monitors in place displayed footage from a camera mounted on the private soldier’s helmet. There was a sports car parked smack dab in the center of the plaza.
‘The driver’s the agent who charged into our company last time. The one in the passenger seat…’
‘Pops, can you hear me?’
Zazi’s voice interrupted the signal.
‘That one there’s Demon VZ. She’s bad news, what do we do?’
‘C-Team, made contact in shopping district! What the hell is up with that woman!? None of our attacks do a thing! And that hammer of hers is letting off shockwaves! Building a base is proving impossible!’
‘This is A-Team, nature district, HQ, do you copy!? The Lady on the Platform has appeared! Difference in firepower unsurmountable! Further advance impossible, current position, second mining lot, section D2, I repeat, further advance impossible!’
Wilco and Minako and Elize… and of course Hideo were dumbfounded.
(… To think it would be this bad.)
When the rules had them using magic shock cullets, it was almost as if they had no effect on these women. On top of that, their abilities were far too overwhelming.
Elsia with her magic, Meeko with offhanded swings of her hammer, VZ with her abnormal speed, all the while Ryuuta, Takase and Clarica supporting them in the chaos with large caliber firearms accurately taking out soldiers.
Shouki spoke quite accustomed.
“Well… They’re pretty much outside the bounds of common sense. There’s no way a survival game would be enough to contain them.”
All three routes were crushed, their advance already seemed hopeless but… just like a strangely-calm Archess, Hideo realized it as soon as he looked over the three video feeds.
“They’re not. Advancing.”
“So you noticed too. Those girls are the stopper on the bottle… if I had to say, they’re staking out the spot for the picnic. There’s no need for them to advance.”
Archess broke into a grin as he flipped the switch to his microphone.
“I understand, all teams please cease your march. If they try to advance, put up a resistance as you retreat.”
“B-but if they fall back, won’t we be at a disadvantage… shouldn’t you send us to support them!?”
Minako said, and her truncheon endorsed it.
‘Indeed, it has always been first to move, first to win. Precisely because they are strong, it will only become more difficult the more reinforcements arrive. Should we not take them out now, even if it requires some sacrifice?’
Hideo did think he made sense. But the commander Archess’ take was the exact opposite.
“Oh no, I’m not even considering defeating those lovely ladies. More so, I would be very thankful if they advanced and cleared this instant.”
(… I see.)
He was right. Participants who reached the enemy base and cleared could no longer participate in the game. Even a demon who could take on hundreds alone only counted for one point across the goal. In a battle where four thousand clashed, it was no exaggeration to deem that within the margin of error.
Even as that was going on, Obliterating Industries’ forces arrived one after the next in RVs and pickup trucks with rifle stand. Each team was already showing thick shades of defeat.
“Aaau… they’re starting to push us back…”
Came Wilco’s mildly anxious voice. The other side wasn’t utilizing airsoft guns with shock BB pellets, they seemed to be mainly equipped with real guns and higher output shock rounds. People were starting to collapse. It seemed Elize could no longer contain her irritation.
“Hey, Archess! For a while now, the only ones going down have been my employees! Are you really not sending any reinforcements!?”
“I understand how you feel, but please endure it for now, Ms. Elize.”
And he grinned.
“In this game, even if you’re done in, you’re knocked out at most. It is more than possible for those knocked out in the morning to make their comeback in the afternoon.”
The fierce assault of masks, maids and participants continued on the screen. And dragging their fallen comrades behind them, the private soldiers put up a good fight under the polished command, all while the Elize Industrial laborers slowly retreated bit by bit like they were buying time.
“It looks like the other side isn’t in the mood to pick up our corpses and bind them.”
“Th… then the reason you said to recover as many of our casualties as possible…?”
Archess nodded to Elize’s question.
“I was not speaking from a purely ethical standpoint. Even if let’s say three hundred fell at this moment. And we managed to reclaim two hundred of them. The enemy will have expended what it takes to keep three hundred company, and by evening, our losses will be one hundred. In short…”
“I see… so we can force the enemy into needless expenditure.”
Shouki’s words had him turn a smile.
“Yes. But by that time, our time will be limited. The essential point this time around is just how far we can exhaust our opponent. This moment here, where they have confidence in a far-too-strong power, having forgotten the long battle they’re in for… this is the time to let them have a comfortable win.”
His smile, simply serene on first sight, gave way to a sword-like light in his prudent eyes.
That was why he put a specialized recovery unit on each team. It was also why they had prepared nothing but large-scale trucks specialized in transporting people. “As expected of Obliterating Industries, this really was an unwinnable battle”… they would put on the show, giving the other side excess momentum and exhausting them.
“Well, what say you we take it easy until noon? It’s all going smoothly, how about some tea?”
“Uhah. It’s a laid-back war.”
Wilco’s laughing words sent Elize into a rage.
“This is no time to kick back! Do you really plan on winning this, Archess!? If those outers get serious…!”
“I-i-i-it’s perfectly alright! Ms. Elize, my neck! You’re strangling me… gweeeeeeh!”
Hah, hah, hac, hac.
“Phew… in the first place, our trump cards should be saved away to finish off a weakened foe What’s more, each and every one of those girls is quite the grandstanders. It’ll be fine, just you watch…”
Midday went by, and all three of Obliterating Industries’ units on their pleasant advance had reached right up to the industrial district. However.
“H… hey now, what’s up with this…”
A certain full-body-tights muttered dumbfounded as he looked beyond the boundary line to the district.
There were loopholes on each and every window, the road surface had been stripped off the roads, trenches had been dug, barbed wire had been set up all around.
“A… are they… planning on starting a world war or something…?”
“Don’t falter! Show them the power of the elite full-body-tights unit!”
Waaah. The masked men surged in. The next instant, the one running at the lead was blown sky high with a pale, blue, magical explosion.
“W-where are they attacking from!?”
“… Nobody move…!!”
“I just felt a terrible feeling under my foot…”
The reason the pavement was purposely stripped away and filled not with gravel but sand.
“Are they for real!?”
“I… it’s a minefield!!”
‘Alright, they stopped moving! Everyone, fire!’
The order from the street speaker and from the loopholes, from the trenches, an immense number of shock BBs poured down as a literal rain. A crumbled stance led to a foot on a landmine. Fleeing gave way to landmines. To wherever they were blown, another landmine in wait. Even if their full-body-tights excelled in defense, their cries of pandemonium made for quite the image of hell.
“Leader, that path is uninhabited! It’s gravel, they can’t have installed mines!”
“Alright, if we die, we die alone! Everyone charge!!”
Waaah, The masked brigade changed directions and began their rush again.
‘Bare your fangs!’
Another order; from beneath the gravel, a pillbox popped up to block off the road. These were airsoft guns on the rifling stands. However, no ordinary guns: two of the legendary Toytech vulcans capable of scattering over a hundred BB pellets a second.
“W… what do we do, leader…”
“Yeaaah… I, see. I thought the Industrial District blokes were a bit more decent than this.”
Agonizing screams, and so on, and so forth.
In Obliterating Industries’ command room. Just like Alhazan’s side, they had eyes on the field through cameras they had their troops carry. The attending maid acting as a signaler reported in tears.
‘Supreme leader, please read. They’re serious. Amazingly serious. They’re not playing war, they’re waging it for real.’
By the look of it, the entirety of the industrial district brought some guerilla camp to mind. Those factory zones that normally looked so tidy could now only be taken as the munitions supplier of some sinister military state.
Suzuran smacked her fist against the desk.
“Effort and guts! Also courage, friendship and all that pretty stuff!! Go, go, go!!”
‘Ahem, supreme leader, even if you give a marine call… ah, look at that. The crystallization of everything you just mentioned is…’
The full body tight corpse pile was carried off on a stretcher with a great deal of effort.
God can be heartless at times.
To the side of Suzuran as she grit her teeth, a single stiffly nodding silhouette. Despite looking like a girl around five to six, the words ‘Strategic Advisor’ glimmered radiantly across her chest.
“It does seem they don’t intend to let us get any further.”
“I get that part, Ripple-Rapple… wait, what’s with the fan?”
“Today, I am not just any Ripple-Rapple. I am Kong Ripple-Rapple Ming.”
“Ah, then I’m Erwin Suzurommel!”
She lifted her mirrored glasses onto her forehead.
“No one asked you.”
That aside. According to Kongming,
“Falling back to that point was presumably the enemy’s strategy.”
Suzuran blankly raised her face.
“… We’ve been set up?”
“As long as they keep up their defense… that would be the case.”
But, she took a breath.
“As long as they’re trying to defend that point… breaking through would be outside their expectations.”
Just one path was enough. As long as they could construct and secure a route to the enemy base, the enemy would be forced to move their troops to crush that route. When that happened, it would birth distortions in a defensive line that once looked iron-clad, giving way to yet another seam. For that sake, they needed to find an opening somewhere.
“… Should we use that?”
Ripple-Rapple shook her head twice.
“It’s not… time yet.”
Her dignified steadfastness was that of a legendary prodigy tactician awaiting the south-eastern wind.
“For now, we should keep them thinking Meeko and the others are our trump card. Our real trump card… right.”
“Should be used to finish off a weakened foe.”
At that moment, oddly enough, the outlooks of the commanders of both armies overlapped. Even among demons who boasted overwhelming strength, these inhuman entities who breached common sense were called Outers. The plan was not to make actual use of their far-too-flashy strength, it was a smokescreen to cover their true ace in the hole.
“Alright, then we’ll keep that aside for now…”
She called out to the three demons who, for some reason, were no longer moving.
“Elsia? Meeko? Kakko? What’s wrong? If it’s bunkers, can’t you just boom and bang them away?”
‘I’m quite famished.’
‘I am hungry.’
Suzuran’s head slumped d own. Ripple-Rapple delivered an energizing tap to her back.
“Yeah… yeah. I already knew, but they’re all way too selfish…”
‘I mean, Ms. Suzuran, it’s terrible out here! They’re off eating rice balls in their trenches like they’re showing off!!’
‘Aaah, after hearing you all complain, I’m getting hungry myself…’
‘Not that I care, but if you seriously get this glutton demon hungry, this war game will be reduced to a slaughter fest. Is that what you want, Suzuran?’
Those final words from Takase were the scariest of all.
“Aaah, fine, yes, yes, I get it, I’ll do something about it… I’ll send some sandwiches your way so…”
‘I’m in the mood for Mille-Feuille. With royal milk tea. I wouldn’t dare settle for less.’
Springing off of Princess Elsia’s high-handed request.
‘Then, then Suzuran, I’ll have a large katsudon with nameko mushroom miso on the side!’
‘Ah, don’t forget about me! I wanna large shrimp tempura don!’
Clarica made sure to chime in before her request could be buried.
‘A light meal will work. Please get me some sushi I can eat on the move.’
Said Meeko and,
‘Then that works out just fine, I’ll pinch some from that. Bring over ten peoples-worth of your finest sushi, Suzuran.’
Irk. She hadn’t noticed it, but Suzuran was breaking the intercom in her hand.
“… Demons and adults at your age, chirping like chicks begging to be fed…”
‘Did you say something?’
‘Suzuran, what was that?’
‘Beg your pardon?’
Now, now, Ripple-Rapple pat her back to soothe her.
“It is surprising they managed to last this long.”
“… Y… yeah, yep, that’s right… there’s nothing I can do if they’re using psychological warfare on my comrades.”
A nod and a nod.
“Char siu, normal noodle firmness, extra oil, with dumplings. I’ll leave you to it.’
‘Testing, testing, Lily, can you hear? It’s Ryuuta. If you’re taking orders, could you get me some fried chi—’
Clank!! Suzuran slammed the crushed intercom down on the spot as she turned to get some lunch herself. And thus, like the Maginot Line, the front line was temporarily locked at the boundary of the industrial district.
A battle cannot be waged on an empty stomach.
“Now then, now then, it looks like our enemies are enjoying a belated lunch…”
Archess sounded satisfied as he flipped through the monitor footage one after the next.
For hunger to spread war weariness like a deadly disease was a common tale of all battle of all eras. While their side had prepared beforehand, the enemy was quite far from their own camp. IT took time to deliver goods down a stretched out supply line, and whether it be at a restaurant table during peace times, or behind the sandbags of the battlefield, the moment food reaches one’s hands is a very reassuring instant.
“How are those in the infirmary faring?”
‘Of the casualties collected, all but twenty-five are back on the war front.’
Archess nodded. His serene expression remained constant as he spoke into the microphone.
“You’ve done very well holding on, everybody. We will now shift over to a general offensive. A-Team, B-Team, C-Team, please recommence your attacks.”
It was time to show the real worth of his thorough order not to fire unless fired upon.
The Obliterating Industries’ soldiers whose stomachs were emptied from a severe advance from early morning were all smacking their lips in unison at the lunches delivered. If they’re not going to attack us, we can eat lunch in peace… they had arbitrarily formed their own rule. There was no reason not to make use of this misunderstanding to take them from surprise.
In the first place, only the frontmost defensive line had been given riceballs to blatantly munch on. Everyone else had eaten around eleven on rotation, perfecting their preparations for this midday moment.
“Goddamn, how underhanded… Elsia!?”
She was partaking in her mille-feuille just as elegantly as she would at an upscale café terrace.
“Good grief, our princess is…… wait, what’s this!?”
A pillbox boasting natural defenses burrowed itself underground once again. Why did this place alone had a mobile bunker, where the ground was lain with gravel and not sand… the answer came in the form of a large trailer wrapped in sheets boldly sounding its car horn as it plunged straight into the forces led by Ryuuta at a breakneck pace.
The 4WDs and pickup trucks they were using as a barricade scattered before this several-dozen ton trailer like leaves.
“Hell no, you’re not getting through! Elsia!”
When he turned back, the vibrations and confusion of the advance must have clipped over her cup, Elsia was covered head-first in milk tea.
With drops falling drip by drip from her bangs, she said something quite uncharacteristic of her.
“… Leave it to me.”
Her hand sprung up without taking her grimoire into account. Ryuuta put his body on the line to jump at her and force that hand down.
“… Why are you getting in my way? Do you want to be eradicated alongside them?”
“I’m telling you not to eradicate them!! Aah, goddamit, we don’t have time to…!”
The trailer was off in the distance. Climbing a mountain road to the nature district, it disappeared into a sea of trees. While that was going on, the pillbox was operational one more, working in tandem with the encroaching foot soldiers to shower them with powerful support fire. Elisia begrudgingly used her grimoire to fire magic of lower outputs, but these numbers were different from before. Keeping distance away from her, troops broke past left and right.
“Ah, we can’t hold on here… HQ! Lily, do you read!? What do we do, attack or defend!?”
That same situation had befallen all fronts at once, Obliterating Industries’ command was more pressed to cope than a corporation with a scandal.
“I read you loud and clear! What was loaded on the trailer!?”
‘No clue, it was hidden with sheets!’
A voice rife with static, The ignition and impact of shock bullets fiercely mingled in.
‘Wait, oy, Elsia, you better not kill them! You got that, you definitely can’t kill them!’
‘… I see. So you have high hopes for me.’
‘Wrong, don’t read so deeply into it!!’
In the end, the girls were so strong if they tried to exhibit the true worth of their abilities, there would be no taking it back. As with nuclear weapons, strong was strong, but not realistic.
‘Nyah!? My katsudon!’
‘The ‘ell are you doing to my shrimp tempura!? I was saving that for last!!’
‘Kuh… kukukukukuh! You’ve got some nerve, blowing away my battleship maki… let’s go, Meeko.’
‘Quite right. Any and all who dare waste food must experience what it truly means to be food…!’
“Waaaaaaaaiiiiit! That last one was especially dangerous! Meeko, calm down! What do we do, Ripple-Rapple!?“
Expressionless as ever, Ripple-Rapple’s black irises continued observing the monitors in great detail.
“… It looks like the enemy considers the nature district a key strategic point to their advance.”
“Yeah…? Come to think of it, the trailer was headed towards the nature district.”
The other points had an increase in forces, but it was only footsoldiers. There was nothing more ominous than a concealed package, but…
“… In that case, why not give them one route? Retreat Ryuuta and Clarica’s units to Center Plaza to construct the defensive line we were originally going for. Have Meeko and Takase’s southern unit pull back to the shopping district. Hurry with the second dispatch. Thirty percent to the center, seventy percent to the shopping district, once we’ve reorganized, we’ll push on the southern front.”
“Uurgh, when we were having such a nice offensive…”
Well, while she placed importance on breakfast, this was her own fault for being negligent on lunch.
What does it matter, skipping one meal…
“It went too well in the morning. This situation is within expectations. Meaning…”
“… Looks like we’ve finally taken up the formations we had planned for. I’m glad Suzuran’s staff advisor’s a skilled one.”
Archess pointed at the city map unrolled on his desk as he spoke.
“With its vast area and unobstructed field of vision, it’s easy for both sides to throw forces into Center Plaza, and that will make it all the more hostile. It’s like the trenches of the first world war.”
Hideo had heard of this before. During the world war, Numerous trenches of great length were dug across the fields of Europe, it was a blessing if the front line could move up a few meters in a day, and yet the only obstacles they had to face were other humans. An immense battle of expenditure. But the center of this city was the shortest possible route connecting the two bases. They could only continue sending in a wall of soldiers to put on a show.
“The shopping district is enemy territory. We should consider it impossible to make it through.”
It was that organization they were dealing with, traps were par for the course. The knowledge of the ages proved that crossing a ravine was a disadvantageous position, and from the countless windows of the buildings surrounding both sides, their sniping would put out incomparable casualties.
Rather than setting the nature district as its goal… if they wanted to avoid the shopping district, Alahan’s side had no other option.
“And that’s why… Young Ryuuta’s unit pulled out from the nature district so easily, because the other side commander is thinking the same. They’ll be aiming for the exact opposite of us.”
Reinforcing one area will create a deficiency elsewhere. Archess gathered the pieces representing Alhazan’s side to the nature district… and gathered Obliterating Industries’ around the shopping district.
Both camps drawing large commas. Everyone present could understand how pressing this situation was.
“… Which means we’re abandoning the shopping district front?”
Shouki’s question had Archess nod.
“If those outers were up for it, it would be impossible to defend against them. Rather than losing valuable soldiers on a defensive, we should send them around to score more points. We’re both cutting through flesh to sever bone. From here on is a match against time.”
To see who could reach the bone first. And how long they could keep the other side from it.
With its elevations and convoluted mountain roads, the northern nature district route would take time. The reason the other side abandoned that front was surely because they determined troops were better spent in the south.
‘HQ, this is A-Team. We’ve conquered the peak of the mountain.’
“Understood. Once your preparations are complete, shift to the plan immediately. You have to be faster than the enemy’s second wave.”
The air of war was finally starting to waft through this command room as well. Archess turned back from the microphone and spoke.
“Well then, everyone, are you ready to go?”
Minako wore dark blue protective clothing she had Elize make. She was equipped with a helmet and mithril shield like a riot policewoman. Shouki was in the armor with a near-future silhouette he had used in his active days. And Hideo as well, wore a field uniform with anti-magic fibers sewn in.
On Hideo’s word, everyone gave a strong nod.
“… What was that?”
Suzuran tilted her head to the hyuuu of sliced wind overhead. The next instant.
Bang!! Bababang!! Bang!!
The mansion that housed HQ was visited by a tremor like a massive earthquake, outside the window, the pale blue blazing column let off by a giant shock bullet filled the entire yard.
“WaaaAAAah! Wha!? What!? Was that!? What happened!?”
‘HQ!? Supreme leader, do you read!? The identity of the item the trailer was carrying was a field howitzer!!’
Ripple-Rapple smacked her fan against the desk, lamenting her own thoughtlessness.
“Send the second wave. Hurry. At this rate, we’ll all be bombarded to hell.”
“B… by howitzer, you mean the ones the JDSF use!? Those giant cannons!?”
“We should have seen it coming.”
The reason Alhazan’s foot soldiers weren’t equipped with real guns loaded with shock bullets, instead uniformly carrying shock BB airsoft guns. She had been sure it was because they were too light to hinder movement, because they were more convenient than hauling around a large load of munitions.
But the true reason was different. The enemy had poured all the relevant cost into the shells to suppress their base itself.
“T… this ain’t no survival game I’ve ever heard of… uhyah!?”
Swish, swish, a hail of explosive winds and tremors that would have already leveled any ordinary wooden structure. No, if this mansion itself didn’t have its magic coating, it wouldn’t be strange if it collapsed at any moment. Even so, Ripple-Rapple spoke calmly.
“The structure itself of a cannon is simple, a clod of metal, so to speak… both the materials and machining could be provided by Elize Industrial in-house. This was a complete oversight.”
The path from the shopping district to the industrial district was flat land, it would take much less time to invade than going out of one’s way to climb a mountain. In a battle of time to sever the bone, they were on the verge of assuming their victory was unwavering.
Just as modern warfare began with securing the skies, to set up camp at high elevations was part of the time-honored playbook. The enemy had prepared a weapon to use to its fullest potential.
‘A large-scale truck form the Nature District! I’ll arrive in the residential district shortly!’
“Ah, this is getting to my head! Then we’ll…!”
“Of course, we can’t leave them like this. Send Elsia and Kakko to the battery encampment from Center Plaza.”
Transmission. And reply.
‘I grow tired of this.’
‘Nyaaah, you heard Lady Elsia, this is getting to be a pain~.’
“What about Meeko!?”
‘Ah, it’s no good, Suzuran. It’s time for her afternoon nap.’
“Masked tights unit!”
‘… Umm, Supreme Leader. If you’ll let me cut in, it’s Full-Body Tights Unit. What sort of pervert walks around in nothing but a mask and tights?’
Whether it was just half or full body… no, this wasn’t the time to debate.
“Anyways, masks, tie up Elsia and Kakko and drag them to the top of that mountain!!”
‘You want us to die!?’
“Rejoice, on the off-chance you succeed, your supreme leader will personally go on a date with you!!”
‘Ksh, kshkshhhh… kkkshshhh… Eh? What was that, supreme leader? The enemy must be jamming our signal, I couldn’t hear.’
“You were just making ksshhh sounds with your mouth! Explain yourself!”
‘Oh c’mon, there’s no way I could do that and sound convincing. So what were you going to give us again?’
Suzuran swore. I’m definitely killing him later.
“I’ll let you go on a date with whoever you want!!”
‘With Meeko!?’ ‘With Kakko!?’ ‘With Clarica!?’ ‘With Ratzelica’ ‘With Ripple-Rapple!!’
“And I’m saying why isn’t my name coming out!!?”
With her momentum, Suzuran ended up smashing the table the communication device was on to smithereens.
“… No wait, wasn’t there a dangerous one mixed in at the end?”
‘Full-Body Tights Unit awaaaaay!!’
“Erk… g-got it, just go already!!”
‘Sir yes sir, your excellency, supreme leader!!’
She had only given one order and she was dead tired and distressed.
It was because Takase, Kakko and the other executives were like that, that even the underlings had gotten selfish. Perhaps she was better off reeducating them. Building them up from the ground.
From the side, Ripple-Rapple was staring at her rather intensely.
“Eh? What’s up?”
“… You’ve made quite the arbitrary promise there.”
“Ah, it’s fine, it’s fine. Just word of mouth. It’s their fault for believing, yep, yep. Ahahahahah!”
She simply hadn’t noticed it herself, but this corporation’s rot didn’t stop at the executives. It ran all the way to the top.
Around the same time, Archess left the command room behind him. He changed over to an armored minivan readied in Elize Industrial’s main storehouse.
A report came in from Center Plaza.
‘You were right. The two demons left Center Plaza, they’re headed for the nature district. But Agent Clarica and Ryuuta Salinger are still stationed as field officers.’
‘C-Team to HQ, Demon Meeko is unmoving! The enemy is receiving reinforcements, this seems to be their main unit!’
“… I guess moving Lady Meeko was too much to hope for… understood, C-Team, prioritize staying alive, please enact an appropriate retreat.”
He changed channels.
“… Gabès, how are things going on your side?”
‘No problems to report, Lord Archess.’
“Got it. Then keep on standby until your next order.”
‘A-Team has reached the residential district, enemy base in sight! Beginning charge!!’
“Got it. I wish you luck.”
Everything was going according to plan. Archess nodded, he peeked his face out from the armored car’s window.
“How are you feeling, Wilco?”
‘NIHAHA, NIHOHO, NIHOHAHAHAHAHAH!!’
Wilco’s voice through the speakers was more lively than anything, she revved the accelerator to show off her spirit. The thick exhaust sound set the enormous warehouse trembling like an earthquake.
‘Engine check complete! Wilco can go anytime!!’
‘This is B-Team, Reily. Our forces have been cut drastically thanks to the two demons who just left. The enemy’s mounted fire is strong. How much longer on the reinforcements?’
“Please wait a little longer. I’ve already sent your Mithril Goddess and the three top contenders your way.”
‘Fufu, you’re making quite a big deal out of four people. We’ll hold out ‘til then. Over.’
The front line was all tangled up, as expected, for a moment, it seemed like their formations ha been settled. The placement of unignorable artillery at the finest spot crumbled the balance. They managed to divert the enemy’s mobile fortresses. The fact they were so easy to move, come so far, had turned on them.
Archess ordered the pit crew to open the gates. The shortest route straight to enemy territory, before Wilco’s trump card, was little more than an empty plain.
“I’ve kept you waiting… now let’s go, Wilco! We’re going to take over Center Plaza, and construct the fastest route to the enemy base!”
They had held on and on, concealing their hand, and now it was finally time to bring it into play!
‘The enemy’s a knockin’ on death’s door! Keep moving forward!’
‘Don’t let them lift their heads! Get around, get around! Don’t let a single one return alive!!’
Clarica and Ryuuta’s spirited voices flowed from Obliterating Industries’ command car.
There was no place to hide in the vastness of Center Plaza, both armies had set up cars, sandbags, benches, trash cans, anything they could find as a temporary barricade, otherwise digging trenches on the spot as an intense volley of shots was exchanged.
Yet Elize Industrial’s main armaments, shock BB pellets could only raise a small-scale explosion at most, while Obliterating Industries’ side was largely equipped with real guns and shock rounds. Among then, them M60s loaded on their trucks packed a major punch with their fifty caliber bullets, able to send benches flying into the air. If a few handlers concentrated their fire, even the sandbags fell apart.
Against Ryuuta’s orders, Alhazan’s side had been forced into such numerical inferiority they couldn’t even raise their heads over their cover. Behind a sandbag barricade, Zazi covered his head, lowered his posture, and nimbly slid behind the barricade one over, where the private army captain Reily was stationed. With a fed-up look on his face, he began loading his four empty handguns.
“Hey, captain… is pops coming yet? For real, it’s been so long since I’ve had a battle this bad. I’m having flashbacks of Verdun over here.”
“Hey now, the first world war? … No I see, you were a demon, were you?”
“Yeah. Unlike your normal demon, I found these things fit my style.”
Just a small peek and Zazi took a blind shot with his back to the enemy. Every round had the sliders behind one of the rifle racks collapse to the dirt. The moment the rain of bullets was interrupted, Reily set his assault rifle on top of the sand bags and fired. A new soldier soon took the fallen gunner’s place, but before the next round came, he was back down and hidden.
“Fufu… I already figured it out in Camdania, but I wouldn’t want to pick a fight with a demon.”
“It’s not like we’re out for blood or anything. But it’s true a lot of us have way too much power. It’s fun to go on a rampage. But since they thought up a game like this where you can run wild with no consequence… our pops is amazing, but that Suzuran girl is quite something herself.”
A new Elize soldier raced over to the sandbags.
“Captain Unit B3 was wiped out. We’ve only got B1 left.”
Bang! A gunshot. A pale blue explosion burst from the soldier’s head, blasting off his barret.
“If you keep having your soldiers running to you! That’s like advertising, our commander is right here!”
Ryuuta Salinger was close enough to pick up his voice without any instruments. The numerical inferiority had already reached such an extent. It was about time for the final blow to be dealt.
Reily rolled, Zazi leaped to avoid and retreat to the rear barricade where their comrades were. However.
One word from Clarica with her silver wand threw the rear barricade and everyone behind it into the air like they’d been taken by a sudden gust of wind.
“Man, this is a blast!”
With the Alhazan combatants falling to the ground undefended, Clarica laughed as she hammered in rounds from her Mauser.
“… For real, sister… that’s one nasty smile you’ve got there. Didn’t you used to be a Sacred Assembly Sister or something…?”
Zazi remarked, returning the crossfire of Ryuuta and Clarica with two guns of his own. He had to hold on long enough to let the survivors retreat even further back.
“Well, I’ve pretty much always been like this. Though must not put up a futile resistance♪.”
“As long as we take you out, Center Plaza is ours… prepare yourself!”
The next instant, Ryuuta closed the distance and drew his sword. He took a swift slash with the back of the blade.
Zazi clicked his tongue as the guns in both his hands were smacked to the ground. The moment the pain blurred his vision, Clarica cried out.
“Heaven be calling!!”
“Your Japanese is strange!!”
Pang, the sound of metal on metal. The large caliber shock bullet fired from the Mauser was defended by a radiant silver mithril defensive shield like a sheet of duralumin.
“Officer, glad you could make it!”
“Yes, I’m glad I got here in time…! I’ll protect you, hurry and get back!”
Her eye open wide, Clarica recoiled as if to say this was unfair.
“W… why are you dressed like a riot squad!? When everyone’s fitted out like soldiers, why are you the only one in riot gear!?”
“Because I’m a police officer!”
“Aaaah, what a lazy way to establish a character…”
“I don’t want to hear that from a woman whose character can be summed up with the words ‘thrill-seeking sociopath’!!”
The sparks flew.
“heaven’s calling, fall to hell, officer!!”
“Death penalty for defamation!!”
Minako swung around Okamaru as he tried to soothe her, fending off bullets with her shield in her ferocious charge. Clarica wasn’t one to lose, with her gun and her magic, mixing in barehanded grappling in an all-out-scuffle.
“H-heey, Clarica… guess she’s not listening… good grief.”
Ryuuta scratched his head. This was the leisure born in a winning battle. A loose air Minako and Clarica had unintentionally brought about. That chance couldn’t be left to the wayside.
Hideo targeted his laser sight on Ryuuta in absolute silence, setting the aim of his MP5. It was an airsoft gun, he didn’t need any strength. The stock on his shoulder, he stopped his breath for that instant, emotionlessly pulling the trigger…
This had to be the cultivation of countless battles. The instant he caught the gleam off the sight scope from the corner of his eye, Ryuuta reflexively threw his body sideways. He was fast. With the consecutive fire the electric gun boasted, Hideo kept the trigger down as he chased him with the alignment. The few shots that did hit were repelled by his mantle. It seemed the shock didn’t make it through to his body.
“… Heheh, didn’t think you’d be the one coming at me, Hideo!”
Hideo lowered his head the moment he was spotted. It was too late down. As expected, fwoom, kwoom, the sound of bullets shredding the air overhead. Those accustomed to it could draw, aim and fire as easy as they breathed. Faster than any amateur could react to. What’s more, they were using real guns. He couldn’t see their bullets coming like he could with BBs.
“Not looking too hot, Top Contender.”
Zazi to his right spun his revolver in circles. The moment he popped up his face, he locked on and rapidly fired at Clarica and Ryuuta. He was soon back under cover.
“I’ll stop them in their tracks. Cover me.”
Shouki to his left measured out the right timing and jumped out. With a great many bullets coming down on them he started out by assisting Minako.
“You’d better not have forgotten about me, Clarica!”
“You agaaaaaaaiiiiin, Mr. Shouki!? You’re way too detestably strong!”
And as Clarica didn’t hesitate to jump out of the way, this time Ryuuta came to her assistance.
“This is getting interesting!”
“Wanna go, Ryuuta!? I’m strong!”
Shouki directed his carefree smile with the body of his jet-black sword, while Ryuuta turned to him the blunt side of his Japanese blade.
“The rumored hero, I always wanted to duke it out once!!”
But as expected of the hero, with their blades meeting only one, only twice, Ryuuta was forced to retreat. When Clarica tried to provide support fire, Minako would block it, and Hideo and the others would spread bullets as payback.
“What’s wrong, is that all you’ve got, Ryuuta!?”
Ryuuta suddenly made the grin of a criminal who knew he’d gotten away with it.
“Yeah, I don’t have the confidence to beat the hero!”
He exchanged eye contact with Clarica and the two instantly jumped back to take distance. By feigning a blatant disadvantage, Ryuuta had caused Shouki to chase him too far into the field.
Minako and Shouki carried out a split-second analysis on the situation, pushing their backs together, Minako defending with her shield, Shouki with his barrier.
The Obliterating Industries combatants surging around the outer circumference all focused their gunpoints on the two who had been left isolated in the middle.
The guns blared the moment Ryuuta gave the order. And then.
“Yep, too bad for you.”
Elize made her sudden appearance, deploying a glowing veil of sacred silver in all directions. Several hundred shots, and yet not a single bullet got through. She deployed her veil horizontally, establishing a perfect impenetrable barricade.
“What’s with that, now ain’t that unfair!?”
“Haha? Unfair don’t mean crap on the battlefield, stupid. You just have to win! And by you, I mean me!”
Elize laughed out a grand villain’s laugh, she laughed herself to tears at Ryuuta’s words.
“T… that president could laugh like that… I’m glad I got taken out by Shouki back then…”
“Dammit, we’re pulling back for now!”
Clarica and Ryuuta broke into a cold sweat as they retreated back to Obliterating Industries’ line.
They had been on the verge of annihilation, they were almost forced to retreat back to the industrial district. No, it was precisely because of this hopeless numerical inferiority that the soldiers found hope in the form of their beloved goddess, and morale was restored in the blink of an eye.
“You saved us, president…!”
“We were waiting for you!”
“If the president is with us, we’re invincible!”
With one stroke, the men who’d been cowering like rats behind their tattered barricades and trenches stood in rank and file before the veil. A mint condition flawless defensive line was established. Hideo stood with his gun as one of its members.
“Aah, how irritating! We were one step away!!”
“… Well, isn’t it fine?”
Ryuuta made an undaunted smile.
“The fact their main forces are out and about means they’ve got no tricks left… a real shame. Right, Hideo?”
“Ever since we met at the front desk, I was looking forward to taking you one-on-one… but it looks like they’re not about to let that happen.”
The sound. The countless sounds. An unending line of cars. Ten, twenty, thirty. They were all light vehicles of Obliterating Industries, filling the plaza with new reinforcements. What’s more, their main firearms weren’t the mounted heavy machine guns they had before, these were grenade launchers. The devils’ mouths, able to spew up hand grenades on automatic. Apart from the small firearms each unit carried individually, they were also equipped with light machine guns to support the team.
“If you quietly surrender, ‘n at the very least, you won’t be put through the wringer. Of course, personally, I hope you resist to the ends of hell!”
Slamming in a new magazine, Clarica made a smile that didn’t lose to Elize’s.
“In the end, battle is all about numbers… meaning war is firepower. If you wanted to defend this point, you should’ve brought the right numbers…!”
Ryuuta raised his hand. To attack the enemy, to support their allies, everyone readied their gun. The tension ran thin. The moment he was about to lower it…
“What are you misunderstanding?”
Elize spat with an even viler smile than before.
“Came to defend? Hmm, you really are dumb. We’re here on the offense, for Christ’s sake.”
Ryuuta was at a loss for words as he noticed. He heard it. The sound echoed behind him.
“W-what’s this sound…? An earthquake…?”
Hideo was terribly relieved. Wilco’s voice across the loudspeaker redounded down the street.
‘War is firepower! Of course, we’re happy to oblige! Now leave it to this electronic spirit to teach you what true firepower is!!’
Down the street they had risked their lives to protect, it slowly showed its form.
“T… this is ridiculous…”
Slow and solid.
“They seriously brought that…”
Yet it was called the strongest, this tiger of steel!!
“…!? Get dooooowwwwn!!”
“… Eh!? What was that!? Ryuuta, it’s too noisy, I can’t hear you! They brought out tigers!?”
‘That’s right, Tigers!! Tiger II Königs!! They brought out freaking tanks!!’
Plop. She dropped the intercom. Once she hurriedly retrieved it,
“T… this is a survival game, right!?”
‘Hell if I know, ask them!!’
On the footage from the chaotically shaking camera, there definitely was such a massive silhouette. Three of them at that, barking out with roaring flames, kicking around people, cars and barricades alike.
“E… effort and friendship and victory! Also…!”
‘Nopenopenopenopenope!! For now, we’re runni… uowaaaaaaah!!’
Was the communicator done in, or was Ryuuta himself taken out? The signal ended with a roaring boom. But at that time, there was good news as well.
‘We did it, Suzuran! The head of the southern unit has reached enemy base! We’re clear! Let’s launch our general offensive!’
The bad news was soon to follow.
‘Supreme leader, the enemy has breached our lines! We can’t completely block any further advance! Please send reinforcements!’
“Just when Elsia and Kakko performed a clean sweep of the nature district…!”
Both armies scored their first points at practically the same time. For a while now, a continuous stream of gunfire had been resounding across the wooded defensive line surrounding the mansion. The support strikes from the mountain had already died down, but like a body blow, the damage it inflicted drew itself long. The exhausted defense brigades couldn’t recover in time; in the yard, the forms of enemy players were appearing with great applause.
The Tactician… closed her eyes.
“… Archess is a fine commander. As expected of a guerilla professional. The diversions he had to put up, the timing to introduce new elements, he’s got it down perfectly.”
“Th… then the howitzer was bait…!? Capturing Center Plaza during the power vacuum and braking straight through the center was their true objective…!?”
He wouldn’t hesitate to make sacrifices for his goal… the words he unveiled there were apparently true. He discarded even his artillery unit with such firepower for his objective, he had determination to spare.
It would take some time to bring back the unit sent to the mountains. For the time being, he had to get Takase and Meeko back now that they had cleared a path to enemy base…!
‘Urgent report!! The enemy’s second wave has left Elize Industrial for the center front! This is presumably their main force! A large unit of close to a thousand!!’
Suzuran grit her teeth. At this rate, these surging tsunami waves would reach her on a straight line path…!
But the next instant, Ripple-Rapple’s eyes snapped open.
“… I was waiting, for this. Right… the moment to wipe out all the enemy’s main powers…!”
Brandishing her fan, she strongly informed Suzuran.
“Now’s the time to have them learn we’re both serious about this game…!”
“Yeah! You’re right! We’re always serious, earnest and cowardly, an evil organization that enjoys that so much we don’t know what to do with ourselves!!”
Suzuran screamed at the microphone she had practically snatched away.
“Are you ready, dragonflies!!”
‘Ready when you are, supreme leader!!’
‘Getting tired of waiting here!!’
Yeah, that was right. Don’t misunderstand, guerilla gentlemen blazing in ideals. We’re not just any gathering of scoundrels. We’re an organization unified in evil from alpha to omega!
“You’re our ace in the hole! Now flap the wings of the devil!! Smash every bullet you’ve got right into the heads of those players!! Your destination: enemy base, Elize Industrial Enterprises!! Helicopter unit, all crafts take off!!”
‘Nihaha, it’s gotten a lot cleaner here! No more human trash!!’
A voice from the bulking craft allocated the number ‘01’. The dull bodies of the unmanned numbers ‘02’ and ‘03’ shook as their steel caterpillar read carved into the pavement as it trampled down the plaza. The encirclement of enemy vehicles that had been so critical were cleaned up with just a few roars from the long cylinder of the main battery.
“Haah… it’s the first time I’ve ever seen a tank, but this is some amazing intensity.”
‘It has truly earned the name of ironclad cavalry…’
“But if I’m remembering right, wasn’t this one an old German tank? If you were gonna make it from the ground up, you could have produced one of the latest…”
Before he could finish, Shouki’s ear was put into a firm pinch by Elize.
“And who’s going to leak me the blueprints to this latest, most modern model of tank? Who’s gonna foot the bill for it?”
“Owowowowowoooww! I get it, I get it, just let go…!”
“Hmph. Say what you will, but at the current point, these three units are the strongest tanks on Earth. They were made with plenty of aluminum and mithril, so they’re close to twenty tons lighter than the originals, their gun turrets are high speed, they’ve got automatic loading, the engine’s the latest diesel turbo and kind on the environment and…”
Hideo gazed at the turrets pleasantly spinning around as they searched for any enemy.
“… So they just look like the King Tiger. They’re completely different inside.”
“That’s how it is. Well, if I had to bring up any problems, in their current state, only Wilco can control them.”
There was no time, and they had no experienced operators, so the control devices had all been omitted. In exchange, it was loaded with electric control units Wilco had drafted up, and all three of them were being operated by her.
‘Wilco can manage dozens of them, keep em coming!’
This was an era where a helicopter could fly by remote. A tank was no different. It was simply that this time, the tank was a 1:1 scale. According to her, operating them in and of itself was far easier than the Lancer Evolution, where she had to constantly adjust each wheel at superhigh speeds.
Drive, search, alignment, etc… normally, a tank would only display its true worth with a number of people working together, but precisely because it was Wilco, she could manage them all centrally and manipulate it like a well-trained tank corp.
“Still. If you have. The technology. Couldn’t you have designed. Something new?”
When Hideo asked, Elize shrugged.
“I could have… but who’s gonna buy two or three tanks designed by a mithril manufacturer?”
“No… even if they’re not new models, who’s going to buy something like this…”
Minako lightly retorted.
“There’s this spirit I know who goes crazy over them. She was the one who started all this, asking me to prototype one as an engineering model. If I put a bit more work into them, I’m sure she’ll buy them at a crazy price.”
The world of spirits was vast.
‘Could you spare at least one for Wilco?’
“Well sure. I’ll give it to you at a huge loss for twenty billion yen.”
Minako and Shouki spat out the drinks they were sipping on break.
‘Yes, well… Wilco can maybe manage if you don’t need it in cash.’
“Cold, hard cash, nothing less. Don’t you dare flood our company accounts with dirty money, you heinous virus.”
Eventually, with Gabès’ car at the lead, the raid force he led sped across the plaza one after the next.
“Well ‘n, pops. I’ll go tag along with Gabès.”
“Yes, I’m counting on you.”
The plan was to discuss what they’d do next, Archess parted with Zazi and came over.
“Why hello there. I’m glad you all look well. Any serious injuries?”
“Hmph, against those small fries? You wish. So now what?”
Elize looked at the sun that was starting to tilt.
‘It’s past three.’
“As a participant, it’s about time I’d like to clear myself.”
Shouki’s words had eyes gather on the commander, on Archess.
“Yes, please rest at ease. I intended to do so with the Sacred Demon Cup participants from the…”
Archess was about to say when he furrowed his brow.
The sky was so clear, not a cloud in sight, and yet the unmistakable roar of thunder shook the air.
“What was… don’t tell me…!?”
Just like him, Reily noticed, fastening his glare in that direction as he spoke.
“… Can’t stand it no matter how many times I hear it. Never thought they would appear on the enemy side.”
As one who had entrusted his body to the battlefield, he knew them well. These men had experienced with their bodies just how advantageous and dreadful they were on the plains of war.
Sewing their way through the valley of buildings, a flock of large-scale transport helicopters. Reily spoke as he peered through a small pair of binoculars.
“Ten Mi-8, two Iroquois… old models, from both sides of the cold war. They really are a mess. If those things reach fully loaded, that’s a three hundred point touch down. Any ideas, Archess?”
Archess lightly swallowed his breath and shook his head.
“… Unfortunately not, Mr. Reily. That was beyond my expectations. At the point I released the Tigers, I was out of plans.”
‘We still have those very same tigers! Wilco can easily take aim.’
The three King Tigers shifted their turrets at speeds rivaling a CIWS. Hideo immediately cut in.
“You can’t. Wilco. Stop.”
‘Why not, Master!?’
Archess explained for him.
“You quite literally can’t. It a different story if we’re up against aircrafts. There will definitely be death if they fall from that height.”
It was that organization they were talking about, that was presumably within their calculations.
Not only that, their top speeds ranged from two to three hundred kilometers per hour. As they didn’t require roads, they were to fast to even bother comparing to a truck.
The enemy could keep the time slot from where they had to vacate their base to sunset to an absolute minimum. Even the defensive team holding on up to the very last moment could be used not as sacrificial pawns, but delivered as flags of victory. Those collapsed along the way could be recovered at higher speeds than a truck and brought into the area.
As the entire party twiddled their thumbs without any ideas, the flock of helicopters finally passed overhead, heading in the direction of Elize Industrial.
“Ah… the smaller ones are coming back!”
“!? Take cover, they’ve got a minigun!!”
Reily’s voice sent everyone running. Two Iroquois approaching in a rapid descent began circling the plaza as if to sandwich everyone within it. These weren’t toy guns like the ones on their pillboxes. Real gattling guns stuffed into the cabins roared with fire to rend the earth, racing right past Hideo’s eyes.
It came far too close, the light was burned into his eyes. There was a terrible sound in his ears. But whatever the case, determine that stopping alone wasn’t an option, Hideo ran half in a panic.
In a different direction from his comrades, no less.
“Hideo, come back! Over here!!”
Even Minako’s screaming voice and the buzz o the helicopter persistently on his tail were erased by the tempest of bullets. Archess raced towards the command car, crying out.
“We’re too out in the open! Everyone make for the residential district! While Hideo is drawing their attention, run towards the enemy area! I’ll pick him up!!”
“Then let me drive!”
Likewise, Minako burst into the commander car.
‘Then Wilco too…!’
Archess shook his head with strong eyes.
“I just received a report that Lady Elsia and VZ are en route to enemy headquarters! Your power is needed, please help the others take down the enemy base!”
“Leave Hideo to me!”
‘G… got it! Please look after master!!’
“Yes, it’ll be fine! Just leave it to me! This time, it’s my turn to deliver Hideo to the goal…!!”
She slammed down the gear shift and floored the gas.
“Hah, hah, hah…”
By the time he noticed it, Hideo had run far from where he should be. That wasn’t the worst of it, his surroundings were a forest of buildings. There were Obliterating Industries’ employees strutting all over the place. Hideo had ended up wandering into the shopping district.
Crouching in the shadow of a dumpster, he looked up at the narrow sky. The sound of the helicopter wouldn’t go away. He had shaken it off, but it still had him marked down.
A mere plastic airsoft gun felt heavy. A mere backpack felt heavy. His thick field uniform was sweltering. It was all supposed to go so well. Come so far, this was the most important time, where they were to blast open a route to enemy camp… what was he doing here?
Wasn’t his objective to defeat Lily? Wasn’t that why he went as far as to throw away his safety cushion of top contender to stick his neck into this mini-tournament?
This had gotten out of hand.
“There he is, Kawamura Hideo!! He’s over here!!”
Taking a sweep with the trigger of his submachine gun held d own, he put up a check as he ran. He didn’t even have to look at a clock, he could tell the sun was beginning to gain hue. Right, this was no time to rest.
“Chase him! Don’t let him get away!”
“Fire fire fire!”
“The one who takes down Demon Eye Hideo will get a monetary bonus from the chairman!!”
Demon Eye? What nonsense was this?
Don’t lose. Don’t rest your feet. Concentrate. Hammer in bullets. Forward, forward, keep pressing forward.
“Give it up, you’re a trapped rat!”
When he turned into the intersection, he was cut off by an enemy barricade.
Cut he could do it. He knew he could do it. He had to go. The enemy was already moving in droves towards the goal. There were obstacles, sure, but only three people defending this point. Barely five men behind him.
(…… I can still do it.)
No, he had to do it.
Hideo stooped his back, he lowered his posture as he charged the barricade. While he took a number of shots, the mithril silver polymer cloth field uniform Elize tailored, in exchange for being heavy, did a good job softening the blows.
It wasn’t perfect. The places he got hit felt terribly numb like the blood had stopped flowing, his head was hazy, but thanks to that, he didn’t have to think any unnecessary thoughts. He simply cleared the barrier, hammered shots into the three defending behind it and returned fire at the ones chasing him from behind.
He had the strength of BB pellets. Thanks to the drum magazine that could fit over a thousand shots, he could scatter ammunition without worry. He didn’t have time to reload. He was already at the climax, in no time at all, his opponents using real guns were out of bullets. Hideo turned his back and ran again.
Right, he still had a chance. No matter how heavy the enemy obstacles, wasn’t he managing to get through them? Then he should be able to get through the next. The number of obstacles was little more than the number of times he had to repeat. All he had to do was keep going until he was clear.
He wasn’t who he was before. Be strong.
Another block forward, this time it was a pickup truck at the intersection. A minivan tailing him from behind. And the helicopter appearing again overhead had him in its sights.
I see, so it’s fun… Hideo thought. The reason those protagonists in movies and manga occasionally showed off fearless smiles in times of crisis.
Laughing was all they had left. Or perhaps… if they could imagine surmounting such a predicament, of course it would be fun. If you have enough strength to compete, of course you’d smile proudly.
But unfortunately, he was naturally honest. He was very well aware the paltry amount of training he did was nothing to be proud of.
A mask with his finger on the heavy machine gun trigger called out.
“A foolish choice, Kawamura Hideo! You should’ve just listened to Suzuran and sided with Obliterating Industries!”
Was that true? Had he been mistaken?
Don’t think. Now wasn’t the time.
“Farewell, Demon Eyes! Punishment for the traitor!!”
From the front and the back, the moment the M60 triggers would be pulled.
It was Minako. The command car that slid in with a drift forcefully rammed into the pickup truck.
Hideo dashed towards Archess’ voice, as the man threw open the sliding door to the back seats. While it was in the shape of a minivan, the car’s armored body was sturdy, it didn’t even twitch from a storm of bullets as it started up again.
Minako’s worried eyes reflected in the rear mirror.
“Are you okay, Hideo…!?”
“Hah, hah, somehow… but I’m sorry for. All the trouble…”
“What are you talking about, young Hideo? Thanks to you drawing the attention of the helicopters, everyone present managed to safely make it to the enemy area.”
I see. That’s good. He thought. This was just looking at the result, but it seemed he managed to be a little useful.
That helicopter was still noisily stuck onto them overhead. But perhaps it had determined shock bullet impacts would prove ineffective. Or perhaps its Vulcan was too costly and it was out of bullets.
Wiping off his dripping sweat, Hideo asked.
“… How goes the war?”
“Both sides have cleared over a thousand. We’re nowhere near the point we can kick back, but… the enemy is likely out of plans. From here on out, we can only pray our members fight bravely…”
Hideo took a ragged breath.
He must have been running around far longer than he thought. There was no time left. He had to make for the goal just like this.
“… Hideo. Do you mind me asking?”
When Hideo turned to him, Archess was looking down, his glasses catching the sunset.
“Is this… the future you saw?”
The mini-tournament was meeting its end.
With Minako in the driver’s seat, the command car cruised down the quiet town towards the setting sun, heading west and west where the enemy area was stationed.
He had taken the challenge with such conviction. He had looked at the rule that participants who couldn’t clear were eliminated from the tournament, and even came under the impression this would decide his victory. Once it actually happened… what had he even accomplished?
… Of course he’d be chastised for it.
“Ah, no, I’m sorry if I offended it. I’m genuinely curious…”
Archess hastily waved his hands to smooth over the situation.
“… If you hadn’t taken my side, this mini-tournament wouldn’t have even been a match. I can never thank you enough.”
Then… wasn’t that fine? He said it himself. He hadn’t lost, so wasn’t it fine?
… Was that alright?
So what if he hadn’t lost? What was the point of him participating just not to lose?
“… What about. Lily?”
“I don’t know about that. There was a report she left the camp by helicopter but… we’ve already sent both our defense and our scouts to clear.”
They had no way of reaching the sky… huh.
He could hear Kirishima Lena’s energetic report from the car radio.
‘Now, then, the Cross Flags came that has melted d own this city’s peace in the crucible of war is reaching its conclusion second by second! At present, Obliterating Industries is at one thousand one hundred sixty-four points, and the Alhazan team has one thousand two hundred eighty-seven, a slight lead! But we can’t make any calls! Only an hour to sunset and both teams bases are now empty, the key to the match is purely how many players can reach the enemy area…’
Was it going to end, just like this? With the heart of a loser all that came back to him?
By coming to this city, he had groped for his chances of success numerous times, gazed at victory and grasped it. But for the first time, the enemy had stripped it all away.
Since the enemy was too strong, he thought if everyone worked together, that was where his chances lay. And the team he had gathered together, Archess, Elize, Wilco, they had all given it their all.
But if even after all that they couldn’t take them down… was it really that strong, the existence called Sacred Demon Lord? No, it was strong. The comrades she united were strong.
Then his premonition, his decision hadn’t been wrong at all. It was simply that her side was stronger, was it not?
Then when they met the next time. How would he challenge the Sacred Demon Lord… Suzuran? He had to think. A means to take down Nagoyakawa SuzuranUntil the time they were up against each other once more, he had to prepare a plan.
For the time being, that was it for today.
Right, panicking wouldn’t get anywhere. He hadn’t lost. That was enough. He had no choice but to write it up as enough. As long as he didn’t lose, there would be a next time.
He was tired. Hideo slouched his entire body into the seat. He finally noticed the gun he had been gripping so strongly even after getting on, and resignedly set it on his lap…
The moment the main road joined the residential district, Minako slammed the breaks with a scream. A single helicopter was suddenly descending right before their eyes.
What could this possibly be? The three gulped and watched over it.
Containing her hair from the rotor wind as she stepped down, a woman in mirrored glasses hanging an assault rifle from her shoulder.
“Now let us begin, Hideo!!”
Hideo was taken aback, his eyes open wide.
What was she saying when all that was left was for both of them to clear…!?
“At first, I misunderstood! If I were to have a match with you, I had no idea how I would fight. At the moment you sided with Archess, I thought, could this be it for me!?”
But. She self-derisively shook her head.
“But I was wrong! I mean, I don’t believe in destiny! All I have is a fate born from my own beliefs! One on one, I might lose against your future sight! But if it’s team against team, your ‘destiny’ will surely be averaged out by the density of the team! That’s why it hit me! Against someone with the tremendous backup of future sight, this Cross Flags is my one and only chance to gather the same level of fate in order to challenge you!!”
No…! Whose words were those…!?
“Our fates will crush the destiny your eyes foretold!”
When Lily snapped her fingers, Ryuuta, Elsia, Clarica, VZ descended from the helicopter cabin. Hideo went pale. His hairs stood on end. He trembled.
The mirrored glasses she tossed aside road the winds and soared high in the sky.
“This is the finest mini-tournament the greatest of fun; there’s no way we wouldn’t fight! So let it begin!! Show me the power of your future sight!! This is the last battle of Cross Flags—!!”
Archess’ call had Minako shift gears and slam on the gas. But at the same time, as she had once done herself, a vehicle sped past at breakneck pace and slipped in front of her to suppress her movements.
Her voice was answered by a man baring his canines in a laugh.
“Looks like your movements are dull when you’re not in an 86, Dancing Queen!!”
Before Minako could make her next move, the yellow demon broke into one spin on the spot; as she tried to take distance, Takase swept with his MP7. These weren’t shock bullets, real rounds shot through the tires.
(So this is why…)
The gunning from that helicopter had been no coincidence. Their aim had been to separate them from their comrades. The reason the attacks were so light when they were so persistent in tailing him was to await a chance to get the drop on them like this.
Even more than Hideo had hoped to defeat Lily in this mini-tournament, Lily had marked down the absolute power that was future sight.
“Hideo, what do we do…!?”
Give me a break already! He screamed in his head. Come so far, I still have to play the part of Demon Eyes!? Yeah, that’s right, if I really could see the future, I would have seen this ambush coming, I would know what to do to get out of this pinch, I could take this as a blessed opportunity to take down Lily as she nonchalantly marched in; these two were surely hoping for that answer, but I have nothing of the sort!! Then I should lower my head to Lily saying it was all lie, please let me go!? What would that do? It wouldn’t do a thing.
“… Anyway, we won’t be able to move like this…!”
Like he had forsaken him, Archess pulled out a long sword in one hand, a smoke grenade in the other, a grim look on his face. This was the natural decision. The natural haste one needed to survive on the battlefield.
Something so minor and Hideo knew he had been seen through. He knew he had been ignored. He ended up imagining himself forced to silence from a third person perspective. The dark stains dropped on one point were spreading far and wide in all directions. It was becoming a filter that darkened everything that entered his eyes.
‘Wilco is here to help, Master!!’
Three tank turrets commenced fire on Lily’s party. Not missing a beat, Shouki, Elize, Zazi and Gabès who had rode in alongside her stormed the field.
“Now! Minako, Hideo, hurry!”
The moment the other side’s vision was cut off, Archess surrounded the car with smoke.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
The tip of Lena’s toe sounded out. The screen beside her detailed Hideo’s profile.
Linus contained his urge to sigh and spoke up.
“… Obliterating Industries team, one thousand five hundred twelve points. Alhazan team, one thousand three hundred eighty-seven points. Obliterating Industries is making a comeback. Collecting their casualties by helicopter and transporting them quickly, unimpeded is having an effect.”
Tap. Tap. Tap.
“Lena. Don’t stress too hard about it…”
“They always put me on edge, don’t they. Hideo’s team.”
Linus nodded as her own voice reassured himself before he could.
“… Yes. But there is still time. From our latest report, the main forces of both groups have come into contact around the residential district.”
Her nervous movements stopping momentarily for a mouthful of coffee.
“I see. How is it looking?”
“That’s… it’s an all-out brawl between the top contenders and Obliterating Industries’ executives. The tide hasn’t been set yet.”
Tap. Tap. Tap. The clock seconds passed by at the same rhythm.
“… Shall I begin preparing the Cross Flags wrap-up party in Center Plaza?”
“Yes, could you? I’m sure Suzuran will be partying it up whether she wins or loses.”
“Understood. Then… if you’ll pardon me, Lena.”
There was no reply.
“I do hope you win, Hideo.”
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Honestly, they probably didn’t really care who won and who lost. It wasn’t like anyone could die by the rules. Suzuran had her Obliterating Industries. Elize had Elize Industrial. Even Archess had Zazi and Gabès, his close subordinates.
That was why they could fight each other with glee.
“Found you ♪”
Her smile peeking out over the fence, Suzuran unleashed her M16. Hideo rolled out of the thick shrubbery he’d been hiding in, returning fire as he searched out a new hiding spot.
“Hah, hah, hah…!”
With Suzuran perfectly marking him down, he had been isolated from his comrades, wandering aimlessly around someplace far away from the main battlefield. By Suzuran’s hand, he was driven away from the flock once more.
She had gathered Elsia and the others there to stall out all of Alhazan’s other forces. Suzuran had gone so far to keep the power called future sight in check. This was the decisive difference between any other participant Hideo had faced before. Suzuran, the Sacred Demon Lord didn’t fear the title of Top Contender or the power of future sight. She respected him as an adversary that made her pull out all the stops.
This was the tab.
The price he had to pay for hollow glory built of layer upon layer of lies.
He ran. The forlorn of his loneliness spurred his heart even harder. Cower. Fear. Escape, flee, repeat.
Aah, what the hell was this? Run and run and run, this was the very self who averted his eyes from society, from reality, the him he detested so, so why, why, why. Why was he returning to who he was in that dirt-cheap apartment? Where was that elation when he challenged the Colonel? The willingness to sacrifice when he faced Hannibal? Where had the desperation from the Sacred Demon Grand Prix gone?
He had changed. He had already changed. Win, win, win, win, win! He repeated to himself like a broken record.
Hideo emitted a spray of bullets as he turned. Suzuran rolled sideways to dodge, her belligerent smile unchanging. As she rose, a three-shot burst from her assault rifle took him head-on. He was on his knees, even so, he crept along the ground praying for his own escape. A scorn crossed her face.
“… Are you actually weak?”
It felt as if an ice-cold hand had clasped his heart.
No, no, no, that can’t be, you’re wrong, that’s not how it’s supposed to be, I’m not supposed to be the shut-in loser anymore, I’m supposed to have grown more than anyone, why, why, when I wanted to be reborn, when I was supposed to have grown and been reborn…!
I have nothing at all. If I lose I have nothing. No place to return to. No place to belong. I don’t want to lose. I don’t want to lose, I can’t be a loser again. I don’t have to win, I just don’t want to lose…!
Hideo recklessly fired his gun. He wouldn’t hit her, no matter how he shot. Even if he did, she wouldn’t fall. That being the case, there was no way he could challenge her at quickdraw or anything else at the moment. If he ran, she chased, if he stopped, she would shoot him with no pity or mercy. No room to put in any shrewd plans or bluffs.
Then wasn’t running his only option? Wasn’t running towards the goal all he could do…!
Dammit, dammit, dammit…!
Was this what it meant to be strong!? Was this strength!?
So he really was weak? Once a loser… always a loser…?
‘Get down, Master!?’
When he turned to the voice, across Lily’s shoulder, a single tank made its appearance. Tattered, like it had been subject to a bombing. Wilco had chased after him.
The roar of its artillery–
“You are not to get in her way.”
Was interrupted by Meeko, who had been following behind Suzuran, quietly watching over the whole time.
Wilco’s scream. It was like some fairy tale. A pitch-black tubeworm so massive it could swallow a house appeared before the tank. A familiar of the glutton demon, a follower of the Myriad Mouth. Wilco chaotically fired, yet the worm didn’t stir an inch. Even so.
The electronic spirit manifested in the empty air without opening the hatch.
“Came to save her master! Don’t get in her way!!
“… I see. I am here so no one gets in Suzuran’s way.”
“…!! If you don’t move…!!”
Static noise raced down the canon turret, it transformed. Its main armament was no longer a cylinder but two rails running parallel. A shell appeared, enveloped by its base.
“This railgun can fire a one-hundred-and five-millimeter tungsten shell at an initial velocity of seven thousand meters per second! This isn’t a threat!! Please move!!”
“Wilco is telling you to pull back that monster—!!”
Her words were no lie, Wilco shot with no hesitation. An irrational amount of electricity turned the conductor to plasma, the explosive burst exceeded the muzzle flash of a tank. The tube worm was pierced right through the middle.
“Now let Wilco pass…!”
Meeko’s expression didn’t change.
With her gentle smile, this time a new five on both sides sprouted, crumbling buildings in their wake. They grew high to the heavens, and one of them suddenly came down on the tank from directly overhead. The mithril silver armor plating was chewed to bits, crushed, mashed, swallowed in the countless fangs that sprouted all the way back to the throat of its oral cavity.
“No, way… that’s can’t be…!”
“What’s wrong, Wilco? There are many more.”
Another five. To surround her this time, they had appeared behind Wilco. Their wriggling bodies had cut off Hideo’s vision and he could no longer tell what was going on.
Only his partner’s wrung-out lament reached his ears.
“What about it!!? Wilco is going to become a god!! She’ll be the Digital God!! Master gave her that chance!! He brought her into this world! That’s why Wilco needs to repay him! That’s why, that’s why, Wilco…!!”
“…… I see.”
Filled with affection, a terribly kind voice, more happy than anything else.
“I’m sure you will become a fine god.”
And whatever happened… Hideo couldn’t see. He never heard Wilco’s voice after that. Once the worms had faded away like an illusion, the girl was sleeping in Meeko’s arms.
(…… So that’s it……)
His heart rapidly cooled the moment he noticed.
He was always going on about changing and having changed, but when he compared himself to Wilco, who was clearly growing in everyone’s eyes, he began to feel vague anxiety. Just then, Wilco had done so much, and yet, he felt almost none of the burden from the Sacred Demon Grand Prix. She had done all of that on her own. There was no doubt she would someday become the god she wished to be.
She was special. An extraordinary existence in this nonsensical world. Even if he hadn’t been the one she had infected, she’d undoubtedly still manage to mature to this point.
He was different. He was just a shut-in. It always had to be that cheerful, overbearing, at times mischievous Wilco. It couldn’t have been anyone but her. It never had to be him. She had pulled the likes of him all the way here. Whenever he was about to go back to being the same old loser, she was always the one who brought him back. And now, she had tried to bring him back once again.
So very, very long, and only now, he finally realized his misunderstanding.
The difference between the Hideo holed up in that apartment, and the one who had come to this city. He hadn’t grown in the slightest. He hadn’t been reborn.
It was simply the fact that Wilco was there for him.
Hideo stood right in front of Suzuran. He readied his submachine gun against his shoulder.
“… Have you made your resolve?”
Yeah, I’ve finally made it. My eyes are open. My heart is clear. I’ve finally woken up from the dream.
His knees trembled having run far too long. His breathing was all over the place, every breath he took threw his alignment off. Even so, he took aim.
“Alright, you’re making some nice eyes there.”
His breathing slowly adjusted. As if she had been waiting for that moment, Suzuran took up her weapon.
“Let’s put an end to this, Hideo.”
He had a vague hunch.
The one shouldering an absolute fate was the girl before her eyes.
He was the one who had resisted a destiny there was no escaping from.
Hideo took in one last large breath.
“… Ah… are you awake, Hideo?”
When he opened his eyes, he was in the usual hospital room. He lifted his smile to find Minako’s gentle smile by his side.
Hideo took a look out the window. The sun must have set ages ago; while the sky was so dark, it was still bright in center plaza and he could hear the bustling clamor of much merrymaking.
“Heehee… how are you feeling?”
The doctor peered at him, fiddling with a switch on his glasses.
“No abnormalities, from what I can see. Suzuran said you don’t have to pay for treatment. Just take it easy, go out and enjoy the festival if you like.”
Minako answered with a bitter smile.
“Yes, with Cross Flags wrapped up… well, it’s more of a pity party for our side.”
‘You were very close, Sir Hideo… you hung onto your life with Lady Meeko your adversary. Wilko is truly something herself.’
I see. It struck him. So I lost… this is it.
“Doctor… about Wilco.”
“Her life’s not in any danger, but she did exert herself quite a bit today. You should probably let her rest a little longer.”
Then… that worked out fine. It would only be painful if they met.
He was still fatigued from running around, but the Doctor was right. There was nothing wrong with his body. Hideo lowered his feet off the bed.
“Ah, please don’t push yourself, Hideo. Are you going to Wilco’s room?”
“… No. I’ll fill out the paperwork. First.”
The defeat paperwork. That would rid him of all obligations as a participant of the Sacred Demon Cup.
“I… see. Truth be told, I haven’t filled mine out either. Do you mind if I join you?”
He couldn’t find any reason to decline. As the two were about to leave the room, the Doctor spoke rather amused.
“But she’s amazing, that kid, I hear she designed and produced a railgun on the spot. What’s more, to think she even supplied the energy on her own… I wish I was there to see it, eeheeheeheehee…”
“…… Will she. Become a god?”
Just like Meeko, he spoke as delightedly as if he was blessing the birth of his own child.
“Yeah, she will. No doubt about it… even Lady Meeko was rejoicing. I’m sure she’ll be a fine god!”
Hideo exited to the corridor with a nod.
Wilco didn’t need the likes of him anymore. No doubt she could manage without someone to possess. Both Suzuran and Elize doted on her. As long as she was with them, she would surely live an enjoyable, happy life.
But the one by her side couldn’t be a loser. One day, he would definitely drag down the feet of someone who would become a god. For him as well, if he was with her, he would once again delude himself that a loser could be reborn, he would end up being spoiled by her again.
He had decided.
He felt relieved as he witnessed Wilco’s growth deserving of reward. The moment he confronted Suzuran, he had already made his resolve.
He accepted a loser would never win.
It was a dream beyond his station. A fleeting, wonderful dream.
It was all a moment of happiness afforded to him on death’s door—
(… That’s right…)
This was no longer where he should be. It was time to return to reality. To return to that day before he met Wilco.
As he left the hospital, Hideo looked up at a clear starry sky, wiping his tears only once.
On the twenty seventh day of the Sacred Demon Cup tournament, the Kawamura Hideo and Wilco pair was eliminated.