Nana Hiiragi is a cheerful girl who transfers into a class for "Talented" students, people who can use special powers while training to fight the Enemies of Humanity. She is able to read minds, and instantly befriends the talentless Nakajima Nanao, who she assists in becoming class president and revealing his Talent of nullifying others' Talents. This gives Nanao confidence in himself, and leads him to stop pretending to be powerless and take charge. They share an intimate moment on a cliff by the sea, as he reveals that his power nullification can nullify her mind reading when they hold hands.
Then she kills him, revealing herself as a Talentless, a normal human. She also reveals that she is a government assassin, sent to wipe out the Enemies of Humanity on the island; in other words, the Talented. She then works through the rest of her class slowly, and starts to harbor doubts about her mission. Her main opposition is Kyouya Onodera, who is investigating the mysterious deaths and disappearances.
- 1 Operation Zodiac (by Leolab)
- 1.1 Prologue: A New Semester
- 1.2 Chapter 1: Shumba Inotaurira Nyaya Yake Yenyaya
- 1.3 Ch. 2: Dar Alas a los Escorpiones
- 1.4 Ch. 3: One Doubts Nothing, The Other Everything
- 1.5 Ch. 4: Solange der Bauch Stumm Ist
- 1.6 Ch. 5: Демоны живут в стоячей воде
- 1.7 Ch. 6: लंगड़ा केकड़ा सीधा चलता है
- 1.8 Ch. 7: 竜頭蛇尾
- 1.9 Ch. 8: Roghnaigh Idir Dhá Ghabhar Dall
- 1.10 Ch. 9: El arquero que falla tiene una mentira lista
- 1.11 Ch. 10: Mae Gan Bob Heid Ddefaid Du
- 1.12 Ch. 11: จับปลาด้วยสองมือ
- 1.13 Ch. 12: Grab the Bull by Its Horns
- 1.14 Epilogue: A Bug’s Life
- 1.15 Expert's Opinion
Operation Zodiac (by Leolab)
Prologue: A New Semester
Liliana Guenther jogs into the classroom, her blonde twin-tails bouncing on the two-toned shirt she wore and hitting the bottom of her skirt. She scans the seats to see if she knows anyone, and waves to a trio sitting in the middle. One of them, a tall, voluptuous woman wearing a fancy shirt and pants, waves back, her golden right eye shining. The boy sitting a seat away from her waves back with his free arm, and the younger girl wrapped around the other couldn’t decide whether to glare at her or at the woman in the next seat.
“Hi guys,” she says brightly as she sits down between them, and turns to the woman next to her. “You know anything about the teacher, Jo?”
“He is… unique,” the woman replies, letting out a soft laugh that drew the attention of every man in the room, “It’s really better if you see for yourself; I can’t spoil the surprise.”
“Not even to your sister’s roommate?”
“No, not even to Amy’s roommate,” she says.
“Well, he can’t be more intimidating than Professor Signum,” the boy says, shuddering, though whether at the memory or at the girl next to him placing her finger on his chest Liliana couldn’t say. At her quizzical look, he continues. “This is Naomi, by the way,” he says, pointing at the girl, “My little sister. Naomi, this is Lun Lun, one of my classmates.”
Her reply was cut off by a gust of hot wind from the back window as a man smoothly opens it and flies in. “Still whipped by your sister, Junichiro?” He says teasingly as he flies to the seat next to him. He throws an easy grin at the rest and lounges in his seat, not even bothering to open his book.
“Kazuma…” Jo starts severely.
“Yes, yes,” he says, and waves his hand dismissively at the open window. Another gust passes through the room as he manipulates the wind to shut it, ruffling the papers of a man wearing a feathered coat, who glares at him. “Sorry,” Kazuma says, not sounding like he means it in the least.
At that, the door opens, and a tall man wearing a priest’s robe walks in, setting an open can down on the lectern. A quick squint told Liliana that this was beer, and her head snapped towards Jo, who let out a sigh and was holding her hand to her head.
“Hello,” the man said, sounding weary, “This is Theology 101; if you’re not signed up for this class… it doesn’t matter,” he continues, to laughter, “I’m Tenkei Iwafune, but most people just call me Old Man. So, theology. The study of religion. Can anyone tell me what religion is?” he asks, taking a sip from his can as several hands shoot up. “You, in the suit,” he says, pointing to a well-dressed young man, “And your name, please.”
“I’m Light Yagami,” the man says, arrogantly, while fingering a black notebook, “And religion is a set of rules one uses to commune with god.”
“Exactly. Theology is, at its core, a study of God. What is God, you ask? Well, as a priest I can answer that,” Iwafune continues, gathering more laughter with his easy manner, “God is a lie.”
And with that, silence descended on the room.
“God is a construct people create when they don’t have the power to protect themselves,” he continues, drinking deeper from the can of beer, “But relying on God will just get you killed, see. Power is worthless if you can’t protect what you want to protect. God supposedly has infinite power, but He does not use it to protect infinite things. Why, a good quarter of those of you in front of me have power, power you use to defend what’s dear to you. You, my dear students, are a more potent force than God!” The stunned silence continues while Iwafune drains the can. “Now, then, onto our journey into the world of lies and false salvation. The first notion of a ‘higher being’ dates back to the paleolithic era, when people still…”
“That was a fun lecture,” Kazuma says to Jo, as the group walks out through the chilly fall air, making their way towards the center circle between the three sections of the campus.
“It was… certainly something,” Junichiro says, Naomi still plastered to his arm as they walk through the gates leading to a large fountain. Sitting on the edge were three girls and a boy, likely from the high school division, along with what seemed to be an elementary school girl. The girl with pink hair, wearing a green shirt and skirt, notices them first and gets up, storming towards the group.
“Ka. Zu. Maaa,” she growls, “You’re late! You said you’d be here half an hour ago!” she says, and aims a kick at his face. Kazuma simply stops it with one hand.
“You know, Ayano, I’ve told you before,” he says, “You shouldn’t do high kicks in a skirt. I’m not a fan of purple, by the way.” Ayano blushes furiously and stomps on the ground, swinging her fist at Kazuma. Jo rolls her eyes at the supposed lovebirds as she walks to the other four, residents of the dorm floor she oversaw as an RA. The other boy-girl pair seemed to be having an argument of their own, however.
“You should be more aware of your position, Nii-san!” the black-haired girl says, pointing furiously at the tall boy with glasses, “You’re the eldest son of the Tohno family! You can’t go running and playing pranks on the first day!”
“Sorry, Akiha,” the boy says sheepishly.
“Geez, what would I have done if you’d collapsed? You know you have anemia…”
“Hi Jo,” the boy says, cutting her off. Akiha glared at her brother, a silent promise to continue the lecture later.
“You shouldn’t cause trouble for your sister, Shiki,” Jo says, smiling, before turning to the blonde girl. “And who’s this, Ayaka?” she asks, pointing to the child.
“I’m Parcel,” the child answers, pulling her mouse-eared hood up.
“She’s a friend of mine, we met last year and hit it off pretty well. She has some… family circumstances, so she’ll be staying in my room this year. I have the paperwork in.”
“All right,” Jo nods, “Don’t forget we have a floor meeting tonight.”
“I’m heading back,” Liliana interjects, waving to the group, and jogs towards the gates leading to the dorms, passing two men talking as she heads to the rightmost building.
“Come on, Zeke,” the taller of the two says, a man with a buzz cut and muscular arms, “This plant’s a damn weed.”
“Cut me some slack, Cole. I’ve been working my ass off getting the dorms clean. You know how much crap these little shits just leave lying around?”
“Yeah, yeah, trash man,” Cole says, “Still, these black dandelions are cropping up everywhere. Some of the high schoolers are saying it’s a curse; we need to get rid of them, and that’s your job.”
“I know,” Zeke says, sounding more serious for a second, “Thing is, and don’t tell the students this, none of our herbicides work on it.”
“What? None? That’s impossible.”
“It’s true, man. Weirdest thing since you. We even put that poison-making girl on it. You know what happened? Damn thing stayed alive while everything around it died. Shit’s creepy, man. I don’t like it.”
“You tell the headmaster?”
“Yeah, but I don’t know what he’ll do about it. Astaroth gives me the creeps, anyway.”
“Tell me about it. Now I gotta do some real work, Zeke; I’ll see you later.”
“Hey, I do real work!” Zeke protests.
“Ogling high schoolers while pretending to pick up trash?”
“Come on, man, you know that ain’t fair,” Zeke says, even as his eyes follow a trio of girls with silver, pink, and red hair walking back to the dorms.
The redhead lets out a forlorn sigh, drawing the attention of her companions.
“That was quite the sigh, Misuzu,” the silver-haired girl says, putting her hands behind her head as a long, thin cord suspends her bag for her, “What’s on your mind?”
The query only got a noncommittal grunt as the trio walked past the messily-trimmed hedges, Misuzu trailing her hand on the greenery.
“Tonya, Tonya,” the pink-haired one says with a theatrical whisper, “I think I know why.”
“You do, Nana?” Tonya replies in a similar manner, “What is it?”
“You remember when she came to talk to us at lunch, right? That boy in our class, the one with the eyepatch.”
“Ah,” Tonya says, malicious grin creeping across her face, “Kakeru. I see, I see. Our stone-cold Misuzu has become a maiden in love!”
“Would you stop that? I’m not in love with him!” Misuzu yells, blushing furiously.
“That’s for the best,” a voice comes from the bushes, startling all three of them. They look towards it, seeing a girl with blonde twin-tails crouching down, two long strands of hair sticking up, almost like antennae.
“What do you mean, Oki?” Misuzu asks, immediately concerned.
“He and that childhood friend of his, Yuka, are a little too close, if you get my meaning,” Oki Megumi says, “And keep your voice down. I’m hiding from Kabutomushi.”
“What did you do this time?” Tonya asks, patting the crestfallen Misuzu on the shoulder.
“Accidentally called her ‘auntie,’” she says, shuddering, “Now go, move. You’ll draw attention to me.”
“Oh?” another voice comes from behind them, and Oki goes pale, “Who exactly are you trying to hide from, Gokiburi ♡?”
The four girls turn in unison, spotting a woman in a frilly, lacy dress. They instinctively swallow in fear at the smile on her face, and the trio takes a step back, exposing Oki.
“Hi Kabutomushi,” Misuzu says, the only one able to speak, “Are you teaching our year’s combat course again?”
“I am, Misuzu. Hope you keep up as well as last year. Now, Goki-chan’s asked for some extra strength training, so…”
“I did no…” Oki says, starting to protest, before a glare cuts her off. Kabutomushi lifts the limp girl up by the collar, and tucks her under her arm.
“Well, girls,” she says, ignoring Oki’s screams of pain, “Have a good evening, and don’t bother your RA too much.”
“We will,” Nana squeaks, and the demonic teacher walks off.
Later that night, Iwafune sinks into a chair in the lounge of the staff dorms while pouring some sake into a porcelain dish. As he brings it to his mouth, however, a burst of flame sets it ablaze.
“I think you’ve had enough today,” a red-haired woman says as she walks through the door.
“Come on, Signum,” he replies, “Good sake is the only refuge I have left.”
“You should join us once in a while,” Kabutomushi says, hoisting the entire liquor cabinet in one hand, “Especially since Iwafune’s drunken lectures are already the talk of campus.”
“E tu, Kabutomushi?” Iwafune says, grumbling, “Just pour more salt, why don’t you.”
“Salt you say…” she says, before snapping her fingers in inspiration. She grabs a couple bottles, dashes to the kitchen, and comes back holding a wine glass in one hand and working the tungsten-carbide cocktail shaker in the other. With a devious grin, she pours the dark liquid out, and hands the glass to the older man. He takes a sip under Signum’s disapproving stare and Kabutomushi’s expectant glee, and nearly gags as the concoction makes its way down his throat.
“What is this stuff?” he wheezes, “It’s… spicy? Savory? I don’t even know.”
“It’s a Bullshot,” Kabutomushi says, grinning while Signum giggles at Iwafune’s discomfort, “Beef broth, salt, vodka, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces, and a dash of absinthe.”
“Tastes better than it sounds. Not that that’s high a bar,” he says, taking another sip before holding it out to Signum. “Wouldn’t mind if you burned this one.”
“Sounds like a reason not to,” she replies, smiling. Iwafune grimaces, and takes a contemplative look at the brackish liquid. He downs it in one gulp, and puts the glass down. A few seconds later, he turns pale and gets up, staggering out of the room and towards the bathroom.
A few seconds later, Kabutomushi stretches and gets up. “I think it’s time I went to bed,” she says, waving to Signum before heading upstairs.
At night, twelve people and one plant see the same dream. A man in a blue mask appears before them, and starts to speak.
“Hello, all of you. The thirteen of you are entered in an assassination game. You lose if you die, or if you get discovered and arrested. You win by being the last person standing. If you win, you get one wish granted – it can be anything. Since you might not believe this dream, you’ll get a card under your pillows… well, one of you doesn’t use one, but this isn’t exactly going to make a difference to them. That’s all, have fun.”
The next day, Kabutomushi, Cole, Signum, Tonya, Nana, Misuzu, Junichiro, Kazuma, Jo, Lun Lun, Akiha, and Iwafune all find the card under their pillow, while the Black Dandelion twitches, sending its seeds out on the breeze.
Chapter 1: Shumba Inotaurira Nyaya Yake Yenyaya
Misuzu stares at her notebook, not having written a single line. Geography bored her, even with the entertaining stories their teacher told them. What troubled her more was the card she had found under her pillow that morning, and the memory of the dream before it. There were no dream manipulators in the student rolls, so it couldn’t have been a prank.
A vine pokes her in the cheek, startling her out of her thoughts. The thorny purple lines trace back to the professor, an older man who somehow retains the physique of a bodybuilder. His blue-grey eyes glare from under his tan fedora, looking quite upset.
“Summer break is over, Misuzu. Daydream back in the dorms.”
“Sorry, Mr. Joestar,” Misuzu says.
“Well, it’s lunchtime, anyway. Enjoy your youth,” he says, and the air in the class immediately relaxes, the students gathering their textbooks and filing out. Misuzu does the same, and makes her way to the cafeteria with the crowd. She looks over the meal set, white stew paired with kimchi pancakes, of all things, and scans the crows to see if her friends are already there, trying to spot them in a kaleidoscope of hair colors.
She then feels a heavy poking at her shoulder, and turns to see a steel weight at the end of a yellow cord. It snakes back to Tonya, sitting with Nana and Oki, who waves her over to the table. She greets them all as she puts her food down, feeling a bad premonition from Tonya’s malicious grin.
“No Kakeru today,” Tonya says, “Though he and Yuka will eat with us for dinner.”
“Tonya, you…” Misuzu starts, before lapsing into a blushing, flustered silence.
“Oh, no need to thank me. I’ll always help a maiden in love.”
“I’ll be rooting for you, too!” Nana chimes in, usual bubbly smile in place.
“I swear, you two…” Misuzu says, giving a sigh in mock exasperation before starting on her food. “What do you have after this?” she asks between mouthfuls.
“Free period,” the three say at the same time.
“Oh. I’ve got Practical Combat with Kabutomushi. She’ probs be fine with you watching, if you want to.”
“Geh. No thanks,” Oki says, looking slightly sick, “Knowing her, she’d spend most of the time beating on me if I did show up.”
“Where do you know her from, Oki?” Nana asks, “And why does she call you Gokiburi? I thought your name was Oki Megumi.”
“We grew up in the same orphanage, though she started working there around when I can remember. The… organization that runs it gives us nicknames if they can’t find our real ones. Mine was Gokiburi, and Kabutomushi still uses hers as her actual name.”
“Oh, now I see,” Nana says, “And what was your punishment yesterday?”
“That’s it?” Misuzu asks, confused, “That’s just a warm-up.”
“Not when Kabutomushi’s sitting on you and curling 100-pound weights to ‘tone,’” Oki says, shuddering at the memory, “I’ll probably be having nightmares for days.”
“Nightmares, huh?” Misuzu says, thinking of last night’s dream as she takes another bite of the pork.
“Oh, yeah,” Nana says, clapping her hands, “I had a weird dream yesterday.”
“Oh?” Tonya asks, a sudden tension between the three friends, “What kind?”
“I don’t remember,” Nana says cheerily, “just that it was weird.”
“Weird as you?” Oki asks, snapping the three back to their usual banter.
“Haha, you’re the last person I want to hear that from,” Nana says, softening the words with a smile as the group finishes their food.
A half-hour later, Misuzu finishes doing some warm-up stretches in the gym, and looks around to try and find a sparring partner. Everyone else had already paired up, causing her to grimace. The twin sins of being too strong and too prideful isolated her from her class, making Nana and Tonya the only actual friends she had on campus; while she wasn’t on bad terms with Oki, the girl also preferred to keep to herself.
“Need a partner, Misuzu?” Kabutomushi asks, looking around at the class.
“I do, yes.”
“All right, then. Since you’re a senior… I’ll add an extra hand to the handicap.”
Misuzu swallows and nods, unable to fully shake the worry off of her face. Her instructor was an absolute demon even with a single hand, and now she was using both. Kabutomushi, still dressed in her frilly dress, bonnet, and pump heels, stands twenty paces from Misuzu, drawing incredulous stares from the rest of the class.
“EVERYONE, START!” Kabutomushi shouts, and the gym erupts in the din of battle, every student, powered or not, striving to best their partner with minimum force, able to spare no other thought. Misuzu rapidly completes the spell allowing her to summon any of her swords at will when Kabutomushi lashes out with a palm strike, still ten paces away.
The pure strength in the strike creates a wall of air pressure, which lifts Misuzu off her feet and throws her back. She flips in the air and draws one of her swords. “RAIKIRI!” she yells, and swings the crackling blade. Electricity arcs towards Kabutomushi, capable of frying any of her sparring classmates if her aim was off by a hair. Kabutomushi simply punches the ground, shattering one of the copper plates that protected the electronics below from attack. Simply pulling back her hand creates enough force to draw the shards of copper before her, dispersing the strike. Another palm strike sends a few shards flying at Misuzu.
The jagged metal hits home, but Misuzu disintegrates into a pile of paper dolls, Raikiri falling to the floor. She lets out a cry from above, bringing Kashagiri Hiromitsu down in an overhand chop, the massive weight of the nodachi augmented by gravity. Kabutomushi simply grabs the blade with her other hand, looking disappointed. Misuzu immediately channels the fire imbued in the sword, instantly heating the blade to flesh-searing temperatures.
Kabutomushi lets go of the blade, and instead grabs onto one of Misuzu’s arms. A contemptuous flick of her wrist sends the onmyouji flying. Misuzu rights herself again, re-sealing Kashagiri Hiromitsu as she flies. She crashes into the wall feet-first, unsealing Kannagiri Nagamitsu as she pushes off, putting all her strength into a stab. Kabutomushi looks bored, and moves her hand to intercept the blade.
Misuzu then presses a switch on the handle of the blade, shaped like a giant clasp knife. It shoots out, almost doubling its length. Kabutomushi’s eyes widen in surprise, but she simply sways back and throws out a lariat. It catches Misuzu square in the throat, bringing the onmyouji to her knees.
“That was good at the end there,” Kabutomushi says, “Your use of trickery in combat is commendable, especially when you’re at a disadvantage in strength. You just released the blade a little too early. Wait half a second and it would have been a clean blow.”
Misuzu nods as she tries to regain breathing and staggers to her feet, looking at her instructor with determined eyes. It was time for round two. She would get a hit in, even if it took every trick in her arsenal.
A few hours later, the school day ends. Misuzu punches the ground in frustration as the last bell chimes for the high school division. She had thrown everything but Doujigiri Ysutsuna at Kabutomushi, but the woman’s incredible physical strength was a fortress as well as a cannon.
“You’re doing much better than you were last year, Misuzu,” Kabutomushi says breezily, showing not even a drop of sweat. “Go take a shower and get changed. Can’t try to entice that junior boy when you reek of sweat, can you?”
With a sigh of genuine exasperation, Misuzu picks herself up and gets in line to use the showers, and then sighs again when she notices she’s the last one of the class to line up. When it’s finally her turn, she stands and soaks in the cold water, letting the chill reduce some of the bruising. After giving herself a good scrub – Kabutomushi was right, after all – she steps out to change back, and notices Nana’s gym clothes pinned on the drying rack.
She sighs again, this time fondly, as she reaches for the clothes, taking them off the rack. She winces, and looks at her finger, noticing a wet redness on one of the pins. She grumbles and sucks on the finger before putting a bandage on it, and puts Nana’s clothes in her bag, grabbing the mysterious card. She jams the offending pin into the cork message board, and steps out through the ajar emergency door, leading to the back of the gym, still holding the card.
The world suddenly starts to spin, and Misuzu passes out cold on the ground.
Half an hour later, Kabutomushi finds Misuzu lying in the grass, unconscious. Worried, she runs to her student, and sees that she’s still breathing. She sighs in relief, before noticing the card the girl held. Her expression tightens, and then she sees a line of steel cable attached to the side of the building, tied around a metal ring, and a flagpole jutting out near the top of the building. A quick look at the line tells her it’s the exact height she needs, and she gets to work.
A few minutes later, she throws Misuzu into the air, and the line acts as she expects. Kabutomushi tosses the card on the ashtray built into the garbage can and lights it on fire, trusting no one would notice a few bits of extra ash. She walks away, leaving Misuzu’s unconscious body hanging, suffocating by the tightening line.
Ch. 2: Dar Alas a los Escorpiones
“She’s late,” Tonya grumbles outside the larger dining hall the school used for breakfast and dinner.
“And after all the trouble you went through for her, too,” Nana says, her usual smile plastered on her face, “I’ll go look for her. Let Yuka and Kakeru know.”
Before Tonya can react, Nana runs off, smile growing wider. If Misuzu hasn’t shown up, it can only mean that she’s taken the bait. The older girl had reacted a little too obviously to the mention of weird dreams at lunch; it was child’s play to sneak into the locker room during her free period, since combat classes lasted for hours, and set her trap. A few minutes later, she reaches the gym and dashes into the locker room, and sees it sprung.
“Misuzu! You there?” she yells, in case the girl had realized the danger and lay in wait. Hearing nothing but the creaking of something blowing in the wind outside, she plucks the poisoned needle from the corkboard where Misuzu had stabbed it and returns it to its case, careful not to let it prick her, too. The compound coating it would render its target comatose for 10 hours, give or take.
She grabs a knife from the lost and found, having placed it there herself, and steps outside to finish the job. She stops in shock, however, when she sees that someone’s already done her work for her. Misuzu’s corpse dangles off the steel cable, clearly dead.
A gout of flame erupts in the distance, and she knows immediately what she must do.
Cole sighs as he opens the door to his room, helpfully marked with “Residential Dean.” He’d gotten the job through Zeke, and it was as tiring work as his friend. He cracks open a beer, confident everyone else would be at dinner. A knock comes at his door just before he takes a swing, and he mutters a few curse words under his breath. He tosses his beer back in the fridge, and opens the door.
“Oh, Signum,” he says, surprised – and more than slightly flustered – by his visitor, “Is there anything I can help you with?”
“Yes. And I’m sorry,” she says, and Cole ducks as her blade flies over his head.
“Wait, what, Signum…”
“The card. You received it, too,” Signum says, “You disposed of it too late.
“Fuck this,” Cole says, and immediately throws a few shock grenades.
“Panzerschild!” her sword says, to his confusion. A barrier blocks the explosion completely, throwing Cole’s room in disarray.
“Laevatein! Cartridge Load!” Signum yells, and a mechanism on her sword functions.
“EXPLOSION!” the sword says, mechanically. Getting a bad feeling, Cole creates a shockwave behind him.
“SURMWINDE!” She yells as he leaps back through the window, chasing the man with a blast of fire. Cole rolls to the side, and sends a lightning blast towards Signum, who casually blocks it with Laevatein.
“Purple Lighting Flash,” she says holding her sword at the ready. She dashes out, her sword enveloped in flame. Cole leaps just in tome to avoid getting hit, and grabs onto a windowsill.
“That’s got neither purple nor lighting!” he yells, “Here’s what you’re really looking for,” he says, and unleashes a barrage of lightning and kinetic energy at Signum, an attack Zeke liked to call a “rocket.” Signum walks out of the blast unharmed, and Cole grimaces. He leaps up the building, firing blasts of lightning behind him as he jumps.
Signum merely intercepts each blast with a barrier, and leaps to the roof as he reaches it. Desperate, Cole launches a barrage of lightning as he backpedals towards a chimney. He blows it up with a quick lighting blast, and grabs the Amp he hid inside it. He swings at the charging Signum, who catches the glorified tuning fork with her sword.
The sound of metal hitting metal rings out on the roof, and Cole notices some students running towards the school. He gives an internal sigh of relief; he now had an end goal. Survive until Astaroth is notified. Signum takes the opportunity to leap back and shoot a few blasts of fire in his direction, which he dissipates with a blast of energy. She then sheathes her sword, and Cole takes the opportunity to strike with a lightning blast, which is stopped cold by a barrier.
“Schlangeform!” Signum yells, and draws her sword, which extends to a several-meter long whip.
“Oh shit,” Cole groans, and immediately dodges under a swipe, and leaps over its follow-up. He runs across the building, dodging and rolling to defend against the assault. His movements eventually take him near his attacker, and he jumps over another blade, building up ionic energy as he does so. When he lands, he lets loose an ionic strike of ice, a gift from Kuo. Sub-zero temperatures and pillars of ice launch in a circle around him, and Signum leaps to the sky, and stays there, hovering.
“Flying Dragon Flash!” She yells, and the whip encases itself in flame and launches at the stunned Cole. He swiftly transitions into an Ice Launch, propelling himself upwards. He throws the Amp as he ascends, and cups his hands together, as if holding a sphere. He pours all his power into it, completely draining himself of energy and even the remaining ionic charges he had stocked. He lets it fly, and a massive bolt of lightning leaps from his chest as he reaches the apex of his jump.
“Panzergeist,” the sword says, and an immensely powerful barrier springs up in front of Signum. The bolt strikes the Amp, which lives up to its name and boosts its power. It pierces through the magic shield, and strikes Signum in the arm. She screams in pain, and directs another gout of flame at Cole, who is unable to dodge.
Cole yells, the intense heat charring his body. As the acrid smell of clothing fusing to flesh fills his nostrils, he hits the roof, hard. He struggles to right himself, but his bones – likely fractured, if not shattered – scream in protest.
“Laevatein, Bogenform,” Signum says, solemn, as she places the hilt of her sword in its sheath, which them transforms into a bow. “I can take no chances. Sturmfalken!” she yells.
“Jawhol Meister! Lasst uns die Hacke töten! Ziiiiiiiiiiiiiiicke!” Laevatein says, to Signum’s momentary confusion. Brushing it aside, she readies the arrow that will obliterate her foe, and aims it. She lets it fly, and the world turns monochrome.
The arrow stops before it hits Cole, and simply falls to the rooftop as the door slams open. Signum quickly swaps Laevatein to Schwertform, and points it at the bent square of metal. Out of it steps a man with long hair and glasses, wearing a sharp suit, half black and half white, with a fur collar similarly divided. The slender, pretty man is Astaroth, Prince of Hell and the school’s principal.
“You know what my monochrome world means, Signum,” the man says with a mocking smile, “So I suggest you put that down, unless you wish to face my Raison d’Etre.”
Heedless of the warning, Signum dashes towards him, sword extended. She moves faster than the eye can see, a simple, pure stab that no one should be able to react to.
It stops short of Astaroth’s throat, and the Prince of Hell simply punches her, throwing a right straight. The punch shatters Signum’s armor, pulverizes her bones, sends her the full ten kilometers across the campus, and finally through the disciplinary room’s wall.
In front of where she lands is a red-haired youth wearing a jacket and pants of the same color, wielding a revolver in one hand and a massive sword in the other. Camael, the head of the school’s disciplinary arm, hits Signum with the flat of the sword, sending her into the open cell before shooting the revolver at her, four times. The bullets impact her wrists and ankles, and pin her to the wall in a mock crucifixion.
Color returns to the world as a blonde-haired girl in a blue dress walks out from behind Astaroth and looks down at Cole disinterestedly.
“He’s going to die,” she says, looking back at Astaroth, “The only healer we have who can regenerate this is…. What’s-her-face. Kurumi? And she graduated last year.”
“Don’t be so pessimistic, Samael,” Astaroth says, “You can create medicines too, can’t you?”
“I create poisons. I’m the Angel of Death, Astaroth. The best I can do is kill him quickly.”
“Take him to the infirmary, then. Hopefully he’ll live.”
Samael simply shrugs and tosses the charred, moaning man over her shoulder, and begins the long trek to the school’s infirmary.
Three minutes and a bottle of eyedrops later, Nana pounds on the door to Astaroth’s office.
“Come in,” he says, and Nana fumbles the handle and stumbles in, ignoring the Asian boy sitting in front of the man. “What happened, Nana?” he asks, startled at her appearance.
“Misuzu, she… behind the gym, she…”
“Calm down, Nana. Please, tell me exactly what happened.”
“My friend, Misuzu. She was late for dinner, so I went looking for her. She was,” Nana pauses, taking a theatrical breath, “Hanging, charred… behind the gym.”
Astaroth inhales sharply, and gets up from his seat.
“Thought it was only attempted murder, but this…” he sighs, and turns to the boy, still sitting in the chair, “Tee, you’re dismissed for now. We’ll discuss your plagiarism later.”
Ch. 3: One Doubts Nothing, The Other Everything
“I regret the necessity of this assembly today,” Astaroth says, standing on the auditorium stage while flanked by Camael and the rest of the disciplinary team, “However, there has been an attack.” He pauses and steps away from the mic, allowing the gasps of shock to ripple through the room. Once it quiets down, he steps back in.
“One of our college faculty, a history professor named Signum, attacked and killed a high school student yesterday. She also attacked the dorm manager, who died of his injuries this morning. We are discussing with… higher authorities as to what to do with her. Before we continue, let us have a moment of silence for Misuzu Kusakabe and Cole MacGrath.”
Astaroth looks down as the somber silence stifles the room, as much a product of numb shock as genuine mourning. Once he judged it to have gone on long enough, the demon looks up, and continues to speak.
“Until someone else takes up Cole’s mantle, the RAs will be given more autonomy. And, to give mourners time to rest and the investigative services time to act, there will be no classes for the next three days. Please use that time to rest and recover. Dismissed.”
Unlike usual, the tension doesn’t bleed out of the room when the students get up to leave. This was, however, understandable given the circumstances. Astaroth shuts the mic off and turns to the so-called “Disciplinary Committee,” who were actually more akin to a secret police force.
“Camael, step up your patrols this week. Even if there’s nothing else, seeing you and the others keeping vigil will calm the students down.” The man in red nods silently at Astaroth’s instructions, and the Prince of Hell turns to the older man on his left, dressed in a butler’s outfit, complete with a monocle. “Lucifuge, watch the other instructors. It’s still too early to tell if this was orchestrated or not.” Lucifuge gives a bow and melts into the shadows as Camael departs, each seeing to their own tasks.
Kabutomushi pushes open the door to the library, and steps into the space. A large silo, spiraling underground for a full ten miles, the library was devoid of its usual inhabitants. The Dantalions, a legion of bodies sharing a mind, went about their work, categorizing and shelving the staggering amount of knowledge within.
“What do you want?” one of the identical high-school looking males asks, looking up from his desk.
“We did not expect visitors other than her today,” one of the identical females of similar age continues, throwing an irritated look at the blonde woman lost in a book.
“Yes, I should have expected Raziel to be here,” Kabutomushi says, “Though what I’m looking for is any information we have on beings on-campus with abilities.”
“Beings? Not just people?” the male asks with surprise.
“Yes. Something was bothering me about the attacks,” Kabutomushi says, not the least of which is that she didn’t burn Misuzu’s corpse.
“I see,” the female Dantalion says, “You’ll find our records on the sixth level, radius thirteen.”
“Thank you,” Kabutomushi says, scrupulously polite; the Dantalions may prefer their books to combat, but even Astaroth walks wary around them. She enters the lift heading down, lost in thought until she finds the books she’s looking for. Until she knew exactly who she needed to hunt, she would at least learn basics of what people were capable of. Any animals, too, as the man in the dream mentioned that the rules “didn’t make a difference” to one of the competitors.
As soon as she sets the books down on the table, however, the elevator opens again, regurgitating two college students.
“Looks like someone else had the same idea,” the taller of the two, Josephine March, says.
“Ah. So she got the card, too,” the shorter one, Liliana Guenther, says, looking somewhat nervous.
“Card?” Kabutomushi says, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just thought there was something weird about the attacks, so I was looking things up to see if Signum might have had any help.”
“From animals? Ah, the one that doesn’t need the card,” Liliana says as the pair sit down across from Kabutomushi. That bit settles it; they know what they’re talking about. And, since they hadn’t attacked her yet, there was something more they were after.
“So you’re saying Signum and Cole had the cards, too?” she asks, dropping her pretense.
“Yes. And likely Misuzu, too,” Jo says.
“She had one, yes. I found her corpse, and it had the card underneath,” Kabutomushi lies, “Burned it in the ashtray. Thing is, her body wasn’t burned when I left it.”
“Meaning the real killer came back and burned her, to make it seem like she was attacked by Signum, too?”
“My money’s on Nana Hiiragi, then,” Liliana chimes in, “She’s the one who reported Misuzu’s death, and that soon after Signum was caught.”
“That certainly makes her suspicious, but there’s not enough to go on to pin her as the killer,” Jo says, “Ah, but we’ve gone off-topic. Kabutomushi, Lun Lun and I would like to include you in our alliance.”
“Interesting. What’s in it for me, and what’s in it for you?” Kabutomushi asks, tense and ready to lash out with her Kabuto Spikes if either woman shows any sign of hostility.
“Well, I’m an RA in the high school dorms, Lun Lun’s well-connected in the college dorms, and you’re likely similarly placed in the faculty dorms. We’ve got access to a lot of information, and we’re no slouches in combat, either.”
“Hmm… Yeah, guess that’ll work,” Kabutomushi says, and relaxes a bit. “Mind letting me know your powers? Just so that we know where to back each other up,” she asks, conveniently leaving out the part of knowing where best to strike when it was just the three of them left.
“I can control water,” Lun Lun says, “In any form. I’ve also got special battle clothing that enhances my abilities, and I can access a pocket dimension to fight in.”
“I can see through lies with this eye,” Jo says, pointing to her right eye, “And I can control any living humanoid I’m in contact with. I’ve got a pocket dimension similar to Lun Lun, and my axe can break magic. How about you, Kabutomushi?”
“I’m the strongest. And I have steel plating on my organs.”
“You’re… the strongest?” Lun Lun asks, “What exactly does that mean?”
“Physically,” Kabutomushi says, propping a book up between them, “You could both push on the back cover with all your strength – even the massive part that normally goes unused – and it would take me one finger on the front to push your chairs back.”
“There’s no way that’s true,” Lun Lun says, looking ready to try it.
“She’s not lying,” Jo says, clearly shocked, “My Elysian Eye isn’t reacting at all.”
“You probably detected a lie when I said I would handicap myself by only using one hand during Practical Combat, right?” Kabutomushi asks, and continues after Jo nods, “That’s because it’s not the only handicap I gave you. I also toned down the force to where an ordinary human can survive it.”
After a brief silence, Jo nods and extends her hand.
“I look forward to working with you, Kabutomushi.”
“And I with the two of you. You’ll pardon me if I don’t take your hand after that explanation of your powers, though.”
In the cafeteria, the building ate at a low murmur, its usual clamor and cheer missing. Akiha and Ayaka eat in contemplative silence, barely touching their food. Beside them, Shiki and Parcel eat normally, though in the same silence.
“How do you do that?” Ayaka asks her friend, genuinely curious, “Two people just died.”
“That’s hardly unusual,” Parcel says callously, “The friends of the dead mourn a bit, and then move on like the rest of the world. If you were the dead one, Ayaka, I probably wouldn’t be this calm. But I didn’t know… Misuzu? Cole? Was that their names?”
“She’s right,” Shiki says, continuing to eat, “Anyone and anything can die at any time. If we focused on every death, it would break us.”
“That’s a very nii-san way of looking at things, nii-san,” Akiha says, seemingly regaining some composure, “Perhaps it may not be so bad to take a leaf out of your book.” She gives him a wan smile, still a far cry from her usual self but seemingly comforted. Re-heartened, the four eat their meals until Kazuma and Ayano come over, the normally brash girl pensive and the usually arrogant boy with his arm around her.
“Mind if we sit here?” Kazuma asks, and both Parcel and Shiki wordlessly squish in to make room. “Thanks,” he says, and guides Ayano to sit down next to Shiki before taking the seat opposite her.
“Is she okay?” a blushing Akiha asks, looking around her brother.
“She’s… in a bit of a shock, and I’m not sure what to say,” Kazuma says, watching Ayano mechanically shovel food into her mouth, “It’s not that she knew Kusakabe or MacGrath well. It’s that she knew Signum, even idolized her.”
“She was my hero,” Ayano says, voice cracking, “And now she’s a murderer. She was my goal, and now… now…” the distraught teenager lapses into silence as Kazuma holds her hand, grimacing in concern.
“There’s nothing you can do, Kazuma,” Parcel says, the cold knife of her logic shearing through his uncertainty, “Nothing you can say. Just be there while she restructures herself, and she’ll be fine in time.”
“I hope you’re right, Parcel. I really do,” he says, squeezing his lover’s hand. “Say, Ayano,” he continues after a brief silence, “Do you want to stay in my room tonight?”
She nods, blushing slightly, and withdraws her hand. The color returning to her face a bit, she begins to eat again.
Ch. 4: Solange der Bauch Stumm Ist
Four weeks later, life had settled down a bit. The flowers in front of the images of an embarrassed Cole and an uncomfortable Misuzu wilt as the school moves on, not quite out of mind but distant enough to hurt less. With some normalcy resettled, however, comes some normal problems.
Josephine March knocks on the door to Naomi Tanizaki’s corner room for the third time, trying to wake the girl up before her classes start. Again, there’s no answer, and the sighs, plucking the skeleton key from where it hangs around her neck. She turns it in the lock and opens the door, intending to rip the girl forcefully out of bed, friend’s sister or no.
She pauses once inside, blinking in confusion. Naomi was in her bed, yes, but under her is her brother, Junichiro, held in a vertical four-corner hold. The man is fully awake, and looks at Jo in a silent plea for help. She sighs and walks over, placing her hand on Naomi’s back while recalling her neurobiology class from the previous semester. She uses her Art to manipulate the girl’s body, forcing the production of the complex neurotransmitter cocktail – ACH, serotonin, norepi, histamine, and a good dose of orexin – that tells the brain it’s time to wake up.
Just in case, she also makes Naomi synthesize low levels of Substance P, stimulating her survival instincts. The result is the young girl shivering and waking up, clinging to her brother even harder before realizing the situation.
“Jo?” she says, still half asleep, “What time is it?”
The two magic words cause her to leap off the bed and dash towards the bathroom, trying to prepare to leave in the half-hour before her classes start. Junichiro, finally free, pulls himself out of his sister’s bed and massages his joints, withering under Jo’s questioning stare.
Half an hour later, Jo and Junichiro sit down next to a window in the dining hall. Just before they start to eat, Jo spots a younger girl, blonde hair held back by a headband, her green eyes searching to a place to sit. She waves, and catches the girl’s attention. She waves and makes her way to them, dragging an even shorter woman behind her.
“Hey Amy,” she says, greeting her younger sister, who is her physical opposite. Short, flat, and delicate where Jo was tall, voluptuous, and muscular, the sisters stood out in different ways.
“Hi Jo,” her sister says, smiling; she had been making an effort to act extra sweet lately, for whatever reason. Behind Amy was another, shorter girl in an orange shirt and blue sleeves, a plaid skirt, and had her blonde hair in twintails. She places her tray on the table and sits next to Junichiro as Jo nods at her, half-envious and half-pitying that she looks half her age.
“Hey, Lun Lun,” the man says, grateful to see someone he can look in the eye.
“Hi,” she says between mouthfuls, “What did your sister ‘force’ you to do this time?” she asks with her customary cheer.
“She wanted to talk about that flower tattoo fad,” he says, grateful for the chance to explain, “apparently, there’s people who have the tattoo but have no idea how they got it. You’ve seen one, right?” he asks, and all three of them nod, each knowing at least one person who has one of the tattoos, and then he nods outside the window. “Look familiar?”
The three women look outside, spotting one of the Black Dandelions spreading throughout the grounds. Jo and Lun Lun lock eyes for a second, knowing exactly who they need to mention this to. The glance, however, was not lost on Amy.
“Oh? You have an idea about this?” she asks innocently.
“No, but we might know someone who does,” Lun Lun says smoothly, “You know the practical combat instructor, Kabutomushi? She’s told us that Astaroth asked her to look into some of this stuff.”
“Asking Kabutomushi makes sense,” Amy says as Junichiro nods, neither noticing Jo’s Elysian Eye flashing like a strobe light, the golden shine drowned by the morning sun.
At night, Tonya looks out her window at the mirror she had placed on a tree, angled so that she could see the room above hers. She was fortunate enough to have a corner room, giving her an isolated wedge to herself between two of the larger rooms; the one above her housed Naomi Tanizaki, who was often visited by her brother and who often leaves the window open. To her good fortune, she had overheard the brother searching his sister’s room to see if she had received a card, marking him as a target.
Naomi had left the window open this night, and now Tonya simply waits to see if her target would appear. As she does, the window to the right of her opens, and a pair of heads pop out, one blonde and one pink.
“Good night, Tonya!” the blonde says, while the pink-haired one simply waves.
“Good night, Ellen, and to you too, Kaoru,” Tonya says, waving first to the blonde then the other. The pair closes the window, followed by a muffled thump – likely them moving their swords – before going silent. Tonya sighs in relief, grateful they hadn’t caught her in the act; the pair has a strong sense of justice and an almost telepathic knowledge of what the other is doing, so much that it was as if they were two halves of a whole. The ideal relationship, she muses, losing track of her true task for a second.
The lapse only lasts until she spots Junichiro enter his sister’s room, followed by the girl leaping into his arms. Tonya swaps the blunt tip of her Kikimora for a razor-sharp tip as she indulges her inner voyeur, and sends the thin yellow cord up the side of the building. Eventually, about half past three in the morning, Naomi grabs a towel and heads out the door, leaving Junichiro alone. The man lounges against the wall, his back to the window.
The blade plunges swiftly into Junichiro’s neck, severing the spine around the second cervical vertebra before he can make so much as a sound. The man dies almost instantly, and she swiftly and silently knocks the mirror into the woods with her Kikimora. She then dips the blade into a bucket she left below the mirror to clean off the blood, and sends that tumbling down as well.
An hour later, Naomi comes back into the room, and almost immediately collapses from shock. Her trembling fingers reach for her brother’s neck, only to find no pulse. Greif wells up and threatens to consume her; at that moment, the seed of the Black Dandelion in her body – which had found its way to the most intimate of places – sprouts, sending its stalk twining around her torso and its leaves encasing her legs.
The Black Dandelion could finally act. Naomi, now controlled entirely by the plant, gets up and activates the power it gave her, a simple ability, but one that furthered its aims. She created a new seed, which falls on Tanizaki’s body. He gets up, his corpse now a puppet, and Naomi scatters more of Black Dandelion’s seeds on the wind.
Zeke swings himself out of bed half an hour later, stretching and yawning. The dorm manager starts their day later than the groundskeeper, but still earlier than he would have liked. His eyes fall on the picture of Cole hanging on his door, and he throws it a salute.
“You’ve left big shoes, brother,” he says to it, “I may not fill ‘em, but I’ll do my damnedest not to do anything you wouldn’t.”
His morning routine complete, he puts on his clothes, grabs his trusty clipboard, and picks up his toothbrush. He sighs when he hears screams outside, grumbling about the serial pranksters on the floor. He slams the door open, ready to give them hell, and stops cold. The scene outside is too outlandish for a mere prank.
The walls are splattered red with blood, and the few students alive frantically try to defend themselves from the corpses of their classmates, which now have flowers growing out of them. Before he can react, one of the living falls, clutching his stomach. The boy’s girlfriend screams, and a dandelion sprouts out of both of them. All this washes over Zeke, however, when he sees who stabbed the boy.
“Cole?” he whispers, staring in disbelief. The body of his friend, preserved as if he were buried yesterday, stares back through blank eyes, bits of charred flesh not fully covering the writing mass of stalks, leaves, and flowers. The shock renders him unable to react as Cole dashes towards him and shoves the Amp into his stomach.
Zeke stumbles back into the room, grabbing onto Cole’s arm. He pulls the zombie down with him, tumbling to the floor. He then reaches under his bed and draws the revolver he keeps underneath it, just in case someone tried to attack him, too.
“Looks like I’ll be joining you, brother,” he says as Cole’s corpse growls in his face, “Just gotta make sure you rest in peace first.”
And with the last bits of his strength, he levels the gun at the dead man’s forehead and pulls the trigger. The bullet tears the top half of Cole’s skull off, splattering gore all over the room. Zeke’s triumphant smile quickly turns to horror, however, as the corpse pulls itself out of his weakening grip. It turns around, not bothering with the dying man, whose last sight was a single dandelion seed, colored pitch black, floating down to his chest.
As day breaks, cries of terror resound throughout the campus as students and teachers flee the hordes, some successfully, others cut down by the growing ranks of the frontline brainwashed students. Gunshots and explosions ring out as everyone tries to flee, most making for the gym or the library. The attack, furthermore, exposes the main flaw in the school’s defense structure. Anyone trying to reach an alarm is cut down.
Worse, each person killed adds two to the horde, more often than not. One’s dying screams would set off the tattoo in another, which would add another brainwashed student given superpowers. By the time the doors slammed in the gym and the Dantalions made their perimeter around the library, the tens of thousands of students and faculty had been reduced to barely half their number.
Nearly a thousand students huddle in the massive gymnasium, its doors and walls reinforced to withstand the strongest of attacks. Jo and Iwafune spread out, the two main voices of reason, and attempt to calm the masses.
“Everyone, find someone you know!” Jo yells, “Find a friend, classmate, roommate, whichever. Find someone and make a group.”
“Groups, come to me!” Iwafune says, unusual urgency in his voice, “Tell me who’s in your group, and take a seat somewhere. Stay calm.”
“Hey,” one of the students asks in a low voice, hiding under the bleachers, “Where’s the discipline committee?”
“Oh, Oki,” Jo says, “You stay with me, I’ll be part of your group. As for the committee…”
“They’re not allowed to act until a student or teacher has notified them of a threat, or in self-defense,” Iwafune spits, “They do, they get erased. To prevent them from going mad with power, see. Unfortunately, they can’t take the word of one of their own as reason to attack, and we can only reach them from some very specific alarms.”
“I got a text message, Iwa-san,” Jo says, face flushing with some relief, “Ayaka and Parcel made it to the library, and it looks like there’s a lot more students there than here.”
“That’s… that’s good,” Iwafune says, also relieved, as a black sphere opens behind him. He turns on his heel, about to draw his gun, when he sees who it is: Parcel and Ayaka, the two students Jo had mentioned.
“Why are you…” Jo starts, as Parcel sprints towards one of the windows, peering out.
“Shit. SHIT!” she says, obviously agitated, “How is that bastard…”
“Wait,” Iwafune says, “You know what this is?”
“The Black Dandelion,” she spits, “Thought Hei killed the stupid little…”
“The… you mean the cursed flower?” Ayaka asks, eyes growing wide.
“Is that what you were telling me about?” Parcel asks, turning pale, “If only I’d listened, this…”
“Is not your fault,” Ayaka says, giving Parcel a hug as Jo’s phone beeps again, signaling another text message.
“Shiki, Akiha, and Nana Hiiragi are in the chem lab,” Jo says to Iwafune, “They and some other students were… setting up a prank, apparently. They’ve barricaded the doors.”
“Parcel, what exactly is the Black Dandelion?” Iwafune asks, turning to the youth.
“It’s a Contractor, like me. Only it’s lost its human form, and is instead a bunch of dandelions. I can teleport with that black sphere you saw earlier, and I have to wear animal ears for it to work. The Black Dandelion can control people and give living, normal humans it controls powers. Its price was to be forgotten, and it paid that in full. Even it has forgotten what it once was. If you see any… I guess we’ll call ‘em zombies. You gotta destroy the heart, not the brain. You said there were students in a chem lab?” she asks, turning to Jo, “Can any of them synthesize chemical compounds?”
“Nana’s a veritable genius at it, yes. Give her a formula and she’ll make it.”
“Send her this,” Parcel says, drawing a small SD card from her pockets, “It’s an anti-contractor serum. It hits the Dandelion, or me, it’ll kill all of it. Or me. Oh, and isolate anyone with the flower tattoos. They’re the ones likely to become the powered zombies.”
“I sent it to them,” Jo says, “But they’ll need protection to deliver it.”
“Leave that to me,” Iwafune says, drawing his gun and exhaling. He invokes his Sanctum, and a massive sword appears over the gym: slim, elaborate, and covered in fog. The sheer power it exudes repels the horde slightly, and Iwafune’s gun takes on a grey glow. “Teleport me to the roof,” he says to Parcel, who nods.
Ch. 5: Демоны живут в стоячей воде
Iwafune steps out of the black sphere, now on the rooftop of the gym. The young girl in the mouse-eared hoodie looks down at the horde, and gives him a small nod before teleporting herself back inside the gym. Iwafune sighs in exasperation and manifests his Grey Sanctum fully. Impenetrable fog coalesces around the campus, smothering the dawn in swirling gray.
He leaps down from the roof, landing without a sound in front of one of the zombies. Sensing his presence, it turns around to lunge at him, but he simply levels his revolver at the corpse’s chest and fires, imbuing a bit of his Aura into the bullet. It carves a hole where the zombie’s heart was, and it falls flat on its back, unmoving.
Pieces of a black notebook scatter out of its suit, and Iwafune recognizes one of his students. He kneels and closes the boy’s eyes, before getting back up and holding his revolver at the ready. He moves forward at a brisk walk, pausing every now and then to shoot the heart out of a zombie that notices him. As he reaches the door to the main school building, however, it goes flying off its hinges.
A student walks out, her left arm replaced by a large dandelion stalk, its head where her hand would have been. She raises it, and a beam of light scythes through Iwafune’s fog. It swiftly dissipates, and the fog rolls back in, undisturbed. His ability wasn’t known as the Ultimate Defense for nothing. The student fires several more beams, each lance of light flying wide and fizzling. He strolls up to her, and hurriedly strengthens his Sanctum as she aims directly at him. A barrage of beams stops short a small distance in front of him, too accurate to be fired on instinct alone.
A swift scan of the surroundings shows him another student perched on top of a tree, likely the girl’s spotter. Any power that could see through his fog should by all rights fry the user’s brain, but it seems the plant could still get use out of a vegetable. He channels a vast amount of his Aura into the chambered bullet and pulls the trigger, letting fly a shot with enormous power. The enhanced bullet vaporizes the student, along with the tree he was perched on.
That annoyance taken care of, he drops the output of his Sanctum, letting the student shoot wildly once more. He channels his Aura into the gun itself and flips it around, holding it by the barrel. A swift strike with it breaks off the plant stem, causing the student to shriek in pain. An Aura-enhanced roundhouse kick to the side sends her flying, and Iwafune casually pops the empty cartridges out of his gun. He enters the building, each step punctuated by the clink of brass on steel.
“How’re you doing, Nana?” Shiki asks, leaning against the barricade. A futile gesture, but everyone needs to feel useful.
“Almost got it,” Nana says, usual cheerfulness gone, “But there’s barely 20 mls. Apparently, we need to hit a flower with it and, well...” she trails off, looking at the charred corpses in the corner.
“Sorry,” Akiha says, draining the liquid into a test tube, “I didn’t know.”
“It’s okay,” Shiki says, “Iwa-san’s going to get us out of here.”
“I hope so, Nii-san,” Akiha says.
“If even Iwa-san can’t, we’re done for,” their college student chaperone, a man named Fushimi, says, “So he’d better.” Six shots ring out in the corridor as he finishes, bringing a sour smile to his face.
“Yo!” a languid voice shouts from behind the door, “You alive in there?”
“We are,” Fushimi calls back, “We’ll let you in in a sec.”
The two boys remaining in the group pull one of the cabinets blocking the door out of the way, and the knob turns as Iwafune pulls the door open. His sardonic smile slips as he spots the remaining two of their group of six pranksters, but he quickly looks at Nana, who nods.
“All right, then. Time to water the plants.”
“I’ll clear a path,” Shiki says, taking off his glasses, “The ones without flowers are… already dead, right?”
“I’ll cover the rear, then,” Fushimi says after Iwafune’s nod, “Akiha, you can find someone alive, right? Guide us.”
“I’ll take care of anyone who gets past you two,” Iwafune says, “Can’t risk prolonged combat too much at my age. Let’s go, then.”
The motely crew steps out into the hall, which has already started to fill with zombies. Akiha sends out her Caging Hair, looking for any point where she can leech life energy.
“Up ahead… left at the second cross corridor, behind a pillar in the atrium,” she says. Shiki nods, and extends his knife, holding the implement in a reverse grip. He dashes through the crowd of zombies, slicing one in pieces before stabbing the next through the point of death, turning it into dust. He ricochets throughout the corridor, bringing final rest to the corpses of students in his way as the group advances, moving away from the sickly smell of roasting flesh that Fushimi creates while protecting their back.
They make their way as Akiha directs, coming to a large open space, surrounded by pillars. As she had predicted, from behind the pillar across from them steps a pair, one zombie and one human with a dandelion wrapping around her body.
“Naomi?” Akiha gasps, looking at her friend in horror, along with the corpse of her brother beside her. The girl, unable to hear or recognize her comrade, simply opens her fist, revealing a lump of seeds which she tosses into the air.
“Nana, throw the vial at her!” Iwafune yells. Nana does as ordered, and Iwafune snaps off a shot at exactly the right time to shatter it over Naomi’s head.
The plant shrieks and wails as the deadly liquid hits it, a sound that should not be possible. It withers, dying, and all the zombies collapse at once. Naomi collapses, unconscious, as Iwafune fires another shot to trigger the alarm.
“We will be installing more alarms,” Camael says as his angels haul away the unconscious Naomi, “I wish this hadn’t alerted us to the need for it, but…”
“But it still happened,” Iwafune says, “Perhaps it’s time you lot renegotiated your contracts.”
“Perhaps it is,” Camael says, grimacing, “I don’t think they were drafted with this kind of scenario in mind. We have, however, been able to confirm that all the Black Dandelions on campus have withered. Raziel wanted to keep them for study, but we burned them.”
“Good riddance,” Iwafune says, “But how are we going to move forward after this? We’re half the school we used to be.”
“I don’t know, professor,” Camael murmurs, “I don’t know. That, thank the Lord, is Astaroth’s job.”
Ch. 6: लंगड़ा केकड़ा सीधा चलता है
In front of the library, the Dantalions lower their weapons. The multitude of spears, knives, bows, and swords scatter into paper as they set about gathering the dead and unconscious. The students helping them lower their own weapons and deactivate their powers, letting a sigh of relief go around the area. Lilian Guenther joins them, letting Twinkle Fortune hang by her side as she lets the tension drain out of her. Just as she’s about to dismiss her Dress, however, she feels a tap on her back. Turning around, she spots the worried face of Ayano Kannagi, still holding the wooden sword she uses to channel her fire magic.
“Hey, Lun Lun, you’re friends with Kazuma, right?” she asks.
“I guess you could call us that, yes,” Lun Lun says cagily, anticipating trouble.
“Well, he texted me saying he was using his Wind Magic to hide near the dorms, something about not wanting to be caught by a cardholder. The Dantalions have asked me to help with cremation, so could you get him for me?”
“Sure,” Lun Lun says, “Did your beloved say where he was hiding?”
“Next to the founder’s statue on the path to the fountain. Thanks, Lun Lun!” Ayano says, huge smile on her face as Liliana squeezes her way out to hunt down her target.
Liliana arrives at the statue a few minutes later, and swiftly activates the Guarden, pulling both Kazuma and herself inside. She takes aim at the surprised youth, firing a quick salvo of water bullets at his face, which he barely deflects with a shield of wind.
“Lun Lun, what…”
“You had a card.”
Liliana fires as soon as he speaks, not intending to give up an advantage. This wasn’t the Waltz; she had no time to play fair. Kazuma blocks the burst, the water splashing in front of his face on another wind barrier. It swiftly drops, restoring his sight, but the shots already did their job. Lun Lun swings the water whip her gun had spewed, striking at Kazuma from below. He leans back out of his way, and the whip falls, no longer under Liliana’s control.
“Call! Icicle Blitz!” she yells, and pulls the trigger on Twinkle Fortune. The squirt gun lets out a spread of icicles, which launch at nearly point-blank range. Kazuma manipulates the wind to launch him skyward, just barely dodging the attack. He turns, intending to send a wind blade scything down at his classmate, when he sees her pointing her squirt gun at him.
“Call! Cannon Blitz!” Liliana yells.
“Oh fuck,” Kazuma mutters, and swiftly surrounds himself with a shield of air, only to find the attack not coming. He’d lost track of his foe in his panic, however, and he looks around him to try and find her again. He locks on to a shout, and his eyes grow wide.
“Fury of the Seven Seas, Sea Divide!”
Liliana pulls the trigger again, sending a far more powerful shot at her foe. The sphere of water rips through Kazuma’s shield, sending him flying into the pillar opposite Lun Lun. She points Twinkle Fortune at the spot where he landed, only to roll out of the way when two wind blades slice towards her. Kazuma descends back onto the field, eyes now shining blue.
“You’ve been holding back during Practical Combat,” he says, smirking, “but so have I.”
A wave of pressure slams into Liliana, nearly forcing her to her knees. It gets heavier and heavier as Kazuma smiles, confident in his victory.
“Call! Hard Rain!” she yells, “I command the heavens! Strike the earth! Heed my call! I am she who rules the seas! Minor summons of the seven seas!”
At her command, it starts to rain. Kazuma looks up, and feels the refreshing drops on his face. He turns back to her, arrogant smirk growing wider.
“I thought this would be something bigger,” he taunts, “But it’s simple rain.”
“Call! Infinity Chain!”
At that, water stretches out of her gun, in the same gelatinous form as her whip. The raindrops meld together as well, forming a dense network of fine chains. The air around her loses its pressure, and she leaps, landing delicately on one of the chains, posing as if she were at a ball.
“Air control is troublesome,” she says, relishing the reversal, “But then, I can force the air to be the sea. Blockader! Battle Mode!”
“You… damn it…” Kazuma growls as the countless chains wrap around him, heedless of his struggles to break them. Liliana strolls along the chains, moving from her perch to in front of the struggling man. His eyes display fear as she levels the Twinkle Fortune at his face.
“They’ll realize it was you, Lun Lun,” he says, trying to save his life, “You’re the only one here who can control water well enough to defeat me. They’ll realize it was…”
“Call. Thunder Blitz,” she says, and Kazuma’s life flashes before his eyes. A bolt of thunder flies from the muzzle, electrocuting him.
“I found him, Ayano,” Liliana says through the phone, trying as hard as she can to sound genuinely shocked and sorrowful, “I’m sorry, but… it looks like he got attacked. He didn’t make it.”
She winces slightly as the girl on the other side of the line gasps, sounding like she was about to wail with grief. Her lover was dead, and Liliana had killed him. She’d need to take extra care around Ayano now; the last thing she needed was to fall to the revenge of someone uninvolved.
Ch. 7: 竜頭蛇尾
“All right, Delsin’s floor over here,” Jo says, waving over a group of high schoolers, “We can’t find him right now. Line up, and tell me your names.” The students rattle off their names one by one, most of them looking utterly exhausted. Jo mechanically ticks the names she hears on the clipboard, almost missing the tall man walking in, who would be well-dressed if hist tie weren’t loose and the top buttons of his shirt undone.
“Jo, Parcel,” the man says, “We need your help with interrogation.”
“All right, Belial,” Jo says, and Parcel nods in assent. “Tonya, Nana, please finish marking who’s here from your floor,” Jo continues, passing the clipboard to the pink- and silver-haired girls. She follows Belial, the Jurist of Hell, with Parcel in tow, the younger girl pulling her hood tighter over her head as she walks.
“As you’ve probably guessed,” he says with uncharacteristic sobriety, we’re going to have Jo check for lies, and Parcel knows how the Black Dandelion operated, so she’ll need to tell us if any testimony suggests outside action. We’ve got who we believe is patient zero, so we’ll start with them.”
“Who was it?” Jo asks.
“Junichiro’s not going to take that well.”
“I’m sorry, but…”
“I also hate being the bearer of bad news, but Kazuma, as well.”
“I know. Lun Lun told me.”
“How much farther is this?” Parcel interjects as she struggles to keep up with the longer strides of the older pair.
“It’s about four kilometers that way,” Belial says, pointing. In silence, Parcel creates a black sphere, encompassing all three of them. When it shrinks, they find themselves in front of the Disciplinary Committee’s holding office. Parcel gives them a smug grin as Belial walks forwards to open the doors.
“You’re taking this pretty well,” Jo says, patting the younger girl on the head.
“I’m a Contractor,” she says, “No emotions.”
“Probably useful in this situation,” Belial says.
“Not as much as you think. Even if Ayaka died, I’m not fully equipped to mourn, past the basics. That… bothers me.”
“I see. I’m sorry I brought it up,” Belial says, opening the final door between them and the captive Naomi, who sniffles and looks up at the trio.
“All right, Naomi,” Belial says, voice gentle, “Please, tell us anything and everything you remember.”
“I… don’t remember anything about when the flower controlled me,” Naomi says, “All I remember is coming back from the bathroom to find my brother dead. The next thing I knew, I was barely conscious in the atrium.”
“She’s telling the truth. Not that I think she’s in any state to lie,” Jo says. Belial nods, and looks to Parcel.
“And her story’s consistent with how Black Dandelion operates. I’d recommend focusing on Junichiro’s death,” Parcel says, “If you want outside interference, that’s the best place to start.”
“Good idea, Parcel. You had a corner room facing the forest, yes?” Jo asks, and Naomi nods, “All right. Lun Lun’s nearby, so I’ll ask her to investigate the area.”
“You know of any surviving psychometers?” Parcel asks, “If Lun Lun finds anything, they can trace it back to the killer.”
“The only one we had was in a coma after using her ability on Iwa-san,” Belial sighs, “I don’t know if she’s still around, but…” Jo and Belial grimace, annoyed by the lack of options, while Parcel looks at Naomi impassively. Belial’s phone lets out a short chime, and the demon checks it. “One bit of good news,” he says, “Professor Mercer survived. He’ll do the autopsy on Junichiro, so we’ll get information in a few minutes.”
“Good,” Jo says as her own phone beeps. Looking at it, she sees a series of three photographs from Lun Lun: a broken mirror, a tipped bucket, and the view from a tree, seemingly able to look into all the corner rooms.
“Look at these,” she says, and Parcel, Naomi, and Belial crowd around her phone, “Looks like whoever killed Junichiro was in or around the dorms at the time.”
“We’ll have Lucifuge look at the grounds footage… ah, they finished the autopsy,” Belial says, checking his own phone, “Looks like he died from a blade to the back of the neck. Small enough to slip between two vertebrae, so the professor doesn’t think it was thrown.”
“A small blade that wasn’t thrown, needs the user to be able to see inside, and someone on the corner dorms…” Parcel mutters, just before Jo gasps.
“It’s Tonya!” she says, “No one else fits. Antonina Antonovna Nikitina, a junior in the high school division. She was in the gym, has silver hair and a Kikimora, a flexible rope-like-thing attached to the base of her spine.”
Belial grabs his phone and hits the quick-dial. “Camael! We’ve found who set off this attack. Grab Antonina Antonovna Nikitina, she’s…” Belial says as soon as it connects, rattling off the description Jo just gave him.
“What’s going to happen to Naomi?” Jo asks, concerned.
“I… don’t know. She isn’t culpable for this, we can tell that much. For now, we’ll take her to the infirmary, to make absolutely sure she’s okay.”
“All right. Do you want me here for Tonya’s questioning?”
“And are you finished with me?” Parcel asks.
“I am, but Camael and Samael will likely want to ask you a few questions about the Black Dandelion. I’ll try to spare you Raziel, at least for today.”
“All right,” Parcel says, “I’ll head back to Ayaka, then.” The youth vanishes in a black sphere, leaving Belial and Jo waiting for someone to take Naomi away and bring Tonya to them.
A few minutes later, Tonya is marched into the room by Camael, who looks increasingly grim. Belial nods in thanks, and the angel retreats through the door, taking Naomi with him.
“Tonya,” Belial says, “We’re trying to piece together what happened last night. Can you tell me everything you remember?”
“I was looking out the window for a bit,” the silver-haired girl says, “Kaoru and Ellen poked their heads out, too, and said good night to me. I went to sleep myself after I closed the window.” Tonya’s eyes flick between Belial, seated across from her, and Jo, leaning against the corner, clearly nervous. Given the rumors about the Disciplinary Committee’s powers, though, that was actually a fairly normal reaction.
“Was there anything in particular that made you want to look outside?” Jo asks.
“Not really. Why?” Tonya says, and Jo’s gold eye flashes.
“Tonya, do you know why I’m here?” she asks, pushing herself to a standing position.
“I was wondering that myself, Jo,” Tonya says, regaining a bit of her attitude when talking to someone familiar.
“You see, I can tell if people are telling the truth or not. You told us a lie, and now we're going to have to find out why you lied to us.”
“All right. I’d set up a mirror on a tree outside,” Tonya says, thinking quickly, “I’d been concerned about Naomi’s relationship with her brother for a bit, so I figured I’d spy on them.”
“There’s a lie in there somewhere,” Jo says, her eye flashing again.
“See, Junichiro died before the Dandelion incident,” Belial says soothingly, “You’re in the room below them, so we’re trying to figure out what happened there. We think it was the trigger.”
“That was…” Tonya whispers, shocked.
“That?” Belial asks, not missing a beat.
Tonya pales, realizing that she’s being cornered by the Juror of Hell and a living lie detector.
“I… saw him die,” Tonya says, shivering while telling only the literal truth, “I wasn’t able to see who did it, but I feared that if it got out…”
Belial looks at Jo, who shrugs at him. Satisfied, he continues, “All right, then. We’ll place you in custody for now, Tonya. We do need to get to the bottom of this, and I still feel like there’s something you’re not telling us. You’re not actually under arrest, though. We want to be sure you’re safe.”
“Belial! We need you out here, stat!” Camael’s voice comes through the intercom, “We’re stretched thin trying to gather everyone.”
“I’ll take her to her holding cell,” Jo says, “I know the way.”
“Thanks, Jo. I’ll get going, then,” Belial says, and strides out the room. Jo claps a hand on Tonya’s shoulder, and uses her Art to force the girl’s body up and to follow her. She marches the young girl through the corridors, devoid of cameras; who would try to escape the stronghold of both angels and demons, after all?
“I’m guessing he had a card? And that you do, too” Jo whispers as Tonya passes by several filled cells, with nameplates saying “Sun Tzu,” “Jack the Ripper,” and others. The girl’s eyes grow large, giving Jo the answer she needs. “I’ll settle you into your cell,” she says, and enters the small room with the other girl.
Once there, she immediately uses her Art again, and manipulates Tonya’s Kikimora to wrap around her neck, the thin yellow cord digging in. She manipulates the tip to break into Tonya’s palm as the girl holds completely still, prevented from even struggling by Jo’s power. She uses the Kikimora to write Tonya’s confession on the wall, and waits a few seconds for her to stop breathing. Satisfied she had killed her mark, she exits the cell and closes the door.
Ch. 8: Roghnaigh Idir Dhá Ghabhar Dall
“You know, Kabu-chan, I really envy your position,” Iwafune says, stretching in his office as Kabutomushi assists him with paperwork, “Practical Combat’s easy to restructure.”
“Yeah, I hear you on that. I had to help fill in for Joseph while he recovered. Poor man lost his grandson to the incident.”
“Ah. Losing someone close to you is… tough,” Iwafune says, “And I think I’ve finished my part. You done, Kabu-chan?”
“I am, Iwa-san.”
“Then let’s get these to the Dean. I’ll make us some of my signature karrage later.”
“And I’ve got some new additions to the liquor cabinet,” Kabutomushi says, her face breaking into a smile.
“Now that’s what I like to hear,” Iwafune says, taking a sip from the open can of beer he pulled from nowhere as they gather the papers and open the office door. As they enter the hallway, a girl with black hair rushes past them, and Kabutomushi gets a whiff of a fermented oil, though the girl had tried to cover it up by bathing. She fiddles with her cellphone, letting Jo know that a flat, black-haired high school student had tried entering her room while she was out.
By the time she finished, Iwafune had reached the theology dean’s door. The man knocked, and received a terse message to come in.
“Hey Kratos,” Iwafune says, opening the door, “Got more forms for you.”
“Just what I need,” Kratos growls, clearly not enjoying his position. “BOY!” he yells, and a young child runs in through the door. “Check these papers,” he orders, and Atreus dutifully takes them from the pair.
“Bye now,” Iwafune says, and closes the door to the dean’s office behind him, cutting off Kratos’ disgruntled grunt.
Later that night, Akiha slips out of her room, careful not to wake her roommate. She moves as silently as she can towards Josephine’s room. Her investigations had given her a pretty good idea that Jo was one of the entrants in the assassination game, and a quick kill was likely the best way to go about it.
She crouches behind a pillar, keeping her eyes trained on the room. Her powers wouldn’t go through the door, so she simply has to wait until Jo leaves the room. She waits in silence for an hour or so, getting somewhat impatient. Her irritation catches up to her, and she stands, ready to kick the door down.
At that instant, however, she feels two jabs in her back, next to the spine and above the kidney. She collapses immediately, unable to move save to look up at her attacker. She meets the contemptuous eyes of Nana Hiiragi, who holds a pair of needles covered in blood.
“That was just so sloppy,” Nana says, “Jo isn’t even in that room right now. Amateur.”
Nana simply watches as the poisons paralyze Akiha’s lungs and heart, waiting for the girl to die. Once she’s satisfied her prey is dead, she simply walks off, heading towards the stairs.
Ch. 9: El arquero que falla tiene una mentira lista
Nana Hiiragi walks into the front lobby of the high school dorms, intending to go to the faculty side. As she crosses, however, the other stairway door opens, and out walk a pair of girls, one blonde, tall, and curvy while the other was short, flat, and had pink hair.
“Where are you off to, Nana?” Ellen, the taller one, asks.
“Faculty dorms,” Nana says, cheery smile back in place, “I want to see if I can change rooms now.”
“We’ll go with you then,” Ellen says, “We’ve got to turn in some forms. Work-related absence.”
“All right,” Nana says, while Kaoru simply groans while being shepherded by the taller girl. The trio walks the well-lit path to the faculty dorms, Nana and Ellen having a lively chat about nothing in particular while Kaoru looks increasingly glum. Eventually, the shorter girl tugs on Ellen’s sleeve, throwing a pleading look her way. Ellen crouches, and Kaoru climbs onto her back.
“Thanks,” she whispers, holding tightly to Ellen, who simply smiles.
A few minutes later, they arrive at the faculty dorms and enter, going up to the common lounge on the second floor. They entered into a surprisingly calm scene, with only Kabutomushi and Iwafune sharing a meal and a small circle in the corner for the RA meeting, about a third its usual size. Nana grimaces internally when she sees it; Jo is sitting in the corner, not exposing her back at all. Instead, she follows Ellen and Kaoru – the shorter girl now walking on her own feet – towards her other target.
“What’s up, girls?” Kabutomushi asks, noticing them first.
“Work absence form,” Kaoru says, sounding annoyed while Ellen hands Kabutomushi the paperwork.
“Again?” Iwafune asks, “You should unionize.”
Ellen takes one of the free chairs, while Nana takes another.
“You mean revolutionize,” Kaoru grumbles, taking her usual seat in Ellen’s lap, “We do all the work, why aren’t we in charge?”
“You’d have to work harder,” Ellen says, evidently used to this kind of outburst.
With the duo providing a distraction, Nana slips a bottle out of her sleeve and adds a couple drops to Kabutomushi’s wine glass. Not a fatal poison, but a sleep drug. The wine, a Barbera d'Asti, was acidic enough to cover the taste, or so she hoped.
“And what did you need, Nana?” Kabutomushi asks, taking the poisoned glass in her hand.
“I wanted to see if I could switch rooms with someone. Looks like the RA meeting’s going to drag on a bit, though.”
“Fights build friendships, you know,” Iwafune chimes in as Kabutomushi flicks her eyes over to the RA meeting, meeting Jo’s for a second.
“Her roommate was Misuzu, Iwa-san. Hardly the troubles of youth,” Kabutomushi says, causing Iwafune to look apologetic
“Sorry about that. You can have some of the karrage to make up for it.”
“Don’t mind if I do,” Nana says, taking a piece while the other four chat. Kabutomushi eventually closes her eyes, and Ellen and Kaoru take that as their cue to leave. Iwafune gets up to put the wine away, and Nana realizes this is her chance. She slips a small syringe out of her pouch, and surreptitiously attaches a hollow needle into it. The syringe contains 20 ml of undiluted Botulinum toxin H, one of the deadliest substances known to man in several orders of magnitude more than what would be needed to kill an elephant.
Confident she wasn’t taking any chances, she slides her hand towards the blanket Iwafune had draped over the other teacher. At that moment, however, Kabutomushi’s hand shoots out and grabs Nana’s wrist at full strength, pulverizing the bone and causing the younger girl to scream in pain.
The yell brought Iwafune’s hand immediately to the alarm, and the world went instantly monochrome. A few seconds later, Astaroth slides in, followed by Lucifuge.
“What happened?” Astaroth asks, looking at Kabutomushi and the still-screaming Nana, while Lucifuge looks at Jo, who is also staring at the pair.
“Someone slipped something into my drink. A sleeping drug, by its effects, so I pretended to be asleep, just to see what would happen. Then I see Nana here trying to jab me with a needle. Crushed her wrist.”
“I did no such thing!” Nana protests, needle already lost in the black hole under the seat of a dorm couch, “I was waiting for Iwafune to come back and Kabutomushi just attacked me.” She grimaces through the pain, mentally exulting. If she could just get them to believe her, it would still be her victory.
“Ms. Hiiragi is lying,” Lucifuge pronounces, his cruel voice cutting off Nana’s hopes, “Jo’s eye shone when she spoke.”
“Very well, then,” Astaroth says, “Grab Belial or Camael to take her away.”
Lucifuge nods and melts into the shadows, and Astaroth steps outside to receive whoever would be coming. Jo hurriedly wraps up the RA meeting, as none of the college students want to be nearby. Iwafune gives an uninterested shrug and returns to the kitchen, cleaning the cookware. Seeing they would be uninterrupted, Kabutomushi leans in and whispers in Nana’s ear.
“Full marks for effort and planning. You were just a little short in the execution, Nana-chan ♡ If you’re not going to skimp on the killing blow, don’t skimp on the prep.” She pulls away as the Disciplinary Committee enters the room, and smiles insincerely at the younger girl. “Have fun being disciplined. ♡”
Ch. 10: Mae Gan Bob Heid Ddefaid Du
“And from the parallels between the Four Horsemen in Christianity and Kalki in Hindu tradition, we can see that most religions owe quite a bit to earlier ones. Even if your local zealot tries to claim otherwise, all human creations are built upon the past. And that’s all for today. Go home and study while I go home and drink.”
Iwafune’s joke broke the studious mood of the room, and the students got up and left, much more hurriedly than they would have two months ago. As the classroom thinned out, he spots a pair of blond twintails making its way through the crowd. The youthful hairstyle materialized into a youthful-looking woman; Liliana Guenther could give Kabutomushi a run for her money in the “looking young” department.
“Hey, Iwa-san, I’ve got a schedule conflict with your exam,” she says, slightly nervous, “Professor Chin scheduled the communications exam at the same time.”
“Ah. That’s no good. Well, I owe Jordi a favor, so I’ll move it back a day for the whole class.”
“A favor for a favor, Lun Lun,” Iwafune says, and looks to make sure the class has left. “How’s Jo handling it? She was there when Nana attacked Kabutomushi, and I heard that Akiha was found dead outside her door. Nana confessed to that, too.”
“Well, with all that’s happened this year, she… we are kind of numb to it. It hasn’t even been a semester and there’s been Signum’s killings in January, the Black Dandelion stuff on goddamn Valentine’s Day, and now Nana. Those of us who want to transfer can’t find anywhere safe, what with the closest place being Hell School.”
“I have a feeling it’s going to get worse, too,” Iwafune says, grimacing, which wrings a sigh from Liliana. “I hope the other three kill each other off,” he mutters under his breath. Not quietly enough, apparently, because Liliana’s face goes blank. She fiddles with her phone for a sec, and then Iwafune suddenly finds himself in a square arena, with pillars on each side. Liliana’s clothes transformed into a navy-themed dress, complete with a faux-tricorn.
“So you also got the card, Iwa-san,” Liliana says sadly, “I’m going to miss your class.”
“Ah, I’ve been trying to avoid these,” Iwafune says, grumbling as he activates his Sanctum. Fog fills the battlefield, obscuring Liliana’s vision, as a massive sword appears above Iwafune. He snaps off a shot towards her, infusing the bullet with his aura. To his surprise, however, the bullet slows before it reaches its target, and eventually simply drops out of the air.
“So I was right,” Liliana says, smirking, “It may weaken my abilities, but it’s still fog.” Iwafune’s eyes widen in shock as the youth takes control of his Sanctum’s form, causing the fog to swirl about him. The force eventually creates a gap, and Liliana jumps in the air, spotting it from above.
“Call! Cannon Blitz! Fury of the Seven Seas, Sea Divide!” she yells, and fires a cannon shell of water at her professor. Iwafune flips his revolver around and, the weapon now glowing grey, uses the grip to smash the attack aside.
“Kids should be energetic,” he says, “But you’ll need more than that to match a King.”
“Call! Canon Blitz! Reload!”
Iwafune sighs, and concentrates the entire power of his Sanctum into his next shot. The bullet leaves the barrel, ionizing the air as it passes through. To his shock, however, Liliana plummets out of the way of the attack, much more rapidly than by simple gravity.
“Fury of the Seven Seas, Sea Divide!” she yells, and fires another shot. Unable to block in time, it slams into Iwafune, sending him flying. He flips in the air and lands on his feet, as if he were a cat instead of a person. His usual carefree smile, however, now has a bit of an edge to it.
“So what if you’re a King? I’m Liliana Guenther, Princess of Renstanza. Also known as the Princess of the Storm, and I believe I’ve earned that.”
“And I’m Tenkei Iwafune,” Iwafune says with a chuckle, “A flightless chicken, as my name implies. But I used to be known as Seigo Ootori, the Sixth and Gray King. Though I suppose that means as much to you as your titles do to me.”
As he speaks, the fog creeps back up, obscuring the battlefield once again. Iwafune fires off another two shots, which Liliana dodges by the skin of her teeth. She dashes forward at his fifth shot, which she manipulates the fog to throw off course.
“You’re using my Sanctum to track me,” he says, sounding impressed, “Of course. You can control water, after all.” He levels his gun at her and fires his sixth shot, which she evades by a hair once again.
“Got you! Call! Whip Blitz!” Liliana yells, spontaneously forming a whip of gelatinous water. She flicks it up at Iwafune’s head, but his Sanctum pulls it apart before it can hit. He swings his gun again, and she ducks under it, turning to face upwards.
“Call! Fire Blitz!”
“Whoops,” Iwafune says, jerking back to avoid the point-blank assault of superheated water. He lands a kick on her face as she jumps back to create distance, and she crashes into the ground a few meters away. Iwafune then hisses in pain, and grabs his arm. Looking down, he sees a bright red burn, even though he’d avoided the attack. A quick glance at the ground told him why: Liliana had tossed his bullets in the air, and melted them with her missed attack.
He quickly reloads as Liliana staggers to her feet, and starts to laugh with joy.
“Ah, you’re strong,” she says, exulting in the fight, “I’m not Angela, but… this is fun!”
“You youngsters and your energy,” Iwafune says, sounding irritated, missing Liliana’s next incantation. The fog freezes into spears of ice, entirely surrounding him. I quick gesture from Liliana beings them crashing in, and he hurriedly puts up his Sanctum’s strongest defenses. The grey sword pulses above him as the spears shatter against his barrier. He exhales as the last of them falls, and his eyes grow wide as he realizes he’s lost his quarry.
“Call! Icicle Blitz!” Liliana yells, and Iwafune looks above him to see the girl hanging off his Sword of Damocles, holding onto the edge of one crossguard. A flurry of icicles pour out of the gun, dropping straight towards Iwafune. He dodges, and fires a shot straight up, aiming at the defenseless girl. Liliana’s eyes grow wide, seeing the impending death.
She then gives a confident smirk as the bullet stops, wrapped in several layers of water webbing. She gives it a light tap, and the web snaps back to its original shape, propelling the bullet downwards even as Iwafune’s Sanctum breaks the water apart. The bullet slams into the ground, barely missing Iwafune but throwing him off balance and making a large crater in the field. He manages to fire several shots, however, which all hit Liliana.
She lands more softly than she should, likely manipulating the fog to soften her landing. Regardless, she’s bleeding from several places, and Twinkle Fortune lies next to her. She starts to say something under her breath, something which sounds almost like a prayer. Iwafune grimaces as he reloads his revolver; it seems she hadn’t learned his lesson not to rely on divine aid. He stops as a gem rises from the broken water pistol, and Liliana’s voice grows louder.
“Call! Final Blitz! Prepare for the liberation of the seven seas!”
Instinctively knowing this would be bad, Iwafune hurriedly finishes reloading as she rattles off the seas of her home one by one. He levels his gun and fires twice as she yells the last one. The blue gem turns red, and his shots stopped in the air, frozen solid in his fog.
“Release the seven seas! Set free the seven swords!” Liliana yells, and her shed blood solidifies, crystalizing into seven red swords, floating in the air. “Lock on! Begin automatic target tracking! Stop him, Blood Claymore!” she yells, and the swords fly towards her foe. Iwafune snaps off four shots, each shattering one claymore, and intercepts a fifth with his gun. The other two hit their mark, however, and pierce through his right foot, nailing it to the ground. It was a flesh wound, but the Blood Claymores would not let him up.
“Bloodmerald Break!” Liliana yells, and the red gem shatters. Iwafune hurriedly manifests his Sanctum’s defense at full strength as Liliana completes her chant, holding her hand outstretched.
“King of the seven seas, Absolute Zero!”
The directed blizzard freezes the fog as it passes, and eventually hits the inner barrier of Iwafune’s Sanctum. It pushes against the invisible wall, chilling it as Iwafune channels all his power into defending against its might. The Sword of Damocles shines as it attempts to defend against Liliana’s ultimate attack, the frozen fog creating a shell of ice.
As her stamina fades, the beam sputters out, and once it thins to a needle thread the massive sword fades into fog. Liliana collapses, trying to decide whether to grin in victory or grimace in pain. After a few seconds, she struggles to her feet, looking at the small hole in the massive dome of ice. She hadn’t wanted to use her final technique, but she had no choice.
She turns around, looking for the broken Twinkle Fortune, and at that moment a bullet flies out of the hole and hits her in the back of the head, killing her instantly. Iwafune exhales and shivers, as much due to the cold as to the fight. He manifests his Sanctum again, and a pair of full-powered shots from his revolver create a path through the ice dome. He checks to see if Liliana retains a pulse, and closes her eyes as the Guarden fades, returning him to the classroom.
He uncorks a small bottle and pours it on his foot, a healing elixir left by one of the former nurses. He slips his shoe back on as the door to his classroom slams open, and both Jo and Kabutomushi run in.
“Attacked you without waiting for us,” Jo says, grimacing and looking down at her fallen friend, “But now that we’re both here… deploy Cracking Field!” she yells, and the three of them get sucked into a dark space, more open than the Guarden and with pillars surrounding it at odd angles. Iwafune sighs as he draws his revolver yet again; it seems the death game would finish today.
Ch. 11: จับปลาด้วยสองมือ
Once again, Iwafune deploys his Sanctum, calling the grey sword above his head and the fog around him. On the other side of the field, Jo, now dressed in a form-fitting – and, with her figure, eye-catching – black garment, with green stones embedded into the claws on her hand. Her left foot rests on the head of her axe, and she grasps the haft with her right. Next to her, Kabutomushi, now wearing a simple blazer and skirt instead of her usual getup, unfolds the large, two-pronged spear that she calls the Kabuto Horn.
“My, you’re overestimating this old man,” Iwafune says, smiling wryly, and extends the fog towards the pair. As it reaches them, Jo gives a small swipe with her claws, and the fog melts. Kabutomushi charges, her incredible strength sending her leaping towards Iwafune, who concentrates his Sanctum’s defenses. Kabutomushi unleashes an axe kick at full power, rattling the barrier but not breaking it. The blow sends her in the air, where she flips around and slams the Kabuto Horn into the barrier. Iwafune puts more strength into defending against the most powerful assault his defenses have taken yet, but Kabutomushi uses this as leverage to launch herself even higher.
She spins again in the air, this time aiming her forearm at the Grey King. A few drops of blood hit the barrier first, causing him to realize she’s extended her Kabuto Spikes. The steel spikes protruding from her forearm hit the barrier, which holds for a fraction of a second before shattering completely. His eyes widen in shock, and Jo takes that moment to Manipulate her muscles to their fullest extent, sending her flying across the field in an instant, axe ready to swing.
Iwafune leaps over the swing, and uses that momentum to land a roundhouse kick on Kabutomushi, who uses the force to get some distance. While in the air, he fires a shot at Jo, who anticipates this and forces her body to accelerate faster, sending her on Iwafune’s other side. He fires two enhanced shots at Kabutomushi, who manages to slow them with a pressure wave and dodges while Jo charges from his other side, axe set for an overhead swing. Iwafune infuses his fist with a Grey Aura and punches the axe off course, and then flips his gun around, now infused with the same, and slams the grip into Jo’s side, sending her reeling with pain. He steps to the side, avoiding a blow from Kabutomushi’s spear that leaves a crater in the floor and her suspended by its haft. He takes the opportunity to slam his elbow into her solar plexus, and then smashes his fist into her face.
She uses the momentum to swing her spear back up, the air pressure from the swing sending Jo back a safe distance. Iwafune jumps back to avoid a follow up, but Kabutomushi sends a palm strike his way. It falls short, but a small pocket of air sends him flipping through the air. He fires off three more shots as he flies, one to correct his spin and the other two to distract Kabutomushi and Jo while a burst of fog shrouds his landing point. He quickly reloads his revolver, cursing himself for never bringing a speedloader.
Jo slices the bullet coming for her in half, while Kabutomushi simply twists so that it glances off of the steel armor on her organs. Iwafune raises his Sanctum’s output as far as it can safely go, filling the entire field with impenetrable fog. Jo takes an experimental swing with her axe, but the dissolved sections of fog regenerate instantly.
“Can’t hit what you can’t see, eh?” Iwafune says, confidence restored as he takes potshots at the pair, who manage to dodge or deflect all six. He opens the cylinder, giving a small sigh. The most dangerous part of his fog wasn’t that it dispersed magic, nor that it obscured his enemies’ sight. It was that it didn’t obscure his. As long as he varied the intensity of his assault, paranoia would set in and his foes would act rashly.
“You know, Iwa-san,” Kabutomushi says with an insincere smile, a surefire sign that she was pissed, “Aren’t you underestimating me a bit too much♪?”
As Iwafune finishes reloading, a sudden crash resounds from where Kabutomushi is standing, as well as a massive gust of wind, enough to actually blow his fog back a bit. The woman starts to walk forward, her weapon seeming to blur as she holds it to the side. Cracks appear in the ground around her as she moves, surrounded by a windstorm. Iwafune fires a shot at her, only to hear a plink of metal as it gets deflected a few feet in front of her face.
“The famous Kabuto Slide, eh?” he says, his usual carefree smile strained, “I’m honored.”
He fires again several times, increasing the power of each shot to no avail. As she got near enough to blow his hair back with the air pressure, he puts all his power into the next shot. He fires, aiming straight at her heart.
Jo leaps over the rampaging Kabutomushi, and smashes the bullet down with her axe. She then rides the storm of wind to reach Iwafune, who throws his shield back up. Jo swings her axe with a yell, and it shatters the barrier. He ducks under the follow through, and jams the barrel of his revolver into Jo’s stomach as she grabs his shoulder. To his shock, his arm twists, pointing the gun at his own head. He re-manifests his Sanctum quickly, and the expanding barrier tosses Jo away and gives him control back over his body.
“That’s an interesting weapon you’ve got there, young lady,” he says as the three face off again, at an impasse.
“The Engine Axe Hephaestus, combined with two fragments of the Emerald Tablet. I can slay any fantasy.”
“Oi, oi. That’s cheating.”
“Can’t play fair against someone of your caliber,” Jo says, clear respect in her voice.
“I can see that,” he says, firing off a shot at Kabutomushi, who was attempting to flank him while the conversation goes on, and breaks open his gun to reload, “How about we call a truce, eh, Kabu-chan?”
“We’re the only three left, Iwa-san,” Kabutomushi says, “It’ll end up like this again.”
“That’s a shame,” Iwafune says as he finishes reloading. He fires at Kabutomushi again, who bats the shot aside while Jo charges. Iwafune puts up his barrier again, hoping to delay her long enough to strike. She swings, shattering the magic but leaving herself open. He aims, before feeling a sharp pain in his knees. Kabutomushi had taken advantage of the distraction, and had swung her spear at his kneecaps, shattering the bone and nearly tearing them off. Jo swings her axe upwards, slicing off Iwafune’s weapon arm, and Kabutomushi catches and crushes the gun as she kicks him, sending him flying across the battlefield, mortally wounded.
The older woman waves for Jo to hang back as she talks over to the dying man, slipping a flask of rum out of her sleeve. She kneels beside him, opens it, and hands him the drink.
“You know me too well, Kabu-chan,” he says with a wry smile, and takes a drink, “It may have ended up like this, but you were a good friend.”
“You were, too.”
“One last request,” Iwafune gasps, “Nagare Hisui, my foster son. Look after him, will you? Tell him I sent you, and he’ll pay whatever you wish.”
“You have a deal, Iwa-san,” Kabutomushi says, and the Grey King departs to join his Clan. Kabutomushi closes his eyes, and gets up to face Jo.
“He’s dead?” Jo asks, looking sad.
“He is. Shall we?” Kabutomushi asks, readying her weapon.
“We shall,” Jo says, taking her combat stance.
Ch. 12: Grab the Bull by Its Horns
After a breath, Jo charges in, swinging her axe towards her foe. Kabutomushi’s endurance is neigh-bottomless, so she needs to finish the fight quickly. Kabutomushi stops the blow with the haft of the Kabuto Horn, and Jo then takes a swipe with her other hand, using her Art to draw out as much strength as she can. Kabutomushi pops out her Kabuto Spikes, parrying the blow, but Jo catches her arm, and breaks out into a vicious grin. Her victory was assured; she just needed to use her Art.
Kabutomushi grabs the younger woman’s wrist and flings her away like a rag. Jo rights herself in the air, and slows her flight by digging her axe into the ground. She lands, less smoothly than she would have liked, and gives a questioning look at her foe. Her Art should have worked, but the older woman shook it off.
“You told me your art works on things with a human shape, Jo,” Kabutomushi says, mirroring her earlier smile, “How human do these make me?” she asks, pointing at the still-extended spikes.
“Damn,” Jo mutters, before launching another attack. Even if her trump card was invalidated, she could at least try to win their fight. She dashes forward, aiming her axe at Kabutomushi’s knees. As the assassin leans in to parry the attack, Jo jumps, and forces her body to contort into an overhead strike. Kabutomushi grabs the blade before it hits, and Jo uses the leverage to swing Kabutomushi up above her by the arm, and smashes her into the ground. Another swing of her axe sends Kabutomushi sailing off, heading straight for the massive clock tower that sits in the void around the arena.
Kabutomushi flies up and over the tower, just missing a grip at the top. Jo catches her breath, glaring at the tower. After a few seconds of nothing, she prepares to dismiss the field, but then she hears a crack. Her mouth drops open as the clock tower begins to topple.
Kabutomushi gives her Kabuto Horn one more shove, breaking the tower off at the base. She leaps onto it, hastening its fall as she runs along the pillar. She leaps as it crashes through the battlefield, bringing her spear down in a simple overhead strike. Jo whips her axe in the air, hitting Kabutomushi in the side. The steel plating on her organs makes the wound shallower than it should be, but sends her off course.
She breaks the ground as she lands, and throws a torso-sized piece at her foe. Jo shatters it with a swing of her axe, only to find Kabutomushi ready and waiting behind it. She jams her bident downwards, trapping Jo’s axe between the prongs and smashing it to the floor. She punches forward, her fist going clean through Jo’s solar plexus, before dislodging her spear and smashing through Jo’s neck. The woman’s head flies off, killing her instantly. As that happens, a red light blinds Kabutomushi, filling the crumbling pocket dimension.
Epilogue: A Bug’s Life
The light fades, and Kabutomushi finds herself in a large room, opposite a man in loose grey clothes, wearing a blue mask with orange linework. The man starts to clap, his body language showing no indication if it was genuine or sarcastic.
“Congratulations, Kabutomushi. You won,” he says, and her eyes grow wide as she recognizes the voice.
“You’re the organizer,” she says, “I guess this means I get to choose my reward?”
“Yes. And a compound wish won’t be granted, mind.”
“In that case, money,” she says, taking no time to think.
“A couple billion should do.”
“Hmm… US Dollars, I guess? Not too confident in the stability of the Euro and Pound right now.”
“Done,” he says, a note of amusement in his voice, “A rather banal wish, all things considered, but a wish all the same. I’ll send you back now.”
“Nice working for you,” she says, and the man waves his hand, causing the woman to fade away.
With the killings done and the beetle enriched, the man turned back to his computer, typing up a brief report of the results for those who couldn’t read, wondering briefly why a written report would alleviate that particular malady. He looks it over once finished, and presses a switch. The school reverts itself back to its initial conditions, and the only remaining evidence the battle had taken place is Kabutomushi’s newly-inflated bank account. At least until he posts the transcripts, or a certain other user messes them up trying to be helpful.
13th place: Misuzu Kusakabe, 12 points. Misuzu wasn’t the best equipped for this kind of battle. Her flashy powers and arrogant personality dragged her down in a match where keeping a low profile is a key to victory, ultimately scoring less points than Diarmuid did in JT.
12th place: Signum, 23 points. Signum, like Misuzu above, isn’t particularly well-equipped for this sort of match with her flashy powerset. She had better stealth abilities, but ultimately fell out early despite being far and away the most powerful and most skilled in direct combat, the only ones close to her being the top four. She couldn’t rely on Shamal to clear people out, which led to her discovery.
11th place: Cole MacGrath, 36 points. Cole’s powers also attract attention, but unlike Misuzu or Signum Good Cole is a fairly nice person, allowing him to gain acquaintances whose presence would protect him. He’s ultimately, however, not smart, ruthless, or powerful enough to truly utilize any of his advantages.
10th place: Junichiro Tanizaki, 48 points. Tanizaki ultimately makes it here based purely on his stealth powers, which allow him to go undetected. Unfortunately for him, his lack of any other combat abilities and genial attitude prevents him from breaking out of double digits. If the scenario had allowed him a partner, in this case Naomi, he likely would have gotten farther simply due to having a motivation to fight.
9th place: Black Dandelion, 52 points. Black Dandelion was ultimately underestimated, as its powers force it to stay undetected for long periods of time, and the zombies it creates have the advantage of either numbers or powers. It was a little too far out of left field for voters to properly categorize.
Maybe I should use the Army Ants from Arachnid if I do another one of these
8th place: Kazuma Yagami, 53 points. Kazuma makes it pretty far based on his powers and ability to conceal himself, but his general personality placed him in a vulnerable position. Being an arrogant ass, even if you can back it up, leads to being isolated and in a good position to get shanked.
If Skully had bumped BD up one more place he could have had a better death
7th place: Antonina Antonovna Nikitina, 62 points. Tonia makes it a bit farther than Kazuma due to having a stealthier powerset, but she’s a stealth and infiltration specialist, not a combatant. Everyone above her is either better at stealth, is more powerful, or can access pocket dimensions to fight at full power without being discovered.
6th place: Akiha Tohno, 83 points. Akiha, despite her isolating personality, has strong enough and stealthy enough powers to defend herself without it being obvious that she’s a killer. Ultimately, the only competitor who can actually see what she’s doing is Jo, which got her pretty far. What holds her back, however, is her naivete in such situations, being more used to straight attacks with overwhelming force than assassinations.
5th place: Nana Hiiragi, 84 points. Nana gets the top five for being sneaky, efficient, and creative. Despite not having any powers at all, she’s more than capable of murdering people who can control time through sheer guile. Unfortunately for her, everyone else above her can see through her tricks or are more practiced with them, with the notable exception of Iwafune.
4th place: Liliana Guenther, 107 points. While Lun Lun is one of the most powerful combatants here, likely able to give Signum a fair fight, she’s ultimately a poor match for the top three. Iwafune and Jo can both reduce or nullify her magic, her main source of attack and defense, while Kabutomushi can power through it. She loses not because she’s bad at any of this, in fact she’s one of the best, but because the other ones who make it this far counter her abilities.
3rd place: Tenkei Iwafune, 111 points. Iwafune has a great skillset and personality for this match. While it’s easy to notice when he’s using his powers thanks to the Sword of Damocles, his abilities are entirely defensive. His reliance on mundane methods of attack give him a stealth advantage, and he’s third overall in terms of direct combat ability out of all the combatants. He gains third because his passive attitude means he won’t even be trying to participate until near the end, letting everyone else come to him, and his abilities nullify the forms of attack of almost all the other contestants.
2nd place: Josephine March, 119 points. Jo gets second due to a powerful combination of techniques. She can detect lies, and thus tell when others are attempting to deceive her, she can access a pocket dimension to fight without worry, and her weapons negate magic. She’s a natural counter to everyone except Nana and Kabutomushi, as all their abilities are some form of magic. This, combined with her ability to manipulate her body and those she comes in contact with, propelled her to second place.
1st place: Kabutomushi, 123 points. Kabutomushi won this
because I pulled for her pretty hard due to her incredibly mundane powerset. Her ability is incredibly simple but incredibly potent, and her skills as a professional assassin also win her the day. She was able to stay under the radar, form alliances due to her genial personality, and fight off anyone who comes at her. She ranks fourth in terms of combat ability purely because she doesn’t have any magic. Her monstrous strength more than makes up for that, however, and she is able to easily overpower anyone who doesn’t have plothax.
See Epilogue in the battle