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Hexennacht - Chapter 1

js06 Feb 26th, 2015 (edited) 748 Never
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  1. Clash of Hexennacht – Chapter 1
  2.  
  3. In Kagami’s mind, combat was no easy task.
  4. To fight, one needed the appropriate skills such as decision-making and a powerful build. On top of that, one had to train and train some more.
  5. After that, one needed equipment, to maintain that equipment, to learn how to use it, and to continue training with it.
  6. But after spending years of effort and lots of money, one would earn one of two things: victory or defeat. One wrong step and death was even possible.
  7. …The risk is great.
  8. However, there was occasionally reason enough to take on that risk.
  9. “Peace and safety. The acquisition and preservation thereof. Does your attempt to eliminate me come from that desire for stability? …Most notably from the preservation of order, I would assume.”
  10. Her question was answered with sparks.
  11. Armored men stood before her. About half of them had collapsed, but the remaining ones were quite skilled.
  12. Even now, they were attacking her with giant jitte-shaped weapons.
  13. “Who the hell are you!?”
  14. “I believe I already named myself. But I am new to this place.”
  15. And…
  16. “You are attempting to capture a small creature and you are attacking a newcomer. I too feel a desire to play with an adorable little life when I come across one, so I am not about to hand it over. Is that not how you feel?”
  17. “Is this any time for that!?”
  18. “It is!!” declared Kagami. “I was showing my love for this small animal, but you suddenly attacked us! So you have an obligation to answer my questions about small animals!”
  19. “That’s-…”
  20. “Do you like small animals?” asked Kagami even as the attacks sent sparks flying from the giant sword in her hands. “Aren’t dogs, cats, and even rodents great? Cats are especially ideal. You know the wonderful feeling when you crouch down in front of them and they interact with you, don’t you?”
  21. “D-dammit! So what if I do!?”
  22. “Then,” she said. “I saw it in the newspaper, but it seems people have started paying with their cats by creating frames on the floor for them to climb inside.”
  23. “So what!? I’ve never done that!”
  24. “That is not what I was trying to say.”
  25. Their weapons were locked together and Kagami lightly pulled hers back and spoke quietly.
  26. “When the cat refuses to enter the frame, you feel like picking it up and putting it inside yourself, but that would just be rude, wouldn’t it?”
  27. “Kh!”
  28. “And when small animals do what we want, we sometimes count it as our own accomplishment. …That is wrong, isn’t it?”
  29. “W-what does that-…”
  30. He never managed to get out the word “matter”.
  31. His weapon burst into scattering light.
  32. In that instant, his servant was tossed into the space his weapon had occupied.
  33. It was a light spirit. The small ball was immediately returned to the spell circle that was rotating in midair. Kagami’s sword had been locked with that man’s weapon, but that weapon was gone now.
  34. “I see.”
  35. Kagami spoke as she swung her own weapon through.
  36. “Your weapons are an alternate use of those things you call servants, but as weapons, they are based on your own belief. When faced with a contradiction, they cannot maintain their form.”
  37. She made a slashing strike. Except this was a sword with a cannon encased inside. The first shot embedded in her opponent’s armor and destroyed it as he was sent flying back.
  38. …I have to avoid slamming them into the ground.
  39. She had no intention of killing them.
  40. She had no intention of losing them.
  41. There was another opponent who would force her hand as far as that was concerned.
  42. But for now…
  43. “Let me ask.”
  44. Kagami watched her opponents’ movements. They quickly stepped forward to suppress her in waves, so she continued attacking as she asked a question.
  45.  
  46. Kagami held her five meter sword and observed the approaching enemies.
  47. “These are made of ether. They use a servant and they take training, knowledge, and – most importantly – belief to use. Their biggest advantage is…”
  48. She looked to her enemy and their three meter weapons created with the same system. No, her own weapon had simply been created by copying how their weapons had been ejected and given form.
  49. She smiled a bit when she saw no waver in their attack stances.
  50. …Well done.
  51. They were a well-regulated organization. Not only were the soldiers this well-trained, but…
  52. “The biggest advantage of these weapons is that they can be preserved as long as the spell user’s belief is not broken, their life is not ended, and their ether supply is not cut off. And since they are an embodiment of a spell, their ammunition never needs to be resupplied as long as the ether is maintained. These are a type of invincible weapon.”
  53. The enemy arrived. The three in the lead slammed their jitte-shaped weapons against her.
  54. They came from either side, above, and below. A mid-level jab came from directly ahead. None of them left their jitte sword-breakers level. Each individual attacked with a height difference.
  55. They created a wall.
  56. The key to it all was the one in the center. His jab arrived soonest.
  57. Whether she moved up, down, left, or right to avoid it, the other jitte strikes would reach her.
  58. The only way to stop this charge was to take out that central man, but that was not easy when he was hidden by a three meter weapon.
  59. The three men were working together quite well. And…
  60. …To the left and right as well.
  61. Two similar groups were rushing in to surround her.
  62. Behind those groups of three, Kagami saw the remaining men gliding along low to the ground and raising their jitte as shields. Rectangular spell circles taller than the jitte stood out from their surface and had the word “defense” written inside them.
  63. Kagami guessed they were determined to prevent any damage from escaping this battle.
  64. In that case…
  65. “What is the meaning of this?”
  66. She moved forward.
  67. The central jab arrived ahead of the left and right jitte strikes, but she did not care.
  68. She held her sword horizontally and dropped it down from the hilt.
  69. Before the diagonally lowered sword’s pommel hit the ground, she stepped on it with the heel of her boot.
  70. “What are all of you doing?”
  71. The sword stood up diagonally and the tip tore into the jabbing jitte from below.
  72. It hit the bottom of the sword-breaker portion. The thick blade struck it and sent a steel sound racing out.
  73. It hit and broke it.
  74. The jitte was not cut, scraped, or severed. It was simply broken. The sword-breaker portion came off at the base, leaving the jitte in two pieces.
  75. A metallic sound rang out and the light spirit vanished into the spell circle.
  76. A moment later, Kagami’s sword reached the armored uniform of the man wielding the jabbing jitte.
  77. The sword’s pommel dug into the ground and the tip drilled into his chest armor from below, just like a pike. The fibers woven below the armor’s hardened plastic snapped and the armor broke. His decelerated body collided with the thick blade.
  78. “…!”
  79. His body was tossed upwards because Kagami had kicked up the pommel from below.
  80. The hilt rose, making the sword horizontal once more, and she thrust the large sword forward. The width of the blade was thicker than the jitte coming in through the center, but…
  81. …This is enough space to escape the attacks on the left and right!
  82. Kagami stepped forward as if pulled on by the sword.
  83. She made it through.
  84. Men in armored uniforms swung their jitte on either side of her. She swung her large sword backwards and spun it around to face the gap between them.
  85. “Fire.”
  86. If this weapon operated on one’s belief, she knew her thoughts would be able to reach it.
  87. She immediately heard mechanical sounds coming from her hands.
  88. The movement was slow, so she decided she had not quite gotten the hang of using this equipment. At the moment, the sword began to transform, the blade split down the center, and…
  89. “The main cannon has appeared, has it?”
  90. Just as she passed the enemy, she fired the cannon backwards.
  91.  
  92. …She’s even created a firing form!?
  93. Koutarou, the young man leading the men in armored uniforms, saw the girl’s shellfire from head on.
  94. He heard a tremendous noise and light seemed to explode outward.
  95. However…
  96. “A blank!?”
  97. It had been a powerful blast. The defense team’s defense barriers had their surfaces washed away and had to regain their light, so the attack was on the level of a ranker. However…
  98. “————”
  99. The blank explosion blew away the two who had passed her by on either side.
  100. They had been in the middle of swinging their jitte. They had likely intended to move forward and avoid any follow-up attacks while rotating their jitte around into a defensive stance.
  101. However, the girl had not overlooked that.
  102. She had attacked their backs. And instead of firing a shell, she had used a compression cannon that primarily fired a shockwave.
  103. Koutarou doubted she was unable to create a shell. She had simply lowered the front-end acceleration inside the acceleration barrel and slammed a high-speed “explosion” at them from behind.
  104. A shell would have been better.
  105. With a shell, she would have had to target one or the other of them. The explosive blast when it was fired may have shaken the other, but that would have been angled away instead of a direct hit.
  106. However, a targeted blank blast was very bad. As for how it was bad…
  107. “Left and right, spread out!”
  108. The explosive blast sent their own jitte slamming into them and the two of them flew through the air. Their speed was already past the limits of their armor’s hardening mechanism. Unable to control it, they were tossed helplessly through the air.
  109. And they ended up colliding with the two groups trying to surround the girl on the left and right.
  110. “Dammit!” shouted someone from the right group. “I was getting excited surrounding an unknown witch, but all I get is a guy thrown at me!?”
  111. Meanwhile, the guy in question collided with three men who caught him. The sound of armor striking armor was surprisingly light and the same pattern occurred on both sides.
  112. “Spread out!”
  113. The three who caught the airborne man moved in unison to leave the center.
  114. Koutarou immediately saw the group on the right knocked flying.
  115. It happened in an instant.
  116. The girl named Kagami had charged straight into that group.
  117. She had followed the path of the flying man, but something was not right about her immediate reaction.
  118. …Does that blank cannon not have recoil!?
  119. Koutarou had already seen the answer to his question.
  120. The sword had jumped backwards from the cannon blast, but she had held it in both hands and pressed it against her right shoulder.
  121. “There.”
  122. And she had swung it around.
  123. She had used the recoil for a large rotating swing. She had spun like a top on one heel, but she had also leaned backwards for a splendid horizontal swing.
  124. “Is that where you are?” she had asked while adding direction to the swing.
  125. She had planted her other heel to transform her rotation into a charge. As her sword tore through the air, it had accurately followed the soldier who flew to the right.
  126. The problem was the three who had tried to catch that man.
  127. The girl had accurately sent her sword in directly below him, so they briefly hesitated.
  128. That turned out to be a mistake.
  129. The sword’s speed allowed it to slip below him as he flew.
  130. The thick tip struck the man in the center. He gave up on catching his fellow soldier and held his jitte up to guard.
  131. Koutarou heard two low sounds resembling wind instruments.
  132. The sword’s tip pierced the jitte.
  133. It passed through his guard and knocked him backwards. A moment later, Koutarou saw the sword perform a vertical half-rotation.
  134. It opened up for a cannon blast and the mechanism reconfigured itself faster than before.
  135. “Spread out!”
  136. The blank cannon fired as if helping them obey his command.
  137. The men on the left and right were blown away and the airborne man fell head-first.
  138. “…!”
  139. However, he flipped around and managed to plant his feet on the ground, even if he was leaning back quite a bit.
  140. By that time, the arc of light had already drawn a large ring. Just like before, the sword flew in a splendid horizontal swing.
  141. Her new target was the left group.
  142. She transferred her rotation into an attack, a great sound of impact pounded into Koutarou’s ears, and he heard a voice.
  143. It belonged to the girl going by the name Kagami Kagami.
  144. “What is the meaning of this?”
  145. Even as she attacked and swept them away, she asked about the battle itself rather than them.
  146. “Why do you need this kind of equipment!?”
  147.  
  148. Kagami asked her question while sweeping away the enemy, competing with them, and pushing them back.
  149. “This equipment can be reproduced with ether, it can be carried around without worrying about its weight or volume, and it requires no refueling or reloading as long as you maintain your belief and have ether.”
  150. What would something like that lead to?
  151. “If there was a war, it could easily destroy a nation, if not the entire world.”
  152. But…
  153. “But from the looks of this city, you live in peace. The people are kind and filled with life. …That is a contradiction.”
  154. She moved forward as she spoke.
  155. “So I ask you.”
  156. Kagami Kagami asked her question while striking the enemy before her and opening a path.
  157. “What are you all so afraid of?”
  158. She swung her weapon, fired it, and asked.
  159. “You have this powerful equipment and you are protecting this city and its people. So why are you weaponizing small lives and keeping them ready for combat?”
  160. Why?
  161. “What fills you with such fear and need for protection!?”
  162.  
  163. Koutarou wondered what this witch was.
  164. Should he call her ignorant or foolish?
  165. How could she ask why they had developed these weapons and why they worked with the witches to protect the world?
  166. “You can see the answer all around you.”
  167. Yet she was saying she did not understand.
  168. However, her question was related to their “normal” everyday life, so he felt it had to be the truth.
  169. “Commander!”
  170. Koutarou saw the men taking defensive stances in front of him raise their hips while leaning forward.
  171. “We just received an order to evacuate this area!”
  172.  
  173. Evacuate.
  174. Koutarou understood what that meant: they could not win here.
  175. …A witch just has so much more attack power than a male spell user!
  176. Female spells were active ones that specialized in attack and repelling.
  177. Male spells were passive ones that specialized in defense and buffering.
  178. Most importantly, the active spells allowed girls to interact with servants.
  179. Modern times had introduced artificial servants and the performance of male defense spells had vastly improved, but…
  180. “That girl is at ranker level! I don’t understand how she could eject just a Normal Device without a servant and then swing it around like that, but she definitely has the ability needed to produce a Normal Form and complete a full Frame!”
  181. “But we should still be able to restrain her when working together.”
  182. The rest of the team lifted the corners of their mouth.
  183. “I forgot to mention it, but we might need to add the word “top” in front of “ranker”. Besides…”
  184. The man activated several spells along with the others and switched his armor’s mobile functions to high-speed combat mode. He used his fingers to hit the “allow” button on a few spell circles.
  185. “Look around you. That girl is fighting us, but she hasn’t done anything that would kill us. Really, she’s just been leading us around.”
  186. “I understand that she has no hostility toward us. However, I have deemed her dangerous because she opposes our regulations for handling servants and she has produced a Normal Device without a servant.”
  187. And if she did not want any further damage to result from this battle…
  188. “She understands we are only fighting due the obligations of our position.”
  189. “Do you know why she’s fighting?”
  190. He did.
  191. “Her question.”
  192. While clashing with their unit, she had expressed her anger toward how they were fighting here. That was likely her reason to fight.
  193. They did not understand why she was fighting and she did not understand why they were fighting.
  194. She had asked them, but…
  195. “We cannot truly answer that question.”
  196. “Then what do we do?”
  197. “We endure. Classes are still in session. This is a time of day when any question is sure to receive an answer.”
  198. So…
  199. “An answerer is sure to arrive. A top ranker witch will arrive to answer her question.”
  200. “Then,” said the others.
  201. They all stepped back and put some distance between themselves and the non-standard witch named Kagami.
  202. They held their jitte vertically and activated spell circles to reestablish their reinforcement spells.
  203. “Who do you think is stronger? Her or our young lady?”
  204. “The young lady has no reason to lose.”
  205. “Then,” said the others again. “Is it our job to test that!?”
  206. “It is!”
  207. Koutarou swung his hand.
  208. He spoke to Kagami who held her sword in a lowered position while surrounded.
  209. “Listen!”
  210. He did not entirely understand his opponent, the situation, or the escaped servant.
  211. However, he felt a strange emotion deep in his gut.
  212. …This opponent.
  213. If she would question the most obvious facts of their situation…
  214. …Will she act as a powerful medicine against all of our problems?
  215. “We have no obligation and no right to answer your question.”
  216. “Does that mean someone else can answer it?”
  217. “It does,” he said. “But you are dangerous and we do not understand your strength. So if someone is coming to answer you, it will be the one ranked 4th in the world.”
  218. “Let me say that I am prepared to open the way forward on my own.” Kagami then smiled slightly. “My reason for fighting has finally gotten through to you, has it?”
  219. She took a single step forward and then a second. The man in front of Koutarou reacted by giving the hand signal for “fall back”.
  220. Koutarou was to arrange to have the area evacuated.
  221. He was worried about the others, but all of them lifted the corners of their mouths.
  222. “C’mon, let’s do this. We’re a decent enough challenge for a double-digit ranker.”
  223. “But only when we’re working as a group and only when they’re alone and limited to the ground.”
  224. “Still, we can achieve measurable results.”
  225. “We’re the world’s barrier,” said one.
  226. “Yeah,” said another. “We won’t let her through. And if she can, then we’ll accept her.”
  227. “That’s right,” said a third. “And if she gets past us, it would have to be above. …I wish she was wearing a skirt, but I’m not about to criticize a girl’s fashion.”
  228. “Sorry about that,” said Kagami in her pantsuit and shoes.
  229. She nodded and began moving with a light step.
  230. “I am counting on you, gentlemen.”
  231. She raised her weapon.
  232. “And I am thankful.”
  233.  
  234. Everyone saw a small light in the western sky out the window.
  235. They sat inside a stepped classroom with a high ceiling.
  236. The girls’ turned to the oblong window and some scanned the scene with spell circles. Clapping hands reached them from the teacher’s podium.
  237. “Everyone, we have been falling behind lately, so try to pay attention. Even if Shihouin Academy is meant to instruct witches, it’s still a high school. If you fall behind in your lessons, I’ll get in trouble and you won’t be prepared for your written and practical exams.”
  238. Some people replied “yes, ma’am” and others silently obeyed and focused on the teacher again.
  239. However, one girl raised her hand.
  240. “Um, will they be okay?”
  241. “Just now, a notification was sent out that a location-undesignated S-rank battle has begun in the corresponding area,” quietly replied the teacher. “The people have been evacuated and it seems the cause is being guided to an external area of ruins. This is not a problem.”
  242. “No,” said the girl who had raised her hand. “Um, I was talking about the opponent.”
  243. “The opponent is probably a stray witch,” said someone else. “Powerful unregistered witches are usually scouted by U.A.H. or the school. But when Horinouchi is sent out…”
  244. Everyone reached a single conclusion.
  245. “They tend to be disciplined in some flashy way.”
  246. The teacher could only nod in agreement. She pushed up her glasses and finally opened her mouth.
  247. “What’s wrong with that?”
  248. A light appeared in the western sky as she spoke.
  249. “No matter how strong or harsh they may be, our history and destiny suggest it isn’t enough.”
  250.  
  251. By the time Horinouchi arrived at the scene, it was filled with wreckage and the wind blew about scattered ether light.
  252. These were ruins.
  253. If one travelled a little northeast along the coast of the bay, one would arrive at modern ruins even along the rivers.
  254. Horinouchi found several familiar faces collapsed at the entrance to such a place.
  255. “Everyone!”
  256. They were on a wide road. Long ago, it had apparently continued even further west.
  257. Men wearing shattered armored uniforms stood on either side of the road.
  258. Horinouchi had received a report on her way here and the individual described therein spoke up.
  259. “Oh? A new challenger?”
  260. Instead of simply wearing a suit, the girl’s clothes had a tight style reminiscent of riding clothes. She turned toward Horinouchi.
  261. “That movement was quite sudden. Was it an Instant Step?”
  262. She had seen through it.
  263. However, Horinouchi had not let that show in the moment of her arrival. So was this girl bluffing? Or…
  264. …Did she see the ether movement of a mobility spell?
  265. To make extra certain her approach would not be detected, Horinouchi had travelled the last distance on foot. However, this girl had detected in a way she had not imagined.
  266. “Who are you?”
  267. “Is there something odd about me?”
  268. Horinouchi glared at her and raised her right hand to point.
  269. “That.”
  270. The girl noticed the pure white Normal Device she held.
  271. It was a large sword. According to the report, it could fire a cannon built inside it.
  272. However, Horinouchi noticed something strange now that she had seen it for herself.
  273. “That Normal Device.”
  274. “Those guys were making a fuss over it too, but is summoning this thing really so strange? I think they said something about needing a servant to do it.”
  275. Something seemed off about the girl’s comment, but Horinouchi was mostly mildly irritated by it.
  276. …This is odd.
  277. She knew what the girl was saying, but she could not understand it.
  278. She did not know what the girl meant by it.
  279. She was saying she had summoned a Normal Device without a servant, but that made no sense. That was not how summoning a Normal Device worked.
  280. So…
  281. “Suzaku.”
  282. A small red bird appeared on her right shoulder. It was an information entity. It had a highly simplified form to avoid exhausting itself, but as a spirit, it still corresponded to the Suzaku of the Four Divine Beasts.
  283. It was the guardian deity of the Horinouchi Shrine that she managed and it had lived there since ancient times.
  284. The Suzaku was puffing its chest out proudly. The bird was usually the cool type that did little to assert its presence, but it seemed to be in high spirits today. In that case…
  285. “Let’s go.”
  286. “This is all happening so suddenly again.”
  287. There was no point in responding to the girl. The girl had destroyed one of the defense units that were essentially under her direct control. They could defeat a double-digit ranker, but they had been utterly devastated here. And if none of them were badly injured…
  288. …She’s equal to a high level ranker!
  289. But was it possible for someone this skilled to exist outside the organization at a time like this?
  290. …Based on what I can see here, it must be true.
  291. That thought made her tremble.
  292. She had no choice but to accept reality. Whether it was painful, unreasonable, a great division, or anything else, it was happening before her eyes. So…
  293. “Summon Normal Frame!”
  294.  
  295. Kagami felt her skin tremble at the girl who had appeared before her.
  296. The ether and the ley lines were taking that girl’s side. She could instinctually tell that the foundations of the world were obeying the other girl more than her. And she knew what system one used to make all forces obey them.
  297. “A spell!”
  298. People made those so the world would obey them.
  299. A power greater than the weapon Kagami held raced around the girl.
  300. It was light.
  301. Several spell circles opened inside it. They were vermilion. Several words scrolled across the circular display decorated with maple leaves and the red bird on the girl’s shoulder gave a single cry.
  302. “…!”
  303. The bird vanished into the light.
  304. The ringing of a bell filled the air. But instead of the light jingle of a small bell, this was the clanking of a large metal bell at a Shinto shrine. The ringing spread out as if setting up a barrier of sound and the girl spread her arms in the center.
  305. A moment later, she brought her hands together in front of her.
  306. A solid clap left them.
  307. In an instant, her clothes scattered into the sound. But by the time they did, spell circles enveloped her to the point of hiding her body.
  308. “———”
  309. After another clap, small collections of mechanical components appeared on different parts of the girl’s body.
  310. Kagami guessed they were engines made of ether.
  311. She was right.
  312. The engines consumed ether to spin and they accelerated the ley lines that supported her. The spiraling light was pressurized and it wrapped around her body.
  313. “Oh? You can construct armor and reinforced engines too? That is a splendid mental presentation.”
  314. The girl created heavy armor and clothing. An especially solid part was ejected from the legs to assist in flight and as a point of support when wielding a large weapon.
  315. The engines were contained inside and it was all powered by ether. Thousands of bolts made of ether were ejected into the air and they drove into each part of her equipment to hold it in place.
  316. The sound reverberated outward.
  317. Kagami did not overlook the single spell circle that opened in the center as if to be stored in the girl’s chest.
  318. It contained a heart-shaped indicator and it was likely the central system for her ether equipment.
  319. Kagami managed to read the mirror-image writing in the spell circle.
  320. It said “Phlogiston Heart System”.
  321. “I see.”
  322. The ringing of the bell began to fade and the wall of light thinned. A girl wielding a massive bowgun was revealed just about to leave the barrier.
  323. On her upper body, the clothing stood out more than the armor, but the giant arms and legs were meant for swift and heavy combat.
  324. She slowly raised her head and looked toward Kagami.
  325. Sensing that the battle would begin soon, Kagami breathed in.
  326. “I see.”
  327. A realization came to her.
  328. She had been mistaken about something.
  329. She had been right in assuming the sword she held was the primary form of weapons in this world, but…
  330. …It is large and it has a way of swinging you around.
  331. She had assumed they had some system for lightening their weapons, but that was wrong.
  332. “So you’re meant to swing these things around only after creating an armored outfit and reinforced engines out of ether like you just did.”
  333. And at the center of it all was the spell circle contained inside the girl’s chest armor.
  334. “Phlogiston Heart. Could you call that a burning belief? I suppose that is the core of the spell and the part that manages the presentation. Then if I follow your rules…”
  335. Kagami threw her sword into the sky and prepared her stance.
  336. …It is probably my limbs and awareness of my heart that matter.
  337. As she thought, the sword fell from the sky. The hilt was pointed up and the blade down. The tip of the massive blade produced a sound of destruction as it stabbed into the ground.
  338. Immediately afterwards, Kagami raised her voice.
  339. “Summon Normal Frame. …That is how it works, right?”
  340.  
  341. “Teacher, I’m detecting a large-scale ley line vibration in the eastern ruins. No, two of them!”
  342. A girl in the classroom spoke while holding up a crystal pendant.
  343. Similarly, another girl raised her head.
  344. “The special equipment, spell, and honors divisions are worried too. There’s a stir running through our unique ether. The servants are probably causing a commotion right now.”
  345. However, the previous girl’s report pointed to a certain fact.
  346. “The stray witch summoned a Normal Device, too?”
  347. A clap answered that question. It came from the teacher on the podium. She looked up at the students and spoke.
  348. “A Normal Frame is a general term referring to both the Normal Device weapon and the Normal Form clothing, but that equipment is a manifestation of the summoner’s mind created with a servant’s power.”
  349. And…
  350. “The engine system that supports the Frame is controlled by the Phlogiston Heart we all possess. In that case, it would be entirely possible for this stray witch to summon the same sort of system. She only needs to possess a witch’s heart, the Phlogiston Heart that allows one to alter the world as they see fit.”
  351.  
  352. Horinouchi saw the girl summon a Normal Frame. No, she had already summoned a Device, so she was only summoning a Normal Form.
  353. But even as she watched it happen right in front of her, she could not believe it. The engine system and everything else were included and the armor was attached, but…
  354. “You can summon an entire Normal Frame without a servant!?”
  355. “I’ve been wondering. Can you not?”
  356. “The only one who can do that is-…”
  357. She was cut off by a single spell circle appearing in the girl’s chest armor.
  358. It was decorated with Greek characters that said “Burning Belief”.
  359. It was not actually a Phlogiston Heart System, but it must have filled the same role.
  360. …Did she watch my summoning and copy it?
  361. That is insane, thought Horinouchi. I’ve never come across anyone like this before.
  362. And this was more than an unintentional copy.
  363. During her summoning, the multiple spells Horinouchi had used had pulled the ley lines and ether toward her. All of that was released when she ended the summoning and this girl had targeted that instant.
  364. A Normal Device was a weapon made of ether.
  365. The girl’s was stabbed into the ground.
  366. Ley lines flowed through all space, but their concentration was especially dense underground. The ether blade must have acted as a keystone to the ley lines gathered there and thus supplied her with power.
  367. On top of that, she summoned the engines. To directly take in the ether and ley lines she had gathered, the ether engines had used the “mold” left by the departing ley lines and ether.
  368. In other words, she had intentionally copied Horinouchi.
  369. She had already created her Device, so she had only summoned the Form. That cut down the time required.
  370. So by the time she knocked her fists together…
  371. “I have borrowed a lot for this match, but will this work?”
  372. She had done a splendid job.
  373. The Normal Form was symmetrical. She had directly used a portion of Horinouchi’s system, but…
  374. “If you think this is not fair, I can release it.”
  375. “The Phlogiston Heart System is meant for any witch above a certain level. You can tune the engines for your own needs, but everyone uses one of a few basic models. If modelling yours after that is unfair, then I too am not playing fair.”
  376. “What do you mean by that?”
  377. Horinouchi was confused.
  378. She had been expecting a sign of comprehension such as “I see” or “understood”, but that was not what she got.
  379. …How can she ask what I mean?
  380. As she had said, the Phlogiston Heart System did more than simply create a weapon out of ether. It first created engines out of ether so they could strengthen what came later. The engines provided the power assistance needed to complete one’s equipment. And after it was complete, the engines were used to increase the output of the equipment.
  381. “I mean the days of merely creating a weapon from ether and wielding them with brute strength are long gone.”
  382. Her opponent did not respond.
  383. She simply stared at Horinouchi and inhaled.
  384. She intended to move.
  385. The Suzaku appeared on Horinouchi’s shoulder and gave a powerful cry.
  386. Was it meant to warn Horinouchi or intimidate her opponent? Either way, the sharp cry was higher-pitched than any Horinouchi had heard before.
  387. …Just like that night ten years ago.
  388. So she too breathed in and named herself. This was a battle between witches. She doubted it would be listed in the official records, but she raised her Normal Device regardless.
  389. “I am Horinouchi Mitsuru, Student Council President of Shihouin Academy and #4 in the world witch rankings. My combat style is "Shrine Maiden". I challenge you to an official match.”
  390. “This just sounds bloody. So what is mine?”
  391. It was obvious at a glance. Then again, a Normal Form was a representation of that person’s heart.
  392. Horinouchi simply spoke the name of the designation she assumed it was from its appearance alone.
  393. “Holy Knight-style. I believe that is rather old design.”
  394. “I guess the previous stuff is influencing it. Oh, well. Thanks.”
  395. The girl showed off a small smile.
  396. It was not a false smile. Her honest thanks could be seen in it.
  397. “Horinouchi, you can deal with my affiliation and whatever on your own. …At any rate, I will accept your challenge as a chance to study.”
  398. She slowly opened her mouth.
  399. “My name is Kagami Kagami. I hope you will remember it.”
  400.  
  401. A barrier covered the classroom window.
  402. It was a thick shutter. Each individual panel of armor was fairly large, but its physical defensive ability was less important than the multiple defense spell system incorporated into the inside.
  403. The insides of the classroom walls were covered in a system equivalent to the shutter. The classroom grew dark and reinforcing and buffering control spells appeared in the four corners of the ceiling and floor as well as in a few other places.
  404. “This will allow us to endure a Magino Frame attack while inside the classroom. Similar spell defense barriers will have risen in places along Tokyo Bay’s coast to protect the people there.”
  405. As the teacher spoke, noises shook the classroom.
  406. They were located on the bay, so the noise reached them after echoing off the massive ocean surface.
  407. “That’s the sound of the air being split,” said someone while staring up into the unseen sky.
  408. Someone else bent their fingers to count.
  409. “It’s moving at over 200 meters per second. If they’re doing this immediately after summoning their Normal, I wish I’d napped in the courtyard instead of going to class. I could have seen an air battle between top rankers.”
  410. “Wait.”
  411. One of them spoke behind one of the stepped classroom’s desks so the teacher would not notice.
  412. “My dad’s outside and he just told me the stray witch’s combat style is Holy Knight. But I thought that style couldn’t do aerial battles.”
  413. “Witches are all about exceptions to the rules,” someone whispered back.
  414. Two loud rumbles shook the ceiling and they all shrugged.
  415. “Holy Knight equipment is slow and old and they can never find the right person for it, so how is someone using that in an aerial battle against the Suzaku shrine maiden?”
  416. “C’mon, everyone. You can find exceptions everywhere and in everything,” said the teacher after looking up at the rising rumble and reverberation. “A witch’s Frame is a manifestation of the summoner’s mind created with a servant’s power.”
  417. Realizing the teacher had heard them, the girls either put up their guard or sighed, but one of them asked a question.
  418. “But, teacher. Why are they modeled after the equipment used by different ancient professions? I’d like to freely design one into something more fashionable.”
  419. “That is to raise the manifestation of the presentation and increase how active it is afterwards. The historical ‘forms’ have their reasons. Don’t tell me you wanted to fight the Black Witch in a night dress. Listen.”
  420. As she spoke, new sounds joined the reverberation of the air: sounds of clashing metal and blasting air.
  421. “Sword fighting and cannon fire.”
  422. “Yes.” The teacher nodded. “The basic design of the Normal Frame is the weapon based in the user’s mind and beliefs and the equipment based on their occupation. I’m sure anyone in the ranker class is entirely focused on strengthening and retouching them.”
  423. So…
  424. “I don’t know about this stray witch, but it is certain that Miss Horinouchi has the upper hand as far as building up one’s Frame is concerned.”
  425. The teacher did not stop there.
  426. “But even if your rank is lower than hers, you still have a role on Hexennacht. You understand how likely that is after the tragedy ten years ago, don’t you?”
  427. Everyone stiffened at that question.
  428. They heard a cannon fired far overhead. The splitting of the air now sounded like distant thunder.
  429. “You will receive the most support from your servant. The individual servant determines the coloration of your equipment, but be careful if you choose a servant for fashion reasons. A servant has a symbiotic relationship with its witch, so you cannot swap it out. If you do end up with a servant partner that creates a color you don’t like…”
  430. One of the students raised her hand while looking up into the sky.
  431. Despite the battle overhead, this was still class time, so there was something else they needed to focus on.
  432. “We’ve already started working towards opposing Hexennacht, but…”
  433. The girl turned her back on the shuttered window as she spoke.
  434. “If there is a problem with our equipment, we can hurry over to the clothing division and ask them to find a way to modify the design. For a servant’s idiosyncrasies, we need to get a breeder to fix it.”
  435. “Yes.”
  436. The teacher nodded and made sure she and the students were focused on her again.
  437. “During my generation’s Hexennacht, we were told ‘that kind of selfishness’ was not allowed, but this is a much nicer age.”
  438. “Then,” said one student while raising her hand.
  439. She was the one who had received a report from her father earlier and she leaned forward as she asked a question.
  440. “Teacher, is it possible to summon a Frame without a servant?”
  441. “It is said only one person can do that.”
  442. After looking across all of her students, the teacher continued.
  443. “Only the Black Witch, mankind’s fated enemy who sealed herself in the moon, the source of this world’s magic power, and left Hexennacht as an assignment for us.”
  444.  
  445. Kagami was amazed at how clear the air was.
  446. It was early summer, but the air was chilly. Of course, she was over ten kilometers up. Also, there was a reason she was able to fly and focus on her fighting.
  447. “I see. The engines supporting this outfit take care of the protective spells the spell user would normally have to cast.”
  448. She saw Tokyo Bay down below. A school was located at the center of its deep shape.
  449. She had heard that school raised witches.
  450. However…
  451. …Around it.
  452. Tokyo was destroyed.
  453. Occupied villages were visible on the southwest side of Tokyo Bay and heading toward the Yokohama region and she could see the air wavering from the smoke and heat of people living there.
  454. But a quick turn to the north and everything changed.
  455. A giant crater existed around Shinjuku and it had become a lake. Several other smaller holes decorated the ruined metropolis. In places, diagonal gashes cut into the city’s shape.
  456. Destruction had transformed the buildings into twisted pieces of art. Some had been compressed downwards and some had had half the building torn away by a spherical shape.
  457. “What is this?” muttered Kagami.
  458. At the same time, something flew toward her.
  459. It had red hair.
  460. It was Horinouchi.
  461. The ether light of her Normal Frame caused her hair to glow red and she held her weapon at the ready.
  462. It looked like some kind of long gun. The gun resembled a red and white dragon’s head or a bird with its wings spread behind it.
  463. She held it toward Kagami and accelerated diagonally through the sky.
  464. “————”
  465. She fired.
  466. It fired an ether shell created inside the gun, but it had likely had its physical hardness increased. Kagami accelerated to the side to dodge.
  467. …Ohh.
  468. As the shot broke through an explosion of water vapor and flew past her, she noted arrow feathers on the high-speed shell.
  469. The sound arrived after the fact and Kagami approached Horinouchi at the same kind of speed.
  470. She understood the principle behind her flight, but she had not quite grasped the technique needed to take tight turns. The flight primarily used the accelerators on her leg armor, which allowed her to easily swing herself around by moving her upper body.
  471. Needless to say, if she effectively used that unbalanced nature…
  472. “I can turn just my body while maintaining my speed forward!”
  473. She twisted to the right while flying straight ahead.
  474. Once her speed reached a certain level, her entire body could no longer stop its forward movement for reasons other than air resistance. And so she rotated her body to turn right and then backwards.
  475. “There you are!”
  476. About two hundred meters back and to her right, she spotted Horinouchi.
  477. The girl jumped away.
  478. To forcibly alter her trajectory, she had used her leg accelerators for a short hop.
  479. She had moved down. The sky was vast and allowed her to move in three dimensions, but she chose the direction that made it more difficult to lower her speed.
  480. At first glance, one would see the ruins down below and her actions would be harder to distinguish.
  481. Also…
  482. “She is used to this.”
  483. Kagami jumped, too. As soon as she did, a shell passed through the spot she had just vacated.
  484. In an instant, she crouched down in midair and moved as if toppling forward.
  485. “Like this?”
  486. She kicked at the heavens.
  487. The acceleration was instantaneous, so she continued doing it. She took a second, third, and then fourth accelerating step.
  488. “There.”
  489. Ahead of her, she saw Horinouchi raising her gun toward her with the ruins in the background.
  490. Kagami was going to be shot, so she took evasive action.
  491. She tore through the sky, hopped right, hopped left despite the shell flying toward her, and then…
  492. “…!”
  493. She sliced through the flying shell with her large sword.
  494. She could feel the straight-line force of the shell and she knew Horinouchi would be at the other end of that force.
  495. And she was.
  496. The rest was simple. Kagami accelerated to fill the gap between them.
  497. “—————”
  498. Horinouchi fired on Kagami again from a distance of one hundred meters.
  499. The shell flew straight once more. It was an honest trajectory that demonstrated the girl’s diligent spirit, so Kagami sliced through the shell again and…
  500. “Fire!”
  501. She immediately put her sword in firing mode. Instead of a blank, she fired an actual shell along the path she planned to fly.
  502.  
  503. Kagami thought she had hit.
  504. In the instant after an attack, when her opponent would have been checking to see if she had hit or not, she had counterattacked.
  505. It would have been difficult for Horinouchi to evade while holding that gun.
  506. However…
  507. “Ohh…”
  508. Ether light exploded and sprayed outward. And another light was visible beyond the fragments and blast of Kagami’s shell.
  509. It was an arrow.
  510. The arrow was shaped like the shells Horinouchi had fired earlier. However, there were more than one and they did not fly forward like shells.
  511. Horinouchi’s right hand was raised toward Kagami and it held three stacked arrows like a shield.
  512. Past the three arrows, her sharp gaze was focused on Kagami.
  513. While flying and trying to take up a good position against Kagami, the Suzaku shrine maiden spoke.
  514. “My shield cannot be broken with a single individual's power.”
  515. “So this world also holds that tradition!”
  516. After speaking, Horinouchi shut down her shield.
  517. Kagami also prepared her next attack.
  518. But Horinouchi was faster. Her gun was still pointed at Kagami and…
  519. “Firing form!”
  520. With a rotating metallic sound, the back end of her gun opened wide.
  521. It was not a gun at all. It was a bow. The bow had two wheels at the base and it opened up in the sky, resembling a dragon or the Suzaku.
  522. As she flew, Horinouchi drew the ether bowstring.
  523. “Cry out, Akerindou.” [TN: Means “Vermilion Gentian”.]
  524. In an instant, a dozen shells flew toward Kagami. And they were homing shells.
  525.  
  526. The white knight flew through the sky.
  527. The red shrine maiden pursued her.
  528. More and more homing shots were rapidly fired from the expanded red bow.
  529. As if chasing their prey, several dozen arrows flew against the wind, descended, and otherwise pursued the knight.
  530. The knight made several short midair dashes and occasionally…
  531. “Kh!”
  532. She would throw in quick bursts of acceleration that caused her entire body to tremble to put some distance between herself and the shots that were catching up fast.
  533. Occasionally, the homing maws would approach down at her feet and cross paths.
  534. They prepared to devour her, but she made a quick dash to put some distance between them.
  535. Immediately afterwards, the clear shells collided with each other and detonated. Several bright lights of destruction filled the sky and left a trail behind the knight.
  536. The red shrine maiden did not hold back. She always remained behind the barrage and she constantly fired and accelerated.
  537. The bundle of shells she fired now resembled a flock of birds taking flight.
  538. The twang of the bowstring filled the sky with repetitive music.
  539. She forced the knight downwards.
  540. If she was to corner the girl, she had to send her to the ruins below where there was no escape.
  541. Hiding behind the buildings would be of no help. The arrows could easily punch through the decrepit structures and she could supply the finishing blow in the unmaintained and abandoned streets.
  542. Even so, the knight may have thought they would act as cover.
  543. She took the lead and flew quickly into the city.
  544.  
  545. Horinouchi did not slow down.
  546. She flew at around five meters above the surface. She was very nearly exceeding three hundred kilometers per hour, so merely touching the asphalt would be fatal.
  547. However, she still did not slow down.
  548. She could not when the witch named Kagami was actually accelerating up ahead.
  549. …How reckless.
  550. They were traveling at nearly ninety meters per second now. Even if the city was in ruins, there were still obstacles.
  551. Before the city had become what it was now, elevated highways had run through it and cars had driven along them.
  552. All of that had fallen into ruin, but they had not completely vanished.
  553. “It’s been ten years, hasn’t it?”
  554. A decade before, it had not been like this. Horinouchi vaguely remembered it.
  555. There had been people here and the streets had been filled with light, noise, and movement.
  556. All of that was gone now.
  557. Instead, she and the other witch were creating different lights, noises, and movements.
  558. “There.”
  559. She fired straight forward.
  560. She fired a barrage of homing shots.
  561. However, she did not stop there. She started on a further attack.
  562. “A barrier!”
  563. A soon as the barrage raced out, she expanded a large spell barrier around it. Every projectile within the designated range of the spell circle had barrier-style course restrictions installed inside. They were then kick-started.
  564. The group of shells flew.
  565. They tore through the air and surrounded Kagami from above, below, left, and right. However, the course restrictions prevented them from hitting the surrounding buildings or the ground.
  566. All of them took the shortest possible route to reach and corner Kagami.
  567. Meanwhile, Horinouchi saw Kagami move.
  568. The girl turned back toward her even as she moved at such high speeds.
  569. Horinouchi understood.
  570. She had demonstrated this form of movement earlier. After speeding up, she let her momentum carry her forward while moving her own body around freely.
  571. …She will intercept the initial homing shells with her sword and then fire a counterattack.
  572. The girl was not going to carelessly let Horinouchi get in close. She had the skill and preparation needed to intercept the shots.
  573. So Horinouchi fired again as Kagami turned around.
  574. She fired three non-homing but high-speed shots.
  575. The arrows split the air and created explosions of water vapor.
  576. Kagami reacted by accelerating even as she faced backwards.
  577. …They’re going to hit!
  578. That was exactly what happened.
  579. The three shots struck Kagami.
  580. However, they transformed into bursting light. Because they were travelling at ninety meters per second, Horinouchi quickly passed by the light. The scattering ether and the solid sound slipped through her blowing hair.
  581. Kagami had defended.
  582. Horinouchi saw the girl had stopped the arrows with the tip of her sword which was raised like a shield. Kagami and the sword were blown backwards and she used that extra momentum to escape the pursing homing shots. Also…
  583. “She fired!?”
  584. She held the sword like a musical instrument and fired it diagonally into the sky.
  585. It was a meaningless shot. It looked like she had been trying to hit Horinouchi but had her aim thrown horribly off by her defense.
  586. Except that was not the case at all.
  587. The shell flew toward a giant building that had originally been a luxury hotel. The white exterior walls were stained by the rain and the sky was visible through the large hole in the center.
  588. Partway up the building, a column on either side supported the giant hole and Kagami’s blast tore into the closer of the two.
  589. Its destruction sounded like a strong thread snapping.
  590. The rest was simple.
  591. The wind roared and the collapse began.
  592. “Are you insane!?”
  593. The hundred meter square structure collapsed toward their path forward.
  594.  
  595. Kagami flipped around in midair.
  596. She turned her back on Horinouchi and accelerated.
  597. The giant mass in the sky above felt like it was about to fall on top of her.
  598. Regardless, she accelerated.
  599. As if kicking off the air, she collapsed forward and took a path that would slip below the collapsing building.
  600. …Not long now.
  601. She read the “gap” she needed in order to make it through.
  602. It all came down to her timing.
  603. “Come!”
  604. As soon as she shouted, three swift attacks arrived from behind.
  605. Horinouchi had fired, but…
  606. “———”
  607. The triple attack passed above Kagami and struck something else.
  608. It hit the damaged portion of the collapsing building. It accurately pierced through the spot still connecting the collapsing top half to the bottom half.
  609. As a result, the great mass lost its only support, making it accelerate and change its course.
  610. It was now going to collide with Kagami.
  611. With the inside pointed downward, it slid down as if to catch her within.
  612. Her course below would not make it in time.
  613. She watched as the giant wall fell in front of her.
  614. “I see,” she shouted. “Instead of shooting me, you chose to block my path and stop me. So that is who you are, Horinouchi!”
  615. She was aware that she was smiling as she moved. She had her entire body jump upwards.
  616. “It was well worth hoping you would be that kind of person!”
  617.  
  618. Horinouchi sent herself on a rising trajectory to circle around the falling building.
  619. As if drawing in the air ahead of her, she rapidly swung her entire body upwards. After confirming that Kagami collided with the wall below, she would slow down and finish the girl off.
  620. But she was not able to do that.
  621. When she looked down, she saw Kagami launching her body in another direction.
  622. Kagami leaned forward and low, so Horinouchi assumed she had chosen a downward trajectory.
  623. But she had not.
  624. The white holy knight gathered all the momentum that was sending her body rotating forward.
  625. “…!”
  626. And she leaped.
  627. She kicked off the air and leaped upwards with a movement similar to returning from a handstand.
  628. …That’s ridiculous!
  629. She had changed her great forward acceleration into an almost entirely vertical jump.
  630. Inertia had to be placing a heavy burden on her body, but…
  631. “Kah!”
  632. The knight let out a rough breath and completed her movement.
  633. She had just barely made it. She was close enough to place her hand on the edge of the falling building to assist her rotation.
  634. Regardless, she had done it.
  635. And Horinouchi realized Kagami had turned toward her.
  636. She still had forward momentum, but she was no longer flying.
  637. She placed her feet on top of the collapsing and falling building, back stepped, and slid backwards.
  638. She held her sword at the hip. The shockwave of her passage shattered the building’s remaining windows, sparks flew from the soles of her feet, and she had her sword at the ready.
  639. She planned to fire.
  640. The sword was in firing mode and Horinouchi noticed light already inside the muzzle.
  641. …She’s trying for a counter!?
  642. Horinouchi could block a simple shell with her three arrows, so Kagami had opted for a counter.
  643. She would be stopped while Horinouchi would swiftly charge in.
  644. But once Horinouchi matched their altitudes, she could fire directly at her. She was guessing their relative speeds would allow her shell to break through Horinouchi’s shield.
  645. That was what this was.
  646. When she realized what that meant, Horinouchi could not stop the heat that rose from her neck and into her cheeks.
  647. …Sh-she predicted I would drop the building in front of her!?
  648. Just as Horinouchi felt like she had been called naïve, Kagami fired on her.
  649. The counter flew toward the very center of her body. As an archer, she could tell just how splendid a shot it was.
  650.  
  651. Horinouchi made up her mind.
  652. She decided it was her experience that kept her from choosing any kind of defense.
  653. She did something else here.
  654. “Akerindou.”
  655. Inside its spell circle, her Phlogiston Heart heated up. While assuming its heat was what she felt in her cheeks, she drew the ether bowstring all at once.
  656. The instant she grabbed the string, a shell was formed in Akerindou’s chamber. And this shot was large enough to extend from the chamber into the acceleration pathway.
  657. …Even if she defends, this will smash a Normal Device made without a servant!
  658. With that thought, she looked forward.
  659. Kagami had targeted the very center of her body, so she fired diagonally down from above that.
  660. “Cry out!”
  661.  
  662. Kagami saw the light shatter in midair and a vermilion arrow fly her way.
  663. The vermilion arrow flew down diagonally and her own shell crashed into it.
  664. But the enemy’s shot managed to pierce through her own and it flew on at high speed.
  665. It was on a perfect collision course and it was quite powerful. Kagami assumed her sword would be destroyed if she tried to defend.
  666. “Honestly!”
  667. A smile appeared on her lips, but she forced it down and gave a shout.
  668. “I must ask!”
  669. With that, she raised her sword.
  670. A moment later, the coming arrow collided with the protecting blade.
  671. It was a direct hit and the giant blade shattered in an instant.
  672.  
  673. …I shot her down!
  674. Horinouchi saw light explode atop the falling building.
  675. The scattering light was clearly ether light. The enemy’s Normal Device had been destroyed.
  676. The enemy had made a counterattack, so Horinouchi had done the same.
  677. And her shell had more force behind it. That was her reason behind firing and it had produced definite results.
  678. However, she still did not hold back. She maintained the momentum of her flight, prepared Akerindou in firing form, and flew directly above the collapsing building.
  679. She fired again.
  680. She fired a non-homing multi-shot toward the center of Kagami’s previous location. A human form was vaguely visible through the glowing smoke, but it lacked accuracy. That was her reasoning for using the multi-shot.
  681. The ether bowstring twanged once.
  682. The barrage of multiple bullets flew toward the enemy below.
  683. Immediately afterwards, the falling building crashed into the ground.
  684. The sound of breaking rock rang out.
  685. Below, the building seemed to bounce lightly.
  686. It was an old and rotting building and walls that had lost their connections fell from the ceilings and floors that were perpendicular to the ground. The roar of collapse and clouds of dust sent the air inside the building blowing out.
  687. With the walls knocked loose, the building looked like a grid structure.
  688. This opened plenty of massive gaps that allowed the rising dust to settle down.
  689. Horinouchi had a thought as she looked at the honeycomb-like wreckage: My shot was almost entirely useless, wasn’t it?
  690. But she saw something in the scattering smoke: light.
  691. It was clearly ether light. And…
  692. “She’s re-summoning a Frame!?”
  693. Her question proved accurate.
  694. Kagami stood directly below her.
  695. Her arms were spread and she was completing a certain task.
  696. She was doing something to her shattered Normal Device.
  697. “Reform!”
  698.  
  699. Kagami breathed in.
  700. …That was a splendid shot.
  701. Comparing just their weapons, her Normal Device could not hope to stand up to Horinouchi’s. Not only had she not used a servant, but she had made hers far too roughly because she had been copying someone and doing it for the first time.
  702. She had been fighting with no engines or anything else in her weapon.
  703. She had wanted to reform it to fix that, but she had not been able to spare the time needed to officially complete the ceremony and the ether was not something one could gather immediately.
  704. That was why she had wanted to recycle her previous weapon. She had decided to reform the existing Normal Device which she considered to be a wonderfully ecological plan.
  705. However, there had been a problem.
  706. Despite her complaints, she had done a good job of making the weapon. It was not easy to break.
  707. That was why she had used Horinouchi’s attack. She had made a counterattack. If that was enough to defeat her opponent, that was fine. But if she instead used her opponent’s attack to destroy her weapon, she could use that ether as well.
  708. Either result had been fine by her.
  709. …So…
  710. She reformed her large sword with an ether engine in the center.
  711. This would work.
  712. Unlike before, the sword had an acceleration thruster contained in the guard.
  713. “Now, then.”
  714. She grabbed the hilt and took flight.
  715. She flew vertically to reach the shrine maiden witch located directly overhead.
  716.  
  717. The servant looked up at the battle in the sky.
  718. It had left the area occupied by man and reached an area of nothing but ruins.
  719. It had a certain amount of knowledge supplied for its survival, this was an abandoned city, and no pursuers were coming. Therefore, everything would be okay if it settled down here.
  720. But the sky was noisy and, when it looked up, it realized something.
  721. The person who had allowed it to escape was fighting.
  722. It understood that.
  723. …What is this?
  724. She had nothing. When it had first met that person, it had not sensed the ether power any of this world’s witches would have or anything else either.
  725. This was strange.
  726. How could she fight if that was the case? How could she fight just like witches did?
  727. “————”
  728. The servant did not know. But that dragon child had a thought: the method, means, and technique did not matter. She was fighting using something beyond its knowledge. In that case…
  729. …Why?
  730. Why?
  731. Not “how”.
  732. “Why” was she fighting?
  733. And why had she let the dragon child escape?
  734. Its very existence was a mistake, so why?
  735. “————”
  736. It looked up into the sky.
  737. Two lights were wrapping around each other at high speed, scattering other lights, and rising into the heavens.
  738. They would not stop.
  739.  
  740. Horinouchi could tell her enemy had grown stronger.
  741. …This girl!
  742. The girl was generally following their rules, but she would occasionally do something that ignored them completely.
  743. Rankers would occasionally exist outside the rules like that, but this girl was especially bad. Not only had she remade her Normal Device mid-battle, but…
  744. “She’s keeping up with my speed!?”
  745. Horinouchi was a shrine maiden, but her servant was the Suzaku. When it came to flight speed and control, she did not just rival the three ranked above her, she believed she outdid them at least in some aspects.
  746. However…
  747. “Sorry, but I am borrowing your power. You should have expected that.”
  748. The girl dodged a homing arrow Horinouchi fired at close range and she swung her sword forward.
  749. Horinouchi deflected it with her three arrow shield and placed some homing shots behind her.
  750. They had little initial speed, but the homing barrage accelerated and almost seemed to hop over to accurately pursue the girl. However, that girl named Kagami sliced them and swept them away with her sword while accelerating after Horinouchi.
  751. “Listen, Horinouchi!”
  752. “What point is there in speaking with you!?”
  753. Kagami paid no heed to that response. She pressed her sword against the arrow shield, trying to break through.
  754. “This world!”
  755. Kagami raised her eyebrows as she asked her question.
  756. “What is your purpose here when everything is so badly destroyed!?”
  757. And…
  758. “Those weapons. What enemy are they meant to protect you from!?”
  759. “Have you never heard of Hexennacht!?” asked Horinouchi on reflex.
  760. …There’s no way she couldn’t have!
  761. Horinouchi could not be the only one with such fresh memories of ten years before. Even so, Kagami crossed her arms in midair.
  762. “I have not! So I ask that you tell me!”
  763. …Th-that idiot!
  764. She was too honest or too bold or too something.
  765. At any rate, she was hopelessly ignorant.
  766. Horinouchi began explaining what she had learned in class countless times and saw or heard mentioned on the internet or in conversation on a daily basis.
  767. “Listen.”
  768. She fired arrows and dodged attacks as she spoke to the idiot.
  769. “It’s the Black Witch.”
  770.  
  771. As she flew, Horinouchi caught Kagami’s sword on her shield and twisted it.
  772. She faced them both toward the ground and performed several rolls while glowing sparks flew from the area of continuing contact.
  773. “Can’t you see this?”
  774. Horinouchi ascended through the sky as she spoke.
  775. “There is a reconstructed city directly below, but the rest of Tokyo around it, the rest of the Japanese Archipelago, and – most importantly – the rest of the world was mostly destroyed. Can’t you see that?”
  776. “What is-…?”
  777. “This was the result of our battle with the Black Witch! It happened ten years ago and has been the way of our world for long, long before that!”
  778. She shoved Kagami away, fired, and fired some more, but Kagami caught the homing shots on her sword and swept them away.
  779. “Battling the Black Witch is the way of this world? Is there really a battle like that!?”
  780. “Yes, that is Hexennacht. The Black Witch is said to have created this world. But when she grew tired of it, she attempted to destroy it. Ever since the people sealed her away and she responded with a sneer, the seal is opened one night every ten years when we must confront and defeat her.”
  781. However…
  782. “The opening in the barrier is small, so generally only one or two individuals are chosen to confront her. And that battle has never succeeded even once in all of human history. She is always resealed.”
  783. “Then,” said Kagami as she flew forward.
  784. While ascending, she forcefully raised her sword and thrust it forward, so Horinouchi had to catch it on her three arrows.
  785. Kagami quickly moved in much closer.
  786. With the space for the blade and shield between them, she asked another question. They continued accelerating toward the heavens all the while.
  787. “Where is this Black Witch?”
  788. “You don’t know?” asked Horinouchi as she fired from behind her shield. Her voice rose to a shout. “The moon!!”
  789.  
  790. Faced with that simple word, Kagami briefly forgot to defend.
  791. She was late to notice the shell approaching her.
  792. “Oh!”
  793. Her shoulder armor was broken.
  794. Due to her rapid flight, the impact caused her to collide with the air.
  795. She seemed to bounce and then flipped around in midair.
  796. “Ha.”
  797. She let out a rough breath and tried to control her body.
  798. …Yes.
  799. A white circle sat in the center of the blue sky overhead.
  800. It was the moon.
  801. Supposedly, the witch that had created and subsequently tried to destroy the world was there.
  802. Once every ten years, one could meet her and battle her.
  803. In that case…
  804. “Ha.”
  805.  
  806. Horinouchi heard Kagami’s laughter.
  807. They were already several hundred meters apart, but the other girl’s voice reached her even over that distance.
  808. “Ha ha.”
  809. Something like waves of light appeared around Kagami.
  810. They were the ley lines. Normally, only the engines of her Frame would affect them, but she must have been using some other power to pressurize the ether of the ley lines and that ether was rejoicing.
  811. …What is that?
  812. “Ha ha!”
  813. As a shrine maiden, Horinouchi knew a lot about ley lines and ether, but she had never seen this kind of ley line interference. If she tried it, she could tune it better and cover a greater area, but she doubted she could achieve that much power.
  814. The phrase “brute strength” came to her, but this girl was also skilled in combat techniques.
  815. The girl’s powerful voice reached her through the ley lines.
  816. “Ha ha ha!”
  817. Her voice would likely reach any witch or anyone else with special powers. If one pressed their ear to the ley lines, it would reach them as if through a duct.
  818. “Finally.”
  819. Kagami brought a hand to her forehead but then swept that hand outwards.
  820. “Finally.”
  821. “You…”
  822. Horinouchi’s voice must have reached Kagami in the same way because she turned around.
  823. She raised her eyebrows in a smile, pointed toward the center of the heavens with her right hand, and gave an announcement.
  824. “I will defeat this Black Witch of which you speak.”
  825.  
  826. Horinouchi gasped.
  827. This enemy could wield power that seemed to ignore the world’s rules and she had just announced she would eliminate the Black Witch who could be called the source of all those rules.
  828. However, Horinouchi did not know what to think about this.
  829. They all wished to achieve that same goal, so it might have been best to think of Kagami as an ally.
  830. But…
  831. “What…”
  832. This girl had suddenly appeared and desired the privilege they were all working to obtain.
  833. And…
  834. “What do you understand!?”
  835. Horinouchi recalled that her own mother had been the one chosen for the previous Hexennacht.
  836. As a result, the world had been driven to its current state and her mother had been on the verge of death by the time she had been taken in.
  837. However, she had left the Suzaku and plenty of spells with Horinouchi and had reached for her daughter from the stretcher.
  838. Horinouchi remembered her beautiful smile then. As strength had left the hand touching Horinouchi’s cheek, she had grabbed it with both hands to support it and hold the weakening in check.
  839. …And I begged her not to leave me alone.
  840. Even as a child she had understood her position as a witch and had had a fair amount of power.
  841. But her wish then had not been granted.
  842. And that was why she was doing what she did now.
  843. On that night, she had had a wish that no witch could grant.
  844. She could not allow anyone else to have a wish like that. She would eliminate the source of such wishes. And she remembered what her mother had said with a smile back then.
  845. “—————”
  846. She still did not understand what it had meant.
  847. Assuming she would eventually understand, she had sealed it inside her heart, but she had yet to find the answer.
  848. And so…
  849. “I have a question!”
  850. She prepared to ask while instantly firing another shot.
  851. She fired again and again. She swung Akerindou and used that motion to scatter arrows across the sky.
  852. The white moon sat at the top of the blue sky, but a surge of red light quickly filled the heavens.
  853. The loud notes of the bowstring never fully faded and she shouted her question.
  854. “What can you do!?”
  855. Kagami replied while simply pointing the tip of her blade toward Horinouchi.
  856. “If you wish for it, I can bring you happiness, Horinouchi.”
  857. The white Holy Knight instantly flew toward her.
  858.  
  859. Kagami reached a certain conclusion.
  860. …I cannot defeat this opponent in anything but a head-on contest.
  861. Horinouchi primarily used long range attacks, but she could place her homing shots in midair for a close range battle. Carelessly charging in would only get Kagami surrounded by a wall of arrows.
  862. And if Kagami shifted to moving around, Horinouchi would put some distance between them and begin attacking.
  863. That was what had happened when she had knocked down the building. If she had not carelessly stopped moving then, she would not have been able to constantly observe her or get her to approach.
  864. Kagami could only describe the girl as reliable.
  865. In that case, there was only one way: head-on.
  866. When facing the girl head-on, the homing arrows lost their meaning.
  867. If Kagami charged in at full speed, their relative speed would allow her to shake off the homing arrows and reach Horinouchi before the arrows could catch up.
  868. The high-speed straight-line shots would be a problem, but…
  869. “That is why I remade my sword!”
  870. Kagami accelerated.
  871. She leaped through the air as if running and made quick jukes to either side.
  872. She travelled several hundred meters in no time at all.
  873. “Ohhh.”
  874. The arrows of red light pursued her in gouging arcs and they seemed to arrive from every direction instead of just overhead.
  875. She made a midair sidestep. The barrage shook as it followed and the arrows collided with each other, but…
  876. …''Here it comes!
  877. A high-speed shot arrived from directly ahead.
  878. But she did not care.
  879. She thrust out the tip of her sword.
  880. “Here I go!”
  881. She smashed it.
  882.  
  883. Horinouchi fired.
  884. She fired three shots, two shots, three shots, and then…
  885. “A concentrated shell!”
  886. There was no need to aim. The white knight was charging straight in like a mere target, so Horinouchi prepared to destroy her.
  887. The bow and arrow moved like a hammer that functioned over long ranges.
  888. The strikes of light ricocheted off the knight’s armor.
  889. Her helmet cracked and her shoulder and leg armor shattered, but…
  890. “…!”
  891. As soon as Horinouchi realized she was drawing close, her arrow failed to hit.
  892. Kagami had pushed her sword toward Horinouchi and then hid behind it.
  893. Before, her armor would have been in the way, preventing her from using the weapon for cover.
  894. She may have suddenly pulled out this trick after approaching, but…
  895. “That doesn’t matter!”
  896. Horinouchi formed a long, heavy shell inside the chamber. She activated the acceleration spell of the acceleration pathway and let loose the kick of the ether bowstring.
  897. Just as she was going to fire, she saw the sword transform.
  898. …Firing form! Oh, no.
  899. A reflexive decision saved her.
  900. She leaped around a dozen meters backwards and abandoned the chamber’s shell into the air.
  901. A moment later, Kagami’s shot pierced through the shell Horinouchi had nearly fired.
  902. Kagami had planned this.
  903. No matter how long and heavy it was, it was nothing more than an ether shell if it had not passed through the acceleration pathway to be fired.
  904. That was what Kagami had attempted to exploit. She had created a situation in which Horinouchi needed to fire on the sword and then she had fired her own shell just after Horinouchi’s had been created.
  905. If the shell exploded inside the barrel, not even Akerindou would survive unharmed.
  906. Horinouchi had managed to avoid that situation, but…
  907. “Kh!”
  908. The sword tore through the fragments of red light from the destroyed shell and it continued toward Horinouchi.
  909. It had already left firing mode and it reached her as a thick striking weapon.
  910. “This isn’t over yet!!”
  911. Horinouchi activated her shield to buffer against the strike from Kagami’s blade.
  912.  
  913. …I blocked it!
  914. Horinouchi had been pushed back with the shield, but she could fall back and set out some homing shots to put some distance between them. That was her standard strategy.
  915. But she heard a voice.
  916. “Ha.”
  917. It began with the exhalation of a rough breath and it continued from there.
  918. “You said a single individual could not reach you, didn’t you?”
  919. Beyond the blade tip on the shield, Kagami raised her head.
  920. Her sweat-covered face contained a smile and lifted eyebrows. That face forcibly accelerated.
  921. “A direct blow for the first strike!”
  922. After the shield was pushed back and bent, a metallic sound reached Horinouchi’s ears.
  923. She saw Kagami’s sword open into firing mode and the muzzle was perfectly trained on her.
  924. “Now the second strike!”
  925. The impact reached her arms as she held up the shield.
  926. Several spell circles opened to inform her that the three arrow shield was reaching its limit.
  927. But…
  928. …It can still survive this!
  929. Kagami used the recoil of the point-blank shot to raise her sword overhead.
  930. Seeing that, Horinouchi held Akerindou behind her. She planned to set some homing shots in midair and fall back.
  931. However, Kagami rotated before her eyes.
  932. The movement was much like a backflip and it sent the sword in a vertical swing.
  933. “Ohhhh!”
  934. Horinouchi could not believe her eyes.
  935. Her opponent had used the recoil of the point-blank shot, and…
  936. “…!”
  937. After flipping upside down, the girl swung the “raised” sword upwards.
  938. Her legs bit into the air in preparation for the impact.
  939. “And the third strike!”
  940. The three arrow shield shattered.
  941. A solid sound shook the air, light sprayed outwards, and Horinouchi realized several spell circles had appeared in front of her.
  942. They said “Impact Buffering”, “Pain Reduction”, and “Physical Strengthening”.
  943. “Kh.”
  944. It was a direct hit.
  945. In an instant, she was sent several hundred meters straight up.
  946.  
  947. Kagami realized she had hit while feeling the side effects of her half rotation.
  948. However…
  949. “It wasn’t enough!?”
  950. It had been a direct hit, but Kagami saw a small light growing more distant.
  951. Directly ahead and moving away horizontally was the light of Horinouchi’s shells.
  952. Horinouchi herself had been knocked upwards, so why was the red light of one of her shells located directly ahead?
  953. …Was it to throw off my aim!?
  954. When Horinouchi had realized she would be hit, she had fired an arrow behind her.
  955. The recoil had moved her forward above the sword, shifting her just a bit more toward the hilt.
  956. It had still been a direct hit, it had broken through her shield, and she had likely been injured, but it had not been a clean hit.
  957. Kagami realized that girl had good instincts and looked up.
  958. She saw the moon in the daytime sky.
  959. Horinouchi looked down at her with that white ring behind her.
  960. Blood flowed from her forehead and both her chest armor and the left power arm that held her bow were damaged.
  961. More importantly, she was out of breath and her shoulders were visibly rising and falling.
  962. But…
  963. “It seems you really don’t understand anything.”
  964. A single spell circle floated up from her chest armor.
  965. It was the Phlogiston Heart.
  966. Her state of damage must have fed back into it because it was partially damaged, but it glowed pure red and even produced a flare.
  967. “So let me tell you.”
  968. As the girl spoke, Kagami saw a light.
  969. In the air at Horinouchi’s feet…no, over a wide area around her, wavering light appeared, resembling a field of glowing red.
  970. This was a large-scale ether ejection.
  971. “Until this Phlogiston Heart breaks, a witch is never defeated.”
  972. And…
  973. “When the Phlogiston Heart heats up…”
  974. Kagami heard the girl laugh. Her eyebrows lowered as the laughter escaped her lips.
  975. “How about I tell you why a Normal Frame is known as a ‘Normal’ Frame?”
  976. She spread her arms and clapped.
  977. The loud sound rang out and she lowered her head quickly to give thanks.
  978. The Suzaku cried out and the shrine maiden gave a shout.
  979. “When her servant and Normal Frame recombine, a witch draws out her true form!”
  980. Her dignified voice travelled across the sky.
  981. “Summon Magino Frame!”
  982.  
  983. Koutarou had finished giving the evacuation order to the northern reconstructed area and he was now commanding the shrine and temple personnel as they performed ley line interference.
  984. He had several spell circles opened and was gathering statistics data while having the shrines and temples of different areas suppress the ley line disturbances. If necessary, it was his job to send Shinto prayers and Buddhist mantras as suppression spells.
  985. “Master Koutarou! Our shrine’s acoustic equipment is broken! What should we do!?”
  986. “When that happens, you need to sing! Ready? One, two, three…go! ‘♪The women of Ise are salmon piiiink! That is fine by meee! And the gods and buddhas agreeeeee!’ ”
  987. “S-singing that would annoy everyone in the area!”
  988. “Then go buy new equipment!”
  989. He felt somewhat miffed that his singing had gone to waste, but warning signs suddenly appeared on the surrounding spell circles.
  990. The ley line interference at a few different shrines had quickly exceeded its limits and pillars of light were exploding in the distant mountains and throughout the city.
  991. It was obvious what was happening. A quick glance into the air was enough to tell.
  992. “Lady Mitsuru!”
  993. Something was being constructed in the deep blue sky above.
  994. A massive amount of ether spread out like a field of wheat and a massive form floated up from it.
  995. It was a giant warship. A bow-shaped aerial cannon was visible in the sky.
  996. It had rapidly taken shape, but it was at least five hundred meters long. The internal frame set in place, the exterior attached to it, and a metallic roar filled the air. Multi-layer ether armor and ether engines were added and it was completed with the ringing of a large bell.
  997. “Magino Frame – Akerindou!”
  998.  
  999. Kagami saw it.
  1000. Its overall form looked like a dragon or a bird with its wings spread. It was shaped much like the bow Horinouchi held.
  1001. However, she held that bow in her hand and looked Kagami’s way from atop the radome equipped at its center.
  1002. Her damaged Phlogiston Heart scattered red flares and beyond it…
  1003. “An outfit change? Is that what you call a Magino Frame?”
  1004. “Yes, it is.”
  1005. The girl had changed even more than before.
  1006. Not only had the damage been repaired, but she now wore a wing-like headdress and a stole. More armor had been attached here and there and the previous armor was a size bigger than before. The bow itself had not changed, but it was constantly enveloped in ether light and had likely received a power-up.
  1007. And at her feet, the massive form was complete.
  1008. “Let me tell you why you cannot defeat me.”
  1009. “You mean…?”
  1010. “This is the ultimate weapon created through a combination with your servant. This form of your beliefs is based on the Normal Frame and can never be achieved alone.”
  1011. In other words…
  1012. “This is the technology humanity has gathered together to fight the Black Witch! This is a magic wand measuring over 500 meters long! This is a Magino Frame!”
  1013. Kagami saw Horinouchi looking at her with a smile and lowered eyebrows.
  1014. Kagami was already damaged too and…
  1015. …Here it comes!
  1016. The five hundred meter cannon noisily opened.
  1017. It took the form of a bow. The central wheels produced the metallic sound of a large bell and the vermilion bow’s wings spread. The central acceleration pathway and muzzle formed a cannon with a caliber of thirty meters.
  1018. Kagami began to evade, but…
  1019. “I will crush you.”
  1020. The cannon moved forward.
  1021. Kagami realized it was quite fast for its great size.
  1022. “Cry out, Akerindou.”
  1023. The cannon blast instantly crushed Kagami.
  1024.  
  1025. Horinouchi’s blast stabbed into the ruins.
  1026. Its power was limited. As the manager of a shrine, she was always trying to suppress any negative effects on the ley lines.
  1027. The vermilion pillar tore into the ruins of high-rise buildings and pierced into the crust.
  1028. At first, nothing happened. There was only a light tremor followed by silence.
  1029. But…
  1030. “…”
  1031. After two beats, it came.
  1032. The intense ringing of a large bell raced across the ground within a one hundred eighty meter radius of the strike.
  1033. The earth roared upwards from below and the buildings trembled and exploded. The air cried out as it shook and lightning raced through the sky.
  1034. Light instantly rose from the crust and into the air.
  1035. Immediately afterwards, that one hundred eighty meter radius was crushed. It almost looked like someone had smashed it between their hands.
  1036. As lightning covered everything and tremors scattered everywhere, it sounded a lot like divine thunder.
  1037. Above it all, a girl watched on from atop a massive vermilion bow. She clapped once and made an announcement.
  1038. “Load the next shot.”
  1039.  
  1040. Horinouchi was unable to determine where Kagami was.
  1041. …Her ether is thin.
  1042. The initial report had mentioned this. Every witch had the ability to process ether within herself. They could let the ley lines pass through their body and extract ether from it like a tap.
  1043. …But she seems to lack that ability. I don’t know how she can control so much ether like that, but that is what she’s doing.
  1044. When Kagami had worn her Normal Frame, Horinouchi had been able to detect the ether forming the Frame and had set her homing arrows to lock onto that.
  1045. But that Frame was destroyed and the girl was likely having trouble in a number of ways.
  1046. “She is very strange.”
  1047. Magino Frame – Akerindou’s blast had not achieved a direct hit. It contained an ether tracking system for use against witches, but Horinouchi had not activated the kinetic tracking system, so she did not know where Kagami had gone afterwards.
  1048. “But I know she’s alive.”
  1049. She was somewhere.
  1050. She was probably catching her breath and working out a new plan in the ruins below.
  1051. But once she remade her Normal Frame, it would all be over. Horinouchi would detect the ether and fire her main cannon. But until that happened…
  1052. …I cannot let my guard down.
  1053. “Secondary cannons.”
  1054. The Magino Frame had more than just the main cannon. Armor panels opened here and there, revealing secondary cannons. They were turret-less, but she used their homing setting to have them carpet bomb the ruins below.
  1055. The center of the ruins was completely abandoned. Not even animals approached out of fear of the lingering ether remnants. Even the vegetation was thin.
  1056. It was an unbelievably large area of death.
  1057. …A Shinto witch attacks with purifying shells.
  1058. She wondered if she would be able to tune the ley lines there even a little as she fired the secondary cannons.
  1059.  
  1060. The attack from above was a straight-line carpet bombing created from a standard sixteen shots. Kagami analyzed it while catching her breath. Also…
  1061. …That is definitely going to consume the line I am on.
  1062. The secondary cannons likely had a caliber of two meters and thirty centimeters. Based on the noise, their barrels were short and the shells were guided ones that accelerated after being fired. With the direct hits and the shockwave as the shells passed by, this attack was specialized toward hitting a wide area.
  1063. “How troublesome,” muttered Kagami as she looked to her broken equipment and listened to the approaching shell hits. “Honestly, when they talk about surpassing your imagination, they are talking about something like this. I need to watch out for glass.”
  1064. She looked around.
  1065. She was in a dimly-lit space. It was the second story of what had likely been a department store. She guessed this had been a cafeteria with windows giving a view of the city. Sofa sets and tables were located here and there, but they had been shoved away from the windows.
  1066. Wind or some other kind of external pressure had entered through the windows.
  1067. “Was this part of that Hexennacht event from ten years ago?”
  1068. Kagami guessed that this world experienced a great calamity once a decade. And…
  1069. “The one ten years ago must have been especially bad.”
  1070. That would be why the girl named Horinouchi had shown something akin to anger.
  1071. She had to have a connection to Hexennacht.
  1072. “Saving her is going to be another difficult battle.”
  1073. She could fight.
  1074. She could re-summon her broken Normal Frame. The Phlogiston Heart indicator in the chest armor had not been completely destroyed.
  1075. …But how did she construct that Magino Frame thing?
  1076. Something that huge would not be easy to make. It would require a lot of knowledge as well as trial-and-error training. And Horinouchi would never give Kagami the time she needed to figure it out.
  1077. She wondered what to do as the sound of the carpet bombing approached. No, she could now see the cascade of destructive red light approaching through the city.
  1078. “I have no choice but to go for it.”
  1079. That said, re-summoning her Normal Frame would be dangerous. As soon as she did that, she would be detected and fired upon. Instead, she could fly as she was, repair the individual parts, and reach that Magino Frame.
  1080. …Should I try that?
  1081. As soon as she asked herself that, she noticed something in the shaking of the approaching bombing. A guest had arrived in the lounge.
  1082. It was a dragon child. It was the dragon servant she had let escape earlier.
  1083.  
  1084. The servant stared at the witch.
  1085. …I don’t understand.
  1086. It should not exist. It was a mistaken existence.
  1087. But she had let it escape.
  1088. And now she was fighting the 4th ranked witch. And instead of an official ranker battle, this seemed to be a personal fight over the servant.
  1089. She was a mistaken existence, too. Her spells strayed from the common witch system and she was challenging a ranker to a personal fight.
  1090. But to be “mistaken” from a ranker’s perspective was what their enemy, the Black Witch, would do.
  1091. Yet this witch was not the Black Witch.
  1092. So the dragon servant did not understand.
  1093. Why did she exist?
  1094. Why was she fighting?
  1095. And…
  1096. …''Why?
  1097. Why was she not running away like it had?
  1098. “You there.”
  1099. She looked to it and scratched her head.
  1100. “I apologize for being selfish, but could you lend me your power?”
  1101. For what?
  1102. “I want to correct the mistakes of that witch up above.”
  1103. She said it.
  1104. “She should not be living a life that pours all of herself into the Black Witch.”
  1105.  
  1106. The servant trembled slightly.
  1107. Witches were the way of the world. Defeating the Black Witch was closely related to the very reason they existed.
  1108. But this person was rejecting that.
  1109. This person was facing the world head-on and not running.
  1110. …''I understand.
  1111. It found the answer.
  1112. It understood something it wished it had not understood.
  1113. From the moment one chose to oppose the world, there was nowhere to run.
  1114. And that person was injured.
  1115. The dragon servant understood the situation. That was the type of creature it was. Even as a failure, it understood what mattered now.
  1116. And so…
  1117. “———”
  1118. It stepped forward. Instead of running, it stepped forward.
  1119. The step was surprisingly light.
  1120.  
  1121. Horinouchi detected an ether reading ahead of her bombardment.
  1122. She had detection spells searching each block and the one for the southeast gave a warning.
  1123. Her eyes raced in that direction and spotted something strange. An ether reading was rapidly increasing inside a group of buildings that had likely surrounded a train station.
  1124. …''Is that…?
  1125. In a spell circle, the ether output formed an upside-down funnel while superimposed on an image of the city. That reverse funnel swirled around and quickly reached the sky.
  1126. “Lady Mitsuru!”
  1127. As soon as white light burst from the surface to the southeast, a report came from Koutarou.
  1128. “I have detected a Magino Frame summoning!!”
  1129.  
  1130. The ruins broke apart over several dozen meters.
  1131. The intense noise resembled breaking stone and it stabbed up into the sky.
  1132. Rubble, crust, and sand erupted upwards and a giant sword shot up from the earth.
  1133. And it did not stop there.
  1134. A great roar accompanied the destruction of the earth, a tremor ran through certain areas as if caught by the rising blade, and the ruins crumbled in those areas.
  1135. Finally, the giant sword flew into the sky.
  1136. This blue and white sword of a Holy Knight measured five hundred meters long.
  1137.  
  1138. Horinouchi watched from diagonally above.
  1139. …Is that a Magino Frame!?
  1140. She did not know how, but there had been a servant there. Kagami must have signed a contract with it to bind themselves as master and servant. And as a result…
  1141. “You’re there, aren’t you!?”
  1142. She was. The massive sword ascended at a speed that made the word “rapid” seem insufficient.
  1143. And Horinouchi saw a Holy Knight facing her from the accelerating Magino Frame.
  1144. The knight was not just white as before.
  1145. Just like the Magino Frame, she was colored blue and white and she held her Normal Device at the ready.
  1146. Kagami Kagami stood on top of the giant blade.
  1147. “Is that your-…?”
  1148. “Yes, it is!”
  1149. Kagami held her Normal Device toward Horinouchi.
  1150. “It looks like this is my justice!”
  1151.  
  1152. To be continued next issue.
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