At its core, Tenguu was just your average city. There was nothing there that a tourist would find remarkable; the shops located downtown were second-class versions of what could be found in Tokyo, and the mountains surrounding the area, while long, were really quite ugly compared to the like of Mt. Fuji. It was a place that families tended to treat as the snooze-through part of a nine-hour road trip, whether to Osaka to the southwest or Hokkaido to the north, and the city seemed content ushering them along with this impression.
This was its official designation, anyway. And as every good politician knows, the official explanation was just a cover-up for the unofficial events going on. Such as the fact that Tenguu City now hosted five large craters made in as many nights by one Itsuka Shidou.
“Ow,” the boy said out loud, twitching in the still-smoking pit he had just created. I...I really should pay more attention to what I’m flying into.
Ifreet’s ability Cauterization kicked in at that moment, searing through Shidou’s body like it was being set on fire. He winced; though the sensation didn’t hurt, exactly, he felt hotter than a human should be able to endure, so the experience always felt off, somehow, as if he were being cooked back to health. Within seconds however, the power finished its job and Shidou was free to get back on his feet and launch back into the fray.
The mini-intercom in his ear crackled to life. “Shido, Shido! Are you okay? Are you hurt?”
“Focus on your job, Tohka!” snapped the voice of Lieutenant Colonel Itsuka Kotori, coming from their mobile HQ, the airship Fraxinus. “Shidou’s the only one with regeneration! As soon as he’s fixed up he’ll confirm it himself—right, Shidou?”
“Y-yeah. I’m fine, everyone,” Shidou responded. Since his powers were borrowed, he wasn’t quite as natural in levitating as the girls were; in his mind he had to run a constant image of fires blazing from his soles, shooting him across the skies of the sleeping city far below. “Thanks for worrying about me. Kaguya, Yuzuru, what’s the situation?”
Yuzuru’s cool voice came over the speakers. “Reassurance: no casualties would have been sustained had you not tried to provide a distraction in the first place. In the future, Shidou, please remember that even tank-class characters are advised to flee from the white beam of doom.”
“Hold on, you don’t mean you’re fighting—!?”
“We refuse to shame your deed, Shidou!” the other twin shouted, making Shidou wince at the sudden volume. “Your commendable fight was worthy of the spectacle the sons of Jupiter and Poseidon saw unto on the Aloadae! Warriors such as we would naturally find our blood set ablaze from watching our champion’s battle!”
“But you’re supposed to stay at a distance!” Shidou protested. “I’m the forward for a reason—I don’t want to see you girls get hurt!”
“A-ah?” Suddenly, the brash girl’s voice turned bashful, as if she were fighting off a blush. “Sh-Shidou! What are you trying to say with such a straight—”
There was sudden static, a clanging noise, and in the background Shidou could hear cursing. “Kaguya?!”
“Argh, I’m fine! Just let my guard down, that’s all!”
“Reiteration: my foolish sister allowed herself to be momentarily distracted and was nearly struck down before I covered for her,” Yuzuru quipped.
“And that’s why all of you should cut the chatter, now!” Kotori shouted, before either Kaguya or Shidou could retort. “Kaguya, Yuzuru, get ready to switch back to sniping mode. Shidou is approaching and will re-engage in three...two...one!”
Shidou made a great leap, shooting forward like a rocket, and the scene of combat rapidly came into view.
Wizards were what people called them, those enigmatic, floating constructs of destruction. They somewhat reminded Shidou of the robots of mecha anime, but these were as compact as humans and used more than mere physical ordnance. Monotonously coloured, usually in some kind of gray, they possessed glowing red eyes that flashed every time they used their signature ability—the power to manifest a Territory, a force field within which they gained the power to do practically anything, just like magic. Against anything without mana of their own, it an absolute power; a single Wizard had the potential to destroy an entire country.
And speaking of which...
Two hundred metres ahead (and rapidly decreasing) was a green wall, beyond which Kaguya, Yuzuru, and the guest Wizard for tonight were zipping around at breakneck speeds. An ordinary eye would not be able to discern what was going on, but Shidou had long since become accustomed to sensing external flows of mana, and could tell that inside the sphere fifty metres in radius was no less than six hundred shockwaves of air fired off one after another by the sole Wizard that created the Territory. Said Wizard was trying its damnedest to slice through the twins, but—
“Like you could catch us with those!” Kaguya jeered, strafing through the sky while spinning her spear almost leisurely. “Yuzuru and I are children of the storm! Air is our specialty. Air is our domain! We would sense these attacks coming even if we were asleep!”
“Derision: and yet you were nearly hit by one of these attacks nevertheless.”
“Wha—oh, shaddup! I totally would’ve been able to dodge that even if you didn’t butt in!”
Unfortunately, this was the moment the Wizard chose to switch tactics, and cranked both arm-like appendages up. There was some sort of sphere held there for a moment, which then exploded into a veritable wall of shrapnel that raced to the edges of the Territory in all directions.
Both twins veered away towards the green walls—Kaguya spat out several expletives—but Shidou was way ahead of them.
From the summoned Angel, a pillar of fire shot forward with all the destructive ability of a fission bomb, concentrated on one point. It pierced through a panel of the green sphere like lava through glass, and the rest of the cage shattered an instant later, making the Wizard’s attack evaporate with it. Kaguya and Yuzuru were free to put distance between them and the Wizard, while Shidou took their place.
Shidou ascended; he was only allowed to fire Megiddo from a lower vantage point, as it would cause severe destruction if it hit the Earth’s surface. On the other hand, now that the Wizard was notified of his existence, he had to gain altitude or else one of the Wizard’s attacks would hit the ground beneath. His weapon Camael transformed, collapsing its cannon form to extract the two blades of a battleaxe, and then with a yell, Shidou closed the last few metres between them to smash the weapon into the Wizard’s form.
The damage was negligible, sending it down only a dozen metres or so, but he had the Wizard’s attention now. Outside a Territory, Wizards were more limited in their methods of attack—this one was no exception, first resorting to some kind of machine gun built into its arm, for which Shidou bulled through with a hastily projected barrier of his own. Wizards could also use a never-ending stream of missiles, or a good old—
Shidou braced Camael in front of himself, and his breath shot out in a gasp as the Wizard broke through his force field and crashed into him with the impact of at least several trains.
—a good old body tackle, which brought the danger of being shot at point-blank. Shidou swung his Angel with all his might, throwing off the Wizard just enough to send it flying with another blow. The boy pursued, aiming to minimize the chance that it will collect itself.
“Announcement: Raphael’s El Kanaph mode is ready to fire. Permission to eliminate?”
“Negative, Yuzuru,” Kotori relayed. “Tohka and Yoshino haven’t finished sweeping the Bandersnatches yet. Estimated time to completion is two minutes!”
Shidou hit the brakes and dove to the side; a moment later, a pillar of light not dissimilar Megiddo blasted through the space he was in. Ordinarily, Shidou’s force field could handle even the laser attacks of Wizards, but this one was bigger than the usual and Shidou was in no hurry to be hit again.
“You know, this Wizard’s a lot stronger than the others,” Shidou noted, before hefting Camael and leaping at the enemy again. He swung his weapon in a great arc, but with an unexpected burst of speed the Wizard backed just so slightly out of reach before extending a laser blade from one of its limbs. “Oh—”
The next syllable unfortunately came over the speakers more as a gurgle, a natural result of having a blade shoved into his right lung. He heard several sharp intakes of breath, and then Kaguya shouted, “Kotori—!”
“Not yet, Kaguya!” Shidou forced out through gritted teeth, before Kotori could, his mana-reinforced free hand clenched and locked onto the Wizard’s wrist to jam its machine gun barrel from opening. The pain was excruciating, but the entire point of his training so far had revolved around the fact that he would get hurt.
Shidou kicked back instantly, before the Wizard could make the wound any worse, and the blade exited with a sick squelch. He fled, trying to buy time for his injury to heal but at the same time trying to maintain a distance close enough to keep the Wizard focused on him. Unfortunately, it was quickly becoming apparent that the Wizard had not gone all-out from the start, if the fact that it was catching up was any indication.
The boy threw Camael in desperation, a great pain jolting through his chest as he did so, but the Wizard simply strafed aside—and the instant it moved, Shidou banished and re-materialized the weapon and flung it again. It was a clumsy move, but it was enough to at least delay it for a fraction of a second, and Shidou just prayed that it was enough for Cauterization to heal him.
Today was not his day, however, as the Wizard immediately re-deployed its Territory.
Oh, come on! The standing average was four minutes before a Wizard would do that again—and this was barely thirty seconds!
Off to the distance and a little bit below, there was a sudden flash of light, and then an enormous arrow of metal and wind crashed through the just-created Territory, destroying it. At the same time, a fire flared into life, and the gaping wound on Shidou’s body sealed over. The boy immediately took a breath, and sweet oxygen started flowing through his blood again.
“All right, that didn’t go as bad as I thought it might,” he said out loud, summoning his Angel back into his hand.
“Less talking!” Kotori’s voice scolded through the mini-com in his ear. “Shidou, tone down the aggressiveness. Kaguya, Yuzuru, switch to active support tactics!”
“What? Kotori!” Shidou protested.
“Observation: Shidou, we have seen sufficient evidence that this Wizard is not one you can contain alone,” Yuzuru said. “It appears to be less risky to deny it the time needed to deploy a Territory than to destroy it each time it creates one.”
Shidou opened his mouth to argue and then was forced dodge another laser cannon sent his way. “But still—”
Halfway through, Shidou realized that the Wizard was a mere second away from slamming into him with its bulk.
Then Kaguya was there, spearing El Re’em into the Wizard’s arm with a yell. The being was blown downwards, tumbling over and over for maybe two hundred metres before it was able to right itself.
“No buts, Shidou!” she shouted, the boy now hearing her through his own ears and not just the speakers. She twirled her Angel back into a combat-ready stance, and glared at him. “You can’t do this without our help, so live with it! And besides...”
Awkwardly, the girl scratched her cheek and took great pains to avoid looking at Shidou in the eyes.
“A-and, besides...I—I don’t want to see you get hurt, either!”
Shidou was momentarily stunned. “Kaguya...”
“What is this, a soap opera?” Kotori said in disbelief.
“Congratulation,” Yuzuru deadpanned as she floated to Shidou’s side: “Kaguya, as your sister I feel elated you were finally able to use the line you’ve repeatedly practiced in front of the mirror.”
“Like hell I’ll believe you when your voice is as flat as Kotori’s chest! Stop making fun—”
All three scattered from the laser cannon the Wizard launched at them, and Kotori shouted, “Yuzuru, focus on cutting off its movements, but don’t try to hold it! Kaguya and Shidou, head in close and use low-tier ranged attacks as much as possible!
“And by the way,” she growled, a loud crunch presumably from her Chupa Chups sounding over the intercom, “I’m getting you for that later, Kaguya!”
“Geh,” the relevant girl said.
Shidou hesitated for a moment, protectiveness warring with practicality, then sighed and gave her an apologetic smile. “I’ll stop you from getting hurt if you do the same for me?” he offered, referring to both situations.
“Let’s do that,” Kaguya conceded, and then they shot towards the Wizard.
Yuzuru kept true to her role, her El Nahash swinging across the sky to blow the Wizard back where Shidou or Kaguya were waiting. Even without Territories, fighting Wizards were always a tricky affair that oscillated from being forced up by the constant need to keep altitude to forcing it down before they got high enough that oxygen levels started becoming a serious disadvantage for the Spirits, but between the stoic twin lashing out with her Angel and the outgoing twin copying Shidou’s earlier move—
“Lanzenwurf!” Kaguya shouted, and hurled her weapon with the power and speed of a tornado, the Wizard only barely managing to guard against the crashing impact.
—like that, they were managing to keep the enemy contained.
Shidou risked a glance downward, scanning through the twilit streets for the telltale signs of light and ice. Bandersnatches were a different matter altogether, being an inferior version of Wizards that couldn’t levitate but had the unfortunate tendency to explode when the Wizard that came with them was destroyed, or when on the brink of being defeated. The clean-up fighters had to take care to completely annihilate a unit, preferably in one attack—but so far, it seemed to be happening; Tohka’s energy slash lit the night as she wrecked the last of the remainder of her group.
“Thirty seconds until elimination is a go!” Kotori barked, as if she had seen him look away from his battle which, in fairness, she probably had from the Fraxinus’ monitors.
Shidou hoisted his Angel above his head; the mechanism inside revved with a great roar, jettisoning a blast of fire along the axe blade. “Camael—”
As soon as Kaguya leapt out of the way, he swung the weapon in a mighty arc that flung all his will and determination in a weaponized blast.
The fire-wreathed slash extended through the air until it slammed into the Wizard’s form in an explosion of red. The entity was sent careening back, even when it managed a proper guard—
Shidou hesitated. This entire fight, something had been nagging at the back of his head, and suddenly he realized what it was.
That Wizard—it’s been using that same arm to block our attacks the whole time…?
Then the thought was cut off as the Wizard released a veritable truckload of missiles from all over its body, several of which veered to him, and rather than use a barrier that forced him to stay still Shidou leapt forward and released another Kalupto, demolishing the cloud of explosives sent his way—
He was already in motion, twisting around and guarding with both barrier and Camael against the few missiles that he had seen circling around him, and he let out a gasp of pain when the explosions broke through the hasty defence and scorched his face. Kaguya and Yuzuru were already back to attacking, having used the very air around them to shred the projectiles harmlessly.
“Wish I could do that too,” Shidou grumbled.
Then he was forced to cast another barrier when this time machine gun slugs were shot his way, Kaguya being similarly constrained. With only two arms and two guns however, the Wizard could do nothing about Yuzuru being free to slam her pendant into the offending weapon once, then twice—
That machine gun broke, buckling into the Wizard’s arm with a shower of sparks, and the being directed its machine gun towards Yuzuru who was forced to project a force field of her own. Shidou shot forward, determined to repeat Yuzuru’s feat, and with both him and Kaguya closing in the Wizard had no choice but to—
Deploy yet another Territory.
Oh, you have GOT to be kidding me!
“Disbelief,” Shidou heard Yuzuru say over the mini-intercom: “Kotori, I believe you said Wizards aren’t able to use Territories without sufficient concentration and mana stockpiles.”
“We’re looking it up,” Kotori responded rather testily. “In the meantime, stay alive.”
As soon as he saw it coming, Shidou strafed to the side to avoid a barrage of laser beams, smaller than the ones earlier but no less deadly, and then he realized that they didn’t end up hitting the edge of the Territory.
“Hyah!” Kaguya cried when several beams bent and nearly struck her. “I mean—I’ll have you know, Wizard, I meant to—!”
“Haven’t you people learned anything?!” Kotori snarled. “This Wizard is stronger than the others—you have no luxury to talk!”
Shidou hurtled himself towards the green walls, and cried out when curved lasers seared into his shoulder and leg. He cast another force field, grunted as at least six beams hammered against it, and reinforced it with more mana—and unfortunately, by that point, the Wizard was firing off so many that he couldn’t even see the edge of the Territory because of the rays of light, and to make things even worse—
“Is the Territory expanding?!” he said in disbelief.
“Yes,” Kotori answered curtly. “Incidentally, in eighty seconds this Wizard is going to break our previous max radius of two hundred seventy-six metres, assuming an unchanging rate of growth.”
Shidou’s force field cracked, and all he could do was pump more mana into it to keep it together. “Kaguya, Yuzuru! Are you two okay?”
“Well, Shidou, should Zeus himself throw several master bolts in succession at you, would you call that being okay?!”
“Uncertainty: we will hold for several minutes. I can make no further guarantees.”
“Kotori, I need to get to them—my ability can magnify theirs—”
“Through this wall of lasers?” Kotori said. “You’ll drop dead faster than you can say ‘oops’ each time you revive. But don’t worry, you’re in luck—they’re here!”
With a great crashing sound, the laser beams dispersed, and an enormous mass of white hurtled past like a meteor to body slam the Wizard, nearly clipping Shidou and the twins in the process.
‘Tee hee! It looks like you guys were in a bit of a pinch, eh?’ Yoshinon said gleefully which, in his giant Zadkiel form, frankly sounded terrifying.
“Shidou-san! Sorry to keep you waiting!” Yoshino’s soft voice called out, on top of Yoshinon.
“Shidoooooo!” Tohka shouted, waving her arms (and Angel) in joy. “I did it! Praise me, praise meee!”
“Tohka, Yoshino!” Shidou shouted, a smile showing on his face despite himself. “Good job!”
And as Tohka went into her giddy little dance at the compliment, Shidou once again brandished Camael, clanks and screeches sounding as it transformed back into cannon form. “Now, everyone—let’s finish this!”
Tohka shot forward first with an energetic yell, and as she jumped off the throne she rode like a surfboard, it scattered to pieces that consecutively attached to her weapon with the same precision as building up a rifle would require, until it culminated in a sword several times longer than the original that blazed with white energy.
She swung the enormous sword upwards, and destruction followed—an energy slash large and fast enough that the very space rippled as it passed through. The Wizard had been unfortunate enough to have tried closing in at that moment, and was in no position to dodge as Tohka’s attack bit into it with all the power of what Shidou knew from first-hand experience to be a mountain-slicing-and-if-Tohka-really-felt-like-overkill-then-exploding blow. There was a great bang as the attack exploded.
“It didn’t work—the Wizard deployed a comparatively dense Territory just before Tohka’s attack hit,” Kotori said.
Tohka pouted. “Not fair!” she whined; and slightly below her, Kaguya and Yuzuru released El Kanaph.
Yet again tonight, the arrow sped forward near-instantaneously and crashed into the Wizard’s form dead-on, and this time there was a distinctive shattering sound before a burst of wind and dust tore across the sky. A moment later, from within the dust cover fell out the twitching, but more importantly still whole, form of the Wizard.
“Zadkiel,” Yoshino said quietly, but also with a hint of steel.
The puppet cackled. ‘Gotcha, Yoshino! Oh, I’ve been waiting all night to try out this name. YOSHINON PWETTY BEEEAAAMMM!’
The giant form opened its mouth and immediately fired a ray of ice-cold light. The Wizard did not even try getting out of the way, simply taking the attack with an arm held out to cover its head area, and the beam washed over it as absolute zero temperatures ground away at its mana-infused plating.
Shidou gritted his teeth. “Kotori, this one’s more persistent than the others—a lot more. I’m going in to fire at it point-blank, and hope it makes a difference.”
“Be careful,” Kotori replied. “Everyone else, observe the Wizard and intercept if necessary!”
Shidou had leapt into action as soon as he’d been green-lit, bulleting forward with a bit of help from exhaust blazing out of the back of Camael. Against the wind, he brought the weapon around, aiming it squarely on the cracked form of the Wizard that became easier to make out as Yoshino’s attack died out. At Shidou’s current trajectory, he would glide directly underneath the Wizard hurtling downward half a second before it passed through the same point. There would be no missing this one. There would be no mistake.
“Camael,” he began, and the weapon burned with the red glow of an inferno. “Megi—”
It was at that moment that the Wizard’s arm broke off—or more accurately, its arm’s plating broke off, revealing underneath a pale colour not unlike human skin.
Shidou’s eyes widened.
The pillar of fire lit the night sky, creating a line directly to the heavens as if a god had thrown it down to the earth. Something exploded, most likely a part of the Wizard’s body, and from Shidou’s intercom, a soft “Termination confirmed” sounded from one of the Fraxinus’ personnel as the ship registered the loss of a mana signal.
“Yippee!” Shidou heard Tohka cheer—
“Shidou!” Kotori snapped. “That attack didn’t hit the Wizard directly! What happened?!”
Shidou opened his mouth to reply, and found himself at a loss for words. In the end, he could only speak out the truth.
“I don’t know,” he said.
In his arms lay the unconscious and barely breathing form of a white-haired human girl he had barely managed to catch as she fell from the sky. Her face, though the half with its plating destroyed was also horribly burnt, seemed to be at peace, as if no longer in the clutches of a nightmare.