Counter 28: Freezing Point
Fifty-seven minutes after two o’clock in the afternoon
In the fourth watch tower, ground floor
The sun is high up. Nalkad Island is engulfed with the bellowing sounds of chaos all over the place. These continuous explosions and tremors can drown one’s senses.
“This day sure is hot.” Jhalil mutters.
Ever since that little plane crashed, everyone has been restless. The people are either worried sick inside while hiding or running around and fighting.
“Although, nothing happened here… yet…” He adds while staring at the door. “Earl Spade, it seems that we’ll be receiving a guest soon so get your guard up.”
“A guest?” He repeats while raising a brow. “W-wait, you mean?... that?”
“Of course, what else is there?”
He sighs. “I can’t fight. I was told this’ll be a pretty safe place.”
Jhalil scratches his temple while looking around. “There is no safe place right now. But you’ll be fine ‘cause they’re not interested in you.”
Earl Spade frowns. He does not want the enemy to come after him but that remark hurt his delicate pride. “Is that supposed to make me happy?”
Jhalil then feels the need to make a sudden pause when he senses the presence of a very unpleasant man closing in. It is obvious that this man is openly letting his existence known.
He is quite powerful. With Jhalil’s years of experience in fighting monsters when he was still an active rune adventurer, he can clearly tell that this person is someone who can hold his ground against many of the reveil professors in the academy.
“Must be hard,” Jhalil stands up and then faces the stairs to the second floor. “Must be hard, huh… you can’t get in there. Whatever you are.”
The intruder’s presence becomes clearer. A mass of dark red smoke appears three steps up the stairs.
“I guess I’ll have to knock then.” His cold voice echoes as his form becomes more distinct.
A man wearing a dark cloak shows up a few steps away from the second floor’s door.
“I believe you’re not here for a cup of tea.” Jhalil says while being attentive to the intruder’s appearance and subtle movements. He knows that any intruder will not be able to get up the second floor since Sylphid left them some protective charm in the form of a little doll. It seals the whole second floor from the outside; the only way to get in is to have it opened from the inside. The people guarding Acheron are also in charge of Sylphid’s doll. They will not open the door unless the professor tells them to.
Earl Spade stays quiet while observing the situation. The noises outside feels more distant as the tension inside the watch tower increase.
“Sorry, we don’t accept visitors around this time.” Jhalil sneers at him.
“Don’t worry,” the man in cloak responds with a smirk while standing in front of the locked door. “I won’t stay long. I just need a piece of your mind.”
Two minutes after three o’clock in the afternoon
Admin building, monitor room
After the cloaked man disappears, the monitor room has also lost contact with the fourth watch tower. That man must have cut all communications from the outside the moment he has gotten close to his objective. The headmaster has faith in Jhalil’s skills but that does not mean there are no other reasons to make him worry. Until now, the monitor room still cannot get any picture of what is happening in Azalea’s situation. All the staff and faculty left in the admin building are ubliss and some non-combatant members of BK. Now that they have lost their last line of defense, Sylphid, they are more exposed to danger.
“After that Yhor person attacked,” Oryx says while relaxing his back on the chair behind. “I don’t think they are going to target us again. After all, their objective isn’t annihilation.”
Sadi sighs before pushing her glasses up. “But they have clearly sent their message through this attack.” She crosses her arms and then rolls her pale brown eyes towards Oryx. “They have the power to make an attack of this scale and corner us. Had this organization been serious then we’re all be six feet deep under the ground by now.”
“Don’t worry, Sadi~” He says with a crooked smile. “No one would dare challenge ICA like that. Furthermore, once the academy truly falls into such grave situation then… I guess we won’t need to answer with just defensive tactics anymore.”
“That thing has a very long cooldown.” The grim expression on her face is not changing.
“Once we use it, we won’t be able to activate it again in half a year. Though it doesn’t seem that these intruders are after that… They must have another plan concealed behind this attack. Furthermore, it’s not like we are announcing AB Academy’s activities throughout the world.”
“We’ve already started our investigation discreetly. Now that this happened, we’ll have to give it higher priority. So, let’s put that aside for now.”
“Sir,” one of the BK’s member calls while holding on her headphones.
“Yes,” Oryx immediately responds. “What is it, Nagare?”
“ICA’s reinforcement will take about another thirty minutes to arrive.” She answers fretfully.
“The NEPD is on its way… but they will probably take at least another ten minutes to arrive here.”
After hearing Nagare’s report, Oryx covers his mouth with his left hand while looking down. “It will take too much time. Can we hold out for another ten minutes? Everyone is… worn out… Which fortress is coming?”
“It’s House of Kirihara’s flying fortress.”
“Mhm. The Tezcatlipoca Castle, huh.”
“Headmaster, we’re getting a call from the fourth watch tower.” Nagare turns the call into loud speaker that everyone can hear the buzz.
“…zzt-! …-er. Headmaster, this is Claws. We have secured the objective here. But the intruder immediately retreated.”
The professor pauses while the buzzing noise interrupts the silence.
“I believe that he is going to go after another objective.”
“Where is that reckless child now?” Oryx’ tone is deep; his forehead crease.
Azalea is stubborn in more ways than one. He knows it will be extremely difficult to capture her, but he also knows that it is not impossible.
“I’m already looking into it.” Jhalil answers before ending the call.
Oryx was able to get Azalea to enroll into the academy because he talked to that merchant. The merchant told him some methods on how to capture her. The first one is to completely exhaust her. The second is to give her a severe injury that will put her in a near-death state. In both occasions, Hol will act and force her into deep sleep in order to focus only on healing and recovery. During that time, she is most vulnerable. Accomplishing these two methods will require too much time and too much effort.
Of course, Oryx did not use either of those methods. The last one he knows off is to appeal to her emotions or her sense of good-will as a person. He thinks it is the most possible and usable way.
With how things are progressing, Oryx can tell that Azalea is near exhaustion. Leaving her alone once Hol acts to put her in deep sleep is a situation they must avoid at all cost.
Fifty-eight minutes after two o’clock in the afternoon
Green dorm area
The ground is filled with cracks and scrapes, it is the proof of the ongoing battle that the students are facing. The dorm area is now surrounded by the mechanic sounds and destructive noises. The previously peaceful nature of the academy is now engulfed by the atmosphere of war. Smoke and dust mixed in the air; it clogs their breathing and pricks their throats making them cough as they inhale. The smell of burning circuits, the gun powder and metallic scent mixed with the unpleasant odor of blood sipping down the soil. Inaudible screams are echoing along with the blasts of machine guns as more bullets indiscriminately storm the area. In the scene, are scattered lights that may belong to the machineries’ sparks, the glint from magic circles’ formation and dissolution, and the glow of ki beams. Even though their mana gets neutralized, it still could buy them a little time to dodge while others press forward to attack and destroy the aggressive metaghosts.
On the other hand, Blair and Emil are currently running back from the AV building after killing the Emperor Q’etsu, and while on the way they are also throwing metaghost around. Despite being exhausted from the continuous fights, the two seems to be enjoying their time as they go wild on the way. Meanwhile, without them knowing, the situation in front of the green dormitory is changing for the worse.
“What in the world happened to your hand?!!” Deeveen screams when she sees Blair and Emil running closer to the dormitory.
“No, it’s not my blood.” Blair answers casually while gradually decreasing her speed.
Emil looks around and notices stains of blood on the ground. When he turns his gaze to the dorm, his eyes widen at the sight of number injured students. “What happened here?” He asks with utter confusion.
“Who are you?” Vargas cuts in.
“He’s Emil,” Blair introduces him enthusiastically. “My friend. And, this is Vargas and Deeveen, well… more friends, I guess.” She rubs the back of her head after introducing them to each other. She then spots the marks of bullets buried deep in the dorm’s walls while there are also loads of empty cartridges rolling around. “So back to the question… What happened here?”
Deeveen stares at her for a moment as though her mind is loading for answers. “That’s… Around six minutes ago, I believe.” She then looks around and made sure that no metaghost is nearby that may attack them. “Those robots just suddenly fired their machine guns at us. I don’t get it but a certain group of those robots just stormed us with bullets the moment they got close. The other robots did not seem to show such behavior and continued to move forward.”
“Some group of those meta-something must have been given different program of commands.” Vargas continues. “Which means… we have to be more alert in the changes in their patterns because we don’t know what they might do next.”
“What a pain…” Blair grumbles while looking away. “Right… They got those troublesome weapons and… there’s just no end to them.”
“And since the barrier that was put around the dorm is no longer available, we won’t be able to hide anymore without being detected.” Deeveen’s expression turns grim.
All of a sudden the metaghosts are getting flung around them, a voice rings, “Hey--!!” Her rough and stern voice catches their attention. “The four of you, why are you just standing there?!” Says the girl whose right arm is filled with tribal tattoos. “A lot of students got severe injuries from the previous attack! All of the available healers are busy and struggling to keep everyone alive. Listen, we can’t afford to have more casualties!”
Deeveen waved at her. “It’s okay, we’re--”
“WHOA--!!” Blair interrupts then she excitedly runs towards the newly arrived comrade.
“Those tattoos are cool! Where’d you get ‘em?”
“Err… excuse me..?” She is dazzled by the redhead’s weird behavior.
With sparkling eyes, Blair fixes her gaze on the tattoos. “Hey, hey, are we allowed here to get tattoos? Ah—and your hairstyle is awesome too!” She stares at her Mohawk hairstyle.
Emil then pulls her by the collar of her uniform. “Stop that. You’re troubling others. Please excuse the dumbass. Bye.” Then he drags her away.
She is at lost for words while watching them leave the scene. “What’s that about?”
“Don’t mind them,” Deeveen responds while trying to get her attention away from the two. “How are the others, Robin? Will the healers be able to tend to them all?”
“I don’t know,” she shakes her head. “They are not very proficient in the techniques yet but they are holding on.”
“I see.” Deeveen looks down, pondering. “Vargas,” she turns her eyes towards the lad. “Go help in healing.”
“Oh. This guy’s a healer?”
Vargas smiles while standing in a relaxed posture. “I’m an esper. My ability involves ‘Sound Healing,’ though it’s more like a support kind of skill.” He laughs shyly. “It’s like the opposite of my brother’s forte. But, it does not actually heal. My power just helps a little to relax the mind and body which makes the flow of mana become stable; and so, healing becomes easier.” He adds before waving as he leaves.
“His ability is good. He should have more confidence in it.” Robin comments.
Deeveen grins. “He got a bit of complex on it. But I’m sure he’ll be able to overcome it in no time.” She laughs proudly.
Fifty-eight minutes after two o’clock in the afternoon
Monsters are swarming from the west side, while metaghosts hordes them from the east.
The stomping sounds and the growling noises feel as though they will never end.
Everywhere one looks is filled with thin smoke and clouds of dust. Cartridges are rolling on the ground. Mechanical gears are scattered around. Drops of blood and monsters’ corpses are cluttered here and there. The smell of spilled blood mixed with the lingering scent of metal and gunpowder are spreading chaos and fear. The unsightly scene of skirmish nobody wants to see. Trembling, shaking, their heart is unsettled. More than ever, they are wary of what else could there be. Their mind is consumed by the thought of pushing these battles to an end soon.
Duke takes charge of fighting the monsters but he alone will obviously not be able to stop all of them. Meanwhile, Zacharius is taking pleasure in breaking one metaghost after the other. He seems to love the sound of their destruction. On the other side, Wrie keeps her stand in front of the library, eliminating anything and everything she considers to be a threat to her master.
“This is frustrating…” Primrose grumbles while searching her bag.
“If reinforcements don’t arrive soon, we’ll be goners then.” Pana number 2 replies.
“Hmm…” She scratches the back of her head. “I mean, I’m running out of snacks.”
Pana number 2 pauses while staring at the gluttonous lass. “Did the midwife fail to catch you when your mom was giving birth to you? Or did you suffer from any kind of head trauma when you were younger?”
“I don’t know, I never asked my mom.” She responds as she sits at the nearby rubble. “As for the head trauma, I don’t remember something like that. This battle had gone for too long. Even I am starting to feel worn out now.”
“All you did was stand there.” Schnitzel comments.
“True,” Pana number 2 sighs while looking at the yashou not far ahead. “But if you are talking about the mana you supply to your yashou then it makes sense.” She squints her eyes at Wrie while Primrose says no word about it. “Your yashou is quite strong… no wonder you’re—eh? That yashou of yours is kind of weird.”
“That yashou… I’m feeling that way, too.” Schnitzel says softly.
Primrose stares at Wrie for few seconds. “Yeah, I get that a lot.”
“No, that’s not the kind of answer I’m expecting to get.” Pana number 2 raises a brow as she turns toward Primrose. “Is she a doll?”
“I’m not fond of dolls, you know.” Primrose answers nonchalantly.
“Could it be that she’s actually your twin?!” Schnitzel enthusiastically suggests.
Pana number 2 touches her chin while staring blankly into space. “Yeah, that yashou does give that kind of presence… but not quite… More like she really is alive or something. I mean more alive than I am or any other dolls Sylphid ever made.”
“Nice try,” Primrose smiles teasingly. “You can keep guessing but you’re not going to get any explanation from me.”
On another event, not far from the library, Duke crosses paths with a group of three BKs. According to them, they are about to go to the dorms but two of their comrades got lost on the way. It appears that the group got off track of their mission so they decided to help out in protecting the library. Leaving Duke, who is fighting alone within that torrent of monsters, does not coincide with their objective. The monsters that are flooding the library are trying to go down the dormitories. They are mostly composed of shadow nilmergs and q’etsus.
At one point Zacharius, who is fighting alone with a bunch of metaghosts, have gotten a couple of helping hands—or so that how it looks. Four of his retainers have been looking for him and they finally find him fighting against the metaghosts.
“Quiad,” Zacharius calls one of his attendants with green hair. “How is the situation in the blue zone?” He asks with crooked brows.
“So-so,” Quiad answers while flinging one metaghost away. “Only the aides are fighting outside the dorms while most—well, you’re here after all—of the nobles are leisurely passing their time inside the dorm.”
“Wow~” Zacharius whistles. “As expected of those weaklings.” He grins deviously while cracking his knuckles. “They should go out and stretch their bones from time to time, instead of letting their breath rot with every sip of their tea.”
“Sir, you shouldn’t be talking like that.” The aide with crew cut red hair warns him. His brown eyes stare at him with disappointment.
“You don’t have to reprimand me every damn time.” He revolts. “Oscar, all these years and you never get tired. I’m already pissed! We can’t expect any more help here, huh…”
Quiad sighs as though the burden he carries on his shoulder just doubled. “There some other nobles that have been fighting outside, you know. I heard the heir of the House of Kirihara is taking his carefree time helping out the BK. The kid from the House of Darko as well… and… I think I saw the eldest child of the House of Strange break-free out of the magic barrier earlier. Though, she seems to be leisurely taking a walk with her aides…”
“House of Strange, huh?” Zacharius clicks his tongue. “I didn’t wanna hear whatever the shit she’s up to… And, how about the situation in the green zone, Oscar?”
“It’s quite a mess,” Oscar answers readily. “A number of injured ar—”
“Nah,” he cuts in the middle of the speech. “Not that one.” He pauses as his expression changes into a more serious one. With a firm tone he continues, “The green-zone’s red monkey that we met last time, did you happen to see her?”
Oscar gulps followed by a long pause. “I don’t think we passed by her.” He sighs.
“Is that so…” He turns towards the girl with black hair in twin tails. “Elza, you’re supposed to be watching her.”
“I lost contact with the clone I assigned to tail her.” She answers and then shrugs. “It seems that it might have come into contact with the robots.”
“Must I send one of you to find her?”
“I suggest you don’t.” A guy with black hair and orange eyes intercepts his order. “You are running low on both mana and physical strength. We don’t know what greater danger might come. We are not in a situation where we can leave your side, young master.”
“I agree with Ralph.” Elza joins in before Zac could respond. “It is already a big mistake that we couldn’t follow you earlier.”
“This is also for the blood of Rogue.” He responds with a serious tone.
“But we are your aides, young master Zacharius.” Elza retorts emphasizing the last three words that left her lips.
“Had anything bad happened to you, I would pay with my life.” Oscar bows slightly.
“The house does not have any rule saying you must pay with your life in case I get into some dumb accident.”
“There is also no rule that prevents us from doing so.” Ralph replies.
Then all four of them kneel in one knee with their heads lowered.
“We wish to stay by your side and fight with you, young master.” Quiad takes the lead. “Please allow us to do our duty.”
Zac is at loss for words. “Fiiiine.” He responds sluggishly.
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