Counter 29: Depth-less Crystal
Fifty-nine minutes after two o’clock in the afternoon
The scorching heat of the sun hits down directly at the rooftop. It is such a clear weather to be staring at the rising smoke of destruction and to be listening to the growls of ruin. A young man standing on the gymnasium’s roof smiles mockingly while staring down at his enemy. In front of him is another man who is kneeling down with one knee.
“What the hell…” Lyrus grumbles while supporting his weight on the roof with his right hand while the other holds on tight around his stomach.
“You… You gave her a hard time, didn’t you?” Evan asks again with the same cold expression.
“T-that again…?” He mutters as blood drench his left hand. “You were seriously trying to kill me… weren’t you?”
“What are you talking about?” He responds while giving off a sinister aura. “I was simply asked to take care of you, so that’s what I’m doing.”
“Son of a bitch—!!” Lyrus grits his teeth.
From the edge of the roof, Azalea enters flying up, or more like she powered up her jump and then landed with a blast. With such reckless and attention-grabbing entrance, the boys cannot help but stare at her as she stands proudly. Her floating staff follows her as she walks on the roof. On her right arm are peculiar markings that look like techno tattoos. Looking closely at the same arm, there are little magic circles appear and disappear simultaneously like twinkling stars. Right then and there, she turns her head side to side and then focuses her gaze at the man on his knees. It is faint, but she can smell the scent of blood nearby.
“You are bleeding.” Azalea’s eyes focus on Lyrus.
The blood coming from Lyrus’ stomach wound is starting to drip on the roof forming a small pool of red liquid.
“Why do you care?” Lyrus scoffs.
Azalea marches slowly. “Not that I care… I just didn’t expect it to come to this kind of end.”
She stops once she reaches Evan’s side. “I have no idea how strong Evan is…” She smiles while her dead eyes do not move away from the enemy. “It looks like you’ve been played quite well.”
He clicks his tongue while watching the two students stand confidently. “So, you’ve dealt with that demon after all.”
“Have I?” She replies with a sweet smile but her eyes say otherwise. “I guess I did. Your friend won’t be moving for… a long time, I believe.”
“So you haven’t killed that? You coward.” Lyrus refutes with a scornful grin.
“Shall I shut him up?” Evan suddenly inquires. He then lifts his right arm pointing at Lyrus. A small glint starts to form at the tip of his index finger. “In which part should I put a hole this time?”
Without any second thought, Azalea gently grabs Evan’s arm. “That’s too much, Evan. There is no need for more violence or casualties… at this point.” She returns her gaze at the bleeding man. “Whoever you are, please retreat. You can’t win against the two of us.”
“Don’t get too cocky, bitch!” He growls. “You’re on the wrong side!”
She tilts her head wondering about the meaning of what he just said. “You’re the one who shouldn’t get too overconfident.” She answers ignoring the part that does not seem to make sense. “At this rate, you’re going to die, you know.”
Silence engulfs the place for a short moment. The opposing forces are simply staring at each other trying to figure out what move each side would take next.
Fifty-three minutes after two o’clock in the afternoon
Northern forest area
Four people suddenly appear in a place surrounded by trees and bushes. In a single zap, before they can even blink their eyes, the scenery has changed. When they look around, there is a watch tower close by. But which one is it?
“We are far from the gym now.” Zen shifts in his fighting pose. His huge built makes him look very intimidating. “I’d like to ask you to drop your weapons and surrender but I doubt you’d be willing to comply.”
Meanwhile, Ren who is a couple of steps behind Zen only stands on his place. His pose is relaxed while making sure that his visibility is good.
Gaozu takes on his fighting stance. “Taka, summon your yashou.” He commands while pulling out two small knives from his utility belt.
Taka nods, then dark smoke pops beside him. When the smoke disperses a human-like wolf appears. It has gray disheveled fur, large fangs and sharp claws. It sandy-gray eyes are looking fiercely at the enemies in front.
“Fangs, attack!!!” Taka points in front then the human-wolf lunges forward.
At the same time, Gaozu prepares to throw the knives in his hands. He is an esper with an ability to control the temperature of the things he touches. It is not a very strong ability so he rarely makes use of it. This time an opportunity just happens to come. He heats the knives up to 100 degrees Celcius.
Zen stays in place as if he has no plans to evade the yashou’s attack. Before the claws of the yashou can touch him, it disappears. It has been teleported away by either of the two. Such is the timing that Gaozu anticipates. When Fangs has gotten close enough to the student, he throws the knives so that it can be hidden behind the yashou. For a moment, the student in front, Zen, has looked confused before the knives disappears as well.
“Aawww-!!” Ren screams before dropping two knives on the ground. “These stabby things are hot!”
“Did you get a burn?” Zen immediately checks on his friend.
While the two students are busy chatting, Gaozu approaches Taka.
“It looks like the guy with hair can teleport things just by looking at them.” Gaozu says softly. “I’m still not sure about the bigger guy. We have to be careful and buy as much time as we can.”
“Mhm.” Taka nods and then looks around. “Fangs is still close, I can easily call him back.”
His human-wolf yashou then appears beside him again. When he turns his sight back to their opponents, he notices some familiar looking knives. The peach-haired guy drops the knives and a gun on the ground.
“T-those knives… and…” Taka immediately checks his utility belt and finds out that his weapons are no longer there.
“Shit-!!” Gaozu hisses while feeling around his utility belt. “This guy-!!!”
The sound of blades that are falling on top of each other pulls their attention back to their opponents. At that moment they have realized how outmatched they are.
“Sorry, we have other business to attend to.” Ren says then the yashou gets teleported again.
Taka can feel that his yashou is still close-by so he looks around. His eyes widen and his jaws drop at the sight. Fangs got teleported on a branch of a tree just behind them. His yashou is hanging with the branch piercing through its core. Cold sweat envelops his body that froze at that horrible scene.
Before either of them can react, Zen has teleported and then simultaneously beat them down. All of a sudden, their view has started spinning as their body drop with a heavy thud on the solid ground.
Taka seems to be in the state of shock after losing his yashou. Once the core is destroyed, the contractor loses his connection with the Vis thus turning him into nothing more than an ordinary ubliss. In this situation, he is done. But it is different for Gaozu, maybe he can still do something. He struggles to get back on his feet but then he finds himself pinned to the ground. He looks at his arm and recognizes the knives that are piercing through his clothes pinning him on the ground; unable to move.
“We’re done here.” Zen says as he pins Taka with the rest of the stolen knives.
The way the battle ended is too quick and clean. Gaozu forces a laugh out, as if he lost his mind. He knew that it was a losing fight from the start. He cannot complain and he cannot refuse. He and Taka is just a pair of children that the organization picked up from some slum that they no longer have any memory of. They have no place to go, and they have no dreams to seek. They are not capable of having any.
Taka is not showing any signs of resistance; he just closed his eyes. The silence is heavy. A soft wind blows.
“Hey,” his voice is hoarse. “I have always been jealous. Why haven’t we been given the same opportunities? Then maybe… we’d find more value in this life.”
Ren and Zen are not saying anything. They are silently looking at him while listening to him as if they could understand what he is trying to say.
He scoffs looking at their expression. “I see…”
“If you cooperate with us, ICA will ensure a better future for the both of you.” Ren tries to negotiate.
“I’ll leave you a gift.” Gaozu closes his eyes. There is a sense of serenity mixed in his action.
“They call themselves… Sentinel.”
Fifty-nine minutes after two o’clock in the afternoon
Forth Watch Tower, Second Floor
“Sorry, we don’t accept visitors around this time.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t stay long. I just need a piece of your mind.”
The conversation from the other side of the door softly flows inside. Kris and Tristan who are guarding Acheron are made aware of the situation. They are staying silent and alert while figuring out what to do next. The whole room is protected by Sylphid’s magic so unauthorized people will not be able to enter easily.
Kris taps Tristan’s shoulder while pointing at the door. “Hurry and prepare that rifle.” He speaks softly. “I’ll guide you.”
“I did get some basic training but I’ve never shot a person before.” Tristan speaks softly. His hands are trembling while holding the rifle.
“There are also a lot of students outside who never fought against robots or monsters before but that’s beside the point.” He retorts while extending his hand. “We cannot waste time. If you don’t want to pull the trigger then give it to me. I am not well versed in firearms since I was trained to use weapons that don’t make much noise.”
“Y-you’ve never held a gun before?”
“That’s right. You just have to pull the trigger, right?”
It might be more dangerous to leave this to a person who did not undergo proper training. Tristan has been feeling a lot of pressure since Azalea entrusted him with a rifle that comes with trandium bullets. Use it for self-defense. Stopping that man from entering the room is also a form of defense. He only have once chance.
“With my ability, hitting the vital parts can be avoided.” Kris adds while fixing his sight at the closed door. “All we have to do is weaken him… If possible, weak enough that he won’t be able to attack others.”
If he misses, he would either end up killing that person or inflicting too little to no damage that someone else would get in danger. What are the chances that he can do this properly?
Kris is about to take the rifle but Tristan moves it away.
“She really have thought this far ahead, huh.” Tristan mumbles softly that it is almost inaudible.
“I-I’ll do it.” He fixes his stance and then points the riffle towards the door.
They can still hear the voices of the intruder and Professor Claws from the other side of the door. It seems that the professor is buying time and distracting the intruder.
“Move it five degrees to the right.” Kris instructs while Tristan follows. “Not yet… Wait for my signal.”
Tristan can almost hear his heartbeat as it goes faster every second that passes. He is doing his best to stop his hands from trembling and calm his breathing. Everyone is doing their best; he cannot be the only one falling behind.
“Be ready.” Kris says softly while staring at the closed door.
Tristan stables his breathing preparing his finger to pull the trigger. He has mustered his determination. “Whatever happens, happens.”
“At the count of three.” He then points. “One… Two…” He speaks as if he is waiting for something that he can only see. After one deep breath he raises his voice slightly. “Three!”
A gunshot echoes in the fourth watch tower.
Fifty-nine minutes after two o’clock in the afternoon
White and solid.
Dainty threads of smoke pour down embracing the ground. Cold. The area that used to be scorching like the inner caves of a volcano is now swallowed up by chilling wind. Silent. The ear-splitting roars no longer rumbles every now and then.
“A feat…” Rajid says softly as he remains stunned watching the scene. “Is this really something that a student of no more than eighteen years of age can do? Is it fair to say, as expected from someone born in the House of Strange?”
A cloud of chilly white breath flows out of Isaw’s mouth. “We’re totally out matched this time. None of us could have done something close to this.”
“I appreciate your praises, professors.” Herneihmys speaks suddenly. “Someone still needs to break that.” She points at the demon.
The demon, Il Darvan, is now frozen like a statue; like ice sculpted professionally for an art gallery.
“I don’t think I have enough strength left to do it.” Xiao Feng answers while fixing her eyes on the frigid figure of the demon.
Herneihmys pauses while touching her chin then she lifts her head watching the sky. “Oh—perhaps we could just let that dragon eat it.”
“A-ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!” Rajid impulsively growls losing control of his actions.
“Calm down, I was simply jesting.” She responds, her tone is low and cold as normal.
“You don’t sound like you are,” he mumbles.
“I don’t want to waste more of my mana for this.” Herneihmys says boldly with a sigh. “It’s a sure win for me and I’m done evaluating the strength of a B-rank demon. Shall we have some small fry clean up next?”
“No matter how I put it,” Rajid mutters while looking away, “that comment is just rude.”
“I can sense two disgusting presence approaching our area.” Athena says with a displeased expression while turning her head behind them.
“Disgusting…?” Rajid wonders following Athena’s line of sight.
At the edge of the field, two figures arise. Their uniform clearly suggests that they are nobles. The closer they come, the more distinct they become in the eyes of the professors.
“Ah—more nobles,” Rajid blurts out with a sigh. “So, who are they?”
Isaw tapped Rajid shoulder, “You’ve been away for too long, it’s no wonder you don’t recognize most of our students.” He looks at the direction of the two students that are only about five meters away. “They are from the House of Kirihara and House of Darko.”
“Hey, why are you two running around without your retainers?” Athena questions as soon as the two are close enough to them. “In the middle of this turmoil, both of you must not be moving on your own.”
“Calm down, calm down,” the cheerful Eisuke who does not seem to mind fighting alone says with a carefree tone. “My aids are doing their job just fine. In my clan, unlike yours, being strong is a must that event such as this is merely like a test of strength.”
“The House of Kirihara and affiliated clans serves as military factions for ICA.” Xiao Feng adds as she bows her head to Eisuke. “Usually they are responsible in preventing and clearing internal strife.”
“Yeah—good day Miss Zhu,” Eisuke politely greets her. “The Zhu’s are part of our sub-clans. Everyone under our house is highly proficient when it comes to combat. We all can act alone if needed. Unlike some douche here who ditched his aids somewhere.”
“That unrefined mouth of yours really has to say superfluous things.” Rydon refutes. “But I’ll let it go right now since it’s a fancy seeing Miss Strange out here, especially in this kind of situation.”
“You probably got the wrong impression of me,” Herneihmys answers indifferently. “So, you did leave your retainers, huh… Had there been any skilled assassins you would be--”
“Hey--!!” Rydon cuts Herneihmys’ speech. “You totally didn’t attend any classes last year, didn’t you? You just showed up on exam days and leaves immediately after. You’re a total snub of a person.”
Athena’s brows cross as she looks at Rydon. “To cut Milady off! Insolent--”
“Hold it, Athena.” Herneihmys interfers in between. “We’re getting side tracked.”
“W-what?” Eisuke wonders raising a brow. “Brr… Why does it feel cold here?” He moves his eyes around and then he finally notices the frozen demon. “Whoa--!! That!! That thing is the demon a while ago?! It’s dead? It’s dead already?”
“Not yet,” Herneihmys answers bluntly as she tucks her hair at the back of her ear. “I’ll leave the final blow to you. Farewell.” She adds before walking away.
“Huh?..” Eisuke tilts his head while watching Herneihmys and her retainers leave the scene. “So what are we supposed to do?”
Rydon sneers. “That girl, did she just come here to show off? And we’re here to clean up after her mess… How infuriating.”
“I see...” Isaw says while they all watch Herneihmys and her retainers walk away. “She probably just wanted to test her ability against a real demon. Now that Il Darvan proved to be in a level that doesn’t match hers, she felt disappointed so she whimsically left.”
“I don’t get it.” Rajid says while tilting his head slightly.
Eisuke scratches the side of his head. “That’s because four years ago--”
“Should we be talking about that now?” Rydon interrupts. “The House of Strange and their affiliated clans and sub-clans had gone weak. That’s all there is to it.”
“Four years ago?” Rajid wonders before pausing as if he forgot how to breathe for a few seconds. “That—!! I see… its Naraka--” He blurts out but then Xiao Feng tapped his back as though she’s telling him not to dig too much into it.
“Let me take care of this then,” Eisuke volunteers.
“Back off, Kirihara.” Rydon hinders him. “You’re already too tired for this. You’ve been fighting for the long run with the use of your ki.” He cracks his knuckles. “Let my yashou handle this.”
Then from mini sparks and thin lines of smoke, a body clad in shiny black armor starts to take shape. It is about twelve feet high, holding a giant hammer and its gleaming black helmet shows no opening for the eyes. Both of its arm and legs are shackled, its dark feathered wings are bound by chains, and on its head are four heavily grazed large horns. “Destroy it, Azazel of Dark Crafts.”
Eisuke gawks at the yashou with mouth wide open. “Did your yashou just become more… more demonic in appearance?”
“Oh, is that your way of saying that I’ve become stronger?” Rydon smirks as Azazel floats slowly towards Il Darvan.
“His Azazel looks more badass than my Huanglong.” Rajid pouts like a kid.
“Ahh--!!” Isaw shouts in panic. “Could you spare the ax please?”
“It’s a shame to see how the two of you act right now.” Xiao Feng sighs while putting some distance between them.
Rydon laughs braggingly. “Don’t worry, Professor Crownheit, even if that ax gets broken right now, Azazel would be able to repair it.”
With that in mind, they all watch the yashou, Azazel, swing its hammer from side to side, smashing the demon down in shambles. White slender smoke erupts towards the sky as the frozen statue crumbles to the ground.
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