After Christmas in December, during the failure of Kusanagi Kiseki's convoy operation a section of the town was swallowed by Hyakki Yakou and suffered serious damage. The contaminated section was still closed, and only Inquisition officials as well as several Alchemist employees knew the situation inside.
The casualties were unknown, but without doubt about three thousand people were missing. Among them was Kiseki's brother, Kusanagi Takeru.
Responsible for Ouka who fainted, Ikaruga and Usagi avoided the waves of Hyakki Yakou and arrived at the partition walls. And when they were almost swallowed by the surging red meat, suddenly the meat activity has ceased. It has collapsed like ash, thanks to that, the platoon members somehow survived.
However, Ouka was restrained and taken into custody by Inquisition, Usagi and Ikaruga were examined while placed under house arrest in the Seelie ward.
They were set free a week after Takeru's disappearance.
And, two days after it was decided that the 35th Test Platoon would participate in the strategy against Pureblood Party.
Ouka and the others were in the north-east of the Grey City, in the tent of the seventh company's standby station on fifth line of defense.
Although the Grey City was unused because of its proximity to Sanctuary, it was now devastated even more than before. The collapse of buildings progressed, and gunshots echoed all over.
This place has already turned into a battlefield.
"Hit-and-run troop...is it?"
Ouka who has participated in the briefing was told what will be the role of the 35th Test Platoon in the strategy.
The commander was a man entrusted with the seventh company.
"That's right. You don't have to listen to my orders. You can move freely."
"I've heard that we will be under the command of the company's commander but... is there a meaning in having us as a hit-and-run troop?"
"Our goal is the enemy's destruction. With that as your goal, just act accordingly. However, make sure not to get out in front. You'll hinder the company."
"That's all from me."
The company's commander faced the document on the desk, and glared at Ouka only once before he left the tent. Left behind, Ouka looked at the white board on which the strategy's summary was written and spat out a deep sigh.
"...don't get in our way, is what he means huh."
In short, that's what the company commander meant.
Since it was the Chairman's orders he reluctantly included the 35th Test Platoon in, but it wasn't weird for him not to know what to do with them. And there was no reason for senior troops to accept the student troops sent to them by the Chairman.
They had no choice but show their ability to the seniors despite the handicap and get acknowledged by them.
The enemy's borderline invasion plan has already started, the Inquisition was caught off guard and they have occupied the Grey City.
However, starting from that point the movement of Inquisition was fast, as if expecting it the Spriggans sortied, and created a line of defense. They succeeded in preventing the invasion on the city and its facilities.
Although the inhabitants were evacuated, there was almost no damage to the city. Since the other borders weren't attacked, it seemed like the enemy's strategy had been limited to the Kantō region
There wasn't much information about the enemy. When they tried to take prisoners, they would immediately commit suicide.
However, this abnormal situation didn't seem to inspire a sense of crisis.
There wasn't any formal announcement, but the world was already conscious of it.
That... the war has already begun.
——A magic bullet exploded in front of her, and Saionji Usagi instantly hid her body in the building's shadow.
Immediately after a solidified lump of magic hit the building, the debris fragments grazed her cheek, her body was covered by the rubble.
Her consciousness faded for a moment. She felt no pain in her body, but because of the roar and impact a severe ringing resounded in her ears.
《"——ji! Saionji! Are you okay?!"》
Usagi woke up when she heard Ouka's voice through the wireless and while struggling she crawled out from under the rubble. After poking out her head from inside, she took a deep breath and chocked as the dust entered her lungs.
"Geho... I-I'm all right."
"There was too many shields and I couldn't aim well, I moved too close... I will be careful thereafter."
《"After the bombardment just now the enemy has began to withdraw. If they move, Saionji, you cover the Spriggans. I'll continue wiping them out from the sky!"》
Usagi mustered her strength and wiped her face that turned white with her sleeves, after confirming the state of her rifle she aimed it forward.
And then, she was shocked.
On the road ahead colored with white, there was a number of red spots.
It were the remnants of the Spriggan troop whom they were covering. A mere mass of red meat was scattered making up reds spots on the road covered with white concrete dust. The spots were spread out all over the place, and the white world was dyed with red.
Seeing the lives be lost in front of her, Usagi's face cramped up, she hugged the gun and curled up.
"I-it's al...l right... I-I am n-no longer... weak...!! This much is nothing!"
Even as she attempted to inspire herself, her body wouldn't move and her vision was distorted because of tears.
Although she somehow managed to hold down the hyperventilation, she was unable to stand up anyhow.
"Why... I should have overcome it...!!"
Usagi chewed on her lower lip and closed her eyes tightly.
In this situation which compelled her to cry, Usagi quietly said the name of the one who saved her.
In Witch Hunter form, Ouka expanded the crimson mantle like wings and flew. She noticed that Usagi looked weird and landed on the roof of a decaying building.
"Saionji...? Are you injured?!"
Hearing her sobs through the wireless, Ouka swallowed a breath.
Usagi didn't reply. Ouka tried to move over to her to rescue, but a voice has reverberated in her eardrums.
《"Leave Usagi as she is. Try to look around and recover the troops if possible. You would only worsen her state."》
"What do you mean, Suginami. Saionji might be injured!"
《"Since you can't understand what I mean, it's a no. Eradicate the remaining enemy forces."》
When Ouka shouted into the wireless, Ikaruga spat out a sigh.
《"They still haven't contacted us, but the 4th Company and 5th platoon were almost destroyed by the sweep of magic bullets bombardment from a while ago. There probably won't be any bombardment on us. Headquarters' priority will be rebuilding the troops, right."》
Ouka gasped, fifth platoon was the troop Usagi was covering. It's a blessing in disguise that she survived the bombardment, the troop itself was destroyed.
With a large amount of deaths, Usagi must have been mortified.
It wasn't improbable. No matter in how much carnage was she involved in, the only real battle experience Usagi had was during the incident with Alchemist's fifth laboratory.
At that time both the enemy and allies were boarding the Dragoons, but this time there was a large number of flesh-and-blood soldiers in a confined space. It must be her first time to see that much death.
It's wouldn't be weird if she was frightened.
We should have worked together at the beginning. I was too impatient to be recognized by the veterans. I tried to use the maximum potential from each one of us but...
Although they could trust in her skills, Usagi didn't have the mental strength required for independent actions on the battlefield. Even for Ouka, it was the first time to battle under such circumstances.
She had even less experience as a captain. The test platoons were originally consisting of six people and Inquisition troops were consisting of ten. It was impossible to raise up to the veterans with just four people.
Even so, that's not an excuse for exposing the members' lives to risk.
If it was Kusanagi... I wonder if he would have done better.
She recalled the abilities of Takeru who was originally the captain.
Other than close combat his skills were horrible and he hardly could be called an excellent commander, but he did well supporting everyone mentally. The individual abilities of the platoon members were excellent, the most important thing to bring out their potential was not directing the combat but the cooperation and mental support.
If it was him, no matter what the situation was he would have encouraged Usagi.
How shameless... I'm embarrassed for saying that Kusanagi is disqualified as a captain.
I am the one disqualified, she thought dispirited.
It was at that time, a roar sounded in the street's vicinity and smoke raised up.
Ouka admonished herself for falling into melancholy, expanded her wings and set up her gun.
"Vlad, can you perform a search?"
《"I'm not a searching type... fhh, but do not belittle me. I can at least perceive the smell of blood."》
"Stop boasting! Hurry up and do it!"
《"Despite completing the contract thou still hath the foul mouth, have thou not..."》
Vlad grumbled complaints while performing a search operation.
Ouka's sense of smell picked up the scent of blood from the radius of one kilometer.
《"The smell of witch's blood is different. The magic that's mixed in their blood makes the flavor different. You can call it a shadow... of course, that is if enemy is bleeding."》
Just as she has been told to, she inhaled and the choking smell of blood stimulated her nose.
It was the proof of how much blood has flowed through the Grey City. Whether it's witches or inquisitors, death was overflowing.
Ouka separated the smell of the death and the living, then analyzed the quality of the living enemy's smell.
Among the enemies remaining in the vicinity, she sensed an alien scent.
It wasn't a witch holding a normal magic power.
《"They destroyed the troop and holding the point delayed us while they escape. They are prepared for suicide together with the inquisitors... something like that."》
While Vlad spoke of his guess into her ear, Ouka communicated with Ikaruga.
"Can you do reconnaissance with an UAV? I want to know the witch's exact position."
《"It's been destroyed long ago. It's something that came with provisions so it's performance was poor and it wouldn't fly too high, slow and useless."》
"That's not like you..."
《"We had only two days to sortie so spare me that. I wasn't even able to supply Usagi with weapons. I'm not working that fast."》
That's understandable, thought Ouka.
Even if she can use the supplies as she pleases, it's impossible for her to improve it in 2 days.
Ouka gave up on the reconnaissance and flew over the explosion site.
Immediately after she took off from the building's roof, a magic bullet has grazed her cheek from the side.
A witch riding a catalyst in the distance was aiming a sniper wand at her.
Ouka flew while swaying from side to side and aimed her gun's muzzle at the witch. Another shot, the moment magic bullet has grazed her head, Ouka changed her stake into one with specialized performance and released it. Although the trajectory was distorted since she was in flight, she has predicted the deviation of this degree.
The magic stake hit the flight catalyst and the witch was carried to the ground.
When she looked around, she saw the enemy's remnants gather in the direction the Ancient Wizard was struggling.
It was their final resistance. She felt they launched a suicide attack.
"Vlad! Is the enemy communicating with magic?!"
《"There is a barrier up. It's impossible to decipher the operative procedure."》
《"No point eavesdropping. And give up on requesting them to surrender. There's no need for mercy for folks who intend to die."》
Ouka herself knew that already.
However, she wondered why wouldn't they understand that it's meaningless to fight if the main force has already withdrew.
There being more sacrifices in this place was not beneficial for either side.
She grew impatient. Injecting magic power, Ouka shot down the witches that gathered at the center. The Spriggan personnel on the ground has started intercepting using anti-aircraft guns and the battle turned into a dogfight.
"What about him? Where is he and what is he doing?!"
Ouka shouted, asking Ikaruga.
《"Who knows. He turned off the wireless when the operation started. He's going off on his own. Just like you used to."》
When she was reminded of her old self, Ouka was unable to refute.
Another explosion has rose up. She dived down, following the enemy.
On the street with black market stalls lined up, a man in a red robe who had one eye crushed has roared. Sky blue magical circle rotated vigorously under his feet, and the magic was invoked. Two Spriggans standing in the stalls' shade shot towards the man, but were covered with a semi-transparent membrane. The Spriggans inside of the membrane were in dismay, and fired towards it. The bullets ricocheted on the inside and penetrated the Spriggans' bodies.
Their breath grew faint inside of the membrane, Spriggans tried to fight back with their handguns, but the Ancient Wizard opened his palm in anger, then made a fist with it, as if crushing something.
Immediately after, the membrane covering the two was compressed and the Spriggans inside of it have shrunk into a size of a golf ball all at once.
The moment magic was released, the membrane ruptured splattering pieces of meat and blood all around.
"The "Compression" property...!"
One of the Spriggans understood the situation peeking out from behind the building and tried to report the enemy's property to all the troops using the wireless.
However, at the next moment the membrane appeared on the building he was hiding behind.
The film compressed the building all at once. The building itself has been condensed and turned very small.
The Spriggan who lost his hiding place tried to escape from the spot, but it was in vain.
When the Ancient Wizard opened his fist, the compressed building burst out all at once because of the pressure.
The debris from the broken building have been blown away with momentum of a cannonball and destroyed all the obstacles around the Spriggan. As if exposed to bombing, the surroundings have turned into rubble.
Only one person survived the explosion in the place. It was a Spriggan who had blood flowing from his damaged armor.
The Ancient Wizard was looming towards him as he reached out seeking help.
"Haa... haa... where are your company's headquarters...!"
His breathing was rough, his eyes bloodshot, he asked the Spriggan.
"I asked where!"
"...I don't want...to...die..."
Seeing the Spriggan beg for help the Ancient Wizard clicked his tongue and mercilessly covered his body with the membrane, then crushed him.
Not even trying to wipe the blood that splashed into his face, he walked down the street.
There, landed Ouka clad in a crimson armor and mantle.
At the same time as she landed she aimed Vlad and confronted the enemy.
"Stop fighting at once! There's nothing either of us will achieve with this!"
"Don't you get it?! You are already surrounded by us! It's the matter of time until the remnants are overwhelmed! There's no point sacrificing any more lives is there!"
"............just now, did you say "no point"?"
As Ouka desperately tried to persuade him, the Ancient Wizard's body trembled in anger.
"Our struggle, our sorrow... how dare you say there's no point to our revenge!"
When the man's pupil was clouded with hatred, Ouka felt a chill.
She wasn't intimidated by his anger. Seeing the same thing in his eye, she felt as if she stared in the mirror.
"! Dispel the magical circle immediately! My Relic Eater can penetrate any magic! I won't miss at this distance!"
"I'm not afraid of a fake Magical Heritage! I'm perfectly fine with taking an EXE member with me! I'll prove to you that our struggle is not in vain!"
The sky blue magical circle rotated vigorously in response to his roar and turned humongous.
It was clear that he was trying to use some kind of large magic.
Ouka hesitated for a moment, but rather than aim Vlad's muzzle at his head she shot towards his feet.
Although the protective barrier was expanded, Vlad's stake blew away his foot.
The man's posture broke and he fell to the ground.
However, the magical circle didn't disappear. He endured the pain and continued to prepare the operative procedure.
No choice but to kill him...!
Even as she turned herself into a demon and directed the muzzle at him, her vision has blurred.
Don't be a coward Ootori Ouka! This is war. You've done worse things until now!
She scolded herself and placed a finger on the trigger.
That's when on top of the man who fell over a green shadow suddenly fell from the sky and grabbed the man.
The shadow grasped the man and raised him up, then turned its face with a bored expression at Ouka.
"Hesitating in front of the enemy? Ain't that different from what the EXE folks told me. You've turned soft, Ootori."
"Kirigaya... where were you until now."
"Why do I have to tell ya anything. You ain't my boss."
"...I'm the captain."
"Temporary one, right? Also, I ain't havin' no intention of entering the small fry platoon."
"By the Chairman's orders, you are under my command. I won't allow acting on your own."
Ignoring Ouka's words, Kirigaya Kyouya squeezed the man's head until a creaking sound came out.
The man raise a voice of agony feeling pain in his skull and the magical circle under his feet disappeared.
"Operative procedure is something you make up in your head right? Then makin' him feel some pain in his head should work."
In response to the man's screams, Kyouya laughed.
"There's no reason to kill that man now... it'll be fine just to restrain him."
As Ouka moved towards him trying to stop him desperately, Kyouya looked as if he didn't understand what is she talking about.
"...what's up with that reasoning? Those guys came at us prepared to make a suicide. They'd rather die in action rather than be imprisoned right."
"It's forbidden to kill the prisoners if not necessary. Hurry up and let him go."
"............ha. Fine then, there ya go."
With a blank look, Kyouya threw away the man by his head.
The man fell down on his knees. Ouka cancelled the Witch Hunt form and ran up to him, she immediately tried to capture him with the Gleipnir, that moment.
He had an instant charm that was prepared in advance.
"——I'll purify your bad blood!"
Ouka tried to aim for the man's hand in a hurry, but before she could do so Kyouya's shotgun, Nero has spouted flames. In front of her, the man turned into a blood splatter along with the gunshot. Ouka fell on her butt and looked up at Kyouya's face.
Kyouya put the gun on his shoulder and looked down at Ouka with appalled expression.
"...pitiful. Did you fall that much because of Kusanagi? Where did you, who was nicknamed Calamity go I wonder."
"...ridiculous. I was an idiot for having expectations."
Looking sideways towards her in contempt, Kyouya turned away while hitting his shoulder with the gun.
Ouka's pupils shook in chagrin and she looked up at the sky while taking a deep breath.
It was cloudless and blue. The unbalanced amount of gunshots raising up to the sky decreased to one every few minutes, and they were gone before long.
Just by looking at the veterans one could understand that it was Inquisition's victory. Throughout this fight Inquisition's front pushed slightly forward and occupied the venue with the black market. There was no doubt that they were driving the enemy away day after day.
However, right now the other side had a geographical advantage. The Border and Grey City isn't just the surface, but also the underground. They no longer used subways and underpasses, supply passageways and transportation made before the war. Not even Inquisition was able to get a grasp on that space that was left alone for a long time.
The surprise attacks from underground caused the Inquisition's side to suffer casualties nearing 100 soldiers. Initially the number of Inquisitors neared 5000, but it went down to 3000 members.
After few hours, the company's headquarters moved to the intermediate point between the Border and the Grey City. The Inquisition's camp was made in the vicinity of black market.
Ouka walked through the camp while holding a cardboard full of supplies. She heard a scream of an Inquisitor who was undergoing treatment in the aid tent and her gaze moved in its direction.
The inside of the tent was full of Inquisitors receiving treatment. The patients were bandaged and lied down on the bloodied beds, ones with relatively minor injuries were sitting on the ground. Since there wasn't enough Seelies the Spriggans were helping out with things like pressing the patients down and cutting bandages.
...I wonder when will the reinforcements come.
Although it's been just three days since they came here, not only they didn't raise up to the veterans, the situation has deteriorated.
She heard that the fifth line of defense was still all right. On the second, and the third lines of defense there were reports of Magical Dragoons... Einherjars attacking. They have been destroyed by the EXE members, but even the personnel with the latest models of Dragoons were not a match for them, or so she heard.
Ouka was horrified at the thought of the Einherjar attack in the state they were in at the moment.
The fifth line of defense had no EXE members. There were Relic Eater contractors, but after being absorbed by Mistilteinn, Vlad wasn't in the best shape and couldn't be relied on.
Speaking of the other contractor, it was Kirigaya Kyouya who had a trend of acting arbitrarily.
He was brought to responsibility for violating the instruction during the previous convoy operation, then demoted, disposed of and assigned to the 35th Test Platoon. It meant that his circumstances were exactly same as Ouka's when she first came to the 35th platoon.
I wonder if I was the same as he is now...
She recalled the time when she was relentlessly chasing down enemies. Back in these days she wouldn't let them surrender and immediately shot them. Right now, she changed her way of thinking and did her best to capture the enemy. Rather than because of ethics, it was because she obtained many things.
Killing, meant robbing herself of all the other choices. That's what she learned in the 35th platoon.
...it's troubling. Am I even fit to be the captain...?
On top of being unable to show off the members abilities on the battlefield unknown to her, a troublesome thug has been enlisted in the platoon.
Above all, the main problem was Takeru not being there.
Ouka too, felt as if there was a gaping hole in the center of her chest.
Noticing that she unconsciously spoke his name, Ouka closed her eyes and shook off the hesitation.
Right now I have to think only of surviving. Until Kusanagi comes back, I will protect this platoon.
Bracing herself, Ouka headed towards where her comrades were.
When the supplies arrived the situation calmed down.
The Inquisition has taken a step forward, but it was assumed that the enemy ahead of the fortifications was aiming to recapture it, fortunately, the enemy didn't come. Both sides must have been exhausted. It was unknown whether the other side was being resupplied or not, but the enemy side that was away from their home grounds was supposed to be in a predicament.
While under the hot shower, Usagi just hung her body down instead of washing herself. Because among the supplies there was a car with a shower, she used it with appreciation.
Usagi was ashamed of being terrified by the death of her allies. For her who held the role of a sniper, it was the first time she touched death from close range.
It was a failure on her part for thinking that she had already overcome it. Pathetic. Like this I will once again be a burden to the platoon. Of course, Usagi was aware that the death wasn't the only cause for what happened.
While hot droplets soaked her face, she dreamed of his back. It's been already a month since he last pat her head. She was so lonely she felt like crying.