The A Rank fields was the deepest part of Kutoria from the school. Compared to it the sea of trees of another area looked no different from a child’s playground. It was a place void not only of trees but even the very breath of life. Within it there were only two colors: red and black.
Despite the many protective mechanisms provided by the exoskeletons, breathing was difficult and the scorching air was hot to the touch. It was a beautiful but cruel resplendence that bare flesh could not last past 5 seconds.
There was a sea of flames. It lit up the land and melted the ground. This was a place known as the Volcano Area, artificially designed to allow lava to gush forth. Because of that there were no vegetations, no water, no life, and if ever one were to spot a moving creature, it could only be a raybeast. That or the students donned in high-tech armor who have come to hunt the beasts.
This Volcano Area was the designated exam area for the class of 3-A, and the subject they’ve been given was very simple. In fact, it was the same exam 1-D was given: ‘Hunt the raybeasts in group of three and gather 5 crystals with a diameter of 15cm.’
The fields were designed such that the deeper one went, the easier it was for energy to gather, which is why the total energy of the raybeasts here were higher and the size of their crystals also bigger.
Take down one raybeast, and they were sure to gather enough to pass. The number of crystals they needed was just 5. With that it sounded like 1 – D’s exam was the more difficult one, but the mass-produced exoskeletons provided by the academy couldn’t stay in the lava for a long time. And even on land, it was still so hot it felt like one was bathing in boiling water. Because of that they’re compelled to take their hunt to the skies.
The crystals of the raybeasts also become brittle when separated from the main body, so if the crystals fall into the magma, they will melt and be lost forever. In other words, they had to fight in a melee above the scorching sea to secure the crystals.
The heat would sap them of their stamina and will, and from time to time, they would also have to fight against several raybeasts simultaneously. It was not something that could be compared to likes of D Class’s exam.
Yet despite that, only a few of the students who’ve passed were short of breath. There was no space to land to rest, so they could only keep flying. There were still three days left, but they were forced to spend most of their time in the air. Food also couldn’t be sourced from this region, so they could only stave off their hunger with the little they’ve brought. This was an exam that tested them on how long they could endure an extreme situation while constantly moving.
“Aristel-sama, everyone’s done. You’re the only that’s left.”
When the time had passed 12, it was time for the last examinee.
“Understood… Please step back.”
After being told that, the attendant, Rizet, fled to the skies.
Due to the number of people and her position as class representative, Aristel had to wait until everyone else was done before she could take her exam.
Relieved that everyone was able to safely finish theirs, she braced herself as she prepared to take hers. She already had a good understanding of what kind of raybeasts were here. They ranged from lava-swimming-orcas to flaming pterosaurs. It might be because of the raybeasts’ tendency to be influenced by their location, but there were many among them with fire and rocks for body parts.
The special class has been hunting them all this time, but there were still many within sight. This was not because they intentionally left the raybeasts be, but merely because they refrained from needless actions. Because of that the number of raybeasts subjugated by the class was not a big number.
“If this is all, then I should be able take them out in one blow.”
Nimbly, she swooped down toward the lava. She was no exception to the heat or the difficulty in breathing, but the way she acted made it seem as if she were impervious to either. Even the 50 A Rank raybeasts that knew she was a different existence from them were shocked.
These raybeasts that did not have the breath of life and possessed a different kind of existence than artificial objects simultaneously attacked her. But her expression showed no impatience. She was tranquil, as if she were standing alone in the meadows.
She watched them charge at her, and with disappointment, muttered,
“If you were humans, I would have been able to try out my dance.”
It was a pity, but it seems she’ll just have to ask someone else to serve as her partner once the exam is done.
Amidst the fangs, beaks, and claws that raced after her, she was leisurely enough to think such idle things. And then her exoskeleton responded to her will, and her foster stored in her tekko dazzled.
When her lips moved, the very things she said became a reality.
Attack-Class Nature Interference Type Ice Element Advanced skill, Ice Age, a skill that could even suppress space itself. A normal ice element would create ice by freezing the water in the air, but this spell summoned an ice age.
Merciless white fangs spread like a tsunami and tried to swallow the burning sea with the girl at the center, but before the heat of the lava could melt the chill and the ice, it itself was frozen first, and then as if the attacking raybeast were but extras, they too were turned into ice statues.
“Uwaah… Seeing lava frozen never gets old. It’s really a sight to behold.”
“Brr, it’s so cold! As expected of Padyuel-san, her power really isn’t ordinary. She can even make a region this hot this cold.”
The world below them should have been red and black, but in the blink of an eye, it was suddenly dyed in white.
At the center gracefully stood a girl donned in armor, regal and proud like a queen of ice. As one of the top powers even within the special class, 3 – A could only let out voices of admiration.
Though she boasted a Mind rank of AAA, doing what she just did without breaking a sweat was not something that others could do. The servants of the Padyuel Family were elated at her achievement, so much so it was as if they were the ones who did it.
“…I had to use such a powerful technique. I guess I really am still not good enough.”
Everyone was elated but the girl herself. She didn’t show it on her face, but deep inside, she mocked herself for being forced to use such a powerful technique. To her, using the vast amounts of energy from photons was no different from brute strength.
She knew that this destructive power was necessary for her to protect her household’s territory and people. Garesto was a world where slaying multitudes of raybeasts wasn’t uncommon. But such a power could only work against beasts. If she were to fight a human that possessed both wit and ability, such forceful methods wouldn’t work.
An enemy of that sort would easily dodge an attack from a distance, while his exoskeleton would surely allow him to escape before she could take advantage of her exoskeleton. A skill that could only be used because the enemy was a mindless beast wasn’t practical.
After all, the enemies she would be fighting in the future won’t be limited to just raybeasts.
“A portable anti-army artillery does sound nice, though.”
One day she will inherit her household. It’s said that her ability is still better off than something that only allowed her to stand at the front lines. She too understood the meaning behind that, but as for whether that was really what she thought, well, it was a bit different.
—The back I saw that day, I…
“Is it because it won’t come true that I yearn for it?” She muttered in a faint sigh that turned white from her surroundings.
As she took out her blade and extracted the crystals from the frozen raybeasts, the back of a certain boy flashed through her mind.
That was a back that stood in front of others – a back that has charmed her since that day.
D Rank Fields. Examination area of the 1 – D Class.
Shinichi sat at a rock by the river and fiddled with the projected displays by himself.
The time was 5:30PM. After the afternoon exams concluded, he immediately started grading everyone.
“…Still, that sure is a lot of corpses.”
Looking past the transparent screens projected into the air, he eyed the strange things atop the pebble-studded riverside. Collapsed, dying, lifeless. If not for the sounds of breathing that could be heard from time to time, they really could be mistaken for a mountain of corpses.
“Well, they did get attacked by a swarm of raybeasts the moment they completed their objective. It’s good and all that they were able to repel them, but a lot of the groups lost their crystals, and it wasn’t until just a moment ago that they finally were able to safely come back.”
Myuhi pointed out that it was only a given they’d be like that considering they were completely exhausted both mentally and physically. In fact, none of the students here have even noticed her. Already, the fatigue they felt couldn’t be put into words.
“Did I overdo it?” Shinichi wryly smiled.
He at least showed a little concern, but the ‘girl’ beside him was just grooming herself and yawning. Myuhi didn’t even know that 1-D actually had expectations for the amaryllis when the exam began.
“Hey, you guys. If you sleep out here you’ll catch a cold. Don’t your backs hurt?”
Shinichi called out to them, but no one reacted. They didn’t have the energy to spare. Even the people who got up wore dark faces as though their lives had come to an end. Their first battle was with a gigantic B Rank raybeast, and then they were made to fight against an overwhelmingly large number of raybeasts, and then just when they thought it was finally over, their examiner instigates – well, they don’t know that – a swarm of raybeasts to attack them. To these poor children who’ve been sucked dry of their strength even the simple act of talking was too troublesome.
“…Well, I don’t really mind if you stay there on the ground since you’re tired and all, but—”
For a moment, it sounded like he was tenderly telling them to go and get all the rest they needed, but the foxes on either side of him knew better. After all, there was a splendid villainous smile plastered on his face, void of any goodness.
“—It’s not my fault if you pass the day without any food or bedding.”
At the riverside where only the murmurings of the streams could otherwise be heard, that small voice resounded, and in the next moment…
“Ah, damn it! I forgot again!!”
“Someone go look for that fruit!”
“River, fish, I’ll catch them all!!”
“Those with camping experience, help me put up the tents!”
The corpses shook with a jolt, and then stood up all at once. Immediately, they set out to secure food and bedding according to what they could do.
“Will you look at that, I guess they still had plenty of strength to spare, after all.”
“Hmm… You think? Doesn’t it seem more like they’re wringing out their last drops of strength to survive?”
Myuhi wryly smiled at how desperate 1 – D was, and when she saw Shinichi grading them, she felt like sighing. His classmates were too preoccupied to realize it, but the way he set about his work was abnormally quick. Even with team-based topics, grading the students individually for their performance was not a trifle task, as it required that one carefully scrutinized every student during the course of the exam. It was so difficult in fact that the teachers called grading this exam hell. That’s why normally the grading is done after the entire exam, not during the breaks. Even if it was only for today’s exam, he was still grading it accurately. Just who was he?
Many monitors were projected into the air, and he looked at them all and carefully scrutinized the students. His standards for evaluation put emphasis on the students’ ability to march and adapt, but from what she’s seen, his grading was right on the mark. The problem was that it’s only been a month since he entered this school,and he’s also been boycotting his lessons, so he shouldn’t be so familiar with operating the monitors.
The other students could also multitask, but there was a gap between them. Of course, he wasn’t perfect by any means, especially since he’s already messed up 3 out of 10 times and had to redo things, but even then he used the projected displays quickly and examined the information just as quick. The picture flowing into the monitor was at 3x speed, so even just the scrolling made one’s eyes hurt. One could argue that he was using the speed to cover for his mistakes, but such a method would be too simple and absurd.
“By the way, don’t you need to go back to your own class?”
“Huh? Oh, it’s fine. We’re free to leave our area once we pass. Besides, I’m responsible for you.”
“Aren’t you just using that as an excuse to skip?”
“No way. I’m not like a certain transfer student.”
“Oh? There’s a transfer student like that? I had no idea.”
“There is, he’s such a problematic child.”
He was leisurely enough to talk idly like this, so his mistakes weren’t an issue at all. In the blink of an eye, the grading of the 30 students was completed. It only took him 20 minutes.
Shinichi stood up and stretched.
“Hmm, as I thought, nothing beats getting rid of the troublesome part first. Anyway, shall we also get supper? …Hey, you wanna come too?”
After the amaryllis jumped up his shoulder, he invited the other fox too.
Myuhi’s eyes twinkled in surprise for a moment, but then she made a slightly displeased face and complained.
“Would you normally ask a girl out at a place like this? There’s no mood or anything here.”
The odds of being brought to a store with a good atmosphere was zero. The situation was too far removed from the usual pattern when asking a girl out, but then Myuhi suddenly changed her mind and said with an innocent smile, “But sure… I’ll go if you’re treating, Icchi.”
“We only have fruits and fish, though,” Shinichi replied. “if you’re okay with that, then by all means…”
At the entrance of the forest in front of the river were the students who were especially exhausted. They were in charge of gathering the fruits. It was a lot closer, so reason says that it should be easier for them, but then they found themselves at a deadlock.
They came here because of what Shinichi said earlier, and the fruit he ate was indeed here, but when they saw it, they thought to themselves, ‘isn’t it impossible to notice this the first time?’
“Don’t ask me.”
They looked up at the Lilik Tree and were at a loss. The delicious red fruit was indeed there, but it was hidden by the branches and leaves and was hard to spot. The fruits were also near the end of the tree, but they didn’t have any strength left to climb up. In the first place, although their bodies have been tempered, they’ve never climbed trees. There was a skill that allowed one to float, but it was not a skill simple enough for a D Ranker to use.
“Wow, you guys found the Lilik too? That’s amazing. It’s normally hard to find these things since they’re often hidden by branches and leaves.”
When an out of place cheerful voice called out to them, they were confused—
“Huh? Woah, Ruona-senpai!?”
“W-W-W-What are you doing here!?”
—Nay. When they turned around and saw her, they immediately jumped back as though they’d forgotten they were tired, but compared to the smiling girl, however, their expressions were closer to that of fear.
“…I can’t really speak for others, but just what did you do before I entered school?”
“Ehehe, just some youthful indiscretion.”
She smiled cheerfully, but Shinichi’s classmates denied everything she said. Unfortunately, they only did so with their eyes. Despite their evident protest, they didn’t say a word. Clearly, her bad reputation had spread even to the 1st year students.
No one here would probably tell him anything even if he asked, so Shinichi just sighed and let it pass.
“What do you think about those fruits? I ate them raw this morning, but this time I think I’ll cook them over some flames and see what their meaty taste is all about.”
“They’re fairly high up, though. Want me to make a run for it?”
“Didn’t you ask me to treat you? I’ll do it.”
As he said that, he passed his classmates and walked toward the root of the tree. When his tekko-form foster invoked a skill and shone, it suddenly dawned on him.
“…Sigh, the Japanese sure love their western words… ‘Jet Knuckle’”
Energy gathered onto his foster-less right arm and then, in the next moment, it released it all at once behind. Carried by the momentum, the fist clad in photon slammed into the roots of the tree.
An Attack-Class Punch-Type skill, one of the few unarmed attack skills.
No one here understood what Shinichi was doing until he explained it to them.
“Ku… It’s gonna fall!”
“Huh… Ah, WAAa!?”
Yes, that yell and the sound coming from the trunk was more than enough to tell them everything. Eyes turned into dots, they all fled the scene, and when they had all escaped, as though the tree had merely been waiting for them, it fell down to the ground.
“Good! Though I gotta say, I just can’t seem to get used to the feeling of my body moving on its own. It feels really disgusting.”
“Fu fu fu, I guess you’re just the kind of person who’s not good with that sort of stuff. There are people who treat it like a treasure since it allows them to do special attacks, but there are also people who aren’t suited to them. Even in the army, I hear there are people who make use of them and people who don’t.”
It might sound bad when described as the body moving by itself, but what really happened is that the body was made to trace the correct movement. This makes it possible to execute a special attack, but apparently, Shinichi didn’t like it.
“Really?” Shinichi said as he took the fruits from the fallen tree. “This much should be enough. Let’s go catch some fish next. We’ll cook them with these.”
After picking five liliks, he went to the riverside as if nothing happened. The students who ended up seeing him off were shocked, but then one of them quietly muttered.
“…I see. So we just have to cut the trees down.”
“Right. The skills we have now should be more than enough.”
They were so caught up with thinking that they had to climb the tree that they couldn’t think of knocking the tree down instead.
It was such a simple thing, and when it was so casually shown to them, they were all sighs. ‘Another demerit, huh.’
The river flowing in the area was so clear it was hard to imagine it was man-made. The fish swimming in it were colored a little different from Earth’s, but otherwise they looked the same.
1 – D first checked if the fish here were safe for consumption through their fosters, and then when they sure they were safe, they tried to catch them.
“Ah, damn it! They’re fast!”
“This, this fish, ahh!”
“Is it really impossible after all to catch them without any tools or traps?”
Several students rolled up their pants and tried to catch the fish with their bare hands, but they were too fast.
Even just being able to touch the fish was difficult for people who weren’t used to it. But there were no fishing rods here or anyone with the knowhow to make them. The fosters did have data on Garesto’s creatures, but it didn’t include information on how to catch them or prepare them for consumption.
Connection to the internet was also disabled since they were having an exam, so the only reference they had was whatever they already in their foster.
“It’s really hard without real bait.”
Some of the students tried to use branches and vines in place of a fishing rod along with some fake bait, but they couldn’t get any results either. They did consider making a net, but no matter how hard they racked their heads, they couldn’t think of any material available that would let them make it.
“Hey, get out of the river for a sec. You’re in the way.”
And then that voice called out to them from behind. They knew who it was, so they were about to lash out in reflex, but they were immediately silenced.
“Well, if you don’t mind getting hurt, you can stay.”
Their acting examiner had pointed his shooter at them as though this wasn’t up for discussion. He was already smiling so happily, so they couldn’t help but shiver.
“What are you doing!?”
“W-Wait! We’ll get up already, just wait!”
Unfortunately, there was no longer anyone in 1 – D left who thought his bark had no bite. Convinced that he would shoot for real, they left the river in haste, and then Shinichi muttered in succession.
” ‘Thunder Shot’ ‘Thunder Shot’ ‘Thunder Shot’ ”
Electric bullets shot out into the clear stream as many times as he uttered those words. Small pillars of waters rose up, and when 1 – D saw what was left in their wake, they were dumbfounded.
“…Oh, yeah. We could have just electrocuted them.”
“W-Why couldn’t we come up with this?”
“It’s just like the Egg of Columbus. But man… It’s so frustrating to have someone else figure it out first!”
The fish moved too quickly underwater, but it was also because they were underwater that they couldn’t flee from the electricity and were forced to emerge. The students of 1 – D were flabbergasted for failing to come up with such a simple method.
“Did I overdo it? Well, whatever. ‘Buckler'”
“…What trick are you going to pull out of that shield next?”
Ignoring his stricken classmates, Shinichi moved on to his next trick. Myuhi’s face was twitching when she asked him her question, but Shinichi didn’t answer her and just entered the river.
In Shinichi’s hand was an energy shield with a roundish shape. The Defense-Class Beginner Skill ‘Buckler’. Unlike the skills that erected barriers, this skill produced a shield that could be carried and equipped. Its original purpose is of course to protect its wielder, but…
“What a great haul, a great haul, I say.”
“Y-You can use it that way?”
Although the river was gentle, the electrocuted fishes were gradually moving downstream, so Shinichi scooped them out with the hollowed part of his ‘Buckler’. Since times of old, shields weren’t used merely to protect oneself with. Sometimes they would be used as a blunt weapon, sometimes as a projectile. That’s why there’s nothing really outrageous about Shinichi using the shield as a tray. It’s just that as far 1 – D was concerned, the class categorization of the various skills was absolute.
“Can I ask you to get some firewood?”
“You really order others around like it’s normal, don’t you, Icchi?”
Shinichi placed the shield with the fishes by the river, then took a fish after asking ‘her’ to do him a favor. Myuhi still wasn’t used to seeing Shinichi order the amaryllis around like it was normal.
To put it in Earthling terms, it was akin to a shark or a whale obeying humans. And not just any shark or whale, but something along the lines of a great white or a blue whale.
“I was just asking her for a favor, though… ‘Knife'”
‘That being said, she was his servant, so she would grant any request if he asked,’ he laughed to himself internally as he used a skill to produce a knife unfit for battle.
It was one of the skills classified under ‘Others’, the so-called Non-Combat Skills. Regardless the world, cutlery was essential to living.
“As expected of a veteran. You’re good at preparing fish.”
“There are other methods, but this time I’ll just prepare the fish and then cook it over flames. There aren’t any tools or seasoning, after all.”
As he said that, he used a flat stone in place of a chopping board and readied his knife. Skillfully he removed the scales with the single-edge blade, and then used a twig he picked up to remove the guts. It didn’t take long for him to prepare all 10 fishes.
“You’re good. You’re really used to this.”
“I had to procure most of my food myself, after all. If I couldn’t do this much, I would have died.”
There was some lie mixed in there, but the two years he spent in the otherworld really was like that. There were times when he would go into a village and eat normally, but since he was trying to keep his distance as much as he could, he was usually out camping. It was only when he met ‘those girls’ during his last months that he was finally able to live decently.
“People with experience really do say some heavy stuff, don’t they?”
“…Can you not talk like you don’t believe me at all? It was really hard, you know. There were so many times when I couldn’t chomp on anything but some flowers. I seriously thought I was done for.”
“…Sorry, it really is heavy.”
Was it the topic? Or was it his serious expression? Either way she realized that the predicament he had been in was bad enough that she had to apologize.
“It’s good as long as you understand. ‘Needle Shot'”
Not understanding what had just happened, Myuhi watched as Shinichi used another strange skill.
There were Attack-Class skills that would change the energy bullets of the shooter into something else, like the ‘Shotgun’ which changed the bullets into buckshot or the ‘Grenade’ which changed them into explosives.
Of those various skills, there was one known as the ‘Needle Shot’, which literally changed the bullets into needles, though the length and thickness are closer to that of a chopstick’s than a needle’s.
Its advantage is that it focuses all of its strength into a single point, so it has greater penetrative strength than the other bullets. It also doesn’t ricochet since it stabs its target, so it’s often used in situations where a ricochet is undesirable.
That was the kind of skill that Shinichi fired several times against the ground—
“…You’re really going to use that to skewer the fish?”
“Huh? But it’s the perfect length. It also won’t disappear for a few hours unless canceled.”
—And matter-of-factly skewered the fish with it.
Myuhi’s eyes were all dots at this point. She didn’t know if she should be impressed or fed up by Shinichi’s creativity.
But such worries immediately dispersed when a laughing voice came from above.
“Fu, fu fu fu… Nakamura-san, you really are a man beyond our common sense.”
That gentle voice belonged to none other than the girl in thick armor who was floating in the sky.
Gently, she floated down to the riverside and transformed back to her school uniform, then with graceful movements, greeted them.
For some reason, however, the words she uttered with a smile next was accompanied by a pressure that didn’t permit rejection.
“Do you mind if I accompany you too?”