“Gue, haa… What did you say!?” The enemy commander said.
『You prepared and conspired so much before staging an all-out attack, and yet you can’t win. Moreover, because of you playing terrorists, I was actually able to interfere. And yet you still want to talk about resolve and qualifications? Ku ku ku, what laudable words.』
The mask looked down at them and laughed from the bottom of its heart.
Its grating laughed was more than annoying enough to gather their attention.
『In the first place, those things about the battlefield that you people keep harping on about are nothing more than illusions, just things that you people wished existed.』
The mask poked at the weakness of their claims and began to fold it.
“What are you saying!?”
『Only one rule can be found in the battlefield, and that is the absence of it, an impartial chaos of cruelty. Just as there are cowards that can survive without fighting anyone, just running single-mindedly with their tail between their legs; there are also heroes that can slay tens of thousands, only to die anticlimactically to a stray bullet. The opposite is true too… That’s the kind of place the battlefield is.』
A cruel chaos that was partial to none, where heroes and fools could die, no exceptions.
And within that anarchy, the so-called resolve and the laws of the battlefield were irrelevant.
If such things held meaning, then the boy behind the mask wouldn’t have come out alive.
The battlefields of Garesto had fewer deaths because of their advanced equipment, but the battlefield the boy knew of was nothing like that.
And it was because of that that a terrifyingly gentle tone found its way into the mask’s voice.
『But that’s precisely why you want there to be order, right? That’s why you want people to need resolve and qualifications. Because otherwise… It would be too scary for you to stand in the battlefield.』
‘I have these, so it’s going to be alright.’
‘We have those, that’s why we’re correct.’
‘We are people that should be standing here.’
By having rules, they could think that way.
‘Isn’t that right, cowards?’ The mask implied under his sneer.
Just like that, the fundamental basis of their claims was turned over its head.
“Saying whatever you want just because we’re not saying anything… Not only are you covering for brats like those despite having a ‘power’ like that, you’re even mocking us, who’ve stood up to right the wrong of this world!”
『But of course. If those with power do not act to protect the children from the unreasonable, then what should they be doing? In the first place, it’s precisely because you’re only looking at whether one has power or not that you looked down on the young fangs, and things turned out like this.』
No matter how much they tried to gloss over the will and effort of the unyielding children, there was no denying the fact that they ultimately failed to defeat them.
And in the first place, the fact that they were actually doing that made all of their claims worthless.
『These children are desperately and seriously fighting for their future! You are free to think whatever you want of them now, but I fail to see how you can right any wrong when you keep trying to put down the next generation! Cowardly terrorists who would resort to such poor methods have no right to be speaking of what is right! 』
“Shut up! No matter what you say, we’ll fight regardless of what we have to sacrifice! It doesn’t matter how strong you are! We can just fight you six to one! Don’t think you can win while having to watch over those dead weights!”
To some extent, they have indeed acknowledged the mask to be their superior in combat.
But because of their numerical superiority and the fact that the mask had to cover for their kids, they believed that they could still win.
All they needed to do was to attack at the same time.
But the mask’s words affected those behind, or perhaps, they simply couldn’t stand being protected all the time.
“Those are some big words even though you’ve yet to beat those dead weights!”
Ryou jumped out from behind the mask and charged toward the man.
He raised up his great sword and slashed down from the high stance.
“Hah! Fool! You should’ve obediently cowered there like the coward you are!”
The man received his great sword with his own, giving rise to photon sparks.
With the difference in their output, it was impossible for Ryou to continue this contest of strength.
Hence, the man would continue pushing, and then turn Ryou into his own hostage. Or at least, that’s what he was thinking, but then a groan resounded from behind him.
The man left most of his attention on Ryou as he switched the scene projected on his visor to the area behind him. There, he saw his subordinates knocked out and several bits floating in the air.
“No matter how experienced they are, in the end, they’re just using simple exoskeletons. The equipment from the school can take them out in one hit,” Yousuke said.
“You used shield bits as blunt weapons!? H-How could you use them like that!?”
While Yousuke was behind the mask, he took advantage of the enemies’ lack of attention to sneak his shield bits behind them.
Since their hardness was their selling point, they could produce more than enough power when used as a blunt weapon in a surprise attack.
“Didn’t anyone tell you not to look away when fighting!?” Ryou said.
Ryou didn’t miss the man’s surprise. Immediately, he let go of his great sword, and switched weapons to a knuckles-type.
The sudden absence of resistance led the man to totter, allowing Ryou to land a clean punch into his body.
“I’m going to become even stronger. I don’t have time to be defeated by the likes of you!” Ryou yelled as he battered the man.
The man took a firm step and kept himself from falling, but that punch still reverberated through his whole body and made him stagger.
Ryou wasn’t aiming for it, but the place he punched was exactly the same spot the mask had kicked earlier, allowing him to force the enemy into a completely defensive position.
“We’ve gotten plenty of rest already, so we can take this guy on. No, that’s not quite right. what W mean is, please at least let us take on this guy!”
There was a pleading look on Yousuke’s face as he said that.
He felt he needed to ask the mask for its permission because they had been saved by it.
『Do as you please. If it were just them, you wouldn’t have been pushed this far, anyway. 』
Although they were at a disadvantage before, the current situation wasn’t dangerous anymore.
There were no surprises left, and the enemy has also piled up damage.
The gap in equipment and experience remained, but they could already more than make up for it by teaming up.
“Thank you very much. Ah, but please do take care of my sister, and that guy that you caught, and the one guy that fell over there.”
『…You want to use me? Sure, why not.』
It was a shameless request, but the mask didn’t even hesitate to agree to it. The mask even seemed to be smiling.
“Uwah, stop it, ahhh!!?!””
“D-Don’t come, uwahhhhh!?!?”
The man that had been constricted was swung around, while the other man was beaten deeper into the ground. Before long, both men lost consciousness.
Yousuke was dumbfounded by that, but he thanked the mask nonetheless, and then left to support Ryou.
“Wait, Youko, don’t force yourself! You’re the one in the worst state here!” Tomoe said.
“There’s no way I can just sit here doing nothing, ah!” Youko said.
“And like I said, you’re really in condition to do anything else,” Tomoe said.
The two girls couldn’t see Yousuke off because they were too busy arguing with each other.
Youko wanted to join the fight, but she could just barely stand up by relying on Tomoe’s shoulder.
The damage to her stubborn mind and body in this tense situation ran quite deep.
『You’ve done more than enough. As the biggest contributor, you should just rest.』
When she took a step forward despite that, the mask blocked her way and said that gently.
“But— Huh? Biggest, contributor?”
Those words were said in perfect Japanese, and yet, for some reason, she couldn’t understand what the mask was saying.
That was how unexpected that appraisal was to the girl.
『There’s no mistaking it. You should be proud. It was thanks to the time you bought with your stubbornness that I was able to make it in time. Although I just barely made it, not only has no one died, no one is gravely injured too. So, thank you,』the mask said.
Those words were neither said randomly nor as consolation.
At that time, if even a part of 2 – B had been driven into a corner, the situation now would’ve been vastly different.
No matter how much ‘power’ the mask had, it only had one body, so the most troubling problem for it was a situation where the enemies to defeat and the children to protect were scattered.
In that situation, the mask would have to prioritize the students by number and threat level regardless of the mask’s own feelings and how much suffering it would bring to it later.
That’s why the mask was grateful that things didn’t have to come to that.
“Ah, I didn’t really… I mean, all I did was… Ahh, uu…”
Unused to being praised and thanked so directly, the girl blushed and hung her head.
Although her resistance had exposed herself to danger, she succeeded at buying time and lured someone with the power to change the situation. That was her achievement.
But even as she thought that that was how she should see the situation, something else came to mind because of their original relationship.
『…But it would be best if you use this as an opportunity to think if this is really the right path for you.』
“You mean, because I wasn’t useful in battle at all, so I should give up on fighting and look for a different path?”
A bitter face quickly replaced her blushing face as she bit her lips.
Although the mask thanked her, she didn’t believe she’d accomplished anything.
That’s why she took the mask’s words in that manner, but the mask denied it.
『That’s not it. I neither have the right nor qualifications to tell you that. The only one who can decide that is the one who made the effort, in other words, you. What I want is for you to stop choosing your future course solely because of your own aptitude. Even if it is for the sake of someone close to you.』
Her abilities, ranks, and disposition all were relatively suited for this field.
If she could gather more experience and become more flexible, she would surely become a brilliant warrior.
If she was doing it for her family, then it was even laudable.
『If you keep going down this path, one day, something like today will happen again. I’m not trying to repeat what they told you, but while you don’t need resolve to stand in the battlefield, you do need it to remain.』
She would also need it when she makes her decision on whether to injure life or not.
That’s why, regardless what she chose, the mask wanted her to think on it after seeing many things.
『Does the future you seek truly exist only through this path? I’m sure no one will mind if you consider your options. After all, this is a school. It’s a place originally meant for that…』
Youko nodded, but a surprised expression had surfaced on her.
She’d realized that she hadn’t really even considered her other options.
At the same time, the mask let out a small breath and became relieved, but no one noticed that.
As for Tomoe, she thought it was good advice, but she was greatly shocked that the mask would say something like that.
“He’s kinda different when he was with me…”
Although the mask was considerate with her and showed her gentleness as well, it wasn’t this gentle.
Because of that Tomoe’s eyes narrowed, as though to say, ‘so he prefers girls like Youko, huh.’
But then suddenly, an evil presence descended on their surroundings, and the two of them turned behind them simultaneously.
Youko, who sat right at the middle, was the only one who was confused by the situation.
She couldn’t see it, but to those who could, they could see that a group of expressionless, red devil faces had surrounded them.
“Why are there shikionis here!?” Tomoe said.
『…Have you forgotten why you came here in the first place?』the mask said.
Tomoe had no idea what was happening here in the first place, but then on top of that, she just had to experience her first teleportation, and then the first thing she saw after that was her best friend’s plight, so she couldn’t be blamed for completely forgetting everything else, but their original purpose for coming here was to deal with the curse.
“We supported you people that much, and yet in the end, it comes to this? You really can’t expect much from a rebel army of a bunch of idiots that got kicked out even by foreigners. Truly, just being of use to us was already a great boon to you.”
The man that suddenly appeared mocked the fallen volunteer army.
It needn’t be said who would be facing him.
As for whether the superpowers from Earth could reach the illusion of another world, that was a question that was about to be answered.
『So you’ve finally come out. But… Ah, I suppose this feeling won’t go away unless I clean this up too.』
The time was approaching afternoon, and the battle that started since morning was finally coming to an end.
But it was precisely at this sort of time that was the most dangerous, and a bad premonition washed over the mask.
There was no basis behind it, no conjectures, and neither was it the kind of premonition born from the countless experiences of the boy either.
And yet despite that, the mask was certain that the last disturbance was still somewhere after this.
───In this land, there yet exists malice and hostility that I do not know of ───