After a while, silence filled the area, and the black mist descended onto the surface of the sea.
The black mist had so easily given rise to such a powerful explosion, and yet despite being so close to it, it appeared unaffected.
“W-We’ll surrender. We’ll obediently hand ourselves over and cooperate with the investigation, so please help our subordinates───”
Cherry spoke dispassionately, but no one opposed her decision.
It didn’t matter anymore whether they were fighting a human or a monster. It was impossible for them to win, no, that wasn’t even the problem anymore.
Because in the first place, they didn’t even know how they were supposed to fight this thing.
『I see we are confused. 』
Fighting any further would only needlessly increase their casualties, so she’d already given up, but the only response she got was that of a cold, unfeeling voice.
『 My position neither necessitates me to apprehend you, nor does it oblige me to treat the defeated according to the stipulations of the treaties. 』
The black mist had made it clear from the start that it was an unpublicized, illegal force.
Hence, even if they lost and even if they surrendered, they could not expect a decent end.
“Eek, ah, ahh… Noo!!”
The only end that awaited them was the same tragedy that met their comrades.
When realization dawned on them, one of them finally broke down and made a run for it.
But no one reacted; the smarter among them knew that that thing before them would not allow them to flee.
『Receive my will, Water.』
In the next moment, the sea shook, and thin pillars of water rose from the sea, shackling them all, the soldier that fled and the soldiers that remained, all without exception.
The water lashed out like whips, deaf to whatever resistance they offered or whatever screams they cried, to seal their limbs.
When Joyce’s body was taken from her, Cherry cried out and reached for him, but he was already out of her reach.
Bound by the ropes of water, Joyce’s body hung limply from his shackles like everyone else.
“No! I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die! Let me go!!”
One of the soldiers cried pathetically, but no one blamed him.
After all, they all felt the same.
If anything, the other soldiers could only be envious that he could so honestly express himself.
“Stop, gappu, guha, save───”
Dragged by the pillar of water, that soldier sank into the sea.
Bubbles surfaced where he’d fallen, but they gradually lessened, until eventually, the bubbles disappeared completely.
Even if the soldiers didn’t know the sea, they still understood what had happened.
Before they knew it, their omega team that was made up of 30 people had been reduced to just 6.
Knowing that their wails and resistance were futile, the remaining soldiers just trembled in fear.
『Now, the noisy rabble have been done away with, so why don’t we strike a deal, Assistant Commandant of Omega, former Lt. Captain Ronan. 』
Normally, if she were to be spoken to so nonchalantly like this after her subordinates had just been drowned, she would be raging internally, but now, she couldn’t even find it in herself to become angry and just looked at the black mist with resignation.
In fact, she even saw hope when the idea of a deal was brought, and she listened attentively.
『 Hand over the information pertaining to the Gaen Volunteer Army and all people and organization related to it. Do that and I promise to spare your lives and hand you over to the defense force. 』
Cherry intended to accept any deal the black mist brought forward.
She just couldn’t see any other way for them to survive this situation.
But when she heard what the black mist wanted, she hesitated. Too many people would be sacrificed if she handed over that data.
She could feel the hostility of this thing on her skin. There was no way the others would be left off.
As a commanding officer, she had no choice but to weigh the lives of the few with the lives of thousands.
“Kyaa, ah, ubu, aga───”
But in that moment of hesitation, another of her subordinates sank into the sea as though to rebuke her for her delay.
She watched as that soldier sink with shock frozen on his face, and then she turned to the black mist.
So void of emotion were the human eyes beneath the mask that it was doubtful if it recognized them as people.
『 Refuse if you want, it matters not. Your fates will simply come to an end here, and the life of the volunteer army will extend a few days, but that’s all. In the end, it’s merely a question of effort on my part. 』
Apparently, the black mist just wanted to save itself the effort.
And she believed that. If it was this thing, it would surely be capable of it.
If so, then what should she do? Her thoughts spun quickly in her mind, and then she answered.
『 Oh, and why is that? 』
“Hiiyaa, gaha, no, assistant comm—, ububu───”
In the shadow of that resolute rejection was another soldier devoured by the sea.
For a moment, a wave of guilt washed over, and she bit her lips, but at the same time, she was relieved that it wasn’t her husband.
“…The day we became soldiers, we knew we would one day die on the battlefield. We’ve already resolved ourselves. Besides, even if we did help you, we won’t have any way to live with our organization gone. We may not be unable to defeat you, but we’ll keep our head high at least. No one will yield to you even if we have to die! What we’ve started here will give rise to more brave warriors who worry about the world! And as long there are people who will carry on the torch───”
“Uu, gu, ahhhhhhh!!!”
What interfered with her touching declaration was none other than the anguished voice of her own husband.
She found herself turning to his direction, and there he saw him being strangled by the same water ropes that bound his limbs.
The pain seemed to have roused him awake, as he looked at the black mist with bloodshot eyes.
『 Unfortunately, there won’t be any records of your existence or this incident. 』
“Uu aa… gaha, goho… Haa, haa, haa…”
‘What are you talking about?’
Even Joyce couldn’t help but ask the same question with his eyes even as he caught his breath after the rope stopped choking him.
『 When Teacher Frire Doneju discovered your invasion, this is how she informed the student body. ‘This is a special exam,’ she said. I’m sure you understand what that means. 』
The two commanding officers were so shocked they couldn’t say anything. They knew exactly what that implied.
By turning the incident into an exam, they would be able to minimize the panic and agitation of the students, and they would also be able to hide the truth.
It didn’t sound like something she would do, but if true, then no wonder the resistance of the school was so effective despite being scattered.
『 And if you were to disappear, this whole incident can be written off as nothing more than an exam. Why did you keep feeling that there was something off about the reports that you were getting? Well, this might explain that. 』
The black mist took out a weapon terminal from somewhere, the same kind that they had, and with a few presses, projected 20 screens into the air before them.
The things shown on those screens did not make sense. No, they simply did not want them to make sense.
Alpha Team had been completely disarmed and were being carried away in police vans.
Beta Team that had been scattered were captured by the students and the teachers.
All the members of Delta Team were unconscious, and not one of them was easily recognizable, be it their armor or their faces.
Gamma Team was still fighting, but they were already on the brink of destruction.
Their spy, Aria, had been bound tightly and left on the ground.
“This, is impossible… They were defeated by children?” Joyce said.
“…Wiped out? There’s no way that could be true! This is completely different from the earlier reports— Don’t tell me!?” Cherry said.
『 Yes, Cherry Ronan. I took over your communication systems midway through your operation, twisting the reports and orders however they might benefit me. 』
When the mask told them that, all strength left them even as they remained bound.
If that were true, then they couldn’t call this a battle at all.
The thing before them had simply manipulated everyone, both them and their enemies, to enact a play that looked like they were fighting.
However, the black mist seemed to have sensed what they were thinking and denied that.
『 Ah, just so you know, I only directly interfered with some of Delta, and another group that tried to take advantage of your plans. I may have prepared the board, but make no mistake, it was the students who won. They were the ones who fought, and thus, the credit belongs to them…』
The black mist paused, and then looked at the faces of the remaining four soldiers.
As though to judge them, as though to humiliate them, he revealed to them that truth flatly.
『…Yes, the people you lost to were none other than those children who fought desperately for their future. 』
A clattering sound, or perhaps, a shattering sound resounded.
As for what caused that, it was none other than that pride they’d kept with them despite already becoming rebels, the pride of Garesto’s warriors.
But even as they felt that crumble, they couldn’t help but let out a loud wail.
Even if the battlefield was a play produced by someone, victory and defeat belonged to the people at the scene. If so, then… They had lost.
They disagreed with the decision of their government, they went underground, and spent 8 years preparing, and now… All of that has come to an end.
By this mysterious, unknown
『 Despite everything, will you still remain silent? 』
They couldn’t even show their principles and position to the world.
And now, they were about to be killed by this monster.
Everything would return to nothing. They couldn’t even show their pride or resist to annoy the enemy before them.
With their minds in a swirl of despair and helplessness, they couldn’t think properly. And then again, another subordinate sank into the sea.
『 Hurry up and decide. Unlike you I’m not free. And make sure you think it through. The only ones in danger in the volunteer army right now are you three. 』
Everyone else has already been apprehended. They may be hurt, but they would be dealt with according to the law.
But as for them, the
The unfairness of that and the disparity between their situations led the last remaining subordinate to yell.
“Talk already! I don’t want to die a meaningless death at a place like this! That’s the only thing left that we can do, so just spill everything already! Are you planning to watch me die too!?” The female subordinate said.
“T-That’s not what I…” Cherry said.
“H-Hey, will the information about
The female subordinate desperately pleaded that she would do anything as long as she was saved.
The Ronan couple were shocked to see her acting like that.
Was this not the woman that was always concerned about other?
And yet in the face of an absolute existence, it seemed even the bonds that they’ve formed until now were worthless.
『 How very human of you. So it appears that the difference in worlds is a trivial matter. That may not be enough to make me hate you, but… It certainly makes me sick. 』
“Eek! Ah, stop, I’m, sinking, nooo!! I can’t, die, at a place, like, ubu, bua, nbu───”
She desperately tried to call out as she writhed, but she sank all too quickly.
Already, her figure was gone from view, and the bubbles on the surface grew less and less.
Alas, Cherry didn’t have it in her to watch until the end.
『 …And now, all that’s left are you two. 』
The comrades that have accompanied them since their time in the army have all been wiped out.
By a single incomprehensible monster, and so easily too.
And now, it was their turn.
『 Ahh, rest assured, Joyce Ronan, the next one won’t be your wife. 』
Unable to do anything but watch, Joyce’s eyes were bloodshot, but when the black mist’s words resounded, Cherry screamed.
After all, that meant…
“Gu, gah, ah ah ──── !!!”
The water rope once again wound itself around her husband’s neck to hurt him in front of her.
They constricted much harder this time, so fewer breaths escaped.
In pain and in search of air, Joyce’s mouth opened, but it was in vain.
Try as he might to struggle, the ropes bounding him were liquid.
His attempts to pluck off the ropes on his neck was a futile attempt that only served to scratch the water.
Cherry was made to watch as her husband’s life grew weaker by the second.
『 What will you do now, Mrs. Ronan? 』
Before she knew it, the mask was right beside her, whispering by her ears, amused, but she didn’t even have the leisure to be shocked.
Perhaps the monster knew that as well, which is why it sought to deceive her in such sweet voice.
『 Do you know? Death by suffocation is an ugly thing… In its course, the human body will writhe, convulse, and discharge feces and urine. Are you sure that’s how you want your husband’s last moments to be? The choice is yours, Mrs. Ronan. What do you want me to do? 』
That was the gentlest and sweetest the monster had been to her, and yet, it was exactly in this moment that it resembled the devil the most.
Alas, she neither had the will nor the purpose to rebuke it.
“I-I’ll talk! I’ll tell everything, so please────Save him!!”
It was enough already. So long as that could be granted, it was enough.
She couldn’t even remember what she was so desperate about earlier.
She just wanted this nightmare to end. For that, no price was too great to pay.
『Yep─────That’s what I wanted to hear.』
When she saw the water ropes loosen, and her husband finally breathing, Cherry was finally at ease.
For a moment, she wondered in a daze if the devil spoken of in the legends and myths of Earth could make such an innocent voice, but she banished the thought and stopped thinking altogether.