Chapter 25: Akane vs. Tsubaki
Ten minutes ago, back in Akane’s area…
“I loathe you.”
Words dripping with acid-like hate crawled out of Tsubaki’s mouth, followed by a rain of spells.
“That’s a shame.”
Akane flicked her wand and jumped backwards. A dirt wall sprung up in front of her, blocking the spells and letting her escape. Now a few meters away, she faced Tsubaki, whose visage reappeared from behind the crumbling wall.
“It really is a shame that you hate me.”
Tsubaki waved her hand, ushering forward a blaze. Akane flicked her wand, sending a stream of water to meet the flames. The two elements clashed like waves in a stormy sea, resulting in a cloud of steam that smothered the area. Once it cleared up, she saw Tsubaki glaring as if she was looking at an immortal cockroach.
Akane smiled. “That’s rude.”
“I said, shut up.”
Tsubaki raised her hand, and small projectiles made of rock formed in the air before flying at Akane. Once more, Akane flicked her wand with a lighthearted smile. A gust of wind blew through the area this time, picking up the pellets and taking them around her. A creak followed by a crash sounded out from behind her.
“…Not the talkative type, are you?” Akane asked with a sigh.
Ignoring her words, Tsubaki adjusted her glasses while looking down at her. But instead of frowning, Akane grinned wider.
“How about this then?” Akane shoved Seventeen into the air above her red hair, letting her mana cycle inside the shaft. With each passing second, the mana thickened, and the red orb atop it glowed brighter, until it was channeled into the spell she desired. But all she had to show for it were ten rock shards, floating above her.
“I’m going to pay you back in full force for the volley you sent before. I wasted so much mana to prepare Vento di Fiamma, and I didn’t even get to cast it!”
At those words, Tsubaki’s face contorted.
“Of course I’d stop it, are you crazy? Is a fire tornado really necessary!”
“Well nothing else was working, you know? And so what if the forest burns down? We can always replant.”
“Rather than the forest, worry about the people still in it!”
Tsubaki’s admonishments failed to penetrate the head of her unreasonable opponent, who sent the bullets at her without a moment’s pause.
Eyes twitching, Tsubaki shot fire arrows at nine of the spells, which fell like harmless gravel onto the ground. Akane narrowed her eyes as her opponent dodged the last projectile.
“Then how about this!”
Akane raised Seventeen and casted away spells in quick succession. Her opponent jumped away, and the moment her footing stabilized, she started creating a wall on both sides of herself. Before the walls were even completed, earthen spears flew out of the ground, angled to pierce the black-haired girl’s chest. Tsubaki jumped out of the way with the time earned by her spell. Her stare moved to the spears sticking through the walls, crisscrossing where she’d stood.
“You really are crazy!” Tsubaki yelled as she stepped away from the spears. “That’s a Javelin spell right? Are you trying to kill me?”
“Oh relax.” Akane rolled her eyes. “I had complete faith you would dodge them.”
“…What?” Tsubaki’s arm froze above her head before it swept downwards and sent forth another volley.
“There’s a lot of suspicious things about you, you know?”
Akane began pacing while waving her wand in the manner of a professor in front of a blackboard.
“First off: where’s your Speculo? Why is someone without a Speculo participating in an exam meant for Maestros? But someone approved your participation, which means you must have one. Then why are you fighting without it? I was acting passively in hopes you would reveal it since I felt a bit curious.”
Akane held her wand out, forming a spherical brown rock. Grabbing it out of the air, she threw it to the ground. The rock cracked open, revealing a thin shell which was choked to the brim with light gray powder.
“Next, mixed in among the Rock Bullets I sent flying at you earlier, there was this original spell of mine. It consists of a rock casing filled with magnesium, a makeshift flashbang. You shot down the bullets with the exception of the Flashbang, which you couldn’t have known about.”
“…Tch.” Tsubaki clicked her tongue while shifting on the spot.
“At first, I thought maybe it was because your group spied on us and knew about the spell. But even then, it would be impossible to make out from the rest of the spells. I had a hypothesis on why you were able to, so I decided to test it out. As expected, you began preparing to block the Javelins before they even rose out of the ground.”
She stopped pacing and pointed her wand at Tsubaki, who stiffened up until it became clear that she wasn’t going to be attacked.
“Seeing that, it has become clear to me that your ability is analysis. Perhaps you can see the future, my mana flow, or the details of the spells that I form. As for your Speculo, you’re wearing it on your face right now. It’s those glasses, isn’t it?”
“…Haa. Well done. You’re right.”
With a begrudging sigh, Tsubaki took off her glasses and held them out for her opponent to see. As if to confirm Akane’s words, the glasses disappeared for a moment before popping back into existence on her face.
“They are known as Horus.” Tsubaki pushed up the bridge of her glasses. “Like you said, they can analyze anything for a small bit of mana. People, spells, mana flow, and more. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m amazed you managed to find out all that just from those few exchanges. It also boosts my mana, since it’s of the Magic Amplifier type.”
“Oh, like mine then?”
Akane brandished Seventeen for her opponent to see.
“Seventeen. An MA Speculo like yours. It also has an ability that lets it produce Aether element at reduced cost.”
“Ah, that’s how you produced those Flashbangs. But isn’t the mana cost still high?”
“Oh? This is…”
The ground began to crack around Akane. Deep cuts formed a circle with a radius of 30 feet, as though the Earth was preparing to send a rogue devil back to Hell. In the outer half of the circle, rock, dirt and gravel raised to the air, compressing into meter-long rods with blunt ends, all pointed at the center of the circle. In the inner half, the ground dissolved into fine quicksand, cutting off her mobility.
“A-rank spell: Gaia Execution. Impressive!” Akane attempted to shift her leg. “So this is why you let me talk for so long. I was curious about that.”
“Well, you realized too late.” Tsubaki flashed a grin, reflecting her vision of victory. “With this much, even someone like you can’t come out unscathed!”
A moment of silence passed during which no more earth rose into the air, before the multitude of rods formed of compressed earth hurtled towards Akane, reminiscent of an Iron Maiden that had discarded its coffin-like exterior. As the first rod made contact, Akane’s figure began fading from Tsubaki’s line of sight, growing fainter with each impact as the rods crumbled back into the fine particles they had been created from. The earth gave out a deafening roar as it endured endless abuse. When its punishment ended, the earth stopped roaring, leaving only the echoes of its pain. Tsubaki stared into the dust, craning her neck trying to get a better angle.
However, a familiar voice delivered a not-so-obscure reference to Tsubaki’s ears.
“And your next line will be ‘Is it over!’ ”
“Tch, one second too early. If it had been a second later I could’ve gotten the perfect response… Well whatever.”
The clouds of dust rolled away, revealing Akane with a few tears in her clothes and small cuts and bruises spread across her pale skin. Tsubaki stiffened up at the impossible sight.
“How did I get out of that with so little injuries? Well that’s simple.”
Akane pointed to the ground at her feet. Tsubaki’s shocked eyes blinked and refocused beneath her opponent’s feet. Laying there was a hollow cylinder that seemed to be made of some kind of rubber, about as tall as Akane, and with a wide base. Its surface was peppered with deep indents the size of basketballs.
“Know what sorbothane is? It’s a highly shock resistant polymer. You can put an egg between two pieces of it, strike the top with a hammer, and it won’t break.” Akane kicked the cylinder, letting her foot bounce off the material. “I created this using my ability, but it cost me quite a bit of mana.”
Tsubaki stepped backwards while gaping. Even with an MA Speculo, such a large amount of material would have needed the mana of three people. There was no way this grinning red-haired girl could have that sort of mana capacity.
“Well then, that was fun! But honestly, I’ve seen all that I want to see. Let’s wrap things up.”
Waving her wand, Akane caused a wide array of Napalms to appear in the air, which floated in formation like a disciplined battalion. They spun with synchronicity, sluggishly twisting in place as their collective heat caused the air shimmer. Even at her distance, Tsubaki felt waves of heat crawling over her body. It was a wonder her opponent’s shirt hadn’t burnt off by now. Tsubaki stared at the spells, pondering the mystery of Akane’s clothing, before taking a dazed step back with her shaking legs.
“Is that… Nitroglycerin? You wouldn’t…”
“Actually, I would! Thanks for letting me experiment with my ability today!”
Like a general all too happy to go to war, Akane thrust her arm forward and sent her legion of spells at Tsubaki.
Tsubaki grit her teeth and waved her dominant arm. She began creating a huge slab of rock in front of her. Once the slab finished taking form, it fragmented into hundreds of pieces that flew in all directions like a buckshot. The shotgun-like spell hit many of the Napalms, breaking their inner shells and causing explosions to light up the air.
“Did you think that was the end?”
Akane came running out of the smoke created by the explosions. She held Seventeen in her right hand, preparing to draw a wide arc in the air.
“What the—!” Tsubaki said, lurching backward. With a wave of her hand, a gust of wind began to build up around her.
But Akane was faster. “Can’t analyze what you can’t see!”
From the glowing red orb atop Seventeen, a black cord shot out and wrapped around Tsubaki, pressing her limbs to her body. Unbalanced, she groaned and fell to the ground. The gust of wind she’d prepared rolled her away.
“Geez, I actually feel tired because of you. That stuff tied around you is carbon fiber, you know that, right?” Akane waggled her finger at Tsubaki. “It isn’t as hard to make as a gigantic chunk of sorbothane, but it still uses a decent amount of mana.”
“You demon!” Tsubaki wriggled on the ground, trying to loosen her restraints. “No, demon is too good of a term for you, you’re an aberration of nature! How can one person have that much mana?”
“Beats me,” Akane said, giving an exaggerated shrug, “Magicologists are still researching what affects a person’s mana pool size when they’re born.”
Akane stretched her body and flashed her opponent a smug grin. The tied-up girl’s stare would have turned any normal person to stone. With a spring in her step, Akane walked over and prepared to claim the collar on Tsubaki’s neck.
“Don’t get too excited, you monster. I was only here to buy time for the others.”
Akane’s hand stopped. She had no reason to listen to the empty words of a sore loser, but it wouldn’t hurt to humor the girl. Any spell she could be preparing would be slower than her hand.
“Oh? Is that so?”
“Amaya-chan was worried you would break through the wall and help the twins, which is why I came here to deal with you.” Worried her collar might fall off, Tsubaki stopped trying to escape her bindings and focused on speaking. “You’re too late. At this point, Haya-chan has probably grabbed both their collars.”
“Oho~ I’d like to meet this ‘Amaya-chan’ someday—hang on, could you say that again?”
Akane dropped her cheerful, mocking tone. In response to the sudden change, Tsubaki tilted her head in a puzzled manner.
“Huh? She was worried—”
“No, not that, the part afterwards.”
“Haya-chan has probably grabbed both their collars by now.”
Akane narrowed her eyes, her lips angling downwards.
“I see… Was this Amaya-chan the one who created those walls?”
“Why do you want to—Gawawawa!”
Sudden yells cut short the question as jolts of electricity coursed through Tsubaki’s body for a brief moment, until Akane brought Seventeen away from her stomach. Only for a moment, before she jabbed the delicate-looking tip of her wand back into Tsubaki’s stomach.
“Carbon fiber isn’t as good of a conductor as other materials, but it gets the job done.” Akane offered an explanation in a low tone. “Talk.”
“You devil… No, don’t! The one who created those walls was Hiroaki-chan.”
“That must have used a lot of mana. Is he resting?”
“Again, why—I’m talking, aren’t I!” Tsubaki screeched as sparks appeared in Akane’s other hand. “Of course not, he’s rested enough and should be working with Amaya-chan around now—Ah, so that’s it.”
Akane saw her captive widen her eyes in realization but continued the interrogation.
With Seventeen already next to her captive’s stomach, Akane leaned in and brought her face closer to Tsubaki’s.
“What are the two of them doing?”
“Hmph, the answer’s obvious.”
Inches from her face, Tsubaki rolled her eyes and snorted.
“If you have one person capable of taking two enemies out, one person taking care of another, and the last enemy is an S-rank…”
Akane felt her eye twitch as the girl smiled and confirmed her suspicion.
“What would you do with the two remaining people?”