Chapter 30: First Contact
[WARNING: 100 SECONDS REMAINING]
I knew it! Ten’s output has been dropping since it activated.
Akira tightened his grip on Ten, his knuckles turning white as he swung at a set of mines as soon as they popped into the air. Akira jumped backward while squeezing behind the greatsword just as pellets from the explosions rained upon him.
The moment his feet touched the ground, he jumped sideways, before his brain had time to process what the slight shake in his toes had meant. Crystal spikes that looked fragile yet were sharp as steel ran through where his feet should’ve been.
“Is there any end to these things!” He yelled as he leaned backwards to dodge three arrows aimed at his chest.
It’s already been ten seconds since the warning, I don’t have time to be doing this!
Akira stepped backwards but his foot went straight through the ground. He immediately righted himself and raised his sword as crystal bola flew through the air at him, slicing downwards once it was within range. The bola broke in two and the two halves flew around him and hit a tree.
Okay, that’s new—like I have time to think about that!
Akira poured mana into his legs and shot above the trees. The telltale whistling of arrows entered his ears as a volley chased after him.
“She really thought of everything, didn’t she!” He yelled as he struck the arrows out of the air.
I need more time to think, I can’t concentrate at all with all of this!
He grit his teeth as he felt the slow tug of the Earth on his body.
“If only I could think faster—ah!”
Akira repositioned himself with his feet pointing to the ground.
“Elementality!” As soon as the ability resurfaced in his memories, he redirected the mana from his legs to his mind.
Immediately, time slowed to a snail’s crawl as he fell a millimeter per second towards the hunting grounds below him.
Okay, if I remember correctly elementality can make one second feel like sixty to me. It’s been about… twenty seconds since the warning. That means I’ve got exactly one minute and twenty seconds left. I’m going to reach the ground in about three normal seconds, so I’ve got about three minutes to think
He glanced downwards, gauging his distance from the ground.
This whole dome has a radius of 200 meters, and I’m in the center of it. It took me about a minute to run about 500 meters and back, which would be 1000 meters total. So if I figure out where they are I can reach them in about 12 seconds in the worst case scenario. That’s a full 15 seconds to reach them if I also add the time needed to get on the ground. I’ll have a little more than a minute to fight them.
A quick glance up brought the tops of trees into view.
It’s been about a minute of slowed time, I’ve got two left, and I need to figure out where the two are and how I’m getting out of the traps without letting one hit me. But I have no clues as to where they are and no way to safely get out of the traps. Think, think! There has to be a way out of this! There has to be a way to figure out where they are inside this dome!
He felt sweat slowly forming on his forehead.
Damn it, if only I had some sort of clue, anything at all!
As his mind raced to come up with a solution, a familiar voice echoed in his head.
[A clue you say? then…]
The announcer had lost his mechanical tone, taking on a much more human one. Akira’s vision turned white, and he felt the world speed up around him.
[How about I help you out a bit and give you one?]
[How about I help you out a bit and give you one?]
As soon as the voice stopped speaking, Elementality deactivated
Akira let out a yell, expecting to fall into another dozen traps. But when he opened his eyes, he was no longer in the forest.
“Where is this place?” He murmured as he took in his surroundings.
He was standing on a floor made completely out of a pure white material, as if a snowy equivalent of vantablack covered it. Everywhere he looked, all he saw was a blinding white color that seemed to stretch endlessly to the horizon.
“Where is this place, huh? Well, it doesn’t really matter right now. I’ll explain it to you the next time.”
Akira sucked in a sharp breath. He spun on the spot and then leapt away from the source of the voice.
“Hey… it’s been a while since I had a visitor, you know? It kind of hurts to see that kind of reaction.”
A man sat in a chair in front of him. Multiple scars littered his face, yet his chiselled features outshone them. A carefree aura flowed from his messy hair and wide grin, but his sharp eyes pierced through like a rapier. However, if Akira had to choose the most notable quality about the man, there was only one option.
“…A full-body straightjacket?”
“It’s a long story.” The man replied, his grin turned sheepish as he attempted to shrug, only to frown as the restraints held his shoulders tightly in place. “Just think of me as ‘The Prisoner’ for now.”
“But who exactly are you?” Akira asked. “Why are you—”
“Ah, stop right there please.” The Prisoner interrupted with an apologetic tone. “I’ve only been granted a bit of time with you, so if you’re going to ask something, ask about the battle so I can help you out a bit.”
The first words he had spoken to Akira resurfaced in Akira’s mind.
“A clue you say, then how about I help you out a bit and give you one” was what he said. Can he really—
“Help you out? Yes I can.”
“Hey, hey, I said I had little time, didn’t I?” The Prisoner squinted at Akira with a sigh. “Come on, get to it.”
Akira’s head was swirling in a storm of questions which he wanted to rapid fire at the man in front of him, but there were more pressing matters at hand.
“How can I figure out where those two are?”
The Prisoner’s grin reappeared on his face.
“Good, we’re back on track! That’s a simple one really, but let me ask you a question first.”
“These traps were obviously formed using the archer’s—Hirose Amaya right?—ability. It would take at least some time to form the complex ones, like the those jumping landmines, and she only had about a minute.” The man’s mouth shot out words like a machine gun. “So how are there so many traps in that one area?”
The bullet-like words forced Akira’s eyelids upwards.
Now that I think about it, it really is strange.
Akira had studied several weapons, modern and ancient alike. Bouncing betties were complex mechanical cylinders of death. Of course, the ones he faced were probably different structurally as they were magically produced, but each one should have taken quite a while to make. Somehow, Amaya had created and stuffed 8 of them into the ground along with a dozen other traps in only one minute: a fact which had flown straight past his head as he dodged the traps.
Considering all of that, does that mean…
“She’s laying down more traps as I trigger them?”
“Bingo!” The Prisoner let out a gleeful yell. “Continuing from that, we can likely assume that these traps are formed by her creating and shooting a special type of arrow which transforms into a trap. After all, while it’s entirely possible that she used Earth magic to gouge out holes for the mines and spikes, she still attached several arrow traps to multiple trees. All that can’t be done in one minute. So, if you want to find her, then…?”
“I just have to watch for an arrow hitting something and turning into a trap, and go in the direction it came from!”
The Prisoner expression was infectious, as Akira felt his mouth spread into a grin so wide that it hurt his facial muscles.
“Yes! Now, we can assume that shield user—Furuya Hiroaki, was it?—is resting close by her because he used a lot of power to create that huge dome you’re in. He created those giant walls earlier, and has been fighting you ever since. Well, it was more of a one sided beatdown, but anyways, if you can figure out which direction she’s shooting arrows from, you can probably find both of them immediately. That answers question one. Next one, quickly.”
Akira obliged, his doubts swept away by the flood of words that had come from The Prisoner. Unfortunately, his unease lingered as a sudden thought struck him.
“How can I get out of the traps safely? If we assume what you said about the transforming arrows are correct, then she can just create more traps in the area I’m heading to if I get out of this one. That’s likely why they made the dome right? So I’m always in her range.”
“It’s a lot simpler than you think, really. You just have to get to her before she can. Ah, I know what you’re going to think: ‘But how can I do that?’. Well, That’s also pretty simple.”
“Yes. You know how when you swing Vulcan, flames shoot out of the blade?”
“Ten’s greatsword form. The name is based on the Roman god of fire, Vulcan, because the tarot where your Speculo’s Core Foundation came from originated in Italy. Well, that’s how I decided to name it when I—whoops, now I’m getting carried away.” The Prisoner cleared his throat. “Just like the elements produced by Ten’s five other forms, those flames are like an extension of the greatsword form so you can control them.”
“Wait, what do you mean by—?” Akira interrupted with a double take.
“Oh, you’ll see later. Anyways, these flames are magical, and magic is just another form of energy we can manipulate in reality. When you spread energy along an area, you get a decent result. But if you compress the same amount of energy into a single point, it’ll be much stronger, right? I’m sure you know this, but the recoil from swinging the blade is pretty intense right? If you put all that energy into a single point and release it…it’s obvious what will happen right?”
“I’ll probably go flying—No, if I’m swinging at someone we’ll both go flying.”
“That’s right. Well then, I think that covers your second question and also gave you a slight hint on how to deal with Hiroaki-chan.” The Prisoner winked. “Well, that should be all the hints you need. Huh, we’ve got more time left than expected. I guess we can talk about other stuff now. Anything you wanna ask me?”
Akira paused, and took a small breath while scratching his head.
“Oh, it probably feels weird I’m calling a teenage boy ‘chan’ right? Well, to me, all of you—even the old geezers—are like little children scampering around the face of the Earth. That’s why I use ‘chan’ instead of ‘kun’. I only use ‘san’ and ‘sama’ for people I respect or for a sarcastic effect. Anything else?”
“Well, okay, I think that was all—wait no, there is at least one thing I want to know.”
Akira stared right into the Prisoner’s sharp eyes, examining the depths of his irises.
“Who are you? What do you want?”
The Prisoner stared back at Akira, returning his scrutinizing gaze in full force. Akira swallowed his spit, but he didn’t break eye contact. After a few seconds, the man smirked.
“Why I use ‘chan’, what my identity is, and what my goals are. That’s really what you’re asking about?” He tilted his head as if he was staring at an ignorant child. “Well, a person can’t ask a question they don’t know, can they? My name is—”
In the middle of his sentence, the Prisoner’s voice cut out. He hadn’t stopped talking, his voice had just vanished despite the fact that his lips were moving. After a full second, he stopped his lips. His face turned a dull pale color as he began convulsing.
“Hey, what’s going on?!”
Akira reflexively took a step back at the sight of the writhing man. The Prisoner finally stopped his shuddering after a few seconds, then glared straight at the ceiling.
“Was that necessary!!” He complained to the sky. “I mean yes, there’s a rule against it but I forgot, okay? Could you at least tell me I can’t before I try to do it? You know, before you strike me with—woah, woah, woah, woah, woah! I won’t say it alright! Don’t do it again!”
Akira let out a confused sound, but the Prisoner ignored him and let out a sigh.
“Haa…well, can’t tell you who I am. Bit of a taboo, for several reasons I can’t say. As for what I want, I’m not sure how much I can say so I’ll keep it a bit vague, got it?”
Before Akira could finish speaking, his vision flickered. The white space around him blinked alongside it, turning into a familiar forest before once again transforming into the white space he was standing in. Head pounding, he stumbled on his feet.
“Ah, looks like we’re running out of time. Well here goes. If I had to say what I wanted…”
The Prisoner’s spotty figure danced in his eyes, splitting into many and then combining back into one. Akira blinked, trying to regain focus in his sight. After the third blink, he found himself standing right in front of the Prisoner, who had gotten up from the chair. The Prisoner forced his face right in front of Akira’s, his carefree expression replaced by a dark one.
When Akira blinked again, he was once more suspended in time above the forest.