In front of the Tortoise dormitory, above the tunnel of trees.
Charl was straddling Sigmund’s back, breathing rapid, shallow breaths.
The sound of the ruins of the clock tower cascading like a waterfall could be heard as everything plunged into the hole.
The debris, the bedrock, and also, the headmaster.
She had finally done it— Killed a person for the first time!
Her hands felt cold and unresponsive. It felt as if they were someone else’s limbs entirely as Charl hugged her shoulders with her alien arms, her body trembling all over.
“Are you ok, Charl?”
She regained her senses at Sigmund’s voice.
“… I’m fine. We need to hurry up and hide.”
“About that. As much as I’d love to quietly disappear— I fear it’s impossible now.”
In an instant, a bullet of some sort grazed Charl’s cheek.
There were pursuers in the grove!
If it were something as simple as rifles then Sigmund would be able to endure it, but the security guards were outfitted with cannons. She had to do something before they were brought down by the heavy fire.
She turned Sigmund around. As she did so, she felt the activation of magic energy.
Several shadows came bursting out of the branches.
The appearance made them look like tin soldiers adorned with helmets. They were as big as a child, inorganic mechanized dolls that were the standard issue automata given to the security guards, the Heimguarder.
With quick, agile movements like a monkey’s, the automata attacked.
Sigmund beat his wings, swiped with his claws, and swung his tail to drive them away. However, there were just too many of them. For a brief moment there was an opening, and a shadow appeared behind Charl.
The Heimguarder stretched out a finger. A bluish-white spark burst forth from its fingertip. The crackling light indicated it was high voltage. If Charl were to be hit by that, she would lose consciousness in an instant!
In the next moment though, the Heimguarder was blown away into the distant horizon.
In its place there was a man. His eye-catching blonde hair was closer to that of a silver colour. He was wearing a well-tailored suit but had no coat on, wearing a tight fitting vest instead. His wore a pair of tinted glasses, the expression on his face unreadable.
The man had suddenly appeared out of nowhere, and now he had come to a complete halt in mid-air. Charl ignored him as she said,
“We’re retreating, Sigmund.”
There was a flash of light from Sigmund, and his large body shrank in size in an instant.
Charl lost her balance, and as she fell, the man grabbed her by the arm and pulled her up.
“Ow! Hey, try to be gentler—“
Her protests ended there. Just as she was about to violently berate him, the scenery changed in a flash.
Charl clung onto his arm with all her might so that she wouldn’t fall. The man continued to accelerate, easily dodging the rain of bullets they were under.
Holding on to both Sigmund and Charl, he continued to fly through the grove smoothly.
He was like a gust of wind as he silently flew onwards, unencumbered by the weight.
Stopping just short of the field where mock battles were conducted, he cautiously changed his route, performing a U-turn.
The scenery changed before her eyes as she found herself drawing closer to the central section of the academy. As soon as the large auditorium came into sight, Charl’s appearance began to transform.
Her sparkling golden hair turned into a dull brown, and her clothes changed to that of a female student’s uniform.
It was most likely someone’s magic art. By the time Charl had transformed into the inconspicuous female student—Ravena— the man had landed behind the building.
He gently set Charl down. He was more of a gentleman than she had thought. Sigmund had transformed into a dove, and was now perched on her shoulder, cooing.
The two of them entered into the auditorium, heading to the third floor where the executive committee’s private area was.
At the extreme end of the third floor, in the old-fashioned chairman’s office, the young boy from earlier was present.
“Welcome back, Ravena.”
Charl didn’t answer, her face pale as she tried to hold back her nausea.
“Oh dear, what’s the matter? Does impersonating a dead person give you the creeps?”
He spoke in a light tone. Or rather, it would be more accurate to say he was teasing her.
“She was your roommate, wasn’t she? The good-natured Ravena.”
He was right. Ravena was a good natured person. She had also been nice towards Charl.
If Charl hadn’t gone and done that, they might even have ended up as friends.
Seeing Charl’s silence, the young boy shrugged his shoulders, a gestured laced with ennui.
“Let’s get to the main point then. With the destruction of the ruins of the clock tower, the headmaster’s status is currently unknown.”
His voice suddenly changed, turning icy cold.
“I told you that there was a large cavern beneath the academy grounds— there was a reason why I said as much. You still haven’t strengthened your resolve, have you?”
“I have! I already killed the headmaster properly, didn’t I!?”
“So he gets buried under all that rubble… why did you do it in such a roundabout way? Considering your Sigmund, you could have easily blown past his security detail if you wanted to.”
“… That would have been a terrible plan. Since yesterday, the headmaster has been escorted by an anti-magic arts detail.”
“Right, since yesterday. However, I don’t believe that his anti-magic arts detail would have been effective against your Gram circuit.”
Charl fell quiet. As vexing as it was, his logic was perfectly sound.
“Well, it’s fine. I have no issues as long as you deliver what you promised before the deadline. Which ends in about… twenty hours?”
“… What are you going on about? I finished the job.”
“Nope, you didn’t. Thanks to that though, she managed to survive as well.”
The boy reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a crystal, holding it up for her to see.
Some kind of scenery surfaced in the depths of the clear, transparent crystal.
This was a magic device then. A tool that had a magic circuit installed in so that it could be used in magic arts.
Magic devices did not possess intelligence like automata, so the mage had to channel and control the magic energy on his or her own. If compared to a musical instrument, automatas were like instruments which came with instrumentalists attached, while magic devices were just simple instruments— the sound they produced came from the one playing them.
Seeing the image reflected in the crystal, Charl leapt to her feet.
That was Henri’s figure lying prone on the ground!
“Where is she!? Where is that!?”
“Calm down. Henri’s still alive. Or rather, I should say you didn’t end up killing her.”
It was a loaded statement. It took a while for Charl to realise what he was insinuating.
“That’s right, you should have killed her! She was in the line of fire as well. Isn’t it great that you ended up not aiming at the chairman after all?”
Charl suppressed her emotions, speaking through trembling lips.
“… Where is that place?”
“The large cave underground. After you destroyed the bedrock, everything collapsed down below. The Chairman, his security detail, and also, your cute little sister.”
The boy returned his gaze to the crystal, letting out a cry of surprise.
“Well, this is interesting. It seems somehow, Second Last is down there as well.”
Charl gritted her teeth. Raishin was next to Henri, even though she had told him to stay away. He really knew how to get on her nerves, ignoring her warning to him like that.
However— somewhere inside her heart she felt like she could understand the part of him that refused to give up.
“Shin, if I may interject here?”
His attendant called out to him. The man with the tinted glasses gave a butler like bow as he spoke.
“I fear it’s going to be extremely difficult, considering the security guards will have their eyes on the site. However, if the young master were to issue out an order, then retrieval will be easy.”
“I see. In that case, let’s do that. Bring ten men with you. I’d like to know the situation on the ground as well.”
Charl walked up towards the boy, slamming both her hands on his desk.
“I’m going too! Henri—“
“Let me go along! If anything were to happen to Henri, I—“
“I just said you can’t.”
Charl glared at the boy, her eyes full of killing intent.
In response the Charl’s magic energy, Sigmund spread his wings, albeit dove ones.
However, she couldn’t do anything.
“Instead of heading underground, you should be heading towards the school buildings. Classes are about to start after all, Miss Ravena.”
Charl looked like she had plunged to the bottom of the abyss of despair as she helplessly trudged out of the room.
Once she had left, the young boy gave a small laugh as he looked up at his attendant.
“You look like you have something you want to say, Shin.”
“… The one who told Henriette where to go was you. If the Raster Cannon had been a direct hit, we would have lost our hostage. Why then, did you do something like that?”
“Because it seemed like a fun idea.”
Shin fell quiet. The boy drank his black tea, giving him a sulkly expression.
“Don’t make that face. I knew Charlotte was incapable of attacking in any other way but that. There was no worry that Henriette would have perished.”
“But things that happen underground are beyond your control. In the worst case scenario, she could have fallen to her death.”
“If that happened all we need to do is to create a new Henriette, no?”
“… That’s heretical through and through. You’re becoming completely rotten to the core, aren’t you?”
“Thank you for the compliment. I’ll take you to task later.”
“… Just what are you thinking anyway?”
“You don’t get it? If the Cathedral of Fools really does exist, it will help boost the academy’s research by a considerable amount. There is value in exposing its existence, even if it comes at the considerable risk of exposing our own plans. And now, it really has appeared.”
A carefree laugh escaped his lips. It was a giggle that sounded like it came from an angel.
Shin stared at his master’s laughing face with a mixture of dread and awe, which turned into intoxication.
“I need to ascertain this with my own eyes; how close this academy is to God’s Simulacrum. It looks like there might be an unexpected bonus down below, so no playing around when you get there, ok?”
“As you wish.”
Shin gave a bow, immediately exiting the room thereafter.