Part 154: Siege of the Fleet III
BGM: Worldend Dominator
Bernkastel set down the receiver and crossed out yet another name on a list of Lambdadelta's notable friends. Something was wrong. Everyone she called hadn't heard anything from Lambdadelta. They weren't just playing dumb. They really knew nothing about the strange ruckus Lambdadelta was trying to stir up. Even Bernkastel was starting to suspect that something was fishy...
Then, a black cat leapt in and meowed a frantic report.
"Lambda and Battler aren't in the Golden Land...?! Hah, hahhhhahahaahahahahhahahhhaah!!!"
She tore the phone receiver from its stand. The number she dialed was short. It was probably an internal line. However, after listening to it ring several times, she slammed the receiver down again, finally managing to break the phone.
Bernkastel, overwhelmed with emotion, kicked the table over. Then, the room finally grew bright. It was like green sunlight. A bright green light waved about, giving the illusion that a green sun was rising and lighting the room up. It was a sign that Bernkastel's army had been given an emergency summons...
What was now an emerald green nebula let out a roar of delight that shook the bookshelf cliff...
"What... is that...? A green... sun...?"
"...Hide!! They know!!"
The three of them frantically hid behind a bookshelf. The room with the key in it was straight ahead. They could see something glinting faintly in the darkness of that room. It was a glint different from anything else they had seen so far in this city. The color of the glint... was gold. They had almost reached the golden key. However, if they went towards it, Bernkastel would be right behind them, along with her vast swarm of familiars. In other words, they were trapped in a dead end. They already knew that the emerald green color came from the eyes of the familiars. However, it was almost beyond comprehension that this undulating green sun could be the same thing, and they could do nothing except stare in wide-eyed shock...
The countless cats were passing through the ravine of bookshelves, from the very top to the very bottom. As they approached, they painstakingly checked the gaps between each book. However, even this mind-numbingly huge task was accomplished swiftly, thanks to the sheer number of familiars. With the speed of a gust of wind, they carefully checked every nook and cranny. There was no way to hide from this green sun. That would have been as foolish as trying to hide from water on a sinking ship.
"...Will we be able to hide until they pass us...?!"
"No... At this rate, we'll be found no matter where we hide...!"
Battler was just about to leap out from the shadows, but Lambdadelta grabbed him by the collar an instant before.
"No, but we'll be found if we just stand here...! So we have to move forward! We need to reach the key as soon as possible...!"
"You really think there won't be cats guarding the key?! We'll just be pinched between them!!"
"I believe in Aunt Eva...! She's the one who's guided us this far...! I'm sure she took care of the guard cats too!"
"I agree. If we're just going to be found anyway, then let's try and get there as fast as possible and grab the key. If we can just get that, no one will be able to open that book!!"
"...So, you'll rush in there and grab the key. And then what?! That place is a dead end, right?! You realize there'll be nowhere to run, don't you?!"
"We know that, but...!!"
"The key will be our trump card. It's vitally important for Bernkastel too. If worst comes to worst, we might be able to use the key as a bargaining chip..."
"Bargain with Bern?! You're insane!!"
"But if we hide here, we'll definitely be found. In that case, I'll take a bet on that billion to one chance. We'll get the key and have that be our trump card."
"So, you're praying for a miracle to win against the Witch of Miracles...?"
"Picking a winner out of astronomically bad odds. That's the Ushiromiya family magic...!!"
"...It'll break if you just touch it, but it's the sort of annoying seal that'll take exactly one hour to fade, whether a great witch or a lowly human does it. It's still over an hour before the ceremony begins. In other words, we won't even be able to touch the key unless we can buy time for a whole hour!!"
"When Aunt Eva took out the guard cats, she must've broken the magic circle too! It probably won't take an hour...!"
"As far as I can see, the magic circle is still just fine. Sorry to say it, but even if Eva did touch it, it was less than an hour ago."
"Well, what's an hour? At least we know that we can get it if we can manage to stick around that long!"
"Yeah. Sure, let's play tag for an hour. I'm used to getting chased around by thugs."
"You two really are out of your minds...!! You're really planning to play tag against Bern and all her cats?!"
"If there's even a 1% chance!"
"You can be certain that we'll grab it...!!"
The difference in enthusiasm between siblings, who had everything to lose, and Lambdadelta, was immense. However, Lambdadelta was no coward. She was a great witch of the Senate. If she surrendered, she wouldn't be able to escape severe punishment, but she would be forgiven after a few hundred years. Why would she, after being thrown into a stormy sea while clutching a buoy that could save only her, decide to throw that buoy away? There was no way a living person could be as determined as someone with everything to lose. No one could blame her.
The two siblings looked at each other. However, they both thought that any plan would be worth listening to, even if it would only raise their chances by 0.00001%.
"A sacrifice. Bern is a cat. She'll chase fleeing prey, but she'll also kill prey that doesn't flee. And only after toying with it first!"
"Cats are terrible creatures..."
"...Still, if that's true, it'll be worth the bet."
"Let's have one sacrifice. We'll decide with rock-paper-scissors. Whoever loses has to go taunt Bern, then get laughed at and killed, all to buy as much time as possible. Does that work for you?"
"No need for rock-paper-scissors. I'll do it. You two go on to the key room."
"No way, Onii-chan...!! I'll do it. This is all my responsibility. I was the one who listened to Bernkastel and trusted her. So, I've got a thing or two to say to her!"
Both Battler and Ange decided to be the sacrifice and wouldn't listen to the other.
"See? You need rock-paper-scissors to decide, right? If you don't act quickly, we won't even have a chance to use this plan. They'll be here any moment."
"...Okay. Either Ange or I will be the sacrifice. Lambdadelta, you'll take whoever's left, steal the key, and take them back to the Golden Land."
"I won't let you do it. Onii-chan."
"Quit joking around. You've got to let me act like a big brother at least once in a while."
"There's no time. Rock-paper-scissors, single round! I'm super paper, so of course we'll start with that. Got it, you two?"
"No regrets, okay?"
It really was a stupid kid's game of rock-paper-scissors. Since they'd promised to start with paper, this was a chance to make a surprise attack and use something else. However, both Battler and Ange chose rock.
...And yet, it wasn't a tie.
After staring stupidly at their fists and those scissors, they looked at her.
"...Ah, dang... We were supposed to start with paper, so I figured I'd use scissors and beat you both. I guess paper should've stuck with paper."
There had been no reason for Lambdadelta to join in on the game. This wasn't the time for a joke like that. Battler and Ange, each trying to lose, chose rock. Lambdadelta alone... chose scissors.
"Don't tell me... you intentionally..."
"If you die, we can't even get back to the Golden Land...! It doesn't count!"
"Well then, you can just use this."
When Lambdadelta made a clenched fist, a palely glowing Fragment appeared there, and she gave it to the pair of them. Battler had seen one of these before. It was a magic Fragment, like the one Erika had used before disappearing, which would allow one to cross the sea of Fragments.
"With that, you'll be able to return to the Golden Land. And anyway, I'm the best person for the job. You two probably wouldn't last a handful of seconds against Bern. If it's me, not only will an hour be no problem, but who knows? I might even win. And I owe her one. I've got to make this my victory and even the score. Still, away games are such a pain."
Lambdadelta pretended to complain as she stood up straight.
"Anyway, see you in a bit. I guess a show-off like me couldn't stick to being a spectator after all. Sorry for stealing your time to shine. It's sad that I won't be able to watch your game until the end, but I've already taken a look at the script, so I'm not missing anything."
Then, with her broadest smile and a wink...
Lambdadelta snapped her fingers, and the two of them turned into konpeitou candies. She picked them up, took aim at the glint of the golden key, and flicked them away. That way, they should be able to reach the key without Bernkastel noticing...
Dang, what terrible luck. What were the odds of them both playing a rock against my scissors? Yeah, I know. It wasn't nice of me to test you like that. Sorry, you two.
And then, Lambdadelta's body was lit up by an emerald green light...
Video: Battle for the Golden Land, Part 1
There was a fierce roar and several bright flashes.
"What in the...? ?!?!"
A chain of explosions flashed by one after another, enveloping Bernkastel and her pack of familiars in an instant. They were multicolored fireworks. Or rather, multicolored candy that burst with a flash and scattered everywhere. Countless stick candies, sugar sculptures, cookies and tarts flew in every direction, and each one of those split and exploded into hundreds of candies, each of which exploded again into a cloud of konpeitou.
The konpeito was heavier than lead, harder than steel, and sharper than any blade. As the colorful cloud exploded outward, it blasted the entire pack of cats into little bits. The emerald green glints that were scattered everywhere sparkled like the night sky, and among them danced the cloud of pretty candies that looked like they'd go well on a Christmas tree. It was sufficiently outrageous and beautiful and cute to mark the Great Witch Lady Lambdadelta's appearance on the scene.
"I love you, Bern. Isn't whispering of our love all the better if we're alone?"
"...I'll be happy to hear it, after I've plucked off all your limbs."
With a jerk of her chin, Bern ordered her familiars to attack.
It was shaped like an impossibly vast whale. However, would it look like a whale from Lambda's perspective? She probably couldn't see anything except an immense mouth about to swallow up everything.
"Ah, simply wonderful. I'm about to be overwhelmed by Bern's love, aren't I?!"
"...I do love you, Lambda. Once your limbs are gone, I'll skewer you through your butt and hang you by my bed. Every morning, I'll give you a good morning kiss, and every evening, I'll kiss you goodnight."
"Sounds great! Then I'd better wrap you up in my love too!!!"
However, Lambdadelta's war cry was swallowed up by the glowing, writhing Leviathan in a single bite.
"...*giggle*. Yes, you are wonderful, Lambda. I love that empty-headed way you just do things without looking ahead or worrying about your own life.
The same instant that Lambdadelta was swallowed and Bernkastel was sure of her victory, the latter felt a slight breeze playing with her hair. The countless sweets that Lambdadelta had sent flying like fireworks, and which drifted about like the decorations at a Christmas party, were flowing. No, they were converging on a single point. It was like watching a firework run backwards. Countless sweets rapidly contracting around the vast, closed mouth of the Leviathan. A gigantic reverse explosion concentrated on a point inside it. Or perhaps it was more like countless candies showering the Leviathan from all directions like bullets.
...Inside that mass of green... was a black swirl. That swirl was on a palm. On the palm of Lambdadelta, who wore a defiant smile. It was... a mass of super-concentrated gravity. All of the sweets, the cats, the whale, and everything else was being sucked into that one point and crunched.
"...You're trying... to suck me in...?!"
All of the candies Lambdadelta had scattered were getting sucked back into the black hole on her palm at unbelievable speeds. The reverse explosion of the oncoming candy whittled away at the Leviathan, crushing it inwards.
"Come on. Let me give you a hug."
For the first time, all trace of condescension had left her face. Even Lambdadelta's cocky expression was marred by the sweat trailing from her forehead...
Because their power was so overwhelming, any victory would have to be instantaneous. If either relaxed in the slightest, they would match each other's strengths and get dragged into another dizzyingly long fight that could last for centuries. Neither of them had any desire to go through that again. So, neither of them showed the slightest mercy for their most beloved friend.
By now, the Leviathan had been completely crushed and compressed inside the black hole. Bernkastel was the only one still holding her ground. However, a windstorm of candy asteroids like the asteroid belt repeatedly slammed into Bernkastel, wearing away at her girl's form bit by bit.
"...I've got to get away... I'll... really...?!?!"
The next thing to fly into Bernkastel's range of vision... was a comet pelting straight for her, with a massive present box at its core and a cloud of candy surrounding it.
The candy comet wiped out Bernkastel along with her scream. It burst into little bits, then within a blink of an eye, it was sucked back into a hole of super-gravity. Once it was all gathered into one place like a gem, it began to spin rapidly. It was flattened by the centrifugal force, turning into something whose shape resembled a galaxy. After swallowing all of the cats and their master, it now looked like a wiggling, flickering, emerald green galaxy that floated just above Lambdadelta's palm. The pocket of super-gravity kept compressing it further and further, until, at the end, it had become a single green, shining konpeitou.
"Sorry, Bern. I wanted to play with you always, so I've always taken it easy and pretended to be in a pinch."
Lambdadelta held the konpeitou above her head and peered at it.
"But the truth is, I'm just impossibly strong. Sorry."
Then, she pressed the konpeitou to her pink lips, gave it a light kiss, and bit down.
Lambdadelta licked her fingertips, then turned to face the empty air behind her.
BGM: Dive to Emergency
"Ahh, I love you too, Bern..."
"Liar. I knew... that you were never serious against me."
"In that case, let's show our love for real. Both of us, seriously."
"Ahh, I do love you, Lambdadelta. I'm happy... so happy..."
"Ahh, I do love you, Bernkastel. I'll turn you into candy and cuddle you with my tongue forever."
"No matter who wins, our love will never fade. *giggle*giggle*, ahhahahahahahahahaha!! That's wonderful, just wonderful...!!"
"Okay!! Let's show our love right now!!!"
Then, finally, the barrier of the Golden Land was breached by the fleet's assault. It was a bizarre scene. More ridiculous than anything anyone had imagined. The sky of the Golden Land shattered like glass, and a fleet of sailboats flew in one after another. They were crowded with goats pushing each other and spilling off the sides.
Banquet. That wasn't some fancy metaphor, but a simple statement of fact. The overwhelming surge of goat troops came in like a tsunami. The residents of the Golden Land who stood defiantly were like a forgotten sand castle on a beach. A fight between a wave and a sand castle is not a fight. This was a banquet... for the oncoming Vikings at a stand-up meal, the voracious, merciless goats.
"There's no way around it!! Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiire!!!"
"<Good>!! Come, goats!! Bring destruction to all that has form, stillness to all that moves! Despair to all who liiiiiiiive!!!"
All those who could use magic fired it off at once. With a shout like a thunderclap, the goat tsunami rushed forward. Everything collided at once, and there was a brilliant and terrible explosion. Sparks and smoke, flying splinters and screams. For just an instant, the fierce magical cannonballs fired by Beato, Virgilia, and the Chiester Sisters seemed to halt the goat tsunami in its tracks.
However, their numbers were so great that they didn't even flinch. The goat wave continued to walk over the corpses that had been blasted away, or which had fallen to their knees in weariness. The mound of corpses piled up, and still more goats were shot down as they tried to cross it, so that, in a few seconds, it really was tall enough to be a tsunami.
"Perhaps you would do better to think of ripples beating meaninglessly against a wharf. A sandcastle getting swallowed by a wave? Just you try swallowing my castle!!!"
Beato lifted her hands, telling the pair of battle towers that had been hidden deep in the ground that the day of glory had come again. The goat tsunami looked up at it in shock. After all, this time the tsunami that towered over everything... wasn't them.
A thunderstorm of rapid-fire ballista rounds leapt from the battle tower gun ports. The goats let out a confused scream at the furious tempest that was bearing down on them. However, they saw something else too. In the sky high above the tower... was a reaper astride a divine horse and backdropped by the moon, a massive spear the size of a tower in its hand. The great witch sitting on the horse by the reaper spoke.
"Do it, Teacheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeer!!"
The heavenly spear pierced the ground.
For an instant, it looked like some divine tower was sticking out of the ground. However, that was the very last thing those eyes ever saw. The sacred spear was the embodiment of heaven's wrath, and the strength to bury an unclean city in a single stroke was unleashed upon the pack of goats. With a massive explosion that resembled a volcanic eruption, goats were sent flying all over the place.
"But is it enough?!"
"The enemies keep on coming! It looks like we'll be the ones swallowed up after all!"
"At least you two seem to be enjoying yourselves."
"Wahaahahahahahaha!! Festivals are made to be enjoyed!! It seems our time to shine shall not be stolen from us after all!!"
"Looks like it!! I'm all fired up!!!"
Yes. The crowd of goats truly was like a wave pressing in from the sea. You might be able to split a ripple on the beach with your feet, but you can't split the sea. Witches could. However, that meant the other side also had one who could split seas. Suddenly, smoke poured from one of the two towers, and the ground shook as it crumbled.
"...Wh, what the hell happened?!"
"Over there! On top of the other tower!!"
"Erikaaaaaaaaaaaaa... But of course, it is your turn now, is it not...?"
At the top of the other battle tower, Erika stood gracefully, wielding her scythe.
"...Playing witches was pretty fun. I think I remember playing something like this with some older girls from the neighborhood, when I was younger. So, let's bring this to an end. Now it's time to hear your screams."
Erika threw that pretentious pirate hat she had been wearing this whole time into the sky. With the moon behind it, Erika's form... her afterimage... vanished from the tower's peak.
"Where is she?!!"
"We have her on radar! On the side of the tower!"
Shaking with a wild, joyous laughter, Erika dashed straight down along the side of the tower. She swung her scythe like a baton, and as she passed along the wall, the gun ports, walls, pillars, and everything else was crushed, leaving a trail of smoke. So, from the sidelines, it looked as though a line of smoke suddenly split the tower from top to bottom. The golden arrows of the Chiester Sisters chased after Erika like golden threads in a sewing machine.
"You monster...!! Get yourself sewed and embroidered nyeh!!"
Even the golden arrows couldn't catch up with Erika. Finally, Erika reached the bottom of the battle tower, and empty cartridges were ejected from the golden bows.
"Explode, useless tower! Did I get that right?!"
Erika, who had now landed on the ground, slowly stood up and tapped the tower behind her with the handle of the scythe. That tiny tap cut the final string that held the tower together, and the whole thing fell in on itself with an earth-shattering crash... Once again, the dark tsunami rumbled forward through the rubble and smoke.
The goat tsunami swallowed everything up. When she saw them sink under the black sea of goats, Erika guffawed from atop the debris of the tower.