Siena just gave up trying to come up with something and apologized to Alpheas.
“I’m sorry, Headmaster.”
“Hoho, it was a difficult task. Isn’t supernatural psychic science supposed to be something like this? Don’t stress over it.”
“I’ll make sure to give them a warning.”
Alpheas raised his hand as if to say it was okay and walked toward the door. And just before leaving through the door, he turned and looked at the empty stage.
Hidden behind his beard, the corner of his lips rose.
‘If things ended with just this, I’m sure you wouldn’t have even started the whole thing. Am I right, Shirone?’
* * *
Regardless of the audience’s reaction, Shirone’s group rushed to the research group room.
“Good. We passed step 1 with no incident! The real show starts now.”
“They bought into it, right?”
“Yeah. I could tell just from their eyes.”
Contrary to students’ expectations, the presentation ended blandly, but that didn’t matter to Shirone’s group.
The presentation was only a way for them to convey keywords. What they truly aimed for with the presentation was to plant a seed of small doubt in the audience’s mind.
Nade arrived at the lab and started undressing.
“Shirone, it’s up to you from now on. You’re literally the engine of this operation.”
“Okay. Let me meditate for a little bit.”
Nade and Yiruki’s results were visible, but in Shirone’s case, there were many variables that came into play. He had no choice but to simply believe in himself, recalling the past month of training.
They had six hours left.
In order to reach the best condition, Shirone started the Sequence method.
‘One, two, three…’
His friends left him alone so that they wouldn’t bother him.
As aspiring mages, they knew what it meant to maintain Photon Output for more than 10 minutes.
They still had things left to do.
Yiruki had to set up the hologram control device while Nade had to overhaul the central device that transmitted photon signals.
And with that, midnight approached.
Sitting in the dark laboratory where no one was present was Shirone. He slowly opened his eyes.
After five hours of the Sequence method, his mind was comparable to a well-honed sword.
The door opened.
Shirone remained motionless for a long time.
Then he suddenly stood up and left the lab after Nade like a gladiator heading into the Colosseum.
The central device was installed in the path of the sewage system that ran under the park.
Thick optical fibers came up to the ground, where they were again dispersed into hundreds of strands through multi-adapters and spread throughout the academy.
There were about 300 holographic devices spread throughout the academy.
Shirone admired Nade’s tenacity, but he also felt bad for him as he could feel the amount of pressure that must have been on his shoulders.
He had achieved his goal, but it was his first time trying it out for real. No one knew if unexpected variables would come into play.
With ten minutes left until midnight, Shirone walked in front of the huge central device.
It was ten times bigger than the prototype and looked like a monster with several legs.
Shirone grabbed the output terminal that looked like a crystal ball and waited while Yiruki checked the time.
He could not be too fast, nor too slow. It was important to start right at midnight.
“5 minutes left. Let’s begin.”
Shirone took a deep breath.
His eyes calmed, and even his face was devoid of any expression.
With Yiruki’s signal, Shirone’s Sequence method sped up at a tremendous rate.
Yiruki and Nade’s eyes widened as light exploded from both hands.
They knew Shirone had achieved his goal, but it was their first time seeing him in action.
When Shirone reached his highest output, Nade ran to the device and checked the transfer efficiency.
His eyes were as wide as saucers.
Yiruki asked frustratedly.
“Why? What’s the percentage?”
That was low. Much lower than what they had expected.
Nade didn’t know where it went wrong, but he didn’t have time to look into it. If they couldn’t do it now, it was over.
Shirone had a hunch from the start.
‘Too big. The radius is too wide.’
* * *
* * *
The moment he cast Photon Output, it felt like he was pouring water into a bottomless pot.
‘There is no way the calculations were wrong. The only possibility is that there’s something wrong with the product’s stability.’
Checking a product’s stability required cutting-edge technology, and that was something the current Nade could not create.
Of course, there was no way the King’s Committee was fooled. It was just that optical fiber was still a material that was being researched and developed. It was not even commercially available yet.
Shirone gave it his all, but the output efficiency stayed stagnant at 17%.
Yiruki shook his head.
“It’s a failure.”
Even if he operated the device in this state, the hologram would break and shatter like glass.
Three minutes later, Nade gave a sad smile.
Although they failed, he was proud of Shirone for reaching an impossible goal with great effort.
Nade blamed the whole situation on his ignorance and incompetence, for he was unable to discern the defects in the optical fiber.
“Shirone, that’s enough. We did well. So let’s stop here.”
Shirone did not reply.
To be honest, he was overwhelmed with anger and frustration.
This was a project the three of them had worked on together. They gave it their all for weeks, so how could all their work up to this point be for nothing? How could it end just like this? Shirone couldn’t let that happen. He was not going to admit defeat.
‘I want to win. I want to succeed.’
Shirone clenched his eyes shut.
Because he had yet to pour everything into it.
The light that illuminated from his hand began to gradually swell and cover his whole body.
Nade read Shirone’s thoughts.
Shirone had ended up crossing into the forbidden realm once again, despite knowing doing so could end with him losing everything.
“Shirone! Stop! Don’t do it!”
Nade and Yiruki both rushed in to stop him, but Shirone’s mind, which was heading towards Nirvana, was not damaged by moderate physical impact.
The light that was growing in size swallowed his body and lit up the sewer.
The more the light brightened and grew, the more Shirone faded.
Worried that Shirone was going to disappear, Nade exclaimed.
“Shirone! Please, stop! We can’t lose you! We can always give up the research group, so please stop!”
“Let’s stop! End it right now!”
The corners of Shirone’s lips crept up softly.
“I’m not running away.”
Then, as Shirone closed his eyes gently, a huge light exploded and filled the inside of the tunnel.
His mind spread to infinity, and with that, everything that constituted him began to fade.
‘I’ll continue straight like this.’
This was also what Armin taught him.
The countless fragments of knowledge that he had acquired from the realm of infinity had been transformed into an esoteric monster.
A monster called mystery.
It may have only been a personal image, something his mind constructed, but it still inflicted fear beyond imagination in him.
The monster chewed and swallowed Shirone. In the midst of feeling like he was dissolving into pieces, his memories scattered. Life so far was just as meaningless as it was 100 million years ago.
‘No. I have to remember.’
Who he was, and where he lived.
The moment he lost his ego, he would never be able to return from the infinite realm.
Shirone held out for dear life.
If Shirone had done this back during the Speed Gun exam, he would have already given up.
‘Just a little more…’
But the Shirone of today was better. His mind was stronger.
The Immortal Function strengthened a person, but it was also a poison that destroyed a person. Shirone was walking on a tightrope. If he made a single mistake, everything that he was would go down the drain.
Shirone opened his eyes when most of his memories evaporated and the will to live disappeared.
‘This is exactly the place!’
The Spirit Zone that swelled endlessly returned to its original size at a frightening pace. In contrast, the Photon Output was increasing in power dramatically.
Then Shirone cried out.
“Shirone, are you okay? Are you unscathed?”
“Check the output first!”
Nade jumped and looked back at the instrument panel.
Output efficiency at 22%.
The efficiency that wasn’t moving an inch earlier was rising.
“It’s working! It’s going up, Shirone!”
Shirone, who overcame the mental pain with pure will, injected more powerful light into the crystal ball.
“Output efficiency at 36%!”
Shirone’s Spirit Zone trembled terribly.
Even with his excellent durability, the enormous mental power flooding from the infinite realm was almost too much for him to handle.
Output efficiency at 59%.
The cold-hearted Yiruki couldn’t hide his excitement.
“Shiro! A little more!”
The shaking of the needle in the instrument seemed to reflect Shirone’s current mentality.
‘It’s difficult to stay focused!’
Shirone bit his lips and transformed his Spirit Zone into the Defensive Form. As his frame became entangled, a cracking sound could be heard.
CRACK! CRACK! CRACK!
The longer Shirone held out, the stronger the light exponentially became.
Output efficiency at 87%.
His mind trembled, and his brain shook.
Only now did Shirone truly realize just how amazing of a mage Armin was. Incorporating the concept of infinity into one’s mind was more overwhelming than entering Nirvana. One could lose their life under the weight of the powerful force.
As soon as Shirone squeezed out the last bit of will he had in him, the lamp of the core lit up red.
Output efficiency at 100%.
“All right! Yiruki, start it!”
Yiruki, who was watching in fascination, hurriedly pressed the button of the remote control device.
The light that climbed up the optical fiber spread to hundreds of strands on the ground, wrapping around the academy like a huge spider.
Ding. Ding. Ding.
The sound of the bell that indicated midnight was heard.
* * *
Maria was studying at the lodging when she stretched after hearing the bell.
“It’s already 12 o’clock. Time really flies.”
Then, she remembered the presentation and froze in her stretching position.
‘Frequency of souls… Midnight.’
She shook her head.
‘Gosh, what am I thinking? Even if it’s Senior Shirone… How could a ghost…’
The more she tried to erase her mind from such thoughts, the more she couldn’t help but be bothered. She even imagined the ghost from the presentation.
“Haaa… What, useless thoughts.”
Shirone knew that if they planted the key points into the minds of the spectators, the rest wouldn’t be too hard.
‘If the frequency of our soul is set right, we can see ghosts from then on? Then that means from today, I’ll be able to…’
She couldn’t stop thinking about it, so she headed towards the window to try and forget about it.
And from where she stood, Maria saw someone walking in the air.
Her heart stopped working for a minute.
Then her heart started to accelerate.
What was outside of Maria’s window was an old corpse with half of its face rotten.
Her chin wobbled when the body missing an eye turned its head and opened its mouth wide as if it was about to scream something out.
She let out a deafening scream, but nobody heard it.
Because the same kind of scream was emanating from room to room down the hallway.