Chrome Shelled Regios:Volume1 Chapter6
Chapter 6: On the Polluted Earth
"It" had been living inside the earth for a long time. Without moving, only ingesting pollutants from within the soiled earth, for a long time.
Maybe "It" didn't even have a sense of time; living beneath the surface without ever feeling discomfort, moving slightly between sleeping and waking to eat soil. Time was wasted away in slumber.
However, the time to awaken was approaching. Since "It" was already a Mature Form, it could survive by consuming pollutants. But it's offspring were different. Since the larvae were intolerant to pollution, they couldn't digest it.
That's why they needed unpolluted nutrition.
In order to thrive, it could no longer sleep.
With the cracking of the earth, the signal to awaken rang.
The sound of grinding pipes echoed all over the place. The violent shaking of the floor caused Nina to lose her balance, but Layfon caught her by the arm.
For a moment, there was a sparkle on her face. Feeling that he just did something which shouldn't be done, Layfon thought of letting go of her arm. However after reconsidering it instantly, he slowly stopped.
To overcome the sound of metallic screeching all over the place, Nina raised her voice. Otherwise, her voice wouldn't be heard by Layfon, who was standing next to her.
"It's a city-quake."
Layfon also raised his voice.
"This is...... a city-quake?"
Looks like this is the first time Nina has experienced such a thing. Layfon thought, as she looked at her surroundings with a confused face.
"At first it was shaking up and down; maybe the city took a misstep into a ravine......"
Layfon carefully checked the pattern of the shaking. At first it was shaking vertically, and then it was shaking diagonally. The bucket and brushes that were near their feet were now sliding freely along the floor.
If it took a bad step, maybe it's sliding into some kind of hole? If so, then this was the worst possible situation. A city which cannot move is perfect prey for filth monsters.
Nina, who was momentarily overwhelmed by the shaking, quickly recovered herself and shouted, "There should be an emergency call! We have to return, quickly!"
"But the floor is unstable! We can't move around yet!"
"Even so, we still have to go back!"
Nina shook off Layfon's hand and stood up, Kei running through her body. Using Internal-type Kei to enhance body movement, Nina ran between the gaps of the pipes, as if weaving them together like a needle.
"Ah, to hell with it!"
Also using Internal-type Kei, Layfon chased after Nina. Even faster then Nina, Layfon quickly moved forward, as if he was half-flying.
In front of him, Nina was running through a passageway suspended in mid-air.
"She's too reckless."
Although that was the shortest route to go to the surface, it was a risky action. At that moment, the passage was swinging left and right, as if it could collapse at any moment. As such, it wouldn't be strange if Nina, who was running with all her strength, suddenly got thrown out from the passage.
There wasn't time to use the stairs. Layfon leaped upwards, using the pipes around him as footholds. Beneath the corridor was the heart of the machinery, where the Electronic Fairy lived. While chasing after Nina, he caught Zuellni at the edge of his vision, an existence pulsating with dim light. In the form of a child, Zuellni was gazing at the deep earth with a terrified expression. She was curled up, as if she was too scared and was trying to hide somewhere narrow.
As if she was peeking at some terrifying existence and hoping it wouldn't surface......And Layfon got his confirmation.
Muttering, he jumped off the last pipe to land on the corridor.
Just as Nina was about to run past him, he grabbed hold of her wrist again.
"Let go! There's no time to spare!"
"Yes! No time!" Layfon said, his anger matching hers.
Even the bold Nina paused, caught by his aura. She stared at him with wide eyes as he shouted.
"This is an emergency. We don't have time to laze around. If we don't escape......"
"What did you say?"
"Hurry up and head for a shelter. We need every single second we have."
"Just what are you talking about?" she questioned. Irritation and annoyance filled him at her reaction.
(How could she be used to such peace!?)
He just wanted to shout out in lamentation, but Nina still didn't know anything. If this was Grendan, anyone would have known what Layfon's expression was about. But this wasn't the case in Zuellni. Perhaps the other students here were the same. Just how many people knew the real situation? The more he thought of it, the more irritated he became.
"Layfon!?" Nina's angry voice called him back to reality.
He slowly let out his breath and tried to speak in a way that would affect every corner of Nina's body.
A simple and absolute message.
"The filth monsters are here."
The siren rang. Informed of the situation through the phone in his dormitory, Karian immediately left and went to the school building.
His destination wasn't the Student President's office. He entered a conference room in the middle floor of a tower that was surrounded by the Military Arts buildings. The few students in the room turned their gazes on him, including Vance.
A thin, tall male student replied to Karian's short question. "One-third of Zuellni's legs are trapped in the ground, unable to escape." His pale skin looked green.
"Yeah......It should be able to move on its own under normal circumstances, but now......Well, the legs are stuck."
Karian addressed Vance. "How's the evacuation going?"
"The City Police are evacuating the students, but it's too chaotic; they don't have the situation under control yet."
Vance shook his head with a scowl. Karian nodded to comfort him.
"That can't be helped. We don't have enough people here with real fighting experience. But I hope you can speed up the evacuation as much as possible."
Next he turned to the representative of the Alchemy course.
"Release the safety setting of all the Dites of Military Arts students, and please hurry and activate the city's defense system."
"We're already on it."
"Gather all the platoons. We must fight with them as the core."
Karian once again looked at Vance, who nodded but voiced a question with a stiff face. "Do you think we can do this?"
Everyone looked at Karian.
The problem of an Academy City was that it lacked experienced fighters. Everyone in it was a student. There were no adults in any of the grades, from seniors down to freshmen. These factors caused the greatest pressure and doubt in its citizens.
Could they pass this crisis safely?
"Only a dead end awaits us if we don't do this. Not only will the Military Arts students die, but everyone in Zuellni," Karian concluded.
Everyone in the room was holding his breath. Once again, they understood the situation they were in. Under the shadow of death, no one wanted to say "Let's run away".
Even if they ran out of the city, they still couldn't survive on the polluted earth.
"We have to live no matter what. This is for everyone's - no, also for our own future. Please understand this fact and act accordingly."
Everyone nodded at Karian's icy resolution.
"......The filth monsters?" Nina said after pausing for half a second. She had taken some time to digest his meaning. This told Layfon how serious her lack of experience was in regards to the danger around them.
"How could that happen?! The city should be moving and avoiding the filth monsters. This can't be happening......"
"A city can only avoid the filth monsters on the earth, and even then there are limits. What Zuellni encountered this time is likely a mature mother-form sleeping beneath the ground." He told her his hypothesis.
The female filth monsters had eggs inside their bodies. The mother hibernated until the eggs mature into a larval stage. The young ones that just hatched could not absorb the pollutants, so the mother would provide them clean nutrients she had stored in her body during her hibernation. If this still wasn't enough food, the babies would devour each other. The mother would choose a few of the leftover ones and care for them till they fully matured.
And if even that wasn't enough, the mother would become food for her young.
The instinct of filth monsters to reproduce and care for the next generation was this strong.
"The mother won't become food if there isn't a need for it."
If there was a close enough food source......
Now Nina understood what Layfon was saying.
The people of Zuellni would become food. Nina's hand trembled.
Was it fear? But, if so......
Without understanding, Layfon continued to speak.
"So please head for the shelter......"
Her reaction hit him on the face.
"You're telling me to evacuate!? You're telling me to run away!? Do you think I could do that!?"
He looked at her, lost. The light of Kei enveloped her, a symbol of her fighting spirit. He held his breath at the Kei that was more intense and beautiful than the Kei she had exhibited during the platoon match.
She was too naive.
"What is our power for? What is the purpose of this power within us!? Isn't it for times like this!? Not for fights between people, but for our survival! Do you think we are allowed to run away at a time like this!? Stop joking!"
He knew why she was trembling. It wasn't fear, but the drumming of the heart waving away that fear. Her honest and determined heart had overcome her horror. This was the drumming eliminating her fear.
And that was why it was so bright.
Layfon squinted at that brightness.
He never thought a person's Kei could be this bright. He knew of someone whose Kei light was more intense than Nina's, and someone whose Kei was fiercer. But he knew of no one whose Kei was the same as Nina's right here, exuding this level of light.
"......You really are despicable," she said in a low voice, suppressing her violent emotion. "You have great power. Why don't you use it for something useful?"
Her eyelids lowered.
"I don't know the terror of having nothing to eat. I don't get it, so I can't fully understand your standpoint with money. But even so, there must be something else that's worth pursuing, right? You don't need to use dirty means that taint your strength and station. From your viewpoint, it isn't wrong to purely chase after money. But for someone strong like you, shouldn't you be able to do something greater than what I can do? Won't you be able to save many things? If the comrades you want to save are proud of you, then aren't you also saving their hearts?"
Her words stabbed him like a knife.
The eyes of his comrades at the orphanage when he became a Heaven's Blade successor.
Their eyes when he lost his right to the title of "Heaven's Blade."
Their sudden change in attitude convinced Layfon that no one understood him.
He had been betrayed.
But could they have been the ones who felt they had been betrayed?
(Even if you go, you......)
He swallowed the other half of his words.
(You can't possibly win.)
He was dizzied by Nina's Kei, but this Kei was just a symbol of her inner heart. A strong heart was no indication of increasing strength.
So what would happen if he said that?
"If we don't fight now, when do we fight?"
The words she left behind indicated her determination to fight. Besides, what if he stopped her? It was natural for Military Artists to fight against filth monsters – it was their mission, given to them from heaven – the duty of those given Kei and Psychokinesis. All of them would think like that.
If they don't fight, who would?
If it was me......
Layfon was no longer a Military Artist. Even though he possessed Kei, he was no longer duty-bound as he had given up the standpoint of a Military Artist.
He didn't want to fight for the sake of others.
He made many wrong decisions in Grendan. The attitude of the people around him was a great shock to him.
"Who's fighting for others......"
Having chased after Nina, he was now back on the surface. He strolled towards the dormitory, listening to the sirens and the commotion of people evacuating.
"I don't have a goal anymore to fight for" he repeated again and again, as if chanting a spell.
The dormitory was empty. Of course, everyone had evacuated. The silence made him uneasy. He knew he had come to a place that he shouldn't have, but he had no idea where else he could go. He headed straight for his room.
Layfon changed into his Military Arts uniform. The fact that the weapon hanging from his harness calmed his heart mocked him. But since he didn't go to a shelter, he let himself keep it for self-defense. Even if it wasn't for others, he had to fight for his own life.
The weight of the Dite had wiped clean his uneasy feeling, but this only made him feel restless about what he was doing. The dormitory was empty, and he was in here, doing nothing.
The strange feeling that he wasn't on the field fighting filth monsters.
"Fighting them has become a habit," he said, mocking his own wound. Back in Grendan, he could make extra money by killing filth monsters, so he was always at the front, standing alone upon the battlefield. For some reason, there were always lots of filth monsters in Grendan's way. The number of fights that Grendan had had, could not be compared to other cities.
And that could be why Grendan was called the birthplace of Military Arts.
But this didn't matter anymore.
"I don't want to fight for others anymore......"
Then he noticed something behind the door.
He picked it up, not knowing what it was.
It was an envelope that was bigger than the size of his palm. Its crumpled corners were proof of its long journey. On its back was an address of Grendan and a nostalgic name.
The dorm security must have stuffed the letter through the crack of the door. It must have arrived while Layfon was at the school.
He let go of the unimportant speculation and cautiously opened the letter.
His eyes widened at the first line, which completely shattered his lie.
I'm very angry. Layfon, why are you lying? Oh, and this is my reply to your second letter. Your first letter was somehow sent to me together with the second letter. Don't blame me. I wasn't lazy in replying. But please, at least remember my address.
Anyway, I'm angry. It's impossible for you to become good friends with people so quickly, and live a normal academy life like ordinary people. Please don't underestimate me.
"So mean......" He sat back on the floor. Her evaluation of his terrible social skill...So that was how he appeared in her eyes......
He continued reading in spite of that setback. Leerin had been the closest to him in the orphanage and she was one of the few who still talked to him after what had happened. He couldn't ignore her words.
As he read, a feeling stirred inside him. The stirring intensified, striking him hard from the inside. He couldn't sit still anymore. He read as he stood up, unable to suppress the urge inside him.
As he finished reading, he shoved the door aside and rushed through the corridor.
He ran. He ran heedlessly and recklessly.
As he ran, he stuffed the letter into his pocket, reflecting on its contents.
I understand your desire to forget your past in Grendan. If it was me, even I'd want to run away and forget everyone's cold gazes.
But you don't really want to forget everything, do you? You're still sending letters to Grendan, to stay in contact with me. If you truly wanted to seal off your past in the depths of your mind, then I should also be forgotten.
I always watched you train, watched you grow strong. Back then, I never thought 'that person doesn't want to train in the Military Arts.' That stance of yours when you were waving your longsword with the whole of your heart, training in the dojo, was dazzling to me.
I also want it; the thing that can propel me forward with all my strength.
Layfon, you're the hero of the orphans in Grendan. Everyone finds you dazzling, and that isn't a lie. You, who knelt before the Queen, felt so distant, even for me. It was a lonely feeling, but it gave us hope, that we could also make something ourselves. We grew up under the same circumstances. If you could give off such heat, then we could also be successful.
It was all because of you that I chose to study instead of work.
I want to study management. The Head of the orphanage has also changed his thinking because of you. He regrets that you became like that because of him. He said he'll pay more attention and be wiser when spending money.
Our father is so useless. But whether it's the past or the present, he's caring for us in his own way. If it wasn't for him, you and I wouldn't have met.
And you've changed him.
I've decided to help father. I want to study management and build an orphanage not plagued by money issues.
I want to protect our orphanage, just like father.
It'd be good if Layfon could protect the orphanage, when we live together in Grendan once again. Do I sound stupid? Like returning to the past but with some advancement. Can't we change ourselves like this and go back to what it was like before?
I pray for the day when you once again step on the soil of Grendan.
To my dear Layfon Wolfstein Alseif.
The sound of heavy movement pierced the atmosphere, as if the entire world was twisting into another form.
A number of Zuellni's legs were stuck in the ground. The metallic sound of the joints of Zuellni's legs struggling to move filled the air.
And the other noise was......
Gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha, gacha......
The sound, like water oozing forth, came from under the earth, twisting the world more intensely than the metallic lamentation. The lamentation of Zuellni.
Something climbed up from the ground along with the noise. On the ground that Zuellni stood, they came one after another......
Dots of red light lit up the deep night.
One, two, three, four......One after another, red lights climbed out of the hole in the ground. Soon, Zuellni was drowning in a sea of red light.
The warning light underneath Zuellni lit up, proof that the Military Arts Students had equipped themselves. Strong light tore through the darkness to illuminate a fraction of the red lights gathering on the ground.
It had a shell that was as scarlet as the earth. Encircled by the polished shell, a single compound eye on it's head flashed with red light. The *Gacha* sound came from the friction between its moving body and its shell.
This was the larva of a filth monster.
Driven by their instinct to eat, all the larvae turned their eyes to the light shooting down from above.
Where the food was.
The earth cried out. It was their mother's voice.
Hurry and eat. What can keep you alive is over there.
And become strong, strong, strong......
The larvae stirred. They didn't even yet know how to move their bodies, but they obeyed their mother and tried. Irritation grew from their unfamiliarity with their bodies, but, driven by their appetite, they bore it and learned, moving as their mother's voice directed them to.
The shell above the body split in two.
And beneath it was something half-transparent; it was filled with something that looked like crumpled paper. As the larvae shook, the crumpled paper that was wet with moisture pushed and spread out to become wings.
And, a new noise dominated the scene.
The sound of fast-beating wings floated into the air, and the larvae lifted off from the ground.
Hundreds of larvae floated in the air and headed straight for their food – Zuellni.
Nina watched this scene from the edge of the city, facing the northwest.
The disturbing sound echoed through every fiber of her being. Then groups of larvae appeared, as if a floodgate had been opened.
The shocking numbers of larvae made her hold her breath. Their numbers overwhelmingly exceeded the number of Military Arts students she led. Each of the seventeen platoons assigned to different sectors must be witnessing the same scene......
(Are there more filth monster's than people in Zuellni?)
She swallowed the despair flashing through her. This wasn't the time to despair. If she, the commander, revealed that feeling, how could the platoons under her continue fighting?
The sea of red and black swept towards Nina's position, the noise of beating wings loud enough to shatter her eardrums.
"Artillery, commence firing!" she shouted into her transmitter.
The artillerymen, led by Sharnid, fed their Kei into the cannons on the outskirts of the city.
The condensed Kei hit the larvae's front-lines and detonated. Red sparks exploded everywhere. Shells shattered and small legs fell, scattered onto the ground.
The surviving larvae landed, folded their wings and stored them underneath their shells.
"They can't fly for extended periods. Sharnid, target those that fly. Don't let any reach the city."
"Roger. I can't die here. I still have a date tomorrow."
Usually, she would have been irritated by his joke, but this time his laughter made her smile. She relaxed, and Restored the two Dites she took out from her harness. The Kei flowing through the iron whips with their safety locks released looked more vivid and clearer than usual.
Out of the 17th platoon, only Nina and Sharnid were here. Layfon was useless, and Felli had not heeded the call of the Student President. Nina heard that the Psychokinesist had not been spotted at the shelter.
Then where was she......?
There wasn't time to ponder this question.
Before Nina were numerous larvae.
The larva's head, which looked tiny compared to its body. Below the flashing red compound eye, a small orifice opened to extend a jaw, in which four sharp teeth were stirring.
"How could we be eaten by these things! Attack!"
Nina bellowed and rushed towards the larvae.
Harley's eyes widened.
"Why are you here?"
Not far from the front-line at the city's edge was a temporary tent. Students from Medicine and Alchemy waited inside it.
The sound of the larvae could be heard here.
The medical students checked their medicine with stiff faces. The alchemy students also had the same expression as they prepared the Dites.
The machine Harley had been using to release the safety locks on the Dites was now cooling down, and standing before him was Layfon, who appeared to be breathless from running.
"Great, you're here......" Layfon relaxed his breathing and removed the Dite from his harness.
"Huh? Is the safety lock still on?"
"Yes, but I have to ask another favor......"
Harley quickly set to unlocking it. "A favor?"
"Can you make two settings?"
He widened his eyes.
Harley looked back and forth between the Dite and the machine. The Dites with the safety locks were the same type as the machine that made the setting, so he could adjust the settings here too. Because if that couldn't be done, students whose Dites were damaged wouldn't be able to fight. Many spare Dites had been prepared here, and many more were coming in.
"Can you do it?"
"Yes. It's not difficult to adjust the settings, but......Can you use it?"
It was natural to have doubts. He had never heard of a Dite having two settings. It wasn't impossible on a technical level, but it was harder for the wielder.
One had to use a keyword and his Kei to Restore a Dite. The Dite would Restore into its adjusted form according to the wielder's voice and his Kei. The quality of a Dite could be adjusted to suit anyone's Kei. As long as a setting remained the same, only the Dite's original owner could use it.
The problem was the Dite's adaptation to Kei. To make two settings meant there had to be two keywords.
But a person couldn't make two types of Kei. The attributes of Kei differed from person to person. It wasn't impossible, but it was rare for a person to have two types of Kei flow.
"Can you use two different Kei?"
"No, but that won't be a problem. All you need to do is enter the exact value of the Kei output."
"And that's the hard part."
"I can do it. Please make the setting."
"But there's no time to make adjustments. And if you really want to, you can use two Dites......"
That was reasonable enough a suggestion, but Layfon shook his head. "I want to experience it the way I did in the past. Please."
Harley sighed. He inserted the terminal into the Dite. A number came up on the display.
"What's the setting I have to enter?"
Layfon told him the number and Harley entered it on the keyboard.
His fingers stopped.
The detailed number caused him to widen his eyes for the third time.
"Can you really do this?"
"Yes," Layfon answered without hesitation.
Harley cautiously entered the detailed number once again, so accurate that it made him dizzy.
"And do you know where Loss-senpai is?"
"What? The Student President?"
"No, our senpai."
"Aah......Isn't she with Nina?"
"No. Well, I'm not sure, but I don't think she's there."
Felli wouldn't be there. She hates being used.
(Where is she? This won't work well without her help.)
Perhaps she was somewhere nearby. He looked around but couldn't see her.
While he was doing that, Harley finished the adjustments.
"......Will we survive?" Harley said as he handed over the Dite. He looked at the floor, patting his gear.
"We easily forget that we live in a harsh world. I was very scared when I came here on the roaming bus. We were extremely uneasy without any equipment. I was relieved when we safely arrived at the school. I once saw a city destroyed by the filth monsters. A city called Blitzen. I didn't know what that city was like. I was scared, thinking that the fate of Blitzen might befall us one day."
"Nina looked regretful. I think at that time, she realized how useless she was."
"But after arriving at this city, I forgot about it. Forgetting...It's more like I didn't believe that would happen to us. The greatness of a mobile city......But it isn't perfect. And that imperfection is now before us......"
The filth monsters were attacking Zuellni.
"Will we survive? Nina, everyone, me, and you......"
"Of course," Layfon nodded. Harley lifted his face. Layfon nodded again to wipe away the doubt on the other's face.
"I'll definitely protect this place."
Layfon began to run again just after saying that.
"Where are you going?" Harley called.
"To someplace high!"
The highest place in Zuellni......Was the command tower next to the Student President's dormitory.
He headed for it.
There was some distance between the outskirts of the city and the Student President's dormitory. He could have ridden a tram, but its route wouldn't have taken him directly to the place he wanted. Instead, he used Internal-type Kei and flew along the rooftops to his destination.
And landed in front of the dormitory.
Intending to head for the tower, he saw a girl standing at the entrance.
It was Felli.
She stood there, lonely and without purpose. She wasn't surprised to see Layfon. Her lips trembled lightly.
"Senpai, why are you here?"
He could guess what was happening, looking at her lowered gaze. Perhaps she was overcome. He studied her closely and saw her cheeks were slightly pink.
"Does it have something to do with the Student President?"
She turned to leave, and he quickly grabbed her delicate wrist.
"......What is the meaning of this?"
Her eyes narrowed. He hadn't the time to shrink under that gaze.
"I need your help."
A shiver ran through her body.
"What do you want?" She shook off his hand, her glare sharper than ever.
"Do you so want me to use Psychokinesis? I don't want it. Isn't it fine to not use it? I don't need this ability. I hate it enough to toss it to someone else. Do you still want me to use it?" Her voice was calm, but every single word was reproving him.
"I thought you were the same as me. You didn't want to use your power, but I was wrong. You......"
"I also don't want this power."
Layfon talked, seizing his chance to speak without interruption.
"I'm only using what I possess. Perhaps I've never liked this ability."
But Leerin didn't think so. He thought he was only using it to reach his goal, but perhaps deep down inside, he truly liked wielding the katana. He couldn't be sure. It was already in the past, and he didn't feel that he liked Military Arts in the present. In reality, he had such painful memories because of the Arts of the Katana.
Even if he had used it wrongly.
"Besides this, the current situation needs us. This can't be helped."
Displeasure showed in Felli's eyes.
He said solemnly, "I don't want anyone to fall victim. I want to eliminate every single filth monster, and I need senpai's power to achieve that. I need your help. Please!"
He bowed. Looking at her feet, he had no idea how she would react. Her feet remained still, and Layfon kept silent.
"......Even I know this isn't the time to be willful," she said. "But I still don't like being used. I hate it."
"If you don't use your power, people will die," he said still bowing his head. "I also want to find a future without Military Arts in this city, but for that purpose, this city must live. I've already failed once in my life. I don't want to fail again."
"And also, I don't want the people here to lose their futures because of today."
Mifi, Naruki and Meishen were here. Their dazzling lives made him dizzy. He didn't want their futures to be dashed.
He only fought for his survival back in Grendan, but that wasn't enough. The world of Regios allowed people to live with dreams. The Electronic Fairy, the little girl Zuellni protected them and gave them the chance to have dreams. In that case, this time, let him fight seriously for his goal.
To keep on living and fighting for the satisfaction of living.
And for that purpose, he would not allow Meishen and her friends to meet a tragic end. They gave off so much light and allowed him to look forward to a dream.
"......You really are a good person, beyond help."
He heard her sigh.
And then Layfon looked up after hearing the sound that followed.
In Felli's hand was a Restored staff.
"What do I have to do?" she asked lightly.
Layfon bowed to Felli again.
Her face reddening, she turned away from him.
Droplets of sweat rolled down from her forehead and wet her eyebrows. Nina wiped it away with her sleeve to prevent it from seeping into her eyes. Absorbing the sweat, her sleeves turned heavy. Impatience sent Kei flowing through her entire body, and the Kei blew off some of the sweat sticking on her. With her iron whips, Nina kept striking the larvae that had lost their legs and couldn't move.
"Tsk!" she called out at the result of her attack.
Internal-type Kei strengthened her body and she struck the larva with the force of External-type burst Kei, and all that did was make a small dent on its shell.
"Damn, just how hard is this thing?"
She retrieved the iron whips and jumped aside. Another larva landed in the spot she was in just a moment before.
The number of larvae showed no sign of decreasing.
The larvae that were hit by Sharnid's team crashed down onto the ground, and instead of flying once more, dragged their bodies towards Nina and her platoons. The students had been attacking these larvae for a long while now.
It felt like a long while.
Nina couldn't tell just how much time had passed. Usually, she had no problem measuring time with her biological clock, but that failed her today.
"Damn!" She knew she was tense because of her inexperience. She would have gotten used to the fight soon enough if her opponent was human.
But not to these larvae. None of the students had fought any non-human targets in mock training.
Nina attacked the larva beside her with Kei, managing to destroy a compound eye and tear open the red veined muscles. The larva continued to sway forward and then stopped, blocked by a fence. The high voltage electricity flowing through the fence lit up the larva in green light. The larva ceased struggling, as black smoke rushed out from beneath its shell.
Perspiration dotted Nina's forehead.
Fortunately, the movements of the larvae were clumsy and repetitive. All the larvae did was move in a straight line. If they didn't fall flat on their opponents, pressing down hard, they couldn't use their jaws.
What Nina had to look out for was the horn that extended out from beneath the shell. All of the Military Arts students were working hard to incapacitate the larvae, aiming for the shell.
But without much of a success.
The problem was obviously the huge number of enemies they were facing.
"This never ends......"
Sharnid's team kept hitting the flying larvae as Nina's troops continued to eliminate the larvae that had landed. They kept repeating this strategy, but the combination of air and land combat was nothing compared to the larvae's advantage in number. The larvae had the absolute upper-hand in this fight.
The shouts diverted Nina's attention away to where three Military Arts students were fighting against one larva.
Nina watched, forgetting the fact that everyone else was also fighting.
The three fought with a female student as the center. The color of that female student harness showed that she was in first year. She was a tall and awe-inspiring looking female. A badge of the City Police was on her baton. This explained why she was on the battlefield, even though she had not yet obtained an arms permit.
A speedy rush took the female student to the side of the larva, and she kicked out at one of the joints in the leg. It looked like she hadn't yet trained in External-type burst Kei, but the Internal-type Kei sustaining her was amazing.
The larva howled in pain and changed its direction, charging towards its attacker.
The girl retreated back while increasing her distance with it.
And while that happened, the other two students struck the larva with their Kei, causing a crack to appear on its shell.
The larva wanted to again change its direction, but the girl kept on distracting it.
Their repeated strategy had destroyed one larva after another. A number of larva corpses lay strewn in their vicinity.
What a brilliant plan, to fight three against one.
But what attracted Nina's attention was the girl who acted as bait. Her movements were deft and skillful.
"I've seen her somewhere," Nina muttered.
She had no time to dig further into her memory, as another larva approached her. Nina would learn later that the girl was called Naruki Gelni.
A small mountain had piled up at the edge of the city, made of the larvae that Sharnid's team had hit with their cannons. As the larvae couldn't reform their attacks, they had given Nina and her troops a chance to keep on fighting.
The shooting team took out that mountain of larvae. The larvae scattered to fall onto the ground.
A larva suddenly came close and Nina bent down to avoid its horn, flicking out her whips to strike at its head. She rolled back, narrowly escaping the fate of being trampled by other larvae, but a larva was already waiting at the spot where she would roll to a stop. The tension and pressure in her head made her act reflexively. Her External Kei burst out, and using that momentum, she widened the gap between her and the larva.
She regained her fighting stance and entered the fight once more. As a shell covered the larva's body, the larva's head was the easiest target. Nina's strike was off by a few millimeters, and her whips broke one of the larva's forelegs. The larva shifted its movement, and headed left.
What a close call.
She relaxed a little.
Whose angry voice was this that came through her transmitter? Sharnid?
Without the time to determine who the owner of that voice was, she instinctively leaped to a side. A presence kept closing in from behind, and pain flared in Nina's shoulder. Her body flipped through the air.
She crashed onto the ground, the things in her vision spinning. Her wound brushed against the earth. Bearing that intense pain, she stood up.
The wound was on her left shoulder. Muscles had been torn apart from her shoulder and arm. The iron whip fell from her numb hand. The larva that rushed past her had crashed into another student. Blood and pain gushed out from Nina's wound, staining her tattered sleeve scarlet, and her wrist turned numb.
The loss of blood took away the vitality of her Kei. Her body felt heavy.
(No, this isn't good......)
Anxiety halted her steps and made the iron whip heavy in her right hand. The spasms running through her left fingers irritated her.
Her consciousness was starting to fade. No. She must move......Despite her thought, her knees refused her order and could only tremble. The exhaustion that she couldn't feel thanks to her Kei now overwhelmed her.
She stared off blankly, her consciousness slipping. She stared, and failed to move her body. In her vision was a larva, its huge body turning, its polished black horn targeting her.
The vibration in the air hit her first.
(I'm about to die......)
She accepted her impending fate as the vibration pierced through her body. This didn't feel like the Kei from the cannons, but from a normal Dite, and it rained madly down on the larvae. Who was it? Sharnid? The rain of Kei successfully destroyed many larvae's heads, but it wasn't enough to eliminate every single filth monster.
Even the iron whip in Nina's right hand fell to the ground. She watched the larva head towards her. She'll die. She'll die. Facing this reality, she could only watch it happen.
"Uh......" She let out her breath.
(What a detestable way to die, out here,) but her body refused to move. The Kei that flew out of her with her blood showed no signs of reviving. Having lost too much blood, she hadn't the strength to consider how to reactivate her flow of Kei. Perhaps that was why she could watch what happened next with hazy calmness.
All movement ceased.
Temperature lower than zero descended onto the entire battlefield. In Nina's eyes, the stirring of air particles seemed to have stopped, as if the coldness had frozen the water vapor in the larvae's bodies, halting their movements.
The entire world was holding its breath for what was to come.
At first, the scene was of it falling apart.
The larva closing in on Nina had been split apart.
Its huge body broke in two. The upper part fell off, its simple innards tumbling out from beneath the severed shell. Thick green liquid sprayed, its smell stinging Nina's nose.
And the larva behind that was also split apart.
And then the next, and the next......
And the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, was split in half and they tumbled to the ground as lumps of meat.
In the blink of an eye, the corner where the larvae had gathered became desolate.
What had happened?
Nina did all she could to support her body and remain conscious. What was it, that could so easily break through the hard shells of the larvae?
She didn't see what it was.
But the changing atmosphere......
An indescribable feeling filled the area. A feeling of something strong, like a heart drumming. The beat of flowing blood hovered in the air.
Was it this feeling that had wiped out all of the larvae?
It didn't feel real. The haziness in her brain was reality.
Someone dragged her aside. Could be someone from her team. That person dragged her to the back and pulled her onto a stretcher.
She weakly pushed away the medical student from her.
"Retreat, you fool!" the voice of the Student President resonated through the air.
"We're entering the final phase. All Military Arts students, follow my instructions and retreat behind the fence."
Searching for the source of that voice, Nina saw petal-like things floating in the air.
They were the flakes that a Psychokinesist used. The flakes could analyze information from their surroundings and transmit messages from far away.
Who was controlling the flakes?
(The Student President......) But what surfaced in her mind was his sister. Was she actually with the Student President?
"Are you all right?"
The voice came from the flakes.
"Yes. Please leave now."
"Wait. Did you do that? Just what did you do?"
"I don't have time to explain. The countdown's about to begin."
He repeated. "Listen carefully. You must retreat to the area within the fence. There wasn't time to make minute adjustments, so I might not be able to control it as well. Worse comes to worse, this could tear up even the Student President."
"Wait!" she shouted, but Layfon didn't reply.
The flakes lifted into the air and flew outside the city.
"Countdown begins," came the voice of the Student President.
Nina pushed away the medical student, hard. Her brain had cleared a little. As the person responsible for this section, she couldn't retreat into the back. She must coordinate with the countdown and make sure everyone has evacuated. Besides, she wanted to see what Layfon was about to do with her own eyes.
Because he was her subordinate.
Reproving her swaying body, she stayed rooted to the spot, watching the larvae before her.
Felli stood alone on the rooftop of a dormitory for senior students, not wanting to enter the command tower. She watched the sky with eyes closed. She hadn't lifted her head. The images from the sky surfaced in her mind, conveyed by the flakes.
Thick cloud cover floated in the north, blocking the moonlight.
And on that piece of land were Zuellni's legs, trapped in the scarlet, filthy earth, surrounded by countless numbers of larvae.
Nine hundred and eighty-two.
"That's a small number. I fought more than ten thousand larvae at Grendan once."
Layfon's voice was sober. The horror of those larvae made it difficult to breath. A breath escaped from Felli's lips.
She opened her eyes.
To her left was the command tower.
The flag of the Academy City fluttered in the wind, revealing the drawing of a girl, Zuellni, and a fountain pen.
A person stood beside that flag.
The dim light outlined his silhouette. All of the flakes had scattered outside Zuellni. Only one flake remained to keep contact between Felli and Layfon.
As she couldn't make him out under the insufficient light, she used the flake to confirm his location. Out of the many images overlapping each other in her mind, she plucked out the image of Layfon.
Dim light. The artificial light of Zuellni illuminated Layfon's shadow.
Something felt different about that face.
The Layfon Felli knew always wore a troubled expression. Tense gaze, an unnatural feeling that he never attempted to hide, of knowing he shouldn't be where he was. That was the Layfon she knew.
On the top of the tower, Layfon's line of vision hovered on the outskirts of the city – the earth filled with filth monsters. The vision of a normal person would be unable to make out what went on in the darkness outside the city. But what about the Layfon now?
The way he stared faraway was like he had confirmed something.
"Senpai, have you found it yet?"
To reply, she swallowed what she was about to say. Her face was hot. What was she thinking, looking at him? As if to toss away her shyness, she switched off Layfon's image and went to check all of the other images.
The hovering flakes brought back information to her through many means. Vision reflected by light, infrared rays, ultrasound, etc. She searched for Layfon's target through what humans didn't originally possess.
To possess strong Psychokinesis was not enough to be called a genius.
Felli was a genius because she could process a massive amount of information simultaneously.
"Please hurry. I can destroy as many larvae as I like, but it'll be hard even for me if the mother calls for reinforcements."
The voice of the Student President counting down drifted over. From ten down to one. Felli increased her processing pace. Ultrasound could not pierce the ground, so she made the flakes enter the crack where Zuellni's legs were, heading deeper into the depths of the earth. At the same time, she searched above the ground through infrared rays. She filtered through the heat sources of numerous larvae, and using Layfon's information as the basis, extended her search for a bigger heat signal.
At last......when the countdown reached "Two".
"Found it. Heading 1305. Distance, 30 Kilomel. Depth, 12 Mel. I'll lead you in."
"I'm counting on you."
What will happen when the signal goes off...... At the end of Felli's thought was Layfon.
But he remained immobile, gazing straight ahead with the Dite held tightly in his hand.
The flakes conveyed their search results to Felli.
Nine hundred and eighty-two. Nine hundred and sixty-five. Nine hundred and three. Eight hundred and seventy-seven. Eight hundred and thirty-three. Seven hundred and seventy-eight. Six hundred and ninety-one......The red lights of the larvae were snuffed out one after another.
Four hundred and seventy-seven. Three hundred and sixty-five. Two hundred and twenty-three. One hundred and ninety-eight. One hundred and fifty-seven. One hundred and two. Ninety-nine......The huge number that had exhausted all of the Military Arts Students was greatly reduced over a short period of time. Felli didn't want to confirm with the images. The moment that Layfon saved Nina was too tense for her.
She looked at him again.
He had Restored his Dite.
A strange looking weapon with only a handle.
"What's important is control. Once you have the key, even senpai could be so much better than me," he said.
But she truly doubted whether she could exhibit such power.
The Dite held another form of Restoration that Harley had adjusted.
It wasn't just a handle. Countless numbers of long, thin threads hung from the tip of the handle, so fine that one couldn't distinguish them with the naked eye.
A weapon of steel threads. The pressure and friction of a normal string could cut through flesh. The threads were enough to be a murdering weapon.
Layfon deftly controlled the threads, as if they were a part of him. The threads spread across the edges of the city, tearing up the larvae.
Ninety-eight. Ninety-seven. Ninety-six. Ninety-five. Ninety-four. Ninety-three. Ninety-two. Ninety-one. Ninety............ The threads targeted their prey with shocking speed. The disappearing red dots were another countdown to Felli. She must find the mother before all the lights disappeared. If not, the mother would call over any filth monsters in the surrounding area and Zuellni would become a feast for the young of other filth monsters. The filth monsters' determination to extend the survival of one's kin sank Zuellni deeper into its current crisis.
If Felli couldn't find the mother......
Fifty-six. Fifty-five. Fifty-four. Fifty-three. Fifty-two. Fifty-one. Fifty......
Her consciousness flew alongside the flakes deep in the earth. Deeper and deeper, flowing through the twisted caverns and snake-like corridors.
A huge and ugly abdomen. The body of the mother as if it was dead. A huge heat signal.
"I found it. I'll lead you over."
As he replied, he disappeared from the tower.
To fly in the air.
No, not flying. He was probably pulling himself over, using one of the threads as an anchor. Through the Kei in his legs, he sped from the center of the city to its outskirts. While flying through the air, he continued to control the threads. The number of larvae was reduced to zero when he reached the edge of the city.
Felli sent another flake to his side.
"You have five minutes. Your lungs won't hold beyond that."
His soft reply worried her. Humans could not live long on the polluted earth outside the city. The pollutant floating in the air would rot one's lungs.
She didn't understand why he was risking his life. Because of his ability? The ability that'd only bring him danger......
"He doesn't want to do this," she said to no one.
It was for others, and also for himself.
Felli couldn't understand his naive thinking.
"Please don't die," she said to his image through the flake.
She didn't send the words to him.
He felt sticky the moment he left the air shield.
Layfon leaped down from the very edge of the city. He controlled the threads and set them as anchor points, using them to lower himself down into the crack of the earth. He minimized contact with the ground and kept his breathing shallow.
Soil particles fell into his eyes, causing intense pain. The pollutant ate at his flesh. He squinted, and tears filled his eyes. He regretted not bringing a mask with him. Did they have it in Zuellni? Perhaps the Mechanical Department would have some.
The Kei-filled threads replaced his nervous system and led him through the dark cavern. He chased after one of the threads wrapped around his guide, a flake.
Humidity came through the threads. The moisture in the air was laced with pollutants. Even the skin beneath his uniform felt pain.
How much time did he have left?
Pain flared from deep inside his throat. It wasn't possible to completely stop the seepage of pollutant, even though he kept his breathing as shallow as he could. If he held his breath, then he couldn't create Kei. He had never managed to get used to the anxiety and irritation that arose from fighting filth monsters.
No matter how many times he had done it.
A world not habitable to humans.
What a harsh world.
The world was cruel to the people living in sealed off cities, who could only communicate with the outside world through the danger that hid in the shadow of the roaming bus. Yet humans continued to live in this world. A world that did not permit their existence.
But they had to pay a price to keep on living......
The pain reached his lungs, and he could feel the juice in his stomach flowing backward into his throat. If this feeling became more intense, so intense that he couldn't bear it, then everything would be over.
Considering the time he had spent getting here, he probably only had one minute left.
"The mother's right behind this last corner," Felli said.
He flew around the corner, released all the threads and turned the Dite back to its original form. A normal Dite.
He opened his eyes. He was standing on humid earth.
And before him was the mother form of a filth monster.
Her abdomen was two-thirds of its bulky body. The body had been damaged. The uterus in the abdomen was where the larvae were nurtured. Earth buried the immobile wings above its shell. In its head, so much larger than a larva's, was a compound eye. Its jaw was half closed, as if it was breathing out its last breath. The sound of friction caused by the shells grinding against each other filled the cavern.
The Dite restored into the blue green sword.
"Perhaps, our will to live is the same."
Without fearing the waste of breath, Layfon talked to the mother.
"Perhaps, the feelings of not wanting to die is the same."
Layfon strode towards the mother while talking. Every step increased the light of Kei in the blade, driving back the darkness.
"Those people who aren't satisfied with that alone, are probably too rich."
The filth monsters who had adapted to the polluted earth might be the masters of this world. According to history, when humans didn't have to rely on Regios, they did whatever they wanted as masters of this world. The fact that humans could only survive in artificial worlds in this era meant the filth monsters had risen to become the new conquerors.
Whether the mother had discovered Layfon or had sensed danger from Layfon's Kei, its jaw started to close and open rapidly, and the sound of friction deepened.
The mother was about to call for reinforcements.
"But we still want to live on," Layfon said in a low voice and raised his sword.
"I don't plan to apologize."
The blade swung down.