Chrome Shelled Regios:Volume1 Prologue
Everyone held their breath, to seal the flood of terror rising in their throats.
Nina did the same.
Sitting at the back of the bus, she looked out of the window, peering past the short, fat businessman sitting before her with his head tucked beneath a pair of trembling arms. On the other side of the dirt-smeared window was a vast wilderness. Cracks crept across the parched ground. Jagged shards of earth rose towards the sky. A tall, dark mountain loomed before Nina.
But everyone on the bus knew it wasn't a mountain.
"That's......Blitzen," murmured a man sitting in the middle of the bus. He observed the dark shape through a pair of binoculars. Nina could see big drops of sweat on his face, his large Adam's apple bobbing as he gulped nervously.
Nina squinted at the dark shape. It wasn't a mountain. It was a city. What looked like a mountain peak was in fact the top of a tower. Atop that tower was a tattered flag, fluttering in the wind. Nina couldn't make out the crest on the flag that carried the city's name. She couldn't confirm if the city's name was indeed what the man had uttered.
A strong gust of wind struck the bus, rocking it.
Startled and surprised, the passengers bent over in their seats and held their heads down. They curled up, instinctively trying to hide. Instead of covering her head like everyone else, Nina held her breath and continued to stare at the city, trying to see any kind of reaction from it.
The city was already dead.
The bus squatted on its legs, immobile.
The buildings in the city were also dead. Terrible wounds were carved into most of the buildings near the city's edge. Nina could see that a part of the city's rim had been gouged away, creating a mountain of debris. Columns of smoke rose everywhere. The attack must have happened recently.
It would be impossible to find any survivors just by looking at the city from the bus. Nor could Nina get to it to see if anyone was still alive. The bus was weak and insignificant outside the city. Nina knew that probably there weren't any survivors; humans couldn't breathe without the air shield around the city, and this city had lost its shield.
Next to her, Harley said in an anxious voice, "Nina..."
"Don't worry. We haven't been discovered."
Nina realized her voice was trembling. She felt compelled to lick her lips, but she suppressed that desire and gazed resolutely at the attackers hovering in the sky above the city. Even though her mouth was dry, cold sweat broke out on her skin.
"This is the world we live in, Harley," she said to her childhood friend, but she did not get a response from him.
The effortless movements of the cruel attackers above the city made them look regal. The attackers...they were called the Kings of Nature — filth monsters. They flew lower, flying slowly between buildings.
"Now!" someone roared shrilly.
The driver started the engine. The legs of the bus rose, raising the body upward.
Nina's line of sight rose with it. The bus began to hop, moving away from the stricken city. It was better to leave this place. The bus continued to run. Nina looked back at the shrinking city.
After they had put some distance between the bus and the city, Harley sighed. "It's safe now."
As the tension in the bus eased, Nina clenched her fists tightly and said "...We're so weak."
The sound of huge feet trampling the ground at the edge of the city rang in the ears of people. The footsteps of the city drowned out all other sounds — even the furious roar of the wind.
"Are you still not giving up?"
It came from a voice loud enough to be heard over this din.
A girl spoke to a boy in the city's roaming bus station. Strong winds shook her golden hair. Her clear blue pupils looked directly at the boy. Her youthful face, which made her look younger than she really was, was full of disapproval and unease. She gazed at the boy standing at the bus stop.
Looking troubled, the boy kept glancing back and forth between the girl and the bus waiting to depart. A chain held up the long multi-legs of the bus that were folded and bent. The body of the bus swayed along with the movement of the city, bumping against a cushion pad. Since it was dangerous when the city moved, the driver and all the passengers were staying in the small waiting area. This kind of bus was built to withstand up and down shaking, but it couldn't stop from swaying sideways.
The only passenger not yet in the waiting area – Layfon, looked away from the bus. He had tea-colored hair and blue eyes. His face showed an expression that came from the loss of adolescence. This look was now coupled with a powerless smile.
"Even so, I can't stay here anymore, Leerin."
Layfon didn't raise his voice, so Leerin stepped closer. Even with her expressive eyes right in front of him, Layfon didn't feel attracted to his childhood friend.
"But-! You didn't have to pick a school that was so far away!"
"Even here......" Again, the sound of the city's movement drowned him out. A strong gust of wind blew past them. Layfon reached out and placed a hand on Leerin's shoulder to steady her.
"It can't be helped. The only place that gave me a scholarship was Zuellni. The orphanage's money can't be spent on me, right?"
"You must have forced yourself to choose such a distant place. There are closer places you could have gone to. If you took the scholarship qualification exam next year, you could find a school that's closer, right? Then you could stay here with me..."
It didn't matter what words came next; nothing could change Layfon's mind. To emphasize that point, he shook his head slowly.
"I can't give up on leaving."
Leerin held her breath. He couldn't bear looking at the pain in her clear eyes, so he looked at his hand on her shoulder. His hand was like that of an old man, hard and rough.
"I've made my decision and I won't change my mind. Nobody wanted it to be like this, not even me. But Her Majesty wants me to experience the outside world. Besides, she doesn't wish for my presence here."
"I wish for it!"
This time, Leerin's powerful and persuasive words caused Layfon to hold his breath.
"Is it not enough that it's my wish?"
To Layfon, Leerin's crying gaze and words were too cunning. He tried to find some words to pass it over, but couldn't find any. He felt pain, pressuring him to convey his feelings.
Layfon's lips trembled, as did Leerin's.
They were each trying to find the right words to say.
In the end, they realized that the right words to say didn't exist. No matter who wanted Layfon to stay, nothing could change the fact that he was leaving. Layfon himself didn't intend to stay, and there was nothing that would change that. And if he tried to make Leerin agree with him, there was no doubt she would be hurt.
A shrill whistle sounded behind him.
As if it was trying to tear the two apart, the simple sound of the whistle squeezed between the noise of the city's footsteps and the furious howl of the wind, echoing through the bus station. It was a warning that the bus was about to depart. The driver, having blown the whistle, entered the bus. He started the engine. A vibration, different from the city's, radiated out from the battered body of the bus. The passengers in the waiting area took their luggage and headed for the vehicle.
Layfon's lips stopped trembling. He took away his hand from Leerin to pick up the suitcase beside his feet. That was all he had with him now. His other belongings would be given to the kids at the orphanage or tossed away.
"I have to go," he said to the teary-eyed Leerin. As if feeling that this was a truth she couldn't change, Leerin's trembling also stopped.
She gazed at him with reddened eyes.
"Since the decision has been made, I want to start anew. I can't return to the orphanage or to Her Majesty's side. It's the price I must pay for my actions. I'll make up for them any way I can. But nobody wants that; they just want me to disappear. Even so, things can't be resolved with just my going away......"
He couldn't keep talking. He didn't want to lie. But even if he were to tell the truth it'd only sound like an excuse. He hated himself for acting like that.
"Even so, I haven't really made up my mind."
He added weakly, "Though I really want to start over in many areas......"
"Enough!" Leerin cut him off coldly. Layfon held his luggage tightly, not daring to look at her.
The driver blew his whistle again. The bus would be leaving soon.
"I'm going now."
Dejected, he turned his back to Leerin.
The small voice stopped him.
What happened next was a single, brief moment.
Leerin grabbed ahold of Layfon's shoulder and forced him to turn around. Her face was so very close to his.
It was only for a moment that they overlapped.
The rough but soft pressure overwhelmed Layfon. In that swift moment while he was numb and spaced out, Leerin jumped away. Her smile was stiff but that meaningful look of having played a prank was familiar to him.
"You have to send letters though. I don't think everyone wants you gone," she said before running away. Looking at her figure flying past in a flurry of skirts, Layfon realized why he felt so strange.
Ah, I see...... because she's wearing a skirt......
The lively Leerin didn't like to wear skirts, but she was wearing one today. And there was also the sweet and soft feeling left on his lips by that swift moment. As if to feel the warmth left on them, he touched a finger to his lips.
While mocking himself, he hurried to the bus.
I'll write when I get there.
Yes. He had decided.
The bus started moving. Wishing to take one last look at the scene, Layfon sat in the last row, gazing at the city he had spent his entire life in till now.
Regios could be seen in every corner of the world. The existence of these cities was as natural as breathing air. Numerous buildings were built on a flat circular surface, growing shorter as they ranged out from the center of the city where the tallest buildings were located. Located beneath the table were legs — huge metallic legs clustered together. With precise movements those legs walked together, as if to take the city far away from the roaming bus.
Layfon gazed at the center of the city, where the city's tallest tower stood.
The huge flag atop that building billowed. On its field was a dragon with the body of a lion that seemed to be breaking a sword with its teeth, but the sword was unyielding. The flag with that crest weaved into it danced a wild dance in the wind.
Layfon stared at that huge flag, wondering what the first line of his letter to Leerin would be about.