Chrome Shelled Regios:Volume25 Early Diamond
A surprising sound came from the midsection of the roaming bus.
It was the sound of the outer buffer partition hitting the main vehicle body.
The words written on the hanging banner and the scene visible through the vehicle windows made the passengers breathe sighs of relief.
'Welcome to Zuellni'
The banner was quite large, so large that it seemed like it was visible from anywhere in the roaming bus station.
Upon being informed that their long journey had finally ended, the passengers stared raptly at the scenery of Zuellni showing through the windows, waving excitedly at the students near the station.
More than eighty percent of the passengers looked to be the same age as he was, but the others were independent traders who had come to trade information between cities or business agents of other cities.
"It seems like we made it."
Nina replied after her childhood friend sitting next to her spoke up cheerfully.
Academy City Zuellni.
From today onwards, this would be Nina's new city.
The entrance ceremony completed without issue. The feel of the brand-new uniform and the lightness of not having a weapon hung on her waist made Nina feel a bit restless, but she quickly got used to those feelings.
"I can't go to alchemy right away."
Harley, who had come here to study alchemy techniques, complained, but those feelings almost didn't show on his face at all. The excitement of coming to a new place probably still hadn't vanished.
Nina was dissatisfied with the fact that she couldn't immediately wear a Dite after entering school, but she would just have to bear it for half a year.
No, maybe she wouldn't have to bear it for half a year.
"I heard the Military Arts Division was going to hold a competition among the first-years."
"Yeah, since this year is the period for the inter-city battles. It seems like they're going to hold a competition to gauge fighting strength."
"Are you going?"
"That's the best way to confirm my own strength."
Nina hadn't been permitted to participate in the inter-city battles in her old home. However, this was an Academy City. Almost all the Military Artists were about the same age as Nina, so she could show herself off as long as she proved her strength.
"Well, there's no need to worry since battles between Academy Cities have limitations like weapon restrictions and such, but......"
"What, are you worried about me?"
"It would be hard for me to go back home if something happened to you, right?"
Nina laughed at his frank words.
"I won't let anyone gossip. Never mind that for now. If I get a Dite, I'll leave the maintenance to you."
"Of course, that's my job."
Harley reliably nodded agreement to Nina.
An irritating amount of cheers filled the area.
The competition was carried out with groups of ten. Those who won the most victories in a round-robin competition within their group could advance, and then it would become an elimination tournament.
Harley gave a sports drink to Nina, who had just finished one match. There was no space on the bench, so Nina sat leaning against the wall. She put her practice iron whips to the side of her, propping them against her shoulder.
"You're on a roll. How are things?"
In order to get through things in a short time, the pooled group competition would only be held until today ended, and allegedly the elimination tournament would also end tomorrow. There were other team matches being held here, and the sound of intense collision and shouts flew around, so the two of them naturally raised their voices.
"The balance is really bad. As I thought, mock weapons are no good."
"I think it's much better than the Black Dites you normally use, is it a problem with the safety equipment?"
"It's not that kind of problem. How should I describe it...... It feels really hard to use. As I thought, I have to use your Dite."
Harley was happy to hear Nina say that. Though many problems had happened when Nina had expressed that she wanted to go to an Academy City, Harley felt that it was good that they had come here.
"If you win in this competition, you might be able to join a platoon. With that, you'd be able to carry a Dite earlier too."
Nina was focusing on regulating her breathing, so her responses were very brief. Her gaze didn't leave the match that was happening right now. Though her attitude was serious, her mouth looked somewhat happy. Nina hadn't been able to participate in this kind of official competition in the Senou City Schneibel, so she was probably very happy.
Nina's family - the Antalk family - could be called a famous family of Military Artists. It was said to have existed since Schneibel appeared, so they were probably the most ancient family of Military Artists.
Harley's family was all normal. But they were a family that worked with Dites generation after generation, so they were very involved with Military Artists. Harley had become Nina's conversation partner since they were the same age, and they got along well enough to go to an Academy City together.
Nina headed to the competition grounds after her name was called. Harley watched her go.
(Well, we're not lovers or anything, but......)
That didn't make Harley feel lonely. To him, Nina felt more like a strange relative.
The match started.
Nina shouted loudly, her Kei flow making the air rumble.
Even if they were just undeveloped first-year Military Artists, Harley couldn't follow their movements with his eyes once they got serious. Though he didn't know how the battle was turning out, Harley didn't doubt that Nina would win.
As he thought about the parameters of the Dite in her hand, Harley felt an itchy sensation on the back of his head.
After turning and looking over, he saw a boy in a wheelchair close by, near the entrance. Was he also a first-year student? A Military Artist wearing fighting gear was next to him talking to him. But that boy was looking over here, so it was uncertain whether he was listening to the Military Artist next to him.
More accurately, his gaze was passing over Harley, and directed towards Nina's match.
The boy was pretty handsome, but he had a very gloomy expression. And it was very sharp.
The Military Artist next to him excitedly spoke to him. But the boy in the wheelchair manipulated his wheelchair and turned, then left the competition area.
The boy hadn't even glanced at that Military Artist, but he just made a resigned sigh and then returned to his group.
All Harley could do was tilt his head and put on a confused expression.
Nina won overwhelmingly in the group stage and then entered the elimination tournament.
Nina also got through that elimination tournament without trouble and obtained victory.
The fourteenth platoon came looking for Nina.
The captain, Ozark Hankley, was a sixth-year student. He belonged to the oldest class, and hence his appearance was clearly more capable than the Military Artists in her year. But a gentle smile appeared naturally on his face. She felt like the atmosphere that came from this man resembled that of a great tree standing at ease in the forest.
Shin Kaihan came with him, a third-year student. That man had a thin body and dressed a bit fancily, resembling a bird with luxurious plumage.
A tree and a bird - though that was Nina's first impression, the two of them seemed like a good match.
But Nina didn't have a very good impression of Shin.
That was because his laid-back impression was very unfamiliar to Nina. The men Nina had come across until now, including her father, had mostly been stern people. Ozark fit that type, but although Shin wasn't the complete opposite, he was completely unlike any man Nina had interacted with until now.
Even so, she could instantly see that Ozark was trustworthy and that this was a very notable event. Though Nina felt that immediately being recognized by Zuellni's elite group of Military Artists right after entering school seemed a bit too easy, she accepted the offer.
The next day, the badge of the fourteenth platoon and a license to carry weapons were in Nina's hands.
Harley took the Dite she had gotten with that license and borrowed a fieldwork classroom from the alchemy department.
Harley had managed to borrow this classroom when no one was using it. Since there wasn't much time, he rapidly turned on the portable terminal and started preparing to work.
Ozark had showed a pained expression when she said she was letting Harley, who was just a first-year and not even in the alchemy department, maintain her Dite. But Nina had explained Harley's history and vouched for him.
This was an extremely joyful thing to Harley.
"But maybe doing this is a bit selfish."
Harley had grown up in a family of Dite technicians, and it was also a fact that he had come here to help maintain Nina's Dites. He was confident about how to maintain Nina's iron whips to be most suited for her use.
But this wasn't Schneibel, it was Zuellni. It wouldn't be strange for people to feel unhappy about the explanation that it would be better for a newly-entered first-year student to maintain the Dite.
"All I can do is give it my all."
After encouraging himself on, Harley started inputting data. He first put the data of the Dites that Nina had always used before leaving Schneibel into the terminal, then considered Nina's changes in height, weight, and strength since then, adjusting the numbers one by one. Harley had long since written a simulation program configured with the pair of iron whips Nina used. It was a specific program that only Nina could use, and the Antalk family iron whip techniques were moves that generally weren't shared with outsiders, so Harley couldn't let other people see this simulation program. Rather than Harley being trusted, it was more like the Antalk family had allowed him to write this kind of program because he was from the Sutton family.
Harley ran the program using the new numbers as he checked whether the movements were strange anywhere. He had already done this yesterday, so he was just doing this as a precaution.
Military Artists' battles were carried out at a world of high speed driven by physical ability. A slight mistake in settings could result in extraneous drag, which could further reduce speed.
In battles outside the city, even slight damage could lead to death, or when fighting filth monsters that could easily kill in one strike, these effects became problems of life and death.
Cutting corners would create life-threatening problems for the Military Artists who used these weapons.
So he couldn't let himself slack off.
Harley carried out checks from all angles in the time permitted to him.
"Are there any problems?"
There couldn't be any big problems.
"Okay, that's it then."
He decided the numeric settings here. All that was left was to press the buttons on Nina's iron whips.
Just as Harley planned on pressing the buttons, the door opened.
The fieldwork classroom was filled with a harsh creaking sound.
Someone had pulled open the door with brute force.
After reflexively looking back, Harley saw men enter the room with rough footsteps. They wore Military Artist outfits, but their faces looked barbaric and unlike the Military Artists Harley were used to.
"Um...... Excuse me, I'm using this classroom right now."
Harley had a bad premonition.
Even so, he still tried to say this to them, holding on to some kind of hope.
There were three men in total. Even though they heard Harley's words, they just showed villainous smiles and didn't reply.
The men surrounded the shocked, frozen Harley.
"Do you need something?"
"Yeah, we want to let you taste some pain."
"Don't worry, don't worry, we'll just break an arm."
"You'll be able to get it treated in three days at the hospital, so you don't need to worry, right?"
"No, I'm worried!"
Harley couldn't understand the situation. In any case, he was sure that something unreasonable was happening.
There were other classrooms nearby, but no one came over to check what was going on. Though that felt strange, the current Harley could only open and close his mouth like a fish out of water.
"Well, you were just unlucky."
After saying this, one of the men grabbed Harley's arm.
It was going to be broken - Harley imagined the pain that was coming and his eyes closed.
Just as his eyes closed, a new voice reached him. It was a voice with a gloomy tone. But after that voice sounded, the feeling of his arm being grabbed disappeared, and then came the sound of screams and fierce noises.
After Harley timidly opened his eyes, what showed up was the wheelchaired boy from before. He was between Harley and the men.
One of them was flat on the floor.
"What's up with you!?"
The remaining two men shouted at the boy. But the boy didn't back down, continuing to look at the men with an irritated gaze.
He wore a General Studies uniform, but opposed Military Artists as if it were natural.
"You trash are too noisy. Shut up like the honorless cockroaches you are."
Though it was just a low mumble, it wasn't inaudible.
The expressions of the men instantly twisted and they charged at the boy.
He was going to get killed - Harley thought.
But things didn't turn out like that.
A strong wind blew through the fieldwork classroom, and the portable terminal instantly lifted up with a clatter.
It happened before Harley's eyes. The boy took his hands off of the wheel of the wheelchair, grabbing the hands that the men reached out to him.
The two men's legs flew towards the ceiling as they turned upside down.
After the boy casually swept his arms out, the men were tossed onto the already-unconscious man, then became motionless.
Harley could only gape. The boy, who returned his hands to the wheelchair, sighed listlessly, and then faced Harley again.
Harley lowered his head, unsure what to do.
The boy ignored Harley's motions, looking at the screen of the portable terminal. Though his face was well-sculpted, his eyes were as sharp as when Harley had first seen him, and he looked very gloomy since his bangs were very long.
Harley spoke up towards the boy, not knowing what to do.
"Move the center of mass on the left side down by three centimels."
"The right side is fine this way. But it's best to move the left center of mass down to reduce the strain."
The boy left only those words, and then stared at the unconscious men as if feeling irritated.
The aisles between the tables placed in the fieldwork room were very narrow. The fallen men would be extremely obstructive if he were to use the wheelchair.
In the end, he stayed there until the city police arrived.
He seemed completely to be in a bad mood, but at least it wasn't because he was angry at Harley for something.
Harley introduced himself and also learned his name.
This matter concerning Harley quickly reached Nina's ears.
The one who told her about this was a second-year girl who looked bleary-eyed. She had talked to Nina while she was looking at the bulletin board during noon break.
"Is that true?"
Nina couldn't understand the thinking behind Military Artists attacking ordinary people. Every city forbid Military Artists from using their strength on ordinary people. Once an injury was judged to be deliberate, the punishment would be dozens of times more severe than for normal people, regardless of how light the injury was. Depending on the situation, it was possible to be expelled from the city...... That was the death sentence.
The difference in physical ability between Military Artists and normal people was extremely large, and there was a need to enact such steep measures in order for the two sides to coexist.
On the other hand, there was also the law that when something happened to a Military Artist, he had to be protected.
"At the time, the Military Artist students were all having class somewhere else~ So no one could go to help, it was so dangerous~"
Her drawn-out tone dumped cold water on Nina's almost-boiling brain. Nina managed to keep calm due to it.
It was a difficult action to forgive.
"Who were those guys?"
"The police already captured them~ He wasn't hurt either, so you can relax."
Nina knew that Harley hadn't been hurt, since the Dite that Harley had finished fine-tuning was already strapped on her waist. Harley hadn't mentioned this matter at all when he had given the Dite to her.
After cursing at Harley from afar, Nina kept thinking.
She didn't understand why delinquent Military Artists would be going after Harley, who had just entered school. They were probably approaching Harley for other motives.
There was no need to consider it at all. The two of them had both just entered school and hadn't been able to make anyone who counted as a friend yet. They were the closest to each other.
"Was it to get me?"
The only huge change that had happened to Nina...... was her joining a platoon. Maybe that was the reason.
"It's Gattman Gray."
As expected, the girl still said that name with her laid-back tone.
"Gattman Gray~ He's a third-year Military Artist, and famous for being a delinquent and for his Military Arts technique. But! I heard that he lost all his opportunities to join a platoon because he was a delinquent."
"......Meaning that he's going after me?"
"It seems like he marketed himself a lot towards the fourteenth platoon. The captain also mentioned that he'd be able to join the platoon if he changed his ways, but since your joining the platoon is a foregone conclusion, his ambitions have been for nothing."
Her worries were correct. This girl thought the same, which was why she was saying this to Nina.
"Thank you very much, uh......"
"I'm Selina~ Selina Vin."
"Thank you very much. Then......"
Selina's voice calling for her to stop came from behind, but Nina couldn't stop.
Though she heard it, she could no longer stop.
Nina got through her afternoon classes. Afterwards was still her first platoon training. Though this was her first day meeting the platoon members, such matters were no longer in Nina's mind.
No matter how much time passed, the heat filling Nina wouldn't cool down.
It was anger. Of course, it was because he had struck out at Harley, but she couldn't turn a blind eye to how he vented his resentment towards Nina on Harley first.
Of course, Nina didn't like how he wanted to stab her in the back since he couldn't face her head-on.
Nina hated everything about that person.
It took Nina until the evening to find the place he hung out.
That place was in a building, and it seemed to be a place where older students consumed alcohol. The board in front of the door had the age restrictions set by the Student Council marked on it. Gattman was a third-year student, so he shouldn't be able to enter this store.
Though a 'closed' sign was hung on the door, loud music came from inside. Nina marched into the store with enough force to break the door.
The inside clearly hadn't been properly cleaned, and she really couldn't imagine customers being drawn to drink in this place. Trash was everywhere, and dried-out food debris was left on the floor. The smell of alcohol rushed into her nostrils, and Nina grimaced and glared at the people inside the store.
Sofas and tables had been used to make a partition inside the store. Her target was in the innermost place inside the store.
"Are you Gattman Gray?"
Her Kei-bearing voice thundered through the store, and the bottle of alcohol nearest to Gattman shattered. The small amount of liquid that had remained inside splashed on the corner of his mouth. Gattman licked it off and then stood up. The men resembling cronies next to him did the same.
Five people...... All Military Arts students.
Meaning that all of them were the same as the people who had attacked Harley?
The men reacted to Nina's impulsive words.
Gattman reached out a hand to stop their movements.
"Yo, new student. Do you want to join?"
"I don't want to listen to you hallucinate."
Nina ignored Gattman's words, taking a stance that made her ready to draw her Dites anytime.
"You attacked Harley. Why?"
"Because he was too arrogant."
"What did you say?"
"I shouldn't need to say anything about a mere first-year like you joining a platoon, but a mere first-year like that brat maintaining Dites is just the same. He won't understand unless he learns a lesson."
Gattman smiled as he spoke.
"You should understand your position, first-year."
"Position? You said position?"
That word made Nina's anger become even more intense.
"If you're talking position, then what is a piece of trash like you complaining about!? Someone like you is just a hindrance to people who are thinking about the future. You should understand your own position!"
"......You can talk, huh."
Gattman's hand reached to his weapon belt.
Nina also pulled her Dites out from her weapon belt.
The restoration keywords sounded through the store almost simultaneously. Two iron whips appeared in Nina's hands, while a somewhat-large knife appeared in Gattman's hands.
To be honest, Gattman had a large physique. To Nina, a knife that emphasized small movements seemed unnatural in the hands of someone like him.
But Nina's anger ignored that kind of hesitation and urged her on. Gattman's cronies didn't move. In addition, they even backed away to make a space for the two of them to fight.
Gattman moved first.
The recoil of his feet kicking off the ground broke apart the sofa, and Gattman's body moved in front of Nina.
He swung the knife down from above. Nina blocked the strike with her left iron whip. The Kei flow coiled around the knife became external Kei, and Nina also released external Kei from her iron whip. The shockwaves destroyed each other and produced an invisible explosion. The vibrations from the explosion made Nina's eyes lose function for a moment.
Even so, Nina still twisted her body. That was because she felt some kind of premonition.
Heat came from her abdomen...... on her right side.
Pain from being stabbed made Nina back off. Her attack also locked down Gattman's movements, so he didn't pursue.
Her vision instantly recovered.
There was a bloodstain on the right side of her abdomen.
A knife was fallen on the ground.
It wasn't a Dite weapon, but rather an ordinary knife. Her muscles had refused to allow the knife to enter her body, so it hadn't reached her organs. The fact that the knife had fallen loose when she backed off was proof.
Gattman's grinning face was reflected in her eyes. He held two knives of the same form in his left hand. His hunting jacket was opened, the inside faintly visible. The image of neatly-arranged knives entered her eyes.
He had a large number of throwing knives hidden on his body.
"Dites aren't the only way to fight."
Gattman's left hand flashed out.
The two knives flew straight at Nina.
Gattman closed the distance.
The pain from her abdomen slowed her movements. Even so, Nina parried Gattman's attack and then turned her defense into offense. A strike from her right iron whip tore through the air, and the shockwave destroyed the sofas and tables around them.
Though he had a large physique, his movements were sharp.
"You haven't practiced enough if a single scrape slows you down."
Gattman's clearly-provocative words hooked Nina. She was going to charge forward. She would have to let anger take over her body in order to forget about the pain in her abdomen.
But Nina was unable to move forward.
Someone was pressing down on her shoulder.
Just that was enough to suppress Nina's charge.
Gattman's expression changed as he glared at the person standing behind Nina.
Nina looked back. The person standing there was Shin Kaihan.
"Wow, there's no helping you."
Shin restored his Dite and pointed it at Gattman. It was a rapier. The needle-like weapon that was pointed at him seemed to make Gattman unable to move.
"You skipped out on the training where you would meet your platoon members for the first time, yet what are you doing in this kind of place?"
That voice awed Nina. Shin, who looked very unreliable, was clearly showing anger. That feeling of pressure rapidly ate away at the fiercely-burning emotions inside Nina.
As Shin grabbed on to her shoulder, Nina managed to muster her burning emotions and tried to resist.
"Enough is enough."
But that action ended up being useless resistance. As expected, Nina couldn't win against Shin's glare.
"Wait, Shin. Why did you choose that kind of brat and not me?"
"You had a promise with the captain, but you're still hanging around here. Do I need to explain further?"
"I'm stronger than that girl! Stronger than you too!"
Shin laughed as he responded to Gattman's proclamation.
"You were certainly stronger as a first-year. But your strength hasn't changed since then. Maybe you're stronger than this girl right now, but next week this girl will be better than you."
"Cut the crap!"
"In that case, do you want to try?"
Nina held her breath at the unexpected development.
"Next week you'll fight with this girl. It's no fun for me to keep you bitterly screwing around behind my back, so how's that?"
"Hah, who would agree to that."
"If you don't agree to it, then you're honestly finished this time. Our captain might look like a nice guy, but when it's time to lay down the law, he lays down the law. Do you understand? By this point we're in a situation where you picked a fight with our platoon."
"We'll slaughter you if you don't agree, and you better not think I'm exaggerating."
Nina felt confused. She had heard that the platoons were the elite group of Zuellni's Military Artists, but hearing about slaughtering and whatnot made them seem like delinquents.
"Tch, I got it. But if I win......"
"You definitely can't join our platoon anymore. Instead, I'll let you go and not take you to the city police."
Gattman's eyes looked sharply towards Nina. That pair of dark, heated eyes made Nina raise her alertness.
"Cancel the thing about that girl entering the platoon."
Nina was taken aback. Even more surprisingly, Shin agreed to that proposal without hesitating.
Before Nina said anything, Shin yanked on Nina's arm and left the store.
"What were you thinking!?"
"I was thinking about how to teach someone who lacks self-control like you."
Shin's merciless words made Nina suck in a breath.
"This isn't your hometown. Maybe your hometown only had stupid Military Artists, but that's not the case here. You came here because you planned on training outside your city, right? There are only a small fraction of such people, and although they're not all on Gattman's level, almost all Military Artists have some kind of problems. Think about it. Heroic Military Artists who have ability and who follow orders and who are very strong, promising Military Artists who can become the core of a city's defense, do you think the residents of the city would easily let them leave? We're able to live comfortable lives because of those unspoken vows to protect the city that we've carried since birth."
Nina had nothing to respond with, and she thought of the reactions of her parents when she had decided to go to Zuellni.
They had said the same things.
"But this isn't related......"
"Right, no one would tell you to go back now. But if you do the same thing next time, I'll tell you to go back. People who can't see multiple perspectives are unnecessary in an Academy City, no matter whether they're ordinary people or Military Artists."
The drying of the blood staining her clothes gave her an uncomfortable feeling. The bleeding had already stopped, but she wasn't able to remove the blood staining her clothes. The passerby looked over at Nina curiously.
Something was draped over her shoulder. It was Shin's military coat.
"The city police will come if you wander the roads looking like that."
Nina had originally wanted to refuse, but that sentence made her silently wear the coat. It was obvious, but the coat was very large for her. Though it covered Nina's wound, the sleeves were very long.
"Next week you're going to fight that guy seriously."
"Can you win?"
"Don't judge him by how he looks, he's not bad. Because even though he has a sturdy body, he's flexible, and he's very good with tricks. Once you're contending with him, you can't be careless. He's a type you wouldn't be good at dealing with."
"You use those weapons well, and your defense is very firm. But your style loses to Gattman's. That guy won't look for a single winning strike, he'll accurately whittle down his opponent's strength, so he's used to being counterattacked. If you don't beat him immediately, he'll keep giving you trouble until you go down. Well, that kind of time-consuming style was also a reason for not letting Gattman join the platoon, although of course it was mostly his behavior."
After a long sigh, Shin walked forward.
"Senpai, could I ask what your relationship with Gattman is?"
"......We were first-years at the same time, so we'd bump into each other often."
Nina felt like complicated emotions were mixed into those words, but Shin seemed to be unwilling to talk about it. Maybe he hated their interactions.
"Well, I should say something like 'go win' rather than 'can you win?'."
Shin's expression relaxed and he shrugged.
"That guy's weak point is his lackluster stamina. That's because he always skipped training. But it's only lackluster compared to the level of a platoon member, it's still enough for his brutal personality."
Nina listened to her senpai's opinions with a diligent expression.
"You should get in a wining blow or defend completely until his stamina runs out. But if you get hit by a knife like today and keep losing blood, deciding the victor with stamina will soon make you lose."
Indeed, she could carry out a drawn-out battle as long as she could maintain her internal Kei. But if she kept bleeding, she wouldn't be able to. Even if she could close the wound with internal Kei, it was very difficult to replenish blood in a fight.
Actually, Nina currently felt like her body was a bit heavy. Her physical strength had decreased as well because of the blood loss.
"You have a weakness...... You've never fought a real fight, right?"
That critique made Nina speechless.
That was true.
Nina case her face down and bit her lip.
But Shin grinned.
"So I'll thoroughly rehabilitate you, starting tomorrow. Well, although we won't be using real weapons. But my strikes will hurt a lot."
Just like she wanted - Nina's spirits rose.
She was willing to do anything for the necessary action of beating Gattman.
"I'm counting on you then, Senpai!"
Though they were on a road, Nina bowed her head to Shin without any concern.
On the other hand, Shin got flustered.
The 'rehabilitation' Shin had spoken of wasn't a lie at all.
The pain that refused to disappear, as if it had infiltrated her body, made Nina drop to the floor. The mop handle hit the metal floor, and the loud noise resounded outwards.
This was the Mechanical Department in the city's underground.
Nina was working to clean the Mechanical Department.
Though she was focusing on defeating Gattman right now, she wasn't actually that naive. After leaving home and running away from Schneibel, Nina had almost no money. The money she had brought had all been spent for Zuellni's entrance fees and all sorts of necessities.
She had to make money in order to live.
She had chosen this job of cleaning the Mechanical Department in order to reach that goal.
Not only was it noisy here, the paths were complex and interlaced, and pipes carrying dangerous liquefied selenium were also snaked along nearby. Of course, it was physically toilsome, and apparently almost everyone hated the vile environment.
"Damn, I can't lose to something like this."
But Nina was more concerned about Shin's harsh training and the battle coming up with Gattman than something like this, so she wasn't bitter at all.
She picked up the mop and focused on cleaning. With every movement, paralyzing pain shot through every corner of her body.
Shin's thrusts were fast and sharp, as well as very accurate.
He had easily gotten through the gaps of Nina's defense of iron whips. The rapier could move faster than Nina's iron whips. Though Nina realized that, she couldn't accept it.
(My dad never had trouble with those things.)
That was true.
Nina had seen her father in countless matches, and the weapons of her opponents had always varied. There had been people who used rapiers like Shin among them.
Her father had won all of those matches.
Nina ought to be able to do that too. But she couldn't do it, the only reason being that she was immature.
Nina went through image training in her mind countless times, but she still couldn't deal with Shin's thrusts. If she did this, it would turn out this way, and if she did that, it would turn out that way. By the time she noticed the flaw in her movements, the point of the rapier would be flying at her.
Even though the safety equipment would prevent any casualties, the focused power of the point was still very surprising, so every time she was struck she would feel it deep in her bones. The memories of pain made Nina grimace.
"That's no good."
Nina shook her head. No matter how many times she image trained, she could only imagine the scene of her defeat. Her first defeat had been so miserable that Nina felt as if her self-confidence from before coming to Zuellni had been crushed to dust.
She couldn't beat Shin - Nina felt like that idea was being carved into her.
Naturally her hands that gripped the mop didn't stop. Nina was alone. No one was there to catch her slacking, and she leaned herself against the guardrail, looking up at the sky.
Pipes and machinery crisscrossed in complex patterns and were swallowed up by darkness. That was because their interweaving kept continuing to places higher than the light reached.
She should change the mood - though Nina thought this, Shin's other words emerged in her mind.
A group of misfits.
That's what Shin had been expressing. Though she didn't know what he meant about ordinary people, if you only looked at the Military Artists, it did seem that there were many of those who came - or perhaps, were allowed to come - to the Academy City.
The city residents wouldn't be happy about able Military Artists leaving to go to other parts of the world.
Nina hadn't thought of that before. Nina had been solely driven by her desire to see the outside world. But thinking carefully, she also felt like her father's words of opposition had been about the same as Shin's.
Her father had felt bad for Nina, which was why he hadn't clearly said that.
(There's no need to worry.)
Though Nina had thought that, it really had been a big problem for her father.
Nina's mother was an ordinary person. To a family that continued producing Military Artists generation after generation, they wouldn't want the blood of an ordinary person to mix into the family lest they be unable to produce the next generation of Military Artists. But her father had pushed away the cries of opposition and married Nina's mother.
Nina had two older sisters, but they were ordinary people.
Apparently, when the third child Nina had been born as a Military Artist, the people around had actually breathed a sigh of relief. Her parents often said this, maybe believing that the children wouldn't understand.
That mother had died when Nina was young.
After that, her father had remarried. With a female Military Artist.
The child that the two of them had was a Military Artist.
And a male.
Maybe it was natural for their expectations to be focused on her little brother. Since her little brother's Military Artist blood was far denser than Nina's.
Nina didn't hate her stepmother or her little brother, and Nina hadn't thought much of succeeding the Antalk family. She believed that it was fine if her little brother wanted to succeed it.
But actually, Nina's father had felt guilty about that matter. Maybe that was why he hadn't been able to seriously talk to Nina.
(There's no need to worry.)
She murmured to herself.
She had just wished her father could express his opinions more sincerely and not use a roundabout way of talking. Nina's bad habit was to decide things in the blink of an eye, and her eyes only looked towards her goals. Though she was aware of that, she couldn't change her hopeless personality. Nina had felt that nuanced rhetoric shouldn't be used at that kind of time, and that only direct talk would work.
Because Nina hadn't realized the truth.
(No, right now isn't the time to think about that.)
The battle with Gattman was right in front of her, so Shin was thoroughly honing Nina.
She had to focus more.
But Shin's remark had stabbed into Nina's chest even deeper than she thought.
It was like having someone tell her that the place she had dreamed of wasn't actually all that.
Of course, Shin was very strong, and everyone in the fourteenth platoon looked to be good people. Nina couldn't think that these people had left their hometowns due to various problems. But on the other hand, there were also people like Gattman. Though there had been such people in Schneibel, Nina hadn't ever seen them forming groups to do bad things before.
Also, if Academy Cities had places for those people to screw around......
She didn't want to think about it - Nina shook her head.
Wasn't the question about why she was in this kind of place emerging in her mind?
The less she tried not to think about it, the worse her mood became. Nina's obstinate personality was showing its flaw of being very hard to perk herself back up.
Nina tried to rid herself of those thoughts, and ended up hitting the back of her head against the guardrail.
Just then, something strange happened.
A noise that made Nina think of the noise during breaks still hadn't reached her, so she hastily grabbed the mop and started mopping the floor. The group making noise seemed to be moving, but wasn't moving towards her.
"What's going on?"
Judging by the feel of the sound, it seemed like something had gone wrong...... Nina tilted her head and put on a confused expression as she continued cleaning. A sharp pain came from the back of her head. When had she become like this? As Nina became even more confused by her strange impulse, a color in her vision changed.
The dim beam of light was mixed with a pale blue.
A change appeared in the air brushing past her nose. That smell was a lot like an aroma that made Nina extremely nostalgic.
Nina turned around and looked up as if being pulled by something.
The figure of a tender, incredibly delicate little girl.
Her long hair was spread out and gave off a pale blue light like water.
"An Electronic Fairy......"
Nina realized the reason the air had changed. It was because factors scattered by the Electronic Fairy were mixed into the air.
It was an air that she often felt in Schneibel.
"Are you Zuellni?"
After Nina asked, the young Electronic Fairy slowly descended to Nina's eye level. Her round eyes filled with curiosity were right before her.
"I see, so those people were looking for you just now."
The people responsible for maintenance work would definitely panic if the Electronic Fairy left the Mechanical Department.
Perhaps hearing Nina's words, but perhaps not understanding the meaning of those words, the girl moved closer to Nina.
"You need to go back."
Nina gently reached out a hand. Zuellni didn't even look surprised as she leaned onto that hand. Her hand didn't feel any weight, but she felt the strange feeling of aggregated electricity.
Zuellni tilted her head, her eyes widening further.
Before she realized it, Nina felt something warm on her cheeks.
"You can't, since you're already an amazing Electronic Fairy."
Tears streamed forth continuously.
They were tears that she couldn't endure. Maybe this girl might become like that too - thinking of this, she couldn't stop the tears.
Yes, she couldn't forget that incident. Because her life had been saved by an Electronic Fairy.
"I'll protect you."
Nothing else mattered. As long as there was an Electronic Fairy here, protecting it was Nina's sworn duty.
The mission she had burdened herself with.
The moment of the fight arrived.
The location was the practice field that the first-years had used for their competition before. Though they could have fought in a training facility, Gattman had objected. Platoons were already enemies to him, and maybe the training facility that platoon members trained in was the enemy camp.
The special shock absorbers used in Military Artist matches had already been put away, but the fourteenth platoon members reconfigured them appropriately.
Nina stood on one of the shock absorbers facing Gattman.
Gattman stood there wearing his uniform just like always, while Nina had changed to fighting gear. The iron whips in either hand had been fine-tuned by Harley again since before. Harley seemed to have done some introspection after hearing about Nina's situation, but Nina didn't really understand what that meant.
"Then, are you two both ready?"
Shin stood in between the two as they faced each other. He was in charge of being the referee.
Nina nodded, and Gattman also expressed approval.
The knife gripped in his hand looked like it was giving off a demonic light.
"I'm going to turn you into a pincushion again."
Gattman bared his teeth in a smile as he spoke.
Nina didn't fall for that provocation. She calmly confirmed the weight of the iron whips in her hands. Though they were slightly different, they indeed felt easier to use than before.
(Okay, I can do this.)
In that case, she would be able to move even more like she wanted.
A laugh came from the outfield, and Gattman smiled fiercely. It seemed like he had said something to Nina.
Nina didn't get angry. But she still said this to Gattman as he looked down on her with confident eyes:
"Don't worry, I'll end this battle with one strike."
Gattman seemed unable to laugh at that statement. He was instantly taken aback, and then anger slowly filled his face.
Shin expressionlessly announced for the battle to start.
Gattman was the one to move. It was the same strategy as before, brandishing a Dite knife with large movements to draw her attention. The Kei-covered knife was certainly a threat she couldn't ignore.
Nina also moved her left iron whip.
She blocked the knife, and the external Kei crashed against each other. The air vibrated and shook her eyeballs.
But she could deal with this move as long as she knew the principles behind it.
Gattman's left hand flashed out, releasing throwing knives.
That was a movement Nina had long since known about. Though she knew about this movement, Nina stood still without moving. She had stopped Gattman's knife a few moments faster this time. With that motion, she succeeded in drawing back a few centimels from the exploding shockwave produced. She could keep her vision without turning her face away thanks to that action.
Her left iron whip was easier to use than before thanks to Harley's last adjustment. Nina was able to move in this brief period of time thanks to that.
Also, the more important reason was that Nina had kept enduring Shin's rapid thrusts these past few days.
With perfect timing, Nina succeeded in bringing the fight into the perfect circumstances she had been waiting for.
Nina raised her right iron whip. She ignored the throwing knife, choosing to attack. Nina still couldn't beat Gattman in agility in this kind of close-quarters fight.
But even Gattman couldn't move the moment he attacked from both his left and right sides simultaneously.
Several throwing knives pierced into Nina's body together.
Nina swung her iron whips before the pain flashed through her body.
The victor was decided just like that.
Harley was waiting at the meeting place in front of the information desk.
"How are your injuries?"
Though her uniform covered them perfectly, bandages were wrapped below it. Several of Gattman's throwing knives had pierced her skin, but fortunately they hadn't hurt any important organs.
"I'm alright, although I got scolded."
Harley had also watched the match, and he had accompanied Nina to the hospital.
"That was too reckless."
"It’s because I felt like I shouldn't have made it a drawn-out battle. Honestly, I thought of circling to Gattman's left and then hitting him, but I'm still not fast enough."
"But...... Shin-senpai was very angry too."
"I guess so."
If she had just made a slight mistake...... At best, both would be injured, and at worst Nina would be the only one injured and fallen on the ground, so Shin was obviously angry in his position."
"But I was only able to win thanks to Senpai and Harley's help. Thanks."
After saying this, Harley showed a weird expression.
"? What's wrong?"
"Uh, although this is obvious, I'm still not good enough."
After saying this, Harley looked up at the sky.
"Really, so we're both not good enough."
Nina also looked up at the sky. The sky she saw right after leaving the hospital was tinted with the colors of the night.
This sky continued all the way to Schneibel. But if she returned her gaze to the ground, there was nothing familiar there.
This was somewhere new.
A brand-new place, without the chains that had been there since her birth.
"Don't you think that's why hard work has value?"
Harley moved his gaze, looking at Nina. Though he was a bit surprised, he immediately nodded vigorously.
"Since we've only just started."
After murmuring this, Nina strode out straight forward over the road laid out before her.
Translator's Notes and References
- A character from the CSR Missing Mail manga.