City Series:Volume2 Prologue
Prologue: Strange Beginning
Let us say there was darkness in that place.
It was a damp darkness.
Plenty of water flowed silently below it. A wide river steadily continued on to the sea while supporting the darkness.
That flowing river was the Thames.
A steam whistle sounded somewhere in the distance. The sound came from a ship travelling down the Thames, raced through the fog covering the river, and reached the city.
The city that heard the whistle was London.
The very first to hear it were the people in the port.
Precisely two figures sat in front of the warehouses lining a small wharf in the Port of London. They leaned against a large wooden box and passed a bottle of alcohol back and forth.
“I knew there’d be some left unsold. And I hear the Prohibition in the States is about to come to an end.”
Those words were spoken by a well-built elderly man. The right arm holding the bottle was a giant steam-powered false arm made of metal. The emblems engraved in the false arm suggested he belonged to the Hard Wolf race.
He passed the bottle to the man sitting next to him.
The middle-aged man in a suit took it and fidgeted as if the white wings between his back and the wooden box were in the way.
“Amon’s probation period is ending soon too, isn’t it? What are you going to do then, Jonathan?”
“What do you mean?”
“Can that unsociable guy really keep working at a brewery?”
“Gloss, you’ve always disliked Amon, haven’t you?”
The angel named Gloss shook his wings a little and took a swig of alcohol.
…How am I supposed to like him when he hates me?
Jonathan smiled a little and nodded.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
Hearing that, Gloss returned the bottle and clicked his tongue.
He must have been a little drunk because he had apparently let his feelings out as Open Words.
Nothing was more disturbing than having someone else read your emotions, so he applied Verbal Self Control to his thoughts. After calming down and keeping his feelings as unreadable Closed Words, he took a breath and spoke.
“Amon never relaxes around heavenly races like me.”
“Do you hate him?”
“I wouldn’t say that. I trust your judgment in looking after him.”
Jonathan bent and narrowed his eyes at that.
“So you understand, do you? I will admit he looks like a failure of a demon at first glance, though.”
“Yeah, I understand. But the blame for his lack of wings falls on those of us from the heavenly races, doesn’t it?”
“Don’t worry about it. That’s due to the God-Demon War, not you.”
“That was a terrible war. It took no time at all to destroy hell.”
“And the aftermath even caused a world war in reality.”
Jonathan held out his false right arm which expelled white steam from the shoulder like a sigh.
“But a single arm was a small price to pay for protecting this Aerial City.”
The fictional world of England had of course been attacked during that world war. They existed in the medium of writing, so there was only one way to attack them from reality: ignore them.
So to start with, many of them had left that safe city of fiction and fought. They had reminded those in reality that monsters existed and they had filled them with fear.
“Not that you all had it much better with most of heaven destroyed.”
Gloss shook his head and replied.
“It was a stupid war. It was a complete waste.” He sighed. “England was in trouble, but we angels did nothing but fight the demons. And yet we’re both residents of Aerial City.”
“And all that escaped destruction was a small portion of heaven and the nine chapter title pages in between.”
“That’s because it was all settled in the brief moment when those chapter title pages were flipped open. And even that led to an unexpected failure. We never thought heaven’s information would spread to the humans as Open Words.”
Heaven was the spring of knowledge that had gathered all of the world’s wisdom. Even if the nine chapter title pages were opened for just an instant, knowledge would overflow from that spring and spill into the real world.
That was what had happened during the war just over a dozen years before.
As a result, tanks, fighter craft, poison gas, and other new weapons had been introduced in the world war and had produced far more deaths than in previous wars.
“It was one of those new tank guns that blew off my right arm. How are you gonna pay me back for that?”
“Isn’t that Hard Wolf false arm better than a flesh and blood one?”
Gloss parried Jonathan’s words and tapped on the wooden box behind him.
“Well, let’s stop being so gloomy and get back. I’ll put these unsold leftovers in the warehouse.”
Jonathan looked down at the bottle in his hand and found it was almost empty.
He had no interest in an empty bottle, so he chucked it behind him.
After a beat, the two of them heard a metallic sound much like shattering ice and they stood up.
Gloss’s white wings swayed in the darkness.
Instead of a steam whistle, they heard a bell and music in the distance.
The music came from a pipe organ.
It had to be a powerful sound to reach this far, but the song sounded lonely out here at the port.
This was the bell and music for twelve o’clock coming from Westminster Cathedral.
And as that ringing and music slowly filled the air, a change occurred on the Thames.
The fog covering the river split apart.
It parted like white double-doors opening to either side and it flowed onward.
A boat slowly travelled down the gorge between the foggy cliffs. The boat was loaded with something large covered in a blue sheet and a young man sat on top of that cargo.
The young man was a minister.
He slowly approached on the boat and his form grew clear in the darkness.
He uncomfortably rubbed his very short blond hair. His overall casual aura may have been due to how he wore his minister’s outfit with the collar open or due to the round sunglasses he wore in the middle of the night.
His narrow eyes were smiling beyond the sunglasses.
Gloss stepped forward as if replying to that smile.
“Who are you?”
That question was accompanied by what sounded like metal panels piling up. The noise came from the boat.
Jonathan sensed motion, but when he turned toward it, he no longer saw anyone on the boat. He only saw the blue sheet and the cargo.
He looked up just in case and, to his surprise, he found the young man.
The young man was in London’s foggy night sky.
He and his black minister’s outfit parted the fog as he leaped. He lightly and casually jumped the five meters from the boat to the wharf. He had made the jump with no running start and from poor footing.
Then he landed.
His feet made no noise as they contacted the ground, but another metallic sound came from inside his clothes. He seemed to be carrying something inside them and he was now about three steps in front of Gloss.
The distant ringing and music from Westminster Cathedral had stopped.
The young man looked up into the night sky as if to check on the lingering tone.
“…” Suddenly, he looked at Gloss. Their eyes met and he raised his right hand to waist height as if in greeting.
“Are we enemies now that I’ve come ashore?”
As Jonathan heard that line, he also saw the young man’s naturally raised hand.
He Overrode the young man’s movements to see if he had overlooked anything.
The young man’s right hand held a shotgun.
Just as Jonathan shouted and the young man muttered quietly, the shotgun fired.
With a great sound of destruction, a head-sized hole appeared in Gloss’s stomach.
What had previously filled that hole splattered across the concrete of the wharf.
“I hate angels and god just as much as monsters.”
Jonathan prepared to run over to Gloss while listening to the young man’s kindly spoken words.
The young man must have sensed Jonathan’s intent because he turned toward him with the shotgun still aimed at Gloss. His sharp gaze literally restrained Jonathan.
He could not move.
Simply being looked at was restricting his movements, even though he was a Hard Wolf who had once faced a tank in the Great War.
Jonathan watched as Gloss Dis-Selfed. Still not sure what had happened to himself, the angel collapsed and used an arm to support himself on the wooden box behind him. However, he could not support his body with most of his abdomen gone, so his elbow slipped from the edge of the box and he fell into a sitting position with his wings still spread to the side.
The second shotgun blast sounded out.
Gloss’s head and a portion of the box were blown away.
They were both smashed to pieces.
What remained of his body trembled with the slight vestiges of life and then suddenly vanished.
The angel’s feathers and the pieces splattered on the concrete all turned to ash just like burning paper. The faint scattering aroma was the smell of a burning angel.
Jonathan said nothing. He simply watched what happened before him.
But the young man did not bother watching Gloss go through the special process of Ashing. He was not looking at Jonathan either.
The narrow eyes beyond his sunglasses were looking straight forward. He stared directly ahead with the sharpness of targeting something.
Jonathan slowly moved his eyes in pursuit of the young man’s gaze.
He found two new people standing there.
Jonathan saw two people in front of the warehouses lining the wharf.
One was a woman.
Her black hair waved in the wind where it extended below the shawl she wore over her shoulders. The features of her face were those of an adult.
She was the kind of adult who one could easily imagine crying.
He moved his eyes from the woman to the person next to her.
He was a tall man and he gave off a sharp aura.
He comfortably wore a long, dark green coat. The body inside the coat looked thin but not frail. He gave off a sense of defiance and dignity.
Whatever life he had lived, his face was almost entirely expressionless. However, great experience and sharp strength were visible in that face even from a distance.
The two of them looked straight toward the young man holding the shotgun.
The young man smiled as he accepted their gazes and he was the first to speak.
“It’s been two weeks, hasn’t it, Valeath?”
His smile grew a little before he continued.
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen you too, Moyla. Now, I’ve brought in the cargo and weapons as originally…planned!”
With that last word, he swung his empty left arm, but he instantly Overrode something in that hand to throw it. It was a long sword in a white scabbard.
It was seeing the afterimage of the scabbard rotating through the air that told Jonathan who this was.
Or rather, it was the smell.
This was the same smell as his prey on the battlefields of the world war a dozen or so years ago.
A monster’s prey was humans.
For the first time in over a dozen years, the smell of human flesh and the human world reached his nose.
And there was only one sort of human who would still fight with an anachronistic weapon like a sword.
Some humans had been born to fight and, in some rare instances, one would appear whose power was equal or greater to a monster. A human who used their power to hunt “nonexistent” beings was known as a Hound.
Why would the likes of them be in the monster-filled country of England?
Valeath, the man in the long coat, caught the flying sword without answering that Opened question.
And he immediately drew the white blade.
The metal audibly sliced through the air.
A silver light at least a meter long appeared in the darkness and the light looked like it could cut through anything and everything.
Valeath stared at the blade that glowed as if wet.
“It really is like you to shoot him right away, Ralf.”
“It’s only natural for monsters to be killed by humans.”
“I meant that you went for the angel first.”
Valeath walked toward Jonathan as he spoke.
With the sword in his right hand, he called his partner’s name and Jonathan felt a deep tone in his gut.
Following the sound, all of the fog filling the wharf vanished in an instant. Wind raced through and formed a circle.
This created an isolate space.
The area expelling the fog grew wider and it encompassed Jonathan.
The woman named Moyla stood at the center of that empty space and she was folding her fingers in a strange shape without losing her seemingly powerless expression.
Ralf, the young man dressed like a minister, must have read Jonathan’s unintentionally Opened thought because he smiled.
“Moyla’s barrier cannot be broken. Not even by an above-average monster.”
There was only one reason for a Hound to trap a monster in a barrier: to hunt it.
Jonathan clicked his tongue.
The battle had already begun. As proof of that, Valeath approached with drawn sword in hand and the look in his eyes expressed his intention via Open Words.
Goose bumps covered Jonathan’s entire body before his heart could respond to the man’s will. His past combat experience, those memories permeating his body, told him escape would be impossible.
However, he could not let himself die here.
He had to tell someone about this. Humans were trying to do something here in the monsters’ city of London. The Hounds, those natural enemies of monsters, were beginning something.
“So I can’t escape without fighting, hm?”
He spoke that seemingly contradictory statement so he could hear it himself and he strongly Tasked himself.
His voice raced through his body as a Verbal Self Control of his Dis-Selfing thoughts.
He calmed himself down.
The old Hard Wolf looked up into the night sky.
The barrier had cleared away the fog and the moon floated unobstructed in the night sky.
The perfect circle of the moon was exactly the full moon a Hard Wolf desired.
A howl was a primitive type of word, so it possessed great power. As a Hard Wolf, he desired the power of the moon and the power of a wolf. He looked up to the heavens in search of it and he howled. He howled with all his might.
Only a wolf could give a wolf’s howl.
He Overrode himself into a wolf. He desired to change.
He strongly Tasked himself: Altered, Altered, Altered!
The body exposed to the sunlight rapidly transformed. Before he could take another breath, his nose extended, his ears stood tall, fur sprouted up, his skeleton seemed to swell out, and the air exploded.
The fog, wind, and air swirled around him and his previously human form became that of a wolf. He exposed his true form as a Hard Wolf. His bluish-black fur had faded with age, but his build was well above average.
Powerful light filled his eyes. This was the light of a beast. His fur stood on end as if to reach the heavens. He opened his mouth, bared his fangs, and howled again.
He faced forward, but not at the swordsman named Valeath. He looked past that man and at the young man named Ralf who had Ashed Gloss.
…I’ll kill you first!
He shouted his bestial thoughts.
His Opened intent to kill shot out like a knife and shook Valeath’s coat, but Ralf only smiled.
“Valeath, this might be my job.”
He happily cocked the shotgun and the atmosphere of the battlefield linked directly between the Hard Wolf and the young man.
The man and beast faced each other with Valeath in between.
It began in an instant.
Jonathan made a sudden jump. The claws breaking out through his shoes kicked off the ground and launched him into the night air.
But instead of reaching the two men before him, the jump took him to the woman named Moyla.
He had used his Open Words as a feint. Faking one’s actual intent was much more convincing than only using actions. This slowed Ralf’s reaction and likely did the same to Valeath.
The great beast leaped over the men’s heads and he landed where only Moyla would be in his line of vision. He then dashed forward on all fours.
His bestial claws tore into the concrete.
His lupine eyes trained on his target. If he defeated this witch, the barrier would vanish.
Targeting a woman was not the gentlemanly thing to do, but desperate times called for desperate measures. Also, the easier target that would lead to the least bloodshed was best.
With the Hard Wolf after her, the witch folded her fingers below her shawl and in front of her chest. She showed no sign of fleeing even with Jonathan’s approach. She simply stared straight at him.
And her eyes held a look of pity.
Before he could wonder why, he had approached. As he ran, he held his left arm by his right side in preparation for a diagonal strike from below using the full speed of his charge.
He pulled down his body to pour as much momentum into the strike as possible, but then he noticed the concrete ground in his vision.
The moonlight falling from the night sky cast his shadow there, but another shadow was enveloping his own.
…Someone’s above me!?
That thought was immediately followed by an impact.
He was thrown to the left and he rolled along the ground. Sparks flew when his false right arm struck the concrete.
The sparks were accompanied by the painful sound of scraping metal.
His body twisted as he rolled, the unpleasant sound vanished, and he attempted to right himself.
But when he tried to stand, he tilted to the right and collapsed. His right side was oddly heavy.
…What’s going on?
As if to answer his Opened question, something descended from the sky in front of him. A familiar object struck the ground with a splat.
It was his own left arm.
His groan of protest was followed by blood spraying from the severed arm and the stump at his shoulder.
As he doubled over and held his left shoulder with his false arm, a figure wielding a long sword stood in front of him.
It was Valeath.
The kneeling Hard Wolf looked up at the man.
The swordsman had seen through Jonathan’s feint, jumped, and made his strike, but he was not even out of breath.
Behind him, Jonathan saw the witch sigh and remove the barrier. She looked like she wanted to tell Valeath something, but she coughed instead. It was the kind of deep cough that was unique to the ill.
Even so, Valeath did not turn her way. He continued staring forward without even looking down at Jonathan.
“Ralf, I will now show you how to remove their voice. Don’t waste them.”
With natural movements, the tip of his sword raced toward Jonathan’s throat.
It only took an instant.
No one spoke and Jonathan held his throat with his false arm. However, there was no blood. His fur remained intact and the skin below was not harmed.
Nevertheless, something white lay in a pool of blood between the Hard Wolf and the swordsman.
Valeath reached out and picked up the thumb-sized white object so Jonathan could see.
It was Jonathan’s voice.
“This is a solidified voice. It is an organ located in the throat called a Horn.”
Jonathan tried to shout that word, but he found he could not speak.
That was unsurprising since his Horn was no longer in his throat.
“Your Horn has been removed, so act like it. Ash yourself like that corpse.”
The man was referring to Gloss. That angel was also meant to have had his voice removed before he was killed.
These three had indeed come to this city to hunt monsters.
…Are you trying to destroy Aerial City – London!? If you do that, this will go beyond simply deserving revenge!
He used Open Words to ask his question and he received his response from behind.
“You don’t seem to understand. In all the many books out there, have you ever read of humans being destroyed by monsters? But you hear about the opposite all the time.”
He heard someone raise a gun just behind his ear.
“You monsters are so conceited if you think people are really afraid of you. Humans can hunt monsters. If we wanted to, we could easily destroy this entire country. There’s only one reason we haven’t done it yet.” The young man took a breath. “We took pity on you monsters and protected you. We joined you in your fear of what we could do.”
All of Jonathan’s fur bristled.
The bleeding from his left shoulder was stopping thanks to the regeneration of a Hard Wolf, but he still could not move. He was surrounded and his enemy was far more powerful than him.
He heard some metallic sounds behind him. He heard something fitting together and a trigger being pulled.
But Valeath moved in front of Jonathan and placed a hand on the Hard Wolf’s false arm. The roughly bandaged hand had a circular emblem drawn in the colors of a burn.
The brown, discolored bandages loosened and instantly wrapped around the false arm like vines.
“Over Contract. Be destroyed by your own arm.”
Unlike before, Jonathan actually moved after Valeath’s expressionless words.
Except it was only his false arm that moved. It forcefully swung up as if to point toward the moon.
It had left Jonathan’s control and the movement was horribly sharp and unhesitating. This was the precise movement of a machine moving as a machine.
The metal claws glittered for an instant. It was a cold and pleasant glitter.
The false arm stabbed deep into the left side of his chest.
It produced a pleasant sound that sent a shudder down his spine.
Needless to say, this alone was not enough. The false hand was embedded up to the wrist, but it began to move about in his flesh. The sound of severing bone rang loudly out. The intermittent sound of sliced muscles sounded painfully in his ears.
The Hard Wolf raised a voiceless scream. As only his breath escaped from his lips, blood burst from his chest, from his fang-lined mouth, from his nostrils, and from his left shoulder.
The blood stopped his silent cry.
A tremendous sound followed only a beat later. It was the wet sound of something being born. The false arm had come out of Jonathan’s chest.
The metal hand covered in blood and fat pulled something from his chest with a wonderful sound.
It was his heart.
The false arm crushed the bloody mass in its grip at the same moment as his body collapsed backwards.
A gun could be heard being put away.
“An Over Contract? I bet he never even imagined a human would use a demon’s contract spell. …But, well, it feels like we accomplished something here.”
Next, a sword could be heard being sheathed.
“This Hard Wolf was my opponent from the beginning.”
Icy killer intent rose like fog, but it was shattered by approaching footsteps.
A woman’s voice followed.
“Ralf, I will show you to the hotel we have a room at. It has space for mooring a boat, so can you bring the boat there with the cargo still aboard?”
“Y-yes. If you say so, Moyla.”
Even as the humans spoke, the Hard Wolf had yet to Ash.
His death was only a matter of time, but he was still alive.
In London, the morning was a time of sleep. Even Berwick Street in the middle of Soho was empty below the morning sun. No one walked along the street and only the occasional early morning stagecoach could be seen.
At one end of that sleeping street was a brewery. The morning sun washed over its old red bricks. It looked like an unsociable but trustworthy place.
The filthy sign above the entrance gave the name “Full Moon Beer Cellar”.
It was of course not running at this time and there were no customers. However, someone did pass by below that sign.
It was a young man with a somewhat defiant look to him.
His black jacket and trousers absorbed the light of the morning sun. A dark outfit like that was preferred by demons, but he lacked the wings that a demon would have.
His sharp eyes looked in the store’s window. The narrow face reflected there had a bruise from a punch which he rubbed gently.
“I’ve gotten rusty.”
He walked to the side of the store, entered the narrow alley, and kicked at the store’s side entrance. It opened with just the one hit.
He brushed up his blond-highlighted bangs, peered inside, and hesitated to enter.
After taking a few breaths, he nodded and silently slipped inside.
“I’m back! This time I beat five in a row for 8 pounds…?”
His shout changed to a question because he had sensed a certain smell.
It was the smell of burning paper that indicated an Ashing.
The ominous scent brought a gold light to his eyes. These were the characteristic eyes of a demon.
There was a trail left by something being dragged along the floor and it continued into the back room.
He followed it without hesitation. He walked down the short hallway, reached for the door to the back room, and opened it.
The door hit something and stopped.
He kicked at the door and heard a metallic sound on the other side.
The door immediately opened, but he found no one in that room that belonged to the store’s owner. The bed and the closet were the same as always.
He tilted his head and Overrode his surroundings in case something had been left behind. That was when he noticed something odd lying in the room.
The odd thing was what the door had caught on before.
It was the false arm belonging to the Hard Wolf named Jonathan.
There was only one way for just the false arm to be here. It was a difficult answer for a normal person to grasp, but this young man accepted it immediately.
A groaning or creaking sigh escaped his lips.
“It’s…happening around me again?”
His lowered gaze stopped on the false arm’s hand. The metal hand held some kind of brown paper.
He quickly reached for it.
It was parchment, the special paper that had long been used when a demon made a contract.
His fingers hesitated, but after a beat, he tore it from the hand and spread it out.
The false arm’s handprint remained on the paper. The handprint was lightly scorched into it because the one who had written the words in blood had Ashed afterwards. As for the contents of the contract…
“Place the other party’s handprint on this handprint and act as a guide down to hell. Requester: Jonathan. Contractor:…”
The young man hesitated to read the next word.
He took a deep breath, applied some Verbal Self Control, and read his own name.
At the same time, the door closed behind him. He turned around and found words scratched into the door with the false arm’s claws.
This was the final message Jonathan had left for Amon.
“Live on, while fearing no evil whatsoever.”
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