City Series:Volume3a Chapter 1
Act 1: Equals (8:46)
That deep command was given just as gunshots and shellfire burst through the night air.
The bright bullets fired by men in blue uniforms flew straight down a large shopping district road and approached their target.
Their target was a beast that looked out of place in the city of Hong Kong. It was a tiger.
However, it was not a normal tiger. It was colored blue and it was nearly four meters tall.
Several sparks scattered from the large tiger and countless explosions could be heard.
Those bursting sounds were followed by spreading white smoke.
“Did we get it!?”
The men in blue uniforms filled the street like a solid wall and they looked to their victory beyond the smoke.
But that victory suddenly vanished before their eyes.
Something appeared beyond the smoke about one hundred meters away. The same blue tiger had grown even larger.
The Qinghu shook its head several times to shake off the smoke and lightly snorted.
It showed no sign of damage from the previous attack.
The men were dumbfounded as they watched.
But if the right person had been watching, they would have seen an irregular blue stream of sound surrounding the men.
Those were the Lives that gave form to the emotion of fear.
“Is anyone from Cleared here!?”
The commander cried out as if to sweep away that Lives floating around them.
“What’s that Qinghu’s Octave?”
He was answered by a middle-aged uniformed man carrying a Device.
“Its Live is unsteadily fluctuating between an Octave of 320,000 and 40,000.”
Normal Tuners and Busters could only manipulate Lives at an Octave of around 80,000 and only within a range of just over five meters. However, this Qinghu had an Octave of 320,000.
“Our attacks are going to be too far removed from it, which is dangerous.”
“What happens when the Octave is so different?”
“We’ll only increase the disturbance in its Live. In other words, it’ll grow bigger like just now.”
“You know that tiger was originally a restaurant, right? Can’t we do something!? If the light bringers of Hong Kong Yard are defeated, who’s going to stop it?”
His fairly hysterical question reverberated through the air.
The Cleared member it was directed at could likely see the commander’s Live and he watched for the man’s reaction as he spoke.
“The offensive Busters and Hounds can’t hope to oppose something on this level. …But we called in Akira who was off duty.”
“Akira? You mean that Seraph girl who’s always talking nonsense!?”
His question was answered by the Qinghu’s roar.
The great beast was now eight meters tall and it roared toward heaven.
As British territory, Hong Kong’s night sky contained an entrance to the same heaven as the Aerial City. A long roar rang through that sky and shook the city.
“Is it coming!?”
The commander prepared himself as his body vibrated from the roar.
The Device-wielding man took a similar stance next to him.
“Don’t worry. She’ll definitely be here! She’s Hong Kong’s best Tuner, after all.”
“Can we really rely on a Nein Engel!?”
After that comment, the Qinghu moved forward.
The atmosphere around them all stiffened.
In an instant, sharp Lives of murderous intent raced between the Qinghu and the men.
The Verbal Tempo of those sharp, direct Lives was quite simple.
And that may have been why someone rode on that stream.
Someone flew down from the night sky and landed in the center of the murderous intent between the men and tiger.
It was a girl.
She wore the same color of uniform as the men and she had two wings on her back.
The Cleared member shouted toward the light coming from her wings.
“Help has arrived! She’s the Tuner who can control an Octave of 1,028,000!”
The winged girl went by the Urban Name of Akira.
She was either twenty or in her late teens.
The wings on her back were nothing special.
Hong Kong was British territory and Britain had long been a nation of monsters, most notably in Aerial City – London.
She said nothing.
Her tied-back hair was the same color as her wings, those angular golden wings moved slightly, and she raised her head.
Below her thick eyebrows, her eyes moved without missing a thing. Her gaze looked far past the empty shopping district street and to the Yard men wielding a variety of weapons.
She could see each of them emitting Lives filled with the Word Color of tension. That pale purple light spilled like sand and floated below the wall of blue.
Akira gave a small bitter smile.
“The general unit is here along with the combat unit. …Did the Searchers try to lure the Qinghu away?”
…I feel like a surrounded criminal.
As soon as she thought that, she heard a growl behind her.
It was the tiger.
The eight meter tall tiger gave off a bluish-white phosphorescence.
It raised its front paw as if playing.
Seeing white claws approaching her, Akira flew to the side and into the night sky. She avoided the wind produced by its claws and danced through the night air that was heated by the shopping district.
Her sharp wings had a single main section which loudly beat against the wind.
“Oh! That was close!”
After only two flaps, she had risen as high as a five-story building and she spread her wings behind her. The wings expelled air to bring her to a stop.
She looked down from this height where the smells of the different food stands and restaurants reached her.
She saw the Qinghu.
The beast was large enough to fill the street and its giant yellow eyes looked up at her.
…This is a big one.
She licked her lips, nodded once, and held up her Device in midair. It was shaped like a short sword, but a quick shake was enough to extend the hilt into a spear as long as she was tall.
She swung down the spear and took a breath.
Without warning, she began to rush through the air.
She oriented her body parallel to the ground and raced straight down at the Qinghu.
All she heard was the sound of the air rushing past her.
Her target was its back. When fighting a four-legged beast, attacking from above was safest.
She twisted her body to lower her downward momentum and thrust the spear straight into the blue back below her.
The sound was identical to that of tearing paper.
She felt a strange metallic sensation entirely different from flesh.
At the same time, the Qinghu’s Live reached her through the spear.
A Live was the flow that gave form to objects, emotions, and actions. Essentially, it was the rhythm of ether.
As a Tuner, Akira could read the Qinghu’s Live.
“Its Octave is 320,000. Over four times what a normal person can control, hm? No wonder I was called in.”
The Live itself was a heavy sound, its Word Color was a mineral gray, and its Tempo was slow.
That information gave her an image. She was able to read the Message expressed by the Live that the Qinghu was singing.
That was entirely different from its appearance as a tiger.
As soon as Akira read that Message, the Qinghu turned its head to look at her on its back.
Instinctively sensing danger, she used her wings to fly backwards.
Seeing the glare of those pure yellow eyes and hearing the roar, she landed on the roof of a bookstore.
She kept her eyes on her opponent and analyzed its identity. She thought about the Message she had seen when reading its Live.
The Message in her mind showed a three-story concrete building.
…I’ve seen that building before. It’s a fancy restaurant in Yau Ma Tei, isn’t it?
The restaurant’s owner would be leaving in about half a month when ownership of Hong Kong was returned from Britain, so it had been scheduled for demolition.
The building had turned into this blue tiger.
“A disturbance in the restaurant’s Live transformed it into a tiger? Hong Kong is a dangerous place these days.”
A smile appeared on Akira’s lips as she muttered to herself.
At the same time, an electronic tone came from her uniform’s pocket. Her cellphone was ringing.
After two rings, it automatically answered and a woman’s voice came from her coat pocket.
“Are you in your usual place, Akira?”
Akira answered while watching the Qinghu that stared motionlessly at her.
“I am. I’m fighting, but…”
“Rin, can I ask something?”
“What is it? I’m busy with a new a case that just came in, so keep it within forty characters, punctuation included.”
“Why was the general unit sent out against this?”
“Including the question mark, that’s…forty exactly. You really do give the most boring answers.”
“That’s…not the issue here! What if they get caught in the Tuning!?”
“Don’t worry. If that happens, I’ll use my authority to have you take responsibility.”
“That’s not a normal thing to say, Rin.”
“Sorry, but the cell signal isn’t getting through very well. Well, I can leave all this Live-related stuff to our genius Tuner.”
Akira’s shoulders shook a bit at being called a genius. She imagined the expression on the face of her glasses-wearing female boss.
“You’re just saying that to force me to do something again, aren’t you?”
“You’re the one with the dream of using Tuning to send out a giant Death Techno dragon. Think of this as training.”
“I at least have the right to choose how I train!”
“All personal opinions are rejected.”
“Then don’t use people’s dreams to give them a personal reason for doing things! Honestly, how about you come join me out here!?”
As if reacting to her shout, the Qinghu began to move.
“Ah! Stay back!”
It ignored her protest and leaped upwards.
It stretched out to the front and back and came to crush the bookstore she stood on.
The roar of the ground being struck rang out in a great surge.
The destruction occurred in an instant.
“That was close.”
Akira sounded almost carefree as she landed on the red roof of a neighboring shop.
While trying to get up, the Qinghu slammed a front paw into the roof.
Akira was launched into the air by the roof’s flexibility and she performed a flip before landing on the road.
By that time, the Qinghu had gotten back up.
Looking at it a little differently, the two of them could be seen as a bird and a cat.
The predator and prey’s eyes met.
…This is uncomfortable.
Akira’s fears were justified.
“Try to calm down, okay?”
With that comment, she turned her back on the Qinghu and began to run.
She began her escape to buy some time. Meanwhile, she sensed the Qinghu dashing behind her.
…How am I supposed to defeat this thing?
She continued to run while keeping her wings up so she could take flight at any moment. She rushed through the deserted shopping district.
The light brown streetlights illuminated her.
She heard her racing footsteps, breathing, and pulse as well as the much louder sounds of buildings and storefront stands being destroyed behind her.
The pursuing footsteps were growing closer and closer. She occasionally heard something like stones striking each other right behind her head, and she knew that had to be the tiger’s teeth striking together.
…Not good, not good, not good! I’m really gonna be eaten!
She faced forward and found the blue wall of police officers a mere thirty meters ahead.
She was shocked to find they were all aiming their guns and cannons her way.
A closer look showed their commander was raising one hand.
But he was not greeting her.
“Eh? Wait! I’m right here!”
The roar of gunfire reached her.
White smoke rose in front of the blue wall and pure red bullets of light shot out.
Akira flew backwards as if something had repelled her.
This surprised the Qinghu pursuing her from behind. This strange action by its prey made it stumble.
She slipped between its hesitant legs.
She quickly moved behind the Qinghu.
An instant later, she heard something explode.
A solid impact slammed into the giant beast and sent it into the air over Akira’s head.
“You idiots! Don’t disturb its Live any more!”
The Qinghu grew even larger because the bombardment had further disturbed its Live.
Avoiding its giant form as it fell was not an easy task.
She flew backwards just like before.
With a great roar, the Qinghu’s back fell to the ground, but it immediately twisted around and stood up.
It was glaring at Akira, but she ignored it.
She caught her breath and started back down the same path she had run before.
As she did, she struck the destroyed buildings with the tip of her spear. Doing so emitted sound and light from the Device.
She was preparing to Tune.
“Oh, you 640,000 Octave Lives surrounding me! You silent stone, chirping wood, and murmuring glass, can you hear my Live!?”
She cried out and sang her own Live.
It began with “la”.
The Word Color was the white of moonlight and it had a loud, gentle Tempo.
That created a Message.
The Message combined an image of the destroyed building with the flapping wings of birds.
The rubble enveloped by the spear’s light and sound was transformed.
The wooden rubble became brown birds.
The concrete rubble became large white and gray birds.
The glass shards became small blue birds.
More were created as she ran and they flew into the night sky to avoid the pursuing Qinghu.
This was the Live healing that Akira could perform as a Tuner.
Tuning would use some other Message to regulate disturbed Lives.
All of the flying birds would eventually return to their proper locations. Then they would return to their original form as wood or walls. But instead of the rubble, they would have become the original buildings once more.
That was the end result of Live healing through Tuning.
Akira continued singing and brought the blade of her Device to her own body.
Some light raced through her.
The light had an orange Word Color and the Tempo of a slightly quickened pulse.
It was the Live of fear.
She used Tuning to expel the emotion from her body and she manipulated those Lives. The orange balls of light became small orange mice that hid behind the nearby rubble.
She sighed when she saw it.
“Okay. I can do this.”
With that, she returned to her starting point.
She stopped and faced forward to find the Qinghu charging toward her, but she did not mind.
She could hear a radio that had been playing for a while.
The broadcast was playing a certain song.
彼街通天地 (That city connects heaven and earth)
墜朝地仰雲 (I fall in the morning and look up to the clouds from the earth)
昇夜空謳月 (I rise at night and sing with the moon in the sky)
惟望再笑君 (All I desire is to smile with you again)
That was the Flight Song which had long been passed down in Hong Kong.
…My parents liked that song, didn’t they?
Listening to it calmed her pulse and breathing.
Her opponent was approaching up ahead. It raised its claws and slammed them down toward her, but she charged forward.
She matched the arcing movement of the lowering claws and moved right up to the beast. She felt a brief, sharp pain in her back, but she ignored it.
She looked up and saw the Qinghu’s throat.
That was the core.
She gathered strength in her legs and slammed her entire body into it as she drove the tip of her spear into that one point.
With the sound of tearing paper, the Qinghu stopped moving.
And she had her Device send out her own Live.
Her Live was a single sound beginning with “la”. Its Word Color was gray and its Tempo was on the slower side. The Message it conveyed was the Yau Ma Tei restaurant. And the image she included was…
It did not even take three seconds for it all to end.
Akira fell to her knees while surrounded by countless colors of cats.
“Maybe I split it up too much. This is too much noise.”
She had Tuned the Qinghu, but to ensure that the proper Live and the disturbed Live did not reflexively echo off each other, she had split off every 10,000 Octaves into a separate kitten.
“With forty-four of them, I bet a cat-lover could barely contain themselves. …Come here. Good boy.”
She reached out a hand and a green cat approached from the group.
It mewed sweetly and she pet its head.
She was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief and look up into the sky.
The moon was out in the deep night sky.
The sky over England’s Aerial City – London contained a door to the heaven that had been destroyed during the previous world war. Hong Kong was still British territory because it had yet to be returned to China, so the same door was opened in its sky.
“But you can’t see the chapter title pages and celestial dome even in the moonlight.”
She lowered her gaze and looked down the road.
Far, far down the road, the men in Yard uniforms were looking her way and slowly approaching.
She could faintly see their Lives.
Most of them had the yellow Word Color of praise. Some red was mixed in because of the newcomers who had gotten too worked up during the earlier gunfire.
It may have been even less common than the red, but she did see the purple of doubt.
…Not bad for a Nein Engel.
A Nein Engel was a hybrid between an angel and a human.
But Akira was not bothered by those doubtful Messages.
“That’s right, isn’t it?”
The cats she had unraveled from the Qinghu tilted their heads at her question.
She smiled bitterly at the action.
A brief dull pain raced along her back.
She touched it and could tell she had been nicked when charging underneath the Qinghu earlier.
The injury was not on either of her two large wings. It was on the inside of those wings.
…On one of the small deformed wings. I can’t believe it.
Deformities were common in Nein Engels. As a Seraph Nein Engel, she should have had six wings, but four of them had grown in far too small. They were so small that the average person would not even notice them.
…Looks like it’s stopped bleeding, so I guess I’ll get it treated later.
That was when she heard what sounded like stone being struck.
That was the sound of a Live being destroyed.
She looked up in surprise and saw a man in midair.
Before she could wonder what was happening, the man fell to her feet.
A dull sound and a wet sound reached her ears.
The dark red substance spreading along the road came from a terrible wound. She ignored the quickly fleeing cats and ran over to him.
He had messy hair and wore intellectual glasses. He seemed to be in his late twenties. If they had not been stained with blood, his clothes would have been very nice. Lastly, he held the remains of a Device.
As soon as she saw the shape of the Device, Akira realized who the man was.
She shouted the kind of Urban Name used by Busters and Tuners and she lifted him into a sitting position.
There was no mistaking it.
She had never met the man before, but she had seen him in the newspapers a few times. Despite working as a Buster, he had revealed his Wild Name to the public. That real name he hid with the Urban Name of Gunmal was…
“Hong Kong’s greatest Buster, J-Gun Maldrick.”
Tuners rearranged Lives to change objects’ forms and fix them, but Busters destroyed Lives to destroy objects and remake them. Busters created the Devices used in Tuning and Busting and all Busters were expert fighters.
“Why is Hong Kong’s greatest Buster on the verge of death!?”
J-Gun’s eyes opened at her question.
His weak eyes briefly showed a hint of surprise.
“I can’t believe this. Even after destroying space itself, I can’t escape the Nein Engels.”
Despite her obvious confusion, J-Gun gave a smile at being released from his exhaustion and closed his eyes. As he did so, his lips moved.
“Someone, please call…”
“Call!? Call who!?”
“They can…Hong Kong’s destruction… They can…our home…”
His voice and his Live shrank and diminished.
“I’m sorry, Genius.”
With those words as her sign, Akira raised her Device.
…Will I make it in time?
“I am Hong Kong’s greatest Tuner.”
She reminded herself of that, took a deep breath, and pressed the tip of the spear against J-Gun’s chest.
A moment later, she thought she felt her mind waver.
After only a few seconds, Akira woke up.
She looked around and found herself in a strange world.
She saw an unfamiliar city of ruins around her.
She saw broken pillars, crumbled walls, scattered rooftops, twisted and broken signs, and other things that were smashed beyond recognition. They were all gathered together to create a city of ruins.
Akira stood at the center of it all.
With that question, she realized this was a memory Message sent by J-Gun’s Live. His Live had flowed back through her Device as she tried to Tune heal him.
She was seeing the past from his perspective, so this had to be his life flashing before his eyes in the moment before death.
She saw a boy in front of her. He appeared to be fourteen or fifteen and his hair was the same color as J-Gun’s.
The boy was crying.
Two Devices lay at his feet.
One was only cracked, but the other had completely shattered.
Her vision suddenly moved. It stared at the fallen Device and reached out a hand.
J-Gun scooped up the broken fragments of the shattered Device and looked to the teary eyes of the boy.
“My Device shattered when it struck yours.”
“Little brother, which of us will succeed the Maldrick family?”
The younger brother did not answer his older brother’s question.
That was enough.
J-Gun pulled a ring from his pocket and the younger brother watched his movements while still crying.
J-Gun suddenly stopped moving.
Akira realized he was forcing a smile.
“This is fine. With the city like this, you won’t even find any bodies to bury. …People who live together don’t need murderous Busters or Tuners.”
J-Gun threw the ring into the surrounding ruins and he said one thing more.
“Don’t turn out like me.”
The vision ended there.
J-Gun’s Live had vanished.
The moon and stars looked large from the empty Beaufort Island south of Hong Kong Island.
A six-winged Nein Engel stood alone atop a hill of volcanic rock at the center of the island.
The male Seraph wore a white combat coat and he stared up into the night sky.
“That city connects heaven and earth, hm?”
He recited a line from the Flight Song and smiled bitterly.
“The moon is lovely tonight. …It is so unnecessarily bright.”
He held the chest of his coat where the white coat was wet with blood from the inside.
However, there was no hint of pain on his face.
“The dying Buster managed to escape. …What should we do about that?”
His tone was light and he looked around the area.
The island had been oddly transformed. The ground of volcanic rock had been torn, smashed, and melted.
A battle had occurred here.
“Perhaps it would be best to heal this land.”
His lightly raised hand held a Device sword.
It glowed dully, it somewhat resembled a musical instrument, and it was very similar to the Device that J-Gun had held.
He raised it, opened his mouth, and prepared to send out his Live.
But a sudden out-of-place sound stopped him. It was an electronic tone.
The Nein Engel’s hand reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small communicator.
Static sounded briefly.
“Fei? This is Double Lee.”
He took a breath.
“I made a bit of a mistake. Two of them actually. First, I have… likely killed J-Gun Maldrick. We can hold a meeting about that later. …Yes, call Genius too. And during the battle, the bottle of blood was destroyed. Can you bring the one meant for the final ceremony?”
He lowered his raised Device and began to walk.
He moved toward what seemed to be the highest point of the volcanic rock hill.
“I will complete the ceremony. Nothing will happen during the first ceremony, so don’t worry. After that, we can carry out the second ceremony, but to complete our preparations for the final one, we need an appropriate Device, right? …Yes. I just hope we can find a Buster who can make one better than this ADs. I would prefer to avoid using necromancy. …Yes, we also need the blood of a good Nein Engel. I am aware of that.”
With that said, he switched off the communicator and stopped walking.
He stood at the peak of the hill.
“Now I need to call in an Octave measuring in the tens of millions. And all to prepare the first repatriation ceremony based on the Flight Song. I must revive heaven.”
He returned the communicator to his pocket and reached the same hand into his coat.
He pulled out some broken glass covered in blood.
He threw it away and then pulled out more shards. He repeated the process again and again as he removed the pieces of the broken bottle.
“What to do now?” he muttered. “This means I need to kill a Nein Engel before the final ceremony.”
His eyes were turned toward Hong Kong Island.
The city of Hong Kong looked especially bright in the night and it illuminated the sky from below.
The first thing Akira said after returning to her apartment barely escaped her lips.
“Ahh… What a day. I’m exhausted.”
She leaned against the small kitchen wall and checked the clock to see it was three in the morning.
…No wonder the city’s Lives are so quiet.
The Lives of Mong Kok were so lively during the day, but this late, she could only hear the roar of the sea to the west.
As the sound of the waves reached her ears, Akira leaned her spear Device against the wall.
She gave a long yawn. While releasing that relaxed breath, she moved to the back room.
It doubled as a living room and a bedroom and it was a British-style room with a wooden floor. It contained a bed, a side table, an oddly new TV, a sanxian that she had long played, and a bookcase with a cloth covering each shelf.
She looked to the top shelf of the bookcase.
A picture frame stood there.
“Can you believe it, mom and dad? Someone died this time.”
She called out to the people in the picture as she picked up the frame.
She blew on it to get rid of the dust.
The photograph in the wooden frame showed her family.
Her father was the only human and the rest had wings on their backs.
It seemed to be a very old photo. The young girl clinging to her mother was Akira.
And a boy stood next to that girl.
“If my brother was here, he’d be so mad at me for not saving someone’s life as a Tuner.”
Her eyes turned to her parents.
Her father had sharp Asian eyes and a large scar on his cheek.
“Dad, this is a difficult thing, isn’t it?”
She tried to keep her tone light and she sat on the bed.
…What would mom and dad say if they were still alive?
With that unanswerable question in her heart, she set the picture frame down on her lap.
She then reached for the TV remote near the pillow.
She hit the power button and the TV in the corner of the room filled with light.
“Is this the case Rin mentioned?”
The news should have been over by this time, but text would appear on the screen to provide emergency information. Currently, white text was displayed on a blue background.
“Early this morning, President Huang Daquan of Archs RDC, Hong Kong’s largest trading company, died. The cause of death was massive blood loss. The knife he was holding upon discovery was confirmed to be the cause. The reason for his suicide is unknown and the investigation is underway. Huang Daquan was the first Nein Engel born in Hong Kong and this incident is expected to influence a number of fields, including the management of the unnumbered Hong Kong Cave.”
“I see.” Akira nodded. “This Nein Engel named Huang left Hong Kong Cave like me. In a way, I’m following in his footsteps. …An Archs has no lifespan or illness, but he still killed himself. …What a shame.”
Huang Daquan’s Archs RDC was the largest trading company in Hong Kong and it performed some special operations.
“Like material support for Hong Kong Cave.”
Akira looked up and out the window.
The south-facing window showed the lights that were opposing the heavy Lives of the night’s darkness.
Those lights belonged to the mainland area of Hong Kong called Kowloon.
She looked even further up and to the ocean just barely visible beyond the peninsula.
She stared intently at it and saw some small lights on that sea.
The faint lights asserting their presence there were as numerous as scattered flower petals and as small as the holes of an ant colony.
Those lights belonged to the other part of Hong Kong: Hong Kong Island.
That island was surrounded by the darkness and the sea and it had a strange shape.
Its silhouette looked like it had been pushed down on from above until it bent into a U-shape.
There was a simple reason for that appearance: there was a large hole in the center of the giant island.
The lines of light on the island showed the giant pit that measured at least a kilometer across.
That was Hong Kong Cave.
It was not a mere hole. It contained a large community made up of Nein Engels. The authorities of Hong Kong viewed it as an unnumbered zone outside of their authority.
“It’s already been three years since I left there and saw my dad’s death.”
Akira muttered to herself and looked away. After sighing, she lowered her eyes a little.
Her gaze shifted to the picture frame on her lap.
While looking at her family, she suddenly recalled something her brother had often said long ago.
…I’ll take the Nein Engels to heaven. And I’ll restore heaven!
On her deathbed, her mother had said that restoring heaven was an impossible dream after its destruction in World War Two. But the woman had also smiled and said it would be nice if it did happen.
“It really would be nice.”
Akira smiled and lay on her side.
…I’m so tired.
She usually slept in the nude, but tonight her exhaustion won out over her usual habit.
She felt like her body was heavily sinking down and a sudden memory of the past returned to her.
It was from when her entire family had lived in Hong Kong Cave together.
Much like her brother, she had spoken of her own dream in front of her sick mother.
Just as she fell asleep, she muttered those same words.
“I wish all Nein Engels and humans could live together like mom and dad…”
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