City Series:Volume3a Chapter 3
Act 3: Running Image (11:42)
The morning’s clear air was already gone.
Instead, the air contained the warm afternoon sun and the footsteps and voices of people moving through the streets.
Sounds of cars and trams also covered the streets.
The city was beginning to move again after finishing lunch.
That movement was especially noticeable in the Tsim Sha Tsui area of central Kowloon.
The area contained countless tourist-oriented stores near the station and it could be called the face of Hong Kong.
From the heat-filled street, the blue sky was visible between the towering buildings.
The city had the Word Color of blowing wind and its heat somewhat dulled the color of the sky.
The city’s Tempo was as slow as the walking people, but it contained a powerful stepping sound.
It created a unique flow that breathed powerful life into Hong Kong.
Akira walked through that flowing Live.
When she turned from Peking Road to Nathan Road in front of Tsim Sha Tsui Station, the road opened up.
The government office was working to develop Tsim Sha Tsu, so it had none of the roadside stands or shops that Hong Kong was famous for. In Akira’s opinion, that made it a bit boring.
…This isn’t the city my dad told me about when I lived in Hong Kong Cave.
She walked around randomly.
She was on patrol for the Yard, so she simply walked and walked in her uniform.
She had been wandering around since morning. The only thing she carried with her was her Device spear.
She had never been the type to stay put in a building all day and, after the incident the night before, she had wanted some time to gather her thoughts.
…If only I could speak with Rin.
When she had arrived at the Yard that morning, Rin had not been there. She had asked one of the Searchers and learned Rin had only just left for home.
The General of the Tank Force had been out on some kind of job, so she had not even had anyone to chat with.
“I can’t believe this.”
…What was that last night?
The Buster rumored to be Hong Kong’s best had fallen injured from the sky and died.
Why had that happened? How had he been so badly injured and where had he jumped from?
“I just don’t know.”
Of course, finding the answer from so little information would have been strange in and of itself.
Still, she stopped walking, crossed her arms, leaned against a roadside streetlight, and groaned.
Not even wrapping her white wings around herself produced an answer.
Instead, she heard the Lives of the surrounding passersby.
She came back to her senses once she noticed a few of those Lives sounding in her direction.
The Lives shooting straight toward her like arrows were a pale purple with a low Tempo.
They were Lives of suspicion.
Those glimpses of suspicion also contained a Word Color similar to hostility.
Once she heard those Lives, she stopped thinking.
She looked up, corrected her wings, and looked around. The surrounding flow of people momentarily hesitated.
And the unpleasantly colored Lives vanished.
Akira paid it no heed.
She lowered her Yard uniform’s hat to cover her eyes and corrected the uniform’s collar.
Her eyes unemotionally reflected the street of Tsim Sha Tsui and the passersby.
“There are plenty of non-humans, so why do they find Nein Engels so strange?”
Feeling a little down, she began to walk again.
But something suddenly appeared in front of her.
It was a face.
A collision and dull pain rang through her head.
She held her forehead and crouched down. The force of the headbutt had knocked her hat to the ground, so she picked it up and faced forward.
A man was crouching down in front of her.
He was a young man in a long coat.
His straight hair stood up from his head and he seemed to be a traveler. He carried an oblong bag on his back and a large travel bag sat by his side.
The insides of his eyebrows rose as he stared at Akira.
“Ow, ow, ow. Are you okay, officer? You hit me somewhere I can’t train.”
His forehead was a little red, so she must have run into him pretty hard.
Akira rubbed her own forehead.
“Ow, ow, ow. Hey, you.”
“Hm? What is it?”
“Watch where you’re going. And what are you anyway?”
He suddenly looked up into the sky.
“What am I, hm?”
“That’s quite a philosophical question. What am I…?”
“That isn’t what I meant!”
“Eh? It isn’t?”
“Of course not! You really couldn’t tell?”
“I could, I could. I was just joking. Ha ha ha. …Hey, wait. Where are you going? Hold up.”
She turned her back and started walking away, but he suddenly stopped her.
And he happened to grab the small deformed wing on her back.
The sensation on that sensitive area was hard and cold.
The unexpected action sent a shudder up her spine that escaped as a voice.
“Hyah! …W-wait! You’re molesting me now!?”
“Molesting!? What are you talking about? All I did was touch you.”
“That’s what it means to molest someone!”
“Ehh? Th-then what about between lovers? It always pisses me off seeing them flirt, but i-is that actually a crime? Can I get after them for it?”
“It’s okay if you have consent!”
“Oh, I get it. Then there’s no reason to hold back here.”
“No one ever said we were lovers!”
“Ehh? Don’t be like that. I’m only touching it because it’s so pretty.”
She crossed her arms at that.
“Pretty? Don’t think you can get out of this with flattery.”
“Flattery? What, has no one ever complimented your wings before?”
“Eh?” she asked.
“That’s a shame. I’ve never seen wings like that before, but they’re a lot prettier than the ones I’ve seen in church paintings.”
He gave her a carefree smile.
His blue eyes were smiling and Akira looked away because she felt those eyes were looking deep inside her.
She noticed her cheeks were a little warm.
She worked her ears a bit and found her own Live was embarrassed.
The Word Color was a transparent red and the Tempo resembled a quiet pulse.
…Not good, not good. He’s dragging me around at his pace.
With that thought, she cleared her throat toward the ground.
When she looked at him again, she noticed something odd.
She belatedly realized she could not see his Live. She could not even see its Word Color or Tempo.
She quickly looked around and found she could still see the Lives of the city, the buildings, the cars, and the people.
This young man’s Live was the only one she could not see.
…What is going on?
She had seen people who had “lost” their Live before.
Those were either the dead or victims of violence who had undergone Balance Fall.
This young man was neither of those.
It would be best to say he was hiding his Live.
Only a minuscule tremor escaped his body into the air.
“Why are you staring at me like that?”
“Hm? Oh, nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
Even as she answered, Akira did not remove her gaze from him.
…Who is he? If he can do this, he must be a Buster or a Tuner.
She wanted to ask, but she was naturally hesitant.
Someone’s Live was their individuality. If he was hiding his, he had to have a good reason.
She looked up at him because he was about two heads taller than her.
“Come to think of it, do you need something?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he answered. “I’ve been wondering. Are you actually a real police officer?”
…Is there such a thing as a fake police officer?
She frowned but pointed to the Yard hat on her head.
“I’m from Hong Kong Yard’s Cleared division. I’m still on the lowest level, but I am an actual police officer.”
He responded immediately
“That’s wonderful! This must be the work of heaven!”
He suddenly hugged her.
She gave a terribly unsexy shout and slammed an uppercut into the bottom of his jaw.
“Gwoh! Wh-what do you think you’re doing!?”
“That’s my line, you idiot! What are you doing!?”
“It’s a pretty common way of expressing your feelings when someone helps you find your way.”
He took a breath before continuing.
“Then again, this was my first time to ever get lost.”
“Then how could that possibly be common!?”
“Calm down, calm down. You’re disturbing your Live.”
Hearing that, she lowered the hand she had prepared to attack.
She then pouted her lips and spoke.
“Honestly, just tell me where you want to go and I’ll help you.”
“Oh, you’ll act as my guide? That simplifies things.”
“I can’t believe you. I never said I would go with you!”
“Of course not. You won’t be going with me. You have to lead the way.”
“I don’t ‘have to’ do anything! I am not a guide! I’m a Yard Tuner!”
Her voice grew shrill and the young man suddenly looked up to think.
After a while, he scratched his head and pulled out a traveler’s pocket map.
“Um, I need to get to Canton Road in Yau Ma Tei. But going there alone would be pretty boring, so if you can take me there…”
Akira looked down at the map but quickly came back to her senses.
“Hey! Why are you forcing me into this?”
“Eh? Forcing you? You’re imagining things. Hey, taxi!”
The tall young man’s gesture must have stood out because a yellow taxi immediately stopped in front of them. Rare for Hong Kong, the back door opened automatically.
“C’mon, let’s go.”
Grinning, he tugged on her hand. After two or three steps, Akira frowned.
“Wait a second! What are you plotting!?”
“Plotting? Whatever do you mean?”
He threw his travel bag in the taxi and looked to her.
She tore her hand from his and asked him a question.
“Aren’t you forcing me to go with you!?”
“D-don’t be ridiculous. What part of a gentleman like me is being forceful?”
“How about everything from the top of your head to the tips of your toes!?”
As soon as she shouted back, the taxi door closed behind the young man and the taxi itself drove off.
He turned around and paused for a few seconds.
“Huh?” He tilted his head. “Now, a question for you.”
“Did I ask them to carry my luggage for me?”
“You don’t know?”
“Okay, time’s up. Next contestant.”
“It was stolen, you idiot!” shouted Akira. “People commit crimes like this all the time. Look!”
She pointed at the speeding taxi with her spear.
The yellow vehicle was already about one hundred meters down the road.
It was still close enough for her to catch up if she flew. The young man looked at it and commented “oh, that thing’s moving fast”, so she performed a roundhouse kick on him.
“I’ll go get it back for you, so wait here!”
She prepared to fly, but then a great roar filled the surroundings.
The noise was an explosion. A pure white Live instantly raced through the area.
Akira gave a shout, but her voice was drowned out.
At the same time, the taxi she was preparing to pursue hopped straight up.
Long after the great roar, a solid wind blew in from the road.
The wind’s Live had the Word Color of smoke with the red of flames mixed in and it had a damp Tempo much like a car’s engine.
All of the passersby got down on the ground.
Even Akira ducked down, but the young man alone remained standing and looked down the road.
Akira followed his gaze and saw a tank.
It was a Yard tank.
It was an English-made Grant tank with the main gun on the side instead of on a turret. To match the city of Hong Kong, the midsized tank was covered in red, blue, and yellow labels and advertisement stickers for different shops.
Someone’s upper body was sticking out of the top hatch.
The General was checking the spot the shell hit through a pair of binoculars, but he suddenly turned toward Akira and looked at her through the binoculars.
“Ohh, what’s this? If it ain’t Akira.”
“Don’t say that. …And you need to stop firing in the middle of the city.”
“It’s no problem. My aim’s perfect and the shell’s loaded with divine spell powder. No one’ll die.” He smiled. “But, Akira. Why’re you lettin’ yourself almost get kidnapped?”
“Accordin’ to my wife, things’re gettin’ dangerous. You need to be careful.”
“Be careful, hm?”
Akira glared at the distant taxi burning away in the flames.
…If just “being careful causes that, what happens when he actually fights back?
She tilted her head just as the tank began to turn around. Its rubber treads scraped along the ground as it slowly turned to face the young man standing in front of her.
The diagonally-positioned gun came to a stop about thirty centimeters from his face.
If it fired, it would be a direct hit. Even if the young man dodged, he could not escape being seriously wounded by the shockwave.
But the young man made no attempt to flee and stared straight down the barrel.
“I’ve never seen one of these before,” he calmly commented.
“You a kidnapper?” asked the General. “I’ll shoot.”
His words of warning caused the people on the sidewalk and in the nearby stores to run away.
Akira and the young man were the only ones left on the sidewalk and the young man looked troubled.
He scratched his head for a bit but finally turned to Akira.
“What should I do?”
“You brought this on yourself. Why don’t you stick your hand down the barrel? The tank might blow up.”
“That’s not very nice. If I did that and he fired a shell, I’d end up splattered around like something from a Hollywood movie.”
“I’m impressed you can say something like that in this situation.”
“Hey, Akira!” shouted the General. “What should I do?”
She just about told him to shoot the man with the machinegun, but she restrained herself.
“General, he isn’t a kidnapper, so don’t worry. I do think I need to lecture him a bit after this, though. …More importantly, is that taxi you shot okay?”
The flow of cars on the street had ground to a halt due to the smoking taxi in the distance.
“Ahh, if he wasn’t workin’ with a kidnapper, I probably shouldn’t’ve done that.”
“The bastard still stole my luggage, so it’s fine by me. Ha ha ha!”
“Then should I fire another one?”
“What are you two saying!? C’mon! We need to get over there!”
Akira began to walk, so the young man glanced over at the tank.
“Can I ride it? It’s my first time for this kind of thing.”
“Do whatever you want!”
He ignored Akira’s shout and hopped onto the tank with a gleeful look. Akira sighed when she saw it.
…Why did I have to meet someone so strange?
“It’s rude to call people strange, you know?”
Hearing his voice, she looked back in surprise.
The tank was already moving and he had his back turned to her.
…He read my Live!?
He had read her thoughts from her Live. Instead of simply seeing her Live or reading its Message, he had directly read it as words.
That required great skill.
Not even she could do it.
…It can’t be.
She motionlessly watched the tank leave, but finally began to catch up.
Akira was the first to reach the scene. The tank carrying the young man had activated the rotating police light jury-rigged to the upper armor and it would arrive in another two or three minutes.
“Ahh, all you cars movin’ around in my path? You’d better get outta the way or I’ll move you myself. Got that?”
She heard the General speaking over a megaphone and occasionally heard sounds of crunching metal. That was likely when he had to “move a car himself”.
Akira paid it no heed. In fact, she intentionally ignored it as she worked to organize the site of the blast.
The taxi driver had gotten lucky and survived. He seemed to have been thrown through the windshield when the shell hit.
The middle-aged driver was complaining about the pain, but Akira lightly rapped him on the head.
“Do you have any idea how wrong what you did was?”
“Ow, ow, ow…”
He groaned, but his expression changed the instant he saw her wings.
“W-wah! Why is a Nein Engel out in the city!?”
“Shut up. What’s wrong with that?”
“I-it’s your fault my parents were-…ow, ow!”
“Stop moving. If you don’t quiet down, I can’t heal you.”
She began Tuning the driver.
She rotated her spear around in one hand and touched the back of his neck with her other hand.
“Don’t be afraid. I can’t see your Live if you are.”
With that said, she focused her mind.
When she closed her eyes, she could see it and hear it.
The driver’s Live was sounding out.
Its Word Color was red, its Tempo was quick, and its Message was a state of agitation. Anyone would feel like that after being injured by a shell blast.
She read his Live and its Tempo.
…Is it “ta ta ta”? Or “ta ta-ta ta-ta”? And then it repeats?
Its original color would be close to orange, but that had been disturbed and grown red and quick.
She suddenly thought of the previous young man.
…He read my Live, didn’t he? Just how powerful is he? And is he a Tuner or a Buster?
But thinking about it here would not help. She shook her head and focused on picking up the driver’s Live.
She had picked up that sound and form that could not be expressed in words. It was a lot like a flavor. Some things could not be clearly conveyed no matter how many words one used. But a Live could be expressed with a voice.
To do that, she started by calling out. This was the method her mother had once taught her. It was an ancient Chinese method of calling in Lives and Tuning them known as a Wind Up.
“Oh, you Lives of 120,000 Octave surrounding me. You murmuring of a trembling person. Can you hear my Live?”
She opened her eyes, breathed in, paused, and finally let out her Live.
It began with “la” and its Tempo continued with “la-la la-la”. She accurately and purely sang the driver’s original Live.
The first “la” she gave was a little off, so she calmed down and corrected it. The “la” needed to be a tad nasal.
The Device she held answered her voice and amplified it.
Her wing’s trembled as she sang.
Her voice grew louder.
The Device’s Live quickly expanded as if bursting.
In that instant, she stabbed the Device’s spear blade into the driver’s back.
In a flash, she felt resistance. The blade had touched the Live core within the driver.
She sent out her Device’s Live to arrange the driver’s Live. The two Lives resonated and blew away the distortion.
It took less than three seconds.
A large tremor ran through the driver’s body and she removed her blade.
“I did it.”
All of the scrapes and bruises had vanished from his body.
There was no mark from the blade either.
Without the distortions to his Live, his body would be in better shape than before the accident.
…Why couldn’t I save that man last night?
She briefly recalled that bloody Buster. Not even she had ever healed someone that badly injured in her work for the Yard.
“Well, it worked this time. Right?”
She tapped the driver’s shoulder and he collapsed from his sitting position.
Normal Tune healing was done using a different form as an intermediary like when she had broken down that Qinghu into cats the night before.
She had omitted that step here, so the shock of having his Live directly altered had knocked him unconscious.
…Well, it makes it easier to arrest him for theft.
As she muttered that in her heart, a shadow enveloped her.
It was cast by the tank.
“Hey, the driver alive?”
That dangerous question came from the General.
“Ahh, ahh. My luggage was blown up, wasn’t it?”
That comment came from the young man straddling the tank’s gun.
Akira stood up and looked to the taxi.
It had originally been yellow, but the paint had burned away. It was now pure white and flipped onto its roof. The spirit fuel had likely had its driving force instantly sent in reverse because the trunk had opened like a flower.
“Well, damn. There’s no crane on my Grant, so we can’t get it back without fixin’ it first.”
“That’s fine. I can Tune the taxi too while I’m at it.”
Hearing the young man speak, Akira turned toward him.
He gave her a look of brooding hesitation.
“What is it?”
“Oh, nothing. It’s just that my suspicions were true.”
…Huh? What does he mean by that?
She tilted her head and he shook his hand toward her.
“Sorry, sorry. It’s nothing. More importantly, can you really fix that pile of junk?”
“I can manage. It is inorganic, after all.”
Despite what she said, this would be a bit tricky.
It would have helped if it had been moving, but the taxi’s Live was unchanging and settled.
Tuners could transform and fix Lives that were changing or distorted. That made it easy to Tune living things, moving things, or anything in the process of being destroyed.
But there was nothing she could do about a Live that had settled in its distorted state.
…I have no choice.
“Stand back a little. I’ll use a Discord Bomb.”
She pulled a black rod resembling a pencil from a hidden pocket in her tight skirt. When it exploded, it shook and slightly disturbed the Lives in a five meter radius. That created an opening for Tuning, but it was not the easiest thing to use.
It would affect unrelated Lives as well.
Just as she prepared to set up the Discord Bomb, a voice reached her from above.
“Hey, are you going to destroy it?”
“This only disturbs the Live.”
“Then I can help you there.”
She looked up and saw the young man standing on the tank. He held the oblong bag he had carried on his back.
He stepped along the gun and jumped down.
He landed surprisingly lightly next to her and pulled out the contents of the bag.
His gloved right hand held…
The young man turned toward her and smiled.
“Yeah, you can call it that.”
“Are you a Tuner? Or are you a Buster?”
“Neither. I don’t like letting people see my Live.”
Akira saw a brief grim look on his face when he said that, so she avoided asking any further.
“Can you really help me disturb the taxi’s Live?”
“I should be able to manage that.”
He gave a casual nod and approached the taxi with the Device resting on his shoulder.
He tapped his shoulder with the Device and observed the taxi. He crouched down, peered into the crushed inside, and commented, “Wow, you got this thing good.”
“Heyyy! Kid, you okay?”
“General, be quiet.”
She had no idea when the young man would destroy the Live, so she kept her spear at the ready.
He nodded and lightly tapped the taxi’s chassis.
A small sound came from it.
In an instant, the taxi burst.
It was a solid sound.
The young man had not used his own Live.
He had not used the Wind Up that Akira used or the Over Up that was the standard for Tuning and Busting.
He had only used the sound of tapping the taxi’s chassis.
He had instantly amplified the Live of “tapping” and used that as a great power.
The Live constructing the taxi flew through the air. Its Word Color was a yellow mixed with scarlet. Its tempo resembled the engine sound that the Live just barely remembered.
…How can he do that while ignoring the basics of Tuning and Busting?
But Akira did not have time to think. She quickly breathed in and released her Live.
She created a random Message in her mind and released it as an indescribable Live.
It had originally been a car, so she decided an energetic Tempo would be best. It was a Tempo filled with staccato.
She nodded, and rotated her Device. She used the blade to scoop up the scattering ginkgo leaf pattern Lives and placed her own image on top of them.
“Oh, you Lives of 80,000 Octaves floating around me. You notification of a machine. Can you hear this?”
She sang her own Live that began with “la”. It was an energetic song that sounded like small balls bouncing about.
It took only five seconds for the Message to gather together.
The raised tip of her spear trembled and the surrounding space briefly shook.
A moment later, a very, very high pitched sound rang out.
That meant it was done.
The Live had taken its new form.
The young man’s voice was filled with surprise.
His surprise was warranted because the flipped taxi at her feet was now a yellow dog.
It had originally been a taxi, so it was as tall as a child. However, it must have been a newborn because it sat at her feet and begged for attention.
“That’s amazing. That’s definitely worth some praise.”
“Why are you acting like this is so strange?”
“Well… Tuners normally create something that can attack. Like a tiger or wolf.”
It was true Lives were more easily influenced by powerful images like killer intent or intimidation.
“I thought you’d be making something more violent and dangerous.”
“Yes, well, I am a genius.”
Wondering if he had been making fun of her, she looked his way, but he was not smiling and he watched the dog with a serious look in his eyes.
…Oh, was he really praising me?
Immediately following that thought, his expression changed.
His eyebrows rose a bit and he formed a small, masculine smile. It was almost as if…
…Can you really read my Live?
But he did not answer her question. Instead, he crouched down.
“I’ve seen Tuning plenty of times, but this is the first time I’ve seen someone make a dog like this. Is it really alive?”
“I don’t think it’s quite alive. It’s just a combination of my Message and the taxi’s Message. Once the Live resonance inside it ends, it will return to its original form. And that would be the car.”
That was obvious when she touched it. Its fur felt cold and metallic and the moisture in its eyes looked like glass.
It would be most accurate to call it a dog made from a car.
“Ahem, this is Hong Kong Yard. We’re about to lift the traffic restriction, so could you all get back on the road like normal?”
After that announcement over the megaphone, the cars started down the road again.
They just made sure to stay away from the tank.
Akira moved in front of the tank and looked to the young man while petting the dog’s head.
“But…you’re pretty amazing yourself.”
“Don’t give me that.”
She looked to the road where the taxi had been. All that remained was the damage from the taxi crashing into the ground.
…The Discord Bomb would tear into the road too.
Lives normally radiated outward just like sound, but he had made sure only the taxi resonated with his Device’s tone.
…How did he do that? And he can read Lives too.
She approached the young man and looked at his Device.
“This has some weird writing on it.”
“Yeah, that says Nein König.”
“König? Is that English?”
“Let me see that.”
She looked at Nein König’s blade. A relief of two intertwined dragons was engraved near the hilt. That had to be the Wild Emblem of his family.
Just as she touched the blade partially of curiosity, he spoke up.
“Wait. If someone with any power touches that barehanded-…!”
A small Live sounded out.
A direct Live with the sharpness of a blade carried into the distance.
Shocked, Akira looked toward the destination of the Live. Past the various stores and even further north than Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok, she saw a group of buildings.
Archs RDC stood at the center of those buildings and Hong Kong’s mountains were visible in the background. They looked small from where Akira was, but they had to be at least one hundred stories tall.
…No, that’s not possible.
“It could never reach that far.”
Suddenly, smoke rose from that direction.
“Ohh, that’s impressive. You tore into the mountain.”
That comment came from the General who rubbed the scar on his cheek.
Akira felt all color leave her face.
“W-wait! Why are you carrying around such a dangerous Device!?”
“Ah! I told you not to touch it!”
It was already too late.
The young man made a mistake when he spun the Device around to hide it.
With a wind-like sound, all of the glass in the shops along Nathan Road shattered.
The glass turned into a spray of pure white dust.
A moment later, the spray transformed into feathers in accordance with Akira’s subconscious Message when she touched the Device.
The destruction propagated at the speed of sound.
Even the windows of the cars on the road turned to feathers with a well-regulated Tempo.
As the afternoon sun washed over Nathan Road, it was filled with a soft white spray like someone had dumped buckets of water over it.
And the process repeated again and again as it moved further and further away.
“Ahh, ahh. That was your fault, Akira.”
“Wait. Don’t use my Urban Name without permission.”
“Oh? Oh? Are you trying to distract me from what just happened?”
“No! I’m used to writing out official apologies.”
After insisting something she was far from proud of, she looked to the young man.
He was a traveler, he used a strange kind of Busting, and he possessed a ridiculous Device.
“Who are you anyway?”
“Come to think of it, I haven’t introduced myself yet, have I?”
“No, you haven’t! You’ve been moving from one thing to another since I met you!”
“Is that so?” he said. “Well, don’t worry. I don’t mind.”
“Oh, you want to know about me that badly? Have you fallen for- ow! N-not there!”
“I’ll stab you in the gut next time. Now, identity yourself! And you don’t get a choice in the matter!”
“I’m… I’m just a perfectly normal person. …Gwaah! Who jabs someone with a device!?”
“Don’t worry. I used the back of the blade.”
“You can’t jab with the back of the blade!”
The young man finally sighed in resignation.
He lowered his shoulders a little and spoke.
“You can call me Gunmal. That’s only my Urban Name, though.”
That was the Urban Name of the man who had died before her eyes the night before.
This other Gunmal turned toward her blank look and narrowed his eyes.
…Is he reading my Live?
Her heart shrank down.
His expression softened and he apologized before saying more.
“I’m here in Hong Kong to see my brother. But then I happened across a police officer who just so happened to be thinking about him, so I thought I would read a little more of her Live.”
“And you ended up headbutting me? …So you really can read Lives.”
“It’s no different from your Tuning. And if you don’t want me reading your Live, you should be more reserved in your thoughts. They call that Closed Words in England.”
He rubbed the dog’s throat, stood up, and asked her something.
“My brother’s dead, isn’t he?”
“I saw it in your Live.”
His expression was neither dark nor bright and she still could not see his Live.
The moon had risen to the top of the sky.
The ruins of Kowloon Walled City were on a small hill in the center of Hong Kong, so they gave a good view of the moon.
Not much remained of the large flat walled city. The moonlight only showed walls without ceilings and a forest of faded stone columns.
Two people stood within that forest.
One was Rin.
The other was the young man named Gunmal.
They sat facing each other on broken columns and they looked into the city of Hong Kong.
They were occasionally lit up by something other than the moonlight because Gunmal was smoking a cigarette.
He had already gone through five of those small lights since sitting down.
He threw away yet another one and it vanished after bouncing off the ground.
At the same time, the wind blew through.
The wind came from the ocean, so it smelled of saltwater.
Rin opened her mouth as if responding to the blowing wind.
“Sorry you had to visit the catacombs so soon after arriving in Hong Kong.”
She looked to the metal hatch embedded in the ground behind Gunmal. That was the entrance to the Yard’s morgue.
“I knew about the underground space below Kowloon left after the Second Divine Punishment War, but I’m surprised to see it’s being used for this.”
There was no hint of sadness in Gunmal’s voice and no stiffness in his expression.
“Well, I’m thankful I at least got to see my brother this way.”
“Were you here to see him?”
“I explained that when you questioned me, didn’t I? I was here for his wedding, but all I found was his funeral. Since I’m already here, I guess I’ll do some sightseeing.”
“If you want to drink, I’ll join you.”
“I don’t have time for that. This city looks pretty interesting. It’s British territory so it has a door to the same heaven as Aerial City and there are both Glossolalians and humans on the surface. Even sleeping feels like a waste of time.”
He smiled and added “I reserved a room for a whole month.”
“Are you planning to look into your brother’s death?” asked Rin.
His expression did not even budge at the blunt question.
He sounded casual, so Rin sighed.
She looked him in the eye as if trying to see something there and spoke.
“I think Akira has the night shift tomorrow, so rely on her if something happens during the day. …I feel like the two of you will get along.”
“Both of you have a unique feel to you. And since you’re from the direct line of the Maldrick family, I assume you’re pretty talented.”
“Can you see my Live?”
“Don’t worry. I may have an official Tuning education, but not even I can see it. …This is about what my instincts tell me.”
“Talented, huh?” He smiled bitterly. “Please stop using that word.”
“Busting and Tuning are a killer’s profession. It’s the same here in Hong Kong, isn’t it? You’ve fought several Divine Punishment Wars against China or the Nein Engels and it had to have been Busters and Tuners at the center of the fighting.”
A brief silence fell.
“You’re right about that. It was true of my parents and my grandfather.”
Rin thought for a bit and nodded.
She met Gunmal’s gaze before asking another question.
“You said you intend to quit Busting after you destroy J-Gun’s Device here in Hong Kong, didn’t you?”
“That will be the end of Europe’s top Busting family. And the Maldrick family only took that position from the Borderson family fifty years ago.”
Gunmal said nothing and looked up into the sky with a slight smile.
Rin looked up as well.
Perhaps drawn by the city lights, a single dove was flying south even though it was night.
Gunmal spoke quietly while watching the dove.
“That’s because Busting is boring.”
“You can’t even make a single bird. All you can make are ugly weapons.”
“Really? I think both Busting and Tuning have their interesting sides.”
She answered on reflex and almost seemed to be making an excuse, so he suddenly looked back at her.
“Do you really think that?”
“Why do you ask?”
“A Message sometimes leaks out of your Live.”
She looked to him in surprise, but his eyes were closed and his hand was on his forehead.
“I’m sensitive to other people’s Lives.”
“I see. Then I guess you read that I used to be so full of myself I thought I could make a dragon.”
“A dragon? You mean one of the three secret techniques of Tuning and Busting?”
“Yes, but ever since the texts on it were lost during the Fifth Divine Punishment War, you only ever hear about it in Peking opera or from Akira.”
Rin gave a self-deprecating smile.
“Also, I’ve lost sight of why I wanted to Tune in the first place. I’m so busy that I just don’t have the time. …And about five years ago, I realized you need wings to fly.”
Gunmal paused for a moment.
“Her wings are so pretty.”
“You mean Akira’s?”
“Well, she is a Nein Engel.”
He started to say something, but stopped and asked something else instead.
“A Nein Engel?”
“It’s Hong Kong slang. There didn’t used to be many of them, but about forty years ago, the angels were nearly wiped out by a bacteriological weapon in the Fourth Divine Punishment War. To leave behind some descendants, a lot of them began procreating with humans.”
“I see. And the person you’re searching for is one of those Nein Engels.”
Her expression changed at that.
“Why do you know about that?”
“During a break in the questioning, I met Akira at the Yard’s restaurant. She told me while we were eating.”
“The Yard’s restaurant? You mean the Human Meat Bar?”
“Yeah. She was busy putting together her written apology at the time, so we promised to drink there later. …You want to join us?”
“No thanks. That place is meant for Glossolalians. They even serve rocks for Rockbiters.” She crossed her arms. “But Akira does have a bad habit of talking too much”
“She was worried about the person you’re looking for. She said Nein Engels tend to be persecuted in this city, so I would guess your story has something to do with that too.”
“We just happened to be moving in different directions. And don’t dig too deeply into my personal issues.”
A slight seam appeared in the stiffness of her expression.
That seam gave a glimpse of darkness below.
Gunmal must have seen it because he clapped his hands to change the general mood.
“Well, don’t get too mad at her.”
“Hm? Have you fallen for her? If so, you’ll need the General’s permission.”
“Is he her father?”
“No, but he’s an old acquaintance of her father. When she came here three years ago, the General took her to meet her father on his deathbed. I was there too to tend to him,” she explained. “He may not look it, but he’s a decent Tuner. He wandered in from who knows where and saved everyone during the Fourth Divine Punishment War.”
“Oh? Sounds like I’ve got a decent rival on my hands.”
“Are you serious about going after Akira?”
“Yeah. She’s a good girl. She never said it out loud, but her Live apologized over and over for not saving my brother. She really is a good girl. But…”
“It’s still too soon for me to fall for her. …After all, I don’t like Tuners.”
With that said, he stood.
His eyes looked down into the city lights far below.
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