City Series:Volume3a Chapter 6
Act 6: Chase the Rhythm (9:56)
It was 9:30 AM, a subtle time in which the air transitioned between morning and midday.
People were beginning to work at that time, but the restaurant inside the Yard was still packed full.
It had the dangerous-sounding name of the Human Meat Bar.
The entire place was painted red and it was too small for more than around a dozen people to fit.
However, it was not just the small size that made it feel busy.
The Human Meat Bar’s main selling point was its exclusive focus on Glossolalian clientele.
The individuals in blue uniforms causing all the lively noise at the counter and tables were Hard Wolves, Half Fish, and the like.
They came here to mark the start of the day.
The steam rising from the bowls and pots surrounded the blue of their uniforms and the red of the walls.
Mixed in with it all was a pure white that almost looked gold.
The color took the form of two wings which stood up within the steam.
They were Akira’s wings.
She sat across from Gunmal at a small table in the back of the small restaurant.
She had a bowl of fish porridge, but…
“Gunmal, how can you eat that ramen? It’s meant for Lin Xiao Ren. You know, those forest dwarfs?”
“Hm? Not to worry, not to worry. I trained my stomach to handle just about anything when I was in Japan.”
“Japan? You went there?”
“You know Osaka, right? That city where the kids fight by singing and dancing? One of my brother’s Devices ended up there.”
Her eyebrows lowered at his use of the word “brother”.
She sighed as she spoke.
“I’m not sure what to do about this morning’s meeting. It was so sudden after Rin brought Kouga back.”
He paused before replying.
“It had to have been a surprise. …Do you feel like quitting the Yard?”
…It’s hardly new to get complaints as a Nein Engel.
“…is what I’d like to say.”
“But you aren’t.”
He smiled bitterly, so he had to have read her Live.
Realizing that, she looked up.
She started to say something to him, but said something else instead.
“Both of our brothers are causing us trouble, aren’t they?”
“The trouble with mine is over. Yours sounds like it could last a while longer, though.”
…You make it sound like it isn’t your problem.
She intentionally let him read her Live.
Just as he tilted his head at her sharp words, she swung around her ceramic spoon.
“Honestly, what was all that? A Tune Emblem drawn with Huang Daquan’s blood? And it was probably done by him. That makes him a suspect for murder and desecration of a corpse… That’s two crimes!”
“Yeah, I remember that from the meeting. They don’t know what it was for, but the giant Tune Emblem could control an Octave of 40,960,000. …Did that delinquent guy investigate the site further after resurrecting?”
“I don’t know, but I think the information on the Death Techno Tune Emblem is from what he saw before being killed.”
“I see.” Gunmal nodded. “Come to think of it, what is this Death Techno they mentioned in the meeting?”
“When Hong Kong was burned in the Fifth Divine Punishment War, the imperial documents on Tuning and Busting were burned too. Those had instructions on secret techniques beyond normal Tuning and Busting.”
“Secret techniques? You mean like controlling the Lives of Yin and Yang instead of the standard elements of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water? Or controlling the Space-Time Lives or the Three Laws for summoning dragons?”
Akira was stared blankly as he rattled it off like it was nothing.
“Wow. How do you know all that?”
“I’m from Europe’s head Buster family.”
“Hmm. I only have the General and Rin to hear about this stuff from. But I have heard of the Three Laws.”
“They’re called ‘secret techniques’, but they’re really just two types of Lives and some dragons. …So they call that Death Techno here?”
“What do they call it in Europe?”
“Legends. My family is all about Busting, but no one thinks about secret techniques. They’re too busy fighting wars.”
Gunmal tilted his head.
“If that Tune Emblem was made with Huang What’s-His-Name’s blood, were they trying to draw out the Death Techno power of Yang? …I see. Having a skilled brother sure isn’t easy. For either of us.”
Akira frowned, but he stopped her with a hand.
“He has my brother’s Device, which makes this part of my job. …Did you say his Urban Name was Double Lee?”
“His Wild Name is Lee Leed. Hence, Double Lee.”
…Just to be clear, I’m not telling you my Wild Name.
He blatantly grimaced at her thought and sighed.
“I’m not going to search your Live for your Wild Name or anything.”
“Shut up. That’s just standard etiquette for anyone involved in Tuning or Busting.”
“You’re not very friendly. …Not that I’m much different.”
“Honestly, you sure are carefree. How did your second questioning go?”
“I had to use my brain way too much for so early in the morning.”
“I do get the feeling you don’t like using your brain. …And don’t change the subject.”
“You want to know about my brother’s relationship?”
…You mean the woman named Genius?
He silently nodded and skillfully used his chopsticks to grab a piece of chicken from his ramen.
“Can you not see my wings?”
“Is that how that works?”
“So I was right. You do primarily eat caterpillar- ow! Don’t throw your spoon!”
She ignored his protest, lowered her eyes, and thought.
…All of this is centered on Nein Engels. This isn’t good.
“What’s wrong with that? Your brother’s your brother, right?”
“You can only say that because you don’t know how Nein Engels are treated in Hong Kong.”
“Really? I doubt my brother and the girl in that picture yesterday were giving much thought to persecution. At least not between the two of them.”
“How can you say that? You’re being irresponsible.”
“I can tell.”
He sounded strangely decisive for once.
Akira, on the other hand, grew briefly determined.
However, she trailed off and never finished.
Her eyebrows meekly lowered and she remained quiet to hide something.
A short silence fell.
Once the silence grew awkward, Gunmal swallowed it up along with his ramen soup.
“According to Rin, she contacted my brother to have him make some Devices, but I personally think the situation changed some after that.”
…Changed? You mean…
“Does that kind of thing interest you?”
“Don’t even think about asking if I want to experience it for myself.”
Gunmal clicked his tongue, but she still could not see his Live.
…But I’m starting to get the hang of his pattern.
She looked to him and suddenly thought of J-Gun and Genius.
A human and a Nein Engel.
Her parents and Rin and Fei had made the same combination.
…Can it just not work?
As that question filled her heart, he clenched his fist.
“Okay, I get it now. You’re worried about the issue of a human and Nein Engel couple.”
Before she could complain that he had read her Live, he leaned forward.
She tried to resist, but he placed his hands on hers and skillfully held them.
Instead of an attack, she only let out a protest.
“Wait, wait, wait! Who ever said anything about you and me!?”
“Don’t worry. I’m perfectly fine with equalizing our Lives in a Live exchange session.”
“You need to stop doing things so suddenly! And let go of my hands!”
“No thanks. If I let go, you’d definitely hit me.”
He used a jocular tone and leaned further forward, so she counterattacked with a headbutt.
He leaned back and cried out in pain while she shouted at him, but then she looked around.
She had thought the surrounding Lives were awfully quiet and that turned out to be accurate.
The customers at the tables and counters and even the cook in the kitchen were looking at her and Gunmal. And they all seemed dumbfounded.
“You got a problem with us?” she asked.
They all quickly turned around, exaggeratedly cleared their throats, and resumed speaking or eating.
“They sure have a lot of free time,” she muttered.
When she faced forward, she saw Gunmal with blood staining his face below the nose. She watched him press a handkerchief against his upper lip.
…Did I overdo that a little?
For once, she actually felt bad for what she had done.
“Should I Tune that for you, Gunmal?”
“No, you don’t have to. It’s not a problem.”
“How can you say that when you’re covered in blood?”
“It’s fine, it’s fine. It’ll stop before long. …And didn’t I say I don’t want anyone to see my Live?”
She tilted her head at that.
…Not even me?
“Do you want to see it that badly?”
There was a bitter smile in his voice and she realized what her thought had meant.
She chose to give an exaggerated shrug.
“Of course not,” she answered.
After that, both of them went quiet.
They could only hear the surrounding noise.
They matched the surrounding Lives by getting back to their food.
After finishing her meal, Akira got some dessert from the counter.
“Here, this will give you some energy for the morning. This is made for a Mei Yuan, so it should taste a lot like human food.”
“Soup and…what are these?”
“Annin tofu and black sesame red bean soup.”
“What was that second one?”
“You can just call it black-red soup. It’s really dark, but it’s surprisingly sweet and good for your hair.”
“I see. So you are a girl.”
“Why do you sound like you just discovered that?”
“Oh, I already knew that. I saw you naked earlier and you had everything necessary to be a gir-…”
“Don’t say that out loud!”
Her shout gathered the other people’s attention once more.
She looked around, unsure what to do, and they all resumed eating again.
Their Lives all had a somehow bright Word Color.
It was not a bad color.
“Just calm down and get back to your seat.”
She did as Gunmal suggested.
She dropped her hips down in to the chair and he spoke.
“To get back to our discussion, I know very well that you’re a girl.”
“Liar,” she immediately replied. “You don’t have to humor me. …I’m unsociable, I’m overly proud of my talent at Tuning, and my confidence is more masculine than feminine.”
“I’m a Nein Engel, I’m selfish, I have thick eyebrows, I like staying up late, and I like sweets.”
“You’re getting a little off topic there.”
“Oh, you’re right.”
She cleared her throat and thought.
…Gunmal, how can you say things like that?
…Like when you compliment me.
He smiled bitterly.
“It’s really not fair to ask me through your Live.”
“That’s because I don’t know if I can say it out loud. …Will you answer me?”
“These things are best left unsaid.”
She trailed off and let him alone read her thoughts.
He simply nodded and smiled.
She did not look him back in the eye and drank the black-red soup in front of her.
It was only a little hot, so it must have cooled some.
Gunmal followed her lead and tilted his own bowl.
“I see… It’s a bit strong, but I can drink this just fine.”
“It was originally a Chinese medicine. Hong Kong’s desserts tend to be either crushed or hardened.”
“You know a lot about this.”
“I’ve learned a lot since I came here. We didn’t have any of this in Hong Kong Cave. Everyone there does things the British way, so there were a lot of heavy sweets.”
“Is that so?”
He nodded just as someone entered the restaurant.
It was Kouga and the General.
When they spotted Akira and Gunmal, they rushed over through the small room.
Akira looked up when she noticed.
“What is it?”
The two had already reached the side of the table by then.
Kouga was the first to speak.
“I know you’re eating, but do you have a moment? Both of you.”
He brushed a hand through his blond pompadour.
“Um, Akira? Rin wants you in the headquarters at 10:30.”
“Eh? I thought I had patrol duty today.”
“That’s right. She’s supposed to show me around the city tod- ow!”
“Oh, sorry. A punch slipped out. And there? That had to have hurt. …So, Kouga, what’s going on?”
“Well… Is that guy all right?” asked the General.
“He’s fine, he’s fine.”
Akira answered in Gunmal’s stead.
Kouga glanced over at Gunmal as he groaned in pain, but he quickly answered Akira.
“I was originally supposed to go, but Rin stopped me.”
“Yeah, you did just grow in your right arm. So that’s what this is. …Well, don’t push yourself. You’ve been working all day, haven’t you? You should get some rest.”
“Sorry about this. Can you ask Rin about the job directly?”
Kouga looked over at Gunmal.
“It’s not something I want to say here.”
“Something you don’t want to say in front of me? Is it something indecent?”
The General smiled bitterly at Gunmal’s comment.
“Don’t be silly. You’re comin’ with me.”
“Geh. I’m stuck doing the indecent things with an old man?”
“Not that. You can visit J-Gun’s workshop now. I’ll show you the way.”
Gunmal and Akira exchanged a glance at that.
They gave each other a look that sarcastically said “have fun”.
It was a clear day, so the midday sun looked white as it shined straight down from the heavens.
On this day, areas normally filled in shadow received direct sunlight.
This was true even in Hong Kong Cave.
On the sixth floor down, the sun lit up an old residential area with a good view of the blue sky.
No Nein Engels lived on this floor.
The floors near the surface were abandoned ruins.
Nevertheless, a Nein Engel with six wings stood in front of one house on the edge of the hole.
It was Double Lee.
Without speaking a word, he viewed the plain embedded house and sighed.
He then slowly pulled a Device from his coat.
It was the Device called ADs that J-Gun had made.
He placed it against the rusted metal door.
“Word Accel. Oh, you Live of 8,000 Octaves.”
He emitted a small Live.
He produced a low but definite voice.
The Live responded with a slight metallic sound.
The door opened.
He put ADs away and impatiently pulled the door the rest of the way open.
He took a step inside.
There, he saw a small entranceway and a small kitchen.
Dust was piled up on the sunlit floor. The thickness of the dust showed years had passed.
Double Lee remained silent.
He entered without removing his shoes and left footprints in the dust.
He looked down and saw no tracks other than his own.
As soon as he noticed that, his expression distorted a bit.
This distortion was different from anger or a smile.
He looked back up and to the kitchen sink.
There was a discoloration in the dust where water had dripped from the faucet.
Other than that, the dust was entirely undisturbed.
Sun shining on a sink covered in a thick layer of dust was the perfect imagery to make the place feel truly abandoned.
He looked away from the sink and faced forward.
He walked and his footsteps sounded a bit muffled due to the dust.
He opened the door in the back of the kitchen to reach a fairly large living room.
It had a proper sofa and table. If it was cleaned, it could be used to entertain guests almost immediately.
If not for the dust, the room would have looked like someone had lived there quite recently.
The bright light from the window washed over him as he looked around the entire room.
His gaze suddenly stopped at a certain spot.
An upright piano was placed in one corner of the room.
It was covered in white dust and a picture frame sat on top of it.
He picked up that small wooden frame and he spoke.
“I’m home, I suppose.”
There was too much dust to see it properly, but the frame contained a photograph of four people.
The two standing on either side were likely the parents.
The quiet-looking mother was smiling and had a few wings, but there was not a wing to be seen on the father whose fearless smile twisted the scar on his cheek.
They were an unbalanced pair.
So were the two children standing between the parents.
One had several white wings that looked too large for him, but the other only had two small wings.
The child with two wings was clinging to her mother. If her expression had been visible, it would likely have shown her fear of the camera.
The rest of the family was probably smiling at that.
But in the present, Double Lee did not smile as he looked at it.
“You were so attached to mother, so why did you flee to the surface?” he asked the photograph. “Even if father’s death was near, you still could have saved mother. With Tuning…or with the secret meaning of the Flight Song.”
“It could have been you instead of me.”
He hung his head and looked at the floor in silence.
That silence was broken by a voice from outside.
“Double Lee! Are you in there!?”
It was Genius’s voice and she sounded somewhat uneasy.
“Double Lee! Fei is calling for you!” He ignored her second call as well.
He gently set down the picture frame and wiped the dust off with his fingers.
With the dust gone, the Nein Engel girl came into view.
His gaze met the frightened gaze of that girl from the past.
He gave a bitter smile that did not reach his eyes.
That must have been enough because he gave a large nod and called outside.
“Genius! What is it?”
In the time it took him to take a breath, his expression reverted to his normal, composed one.
“Double Lee!? Are you there?”
“Yes, I am. You say Fei is calling for me? I’ll be right there.”
He immediately began to walk.
His pace was calm and he quickly walked through the kitchen and out the front entrance.
As soon as he left the dim room, the bright sunlight reached him. He felt the heat in his wings more than his skin.
It took several seconds for his eyes to adjust.
Once they did, he saw Genius standing in front of him.
She looked relieved to see him and she sighed.
“I’ve been visiting all sorts or ruins these past few days.”
“These are not ruins,” he corrected. “You say Fei is calling for me?”
“Yes, he wants to know the details for the Necromancy. …And he seems to want to put together a plan to bring everyone out of here before the second repatriation ceremony today.”
“We’re counting on you. You’re the only one Master Huang told everything to.”
“Only me, hm? Master Huang seemed very attached to my parents.”
“Your parents? Not to you?” asked Genius.
“I was only talking to myself,” he assured her with a bitter smile.
She frowned and he showed her his usual expression.
“We have to help Fei prepare, don’t we? We should hurry. It seems someone is looking for him.”
“I would guess it’s only someone from the Yard with odd tastes, so we can probably ignore it.”
“But… How are they searching for him? He’s never revealed his name in his work and he lost his memories in the Customization process, right?”
Double Lee smiled bitterly before answering.
“It may be a connection from before he lost those memories.”
He took a breath.
“Genius, have you ever hated someone? Have you ever used that as your own driving force?”
“I think that is why Fei altered himself like that and why you are going along with everything without trying to protect J-Gun.”
She fell silent with a heavy and stiff look on her face.
Double Lee laughed and started walking.
“No need to give me that frightening look. …I think everyone has something like that. I do, you do, Fei does, and even Master Huang did.”
“There is nothing wrong with it.”
He did not hesitate to jump into the giant pit of Hong Kong Cave.
He spread his six wings.
The white wings briefly let the sunlight wash over them, but they soon sank deep into the shadows of Hong Kong Cave.
Almost like a flower sinking into some watery depths.
As the sun rose to the top of the heavens on the surface, Akira and Rin were underground.
This was not Hong Kong Cave. Just as that great pit had been created in Hong Kong Island, a layered sealed space existed below the Kowloon Peninsula.
However, no one lived there anymore.
Instead, the Yard used it as a morgue and catacombs for murder victims.
The concrete corridor was fairly wide and about four people could walk abreast. The side walls had doors embedded in them like on a ship.
“No one’s really maintaining the place, but it still doesn’t fall apart.”
“That’s because it was originally made for people to live in, just like Hong Kong Cave. They drilled through the volcanic rock and everything. …Oh, get a light ready. We’re heading down to the second level.”
“Sure, sure. We’re there already? We’ve walked a good ways from the entrance in the Kowloon Walled City.”
As she spoke, Akira attached a charm to the blade of her Device spear. It had a Tune Emblem written on it.
“Oh, you Lives concealing an Octave of 40,000. Oh, you mutterings of the light. Can you hear my Live?”
Then she let out a distinctive voice.
As soon as her short and high-pitched Live rang through the air, the charm on the blade vanished.
Instead, light filled the blade. The light’s Live was white and with a quick Tempo.
It looks a lot like fluorescent light, thought Akira.
“The problem is you can’t get rid of the charm’s light if you want to.”
“I need you to light everything up, so forgive me.”
“I don’t really mind. It’s a nice change of pace from the usual investigations. Let’s go.”
A staircase landing was located on one side of the corridor. The stairs heading up were sealed off with a shutter, but the ones heading down led into the darkness.
That was the darkness that continued deeper underground and Akira began to take a step in that direction.
But she stopped.
She focused on her ears and looked around.
“What is it, Akira?”
“You didn’t hear that, Rin?”
“What…kind of Live was it?’
“I think it was Tuning. I heard a Tempo much like a human pulse.”
“They’re probably doing something up above. There’s a university on the surface around here.” A bitter smile entered Rin’s voice. “Or are you afraid of the dark?”
“Of course not,” replied Akira with a shrug.
She tilted her head and focused her ears again, but the Tempo was gone.
…I could have sworn it was coming from below.
But she had no proof, so she quickly caught up with Rin.
Her Device swept away the darkness and revealed the stairs and the second level’s landing below.
She briefly hesitated but started down ahead of Rin. She also glanced down at her wristwatch.
“It’s been that long? We’ve been down here for almost half an hour.”
“We had to pass through several Emblem Seals on the way here, remember? If the corpses transform, we can’t have them getting out to the surface like with the Second Divine Punishment War’s…”
Rin trailed off and hung her head.
Rin’s Live was emitting an indigo light.
Akira smiled a bit, stepped down onto the second level’s landing, and spoke to Rin.
“Don’t worry about it. That happened over a hundred years ago, so it has nothing to do with me.”
“Well, there is that. But there’s also our meeting this morning.”
“You mean my brother? I don’t really mind. He was a weird brother,” she commented. “He’s always been weird. You know the Flight Song? It’s written on a monument at the very bottom of Hong Kong Cave and he would check on it every single day.”
“The Flight Song? Why?”
“He said it contained a contradiction. …Hm, how should I put it?” She thought for a moment. “When you sing the Flight Song, it’s a pretty cheerful song, right? But he said it didn’t match the state of Hong Kong Cave.”
“That’s for sure. I’ve heard that historians claim it’s so bright and hopeful specifically because it was created in the darkness.”
“My brother’s a pessimist, so he said he couldn’t believe that. And…just between you and me, I kind of feel the same way when I’m underground like this.”
Akira did not turn to look at Rin. She kept her eyes on the stairs leading down to the third level.
Those stairs were also sealed with a shutter, but the shutter was shaped differently from the one on the first level.
The steel shutter had been transformed.
It had swelled out and bent like a giant had punched at it from within.
“Don’t look at it. It’ll only make this harder.”
“The sixth level is supposed to connect to Hong Kong Cave, isn’t it?”
“These are only ruins. Keep that in mind.” Rin worked to keep all emotion out of her voice. “This is an afterimage of Hong Kong’s terror. When Hong Kong became British territory, the people fled underground in fear of the Glossolalians, but they sealed off the underground once they heard bacteria were spreading through it. These are the scars of the city’s foolish history.”
Akira hung her head, kept her eyes on the illuminated wall, and followed the markings forward.
“His name’s J-Gun, so is he in Block J?”
“No, it’s determined by species and then by surname, so Area 1 Block M.”
The two of them walked side by side.
“I’ve always wondered. Isn’t it a lot of work to carry the bodies down here?”
“This is the most practical option. If I have to choose between exhaustion and danger, I’ll go with exhaustion every time.”
“What if the choices are fame and fortune?”
“I’ll take them both and then take a break.”
“That’s about what I expected from you, Rin. Are you really going to do this with J-Gun’s corpse?”
“I got the medicine from Kouga’s house, so there’s nothing to worry about.”
Rin pulled a small bottle from her pocket for Akira to see.
“Who would have thought we’d be communicating with the dead in this day and age.”
“It just uses Tuning, right? All you do is try to replay as much of a vanished Live as possible.”
“It must be nice being able to accept everything so quickly.”
“But doing this counts as procuring evidence. England’s Royal Law is really convenient.”
Directly speaking with the victim was a necessary part of a criminal investigation.
That was usually not too difficult when they were still alive, but forcibly questioning a spirit of the dead was considered inappropriate.
British Territory was connected to heaven, so the dead had their own civil liberties.
They were only able to summon J-Gun’s soul because of everything that had happened between Rin, Kouga, Akira, and Gunmal and because J-Gun was confirmed to be the victim of a crime.
“At the very least, we can summon Genius Elias, Lee Leed, and Fei Garland as persons of interest. …We don’t have much time.”
“Hong Kong Cave is not a part of Hong Kong, so no data on them officially exists. The only direct connection between those three and us is Archs RDC.”
“Oh, right. And Archs RDC was broken up yesterday.”
“That’s right. In another three days, all of the remaining data will be swallowed up by the firms that take over. Then it will all be erased from every last corner of the internet.”
“Wow, Rin. You really know your stuff.”
“I have to as a Searcher. …Oh, not that way. Area 1 is this way.”
They took the corridor left and reached an open area.
The cramped shadows of the corridor suddenly grew into a vast darkness.
The two of them used the spear’s light to walk through it.
After one, two, and then three steps, they stopped.
On the large room’s side wall, they saw a stairway landing much like the one they had used previously.
All of the stairways down had supposedly been sealed off and the Yard only used the second level for their catacombs.
But this one was open.
No, “open” was not quite the right word.
The shutter had been blown away down to the very bottom.
The steel panel lay in the middle of the room and it contained a deep depression in the very center.
“Was it destroyed by a fist?”
“Of course not. Not even a Hard Wolf or a Bigfoot could destroy that door. You saw that other one, right?”
“Unfortunately, the truth is right in front of us.”
“Rin, are you the type to meticulously keep track of your finances?”
Rin stuck both her hands in her pockets and pulled something out.
She held a handgun in her right hand and a bundle of Tune Emblem charms in her left.
Both weapons gave off powerful Lives of destruction.
Rin began to resonate with them and identical Lives appeared and disappeared across her suit.
“Why do you have all that? Were you planning to start working as a Hound?”
“A true woman uses her entire body as a weapon.”
Her tone made it clear she was not at all joking as she faced forward.
The charms were held together by a metal ring like flashcards and she attached the ring to her watchband.
And with a hand on the charms, she was ready for a quick-draw.
Akira held her glowing Device in both hands and glanced over at Rin’s handgun.
“You’re using a different one again, aren’t you?”
“It’s a Henry Ball 90 my grandfather won in a duel.”
“Last time it was your father. Why do you feel the need to use your entire collection like this?”
“My collector of a grandfather was Chinese, you see.” She chose her words carefully. “And he was a totalitarian.”
“That’s not funny.”
As soon as Akira said that, something moved ahead of them.
Before she saw it, she heard the offensive Live.
Something flew out of the darkness in front of her.
The Word Color was red, the Tempo was cold, and the Message was as sharp as a scythe.
It was the Live of…
Rin reacted to Akira’s shout by activating her charms.
With a single snap of the wrist, she threw three of them at once.
They flew straight forward and transformed into explosions of light.
They collided with the shockwave approaching through the large room.
With a great impact, the charms’ explosions negated the shockwave.
A heavy wind and a deep noise shook the room.
Akira squinted at the wind and placed her Live in her Device.
Before the wind could die down, she amplified the Device’s light to help it grow.
The extended range of the light revealed the entire concrete room that measured fifteen meters on each side.
It was a little cramped to move around it.
…Where’s the enemy?
Akira’s thought was cut off by a gunshot near her ear.
Rin had fired her Henry Ball.
The stench of gunpowder contained a hint of calcium, meaning she had fired an anti-demon round.
Instead of aiming in the direction the shockwave had come from, she fired into the wall by the opposite corridor entrance.
The anti-demon round grew into spear of light in midair and stabbed halfway into the concrete wall.
“This is Hong Kong Yard! Your ridiculous defenses are meaningless! Come out with your hands up!”
Akira glanced over at Rin.
“You’re so cool, Rin.”
“Shut up. …I won’t tell you again! You have ten seconds!”
No one answered, but they did hear something.
“Footsteps,” said Akira. “Two sets.”
Rin nodded, so she too must have heard with her ability as a Tuner.
However, she did not seem to understand what Akira said next.
“They both have hard Lives. They might not be human!”
Akira was unable to answer.
Just as she had said, the Lives she heard in the darkness down that corridor were hard.
They were as harsh, flat, and unwavering as steel.
…Sein Fraus? No, then I would see mechanical Lives.
“Who are you?”
The answer came almost immediately.
Two men stepped out of the corridor and into the lit room and both women cried out when they saw them.
“J-Gun Maldrick!?” “Fei!?”
The Buster and Galgallin faced them and said nothing.
Fei’s prosthetic eyes glowed red beyond his mirrorshades and J-Gun’s eyes were lifeless, but both men stared intently at the women.
The chilly Lives of their gazes caused Akira to shrink back.
When she saw Rin take a mindless step forward as if being lured in, Akira panicked.
Rin did not respond.
“What is this? Why is Fei here and why is J-Gun alive?”
“Rin! Don’t lower your gun!”
Akira’s warning did not reach Rin.
Akira saw the Lives drifting through the room.
Normally, those hard Lives may have been called tension.
The Lives making up that space were waiting to see just what kind of Live would be played her and by whom.
And whatever it was, it was not going to be peaceful.
The Device in J-Gun’s hand was visibly vibrating ever so slightly, so it had to have been what fired the previous shockwave.
…They’re our enemies.
With those silent words, Akira nodded.
However, Rin had yet to come to her senses.
Akira included her Live in her shout this time and Rin finally gasped. But instead of feeling relieved, Akira said more.
“Look carefully! Those two are-…”
Before she could say “enemies”, the men made their move.
J-Gun raised his Device high while Fei raised his right arm to shoulder height.
The latter’s forearm opened and a mortar protruded from the wrist.
The men attacked in unison.
The Live of destruction blew through the room and it all collapsed in an instant.
With some guidance from the General who knew the area well, Gunmal found J-Gun’s workshop right away.
It was located in the center of Yau Ma Tei, the business district for Hong Kong citizens. The simple one-story workshop was located among the barracks and cement houses.
A Wild Emblem depicting two intertwined dragons was engraved above the door.
“This the Maldrick family’s Wild Emblem, Gunmal?”
“You mean the Uroboros Rondo? Supposedly, my grandfather and the Wolf Worg – that’s the werewolf king – defeated two dragons. That’s how we became the head Buster family,” explained Gunmal while peering into the workshop. “The interior’s the same as the workshop back home. It’s all about function and looks like something out of the middle ages.”
“You mean it’s hopelessly outdated?”
The stone and cement workshop was filled with a strange scent.
It was a mixture of various metals: brass, copper, steel, lead, etc.
It was a cold scent that seemed to seep into one’s body.
But the odor of rust that joined it was due to the owner’s long absence.
If it was left alone much longer, the machinery would rust too and the entire workshop would be unusable.
But the bigger problem was a common point between the workshop and the adjoining home.
“What kinda idiot trashed the place?” muttered the General as he sat in one of the workshop’s chairs.
Gunmal looked around before nodding.
The workshop equipment was still in place, but the half-completed Devices and materials were scattered everywhere. Even the floorboards had been overturned, so whoever it was had to have been frantic.
“This must be why the Yard’s investigation took so long. Everywhere they wanted to check had already been messed with.”
“The things that Buster… The things J-Gun made were just that good.
Hearing that, Gunmal suddenly crouched down.
“…? What is it, kid?”
“Hm? When did the investigation end yesterday?”
“Last night. I think about the time you were out havin’ some fun with Akira.”
“Then someone with feathers like this was here since then. Look. And this, too.”
Gunmal showed the old man a long feather and a ring.
Based on the length of the feather, it undoubtedly belonged to a Nein Engel.
“A brown feather and a ring? That mean what I think it means? J-Gun’s de facto wife?”
“Probably. She must have stopped by to check on the place one last time. Or maybe because she’s relying on her memories.”
“If it’s the latter, she must be a good girl what with the ring and all.”
“Someone like that was wasted on my brother,” muttered Gunmal with a smile.
He put the ring on his left pinky as if testing it out.
“If he was still alive, I probably could’ve gotten him to make a Device for Akira.”
“No, one of J-Gun’s Devices would’ve been wasted on Akira.”
“Really? I think an excellent Device would be perfect for someone who enjoys Tuning so much.”
“Enjoys it, hm? You were with her last night, weren’t you? How was she?”
“She was fun.”
“Yeah, the European Tuners I know were…rough people who would deal with a destroyed house by letting it blow away in the wind. The dogs, cats, and birds yesterday were pretty amazing.”
Gunmal sounded like he was enjoying himself, but there was no smile in his eyes.
He actually chose his words carefully for once and spoke slowly as if checking with himself.
“She wasn’t using Lives as a toy. To me, it looked like she and the Lives were playing together.”
“That’s what she does, all right. Her parents were that kinda person too.”
“Her parents, huh?” Gunmal’s eyebrows moved slightly. “Did her parents know a lot about Death Techno?”
The General nodded and Gunmal glanced over at him.
“Is there more to that story?”
“Yeah. Why I can’t stand the sight of Huang Daquan and why I look after Akira are all a part of that story. You could call it a souvenir from Hong Kong’s many Divine Punishment Wars. Maybe I’ll tell you about it sometime.”
The General almost spat out those last words and then cleared his throat.
“Gunmal, don’t you think you and Akira could make a nice team?”
Gunmal said nothing, but the General did not care.
“J-Gun said all of Europe’s threats – Glossolalians, war, and chivalry – used Tuning and Busting as their weapons. …Is this your first time seein’ a Tuner like Akira? Is this your first time seein’ some girl playin’ with the Lives instead of just usin’ Tuning as a weapon?”
“Yes. It certainly is a…”
He started cheerfully, but trailed off, scratched his head, and reworded his thoughts.
“Well… I’ve changed my view a little.”
The General smiled bitterly and nodded.
“Rin wasn’t able to do that. …Actually, was it the same with you? I hear you were kicked outta your family.”
Gunmal said nothing, but he did silently pick up a half-completed Device from the floor.
It was likely meant to be a sword, but it still looked like an oblong metal panel with the hilt just barely formed.
He sighed while staring at it.
At the same time, he gently tapped a finger on the spot meant to be the blade.
It was his left pinky, the same finger he had put the ring on.
The ring struck the sword and produced a sound. The ring was a Device.
The elegant sound bent the air and caused a change.
The General could not help but gasp.
It was not much, but the sword Gunmal held now had a bit of a blade.
“Was that Busting? Device-creation Busting?”
“I can’t do anything as high-level as Tuning. I just destroy the Live a little and have it auto-replay. That gives it a resistance to that kind of destruction, effectively strengthening it.”
A Buster created items by repeating that process thousands or even tens of thousands of times.
They could not make a mistake on even one of those repetitions.
One wrong sounding of the Live and the half-made Deivce would break. It would become dirt or smoke and it would vanish.
“Hey, old man.” Gunmal gave the sword an appraising look. “What does Akira want to do using Tuning?”
“Oh? You haven’t heard about the dragons and the Three Laws?”
“Not from her. And like Rin said, the dragons are something from Peking opera. Aren’t they several kilometers long and don’t they have an Octave in the tens of millions? That’s a hell of a lot more than some cats or dogs.”
“That’s what Akira’s tryin’ to create.”
“You know Hong Kong Cave, right?”
Gunmal nodded, so the General explained.
“It’s rumored in Hong Kong that the biological weapons from the Second and Fourth Divine Punishment Wars still linger in Hong Kong Cave. So Akira…” He took a breath. “She wants to Tune everythin’ in and around that ruined cave, turn it into a dragon, and return it to what it once was. People think the place is full of bacteria, so by sweepin’ it all away, she thinks the Nein Engels can start comin’ to the surface and the humans can start goin’ into the cave.”
“But recently, Akira’s stopped talkin’ about that kinda fantasy. It might be because people like me used to tease her about it so much.”
“There’s no helping that,” said Gunmal.
This time, the General asked a question.
“Gunmal, do you have somethin’ you want to do?”
The answer he received was simple.
“I can’t say.”
He must have felt that was not enough because he said more.
“But, well… It’s nothing as grand as Akira’s dream.”
There was some disgust in his voice and he passed the barely-made sword to the General. As soon as the older man casually accepted it, his hand sank down.
He adjusted his grip and lightly touched the blade. Once he checked the feel of the weapon, his expression quickly changed.
“This is Emblem Stone, ain’t it? That’s no mere steel. You need to use an Octave of at least a million to work on it.”
He looked to Gunmal’s left hand. His flesh-and-blood left hand.
“When you used your Device, you used the false right hand in that glove, didn’t you?”
Gunmal replied with a self-deprecating sigh, but something else cut them off.
“Hey, General, Gunmal. You two here?”
Someone stepped into the workshop.
It was Kouga.
“What is it, Kouga?”
“Rin had the Tune Emblem I saw analyzed and the results just came in, so I thought I’d pay you two a visit.”
“What? Can’t we just have another meeting at the Yard?”
“Not when this is something that could destroy Hong Kong. That Tune Emblem requires an Octave of 40,960,000 to use and it’s seriously gonna activate. And four of them at once!”
After Kouga gave his explanation in a single breath, the young and old men exchanged a glance.
“Four at once? What on earth are you-…”
Just as Gunmal was going to say “talking about”, he raised his head.
“What is it, kid?”
He did not reply to the General’s call and turned toward the workshop entrance.
“Akira’s Live? And was that my brother’s?”
Gunmal’s gaze was fixed on the outside light entering through the rectangular workshop door.
He could of course only see a section of blue sky boxed off by four pointed corners.
The General and Kouga looked in the same direction.
The distant gray buildings of Tsim Sha Tsui were visible below the blue sky.
“What is it?” asked Kouga while tilting his head.
At the same time, a rumbling reached them.
It sounded like distant thunder.
The workshop creaked a bit and black smoke rose into the sky above Tsim Sha Tsui.
“The hell’s that!?”
By the time the old man cried out, the two young men were on the move.
Gunmal had already pulled Nein König from below his coat.
One room still had power below the abandoned Archs RDC building.
The small living space was surrounded by white plastic walls.
Inside, Double Lee had set down a travel bag and a Device sword.
He removed his Nein Engel coat without it catching on his six wings and tossed it onto the provided chair.
“Returning to the location you have abandoned really is the perfect way to hide without being found.”
He sounded self-deprecating as he opened the bag and pulled out the pile of papers he usually had in his pocket.
These were the instructions from Huang Daquan that were not quite a will.
He placed them on a table sticking out of the wall and his expression changed slightly.
He frowned and looked up at the ceiling and the unseen surface above.
“So the battle has begun.”
He eventually lowered his gaze to the papers on the table and a small smile appeared on his lips.
“Just as you said, Master Huang, everything is shifting out of place, bit by bit. Once J-Gun died and that shift began in earnest, I was finally able to believe everything you told me. That you and my parents saved Hong Kong’s destiny.” He took a breath. “That until then, you did not even have the Flight Song, the song meant to save this city. And…the reason you died of the same illness as my parents when you supposedly had no lifespan.”
He added “it is still hard to believe, though” below his breath and looked around the room.
It was an undecorated room.
The clock on the wall had a calendar embedded in the face which said it was June 16.
Double Lee stared at that date and nodded.
“If we complete today’s ceremony, the time limit for the final repatriation ceremony is in two weeks on the thirtieth when Hong Kong is returned to China. We need to hurry if we want to make it in time.”
Silence fell once he was done speaking to himself.
He tapped a finger on the table for a few seconds and closed his eyes.
He focused his ears on the battle on the surface.
He listened to the battle caused by people he knew.
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