City Series:Volume3b Chapter 5
Act 5: Three Secrets of the Fifth Row (5:55)
The azure sky was covered in Lives the color of dark clouds with a low, thick Tempo.
Those Lives of powerful intimidation were so thick they almost erased the sky itself.
The dark clouds slowly flew and wriggled around the sky like a mass of great serpents. And their intimidating gaze was pointed down toward the city of Hong Kong.
The serpents viewed only one thing: Gunmal as he stood in the center of a two lane road.
“Sister complexes are awful things. Did he find out I kissed her? …He’s definitely mad, that’s for sure.”
While complaining to himself, he ran toward the previous explosion.
As he hurried there, he intended to start by saving Akira.
“Not that I expect things to go that smoothly. I can run this easily after getting that first attack in, but…”
His voice trailed off and a harsh strength filled his expression instead.
“But it looks like he caught up just before I got there.”
He faced forward.
A mere five meters ahead, the intimidation in the air gathered together and descended.
The wind blew.
Gunmal put up his defenses as the sky’s dark cloud Lives gathered in front of him. They gathered in the powerful rotation at the bottom of the vortex and they took a certain form.
It was fast.
All of the intimidation covering the sky instantly stabbed toward him.
The Lives gave a low roar.
A moment later, someone could be heard quietly landing.
Double Lee now stood in front of Gunmal.
He stared at Gunmal with all of the previous intimidation filling his gaze.
But Gunmal was not frightened or pushed back by that gaze.
“That was a pretty low-key appearance for the flashy lead up.”
“To the average person, all I did was descend from the sky. But my will and gaze may have looked more impressive to someone who can see Lives.”
“Then was all that for little old me?”
His tone said “you’re gonna make me cry”, but he suddenly swung Nein König in his left hand.
He Busted the air with that steel-colored Live.
The air exploded with a heavy metallic sound.
And it did not stop at a single explosion. Just as he had done in front of the General, a chain of explosions covered a wide range. He Busted the Lives of the air, transformed it into thousands of pure white ion spheres, and swung Nein König over a wide path.
And he charged in amongst it all.
He had stopped breathing and he thrust Nein König forward while running in the same direction.
Nein König’s tip created a path by piercing through an explosion that was becoming a mass of light. That explosion had been created by Busting the air, so he Busted it again to disperse it.
Gunmal crouched low as he ran through the tunnel dug by Nein König.
The end of his hair, the bottom of his coat, and his shoes were torn into by the exploding air.
But he did not care.
A few seconds later, Nein König’s tip contacted normal un-Busted air.
He immediately broke free of the forest of exploding light.
He took a quick breath and continued running.
Behind him, the explosions grew accustomed to the surrounding air and showed signs of diffusing.
“He’d have to be a real monster to escape that unharmed.”
Gunmal did not even bother turning around, but…
“I can’t believe this.”
He tilted his head as he ran.
“Looks like he really is a monster.”
He smiled bitterly and looked back to see a large bird.
The bird of prey had a wing span of at least ten meters and it was filled with pure white light.
It was a beast created from Tuning.
And Gunmal realized what Live its pure white body had been created from.
“My own Busting!?”
He took a large leap forward.
The great bird’s beak tore into the spot he had just vacated and he heard the asphalt being torn apart.
While listening to the events behind him, he flipped Nein König back over his shoulder and continued running.
“This is no laughing matter. …Um, I think I used an Octave of just over two million for that attack, so to erase it again, I’ll need… Hey, give me time to think!”
Another attack arrived.
Gunmal jumped right to escape. A beak the size of his body descended within arm’s reach to the left.
And it mercilessly stabbed into the road.
A great roar sounded and Gunmal took action.
He was resting Nein König over his left shoulder, so he slammed it horizontally toward the bird.
He did not emit a Live.
Nein König struck the base of the beak and produced a solid sound.
Gunmal Busted that sound.
He directly Busted the action of “striking”.
Nein König amplified the “striking” Live inside itself and instantly released a Live powerful enough to swallow up the great bird.
The great bird was enveloped by the Live reverberating from Nein König.
It reverberated with the sound of being struck.
With a solid sound, the great bird voicelessly came apart.
Light and a bursting sound spread and multiplied.
Gunmal reversed Nein König’s swing and negated the explosion of light.
Then, he sighed. He faced forward to find the road open and becoming an arcade. Some dull gray smoke hung in the air. His destination was close by.
He began running once more.
“It’s pretty impressive you can keep up with my Busting using an Over Up.”
“Staying true to the fundamentals is my style.”
Double Lee’s voice rang out and Gunmal sent his gaze around the area as he ran.
He looked to the sky, the destroyed buildings, the road, behind him, and straight ahead once more.
After looking at all that, he smiled bitterly.
“How about you quit hiding and show yourself? You cheapskate.”
“I cannot afford to be hit by an attack like that last one.”
“Did it get you?”
“Hell yeah. I’ve still got a chance.”
“Yes, but your brother did not even manage to scratch me.”
“That’s because he was gay. He would always hesitate when it was a good-looking guy.”
“I’m just kidding.”
Gunmal received a response after a beat.
“I was beginning to wonder if you could not see Genius.”
“Oh, I saw that. I saw the other person’s Live inside her,” he said lightly. “And that means I’m old enough to be called uncle. This is truly a sad day.”
“Only if you survive this.”
“Oh, how scary. You certainly are a confident genius.”
“A genius, hm? I suppose you were called that as well.”
“It’s not a bad thing to have people calling you, right?”
Gunmal slowed his pace a little.
He passed between two buildings and entered a larger street.
It was destroyed as well.
There were three lanes on either side and it was piled with wreckage from collapsed buildings. The wreckage formed a several dozen meter concrete mountain with the wide base of a stratovolcano.
Gunmal came to a stop and looked to the peak of the mountain before his eyes.
Something that stood out against the color of the concrete had fallen there.
The color was a nearly-gold white.
They were wings.
They were Akira’s wings.
She lay at the peak of the mountain.
Gunmal smiled bitterly.
“I see. That’s some nice bait. …Do you love me that much?”
“You do often hear people say they love someone enough to kill them.”
“I can’t believe this… I don’t protect guys, you know?”
“Neither do I.”
“Then is it because you hate me?”
“And is that because I laid a hand on Akira, you great genius who stays true to the fundamentals?”
Double Lee responded with a bitter smile of his own.
“That sarcasm… You understand everything, don’t you?”
“Didn’t Genius tell you? My brother’s Busting was always true to the fundamentals. To me, it seemed unbelievably stiff.”
“Did your brother look up to you?”
Gunmal laughed quietly at that question.
“Personally, I think staying true to the fundamentals is one form of style.”
With that, he walked forward. He slowly began to climb the mountain of rubble to reach Akira.
Meanwhile, he raised Nein König in his left hand.
“How about we bring this farce to an end? I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I can’t be dying anytime soon.”
His casual tone was belied by the intense attack he launched as he swung the down the Device.
A great rumbling tore apart the asphalt.
The General’s beloved modified Grant raced toward the Yard HQ at full speed.
Each time it drove over a head-sized piece of rubble, the thirty ton tank would shake.
That shaking affected the top canopy the most, so the General’s body shook about as he leaned out.
“Has my Tunin’ gotten weak? How’d I let a big-shot like that get so close?”
He held his arms sharply forward to fight the shaking and looked back in the direction Gunmal had gone.
For once, his expression was tense.
“Honestly… Gunmal’s gettin’ pretty close to some interestin’ parts of Hong Kong’s past. Kids these days need to quit scarin’ their elders so much.”
He sighed, peered inside the tank, and asked a question.
“Hey, are we still not in relay range for the radio?”
He nodded when a crewmember told him they would be in range after moving another three hundred meters north.
“Once we’re in range, transmit a message to all of Hong Kong, tellin’ everyone who can to gather at the Yard. I’ll take responsibility for whatever happens.”
He then leaned out into the wind once more.
And he gathered his thoughts on his own.
“Since Akira’s brother’s on the move, then the final ceremony must be close, just like that young lady and Rin said. They must be gettin’ desperate.”
As soon as he nodded to himself, he heard an explosion from behind.
The ground shook a bit and the Grant trembled.
“Now that’s a frightenin’ Live. …Is it Gunmal?”
He moved just his gaze back and spotted smoke rising into the sky.
He clicked his tongue and faced forward again.
In that instant, someone ran out in front of the Grant.
“…!? Full stop!”
He shouted far louder than one would expect of such a small body and the Grant immediately reacted.
The sharp silhouette of the tank pitched forward.
The treads coated in resin using the European method blew blue smoke backwards and peeled away.
After a long sound like piles of cloth being torn, a metallic sound finished it all off.
After that, the wheels screeched and the Grant stopped.
To make sure he was not thrown out, the General had lowered his upper body onto the upper surface of the tank.
The word that escaped his lips was directed at the figure frozen in place only two meters in front of the Grant.
The female figure had two sharply-angled wings on her back.
It was Akira.
“Impossible.” The General gasped. “Weren’t you fightin’ in that battle back there!?”
He got up as he spoke and Akira blinked in confusion.
“Yeah, that’s what they said…”
“What? Didn’t Kouga contact you? I’ve been searching for Rin this entire time. But I thought things were getting dangerous when I saw that explosion, so I was on my way to somewhere safe.”
“Yeah. You saw that smoke, right? Over there… I wonder what it was. Maybe some remaining fuel caught fire like they mentioned in the newspaper.”
“That was no explosion! It’s a battle between a Buster and Tuner.”
“It couldn’t be.” Akira frowned. “If that was Tuning and Busting, there would be Lives with powerful Messages…”
She slowly trailed off and her expression changed entirely. It was the look of someone who had stepped on something they should not have.
When she hid her mouth to hide it, the General spoke up.
“…Wh-what about you?”
“I’ve got my own job to do.”
“D-don’t say that! That’s irresponsible!”
“Yeah, and this problem is your responsibility.”
“H-has something bad happened?”
“If you want to know, then get goin’!”
His shout sent a tremor through her body.
She opened her lips as if to say something back.
But only silence came out.
Instead, she nodded once and moved her legs.
She passed by the General’s Grant and began to run.
She continued forward while hanging her head.
The swing of Nein König used a steel-colored Live to strike Akira as she lay at the peak of the rubble mountain.
When the solid sound struck her, she broke apart into Lives for some reason.
The blue, refreshing wind Lives that gently floated up were not the Lives of a person.
Gunmal watched them go and muttered “It really was a doll”. He then looked around, ignoring the peak of the rubble mountain, and looked to a building rooftop on the left.
“Hey, could you quit hiding?”
“I suppose there is no point in hiding now.”
With those words, a figure appeared standing on the edge of the rooftop pierced by Gunmal’s gaze. The six-winged Nein Engel was Double Lee.
The right shoulder of his pure white combat coat was torn.
The white material was dyed red from the shoulder to the chest and it was definitely his own blood.
“Red looks pretty good on you. …But this isn’t the time. Why? Why isn’t Akira here?”
“I’m not sure I should tell you or not.”
“I’ll make you tell me one way or another. A Tuner can instantly heal the wounds after all.”
Double Lee smiled bitterly at those hostile words.
“I see. So I was right.”
“Hm? About what?”
“I wanted to know what you thought about my sister…about Akira.”
“So are you done with your little test? If so, I’d like to know how I did.”
Gunmal sounded carefree and Double Lee smiled back.
Then he slowly raised his right arm that had been limply hanging down.
The hand held a sword that emitted a transparent light.
It was a Device. It was a commercial model, but it was obvious at a glance that the precise mold gave it great accuracy.
But Gunmal was faster.
“Is that your answer!?”
He swung up Nein König.
He was not preparing for an attack. He made a diagonal strike from below.
He amplified his own Live as he ran.
With a metallic tempo that rang into the distance and a steel Word Color, the Live formed a silver pillar of light.
The pillar was fifteen meters across and it swallowed up Double Lee with no chance to escape.
Or it should have.
Gunmal’s Live burst in front of Double Lee.
The pillar of light scattered in every direction and then gathered back together.
It had been Tuned.
Double Lee had given Gunmal’s Live a new form.
It became a Lesser Dragon.
The Lesser Dragon made of silver light was twenty meters tall and it even had scales, claws, and fangs.
Gunmal muttered lightly as he ran. He ran to the top of the rubble where the doll of Akira had been.
“At that height, I’ll be on the same level as him.”
The Lesser Dragon pursued him as he ran up the rubble.
Man and dragon moved at different speeds, so the giant fangs approached behind Gunmal in an instant. But…
He fired a shot while looking back.
A great rumble rang out.
A moment later, the Lesser Dragon was blown away like a mere toy.
It gave a screaming roar.
And that was all.
Its twenty meter form collapsed at the base of the rubble and exploded.
Concrete shrapnel flew into the air, fell back down, and struck both the ground and rubble mountain.
But Gunmal paid it no heed.
“I hate being hit by my own Live. It makes me shudder.”
Meanwhile, he reached the peak and looked to the roof of the building to the left.
Double Lee stood there.
Blue, refreshing Lives flew around him.
They were Lives of the wind. Based on the sheer quantity, they probably had an Octave of about one million.
He swung his Device as if to slice through those Lives.
He looked to Gunmal and gave a shout.
“Word Accel! Oh, you Lives with an Octave of 1,300,000!”
It only took an instant for the wind to become a long, thick spear.
The spear flew toward Gunmal.
Unlike the Lesser Dragon, this attack moved directly toward him.
“You don’t make this easy!”
With that shout, Gunmal swung up Nein König.
And he voiced his own Live.
The Live was sharper and had a higher Tempo than before.
Nein König amplified the Live and produced a much brighter Word Color light than before.
Without even checking on that, he swung Nein König back down.
The bladeless sword-shaped Device sliced through the wind.
The released Live was narrower but several times brighter than before.
It was a powerful strike.
It pierced through the center of Double Lee’s wind spear.
With a great bursting sound, the wind scattered in every direction.
But Gunmal’s Live did not stop.
Beyond the destroyed and vanishing spear, it flew straight toward Double Lee.
Meanwhile, Double Lee thrust his Device forward to endure it.
“Don’t think you can defend with that!”
Gunmal stared at the man while raising Nein König once more.
In that instant, a slight smile covered Double Lee’s lips just as he prepared to receive Gunmal’s Live with his Device.
Just as doubt filled Gunmal, Double Lee gave a shout.
Gunmal followed Double Lee’s gaze.
He turned behind him and found someone else standing on the opposite building.
The name Double Lee had shouted belonged to a Galgallin man who had customized his entire body.
A mortar was already extending from his arm.
Gunmal saw the pure white Live of great heat building down the barrel.
Meanwhile, Gunmal had yet to prepare Nein König for his next attack.
“Just when I was wondering if you had gone after Akira!”
His shout was drowned out by the mortar’s blast.
At the same time, Gunmal’s Live struck Double Lee.
The two intense sounds joined together to fill Hong Kong with a single great roar.
Akira ran between two nearly collapsed buildings.
Her wings felt heavy on her back, but she still felt no desire to fly.
…Why does it have to be now that I can’t read the wind properly?
“Now I’m just a human with wings.”
She gathered strength in her legs.
The great sounds of battle had continued for more than thirty seconds now.
The last roar had brought an intense wind with it, and silence had followed.
The battle was over.
Akira silently mouthed a man’s name.
She repeated the name a second and third time and nodded.
She faced forward.
The alley came to an end and a road opened up. The sun shined down there, so it was a little bright.
She charged out into that light.
She found a street covered in rubble.
But these were not ruins.
She found scorched earth.
A few buildings and the ground had been melted and vaporized by heat, leaving nothing behind.
Akira recognized the scene.
That destruction had been turned her way before.
“That’s the mortar of that Galgallin named Fei.”
Her running feet came to a quick stop.
She could feel the heat through the soles of her shoes.
A closer look showed bluish-white smoke and shimmering heat rising all over the place.
“It’s so hot…”
With that obvious observation, she looked around again.
The scorching blast had cut across the road in an elliptical shape.
The ellipse had been fifty meters across at the widest and twenty meters at the narrowest. The ellipse’s curve grew larger to the left because it had been fired a bit downwards from above on the right.
A pile of concrete had been blown away in the center of the road.
The heat had been so great that the concrete’s surface had turned to white ash, everything had bent, and some things had fused together.
They all gave off intense shimmering heat to make their presence known.
Akira remained silent.
But not because she was so focused on the shimmering heat coming from the concrete.
Her eyes were turned toward the top of the pile.
A single Device was stabbed into the concrete pillar there.
It was Nein König.
That blade-less Device had suited Gunmal perfectly.
Amid the rippling shimmers, its color remained unchanged, but its hilt was missing.
Its owner was nowhere to be seen.
Akira took a step back.
She looked around but found no one.
No one answered her.
She looked up into the sky.
“Is my brother not here either!?”
The surrounding scenery gave her a clear response: silence.
Akira fell to her knees.
The heated asphalt surrounded her with shimmering heat.
She called that man’s name.
“Gunmal! Aren’t you supposed to show up when I call your name!? Gunmal!”
As soon as she gave that shout, she heard what sounded like rock being struck.
It was the sound of a Live being destroyed.
She looked up in surprise and saw a man in the sky.
Before she could ask anything, the man fell down to her feet.
She heard a dull sound and a wet sound.
The dark red substance spreading on the road produced white smoke as it contacted the heated surface.
She ran over to him.
She called the Urban Name used by Busters and Tuners and she lifted him in her arms.
She realized his coat had burned away from his right shoulder on down and his prosthetic hand was exposed.
The hand’s fingers had been crushed and slightly fused.
“You idiot! Why…why are you about to die!?”
He did not answer her question.
He only breathed weakly yet deeply with half his face dyed from the blood flowing down his forehead.
She looked around.
There was no one there, but she still shouted out.
“Is anyone there!?”
Her voice lost to the heat and did not travel far.
The surrounding heat enveloped them and stagnated. They were surrounded by silence and the presence of time seemed to vanish entirely.
It was a still place.
Akira felt sweat on her skin.
She lifted her head a little.
She opened her mouth and tears spilled from her eyes, perhaps due to the heat.
Her first cry did not even produce a voice. Nor did it form a Live.
She held Gunmal in her arms.
Finally, she managed to produce just one word.
“I can’t! I can’t do it myself!”
The only one listening was Nein König which had broken in two.
It took quite a long time for the surrounding heat to cool.
The hospital lobby Akira had passed through the day before last had sunken into a darkness that did not quite fit the term “late night”.
During the day, it was a bright place meant for victims to communicate with each other, but at night, it was only a space of empty darkness.
The emergency lights were dim and only illuminated what lay directly below them.
Two men could be seen below one of those weak light sources.
One was the General who stood directly below the light.
The other was Gunmal who sat on the lobby bench below the light.
He wore his one-armed coat directly over his bandaged skin.
Exhaustion colored his face…no, his entire body.
His lips moved.
“What’s Akira up to, old man?”
“C’mon, is that really what you’re gonna ask after callin’ me here? What about your own body? Like that prosthetic hand.”
“I’m fine. And I can always get a new hand. …So how’s Akira?”
“She’s sleepin’ at my house.”
“Oh, you’ve finally crossed that line, have you?”
The General frowned.
“That’s not what I meant. My wife’s looking after her right now. She dragged someone as big as you out from all that heat. Also…”
“She went back in to retrieve your burned-up Device.”
“What was she thinking?”
“Don’t ask me,” simply replied the General. “But the exhaustion and dehydration’s done her in for the time being. I thought I’d let her rest at her own place, but…”
“Yeah, her place is a mess and full of water.”
“You knew about that? You knew, and yet…”
“Don’t get so upset, old man.” Gunmal sighed. “Akira wasn’t the one that healed me, was she? I doubt she can Tune right now.”
“She’s clingin’ to your Device and refuses to let go. My wife wanted to heal her, but she was complainin’ that Akira won’t let her remove her clothes.”
Gunmal smiled bitterly at the General’s joking tone of voice.
“You know why Akira can’t Tune, don’t you?”
“Why would that be?”
“The same reason you taught Rin how to Tune but didn’t teach Akira.”
“That’s because Akira could already do it.”
“If you keep lying in your old age, you’re going to be a lonely old man.”
“I caught a glimpse of Rin’s Live.”
“Rin’s was an accident,” muttered the General. “If it wasn’t for that, she wouldn’t even be in Hong Kong. She’d be somewhere else entirely livin’ with that young man named Fei.”
“I got a phone call at home. Rin’s visited a Custom Body shop in the New Territories and she’s connected to Detroit to customize her body. And without tellin’ her parents.” The General smiled bitterly. “It never seems to work out right. Where did we fail to make the change?”
“Really? I feel like I’m always at my best no matter how hard I work.”
“You realized long ago that nothing you can do can change the past itself, right?”
“Yeah. You can remake the past, but you just end up pilin’ up the means to do that and never move forward.”
“Who in Hong Kong was the first one to realize that fact?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“To feel satisfied.”
Gunmal’s answer was an incredibly normal thing, so the General smiled bitterly again.
“The ones who realized that fact of yours were me, my wife…and Huang Daquan.”
“But we realized it too late. So the pasts that we and the others piled up had to be settled by Hu and Luna.”
“After several Divine Punishment Wars and the creation of Hong Kong Cave, the Nein Engels and humans parted ways in this city, but there’s still one thing here that thinks of it all in a positive light.”
Gunmal fell silent for a few seconds.
“You mean the song?”
It had taken quite a long time in the night for him to say those few words.
A moment later, Gunmal moved a little.
He had nodded.
Then he stood up.
The General looked up at him and narrowed his eyes.
“I can see your Live.”
“There’s no point in searching for another reason to hide it.”
He smiled bitterly.
“I’ll use the remaining five days to create a Device.”
With those simple words, he clenched his left fist.
That flesh-and-blood hand filled with tremendous strength.
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