Panzerpolis Berlin 2 1939
Left: Welcome to the holy land – the Black Forest.
Bottom: By Kawakami Minoru
Alfred’s bottom text:
The Emperor commands conquest.
Lowenzahn’s bottom text: The World spins like a wheel.
Schwarzwald: the Black Forest – The Nonhuman Forest
Filled with darkness and shadows, the nonhuman forest rejects humans.
Most European fairy tales are set in this forest. It is commonly referred to as “Europe’s trauma”.
The Messiah descended to this forest 1000 years ago and the Geheimnis Agency has built their headquarters there to await her return.
Right bottom text:
Ruin: Ruin is a cycle of resignation.
1: Male Grösse Panzer Schwarz Löwe – Aerial combat male Grösse Panzer belonging to the Geheimnis Agency Army Division. The villain type that does not let defeat get to him.
2: Wheel of Destiny - #10 of the 47 Noise Divination Cards. AKA, the Wheel of Ruin. Predicts a series of bad luck.
3: Werkzeug Rein König – A very tough Werkzeug with a connection to the Messiah.
- Berlin: Capital of Germany. Is remade into Germania by the Panzerpolis Project, but causes a global ley line crisis in ’43.
- Hamburg: A large northern city and a military base. Destroyed by an aerial bombing before the aerial bombing of Berlin in August of ’43.
- Borderson: City governed by Borderson, one of the Messiah’s Four Knights. Currently has no leader and only functions as a hidden city for Heidengeists.
- Cologne: A war plant city. Becomes the target of the first largescale aerial bombing of the German homeland in ’42 and is destroyed along with a Gard-class warship.
- Alfheim: The Black Forest land where the Messiah arrived on earth.
Right character: Berger
Left character: Hazel
Top right city: Berlin
Bottom right city: Munich
Left cities (top to bottom):
Super Half-Assed Scale. Coloring it made the scale even worse.
My First Shameful Story
Bottom left of image:
Now, let’s do this with an unnecessary level of cheer.
“For today’s My First Shameful Story, we will be talking about the Messiah girl who once saved Germany,” our hardworking Miss Hazel said to Bergy. “Do you know that story, Bergy?”
“I wouldn’t tell you if I did. How dumb are you, Hazel?” said Bergy. “This is why you need to eat more to send precious nutrients to your brain and chest. Especially milk. Got that? You’re living in America now, so your chest should be more, um, I guess the word would be Holstein! Like a cow, got that!? I want to be able to describe them with words like ‘kaboom!’ or ‘boing!’ …Hey, Hazel, are you listening? Listen up, Hazel. Boing! Boiiiiiiiiiiiiing!”
Miss Hazel was so shocked she punched Bergy across the room.
My, my. Such violence.
The Millennium turns like a wheel
In the name of
Either ruin or happiness
The countries of Europe remain in a state of tension as the German army declares Germany to be the Greater Germanic Reich.
In this declaration, they state their desire to complete the Panzerpolis Project and continue the millennium of peace begun by the Messiah 1000 years before.
The Panzerpolis Project involves the construction of giant Vaterland ley line acceleration reactors all across Germany, receiving the benefits of those reactors over the course of three stages of activation, and transforming Berlin into a fortress city known as Germania.
But who can say how much of that is true.
Panzerpolis Berlin 2 1939
I could not accomplish anything two years ago, but I want to do something now that everyone is plagued with such unease.
“You would be better off remaining on your own path.”
-Words of the musician Ravel when refusing to teach Gershwin
Prologue: The Wheel Prepares
For example, the flow of time
Tells us that the past is being inherited by the future.
Then where is that flow taking me here in the present?
A vast forest of primarily black cedar found in the mountains of southwestern Germany.
Was once known as a nonhuman forest home to Heidengeist and gods and became the source of Europe’s stories and fears, but humans can now enter the forest thanks to long-term development and the mass migration of Heidengeist during the 15th century. It was affected by the construction of the autobahn meant to fight the German depression in the 30s, so by ’39, it has roads and mountain paths and even a trade route connecting Switzerland to different parts of Germany.
A giant crater known as the Alfheim Meteorite Pit exists in the center of the Black Forest. That is said to be where the Messiah descended along with her dragon and the Unreif Germane states that the Messiah was visited by the one-armed youth at the shrine that still remains nearby.
This land ruled by nonhuman life must always be mentioned when speaking of Germany or even Europe as a whole.
There was not a cloud in the blue sky.
The chilly mountain winds unique to southern Germany swept across the black cedar forest below.
The wind rustled through the leaves that had reached a midsummer green so dark they were nearly black.
But as that wind parted the forest, it suddenly blew up into the sky.
The forest had come to an end.
There were two large clearings in the forest.
The first contained an artificial facility stretching about 2 miles from east to west.
There was a single runway and a few large hangars on the eastern end, an underground airship shipyard in the center, and a white, volcano-shaped tower reaching a height of 120 yards on the western end.
This was a military development base. Shimmering heat left the top of the western tower, distorting the azure sky.
The other large clearing was about a mile to the west of the base. It was a massive crater with a diameter of more than 400 yards.
Despite the diameter, it was not all that deep.
Supply scaffolding had been built out to the center of the crater, starting from the edge closest to the base and that scaffolding functioned as a stage. The metal scaffolding covered a wide area and it formed a ring around a pile of rubble at the center of the hole.
There was an even deeper hole at the center of the rubble.
Unlike the surrounding crater, that hole was wholly artificial.
It was too deep for the light to reach the bottom, but the dark pit had a radius of about 20 yards.
Four winches were suspended overhead and they were constantly pulling dirt and rubble from below.
Two figures stood next to the winch control room built up on the stage.
One was the site commander with his black Geheimnis Agency uniform half removed below the hot summer sun.
The other was the site supervisor wearing a German Army combat engineer uniform.
Both were fairly old and they were discussing the large-print diagram showing the progress of the excavation they had spread out before them.
“For some reason, we can’t get any water,” said the site supervisor while holding the diagram in his dirty gloves. “We have been working at this for two years now, but this is a first. I can only imagine something happened below to shift the flow of water.”
“The acoustic survey discovered a hollow below, didn’t it? Are we sure that isn’t just a coincidental gap in the accumulated rubble like that one from three days ago?”
The site supervisor twisted his square face to the side.
“It’s too soon to say. I mean, the lab that was here was highly unusual. They dug down 200m belowground to expand the place.”
“Because they could excavate high-purity spirit stones from the Alfheim Meteorite Pit. We’re talking so pure that contact with moonlight could trigger an explosion.” The commander suddenly looked up toward the large tower standing above the base beyond the forest. “Which is why our Base #8’s Vaterland can extract the purest Phlogiston in the country. Building that base three years ago was well worth it.”
“I’ve noticed the base works through the night. That shipyard never sleeps. …We were the ones that dug out the land for that and the other 7 shipyards like it, but are you finally building those 70,000ton aerial warships? And eight of them at once at that?”
“I know we have worked together for 3 years now, but that is none of the military’s concern,” said the commander. “Although to be honest, not even I am privy to the details. None of us knows what we will find in here. We only know this is what remains of P. Wagner’s lab.”
“The lab of the guy who started the Berlin Conflict 4 years ago, huh? He sure did a good job of blowing the whole thing up all the way to the very bottom when he escaped. It’s made this dig so tricky we’re already on year two.”
“A site well worth working at, don’t you think?”
“Maybe if we actually find something useful at the bottom” The supervisor sighed. “But we really don’t get what’s going on here. And you’re saying you don’t understand either because the Geheimnis Agency has its own hierarchy?”
“It does. …We’re so close to the HQ here, but paying them a visit would not accomplish anything. You saw his Excellency, General Graham, that one time, didn’t you? His entire body has been replaced with prosthetics and he has lost all his emotions…although that makes him a trustworthy man who never makes mistakes.” The commander sighed too. “Then there’s our leader who gives out prophecies but is always mysteriously absent. Not to mention our missing Messiah.” He looked down at the diagram again. “I leave you in charge here. Keep me informed of your progress and let me know if you require further supplies or if anyone is injured. Today’s morning report is-”
The commander came to a sudden stop and looked to the supervisor.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Nothing really,” said the supervisor. “It’s just that…lately a problem we saw three years ago has reoccurred within our crew and it has me a little worried.”
“The same as when we constructed Base #8? You mean the fear that we’re violating the Messiah’s land?” The commander brushed up his hair and looked to the sky with a frown. He seemed to be choosing his words carefully. “It is true we can’t just write it off as simple superstition.”
“This land, and the Alfheim Meteorite Pit in particular, is home of the Messiah who saved Germany a thousand years ago and promised us a millennium of peace. You can hardly blame them for fearing that old saying.” The supervisor sighed. “You know, the one that says only the Messiah can awaken her dragon that slumbers in this land.”
“Yes, I remember when this was a problem three years ago. We even began leaving drinks at the Messiah’s shrine next to the crater as offerings. Leaving the drinks on that large stone leaning against that cliff wall was my job.”
“You slipped on your way down and broke your leg, didn’t you?”
“But I still showed up on site, earning me the praise of General Graham.”
The commander then opened his mouth and recited a poem.
In the deep darkness of the Black Forest
Born from the abyss
The wheel emerges
- It whips up the wind and speaks with the dragon
- It reads the wind and weeps
- It carries power in its hand and hesitates
“That’s the 3rd Section of Daily Life from the Unreif Germane, isn’t it?” asked the supervisor while folding up the diagram. “One of the six sections passed down as poetry and song.”
“The entire Geheimnis Agency was given that text two weeks ago and told by the higher ups it is a prophecy.”
“Again, we can’t write it off as simple superstition. Germany currently has no Messiah, but the lost Messiah will be reborn once this poem is fulfilled.” The commander seemed to be trying to convince himself of that more than anything. “If the Messiah leads us, we would be promised another millennium of peace.”
The supervisor stopped folding the paper and looked up into the sky with a look of exasperation.
“A millennium, huh? Based on what I heard my son was taught in school, Germany was subjugated in the year 962, so we only have another 20 years before that original millennium ends.”
“The time is already upon us. The Great War that began with the God-Demon War 20 years ago was a sign of the storm to come. Your army has even started to advance west, so…”
The commander stopped speaking when the loudspeaker attached atop the winch control room picked up a voice from below. This was one of those working at the bottom of the hole.
“Report: we have arrived at the Excavation Point 17 as scheduled, but…but this is different from before. We have been working to prepare an area with a radius of 3 yards, but either the explosions did not reach this deep or this level was built separately from the rest.” The worker took a breath. “There is an entire intact and sealed room down here. What should we do, supervisor!?”
Hearing that nearly panicking voice, the site supervisor stuffed the folded diagram into his pocket.
“Hm.” He breathed from his nose before turning to the commander. “Shall we head down? We might discover just what P. Wagner was trying to hide in this lab of his.”
The winches began to reel in.
Just as the dirt was pulled up from below, they heard a gentle siren very different from the ones sounded in an emergency.
That siren signaled noon.
After noting the time, the commander fixed his uniform’s collar and replied.
“We can do that and then grab some lunch. Although we might not have time for lunch depending on what we find.”
Chapter 1: The Wheel Activates
7/26/1939 20:31 – 21:07
People have begun to gather
At the place
Where it all began
For everyone, for me
A plan to place 412 Vaterland ley line acceleration reactors across Germany to modify the ley lines and alter the Tons of Germany as a whole. Including secondary factors, the following three stages will be completed:
Stage 1: The climate and the people’s Tons will be tuned for ley line stabilization.
Stage 2: The stabilized ley lines will be extracted from the acceleration reactors and processed into high-purity Phlogiston.
Stage 3: That Phlogiston will be used to build city defense weapons and to construct Germania.
According to the German military’s announcement, the Panzerpolis Project’s name is in reference to Germania from the Stage 3.
An animal cry rang through the rainy July darkness.
The roar resembled the rumbling of thunder in the chilled summer air as it descended from the cloudy night sky.
Only one animal of sufficient size to produce such a deep roar could also fly: a dragon.
The dragon roared again, its voice reverberating through the sky, the air, the rain, and the ground below.
There was a city on that ground.
The rainswept city had a collection of scarlet lights in each of the four cardinal directions.
Each of those was a Vaterland tower and the lights illuminated a construction site that worked through the night.
The city surrounded by four giant towers was Berlin.
Either because it was late summer or because of the rain, the city lights looked awfully calm and meek this night.
Tension filled the entire city.
One place other than the Vaterland towers shined lights into the night sky: Tempelhof Air Base on the southwestern side of Berlin.
A few beams of light stretched from the base into the sky. They were searching for the source of the roaring. The wandering of the lights showed they could not find their target.
Another roar sounded, as if mocking the lights.
The bestial voice rumbled down from the sky.
The airport’s buildings shook and windows rattled. Not even the transport ships waiting for their next assignment could escape that tremor. Both the ship’s capable of vertical takeoff and the larger ships.
There was a dragon overhead.
The aircraft could not carelessly take flight, but carelessly fighting back could lead to an international incident.
The air base prepared to fight back if need be while trying to work out the dragon’s intentions, hoping it would simply fly away. Would their patience run out before the control tower gave up trying to communicate with whatever was up there?
The same went for Neue Silber, a large transport ship awaiting takeoff on the apron.
The vertical-takeoff strategic transport ship was a giant rectangle more than 100 yards long colored black. The silver reinforcing armor that gave it its name was slick with rain as it shook from the rumbling.
Neue Silber trembled as it waited for the takeoff order to arrive.
As did the people onboard.
Neue Silber’s cockpit was located in the flat nose.
Six men were in the surprisingly large room covered in instruments and controls.
The three illuminated by the instruments glowing in the dim light were the pilot, copilot, and navigator.
The other three were not part of the pilot crew. They remained in the shadows away from the glowing instruments and they carried an atmosphere very different from the pilot crew who were impatiently awaiting the takeoff order.
Theirs was a calm and unshakeable atmosphere.
One of them was a large elderly man sitting in a special seat giving him a commanding view of the cockpit. He turned back toward the two standing behind him. As he turned his powerful gaze toward them, his green German Air Force coat rustled and his two prosthetic arms rubbed against his seat.
His long gray hair and long beard swayed as he spoke to one of the men.
“The rain is really coming down. Isn’t it, Lieutenant Hellard Schweitzer?”
The enormous man named Schweitzer nodded. He wore the black coat of the Geheimnis Agency and a large prosthetic arm emerged from its right shoulder. He held the hand of that arm against his chest.
“We believe that is a dragon scout sent all the way from the UK, Lieutenant General Heiliger. There have been more of them since late last year, but we believe they are either monitoring the progress of the Panzerpolis Project or smuggling in some kind of materiel.”
When he nodded again, the women’s earring on his left ear gave a flash of its red stone.
Schweitzer ignored that and Heiliger did not mention it.
“I see,” said the gray-haired and gray-bearded general. “Your Geheimnis Agency’s Panzerpolis Project is not something they could monitor from high in the rainy sky. I believe the official announcement said it was a national modification project that will use the Vaterland ley line acceleration reactors to modify the ley lines and extract Phlogiston over the course of three stages. And during the third stage…”
“The Geheimnis Agency has already begun Erklärung adaptation training at various bases centered on Berlin and our HQ.”
“How valiant of you. But…as a member of the military, my primary interest is in the construction of that new Berlin you call Germania. The military has already begun construction of the underground city surrounding the four Vaterlands around Berlin. I hear the Phlogiston extracted from those Vaterlands will be used to create a fortress city capable of running indefinitely.” He remained entirely expressionless. “If the Panzerpolis Project based on the Vaterlands is completed and Belin can be used by the military…perhaps it will become known as the Eingeweide City.”
Heiliger’s somewhat irritated comment received a response.
It came from the dragon roaring up in the sky.
Heliger looked up at the cockpit’s ceiling as if viewing the unseen sky beyond.
“Have they still not decided to fight back? Would your Geheimnis Agency immediately fight back against any who intrudes on our airspace?”
Just as Schweitzer prepared to respond, the aide by his side, a tall and gaunt elderly man in a black coat, spoke for the first time.
“I believe that question would be better suited for General Graham than for the Lieutenant, Air Force Lieutenant General Heiliger. We are no more than Neue Kavaliers, so we have no command authority.”
“You’re a strict one, Bermark, but that is not why I asked.”
“Then pardon me.”
Bermark nodded and Schweitzer sighed at his aide’s usual way of speaking.
Then Heiliger turned his gaze toward Schweitzer.
The power of his gaze had changed somewhat. It was now a searching look.
Schweitzer asked a question in response.
“Lieutenant General Heiliger, may I ask something?”
“This military ship will soon be on its way to the Geheimnis Agency HQ in southern Germany, but why? We were only given approval to accompany you since we were headed there anyway, but I would still like to know the purpose of this ship.”
Heiliger responded with no expression on his face.
“There is a reason I must visit there once a year. …Do you find it that unusual for a military man to visit your HQ? I do visit every year at this time, even if they are not official visits.”
Schweitzer looked to his aide. Bermark was one of the oldest members of the Geheimnis Agency and he spoke without turning toward Schweitzer or providing any kind of emotional response.
“Lieutenant General Heiliger is the only member of the military allowed to enter the Geheimnis Agency HQ.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that earlier, Bermark?”
“You did not ask.”
Heiliger smiled at that response. A small but genuine smile.
“Lieutenant, this discussion is not yet over. It is my turn to ask you a question. Why were you summoned to your HQ?”
“Our orders were to provide a report on the recovery of components from the Sylphide from that incident two years ago, to attend the commissioning of the first ship for the Gard-class Eingeweide aerial warship at Base #8, and…”
He paused to choose his words.
“To inspect the excavation at the Alfheim Meteorite Pit located near Base #8.”
“The Alfheim Meteorite Pit?” asked Heiliger.
Bermark nodded and explained.
“Excavation of what remained of P. Wagner’s lab began two years ago, but the other day, some Geheimnis Agents were suddenly instructed to visit the excavation site.”
“The agents given that order,” added Schweitzer, “were the ones involved in the Sylphide Incident two years ago.” He crossed his arms. “According to the Unreif Germane, the Heidengeist Messiah who once saved Germany was born by falling to Alfheim along with a meteor and she returned there once her work was done.”
“I am aware. A one-armed youth is said to have protected where she slept and died. But I thought historians were still divided on whether or not the meteor impact site really was in the depths of Alfheim.” Heiliger smiled. “Lieutenant, I heard you met the girl with the Messiah implant two years ago. What was she like?”
“She insisted she did not want to run away.”
“I see. Your tone suggests you do not oppose the idea of taking her as your leader.”
Heiliger’s seat creaked as he stood up.
He was tall. His eye level was even higher than Schweitzer’s. His chest was not as thick as Schweitzer’s, but his shoulders were broader thanks to the two prosthetic arms. The cockpit immediately felt more cramped.
He looked down at Schweitzer.
“Your father was my right-hand man during the Great War. I still remember Bertecht Schweitzer, the Barrier Master who protected his territory with barrier spells instead of piloting a Panzer as a Neue Kavalier.”
“My family name is all I inherited from my father, but-”
“You also inherited his spells, his will, and his Titel. You are Der Held and the Schallmauer Zerstörer who fulfilled the Messiah’s prophecy. A messenger informed me that the Sofort Leser who leads the Geheimnis Agency made another prophecy two weeks ago.”
“Her prophecy was identical to the Unreif Germane’s 3rd Section of Daily Life.”
“Yes, one of the six sections that has been passed down as a poem. I hear the Messiah will be revived if this poem is fulfilled. …It is a strange prophecy, but it must be true. So, Lieutenant, I have something important to tell you, who have received some small glimpse of the future.” A breath. “We are a military of the ordinary people who cannot see into the future, but we believe the Panzerpolis Project will produce Germania and become a key to our national defense. And it is your generation that must face the tragedy that the Sofort Lesers have prophesied will occur in ’43.”
“That is the true meaning behind your summons this time. I guarantee it.”
Then a voice came from the navigation seat in the center of the cockpit. It sounded panicked.
“The dragon is descending! They’re…beginning forced recon!!”
Following that report, a noise rushed by outside.
It was a siren. The long, wailing sound indicating danger was the second alarm.
Schweitzer saw Heiliger turn to look back.
“One of those pathetic dragons that can’t even fly without the Union Jack? When is the Air Force attacking?”
“They are coordinating with the surrounding bases to prepare a counterattack,” answered the navigator. “The attack will begin in 2 more minutes.”
“Not soon enough,” replied Bermark.
His words were answered by the roar aircraft engines as they left the hangars. The sounds of an attack being prepared passed through the rain, the shadows, and Neue Silber’s armor to reach their ears.
But Bermark ignored it and pulled his white gloves on tighter.
“How many people can that thing kill with two unimpeded minutes? And how much can it see? Our land must not be allowed to be defiled by that dragon’s retinas and our skies should only be home to the true dragon that obeys the Messiah.”
“Do you intend to head out and fight, Bermark? After stopping me from doing so earlier?” asked Schweitzer.
Bermark turned toward him to respond.
“It would be foolish to use a mere hypothetical victory as evidence of our Geheimnis Agency’s standing. Once it drops below 1000, my magic bullet can slay it even in this storm.”
“That does sound like what the Geheimnis Agency would do,” said Heiliger. He still had his back to the other two men. “Before erasing his emotions, my brother Graham said your duty is not to national defense but to destiny.”
“Then, Lieutenant General, even a Sein Frau such as myself must ask. What is the purpose of your Tragisch Eingeweide arms which came from below the Karlsruhe home and were later modified by Marsch Gant?”
Bermark pulled out an automatic handgun. It had a fang decoration on the side.
“My Freischütz’s purpose is to defeat my enemy.”
Just as he said that, a roar rumbled down from the sky. It was incomparably louder than the previous ones.
The ship shook as Schweitzer nodded to his aide and prepared to leave the cockpit.
Just then, a new shout came from the navigation seat.
“Hm? Something…something is flying in from the north behind the dragon! Three crafts moving at high speed!”
“Can you identify them?” asked Heiliger.
The navigator was hesitant to respond.
“I cannot! I have never seen readings like this before. One of them is flying out ahead of the others.” He took a breath. “It is approaching the dragon at supersonic speed!!”
The question on everyone’s mind was answered a moment later.
A new voice spoke over the cockpit’s radio. It was a young male voice that sounded a bit hoarse.
“This is the Geheimnis Agency Army Division 1st Division 1st Independent Mobile Grösse Panzer Unit. Beginning counterattack.”
The airport control room said what everyone in the cockpit was thinking.
“Attention, Geheimnis Agent who just made radio contact, the Air Force is preparing to counterattack, so leave this airspace immediately!”
“Shut it. It’s you and your military who let our skies and lands be defiled like this. And the few aircraft you can scramble on such short notice won’t be enough firepower to bring down that dragon, so I will bring it down.”
Only one of the six people in the cockpit managed to respond to that: Schweitzer.
He walked forward, passed Heiliger, and grabbed the radio microphone from the wall.
“Is that you, Alfred!? Have you completed your mission in the North Sea!?”
“That voice…Hellard? How did you let this base grow so negligent on your watch? You too, Bermark. Your brother Nein must be weeping.”
The dragon roared.
“Oh? Loud thing, isn’t it? …Beginning counterattack. We can have our Marsch-less reunion later.”
The transmission was cut off on the other end.
Schweitzer returned the microphone and turned toward Heiliger.
Heiliger crossed his arms and looked back at Schweitzer. He had a fairly sharp look to his eyes, but Schweitzer remained calm and saluted before responding.
“The army is working with the Geheimnis Agency’s development division to improve upon the Eisen Ritter Project with the Panzer Ritter Project meant to develop the strongest Neue Kavalier, but the Geheimnis Agency also has its own strongest Panzer Kavalier.”
“And who is that?”
“Alfred Maldrick, second son of the Maldrick family, the foremost European Buster family, and the man allowed to wield that imperial blade known as the Rein König. He is a Buster capable of destroying an Octave of 10 million.”
Then they heard a voice from the sky.
But instead of another roar, this one was a scream.
And it suddenly dropped down toward the airport.
A great mass fell from the sky faster than the rain and with more force than the wind.
It was a mass of flesh measuring 20 yards long. Its green scales shined even in the darkness.
It was a flying dragon, but it had lost the most crucial feature for that designation.
It had no wings. Its two massive wings were missing and the shoulders that should have supported them were also no more.
It could only fall.
The airport lawn lay below. Colliding with that would cause the air Tons gathered to form its body to break apart and scatter.
But someone prevented it from simply falling.
A black form pursued the falling dragon.
The figure looked dark even compared to the shadows of the night and it resembled a winged human.
But this figure stood around 8 yards tall and had black armor resembling a mixture of metal and flesh all over its body.
The shoulder of the Panzer Kleid it wore bore a red dragon emblem and the name Schwarz Löwe.
It was a Grösse Panzer with a full-body Ober Emblem active.
Schwarz Löwe was flying. It accelerated though the rain, the wind, and the shadows. It used the wings on its back to fly forward, seemingly deflecting the air and all else. The shockwave turned the rain to a mist that sprayed outwards.
It caught up to the falling dragon in no time.
It wordlessly faced the dragon and reached out its right hand while just barely above the ground.
The dragon twisted around in an attempt to avoid that hand, but the attempt was futile.
The metal hand grabbed the dragon’s giant throat and dug in its metal claws to maintain a grip.
Then it tilted forward as if preparing for a flip and gave a powerful flap of its wings.
The dragon was dragged through the air as Schwarz Löwe accelerated.
The dragon’s caught neck was slammed into the ground, the momentum caused its body to rise up above its head, and its face smashed the grassy ground rushing by below.
The airport lawn was torn up and blown away in a long line.
The trail of destruction ran across half the length of the airport in a mere three seconds and showed no sign of stopping. The dragon’s body danced in midair as if convulsing, but not even that prevented its face from tearing apart the ground.
The great beast and Schwarz Löwe’s inertia did not allow it to stop.
But then Schwarz Löwe made a sudden move.
The pitch black Grösse Panzer flapped its wings once more and released the dragon as if throwing it.
The reactionary force to being pressed against the ground caused the dragon to hop upwards along with clumps of dirt. Half its body was torn apart and the bluish-white light of the ether forming its body sprayed out like blood.
Schwarz Löwe swung up its right fist to strike the airborne dragon.
It did not even need to hit. The Grösse Panzer’s arm was more than four times the length of a human arm, so a skilled pilot could use that extra length to break the sound barrier and produce a sonic boom.
Its fist flew and instantly launched some white water vapor.
The shockwave struck the dragon and produced a great rumbling.
The impact exploded at one end of the airport with a sound that could only be described as powerful.
The dragon’s body broke, the rain shook, and the air roared. The rain turned to a mist that sprayed out over a radius of 200 yards.
Schwarz Löwe was not within that mist.
It had already flown up into the sky where it dodged the scattering clumps of dirt that seemed to follow after it.
It knew exactly where to land: in front of the Neue Silber strategic transport ship awaiting takeoff.
While in midair, it began to slowly scatter ether light as the Ober Emblem forming its current body was deactivated.
The horn on its head became the original radiator, the black wings shattered and became the rear support wings, and the various muscles and tendons revealed themselves to be cylinders and wire cylinders.
It was now a giant humanoid machine made only of metal.
It landed, sinking down a bit to negate the impact, and a loud metallic noise joined the sound of spraying water. But those were the only sounds. The ground hidden by the mist was a paved road, but its metal feet made no sound as they contacted the asphalt.
Schwarz Löwe came to a stop while standing directly in front of Neue Silber. And with its face turned toward the cockpit window.
After a pause, the door to the secondary cockpit on its back opened.
Someone emerged from within.
Schweitzer looked out from the cockpit window to see a young man appear from within Schwarz Löwe’s back.
He had long brown hair tied back, but it looked red in the airport lights. He wore the black pants of a Geheimnis Agent and even wore the boots, but he only wore a sleeveless black shirt on his upper body.
But the most notable trait was the long drawn sword he held in his right hand.
It was a pure white double-edged sword that allowed no shadows to fall on it.
He climbed on top of Schwarz Löwe’s shoulder with that weapon that resembled a straight line of silver.
His thick eyebrows bent in a smile.
“Alfred Maldrick plus two others here. We decided to stop by for supplies on our way to the HQ.”
His hoarse statement was followed by two roars from the sky.
Two other Grösse Panzers landed behind him with speeds just short of freefall.
They stood back up as pieces of the pavement flew into the air. The one on the right was blue and the one on the left was red. They had both deactivated their Ober Emblems and no longer had wings on their back.
The blue one carried a giant autocannon modeled after an MG 34 in its right hand.
The red one carried a massive shield in its left hand.
Both had shimmering heat rising from the radiators on their back.
Alfred smiled bitterly when he saw it.
“These two are still inexperienced, but they work for me all the same. Allow me to introduce you to ‘Doppel Panzer’ Bermark Nein, the final form of the Eisen Ritter Project. He was left with me by Karl Schmitt, one of the Fünf Leithammel.”
Schweitzer grabbed the microphone from the wall to respond.
He instructed the pilot crew to have his voice played from the loudspeaker on the outside of the aircraft and then took a breath.
“You are in an awfully good mood, Alfred. The hoarseness of those artificial vocal cords suits you.”
Alfred must have heard that because he smiled a little.
“Hellard, huh? Ha ha. Of course I’m in a good mood. After four long years, my Eingeweide Grösse Panzer is finally complete. The new model that uses my voice as a component.” Alfred placed his hand on Schwarz Löwe’s face. “After all, this Panzer was built for the Geheimnis Agency’s internal anti-air tests, but it’s already outdated. The other countries still haven’t reached this level, it isn’t enough to satisfy my skill.”
“So you are visiting HQ for a new toy?”
“No, I have business at HQ other than that Panzer in Base #8. General Graham summoned me to attend the Gard-class’s commissioning…and I can’t exactly refuse His Excellency’s request when he is suffering from Words Warn.”
Alfred looked away from Schweitzer in the cockpit. The look in his eyes changed from joy to ridicule as he looked to Heiliger instead.
“Oh, if it isn’t Lieutenant General Heiliger. Making your yearly visit to our HQ?”
“Oh? I am honored that a Panzer Kavalier of your caliber knows of me.”
“I’ve heard all about you from your sister, Lady Rose…not to mention the dark rumors spoken of you within our Agency. The rumors that you are a Neue Kavalier who fled to the military and sold out his family.” He smiled bitterly. “Not that I know what it is you do every year when you meet up with His Excellency and Lady Rose.”
“Stop it, Alfred. Have you forgotten that mouth of yours is what led to the incident four years ago?”
“That’s the distant past. And destiny would have worked itself out if not for that man. The one who thinks so highly of himself just cause he’s got a divine name.”
“A divine name, hm?”
“Isn’t that why you let him take care of the Messiah two years ago? Because he qualified as a one-armed man with a divine name?”
Once he got that out, Alfred’s expression changed.
He looked up and suddenly swung his sword up from atop Schwarz Löwe’s shoulder.
Alfred opened his mouth before Schweitzer could even express his surprise.
The shout he produced was a single pure note. It was the Ton note that he used when destroying things as a Buster.
His sword could amplify Tons as a Werkzeug.
It was instantly wrapped in white light, which it then released, becoming a pillar of light.
The relationship between Buster and Werkzeug was the relationship between the will to attack and the manifestation of that will. If the Buster moved to attack, the Werkzeug would amplify the attacking Ton of his will and allow it to manifest.
He made a single attack with the sword he had raised overhead.
He also turned his body around, so the destructive beam of light swept horizontally across the airport.
The mist evaporated as the destructive light grew to 200 yards long and 40 yards wide. The target of the sweeping attack was the dragon regenerating its body within the mist and preparing to leap at the man.
When the light struck the dragon, it scattered with a sound like shattering glass.
It was annihilated.
The light returned to its original Tons and burst, sending threads of light dancing through the air.
The rain shined.
But Alfred did not even bother viewing the dancing and collapsing light.
He rested the sword on his shoulder and turned back toward the cockpit.
“I’m not the man I was four years ago. No one’s a match for me now that I can wield Rein König.”
“Then I have some news you might be interested in: We have received a report of Dog Berger entering Germany. He may be working with the full force of the AIF led by ‘Verräter’ M. Schrier.”
“Is that so? I had received a similar report,” said Alfred. “The Messiah girl apparently entered Germany as a tourist just before entry into the country was locked down. A team from the Army Division is searching for her, but she was apparently on her way to Berlin.”
Alfred smiled a little as he looked up into the sky.
“Things are in motion as war draws ever closer. And I will be joining the chase this time.”
He called out to the two behind him in the rain. The two Panzers stood up and prepared to leave.
“We’ll be right after you once we’ve resupplied. Whatever the man with the divine name, the Messiah, and the AIF are planning, it’s bound to happen where we end up.”
“How can you be so certain, Alfred?”
“Because we’re their opponent, Hellard. How could I be less than certain?”
With that, Alfred turned his back on them. He started to climb back into the secondary cockpit on Schwarz Löwe’s back, but then he stopped.
He rested his elbow on the armor and looked off into the distance. He took a long look at Berlin on this rainy night.
He even reached a hand out toward it.
He wore a ring with a red jewel on his left hand’s middle finger.
He used that hand to clutch at the empty air as if grasping the city before his eyes.
Chapter 2: The Wheel Begins
I met someone I hadn’t seen in a while
But instead of redoing things
We are slowly starting something new
Even if I’m not entirely happy about it
Geheimnis Agency HQ
The Geheimnis Agency was formed from the guardian knights of various regions around Germany and its HQ is located on the east side of the Black Forest.
The white-walled fortress is made from three enormous buildings. A test site built and abandoned by a past politician was used as the foundation and the buildings themselves are a collection of Ober Geheimnis. This leads to the occasional appearance of never-before-seen passageways and rooms inside and the method of controlling that is currently only known to the upper levels of the Agency.
The HQ was originally built for use by their army division and was thus built around a Grösse Panzer hangar, but the air force division was also given focus starting in the 30s and a large runway was constructed.
The Neylor family’s Sofort Leser, who commands the Agency, and Graham Karlsruhe, the second in command, are always present at the HQ, so it acts as a home base for the entire Agency as well as a command post.
Only descendants of a knight’s bloodline are allowed inside and the influential citizens who live nearby keep silent about its presence because they know what the Agency’s role is.
During late summer in Berlin, evening began early – at around 4 PM.
The city was located at a high latitude, so night always came early, even during summer. The amount of people on the streets gradually reduced as time passed.
They left those public areas and returned home as if pursued by the shadows of evening.
This was most evident at the Tiergarten park in the center of the city.
Dark shadows fell over the woods and the entire park was dyed in dark colors. The streetlights came on to hold back that encroaching darkness, lighting up different parts of the park, but they only managed to illuminate the area directly below them.
The park became a place of pure darkness carrying a light summer heat.
The cars on the streets and the hustle and bustle of people heading home could be heard in the distance.
It was time to begin preparing dinner.
Looking up past the wall of darkness formed by the woods gave a view of steam and smoke rising from all over the city to decorate the reddish-black color of the evening sky.
A single person walked through the shadows of the park below those colors.
He was a young man of a medium height and build. Everything he wore was black, his long black hair was roughly parted to the sides, and he wore black sunglasses. A black-dyed lab coat fluttered as he walked and the clothes below that were black as well. He also wore a black glove on his left hand.
The only other colors were the red gem in the pendant worn around his neck and the blue of his eyes.
He was walking quickly, but he suddenly came to a stop and viewed his surroundings. He had been stopping below the streetlights and he turning to view the number plate attached to the streetlight’s pole.
“If this is 15, then A-17 would be…two more down.”
He kept walking. It was a large park, so it took several minutes to cover the distance between two more streetlights.
The darkness grew deeper as he walked, so the streetlights were more or less the only light sources anymore.
He looked up while walking. The sky visible above the cedar trees was still faintly red even at night. That was thanks to the lights shining up at the sky from the ground.
He took a breath, quickened his pace, and looked across the sky with an exaggerated movement.
He could tell Berlin’s sky was lit up red from four directions. The city’s sky was much less busy now that they were so close to war and it was glowing faintly red.
The trees opened up just enough for him to see more of the northern sky. Humboldt University’s buildings in northern Berlin could be seen against the night sky there, but something else was visible past them.
A single cylindrical structure towered up above that wave of buildings. The stratovolcano-shaped building had a faint slope to it and resembled a thermal power turbine.
It had to be about 120 yards tall. Its white walls were lit up from below to show off its grandeur to the sky. It also looked like a chess piece protecting Berlin.
“A Vaterland ley line acceleration reactor. One piece of the Panzerpolis Project.”
Why did Marsch have to design this? he wondered while coming to a sudden stop.
He glanced toward the streetlight he was beneath to read the plate there.
“A-17. This is the place. What an odd place for my old upperclassman to send me. He had to know Berlin is the second to last place in the world I want to be.”
He took a breath, slowly reached his right hand into his pocket, and pulled out a letter.
“Just when I was really getting settled into my work in the Soviet Union, he calls me back here with a new mission. And why is Berlin the rendezvous point when it’s already being modified into a multilevel city? The AIF shouldn’t be working their hired soldiers so hard when they’re supposed to have their own forces fully gathered by now.”
He opened the letter to check the time, a map of Tiergarten, and the text A-17.
He nodded, closed the letter, and put it back in his pocket. Just then…
“Um, are you Mr. Dog Berger?”
A young male voice spoke to him from behind.
He turned around while slowly sticking his hand in his pocket.
All the colors were faded and hard to make out in the darkness behind him, but he could see a young man wearing a blue uniform. He was a postal worker, so Berger asked about that.
“Yes, that is correct. My last delivery for the day happens to be…something rather unusual.”
The postman stepped into the light of the streetlight. The bag worn over one shoulder was already open, but there were no more letters inside.
However, he reached into the seemingly empty bag and opened the false bottom installed within. That was where he would store any valuables.
“Much of this world has yet to be developed, so it is our duty as postal workers to delivery anything to anyone. Yes, no matter the person, the location, or the era.”
With that, he held out a small paper envelope.
It was old.
The paper had grown brown and the wax seal had crumbled away, leaving only a round white mark where it had been. The edges of the envelope were a little torn and some oil paper and dried parchment could be glimpsed within.
“A Verlsten Brief?” asked Berger while accepting it with his black-gloved left hand.
“Yes, every post office in the world has some of these undelivered documents from the past and this one comes from the German Post Office’s storage. This one is addressed to Dog Berger in Berlin’s Tiergarten A-17 at 5PM on July 27, 1939.” The postman smiled a bit. “So I’m right on time.”
“Indeed you are. …But why is this addressed to me? I sure hope it doesn’t have a razor blade inside.”
“I can’t deny the possibility. Based on where it was stored, this one is from around a thousand years ago, but our storage and management were not perfected until the 12th Century. To avoid the mistakes made in the Obstacle Era, we make sure to hire technicians from the Postal City that developed the Verlsten Brief system in the first place.” The postman closed his bag. “But a Verlsten Brief carries the thoughts that someone in the past wanted to convey to someone in the future. Since they are being delivered to Germany as we prepare for war and modify this city, I can only imagine-”
“Hold on.” Berger held up the old letter. “Since they are being delivered? There’s more than just this one?”
“I can’t give you the details, but the German Post Office is currently in a state of chaos. According to the 1939 Verlsten Brief Management Register that was unsealed this year, we have been instructed to deliver more this year than the past hundred years combined.”
“Does that mean someone in the past had a lot to tell us here in the present?”
“Yes, to you, to others, and outside the country as well.” The postal worker tapped his closed bag. “I will be going then.” He saluted and turned around. “I notice you aren’t sitting down this time.”
He laughed and then vanished into the darkness.
He did not turn around as Berger watched him go with a bitter smile. Berger finally waved his hand goodbye.
He viewed the letter held in that hand. The black ink on the back of the envelope had grown blurry.
“D – O…B – E – R…R.”
He read the letters he could actually make out and then sighed. He could not read anything written after the name.
“Is this really addressed to me? This world never ceases to surprise me.”
After a moment of hesitation, he opened the envelope.
He pulled out the parchment. It was held between oil paper for protection and it had grown dry and stiff, but the writing had not blurred.
It was written in clear handwriting.
His facial expression changed as he read it. The composure vanished from his face.
His mouth seemed to move automatically to read it aloud.
In the deep darkness of the Black Forest
Born from the abyss
The wheel emerges
- It whips up the wind and speaks with the dragon
- It reads the wind and weeps
- It carries power in its hand and hesitates
“That’s from the Unreif Germane – the 3rd Section of Daily Life where the Messiah is born into this world.”
He stared at the parchment.
But that was all it said and it did not tell him anything more.
He scratched his head, clicked his tongue, and stuffed the parchment back in the envelope.
He heard a quiet footstep from the dark woods to his right.
Just as he looked that way, he heard the underbrush parting and saw a small form run out into the light.
It was a kitten. A golden-furred kitten wearing a black choker around its neck. After entering the light, it tripped, fell, rolled two or three times, and finally stopped after hitting his foot.
It shook its head and got up.
He crouched down to see what this was about and his eyes met those of the kitten.
The kitten had a curious trait.
While its left eye was an ordinary brown cat’s eye, its right eye was a blue human eye.
Before his surprise at that observation could show on his face, the cat gained an obvious look of relief and mewed once.
Then white steam rose up from the cat and exploded in midair.
After the explosion, a girl appeared in front of Berger.
The leftover movement of the air caused her shoulder-length blonde hair to flutter.
She had a friendly face with eyes identical to the cat’s. The left one was a brown cat’s eye and the right one was a blue human one.
She was not wearing any clothing. Unless you counted the choker around her neck, that is.
The wind whipped around her and her eyes focused in on Berger.
“I’d say you’ve grown, but your chest sure hasn’t, Hazel Mirildorf.”
Berger’s comment brought Hazel back to her senses. She looked down at herself.
She was not wearing anything.
She cried out and quickly used her hands to cover the important bits and the brand left on her at the Heidenheim 2 years before.
“U-um, um, uh!”
“I thought you were living the good life over in America, Hazel. I did get a few letters from you, but nothing about this.”
His eyes moved as he spoke. They moved toward Hazel as she panicked on her feet.
She could feel her face growing red.
…I need clothes or something!
“U-um! Clothes, I need clothes!”
“Say it in English.”
“Eh? Um, uh…”
She looked to his face and noticed he was staring at her.
…What is he looking at?
She could not bring herself to actually ask that and she held her left shoulder more strongly with her hand while considering crouching down. She finally spoke to break the awkward silence.
“U-um, B-Berger? D-do you have anything to w-w-w-wear!?”
“Calm down, Hazel. People are born in the nude. Nudists have the right idea, really. Yeah, I’d love to hire a maid and live the nudist life.”
“I-I need…um, uh, I’ll c-cry!!”
“Quiet down. Did you learn nothing at all over the past two years? Listen.” He scratched his head. “I’ve always thought the modern world is in too much of a hurry. It’s always hurry up and do this, hurry up and do that, hurry up and pay your bills. Especially in France. In what world is a single article of clothing as expensive as a house? Right? Oh, and your new home of America is the same.” He sighed and gave an exaggerated shrug. “Now, I get that America has spent the past 10 years facing the same global terror as the rest of us and I get that they’ve started on a new beginning with their new cabinet, but it’s pretty sad they can’t even teach a Heidengeist girl to speak their language after two years living there. If my old upperclassman really wants to play tutor while commanding the AIF…”
After listening to all that, Hazel realized he was looking at her face.
And he smiled a little.
“You know what, Hazel?”
“How about you stop listening and actually ask for some clothes? You look pretty ridiculous right now.”
She immediately slapped him.
If the German evening drove people back to their homes, then the night that followed was the busiest time in those homes.
That remained true in the Black Forest located in the southwest of the country. A home of sorts was located in that land of trees and valleys where no city could be built. The Geheimnis Agency HQ was home to the Germania Dragoons.
It was located at a long, narrow strip of land with valley slopes rising on either side. A 2-mile runway stretched out ahead of three 5-story buildings with several black Grösse Panzers deployed for security.
The many pillars even larger than the Grösse Panzers made the place look like it was a natural construction of massive stones, as if to insist the facility was part of the forest.
It was a fortress.
The fortress was currently lit up as people gathered there for the night.
That many people naturally led to a lot of noise.
The peace and quiet of the Black Forest was broken by shattering glass.
A Grösse Panzer patrolling midway down the runway turned back toward the sound.
A first-floor window on the right side of the central building – the officer barracks – had broken. A single young Geheimnis Officer lay collapsed below the window.
The Grösse Panzer viewed that and then shook its head in an exasperated way.
A small light flashed at the far end of the runway.
The Grösse Panzer patrolling there was signaling to ask what happened. The first Grösse Panzer twisted its head to aim its left shoulder that way and then flashed the glow panel installed on its secondary cockpit.
Just the usual.
The usual is happening again.
A second person was defenestrated as well.
The Grösse Panzer lowered its shoulder and looked that way again. People were gathered around the inside of the first-floor window. They wanted to see what had happened to those people.
They were mostly young and a few of them were holding plates of food.
The commotion was coming from the mess hall.
The Geheimnis Agency HQ’s mess hall was located on Building 2 Floor 1.
Most Geheimnis Agents were the former nobility known as Neue Kavalier, so the mess hall that served them quality food was a large place with nice furniture. All of the tables were round and meant for only four people.
But all of those tables had been shoved over toward the walls and the people were also backed toward the walls, forming a large circle.
The large clock on the wall rang seven times.
As it did, everyone’s eyes slowly moved up and down. Their rising and falling gazes were directed toward a girl. The skinny girl was dressed like a male waiter plus an apron.
She worked as a waitress in the mess hall.
Her face showed she was approaching adulthood, her brown hair was worn in a long braid that swayed down at the back of her knees, and that swaying came from the movement of her body as she set a tempo.
That tempo displayed the elation and spirit of combat.
Everyone’s eyes were glued to her movements.
Her sweaty face was somewhat pale but stared straight forward.
A young man stood there. The young Geheimnis Agent had removed his jacket to reveal a muscular body with no excess fat. He remained motionless as he brushed a hand through his short black hair and returned her gaze.
“You might make our food, but that doesn’t mean you can get away with just anything, Lowenzahn.”
“You don’t have to worry about that. It’s the cooks who make it. I only carry it out. For my tuition.”
The girl named Lowenzahn smiled. The powerful smile looked out of place on her pale face.
“Now, how about you apologize for that rather colorful commentary on my body when you don’t even have any first-hand experience with it? Or do Neue Kavaliers make a habit of demeaning women these days?” She took a breath. “Your two friends seem to have learned their lesson, but what about you?”
“Not a chance.”
“Then bring it on. I have plenty more food to bring out, so if I spend too much time with you…” She smiled bitterly. “It’ll get cold.”
After that quip, she gestured him toward her and he complied.
They were approximately 6 yards apart. That space was filled with the sound of a single footstep. The man did not hold back.
Lowenzahn swung her body to jump backwards. That dodged his attack but kept her within striking distance, so her white apron fluttered in front of her as she moved about 2 yards back.
She landed with just the toes of her left foot on the carpet.
Then her opponent took his second step.
In that moment, she twisted her toes forcefully to the left and similarly rotated her hips to create a spiraling movement from her toes to her hips.
That doubled her speed, moving her body like a whip and swinging her right leg around.
A strike as sharp as a blade struck her opponent’s jaw just as he moved forward with his second step.
The direct hit made a sound of something breaking instead of just an impact.
The man’s body floated up and to the left for a brief moment.
But it did not end there. she leaned her body over while spinning to the left. It took her less than a second to lay her body face down with just her left leg supporting her to form a large T with her body.
She slightly pulled in her swinging right leg and unleashed a straight kick behind her.
As she did, a voice rang through the air.
<The Fatherland has not forsaken me.>
It was an Erklärung.
An Erklärung textually rewrote reality to fulfill the will behind it.
As a result, Lowenzahn’s kick missed. The Erklärung had come from the man, not from her. His body was now just to the left of her kick.
He let out a roar while bleeding from the mouth.
“This land is being used to test out the Panzerpolis Project’s Ton alterations, remember?”
“You’ll activate Vaterland to win a fight against a girl? Sounds pretty sad to me!”
He ignored her protests.
She clicked her tongue, straightened up, and lowered her kicking leg just as the man rushed in.
He was moving much faster than before and his tackle caught her slender hips.
She was lifted from the floor. Once she was slammed against the floor and pinned down, her defeat was guaranteed.
A mixture of anticipation and disappointment ran through the Neue Kavaliers and cooks watching the fight.
Smiling at their voices, Lowenzahn took a breath. Once strength returned to her gaze, she reached for her back and untied her apron.
She removed herself from it like she was peeling a fruit and letting the fruit flesh burst from within.
One beat later, the man held only the apron in his arms.
She raised a hand in front of his face to flip up the end of the apron.
As soon as the white cloth covered his face, she slammed her right knee into his jaw at close range.
The impact rang loud and the man was knocked back, where he collapsed.
Lowenzahn lowered her leg, took a few steps away, and let her shoulders droop. Her face was pale and she was out of breath. The swaying of her body was gone now.
But her opponent did not let it end there.
<The Fatherland will not lose.>
Supported by his Erklärung-modified Ton, he stood back up. His knees were shaking, but there was strength in his eyes and expression.
“You sure are persist- oh.”
A sudden shadow fell over her face just as she was preparing herself.
Her voice caught in her throat, she stopped breathing, and she sat down on the spot. She wrapped her left hand around herself and held the left side of her chest with her right hand.
Just as the blood fully drained from her face, she collapsed forward.
She somehow got those words out and lifted her face just enough to see her opponent standing in front of her.
He no longer said a word.
She frantically tried and failed to get up and she saw his right foot moving in fast. That sharp kick from below was aimed for her gut – an attack one should never make against a woman.
A crash of impact rang through the mess hall, but not of a boot against flesh.
It was a loud sound of breaking bone.
Some metal had stopped the kick and broken the foot. A massive prosthetic arm made of steel was pressed down against the floor.
Everyone there muttered the name of the arm and its owner.
“Der Held…‘Schallmauer Zerstörer’ Hellard Schweitzer.”
Those names held great meaning, so Lowenzahn looked up. A bright expression appeared on her pale and sweaty face when she saw the large figure positioned between her and her opponent.
She called his name in a scratchy voice.
Her call was answered by a different voice than the one she had hoped for. This one was a scratchy voice produced by artificial vocal cords.
“I thought to stop by on the way to Base #8 for adjustments to my new Panzer and this is what I find? Never a dull moment in our HQ.”
A man entered through an outward-facing window. He was a long-haired man who wore his coat over his shoulders and carried a long sword at his hip. Everyone spoke his name as well.
“ ‘Kaiser Schwert’ Alfred Maldrick.”
Lowenzahn accepted Schweitzer’s outstretched left hand. She firmly grasped it while crouched down.
He somewhat forcefully pulled her up to her feet.
Once upright, she could see her opponent down on one knee and holding his broken foot past the prosthetic arm.
She breathed a sigh of relief and clutched the hem of Schweitzer’s coat.
Alfred smiled bitterly when he noticed and he glanced around the mess hall.
“Since when does the Geheimnis Agency cause so much trouble for a girl!? From what I heard on the way here, the radicals of Lady Jeanne’s army division are actually arguing they should kidnap the Messiah girl now that she’s in Berlin.”
Schweitzer nodded at the other man’s comment.
“Yes, this is not proper conduct for a Neue Kavalier.” He slowly frowned and looked around while lowering his voice. “So as soon as General Graham is out due to his illness, the Neue Kavaliers of the Geheimnis Agency begin standing idly by and watching a one-sided attack on a girl?”
Lowenzahn immediately looked up and responded to that.
“Sorry, but I actually picked this fight with them.”
The cramped wooden room was a perfect match for the concept of a “cheap inn”.
There was only one small curtained window facing south. The only furniture was a simple bed, a table, and two chairs. There was no bath or toilet, but there was a bidet and a kitchen.
The electric light hanging from the ceiling cast two shadows on the floor.
Hazel stood in the kitchen preparing some food in only a black shirt and Berger sat by the window at one of the table’s chairs.
Hazel worked swiftly to get the charcoal fire going before opening the cabinet below the sink.
“Just because it’s a hideout doesn’t mean you can stock up on nothing but wursts and pasta. That’s not a balanced diet.”
“Don’t worry. I drink beer too, so I’m the second healthiest guy in the world. More importantly…”
She knew what he was going to say next, so she placed her hands on the sink and waited for him to speak.
“What are you doing in Berlin, Hazel?”
…Exactly what I expected.
She took a breath and answered.
“My teacher gave me a letter for you.”
“Your teacher? You mean my old upperclassman? He sent you back to Germany with the Messiah implant, even if it is broken? You said on the way here we had to hurry because you were being pursued by some weird people, didn’t you? And that you had hid your things? Why would he send you here when that’s obviously what would end up happening?”
“It’s true! I know it may be hard to believe, but he really gave me permission.”
She turned toward him while holding a frying pan.
She saw him sitting sideways in the chair by the window with his elbow on the chair back and his eyes on her. His expression was not a casual one.
He sighed through his nose.
“He gave you permission, did he? What in the world is he thinking?”
“So you believe me? That was easier than I expected.”
“Look, our last little adventure together told me that you’re kind to a fault and nowhere near smart enough to use someone else’s name to sell a lie. …I am surprised a Heidengeist like you would come back here, though.”
“My prosthetic eye is listed as the other one on my passport. My teacher had business in Paris, so he had that counterfeited for me while he was there. Um, the Messiah eye on the right is my real eye and this cat one on the left is a night vision prosthetic…according to my passport.”
“So that means you’re human, huh? You can be weirdly clever when you need to be.”
His tone said that compliment was genuine.
She breathed a sigh of relief and held the frying pan to her chest while looking to his left arm.
“I’m sorry. Losing your left arm must have hurt so much.”
He held up his left hand to show her. He clenched the fist inside the black leather glove.
“Don’t worry about it. Can’t have hurt as much as jamming a knife into your eye. Speaking of which how’s your right eye? The letter you sent me before said your sight was gradually returning.”
“Yes, the sight has returned, but the Messiah functions have not. The doctor said those won’t return until I decide I need its power. Because my will and my body will not be aligned until then.”
She chose her words carefully and kept one thought to herself.
…That may never recover.
“But instead, I’ve been studying Tuning and Busting ever since that incident two years ago.”
“Huh? Tuning and Busting? Why?”
“I’ve been able to see Tons ever since the Sylphide Incident – or maybe ‘perceive’ is the better word. I can sometimes just ‘see’ the currents of the wind or the water.”
“Tuning and Busting, huh?”
He scratched his head in a troubled way and his mechanical left hand toyed with the woman’s pendant hanging from his neck.
“Personally, I think you should stop that. You’re still a trainee Greenhorner, aren’t you? So why not start studying Ton Medicine instead? Or you could become a vet.”
“Hazel, you do know that Tuning and Busting are mostly used as tools of killing in Europe, don’t you? And as the daughter of Oscar Mirildorf and the student of my old underclassman, you should be well aware that we’re on the verge of a war.”
“The war will begin here in Germany and spread to the rest of Europe. Every country’s Sofort Lesers have made that prophecy. There’s a lot of construction underway here in Berlin, but do you know what that’s for?”
“I’ve heard, yes. They will be creating a new multilevel Berlin called Germania based on the Vaterland ley line acceleration reactors. They plan to develop the city underground and install defense field generators to protect against aerial bombings.”
“And you know Stimmers and Busters are being used for some of that construction, don’t you? The massive Tune Emblems drawn out below cities around Germany and the more than 400 Vaterlands that suck the country’s Tons out of the ley lines will be used to give all pureblooded Germans an Erklärung power. That plus Germania are how they hope the Panzerpolis Project will allow Germany to survive the coming war.”
“And as a part of that, the Geheimnis Agency is building an improved version of the Babel Kanone that failed to fire in England and constructing a massive Gard-class aerial warship.”
“That isn’t just an aerial warship. From what I’ve heard, it’s an Eingeweide. And there’s a lot of Busters working on its construction too. Norse mythology and the Unreif Germane are rising to prominence above even the Bible right now. Yesterday, I saw a book burning in one of the villages I passed through on the way to Berlin.”
Hazel trembled more at the thought of burning the writing than the books themselves.
Berger’s eyes suddenly moved. He glanced over at her and turned his entire chair to face forward.
“Let’s get back on topic, Hazel. Hazel Mirildorf. Why are you in this city?”
She knew why he was asking this and why he was so puzzled by it, but that was why she was uncertain how to respond.
“Um.” She lowered her head for a moment, but then she raised it again while holding the frying pan lightly against her chest. “Berger…you never did respond to my letters. It was only when I actually wrote your name out for those letters that I realized it really does mean Wild Hund, doesn’t it?”
“My mother cared a little too much for her kid. She said she wanted to raise me to be as tough as a stray dog.” He was not smiling. “But don’t change the subject. My name doesn’t matter. Why you’re here does.”
“Well,” she said before trailing off again.
…There’s so, so much I could say.
“Once the war starts, I felt like I would never again be able to see this city or my friends here. And and there were things I wanted to discuss with you and ask you if I could meet you again.”
His blunt question made her hesitate again. She clutched the frying pan harder against her chest.
“A lot of people visit my home in LA. They’re all working so hard for this upcoming war. But whenever I ask my dad if there’s anything I can do, he says no.” She thought for a moment. “How can he be so sure there’s nothing I can do?”
Berger sighed at that.
“Y’know…you should really be asking my old upperclassman that. He knows a lot more than me and is just an all-around better person.”
“I-I know that!”
“Um…you didn’t have to agree with that quite so enthusiastically.”
“Eh? Huh? Um, uh…s-sorry. But I’ve been thinking. Two years ago, you told me that to run away was to survive. But then…if you don’t want to run away and you want to stay and fight, does that mean you want to die? And if so…”
“Enough pointless arguments.” He cut her off. “Right now, you need to start cooking, Hazel. I’m the second hungriest guy in the world right now. We can discuss this…well, we’ll be heading out right away tonight, so we can discuss it on the way. My motorcycle has a sidecar.”
He stood up, pushed his chair against the windowsill, and turned toward the door out into the hall.
“Where are you going while I’m cooking?”
“Where are the instructions my old upperclassman left with you? And your clothes? Think about it. You got here and that’s great, but you said you were being chased by someone, right?” He walked toward her and pressed his right index finger against her chest. “I have a job to do, Hazel. They locked down the borders a few days ago, but I still have to get you outside the country. Do you get that? Do you, Hazel Mirildorf? The Swiss border is chilly even in the summer, so where are your things? You need some clothes, don’t you? I’ll go get them, so you wait here.”
“Please get back soon.”
He smiled at that.
“Don’t worry. Do you know where we are? This place is owned by an AIF member. We’ve been using the place whenever we visit Berlin lately. As long as you stay away from the curtains, this place is plenty safe for a kitten to play in, Hazel.”
She started to say something in response, but stopped and smiled bitterly instead.
She looked down at his finger against her chest and suppressed a sigh.
“Are you…are you always like this, Berger?”
“Always like what?”
“You can’t tell? So…so…”
“Unfortunately, I’m the second dumbest guy in the world. But your chest really hasn’t grown at all, has it? Have you been eating right?”
He pressed against the chest of her shirt and reached the limit of the softness very quick.
The frying pan met his face even quicker.
“Ow, ow, ow, ow.”
Berger held his cheek while descending the wooden stairs.
The first floor was a cramped front desk and the hallway was too narrow for two people to pass each other. The window in the entrance next to the front desk provided a view of a main road lit up by streetlights.
There was a black cedar forest on the other side of the road. The forest was so close to the road that there was no room for homes or shops alongside it.
The view out the window showed only the stillness of the summer night.
“Potsdamer Strasse there runs through the Grunewald forest park,” said a voice from the counter. “Will your job tonight be taking you south along that road?”
Berger looked up to see a short old man behind the counter.
“That girl looks like she’s going to be yet more trouble for you,” asked the old man. “Does she have a story?”
“You could say that, yes. I was hoping you could look after her for a bit.”
The old man gave him a puzzled look, so Berger leaned back against the wall and pointed up at the ceiling.
“I think the Geheimnis Agency is after her. I’m on my way to pick up her things hidden in a locker at Unter den Linden Station. That includes my next instructions, so I will head out on that mission once I have them. My mission is to destroy the Gard-class warship that we’ve heard is being constructed at the Geheimnis Agency’s Base #8.”
“Hold on. This is an inn, not a home for runaways.”
“But you have connections, don’t you? I’ll write her an introduction, so call her a ride you can trust and send her to the Borderson hidden village in the morning. I have to complete this mission. Rumor has it that Gard-class is an Eingeweide, so we’re in trouble if I can’t sink it before they get it up and running.”
The innkeeper frowned and then gave Berger an exasperated look.
“So what’s her name?”
“Hazel. Hazel Mirildorf. She’s Oscar Mirildorf’s daughter.”
Surprise flashed across the innkeeper’s face, but then he shut his eyes.
“So she’s the one person who ever managed to injure you on a job, huh?”
“Yes, and it’s been two years since then. She sent me a few letters through my old upperclassman, but she only ever talked about cheerful things in those letters. Never anything gloomy and never asking about me. I know none of that was what she really wanted to write.”
“Knowing you, you didn’t respond.”
“Of course not. I’m not an official AIF member – I’m just their hired Wild Hund. I’m the second least romantic guy in the world.” He sighed. “Besides, she belongs on the other side of the wall…of that wall I could never break through. I have no business being anywhere near her.”
He smiled and held up his black-gloved left hand.
“Have her leave this land as soon as possible. Europe will be engulfed in war in another month, but barely any of that will reach her new home in America. Her father seems to understand that.”
“That’s pretty cold of you. Is that what destiny has in store for the two of you?” asked the innkeeper while looking up at the ceiling.
Berger’s smile did not reach his eyes.
He stuck a hand in his pocket and tossed three small shining things onto the counter.
“I picked up these imperial coins in the Soviet Union. Give them to her and tell her to visit Paris on her way home. Tell her she won’t want to wander around the streets in the nude after that.”
“What did I do wrong to deserve this job?”
“This is just what destiny has in store for you,” spat out Berger as he opened the door.
The wind blew in. That summer wind was racing through the black cedar forest.
“Hazel can see this wind now, can she?”
His lips silently mouthed a poem.
It was a section of the Unreif Germane.
He recited it as he stepped outside into the dark forest. All alone.
Chapter 3: The Wheel Runs
7/27/1939 – 7/28/1939 22:08 – 03:41
Suddenly, I remember my role
I remember my purpose in this world
That realization comes with fear
How can everyone else accept it so easily?
Dragons and the Geheimnis Agency
1000 years ago, the Messiah used a soaring dragon to conquer Germany with a one-armed youth by her side, so dragons receive special treatment within the Geheimnis Agency when compared to other Heidengeists.
The order of knights from 1000 years ago bore a lion emblem as they raced across the ground while the dragon named Sylphide conquered the sky. Due to that, the Geheimnis Agency’s Grösse Panzers generally take the name of lions and their aircrafts take the name of dragons. Also, their emblem is a wedge shape with a dragon on the top and a lion on the bottom.
The Geheimnis Agency’s approval only falls on the great and wise dragons, not the wild and animalistic ones. Thus, they eradicate the lesser dragons for being a stain on the reputation of dragons as a whole.
During the construction of the Geheimnis Agency’s North Base #9 in 1936, a green dragon was born from the ley line disturbance caused by the construction. The dragon emerged into the city from an old abandoned test site below Neuschwanstein Castle but was defeated by two Geheimnis Agents who rushed in.
There were no restful nights in the Geheimnis Agency headquarters. Only nights of preparation.
The night shift had just taken over and the HQ was entering the quietest part of the night.
The mess hall was just as quiet.
The only active lights were the fluorescent ones in the kitchen and the large sunlamp at the center of the ceiling. The place had a cold and dim atmosphere, but there was activity there.
The kitchen was empty, but someone was wiping down the tables.
Lowenzahn had rolled her sleeves up to her elbows, revealing awfully white and thin arms. They could even be called delicate as she used one to wipe down the tables with a rag.
Without wiping the sweat from her brow, she peered down at the table to see her face reflected in it.
She nodded in satisfaction and observed her reflected face.
She wrinkled her brow and smiled to see the same in the diagonally-reflected face.
She glanced over at the reflection from the side, altered the angle of her face, and gave it another glance.
And just as she found an angle she liked, a large figure appeared in the table mirror.
“What are you doing?”
She gasped and stepped back from the table. She ended up bumping into the person behind her, but…
“Be careful,” he warned as he caught her in a giant metal arm.
She looked back to find the familiar face of Hellard Schweitzer.
“Lieutenant? What brings you here at this hour?” she asked while stepping away from his arm and turning to face him. She smiled and tilted her head. “To visit me perhaps?”
She had to laugh at that. “That isn’t like you at all, is it?” she said before another quiet laugh.
He only tilted his head in confusion.
“I was thinking about some things and I thought some alcohol might help me gather my thoughts.”
“Oh? So even you drink.”
“I doubt there is a German alive who doesn’t drink.”
She pointed back at her left chest with her thumb.
When he realized what she meant, his face clouded over a little.
“Don’t let it bother you.” She smiled bitterly. “I’m doing a lot better than when you saved me 3 years ago.”
“Your father, Air Force Division Chief Muller, said you should rely on him more.”
“Did he? But an adopted daughter can’t rely on him too much. You saving me from the Neuschwanstein Dragon Attack 3 years ago was enough for me.”
“You did well at the hospital.”
“Only because you pushed me way too hard. Who tells a girl to run immediately after heart surgery?” She glared at him but with a smile. “I did manage to run, though.”
He gave her an earnest nod.
“We control Neuschwanstein Castle, so unlike Munich’s central hospital, Neuschwanstein’s hospital receives support from the Geheimnis Agency. We healed you, so we can ask you to run for us.”
“Yeah, until you learned about my illness,” she said while giving him some side-eye. His calm expression gave no indication as to whether or not he understood what she meant.
She sighed with the look of disgust intact.
“But that was when the real ‘fun’ began. You got your arm blown off and Lieutenant Alfred nearly destroyed the city with a single shout.”
“And for some reason, I found you treating my wound after we defeated the dragon.”
“You should really thank me because you were a bloody mess. …But since I didn’t have any family left afterwards, here I am now. I live with General Muller and I’ve become a bottom-level noble.”
Schweitzer smiled as he uttered that word. And…
“I will have a dark beer.”
“Coming right up.”
She walked quickly over to the kitchen counter, placed her hand on it, and hopped on over.
Once behind the counter decorated with flowers, she was in a battlefield known as a kitchen.
It was a large space. Stovetops and ovens were placed along the 20-yard walls and the central 4-yard countertop was large enough to butcher an entire cow’s head. A total of four smaller countertops were place around the large one and the aisles between them contained orderly shelves covered in cooking supplies and spices.
She carefully avoided the hoses and trays strewn haphazardly through the aisles to reach the back wall where several large taps stuck out.
“Do you run this place alone at night?” asked Schweitzer from behind her.
“Tonight is special. The chef is out getting supplies for the big party tomorrow.”
“The top brass are coming, right? I heard earlier that Lieutenant General Heiliger has arrived, so they’re definitely going to have a secret party just like last year and the year before that. Since he’s here, I assume all the Geheimnis Agency founders will be gathering for the usual.”
She smiled and noted Schweitzer’s silence.
“Do you know something I don’t?” she asked.
“On the way here, Lieutenant General Heiliger hinted that there is some further purpose to this year’s gathering. There are so many mysteries of late. Including that prophecy sent out to everyone 2 weeks ago.”
“The prophecy? What don’t you understand about it?”
“Everyone worked so hard to fulfill the one from two years ago, but while we were told this one would resurrect the Messiah if fulfilled, no one was ordered to work toward that end. Because we do not understand what it means. And with nothing to do, people start to lose trust in the higher ups.”
“God, you athletic types. You found who would become the Messiah two years ago, didn’t you? Then it’ll be fine. She will fulfill the prophecy and eventually become the Messiah. Everything is on track.”
“The fuse was lit two years ago, wasn’t it? So why add more fire now? You don’t have to do anything until the prophecy tells you to. I’m sure that’s what the higher ups have decided. …But based on the rumors in the mess hall, it sounds like the army is on the move.”
“Yes,” he said. “Sorry.”
She waved a hand without looking back.
“All you ever do is apologize to me. Isn’t that what I said to you when you lifted your head from my lap three years ago? You overthink everything. You never even lie, do you?”
“I have never heard of any virtue or truth found in lies.”
“And if you haven’t heard of it, it can’t exist? Have you ever tried to create those things among the lies? You’re hopeless.”
She came to a stop with the wall right in front of her.
Two rows of ten large taps were lined up along the wall.
They all produced different kinds of beer. There was a simple trough below to catch any that might spill.
“Men take everything so seriously but always ignore the details,” she said too quietly for him to overhear.
She grabbed an empty wooden mug from the nearby sink where it had been washed and checked the color of the cooling emblems embedded on the sides of the taps.
“Um, do you prefer it chilled? That is the latest trend.”
“I don’t care as long as I can drink it.”
“Yup, always ignore the details,” she said with mock cheer as she twisted the tap.
She filled the mug with a bit of foam at the top. After turning off the tap, she sighed, wiped the sweat from her brow, and looked back.
She saw someone new in the mess hall.
Past the enormous man with a prosthetic arm was an even more enormous man.
They had just been discussing a man larger than Schweitzer.
“Lieutenant General Heiliger…”
But she trailed off when Schweitzer looked back and called the man’s name.
Graham was not your stereotypical elderly man.
First, there was his size. His entire bald head stood above Schweitzer. Then there was the back supporting his enormous frame and his broad shoulders.
He emanated strength just standing there.
But the reason for this size was obvious at a glance. Four mechanical limbs extended from the sleeves and hem of his black Geheimnis Agency coat bearing the rank insignia of commander-in-chief. The quiet sounds of motors came from him whenever he moved.
He had a fully prosthetic body.
Schweitzer brought a hand to his chest in salute and Graham nodded in response.
He had no notable expression and he spoke in a deep voice with a sharp look in his eyes.
“I hear retrieving the Sylphide prototype’s parts was no easy task, Lieutenant Hellard Schweitzer.”
“I still do not think it makes up for my failure 2 years ago.”
“You mean allowing the Messiah to escape?”
Schweitzer hung his head and said nothing.
Graham started to say something but fell into a coughing fit instead. It was the deep coughing of illness.
But he soon got over it.
“Your report said you ‘failed to continue monitoring’ the girl who is to become the Messiah, but we understand that was necessary to fulfill the prophecy. I have a Psyche Outer device installed to ensure I do not err and my thoughts tell me you did nothing wrong.”
He pointed near his neck with a metal finger His coat swelled out on the back of his neck up to his brainstem. That modification had stopped his emotions so he could make accurate decisions.
The machine made small whirring noises as it moved along with his head.
“The time has come. The Panzerpolis Project will affect the government and military as construction of Germania begins and we set down the path toward war. It is time to grant you more power. On the 1st of next month, Air Force Division Chief Muller will grant you the rank of Captain.” A breath. “Well done enduring the past two years.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“My emotionless memories tell me that excessive honesty is the greatest virtue and fault of the Schweitzer family. Your father was the same when he worked as Heiliger’s aide.”
Schweitzer silently bowed and a cheerful voice spoke from behind him.
“Congrats on the promotion.”
When he looked back, he saw Lowenzahn standing beyond the kitchen counter with a wooden mug in hand. She turned to Graham and spoke without fear.
“Care for a beer?”
“Unfortunately, I have no sense of taste.”
“Aren’t you ever just in the mood to drink? And wouldn’t accompanying the Lieutenant help show your appreciation?”
She had a mischievous smile, but her words were sincere.
“I understand your reasoning, but his promotion has yet to be officially announced. It is too soon to celebrate.”
“You really need to lighten up.”
Schweitzer quickly spoke up to drown out Lowenzahn’s comment.
“Excuse me, but what is the Geheimnis Agency’s commander-in-chief doing here at this hour? Were you meeting someone?”
“I heard you were here. I might be commander-in-chief, but I am still a Neue Kavalier. I can move on my own two legs when need be.”
“I am here to order you to don your dress uniform tomorrow morning and arrive at the east gate barracks at 0900 hours.”
“Are we on our way to meet someone?”
“We will travel two hours east by car to reach Munich. I will provide further details en route.”
Graham turned around with a mechanical noise.
“The other nations have been making secret preparations whenever we make a move recently. Unlike when we were ceded the Sudetenland, England and France have grown cautious. As for America…”
After the clank of a metallic footstep, Schweitzer spoke to the larger man’s back.
“Instead of entering the war themselves, they have elevated M. Schrier’s AIF from a volunteer army to an official organization. And…according to Lieutenant Alfred Maldrick’s intel, the Messiah girl has returned to Germany.”
“I have heard that a portion of the army division is pursuing her. I just hope they are not acting prematurely.”
“Prematurely?” asked Schweitzer.
Graham responded without the slightest movement.
“The prophecy has not yet been set in motion. Capturing the Messiah now will likely alter destiny. Or it will if the development division’s decoding of Germany’s Tons is not complete.”
“Army Division Chief Karl Schmitt will arrive tomorrow, so we can discuss this further with him.”
Graham resumed moving without so much as a nod. He walked forward to leave the mess hall.
Schweitzer brought a hand to his chest and pulled his chin back to watch the man leave.
Graham did not look back. His enormous mechanical body took a dozen or so seconds to leave.
Afterwards, Schweitzer thought he could hear some distinctive coughing in the distance.
He kept himself in that pose until Graham’s formidable presence entirely vanished into the darkness outside.
“It’s gonna get warm.”
A mug moved in from behind him at eye level.
He looked back to see Lowenzahn sitting on the counter.
He took the mug, sighed, and drained the contents.
She watched with amusement as he drank it down.
“How does it taste?”
“I am in no mood to focus on flavor.”
“Don’t you lose your emotions too. I beg of you.”
She smiled bitterly and he earnestly nodded. He set the mug down on the counter without looking her in the eye. And rested his elbow on the counter to the right of where she sat on it.
“A direct summons from His Excellency? I honestly don’t know what to make of this.”
“Stop confusing yourself so much. You’re overthinking this like you always do.”
“Just hear me out. You don’t know what’s going to happen, but what’s wrong with that? How’s that any different from getting a birthday present? Or…” She paused to think for a moment. “Do you think he would do something awful to you? You don’t, do you? He stopped by to inform you of your promotion, so don’t overthink it. You only think so much because you’re anxious, but what do you have to be so anxious about? Someone who would never harm you invited you to go on a trip tomorrow. That’s all.”
He noticed her place a hand on his left shoulder and then she lifted herself up with only that left hand for support.
Her weight was added to his back as he leaned down to rest on his shoulder.
She was facing away from the counter, so she was sort of back-to-back with him.
“I know Bertecht Schweitzer, previous head of the Schweitzer family, served as Heiliger Karlsruhe’s aide during the Imperial Exile Incident that led to the Geheimnis Agency’s creation and I know he died because he could not suppress the rioters. He protected Munich’s central hospital during the rioting there and made sure never to attack the people, but was taken out by one of their bullets.”
Her fingers tapped on his biological shoulder.
“Germany’s Neue Kavaliers split into two factions after that: the Geheimnis Agency that exists solely to protect the country and its people, and those who choose to live a privileged life among the people.”
“You know an awful lot about what is far from a riveting subject matter.”
“Everyone told me about it when I asked about you.” She tapped his shoulder again. “Did you protect me at the hospital during the dragon attack because you wanted to be more like your father?” A breath. “Whenever I see your arm, it makes me think the exact opposite of an apology. It makes me think about how we were all saved by the loss of that arm. …Isn’t that the same?”
“The same as what?”
She smiled bitterly and unexpectedly whispered in his ear.
“You’re so slow on the uptake. Were you anxious when you came to save us? See what I mean now? You only feel anxious now – and will in the future too, I’m sure – because you have the time to sit and think, so try to relax instead.”
He nodded while feeling her weight on his back.
“You took some time getting to your point…but someone once said something similar to me.”
“Is it that Eryngium girl again?”
When he said yes, he heard a bitter laugh from his shoulder.
Instead of trying to figure out why, he said something else.
“The Messiah girl might tell me the same thing someday.”
He stood up.
She nearly slid off his back, so he scooped her up with his Der Held prosthetic arm.
His metal hand supported her in an unsteady sitting position.
She gasped and clung to his arm while adjusting her position.
Der Held gently lowered her onto her feet.
Once she was standing again, they faced each other.
She seemed hesitant to speak and sighed with a hand on her right hip.
“It felt like your hand was rubbing my butt just now. Was that on purpose?”
“It lacks that function.”
She responded to his blank expression with her shoulders drooping.
“It lacks what function?”
Hazel suddenly opened her eyes.
She must have dozed off, so she sleepily checked on her current situation.
This was the room Berger had taken her to. He was still not back, so she was alone sitting in the seat in front of the central table.
…A lot happened today.
Flektierening into a cat and running around was exhausting. Meeting Berger had also helped her relax.
“I’m so sleepy. Where is Berger, anyway?”
She straightened up, tilted her head, and checked the clock on the wall to see it was already past 11 at night.
The thick curtain over the window fluttered as the night breeze blew in.
She could see the color of the wind. She had gained that power once her right eye’s sight returned after the incident two years ago. It was a pale blue. The somewhat blurred Tons wavered, swirled, and danced around the room.
It was cold. She was only wearing Berger’s black shirt and Berlin’s nights were chilly even in late summer.
She got up to shut the window, but she remembered what he had told her.
…I’m not supposed to approach the window.
She thought over that and then turned toward the kitchen. The food below the frying pan’s lid had to be cold by now.
She sighed and let her shoulders droop before remembering how she was dressed.
“I actually dozed off like this.”
She thought for a bit and looked around the room, noting the absence of a closet or wardrobe.
…I wish there were some clothes I could borrow.
The cabinet below the sink seemed like the most likely spot. It was right next to the space with food in it. She approached the sink, crouched down, and sat with the hem of the shirt held in the back of her knees like a skirt.
“Sorry, but I need to check inside.”
After apologizing, she tensed up a bit and opened it. She detected a scent reminiscent of old wood and metal.
She saw two wooden boxes inside, just like in Berger’s hideout two years before.
She smiled a little.
“He gave me a shirt and shorts back then, didn’t he? Sandals too.” Her shoulders fell in exasperation. “But I didn’t get any underwear until the German barracks. I was running around without any until then.” Her shoulders fell further in frustration. “And he saw everything before that anyway.”
She hung her head. But…
“But I’ve forgotten all that unpleasantness and grown a lot over the past two years. Well, except in the chest!”
She clenched her fists and stood up with resolve, crashing her head right into the top of the cabinet.
A horribly dull thud filled the room.
She held the back of her head and doubled over.
Just then, she heard what sounded like something heavy falling over past the floor – on the ground floor below. It was dull wooden impact.
She wiped away the tears that were more due to surprise than pain and got up while being much more careful this time.
She stood up, looked around the room just once, and walked barefoot over to the door.
She pulled the thick door with both hands to open it.
She found the landing that opened out onto the front desk below. This room was in the very back, putting it furthest from the stairs. She could see anyone climbing the stairs from here.
Presently, someone other than Berger was doing so. It was a man and woman in black.
…Are they staying in another room?
She wondered that, but at the same time…
…I can’t let anyone other than Berger see me dressed like this.
She shut the door and waited a few seconds, but then something occurred to her.
…Could they be from the Geheimnis Agency?
She had seen those agents in black from time to time since entering Germany, not to mention the two men who had tried to take custody of her two years ago as the possessor of the Messiah Eingeweide eye. The pair climbing the stairs now reminded her a lot of those two. They had the same heavy tension and strained atmosphere surrounding them.
She quickly reached back to lock the door.
Just then, a knock came at the door.
Followed by another.
The knocking caused her pulse to race.
She froze in place and tried to mask her presence. She had to make it seem like there was no one here.
She held her breath, pressed her back against the wall next to the door, stood up on her toes, and remained entirely motionless.
A few seconds passed.
All of a sudden, she saw blueish white Tons flowing in. It was the wind. A powerful gust was approaching the window.
…Please don’t make any noise.
The wind blew in against her wishes, blowing the curtain and rattling its rail. The rattle of metal and rustle of thick cloth sounded so very loud.
She placed a hand over her mouth.
She suppressed it.
She did not want to make any noise, but she felt like the tremor in her throat would cause something to escape.
The wind died down.
But then another knock came.
A third one.
The speed and strength of the knock was the same as before, which told her something.
…They aren’t checking to see if someone is here?
They knew she was here and were waiting for her to respond. Like gentlemen.
They did not have hostile intentions.
That realization made her cower down.
This all creeped her out.
Then she heard a voice.
It was a somewhat deep and emotionless female voice.
“We have come to pick you up. We are from the Geheimnis Agency’s army division.”
The voice carried no doubt about her presence and was not taking no for an answer, so Hazel held her body tight.
She calmed her breathing.
…I can do this if they’re willing to talk.
She took a breath.
“What is this about? I only came to Germany on a trip.”
“But to us, this is the return of our Messiah.”
“I’m not your-”
“Destiny – the prophecy – has spoken. Whoever you are now, you will eventually lead us, so it is only natural that we protect you now.”
She thought about those uncompromising words.
After three seconds, she spoke.
“Wh-what happens if I…have no intention of leading you?”
The answer came immediately and without hesitation.
“Nevertheless, you are destined to lead us. It is that destined future that matters to us, not the present.”
The doorknob turned with an “excuse me” from the voice.
It was locked, so it did not open. The knob stopped.
…They can’t get in.
Hazel breathed a sigh of relief and provided her conclusion.
“I’m sorry, but at least for now, I don’t want that. …So please leave.”
“Nonsense. Do you think help is coming for you if you stay here? I am sorry to say that Dog Berger has abandoned you and departed on a mission for the AIF.”
She gasped and the woman beyond the door must have heard it.
“He will not return no matter how long you wait, so I would recommend abandoning that hope.”
“But he…but Berger…”
“We have heard everything from the gentleman downstairs. Dog Berger said he wanted nothing more to do with you.”
…That isn’t true.
“Think it through. If he is currently on an AIF mission, how is he supposed to get you out of the country?”
She fell silent. She stared down to her right where the cold frying pan sat on the stove.
She stared at the pan, took a few breaths, and shut her eyes.
Then she straightened up and spoke.
“I do not believe you.”
Her pronunciation was stiff as she was still unused to the language. It would not come as smoothly as German did.
But she kept going all the same.
“You claim that Mr. Berger left like that in order to hurt my feelings. No one would do something so cruel.”
She had no idea if the woman beyond the door understood English, but that allowed her to speak more freely.
“If he did leave me here, then he had a reason for it. He would have told the innkeeper downstairs the reason. But…” She frowned. “Unfortunately, I know the innkeeper would not have let you through. Yet here you are.”
…I hope he’s okay.
She recalled the friendly-looking elderly man’s face.
Then she heard a Text.
<The Fatherland allows no secrets.>
She reflexively held the doorknob with her hand.
It could not be turned from the outside and it was locked, so there was no way it could open.
Nevertheless, open it did. The knob did not turn and the lock remained in place, yet the door opened.
She realized her hand had released the knob and the door was open. Two people stood before her, both in black. One was a middle-aged woman in a black dress and a combat jacket. The other was a young, broad-shouldered man in a black military uniform.
Hazel tensed as she faced the two of them.
“What are you going to do?”
…Take me away?
“Are you going to take me against my will, just like you did during the Heidengeist test at school two years ago?”
Back then, she had tried to protect a friend they had gotten violent with and been blinded in one eye by the resulting blow.
…And then I was given the Messiah implant.
Those thoughts set her body in motion. Strength filled her.
Just then, both of them got down on one knee.
The woman’s short blonde hair swayed as she bowed her head and spoke.
“I am Geheimnis Agency Army Division Deputy Head Jeanne Schmitt. I must ask that you accompany us.”
Hazel found a quiet voice escaping her lips as the woman and man kneeled before her.
She took a step back to escape those two despite their defenseless pose.
She looked frantically side to side, but saw nothing that would save her. She had no idea what to do.
She took another step back.
Her back found the wall, but even at this distance, those two remained kneeling and motionless.
Their heads were defenselessly lowered, saying they were leaving this entirely in her hands.
She felt a chill because it was just like having a stray dog follow you around no matter how much you tried to shoo it away.
…H-how am I supposed to respond to this?
She had no intention of going with them.
But they would not listen to her refusal and she lacked the strength to force the issue.
And they had no hostile intentions.
If she could not refuse or force the issue, what choice did she have but to go with them?
And even if she waited here…
…Berger isn’t coming back.
She did not want to be taken away like this.
“Why won’t you let me choose?” She was speaking in her mother tongue once more. “Wh-why are you doing this? Please don’t. It’s wrong.”
The pair did not raise their heads, but they did slowly stand.
Hazel heard Jeanne speak with her head still lowered.
“Stop!” shouted Hazel. “If you’re going to take me away, then raise your heads and just do it!”
But Jeanne was unfazed. She took a silent step forward.
She took another silent step, closing the gap between them.
Hazel pressed herself against the wall and she could tell her legs were shaking for some reason.
“I-I’m not the Messiah. The Messiah implant hasn’t even healed.”
Jeanne said nothing in response. She did not force anything and she did not attack – she simply took another step closer.
The action was done gently, to avoid being intimidating.
She was trying to be kind.
…Wh-why? Why are they doing this all of a sudden?
By then, Jeanne stood right in front of her.
Jeanne crouched down, pushed down the hem of her skirt, and kneeled again. She slowly reached out a hand with her gaze lower than Hazel’s.
“I-I will wait here. Because…because Berger told me to.”
He was not coming.
She knew that, but…
“I-I don’t want to go. S-so I made some food and waited…”
She started to pull her hand back, but it would not move. She looked down to see it trembling. The fingers were shaking from tension.
With only the word “no” inside her, she saw that her arm was trembling too. When she dropped her gaze to her chest, she could tell her entire body was trembling.
Jeanne’s hand reached out as if trying to ignore or suppress that shaking.
Before Hazel could get the word “that” out, Jeanne’s fingertips had touched her trembling hand.
Her fingers were hard and bony for a woman and they squeezed to suppress the shaking.
Disgust filled Hazel and she shouted on reflex. She raised her head and wailed like a child. In English.
“Noooo!! Mr. Berger!!”
The instant her gaze reached the ceiling, she saw a bluish-white band floating down from there.
That was the wind’s Tons – the chilly melody of the icy wind.
She heard the sound of struck flesh as the young man behind Jeanne was blasted to the side.
With the sound of splintering wood, the man broke through the table and slammed into the windowsill. He flipped over and his upside-down legs shattered the window, making a sound similar to splashing water.
The shortest instant later, Hazel saw a different young man in black.
“Mister? Why the weird politeness when speaking English?”
This one was Dog Berger.
A battle began in front of Hazel.
Berger sent a leftward roundhouse kick sweeping up toward Jeanne as she tried to turn around and stand up.
<The Fatherland’s winds never cease blowing.>
Jeanne stood behind Berger.
Before his question was done, Hazel saw Jeanne pull out a handgun. The powerful red light emerging from the muzzle was the Ton of killer of intent and it extended toward Berger’s back.
“You actually showed up, Wild Hund? I honestly expected the dog to abandon the cat.”
“I ran into some Geheimnis Agents while picking up the package. After punching out the three of them, I came back here.” He smiled bitterly. “Based on that black dress, I take it you’re ‘Eisen Blume’ Jeanne Schmitt. …Middle-aged, just like the rumors said.”
After a gunshot, Berger was blasted to the side and slammed into the wall as if from a blow to the side.
A beat later, his black-cloaked form crumbled to the bottom of the wall. Hazel’s heart skipped a beat.
Her question was cut off by a series of gunshots.
Each shot caused his body to jerk as if kicked.
<Destiny cannot be pierced.>
Darkness burst out.
His black coat flew toward Jeanne as she fired her handgun. The metal hand emerging from the left sleeve thrust toward her neck. It was prepared to rip her throat out.
The bullets pierced the black coat, but they passed right on out the other side.
The coat had nothing inside it other than the left arm.
“I said it can’t be pierced, didn’t I?”
He burst from behind the flying coat as if tearing himself away from it.
He had removed his prosthetic left arm and he held the Eingeweide sword Gelegenheit with its shadowy blade active.
The blade emerging from the golden hilt was more than 8 yards long.
Eight objects similar to black flowers were attached midway up the hilt.
They were crushed bullets.
The black blossoms scattered when he swung Gelegenheit, slicing from ceiling to floor as if drawing out a diagonal circle.
<Destiny tears people apart.>
He shouted that Erklärung and the room was split in two. No, the entire inn was bisected. One half included Jeanne and her subordinate by the window and the other half contained Berger and Hazel by the hallway.
The diagonal cut caused Jeanne’s half to sink down for a moment.
And it did not stop there. That half of the inn fully collapsed.
Jeanne growled in anger and Berger held Gelegenheit in his mouth to pull a small boxy device from his pocket. He pushed two of the red buttons on it.
Immediately, the collapsing half of the inn neatly exploded, scattering dust and splinters more than fire.
He grabbed a chair that had just barely avoided being caught in the bisection and threw it into the rising smoke as if to be extra sure he got them.
“That’s three times now I’ve had to do that bit for you.”
The collapsing half of the inn could not support its own weight, so it broke apart and scattered along the ground.
Even if it was only half, that was a three-story building standing nearly 12 yards tall that had collapsed, so it caused an impressive amount of noise and smoke. It was not quite a roar, but a dusty sound surrounded them.
Hazel listened to that for a few seconds before peeling herself away from the wall.
She silently approached him and then the words spilled out of her.
“Why?” She hung her head. “Why did you come? Like they said, didn’t you have a reason to…”
She could not bring herself to say the rest, so she said something else instead.
“You aren’t the type to come back, but I still waited. And yet…”
“Say that in English, just like when you called my name.”
She looked up at that and saw him using his right hand to wipe away the blood dripping down his brow.
His face was not smiling, angry, or tense.
“Things have changed. The Geheimnis Agency is serious about this, so I’ll be taking you myself.”
“T-taking me where?”
“I read the letter in your bag on the way back here. I have to reach the German Army’s Base #8 in the Black Forest by tomorrow midday to destroy the warship about to be commissioned from there. That’s my AIF mission.”
“A skilled courier will be arriving there to take you back to America.”
She nodded at that, but then she recalled something she could not afford to forget.
“U-um, is the innkeeper okay? Don’t tell me they-”
“He’s alive. He can’t stay here anymore, though.”
Berger smiled bitterly for the first time since arriving. The expression looked somewhat troubled.
She tilted her head at that and he explained.
“Worry about yourself before others, silly girl. You have a lot to learn.”
“You have a point.”
She tried to force a smile and failed.
“Yes, you have…”
The rest of the words broke apart as her lips went loose and refused to take the proper shape.
A scratchy voice escaped her throat and the tears soon followed. She could not speak, her breaths seemed to crash into the bottom of her lungs, and she started to sob.
She shook her head over and over to ignore those words.
“Wh-why…why,” she choked. “Why did you come back?”
She let the tears flow and clung to his right arm as she wept.
The night breeze swept across them.
The wind blew across the Alfheim Meteorite Pit in the Black Forest of South Germany.
It also swept across the Geheimnis Agency Base #8 located to the east of that 400-yard-wide hole.
The large development base had a mile-long runway and an underground shipyard and it did not sleep at night.
There were five clusters of lights in the base.
The first was the runway lights to the east. The second was the large hangars covering the central eastern side of the base to the west of the runway. The third was the central command building west of the hangars.
The fourth was the underground shipyard located on the central western side of the base to the left of the command building. The top of the 4.5-mile shipyard had been opened up to reveal a giant warship within. The enormous aerial warship had the streamlined exterior of a glide bomb.
Several giant fuel pipes connected the sides of the ship with the walls to fill it with fuel, but a few were not connected to the ship and not yet in use.
The final cluster of lights was the Vaterland located on the far west end of the base. It gave off a deep, quiet rumble as it supplied the shipyard’s warship with fuel.
A new sound joined that rumble.
The powerful roar of wind emerged from a large hangar on the east end of the base.
The hangar was about 100 yards in each direction and it stood 15 yards tall. The large trailer stopped at the main entrance said it was a Panzer hangar.
A single figure stood at the hangar’s exterior.
The figure emerged from the hangar wearing only the black shirt, vest, and pants of the Geheimnis Agency. He held a plain white-bladed Werkzeug sword.
He was Alfred Maldrick. He walked to the center of the hangar light cast on the base’s road and raised both hands skyward. He yawned – loudly – with the somewhat scratchy voice of his artificial vocal cords.
He swung his hands back down and cracked his neck just before a loud voice spoke behind him.
“Enjoying yourself, I see, Sir Alfred.”
“You seem cheerful too, Nein.”
Alfred did not look back, but he did hear a loud metallic sound from behind him. The steel footsteps continued with a set tempo.
Those were the footsteps of two Grösse Panzers.
The air shook as the two long shadows extended to either side of Alfred.
The steel footsteps and rustling of Panzer Kleids approached him, but their shadows did not fall on him.
They came to a stop at his sides.
The blue one on the right and the red one on the left produced the distinctive motor noises of Grösse Panzers.
“Can you feel the wind, Nein? You, a product of the Eisen Ritter Project that joined just your brain and spine with the Panzer?”
“I can. Because the machine is my body now,” replied the blue one.
Alfred smiled at the scratchy voice coming from its speakers and he brushed back his hair.
“I only had a three hour test run after arriving, but that taught me something crucial.”
“What might that be?”
“That Eingeweide Grösse Panzer is special made for me. It was based on my Schwarz Löwe, but neither that nor Sir Graham’s Silber Löwe can hope to match it. Marsch said the combination of inertial control and rocket thrusters were crucial to giving it its high mobility.” He sighed. “I feel like I can only pilot this one because Schwarz Löwe’s Ober Emblem was entirely aerial based and because I had an Eingeweide training system installed in Schwarz Löwe. This Grösse Panzer can enter autopilot and boost its power with the Beweisen and it can handle anti-air combat without its Ober Emblem.”
“That is not due to the training system. That is because it uses a part of your body – your voice. In a way, it really is special made for you.” This time, it was the red and not the blue that spoke. “But are you sure you should ignore that previous summons?”
“You mean from Sir Graham? He asked me if I was free tomorrow and I said I was busy fine-tuning my new Grösse Panzer, that’s all. I would have gladly obeyed if he had made it an order.” Alfred did not even look back and he skillfully crossed his arms while still holding the sword. “But I do feel bad doing this to Lady Rose since she only wakes up this one day a year.”
He heard the blue one produce a metallic noise he knew was a nod.
He shut his eyes.
“But this gathering isn’t about testing the new Panzers, meeting Lady Rose, or the commissioning of the Gard-class Eingeweide aerial warship. This has to be about something else. Nein, have you heard anything?”
“I have not,” replied the blue one. “I was given the surname Nein because of the structural faults discovered in early development, so I have no interaction with our leader’s Naylor family or the second-in-command’s Karlsruhe family.”
“Do you think your younger brothers like Vier would know?”
“Unfortunately, my brothers have such inflexible personalities that I doubt they would tell us if they did.”
“If you’re calling them inflexible, then I know it’s bad. I’m sure Schweitzer is wondering what all this is about too.”
He opened his eyes and saw the stars of the night sky. The bottom part of the eastern sky was starting to turn purple, so dawn was approaching.
The red one spoke from behind him.
“Are you absolutely certain you will not be visiting Lady Rose with Sir Graham? You went with him the past three years.”
“I would love to, but this gathering appears to have a different purpose and Lieutenant General Heiliger arrived a lot earlier than past years. If I accompanied them, my personality would cause problems.”
The red one fell silent.
Only then did Alfred look back. He looked fearlessly up at the crimson Grösse Panzer that stood more than 9 yards tall.
“How about a kind word when your master gets self-deprecating?”
“That did not occur to me.”
“Unlike when I was using Schwarz Löwe, you didn’t bring it to a draw in the sparring match earlier. Getting old?”
“I have not counted my age past 100,” said the blue one. “That aside, why do you so dislike Lieutenant General Heiliger? He is the sole link between the military and the Geheimnis Agency and he is the brother of your teacher Sir Graham and of Lady Rose.”
“This has nothing to do with his job or family. I just don’t like him.” Alfred faced forward again and tapped his heel on the road. “Schweitzer’s dad defended Munich’s central hospital during the Imperial Exile Incident in ’19, but what do you think that man, his superior officer, was doing? The entire country was shaken by the emperor’s exile, but he was out buttering up those pompous politicians. And once the Geheimnis Agency was established, he was so scared of the rumors that he hid in the military and used his family name to gain social status.”
“Why do that? For himself. Those aren’t the actions of a Neue Kavalier.” He smiled bitterly. “Maybe what happened 2 years ago was his punishment for that. Having to hand over his own family to the military’s 2nd Heidengeist Crackdown, I mean. As an example to the people serving this country, he threw out his own wife and daughter.”
Alfred took a step forward and raised Rein König before his eyes.
“Four years ago, I fought a guy much like that and lost someone. I promised her I would…”
He hesitated a few moments before saying it in a self-deprecating way.
“…become the strongest.”
He opened his left hand.
He wore a woman’s ring on the middle finger. A red gem sparkled there.
“I must defeat everyone I come across. That is why I reached for this Rein König and why I had Marsch turn my voice into an Eingeweide component.”
“It is a shame what Sir Marsch did.”
“It sure is. Do you get it, Nein? I’ve waited two years – two years – after losing Marsch.” He took a breath and clenched his left hand. “All so I can defeat destiny.”
A task was completed at the bottom of the Alfheim Meteorite Pit.
The light down there cast shadows that gave the bottom of the pit depth.
The sky sat overhead, the work was carefully organized, water was drained, and a large slab was uncovered at the bottom. A misshapen concrete slab covered the bottom of the hole.
It was about 40 yards in each direction and looked like a giant lid.
Two men stood atop it now: the site supervisor and the site commander.
The commander looked down to the concrete at his feet and kicked lightly at the bumps.
“I never imagined P Wagner’s lab was hiding something like this beneath it. This looks like a floor, but it’s actually a portion of a ceiling. This is an underground room.”
“It is hollow inside. Our acoustic survey says it is not filled with water.”
The site supervisor pointed east.
The slab grew narrower as it extended in that direction, but still maintained a width of around 20 yards when it vanished into the hole’s wall. The room narrowed into a corridor as it extended in that direction.
“Where does that lead?”
“That direction leads to the shrine that predates the discovery of the pit.”
“You mean it goes all the way there? So is this an escape route from the lab to the shrine?”
“That is one interpretation, but look at this.”
The site supervisor crouched down and rubbed at the concrete slab to clear away the dust.
A white color was mixed into the concrete like whitecaps.
“This has rocks in it, including some very large ones. This isn’t like the other concrete rooms that used rebar.”
“What does that mean?”
“This room might be part of the original hole reinforced from within using concrete. You do that when excavating ruins. With a home or cave made of stone, you cover the inner walls with concrete to reinforce them.”
“Then this isn’t part of P Wagner’s lab? It was already here?” The commander looked to the ceiling of the passageway extending east and chose his words carefully. “So the passageway to the shrine at the base of the mountain and this space are much older and P Wagner happened across it by chance when building his lab on top?”
“Yes, he must have wanted to preserve this place, so he reinforced it and then left it intact when he destroyed his lab.”
The commander thought about that for a moment and smiled.
“What’s inside? Could we use that eastward passageway to get in through the shrine? With a 20-yard width, the entrance has to be pretty noticeable.”
“Remember how there’s a giant stone at that shrine in front of the rock face?”
“So that stone I poured drinks on is sealing something inside?”
“If the legends are to be believed, it’s sealing a dragon.” The site supervisor laughed and stood up. “Or to put it another way, whatever’s inside might just blow that stone away.”
He looked up toward the round slice of the night sky visible far overhead.
“But either that all happened centuries ago or we managed to get this far down without breaking the seal. Either way, it is our duty to dig further.”
“I see. Then we have no choice but to open this room.”
He lowered his gaze again to the floor – to that ancient space more recently reinforced.
Chapter 4: The Wheel Accelerates
07/28/1939 09:11 – 20:18
We have a future because we have a past
But some people hide their past
Do I do that?
Or can I coexist with my past?
World War One
A European war that began in 1912 with the assassination of an Austrian Archduke and ended in 1919. The most notable features of the war were the conscription of ordinary citizens for international war, the largescale battles, and the many new weapons introduced to the battlefield. A soldier no longer needed to be a great warrior to slaughter great numbers in war.
Germany’s forces were focused on Panzers, but they were pushed back by the organized destructive power of tanks, fighter craft, machineguns, and field guns. They were forced to reconsider what armaments they used and the Panzer Kavaliers lost their prestige. Influenced by the Russian Revolution that occurred during the war, a coup d’état broke out among the soldiers and the rise of the ordinary citizens led to division and the ultimate end of the war.
As the commander in chief and a symbol of the old order, Kaiser Wilhelm II feared a reprisal from the ordinary citizens after the war, so he fled the country in what is known as the Emperor’s Exile.
Mornings began early in a hospital.
That was especially true for Munich’s central hospital. By 9AM, the inpatients had all finished their breakfast and the outpatients became the main focus.
The hospital was made from five 4-story buildings measuring 100 yards long, so the interior was much like a labyrinth.
The hallways were built wide to allow rolling beds to pass each other and the windows were large to let in plenty of natural light, so this massive multilayer labyrinth was designed with healing in mind.
Three sets of footsteps rang loud through the hallway filled with older patients and doctors.
The one walking in the lead was Bermark Vier, a pencil of a man with a relaxed expression and the black coat of the Geheimnis Agency. Two enormous men walked behind him.
The bald one with a fully prosthetic body below the black coat was Graham Karlsruhe.
Walking behind Graham’s clanking metal feet was Schweitzer. He held his removed coat and his eyes took in his surroundings as he walked.
The large window to their right showed a courtyard surrounded by hospital buildings on all sides.
The courtyard contained a grassy lawn and black cedars chosen for the amount of sunlight the area received. A few patients were walking through it, chatting pleasantly.
Schweitzer heard Graham’s voice while he viewed the courtyard.
“Lieutenant, how do you like the hospital your father protected?”
“He did not protect this hospital,” plainly stated Schweitzer. “From what I heard, he allowed most of the patients to escape but failed to hold back the rioters and was killed.”
“Keep your head up, Lieutenant. I can hear your voice sinking.” Graham did not look back. “Your job today is to protect me. Do not forget that.”
After the briefest of pauses, Schweitzer picked up his pace. An old woman among the patients saluted the three of them and he nodded back before moving on ahead.
Graham met his increased pace with words.
“My memories tell me your father destroyed the empty hospital to create a barrier and even smashed the earth below it to protect the people. He fought the rioters, but he refused to use any weapons and killed none of them.”
“Among the patients he protected were a woman of the Naylor family that would go on to lead the Geheimnis Agency, and my own sister Rose.”
Schweitzer kept his legs moving as he listened.
“I no longer possess emotions, but I still sense the necessity of that act. You have my thanks, heir of Schweitzer.”
“You honor me.”
He bowed and raised his head again to see Bermark taking a left turn at the intersection of halls up ahead. That took them away from the sunny courtyard.
“It appears Lieutenant General Heiliger has already arrived,” said Bermark.
Graham nodded and followed, his prosthetic feet clanking on the tiled floor.
“Bermark, I heard Heiliger accompanied you as far as the HQ. Did my brother-”
“You will meet him shortly. It is a shame that your positions prevent you from meeting anywhere other than this.”
“The relationship between the Geheimnis Agency, the government, and the military is exceedingly complex.”
“Only because the current age demanded it. After the war, the Geheimnis Agency was created with a Naylor family Sofort Leser in the lead and with you as one of its Fünf Leithammel. …Lieutenant General Heiliger accepted his position as an intermediary between the Geheimnis Agency and both the government and military, so he relinquished his position as a Neue Kavalier, married a Heidengeist, and enlisted in the military.”
Graham said nothing, so only Bermark’s emotionless voice filled the hallway.
“Someone like him is necessary to bridge the gap between the Neue Kavaliers of the Geheimnis Agency and the common citizens of the government and military. If not for him, someone else would have taken the position.”
“Bermark, I detect no emotion in your explanation.”
“How can you understand emotion with that Psyche Outer device installed?”
“If your explanation contained emotion, I would find it incomprehensible.” Graham explained. “Now, Bermark, the Lieutenant told me on the ride here that you had an emotional response to the Messiah girl, Hazel Mirildorf. Was that because she is your future master?”
“She was polite with me and I merely returned the favor.”
The hallway came to an end up ahead. The great metal door there covered the full width of the hallway.
Schweitzer watched as Bermark turned around.
Then Bermark took a step aside, toward the wall.
A pair of metallic feet clanked forward to take his place.
It was Graham.
He faced the massive metal door with his back to Schweitzer.
“This land is near the Black Forest, where Germany had its true beginning a thousand years ago. The Unreif Germane tells us the Messiah and the divinely-named one-armed young man were served by four Neue Kavaliers: Naylor, Karlsruhe, Borderson, and Maldrick.”
Schweitzer nodded. You could find that information in children’s picture books.
But Graham was not done.
“My ancestor, Karlsruhe, made a demand in return for his service: a way to save this land from the Word Plague that ran rampant at the time. This and the Neuschwanstein hospital you saved are remnants of that.”
“At Neuschwanstein, they built a lab for creating prosthetic parts like my brother’s Tragisch. Here at Munich, they built a cold storage facility to preserve terminal Word Plague patients.”
Schweitzer frowned at that. The words pushed out from his mouth.
“How did they have such advanced technology back then?”
“I do not know. Perhaps it was a remnant of the Obstacle Era and perhaps it was Ober Geheimnis. But now that we know how to cure the Word Plague, the facility has been given a different use.”
Graham coughed. It was a quiet cough, but it came from deep in the lungs. He forced it down with a breath and reached his right hand to the door.
“Many of my Karlsruhe bloodline come down with this disease. Not even taking a prosthetic body is enough to fully suppress Words Warn, so the patients are preserved here.”
Then the door moved. Upwards.
“Behold that which your father protected, Lieutenant.”
The rising door revealed a stairway leading down into a black abyss void of light.
They descended the long, dark stairway.
Schweitzer could not see, but he did hear a door opening ahead of him and closing behind him a few times along the way.
They said nothing and time seemed to lose all meaning.
The feel of the air suddenly changed.
He looked up to find the ceiling was much further overhead. Even in the darkness, he could tell they had entered a large hall.
“Where are we?” he asked, noting the border between the hallway and hall ceiling. The hall had a diameter of around 20 yards and the edge of the ceiling was installed with a box containing giant metal shutters.
Someone had opened the door while keeping the hall dark.
“Good to see you again, my dear bigger brother,” said a soprano voice. “A year is much too long.”
The hall filled with light.
White marble walls reflected the ceiling lights to illuminate everything.
The floor contained an orderly arrangement of 2-yard holes filled with water and two people stood in the very center of the hall.
One was Heiliger Karlsruhe, an enormous man in a German Air Force uniform with prosthetic arms.
The other was a fair-skinned girl. Her skin, the gentle waves of her long hair, and her dress were all a bright white. The only other color was the blue of her smiling eyes.
Schweitzer gasped when he saw her.
His lips moved to form a name, but his voice never came.
Whether or not she noticed how he felt, she made a sound of her own.
She ran forward, albeit slowly. With the delicate gait and pace of a girl in her early teens, her feet lightly slapped the floor to rush past Bermark and reach Graham.
She did not stop.
He did not even crouch or bend over to catch her.
“I’ve been waiting for two hours, so I was just telling my big brother that I thought you weren’t coming!”
“Did you think we had reversed the usual arrangement, where I visit you and Heiliger remains at the HQ?”
“Yes, yes. I did. But…”
She glanced back toward Heiliger before looking up at Graham once more.
“I thought you might have gotten into another fight. I’m glad to see I was wrong. If only Alfred hadn’t said that last year.”
Schweitzer reacted to that with raised eyebrows and a question.
“Yes, he has visited me for the past three years. He is so skilled and my bigger brother favors him. Once I met him, I took a liking to him as well.”
She poked her head out around Graham to view Schweitzer as she spoke.
She made no attempt to hide the unease on her face.
“Who are you?”
Heiliger’s response boomed through the hall.
“He is Hellard Schweitzer, son of the Schweitzer who protected you here 20 years ago. He has inherited the Titel of Schallmauer Zerstörer.”
Her face lit up when she heard that.
“Oh,” she smiled. “You’re that child who never even cried at his funeral!”
She stepped out from behind Graham and ran over to Schweitzer.
She crouched, grabbed the frilly hem of her dress, and curtsied.
“I am Rose Karlsruhe, eldest daughter of the Karlsruhe family.” She straightened up, widened her somewhat narrow eyes, and looked up at him with a smile. “Incredible! I doubt you remember since it was 20 years ago for you, but it was only a month ago for me. Hard to believe such a small child grew up to be so big!”
She took his biological hand in her left hand.
“Thank you so much! Your father saved us all!”
She swept her right hand to the side and pointed at the white glowing wall before twirling.
“Can you see it? You can, can’t you, Schallmauer Zerstörer? When your father protected this place, Lady Naylor and I were in here, but…but that’s not all!”
The wall she pointed to reflected the light in a complex way.
Something was carved there.
“Those are the names and the legacies of those who went to sleep here a thousand years ago and eventually awoke.” Rose took her eyes off of Schweitzer to view the wall just like he was. “Do you understand? These carvings are not just art; they are blueprints. The knowledge of those who slept here for centuries will occasionally become the Ober Geheimnis of the age in which they awaken. They leave their past knowledge here and then depart to live in that age.” A breath. “It is said England’s god created a fount of knowledge in heaven, but this is the same! All of the knowledge that has supported Germany can be found here!”
“Unfortunately, most of it either cannot be understood or cannot be reproduced with our current level of technology,” said Graham.
“Are you saying my father protected Germany from the leakage and destruction of all this knowledge?” His head rose in sudden realization. “Wait, did Marsch know about this?”
“He visited here once at the request of Development Division Chief Elrich. It is impossible to know what he learned here, but his results afterwards were impressive.”
Schweitzer nodded and looked down at Der Held.
A slight frown twisted his face.
Just then, he felt a tug on his left hand. By Rose. She was tugging on it with both her delicate hands. Urging him toward the hallway – to leave this place.
“Let’s go, my brothers. You too, Lieutenant. Today is such an important day. It is the one day a year I am awake and can spend time with everyone. And the one day I can see how Nibelung, the Wheel of Ruin is turning.”
“The Wheel of…Ruin?”
Rose did not answer his question, but she did continue with a smile.
“Today is the day I learn whether I will gain a new body or if this one will be destroyed. But through that, I also learn if Nibelung has begun to turn! And…” She looked up at him. “I just know it will be an important day for the Schallmauer Zerstörer and the Kaiser Schwert!”
She tugged on his hand and began walking, but he looked back behind him.
Graham had begun to walk and Bermark followed.
Past those two, Heiliger alone remained where he was.
Schweitzer looked away from him to view the hall instead.
The engravings on the wall shined in the bright lights from the ceiling.
He viewed the reflection of all that precious knowledge that still kept so many secrets from them.
The sky above was a bright blue.
The ground below was covered by a dark cedar forest.
A deserted road ran through the center of the forest.
Roads around the country had been reinforced while the autobahn was constructed. The road signs depicted tanks or military trucks and they all provided the maximum weight for the bridges over the rivers.
Follow this north-south road to the mountainous region to the south and you would arrive in Munich.
On the way south, the slope became more apparent, the rivers narrower, and the road signs fewer and farther between.
The scenery also changed. Once at Nuremburg, less than 60 miles from Munich, the area was entirely taken over by forest. The road crossed an endless series of gentle hills surrounded by dark cedars.
The air was fresh, the road was wide, and route was straight.
The dark asphalt stretched endlessly through the black and green of the forest.
A single motorcycle drove along that strip of pavement. The 750cc BMW had a sidecar attached and Berger sat in the driver’s seat wearing a black coat. He wore no helmet and he no longer had a glove on his left hand. The new prosthetic arm had a noticeable metallic glint.
Hazel rubbed her eyes sleepily inside the sidecar attached on the right.
Their speed created considerable wind.
She tightened her collar and held her left shoulder.
The blanket slipped down to the seat, so she had to hold it in place.
She looked over and up at Berger while the moving motorcycle shook.
“Good morning. Um, what time is it?”
“There’s a clock under your seat,” he replied without taking his eyes off the road.
Her shoulders drooped at his answer, but she still reached her right hand below the seat.
“There’s an awful lot of trash under here.”
“Of course there is. That’s my trashcan. After I eat or have some other trash, I chuck it in there. I might not look it, but I like to take good care of nature.”
“Th-then, um, uh, what is this stickiness I feel down here?”
Her face stiffened and she pulled her hand out with something dark on her fingers.
“Don’t scream, idiot. That’s just oil. For the seat’s springs.”
He laughed and she looked up to see him remove his left hand from the handlebar and pull out a pocket watch.
He nodded and returned it to his pocket.
“A watch,” she muttered after watching the process play out. “Um, but you said…”
“I never said I didn’t have one too.”
“So you’ve told me. Kids don’t have a wide vocabulary. If you want to sound grown up, find something else to call me.”
She pulled a paper handkerchief from her breast pocket, wiped her hand with it, and draped the blanket over the seat and floor. Then she glanced over at Berger again.
“You really aren’t very nice, you know?”
“Oh? That’s different at least. Keep it up.”
“Then I will. You don’t look away when I’m naked and you didn’t try to help me. You really are awful. How can you stay so calm when someone needs help?”
“You think I want to see some flat-chested kid? Listen, Hazel. A boring body is like meat that won’t sell at the butcher. There’s no point in covering it up and it’s not worth buying. Remember that.”
“Th-then what? I just need a bigger chest?”
“Don’t simplify, Hazel Mirildorf. The issue is more complex than that. Are you willing to say that a large and hairy chest is best?”
She gave that some serious thought before responding.
“Oh, I have my fur when I’m a cat, so I actually have that.”
“Um…why do you sound so delighted?”
He sounded annoyed and she could see yellowish Tons surrounding him.
…Is he enjoying this?
The Tons soon disappeared, leaving her no way of determining what they meant. She sighed.
“I swear I’m not letting you see me naked next time we meet. And you had better not complain about it.”
“Sure thing, fräulein. I hope we do get to see each other again.”
His casual tone was a relief.
That was what they called her at her school in America. She just about lost herself in thought about that, but she shook her head.
…You saw me naked and didn’t try to help me, so…
“Why did you come back last night?”
“When I checked your luggage, I found something odd mixed in with the tragically small underwear: three test tubes. I wanted to ask you what you were doing with those here in Germany.”
“R-really? That’s really the only reason you came back?”
“Do you think I’d tell you if it wasn’t, Hazel?”
He kept a straight face and she had no rebuttal. Instead, she thought for a bit and filled the silence with a different question.
“Have you been driving this entire time? We’re almost to Munich, aren’t we?”
“We’re making a one-night trip from Berlin to Munich and then west to Donaueschingen at the entrance of the Black Forest. That’s around 400 miles and we have 210 miles to go. It’s a pretty insane distance to try to drive so quickly.”
Realizing her alternate question had not been much better, her shoulders drooped.
“Don’t sweat it, Hazel. I’m the only one that old upperclassman of mine gives these absurd tasks to. The official AIF force led by ‘Hardest Wolf’ Pale Horse is preparing for its first mission, yet that guy calls in a hired hand like me without giving me any training. …Because he knows I can handle it.”
“But nothing, Hazel. If your apologies can make the motorcycle move faster, then keep it up.” He laughed bitterly. “Then again, the coins I was gonna give you are paying for this trip, so in a way, you really saved my ass here.”
“The innkeeper gave me some imperial coins when we parted ways at Leipzig, remember? He was actually supposed to give them to you when you reached France. They were to fund your vacation in the Closed City.”
“So you can dress up some. Why did cut you that pretty hair of yours? And why do you always look so tense? Were the American kids at your new school bullying you?”
He kept smiling.
“Unlike two years ago, I think it’s my turn to ask. Hazel, what do you want to be?”
“You already know that. I want to learn Tuning or Busting.”
“No, you don’t. That wasn’t what you wanted before you met Sylphide and before you got that brand on your shoulder, was it?”
She hesitated to respond, but she finally shook her head with her shoulders tensed.
“Listen, Hazel. Hazel Mirildorf. You’re a normal girl living in America. The Messiah still isn’t working because you don’t need that power anymore. Think of that as a lucky break.” He sighed. “You can go back to who you used to be. Abandon all that Tune-Bust stuff. …Or do you want to fight in a war?”
“But I…I didn’t want to run away two years ago. And like I said last night, I want to do something. My father is against it, but you, my teacher, and everyone else are working so hard.”
“You need more than words, Hazel. You failed to deliver a single letter and you’re a target. You can’t just fall back on ‘wanting to do something’.”
“But, but…not running away means to fight and to fight means for someone to die, doesn’t it? Then I want to do something…something else.”
“Childish idealism.” The words silenced her. “Remember this, Hazel. You can’t just want to do something. You’re free to want to save someone or to kill someone, but you need more than that.”
“What is it I lack?”
“See, you don’t even know what you need. If you did, last night wouldn’t have happened. They kneeled before you and you had no idea what to do. …You just didn’t want to run away, but you didn’t fight either. Did you accomplish anything else from that?”
A new thought came to her, carrying regret, but it was cut off by his quiet laughter.
“Still, you did better than 2 years ago where you just let them take you away. …The Geheimnis Agency is pretty scary, aren’t they? Most of those Neue Kavaliers are mindless drones who let their master do all the thinking. That you found that frightening means-” He stopped there. “Forget it. Wouldn’t want to give you an ego.”
He twisted the accelerator as the road crossed a hill and began a short descent.
She pressed her butt into the seat against the sensation of falling forward.
“Wh-what were you going to say that would give me an ego?”
The road sloped back upwards. The motorcycle was stable, so she placed her hands on the edge of the seat and looked up at him in the wind.
But he did not look back her way as he replied.
“Hazel. Knowing you, you’ll figure it out on your own eventually. You can get back to America, forget all about war, and take your time thinking through it. …Don’t try to rush it.”
She ducked down when she saw him twist the accelerator further.
Instead of wind, the acceleration felt more like a wall of air growing thicker and more powerful.
Spotting a bluish-white shimmer in the distant sky, some words pushed out from her mouth.
“The wind is coming.”
Then a gust blew in from the front, shaking the motorcycle. Berger leaned forward to push down on the handlebars.
Her sidecar floated up a bit, and…
The wind vanished and the sidecar’s wheel contacted the road again. They continued onward.
He let out a sigh and looked her way for the first time since she woke up.
Her eyes met his and her heart pounded when she realized there was no smile or anything else in his eyes.
“Does your eye let you do that? The broken Messiah, I mean.”
“I think so. I must have learned the trick to reading wind Tons while I was with the Sylphide.”
“How strange. The Panzerpolis Project is nearing completion and last night suggests the Geheimnis Agents and some of the military can already use the Erklärung.” He sighed. “But you, the prophesied Messiah, can’t use it. All you can do is give a weather forecast.”
“A weather forecast? Um…”
“Head back to America, find yourself a husband, have 4 or 5 kids, and go hiking with your family. Or become a schoolteacher. That ability is best used on fieldtrips. Mountain weather is fickle, after all. Yes, you can be the PTA’s Field Trip Messiah.”
His casual suggestions made her stare for a bit, but then she sighed.
“Never mind. I’m going back to sleep. Wake me when we arrive, my canine driver.”
She shut her eyes and definitely heard him laugh.
She did not open her eyes again, but hear ears picked up the tempo of the Ton.
It was light, almost like the jingle of a small bell. It was quiet, but that meant he was trying to hide the Ton.
…He never lets anything show.
She then spoke in English with her eyes still shut.
“Um, Mr. Berger? Are you listening?”
“What is it?”
“When I was taken from school 2 years ago, we were in the middle of writing down our plans for the future to turn in to our teacher.”
“Do you remember what you wrote?”
“I was taken away before I wrote mine. Because I had never really thought about my future and did not know what to write.
She tried to keep her tone cheerful, but he was not smiling when he responded.
“You’re pretty strait-laced. Something like a teacher might suit you pretty well.”
“You really think so?”
“It’s not my decision, Hazel. The entire point is for you to choose. If you manage that, there might be some hope for you after all.”
Then she heard him sing.
In the deep darkness of the Black Forest
Born from the abyss
The wheel emerges
- It whips up the wind and speaks with the dragon
- It reads the wind and weeps
- It carries power in its hand and hesitates
That was the 3rd Section of Daily Life from the Unreif Germane.
He sang it smoothly, matching the tempo of the wind and the joy. Hazel smiled when she applied the lyrics and title to herself.
This time, she really did decide to go to sleep. There was so much she still did not know, but…
…Unlike 2 years ago, the Tons tell me so much now.
She sank down into the seat with a sigh of relief and fell asleep once more.
The wind was blowing gently.
The front lobby of the Geheimnis Agency HQ’s central building was wrapped in the stillness of evening.
The setting sun shined in through the skylight and large windows. With no one around, the white floor tiles were all colored scarlet.
The lobby was a 40-yard room with four stone pillars to hold up the tall ceiling. Sofas were placed around the base of the pillars and along the walls, but…
“Are you kidding me? I finish my Grösse Panzer’s test run and head back to get some sleep, but they put out an emergency summons?”
The voice came from the base of the southeast pillar.
Two people sat in the circular sofa there, awash with scarlet light: Alfred and Schweitzer.
Alfred leaned forward with his head in his hands.
“I use a plane to rush here from Base #8 in only 15 minutes, but now I have to wait?”
“I am waiting too, Alfred.” Schweitzer leaned back in the sofa, his head against the pillar. “I already met Lady Rose today, so what else could one day hold?”
“The first Gard-class being constructed at Base #8 goes into service a week from now, so maybe it’s a rehearsal celebration for that.”
“You do not rehearse celebrations. Besides, the celebration is not until the other seven being constructed elsewhere are complete.” Schweitzer looked up at the ceiling. “War is coming. Once the Panzerpolis Project is in effect, do you really think those Gard-class warships will become the foundation of our air defense?”
“The experimental Babel Kanone at Base #16 up north is ready for use and the Development Division in Berlin has proven the theory behind the city-defense Himmelsschild. With those two things, that impressive ship will prevent any country’s aerial warships and bombers from defiling Germany’s skies.”
“I heard it is an Eingeweide. Do you know who will be piloting it?”
“I know it isn’t you or me. To be honest, I can’t even guess. …Marsch developed the thing, right? Then I imagine it will be named after that disk Eryngium had.”
Schweitzer heard Alfred continue with a “but”.
“That would mean we were called here about something else.”
“So many questions. And I still haven’t even visited that dig site.”
“Do you know what they’ve been digging through the night to get at, Hellard?”
“The remains of P. Wagner’s lab. The military essentially built that lab to spite us and then the Kaizerburg was developed there.”
“What do they hope to accomplish digging that up? There might be some design documents, but we already developed the Sylphide. Granted, Marsch was not much for documentation, so we still can’t reproduce a lot of the parts. Still, we’ve recovered all the Sylphide’s components and we’ve started constructing a new and improved Eingeweide warship.”
Hearing that, Schweitzer crossed his arms. Der Held’s cylinders audibly worked to skillfully cross itself with his biological left arm in front of his chest.
“There are too many unknowns.” He kept his eyes on the ceiling. “Apparently those two would gather like this every year and I hear you were visiting Lady Rose with them. Did you not pick up on anything this could be about?”
“His Excellency gave me an independent unit, but that’s all he let me do. Did he or his aide tell you anything during your visit today?”
They exchanged a glance, but Alfred reached an answer in only a few seconds.
“I guess two incompetent fools who only know how to attack or defend can’t find the answer here.”
Schweitzer stood up after noticing Lowenzahn entering the lobby from the north hallway.
Her long, braided hair swayed as she pushed a silver cart of food.
He stood up and called her name.
She looked over, but she kept pushing the cart and only turned her head his way. She hopped up onto the bottom of the cart to ride its inertia.
Only then did she give him a businesslike wave.
“Sorry, Captain! I’m a little busy, so maybe later!”
She and the cart slid right on into the eastern hallway.
Her voice and a metallic crash echoed out from the hallway.
“She’s just as bland as she was three years ago,” said Alfred with his eyes on the hallway entrance.
“Describe her like food and she’s liable to kick you to the floor.”
She was on the way to the mess hall and Schweitzer could see Alfred still looking that way.
“I get that the mess is busy this time of day, Schweitzer, but is she always like that?”
“No, I’ve never seen her bring that thing out of the storeroom before.”
“I see,” said Alfred, standing up. He lifted Rein König from the sofa and pointed it toward the hallway Lowenzahn had used. “We should go check on her. And if she’s fine…” He thought for a moment. “We can grab a bite to eat.”
He started in that direction without even looking back.
Schweitzer shrugged in an exasperated way and followed after him. He was a head taller and had a longer stride, so he caught up quickly.
“Speaking of His Excellency’s sister, Lady Rose-”
“Reminds you of Eryngium, doesn’t she? Even if she has a different hair color and personality.” Alfred cut Schweitzer off. “That Messiah girl you met two years ago is a closer match for Eryngium’s personality. They both said they didn’t want to run away, right?”
Alfred’s tone was light, but Schweitzer noticed the man’s right hand was not moving as he walked. He was gripping Rein König so tight the hand had gone white.
Schweitzer lowered his head a little to hide a small smile.
But a moment later, it was gone. Once he raised his head, there was only strength on his face.
The enormous bearer of Der Held quickened his pace.
The two of them walked side by side as they entered the hallway.
The hallway was a little darker than the scarlet lobby.
The lobby’s somewhat warm air was replaced by a still and stagnant air.
“Sorry about the wait, you two.”
An almost fussily emotionless voice reached them from the center of the hallway.
They came to a stop and saw a pencil of a man standing 10 yards away in the hallway leading to the mess hall.
Bermark Vier stood aloofly in the hallway, the black of his coat apparent even in the dim light.
Finally, he gave a deep bow.
“Are you ready?”
“Yes,” said Schweitzer, but Alfred stepped forward before they could say more.
“Could you hurry it up?”
“This hallway to the left, please.”
“The left? But this hallway only leads straight to the mess. Right, Hellard?”
“Is that so?”
Bermark turned to his right and their left. There was indeed a hallway there. One the other two had never before seen.
Bermark’s voice seemed to ignore all of their thoughts.
“A castle always has its secrets.”
Alfred answered that with a quiet laugh.
He walked up to Bermark and Schweitzer followed a moment later.
“What will we find down there?” asked both men at once.
“Our leader’s office,” replied Bermark with no discernable expression. “The Naylor family Sofort Leser who runs our Geheimnis Agency has granted you an audience. She says the time has come to meet the two of you.”
The land known as the Black Forest was of course black during the night.
Not just dark, but black. The sky above looked brighter.
Heidengeists and gods had once lived in that land and humans had needed to coexist with them to survive.
Paved roads now ran through that place and humans could come and go with some freedom.
Hazel was currently in the mountains a short distance from a mountain road that wound through that vast land.
Black was all she could see. The starlight from above was the only source of light.
That bluish-white starlight had to filter through the leaves overhead before it reached her, so she could only make out the faintest outlines of her surroundings.
She was lying at the base of a cedar tree.
She was in a sleeping bag, but she was not asleep.
The hard ground below her back was not helping there, but she had also napped during the day and it was too early for sleep.
“It was only 8 earlier, wasn’t it?”
“She stuck a hand out from the sleeping bag. It held the pocket watch she had borrowed from Berger.
She used her nails to open the cover and she gasped at the unexpectedly loud noise.
After a few seconds she glanced around (even though she could barely see) and sighed. Then she viewed the glow-in-the-dark clockface.
…I could have sworn I’d been here for around two hours.
The forest’s night was entirely silent.
Her sense of time was entirely thrown off. She shut the pocket watch and rolled over onto her stomach. She propped herself up on her shoulders to look around. The new pose let her see something she had not seen while on her back.
Berger was sleeping there.
He was sleeping with his back against the trunk of the tree and his arms around a raised knee. He too had a sleeping bag, but it was half unzipped and only his lower legs were inside it. That way he could take action at a moment’s notice.
He did have his black coat over his shoulders to keep him warm.
The chest of the coat looked oddly bulky because he was holding Gelegenheit. He had removed his sunglasses and the exhaustion on his face was plain to see.
She only noticed how tired he looked now that the bluish-white starlight was shining down on him.
…He was driving all night. No, for an entire day.
He had a mission: attack a Geheimnis Agency base and sink the aerial warship under construction there.
“The AIF…the world’s first independent military force funded only by corporate sponsors.”
She knew the AIF was the Antiwar Independent Force, a group with divisions around the world who swiftly and covertly dealt with any problems that might lead to international conflict.
They were still short on money and personnel. People she assumed were with the AIF often came to meet her father. Most of them were former German citizens and some had been women. She had caught bits and pieces of conversation when serving them their tea.
The things she heard there never turned up in the newspapers or on the radio.
She thought back to the Sylphide Incident from two years ago.
That had never been revealed to the public either.
…It took flight to fulfill the Messiah’s prophecy and it accomplished that. And yet…
She suddenly held a hand to her right eye.
“The Messiah implant was destroyed afterwards and it hasn’t recovered.”
She raised her head to look at Berger’s left arm, which was hard to make out in the blackness of the forest.
Then she heard a rustling from the foliage around her.
Doubt filled her and then a howl erupted behind her.
An animal’s extended “uh” or “oh” rang on and on toward the heavens.
It was a wolf.
A pack of them.
She cried out, grabbed her left shoulder, and cowered down.
She was glad she had rolled onto her stomach. As a Werecat, lying on her back before an enemy was a sign of submission and helplessness.
The next howl sounded closer.
Her feline instincts feared the canine cry.
Barely a moment later, she heard another animal cry, but from a different location.
The many bestial noises broke the Black Forest’s silence.
The howls took on a set rhythm and crashed down on her like waves.
She felt like something was about to pounce on her.
…Wh-what is this?
She could tell her pulse was racing. A moment later, her body obeyed its instincts and began the Flektieren transformation.
She knew she shouldn’t let it happen, but it was too late.
As her body’s Tons rearranged, air blew out and exploded inside her sleeping bag.
The blast of air sent her tumbling out of the sleeping bag as a kitten. Her legs dragged her somewhat torn clothes and underwear with her.
“Why?” she tried to say, but it came out as a meow.
Her choker now dangled down as a collar and she skillfully extricated herself from her own clothing before walking and tumbling some more.
She was still surrounded by the waves of howling. As a cat, her night vision had improved and she could make out a few forms moving through the surrounding forest.
Everything she said came out as quiet mews. The howling harmony drowned it all out.
Her fear won out over her hesitation.
She practically leaped forward as she ran toward Berger. She scrambled up his leg to his hip. She moved to the hem of the black coat draped over him and desperately rubbed her chin against his hip.
…Wake up, wake up, wake up!
She was desperate enough to beg, but the response arrived far too leisurely for her liking.
He finally opened his eyes. Part of the way.
She called his name half in tears of joy.
That too became a meow, but he looked around with sleepy eyes.
The howls were surrounded by the forest and the mountains.
His eyes stopped on a single point.
Confused, she tilted her head and looked in that direction.
An unusually large form was in the black of the forest there.
Standing 2.5 yards tall, it was as large as bear. It stood in the bushes not 5 yards away.
She could tell it was not just a tree or a hill because of the single point of light where its face would be.
…Is that the glint of an eye?
The only one-eyed creatures she knew of were a type of giant that had a small population in the Aerial City. One of them would have been even bigger, so this was something else.
She gasped when she saw the way the silver light gathered around the figure’s outline.
…What is that? Fur?
She had no idea what it was, but she knew it was looking at her while the wolves howled.
Silent with fear, she nestled against Berger.
He pulled a hand out from below the black coat and held her close.
As a cat, she was even softer than normal and she was pressed against his body. She was relieved to feel his warmth through the clothing. She calmed her breathing and looked up at him with her heterochromatic eyes.
He turned his sleepy eyes toward the figure standing in the forest.
His lips slowly moved.
“Quiet those things down, idiot.”
It sounded like a casual comment, but his voice rang clear through all the howling.
The figure in front of them smiled. Or so it seemed.
No, she had seen the Ton tempo of a small smile spill out from the figure.
By the time she wondered what that was about, it was too late.
The figure was gone. It had leaped away. And…
The wolf howling also vanished. All she could hear was a rustling of the underbrush, branches snapping underfoot, and dozens of padding feet, all growing more distant by the moment. She looked around as it faded away until it was gone.
…What was that?
No one could answer her question, but she heard Berger speaking while half asleep.
“C’mon…how many times do I have to tell you not to wake me up?”
She tilted her head in his arm.
“He’s never told me that.”
Her voice only came out as a small mew, so he did not respond.
Instead, he pinched her behind the neck and lifted her up.
She considered struggling, but his grip was weak and she could tell he was still half asleep. If she struggled, she would slip from his grasp and fall.
She silently let him take over.
He roughly pulled aside the black coat and held her to his chest with his right hand.
Then he pulled the sleeping bag up over him with his mechanical left hand. He zipped it up to his chest and lay on his back. Only her head stuck out from the sleeping bag.
She looked up to see his face there.
He was already falling asleep, so she sighed while viewing his stubbly face. She adjusted her position in his hand, getting herself to lie on her stomach while pressed against his chest.
Then her front right paw caught on something with a metallic clink.
She saw a woman’s pendant next to her face with the locket portion sitting open.
…That’s the red jewel pendant he always wears.
“I shouldn’t look inside.”
She reached out her front right paw to close the pendant, but she could not get her claws on it well enough with just one paw and the pendant rolled.
The stars illuminated the inside of the pendant, giving her the view she had been trying to avoid.
She saw the single photograph contained within. It was an old scrap from a larger photo.
…That’s a lot like Marsch Gant’s photo I saw in the Sylphide.
There were clear differences, however. The background was Tempelhof Air Base, just like the one in the Sylphide, but the people in the photo were different.
One was a black-haired young man and the other was a brown-haired woman.
They were both smiling.
She stopped breathing for a moment. And…
She felt guilty for having seen it, so she apologized, despite how meaningless it was.
Then she more calmly reached out her front paw and shut the pendant.
The process allowed more light in, giving her a better look at the photo.
The woman’s narrow eyes were bent in a smile, but they were clearly cat eyes. She was a Werecat.
Hazel slowly shut the pendant while her eyes met with another member of her species.
…Is that why it never gets to him? He’s done this before.
“Dealt with a girl like me, I mean.”
She shut her eyes while deciding to never tell anyone what she had seen.
Chapter 5: The Wheel Races
07/28/1939 21:42 – 23:21
There are people I have never met
There are worlds I have never seen
They appear before me
Suddenly and forcefully
The Antiwar Independent Force. Established in 1934. Originated as a civilian intelligence agency funded to keep tabs on Europe by some capitalists who moved to the US to escape the tension in Europe and learned that Sofort Lesers around the world had prophesied the imminent destruction of the world.
The situations they found often required taking direct action and they received corporate sponsors seeking to receive intelligence from European governments and militaries, so they secretly established a combat force meant to correct the world’s power balance. Their role is to seal away Ober Geheimnis – relics and technologies from a previous world – and to deter any excessive military actions or rampant war profiteering.
This force was established in ’37, but the process of putting together an actual force and working out the internal command structure meant they could not reveal the force’s presence to the governments, militaries, and corporations they worked with until ’39. Their main force was primarily made up of Heidengeists and, in ’39, they held a training ground in the US state of Arizona with enough ground and aerial troops for four divisions.
Schweitzer and Alfred walked down a wide, dark stone hallway.
Their clothing was torn and their skin was marred by a few scratches and bloodstains.
Their footsteps sounded wet. The ground was flooded up to their ankles. Around 6 hours had passed since they started down the hallway indicated by Bermark. It had sloped down, sloped up, and curved every which way, but they still had not reached the end.
Alfred walked out in front and he did not slow his pace as he asked a question.
“Hellard, what do you make of this? That juvenile dragon we ran across at the start seemed awfully real, but the great serpent after that seemed fake to me. I’d say the three creatures after that were real, but what about that one just now?”
“I think it does not matter.”
“Agreed. …Although in children’s stories, the illusions fade away and you reach your destination once you identify them as such.”
“I doff my cap to your refusal to show mercy even to illusions, Alfred.”
“Don’t flatter me.”
Alfred’s tone was serious, but he swung his right hand the very next moment.
An instant after the slash, a white light was released from Rein König’s path, like the blade’s afterimage had taken flight. The destructive light shot toward the supposedly shallow water.
A pillar of water roared into the air to their right before parting to reveal a massive sea serpent.
It screeched beyond their audible range and raised its head. The left half of its face had been sliced away.
The remaining eye was glaring at Alfred.
But Alfred ignored it and casually waved his left hand toward Schweitzer.
“You can have this one. It’s too tedious for me. …Honestly, nothing here has any real fight in it.”
The serpent may have understood his hoarse words because it opened its mouth and charged.
Schweitzer took an exasperated step forward.
The wet footing was irrelevant as long as he controlled his weight and center of gravity appropriately. He moved his right foot forward and rotated it by pushing his toes, ankle, knee, thigh, and hip to the right in that order.
The movement of his lower body pushed his upper body forward.
Der Held’s metal fist flew forward like a shell, crashing into the side of the serpent’s face as it tried to attack Alfred.
Its face audibly burst open and its body was propelled backwards.
Alfred used a swing of Rein König to keep the spraying blood off of him as he walked on ahead. Schweitzer held up Der Held to do the same.
“This may not be an illusion, Alfred. What if these are being created by rearranging the Tons of the ether?”
“Giving them an artificial life? This seems too largescale and constant to be Tuning. And if it’s been mechanically automated…well, I’ve never heard of that kind of technology.”
“Bermark called this a ‘castle’. What if the Geheimnis Agency base was built atop the ruins of an old castle full of Ober Geheimnis, similar to the area below Munich’s central hospital?”
Alfred stopped out ahead of him and looked back, so Schweitzer asked a further question.
“Why must we pass through here to meet our commander? This hallway seems to stretch on to infinity, but I think it is actually being created as we walk using the same technique used for the serpents and dragons we have encountered.”
“But based on how this is going, it doesn’t look like the way forward opens when we prove our strength.”
“Our commander must be testing us. To see if we will notice something here.”
“An interesting idea, but what are we supposed to notice?”
Schweitzer saw Alfred raise Rein König in his right hand.
He launched an attack of light upwards, earning a scream from the ceiling. A bestial scream.
Something like a thick rope made of nothing but dark shadow dropped down. Three such things did.
Screaming, they fell behind Alfred. Schweitzer noticed several sharp horns on their heads as they splashed into the water. They screamed and struggled, thrashing in the water, but then…
Yes, they vanished. More like they turned invisible than dissolved into the air.
Alfred looked around.
“None of these serpents or dragons can put up a fight. Why would someone create the technology to mass produce them? I know during the Obstacle Era there was a war fought using inhuman mass-produced soldiers known as Divine Warriors, so is this the same tech here?”
“We honestly do not even know this is a form of technology.” Schweitzer sighed. “Whoever made this place must have known what they were doing, but what were they trying to make?”
“Probably a real dragon that could put up a fight, Hellard.”
He immediately answered that with another question.
“Then think about it, Alfred. The true dragon would have been with the Messiah…so why were they trying to create one here? And why hide it?” He was not done yet. “Our leader must be able to control a dragon. Not to forcefully bend it to her will like we did 3 years ago, but to have it obey. And after the Messiah vanished a millennium ago…”
“What if someone tried to obtain a dragon in order to lead us? What if they used the technology passed down to them in order to obtain an Erde Drache or Luft Drache so they could lead the leaderless Neue Kavaliers?”
Alfred cut in to answer those questions.
“That would have to be the emperor who the Messiah left Germany with.” Alfred spread his legs a bit and looked up. “The four Neue Kavalier families of Naylor, Karlsruhe, Maldrick, and Borderson served the Messiah and received certain benefits in return. After the subjugation of Germany, my Maldrick family even demanded this Rein König that the one-armed youth left with the emperor.”
“So once the Messiah was gone, maybe the emperor wanted a dragon – even an artificial one – in order to lead someone and to become greater even than the Messiah.” He continued with a note of self-derision. “And history shows just how well that one went. The German imperial line died out a mere 200 years later with the death of Henry VI in 1197. You learned all this in school, didn’t you? Or did you forget it all? When did the Germania Dragoons declare their independence from the throne after returning from the Crusades?”
“In 1198, a year after the imperial line died out.”
“Correct. And by around 1200, the Ring of the Nibelung was being recited across Germany as an epic poem. That poem used a ring as a symbol of karmic retribution and eternity and we still use Nibelung to refer to the Wheel of Ruin.” He scoffed. “But the center of a ring is empty. Was that a reference to our lack of a leader and how we traded a thousand-year vacancy for peace? The emperor from a thousand years ago created this place to become our leader and ultimately failed, but is that destiny going to repeat itself now, Hellard?”
“The Wheel of Ruin, hm? Lady Rose mentioned that.” Schweitzer thought while he spoke. “Alfred, didn’t our commander say ruin would come to this world in ’43? And the prophecies are meant to avoid that? All so the Messiah will return and become our true leader.”
He stopped there, his face briefly stiffening in realization.
Then he smiled and moved with enough force to blast away the air around him.
He turned to the right and raised Der Held.
“Eingeweide arm Der Held, prepare Ober Beweisen.”
The surface of the prosthetic arm briefly glowed dully in the darkness.
“Alfred, I know why we must pass through here.”
“In that case, my own guess must be right.”
Alfred stepped up alongside Schweitzer.
He gently raised Rein König and kept the movement going, drawing out a silver arc and preparing for an overhead slash. He grinned and slowly crouched down.
The water before them opened wide as if in response.
What had been a hallway transformed into a vast space filled with darkness. A faint mist rose from the water at the bottom of that space and it continued to change.
The space’s Tons were remade before their eyes.
“I hear a voice. The lament of a historical relic – of a poor machine that has gone unused for so very long.”
A quiet Text entered the space, perhaps as a response to Schweitzer’s statement.
<A Legend spreads through the populace.>
The dark water spread further, growing too large to see the end.
Alfred stopped moving.
“This appears to be an Eingeweide system build in the middle ages. Its master must be long dead, so does it run off of a powerful posthumous will, similar to the Sylphide? What do you think?”
“The persistence of those who wished to rule Germany lives on in this place. This was abandoned after it failed to create a dragon, so our base was used to seal this secret history away.”
About 100 yards ahead of them, the water’s surface slowly rose as something pushed up from below.
There was so much water, the swelling of the surface looked more like a sand dune than water. Something massive had to be lurking below.
At some point, the swelling accelerated all at once.
A few moments later, the tip of the swelling ruptured and the water cascaded down.
The water bud split open and a great water dragon blossomed from within.
The crashing water was like the roar of an avalanche but much more pleasant. The smooth water dragon’s exposed head and neck measured more than 20 yards long.
“I bet Naval Division Commander Lillie Telmetz could use her Tuning to create a dragon like this,” said Schweitzer, his expression serious.
“This failure from the past is no match for a dragon made by one of the Fünf Leithammel.” Alfred had a smile in his voice. “And the Fünf Leithammel who can make that dragon isn’t even our leader, so the past emperors who could only create these failures were never cut out for the job. …The Messiah led a far stronger dragon.”
“Our purpose is to protect this country and its people and that is why we desire the Messiah as our leader.”
They both smiled at that.
Maybe it was meant as a response, but the water dragon bent its body into an arc and then rushed toward them.
It had to be more than 200 yards long in all, so its body alone was a weapon. A collision from that would do serious damage.
But the two men were unfazed as that great pressure and water-scented wind approached.
“This place is meant to teach us that the Messiah is the only leader for us,” said Alfred. “By showing us the alternative.”
“Then let us go meet out commander. The one and only commander who can lead us to the Messiah.”
“That is why we pass through here and why we must go meet our commander.”
The dragon approached.
In a flash, Alfred straightened up, stretched up, and bent back.
The wind shook. He used the bend of his body to swing the Rein König forward with all his might.
A voice accompanied the powerful slash.
Light flew. Light massive enough to fill the vast space. The white light lacked heat, but it had strength. Rein König amplified his Ton until it could tear right through the approaching destruction.
The dragon, the water, and the entire space before them were struck by the whiteness.
Everything they could see was subtly distorted. The scenery unraveled like a loose thread, the shadows wavered, the water tremored, and the air rippled.
The dragon and everything else were equally struck by the destructive power.
“Eingeweide arm Der Held – Ober Beweisen.”
His calm voice signaled the beginning of it all.
With a bang of gunfire, an empty cartridge was ejected from his prosthetic arm.
A metal-reinforced staff was pushed out from the ejector in the upper arm, so it struck the air. It produced a solid sound of impact, despite nothing existing there to be hit.
A barrier line of bluish-white ether raced out, as if to slice apart the wavering and distorting scenery, and then an Erklärung shook the air.
<The scattering lights in the sky are the stars
Excellence is determined in the sky
Do not compare your height to others
All power is lost in the face of humankind
In the heights dwell the soaring dragons
In the depths dwell the foundations of the earth>
The ether forming the space around them came to an immediate stop.
The wavering shattered, the distortion split, and it all revealed its true form. The form of the hallway they were to walk through.
Hazel awoke to a voice.
It was deep but not too deep. A depth with a hint of something higher. It was a woman’s voice.
…Do I know any women who sound like that?
She did not. Wondering if she was imagining things in her sleep, her sleepy mind began to drift off once more. Her cracked eyes told her it was still dark out. She could sense a nice warmth on her skin. Her mind was wrapped in the veil of a light doze.
If she shut her eyes again, sleep would take her once more. But…
She heard the voice again. And she sensed light too.
The light reaching her retinas through her eyelids was not the sunrise. It was unpleasantly bright. She opened her eyes just enough to tell the circle of light was pointing down at her from above.
She tilted her drowsy head.
“Spending the night with a naked girl, Dog Berger?”
She opened her eyes in a hurry to see the chest of a black shirt in the perfect nuzzling position. And she saw Berger’s face.
And since her Flektieren had worn off in her sleep…
The burst of air had not woken either of them, so he must have been tired and she must have been…
The thought made her want to hide, so she stopped thinking about it. She also tried to move away from Berger, but…
Her arms were folded up and pressed against his chest and she could not extend them. The sleeping bag was taut against her back, leaving only a limited space to move around in.
“It’s so tight.”
She struggled a bit but then looked up.
Berger was waking up.
She looked up at him to see his blue eyes slowly open and focus.
“Huh?” He looked her in the eye for a few seconds. “Wait, what the hell are you doing, Hazel!?”
“What am I doing!? You’re the one that pulled me into your arms!”
“Don’t lie. Anyway, get out, Hazel! You’re twisting my arm all weird.”
“D-d-don’t touch me- ah…no, e-especially not there…”
While they struggled inside the packed sleeping bag, the female voice from before reached them.
“Shut up the both of you.”
A small shape moved into the range of the light shining on them.
It was an army boot. It swiftly moved to the center of the light and grazed Hazel’s ear.
That was all Berger got out before it slammed into his jaw. After the clack of teeth against teeth, someone grabbed the sleeping bag from behind, lifted it up, and pulled it back.
The zipper was undone behind Hazel.
The chilly air reached her back and someone lifted her up from behind.
She was roughly tossed to the ground like someone peeling a fruit. After noticing her skin glowing with a pale light in the darkness, she crouched down and wrapped her arms around herself.
She looked up to see someone in a flight jacket. Their back was turned. They were far from tall – 5 feet at the most – but even from behind, they radiated a strange intensity.
A flashlight shined out from their face, so they must have been holding it in their mouth.
They were crouched down and holding the end of the sleeping bag.
“Ah, hey, what do you think you’re doing?”
Berger’s protests were silenced as the sleeping bag was zipped up.
The flashlight light moved, a muffled voice said something, and the person pointed at the squirming sleeping bag. They skillfully tied up the open end of the sleeping bag with a strap and sent a solid kick into the center of the shouting bag.
“What do I think I’m doing? Demonstrating the principles of democracy with some nice, democratic vigilante justice.”
The flashlight shut off and Hazel panicked at the darkness that suddenly surrounded her.
“Um,” she called, but the only response was the sound of another kick.
The powerful blow was of a type she had never heard before.
By the time she questioned it, it was already too late.
She heard humming. It was a jazz song with a nice tempo. It was a chart topper she had often heard on the radio while in the US.
The kicking started back up in time with the song. The light humming took the place of the trumpet, the sax, and the drums, while a kick sounded with each and every note.
It was a nice tune and Hazel could not help but nod her head to the beat.
…Isn’t there someone inside the sleeping bag being kicked?
The kicks came so quickly it was hard to believe.
“What is it? Use English.”
“Um…what are you doing?”
Kicking like this tenderizes the meat by breaking the fibers.”
The kicking continued.
So did the humming. Then they asked Hazel something.
“More importantly, are you okay? I would recommend against selling your body when you’re still so young.”
“Eh? No, um, that isn’t what this was.”
“Yeah, I was young once. You’re drawn to these men who live in the moment and decide to put out. But I’d recommend against that too.”
Hazel was unsure how to respond. She could still hear the kicking and the humming, but then she panicked.
…N-now is not the time to be enjoying the music!
She could tell this person had misunderstood the situation. And given the circumstances, she knew where that misunderstanding had come from, so she spoke up.
“U-um, I’m fine. Please don’t worry. He didn’t do anything to me!”
The kicking stopped and the somewhat airborne sleeping bag plopped down onto the ground and rolled once to the side. Once all was silent, Hazel sighed in relief and continued.
“I-I’m fine. So please stop that. Because…because…” She hung her head a little. “Mr. Berger is used to seeing me naked.”
After a pause, the kicking resumed with double the intensity and the sleeping bag burst open.
“What the hell have you been doing, you scumbag!?”
A voice called from further off in the forest.
“Captain Sevan! It’s almost time for the meeting!”
“Got it! Hey, you all stay away from here! It ain’t a pretty sight!!”
The other voice faded into the distance.
After a few seconds, the humming made one final and extra-hard hit before stopping.
“Hmph.” The figure stopped moving, wiped the sweat from their brow, and turned around.
“You okay, girl? Staying far away from men like this is the real secret to happiness, if you ask me.”
“I see,” was all Hazel could think to say.
The person removed their flight jacket and tossed it her way.
She caught the still-warm leather garment and draped it over her shoulders like a stole.
She noticed an unfamiliar perfume on the collar.
The figure stood before her and she could see the Ton light emanating from their body. A mighty red light was pulsating from them.
The person standing within that light was a woman.
She looked to be in her mid-thirties and her wavy brown hair was cut to shoulder length.
She looked Hazel in the eye and smiled.
“Don’t worry. I’m Corelle Sevan. I have some business here, so I’m sorry, but I can’t immediately send you back to the village.”
“U-um, I’m Hazel Mirildorf. …Does that mean anything to you?”
Corelle’s expression changed when she heard that. Her eyebrows rose and the tone color of her Tons grew orange.
“Oh? Are you the daughter of the Oscar Mirildorf the higher ups are trying to bring onboard?” She crossed her arms and frowned. “God, M. Schrier and those other bastards are using Berger to win him over through his daughter, aren’t they? Listen, girl.” She crouched down to Hazel’s eye level. “I’m sure a lot has happened, but I hate it when people do it for such calculated reasons.”
“Um, I think you’re misunderstanding this.”
“It’s all right. You often don’t realize what they did to you until later. I understand the urge to defend your first, but we can discuss this all more on the way back to America.”
She smiled and rubbed Hazel’s head.
…What do I do now? She’s not listening to me at all.
“You know what? Forget it,” said Hazel. “Just go on believing whatever you think happened here.”
“Absolutely not, you moron!” shouted the sleeping bag.
It loudly tore open behind Corelle.
The stuffing scattered through the air and a figure in a black coat stood up. He held Gelegenheit with a black blade thrusting from it.
“Corelle! Do you have any idea how hard it was getting her here from Berlin!?”
“Captain Sevan, General Pale is demanding you get to the meeting right this instant! He says he’ll punch me if you don’t!”
The distant voice wholly ignored Berger’s protests.
Corelle placed a hand on Hazel’s shoulder before standing up and shouting into the distance.
“Got it! I’m sure I already missed my part, so tell him to wait another three minutes!!”
“Understood!” called back the voice, followed by footsteps fading into the distance.
Afterwards, Berger adjusted his grip on Gelegenheit.
“What, you think three minutes is enough for my anger to fade?”
The answer was extremely simple.
“Don’t be dumb. The three minutes are to get this girl dressed.” Corelle sighed down toward the ground and inhaled. “I’m not gonna spare even a second of my time listening to a sex criminal’s excuses. Now turn around, idiot.”
The hallway ended almost immediately after Schweitzer and Alfred began walking again.
It ended in double doors surrounded by the white walls and ceiling of the hallway. The metal doors had minimal decorations carved into its surface. The floor was brown tile and a little wet. No sign remained of the battles they had fought with the artificial creatures. Except, that is, for their torn clothing and injuries.
“This looks familiar,” commented Alfred, hooking Rein König’s pommel on the door’s handle.
Schweitzer rushed through the door, keeping his stance low.
Alfred followed and looked around with Rein König ready at his hip.
The large room’s 20-yard walls had stovetops and ovens installed and a 4-yard square counter sat in the center. Smaller counters were on all four sides of that larger one and the pathways between them contained shelves full of cooking tools and spices.
Alfred kicked at the hoses and tools cluttering up those pathways. On the far side was a counter opening up on the adjacent room.
The scene looked odd, but…
“Only because I don’t usually see it from the kitchen,” concluded Schweitzer.
Alfred nodded in agreement.
“Oh?” said a voice from their left.
Lowenzahn turned toward them after opening the charcoal oven on the wall there.
She placed cloths over her hands in preparation to pull a large metal sheet from the oven.
“Weird but perfect timing. Can you help me out?”
“Huh?” Alfred’s shoulders fell and he tilted his head. Then he turned to Schweitzer. “You’re in charge of her, right? So go help her.”
Schweitzer took a look around and confirmed that the two men and Lowenzahn were the only ones in the kitchen. Past the counter, the mess hall was too dark to make any judgments there.
“Did space revert to the wrong location?” he muttered, scratching his head and stepping forward.
He navigated a pathway too narrow for him, a few trays catching on his legs, to approach Lowenzahn.
She bowed and gestured toward the oven with exaggerated politeness.
Inside, he saw a yard-long leg of venison sitting on a dark metal sheet so it could roast along with some vegetables. Some carved onions had burst atop the brown-cooked venison, giving it an oily sheen.
“Did you cook this?” he asked, grabbing the metal sheet with Der Held.
“I did, but…isn’t that hot?”
“I can cut off the feeling at will. Unlike artificial organs, combat prosthetics generally do not need to feel pain.”
“What about when you touched my butt?”
“It is in both our best interests that I do not answer that.”
He pulled the metal sheet out. She was impressed with how easily he lifted the metal sheet and he judged the food on it to be well made.
He placed the entire sheet atop the serving cart she had prepared.
Then he glanced behind him.
Alfred stood there with Rein König in hand.
Alfred met Schweitzer’s gaze and nodded. Schweitzer returned the nod before facing forward again.
Lowenzahn stood before him, so he crouched down a bit.
“May I ask something, Lowenzahn? We have run into a slight problem and I will try to ask this as indirectly as I can.”
“What is it?”
He thought about how to answer her direct response.
“Where is our commander’s office?”
“In what world is that indirect?” She breathed an exasperated sigh and looked up. “And to answer your question, you’re already there. Whatever room I’m in is your commander’s office.”
He nodded as she turned around and started pushing the serving cart.
The two men only realized what she had said after the wheels started squeaking.
Their voices echoed through the kitchen.
Lowenzahn let inertia take the cart and placed her feet on the bottom level. She looked back as it coasted out of the kitchen.
She was smiling.
“Welcome to the Sofort Leser’s feast, Captain Hellard Schweitzer and Lieutenant Alfred Maldrick. I am Lowenzahn Naylor, the Sofort Leser who commands the Geheimnis Agency.”
“Today is my 20th birthday. …Did you bring me a present?”
A strategy meeting had begun in the Black Forest.
Two large plastic tents had been set up in a hollow. No light could escape them and the voices did not fare much better. Since they were in a hollow, they would have to be seen from directly above to notice.
The two tents sat there like two boulders.
The starlight shined on several smaller figures around them.
They were a mixture of human and Heidengeist. Around a dozen men and a handful of women were either standing or sitting there. There were also some guards positioned further out.
Hazel sat between the two tents with a green blanket over her shoulders.
Corelle sat next to her with an identical blanket.
She had told Hazel a lot as they whispered to each other.
“Hmm. So you are about to attack a base at the Alfheim Meteorite Pit to destroy an aerial warship under construction there? And not only is it a High Organ ship, but it’s equipped with a Babel Cannon.”
Hazel was still not used to the English term High Organ instead of the German term Eingeweide.
“It’s just one of the ships meant to make up the Gard-class. The High Organ system will be used to link 8 ships together, creating a high-altitude fortress. They hope to accomplish what wasn’t technologically possible for the Bladlikburg.”
“And it carries a Babel Cannon too?”
“Yes. One large enough to make intercontinental attacks if hooked up to a sufficient power source. And since they’ll be using the Phlogiston extracted and accelerated by the Vaterlands, they’ll be able to reload whenever they want while it remains in Germany. If they get that thing up and running, the slow British and French aerial ships will be sitting ducks. But if we can destroy it now, it’ll take them a full year before they can build another. Also,” continued Corelle. “We were given an additional and quite unusual mission this time. Most of us are tasked with sinking the Gard-class, but a few of us were given a different mission. This mission came from P. Wagner – the very same P. Wagner who had a lab in the center of the Alfheim Meteorite Pit and designed the Kaiserburg.”
Corelle answered Hazel’s confusion by tilting her head and continuing her explanation.
“A British recon team noticed the Geheimnis Agency had started digging up the Alfheim Meteorite Pit two years ago. I don’t know how word of it reached him, but P. Wagner apparently paid M. Schrier a visit with a single demand.” She sighed. “ ‘You must take back what the Geheimnis Agency digs up.’ ”
“Yes. So now that the excavation is nearing completion, our local cooperators have been clamoring for us to make our move.” She looked to the tent on her left. “And after P. Wagner provided detailed information to M. Schrier, he decided to make it top secret even within the AIF. Not even Berger knows. A small team was put together separate from this one and they’ve all been sent in to infiltrate the dig site already. Our attack will be their cue to make their move.”
That explained why Corelle was keeping her voice so low.
Hazel kept her head low for no real reason.
“This is top secret?”
“I think the only ones here who know are Pale and me. I transported the other team here on M. Schrier’s orders, but not even I was given any details on their mission. And the team itself wasn’t told what exactly is being excavated.”
“Why is it such a big secret?”
“They don’t want anyone outside the AIF finding out. We’re an international force of sorts, so anything known to all our members will reach every country around the world. But this mission was presented to M. Schrier by P. Wagner. The secrecy suggests it isn’t even an AIF mission. It’s more of a personal matter.”
“There’s something real bad buried there. You know how the Kaiserburg nearly destroyed the global balance of power? It was made in that lab and something there has caught the Geheimnis Agency’s interest. Then M. Schrier received the details from P. Wagner and concluded the world can’t learn what’s being excavated there. Not until the moment it’s been dug up.”
Hazel thought about that and soon voiced those thoughts.
“Is the Geheimnis Agency searching for clues to build another ship like the Sylphide from two years ago?”
“Reports from our agents at the dig site say the local Geheimnis Agency staff don’t even know what it is. They’re just following orders.”
Hazel observed Corelle’s face as she said that. Then she sighed and voiced the idea that had just occurred to her.
“Then what about this attack on the Gard-class warship?”
“Yes, it might be no more than a diversion for the secret mission. For the moment, M. Schrier understands whatever-it-is’s value even more than the Geheimnis Agency does since he has P. Wagner’s opinion go to off of. If the Geheimnis Agency prioritizes defense of the Gard-class, the secret mission will probably succeed.”
Corelle laughed bitterly and Hazel took a step forward on her knees and asked a question.
“Um, shouldn’t you be participating in the meeting inside the tent?”
“The transport unit’s part is already over. I already demonstrated my power as a Highlandest using my 47 Telling Cards, so the rest of my job is to wait until it’s time to head home. …I’ll introduce you to ‘Hardest Wolf’ Pale Horse later. He’ll dance a jig when he learns you’re Oscar’s daughter.”
“Dance a jig? Is he a funny person?”
“Pale led a unit of England’s special forces during the Great War and made it all the way to the headquarters of the Geheimnis Agency – known as the Germania Dragoons back then – located at the center of Naylor family territory. His forces were almost entirely wiped out, but the fortress was utterly destroyed. 70% of the dragoons were defeated and he fought to a draw with ‘Kommandeur’ Heiliger Karlsruhe.”
…That was the name of my dad’s former superior. And…
She hesitated before opening her mouth.
And she shut it again.
Seeing that, Corelle gave an exasperated shrug.
“I call it a draw, but Pale only had his right eye taken out while he used his Third Lunar Emperor prosthetic arms to blow off both Heiliger’s arms. …The man loves to fight, so recently he’s left England to fight in the Ethiopian conflict and the Spanish Civil War. And he always joins the losing side.”
“That’s who leads the AIF?”
“M. Schrier thought long and hard on whether to give that position to him or to your old man.”
That made her gasp.
…I had no idea.
There was so much she was unaware of.
“Having former Major General Oscar with us would mean a lot when fighting Germany. He has a lot of supporters in the military here, so it would send ripples through the country. But the AIF hopes to be an international organization, so the command position was given to Pale who has fought all across Europe.”
“I see,” said Hazel with a tilt of the head. She gave Corelle a look of renewed admiration and sighed with a hint of disappointment in herself. “The AIF sounds amazing. And it looks like they even accept women.”
“Some Strikers are women, right? This is the same. In the US, some states are letting female civilian pilots assist their aerial units, so this will be the standard eventually.”
“But…you’re a captain. That’s incredible.”
“US military regulations require that if you’re going to lead a flight team. …Although the rank is mostly thanks to my Urban Name of Highlandest, which I earned from my use of Telling Cards.”
Corelle was being modest, but she was also smiling in a bashful way. She smiled until her eyes disappeared.
Hazel stared at that smile until it suddenly ended.
“Is something wrong?”
“No,” said Hazel.
Corelle placed a hand on her head and used her thick hand to muss up the girl’s hair.
“Don’t lie to me, Hazel Mirildorf. Berger hasn’t convinced you to hide your feelings like he does, has he? A woman’s gotta let her true self shine through.”
“No, um, uh, I was just a little jealous is all.”
“I still don’t know what I should do or what I should be. And then I look to you or Mr. Berger and you already have Urban Names and everything.”
“Everyone gets one of those once they do something of note.”
“But people call me the Messiah when I haven’t done anything. And the implant still isn’t working.”
Corelle’s hand stopped on Hazel’s head. Hazel lowered the ends of her eyebrows and looked Corelle in the eyes.
“Mr. Berger said I should stay away from all this. He said there was something I have to figure out before I can get involved.”
“What don’t I have? And why…why is it so wrong?” She took a breath. “Why is it so wrong that I don’t want to run away and that I want to do something?”
A change came over Corelle’s face.
For a brief moment, her jaw dropped like she had noticed something strange, but then she lowered her head and placed thoughtful hand on her jaw.
Hazel watched in confusion as Corelle shut her eyes and spoke.
“Here’s the thing, Hazel. Berger has Gelegenheit and I have my Telling Cards. And maybe you didn’t want it, but you have the Messiah implant and it’s broken right now, right?”
“M. Schrier told me not to tell anyone until the time came, but take a look at this.”
Corelle pulled a letter from her pocket. It was old and discolored.
“M. Schrier gave me this Lost Memory. He says these letters from the past started arriving for him and those around him about two years ago…and some even before that. This year in particular, several of them have crossed the ocean to reach him.”
She held the letter up in front of Hazel, but her fingers were gripping it tight. She was only letting Hazel see it, not handing it to her.
“When he gave me this mission, he told me I was sure to meet a girl once I arrived.”
“And he told me to give that girl this letter and have her deliver it if she said a certain phrase at a certain time.”
“What phrase and what time? Deliver it to who?”
“I can’t tell you that yet.” Corelle shoved the Lost Memory back in her pocket. “But Hazel. Hazel Mirildorf. Listen carefully. This is like a test. A while after this mission begins, my transport unit will pick up Pale and then fly out across the Mediterranean. Carrying you. But…”
“If you figure something out before then and I kick you out – just like M. Schrier hopes – you will probably find yourself on the battlefield.”
Laughter erupted from the tent on their right and Corelle glanced over there.
“Prepare yourself, Hazel. Unfortunately, there is a lot I don’t know about this mission. Destiny here is filled with too many uncertainties for my cards to read. …That includes the Lost Memory, the Geheimnis Agency excavation, P. Wagner’s actions, the mystery object being excavated, and the tense international situation,” she said. “You are much the same, Hazel Mirildorf. Everyone is searching for an answer. Unfortunately, that answer might just be war and ruin.”
“All information regarding this excavation will now be considered top secret.”
At the Alfheim Meteorite Pit, the Geheimnis Agency site supervisor had gathered approximately 60 workers atop the large extraction platform surrounding the 50-yard dig site.
Behind them, several truck-mounted sunlamps shined on the dig site where large automatic winches were at work. Two winches were suspended on either side of the pit.
The sound of the winding winches joined with the wind blowing through the forest to reverberate through the pit. The irritatingly loud roar sounded like someone breathing through a wind instrument.
“The Alfheim Meteorite Pit is where the Messiah once descended from heaven. She walked from here to the shrine at the foot of the mountain, where she met the one-armed youth and was convinced to descend to the world below.”
The site supervisor looked to the rising wires.
“This is also where she entered her slumber upon finishing her work. The one-armed youth and her dragon guarded her bedroom until death claimed them.”
“Well done working in such a sacred place.”
He bowed and the workers bowed back.
The four winches completed their work at the same time.
Something was lifted from the pit.
A pallet for transporting Grösse Panzers was hoisted up by the winches.
A black tarp covered a massive shape measuring 30 yards long and 10 yards wide.
White steam was slowly but regularly blowing from the gaps in the tarp.
Almost like breaths.
They all looked up to watch it.
The shape below the tarp did not even stir as it released its white breaths.
No one said a word and tension filled their faces as they watched.
The wires were fully wound and the winches stopped.
The sudden stop caused the entire winch structure to sway. The total weight made it a slow but powerful movement, but the winches were designed for lifting Grösse Panzers, so they could withstand it.
It took a few minutes for the swaying to stop. Then the winches’ sliding mechanism activated.
The two winches on either side slid along the rails suspending them, making sure to move too slowly to produce a pendulum effect. They slid toward the extraction platform the men stood on.
A worker standing on the edge of the platform shouted over to the edge of the pit.
“Send it in!”
After a short delay, an explosive roar sounded from the other edge of the pit.
It was the deep rumble of machinery.
A massive shape moved out from the edge. A Grösse Panzer transport truck slowly backed up along a simple paved road too narrow for its size.
The extraction platform was made to provide as much flat space as possible above the bowl-shaped pit, so the truck did not need to descend far. It soon reached the end of the road and drove up onto the platform.
Its reinforced tires dug into the platform’s surface, keeping it from slipping. The massive truck’s vibrations directly reverberated through the platform, but everyone feeling those vibrations through their feet heard a different rumbling.
It was a breath from the great dark shape sliding toward them from above.
A powerful sound like papers blowing in the wind escaped the black tarp.
They all tensed, but the rumbling quieted and finally vanished altogether. However…
Someone on the edge of the pit called over through a megaphone.
They all turned that way to see two large figures standing in the starlight.
They were both Grösse Panzers, one blue and one red. Their silhouettes were enough to note differences from the standard models, suggesting these were custom models.
The blue one held a long gun in its right hand and the red one carried a large shield in its left hand.
“I am Bermark Nein of the Geheimnis Agency Army Division’s Independent Unit. I have been tasked with guarding you for the short distance to the #8 Flight Base. I shall accompany you.”
Most of the workers on the extraction platform saluted to express their thanks.
But some felt differently. A small number did not salute.
They instead paled, but caught themselves before anyone noticed.
They had the pale faces of people realizing a plan had gone horribly awry.
Chapter 6: The Wheel Leaps
07/29/1939 00:05 – 00:25
Someone once told me
To find the answer
But when was I given
The formula to find it?
Army Division Chief: “Eisen Panzer” Karl Schmitt
Air Force Division Chief: “Standhaft” Herbert Müller
Naval Division Chief: “Wasser Meister” Lillie Telmetz
Intelligence Division Chief: “Hellsehen” Galue Witzmann
Development Division Chief: “Dachs” Konrad Elrich
The chiefs of the Geheimnis Agency’s five primary divisions – Army, Air Force, Navy, Intelligence, and Development – are known as the Fünf Leithammel or Five Great Peaks. The intelligence and development divisions do not participate in combat, but all of the chiefs possess some kind of skill equal to the agency’s commander and lieutenant, which they use to operate their division in their own unique way. Their role is primarily to lead and operate their division, but when commanding on-site, their duty as a Neue Kavalier is to fight on the front line and never let their power flag except when confronting an enemy on their own level. They are the great warriors of the modern battlefield.
But even their power only allows tactical-level victories, a lesson learned the hard way during the Great War, so starting in ’39, they were restricted to localized combat missions meant to intercept any and all troops attempting to enter Germany.
The party in the Geheimnis Agency HQ mess hall was coming to a close.
But Schweitzer was not attending that party.
He was not below the mess hall lights or a part of the chatting agency bigshots.
He was drinking alone on the open-air terrace jutting out east from the mess hall. He leaned against the railing and looked up into the sky.
The stars were out and the breeze blew in from the forest.
He could hear the laughter from the open door a few yards away from him, but he ignored the voices and the light stretching out to engulf his feet. He was only interested in the sky. On occasion, he would take a sip from the wooden mug in his biological left hand, like he had only just remembered it existed.
He had been like this the entire time. He had greeted so many people once the party started and been freed from the torture after half an hour, at which point he had withdrawn to the terrace.
Through the door, Lowenzahn was surrounded by people and receiving their blessing, dancing with Alfred at Rose’s insistence, and exchanging serious information with people so important a salute would be insufficient.
What did it mean that he could not bear to be in there?
“I must be such a boring person,” he concluded.
He heard a woman’s laughter, but it was a little too deep and mellow to be Lowenzahn.
He looked down to see a woman in black. She was in her mid-thirties and had unkempt short blonde hair.
“Army Division Lieutenant.”
“No need to salute. Tonight, you have become one of us.”
“Lady Jeanne, I fail to see how being introduced to you all improves my standing quite that much.”
“Think about it. You saved our commander’s life three years ago and you fulfilled the Messiah’s prophecy two years ago. You have great value. Maldrick is here for his family and for being a quick learner, but you are different.”
Jeanne Schmitt laughed quietly and parted her lips to let her voice spill out.
In the deep darkness of the Black Forest
Born from the abyss
The wheel emerges
- It whips up the wind and speaks with the dragon
- It reads the wind and weeps
- It carries power in its hand and hesitates
Once done, she said more.
“Our commander told Karl and me we needed more patience. She said the current prophecy tells us the Messiah is still not ready to be our leader.” She sighed. “Our Army Division took matters into our own hands to secure the Messiah, but all we get for it was an ‘It’s too soon. Cut it out, okay?’ ”
“If you ask me, her greatest talent is in putting things lightly.”
Jeanne placed her hands on the railing next to Schweitzer and looked up.
She gave him a solemn look for a moment, but he did not let it bother him.
Then that look bordering on anger was replaced with almost the opposite.
She laughed in a childish way.
“I can’t believe it. Now Karl and I look like the bad guys.”
“I am sure she knows you ordered the Messiah’s capture because you care so much for the Geheimnis Agency.”
“I know, which is why I can’t be mad at her. I used to be famous for butting heads with my superiors, you know? …That girl suddenly mastered true leadership last year,” Jeanne said pleasantly. “Harsh rebukes earn a leader defiance and anger, but…the previous generation of the Naylor family, Lady Frobel, and her husband Sir Lebenheit were just like her.”
“Those two build the foundation of the Geheimnis Agency, didn’t they?”
“Sir Lebenheit died in a British attack in ’18 and Lady Frobel died of heart disease…when Lady Lowenzahn was only 8.”
“Hey, hey. No discussing my life story with a beginner.”
They were interrupted by a clear voice.
They looked up to see a slender figure standing in the terrace’s entrance.
It was Lowenzahn.
She still wore her plain waitress uniform and walked briskly over to stand between Jeanne and Schweitzer, where she leaned her entire body on the railing.
She went limp and stretched out like a cat.
Jeanne and Schweitzer exchanged a glance over her head.
Schweitzer looked down to see the girl slipping from the railing to the floor. After a moment of thought, he reached out and caught her. Using his metal right hand.
She thanked him as he pulled her up, but she kept her eyes straight ahead with a slight smile on her face.
She was viewing the mess hall, where the agency’s leaders were holding a serious discussion on a variety of topics. The center of the discussion was a skinny old man who looked awkward in his military uniform and a short and fat elderly man who looked like he had never worn anything but his uniform.
“Not often you see Development Division Chief ‘Dachs’ Konrad Elrich and my adoptive father Air Force Division Chief ‘Standhaft’ Herbert Müller speaking together like this.”
The three of them watched as a lady in a blue dress walked by the group and stopped when Müller called out to her. She tilted her head and looked over with a face that’s youth was fading and leaving only a powerful sorrow behind.
Müller was two heads shorter than her and he kept his pleasant smile as he explained something to her with ample gesticulation. After a bit, she nodded and the two of them turned toward Elrich. The elderly chief of the Development Division loosened his collar and nodded in greeting, never smiling.
The blue beauty smiled and joined the discussion centered on those two men.
“And now Naval Division Chief ‘Wasser Meister’ Lillie Telmetz joins in. That’s the Big 3 accounted for.”
Lowenzahn kept her tone light and Jeanne crossed her arms.
“Lillie shouldn’t have let them drag her into their conversation. I’m betting she was searching for Graham.”
“He went to meet Karl.”
That revelation seemed to catch Jeanne by surprise.
“Once this is over, I’ll be visiting him too, Jeanne. I need to tell your husband to stop sending his wife to get chewed out while he naps in the hangar.”
Jeanne smiled at that.
“Was that meant as a kindness to me?”
“We ladies need to stick together.”
Hearing that, Jeanne turned toward Schweitzer.
“Did you hear that, Schallmauer Zerstörer? That’s her excuse for protecting her own position above all else.”
“Now that I know she pulled the wool over my eyes for past three years, I think I finally see how she does things.”
“Now, let’s not be mean, Captain…oh?”
Lowenzahn’s note of surprise guided Schweitzer’s gaze back toward the mess hall where someone else had joined the Big 3’s discussion.
It was another skinny elderly man who looked uncomfortable in his uniform. He rubbed his bald head and appeared to be providing comments and additional information on what the others were saying.
“Intelligence Division Chief ‘Hellsehen’ Witzmann.”
Lowenzahn identified him and looked meekly up into the sky.
“Hmm,” she groaned. “Drop one well-placed bomb here and you could alter the course of history.”
“Let’s not tempt fate, shall we?” laughed Jeanne, stepping away from the railing. “I need to pay my husband a visit. And I need to bring Lillie along.”
She returned quickly to the light without even looking back.
She soon entered the mess hall and joined the people within.
Several distinct groups had formed and she easily extracted the woman in a blue dress from one of those serious discussions.
They all watched Lillie leave with some grumbling comments.
But just as Jeanne was leaving with Lillie, she gave one short comment to the others.
The men’s faces stiffened and they all scratched their heads and reformed their group.
Their discussion began anew and Lillie shrugged somewhat guiltily as Jeanne dragged her out of the mess hall.
Lowenzahn had only one thing to say after seeing it all play out.
“They’re like schoolchildren.”
“No need to be so formal. And I apologize for lying to you all this time.”
Schweitzer sighed and leaned back against the railing. It creaked under his weight, but he rested his elbows on it all the same.
“I am so tired.”
“So am I. Oh, but I do appreciate the chance to speak with you like this. War is coming and the ruin in ’43 isn’t long after that. I need to make sure all the powerful people near me know the stakes.”
“Does that…include the lower-ranking people?”
“It isn’t time for that yet. Did you know the Development Division is analyzing Germany’s Tons that the Vaterlands have extracted? They’re breaking down and analyzing so much to refine fuel for the Babel Kanone and Himmelsschild.”
“Have they discovered anything?”
“I stopped Jeanne and Karl’s capture of the Messiah because Elrich says the Ton analysis is close to allowing us to extract the Concept Existence Ton that allows this land to exist.” She hung her head a little. “If we can extract that Ton, process it with ether, and reinject it, she won’t be able to leave Germany anymore. Because she will be a part of the very concept of Germany.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, that is a more effective method of keeping the Messiah here than physically capturing her. If the prophecy says we are to capture her, I imagine it will be done through that Concept Existence Ton, not anything physical.” She sighed. “Because that means she can never leave Germany.”
“And will you move to the forefront once that happens?”
“Yes,” confirmed Lowenzahn, still hanging her head. “The Geheimnis Agency still isn’t complete. We do have the most well-known noble families gathered as our main force, but we are still lacking so much when compared to the Germania Dragoons. So many gave up their noble position after the war and so many others left because they didn’t like our methods. …A Sofort Leser girl isn’t enough to bring them all together again.”
“Before she died, my mother said to keep Graham as the public face of the agency until we had the Messiah. She said…”
She fell silent there.
Her lips formed a few unsaid words before she finally spoke again.
“She said I had nothing to worry about until the world’s ruin in ’43 as long as I kept prophesying.”
“I see.” Schweitzer nodded without asking what she meant. Then he spoke his mind. “It’s been 5 years now, I suppose, but a woman once had me promise to defend this country. We were out drinking at the time. …What will you have me promise at this party?”
“I have no qualms about lying, so are you sure you want to promise me anything?”
“The promise is for me to keep and any lies will come from you. The two are not in conflict.”
“Trying to be nice? I don’t want your pity. Did you actually believe what I said about ’43?”
“Then do you not want a promise? Your loss. I doubt another chance like this will come along.”
Lowenzahn frowned, but her expression eventually relaxed and she wrapped her left arm around Der Held. She made sure her slender arm could not be removed from his metal right arm.
“Promise me…” She kept her voice low.” Promise me you will believe me no matter what lies I tell you.”
“An easy promise to keep for someone as bad at detecting lies as me.”
“Way to ruin the mood. But I do have one thing to tell you now. Assume it’s a lie if you want.”
“What would you think if my prophecies stopped being so accurate?”
He had no answer for her, which she must have expected since she continued without missing a beat.
“Are you listening, Captain Hellard? A Sofort Leser can read the Tons of destiny and of time in this country’s Tons and that tells us what will happen to it in the future. But do you know why the future is recorded in this world’s Tons?”
Schweitzer still had no answer.
He looked at Lowenzahn, but she did not return his gaze. She kept her eyes dead ahead, on the important people discussing important things in the mess hall.
She watched her subordinates.
“Listen carefully, Captain Hellard. We know the answer. During the Obstacle Era, the world was destroyed time and again, so someone worked desperately to create a world that would not be destroyed.”
“Berger once mentioned something similar. While this world was remade, the current one was built from an arrangement of Concept Existence Tons that would not be destroyed.”
“Yes, so in a way, all of those destroyed worlds were the price we paid to gain the world we have now. It might be destroyed, but its destruction is not guaranteed either. And those Concept Existence Tons all contain information from those previous worlds, not from this one.” She took a breath. “This world was created through trial and error. We did not want to be destroyed, so we created a world that could avoid the Nibelung’s cycle of destruction. That created a world where anything goes: reincarnation, gods, demons, and so on.”
Lowenzahn looked up at him.
“A Sofolt Leser reads the Concept Existence Tons that record the events of the past worlds. But I’ve run into a bit of a problem. All I’m reading are the records of those past worlds, so they are ultimately not about this world. The world has been reset countless times and the same things happen each time, but they’re still different.”
“Yes, my prophecies are nothing more than reading ahead to see what happened in the previous worlds that were destroyed. But lately, things have been changing. For some reason, things in this world are happening differently.” She pulled his right arm close and faced forward once more. “What if I told you the Berlin Conflict in ’35 was actually supposed to happen in ’37? And what if I told you the Sylphide incident was supposed to happen this year?”
“Ever since ’35, my prophesies have required some corrections. Since I failed to predict that incident, the Geheimnis Agency failed to respond in time and I fell ill, unable to even leave my bed…but my prophecy in ’37 was correct.”
“So things have sped up by 2 years?”
“Yes. That means the Kaiserburg’s development was shortened by 2 years, doesn’t it? Marsch Gant developed the Sylphide based on the Kaiserburg, so that explains why it too was completed 2 years early. …P. Wagner, developer of the Kaiserburg, must have done something different from any of the past worlds at some point.” She frowned a little. “That means the Messiah girl was put through her trial 2 years early. She should have met the Sylphide when she had a couple of years’ more wisdom, but reality and its words hit her before she was ready.”
“She still managed to overcome it, though.” Schweitzer repeated the term “2 years” to himself as he looked to the people in the cafeteria. “Is that why we are excavating the Alfheim Meteorite Pit?”
“We have two reasons for that. The first is because the original prophecy said P. Wagner should have built the Kaiserburg at Berlin University and caused the Armored Hammer of God Incident in ’37.” She stood up. “And the other is a list of special letters sent out by the Post Office. A special letter was delivered to P. Wagner in 1920.”
“A Verlsten Brief?”
He never received an answer. She gave him a mischievous smile and prepared to speak, but she was cut off by a young man’s panicked voice coming from the mess hall’s entrance.
“Emergency! It’s an emergency!”
A soldier stood in the entranceway with a message in hand.
“The #8 Base…is under attack! We’re under attack! We need to respond!”
The battle started slow, but it was picking up speed.
Berger walked alone along the #8 Base’s southern runway. His pace was slow but steady.
The communicator at his hip gave off the static of decryption as it provided him the current state of the mission. But instead of using voices, it used rapid morse code.
The flames of battle were not yet rising from the base before him, but the battle had already begun below the surface.
“Two minutes ago, 20% of the Vaterland’s control system was taken. The fuel storage control system was also secretly taken.”
That was thanks to the spies who had infiltrated the base ahead of time.
“Great job,” he muttered to himself just before something like loud drumbeats sounded from the forest.
There were 5 in all.
After a pause, pillars of fire erupted from the center of the base.
The pillars roared into the night sky.
“Igniting the uncontrolled 10% as a diversion.”
He was answered by more pillars of fire that burst into the night sky, dying the base scarlet.
He kept walking and drew a golden hilt from below his coat.
That was Gelegenheit.
He gave it a light swing in his right hand and an even larger pillar of fire rose from the center of the base.
Lights raced along the runway, illuminating him and him alone.
At the same time, a great noise raced out. The somewhat intermittent and entirely earsplitting noise was the second alarm.
The light and noise were not enough to stop Berger.
“Let’s see, how did the plan go again?” He tilted his head. “They bring the Vaterland acceleration reactor to critical and dump some high-purity Phlogiston inside the barrier. Then it destroys itself just like engines running wild in the moonlight.” He struck his own hand in understanding. “I see, I see.”
From there, he pulled a Size C Phlogiston Tank from his black coat and attached it to Gelegenheit’s hilt. Then he attached a second, third, fourth, and fifth.
A black blade extended from Gelegenheit.
It measured about 20 yards.
At the same time, two shapes appeared on the road leading to the runway. They were about half a mile away, but he could tell at a glance they were military trucks carrying guards.
The canopyless trucks each had several soldiers armed with submachineguns loaded in the back.
“I appreciate the work ethic to get up so late, but a single platoon isn’t gonna cut it.”
<Destiny does not take orders.>
He lightly swung down his right arm, embedding the 20-yard black blade in the runway out ahead of him.
He held the hilt sideways and pushed it forward as he began to run.
Gelegenheit’s blade tore a 20-yard-wide gash in the runway.
The asphalt pavement was torn apart and sent airborne with a sound just like ripping paper.
He could see the two trucks approaching up ahead.
He did not even hesitate to rush them head on.
“I was told to leave after stirring up some trouble, but is that really such a good idea?”
A river flowed through the Black Forest.
The current blended into the blackness of the forest, but its waves and ripples could be seen in the starlight reflected in the water. All of the light wavered, but the shape of the sky never changed.
A shape sat in the center of the river like a sandbank.
The two-hull shape was at least 50 yards long and was hidden below vegetation.
It was floating on the river dyed black by the night.
A sudden wind blew through, rustling the leaves of the trees. The shaking of the leaves and branches announced the path of the wind.
A bird cried out. Unable to determine its own location, the lost bird cried out in distress.
Another sound seemed to answer it.
It came from the two-hull shape sitting as unmoving as a rock on the river. It was a high-pitched noise that set one’s teeth on edge.
The river surface shook and ripples appeared around the two-hull shape. The sound grew louder and the ripples grew stronger and more intense instead of dying down.
As the sound grew even louder, the ripples grew too large and burst.
With a refreshing noise, the river’s water turned to spray and mist.
The mist stripped away the vegetation and cloths that had been placed over the two-hull shape.
It was laid bare in the starlight.
It was an aerial transport ship.
Its two-hull design allowed greater surface area for the float emblems, giving it the speed and stability needed for vertical takeoffs and forward thrust. It had no actual cargo bay and instead carried a detachable container between the two hulls.
That container was currently missing, making it sleeker and lighter.
The nose art illuminated by the starlight on the top of the starboard side was known as the Gypsy Queen. It depicted an Arabian woman smiling in front of the sunset.
The mist grew thicker.
At the same time, light emerged from the two-hull ship. Small lights appeared all across its 50-yard length. The most powerful was at the center, where several small lights shined from the barge that supported the two hulls.
That was the bridge.
The bridge contained several people.
They were all seated and working at the instruments in that cramped and dimly-lit space.
All except for one person, that is.
Hazel sat in the rearmost seat.
She looked up at the ceiling, which was lower than her standing height, and viewed the many switches covering it.
She sighed and someone walked over to her. The large female figure was Corelle.
Her smile was hard to miss even in the dim lighting.
“Cramped, isn’t it? Ever been on a ship like this?”
“I rode the Sylphide two years ago.”
“Oh…I see. The Sylphide, huh? I remember the thrill of hearing that some incredible new ship had picked a fight with the Germans.”
Corelle sat in an empty seat next to Hazel.
The person in the seat in front looked back.
“Sync confirmed! We’re ready to go.”
“Hold off on that for now. We need a diversion before we can take off. Wait till we see some movement.”
After receiving a quick “yes, ma’am”, Corelle nodded and stuck her hand in her pocket.
Hazel’s guess was proven wrong when Corelle pulled out a deck of cards.
The cards looked small in her large hand and their crimson coloration stood out even in the dim light. Corelle gave Hazel a probing look.
“Now, we have some time to spare, so do you mind humoring me with this? I’m actually something of a coward, so I like to know everything I can about my surroundings. That includes the destinies of the people around me, even the ones just passing by.” She smiled a little. “I mean, you wouldn’t want to share an aerial ship with someone destined to crash, right?”
“I guess not.”
“So let me ask you some questions, Hazel Mirildorf – the girl without an Urban Name. This is a pack of cards I bought in Tarot City – Izumo a few years back. First, there’s these 22 cards.”
“So it’s tarot?”
“It is. But I’d like to ask something before I start the fortunetelling. I do this for myself, so I won’t force anyone else to play along. They might come face to face with an unpleasant destiny, after all. Some people don’t want to know about that kind of thing, right? So…” She spread out the cards in her hand with skillful movements of her large fingers. “These 22 are the yang cards – they’re the tarot of white harmony. They have no more power than the ordinary commercial tarot. They have different meanings when reversed, but that doesn’t make them malicious. So even if you have a bad destiny ahead of you-”
“Could you stop?” hesitantly asked Hazel. “There is no such thing as a bad destiny. It all comes down to how I choose to interpret it. …So, um, please satisfy your curiosity with whatever method you’re so hesitant to explain.”
Corelle was quick to respond. She laughed. Loudly.
“Ha ha ha! I like the way you think! You’re great, Hazel Mirildorf! Did you hear that, Max!? Coolers!? This girl’s got more guts than either of you!!”
“Whatever you say, boss.”
An exasperated but amused voice reached them from the front of the bridge.
Corelle pulled a new deck of cards from her left side to show the smiling girl.
“Now look at this. In the approximately 2000 years of evolution since their origins in Arabia, these Telling Cards have gained both yin and yang cards. The 22 yang ones speak in a harmonic voice that accurately conveys your destiny and the 22 yin ones speak in a noisy voice that leaves you unsure what it’s saying about your destiny. Then there are the 3 unspoken word cards that combine the two types. That makes a total of 47 cards.”
She spread the cards out in both hands to show them off.
They were all blank.
Hazel frowned, so Corelle explained.
“The cards made in the Tarot City do not have the cards to tell your destiny; destiny speaks to you through the cards. If you don’t have your fortune told, the card will never meet its intended partner and will remain blank.”
“You mean…my destiny will be drawn here?”
“That’s right. Your harmonic, noisy, and unspoken destinies are hidden here. Whatever you end up choosing will be your destiny.” Corelle reformed the deck and started shuffling them. “Fortunetelling is all about choosing your destiny. There’s no real method to it. C’mon…just tell me when to stop.”
“Hazel, when you think I’ve shuffled enough and the destiny-revealing hand of the Highlandest comes to a stop, you will be led to the destiny you have chosen. So just tell me whenever. I’ll keep shuffling until…how about when we enter the Mediterranean?”
“Then please stop.”
“You’ve gotta be more forceful than that. Destiny doesn’t stop for polite requests.”
Hazel smiled bitterly at that.
She felt like the man who welded Gelegenheit, the blade of destiny, had said something like that two years ago.
So she regulated her breathing and placed her hands on her lap, but kept the smile on her face.
With that, a single card popped out of the deck, still face down.
Hazel took it and looked to Corelle, who put the remaining cards back in her pocket.
“That’s yours now. I just need to replace it with another blank one. So take good care of it, Hazel Mirildorf.”
Hazel nodded and flipped the card over.
It now displayed an image she did not recognize. A single wheel was drawn at the center of the card. The wheel was made of metal, but its edge stuck out almost like a gear and it had splotches of blood in places.
A naked woman was drawn on the left side and a naked man was drawn on the right.
It was an unpleasant image, but the green and brown background gave it an oddly calming coloration.
“What is this?”
“That is the Wheel of Destiny, #10 of the Noisy Cards. It depicts a man and woman holding and supporting an inescapable ruin. It’s the reverse of the Wheel of Fortune, #10 of the Harmony Cards.”
Hazel listened to Corelle’s explanation without taking her eyes off of the card.
“To be honest, I’ve never seen this one before. It’s a rare destiny. But, Hazel?”
Hazel looked up from the card and found Corelle looking straight at her with a slight smile.
“Don’t forget that I have a letter for you. Whether or not I give it to you comes down to your decision. The Wheel of Destiny is the same.”
“The same how?”
“Wheels turn, but they can be stopped and their destination can be altered. …If you choose to, that is. Do that and the card’s image might change.”
“So search out a good answer – an answer that can change that destiny of ruin.”
Once she said that, the bridge’s door opened.
Everyone on the bridge turned toward it and saw a giant figure standing there.
“Hey, Corelle. I hate being a bother, but I’ll be hitching a ride as planned.”
The man who entered the bridge looked to be approaching the end of middle age.
He was huge. He had to be 2.5 yards tall, both his arms were bulky prosthetics and his gray hair was unkempt, but something else was even more conspicuous.
“Only one eye.” Hazel looked up at the glint in the man’s only eye, the right one. “Are you the one leading the wolves?”
“That I am. I take it you’re the girl who was sleeping with Berger? The rumored Hazel Mirildorf?”
He slipped between Hazel and Corelle and crouched down with surprising grace.
He only wore tattered military pants and a combat vest and a smile entered his one eye as he looked directly at Hazel.
“I’m the AIF general commander…or I’m in training for the job, anyway. I’m ‘Hardest Wolf’ Pale Horse.”
Berger knocked out the final soldier with a rapid collision from his right foot.
He was once more the only thing moving on the runway.
His black coat flapped in a gust of wind carrying the scent of fire.
He could see an elevated platform at the Alfheim Meteorite Pit located past the black cedar forest north of the base. The platform was needed because the edges of the meteorite pit swelled upwards.
A new road had been created from there to the base.
Three large forms were visible on that road.
One was a blue Grösse Panzer.
“A modified version of Blau Löwe, huh?”
To its right was a large Grösse Panzer transport truck. The truck was loaded with some kind of cargo covered by a black cloth and it remained stopped on the road.
On the other side of the truck was a red Grösse Panzer, mirroring Blau Löwe’s position.
“That combination must be Bermark Nein. Does that mean Alfred’s Schwarz Löwe is here too!?”
He observed his surroundings but saw no enemy approaching.
Instead, he heard a noise.
It reminded him of grinding teeth, it was louder than the wind, and it came from the center of the base.
Something big was moving there.
“They started closing the shipyard’s barrier, didn’t they? That aerial warship is meant to fly, but they’re hiding it underground.”
He whistled and resumed walking.
His eyes were on the two Grösse Panzers and the truck.
He moved forward without even hiding his “what’s going on here?” look.
He had a skip in his step as he left the airfield and entered the base itself along with a heated wind.
Just then, two Mittel Panzers exited a large hangar.
Their heads were made short, but the overall size of their warrior’s silhouette rivaled the Grösse Panzers. They were colored almost entirely black and wielded a thick short sword in their right hand. The left hand held a Panzer shotgun.
“Jagdhunds? Alfred would never pilot something so cheap.”
Berger even smiled as he increased his pace to a run and stuck his hand below his coat to prepare for battle.
He saw the Jagdhunds react.
They both aimed their shotgun toward the walls and corners of the hangar and fired.
“–––––!? Are they on my side?”
He was answered by four shotgun blasts and the splintering of wood.
The hangar was 100 yards across and the entire thing shook.
Four more blasts sounded.
The tilt gained an eye-drawing appeal as it teetered on the verge of collapse.
The metal supports broke and the holes blown in the wall were squashed flat by the weight from above.
An ensemble of bursting metal followed.
The Grösse Panzer hangar partially collapsed, looking more like it had melted than anything.
It all happened in an instant.
“Oh? Restricting it to infantry?” commented Berger as he changed direction.
He turned toward the center of the base and picked up his pace.
On the way, he noticed the two Jagdhunds turn their short heads made of composite armor, which required turning their full bodies along with it. With a whirring of mechanical parts, their sight devices focused on him.
They both gave quick bows and the one in front raised its metal thumb. It first pointed toward the runway and then at themselves.
Realizing what that meant, Berger pointed at the other Grösse Panzer hangar out ahead of him and then pointed at his own face.
The Panzer formed a circle with its thumb to ask “okay?”
He raised Gelegenheit to say “okay”.
The Panzer nodded and the sight device’s glowing light wavered in a way that suggested a smile. Berger saluted with just his hand.
“That’s Bermark Nein over there! The second things go south, you get the hell out of here, okay!?”
The Jagdhunds nodded in response and moved out ahead.
Their feet thundered across the pavement and their metal bodies were not burned or slowed by the heated wind blowing in.
They passed by Berger, so he put his sunglasses back on and ran past the half-destroyed hangar.
The adjacent Panzer hangar had its door fully open.
Something blocked out the light escaping from within.
He could hear metal footsteps as something emerged.
He sped up.
He shoved Size C Phlogiston Tanks into Gelegenheit. His left hand demonstrated his fast reload skill by attaching 10 of them in a row.
Gelegenheit was shaped much like a spear.
His right hand’s fingers wrapped around the middle of the hilt and he spun it around using just his fingertips.
“I shouldn’t be doing this when they barely gave me any money for this mission. But lucky for you, I’m the second most accommodating guy in the world!”
As he spoke, a shadowy blade grew from the spinning Gelegenheit.
It extended with blinding speed.
The shadow field was only satisfied after reaching a length of 40 yards.
He wrapped his right arm around the hilt and held it to his side before extending the arm out to the side, parallel with the ground.
His arm’s movement sent the black blade out horizontally like a wing.
He also held his left hand out to the side while he ran.
“Ready for takeoff!”
<Destiny reveals no exit.>
The hangar was bisected all at once.
The slash sounded like a symphony of metal being severed hundreds of times in a single instant.
Berger only needed a little over 8 seconds to clear the 100-yard road in front of the hangar.
The Grösse Panzer preparing to exit the hangar collapsed after one of its legs was severed.
Metal groaned and the wind blew.
Neither was stopping anytime soon.
Both sounds continued nonstop as the top half of the hangar shifted toward the road and fell. It made no attempt to stop itself.
The structure collapsed.
The destroyed building was decorated by the roar of dirt flung into the air and the smell of oil.
But Berger lowered his hips, turned toward the hangar, and stopped in place.
He viewed the collapsed Grösse Panzer through his sunglasses.
“That wasn’t Schwarz Löwe!? Where is that moron!?”
The arm sticking straight up from the wreckage of the hangar was from a mass-produced P-model.
Berger quickly stood up.
Just then, the wind fluctuated behind him.
When he looked back toward the front gate, he saw several people entering the base from the Black Forest.
They were moving so quickly it was difficult to detect their scattered movement through the shimmering heat.
“So the second wave has arrived.”
Berger sighed, got up, and heard something. First, he noticed the alarm encompassing the base.
“They’ve switched to the third alarm.”
He whistled lightly and took off running, his eyes forward.
Once past the tree-lined road, the front gate was to his left.
The gate and its metal guard tower had been destroyed and two armored trucks were rolled on their sides in front of it.
The trucks had countless scars that could only have been the result of claws.
Right from the gate was an east-west road dividing the base in two. Following that would take you to the base’s command building and control tower.
Short warehouses were lined up on either side of the road and the shipyard and Vaterland were past that.
Some new intruders were entering the base through the destroyed front gate.
They were AIF Glossolalian Special Forces. Most of them were humanoid.
Their uniforms had not been modified to accommodate Altered transformations and they wielded whatever weapons and shields they specialized in.
They took cover behind the toppled armored trucks and prepared to fight.
One of them noticed Berger. The young man held a Device – a sword that resembled a musical instrument.
He looked back in the blowing wind and said something to someone.
A middle-aged man emerged from behind the armored truck in response.
He wore one of the AIF’s insignialess caps and he caught Berger’s eye before sending hand signals.
He pointed toward the command building and raised first one and then two fingers.
Berger nodded, raised three fingers, and pointed at the man.
The man nodded.
Berger returned the nod and glanced over at the command building.
Two armored trucks were still stopped in front of its entrance and they showed no sign of moving. He could see a few soldiers using the trucks for cover, but they did not seem to be doing much of anything.
“Do that and a single area-of-effect spell takes you all out.”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he heard what sounded like shattering glass. He looked up into the sky to see the air moving near the shipyard across the road. Embers were launched into the air, scattered by something blowing up from below.
A transparent glowing hemispherical field was emitted from the ground there.
“They’ve occupied the top of the shipyard’s barrier with an omnidirectional field, have they? How many witches did they send on this mission?”
He gave a nod of acceptance and beckoned toward the soldiers hiding behind the trucks at the front gate.
The same middle-aged man nodded back, raised his submachinegun from the edge of the truck, kept an eye on their surroundings, and shouted something to his comrades.
A few others raised their weapons and fired along with him, but the rest ran toward Berger.
A few ran toward him on the road.
The one in the lead was the young man who had initially spotted Berger. He held his Device below his right arm and held his submachinegun in his left hand. Once he reached the center of the road, he gave a bashful smile and spoke.
“It looks like the Vaterland is operating at critical, so our 3rd Platoon can handle the-”
The man only got that far before Berger heard an odd sound. It was distinct even with the swirling of the thick and hot wind.
He heard the movement of a Grösse Panzer. As a Panzer Kavalier, he would recognize that sound anywhere.
He turned toward it – to the west.
His gaze raced past the base, through the Black Forest, and to the Alfheim Meteorite Pit.
That was about a mile away, but he definitely saw the blue Grösse Panzer using the red Grösse Panzer’s shoulder to steady a rifle longer than it was tall. It had already taken aim.
Berger tried to shout a warning.
A pitch black aircraft began its ascent from the Geheimnis Agency HQ runway.
It was a König Pseudo-Drach, a high-speed recon plane used by the Geheimnis Agency.
It left the runaway and immediately rolled to the right.
Then it accelerated. It produced an umbrella of water vapor and shot forward, tearing through the starlit air like a dark knife.
The cockpit was occupied by Schweitzer in aerial gear.
The copilot’s seat behind him was occupied by Alfred.
Their aircraft continued to accelerate.
Schweitzer kept the stick in the exact center to keep the craft in low-altitude flight.
It tore through the wind to reach an area of the sky that burned red.
Schweitzer viewed that reddened sky and frowned.
“It is burning bright, Alfred.”
“That’s the entire point. You want your diversion to look as impressive as possible. If that was as effective as it looks, it would harm the people who set it up too.”
“What do you think their target is?”
“There’s so many good ones it’s hard to say. Could be the Gard-class warship, could be the excavated item, could be my personal Grösse Panzer, could be the Vaterland, and could be all of the above.”
“The excavated item, hm?”
“Did you hear what it is? I was so busy keeping Lady Rose company I was left out of the discussion.”
“I was busy keeping someone company myself.”
“Don’t act like you didn’t like it. I saw you smiling out there surrounded by those two lovely ladies.”
Schweitzer ignored that and quiet laughter reached him from behind.
Alfred suppressed the rest of his laughter and sighed in satisfaction.
“Either way, those are Heidengeist out there. It’s not official yet, but Maldrick took the title of foremost European Buster family from Borderson, so I can’t let those Heidengeist get away with this. I can’t as a Hound either.”
Schweitzer heard the scraping of metal on metal behind him.
“You came well equipped, Alfred.”
“I’d be more so if I were hunting a bunch of small targets. But with a big target, all I need is this Rein König.” Alfred’s response was accompanied by more metallic scraping. “But,” he sighed. “Lowen- our commander is a real pain. I can’t believe she put Lieutenant General Heiliger in charge of this one. He’s from the army. He’s not one of us.”
“His Neue Silber is an excellent transport ship and it can perform a vertical takeoff if the runway has been destroyed. Also, military and Agency ranks are mutually compatible, so regulations say a major general or higher in the military can act as a substitute during an emergency. Just like we can deploy the military.”
“You sound so sure of yourself during your lectures and it’s downright stifling to listen to.”
“Berger said that was one of my virtues.”
“Because he has no confidence of his own. Why else would he keep calling himself second best ever since that incident?”
“Do you think he is here now?”
“That is a largescale and…direct attack by the AIF. The AIF has to succeed here to prove their worth, so there’s no way they wouldn’t send him in.” A breath. “Speed us up, Hellard. Before someone shows up and tries to steal the command away from us. …Bermark Nein was in charge of protecting the excavated item, but will he really stick to that? That Sein Frau carries the power of the Eisen Ritter Project, but if he’s anything like us, he won’t be able to sit idly by while his comrades are killed.”
“You never change, Alfred. No one tries harder to avoid giving up something they care about.”
“I learned that lesson the hard way four years ago.”
Schweitzer could not immediately respond, so he simply pulled back on the throttle.
The craft shot forward and he spoke as the inertial pressure pressed against him.
“You still haven’t forgotten how we lost the director back then?”
“You haven’t either. Remember before, when you told me Lady Rose reminds you of Eryngium?”
Schweitzer nodded and continued for Alfred.
“The director died trying to clear an escape route, but then she moved to protect Berger and-”
“Stop. It only happened because Berger altered her destiny. He used his Heidengeist power to help us escape and, when she was on the verge of death…” Alfred clicked his tongue. “A divine name? A divine power? All that power does is twist destiny to his liking. …If not for that prophecy, I think you should have killed him 2 years ago, Hellard.”
Schweitzer did not respond.
Irritated, Alfred’s breathing was heavy and he crossed his arms.
Silence hung over the cockpit. The only sound was the vibration of the heated wind roaring around them.
Neither man spoke and that low rumbling took over. Until…
A new wind arrived before Schweitzer could say anything.
The powerful gust caused the König Pseudo-Drach to rattle like it was scraping along a gravel ground. Schweitzer angled it somewhat upwards to allow the vibration to escape the craft.
They moved up and then another gust reached them.
Faint clouds trailed the wind. At speeds like this, the wind functioned much like a tsunami or solid wall. The upwards-tilting craft received lift from it and ascended further.
“This is dangerous,” said Schweitzer at the controls. “There is too much turbulence. Partially due to the widespread fire, but the winds blowing down from the mountain just so happen to be hitting us.”
The craft would not stop shaking.
“At this rate-”
“Hellard, less crying, more flying.”
Schweitzer heard a rhythmic tapping behind him. Almost like someone was striking a metal wind instrument with their palm. Alfred was enjoying the sensation of his finger tapping on Rein König.
His amused voice joined the tapping.
“Hellard, pass by above the #8 Base at low altitude. I don’t mind if you can’t keep it entirely steady.”
That was all he asked for. The rest was what he would do himself.
“I’ll jump down and join the battle.”
Berger opened his mouth, but the destruction arrived before he could get his voice out.
The soldiers running over to him on the road shook for a brief moment.
Then they blurred, like a sudden pan during a film.
Finally, three of them became a dark spray.
But that was not all. A white mist raced across the road Berger was using.
That mist was created in the heated air when the shockwave of something’s rapid passage made the moisture in the air gather together.
The shockwave was coming.
The wind exploded and a gunshot-like roar arrived a moment later.
It did not end there.
Berger saw a gun readied at a distance of a mile. Sparks repeatedly erupted from the anti-fortress autocannon’s muzzle.
It fired at a rate of 15 shots per second. The Grösse Panzer autocannon was based on the MG 34 and it used armor-piercing rounds to break through even a fortress’s armor. It was an unstoppable weapon in anti-Grösse Panzer combat.
Assuming you had free control of a Grösse Panzer that could ignore its formidable recoil, that is.
But the blue Grösse Panzer was doing just that. A clear tone reminiscent of a wind instrument ran from the far distance and the empty cartridges rang beautifully against the pavement below.
Cartridges the size of drink cans dully reflected the base’s crimson lights as they scattered.
Each one of those represented a fired bullet.
The wreckage of the two armored trucks at the front gate took direct hits.
Both of them were blasted straight up, like a kicked soccer ball.
They took further bullets in midair, blowing them away and rupturing them. Their scattering parts were further smashed, bent, and obliterated by the shockwave.
The people who were sent airborne along with the trucks met the same fate.
They were made of flesh and bone, not metal, so they were reduced to a fine spray instead of being bent.
A few managed to escape and quickly prepared to fight back. Some only managed to scream, but no one could do anything for them.
Luckily, their one spell user threw out her submachinegun and readied her rapid-fire device for the cards she kept at her wrist. She set up a defense field and shouted something with her long hair whipping in the wind.
The wind was blown away as the field opened in the shape of a hemispherical virtual ram directed toward the enemy threat.
A few of the survivors were under her protection.
It was meaningless.
She and the four others were popped like balloons.
The steel bullet instantly penetrated the defense field, tore up the road, and ricocheted. It whipped up the wind as it flew off into the night sky.
The roar of rapid fire tore ceaselessly through the heated air.
The noise and shockwaves kept coming.
An embodiment of destruction tore holes in the road while rushing toward the runway.
Berger watched it all from behind a tree nearly felled by the shockwaves.
One of the Jagdhunds on the runway had its right shoulder blown away.
It had the thickest shoulder armor of any Mittel Panzer in current use, but that was torn away and shattered just in time for the next bullet to rip the entire arm off.
Next was the chest. Deep holes formed in its glossy black chest and stomach armor.
A moment later, an explosion erupted from its other side, like spraying blood.
The impact sent inside the armor shell passed all the way through and destroyed its back.
Everything in between was cracked open and blasted out from its back. There was a gaping hole in it now, but since it had all left through the back, it almost looked like its torso had been sucked in toward the center of its stomach.
Then the face was blown away.
The other Jagdhund had no idea what was happening but still took evasive action.
Its head and shoulders were one single piece, so its movements were sluggish and required the use of its entire body.
It tried to turn left to move behind the destroyed hangar for cover.
That was a mistake.
Just as it started to turn, a bullet blew a hole in the shoulder moving out front.
The armor-piercing round pierced the part of the shoulder armor that stuck up, pierced through the side of the head, and then stopped at the opposite shoulder.
The impact was powerful enough to lift the Jagdhund from the ground like it had been hit with an uppercut.
But the destructive impacts were not done with it yet. More unseen power tore into the airborne Mittel Panzer.
Almost like it was being chewed apart by a swarm of invisible jaws.
Terrible sounds crashed together in midair, creating a discordant chorus. The Jagdhund was literally tossed side to side in what looked like a midair dance.
The bullet impacts filled it with inertia, sending it back toward the runway. On the way, it was gradually dismembered. First, its fingers and ankles disappeared and then its right leg and both arms were obliterated.
Once the wreckage was too small for the bullets to hit properly, it rolled along the ground a few times.
The gunfire stopped once both Jagdhunds had entirely disappeared.
The wind washed over the aftermath before soaring up into the sky.
“You’re a real piece of work,” grumbled Berger, his eyes on Neue Blau.
Neue Blau lifted the gun from Neue Zinnober’s shoulder and moved it back and forth.
The barrel fell away while smoking from the great heat filling it.
Neue Blau calmly pulled a new barrel from its back and attached it.
It was not out of ammunition.
The battle was not over.
Berger looked to the road in front of him.
It was covered in rubble, sand, and scraps of metal too badly damaged to identify.
No evidence remained that any life had been there.
Berger clenched his teeth.
Neue Blau and Neue Zinnobar walked forward. They left the truck behind.
The base was now a battlefield, not the scene of a fire.
The bridge suddenly felt even more cramped.
Corelle moved to the captain’s seat and Pale sat in the seat next to Hazel, but that was enough to feel like a new wall had been erected in the bridge.
Hazel glanced over while waiting for the ship to take flight.
Pale returned the look from far above her.
“Hm? You need something?”
“No, um, uh.” She hesitated. “You’re really big.”
“This is average height for a Hard Wolf. It’s not really worth mentioning.”
“Don’t believe his lies,” called Corelle from the up front. “Rumor has it he was so big he was always the prime target for the machineguns during the Spanish Civil War.”
“Don’t come out and tell her I’m lying, Corelle. I was trying to be adorably modest.”
“I think modesty and lying are two different things,” said Hazel.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff, miss. …Hey, Corelle! Hurry it up. I was hoping to get home sometime this century.”
“I’m not your chauffeur, you know?” sighed Corelle. “Besides, the commander isn’t supposed to be the first one back home.”
“I came up with a strategy and saw them all off. The rest is up to them. …M. Schrier said he wanted to see how well everyone could carry out this mission, but I never promised to fight on the front line myself.”
“Do you have any idea how much work went into preparing for this mission? We acquired some German Grösse Panzers and a wyvern even sacrificed itself to get this transport ship in.”
“Are more sacrifices a good thing? Hm? Pretty sure it’s the opposite, Corelle. If it was, my side in Ethiopia was the best damn army in the world.” Pale clicked his tongue. “Real soldiers can carry out their mission once they’re given orders. This will all work according to plan as long as the battle has no last-minute surprise guests.”
After having his say, Pale smugly leaned back in his seat.
Hazel thought of something as she watched him.
“Yeah? What is it, miss?”
“You mentioned what it means to be a real soldier.”
She thought back to what Berger had said the previous day and asked about it here.
“Is wanting to do something not enough to fight? Is wanting to save someone…not enough? Do you need something more?”
“Two years ago, someone from the Geheimnis Agency told me that to run away is to survive. So if you don’t want to run away and you want to fight…does that mean you want to die?”
“You saying you want to fight, miss?”
“Stop, Pale,” said Corelle. “She’s Berger’s favorite.”
Hazel’s eyes widened.
Corelle’s voice was the only thing she could hear over the shaking and rumbling bridge.
“Everyone in the AIF wants to bring her in. Get her and you’ve got a much better chance of snagging Oscar Mirildorf, after all. But no one tries. Partially because she doesn’t meet the minimum requirements for a female AIF member…but more because Dog Berger is against it and he’s close to M. Schrier.”
Hazel stood up a little to ask a question.
“Wh-why? Why would Mr. Berger do that?”
“He says you would definitely agree if we recruited you, but he wonders if that’s what you really want. He wonders if you really want to be a soldier.”
“He thinks there might be another option for you. …It’s a lot like my cards. When the time comes and you make your choice, you’ll have your answer. It isn’t a question you can answer in advance.”
“I see.” Pale nodded sagely. “That’s far too complicated for me.”
“Quit teasing, you idiot. This is a serious issue for her.”
Hazel did not nod, but she did hold her new card close and then slowly stuck it in her breast pocket. She placed both hands over the pocket and slowly sighed.
“What do I want to be?” she whispered to herself with a smile. “Two years ago,” she said loud enough to be heard. “At school, we were told to think about our plans for the future. We all had to fill out a simple form with our name, species, and a few other fields. We were all discussing it in the middle of class.”
She looked over at Pale and found his one eye was looking down at her. There was no excess force in his gaze – he was simply watching.
“Did you do that in class way back when, Mr. Pale?”
“Huh? W-well, yes, I suppose I did.”
He smiled in a resigned sort of way and scratched his head as she watched him.
“But forget about me. What did you write for yours?”
“I never filled it out.” She smiled. “But there was something I wanted to write down.”
The thing is…
“I wanted to write it down, but I didn’t know what would happen if I did. The Glossolalian girl sitting next to me said she wanted to study in America to be a fashion designer. When I saw that…”
“I thought it was ridiculous and she was dreaming if she thought that would ever happen. But…but…”
She realized the hands on her chest had stiffened and she could not relax them. Her right hand was still clutching the Wheel of Destiny in her hand and refused to let go.
“But then the soldiers barged into the classroom and approached us. When one of them picked up that girl’s form, laughed at her, and tore it up, I couldn’t just let him do it, so I-”
“Time to go!!” cut in Corelle.
The sharp voice felt like a slap to the face, so Hazel’s head snapped up, a single tear dripping down her cheek. She saw the sky was red out the front of the bridge.
Another color was shooting up into that red sky.
It was a bluish-white flare.
“It’s an emergency. Pale, the battle might have had one of those surprise guests you mentioned. …Time to fly, Hazel! I see now you’ve given this all a lot of thought. But you know what?”
“No one’s dumb enough to turn the wheel backwards. The past ends tonight.”
She wiped away the tear.
The floor felt like it was pushing up from below and the view out the window dropped away around them. The craft had begun to ascend.
The engine’s roar grew higher pitched and the bridge shook and swayed.
The shaking and the noise joined together as her viewpoint grew ever higher and she had to look down to see the river they had left. The scarlet color of the sky shined into the bridge, illuminating all their faces, and Corelle turned around to shout to her.
“It’s about time to choose, Hazel! To choose how the Wheel of Destiny will turn!”
Chapter 7: The Wheel Soars
07/29/1939 00:31 – 00:59
Everyone begins to run
I join them
But not to follow them
To reach what it is I desire
European Tuning and Busting
European Tuning and Busting is a fusion of European emblemology with the Wuxing philosophy brought over from the East, so its character differs somewhat from Eastern Tuning and Busting. It is systemized, it has a clear goal, and most of its uses fall into one of two categories: casting or combat.
Borderson remained the leading family for nearly 1000 years, but most of them were killed by Heidengeists in ’21 and they lost their base near the Black Forest in the south. The head of the family, Reichle Borderson, was effectively lost in ’33, bringing an end to the direct bloodline. The Borderson territory was lost and all that remains of them are the hidden villages that shelter the very same Heidengeists the family once hunted. Those villages located across Germany are the only place in the country where Heidengeists are allowed to live and they act as sanctuaries where all conflict is forbidden.
The Maldrick family took the title of leading Buster family due to their bloodline and abilities, but Alfred Maldrick, the second son, showed greater ability in hunting dragons and other Buster activities than the actual heir, so they still have not properly established their position even now in ’39.
The shipyard to the west of the base was covered by the Globe Protect ether shield created by the AIF.
The shipyard’s ceiling barrier was closed beneath that 300-yard glowing hemisphere. It was shut to protect the ships within, but that meant the AIF had complete control of the area above it.
The AIF’s main force of Glossolalians stood on the edge of the ceiling barrier, firing on the base guards attempting to surround them. Others spread out to important points along the road to secure an escape route.
They were all focused on the top of the ceiling barrier.
Several large emblem charms were attached to the seam in the metal barrier. They were known as Lock Charms and commonly used in construction and for mooring ships. They only worked with gravity in a single direction, but they would activate on a surface to hold two objects together.
That barrier could not be opened from the inside or outside.
The top of the barrier was essentially a giant plaza now and a 3-yard Tune Emblem was being drawn there. The circular emblem accelerated and processed the Lives in the air.
It was being drawn by four young men in AIF uniforms.
An old man in the same uniform stood in the center with a sword Device at the ready. Once the emblem was complete, he would strike it with the sword to activate it.
High-purity Phlogiston stolen from the Vaterland was being emitted into the shipyard below the barrier. It was pure enough that the moonlight alone was enough for it to go berserk.
As is, it would react to the surrounding space and detonate, but by igniting it with the Tune Emblem above, the barrier would become a giant oven.
That was why they worked so hard to protect that barrier.
Then a sound erupted in the western sky.
They all briefly looked up beyond the thin defensive light surrounding them, where something was happening on the western side of that ether shield.
They saw a continual eruption of sparks and smoke.
Something like large artillery shells were flying in from the west.
The Emblem Master on the west spread his arms and reinforced the shield there.
The shellfire continued. The western side of the shield glowed white with heat as the hits continued.
Conservation of energy sent the force of the blows back to the caster. Shields like this did not eliminate the damage – they distributed it. If an impact could not be distributed, either the shield would shatter or the damage would reach the caster.
The nails were stripped from the westmost young man’s spread fingers, blood spraying.
But he held his position. The shellfire stopped, the overheating settled down, and the shield’s glow returned to its original color.
The four young men working in the center of the barrier jumped out from the center.
They had finished drawing out the Tune Emblem.
Only the sword-wielding old man still stood in the center.
He raised the sword straight overhead.
A beam of light extended skyward.
But then something went wrong.
A sound much like shattering glass, came from directly above.
The puzzling sound was high-pitched yet quiet as it spilled down.
Everyone looked up within the sounds of gunfire and blowing wind.
They all saw what had caused the sound.
A hole had appeared in the sky. A 5-yard circle had opened at the very top of the shield, like someone had scooped out a chunk with a spoon.
The shield had been destroyed.
The Emblem Masters’ confusion was interrupted by a single sound and a single Text bursting through that hole.
The sound was the reverberation of a great mass soaring through the sky.
The Text was as follows:
<Nothing can obstruct the Hero’s vision.>
Something shaped like a black dragon passed above that hole revealing the scarlet night sky.
But that was not all. They all saw a light drop down from the object.
The light was a line of silver. It descended along a line so straight it could be called meticulous.
It was a person – a young man in military pants and a combat vest, his long brown hair fluttering in the wind of his descent and a silver sword held aloft.
His descent was accompanied by a greeting.
“The Kaiser Schwert has arrived!”
Alfred used the force of his landing to attack the old man standing in the center of the ceiling barrier.
Rein König’s blade cleaved him in two, from head to groin. It met no resistance and even the sound of the cut was drowned out by the wind created by his landing.
Everyone’s eyes were on him as he leisurely stood up at the barrier’s center.
The corpse thudded onto the barrier and the blood sprayed out.
The liquid sounded more solid than liquid as it hit the barrier, burst, and spread out into a puddle. The new color blotted out the Tune Emblem below it.
The Glossolalian elites did not move an inch in response.
The only movement came from the one human. Alfred finished standing up and rested Rein König on his shoulder.
He brushed his hair up with his left hand and spoke without even giving the corpse a glance.
“Let’s have some fun, shall we?”
He took a look around him just as the ether shield vanished.
The Emblem Masters fell back while the soldiers they had been protecting advanced. They were large, but they were more than just hulking muscle – they were well-trained soldiers.
The six of them faced Alfred, each with a submachinegun in their left arm.
He could see their killer intent.
“Ooh, I like the color of your killer intent. That’s what I’m looking for in a Heidengeist.” He smiled. “Did your Emblem Masters fall back to begin on Plan B? Securing an escape route, perhaps? …You thought this through. But I have just one thing to say to that.” He lowered Rein König from his shoulder and relaxed his right arm, letting it fall limply at his side. “Die.”
He turned his body to the left and suddenly swung his right hand.
The result was more a groan of agony than a scream. Something strange was sticking into the mouth of the soldier he was now facing: a sword’s hilt.
And something strange had grown from the back of the soldier’s head: a sword’s blade.
“A little prick from Rein König isn’t enough to slay a big, strong Heidengeist like you, so don’t act so surprised.”
Alfred shifted his gaze further left and took off running. He sprinted not toward the soldier stabbed with Rein König, but toward the one standing to that soldier’s left.
He was fast and his feet pounded loud on the metal barrier as they carried him forward. He bent like a bow, and…
He accelerated to reach his opponent in the blink of an eye.
The soldier had been briefly distracted by the sword thrown to his left.
That proved fatal.
He noticed Alfred’s approach and attempted to aim the submachinegun in his left hand, but Alfred grabbed the barrel before he could.
Realizing the gun was now aimed at a distant ally well behind Alfred, the soldier chose not to pull the trigger, let go of the gun altogether, and leaped backwards.
Alfred tossed the submachinegun into the air and pursued his enemy.
He tapped the bottom of his vest and a dagger wrapped in a sticky light dropped blade first.
He snatched it from the air and ran forward.
While the soldier leaped back, he formed a symbol with his right hand’s fingers, pulled a piece of parchment from his pocket with his left hand, and opened his mouth.
Alfred swung his dagger first.
It sliced through the air, but the soldier holding the parchment was uninjured. The momentum of swinging the dagger spun Alfred around, showing his back, so the soldier pointed his right hand’s symbol toward him and shouted the text on the parchment.
Except his voice would not come. Noticing something was wrong, he held his throat.
Alfred completed a full rotation and extended his left hand toward his foe.
“Here, you can have your throat’s Horn back.”
He tossed over a small bone resembling a spiral shell.
While it was in the air, he threw a left roundhouse kick into the soldier’s right knee.
The soldier’s knee bent the wrong way with a sickening crunch.
The thrown Horn hit the collapsed soldier in the chest and bounced off.
“What, you don’t want it?”
Alfred sounded a bit surprised as he put the dagger back below his vest and pulled out something else. It was a metal tube measuring about a foot long.
“This is a new invention of ours. It launches a piece of sacred wood. We call it a Panzer Reinigung.”
He pressed it against his collapsing opponent’s chest and pressed the button on the side.
A sound of bursting gunpowder and a puff of smoke burst from the back end and the soldier’s body convulsed. His body was even larger than Alfred’s, but it arched back and shook.
There was no scream. He simply broke.
His entire body trembled and turned to layers of bluish-white ether light, leaving his clothing behind.
It was like a humanoid pile of papers.
Before he could take another breath, he burned away, starting from the feet.
This process of Ashing was unique to Heidengeists.
But Alfred did not bother watching his opponent’s annihilation.
He simply moved to the right. He made a quick side jump to approach the soldier with Rein König’s hilt growing from his mouth.
He ducked below the weak punch thrown by the soldier’s right arm and looked up to see his opponent’s face with his weapon’s hilt extending from the mouth. He sent his right leg up while he stood up.
He struck with his heel, but not straight at his opponent’s face. His heel swung down and to the right like a battle axe to kick the hilt sticking out.
The soldier was spun to the right by his face.
Alfred used that motion to circle behind his opponent, grabbed the bandolier at his opponent’s waist with his left hand, and raised his right hand.
The submachinegun he had stolen and thrown skyward earlier landed in his right hand. And…
“Here’s a lesson for you.”
He looked forward to see a third enemy aiming a submachinegun his way.
The enemy fired.
“Heidengeists are greatly superior to humans when it comes to reflexes, endurance, cunning, and attachment to life.”
He used the soldier in front of him as a shield against the incoming bullets.
The soldier cried in agony as his body repeatedly shook.
Alfred stuck his submachinegun out from behind him and fired.
He also advanced. He lifted his meat shield ever so slightly and charged at the third enemy.
“Hey, shields aren’t supposed to scream. You should rejoice that I’ve found a use for you.”
The soldier’s body shook.
Alfred fired while rushing the third enemy. His uniform was shredded and blood and flesh flew through the heated air, but the man’s body would not break.
Alfred’s gun ran out of ammo.
So did the enemy’s.
Bloody, the enemy loaded a new magazine and resumed firing.
Alfred did not hesitate to abandon his gun and use his freed-up hand to spin his shield around the other way. Instead of the bandolier, he grabbed Rein König’s hilt sticking out of the man’s mouth and pushed forward.
His shield shook as it took more gunfire, but he did not care. He held Rein König with both hands now and lifted up the shield as he ran.
He was now right up on his third opponent. The submachinegun had stopped firing. It was out of ammo.
Alfred smiled and then shouted.
He made a Bust attack.
Rein König emitted a white light and his shield was blown away. The third enemy was eliminated a moment later.
Alfred ran through the explosion of light he had created, seeing the lower half of his shield falling away.
“I needed some cushioning to keep that from destroying the barrier. Great work.”
With that, he picked up speed. He ran, took a step, and flipped to the side.
Instead of planting his hands on the barrier, he used the inertia of his legs for a full midair side flip.
A clawed attack slammed into the spot he had just vacated.
A fourth enemy had Flektierened into a humanoid wolf with silver fur.
“Oh? That English Frühmond stuff?”
After landing, Alfred glanced around to see a fifth and sixth enemies injecting their arms with a drug also known as moon opium.
Two empty aluminum containers clanked against the barrier.
The fifth and sixth made their next move before the sound had even faded. They jumped back to avoid Alfred, but their jumps easily cleared 10 yards.
As soon as they landed, they were engulfed by explosions of white steam.
The steam spread out from the center and was blown away as their bodies Flektierened.
They were Hard Wolves – bipedal wolves who retained a lot of their human forms.
They prepared for a fight and howled into the sky.
A trio of war cries echoed into the heavens, surrounding Alfred.
Hearing that, he lowered Rein König and pressed the tip against the barrier.
“I never finished my lesson, did I? It’s true you Heidengeists are superior to us humans…but there’s one thing we have on you.” He moved the tip to draw a semicircle in front of him. “None of you is named Maldrick.”
His line acted as a cue for the triangle formation of enemies to rush toward him in the center.
They sprinted in, but he did not stay still. He leaped backwards.
One of the Hard Wolves was charging in toward there.
With his back to that enemy, Alfred shrunk down a little in the air.
And he spun around in an instant.
He also threw the dagger he had used before. The white blade flew toward the Hard Wolf’s forehead.
His Heidengeist reflexes easily saw the throw coming. At his speed, dodging it would throw off his balance, so he reached out a clawed hand to grab the flying dagger.
He caught it and his thick fur kept the blade from cutting his hand. But…
“Those reflexes will be your undoing.”
Alfred ran in.
He flew through the air before the Hard Wolf could show his surprise. He extended his leg straight out to kick the haft of the dagger forward like a hammer.
The impact pushed the blade into the Hard Wolf’s forehead. All the way in.
A moment later, Alfred kicked the dagger’s haft again and stretched out his body.
He leaped backwards.
His long brown hair fluttered in the heated night air as he flew more than 5 yards back.
He passed above the heads of the two Hard Wolves running in toward him.
He landed behind them and immediately placed his hands on the ground in front of him and flipped to the side.
The Hard Wolves attacked behind themselves without even looking back.
After two side flips, he straightened up again.
The one enemy was flat on the ground while holding his forehead. The dagger had reached his brain. Not even a Heidengeist could keep fighting after that. Two remained.
Those two were nowhere to be seen, so he moved forward, throwing on his full speed from step one. The wind he felt behind him told him the enemy had been charging him from the left and right. And that they were now pursuing from behind him.
He immediately ducked and rapidly braked by practically lying down on the ground.
A beat later, two sets of claws swept by overhead and the two enemies moved out ahead.
“That uncontrollable speed will be your undoing too.”
Alfred stood up and swept the feet out from under the staggering figure on the right.
He successfully tripped that Hard Wolf.
At the same time, the left one finished braking, spun around, and raised his claws. He jabbed the five sparkling claws straight forward. That was a move learned through martial arts training, not an animal’s attack.
Hearing an animal roar, Alfred struck the tripping Hard Wolf in the head with Rein König.
With the sound of a juicy fruit splitting open, the head burst, the body tilted, and the claws coming from the left stabbed into the right one’s chest.
The right Hard Wolf instantly turned to ashes.
The final one frantically pulled back his ashy left arm, but Alfred’s Rein König stabbed through his gut before he could, breaking his spine.
His body bent forward from the impact and Alfred pulled out a Panzer Reinigung and pressed it against the Hard Wolf’s jaw.
With that, he skewered the Hard Wolf’s face bottom to top with the sacred wood stake.
The sound of gunpowder echoed out and Alfred pulled Rein König from the enemy’s gut, further breaking his body before it Ashed.
The sound of falling ash was just like that of spilling sand.
Alfred emotionlessly glanced down. Five paces past the blowing ash, another Hard Wolf was convulsing on the ground with a dagger still stabbed into his forehead.
Alfred wordlessly approached and then heard a shout.
A human shout.
Alfred recognized the voice.
But he did not look back. He instead used his sword to split the head of the agonized Hard Wolf at his feet.
Precisely two seconds later, he heard footsteps from behind him.
First two steps and then a third, more solid step.
“Did he jump?”
Alfred looked back, twisting his body around and raising Rein König overhead.
He raised his voice for a full-power Bust despite being atop the barrier.
Rein König amplified his Ton and let it burst out as a white light.
But the incoming attack split the white light.
The attack was composed of darkness and it was swung down by a figure in a black coat: Dog Berger.
Fire was visible out the front of the bridge. The two-hull ship flew along a straight line while slightly tilted.
“Flying above them for a moment can scare the enemy into falling back! If you see any Heavy Barrels or whatever, give them a quick flyby!”
Corelle was shouting instructions.
Hazel undid her seat’s four-point belt and placed her hands on the back of the seat in front of her to get a better view.
The base was burning.
“The ether shield is down. If they can’t ignite the Phlogiston from above, we just have to wait for it to go berserk on its own…but that takes time. The enemy might stop it.”
Hazel did not know what Pale was talking about, but she had a bad feeling about it. She wordlessly held her left shoulder for just a moment before clutching the chest of her clothing instead. That one card was the only thing supporting her now.
She looked back toward Corelle in the captain’s chair.
“Pale! You want down!? This might be one of those losing battles you love so much!”
“Yeah, no. The plan this time is to see it through to the end. Besides…” Pale looked to Hazel. “Girl.”
It took her a few seconds to realize he was addressing her.
She looked over in a hurry, but she had missed her chance to respond.
He scratched his head and spoke again.
“That’s the battlefield you wanted. We’re getting closer by the second. You can see it, can’t you?”
“Then listen carefully. A lot of people there will die, be destroyed, kick the bucket, and bid this world farewell. You get what I mean, don’t you? But you can also tell you’ll be safe in here, right? You can remain an observer.”
She nodded and looked to the scarlet-glowing base. They were close enough to make out its general layout. She could tell what was happening and why it was happening.
It was all right there in front of her.
“You asked before if wanting to fight meant you wanted to die, right? And that you wanted to do something else on the battlefield, right? …Is that because you pity the people dying down there? Or did you want to thank them for doing this while you stay safe and sound up here?”
Corelle threw a rebuke at the man, but he ignored it.
“Girl, I’ve only got one thing to say to that: go to hell.” He smiled a little. “Not wanting to run away means you don’t want to lose. Do you get what that means?”
“That’s what you don’t understand. People get what they deserve. Winning doesn’t mean killing. If losing means death, then winning is the opposite.”
Hazel faced his words head on.
She pressed her arm against her chest and held herself.
“Now, what do you think about that? What does it mean if not wanting to run away means not wanting to lose? Again, the battlefield you wanted is right there.”
Only after speaking did she notice the strength in her hand.
…Why am I so tense? I’m thinking too hard.
She smiled bitterly at herself and the smile parted to let a sigh out.
“Two years ago…”
Pale had a smile on his face. He was waiting for her to speak.
So she did so.
“I actually thought I wanted to be a history teacher.”
“I get the feeling you’d’ve been a real strict teacher.”
She narrowed her eyes at that.
“Probably so,” she said. “But now I think I get why I couldn’t bring myself to write it down.”
She relaxed her hand. Her destiny was right there at her chest and there was no need to hold it there.
She placed her hand on her lap. The arm was trembling a bit, but she ignored that.
She faced forward and saw Corelle turned back toward her.
…Don’t look so worried.
That thought naturally took the bitterness from her smile.
“I know I can fight.”
She spoke the words that would determine everything for her.
“I want to do everything I can to make sure everyone can go on living.”
<Destiny clears the way ahead.>
An Erklärung raised its voice and Alfred roared from his throat: “Ah.” He used that single tone.
The two Texts clashed and the Tons ruptured between the two weapons. The black and white lights briefly bent before popping like a balloon, moving the surrounding air.
Alfred’s feet slid about two yards back and Berger was blasted a few yards through the air before landing down on his knees. Their weapons’ lights were gone now. They had vanished.
Alfred was the first to straighten back up. He readied Rein König in both hands without speaking a word.
Berger faced him and stood up while replacing his weapon’s Phlogiston Tanks.
“It’s been 4 years, hasn’t it?”
“Why are you here?”
Alfred’s tone made it clear that was not a real question. But…
“Why is the divinely named dog crawling back now?”
“I know you know why. Because I’m the only one who can match you. After all, I’m-”
“What is the point of being second best?”
He attacked with a voiced “ah” and Berger caught it on Gelegenheit.
<Destiny contains great power.>
“What power have you gained in the past 4 years? Even Gelegenheit is her power.”
Their weapons clashed and the white and black lights burst. They both pulled their weapons back and moved before the lights had fully vanished.
Berger went right and Alfred went left.
“We have spent those 4 years protecting this land, yet you have been obsessed with helping people escape.”
<Destiny clears the way no matter what anyone says.>
“That destiny is no match for my voice.”
White and black crashed together.
Rein König and Gelegenheit pressed together, their lights enduring.
Berger’s blue eyes and Alfred’s brown eyes glared at each other with only the former’s sunglasses in the way.
Berger did not even smile.
“You’re the same tiresome bastard you always were!” accused Berger.
“You just don’t understand what it means to take life seriously!” shot back Alfred.
“You really haven’t changed at all! You know what I did to-”
“I was the one who killed her. Because she was a Heidengeist. And when that killed her…when that actually killed her, it was already over.”
Alfred opened his mouth to release his voice and Berger attached two more Phlogiston Tanks.
White and black light erupted from their weapons. Alfred raised Rein König overhead so it would not destroy the barrier and Berger held Gelegenheit low.
They were about 5 yards apart. With their weapons, they could arrive within striking range in a split second.
They looked each other in the eye, their shoulders rising and falling somewhat.
“I can’t believe Rein König can’t cut that.”
“This is the first time Gelegenheit’s failed to cut something.”
“Why not change weapons like four years ago?”
“No,” said Berger. “I will never use my Heidengeist blood again. I decided 4 years ago I would become human.”
“Then you cannot defeat me, divinely named dog. You cannot defeat me without that power that altered a human’s destiny – altered her destiny.”
Berger wordlessly lowered his body.
Alfred stretched his body up, raising Rein König even higher.
And he swung it down.
<Destiny can sweep you away.>
The black attack deflected the white attack to the right.
The deflected white afterimage drew a circle to rise back up and then swung back down for another attack.
It was fast, but Berger deflected Alfred’s attack to the left this time.
His vision was briefly filled by light, but he felt no fear. He ignored the intensity of light and slammed Gelegenheit up and to the left.
<Destiny will escape you.>
The white and black clashed.
“It only took four years to create such a great difference?”
Berger heard Alfred’s comment.
A moment later, the white was knocked away by the black. Knocked upwards.
The light emitted by Rein König vanished.
No, it was eliminated. Because Alfred had stopped producing his voice.
With the repulsion between the two weapons gone, Berger’s Gelegenheit wandered through the air.
He could see Rein König flying through the air. It had left its wielder’s hand and now rotated through the crimson-dyed night sky, high above Berger’s head.
“It can’t be!?”
Berger readied himself and lowered his gaze to see Alfred running toward him.
Predicting Berger’s defense, Alfred had used Rein König as a diversion. He had thrown it away and sent himself forward, using the light as a shield.
Alfred closed in on him, so Berger used Gelegenheit’s hilt to guard his face.
Something metal hit the hilt: a dagger aimed for his forehead. The dagger was deflected into the air with a metallic clang and a flash of light.
But it was not over yet.
Alfred’s hands raced out.
He held ten Panzer Reinigungs between his fingers, sending them toward Berger.
Two were stopped by Gelegenheit – the two aimed for his head.
The remaining six reached him.
They hit his right shoulder, right forearm, left upper arm, left chest, right chest, and left side. Then the Panzer Reinigungs all ignited.
Smoke burst out the back of the aluminum tubes and the sacred wood stakes stabbed into Berger’s body.
The impact knocked his feet off the ground and he flew backwards like he had been hit by a log.
But Alfred moved forward even faster.
He pursued airborne Berger and swung up his right leg. Faster than the wind, he kicked up at Gelegenheit, which Berger had readied defensively in both arms.
Once his foot was high enough, he converted it into a powerful attack. He dropped the heel straight down.
The direct blow to the chest caused Berger to collapse backwards in midair.
“It’s not your bedtime yet.”
Alfred kicked off the ground once his foot reached it, sending himself even further forward.
He reached out his left hand to reach Berger’s collar.
But instead of grabbing it, he pushed. He pushed Berger further through the air.
Meanwhile, his right hand was held aloft.
Something fell into that hand: Rein König.
“Even more boring than I expected!”
He suppressed his scratchy voice, placed his right hand alongside his left, and swung the sword horizontally. With a sound like the sword tip tearing through paper, a white trail of water vapor formed behind it.
The invisible attack known as sword pressure was not just a wind. An explosion of sound slammed into Berger midair.
Water vapor audibly exploded and Berger crashed into the edge of the barrier. The concrete of the edge broke, scattering rubble and forming a cloud of dust.
Alfred came to a stop, spun around to use up his inertia, and swung Rein König. The wind produced by the blade scattered the dust before it could reach him.
He took a breath and looked to the pile of rubble, noting blood seeping from the gaps. Red blood.
The blood still had the heat of a living body, so white steam rose as it spread.
“One of the Panzer Reinigungs reached your heart. Just lie there and die.”
Alfred let his shoulders slump a little.
Just then, a giant shape cast a shadow on him.
“Is that Nein!?”
Two Grösse Panzers entered the base. They had just left the Black Forest and were about 30 yards away. The wind must have carried his artificial vocal cords’ voice to them.
The blue and red Panzers turned to face him.
“I am glad to see you here, Sir Alfred.”
“Because I knew I couldn’t rely on you! What’s the enemy doing? You can tell from up there, can’t you!?”
“The enemy’s main force is scattering and they appear to have failed to take the command building. The Vaterland, however, is a different matter.”
Alfred took a look around.
He could hear gunfire and shouting voices. The sky was shimmering from the heat of the fires below and it was colored by an endless supply of embers and smoke. The scene could only be described as a battlefield.
His face clouded slightly when he took a glance toward the pile of rubble in front of him.
But only for a moment. He soon formed a satisfied grin and crossed his arms.
Then he noticed that Berger’s blood was starting to solidify atop the barrier.
“It’s already drying?”
This was not a blood’s natural coagulation. The blood was bubbling. It was solidifying from heat.
He crouched down and touched the barrier. An instantaneous change came over his face.
“Nein! You’ve overlooked something. Something major.”
He turned to the right of the blue and red Grösse Panzers entering the base and looked to the Vaterland on the westernmost edge of the base.
“The enemy wasn’t after the command building!”
As soon as the words left his mouth, crimson flames erupted from the tip of the Vaterland. The flames seemed to explode as they rose even higher into the night sky.
The wind blew though, carrying the heat.
Alfred stood tall and fearless in that heated wind.
“Nein! Destroy the Vaterland! They’ve set it to go berserk!” A breath. “They’ve sent its Phlogiston below this barrier! The really pure stuff! This will disturb the Tons of the Gard-class down there, possibly turning it into something else! Hurry!”
The blue Grösse Panzer ran toward the Vaterland tower that stood twenty times taller than it. With a rifle in one hand.
The red Grösse Panzer unexpectedly turned south and shouted.
Sparks repeatedly burst from the large shield it held, producing a sound like a ringing bell.
That was gunfire. From something large. Following that artillery-level gunfire, another new sound entered the battlefield. Heavy metallic noises pounded out a deep tempo. Metal feet were felling trees as they approached.
Two Grösse Panzers were approaching. They had the crude armor shape of German models with green painting and they wielded shields and specialized submachineguns.
As soon as they passed through the main gate and entered the base, they entered a run.
They apparently intended to use the remains of the Grösse Panzer hangar as a shield. Their fire was entirely focused on Neue Zinnober and Neue Blau. Their plan was to pin those two in place, giving the surviving troops time to escape and preventing the Vaterland from being shut down.
Alfred ignored the non-tracer gunfire flying overhead.
He made his way toward the enemy Grösse Panzers while the gunfire sounded a lot like someone pounding on a metal wall.
“Nein! Get to the Vaterland. Once it’s destroyed, break through the barrier! My Busting would ignite the Phlogiston with its destruction Tons, so keep your priorities straight! I’ll deal with them in the meantime!”
“But, Sir Alfred! Your Panzer!”
“You think a destroyed hangar is enough to crush it!? That thing’s the finest piece of tech the Geheimnis Agency has put together since the Rot Löwe! And it’s the only Eingeweide Panzer without a lion name!”
He looked back toward the bleeding rubble on a whim.
Nothing had changed.
The ends of his eyebrows dipped a bit and he dropped his gaze to his left hand. He wore a red ring there.
But he soon faced forward and began to walk. Toward the enemy Grösse Panzers and the destroyed Grösse Panzer hangar.
He saw the enemy Grösse Panzers pull giant metal tubes from their backs. Those were incendiary bombs.
They intended to throw them into the hangar to detonate the fuel within and destroy all the equipment.
Alfred walked across the barrier that gave off a shimmering heat thanks to the Phlogiston running wild in the shipyard below. He shifted Rein König to his left hand and raised his voice.
“Our first battle shall be fought in the very forest from which the Messiah was born! Meet the strongest Eingeweide Panzer, built by my friend and born from my very own voice and flesh!”
He raised his right hand as he walked and shouted toward the destroyed hangar.
With that, a Text raced through the air. Space itself was rewritten by the deep voice.
<The Emperor is a conqueror.>
The green Grösse Panzer stopped just before throwing its incendiary bomb.
The rubble at its feet had blasted away and a giant hand had reached out and stopped it.
The powerful white right arm was joined by a right shoulder, right chest, face, stomach, left arm, hips, thighs, and legs.
They all stood up as the hangar rubble collapsed around it.
A massive white Grösse Panzer emerged.
It stood more than 11 yards tall. The curved armor on top of its head resembled a crown and its narrow face resembled that of a female Grösse Panzer.
Its Panzer Kleid was mostly white with some black decorations, but it did have a red dragon emblem on its right shoulder. The Panzer visible below that clothing was slender, but it had broad shoulders and powerful thighs. The armor attached in places was bumpy, giving it an even more powerful appearance. The six wings extending from its back gave it a strange silhouette resembling a Nein Engel.
It was armed only with the sword at its hip.
The white Grösse Panzer looked to the right arm of the green Grösse Panzer it had grabbed.
It turned toward that one and casually pulled its arm back, creating a wind from that alone.
With a sound like tearing metal and kneaded clay, the green Grösse Panzer’s right arm was torn off at the elbow.
A voiceless scream left the green one’s voice device.
The white one moved as if to prove that no one who screamed belonged on the battlefield. It adjusted its grip on the enemy right hand in its left hand and slammed it into the enemy’s face.
The metal hand stabbed wrist-deep into its owner’s facial structure.
With a sound like shattering stone, the green one collapsed backwards with its hand returned to its face.
The sound of the great metal mass falling to the paved road was a lot like that of a building collapsing. The individual sounds were too loud and numerous to distinguish, so it all blended together into a single deep roar.
The incendiary bomb in the hand detonated inside its collapsed owner’s face.
The other Panzer began a panicked run after seeing the resultant flames.
The white one followed the runner with its gaze. The green one ran to the side, raising its shield and firing its submachinegun. It used anti-Panzer bullets, so no armor could escape unscathed.
If not for the white one’s abnormal action, that is.
It leaped. No, it flew. It moved left without moving its legs, seeming to slide along the ground. It slowly turned itself around while rapidly evading the bullets. And it flew.
A heated wind blew from the bumpy armor at its legs and hips and it moved several hundred yards all at once.
It had just one destination in mind: its owner.
The white Panzer slid to the side of the barrier on the west side of the base. Its legs roared and sparks flew as it braked.
It looked down to where a man stood, holding the sword named Rein König in his left hand.
That man was Alfred Maldrick.
He looked up at the white Panzer and grinned when his gaze met its sight device.
“Let’s go, Kaiser.”
<The Emperor marches on.>
While the Grösse Panzers loudly fought, the pile of rubble on one end of the shipyard barrier began to stir.
The large concrete chunks were pushed up from below and rolled onto their sides until a black form appeared below.
It was Berger.
He was in bad shape. His hair was wet and matted with blood, his black coat was torn, and his blood-slick boots made a wet sound when he stood up.
He managed to get up on unsteady feet, but there was no strength in the eyes behind his sunglasses and his complexion was poor.
He silently took a step forward while taking a look at himself.
He was bleeding from where the sacred wood had been driven into him. The five stakes had pierced out his back thanks to the sword pressure attack, so he would recover quickly as long as he stopped the bleeding.
He held a hand near his heart – where one of the Panzer Reinigungs should have pierced him.
“Did this protect me?”
He pulled out a pendant. A woman’s pendant adorned with a red jewel.
“The old lady at that night shop said it was originally the Messiah’s. Now, that’s a blatant lie, but its protection was real.”
He opened the locket and found the photo inside was stained with blood.
The weight of the blood pulled the photo away from the locket and it fell toward the barrier.
It slipped past his outstretched fingers and landed on the barrier.
It shrank a bit and then scorched on the heated metal.
Before he could stop it, it set on fire and burned away.
His face clouded over, but only for a moment.
“Saving me twice is more than enough, Eryngium.”
He smiled bitterly and resumed walking across the metal that gave off a shimmering thanks to the great heat below it. He walked toward the Grösse Panzer hangar.
He could hear combat at the distant airfield.
“Firing as they escape? …The AIF’s Panzer Kavaliers aren’t half bad. When retreating anyway.”
He cut across the barrier. The edge was a yard higher above him, so he placed his hands on that and climbed up like he was doing a pull up.
Once out on the road, the ground shook beneath him. The tremor came from underground.
He fell, making a sound like a wet rag slapping against the ground.
Gelegenheit tumbled out from his torn black coat. The Eingeweide sword had a golden decoration resembling a woman’s hair and he reached out his right hand to stop it from rolling further.
He grasped Gelegenheit in his hand and used it as a crutch to stand up. His gentle movements gradually gained more strength and he accelerated his standing by pushing down hard with Gelegenheit.
He took a breath, seeing the road from the main entrance to the command building in front of him. Strength filled his gaze and he looked around to see a change coming over the battlefield.
The AIF was fighting to escape instead of to get in. They used the buildings and wrecked armored trucks for cover as they moved to and fro. Their mission was complete.
Berger caught his breath below the roadside trees swaying in the wind. Another tremor came from belowground.
“Is that the Vaterland?”
The Vaterland was burning. Fire erupted from the white tower and its walls were being scorched by smoke as they crumbled. The outer layer of the 120-yard structure was falling away, revealing the internal structure.
Especially large flames erupted skyward.
At the same time, explosive flames burst out in every direction from about halfway up the Vaterland.
The ground shook from the blast and Berger leaned against the tree behind him for support.
The top of the Vaterland was imploding. The outer walls were falling toward the internal acceleration reactor.
“Was that Bermark Nein’s gunfire? He shot right through the internal walls.”
The 120-yard tower was collapsing and falling. It barely felt real from this distance.
Berger looked to the shipyard barrier and found it was still heating up. However…
“If the Vaterland is destroyed, the Ton reaction within will weaken. If the barrier is destroyed after that, the Tons will be released and the Gard-class might not be fully destroyed.”
He heard more gunfire in the distance, but it was soon followed by an explosion.
He pulled himself from the tree and walked forward.
“Damn, I’ve lost too much blood. If only I could lose just the Heidengeist blood.”
Strength filled his legs and he started to run forward, toward the Grösse Panzer hangar.
The up-down movement of running caused more blood to spurt out and fall to the ground.
That blood gave off steam before vaporizing. Even the ground was overheated.
“Just a little more and the Gard-class will be sunk and the others can escape before the base is blown away from below. …The only way to hold off that colorful trio is to dig out one of the hangar’s Grösse Panzers, isn’t it?”
Berger looked across the base as he ran and he noticed something.
“The truck on the mountain over there is gone?”
But he did not have time to worry about it now. He already knew where he needed to go: the Grösse Panzer hangar.
The ground shook below his feet again. It shook vertically, making it noticeably different from an earthquake. The space between the tremors was shrinking, like the pulse of some new life being born.
Berger listened to the sounds and shaking and kept Gelegenheit in his right hand.
Suddenly, strength faded from his legs and he collapsed.
But he was spared falling when someone reached below his arms to catch him.
He looked back to see a girl with blonde hair cut short.
It was Hazel. She supported him and smiled with some stiffness left on her face.
“I finally found you. Are you okay, Mr. Berger? Um, you see, uh…”
She tried to find the right thing to say while holding out an old envelope.
Berger spoke the German word for it.
“A Verlsten Brief!? Hazel, where did you get that?”
“The addressee has faded a lot, but it definitely says ‘Wild Hunt’ Dog Berger. My teacher asked that I deliver it to you.” She smiled bitterly. “It’s apparently some kind of prophecy.”
The Geheimnis Agency #8 Base’s Grösse Panzer hangar had been reduced to rubble.
Hazel stood alone next to that rubble and spoke into it.
“I can’t believe anything survived in there.”
“They make these things blast resistant, you know? Now stand back. I’ve got a direct link.”
She heard a voice from the rubble and then the pile of concrete collapsed as a black arm stuck out.
The palm alone was a yard across. It belonged to the Schwarz Löwe.
“Did you hook the communication cable I gave you to the back of Gelegenheit like I asked?”
“Yes, but should we really be using the repair parts in here?”
Hazel picked Gelegenheit up off the ground. It was now wrapped in Berger’s black coat, making it look thicker. The black coat had transformed the nearly-yard-long hilt into a black staff. The slot usually used for Phlogiston Tanks was now hooked up to an extension cable with the same type of plug.
“It’s fine. This is Schwarz Löwe, used by Alfred Maldrick. It’s designed for army use, but it’s a generic model capable of both anti-air and long-term ground battles. It was the test bed for designing the Kaiser over there. If I’m using it, so why wouldn’t I use the equipment here too?”
“Is that how it works?”
Hazel tilted her head and handed over the coat-wrapped Gelegenheit. His blood stained the metal fingers, giving them an oily sheen.
Strangely, she was not repulsed by the sight.
The Grösse Panzers black right hand gripped Gelegenheit tight.
“Gelegenheit is so hard. It doesn’t bend no matter how hard you squeeze.”
“It must take all this more seriously than you.”
Hazel kept a smile in her voice and looked up toward the heavens.
The wind was blowing there. A heated wind. Long bands of orange Tons formed rising vortexes in the sky.
…That explains why Corelle said she couldn’t descend near the base.
Those updrafts spiraled around, creating collisions of air above the base.
The sounds of roaring flames, gunfire, and explosions took on the tone colors of red killer intent or metallic black aggression as they rose into the air. But Hazel noticed the tempo of a powerful, calm will within it all.
“They aren’t all fighting for their killer intent and aggression.”
“Did you say something?”
Hearing that, she looked down.
The giant black hand was pressed against the ground, with Gelegenheit still in its grasp. He was standing up.
“Outta the way. Once I’m out, you join the others withdrawing. I’ll buy you all enough time to run away and for the base to collapse.”
But she did not take a single step.
Schwarz Löwe failed to notice as it lifted its face-down body from the ground. The rubble and dust were blown away and the Panzer broke through the hangar’s roof.
Still on its knees, Schwarz Löwe looked up.
Hazel was standing in front of it.
“Hazel, I told you to go.”
“Are you planning to die here by staying on the battlefield alone?”
Schwarz Löwe was momentarily unsure what to say, but then he spat out an answer.
“Anyone who plans to die on the battlefield is an idiot.”
“Then that settles it. The safest place here is in Schwarz Löwe’s copilot cockpit. I can watch the battle from an untouchable seat.”
“Hey, Hazel, calm down, okay? Leave now and we can write this off as a kid’s silly game.”
“Have you already forgotten what I said two years ago?” She spoke to kneeling Schwarz Löwe on reflex. “I don’t want to run away…so I won’t. I never will again. Maybe I am still a kid, but this isn’t a game and there are some things I refuse to do.” She held out her right hand. “Two years ago, I only left the Sylphide all alone and allowed my friend to get hit because…”
She held her tongue, refusing to say the rest. Bringing up the past was meaningless here.
Instead, she simply held her hand out toward Schwarz Löwe.
Schwarz Löwe’s shoulders clearly slumped.
“This isn’t a smart move and you’re rushing this way too much, Hazel Mirildorf. Is this what the Messiah would do?”
“Yes, yes, it is. Because it’s my choice and the idea is for me to become the Messiah, not that I already am. It was only effective that one time and I’m still not confident, but I’ve been thinking a lot how to use that power, so, um, uh…” She took a breath and looked up at Schwarz Löwe. “I don’t think anyone could want to do this more than me.”
“I really wish Marsch had asked them to interview the patient before giving them the Messiah implant…”
He sounded exasperated, but Schwarz Löwe reached its right hand toward hers. He placed the tip of Gelegenheit on her hand.
“You will cry over this later. Don’t forget that.”
“Please teach me everything I need to know.”
She smiled up at him and walked forward, rubbing gently at his outstretched hand. She noticed a red dragon emblem on the shoulder of Schwarz Löwe’s combat dress.
“Why does it have a dragon emblem when it’s named after a lion?”
“That’s the Maldrick emblem. They took it because Alfred slaid a dragon and now his older brother is out in the Soviet Union looking for an even bigger dragon.”
“Th-that’s quite the sibling rivalry.”
She placed a foot up on his hip armor and then sniffed her nose with a puzzled look.
“What now?” he asked. “Nasal inflammation?”
“Well, last night I rubbed against you around here while you were asleep and I thought I could still detect my scent even in this Heavy Barrel.”
“I really wish you would stop imagining things like that.”
He sounded exasperated and tilted his head while she climbed up Schwarz Löwe.
She awkwardly circled around to its back.
She saw the hatch on the starboard side of the copilot’s cockpit, so he grabbed the latch and then took a quick look around.
She saw the pile of rubble, the Black Forest, the empty sky, and the wind dancing there.
About a mile away, at the center of the base’s runway, a white Heavy Barrel was turning their way with a green Heavy Barrel lying at its feet.
<The Emperor watches over his territory.>
The Kaiser walked toward them.
Hazel silently opened the hatch and threw herself inside the copilot’s cockpit.
She threw herself into what had to be the most reassuring place in the entire world.
Chapter 8: The Wheel Rises
07/29/1939 01:02 – 02:17
Can you hear it?
Strange how asking that question leads to the answer
So reach out
With destiny by your side
The thousand years of peace promised from the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire created by Charlemagne and established by Empire Otto I.
A concept born from the story where the Messiah, after subjugating the chaotic German lands, promised a millennium of peace to the emperor and then went to sleep in the Black Forest with the one-armed young man. The thousand years is said to begin in the year 962, when the Holy Roman Empire was established. In the late 30s, when the Millennium was coming to an end, the tension between nations was growing and a possible manifestation of the Twilight of the Gods spoken of in the Edda and sagas of Norse mythology was feared, so Germany strayed from Christianity and worked to bring back the mythologies of their past.
The idea of the Millennium spread across the globe and government officials eventually stopped referring to themselves as the Third Reich and instead presented themselves as the Greater Germanic Reich “so that this peace will last forever and no Fourth Reich will be necessary a thousand years from now.”
The black and the white clashed a second time just as the AIF’s final soldier began to escape into the Black Forest.
The Kaiser ran to the main gate to prevent their escape, but the Schwarz Löwe blocked its way, forcing the Kaiser to make a sword pressure attack.
But the Schwarz Löwe leaned its body to dodge the sword pressure. The remnants of the main gate took the blast instead, reducing them to rubble.
“Why are you trashing your own territory, moron?”
The Schwarz Löwe prepared to fight. Its left hand grabbed the conduit extending from below its clenched right fist and attached it to the external power port on its side. That port was usually used to connect lights, but here…
<Destiny is to fight.>
A black sword extended for more than 8m. A light swing sliced through the air, creating a low frequency noise similar to a vibration.
The Kaiser responded by gripping its Werkzeug in both hands. And…
“I should’ve known an intruder wouldn’t be above thievery, but did it have to be my old machine?”
“By fighting you here, the base’s guards can’t get outside. Sounds like the world’s second best way of letting the others escape, don’t you think?”
“Do you ever take anything seriously?”
The Kaiser moved, using its full power right away. It used its leg propulsion devices to strengthen the twisting of its body as it attacked.
<The Emperor allows no enemy to stand before him.>
<Destiny cannot be bent by even the greatest power.>
White and black lights crashed together.
With a sound similar to shattering glass, the white light scattered and the black light was broken away.
Before the black blade could even unravel in the empty air, the two lights returned to normal.
Hazel heard Berger’s voice from the speaking tube in the small, inertia-reduced secondary cockpit.
“Sorry, Hazel, but can you do me a favor?”
“Wh-what kind of favor?”
“Let’s have a nice chat to distract me. I’d forgotten how badly injured I am. This Barrel feels weirdly heavy in the gut and I accidentally wrote the pain from that attack into its memory.”
“Um, you don’t sound in pain.”
She heard a loud crash from outside. The wind could move through the ventilation pipe and reach her dimly-lit secondary cockpit.
As could the Erklärungs.
<The Emperor is a conqueror.
He always advances and always conquers.>
The wind moved thrice in quick succession.
A great gale blew into the secondary cockpit, but not a natural one. This was an artificial destructive wind created by movement and tremors. The tone color was a piercingly sharp light blue. The tempo was large and deep but only lasted a moment.
…That’s nothing like Sylphide.
“What is it, Hazel? I’m a bit busy dodging right now. Stay quiet.”
“You just told me to talk with you.”
<Destiny clears the way forward.>
<The Emperor never backs down.>
The wind blew through and the secondary cockpit shook and swung around unpredictably.
Her confusion was answered by the enemy’s voice.
“See, that’s what happens when our Erklärungs collide. In the Geheimnis Agency, we have trained for this and learned the advantages and disadvantages. You cannot catch up to us.”
“Don’t brag about having an unfair advantage!”
“Says the loser who can never win!”
<The Emperor allows no enemy to stand before him.>
A slight vibration through her seat told her the Schwarz Löwe was backing up.
Wind blew through the ventilation pipe at the same time, so she could see the wind’s tone color.
…This is coming from the right, not up ahead?
“Escape to the left!!”
She shouted on reflex and the secondary cockpit briefly came to a stop. She felt like she was floating, and then…
…To the left.
A great pressure tugged the entire secondary cockpit to the right.
Even in the inertial negation of the cockpit, her hair was tugged over and she nearly fell over. The clothing Berger had stripped off when Write Bringing was pulled from the floor at her feet and splatted against the right wall with the blood soaking it. However…
“You dodged that!?”
The enemy’s voice arrived from the right, along with the sandy explosion of rubble.
She looked out through the viewport on the side and saw the fire-illuminated crimson smoke created by the enemy’s attack.
“Hazel.” Berger’s voice reached her through the speaking tube, along with somewhat elevated breathing. “Hazel, how did you predict that attack?”
The next one came before she could ask what he meant.
<The Emperor allows no enemy to stand before him.>
She again saw the wind blowing in through the ventilation pipe.
She calmly reached a hand out to touch the wind Tons floating in her cockpit.
“From the left this time.”
The Schwarz Löwe took rapid evasive action. It moved back and spun just a bit to the right.
The light blue Tons in her hand burst and vanished.
A beat later, she heard an impact from the left. They had dodged it.
…I know what this must be.
“Can you see it, Hazel?”
“Y-yes, I can see the wind dancing!”
“Then I might just be able to dodge these attacks even with a Barrel so heavy. …Keep reading the wind for me.”
Her heart pounded as she answered him.
The wind danced again, oblivious to how she felt.
She reached a hand toward what she saw.
<Destiny always advances.>
A solid sound rang out as one of his attacks finally landed. Their opponent took his first hit.
Her heart skipped a beat when she realized what this meant. And…
“Mr. Berger! I want to get out so I can see the wind better!”
It took two full seconds for him to reply, but reply he did.
“Then get out, Hazel. I asked you to read the wind, didn’t I!?”
She opened the hatch and emerged.
While the Schwarz Löwe fell back to buy time and with the inertia nearly flinging her away, she placed herself in the gap between the secondary cockpit and the head. She held the frame between her legs to steady herself.
The wind blew all around her. It was so much more vivid and plentiful than inside her cockpit.
“If you blackout, I’ll begin our escape. If you don’t, then read the wind for me! Even 10 seconds will give me a chance to attack.”
Schwarz Löwe raised Gelegenheit before he was even done speaking.
Kaiser took a defensive stance in return.
“Is that the Messiah girl?”
Hazel leaned against Schwarz Löwe’s head and placed her hands on it as she nodded.
Their opponent shook his head once to reject this idea.
“Get down. You can’t win. …Predicting some of my movements is not enough. That Grösse Panzer belongs to me and it was meant as a prototype for the Kaiser, so it contains several functions Berger can’t use.”
“Is that why it feels so heavy in the gut? I’m betting it has a prototype for the Kaiser’s Eingeweide component. Did I guess right, Alfred?”
“Yes. Which is why that Panzer will never do what you want it to.”
“Sounds like a fair handicap to me, Kaiser. Meanwhile, I’ve got the Messiah who can predict your movements. Let’s see who comes out on top.”
“Prepare yourself. Our commander made a prophecy 2 weeks ago that she said would trigger the return of the Messiah once fulfilled. But, Berger, that prophecy makes no reference to the one armed man with the divine name.”
In the deep darkness of the Black Forest
Born from the abyss
The wheel emerges
- It whips up the wind and speaks with the dragon
- It reads the wind and weeps
- It carries power in its hand and hesitates
“This is the end for you, Berger – man with the divine name.”
“Divine name?” repeated Hazel.
She looked to Schwarz Löwe’s face, but Berger said nothing. The Kaiser, however, did.
“You hadn’t noticed, Messiah girl? His name is Dog Berger. Reverse the first name and you get the name for England’s god.”
She gasped when she realized what that meant.
“Th-then when Mr. Berger fulfilled the prophecy two years ago…”
Berger’s voice left Schwarz Löwe with a tone of resignation.
“The symbolism lined up by coincidence. But…” He took a breath. “I will reject this destiny. Wild Hund is enough for me. More than enough.”
“So you rely on Gelegenheit and the Messiah!?” The Kaiser suddenly raced forward. “What kind of man needs a woman’s help to fight!?”
The wind moved and its tone color reached Hazel’s eyes.
The wind danced.
The powerful inertia nearly threw her from the Heavy Barrel’s shoulder as she viewed the wind.
The white Kaiser created a powerful gale rushing in toward her.
The black Schwarz Löwe created a pleasant wind that surrounded her.
Both winds were dancing.
The gale produced by the Kaiser was primarily caused by its propulsion devices. It whipped up the wind along a straight line as it charged in, breaking through the wall of air standing in its way.
The wind blew out for just an instant and broke, sending out the straight-line gale.
<The Emperor always advances.>
It was the pleasant wind’s job to redirect that wind away.
The pleasant wind was weak. It was caught in the gale and nearly broken, but Hazel guided it.
She spoke the words needed to send it on its proper course as the two winds were entangled.
Schwarz Löwe skillfully took the shortest path possible. Anything else would mean defeat against this opponent. The Schwarz Löwe contained a device that only Alfred could use.
Berger had identified it as a High Organ prototype and Hazel thought on that now.
…It does seem to be holding him back.
She was here to negate that handicap, so she read the wind. That was the only thing she could do.
She had him step forward and chose the wind current that gave them the fastest possible movement.
The faster they moved, the more chance they had to fight back against the powerful gale. The pleasant wind was mostly swept aside by that wind, so they needed to take control of a wind more capable of fighting it.
She viewed her surroundings while tossed about by the inertia.
The sky was crimson, the wind was loud, and the rumble of Heavy Barrel operation was incessant.
The scenery spun around her as the Heavy Barrel made a turn. Flames rose from the destroyed base and the collapsed Vaterland tower was visible further back.
The wind was growing stronger.
For a brief moment, the wind grew red.
…A scorching wind?
As soon as the thought reached her, the barrier at the center of the base was blown away from below.
A great roar burst out, followed by a shockwave. The 50-yard metal door was blasted into the night sky in four pieces.
The gray rectangles looked so small as they hovered in the distant sky, but…
They began their descent in the very center of her vision.
The wind buffeted them, altering their descent, but they fell all the same.
One piece fell like a leaf fluttering into the Black Forest, felling several trees.
One piece fell straight down, bisecting the command tower.
One piece spun down into the airfield, its corners gouging holes like a sewing machine as it rolled.
One piece gained a gentle twist as it fell toward the two Heavy Barrels below. Schwarz Löwe used everything it had to leap backwards.
The Kaiser used its leg propulsion devices to slide right and behind the metal panel.
The giant metal panel stabbed into the ground like a wall between the two Barrels.
The asphalt meant nothing against that 50-yard blade.
Schwarz Löwe took repeated evasive actions to avoid the resultant wind and rubble pieces, but its movements were wild. It was a disjointed series of reflexive evasions, not a flowing series of movements.
“That idiot! How tightly did he set this thing!?”
Schwarz Löwe’s movements fell apart and its wind scattered. Hazel panicked.
“Mr. Berger!? The wind is-!”
The enemy took action before she could complete her warning.
The powerful gale blew in from above. The white Heavy Barrel had jumped over the metal panel and now dropped down from 50 yards overhead. Wind blew from the wings on its back as it charged straight toward Schwarz Löwe.
Schwarz Löwe took evasive action, but it was too slow.
Hazel realized the attack was aimed for Schwarz Löwe’s head.
The scattered wind was partially to blame for their delay.
…That and he still hasn’t gotten the hang of using this Barrel.
She was reminded of a similar situation from two years ago.
…The Sylphide tried to protect me over the North Sea, but it was still incomplete.
“I was only a guest – a component…but I couldn’t do anything.”
She looked up. A thought broke her mind out of the past and she spoke in the present.
The enemy’s white blade was approaching. In that instant, she shouted the words she had used to say goodbye to Sylphide.
“I will use this power as it’s meant to be used!!”
At the same time, an Erklärung rewrote that space.
But this Erklärung did not belong to Gelegenheit or the Kaiser.
It was a simple statement.
<The Messiah seeks the power meant for her.>
The change was dramatic.
In a moment of supposed impossibility, Schwarz Löwe’s Over Emblem fully activated.
Ether light raced across its body, creating black skin, and two sharp wings appeared on its back.
Then it moved its wings to leap backwards.
The wind moved. But this was not a pleasant wind. Nor was it a powerful gale. It was even more intense and unceasing.
It reminded Hazel of a certain ship as she stood on Schwarz Löwe’s shoulder.
“I can read this wind! So now-”
“I get it already!”
Schwarz Löwe’s sight devices glowed with the light of their wide-range mode.
Hazel leaned against its face structure to fight the inertia and shaking.
Her right eye felt hot. Tears were flowing from it.
She could see the footage from Schwarz Löwe’s sight devices in the back of her mind.
She knew that had to be the Messiah’s power. Just like two years ago.
…My right eye must be crimson right now.
The footage in her mind aligned with the wind Tons she could see with her own eye.
Two years ago, the Geheimnis Agent named Schweitzer had told her the Messiah implant could sync with and operate Eingeweide devices. And that power was a cornerstone of the Panzerpolis Project.
…Can you see the winds I see with the Heavy Barrel’s eyes?
“Understood, Hazel. I can hear your voice…and see the wind.”
She smiled and faced forward with the Messiah eye synced with Schwarz Löwe.
The Kaiser was there.
Her racing vision accurately rode the wind. It twisted somewhat to charge at the Kaiser from the left.
They were about 100 yards away. Their run grew to a sprint and then joined the wind itself.
Hazel reached her right hand out into the wind. She could see more than she could 2 years ago.
She could see the wind.
This was more than just a movement of the air.
It danced playfully and surrounded them teasingly.
Tears flowed from her right eye and she sang a song as if to answer the wind.
In the deep darkness of the Black Forest
Born from the abyss
The wheel emerges
- It whips up the wind and speaks with the dragon
- It reads the wind and weeps
- It carries power in its hand and hesitates
She clenched the hand held out into the wind, grabbing it.
“If that is a prophecy the Messiah must fulfill, then let’s fulfill it.”
In the shaking of the Barrel’s speed, she pulled her right hand back and grabbed the card stored in her breast pocket: the Wheel of Destiny.
“I will not hesitate to seek power.”
“Then…then what will you do, Hazel? Hazel Mirildorf!?”
She answered Berger’s question by gathering strength in her gaze.
She saw an explosion of wind out past their wind.
It was the gale.
The explosion could not destroy their wind, but it broke a hole and moved in.
Their relative speeds closed the gap in mere moments.
To her right, the base’s ground belched flames and exploded. The Gard-class warship had detonated. A shockwave blasted out along with a scorching wind.
But the two combatting winds blew it away. White light wrapped around the approaching Kaiser’s sword.
<The Emperor is never vanquished.>
Gelegenheit’s darkness emerged to form an 8-yard blade.
<Destiny always catches up to you.>
On Schwarz Löwe’s shoulder, Hazel shut her eyes with her wind-grasping hand to her chest.
She left everything in Berger’s care as she leaned heavily against Schwarz Löwe’s facial structure.
<The Messiah travels with Destiny.>
<Destiny will never abandon the Messiah.>
The two winds crashed together, creating a shockwave and an almost metallic groan as they bent and raced outwards.
The black and white paths intersected, bringing the battle to an end.
Hazel opened her eyes and saw a red dragon before her.
That was Schwarz Löwe’s left arm. It had thrust that arm out as a shield.
But their wind was still blowing.
She looked back to see the Kaiser about 100 yards behind them. A sword devoid of light hung in its right hand and it slowly – ever so slowly – turned around.
It faced them, revealing a destroyed right shoulder. And…
It roared and threw away its sword, which was missing half its blade. Before Hazel could realize it had been sliced through, a voice spoke from Schwarz Löwe’s vocal device.
“Our job is complete. Time to fly.”
Before she could respond, Inertia pushed her down onto the great metal shoulder.
The flapping of the two wings beat at the Schwarz Löwe’s severed left arm fallen on the ground behind them.
And they flew.
The scenery spread out below them: the burning base, the broken tower, the white Heavy Barrel looking up, and the red and blue Heavy Barrels.
The Alfheim Meteorite Pit was glowing to the west of the base.
“And the Black Forest covers everything else.”
Schwarz Löwe flapped its wings again and the winds of their great altitude came to greet Hazel.
With a roar, a giant object passed by below: an aerial transport ship.
It looked a lot like the Silber she had seen 2 years ago.
When it noticed Hazel and Schwarz Löwe, it wobbled in greeting and then flew straight toward the base.
Hazel looked silently up into the night sky. That dark sky was not illuminated by the crimson. The stars were the only light there.
She found the North Star and smiled in the wind.
She realized her right eye was no longer shedding tears.
The Messiah implant had lost its heat and ceased functioning.
As the Neue Silber flew toward the #8 Base, Heiliger sat silently on the bridge and Schweitzer asked a quiet question from the adjacent seat.
“We just received word that the black Grösse Panzer was stolen. Shouldn’t we pursue it?”
Heiliger did not answer him. He only sighed and gave an order to the people in the seats up front.
“Tell Air Force Division Chief Müller’s unit that the air is turbulent and they should land on the roads rather than the runway.”
Words of acknowledgement were followed by a hurried transmission.
Schweitzer sighed. This time, Heiliger asked him a question.
“Did you board the Neue Silber to provide a situation report and because there was little you could do thanks to the turbulence?”
“It seems Lieutenant Maldrick ignored me, his commander, and got ahead of himself.”
Heiliger cut off Schweitzer’s response with a glance.
There was a hint of a smile on his face.
“I have heard that Development Division 2nd Project Team Leader Marsch Gant did something similar. He let someone use his new equipment without permission and then went to apologize to their commander himself.”
“Acting rashly is a problem, but it can work out in some circumstances. …Let me guess what you are thinking. If what my brother and Sir Karl say are true, Lieutenant Maldrick will be a crucial member of the Geheimnis Agency’s Army Division. A trivial matter like this will not change that.”
“It is nothing.” Heiliger sighed. “The Messiah girl is the same. We will not give up on anyone.”
“You know about her?”
“I do. Two years ago, my…”
He trailed off and fell silent there. Instead, he simply faced forward.
Schweitzer followed his gaze to look out through the bridge’s viewport and see the base burning in the night.
“War is beginning.”
Everyone else on the bridge agreed with Schweitzer’s assessment.
Hazel had returned to the secondary cockpit as Schwarz Löwe continued flying.
It flew north above the Black Forest.
The voice from the vocal devices received no response.
“Did she fall asleep? I guess this was her first real battle.”
Berger kept the wings moving.
He did not know their destination, but he knew which direction to fly.
“A Verlsten Brief, huh?”
When he had Schreibened, he had taken a quick look at the letter from a thousand years ago that Hazel had given him. It had contained a map showing a road heading north from the Black Forest.
The map had shown several roads, but that one was the most complex and ran deepest into the forest.
The Verlsten Brief had said to follow that road. Even though the road would not have existed back when it was written.
Schwarz Löwe tilted its head in midair, which allowed it to notice some light far below.
Some kind of large vehicle was driving along the road.
Schwarz Löwe ascended further to avoid being noticed. It closed its wings to reduce the noise as it looked down.
A Grösse Panzer transport truck was driving through the forest below.
He recognized the large form on its way to northern Germany.
“That’s the truck I saw before. The one Bermark Nein protected.”
Its only focus was on traveling north.
He realized he could see a small white color illuminated by the pale starlight.
White steam was emerging from below the black sheet placed over the rear of the truck.
Something was operating below that sheet.
Berger watched in puzzlement as a branch from the forest caught on the sheet.
The sheet was pulled back, revealing to the starlight half of what it covered.
Berger recognized it.
He cried out and ascended. He veered away from the road and flapped his wings to stop in midair.
The truck drove away below, even more white smoke rising from it.
A high-altitude wind blew across Berger as he spoke the name of what he had seen and why the Verlsten Brief had sent him here.
When leaving the Geheimnis Agency HQ building and walking south, if you turned east instead of toward the western runway, you would find the army hangar. The large building was primarily used for repairs.
The internal space could contain around 10 Grösse Panzers and it was currently wrapped in an unusual stillness.
There were noises, however. From outside, there was the blowing wind and the forest noises.
On the inside, there were the distinctive noises of Grösse Panzers in standby mode and of people talking.
The lights were kept off, so some people were speaking in the darkness.
The slender figure standing near the entrance was Lowenzahn.
“Almost everyone has left the #8 Base now. …Can I assume everyone here already knows the truth?”
She turned toward the shadows to her right.
The enormous, broad-shouldered figure there was Graham. Rose was clinging to him with her hands on his shoulder.
A woman in a blue dress stood next to them: Naval Division Chief Lillie.
She gave a quick bow without opening her eyes.
“I learned it all from the previous Sofort Leser, Lady Frobel. At the time I assumed she was joking because it seemed crazy to think you could be so important or that history would progress like this.”
“And my mom did love making jokes with a straight face.”
Lowenzahn gave a pure smile and then moved her eyes to someone else.
The skinny figure standing to Lillie’s left was Bermark Vier.
“Please look after Captain Hellard while I am away,” she said to him.
“No matter what might happen to me and even if the Panzerpolis Project causes another disaster in ’43, he still saved me…saved me twice.”
Bermark nodded and Lillie tilted her head.
“Twice? I thought it was just the once three years ago.”
She turned toward Graham after asking.
Graham did not nod and simply returned her gaze for a few seconds.
Then he turned his eyes toward something like a wall next to Lillie.
But it was not actually a wall. What looked like a steel cube at least 3 yards tall was actually a foot.
Everyone turned to view the thing the enormous foot belonged to.
It was a Panzer, but it could not be called a Grösse Panzer. It was so large it made the massive hangar look cramped. Even while crouched down with its hips to the floor, its head nearly touched the ceiling.
The green of its Panzer Kleid and the metallic gray and nearly ocher brass color of the Panzer itself glowed dully in the darkness.
It would tower over 25 yards tall when standing up.
The colossal Grösse Panzer had large, thick limbs and two Drache Kanone on its back. The plentiful armor placed over its Panzer Kleid was honeycombed with warship buoyancy emblem panels.
Two lights appeared in the darkness far above. The colossal Grösse Panzer’s sight devices had lit up. They were cold red lights.
Its gaze was directed toward the group gathered below.
A voice spoke from the external speaker on the Panzer’s chest. A male voice.
“Yes…it was twice, wasn’t it? Commander, I am glad you remembered what I told you.”
“Army Division Chief Karl Schmitt is well known for his strictly accurate stories,” said Lowenzahn. “Is that because you can extract just the facts from your memory? That may be one advantage to the Eisen Ritter Project.”
Lillie looked back in surprise.
“Are you saying something else happened with that air force captain?”
The response came from Rose.
“All sorts of stuff! I doubt he remembers, but it was so important for Lowenzahn and for me as well. It’s a sad story, so I can’t get into the details…but let’s just say Lowenzahn and I can never thank the Schweitzer family enough. Especially Der Held.”
“Der Held…hm?” Lillie nodded. “That’s an Eingeweide device that rewrites a portion of this world, just like my Mondnacht and Lady Rose’s Requiem.”
“With Heiliger’s Tragisch, the Kaiser, the Vaterlands, and so much more, we really are gathering them together, aren’t we?” Lowenzahn gave a fearless smile. “But, Rose, I’m sorry to say I think the Gard-class Eingeweide aerial warship – the Requiem – was destroyed, so you’ll have to go back to sleep for a while longer. We can reconstruct that one piece of the composite ship in another year.”
“Yes, but I can’t stand to wait much longer! I don’t think I could bear seeing my bigger brother get any balder!”
Rose’s reply caused Lowenzahn’s smile to grow. Lowenzahn took a step back and placed a hand on her left chest.
“Only those of us here are aware that all of the prophecies end in ’43. …I apologize for leaving Jeanne out of it, Karl.”
“It was best to let her rush out to the #8 Base like she wanted.”
“Some things are better not known and some people are more able to stand being lied to,” said Lillie, looking away from Graham.
“I should really be telling them about my Eingeweide too.”
“Do you think Captain Schweitzer realized what was happening three years ago?” asked Bermark.
“That I was at Neuschwanstein’s hospital to be implanted with an Eingeweide organ? No, there is no way he realized that.”
“Anyone who learns the Sofort Leser Naylor girl has an Eingeweide organ is bound to assume its Ober Beweisen is used to make her prophecies…even though that isn’t accurate in the slightest,” she said.
“It is an unfortunate thing, commander, but it is understandable since the Karlsruhe bloodline has a shortened lifespan due to their inherited Words Warn disease. You too have inherited a disease. That is all this means.”
“But mine won’t kill me.” Lowenzahn took a step back. “The lie I live is what will kill me. And it is Heiliger who will do it.”
She leaned back against the edge of the container for the hangar’s opened sliding door and looked outside.
“In ’43…I will let Heiliger know about the lie – about the true form of this world, the true meaning of Germany, and the true reason for the Panzerpolis Project.”
“And he will still do it?” asked Lillie.
“He once fought over my mother with my father, with Bertecht, and – sorry, Lillie – with Graham there.” Lowenzahn’s shoulders shook a little as she looked outside. “So even if he forgives me for it, he cannot let me live. Once he learns the truth of my lie, why Graham chose to abandon his emotions and memories, and whose prophecies these are, I know for certain he will…choose my death.”
“And the Messiah, Destiny, and the Hero cannot save you?”
“I have my hands full simply bringing this world back into order…and they are the gears of the Nibelung needed to do that.” Lowenzahn turned back toward them with a smile. “Sorry for dragging you into this complicated destiny business. But this is an age of darkness and chaos for the world. New cultures are rising, the old ones are falling apart, and the Tons are disturbed on a global scale.” She took a breath. “The Sofort Lesers around the world should start panicking next year. And that will explode into complete ruin come ’43…but we and the Panzerpolis Project are both the cause and solution to that.”
“The Millennium is ending, isn’t it?” said Bermark. “The former Messiah subjugated Germany in the year 962. It would be wrong to assume the world revolves around Germany, but this must be the end of the promised millennium of peace. Germany is the only part of this world containing that Existence Ton, so we are destined to be envied and destroyed by the hostile Tons of the those without it.”
“You’re saying the Great War was part of that peace?” asked Graham.
“I am.” Bermark bowed. “I believe the next war will lead to unprecedented levels of inhumanity.”
“That’s where the Panzerpolis Project comes in. We must work with the machines to make up for all of that. …And that will require my death. That is the only way to activate the Ober Beweisen of what I carry in my chest.” Lowenzahn hesitated but shut her eyes. “Of the Eingeweide heart Neue Erde.”
Final Chapter: The Wheel Arrives
07/30/1939 11:51 – 12:03
That destiny can change
In these words
In these illusions
In this reality
The sky was clear.
The chilly wind of late summer blew through a mountain forest of green conifers instead of the black ones.
A motorcycle was parked on the side of a road running through that forest. The driver’s seat and the attached sidecar were both vacant.
Two people were inside the small bus stop shelter located a short distance away.
The one in a black coat was Berger and the one in a reddish shirt and skirt was Hazel.
Hazel was hanging her head in slight anger and Berger had his arms crossed. They made no attempt to look each other in the eye, but Berger did speak.
“The bus will be by before long. It’s already running late.”
“Are you still mad?”
“Yes, I am.”
“I’m the one who should be mad.” Berger kept a straight face. “Everyone removes their clothes before Write Bringing into a Heavy Barrel – that’s just how it’s done. Yet there you were in the secondary cockpit waiting for me to emerge. You’re a naughty girl, Hazel. Didn’t know you had it in you.”
“I was worried about your injury! Besides, this just makes us even. You’ve already seen me like that.”
“Yeah, but I wasn’t trying to see you naked. You see, I’m not interested in kids.”
“Then, um, what type of girl are you interested in?”
“The type with short blonde hair, a flat chest, and no end to her complaining.”
She thought on that for a few seconds and then pinched his arm hard.
“Ow, ow! That arm’s brand new, you know!?”
“I’m sure it’s a cheap biological prosthetic, so who cares? You’ll have a better one next time I see you anyway.”
She looked him in the eye and continued in English.
“Do you want to know why I came to see you this time? It has to do with the test tubes you found in my luggage.” Her expression softened and he said nothing, so she continued. “Making a prosthetic that won’t be rejected requires the person’s blood. …I wanted to make you a decent arm as thanks for saving me two years ago. And I helped myself to some of the blood on your coat in the secondary cockpit last night.”
“Give it back. It’s mine. You don’t just take blood from a guy with a divine name.”
“I already mailed it to the US. At that mountain store on the border.”
He held his head in his hands when he heard that.
“Why does this girl never ask first?”
“I’ve been saving up money helping out at a neighborhood library for the past two years. This was supposed to be a surprise gift.”
“Fine, whatever. It’s not like we’re ever going to see each other again.” Berger leaned back in his seat. “I’m a hired gun, but the AIF is going to be using mostly permanent members in Germany. Once war breaks out, I won’t be seeing you.”
“And if I join the AIF?”
“Do you know the requirements for female members?”
She shook her head, so he beckoned her over to lend him her ear.
She silently scooted over and he whispered his answer. Her face immediately grew red.
“See why I never tried to get you to join? Otherwise it would be too psychological taxing if you’re captured and tortured. But…that’s a lot like being asked to get a sex change.”
Hazel’s shoulders slumped and Berger smiled bitterly.
Then he wiped away the smile and brought a hand to his chin.
“Either way, it’s best if we don’t see each other. …When you appeared to me last night, it created a barrier between us.”
“You still don’t get it, Hazel? You’re one of the people who seek after power and I’m…not. That much I can tell. You can no longer stay with me ‘just because’. And that’s fine. It’s for the best.”
Hazel gasped at what she heard.
…We can’t be together?
Meanwhile, the bus arrived. He started to say something, stopped, and then patted her on the back.
Feeling pushed, she weakly stood and then waited for him to do the same.
With an exasperated sigh, he slowly stood and faced her.
“This is goodbye, Hazel.”
“W-wait. This is so sudden.”
He looked down at her with a wordless smile, which kept her from saying anything either.
Her gaze dropped and she briefly saw her luggage in her hand. The bus was sliding up to the stop.
“D-does everything have to arrive and happen without warning?”
“That’s how destiny works sometimes.”
“But…but it’s too sudden. Don’t just assume we’ll never see each other again.” She looked up with the ends of her eyebrows drooping an she asked a hurried question. “U-um, can you tell me one thing?”
“Close your eyes.”
“Eh?” she said, but she still obeyed without hesitation.
She was surrounded by silence and darkness.
Suddenly, she felt his fingers on her jaw. His touch brought no fear or revulsion.
She felt an almost relaxing anticipation as he somewhat lifted her face. She opened her lips ever so slightly as if granting an unstated request.
He suddenly pinched both her cheeks and tugged them outwards. They stretched further than she would have thought possible and her eyes shot open.
“Listen, Hazel. I’m only going to say this once, Hazel Mirildorf.”
She dropped her luggage and vigorously nodded.
“You really saved my rear this time. Thanks.”
“I’m not saying it again, so don’t forget it.”
With that, he let go of her cheeks and then picked her up.
He immediately carried her to the bus and up the stairs before tossing her into a nearby seat.
The next thing she knew, he had rushed off and the bus’s door was closing.
As soon as he gave the command, smoke blew from the bus’s exhaust and it left. Hazel ran over to the window inside.
“M-Mr. Berger! Mr. Berger!!”
She opened the window to see the travel bag she had dropped earlier.
She heard his voice from beyond the thrown bag.
“You forgot this! And say hi to Corelle and Pale for me if you see them!”
She caught the bag, lost her balance, tumbled from the seat, and fell onto the bus’s floor.
She struggled to get back up, but soon gave up.
The sky was moving outside the window, so the bus had to be moving already.
Her lips trembled as they formed the question she had asked herself so many times over the past few days.
“Why…why didn’t you abandon me that night?”
And in her mind…
…When we really are saying goodbye, he thanks me.
She held her bag to her chest and hung her head on the wooden floor.
She also felt something tickling her cheeks.
She was crying.
So she looked up, to make sure no further tears fell.
She saw the wind Lives flowing in from the open window.
She reached her hand out.
She held the wind and spoke the same thing she had on Schwarz Löwe’s shoulder that night.
“The Messiah travels with Destiny…”
But then she rephrased it, remembering Berger’s Erklärung.
“Destiny will never…”
But when she tried to continue with “abandon the Messiah”, her voice faded away and the words would not come.
She could not stop the tears now. More and more of them spilled from her eyes.
She wept, but she looked up.
For some reason, something inside her told her she could endure this.
So she looked up.
She looked into the wind, all alone.
And she told herself this destiny was only temporary.
September 1, 1939
The German military finally invaded Poland.
World War Two was beginning.
The AIF’s efforts had somewhat shaken the core of the military, but they could not stop the coming era and the Panzerpolis Project was rapidly completed.
The destruction of the Geheimnis Agency’s #8 Base was passed off as an accident during an experiment at a reserve base and the general population never heard the names of the AIF and the Geheimnis Agency.
The Geheimnis Agency’s Gard-class composite warship’s reconstruction was completed in late ’40. Germany had been briefly delayed, but with the Vaterlands up and running, the Geheimnis Agency had solidified their national defense and their attempt to conquer Europe was underway. Using blitzkrieg warfare that coordinated man and machine.
It was in that age that man and machine were joined on the battlefield.
7/30/2000. On the afternoon a certain girl kept certain words to herself.
Someone once said this to me:
“Gwahh, a second volume!? Nwoh, hiyahhh! God, I wish I had a maid!”
Okay, sorry. That’s a lie. No one said that. I’m in a bit of a mood due to lack of sleep, but I also feel like that’s always the case, so let’s just go with it. (Am I making any sense?)
Anyway, I somehow got Berlin 2 written.
This is my 10th book. But they say you should have 10 titles under your belt if you want to call yourself an author, so I think I’m going to keep working at it.
This one was set in Germany just before the war begins and it follows Hazel and Berger learning more after the past volume’s 1937 and teasing, cajoling, sleeping next to, and slapping the other while they pursue an incident related to the Panzerpolis Project.
I will write more about those two in the future. They are the City Series’ first multi-work protagonists. I’m considering writing their story all the way through the incident in ’43, so I hope you will continue reading if I do. I’ve gotten pretty selfish when it comes to the illustrations and such, but that’s thanks to all of your support. Thank you so much.
Now for the usual phone call with a friend.
“Okay, it’s your turn again, H-kun. If you missed out on saying something last time, now’s your chance. Although we’re doing this over email, so it’s not really a conversation.”
“What, you’re chickening out of doing the 8-year age gap? You’re just gonna tease us and then yank it away from us? I read the text, but if you’re going 18+, you need to really go all in, y’know?”
“This is not 18+!! Besides, if I was doing that, I’d really push the envelope and make it 48+.”
“Sure, sure, sure. Enough talk. Anyway, here’s a sneak peek at the next episode of Berlin-san:
“1. Hazel in a panic.
“2. Berger on summer vacation.
“3. Lowenzahn and the two balls.”
“Stop making stuff up. And stop eating up precious page space with a list. Wait until the next time so the readers can catch up.”
“Damn, there’s so much I want to say, but fine. I’ll leave it at this.”
Now, the latest information.
Currently (October 2000), the illustration novel Image City SF, depicting the City world’s San Francisco, is being serialized in Dengeki hp, a novel magazine published seasonally by MediaWorks. You can regularly see City-related visuals there, so if you’re interested and have the time, please check Dengeki hp at the bookstore. (Wait, I didn’t actually tell you to buy it, did I?) That’s what I’ve been working on lately.
My background music this time was Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, the Emperor Concerto. It fits because of the emperor name, right?
Now, Hazel was teased a lot by the older guys this time, but I was wondering…
“Who wanted to become what?”
Okay, the next one will be Berlin again.
July 2000. A morning of too little sleep.
Okay, I sent in so, so many illustrations this time. What did you think of them?
Hazel-san was always crying in the illustrations, so I hope she gets to be happy.
Until next time.
|Back to Volume 6-A||Return to Main Page||Forward to Volume 6-C|