City Series:Volume6b Chapter6
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greeted so many people once the party started and been freed from the torture after half an hour, at which point he had withdrawn to the terrace.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!”
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