# Owari no Chronicle:Volume2 Chapter 14

## Chapter 14: Proof of Determination

Wondering what you are being shown

Might very well be

The same as wanting to see something

Brunhild began to glide after approximately half an hour of flying at full speed.

She watched the scenery shooting by at high speed. The area down below had been dark for a bit, but it had once more grown bright.

She could see the lights of a city below and a bay gouged out a section to the southwest.

“Kobe, Osaka, and Sakai.”

Brunhild muttered the names of the cities visible below and used her right fingertips to lightly tap the blue philosopher’s stone used to pilot the broom. As her speed decreased, she checked to make sure a single vertical stability wing had emerged from the bottom of the broom. She lifted her body up now that she was in the windbreak area.

Her toes were still on the brush, so her position was similar to being seated seiza-style. The light coming from the brush had returned to being bluish-white, so Brunhild lightly tapped the stone to bring the light outside of the visible spectrum.

“Doing this at low speed has terrible fuel efficiency.”

She sighed, wiped frost from the end of her three-cornered hat, and looked back down.

The light below her was dwindling once more. The darkness of a mountainous area was filling the area below.

As she stared down at the earth, she spoke to the cat clinging to the tip of the handle.

“Hey, there’s the forest.”

She waited for five seconds, but received no response. She tilted her head and looked forward.

The cat was clinging to the broom handle with its entire body. And that was all it was doing.

For some reason, the cat’s body was glittering slightly in the moonlight.

“?”

Brunhild looked closer to find the cat’s entire body was covered by frost. That frost was reflecting the moonlight.

“How pretty,” she muttered just before the cat came loose from the handle.

It lost its balance and fell down. After watching for a moment, Brunhild let out an “ah” and stretched out an arm. She grabbed the cat’s tail and pulled it back up.

She held the black cat in front of her face. Its eyes were opened wide and staring straight forward and both ends of its mouth were frozen in place while raised up as far as they would go. Brunhild frowned and shook the cat up and down.

“What are you doing? That’s dangerous.”

Finally, the cat gave a start.

“Wah!” it shouted and shook its legs. “I-I-I-I’m gonna die! You’re killing me!”

“What’s the matter? You make this sound so dangerous. Did you have a bad dream again?”

“Y-y-y-y-yes yes yes! I had a dream I was thrown into the air and frozen! …That was a dream, right?”

“Of course it was. But how very odd. You fell asleep with history’s most amusing expression.” Brunhild held the cat in one arm. “Well, even if you had a scary dream, don’t worry. I am here.”

“Can I really trust you?”

“Did you say something?”

“No, nothing,” came the response within her arm.

At that point, the land down below became fully covered in darkness.

Brunhild tilted the broom slightly down and to the right. She turned toward the depths of the mountain.

Slowly but surely, their altitude lowered. But with the dark mountains below and the night sky above, it was hard to tell they were descending. Brunhild checked the nightscape of Osaka behind her to check the horizon.

She descended.

The darkness below gradually gained visual features. The bare mountain surface and shapes of trees grew visible in the moonlight.

“Almost there,” she muttered while focusing on the forest floating up in the moonlight.

Brunhild could see a line of rectangular manmade objects. They were buildings.

This line of unlit buildings in the mountain forest created a village.

The black cat held at her chest spoke.

“There’s never anyone there. It really is a ghost town.”

“…Having ruined areas in your Gear is the height of luxury.”

“The people who lived in this village and the people who live in that giant city over there know nothing about the destruction of our Gear. If they knew, they might show some regret.”

The abandoned village flowed slowly by below them.

As she watched it, Brunhild said, “But why didn’t UCAT tell anyone about the Concept War?”

“They probably wanted to play the role of heroes. They wanted to secretly finish things without bringing confusion to their world… That was the complete opposite of 1st-Gear’s king. The king did everything he could to protect 1st-Gear. He deployed the mechanical dragons for defense and split the Concept Core in two.”

“And Siegfried took advantage of that. The royal palace was destroyed and the chain of command fell apart. Doctor Regin joined with mechanical dragon Fafnir and tried to protect the half of 1st-Gear’s concepts that were held inside, but Siegfried stole the holy sword Gram Doctor Regin had created and…” She took a breath. “If Doctor Regin’s Fafnir had been Venerable Hagen’s Fafnir Custom, it might have turned out differently.”

“How? What’s different about the modified version?”

“Oh, wait a second. I can see the headquarters.”

Two large buildings were visible a short distance from the abandoned village. It was a school. The two buildings were the school building and a gym. Brunhild descended toward the gym.

“The modified version is a mechanical dragon strengthened for defense. It has two reactors: one for movement and one for its weaponry. The old Fafnir that Venerable Regin joined with had only one reactor, so it had to die when the holy sword Gram was used to destroy the reactor where half of the Concept Core was stored.”

“On the other hand, Venerable Hagen’s Fafnir Custom is…?”

“It has the remaining half of the Concept Core sealed in the weaponry reactor. That power is the grudge of 1st-Gear itself. Even if it is lost, either the remaining movement reactor will be used to crush the enemy or it will be annihilated.”

Brunhild felt the cat tremble.

“Are you afraid? Do not worry. Venerable Hagen will not be defeated.”

“Um, no. That isn’t it. Being cooled down like this makes me need to use the bathroo-…Wait, stop hanging me down like this! Ahh, wetting myself is so humiliating!”

Kazami and Izumo were performing treasury work in the Kinugasa Library at night.

“This may be spring break, but we’ve been doing a lot of work since taking over from last term. …Oh, Kaku. You don’t have to be so focused on pasting those receipts that you end up looking like a robot. You actually have a serious look in your eyes.”

“Oh, how should I put it? I’ve gotten hooked on the smell of glue. …I guess you could say it’s a habit?”

Kazami ignored him. She diligently divided the account book in her hands between debit and credit.

But she suddenly looked up. Izumo noticed from where he sat next to her.

“What is it? Is something odd about-… gah!! Y-you idiot! I didn’t even say anything yet!”

Kazami ignored Izumo’s protests and pulled back the hand she had sent to the left in a slap. Siegfried looked over from the counter, but she waved back to say it was nothing. She then stood up.

“…A sound? How odd,” she muttered before walking over to the western edge of the Kinugasa Library.

A supply room was located there. She passed through the narrow entrance into a small space where piles of books and large rolled up maps were kept.

“What is it?” called Siegfried across the four classrooms’ length distance between the counter and the supply room. Kazami turned back and looked across the entire length of the Kinugasa Library. She spoke loud enough to reach from the entrance of the supply room.

“Have you heard a bird chirping for a while now?”

“The wall over there must resonate because you can hear noises from the upper floors. The art room on the third floor and the music room on the second floor come in separately.”

“But why a bird? Am I hearing it wrong?”

Just as she asked, Kazami looked up in realization. She had heard it once more.

“Hm. I believe Brunhild Schild, the head of the art club, is raising one. She is the only one using the art room during spring break.”

Siegfried nodded once and replied, “She seems to dislike me.”

He spoke so naturally that Kazami could not think of anything to say in response.

She walked back toward the table. As Izumo listened to her footsteps, he asked a question to smooth things over.

“Come to think of it.” He chose his words cautiously. “How powerful is 1st-Gear really? The remaining remnant is the City faction, right? How much power do they have?”

He turned his question toward Siegfried.

The man looked over from behind the counter.

“We had a conflict today, remember?”

“Yeah. How powerful are they compared to that?”

“Today’s battle was mere child’s play. 1st-Gear’s true power is not magic created from words. It is pure violence supported by words.”

Brunhild descended toward a schoolyard that had puddles remaining.

Dry leaves were scattered across the schoolyard and neither the school building nor the gym had any glass left.

It was an abandoned school.

Brunhild lowered in front of the gym while spreading wind around her. At five meters from the ground, she began the landing preparations.

In her right hand, she held a blue stone and the broom handle. She slowly loosened the grip of her right hand while moving the brush portion down. She gradually stood the broom up vertically.

Once the wind blowing from the brush swept across the ground directly below, the black cat jumped down as if peeling itself from the handle. Next, Brunhild placed her feet on the ground and completely stopped the broom’s output.

She let out a breath.

She removed the blue stone wrapped around the broom with a chain, tapped the handle, and muttered, “Excellent work.”

Afterwards, they both stretched their stiff bodies at about the same moment.

“Ahh… Standing on the ground is definitely best.”

“I just heard the most selfish comment in the world…”

“I’m in a good mood, so I will ignore that,” said Brunhild with a smile before walking toward the gym.

The door to the gym was tilted out of place. The inside could be glimpsed through it. The floor had rotted, the boarding had been torn up, and large holes existed here and there. Of the basketball goals prepared for the two courts, one was hanging down at an angle and two had fallen to the floor.

Brunhild walked inside this abandoned gym through the main entrance.

Once she did, faint light gathered around the blue stone at the center of the pendant around her neck.

She heard a voice. This was the Concept Text created from the Concept Core within the mechanical dragon. It supported the worldview of 1st-Gear.

Words have the ability to provide power.

At the same moment, the words carved into the pendant were given light.

The cat at her feet was also surrounded by blue light for an instant.

And then the world changed.

When Brunhild looked forward once more, she saw a fortress.

The floor and stage within the gym had been removed and replaced with a wooden-floored hangar. Several shelves were lined up and filled with combat brooms, rifles, spears, and other weapons. The shelves also contained organized arrangements of backpacks and other equipment for heading out.

The center of the hangar contained a large wooden lift leading underground. Next to it was a single hole containing a slope leading underground as well.

Brunhild walked toward the downward slope and greeted the giant soldiers patrolling around the hangar.

“I have not been by in a while, but are things okay here? You haven’t been found, have you?”

“Everything is fine,” replied an old giant as he gave a light wave and turned around.

Brunhild waved back and continued toward the slope. A glance at the lift next to the slope showed that the surface had the word for steel carved into its surface.

However, that word had large scratches running through it.

Giant claws had left those scratches. Brunhild looked down at the black cat.

“Venerable Hagen loves the moonlight, so he comes out whenever he can,” she said with a sigh.

She then continued down the slope while looking at those scratches.

The inside of the slope was lit by the word for light written on the ceiling. The word for nonslip covered the floor, so she had no problem keeping her footing.

She reached a landing partway and continued down.

The slope came to an end at the door that had originally been used as the school building’s main entrance. The large door had a large piece of glass inside and “sturdy” was written on the surface. This prevented the inside from being seen despite the glass being transparent.

Brunhild pushed on the door.

A large space had been created underground. The area was fifty meters square and it was shielded by square lumber and wooden flooring. The ceiling which emitted pale crimson light was seven or eight meters high. The bulkhead door in the center of the ceiling was opened to raise the lift on the floor.

Currently, a number of figures were gathered in front of the lift platform.

It was a gathering of people and other beings.

The figures were split down the middle with approximately fifty on either side. A few were standing, a few were facing each other, and they were exchanging words. The words held enough force to call them shouts.

The left side contained mostly youths with excellent physiques while the right contained mostly older people with slender bodies.

The voices reverberating through the underground area reached Brunhild as mere noise.

The black cat at her feet asked, “The representatives of the radicals and the conservatives are at it again.”

“How depressing. If I worked here, I would probably be shouting over there with you at my side.”

“I’m just a cat you took in after leaving here. If you were here, I would not be with you.”

“I suppose so,” said Brunhild as she glanced to the side of the entrance.

A shelf was located there with a few personal brooms on it. Brunhild frowned as she looked at the brooms lined up there.

“Kids these days forget all about tradition and go straight for the strange nose art. And what is this six-tone horn?”

“Our broom has a floral pattern cover, you know?”

“Don’t call it a cover. It’s a vector nozzle.”

Brunhild then placed her broom next to the others.

Behind her, an especially loud voice came from the gathered people. The black cat turned its ear toward the voice.

“That’s Fafner.”

“He certainly has energy. He was about to die when he arrived here after leaving the peaceful faction, though.”

“Well, the concept environment of Low-Gear is not suited for his race at all.”

“What a pain,” said Brunhild as she turned around.

A strange figure could be seen on the left side of the gathering. That figure was almost two meters tall and was covered in a black shell. He had a sharply angled face, three horns, and long blond hair. Instead of clothes put on over the head like Brunhild’s, he wore an open-backed jacket and shirt that were affixed to the shoulders. The reason for this was…

“The wings on his back are raised… Is he trying to intimidate them?”

The silhouettes that looked like arms covered in a shell were two wings. They were both black and stretched toward the ceiling in a V-shape.

As Brunhild watched on, Fafner glanced across his opponents and shouted.

“What is it that we need!?”

Fafner spread his shell-covered arms as he spoke. He swung his long lower arms.

“What we need is to take back the world of 1st-Gear that we lost! We must take back Gram from UCAT and make the Concept Core ours. By releasing it and having it oppose the negative concepts of Low-Gear, we can turn this world into 1st-Gear!”

In response, a single youth stood up on the opposite side. He swung up a hand.

“No! What we need are rights here in Low-Gear. After retrieving Gram from UCAT, we must use it to merge with the peaceful faction! Afterwards, we can manage the release of 1st-Gear’s concepts and use that to our advantage in negotiations!” The youth continued. “Fafner, we have not gathered here to fight. Our ultimate objective is the acquisition of Gram and a social position more than equal to Low-Gear’s. We do not wish for anything more than that, and even if we must fight to gain that, we do not wish to head down that path before it is necessary. Your ideas are nothing more than a reverse invasion!”

As the youth’s words reverberated throughout the underground space, the figures sitting next to him all nodded slightly.

As Fafner watched those many movements of agreement, he tilted his head in confusion.

“A reverse invasion? No. Call it recovering lost territory. The land protected by our ancestors was destroyed. Isn’t it only natural to fight for land to take in its place?”

“Low-Gear will never allow that! If they allowed us to recover our lost territory, they would be forced to accept the identical demands of the other Gears. Do you really think Low-Gear will allow that to happen?”

“That’s why we fight. Do you really not get it?” asked Fafner.

He lightly bent both arms as if scooping up those seated next to him and clenched the large fingers at the end of those arms.

The crimson light pouring down from the ceiling cast the motions of his fingers on the floor in the form of shadows.

“Listen. Low-Gear is acting as if the Concept War never happened. They have sealed off all information on it and any actions taken in retribution or attempts to release the information are suppressed by UCAT, the militaries of various countries, or those countries’ governments. …Let me ask you one question: where exactly are we in this Gear?” He pointed toward his feet. “We are currently in the shadows of this Gear. It was the same in the UCAT reservation. We are shoved into small pieces of land. The sky is closed in low over our heads and we cannot interact with the outside world.”

“Is that not why we are attempting to win this battle and gain the right to freedom in this Gear?”

“…Freedom? If this world is not filled with the same concepts as 1st-Gear, I and some of the other races cannot even breathe properly. Our cardiopulmonary abilities are not supported by this Gear’s concepts. When you speak of freedom, are you including true freedom for all of us?”

“Well…”

“You don’t understand. Your race is similar to the humans here in Low-Gear. Your body can function under the concepts of this Gear and you can mix into their society. As long as you are able to touch water for half the day. …Tree spirit, you can never understand our pain. Or the pain of always fighting on the front lines.”

Fafner ignored how his opponent clenched his back teeth.

He instead looked over at the entrance to the large hall. A figure was circling around them, heading further in.

It was a girl in black clothing followed by a black cat. Fafner called out to her.

“Are you heading further in? Lord Hagen is asleep.”

“I am sure your voice woke him up.”

“Hah! I hope it did! Anyway, how are things going on your end, Nein?”

The name he gave caused the girl to stop.

This was no natural action. She stopped as if stabbing her foot into the ground.

Fafner folded his arms when he heard that footstep ring out. The girl glanced over at him.

“…Only Venerable Hagen may call me by that name. Are you attempting to infringe on his authority?”

“My apologies, Brunhild. I thought you were fighting to regain that name you lost,” said Fafner with a hint of amusement in his voice. “Weren’t you supposed to monitor Siegfried and assassinate him if you had an opening? It has been three years of nothing but periodic reports. I sincerely hope you are not simply talking your way out of this. After all, when you were young, you and Siegfried-…”

Fafner stopped speaking because of a loud shout from the ground at the girl’s feet.

“Stop!”

The shout had come from the black cat following her. It brought its claws out on the floor and rose up offensively.

“We are doing our job, Fafner! And what about this discussion of yours today? You are having a meeting concerning the Royal Palace faction’s battle we saw, aren’t you? All you do is discuss things! We are actually working!” The cat then smiled slightly while still in its offensive pose. “If you want to cheer her on, how about doing so in a more straightforward fashion?”

“Lately, cheering people on is making me depressed. I apologize for being so roundabout,” replied Fafner while still smiling. He then turned toward the girl. “Get going, long-lived girl. I need to speak with him afterwards, too.”

He then faced forward once more.

He looked across his opponents’ faces one by one.

“Do you get it now? Not everyone here can live under this Gear’s concepts like you can. Gaining our freedom and turning this world into 1st-Gear are one and the same.” Fafner clapped his hands together. “Unless we transform this Gear into 1st-Gear, we cannot exist here! We may be able to gain certain rights without doing that, but are those true rights at all!? What meaning is there in being treated favorably if you are stuck in some cramped space?”

The youth opposite him clenched his back teeth.

Just as he began to back down, someone supported him from behind. It was the old man sitting next to him.

The gray-haired man placed a hand on the youth’s shoulder and had him sit down. The old man then faced Fafner.

And he asked, “Fafner, that was an excellent speech. But you are forgetting one thing.”

“And what is that?”

The old man pointed toward Fafner and nodded.

“You were not yet born when 1st-Gear was destroyed. It was not your world that was destroyed. It was our world. You-…”

“But I am a half-dragon of 1st-Gear,” cut in Fafner before the old man could finish. “Listen. I believe that I am of 1st-Gear. And that is where it all begins.” Fafner sank down slightly so as to stare the old man in the eye. “I know nothing. I do not know my countless ancestors. I do not know the kingdom or its king. I do not know that limited land. I do not know a moonless night. I do not know a sky in which I can fly. I do not know the day of destruction on which we lost. And I do not know what it is I should protect. And that is why I do not know what pride is!” He took a breath. “But you elders know. You know what pride is. That is why you can rely on your pride when forced into these cramped areas. But we have nothing. And yet we are still of 1st-Gear. We wish to be. …Then what are we to do? How are we supposed to gain that pride!?”

The old man frowned as Fafner watched him, but he fell silent.

Viewing that silence as a type of response, Fafner rose up once more.

He let his voice resound throughout the entire area instead of just those gathered in the center.

“What I want is proof that 1st-Gear is still with us! If you have a method that does not require turning this world into 1st-Gear, then let me hear it!”

A single voice rang out within the Kinugasa Library. It was Siegfried’s voice.

“1st-Gear had trouble heading into other Gears. The differences between its own races are so great that many of them cannot live while not under the concepts of 1st-Gear.”

He stood next to the table with a cup in hand while Kazami looked up at him from her seat.

“How did they survive in 1st-Gear?”

“With the power of writing. No in depth investigation has been done, but it is thought their genetic arrays also carry the function of writing. The same goes for their world. The air and sky contained spirits that carried out the meaning of the writing.”

“So the concepts and the residents fit each other perfectly,” said Izumo from next to Kazami. “Those who had grown fond of that Gear would have a difficult time of going to other Gears.”

“Yes. 1st-Gear was never a powerful Gear. But they strengthened their races and repeatedly fought the other Gears until they finally succeeded in constructing the mechanical dragons that were the masters of land battles. At the very end of their research, they constructed two Fafnirs as their flag-dragons. But the 1st-Gear mechanical dragons had a certain defect.”

“A defect?”

“When the pilot joined with them, they produced a powerful rejection reaction that would kill most of the pilots. And even if the pilot survived that, they could never again return to their original form. They would be a mechanical dragon for the rest of their lives.”

“And one of those survivors still exists, right? A major one called Fafnir Custom.”

“Yes. Of the two Fafnirs, I killed the one being serviced within the royal palace. However, the one being modified in the weapons laboratory escaped the destruction of 1st-Gear.”

“Why would they create those? The representatives of 1st-Gear must have really loved war.”

“They hated war. 1st-Gear’s king lost his queen in the Concept War. That was why he created the mechanical dragons for defense. He did not want anyone to enter 1st-Gear until the time of destruction. He also split the extracted Concept Core in two, used the concepts that controlled the construction of the world to seal the world, and settled into a defensive role.”

“Isn’t that…the same as abandoning the Concept War?”

“Yes, it is. And that is why…”

Siegfried suddenly trailed off. He brought his cup to his mouth and said something else.

“Depending on Sayama’s actions, you will likely learn the rest before long.”

A large bulkhead existed at the back of the large hall underneath the 1st-Gear base.

Brunhild walked toward the side entrance next to that bulkhead.

She could hear Fafner’s voice behind her, but it disappeared once the door closed behind her.

In exchange, the area grew dark. The black cat at her feet dissolved into the darkness.

“It is cold in here,” she said with a nod before looking up.

The ceiling was high and a single light existed in the middle. That crimson light was coming from a small hanging bell with the word for “torch” engraved into it.

As her eyes adjusted to that light, Brunhild looked down.

She was in a large hall just like the one next to it.

“But this is not public space. It is a private room…”

As she lowered her gaze, a giant mountain-like silhouette existed before Brunhild’s eyes.

But this was no mountain. It was a collection of structures with several surfaces and it all formed seven mountains colored white. The head, the body, the four limbs, and the tail made seven.

A steel dragon lay before her.

This mechanical dragon was over thirty meters long and was currently lying down. Its basic coloration was white and dark green, but the moving parts were covered in black. And most of the weaponry had been removed.

Each of the hard points had black dummy weapons attached. Other than the heat sinks that looked like folded up wings and the standard blades on the back and four limbs, no offensive ability could be seen on the surface. Most of its standard weaponry was kept inside, but all of the closable slits on the armor plates were covered in the yellow labels meaning maintenance was complete.

“…”

As Brunhild silently watched the dragon, a voice suddenly called out to her from above.

“What is it, Brunhild?”

She looked up in surprise and found a figure on the dragon’s back.

It was a tall old man. He had long, wavy gray hair and a beard to match. He was of course wearing a dark green cloak.

He glowed slightly in the dim darkness and he was transparent.

Brunhild bowed as she looked up at him.

“I, Brunhild, have returned, Venerable Hagen. Were you asleep?”

“No, I was awake. …Well done making it back.”

The old man’s eyes narrowed in a smile and his mouth moved, but the voice came from elsewhere. The voice came from a ventilation opening-like black slit on the dragon’s back that lay before her eyes.

When Brunhild moved once more, small noises came from across the mechanical dragon’s body. This sound reminiscent of light being slightly reflected came from the auxiliary vision devices covered in a protective material. It was the sound of the dragon’s gaze following her.

But Brunhild paid none of that any heed as she looked toward the old man. The old man spoke to her as if he really was nothing but an old man.

“How has it gone?”

“My familiar will provide the details. …What will the Royal Palace faction do?”

“It seems they will surrender three days from now. A messenger told us their actions are over after that final attack.”

“I see,” said Brunhild with a nod.

The black cat at her feet sighed and said, “So that’s what has Fafner and the others so worked up. Put a stop to it, Venerable Hagen.”

“Hey, what are you saying?”

Brunhild grabbed and strangled the cat while the old man, Hagen, smiled bitterly.

“I cannot do that, my small comrade.”

“No. If I did it, they would die even if I held back. We can’t have that.”

The cat looked up at Brunhild.

“Am I supposed to laugh at that or ignore it?”

“You are supposed to avoid asking that sort of question,” said Hagen with another bitter smile. He then frowned worriedly. “Brunhild, I can get the detailed report from that cat later. Is there any other information you need to give me?”

“Yes. UCAT has sent a special unit for the Leviathan Road into combat while still putting it together. Also, Fasolt who is working with UCAT as part of the peaceful faction will apparently be meeting tomorrow with the person in charge of the Leviathan Road.”

“They certainly are rushing this. So Fasolt has completely turned toward Low-Gear’s side…”

“I understand why Fafner is feeling so desperate. He is Fasolt’s son after all.”

“A warrior who calls his father a loser… He is arguing right now, isn’t he? How is he? Young?”

“…I would say inexperienced rather than young. He seems to be using childish arguments and claiming they represent justice.”

Hagen’s bitter smile deepened at Brunhild’s words.

“He cannot help but give childish arguments. This is a child attempting to persuade the adults who need a reason for doing anything. But…once adults grow accustomed to acting based on arbitrary reasons, they will finally lose once the children begin seriously insisting on childish justice. They do not lose to the children’s argument, but to something much more dangerous.”

“Something…much more dangerous?”

“Yes, something very dangerous. Something we once had, something we will never have again, and something we once used to push aside the adults.” He rested his chin on his hand and looked up. “Fasolt’s son was given an honest upbringing.”

“It seems Fasolt has gone through a lot of hardship in that UCAT reservation.”

“Yes,” said Hagen while still looking up. “Fasolt has actually done quite well in that UCAT reservation. He has accepted relying on UCAT to control the concepts while seeking safety in that tiny reservation. Everyone complains that he has done nothing more than that, but the peaceful faction has their lives in UCAT’s hands while on that reservation.”

“If the concept space is removed, most of them would not last half a month.”

“Fasolt and the others there are only able to live the way they are because of the negotiations they carried out using the possessions and knowledge they escaped with…and because of UCAT’s kindness, I suppose.”

“You must not say that to the others.”

Brunhild frowned and looked up at Hagen.

As the old man rested his chin on his hand, a slight smile was visible on his lips. That smile slowly widened.

“I know that. After all, I was the one that led everyone here and used the Concept Core we had to create this concept space. …As a former guide and current protector, I am needed as everyone’s leader. As troublesome as that can be.” He turned toward Brunhild. “How about we trade? You can take my Fafnir Custom and I can take your Requiem Sense. I would be a lot happier chatting about old times with the residents of the underworld.”

“That is impossible. After joining with the mechanical dragon, you cannot separate from it, right? And the concept creating the underworld is too weak here in Low-Gear. Even if you opened it with Sense, the residents could only come out for short periods of time.”

“True. …If we could speak with them properly, it might help lessen everyone’s enmity.”

Hagen raised his head and looked at the bulkhead separating this hall from the next.

“If we had not feared the destruction of the world, we might have been able to save many more.”

He lowered his gaze. Small sounds came from across Fafnir as darkening filters were added to the vision devices.

“It is a shame about that bird as well.”

“That was his fault. He abandoned it.”

“He may have been the one to abandon it, but we were the ones that did not save it.”

Hagen opened his eyes as he spoke. And then he suddenly uttered a single name into the darkness.

“Fafner.”

The vision devices moved and Hagen’s face turned toward the area behind Brunhild.

She turned around and saw a black shelled figure in the darkness. Brunhild and the black cat frantically took a step back and took a defensive stance.

“…How long have you been here!?”

“I only just came in. Don’t act so defensive. My element is darkness. I am a darkness-travelling half-dragon. I can move anywhere I wish as long as it is filled with darkness.”

Fafner changed from being a presence in the darkness to having an actual physical body.

Without turning toward Brunhild, he bowed toward Hagen.

“What will we do?” he asked.

Hagen sat up and pointed toward the bulkhead with his chin.

“You were holding a discussion on the other side, weren’t you?”

“Our view won out, so we concluded by deciding to have you make the decision, Lord Hagen.”

“I see you are speaking formally again,” muttered Hagen as he scratched his head. “Hmm. How about I make my decision after seeing what Fasolt does tomorrow? Brunhild, you said he is carrying out preliminary negotiations with UCAT tomorrow, didn’t you?”

“Yes. This information came from the peaceful faction, so there is no doubt about it.”

Brunhild nodded and looked toward Fafner.

Fafner looked at her, let his shoulders droop, and sighed.

“Um, Lord Hagen, this may not be my place to speak, but…”

“Oh, you’re back to your normal self. Speak freely.”

Fafner skillfully crossed his long lower arms and rested his chin on his hand.

“Why do you put off making decisions? We gathered around you and were led this far by you.”

“I would prefer if you did not speak as if I have no independence.”

“This is your duty as the one in charge.”

“I suppose you are right… Sorry.”

When the black cat heard that, it tapped at Brunhild’s leg.

“…Which of these two holds the higher position?”

“I do,” replied Brunhild and both Fafner and Hagen turned toward her. She nodded and said, “Please continue with your constructive discussion.”

Fafner sighed, lowered his chin from his hand and brought that hand to his head.

He tapped at the shell of his head with a claw before speaking once more.

“Lord Hagen, your younger brother, Venerable Regin, and your niece, Lady Gutrune, were killed by Siegfried and you were unable to protect the king. Where is your grudge over that?”

“That is actually a very good question. I know it is inside me somewhere, but I have lost track of where exactly it is. Fafner, I am sure you hope that it is within my weaponry reactor. And…” Hagen gave a small nod. “It was not only my family that was lost. I have decided not to act based on personal feelings. I will act when everyone agrees or when the perfect opportunity arrives. Currently, that opportunity has not come. Do not rush this, Fafner. Rushing this will lead to losing something.”

Hagen did not stop speaking there. He continued with a question.

“And what is it you are fighting for, Fafner?”

Fafner raised his head. He met Hagen’s gaze and slowly began speaking.

“To regain…that which we once had.”

“I see,” replied Hagen. He did not look away from Fafner’s gaze as he continued. “Then make sure you remember those words. …Never forget them.”

Sayama and Shinjou walked through the school grounds at night.

Both the front and back doors to the second year general school building had been locked, so they could not enter.

With Baku on his shoulder, Sayama tried to turn the knob several times.

“No good… If only I had the same skills as Kouji.”

“Is Kouji the person who picked you up yesterday?”

Sayama began to nod in response, but he stopped. He looked to the person standing next to him.

“I only mentioned him offhand just now…but why do you know about Kouji, Shinjou-kun?”

After a moment, Shinjou began shaking his hands back and forth.

“Oh, um, my sister told me someone amazing came to pick you up.” Shinjou stopped moving his hands and stared at Sayama’s face. “What’s that look for? Don’t tell me you suspect I’m my sister.”

“No. I settled those suspicions when I checked over your body earlier. You may look oddly like her, but you are male.”

“Would you have preferred if it was my sister who had come?”

“She did not, so there is no point in discussing it. …At any rate, there is no point in being here if I cannot show you around the inside. I heard an odd noise on the roof earlier, so I thought someone might be inside. We can return to the dorm for tonight.”

Shinjou’s shoulders drooped when he heard that last sentence.

“I wanted to walk around some more.”

“But you have not opened even five of your boxes.”

Shinjou groaned and folded his arms at that.

Sayama then said, “I will be leaving tomorrow for some business I need to take care of, but we can go buy some daily items for you once I return. I can show you some nearby stores…but if you wait until tomorrow to deal with your luggage, you will not know what you need, will you?”

“I suppose not. But I’m surprised, Sayama-kun. You can actually make proper arguments.”

“…I get the feeling I need to sit down and straighten you out about a few things.”

“Heh heh. Anyway, I am not used to this area, so you have a lot to teach me: the roads, the stores, and the people. I heard the bath here can’t be used during spring break.”

“Yes. Only the dorm showers are usable at this time. If you are not in a hurry, there is a 24-hour public bath just outside the school’s main gate.”

“Okay,” nodded Shinjou.

He then cast his gaze down, smiled slightly, and walked alongside Sayama.

The two walked side by side.

The moonlight cast their shadows on the ground. Suddenly, Shinjou pointed toward the schoolyard next to the school building.

“Sayama-kun. What is that tower-like thing on the other side of the schoolyard?”

“Oh, that is the climbing bungee jump the exploration club created for last year’s school festival. Several lifelines hang down from above, so you tied them to your feet, scaled the 20 meter wall with your own strength, and then jumped down from above.”

“That really is showy…”

“Yes. Unsurprisingly, it had problems with the people dropping from above crashing into the people climbing from below. Ha ha ha.”

“That is no laughing matter!”

“Do not worry about it. Humans are surprisingly sturdy.”

“Really?” sighed Shinjou. He then pointed toward a wall-like piece of art next to the cafeteria building. “What’s that?”

“Oh, that was created to commemorate a graduating class a long time ago. They made clay versions of their handprints and baked them into a board. It is one of the famous locations in the school.”

“Oh? So it’s a famous location.”

“Yes. It was meant as a commemorative decoration, but it turned into some kind of horrifying piece of art because there were a thousand students involved. They tried to remove it, but the digger was knocked over and ended up with handprints all over it. Ha ha ha.”

“Stop explaining this kind of thing so happily.”

“There is more. The giant hand visible on the other side is-…Ah, wait. Stop pulling on me.”

Shinjou grabbed Sayama’s sleeve and pulled him toward the dorm.

For an instant, Sayama glanced back toward the second year general school building.

He saw the landing of the emergency staircase on the side of the building. He had seen it that morning as well.

For some reason, he had the feeling his situation changed every time he looked at it. He grinned bitterly.

Shinjou must have noticed where he was looking because he spoke up.

“What is it?”

“With your arrival and plenty of other things, I was thinking that my daily life keeps changing.”

Just how much will it change? Sayama asked himself.

And then a dark feeling resembling unease arrived.

Am I even able to change?

Just as he muttered that thought in his heart, Shinjou tilted his head, looked up at him, and spoke.

“Were you wondering how much it will change?”

Sayama turned back toward Shinjou upon hearing that question.

“…”

Under the moonlight, Shinjou’s face was close enough that Sayama could have reached out and touched it.

Shinjou’s black hair swayed in the bluish-white moonlight. His black eyes looked straight up at Sayama.

Sayama recognized the movement of that swaying hair and the color of those eyes.

That is Shinjou Sadame’s hair and eyes, thought Sayama. But that is an illusion.

He felt it was rude to Setsu, but his heart was wrapped in other feelings. He felt it weighed that much on his mind because he had accepted her.

She is the opposite of me.

He and Shinjou. Ordinary and extraordinary. Normally conflicting ideas were overlapping.

When those thoughts came to mind, his mouth moved involuntarily and he spoke quietly.

He first gave an answer to Shinjou’s question.

“I was…wondering.”

Shinjou’s eyes narrowed slightly. Sayama was unsure if it was due to a smile or not.

But Sayama nodded toward Shinjou and a slight smile appeared on his lips.

“But…I was not wondering how much it will change. I was wondering if I would be able to choose change myself.”

“You are a very serious person, Sayama-kun.”

“No, I am not.”

As soon as he said that about himself, his smile became one of self-derision. And…

A single motion seemed to arrive in response to Sayama’s words.

It was the wind.

It came from the west but not as a noise or a sound. It suddenly came as an overpowering pressure.

“…!”

This tremendous wind seemed to slam into them.

It was powerful enough to strip away all other sound.

As it washed over Shinjou, he held his hair down and ducked down. And as soon as Sayama saw that…

He took action. As Shinjou grimaced at the wind, Sayama pulled Shinjou in and held him in his arms.

“Ah,” was all Shinjou could say as his slender shoulders were contained within Sayama’s arms.

At the same moment, the wind struck Sayama’s shoulders like a physical mass.

Baku was almost shaken off, but he frantically clung to Sayama’s shoulder.

Amid this tremendous wind, Sayama saw a collection of smoke fly up from the second year general school building’s rooftop.

“!?”

He narrowed his eyes and looked up through the wind. The white smoke spread out like fog and quickly disappeared into the sky.

What was that?

Sayama’s suspicion was deepened by a further question from Shinjou.

“…Sand? No, it can’t be. There wouldn’t be sand on the rooftop.”

But Sayama could see nothing else that smoke could be.

The wind lessened and ultimately disappeared.

As if in response to acclimating to the wind, Shinjou’s body stiffened slightly in his arms.

His slender finger poked at Sayama’s chest and his black eyes looked up at Sayama.

“U-um, I’m fine now, so…”

Shinjou’s voice sounded slightly flustered and he began struggling a bit in Sayama’s arms. When Sayama loosened his grip, Shinjou removed himself from those bonds and took a step away.

Sayama heard the sound of Shinjou stepping on the gravel as the remnants of that west wind cut between the two of them.

The sensation of those slender shoulders remained in Sayama’s arms as Shinjou spoke.

“That surprised me. I never expected you to suddenly embrace me.”

“It looked like the wind was hurting you.”

“B-but…I’m a boy.”

Sayama tilted his head at that. He was confused why he would bring that up.

“What connection is there between you being a boy and that you were feeling pain?”

“N-none I suppose…”

“We are roommates. There is nothing wrong with doing this much. If you wish for it and I wish for it, then I will grant that wish of yours. That is all there is to it. That is the etiquette of the Sayama family that I believe in.”

He swung his right hand to stretch out his shirt sleeve and held his right hand out toward Shinjou.

“If you are feeling pain and I wish to protect you, I will protect you. If you do not wish to be alone and I wish to speak with you, I will speak with you. If you have decided you wish to carry your worries alone and I care for you, I will leave you to be on your own. If you do not wish to be here and I wish to do what is best for you, I will hate you.”

And…

“If you wish to grow closer to someone and I see you, I will stand by your side. How does that sound?” asked Sayama. “I will demand nothing of you. I will demand everything of myself. To lay this etiquette at the foundation, I must spread trust. The surname Sayama indicates a villain. Therefore, if you do not oppose me, I will simply grant you this. …And if you do, I will not take it back.”

Shinjou looked down toward Sayama’s outstretched hand. Shinjou lightly raised his right hand to take Sayama’s hand.

“…”

But he stopped.

Sayama looked up and saw a face with drooping eyebrows beyond Shinjou’s stopped hand.

With that uneasy-looking expression, Shinjou tilted his head and asked a question.

“Aren’t you being a bit formal, Sayama-kun?”

“I am giving you my etiquette and trust. Do you think I am someone who could do this without really meaning it?”

Shinjou stared at him for a few seconds.

Shinjou opened his mouth as if about to say something, but stopped. And then…

“No.”

He shook his head and his shoulders relaxed. With the ends of his eyebrows still lowered, he smiled a bitter smile.

Shinjou then reached out his right hand and took Sayama’s hand.

Shinjou’s hand was soft. Sayama held those fingers with care, nodded, and breathed a sigh of relief before speaking.

“Then let me say it formally: It is nice to meet you, Shinjou-kun.”