Owari no Chronicle:Volume6 Chapter 20
Chapter 20: Noisy Challenge
That which causes commotions should not stay for long
It should remain on the move
Like a sudden rain shower
Shino walked down a white corridor.
This was her first time in UCAT and she was likely the first non-intelligence member of the Army to be there.
The intelligence department had used invisibility and silencing philosopher’s stones to acquire the corridor layout down to UCAT’s second basement. They had been unable to continue further down because the doors were too well-defended, but Shino’s mission did not require continuing past those doors.
She spoke toward the ground as she walked through the corridor.
A large white dog walked next to her there, but it was not alone.
The entire corridor was filled with dozens of dogs.
They came in countless varieties: small, large, white, black, brown, striped, spotted, raised ears, floppy ears, a prominent bridge of the nose, a lack of one, short legs, and long legs.
None of those many dogs cast a shadow on the floor. They all continually turned to look at Shino and walked along as if protecting her.
She met the gazes of the dogs protecting her from all directions and continued on.
…I only travelled from Okutama Station to here, but I gathered so many.
She grabbed the philosopher’s stone pendant hanging from her neck. The blue stone was glowing and that light used her will to give form to residual thoughts.
She did not know whether these could be called ghosts.
Even if the philosopher’s stone allowed them to exist, there was nothing more to it than that.
Hajji had speculated that their loss had created a “gap” that functioned as a mold for their form. Shino’s philosopher’s stone was a type of thought synchronizing concept, so he said it might be sending their residual thoughts into that mold and casting a new form for them.
Shino recalled what else Hajji had said:
“Do you not have enough power to give form to humans or did you set your specialty to dogs when you gave form to Shiro? Hm?”
She could now find the remnant wills of dogs, synchronize them with her philosopher’s stone, and allow them to touch objects other than her. When she did, most of them would be confused by being given a form and try to fight her. It was as if she were robbing them of their rest.
When that happened, Shiro would deal with them.
The dogs gathered here were the ones who had joined her and Shiro. She was their master and Shiro was their boss.
As she looked at all of them, she wanted to give them all food, but she could not.
“But we can go see your owners afterwards.”
She had promised to take them each to their former owners after they played together. When they met their former owners, their minds would reach their strongest point. The former owner would either see them for an instant or hear their cry before they disappeared.
Sometimes the former owner would have a new dog, but the dogs would always choose not to meet the owner in those cases. They would realize their appearance was an unneeded intrusion, but they would still lick Shino’s hand and disappear.
…Will that happen to Shiro someday?
But she had another thought as well.
…Where do they go when they disappear?
Did Low-Gear have a realm for the dead?
She had heard most of the other Gears did. 1st-Gear had Requiem Sense and 3rd-Gear had the Tartaros, but what about Low-Gear?
“If the concepts are released, will a realm for the dead be created?”
She tilted her head, Shiro looked at her worriedly, and the other dogs looked at her as well.
She was making them worry, so she smiled to tell them they did not have to.
She pulled a paper from her pocket. It was a map of UCAT’s second basement and she was on her way to the central hall.
“The northern wall has a communication line to the center of UCAT.”
With the map in one hand, she used the other to pull out a philosopher’s stone on a string.
“Hajji got this weakened concept from 3rd-Gear. It transforms thoughts into information.”
She wrapped the blue stone’s string around her hand and lowered that hand. The dogs formed a circle around her and licked her hand and the stone it held.
As she let them lick her hand, she showed them the map.
“Okay, everyone. It’s time to eat. Your food tonight is data. Once you’ve been turned to information, please eat everything you find deep in UCAT.”
She took a breath, faced forward, and pointed.
The group of dogs immediately took action.
They first raised their throats toward the heavens and opened their mouths in a howl.
Several dozen howls shook the white corridor and led to the next action.
As the sound came to an end, they ran.
They sprinted along in an undulating line.
With a mission in mind, the dogs did not turn back toward Shino. They quickly formed groups of a few dogs each. Some groups continued straight and others suddenly cut through the walls.
Those information beasts ran through the white corridor and continued to run.
Shiro alone remained to await their return and to protect their master.
Shino watched as the final group disappeared into the wall.
“I hope they’ll be okay.”
She stopped walking and Shiro turned toward her after circling ahead. An unhesitating face lay beyond his sharp nose and he seemed to be telling her not to worry.
She nodded, smiled, gripped the philosopher’s stone hanging from her neck, and opened her mouth.
The movements of her small lips produced a song.
Silent night, Holy night
God’s Son laughs, o how bright
Love from your holy lips shines clear,
As the dawn of salvation draws near,
Jesus, Lord, with your birth
Jesus, Lord, with your birth
The majesty of that song passed through the stone and reached the dogs and their power of information. It encouraged them and told them their master was still there.
She heard answering howls in the distance.
The howls came from the corridor ahead, the intersections with other passageways, and from within the walls. They were responding to the song and their master’s concerns.
Pushed on by their master’s voice, the dogs’ voices contained no fear.
To push them on even further, Shiro howled.
The bestial reverberation ruled the air.
Until, that is, another sound from directly ahead cut it off.
Several footsteps made by solid shoes and the clattering of metal equipment reached them.
…Here they are.
Shino prepared herself and Shiro bared his fangs.
A moment later, that was exactly who arrived.
People charged out from the left and right at an intersection with another corridor up ahead.
They wore white armored uniforms and other white clothing. There were at least twenty of them and they must have known she had no projectile weaponry because they took up a position to block her path.
Those on the front line lowered their hips, held something in both hands, and peered into it.
She opened her mouth to complain that they were firing without giving a warning, but she realized she was being naïve. Instead, a shouted name escaped her opened mouth.
The dog lowered his front legs and shrunk back. Once he began, she knew several enemies would be scattered in an instant.
“Okay! Target is in photographic range!!”
One extraneous word confused her.
The doubt in her heart caused Shiro to turn toward her in confusion.
At the same time, the enemy’s front line activated their weapons.
She frantically prepared herself and heard a surprisingly reserved mechanical noise.
And nothing else happened. No bullets flew her way and no pain filled her body.
When she peeked forward between her fingers, she saw the enemy’s front line falling back and the second line stepping forward.
Finally, she noticed what their weapons were: cameras.
She relaxed her posture and the retreating front line frantically turned toward her.
“Ah! Sh-she put her hands down! I couldn’t get a good shot of her face because her hands were in the way! Hey, second line. Give me another chance!”
One man tried to step forward, but the members of the second line forced him back.
“Don’t be stupid! This is the order we decided on using requests, recommendations, and official games of rock-paper-scissors! It’s your fault for thinking it’s best to have the first shot at it!”
“That’s right,” said one man who stood in front of all the others. “And by the third round, she’ll have gotten used to it, so the second round is what really matters.”
The old man wore a lab coat, the camera hanging from his neck had a telephoto lens the size of an anti-tank gun attached, and he was holding up his right thumb in Shino’s direction.
Shino knew him because he was well-known even within the Army.
Her question must have passed through the philosopher’s stone because Shiro tilted his head toward her.
She wondered what to do, but Ooshiro spoke before she found an answer.
“Yes, that is an excellent expression. Everyone, don’t miss this once in a lifetime opportunity.”
He lay on the floor and opened the bipod on the bottom of the telephoto lens to prepare the camera like a sniper rifle.
“Okay, let’s go!”
“Eh? Um, okay.”
Shino had Shiro sit down and straightened up as she heard the sound of the shutter.
Ooshiro smiled and stood up.
“Thank you very much. Third line, you’re up!”
The third line frantically prepared their cameras and took photos.
“Okay, the three-line photo shoot is complete.”
The entire group began to cheerfully leave, but Shino frantically spoke up.
“Um! I-is that really all you’re doing?”
“Of course it is. We’re off duty right now.”
“Then where are those who are on duty?”
“The dogs arrived while they were gathering their equipment, so they had to deal with that too. With that extra work, I don’t think they’ve managed to locate you yet. They’re driving away the dogs while visually searching for you, but we decided to get what photos we could and then tell them where you are once we get back.”
“Wh-why wouldn’t you tell them right away!? I’m an intruder.”
She had no idea why she was arguing, but Shiro gave a bark of agreement.
However, Ooshiro nodded with his giant camera resting on his shoulder.
“You are indeed an intruder and we’re still UCAT members even while off duty,” he said. “But everyone has their own job. The field operation group is currently running around in order to fight you, so we took the role of recording the intruder’s actions while not getting in their way. But by some strange coincidence, we ran across you before they did.”
Everyone around the old man applauded.
The comments of “nice excuse” and “you are the law” convinced Shino that this entire encounter had been put together by Ooshiro.
…The rumors about him were true.
It would not surprise her if he had sent false data to the other units just so he could take pictures of her.
“Then you don’t have any combat gear on you?” she asked just to be sure.
“Of course not. Nothing could be more disrespectful than worrying our model.”
I knew it, she thought with a sigh.
“What will you do if I attack you?”
“N-nonsense. Would an honest beauty like you really attack a group of defenseless people?”
He stood tall and opened his lab coat to demonstrate his defenselessness. He looks like a flasher, she thought, but the word “innocent” was written across the inside of his coat in ink.
Her shoulders drooped.
“Sorry, but please leave. I have serious work to do here,” she said. “A-also, don’t make a bunch of copies of those and spread them around.”
“You heard the model! No publishing these without permission!”
You were planning to? she realized. I guess that’s just the kind of place this is. UCAT is a frightening place.
Her shoulders drooped even further.
“Also, I want you to restate something.” She nodded and continued. “I don’t like simply being called a ‘beauty’, so please stop.”
The entire group’s reflexive shout caused her to flinch back, but she quickly recovered.
“Wh-why are you so surprised!?”
“C-c-c-c-calm down! H-how about we start by defining our terms!?”
“Wh-what do you mean by defining our terms? I just don’t want to be called that!”
“No! What you want doesn’t matter here! It’s our fantasies that matter! Isn’t that right!?”
Shino smiled and immediately responded to Ooshiro’s question.
“Sic him, Shiro!!”
The group of adults ran in a panic from the charging beast.
Two emotions filled the atmosphere of the development department room.
One was a rushing impatience and the other was the tension that caused.
The source of those emotions was Tsukuyomi’s desk on the southern side of the room. Specifically, they came from Kashima as he watched the monitor and Tsukuyomi as she typed on the keyboard.
“What are these growing damaged areas that suddenly appeared?” asked Kashima as he peered at the monitor. “UCAT’s data is being taken from the server!”
The amount of gray indicating inaccessible damaged clusters was growing on the data map. Those damaged regions had appeared in every direction and were growing as if drawing a line toward the white sphere of the core.
“Director Tsukuyomi, do you think this is the intruder’s doing?”
“I would say so. The damaged regions appeared at almost the same time as the alarm sounded. …Uh, oh. It’s approaching our line.”
The white sphere and blue line were still safe, but the gray regions were drawing ever closer.
Kashima pulled the keyboard toward him and began typing.
“This damage is prioritizing the largest clusters of data, so wouldn’t it work better to gather dummy data as bait rather than setting up a defensive wall?”
The red group that had attempted to block Tsukuyomi’s program was attacking the damaged areas, but the red was overwritten with gray with no sign of resistance.
“It looks like the attack programs are being devoured as small pieces of data.”
“Do we have a large enough amount of dummy data to work as bait?”
“Unfortunately, almost all of the unnecessary data on our personal machines was deleted. What about the family movies left on your laptop?”
“That is not unnecessary data. It is a necessary part of a military god’s life.”
“That’s quite a leap in logic. Anyway, what other unnecessary data is there?”
The two of them exchanged a glance, took a breath, and shouted out at the same moment.
“The 18+ games!!”
Kashima pointed toward the white sphere in the center of the monitor.
“Director Tsukuyomi, there’s a whole bunch right here! It’s a treasure trove!”
“Quit shouting and pointing and actually do something!”
Kashima gave his instructions to the program. As it continued removing data for itself, it created a secondary pathway to send massive amounts of dummy data toward the damaged regions.
The data transfer rate dropped, but the tremendous amount of data slowed down the expansion of the damaged region. Tsukuyomi and Kashima watched as file names scrolled by on their way to be destroyed. It looked like names on a war memorial and Kashima spoke in a serious tone as he read them.
“These are some unpleasant titles. Like this one: ‘Repeated School Year’. The tagline is ‘Be held back!’.”
“I don’t care. I’m more concerned by this one: ‘The Creator of Esperanto Was Named Zamenhof (For Real)’. Its tagline is ‘Time to take over the world!’, but what is it even about?”
“Maybe this is actually a valuable collection.”
“Don’t say that with a straight face. More importantly, look at this-… Wait. Why are we reviewing the titles and taglines of 18+ games!?”
Her shout was accompanied by odd noises out in the corridor.
They heard footsteps and barking.
After a large group of footsteps passed by and gave various frightened shouts, a dog pursued them and a single set of quieter footsteps followed.
“What was that?” asked Kashima.
“How about you get out there and find out?”
The wall of dummy data was forming on the monitor.
“I don’t think we can gather all the core’s data before the dummy data is eaten through.”
However, Tsukuyomi was already listing their gathered data in a different window.
As she looked through the list of names, she smiled.
“It looks like we have a lot of data on the National Defense Department. There are even digitized photographs. Kashima, you find out what’s going on out in the corridor. I’ll have this tidied up and printed out by the time you get back.”
“And then I’m supposed to do something with it?”
“Yes. Fax or otherwise send anything that looks important to the group in Okayama. Use a convenience store or something, so the higher ups won’t notice.” She nodded. “Those children will want this information too.”
Shino faced the bad adults in the central corridor of the second basement.
She had run around quite a bit, but she had been generally making progress toward the exit. The enemy had met up with the field operation unit at an intersection between white corridors and they were catching their breath behind that unit.
…They’re holding the exit.
The dozen or so members of the field operation unit aimed guns at her. They aimed the guns directly at her and showed no sign of starting with warning shots. The middle-aged man with a commander-ish hat held a Hanshin Tigers megaphone in one hand.
“Um, can you hear me? We ask that you surrender peacefully.”
“Um, then can you give your name and affiliation?”
She was unsure whether she should tell them.
“My name is Shino. I am affiliated with…the Army.”
The unit stiffened at that name.
…That isn’t surprising.
UCAT and the Army had fought a few skirmishes limited to Japan and most of them had involved the theft of UCAT’s information, materiel, and secrets. The Army viewed the battles as secondary and anyone who was captured was ordered to commit suicide.
…But most everyone returns without being captured.
This may have been close to the first time someone had directly faced them and named the organization.
She noticed the field operation unit, including the commander, was speaking with the camera group behind them.
She tilted her head and the commander turned toward her.
“What is your objective?”
“Are you not aware what’s happening to UCAT’s data servers right now?”
“We are aware.”
His voice contained a tone of sadness which made Shino feel apologetic. However, she was also glad that the dogs were doing their job.
…I really am selfish.
But she knew her behavior had to remain resolute and she knew these were her enemies.
“Then please give up. No normal attacks can stop my dogs. If possible, could you open a path and let me through? If you do, I will tell the dogs not to attack you.”
She poured strength into her words and prepared for an attack.
“That expression is mine!!”
An ultra-long telephoto lens poked out from behind the enemy and she heard the sound of a camera shutter.
“No fair!!” shouted most of the enemy.
“I didn’t give you permission to photograph me!!” she shouted.
“That’s right. That’s right,” said the field operation unit as they grabbed the photo group by the collar.
“Listen up all of you,” said a representative member of the unit. “Don’t make us point a gun at a beauty while you have all the fun!”
“I-I said to stop calling me that. Is everyone in this organization a pervert!?”
They all turned toward her.
“You just don’t understand your value! Go look in a mirror and think about what truly matters!”
“I-I don’t want that kind of value! Please stop taking pictures!”
Ooshiro held his telephoto lens and wriggled back and forth behind all the others.
“How…how could you rob an old man of his adorable hobby?”
“Shiro, Shiro. Target that guy first. Don’t hesitate to use your canines.”
“When did beauties become so cement-like!?”
“Just let me leave!!” she shouted. “Do you have a habit of imprisoning young girls!?”
…I need to move them out of the way so I can leave.
The dogs would catch up to her before long after they finished devouring the data and storing it in their bodies. Once she removed that from them and stored it in the philosopher’s stone, her mission would be complete. UCAT would lose most of its database and the Army would gain all that data.
…Let’s get out of this unpleasant world as soon as possible.
Even without the dogs, she could use her philosopher’s stone’s power to break into an opponent’s thoughts and make them do what she said.
“Please move out of the way,” she said to the stone hanging from her neck.
A moment later, the few people immediately blocking her path unsteadily stood up.
It had worked. The power of a philosopher’s stone was the same as a concept and there was no way to oppose a power that simply stated how things were.
She took a breath. As a few people moved to either side, the people behind them frantically spoke up.
“W-wait! You’re controlling them! Is this some kind of miraculous beauty power!?”
“This is not a beauty power! It’s a philosopher’s stone!!”
She ignored their shouts of protest and stepped forward.
Ooshiro immediately ran forward and held out both hands.
“Please move out of the way.”
She sounded almost exasperated as she gave her order, but then something like a crack ran between her and Ooshiro.
She heard the sound of cracking glass and saw that Ooshiro had not moved.
She frowned at the fact that her philosopher’s stone was not working.
“Please…move out of the way,” she said while tilting her head.
Another crack ran through the air and a gust of wind blew through, but Ooshiro remained unmoved.
It was not working.
But as Ooshiro held his hands forward, his lab coat shook and a blue stone on a chain fell from his hand.
“Ha ha ha. Too bad. I thought it would be a good idea to bring a weakened copy of a concept that deflects everything.”
“I simply deflected your power. Why don’t you try asking more nicely?”
“Please move out of the way!!”
Her shout produced another spatial crack and the bottom of Ooshiro’s lab coat fluttered about. The surrounding soldiers were bent backwards and plastered to the wall with their skeletons creaking from the strain.
“Gwah! U-UCAT Director Ooshiro! We can’t move out of the way any more than this!!”
“Just move out of the way!!”
“You all seem to be having fun.”
Ooshiro withstood her power head on.
His expression and stance showed just how calm he was.
She then realized something. If his reflection concept was related to the hands he held forward…
She pretended to casually look to the left where the wall contained a single door.
As soon as Ooshiro looked over as well, his stance shifted just enough to alter the angle of his defensive power and he was blasted diagonally to the right. He struck the wall and energetically rolled two or three times.
“Ow! You need to treat the elderly with more care!”
“Please be quiet and let me leave!”
Shino ignored him and her shout silenced all of her opponents via the philosopher’s stone.
She received the desired silence, but she had a thought about her shout.
…That isn’t what an intruder should be saying.
She realized she was blushing and the adults crawled down from the wall, pressed their heads together, and began discussing something. A few of them would glance her way on occasion and about a minute passed.
Once they faced her again, all their faces displayed the same calm smile.
“Now, let’s take this seriously. We aren’t letting you leave tonight.”
“Y-you sound like you’re lying. Are you hiding something?’
“N-no. O-o-o-of course not. None of you are hiding anything, right?”
They all gave three quick nods and Shino came to the realization that adults were liars.
“Anyway, please don’t move. I need to continue on and leave.”
“Yes, yes. Keep going if you wish.”
Ooshiro’s tone of voice confused her, but she did not know why.
She tilted her head and Shiro suddenly turned back toward her.
“What is it, Shiro?”
He turned toward the right wall and Shino started to as well.
“Ahhh! Don’t look at that wall!! It’ll corrode your eyes away!”
She looked regardless and found a white wall with a placard on it.
The placard contained a green arrow pointing behind her and a single word below it.
“Exit,” she read aloud.
…Did I get turned around while chasing them?
“Oh, um, that’s where a man named Mr. Exit lives,” said Ooshiro up ahead. “The…the real exit is this way! C’mon, this way!”
With that staccato exclamation, she started to turn around.
She was more bothered by her own sense of direction than by allowing them to trick her, so she decided to take some combat training in a closed space once she returned to the Army.
But as she turned around, she heard a voice from the exit leading up to the first basement.
It was a male voice and it was singing.
“A kissss exchanged innnnn the middle of the niiiiiight is a kiss of the niiiight!”
“He’s here!” said someone behind her.
“Wh-what is this strange song!?”
“Our secret weapon. The weapon we wanted to keep a secret!”
Shino heard a singing voice.
As it continued, she stopped moving and watched as someone appeared from down the corridor.
“Yooouuuuu and meeeee in our hearrrrrrrts!”
The shout ended just as the young man stopped approximately three meters ahead.
Shino observed him.
He had short blond hair and wore a white summer coat.
He seemed to be hearing things because he spread his arms as if to quiet imagined cheering.
“There will be no encore. Not when I get a job the second I get back from the Sea of Japan.”
Hearing that, Shino guessed who he was and breathed a sigh of relief.
He was most likely an ultra deep-sea fisherman from the coast of the Sea of Japan. The extreme loneliness of the sea had clearly caused him to go mad.
He glanced at her, Shiro, and the UCAT soldiers at the corridor intersection behind her.
“I’m here. It’s Atsuta Yukihito of the development department’s security team.”
“Eh? You’re not a deep-sea fisherman?”
“What are you talking about, brat?”
The young man named Atsuta frowned toward her and then turned back to those behind her.
She could tell he was an enemy, but his general atmosphere prevented her from moving. He was perfectly relaxed, but she had no idea what he would do if she did anything.
She had felt this same oppression when facing Tatsumi in training.
Shiro lowered down next to her but did not let down his guard.
What should I do? she wondered just as Atsuta asked a question to his allies.
“So where’s this supposed enemy? Bring them out here for me.”
She followed his gaze in confusion and saw all those in the corridor intersection point at her.
Seeing that, Atsuta looked at her, paused, and then looked back at his allies.
“Are you stupid? This immature brat isn’t an enemy! If you’re gonna joke, at least put some effort into it. Hey, brat. I don’t know where they scouted you from, but hanging around people with rotten brains will make your own brain melt out your ears.”
“N-no. I…um…am the enemy.”
“Don’t be stupid, brat! Stop playing pretend, go home, and get some sleep!”
Everything he said irritated her.
He must have noticed the stern look on her face because he tilted his head.
“What? You got something to say to me, brat?”
That was when her self-control reached its limit.
She took in just one breath, clenched her lowered fists, and shouted back.
“I am not being stupid! And what is wrong with you!? Why do you keep calling me a brat!?”
“Shut up. You look like a brat, so I called you a brat. Isn’t it summer break? Go get to sleep, head out for the radio exercise tomorrow morning, and get yourself a stamp for attendance!”
“Oh? You keep calling me a brat, but you’re the one singing weird songs and hearing things. You’re more of a child than I am. In fact, you’re beyond saving! Also, the radio exercise wouldn’t be tomorrow morning. It would be this morning because it’s already past four in the morning! You idiot!!”
Her tirade received a response, but not from Atsuta.
The group behind her gasped and seemed to draw back in fear.
But she was no longer afraid and she stuck out her tongue before continuing.
“If you don’t like it, then say something! You stupid adult!”
She saw the young man’s eyebrows rise and he bared his teeth.
“Ohhh? Are you having trouble speaking? Heh heh heh. You double idiot!”
“I’ll rape you, brat!!”
His shout pierced through her, but it took her a moment to realize what he meant.
The entire area grew silent and she thought amidst the absolute stillness.
What exactly did those words mean?
Her knowledge came from newspapers and magazines. When she mixed that with the current situation, she started to feel faint.
Something fell from her eyes.
She momentarily thought about calling for help from Mikoku, but Mikoku was not here. She had to be strong.
She endured and slowly looked up at him while feeling new tears welling up in her eyes.
She had a single word to say to Atsuta’s frowning face. She faced the ceiling, breathed in, and opened her mouth wide.
“Y-you idiot! Don’t take it literally!!”
But the next voice came from the corridor intersection.
A thunderous voice was accompanied by countless guns being aimed.
“Atsuta! You’ve made one of this planet’s most precious resources cry! But that expression is nice too!”
“Stop being so inconsistently perverted!” he shouted back. “Anyway, is she the enemy!?”
“You’re the entire universe’s enemy!!”
“Don’t be stupid! Do you want me to slice you all to pieces!?”
As Atsuta’s shout reverberated down the corridor a new man spoke up.
“Wait just a second. Listen up.”
Shino rubbed the tears from her eyes with both hands and turned around to find a young man in a lab coat and sandals jogging from the right side of the intersection.
“What are all of you doing?”
“Oh, Kashima. These idiots are treating me like their enemy for some reason.”
The young man named Kashima turned toward Ooshiro and sighed.
“UCAT Director Ooshiro, Atsuta always approaches combat seriously. I can’t imagine why you would need to aim your guns at him. There must have been some kind of mistake.”
“That’s right, that’s right. Tell that perverted old man how wonderful I am.”
Ooshiro nodded and gestured Kashima over.
Kashima leaned in and Ooshiro whispered in his ear.
He nodded a few times and then turned to Atsuta.
“That was a bad thing, Atsuta.”
“Don’t betray me that easily!”
“Keep it down!”
Shino saw yet another new person enter.
The door on the wall to the left slid open and a short girl stepped out.
She had long gray hair and a black cat at her feet.
Shino knew that her name was Brunhild and that she had been part of 1st-Gear’s main force during their battle with UCAT.
She looked first at the corridor intersection and then at Shino.
“Is it all of you causing all that noise?”
She clearly did not expect an answer because she frowned and spoke in a quick, irritated voice.
“I am seriously busy, so keep it down.”
Feeling scolded, Shino frantically spoke up.
“Oh? Do you really think sorry is enough?”
The frowning face turned Shino’s way.
Oops, she thought. My reflexive apology gave her an excuse to accuse me.
Brunhild narrowed her eyes, tilted her head, and looked diagonally down at Shino.
“Do you want to know what I was doing?”
“I see.” Brunhild smiled. “I’ll tell you: I was working on my summer homework.”
Shino had heard that term before. She had never gone to school. The adults of the Army had given her a fair amount of professional knowledge, but she had only a little bit of knowledge on the customs of normal schools.
From what she had heard, summer homework was something everyone made a big deal out of yet always put off until the very end of summer break. People who finished it at the beginning of summer break were supposedly quite valuable.
And one such valuable person stood before her.
Her joy at meeting someone like that took the form of a question.
“Wh-what are you doing for your homework?”
That curious and interested question caused Brunhild to hold out her hand ten centimeters from Shino’s face to display what it held.
“Cicadas. I’m collecting insects.”
“I caught them yesterday evening. I just finished the preparations and was in the process of making specimens out of them. Do you know how that’s done? First, you inject an anesthetic into the end of their butt with a syringe. Once they stop moving, you inject a poisonous hardener into them, also through the butt. Then you stab a pin into the center like this.”
Shino gasped at the pierced stomach of the cicada.
“Don’t worry. I injected the anesthetic. But when I was injecting the hardener, the commotion out here caused the needle to go in at an angle and the hardener leaked out.”
“It’s still alive.”
The cicada suddenly moved. Its six legs trembled and writhed about while it gave its chirping cry.
The sound of the bug made Shino step back.
But Brunhild continued staring at her without so much as glancing at the cicada.
“I told you to keep it down.”
She pressed something hard against Shino’s forehead. It was slightly pointed, it moved, and it grasped painfully to her skin.
Once she thought about what it was, she just about passed out.
The cicada cries stopped and six sharp objects dug into her forehead.
She started hearing dog footsteps and barking in the distance and wondered if she was imagining things, but then another sharp pain reached her forehead.
As soon as she wondered what it was, Brunhild spoke.
“Oh, it’s sucking.”
Her instincts told her what was sucking, so she opened her mouth and her limbs tensed up.
She screamed and dogs burst from the walls and ceiling.
The girl with the cicada prepared for a fight as the barking was accompanied by screaming adults and gunfire.
She threw the scalpel from her insect collection kit toward Atsuta.
“Sword god, make yourself useful!”
“You don’t have to tell me what to do!!”
Just as Atsuta caught the blade, Shiro began to move, and paper flew from Brunhild’s sleeve.
It was explosive paper.
A swordfight and explosion began.
The moon was visible as the night approached dawn.
The third quarter moon was already floating in the west at a height that indicated morning was near.
A woman stared at that moon.
She stood next to a white building atop a small mountain near a wide, flat city.
She wore white sleepwear and stood on an elevator at eight stories up. She was leaning on the railing and looking at the moon, but she suddenly stopped.
She lowered her gaze to the city.
“Kurashiki. It’s weird to think I can see it but they can’t see us.”
Night came early for that historical city, but its mornings seemed normal. The moon was out and the 3rd-Gear clock said it was early dawn, but…
“There aren’t many lights on.”
That flat city was not filled with agriculture and had no harbor, so the people there worked to protect history and preserve their city.
…But they’re still living a life that faces the present.
“How preachy,” Miyako muttered self-deprecatingly as she looked into the sky.
When she had decided to remain that evening, Moira 1st and Gyes had given her two pieces of information to give her a chance to rethink that decision.
She turned her thoughts toward one of those two.
“I’m from 2nd-Gear.”
Her mother had never said a word about that.
According to Moira 1st, she had likely been naturalized and a lot of 2nd-Gear had joined Low-Gear once the Concept War came to an end. She had also mentioned that Tsukuyomi was the surname of 2nd-Gear’s imperial family.
…So I am a princess.
She didn’t like it and Gyes had gone on to say the following:
“According to some information we have received, a woman named Tsukuyomi works as the development department director at the Tokyo branch of UCAT, Low-Gear’s anti-Concept War organization and our enemy.”
“That would definitely be my mom,” she had replied.
…What is with this? I was finally onboard and spoke so harshly, but it turns out I’m not from Low-Gear and my mom’s a leader in the enemy organization.
Moira 1st and the others had asked her to decide by the next morning whether she would leave or stay.
She thought about the ever-changing situation and began to sing a song.
“Silent night, Holy night.”
What a memorable song, she thought.
On the last night she had spent with her father, the family had sung that song.
She would occasionally sing it to remember that time.
Her mother had instead avoided singing it, but she had suddenly started humming it again during May. It had started when her mother had stayed overnight at IAI for a “party” and come back with a hurt back.
What happened to her then, Miyako wondered.
She then gave another self-deprecating laugh.
“Heh. First that interview and now I can’t figure myself out.”
…And I don’t know anything about others.
“You’re far from being an adult, Miyako.”
As soon as she muttered that into the sky, she saw a light.
The pale light resembled moonlight, but it had not come from the sky.
The pale light was moving through the dim corridor visible through the emergency exit behind her.
It had a human form.
The woman emitted a pale light and long hair of the same color rippled through the air as she climbed down the stairs next to the emergency exit.
She’s not human, realized Miyako.
After all, humans did not glow and the background could not be seen through them.
“And can they make that face?”
She saw a face with the ends of the eyebrows lowered. The mouth was crumbled as if weeping and the eyes were powerless as if searching for something.
If she were human, she would be wailing, thought Miyako. Her expression looks like it’s frozen in the instant before crying.
But if she was not human, what was she?
A ghost? she guessed before shaking her head.
When Moira 1st had told her about 3rd-Gear the day before, she had mentioned the Tartaros Machina. People’s souls were wholly brought inside, but a specified person could not be called out.
That meant there were no ghosts of individual people.
“Then what is this?”
She stood up from the elevator railing, but the glowing woman was no longer visible even at the bottom of the stairway. She knew that stairway led to the hangar down below.
Wondering if she should go check, Miyako remembered something.
“Wasn’t that the woman in the framed paintings in the hallway?”
That was Apollo’s sister.
Was she inside this base in some form or another?
“Or am I so tired I’m hallucinating?”
She brought a hand to her forehead and found sweat.
That dampness and her cold forehead told her she had seen the truth.
And then noise came instead of light.
A shout reached her from below.
The shout was in a mechanical voice and it came from the entrance to the hangar. It seemed to shake even the light leaking from the cracked-open door and it sounded almost bestial.
…That was a scream.
The high-pitched scream continued from below.
She recognized it as Typhon’s shout, but she did not know why Typhon would be raising its voice now.
What was going on?
She tried to listen more closely, but the scream shook her spine.
An unpleasant feeling twisting deep in her gut sent her inside.
The red carpet felt pleasantly soft below her feet and the scream from the hangar entrance vanished.
When she realized it was not coming from the bottom of the stairway, she breathed a sigh of relief.
With that warm breath, she leaned against the wall.
…What was that scream?
It had already vanished and she did not hear a second one.
That relieved her even further, but at the same time…
Either because she had seen that pale glowing woman’s expression or because she understood Typhon’s scream, she wanted to do something about it.
She held her right hand before her eyes.
She clenched her left hand and struck the wall.
She realized once more how conceited she was. During the day, she had given the maids names and been surrounded by them. During the evening, she had spoken with Apollo. After that, she had felt she understood them to a certain extent.
…But I don’t.
She decided to stay here. Tomorrow, she would eat breakfast and head to the hangar. There, she would face Typhon fair and square while the others worked.
As she spoke, she realized a sound lingered in her ears: Typhon’s scream.
The intensity of that scream had rivalled the yellow she had seen in Typhon’s eyes.
She covered her face with her outstretched hand and recalled the young man with the same color eyes as Typhon.
What would he do if he heard that scream that had the same intensity as his eyes?
And who had caused Typhon to cry out like that?
…Was it not Apollo?
Moira 1st had said he was the only human in the base, which meant he was the only one who could pilot Typhon.
But who had that woman been?
…Typhon screamed after she went down there.
But she shook her head. An actual body was needed to pilot a god of war. That woman’s body had been made of light and she had not even created footsteps.
In that state, she could not cause anything to move.
“What is going on? I thought this was the land of machines.”
She considered asking Apollo, but she shook her head.
She would wait until tomorrow.
She would then head to the hangar and find the truth there.
“That rich boy wouldn’t give me a straight answer even if I asked him.”
- The “Zamen” of Zamenhof is spelled the same as “semen” in Japanese.
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