Owari no Chronicle:Volume9 Chapter 19

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Chapter 19: An Invisible Known[edit]

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There is no question

There is no answer

There is simply what is natural


A grassy clearing about three hundred meters across was surrounded by forest.

A lake at the center filled about half the clearing and a large tree with the top cut off lay horizontally in the lake.

The tree was over thirty meters thick. The large trunk grew from the center of lake and bent ninety degrees to lie horizontally to the east.

The top surface that was cut like a stump was mossy and hard as a rock.

Two people were inside the shadow of that giant stump.

They were Sayama and Shinjou.

The plant creature acting as their guide stood between them as they sat on the east side of the lake.

The ground was not made of dirt. The surface had a muscular structure made from intertwined plant fibers. It had been buried beneath tall underbrush in the forest, but at the core of the reservation, they could now tell that absolutely everything was made of plants.

A few points on the ground were making breathing sounds and Sayama commented on them.

“It seems this plant earth is exhaling oxygen.”

Shinjou tilted her head where she sat to his left.

“The ground here is alive?”

“Indeed it is. Rather than simply producing oxygen from carbon dioxide via photosynthesis, their metabolism functions by absorbing any and all heart, cleaning it, and returning it. I do not know how much conservation of energy applies here or if it applies at all, but they mostly seem to feed by absorbing any heat that is causing some kind of burden, cleaning it, and returning it. This is a powerful sort of metabolism.”

The ground around them shook lightly.

A plant creature had stood up from the ground to their right.

The area of two tatami mats laid end to end had stood up. The creature was made from the fibrous mass that was the ground and it was about a meter tall.

However, its form quickly hanged. The fibers covering its green body came apart to form fur. That plant fur trembled and its body swelled up.

“Is it increasing its ability to radiate heat?”

As if to prove Sayama right, the large green creature blew air from its entire body.

The air smelled clean rather than of grass.

Once it was done, the plant creature flattened itself down and sank back into the ground.

Shinjou smiled when she saw its head as the creature lay down.

“The way its narrowing its eyes makes it look happy. I wonder if it really is.”

“This earth must be like a giant circulatory system for them. By gathering together and moving about, they produce exhaustion, consume that exhaustion, and expel a portion of it as waste like we just saw. That system must be hard to maintain with a small group, but with a group this large, their weight alone is enough to produce a fair bit of strain and they gain enough food to last them an eternity without doing a thing. Isn’t that right?”

He directed that last question toward the ground between himself and Shinjou.

The plant creature that had brought them here was half embedded in the ground and swaying back and forth.

It looked up at him to reply.

“Feels good.”

“What does? The atmosphere? The mood?”

“I think he is referring to this environment, Shinjou-kun.”

Sayama looked around and saw a new plant creature slowly rising behind Shinjou so it could absorb her exhaustion.

“Their bodies are mostly made of water, so a warm and humid area like this helps them gather heat and thus ‘feels good’. The room below UCAT had artificially created this environment, but this is natural. It must feel like arriving at a hot spring.”

“Do they see us as letting all our food leak out of us?” she asked with a quiet nod.

She bowed toward the creature behind her and leaned against it.

She then looked at the giant stump in front of them.

She looked up, across, and down before opening her mouth.

“It’s so big. But,” she added while still looking at the stump. “Mukiti isn’t moving even though we’ve waited a while.”

“True. But Shinjou-kun.” Sayama asked her a question. “Do you think this giant stump is Mukiti?”

The question made her tilt her head and wrap her arms around her knees.

“Is it not? He’s called a tree serpent, so isn’t he the biggest tree?”

“Then let me ask something.”

He turned to the plant creature instead.

“Are we being tested right now?”

“Mukiti is waiting.”

Shinjou tilted her head further and frowned.

“Hm? W-wait, Sayama-kun. What do you mean by tested? And what does he mean by waiting?”

She pointed her index finger toward the giant stump in front of her.

“Isn’t Mukiti that tree?”

“Sorry, Shinjou-kun,” said Sayama. “But probably not. It is true that giant stump is the most conspicuous object here.”

He asked a question to the plant creature behind her back.

“Is that Mukiti?”

“Not Mukiti. But Mukiti will speak.”

“Eh?” said Shinjou when she heard that.

She quickly looked up at the tree and turned around again.

“I-it isn’t!?”

“It would seem not.”

She was left speechless and Sayama nodded as if it had been obvious.

“Listen. That 4th-Gear resident told us Mukiti was waiting and this is the spot he brought us to. In that case, Mukiti must be here waiting for us.”

“B-but if he isn’t this tree, where is he?”

“There is only one answer: Mukiti is not here, and yet he is here. We have simply not noticed him even though he is right in front of us. However, he considers his presence here to be so natural that the possibility that we have not noticed has not occurred to him.”

“Mukiti is waiting,” repeated the creature.

“Yes, he is waiting. And as he waits, he must be wondering why we are ignoring him when he is right in front of us. And,” he continued. “When I asked this 4th-Gear fellow about that tree, he said Mukiti would speak. In other words…”

Sayama asked a question of the guide creature.

“Does Mukiti reside in that tree to speak through it?”

“Mukiti will speak. But Mukiti not here. But Mukiti is here.”

“I see.” Sayama nodded. “It seems Mukiti chooses to use this tree, but it is not Mukiti himself.”

“How can you speak with them when we seem so out of sync?”

She glared at him and he tilted his head as if to say not understanding was more confusing.

“When they speak, they do not include what they believe to be completely natural. This is no different than reading an instruction manual that has all the technical terms blotted out. You use the verbs and adjectives to speculate what technical terms were there and then you take guesses at filling in the gaps.”

“It sounds like some kind of quiz. But based on what they said, it does sound like this tree isn’t Mukiti.”

Shinjou glanced at the tree.

“But…”

She pointed at one part of the tree. The fallen portion was not broken or twisted; it formed a perfect curve.

“Bends in trees are usually more twisted than that, aren’t they? I wonder if it moved like a dragon in 4th-Gear. That would match my vision of Tree Serpent Mukiti.”

She held her knees between her arms and frowned while turning to Sayama.

“But if that tree isn’t Mukiti, what is?”

He gave an expressionless nod toward her puzzled look.

“The people of the other Gears likely had the same question during the Concept War. After all, 4th’s healing power would have been attractive. If 4th went with my grandfather instead of any other Gear…”

“It means the negotiators of the other Gears couldn’t find Mukiti?”

“Perhaps,” agreed Sayama. “Let us give this more thought, Shinjou-kun. They are used to waiting. And this is an answer even my grandfather found with no hint. That means even a monkey can figure this one out. …You try answering it in my stead.”

“Eh!? W-wait! Why me!? How am I supposed to know!?”

She cried out in protest, but Sayama had already stretched out next to the plant creature and folded his arms behind his head. He almost looked asleep.

“If you cannot find the answer, just speak up. I will give my own theory. But the answer is simple enough to find if you look at the whole of the situation, Shinjou-kun. The answer is already before you. Try to think of it as getting to know 4th-Gear a little better.”

“B-but why do I have to get to know them better?”

Her question was tinged with resignation, but he actually answered.

“Because of the promise.”

“Eh?” she replied.

However, he did not elaborate.

He simply looked up into the sky, narrowed his eyes, and said something else.

“To be honest, I think the Leviathan Road with 4th-Gear will be more or less complete once we meet Mukiti.”

“Really?”

“Yes. If the purpose of the Leviathan Road is to clear away any malice left over from the Concept War, it has been half completed by bringing you here to complete the promise my grandfather could not keep. The other half is to meet with Mukiti and have him confirm the promise has been completed. But,” he continued. “Meeting Mukiti is the difficult part. This is the opposite of the normal pattern. Both sides have already given their demands, but we are having difficulty meeting their negotiator.”

“Yes, that is the exact opposite of normal,” said Shinjou with a frown. “But can I really replace the Shinjou they asked for?”

“That is for Mukiti to decide. At the very least, the 4th-Gear residents have accepted you as ‘Shinjou’.”

And…

“This is a test, Shinjou-kun. Mukiti is seeing if we are the same as the ‘Sayama’ he once spoke with. And most likely, the same goes for ‘Shinjou’. He is seeing if the ‘Shinjou’ that ‘Sayama’ promised to bring to meet him is really worth meeting. This is a test to gain 4th-Gear’s trust.”

Sayama re-crossed his legs and sharpened his gaze as he looked at the fallen stump in the lake.

“Shinjou-kun, find the identity of Mukiti who wishes to trust in you.”

He then looked up into the sky and closed his eyes.


Below the clear sky was a city. In that city was an arcade over a shopping district.

It was a broad arcade. The tiled path beneath was a pedestrian paradise and it led to the bus roundabout in front of the train station.

The sign on the arched entrance to the arcade said Hachioji Station Shopping District.

The trees lining the arcade still had green leaves, but some of the wooden table sets down below had brown autumn decorations.

A pair of girls walked through the people there to enjoy themselves. One wore a beige dress and a stole and the other wore a brown jacket and white slacks.

Shopping bags hung from their elbows and their arms were wrapped around some bottles and smaller paper bags.

“You bought an awful lot for just walking around and eating, Tatsumi,” said the girl in the jacket.

“True. Two sticks of grilled chicken, a stick of chicken meatballs, and two sticks of salted gizzards. And a One Cup.”

“You are going to gain weight.”

“Unlike you, Mikoku, I naturally don’t gain any weight.”

“I think we need to have a talk, so keep some time free.”

“Sure, sure. More importantly, what is that you bought?”

“A café vienna and a hotdog. The latter has spicy chili sauce.”

“You’re going to gain weight.”

“I ran plenty the night before last, so I can afford this.”

Mikoku adjusted her grip on the shopping bags as she spoke.

“What do you think, Tatsumi?”

“I…still think you’re going to gain weight. Just running isn’t enough.”

“That is not what I-… Well, that might be true, but I was referring to…”

“Team Leviathan has begun negotiations with 4th-Gear and will likely begin with 5th-Gear as well. The Army is interested in a short-term battle, so we do not need 4th-Gear’s healing power and we don’t need 5th-Gear’s technology when we already have Alex. …But you were asking what we would do next, weren’t you? If you’re that interested, why not ask Lord Hajji?”

Tatsumi adjusted the position of the shopping bags’ loops on her elbows and smiled. With that narrow-eyed smile, she took a sip from her cup and walked further and further through the arcade as if pulling Mikoku forward.

What a difficult person to deal with.

Mikoku also adjusted the bags on her elbows and followed.

Shino was usually with her, but this time was different. Mikoku realized what it was like to follow someone taller than yourself and she imagined this was how Shino felt while following her.

“…”

“Are you thinking about Shino? Or are you curious where we’re headed? In the latter case, it’s entirely up to how I feel.”

“Are you just walking around randomly?”

“No, it’s based on how I feel. I might end up shopping partway through and I might continue walking the entire time.”

They left that pedestrian paradise on the southwest side and reached the intersection with National Route 16. Tatsumi looked into the distance along the arcade covering the walking path.

“This area used to look really exciting, but most everything has moved to Tachikawa now.”

“Yes. Tachikawa remodeling the area around the station into a multi-story pedestrian zone had a lot to do with it. Of course, this area is closer for us and it’s enough for the shopping we need.”

“Is that your comparative analysis of the two cities? You like comparing things, don’t you? Or do you prefer Hachioji because it’s recovered this much after being burned away by the fires of war? Tachikawa, on the other hand, was the city closest to the American troops after the war.”

Tatsumi smiled and her shoulders shook a little.

She set me up for that, thought Mikoku as she frowned and lined up next to Tatsumi.

She noticed the other girl had finished her two sticks of grilled chicken and Mikoku took a bite of her hotdog before asking a question.

“Tatsumi, what do you think about what happened to me the night before last?”

“As Thunderson said, you were right to escape. The giant presence there was probably from 5th-Gear, but you wouldn’t have been able to do anything.”

“Was I any use at all?”

“When Shino was driven back by a cicada, she didn’t ask that. Also, Lord Hajji said you did well, remember? And he isn’t the type to say that just because you are family.”

“You make it sound like you understand everything.”

“That’s because I’m satisfied with what I know. Unlike you who has to be sure of everything and yet decides things for herself without checking. You can’t know how this gizzard tastes from where you stand, can you?”

“Then let me have some.”

“No. I’ve already calculated out how much I’m going to eat.”

“Calculated out? You mean the calories?”

Tatsumi gave her a serious look and shook her head.

“No? I calculated out how much of my One Cup to drink after each stick I eat. I already said I don’t need to worry about calculating out the calories, remember?”

I am definitely going to have a talk with her at some point, swore Mikoku in her heart.

After Mikoku had consumed over half of her hotdog, Tatsumi took a sip of her drink and spoke.

“Anyway, you need to head out into battle more so you can see for yourself if what you are doing is right. You know we’re planning to attack UCAT before long, don’t you?”

“Yes, I have heard. …We will most likely attack toward the end of the year once the Army’s equipment is in order and our training is complete. Our goal will be…” She took a breath before continuing. “Taking the Concept Cores UCAT has gathered.”

“Yes. That will be the final battle between the Army and UCAT. It will come as a complete surprise for them, though.”

Tatsumi’s voice contained hint of a smile and that smiling voice did not end there.

“You don’t want Shino to take part in that battle, do you? That way you can hand everything over to her afterwards.”

“…”

“But she wants to help you. And that is exactly why you are so concerned about your performance the other night. You are worried that your inexperience will lead Lord Hajji to send out the two of you as a single team. Yet at the same time, you are treating her as too inexperienced to be a part of the plan.”

“You are truly an unpleasant woman.”

“Coming from another woman, that is a compliment. …At any rate, just remember that Shino is thinking about you too. Make sure you get along in the end, okay? That is why I’m teasing you.”

“That’s part of what makes you so unpleasant,” said Mikoku.

Tatsumi smiled bitterly and ate the final meatball while holding the skewer horizontally.

“But don’t worry. Even if we steal the weapon UCAT was given by 5th, it would be difficult to use given how many people the Army has available. Not to mention that Alex was made using 5th-Gear tech. …You understand what that means, don’t you? We stole Typhon because we had no other way to obtain the technology, but mechanical dragon technology is different.”

“That is thanks to your mother’s research on 5th-Gear mechanical dragon wreckage, right?”

“Yes, and with the help of a certain person, she completed it. By having the pilot combine with it rather than riding in it, its reflexes reach the level of 5th-Gear’s mechanical dragons.”

Tatsumi began to add something more, but…

“…”

She stopped and closed her mouth, so Mikoku thought on the words she had swallowed.

So the technology her mother left behind means we don’t need to learn from 5th-Gear’s hidden weapon.

Mikoku took a sip of her café vienna.

“In other words, the Army already has enough military might. It all comes down to training now.”

“Mikoku, how can you say that with cream under your nose?”

She frantically wiped it off with her finger and stuck it in her mouth. She tasted the sweetness and heard Tatsumi laugh.

“You really are a child, Mikoku. Are you having misgivings about fighting? Has something like fear belatedly shown up? Listen. Lord Hajji does not intend to settle this entirely peacefully with all the Gears.”

“…”

“It is UCAT’s way of thinking that has messed everything up. Low-Gear claims to be gathering all the Gears to prevent the destruction of the world, but they secretly want to clear away the past and erase what they have done. However, they have not realized that, if their false show of good is allowed, then the opposite can also work.”

“In other words, crushing Low-Gear will also gather all the Gears together and that will also avoid the destruction of the world?”

“Yes,” said Tatsumi while looking to the side.

A shop selling women’s suits was there and she pointed at a blue suit in the window’s show lounge, but Mikoku waved a hand side to side in refusal. It was too expensive.

The two of them then walked on.

“What the Army needs is a narrow but deep military force that can destroy Team Leviathan and UCAT just once and wake all of them up. We are not UCAT, so we do not need a broad and shallow military force that will advocate peace and govern all of the Gears.”

“But will the other Gears really accept it if we destroy UCAT?”

“That is why you’re worried about Shino, isn’t it? Once the Concept Cores are stolen from UCAT, you intend to fully disarm the Army and leave everything to Shino and her concept of mutual understanding. …And you likely intend to leave her once that happens. How very cool of you.”

She snickered along with that last line and the smile remained as she continued.

“Well , either way, I think all the other Gears will end up obeying the Army once they hear the reason behind our justice.”

“The reason behind our justice, hm?”

“That’s right.” Tatsumi nodded. “No matter how hard Low-Gear tries, there is nothing they can do about that.”

Tatsumi finished eating one skewer of gizzard.

“You will be sent on another mission soon. As will I.”

“Yes, a mission that you can barely call a mission: monitoring the Leviathan Road.”

“Their negotiator is probably negotiating with 4th-Gear right about now. That can’t be easy.”

“It can’t be easy?”

“That’s right,” said Tatsumi. “Lord Hajji once told me about it. During the Concept War, 9th-Gear and the other Gears were unable to gain the cooperation of Tree Serpent Mukiti, Concept Core of 4th-Gear. No matter how many times they visited, Mukiti would speak but not show his form. And when they tried to forcibly extract the Concept Core…”

“Yes?”

“He never showed up again and the readings were too weak to tell where he was.”

“He vanished? No, he went into hiding? Then what is Mukiti?”

“I don’t know. That is something only Sayama Kaoru knows as he was the one to bring 4th-Gear to Low-Gear. But…I have a feeling his descendent and that descendant’s companions will know before long.” She gave a bitter smile. “And if they do find the answer, it will make things all the more fun when we steal the Cores.”

Tatsumi audibly gulped down the rest of her drink and gave a satisfied sigh.

“Oh, dear. I got so worked up that I drank the rest of it. Do you want the leftover stick of gizzard?”


A giant tree lay collapsed in a lake surrounded by other trees.

Shinjou stood before that giant tree.

“Where is Mukiti?”

She muttered that question to herself and looked around the area.

“…”

She saw the many trees of the forest, the ceiling of branches and leaves supported by that forest, and the waves of underbrush beneath.

Before her was a lake with plants at the bottom, a giant tree, and the sky.

But where is Mukiti in all this?

She looked into the forest, but there was no sign of anyone there.

She began to think. For the moment, she decided to think of Mukiti as an invisible being.

She sat on the ground to help herself calm down and she looked at the large tree.

The top was pointed toward her and the end was rough as if it had broken off, but the break itself looked fresh. It was dirty and mossy from the rain and wind, but it had none of the corroded holes common in large trees. She could see the many tree rings crammed in along that surface.

In other words…

“Does that mean Mukiti doesn’t even go inside it?”

If it had a hole inside, Mukiti could have entered the tree to move here, but she could guess at its internal density based on what she could see.

“He wouldn’t be able to go inside. Mukiti is outside. …But then where is he?”

Her question received no answer. She wondered if he was holed up deep belowground in the core of this ocean of plants, but that did not meet the requirement of him also being here.

Mukiti had to be anywhere and yet nowhere.

And unless she found him, they could not speak with him.

Earlier, Sayama had speculated that the other Gears had been unable to negotiate with 4th-Gear.

That might be true, she told herself.

Anyone who saw that giant tree move would assume it was Mukiti and it seemed he had chosen to use the tree when interacting with others. In that case, he would have looked like a literal tree serpent.

But what if he isn’t?

Her eyebrows gathered together as she held her knees and rested her chin on them.

Something was then placed on her back.

She turned toward the faint scratching ticklishness and found a plant creature had lifted itself up. It had risen sideways and was leaning up against her.

It’s a lot like a dog, she thought with a bitter laugh.

She found comfort in that and switched over her train of thought.

“Sayama-kun, your grandfather found the answer without any hints, didn’t he?”

“No, think about it more carefully, Shinjou-kun. It scares me to think of that old ape finding the answer without a hint. Thinking back, I wonder if someone else from the National Defense Department gave him an idea that acted as a hint. Or maybe there was a cheat sheet in 4th-Gear that told him the identity of Mukiti! That’s it! There just had to be!!”

Shinjou ignored the boy’s thoughtless refusal to lose, but she did think there must have been a hint.

4th-Gear would have had this same sea of plants and the plant creatures. It would also have had the giant tree that spoke for Mukiti, but that was just a deception.

Why had Sayama’s grandfather not fallen for that deception?

“…”

Shinjou removed her backpack.

It contained the case for the lunch she had eaten on the way, a towel, and a folded umbrella. It also held her precious binder and the copied documents Kashima had given them.

She pulled out those documents and opened them. There was still a lot she could not read, but she could read the National Defense Department investigation report on 4th-Gear.

She skimmed through it and found a certain passage.

On March 15, 1938, they took in a moving plant found in the mountains of Kyushu.

“Shinjou Kaname reported that the plant’s movements grew more active as it approached the ley line modification facility. He proved a low level of communication was possible.”

Shinjou looked quickly through the reports on the other Gears.

After the destruction of some of the ley line modification facilities, the National Defense Department had discovered the existence of foreign beings. That had been on August 4, 1937 when Hiba Ryuutetsu and Siegfried had fought.

Once they realized beings from another world existed, a lost individual of these beasts arrived.

“They first entered 4th-Gear on January 10, 1943.”

They had lacked the technology to open a gate, so Sayama’s grandfather and the others had been unable to do anything more than speak with the plant creature for over five years.

But that means they continued speaking with the creature without ever seeing the giant tree.

If someone with gate technology visited 4th-Gear, they would hear Mukiti’s words through the tree.

But what if someone lacked that ability?

“So that’s it. He had been speaking with the creature for so long without the preconception of the tree.”

She closed the documents and turned to the plant creature supporting her back.

“Excuse me.”

She asked a question while wondering what it had been like back then.

“What happens when you are separated from Mukiti?”

“Mukiti is here. Mukiti not here.”

“You mean…”

She trailed off and smiled bitterly.

Just like Sayama-kun, I’m imagining what the creature is trying to say.

But she continued speaking with that bitter smile filling her voice.

“You mean Mukiti is still with you even when you leave him?”

“Mukiti is here. Mukiti not here.”

The answer was the same. That meant it did not change.

They were always both with and not with Mukiti.

What did that mean?

She thought and a sudden memory came to her. And that memory led her to the answer.


While he lay with his eyes closed, Sayama heard Shinjou speak.

“Sayama-kun, do you have a moment?”

He shot to his feet, loosened his tie, and spread his arms.

“Indeed I do!! …Why are you glaring at me and scooting away, Shinjou-kun?”

“I’m just wondering if I could word my questions a little better.”

Her expression then changed. Her eyebrows grew flat and she gave him a peaceful look.

“Sayama-kun, you said it is impossible to communicate with plants, didn’t you?”

“You mean that business about attaching electrodes? I did say that. What about it?”

“Um, about that. …Why electrodes?”

“Living things produce a faint amount of electricity. That fact was likely used to give the theory a sense of credibility.”

Shinjou let out a breath when she heard that.

Her shoulders lowered in relief and she looked back at him.

“But,” she said. “That’s a human way of thinking about it, right? These creatures have no brains and their level of life seems comparable to ours.”

She stood up and the plant creature stretched its body toward her as if to pursue. However…

“Sorry. You can do that later.”

She removed her shoes and then her socks.

And next the safari coat and skirt.

Sayama waited with arms spread, but Shinjou walked to the lake and turned back with a forced smile.

“Ha ha. Sayama-kun? Were you expecting something that was clearly not going to happen?”

“Heh heh heh. I see being a tease is your specialty, Shinjou-kun.”

“Oh, c’mon, Sayama-kun. Being completely crazy is your specialty.”

She returned to a serious expression and turned away.

Is she being shy? wondered Sayama. But that is wonderful too.

He looked to the spot she had left. The plant creature seemed interested in her shoes and socks because it was rolling them around and wrapping its front arms around them.

Could it be? thought Sayama just before slowly picking up her shoes and socks and pressing them to his face

“Sniff sniff sniff!!”

“Wh-what in the world are you doing, Sayama-kun!?”

“It seems every hint of exhaustion was absorbed. They are odorless.”

He saw the creature expel some oxygen, so he quickly crouched down and inhaled.

“This is the oxygen produced from your right foot’s middle toe!”

“No, it isn’t!! Well, maybe it is, but it doesn’t matter!”

“Heh heh heh. A man with a discerning nose can tell, Shinjou-kun.”

“Yes, yes, yes. But, y’know what? I’d rather you didn’t turn into a dog. …Are you even listening?”

That question was followed by a splashing sound.

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He turned around while holding the plant creature that had expelled her oxygen and found her with her feet in the lake.

The water was shallow and she spun around with the water only reaching her ankles.

The bottom of her safari coat flew up and her hair swayed about.

She lightly kicked the water with right foot and smiled.

“I think plants might have their own way of communicating.”

“Are you saying they have a unique form of communication that provides a connection to Mukiti no matter where they are?”

“Yes. But that still leaves a question: why can 4th-Gear’s residents speak with people like us who aren’t plants?”

She lowered her leg and bent back to look up at the giant tree behind her.

“I think Mukiti is inside this tree right now.”

“But there is clearly no gap for him to enter.”

“There is. It’s just so incredibly small that we can’t see it. And this provides the link that allows us to communicate with 4th-Gear’s residents.”

She spread her arms as if to embrace the tree while keeping her back to it.

“It’s water.”


Shinjou lowered her gaze with her arms still spread.

She looked down at the lake’s surface where she was reflected in the water.

“It is everywhere in 4th-Gear and yet nowhere. It is in all of 4th-Gear’s residents and yet in none of them. And it has no set form but becomes a serpent when residing in that tree. In other words…”

She turned around with a smile and found Sayama sniffing at the air expelled by the plant creature he held.

“Are you even trying to listen?”

“My apologizes, Shinjou-kun. …But look to your right.”

She did so and saw water.

Water spiraled up to her height.

It looked like a double helix serpent, but there must have been water flow within the pillar because it produced spray that almost looked like horns or scales.

“A dragon.”

The water serpent lowered its head at her words as if nodding.

It then raised its head and did not stop there.

“!”

It burst into a great spray of water.

But despite her surprise, Shinjou continued observing what occurred before her.

The scattering spray did not touch her. It formed a spiral in the air and flew through the sky like a mist. And…

“The tree.”

As the mist vanished, the large tree behind her began to move.

It produced many deep groaning sounds and formed waves in the lake.

It rose.

The rising tree pushed up the air and the forest cried out.

The shadow of the giant tree extended and Shinjou heard a pulsation. That was the pulse produced by the tree coming to life. With each pulse, the old water that had soaked inside the tree was expelled from the stump-like top that had already become the head.

She heard a sound much like a steam whistle, but no one responded to it. The plant creatures did not rise up and the trees of the forest did not make any more noise than necessary.

Mukiti is here, yet not here.

Mukiti was likely merged with all of the moisture in 4th-Gear. He existed everywhere so he could manage and control the entire Gear.

Is he like a swarm of liquid nanomachines?

A warm breeze circled the clearing and the large tree pulled itself fully upright.

She heard a voice. It was Mukiti’s voice. It was a distinct voice that could be taken as masculine or feminine.

“Hello, everyone.”

She found herself unable to immediately react to the sudden greeting.

After a moment, the voice spoke again.

“Let us try that again.”

“H-hello!!”

She frantically shouted back a greeting, and the tree shook a bit as if nodding.

“I am Mukiti.”

Another pause.

“Nice to meet you.”


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