Chrome Shelled Regios:Volume1 Chapter1
Chapter 1: School begins
It's been a month since we parted ways and I've finally reached Zuellni. I got here just in time for the opening ceremony. There were five bus changes before I got here; living in a single city back then, I never realized how hard traveling could be. Getting to another city isn't easy, since all cities move according to their own desires. I never understood why the ancient alchemists made the cities self-aware. But now I see that it was done so they could avoid filth monsters and protect us. I understand that now.
During the trip, some filth monsters passed by my bus. Their cruel and dangerous appearance was horrifying. The thought of being attacked on a bus with no way to escape was enough to make all my hairs stand on end.
But don't worry, our bus didn't get attacked. I think our driver was quite the professional. He stopped the bus for three days to avoid discovery. At that time, my heart ached. It's scary enough to be attacked by the filth monsters. Compared to that though, it would have been worse if the bus was damaged and marooned on this dry and scarlet earth. That would've been a death sentence. Even so, in the end I reached Zuellni safely.
I'm writing this letter in my dorm room. It's a double, but luckily I don't have a roommate. I've never had a room all to myself. I'm really happy about this.
How are you doing over there? Getting used to your new life?
I just realized that I still don't know your address. I'll send the letter to your school. I hope it gets to your hand safely. It'd be great if you could include your new address in your response. After all, the head wouldn't want to see my letters going to the orphanage now.
I wish eternal peace for your new life and the city you're standing on.
To my dear Leerin Marfes,
The mobile cities, Regios, are spread across the world in their myriad forms. From the basic, standard form that provides everything necessary for human survival, to forms that specialize in specific areas.
One of those forms is the Academy City.
Zuellni – Academy City Zuellni.
The school buildings in the center of the city provided facilities for all study areas.
Large groups of students were heading for the great hall, which was large enough to accommodate all students inside.
Dressed casually, General Studies students walked as they chatted with friends.
Uneasy smiles sat on the faces of Agricultural and Mechanical Engineering students, who weren't used to the uniforms they hadn't put on in a long time.
The Alchemy and Medical students wore dirty white coats on top of their uniforms.
The Military Arts students, unlike the others, marched towards the hall with heads held high.
Students with different characteristics were all swallowed into the hall.
The purpose of this autonomous city was to exist for and be used by its students. Today, it was holding an entrance ceremony to welcome its new first years.
But it looked like the ceremony would be delayed.
An hour later.
Layfon stood with a confused expression on his face.
"Anyway, shall we sit down and talk?"
Having given a tense answer, he still couldn't sit on the sofa as requested.
The student before him sat at a large business desk. Unlike Layfon, he had an air of maturity about him. Silvery-white hair framed an elegant face bearing a gentle expression, but his calm silver eyes seemed to be judging Layfon.
That piercing gaze of his caused Layfon to dart his gaze around in panic. Through his shoes, he could feel the softness of the carpet beneath him. The sofa and table used for meetings sat before him. Bookshelves lined one of the walls, filled with informative scrolls.
Before Layfon entered this room, he's seen a plaque with the words "Student President" carved into it next to the doors.
"I haven't introduced myself yet. I'm Karian Loss, a sixth year student."
Students were enrolled for six years in Zuellni, so Loss was in the highest grade.
And he was also the Student President.
The person in charge of this school.
"I'm Layfon Alseif."
With a straight back, Layfon clearly delivered his name. He felt cold sweat beading his forehead.
They were alone in the room.
"I wasn't planning on punishing you."
The voice tinged with a bitter smile helped Layfon to calm down. He'd been tense the whole time, as he had no idea why he had been summoned to this room.
"First, let me convey my gratitude. Because of your help, none of the new students were injured."
The opening ceremony was canceled because of a commotion.
Two Military Arts students, coming from enemy cities, had met by chance before the ceremony, resulting in the commotion. They went from staring to quarreling and eventually to fighting.
Military Arts – Different special powers that were born to protect humanity from harm on this polluted earth.
The Military Arts is the area that fostered such special power users.
If people fought each other seriously using such powers, worse coming to worst, even normal students could have suffered injuries or been killed. In Karian's eyes was genuine gratitude.
"The new rule that only allows new students to be armed after half a year is because some of them don't understand where they now are......This is unbearable. It's a huge amount of work for me to settle things every year.
But, there were still people who used weapons. Sometimes a single fight could turn into a battle that would draw blood.
To the Student President who had been smiling bitterly but talking in a straightforward and frank manner, Layfon could only respond confusedly.
"Speaking of which, a General Studies student who managed to outdo Military Arts students. You must have some skills in the Arts area, don't you?"
"It's just a hobby. Um......"
Silence from the Student President made Layfon swallow.
"If yours is just the level of a hobbyist, then we ought to increase our admission standards for the Military Arts course."
The news about the fight between Military Arts students at the opening ceremony had spread to new students in other courses. New students arriving at Zuellni constituted a diverse background. Besides the students getting involved in the fight, there were foreigners whom nobody liked. The dangerous atmosphere spreading out from the Military Arts center was influencing students from other courses.
The rioting atmosphere also affected the General Studies area. Students closer to the fight scene bumped and crashed into each other while escaping, igniting the adolescent anger sleeping in male students.
Just when everything was about to get out of hand, a huge noise echoed throughout the hall.
Immediate silence followed, and all eyes turned to the source of that noise.
Where the two students who started the commotion lay immobile on the floor with Layfon standing between them.
"That was just luck. They were blinded by anger and didn't even notice me."
Karian happily nodded at Layfon's excuse. He was smiling with his face, but not his eyes. Again, Layfon felt the Student President had seen through him.
Honestly, this wasn't a comfortable feeling.
While bearing the pressure that he felt would force him into some dangerous place, Layfon attempted to end this conversation.
"Since I haven't done anything wrong, I'm returning to class."
Karian prevented Layfon from turning his back to him.
The short denial halted Layfon's footsteps.
"As I said, I've no intention of punishing you, Layfon Wolfstein Alseif."
The title in between name and surname caused Layfon to raise his eyebrows.
"......What does that mean?"
"I don't care if you continue to play the fool. Here's a suggestion. Layfon Alseif, how about changing from General Studies to the Military Arts?"
"Luckily, there are now two empty slots in Military Arts thanks to those two troublemakers. We have a rule here preventing students from bringing the issues of their home cities into the academy. Those who signed the contract and broke it during the opening ceremony don't have the right to be fighters. The blame for the riot is on them, so I've already banished them in the form of their 'voluntary withdrawal' from the course."
"No, please wait."
The two students were not important to Layfon.
"I don't plan to change majors."
He clearly conveyed his opinion. To switch to the Military Arts......don't kid him.
"I came here to study General Studies."
"Military Arts is a study area too. No, no matter what course you're in, General Studies is compulsory till third year. Even if you pick General Studies, you still have to specialize in something after three years, so you aren't learning different things by switching."
"The problem doesn't lie there."
"So what is the problem?"
Faced with that question, he found his breath being caught in his throat.
"......I have no interest in Military Arts."
"I see," Karian gave an exaggerated nod. It was clearly an act. The expression in his eyes hardly changed, just a twisted curve of happiness.
"Besides I'm on a scholarship. I've already applied for a job and studies. I've got to work in my spare time. I won't have enough energy left for Military Arts."
"I see. That's a good argument."
Karian was only agreeing with his mouth. He didn't look persuaded at all.
He took out a document from a drawer.
"Um, Layfon Alseif, D-Rank scholarship, part-time work and studies. Your job is to clean the Central Mechanism Chamber......I see, this is a taxing and time-consuming job. Do you know that the cleaning takes place while the city rests from after sunset to past midnight? A lot of working students hate cleaning there. It's hard work and the hours are terrible. Do you get it? The pay isn't too bad, but the work is toilsome. Every year, numerous students apply to work somewhere else, or leave the academy for not passing the scholarship assessment. And the scholarship you have is D-Rank. Have you ever considered that you'll be spending all of your pay on school fees?"
"Yes, it's just as you said."
"Frankly, won't it be hard to pass six years like that?"
"I'm confident in my physical strength."
Karian's smile changed. Karian was full of smiles in Layfon's eyes, and something that felt like a favorable feeling towards Layfon came through.
"Ah, perhaps you're right. You should have confidence in your physical strength. That's exactly why I wish you would change to Military Arts."
"Do you know of the Military Arts Competition between Academy cities?"
Karian spoke without any disappointment in Layfon's lack of knowledge, "To put this simply, the Competition takes place once every two years."
Layfon could guess what Karian was getting at.
"This is a habit of cities. I've no idea what the alchemists were thinking, but cities fight for territory every two years. What's more interesting is that they only compete with the same type of cities......I could only say that the cities were made too well."
Although the cities were fighting for territories, it was actually the people living in the cities who carried out the fights.
"Sure, it's called the Military Arts Competition, but in reality, the competition is the same as......the wars that takes place between normal cities."
War. Layfon's expression turned grim.
"Of course, our goal is to conduct a student-like all-encompassing fight. The Alliance of Academy Cities supervises every fight. Non-lethal weapons are used. Swords are sheathed. Anesthetic bullets are used. But since it's a war, there's no much difference between what the winner obtains and what the loser loses. It's not as tragic as a real war, but the ending is the same."
"Is this the city's......life?"
"Yes," Karian nodded.
Cities have awareness. They're alive. They need food to keep on surviving. Even though they are machines, they need energy to maintain their functions.
The source of a city's life......is their food, a type of metal called selenium.
"Selenium is a metal born after the earth became polluted, and so it's easy to obtain. To put it simply, you can probably find it by digging at the earth over there. But that's a dangerous action with filth monsters around. Besides, we can only obtain pure selenium from mines with a certain level of energy."
So, the winner took possession of the mine and the loser lost it. While increasing the prosperity of their own piece of land, people were reducing the lifespan of another piece of land.
"When I first entered the Academy, Zuellni had three mines. Now it's down to one," Karian sighed.
Meaning Zuellni had lost in the last two competitions and its Military Arts level was much lower than the neighbouring cities.
"It's doubtful on how much pure selenium we can mine from that remaining mine. I plan to send some alchemists over to investigate the next time our city nears it."
"In other words, if we lose the next time, there's no backup plan?"
"Exactly. The cities determine the topic of the upcoming Competition. We can't not participate."
'If we lose......' Just the thought made Layfon shiver.
Even if a city loses all of its mines, its functions won't stop because it has an emergency reserve of selenium.
But that could only delay the inevitable for a short time.
The city would die. Humans would have lost space to live. Once a city dies, it returns back to the earth. People can't salvage it.
To have a city die of starvation was the same as its people dying of famine.
Thinking of that, a sudden shiver shook Layfon's cold body. The city he had just arrived in would die. He didn't have much of a link with this Academy, but the possibility of the city dying was terrifying.
When a person was young, if he found out that the city he lived in could die, he'd have been scared enough to tremble all over. That experience would be the same for everyone.
Hearing that the fear he felt in his childhood could become reality, Layfon felt he really was like his childhood self, trembling all over.
But, even so......
To fight...... I can't do that.
Yes, let's say that.
With determination, he lifted his gaze, preparing to refuse the Student President watching him from the desk.
But, the words wouldn't come.
The Student President watched Layfon.
The smile on Loss' face had disappeared. The emotionless expression appeared to be too calm. This contrasted with the icy gaze of his pinning Layfon.
To the breathless Layfon, Karian spoke, "I'm graduating this year. As long as this remains an academy city, no one can stay here after graduating. This means once I graduate, I'm not linked to this place anymore. But I really like the academy. Don't you think it's sad to lose your favorite thing even though you can never set foot on this piece of earth?"
"It's natural to want to protect what is precious. For one who goes mad with love, don't you feel that it's their fate to reach their goal with whatever means possible?"
A light smile appeared on the countenance of the Student President. Just that. It was his way of joking in a solemn situation.
"Your scholarship will be raised to Rank A. All your fees will be waived. You will only need to earn for your living. If you aren't keen on fashion, you won't need to spend much, so you don't have to force yourself to clean at the Central Mechanism Chamber. Is that all right?"
Rationality told him not to nod. But his instinct howled for him to nod.
And then, Layfon left the room with swaying steps, holding a Military Arts uniform that had somehow been placed into his hands.
A few minutes after weakly closing his door, there came impatient knocking on his door.
It was a girl in Military Arts uniform. A girl with short, golden hair. A girl with determination and resolution.
"Sorry for intruding."
A pair of sharp eyes rested beneath neat and thick eyebrows. Those eyes watched the Student President with challenge. The sound of the harness clasped around her waist accompanied her every step. What was inside the harness was not a sword, but two rod-like things. The threads on the harness indicated she was a third year student.
The girl stood straight before the desk and her gaze met the Student President's.
"I'm a third-year in Military Arts, Nina Antalk. I heard you're looking for me?"
"Yes, I'm looking for you."
"What is it about?"
"Have you found enough members?"
The sudden question caused Nina to furrow, but she checked her attitude and replied, "Not yet."
"Yes, I thought so too. You haven't yet sent me the report on your team members since the day you took the application form. The opening ceremony ended. If you don't hurry up and produce your team member list, you won't be able to participate in the next City competition. In that case, you'll become the lowest-level soldier in the next round of platoon competitions."
"Excuse me, Student President. Hasn't the opening ceremony been delayed?"
"It's been cancelled thanks to other schedules. It's a shame. I won't call everyone to the hall again. Because of this year's Military Arts competition, there are lots of things to do."
Nina's face fell. She kept silent.
"I think it's enough to observe the new students at the opening ceremony. What do you think?"
"No one is suitable. Everyone was affected too much by the atmosphere. You can't tell what'd happen in a battle. I want someone who can observe calmly without getting caught in the confusion."
Nina had been watching the entire commotion today. Every new Military Arts student was affected by the two who started the whole thing. Violent expressions on their faces said they wanted to join in and make the mess even bigger.
To get caught up by the enemies like that was the same as digging their own graves.
"Is there really no one suitable?"
Nina didn't reply immediately. Her confused gaze moved up and down.
In her hesitation floated up the image of the new student. The one who suppressed the two troublemakers without anyone knowing. He suppressed the center of the commotion to prevent the violent emotions from spreading, and at the same time, he exaggerated his act to threaten people who were caught up in the commotion. She found his response very certain.
"He's in General Studies."
That new student wore the uniform of General Studies. This way, he couldn't participate in the competition.
But the Student President smiled happily.
"Yes, that was true, until now."
"......What does that mean?"
"He's just transferred into Military Arts."
A disapproving expression appeared on Nina's face.
"I can't waste such good material."
"So you ignored his wish?"
"I didn't ignore it. I showed him the highest level of sincerity. He should be quite satisfied with it."
Nina understood how hard the Student President's attitude could be. Last time during the Student President election, Karian wasn't nominated, yet at the time when he gloriously became a candidate, he had waged a rare intelligence fight with his opponents, causing them to all lose.
"It doesn't matter what the truth is. What do you think now that he's in Military Arts? That's the only answer I want to know."
"What is it to be? At this rate, you won't have enough members. Do you plan to experience the same shame as before, but now as a low-ranked soldier?"
Nina clenched her teeth together.
"I have no such intention."
"Then what should you do? I think the answer is clear."
Karian slid a document on the desk to Nina. It was a resume with the name "Layfon Alseif" written on it. The document was clearly in the structure of a resume, along with a close-up photo of Layfon.
"Please excuse me."
Having taken a glimpse of the document, Nina turned her back to Karian and left the room. He smiled at the back of the girl who didn't give him a reply.
Alone once more, Karian took out a new document and laid it beside Layfon's resume. It was also a resume, but with the name Nina Antalk on it.
"If things go well, this will become the strongest team. The problem is how to operate it......" he murmured. He didn't look cheerful at all.
On the way back to his classroom, Layfon changed into the new uniform in a health clinic he found. The Student President threatened him that if he continued to walk about not in uniform, he'd be considered as committing a fraud.
Holding the uniform of General Studies, he entered the classroom to collect his bag. From a uniform he hadn't gotten used to yet to another unfamiliar uniform...... He wasn't yet familiar with this uniform, but it gave him an intriguing feeling.
Also, the new uniform fit him perfectly.
"Damn, this must have been planned!"
Walking in the corridor, Layfon couldn't help but curse out loud. His height and weight were standard for a male of his age, but his right arm was slightly longer than his left. His General Studies uniform had been fixed to cater for that difference, but how could the Military Arts uniform given to him on a spur of the moment decision be such a perfect fit?
Meaning – the truth can't be changed.
"Why......How did they find out?"
Anxiety filled him. He came here to major in General Studies, to seek a world that had nothing to do with Military Arts, but on the first day of his arrival, he had once again stepped into that world he wanted to leave behind.
"Ah Ah! Why didn't I refuse him? I'm such a coward......a coward!" Layfon shouted.
Only the opening ceremony was on today, so nobody was in the corridor. Without considering, he shouted again, "How should I have put it? That Student President's too scary! What kind of gaze was that? It really terrifies me. How could I have resisted that type of person?"
Having let it all out, Layfon arrived at his classroom. Ah, meaning his classroom would be different now. But the Student President didn't mention that at all? What should he do? Layfon opened the door.
The door opened and the scene inside the room entered Layfon's sight.
That sound came through.
There were still students in the classroom.
"Look, look. He really is in Military Arts. Yeah~~ It's my win. I'm lucky --!"
One of the girls jumped up in excitement. Chestnut colored hair, tied into two tails on each side of her head shook with her movement.
Only three girls were in the room.
Their curious gazes were glued closely to Layfon without reserve. Layfon halted his steps.
"Why! Wasn't he wearing a General Studies uniform? That was deceptive," said a red-haired girl. She wore the same uniform as Layfon's. And like Layfon, the empty harness swayed around her waist.
"I don't have a General Studies uniform. Hey, just what is that about?" she questioned him as if she was bringing him to account.
"Uh, something happened......"
"So? Do you mean I don't get that uniform 'cause I'm not cute? Is that it?"
Even if you ask me that, I can't do anything about it. As for the girl, she was more handsome than cute. Compared to the General Studies uniform designed for cuteness, Layfon thought the sharp edges of the Military Arts uniform suited her better.
But the girl was dissatisfied.
"Wait a moment, Nakki, calm down. You're causing trouble for Mei-chi," the girl with two tails concluded. The red-haired girl paused as if she had thought of something, then she moved aside for the other girl.
"That's right. Hurry up, Meishen."
With one hand on the back of the third girl, the red-haired girl moved her to stand in front of Layfon.
The third girl had long hair streaming past her shoulders. She looked shy and gentle. Her face facing the ground, she seemed afraid. Her eyebrows curved as if she was about to cry. Her face was faintly red.
"Uh, thank......thank you very much." Just saying that seemed to take all of her energy. The black-haired girl hid behind the red-haired girl, her face reddened.
"Sorry, she's always been this shy. Even so, she still wants to thank you for saving her at the opening ceremony, right?" said the girl with two tails.
The black-haired girl buried her face into the back of the red-haired girl.
Layfon had no recollection of that ever happening. He only recalled pushing away those people about to get caught in the fight. He might have saved her during that time.
The red-haired girl sighed. "This child......yes, I haven't introduced myself yet. I'm Naruki Gelni in the Military Arts."
"I'm Mifi Rotten. The one playing hide-and-seek is Meishen Trinden. We're both in General Studies. The three of us came from the Transit City Joeldem. Do you know of it?"
"Yes, it's the center where roaming buses gather. I passed through on the way here. I'm Layfon Alseif, from the Lance Shelled City, Grendan."
"Oh, that was where Military Arts was born. No wonder you're so strong."
"No, that's not it......" Layfon replied vaguely. Just when he thought of how to explain it......
"Ah, don't just stand there and talk! I'm hungry. Let's find something good to eat."
"Again? Do you have to make a map of this area too?"
"Of course! Maps for food, fashion, territory......so long as it can be drawn, I'll do it. Since I'll be here for six years, I don't want to lose out by not having a map. Ah! It's my hobby to gather intelligence. If you want to know something, just ask me. Even if I don't know, I'll investigate it and find out."
"Yeah, I'm hungry......besides, I've something to ask you, like the thing you're holding."
With a pair of sharp eyes, Naruki looked at the General Studies uniform that Layfon was holding.
He didn't even get a chance to speak. They decided it for him then.
"Uh, well......look. This is troubling for Meishen. And you said she's shy."
"......I'm ok with it," Meishen said from behind Naruki's back.
"Ok. That's decided."
And that was decided.
The location was then changed to a coffee shop close by. The coffee shop was made of red bricks and designed not to stand out too much. Since it was already past lunch time, the shop was nearly empty. The four of them somehow managed to catch up to lunch time special. While eating, Layfon explained why he was transferred to the Military Arts – he didn't mention that he was forced to transfer.
They were eating dessert.
Only Layfon wasn't eating, instead drinking juice.
"Oh, I was worried that Academy City only had healthy food for students. It's great that my worry was unfounded," Mifi said with satisfaction, her mouth filled with cake.
"This really is worth drawing a map for."
"And I was wondering what a city operated by students was like. Who'd have thought it would be quite organized," Naruki said with admiration.
In reality, many shops lined the roads heading from the dormitories to the school, but because it was an Academy City, most of the shops were closed during class hours. Once classes finished, the shops were full of people. These shops were managed by senior General Studies students who studied Commerce or Management. Other students came here to work as employees.
The food was made by seniors in Gastronomy.
"There's a Police Department and a Court here too. I'll try applying to the Police."
"Nakki's dream is to be a policewoman."
"As for me, the newspaper. Since it's related to publishing, I'll try to find somewhere that publishes news. What about Mei-chi?"
"......Somewhere that makes dessert."
"Then you'll have to find somewhere with delicious food. Uh, eating while you walk......watch out so you don't get fat."
"You're pretty red right now, aren't you?"
"Urg, what was that? It's because Nakki's all sweaty from exercising. You smell~~"
"Psh, that's the smell of youth."
"Agh, I don't get you."
The conversation expanded, and Layfon watched it all with a distant feeling. Those three were from the same city. From their conversation, it seemed they already knew each other before coming here. Shut outside the intimate conversation, Layfon sipped his juice.
Mifi suddenly directed a question at him. "That's right. Where'll you be working, Layton?"
Startled at the unexpected name change, Layfon opened his lips with juice still inside his mouth. He almost spilled it all.
"Yeah, Layton. That's easier to say, isn't it?" Mifi said cheerfully.
"Nakki, Mei-chi, Layton, and I'm Mi-chan. Is that ok?"
"You didn't give the names a good thought. Coming back to this, my nickname's the same."
"It's boring to think up a nickname for myself. Besides, if I say "Just call me Mi-chi~", doesn't that sound revolting?"
"Revolting. At least I wouldn't want to be friend with that person."
"Exactly. Then that's ok. So Layfon is called Layton now!"
"That can't be helped. Then we're counting on you from now on, Layton."
"Yeah, Layton, Layton~"
Even Meishen was calling him by that name. For some reason, Layfon felt like he had come from a really far away place. Where was this place? Just in which dimension was he lost in?
Till now, none of his female friends had ever called him like that. Even his closest friend Leerin would only call him by his first name. For his nickname, she just called him "Lay."
Layton......Layfon was dumbfounded.
"So, where will you be working at, Layton?"
He could only answer the question, since he knew it wasn't possible to resolve the name issue.
At this moment, no words came to him.
Speaking of which, somebody just said Layfon's scholarship had been upgraded, so it didn't matter if he didn't go and work.
"Don't tell me it's all right if you don't work?"
"No, I've still got to work," Layfon shook his head. "I'll be working in the mechanical department."
All three girls burst out with "Wow" and frowned.
"Why such a hard working job?"
"I heard you need lots of strength for Military Arts. This kind of lifestyle will damage your body. Are you sure about this?"
"......Won't that be very tiring?"
All three girls expressed their worries. Layfon could only smile bitterly.
Even he knew it'd be hard work. But it was dangerous to rely fully on the Student President. If something happened and he had to oppose the Student President, his scholarship might be cancelled. It'd be the worst case scenario to be left without money, unable to continue his studies.
"Yeah, but that can't be helped. I'm an orphan. I don't have anything else besides the scholarship."
He thought the way he put it was natural and inconspicuous.
But the word "orphan" caused the three girls to widen their eyes. Embarrassed, their uneasy gazes darted around.
"Ah~~ I see. Sorry. Do your best."
"Yeah, if it's anything I can do, I'll help out."
"It's ok. Don't think about it......"
Their attitude made him feel troubled.
"I don't find that particularly hard. I feel troubled when I'm pitied."
Even so, Mifi and Meishen exchanged a glance, their faces full of anxiety. From his previous experiences, Layfon knew it wasn't possible to make them understand it right away, so he wasn't bothered by their reaction.
"Ok, I get it. I won't worry about it." Naruki nodded immediately. Her quick response was a surprise to him.
"Uh? What? Did you say you wouldn't think too much about it?"
"Yeah, that's right."
It was clear that Naruki wasn't just talking about it. She meant it. Layfon nodded hesitantly, then he couldn't hold it back anymore and laughed.
"Nothing. It's just that you act like a big sister."
"What did you say?"
Naruki frowned, but Mifi agreed.
"Ah, I understand. I understand. Nakki's got that feel about her. She's cool."
"......And she's popular with lots of girls."
"Yep, she always receives lots of presents and love letters."
"Well, I'm troubled by that. I've never known what to do with them."
Although she said so seriously, Layfon laughed again.
(The atmosphere feels good.) Layfon thought as he laughed. Although what he experienced at the opening ceremony was a setback for him, from his conversation with the girls, it felt as if he was now back on track.
A voice broke through the laughter.
As their eyes found the owner of the voice, everyone couldn't help but held their breath.
Standing beside the table was a girl. The silvery hair hanging down to her waist shone as if to reflect the light of the coffee shop. She had snowy white skin and a heart shape-like lower jaw. A peek just inside her collar was a delicately small neck and a kind of a dangerous charm. Long eyebrows trembled above a slightly lowered gaze of those silver eyes.
A girl who was as beautiful and delicate as a doll.
No one noticed she was wearing the uniform of Military Arts.
The first to finally notice was Naruki.
"Aren't you a grade older than us? Do you want something?" Naruki said.
Layfon realized the color of the threads on her harness was different from his own. From the harness hung a long thin rod like thing.
"Are you Layfon Alseif?"
Silvery eyes caught Layfon's image.
"I've something to tell you. Could you come with me?"
Layfon stood up naturally, compelled by that voice to obey.
The girl turned her back to leave the coffee shop. Layfon would have followed behind just like that, but he returned to the seat. He took his bag and from his wallet, left some change on the table for his juice.
"Sorry, I gotta go."
"Sure. Then go." Naruki said on behalf of her two still silent companions.
"Yeah. But, just what......"
Wordlessly, Layfon rushed after the silvery girl.
The bell tied to the coffee shop door swung out crisp notes as Layfon passed. Thinking back on how confused Layfon appeared to be, Naruki smiled bitterly.
"Wh......What just happened?" Mifi muttered.
"Of course he's been targeted after that elegant performance at the opening ceremony."
Mifi didn't understand what Naruki's just said. She looked at her friend with questions on her face.
"Isn't there a different badge on that Senpai's chest pocket?"
"Yeah, really?" Mifi frowned.
"......It's a silvery round thing?"
Meishen did see it.
"......There's the number 17 on it."
"A badge that only people belonging to a platoon would have."
"A platoon......what is that?"
"To put it simply, they're the official candidates in the Military Arts course. It carries the additional meaning of a fighter with high level of skill."
Naruki explained. "They're the core teams in the Military Arts competition. Underneath the General headquarter are the platoons......They're called commanding teams. Beneath them are the larger teams, and those take charge of people who don't belong to any teams, meaning, normal Military Arts students like me......"
"Wow, if that's the case, then it's like climbing all the way up to the top." Mifi said, clapping her hands.
"But it's not that easy in there."
"Didn't I mention it? That badge holds the meaning of a high level fighter. Students belonging to a platoon must excel in certain area, from commanding ability to the control of psychokinesis. Mostly, they specialize in a certain weapon. Besides the individual skills that are judged, the strength of how well an entire team does is also assessed. Whether a person can work in a team is also evaluated. As such, there's competition going on between teams for the ranking list. In other words, it's a fight in between students at the academy. During those fights, if a team doesn't perform well, the worst situation is it'd be disbanded. Official candidates turning back to normal students. Fighters normally have strong self-esteem. If one returns to being a normal student, other people would say he's fallen from the clouds to the bottom of a valley......no one can take that kind of a setback. His life in the Academy would become too painful to bear."
Naruki glanced at the door that Layfon had just left through. No new customers had entered. The bell remained solemn.
"......Layton said he's going to clean in the mechanical department," Meishen said.
"Ah, that will be tiring for him!" Mifi said. "Will he be all right?"
"Yeah, it should be quite smooth for him." Naruki could only give such an answer. She washed down the last piece of cake with red tea.
What Naruki said to the other two at the coffee shop also came to Layfon's ears, but from the terrifying girl with golden hair.
The beautiful, silver-haired girl took Layfon deep inside the first year dormitories, it was a certain building with an old and worn out feel about it.
Layfon was taken to one of the rooms and was greeted by a terrifying girl with golden hair.
"I'm Nina Antalk, the captain of the seventeenth platoon," the girl said firmly.
The room Layfon was in had been split into two by a huge wall, so the space was only twice as large as a normal classroom. On the wall were hung many different types of weapons.
Including Layfon, there were five people in the room.
The first person was the girl Nina Antalk, standing right before Layfon. Next was the girl who took Layfon here. The beautiful silver-haired girl had moved immediately to a corner after having entered the room.
The rest were two male students. The taller boy lay lazily in a corner. The other wore a dark green working suit that was stained with engine oil and some other type of machine related liquid.
Nina gave the confused Layfon an explanation about the platoon.
Layfon half listened, with his mind somewhere else.
"Do you understand?"
Turning his gaze back to Nina, Layfon gave her a quick answer without really meaning anything he had just said.
"Then why was I called here?"
Layfon understood everyone here was an official candidate.
But, that was all he knew.
Nina didn't explain why Layfon was here.
Half of Nina's eyebrow trembled as if it had the cramps.
"I understand from your explanation that everyone here is an elite. But, if that's the case......because of that, I don't get why I, as a first year student, was called here," Layfon said, trying to mediate the atmosphere. Nina closed her open mouth, her shoulders moved as if she was breathing deeply, then she opened her mouth again to speak.
But before that—
The tall male student burst out laughing from his position.
"Sharnid-senpai!" Nina said loudly, her shoulders trembling in anger.
"Gahaha! Ha~heehee......Ah, my stomach hurts! Nina, it's your fault. All because you beat around the bush and gave the new student there an opportunity to pretend he was a fool."
Nina clamped hard on her teeth.
"Heh!" Sharnid jumped up, watching Layfon in a flippant manner.
"I'm Sharnid Elipton, a fourth year. I'm a sniper."
"Ah, nice to meet you."
"Well, let me explain clearly in place of our captain. Layfon Alseif, we asked you to come because we need the right number."
"Hey, hey, hey. Stop pretending. Everybody saw your performance at the opening ceremony. The excuse of you being a new student and not having enough skill won't work. You've already proven your skill. We thought you were good, so we want you in our team."
Sharnid gave Nina a meaningful glance.
Nina cleared her throat and stood before Layfon again.
"Layfon Alseif. I order you to become a member of team seventeen. No refusal will be accepted. The Student President has already given permission and formally proposed for your application. Either way, for those who are in the Military Arts, they're not allowed such a feeble action as refusing to enter a platoon."
What a resolute speech. Nina's unyielding attitude meant Layfon had no way to run.
"We'll now conduct a test to see which position you're best suited for in the platoon."
Nina took out the two rods from her weapon harness. She pointed at Layfon with the rod held tightly in her right hand.
"Choose whatever weapon you like!"
Perturbed by the seriousness in Nina's eyes, Layfon turned to examine the weapons on the wall.
The price of free school fees......what an A grade scholarship.