Chrome Shelled Regios:Volume5 Chapter2
Chapter 2: The event of that day
It didn't take long to decide the schedule of the camp. Nina had applied for the camp as study camp. The camp would be treated as part of school, so they didn't have to apply for a holiday.
"Wait a minute.........Three days two nights. Does this include the weekend? So boring."
"Don't plan to go?"
"Since we get to be truant openly, we should apply for normal weekdays. Besides, it's not good for the body to not rest."
Nina's cold gaze rejected Sharnid's suggestion. Though like he said she could have told them the agenda tomorrow, since she was still cleaning at night with Layfon at the Mechanical Department. Layfon wondered how she managed to squeeze out the time for tonight's job. She had been busy running around to various places until training started. The current Nina had regained some of the dominating air she had before. She had probably forgotten the event surrounding the 10th platoon because of the camp.
Nina had told her team about the schedule of the camp in the training room. The camp would begin three days from now, and it would be three days and two nights over the weekend. The location was the production area of a certain dormitory.
"Excuse me......" Naruki raised her hand. "That place doesn't have any shops. What do we do about food?"
"We'll bring the ingredients over. Layfon knows how to cook, so he'll do the cooking."
"Yeah, well........." Layfon smiled, troubled. Meishen was the one who cooked his lunches. "Yeah, but I won't be able to put much consideration into cooking a nutritious meal."
"It's all right as long as it's delicious," Sharnid patted his back.
Naruki thought for a moment and raised her hand again.
"Layfon has to train too. Isn't it better to find someone else to do the cooking?"
"Yes, that was my original plan, but the person I had in mind is already booked that day......" A shadow shrouded Nina's face.
"If it's OK, can I ask for a friend to help?"
"Is it all right?"
"I think so. Layfon knows how the cooking tastes too."
"Is it Mei?" he asked.
"Of course. I don't know anyone else. Not satisfied?"
"No, not at all. Is it really all right?"
Meishen was really shy. She was used to being with him, but not with others. And at the camp, it wasn't possible for Naruki and Layfon to stay with her all the time.
"I'll think of a way about that. Is it ok, Captain?"
"Yeah. I'm counting on you."
Nina explained a few more details about the meet-up time and so on, and they started their usual training.
After listening to Naruki's suggestion, Meishen leaned on the chair with a faraway look. The girls were in the kitchen inside the dormitory. The kitchen was shared, but not everyone had to share a bathroom. Living quarters spread out across the dormitory, and here was the kitchen. Meishen confirmed once again with Naruki. She was preparing for dinner.
"Just......what did you say?"
"Oh, I mentioned it yesterday. Platoon camp. I recommended you to do the cooking for us. You've decided, haven't you?"
"Wait, wait a minute......"
Naruki peeled the vegetables with a matter-of-fact expression. Hands clutching her apron, Meishen watched Naruki.
"Who else? I can't ask Mi."
Mifi wasn't in the kitchen. She was busy writing up drafts in her room.
"The Captain's already told the teacher, so you won't be marked absent."
"Au........." Meishen's reason to reject the offer was blocked.
"Why not? It's not easy to get such an opportunity," Naruki cocked her head.
"Sudden......It's not just you and Layton."
"Of, of course."
Just the two of them.........She felt her cheeks heating up.
"Well, it is possible for just the two of you to be alone. Layton seems to know how to cook too. And with his personality, he'll probably offer to help. Everyone else can't do it......" Naruki said and popped a piece of lettuce in her mouth. She chewed.
"You don't have to be so excited. Didn't you two go somewhere before?"
"That was, well, we didn't spend the entire day together."
"You won't be together that long. There is training after all."
Meishen calmed down at that. "But, is it OK? Won't I be in the way?"
"You won't. We won't have to worry about cooking if you take care of it."
"I see......" she began to know where she stood. Cooking. Just as usual. It'd be good if she could help out with that. Just that. Nothing else special would happen. Even if it happened, she wouldn't be prepared for it.
"I just need to cook, right?"
"Didn't I say that from the very beginning?" Naruki nodded.
"So......naive!" A voice suddenly intervened.
"Mi......You'll complicate things."
"Agh, so mean! Why am I getting this treatment? I'm protesting."
"All right, here. Be more honest."
"I'm a kid!? I won't have it......Not like that," Mifi called, putting a vegetable in her mouth. "How can you leave it like that? Isn't this a good chance?"
"About the Heaven's Blade."
The feeling was like a knot in Meishen's heart. The letter she received earlier had left a puzzle. The letter was for Layfon, sent by a female named Leerin. The term "Heaven's Blade" was in the letter. It seemed Layfon was called the Heaven's Blade successor back at Grendan. Every city gave its elite Military Artists titles. Back in Meishen's home city, Joeldem, entering the Knights of the Crossroad organization was proof of being acknowledged as an excellent Military Artist. Everyone aimed to enter that organization. Heaven's Blade successor probably held the same meaning. She wasn't surprised to find out that Layfon had such a title because she believed he was very strong. But then why did he leave Grendan? She had asked him once but she failed. She was afraid that question would break the relationship between them. It didn't. But for the sake of not failing again, she wouldn't put that question to him again.
"Everyone has something they don't want others to know? Layton would have said it if it's something that doesn't really matter."
"That makes sense. But......Isn't it easier to hang out with him if you know his secret?"
"Um......" Naruki responded to Mifi's words.
"I knew it. You were thinking of something after that match, weren't you, Nakki? It's got something to do with Layfon?"
"No. Wouldn't I have lost the trust between us if I kept something from you guys?"
"You'll say it if you can?"
"Look, why doesn't this work with Layton?"
"Isn't that natural? The basis of the relationship between me and you and the relationship between me and Layton is different."
"What would be different?"
"I know you'd cry from wetting your bed."
"What!" Naruki blushed. "I, I didn't cry! And that just happened once........."
"You did, though you were trying not to. The tears just fell from your eyes. Aaah, I can still recall it now. The Nakki of that time......"
"Shut up!" Naruki bent over Mifi, locking her neck in the crook of her arm. Meishen just moaned and didn't do anything.
Mifi beat the floor with her arm. "No! That wasn't what I wanted to say. I mean, we knew each other since we were little. We can trust each other even if we hide a thing or two, but it's different with Layton. We don't understand him. We don't know anything about him before he came to Zuellni, that's why we want to know. And why we are concerned."
"Um......" Naruki loosened her hold. Mifi took the chance to escape.
"Anyway, what I wanted to say was if we want to understand Layton, we also need to understand the Layton of Grendan. That's all! I'm hungry!" she quickly left the kitchen.
"......Geez, she just says whatever suits her," Naruki glared in the direction where Mifi had gone, off to her own room. Naruki's face was still red.
"Mei, don't worry about it."
But Mifi was right. Layton had only been in Zuellni for half a year. He had in him the Layfon who grew up in Grendan. That was why Meishen was bothered. She was jealous of Leerin because Leerin knew of the Layfon in Grendan.
(But......am I too spoiled?)
This uneasiness had always been circling inside her, unable to leave. It might explain why the taste of dinner didn't go well. Naruki and Mifi noticed that the taste wasn't as good as usual, but they didn't comment.
(Is this trust? Or pity?)
For some reason, Meishen was more confused.
Someone pinched her face and brought her back to reality.
"What're you doing?" Synola lay flat on her stomach on top of the table.
"A report......is what."
They were in the library. The computer terminal on the table showed a number of technical books on its monitor. Leerin was reading them for her report.
"No......You were staring pretty blankly. Do you know when I got here?"
The students weren't allowed to take books outside the library, so the library provided many areas for self-study. A number of huge tables sat side by side in the area Leerin was in. Many students came here to study after class. In fact, there were many students around Leerin right now. Yes, it was a large table. Synola had her chin in her palm. She had pushed aside the terminals and stationary of other students.
The students around them were all watching them.
"Hey! ......What're you doing?" Leerin quickly lowered her voice.
"Aah......I waited a long time. Me? Though I was about to lose to shame......" Synola's face was red.
"Please hurry and get off!"
Unable to stand the atmosphere of you're-an-interference, Leerin escaped from the library to return the computer.
"Ah, you're so mean. Wait up," Synola called and chased after her.
"I'm worried because you were spacing out."
"Then worry in a way that is appropriate!" she protested with a red face.
"Aah, don't praise me."
".........Tell me just how did I praise you?"
"Ehh, don't be so boring. I'll treat you to a meal," Synola insisted as she followed her.
"I refuse. Senpai, you always take me to someplace expensive. I feel like I'm in danger." She was used to a life of thriftiness. She couldn't understand Synola's perspective in the use of money.
"Ah, then it's ok if it's some cheaper place? Good. There's this place I want to go."
Ignoring what Leerin had to say, Synola took her hand and dragged her away.
Synola took Leerin to a park close to the bus station.
She could feel the heat through the paper bag. Many small shops stood before the bus station at the school, ranging from convenience stores to grocery stores. A student who lived alone would be very grateful for this shopping street.
In one of the shops here.........The two of them held something that they bought from one of the shops.
"Yes. I wanted to try this," Synola took out the food from the bag with a happy expression. Sugar stuck to the surface of the fried bread.
"......How should I put this. Senpai is really rich."
She hasn't had fried bread.........Shocked at that fact, Leerin also started eating. The softness and sweetness of the bread dispersed in her mouth. It didn't taste like the bread was fried in oil used for a long time, and the bread hadn't been over-fried either.
"Mm, yum. This is great."
Synola finished one swiftly and took out another piece of bread. Finding herself getting hungry after having one, Leerin also took out another bread to eat. Synola kept repeating "yum, yum" beside her as they finished eating the bread.
"Mm, haven't had enough," Synola said softly, licking the sugar on her hands.
"No. We ate too much."
Synola had ordered twice the amount as Leerin. She finished all that in the time it took Leerin to just finish her own bag of bread. Leerin sighed, looking at Synola's body.
"Then how can you keep so fit?"
"With an adequate amount of exercise."
That was all she said. Leerin groaned and caressed her stomach.
"Isn't it about time to tell me of your worries?" Synola sipped from the cup of hot tea she bought and looked at her.
"Your worry is still there, right? How is it?"
"Or was there progress? Did it give you new worries?"
"No. I......" she denied desperately, but Synola continued.
"Well, you were like someone climbing up from a dark chasm before, and now you have this confused, reddened face that suddenly sinks in shadows. Like a flea."
"Ah........." she didn't realize this was what Synola felt about her.........Thinking of how she appeared in others' eyes made her feel embarrassed.
"So what're you worrying about? Let me solve it for you."
"No, uh........." Though she denied it, Leerin changed the topic. ".........There's someone I want to see."
The day of camp had arrived. They alighted from the tram and walked through a field of fruit trees. A light breeze carried the aroma of the field to them. The horizon widened when they reached the end of the field.
"Wow......" Layfon called out at the vast plain before them. He was carrying a bag stuffed with his clothes and some other luggage. He held bulging bags with his two hands. The bags contained the food that he and Meishen and the others bought at the shops. Naruki was loaded down too.
Meishen was speechless.
Opposite the field of fruit trees that they just went past was the lake they saw when Layfon and the three girls went for lunch. They were in an agricultural area. Sunlight reflected off a huge greenhouse. Nina had explained that this was a period of no-planting, so there wasn't any produce here. It was all right even if the team caused huge damage during training.
A lone house stood in the middle of the plain. That was their dormitory. The dormitory became bigger as the team stepped closer on the path.
They only saw how huge the dormitory actually was when they got close.
Nina was waiting for them at the dormitory. She took the bags of food ingredients from Layfon. She thanked Meishen for coming to cook, and Meishen replied in a very small voice. Following behind Meishen, Layfon lifted his head to study the building.
Nina also lifted her gaze. "Aah. The students doing agriculture use this building when they work outside, so it can fit around 20 people."
"This area provides food for Zuellni, so it's pretty huge. You can find this facility in other production areas too.........Here." Nina led them to the kitchen and put the ingredients in the fridge. She told them their room locations, and they dispersed to put down their luggage.
"We've spent today getting here and putting everything in place. Be prepared for training tomorrow," Nina said and took Naruki and Meishen to their rooms.
Left alone, Layfon went for his room to put down his luggage. He pulled aside the window screen and saw that it was almost dusk.
"We're at the edge of the city."
Standing on the second level, he could see the city's outskirts. The dormitory he was in now and the dormitory of the first years...... The different scenery he looked at now gave him the feeling of being in another city.
In another city......That kind of lament came to him. The thought of studying at an Academy City was nonexistent to him when he was still a Heaven's Blade successor in Grendan.
There was a reason behind his naive desire. No, the Layfon in Grendan thought his way of doing things was correct. What Nina said was reasonable. Wasn't there another way? Probably. If he had picked another way, Leerin wouldn't be in so much trouble now. Regret and loneliness plagued him.
Leerin, is she still full of energy?
His room at the dormitory being too big might explain his feeling of loneliness. A room big enough to fit three beds. The dormitory was usually for students of the Agricultural course who needed to work very late and had to stay outside. And now only Layfon was using this room. When he was in the orphanage, he had always dreamed of having a room to himself. He was in a large room at the orphanage, but he slept there with everyone else. The current room back at Layfon's usual dormitory was for two people. He did not have a roommate. The feelings of being alone in there and being alone in here shouldn't be different. It only felt different because the size of this room was similar to the room back in the orphanage.
He shook his head and swallowed the nostalgia. He knew well the feeling of loneliness of being unable to return to that place so long ago. What would happen if a Heaven's Blade went on a rampage......He was the one who answered that question for the public. How could he return to Grendan with that past?
Sharnid and Felli arrived while Layfon mulled over that thought. He was also called over.
The training on that day was simple. Since there wasn't a training room, they did training outside, much the same as they did training in the war field. Training ended when darkness came. Sparse light from the building acted as the only source of light after the sun had set. The team spent some time after training in the large living room. Nina and Sharnid played a paper game in the Military Arts course that was designed to nurture a mind in terms of tactics. Meishen and Naruki chatted in a corner, Felli read a book she had brought with her. Layfon sat beside Nina and Sharnid, and watched them play the game.
The game was played on two boards with pieces lined up on either side of the boards. Each player was to move his own pieces in accordance to the movement of his opponent. The boards were positioned in a way so the opponent couldn't see the pieces. It was a game of command.
"I got flakes around B6."
"A shame, got nothing there."
"My turn. Flakes around E3."
"......There's a guard at E2."
"Ah, I'm sniping him......so."
Nina and Sharnid tossed the dice that had 6 faces, and spoke the result.
"Good. Let's swap."
"So naive. One more sniping."
Nina tossed the dice again, and removed her own piece with a painful expression.
"It's my turn now. Then......"
The two moved their pieces in front of Layfon, using psychokinetic flakes to find the position of other pieces and attack them. Sharnid kept winning the game, all the way to victory.
"That's why, I said not just platoons with a normal structure can make the best of movements, didn't I? With 2-3 psychokinesists, the remaining sniper can move around freely."
Staring at the board and pondering on her next move, Nina fiddled with the dice as Sharnid talked.
"You're so noisy. Be quiet."
"Decide on a better structure next time."
"No, I'm using the same structure."
"Then you can only rely on the luck of the dice."
Knowing Nina wouldn't take his suggestion, he sighed and placed his pieces with the same structure as before. Nina didn't win the following three games either.
"Just a bit more......"
"Let's stop here," Sharnid put down his piece and put up his arms.
"Um......I guess. It's already that late. Getting ready for the bath?"
"Ah, there is a bath?" Naruki asked.
"Ah, a very big bath......Oh no, forgot to let the hot water run," Nina looked at the clock.
"Sorry, let's just take a shower. I'll put in the hot water tomorrow."
The bath was for both male and female. The girls went on ahead on Nina's direction, as Layfon and Sharnid watched them leave.
"Oh......There's a big bath, really?......" Sharnid said to himself. Layfon pretended he didn't hear him.
Layfon opened his eyes at the tiny noise reaching his ears. He had slept enough. He slipped off the bed to pull open the blinds on the window. The morning air was a bit cold. He stretched his arms, went to wash his face and automatically headed for the source of the noise. A figure was in the kitchen where a wonderful breakfast had already been prepared.
"Meishen, you're up early."
"Wa...... Layton?" Meishen turned around in surprise. She was holding the wok. "Sorry, I haven't finished making breakfast."
"It's ok. Let me help."
"I woke up without knowing," he said and started washing the vegetables. "That's a lot."
"Ah, yeah...... I want to prepare for dinner too." She had prepared two pans of food.
"Ah, I'll handle the vegetables. You can work on something else," he said and peeled off the skin of the vegetables.
"......But the other dishes will get cold if I finish them first."
"Ah, true." He had bought the ingredients with Meishen, so he had a general idea on what dishes she'd make. They stood side by side, peeling green vegetables.
"Layton......You're good at this," she said with wide eyes.
"I've been helping since I was little. I have confidence in my food-preparing speed."
He memorized the shape of the bean with his finger, then quickly sliced it out with the knife without having to look at it. The color of Meishen's face changed at that, and Layfon noticed her change of color.
"What is it?"
"Huh? No, nothing," she shook her head with a smile, knowing the change in her face. Voicing an "Ah!"......Layfon guessed the reason.
"But I'm not good at considering what dishes to make. I didn't think of balancing the nutrients. I just made dishes, and that always made her angry."
"......Is that so?"
"Uh, I made Leerin angry."
"Ah, Leerin is my childhood friend......" And like that, Layfon told her about Leerin, how he cooked with her and what laughable moments he was involved in. He took care of explaining it so that she wouldn't mistake him as a good cook and think it was redundant to make him lunches.
Meishen listened to him with a smile. But he didn't notice how her expression hadn't changed when he finished talking.
And during this time outside the kitchen...
"......I can't hear," Felli said as she peered into the kitchen with her body pressed against the wall. It seemed Layfon and Meishen were chatting. A good relationship. Felli couldn't hear anything as the kitchen was big. But she could see Meishen smiling.
"Just a bit more."
She wanted to get closer, but that would mean stepping into the kitchen and being discovered by Layfon. And if she stepped even closer, Meishen would see her.
"I have to use psychokinesis." As she considered this with a half serious attitude, footsteps neared her. Felli jumped back from the wall immediately and composed her face as if she had just arrived.
It was Nina.
"Ah, morning," Nina greeted her. Her gaze flashed towards the kitchen. "Are they making breakfast?" Her nose twitched.
Steam rose from the two pans. The smell of food drifted over to the girls. In one pan were the vegetables Meishen had peeled and cut into small pieces. The other pan contained soup. On the other side was Layfon, busy peeling a huge amount of vegetables.
"Do they need help......" Nina scratched her head.
Good to use "help" as an excuse to check the inside of the kitchen. But......
"Not good. I'm not good at this at all," Nina smiled bitterly. She was the same as Felli.
"Captain......Have you cooked before?" Felli asked.
"Yes, but......I was forced to cook. My mother believes the kitchen is a woman's fortress, so she always made me help out and do simple things......I did them, but not very well. I thought it was more meaningful to spend time practicing with dad, so I always escaped from the kitchen."
Felli was different. She grew up in a family unrelated to Military Arts. Every generation made its living off buying and selling information on cities. Karian came to the Academy City for two reasons, to know more of other cities, and to also memorize how information flowed between cities. That was Felli's family. A family that hired many, many servants. Of course, specialized people were hired to be responsible for meals. A kitchen was a place where Felli would be given sweets. She had never touched a kitchen knife before coming to Zuellni. And she didn't have any interest in cooking after coming to Zuellni, so her cooking skill hadn't improved either.
Felli and Nina stood motionless at the door when Naruki finally arrived.
"Morning......What're you doing?"
"Ah......" Nina mumbled.
Naruki looked inside the kitchen, called out that she'd help, and stepped inside.
"Does she know how to cook?"
Naruki joined in the peeling of vegetables.
The voices of those two, mixed with complicated feelings, spread out in the corridor. Someone laughed behind them and they turned around to see Sharnid, a towel hanging down his neck.
"Ah, you seem to be doing something interesting."
"Shut up," Nina curled her lips. Felli glared at him.
"Humph......I'll tell you the greatest tool just for you two."
They watched him with suspicion and anticipation. Sharnid took out a small tool from somewhere.
"This is a peeler. An easy tool to use for peeling the skin of vegetables."
"Just move the blade back and forth on the surface of vegetables, then you can easily peel off the skin."
"What a convenient tool," Nina sighed honestly. Felli's expression remained unchanged, but she stared at the tool as if she wanted to eat it. The small blade was set securely between two pieces of thin metal plates. It seemed the tool really could easily peel off the skin by moving it along the vegetables.
"Here. Just use this and peel all you want."
Felli reached out without thinking......and caught Nina's hand. Both of them took hold of the peeler at the same time.
"......Can you let go?" Felli said calmly.
"No, just leave this to me." Nina held tightly to the peeler.
"Is it all right for the Captain not to think of today's training?"
"Why don't you think of your individual training for today? I can't do much for psychokinesis training."
"You don't have to worry. I've always been doing that."
"I did my preparation already."
Tension rose quietly between the two of them, revolving around the peeler. And......
"......What're you doing?" Layfon stood at the door of the kitchen.
Nina snatched the peeler from Felli's hold. "Ah, you guys seem busy, so I came to help."
"Oh, we already finished," Layfon smiled. Felli saw Nina tremble slightly. Looking at her, Felli stood as if frozen.
"Breakfast's almost done. Please help finish the rest," he said and went back to his room.
The sound of oil cooking in the pan and the smell of soup drifted from the kitchen.
Training started after breakfast. The team didn't do much training in the first day of the three day, two night camp. They probably couldn't do much tomorrow either, so today was important. Nina called everyone over after they all did some warm-up exercises.
"Today's training will be a match."
Nina held two flags.
"Hold on, wait a minute," Sharnid raised his hand.
"We don't have enough people for a match?"
"If that's all, it's simple. Layfon."
"You stay here alone."
"Wait a minute," Naruki said. "Is this really ok?"
She knew from the match with the 10th platoon of how strong Layfon was, but it wasn't possible for Layfon to win 1 against 4.
"Well, you'll know," Nina said meaningfully. She tossed a flag to Layfon. Sharnid didn't say anything more and began his preparation. Only Naruki took out her Dite to confirm its weight with displeasure.
Layfon was to defend his flag and waited at the location Nina had indicated. He pierced the ground with the flag. Nina had talked to Layfon before he made a move. He seemed surprised but he nodded.
Then came the call for Naruki and Sharnid.
"How do we attack?" Nina asked Naruki.
"One person? Two people to stop him from moving while the remaining person aims for the flag?"
"Let's do that then. I'll head for the flag. Naruki acts as bait and Sharnid, you stop Layfon. Felli will be my support."
Meishen waited at a distance with a gun in her hand. Nina nodded at her, and she raised the gun and pulled the trigger with trepidation. The hollow noise dispersed to announce the beginning of the match.
"Ten steps to your left, please move forward in the path of a big curve."
Naruki ran as such, following Felli's instruction from the transmitter. Nina ran beside her. Layfon was closer to Naruki's right.
"If he attacks me then you head straight for the flag. Same for the reverse. If he attacks Sharnid then we'll both move for the flag," Nina said.
Nina pulled open the distance between her and Naruki as Naruki increased her speed.
Layfon stood leisurely before the flag with no defensive mechanisms in front of him. He hadn't restored his Dite. Naruki could clearly see him and he saw her clearly too. But this was a one against four match. He was at a disadvantage.
When Naruki and her team had run halfway to the flag, Layfon made his move.
No. He disappeared.
Because she was running and enveloped in the wind created by her own movement, Naruki couldn't detect the direction of the natural wind around her. All she saw was the dust made by Layfon's feet.
"Coming. 0400," Felli said.
"Behind?" Naruki slid to a stop.
"There's not enough Kei in your legs," Layfon's voice sounded from her side, then he was in front of her. The next moment he was behind her.
Naruki swung with the baton as she slid on the ground. The baton hit air. Layfon was gone. As the thought flashed past Naruki, she felt something on her stomach. Her gaze turned down and saw Layfon there with his shoulder against her stomach, and he threw her up and away.
As Naruki stared numbly at the sky, Layfon chased after Nina. In no time at all, he had reached her and also tossed her into the sky.
The sound of a sniper rifle firing reached Naruki's ear. Then a small explosion in the air.
By no means could she have immediately realized it was caused by a Kei bullet aimed at the flag struck down by external Kei. As Naruki realized that fact, Sharnid had also been tossed skyward.
Layfon walked casually back to the flag. Felli didn't put up any resistance.
"We lost......" Naruki watched Layfon's back with disbelief.
"How do we attack next?" Nina said as if she was enjoying it. Naruki still had an unbelievable feeling in her.
Layfon was once again on the defensive side.
The Layfon with Naruki and her friends, chatting on the way to class, always had this unreliable feel with him. Where now was the Layfon she knew? No,
Naruki knew he was strong as a Military Artist. She could tell during the platoon matches when she was in the audience seat and when she was participating in the match. She knew he never stepped back from the famous organization of Military Artists, the Salinvan Guidance Mercenary Gang. He even won against the Mercenary Gang's leader. He was strong. Very, very strong.
But Naruki's feelings were different when she fought Layfon. Different from the time when she and Layfon were paired up in Military Arts course training class. Layfon had moved with consideration of her strength.
And now it was totally different. She lost by an overwhelming margin. Even so, he defeated her by holding back. First, he didn't use his Dite. Not just that either. He didn't hit her with his bare hands. He just tossed her up. Everyone on the team's strengths were too far away from his.
Nina and the rest of her team devised their strategy in detail once again. Anger rushed up in Naruki. She wasn't thinking of giving up, but she didn't like Layfon's arrogant attitude.
"Then let's begin," Nina said and nodded.
Looking at her, Naruki smiled.
Meishen made a huge number of sandwiches and cookies for lunch. Everyone ate till their stomachs burst, as they replenished the amount of sugar they lost in training. They drank sports drinks and then continued training.
The formation remained the same. Layfon was on the defensive side, and Nina's team repeatedly changed their strategies. They didn't once win against him. Nina stopped the match when the sky was painted red. Everyone started their own individual training. Layfon finally restored his Dite and began dancing with it on his own. Nina did the same. Felli let loose all of the flakes, sending them off to faraway places. Sharnid prepared a number of solid balls made of soil. He threw each of them and shot them down in succession.
Naruki couldn't move at the moment. She drank from the sports drink that Meishen had brought to her and laid on the ground, breathing deeply. When she could finally sit up, she slowly drank and watched Layfon. As if penetrating the deepening red dusk with a pen, Layfon repeatedly swung the Sapphire Dite. Internal Kei filled his body. He should have been causing a lot of wind with his movements, but his surroundings were surprisingly quiet.
Naruki had watched Nina's individual training alongside Layfon. She thought Nina's pose was very beautiful as she swung the Kei-filled iron whips like a ghost. The current Nina didn't have the air she had before. She was even more beautiful, stretching the definition of sports, but she shone less compared to Layfon. With Layfon, it felt as if something had finished. Naruki wasn't sure what it was. Every time the sword cut out a green flash in the dusk, she felt a strike in her chest.
Loneliness, solemnity and the feeling of a wish in those sword strokes.
All of those feelings made her hesitate. She turned around and saw that Meishen had gone. She must have gone to prepare dinner.
(What a shame.)
She sighed, attracted to Layfon's figure. If Meishen was here, she'd probably cry. For some reason, each of Layfon's movement exuded something painfully beautiful. They made her contemplate what kind of a past he had. The Layfon who usually appeared weak and unreliable.
She understood. This was probably the Layfon that Meishen liked. She didn't know whether Meishen realized it the time when she first entered the Academy City, but she had felt it.
Naruki's superior, Formed, had said this. "That person has had a life that doesn't match with his age. It would be good if you observe him and understand that kind of depth."
That was the reason why Naruki chose to stay with the 17th platoon. Just what had Formed seen? That curiosity intensified during the match with the 10th platoon. Was that depth what Naruki was seeing now?
Probably. She couldn't really express it any better.
She stood and began her own training. If she kept relaxing, she'd only become a burden. She could not tolerate this point on the pride of her identity as a Military Artist. She struck the air with her baton.
Nina announced the end of training when dusk gave way to true darkness. The aroma of food filled the kitchen. Meishen had prepared the meal in the morning. It wasn't the simple vegetable soup that she made for them for breakfast.
"Amazing," Sharnid groaned. His appetite grew with the aroma of meat and vegetable. The meat had been marinated for a long period of time.
"......I, I made a lot. So......"
"Oh, thanks very much. I'll eat lots," Sharnid sat down, and everyone else followed suit. Layfon and Naruki helped put out the dishes.
"Ah, sorry. We'll......" Nina said.
"Don't worry. Leave this to us," Layfon said.
Meishen had also made salad and chicken. The helpers sat down at the desk after lining up the dishes of food.
The food was true to Meishen's skill. The team ate without speaking, enjoying the meal. Nina was worried that the delicious taste and empty stomachs might cause terrible side effects, but seeing how everyone dug into the food without complaint, she relaxed and happily watched them eat.
After dinner, Layfon watched Nina and Sharnid play their game. Naruki went over to him and said. "Layton, do you have a second?" She then walked out of the room. Meishen was outside too.
Layfon thought the time had finally come. Neither Nina nor Sharnid noticed. They were concentrating on the game, and Felli was reading her book in a corner. He stood up and went after Naruki.
Nina's gaze shifted to look at Layfon's back.
"What will come will come. Either way, it's difficult to keep your secret in the team. Since it'll come out anyway, it should come from you, not anyone else. You're the one to make the decision in the end."
Nina had said that in the Mechanical Department, but that didn't lessen Layfon's worry.
"Well, there has to be a way," Sharnid said as he played with the dice.
"Naruki plans to join the police force, so she's got a strong sense of morality. That is worrying."
"Even someone as stubborn as you accepted him, so it should be all right."
"I'm not stubborn."
"The only one who truly doesn't understand you is yourself, is it?" Sharnid smiled as Felli left the room stealthily. She must have gone after Layfon.
"Aren't you going?" He asked Nina as if he had eyes on his back.
"No," she gave a curt reply and continued to look at the board.
Sharnid's smile was bitter as he rolled the dice.
Layfon left the building. The half moon and the stars gave off the only light besides the light in the building. He could have used internal Kei to strengthen his night vision, but he only followed Naruki and Meishen, submerging himself in darkness. As if feeling unease at walking in the dark, Meishen held Naruki's hand.
They kept walking like that on uneven ground, under the lights of the sky. If they went any further, they might encounter danger. But Layfon didn't say that. Probably nothing would happen with him and Naruki here. He stole a glance back and saw that the light from the dormitory was within sight. That eased his heart.
In the end, the three of them reached the edge of that place. The line of trees cut through the field as if dividing it from another field. Meishen stopped before the wall of trees, and Naruki stopped too. Layfon did the same. Meishen turned around. He couldn't see her expression in the dark. Naruki broke the silence.
"If Mi were here, the formation would be complete......but that can't be helped. Layton, we want to know more about you," she said in the straightforward way of a Military Artist.
"Yeah," he nodded in the dark.
Silence once again enshrouded them.
".........I hope you can understand this curiosity of ours. We've had a good relationship with you for half a year. We aren't worried of leaving our home city. The relationship between us three girls is very good, so we were shocked when Layton came among us. We don't want our relationship with you to remain as it is. We want you to join our group. Therefore, there are things we want to know."
Meishen trembled and swallowed.
"......What is a Heaven's Blade successor?"
As expected, Naruki was the one to voice the question. She then explained how she knew of that term, of how Leerin's letter was wrongly delivered to Meishen's mailbox, and how Meishen had read the letter.
Layfon was shocked. That was the letter that Nina had handed him. At that time, he hadn't known why Nina had the letter. She said she had picked it up in the changing room in the Training Complex. The doubt of why she had that letter had always been with him.
"......I'm sorry," Meishen apologized with a trembling voice. A tear rolled in her eye.
"It doesn't matter."
Even if he had felt anything, he didn't plan to scold her.
"A Heaven's Blade successor......" Releasing the breath that had at some point accumulated inside him, he explained everything.
There were twelve Heaven's Blades, twelve Dites in Grendan that only twelve people could gain. Those people were called Heaven's Blade successors, and Layfon was one of them. He was the twelfth Heaven's Blade successor, called Layfon Wolfstein Alseif. But he was neither happy nor boastful of receiving that title. He only concentrated on making money with the skill that he had, and that was all he cared about. Money was needed for survival. The Layfon back then was like a gear leaving its path to spin in the air. The crisis of the food shortage had passed, but as long as one had money, one could buy as much food as one wanted. He was still small during the most difficult time. He understood the basics of an economy, that food was scarce, but his adopted father, Derek, did live a poor life. Layfon blindly followed his own desire in his actions. He believed it was correct to break the principles of Military Arts. He didn't feel repulsed at participating in underground matches.
He felt something from Naruki when he mentioned underground matches. For someone working in the City Police with a strong sense of morality, she'd probably find this unbelievable.
"......And then?" Meishen asked as if squeezing her voice out.
"I was exposed, stripped of my title and exiled from the city. It was Her Majesty's mercy to give me time before the punishment and not to confiscate all my possessions. Because of that, I could leave some money for the orphanage."
Yes......Derek managed the orphanage with the principle of being poor. The orphanage lacked money because of all sorts of problems. Layfon could solve it. His way was correct. While he was a Heaven's Blade successor, he donated money to other orphanages too, so he didn't have much money left when he was exiled.
"......That's why you're here?"
"Yes," he nodded after calming down. He was extremely tense when coming over here with them, but he had calmed down after explaining his past.
(Let it go as it goes.)
He didn't deny his feelings. Meishen and Naruki were the ones to decide what to do after listening to his past. He couldn't do anything. He knew his past actions were wrong, but he didn't think his way of thinking was wrong. Perhaps the power of Military Artists, Layfon's ability, was necessary to protect the city. But Layfon couldn't accept the fact that he could not protect the people around him. Naruki had said before that for a choice between the city and the people, she'd choose the people. Layfon probably had the same thinking as she. Because of that, he could not become a Heaven's Blade successor.
"But the real problem isn't my participating in the underground matches."
The match with Gahard Baren was the real reason behind Layfon's exile.
"All Heaven's Blades are monsters whose Kei far exceeds that of any other Military Artists. If that monster betrayed the principle of Military Arts and felt nothing for it......Nobody must know of that. Heaven's Blades can easily overwhelm the Military Artists that other Military Artists can't win against. Nobody must know of that."
The problem was Layfon trampling Gahard with Kei that far exceeded what was normal.
"I......am a monster," he called himself. "So it's right to fear me."
Naruki held her breath. Meishen trembled, wrapping her arms around herself. Had they received his message? He couldn't tell with Meishen but Naruki should have gotten it. She had gone through training with him and she had seen his fight with Haia. Though they only showed one part of Layfon's true strength.
Layfon had said what he had to say. Now he waited for their response. He couldn't see their expressions in the dark. Were they shocked? Scared? Crying......
"......I," Meishen said. "I......"
Her trembling voice stopped.
The ground suddenly shook. Moonlight lit up Meishen's face as she took a step forward. Tears filled her eyes. Her expression turned stiff at the change of the environment. A bad feeling hit Layfon. He rushed out to grab hold of her wrist.
"Nakki!" he called.
The ground vanished underneath them and gravity pulled them down.
Naruki reacted quickly. She snatched out her Dite and restored it, tossing up the rope that Harley made. Layfon heard the sound of it wrapping around something.
"Layton!" Naruki reached out her hand to him. With one arm wrapped around Meishen, he stretched out his other arm......and couldn't reach. His fingers brushed past Naruki's, and he fell into darkness with Meishen.