Chrome Shelled Regios:Volume5 Chapter3
Chapter 3: Darkness. And then...
Plunged into the depths of the earth, Layfon's left hand reached out for his weapon harness, took out his Dite and restored it. The sound of rumbling shook his eardrums. He extended his Kei to the blade. The weak moonlight reflected off the soil falling down on them and sustained his vision. It'd have been great if he could use the steel threads, but they would be trapped in the rain of soil.
At the moment the flash of green light burst forth from his blade, the situation left Layfon speechless. He swung the blade with Meishen in his arm. Huge slabs of soil fell down above them. Even though the soil was soft, that size and mass was enough to kill anyone underneath it. Kei shot out from the tip of the blade to destroy the soil slabs. But that wasn't just it. Layfon detected the sound of soil striking metal. That must be it. That was the metal fence used to support and protect the city. Since it was falling for such a long time, it seemed even the ground of the organic field had collapsed. The falling soil blocked Layfon's sight and hid within it a large number of killing weapons.
Tension ran calmly through him. He adjusted his position to better use the sword.
(If it's only me......)
If it was just him, he could manage this situation, but he was currently holding Meishen. His movements were hugely limited. They included his sword swings, his speed and Kei. Meishen, as a non-Military Artist, probably couldn't stand the situation.
Meishen held tightly to him. He continued swinging the sword to strike down the huge slabs descending on them. While he regretted that he could not use his right hand, soil and metal fence closed in on them. Soil particles hit their skin, and the veins weaving around the ground of the organic field struck their backs. He swung in the direction of the low echo he heard. The blade shattered the two metal fences, throwing off sparks at the contact. Layfon used that faint light of sparks to confirm their situation. He twisted to stand on one of the passing fences, using it to extend his area of movement and decidedly swing his sword.
(I might ruin it again.)
He was using the sword with his movements restricted. His cutting paths were absolutely horrible. He could only use external type Kei and shatter the obstacles with brute force, which wasn't very good on the sword blade.
Praying like that, he continued to cut through the things falling on them. And like that, he concentrated on the crisis above them. As moonlight left them, Layfon used the sparks caused by his strike and the sound of falling obstacles to defend themselves. His tension was reaching its limit. He calculated the distance between them and the ground through the echo of metal striking the bottom.
But something unexpected happened.
Just a bit more.... As he thought of this, the ground beneath them shook. Other things that had fallen past Layfon had piled on top of one another to make a hill. The metal fence he was standing on crashed against a metal fence buried in the hill. He pushed against his foothold and flew sideways.
To fall and then to rise, Meishen became more confused. Originally, she suppressed herself and hadn't made a noise, but now she struggled in Layfon's arm.
Pain cut a path between his eye and ear. Probably just some debris. He suppressed the impatience and anxiety rushing him up as he bore that hot pain. Finally, his feet touched the ground, and he used both hands to carry Meishen, running away from the hill to avoid the falling obstacles.
A rumble shook the ground, heading for Layfon from behind him. He jumped and touched the ground. That presence behind him was gone. He didn't sense anything falling on top of them. The sound of the city's moving multi-legs overwhelmed the sound of debris falling. Layfon kept moving forward without thinking. When he stopped, he put Meishen down.
"Ah...... Ah, Ah...... Huh?"
"It's all right. It's all right now."
He couldn't make out her face in the dark. The sudden descent had prevented her from saying anything. He covered her with his jacket and patted her trembling shoulder. He waited for her to calm down, then he stood up.
"I'll just go and check the situation."
"Ah.........!" she took his hand.
"......... Uh, so...... sorry."
As if the darkness had wiped away her voice, she let go of his hand.
(Aa, I see......)
She must have felt very scared since she couldn't see anything. Layfon abandoned the idea of checking his surroundings and sat down beside her.
"It's ok. Please go."
"It's alright to wait a bit. We can go together afterward."
It'd be good if she was confused as usual. That would be proof of her recovery.
"Speaking of which......... That really was surprising."
Layfon lifted his head and couldn't see anything. He had never thought such a place existed. He thought only the Mechanical Department and its exit would be beneath the city. The truth stared at him when he thought deeper about the issue. How could the underside of the city just be covering up the Mechanical Department? It must envelop a larger area than that.
(This place is close to the city's edge. There must be other mechanisms around to control the city's multi-legs.)
He glanced around. It was still dark everywhere. The sound of rumblings pressed around them. His guess of other mechanisms being close by was correct. He had moved around during the descent, so it wouldn't be surprising if he had moved slightly away from the mechanisms.
A weak touch on his shoulder. The sound of clothes brushing against clothes. It was Meishen's shoulder.
"Be patient a bit more. They'll definitely find us."
He took her hand.
"Uh, uh.........Say something," she said.
"Ah......I was in a place as dark as this a long, long time ago. It was outside the city, in a nest of filth monsters. I wasn't a Heaven's Blade successor yet, still quite a kid. I had undergone training without using my vision, so I wasn't worried in the fight. I just fought like I was in a dream."
Layfon and other people fought the larvae in the nest that the psychokinesists had found.
"The feeling during the fight was good, since I didn't have to think. I just needed to move according to my memories, but it was different after the fight."
The underground nest was made for the newly born larvae. Unable to sustain the intense fight, the exit had collapsed, sealing the Military Artists in there, including Layfon.
"I knew we'd be rescued because we had the flakes of the psychokinesists with us, but I felt uneasy in the dark. So I understand your feelings."
"Why are you apologizing?"
"Because...... You were going to find the exit."
"They'll find it quickly. There's someone who is better at this than I am."
"So, I was scared back then."
"I exhausted all my strength during the fight, but after everything had ended......"
He had nothing else to do. And he hated that feeling. The feeling of waiting for someone to do something.
He understood when Meishen turned her head and he heard her hair brushing against the uniform he had covered her with.
(As I thought.........)
The feeling of spacing out didn't sit well with him because it led his thinking into the negative. In this place where light failed to reach, the smell of metal and the surrounding environment had stolen away their body warmth. The coldness of the place took away their strength. The same as the situation before. The feeling was similar to the cruel time when the orphanage was poor and they couldn't do anything about it. He felt he had to do something, but deeper thought revealed his impotence.
"Layton...... Are you ok? Aren't you cold?"
"Thanks. I'm all right," he replied shortly and wrapped his knees with his arms.
"What do you mean it's all right!" A heated voice cut through the coldness. Felli.
"Great. You found us."
The sudden violent voice scared Meishen, and she tightened her hold on Layfon. He gave a relieved and exhausted smile.
"Huh?" It was Meishen's voice, shocked. She took her hand away from his shoulder as if to confirm something.
"Of course." Anger shot through Felli's light reply. Layfon shrugged.
"The Captain and the others are coming. You stay there and don't move."
'Wait for sometime,' Felli had said. In her words were impatience and anxiety.
But it was already too late. Meishen confirmed that sticky feeling on her hand. "Lay......ton."
She called his name repeatedly, her voice filled with tension and edginess. Layfon heard the sound of blood leaking rapidly in the gap in his heart. His consciousness felt far away.
Darkness swallowed him.
Leerin woke up and looked at her watch. She sat up on the bed, doubtful of the time her watch showed and then realized she hadn't changed into her pajamas. The window blinds remained closed from before she went to school. She opened it and saw the night street. The sun hadn't risen yet. As she spaced out, she remembered what happened yesterday. She was eating fried bread with Synola in the park and had told her about her feelings. The reason behind the chat was to seek advice and to organize and objectively examine herself. She began to get flustered as bit by bit, she realized she already knew what she wanted from the very beginning.
"There's someone I want to see."
She had said that without reserve. That was what she wanted. Her worry came from her uncertainty of how he would think of her when he saw her.
But no matter how much you worry, you won't know the answer. Only the current Layfon in Zuellni can answer you. You gain nothing by worrying.
That was what Synola had told her.
"It is impossible to find what isn't in your heart," Synola said as she rolled up the bag of fried bread. The constant smile on her face had disappeared. Staring at the park, her eyes were surprisingly serious, but it was clear she wasn't looking at anything in particular.
"You'll only be wasting your effort seeking for that thing," she continued.
Leerin thought Synola had become someone else. She wasn't the strange senpai that Leerin had known. She had become a beautiful creature of something different.
"It's simple to give up what you can't have. Humans can even give up their lives easily. Humans have the habit of abandoning things. What is before you can, in one split second, become a beautiful memory. It's also simple to live by loving your memory. Leerin, it's all right if you want to do that." Her words were cold and harsh. "But we can give up anytime. You hate getting hurt, but that feeling of dislike and hate can happen anywhere. Even if one wishes not to die, one might die on the day of his wish. Even so, it's easy for anyone to give up. Why do you think so?"
Leerin had a bad feeling as she listened. She felt that she didn't want to hear more. But Synola showed no signs of stopping. "Leerin, you just don't want to get hurt. That's all."
She wanted to deny it, but nothing came to her. She couldn't even shout. Swallowing back the words that weren't words, Leerin exhaled.
"It's not wrong to be afraid of getting hurt. But it's true that what can't be hurt might not be beautiful. No matter how beautiful a thing is, it began at its birth as a dirty stone. Nothing will happen if that stone isn't cut. No one knew what it would become before it was cut. But I believe it'll become something much more beautiful than when it was still dirty."
Having said that, Synola left the park, leaving Leerin rooted on the spot. Leerin had then returned to the dormitory and went to bed without changing. Perhaps what she had needed then was sleep. Synola's words had given a direction to the thought in her heart.
Leerin was surprised the next day that she had slept from dusk till dawn, as if she could only sleep to accept that change. She slept a lot but did not feel tired from waking. Her body was surprisingly light.
"Let's go," she said to herself and closed the blinds. She took off her clothes in the dark and went for a shower. She washed away all that stuck to her and refreshed herself once more.
When he came to, he was on a hospital bed, looking at a nurse's face. The nurse quickly called the doctor over to check on him.
"The person who came into the hospital the most this year is you," the senior doctor said with a weary face.
"I suppose." Layfon's gaze turned to the drip connected to his arm.
The main injuries were on his forehead, right shoulder and back. He sustained many other smaller wounds, but those three wounds were the main reason behind his blood loss and loss of consciousness.
"The biggest problem is the back. The debris had cut into a part of your spine. You have to go through an operation, but......" he paused.
"Will there be any side effects?"
"No. Even if the operation failed, we could restore your spine with the restoration operation. As long as your brain and Kei vein aren't damaged, pretty much your entire body can heal if we transport you to a hospital with good equipment before death. That's the level modern medicine is capable of. It'd be easier to just get you a new spine," the doctor said frankly.
"If we change your spine, you'll need time to recover. Taking out the debris needs less recovery time...... but you can't participate in the next platoon match."
"Aaah...... I see."
"Aren't you shocked?"
"This is the second time."
The 17th platoon had lost their match before when Nina had fainted and they lost by default.
"But I feel bad because it's my fault."
"That wasn't your fault. It was just the situation."
The situation......It was caused by the wearing out of the part under the city, causing the ground to collapse......That kind of thing. A detailed investigation was still being carried out, but that would probably be the conclusion. The doctor and all senior students of the construction course were told of the investigation.
"Just take a good rest now. A patient's job is to recover," the doctor hung the stethoscope back on his neck and left the room.
Nina came in, brushing past the doctor's shoulder.
"Are you all right?"
Appropriate to the situation of entering a hospital, Nina held a bunch of flowers.
"Sorry, I can't participate in the next match."
"Stupid, don't worry about that," she put the flowers aside and sat on the chair closest to the bed. It had been three days from the night when Nina knew of the date for the camp to when Layfon fell and lost his consciousness. Felli had quickly found him and Meishen, and the team had rescued them.
"Didn't you say that before? Now it's real."
But the purpose of the camp was to prepare for the match with the 1st platoon. It felt like the 17th platoon had finally revived, and this incident happened on the worst timing possible.
"We haven't given up the match."
"The training you gave us won't be wasted. I've become stronger. I think it's a shame if we forfeit the match. I've talked with the others, they all say we can't forfeit now."
"Is that so, that's good."
"So I say, you just concentrate on recovering."
Layfon nodded at her encouragement.
"Mei...... Is Meishen all right?"
He felt cramps from the muscles wrapped in bandages, and in his head surfaced Meishen. He couldn't quite move his head when the doctor was checking up on him.
"She's all right. Didn't get hurt much, just a scratch."
"...... That's great," he said, truly relieved.
"I'm sorry. That was my fault," Nina lowered her head.
"Not at all. It wasn't senpai's fault."
"Nobody could have predicted it," he joked.
"Well...... I guess." Unable to accept that fact, she glanced at the flowers. Layfon's gaze followed hers for a short moment, then returned to Nina. A question rose in him as she continued to look at the flowers.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Uh...... Just a feeling."
"Nothing. You're mistaken."
"If so, that's good."
"What a strange guy," Nina smiled. Looking at her smile, he couldn't help but feel that she was worried about something.
"Speaking of that, what about you?"
"Your face tells me you're thinking of something."
"Don't lie. You're hiding something."
She moved herself to the end of the bed and bent close to his face. Layfon had his arm attached to a drip so he couldn't evade her.
"I'm not hiding anything. Really."
Her face tensed up as it came closer to Layfon's. Her air weakened for a split second. It was just a split second but Layfon was sure of it. She saw him notice her change of expression, and she turned her gaze away from him as if she didn't care.
"You're too close," she said.
"Huh? Is that my fault?"
"Yes. That confusing face of yours."
Nina didn't move away.
"But......? What?" Layfon asked.
"I feel a little bit lonely."
"Uh......Can you just pretend you didn't hear my last sentence?"
"Of course not."
She turned her face to him again. Under her imposing gaze, Layfon said "I lose."
"To think that I can't do anything even though I'm here......" he said.
"Stupid," she mumbled. "It's not what you can do but what you do......Isn't it a given in your situation?" Her gaze fled from him again. She blushed.
Felli arrived a short time after Nina had left.
"Are you stupid?"
"Wa, is that what you say the moment you step through the door?"
"It's not a problem."
She was obviously angry. Even so, she looked at Nina's flower vase and compared it to the flowers in her hand, then she placed the flowers in the flask in the washroom.
"If you had lost more blood, you'd have died."
Felli glared at him. Layfon felt himself becoming small before her.
"Since it was you, couldn't you have done better?"
"That was my limit. I had to protect another person so I couldn't use my full strength. It was difficult to handle the remnants of Kei."
"So that's why you sustained severe injuries?"
"I'm far from being good."
"......Nothing. Do you know what's happening with the next match?"
"Ah, the Captain just came over and told me."
"Yes? The Captain...... truanted and came over?"
Layfon looked for the clock hanging on the wall. The time showed it was sunset. Nina didn't check her watch when she visited so she didn't know the time. It did feel that the time she visited was during class hours.
"...... Your relationship's getting better."
"That the captain would actually truant...... I don't think she knew you'd regain consciousness at this time. I only heard of it after school. I was really worried."
"Layfon, you do whatever she says...... What a good relationship."
"...... Are you mad, Felli-senpai?"
"........." she glared at him.
"Felli," he said quickly.
"I'm not mad. I'm just calmly analyzing the situation."
"You told them about Grendan," she suddenly changed the topic.
"Huh? Ah. Yes," he nodded anxiously.
"What's the point of letting them know?"
"Rather than point......I didn't feel I could keep it a secret anymore.........."
"Then, since you can't keep it a secret, you'll tell everyone about your past?"
"Well......" Probably not. Karian wouldn't want anyone to know of Layfon's past either.
"You......think too little about yourself."
"Meishen Trinden, Naruki Gelni, Mifi Rotten......Naruki Gelni's all right, but the other two are just normal people. They cannot objectively understand the abilities of Military Artists. They know they can't do anything if a Military Artist attacked them. Is it all right to so easily tell them your past?"
"Didn't you think of the possibility that something happened?"
If Meishen, Mifi and Naruki left him.........Of course he thought of that. The worst situation was a repeat of his experience in Grendan. He hadn't thought of anything else except for that situation, and if that situation arose, Layfon would have to leave Zuellni no matter how much Karian needed him.
"If I asked them not to ask about my past, I'm sure they'd keep their word."
"Then you should have done that."
"But I didn't think I should leave things like that. They wanted to know more about me. They weren't planning something bad, so........."
"You want to be trusted?"
"About that, it might be a problem coming from me who knows of your past......Geez, so you wouldn't be trusted if you didn't tell them?"
"I'm using an analogy. You know why I came to the Academy City, don't you, Fon Fon?"
Felli was born a genius in psychokinesis. Everyone had high expectations of her. But doubt flowered in her of her predestined role to become a psychokinesist, so she came to Zuellni in search of another path. However, what awaited her in Zuellni was a city that had been defeated in past Military Arts Competitions, with students who didn't have good marks in Military Arts. Karian, as Student President of the city, knew of Felli's ability. And that was another unfortunate thing.
"But Fon Fon didn't know why I thought so. Weren't you suspicious of me? And if I didn't tell you, then you wouldn't have trusted me?"
"N......Not at all."
"But perhaps I lied?"
"Perhaps I lied because I wanted you to ease off your suspicion against my brother."
That was possible since Layfon's strength was worth the lie. But.
"You're lying," he said curtly.
"Because Felli's face is stiffer than usual."
"Huh?" she touched her face in a fluster, and that act alone had exposed her lie. Layfon didn't think by copying Leerin's method, it actually worked.
Noticing how he looked relieved, Felli glared at him. "Fon Fon......"
"Sorry," he lowered his head. "As you said, perhaps it was better if I didn't say anything and remained alone. But I already told them......Although I might have kept it a secret if they didn't know."
In truth, the girls connected the term Heaven's Blade successor with Layfon when they heard of it.
"Even so, I can't keep hiding it."
"You really are an idiot."
"Yes," she decided. For some reason, the atmosphere between them had turned into the best. Probably because they had returned to the feeling they used to have.
"......... Do you want to know about my past, Layfon?"
"Yeah. I think there're many things about Felli that I don't know, but I don't know which part it is that I'm not aware of, so it's difficult......"
"I hate talking from the time of my birth."
"You still want to listen?"
"Yes, it's you telling me."
Layfon finally felt at ease as the atmosphere turned back to normal between them.
At the same time, Sharnid stood at the entrance of a certain building in the area where Layfon was. Ambulances stood at that entrance, and there were other vehicles used to transport cargoes. They were all vehicles that anyone hardly saw in Zuellni. They stood out on the ground where usually trams trended.
Sharnid was leaning against one of the pillars supporting the ceiling. He looked casually at the red and white vehicles to kill some time. The person he was waiting for finally appeared.
"Um," the person frowned.
"Yo," Sharnid raised his hand happily.
"What is it?"
"Is Dinn fine?"
"......He's still unconscious."
It was Dalshena, a beauty with rich golden curls. Her sharp gaze pierced Sharnid.
"Aren't you going to see him?"
"I did already. Well, I don't think I'll be forgiven."
"Then...... Why are you here?"
She remembered what happened a few days ago. "I see...... I heard someone from your team was hurt in that incident."
"We aren't as keen now."
News of the accident had quickly spread throughout the city. That might be due to the person who was injured in the incident. It looked like Dalshena really had no idea who was injured.
"The 10th platoon is disbanded. It's got nothing to do with me now." The coldness in her words wasn't aimed at Sharnid. "We deserved it. Your team just happened to take the role of executioner."
She knew a long time ago of Dinn's dealings in the illegal drug trade. She had a strong sense of justice, yet she failed to do anything to stop him. Her confusion disappeared along with Dinn's leaving, but she remained listless as before.
"Our trump card got injured."
"That first year student?"
The conversation went on smoothly, but Dalshena was looking at the scenery behind Sharnid, and Sharnid was looking at the ambulance. They treated each other as part of the scenery and continued the conversation.
"So you came to visit? Though I don't think so."
"I can visit tomorrow, now that we're immersed in the beautiful scenery around us."
"You need something from me? If it's a date, I refuse. But it's probably useless to tell you this. You never know when to give up."
"Haha, not bad. I'm about to break the three digit count."
"Don't count. So you really need something from me?"
Displeasure showed on her face. "Don't tell me you want me to replace the injured first year?"
"I don't think that's bad. And not as replacement, but as a new member. We're still short of people."
His expression stayed the same despite the quick rejection.
"'A Military Artist is a Military Artist. So you work hard to protect the existence of this city'," he quoted.
That stopped her from leaving.
"That came from a certain magazine? What a good saying. Who said such a thing?"
"What?" she said.
"You don't remember? Well, it's been a while, so you probably don't remember it."
"Remember it now?"
Layfon's classmate, Mifi, once did an interview with the 17th platoon. She also went to see the 10th platoon on the day of the interview. What Sharnid quoted was what Dalshena said for Mifi's magazine.
"Aaah, I did. So what?"
"Aren't you trying hard for Zuellin's sake?"
".........I can do that even without entering a platoon."
"Do you already know what you can do by not entering a platoon?"
"Well......I'm still not mature enough."
It was the time of the last Military Arts Competition when Sharnid and Dalshena were in second year. They hadn't entered a platoon back then, and they fought as soldiers of the lower ranks, then came Zuellni's defeat.
"Perhaps, but are you satisfied to fight against those immature guys?"
"You're provoking me with pride and a mission, but I don't plan to do what you're thinking. The important thing is that I can't fight with you anymore. The relationship of us three is broken. That's a reality we can't deny."
"I know that."
When Sharnid was still with the 10th platoon, people called him, Dalshena and Dinn the strongest of Zuellni. This was shattered when Sharnid left, and the ranking of the 10th platoon plummeted. In order to boost the strength of the 10th platoon and make it as good as it was before, Dinn plunged his hand into the illegal drug trade and ended up getting his team disbanded.
"But I didn't call out to you because I want us to work as before. We can't be like before now that Dinn's not with us. I don't anticipate that kind of thing," he said honestly. "The person we need now is someone called Dalshena Che Matelna. You're not replacing Layfon. Of course, we need an attacker because Layfon can't enter the next match, but that's not only it. We need to increase our strength for the next Military Arts Competition. That's why we need you, Shena."
He pushed himself off the pillar and looked at her. "If Dinn's here, and I'm not there.........What'd Shena look like without us? That, I think, would not be bad to see."
"Well, if you think otherwise, come to the Training Complex," he didn't wait for her reply and brushed past her to leave the hospital.
"......Why did you go to the 17th platoon, no, accept Nina Antalk's invitation?"
".........Though I broke our relationship, there's something important to me."
"It's useless to stand around and grumble......Isn't that it?"
"You always never speak clearly of what's important."
"Haha," he laughed and resumed walking. He didn't stop this time.
"Ah, still full of spirit?" A cheerful greeting.
"I'm still a patient like usual," he greeted casually. Observing as a side party, Myunfa felt herself getting smaller.
"Really? Though all I heard was the recovery of basic functions. Several of your ribs and internal organs were injured, right? It's not strange for a Military Artist to recover quickly from that." The person handed the bunch of flowers to the female student behind him. He glanced at the student preparing the vase, and went to stand near the bed, smiling.
"Well, I've always been sick since I was little. I get sick once my strength drops," the red haired person deliberately coughed on the bed.
"I see. That's been hard on you."
"Exactly, because of that, the doctor won't dismiss me from the hospital."
That didn't feel like something that a patient lying on a hospital bed should say, but the visitor didn't point that out. The visitor's name was Karian Loss, and the person on the bed was Haia Salinvan Laia. Karian was the Student President who made all the important decisions in Zuellni. He came to visit the leader of the Mercenary Gang.
"I'm very grateful for the Student President to visit me. So please take your time."
"Thanks for your invitation, but I didn't plan to. There are many problems I still have to manage."
"Ha, as expected of the Student President. You're so busy."
"Yes, like discovering that part of the foundations of Zuellni had weakened, and how our most important trump card is injured. Problems are piling up."
The smile in Karian's eyes disappeared. On the contrary, Haia's fearless smile deepened.
"Let me make it clear that I didn't do anything."
"I believe you. We've been partners, so it'd be good if there's friendship and trust between us."
"Friendship is very important."
Laughter sounded between them. Their words conveyed warmth yet their expressions showed anything but trust. Myunfa trembled in that icy atmosphere.
"As proof of our friendship, I've some information for you."
"Oh, then I thank you.........but is this a parting gift? Your subordinates at the dormitory seem to be making some sort of preparations."
"How could they? I'm injured and in the hospital. They can't leave."
"True. Sorry for that. Your subordinates admire you very much. Then?"
"The Haikizoku. It's not good to leave it alone for so long."
"No matter how powerful it is, it's gone through the time of destruction. If it hasn't got something to support it, it'll continue to spread a presence of destruction. That's the kind of thing it is. You should listen to me."
Karian frowned. Could this have something to do with the incident a few days ago?
"I see. Seems we can't just leave it."
"You can't do anything but hand it to us."
"......Does that mean Grendan's Queen knows how to take care of it?"
"How would I know something that detailed? I wasn't born in Grendan. I haven't even seen the Queen's face."
"Um......Speaking of which, you have quite a thought for a Heaven's Blade successor."
"I spoke too much."
"Oh ha, how much information have you got?" Karian smiled.
Haia returned his smile. "I like people with good memories."
"Geez......We match well," Haia laughed and told him another piece of information. Karian's expression went stiff as Haia watched him cheerfully.
The recent atmosphere felt strange. Was this just her own feelings? Nina watched the people at the Mechanical Department.
She was cleaning the designated area on her own. She didn't have someone to talk to because Layfon was in the hospital. Nobody was fast enough to match the cleaning speed of Nina and Layfon, so no one would clean with her. Usually, the other people cleaning here were normal people. It was rare for Military Artists to take up this job.
"Fu........." she breathed out and glanced up. The maze of corridors surrounded the center of the Mechanical Department.
"Was it my imagination?"
In recent days, she heard some other noise besides the noises from the workings of mechanisms. People were investigating the Mechanical Department because of the collapse of the ground. Was this the cause of that noise? Nina didn't have the confidence in her own feelings. Unable to calm down, irritation rose in her. She felt as if the noise was overtaking her being. If she could talk to someone, she'd feel more relieved, but.........
No one was around her. Layfon was in the hospital. Before Layfon arrived, Nina used to clean on her own for the sake of efficiency. Even if there were people around, they were those who ran around for errands.
They seemed...... busy?
"Nina!" A senior student called. Nina turned.
"Could it be......"
"Could it be exactly. I'm counting on ya," the senior student with a beard said and left running.
Zuellni had run off again. It was normal for the workers to be busy, but today was different.
"Right, so that's why they're......"
Why hadn't she realized?
Nina put down the broom to find Zuellni.
(As I thought, is it because of Layfon?)
At that time, Nina and the others were waiting at the camp for Layfon and the girls to return. The night had deepened. There weren't many dangerous things in the production area. Felli had left camp to follow the girls and Layfon. Nina wasn't too worried because it was highly unlikely for them to get lost in the dark. One possible danger could be animals that had escaped from the ranch and turned wild, but they didn't have those animals here in Zuellni. Besides, it should be all right with Layfon and Naruki there. Who would have thought that a huge hole would appear in the ground?
The intense shaking of the ground hit the camp where Nina was. She thought Zuellni had stumbled across another filth monster's nest. But then she heard the truth from Felli, a truth more shocking than a filth monster attack. She felt as if her blood had been sucked dry, and her feet couldn't help but shake. She had never experienced something as horrible as this, and something this unusual had happened to Layfon.
(Are you not going to stop messing up that guy's life?)
Layfon came to Zuellni to start a new life.
He wanted to live like a normal person. He gave up the benefits that a Military Artist would receive, and planned to live a normal life. That was what he wanted. Of course, a Military Artist wouldn't just accept his benefits. He had to stand in the front line when the city faced a crisis. He had to fight filth monsters and fight in the Military Arts Competition to win a selenium mine for Zuellni. He had to bet on his life and fight for the city. And that was what made a Military Artist a Military Artist.
Layfon wasn't escaping from danger. In fact, he chose to fight alone when he met such a situation.
(Am I the one who stopped him from living a new life......?)
It was unfortunate that Karian knew of Layfon's past, and Nina had underestimated the impact of Karian's knowledge. Layfon worked hard because he was asked to. He had sustained damage to his body because of that. He had said that he'd fight with them. But that couldn't hide his outstanding strength. Of course, he played a huge role in deciding how the 17th platoon worked in a match.
(What was I thinking back then......?)
Nina and Sharnid went out to help once they heard from Felli. Seeing the blood-covered Layfon, she wondered whether her own heart had stopped beating. After recovering from the shock......
(What was I thinking......?)
She was thinking of the next match. The doctor had said that Layfon couldn't participate. The only front line attacker had retired. That wasn't the only truth. The 17th platoon had lost its entire function.
(That's not it.)
There were many other ways to fight. Sharnid had volunteered to find someone to replace Layfon, but there were ways even if they couldn't find another person. Nina and Sharnid could give Naruki reinforcements when the team was on the offensive side. They might not even need to make any changes if the team played the defensive role. Nina couldn't guarantee victory, but she felt that the team wasn't doing too bad for now.
(That's right. But why.........)
At that time, she felt everything had ended. The torch in her hand illuminated a bloody Layfon. His eyes were closed. She did feel that everything had ended, including her thoughts and hope. She once said to him to "do something". A strong and determined declaration that was in fact weak and soft.
"How useless I am."
The situation became her relying on him. She had accepted the fact that his strength as a Military Artist far exceeded hers. At the beginning, she had wanted to learn from him and make herself stronger.........
The shock of seeing Layfon covered in blood still remained in her. She couldn't look him in the eyes when she visited because that image was with her.
"I can't be like that......"
Probably because she had been thinking while walking, when she looked around, she didn't know where she was. Probably somewhere close to the center of the Mechanical Department. A place like a small hill, surrounded by metal plates. What was inside? The Electronic Fairy. But what was the Electronic Fairy doing in there? Nobody knew what made a city move. What Military Artists and the workers came into contact with were the tubes, corridors and wires that stretched out from the center. How did Zuellni turn the mine into liquid form, how did the city detect the filth monsters..... There were many, many things that people didn't know.
"Geez...... Where is this place?"
As if to keep her spirit up, she called and looked around.
Too many things were blocking her sight. She didn't know where she was. Nina raised her voice again. Her voice echoed within various noises.
When her voice faded, a ball of light flew to her through the gaps between tubes. The form of a small girl occupied the middle of that light. The city's Electronic Fairy half flew and half staggered into Nina's arms. Zuellni weighted nothing.
"You aren't being good," Nina scolded. Zuellni made a happy expression that made her want to forgive her.
"What're you doing for today?" Nina asked and patted Zuellni's hair.
Zuellni had her head on Nina's shoulder, but she suddenly flew from Nina's arms to sit on her shoulders. She hugged Nina's head and put her chin on her head. Zuellni pulled Nina's hair.
"Uh? Over there?" she turned to look at the direction Zuellni was indicating.
"There's nothing there?" she gazed in Zuellni's direction and only saw tubes and corridors.
"What is it that makes you so happy?"
Zuellni didn't respond.
The tiny Electronic Fairy kept staring in that direction.
The Zuellni now reminded Nina of an anxiety she once felt. She couldn't tell whether it was unease, tension or excitement. She watched Zuellni's direction in silence.