Chrome Shelled Regios:Volume6 Chapter4
Chapter 4: The Katana without an owner
Tension that could explode at any moment filled the hall, the largest building that could house all the teachers and students. The biggest difference between this place and a war field was that all space was occupied by chairs. The space was also adjustable through a mechanism built into the building. The floor would become sets of stairs during entrance and graduation ceremonies. The floor would become chairs when it was a famous speaker giving a speech, student voting events and any other events. Right now, the floor remained unchanged. The heaviness of the students and their chatting choked the air.
The chattering ceased suddenly. A person had appeared on the stage. Silvery hair – Karian Loss, the Student President. The many screens above him were switched on to show his image the moment he appeared on the stage. As usual, he wore a confident and sly smile that caused the students to once again raise their noise.
"Everyone......" Karian's amplified voice drowned out the noise. "There isn't time to explain everything, so I'll simply convey to you the current situation."
The topic that had attracted everyone's attention was the situation of the city. The movements of the Student Council had been in a fluster since the end of the platoon matches that were conducted for the selection of platoons to enter the next Military Arts Competition. Everyone thought the Student Council had noticed that another city was near. Military Arts Competition.........What was called a war that didn't take place in a competition zone. The opponent's entire city was used as a war facility, and that was the same with one's own city. Of course, people weren't allowed to destroy key facilities that sustained a city's operation. One would set out the boundary of war zones according to those rules.
"The City's hiding something. Your room's on the edge of the city. It should be noisy every day."
Seniors and juniors talked in low voices. Other students also began to talk among themselves. However, even the commotion failed to conform to that of an atmosphere created from the discovery of another city. Rumor then came of several platoons gathering at the Student President's office. Their subsequent actions were filled with agitation.........And all kinds of rumors spread. For example, the threatening mystery that lived in one of the facilities. For example, that mystery had something to do with the 10th platoon. For example, filth monsters were close by.
"You've probably all heard of some rumors. Some of them are real. Some are false. Allow me to explain."
Silence descended on the hall. Karian breathed in deeply, "Our city is currently in the middle of a group of filth monsters."
Small chatter. No huge commotion. Karian thought there would be people wailing and moaning......but he understood immediately. It seemed nobody could imagine such a crisis. Light crying sounded from somewhere in the hall while they all waited for him to explain the details. At first, they were just a few girls, but even the boys couldn't suppress their emotions. Friends and lovers hugged each other. Many people had tears on their faces.
This wasn't a situation that normal students could face. Karian knocked on the microphone. The shrill sound from the amplifier echoed in the hall.
"Everyone, it's too early to fall in despair."
The crying sound softened.
"Yes, we're only students. We're immature, but we also have our Military Artists. People who can protect this city."
Platoons with Vance in the center of them replaced Karian's image on the screens.
"All platoon members know the current situation. They haven't yielded under it but rather vowed to fight through this difficulty. Are you going to send them off with this expression – while they fight with their lives for Zuellni? I absolutely will not tolerate this!"
Karian's image once more filled the screen. His serious pupils pierced all students in the hall. The crying completely stopped.
"Everyone......Perhaps we're just normal people. We can only wait in shelters when our city's attacked. But because of that we must trust our Military Artists. We can only send them off to the life-threatening arena. We can only do that." Karian didn't look at anyone below the stage as he left.
"Still, what bravado."
Vance was waiting in the control room.
"But it's the truth for them. You don't understand as a Military Artist."
"We're the same in terms of feeling powerless. Forget your speech, but it does work somewhat for the other Military Artists."
Many of the Military Artists back in the hall were not in the platoons. At first, they were also agitated like the other students, but calmed themselves after listening to the speech. Karian could feel the gratitude in their eyes.
"If that can unite our will, then it would be very fortunate."
Karian glared at Vance, noticing the sarcasm in his words. "Aren't you pessimistic?"
"My first time seeing such a strict training manual. Hard to follow even though I want to. I fully understand that I'm too naive."
Karian had asked the Salinvan Guidance Mercenary Gang to train the platoons in fighting filth monsters. Paying the Mercenary Gang to fight wasn't a long-term strategy. Earlier, he only did it because of the urgency of the situation. Since this situation wasn't as urgent, the platoons were to fight, and that meant they had to undergo training. Haia had agreed to the request.
"Of course we'll accept such a safe job~"
That was what Haia said, but Karian was uncertain of the outcome.
"Can they fight now?" Karian asked.
"We did the course on team coordination in the time that Layfon bought, but they still think it's not enough," Vance said.
"We don't have much time left."
"I know. I'll do my best."
"We've to win."
"We'll win, even if it's just for myself."
Karian watched Vance with his fist gripped tight. A smile adorned his face. "To bet on the honor of a Military Artist, that's what I wanted to say.........Very good." Vance responded to that unexpected praise with an "I have no choice" expression.
"What? Praising me?" Karian asked.
"It's creepy how you were so honest with your words."
"Ah, because you don't fully understand the meaning of what you just said."
"What do you mean? .........Never mind that. I'm leaving the fate of the entire city to your people. I'm counting on you."
"I know." Karian patted Vance's stiff shoulder and escorted him out of the control room. The next wave of filth monsters was very near. Vance and the platoons were currently undergoing intense training with the Mercenary Gang. Karian confirmed the time. Most of the students should have already left the hall. The time for rest had ended.
"Then.........Time to solve the next problem."
Karian headed for the building of the Student Council. Many Resting Rooms were built into the building. He had a habit of using one since he always had to work overtime due to a busy schedule. He walked into one of the Resting Rooms.
"What do you mean?" His voice was full of anger.
Karian thought his judgment was lacking when he received the report of Felli fainting. He had let Felli go out to help Layfon when Nina disappeared. In the time when the city was on a rampage and the Salinvan Guidance Mercenary Gang was training the platoons. Layfon would have fought the filth monsters to protect the city even without Karian asking him. He knew that once he saw Layfon's expression after hearing of Nina's disappearance. But he could not allow Layfon Alseif to fall simply because the city had gone insane. All platoon members must receive training against filth monsters to buy some time. At that time, he made a swift decision and left Layfon's reinforcements to Felli. No, Felli would have done it even without Karian's request.
Those two needed to rest. Karian's calculations were off a bit but it wasn't at the stage where the situation became irreparable.
"You wouldn't have listened even if I talked to you. I think you need rest."
Layfon was standing by his bedside. He was sleeping on that bed just a moment ago. Sharnid's anesthetic bullet had hit him. The medical team had then carried him to the bed and he had slept for a week. The team worked to prepare for this day.
"We did a check up on you while you were asleep. The injury on your back isn't healed. It should have healed up, as you're a Military Artist, and that really makes me angry."
"It was just a scratch."
"Even so, it'll become trouble if it doesn't heal right. So I ordered you to rest. I hope you listen to me. As for what to do during this time.........I believe you've already heard something?" Karian's gaze moved to the screen in the Resting Room. Nothing showed on the screen, but Layfon should have heard his speech in the hall.
".........The Captain's there," Layfon said, looking at the blank screen with hope in his eyes, and Karian felt guilty of having to crush that hope.
"It had been recorded. Just did a bit of adjustments on it. Nina Antalk's whereabouts remain unknown."
Regret, anxiety, bitterness, anger pointed at himself.........All sorts of negative emotions twisted Layfon's face. Karian controlled himself and suppressed the complicated feelings inside him as Layfon lowered his head.
"............I'm not allowed to stay here."
"Who wouldn't allow you? Not me? You think it's Nina Antalk? Do you think she's the type of cruel captain to force an injured subordinate to fight?"
"Then who's not allowing you? Layfon Alseif."
Karian stood up and continued his interrogation. He had to say this to prevent Layfon from returning to the front lines. He had to nail his weakness.
(She should be the one to do this.)
Nina Antalk. But probably even she herself couldn't do it, and it wasn't just her. Any Military Artist would be the same.
"I'm saddened that no one has said this to you."
"What......?" Layfon looked at him as if he was peeking at something. The relationship between the two of them turned delicate. What was this guy doing under the situation that his head might be chopped off any minute? Karian wasn't fearful of that. It was Layfon.........But Zuellni wouldn't see tomorrow if Karian didn't do something to fix Layfon's weakness.
"The other Military Artists probably don't say much to you. You're too strong. Power overpowers everything. People don't care about your personality as long as you're strong. As long as you don't affect the normal operations of the city. For example, when you were in Grendan."
How come you knew? That thought showed in Layfon's expression. That was, however, very simple logic for Karian. Layfon only participated in underground matches. No city would have exiled him because of that reason.
"You're too reliant on your power."
Karian knew of this at the time when he read Layfon's application to enter Zuellni. General Studies. Layfon didn't know exactly what he wanted to do with his life. He had already reached the highest peak on the path of a Military Artist. Zuellni couldn't teach him anything more. But it was different for him as his goal had been rejected by everyone in Grendan. As a result, he had arrived at Zuellni without an aim.
"Why? It's because you don't have a reason to fight."
"I already knew. I didn't come here as a Military Artist," Layfon growled. His anger was full of murderous intent, showing that Karian had nailed the head of his true feelings.
".........But, if not for you."
"You're right. I forced you back into Military Arts. I don't regret my actions. We do need your strength."
"Because of that, I hope you can use your strength more efficiently."
"Efficiently! Do you mean for me to stay here and wait for filth monsters to eat me?"
"The result's the same if you overwork your body. You need to rest. Back to the topic."
"Don't run away, Layfon-kun."
"Run away......I'm not......"
"Nobody would want to be trapped in a situation he himself finds hard to deal with. I forced you into Military Arts against your will. There shouldn't be a problem now if you were the person described in the report I received, but reality is different."
Waive all school fees. According to Karian's original prediction, someone who was particularly stubborn about money would have accepted his offer. He might even request for extra compensation. But Layfon didn't do that. Why? An opportunity to understand Layfon came up. What was Layfon Alseif like? And the conclusion revealed itself in Layfon's attitude towards the commotion caused by the illegal drugs.
"You're outside of my predictions. Someone even more innocent. Your reason to become stronger is also beyond my predictions," Karian paused and breathed in deeply to hook Layfon's attention. He had used the same technique in the speech he made in the hall, but this action held a different meaning for Layfon. Someone who had failed and waited for the last strike.
"You're making other people shoulder your reason behind your fight."
Layfon's expression twisted.
"Whom did you blame for your failure in Grendan?"
"No, I'm fighting for everyone......"
"What mighty thinking......But, can anyone really fight for people he or she hasn't met? 'Everyone' means good friends, lovers, a basis of life. You probably mean these people, but who made you think like that?"
Silence. Karian had also anticipated it. The shadow of dissatisfaction had disappeared in Layfon after his battle with the larvae. Karian observed this in the platoon matches and in Layfon's battle with the filth monster in its aged phase. Just who had changed him? The answer came easily when he connected the two.
"Nina Antalk's the reason that you fight. You're uneasy due to her disappearance."
It wasn't romance. Not friendship and not the relationship of comrades. Nina Antalk's strong influence had unconsciously caught Layfon's attention and drawn him over.
"Your action wasn't driven by the city's crisis. Another point is also important. You try very hard, but your effort means nothing in terms of searching for Nina Antalk."
A fatal strike. Layfon sat down on the bed. Karian regretted a little, wondering whether he had gone overboard. But there was no other way. Under this situation, he had to nail down Layfon's weakness.
".........Nina Antalk is still missing. We don't know what we can do to bring her back. If you truly want to protect the place that she can come back to, then follow my orders. A situation that needs you will arise."
He patted Layfon's shoulder.........didn't say any comforting words, and left the room.
"But, if possible........." he seemed to want to say more as he opened the door. He hoped the wish could be granted, but that wasn't something he could give.
The door wasn't locked. Layfon could leave anytime he liked, but he remained inert. He's relying on Nina's existence......? He wanted to deny it but abiding by Nina's decision was the truth.
(Because she's the captain.........)
Was he defending himself? Is it wrong to obey the captain's orders as a member of team 17? There shouldn't be anything wrong with it.
(But perhaps it's true.)
At the time when he was exiled from Grendan, the children at the orphanage looked at him as if he had betrayed them. That was a huge shock for him. He really did lose his reason to fight at that moment. His demand for himself had been denied, and he felt foolish for the improvements he made in Military Arts, which was why he came to the Academy City. He had no clear goal and direction. He held an indifferent feeling for and cared nothing for Zuellni. He had wanted to head for a shelter rather than fight when Zuellni faced the larvae's assault. He fought because...............
(Because of Leerin's letter.)
And that wasn't it. Leerin's letter sparked his action. She confirmed that what he did in Grendan wasn't meaningless. She had acknowledged his goal in Military Arts. And what else was it that kept him burning? Military Artists' principles to protect the city? Layfon cared nothing for it at first. In Grendan, he only fought to earn money to help the orphanage. Then what made him decide to protect Zuellni? Protecting Meishen and the others' future. Hoping that one day he could melt in that light of theirs. Why did he think so?
"What is the purpose of our power?"
This question came to him. A feeling as if he had found the goal he lost, as if he could find it if he kept searching, but once again, he lost it............
"But what should I do next......" he hugged his head. He didn't know, and that was why he searched for Nina.
Sweat drenched his hair. Anxiety filled his helmet.
"Ah, I can't calm down," Sharnid said as if he was speaking on behalf of everyone here. This was his third time wearing a protective suit at a distance so far away from the city. In all the other times, he only wore fighting suits for mock training inside the city. For most of the other people, this was their first time heading so far outside the city. And this was also their first real fight. But it probably was Sharnid's first time too. His previous fight with the filth monster in its aged phase was more urgent than now, but his responsibility back then was to take up the rear, not to really get involved in the fight.
"But that wasn't easy either."
The gear used outside the city was lighter than when they did training. It was the same gear used when Sharnid went to investigate the ruined city. The protective suit had good ventilation. Still, it was hot. He felt as if his throat was heating up and steaming. A tube inside the helmet allowed him to replenish the water he needed. A 'drink up' temptation tickled him......But he pressed it down.
"Never thought you'd look so listless," Dalshena laughed mockingly.
"I envy you. How can I be full of confidence like you?"
"That is the basis of what makes a Military Artist. How can you easily let other people see your weakness?"
"Is that so?"
"Of course. You lack the quality of a Military Artist. A Military Artist would naturally do all he can to protect the city."
Probably. In truth, only Military Artists could fight filth monsters even though heavy weapons like cannons were placed on the city's edge. Those weapons should help somewhat against the thick filth monster shells. Still, that help was limited. Using them without strategies would see the quick depletion of the city's resources. Hence, the cannons were only equipped for an "in case they are needed" scenario. Taking that into account, Military Artists made up the biggest fighting force of a city.
(Naturally. Rather, say it's because we have no other choice.)
That explanation could only alleviate some of the tension. Still, there were people who hadn't yet prepared themselves with determination.
"For the sake of the city......Compared to that, it's more understandable to fight for someone. For example, me, I fight for my lovers."
"So you do hold the photos of all your lovers."
".........I just need to hold your photo and no one else's."
"You're so cold. This might be my last time with you."
"If it's you, you'd probably live, along with the cockroaches," Dalshena said icily, turned around and left. Sharnid shrugged, then checked his watch. Not much time was left from the time the psychokinesist predicted.
"Then as you wish, I'll do my best so I can live as a cockroach."
And the order conveyed by psychokinesist came through to all platoon members. The platoon members took out their Dites. Light sighing could be heard all around them. The battle had begun, and that message was sent to Zuellni. All students in the Military Arts course had been gathered as Zuellni's last shield in case filth monsters got past the platoons.
Far away from the students in the Military Arts course, Layfon stood alone on the roof of the Student Council's building. The city held its usual peace from a viewpoint high above anything else. However, the atmosphere wasn't as lively as before. All of the students left behind had entered the shelters.
Layfon's weapon harness was empty. The student who delivered his meals told him the Student President would hold his Dites temporarily. The Sapphire Dite. The Shim Adamantium Dite. The Adamantium Dite. All of them. The Student President didn't want him to make a move.
Karian's determination to keep Layfon away from battle was apparent by not returning the Dites to him even under this situation. Layfon was a bit uneasy with Karian's action. He recently had a feeling of fear from not doing anything.
"I have nowhere to run......"
What could he do even if he ran away? He did tell Meishen that he would return to General Studies after Karian graduated, but he had now lost that confidence.
"Am I someone who can't do anything without the Katana?"
Another way to put it was from the moment when he was born.
"What do you think?" he turned around.
Felli was here. "That kind of thing......" Her face was still pale. It might have been caused by her overuse of psychokinesis. Nina was the same before.
"I'm sorry for making you fight with me."
Felli shook her head. The wind blowing past the roof made her hair dance. She turned her head to keep the hair smooth and quietly moved over to his side. No weapon harness hung on her waist.
"They took it away at the hospital. I was permitted to leave my room but they banned me from using psychokinesis."
"I can still use it even without my flakes. I can use the flakes in the battle to support Fon Fon," she said, watching the city as she pressed down on her hair with a hand.
Layfon looked at her with a "what're you planning" expression.
"But it doesn't have to be that troublesome. I know the approximate location of my Dite," she continued before he could respond. "I can restore it from a distance. I can even tell you accurately the number of scales on a filth monster."
"What?" Her hand was still on her hair as she turned to him. "I'll grant your wish. It's not because of someone's order. It's not forced. I'm not doing this for the city. My actions come from my feelings to work with you."
Meaning she wanted to aid him. But.........
"You don't have to."
"Felli, you haven't fully recovered. Don't force yourself, and......"
"I don't have the confidence to hold a Katana right now," he lowered his gaze. Karian was right. Even if he held a Dite now, he probably couldn't take any real action. But perhaps he could do something if he did hold a Dite. He felt that influence from Felli's words. She'd fight even though her body was not in a condition for her to fight.
There wasn't any disappointment in her voice.
"In truth, I'm a bit lonely."
Felli's gaze turned to the outskirt of the city. Layfon didn't know whether she could see that far without using psychokinesis, but she said with a frown, "I said before that I have to use psychokinesis. I don't wish to become a psychokinesist, but my body makes me. That I really don't like. I also don't like my brother forcing me into Military Arts."
Yes, she did say that.
"But when I am told not to use psychokinesis, I feel unexpectedly lonely. Even though I know this is just for a short period of time."
Her pair of eyes looking so far away did feel like they had lost something.
"Fon Fon, our bodies were born to fight. It's a reality that we can't turn around. So we have to fight, or you could say we have to fight because of this body......What do you think?"
How could he know.
"But what I can confirm is........." She was still looking at the outskirt of the city. "The people over there are weaker than us. Have they already found their answer?"
The immature Military Arts students who fought desperately against the larvae. However, they did not run away. They gathered and did not abandon their battle.
"Have we been abandoned?"
"If that's the case, we........."
Darkness filled their future. Layfon shook his head as if he was shaking off that image.
"I don't want to admit it.........But, that person is essential to us."
Nina Antalk. She had what Layfon and Felli lacked. Especially.........Felli didn't know............The reason that Nina attracted Layfon was because she had the determination to sustain her will. Something that Layfon didn't have?
"I hope she can return."
"Yes," Felli nodded, and......The atmosphere in the air suddenly changed. A sense of danger pierced Layfon.
"Go inside the building! Hurry!"
He pushed Felli from behind and looked up at the sky. The air spun like a whirl inside the air purification system. A huge creature appeared above Zuellni after the whirl dissipated. At a place where no battle preparations had been made.
"Filth monster......" Felli murmured, having lost her chance to run.
The fear of death from Layfon's memory surfaced. A body like a lizard with strong hind legs and front legs that were smaller and shorter. A long neck sustained a head with a horn for assault purposes. A horn to pierce the sky. A pair of gigantic wings allowed the body to stop in mid-air. A matured filth monster. Layfon couldn't tell which phase it was in. It stopped in the sky as it surveyed the city. A filth monster that was more ancient than the one that Layfon and the other two Heaven's Blade successors had fought.
Just by standing here......The pressure on his entire body caused him to instinctively make that conclusion. He couldn't win even with a Heaven's Blade in hand.
(I see. This is the real thing......)
This should be dealt with by the Queen of Grendan.
"Human.........The human being who foolishly broke the boundary. Why are you here?"
But what was more unbelievable came next.
"The filth monster.........spoke?"
"Stop. Bring me your leader, else I'll eat you."
The filth monster's voice drowned out Layfon, its voice covering the entire city, a voice filled with rationality and deep hatred that numbed Layfon's entire body. The city's movement stopped as if it was responding to the filth monster. The filth monster nodded at the shrill sound of metal clashing against metal that resounded through the city.
"Good. The messenger has already left."
The filth monster vanished from above.