Dantalian no Shoka:Volume1 Chapter7
A tremendous roar shook the night air.
The sky was covered by leaden clouds.
The light of this month's first moon did not brighten the ground. Instead, the ground was shrouded in darkness like the ground of the deep sea.
A deafening sound was raining down on the earth like thunderbolts. And high in the sky, a swarm of white-winged airplanes was flying, producing this sinister sound of ventilation.
To be exact, large-sized two-engine military biplanes with giant wings---
Bombers, sent from the enemy country beyond the sea to invade them.
At last, black clumps fell from the bombers, one after another.
These were clumps of steel, packed with explosives and death.
The giant bombs fell on the ground, spreading fire and devastation.
The shock waves swept the buildings away without mercy and the flames burned down the streets.
This silent town had changed into a hell, filled with the cries and screams of its inhabitants.
The town was burning down tragically and crimson flames lit the night sky red.
There was a single girl at an elevation outside the town who was watching this calamitous sight in blank amazement.
"Ah... Ahh...," she stumbled with a voice as hoarse as the one of an aged woman.
It was a voice of despair.
Fire was burning down her home town - changing the landscape she had loved into mere ruins. And enveloping her dear friends and family---
The only thing that remained when the bomber formation had passed was a town in flames.
The girl dropped powerlessly on the grass, wet with the night dew.
It was then that,
She noticed someone approaching her and raised her head quickly.
A shadow could be seen calmly walking towards her with the wildly burning fire behind it.
No, there were two of them. One had the silhouette of a young man.
The other one was shaped like a little girl.
She could not recognize the face of the girl because of the backlight, but it was clear to her that this girl had to be terribly beautiful - and that she was wearing strange clothes---
The girl was holding a single book before her. The letters of an unfamiliar language were engraved in its old and staled leather cover.
Finally, both of them stopped in front of the anxious girl.
"You needn't cry," the young man told her with a calm voice and smiled. "If something's been broken, you just need to build it once again. Right?"
The little girl handed her book wordlessly to the man who then held it out to the girl on the ground.
She looked up to it absent-mindedly. Then, she accepted the book, reaching out her hands unconsciously, and asked back,
"...What is this?"
It was the little girl who answered her question. Her silver chain brushed the old lock she was wearing and produced a cold sound.
"It is a phantom book... a book written for your sake."
"...My book... a phantom book...," the girl repeated those words while looking down at the book.
And at the time when she raised her gaze again, the two of them had already disappeared.
 Chapter 5 - The Book Burners
Extra Episode 01: Bibliocaust
 Part 1
An unusual type of motorcycle was driving along a dusty road.
That large-sized bike was equipped with a large displacement two cylinder engine and on its right side was a side car with a windbreak. It was an American side car for military use.
The bike was ridden by a sturdy man. He was wearing a long coat that resembled a cassock as well as rough leather boots that looked just like cowboy boots. His strange clothes made him seem like a churchman but also like a bounty hunter.
He was probably in his late twenties.
Contrary to what one might expect, he had a quite graceful face. But because he was keeping his lips grimly closed, he seemed rather hard to approach. His gray hair was neatly tied to the back and his eye brows were wrinkled like those of a pondering philosopher.
Sitting deep in the seat next to him was a beautiful girl at the age of about 16 or 17.
Half of her face was covered by big, blindfold-like goggles. But one could still recognize her prettiness. Her skin was white as snow, her hair long and silver. She seemed almost like a doll, giving her the impression of a handcrafted fine work.
The road led to a little town by the bank of a lake.
It was a town with a calm mood and houses made of stone since olden days.
On the other side of the lake was a big factory from which a long chimney towered up to the dusky sky. Several warehouses for the products of that factory could be seen on the outskirts of the town.
At last, these two strangely dressed travelers on a motorcycle arrived at the narrow street along the warehouses.
While driving the motorcycle along, the man peeked into each of the many, complicated intertwined side streets.
This course of action resembled that of a hunting dog that's chasing its prey down much more than that of a stranger who has gotten lost.
Then, after cutting several corners, the driver suddenly slowed down his motorcycle.
A slender shape could be seen standing at the center of a crossroads in front of them, surrounded by the high walls of warehouses.
"Stop! You there, stop right now!"
It was a young woman with a fearless face. Her hairstyle was plain like a man's and so were her clothes, though they seemed comfortable.
She spread out her arms, blocking their way, and called out to the driver.
Her attitude did not imply friendliness, but neither did she seem like a robber.
The only weapon she had was a baton.
The driver let out an annoyed sigh and put on the brakes wordlessly.
"Could you answer some of my questions, please?"
The woman approached them easily after confirming that the motorcycle had stopped.
Her back was stretched and her look fixed at a certain height. It was the style of walking of a person experienced in hand-to-hand fighting.
"...Who are you?" the driver asked plainly, gazing at her with a disagreeable look.
"I'm Mabel Nash. A police officer," the woman introduced herself proudly.
"A police officer? You are?"
"Yes. Oh, is this the first time you meet a policewoman?"
"Yeah," the driver nodded bluntly.
Mabel laughed awkwardly.
"I see... well, since a few years ago, women have been hired as police officers too, in this district. For one thing, there was a lack of manpower due to the war, for another thing, there were some other circumstances... besides, I've heard policewomen aren't rare at all in the capital or the southern regions, right?"
"...And what does this policewoman want from me?" the driver asked, uninterested in her talk.
"We received a report. Actually, I would be off duty today, you know... but I was asked by an acquaintance," said Mabel, smiling wryly. She looked surprisingly sociable when she was smiling.
"Yes. Someone reported that a strange man was riding about in town on a motorcycle with a young girl in its sidecar."
The driver grimaced fretfully.
"Do you want to tell me that... I am that strange man?"
"Umm, I suppose so... I mean...," Mabel muttered and peeked at the girl in the sidecar.
The girl in there was still wearing goggles, moving not a single bit.
She had initially listened to their conversation curiously and now her shoulders suddenly started to tremble. Her long silver hair waved and a muffled laughter arose from her beautiful lips.
"Hrhrhr... who else would fit that image better than you, Hal?" she said with a sadistic voice that didn't match her graceful appearance.
"Shut up, trash."
"Were you unaware of it yourself? Or did you even think you were cool?"
"I told you to shut up."
"Umm... please, you two...," Mabel interrupted them in a hurry before they would get out of control. Then, she looked at the girl in the sidecar and tensed. Only now had she noticed the weird clothing of the silver-haired girl.
She was wearing a white outfit that covered her entire body.
There were leather belts sewed in at various places of her robust cloth, tightly tied to restrain her movements. The only body parts she could move freely were the parts above her neck and everything ahead of both her wrists. It looked almost like a straitjacket used to transport a fiendish criminal. Her dress may have been decorated with frills and laces, but it was doubtlessly made to constrain her.
And all over this straitjacket, one could see the dim glance of old locks.
Numerous firmly sealed locks on the belts of her straitjacket limited her free movement. She was being treated inhumanly - there was no other way to put it.
"What is it with... these clothes?" Mabel scowled sharply at the driver.
"Don't mind her. She's wearing it on her own accord."
"I'm just adapting to your preferences!" the constrained girl looked up at Hal and laughed out, enjoying Mabel's disturbance.
Hal wrinkled his forehead and asked, "What do you mean by my preferences?"
"Don't play dumb... I know you love such stuff, don't you?"
"I am not in the slightest interested in your clothing."
"There he goes again... Don't deny that frantically just because you're in front of a female. You perv."
"Shut up, trash," ordered Hal the silver-haired girl, scowling at her moodily.
At first, Mabel had been taken aback by their abusing of each other and had just gazed at them. She got a grip on herself again and turned to Hal.
"Who... who are you guys? You don't seem to be from this country, but you aren't ordinary travelers, either, right?"
"I am Hal Kamhout. She is Flam... Flamberge. We came to this town to search for someone."
"To search for someone?"
"Yeah," Hal nodded, "a young man who travels together with a girl. I don't know anything about the man's clothes, but the girl should be wearing a lock - just like the trash here. Furthermore... she carries strange books with her."
"Books?" Mabel said, narrowing her eyes cautiously.
"Do you have an idea, officer?" Hal asked her calmly.
The policewoman shrugged, "Hmm...," and explained, "Well, I don't know if you just ask me out of the blue... Are those books valuable or something?"
"Such books have no worth," Hal declared firmly.
Mabel gazed at him for a moment with a searching look.
"Tell me... are you in the clergy?" she suddenly said, as if the penny had finally dropped.
Hal's clothes looked like a priest's robe after all and, on top of that, he had tied a staff to the side of his motorcycle. This staff was huge at that and had a censer embedded in its tip. Mabel couldn't imagine that such an unpractical staff could be used anywhere other than at some kind of religious rite.
Also, his strangely insolent attitude, which didn't match his young appearance, seemed somewhat clergy-like to her. However.
"I am not a clergyman. I am a book burner," Hal said point-blank.
Mabel had never heard of such a job. At least there was no priest's title with that name in the western church. Mabel was clearly bewildered, but Hal made no move to explain it any further.
"Well, whatever... so you aren't causing this girl any harm, right?" she asked after sighing resignedly and turning around to the constrained girl.
The silver-haired girl took off her goggles with her hardly-movable arms and looked up at Mabel with a calm smile.
Then, a mischievous grin flashed on her breathtakingly gorgeous face.
"Don't worry. That's his way of showing love."
"Stop talking crap and shut up," Hal urged her in a low voice, obviously annoyed.
He was expressing himself rather rudely, but it was obviously not just one-sided abuse.
After confirming this, Mabel said, "Alright. Sorry for bothering you."
When she waved her hand and was about to leave, "Wait," Hal stopped her. "I do have a question as well."
"I want to buy gasoline. Is there a shop nearby where I can buy some?" Hal said, before looking down at the tank of his bike. Apparently, there wasn't much fuel left after riding around in town all day, searching for someone.
However, Mabel shook her head regretfully.
"There are no gas stations in this town. Private automobiles aren't that widespread yet... but a traveling merchant is coming here the day after tomorrow. You should be able to buy some from him."
"I see... got it," he nodded promptly.
In contrast, Mabel looked worried and asked, "What are your plans? It's quite a distance to the next town, you know?"
"I see. Then we will have to camp," Hal said without flinching.
"Again?!" the constrained girl complained.
Mabel couldn't suppress a small laugh when she heard that.
"Uhm... if you'd like, do you want to stay overnight at my place?"
Hal turned his expressionless gaze to Mabel. He seemed to fail to grasp her intention.
Mabel made an effort to sound bright and added, "My home may be small, but preparing a bed and some food should be no problem!"
"Why?" Hal asked straightforwardly.
She searched for words and finally said, "Well, it's my job to protect the public order after all... and don't you agree it's safer to have someone suspicious right by my side rather than to leave him to himself?"
The constrained girl listened silently to Mabel's flustered explanation, looking at her. Then, she raised a naughty laughter and pointed at Hal.
"Did you fall for him?"
"O-Of course not!" Mabel shouted hysterically.
Hal only gazed silently at those two, showing no expression in particular.
 Part 2
The town at dusk. Hal and Flamberge were walking on a street in the shopping district, led by Mabel.
The street was full of people shopping, people going home from work and shopkeepers at their market stalls.
But mysteriously, this scene didn't give off a lively impression. Certainly, one could hear the yells of the workers, who were lifting heavy luggage, or the fancy marketing phrases of the shop assistants. The shopkeepers were talking happily to their customers and the laughs of a bunch of playing kids resounded in the street. There were even people chatting together at the side of the street while drinking some liquor.
And yet, all of this seemed somehow feigned. It was almost like watching the actors of a bad play.
Next to Hal, who was gazing grimly at those people, the constrained girl Flam scoffed. "Now should I call this town lively or gloomy?"
"Don't forget that we're in the countryside here. Everybody is earnest," Mabel said, defending the people of this town.
After sneaking a peek at her, Hal looked around at the buildings. Then he murmured, "An earnest rural town, huh...? There are quite many brothels, though."
"Isn't that your type?" Flam said, chuckling and pointing at a nearby building.
Below a gaudy signboard, which made the type of the shop clear at one glance, there was a young woman appealing to men while exposing her skin generously. The shop was enveloped by a dissolute mood which didn't suit such a little remote town at all.
"Well... that's because there was a weapon factory, you see..." Mabel stammered an excuse.
"A weapon factory?" Hal asked after turning around calmly.
"During the war it was lively there, with military people and migrant workers. And the same can be said for this place here... well, and thus the prostitutes gathered, aiming for that," Mabel said with a regrettable tone and shrugged. "To tell you the truth, that's also why I was employed as a police officer. Police men can have quite a hard time dealing with trouble about brothels."
"I see," Hal nodded seriously.
The constrained girl looked up to him and raised a sardonic chuckle.
"A town with lots of brothels, huh... you must be happy that we came here after hearing those rumors! Aren't ya, Hal?"
"Don't try to misrepresent the facts," Hal replied with a scowl.
"What rumors?" asked Mabel, cocking her head.
After letting out a short sigh, Hal said: "Apparently there are many people who go missing in this town, huh?"
Mabel blinked in surprise. He didn't mind her and continued.
"I heard that more than 80 people disappeared during the two years after the end of the war. That's quite an extraordinary number, considering the population of this town."
"80 people...?" Mabel grumbled in amazement and turned pale. She strained to form a smile, but she only managed to make her lips quiver. "You heard a lie... that can't possibly be."
"What makes you so sure?" he asked back in a voice devoid of emotion.
"Don't forget that I'm a police officer! I would definitely know it if something like that really happened in this town. In the recent years, not a single person went missing or died. At the most, you could say that some of the elderly who had been ill for a long time deceased in a hospital far away in another town---" Mabel clearly tried hard to explain.
But Hal went straight to the point.
"Almost all of the people who went missing aren't from here. They were travelers, merchants and other passers-by."
"You make it sound as if the inhabitants of this town would attack any stranger who passes by, don't you?" Mabel frowned, offended. Then she continued with an angry voice, "In that case, the next target would be the two of you."
"I hope so at least," he nodded with a serious mien.
Mabel gazed at him in disbelief, but she could not find a single sign of a joke.
She sighed, getting a grip on herself again, and looked seriously at him.
"Perhaps, the people you're searching for... also went missing in this town?"
"Who knows?" murmured the strangely-clothed man, while clasping his staff harder, which made the metallic rod creak lightly in his hand.
"You don't know?"
"That's why we came here. To investigate if it has something to do with them."
"I see," Mabel nodded slightly.
Then she stopped in front of a house. Despite being old, it could be called a well-built 3-story house. Stone stairs led to the entrance, which was decorated with simple but pretty carvings.
Mabel walked up the stairs with sure steps and showed them in, pointing at the door. The house was apparently her home.
"Such a house despite living alone? Quite uptown, aren't ya? Does it pay to be a corrupted police officer?" Flam asked, impressed.
"I ain't corrupted!" Mabel pursed her lips. "And I'm not living on my own either."
With a slightly proud face, she opened the door. Her home wasn't as luxurious as it looked from outside, but still it was spacious.
Right in front of the entry hall was a stairway, leading to the second floor, and on the right hand side was the living room in which a stove was burning. A woolen sofa was placed in front of that stove and on it, was an old couple.
They noticed Mabel's arrival and turned slowly around.
"Welcome home, Mabel."
"You must be tired, Mabel."
They spoke stiffly, which resembled the sound of rusty gears, and smiled. That smile, however, seemed as artificial as the smile of a mechanical puppet.
But Mabel ignored their unnatural behavior and smiled back at them.
"Hello everybody. I've brought some guests with me. Two travelers called... err, Hal and Flam."
The two old persons turned around to Hal. With the exact same expression. Then they smiled again artificially.
"I see. Welcome."
"I see. You must be very tired from the journey."
They seemed as if they were repeating a set of decided phrases. Hal didn't pay attention to them and turned around to Mabel instead.
"Who are they?"
"They are my grandparents. Then there is..."
Mabel looked at the stairway.
From its landing, one could hear the footsteps of someone coming downstairs. The steps had a light sound to them, implying a rather low body weight. Eventually, a little head appeared over the handrail.
It was a little girl, around 12 or 13 years old. Her face looked almost like a younger version of Mabel's.
"Who are you?"
Her hazelnut brown eyes darted between Hal and Flam, giving them a reproving look.
"Patty." Mabel called the name of the girl, letting her know that she was behaving impolitely. Then she turned an awkward smile to her guests.
"She's my little sister Patricia. Patty, these people are Hal and Flam. I decided to let them spend the night here---"
"What did you come here for?" Patricia shouted snappily, ignoring the friendly introduction of her elder sister. "Leave! Just get out already!"
She then dashed up the stairs without leaving them time to even respond to her. After a few moments, one could hear a door closing upstairs. Patricia had shut herself in her room.
"Patty! Wait a moment... Patty!"
Mabel ran away, following her little sister.
After gazing at the disappearing woman, Flam sighed with a frown. "That girl sure behaved poorly. Maybe she noticed that you're a perv who's dead keen on little girls, right, Hal?"
"I'm neither a pervert nor keen on little girls. I do, however, think that this might be interesting---" Hal answered Flam, contrary to custom, seriously.
The confined girl looked up at Hal, raising her slender chin. Her light, silver eyes became narrow like a cat's.
"At least that girl seems to have enough emotions to dislike me," murmured Hal, almost keeping a straight face.
Bathing in the light of the stove, lights flickered on the silver staff - like flames.
 Part 3
After midnight, Hal slipped out of Mabel Nash's house.
The confined girl wasn't with him and neither did he carry his silver staff. The tall book burner turned over the sleeves of his robe and walked through the dark, sleeping town.
He was heading to the back of a hill that lied beyond the heart of the town.
It wasn't obvious at one glance, but if one took a good look at the city map, one could notice that the connections between the streets of this town were extremely unnatural at some points. There was one area that was largely evaded by all the streets so that one couldn't reach it by car.
It was also impossible to see it from far away because of heights and forests --- so it could be called the shadow of this town.
After walking through the darkness without rest, Hal finally reached the blockaded hill.
And he held his breath.
"I see... so that was it..."
The back side of the town that he could see from there was a gruesome view of rubble and ash.
The remains of buildings that had been mowed down by a blast. Streets that had turned into mere ashes after being engulfed in a sea of flames.
It was a horrendous sight. Even after the long time that had passed since, one could still clearly feel the magnitude of the catastrophe that had haunted this town. The traces of war.
This town had probably been air-raided by the enemy country just like the capital.
Attacked by countless bombs. Burned down by the flames the explosions called forth.
Hundreds of buildings had surely been burned to ashes - and many more humans had lost their lives.
Eventually, even the people of this town had abandoned this land.
In terms of size, the area was almost half the town's. Such a big space was left as scorched earth.
Most of the survivors seemed to be in the dark about the existence of this area - because someone was hiding it from them.
Someone had erased the remembrance of those terrible traces from the memories of the villagers.
But, who had done that? And why...?
"...Oh... What are you doing out here?"
Suddenly, while Hal was in deep thought, a sweet voice reached his ears.
When he turned around, he saw a woman standing next to him.
The woman was rather tall and voluptuous. Her dress was skimpy with a low neckline whereas her dress had a deep slit in which one could see her seductive thighs. An obscene perfume surrounded her gaudily decorated hair. She was the very model of a prostitute. Yes, almost too exemplary, which gave her the feel of a mere fabrication---
Like the other residents of this town, that prostitute seemed artificial.
"Hey, don't ignore me!" The woman went around to Hal's front, irritated by his silence. Then, she noticed with a surprised voice: "Oh, what a lovely man..."
She entwined both her arms around his and pushed her bosom against his chest.
"Hey sweetie. Are you alone? Fancy spending the night together with me?"
"Why?" Hal sighed, bored.
The prostitute looked in surprise at Hal's face.
"I don't particularly mind when a prostitute touts on the street. But why are you at such a place?"
"Boy... what are you talking about?"
A slight sign of anger emerged on her face.
...which looked just how a third-class caricaturist would draw it.
"There should be much better places for a prostitute to lure customers. So why have you come here? Who commanded you?" He asked, while letting his gaze wander over the ruins of the town.
"Who...? What the heck? What are you...?"
The prostitute was clearly agitated. Any expression had already left her face, leaving behind a inhumanly bare face that reminded one of a sculpture.
Hal asked coldly: "Answer me. Who commanded you to come here?"
"Commanded... me? What do you mean? Seriously, what are you talking about...?" She shook her head awkwardly.
Hal continued without paying any attention to this, "Was it your own will that you came here and addressed me?"
"What are you talking about...? What the heheheck...? Whawhawhawhawhat...?" The woman's mouth formed words like a broken record player while opening her vacant eyes wide.
Suddenly, something white flashed past his view as fast as a blade.
Fresh blood dropped down from Hal's cheek. The prostitute had thrust out her arm towards him, cutting the darkness apart: her shaking arm had suddenly, and carefully targeted, attacked his carotid artery. If Hal's reaction had been just a little slower, he would have died without a doubt.
"So it was you who attacked the strangers? No... or...," Hal asked while evading her continuous attacks.
However, the words of the prostitute were already devoid of meaning.
"WhawhawhatWhawhaT... arrrarree..." While wringing out words in a weird voice, she thrust out her fingers, aiming at Hal's eye balls.
Her arm was moving at a monstrous speed, but Hal easily grabbed it in mid-air. Yet, the woman didn't stop her movement. She lifted him up with an unworldly power just in order to strike him against the ground.
But in the moment she was about to swing her arm down, Hal muttered, "What immense strength," before disappearing for a moment and appearing behind her without making a sound.
The shoulders of the expressionless prostitute trembled clearly - as if she was disturbed. With a thunderous roar from deep within her throat, she thrust out her left arm again.
"But... it's useless."
Hal caught her bullet-like arm once again. He twisted her elbow into the wrong direction and did the same for her shoulder in one breath.
"Wha---!!" screamed the prostitute.
It is impossible to ignore the construction of the human body - no matter how powerful one is. Her joints creaked up, strained nearly to their limit.
"Don't move. This is a technique from the oriental martial art 'Baritsu'. You could easily break your arm," explained Hal coldly.
But the prostitute didn't think of stopping her resistance. The creaking of her bones grew more intense. A slight sign of unrest appeared on the cheeks of Hal's expressionless face.
The prostitute broke her arm, producing an unpleasant sound. And then her elbow was torn apart.
Hal made a stern face. Not a single drop of blood was flowing in her torn-off left elbow, which was flying away. Only a wooden cross-section could be seen in her elbow joint.
The woman, who had freed herself from his technique, took advantage of Hal's momentary disturbance and thrust out her right arm.
The side part of his coat got cut apart and became soaked with fresh blood. He kicked the prostitute away to create some distance.
"Ah, so that's it... that's the answer...," he muttered while gazing at her left arm on the ground.
To be exact, it was a piece of wood. A piece of wood that was shaped to look like a human arm, with a polished wooden ball as joint. The lower half of a puppet's arm.
The one-armed prostitute rushed towards Hal.
But before she could reach him, he grabbed her head without a problem and struck it against the ground.
Her head was smashed up and shattered into countless dry splinters.
What was left in the end was --- the remains of a scantily clad puppet.
 Part 4
The night was already over when Hal returned to Mabel's home.
She wasn't there anymore - apparently, she had already gone to work. Hal completely ignored the old people in front of the stove and headed to the guest room.
After he had opened the door, he raised an eyebrow.
Hal's bed was occupied by two girls who were sleeping tightly close to each other. One of them was the confined, silver-haired girl. The other one was Mabel's cheeky miniature version.
The hands of the silver-haired girl were holding an old book of fairy-tales.
Apparently, they had fallen asleep while Flam was reading a fairy-tale to her.
"...you're quite late, Hal. Did you creep into some brothel to have some fun?" Flam said sleepily when she noticed Hal's early return.
"What are you doing?" Hal asked brusquely.
Flam got up, letting her soft silver hair dance, and said: "As you can see! I already won over the little girl for you."
"Hmpf," Hal sneered quietly.
Patricia turned herself and woke up. After noticing Hal at the door, she sat up quickly.
"You came back?" she asked.
Hal nodded calmly.
Patricia looked worriedly at Hal's blood-stained coat.
"Did you worry about me?" he asked after finally noticing the reason why she had slept together with Flam.
Patricia hesitated a little, but then she nodded slightly.
"It's not the first time that travelers have visited this house, right?"
She nodded once more and added with a tiny voice: "They never came back."
For a while, Hal just gazed at the little girl who had her hair rumpled from sleeping. For the fragment of a second, a light of pity flashed over his eyes.
"We're leaving, Flam," Hal declared after grabbing his staff, which was leaning against the wall in a corner.
The confined girl protested with a clearly annoyed voice. "What is it, all of a sudden? Are you jealous because I chummed up with a little young girl?"
"Shut up, trash. Get ready."
He swung his blood-stained coat round and was about to leave, when,
"You aren't... ordinary travelers, right, sir? Who are you really?" Patricia asked in a mature and calm voice.
Hal turned around to her and sulkily corrected her:
"I am not a sir. I am a book burner."
 Part 5
Hal took Flam to the factory at the lake shore on the outskirts of the town.
As it was already past opening time, a lot of machines were doing their work without rest. Despite this, it was very quiet and there were surprisingly few workers. No one rebuked them when Hal and Flam entered without permission.
"Hell, this is one desolate factory," said Flam, obviously bored.
She was shouldered by Hal like a bag because she was unable to walk by herself.
"I looked through the archives," Hal explained plainly. "It's as Mabel said. This factory produced weapons during the war. Ammunition, bombs and gun parts---"
"The war's already over, right? What are they producing now?" Flam asked suspiciously.
Hal just pointed at a building within the factory area.
It was a cheap storehouse which was used to store a mountain of boxed puppets.
But they were not beautiful as one would expect. There were corpulent middle-aged men and women, skinny old men, cheeky children and finally, heavily made-up prostitutes --- the inhabitants of this town.
"Pretty weird puppets. Who's going to buy such things and why? To alleviate stress by beating them up?" Flam asked blankly and shrugged.
"I don't think they are up for sale."
"Have you ever heard of the so-called 'Shikigamis' that are used in the oriental sorcery?"
Flam smiled on hearing Hal's words. It was a beautiful, yet devilish smile.
"Yeah, it's a technique that lets a sorcerer control puppets made of paper or straw by casting a spell on them."
"They are probably the same," Hal stated while pointing at the employees who were producing puppets.
Those expressionless people were working steadily like machines. Exactly like the prostitute he had met last night. They were puppets only made to act out the role assigned to them.
"You're talking about those workers? So, puppets are producing puppets?" Flam chuckled amusedly.
Hal answered grimly, "There is nothing strange about it if we assume that they are Shikigamis that have been ordered to produce new puppets."
"Hmpf... what's the point in making puppets anyway?"
"It's to replace the inhabitants of this town."
"To replace the inhabitants with puppets...?" Flam cocked her head, whereupon the lock at her collar produced a metallic sound.
"Most of the citizens here are suchlike puppets. Mabel was probably telling the truth when she said that nobody had died here in the past few years. After all, anyone who dies is replaced by a puppet that acts like the deceased did during his lifetime---"
Hal watched the working employees with emotionless eyes. Suddenly, his steps came to a halt.
"Further, it looks like broken puppets get replaced by new ones as well."
A puppet in a coffin-like box was carried in. Its head had crumbled into dust and everything below the left elbow was lost. It was the prostitute Hal had destroyed the prior night.
A destroyed puppet gets replaced by a new one. And like this, the town remains unchanged.
The daily life of the past is being played for all eternity in this town---
"Why would they do that?" asked Flam, seeming truly puzzled.
"Who knows? Just ask the culprit herself," said Hal, turning around leisurely.
He pointed his long silver staff at the darkness beyond a passage of the factory.
"---right, Mabel Nash?" he raised his deep voice, which echoed into that pathway.
Shortly after, a young woman appeared from the metallic stairway's shadow.
The woman was wearing a police uniform. Flam raised a laugh upon seeing Mabel's tensed expression.
"Oh? The police officers these days also show you around factories?"
Mabel looked a little distressed while listening to Flam's words that did not give off an impression of ill will.
Then she let out a deep, long sigh to signify her resignation.
"Since when have you known?" she asked Hal.
"Your question seems obscure to me, but if you want to know when I started to suspect that you're a puppeteer, that would be yesterday at the moment you called out to me," explained Hal in his usual frank tone.
Mabel was clearly bewildered.
Hal didn't care and continued: "We purposely rode around in town with an eye-catching motorcycle and informed each and every citizen we met that we were searching for someone. We considered it probable for someone who has met the Biblioprincess to approach us when hearing about us."
"...So you lured me out, huh." Mabel sighed after hearing Hal out.
"By 'Biblioprincess', do you mean that armored girl with a lock and looks like a beautiful doll...?"
For the first time, a change occurred in Hal's expression.
Immense hatred and anger surged up from deep within his usually expressionless eyes. However, this lasted only a short moment. His mien immediately returned to his usual one, whereupon he posed a question to Mabel.
"You received a phantom book from the Biblioprincess, didn't you?"
"You mean this?"
Mabel took out the book she had been hiding behind her and held it at chest height. A slightly triumphant smile flashed over her face.
"The 'Rahouto Reihou Kaigen', huh... a long lost Taoist scripture that contains techniques to control familiars---" Flam said, impressed.
Hal's face darkened.
"When I conducted a ceremony as it was written in this book, puppets that obeyed me were born. I merely ordered them to play as the stand-ins of the deceased villagers. It was also child's play to increase their number by commanding the first ones I made. After all, they work without stop and I was able to use the facilities of this deserted factory..." Mabel spoke steadily. Yes, almost as if she was confessing her overflowing sin to a priest---
"Why did you try to replace the inhabitants of this town with puppets?"
"'Why'? What a silly question! To protect this town of course!" Mabel reacted sensitively to Hal's reproach. "This town was almost completely destroyed once, you know? Devastated by a bombing raid!" Mabel bit on her lips while bearing up against painful memories. "It happened on the same day as the capital was attacked by an air-raid. I'm sure their target was the weapon factory here. Due to the masses of gunpowder in the storehouses and the burning hell when they exploded, fewer than 400 people survived the attack... Do you understand that scale? Not even a fifth of a town that once had a population of 3000 people survived!"
Mabel's voice - her bitter outcry - echoed numerous times within the pathway of the factory.
Hal kept silent and heard her out.
"It was at that moment of despair that they gave me this book. They told me that it's my phantom book..."
The 'they' Mabel just mentioned made Hal's shoulders tremble.
"You commanded the puppets to substitute the citizens who died during the bombing raid?"
"Exactly! To keep everything as peaceful as it was in times past. How is this a bad thing? The other survivors gladly accepted them, too! Well, of course. Their beloved family and friends returned to them safe and sound after all---"
"Puppets are and will remain just puppets."
Hal's harsh words shattered Mabel's smile.
"They can only follow commands. As soon as they are placed in an unfamiliar situation, they get into a panic. Yes, for example when they meet a stranger. Or when they are asked an unexpected question. Then they fall into a rage and attack those strangers in order to eradicate the source of their panic."
Mabel tensed like a block of ice.
"Did you not notice, puppeteer? Your puppets are the cause of the frequent disappearance of travelers around this town," Hal declared bluntly.
Mabel tried to object reflexively but suddenly fell into silence. She had just noticed the fresh wound below Hal's cut coat.
"No... you're lying..." Mabel shook her head weakly. But Hal didn't stop and continued driving her into a corner.
"People and towns change as time goes by. Naturally, some lives will also be lost in the process. But if you forcefully resist this mode of life, a distortion will come up somewhere. It's not this town you've been protecting. It's the shadow of its past. And your own weakness for clinging to that shadow."
After a moment of silence, Mabel nodded.
"Heh... I guess you're right."
A smile appeared on her her slightly downcast face.
This smile was of a sorrowful kind, but filled with a strong will.
"But you know what? It's too late to change my methods. Even if it's just its shadow, I'm going to protect this town---!" Mabel shouted out loud.
Her impression had changed. Hal noticed this fact and took up a stance. Suddenly, numerous shadows appeared behind him. Old and middle-aged people - and prostitutes.
The boxed puppets had awakened. It didn't take long until their number exceeded 10 and filled out the narrow pathway. Hal and Flam just stood there, defenseless, when the crowd of puppets suddenly charged them - with the appearance of the villagers, and with the special empty expressions of puppets.
Hal was well aware of their monstrous strength thanks to the encounter with the prostitute last night.
And he was also aware that he would stand no chance if such a number attacked him at once.
But he kept a straight face. He just calmly removed the glove on his right hand.
"I shall burn it down then... get ready, Flam... No..."
A beautiful jewel was embedded in the back of Hal's right hand. Its color was a deep crimson that looked like solidified blood.
He clenched his right fist and when he opened his hand again, he was holding a golden bunch of keys. All of these old keys had mysterious letters engraved in them.
"Long Lost Library'Broken Biblioprincess', Flamberge! I ask of thee, Art thou mankind---?" He shouted at the confined girl.
Flam shook her silvery hair wildly and started laughing out loud. The factory resounded with her madness-filled, loud laughter, which was a complete mismatch for her beautiful appearance.
Hal brandished the bunch of keys over his head and went about opening the countless locks that had been sealing the girl. One after another, and at each time the keys made a sound like an instrument.
The released silver-haired girl slipped out of her dress.
She hadn't been wearing anything under her straitjacket.
On her almost shining naked body, one could see a silver line reaching from her left side to her right thigh. It was a metallic zipper. A silver zipper was embedded in her porcelain-white skin.
《No. We art the Realm --- the Fallen Realm》
The lips of the silver-haired girl proclaimed with the hoarse voice of an old woman.
Hal reached out for her left side and pulled the zipper all way down in a breath. A dark and endlessly deep black space opened up between the split zipper.
"The Silver... Biblioprincess...!"
It was Mabel who muttered these words with a contorted face.
Hal took out a single book from deep within the hole in Flam's naked body---
It was an old book bound with leather that had lost its color.
Mabel fiercely bit on her lips when she noticed.
"A phantom book?! But you're too late...! You have no time to read it---"
"Who said I'd read this?" Hal announced coldly.
He set up the long staff at his hip, pointing its tip straightforward. He looked like a soldier who was ready to shoot with a giant weapon. Then he loaded the staff by putting the phantom book into its tip.
"Cartridge Load --- Blaze!" he shouted austerely.
The next moment, bluish-white flames spit out of the tip of the staff.
The object that was spouting out this blade-like flame wasn't a staff anymore. The long body part was a balancer to bear up against the impact when shooting and the part that looked like a censer was a muzzle brake to counter the recoil. It was a weapon made for destroying.
A destructive weapon that uses the forbidden phantom books as ammunition and changes their magic into flames.
"Oh Branch of Calamity! Reduce everything to ashes---!"
The fire of Hal's staff mowed down the attacking puppets.
Those among the puppets that were hit by the magical fire were enveloped in it and crumbled down.
Mabel, who could just watch dumbfounded, stammered: "He's mad... he's using a phantom book... as kindling...!"
Hal ignored Mabel, who had fallen on her knees, and pointed his fire staff at the storehouses of the factory.
Fire balls came shooting out of the staff like bullets.
This bombardment instantly engulfed the boxed puppets in a hell fire.
Watching the factory burn down, "Aah...," Mabel raised her voice frailly.
"The Branch of Calamity that has been sealed by nine keys... don't tell me that is...," she murmured weakly, looking up at the man with the fire staff.
She pressed her book tightly to her chest.
"Are you going to... burn my book...?"
Hal didn't answer. He wordlessly pointed the burning tip of his staff at her.
Mabel sent him a pitiful smile without showing a sign of fear.
"The fire giant Surtr's cataclysmal staff, which he used to engulf the Earth in flames during Ragnarök... if you keep wielding this weapon, you are going to be buried in your own flames just like the giant race in the myths!"
Hal nodded calmly to the warning of the puppeteer.
"I know. That's the destiny of a book burner."
Thereupon, the fire of the staff engulfed the phantom book and its owner without mercy.
 Part 6
It was shortly before dusk that a tall man, together with a confined girl, visited Patricia Nash's home once again.
Patricia sat in front of the stove at the time and gazed silently at her grandparents who had stopped moving.
Her eyes were slightly wet with tears, but she was not crying. Sitting there in that dark room, embracing her legs, she looked almost as if she was waiting for time to start moving again.
It was then that Hal and his companion came back.
The book burner, who had gotten off his bike, was carrying Mabel in his arms and his long silver staff on his back. When Patricia noticed this, she widened her eyes fearfully.
"...did you kill sis?" she asked with a firm voice, after taking a deep breath.
"It's my job to erase all phantom books and everything that has come in contact with them," Hal answered coldly. "Thus," he added without intonation in his voice, "I also burned the part of her mind that has been corroded by the phantom book. Most probably she won't remember anything since she received the book even when she wakes up again."
Patricia just blinked her eyes a few times and silently pondered the meaning of Hal's words.
Then, she suddenly raised her head and confirmed that her older sister was still breathing.
"But... she's still alive, right?"
Hal nodded wordlessly and laid Mabel on the sofa where she could sleep on.
Then he turned around to leave the house. There was nothing that held the book burner back in this town now that he had extinguished the phantom book.
Patricia realized this fact and hurried after him.
Hal had already gotten on his motorcycle and was about to start the engine.
She looked up at him and said, "Uhm... thank you."
Hal turned around to her with peering eyes.
"Why do you thank me?"
Patricia couldn't suppress a laugh, finding his reaction too funny.
"I knew... it was just a long dream we were in... everybody was dead really, but we played dumb all the time. Although it would have been our duty to enjoy life all the more in place of the deceased...," Patricia stammered haltingly and then, suddenly, gave a smile. This was because the book burner seemed to her, for whatever reason, as though he was smiling in spite of having the same sour look as always.
"Thank you for saving my sister," she thanked him once again.
Hal gazed at her calmly. "You should better thank your sister. She wanted to show you---"
"I know. I will definitely never forget how this town looked like at the time it was dear to my sister," she assured, full of confidence.
After nodding wordlessly, Hal set off with his motorcycle and accelerated - without looking back.
The girl disappeared quickly after a few moments and it didn't take long until her hometown at the lakeshore became far, either.
They kept riding on the dry road for a while until the confined girl in the sidecar suddenly spoke up.
"...You look kinda happy, Hal," she said, while letting her hair dance in the wind.
"I don't know what you mean," Hal declared grimly.
"You were smiling just now, weren't you?" Flam started teasing him.
"Ooh yes you were. From ear to ear."
Flam chuckled amusedly.
"You lech! Did you recall that little girl just now?"
"Shut up, trash."
The motorcycle continued its way with those two bandying words on it.
Their backs were dyed red all the while by the flickering light of the setting sun.
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