Here's part 2. Enjoy.
Floating Archipelagos <Lagoon>.
A cluster of islands that float around the floating continent. Their sizes ranged from that of a house, to those spanning several kilometers. Should an island be large enough, it can be used to construct electric windmills or research labs. However, due to the varying differences in the ecology as well as the geology of each individual island, the usage of large islands will be restricted to those which humans can develop.
"...... An island covered by primeval forests huh."
After taking a glance at the large trees that were around him, Leon pinched a bit of the soil off from the ground.
The dark brown soil felt slightly damp. It's the moist soil unique to the forests.
"No volcanic ash, and no gravel. Only soil. I see."
He flashed a strange smile with the corner of his lip, then turned around to face the girls behind him.
"I'm basically done with things over here. How about you?"
"I've already located them both, though they are of a considerable distance away from us."
The girl in overalls lifted her head - she was carrying a small boxed transmitter in her arms. Next to her, stood a black-haired girl who was staring intently at the screen of the transmitter.
"It seems like Sheltis and Monica are together. They're somewhere to our west, a few hundred meters away from us in a straight line. Though strictly speaking, that's the location of the transponders in their parachutes. If they moved somewhere else, then I won't know their exact location.
"That's more than enough."
After taking a look at the parachute on the ground, Leon redirected his gaze back at Eyriey.
"I don't know if you remember, but I saw a huge crevasse before landing."
"I did, I did! It's that large crevasse, right? We'd be goners if we fell inside it."
It's a huge crevasse that splits the floating island in two.
After analyzing the positions displayed on Eyriey's transmitter, they themselves should be located on the east side of the crevasse, while Sheltis and Monica should be located on the west. The two groups were separated by the crevasse.
"We'll have to go around the crevasse if we want to meet up with them. Looks like there will be quite a bit of distance for us to cover."
"Yuto and I are fine with it. Right, Yuto!"
"That's really dependable. Let's go."
After confirming the location of the sun above him, he began to make his way northwards into the primeval forest.
Their destination was the black smoke that can be seen through the gaps of the huge trees. That was the crash landing site of their aircraft. Sheltis should be heading there as well. Due to them passing by electromagnetic fields of the electric faeries earlier, the functions of the badges had become rather unstable, and therefore he could not use it to send an electronic mail to Sheltis.
Thus, the only thing he could do is to bet on the possibility that both groups will meet up on the crash landing site later.
"Oh right. You said, 'I see' after touching the soil on the ground. What did you mean by that?"
Leon did not slow down his footsteps even at the sudden question posed by Eyriey. Instead, he pointed next to his feet with the fingers on his right hand.
"There's no volcanic ash, no gravel or boulders. Geologically speaking, it is exactly the same as Orbie Clar."
"Next, I see no signs of huge beasts running about. I saw a few winged insects flying by, but I guess that's just about all there is to this island."
"Don't you think this island is extremely suitable to be used for the construction of electric windmills, research labs, and etc? If the grounds consist of volcanic ash or gravel, then it would be too weak to support any buildings. On the other hand, an island made of solid boulders would be too hard for any penetration to take place. Therefore, the conditions on this island are perfect for the development of humans."
An excellent ground condition.
If there are no ground dragons or harmful beasts about, then it would be abnormal for people not to utilize this island.
"However, there are no signs of development on this island at all. If there are rare creatures that live here, then the whole island should be listed as a protected island, and recorded on the map of the Floating Archipelagos <Lagoon>."
He opened up the aerial map he brought from Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>, and passed it to Eyriey.
"Ah, is it the same as what I got from the Mechanical Bureau?"
"Probably. This is the latest version of the aerial map released by the Government Sector."
The airspace owned by the Government Sector is marked in red, while the Floating Archipelagos <Lagoon> are portrayed using black dots.
As it will be impossible for them to show every single island, in accordance to the guidelines for map labeling, the maps will only show the locations of protected islands or islands with facilities built on them.
"You saw it on the aircraft as well - this island is not registered on the aerial map. Meaning, it's neither a protected island, nor is it an island that humans had stepped onto before."
A floating island with pristine conditions for development.
However, it's not recorded on the maps of the Government Sector.
"So what you're trying to say is...... why is the Government Sector leaving such an excellent island unattended? That's what you're most curious about, right?"
"That is all but my conjecture."
However, it should not be too far away from the truth. If so, there is a reasonable explanation as to why the Queen is unwilling to clarify the objectives of the mission.
"You two, be on alert. There's something strange about this island."
"Ah— Leon that bastard, he pisses me off! What's with him kicking me off the aircraft!"
Sheltis removed the crumpled parachute off from his back, and brushed away the leaves on his body.
After being booted off the aircraft, he fell headfirst into the primeval forest. Though he barely managed to get the parachute open, he crashed straight into the branches, resulting in his body getting covered with leaves.
"We're lucky to be still alive."
Next to him was Monica carefully folding up the parachute.
"It seems like we're the only two around here. We're left with Captain Leon...... and Eyriey plus Yuto, right? I hope they're alright."
"Yeah. Leon's a strong fella - I think he'll be fine even if he jumps off the aircraft without a parachute. The only problem are with Eyriey and Yuto. I think they should have met up with Leon already."
"Why do you think so?"
Sheltis pointed to the parachute in her arms in response to her question.
There was a black rectangular device on the straps. A green light in the middle was flashing on and off continuously, as though it was giving off a signal.
"Eyriey said she's the one who made these parachutes. She's a person who loves transponders and transmitters the most. I guess she had initially made the transponders, then attached them to the parachutes later so she could conduct some tests on it."
"...... That's quite something."
Monica laughed wryly as she looked at the transponders with a slightly dumbfounded expression.
"If so, the two girls should have headed out to find Leon, and have probably met up already. Also, they should have located our position as well. Why don't we wait for the three of them here, instead of moving about randomly?"
"Mmm— that's a tough choice we have here."
Sheltis crossed his arms and pressed his finger against his forehead, as he tried recalling the terrain of the island.
"I remember seeing a giant crevasse to the east as we fell. Their parachutes should have floated past there and landed on the other side of the crevasse."
If they were to wait at their current location, then the three people will have to get by the huge crevasse. However, those people consist of Eyriey and Yuto too.
"Leon is obviously fine, but will it be a good idea to make the two ordinary girls walk within the primeval forests for a long time...... I see, I did not consider things deeply enough. To lessen their burden, it will be better for us head in their direction to meet up."
He removed the transponder from the parachute and slotted it into a small bag. With that, Eyriey would know that they were on the move as well.
"Seems like everything's been decided already."
Monica looked towards the north, where a black column of smoke was rising upwards into the sky.
That was the location where their aircraft had crashed into. As it is too far away, they could not pinpoint its exact location. However, it should have avoided the crevasse and crashed somewhere in between their location and Leon's.
"We'll reach the crash site if we follow the black smoke. I think Captain Leon can see that as well, so it should be the perfect place to meet up — I believe they will be thinking of the same thing too."
"I'm quite worried, so let's head off immediately."
"Right. Even with Captain Leon around, they are still your ordinary citizens."
Seeing how serious Monica was, Sheltis laughed wryly to himself.
"The person who I'm worried about is Leon."
In many different ways.
"La～ La～ Lalala～ Lala～ La～"
"Whoa— we're hiking, Eyri-nee! This is fun!"
"Mmm— it's not bad to be in a place full of nature. We didn't manage to have our barbecue meat the last time we were at the nature sector. It should be fine if we changed the location to here, right?"
"Yuto wants to eat meat—"
"...... Can the both of you maintain a bit of tension here?"
Leon stopped in his tracks and said exasperatedly.
"Eh, but of course we do. We are already thirty percent more serious than usual. Right, Yuto?"
The girls held hands together and nodded at each other harmoniously.
...... Is this a new method of torture?
Perhaps he's already used to the normally quiet Syun-rei, but he would be very alert should there be any movements around him. However, the most painful thing about this was that he could not ignore the two behind him.
"Whatever. It's better than them not being able to walk due to fatigue."
After switching his viewpoint on things, Leon continued walking.
— Is that where the problem lies?
Beneath the shelters of the dark brown canopy, the sunlight was getting weaker as they walked deeper into the primeval forests. As of now, they could not even see their own shadows on the ground.
Suddenly, the scream of a girl came from behind him.
"...... It hurts!"
"Eyri-nee fell? Are you okay?"
Eyriey had totally fallen forward onto the ground. Yuto was looking at her worriedly by her side.
"Are you alright?"
"...... Mmm, I tripped."
Eyriey brushed the soil off her knees.
She pointed to a large jutting root on the ground. It seemed like the primeval forest is rather ancient, as the surrounding trees are all over ten meters high. Since the roots are as thick and big as boulders, one may fall or sprain their feet should they trip on them.
That's not all. The roots had spread all over the ground like a web, it will be difficult for them to clear it if they wanted to.
"Alright...... I can move now. Let's go."
The girl in overalls stood up unsteadily. Upon seeing the worried Yuto, she squeezed a smile that says 'I'm okay'. Just then—
Ignoring her reactions, Leon lifted up Eyriey in a single move. With that, he piggy-backed the girl who had her eyes widened, and resumed his walk nonchalantly.
"Whoa! I'm being carried by a guy? Whoa— what's with this touched feelings that I've never experienced before!"
"Hey, stop fooling around."
He raised his voice to silence the girl who was getting noisy yet again.
"Even Sheltis has never piggy-backed me before, you know. He allows Yuto to ride on his shoulders, but he said I was too tall. Therefore, I'm slightly moved here."
"That guy's too weak physically. Don't you worry, I'll train him properly."
Leon moved forward one step at a time, while avoiding the roots on the ground and the branches above his head.
"Are you alright by yourself?"
"Yuto's okay— this place is fun!"
The black-haired girl leapt between the roots of the trees happily.
...... Seems like I don't have to carry two people at once.
While surrounded by the trees around them, Leon lead the two hyperactive girls deeper and deeper into the forest.
The young man's sneeze echoed through the quiet forest.
"Why did you sneeze suddenly?"
"...... Feels like someone was talking about me."
And it is definitely some baseless gossip. There's definitely nothing good coming out of that.
Monica, who was walking beside him, showed a half-surprised expression as she laughed wryly.
As he heaved a long sigh, Sheltis ducked past the protruding branches.
...... Seems like it will take some time.
The place they were originally at seemed to be an area with less trees. They could initially see the skies above, but right now it was obscured by the dark brown leaves above them.
Beneath their feet were roots that were as hard as rocks, while above their heads were sharp branches jutting out. With no proper roads paved out on the ground, the two of them could only make their way forward by avoiding the obstacles above and below them.
"We've indeed made the right choice by trying to meet up with them. This sort of terrain is just too difficult for them to navigate."
"Yeah. Leon's as good as a dog when it comes to sniffing out things like this, so he'll probably provide them with plenty of rest along the way, instead of rushing the girls to meet up with us...... But yeah, it's really difficult to navigate through this forest."
Despite him being strict on himself, Leon will never hesitate to show his concern towards his subordinates or the weak. That's the sort of man the silver-haired swordsman is. That is also perhaps one of the reasons why the anthropophobic Syun-rei opens her heart to him.
"Do you and Captain Leon always act like that?"
He could feel Monica looking at him from the sides, as though she had suddenly thought of something.
"I can't really say if you two get along well or not, but it just feels rather unbelievable."
Monica stared at Sheltis' face seriously. His expressions suggested that he was in a rather pleasant mood.
"When Captain Leon kicked you off the aircraft, I originally thought that there was some bad feelings between the both of you...... but when I thought about it later, the reason Captain Leon wants you to be in this mission is probably because he holds you in high regards. You said that he's 'as good as a dog when it comes to sniffing' - it may look like you are insulting Captain Leon, but I can see that you hold a lot of faith in him."
"Well, we have been rivals since way back."
He pried open the branches that were about to poke into his eyes, and continued walking forward.
"I told you before, we already knew each other before entering the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>. We competed against each other back then to see who could be a Sennenshi first. In the end, Leon's a Sennenshi now, while I'm still a cadet-guard."
"...... I am envious of you two."
Monica gently leaped past the root before her.
"Unlike you, I do not have any friends whom I've known for a long time in the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>."
"Ever since I started my training as an apprentice-Priestess, I've always been alone."
The footsteps of his suddenly stopped.
"Apprentice-Priestess...... you are referring to the girls on the floating continent who are selected to become candidates of a Priestess?"
Ymy had once walked down that path as well.
On the floating continent, right after a baby is born, they will have their absolute shinryoku strength measured by a special machine. For girls who possesses shinryoku of strength past a certain threshold, they will be chosen to be an apprentice-Priestesses, and train in the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> since young.
In the living sector, it is considered an absolute honor to be selected as one of the apprentice-Priestesses. That's because that is the only way for the girls to become a Priestess that represents the whole floating continent.
"However, I'm just someone who was rejected at the very end...... A failure who can't become a real Priestess."
Monica resumed walking with a dry smile on her face.
"Hold on a second. You just said 'someone who was rejected at the very end', right? The so called 'very end', means that you managed to go all the way to the final test in the Grand Holy Hall?"
"I think so. They were about to select the new Priestess out of the three people left."
Having known the truth, Sheltis was at a loss for words.
...... Then isn't that really amazing?
There are up to a thousand apprentice-Priestesses. However, it is said that the majority of them will give up that honorable position willingly after a year into their training.
It's because the training is way too tough.
"I am not too sure about the details, but is the training really that tough?"
"I was brought into the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> at seven years old, and I had underwent training for about eight years...... I loitered between the borders of life and death for about half of the time. I was encased within ice under a fully awake condition, so as to be in a state of suspended animation — that was the very first training I underwent, just so I can endure the freezing temperatures of Hyouketsu Kyoukai. Even so, that is probably the easiest training for us. As for the training after that...... I don't even want to think about it."
*Kra* The girl stepped on a fallen branch, and continued walking.
After looking at her back and that sakura-colored hair of hers for a while, Sheltis finally moved himself and caught up with her.
"As for the final test three years ago, after listening to the instructions at a place called the Grand Holy Hall, the other two selected ones and I were brought to the highest story of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>."
The two hundred and ninety-first story of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>, the highest floor named <<Paradise>>.
That is the actual place where the Queen and her Priestesses pray for Hyouketsu Kyoukai.
"Do you know what's the final test to be a Priestess?"
"It's simple - we have to maintain the barriers of Hyouketsu Kyoukai alone. Being able to do that or not will decide if we are qualified to be a Priestess...... and I did not manage to do it."
After a slight pause, she squeezed out her voice yet again.
"Though it may sound strange for me to be saying this as a failure, it would not be surprising for any one of the three to be chosen as a Priestess. In fact, there were people who viewed me as a favorite to become a Priestess. However, I failed in the very last test, and I quit my position as an apprentice-Priestess the very same day."
"...... This may be a strange question, but perhaps it was just you not being at your prime that day? Since you were an apprentice who made your way all the way to the final test, you may have passed it on your very next attempt."
"There's something that even the training can't help with."
"It's the absolute strength of your shinryoku."
The silent crystal machine <Iris> seemed to have noticed what she was talking about, and continued speaking,
"Shinryoku is a power in the form of waves. The more stable the shape of the waves, the better one is suited for barrier-type spells; the shorter the wavelengths, the better it will be for territorial-type spells like telepathy and far-sight. The disciplines of a Priestess focus on strengthening these two areas - in other words, it is to stabilize the waves so they will be smooth flowing, and to increase the speed between each wave cycle. However, there's a property of the waves that is extremely difficult to improve via training, and that is—"
"The 'amplitude' of the waves, which is the absolute strength of shinryoku...... The strength of my shinryoku is not enough for me to maintain Hyouketsu Kyoukai till the end. That was when I was fifteen."
She stared into her own palms.
In order to make up for the lack of power in her shinryoku, she had trained hard in spells of other disciplines to make her way to the final test. However, that was still not enough for her to overcome her handicap.
"The person who managed to pray for Hyouketsu Kyoukai for twenty-four hours straight during the final test, is the current Fourth Priestess — Syun-rei Pia Nucclene."
"............ You...... You're......"
"It's been a long time, Priestess Syun-rei. You seem as fine as ever."
So that was the reason for Syun-rei, who was a Priestess, to flinch at a low-ranking cadet-guard back then.
"...... I see, so that's how it is."
The two of them were not only rivals, but companions who underwent countless harsh training together.
When Monica, who was an apprentice-Priestess just like her, reappeared before her as her subordinate, Sheltis could easily imagine the shock that Syun-rei must have felt.
"Pardon my rudeness, but were you sick of being an apprentice-Priestess after your unsuccessful attempt to be a Priestess?"
Despite the polite tone, the crystal machine <Iris> had undoubtedly asked Monica something that was extremely personal.
"I do know you are slightly lacking in terms of your shinryoku. However, since you possess the abilities to make it all the way to the final test, your capabilities in terms of the arts of shinryoku should be faultless. Even if you can't become a Priestess, you should be more than capable of taking up an important position to develop and train the other apprentice-Priestesses, right?"
The question voiced by the crystal machine <Iris> made sense.
Anyone who's skilled with shinryoku can easily get a job in the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>. However, she chose to forsake all of that, and became a cadet-guard instead.
"After being an apprentice-Priestess for eight years, it should not be easy for you to change your class to be a guard, who focuses on their physical capabilities instead. As a machine, I cannot comprehend your reason for choosing such a difficult path."
"...... Back when I was still an apprentice-Priestess, there was a young man who was a guard, whom I admired. That's all there is to it."
She replied rather embarrassingly.
The girl began to recall the days with a nostalgic voice,
"That teenage boy woke up earlier than anyone else, so as to swing his swords alone by himself. Even after I was done with the training of an apprentice-Priestess, he was still there practicing....... The scene of him working hard relentlessly gave me a lot of support. I hoped to become someone like him. Therefore, when I knew I could not become a Priestess, I decided to be a guard instead."
The morning practice by himself, as well as the training given by the instructor during the day.
Even at night, he was silently working on his swordsmanship alone while everyone else was sound asleep. After coming up with an estimation of the hours spent on training, Sheltis unconsciously let out a cry of surprise.
"That's a really crazy amount of training we're talking about. That guy must have trained on his own accord even after training in the day."
— Who exactly is he?
There's only Leon and himself who trained like that, like a pair of idiots. If there's anyone else who did something like that, he should have an impression of him as well.
"He's a really impressive person. That twin sword wielder became the cadres guard of the executive rank at the young age of fourteen...... but that was already some years ago. I still remember hearing the news of him falling to his death into the Garden of Corrupted Song <Eden> while he was on a mission. I couldn't sleep because of the shock after that."
"Hey...... what's with the sudden coughing?"
"B-Because...... ah, whoa!"
Sheltis fell headfirst onto the ground as he tripped on a root.
"Sheltis, that's quite embarrassing of you."
"...... Mind sparing a thought for me?"
With his limbs lying flat on the ground, Sheltis closed his eyes and took in a deep breathe.
...... I see.
...... Indeed, there's only one such person.
A twin sword wielder who became a cadres guard at the age of fourteen, and that crazy amount of training. That's right, regardless of how huge Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> is, there's still only one guy who fulfills those conditions.
...... He's the me three years ago.
He could never imagine that, not even in his dreams.
Aside from Ymy, there was someone else who was paying attention to such a low-ranking person like him.
"So, the reason for you showing me the way back then......"
"Ahh. I hope you don't mind, but...... because...... you looked really similar to him, so I just couldn't leave you by yourself."
Monica's face was blushing slightly. She turned her face away with an embarrassed expression.
"D-Don't misunderstand! I have no intention of comparing you to him. And it's not like I wouldn't help you if you didn't look like him. No matter what, I wouldn't leave a helpless cadet-guard alone."
"Mmm, I get it."
Even if he was not the one who was lost, she would definitely lend the person a helping hand. It just so happens that he looked like 'the young man whom she admired'.
...... Well of course. I am the person himself.
He heaved a breathe that was neither a sigh nor a bitter laugh.
— I definitely cannot say it. I cannot tell her that I am the person from back then.
That was the conclusion he had reached with the crystal machine <Iris>, before coming here.
And since she knew about him falling into the Garden of Corrupted Song <Eden>, that's even more reason for him not to tell. The upper brass of the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> did not wish for anyone else to know about them allowing someone with mateki in his body to reenter the palace. Should that fact be made public knowledge, there will be a high possibility that he will be forcefully expelled from the palace. In the worse situation, he may even implicate Monica as well.
"...... The skies are becoming dark."
The skies covered by the leaves. The originally blue skies that filtered through the gaps within had unknowingly became the red of the setting sun, then turning into the grey of twilight. Along with the change in colors of the skies, the small column of black smoke emitted from the aircraft was gradually blending into its surrounding as one.
"The smoke is almost not visible already."
Monica said as she peered into the northern direction of the skies while narrowing her eyes.
"It will be too dangerous for you two to explore an unknown floating island at night, especially when we are talking about an uncharted forest like this one, since the ecosystem of the day will be totally different from that of the night. I advise you two to start a fire and rest here for the night."
"You're right. I was planning to look for a more open area though."
Tall trees with scales-like barks stood erected all around them.
"I guess we'll have to compromise."
After finding a flat boulder to sit down on, Monica suddenly lifted her head to look into the sky. She was looking at the grayish setting sun that was located on the other side of the dense branches.
"...... There's no clouds. If we weren't in such a dense forest, then we would be able to see the starry skies of the night. What a shame."