Just as the name suggests, this is the division that focuses on the mechanical aspects of the tower. Most of the staff here are the clerical staff or technical staff. Their main task is to develop and maintain the electronics of the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>, as well as huge sized machines like aircraft.
The Mechanical Bureau occupies the forty-eighth story to the sixty-seventh story of the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>, which is a total of twenty stories. Most of those are used for research and development of machines, and one can easily see the staff walking with the developing robots just about everywhere. It is a rather unique bureau.
Within the Mechanical Bureau.
The most outstanding place is the <<Internal Airfield>> created by combining the sixty-fifth story and the sixty-sixth story — an aviation center located within Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>.
The gate is located at the southern side of the floor.
Sheltis lifted his hands and broke into a cheer as the aircraft flew out of the floor and into the sky.
"That's just amazing, Ilis. You see that? The consecutive take off of the two aircraft."
He could easily see giant aircraft painted in black and gold around him. Next to those were the silver mini-aircraft designed for the use of multiple people. Beside those mini-aircraft, were the unmanned scouting crafts which were giving off a loud humming sound, all raring to go.
"You seem rather happy."
"It's been a long time since I've been here. I've always loved to ride in those aircraft."
Nothing has changed.
The two flat runways in the middle of the place; the uniformed technicians who were conducting the final checks for the machines; as well as the guards in their ceremonial clothing who were watching everything. Even the broadcast which announces the liftoff times are exactly the same as before.
"Well, it's fine for you to be happy, but we're still a little too early, no? It will be a while before nine."
"...... I'm reflecting on it. I'll just grab a cup of tea, I guess."
He pointed to the corner of the floor, which consists of food vending machines surrounded by transparent glass. He slotted a coin into the container next to the automatic door, then walked to the drinks section after it opened to allow him in.
"Ara, so you'll have to pay before entering."
"It's self-service and drink-all-you-want, as long as you pay before hand...... Problem is, I don't know what I should choose."
Freshly grounded coffee, branded red tea, or citrus juice. He crossed his arms in hesitation before the table that had a wide array of jars on it. Just then—
"I'll have coffee with a teaspoon of sugar and no cream. That's the best for keeping me awake."
"Ah, Monica. Morning. How was your night?"
"...... Do you think I could sleep last night after knowing that I'll be heading off on a mission in the morning the very next day?"
As she skillfully poured the coffee into a white ceramic container, the girl with sakura-colored hair said with a slight wry smile.
"Let's not talk about that. What are the details of the mission?"
"We'll be heading to the areas near the Floating Archipelagos <Lagoon> to drive out the electric faeries. We may have to get on the deck of the aircraft. Are you afraid of heights?"
Monica did not answer, but pointed to the ceiling with her index finger instead.
Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> itself is a extremely tall building with two hundred and ninety one stories, so it is normal to get used to the height if we're working in a place like this — perhaps that was what she was implying.
"Right, Sheltis. I have something to ask you."
As she brought the cup close to her mouth, Monica's gaze shifted upwards.
"Where did you get this mission from?"
"Aside for a small exception, most of the missions available to cadet-guards will have the takers chosen from a list of squads that volunteered. However, our mission is not listed in the records of the Law Enforcement Bureau. I am quite curious about that."
"Ohh, straight to the point. And you have actually looked it up before hand. That rigid personality of yours is really something—"
Ignoring the praises of the machine crystal <Ilis>, Monica narrowed her grey eyes into slits.
"Urm...... I don't know how to explain it to you. Actually, I'm not the one who picked this mission up."
Upon being asked that question, Sheltis lifted his head to look at the clock in the shop.
"It's eight-thirty now, which is thirty minutes from the scheduled time...... Leon's a punctual guy, so he should be here soon."
"A fellow member who's doing the mission with us. I think Monica should know him as well."
The girl put on a confused expression. Just then, the mechanized doors of the shop suddenly opened.
*Ka......* Came the sounds of shoes stepping onto the hard floors.
The dining area suddenly became dead quiet in an instance, in contrast to the originally lively atmosphere. The clerical staff adjusted their ties, while the guards straightened their backs. Everyone knew that the guy in the white coat was someone who possesses an absolute position in Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>.
"Oh, it's Leon. Speak of the devil."
"Ahh. You are unexpectedly punctual, Sheltis."
The silver-haired young man, who had a badge of the Sennenshi hanging from his left arm, said in response. As he walked towards the drinks section, Leon looked at the girl with sakura-colored hair, who was stunned motionless with the cup of coffee in her hands.
"That girl beside you, is she the one whom you told me about yesterday?"
"Yeah, I'll introduce the both of you. This is Monica—"
"W-Wait a second, Sheltis! W-W-Wha...... What's the meaning of this?"
Monica put down the cup of coffee in her hands, then proceeded to shake Sheltis hard by his collar.
"W-Whoa......! Hey...... Monica, relax for a moment!"
"How do you expect me to relax like this! Why is a Sennenshi - Captain Leon here, and why are you two that familiar with each other!? What's the meaning of this? I originally thought this was just a typical mission—"
"In any case."
Leon said that with a low voice, and directed his sight to an aircraft that was parked in the hanger.
"We'll talk there. This is not the place to be discussing about our mission."
Both Sheltis and Monica nodded obediently and unanimously under the stares of the people around them.
"So I'll summarize this — you and Captain Leon happen to know each other, and he invited you to join in the mission which will most likely involve the Govenment Sector. Right?"
"Mmm, though it's more of me being forced, rather than invited."
Monica was looking at him suspiciously. Ignoring her sharp gaze that was as if she was trying to see through his everything, Sheltis gave a nod to the Sennenshi next to him.
"Is that right, Leon?"
"Ahh, that's how it is. Your name's Monica, right? Sorry for making you join us all of a sudden, since the mission is rather urgent."
Upon being looked at by the representative great sword wielder of the continent, Monica began to fluster.
"N-No, it's fine! I've always heard about the heroics of Captain Leon...... It is my utmost honor to be able to be in the same team as you...... Hey, what are you laughing at, Sheltis?"
"No, it's seldom I get to see Monica in such a flustered state— Ah, just joking! Ouch!"
His stomach was elbowed by her. He quickly retreated backwards, to get away from the furious girl.
Just then, the sounds of moving machines came from his back.
"Seems like everything's in place."
Leon murmured as he looked at the gradually accelerating propellers.
The copper-green shock-absorbent tiled flooring vibrated gently. The lights in the cockpit of the silver aircraft blinked on.
There were fin-like wings on the streamlined chassis. It can carry up to ten people, which is about two times less compared to civilian aircraft.
"It's time, let's go—"
Leon was about to lead the pack, but he suddenly stopped in his tracks.
"Hold on. I'm receiving an incoming telepathy message."
Telepathy messages sent via shinryoku.
The only person who would send a telepathy message to a Sennenshi at a time like this is—
The person who said that name was neither Sheltis himself nor Leon, but Monica, who was originally looking at the aircraft.
The doors of the elevator which leads into the indoor airfield opened, and a black-haired girl timidly stuck her head out from behind it. She was scanning the whole place, and was obviously relieved when she managed to locate her partner.
"Syun-rei, you came here by yourself?"
"...... I'm really scared, but......"
The Priestess grabbed onto the coat of her exclusive guardian, and stuck onto him without any intention of letting go.
"What's wrong? Something happened?"
The black-haired girl is looking at— me?
"............ Ymy............ she has begun the disciplines of a Priestess."
Syun-rei looked at Sheltis' direction with those deep, transparent black eyes of hers.
"............ So, she asked me to pass this message on to you...... 'Please return safely'."
The single sentence from Ymy—
Syun-rei came all the way to a place which she is afraid of, so that she could pass those words to me?
"............ Because of the mateki...... she couldn't send the message telepathically............"
Having heard that, Sheltis could only bite hard on his lips.
Telepathy is a product of shinryoku. Even if Ymy wished to send the message telepathically, Sheltis could not receive it due to the mateki in him. Though there were instances of him receiving telepathy messages earlier, that was actually with the help of the spells that were completed with the aid of Meimel's powers.
She could not transmit the telepathy message. If so, the only thing she could do is ask someone to help pass the message on her behalf.
"...... Thanks. I got it."
That was the only time when the Priestess showed no fear on her face.
"Sennenshi Leon, and Priestess Syun-rei. Sorry to interrupt, but it is time for us to leave. There are other aircraft that are waiting in line to leave."
Monica informed us with a voice that was more emotionless than usual.
Leon nodded. Syun-rei directed her sight towards the source of the voice—
At that instance, the Priestess gave an inaudible cry.
She looked at the girl with sakura-colored hair, with her eyes opening wide in disbelieve.
"............ You...... You're......"
"It's been a long time, Priestess Syun-rei. You seem as fine as ever."
Monica stood before the Priestess, lowered her gaze, and calmly offered a bow.
"Syun-rei, do you two know each other?"
"No. It's just that I had received plenty of care from the Priestess in the past."
Monica answered Leon's question. As compared to the shaken Syun-rei, Monica's answer was of the usual stern tone.
"Priestess Syun-rei, I'll be taking my leave, as I am heading out on a mission."
She turned her back towards the Priestess, and made her way to the silver aircraft alone.
The cotton-like clouds appeared beneath them through the pressure-resistant glass. The tower scaling over two thousand meters in height could barely be seen at such a distance as well.
"...... We're finally off the ground. Ah, it should be off the tower."
After ensuring the lighting up of the indicator which signified that the aircraft has entered its predesignated airline, Sheltis stood up from his seat.
"Monica, you can get up and move around now."
"Ahh. The interior of this aircraft is quite luxurious. It's hardly comparable to the aircraft which the guards take during normal missions."
Monica stood up from her seat too, and looked about the cabin.
The floor was covered with expensive carpet, while the seats of the cabin were actually comfortable sofas. There was a huge fridge and dining table at the back, and the fridge was even filled with all sorts of ice-cold drinks.
Forget about the transports of the guards, the interiors of this aircraft is comparable to the first-class cabins of a civilian aircraft.
"There's a Sennenshi on board, so it's not that surprising for such exaggerated treatment."
"Right, where's the person himself?"
"He said 'It's training time' right before the takeoff, and went into another room by himself."
"So he can't even sit down properly during takeoff. That training maniac...... Forget it, I can't be bothered."
He returned to his seat.
"Then again, Sheltis, where are we heading to? Up till now, all I know is that we will be infringing on the airspace of the Government Sector."
"Ah, now that you've reminded me......"
"It's the eighty-seventh airspace located to the north, at about a distance of two thousand meters away from the floating continent. The aircraft has already entered mach speed and is on its scheduled path. If there is no interference on our journey, the journey will take about two and a half to three hours."
"Heh, as expected of Eyriey. So you even know how to pilot an aircraft.................. Eh?"
Sheltis blinked his eyes, and rubbed hard on his eyelids.
The person who appeared before him, was the girl in overalls whom he could not be more familiar with.
"Yuto, it's on autopilot, so you can come to the passenger cabin now. Are you thirsty? There should be some fruit juice in the fridge over there."
"Yay— Yuto can drink whatever she likes? Does Shel-nii want a drink as well?"
"Ah, I've just had some back at the shop on the sixty-fifth story.................. no wait a second!"
He sprang himself up from his seat after giving out a yell of surprise.
"Why are Eyriey and Yuto here!"
"Why, because I am the captain of this aircraft! And oh, Yuto's the co-pilot."
The girl crossed her arms and answered him as a matter of factly.
"Yup. Yuto said to me sometime ago, 'Eyri-nee, there's someone looking for us', and so we went to the fifty-ninth story of the tower...... It's a place called the Mechanical Bureau, I think? We went to the aviation division there. Once there, I was immediately surrounded by a group of middle-aged men who seemed to be pretty high ranked, and they asked me things like, 'Do you have any experience with flying? How long have you been flying?'. After giving them some answers, I was somehow made the captain of this aircraft."
"Yuto brought you there?"
Perhaps she was shocked by the sudden mention of her name - Yuto looked at them in confusion with a cup in her hands.
"No, Yuto's not quite sure what happened herself. I think we were stopped by an unknown lady while we were strolling in the tower. Seems like that person used her influence on the Mechanical Bureau and made them assign me as the pilot of this mission. Who is she exactly though? Yuto can't remember as well. I remember her name's Tsa...... something. Does Sheltis have any idea who she may be?"
"That's her name? I can't quite think of anyone with that little information either."
Since they were on an aircraft chartered for Sennenshi Leon, there is no allowance for any incident to happen. The higher-ups of the Mechanical Bureau should have prudently chosen the pilot for the mission - however, there was someone who possessed an absolute power that overrides the decision of the higher-ups, and forcefully assigned an unknown Eyriey into the position instead. Even a Priestess or a Sennenshi may not be able to show such an absolute display of power...... So who exactly was that person?
"That Tsa...... whatever. Does Eyriey know of such a person in Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>?"
"How can that be? Yuto said she was a very tall lady with black hair, but that's too little info to work on. Or rather, I don't have a friend in the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> who fits that description."
"...... I guess."
She should not be lying.
Knowing Eyriey's personality, she dislikes hiding things from people. More importantly, he never saw any signs of her being related with the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> for the past two years in 'The Two Swans <Albiero>'.
"Eyriey didn't reject them then? Don't you think it's a little too strange?"
"Totally not. For me, this is an excellent chance for me to earn some quick cash. And since I saw your name in the list of passengers, I decided to give it a try."
"...... I see."
Eyriey might not know it, but that group was following the secret orders of the Queen. As such, it is very difficult to imagine them delegating an ordinary person to pilot the aircraft for this mission. But Eyriey...... and there's Yuto too. The two of them joined, which means that there should be someone who agreed to allow them to be part of the mission as well.
— If so, whose idea was it? The Queen's, perhaps?
"Sheltis, why did you suddenly stop talking? Can't we tag along?"
Just as he was thinking about all those questions, Eyriey stuck her head into his sight.
"Ah...... No, that's not what I meant."
He did not understand the reason for such an arrangement. The only unease he had, was the possibility of Eyriey or Yuto getting themselves into some sort of danger.
— Then again, it's not like the two of them can head back to Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> anyway.
"...... Ugh— Though there's still a lot of things to be suspicious about, there's no point in thinking about them for now. I'll leave everything in your care, Captain. Please don't crash the aircraft."
"How rude— flying an aircraft is way easier than driving an electric vehicle."
Eyriey planted her hands on her waist and puffed her cheeks in anger. Monica, who was looking on from the sides this whole time, suddenly stood up slowly from her seat.
"Sheltis, are they your friends?"
"Yeah, I'll do an introduction. Hmm......"
Just as he was about to speak, Eyriey walked up to Monica by herself.
"Hi, nice to meet you. I'm Eyriey, and somehow I was made the pilot of this aircraft. This girl's Yuto. How about you?"
"Monica. Monica Esperanto. I'll be in your care."
Monica readily shook the outstretched hands of Eyriey.
"...... You fine with this?"
Monica asked in return. Sheltis whispered into her ears,
"Though it is slightly rude for me to be saying this, but don't you feel uneasy for such a girl to be in control of the aircraft, especially when we are in such an important mission?"
"Isn't this fine? It will be the era of female pilots in the future."
The girl crossed her arms and nodded her head in satisfaction.
"...... Seems like you've misunderstood what I'm trying to say. Alright, forget it."
"It's pretty noisy outside. What's going on?"
With his training done a short while ago, a sweaty Leon stuck his head out of the opening of the door.
"Oh, Leon? Thanks for just now. You're done with your training?"
"Yeah. I can't be dragging a tired body around during the missions, can I?"
Eyriey lifted her hand to greet him, while Leon nodded his head in reply.
"Right, how's the piloting of the aircraft?"
"Leave it all to me. It's almost fully automated, so even Yuto will know how to pilot it. Right~?"
Eyriey, Yuto and Leon. As he watched the three of them interacting with one another—
...... Hold on, could it be......?
"Eyriey, so you already know Leon...... that's impossible, right?"
"What are you talking about? Of course we know each other. Moreover, I've already made friends with Syun-rei. She said she'd invite me for tea next time."
Eyriey and Yuto nodded their head calmly.
"Leon, she's telling the truth?"
"Yeah. It happened yesterday during the introduction to the captain of the aircraft."
Leon as the Sennenshi, along with the two Priestesses, Ymy and Syun-rei.
They are people possessing absolute positions in Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>, and will easily cause uneasiness to just about anyone whom they pass by. However, Eyriey got close to them easily.
"Somehow, I've discovered a shocking talent of Eyriey's."
"I am deeply impressed with her exceptional communication skills. In contrast, Sheltis is totally like a bad example...... Oops, my tongue slipped."
"You did that deliberately, right!?"
Just as he was about to argue with the machine crystal <Ilis>.
The alarms on the ceiling released a sharp ear-piercing sound, together with the flashes of red light.
"There's a malfunction to the controls. It's caused by the strong magnetic fields in the nearby airspace...... Seems like they've finally shown themselves. I think we've entered the turf of the electric faeries."
Eyriey released the cup in her hands and stood up quickly.
— Electric faeries.
They are a type of faerie that look like cotton candy, and live within the seas of clouds. Though the amount of charge stored in each individual is weak, they are known to gather in a huge area by the hundreds. If the area overlaps with the aviation route of an aircraft, they will cause malfunctions to the vehicle.
"Right, shall we stick to the original plan?"
"Ahh, please do."
"Understood! Well then, Sheltis and Monica, please return to your seats, and fasten your safety belts."
Sheltis was wondering if he heard the girl's instructions correctly.
"Leon, ain't we heading to the deck? I mean, we're going to subjugate the electric faeries, so we'll have to hurry. Or else this aircraft won't hold."
"That's fine. The pilot and the manual pilot function has been arranged specially for this reason."
Eyriey said that nonchalantly. Monica was looking from behind with a confused expression as well. She looked out of the aircraft through the windows.
"What's going on?"
"This aircraft is about to deliberately come under the attacks of the electric faeries. Isn't that right?"
The one who answered was the machine crystal <Ilis>.
"There's a lot of things that don't seem to fit, in regards to our current mission. Though we are entering the airspace of the Government Sector, there's no need for the Sennenshi to leave the side of his Priestess just so he can participate in this mission. On the other hand, this mission is so important that all the Priestesses, including Ymy, knew about it before hand. If so, aside from subjugating the electric faeries, there must be another mission behind this facade. And that is—"
"To investigate the Floating Archipelagos <Lagoon>."
Leon was the first to take his seat and fasten his seat belt securely.
"Sorry I didn't tell you guys about it sooner. It was the Queen's order not to, so as to prevent the leaking of information. I could only tell you guys that we are on a mission to subjugate the electric faeries, till we have arrived at our destination."
"Ah, I see. That's fine...... But."
Sheltis crossed his arms, and suddenly closed his eyes.
— There was still something which he could not understand.
There's nothing strange about a secret mission hidden behind the front of another mission. It is especially so for the cadet-guards - since they are not viewed as official members of the guards, it's common for them to be hidden from the truth throughout missions. In fact, it's quite rare for them to be informed about the real objectives.
However, Queen Salah had personally ordered Leon to conduct an investigation on the Floating Archipelagos <Lagoon>?
"Is it really okay to be investigating the Floating Archipelagos <Lagoon> located in the airspace of the Government Sector? In principle, Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> and the Government Sector will never infringe on each other's airspace. However, the Queen herself is about to break the unwritten rule......"
"I'm not sure. I was only informed of the mission details, but not of the objectives for doing so."
"...... So Captain Leon doesn't know the objectives of this mission either. Is that even possible?"
With her hands touching on the pressure-resistant glass window, Monica turned her head around to look at them. With that, Leon answered in a calm tone,
"I've received only one order - to investigate the Floating Archipelagos <Lagoon> that's within the airspace of the Government Sector. They may protest us infringing on them, but if we are to stage a crash-landing due to a malfunction, they probably would not blow the matter out of proportion. There's no other orders received other than that. I am also contemplating on what I should be investigating after we arrive on the island."
"Then we don't even have an idea on where to start."
They were instructed to investigate the Floating Archipelagos <Lagoon>, but they were not told what to investigate.
The person who gave them such an unreasonable request was actually the Queen herself — it sounds unbelievable, even if that came straight from Leon's mouth.
"To be honest, I wasn't really eager to accept this mission. One of the reasons is because I'll have to leave Syun-rei by herself in the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>. More importantly though, is the fact that this mission is extremely shady. I planned to take a quick look around, then head back to the tower."
"I agree. Well then, how are we going to stage the emergency landing—"
"No worries. Being attacked by the electric faeries is just an excuse that we'll be using on the Government Sector when we return. Since we'll have to cook up a damage report for the aircraft, it's enough for us to receive a single attack from them. There's no need to force a real emergency landing."
"Ahh, that's great. I thought we are gonna make the whole aircraft do a crash landing."
"Stop talking nonsense. Now get back to your seat quickly."
Alright— just as his hand came into contact with the back of his seat.
*Zaa* A flash of electricity streaked past the other side of the pressure-resistant glass window. It looked like an intimidation from the electric faeries.
The aircraft shook, and began to tilt. In the next instance, the sirens rang from above the ceilings yet again, along with the flashes of red light.
— Damage report, control functions to the left wing has hit 110% off the normal readings.
— Damage report, abnormality detected in the engines. Reason: electric overload due to high voltages.
"Damage to the wings, as well as stopping the engines. Aside from the warnings on display, she also added in voice warnings. It seems so real."
"Yeah, I never instructed her to make it so real. It's totally similar to the mock training we had back in the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>."
Monica was looking out of the windows calmly. As for Leon, he seemed really impressed.
"Sheltis, I heard you know Eyriey from when you were in the living sector?"
"Mmm, we were working together in the living sector. She is really well versed when it comes to machines, to the point where she is on par with the technicians at Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>."
*Bang* — the doors to the captain's cabin opened.
"Ah, Eyriey. We were just talking about your wonderful achievements—"
Strange? Did she not hear that properly? Eyriey is not responding.
Just as he was thinking that,
"...... Sorry, but I have bad news for everyone here today."
She turned around, and continued speaking.
"Urm— actually, I was overly confident, and I rushed straight into the cluster of electric faeries, and that caused them to get angry. They are currently attacking us in full force, which means—"
Eyriey closed one of her eyes uncharacteristically and made a face.
"The report on how the aircraft is heading downwards is not a simulation, but they are actually real. Which means, this aircraft will definitely crash...... Ehehe."
"Hold on a second———!?"
Aside from Yuto who was still unaware of their current situation, the rest of the people had all jumped up from their seats.
"...... Ahh, the skies are still as beautiful as ever."
"Eyriey, stop running away from reality! What should we do now?"
"Nothing else but to take a stroll in the sky. Here, take a parachute. Yuto will be coming with me."
After putting a child-parachute onto Yuto, Eyriey secured Yuto's parachute onto her own via a special cable.
"Is it okay for Yuto to be with you? How about leaving her with me instead?"
"What are you talking about? Just leave everything to me. Think about who's the one who made this parachute."
"After hearing that from you, I'm feeling even more uneasy now"
He unwillingly put on the parachute that Eyriey claimed she made. He then took a quick glance at the scenery beneath them through the windows.
The blue skies from a while ago had already disappeared, only to be replaced by an endless stretch of dark green.
It's the destination of their journey — the primeval forests of the Floating Archipelagos <Lagoon>.
"Well then, get ready."
Eyriey disengaged the escape door to the side of the aircraft.
The doors slowly opened. The winds outside came gushing into the cabin.
"If we jump now, we should be able to land somewhere on the floating island. Let's meet up with those that are closest to us after we've hit the ground. We'll be heading off, Yuto. Yaaahoo—!"
Eyriey and Yuto jumped off the aircraft with an excited cry.
Their bodies appeared smaller and smaller...... suddenly, a bright orange parachute appeared. Upon seeing the two of them slowly floating downwards like a dandelion, Sheltis couldn't help but slap his chest in relief.
"That's great. So long as the parachute can open safely, both of them should be fine."
"Alright, you're next, Sheltis."
Before he could even prepare himself, Sheltis was given a hard kick on his back
"Leon——— You better remember this———————!"
Sheltis made his endless plunge down from the blue skies, head first towards the ground.
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 machine crystal <Ilis> 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 machine crystal <Ilis> 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 machine crystal <Ilis> 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 machine crystal <Ilis>, 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."
*Pa...... Pa......* The sounds of crackling sparks of fire.
Under the swaying illumination of the red flames, one could see the faint outlines of the forest in the night.
"Whoa— it's a campfire, Eyri-nee!"
"Mmm— it's pretty good. I feels quite excited to be able to camp outside at a place like this."
The two girls played with each other by circling around the campfire.
"How's your feet?"
"Mmm, thanks to you, it seems to be almost recovered. I should be able to walk by myself tomorrow."
"That's great then."
Eyriey patted her own knees. Under the influence of their cheerful disposition, Leon's expressions had gradually softened as well.
...... It's been a long time since he had enjoyed that sort of mood.
Though there were several occasions where he camped outdoors like this while he was on missions, the other members were all very restrained under the presence of a Sennenshi, and none of them dared to talk actively. That might be the correct way in which they should act, but in the end, isn't that one of the reasons that caused distrust among the members in the squad — such thoughts appeared in Leon's mind occasionally.
"Eyriey, I heard you first met that guy back in the living sector?"
"You mean Sheltis? Mmm, it's the same with Yuto too. Both of us worked together in the same cafe."
"Working in a cafe huh...... that's not quite like him."
Leon couldn't help but laugh as he imagined the look of Sheltis in an apron.
"His tasks were mainly to be an errand boy, as well as testing Chef's new dishes for poison — from what I saw, it seemed like he was enjoying it a lot."
Eyriey sat on a huge protruding root which she found.
"Oh right, I have a question as well. Sheltis mentioned before that he had once competed with you to see who will be a Sennenshi first, right? But Leon's already a Sennenshi."
"In the eyes of a senior, do you think Sheltis has what it takes to be a Sennenshi? Can he become Ymy's guardian? Because you see, won't his mateki repel the shinryoku of a Priestess?"
"...... I'm surprised. You know quite a lot of things."
"Ehehe, I'm on very good terms with Ymy as well. We've agreed to meet up to play some time soon."
...... It's no wonder she knew about the things related to Sheltis and Ymy.
That may be proof that she has already gained a huge amount of trust from those two people.
"So, what are your thoughts?"
"Well, he reached the cadres rank three years ago. Even if we were to take only his swordsmanship into consideration, no one would oppose him rising up by several ranks in one go."
Aside from his swordsmanship, the thing that is of worth mentioning is the strong mateki that exists in his body. As a young man who has acquired powers similar to those of a Yuugenshu, he is able to utilize the mateki in him to ignore the barriers of the Yuugenshu. If they were to talk about the advantages he has when it comes to fighting Yuugenshu, he is probably among the top few people within the whole of Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>.
"Hmm, there's no problems then?"
Contrary to the girl who was nodding her head, Leon rejected her claims with a brief shake of his head.
"This is something I've experienced myself. The current him is just exactly like how I was back then...... he cannot understand something, which is: the reason a Priestess is assigned their exclusive Sennenshi."
"Eh? Isn't the Sennenshi the guardian of the Priestesses?"
"There's another reason behind it. Syun-rei only told me about it much later."
He tossed the dried branches into the camp fire, and watched the dancing sparks of fire.
"I don't quite get it. Can't Ymy just tell Sheltis what he's lacking?"
"It's very hard. The relationship between the two of them is still currently at the stage of 'childhood friends', so not even Ymy can tell him about it. Sheltis is generally slow when it comes to these things. If there is no one to tell him about it, then he won't be able to realize it by himself....... I'm sorry, but I can't be the one to tell him about these things either."
As he listened to the crackles of the fire, Leon shut his eyes temporarily.
"It only there is someone close to him who understands the true feelings of a Priestess."
The sparks of fire fluttered in the air, and disappeared before reaching the ground. Before their eyes was a simple campfire made from stacked branches and a bottom layer of leaves.
Sitting on a heap of leaves that was laid out onto the ground, Sheltis leaned himself against a tree. He hugged his knees with both of his arms, and secretly stared at the girl sitting in front of him.
Monica was sitting behind the campfire.
"You can't sleep?"
She moved her lips, but not her gaze.
"It's my turn to be on guard now. Or could it be that you're not confident in my abilities?"
"Nothing of the sort...... it's just me being unable to sleep."
With that, the girl sank into silence yet again. Amid the quietness around them, the only signs of time flowing was the swaying of the flames as well as the crackling sparks of fire.
...... It's really hard to be in a team.
With his arms still hugging his knees, Sheltis lifted his head.
How much distance should he maintain between his teammates and himself? He should not infringe on the privacy of others, but talking about pointless things won't yield meaningful results either.
Thinking back to three years ago, it was due to him frequently teaming up with Leon that they could always argue or crack some jokes with each other.
"This is probably how things really are out there."
It is rare for teammates to consist of members who are incredibly skilled and whom you share deep ties with - just like how Leon is to Sheltis. Miscommunication frequently occurs within a team, or some teammates may actually be pulling the others down. Moreover, it is common for teams to fail in their missions.
It's until now when he's in a two-man team with a female partner, that he had finally realized something: that it is extremely difficult to work together with the members of your team.
"Since you're not sleeping yet, can I ask you something?"
With her crossed rods <Rosario> placed next to her hands, Monica asked Sheltis that as she stared at the campfire. You don't have to answer if you don't want to — she added in that line before voicing her question.
"Since you know Captain Leon, does that mean you're aiming to be a Sennenshi as well?"
"...... You can put it that way."
"Do you have any definite reasons for wanting to be a Sennenshi? A reason for you to want to be a Sennenshi, regardless of all odds."
"I've promised a Priestess, that I'd definitely protect her."
For a moment, Monica looked at him with widened eyes. After a long while—
"...... If you say that during the interview at the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia>, the examiners would probably be dumbfounded."
With that, it seemed like she could no longer endure it, and finally let out a soft laughter.
"I did say it, and they mocked me for quite a bit."
"But of course. The way you put it, it sounds like you are very close to one of the Priestesses or something."
...... It will be better for me not to tell her that I am Ymy's childhood friend.
I'll only be causing trouble for Ymy if I were to tell others about our relationship.
"Urm, it's rude of me to be laughing like that. Sorry...... It's just, I never thought you'd say something like that."
Monica turned her face to the side, as though to hide her laughter on the corner of her lips from him.
"Ah, I feel the same too."
"...... I am very embarrassed about it too, okay. Can we stop talking about this already? It feels really shameful."
He tossed a small pebble into the campfire, and watched the paths of the exploding sparks of fire.
"But Sheltis, is that your main reason? What about others?"
"There should be nothing else."
He shook his head at the next question. If Ymy didn't become a Priestess, he definitely wouldn't have walked the path of a guard. That was all there is to it.
"I just want to remind you of something...... I'm not trying to deny your reason, I'm just hoping that you can remember this. I'm not saying this as a cadet-guard, but as someone who was once an apprentice-Priestess. My real feelings."
He could detect a strong sense of determination in her words.
"If I was a Priestess, I would definitely not choose someone who only wants to protect the Priestess as a Sennenshi."
"............ Why is that?"
"Because for that sort of person, it's just about as good as not understanding the Priestesses at all."
Her words cleaved through the tense atmosphere. With a calm tone, the girl who was once an apprentice-Priestess voiced out that harsh criticism.
"Other than fighting the Yuugenshu, what else do you think are the foes that a Priestess must battle against for a whole of twenty-four hours, even during her rest?"
"It's pain and burdens."
Perhaps she was thinking about herself in the past - the girl pressed her right hand against her chest.
"The Priestesses have never once rested mentally. Before becoming a Priestess — before the age of ten, she will have to cry and endure the painful training of encasing herself in ice...... When night falls, they will be near the brink of collapse just by recalling the training back in the day."
Monica's hands were trembling slightly.
She was in such fear just by reminiscing the training in the past — after seeing that sort of reaction from her, he could better understand the sort of hardships she had went through.
"After becoming a Priestess, there will be a more painful burden awaiting her - the important responsibility of protecting the floating continent. That is obviously so when they are maintaining Hyouketsu Kyoukai. But aside from that, whenever there are reports of Yuugenshu sighted, they will have to be ready to move out regardless of the condition of their body. Moreover, they will have to be in the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> for most of the time to be on standby, and thus have very little chance to see the world outside of the tower. That sort of life is just like being in a prison...... but they take it all quietly, without any complaints."
Day after day of painful training, as well as the burden of maintaining Hyouketsu Kyoukai.
The ordinary people in the living sector will never understand the pains of the Priestesses. That is because the Priestesses hide their pains behind the masks of a smiling face.
"The Priestesses who live on the top floors of the Tenketsu Palace <Sophia> are alone. In order to protect the floating continent, they have devoted their whole lives to training and the maintenance of the barrier. However, who will be the ones to save them from their suffering?"
Facing the questioning gaze of Monica, Sheltis could barely squeeze out a reply.
The other Priestesses cannot do that. The most the Priestesses can do is to share the pain of each other. If there is anyone who can erase their pains and sufferings, then they will have to be those who are always by the sides of the Priestesses—
"Yes. A Sennenshi cannot just protect a Priestess. Only when a person can fully understand the pain and loneliness of a Priestess' training, as well as understand the importance of reducing those emotions, will he be qualified to take on the role of a Sennenshi."
The true feelings of a girl who wanted to be a Priestess but failed. A girl who understands the Priestesses better than anyone else.
...... It is indeed like what she says.
There's no denying it. Everything is as what Monica had said.
"If so, then the combination of Leon and Syun-rei is really perfect."
Sheltis nodded his head in agreement with what the machine crystal <Ilis> had said.
It's not just protecting the Priestess from the harms of the Yuugenshu. It's precisely due to the assistance and the constant support of the brave Leon by her side, that the shy and introvert Syun-rei can entrust herself fully to him, and focus on praying for Hyouketsu Kyoukai.
If Monica is to become a Sennenshi, she will definitely do the same as well.
As a person who understands the pain and suffering of a Priestess better than anyone else, she can definitely accompany them by their side and erase all their discomfort.
— Then what about me?
— All I'm thinking of is to be with Ymy.
— Can the me in the past really understand the sufferings of a Priestess?
He shut his eyes for a while, and listened to the sounds around him.
"...... It's really far away."
When he opened his eyes once again, Sheltis was already lying on his back.
"Thank you, Monica. I've always misunderstood things. Perhaps it's true that I really don't understand the things between a Priestess and her Sennenshi."
His sword rival Leon is a Sennenshi, while his childhood friend Ymy is a Priestess. As he is stuck in the middle of the two, he had unknowingly took the existence of a Sennenshi and a Priestess for granted.
"Now, I finally understand how far the position of a Sennenshi is away from me."
He stretched his hands towards the night skies that were peeking through the gaps of the leaves.
The far and endless sphere of the sky. The Priestesses and Sennenshi are at a similar distance above him.
...... I'm sorry, Ymy.
...... All I wanted to do was protect Ymy, but I never knew you were under such pain and suffering this whole time.
If she was still an apprentice-Priestess, then perhaps his wish of 'being together with her' would suffice.
However, for Ymy who has already became a Priestess, those vague thoughts of his are far from enough. The simple reason of him being her 'childhood friend' is not enough for him to be by her side supporting her.
"...... I definitely can't do it by myself."
Three years ago, he had a strong companion in the form of Leon, which caused him not to notice the difficulties and cruel truths behind heading out and completing missions together with teammates.
However, without those bits and pieces of experience, he will never become a Sennenshi in the future.
Because if he cannot even protect his teammates, he will naturally not be able to protect a Priestess. And those who cannot communicate with their teammates will definitely not understand the sufferings of a Priestess.
— That is what was lacking in me three years ago.
"I'm sorry for disturbing your rest time."
Monica suddenly lowered her gaze.
"But I really do hope you can understand that. You're different from me - there's a high chance of you becoming a regular guard. After seeing how you will be scaling up the positions in the future, I can't help but tell you all that."
Different from me?
At that instance, Sheltis quickly propped his upper body off the ground, as though there was a spring beneath him.
"Monica? Isn't your reason for joining the team to be a regular guard?"
"I've said it ever since the beginning. Regardless of being a guard or a Priestess, I'm just a failure."
She did say that during their first true conversation as well.
"Ever since failing the final test to become a Priestess, my body will become stiff and immobile whenever I face something important...... I think it's probably due to this scar within me that hasn't been totally healed yet."
A psychological scar that has yet to be fully healed.
Pressing against her chest with her left hand, Monica gave a self-depreciating laugh.
"I am a clumsy woman who fails whenever I am needed the most. I am a well known failure among all the cadet-guards, so which squad will ever accept me? Therefore, I'll forever—"
"You can definitely do it."
Sheltis interrupted her with that sentence.
He looked intently into her.
"Monica, you are always practicing on your crossed rods <Rosario> by yourself in the middle of the night, right?"
"That's because...... I'm originally an apprentice-Priestess, and my physical capabilities are not on par with the other cadet-guards."
"It's fine, we'll definitely complete this mission successfully."
"Why are you so sure of that?"
Don't say things as though it's that easy — it's like the sharp gaze of Monica was trying to tell him that.
"Because there's me."
That was the only answer from Sheltis.
There was no reason or argument - instead, his sincerity was more than enough to fill up the gaps of those two missing elements.
"Though I still don't quite understand our current mission, I'll definitely ensure that it ends up successful. Don't worry, no matter what happens, I'll definitely be at your side assisting you."
They looked into each other's eyes through the flickering flames.
After a long while.
"You're a naively optimistic idiot."
Monica turned her face away. A hint of smile appeared on the corner of her lips.
"That's his only good point anyway."
"....... Monica and Ilis, are you two praising me or looking down on me?"
"What do you think? Still, I'll be in your care for tomorrow as well."
She hugged her knees with her arms, and said that while lowering her gaze.
It's time for them to switch shifts. Sheltis will be guarding from now on until dawn comes.
Amid the silent sea of trees.
"Isn't that great. Your originally obscured objectives have finally became clear."
After confirming that Monica's breath signaled that she was asleep, the machine crystal <Ilis> spoke in a soft voice.
"Mmm, I think so too."
The final objective of being a Sennenshi. In the process of teaming up with someone to complete the mission, he had gradually caught sight of it as he inched slowly towards his objective.
"Alright, I'll have to work hard tomorrow as well. But first, I'll have to meet up with Leon and the girls."
That will be his first task.
...... Wait for me, Ymy. I'll definitely return in triumph.